Saturday, March 12, 2011

D&D Skill Variants

Over the years, I've incorporated a number of house rules into my Dungeons and Dragons games. While many of them are intended for 3.5 edition, they are pretty easily translated to 4th. I always liked a skill-focused D&D game. I felt like the skills were never as much a focus as I would have liked. Sure they are useful or even necessary in certain situations, but I like to make skills more involved. "What's the point of making a Knowledge check if I'm just going to kill it anyway?" Before these variant skill rules, my answer would have been " know how to kill it faster?". But now I can smile wide and say, "MONEY!"

Harvesting (Intended for 3.5)

Upon the defeat of any monster, the PCs are able to use their skills to take bits and pieces of the creature that someone, somewhere will want to buy. 
                Harvesting from a creature takes 1 minute per HD and at the end of the time spent, the one doing the harvesting makes a Knowledge check and gains their check result times the creatures HD in valuable organs, fluids, etc.  Any amount harvested from a living creature will decay at least somewhat or partially.  Each hour the harvested parts go without being sold or preserved in some manner reduces their worth by 2%, to a minimum of 50%.  Some of the pieces harvested will not be able to decay (nails, scales, etc) or simply won’t fully decay to nothing, so the amount harvested will never decay to being worthless.  The bits and pieces sold will most often be sold to a spell component or magic shop.
                Certain skills and class or race abilities will grant a synergy bonus to harvest from certain creature types.  When a player has 5 or more ranks in the listed skill, they gain a +2 bonus to harvest from the listed creature types.  If a character has both 5 or more ranks in the skill and the listed class ability, they gain a +4 bonus to the Harvest check.
                A ranger’s favored enemy bonus also applies to Harvest checks.
Creature Type
Skill Synergy
Ability Synergy
Ability to cast or use a (Calling) spell or ability.
Wild Empathy Ability
Disable Device
Trapfinding Ability
Having Sorcerer levels
Resistance or immunity to the appropriate elemental damage type
Save bonus against Enchantment effects
Dodge bonus against giants
Having the same subtype as the creature to be harvested
Magical Beast
Having a familiar
Monstrous Humanoid
Resistance or immunity to acid
Ability to cast or use a (Teleportation) spell or ability.
Ability to wild shape into plants
Ability to channel divine energy (turn, rebuke, etc)
Resistance or immunity to disease or poison

Research(3.5 or 4th)

The Knowledge skills allow a PC to read at a library and learn that way, instead of being restricted to their own knowledge. The size of the library gives the character a bonus to this check. A small library might have a bonus of +4. A local library might have +8. A large library would have +16 and an enormous library could have +24 or more. However, every 1 point of bonus the library has, the time to find the information increases by 2 hours.  Although, the PCs can opt to reduce the bonus to whatever they want, and thus reduce the time researching. This method, generally, won’t allow a PC to find recent news or the like, as that is not typically found in a library. If the PCs can use a library to help with the Knowledge check, it is called a Research check, meaning the PC can use either of these skills in conjunction with a library.  Researching allows a PC to make any Knowledge check untrained, however the PC must gain at least a +1 bonus from the library to do so. 
With a very large library, the time required to fully benefit from the library’s resources could take multiple days.  Each day, the PCs can research for 8 hours without penalty.  For purposes of researching for a long time, the rules are similar for attempting to forced march (3.5 PHB 164).  If the PCs don’t want to deal with Forced Research, they will have to spread the researching out over multiple days.  Any extra researching time spills over to the next day. 
At the end of each hour past 8, the researcher makes a Constitution or Endurance check, if he fails, he passes out.  If not, he can keep researching.  The DC is 10 + 2 per extra hour. The researcher is allowed to sleep during the time he is researching, while this will essentially waste his time, it resets his Forced Research count, allowing him to research a further 8 hours the next day without penalty.
Once the researcher has either passed out or drawn the bonus he wanted from the library, he makes his Knowledge check with the bonus from the library.  Regardless of how long he searched, or over however many days, he only receives one check.  He may take a 10 on the check but not a 20.  A portion of the roll is representative of simple luck to determine if the library has books on the topic to be Researched.
Lastly, the researcher cannot continuously research a single topic at a library, over and over.  At a certain point, he discovers the library simply does not have any information on that topic.  This point occurs when the researcher has drawn twice the library bonus from it, over however many checks.  For example, Tardok wants to research Blue Dragons at his local library (+8 library bonus).  He spends his first day researching for 8 hours, giving him a +4 library bonus.  He makes his Research check and unfortunately, he discovers nothing he didn’t already know.  He pushes harder the second day, researching for 12 hours, granting him a +6 bonus.  Again, he learns nothing new.  At this point, Tardok has drawn a total of +10 bonus from this library, over his two days of research.  When he tries again the next day, no matter how long he researches for, he will only gain a +6 bonus.  The library grants +8 typically, twice of which is +16.  Tardok has already gained a total of +10 from this library, so he only has +6 library bonus left before he has checked every book the library has that might contain information about Blue Dragons.  Any further researching at this particular library about Blue Dragons will not give any sort of library bonus.

Taunting (3.5 Only)

The Intimidate skill can be used quite well in combat. In addition to demoralizing an opponent, it is possible to send him into a reckless anger.  To do this, the one doing the intimidating, must make a successful Intimidate check DC equal to the targets HD + target’s Wis modifier, a negative modifier will lower the DC. If this check is successful, the target must then make a Will save DC equal to that of the Intimidate result. If this check fails, the target becomes reckless.  This is a mind-affecting, language-dependent, fear effect and takes a standard action.
A reckless character gains +2 Str, but ‑4 to AC and Will saves. The reckless character will focus his attention on the intimidater. This does not mean he will completely ignore all other attacks, but his focus remains on the intimidator. If a reckless character is being attacked from all sides, he will get himself to a better fighting position and then go after his target. The reckless character remains in that state until either he or the intimidator has been defeated, or he has been out of line of sight of the intimidater for a full round or 1 minute has passed since becoming reckless, which ever comes first. For example, if a fighter intimidates a wizard, then the fighter runs out of the room, the wizard will run after him. If the wizard spots the fighter in on his round, the reckless state continues.  If the fighter is out of line of sight, then the state ends.
Once an attempt has been made to make a character reckless, all further attempts from that intimidator to affect that target will fail for the next 24 hours. If the person being taunted is willing, they can choose to automatically be effected to gain the bonus to Strength.  It essentially becomes a pep-talk at that point.

Cheaper identify (3.5 Only)
While using detect magic, the caster must make a Spellcraft check to determine the school of the effect.  The DC for this is 15 + spell level for a spell or DC 15 + one half caster level for a non-spell effect.  If the caster of detect magic beats the DC by 5 or more, he also learns the subschool.  If he beats the DC by 10 or more, he also learns any and all descriptors the effect has.
However, knowing more about an item, reduces the cost to identify it.  The base cost to identify an item is 110 gp, 100 gp for the material component, 10 for the service charge.  If the caster already knows the school (and the item does not have a subschool) of the item, the material cost is reduced by 10 gp.  If the caster knows the school of the item, and the item does have a subschool, knowing the school reduces the material cost by 5 gp.  If a subschool is available and known, that reduces the price another 5 gp.  Each descriptor known reduces the material cost by a further 5 gp.
                Attempting to identify an item with incorrect knowledge of school or subschool or descriptor causes the identify to automatically fail with wasted components.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Elements of Greatness: Customizability

Customizability, for the sake of this reading, means anything that makes one player's gameplay different from another.  Some games allow you to choose a character role before the game, while others let you change something as you play the game. Oftentimes, the latter is usually an item or power of some sort.

Customizable Games
There are many games out there that are very customizable.  People who tend towards customizable games often say the same sort of things as to why it is better than not having it.  The main argument is, obviously, that is allows players the chance to play how they would like.  Not every player is restricted to one style of play and they can approach victory by whatever means they choose.  This makes the game appeal to a wider audience while also allowing veteran players the chance to play a little differently each time.  This sort of customizability often comes as a character class or role.  In Arkham Horror, you choose your character from a wide selection, each with different abilities and player styles.  You can be a beat-'em-up fighter, spellcaster, gate-closer, or some balance of those or more options.  While the abilities themselves often affect the game only moderately (expect maybe in the case of Patrice Hathaway), it makes the player feel more in control of their gameplay, and they will have more fun because of it.  Even something as simple as getting to pick the character's name or back story can help players feel more connected to their choice and they will have more fun because of it.

The other main argument for customizability is that no two games will ever be the same, for the most part.  When players are allowed to change themselves, it's bound to affect the game itself, at least in some manner.  This prevents games from becoming stagnant and repetitive.  With the prices of board games, it's important to have some replay value, at least until they come up with a GameFly for board games (that idea is currently patent pending... pending).  In Dominion, each player buys cards during the game to build their own deck to draw from.  The variety of cards the players have to choose from is chosen (or randomly determined) before the game.  When several of the cards allow players to take extra actions, you can be sure each turn will take a lot longer.  When most of the cards grant player extra money and chances to buy extra cards, you can assume the game will go by faster than it would otherwise.  Even if all the cards players have to choose from are the same as a previous game, because the players choose which cards they buy, the game still has the chance to play out very differently.

All silver clouds have a dark lining (or something like that) and customizable games do have some downsides.  When a game is customizable, often times the setup and playtime can take much longer than a non-customizable game.  When players have to sit and choose how they want to start the game or how they want to take their turn, things can slow down.  In those times when you're just looking to play something for a little while, knowing you'll have to spend time choosing a character or figuring out a strategy or building a deck can be disheartening.  There's also the possibility to cause some fighting.  If a game has limited choice of options, players with the same favorite might have a hard time determining who gets to play it.  In Humans!!! , players have a choice of roles, and they are limited.  If multiple players want to be the Wrestler zombies, they have to decide between them who gets to be that role.  When a player is stuck with his Plan B, he likely won't have as much fun.  Lastly, if a game is randomly customizable, players might get stuck with a choice they didn't want.  In Munchkin, players randomly draw cards to determine their race, class and what items they have.  When players draw cards and get nothing they want (or worse, something they didn't want) the game starts bad and often only gets worse. 

Non-Customizable Games
While the label might sound negative, non-customizable games have many advantages.  When every player starts the same, each player has the same opportunity to win.  When there are no choices to make and no chance for early opportunity, everyone has an even playing field.  Basically, when there's less chances to have the some players become more powerful than other, things usually go much more smoothly.  In Settlers of Catan, all the players have the same ability to build, trade and prosper.  There's no worrying about which class to take or which items to buy.  Every player is exactly the same, giving everyone the same opportunity to win.  The idea flows into the next main argument for non-customizable games.  When there are less choices to make, the game is easier to learn.  No one buys a game with the intent to play it alone (and if you do, you might want to check out this page).  If you're trying to introduce someone to a new game, pulling out a huge instruction manual and giving them a dozen things to choose right off the bat is very nerve-wracking.  When a game is easier to learn, more people are going to be willing to give it a try.  For new players to any customizable game, it is a common occurrence they forget some ability they might have that other players do not.  Having to remember your unique abilities (even if you have some reminder) can be an added complication some people simply do not like. 

Not everyone likes a long, detailed game.  Sometimes it's nice to turn your brain off and just kill some zombies.  That being said, Zombies!!! has no real customization to speak of and that makes it fast to setup, easy to play and fun to finish.  With no choices to worry about, players are never more than a few minutes away from zombie killing fun.  Non-customizable games often are much easier to turn into travel games.  Whether you have the actual "travel version" or just carry the box around with you, less choices means less stuff.  Less stuff means more portability.  More portability means more chances to play.  Non-customizable games are simply simpler to play overall.

Variety, however, is the spice of life and lacking it can make things repetitive.  When each player starts the same and stays the same throughout the game, there is a good chance the game will play out just as another has before.  If the players don't have some opportunity to give themselves an edge over more veteran players, the better players will often times continue winning.  If the veteran players have found a strategy that works, without some chance to change how the game plays, the newer players are often stuck in second place until they can find a good counter-strategy.  New players to any game tend to not like losing over and over, and if that is the case, they are likely to not want to play anymore.  Then you and your winning strategy have no one to play with.

I feel safe saying while most games are still good without too much customization (and they certainly should be discounted for not having), great games have some elements of it.  While a non-customizable game has many advantages over customizable ones, the replay value and play style options that come with customizability are too much to overlook completely.  If you want to get your money's worth, you're best going after a game with customizable aspects.  Those games are usually the ones you're likely to play over and over.  There are, of course, exceptions.

I tend to prefer the customization over not.  Granted, while it may be harder to bring new people into the game and may take longer to setup, the end result tends to be better.  I have a good number of games I don't play very often.  Key to the Kingdom is a lot of fun to play, but with no ability to customize it, it becomes boring playing over and over.  Each player is exactly the same, and so after playing once or twice, the game doesn't really bring anything new to the table.

Previously on Elements of Greatness: Skill versus Luck
Next time on Elements of Greatness: Backstabbing