21 August 2013

Spells and Steel: Goal Updates

Comments by Jhandar reminded me to revisit my design document and look at how my thoughts have changed. This is largely for my reference, and to clarify my thoughts, but Jhandar has indicated that he (and presumably others of my readers) are interested in the process by which my design is growing and developing.

 My original design document for Spells and Steel can be found here:

Text in italics below is quoted from the original design document.

Goals of the Combat System:

  • Simple and Fast
  • Verisimilitude:
    • Weapon Functions
    • Realities of Combat and Damage
  • Stats and Attributes with Clear Meanings
  • Battlemat Optional
  • Bonus: Easy to Drop Into B/X D&D as a Replacement System
 Keeping combat simple and fast is a constant struggle. It's always so tempting to introduce just one more die roll, or one more die type. This is probably the most important design goal, though, so it bears keeping it first in the list.

My existing combat system has - for me at least - the air of verisimilitude. It currently models weapon functions rather well (in my opinion), and the reality of damage is currently undergoing a rather serious overhaul in light of my recent reading in SPADA II.

Stats and attributes with clear meanings have been achieved. By this I mean - combat stat represents one part of the fight. Attack represents your ability to land a blow. Defense is your ability to avoid being hit. Armour is your ability to be hit but not hurt. Etc, etc.

Contrast this with D&D, where Armour Class is a blend of hard-to-hit and hard-to-hurt, and hit points are a blend of luck, stamina, skill, defensive ability... It makes it hard to make quick judgements based on attributes that are so muddled.
 Combat does not require a battlemat, so that has been achieved. I don't think I've ever had less fun than running 3e battles on a battlemat. I avoid them like the plague. Diagrams? Even minis? Sure, sometimes. But the rigidity and bizarreness that comes with the 5' grid is anathema to me.

Since combat relies on Attack (analogous to improving to-hit tables), Defense (analogous to armour class), and Armour (simply reducing damage rolls), and since all of those depend on class, level, and equipment (all concepts in B/X) it can be pretty easily dropped in as a replacement system.
Goals of the Leveling System:
  • Balanced Feats
  • Meaningful Choices
  • Customizable Characters
  • Minimize Min-Maxing, Maximize Flavour
  • Believable Power Curve
I've chosen to abandon most of these goals. I'm no longer interested in characters that can be customized through mechanics - down that path lies the bugaboos of "balance" and "spotlight" and all that tired crap.

Most of this has to do with my desire for a system that can get character creation done fast and get the game going very quickly. It's far easier to say, "You can pick between Fighter, Burglar, and Magician. Fighters are trained soldiers or men-at-arms. Burglars are sort of like a cross between Oliver Twist and a Ninja. Magicians use real magic to create illusions and warp reality."

I don't have to list feats. Character creation is, "Roll stats. Pick class. Buy equipment." It takes all of about 5 minutes, and most of that is buying equipment.

I'm also moving away from feats and customization because of my desire to eliminate min-maxing, power gaming, and agonizing over efficient feat selections.

Lastly, I've realized that feats do the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do, and rest on a dangerous supposition. The short version is that feats limit what you can do by implicity proscribing that isn't in a feat or class power you can have - essentially, a feat system rests on a foundation of impotence. You can't do anything unless you have a feat for it. I want a permissive system where the default assumption is that you can do something unless there's some specific reason why you can't.

Goals of the Magic system:
  • Simple or Non-existant Resource Management (no memorization, no mana)
  • Make it Weird (no fireball or magic missile - more illusions, compulsions, trickery)
  • Balanced with Combat-focused Characters
  • Bonus: Easy to Drop Into B/X D&D as a Replacement System
I'm tolerably happy with the magic system I have as it stands. There's still some tweaking to do, mostly with the casting check difficulties for spells. I can't pretend this is anything novel, but it's working for me.

I also quite like the spell list I've been developing. One of my main inspirations for making my own game system was Paolo Greco's Adventure Fantasy Game and its long list of interesting and novel spells. I've also tried to create spells that feel like they have some history, and some life before and outside the game.

The system I have can be fairly easily dropped into a B/X game - casters simply get as many casting dice as they have levels.

Goals Overall:
  • Believability / Verisimilitude
  • Harsh, Gritty Flavour
  • Easy to Learn and Play
  • Fun!
  • Able to Take Players from Adventurers to Lords
  • Historically Reasonable Pricing and Economy
Believability and verisimilitude is an ongoing quest as I learn more and turn up more info on my research. My recent reading (that prompted me to write Mortal Wounds and the Double-Kill) in SPADA II about the incredible resilience of the human body has lead me to reconsider many of my assumptions surrounding believability, verisimilitude, and the harsh, gritty flavour I want.

As the system is still in flux, it's hard to say if it's easy to learn, but ongoing playtests show things running pretty smoothly, and people are having fun.

In order to truly claim to be able to take players from mooks to moguls, a mass battle system and a domain holding system are required. Work has begun on those, but it is still in a very preliminary stage. I'm optimistic that I'll be able to create the elusive mass battle system that's as simple and fun as B/X combat.

Research into historical pricing is ongoing. I'm taking a rather different tack than Alexis did on that. Whereas he has created a truly remarkable system that models trade in a pretty complex and interesting way, I'm attempting to find historical references for commodities c. 1400, adjust prices I can find that are for near that era, and estimate prices based on costs of their materials and the price of labour at the time.

Make no mistake - I am truly in awe of the work Alexis has done on his trade system. If you haven't read his posts on Tao of D&D about his trade system, do so now (link for the lazy to the tag "trade" on his blog: http://tao-dnd.blogspot.ca/search/label/Trade). It's just that for my purpose, and for the purposes of anyone picking up a roleplaying book, I think getting a good foundation in the form of a basic price list will be more useful "out of the box", so to speak.

I like knowing that there's some historical grounding to my prices, and then, from that solid foundation, I can adjust prices accordingly for regions with dearths or surpluses of certain commodities.


  1. What sources have you found for prices? The only source I found I had to dig out of the internet wayback machine, and lost the link.

    And I've been wondering how you would resolve things like using axes and beaked pollarms to trip or hook weapons.

    1. Re: using weapons for tripping - I think I'm going to leave that as part of the general rules for grappling I have (i.e. high rolls on d20 attack roll indicates an entry opportunity). I think, just for the sake of simplicity, I'm not going to complicate that by including weapons in the roll, but it's something to think about. I was actually going to talk about that in my upcoming posts on real-world weapons, which are one the poleaxe and longsword.

      I would consider that if using a weapon as a lever in a grapple, you could add +1 damage to your roll. Or something like that.

      Here are some sources I've found for prices. I have a lot of the books referenced, but since these kind folks have done a lot of the hard work of putting together all the references in one place already, they're a great place to start. I'm doing some interpolation, cross-referencing, and adjusting out-of-period prices as best I can, as well, in addition to culling the list to make the most sense for a game.




    2. Or, maybe better: if using a weapon that can be used as a lever in a grapple (e.g. longsword, spear, poleaxe), a natural 20 indicates that the weapon is used to leverage a lock or throw for double damage.

  2. The people at Autarch say they've done a lot of research on prices.

    1. Yeah, they say that. And apparently the game has a robust economic system, too.

      I actually picked it up based on that reputation, but I didn't really see it, I guess.

      This is maybe a silly quibble, but I also find a gold standard hard to swallow.

      And without any indication of what era their research covers, it's basically useless to anyone running a campaign not in their world.

      It also doesn't match up with my research...

    2. Hedgehobbit (http://www.blogger.com/profile/17606283586332210195) posted this comment, but I tried to post it from my phone and accidentally clicked delete!

      So here's the accidentally deleted comment:

      """The price stuff that Autarch did was more along the lines of balancing the prices payed to hirelings with their cost of living or the salary of an armorer with the value of the items that the armorer can create. It wasn't concerned generally with historical prices of adventuring gear and the like."""

  3. I sure tried it that way, Charles, back in the 1990s. Was never complete enough, but you can find good numbers if you just look and look. And look.