DE Playtest #2

My brave adventurers visited a goblin lair in today’s playtest, and (3 players and 7 henchmen) got snuck up on and pincered into oblivion in the very first room. ¬†What did we learn?

1. I’m not wasting much effort keeping them alive. ūüôā

2. My goblin hordes are too dangerous to throw at 1st level characters, because:

3. Toughness saves favor the side that can obligate more of them: hordes are super-deadly.

4. Dungeon-crawling is really dangerous in a fantasy world where things like goblins are basically on par with normal humans.

We also tried out two new game options:

1. Point-based level progression (10 points per level, with various class features broken up to cost 1 each)

2. “Skill-based” magic system where each spell has a casting DC, with success meaning the spell is cast and a bruise is received, and failure meaning the spell fails, spell level +1 bruises are received, and an accumulating -1 casting penalty is received.

The point-buy system seemed to work well to achieve everyone’s character concept, and the spell system is interesting enough to keep trying. ¬†I introduced it after being disappointed with how Basic d20 handled spellcasting with its point-buy system (5 pts for a level of wizard/sorcerer, etc), so I decided to try turning each spell school into a “skill”. ¬†

So far, it’s an interesting take on spell casting, with a baked-in chance of failure and a cumulative “exhaustion” effect. ¬†It allowed our mage to cast Sleep a total of 4 times on the same outing, with a couple failures to do the same.

I don’t think I’ll nerf goblins (I like having cunning slimy green cannibal humanoids underfoot), but I think today shows that 1st level characters should be hunting solitary monsters or small groups, cashing in bounties on thieves and bandits, and doing other menial stuff before taking on anything like, oh, 50 goblins.

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Stone Age Adventuring

After reading this interesting post at Dreams in the Lich House, I commented about the possibility of a “Warrior – Hunter – Shaman” take on the “Fighter – Thief – Mage” triad familiar from D&D and similar games.

For Dark Earth, to create a Hunter class, I would simply change the thief skill list to:

Tracking – Trapping – Athletics – Searching – Perception

(basically just replacing “Lockpicking” with “Tracking” and “Acrobatics” with “Athletics”)

I would probably tweak the Mage to be extra-low-magic, possibly even granting spell points at a later level, or replacing magic entirely with something like “herb lore” and the ability to make various drugs and perform basic first aid, as well as accessing “ancestral knowledge” about creatures, plants, locations, and whatnot.

I would have stupid amounts of fun running a game like that.

Dark Earth Progression Tables

Just wanted to post these to document and share some of the design process for the game, and hopefully evoke some comments from other gamers and game designers.

FIGHTER
Level Attack Damage Toughness Initiative
1 1 1 1 1
2 3 2 2 2
3 4 3 3 3
4 6 4 4 4
5 7 5 5 5
6 9 6 6 6
7 10 7 7 7
8 12 8 8 8
9 13 9 9 9
10 15 10 10 10
THIEF
Level Attack Damage Sneak Attack Damage Toughness Initiative Stealth Rating
1 1 0 1 0 1 4
2 2 1 2 1 3 5
3 3 1 3 1 4 6
4 4 2 4 2 6 7
5 5 2 5 2 7 8
6 6 3 6 3 9 9
7 7 3 7 3 10 10
8 8 4 8 4 12 11
9 9 4 9 4 13 12
10 10 5 10 5 15 13
THIEF SKILLS
Level Picking Locks Acrobatics Disarming Traps Perception Searching
DEX WIS
1 4 4 4 4 4
2 5 5 5 5 5
3 6 6 6 6 6
4 7 7 7 7 7
5 8 8 8 8 8
6 9 9 9 9 9
7 10 10 10 10 10
8 11 11 11 11 11
9 12 12 12 12 12
10 13 13 13 13 13
MAGE
Level Attack Toughness Initiative Casting Initiative Spell Points Known Spell Levels Arcane Lore
1 0 0 0 1 1 1 + INT 4 + INT
2 1 1 1 2 1 3 + INT 5 + INT
3 1 1 1 3 1 6 + INT 6 + INT
4 2 2 2 4 2 10 + INT 7 + INT
5 2 2 2 5 2 15 + INT 8 + INT
6 3 3 3 6 3 21 + INT 9 + INT
7 3 3 3 7 3 28 + INT 10 + INT
8 4 4 4 8 4 36 + INT 11 + INT
9 4 4 4 9 4 45 + INT 12 + INT
10 5 5 5 10 5 55 + INT 13 + INT

So, right now, character creation should be really simple.

1. Generate abilities (i.e. STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA) on the following table

3d20 Roll Chance (%) Ability Score
03-05 0.12% -5
06-09 0.93% -4
10-14 3.49% -3
15-20 9.70% -2
21-27 24.07% -1
28-35 29.50% 0
36-42 24.07% 1
43-48 9.70% 2
49-53 3.49% 3
54-57 0.93% 4
58-60 0.12% 5

2. Choose your class: Fighter, Thief, or Mage.

3. Choose 1 suit of armor, 3 weapons, and 9 other items (12 if you choose “no armor”).

4. Play!

Initiative is rolled each round as in ACKS, and Toughness saves occur on the following table:

Toughness Roll Damage Effects Additional Effects from Lethal Damage
‚Č• 15 + Damage Unscathed
‚Č• 10 + Damage Bruised
‚Č• 5 + Damage Stunned Injured
‚Č• Damage Staggered Disabled
< Damage Unconscious Dying
INJURY TABLE (d20)
SLASHING PIERCING CRUSHING INJURY LOCATION EFFECT
1-2 1 1-3 Arm -1 STR
3-4 2 4-6 Leg -1 DEX
5-6 3 7-9 Chest -1 END
7-8 4 10-12 Head -1 INT
9-10 5 12-14 Head -1 PER
11-12 6 15-17 Face -1 CHA
13-20 07-20 18-20 Bleeding Wound +1 Bruise/Round, starting at the end of round received.
DAMAGE EFFECTS
Unscathed No effect. Staggered As Injured and Stunned and may only take move or standard action until end of next combat round.
Bruised – 1 to Toughness (cumulative). When Toughness = -10, gain Unconscious & Dying conditions. Disabled As staggered, but becomes Dying if character: moves all out, attacks, or otherwise performs a strenuous action.
Injured Roll on Injury Table & apply effect. Unconscious Helpless; all further damage taken is Lethal.
Stunned As Injured and -4 to all rolls until end of next combat round. Dying Endurance throw (DC 10) or die. Repeat at start of each turn (DC 10 + 1 per previous attempt). If successful by 10 or more, stabilize to Disabled and Unconscious.

That’s the spine of the Dark Earth system. ¬†Another thing to streamline play: characters “take 10” on their d20 rolls every time they sneak (switching to half movement speed), giving them a passive “stealth rating” that listeners or searchers need to “hit” in order to notice them, like an armor class. ¬†This is recorded on the character sheet right by your armor class: silence in the shadows protects you better than any steel.

Apologies for the table-dump; hopefully they won’t dominate your Reader!

Next play-test session is this Sunday. ¬†Is there anything you’d like to see tested?

1st Playtest Session for Dark Earth

So, I finally had the opportunity to play-test Dark Earth last night.

The Toughness mechanic seems to work as expected, but there is some streamlining to do, naturally.

The original “Stunned” condition in the damage chart caused the injured party to lose their next turn, and this was thrown out as too harsh, considering that with the Toughness mechanic as-is, accumulated damage makes you more likely to take more damage. ¬†Likewise, the “Bleeding” condition can now be reduced by 1 at the start of each turn with a successful toughness save. ¬†A single bleeding wound is unlikely to kill an opponent, but accumulated bleeding wounds will drop an opponent really quickly — but maybe not before they get their revenge.

Also thrown out were rolls on the Injury table for 0th-level/minion opponents.  For hordes or swarms, this is simply too much bookkeeping.  So any 0th-level opponent or creature now dies from any failed Toughness save.

We decided to modify the magic system, too.  Now everyone has spell points equal to half their level, minimum of 1, and spells cost a number of spell points equal to their level.  This gives players access to new spell levels at 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th level, more like the d20 sorcerer.

Decisions were made about spells being acquired during downtime or during play, with the consensus apparently being that “downtime” or “off-stage” acquisition was easier and more fun than shaking scrolls out of a random table. ¬†Currently, Intelligence affects the number of spells known and the rate of spell acquisition (with the “Spell Mastery” feat re-tooled to provide extra known spells), with Wisdom affecting the Save DC of all spells cast. ¬†So far, it has produced an interesting divide between the “utility mage” and the “attack mage”, which I hope come to replace the “healer/blaster” archetypes.

My party of 4 with 12 henchmen took out a troublesome ogre in 7 combat rounds of tense skirmishing, losing 3 henchmen in the process.  On the way back to town, they took out 4 1st level and 9 0th level bandits in a single round, with a combination of fighter cleaving, a single sleep spell, and a fusillade of arrows, after winning the perception check to see them hidden and the initiative check once combat began.

So far, so good.  Next order of business is to produce a feat list appropriate to the game mechanic, which also allows the production of the familiar D&D character archetypes.

As it stands, each level gives you 2-3 feats, 1 from your specialty list (2 if you are an expert), and 1 from a general list. ¬†20 or so feats should be sufficient for now, with the focus being on the “archetypal” feat trees like Turn Undead and skills like Alchemy or Lockpicking.

Things like Power Attack and going to need re-tooling, since Damage is way more deadly/important now, since it’s no longer merely moving you closer to 0 hit points, but also cumulatively increasing the chance of a “critical hit” (significantly failed Toughness save) that puts you down for good.

Interesting note: DE currently has nothing like weapon proficiencies and nothing like arcane spell failure chance for armor.  Everyone bought longbows and the heaviest armor they could wear without slowing themselves down.  I hope to keep the armor calculus (what should I wear?) focused on encumbrance, sneak penalties, and movement rate, rather than other magical concerns, although slowing down spell point regeneration according to armor worn has been discussed.

More to come soon!