Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When exploring gets boring

One of the reasons that we play gamebooks and RPGs in general is to immerse ourselves into new worlds and explore dark corners for shining new treasure.  We want to know what kind of people and monsters populate the world, interact with its people and know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

In writing a few site based scenarios, I have discovered that if I am not careful, I could turn what should be a voyage of discovery into a boring crawl around a load of non descript corridors.  So here is what I have discovered:

Is the 'Which door' choice really necessary?:  I've borrowed this term from Ashton Saylor.  It stems from the most common use of this choice - you are in a dungeon and you are standing in front of two doors.  Which one do you go in?  Ashton discusses the many issues with this choice.  I will look at it from an exploration point of view. 

Say you in an abandoned dungeon with two doors.  You go through one, have an encounter and then move on deeper into the dungeon or you choose the next door.  That is frustrating in many ways.

I wish I'd taken a left.
Not allowing backtracking

From an exploration point of view, the which door choice can be frustrating if the book does not allow you to backtrack for no good reason.  Why can't I just wander around Deathtrap Dungeon until I've found all of the gems?  How about exploring all of the corridors of Firetop Mountain or all of the streets to Port Blacksand?  The real life answer is that you can, but it would turn the book into a time consuming exercise, which takes away any real choice and, barring bad dice rolls, makes victory a lot easier. 

There are some ways to keep someone from just exploring everywhere.  One is by blocking off the route back (One FF book does have a portcullis descend after going past a certain point).  This works up to a point, but it might look a bit contrived if EVERY door sealed shut behind you and EVERY passage had a portcullis or boulder block it up.

Another way is to have a time limit.  If the consequences of being late are severe, then I could just put in the text 'You can only visit one place before x happens.' and then use the narrative to guide the player then.  Giving the player a time score where something bad happens if it reaches a certain level also works but in a different way - you still have to give the player the freedom to move around and they have to discover for themselves that they can't explore every nook and cranny before their mission fails.

Choosing a direction at every junction

This route (pun intended) certainly allows the player to backtrack.  However, the player has to make a directional choice at every point and this can get tedious.  It certainly has a point if the aim of the game is to make a map and if clues involving directions are involved but even if these are used to good effect, there is a rist that the player will just get annoyed and making a load of directional choices instead of juicy action adventure choices or choices where you interact with the characters.

This method certainly has its uses if mapping is important or if there is a time limit and people give you hints on a route but it must be used sparingly.  I think Scorpion Swamp did this a little too much (I do think that Scorpion Swmp does have loads of good stuff about it though such as a magic system and three quests). 

A happy medium?

Each building is numbered.
How about this.  If a player arrives at a place where they are free to explore wherever they want and there is no real time limit, I could have a paragraph describing the place that they are exploring along with a description of rooms don't really contain anything interesting or if something is easy to find, have them automatically get it.  This saves them turning to lots of paragraphs saying 'You open the door to a room with a pouch containing 10 gold pieces.'  followed by 'You open the door to the other room to find a sword.'.  Instead, they read a description of the place that they are exploring and then add any items to their equipment list.

Then, list all of the places of interest that require further exploration for the hero to go to.  No 'East or west?' choices as the player already knows their way around.  There's no need to describe every corridor and room and the player can get straight to the bits with the action in them.

This method is served very well by a map such as the ones you find in Grailquest 2 or in Destiny Quest.  Each location has a reference that you turn ti.

This still leads to a player being able to go everywhere, so you could impose a time limit on this either with a score or just by limiting the number of places the player can go (only introduce a new attribute when necessary.  Don't introduce a numerical attribute when a couple of sentences can serve the same function).  Another method of limiting the number of places a player can visit is by giving them an option of one place to go from several, each place having its own group of places to explore.  Going to place a allows you to explore places x, y and z while going to place b allows you to go to places c, d and e (or you could have them cross over so that you could go to place e from both places.

Any other suggestsions?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Gamebook magnificence. Charitable munificence.

If you're a regular follower of this blog you may already know Choice of Games. They develop gamebook-style apps, such as the phenomenally successful Heroes Rise, and my own app The ORPHEUS Ruse. Which isn't selling so well, these days. Sigh.

Anyway, it turns out those folks at Choice of Games also have great big hearts. They're currently auctioning off cameo spots in some of their most anticipated forthcoming apps. So, if you want to design your own superhero to feature in The Hero Project: Redemption Season, or if you want to choose a certain grisly death for a character in Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven, now's the moment. Head over to the Choice of Games website, or directly over to Charity Buzz, to find out how.

All money raised will go towards the homeless shelter My Friend's Place, which principally works to take care of minority and GLBTQ youth in the Hollywood area.

So, now's the time to turn that predilection for gamebooks into a force for good. Go. Go bid. Now. Go. Now.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

5th edition Dungeons and Dragons and E2 rules

I love looking through RPG systems for inspiration for gamebooks, so naturally, so soon as 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons came out, I got the Players' Handbook, Dungeons Masters' Guide and Monster Manual.

However, I am not a fan of people walking around fantasy worlds with superhuman abilities or magical spells that can wipe out hordes of opponents or render any mundane utility completely useless. This is one reason I like Advanced Fighting Fantasy, Maelstrom and others such as the Conan RPG and Barbarians of Lemuria.

Of course, Dungeons and Dragons does not lend well to this, but someone has come up with the E6 system which is DnD using the Open Source material but stops the level progression at level 6. Players can then get extra feats with more experienece, so there is progression, but numbers do not increase (except in a few special circumstances made for E6 where skills can go above 9 points and the restoration spell can be used).

5th Edition does a lot of things to make sure that players do not become too superhuman with bonuses capping at +6, concentration meaning that spellcasters can't just buff themselves up with tons of spells.

However, there are still spells that allow flight, teleportation, summoning items, fireballing tons of opponents and bringing people back from the dead, so I started searching for some low level rules for 5th edition.

I found this website which goes from E2 to E10 and this website which details how each level affects the world.

I decided to go for an E2 system, but being a fan of Dungeon Crawl Classics, I also wanted to start at 0 level. As always, the internet provided and I found this post about 0 level 5th Edition.

So here are my E2 rules. My world is a human-centric one, so only humans are able to be created.

Roll your abilities

You can use whatever method you like, but I'm going for the DCC way of 3d6 in order (but I'm doing this for 2-4 characters per player, so at least one will be good).

Each character has 4 hit points + CON modifier.

Each character has a +1 proficiency bonus.

Choose your racial benefits

My world is human centric so they are the only option (of course, you can use whatever races you like). To increase variety amongst characters, I will use the variant human traits (PHB page 31) where you can increase two scores by 1 point, gain proficiency in one skill and gain 1 feat (PHB page 165).

Choose background

Also choose other details and equipment (you can use Bernie's random tables)

Level advancement 

This is where I differ from the others as I'm amalgamating two ideas.

It takes 100 xp to get to level 1, where the character now gets a proficiency bonus of +2 and they can add their hit die to their current hit points (making their hit points slightly higher than a regular level 1 character). They also get to choose their class and get all their regular class abilities.

It takes another 400xp to get to level 2 (so 500xp in total). The character can multiclass if they want with no penalty or requirements.

On level 2, the character can then improve every 500xp after that. The character gets to choose whether to get 2 ability points either for one ability or split between 2 ability scores OR they can get another feat. Bear in mind that some feats are of limited use to 2nd level characters.

New class - master

This is an idea I got from the Dragonlance sourcebooks. If you want an NPC to be level 1 or 2 but still be a civillian, this could be the class for you.

Hit points 

Hit dice: 1d8 per master level.


Armour: Light armour
Weapons: Simple weapons
 Tools: Any two from the list of artisan's tools and musical instruments.
Saving Throws: Intelligence and wisdom
Skills: Any three.


Any simple weapon
Leather armour
One set of artisan's tools or one musical instrument


Level 1: Expertise (double proficiency bonus with two skills), Jack of all trades (add half proficiency bonus to any ability check that does not already have a proficency bonus), Bonus training (gain proficiency with one language, one set of tools or one musical instrument).

Level 2: Skilled (gain proficiency in any combination of three skills or tools), Expertise (double proficiency bonus with two skills), Master of craft (Has the advantage on one roll that involves a skill or set of tools that the master is proficient in. They can only use this once and then need to complete a long rest), Bonus training (gain proficiency with one language, one set of tools or one musical instrument).

The world of E2

Using the DCC table as a guide, I figured that 90% of the world is 0 level, 9% is 1st level and 1% is 2nd level.

The world of E2 would be almost historical fantasy, but casters of level 1 spells can create food (goodberry) and water (create water). Mending things and healing is also better. There are some good rituals that anyone with the ritual caster feat can learn, which are mainly divination spells, but there's also purify food and drink.

Magic items will also be quite rare and the only magic items found randomly will be on magic item table A (DMG page 144).

Some magic items could have minor properties only (DMG page 143) but anything more powerful would be at the GM's decision only.

However, powerful magic is not completely unobtainable - there are stories of planar travel, telportation, flight and resurrection - it's just that such magic will require an adventure to access it.