Thursday, December 22, 2005

Going on vacation

I'll be leaving tommorow for two weeks in Florida. I will most likely not have a lot of computer and web access, so don't expect much in the way of updates.

I plan on taking my Cold Iron notes with me, and probably working on fleshing out the rest of the game (that's all in my head right now).

In the interim, I have posted my latest documents on my Cold iron web page.

My first task will be to put together an outline of what is necessary to make a complete game. At a minimum, I think I need the following sections:

  • What is Cold Iron all about?
  • How do I set up for play? (Setting, how many players, character generation, creature creation, etc.)
  • Character generation (I've got a nice reference for folks who know the game, what is needed for someone who doesn't know the game?)
  • How do I play? What is the sequence of play? How do you set up a scene? Who sets up scenes? Are there different types of scenes? How do we actually play a scene? I've got some nice rules on how to resolve combat, and how spells work, but how do you decide what an encounter should be? How do you decide how to setup the encounter (distances, who is aware, etc)?
  • What are the reward mechanics? How to tune them. How much XP and treasure to give.

Am I missing anything from that?


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

New Alertness Rules - Actual Play

I posted an actual play on the Forge of last nights session where I used my new alertness rules.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Alertness Checks

In starting to break down all the non-combat bits mentioned previously, I started with alertness. I see the following uses:

  • Determining encounter distance
  • Determining how quickly someone wakes up at night
  • Finding hidden things
  • Tracking a creature back to it's lair
  • Tracking a fleeing creature

Now I just wrote up a bunch of detailed tables with all sorts of modifiers for these various things. And now I'm thinking, woa, that's way too much for such a simple mechanic.

One problem I see: on the encounter distance, I provide modifiers for various terrain types. Now the PCs probably have limited ability to strategically affect the terrain they're in, other than from a gross standpoint (the next adventure is in the marsh). Modifiers for night are probably ok (even though the players don't get a choice as to whether a random encounter is at night or not - though my thought is actually most random encounters that approach them would do so at night, if you were a bunch of orcs thinking of attacking travellers, would you do so in broad daylight when all their guards are alert, or a night when 2/3 of the guards are sleeping? Especially when you see in the dark better than they do). So I'm thinking of throwing out any modifier based on terrain.

There are lots of modifiers for spells, but I'm thinking perhaps those could go in the spell descriptions (afterall, the combat rules don't talk about all the spells that modify to-hit probabilities). The spells along with character generation/advancement provide a variety of tactical and strategic choices which should make this an effective rule.

Waking up - in one sense, I'm a jerk and don't let people wake up instantly. On the other hand, I see some interesting choices introduced. What I'd like is a systematic way of handling it that allows the players to see who they need to make an effort to wake up, and who will wake up on their own. In the past, we had some people sleep through several rounds, which does start to get ridiculous. Hmm, and the chart I worked up doesn't look very good (the worst PC has like a 50-50 chance of sleeping at least one round after being kicked - or struck by an enemy). One thought is to have a defined "what is necessary to wake this person up" depending on their alertness (so someone with a poor alertness needs to be kicked). If you do the defined thing, they will wake up the next round. And then perhaps a one lesser step where they wake up in two rounds. Anything less and they must roll (and could sleep through it - I don't feel too bad that someone might sleep through a fight going on say more than 20 meters away from them). I need to think about this, but I do want sleeping to be a real penalty (I stopped doing night encounters in D20 partly because it really didn't seem to be much of a penalty at all if I ran the rules as written).

Tracking: I was splitting tracking into two types. One is that a successeful tracking roll produces an "optional" result (like extra treasure), the other is when the GM intends the quarry to be found (tracking the orc scouts back to their cave which is the object of the adventure...). In the "intended to be found" result, a good tracking roll would reduce the encounter distance (you sneak up on the cave, or they spot you 100 meters out) and/or find a back door or other "best" approach. The "optional" case is a pure success/failure. Again, I put in all sorts of modifiers. I'm inclined to replace the modifiers with standard DCs (wolf lairs are DC 20, orc lairs are DC 10, dragon lairs are DC 30). Again, modifiers for weather and such aren't something the PCs can do much about.

Searching: here I was thinking of set DCs for "optional" things, differing time for "expected" things (time to find something plays nicely into the system since spells will wear off and such, so this is a useful result). I guess optional things could actually be rolls on the time chart, with a modifier for difficulty, and a minimum result needed (the secret treasure compartment is -10 to your check, you must roll at least a +0 result, which results in an hour of searching). The PCs of course can always choose to cut the search short. Ask them what the maximum time they want to search is - if their result indicates a longer time than that, they fail and spend that much time. It might also be fair on a really terrible roll for them to only spend 1/2 the time, and realize there's no hope (you start searching the haystack, after 5 minutes, you realize there's no way you'll search the whole stack in 10 minutes [the roll was going to require an hour of searching]).

The big key here is that these are all at most a single roll per PC. Searches might be nice to figure a way to combine checks so the whole group makes one roll (the logarythmic scale for adding grapple abilities together might work, even the PCs with an 8 alertness will add +1 or +2 to the total). Wake up definitely needs to be per person Encounter distance, which gives a possibility for the really high alertness PC who is sleeping to notice - and thus wake up w/o a wakeup check, is probably also best rolled by each PC (that also gives the best benefit to multiple people on watch).

The most important ones to the core story of course are the encounter distance and wake up checks. Tracking an "intended to be found" encounter is also part of the core story. The other checks are mostly for extra stuff, though I think the search for hidden treasure does play well into the kill things and take their treasure core story. The trick is to make sure every roll really is helping focus the intended game. Otherwise the answer should be "yes" (though I think "no" is also reasonable if it is totally unreasonable - for example, in a conflict res game, players can say "no" to unreasonable stakes - though something to consider is that when you are negotiating unreasonable stakes into reasonable stakes, I think that's actually a social contract negotiation ["Let's talk about these stakes I want to become king, that's not the game I was interested in playing, how do we come to agreement here?"] - once the social contract is successefully re-negotiated, we step back into the game, and say yes or roll the dice).

One thing I like about Cold Iron is how it systemizes modifiers, so for example, most things that penalize spell success break down into a -3 or -6 penalty based on degree of interruption of concentration. Lots of combat penalties amount to a -4 defence for "really bad position". Or -6 for attacking when not really ready (drawing a weapon, or aborting a full defense to swing at someone who decides to grapple you). I think the alertness system needs to have a similar level of complexity (and probably should try and use the same modifiers, though being an attribute check, the scale is sort of different).

Hmm, I also need to systemize some of the other things I use alerness for (for example, realizing your non-magical sword isn't actually damaging the creature, or noticing whether the creature has been affected by a spell or not).


Thursday, December 15, 2005

More thinking on non-combat stuff in Cold Iron

Chris's response to this post got me thinking some more about the non-combat abilities/skills in Cold Iron. I think it's ok to have a little bit of stuff just for color, but mostly anything written down on the character sheet should somehow support the gamist agenda. So here's some thoughts about the various bits (I'm basically going to list all the abilities, and a couple other things - most characters get two abilities, warriors get additional abilities at 5th and 8th level, some non-humans get only one or even no abilities).

Scout Ability (Tracking) - This can have two purposes. One is to increase treasure (you track a creature back to it's lair and get more treasure than if you just looted the body). Another is to give the PCs an advantage in a challenge (a creature runs away, you track it back to it's lair and catch it before it rests and comes back looking for you, you get to choose the time of encounter, or you get it before it summons aid). There are spells (and thus magic items) that help this, so there is even some tactics/strategy (beyond chargen/advancement strategy). What needs to be done is make the difficulties systematic. Scout should also give chances to identify creatures and thus their abilities, again difficulties are needed. This ability of course has a mother-may-I factor (if the GM never gives you anything worhtwhile to track).

Thief Ability - Ok, the way I play this is mostly color. I do use a small amount of traps and locks. Systematic difficulties are needed. And systematic penalties for failure (trap damage etc.) It can increase treasure by having chests with contents that are damaged by trying to break the lock open. Thief also entitles a character to take Night Fighting as a fighting proficiency as opposed to having to gain separate experience in it. Night Fighting has a pretty well defined effect on the penalties for fighting in the dark or while blinded. This ability has a mother-may-I factor.

Aletrness attribute - this plays into both thief and scout. It is also useful for getting more warning of encounters and waking up faster at night. Systematic difficulties are needed. Also point out that alertness (and tracking) can be purchased (dogs or other creatures).

Acrobatics Ability - This one definitely needs some work. I need to define the difficulties of various tricks and why you might want to use them. In our game so far, there was one incident where having this defined would have been helpfull. The PCs decided to sleep up a tree, and the high DEX NPC decided to draw her weapon and roll off a branch. Perfectly good action, but needs a defined difficulty. Having the acrobatics ability would make these challenges easier (by adding fighting level to DEX for such checks).

Additional Fighting Proficiency Ability - this one has a pretty clear combat application. May not be all that necessary but doesn't hurt to be there.

Charismatic Ability - This feeds into the Charisma/Renown system. Which right now is very floaty. One way to make this less floaty would be to have defined difficulties for social interractions, and then to tie into the gamism, the result of a successefull social interraction should be information (that improves odds in a future combat), treasure, or other aid, or perhaps even just a promise not to harrass (used against a prisoner). Also needs definition of how additional renown is awarded.

Combat Finesse Ability - This is an attempt to help balance the fact that a STR 18 DEX 12 character really is a better fighter than a STR 12 DEX 18 character. I'm not totally pleased with it. The issue here is that (mostly) both STR and DEX add to melee attack and defense (STR doesn't add to dodge though, and DEX doesn't add very well to grappling, and STR doesn't add well to two-handed weapon users).

Combat Riding Ability - Fighting from a mount is great when you can do it, and not only does you mount get to fight too, but you can protect your mount, so you may actually be better off on your mount than the two of you fighting separately. But this ability more than most others is a mother-may-I ability (the GM can negate your ability by setting all the fights indoors).

Fletching (Quality) Ability - this allows a character to make quality ammunition in the field. Probably a marginal ability.

Medic Ability - this has some very nice defined uses (I do need to clear up what "treating a person in magical reserve" means - I think my intent was that a medic treating someone in magic reserve could significantly extend the time they can live - normally it's just an hour or so, magic reserve is when HP are below zero, between 1/4 and 1/2 hp, for a 40 hp PC, that would be anywhere from -20 to -11 hp).

Quick Draw Ability - very well defined (difficulties and benefits defined).

Sailor Ability - Hmm, perhaps this one just shouldn't be there. It's a serious mother-may-I and doesn't really have any input to combat ability.

Scholar Ability - I probably should ditch this one. I've NEVER been good at making knowledge skills useful in games that have them. Might be better to just assume mages and clerics are very knowledgeable, perhaps with obvious specializations (a cleric of a beast god should be more knowledgeable about beasts than other casters would be).

Sense of Direction Ability - Ok, here's another one that could go away.

Short Sleep Ability - This lets you stand an extra watch every other day, or an extra half watch every day. Useful and easy to administer even when using the extra half watch (the GM just needs to roll which half of the watch the encounter comes).

Terrain Tolerance Ability - Hmm, serious mother-may-I.

Travelled Ability - get extra languages. Assuming languages are put to use, should be a benefit. PCs can also spend time learning languages.

Arcane Defender Ability - This was an attempt to allow a fighter with a little bit of mage magic. My gut feeling is that it isn't worth while, I should eliminate it.

Paladin/Templar/Hedge Priest Ability - This is more useful because they could get some healing at 2nd level, or get STR buffing at 2nd level, or get a decent attack spell at 2nd. May not be worth taking at 1st level (because your cleric level is limited to 1/2 fighting level). There is an Initiate Ability which can be converted to Paladin/Templar/Hedge Mage at any point. One solution might be to allow up to 2nd level cleric even if fighting level is below 4. Making sure they get something useful as a 1st level spell would also help.

Simple Proficiencies - Character choses three simple skills (like climbing, swimming, mule handler, etc.). These are unlikely to be of much use, but do provide a bit of color. Can spend these on extra language points though.

Languages - I need to consistently make these worthwhile.

One thing that is worth considering and pointing out in the rules. If a player takes a mother-may-I ability that the GM hasn't removed from his game, then the GM is obligated to make the abilkity useful. But clearly it would be better to have definitive rules that support the player in demanding their ability be useful.

On a related note - In Cold Iron, blunt weapons are mostly useless. They don't crit as well as other weapons, and some only do fatigue damage. I've been thinking that I should either make them useful or remove them from the game. But the question would be how to make them useful, yet different from the other weapons. Swords are the benchmark weapon. 2-Hand axes do more damage, but you can't use as much strength in your parry (which is a bit bizarre - they are the weapon of choice for low STR, high DEX characters). Spears do less damage, but parry better (if not backed into a wall), and can either swing from the 2nd rank, or get first strike (combat is mostly simultaneous, however, there is some ordering: spears and polearms then other melee weapons then natural weapons). One way to fix blunt weapons would be to make them do significantly more damage yet still crit not as easily, but that might be hard to balance.

I also need to make sure players understand that unarmed combat is not particularly worthwhile as a primary mode of fighting (grappling can be effective though - though usually monsters benefit far more from grappling than PCs do - it's a rare PC who would rather be rolling around on the ground wrassling his opponent than standing up and swinging a weapon). That doesn't mean a warrior should never take unarmed combat as a primary proficiency (warriors get two primary proficiencies, and dodge taken as a secondary works like a primary - so primary sword & shield, primary unarmed combat, secondary dodge, secondary bow, and two tertiary proficiencies is quite reasonable, but so is taking bow as primary and unarmed as secondary).


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cold Iron's Implied Setting

In order for an RPG to be complete, it really either needs to come with a setting, or document the assumptions of it's implied setting sufficiently that prospective GMs know what the basis is so they can adapt if necessary (or avoid the game if it totally doesn't meet their needs).

Cold Iron's implied setting is definitely derrived from D&D, but it isn't D&D's implied setting either. For one thing, Cold Iron isn't suitable to the D&D style dungeon (of course D20 is less suited to the old style dungeon than people care to admit).

To use Mike Mearl's term, core story, I would say that the core story of Cold Iron is kill things and take their treasure to gain power.

Fame might be part of that also, though the system provides little mechanical support for that (I've got a renown mechanic, but right now it's rather floaty, back in college, there was "humor level" which was a similarly floaty concept, but was also a skill that you gained XP in just like fighting and magic).

There's no attempt at "story telling" with angst driven elves and grumpy dwarves or any such sort of thing. The non-human races are basically packages of attribute range modifiers and special abilities.

PCs also realistically aren't going to become top dogs. The game provides magic items that need 11th level and up mages to create. I've certainly never run a campaign that long (though I think the system would still be playable up there, so a GM could tweak the XP rate and campaign length to let the game get there).

My campaigns tend to be a combination of wilderness travel with encounters (not really random), and small site based adventures. See the example prep for good idea of what I might prepare as a site based adventure. The adventure the PCs just completed featured three caves to explore (2 from a module - Necromancer's Glades of Death, and one drawn up on the spot) and two wilderness encounters. They were tied together, and I used some of the hooks from the module.

I'd certainly welcome pointers to games you think have done a really good job of presenting what the game is about or what the options you could play are. I don't think many games really do a good job with this. The D&D basic sets definitely did, at least originally providing a small sample dungeon, plus either dungeon geomorphs (original) or a module (later). As I recall, the example of play also tied to the sample dungeon in the book. Games with detailed settings certainly provide a lot of detail for the setting, but often don't tell you what sorts of games to play, and this may be especially true of settings divorced from a system. I remember trying to figure out what to actually do with Harn when I first got it. Of course I was also trying to figure out Cold Iron at the same time. Judge's Guild's original Wilderlands of High Fantasy actually was kind of good. It provided you with players maps that were mostly blank. It was easy to imagine that the game play would revolve around filling in those blank spots. And the wilderness was filled with ruins and lairs. And the City State of the Invincible Overlord was keyed almost like a dungeon (but I have to admit that as much as I like cities like this, I have yet to run a satisfactory campaign, or even a single adventure, in a city).

So certainly I could provide a sample dungeon (or even two or three since they're really pretty easy to write up). I certainly can create formal rules for running wilderness encounters (night and day), and those rules would benefit my game play (ok, now we know what the DC for the alterness checks is, and that for each N that you beat that by, you detect the encounter one round earlier). But how do I describe that while I don't do story arcs, I do connect things.

In the recent adventure, they found a necromancer's diary. This is a great way to introduce the next, or at least some future, adventure. Or there is one of my favorite encounters ever. The PCs had been fighting goblin bands, and after beating them, suggesting they not attack people on the roads (but saying that sure, they could defend their villages and such) and then setting them free. I read this interesting looking ambush adventure in Dungeon Magazine, and then I came up with this idea. A group of ogres had captured one of the goblin tribes the PCs had fought and the ogres set up this ambush. So the PCs suddenly find themselves fighting this overwhelming encounter of ogres and goblins. Then a round or two into it, a PC recognizes the goblins, and the goblins recognize the PCs. And the goblins turn on the ogres. And the PCs and goblins beat the ogres. And the PCs gave the goblins a share of treasure. Now I admit I'm not sure what I would have done had any part of that adventure not gone the way I was thinking, but I didn't have to force anything. And I think it was a cool way to reward the players for their stance on prisoners.

But does that even really matter? As long as the game is gamist, I think anything the GM uses to tie the campaign together would work fine. Cold Iron might also work for simulationism, though it certainly would take care to mesh Cold Iron's mechanics with the setting (unless it's a GM made up setting). So perhaps just some pointers on setting up good challenges is all that's really necessary.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Creating monsters for Cold Iron and other related bits

In thinking about what would be necessary to turn Cold Iron into a complete game, one thing that is definitely needed is a decent bestiary, along with some hints at how to set up encounters (which of course also includes what sorts of treasure to give).

I was looking over the stuff that was made available to me, and realized it's pretty scanty. There is a series of summoning spells which provide stats for wolves, hawks, small lions, snakes, bears, large lions, and horses. The player who wrote up all the spells and such also provided a several page description of how to create monsters. That includes complete stats for dragons, wyverns, and gnaths (some kind of nasty feline - with some comment about "Who ever heard of a 1st level gnath?"). That document also provides some hints on hydras (with an admission that the GMs he talked to probably do them wrong). He also mentioned he had a huge specials chart for undead, but didn't want to share it. A bit of information (mostly mental attribute ranges back tracked from saves) is provided for goblins, ogres, cave trolls, stone trolls, flesh trolls, ghouls, displacer beasts, griffons, manticores, werewolves, orcs, urak hai, and moties (from Niven's A Mote in God's Eye). The Animate Dead spell indicates that undead have higher Strength and Constitution and lower Dexterity than when alive.

What the monster writeup stuff does do is provide some general hints. It talks about the square cube law, and provides a chart to match Strength and Size (and mentions that Constitution usually is the same as Size). It provides an extented attribute chart (with Strengths and Sizes high enough for anything you'd ever want to stat up - up to a size of 12.5 tons). Another chart shows how armor protection (T) and critical protection are related.

There is an admonishment that unless you want to run a killer world, keep monster levels low (at least for big monsters).

Somehow with all of this, and a bit of talking to the other GMs, I figured out how to run monsters. Of course looking back at my notes, I obvioulsy ran some things by the seat of my pants. There's no indication in my notes if ghoul paralysis has a penalty to saves or not (or even how long it lasts). Somewhere I got the idea that the way to handle skeletons is that you have to deal them 20 points of damage (past armor) in a single blow, otherwise nothing happened to them (you just chipped off some unimportant bones).

What I tended to use the most were goblins, trolls (really ogres, not dumb creatures like in D&D, and no regeneration - they may have been influenced by Harn which is the setting I used for my first campaign), ghouls, zombies, skeletons, wights, spectres (corporeal, just the name for a spell casting wight), and an occaisional dragon or so. I have a module writeup with gnolls. I used a few animals (wolves and large felines mostly). I also had flesh trolls (the stupid, regenerating D&D kind). I know I used a very occaisional dragon or wyvern, and I kind of vaguely recall a manticore. Oh, I had giant ants also. In general, most encounters were with intelligent humanoids (lots of goblin and troll encounters).

As to treasure, well that I really had to come up with my own. I think mostly I started off cautiously. I'd usually give decent opponents decent armor and quality weapons. The captain might get magic weapons and armor. I'd scatter a few potions and charged items around.

Hmm, looking at the gnoll module writeup:
The 6th level gnoll leader had +3 weapon and shield, 3 somewhat used charged items, 4 pretty good cure potions, and 4 buffing potions. He only had quality arrows and non-magical plate. The 3rd level troopers had quality weapon and shield, 2 decent cure potions, and one very used charged item, they had plate armor. There was an ogre zombie with +2 equipment and a wight with +2 equipment. The PC fighters were probably 8th level or so (not sure how close to the end of the campaign this was, the one PC fighter I have a character sheet for made 10th level, the mage made 6th level - but that fighter may have played several months longer).

In my first campaign, I have no PC character sheets from, but the main NPC made 12th level fighter/7th level cleric. There was some extended play with just one player. I remember fragments of a couple adventures. One was the great dragon slaying, where the NPC and the PC (and maybe another NPC or two) were exploring a cave, noticed a dragon, retreated to buff up and charged the dragon - the NPC rolled a many 9s attack and killed the dragon in one blow). I also remember an adventure where they attacked a necromancer in his caverns. He must have been a 9th level caster because every single undead in his retinue had an anti-magic shell charged item he had made for them (boy were the PCs annoyed - of course new players won't have this kind of joy since anti-magic shell is gone).

I think it would be nice to come up with a challenge rating sort of system. With a combat simulator, it would be possible to see how various creatures rated out against a "standard fighter". Spell casters would be harder, but if you know how the fighters rate out, and you match their challenge, giving the bad guys a spell caster or two at the same level as the PCs would be really tough, a higher level would be unwise, and a level or two lower should give the PCs a good fight. Obviously a hard to hurt spell caster (like a troll) would rate a little higher than a wimp (like a goblin).

What might also be interesting to work out (and should fall out of the challenge rating determination pretty easily) is a "level adjustment" system. I don't absolutely feel like anything the GM can throw at the PCs should be open for play, but it would be cool to know that it would be ok to let a PC run a troll as long as he was treated as if he was 2 levels higher for experience (or whatever the adjustment came out to). The only problem is that it might not be constant, but you might still be able to come up with a formula (perhaps a troll is equivalent 1.5xL+1, so a 6th level troll is comparable to a 10th level fighter). Then you just create a new XP chart for trolls. Monsters with specials would be harder to deal with, but I have used relatively few specials in Cold Iron (flesh trolls regenerate, ghouls paralyze, most undead see invisible, some undead only take fatigue/subdual damage from non-magical weapons, undead otherwise don't fatigue, dragons have breath weapons, basilisks petrify, rust monsters rust, blur wolves are harder to hit (unless you see invisible), shadow cats are surrounded by a shadow spell (need see invisible), some creatures have poison, and a few more). Humanoids who use weapons rarely have much in the way of specials (and I don't think it's too much to ask players not to run undead, and non-humanoids).

When writing up PC races, I keep away from making races that are clearly better spell casters than humans (though some races might have a better willpower which is important to spell casters offensively as well as defensively). I also make PC races trade off between Strength and Dexterity so no race is clearly better than humans there. I keep special abilities minor (night vision, infravision, leather skin [which stacks with armor], bonus to saves, need less sleep). Now players tend to take non-humans over humans, and that's ok, but they should be trading off at least something.

One of the things that I really like about Cold Iron is how easy it is to write up a creature. You pick a Size (or Strength and backtrack Size from Strength), that gives you Strength and Constitution. You pick a Dexterity (and most large creatures have some room to grow their Dexterity). Then a relatively simple chart gives you the base abilities by level (and I now have a spreadsheet which makes it real easy). When I'm in good form with the system, I can create a new monster in half an hour or less, and since I write up a progression for the monster from 1st level to 6th or sometimes 8th level (most animals and beasts only go up to 6th level), I have an instant variety of monsters for different power levels.

But the big question is how to turn this all into something someone else could work with. Especially someone who had no experience with the system at all.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cold Iron Character Generation and Advancement

First, the basics:

Cold Iron characters have attributes, skills, and proficiencies, in a rather D&Desque way. Skills are sort of the equivalent to character class in D&D, except rather than each class providing both fighting ability and whatever else, in Cold Iron, everyone has a fighting skill, and usually has a magic skill (there is a passive magic skill which provides some knowledge about magic, and factors into saves). Proficiencies mostly come into play for fighters.

This is the area I've diverged from Mark's rules the most. In Mark's game, profficiencies were treated the same as skills (you could put XP into sword proficiency just as well as fighting proficiency). Fighting skill granted some XP to put into proficiencies (the default was you had one proficiency equal to your fighting skill, or you could break it down). XP for skills follows an exponential curve (doubling each level). In Mark's rules, spell casters were potentially just as good fighters as non-spell casters. Other than riding proficiency, some reference to scouting skill, and a humor skill (which was a catchall for social skill/charisma stuff), there were no other skills or proficiencies detailed (though I think they did exist, and you could ask for them).

The basis for attribute generation is 3d6 for each attribute, with an additional 1d6 added to that to get a "potential". 1st level characters got to raise one attribute to potential, and each skill level beyond first allowed increasing one attribute one point toward potential. Of course most campaigns ran with things like roll 4d6 take the best 3.

One issue that bugged me from the start, partly because in every game I ran in, I got hit by it, was that with random generation, it was quite possible to wind up with a character who had no hope of being a spell caster, who also didn't have quite as good physical attributes as the spell casters. I found it very frustrating to run a character who was basically good at nothing.

This resulted in a big change in how I ran proficiencies. I set it up so fighters got the equivalent of 2.5 proficiencies by the old system. I split the proficiencies in half mostly, so a fighter actually got 5 of my new proficiencies (shield proficiency became a double proficiency). Clerics got 4, and mages got 3. I also added in all sorts of side skills, and proficiencies for them (scout, thief, alchemist, and more).

I also structured the rolling so a player declared what they wanted to roll up (fighter, cleric, or mage), and then we rolled until the attributes looked good. I began to observe a problem though that I've noted in long term campaigns with rolled attributes. As the campaign goes on, the average of the rolled attributes slowly creeps up. This is due to a variety of issues, mostly player driven (but some GM driven).

When I resurrected Cold Iron a few years ago, I decided to go to a point buy system. I came up with a point total that allowed one to just barely build a perfect fighter (18/24 in Str, Dex, and Con). The perfect fighter would have no spell casting ability, probably a 10 Will (for magical defense), a 10 Alertness, and below average MP.

I've been noticing a problem now though. The spell casters can't fight their way out of a paper bag. They wind up with 10s, maybe 12s in Str, Dex, and Con. Combined with a limited proficiency set (I have also changed the way proficiencies are handled, mostly a simplification), we discoverd the cleric was more a danger by trying to help in combat. The mage (who has slightly better fighting skills) surprised us all by actually rolling well in one combat and doing a bit of damage.

With my recent revision, I set it up so that the interesting non-combat stuff does not detract from combat ability much at all. A non-spell caster can be a scout or thief, or they could take combat riding (fun, but not overly usefull), or they can get a bonus to charisma/renown (charisma is now just the characters best skill, plus renown points earned in play), and a few other abilities (everyone starts with 2 abilities, non-spell casters get another at 5th and again at 8th). A character can choose to have minor cleric abilities (paladin sort of deal) as an ability (and then they get no more abilities in the future, cleric level is limited to 1/2 fighter level, they get full fighting proficiency).

One thing I'm thinking of doing is getting rid of the big distinction in fighting proficienct since the point buy makes the caster trade off fighting ability attributes for spell casting attributes. But I think I also need to do something about the attributes. One way would be to get rid of Talent (mages) and Faith (clerics) and run all the magic stuff off Will, but that gets rid of dump stats (though casters will still want more MP than the fighters). Another would be to make the attribute points non-linear, so the spell caster who is spreading out amongst more attributes can still take decent attributes (but I worry that that might make the fighters more generic - but maybe it just takes the "perfect" fighter off the table, which might make the fighters more distinguished).

Getting rid of attributes alltogether would be a solution, but that would be a radical change to the game.

Another possibility might be to throw out the point system for attributes, and just create sets of attributes that don't necessarily add up to the same point value. With such a scheme, a kick-ass mage might have 18/24 in Talent and Will, and say 14/16 in Str, Dex, and Con (and perhaps they can trade off between Str, Dex, and Con), an 8 Alertness, and 36 MP. A cleric would have the same values, but Faith instead of Talent (or maybe Faith gets ditched). A Less kick-ass spell caster would have 16/20 in Talent and Will, 30 MP, and 16/18 in Str, Dex, and Con, and an 8 Alertness and can trade off Str, Dex, Con, and Alertness. A kick-ass fighter has 18/24 in Str, Dex, and Con, 8 Talent, 10/14 Will, 8 Alertness, and 16 MP. A not quite so good fighter has 16/20 in Str, Dex, and Con (and can trade off), 8 Talent, 12/16 Will and 12/16 Alertness, and 22 MP (and can trade off Alertness, Will, and MP [MP 2 for 1]). A warrior-cleric gets 16/20 Str, 16/20 Dex, 12/16 Con, 14/18 Faith, 12/16 Will, 8 Alertness, and 20 MP.

This way, the non-spell casters still get ok attributes, but clearly are lesser fighters. They will also probably be a level lower in fighting skill, so even if they get as many proficiencies, they are still definitely second class, but can fight their way out of the wet paper bag.

Another way to play with it might be to make Talent, Will, and Alertness cost 1/2 points, and maybe make MP be 1/3 points instead of 1/2. With points kept so the "perfect" fighter has trouble getting better than Talent 8, Faith 8, Will 10, Alertness 8, and MP 16, it might work pretty good. This would also help the thieves and scouts (who definitely want decent Alertnesses). And it might make for a few fighters that have average or better MP.

Hmm, another thought would be to take MP out of the point buy. Non-casters get 20+Passive Magic Level MP. Clerics get 26+Cleric Level. Mages get 26+(Magic Level +1)(Magic Level)/2 (and then maybe I also get rid of the mages focus and one of the nasty equations). Since clerics also get spell points, which have a geometric progression, they are going to be on par with the mages.

I need to look into this... I think I may have a solution...


Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold Iron Magic Item System

Cold Iron is heavily based on consumable magic items. Potions are always important because they are the only magic item that supplies it's own MP. The temporary hit point and energy resistance spells are most commonly used in potion form (because their MP cost is so high). Charged items have a chance of failure, and tend to be good for 3-4 uses. Each time they are used, the chance of success drops (they can be used more than 3-4 times, but you have to be a bit desperate).

Magic weapon and armor enchantments are the cheapest permanent magic. They also have an advantage of being more efficient in MP cost (to the point where one generally doesn't worry about the cost unless you have a +5 sword). Each aspect (to hit, parry, damage, and damage reduction [armor]) is enchanted separately.

Permanent magic items are the most expensive.

Permanent and charged items come in 4 flavors, in order of cost: item only, user only (can also affect user's equipment, or another person if the user maintains contact with the other person), combat touch, ranged.

Some example costs:

Iron Flesh (spell that adds 6 damage reduction - separate from armor enchantment), duration 22 rounds (unrestricted for permanent items):
Potion 220 (made by a 6th level mage)
Item charge 390 (made by an 8th level mage)
User charge 820 (made by a 9th level mage)
Touch charge 1340 (made by a 10th level mage)
Ranged charge 2020 (made by an 11th level mage)
Item permanent 9000 (made by a 9th level mage)
User permanent 17500 (made by a 10th level mage)
Touch permanent 31600 (made by an 11th level mage)
Ranged permanent 63100 (made by a 13th level mage)

For comparison:
+1 armor 400 (9th)
+2 armor 1100 (10th)
+3 armor 2500 (11th)
+4 armor 5650 (12th)
+5 armor 10850 (13th)
+6 armor 21850 (14th)
(for reference, the +6 armor theoretically costs 31/hour to maintain - though I have actually tended to run with a more efficient maintanence cost for enchantments - still it's less than the 1/round cost of the iron flesh spell, though iron flesh stacks with magic armor).

In my past gaming, other than armor and weapon enchantments, we saw almost no permanent item use. Charged items allow more flexibility, and allow you to pay as you go. Eventually, clearly permanent items become more efficient to purchase, but you have to be able to afford the one time cost (and there aren't mortgages like we have for house buying...). Charged items for rarely used spells will continue to be popular even for rich characters. And of course since potions supply their own MP, they continue to be usefull.

For the really rich, there are items that store MP, and even items that regenerate MP. The costs of 24 MP (the same MP as in the potion) storers and growers. Storers come in 4 varieties, inneficient costs 3 MP per MP put into it (2 MP are wasted). Internal storers can only power spells in the item they are part of. Growers are internal and external.
3/1 internal storer 24 MP: 8,400 (10th)
1/1 internal storer 24 MP: 21,600 (11th)
3/1 external storer 24 MP: 52,800 (11th)
1/1 external storer 24 MP: 14,400 (12th)
internal grower 24 MP: 1,008,000 (14th)
external grower 24 MP: 1,992,000 (14th)

For the price of the 3/1 external storer, you can buy 240 potions... And you still need to be able to cast the spell or have a magic item... Of course for 17,400 you can get a permanent iron flesh on your armor with a 3/1 internal storer attached to it. Not too bad (and it does have an advantage over a potion, you can choose to use your own MP and make it last longer). Of course the potion still has an advantage. When you get attacked a second time in one day and haven't been able to recharge your storer...

There are a handfull of esoteric "preservation" spells that are very low cost permanent items (nice because it does let you have a magic sword left in a tomb and it hasn't rusted yet).

The one thing we did notice - until they decided to change their treasure distribution, since mages don't use as many potions and charged items, in one campaign, the mage was the first to buy a +5 sword (looking at the handfull of characters I held onto, at the end, the dwarf fighter still did not have a +5 all around sword). After the mage declared this, they came up with a treasure division scheme where they paid for most potion and charged item use out of treasure before division. No one had any permanent magic other than weapon/armor. An earlier campaign went to a higher level, but it was also wacked out because I actually inserted some D&D style magic items (which of course should have been worth millions...and attracted all sorts of unwanted attention...).

Another thing that I noted was that there was a significant opportunity for player skill in item purchasing, which feeds a gamist adgenda nicely. Also, while characters may wind up with more magic items listed on their sheet than in D&D, there is less tendency to forget about them (though I have to say that was mainly a comparison to 1e where characters actually probably had more items than the Cold Iron characters, and they were all sorts of weird things).


Cold Iron Mana Point System

Cold Iron uses a mana point (or spell point) system (to add a little bit of confusion, there actually are both mana points and spell points...). Every character has mana points (MP). Starting characters generally start with about 20 MP, possibly 30 for mages (and theoretically as high as 38). Clerics get both MP and SP. MP increases slowly with level (mages add twice their level, clerics add their level, non-spell casters have a passive or defensive magic level which is added to MP).

MP recovery is at a rate of 1/6 current MP per hour. This is a continuous function just like bank interest (which means if we need to know exactly how many MP you have, or how long it will take to recover, we need to whip out the calculator - generally an estimate is close enough, or enough time passes that we don't need to worry about it).

Clerics regenerate MP slower (usually at 1/12), with the excess being donated to their deity. However, in exchange they get spell points, which come back during their daily prayers. Spell points follow a formula that is geometric with level, and is based on the cleric's faith attribute.

One of the things I think is really cool about the system is that even when a character's MP is at full, the regen is still pumping out MP. There are spells that cost a few MP per hour, which can be maintained by this excess MP.

Higher level mages have a MP storage focus, which (here's more math) is essentially a leaky bucket. It is charged up (using the same forumula as charging a capacitor) with MP regen.

Most offensive spells cost 1 or 2 MP to cast. Additional MP up to the caster's level may be used to increase success chance, or reduce save (unfortunately, the system does depend on two chance adjustment resolution rolls per offensive spell, one for success, and one for save or for to hit). Energy spells (which are single target and require a to hit roll) cost 1 MP per die, with the die getting bigger as the spell level increases, energy spells can't crit. Magic missile costs 1 MP, requires a to hit, and can crit. There are a variety of defensive spells. Energy resistance spells cost MP based on how much damage they absorb (with higher level spells being more efficient). There is a temporary hit point spell which absorbs a 1/2 or more of the damage received, and costs MP based on how much gets through (thus it also gets more efficient at higher levels).

A lot of utility spells (see invisible, detect magic are two common ones) cost 1+2/hour. Light costs 1/30watts + 1/30watts/hour. These spells are common to be maintained.

Attribute boosting spells cost 2/+1 + 2/+1/hour (and do get more efficient at higher levels). A caster can stack these spells (though there are maximum attribute caps) as long as he has enough MP.

Enchant weapon has a geometric cost based on the bonus granted and is capped by caster level.

Non damage spells include demoralization which reduces the targets offensive ability (and may cause them to run away), entrancement (a parking spell, though the target recognizes direct threats so you can't just take the guy out like D&D's hold person), cluminess, weakness for the common ones. Sleep, paralysis, disintegration, and death are high level spells.

Higher level spells take longer to cast (spells higher than 1/2 caster level take 2 rounds to cast), are harder to succeed with, and are easier to save against. This tends to mean the low level spells are the most common (plus I've never actually run a game to a high enough level to see the "save or die" spells).

There's a lot more to the magic system like counters, dispelling, magic protection spells (there's a lot of defense, though anti-magic shell was taken away - Mark tells me that when it went away, people were concerned for fighters, but it turned out it was mages who got plastered). The spells mostly allow the mage to support the fighter, though the mage's contribution can not be discounted - the battles last week with the skeletons turned very heavily on how successefull the magic was. The key for me is that the fighter and the mage need to cooperate, rather than in D&D where it seemed like the purpose of the fighters was to screen the mages while they did the killing.

Oh, I should also comment on how the mage prepares spells. The mage gets a number of memorization points that increase geometrically with level, and are based on talent. A spell costs it's level to memorize, but lower level versions of the spell are included for free (so if you know Fireball VIII, an 8th level spell, you also know Fireball II, Fireball III, Fireball IV, Fireball V, Fireball VI, and Fireball VII). Mages can also cast any spell from their books (usefull for casting light before entering a cave). Clerics get more memorization, but don't have books. Clerics have a more limited spell list (based on their deity's domains), and get some spells earlier, and some later (they particularly get healing earlier than mages, and much more efficient).


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cold Iron Task Resolution

I worked up this as an introduction for my players, and thought I'd post it here also:

Cold Iron, like many RPGs, is based on a task resolution system. The player will declare some task they want to attempt (I try and hit the troll with my sword). The character will have some ability with this task (for attack, the ability is hit, often abbreviated to H). There will be some difficulty of the task. Some tasks have a static difficulty, others, like hitting trolls with big pointy things, are opposed checks, the target will resist with some ability (the troll might defend with a parry, often abbreviated as D, or a dodge, often abbreviated as Db). All check use the same randomizer. Some systems use a single die and add (d20+ability), others roll dice against the ability (d100 <= skill).

Cold Iron has a clever chart that utilizes the normal distribution to generate a modifier (often called a chance adjustment). The probabilities of getting particular modifiers follow the bell curve of the normal distribution. The clever trick is in how the probabilities are generated.

Probabilities are always a number between 0 and 1 (when expressed as percentiles, the number is multiplied by 100). Gamers have long used a pair of d10s to generate percentile values between 1 and 100 (sometimes 0 and 99). One die is labeled the 10s digit, and the other the 1s digit, and the pair is rolled and read as a two digit number (00-99, where 00 is usually read as 100). The normal distribution however requires infinite precision, more than two digits. So the concept of rolling two digits is just extended to rolling as many digits as are necessary. The way the probabilities are arranged in the normal distribution, it's not always necessary to roll a bucket full of dice.

Here is a chart that uses the normal distribution to express the probabilities for a range of values:

.000088 -25
.00016 -24
.00028 -23
.00048 -22
.00082 -21
.0013 -20
.0022 -19
.0035 -18
.0054 -17
.0082 -16
.012 -15
.018 -14
.025 -13
.036 -12
.049 -11
.067 -10
.088 -9
.12 -8
.15 -7
.18 -6
.23 -5
.27 -4
.33 -3
.38 -2
.44 -1
.50 0
.56 1
.62 2
.67 3
.73 4
.77 5
.82 6
.85 7
.88 8
.912 9
.933 10
.951 11
.964 12
.975 13
.982 14
.988 15
.9918 16
.9946 17
.9965 18
.9978 19
.9987 20
.99918 21
.99952 22
.99972 23
.99984 24
.999912 25

The left hand column is the cumulative probability (for example, on 2d6, there is a 1 in 36 chance of getting a 2, a 2 in 36 chance of getting a 3, a 4 in 36 chance of getting a 4, up to a 6 in 36 chance of getting a 7. The chance of getting a number, N, or less is the sum of all the individual probabilities of each number less than or equal to N, this is known as the cumulative probability, so the cumulative probability of a 4 or less on 2d6 is 6 in 36 or 1 in 6). The right hand column is the modifier (chance adjustment, or CA). The chart above shows the decimal point, however, it is common practice to leave the decimal point out of chance adjustment tables.

One more bit about the probability math behind this chart, the chart is designed so that a +20/3 (+6.666667) is one standard deviation "above average").

To generate a chance adjustment using this chart, the player should roll a pair of d10s, identifying which digit is first (if it's easier for you, consider it a d100 roll - except 00 will NOT be read as 100). If you look at the chart, most of the time, the number will fall in the range from 12 to 88, which corresponds to chance adjustments of -8 to +8. If you roll between two numbers, you use the lower chance adjustment (so a 51 results in a +0 CA). If you roll in the range of 90-99 or 00-09, you will note the chart has additional digits and multiple rows. In this range, you will need to roll additional d10s to generate additional digits to distinguish between the different chance adjustments. There is a simple rule which lets you roll the dice, then look at the chart. You will see that each number in these ranges starts out with a string of 0s or a string of 9s, and after that string are
2 more digits. So basically, if you roll a 90-99, for each leading 9 you roll, you need to roll an additional digit, for a 90-98, you roll one more digit. For a 99 you roll two more (which may result in rolling even more digits).

Note that if you roll a 99 and then your subsequent pair is a 09, you do not need to roll any more d10s. Your roll is a 9909, which is a +15.

Rolling low is always bad, which is kind of fun if you roll a 00, it's probably an oh-oh kind of moment...

Once you have a chance adjustment, you add it to your ability and compare to the difficulty. If your ability equals the difficulty, you will note that you have a 50% chance of success. If you roll lots of 9s and are confident your result will be a smashing success, feel free to narrate something ("The troll slips in the mud as my axe falls on his neck, I hit him with a 35 (having rolled a +24 on an 11 attack, knowing the troll has a 20 defense).").

A really good result with an attack (and some other abilities) results in a critical success. Generally, a critical success occurs when the adjusted attack is 7 or more higher than the defense. With an attack, this will cause double damage. With attacks, it's possible to get even more than double damage (normally 9 better is triple, 11 better is quadruple, etc., however, armor does modify this).

Here are some more examples:

A fighter with an 11 attack (H, typical of a 3rd level fighter) swings at a goblin with a parry (D) of 14. The fighter rolls an 89, which is a +8, so hit net attack is 19, since this is greater than the goblins D the fighter hits. Later the fighter rolls a 999985, which is a +27, and will probably smear the goblin all over the floor! Shortly thereafter, he rolls a 00045 (-23) which will cause him to fumble. The fighter needs a +3 (67) or better to hit the goblin.

The chart seems daunting at first, and there is some fancy math behind it, but after some play, most players find it easy to use, and you don't need to understand the fancy math. Many players even end up memorizing some of the numbers that come up the most, and mean the most. Normally, D is higher than H, so negative chance adjustments often don't hit. So memorizing 50, 56, 62, 67, 73, 77, 82, 85, and 88 will suffice for a large percentage of rolls.

Another thing is that since the difference between a hit and a critical is 7, you can often look at the dice and see a 60 something, and you know you hit with a +0 CA and crit with a +5 CA, so it doesn't matter if you got a +1, +2, or +3. You hit. Of course the situation could have changed, so the GM should pay attention to the rolls and may ask the player to figure it out (because now a +3 chance adjustment might score that character a crit).

For those interested in exploring the math a bit, the following Excel formula can be used to generate the chart:

=NORMDIST(chance adjustment,0,20/3,TRUE)

The first parameter is the chance adjustment you desire the value for, notice the 20/3 standard deviation is the third parameter (the second parameter indicates the average on the chart is +1, while the fourth parameter indicates cumulative probabilities should be used). I have an Excel sheet on my website that shows how the table can be generated.


Publishing and improving Cold Iron dilemma

I've been working through a dilemma. I really would like to have a solid complete game of Cold Iron that can be passed out to people I game with, and pointed to for folks who might be interested. There's one big problem though, the core of the game isn't mine. I have posted stuff, but I always feel a bit dirty because I'm distributing someone else's copyrighted material without permission (I tried to get permission). Mark Christiansen (the author of the game) really doesn't seem interested in publishing (in fact, other than very occaisional Cold Iron games with his old buddies, I get the feeling he's mostly out of gaming). In making a more complete game, I'd also love to get outside review, and it would be really cool to get the help of folks on the Forge.

I've asked Ron, and he said it didn't qualify as an indie game, which I respect. He did invite me to use the RPG Theory forum so long as I kept things of general interest, but of course the RPG theory forum is now closed. And what I really need help and commentary on is the explanatory text I want to add. I'm pretty comfortable that the mechanics are solid (though getting others comentary on the mechanics would be interesting also - but they have been through a lot of playtesting already).

So how do I proceed?

One thought I have is to just start my own game from scratch, using the core mechanic but none of the copyrighted text. That seems like a horrid waste of energy, but would be a fair way to proceed. But would such a game be welcome at the Forge?

I could also do stuff here, but how to attract enough people interested in commenting?