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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Anatomy of Balance in AAIE

AAIE Update: I hear the two games of AAIE at Dexecon went well, it was one of the rare play-tests after which I did nto get a small "Please add or adjust X,Y, and Z" For the play-testers so I guess that's a good thing...I'm sure there will be more feed back when I get to talk to Neal.
I'm running a small online game Saturday morning  with one person who has not played AAIE before. I'm hoping to get more feedback after that game as well. Naturally, when I do I'll post it here.
Also:
Got to play a game with Charles Akins from "The Dyvers Blog", Jens D, from "The disoriented Ranger" and Jen's pal Marcus on Saturday Morning.

A fun game was had..


I read this post  over on the "Mythlands of Erce" blog. It inspired me to  post about my views on game balance in AAIE. Consider the points made in that post * a jumping off point for this one.
In other words I'm not going restate what MoE already stated. I get what game balance is. I'm going to write about how it is used to  drive a certain play style in AAIE.

Admittedly some of AAIE is pretty slapdash. Given how the game came about, its tone, its subject matter, and its style that's almost a given.  With that said, I think I put more thought into the balance of AAIE than almost any other portion of the game. In one way game balance can be a knob. **  With  Freewheeling games at zero, and more strictly balanced game (Like D&D 4th edition) at the opposite position. Somewhere around the  proverbial "Eleven." However, I like to think of  game balance as being more like a mixing board covered with dials and sliders that only a PHD like Dr. Dre can possibly make sense of. *** The  mix touches everything about a song it's not just one dial. Game balance is very similar in how even small tweaks can affect how a game plays out.

The first slider considered in the balance of AAIE was character survival.  As a point I wanted this slider to  swing wildly depending on the character. The nature of the game dictated that not every character will be a success or even a viable adventurer. Some characters made a bad life decision when they had the thought, "Hey! Raiding the crypt of the moth coven is a way easier way to make a living than being a grave digger for the rest of my life!"
For people who like to  view games through the lens of old school games, think of it like rolling up D&D stats 3d6 in order and keeping whatever comes out. Having Done that, I have rolled some incredibly bad characters. I have also thrown a few in the bin.. AAIE doesn't let the player throw a character in the bin. For example, some characters will end up with more resolve points than others, they are naturally braver and more capable of facing adversity. In AAIE this slider is not game "Balance" it's more like  purposeful character unbalance.

A part of character creation that does throw some side eye towards balance are the attributes. Part of the original "joke" of AAIE is how attributes are rolled on different dice based on the  character's race.  A Dwarf may have to roll d8 for Resolve, but only D4 for athletics for example. It is a layer of unnecessary  complexity , that fits the original "poking fun at ye-old'e games" concept. However this did give me the opportunity to balance  the races against each other very specifically. The major races of  AAIE all have maximum attribute values that sum to the same number. Meaning a human character that has max on on all of her attributes will have the same total value of attributes if you add them all together as a dwarf, or an elf. The only difference will be how the attribute values are distributed. There are some small variations on this theme concerning optional races. Some of which trade lower attribute totals in exchange for more or better racial traits, but generally the attribute balance holds throughout the game.

While it's not stated in the game text under the hood I grouped attributes broadly  into Action attributes, skill, skill attributes, and save attributes. Action attributes are the ones most commonly used in (you guessed it) actions. Brawn used for  melee attacks, Athletics for ranged combat, attractiveness for social actions. Skill attributes are knowledge, intellect, and leadership used for  tasks like spell casting, interacting with  hirelings, and  lore. While the  save attributes are resolve, focus, and myst, which are used when a character needs to save against some kind of horrible misfortune , that cannot simply be dodged. If you are wondering yes, blatantly stole this style of grouping from  the Mayfair exponential system, scrubbed off the vin numbers and drove it to the chop shop. WHy this  groupings are important to this article is that they help certain races have the potential to be better art different roles. A Dwarf that rolls very well for attributes will always be a better at actions than an elf that did the same. While that high rolling elf will always be better at skills than a similarly well rolled dwarf.

Further, attributes max out at eight **** and directly modify the difficulty of rolls. It is a point of balance that pluses and minuses beyond the value of attributes don't exist in AAIE. Characters at level one and at level five, have the  same general modifiers to their rolls. What changes are the special abilities they have available to them to solve problems, not the overall chance to succeed. This balancing act causes a play style change. Even a higher level character has to  work towards their strengths and away from their weaknesses where attributes are concerned. If the warrior has a 1 in athletics, that warrior is never going to be any better at shooting bows. Sorry.



Combat:

Another big balance knob on the mixing board is combat. With AAIE I made a decision to keep resolve points***** relatively low for both enemies and  player characters. Damage on the other hand can be quite high especially where high level monsters are concerned. The result is combat that rarely goes beyond three rounds win or lose. Infact three to five rounds was my target length for combats. I want players to know if they are out matched quickly (so the players can  choose to run or to stand and fight). If the Characters are not outmatched I want them to dispatch the opponent quickly. Going back to the first paragraph where I stated not every character will be particularly viable as adventures, one can assume weak characters will get cut down fairly often, and  fairly quickly. This is akin to the DCC funnel concept. Some characters are going to  die before one has what it takes to stick. Another reference to  Old school gaming, where charater death was expected, and  characters weren't all perfect crystal constructs destined be nursed until level 20. Sometimes the  warrior is armed with a frying pan and has five resolve points, other times the warrior is armed with a battle ax and starts with  forty resolve points. It's admittedly huge swing, and combat is balanced to take down those weaker characters quickly, especially if they get into melee. Resolve pools that top out at around 100 (Give or take for special circumstances) for  monsters and characters alike. High level monsters with a single special attack can do almost that much damage on one perfect roll. ****** 

It all moves the game toward a scene of frantic activity during combat. The players know they  have to either get away quickly, or  face whatever the monster is going to dish out. That decision needs to be made quickly, as even the best character can't stand in combat for very long if the monster is dishing out high damage. The Gm running the combat should feed into this frantic vibe. Giving fast paced description and asking for as many rolls as possible for rapid fire actions actions is suggested. Even if the gm runs at a different pace the game balance itself adds the desired "fight or flight" tension. The balance between character resolve and monster damage helps creates that tension.

Thanks to Neal, players can have new characters at the push of a button, which enhances the funnel like feel of the game. Originally  My idea was players would have to make the best of what ever character they rolled up, and the character creation process while fun when done as a group, would also be long enough that players would want to try to keep their characters alive. However with the one click character generator, players feel far more comfortable just wading into the jaws of death. I was a bit against it at first I thought it changed the  core feel of the game too much. I was wrong. The ability to make characters quickly makes the game better in the long term.

I have more on this aspect of the game, but this is long enough as it is.
At least I hope it's clear that balance can be a myriad of things in a single game. All of these small decisions add up (hopefully) to create the play style envisioned by the author.

Perhaps I'l do an "AAIE Balance" part two some day?
Either way..
I hope you enjoyed
-MArk.








*The  best part of it is the Mythlands of Erce is written  far better than this blog, so the points made about game balance on that platform are clear and concise. What I'm about to write by comparison is .... well ... "my stuff."
** So can I.
*** I know  Dr. Dre is not an actual doctor. However, he is a lyrical surgeon as well as a beat clinician. I feel that's close enough.
**** Ok Ten if you're a Tortel and have a high resolve, but that's the only one, and Tortels suffer in other areas because of it.. 
***** (think hit points for the sake of this article. it measures ability and will to fight. if a character's resolve falls to zero they may simply crawl home, or  on occasion get gnawed to death by a  pack of  rats.)
****** Monsters get a number of damage dice based on their level, it is possible (not likely) to have a random monster that can do 10d10 damage in around. However it is up to the  GM to determine before the game how those dice are divvied up amongst possible attacks. Dragon breath for example.... or some other crazy attack  might  do that kind of damage.. Depends on how demented your GM is.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Anatomy of a Perk: (AAIE Game stuff)

Game Update: Neal still editing, Game is being run twice at Dexcon This weekend: July 8tyh and 9th I think, once by Neal and once by one of his friends..



The second part in my "The Anatomy of" posts. This series is about  the parts of AAIE and what the heck I was thinking about when I slapped them together. *
The first part about Abilities can be found here. **

Perks, how to get them, and what they do for you:
Perks are an in-line reward mechanism. What I mean by "inline" is that the rewards happen during play, not as part of the level up system.
When a player rolls They first check to see if the action they are attempting is a success. If the action is successful and the  players effect die is high enough *** the player earns a perk. (or triggers a perk if that's how you want to say it.)

Perks are special effects that Player abilities , equipment, and even the  environment provide access to. It's most common to have three Perk options when using an ability. As it is the maximum number of  optional perks that can be attached to any one action is  five. While the maximum that can be triggered at one time is two. What this means is that most of the time when triggering perks the player will have options and will get to pick what works best for their character or the part as a whole. While ti takes a bit of luck to trigger a perk, it gives the games combat some depth beyond a simple decision to attack, or not to attack.
Combat perks include such classics as stunning a target, doing extra damage, pushing the opponent away, knocking the target down and  some others. Perks tied to abilities may be the same as the combat perks or  may  include perks specific to the  ability being used. Many priest abilities work on this principle. For example, the  priest ability "cure poison" has the following three perks associated with it.
  • Perk 1: heals 1d6 resolve to the target
  • Perk 2: Extracts the poison so it may be kept.
  • Perk 3: Restores 1d6 of the targets focus in the process
Remember the perks are only available on a successful roll. The perks above assume the poison has already been cured, these are results above and beyond the common successful result when using an ability. in this case the Player could choose the first perk, and grant a small amount of healing to the recipients resolve pool. I mean the  poison must have had some vector to get into the target and must have left some effect, so chances are the recipient is hurt at least a small amount. 

The second perk allows the retrieval of the poison for the priests own use, whether it be benign or  nefarious. This perk is completely unique to this ability. It not only allows for some cool description of how poison might be collected from a target, but also allows for the  creative use of the poison down the road. 

Lastly the third Perk allows the  player the option to  restore a bit of the  recipients Focus pool. Am AAIE  priest exclusive, the restoration of focus is a representation of a priest's abilities calming and mind clearing effects.

A very strong roll will allow a player to trigger two perks. In which case a players using the ability above Could choose to use perk one and two  making themselves an all around healer or  any other combination of the three available perks. 


In the event a perk is triggered the player describes how it happens. While there are mechanical effects when a player triggers a perk, for example character hits with a hammer and the player chooses "knock down" as the triggered perk. It is more important that the player gets to say how the enemy was knocked down. That player gets to decide what that looks like in the heat of battle. This  bit of focus on the player and their character, as brief as it might be, is a bit of reward in it's own right.


Furthermore, when ever the  Gm gives up control for a second and says "tell me how it happens" to a player there is  a chance that things will veer off into totally unexpected direction. In AAIE those hard curves into totally  unexpected directions are the goal posts by which the success of the  game will be measured. The  intentional inclusion of unpredictability built into the game is what makes it not to everyone's taste but also what makes it what it is.


Thanks for reading.
Mark.





* hint: I was thinking about food.
**Public service message: Warriors strike is the exception to the rule, if a warrior starts with it, it's super useful. 

***How the dice work will have to be some other, equally dry post.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Useful links for items and services.

Apparently these have been around since 3.5 D&D and I have never seen them.
Great work here ..
Very useful for AAIE, D&D , Any fantasy game...

Good Baron Dave's Equipment and Services List
Good Baron Dave’s Catalog Of Sundries, Volume 2
and Good Baron Dave’s Catalog Of Sundries, Volume 3

The Anatomy of An AAIE Ability (real game stuff!!)

The AAIE update Part: As I promised this is mostly an AAIE blog now Sooooooo....Everything with AAIE is plugging along outside of my direct view. (EEEK) I'm waiting to see what the guys have done. I threw away more than half the drawings I had done for the  game over last weekend in a flurry of self hate. I do that.... I'll start over.


The Anatomy of  An AAIE Ability:

Abilities in AAIE  are granted each time a charter levels up, are based on the character class, and are just like everything else determined completely at random.
Abilities allow characters to perform special actions, create situations and bring changes to the  world around the,. combat abilities generally allow the character access to additional Perks if the player rolls well enough. 

Often the use of abilities will cost the character points from their focus or Myst pools. This bit of resource management means that some characters are able to use some abilities more frequently than others. Some characters are better suited to certain types of abilities than others. This being AAIE the player doesn't have much control over what abilities they get so what a character is good at and what they actually end up doing might not line up exactly *** 
Perks (for the record) are a set of three bonuses, If a player rolls a successful action and a high enough effect (More on how the dice work in a future post) the player may score up to two perks on the action. The player may pick which perk or perks to use and describe how they occur in play. perks may be gained by Abilities and equipment,any single action may have no more than 5 perks available, no more than two perks are ever triggered on any singe roll. (Unless the GM sees some reason why their should be more than two perks triggered, naturally... Gm's can do that sort of thing**)



Lets look at the  most basic of all the abilities a character might end up with.
Below you will find the  text block for  Warriors strike a possible warrior class ability. The original text is in default black, I will comment each line in text Looking like this.

This will be a bit of a deep dive on one ability. How I see it working, and why it is what it is.
Warrior Strike. 
This is the warriors go-to strike, It is the rarest of abilities in that it's free in every way, and only provides a way for fighters to get perks on almost every strike. 
Attribute: Brawn
Difficulty: Vs opponent Armor Score

Costs: none
Common: You do normal damage.
Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: Push opponent back (1)
Perk 3: Add 1d10 damage.
Critical: X 2 damage.
Fumble: Use the combat fumble chart.

Warrior Strike. 
This is the warriors go-to strike, It is the rarest of abilities in that it's free in every way, and only provides a way for fighters to get perks on almost every strike. 
This is a brief mechanical description a bit devoid of flavor , it tells the player exactly what the ability is intended to do.

Attribute: Brawn
Every  ability is linked to an attribute, if the  player is using this  ability then the GM subtracts he  linked attributes value from the rolls target difficulty. The sneaky part of this is that weapons are also linked to attributes such as "flail" being linked to athleticism. Having this ability allows the player to  choose to use the  ability and modify their attack roll difficulty by their characters brawn, or to not use the ability and use what ever attribute the weapon originally called for. In D&D terms it makes every weapon "Versatile."

Difficulty: Vs opponent Armor Score
When using an ability the player and the GM need to know what the roll will be against. In this case the difficulty of the  roll is determined  by the targets armor score. The GM might modify that difficulty based on  the given situation, however for this ability  (and most combat abilities honestly) the starting point is the  targets armor.)

Costs: none
This section would usually contain text like (Focus 1d6) or (myst 1d6 per spell level) or  similar. Those costs would be rolled when the ability is used and subtracted from the  applicable pool (myst, focus, or both.) However this ability is the rarest of things in that it has no attached costs. Representing a warriors advanced arms training and  ability to  land solid blows in combat. Warriors strike is the  equivalent of an innate ability. Having no cost makes this the  most prized of the  warrior abilities even if it is one of the most basic.

Common: You do normal damage.
This is the result if the  player rolls a successful attack but does not  roll any kind of extraordinary success. In this case the  character domes their normal damage by weapon type.

Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: Push opponent back (1)
Perk 3: Add 1d10 damage.

Here are the three possible perks a character can score using this ability. If the attack roll is a success and the  effect of the  roll is high enough (remember, hi-jink dice stuff) The player may choose to inflict up to two of the perks on their target. 
The first perk is a stun which gives the target "disadvantage on their rolls next round" While this sounds ripped right out o' 5th ed, it works a bit differently in  AAIE **** This  can be a significant advantage to the character attacking.

The second Perk is Push opponent back (1) range category. This is great if the  warrior has a weapon with  reach, or even better is some other party member does. A bit of a tactical choice. Depending on situation using this perk may cost the  target it's next round moving back into melee range. For example if the target is fighting with only claws and bites.

The third perk is a pure shot of extra damage. A solid hit that does 1d10 more resolve damage then the base weapon. No need to explain why that might be useful.

The first thing to remember is this, if the  player rolls well enough to earn one perk  he or she may  choose to inflict any one of those three perks. If they roll well enough to earn two perks then the player can  pick any two of the three perks to inflict on the target. 

The second thing to remember is the player gets to describe how the perk is inflicted. A solid shot to the side of the head, the  creature trips backwards, a blow to he groin, a well placed rapier thrust to the solar plexus, however the player describes it happening is how it is.


Critical: X 2 damage.
If the player rolls EXCEPTIONALLY well they will get a critical success! in this case the player may Pick two perks to inflict on the the target and  do double damage. This all stacks. So a player might do 1d6 damage (Base weapon damage) + 1d10 damage (PERK 3) Which is then Doubled (because of the critical hit,) and furthermore stuns the  opponent (PERK 1) As you can see rolling a critical with warriors strike can ruin the day for whatever foe you just swung a dead fish at.

Fumble: Use the combat fumble chart.
On the other side of the coin if the  player rolls colossally bad, then they  get to look at this fumble section. Some skills (Priest skills  are big on this)  have skill specific fumble results. In the case of warrior's strike the player refers to the combat fumble chart which  is 100 entries of wacky results that generally kill you. Keeping in mind fumbles happen very rarely. (I used Anydice to figure to about  0.073 percent of the time.)  

The end result is Warrior's strike is a versatile, free ability. If a warrior is lucky enough to have rolled it as an ability then they should remember to use it. (on every attack). It's useful if only used to provide the player the freedom to pick  brawn as their attacking attribute regardless of the weapons originally linked attribute.  The three perks which can be earned on good rolls offer a warrior a range of combat options. These options range from de-buffing their target with a stun,  strategically moving their target farther away, or purely laying down extra hurt with bonus damage. While other abilities might offer these perks no other ability allows offers them in this combination or for free.
Further the critical hit and fumbles are unexceptional. Meaning that if a player rolls a critical hit without using any ability they  will still do double damage, and if they fumble in combat they will likely still roll on the combat fumble chart. So the risks and rewards of this ability are weighted heavily in the middle (the chance to earn perks) and flatten out at the extreme ends of the result spectrum. In short there's far more to be gained than lost by using the Warriors strike ability.

So that's the anatomy of one of AAIE's  abilities.


The rest of gaming life:

I haven't been able to run anything lately. Schedules have been bad, and honestly I have not had all that much personal interest. Anyone who has followed this blog* will know I go through these doldrums fairly regularly.

As I always say: "this will pass," "summer is a tough season for gaming,"and so on...



 I have been reading back issues of Dragon Magazines trying to spark some inspiration and not having much luck. Old dragon mags are fun tough, that used to be such a great resource. I can't imagine we will ever see it's like again. That's a digression I could make a whole blog post out of..


I jumped on a chance to try a few sessions of Fate with some twitter contacts. Fate is a game which I only played once and have wanted to have another go at. Considering this Fate game is an online game with people I have never met before, the scheduling will require a fair amount of time between meetings, character building, and playing. That is on the shadowy horizon. I'm looking forward to it.

Observations so far.
  • As a person, I don't translate well over  The computer... At least I don't think I do. 
  • I'm not good at making up Fate Aspects.. There is a knack to it which I have not picked up yet.. I will, but I haven't. The Fate Core text isn't super helpful in this regard. Again I think it's up to the  group to determine what works, so it would be asking a great deal of a book to be all that specific for a particular game situation.
  • The people in the group all seem  very creative and  very nice.
  • Tiny Marshmallows may end the world.

Lets see where it goes.



*If you follow this blog, I'm sorry.
**Gm's are freaks
*** What the character should be and what the character is will rarely line up.... That's the  point... trying to work with what you got.

**** I had my disadvantage mechanic, first way back in the  block game soooooooooooooo I'm keeping it :)


Friday, June 9, 2017

Letting Go.

Knowing my own  limitations, in skill set, vision , motivation, and  whatever else is actually one of my strong suits. I know what I'm not good at. One of the main reasons I have this blog is my knowing I'm a bad writer and only by  writing will I ever improve.
With this in mind when Neal said "Hey I want to edit AAIE so we can do something with it," I agreed.
Now Neal is editing it once , and a friend of his is giving it another pass...and ...

Some dude I have never met is going to be coming through some game I wrote  basically as a lark ..... and  ..Ok WTF..

So  here's where my insecurities spill out, and to voice of every inept teacher I ever had in grade school who gave me shit about being too "lazy" to learn how to spell comes back into my head. I would like to think that by 42 years old I would be completely immune to that sort of thing. I'm not. I'm pretty sure only sociopaths are truly immune to that kind of thing.. I could be wrong.

regardless, I'm letting go. AAIE is my work certainly, but now it has become a team effort. Like anything else of any value in the world. There're people out there that seem to enjoy playing and running the game. GREAT. My insecurities shouldn't  become a barrier to that enjoyment. If Neal believes that the game should get more attention by being played at cons, offered up on drive through, and so on, why should I try to stop him? It's a stupid limitation and worse yet It's a self imposed limitation. IN my mind creative limitations happen, self imposed creative limitations are a sin.

Having someone edit it isn't about some guy I don't know judging me to be an idiot *. It's about  allowing my ideas to be framed in the best way possible. Allowing others who are better at certain aspects of  production to tidy up the mess I made.

Final Hot Take: I just need to lighten the fuck up...

So in the meantime I'm working on some doodly artwork to fill white spaces. I'll drop the pictures in  when  Neal is done going through the document. I have a few pieces done and read to be scanned. Nothing  great. Just funny cartoony stuff to fit the  flavor of the game.

There is no timetable, though our goal is  "Before Gen Con"

Things I want to do:
  1. There is a table of optional  Adventure seeds a bit like madlibs. There was supposed to be twenty of them I never finished the chart.
  2. There needs to be more of a "this is why this is here and what you can do with it  section to "the town"
  3. More drawings.....Need to get cracking.
  4. More  Notes for the  Game master would be nice...
  5. I'm not sure I ever explained in the text (I know this sounds funny) exactly what the difference between skilled and unskilled means..... I have to go back and look. The  difference is implied, but I'm Not sure it was ever explicitly laid out.
That's it for now.

Have a great weekend.
-Mark.







Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Part 1: GEN CON. Part 2: Old School, New school, not talking out of school.

Mixed bag post today:

Part 1:
AAIE is being run at Gen Con 馃榿 .. Not by me ..by Neal Tanner who is a Gen Con veteran and the  most adamant proponent of AAIE on the face of planet earth ... (more adamant even than  your's truly.)
There were 5 seats at the table and they all sold!  Neal will have a full group of  what could be the most discriminating gamers, at the  granddaddy of all conferences. I hope he kills all of their characters in the most brutal and random ways possible.
It's cool, knowing that one of my humble games will be  played at Gencon. I appreciate the effort Neal went through to make that happen.
I have an odd relationship with Cons. I used to  joke with a friend back in school that someday we would make it to Gen-Con, I mean it's not that far honestly a couple hours by plane, we could do it. Now that I'm older and Gen-Con is so, so much bigger. I don't think I could do it anymore. I t has effectively been taken off my bucket list and replaced with things like "go hiking with my cat."

It's Anxiety. Not the crippling anxiety that some people suffer from. More of a low level hum of "I hate crowds." If I can avoid an event where some sixty thousand people turn up over the weekend, I will.

Part 2
Hey:
Old school vs New school gaming floated through my timeline again. I'm not going to join the joust about the definitions or comparative value of either form of game. I'm not qualified.
What I will comment on is that as seems to always happen when this comes up (every 2 years or so?) A few of the comment sections have gotten to different levels of heated. I have no idea why.
Why is  old school gaming  or "OSR" Vs new school gaming  or "Story Games" even a thing? Why is it a contentious subject? Why do people deep enough into a "game" culture to to be reading RPG blogs feel the need to  hurl insults at each other over such a thing? We are all pursuing the same hobby, perhaps we pursue it in different ways but still it's  gaming with friends around a table. Right?
It must be human nature to argue for one's tribe. That's the  best I can come up with.
I won't go into it any further... Again, unqualified... I just don't get it.

What I will do:
I'll play either, or both.
I'll blend the two.
I'll never judge someone else's game as inferior due to  their choice of system.
I'll write new school and old school material on a whim due of my ignorance of their being much of a difference.
I'll support independent and D.I.Y. game design and designers.
I'll remember these are games.
Mostly however, I'll enjoy the  living hell out of  what ever time I get to spend around a table with good friends throwing dice.


Thanks for reading
-Mark.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Final Draft.

Sent the  Final draft of the  game off to  the people who are going to be editing it.

PRAY FOR THEIR SOULS....

I have also done some work on sketches to fill the document with,  decided I don't like any of them and have started redoing said sketches....
It's mostly a form thing.. I like to draw in pencil, the scans of my pencil drawings look like shit.
I got a light board and have started to ink those same drawings so they will look better scanned.
It's a simple process that will take me some time, but now that I am not even thinking about writing stuff ..... I have time.

On that Note:
One last thing I do have to write: In the random story seeed section there is a d20 list of  "Mad lib style" adventure seeds that I never finished.

Neal is doing a table of  AAIE at Gen-Con this year, I want it to be  as close to "done" as it can be by then.

Hopefully  we can transform some RPG  table time:

Like Jinder to Jinder...


Thanks for reading ...
-Mark.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Walking AAIE back a few steps.


Latest Additions: 
Added a Jail building to the "The Town" section.

The Jail adds a quick way for characters to pick up rewards by  hunting down fugitives. Gives characters an excuse to broaden their horizons. 
New NPC's include Jailors, guards,  and wardens.
Includes a chart of minor, severe, and horrid crimes.




The Game:
In an effort to have a FINISHED document by the time I die, I'm  cutting "The World" section  form the initial  AAIE document. While I admire the  efforts of  the people who put out 300+ page game books. I don't want AAIE to be that. 150 to 200 pages tops is my target.

I don't actually want to cut from the game, I think "The World" had some potential to act as a nice capstone to the whole thing. With that said, I need to realize that if I don't stop eventually I'll never have anything to show anyone for the effort.
I'll "probably" keep working on the new section and offer it as a complementary document sometime.

Art work:
I' sketching a bunch of strange character portraits to scatter around the  game document.
I'm not much of an artist , but the game is light hearted, I can do light hearted. I'm working almost exclusively in pencil, so they will have to be cleaned up, scanned,  perhaps run through inkscape to make portability a bit easier.
It all takes time.

My logic for using my own art is this: If I were going to acquire art for the book from anyone I would want to pay  them the going rate. It's as simple as that, I don't want to add expenses to the project that I know I will never recoup. I would have to somehow pass the expense onto people desiring  a look at the game, and I don't want to do that.

Thanks for reading
-MArk.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Non Review of "Monkey Business" by the Disorientated Ranger.


Disclosure: This can't be a review because I'm too close to the project.
Not only did I chat with Jens often during his time working on the project. I also contributed some art. Rather than a review the following text should be considered info piece. 

 The writer behind the "Disoriented Ranger (DR)" blog has put out a module called Monkey Business.
It is currently available via Drive through RPG, I believe he plans on a POD version later on, though I can't directly speak to that.

Anyone who has followed the DR blog in any capacity  will know that Jens does not take a shallow stab at anything. He specializes in deep dives. It doesn't matter if he's figuring out a method to roll up Hierarchies for NPC's or Preparing to Run an adventure he always pulls from diverse schools of thought to put his ideas together. I can say without fear of insulting Jens that he "connects the dots" in interesting ways and designs innovative subsystems for everything he does. He thinks about gaming differently a lot of the time and I mean that in the best way possible.

The same can be said for  "Monkey Business."
Jens took the  idea of a module and went deeper. Delivering a product that is fun, irreverent, and a bit gonzo, but also useful. It's full tools built for any GM who may want to set up a jungle hex crawl adventure. The author put in a lot of  work making sure a GM could use the whole product or any part of it  to run anything from a one session wacky adventure to a whole jungle based campaign.

If this is the kind of thing that the reader might have a use for, then by all means give it a look.

Thank you for reading.
-Mark.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Random terrain for AAIE "The World" maps.


I started working on another section of AAIE a couple of months ago. This is part of it

Hex Gids:
Let's say my map starts at the very center of the grid  over here
That center hex is where the party of player characters is hanging out right now.

The hex is covered in a thin deciduous forest. (marked with a green F)

If I go one hex to the left, that hex is rolling hills. (It says Hill in green letters)

If I go to the right that adjacent hex is mostly swamp. (Marked with a green S)

That's all established:
The hex marked with a question mark is the  problem. If the players explore that hex  It's terrain should take into account the terrain off all the hexes surrounding it.

If I have a chart saying "roll a new terrain based on the hex the party is leaving." Only the Forest hex would be taken into account. that's not a bad solution but not necessarily a very complete one.

Keeping in mind,  I'm not generating a hex field, or a large area. I'm generating hexes as needed, when one area has been explored by the group they move on to the next. In real life terms that could take months, depending on how often a group plays and what the GM drops into the current hex.  If this were a game of D&D or a similar RPG  this system would be nearly useless. The GM would need to know more about the  inter-workings of each hex and their relationships with their surroundings. For AAIE is is perfectly acceptable to establish those things through playing the game. The contents of the next hex is supposed to be a surprise to everyone at the table. It doesn't have to make initial "sense" the way traditional fantasy RPG world building would dictate.

My head is saying give each type of terrain a numerical flag, As in Forest is 1, Hills 2, and swamp 3.
when moving to generate and explore  a new hex the  GM could look at the numerical flags from the surrounding hexes, run them together clockwise to create a code of sorts.
Each combo of flags would have a corresponding chart.
Using our Map above as an example, the  code from the (?) hex would be 3,2,1, or swamp forest hills. The  Gm would roll on the  3,2,1 chart.

At first glance it would seem that there would have to involve a very large number of charts, however the order of the numbers don't matter. Chart 3,2,1, represents the same information as 2,1,3 or 1,2,3.

Where things get tricky is  when a hex is surrounded by other explored hexes creating a situation where the "code" could be up to 6 digits long. This makes me believe I need some function for counting only the three most predominant types of adjoining hex. For example if a hex has six explored neighbors and four of them are forest, one is a swamp, and that last adjoining hex is hills. The "forest" hexes should  have a higher influence on the resulting new hex.

As I eluded to earlier I have a working system  where the  GM roll up the next hex based on the  hex the party is leaving. Each of the 12 terrain types has a small 1D10 based chart that determines what terrain type the party is journeying into. 

Here is the entry for "forest"
Forest, 
1-5 more forests
6-9 hills
10 Swamp

Here is he entry for Hills:


Hills,
1: roll 1d4: 1-2 bog 3-4 swamp
2-5 More Hills
6-7 Open Lands
8-9 Forest
10 Foot hills

My thought is to keep that set of twelve charts (I'll have to rewrite them slightly) and modify the  rolls using simple rules based on the surrounding known hexes. 

For example:
If most of the surrounding hexes is the  same as the hex the party is currently leaving subtract -1 from the roll. 
If most of the surrounding hexes are different types then the hex the party is leaving  add +1 to the roll.


That might come a crossed as a cop out (You should be writing discrete 1716 tables damn it!) However,  I'm not sure it is a cop out.
This is  very simple, takes the surroundings into account, uses what I already have, and weighs the terrain towards expanses of similar terrain.


Those are my basic thoughts on terrain and terrain types, but I still have a long way to go before it's all up and working. Still I generated a few hexes and the contents of them a few days ago and the results were interesting. More importantly the results were game-able. I need to dial up the  AAIE strangeness a bit. As with the rest of the game I'll focus on getting the frame work solid then start hanging the weirdness on that.

-thanks for reading .
-Mark.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The World of AAIE


LATEST UPDATE:

Solo tested some new content on Roll20.

I Wept at the grave of Rolo Baggins.


AAIE doesn't have a default setting as it's normally thought of.
There's No default world included with the game.
Thank God, no one wants to read about my adventures in world building. 

The players start at an Inn because that's an RPG Cliche. The players can (if they want to string some games together) build a town with the treasure they find adventuring. The Gm should fill this town with quirky NPC's and former characters who have retired to a safer life.
The town, as I have it written is very "typical fantasy." I have included, churches, farms, smiths, apothecary's and many of the other expected "fantasy village" tropes. The game leans heavily on the GM to piece it all together in his or her own way. The Group gets to shape the town to their vision one building at a time. The  game master's prep work is to make something interesting out of what the game spits out at them, and what the  players choose to do.

However...
There is nothing stopping an intrepid gm from running the game in any flavor fantasy setting he or she feels like playing. 

So far in our one town, we have had, airships, disappearing breweries, temple giants, paper bulls, syrup filled crustaceans, Moth worshipers, Rat priests... The list goes on. There's room for anything.
If a Gm wants to  add "Magnetic car shop" or "Crystal Cube Repository"  to the  mix they would just have to write up the costs, benefits, and stats for the buildings it wouldn't hurt anything.

For example , when playing online Neal and I have been using the same village for a while now. We don't worry about  stepping on each other's toes. He just  e-mails me and says , "hey there's a crashed airship over in the left hand corner of the map," and I respond, "Ok. That big circles is the void the brewery got sucked into." We can coexist because the game is meant to be a bit off the wall and whacky. strange things lying about the map just adds to that vibe and that flexibility.

Thanks for reading
-Mark.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Optional Rewards for Monsters:


Most Recent AAIE Update:
Added quick ideas for characters harvesting and selling parts of the monsters they slay. 
Updated the three example monsters to include my most recent additions. (Resolve point spread, and Harvestable resources.)



In AAIE characters don't get experience like characters get in other games. So in that way there is no reason to kill a monster if  the  party can just get the hell away from it.  That was a design decision based on the realization that Characters in AAIE  will vary from  Incredibly valid and effective to woefully ineffective failures waiting to die.

The basic rewards for slaying a monster are two fold. One there's usually some quest going on that will net the party some status or financial reward upon successfully returning to town. Secondly a player may roll well enough (could be badly enough) or do something interesting enough to gain a story point.

For clarity story points are the "experience" of this game. Unlike normal experience based systems they aren't numeric, they are actual descriptions of things that happened in game.
For example:
"Fletch knocked a door down and  killed the  Blood Beast standing behind it with one mighty kick."
Or
"The inn Keeper was so smitten with Vale he  feed her and the whole party for free!"

Gathering these story points is how characters gain levels.

Today I was thinking another level of reward that the players would have to take an active role in would be good to have. I  started writing some options that allowed charters to harvest resources off of the  carcass of the monsters they kill. Things like wool, scales, and glands.

The gm would decide if the monster has any acceptable parts to harvest, and how difficult the parts will be to remove. If a character has the proper skills the player can roll to see if any of the  resource can be harvested. Failure indicates no, success indicates yes, and great success  represents a higher quality product being found. The value of the  resource will be based on the resources quality. Naturally in game this will take time, and characters might be safe standing around removing the musk glands from every ogre they meet. At least the options is there. Once back in town the  characters could sell these items for Gold crowns.
This being AAIE I included 1d20 types of resources that can be harvested from creatures in chart form. (I sort of had to)

So why do this?
I mean it's 100% optional and unnecessary. I don't think it would happen with every monster. The Gm could simply say "these creatures are not known to have any useful parts." It's best for occasional use during a game.

Here's what the game gets out of occasionally using something like this:
  1. One more excuse to roll the dice. Which given how critical fails work in AAIE is very important.
  2. The players have to initiate this kind of thing, giving them one more way to voluntarily interact with the world in a solid way. It's a reward they have to choose to pursue.
  3. Another use for some of those skill that characters get when they are created.
  4. Smart characters will be better at harvesting than brawny ones.
  5. Another excuse to interact with NPCs back at "the town." Bring the apothecary some pixie ambergris and that apothecary may tip the party off to some other resource they can go after. Sell some Vampire snail blood to the wizards school and they might teach the character a new key word. Give the Caravan a bunch of  Mutant-rhino horns and they may come back on their next trip with the potions made from those horns.
  6. World building. AAIE is sneaky in that it is actuality about world building one tiny piece at a time. Once the players have harvested warm maple-syrup from mutant lobster, they will always remember that those lobsters are full of valuable sugary, goodness. Even if the characters involved are long dead, maple syrup lobsters are part of the world. The players have interacted with the lobsters beyond, "I hit it it's dead!"

As always thanks for reading.
-Mark

Thursday, April 20, 2017

AAIE Update:


Most recent AAIE Update:
Added levels of HD to monsters" Fragile 1d4,  Weak 1d6, Normal 1d8, Tough 1d10, Ridiculous 1d12

When a monster is created a roll is made to determine what level of HD the monster will have. The  roll is weighted towards "tough" or HD = 1d10 resolve per level of the monster.




So where is this mysterious AAIE game?



First a bit of history. 
The game started as a joke between myself and one of the people I game with. He said he wanted to play a game with "tons of  random charts." With that in mind I wrote a game intent on packing it as full of charts and in jokes as I possibly could. The result was an odd little game which we played a few times, and enjoyed. I made a quick PDF, I offered it up here for free (you can look back but the link would be broken by now)  but I don't think any one downloaded it, which in hindsight is good. At that point in the time the game was way too rough to be of any use.


Now here is where things take an odd turn. I have a nasty secret. I'm more of a story gamer when it comes to the games I write. I feel old school style games don't really need more games, they need more cool stuff to use with  the games that already exist. In short, I'm not going to try and improve on basic D&D.
 When I work on a game of my own my mind tends to fiddle with more story gamer style concepts. Fact is the game I wrote which we played the  most of previous to AAIE was Phase Abandon, which is decidedly not an old school style RPG. For me AAIE was an outlier.
With all that said, AAIE kind of took off among our group. We played quite a bit of it.

Then Neal started running it at Cons.

Now Neal is an official "Game-Con-Master™" He goes to an assortment of conferences several  times during the year, runs games, makes friends, trys new things. In short he is the social gamer I wish I could be. He has run the game (AAIE) at conferences and with a few exceptions the game has been pretty well received. Cool. Part of that stems from the  fact neal is very good at running it,  and I hope  that in some small measure it's because AAIE is actually fun.

(Get to the point)
My plan, is to  polish up the PDF as much as I can with the help of Neal and Jens (from The Disoriented Ranger blog) who have been doing proofing and playtesting. Then to put it out to the world. I'm not sure how that release will be structured, I still have to give that some rigorous thought.

I also have to consider  contracting for some cover art. I'm capable enough to do interior pieces here and there, but games live and die by their covers. If I'm going to spend money on anything it would be art.

As it is the game sits at 135 pages. Laid out in Libre office (I know... not optimal. Not. Even. Close.) 

I have tried to make it as usable as possible by  keeping  subjects to their own page. So if a reader is using the PDF and looks up "perks" in the index, the page that link takes them to should have everything that person need to know about perks. 

I have tried to do charts and such as large lists that split across pages as little as possible. Some of the charts are 100 entries or more long so that's not always easy.



Obviously there is still a great deal of work to be done. 

While also from 2014 this  post is also an AAIE actual play with a few more system notes. 

The game has been chewed on a great deal since these were written. Thanks to Neal it has been played in front of a greater number of people than I ever would have done. For my part I have run it for Jens and his  friends in Germany. With this many people having played it I have to come to grips with the idea that AAIE is an actual "Game" now. I should start treating it as such.

Thank you for reading .
-Mark.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Solipsistic Dust Pan.

I'm committing RPG Blog-Suicide with this post. I get it.
Historically my least read blog posts are posts about my own work. Things I have posted about games I have written, are going to write, or are testing have received  far less than half the page views of my more main stream posts.

At some point in the past two years I started to pay more attention to how many hits each of my posts received. I think I started to care abut page views a bit too much. If I want page view, I have to write about 5th edition D&D or OSR D&D. I get that. That doesn't bother me. There are however, hundreds of blogs out there that do just that, and many are written by  more insightful and skilled authors than I am. I'm not adding anything new to the community  by focusing where other tread. I'm just hunting page views. I don't want to hunt page views.

I don't do the  add sense thing. I have not tried to sell anything from the blog. If you click a link from this blog I get nothing out of it. So for me page views are more about self-confirmation. A good number of hits says "Hey! you're onto something here." That affirmation  is less valuable when I realize just adding D&D to a posts title is worth another 100 hits no matter what I write. 

Another detail is the number of page hits which are actuality web crawling bots looking for key terms, such as D&D or whatever. I'm not  ignorant enough to think I actually have that many regular readers living in Russia. In short for me, chasing page views is chasing the wrong dragon. 500 views with zero comments is as meaningless as zero views.

The only thing I have that sets my blog apart is my own work. With that in mind I'm going to refocus my  blog on my  own games, AAIE specifically, but others as well. I understand less people will read that content. That's OK. I appreciate everyone who has ever read this bog, and I doubly appreciate those who have left comments and started conversations. I hope people continue to engage with the blog, but if you don't, I understand.

At some juncture there will be a new AAIE PDF offered, and possibly a POD version as well. I'm not a professional by any stretch and the product will doubtlessly reflect that, but I want to see this happen. When that time comes, I want this blog to be a resource for those interested in AAIE. A place to come and see how the sausage was/is made. Hopefully viewers will leave feed back and all that Jazz. It's time for me to take my own work a bit more seriously and with luck re-energize my efforts. (Always a challenge for me.)

I will update and maintain the "Dust pan game resources page" which is a tab that holds all the posts I have written specifically for use in game. Those interested in D&D content will have all of it linked right there for their viewing pleasure. I was even contemplating  putting together a PDF with all the  good stuff contained in one nice document. That may still happen.

So that's my update. 
As always,
Thank you for reading.
-Mark

Thursday, April 6, 2017

WOW, March kind of sucked.

I only posted once in  March?
Holy crap. March sucked.
Sorry about that. Busy month off line.


Here, have a cute octopus.
It's my  way of apologizing.










I will try to do better moving forward.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Expanding a player base, finding a comfort level.

This is one of those odd posts about my personal experiences and views on RPG's. If that's not what your into cool.  Skip this post and comeback for the next one I'll probably have some random charts or something.

I thought the internet was going to fix this.
Apparently I underestimated my own propensity to act like a hermit.

I have a very small player base. A few good friends with whom I have been playing for years and in some cases decades. I love those guys, and appreciate them putting up with my creative impulses. As is the normal way of life however  we have gotten older, life has become busier. We rarely get to play games at the table. We have started to lean more and more heavily on virtual table tops like Roll 20 and I-table-top  to get our gaming fix.

That leads me to my point:
If I am doing 90% of my gaming on line anyway why am I not actively seeking new players to join in?
WHy am I not using the  net, to  cast a larger net?
I heard a podcaster the other day , talk about how he has played with over 150 different people in various games on Roll20. I was awed, and a bit intimidated by that figure. What struck me was I'm sure he's not even a stand out. I bet there are others out there who have gamed with a much higher number.
So why not me?

Is it lack of social media fluency?
I don't think so.
I'm out there in the RPG world. I don't hide that I embrace RPG's as a hobby.

     I have this blog. I'm  not  one of the RPG blog long beards by any measure but I have been doing this for a while. A fair number of people have left messages on this  blog since 2013. Some of those messages have been positive, some of them have been welcome corrections. Other messages have been well meaning efforts to point out how much of an idiot I am. These communications mean that at the very least other people in this hobby know that I'm also in this hobby.
 
  I sort of have a twitter presence. I say "sort of" because I find gaming twitter to be for the most part a much younger demographic than I am. Which is not a bad thing in fact for gaming, but for me to recruit players, not ideal*. I also find holding any kind of conversation on twitter nearly impossible. I'm not a fan of the form. With that said, I make it a point to mention this blog on twitter. I limit myself to mentioning the blog no more than once a month. I don't want to be spammy.
   
Then there is  Google plus. First let me say I enjoy G+  far more than I enjoy Facebook, if those two are still even comparable platforms. The ability to setup, view and join groups so  easily on G+  has made finding people of similar interest far  easier. Keeping that in mind I like "old" google plus much more than I like their current interface. So much so that it has lead me to be  much less active on the  platform than I was just a year or so ago. I'm afraid I lurk more than In contribute. (I think this blog still auto posts a notification to a couple groups whenever I publish a new post.) I lurk, generally because I don't ever want to come off as that guy who says, "I think this is how it should be done, cause "my way."

I guess that's why I don't actively recruit players to play online. A new player coming in may be accustomed to  lighting effects, custom tokens, API scripts, voice acting, and all that jazz. Much of which Roll 20 is great at supporting, but I have never used. That player may be sorely disappointed to realize I pretty much only use the die roller, and the game screen as a white board. Hell, I don't even use the camera, and rely on discord for voice chat. The internet has opened up the world of gaming to a degree of peer review, that just never existed before. My game on Roll 20  can  or will be compared to someone else, or to one of the several live play "shows" which are actuality now being produced for the internet. Where in the past each group did their own thing, unseen by  the wider community. If a group picked up a new player, or joined another group half the time it was like playing a completely different game due to the style differences the other group had developed. None of us play it exactly like Gygax originally played it, which  is good thing.

In my view it is hard to tell a good game From a bad one out side of , "Is everyone having fun?"
For example. (lucky or unluckily for me this happened after I started writing this post, so I have a personal example.)
I ran an absolutely shit game on roll 20 last night. Several factors went into that.  I was tired and that's the worst time too run a game. To much time had past between the last session and this one for  players to remember exactly why they were risking their necks in a cave. Everyone was distracted by things going on in the background.*** Finally I was rushed in the evening and wasn't as organized as I like to be. The game, like I said was not a good game of basic D&D.

When I ask the players, or at least the two I talked to this morning, they had a good time. I'm going to assume it was more about the conversations around the game than the game it's self. Which is perfectly acceptable when playing with people all of whom I have known for over a decade.
If I ran that same game for  a stranger I would give that new player the impression (rightfully so) that I am the worst GM ever.**** In fact the time spent was not the worst social experience ever it just wasn't the best experience if viewed solely as a D&D game.

So perhaps that's why I have never really gone out looking for or to be a player in a ton of online games. My RPG experience is unique to me, just like everyone else's D&D experience is unique to them. I'm not sure I want that experience to start to homogenize via things like  actual play live streams and  "professional, rent a GM services." I don't want there to be "best practices," or a right and wrong way to do RPG's. I will never look at another persons game and say "that GM sucks," as long as I can see everyone is having a good time.*****

I recently had a brief discussion on Twitter which relates to this subject where in I was told by DMLeviathan**,
"True. But, IMO , that's speaking more to style than ability. You can still learn skills  from other GM"
I wholeheartedly agree.  We can always learn from others. Pick up tricks, new ways to present information, good game management techniques all of that. For me though style, or the infinite multitude of potential styles is what makes the RPG hobby interesting and enjoyable.

In that same twitter conversation mentioned above I wrote:
"It's also kind of hard to know what "good" is as most of us DM in a vacuum, at our homes with our groups"
And,
 "Fair enough. A player coming to the table w, "You should DM more like that guy on Youtube." would be disheartening."
Lastly: The  order of these quote on Twitter was not as it is shown here, DMLeviathan's quote shown first here, was the last substantive post of the conversation to which I replied, "I agree." I have them in this order on the blog for purposes of the blog, to to misrepresent context in any way.

That is a 140 character synopsis of what this post is about. It  is also a perfect example of why twitter is shit for communicating thoughts.
I'm on / part of  the internet RPG community, I'm available. I embrace the digital medium for RPG's as best I can. I am happy to learn from other players and GM's methods. I'm just not sure I have a very high level of comfort when it comes to comparing GM's to each other based on games run on the internet or via services like Roll20 or I-table top.
The gap between what someone like me does with the technology which is bare bones, VS what a slickly produced, and fully realized use of tools available ^ is immense. The  good times had at the table however are not that different.

So What do I do to resolve this divide between What I think (I should be out there as part of the community more. VS what I do  (Hermit crab man)?
I'm going to start watching a lot more of the  exact actual plays and such that I have not been. Taking GMLeviathan's tweet to heart and going out there looking for the tips and tricks.
I'm also going to try and  get involved in more online games that other people run, as a player. One shots probably because committing to the same time and  day  is kind of hard for me.
I also Have to do some cons with Neal this year. I'm an asshole for not doing it. I find it hard to commit the time once the time comes. I'm psyched to do it a month away, but then invariably when the con gets closer, shit blows up on me at work, or some home thing crops up and by the time the weekend hits I just want to sit and play Terraria mindlessly. I have to fight that. I want to sit at stranger's tables and play RPG's.

To conclude this rather long and meandering post. As a community I see RPG's becoming more main stream (good.) I would hate to see the new ability to watch other groups play afforded by the streaming internet result in any single or particular style of  running a table come to be thought of as "the right way" to do  RPGs. However, I feel I need make myself more open to those influences as an individual. We are in the golden age of table top gaming right now, and to miss it would be a great mistake.

Thank you for reading.
Mark.


 (yes, I admit as a 41 year old man I find the idea of asking a 20 year old female gamer to join my online game a bit on the  creepy side. I know that won't be a popular viewpoint but it's true. Messages can be so easily misconstrued on the internet that I'm not even willing to open myself up to a perception of misguided intentions.)
** A good Twitter follow for those into talking about games.
*** It is Wrestle-mania Weekend after all and for us heathen pro wrestling fans that's basically Christmas. Everywhere you turn some one is streaming a good match.
**** Worst Miko Ever.
***** Even the concept of "Having fun as a GM's Goal in RPGS" has been debated on blogs over the years... What other goal is there why you are hanging out with friends playing a game? I know everyone's fun is different, but that's the point.
^ Man I spent a lot of  effort not mentioning Critical Role in the main text. Reason being is I love that stream without ever having watched it  because it has brought so many people, particularly women and young people, into the hobby. I don't want to cast any  aspersions towards the show because I have none to cast. It's also a perfect example of exactly what my online game can / will never look or sound like. Aint nobody got time for that kind of production.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

D&D and Disease

So I have this cold. This cold has plugged up my right ear in such a way that I can't hear a thing out of it. This also throws off my balance a bit. The closest thing I can describe to this effect is how one feels after getting punched hard in the ear. Rather than lasting for a few uncomfortable  minutes however this has been going on for days now and I'm starting to get a bit tired of it.

When grasping for RPG related inspiration, I am not starting in a good place today.
See Heroes don't catch the cold..
Never have I heard at the gaming table.  "Remember, Sir Gawain has the sniffles so he is at -2 on all his checks today."
I am totally at -2 on all my checks today... totaly.

The Dance of Death (1493) by Michael Wolgemut,


Sickness was a bit part of life in human history. Plague, Parasites, bad nutrition, bad hygiene, and general short life expectancy made most of human history a tough slog towards a quick death. A simple cold, could go to pneumonia then on to death pretty quickly back in 1330. We live in a golden age of health, compared to the past.

Lets just look at a few horrible things that happened to the  comon no hero types back in the day.


  • The European Black Death, Peaked around 1348 to 1350, Killed some 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia. ***
    • Lead to all kinds of social and religious upheavals, economic and trade break downs.
    • Took 150 years for the population to recover.
    • Returned again and again to kill people in pockets until the  19th century.
  • 1826 to 1837 The European Cholera Epidemic, One of six Cholera outbreaks.****
    • Killed quickly and gruesomely.
    • Thought at the time to be a punishment from god.
    • Carried by polluted water, the  warmer the better, would often strike seasonally.
  • Smallpox: has killed hundreds of millions of people throughout history including 90 to 95% of the native populations in the Americas (Smallpox was the big killer, influenza and measles did their part as well.).
    • Goes way back. It has been found in feces samples taken from Egyptian mummies. Including the mummy of Pharaoh Ramses V. way back in 1157 BC.
    • Leaves survivors poclmarked.
    • Seeds fear wherever it crops up.
    • Is still dangerous to this day.

After doing some reading I start to wonder about the  myths we have in our head of strapping warrior's landing in long boats brandishing  large heavy weapons. No doubt the  average viking war party was in  great physical condition. Every moment of their lives was a physical trial, they had to be. Were they healthy though? By healthy I mean were they what we think of today as healthy? What with all kinds of epidemics, parasites and illnesses running around, how could the  average fotman be a strapping specimen? I mean  those intestinal parasites alone rob a person of important nutrients and  could lead to any number of conditions. Weight loss, vomiting, intestinal blockage, and fatigue are all possible and  none are good  conditions for your average warrior. Worse yet from what I have read the ancient world was RIFE with those sort of intestinal beasties.

I wonder what the true physical health of the average warrior might have been in antiquity?
Sure enough if a warrior were from the higher ranks of a society, he / she would have access to the best of the clans food and may spend a fair amount of time training. I would think this would  create an elite few, knights, Jarls guards, chosen companions, and such that would be  more fit than the average man at arms. Some exceptional specimens could even crop up, Not every ancient warrior was Ormur St贸r贸lfsson whose log lifting prowess and  the  broken spine that resulted from it created a record that stood for 1000 years*. I'm honestly more interested in the  "50 mere mortals" who had to lift the massive 650 kg (1433 lbs) log onto his back. If we take the  Saga at face value and treat it as fact, Ormur was one strong fellow by any measure. Still I  imagine no less susceptible to all the  parasites, and disease floating around.

Not surprisingly,  a quick google search gave me very little in the form of information on the subject of health Vs brawn in our fighting ancestors. Shrug, will dig deeper at some point, but I'm pretty secure in my theory that that average health of people 600 years ago was not as good as it is today. Safe bet.

Why doesn't this kind of thing get much play in most Role playing games? **

My theory is because most role playing games are designed to tell stories about the mythical hero, and  not the supporting cast. Players want to be Jason, not an Argonaut. In fact most traditional games built around  troops of these heroes, traveling around in a party and generally being better than everyone around them. I don't think most folks want to play a character whose story ends when they die alone, under quarantine, suffering from some version of the black death. ***

So on to  D&D....I'm using D&D here as it's the world's most blahh blahh blahh blah..but also encompasses the  sword and sorcery style and time period I was thinking would be most affected by horrid festering plagues.

Lets start by sampling some disease magic. I'm sure there's more out there, I don't own every damn thing ever written, I'm going to sample some spells from various spells from various versions of D&D that have to do with disease specifically.

 In Basic D&D according to ye ole Rules Cyclopedia, disease magic is the sole domain of Clerics.






This cure disease spell cures one target of one disease with mummy rot and green slime infestation being used as examples. The duration of "permanent" leaves the player argument that the spell also imparts some kind of impunity open for debate. The basic D&D version of the  reverse "cause disease" is fatal over time which makes it deadlier than most other versions.


Though when talking about  disease in basic D&D and most of the other editions Purify food and water is where it's at. Even a low level cleric, if not busy  turning death at the local crypt or healing friends in some deep  hole somewhere, should purify every damn thing the party eats. Pure food and water would mitigate the risks of  parasites and disease straight away.



AD&D also had purify food and water, which looked like this:

Purify Food & Drink (Alteration) Reversible Level: 1     Components: V, S    Range: 3"     Casting Time: 1 round    Duration: Permanent    Saving Throw: None   Area of Effect: 1 cubic foot/level, 1" square areaExplanation/Description: When cast, the spell will make spoiled, rotten, poisonous or otherwise contaminated food and/or water pure and suitable for eating and/or drinking. Up to 1 cubic foot of food and/or drink can be thus made suitable for consumption. The reverse of the spell putrefies food and drink, even spoiling holy water. Unholy water is spoiled by pure water.

This version is interesting in that it's reversible, giving the  character the ability to spoil food and water one cubic foot at a time. That sounds kind of "meh" but cast in a  grain  silo or something, one foot of bad grain could  fester and poison a good number of  people. Honestly I prefer the basic version, because I don't want to argue over what 1 cubic foot of food might be.

AD&D also had it's own version of Cure disease:
Cure Disease (Abjuration) Reversible
Level: 3     Components: V, S    Range: Touch     Casting Time: 1 turn    Duration: Permanent     Saving Throw: None    Area of Effect: Creature touched
Explanation/Description: The cleric cures most diseases - including those of a parasitic, bacterial, or viral nature - by placing his or her hand upon the diseased creature. The affliction rapidly disappears thereafter, making the cured creature whole and well in from 1 turn to 1 week, depending on the kind of disease and the state of its advancement when the cure took place. The reverse of the Cure Disease spell is Cause Disease. To be effective. the cleric must touch the intended victim, and the victim must fail the saving throw. The disease caused will begin to affect the victim in 16 turns, causing the afflicted creature to lose 1 hit point per turn, and 1 point of strength per hour, until the creature is at 10% of original hit points and strength, at which time the afflicted is weak and virtually helpless.
This version of the spell has AD&D's penchant for wordy details and a sense of in  game time that some of the other editions lacked. The disease is cured in 1 turn or a week, depending out how sick the target is. The "cause disease" reversal of this spell is a spell in itself. Being this is AD&D you end up with takes affect after 16 turns, loose 1 hp per turn, and loose one point of strength per hour, so the  poor GM is stuck tracking  a bunch of  countdown timers until the head of the town guard is left shivering in bed.

D&D 3.5 has

Remove DiseaseConjuration (Healing)
Level: Clr 3, Drd 3, Rgr 3
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance: Yes (harmless)
Remove disease cures all diseases that the subject is suffering from. The spell also kills parasites, including green slime and others. Certain special diseases may not be countered by this spell or may be countered only by a caster of a certain level or higher.
Note: Since the spell’s duration is instantaneous, it does not prevent reinfection after a new exposure to the same disease at a later date.
This spell cures everything the  target has, with the caveat that "Certain special diseases may not be countered by this spell or may be countered only by a caster of a certain level or higher." Which is saying "This works unless the DM say it doesn't or whatever, good Luck!" This version of the spell also has an instant duration and a section in it's description specifically to kill any permanent immunity argument left over from basic D&D dead as a door nail. Also notice three different classes can now cast this spell. Neat, my ranger can fill in for the Cleric where disease is concerned. No one is dying of dysentery this game.


4th edition has it's own version:

Cure Disease is a 6th-level ritual.[PH:303]

The Cure Disease ritual wipes away a single disease afflicting the subject, whether the disease is active or still incubating. The subject is completely cured and loses any negative side effects and symptoms of the disease.This ritual is physically taxing to the recipient; if used on an injured character, it can even kill him or her. If you know that your subject is suffering from multiple diseases, you must choose which one this ritual will cure. Otherwise, the ritual affects whichever single disease you knew about.
Heal Check:
Upon completing this ritual, make a Heal check, using the level of the disease as a penalty to this check. The result indicates the amount of damage the character takes. Assuming the character survives, this damage can be healed normally. 
You learn the disease level when you begin the ritual, and at that point you can choose not to continue, without expending any components.
  Effect on Target
≤0         Death
                      1–9       Damage equal to the target’s maximum hit points
10–19 Damage equal to one-half of the target’s maximum hit points
20–29 Damage equal to one-quarter of the target’s maximum hit points
30+ No damage
While I'm no expert when it comes to (anything) 4th edition D&D, this isn't half bad. I like that it is a ritual, only cures one disease, and still has some risk built into it, making disease still feel dangerous.



5th edition has:
Lesser Restoration
2nd-level abjuration
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

You touch a creature and can end either one disease or one condition afflicting it. The condition can be blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned.

Which is basically the briefest way of stating how sure disease works. It's basically the anti AD&D version of the spell.



Then we come to "Contagion" which gives a target a nasty disease.  This spell is pretty nasty in the  second edition of the advanced game. (First appearance?)
The penalties to three stats, penalties to combat, and  the necessity  of a cleric spell or bed rest makes this  spell quite debilitating. The idea that it works on a timer (1d3 weeks) makes it very "roleplay-ish."  This is not a thing a necromancer just tosses out in combat. Contagions is something a character uses then waits, much like the reverse of cure disease from 1st edition. Notice no save?  This spell will affect anyone equally, the plague knows no rank or station. Those symptoms though. That's a plagu , even if it only affects one target. Also that last sentence in the  spell description leaves the door open for the GM to be particularly brutal if the a player is like, "I gots contagion? so what?"


By 3.5 contagion looks like this:

Contagion
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Blg 3, Clr 3, Destruction 3, Drd 3, Sor/Wiz 4
Components: V, S
Casting time: 1 standard action
Range: Touch
Target: Living creature touched
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
The subject contracts a disease selected from the table below, which strikes immediately (no incubation period). The DC noted is for the subsequent saves (use contagion’s normal save DC for the initial saving throw).
Disease                   DC   Damage
Blinding sickness 16   1d4 Str1
Cackle fever            16 1d6 Wis
Filth fever                12 1d3 Dex and 1d3 Con
Mindfire                  12 1d4 Int
Red ache                  15 1d6 Str
Shakes                     13 1d8 Dex
Slimy doom            14 1d4 Con
1 Each time a victim takes 2 or more points of Strength damage from blinding sickness, he or she must make another Fortitude save (using the disease’s save DC) or be permanently blinded.



The immediate effects are worse, there's a neat list of  8 made up diseases so as to not offend anyone, and now there is a saving  throw.  I strongly prefer the 2nd edition version of this spell, mostly  because it can be interpreted more freely by the GM. I don't know what "Mindfire" is but I could totally get behind giving a character scarlet fever.


The takeaway:

It's important to note that from early on in D&D individual diseases can be cured "instantaneously" or almost instantly if the proper level cleric is hanging around. For this reason I imagine in games with a higher level of magic anyone of any inport would have a connection with a church, be a patron of the a church and or keep a cleric on retainer. Simply for purify food and water and  remove disease. When I think about it these are like biblical level miracles being cast at relatively low levels. You hungry? Create food and water. Have a crappy well, purify food and water? Have cholera because of your goat crap infested water? remove disease.

This goes a good way to explain why D&D heroes are THE heroes. If as an individual a character has access to something like purify food and water or remove disease then they have a jump start on surpassing the normal 0 level dregs of society. The character will have the very best nutrition, and be immune or at least have an answer for many of the subtle wasting diseases that afflict the more common folk. In effect a level 3 warrior with a party including a cleric could live a life that breeds specimens like Ormur St贸r贸lfsson. This assumes the  game world is not set up in a way where clerics are handing out pure food to and casting remove disease on anyone who needs it. A game world that assumes clerics with  the  ability to cast such spell are a rare somewhat special exception.

Hans Holbein, Simolachri,(1549)
I also find it interesting that none of the diseases mentioned in the contagion spell description are communicable. What I mean is no one catches "Mindfire" from the  initial victim. So the rest of the party goes their merry way while Fifel the Punny staggers along bleeding from the  eyes until he can make a few Fortitude saves. My personal theory is this: Giving player characters the ability to create a communicable disease that may in fact wipe out a population if left unchecked is, in fact a horrible idea. On the other hand, having an NPC necromancer start an outbreak of  bubonic plague is a truly horrifying, logical story hook. Think of the undead army a necromancer could raise after his contagion wipes out 60% of a small city. (It's all part of his evil plot.)
As a DM I also understand that the  bookkeeping of a disease that may or may not spread between  characters with each case having its own duration and effects is a bookkeeping nightmare. Some GM's might embrace that sort of thing, but it's not my strong suit.


Some diseases for your game:
here are some diseases that cause public health concerns  today. Roughly built out for a "D&D" style game, your mileage may vary. My opinion is these disease are all bad enough to put a character in bed for period of time. Some of them like Ebola and Typhus are more than likely to kill a victim out right.

  • Sleeping sickness
    • Vector is Tsetse flies: African trypanosomiasis, also called African sleeping sickness, is a parasitic disease spread by the tsetse fly. Symptoms appear with in 1d3 weeks of the bite and include fatigue, high fever, headaches, and muscle aches. (-2 of CON)
    • 1d6 weeks later the second stage kicks in with confusion, poor coordination, numbness and trouble sleeping.(-1 to Dex, Str, Con. and Wis each week until treated.)
    • If the disease is not treated, it can cause death. (Character dies when any single attribute hits 0)
  •  Tick bite fever
    • Vector is ticks:  Symptoms usually appear within 1d2 weeks after a tick bite and often include fever, headache, muscle soreness, and a rash. At the site of the tick bite will be a red skin sore with a dark center. (-2 to Constitution and any Concentration checks. Long term: If untreated may cause reactive arthritis -1 Dex per year after 1d4 years.)
  • Amoebic meningitis
    • Caused by an Amoeba usually found in shallow surface waters. This disease and usually occurs in warmer climates. Salt water has not been associated with the  disease. Infection occurs when infected water enters the nose. This can happen when diving, jumping or swimming in fresh water. The amoeba then invades the brain and meninges through the nose. It is almost always fatal. This is real horror movie  shit. 1d8 days after infection the character will display sore throat, headache and pain in the forehead, hallucinations, vomiting, fever, neck stiffness and pain, seizures (fits).
    • If not treated with remove disease that day the  character is dead by morning.
  • Anaplasmosis: Vector, tick bites. within 1d2 days. 
    • The symptoms are flu like and will cause 1d6 loss of Con for 1d3 weeks, the a period of remission. If the disease goes untreated worse symptoms can crop up like difficulty breathing (permanent 1d6 con loss) or Neurological disorders (1d6 dex damage) these symptoms will crop up  with in  1d6 months of the initial infection.
  • Monkeypox: There was a recorded outbreak of this  nasty bugger in 2016 in Africa and an outbreak in America in 2003, not all plages are relegated to the history books. 
    • The virus enters the body through broken skin (even if not visible), respiratory tract, or the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth) Human to human transmission  happens via large respiratory droplets being  spread in close quarters. (coughing , sneezing)
    • 4d4 days after infection Monkeypox begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, and swollen lymph nodes. The victim develops a rash of lesions and pustules, often beginning on the face then spreading to other parts of the body.
    • ( For 1d4 weeks the character makes a daily saving throw. IF the save fails the character loses 1 CON for that day. If CON falls to zero the  character dies. During this period unsightly pox and lesions cause the charaters charisma to be half and the  character will loose 1d6 charisma permanently.) During this time the character is generally bedridden from weakness and fatigue.
  • Smallpox
    • Smallpox is a human only disease.
    • The variola virus is the only known cause of smallpox. The disease affects only humans. No animal reservoirs or insect vectors (insects that spread a disease) exist, and no carrier state (period when the virus is in the body, but the person is not actively sick) occurs.^
    •  Smallpox is a diseases that excels in cramped living quarters  as the victim may spread smallpox via droplets when coughing or sneezing. Victims are contagious from the time they develope a rash to the time their last scab falls off. 
    • After infection the virus will incubate for 4d4 days. For 1d4 days the victim will have vomiting, high fever and severe fatigue. At this point a character will be stuck in bed. After that the sores start on the  mouth and tongue, at this point the victim is the most contagious. The sores spread quickly to the whole body, usually within a day or so. Strangely as the rash appears the initial symptoms subside. That only lasts for a day ro so as the  sores fill with fluid the fever returns.
    •  Game wise handle the  disease like  monkeypox above, lasting 1d6 weeks
  • Tick paralysis: Vector: Ticks. Caused by a neurotoxin in the ticks saliva, not a separate virus or bacteria. Takes effect 2d4 days after the tick imbeds itself.
    • Begins with weakness in the legs and progresses quickly to the trunk then arms and head.
    • (-1d4 STR,) and Lethargy (-1 Dex.) per hour for the next 12 hours. If the character's strength falls to below 0 they suffer respiratory failure and die.
  • Typhus: Vector, parasites, fleas, ticks, louses. (This is not Typhoid fever that's a different disease.)
    • This disease has killed people epidemically over the years. In 1812 Napoleon's men retreating from Russia were decimated by Typhus . Over 100,00 Irish perished of Typhus between 1816 and 1819. America had an epidemic in 1837. Again this  disease thrive in populations cramped in filthy environments, like prisons, war camps, and the occasional fast food restaurant.
    • 1d2 weeks after infect the victim gets laid low with  fever chills with a rapidly spreading red rash starting 1d10 days latter. During this time (2d6 +2 days) the victim is at 1/2 Con and must save each day or suffer delirium during. Once Delirium sets in the  character cannot cast spells, concentrate, or makes skill checks. During delirium in the  victim must save once per day or loose 1 additional point of CON. If Con falls to 0 the victim dies. This lasts until the victim makes the saving throw and pulls out of the  delirium at which time they will recover 1 point of CON epr day until fully healed.
  • Viral hemorrhagic fevers This is a range of diseases, including the  now infamous ebola,  Dengue Fevers, and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
    • looking at Ebola as our base disease.
    • Vector: Not 100% known thought to be contact with an infected animal such as a monkey.
    • When an infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread to others through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with a victims (dead or alive) blood or bodily fluids (including sweat.)
    • After infection it takes 1d20 days for the  symptoms to start.
    • Symptoms include all of the normal suspects fever, weakness. these symptoms are serious enough to make the victim bedridden.
    • The symptoms include unusual / unexplained hemorrhaging, bleeding from various orifices and sever bruising.. 
    • The disease affects the victim's strength reducing it by 1d4 per day  and their Con reducing it also by 1d4 per day. This persists for 1d10 +6 days after the symptoms start. If either score falls below 0  the victim dies. A victim who survived Ebola is immune to the  disease for 1d6+6 years afterward.
The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel (painted around 1562) 


Gameification:
A good number of the diseases above are spread by "things". Fleas, lice, ticks, and what not. In a D&D sense, this lends use to a spell like "protection from insects." A druid notes many of the animals in an area where there has been illness are infested with ticks or fleas, he or she casts protection for insects as a safeguard. A generous GM might go away from the letter of the spell and decide that, yes that spell helps safeguard the Druid from catching an insect borne disease. 

Several of the Viral hemorrhagic fevers I read about are still contagious after the host's death. So now we have a necromancer who starts an outbreak and then raises zombies from the dead which are still contagious. The  people fighting the  zombies are forced to make saving throws after each encounter or contract the horrid disease. It's a fantastically morbid hook for a series of gruesome adventures.

Giant rats can carry disease just like normal rats. In fact a giant rat can host that many more fleas. A low level character contracting a flea borne illness could spark a quick quest to find and hire a priest high level enough to cast remove disease.  This is a two fold opportunity. One it makes giant rats relevant again, and a bit of a threat to even higher level characters. 

Second it's perfect for when one of the players doesn't show up for a game. 
"Remember when you fought those rats? Well, the thief (who is not here this week) contracted a sickness that has her laid up in bed and covered in blotches. The  local herbalist won't go near her, says it's plague. You have heard of a cleric in the  next city who is a talented healer, the herbalist says to go and find him, but you have to hurry!"
A fairly interesting side quest. Puts the thief in jeopardy, but if all goes well it will be ok to get the game back on track the next time the thief's player shows up. Make the getting of the priest the easy part. I wouldn't want to kill the thief when the player is not even at the game. Make everything around that objective complicated or at least make the trip a good opportunity to gather information  about, somehow advance the  main quest, or even new subquests. Another thing to think about. Once that thief is healed the party is going to owe some church a big favor.

Skaven (ratmen whatever your game calls em) are just big rats, they can carry disease to. They are also smart enough to weaponise this fact. Ratment go from  orc substitutes to another kind of threat altogether.


I think that's enough words about diseases  today.
Thank you for reading.
-Mark.



*The  record was broken by strongman / actor / competitive weightlifter Haf镁贸r J煤l铆us Bj枚rnsson, he took 5 steps with the same  weight log and  his back  did not implode.

** When talking role playing games in this  article, in this context, I'm talking about  old school style sword and sorcery games.
**** Cholera (this is a DOC, it will download.)
***** Smallpox 2 3
Intestinal Parasites 1 2
CDC used for  disease information.
In this article I referenced examples copied directly from texts of the various incarnations  of D&D, AD&D and so on. These examples are used editorially, No copyright violation is intended.