This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

DM-ing Phase abandon.

Phase is a game I wrote a few years ago.
Born into the world back when 4th edition was announced. Jay and I said  "We don't want to pay for another D&D" With that our group set out on making our own system. I have written the story of Phase on this blog more than once.
I have also called it "The best game no one has ever played."
To further the point I have called it "My favorite out of the games I have written."
I stand by those statements. The PDF as written has a couple mistakes in it (I'll fix them.) Some of the design choices may seem a bit contrived now that a few years have passed, but at least I know it works because our group has played an awful lot of it.

Phase Abandon is available at drive through RPG for the low price of $0.00 USD.

Phase abandon is  at it's heart a DM'less game. It was designed so I could play a character as well as share the G.M. duties. At the time Phase was written I was doing most of the game mastering in our group it seemed like a fun idea. Over the years however we have had ideas that work better with a G.M. then they might have in a G.M-less game so we have run the game several times with a G.M.

The Key to Phase is getting everyone on board with the setting. Setting the tone of the game right out of the gate. There needs to be a session zero where the setting is created by the group,or whomever wants to run the game comes to the  group with a clear idea of what the setting is. I suppose this can be said for every game. Phase with it's custom skills, goals, and character motivations needs a well defined setting to hold everything together.

If setting up a setting a game mastered phase game up start by creating five or so skills that are representative of the setting  to be run. Let each player choose one or more of these skills when creating their characters.

The most basic skill format is

  1. Skill name/ description
  2. What happens on success
  3. What happens when 1's are rolled.
A very simple weapon skill might look like:
  1.  I attack with my  sword.
  2. I do a number of damage equal to the  number off successes rolled.
  3. I take an amount of damage equal to the number of "1's" rolled.
For a setting like Shards of Thimbral which was to be set in a world of land masses floating in the sky I may well design a skill such as.

  1. Sky ship pilot. I have served on a sky ship and trained in their  operation., I know how to fly this thing.
  2. Rolled when making difficult maneuvers or in combat. In combat when an evasive  maneuver is attempted roll this skill if successful the  number of success can be subtracted from the success of pursuer, or enemy combatants next roll.
  3. When the roll is a failure any 1's rolled automatically damage your vessel.
Another tenant of Shards of Thimbral is that magic is a dangerous but sought after physical resource. I could parley that into a skill such as.

  1. Harvester: I know how to  handle Shards without harming myself or others.
  2. Rolled when  harvesting  magical shards each success on a successful roll represents an extra level of shard quality.
  3. On a failed roll each failed die degrades the quality of the  shard by 1 and each "1" rolled gives the  harvester a point of magical Blight. (defined in game)
SoT was to be about exploration as well as resource exploitation.  A skill like the following might be usefull.

  1. "Skytographer" I have dedicated my self to cataloging and  plotting lost sky islands. 
  2. On a successful roll the  character may  plot a course to any  island he or she has already visited (keep a list) and  cut time off the travel equal to the number of successes rolled.
  3. On a failed roll: Each failed die represents an extra day of wasted travel. any "1's" rolled send the  ship farther off course into unknown territory. (AKA the GM decides where the party will end up.)

And so on.
Decide on the  points which are going to define the setting. Build skills that reinforce those points then allow the  players to choose those skills when creating characters.
Using this method with "Phase" will allow a GM to  inject the setting with the flavor they are looking to create without limiting the free form system that makes phase different. 

Thank you for reading

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Two Maps, from a thing that never quite happened.

I have not done this for some time. "This" being just a usable map tossed on the blog for  anyone to  take and use for whatever they desire.

The  story behind this map is a tragic one. a while back I Started running a good old fashioned AD&D 2nd ed dungeon crawl, as it happens the game didn't stick. I think sometimes with these side games, if they don't stick it's honestly no big deal. It's not like our main campaign completely bit the dust. (Even though due to scheduling problems it sure seems like it has.) We got a few nights of fun out of it and  that's that. I suppose I could do a whole blog about why some games stick the go on to become the long running games we all love, versus the games that  don't go anywhere. Though I think that ground has been covered before by people a boat load brighter than I am, so all you get are some maps.

The maps: One is of a mining town perched on the  side of a treacherous mountain. The other map is  a section of mine the players explored.
I think the mining town map is  kind of shite. Just being honest. 

How I started to use it:
The town is on a plateau. A low stockade style wall surrounds the simple wood and  salvaged stone buildings. There are two gates one leading out of the camp onto a rampart heading down the mountain. The other gate leads to the  recently discovered and excavated mine entrance. The area marked "The Basset" was a mooring point for an air ship which brought the players to the mine. The air ship was also responsible for all the  supplies to the mining colony which meant it was going to drop the characters off then leave right away. In the game I ran the party was hired from the outside by an archaeologist (stationed at the  site marked "S" on the map) who was working in the newly re-discovered mine to find his assistant who had run off into the mines with the  archaeologists site survey. The archaeologist has no idea why the  assistant might have run off, however he  does want his  survey back so he can  finish  his work before the quickly arriving miners start tearing into the ancient mine below looking for  riches.

The mines are also very "plain" but there was enough meat on it that the players had to think about how to get where they wanted to go then what to do at the end. I'm not going to key and detail all the rooms and what not. Take them, re-key them, use them for whatever nefarious plot you see fit.

Some of the things I did:
There is one room noted in the mines with a heavy metal trap door covered in.  The  party fought on top of that door over the course of several rounds they failed check after check to notice it. When it finally opened only the thief fell in better still she managed to catch herself. The point of the door was not to drop a thief to her death, but to make a very loud "BANG" when it swung open, alerting the  guards in another section of the cave.

There were two exits from the map: The passage at the top of the map marked "caves would have moved of into more proper style mines. In my game a trope of goblin had take these old mines and recently had been sneaking into the mines and robbing supplies from the newly arrived miners,

 The area marked "temple" was in my game a stair case which had been filled in with sand. At the base of the stairs (once the sand was gone) was a stone door which lead into the next area of the adventure. The party made it that far however we dropped the game before exploring any further.

That's it for now.
I hope someone finds some use for these sketches.

Thanks fro reading .

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Anatomy of, AAIE magic.

Small AAIE Update:
On Saturday Morning I'm running a game off AAIE at "Gaming in the  woods" a new Con just starting up this year in Poughkeepsie NY. I guess this isn't  playtesting anymore, now we're just playing. Editing and such continues. I still haven't done anymore art for the game, so ... that's on me.

Also One of the games I wrote back in 2006, which was played quite often between then and 2014 (when fifth ED dropped and we all decided to try it) Can now be downloaded on Drive through RPG for Free.
It's Called Phase Abandon. The  document was edited and Laid out by the multi talented Jens D. From the Disoriented Ranger Blog. The Drive through RPG was set up by the equally talented Neal T. who deserves all the credit for getting this stuff out there.
Quick note about Phase abandon: It's very much a "Narrative style" game. While I hate those labels because of the arguments they cause, I had to point out the Phase Abandon is very much unlike AAIE or D&D.

Yet another in my now growing "Anatomy of" series. This series deals with  various design aspects from my game "Amazing Adventures and Incredible Exploits." The articles below are written to provide clarity concerning the  AAIE game specifically how the  moving parts of that game are meant to  work together.

The series includes:
The Anatomy of Weapons.
AAIE "The town"
The anatomy of Balance.
The Anatomy of a Perk.
The Anatomy of an Ability
The Anatomy of AAIE Magic

The Anatomy of AAIE magic:
This is may not be my longest post, but its still a doozy.
First of all I think I need to start with a bit of background. (start building the  pyre while getting the tar and feathers all warm and ready.) I hate, have always hated D&D Magic. The whole Vancian magic concept has never conceptually made much of sense to me. Worse yet it has never  "excited" my imagination. It has never felt like magic to me. Not the magic I had seen in movies, not the Magic I had read about in  books. (Outside of Jack Vance but .. yeah .. ) Want proof? Ask the people I game with  how many spell casters I have ever played? Not many.
I did a bit of thinking on the subject when I wrote AAIE. The idea that magic users forget their memorized spells when they are cast, the root of the  whole Vancian thing, never bothered me. The  idea of having a limited number of spells, or the need to study each day were also not that offending. When I got down to it, the lists of spells is what has always put me off. Here are my gripes. Primarily I never want to hear "let me look up that spell" again. I am not a fan of that. D&D went a good distance by printing spell cards for each class. As handy as spell cards are WoTC has enough of my money already. I'm not going to ask the players in the game I run to buy them. A pile of index cards works well enough. Prepared players help a great deal to mitigate this gripe. The  people I game with always  have the pages their spells are located on written on their spell lists. Those things are great, but it still takes the player out of the game into reference mode every time they want to cast.*

My second gripe is the lack of creativity involved in predefined spells. The system is supposed to represent magic.  Having each spell predefined by a stat block reminds me more of doing math  than indulging in the dark arts. Sure I have spent time  tying to find creative uses for spells like "rope trick," or "Illusionary Terrain." ** Milking as much use as possible out of the spells, while fun as a pursuit, has never felt magical or creative to me.

With all this in mind I took a cue from some of the older editions of Ars Magica in attempting to create a more interpretive Magical system.
AAIE uses what are termed "keywords" along with "casting styles" to facilitate magic.
A new spell caster knows a number of keywords equal to his or her Academics score.  These words are the building blocks of their spells. A player may use a number of keywords equal to their level +1.
For example if a wizards keywords are, Rune, Thundering , light, and Weapon. That caster at level 1 could cast a spell called. "Thundering Rune" , simply "thundering", "Light Rune" or any other combination. Each keyword used in the spell makes the  spell more difficult while adding to the  spell's effects.
It is up to the player to describe the  desired effect then for the GM to arbitrate if the effect is in bounds.

Using our example above "Thundering Rune" could be a mark made on a door way that  causes a great noise when the door is opened. The key word "Light" could be cast in a myriad of ways. Light the noun as in illumination, light as in the  adjective  "off little weight", light the verb as in light the candle.
At first level the  player could cast "Light Weapon" which could mean a weapon that spreads illumination, causing a weapon to go aflame, a weapon made of light or a large weapon the  player just made weigh less...

How hard a spell is to cast is determined by  the characters Casting style. A casting style are the wizards equivalent of the abilities given to the other classes. A wizard starts with one style he or she may pick up others as they level up.
Spells are categorized at the time they are cast by the GM  as either Offensive, Defensive, Summoning, or Utility. Each casting style has base difficulties along with benefits or drawbacks depending on the category of spell cast.

Lastly each key word used in a spell increases the  base difficulty by one. Our example spell above "Light Weapon" would incur a +2 difficulty to cast. This being AAIE the GM adds that in before taking the characters relevant attribute into account to determine the final difficulty . In effect it's math the player never has to see.

Here is an example  Spell casting Style (or ability if you like)

Offensive Caster.
(You have put it into your mind that magic is to be used for the sole purpose of destruction and death. You are not much fun at parties.)
Attribute: Academics 
This is the character's attribute that will lower the casting difficulties.
Difficulty Offense Vs armor of target - casters academics
When casting  offensive spells the  caster may use their academics score to lower the difficulty.
Difficulty Summoning: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty Defense: Vs 12 + modifiers
Difficulty of Utility: Vs 12 + modifiers
The other spell categories don't get the academics modifier because this is the offensive casting style.
Costs: Myst and focus by spell +
You may add more Myst to any spell to add damage. 1 point for 1 point.
Every spell costs d6 myst and d6 Focus, +1 per keyword used to cast, offensive casters may choose to spend more if they wish to do more damage.
Common: You do normal damage + (see above)
This is the result of a normal success (the result of a successful casting with a non-exceptional roll on the  effect die.)
Perk 1: Stun opponent
Perk 2: knock down.
Perk 3: Push
Critical: X 2 damage.
If the  roll is successful and the  effect die is high  these are the perks the  player may add to their spell. Base effects are also  determined by the number of keywords used. Each key word used adds a D6 to the effects.
Fumble: Use spell fumble table
IF the roll is a failure along with an effect die result of  1, there is a pretty solid chance the  player will blow themselves up ...

Going back to our "Light Sword" spell example.
If it were cast using the  Offensive caster ability above, with the player electing to create a, "Sword made out of  the purest light in their hand!"

  • It's a second level spell. It uses two key words "Sword and Light"
  •  I would love to say this is an offensive spell to match the characters casting style but actually it's not. It's a summoning spell as the  player is  summoning a sword of light to their hand. 
  • The difficulty would be 12 (+2 because it is a spell using 2 keywords)  For a total of  14.
  • It will cost the caster 1d6+2 Myst and Focus. ( I usually ask players to roll those costs individually but it's not a rule.)
  • Assuming the  roll is a success as a GM I would ask the player to describe what the Light sword looks like.  After all it's that wizards light sword, not necessarily like anyone else's
  • The  sword will do 2d6 damage. (2 key words.)
  • The  sword will last 2d6 turns or until dispelled, or another spell is cast. (again 2 keywords.)
  • If I were running the game I would say the  sword casts a glow like a torch, not more because the player never stated they wanted it as a source of illumination but simply as a sword. 
  • I would give it a bonus of 1d6 damage vs undead. Given that the  player said it was made of "the purest light" I just think that would be cool.
  • A smart player would write down the  bonuses I gave to the light sword then ask for them again next time they cast it. A wise player would write down the bonuses I gave to the light sword then mention them the next time they cast the spell then say, "But if you think something else works better..."

Does this seem like much of the  magic system is dropped in the GM's lap for case by case arbitration? Yes.
In my opinion the one great balancing and arbitrating  system most games have in common is the game master. Trying to build a "magic system" that will catch  all of the ideas a player may come up with is neigh impossible. With That in mind I  decided that any free form magic system will have to lean on the GM more heavily than a system where the spells are pre-written. ***  I find arbitrating the magic to be fun. I'm constantly surprised by the ideas players come up with. Equally exciting are  the  ways in which they use keywords to adapt to situations. It's creative, allows the players to stretch out within the game world to work the system a bit. Finally AAIE magic doesn't require those lists of spells for everyone to memorize. It can also be a bit silly at times, after all that's to be expected in AAIE.

In a nutshell that's the basics of AAIE Magic.

Wild and  strange no doubt. I have found it to be the hardest part of the game for new players to  get used to. They usually end up liking it, but it has an adjustment period that the other classes just don't have.

Thank you for reading, and have a great one!

*Unless the group is playing 5th edition which has offensive "cantrips" for each casting class which  everyone has memorized word for word...and are honestly repulsive to me.
** One of the most underrated spells in the  D&D  canon of spells. In my humble opinion.
*** Not that D&D style spells don't require a substantial amount of DM arbitration  now and again.