Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The New Site is Live!

Good afternoon!

I am pleased to announce that after almost two days of being offline, our new website is up, running and live!  We will leave this original Blogger site up for historical purposes, but from now on if you're interested in what's happening with Room 209 Gaming please visit us at our website at www.room209gaming.com.

Thanks and we look forward to seeing you at our new website!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

But Is That Really SYSTEM?

Good morning, Room 209 Fans!

This has been a busy week for Room 209 Gaming.  For those of you on our Playtest list:  please fill out that survey so we know what times are best!  For those of you who aren't on our Playtest list but are in the Raleigh-Durham-Cary area and are interested in playtesting with us, please email us at contact@ this domain and we'll put you on the list!  For those of you who are nowhere near us, fret not!  We are rapidly approaching our open-playtesting phase, when we'll be putting the rules up on our website for others to peruse and try to use.

In anticipation of that change in traffic, this coming week we will be making some serious changes to our website.  We'll be adding forums and a new architecture, so if you visit us and something's broken--please let us know!

Now, for today's topic, I'm going to talk about a really great question that came up during our last playtest session.  We were discussing our goals for Infinite Earths, and Jonn Perry asked:  "Is what you're talking about really system-related, though, or is that just in how people play?"  My answer, after the break:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Playtest Journal #3: Divided Loyalties

Hello and good morning!

Just to let everyone know, we're slightly changing our Playtest Focus, and specifically identifying whether a session would be a good one for playtesters new to Infinite Earths to attend.  We've found that having to completely re-explain the system, answer questions, etc. for the first hour and a half of every 3-4 hour playtest session is really starting to inhibit what we would like to test.  If you've already signed up, don't worry!  This isn't going to kick in until October, and we'll make sure to have at least one newbie-friendly playtest (wherein we actually do that 1.5-hour synopsis) per month.

Because we didn't do a Playtest Journal this week, this week we're going to take a broader look at our most recent playtest, picking out some specific parts that we thought worked or didn't work.  Join me after the break:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Reason and Words are Always an Option

Good morning!

As we head off to the second day of the Escapist Expo (if you see the people in the blue shirts with the Room 209 Gaming logo, say hi!), we have a guest column from our largely-silent third partner, Ray Watters.  Ray is the lead designer of our social interaction subsystem, so todays column about when you can talk and when you can't is near and dear to his heart.  And so, without further ado:

Friday, September 14, 2012

Catch us at the Escapist Expo!

Good morning all!

We'll be heading to the Escapist Expo this weekend (as normal attendees, not official Guests or anything), so if you spot somebody wearing a blue shirt with the Room 209 Gaming logo on it, come on over and say hi!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Challenges in Character Sheet Design

Happy Saturday, one and all!

Today has been an excellent week for Room 209 Gaming.  After a rest-and-relaxation break last weekend to help us get our heads screwed back on, we hit the system pretty hard this week.  We fleshed out the new Social Role system fairly well (and made it both simpler and more complex. . .), modified its interaction with the new Social Interaction system, re-developed our concept for the Goblin player race, did some very exciting things regarding art for the project (we're hopeful that we'll have some more news, and maybe even a small gallery to share, next week), and finally did some serious re-development work on the character sheet.

It's this last part I'll talk about, after the break.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Playtest Postmortem #2: Social Combat

This has been a challenging week for us here at Room 209 Gaming.

Two weeks into playtesting, we have encountered the first and, hopefully, the last challenge to our Playtester Agreement.  While this challenge has been weathered, it has cost us much time, energy and money that were frankly better spent elsewhere.  Additionally, as a result of this challenge, we have to announce some changes to our playtesting schedule.

The first change is that we are no longer holding playtests at our Friendly Local Gaming Stores, Game Theory and The Gamer's Armory.  Both of these venues have been fantastic locations and have worked with us to provide us premium gaming space for our playtests.  We would like to publically thank Abe Wesley of Game Theory and Crystal and Scott Blanton of Gamer's Armory for their support of our endeavor.  We hope to return once Infinite Earths has reached a more complete stage.  For now, please know that we love you :-)

The playtesting sessions that were scheduled for those two locations will now instead be held at Room 209 Gaming.  Because we don't have quite as much space, we're having to reduce the maximum number of playtesters at any given session from 6 to 4 but, silver linings, we are hopeful that this will improve the playtesting experience.

Secondly, and this is a more positive change all-around, we have added the Upcoming Playtests page to this website, which you can see linked to the right.  This page will act as your "one-stop shopping" guide to our playtests for the upcoming two months.  We'll be working to keep this information up-to-date.

And now, with all of that out of the way, let's get to the Social Combat postmortem after the break:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Playtest Journal #2: Nothing to See Here

So for today's playtest, we mostly wanted to focus on our new Social Engagement system.  Unfortunately, because the players in attendance weren't able to build the character concepts they were looking for the previous session (given that those concepts weren't in the game--specifically, the Swashbuckler and Tosser), we spent most of the 3-hour playtest on character re-creation.

We did learn, though, that the new character creation model is solid, and that while there are actually more options now than existed two weeks ago, it feels like less.  That could just be familiarity with the system, it could be improved design.  We'll need more playtesting to be sure.

We were also really pleased to hear playtesters describing practically everything as "that cool thing."  One even stated that he was having a hard time choosing which talents to select for his character because they were all awesome.  Which was very gratifying, because we want every talent selection to be engaging, every talent to be a different kind of awesomeness that your character can bring to the table.  Feels good, man.

Once we got past character creation, we had an unfortunately brief session of social engagement between the playtesters' characters and the crew of a crashed, experimental flying machine.  They rushed in to help the wounded crew, and the Tinker in the party started examining the flying machine wreckage trying to learn its secrets.  We had to cut away before the next segment of the playtest--a group of outriders running in to fight whatever was still moving in the area--but the general consensus afterward is that it felt like there was no "system" backing the events at all.

Specifically, they felt like they were just socializing with the NPCs, that there was no penalty for failure and that it felt like I could be running it in any system.

And yet, behind the scenes, I was keeping a track of the things they did to aid the NPCs, as well as the things they were saying, calling for Speech checks as appropriate, and adjusting the behavior of the NPCs on the fly given the mechanics in play.

So far, the new social dynamic we developed this week seems to be meeting the criterion of "not being very visible."  Which is a huge plus over Tuesday's playtest, in which the mechanics were so visible that they literally distracted the players from simply having a conversation with the NPC.

And even better?  They accomplished more in 22 minutes than Tuesday's group did in over an hour

By gum, I think we're onto something here!  :-)

See you next week, with an update on how we're using the latest batch of Feedback to modify the system.  Have a great week!

Playtest Day!

Good morning, everyone!

Today we have another playtest scheduled for 1pm, the conclusion to our first two-week-long playtesting sprint.  We've gotten a lot of great feedback and have been steadily making changes and modifications to the Infinite Earths ruleset.

One of the biggest blows to our egos came this week with playtesting our social dynamics.  As it turned out, we were too successful at making the social system more robust (like combat).  Specifically, the players approached it like a combat, using words to beat up the NPC like a pi├▒ata until he gave them what they wanted.  Additionally, what would have normally taken probably about 10-15 minutes took nearly an hour and a half.

As we discussed the flaw with this afterward, thanks to feedback from our Tuesday-night playtesters, we realized that "wear them down until they can't argue with you anymore" does put you in the mindset that yes, the NPCs are basically just there to be verbally abused in order to gain advantage.

It's obvious in hindsight.

So we spent the last few days building a completely new social mechanic that emphasizes that where combat tears somebody down, social engagement builds relationships.  We'll be testing that today to see if it works better--we're very excited about it.  Additionally, today's playtest group will be checking out our new Swashbuckler and Tosser fighting styles, and we'll be introducing a new, simplified magic system as well.

This will be our last playtest day before a two-week playtesting hiatus.  We'll be spending the hiatus building out the system some more and fleshing out the chapters before hitting it again on September 11th.  One thing that the past two weeks has taught us is that we probably only want to run a single playtest a week, to ensure we can fully incorporate the changes we make to Infinite Earths between playtests.  So, given that, we'll probably be moving some playtest dates around in October and later.

We'll have a journal on how today's playtesting goes later this evening, and next week we'll follow up with a postmortem on new developments in Infinite Earths thanks to the playtesting.  Talk to you later!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playtest Postmortem #1: Character Creation

Hello again!

Today, in honor of our 1000th hit, we'd like to announce that we're expanding our roster of playtesting with two sessions in October at Cary, NC game store The Gamer's Armory.  On Sunday, October 14th and Sunday, October 28th, we'll be hosting a two-part playtest with character creation on the 14th and a short adventure in Talover, our inaugural quest hub, on the 28th.  If you'd like to attend, please sign up for the event via the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers meetup group.

Our first two playtest sessions--the Kickoff, last Saturday afternoon, and the first session at Raleigh gaming hotspot Game Theory--are complete, and we've gotten a lot of feedback from our playtesters.  One of the best things about putting our game in front of playtesters is that it lets us experience what the game feels like from the outside.  Of course, we've designed it and built it and understand what we want to do with it, but can we clearly communicate our intentions through play and through the rules we design?  The biggest changes always come early in a playtest, with each set of changes honing the system closer and closer to the intended result.  Join us after the break for a breakdown of our first set of feedback and how we've responded to it:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Playtest Journal #1: Options Overwhelming

Todays' playtest was designed to test the benefits and limits of the Infinite Earths character creation system.  And it worked like a charm, in that it pointed out to us that it kinda works and kinda doesn't.

One thing that came up straight away is that the Session Zero concept is fundamentally sound, with the chief complaint being that we didn't do more of the character development (I cut the character/party creation shorter than it normally would be, given that we weren't actually developing a campaign for these characters, but playtesting the character creation system).

The next thing that came up was. . .well, we've written the book backwards.  As we stepped through the character creation process, it became very quickly obvious that instead of being streamlined and efficient, character generation involved a lot of flipping forward, backward, sideways and frontways through the different chapters of the book.  As a result, "option fatigue" quickly set in among playtesters.

Additionally, our character sheet--which I was so proud of, when Sarah made it--was not as helpful as we'd hoped.  In fact, there were a couple of portions of it that were rather useless explicitly because of all the options.  The buffet, as it turns out, is so large (over 550 talents!) that it's impossible to remember what all the options are.

Add to that some ideas for character concepts that we just plain didn't have, and we had, overall, a playtest session that highlighted what we felt were some fairly serious holes in what we've been building.

Here's a picture of today's playtesters hard at work figuring out what they're looking at:



Now, normally it's considered rather poor business form to announce "hey, this thing we made?  It's got some flaws."  But in our case, we're happy to embrace that announcement because every flaw we uncover, we can excise.  Every hole that we fall into, we can fill.  And that will eventually make for a much more exciting and engaging game.

And make no mistake:  every playtesting session, we come away exhausted, invigorated, and enlightened.

So again, to Charlie, Bob and John:  thank you.  Your hard work in playing our game (or trying to!) will make it better.  And for our future playtesters:  praise these three, who braved these roads before, and helped to pave them.

Our first open-playtesting event is this coming Tuesday at Game Theory, in which we'll be playtesting a new method of character generation which should be more streamlined and less confusing.

See you soon!

Playtesting Kick-Off Day!

Good morning, everyone!

After many near-sleepless nights this week, we've got a 68-page-long series of playtest documents and are ready for our first pass at not us playing it!  Our playtest kickoff begins today at 1pm and should last until 4 to 5pm (Eastern US Time).

We don't have much to say right now, but we'll be posting an update after our first playtest to highlight what went right and what went horribly wrong.  Stay tuned for more, later today.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this picture of our playtest materials laid out and ready for the loving hands of players:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Playtest Shout-Out and A Good Question

Hello, everyone!

We're one week closer to playtesting now, and in case you missed it, we've got a great announcement about Game Theory in Raleigh, NC hosting Tuesday night Playtests of Infinite Earthsyou can check that post out here.  Those aren't the only playtests we'll be holding, either, so in case you can't make them: don't fret!  We'll be making more playtest announcements next week.  We're aiming for early in the week, late in the week, and on the weekend, rotating from week to week so we can get as many people involved in the playtests as possible.

Earlier this week, Bill Collins asked me a really good question:  what will Infinite Earths do to combat players who try to grab and hog the spotlight?  The answer, after the break.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let the Playtesting Begin!

Hello again!  We have some happy news to share with you this evening: Raleigh's biggest local game store, Game Theory, has welcomed us and given us a table for playtesting!

Beginning August 14th, 2012, you'll be able to find us at Game Theory starting at 7pm on most Tuesday nights.  We'll be the people in the blue t-shirts with the d209 logo and "Room 209 Gaming" emblazoned upon them!

We would very much like you to sign up ahead of time, though, so we know how many to expect--that way, we can provide print-outs and a round of snacks and drinks for everyone!  To sign up, please contact us at contact@room209gaming.com or sign up via Game Theory's meetup webpage or Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers' meetup webpage.

Thank you and we look forward to seeing you!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Infinite Earths Excerpt: Humans

Hello and welcome, and thanks again for reading!

We have some exciting news about our playtesting that I'd like to lead off with today:  we'll be starting our public playtesting the week of August 12th with sessions at local game stores in Raleigh and Cary, with a kickoff session at the Room 209 Gaming offices (who am I kidding, it's my house) the evening of Saturday, August 11th.  Invitations for the kickoff session will be going out later today via our Playtesters mailing list, and the gamestore-located playtest sessions will be listed on the appropriate Meetup groups.  More on those once we've nailed down and confirmed the exact dates and times with the store owners and operators.  Thank you for all your help!

This week has been spent writing the Race and Culture chapter, and it's been a lot of fun.  We're aiming to go a little more in-depth with the races, providing a kind of "Monster Ecology" article for them (if you remember those) to help players and GMs get the feel for what a race is, how it works, etc.  There are no stat bonuses for being a certain race.  Instead, races have certain Talents that they can pick up (up to 4 total right now, for Race and Culture combined) at the player's discretion that are race-specific.  Some races that have a biological necessity for certain traits (Darkvision for Dwarves, Small for Gnomes) have one of those talent slots already taken up by the physical trait.  And, because the race and culture you hail from profoundly impacts your character, the talents that open up to a character because of race and culture can always be taken in any talent slot.

The following entry, for humans, is indicative of the kind of detail we're putting into all of the races.  We're showing off this one first because, well, everyone who's reading this knows pretty well what humans are like!  And so, without further ado:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

On GM Fiat and the Do-Anything Rule

Hello once again!

To begin, an update on the public playtest: we will begin public playtesting between August 8th and August 15th.  Next week we're hoping to announce the venues for the first rounds of playtesting.

This week we were discussing modern movements in gaming, and our focus naturally fell on the various independent retro-clones and D&D Next.  Specifically, we were analyzing the sudden expansion of rules designed to be incomplete, thereby allowing (and forcing the presence of) increased GM fiat.

GM Fiat is, essentially, when the GM has to make up something because (1) there are no rules for it or (2) because a player or players have gone into territory the GM was not expecting and did not plan for or (3) just because the GM said so, dagnabbit.

And we love GM fiat!  GM fiat is great. . .when it comes to story development.

When it comes to the rules, though, we are much less highly enamored of GMs making up the rules as the game goes along.  My thought on the matter paraphrased Drew Carey's opening line to Whose Line Is It Anyway?:  "Welcome to [fiat-heavy game system], where we didn't bother to finish the rules and you're just going to have to make it all up anyway."

The point of game design is to develop a set of rules that are easy to use and fun to play, and which can be used to arbitrate conflict.  Making rulesets that are simple, or that specifically leave out aspects, may succeed at the first two, but they will fail completely at the arbitration of conflict, which is absolutely the most important reason you have a ruleset to begin with.

If you didn't need to arbitrate conflict, you could just play a game of pretend.  Like we did as kids.  You remember what that was like?  Here was our experience:
"BAM I shot you!"  

"No you didn't I dodged!"  

"Nuh-uh, you can't dodge a bullet!"  

"Yes I can I'm a ninja!"  

"You're not a ninja you. . ."
That kind of argument doesn't sound like a lot of fun to us.  And yet, that's the path that the current "fiat-centric" trend seems to inevitably lead, to our minds.

The problem with that kind of play is that the GM-Player relationship is ultimately all about trust.  Do the players trust the GM to have their best interests at heart, to collaborate with them to form a great story?  There are a lot of competitive GMs out there--GMs who think that it's a great kick to kill off player characters, GMs who think that if the players are winning, they're losing, and vice versa.

Some people approach this with the tack of "well, that's a bad GM, you should know not to play with that GM."  And, once a game is published, and in the hands of the players, that would be right.  But game designers have a different concern--should have a different concern--than to release a game with instructions to their community that "you should just shun that portion of the community, because they suck."

Trust is a very hard thing to establish.  Even if a GM is not having to make up rules to fill in the blanks of a ruleset, he is still crafting a collaborative story and trying to ensure fairness all around in a situation where players may have a very, very difficult time relaxing the distrust inherent in self-interest.  So the question we asked isn't "do we want to follow this trend?"

Instead, we asked, "do GMs really want a ruleset that increases the amount of fiat they must use?"

And our answer is no, we don't think that's what GMs want.  Not only are two of us highly-experienced GMs (Bryan Shipp and Ray Watters; Sarah Perry-Shipp is our Player's Advocate and "rule-breaker") who don't feel compelled to need more fiat, but the GMs we've spoken to have not indicated that they're particularly desperate for more fiat.

What GMs want is "increased simplicity."  They want to be able to easily make a ruling when a player does something that's not explicitly written into the book.  And they also want to be able to give ruling that don't amount to "you don't have that feat, so you can't do that."  Feat-based gaming, for a lot of people, has turned into a chain of negatives, which is exactly the opposite of its original design intent.

So our approach is this:  we're developing a complete set of rules.  Nothing left out.  We're going to try to minimize the amount of fiat the GM exercises, because increasing the amount of fiat a GM can use also increases the amount of fiat a GM must use, and GMs already have enough on their plate.

Included in that complete set of rules is one we call the "Do-Anything Rule."  Most of the feats (or talents, as we call them) in Infinite Earths will come with a rule that indicates that "players who have not taken this talent can still use it, but with a -5 penalty to the roll."  Bam, done.  That rewards players who have taken a talent, and that allows players who haven't taken the talent to still attempt it, though with guaranteed less skill than someone who has taken it.  The -5 itself is the equivalent of the difference between the three tiered role slots:  for instance, at level 20 a primary-role warrior has a +20 to Strike, and a secondary-role warrior has a +15 to Strike.

The Do-Anything Rule is inherent in our Skill system:  all characters can make rolls on all skills, but unless a character has focused on a skill, that character is going to have a difficult time in succeeding at anything other than a relatively simple skill check.  Skill checks in Infinite Earths are set by the difficulty of the task, not the skill level of the player, so most tasks actually fall into the "relatively doable" category.

We're very pleased with our Do-Anything Rule.  It provides flexibility and simplicity without needing to pile even more onto the GM.  Because every bit of power is another bit of work, and because the really great GMs, the ones we would want to play with, want to spend their time creating stories and telling stories and being interesting.  They don't want to spend their time trying to think of how to handle this special case and that special case.

And we look forward to testing the Do-Anything Rule come August.  See you next week!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Available Roles

Hello again and welcome!

Playtesting is still scheduled to begin in 2 more weeks, we'll hopefully have more information next week about exact times and places.  Today we're going to provide a list of the roles available in the Infinite Earths roleplaying game, and what each of them is focused on doing. 

You might recall that there are three roles in Infinite Earths:  Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.  Each of these represent the amount of effort you've put into that particular role.  There are three different types of roles:  Combat, Social and Vocation.  Where you slot the role indicates how important it is to you.  Tertiary is "a little better than the average person is capable of"; Secondary is "about half again better than the average person is capable of"; and Primary is "twice as good as the average person is capable of."  That's an easy rule-of-thumb to keep in mind their relative power.

So, without further ado, the role types currently available in Infinite Earths:


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: On Treasure

One of the things that has bugged us as we developed Infinite Earths is, "why would a monster of any kind ever have any kind of treasure?"  If you think about it, it makes no sense from a sociological perspective:  if "x sentient monster" has no need for treasure, because he cannot spend it, why would he consider it treasure and keep it around?  The age-old argument, of course, is "it's shiny and pretty, which is the same reason why people value it, and besides other adventurers have been there before you and been slaughtered."  And from a certain point of view, that makes sense.

But we didn't care overmuch for that.

So as we started working on the advancement and treasure rules--and there have to be something like this, even though our goal is to make treasure and magic items feel like treasure and magic items, not just "the thing you have to get so that you are optimized for combat"--we hit upon an idea that we're quite fond of.

Now, this has to be (heavily) playtested to make sure that it's balanced properly, so I won't really share too many numbers here.  But the gist doesn't need numbers.

Ambition generally comes in the form of three different types:  wealth, influence and power.  So we took those concepts and folded them into our system.  When your character advances (generally through the achievement of some plot objective), you can choose the form of your reward. 
  • If you crave wealth, then wealth you can get--in the form of gold and silver pieces, or gems, or some other form of monetary compensation.  Wealth is often provided by the entity or entities that set you upon your quest--or, if appropriate, stolen from the corpses of your slain enemies.
  • If you crave influence, then you can get it--word of your deeds spread throughout the land, providing you fame and reputation.  When you return to civilization, you will find that people recognize you more readily, and are more eager to please you.
  • If you crave power, personal power, then you can elect magic or items to boost your ability to accomplish your goals and succeed where otherwise you might fail.
Now, you might at first say to yourself, "Oh, I always need to choose power or wealth--power so I can have the requisite items I need to be the badass I need to be, or wealth so I can buy the requisite items I need to be the badass I need to be."

But then we'd remind you that we're not balancing the numbers around magic items, wealth, or anything of the sort that contributes to the Christmas Tree Effect.  Any wealth, influence or items that you get will be to enhance your character and make your character more likely to be successful, rather than just letting you "keep up with the DCs."  For that reason, the balancing I mentioned earlier is not "balancing it against the rest of the system," it's "balancing the three different types of rewards against each other, to ensure that none are superior or inferior to the others."

We like this idea because it allows for more variety for both players and GMs, which we hope will lead to more satisfactory gaming for everyone.

Thanks for reading, and please remember:  if you have not gotten an email from us about playtesting yet, please check and make sure we have not wound up in your Spam folder!

A Slight Delay in Posting

Friends, Room 209ers, Countrymen (and women), lend me your ears!

We will have a slight delay in posting today due to family issues, but today's article, "On Treasure," should be up before midnight tonight.

Thank you!

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Call to Playtest!

Howdy all!  For those of you who have signed up for the playtest, we're still on schedule to start playtesting at the beginning of August.  Please make sure to check your email and your spam filters.  We're still young yet, so you may have to add us to your email account's spam whitelist in order to get the emails we're sending out to our Playtest group.

For those of you who haven't signed up for the playtest but are interested, please email us at contact@, leave a note for us in the comments or post on our Facebook wall.  We check them all and the more playtesters we have, the merrier.

Thanks and have a great week!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: On Buffing and Debuffing

So last week, we gave you a kind of short post.  Let's make up for it this week, by talking about buffs and debuffs in the Infinite Earths roleplaying game system.

There are a lot of different ways to buff yourself in a lot of different systems.  Some systems use magic, providing a complex series of buffs with different modifiers to stats, some of which overlap and some of which don't, in a dizzying array designed to reward the most dedicated of players, the ones who can work their way through the dense language and find combinations so obscure it almost seems as if the designers couldn't possibly have intended them to work.

Other systems make it relatively easy to buff yourself, either by eliminating buffs wholesale or making buffs some kind of specific card or token that you get at the beginning of an encounter and maintain throughout combat.  Alternatively, some systems allow only a single buff on a character at a time.

Our goal was to find a method that would allow characters to buff and debuff simply, without a lot of arcane hoops to jump through, while still providing engaging gameplay and tactical use of buffing and debuffing.  We didn't want a system where characters buff up and then kill the bad guy--that's what World of Warcraft is for, and it's great at that.  Nor did we want a system where buffs were determined solely by a GM or were static throughout a combat.  We were not, however, opposed to limiting characters to a single active buff or debuff at a time.  The trick was, how do we create that limit (to reduce complexity) while still making buffing tactical and fun?

The solution was presented by Ray way back in January or February.  He proposed that rather than having a limited number of "buff slots," we could instead provide each class with a "Bolster."  The Bolster for each class would provide a different effect, and "buffing" would boil down to Bolstering the other characters in your party (or yourself).  This would ensure that buffs were always useful to your character.  Sarah then proposed a counter-mechanic, called a "Hinder," that could remove a Bolster from a character or, if the character was not Bolstered, would apply a negative condition to that character specifically tailored to that class.  And, for a while, we were set.

But there were problems with this mechanic.  Foremost, it was still a "buff at the beginning of combat and keep it on" mechanic, and second it would turn very quickly into a battle of vetoes.  I Bolster, my enemy Hinders me, we're back at square one with the buffs/debuffs having ultimately proven meaningless.  There had to be another way.

We then experimented, starting back in April, with the Bolster providing one reroll per encounter.  We didn't even think about having Bolsters or Hinders providing bonuses or penalties to rolls; we don't like that much math.  We very quickly changed the mechanic from "reroll, taking the second roll" to "roll twice and take the higher die," because we felt that the reroll didn't feel awesome and fun enough.

You might recognize that mechanic.  We did, too, when the playtest materials were released.  We were pleased to see it was a sound enough mechanic that the granddaddy of all roleplaying games was also flirting with it.  A little frustrated, admittedly, because it steals a little of our thunder, but that's all right.  We have more thunder.

The problem we kept coming up with, though, was the constant vetoing.  So then it hit us:  Bolsters and Hinders should be conditional, based on specific talented mechanics, to represent skills and abilities the characters have developed especially well compared to other people.

What this means is that characters are able to Bolster themselves through talents they take, and the Bolster is consumed by the action that benefits from it.  Here's an example:

Weapon Master (Bolster Talent)
You slash across your opponent.  He flinches behind his shield but, after a few heartbeats, he realizes that he still lives and grins at you.  "Is that all you've guh. . ." His self-satisfied smirk disappears behind a gush of blood as the new smile you gave him opens.
Roles: Combat Only
Mechanic: Select a single type of weapon (hammer, axe, sword).  When wielding a weapon of that type, you may Bolster an attack roll with that weapon once per encounter.  You gain additional Bolsters with this weapon type at levels 5, 10, 15 and 20.

Bolsters can be activated with a Swift Action, and are consumed as part of a Major or Minor Action.  You can apply Bolsters to yourself by purchasing conditional talents such as the one above.  Additionally, the Social Role can Bolster the entire group.  Bolsters provided by other characters are non-conditional--that is to say, they can be used on any d20 roll, including attacks, saves and skills.  The player always decides when to use any Bolster he has.

This allows players to take more control over their buffs, and allows them to use those buffs tactically, in the midst of combat, in a way where they are not buffed all the time and they are not debuffed all the time, but still have viable ability-boosters.

Hinders work much the same way, but they provide a "roll twice and take the lower die" mechanic.  Additionally, the player does not decide when to use any Hinder he has--the character that applied the Hinder decides when the Hinder is used.  That allows players to control, again tactically and in the midst of combat, how to debuff their enemies.  Hinders are non-conditional--they can be used on any d20 roll that is performed by the Hindered character during the combat encounter.

"Ho-hum, that sounds boring," you might be thinking to yourself.  We thought that to ourselves, too, that it might become boring.  So we came up with another way to make things exciting.  Have a taste:

Overcomplicate Matters (Hinder Talent)
You act quickly once you see the telltale signs of the spellcaster twitching his hands.  You can tell this is going to be a big spell, something really nasty.  You reach out your hands and start twitching them wildly, hoping to catch the spellcaster's attention--and you do!  You see him watching your hands, trying to figure out what you're doing, and you can tell he doesn't even realize he's mimicking your motions in the midst of his spell.  You grin as he tries to launch the spell and instead collapses into an exhausted heap. 
Roles: Combat Only
Mechanic:  Hinders that you apply to spellcasters may be invoked to cause a spellcaster's spell to require twice the mana it normally would.  This cost is paid immediately by the spellcaster.  If the spellcaster does not have enough mana to cast the spell at its new price, the mana is lost and the spell fizzles.  If the spellcaster is also a blood caster, the spellcaster must exchange morale for mana at the standard rate in order to attempt to cast the spell.

As you can see, you're not limited to just double-rolls, if you don't want to be so limited.  You can talent yourself into a horrifying debuff machine if you like.  Or you can largely ignore the mechanic entirely, your choice.

I hope this big post makes up for last week's skimpy one!  Have a great Fourth of July holiday, and make sure to stay safe and out of the heat!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Roleplaying and Flavor Text

Good morning once again!

Today I'm going to talk about something I'm particularly proud of in Infinite Earths, and that's our flavor text and roleplaying sections.  You got a bit of a taste of our flavor text a couple of weeks ago, in the write-ups for the teamwork advantages.  We're working hard to pepper the whole book with similar flavor text, small little vignettes that give you a taste of the coolness of people who have certain talents, abilities, advantages and the like.

In fact, while writing up our Combat Tactics chapter this week, we decided to frame the Social Tactics and Combat Tactics chapters' opening stories as a debate between Sage Aryon, a diplomat and courtier, and Master Tyroshi, a warrior and master swordsman.  Both gentlemen have very different takes on the power of their particular professions and those of each other, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of that with you.

Part of the reason we're remaining focused on flavor text is because we won't be including any setting information in the core rulebook.  Without that, the rules can seem to exist almost in a void--a dead, storyless void with nothing interesting to bring them to life.  So this is our part in attempting to bring the rules to life.

We're also including a fair amount of "roleplaying" sections within the core rulebook, to help players and GMs get a feel for ways in which they can play their characters.  We've completed the roleplaying section in the Attributes chapter--there will be further sections in Combat, Social and Vocational Roles, Social Tactics, and Combat Tactics.  In addition to a Character Creation chapter entirely dedicated to story and characterization, with no game rules whatsoever within it, we feel this works well to highlight our passion for engaging roleplay.

That's all we've got for now--a short post thanks to a busy week.  See you next time!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taking Advantage of Being People

Hello and good morning on this fine Free RPG Day!  If you're not already planning on it, we encourage you to travel to your Friendly Local Game Store and enjoy some of the events they've probably got planned for today--no doubt there are Pathfinder and D&D 4E games galore, and in some stores perhaps even some other RPGs will be available.

Today I'll be brief, not really providing specific insight into Infinite Earths but rather talking about something that we've been keeping in our minds as we develop the system.  Specifically, I'm talking about the fact that we're people playing a game with other people--no computers involved, limited only by the boundaries of our own imaginations.

Now, I love a little Skyrim or Diablo III as much as the next guy. . .but throughout those entire games, you're playing the same way.  You're a sturdy adventurer delving into monster-filled places and slaughtering them, trekking back to town to sell your loot and/or craft more, then heading back out into the field.  It's very fun, but it's ultimately very limited compared to the infinite options available to players when playing tabletop games.

And yet.

And yet when we play tabletop games, so often our games become. . .go into this place, kill everything that fights us inside, gather loot, now head back into town to sell the loot.  What madness is this?!?

Yes, that's fun, but don't we have video games to do that kind of playing for us?  Granted, the hobby predates video games like what we have now, but now that we do. . .shouldn't we strive for something unique in our tabletop experiences?

To our minds, the true advantage of tabletop roleplaying over RPG video games is that, at the table, a human being filled with cleverness and personality has taken the place of the computer.  And that changes the possibilities of the game, makes it such that the game can be shifted in direction and focus at the whims of the players and the GM, working together collaboratively, leveraging their creativity, and adapting their entertainment in ways computers just can't do yet.

And one of the core ways that's possible is by changing the nature of the game.  When you're an adventurer in your teens, and you have spells that allow you to routinely have a chat with the gods, or can step across entire continents with a word and a bit of powder, or can slay entire armies with a few swings of your sword--why are you still going into the dungeon to murder green people?

It doesn't make a lot of sense to us.  People, when they accumulate power, accumulate also people who flock to them--either to try and take advantage of that power, or to benefit from it.  Such people build allegiances, they build organizations, they build strongholds.  This was evident in systems such as D&D and AD&D, when the rules explicitly stated that by the time you were in the double-digit levels, you were probably lords in your own right.

In modern games and game systems, that seems to have disappeared.  We kind of wish it hadn't, because that was kind of cool.

So what we're trying to do is build a ruleset where, if you want to go dungeon-delving from levels 1-20, you're welcome to do so.  The power imbalance of the teens, the sheer insanity of spells and abilities increasing exponentially in power from one level to the next, is gone.  The power curve is much steadier now, and we like that.

But we're also going to include rules for developing your own organizations, building your own strongholds, and becoming powers in your own right.  Not so much that doing so will become the focus of the game (such as it tends to be in games like Reign or Adventurer Conqueror King), but so that--should you and/or your players want--they will be available as options to help you expands your play beyond the dungeon.

We hope it's a good idea.  As has become our mantra around here as we prepare the Infinite Earths rulebook, "We're gonna have to playtest that." 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Teamwork, Teamwork, Teamwork!

Hey howdy all!

Our preparations for beginning full playtesting proceed apace, and today I'd like to talk about the subject of teamwork.  Often, in roleplaying situations, we have found players who are interested or eager in screwing over the rest of the party (or some specific member of it) in some way.  In fact, some games and adventures are specifically structured by their authors to encourage back-biting, secret-keeping, purse-stealing and even Player vs. Player combat.

We hate that.

Boom, there, right out in the open, some of you may have been expecting us to feel as much by reading our previous posts, some of you may already be reaching for the close button on your browser.

Our feeling on "competing" roleplay is that it is very brutal, very me me me-focused.  And for that sort of play, there are many of fantastic options on both the tabletop market and the video game market to allow players to scratch that itch.  And, ultimately, if people want to be nasty to each other. . .well, history shows we've found a nigh infinite number of ways to do it without encouragement, so why, as game designers, would we encourage it?

That's why characters in the Infinite Earths system will be created in the open, with the GM and other players present.  The structure of character creation will be to bounce ideas across the table, to the other players and to the GM and back, in order to create a party that feels both custom-crafted for the adventure(s) they will be facing, and to ensure that there are character "hooks" between each character and into the setting.  The character creation chapter of Infinite Earths is the first chapter, and in a departure from traditional game design, there is no numeric or system-specific information within it.

The point is that you are creating people, people you would like to be for a time, not batches of statistical information.

Now, does this mean that you can openly create people who are competitive with each other and don't like each other, and who will be constantly trying to get one over on the other members of the party?  Oh, yes.  So we're introducing the Adventuring Party mechanic.

Some of you may be familiar with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which has a mechanic in which the adventuring party itself is a kind of character, and provides benefits/detriments based on how well the party is getting along.  The design of that strikes us as being innately competitive, in that the push is toward non-cooperation, and the subtraction of abilities and powers should the party be successful non-cooperative.

Our mechanic is a little different, in keeping with a philosophy of rewarding good behavior instead of punishing bad behavior.  There are several different adventuring styles the party can choose from during character creation.  These adventuring styles represent the theme of the party, what they are and what they hope to accomplish.  Here's what we have so far:
  • Defenders of the Realm:  the party is tied to a specific town, city or nation, and are working to protect it and its people from the forces of evil
  • Wandering Heroes:  the party are all great heroes, defeating evil wherever they see it, and travel the world seeking adventure
  • Mercenaries:  the party doesn't lift a finger unless it's paid, half up-front
  • Fortune Hunters:  the party seeks the accumulation of wealth and power and accolades, and will be diligent in ensuring that their cost-benefit ratio remains high
  • Chance Companions:  some fortuitous (or not-so-fortuitous) event has drawn the party together, and they must try to deal with it
  • Seekers of Secrets:  knowledge, and nothing else, is more powerful to this party, and they will place themselves at risk to acquire it
That feels like very few, and it is--we can't think of everything!  That's why we're actually going to be including how to design your own adventuring party structure and benefits within the core rules.

The Adventuring Party mechanic is designed to encourage the players to stick together and work cooperatively.  We've all seen that player that wants to go off to the bar and hang out while the rest of the party does all the hard work.  In that kind of situation, the party loses the benefits of being a party, because they're not collaborating.  But if, for instance, the party is sending their Infiltrator ahead to scout a location so their Tactician can come up with a plan of assault. . .in that case, the party would still be gaining their Adventuring Party benefits, because they are working together even though they are apart.

And what kind of benefits are we talking about?  Here's a couple of examples (now with flavor text!):
Shadow Training
You check over your companions. Their steel is blacked, their buckles cinched tight, and even the fat one is bouncing on the balls of his feet. Not lightly, but it will do. You gesture for them to move, and they begin to creep along through the darkness. In this old wooden manor, they could be easily mistaken for the creaking of ancient timbers.
Prerequisites: Mercenaries Adventuring Party, Stealth autoskill on 1+ party members
Mechanics: The character in the party with the highest ranks in Stealth may make a single check for the entire party, with a -2 to the roll for each additional member of the party present other than himself.

Finder of Lost Places
You study the map, looking across entire leagues at a glance. In your mind, you overlay the ancient trade routes, the patterns of old rivers on the landscape. The weapon you seek would have traveled on the road long-buried there, on its path to the lost capital, recently rediscovered in the forest here. Since it never finished its journey, but was seen in the village here, it would have to be. . . “Here,” you say with authority, your finger dimpling the parchment around an unassuming patch of sparse woodland. “It is here.”
Prerequisites: Fortune Hunters or Seekers of Secrets Adventuring Party, Knowledge (World) and Knowledge (History) on 1+ party members
Mechanics: When seeking specific artifacts, the character in the party with the highest ranks of Knowledge (World) may make a check against DC 25. If successful, the location of the item is successfully identified. If unsuccessful, the character knows that he cannot correctly identify its location but will identify a location where he can find out more information.
Both of these are what we call "plot-benefit" advantages:  the first allows the players to control their ability to Stealth much more prominently, thereby keeping the party together when approaching potential danger.  The second allows the players to control not only how quickly they can get to a certain point in the plot, but allows them to direct the plot to either "where they can get more information" or "what they're looking for specifically."

The Adventuring Party mechanic will also not force "lock-in" on the part of the players.  Let's say they begin as "Defenders of the Realm" and, during the course of a campaign, realize that they hate their realm and don't want to defend it (perhaps their king turns out to be evil).  One, that should be a big deal as far as the story of the campaign is concerned, and should be woven into the storyline.  Second--okay, you switch.  No mechanical penalties for that.  The switch, though, has to be unanimously decided by the party.  Fundamentally changing who you are and what you'll be known for isn't the sort of thing that passes lightly when truly roleplaying--and we do so want to encourage roleplay.

This Tuesday night,  June 12th at 7:00 pm Eastern our lead game designer, Bryan Shipp, will be hosting a discussion on Consequences in Gaming for Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers at Mimi's Cafe in Cary, NC.  If you're in the area and interested in checking it out, stop by!  And as always, if you have any comments for us please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Attributes

Hello once again!  Let me begin by thanking everyone who came out to see me last night at the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers Casual Meet, and thanks to the RTR Organizers for allowing me to present our (still unfinished) game to the membership!  I was and am both deeply gratified and deeply humbled by all the interest expressed in Infinite Earths, and your enthusiasm for what we're developing has given us new drive and new fervor to make sure we get it right!

For everyone who was interested in playtesting, we will be in touch shortly, providing additional preview material as we develop it.  And if anyone reading this not from RTR is interested in being a part of our directed playtesting, which is currently scheduled to begin in late July, please leave us a comment or drop us a line at contact@ (this domain name).

Today we're going to talk about Character Attributes, and how we've changed them slightly from the Open Gaming License standards in order to clarify and simplify their meanings.  We've been doing a lot of that throughout our development process, to such a degree that while we are still developing an OGL-based product, it's not going to look, feel or play a whole lot like most OGL games once we're done.

So we've changed the names of the classic Character Attributes, in order to more accurately reflect what they represent in our system.  Here they are:
  • Brawn represents the pure physical power you can muster--how well you can batter through something, break something, and how much you can lift.  It is the Combat Attribute of Guardians and Warriors, the people who wrap themselves in heavy metal armor and the people who try to just smash through your defenses with brute force.
  • Agility represents your physical grace--how deft you are at having your body in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment.  It governs how well you aim, how well you can find an opening in someone's defenses, and how well you can avoid blows when not wearing heavy armor.  It is the Combat Attribute of Archers, Assassins and Dervishes, who all use dextrous, graceful movements to acquire and destroy their targets.
  • Vitality is unique in that it represents both a metal and physical quality of how much you can endure before you can endure no more.  No class uses this as a primary attribute, because it is equally important for everyone--it serves as a bonus to your Morale (your hit points in combat tactics, largely determined by where you slot your combat role) and your Resolve (your hit points in social tactics, largely determined by where you slot your social role).  The higher your Vitality, the tougher you are in both social and combat situations.
  • Intellect is a representation of your sheer reasoning power, a mental stat representing how quick-thinking you are.  It is the Combat Attribute of Bladecasters and Spellcasters, who must assemble their magical spells quickly in the heat of combat.  One thing it does not provide, though, is additional skill points for characters with high Intellect--after much (and heated!) debate, it was agreed that if that were the case, everyone who did not play a very smart character was disadvantaged, and we didn't like that.
  • Awareness replaces that old standby "wisdom," and is now purely representative of your character's ability to notice his or her surroundings.  And while that sounds kind of bland, it fits in very well with the Beastmaster, Monk and Tactician combat roles for which it is the Combat Attribute.  The Beastmaster and the Tactician must be constantly aware of everything happening on the battlefield, and able to anticipate how best to maneuver their pawns.  The Zen-like Monk can sense what you're doing almost before you do it, and his strikes are at pressure points and his movements are between the swings of your blade--precisely because he has such a preternatural awareness of what is happening around him.
  • Presence represents your ability to get people to pay attention to you, and to command a room by entering it and beginning to speak.  It has nothing to do with your physical appearance (there is no "physical appearance" stat), and everything to do with your ability to communicate the force of your will to others.  It is the attribute used for all Social roles as both an offensive and defensive bonus.
Now, some of you may look at those new names and say, "Well, they're pretty much the same thing as before," and you'd be largely right.  We felt, though, from a design perspective that we didn't want to have any of the old arguments about Charisma being representative of physical beauty, Dexterity meaning only that you can make a hit easier, but not do any extra damage, Constitution only representing the physical damage you can take, and Wisdom. . .well, Wisdom was always tied to Clerics very heavily.  Once we decided we wouldn't have Clerics in our system, because we wanted to handle healing completely differently, that started a chain reaction that led to the above.

Additionally from a design perspective, we recalled the difficulties in transitioning between D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder:  the design of the games was so similar, that it led to a lot of early rules-skimming because if you knew 3.5, you thought you knew Pathfinder.  By changing these names, we're underscoring the idea that "hey, you really want to not think of this as the same game you've been playing. . .cuz it's not."

And in keeping with our idea that nothing should be wasted--that there should be no "this step sucks, but you've got to take it to get to the next step, which is awesome"--we've done away with the "bonus every other point" in the Attributes.  In standard OGL, you get a +0 bonus at 10-11, a +1 bonus at 12-13, a +2 bonus at 14-15, and so on.

In Infinite Earths, your Attributes all begin at 0, representing the "average human" level of skill.  You can then buy them up, at the time of character creation, to a maximum of 4.  These Attributes are directly your bonuses, so are no "skipped" or "wasted" steps.  Our default method is point-buy, because we want to let you customize your character to your desires, but a random-roll system is also available (roll 1d10, divide by 2, then subtract 1).

And you may have realized something with that last paragraph:  you can buy up from 0, you can roll as low as 0, but you cannot go lower.  There are no "dump stats" in Infinite Earths.  This is a thing that we as designers, as GMs, as players have always hated, because our approach has always been to try and create people to play.  

The capacity to have a "dump stat" has led to a lot of games devolving into intellectually disabled hulks and fragile brains-in-a-shell smashing their way through a series of rooms and calling it roleplay.  And if that's your thing, God bless you and we're glad you enjoy it.  But it's not our thing, we don't enjoy gaming that way, and we're building Infinite Earths to reflect the notions of how we like to play.

So to that end, player characters will always be at least as good as the average human in any given way.  Does it take away some of the challenge?  For some people, I expect it will.  But our intention isn't for the challenge to be overcoming the statistical limitations you've placed on yourself in order to gain statistical benefits elsewhere--our intention is for the challenge to be achieving your goals, stopping the bad guys, and saving the town. . .or the kingdom. . .or the world.  That way, you can play the game not of, "how do I make this situation into one in which my good stat is useful," but the game of, "how do I handle this situation?"

See you next week, and as always, feel free to leave any comments!  We're not joking when we say we would love to hear from you :-)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Color-Coded for Destruction!

Hello once again!

We've got some great news today, because this week we started preliminary playtesting outside of the core development team.  It's been very instructive for us, too--but more on that later.

One of our goals with the Infinite Earths system is to encourage more social roleplaying instead of the classic smash-through-the-dungeon-slaughtering-everything play that is so common in our hobby.  One of the methods we've thought to do that is to cast the classic "Monster Manual" races not as "things there to be killed" so much as "other cultures with other values, who may be savage but who can be dealt with as reasoning beings."

The way we're thinking of doing this is by providing more than just the classic Tolkien player races directly in our Player's Handbook.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with humans, elves, dwarves and gnomes will be orcs, trolls, bugbears and goblins.  Over the years, roleplaying has taught players a new kind of racism--"if it doesn't come in the same colors as human skin, brown or red or yellow or white; if it comes in green or purple or black, it's evil and okay for killing."

The problem with this, of course, is that it still presents the same xenophobia, just cast in different colors.  As one person recently mentioned, "they're color-coded so we know we can kill them!"  And over on the Raleigh Tabletop Roleplayers Game Master's SIG Blog, Richard Moore writes 
The lack of hard alignment rules allowed me to propose a moral dilemma about killing the remaining kobold women and children
And while we're happy to see D&D Next affording GMs the ability to present moral dilemmas, the fact that killing women and children of another species has to be presented as a moral dilemma, rather than just automatically being one, is endemic of the problem of "kill first, talk later."

So we'll be presenting all the sentient species as having their own cultures, their own reasons for doing things, and of course just killing them because they're different from you will not be presented as the best course of action.  This will be reflected in our presentation of "player" races, as well as our adventure and campaign products.

And finally, the default combat mechanic will also present death not as the default result.  Our hit point system will treat a reduction to 0 hit points as a loss of consciousness or a surrender or a loss of will to continue fighting.  You will need to specifically attack a foe who is unconscious or surrendered to kill him; and same with your opponents, who will need to explicitly attempt to murder you to make you dead.

This does make the system less inherently lethal; some players will not like this, because they like the idea that they might die at the hands of any errant swing.  But for our design purposes, this makes each killing a choice on the part of the player, and on the part of the NPCs as well.

And that way, your actions determine your morality, rather than your morality being just another statistic.  And what you do to the people in the gaming world has consequences--on your character and on the story of you.

See you next week!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: The Action Economy

So, last time, the eagle-eyed among you noticed that the Dual Weapon Fighting Style allowed a character to make two attacks--one with each weapon--as part of a minor action.  And if we were sticking with the classic d20 action economy, that would be a radical move.  But. . .we're not.

Instead, our action economy is based on a simplified structure that allows characters to strategize on-the-fly, choosing which abilities they use in combat based on how long they take and what they want to do.  I'll explain the simplified structure and provide some examples.

Characters in Infinite Earths every round get a Major Action, a Swift Action, Reactions, and any appropriate Free Actions.
  • Major Actions describe activities or powers that take a character's entire turn to accomplish.  Casting a spell very carefully, so that you do not give opponents an opening to strike you; Grappling with an opponent to try and throw him to the ground, or otherwise hold him in place; Performing a Flurry of Strikes to try and demolish your opponent's defenses are all examples of a Major Action.  Major Actions can also be divided into two Minor Actions.
  • Minor Actions describe activities or powers that take approximately half a character's turn to accomplish.  Casting a spell quickly, perhaps a bit incautiously, trusting to luck to prevent your opponents from striking you; Swinging your mighty axe (or your two slashing blades) at an enemy; Moving your land speed across a battlefield are all examples of a Minor Action.  Minor Actions can also be divided into two Swift Actions.
  • Swift Actions describe activities or powers that take a negligible amount of time for a character, but still have a cost in effort or time.  Maintaining concentration and pouring mana into an ongoing spell is one such example; unsheathing your weapon and readying it to strike is another.  Five-foot steps, or Shifts, are another common use of the Swift Action.  Swift Actions are the quickest of effectively time-consuming actions, and cannot be subdivided further.
  • Reactions are classic "attacks of opportunity," with a twist.  Now they can be used for multiple abilities, such as countering an opponent's spell or mocking an opponent who fails to connect with his attacks.  Characters can perform a varying number of Reactions per round depending on what (if anything) provokes a Reaction, as well as how quick-witted or dexterous they are.
  • Free Actions are actions that can be performed while performing other actions--for instance, talking or warning an ally of danger, or unsheathing a weapon if you know how to Quick Draw.  They take no time on their own, and they do not cause direct harm to opponents or direct benefit to allies.
Using this round structure, let's take a look at what you can do with it:

Let's say Bob the Brute, a Fighter, is standing 20 feet from his opponent, Will the Weakling, who already has his weapon out.  

It's Bob's turn--he's 20 feet away, so he can't just start swinging and hope to connect.  Bob uses his Swift action to unsheathe his weapon, then splits his Major Action into 2 Minor Actions--one to close the distance (with 10 feet to spare, Bob's pretty quick), and the other to hit Will over the head with his axe.

Will's terrified of Bob, but he's already got his weapon out--and he's carrying a spear, so he's got the advantage of reach.  As Bob comes at Will, he passes through a space that Will threatens with his longer-reach weapon, so Will gets to React to Bob.  The Reaction triggers before Bob is close enough to attack, so it is resolved before Bob's turn continues. Will connects, damaging Bob.  If he had killed Bob, Bob's attack would not have connected.

But Bob isn't dead, so he strikes at Will and connects once with his axe, coming close to killing Will with his single brutal blow.

Will's now well and truly desperate, so he uses his Swift action to shift 5 feet backwards.  Will then uses his ability Flurry of Blows to attack Bob twice.  This is a risk, because Flurry of Blows lets Will double his number of attacks, but he loses his ability to make Reactions until his next turn.  Fortunately, both strikes connect, and Bob goes down.  Songs are written about Will the Weakling, now known as Will the Wonderful, because nobody really liked Bob anyway.

Now, you might be saying to yourself--that doesn't seem like all that radical a change.  And it's not!  But it's designed to help speed up play, because of the simplified structure:

(Major = 2 Minor = 4 Swift) + Swift + Reactions + Free

No standard action, minor, move, move-equivalent, five-foot step, free, etc.  And the Major action can be divided into any appropriate combination:
  • 2 Minor Actions
  • 1 Minor Action + 2 Swift Actions
  • 4 Swift Actions
The idea is versatility and simplicity, while still maintaining a tactical bent!  You may be wondering, now, if you can transform a single Major action into two Minor actions, and use both of those Minor actions to attack without having to use a Flurry of Blows.  Well. . .we're working on that, and are still playtesting it to see if that feels right.

That's all we've got for now, but if you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to post some comments! 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Infinite Earths Overview: Force of Arms

In any tabletop roleplaying game, you're going to get into a fight--that's generally a given.  And especially so in OGL games, since they're based in the age-old tradition of "break into monster's house, kill monster, loot monster."  And while with Infinite Earths we're moving away from the model of combat being the central focus of the gaming experience, it's still going to be pretty darned important.  Because combat is fun!  And dangerous!  And because we enjoy tactical play, both on and off the battlefield.

So the question becomes, do we do anything to change combat, to give it that unique Room 209 feeling?  Or do we leave it largely alone?  As it turns out, we've been working on streamlining it so that there aren't so many situational modifiers:  bonuses, negatives, magical blessings, buffs--a lot of these things go away, because we found that they actually slow down play.  Also, statistical modifiers--how interesting is a statistical modifier, when compared to a new ability that just lets you do something cool?

So we've made some changes in the nature of combat.  The first change is there isn't a Big Chart of Weapons.  Weapons no longer have the various different costs, crit ranges, damage dice, etc. that inevitably boils down to, "which of these will get me the biggest damage for the least amount of effort?  I'll take that one!"

Instead, we have 7 classifications of weapons:  Quick, Light, Medium, Heavy and Great.  They do, in order, 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1d10 and 1d12 points of damage.  They all crit on a natural 20, and when they crit they all do double damage.  They all cost something different, because it requires an ever-increasing amount of material and time to forge them, but, say, a Great Sword won't cost any different amount of gold than a Great Axe.

(And for you ranged attackers out there, don't worry, there are still Bows and Crossbows.  And we haven't forgotten our martial artists, either--we have basic Brawling, as well as more complex Crane, Dragon, Leopard, Snake and Tiger styles.)

But doesn't that take some of the fun out of choosing weapons, you ask?  In part, maybe--but we recognize that sometimes a player wants her character to wield a weapon that looks cool, even if that weapon isn't as awesome in the game.  Say, a Warhammer versus a Broadsword.  By breaking weapons along these lines, players are freed to choose the style of weapon they would like to wield, regardless of combat advantages or disadvantages.

Also, in keeping with our goal that the character, not the equipment, is the hero of the story, we introduced a second major change.  Instead of having weapon proficiencies that dictate you're skilled with "this group of weapons, and can use them without penalty", we've added in Fighting Styles.  Here's an example:

Dual Weapon (Fighting Style)
Attribute: Agility
Roles: Dervish
Description: Your character is proficient in the use of Light weapons and Quick weapons in both his main and off hand, and can wield these weapons in both hands without penalty.  Your character is also proficient in the use of a Medium weapon in his main hand and a Quick weapon in his off hand, and can wield any set of weapons in this configuration without penalty.  Dual Weapon Style permits two attacks per minor action, one with each weapon.

(The text and format might still be subject to change, of course, but the idea will remain the same.)

With this fighting style, which is based on Agility (our Dexterity-analogue), you can just fight with two weapons of Medium or smaller size.  You have to make attack rolls for each weapon, but there's no penalty for that--you just get to do it.  The Dervish combat role gets this ability automatically at first level.  There's no need to penalize any attack rolls or damage rolls since statistically, because dual-weapon wielders must roll twice to get their "full damage",they're already less likely to get full damage than a character wielding a single weapon.  But they are statistically more likely to do at least some damage in a round.

Additionally, different fighting styles open up different abilities down the line.  For example, if you're a dual-weapon specialist, you can mangle your opponents:  dealing extra damage if both of your attacks in a round succeed.

And that leads into the third (and last, for today) major change we made:  we've completely changed the dynamic of multiple attacks per round.  Now. . .now, you get one.  (Or two, if you're a dual-weapon wielder).  That doesn't change as you level up.  You get one at 1st level, you get one at 20th level.

Now, the eagle-eyed among you might have noticed some verbiage in the Dual Weapon ability description that seems shocking.  We'll talk more about the Infinite Earths action economy next time.

See you then, and thanks for reading!