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

10Nov/13Off

A Mutant’s Life

In case you haven't heard, I'm working on a new project. I'm bringing the apocalypse to the Archmage Engine!

Although I have a mental image for what I want this project to be, I've been curious as to what everyone else wants it to be. So I've been doing some research, acquiring rulebooks and reference materials for every other post-apocalyptic game system I can find. And, I must say, it's been somewhat interesting.

Mutations

One thing I've seen addressed time and time again is the concept of mutations. In a post-apocalyptic world, where you have to watch your step or you might fall in to a crater of radioactive sludge, everyone has a mutation of some sort. Some might be cosmetic, while others might be unbelievable. But almost all post-apocalyptic systems seen to expect mutations to be present, and actually they are expected to be quite common.

Tables of Tables

Most game systems I've seen provide massive tables and pages upon pages of information regarding mutations, and how they function both stylistically and mechanically. For example, the one system I currently have open next to me has over 120 possible mutations and spends close to 20 pages of fine print detailing them.

Although I understand that that's what people might want, the ability to customize their character with that level of detail, that kind of goes contrary to the principles of 13th Age and the Archmage Engine. 13th Age has been designed to be simple, providing only the rules that are necessary, and leaving everything else to be nothing more than a mutual understanding between player and GM.

Nowhere in the 13th Age book is there a d100 table that spans two pages, and I think that's by design. Providing something like that, with hundreds of possible mutations, goes contrary to everything the system was meant to be.

A Different Apocalypse

As I mentioned, most of these game systems also go with the assumption that mutations are common in the apocalypse because it was inevitably brought on by nuclear holocaust. Humans were stupid... they couldn't resist pushing the big red button... and here we are.

Does that have to be the case? An apocalypse can happen for a variety of reasons - nuclear war, meteor strike, zombie plague, aliens... - only a handful of which would have genetic mutation as a side effect.

My plan was actually to either make the apocalypse a result of various events, all occurring almost simultaneously, and their collective chaos causing the downfall of humanity. Either that or simply not define what caused the apocalypse at all, leaving it up to the DM to decide what caused the world to be how it is now.

Regardless of which approach is taken, mutations do not seem to be a requirement. At least to me, that is.

Limiting Options

All that being said, I'm considering not providing mutations in the same manner, or at least not providing mutations that are based on radioactive exposure.

What I'm envisioning is that a player can customize their character using a specific set of possibilities:

  • Cybernetic implants, upgrades or other technology brought on by advanced science. Anything from bionic arms to electronic eyes.
  • Biologic augmentation, brought on by advances in biology and genetic alterations. Not exactly mutations since that word does have negative connotations. This covers things from having an improved muscular and nervous system to having wings. It can also include cosmetic things like a forked tongue, but I'd like to keep those as options the player has chosen through science rather than a side effect of radiation exposure.

If you want to have a character that has some sort of genetic mutation, you're welcome to do so. But, unless you come to a mutual agreement with your GM, it will not have any mechanical impact. Only the above, which will be a somewhat limited set, will have a documented impact. Everything else is fair game but up to mutual acceptance.

Diversity of Races

Then the question comes up: what races should the game have? I wanted to have the two basic types: human (organic) and android/robotic (inorganic), but what to do beyond that? Given sufficient customization using the above I imagine that those two options would get the most play, but I still wanted to provide other options for diversity. But those options can't be something that could also be brought on by mutation or they would be redundant... I originally thought of a race that would have wings, but in thinking about it that's not much different than a human who has chosen to grow wings and darker skin. The races need to stand out.

That being said, I am choosing to create races based on animal and plant life, not direct descendants of human. Currently that includes sentient plants, insects and reptiles. All three of these currently have corresponding icons in the game world, so it kind of fits.

Furthermore, I am considering the possibility of providing a tight framework by which you can define your own class. Want to be a sentient rabbit with a gun? OK... Here's a list of racial attributes and powers you can choose from... Pick two or three. That covers the mechanics, which don't care whether you're a six foot tall rabbit with a gun or not; anything else is flavor text and up to you and the DM.

Feedback Requested

So I have to ask the question: for those of you that have expressed interest in a post-apocalyptic game setting... What are you looking for in terms of mutations? Do you want a 20-page long list of possibilities? Do you want the option of mutations at all, at least in the same form that's common amongst other post-apocalyptic game systems?

8Nov/13Off

The Archmage Beckons

A long time ago I did some content for a certain game system who, for reasons you may already know, will remain nameless. I was rather enthusiastic about that game system/campaign setting, but I was denied the option of using it to publish content.

But I really liked what that game system brought to the table, and ever since then I've been thinking about what it would take to publish a full, standalone RPG based on some of those concepts.

For months, maybe years, I've looked for a system by which to make it a reality... and I think I've found it.

Recently, Pelgrane Press and Fire Opal Media released the Archmage Engine SRD, which is the driving force behind 13th Age. And it is everything that I wanted it to be!

So this is a formal announcement of sorts... I have begun development of an RPG, using the existing Archmage Engine framework but all new content. A "total conversion", if you will. The premise? A post-apocalyptic society where the stupid decisions of man compounded with nature's urge to make our lives miserable has led to a changed, unforgiving world filled with destruction and chaos. It is inspired by the-system-that-shall-remain-nameless, by lesser known systems such as the now defunct Alpha Omega by Mind Storm Labs (which is a beautiful book and has a brilliant back story, but the game mechanic is one of the worst I've ever seen), and by movies and other pop culture (from Mad Max to Oblivion).

The RPG will be centered upon a dramatically changed United States, mainly because I don't want to have to worry about long distance or overseas travel. The way I see it, the U.S. is not much larger than the Dragon Empire is in 13th Age, so it kinda works.

I have a personal dilemma, though: the-system-that-shall-remain-nameless has a reputation for being, short of a better word, zany. It's one thing to have genetic mutation, and it's another to have those genetic mutations create some of the most cooky, off-beat, "you're kidding, right?" type of monsters the mind can imagine. And there are games like Numerena that contain similar aspects but try to maintain a level of seriousness and are not rife with over the top absurdity.

My hope is to do both. I'm keeping the icons and classes as serious as possible given the circumstances, but the monsters are going to be somewhat of a mixed bag. It will be up to DM's discretion on how to use them.

Right now, if you're curious, I have planned:

  • 10 brand new icons, from massive self-aware supercomputers to sentient plants
  • 6 "races", and I use that term loosely because I'm not sure if to consider a robot a "race".
  • 8 classes, from the battle tested veterans to wasteland berserkers to "channelers" that can bend the fundamental laws of physics ("Laws of Thermodynamics are more of a suggestion than a rule" sort of thing).
  • New rules for augments (socketable items that can increase performance like magic items), mutations and other forms of genetic modification.
  • Basic vehicle and mount rules.
  • Expanding a little on traps and hazards, based somewhat on what I've already talked about on this blog.
  • Monsters, lots of them.

My intention with all this is, once I have enough written, to launch a Kickstarter to fund the project in full and get the thing published. But that won't happen until I have a comfortable amount written, and there's still a long way to go.

And, once this hits Kickstarter, the two projects I've had shelved for far too long - The Fortress of Dr. Neb and When Worlds Collide - will no doubt be stretch goals (after some obvious changes, of course).

So there you have it... my crazy dream. Hopefully I can make it a reality sooner than later, and if I decide to go the distance on this I hope some of you will be willing to back me up on it.

Stay tuned to this blog for more news on this project.

-=O=-

In the meantime, as yet another form of practice, I decided to make the vector Archmage Engine SRD logo I made available for everyone to use! That is, at least until the 13th Age guys create one for real.

Archmage Engine SRD logo (1.51Mb)

The above link contains the logo in multiple formats: Fireworks, Illustrator 10, Illustrator CS6 and flat JPEG.

 

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31Aug/13Off

A New Age

13th AgeRecently I was introduced to 13th Age via a Google Hangout play session hosted by Aaron R. (@WolfSamurai on Twitter). You can read more about him and his campaign HERE on Obsidian Portal.

If I was only allowed to say one thing about 13th Age is that the ruleset has the amazing ability to win over players and DMs alike in just one session. And I'm not the only one that is fascinated by the product; I've been seeing several people moving away from traditional D&D and Pathfinder towards 13th Age. Heck, even Sersa at SVD Press released a PDF of conversion notes for Crucible of the Gods.

So minutes after I participated in that gaming session, I ran to the Pelgrane Press website and bought the rulebook, and now I wait here patiently while the thing travels halfway around the world to reach me in Miami. While I wait I've been pouring over the PDF (the "low resolution" version is available immediately when you buy the book) and thinking about what to do with it.

First off, even though The Coming Dark, Chapter One is 80% done for Pathfinder, I'm seriously considering converting it for 13th Age. The #1 reason for doing that is because it's so much easier; monsters don't have these huge, mathematically complex stat blocks. So I can focus more on the story and the environments instead of spending days on end tweaking the monsters in PCGen. I am practically convinced that I will make the switch, but I'm waiting until I receive the physical book to make my official decision.

I've asked the guys that created 13th Age about licensing; if you've read this blog before, you know that is an important issue and a very touchy subject for me. Officially they're not licensing it out yet because the system is still in its infancy and they want to build up their own products before letting third parties do it. So, depending on whether I wait for licensing to become available or not, I might end up releasing it as simply "13th Age Compatible". I still need to figure out the legalities in that.

I'm also considering flexing my software development muscles and creating either a character builder or a monster builder, but for this sort of thing I can't proceed until I get the publisher's blessing. So that may happen eventually... I just don't know if or when.

In the meantime, if you haven't already I highly recommend that you at least try out a game. Aaron's running games online almost weekly,  I think, so I'd recommend hitting him up on Twitter (@WolfSamurai).

My hardcover's scheduled to arrive Wednesday. Barring legal limitations in doing so, I'm predicting I'll make the official switch then, so I expect I'll be talking a lot about it in the near future.

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?

1Apr/13Off

DLI Acquires DnD Next Video Game License

DLIName_60

"Omne ignotum pro magnifico"

If you've been following this blog, you know that we have had our fair share of communication with the legal department over at Wizards of the Coast, and as a result we have not only learned a great deal of what we can and cannot do as far as licensing but we have been able to figure out exactly who the right person to talk to is in order to get the necessary licensing agreements in place

Several months ago, after a great deal of negotiations (most talks of which started with the words "now please don't sue us, but...") we have managed to talk to the right people and sign the proper agreements to do what we thought was impossible: secure a provisional license to use the Dungeons and Dragons brand name to create the next state of the art video game based on the "DnD Next" rule set. The official press release can be read below:

Official Press Release by Darklight Interactive (PDF)

Since we are not authorized to be direct competitors to the upcoming MMORPG Neverwinter by Cryptic Studios, our product is a single player campaign that will be a traditional delve through a dungeon. While we have had a group of professional, well known writers working on the story - most of which you are familiar with, but we are not allowed to disclose names yet due to Non-Disclosure Agreements - I and a group of experienced software developers have been working on the engine.

Since we do not want to take funding away from Wizards of the Coast and would rather they spend the resources they have to get "DnD Next" developed and released, in a few weeks we intend to launch a Kickstarter project to fund the development of the final product. We did not want to launch a Kickstarter before we had a "proof of concept", and unlike some other companies we do not want to launch a Kickstarter to fund said "proof of concept". So we have been developing the engine on our own, on our personal time and at our personal expense, in the hopes that it can show the world what we're capable of and more easily reach our goals once the Kickstarter launches.

After further negotiations, and painstaking work over the past few months to get it in running condition, I have been authorized to release our first "proof of concept" (which we refer to internally as an "alpha" build) for The Caverns of Mayhem: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure (tentative title... we'll let the writers come up with something better) that you can download below!!!

Download The Caverns of Mayhem: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure (ZIP)

The game engine is not exactly a direct port of the "DnD Next" ruleset simply because, as is the case in Neverwinter, a lot of the rules don't exactly port flawlessly from the tabletop to a video game. But it has everything you've come to love about D&D: it's got dungeons, it's got monsters, it's got treasure... and, heck, it's even got a dragon!

The "proof of concept" which you can download below has been developed for Microsoft Windows (we're investigating a Mac port, but none of us actually own a Mac so we'll probably have to wait for funding on that) and requires nothing more than the .NET Framework 2.0. It is not graphics intensive so it should run on pretty much any machine; in fact, for those of you with inferior machines our game will probably run significantly better than Neverwinter because the hardware requirements are much lower. And, thanks to proprietary compression technology, it uses a lot less drive space!

As we mention above, it is a very early "alpha" build and has some known issues. And, since it's an "alpha", I ask that you do not start reporting bugs in it; we pretty much know what most of them, and have tried to document them in the "readme" file included with the distribution. Please read that file prior to launching the game so you understand what to expect and are aware of the aspects of the game that have yet to be completed.

We here at Darklight Interactive are entering an interesting time, and we would like to thank everyone at Wizards of the Coast for giving us the opportunity to use your license. We hope that, after looking at our proof of concept below, you support us and await our upcoming Kickstarter launch.

Thank you all for your support.

Download The Caverns of Mayhem: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure (ZIP)

Requires Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0
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