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!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Moment of Sobering Reality

We here at Room 209 Gaming would like to take a brief break from discussing our upcoming tabletop RPG to speak about something that is very close to our hearts as a North Carolina-based business.  Specifically, we would like to talk about the upcoming vote on May 8th, 2012 about Amendment One.

For those of you who are not familiar with Amendment One, click here for a Ballotpedia article about it.  In short, Amendment One would be an amendment to the State Constitution of North Carolina specifically to ban all legal recognition for domestic unions that are not marriages between a man and a woman.  This would include unmarried heterosexual couples as well as the amendment's true target, homosexual couples.  It has the potential to strip unmarried partners across the state of health insurance, domestic violence protection, and potentially even the right to visit a loved one in the hospital.

All because some people are offended by the idea of gayness.

This idea is unconscionable to us.  Not because of the sloppy language of the proposal taking a shotgun approach to an idea that is already decades past its time, but because we have friends and family who are gay.  People whom we love, and respect.  People who are, first and foremost, people.

A friend of mine told me the other day, and here I'm paraphrasing, "We should not put the human rights of minorities up to a vote.  We're supposed to protect those rights."  And of course, he was profoundly correct.  Because gay people are still people, they are still human beings, and they still have inalienable human rights.  Just like black people and women before them.

I should have thought that the twentieth century would have taught us that people will not be denied their rights--that they will fight for those rights, and they will win.  It seems that some people have chosen to ignore that lesson.

Those of you who have not, we invite you to please join us, if you are a North Carolina citizen of voting age, in voting against Amendment One on May 8th, 2012.  It is antithetical to our ideals as a company, to our ethics as caring human beings, and to our morals as members of a civilized society.

Thank you.

Bryan Richard Shipp
Sarah Perry-Shipp
Ray Watters