Thursday, August 18, 2016

God's Workbench Part 4. Designing a New Encounter System (2 of 2).

In part 3,  we talked some theory and settled on movement rates for the Troupe. Time to unveil the remainder of the encounter subsystem. Oh joy!

I have a thing for dodecahedrons, so this new system would be built around them. (d12’s are used profusely in Crypts and Creepies, so it seemed natural). I wanted the players to be able to make some choices about how they would move overland. It boiled down to speed and visibility:

Thus, TSV = Troupe Speed & Visibility. TSV is made of two combined factors. When its time for an encounter check, roll a d12.  If the result is equal to or less than the TSV an encounter occurs.  At the moment I use “common sense” to assign the values to the adventure troupe, so a typical group is normal/normal, or 2 + 2 = TSV/4. If they are all ninjas and moving slowly, they are a TSV/2. If it’s a whole clan of Ruprecht wannabes running around yelling “Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Oklahoma”, then they are an TSV/8.    

How often do you check?  This way:

Land is the most common form of movement in the game.  I wanted encounters to seem random, so no bell curve, just a 1-20.  This way the numbers will be all over the place.  Remember, it’s a check to see if there is an encounter, not a bonafide encounter. On average, you will make a check every 10.5 miles traveled. A troupe with a TSV/4 will have 3 - 4 encounters every 100 miles traveled.  Ninjas (TSV/2) will have a 1 or 2, and the Ruprechts (TSV/8) about 8. For Air and Sea the checks are more infrequent. The logic is you are moving faster and there is just less to encounter. Resting or sleeping outside, basically warrants a check.

The object of the system is to be simple and make sense, so you can remember how to use it. I’ve used it a couple of times, it seems to work just fine.

Whooo. Encounter tables next up:

Early on in this series I talked about how I like to make forms. They are cheats really, just to get things going. They also help when you get stuck. They are not gospel. Here is my encounter worksheet. Since I made these for myself, not everything is explained, so here goes.  Top box is what/where it is. In this case, the land of Pewlon. When an encounter is indicated, a d12 is rolled to determine if the encounter is common, uncommon or special (the three blocks on the left). There are two ovals (x - x) on top for the for the range (remember, your rolling a d12). In this case I decided 1 - 9 is common, 10 - 11 is uncommon and 12 is special. Another d12 roll in that box pulls out the specific encounter. (Biodiversity, is really for city encounters).  To the right is a list of typical motives (some are weighted or more unique to certain areas) and are nudges to setting up encounters.  The bottom has a shorthand version of the encounter system. My system is set up with empty slots to slot in creepazoids as they are created.

This is a crib sheet of the details of encounter. The 8 ovals (on the far left of each encounter listing) are spots for the consecutive d20 rolls (movement on land).  For each I make a d12 check vs the troupe’s TSV. If a d12 result is equal to or less than the troupes TSV an encounter occurs and I circle that number and note the encounter particulars to the right. These crib sheets are great for sand boxes. I roll up a swath beforehand. It allows me to do more role playing when the crunchy bits are worked out beforehand.

Lastly there is this thing:

This stages the encounter based on the troupes TSV.  If you take the ninjas (TSV/2), you will be using the green 1 - 3 column. Because the ninja troupe will be moving stealthily and slowly,  a roll of 1 - 8 (out of 12) means they will be more in control of the encounter situation. This means spotting them first, picking the terrain for the encounter and so on. There is still a chance they can roll that 12 and basically "blunder" into the encounter just like the Ruprechts of the world. This really makes encounters much more dynamic.

For some encounters I need more details worked out, for these I have this baby:

(Its really just a piece of graph paper?) You will notice this one is set up like a miniatures game.  In this example the troupe was leaving Pewlon, but Iphy (Her Most Lofty Preponderant Zwink) had learned that the troupe had the phial of Tubor extract (one of the 3 ingredients for the poison antidote she so desperately needs). Her plan is first to ask “nicely” and if that fails bring out the velvet hammer. Because Pewlonians have a way of dealing with this, I gave it some thought and set things up. It doesn’t take much to lay it out. I learned the hard way that I am terrible of doing this kind of stuff on the fly.

This is my encounter toolbox. It’s still a little rough, but so far has worked very well.  Next time, designing countries.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

God's Workbench Part 3: Designing a New Encounter System (1 of 2).

I needed a good method to generate random encounters. I am have been putting a lot of energy into this fantastic world, let's get it right. I tried to recall how it was done in D&D1e. I vaguely remember rolling a d6 a twice a day. If it was a 1, go to the appropriate terrain/monster table.  Here's what the DMG really says:

Use the upper unnamed table determine the level of civilization you're in. Next, consult the “Frequency Of Encounter Chance Time Checks” by cross indexing the time of day with the type of terrain you're in. (What’s the difference between plain and scrub?  What about forest and hills together?) If there's an X in the column you need to make a roll to see if there is an encounter. To make the actual check either roll a d20, d12 or d10 based on the level of civilization (from the unnamed table above). A result of “1” indicates there is an encounter. I will never stop loving my DMG for its unparalleled ability to be f***ing byzantine as possible (“FBAP”). Based on the scant space given for random outdoor encounters, they must have been considered ancillary to the game. (Interestingly however, while exploring underground in a dungeon, there are no rules on how to check for wandering monsters - no time interval or chance given of occurrence. I checked the player's handbook and the monster manual. Nothing. Pretty odd, given that there are pages and pages of tables in the DMG to generate random monster encounters based on the level underground.)

I have just burned up 45 minutes looking for information on 5E’s outdoor random encounter system. All I found were these 2 pages of number bashing that will supposedly help the DM to create balanced encounters. Really? Honestly, no one, except paid authors writing modules for D&D are going to use this. I bet they will even fudge the results. More searching only got me I people’s questions on forums about outdoor encounters and some clunky home brew systems...but nothing else. If you can’t find a popular game system’s core mechanic...that’s a problem. Enough D&D.

The focus of Crypts-N-Creepies is crypt bashing. Time spent traveling back and forth to the various enclaves of doom was seen as time wasted.  As belaboured in the rule book, “the main play of the game is opening crypts for inspection and removing swag product for economic reinsertion”. Traveling overland and having random encounters was purposely truncated to keep the “Proverbial Evening Of Gaming” from getting bogged down fighting randomly generated creepazoids. I opted for simplicity and created an abbreviated overland travel system which was intended to recreate the flavor of traveling. Well...things change and I have decided to take a step back, in order to go two steps forward. Movement rates overland are intertwined with encounters, so might as well rethink this as well.  Deep breath.

Here are two abstract theories of encounter systems.  Let’s call this first type the “Set Up” model.  It wants to be a close simulation of the real world.  Monster populations are located on the map beforehand.  As players explore and get closer to these fixed locations, the more likely they will encounter the monsters that live there.  So if the #1 on the map is a ruin where four Urk's are holed up, when you go there, bingo!  #8 is an abandoned temple complex and home to 53 Blue Boldies.  And so on. 

There are several big issues with this approach.  The biggest is that you, as creator, will never have enough energy to fill it.  Or the space to record it.  Or find what you need when you need it. It’s a lot of damn work, no getting around it.  Second, design it and I promise the players will avoid it.  Consciously or unconsciously.  Never fail.  The model represents a snapshot in time and doesn't take into account that creatures will be moving around visiting their aunts and so on.  Well, you could make tables for this…. But again more unnecessary complexity.

I call this second model the “On Demand” system. Areas of the map are defined with boundaries and within them random encounters are generated from a table. The table is made in such a way as to offer up typical encounters for that area. The areas size may range from hundreds of square miles to a single small hill. So, if a random encounter is called for in the Red Forest, the table for this zone is used to generate the random encounter. This model defines the world in broad strokes.  

The huge advantage with the “On Demand” model is the Crypt Lord can come up with generalizations to define areas, thus liberating him/her from having to design everything in excruciating detail. There is a level of abstraction with this, as things magically appear as you need them.  This flies in the face of realism that some players prefer, but it’s important to remember that RPG games are narrative based.  Besides, who needs more work to do?  One flaw of this model is that the encounters, because they must come from a generalised matrix can seem a little cookie cutter after a while.

A third issue, is both of these systems handle essentially only one facet of encounters, namely, how often to check, the chance of occurrence and what the monster is.  Neither of these models (or existing RPG encounter systems) help you with much anything else. What is the actual terrain?  What are the relative distances between you and the other parties?  Can one see other first and hide before being seen?  What if your group is super stealthy?  Or obnoxiously loud?  What about generating an encounter that is part of the game narrative?  Or an encounter type that is outside what is “typical” for the aera?  The game systems I have seen pretty much leave this up to you.  I don’t know about you, but I would like a little more structure to bounce off of. Here’s my wish list for the new encounter system design:

An encounter matrix with results that ranges from typical to special.

Status of the encountered creature, such as what it’s doing, mood, etc.

Take into effect what players are doing, how stealthy, loud and their speed traveling.

Provide some details of the physical setting of the encounter.

How encounter can be rolled into the current narrative.

Be easy to use (this one’s a killer).

It’s starting to take form.  Let’s refer to the players while traveling as a “Troupe”.  I find having an odd term like this helps in keeping things clear.  When you use the word “troupe” (unlike party, or level for that matter) everyone knows we are talking about a group of crypt openers moving overland.   So let’s go back to the overland travel rates.  I’ll need to make a table showing traveling speed based on a number of variables.  Notice that a troupe must choose to travel at one of three speeds, cautious, normal or hustling.  This is not an a new idea, but I was reminded of it because I’m playing Blucher (a hot new Napoleonics game).  In it units can move at different speeds (having different effects during play).  Lastly, I searched the web and found a good discussion on movement rates to use as a guide.  You can find it here:  

Here is the first component of the new random encounter system, the overland movement table.  I know it looks a little complex.  It’s not bad and you only need it once.  Basically the troupe will move the speed of its slowest member.  The races are on the left.  Let’s say we have a troupe of 3 Humes and a Welf.  Welfs are faster, but the Humes will slow him/her down.  Looking at Humes we have three speed choices, slow, normal and hustling.  In general, moving slow means you are searching or encumbered, normal is what usually takes place, and hustling is at a fast trot which will sacrifice noticing things and so on.  These speeds will factor into how the encounters work, later on.  It also gives the players some control over how thier encounters can turn out.  There is a second part to this table, astute readers will have noticed that movement rates mounted and employing veyances are not shown.  I’ll finish up random encounters in the next part.

BTW, this will be incorporated into the newest edition of the popular Crypts-N-Creepies rule book. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Amazing One Roll 01-100 Trick!

I have been obsessed with dice as of late.  I have been reverse engineering them to make a custom set.  More on that later. Looking closely at my various d20's has yielded this:

The indica on this Gamescience specimen are placed relative to each other, so that the following are true: 1) the two matching numerals (in this case 8's) are on exact opposite sides.  This means the other 8 is on the bottom.  2) If you look at all 9 faces which are up, they form a ring around the 8.  No matter what you roll, if you imagine the dice as having an equator parallel to the table surface, all ten values 0-9 will be showing "up". This is built into the design of the die, who ever at Gamescience came up with this was a F-genius. 

This is a Koplow (which I use a lot), notice the indica arrangement is not uniform as the Gamescience d20, above.  Nice and hard, she is, but wacky.

This is what those kids are rolling these days when they are not playing their devil's music.  This is marked 1-20.  Bleh.

So here is the cool thing.  As a crypt Lord, often you want to make rolls quickly to just determine stuff during play.  With this method you can roll a % by making ONLY ONE ROLL.  Listen:

Roll the die and draw an imaginary site line from your eyeball to the center of the up face (red line).  The number it crosses MOST on this imaginary ring is the second number.

Like so.  Remember all the other 9 numbers are in a ring around the top number...

...EXCEPT the other matching number (which is on the bottom).  If you get a "liner", then double the number.

Another liner...this gives 100%.  This kind of liner is a tougher one, but remember, you will be using these as shorthand rolls for mundane stuff.  If it's life or death...make the a standard roll.

Does anyone remember how to roll-n-read a d20/0-9x2 any more?  Kids these days.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Liked Better Than a Bajoran

I did attend Gen Con.  I had debated the idea and finally I did go early on Saturday morning.  If it weren't for the infernal Indiana time change I would have even been there early.  The pic above is a record of the most interesting thing I got at the con.  I brought my copy of Blue Medusa thinking there was a chance I would run into Zak Sabbath (is that his real name?).  I like putting a face to the things which interest me.  I met George Lucas a long time back and once I had shaken his hand and exchanged a few pleasantries... everything made sense.  I knew why Darth had exposed rocker switches on his armor and why battle droids needed binoculars.  Zak was signing books across from Kingdom Death.  There was a line of two of us, he spent a good amount of time explaining the features of Vornheim as city supplement to the girl in front of me. He took several minutes to show the tables and the "Drop Chart" on the front cover.  What impressed me was that he seemed very down to earth.  "'s my thing, this is what's cool about it". Pitching.  My god, I hate pitching things.  I hate being pitched. There is just something icky about it.  Pitching is a thing and my dislike is my own thing.  The other thing that struck me was his politeness.  I am not sure what I was expecting...he did have satanic tattoos and...yes a porn star was with him...but to me it seemed he had shifted his online demeanor aside to be more polite. I found this to be impressive.  I was next.  Yes, he remembered me (some of my Medusa review stuff is quoted).  He said "I was his favorite Ro", referring of course to Ro Laren of STTNG.  A few clicks tell me "Bajorans are depicted as an oppressed people who were often forced to live as refugees".  I forgot to ask if he and Patrick Stuart (yes, a JLP/STTNG reference) had won any ENies.  I checked.  Congratulations!

If you didn't get a chance to go, this is what you missed.

Here is what $200+ got me:  6 Kingdom Death miniatures (should be Kingdom Death to my Wallet).  I spoke with Erik Johns at Malifaux at length... I have sworn off games requiring voluminous purchases of figures.  Yes, yes I know, I bought the rule book.  Research. Erik is a very nice fellow who looks like he still very much enjoys the hobby.   He took time as well to help people put together factions to play the game. Lastly, I ran into Alan Roach who works for Haywire (who strangely also worked on the Kingdom Death boxed set).  They have a great (and really stupid) game called Box of Rocks.

Well, that's it.  I'm back to work on my stuff.  There will be updates in a few.