A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


25Aug/19Off

Atomic Age – Dice Mechanic

This is the FIRST article in my series on the design aspects of my new RPG in-the-making... Atomic Age!

In thinking about what Atomic Age is going to be, one has to start at the thing that is the basis for the entire system: what dice to use. There are so many different systems out there that it's not as easy a decision as one would think, and it all depends on what you want to get out of the system.

Expectations

So, first of all, let's define what we want to get out of the system:

  • Do not overcomplicate the math. I don't want a system that will involve adding eight different numbers before I can determine if the roll was successful or not. So, basically, I want something along the lines of [die roll]+[modifier] >= [target number] to determine success or failure.
  • Make it flexible, so that the die rolls can be improved or hindered in a variety of ways.
  • Make it easy for people to understand and relate to.

Let's get one thing out of the way: although I appreciate and acknowledge all the many d6-based systems out there, I want Atomic Age to be based on the d20. But there's more to it than that.

I also like to have a mechanism by which, the more of an advantage you have, the more dice you roll. Mainly because it makes the advantage feel more tangible, and players do like rolling dice after all. But I also don't want a system where the players end up dumping a Shadowrun-sized vat full of d6s on the table and then have to calculate up all the dice.

Probability Analysis

For all the probability analysis that will follow, I'm going to use AnyDice to generate charts and probability math.

As for what we will use as a basis for the math, let's assume that you're making an attack with a base +5 attack bonus against an AC of 15.

D&D 5E

The concept of "roll two d20s and pick the better one" is not a new thing... it's been around for some time, and there are several systems that use it. Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition gave the mechanic a name: "advantage" and "disadvantage".

In past editions, figuring out a roll involved adding a lot of numbers. Attribute bonus, proficiency bonus, attack modifiers, target DC modifiers, etc... The notion of "advantage" was reflected by simply adding more modifiers to your roll so that your end result is more likely to be higher than the target DC.

The 5th Edition mechanic of advantage/disadvantage simplified all that. Your modifiers generally don't ever change due to circumstances (there are some exceptions, like adjusting AC due to cover, but still), and if you're in an advantageous position, rather than add more numbers to your roll, you simply roll two dice. It's easy to resolve!

It has one drawback, however: "roll two dice" is the ONLY thing you can do. "Rules As Written" you can't roll three or four if your situation is even more advantageous. For example, consider these possible attack rolls:

  1. Attacking a target that you are flanking with an ally.
  2. Attacking a target that is paralyzed.
  3. Attacking a target that is unconscious.

In all those situations, "advantage" is pretty much all you get, although attacks #2 and #3 should clearly be significantly more advantageous in terms of your ability to hit. Attack #3 has the added benefit of being an automatic crit or "coup de grace", but the chance of hitting is the same; it's an advantage attack roll against the target's AC.

"Rules as Written" there is no mega-advantage mechanic. There is nothing documented where you would roll three d20s. Except for spell modifiers (we'll talk about that later), it's always two and only two d20s.

Probability

So take our probability example... A standard die roll of 1d20+5>=15 has a 55% chance of succeeding.

With advantage, that probability rockets up to almost 80%...

...and with disadvantage it plummets to 30%.

Disadvantage is brutal in 5E; when rolling disadvantage, the probability of success plummets dramatically.

And, as mentioned above, that's it. If you have a superior advantage, it won't be more than 80%. It is what it is, pretty much always.

Shadow of the Demon Lord

Rather than use the "advantage" mechanic of 5E, I looked to another system for inspiration... Shadow of the Demon Lord.

SotDL uses a system where you still roll a d20 and add modifiers, but you can also add a "boon" or a "bane". A "boon" is adding a d6 to the d20 result, while a "bane" is subtracting a d6 from the d20 result, and they cancel each other out. If you have more than one boon or bane, you roll multiple dice and choose the higher result.

Personally, I like this mechanic for a variety of reasons...

  1. It physically acknowledges a superior advantage. If you have a high advantage, you'll be rolling a fistful of d6s.
  2. Even with a fistful of d6s, the probability does not increase linearly.
  3. It allows the boon/bane dice to be modified using external abilities.

Probability

So the base probability remains the same... 55% success.

... but, instead of advantage, we add a "boon" d6. That increases the probability to a little over 72%, which is comparable to the 80% of advantage.

...and let's say you have two boons. It increases slightly, to 77%.

On the other side of the card, one bane isn't as painful as disadvantage; 37% chance instead of disadvantage's sharp drop to 30%.

...and two banes is still at 32%.

I kinda like this... The probabilities work out the same, albeit it might be a little more swingy, and the advantage or disadvantage is both visual and tangible.

How would this work? Well, take D&D spells like Bless for example... it normally adds a d4 to rolls. Using this mechanic, Bless will simply add one boon. You flanking someone? Add a boon. The target paralyzed? Add a boon. Flanking a paralyzed target? That's two boons total... make him pay!

13th Age

One mechanic I liked from 13th Age is the notion of increasing or decreasing a die roll one or more "steps". For example, if the base die of your attack is a d6 and a feat allows you to increase it one step, the base die becomes a d8.

The way I see it, this can be worked in to this system a little easier. For example, there may be a spell or class ability that will allow you to make your first boon die a d8 instead of a d6, or turn your first bane die into a d4 instead of a d6.

Conclusion

So taking all that into consideration, here's my plan for Atomic Age:

Bonus and Penalty Dice

I don't want to call them "boon" or "bane" for obvious reasons, so for now let's call them "bonus" and "penalty" dice. Standard die is a d6, and it may increase or decrease steps depending on abilities.

"Bonus" and "penalty" dice cancel each other out, and if rolling multiple dice you choose the highest result in the pool.

Attack Rolls

[1d20]+[ability score]+[proficiency modifier*] vs target AC

(NOTE: I'm debating keeping the notion of "proficiency"; more on that at another time)

Skill/Ability Checks

Untrained: [1d20]+[ability score] vs Target DC.

Trained: [1d20]+[ability score]+[trained bonus (TBD)] vs Target DC.

Modifiers

Have some sort of advantage (like Bless, for example)? Add one or more "bonus" d6s.

Have some sort of hindrance (like Bane, for example)? Add one or more "penalty" d6s.

Stuff To Be Determined

What I need to figure out still is what defines the modifier. I'd like to avoid the notion of a proficiency bonus or the linear escalation of numbers (which was absurd in 4E). In the best of all possible worlds, I'd like an average DC to always be DC 15 regardless of whether you're level 1 or level 10, although it would be more likely you'll succeed the higher level you are.

13Aug/19Off

A New Beginning

It's been eight months since I post here... better now than never.

Over the past week I've been thinking a lot, specifically about Atomic Age.

In case you don't know, Atomic Age is my post-apocalyptic treatment of the Archmage Engine, which powers 13th Age. It came to be because I wanted Gamma World, and I wasn't allowed to create Gamma World content for fear that WotC would sue me into non-existence (they had threatened to do so already). But, during its development, it became something different... It's still post-apocalyptic, but not as zany and off the wall as Gamma World is known to be. I think of it as somewhat of a cross between Gamma World, Mad Max and what the future would be like in a Terminator film that didn't time travel.

But here's the thing... when you choose a system to develop your campaign setting around, most of the time you're stuck with the nuances of that system. The Archmage Engine is a great system, don't get me wrong, but there are some aspects of it that didn't feel right or I couldn't get to work with what I wanted to do. For example, how would mutations work in a 13th Age system? What about radiation poisoning? And there are some thing that came with it that I didn't want at all... like magic item "quirks", which are good by design in a fantasy game like 13th Age but just don't fit in my campaign setting.

Since I wrote most of Atomic Age, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition made its appearance and the landscape changed. As is the case with the Archmage Engine, I have some issued with 5E in that, although it does some things really well, other things not so much. For example, creating monsters and encounters in 13th Age is stupid easy... in 5E, not so much. And 5E doesn't even come close to the background/icon system that Archmage provides.

So I had a crazy idea... why bind myself to a single system? DMs do it all the time... cherry pick bits and pieces from multiple systems, campaign settings, and other source material and create a virtual Frankenstein's Monster of an RPG system to use in their homebrew campaigns. Only I want to take that Monster and publish it.

So I decided to try and write my own RPG system, picking and choosing the features that I want from multiple systems and melding it all into one amorphous blob that will power Atomic Age.

I'm insane, aren't I? Seriously, I have no idea how this is going to go... mainly because it's a daunting task and I'm not exactly sure I know what I'm doing in this regard.

But I can't do it alone.

So I've done something crazy: I've reworked my Patreon to be aimed specifically towards the creation of this new engine. And I'm going to do something even crazier: try to stick to a regular schedule in which I dicuss what this engine is going to be, which means this blog will hopefully see activity it hasn't seen in ages.

Will this become a reality? Who knows... but I have to try. A lot of work has been done for the Archmage Engine version of Atomic Age, but I don't see that ever being cobbled together in such a way that I will be happy with all aspects of it. Hopefully, this way I will actually be happy with it because it'll be wrapped around something I myself put together for the specific purpose of powering the campaign setting.

I hope you all will join me on this crazy ride. My Patreon is open to your support! If you sign up now, you will get my latest published adventure, Witness Protection, absolutely free!

Ever forward...

27Jan/18Off

Zoinks!

"A Night in Seyvoth Manor" for 5E

In case you are not aware, we're running a Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of our ENnie-nominated adventure A Night in Seyvoth Manor that is already 300% funded!

We continue to be overwhelmed... Over 300% funded?!? Never imagined we would get that far, and we're eternally grateful for that!

The only stretch goal we've had so far is the creation of pre-generated characters, and we had a bit of a crazy idea with that that we're wondering if we can make it work: create two groups of characters...

  1. The original Scooby Gang - Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby
  2. The "new" Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles and Cordelia

This of course brought up some questions... like what would the races and classes be? So far this is what we've come up with:

ORIGINAL Scooby Gang:

Fred: Human Paladin

Daphne: Elven rogue

Velma: Lore-heavy mage, either a halfling or a gnome

Shaggy and Scooby: ... Oh boy... Let me come back to this one later.

NEW Scooby Gang:

Buffy: Human monk

Willow: Half-elf warlock

Xander: Halfling bard

Giles: Elf or maybe human... and I'm debating either a cleric or a lore-heavy mage

Cordelia: Human or elf, sorceress (wild magic), heavy on Charisma

Now, let's get back to Shaggy and Scooby... Neither of these are "characters" in the D&D sense of the world, so we'll have to take some liberties. I've asked this question on Twitter and I've come up with two possibilities:

Shaggy and Scooby are the SAME CHARACTER: As above, Shaggy is a Druid with wild-shape that can only convert to one type of animal... a Great Dane (we can go with the Mastiff stat block).

Scooby is the main character, and Shaggy is the animal companion: Let's face it... Shaggy is not worthy of being a PC, and if anything he's Scooby's sidekick. So make Scooby a class capable of either an animal companion (ranger?) or a familiar (mage?), and make Shaggy that semi-useless familiar.

Personally I'm leaning towards the first option, but that introduces another problem: there are only four characters, when we kinda need five. So who should the fifth character be? None other than Scrappy as, you guessed it, a gnome barbarian!

So, since we've gotten this far without mentioning stretch goals, I'm going to see about stylizing these character sheets as best I can and including a portrait for each character by the lovely and talented Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg! We're also going to see about working them in to a cover in such a way that doesn't get us sued by Hanna-Barbara.

We've considered creating other types of characters, some that are more down to Earth and fitting the theme like Van Helsing, Blade, etc... but the above somehow feels most appropriate.

Anwyay... We keep trudging foward! Five days left! Tell your friends!

12Jan/16Off

Hell Freezes Over

hell-froze-over-400x221

Well it finally happened... WotC has released the 5th Edition SRD, officially putting 5E within the bounds of the OGL and, at the same time, announced the DM's Guild.

I admit I wasn't sure if this day would come. Lord knows I've been harping over it since 5E was released (and, arguably, before that), and I've heard may a rumor as to when it would happen only to have the months fly by. But WotC pulled their version of Half-Life 2, keeping the world in the dark over the fact that this was going on until the day they dropped it on the world like an anvil.

Now, admittedly, what they did isn't exactly cut and dry and there are still a few questions that need to be answered. Hopefully a lot of those questions will be answered in the upcoming AMA on the 15th.

In the meantime, and I may not be 100% sure on all this, but here is my interpretation of what this means.

 

So it seems you can publish 5E content in two different ways:

1) Using the OGL

You create your own product and sell it however you want to, in any way you want that does not include the DM's Guild (see below). As is standard with the original OGL/SRD, you cannot use any of WotC's intellectual property: no deities, no named things (places, people, etc), no campaign settings, and the usual "god help you if you use this" rogue's gallery of monsters restricted due to being "product identity" (sorry, no beholders!).

You also cannot use any official D&D or WotC branding (other than any OGL logo they may eventually release... and I'm remaining hopeful they will) as is the case with most other OGL publications. What and how you reference the core materials is covered within the SRD; if it's in there you can reference it, but how to do that exactly I'm not sure about.

2) Using DM's Guild

According to the guidelines that seem to be part of the DM's Guild (which is, effectively, Drive Thru RPG), it seems you can use any of D&D's IP that would have otherwise been restricted using by the OGL... including those elements that fall under IP (beholders! Woo!). Admittedly I'm not 100% sure if this is the case, but it does make sense because of the nature of the Guild; you are under WotC's coverage, and you are effectively selling a product they sanction and make a profit on themselves.

Although it wasn't clear at first, it seems you are NOT required to make your product an integral part of the Forgotten Realms (this was confirmed by Chris Perkins on Twitter).

There is one caveat: If you sell on the DM's Guild, you can sell ONLY on the DM's Guild. In other words, you can't sell it anywhere else: can't sell it on your website, or Amazon, or even in stores. WotC effectively owns the rights to it and you get a cut of the profits... and it is a smaller cut than if you tried to sell it yourself... but you have to consider that you are now exposed to a much larger audience and promoted by WotC.

If WotC likes your work, there appears to be the possibility WotC acquiring your content and making more of it: publishing it under official WotC cover (which will allow you alternate sale venues), adding the material it to video games or other digital products, etc... It also displays your product to a much broader audience in an environment directly promoted by WotC; WotC will not openly acknowledge that 5E products exist anywhere else, so to get similar exposure you would have to advertise yourself... and effectively become a WotC competitor.

 

So what does this mean?

Let's take my current product - The Coming Dark, Chapter One - which is, as it stands now, is technically OGL compliant (well... 99% compliant, actually).

Option #1 above:

I publish it on my own as Darklight Interactive through my Drive Thru RPG storefront. I will make full profit on anything sold there.

I retain ownership of the product and can sell it anywhere except the DM's Guild itself. I will, however, not have anywhere near the exposure I would otherwise get on the DM's Guild and would have to do my own advertising... arguably against product WotC would be pushing themselves.

I cannot use any official WotC branding, and reference only things from the 5th Edition core that appear in the SRD. No beholders!

I can Kickstart it like I could any current OGL product.

Option #2 above:

If I publish it through the DM's Guild, I can ONLY sell it through the DM's Guild. I, technically, lose exclusive ownership to the product in that I can't sell it anywhere else.

I gain less of a percentage, but it is likely the product will sell more just by sheer numbers. A lot more people will be looking at it, and it will be exposed to a very targeted audience.

If WotC likes your product, they will promote your product. If they really like your product, they may help you publish it in alternate venues... or publish it themselves... or cram the content into a video game. Whatever. As I said above, think of it as them owning the product; you're along for the ride.

I can include content I would otherwise not have been able to, like beholders parading through Waterdeep.

Whether products listed in the DM's Guild could be Kickstarted is unclear. After all, Kickstarter itself can be considered a storefront... and that goes against the exclusivity the guild provides.

 

As it stands now, I will likely put The Coming Dark, Chapter One through the DM's Guild. I admit I'm not exactly thrilled in doing that, but the difference in exposure is monumental. I am not sure how the Guild's guidelines of being the exclusive storefront falls into the Kickstarter scheme, but I hope that will be addressed in the upcoming AMA... that will decide whether it is Kickstarted or not. If I can't Kickstart it to be a part of the DM's Guild, it will be published with minimal art... and I will likely have to pay for editing out of pocket.

Anyway, I think this is a very good step in the right direction for WotC. I really wish them all the best in this new venture, and I look forward to seeing what the publishers and fans out there bring to the world of D&D 5th Edition.

24Nov/14Off

The Fonts of D&D 5th Edition

Since I posted this on Twitter, I thought I would expand on it.

As a publisher, one of the things I always have to keep in mind is that my product's design and layout should be reasonably close to the official products while being very clear that it's not actually an official product. Although my data layout is fairly similar, I have ultimately chosen a different set of fonts and whatnot so that I have my own unique look... but there are still a lot of people out there that want whatever they do to look like D&D in terms of layout.

So I took the D&D Basic Rules free PDF, opened it up inside of Adobe Acrobat X Pro (part of the Adobe CS6 Master Suite), and looked at what fonts and colors they used. And this is the result...

All these fonts aren't exactly cheap, it seems. At first I thought they were free because I had them already, and I'm not exactly sure why I do but I do have upwards of 6,000 fonts on my system (they come with the job) after all... I have one of my many clients to thank I suppose. If you don't have a client to thank, going out and buying these will cost you like a grand total.

If you look around you can find some pretty close alternatives. For example, this font has been suggested (through the WotC forum thread here) as a stand-in for Bookmania. And ufonts has a wide assortment of ScalaSans fonts although they don't explicitly have ScalaScans Offc or ScalsSans Sc Offc.

So, although this information is here, I have to put a disclaimer: it is not the best of ideas to make your product look exactly like WotC's... Arguably, that's one of the reasons I got a C&D from them in the first place. You simply can't pretend to be an official product by making yourself look like an official product throughout. So you might be OK using this style for fan created, free content... but please do not use these fonts and colors for a retail product. OK?

Filed under: 5E, Design, DnD, Publication No Comments