This is a look at overland/campaign maps from my games, not tactical ones. I’ll note a few worldbuilding/prep lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Worldbuilding is highly connected to mapmaking. You can do one without the other, but I’ve never made a map without building the world with it.
Caerune was the second rpg I ever ran. I spent ages on this map and prepping the game every week. There are cults and lairs and dark, dangerous forests. It has theocracies, elected monarchies, tribal peoples, all of which are shown differently on the banners. The banners even tell you if the lord who resides there is a King or Duke or Count or Mayor. It also tells you which Duchy its in. I’m actually really proud of the density of political information on display in the banners.
But I always had to explain what the banners meant to the players so it can’t have been that good.
Lesson: Make player knowledge approximate character knowledge as early as possible
A lot of the time I spent on world building went nowhere, and on places that went unvisited. I don’t think it was wasted, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.
Below is an edit with a red line showing where the players actually went during our year long campaign.
Lesson: Don’t spend too much effort on distant places
Since they spent so long in Barrasin, I also made a city map.
I think the map is fine, but it didn’t see much use. when the city was about to be besieged the players got on a fishing boat and sailed far away. This was not what I had hoped for, but I learnt a valuable lesson about game prep.
Lesson: Don’t make a city map when it’s not necessary
This was an archipelago/sailing themed game. I had learnt my lessons and didn’t spend ages on deep lore, I placed some adventures I read on the map and decided some other simple things like ‘there is a medusa on this island’ or ‘this one has loads of dinosaurs on it’. The effort level was exactly as it should have been.
It’s too big. Players visited hardly any of it, but at least this time lots of energy and effort wasn’t wasted. It was unclear where the focus was meant to be.
Lesson: Don’t make you maps too big
At the same time I was running a game on the fabled Isle of Dragons. I’d learnt my lessons though. The pc’s mostly came from distant lands so the character knowledge matched game knowledge. I’d read some adventures/dungeons and crafted them together onto a map, without spending too much effort on the specifics of different places. The lore came out when relevant, aided by a festival in which there was a storytelling competition. I had obvious allies, obvious threats and dubious groups who could go either way.
I really struggle to find anything wrong about the way I set the game up. I think the only real problem was that I had 3 campaign ending threats on the board. It should have been 1 or 2. I remember the players resolving to travel to a location I didn’t really want them to go to, which was my fault as I had had NPCs present it as an option to be dismissed. They were half way stuck between being heroes and being adventurers.
Lesson: Focus the intent of the player characters precisely
Mini campaign: Thaarbi island
This game was meant to run for about 3 sessions for 2 players and ended up running for about 6 sessions. It was a character funnel using ‘level 0’ 5e characters. The premise was that an evil cleric had landed on this backwater island and summoned a shadow, which can drain the strength of its targets to make new shadows.
This was the exact correct amount of detail and it had laser focused characters, with a clear intent – survive.
The map didn’t take too long and it did its job. The lesson here is more of a ‘what went right’ lesson than learning from your mistakes.
Lesson: Maps are tools, focus on making them useable
March of Kite
This is my ongoing Old School Essentials game. The locations are all either plucked from modules and adventures or they’re reskins of places I designed previously. The player characters are adventurers seeking to maximise their treasure, and have been employed by the local baronet, Sir Jack of Kite, to help him rid his lands of various problems.
From Kite to Brighton is about a full day’s walk, with rests etc.
This is the ugliest map of the lot. By far.
It is the most functional map of the lot.
Player knowledge equaled character knowledge very quickly because Sir Jack took the players up the nearby hill and pointed out the major locations of the valley to them.
There is no wasted prep here.
This is all probably a function of having a full time job, a baby and learning where to focus my efforts.
I’ve probably put too many adventures down on the map. There are 6 or so adventures/dungeons/modules at play here. Which leads me to a lesson that I still don’t seem to have learnt.
Lesson: However long you estimate how long it will take for players to make their way through any content, double the estimation
All the lessons in one place
Make player knowledge approximate character knowledge as early as possible
Don’t spend too much effort on distant places
Don’t make a city map when it’s not necessary
Don’t make you maps too big
Focus the intent of the player characters precisely
Maps are tools, focus on making them useable
However long you estimate how long it will take for players to make their way through any content, double the estimation
In part 1 I discussed some things I do and don’t like about character progression in games.
From the observations in part 1, I’ve made a simple criteria to examine character progression, specifically, the mechanical abilities and features that characters get (I’ll be calling them all features because its a reasonably generic term).
The DAQ criteria
Is it appreciable?
When the features comes into play in the moment, at the table, do we appreciate it?
Can we point to something happening in the game and say ‘that is happening because of this feature’?
Do the other players at the table notice the impact of the feature?
For instance: if a character has a +2 bonus from proficiency, a +3 bonus from dexterity and a +2 from a feature, then all of those sources contribute to a success, so its hard to credit any of them in particular. However if the feature gave a +10 and the margin of success meant that they could only have succeeded due to the +10, then it is appreciable.
Is it qualitative?
Does the feature have a tangible effect on things in the world or is it only a numerical impact?
A feature can have quantitative effect and a qualitative effect, they are not mutually exclusive.
Just because a feature can be roleplayed doesn’t mean its qualitative. Whilst you can turn things which are just numbers into character moments but we want to know if the feature itself is just numbers.
For instance: if a character has a +1 sword that has +3 against goblins then it is quantitative. It’s just numbers. But if the character had a +1 sword has +3 against goblins, and which glowed bright white and whispered shouted hateful messages in elven whenever it was drawn near goblins, then that is qualitative.
EDIT: I’ve since done a whole blogpost about qualitative design here
Is it distinctive?
Is the feature something that everyone can do or is there limited access?
Can only this class do this thing? Can only this subclass do this thing?
If others can do this thing, how common is it?
For instance: if a character can cast a spell to let them fly, and another character can shapeshift into a falcon, the the flight spell is somewhat distinctive, whilst the shapeshifting is more distinctive. This is because whilst they both have ways to fly, only one of them can also shapeshift. The distinctive quality is on more of a sliding scale than the others and is more affected by having a larger pool of options.
Another way of thinking of these qualities:
Appreciable: does it make me think ‘thank goodness I have that feature’
Qualitative: does it make things happen in the world that de-genericises play?
Distinctive: is it something that helps define my character and creates opportunities to move the spotlight to them?
I’m going to apply these criteria to fighting classes from a few games to see how they fare. I’m looking at fighters because they should be harder to hit these criteria with than, say, wizards or clerics.
I’ll look at Fighters in 5e D&D , Old School Essentials and GLOG, scoring each feature out of 3.
(I’ve used Appreciable, Qualitative and Distinct as the ordering throughout but DAQ is more pronounceable than AQD so I’m calling it the DAQ criteria.)
The Fighter in 5e
I won’t explain each feature because that would take too long but you can check out their wording here.
Feature and score
Fighting Style 0/3
Most of this is just +1 or +2 bonuses. The most appreciable is great weapon fighting but its not very good statistically.
Again it’s mostly just numbers.
These features are shared with the paladin and ranger.
Second Wind 1/3
Yes – I declare that I use it and I get to heal 1d10+level hit points.
No, again its just numbers.
While Second Wind is unique, healing is pretty ubiquitous so its not really distinct.
Action Surge 2.5/3
It is very appreciable, but in my experience it is mostly used to just do another attack.
+1 action this turn is a quantity increase, but because you use that action to do something in the world, it is qualitative.
Everyone has actions. Actions can also be gained through the haste spell so its partially distinct
Extra Attack 2/3
Yes, though as time goes on it becomes less appreciated and more something you just do.
As above, it is a quantity that gives you something tangible, though that thing is generally just ‘I swing my sword again’.
Other martial classes have extra attacks.
Ability Score Improvements 0/3
It is appreciated just after levelling up but after a session or so it just becomes part of the overall modifier and is not appreciable.
Quantitative. You could trade it for a feat but that’s optional and beyond the scope of this assessment.
Everyone gets this
Rerolling saving throws is very appreciable
There are lots of ways to gain a reroll or reroll-like effect
Hit Points 1/3
Yes – I often hear ‘that would’ve killed me if I had as few hit points as the wizard’ or some variation on that theme
Again, entirely quantitative.
Everyone has hit points and the barbarian’s hit points are larger. The ranger has as many hit points as the fighter too.
Weapon and Armour Proficiencies 0/3
Because access to weapons and armour is so widespread in 5e, having access to all types is hard to appreciate.
This is quantitative because it’s saying: anyone can use the weapon but only you can get a +2 bonus
Other characters can get access to the weapon/armour proficiencies, some more easily than others.
Yes it is well appreciated at 1st level. This tails off as the party gets money and everyone gets the best equipment they can use.
This is qualitative but because the type of weapon you are using so rarely matters in 5e (past its damage dice and whether it is ranged) its a weak quality
Anyone can buy this equipment and many others start with it too
We’ll look also at the Champion and Battle Master subclasses. The Eldritch Knight has spells and so I’ll be ignoring it because as I said earlier, magic is much easier to hit these criteria with.
Improved Critical is very appreciable – the player will appreciate it every time they roll a 19. It’s a quantitative improvement for sure – though rolling extra dice is tangible for the players it is not tangible in the world. It is pretty distinctive – as far as I know it is the only rules-as-written way to crit on a 19 in 5e. Score 2/3
Remarkable Athlete reads
Starting at 7th level, you can add half your Proficiency Bonus (round up) to any Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution check you make that doesn’t already use your Proficiency Bonus.
In addition, when you make a running long jump, the distance you can cover increases by a number of feet equal to your Strength modifier.
This is not appreciable because it gets added into your tally of modifiers, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a GM use the written rules for jumpable distance (although I’m sure it happens at other tables). The first half is not qualitative. The second part does give is a quantity but that quantity is saying ‘you can jump further than other people’ which is tangible. It is not distinctive because the Bard has a similar, but strictly better, feature called Jack of All Trades. Score 0.5/3
Additional Fighting Style is a re-run of Fighting Style 0/3
Superior Critical is also a re-run of Improved Critical 2/3
Survivor gets you some hit points back as long as you are in the lower half of your hit points. This might be appreciable in a fight, but not that much. It is entirely qualitative. Though it is a distinct method of healing, as I said earlier, healing is pretty common in 5e. Half points for distinctive and appreciable gives a score of 1/3
Battle Master is not on the link from earlier so here’s one just for it’s features.
Combat Superiority is great. You pick some ‘maneuvers’ and can expend ‘superiority dice’ to use those maneuvers, buffing their result.
Example maneuvers: Disarming Strike (chance to disarm an opponent and bonus damage); Menacing Attack (chance to frighten an opponent and bonus damage; and Commander’s Strike (forgo an attack to allow an ally to make an attack).
Many of these features are also appreciable – we all notice when Jimmy gives up his attack to let Timmy make one, or that Billy’s fighter just shouted that ogre into temporary submission.
Frightening opponents, disarming them and allowing others to move are all qualitative. Though some of the features are just quantitative buffs, there are enough choices to give this a pass.
The list of maneuvers has 16 entries, many of which allow you to do things which there is no other mechanical way to do in 5e, or things which you cannot do without casting a spell, so this is distinctive.
Student of War gives the Battle master proficiency with one type of artisan’s tools of their choice. Whilst that sounds like a flat bonus, it’s probably going to make the player buy and use those tools when they otherwise wouldn’t, and so is potentially appreciable, if the player remembers where they got their proficiency from. It is quantitative and indistinct though. 1/3
Know Your Enemy is a nearly-great feature. Essentially, spending 1 minute in a non-combat interaction or observation with another creatures grants some knowledge of its statistics. This is appreciable only if the party is going to act on the information, which is not very likely as it is all stuff that a reasonably experienced player could guess at. Maybe they couldn’t guess the exact number, but they could guess if a stat will be relatively high or low. It is quantitative which is a big shame – if it gave you knowledge about the creature’s mood or motivation then it would be so much more tangible. It’s a pretty distinct feature. Score is 1.5/3 but with a few tweaks it could easily be 3/3
Improved Combat Superiority just changes your superiority dice from d8s up the dice ladder to d12s. Marginally appreciable (because an numbers added to a check from an additional dice are more noticeable than say a flat +2 bonus which gets folded into the modifier), quantitative and not distinct. 0.5/3
Relentless also interacts with superiority dice, giving you one if you have none at the start of a fight. Appreciable when it is used but not qualitative or distinct. (the dice are distinct but replenishing things is not). I expect it would push the player to use up their dice knowing they get one back which I suppose increases its appreciability (is that a word) 0.5/3
5e fighter summary
Battle Master is better than the Champion using these criteria. Most of the features are not very interesting. I should note that the Fighter gets a lot more ability score improvements than other classes, which (using optional rules) can be turned into feats. This does allow for a fighters to get some very distinct, appreciable and qualitative features and therefore to increase the distinction between any two fighters, but it does so by accessing features from a communal pool. IE the fighter gets more interesting by accessing features that are not part of their core design. Doesn’t that say something about the core design by itself?
The Fighter in Old School Essentials
The system reference document for Old School Essentials (OSE) can be found online here. It’s an excellent tool, I generally have several tabs open while running my weekly game. As OSE is a re-rendering of the 1981 D&D rules there is less of an emphasis on class features which are gained while levelling up, and far less push-a-button style features.
Feature and Score
Hit Dice 1d8 1/3
Even more appreciable than in 5e since being reduced to 0hp kills you instantly and bonus hit points from constitution are much less generous.
The Dwarf class also gets 1d8 for its Hit Dice.
Weapon and Armour 2/3
More appreciable than in 5e again (the fighter can use any weapons and armour) because some of the other classes are so limited in their access – the magic user can only use daggers. Treasure is also more often magic weapons which the Fighter can always make use of.
Unlike in 5e where a proficiency gives you +2 at 1st level, in OSE it allows you to use the weapon. Being able to pick up and use a fallen enemy’s bow (when others cannot) is qualitative.
This is shared with the Elf class.
Fighters know the bare minimum of languages so its pretty impossible to appreciate this.
Knowing or not knowing a language is about as qualitative as it comes.
The Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User and Thief all have the same language options.
These next two features need more unpacking than the table can provide.
Stronghold: Any time a fighter wishes (and has sufficient money), they can build a castle or stronghold and control the surrounding lands.
This feature requires the context of other classes: all the non-Fighters have a specific feature explaining what level they have to be to build a base and the nature of that base . For instance a Thief can establish a Thief-Den at level 9.
For the kind of game I run I would assume that the fighter has to still contend with issues such as the supply of materials and access to specialist workers, especially in more remote locations. There is also the political concern of neighbouring factions and rulers.
So this is appreciable because being able to make a castle when others cannot, which might serve as the base of operations for the party, is going to be appreciated. It is also definitely qualitative (a castle is not a quantity, right?). It’s not very distinct because everyone can make a base and both Halflings and Dwarfs can make a Stronghold. Score 2/3
After Reaching 9th Level: A fighter may be granted a title such as Baron or Baroness. The land under the fighter’s control is then known as a Barony.
So right out of the block this is qualitative. Lets just get that out of the way.
At 9th level (or 11th, around that mark anyway) is when most classes can make their stronghold, but since the Fighter can already do that, instead they can become a Baron(ess). This is basically saying that the fighter is not just a warrior who has a keep but a noble, a recognised member of the feudal hierarchy. Skerples has a great post about what this means in a medieval society. Anyone who has played Crusader Kings or watched Game of Thrones will know the potential for gameplay to come from this. So it is definitely appreciable, as long as the NPCs in the game react appropriately to the character’s rank (including other nobles holding them to certain expectations).
It is distinct too, no other class gets to become a member of the nobility through a class feature.
Attack modifiers (THACO) and saving throws: The fighter also gets very good attack modifiers and saving throws as they level up. This is not distinct or qualitative. It is more appreciable than the modifiers that a 5e fighter gets just because there are so few ways to get modifiers. Still 0/3 though.
OSE fighter summary
There is so little in the class but once you ignore the features which are common to all classes (attack modifiers, saving throws, languages and hit dice) everything that remains meets the DAQ criteria really well.
The Fighter in GLOG
Goblin Laws of Gaming (GLOG) is a ruleset made by Arnold K and can be found here (wizard rules are here). We’re looking at the Fighter on page 6 of the Goblin Guts pdf, which is the class list. Often GLOG is played using the Rat-On-A-Stick hack (or hacks of that hack) where HP is limited to 20hp at max level, and I will be taking this into account, especially when considering how appreciable abilities are.
Feature and Score
Yes – potentially mitigating 2d12 hp in an fight is really big and might keep you alive.
Both parts of this ability are quantitative but the sundering of your shield is also quantitative so half marks for this.
The knight also has this feature, so it’s somewhat distinct with 10 classes. Half marks again
If you choose the right upgrades then they will be appreciable. +1 damage is generally not appreciable, crit on a 19-20 is.
Some of the potential upgrades to your weapon are qualitative – like with the battle master’s maneuvers I’ll assume those are the options which will be chosen.
No other class has this feature
+1 Attack 2.5/3
You will appreciate getting a second attack in when HP values stay low as your level progresses.
Like the 5e fighter’s extra attack, this is qualitative. A tangible thing is happening, not just a number change.
The Really Good Dog class also gets +1 attack features so this is at half marks.
You should appreciate the chance to smooth social tensions by winning a fight.
A +4 bonus is quantitative, but what’s really happening is that you’re getting a second chance at a first impression, which is qualitative.
Yes nobody else can do this.
When you get a free chance to trip, shove or disarm someone then you will really feel it, however I think this ability might go forgotten due to its unusual trigger conditions
The second part of the feature is qualitative but the first part is just a +2 bonus. Half marks again.
The Acrobat can also do this so half marks again. Bit of a running theme here.
Extra attacks in such a low-health and low-power game is highly appreciable, much more so than in a game with massive HP values for monsters like 5e.
Another way to get extra attacks, which are qualitative.
Whilst other classes get extra attacks, none get them this way. Half marks.
GLOG Fighters also get +1HP per level which is not distinctive, qualitative or appreciable. That extra hit point might keep you alive but you probably won’t appreciate that you are alive because of this feature. 0/3
Starting equipment for GLOG fighters is very good, though narrowly focused on combat. Having a bow or chainmail will probably be appreciated in the same way that the OSE fighter’s weapon access was. Other classes have some of the same equipment so its partially distinct. Having a thing is qualitative so that makes it 3/3
GLOG fighter summary
Some really good features here. In fact I think the ratio of really-good-idea/total-rules is part of the reason behind GLOG’s success.
I might do a post in the future assessing my own classes using the DAQ criteria.
The GLOG and OSE fighters perform very well in the DAQ criteria, far better than the 5e fighters. In general, a more niche game will perform better on these criteria as abilities will probably be more distinct and qualitative. It might be a good project to scalp the most DAQy features from the 5e battle master and make a glog class, though someone has probably already done that.
I am well aware that the DAQ criteria is just one measure of quality when assessing character abilites in games. Features which score poorly such as hit points and proficiencies may really drive the flavour of the class without being unique press-me buttons which this criteria is looking for.
This criteria wouldn’t work for some systems I’ve played such as Chaosium’s Call of Cthulu, Star Trek Adventures or The Burning Wheel. That’s fine. Character progress in those systems is handled differently, and your character is more often differentiated by you skill lists or areas of expertise.
There is no Joesky Tax with this essay since I’ve already given you something useable.
When designing a feature ask yourself:
Is it distinctive?
Is it appreciable?
Is it qualitative?
But don’t forget that the design doesn’t need to be those things to be good.
I’ve run Star Trek Adventures a couple of times now. Its core system is feels like a bespoke mechanism for treknobabble and dealing with sci-fi problems, which is pretty much exactly what I need for a trek game.
It’s space combat system feels like playing FTL: Faster Than Light, where either you wipe your enemies or you engage in a manic struggle for survival. The ground combat system is similar, but without the threat of ejection into the void or a warp-core breach.
It’s relatively difficult to find the information you need when running the game, so much so that I created this google slides doc to ease the running of combat when I was prepping my second campaign. Even then, combat took a while.
The characters pick several beliefs and then receive meta-currency for engaging with them. I struggled to make that work in my games, just as I struggled with Burning Wheel‘s meta-currencies and belief system.
Star Trek Adventures has lots of material about the federation and trek-stuff in general, and I wonder what it’s for. I assume most people buying the core book know a reasonable amount about Trek already or they wouldn’t be buying it. But if you didn’t know much about Trek, the best way to find out is to watch a few episodes or movies, not read a dusty tome.
I’m assuming the use of a hexmap, and that each hex corresponds to a star system. Hexes can also be empty, and there are space features which span several hexes such as nebulae.
Your ship has two main actions when travelling: Scanning and Moving.
When your ship Scans, choose one option from below
Detailed Scan: receive detailed sensor information on any one adjacent hex (the star’s class; along with an estimate of how many space ships or other constructed space entities there are; and how many planetary bodies there are, divided into small (roughly Earth sized and smaller) and large (ice giants and gas giants))
Rudimentary Stellar Scan: receive sensor information about two adjacent hexes. Rudimentary sensor information just gives the class of the star (if there is one).
Detailed FLT trail Scan: receive detailed information about faster-than-light trails in any one adjacent hex. This might detail the number and direction of any trails, and information about the size and speed of those ships. The information may be up to a week old.
Rudimentary FTL trail Scan: receive information about faster-than-light trails in any two adjacent hexes. This is just an estimate of number and direction, and only pertaining to travel from the last day or so.
When you Scan you should make some sort of roll or check that will determine the quantity of information revealed.
When your ship Moves you go from your current hex to an adjacent one. Choose one option from below
Cruise: Travel at your ship’s standard speed. You can Move to one adjacent hex
Sneak: Travel at half your ship’s standard speed. You can Move half of a hex’s length and it is much harder for you to be spotted by FTL trail scans (get advantage or something)
Each day your ship can choose two actions from the above list.
If your ship will Cruise twice, you can go an additional hex. This is called Maximum FTL. Sustaining Maximum FTL for more than one day will require an engineering check.
If your ship will Scan twice, then you can scan not only adjacent hexes, but also hexes adjacent to those (ie not only the nearest 6 hexes but also the 12 hexes surrounding that.
Your ship can also spend its actions repairing but that is probably too system-specific to get into here.
Random Space Encounters
I would use a hexmap that’s about 10×10 with star systems no further than 4 hexes from each other.
Once per dey, roll on the Initial Encounter table. If you get an encounter as the result then also roll Complication table.
If you want to have less encounters, keep the table the same but use a larger dice (d8/d10) and make all results above 6 result in ‘No encounter’.
If you want to have more encounters, roll for an initial encounter twice per day instead of once.
A ripple in space-time: ship’s dog Rover is replaced with a cat from the mirror universe that acts like a dog, answers to the name Rover.
Beachball sized orb follows the ship: Whoever looks at it sees a minaturised version of their homeworld.
Ion storm causes a momentary lapse in holodeck safety protocols: A historical figure from a holodeck program is made material and sentient.
Gaseous mind-parasite sneaks in through an exhaust port and infiltrates replicators: Crew’s food becomes hallucinogenic.
A rapaciously hungry tar-like blob attaches itself to the hull causing minor damage: It will grow and devour the whole ship if left to itself. It is psychic and is very open about its desire to consume the entire universe.
Wormhole: Takes the crew back to stone-age earth where aliens are trying to mess up the future. The wormhole will collapse in 3 hours.
As I used up events on the Interior Encounter table below, I added more events based on the actions of the party. These are intended to mostly be short social encounters which emulate day-to-day life on the ship.
Cultural celebration for one of the less prominent species/cultures on the ship
Ship’s pilot is challenged to a simulation race
Physical poetry recital
Barcrawl of 20th century pop-culture bars and pubs on the holodeck
3rd grade’s production of the first ever FTL flight – Senior officers are invited to performance
Safety Drill – how to handle a virulent space-plague
A live-action production of The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan, performed by engineering
An attempt to add obscure alien cuisine to the replicators has succeeded and the crew are invited to Exotic Food Night
Film night and munchies after
Chief historian interviews senior crewmembers
Security Chief puts senior officers through a hand-to-hand combat refresher course
Judging a contest to name a new species of space-whale
In the Exterior Encounters table below, roll d12 twice: the first result is the encountered ship, whilst the second is the mood/motivation of the ship. You may need to roll another ship to interact with the first one for it to make sense. I took inspiration from the random encounter tables in Hot Springs Islands which are fantastic.
The first 8 entries in the table were universal no matter which part of the hexmap the players were in. The last 4 entries changed depending on which inhabited star system they were nearest to.
Because the actual encounters were so closely related to the setting the players were exploring, I’ve genericised them below.
I also used the table below when players scanned a region of space and wanted information on the ships that were travelling through there (or had recently travelled there).
Archeological/Geological research vessel
Astronomical research vessel
Mind Vampire Psychological warfare frigate
Peacekeeper patrol cruiser
Local Merchant Vessel
It would be perfectly possible to re-order the Mood/Motivation column and use 2d6 instead of a d12, knowing that the middle results will be weighted towards much more than the outer results.
I designed the above system for encounters to make it the game feel like Star Trek TNG. Some great bits of sci-fi happen in the less action/diplomacy centered moments of the show, for instance: Data’s excellent poem about his cat, Spot; Worf discussing Klingon mating rituals; and Picard Day. Moments that let us see the characters in a more relaxed setting, or that illuminate and flesh out elements of their cultures.
In my own game the internal encounter table became radically different as play went on and it was increasingly influenced by past actions of the player characters. We had a simulated paintball deathmatch to settle a point of honour; a fashion show to introduce the new ships uniforms; and holographic Steve Irwin examining the ship’s cat, Rover. Our last session had that characters playing a holonovel where they played as their characters playing characters from Robin Hood. It was very meta, very hammy and a great send-off.
I’ll assume you haven’t read my other posts on Legamon prior to this, so here is the recap:
Legamon (or just mons) are legally distinct monsters that accompany the characters on adventures
Mons have 6 types: Air, Fire, Water, Earth, Verdant and Metal. Some mons may be of more than one type.
Some types against stronger or weaker against others, for example Water is strong against fire. This is shown in the type chart below.
All mons have abilities relating to their type. For example, Flameingo (an iridescent fire-type pink flamingo) knows the ability Flame Hop, a fire type ability.
Abilities have tags which tell help inform all the players about what the ability is good at. Flame Hop has the tags: Fire-type; melee; and moving. Other than the type, there are no hard and fast rules about what the tags do. They exist to inform our understanding of the ability and to make it clear to everyone playing what the ability is good at and what it is bad at.
There are also typeless abilities. While every mon has access to a limited pool of abilities with types, there is an infinite pool of typeless abilities that can be used. The only restrictions are what is reasonable in world, so for example a slug-themed mon could not use a typeless ability called ‘kick’.
You roll an ability dice when you are doing an ability to determine its success. Higher is better.
Abilities which have a type roll a d6 for their ability dice. Abilities which are typeless roll a d4 for their ability dice.
Modifying the ability dice
If you have advantageous circumstances (from height, a downed opponent, a sneak attack etc.) then roll your ability dice twice and take the higher value.
If you have disadvantageous circumstances (opponent in cover, predictable actions, you are grappled, your ability name doesn’t quite fit what you are trying to do etc.) then roll your ability dice twice and take the lower value.
If you have an advantageous type matchup (eg fire vs verdant) then instead step the dice up (d2->d4->d6->d8->d10).
If you have a disadvantageous type matchup then instead step the dice down (d10->d8->d6->d4->d2).
Example worst case scenario: Flameingo is using the ability Flame Hop on Rocktopus, an Earth-Water hybrid. Flameingo is lying on the ground and Rocktopus is towering over it. Flameingo will roll 1d2 (the d6 has been stepped down twice as fire has a bad matchup against both water and earth) twice and take the lower number (because it has disadvantageous circumstances).
Example best case scenario: Flameingo is using Flame Hop to drop down from above on an unsuspecting Bookerfly, a Verdant-Air hybrid. Flameingo will roll 1d10 (the d6 has been stepped up twice as fire has a good matchup against air and verdant) twice and take the higher number (due to advantageous circumstances).
When a mon uses an ability which has a type, they must spend one energy to do so. The median starting energy for a mon is 3.
When a mon spends an energy they will roll an ability dice to determine the success of their ability.
If the dice rolls in the upper half of potential values, the energy remains spent.
If the dice rolls in the lower half of potential values, the energy is regained
So on a d4 roll, a 1 or 2 regain the spent energy, whereas on a d8 roll a 1, 2, 3 or 4 will regain the spent energy.
Combat Rules for one-on-one fights
Combat is made up of rounds. Each round, participants roll 1d6 + speed to determine who goes first that round.
The median speed values for a mon is 3. Whoever rolls higher has their turn first.
On your turn you can move and do an ability. (Instead of an ability you could also use an item or interact with something in the environment.)
If you are going first and you want to do something that does not affect the opposing character, then it will resolve. The gamemaster may ask for a roll to see how successful it is.
If you are going first but you want to do something (for instance an attack) that will affect the opposing character, then the target can choose to either: let it happen and then take their turn after; or forgo their turn and resist the action.
If you are going second and you did not resist the opponents ability, that means you can take your turn now. If you want to do an action that interacts with your opponent, they won’t be able to resist you as they already acted.
Attacking and your opponent does not/cannot resist
Roll your ability dice, the result is subtracted from the opponents Grit.
Grit is a statistic that represents a mons staying power. The median starting grit for a mon is 10. When a mon’s grit reaches 0 or lower they are out of the fight.
Attacking and your opponents resists
Attacker and defender both roll ability dices. The defender’s result is subtracted from the attackers result and the result is subtracted from the defender’s grit. This cannot heal the defender.
The defender is not able to damage the attacker by rolling higher. If they wanted to damage the attacker they should not have resisted, and instead taken the damage and then attacked back.
Using an ability to prevent
Attacker rolls their ability dice. They may spend the resulting value to prevent their opponent from moving or using an ability. 1 point of the value can be spent to prevent the opponent from moving for 1 turn. 3 points can be spent to prevent the opponent from doing an ability for one turn.
Example scenario: Vineapple rolls a 4 when using Vine Lash to wrap their target, Camelamp. Vineapple could either: prevent Camelamp’s next action and next movement; or prevent Camelamp’s next 4 movements.
At the start of any round after the first round in which a mon is prevented from doing something, there is a chance they can passively overcome the prevention. To do so they must roll 4 or higher on a typeless ability roll (this roll does not consume their ability for that round). Each additional round steps the dice up.
Number of turns prevented
6th turn onwards
Passive typeless dice rolled
no dice rolled
Roll a 4 or higher to end the prevention
The target can use an ability to defend and subtract from the attacker’s roll in the same way as with damaging abilities.
Using an ability to end a prevention early
If you are being prevented then you can use your ability to try to end the prevention early. Roll your ability dice, if you roll a 4 or higher then the prevention ends straight away (this may allow you to spend your ability to end a prevention on your movement, which you can then use).
If you are prevented from using an ability then you cannot try to use your ability to end your prevention on using an ability.
Using an ability to do anything else and other rules
The gamemaster makes a call based on the rules above, their reasoned understanding of of the world and the principles below:
The logic of the world and the scenario is more important than following the rules.
The rules only exist to facilitate informed decision making for players and so the gamemaster has guidance to prevent them from making it up on the spot. Making stuff up on the spot is fine, but its harder to do it well for combat, and with combat a poor decision will sting harder.
What one character does using an ability should not be negated by a movement from an opposing character.
0 grit means one cannot carry on fighting, it does not necessarily mean death or fainting. Maybe they are physically exhausted, or mentally drained, or emotionally overwrought. It might mean they flee or collapse or the mon’s human partner offers to parlay or surrender.
Give disadvantage if a mon uses the same ability in the same way more than once in a row, or any time after the second time. This is predictable for their opponent which is where the disadvantage comes from.
The average Mon has 10 grit, 3 energy and 3 speed. Mon advancement/evolution will be covered in a different post. I’d also like to post about how to bond mons (bond not catch, it feels a bit oppressive to go around catching monsters).
If I was making up a new mon and wanted to decrease/increase its energy or speed (for instance, Camelamp above should probably have more than 3 energy as camels store energy) then I would modify the grit of the mon up or down by 2 or 3 hp to make it feel more balanced. The other lever for balance is how many situations you can think of that a mons’ ability would be useful in.
The rules for combat could easily be abstracted out to other contests. Grit represents staying power not physical durability so there doesn’t even need to be a terminology change.
The rules would probably also work for battles with multiple participants but I haven’t tried that out.
If you go first then your opponent might trade attacks, but yours will hit first. Otherwise they might try to negate your attack, but then they can’t do damage.
Going second means that if you let your opponent hit you, you get guaranteed damage/prevention on them.
Energy and grit should probably reset at a town, village or some other resting spot – they’re a resource to manage through several encounters/events.
There is a gloggy kernel in this game (the regaining of spent mana and the low hp levels relative to attack values). The gloggy kernel has an fkr coating, with world/genre emulation coming as a top priority over the rules. When I ran a playtest I had less written rules than above, but it seems to me that if I’m making something to publish online I should provide a reasonable level of guidance.
The title says moves but I’ll be calling them abilities since that makes it less confusing when talking about movement.
The types are Water, Verdant, Fire, Earth, Air, Metal.
All ‘mons know at least one typed ability.
Vineapple (a Verdant-type pineapple with vines coming out of its head) knows Vine Lash
Mistrunk (a cute Water-type elephant) knows Water Spray
Camelamp (a baby one-humped Fire-type camel) knows Shining Hump
As they advance, level-up and evolve, their abilities will gain new tags granting them increased versatility
Using these abilities requires one energy to be spent. When the energy is spent roll a d6.
On a 1, 2 or a 3 the energy is refunded.
On a 4, 5 or a 6 the energy is spent.
The GM will determine the success of the ability based on the result, with 6 being the best result and 1 being the worst. The result could determine:
How long an effect lasts for
How powerful an effect is
How difficult it is for others to counteract
Whether the attempted action is even possible
How quickly the action is completed
The GM should not allow characters to repeatedly try the same action until it succeeds. This is a waste of time. If time is a factor in an action that is definitely doable, then have the result determine how quickly the action is completed.
Abilities can be used in combat or out of combat. The above statement might makes it seem like combat is the focus of this game but far from it, it just wanted to be explicit.
Energy will replenish at the same time as Grit (the health system I’ve not blogged about yet). Essentially it replenishes at some time or place of rest.
‘Mons can also do typeless abilities.
You could think of everything else they are doing as a typeless ability but that seems a bit silly. It’s more that we use the ability structure only when we need mechanical support to adjudicate our roleplay.
Really they’re only relevant in combat.
Actually no, there are loads of places they will be relevant, for instance if the ‘mons were in a cooking contest or a game of beach volleyball. However, the game needs combat rules first.
So below is a non-exhaustive list of example typeless abilities. The only restriction on what typeless abilities a ‘mon can do is what the GM and players think is reasonable.
Typeless abilities are not as powerful as typed abilities so they never get type advantage. They also roll a d4 not a d6, which will matter when it comes to combat. Finally, they lack the versatility and potential to affect the scope of the battle in the same way as typed abilities.
But I mean you still didn’t tell me what am I meant to do with this
Okay the combat system is coming next.
Followed by the beach volleyball system and the cooking system.
Below is a legamon type chart. Arrows are pointing towards the type that is weaker. For instance, Fire beats verdant and air, but is beaten by earth and water.
All of the type matchups follow some form of real world logic. The sort of logic that ancient greeks had where they sat around making up reasons why certain things must be true, without actually going out and checking them.
Fire beats Verdant because plants are vulnerable to burning
Fire beats Air because air is consumed by the process of burning
Verdant beats Water because plants need water to survive
Verdant beats Earth because plants roots dig into the earth and grow from it
Water beats Fire because water extinguishes fire
Water beats Metal because it causes rusting
Air beats Water because it causes evaporation
Metal beats Verdant because metal easily trims and cuts plants
Earth beats Fire because it can smother fires
I don’t entirely believe in balance in role-playing games. Balance is about creating fairness, which is inherently linked to the distribution of power and influence. A lot of balance comes from the game master’s interpretation of the player character’s actions. Perceived likelihood of success, on-the-spot rulings, design decisions for homebrew content, NPC reactions, even the table’s attitude towards the spirit of the rule vs the letter of the rule, all these things affect balance in a way that is impossible to account for when designing a roleplaying game.
And that’s before you start hacking the rules.
Some games give suggestions, options of different rules with an explanation of how your choice might affect gameplay. Others give ongoing design commentary so you can understand why a rule is the way it is. Alternatively, a game might present its vision in such striking terms that most points of contention are easily handled.
It is really important that there is not one option which is obviously way worse than the others because then players won’t pick it and you’ve wasted your development time, word count and design space.
It’s also really important that there is not one option which looks good but actually sucks.
Unlike a video game, I’m not going to have lots of stats and systems to do balance with. And ‘mon video games tend to have lots of visible stats, and even more hidden stats and formulas to tinker with.
So every type gets as many advantages as disadvantages. That’s the balance. That and the advancement system that’s not finished yet. The rest is up to the GM.
Ew your type chart is janky
Why thank you.
Thank you very much.
The attacker is on the left, defender on the top.
What about other types?
I have lots of ideas for other types. These ones above are core, physical, real-world types.
It’s noticeably missing magic types and types to represent real world phenomena such as ice and electricity. It’s a lot harder to reason the balance of magic-style types. The more secondary physical types I put in, such as ice and electricity, the more janky it became. I think they can be serviced by water and fire respectively. Or by duo types such as Water/Earth and Fire/Air.
Oh yeah, I guess duo types are a thing too.
There is design space for more types since Air, Earth and Metal only have one advantage and disadvantage each.
List of possible magic types
List of types that tickle me but I can’t reasonably put into the game at this time
My friend Becca_3D made art for Vineapple, a legamon from my previous post.
Wait but you didn’t even say what it means for something to have advantage or beat something else
Combat rules are not done yet. But I reckon you could run it as is with minimal elbow grease.
There’s been a lot of chatter in recent months about Legallydistinctémon, a lot of which is collated here. A lot of that stuff is glog-y, though there are some excellent random generators in there.
This is more in the FKR vein of games, though I will be assuming you have two things sorted already. I’ll probably write posts for each of them at some point
A core resolution system. I will use the words advantage/disadvantage to show when a character should have an improved or lessened chance of something, though I’m not necessarily talking about the ‘roll two take the best/worst’ definition. It could be a modifier or whatever.
Some sort of battling system. It could be rules light or glog-y or what have you.
Some sort of levelling/evolving/advancement system
Popplio used bubble
In the pokemon anime popplio uses bubble to attack other monsters but also to envelop pikachu so it can search underwater and it makes a massive bubble to stop the fall of some pokemon from a team rocket gondola.
That got me thinking about how a well enough written legamon move could be used in a wide number of situations outside of combat, or even in lots of different ways in combat. They might only need one or two moves overall.
Vineapple used Vine Lash
Vineapple is a plant-based monster which looks like a pineapple but with vines coming out of the top.
Okay I know that’s dumb but stay with me.
Vineapple has one ability, Vine Lash. Like all abilities, Vine Lash has some obvious qualities – as you will infer, the vines at the top of Vineapple lash out at a target. As it’s a plant-based ability, we’ll give it the Verdant tag. As I can’t really visualise it working well in melee, we’ll give it the ranged tag.
Vine Lash: Verdant, Ranged
^That’s the whole ability. Done.
Explicitly, Vine Lash has limited capabilities
It can be used to make Verdant ranged attacks
Implicitly, Vine Lash can do many things
Swinging from tree-to-tree
Tripping opponents (though it might have disadvantage/no chance against opponents who can fly, who are fiery or who slither like a snake. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, follow the fiction – rule whatever makes sense)
attacking with vines at close range (though this might be at disadvantage)
grappling opponents (though it might have disadvantage against particularly strong opponents or those who are fiery)
There are some uses of vine lash that are good ideas, but a bit of a stretch, for instance, whirling the vines around quickly enough that Vineapple makes a defensive/protective shield.
Enter the rest of the tag system.
Tags for abilities
So you might want a monster to do something with its ability that is ‘a bit of a stretch’. When the monster levels up/evolves/advances or when it is dietetically appropriate, for instance when you’ve been training a Vineapple to whirl its vines around, choose an ability and add a new tag to it.
Tags can be words or phrases. They cannot be rules-lawyered, that goes against the spirit of this sort of game, a game run on consensus and player trust in the GM’s model of the reality of the fiction.
Whirling Vines: Vineapple can now cycle vines in front of itself to try to shield against ranged attacks. I’d also say that it can attack in melee without disadvantage now, though it also tires itself out when it does so as whirling the vines takes a lot of energy
Sleight-of-Hand: Vineapple is now precise enough with its vines (the word ‘lash’ before implied some imprecision) that without disadvantage it can pickpockets, flip switches, grab small items etc.
Razor Sharp: Vineapple’s vines are razor sharp so they can cut through things now.
Cracking Lash: The vines now crack as they lash out, the noise can be distracting or draw attention
Metal Vines: Vineapple has evolved into Zincanut, a metallic coconut who has metal vines above its head. The tag metal should be added and the tag verdant removed.
Wicker Weaving: Vineapple can weave its vines back and forth to make a wicker item, then dis-attach them. It takes a while for the vines to come back to full strength
Powerful Lash: Vineapple’s vines are powerful enough that strong monster could be grappled now, and weaker ones with advantage. Any other logical extensions of the vines being more powerful would also occur. Maybe it does more damage in your battle system
Hover Vines: Vineapple’s can hover through the air by spinning its vines above its head. I might allow this tag to occur by itself, or I might say it needs one or both of the Powerful Lash and Whirling Vines tags already.
So the new ability might be written thus on the character sheet
That’s all we need to write ‘cos that’s all we need to record, the rest is in our heads.
The risk of that is when an alternate move use becomes a Magic Key that Solves All Problems Ever
On the glog discord Spwack said ‘ The risk of that is when an alternate move use becomes a Magic Key that Solves All Problems Ever’.
I absolutely agree.
Looking at you, Minor Illusion.
It’s a classic problem of having an optimum solution to every problem. Having dynamic goals in the game (not just fighting in a blank arena (or just fighting for that matter)) goes a long way to solving this. Another long way is gone (?) if we all agree to disavow a magic key if ever we find one. As I said before, the game should be run on consensus.
But what kind of ways could an ability be modified?
increased precision or nimbleness
decreased precision for an area of effect
modifiying light/vision levels
changing sound levels quieter or louder
change in speed
applying conditions/statuses grapple/paralysis/sleep/fear etc.
flight or other increased mobility (swimming/moving through earth/lava)
increased size or scale
human actions (such as the weaving)
changes in type (verdant to metal etc.)
etc. I mean its your game jeez
But I can’t think of any abilities for this legamon
I think I’ll probably make my own monster types and do a post about ‘catching’ monsters and evolving them.
I saw a group of four or five 8-year-olds playing with Pokémon cards recently. The kid who owned them poured a bag of a hundred or so onto the table and they picked six cards each. The kids took it in turns playing cards onto the table (regardless of the evolutionary stage of the card) and then attacking other player’s cards (completely ignoring the mana costs for doing so).
Obviously they had a vague idea how the game was played, but were making up most of it
I let them get on with it.
At one point somebody had played a poison Pokémon, maybe a Nidoran? We’ll assume it was this exact card:
The kid played the card and attacked with it.
What should have happened: Assuming the card had sufficient energy cards attached (a poison and one other energy card of any type), it would have done 20 damage (before applying weaknesses and resistances). Additionally there would be a 50% chance the target would be poisoned, meaning it would take an extra 10 damage each turn until it feints.
‘I attack that one with my sting, it does 20 so its dead’
‘Nooo that’s not how it works, because he is poisoned it means every time he is attacked he takes an extra 20’
No flipping coins, no initial 20 damage, no weaknesses and resistances.
Was it balanced? No
Were they having fun? Yep
I also saw a group of six-year-olds the other day playing with multilink cubes
They scattered the cubes out across the surface as unconnected singles. They then each chose a cube and began hoovering around the table, and whenever they connected to other cubes they added them on.
At one point one kid accidentally knocked the front of their snake into another kids and then had to dismantle it into its constituent pieces and start over.
So they were playing slither.io. But they could choose how quick or slow to move their snakes with only “hey, that’s too fast” as a mediation tool.
Sometimes character progression sucks in games and sometimes it’s my jam. I enjoy both The Witcher 3 and Shadow of War but I like SoW’s progression way more. They make for a decent case study as the core gameplay is pretty combat focused, it’s third person and they’re AAA fantasy games. All of this is related to tabletop roleplaying I swear.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
In TW3 as you advance through the game you get skills points which can be spent in 4 different trees. For the most part, spending these points gets you statistical improvements.
Fast attack damage increased by 5%
Increases crossbow critical hit chance by 5%
Time is slowed a further 15% while aiming bombs
This facilitates ‘builds’ and specializing in certain areas of the game’s combat system, especially earlier in the game where skill points are limited. It can be quite fun to find combos that work well, especially in the alchemy tree which intersects with the potion gameplay.
But moment-to-moment it’s boring. I fight much the same as I would have before spending my skill points, except I am now aware that my fast attacks do more damage. I don’t really see that damage though. A marginal increase in the rate at which the enemy’s health bar decreases is all and its not really noticeable.
Intellectually, I know that my skill points are having an effect, but that effect is never obvious and material to me in the moment. Sometimes I want to play spreadsheet simulator, I like Paradox Interactive titles as much as the next nerd, but not when I’m meant to be Geralt of Rivia.
Individual statistical improvements which are not appreciable in the moment are boring
Middle-earth: Shadow of War
In SoW as you advance through the game you (again) get skill points which can be spent in 6 different trees. Or maybe one tree with 6 parts. For the most part, spending these points gets you tangible, concrete improvements.
When you shoot a bonfire, spiders erupt from it
When you shoot an enemy with an arrow from stealth, you can teleport them to your location
You can ride a dragon if it is low on health
When I look at these skills in the skill tree, I want to unlock them. And I want to use them.
When I use these skills I feel cool. I like remembering I have just the right ability to deal with the current situation. And there is all the intellectual stuff going on too as you can change your current skill build to counter a particular orcs weaknesses or strengths.
Individual concrete improvements which are appreciable in the moment are great
In fact, all the worst bits of that game are when you can’t use your cool abilities because you have to fight a ringwraith who nothing works against.1
Total War Warhammer II
So this is a fantasy tactics/strategy game (with more of a focus on tactics) where you can get heroes and generals for your army who have, yeppers, you guessed it, skill trees.
It has one foot in the Witcher’s paddling pool and another foot in the SoW paddling pool. I’m not sure that analogy makes sense but I think you get me. Henri Le Massif, who is essentially a french knight trotting around the warhammer fantasy universe has such upgrades as:
Melee Attack +5 (for context it starts at 83)
Hit Points +3%
One of these is not like the others. The Hippogriff is cool. It does have a concrete impact, moment-to-moment, because Henri can fly over enemies. It also has statistical effects that you might notice over a duration.
That time my Paladin had a keen blade
Once upon a time I had a Paladin in a D&D game who got hold of a keen weapon which increased his crit range to 19-20. This was a game where crits doubled the amount of damage dice you rolled. He also was an Oath of Vengeance subclass with Vow of Enmity, which gives you advantage against a single target. So I was throwing out 4 attack rolls a round (with my extra attack features) and if one of those 4 rolls was a 19 or 20 (which it was every 2 or 3 rounds) I would burst my highest level spell on a smite, with the smite damage dice doubled.
It was a nice build, particularly against a single powerful enemy. Intellectually, it was appealing. It also didn’t feel too game-breaking since the keen blade had cost about 20,000gold. And it was nice to be the person who looked for the toughest enemy in a fight and charged headlong at them.
But it felt great moment-to-moment. It felt great when I got a hit due to my advantage. It felt great when I got a crit from a role of 19.
And it felt amazing when I scooped up 8d8 and 4d6 and cast them across the table for my damage, hit for 50 or so damage and flexed ‘and now I’ll roll for my second attack’.
5% increased crit chance is boring. But critting on a 19-20 is exciting even though they are statistically the same.
So when designing games I should remember to make the character options interesting in a concrete way that is fun for the players at the table. Bonus points if its fun when they’re overanalyzing the probabilities too.
Hippogriff generator: Front part bird, back part ungulate (hoofed mammal). Roll 1d10 for each
Also the ringwraith is Helm Hammerhand and don’t get me started on how immersion breaking it is to have timetravelling ringwraiths and then start doubting your knowledge of tolkein’s continuity and to hop on the wikis only to find out that yes, Helm Hammerhand was born thousands of years after the defeat of Sauron so how can be a ringwraith and this fight is monotonous and boring but its a story fight so I have to do it even though its literally the worst part of the game aside from that stupid balrog fight and all the other ringwraith fights I mean you design an entire game about three things: parkour; the nemesis system; batman arkham style gameplay; and emergent narratives, only to neuter all three of those for many of your set-piece story fights?