On the Origin of Races

February 23, 2017

This is a…big question. Namely, what role do races play in D&D and how do we do them right? This is especially complicated by the fact that “race” doesn’t mean just heritage in D&D, it’s historically also meant cultural history. As an example, an Orc might have Darkvision in D&D thanks to being born an Orc, but an Elf isn’t genetically or magically gifted with proficiency with Longswords and Long Bows. That’s training. With the Dwarf and Halfling benefits to fighting giants, that was explicitly spelled out – children of those communities gain training in fighting giants.

Since you can’t call a product of training “racial traits”, since there’s no factor of birth there, I think we’ve got to split race in half – Heritage, the people you are born to, and Past, the culture you were raised in. Combined, these are, to borrow from Dragon Age, a character’s Origin. They tell us what kind of Hero the character can become, or at least where they’re coming from.

This also makes it easier to expand races dramatically since we’ve got two small things that combine into a huge number of potential “races”. Now, how do we balance them?

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Yesterday we went over the kind of outline for what I’m thinking the new skill system will look like. Today we’re going to look at it comparing two wildly disparate applications of it in a game setting; a social and legal maneuvering scene and the construction of a sturdy axe.

Our two example characters will be Kirann Wildstalker who is trying to spring his friend from an unjust arrest and Gerta Stromdottar forging an axe for her daughter to take on her first adventure. Kirann is going to be at a lower level, someone relatively new to their adventuring career but has had a few dungeons and a few major scrapes fall beneath his bow. Gerta, on the other hand, has long since retired. She raised her daughters, she taught them how to fight, and now one of them is finally leaving their home on the windswept coasts to make her own name. Both of these characters have simple goals; Kirann is trying to overturn a single legal obstacle and Gerta’s making an item. These same systems can be scaled up to much more complex problems, though, and hopefully can have games built on them by themselves.

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So, we’ve done some of the ground work for our themeing. We’ve got our classes down, we’ve got a basic idea for our construction, and we know what “D&D” is. So, how does the game work? 

The environment that D&D takes place in, a tabletop RPG with a focus on storytelling and tactical combat, there are three levels of resolution. Three tiers of granularity in how much we want to simulate the environment. Those three levels are the most simple kind of resolution (like a “strength check” for something coming up but not having a dedicated rule system), the skill resolution (like a “Diplomacy check” for something that has a rules system attached to it but it’s not very granular), and the Combat Resolution System. There’s a huge, wide gulf between type 2 and 3, while there’s barely any difference between type 1 and 2. I feel like we can do better than this.

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The Music of the Spheres

January 13, 2017

So, Divine magic.

That’s a…complicated bag of snakes. Kettle of worms. Can of hammers. Traditionally, for some reason, Divine magic was basically Arcane magic with the serial numbers filed off and some weird aftermarket spells like “Cure Wounds” and “Slow Poison”. So either wildly useful or strangely useless.

We’re gonna change it. Partly by sticking to the hard spell idea, but really digging into the thematic part of it. Instead, Spheres or Domains are going to be the  most important thing to a Divine caster, and will inform how they act, how they cast, and how they see the world. Being a Divine caster should have some kind of obligation, since their devotion is what keeps their magic alive.

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The recently graduated student of the largest arcane university on the continent heading out to make their mark in their old school robes, staff and sling clutched tight in anticipation. The child who accidentally destroyed their house with a sudden burst of flame from their hands, outcast and seeking redemption. A price paid, an oath sworn, blood spilled, and vengeance sought; she left that home for the last time with his head above the door and her Master smiling from beyond. He never learned how, exactly, it made sense to him but just on the edge of the vision he could see the shapes and structures of sorcery…hopefully, on the road, he can learn more. She didn’t care for the books her father studied, nor for the raw power that her brother seemed to delve in, she instead loved her potions, her scrolls, her wands, her devices. They had never been very good at being clear on anything, and the fact that every time they tried to form a spell in their mind caused some part of them to change as well didn’t help matters at all.

These are all Arcanists. At this point they’re all young, they’re all unpracticed, and they’re all learning the ropes in most of the same ways. While they are diverse, and will diverge soon into their adventuring career, early on all Arcane specialists follow the same path – learning their first Engrams and forming their Arcane identity.

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The boxer carefully parried the first punch out of the way and sized up his opponent. Just when another jab came toward his face, he deftly stepped out of the way and followed up with a huge haymaker.

It was easy to dismiss her petite frame and blindness as weaknesses, but combined with her short staff and her training, even the dragon’s bite found only the dirt under her feet. Her stance was strong, her reflexes fast, and her hands moved like water.

His hits weren’t hard, at least at first. His movements weren’t fast, at least at first. He didn’t look strong, at least at first. His opponents were powerful, at least at first.

She knew the honor she was undertaking. She had gone out into the wilds and found a great dire bear and brought it down with only her hands, and a little bit of her head. She had been given the graven axes of her fathers, and their fathers. She could feel the rage welling up inside as she accepted the mantle of Berserker. Read the rest of this entry »

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