A moofable feast.

Be brave enough to burn and you'll be brave enough to fly.

My internet has been more like intermittent net here...
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alexandraerin
...in the mornings and early afternoons, the past couple of days. There have been cable company trucks in the street right across from us during the peak problem hours. I don't know if they've been working in a way that disrupts our service while they're doing it or working to repair the problem that disrupts our service, but either way it stops when they leave so I assume they know what's going on.

Anyway, that's why I've been quiet on the bloggy front. By the time things settle down, it's been time for me to get down to the business of writing.

It's annoying because the easiest way for me to compile my e-books is to copy directly off the website... my draft copies are written in HTML, so I'd have to convert all the italics and similar tags to actual italics. So I haven't made any progress there yet this week. Still, the week is young.

While I couldn't get online, I've been pouring myself into Adventure Song. Another post about that is forthcoming; I just didn't want to dive into it without a word of explanation first.

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Thursday, September 11th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Now that I'm a bit more clear-headed and energetic, I'm doing a little post mortem on the past week or so. Pointing to the insomnia/sleep deprivation for why I've fallen behind on being ahead is an easy answer, but I think I could have managed it better except for one thing.

My process right now is to spend one day writing each chapter, about four days a week. Not every chapter is in an equally finished state at the end of its day, but they're all substantially there, and each one will have two formal look-overs/polish sessions (Monday of the week it goes up, and the day it goes up) plus at any point I can browse through the draft folder, or revisit a particular chapter if I've got an idea for improving it.

A lot of the chapters are at 2,500 words or more when I end their writing day. The shortest was 1,200 words, but it was still substantially "there". It had a beginning and a middle and a conclusion, and all the important beats sketched out.

The last chapter I wrote on my last day in Florida was only at 1,500 words, and it... wasn't actually all there. I knew where it was going but I hadn't gotten it there. I saw this as no problem, because it wouldn't be posted for weeks and it would have its two tune-up sessions. I'd added more to other chapters than this one needed.

So when I got back to Maryland, I decided to just keep going. New day, new week, new chapters.

But since then, I've been writing--trying to write, most days--past a chapter that's not all there. And I think this was a mistake. It's increased the mental load of writing each chapter, and decreased the support effect that having the safety net represented. The uncertainty of that unfinished chapter and the knowledge that it was lurking in the queue has worked against my creative process.

That chapter is in better shape now, and I'm not beating myself up over a mistake. As I said, this is a post-mortem. I'm looking at what happened so I can adjust to it. The adjustment here is: if a chapter needs more than one day to be "draft ready", it should have more than one day. It's not like the writing schedule I use now can't accommodate that.

The State of the Me

I think we're on day three of decent sleep, but who's counting?

Plans For Today

Working on the Omnibus VI (look for it next week!), and writing this afternoon.

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Adventure Song: 'Tis a gift to be simple.
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alexandraerin
There's a principle that says that if you can't explain something to a 5 year old, you don't really understand it yourself. I don't know if I think that's true or not, but it's certainly true that figuring out how to explain things to others can sharpen your understanding of them.

There's a useful corollary for people involved in tabletop game design: the harder it is to explain a rule, the more likely it is that you don't actually need it.

I have an attraction to rules that are neat in the sense of "what an interesting intellectual exercise in abstract simulation!" than neat in the sense of "what an orderly and tidy thing that fits together well!"

But when I decided to focus my resurged efforts on Adventure Song in the starter classes and the opening levels of gameplay, I made the decision to specifically focus on putting them together in a basic guide package aimed first at playtesting and then at standing as an entry level approach to the game, rather than having a plan to make such an entry level thing.

At first, when I came to things that were essential but too complex to fit the "entry level" theme, I tried to brainstorm simpler alternatives that could be put as a placeholder rule in the basic package and then used as an optional variant afterwards.

But as I did this, I often found that the "optional entry level" version of a rule was the better one. So then, whenever I found myself having a hard time explaining my ideas, I'd start changing the rule around until I came up with something that answered the need but could be explained more concisely, or was less cumbersome to the players.

In the process, my skill system went from one where players have 3-5 independent pools of points to spend and the points are all derived by dividing individual attributes by 5 into one where everyone has one pool of skill points that's created by adding two attributes together. The off-puttingness of arithmetic tends to be a blind spot for me, but I figure that adding two low two digit numbers is less cumbersome than dividing 3 to 5 of them.

The idea that I found so interesting that it necessitated having separate points for physical skills, mental skills, and social skills is still represented in the system. I just built it into the cost of individual skills rather than making each type of skill bought as its own separate (yet repetitive) step of character creation. Another way this improves upon the "separate pools" scheme is that characters can spend their points as they see fit instead of having their points divided between three categories.

The interesting idea is still represented, but players are less constricted and the game is lighter weight.

A similar simplification happened in the combat system. I'm using group initiative (as was once the standard in D&D), because I think individual initiative tends to undermine the importance of teamwork, but at one point I was envisioning each round of having two phases during which each side takes a turn, with some actions happening in the first phase, some being broken across the two, and some always happening during the second phase. Some actions it would depend on circumstances when they happened (like attacking after moving).

The basic idea was that wizard-type spells should be slower than regular attacks or sorcerer-type spells, but the execution was complicated and kept picking up new facets.

So now? No phases. Winners go, losers, go... and a rule that "slow actions" (like casting) don't happen until the end of the round, with initiative winners first and then losers. Something like that I can explain in one sentence, and if the speed of actions don't change by circumstances, the only people who need to pay attention to this rule are the people who are going to be casting every round.

Other things that have been trimmed include a proliferation of character pieces that stack together independently of character class, the number of spell channels casters are expected to juggle, and the types and number of character resources the game uses for special abilities.

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Wednesday, September 9th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

...so, I just wrote Monday, then deleted it and wrote Tuesday, then deleted that and wrote Wednesday. Insomnia relapse has got me playing catch-up this month, mentally and physically. I've had two non-insomniac nights in a row, though, which is a good sign.

I've had the sixth omnibus mocked out since before the start of the month, but it's just today that I'm really starting compiling it. Expect a release of it next week.

My advance archive of chapters is looking pretty depleted right now, as you might have guessed, but it shouldn't take long to refill it.

The State of the Me

Not great, doing better.

Plans For Today

I've been poking at the Omnibus this morning. In the early afternoon I'm going to make a post about Adventure Song as part of transitioning to creative brain, and this afternoon I'm going to be writing a chapter of Tales of MU and then prepping today's chapter.

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Sorry for the lack of status updates...
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alexandraerin
...but I'm going through an insomniac phase right now and my mornings aren't very productive. I think I had a turning point last night, though... while I've been tired this morning, I slept a lot better. Things should be back on track tomorrow.

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Adventure Song: 5E has helped me to realize one of my lingering issues with game design...
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alexandraerin
...which is that as much as I loathe the "everything is optimal and nothing hurts" school of power game theory, I've spent enough time around those types of gamers that I've subconsciously internalized a lot of their thinking about things.

One of the things I have striven for in my game design for both AWW and Adventure Song is to present players with interesting choices about what to put where, and how specialized they want to be. But after calibrating so much of the game around the deep end of the stat pool, I always seem to end up overcompensating on the side of "make sure they have enough points".

For instance, after having almost reflexively calculated the sweet spot for the intersection of dexterity and strength given the armor system I'm using in Adventure Song, I ended up designing the attribute allocation system around making sure every character hits their class's sweet spot... perfect defense for everyone at level 1, with no room to grow outside of magic.

I've ended up scrapping that attribute allocation system in favor of one that is radical by my standards, though fairly conservative: distribute 60 points among the 6 attributes (using the old stand-bys), minimum 5 and maximum 14, then apply bonuses (with humans getting 5 points to spend anywhere, as long as nothing's above 18.) Yes, I'm starting with the idea that the human baseline should mean something. I still subscribe to the idea that a heroic adventurer should be larger than life from level 1, but that's what the 5 bonus points are for. My original scheme was 70 points and then +5, which is pretty firmly in Lake Wobegon territory (you know, where the halflings are strong, the dwarves are good-looking, and all the player characters are above average).

And as I write this, I realize that one of my qualms in nerfing the attributes to be based on the idea of average as... average... is that I've written into the game a very generous initial armor listing for each class that was also based around hitting that sweet spot. I did it because under the pricing scheme I'm using, metal armor is prohibitively expensive for starting characters. But as long as every character class either gets free armor or is optimized to have similar miss rates without it, those numbers are really just numbers. I honestly didn't intend for the best armor to be in player hands at level 1, but it fell into a blind spot.

So clearly I have some more adjustments to make here, in myself and the game.

After playing around with the 60+5 attribute system, I think I'm going to stick with it. I came up with a suggested quick matrix for humans that goes 15, 13, 11, 10, 9, and 7. It's the kind of numbers that look like something you might get from a random number generator, but you've got three attributes that are above average and two below, so things are stacked in your favor. Half your attributes are about average... everything but your freakish 15 clusters perfectly around average, in fact. There's going to be one area where your character is great but with room to grow, and one area where someone else should take point.

(I should also probably point out that my check system is 1d20 + attribute rather than 1d20 + a derived mod, so the difference between 15 and 10 isn't a 10 percentage point increase in success rate, it's a 25 percentage point increase in success rate.)

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Game Design: Random comparison between 4E and 5E
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alexandraerin
I've heard people saying that 5E completely scrapped everything that 4E did, and when I read the basic guide and then the PHB, I really couldn't believe that this was the general impression. Yeah, the presentation is more old school, but they've incorporated so much of 4E's overall sensibilities and ideas.

And the other day, I think I hit upon the word that sums up the real big difference between 4E and 5E, and I think it's the word that is the substance at the heart of a lot of the grumbling about 4E being "video gamey" or "non-immersive".

The word is interface.

4E, in its quest to standardize information and make sure you always had your options at your fingerprints, created a much more obvious, visible, and tangible interface between the players and their characters, between the players and the world.

When I talk about this, I'm not talking about the computerization of the game. Or even the physical props like cards and tokens that they were pushing. I'm talking about the system itself, and the assumptions it made about how the players would interact with the game.

And it was meant to simplify things, but it was often confusing. Because players didn't just need to understand the game, they needed to understand the interface. They need to internalize what the colors on the colorful cards/stat blocks mean, what the things encoded in the keywords mean, et cetera.

And the interface has always been there... dice and character sheets and sometimes maps and sometimes maps and minis, use of game-specific or hobby-specific standardized notations, et cetera.

At times it's been klunkier and more cumbersome than others (looking at you, 2nd Edition AD&D), but it's always had a relatively low profile. Then 4E came along and made the interface a huge part of the game.

And it worked for me. It worked for a lot of people. I had the mental connection that the interface was not the game, and the interface didn't get in the way of the game for me. But in retrospect and when I compare it to 5E, I can see how the interface had the ability to distract from the game, to slow the game, to slow the learning process for people who weren't getting the interface.

While there's a lot to be said about the way 5E is written towards newbies versus the way that 4E was presented (essentially, like a puzzle with no edge pieces... if you don't already know what the picture is supposed to be, how would you even know where to start?), I think that shifting the focus back away from the interface made a big difference in making this newbie-friendliness possible.

It's something to keep in mind with my own game design experiments. I spent a lot of time emulating the interface of 4E because I saw it as an integral part of the ideas it supported. I was already re-examining that assumption before I gave 5E a proper hearing, but now I think it can be completely laid to rest.

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Adventure Song: Mystic Channels
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alexandraerin
So, the thing that kicked off my current round of game dev was the post I made earlier in the summer about a D&D-ish spell system that uses "spells on" as the metric for what wizards can do as opposed to "spells cast per day".

The system I've come up is one where essentially for every circle of spells (level of spells, in D&D's parlance... I dislike using "level" to refer to something that doesn't 1-for-1 correspond to character levels) your character could cast by experience level, you have one mystic channel. A spell fills a number of channels equal to its circle. So if fireball is a third circle spell, you need three open channels to cast it. Since the spell is instant, it passes through those channels without occupying them, but it needs them to be cleared. If you were maintaining a third circle invisibility spell, it would take up three channels. If you don't have six channels or more, you couldn't cast fireball while invisible.

There is a separate resource management aspect used for empowering spells (the normal fireball spell is just a more powerful attack spell; you have to spend a daily resource to make it explosive like the classic D&D one), but overall it's more a question of how much wizards can do at once rather than one of resource management.

Originally I had things broken down so that each caster type had their own channels so if you have multiple caster levels (multiclass cleric/druid, for instance) you'd have two sets of channels, or if your caster level wasn't the same as your experience level (multiclass cleric/fighter, or whatever), you'd have fewer channels.

But that makes the bookkeeping more complicated. This is the kind of idea that works well when it's simple though it could get complicated fast. A level character only has one channel so only has one thing to worry about. The most channels a character can easily get is 10 and there's close to a hard maximum of 16, and both of those numbers assume you've been playing all the way up to the god levels, learning how to juggle them and keep track of spells as you go.

Once I made the decision that your overall character level determines how many mystic channels you have, rather than having wizard channels and druid channels and so on, the next realization was: this means everyone has them. Even characters who don't use spells and aren't likely to learn any.

Well, I'd wanted to have a system that would limit your ability to use magic items safely/to full effect by level. Having them occupy channels would answer that. And it would also explain why every wizard doesn't just have a set of magic armor robes. It's much easier to have a defensive spell that can be dropped for a few seconds if you suddenly need those channels open then it is to quickly change robes every time you underestimated your immediate power needs.

So at the high levels, the person with the most high power magical weapons and armor would be the person who uses the least magic for anything else. Just sort of as a natural consequence. A level 30 fighter would have 10 channels that just sat there empty, but give them a fourth circle suit of armor, a third circle sword, and a third circle shield... meanwhile the rogue's got slightly less magical gear because they have a few spells they like to be able to whip out, and the wizard mostly relies on the magic items that produce spell-like effects, which don't occupy channels until they're activated.

I've got a few other things in mind for mystic channels.

A monk's disciplines (the structure for basically all their special abilities) will use channels, so at level 1 your monk can be using iron shirt or stone fist but not both at the same time, whereas at level 10 they could be long jumping, wall-climbing, holding poison at bay from their heart, trapping a possessing demon in their mind, and using stone fist and iron shirt... though since some disciplines can be increased in power by throwing them through more channels, their combat-fu would be less powerful the more other things they're doing.

A barbarian's base level rage probably won't occupy any channels, but the kind of elemental and/or totemic effects that 4E added would.

Basically, characters of a given level have a (mostly) set capacity for supernatural activity. At level one it's "one thing at a time".

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Friday, September 5th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

My last couple days I've been working on a thing on behalf of a friend, as referenced in the big long rambly post I made about ebook formatting the other day. It's been a learning experience as I'm doing things in ways I don't normally do (since my ebook formatting starts with a word processor document), but I think my own formatting's going to improve as a result of this.

I've pretty much just done the bare minimum when working with my own stuff because I can and because I hate doing it. Anything that's not writing is such a slog, you know? But helping a friend is something that gives me a lift the way writing does, so I'm quite a bit more into it.

Anyway, I think today will be enough to wrap that all up, barring any changes/corrections that need to be made to the final product.

The State of the Me

I've had a couple of restless nights this week, mostly due to unstoppable brain excitement over roleplaying games (D&D and my own).

Plans For Today

You know, I'm really just going to focus on wrapping up this formatting project so I can have a relatively clean start next week.

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Picking apart the Fighter as a microcosm of 5E's class design strategies.
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alexandraerin
First, there's the proof that this game's designers are after my own heart: they made the Fighter good at fighting. Whether the Fighter is best at fighting is something that's going to need to be road-tested, but here's something: most warrior classes gain an extra attack at level 5. Fighters do, too... and then they gain another one at level 11 and a fourth at level 20.

Mathematically speaking, the ability to attack more than once is one of the most devastating mechanical abilities. It's often been observed that the damage output of a haste spell (when cast on a qualified combatant) is greater than fireball or any other wizard spell, which is why earlier editions had it age the subject a year and 4th edition nerfed it beyond recognition.

(As a side note: 5E undoes the nerf, but puts some brakes on: the extra action granted by haste can only be used for a small range of standard actions, which does include attacks but not spell casting... this heads off a lot of weird exploits. The spell requires the caster's concentration to maintain, which means it can be broken and while it doesn't preclude *all* spells, it precludes it stacking with other, similarly powerful ones.)

So, without even looking at everything else, the fact that the Fighter can end up with 3 or 4 attacks while any other warrior type has 2 and almost everyone else is a compelling argument for their superiority.

Then there's the fact that two enduring vestiges of 4th Edition seem to have been relegated to Fighter abilities: action points are embodied in the Fighter's "action surge" (a bonus action that can be used during one turn of combat between rests), and the second wind action has simply become a Fighter ability.

It's interesting that where 4E tried to put everyone on a level playing field and then gave everyone these things on top of that, 5E uses them as part of elevating Fighters to the same playing field as everyone else. And when I say it's interesting, I don't mean it's good and I don't mean it's bad. I mean it's interesting.

Certainly it could be said that it's a pretty pure expression of 4E's idea that martial prowess--as embodied by Fighters--can transcend mortal limitations in a way that's almost magical. Here is the most martial class around, the most mundane one, but they have two fairly basic abilities (gained at level 2) that let you ignore two of the hardest and fastest physical limits the game models.

And the basic "martial archetype" (Fighter subclass) offered as the default choice in the basic rules is basically built on this idea of transcending physical limitations. Their special abilities include more frequent criticals, amazing acts of athletic prowess, and eventually the ability to keep spontaneously generating hit points when you're between 0 HP and half HP.

And talking about archetypes? The basic one, the Champion, is pretty much what I would want from a newbie friendly fighter build: ridiculous amounts of physical power, not a lot of moving parts.

So what did they do to the more tactically interesting build-a-style Fighter who uses "martial exploits" the way Wizards use spells that 4E introduced?

They sewed that Fighter to the Warlord and called the result "Battle Master", the second Fighter sub-class.

Seriously, when you reach level 3 as a Fighter, you basically get asked, "Do you want to keep being an old school D&D Fighter, or do you want something more like the 4E experience?" And if you choose the 4E experience. It's a much more elegant solution than 4E Essentials' attempts to introduce basic fighters late in the game, especially since they weren't much simpler in concept or execution. And the fact that you spend two levels as a basic Fighter before you start messing around with sub-classes (a common feature for every class) means that probably more people will feel comfortable going the advanced route than would otherwise if they had to choose at level 1, and that they'll likely get more out of it.

On a side note: I was bummed to see that Maneuvers--which is what I said "martial exploits" should have been called from the beginning--were a thing that was restricted to a single subclass of Fighters, until I noticed that there's a Martial Adept feat that gives anyone access to them. It's like a 4E multiclass feat but without the arbitrary restrictions... in fact, you can be a Battle Master and use it to get more Maneuvers.

eshusplayground observed in a blog post that the Skilled feat--which lets you choose three new skill trainings--does a lot to obviate the need for taking on a whole class's worth of baggage in order to fill out a character concept. The Martial Adept feat described above and the Magic Initiate one (which basically gives you half a level's worth of spellcasting ability from any class) also fall into this category. These are more substantial advantages than any 3E or 4E feat would give, but feats in 5E are rarer and have more impact.

Though Fighters still potentially get more of them than anyone else, just like in 3E. And unlike 3E, they aren't restricted to "fighter bonus feats" but can take any. I say "potentially" because feats are an optional thing in 5E. What do you get if you're not taking them? Attribute improvements. Which works out handy for the person who really just wants the basic Fighter. But since the Fighter's feats aren't restricted to fancy weapon maneuvers but can be skill training, magic, stealth, whatever... well, the Fighter ends up being potentially the single most versatile single class character. Heck, that's true even if you're taking the stat increase every time. I think the Fighter can raise their attributes a total of 14 points compared to most people's 8. A Fighter could max out their dump stat.

And on the subject of Fighters being versatile and Fighters learning magic and Fighters not being bound by arbitrary restrictions, there's a third sub-class in the PHB: the Eldritch Knight. Name aside, it's clearly inspired in large part by the 4E Swordmage, but gone is a lot of the arbitrary restrictions inherent in that. For one thing, their magic bond isn't tied to swords, but any weapon. Or two weapons.

It's really interesting to me to see how many 4E classes have come back in 5E, as part of 5E's branching sub-class scheme. And also how the two classes that were fully "martial" in 4E that didn't traditionally have spellcasting abilities in earlier editions (that is, the Fighter and Rogue) both have a dedicated spellcaster sub-class.

In fact, every class in the 5E PHB that doesn't cast spells at level 1 has one sub-class that gets explicitly supernatural abilities by level 3, and every class except two (the Barbarian and the Monk) can actually cast spells, and two of the Monk sub-classes gain spell-like abilities.

But at the same time, every class that's not a spellcaster has a "basic" build that stays pretty firmly rooted in the mundane world, with the slight exception that the monk's master martial artist class still uses supernatural "ki powers", just not ones that explicitly reference spells for their effects.

In short: there are a lot of interesting ideas here.

I still have a biiiiiiiiiiiiig problem with the price point... I kind of suspect that they jacked up the price with the idea that whole groups would be sharing them, but given that I tend to play online I would really, really, really like it if they would sell PDFs of the PHB for ~$20 or so. Because yes the basic game is free and that's a great step forward for getting people into the game in the first place, but I really feel like people need a better option than paying $50 or torrenting the book if they want more than the basic Fighter/Rogue/Wizard/Cleric.

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