Saturday, January 28, 2012

RPG Races

So, most RPGs feature "races." The term is an artifact, has unfortunate connotations, and we should have universally switched to "species" a long time ago - but I digress.

I'm not racist! I havean Elven friend.
In every single RPG I've played, that has the feature, from D&D to WoW, you have some races that are simply better choices for a given class than others. Go look on the official D&D forums for 3e, 3.5e, or 4e and you'll see the same thing. "X's Fighter/Cleric/Etc. Guide," a ridiculously well researched break down of every possible choice for building a character. One of the first issues is always race, of which there is usually a list of only 2 or 3 ideal choices. 

For example, a Dwarf makes a good fighter, and a crappy wizard - in everything.

In 4e D&D, Dwarves are resistant to poison, can heal themselves more quickly than others, are resistant to being moved, tougher and wiser, but have slightly slow movement. Writing off poison resistance, both of those other special features help them effectively stand between angry things and other characters.

In WoW, they get "Gun Specialization" and "Mace Specialization," which increasing damage with those weapons; "Frost Resistance" and "Stoneform," damage mitigating abilities; and "Explorer" which provides more loot from archaeological sites. A whopping 4/5 of those are combat based, 3/5 specifically fitting into the "tank" role, and the other one is class agnostic. This, in combination with a very high Strength & Stamina, but low Agility, make them obviously superior as martial combatants.

For the proof of this, a census of WoW shows usthat 24% of Dwarves are Hunters, 22% are Paladins, 21% are Shamans (similar to Paladins, still prone to melee combat), 11% are Warriors, 8% are Priests, 6% are Death Knights, 4% are rogues, and Mages and Warlocks make up only 2% each of the population. Out of 3,058,888 distance characters, only 3009, one in every 1000 are Dwarven Mages.

Skin color, size, hell - you don't even have to have a beard - but you damn well better be a warrior.
From both a game design & business perspective, having a feature (Dwarven Mage) that only 1 in 1000 players will use is bad news. It's simply a waste of resources.

From a roleplay perspective, it sucks that the rules serve as a disincentive against a particular character build, effectively punishing players for wanting to go against the grain. Though this is possible, the peer pressure of allies knowing you could be performing your role more effectively and the persistent idea that you are objectively playing the game "wrong" are hard to fight, as numbers show.

Why is this such a global problem? Well, the popular conception of Dwarves comes directly from J.R.R. Tolkien's works - wherein every featured Dwarven character, to the man, is a warrior.

My axe, his axe, it doesn't really matter.
A google image search provides empirical evidence of it. Every dwarf on the first page is a warrior. It's not until page 2 that we start seeing Disney's Dwarves, but other than a few of those throughout, its still warriors. After that, we get pictures of them as smiths, then merchants, then engineers. It isn't until page 8 that (at the moment) we see the first non-warrior Dwarf, a female druid.

The "white goat" of her family.
It is a problem because:
A) RPGs are built upon character options. This has come to define the genre as much as the concept of Role Play (see: computer RPGs existing). Effectively limiting these options unnecessarily makes your RPG worse at this cornerstone of the game.
B) If you DO offer the option, despite it being an objectively poor choice, you are creating content that will be rarely used and thus wasting resources.


What we need to do is ensure that each race can play each role equally well. How? Provide specific "racial features" per race/class combination. As a general example, here are some spitballed things Dwarves are traditionally good at that fit within the fortes of the basic D&D classes:

-Cleric: Incredible composure and strength of faith [read: resistance to evil compulsion] (Tolkien's are notoriously stubborn and traditional). Better with defensive buff spells. If you get to choose between gods, and there are Dwarven/Non-Dwarven choices, some bonus for choosing their own gods. Very subjective to setting - due to particular gods.
-Rogue: Better with mechanical devices (craftsmen, engineers, and architects), especially stonework. Perhaps slightly improved night-vision (living underground) - nothing that would make the rogues seem like a different biological organism - just a case of specialized training to enhance their natural strengths.
-Warrior: Better with axes & hammers, heavy armor and shields (they tend to be heavy, armored guys rather than light, agile, harriers or cavalrymen). Perhaps good at standing their ground.
-Wizard: Runic magic.( They're good at spells that function by marking a spot/item.) Enchanting items.

In addition, each race should have at least one universal trait, be it ability scores, poison resistance, or what have you, to make sure that there is a sense that these characters do have essential elements in common. If ability scores are used, it is important that these are not more important than choice between Race/Class combo traits, lest the whole exercise be pointless.

Let's look at WoW's dwarf again. We could keep the exploring skill as a universal feature, but only gun skill for hunters, the hammer skill for warriors & paladins, the frost resistance for mages & warlocks, and the stone form for shaman and druids. That less than ideal, because the features still lean towards melee combat, but it gives you a good and unique reason to choose such combinations.

The result of this is better both for the game and for the setting's flavour. It's not that all Dwarves are warrior craftsmen of stout faith, but that Dwarven warriors tend to be this, their cult is known for its stout unwaveringness, their merchants tend to deal in mechanism and metalcrafts, and their wizards share ancient secrets of enhancing magic via the written word. It gives the species dimensions, rather than having each member basically be "like Gimli, but -"

Friday, January 27, 2012

D&D 5e & Happy Coincidences

So, as anyone who's into D&D probably knows by now, there's a new edition in the works. The key concept? Scaling complexity.

Oddly enough, I'd had a little inspiration a few months ago and had hit upon the same idea. I never went anywhere with it because, upon showing it to my primary collaborator, it received a resounding meh.

Still, figured I'd post what I'd had here for the sake of it. That IS supposed to be the idea of this blog after all.
THE GAME- Concept: A rule system designed to be incredibly simple and intuitive (playable from memory) while allowing for as much depth as the players want.- Features: Requires only a d6 Requires no other accessories, even a character sheet (though writing things down is... good) Can be played purely from memory (gotta avoid feats/perks because of this. not sure if this will ENTIRELY remain the case for DMs, as referencing tables and such is useful, but certainly for players. At minimum I’d like to leave the door open to DMs playing from memory. E.G. you can look up the stats on a skeleton, but it’s completely possible to spit ball them off the top of your head as well.) Scalable complexityA player can choose to define skills and shop for the perfect combination of arms/armor, or can simply roll 1d6 for their 6 basic stats and assume that each hand = 1d6 damage. The two approaches are compatible with one another, side by side, within the same game, with no effective balance difference beyond the greater degree of tactical options available to the more in-depth player. Classless Setting Independent (with some notes here and there for my own use that DO tie into mine)
Resolution Mechanic: Statistic+1d6 vs Static value or opposed Stat+1d6 roll.
Example A: Jack wants to walk a balance beam. His Agility statistic is 4. His host decides that this is an average difficulty task, and informs him that he will need a result of at least 7 to succeed. Jack rolls a 3, and crosses successfully, as 4+3>=7.
Example B: Jack & Jill are engaging in an arm wrestling competition. Jack’s Strength statistic is 3, while Jill’s is 5. Jack rolls a 2, while Jill rolls a 1. Jill wins, as 5+1>3+2. On a tie, they would have had to re-roll. In combat, however, ties are given to the attacker.
-  To Do:
Determine HP derivation
Install Magic system
Add armor
Add more complete weapons listing, perhaps re-organizing things
Add enemies & enemy generation rules
Add misc goods listing
Determine starting Gold/item value
-  To Do:
-Current Working Problems:
The reliance on a single, small die means that static modifiers count for a lot. IE: It’s always possible for someone with the worst possible attack stat to hit someone with the best possible defense stat (1d6+1[=7] vs 1d6+6[=7], but only BEFORE situational modifiers are applied. This in itself I’m not all-together too concerned about, however I AM concerned as to weather or not the weapon damage system I have in place is negatively effected by this.
As it stands, the base damage of a weapon is 1d6, then it takes penalties as it gains more features, trading versatility for raw power. E.G. A longsword deals an average of 2.5 dmg one-handed vs a broadsword’s 3.5, and 6 dmg two-handed vs a barbarian(2-handed) sword’s 7, but the user can switch between the two options at-will.
I’m concerned as to weather this overly penalizes the more versatile weapons. A spear, for example, has the double, reach, and thrown qualities. Ideally, this would make the spear a very popular choice. I’ll simply have to playtest things a bit once I have HP worked out.
It may not be a problem at all, especially in light of the “minimum 1-damage on a successful attack” stipulation, but it is a concern.
So far, I have mitigated the problem by not penalizing weapons with multiple damage options at all. A proper sword is just better than a sickle sword. There’s a reason that Halberds grew so popular. This is a calculated choice however, as in the setting I’ve been using these weapons are balanced by their lack of availability to the players, requiring a special trip to their place of origin for acquisition - thus creating natural adventure hooks in-system.



All players must, minimally, derive the six essential statistics of their characters. All characters have an identical list of statistics ranging from 1 to 5, with 3 being average, 1 extremely poor, and 5 exceptionally gifted.
Agility A character’s balance & mobility, affecting their ability to move quickly and quietly.
Dexterity A character’s fine motor skills, affecting their ability to manipulate with their hands.
Intelligence A character’s mental acuity.
Perception A character’s awareness and analysis of their surroundings.
Strength A character’s raw physical might.
Willpower A character’s resolve and influence, social and sorcerous, upon the world around them.
Players divide 18 points amongst their 6 statistics.

Step 2: SKILLS (Optional)

If a player wishes, they may choose to define their character’s abilities in greater detail. Skills are specific areas of expertise or weakness for a character. They represent special cases in which a number other than the normal governing statistic should be used to determine a character’s chance of success. Though a character’s Agility may be 3, for example, they may be especially stealthy(4) but have poor balance (2).
Like the essential statistics, skills range from 1 to 5. By default, it is assumed that all skills governed by a given statistic are equal to that statistic’s value. A player may choose to increase the value of a single skill by lowering that of another. The two skills need not be governed by the same attribute.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggested skills to use in your games.
Agility Acrobatics, Balance, Stealth
Dexterity Axes, Blades, Bludgeons, Marksmanship, Polearms, Shields,
Intelligence Alchemy, Bushcraft,
Perception Empathy, Hearing, Sight
Strength Athletics, Endurance
Willpower Charm, Deception, Intimidation, Sorcery

Step 3: FAULTS (Optional)

For dramatic purposes, a player may choose particular character faults or physical problems a character may have. These are not simply areas in which the character is untalented or uneducated, i.e. low skills, but essential obstacles to the character achieving their goals. A holy man of a benevolent deity, for example, will find gently persuading information from a captive far more difficult than beating it from him. Likewise, a knight with a crippling phobia of horses may find himself unable to properly aid his allies in a cavalry battle.
When a character fault becomes relevant, the player, and their allies in turn, will suffer for it. A character committed to absolute honesty may, for example, come right out and confess their plans to the team’s adversary, or an acrophobic character may automatically fail a skill check to cross a tightrope. As the character is choosing to fail for the sake of drama, however, they should be rewarded with the ability to dramatically circumvent the game’s mechanics for their benefit as well.
Any time a player suffers a significant setback (complication of or failure to overcome an obstacle) due to their character’s faults, that player is rewarded with a free re-roll of any die roll of their choice in the future. Players may, and are advised to, hold on to these rolls for use in dramatic moments when, though statistics may not be on their side, it would be narratively interesting, i.e. cool for their character to perform an otherwise risky maneuver.
This system should not be seen as a way of improving a character, however, but simply making characters and games more interesting. If the host notices a definite trend towards players using faults as a means of ensuring success, the host is likely either treating the faults themselves too lightly or giving out free re-rolls too cheaply. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with playing the Hunchback of Notre Dame and working your faults for all their dramatic worth.


All players begin with a full set of clothing, provisions as appropriate for their travels, and X copper coins.
If a player wishes, they may choose to detail their character’s equipment by spending some those coins before the game begins (see the Equipment chapter).
Techniques (Learned from others, intentionally or not)


Armor is classified only by it’s material.
Sorcerers will find that they can not cast magic while touching metal, making most armor impractical.
Barbarian AxeB 2d6 2h, Hack
Barbarian HammerB 2d6 2h, Bash
Barbarian SwordB 2d6 2h, Slash
Bow Draw, Ranged
Dagger 1d6-1 Small, Stab
Dagger, Throwing 1d6-2 Small, Stab, Thrown
Double SwordSt 1d6-1 2h, Double, Slash, Stab
Crossbow, LightT Load, Ranged
Crossbow, HeavyT Load(Full Turn), Ranged
Hand Spear 1d6 Stab
Sabre 1d6 Slash
KnifeSh 1d6-1 Slash, Small, Stab
Knife, ThrowingSh 1d6-2 Slash, Small, Stab, Thrown
LongswordSh 1d6-1 Bastard, Slash, Stab
Shield 1d6-1 Bash, Block
ShortswordSh 1d6 Slash, Stab
Spear 1d6-2 Double, Stab, Reach, Thrown
Staff 1d6-1 2h, Bash, Double
Unarmed 1d6-2 Bash, may incur damage yourself
Gauntlet - Modifies the material bonus of unarmed attacks.
Superscript indicates limited in-setting availability
2h Requires the use of both hands.
Bash Can deal bashing damage, ignoring half of a target’s armor.
Bastard Deals an additional die of damage when wielded with 2 hands.
Bifurcating A double weapon which may be split into a pair of 1h weapons and rejoined.
Block Can forgo this hand’s use next turn in order to reduce an incoming source of damage by 1d6.
Double Treat as either two 1h weapons or a single bastard weapon.
Draw Weapon must be readied before each shot.
Hack Can deal hacking damage, doubling the final damage.
Load Weapon must be reloaded after each shot.
Ranged Weapon can hit targets within line of sight.
Reach Has a melee range of 4 meters (only when wielded in both hands)
Small Can easily be concealed in the hand or on one’s person.
Slash Can deal slashing damage, causing recurring damage equal to that dealt (does not stack).
Stab Can deal stabbing damage, ignoring armor completely if actual damage is dealt.
Thrown Can be effectively used either in melee or thrown as a ranged weapon.
Unarmed/Armored 0
Leather/Stone/Wood 1
Copper 2 (Fairywood)
Bronze 3
Iron 4
Steel 5
A well or poorly made weapon or suit of armor may gain an additional +1/-1 modifier and/or benefit from special features, such as the bifurcating feature for double weapons.


7 = Normal difficulty
The rules as presented here assume a classical bronze age setting. To create a more traditional fantasy feel, simply apply the following changes:
-Consider steel to be a +0 material, with material bonuses deriving either from fantastic materials or magical enchantments.
-Ignore weapon availabilities based on location or technology, and feel free to add exotic weapons. A katana, for example, would be statistically identical to a longsword.


Turn = Move & One action w/ each hand
(ie 1 attack w/ a 2h weapon, 2 attacks w/ 2h weapons, or a block and attack)
Melee Damage = Weapon+STR (Min 1)
Double STR bonus when wielding 2 handed 
May simplify to simply blocking/dealing 1d6/hand for ultralight games.
Improvised Weapons: Treat as the closest equivalent weapon above, but consider the item’s materials and workmanship. A sledgehammer and a bar stool would, as 2 handed bludgeons, both effectively be barbarian hammers, but, as a tool, the sledgehammer will be more durable. Neither, of course, will last as long as a proper weapon and neither is likely, in a bronze age setting, to be made of bronze.
Resolution Mechanic: Statistic+1d6 vs Static value or opposed Stat+1d6 roll. Example A: Jack wants to walk a balance beam. His Agility statistic is 4. His host decides that this is an average difficulty task, and informs him that he will need a result of at least 7 to succeed. Jack rolls a 3, and crosses successfully, as 4+3>=7. Example B: Jack & Jill are engaging in an arm wrestling competition. Jack’s Strength statistic is 3, while Jill’s is 5. Jack rolls a 2, while Jill rolls a 1. Jill wins, as 5+1>3+2. On a tie, they would have had to re-roll. In combat, however, ties are given to the attacker.
edit: Wow, sorry for the ridiculous formatting error.