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Off-Brand Adventurers

Here’s a little ramble about the traditional character class breakdown of the typified RPG Hands of Designadventuring group. This includes how this tried and true combination of classes helped to shape the core of the Dice & Glory game system. It’s not a history lesson or based in anything more than experience and opinion; just my two-cents.

The Standard Party

The bedrock of most fantasy RPG sessions is the Standard Party. This Standard Party consists of the Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer class combo. That is four members of the group are playing characters of one of the aforementioned character classes. This combination of classes was born along with roleplaying games, consisting of primarily the Fighter and Mage classes. These shortly followed by the latter two.

This formula for group formation evolved out of necessity. It was shaped by the type of game that was dominant at the time of their creation. The Mage and Fighter evolved from the transition from war-game to the first tabletop roleplaying games. They serve as the group’s main firepower with the mage in the rear ranks and the fighter in the front.

The Thief came to be when games moved further from pure strategy and warfare into adventuring and dungeoneering. The thief’s place is either firing a crossbow bolt from the shadows or trying to sneak around for some good ole backstabbin’. They also often have the skills to try to carry out another task while the others hold off threats.

The Healer on the other hand is a support type character. They may have a certain level of combat ability but nowhere close to the Fighter. They may also have some interesting skills akin to the thief or even a few spells up their sleeves like the mage. However their primary purpose is healing the fighter and the others when necessary. The Healer commonly takes the shape of a priest/priestess or other holy type person, traditionally a Cleric.

Four Corners of the Square

These four (Fighter, Mage, Thief, Healer) are the core of the traditional RPG Player Character adventuring group. This type of group is equipped to deal with most challenges that have been formulated within the roleplaying hobby. They can meet most monsters or guardians or a challenge on par with their character levels blow for blow. These adventurers can tackle most barriers to their progress like traps and locked doors because of the thief. They have an extended endurance granted by the healer, and a few surprises in the form of the mage’s magic.

The Advantages of the Well-Balanced Group

This type of party is the easiest for Game Masters from the most experienced to the least to handle. There is an overabundance of material for GM’s (of all skill levels) where these types of groups are concerned. Often the Standard Party is referred to in the materials as “a well-balanced group”.

This allows the Game-Master to be able to make minor predictions of the outcomes of certain encounters with a reasonable amount of accuracy. The only factor in this foresight would be the randomness of the dice (to me the fun part). Certain game systems make attempts to regulate the randomness of dice in various ways. But I’m not concerned with those at the moment.

This basic type of foresight allows the GM to construct a story-like session, work from lists and such specifically crafted for their players, and to improvise when necessary. All of this with a fair amount of certainty. In a basic sense, the game is easier to run. You can even add in extra less specialized or more specialized characters to the core group.

Of course, this grants the Johnny-come-lately’s a more diverse choice concerning character class. Therefore, it has a disadvantage for the players if they desire a more variegated choice. Moreover, sometimes players that are the core group don’t want to play the traditional types of adventurers. Or they may be unwilling to serve their stereotypical group role leaving one or others wide open (often the mage). This may necessitate the selection of an unconventional mage type character to compensate.

Shaping the D&G System

The Core Group helped to shape the range of base character classes (or class types) in the Dice & Glory game system. First, I tackled the range of choice of course keeping the core classes: Fighter, Mage, and Thief, which I generalized into the Rogue but the Healer was split by more generalization into a number of possible different class types.

These other class types were add-ons but could also be a part of the “core” in certain types of campaigns. The new class types I added being: Adventurer, Brick, Clergy, and the Psychic (a classic add-on class in other fantasy games and an alternative to a mage in sci-fi settings). Potentially any of these could be included as a core member or substitution. For example the Brick was designed to be tougher than the fighter but with a focus on enduring damage rather than dealing it. A Brick was intended to be the defense for such rear guard character classes as the trad Mage.

The range of variations on each of these basic classes for Dice & Glory is potentially endless and can be used to assemble an Off-Brand adventuring group more often than not. This allows maximum player choice but may put more stress on the GM. The GM gains a steeper learning curve and needs time to acquaint themselves with the individual characters and their abilities. This typically by testing them with minor situations and simple mooks, glass-canons, and what-have-you.

The XP Patch

This difficulty for the GM and expansion of choice to near infinity necessitated that the experience point system (I chose to go with a point and spend system) give difficulty ranks to creatures, situations, and barriers as well as give specific challenge values to certain Player actions. It gives the players options to increase their Experience Points (XP) gains to adjust for any challenges that may slightly exceed their character capabilities in the potential future.

In summation, an Off-Brand Group is more difficult for a GM to handle than a Standard Party. However, players have more class options and the potential for off-kilter and non-standard adventures are greater. This necessitates an adjustment period, which can have its own advantages.

The Adjustment Sessions

A Game-Master when dealing with a non-standard party needs to delve into exploration sessions during an extended adjustment period. During this time, the PCs find and settle into their roles and the GM tests, prods, and poke the characters and group. This so as to find their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Personally I have found this adds a certain richness to the game. An ability that a core group ready to launch from session-one lacks.

These sessions can also have a trial-by-fire effect on the group. Uniting the players and hardening their resolve to play their characters through hardship. This odd group can be pretty far from the standard model altering the paths of adventure onto new avenues. The GM will find their alteration of standard adventures to fit the group as they get to know the characters and the overall group dynamic can take them far from the beaten track.

The Final Blathering

The Standard Core Group found throughout the history and the present of fantasy RPGs is a tried and true model for assembling adventuring groups. Nevertheless, it can be a little restricting and maybe a little boring as well. However, the class choice of a PC group influences the shape of the adventure that they can handle and concerning GM prognostication. The character composition of the group alters everything about the game and in certain instances can unbalance a ruleset not designed or capable of handling them. Although an Off-Brand group that is wholly off model is a challenge to the GM it can also take the game to strange and interesting new places. So GM’s select your medium (ruleset) carefully and don’t shy away from unconventional groups.

Afterword

Note that Race in RPGs is very similar in effect to Character Class and though it can have an effect on the game similar to class, it is often not as severe. The same issues can arise: game balance, player choice, and GM difficulty but if they are well designed these are mitigated by the setting and the GM themselves.

The Cabal of Eight will return next week.

 

Dragonslayers, War, and a Delayed Blog

Unfortunately, my personal life has been keeping me very, very busy this year and more so the past month. As a result I will do not have a blog entry ready for this week. However, the Cabal of Eight will continue next week and after that at a regular pace to completion.

I am working diligently on a few projects concerning the Arvan setting. Unfortunately only one is nearing completion. It started as a side project slated for some time next year. However fate has it that it might be ready in the next two months or so. But more on that later.

Meanwhile here’s a little something I wrote a while ago on using War and large battles as set pieces in fantasy campaigns.

Here on Hubpages: Game Mastery: War As Set Piece

Examples of this technique are few in my campaigns but are present. They are present in the Dragonslayers campaigns. The first example is in The Dragonslayers I Pt.13: Berserkers, Otkids & Crusaders, Oh My! At about the 8th paragraph (note the writing is rough and the narrative somewhat condensed). The next is in The Dragonslayers II Pt. 15: Troll Battle where the slayers assisted local forces in their mutual goal of assaulting a force of trolls and various other menaces shoveling out a dragon’s (Old Sawback’s) hoard. The last that I can think of is in The Dragonslayers III Pt. 3: Zombie Dragons Doom where the slayers fended off a force of a powerful Mad-Mage Lich-Lord’s army at their end of a city rampart. Hopefully the simplification and storification of the game didn’t completely wipe out the sense of time dilation.

The Cabal of Eight Pt.28: Wagons & Dragon

The motley caravan began to slow and the dust clouds that the wagons had sent billowing as they tried to maintain top speed for the past few hours inevitably shrank as they slowed. The lead wagon was iron plated and assumed to be carrying one Firstborn Hufom, target of the cabal mages. Leading that were the twin swans, a pair of twin black and white knights. Two horsed lancers were riding alongside either side of the lead wagon.

Behind the lead wagon was a blue lacquered coach being driven by a hunchback and pulled by a team of six horses. Aboard was the Blue Stranger, dragon in disguise, and three of the cabal mages: Gornix (played by Gil), Fauna (played by Jenn), and Szoosha (played by Isis). A ways behind them was a rickety farm wagon driven by the cloaked and mysterious Corje. Aboard it: a pair of cloaked associates of the driver and an unconscious Excor (played by Cris).

It was late in the day though evening was still a few hours off. The horses were tired and the black and white knights relented allowing the caravan to slow. They figured they had left behind the enemies that had attempted a hit on their charge back at Farmers’ Cross Lodge. Meanwhile on the boards of the rear wagon Excor was tossing and turning in the grips of a fitful nightmare. He was mumbling something unintelligible over and over again.

Fauna, Szoo, and Gornix were stiff as boards as they sat with what they knew to be a dragon in the fancy blue carriage. Its interior furnished in black leather and the seats padded. The rear bench had small table that projected out from one side and stretched about halfway across the width of the cabin. To the left on the bench was a built-in cabinet/bar tinkling with bottles of all kinds of liquors. Only Gornix had indulged in some of the wine offered by his host. The others just stared wide-eyed at the Blue Stranger.

Meanwhile Excor continued to toss but ever more violently. The cloaked pair beside him noticed his eyes had almost opened. His words were becoming ever clearer.

Excor: “Lightning…..dead horses…”

In the blue coach the stranger seemed bored of the terror he inspired and of drink as did Gornix, both were visibly agitated.

Isis: “Oh boy…”

Jenn: “Uhm. Bro. Be careful…”

Gornix: “So you’re a dragon huh, the blue one that killed our oxen.” Szoo and Fauna face-palmed.

The Blue Stranger turned slowly to the lotus wizard and suddenly a wide toothy grin broke across his mirthless face.

The Blue Stranger: “Well. Let’s stir things up and see how luck favors the bold shall we?”

With that, the Blue Stranger opened a window shutter and began screaming at the top of his lungs: “No! Watch out that mage is casting a spell at YOU!” He lunged forward sticking his head out the window, suddenly his jaw dropped absurdly extended his gaping maw, and his teeth lengthened into fangs.

Excor (leaping to his feet wide-awake): “The DRAGON IS ATTACKING!”

A blinding blue-white bolt of lightning shot from the dragon’s throat at the two horsemen on that side of the caravan blasting them and their horses to bits. In response the twin swans reared their war-horses. The other horsemen began to circle around the carriage.

Szoosha leapt from the carriage out the opposite side from which the dragon blew its breath weapon and cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. The dragon leapt out of his finery leaving it a heap on the carriage floor as he took his true form that sprung from the carriage in time to blast away the last two horsemen with another bolt of its breath. Excor leapt from the farm wagon and activated the Shield spell on his amulet. Fauna exited the carriage and cast Throw Flames at the dragon but to no effect. Ice Spears flew from the general direction of the lead wagon striking the dragon only slightly scratching it. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability (Flying and Thermal Vision). Unfortunately, as it caused everyone besides the dragon to sprout wings the twin swans fell from their horses in excruciating pain as their wings sprouted under their armor.

Gil: “Um. Whoops?”

Szoosha immediately flew next the lead horse on the ironclad wagon. The dragon had snapped its jaws at him but missed by a hair as the winged naga flew past. Excor cast Slow on the dragon breaking through its magic resistance. The players cheered. Stepping from the carriage Gornix cast Cone of Energy (frost) at the dragon but to no effect. Fauna cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully knocking it from its feet (it rolled a Natural 1 to maintain balance). More Ice Spears struck the dragon from a slightly different angle from the last time hurting it a little.

Cris: “That’s Hufom!”

With a little luck, Szoo unhitched the lead horse from the ironclad wagon. The dragon flung its tail at Excor smashing down his Shield spell. Gornix failed in an attempt to cast a spell but quickened a Force Ram at the dragon but could not break through its resistance. Three more Ice Spears flew from a random direction nailing the blue dragon.

Gornix cast another Force Ram striking the dragon and dealing some damage this time.

Gil: “Yeah! When in doubt cast Force Ram!”

However, as the spell failed to push the dragon’s mass the white lotus wizard was flung to the ground instead.

Szoosha cast Elemental Alter Self and grew a pair of fire tentacles. Fauna again cast Air Flurry at the dragon successfully keeping it down with another bout of winds. More ice spears flew from an unseen location dealing some damage to the dragon. Excor cast Mass Shield erecting protective fields over all of his companions as well as himself. Excor cast another Force Ram at the dragon dealing it a serious blow. The twin swans, the Nature’s Ability spell having expired, shook off the lingering effects of extreme pain. The dragon regained its footing.

Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on Fauna. Fauna again attempted an Air Flurry against the dragon but to no effect. Some ice spears flew at the dragon but shattered harmlessly on its blue hide. Excor tried to cast Force Ram but failed. Gornix got to his feet. The swans got to their feet and drew their weapons. The Black Swan/White Knight drew a war-hammer from nowhere and the White Swan/Black Knight pulled his black mace. The dragon inhaled and blew a lightning bolt at Fauna. Luckily, she was able to dodge the earth-shattering bolt.

Gornix tried to cast Blinding Flash on the dragon but somehow the magic got away from him and went wild. He nearly blinded himself. Three ice spears stuck into the dragon dealing some damage.

The angry young blue dragon got to its feet and unleashed a blast of lightning from its mouth blasting Fauna. Fortunately, it only managed to blast away her magical protections. Excor dodged because he was in a direct line with Fauna. The White Knight attacked the dragon with his war hammer but missed. The Black Knight missed with his mace. Szoo for some reason leapt onto the back of the horse he had unhitched and as a result was promptly bucked off as he was covered in flaming half-plate armor. Gornix using his staff to channel the spell cast Force Ram yet again at the dragon. The force of the spell smashed into its side dealing significant damage.

The chromatic blue dragon beat its mighty wings flinging itself 15 feet into the air and blasting its attackers with a wave of dirt. As a result the twin swans were blinded as was Excor. Fauna cast Air Flurry again in a desperate attempt to keep it from flying away but it had no affect other to clear the lingering dust cloud. From somewhere out of sight there was a burst of blue light and an alarmed shout. Hence, the cabal mages knew that the invisible Hufom had fumbled a spell. Excor tried to clear the dirt from his eyes and Szoosha got up off the ground. Gornix again channeled Force Ram through his staff and the spell smashed into the hovering dragon crushing its ribs and throwing it to the ground in a flurry of gushing blood.

Immediately Szoo and Excor fell upon the dragon’s corpse like hungry hyenas hoping to dismantle it for components. Gornix rushed to the carriage and began eagerly searching it picking up the dragon’s finery in the meantime. Fauna decided to Commune with Nature in order to try to find the dragon’s lair but she failed. That was when she noticed that the hunchback was gone.

Excor broke a dagger trying to cut off a claw. Szoo managed to “pop” out an eyeball. Fauna and Gornix joined them but like Excor were unsuccessful as they were not dragonslayers. After a long while, Excor remembered that they had a job to do and looked around for the other members of the hasty caravan. All were gone.

He could see a slight dust cloud far north of them on the road assuming it was the ironclad and the knights riding for Ezmer. He could only assume Corje and his pals were following because they were nowhere to be seen either.

Eventually the cabal mages gathered their wits and prepared the blue carriage to ride. Fauna tried to cast Control Animals on the draft horses but the magic went wild and she turned three of the six animals into mummified corpses. She instead cast Communicate with Animals and got the remaining horses to agree to pull them along the road at a reasonable speed.

The clouds moved in as they took off and it began to rain. Szoo noticed Gornix counting a handful of gems. He had taken 100 sapphires and 2 large diamonds from a purse that he had found among the dragon’s things. Of course, they split the take getting 25 sapphires apiece. While Gornix retained the diamonds for safekeeping.

The white lotus wizard leaned back and presented the gear he had picked up that the dragon had dropped when he had shed his human guise. Gornix then picked up a crystal decanter filled with what appeared to be a very dark wine. Of course he took a big swig of it and fell back very high and barely functional. Fauna snatched it up and identified it as Assassin Berry Wine.

Szoo: “What the HELL are you doing here!?”

Fauna: “What?”

Excor: “Aren’t you DRIVING!”

Fauna: “It’s okay I talked to them. It’s fine. Besides it’s raining I don’t want to be out there.”

Finally, after some protest, Fauna with a sigh climbed back out of a window and took her seat as carriage driver. The storm grew quickly in ferocity. The road became a yellow quagmire hot wind howled, lightning cracked. Fauna drew the carriage to a slow stop and cast Calm Storm I creating an eye in nature’s fury. She drove until they reentered the storm from sunlight through a wall of humid gloom.

All night long, she pushed the hapless horses. The storm subsided near dawn and as soon as the great-ringed purple moon made its appearance, she spotted for a suitable turnoff and campsite. They eventually turned off the muddy road and stopped for rest.

To Be Continued…

 

Design Motives behind Dice & Glory

This is somewhat of a ramble about the design decisions that I made with Dice & Glory, both the Hands of Designsystem and the books themselves. And how choice and circumstance shaped and continue to shape them.

Initial Design Motives

I first wanted to write a ttRPG sometime in 1998. I decided on a generic system design early on. Preferably, I wanted a system where I could build a world through improvisation. The early drafts of what would become Dice & Glory are not worth mentioning other than the first two drafts both exceeded 1,000 pages in length.

My mistake with those first drafts: I included the core rule-set with chapters containing the concrete components for the game. These components that were built with those rules. Components being such things as monsters, spells, skills etc. To correct this, I split the unnecessary game crunch from the core rules and those of character creation.

It took a few years to refine the rules and switch out certain systems. Especially those that were either too rules-heavy or clunky. All through what was essentially, play testing. The names of many of the character attributes in the game were somewhat different from the current. Due to the confusion of players at the time, I decided to use names that would be more recognizable. At about this time I also realized many other RPG systems used identical attributes but all had their own names for them. I thought it best to use the most popular and recognizable of these for the equivalent attributes in my system.

This eliminated the potential for confusion. Any players with a moderate amount of experience could recognize the base attributes for what they were.

Characters & Crunch

When it came to the player characters, I decided on Character Classes. It was the ease of identifying a character’s in-game role by their class. However, I decided to strip them to the bone to create the general classes. This design would allow maximum malleability and customization potential. Stripping the classes generated the bare-bones classes of Adventurer, Brick, Clergy, Fighter, Mage, Psychic, and Mage. Upon these skeletons, all the Specialist classes are fleshed. I strove for a fully customizable system so I included rules on how to build any such Specialist Class. These being the classic form of character classes found across ttRPGs.

This led to chapters that included rules on how to generate all sorts of bits found in a roleplaying game. These being things such as equipment (particularly weapons and armor), monsters, other races, and spells. This in turn led to the writing of other components such as psionics, which I wanted to discern from magic. I also created a basic outline for how the universe as a whole functioned. I also included ideas for building in-game technology.

It took until 2006 to release the first edition and a cut-down free edition. There was a preliminary release of a pre-first edition. Fortunately, not many people noticed or purchased these. The problem with the first edition aside from several editing snafus was that certain abilities repeated throughout having duplicates in most of the subsystems. Not to mention the amount of crunch was a level above overdose.

Versions & Aesthetics

I’ve re-edited the game multiple times, refined it in a revised edition, and then a second edition since then. I have no plans for a third edition but I will continue to write the resource manuals. These manuals consist of the bits that I couldn’t fit into the Core Rulebook. The bits and crunch not core to the game but necessary to populate it. These accessory manuals arose from the initial need to split the crunch from the core in the first place.

Essentially, I wanted a rule-set that I could use for any genre of game. And have it fully customizable for both players and the Game-master. I wanted rules that could easily generate any crazy thing that I could imagine and throw it at my players. The aesthetics of the books however are born mostly out of budgetary constraints and lack of personal talent. However that said, I don’t much care for the highly polished, artificial, and impractical look of most contemporary fantasy art.

I like the more individualistic art and too much polish tends to deter me. Don’t get me wrong I like a lot of professionally produced art. However, it’s never attracted me to RPG material as more identifiable and amateurish work has. Of course, due to budgetary constraints the responsibility to complete most of the illustrative work falls on my shoulders on many of the books.

World Settings & Dragons

The game has remained world-less for the simple reason that its designed as a generic/universal system. In addition, I’ve needed the time, always at a premium, to create a cohesive fantasy world. I wrote the titular world setting Arvan as a sword & sorcery & sandal in mind. Some of it inspired by the fiction that I read. Note that I tend to read in manic insatiable bursts consuming several books in a row then suddenly slowing down (or stopping altogether) until the next spree. I’ve tried my best to get away from overused tropes of the genre. Especially its well-known trappings like dwarves and elves.  I’ve also striven to include uncommon races and creatures, aside from the dragons.

The dragons of Arvan take after very specific literary references with a lot of my own creativity going into them to give them depth in nature and character. Their design was to give them a place in nature as well as in super-nature. The kernel of my Draco-lore built and outlined in a splat-book, a monster manual, called the Monster Magnus Vol. I.

In collecting certain types of game information in several books, I intended that the core rules be modular. All one needs to play and to create whatever else necessary for a game being the core rules. In other words, just the Core Rulebook is required.

Explore Imagination

Budgetary and time constraints have shaped and colored the core rule design, all of the published material, as well as the tons of stuff yet to see the light of day. The real trouble is in collating, structuring, and editing the masses of info and ideas I can generate. The only part of Dice & Glory that a GM and Player group would require is the Core Rulebook. The crunch books for Dice & Glory are different, I hope, from the typical disposable splat-book in that; they contain the pregenerated concrete components needed to populate games. Allowing groups to mix and match to their hearts’ desires when they have the blocks to build with as well as the ability to shape and carve blocks of their own. Hopefully striving for the outer limits of their imaginations with increased ease. At least I hope so.

 

MegaMooseCon 2016

We here at Ranger Games Publishing contribute when we can to conventions typically with a small donation of merchandise, namely Dice & glory Core Rulebooks with the option of changing the cover art to custom art given to us by convention managers. We can only do this a few times a year though we do receive our fair share of requests, we are proud to announce that we have sent out the first con merchandise for this year.

Ranger Games is an official sponsor for MegaMooseCon for this year! The convention is a tabletop gaming convention. This is their first event with the hopes that it can become an annual event. We have donated some Core Rule-books with the con logo emblazoned on the covers. We hope the guys and gals at MegaMooseCon a successful run and for many more successful events in the future!

MegaMooseCon Logo - Image Copyright Homemade-Preschool.com

Convention Info:
July 23rd – 24, 2016
The Gateway Conference Center
3200 Suite C Commerce Drive
Richburg, SC 29729

New Website Launch & Second Edition

Well, the new website launch is going well but will probably under construction for a while. The Core Rule book will go into a Second Edition. It will change the rules for Uncanny Powers along with some re-editing and artwork changes. The new edition will be completely compatible with the current editions each of which will also be re-edited in the coming months. The Arvan setting is progressing rapidly as the writing is drawing to a close, so the next phase will be the artwork.

With the second edition of the core rule book we are also preparing a Player’s Handbook. I will reprint some of the chapters in the Core Rule Book and collect some from the Character Codexes. It will guide players through character generation step-by-step and serve as a reference for players.

We also have updated and polished our Trademark, as you can seen on this very website. We’re also working on getting new cover artwork for the published books. Due to how busy we are the website will probably take some time to complete. Apologies for its current state of disarray. I know its ugly but its unfinished and it will, hopefully, be completed within the next month.