Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Initiative (Part 1)

I find it rather laughable that many D&D clones (including itself) put together huge and complex weapons subsystems, armor subsystems, saves vs. magic systems, monster abilities, etc., all to enhance the feel and drama of the combat, and then shove it all into an initiative system that makes it feel like waiting in line at a coffee shop.

You can think of cyclical initiative (what D&D has used since at least 3e) as the Power Rangers combat choreography system. Each enemy lines up opposite the PCs, and they all take turns punching each other. The camera cuts to each ranger one at a time and stays completely still as the ranger or his opponent takes a swing.

Snooze. Fest. (Edit: Even more snooze fest now that it was deleted from YouTube! Darn you Fox!!)

Here is the initiative system you SHOULD use. It's more like the Avengers saving Manhattan choreography system.

First, you establish the stakes. The biggest of the stakes is what magics are planning to be used this turn. Next, it would be what projectiles are about to fly through the air. But you don't resolve these yet.

Think of Legolas taking aim with his bow, or a sorcerer speaking words of dark power. In the movies, these moments of aiming/casting are never set and resolved in the same cut. The camera always goes to their target first. How about Boromir at Amon Hen:

Lurtz draws his bowstring. >>> Ranged attackers declare actions.
We see Boromir protecting the hobbits. >>> Melee attackers declare and resolve actions.
Lurtz looses his bowstring. >>> Ranged attackers resolve actions.
We see Boromir get hit by the arrow. >>> Aftermath of round, new stakes for combat established.

See what I mean? No? Okay, watch this:
This fight scene has an epic feel not only because the scale is epic, but because the way we move through it is epic. We follow the drama (generally in a character or projectile moving) from melee to melee. But what is key is that there is a rhythm that is consistent throughout. At the beginning of the fight we follow characters on the fringe of the battle into the fight's center. We see how high the stakes are, then, we resolve the most intense of those stakes (the giant galacta-whale) by the end of the "round" of combat.

Is the fight over? No, of course not. But when you frame each round around the most relevant stakes and the combatants' immediate goals, you feel like the fight is moving somewhere in EVERY moment. It also makes the fight feel like one big team effort as opposed to a couple really good hits from the designated hitters. It allows for a combined strategy like the Hulk and Thor made to take down that soar whale, or Iron Man and Cap America used to zap those goons.

So here is how I would organize each round:

Phase 1: People using magic declare they are going to do so. Describe the beginning of the ritual/casting.
Phase 2: People using ranged attacks declare they are going to do so. Describe the aiming, nocking,etc.
Phase 3: People attacking in melee declare so, and then do so simultaneously.
Phase 4: People moving declare so and then do so simultaneously. (Helpful to have a speed mechanic here).
Phase 5: All ranged attacks are resolved.
Phase 6: All spells/magic effects are resolved.

There we go. Stew over that, and you can read more about its implications (as I see them) in my next post.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Hate City Sessions

God, do I hate having to generate a city.

Hamlets? Fine. No problem. I even use this little system that makes it fun to do. Plus this thing, which is very cool as well.

But a WHOLE CITY? Gah! The sheer number of NPCs and professions and logistics to generate. No amount of random tables could generate all that. And when you finally get there...

...the PCs want to explore something else that catches their eye. Something you didn't have generated.

I think the reason I most hate cities is that they are the biggest preparation black-holes in the entire hobby. I've learned through years of heartbreak that prepping every detail of an adventure is just asking to be disappointed in your players, as a GM. So, I just record the big notes ahead of time, and make my way through the rest like some kind of jazz pianist.

But that doesn't work well for cities. There is always another thing that needs to be prepped. If the PCs get in trouble with the law, then you need to improvise the city's police and justice procedures, potentially even the governing body. If the PCs want to go shopping, you have to figure out what goods at what prices and what availabilities are in the city.

If you don't, everyone will default to the standard city guardsmen, PHB goods and prices, etc. etc., and your game turns into giant scoops of vanilla ice cream scattered through a fantasy world that is, hopefully, more flavorful that its cities.

So what can someone like me do, to waste no time, but still allow the PCs to enter/use cities.

My thought is a carousing table. The city is just a place to rest, and you can either stay at home/in bed and be safe, or risk a night on the town and potentially get some XP, or your teeth knocked out of your head.

Here are some tables: number one, number two, number three.

This doesn't preclude the adventurers from actually exploring a city, if you have it prepared, or a PART of the city, if you have that prepared. But, it speeds up the whole process of browsing and twiddling thumbs and playing out each night of wild passion and drunken stumbling.

I like to picture it as a kind of fast-forward or montage moment in between the real important parts, aka the adventuring.

Monday, May 4, 2015

We Are Born Of Dragons

[This post uses some names and such from 4e D&D and the Hobbit. So if you wanna see where I was inspired somewhat, check out the 4e PHB and such.]

In my world, Lizardfolk and Dragonborn are the same race. They are both cold-blooded and immune to most poisons.

But if you ask one of them whether the two are the same, they will tell you otherwise.

Originally, there were only Lizardfolk, which organized themselves into various swamp-based and island-based tribes. They were a shamanic race with a rich culture and diversity.

Then, a prophet among them, named Arkhosia, began preaching a history and origin of the Lizardfolk. He bore a pair of great wings on his back, and said his people were born of dragons, not lizards. They were made as disciples to dragons, and crave their warmth (that is why they are cold-blooded). The dragons are a part of them, and it was their commission to take these dragons under their wing, so to speak, and focus their power for the building of a great civilization.

For you see, dragons are a terrible kind, prone to greed and sickness when exposed to wealth. Their power is unmatched, and if any race could befriend these serpents, then surely they would rule land, air, and sea.

The prophet Arkhosia said he was given instructions in a vision. Instructions for how to treat this dragon sickness and rehabilitate the monsters into loyal allies of unmatched strength. Arkhosia's words spread throughout the Lizardfolk tribes, and soon thousands called themselves Dragonborn.

Many dragons were pulled from their lairs and forced through a sort of withdrawal. But once through the ordeal, the serpents showed a bright intelligence and trustworthiness.

Upon the backs of dragons, Arkhosia built an empire. Rarely was there violence under Arkhosia's reign. He was a master of diplomacy, and sought only to unite dragons and all other races. He spread riches equally throughout his empire, so that the dragons were not stricken by exposure to hordes of wealth. He built no capital, and wandered the empire most of his days, protecting the people from monstrous threats.

Eventually, after a few hundred years, Arkhosia was seen no more. Some say he died alone but for his dragon, content. Others say he now roams the skies, born aloft for years at a time, and rarely seen. Others say he made his way to the underworld, in pursuit of a sorcerer of unspeakable power, to kill him, or perhaps befriend him? The stories all meld together.

In Arkhosia's absence, the empire remained strong, to a point. Soon, though, Dragonborn of ugly aspirations sought to expand the empire by force, and rule their territories more stringently than did Arkhosia. These Dragon Lords met at a single council to speak of their plans and the future of the empire. They came to only one agreement: that the empire should be named Arkhosia in memory of its founder. From there on, the discussions made no headway. Instead, they flew back to their respective corners of the world and ruled their lands as feudal lords, collecting wealth and exacting terrible violence against all who opposed them.

The remaining leaders of the world made an alliance to fight back the ever expanding and extremely violent Dragon Empire. The means by which they fought back ranged from valiant combat to devilish magic, and in the end, they merely survived: the Empire of Arkhosia fell on its own sword. When the dragons could no longer resist the temptation of riches, and the sickness ripped their psyches into monstrous minds, they turned on their own, burning the empire from within. The dragons destroyed everything but the gold and valuables, and stole away with their take into mountains and forests and deserts and caves.

Arkhosia was no more.

If you see a scaly humanoid walking among you, it is surely a Lizardfolk, a descendant of the tribes that never converted. They live in very much the same way as they did before the empire ever come into being.

But there is a spark, twisted by its own undoing, that still burns in the darkness. A deranged few Dragonborn still roam the world, cultists of the vilest orientation. They seek out dragons and dominate them, convinced that this was what the prophet had truly meant for their kind. They transform the dragons into horrible beasts through dark rituals and let them loose on the land.

They trek from ruin to ruin of their lost empire, practicing their rights in secret. Arkhosia is not gone, they whisper, and he shall only return once the land is scorched to ash.