Monday, 4 September 2017

Invoking Hindrances

When designing my Swift d12 system, I wanted to keep the rules streamlined, so I decided to introduce a simple mechanic for handling Flaws. The approach I used was to make them primarily descriptive, and allow players to "invoke" each Flaw once per session in return for Karma Points.

It struck me that the same approach would also work rather well for Hindrances in Savage Worlds, so I came up with a quick conversion:

Invoking Hindrances

Players can invoke each of their Hindrances once per session. This must be done before making a trait roll, and the player should explain how their Hindrance gives them a disadvantage in this particular situation. If the GM accepts the explanation, the player earns a Benny, but also suffers a –2 penalty to their roll, and must draw a card. If the card is Clubs, there is a further complication; the penalty increases to –4, and failure is treated as if it were a critical failure.

Players cannot spend a Benny to reroll an invoked Hindrance.

Example 1

The Game Master tells everyone to make Notice rolls as they approach the cave. Lexi invokes her Overconfident Hindrance; she's not scared of some smelly old cave, so she'll just go marching straight in without bothering to look for signs of danger! She draws the Five of Hearts, and makes her Notice roll with a –2 penalty, but Aces her roll and succeeds anyway.

Example 2

Rylan disturbs a dragon while exploring its lair. The Game Master decides that this scene will be resolved as a Chase, and asks for a maneuvering trait roll. Rylan invokes his Greedy Hindrance in the first round, and announces that he's been distracted by the dragon's treasure hoard. He draws the Seven of Spades and makes his Agility roll with a –2 penalty, failing the roll. Looks like he's going to need that bonus Benny for a Soak roll!

Example 3

Big Brak launches a furious attack against a human adventurer, and decides to invoke his One Eye Hindrance; the player describes how the human ducks around Big Brak's blind side, putting him at a disadvantage as he tries to swing his axe. He draws the Ace of Clubs and suffers a –4 penalty to his attack – failure! The GM declares that Big Brak loses his grip on his axe, and accidentally tosses it away into the river!

Summary

This rule obviously turns the "fluffy" Hindrances into more of a benefit than a drawback, but it works extremely well in Swift d12, where I've found it really encourages the players to add some interesting narrative to the game. I see no reason why the same solution wouldn't work just as well in Savage Worlds.

My older Hindrance Cards idea also gave players a more direct means of earning Bennies, helping to take some of the pressure off the GM, but it always felt a bit handwavy during play. By contrast, the "invoke" rule feels more like the players are paying a fair price for their bonus Benny.

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start update

Following feedback from a few more playtests (those posted here and here, as well as one run by a friend of mine for his local group) I've updated the Quick Start rules to incorporate several changes.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

The initiative rules have been rewritten to follow a new approach (described in more detail here): There is no longer a wits-based Guile check. Instead, the players and their minions now automatically act before enemy NPCs, but the characters can "rush" if they wish to act faster. Although the old initiative system worked fine, I found myself becoming very conscious of the extra roll every round, and it was starting to feel a bit tedious.

Goblin gang members no longer receive Agility +1, instead they just get a +1 bonus to Speed (so they still move quite fast), but have +0 in all their abilities. This makes them more comparable with their Savage Worlds counterparts, and also simplifies the combat scenes by reducing the number of modifiers commonly in play (as the Agility bonus meant an extra bonus to the gang members' attacks, and an extra penalty to all attacks made against them).

The Trapmaker Feat works a bit differently. Instead of just causing 2d6+Guile damage (comparable with a normal success), the trap is now treated as an attack roll (giving it the possibility of a critical success or failure) or a stunt (introducing the option for traps that stun, trip, or push people around).

The Cunning Feat no longer adds +1 to wits-based Guile checks (as those have been phased out with the new initiative rules), instead it gives +1 to Guile-based damage rolls (i.e., for ranged attacks).

The Chase rules have been redesigned. They still work in roughly the same way, but should now be more intuitive.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Swift d12: Rethinking Initiative

One of the problems I've currently got with the Chase rules is that, because only pursuers make initiative rolls, the fleeing character never triggers a complication. The obvious solution is to make the fleeing character roll as well, but that would make it inconsistent with regular initiative.

However if everyone rolled initiative in regular combat, it would add even more rolls, and the more I think about this issue, the more I feel that initiative is already overly intrusive. Savage Worlds manages to get away with calculating initiative every round, perhaps because the cards feel like such a different game mechanic to trait checks, but in Swift d12 the extra roll can become annoying.

The main design goal for the original initiative system was to ensure that one side didn't always get to act before the other (because there are often large numbers of combatants on the battlefield, and one side could cripple the other if they all got to attack first). Any alternative system would still need to address that original design goal.

One interesting initiative system I've read about is the one in Shadow of the Demon Lord, where characters can choose to take either a "fast turn" or a "slow turn". Players act before NPCs within each turn, and those in the fast turn take one action while those in the slow turn take two actions, so acting first comes at a price. This is a quick and clever mechanic, and feedback from players seems to be generally positive. While the solution wouldn't work as written in Swift d12, it's given me inspiration for something along similar lines.

Alternative Initiative Proposal

At the beginning of each round, the Game Master asks if any players wish to "rush" their actions, and those who rush automatically act first. After that, the Game Master may decide to make any NPCs rush their own actions, and they act next. Then the remaining players get to act, followed by the remaining NPCs.

However characters can only rush if they're not Staggered, and they become Staggered when they rush. Of course they can still use the recover action to immediately remove the Staggered condition as usual, but recovering is a simple action, so it'll cost them an action die.

Interaction with Other Mechanics

The Lightning-Quick Feat already allows characters to spend a Karma Point to take a simple action as a free action, so with the alternative initiative they could "rush" and then spend a Karma Point to recover.

In a surprise situation, the surprised characters always start combat Staggered, and this would prevent them from rushing.

The All-Out Attack maneuver gives characters +2 to attack and damage, but they also become Staggered. What I wanted to avoid in the original initiative system was a situation whereby players could choose to act last with an All-Out Attack, then act first in the next round and recover before anyone could take advantage of them being Staggered. But as Staggered characters cannot rush, this wouldn't be an issue with the proposed rule.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Swift d12: Two More Playtests

I ran a couple more playtests this week. The first was a Saga of the Goblin Horde playtest with Manuel Sambs and his girlfriend, the second playtest was just Manuel and I, using my notes for modern-day settings.

Goblin Playtest

Although this wasn't a "proper" session, we went through the character creation process, and then I ran Bone of Contention. Character creation was reasonably fast, although the players spent a few minutes browsing through the Flaws and Feats for inspiration, as this was their first time creating characters (previously they'd just used pregens).

Once again we used the Shenanigans setting rule, and the results were hilarious. I will definitely be converting this rule across to Swift d12, so that it doesn't rely on the use of cards.

We tested out the opposed roll concept I proposed after the last playtest (where the opponent's ability is added to the TN instead of being subtracted from the roll as a penalty), and unanimously agreed that we didn't like it. It was confusing, one more thing to keep track of, and it felt particularly clunky when it came to critical successes.

While I still wasn't too happy with the current approach (treating your opponent's ability as a modifier to your own ability check), Manuel's girlfriend said that she found it about as easy as tracking modifiers in Savage Worlds. As she has a lot less experience with Savage Worlds than Manuel and I, we discussed if the main problem might be due to familiarity. Perhaps the Swift d12 system will start to feel more intuitive after a few games.

In the Savage Worlds version of Saga of the Goblin Horde, goblin gang members have Agility d8, which is average for the goblin race. So when I converted them to Swift d12, I gave them Agility +1. The problem is that Agility +1 in Swift d12 also gives the equivalent of a Savage Worlds d8 in all Agility-linked skills (including combat skills). Not only does that make goblin gang members far more competent, it also makes them more complex to track in combat, as they all have +1 to hit, and foes all receive a -1 penalty to hit them. So I think I will reduce their Agility to +0, and consider some smaller advantage to represent goblins being more agile (such as +1 Speed).

Modern Playtest

The second playtest was just myself and Manuel, so we used the Mythic GM Emulator, allowing us both to play. As a pair of independent repo men in an urban setting, we'd decided to take on a little "side job" for a wealthy gentleman, and a few days later he was brutally murdered. It was originally going to be an urban fantasy adventure, an introduction to my Primordial Horrors setting, but the GM Emulator has a habit of throwing curveballs, and this was no exception.

The initial pitch for the adventure involved an occultist and a stolen spellbook, but the former turned out to be the front for a criminal organization, and the latter ended up being a notebook filled with blackmail material, so the supernatural clues were nothing more than a smokescreen for an elaborate con. It wasn't exactly what we'd planned, but it was a pretty good story with a nice showdown at the end (a big fight outside a bar followed a car chase).

In the modern setting characters have devices rather than knick-knacks, and influence instead of gang members (although the appropriate influence can be used to recruit temporary minions, for example if you have underworld contacts, or friends in a street gang). While we did get into a couple of fights, without all the gang members combat moved much faster.

Overall I was very pleased with the feel of the mechanics, they were fast and intuitive, and supported the narrative without getting in the way.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Updated Player's Guide

The Saga of the Goblin Horde setting book is now getting very close to completion. I'm currently working on the tenth (and final) Plot Point episode, and there are a few extra monsters that I'd like to add to the bestiary, but after that it's on to the proofreading and finalizing a few outstanding layout issues, and then it'll be ready. The PDF is currently 102 pages, I expect the final book to be around 110 pages.

I released the player's guide six months ago today, but I've added a couple more setting rules since then (Quick Skirmish and Shenanigans), and also ended up dropping the Critical Failures setting rule. As a few people have expressed an interest in using the new setting rules, I thought I'd take the opportunity to update the player's guide (and fix an embarrassing typo at the same time).


As always, you can grab all the other freebies (34 archetypes, 12 adventures, 8 adventure cards and 5 battle maps) and check out the 3 Actual Plays along with my Wild Die interview here.

Swift d12 Playtest Report

Last night Mathew Halstead and I did a playtest of the latest Swift d12 Quick Start rules. I played Big Brak and he played Krusty Snaggletooth, and we ran through the Hot Water One Sheet, converting it on the fly from Savage Worlds to Swift d12. We shared GM duties and rolled for each other's foes in combat, but the focus was on testing the mechanics, so there was also a lot of metagame discussion going on.

Here's a short summary of my thoughts:

  • It's extremely quick and easy to convert Savage Worlds adventures to Swift d12, as long as you're fairly familiar with both systems. I can comfortably convert adventures on the fly without writing anything down in advance.
  • Extended actions with complications do a great job of simulating SW Dramatic Tasks, and the ability to invoke Flaws and knick-knacks really helps the narrative. When fleeing the inferno Big Brak decided to move his eyepatch to cover his healthy eye (invoking his One Eye flaw) and charged blindly into the fire (failure on a complication), getting badly burned. The next round I invoked the eyepatch, turning failure into a critical success, as the eyepatch protected his eye from the smoke!
  • We used the new Shenanigans setting rule, and it worked out great. Our gang members got up to all sorts of mischief, and it really felt like they were part of the story.
  • The new damage system felt faster and smoother, I'm very happy with it, however I'd still like to playtest it some more.
  • The new rules for invoking gear worked very well, however it adds complexity when gang members start doing it. One of Mathew's goblins snapped a bow string, while two others broke their spears, and we then needed to track how the individual gang members were armed. It also makes Mooks much more dangerous if they can invoke weapons.
  • The attack rolls still feel clunky, and I think it's the modifier for the foe's Agility that does it, where you're effectively flipping their Agility bonus into a penalty to your own attack (or flipping their Agility penalty into a bonus to your own attack).

The obvious solution to the attack roll problem would be to create a "defense" value (7+Agility), but I've been trying to avoid doing that, as it felt out of place. I prefer to either have the target number change or have a modifier to the roll, but not both - I think it's easier for players to remember that they always need 7+ to succeed.

However in the next playtest I think I will try it anyway: For opposed rolls (which includes attack rolls), the target's ability is added to the target number (i.e., 7) instead of being applied as a penalty to the roll. There would then be an implied passive "Defense" stat for each ability equal to 7+ability, with a critical success threshold of 13+ability.

So if you attacked a villager you'd need to roll 6+ to hit or 12+ for a critical (instead of applying an extra +1 bonus to your attack), while attacking a veteran soldier would require an 8+ to hit or 14+ for a critical (instead of applying a -1 penalty to your attack).

This probably seems like a minor detail (particularly if you've not played Swift d12), but I think it will make the attack rolls faster to resolve, particularly if the foe's Defense values are written down in advance.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Saga of the Goblin Horde: Quick Start update

A few weeks ago, Marcus Burggraf ran a two-session playtest of Swift d12 using the Quick Start rules, and afterwards he posted some excellent feedback in the Google+ community. I've finally had the chance to incorporate his feedback along with some earlier suggestions (such as Jesse Covner's concerns with bruises and wounds), and have updated the Quick Start rules accordingly.

Get it here: SotGH Quick Start

Here is a quick summary of the changes in version 11:
  • Redesigned the damage system to use multiple health levels instead of the Brawn checks (which were effectively pseudo soak rolls, and the extra rolls slowed things down).
  • Armor is now added directly to Resilience, instead of being subtracted from damage (fewer calculations).
  • Added rules for invoking weapons and armor.
  • Knick-knacks are now invoked after (rather than before) rolling, to be consistent with weapons and armor.
  • Shields no longer give an armor bonus (although they can be invoked like armor).
  • Added "Dramatic Challenges" and "Social Challenges" as examples of extended actions, as these are the extended actions I use the most in my adventures (because they've been converted from SW).
  • Added a Surprise rule based on an idea from Mylon.
  • Revised the healing rules, adding healing checks.
  • Removed bruises and injuries, along with the Bruised and Injured conditions.
  • Ranged weapon damage is now based on Guile rather than Agility.
  • Fixed conflicting rules for ranged weapon penalties.
  • Expanded the section on stunts to provide a little more information on how to use them.

This latest version of the rules should run a little faster and smoother, with fewer rolls, simpler calculations, and less information to track.

I'm still finalizing the magic system, but will leave that for a later version, as it's not essential for the Quick Start. I have three playtesting sessions lined up over the next few days, so I wanted to make sure the rules were uploaded in advance.