A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer


24Nov/14Off

The Fonts of D&D 5th Edition

Since I posted this on Twitter, I thought I would expand on it.

As a publisher, one of the things I always have to keep in mind is that my product's design and layout should be reasonably close to the official products while being very clear that it's not actually an official product. Although my data layout is fairly similar, I have ultimately chosen a different set of fonts and whatnot so that I have my own unique look... but there are still a lot of people out there that want whatever they do to look like D&D in terms of layout.

So I took the D&D Basic Rules free PDF, opened it up inside of Adobe Acrobat X Pro (part of the Adobe CS6 Master Suite), and looked at what fonts and colors they used. And this is the result...

All these fonts aren't exactly cheap, it seems. At first I thought they were free because I had them already, and I'm not exactly sure why I do but I do have upwards of 6,000 fonts on my system (they come with the job) after all... I have one of my many clients to thank I suppose. If you don't have a client to thank, going out and buying these will cost you like a grand total.

If you look around you can find some pretty close alternatives. For example, this font has been suggested (through the WotC forum thread here) as a stand-in for Bookmania. And ufonts has a wide assortment of ScalaSans fonts although they don't explicitly have ScalaScans Offc or ScalsSans Sc Offc.

So, although this information is here, I have to put a disclaimer: it is not the best of ideas to make your product look exactly like WotC's... Arguably, that's one of the reasons I got a C&D from them in the first place. You simply can't pretend to be an official product by making yourself look like an official product throughout. So you might be OK using this style for fan created, free content... but please do not use these fonts and colors for a retail product. OK?

Filed under: 5E, Design, DnD, Publication No Comments
3Oct/14Off

The Cavern of the Damned

[Preliminary Intro - Subject to change!]

As you slowly open your eyes the world seems out of focus. The room dips and sways sharply as you raise yourself up off the ground, your arms shaking under the weight of your own body. As the blur twists and bends in reaction to your ear-splitting headache, you sense the taste of dried blood and dirt on your lips.

The chamber comes in to better focus as you stagger to your feet, and you frantically spin around to see your possessions scattered about you, discarded as if they had no meaning. You are bathed in a light from above that burns brighter than the sun, causing you great pain as you look towards it.

You struggle to clear your mind and try to remember how you came to be here, but that's just the problem: your mind is already completely clear, blank even, and you have no memory of what brought you to this strange place.

As you look past the circle of light in which you stand and into the darkness that surrounds you, as the ringing in your ear subsides, one thing is certain.

You are not alone.

Cavern of the Damned is an adventure that I've been working on for a while, or at least something I've wanted to do. It originally started as a 13th Age adventure, but I was actually having a hard time working the icons into the adventure (which, depending on who you ask, is sometimes considered a requirement for anything 13th Age). Since then I've also tinkered with it in Pathfinder, but have finally decided to do it in D&D 5th Edition, with the expectation that the eventual licensing will allow me to do so.

At first I had a problem: the adventure is supposed to really start with the party finding themselves cut off from the rest of the world in a dungeon without an apparent exit. This involved finding a way to have the entire party either fall unconscious or get captured or something, but I quickly realized that that's something rather hard to do because players have a tendency to not go quietly into that goodnight. Instead I have decided to start the adventure kind of in media res, with the players regaining consciousness while lying on the floor of the dungeon, without any memory of events in the past few days. Over time, those memories will return.

I have also decided to fully embrace the 5th Edition spirit while making it a challenging dungeon, using some of the design principles seen in Fourthcore (although I admit 4C is much more bleak than I could ever be) or even my own Seyvoth Manor. It will not be a walk in the part to day the least.

-=O=-

I had created a map for the original incarnation of Cavern of the Damned, but I lost the composite PNG file due to a drive failure. Since then I had a new vision of the adventure which requires a complete map redesign, which means that the map that I did is completely deprecated and will not be used. Therefore, I figure if I can't use it someone else out there could. So here is the arguably incomplete map in its 100DPI, 6+Mb JPEG glory for anyone to use. If you do use it, I'd love to know about it.

CavernOfTheDamned_V1

In the meantime stay tuned for Cavern of the Damned, which will be released once 5th Edition licensing is settled.

9Aug/14Off

The 11th Skeleton

With the release of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Kit and Player's Handbook, I have decided to convert my long languishing adventure "The Coming Dark" to 5E. But, unlike other publishers who will remain nameless, I am not going to rush it out there, and no one's going to see a thing about it until (1) the licensing options are given, and (2) the Dungeon Master's Guide is released.

That being said, I have started to try and figure out how 5th Edition works in terms of creating adventures. In 4E, creating balanced encounters was rather simple because everything was equally balanced - given an equal level, five monsters were an even match to five PCs - but that's not exactly the case any more. Now it's more like 3.5E and earlier versions, where a monster's difficulty is reflected in an obscure "Challenge Level" which is extremely hard to calculate. I mean, after you stat up a monster how do you know what CR Challenge Level to give it?

That led me to wonder about balance in general, specifically how balance is determined. 5th Edition had an unprecedented amount of playtesters, so they had access to a variety of groups that could test and retest things in the hopes that they could determine what is balanced and what is unbalanced. But there's an inherent problem with that: not every group is the same, and not every player is the same. If an exploit exists, it will take a small handful of "high end" players to find it... so if something is taken advantage of by so few, is it really a balance issue? Can the game be unbalanced by something you're not even aware of?

So I thought about how some things could be experimented with... and the programmer in me realized that this is no different than load testing an application. When you do that, you don't run it a few times and see what happens. You run it a LOT of times and get the average results.

So I decided to create a simulator.

Combat Simulator

Objective

In the first scene of "The Coming Dark", the players are set upon by a large group of skeletons. But how many is enough? At what point does the encounter go from being a cake walk to a crushing defeat?

So I wrote a program to simulate 50,000 combats between two groups: the five pre-generated characters that are included in the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Kit versus an indeterminate amount of skeletons. How many skeletons does it take before the players are likely to be on the losing end of the battle?

The small little program I wrote takes a few considerations:

  • All the attacks are basic attacks. Every class uses its preferred melee attack except the rogue (which uses his shortbow) and the wizard (which uses the cantrip ray of frost).
  • The noble fighter and cleric are the "preferred" enemies of the attacking skeletons. These are the front line defenders, and likely the ones that stand between the skeleton and the wizards. Only when they both fall is the rest of the party at risk.
  • No high end magic of any kind. Needless to say this would quickly sway the encounter in the player's favor.
  • No healing. No action surge, no cleric healing, no potions, etc... again, this is something the players have that the skeleton's don't. This also means that the players will not use any limited resources during the combat.
  • No one gets advantage or disadvantage on any roll. For that reason, the rogue never deals additional sneak attack damage.
  • A natural 20 deals double the normal damage. I know this isn't precise, but it's easier to code.
  • All the damage is rolled; no averages are used.
  • The skeletons have an AC of 12 and 6 hit points each. They have a shortsword as a weapon, which gives them a +3 to the attack roll and deals 1d6+1 damage on a hit.
  • The PCs are the five defined in the starter kit: Noble Fighter (greatsword), Folk Hero Fighter (bow), Cleric (morningstar), Rogue (shortbow), and Wizard (ray of frost).
  • Since he deals bludgeoning damage and the skeletons are vulnerable to it, the cleric deals an additional die of damage on a hit. Again, not precise... but easier to code.

Results

I ran 50,000 iterations of each combat, adjusting the number of skeletons from 6 to 12. The simulations yielded the following.

# of Skeletons PC Wins PC Losses
6 49258 742
7 47238 2762
8 42606 7394
9 35178 14822
10  26024  23976
11  17060 32940
12  9388 40612

So, in a nutshell, the 11th skeleton is quite the badass. Players could more or less handle ten of them, but when that 11th one steps in things go to crap pretty quickly.

So what did we learn from this exercise?

  • It's very possible for PCs to trash a modest amount of low end minions without having to fire their big guns.
  • The above doesn't use healing at all, which means that even if the PCs get dinged about a bit they are still able to recover. PCs can win an encounter with 8 skeletons over 80% of the time and immediately go into the next encounter.
  • Dailies, spells, healing potions and other consumables - things that the monsters generally don't have - tip the scales considerably in favor of the PCs.
  • If you walk into a room with 6 skeletons in it, you can probably dispatch them fairly easily. As glorious as it might be, you don't have to nuke the whole room.

Until more concrete guidelines for monster creation and encounter balancing come about, I'll keep using this simulator and try to get a feel for how things should be. Over time, I might improve the simulator more and more so that it's more representative of each PCs actions in an encounter. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being a full on AI framework?

I can't help but wonder if WotC does this sort of analysis. Like I said above, sure they have tens of thousands of playtesters but it's such a diverse group with so many different situations that it may be hard to quantify. Not to mention that, if you present a specific combat situation to two separate groups, 99% of the time you'll get two different approaches and two different outcomes.

Can't wait to try this out on goblins and kobolds...

*EDIT*

If you're curious, you can view the C# source code for the simulator HERE.

9Aug/13Off

Discipline Magic

NOTE: This is a brain dump. I admit I don't have all the final details on this.

Yesterday I had an idea for a new magic system, so I found myself writing up some of the basics at around 3am.

The reason for the new mechanism is the way that I see the current world of magic: there is little room for specialization. Let's say you want to become a pyromancer, someone who really likes lighting stuff on fire. You don't want to beat around the bush learning non-fire spells for the first several levels... You want to jump right in! "You want to be a pyromancer? Excellent! First you have to master ray of frost first!" ... Why would I want to do that?!? I want to light stuff on fire!!!

Furthermore, let's assume you do become a pyromancer of sorts. Over time your skill improves, but right now it's only shown in a handful of spells that involve fire and the only thing that increases in those spell is the number of dice you roll for damage. At high levels you should be able to control fire in any way you please, yet you are still bound by the spell list someone else defined for you.

So here's what I envisioned: let's say you want to be a true pyromancer. At 1st level, you immediately gain a modest fire attack that does 1d6 fire damage at range. As you gain levels or through alternate methods, you gain "spell points" (or "SP" for short) that allow you to enhance this basic attack or get other abilities. You can increase its intensity, turn it in to a burst attack, make it light things on fire, attack multiple targets, etc... etc...

So, for example, here's the basic options you can improve your basic attack with:

Fire Scholar
Effect: You gain a fire attack. The attack has a range of 50' and deals 1d6 fire damage for every intensity level when it hits. When you first choose this discipline you must choose whether the attack is a ranged touch attack or requires a Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity)
Enhancement (Max 10): You increase the intensity of the fire attack by 1, up to a maximum of 10d6 damage.

Fire Burst
Requirement: Fire Scholar 4
Effect: You can turn your fire attack into an area of effect attack. You can choose to reduce the attack's intensity by 1 to instead attack every creature within a 10' radius. A Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity) negates the damage.
Enhancement (Max 5): For each enhancement level you can further increase the area of effect by another 10' and decrease the intensity of the attack by 1, up to a maximum of a 50' radius at the cost of 5 intensity levels.

Enhanced Fire Burst
Requirement: Fire Burst 3
Effect: Once per day, when you make a fire burst attack you can choose to have the attack deal half damage on a successful Reflex save (DC 10 + Int modifier + 1/2 intensity).
Enhancement (Maximum 5): For each enhancement level you gain one additional use of the enhanced fire burst attack per day.

Immolation
Requirement: Fire Scholar 2
Effect: You can choose to reduce your fire attack's intensity by 1 in order to set the target on fire. On a successful hit the target gains the "burning" condition and takes an additional 1d6 fire damage at the start of each turn. The burning effect does not stack; if used on a target that is already burning it has no additional effect.

Elemental Barrage
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 6
Effect: You can make your elemental attack against an additional target, distributing the intensity between them. Before making an attack, choose two targets and distirbute the total intensity level between them. The damage does not need to be distributed evenly.
Enhancement (Maximum 5): For each enhancement level you can attack one additional target, distributing the base attack's total intensity amongst all targets.

Long Range Casting
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 4
Effect: You can choose to reduce your elemental attack's intensity by 2 to double the range of the attack.

Precision Casting
Requirement: Any Elemental Scholar 3
Effect: Once per hour, you can choose to reduce your elemental attack's intensity by 2 to increase either the attack roll or the save DC of the attack by 2.
Enhancement (Maximum 5): Fr each enhancement level you gain one additional use of precision casting every hour.

Each of these options will cost a certain amount of SPs.

Note something in the above: I don't specify what the fire attack actually is. It could be a bolt of fire, or it could be spontaneously generating a fire on the target, or it could be calling in to existence a large, flaming trout that slaps the target across the face. It doesn't matter what it is... mechanically, it all works the same.

This allows the player to describe how their fire ability manifests itself. So let's say you have an Intensity 3 Fire Burst 2 attack (3d6 fire damage to all targets within 20', 10 SP cost)... that's effectively the fireball spell. Or a flame strike. Or a really big flaming trout. How it looks visually is irrelevant and now up to the player's own creativity.

This also has an added benefit: the "spell points" reflect training, but leveling up need not be the only source of them. Let's say you find a really good arcane text in a dungeon, something that teaches you additional secrets on how to be an elemental caster. Studying that book at length can grant you 2 SPs, which you can immediately spend to improve your skill.

Also, the above allows you to either specialize as a "fire only" caster or make a highly diversified caster. At level 20 you can either be dealing a 10d6 fire attack (as an at-will, mind you) or you can spread out your SPs in pyromancy (fire), cryomancy (cold/water), storm mage (electricity/thunder), and others. Other disciplines could be necromancy or even straight up physical damage where your basic attack could be anything from magic missile to disintegrate.

I've been considering tying the above to a mana mechanism as well to limit the frequency that it can be cast. Like I said above, having a 10d6 fire attack that's an at-will could be pretty nasty... but is that really an issue? At 20th level a wizard is literally an arcane turret of destruction that could probably cast half a dozen 10d6 fireballs (maximized, even) on a whim.

I still need to figure out how to work in the non-escalating, non-damaging spells (things like charm person, sleep, etc.) or support spells (mage armor, shield, etc.) in to the above. I'm also considering upping the SP counts and gain per level so that a wizard can diversify more. For example, if they gain 4 SPs a level they can choose to gain 4 brand new weak spells or pile them all in to one discipline to really beef it up.

All this is in the works, rolling around in my head as I work on other projects. Maybe I'll write it up officially some day...

Opinions?

25Jul/13Off

Going Primeval

This past week has been... "interesting"... to say the least.

First of all, if you have yet to vote on the 2013 ENnie Awards I highly encourage you to do so. And, while you're at it, throw a vote or two for me and Darklight Interactive, who are nominated in two categories:

  • Best Free Product: "A Night in Seyvoth Manor"
  • Fan's Favorite Publisher: Darklight Interactive

So go and vote, will ya?

ThuleSecondly, in light of a lot going on in the RPG world this past month I have been actively trying to get involved as much as possible. I obviously can't go in to specifics on everything else I'm getting myself in to, but I can speak about what has just been announced: I am now a contributor to the Primeval Thule campaign setting currently running on Kickstarter.

This is a really cool opportunity that I couldn't resist getting involved with. Not only is it a great looking product, but it's involving a lot of people that I respect and would give a major appendage up to work with on anything: Rich Baker, David Noonan, Stephen Schubert, Ed Greenwood, Owen Stephens, Christopher West, Todd Lockwood, Jason Buhlman and others. Not to mention the recent additions of Mike "Sly Flourish" Shea and Scott "The Angry DM" Rehm.

This is also, arguably, the first time I participate in a project of this magnitude and scale where I'm not the only person working on it. So it's wild to think I'll be rubbing elbows with everyone involved, especially considering they all have a helluva lot more experience than I do in this sort of thing. I'm excited beyond description!

The project, admittedly, has a long ways to go still and very little time, so I ask you to drop whatever you're doing, head over to the Kickstarter page and help them out in any way possible.