In Defense Of AP (Action Points)

A long time ago I decided to make a move from the standard D&D-style collection of actions to a system based on Action Points, or AP.  Instead of having different slots of actions–Major, minor, bonus, move, etc.–I wanted players (and myself) to be able to choose a wide array of potential actions on their turn without being locked in to categories. Sure, a normal round using AP in Shattered Empire still may have the superficial look of One Move, One Attack, Drink One Potion, but there will be tons of times when it doesn’t. You can use your AP in any way you want, which means that some characters will attack multiple times instead of doing anything else. Situationally, you may take three move actions on your turn instead of attacking at all. You might sit back and save up AP for the next round, unleashing a giant combo, or make a skill check, read a spell-scroll, and then fire a crossbow. You have a max amount of action points to use, and depending on the situation you may use them in any number of ways. It lets strategy and variety rule over combat encounters.

But, lets be fair. It can slow down a turn.

Some players are really good at keeping numbers in their head, thinking about actions before their turns, and making quick decisions based on context. And some players will inevitably ask “How many AP have I used this turn again?” It might take a little training to get the flow down perfect, and it might even take the GM urging a certain player to pick up the pace. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a better one.

My favorite thing to shake my head at is when a player realizes they still have AP left over, so instead of just ending their turn they take a superfluous action. They may have put themselves in the perfect position strategically, performed every action they planned, and had great results, but by-the-gods they are not going to waste 2 AP. “I’ll move five feet to the right.” There. A nice even 0 AP.

But, to be fair again, those slow players are going to be slow no matter what system they use.

Perhaps the biggest reason AP wins over Actions is in spellcasting. Varying AP costs for spells encourage combos and synergy. All too often in RPGs the Standard Action is used up when you cast a spell, and there’s no way to cast another one. With that type of system, how often does a Controller or Leader say “screw it, I’ll just attack” instead of casting a buff or debuff? They don’t want to “waste” their Standard Action on granting their ally a bonus to attack. They may entrap an enemy with a spell, but by the time their turn comes back around and they are able to attack it the effects may have already worn off. I’ve watched it happen over and over.  With a rich AP system, you can make those combos where you cast a spell that makes an enemy vulnerable to poison and then apply poison to your mace and attack them. You might not be able to move that turn, or maybe you sacrificed some defense in order to save up AP…but there is a path to your ideal actions.

AP also introduces the concept of situational value to a spell or power. Different powers cost different APs, so you might choose one or another based on the other actions you want to take that round. You can stack powers because they aren’t all “Standard Actions.” You can put your head down and run all the way across the battlefield instead of going one “Movement Action” per turn.

Weapons too can be affected in a different way because of AP. You might be able to take two stabs with your little knife, dealing minor damage to two targets instead of swinging your giant halberd and dealing massive damage to only one target. AP effectively grants an “attack speed” to different types of weapons; an attribute that is completely missing in so many tabletop RPGs.

Does using an AP system cause more bookkeeping? Technically yes. But it’s so marginal that it doesn’t matter. Usually your AP isn’t going to change outside of leveling, and the system is easy. There is no need to physically chart your AP usage every turn. You can quickly and easily track it in your head, and it resets every turn anyway.

Finally, AP resets at the END of your turn. This allows for multiple actions to take place during the round, even if it is not your turn. Reactions, interruptions, extra defense…You spend AP on these, so if you are willing to limit your actions during your normal turn you can perform more actions during someone else’s turn in the round. This adds another layer of strategy and gives a feeling like things are happening more in real-time and in response to multiple other players and NPCs, instead of just having a “Reaction Action” slot.

If you are interested in an AP system, check out the BASE12 system or shoot me a message to playtest the Shattered Empire campaign setting!

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Roll Charts: Weapon Properties

Shattered Empire has a deep randomized system for generating weapons and their properties for treasure parcels and shopkeepers. This system is designed for GMs to setup before play, as it involves separate rolls for type, condition, material, and bonus properties. But what about generating quickly on the fly? What about other games that don’t have a system in place?

The following may not work with every game system, but it should be easy enough to adapt. Note: This is for generating special properties, not the base weapon itself.

Roll 1d20:

1. Unskilled Craftsmanship. The damage and attack dice each receive a -1 penalty.

2. Shoddy Craftsmanship. The damage and attack dice are each reduced by one size.

3. Damaged. The damage die receives a -1 penalty.

4. Rusty. The damage die is reduced by one size.

5. Primitive Material. The attack die receives a -1 penalty.

6. Unrefined Material. The attack die is reduced by one size.

7. Average. No change to weapon stats.

8. Refined Material. The attack die is raised by one size.

9. Quality Material. The attack die receives a +1 bonus.

10. Fine. The damage die is raised by one size.

11. Superior. The damage die receives a +1 bonus.

12. Exquisite. The damage and attack dice are each raised by one size.

13. Masterwork. The damage and attack dice each receive a +1 bonus.

14. Elemental Forge. The weapon gains a 1d4 bonus die for elemental damage (fire, cold, or lightning)

15. Paralyzing. Target is paralyzed for one round whenever weapon hits.

16. Slaying. When the weapon deals more than half of remaining HP in damage the targeted creature is instantly killed.

17. Reaping. Whenever the weapon deals a death blow, the wielder’s AP or allotment of actions is reset and their turn continues.

18. Keen. The weapon’s critical threat is increased by 3.

19. Brutal. The weapon’s damage threshold is raised by 3.

20. Legendary. The weapon deals double damage.

Rule Zero

First of all, I am under no delusion that there aren’t already 10,000 gaming blog posts called “Rule Zero,” and that they are generally about “The GM is always right,” or that “The GM can say no to anything,” so let’s just recognize that and move on.

Moved on? Great.

I invented something called Rule Zero.

Rule Zero is simple: You can try anything.

So, I’m a big fan of rules-as-roadmaps (RAR) instead of rules-as-written (RAW). Rules are there to guide both the player and the GM, to give action meaning, to establish strategy and consequence in the game world, and, as a last resort, to answer questions and respond to disputes at the table.

GMs should make rulings. These rulings may originate from their deep knowledge and implementation of the game mechanics, from random dice results, or simply off the top of their heads. In any of those cases it’s the GM making a ruling. That’s what they are there for.

But why are we collectively at the table? For fun!

Let me go back real quick. When I played my very first D&D campaign (as a player) once upon a time, I tried to do something. My character was on a small roadside cliff-edge above an enemy. I decided to jump down, swing my club, and allowing gravity and momentum to give me a boost to the attack. I had the high ground, and I was a larger creature than what I attacked. It seemed reasonable that this action-oriented type of attack would grant my character an advantage.

It didn’t. There was no official rule that said anything about having a bonus to one’s attack based on environmental elements or improvised action. My character didn’t have a specific “leap attack” or anything of that nature. Because the rules didn’t specify that I could do this, I was met with “You can’t do that.” I was penalized for creativity, immersing myself in the environment, and thinking outside the “this is what your class can do” box. A basic melee attack–clearly spelled out in the PHB–would have been a better choice with this GM. RAW screwed me.

This experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and eventually it helped lead to developing a system without classes. As a player, I never wanted to be limited ever again.

As a GM, I never wanted to limit my players, either.

This is where Rule Zero comes into play.

Rule Zero: You can try anything.

Failure is still a possibility, of course. Just because you can try doesn’t mean you can succeed. But the spirit of letting anyone attempt anything was built into BASE12 from the very beginning. In Shattered Empire, anyone can attempt a Skill check, even if they don’t possess that Skill; or rather, everyone has every Skill, but that Skill may be at level 0. You don’t have to be a Class to make a certain type of attack. In fact, even characters without training in a weapon or armor can still wield or wear that item. Training makes you more likely to succeed, but even a child can pick up a stick and try to hit an Ogre with it.

When I GM, one thing that I try to get across to my players is that if they can convince me that something is possible or “realistic” (relative to the environment) then they can succeed. Sometimes I’ll ask them for a Skill check without telling them which Skill. “Which Skill?” they may ask. “Whichever one will make you succeed at what you’re attempting,” I reply. Three different players may end up using a Search check, a Survival check, and an Arcana check based on individual character backstories, play styles, or critical thinking. It’s the same Skill check, but they are each rolling different Skills. Now as a GM I could have said “Everyone make a Search check to find the hidden cave entrance.” Maybe one of them has a good Search rating, and the other two are just going through the motions. Or maybe they wouldn’t: “You roll for it, my Search Skill is only 1.” It doesn’t connect the player with the character to be told what to try. Even if they suck at Search, if that’s what they choose to use for their Skill check, they’ll have a connection with their character knowing that they are struggling to do something they don’t excel at, instead of mindlessly following the GM’s instructions.

So, Rule Zero is really about experimentation, creativity, and problem solving. It’s about using the rules as a guideline, and not as a forcefield. You can try anything, and perhaps as an addendum, if you can convince me (the GM) you succeed. And, as always, it always comes back to what is the most fun.

Playtesters Wanted!

As I move into the final stage of playtesting before starting a Kickstarter campaign for Shattered Empire, I’ve decided it’s time for people to test it out and give me feedback without me sitting at the table with them.

If you are a GM that has access to a group that would like to playtest a Strategy RPG in a High Fantasy setting and are willing to give feedback on mechanics and documentation clarity, please send me a message or email me at LegendaryDropCast@gmail.com and I’ll send the penultimate draft of the game documents to you.

Looking forward to taking this thing to the next level!

(to get an idea of the crunchiness of this system, here’s what the Character Sheet looks like…)

Character Sheet

Trusting Your Audience 

Making your own game for your friends to play raises problems that you never anticipated, but you essentially know where you want to go in the end. It’s just for you and your friends after all.

Preparing a game for the public, however, brings up a whole new list of problems that must be solved.

If something is a little unbalanced when I run a session as a GM, I just tweak it. I’ve talked about this recently: fudging. A couple extra hit points here, a smaller die size there…and like magic we’re back on track and balanced. It’s an important skill to have as a GM. But should it be expected?

Is it reasonable to ask someone playing your game to use common sense and improvisation to keep it running smoothly? Or is this a cop out, essentially releasing a broken game and asking someone else to fix it?

I’ve been building combat encounters and trying to playtest for balance, but sometimes there are so many variables that I can’t account for everything.

“Yes, this WOULD be a balanced Level 5 encounter, except they found that chest of magic maces last session, so now it’s a steamroll.”

I’ve had to learn the hard way in comedy and screenwriting to trust my audience. Have faith that they can follow. Don’t treat them like idiots, don’t spell everything out for them. Know that they’ll get there without you. Maybe it’s the same theory here?

Or maybe this is completely different, and requires a different approach.

What do you think?

Roll Charts: Holidays and Observations (repost) 

(NOTE: This is a repost of a roll chart I put up here a couple years ago, but didn’t see a good way to “reblog” it, so I just did the old copy + paste) ​

In light of Independence Day, here is a holiday roll chart! 

(begin repost) 

While tending to my holiday obligations this year, I began contemplating the conception of holidays and celebrations within a given culture, and how vital they are in providing a cultural identity. Observed holidays can speak volumes about the values, history, and priorities of a group of people. Therefore, providing such “window dressing” when introducing a new culture to your players in a home game can help an unknown city of mindless NPCs take that leap into a living breathing community of believable people. Perhaps the townspeople are busily preparing for upcoming festivities, or maybe they are already in full swing. What is the feeling in the town? Is it pulsing with excitement, or are the people somber and reflective? Holidays can help you set a mood, quickly provide narrative exposition, or give an interesting backdrop for quest hooks. Of course, sometimes a party of adventurers steamroll their way off-script into one of these locations, so having a roll-chart ready to pull up can help an unprepared GM look like a clairvoyant. So for those that want some extra details about their towns, here’s a randomized chart.

* NOTE: This is designed for a fantasy setting, but a couple tweaks could make it work for other genres.

What kind of holiday is it? (Roll 1d12)

 

1. A seasonal festival. Spring planting, Summer or Winter solstice, or Fall harvest.

2. Birthday of a local leader (king, governor, tribal chief, mayor’s eldest daughter)

3: Anniversary of the death of a local hero, king, or town founder.

4. Religious high holiday, marking the adoption of a specific Deity as the town’s patron.

5. A public wedding celebration, perhaps of a notable person or persons.

6. Observed day of remembrance for a great battle, end of a war, or liberation of the town or realm from foreign control.

7. Local election, perhaps for mayor, sheriff, or judge. Public debates or voting may occur.

8. A great tournament, contest, or other organized leisure event.

9. Anniversary of some mystical or magical event that helped shape the town, such as a portal to another realm opening up , or the sudden appearance of a magical object or creature.

10. Anniversary of some natural or catastrophic event that helped shape the town, such as a great earthquake, tidal wave, or meteor that fell from the sky.

11. Strange custom. Perhaps completely superstitious, or based in religion or cultist beliefs. A day where everyone wears buckets on their heads to keep the corn-eating spirits away, for example.

12. Apocalypse celebration. According to legend, an Oracle, or the local calendar, this is the day that the world is supposed to end.

 

How is it celebrated? (Roll 1d20)

1. Traditional feasting.

2. Dancing, singing, and live music.

3. Courting and the admission of love for a secret object of affection. All remaining singles are randomly and forcibly coupled.

4. The granting of a boon upon the townspeople. Perhaps extra food rations, gold and treasure, or practical items.

5. With a day of silent meditation, where no business may be conducted and nobody may verbally communicate.

6. A public execution of the town’s most hated criminal.

7. With the sacrifice of an animal, where each townsperson is required to drink the beast’s blood.

8. With the sacrifice of an innocent person, virgin, or elder, in order to appease the gods or devils.

9. By exchanging gifts with strangers in the street.

10. With a huge bonfire where everyone brings an equal amount of fuel to signify unity.

11. With the juggling of geese.

12. With the choreographed mass suicide of each and every member of the town.

13. With a battle to the death between two armed combatants.

14. With the personal blessing of the town clergyman upon every citizen, including a fortune reading or prayer for luck and prosperity.

15. By sacrificing an object of personal value or importance.

16. By throwing food and excrement at all outsiders until the sun sets.

17. By participating in a seven-hour chant while holding hands in town square.

18. With the release of 1000 chickens into the village, which must be collected alive in the highest amount in order to crown the Festival Champion.

19. By marching to war on a neighboring city.

20. With a 24 Hour “purge-style” day of lawlessness with no legal ramifications.

 

Enjoy, and happy holidays!

The Long-Swinging Pendulum Of Race Selection in RPGs

I’ve never been very fond of those blog posts–or often more accurately, those clickbait articles–that try to tell you that there are X types of people, and you should load this page and grant a hit to our advertisers to find out which kind you are. BUT, there is something to be said about identifying different personality traits and patterns and preparing for those in your gameworlds. For the sake of this very unscientific and non-exhaustive post I’ve going to describe three different gamer types when it comes to race selection, because its worth examining play-styles. If nothing else, figuring out which one you identify closest with might grant you the opportunity to purposely try out another play-style (which really is the very definition of gaming in my small personal sphere of experience.) WARNING: This probably seems pretty biased, but I’m making fun of all of us equally, even me.

 

The Maximizer:

You already have an idea of the kind of character you want to create. The mechanics and documentation of the game you’re playing will dictate which race you’ll choose, depending on which benefits your character the most.  If your character is a big brute that hits stuff hard with a large thingy, you immediately find the racial bonuses that grant the largest Strength modifiers. Any other bonuses or penalties don’t matter. Why does a master swordsman need history knowledge or communication skills? We’ll just carve up anyone that opposes us. Maximizing the preconceived abilities of your character is paramount; it would be STUPID to do anything else. Your roleplay will just have to fit into this character, which is probably going to be pretty one-sided. But by-gods, you’ll get the results you are looking for, and you will rarely fail. You have gamed the game.

 

The Whimsyist:

You flip through the pages until you find something that makes you say “Oh, that’s cool!” This becomes the foundation for your character. Mostly, you just compile things that seem cool to you, with no consideration to whether there is any synergy between the powers, traits, and bonuses. As long as it seems fun to do, you’ll do it. Win or lose, fun is all that matters. Sure, your Priest doesn’t have any Wisdom because you wanted to be “really super fast,” but that’s not the point. The point is you have a crazy-fast Priest. That’s fun.

 

The Empathizer:

You look closely at the “person.”  It doesn’t matter what the bonuses and penalties of a specific race are, you just want to make a connection with them on a personal level. This type of creature has dealt with something that you relate to, so you can instantly jump into roleplaying them. You are more equipped to play this character than anyone else, because you understand them. The Laroon were created to serve the High Elves, but they fought for their independence, and you can relate. You don’t have to be an actor: you just act. The abilities and powers of the character don’t matter, because you are just here to bring them to life, and you’ll deal with whatever they must deal with.

 

Do you find any of this to ring true? Have you ever examined your choices in character creation before? What brought you to your decisions? Would actively going AGAINST those tendencies make for a more interesting experience? I’d love to hear your feedback.