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Topics - Radu the Wanderer

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I have had it in mind for a long, long time to turn the d20 class based system into a far more skill oriented one.  I have had a fair bit of experience with the West End Games d6 model, with the WoD d10 model, and the 7th Sea R+K model, and will most likely be borrowing concepts from them liberally.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:

I propose the beginnings of a new system, oriented towards enabling more free-form character advancement and less of a tiered system of plateaus that the current 20 level system encourages.  I propose a system that rewards magic but makes it difficult to attain, that enables any and all to become "casters" who dabble in magic, that lets non-magical folks shine in whichever arenas they wish, and that easilly accomodates all manner of character archetypes and ideas.  I propose a system that uses the allmighty d20 in conjunction with skills and stats to resolve almost all conflicts, with perhaps a bit of the feats mechanic kept in for variety.

With that said, let's fire away!

STEP 1: REVERSE ENGINEER D20

D20 is based around a few simple concepts: a d20 is used for almost every roll, high is universally good, low is universally bad.  This is a great starting point.  I'll keep it.

D20 is based around several independent but quasi-interlinking mechanical areas: combat (initiative, bab, and AC), passive defenses (saving throws, hp, and AC again), and non-combat know-how (skills) and miscellaneous abilities (feats, racial and class features) which can fall into any of the other categories.  I like some of this, so I'll keep that which appeals to me most: distinctive racial charicteristics and the concept of feats.  Class features will either disappear into skills or become quasi-feats.

D20 favors offense over defense in combat, almost unconditionally.  Given the choice between a defensive action (healing, fighting defensively, casting a defensive spell) or offensive action (attacking, casting offensive spells, disrupting enemy actions), the offensive action is the better choice 90% of the time.  I dislike this aspect of the game, but understand the reasons why this decision was made.  Offense, as an active form of play, is more rewarding than defense, a reactive form of play.  I will have to consider this.

D20 overwhelmingly favors spellcasting over all other things.  Each spell is a unique rule unto itself, and the ever-expanding number of spells means spellcasters become increasingly more powerful as their options, and thus gameplay power, become increasingly larger.  I dislike this aspect of D20, and if possible will attempt to diminish it.

I feel these are the bare bones of the system.  There may be other aspects I'm ignoring or have glossed over, but I think those are small potatoes compared to the bigger picture of die rolling and mechanics.  You can build whatever game you want out of the superstructure of the D20 superhero-esque mechanical base.

STEP 2: LISTS!

Here is a list of all the skills in the D20 SRD, including the XPH:

Appraise
Autohypnosis
Balance
Bluff
Climb
Concentration
Craft
Decipher Script
Diplomacy
Disable Device
Disguise
Escape Artist
Forgery
Gather Information
Handle Animal
Heal
Hide
Intimidate
Jump
Knowledge
Listen
Move Silently
Open Lock
Perform
Profession
Psicraft
Ride
Search
Sense Motive
Sleight Of Hand
Speak Language
Spellcraft
Spot
Survival
Swim
Tumble
Use Magic Device
Use Psionic Device
Use Rope

Of those skills, there are many that can be compressed into one skill.  For example, Autohypnosis can be compressed into Concentration.  Here is a revised skill list with the compressions I think should be made:

Acrobatics (includes Balance, Escape Artist, Jump, and Tumble)
Athletics (includes Climb, Ride, and Swim)
Alertness (includes Listen, Spot, and Search)
Concentration (includes Autohypnosis)
Craft
Disable Device (includes Open Locks)
Charm (includes Bluff, Disguise, Handle Animal, and Perform)
Knowledge (includes Heal and Survival)
Linguistics (includes Speak Language and Decipher Script)
Manipulation (includes Diplomacy, Intimidate, and Sense Motive)
Sleight Of Hand (includes Use Rope and Forgery)
Sneak (includes Hide and Move Silently)
Spellcraft (includes Psicraft)
Streetwise (includes Appraise, Gather Information and Knowledge: Local)
Use Magic Device (includes Use Psionic Device)

The second list may be going overboard, but already the 39 (more, if you include all the varieties of Craft, Profession, Perform, and Knowledge) skills have been narrowed down to 15.  This may be going a bit too far but it's easy to expand skills.

Now let's add in the "skills" in D20 that aren't dependent on skill ranks:

Melee Attack rolls
Ranged Attack rolls
AC
Initiative
Endurance (mainly a function of Con)
Weight Lifting (mainly a function of Str)
Movement (mainly a function of race)
Passive Defenses (saving throws)
HP (mainly a function of Con and class)

Some of these make sense to add.  So let's add, at the very base, a few varieties of combat skills:

Melee (hand to hand fighting with a weapon)
Ranged (ranged fighting with a projectile weapon)
Brawl (hand to hand fighting without a weapon)
Dodge (getting the fuck out of the way!)
Parry (blocking with a weapon)
Toughness (takin' a lickin' and keepin' tickin')

Some of these may stay, some may go, but I like the basic idea of 3 combat skills, 3 defensive skills.  Maybe Parry can't be used against range, and Dodge against melee.  We can think this out more later.

Stealing a page from the various d6 or d10 books I've amassed, let's group these skills under stats.  Maybe your ranks in a skill plus your stat mod add together to be the number you add to a d20.  Let's try to extrapolate the list I made earlier and match some of those skills up to stats.  I'll list STAT, Skill (specialty), in that order

STRENGTH SKILLS:
Brawl (specific manuever)
Melee (specific weapon)
Climb (face climbed? maybe none.)
Jump (can't really think of any...)
Parry

DEXTERITY SKILLS:
Acrobatics (balance, tumbling, swinging)
Dodge (none)
Ranged (specific weapon)
Ride (specific animal)
Stealth (move silently, hiding)
Sleight of Hand

CONSTITUTION SKILLS:
Endurance (type of activity)
Movement
Lifting
Concentration (circumstances)
Fortitude
Swim

INTELLIGENCE SKILLS:
Craft (type of craft)
Knowledge (type)
Healing
Linguistics (language)
Disable Device

WISDOM SKILLS:
Alertness
Gambling
Manipulation
Streetwise

CHARISMA SKILLS:
Charm
Perform
Artistry
Use Magic Device
Willpower

This is a basic list... now some more things are starting to take shape.  I'm seeing a basic framework of Skill Mod + Skill + D20 for resolution.  Initiative can be an awareness check. Fort/ref/will saves can be fortitude, acrobatics/dodge, and willpower skill checks.  AC can be dodge or parry.  Movement and lifting can be determined by the relevent skills.  This is a base framework, I'll probably flesh it out more soon.

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DISCLAIMER: This is not intended to advance a particular agenda; it is merely my own curiousity about the subject.  No political axe is implied or should be inferred.

Question: How do you feel gender, sex, and identity roles should or should not be included in RPG's?  Why?

Do games encourage male gamers more than female gamers?  How do you feel about the stereotypes of the chainmail bikini clad damsel in distress or the hulking meatwad barbarian?

Consider the filmic depictions of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja when responding, as they are more or less film translations of the "iconic" barbarian and/or maiden stereotypes, and inspire many of our ideas about gaming today.

Is there a place for sexism in games?  For sex?  For any sort of "nontraditional" rpg topic, for that matter?

Consider the possibility of homosexuality, transgendered heroes and heroines, hermaphrodites, bigots, and the like.  Should they be included in a game or not?  Obviously, this is going to depend heavily on your gaming group and the themes you wish to play with, but should these issues be relegated to the back burner if they're "not in your play style?"  Can't the PC's have an ally who is homosexual even if it is not the focus of the game?  Typically, many fantasy games will make an attempt to include these "dangerous" topics by presenting them in a slightly ambiguous to dergatory way.  In all of the adventures I have read which include sexual preference and all the games I have been in which involved homosexual or other "nontraditional" sexuality it was presented, at best, in a neutral to slightly discouraging way.  The one adventure I read (sorry, can't recall the name now, I will search for it.) had a homosexual villain partially motivated by thwarted sexual advances.

What are your thoughts on the state of the industry in regards to gender presentation?  Am I the only one who wants to see femeninity presented as something other than weakness, "softness," or lack?  I'm not advocating an overthrow of masculinity--- that would only reverse the problem, and as a man I think it would have a negative impact on my perception of gaming.  What I'm thinking about now is how much (or if) progress has been made in regards to gender equality in gaming.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Snipes?  Suggestions?

3
It has been pointed out to me that I tend to optimize characters too much.  I did not realize this until I looked back at things, but it is true:

I am a compulsive character optimizer.

There.  I said it.

Any other hardcore CO'ers on this board who want to step forward?  Maybe we can begin a support group or something.  I know it's not that hard to do, but it is beginning to interfere with my ability to give other players character creation advice, something I was formerly good at.  I'm a good character concept guy, and good at bringing that concept to fruition through mechanics, but I fear now the mechanics are starting to overshadow the concept.

Any advice or snipes from the peanut gallery?

4
I'm going to be DM in a one shot for my old high school game crew.  We're getting back together for shits and grins and a little bit 'o dnd for the first time in over 5 years... should be good times.

I picked out a nice little adventure, The Crumbling Hall of the Frost Giant Jarl, available as a free adventure from CoDzilla's of the Coast (link http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/oa/20020329a ) and I was tweaking it a bit to bring it into line with 3.5.  Not too many changes just a few preference tweaks.

For example: I reworked the feats on The Nameless Thing to make it a better warrior, changed the half dragon template to a half fiend template (Don't dragons EVER fuck dragons?  Besides, I like fiends...), chaned Jarl Gungir to Warchief Gungir and made him a Frost Giant Disciple of Thrym 5 instead of Cleric 5.  Harashk is now an Ogre Fighter 2/Ravager 4.  Before the party gets there, they will be encountering some Urskan Barbarian 4's, a Frost Worm, a trio of Remorhaz, and a Hound Archon Hero ally if the going gets rough.

I'm currently making a group of pre-gen characters for everyone to play, and here's what I'd like feedback on the most-- what do you think of a 4 person party comprised of any combination of:

The "5th wheel":
Human Paladin 2/Sorceror 4/Spellsword 4 -- the classic fighter/mage

The Tank:
Dwarf Barbarian 2/Dwarf Paragon 3/Deepwarden 5 -- a tank with a twist

The Arcanist:
Whisper Gnome Illusionist 5/Shadowcrafter 2/Shadowcraft Mage 3 -- paragon of versatility

The Mystic:
Elven Cleric 10 -- archer/healer

The Skillmonkey:
Human Barbarian 1/Rogue 3/Ranger 3/Horizon Walker 1/Shadowdancer 2 -- sneaky death!

As you can see, these are all pretty optimized builds, and they can fill a combat role and their primary role fairly well.  Do you have any suggestions for other roles?

I think I should probably prepare a couple of other builds in case, but these are being worked on now.

Changes to the adventure: The Nameless Thing is a half fiend, not a half dragon.  Its feats have been changed to make it a more effective combatant.  The adventure background has changed.  The characters will recieve a character briefing detailing the following:

In the northern lands, a longstanding truce between a small enclave of elves a nomadic tribe of humans has been broken.  The elves give supplies with the humans, who stay out of the deeps of the forest in return.  Lately, however, a freakishly early winter has forced the nomads to take shelter in the forest, disrupting the harmony of the ancient elven sanctum.  Tensions run high among both camps.  After some savage preliminary skirmishes, an accord was reached when the forest was attacked by Frost Giants under the leadership of Jarl Fjorn, a foe long thought dead.  The humans and elves united against their common enemy and the elves sent an emissary to their longstanding allies, the dwarves of the Blackstone clan.  The dwarves made all haste they could, but with each passing day the unnatural winter deepened.  Fighting a defensive war, the forest defenders discovered that a magical relic, the Wintershard, was the source of the weather.  Enter the PCs: as the most experienced warriors the defenders can spare, they will infiltrate past enemy lines to the stronghold of Warchief Gungir, who has the Wintershard in his possession.  They are to eliminate Gungir and capture the Wintershard, inflicting as much damage as possible to the Jarl's forces as possible in the process.

feedback, comments, and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

5
This is a pseudo-rant, being part rant and part confusion and part anticipation.  Please take that under advisement-- I'm looking for opinions, feedback, commentary, etc. on this so we can get a nice dialogue going.

Without further ado, ::Ahem::

Wizards of the Coast has just posted a preview of the upcoming PHB2 on their website.  I am simultaneously very excited and somewhat nervous, leaning towards excited.  For one thing, the glut of feats, particularly weapon style feats, mastery feats, and feats that enable difficult but fun combat styles (eg: the mobility fighter) seem like they may actually do the trick of making a Fighter 20 playable.  (Before I go further, I should confess that I am a firm believer in character optimization/minmaxing.  There is absolutely no reason why solid character mechanics and good roleplaying should not exist hand in hand.)

2.) the expanded classes look interesting.  I have DMed several games where  the players would never rage for fear of "needing it later" or overestimating the effects of fatigue.  The preview lists an alternative mechanic for these folks, more or less putting rage on "automatic."  I like it for the flavor, the mechanics seem well thought out, and on the whole it feels pretty solid.  Nice work there.  If only we had thought of something like this to instate for those players to differentiate them from fighters...

[Counterpoint: this is part of the reason for the title, the Massively Multiplayer Online RPG-ification of Pen N Paper DnD.  Mechanics that kick in automatically like that are fun in a console/computer game, as they are generally fairly powerful and you've got a lot of things to worry about.  On the flip side, automatic mechanics like this take a lot of player control away.  General effects aside, "proactive" mechanics like spellcasting, or the power attack feat are much more satisfying than "reactive" mechanics such as the endurance feat or the monk's still mind class feature.  Reactive or passive mechanics are nice to have, and they can add the icing on the cake to a class if the active mechanics are solid.  Making rage, the barbarian's only real active mechanic, into a passive or reactive mechanic, is taking options out of the player's hands and putting them at the mercy of chance.  Think about it this way--- if, through some streak of luck, your HP never falls below the "rage threshold," the Barbarian class turns into something more like "a fighter with slightly better hp and no bonus feats."]

3.) I appreciate the inclusion of the character classes from the various Complete supplements, especially the Hexblade, Spirit Shaman, Warlock, Ninja, and Scout.  New base classes are a good way to model archetypes that are difficult or awkward to model through existing mechanics.  For example, it is possible to model a "ninja" archetype through multiclassing between monk, rogue, and fighter (possibly ranger) but it can be sort of clumsy or hard to pull off.  You could model it with a straight rogue, ranger, or monk through feat selection, but having it as a variant is nice

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