Asmor's Geek Blog

Auto-correcting Luck with Fudge

by on Jan.17, 2012, under Advice

I’ve been thinking about fudge dice. For those unfamiliar, fudge dice have an equal chance of rolling blank, plus or minus. In numerical terms, that’s -1, 0, or 1. Typically in fudge you roll 4dF, generating a number from -4 to 4, with a bell curve heavily skewed towards 0.

Anyways, I had some ideas about the dice, in addition to being used to generate a random number, also having other effects.

For example, say you generated a positive point (+P) for every plus rolled, and a negative point (-P) for every minus rolled. Then you could have powers based on spending those points. I’d probably have defensive powers use +P and offensive powers use -P.

That lead me to the idea that these points could actually be used to compensate for someone’s luck. Suppose instead of -P and +P, you got adrenaline for rolling minuses and fatigue for rolling pluses. Now you’ve got a system where people that roll poorly are building up some kind of advantage, and people that roll well are getting a disadvantage.

One issue with basing benefits on rolls is that you can often game the system by trying to force rolls. This doesn’t matter so much in combat, where you might have a turn and there’s an opportunity cost to everything you do, but in a less structured encounter it can be quite abusable.

So what if for every minus you rolled, you got a point of karma. For every plus you rolled, the GM advances a doom track. When the doom track reaches a certain level, something bad happens. Maybe random badness, maybe something the GM planned out ahead of time. You can use it as a timer of sorts; at 30 doom, the prisoners are executed, or the ship leaves port without the PCs, etc.

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Major update for Thundermaster

by on Sep.13, 2011, under Creations

I’ve had a few big feature updates to Thundermaster in the past couple weeks.

  • AEG has graciously given me permission to use some Thunderstone graphics to spruce it up.
  • I’ve added support for localization. It’s now available in French and German. If you’d like to help add additional languages, please see these instructions.
  • Thundermaster will now use your browser’s application cache, where available. As a result, it should be available offline.
Enjoy!
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Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt

by on Jun.24, 2011, under Book Reviews

I’ve recently caught up with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series (the sixth of ten planned books was released recently and the seventh is delayed until October), and I’ve been hooked since I picked up the first book in February.

Reading the blurb, I didn’t expect much. I generally like books with lots of flashy magic and fantasy, and this didn’t really seem to have any of that. On top of it, I thought the idea of insect-themed races seemed kind of… hokey.

In fact, I don’t even remember when I first downloaded the sample to my Kindle. I think it had been sitting there at least since November, repeatedly passed up by other samples that more immediately piqued my interest and earned themselves a purchase.

At long last, I found Empire in Black and Gold, the first of the series, as the most palatable sample on my device and gave it a try, and I never really looked back.

The series has a few things going for it.┬áThe humans are divided into kinden (almost like country-men) which all share a particular insect totem. The insect totem manifests itself in physical traits, mental qualities, and pseudo-magical abilities called “art.” Examples of art include wings (possessed by many races, though the fly- and dragonfly-kinden are the masters of the air), night vision (possessed largely by the inapt races, see below), and even the ability to grow various weapons or shoot bolts of energy (stings) from their palms.

The kinden are divided into the apt and the inapt. Long ago, in what the beetles like to call the ‘Bad Old Days,’ the inapt races like moths, spiders and mantids ruled over the slave races, such as beetles, ants and flies. Five hundred years ago, the slave races rose up and overthrew their masters thanks in very large part to the invention of the crossbow. The crossbow suddenly reversed the tables, as now a commoner with no training could be almost as deadly as a mantid warrior who’d spent his entire life training with a bow.

The inapt races are utterly incapable of using any technology, even incapable of turning a knob to open a door. The main character, an apt beetle, has an inapt spider-kinden ward and as a result must instruct his servants to always leave the doors in his house ajar.

That said, while it may seem being inapt is a purely detrimental quality, that is certainly not the case. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’ll mention that the nature of aptitude (and inaptitude!) is really explored deeply in the fifth book of the series, The Scarab Path. I will, however, say that it is not mere coincidence that the inapt races also tend to be the most comfortable in the dark…

The books have a large cast of main and minor characters. Every book weaves together a number of disparate threads, and the characters are really one of the strong points of the series to me. It should also be mentioned that Adrian is not shy about killing off characters the reader is deeply invested in, so things can be quite tense and you’re never quite sure what might happen.

The first four books form a discrete cycle which follows the Lowlands’s war with the Wasp Empire (the eponymous ‘Empire in Black and Gold’), and every book in the series features at least one full-scale siege against a heavily-fortified city, though the circumstances are ever-changing and it always feels fresh, tense and exciting.

I really can’t recommend the books enough.

Links to the 6 currently-available books (affiliate links):

Empire in Black and Gold

Dragonfly Falling

Blood of the Mantis

Salute the Dark (Note: This book is not currently available on Kindle for customers in the US. :( At the time I bought it, the US edition had not yet been published, so I suspect that has something to do with it.)

The Scarab Path (Note: This book is not currently available on Kindle for customers in the US. :( At the time I bought it, the US edition had not yet been published, so I suspect that has something to do with it.)

The Sea Watch (Get this one before it’s not available on Kindle!)

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Typesetting in HTML, Opera FTW?

by on May.28, 2011, under Creations

After thinking on it for a while, I decided that HTML would be the best format to typeset my RPG in. It gives me the level of control I want and I can print to PDF to make an actual ‘book.’ I can also, of course, use the HTML itself as a webpage.

I’ve been having a lot of fun today playing with everything. I’m using JavaScript heavily so that my HTML pages are really more like lightly-formatted data files, and it’s quick and easy to add content to them.

I’ve come up with an unusual problem, though. Both Chrome and Firefox, my browsers of choice, have problems with the actual printing.

In Chrome, there’s no way to print background colors. This is bad, because the background colors are important for keeping my tables legible.

In FireFox, for some odd reason, embedded fonts which work perfectly on the screen do not work in print mode.

Additionally, I found that sometimes a block of text I didn’t want split up would get strung across a page break. There’s actually a CSS property to fix that: “page-break-inside: avoid”.

As it turns out, only Opera supports this CSS rule. Weird. (Even weirder: the corresponding JavaScript property, pageBreakInside is supported by one other browser– Internet Explorer!)

To top it all off, Opera has a shortcut for previewing in print mode, which is a godsend when you’re trying to optimize CSS for printing as well. Ctrl-shift-p.

So Opera doesn’t suffer the font problem, allows printing background colors, has this unique and highly useful CSS rule, and makes print previewing easy. So… I guess Opera is the browser of choice for typesetting in HTML.

Who knew?

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Level-Up Chess

by on May.11, 2011, under Game Variants

To play Level-Up Chess, in addition to a standard chess set you’ll need some way of clearly marking a piece that’s been leveled up, such as by placing a checker underneath them.

Level-Up Chess begins like any other version of chess, but when a piece performs a capture it levels up to a more powerful piece, as follows. When a piece levels up, it gains new options for movement, but also retains all movement options of its old form.

  • Pawn -> Squire: May move as a knight, but only forwards. Squires may be promoted upon reaching the last rank, like a normal pawn.
  • Bishop -> Archbishop: May move one space orthogonally.
  • Knight -> Crusader: If the Crusader captures a pawn or squire, it may immediately move again. This second move may not result in a capture.
  • Rook -> Raider: After the rook captures any piece, it may move one space orthogonally.
  • Queen -> Empress: May move as a knight.
  • King -> Emperor: May make two moves in a row. Can not move into a square which would place it in check, even if it could then move out of check.

Note that in the case of the Knight and the Rook, they may not perform a second move on the same turn that they’re promoted as they weren’t yet a Crusader or Raider when they made the capture.

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AARPG WiP: Stats, Damage & Buffs

by on May.05, 2011, under Creations

Damage

Damage in the system is intended to be rather swingy, and to that end I use a multiplicative system. At the current time, I only expect to have 8 damage expressions in the game; 2d6, 2d8, 2d10, 2d12, 3d6, 3d8, 3d10, 3d12. You just roll the listed dice and multiply them all together. If you have bonus damage dice, you roll extra dice but only keep the highest two or three, depending on which damage expression you’re using.

Using this multiplicative process, damage is weighted heavily towards the ‘low’ end and it’s always possible to roll a 1; however, it’s also very possible to roll significantly higher.

Damage is also a bit more granular than the limited number of dice expressions would have you believe. Every character has a damage multiplier which, as the name implies, multiplies the damage. At level 1, only rangers have a damage multiplier greater than 1 (they start at 1.1).

Finally, if someone manages to roll a crit result, they’ll get to throw in their crit multiplier as well. The base crit multiplier is 1.5.

Stats

For a few different reasons, I decided I needed a good variety of stats that were important for people. This is the current list:

Defenses

  • Block: Present on melee and ranged defense tables, but only if character has a shield. Generally results in partial damage.
  • Dodge: Present on melee and ranged defense tables. Generally results in no damage taken.
  • Parry: Present on melee defense table. Generally results in the defender getting some bonus against the attacker.
  • Hit: Present on all tables; in essence, hit is how much your last defense has to be beaten in order for the attacker to score a crit.
  • Partial Resist: Present on magic defense table. Generally results in a less severe effect.
  • Resist: Present on magic defense table. Generally results in no effect.
  • Reflect: Present on magic defense table. Generally results in the attacker suffering some ill effect.
  • Mobility: A bonus to defense some characters have against melee counterattacks. Always a multiple of 10, to keep math simple.

You can read about most of the defenses in this earlier post.

Life

  • Toughness: Incoming damage is divided by the defender’s toughness to determine VP loss.
  • Vitality: The maximum amount of VP a character has.

See the last post for info on these.

Offense

  • Attack Bonus: Your attack roll is d% + attack bonus, plus or minus any situational modifiers (e.g. mobility).
  • Bonus Dice: Bonus dice are extra dice rolled for damage. Read about damage above.
  • Damage Multiplier: Multiplies damage done.
  • Crit Multiplier: Multiplies damage done on a crit.
  • Piercing: Reduces defender’s
  • Precision: If you score a hit result on your attack roll, you add your precision (always a multiple of 10) and might improve your hit into a crit.

When creating their character, every player is going to get to pick a buff. This is a permanent bonus which is added to all characters in the group; thus everyone gets a little boost from everyone else. Buffs do not stack, however, so it was important that there be a good variety of choices.

Buffs

At character creation, every player chooses a buff which will increase the stats of every character in the group. Buffs are permanent bonuses to the stat (as long as the character remains in the party), and are recorded on the character sheet just like any other bonus. Buff bonuses do not stack, so players should work together to ensure they pick a variety of different buffs.

There are ten stats which are eligible to be buffed (Block, Dodge, Parry, Partial Resist, Resist, Reflect, Toughness, Attack Bonus, Piercing, Crit Multiplier). For each stat, there are two classes which can buff that stat, and each of the five classes is eligible to buff four different stats.

Thus, there will be a good selection available, and even if you had four people playing the same class they’d all be able to pick different buffs.

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AARPG WiP: Calculators, Vitality & Toughness

by on May.01, 2011, under Creations

One thing that sets AARPG apart from other RPGs is that I expect every player to have a calculator. Nothing fancy, just something to allow you to quickly and easily add, subtract, multiply and divide. You can probably get a solar powered calculator from the dollar store.

It seems a bit odd, granted, and I expect that there will be some who either feel it’s too onerous a requirement (to which I reply, how is being expected to have a calculator any different than being expected to have a set of dice?) or perhaps even unnecessary. To that last group, my reply would be, sure, you can add, subtract, divide and multiply 2-digit numbers in your head… But why bother? I could spend 5-10 seconds calculating 97/14 in my head, or I could just punch it into a calculator.

This brings me to the damage system I’m going to be using, consisting of vitality and toughness. A base, level 1 character will have a toughness of 10 and 10 vitality points, before other modifiers.

You can think of vitality points as your hit points, except one point of damage doesn’t equate to one point of vitality. Rather, you divide damage taken by your toughness, and that’s how many VP you lose (rounded down). As an example, if a character with 10 toughness takes 46 damage, that’s 4 VP lost.

Armor improves toughness, and characters may have a piercing rating which reduces their opponent’s toughness. For example, if a rogue with piercing 2 attacks an enemy with toughness 13, the enemy’s effective toughness would be reduced to 11 against the attack.

Magic frequently interacts with VP directly, completely bypassing toughness. Healing restores VP, and offensive magic takes away VP. Thus, magic is┬ácomparatively┬ámore effective against well-armored enemies, while physical attacks are better against ‘squishies.’

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AARPG WiP: Ranged combat in an abstract system

by on May.01, 2011, under Creations

One of my design goals in AARPG is to abstract out movement in combat. I’ve flirted with using a system of abstract distance and groupings similar to what Warhammer FRP 3e uses, but even that is more… tactical than I want. I want to completely get rid of the notion of distance.

This leads to a problem of how to make ranged combat distinct from melee combat. It’s not a big problem in the case of magic, where enemies who are vulnerable to magic will likely not be as vulnerable to physical damage and vice versa, but in the case of ranged combat the differences in defense are going to be relatively minor.

My current thought is some kind of system of counterattacking. Whenever you make a melee attack, your opponent gets to make a melee attack back at you. This leads to some interesting consequences.

First, it means melee is very effective against casters and ranged attackers, since they will tend to have a weak melee attack if they have one at all.

Second, it implies that people who fight in melee must have formidable melee defenses. In the case of fighter-types, this would be heavier armor which mitigates damage. In the case of rogue-types, they would have some kind of mobility bonus, reducing their opponent’s chance to hit with a counterattack.

The third consideration is a matter of time and complexity; if every melee attack provokes a counterattack, that’s going to slow things down a bit.

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Spoiled by WotC?

by on Apr.19, 2011, under Creations

I was reflecting on some recent acquirements which, though very happy with, I had the same complaint with: they both seemed too expensive. And the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t the price, but my expectations.

I’ve been buying RPG books from Wizards of the Coast since 3rd edition premiered in, what 2000? In that time, they’ve set a price point in my mind. $30 for a hardcover, full-color book; somewhere in the neighborhood of 250-300pp for “core” books and 150-200pp for “supplements.”

Now, of course, they have the unique benefit of a market that’s vastly larger than any of their competitors, and economies of scale bring the prices for their products down significantly.

The two items I’ve gotten recently which bring this sense of the “worth” of things are Cthulhutech and the Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion.

Quality-wise, the Cthulhutech core rulebook looks like anything WotC might have put out. Hardcover, about the right size, full-color. However, its MSRP is $50, which is about $15 more than I would usually be willing to spend on something like that (and ignoring the fact that whether you buy your stuff online or from a brick-and-mortar store, nobody pays full MSRP…).

The Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion is comparable to the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition in form factor. The only qualitative difference between the two is that the Fantasy Companion has a glossy cover and the SWXE has a matte (which I vastly prefer, for both tactile and aesthetic reasons). The two books are similar in size and quality, both digest-sized paperbacks of around a 100 or so pages, give or take (I’m too lazy to go check at the moment). The SWXE’s MSRP is $10, which I recognize as a complete bargain, while the FC’s MSRP is $20. Given that I think the former is a bargain and the latter feels overpriced, I guess that sets my expectations for a product of this magnitude at about $15.

And now the real fun thing, which hadn’t even occurred to me until I actually started writing this post, is how I think about prices. For example, up above where I was talking about the expectation WotC has set for me? I realized that the core rulebooks for Fourth Edition were $34.95, while the supplements are typically $29.95. But in my mind, I think of both as being $30. And, indeed, as I think about it, if the Fantasy Companion has been priced at $18, I don’t think I’d have had any sticker shock.

I guess what it comes down to is that I think of things in $10 tiers. If something costs $x0.00-$x8.99, I tend to mentally round it down to $x0; if it costs $x9.00-$x9.99, I round it up to $(x+1)0. This is something I’ve been aware of for a long time; my disgusting levels of credit card debt in college can attest to how difficult it is for me to keep track of how much I’ve actually spent.

Hmm… So what’s the point of all of this? I’m not really sure. It certainly ended up going a different direction than I’d intended. C’est la vie.

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Silly people…

by on Apr.13, 2011, under Opinion

Got this email today…

Hi!

I’ve been trying to put together a random encounter generator for an IRC bot, and it’s been going well with one exception. Data entry. As it turns out, copying the monster name, level, type, page, and source from the monsters by level section of the manual is a lot of work, and my .pdf scans make the whole thing non-uniform so I can’t even parse the data as needed without going 1 at a time.

I was wondering if I could ask you for a favor. You clearly have a considerable number of monsters listed in your 4e Random Encounter Generator’s database, and I was wondering if you would be willing to send me a copy of your monster tables.

Thanks.

(Emphasis added)

For those who weren’t aware, I actually input all the data manually from the actual, physical books. So I can’t say I have much sympathy for someone who’s having trouble parsing the data from scanned PDFs…

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