Sunday, October 19, 2014

First Playtest of Heroic Age

The first playtest of the Heroic Age rules took place today with a Level-0 Character Funnel, using Dyson's Delve as the grinder. One change was to replace the goblin tribe in levels 1 and 2 with snakemen, an ophidian race with a deep hatred of humans for replacing them as the dominant species.

The village was roused before dawn by the frantic dairyman, who discovered his 17-year old daughter missing from her bed. A rabble of sixteen worried villagers, bearing pitchforks, other improvised weapons, and a torch, headed into the forest following a trail of strange boot marks.

On a hill half a day into the deep forest, the group spied a broken tower. Sixteen went in, but only five came out. The first to die was Gak the barbarian, struck down by the snakeman guarding the stairway down. After that, snakemen took a few more, and the giant ferret and the skeletons some more.

The goat and the donkey survived, but the rooster ran off into the darkness. The rabbit had long been sacrificed as bait for the creature that never came. Yes, four farmers could not be parted from their livestock.

Great fun was had by all.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Heroic Age: Tekumel Characters

I'm working on the magic dueling rules for Heroic Age that will be part of a board game I'm running at U-Con this year, as well as presented in the Heroic Age RPG. They are very close to the standard combat rules with a few embellishments. The board game is inspired by War of Wizards from TSR.

I needed a couple of 5th level Magic Users to pit against each other, which would also give the level advancement rules a workout. Here are the first two characters, fully rolled with the system.

Greegor Brighteyes, M'morchyani Shaman

5th level Magic User
Background: Bowyer


AC:   15
HD:   4d6
HP:    10
XP Bonus:   +5%
Skill Points: 25
Spell Pool:   13
Cash:            7 kaitars

Skills: Bow (DEX), Bowyer (INT), Staff (STR), Swimming (CON), Naturalist (INT), Fishing (DEX), Survival (jungle) (INT), Priest (INT), Tsolyani (INT)

Spells: Create Food and Drink¹, Dispel Magic¹, Doomkill³, Heal Wounds¹, Neutralize Poison¹, Sleep¹, Summon Creatures I¹, Summon Demon¹, Transmute Stone to Mud², Web Missile¹

Short bow, d4 arrows, feathers, leather helm, sorcerer's bag, candle, flint-steel-tinder, staff

Pelnar hiVriddi, Priest of Vimuhla

5th level Magic User
Background: Brewer


AC:   15
HD:   4d6
HP:    20
XP Bonus:   0
Skill Points: 23
Spell Pool:   12
Cash:            124 kaitars

Skills: Brewer-Vintner (INT), Distiller (INT), Beekeeper (INT), Dagger (STR), Calligraphy (DEX), Physician (INT), Engsvanyali (INT), Merchant (INT), Priest (INT)

Spells: Fear*¹, Plague¹, Heal Wounds¹, Cure Disease¹, Illusion¹, Fireball², Dispel Magic¹, Telekinesis¹, Circle of Protection¹, Lock*¹, Light¹

Short bow, d4 arrows, feathers, leather helm, sorcerer's bag, candle, flint-steel-tinder, staff

(Superscripts on spells indicate the casting cost.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Attempt at a Color Cover

Here is my first attempt at a color cover for the new game. I searched high and low for an illustration I really liked for it. I love the old illustrators from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The image is Ruslan and Lyudmila illustrated by Pavel Orinyansky. He looks to have taken some inspiration from Ivan Bilibin, another of my favorites.

Comments? Do the colors work together? Does it look good?

[Edit: I modified the image after some comments from Joel Priddy.]

Here is another take on the colors, plus the OSR Compatible Logo. The teal was pulled from the dragon's tail, and the mustard was changed to one pulled from the dragon's belly.

[Edit: Okay, one more version after more suggestions. Bigger title and a 1-pixel border around the art. I started with 72-point but dropped down to 62 point to match the width of the art.]

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing a new OSR Game, Part Two: Skills

Part Two

Many months ago, I took on the challenge of writing a Tekumel game for the OSR. Now as I begin playtesting, I thought I'd share the design process. Part One is here.


After the attributes, I worked on the skill system. Skills come in three types in EPT: Original, Professional, and Bonus Spells. Original skills are somewhat similar to Backgrounds in D&D or other OSR games. These are your mundane skills for making a living as a Barber or a Mountaineer. They come in three classifications: Group I -- Plebian, Group II -- Skilled, and Group III -- Noble. These classifications are ordered by difficulty. A die roll determines how many of each group a player gets to choose. Players make another roll to receive more original skills when they level up.

Professional skills are those the character gets from their class; each class has a list of skills that must be taken basically in order. Fighter skills are weapons and tactics. Priest skills are languages and spells. Magic User skills are all spells. The complexity of the skills increases as you go down the list. At first level, players roll to see how many professional skills a character starts with. Each time they level up, they take another professional skill.

Bonus spells are only for priests and magic users. Players roll for them when going up levels. They are divided into three Groups based on spell complexity, much like a compressed version of D&D's spell levels. 

The separation between the different types of skills bothered me. I also didn't care for the groups. So, I made original and professional skills (which already included spells) and bonus Spells all simply skills in the new system. Then I was inspired by another of my favorite games, The Fantasy Trip (TFT). TFT is an RPG from the early 80s by Steve Jackson. Skills in TFT cost from one to three points each. What if I converted Groups I, II, and III into the number of skill points needed to learn the skill? I threw out my previous attempt and gave each skill a cost from 1 to 3. Instead of rolling randomly, I used Intelligence to determine how many skill points the character gets at first level. The character's new level determines what kind of die to roll for new skill points at the time of leveling up.

After some probability and statistics work, I derived how many 'Groups' of skills the average character received from Original and Professional skills and Bonus spells. These calculations drove the amount of skill points divvied out in the tables, so characters in the new system would be approximately equal in number of skills to characters in EPT. I wanted a 5th level magic user from EPT to be equivalent to a 5th level in the new system.

What this system lacked was how to emulate the specialization of the classes into combat and magic types, and how to tie classes into the skills. The key is in the Professional skills and class design.

I'll write that up in the next blog post.

End of Part 2

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Writing a New OSR Game, Part One: Attributes

Many months ago, I took on the challenge of writing a Tekumel game for the OSR. Now as I begin playtesting, I thought I'd share the design process.

In 1975, Empire of the Petal Throne was the first full setting ever published. It gave the planet's long history, the current situation and politics, creatures, non-humans, treasures, and maps of the known world. The game system was derived from D&D and was the first clone. It has several innovations and a different magic system. Since EPT is firmly in the OSR, I chose it as one of the bases that I drew from for inspiration.

My goal for this project was to create a set of rules that would require a minimum of translation to play EPT characters. The process of creating the character could be different, but I wanted the result to be recognizable, very easy both for someone who knew EPT, as well as someone familiar with D&D. I didn't want an exact retro-clone, but a neo-clone -- further from the original, but still comfortable.


The first thing I did was yank the essential rules for analysis. First came the Basic Talents, or what other games call Attributes. EPT has six attributes: the familiar Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Intelligence, as well as Psychic Ability instead of Wisdom, and Comeliness instead of Charisma. These are rolled on percentile dice (d100). I kept these, though I renamed Comeliness to Appearance.

The first thing I noticed was each attribute had a different range of values for each level of proficiency. Most had two levels below average and three above average, but Strength only had one below average range and Comeliness had five levels above average. Also 41-60 was average for most attributes, but Comeliness had 20-50 as average. I guess Tekumel has been selecting for beauty for millennia. The bonuses for being above average and penalties for below average attributes were inconsistent.

I decided that since EPT was based off of OD&D, which only had one level above and below average for attributes, I needed to use a different D&D as the base for the new game. I chose B/X D&D, because it has three levels above and below average. (Actually, I used Labyrinth Lord since it's OGL and more readily available.) Since D&D uses 3d6 for attributes, I had to translate the dice ranges to percentile. Luckily, the standard B/X ranges fall nicely into sensible percentile ranges. The other thing this gives the game is an easy translation to 3d6, if a Referee wants something closer to B/X. Below is a table of the 3d6 to d100 translation.


The other thing B/X gave me was consistent modifiers at each attribute level, from -3 to +3. Since EPT only had two below average levels, and nobody wants to play at the -3 level, I combined the bottom two levels into one -2 range. Below is the table for all attributes.


As far as what each attribute does, in EPT all of the modifiers apply only to the to-hit and damage rolls. If a character had STR, DEX, CON, and INT in the 96-100 range, their to-hit/damage modifiers would be +8/+6. There are other effects that attributes give characters, but the numerical modifiers are limited to combat.

I really like that B/X attribute modifiers have a wide range of effects. Strength has the normal to-hit and damage bonuses, Dexterity affects Armor Class, missile weapon to-hit rolls, and optionally Initiative, Constitution affects hit points, Intelligence modifies the number of languages known and language proficiency, Wisdom affects saving throws against magic, and Charisma modifies reaction rolls and retainers. So in the new game, I used most of these.

There are changes to Intelligence related to skills, but that is a topic for another post. This ends the first part of this set of articles. The next article will deal with Original and Professional skills and spells.

Thus ends the first part.

Part Two: Skills