Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to Create a World

This is going to be attempt at a series of posts on world creation. Yes it has been done before, in painful excruciating detail elsewhere. Yes I am probably not the most eloquent writer to be making an attempt at it. Oh well, this is where I hang my thoughts to be read and hopefully critiqued.

So world creation. It is a daunting task, one that I have wholeheartedly embraced with my current campaign group, and one which I will continue to love for every campaign I run. The key part of this is to realize you need to only make one world (unless you do something to end said world, I would start over then). This is good, as making a fully fleshed out world is impossible. The world you create will never be as detailed as the one we live in, we simply can not invent thousands or millions of years of history, myths for hundred or thousands of cultures or any of the other details that make the world we live in so rich in detail. We may only scratch the surface and blow smoke, trusting in our audience to suspend their disbelief, ask only what they need to know to engage with the world to a reasonable degree and, forgive us for the holes and errors that come up during the course of the game.

So where to begin? How I started was to decide what type of games I would be playing in this world. I decided upon fantasy only. No steam punk, no westerns, no space, no sci-fi. This is necessary as the entire world must conform to a single genre, else there will be logic errors through out that will be hard to reconcile with the players. Now, many people my believe this restriction to be too limiting, but those people have limited imaginations, and don't realize that there are really only a limited number of plot lines any way [look here]. Also, think of all the mythology found in the Romans, Greeks, various oriental and middle eastern cultures, the cultures of the various native nations through out the world, the Vikings, and of the U.K alone, not to mention the rest of Europe. All of this is fantasy world material, and the variations of stories are endless.

So having picked a broad over arching "theme" for the world, I sat down and drew it out. Many people disagree with this being the next step I have found, but I thought it was helpful. Determine the general size of the world, [earth size?, bigger?, smaller?], determine what gimmick, if any, you wish to use in the world, I personally when with each pole being opposite not only magnetically but in light level, so one is always dark and one is always light.

Start by drawing the outline of the world, or if you are doing something like floating islands orbiting a point, the outline of the area the islands would be contained. Draw in control lines, such as the equator, the line above which the world is always dark, or below which it is always light, and any other control lines you think you would need. Follow this by drawing in the shapes of the largest terrestrial bodies that the world has, the continents basically. Make sure you make the shapes interesting, and fairly varied. I spent about 2 weeks deciding on the continental layout of my world before I was happy with the layout and variation between them all.

Next I will go through the process of how I filled out one continents general layout.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Maps as Part of the Adventure

One of the best ways to present a world to your players is via a map. It makes everything more tangible and gives an easy to look at representation of travel time, geography, population density and many other things. Maps can also help create a certain style of game play or help set the voice of your world. My favorite part of using maps is that they can act as a great obstacle to the characters, or conversely, a great help.

So how can maps help create a style of game play? Well first we can look at the generalities of using a map versus not using a map. Games which do not use a map can not be as tactical, and rely on the players trusting the DM to not be clear and forgiving when it comes to distances, travel routes in combat and all the various combat rules that apply to them. When not in combat, there is a much less tangible feel of distance traveled, as it simply becomes a number of days or miles put in, as opposed to being able to trace a line from point A to point B along the route traveled, seeing the terrain as you do so, and evoking that feeling of "Holy Shit!?!?!? We came that far through that terrain", simply due to the fact that the description of travel will fall away and be forgotten, but the map re-describes the journey each time it is looked at.

Now that was just a general look at maps vs not maps, and it is easy to see how a map can help create a style of game play. I want to mention that while I prefer maps, mapless games are just as valid as mine, they just set a different tone to the game.

Now, to look at three styles of maps I know are used for games such as Pathfinder, at a long distance travel level. These three maps are  Point to Point, General Layout and Detailed.

Point to Point maps are the easiest to make, and the least detailed. They have the rough shape of a country/continent/world/etc and have all of the major locations shown on the map. There may be roadways drawn as well, but they are unnecessary for the Point to Point map. Other than the map there is some form of key denoting travel times between places and that is it. The map is basically a teleportation grid. There may be an encounter/encounters during the travel, but there are no routeing decisions, no risk of getting lost and, nothing notable between the points unless the DM mentions it during travel.

General Layout Maps are the kind I have used to create the initial layout of my world. I also use them in area where my Detailed maps are not yet finished. These maps have the key locations of the area, as well as key geographic features and layout of the world. They require little in the way of making past the Point to Point map though, generally just drawing in of mountains, rivers, plains and forests in great broad sweeps. The key difference is in how they are used. With a General Layout map, the party can travel where they want, knowing what the rough terrain is going to be and decide to avoid certain areas to affect travel times, ease of access, ease of pursuit etc. They give more responsibility to the party for their circumstances, good or bad, and help bring the world to life more.

Detailed maps are done at a scale of 20 mile to a side hexes or smaller. They give the positions of everything, as well as much more minute changes in terrain. The hexes I use are one mile to a side, so 2 miles from point to point, or 1.67 miles from face to face. The maps I generate with them are fairly detailed, and I annotate locations as small as hamlets of 2-3 people on them. In an ordinary day of travel my players cover 8 hexes, and I have created a movable halo over the map so they can only see 8 hexes in any direction from their point at any time. This means that the survival skill, as well as knowledge geography plays a larger role in my game when they are in difficult terrain.

These three styles of maps can help create many different voices for a campaign depending on how they are used. Point to Point maps helps create a game where the destination matters. The game could be a tactical string of missions or a nicely woven narrative, or anything in between, but the destination is more important than the journey.

General Layout maps help foster a game where the journey matters. It is not just about where we are going, but how we are getting there, and then leaving there that matters. It helps bring weather into play as getting caught in different terrains makes the same weather affect the party in different ways. The game does slow down a bit however, as the route must be chosen. This leads to more time between other scenes as the players determine the best way to travel through an area.

Detailed maps bring route choice to an entirely new level. They do not slow the game down much more than General Layout maps, they imply take a much longer time to create. They allow terrain choice to become a significant factor in the game, as well as travel route. It also brings the world more to the fore, as there are more details of it for the players to immediately see.

Now, I have just touched on the basics of maps here. There are many more ways to use them than this, and all three styles of maps have there place in creating the voice you want for your adventures. You can even use all three at different levels within the same game. I use the General Layout and Detailed types of maps for overland travel and for the players to plan their journeys with. In cities I use Point to Point maps, as the exact terrain and layout matters less as the excitement is largely at the destinations. However you chose to use maps, makes sure you put some thought into it before hand, as it can greatly help you run your game.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

"Unfriendly" Races

One thing I enjoy doing in my game is turning the general perceptions of races askew for my players. It makes them think more and they are less likely to hit first and ask questions later. Of course I still leave them a few races that hold up to their tropes, in this case the player races, goblinoids and kobolds. This is important as well so the players have something familiar to ground themselves in.

I think that challenging the perceptions of the players in this way is important. It makes the world more memorable as they rally an orc army to help defeat the goblins. They are currently negotiating with a tribe of minotaurs and will eventually be fighting/negotiating with a city of ogres of the right for a tribe of centaurs to live in the area. All of this  while trying to prevent the hostile take over of the world from an army led by kobolds who worship dragons, as is typical of them.

This is not to say that every group of orcs in the world has become good. There is a chaotic evil nation of orcs waging war in a different part of the world, that my players and the general public know of. Same with the centaurs. The adventure comes from having to first convince people that these guys aren't bad like those guys, and then dealing with the repercussions of trying to end interracial blood feuds, carve a niche out of regular society to help everything work more cohesively and, in the simply try and have very one not kill everyone else.

This leads to many adventures ideas, and the players generally create them on their own, all I have to do is listen as they plot. When they debated a method to get the centaurs allied and peaceful with their own nations, they came up with a multitude of complications I would never have thought of, simply as they have a different perspective then I do as DM. I simply write these ideas down and flesh them out at a later date. It also leads to a lot of varied encounters, ranging from combat, politics, stealth missions and the occasional public speech. The variety helps keep the game from becoming stagnant, and I would never have to create the basic idea for anything if I didn't want to, the players generate enough content on their own.

So here is something that I think you should try. Create some form of problem that is to big for the players to overcome on their own, or with their regular allies. Drop some hints that an unlikely ally maybe found in one of the neighbors that the players would generally just slaughter, orcs are a good one for this. Have them try to get he orcs to ally with them and get the humans/dwarves/elves etc to accept it. As they plan listen to the complications they come up with and write them down. Also make sure that the orcs don't give in to easily, I mean the players must prove themselves trust worthy. Then simply flesh out a few of the complications in an imaginative way, potentially on the fly if you need to. Your game will be better for it if you can do something like this. Not to mention its always great to hear the Dwarf in the group go "Stay a way from my orcs".

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Adventure Hooks

Stepping away from combat for a post or two, at least until I can get some play time in with the new rules, I figured I would talk about adventure hooks. Now, from what I have heard of other games, it seems that there is generally a low number of adventure ideas thrown out at any given time, usually 2-3 at most, and that basically as one is used it is replaced by another. This is not a bad way of doing adventure hooks, there is a manageable amount of data for the DM to work with, and minimal prep time as there are only 2-3 ideas to fall back on each game.

I however find only having 2-3 options boring. If I am going to run a game and make it feel realistic, then there must be a multitude of options for the players so that they feel they can go do anything they want, as my Paladin Luther once said "Our quest list is bigger than Skyrim's". Along with this is the dynamic state of adventure hooks I strive to achieve. Nothing is static and if they leave the hook for long enough when they come back it will have changed, sometimes worsening and sometimes solving itself. This dynamism is necessary to stop the world from feeling as if its waiting for the players, making it different and more engaging than the aforementioned video game.

As for the style of adventure hooks, they are generally in the form of travelling information, a request or learned from investigating something. Though they do generally boil down to "Have you heard of the illness town X is suffering" or "The raids in the east have gotten larger recently, but they refuse to send the army". Not subtle but I find that getting much more subtle than that and players go "Well, there's not much to go on, must be info to save for later".

Now that I have given a brief explanation on how I use and deliver adventure hooks, here are my steps to creating them. I both pre-plan and spontaneously generate adventures, though most adventures are pre-planned. My spontaneity I use to make scenes to fill the adventures in. So,

Step 1 : Develop a premise or multiple premises

This can be as simple as "Orcs are rading a nearby town" or as convoluted as you wish to come up with. The premise should be simple to state though and easy to remember. It should also be fairly general. The premise is what the delivery will be made out of so you do not want to have to much detail in it. Another reason for a simple premise is that the adventure hook may never be used. Do not sink time into an adventure until after the players embark on it, many of the adventure hooks will only every be thrown out there for the players to turn down or come back to later, but this helps add to the dynamic feel in the world.

I personally went with "An army is invading so as to find the location of their long dead god and raise it" and added a few other small adventure arcs on the sides based on the characters back stories and some side arcs that can help with the main arc. Properly layering different adventure hooks together to add variety to the game helps give the feel of a dynamic world. Trudging along on one single quest is fairly boring, and we can look to The Lord of the Rings for this. The story of Frodo and Sam is straight forward with minimal plot twist or thought behind it. The real adventure actually happens far from the ring with Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas as they embark on a multitude of different adventures from save the hobbits, to save the king of Rohan from being a mind slave, over thrown Saruman, gain the alliegance of the undead etc. Similarly Merry and Pippin have an interesting story as well, due to the variety of adventures they go on.

Step 2 : Create 3 points to over come in the adventure

Lets go with the easy premise of "Orcs are raiding a nearby town". Lets call the town Digsby. So orcs are invading the nearby town of Digsby. There needs to be a bit more to make an easy to use adventure here and so we come up with three points the players must over come which will also help generate some background for the town of Digsby. The point to overcome is in italics and the rest is background generated from it.

Point 1 - When they arrive the town is either under attack or about to be under attack. This is one of a multitude of raids and as such there are limited supplies in the town so the players will not be able to resupply here until the orcs are defeated. The people are also wary and exhausted. Some are filled with grief for those recently killed and some are past that to a state of hopelessness.

Point 2 - The players must find the orc camp/base. There must also be a reason that no one else knows where it is, or that no one has gone to remove it. Maybe the terrain is to forested or there are fierce wild animals. Maybe the towns folk are all pacifists and refuse to fight. Maybe the Lord does not care or has actually hired the orcs to raid his lands. Plenty of options to add background here.

Point 3 - The players must make the orcs leave Digsby alone. Note I do not say slaughter the orcs. They can just as easily petition people to raise and army to kill the orcs or talk the orcs down through some means. Or simply show such a display of might that the orcs leave or pledge to follow the characters. To add background here, we get stuff like the orc encampment is well defended with palisades and an extraordinarily strong leader. Or a sorcerer is controlling them all and coercing them to raid towns so far from their home. Or the simple one, that the orcs simply enjoy killing other people. It really all depends on what you want to deliver.

Step 3 : Create a way for each point to deteriorate( or improve if it suits you)

With the three points made, create a way for each one to either get worse or better, and assign a number of in game days to it. The number of days for deterioration do not happen simultaneuously, but stack. I am going to go with deteriorate and at a fairly fast rate.

Point 1 - When they arrive the town is either under attack or about to be attacked. For this point I would give probably two stages of deterioration. Stage 1 is that the town is largely uninhabited, the people fled or slaughtered, and it would happen after 5 in game days. So if the players are on their way but slow in getting there they may still come upon a devastated Digsby. Stage 2 would be that the orcs have moved on to terrorizing the region instead of just the town. This would happen after 10 in game days. Note that the stages can go in either order, and it would take 15 in game days fr both to happen.

Point 2 - The players must find the orc base. This could go a few different ways. Having heard of the orcs success in the area more come and beef up the current base. The base is built in a stronger fashion as the haphazard war band becomes more disciplined. Multiple bases begin to appear as other war bands come to prey on the area. I would probably assign a time of 15 in game days to this.

Point 3 - The Players must make the orcs leave Digsby alone. This point probably doesn't really need much of a deterioration as Point 2 deteriorating makes it much harder already. However, you could go with some thing along the lines of the orcs taking hostages to make the towns folk more pliant, or to ensure the payment of a tithe. I would give this a 20 day time line, and make sure not to do stage 1 on point 1.

So, for everything to really go to shit would require 45 in game days. Plenty of time for the players to finis up what they were doing and go investigate, or even do something else first then investigate. It all really depends on the players. Hell if they never go look at the situation then they may have allowed a small orc nation to form in the area, or the Lord in the area would be forced to commit men to a war here and leave the country open to attack else where. This is why dynamic adventure hooks make the world more alive, and even simple ones such as "Orcs are attacking a town" can lead to big changes in the world. And all of this only takes nine bullet points.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Trimming the Fat

So as mentioned previously, I plan on trimming down the combat system in Pathfinder. I started with the low hanging fruit of removing the delay action, theoretically reducing the wait time during some combats. I have yet to try it though, my last game was entirely political in nature and the players avoided combat in the city. Next game however there should be a fight.

So, with that rule still needing play testing, I plan on simplifying another part of the combat rules. Namely the Combat Maneuvers section. In the core rules there are 6 combat maneuvers, Bullrush, Disarm, Grapple, Overun, Sunder and, Trip. There are an additional four in the Advanced Players Guide, Dirty Trick, Drag, Reposition and, Steal. All of these maneuvers use the same bonus (combat maneuver bonus, CMB) and target the same threshold (combat maneuver defense, CMD). They also all have the same basic rules set of: meet or beat CMD with your CMB check. For every 5 you succeed by they can be moved/conditioned for one more square/round. If you fail by 10 or more then the maneuver backfires and is done to you.

These maneuvers also all have an individual feat tree, meaning that it is impossible for a character to become proficient at more than 2 before 8 level, other than the fighter. So the burly, behemoth of a barbarian can be good at bull rushing people and dragging people, but not at repositioning them. He also can not Overrun them well. This is odd since they all use the same bonus of Strength modifier to the CMB. Yes special training from feats would help but at such a slow rate that by the time a Barbarian/Ranger/Paladin/etc can easily use three different combat maneuvers casters are bending reality. I plan on changing this both by boosting melee options while toning down caster options. Since Pathfinder is basically a power trip fantasy, doing both of these shouldn't be to difficult, there is a lot to cut from casters while still leaving them very powerful, and options/ease to add to melee to make them more versatile.

So, after side stepping the point a bit, here is what I plan on doing with combat maneuvers:

Bullrush, Reposition, Drag, Trip and Overrun will become one maneuver named Positioning. Positioning covers your ability to move opponents and yourself about the battlefield. Your opponents movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity unless you have the Greater Positioning Feat. You may move with or through your opponent if you have enough movement left in the round to do so though you may not exceed your total speed in the round of combat, and your movement does provoke an attack of opportunity, unless you have the Greater Positioning Feat. For every 5 that your CMB check beats the opponents CMD check you may move your opponent 5 additional feet. If this movement is in any direction other than directly backwards, you may not move your opponent out of your reach except for on the last 5 feet of movement. If the opponents movement is straight backwards then they may move as far as the check allows without you following them. This maneuver also allows you to knock the target prone, but at the cost of all potential movement in maneuver. If the check is 10 or more lower than the CMD you fall prone. The intent of the maneuver must be stated before the roll is made.

Sunder will remain as it is. Grapple will remain as it is.

Dirty Trick and Disarm would become Dirty Trick. This would cover any underhanded methods of combat, and allow you to apply one condition of the following, blinded, dazzled, deafened, entangled, shaken and, sickened or disarm your opponent. The condition last for one round plus one for every 5 you exceed the CMB by, unless you have the Greater Dirty Trick Feat, in which case is lasts 1d4 +1 round for every 5 you exceed the CMD by. When disarming an opponent, their weapon lands within 5 feet of them plus 5 feet for every 5 you exceed the CMD by, unless you have the Greater Dirty Trick Feat, in which case it lands 1d4+1 square for every 5 you exceed the CMD by. If the check is 10 or more lower than the CMD you drop your weapon or randomly contract one of the aforementioned conditions, based on a d8 roll. The intent of the maneuver must be stated before the roll is made.

Steal will simply be taken over by the Sleight of Hand skill, since they cover the same basic thing. The only difference is that the opponent will know if something is stolen immediately unless you exceed the CMD by 10 or more. EDIT - I may also roll it into Dirty Trick, going to get some feed back first.

So there is my take on combat maneuvers. Instead of having 10 maneuvers, with 20 feats. I will have 4 maneuvers with 4 feats, as in my game any feat that is an Improved feat, such as improved Trip, automatically progresses to the Greater version one the prerequisites for it are met. And we get a little more use out of the skills in game by combining the steal maneuver with sleight of hand.

Hope every one enjoyed this after my week long break from posting, I hope I can be a bit more consistent in posting in the future, but no promises.

Monday, 15 June 2015

A Thought On Combat Actions

As mentioned previously, I have decided to begin trimming some of the rules from Pathfinder. Well trim and alter and add. Game design and world building are two of the key reasons I enjoy DMing so much. As such I have decided to target the combat system, where the rules bloat is greatest. It is also the reason I enjoy Pathfinder combat so much, as it allows you to be very detailed in your actions.

Now, while detail is important, I believe that play ability is more important. And more streamlined combat rules are a huge deal for many players, or so I've heard from everyone who has tried 5E.

Most of the time in combat comes from communication and deciding on actions. My previous post here tells of my simple and as yet untried solution to the communication problem. Once I try it out I will let you guys know how it works. The other problem of deciding on actions is a larger problem to tackle.

For those unfamiliar with Pathfinder, each round a player gets a move, a standard, a swift, an immediate and, unlimited free actions. Or they can take a full round action at the cost of a standard and a move action. An immediate action can be taken at anytime in combat, even in the middle of another characters turn. Players can also ready actions to prepare an action to happen under certain conditions or simply delay their turn until later, permanently changing their spot in the initiative order.

So, there are really too many possibilities for actions here. Especially considering the character only has 6 seconds in a combat round to decide all of this.

The one action of those listed above that sticks out the most is the Delay Action. All the other actions set up some form of commitment to a course of action, either by carrying out the action on the spot or by preparing a specific action for use in the near future. On the other hand, delaying is simply saying "I will sit and wait for a better opportunity to decide what I want to do". There is no commitment, only avoidance. And the worst part is that delaying generally happens after all other courses of action have been examined and decided to be sub-par.

So my solution to this is to remove the ability to use the delay action in combat. Every turn you must commit to something, even if it is simply to commit to doing nothing this round. There will be no wait until a better moment option, that is what readying an action is for.

Hopefully this will help remove some of the waiting in combat and bring a bit more action oriented spirit back to it. Hopefully it will make more "screw it i'm going to do this" moments happen, since the one thing that most players seem to hate the most is doing nothing.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Combat Communication

As pointed out in this post, the tactical communication most groups of players go through during a combat is detrimental to much of the feel of the game. It moves them out of character and into tactician mode, with the group of them playing chess as best they can. Well, maybe it doesn't become quite that dry, but it is still far removed from playing in depth as your character would.

The disconnect from playing as your character in combat is understandable though. Having become attached to the character, the player wants to keep them alive, and so for combat, they become a group of arm chair tacticians instead of a team of people fighting for their lives.

So, to aid in bringing players back into character, I am going to propose a simple rule to them, which follows the constraints listed in the linked post. The rule is aimed only at dealing with over abundant communication during combat, in a more elegant way than how Pathfinder currently does, which is simply via DM discretion and means I need to act as the talking police, not a job I really want.

So the proposed rule,

"Per round of combat, a player may say no more than 3 sentences pertaining directly to the combat. They may bank 1 sentence from the previous round to use later"

So its a very simply rule, but alone it does not make combat more involved, it only makes players think longer on what they want to say, and deliver it more concisely. I do have a plan to augment this rule with others that will make the combat system hopefully more engaging. Nothing to do but try at this point.