24 Jun 2016

Old Concept, New Game II - Jyslyn

Continuing from last week with Michaelus, I have another concept that took full advantage of the mechanics of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.  Unlike Michaelus, I never had a chance to play Jyslyn, though she finally did get some spotlight time during last year's NaNoWriMo.

Jyslyn came together after reading through the then-newly released Unearthed Arcana supplement for AD&D.  Drow became a playable race, despite being the evil followers of the Demon Queen of Spiders.  Everybody found a way to create a good drow, including RA Salvatore, who created Drizzt Do'Urdan.  Jyslyn predates Drizzt's first appearance.  She also takes advantage of the same multi-classing rules that Michaelus had.  Unlike the dwarven PI, who used multi-classing because dwarves couldn't be rangers, Jyslyn's usage became an integral part of her.

In Unearthed Arcana, the available classes and maximum levels for drow were split along gender lines.  Drow men were limited as clerics, could progress as far or possibly farther in level as magic-users and fighters as surface elves, and had no level limit as thieves.  Drow women were restricted as magic-users, could progress further than surface elves as clerics, and were unlimited as thieves.  Jyslyn's original concept was a drow woman who was more interested in magic than being a priestess and escaped her family by fleeing to the surface.  The excerpts from NaNo 2015 do show some of the ideas I had in mind.

Bringing Jyslyn to D&D's fifth edition has one integral problem to overcome - characters don't multi-class at the start.  It's an option as they gain levels, but Jyslyn can't start as a magic-user/thief.  Thief, though, was meant to give her access to the stealth skills she needed to get out of her home and on to the service.  There may be a background that would fit that could replace the need for the thief class.

This time around, I'll work in the order given in the Player's Handbook.  First up, the attributes.  I'll use the standard array - 15, 14, 13, 12, 10, and 8 - instead of rolling or using point buy.  Jyslyn's top attribute is Intelligence.  She's a wizard, thus she needs to be smart.  Her next highest attribute is Dexterity, to help her be stealthy.  The next two are Charisma and Constitution, more as default than anything else.  Her Wisdom is average; she's made some bad decisions in her past that involve her family.  Her Strength is her lowest; she's a wizard, focused on book learning over her physical body, though she became hardy just through her escape.
Strength 8
Dexterity 14
Constitution 12
Intelligence 15
Wisdom 10
Charisma 13
Next on the checklist is race.  Jyslyn is a drow elf, which is a core choice in D&D 5th.  As an elf, she gets a bonus to Dexterity.  She also gets Darkvision, allowing her to see in the dark, but in shades of grey, and proficiency in Perception.  Jyslyn is also unaffected by magical sleep and has advantage against being charmed.  As a drow, she gains a bonus to Charisma, improvement to her Darkvision, and knowledge of weapons preferred by her people.  She also is sensitive to sunlight.

This now brings Jyslyn to her choice in character class, which is, naturally enough, Wizard.  She gains the wizard weapons and chooses Arcana and Investigation as her skills.  For her gear, she takes a dagger, a component pouch, an explorer's pack, and a spellbook.  The biggest choice to make here is her spell list.  She gets three cantrips and six first level spells.  Given where she's from and that she fully expects that most of her early spell use would be against her own kind, most enchantment spells available to her aren't going to be useful.  In particular, /sleep/ won't help her at all.  Jyslyn is also limited to what is available from spying on other wizards, so she may have more necromancy spells than expected.  The selection below reflects a mix of protective and offensive spells with a drow flavour, which is mostly poison.

Looking ahead as a Wizard, Jyslyn will have to choose a school of magic.  The School of Enchantment is most likely out; her early education would have her distrust the effectiveness of the school's spells.  Jyslyn is also not likely to take the School of Necromancy; she's aware of the reuptation her people have and would like to avoid the angry mob with torches and pitchforks chasing her.  The School of Abjuration may fit her better, but it'd depend on what adventures she has before reaching second level.

Now comes the interesting part, chosing a background.  Normally, a Wizard would take the Sage background; it's a natural match and represents the time a mage spent learning to cast spells.  However, Jyslyn didn't learn the normal way.  Criminal, while it fit Michaelus, also doesn't work for Jyslyn.  She learned to be stealthy for knowledge, not money.  However, it does provide for the Stealth skill.  Hermit also doesn't fit; that represents someone who spent time alone and Jyslyn was a member of drow society until her escape.  Urchin, while not perfect, may best represent Jyslyn.  While she wasn't orphaned or poor, she did sneak around and did keep watch for others who discover her secret.  It's not a perfect fit, but it works, and backgrounds aren't meant to be strict.  Jyslyn gains Sleight of Hand and Stealth and knows how to use a disguise kit and thieves' tools.

The fifth edition version doesn't quite fit Jyslyn perfectly, but with the core book, close enough.  The character sheet for Jyslyn:
Level 1 Wizard, Chaotic Good
Race: Elf, drow

Strength 8/-1
Dexterity 16/+3
Constitution 12/+1
Intelligence 15/+2
Wisdom 10/+0
Charisma 14/+2

Hit Points: 7
AC: 13

  Armour: none
  Weapons: Rapiers, short swords, hand crossbows, daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows
  Tools: Disguise kit, thieves' tools
  Saving Throws: Intelligence (+4), Wisdom (+2)
  Languages: Common, Elvish
  Skills: Arcana (+4), Investigation (+4), Perception (+2), Sleight of Hand (+5), Stealth (+5)

Background: Urchin (sort of)
  Feature: City Secrets

  Speed 30'
  Size Medium

Racial Traits
  Superior Darkvision 120'
  Keen Senses
  Fey Ancestry
  Sunlight Sensitivity
  Drow Magic - dancing lights cantrip
  Drow Weapon Training

Class Abilities:
  Spellcasting - Spell save DC12; spell attack bonus +4
  Arcane Recovery

  Gold Pieces:
  Component pouch
  Explorer's pack
  Small knife
  Map of city she grew up in
  Pet mouse
  Token to remember parents
  Set of common clothes
  Belt pouch

  Cantrips: dancing lights (from drow), chill touch, mage hand, poison spray
  1st Level: colour spray,.false life, feather fall, mage armour, ray of sickness, witch bolt

17 Jun 2016

Old Concept, New Game I - Michaelus Hammersmith

While the weekly serial is on hold until I have something completed, I want to try something different.  Years ago, I was active in the Role Playing Gamers Association, or RPGA, a TSR run fan organization very much similar to today's Adventurer's League.  The nature of gaming in Raven's Bluff allowed for character concepts that may not fit in a more typical sword and sorcery approach.  Michaelus Hammersmith, dwarven private investigator, was one such concept that I did get to play.  Michaelus relied on multi-classing being available right from the start, allowable in 1st and 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but not really available in 5th edition D&D.  Can he be recreated?

10 Jun 2016

King Arthur, MechWarrior

Since writing the analysis of BattleTech: The Animated Series (also over at Psycho Drive-In with illustrations), I've been poking at the current BattleTech RPG, A Time of War.  The core mechanic is simple enough - roll 2d6, add skill level and attribute modifiers against a set target number - but character creation takes time.  The game also is focused at the character level, whether the PC is a MechWarrior outside his walking tank or a merchant operating a DropShip throught the Successor States.  Given the background of the game, though, it struck me that BattleTech could use a King Arthur, Pendragon approach.

Pendragon allows players to not only play a knight in the time of King Arthur, but to also build the knight's family and holdings.  The Great Pendragon Campaign is set up to follow the events as chronicled by Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, placing the player knights at the major events.  The game becomes generational; as one knight dies, the player creates the deceased's heir to continue.  The main drawback of The Great Pendragon Campaign is that players can feel railroaded at times, staying close to the book.  A fictionalized version, though, would allow a campaign to flow where it wanted, and this is where BattleTech comes in.

BattleTech has several eras of play, from the end of the Star League through the Succession Wars, to the Clan Invasion and the Jihad.  Most of the eras have huge events happening at the upper levels of the major Houses, from the machinations of Stefan the Usurper to the wedding of Prince Hanse Davion to Archon-Designate Melissa Steiner.  The details, though, are left up to players to fill out, through either the wargame, as 'Mechs throw down on a distant planet, or the RPG, as PCs connive their way through the echelons.  A Pendragon-like campaign can start in any era and continue on its own way, not necessarily bound by canon.  If a GM doesn't mind players conspiring to take over a major House like Steiner, the sky's the limit!

The catch, as always, is keeping what makes Pendragon Pendragon and what makes BattleTech BattleTechPendragon has Passions, beliefs that drive a player knight, whether it's the love of family or the hate of an enemy.  BattleTech setting books and fiction show similar Passions at work.  Citizens of the Lyran Alliance and the Draconis Combine along the path of the Clan invasion could easily have Hate (Clans), just as citizens of the Taurian Concordat can have Hate (Federated Suns)*.  Skills in Pendragon have their equivalence in a more advanced era.  Battle becomes Tactics, Horsemanship maps to Pilot/BattleMech or Pilot/Aerospace, and weapon skills can be expanded to include Firearms and Gunnery.

A typical King Arthur, MechWarrior** campaign would follow minor Houses of a Successor State, though a challenging game may have players as the heads of the major Houses and the larger Periphery nations.  Having players all be from one Successor prevents immediate in-fighting, though political maneuvering should be expected.  The idea, at least for the typical campaign, is to have players work together to benefit their Successor State while still trying to gain political and military capital of their own, building up manors on worlds to protect themselves from invaders, marauders***, and bandits.  The GM can still have key events happen, but the immediate impact on the players' plans should be minimal.  Of course, if a FedSun PC has Hate (Steiner) and the wedding between Hanse and Melissa happens, that's a role-playing opportunity waiting to be exploited.

A key part of Pendragon character creation is the effect of previous generations on a player knight.  Events that occurred to the knight's father and grandfather have an impact on the knight himself, leading to passions and personality traits.  The GM and players will have to work out the details of what happened before, but that will depend greatly on the chosen era and Successor State.  A King Arthur, MechWarrior campaign will feel closest to Pendragon if set in the Federated Suns, which is similar enough to England with French and American influences.  However, a campaign in the Draconis Combine will allow for samurai and one set in the Marian Hegemony will have a more Roman feel.  It's all dependent of GM and players.

The mechanics used may not matter at this point.  Converting Pendragon for MechWarrior houses requires adding and updating skills to reflect the setting.  Converting A Time of War will need some work to reflect the Passions.  Adding the Passions as Compulsions at various levels may work, though, but the more extreme levels may not work well.  A character I played in a Pendragon campaign, Sir Tanicus of Newton, had Hate (Saxons) at 19, meaning to invoke it, I had to roll 19 or less on a d20.  That level of Hate could be a Compulsion worth -4 Trait Points, which leads to a -7 on rolls around Saxons.****  The third option here is to use a different ruleset, one that can meld the needs of both approaches.  As this is still high level planning, I'm not worrying about the rules right now.  Players could use one set of mechanics for role-playing and switch to the BattleTech rules to fight battles.

For players who want to explore the nightlife of Solaris VII while fighting in the broadcast games, the above thoughts may not be useful.  For those who want to explore the nature of power in the 31st Century or who want to build up a dynasty to challenge the ruling Houses, this may be the way to go.

* Citizens of the Federated Suns along the border with the Concordat might have Indifference (Taurians).  "Who are these guys and what's their deal?"
** For lack of a better name here.
*** Which may include MAD-3R Marauders.
**** Sir Tanicus managed to roll a 19 exactly when facing some nasty Saxon berserkers, which increased his Hate (Saxons).  The berserkers died on the lance of Sir Tanicus; he out-hated them.

3 Jun 2016

Terran Confedetarion - Starship Designations

Ship's here in Reality Land have names, so it follows that fictional ships, even starships, have them, too.  Most ships have a prefix in front of the name to give people an idea of the vessel's mission.  Warships get prefixes like HMS (Her Majesty's Ship) and USS (United States Ship) while other vessels may use MV (Motor Vessel) or RRS (Royal Research Ship)*.  In Traveller's Third Imperium, prefixes include INS (Imperial Naval Ship), IISS (Imperial Interstellar Scout Ship), and IMS (Imperial Merchant Ship).  I want something similar for the Terran Confederation.

Starting with government-owned ships, the Royal Navy uses HMS (His/Her Majesty's Ship) for all commissioned vessels, from battleships down to couriers.  Auxiliaries, such as subsidized merchants and liners called into service, gain the HMNA (His/Her Majesty's Naval Auxiliary) while in service to the Navy, supplanting any existing prefix.  For system defense boats, the non-jump capable vessels that protect local systems, the Royal Navy uses HMDB (His/Her Majesty's Defense Boat).  The Royal Marines don't have ships of their own, being officially a department of the Royal Navy, but the Royal Army does, mostly transports with the prefix HMAS (His/Her Majesty's Army Ship).  Hospital ships in both the Navy and the Army get their own designation, MHMS (His/Her Majesty's Medical Ship); the prefix also gets applied to auxiliaries dedicated for medical evacuation duties.

Outside the military, the Commonwealth has minstries that have their own ships.  The largest non-military fleet is held by the Exploration Service under the Ministry of Colonization.  The Exploration Service uses the general prefix REV (Royal Exploratory Vessel) for almost all of their ships.  The exceptions are the dedicated mail carriers, which get the prefix RPS (Roayl Postal Ship).  The Exploration Service tends to use multipurpose ships, so a vessel that had been scouting one month can become a courier the next and a transport following that.

The Ministry of Science also has ships, though it also contracts out research work to universities, corporations, and the Exploration Service.  Ministry-owned vessels use the prefix RRV (Royal Research Vessel)**; contracted ships keep their own name and, if any, prefix.  The Ministry of Justice is another that has a substantial fleet.  However, most of the Ministry's ships are unmarked, allowing agents to investigate undercover, using registries that mask their origin.  The overt ships in the Ministry of Justice receive the prefix RCV (Royal Constabulary Vessel).

Individual planets within the Commonwealth may or may not use prefixes.  Each planet decides for itself whether to use them.  Planet Hypothetical could just call a ship /Sample/, with no prefix.  If /Sample/ were used for customs inspections, the prefix could be HCC (Hypothetical Customs Cutter).  Vessels from Hypothetical that servied with distinction when in service to the Commonwealth could receive a Royal designation bestowed on them, leading to the prefix RHS (Royal Hypothetical Ship) or even RHCC (Royal Hypothetical Customs Cutter).  Merchant ships registered to Hypothetical may use the prefix HCS (Hypothetical Commercial Ship) but not HMS (Hypothetical Merchant Ship) because of the Royal Navy's use of the prefix.  All merchant vessels registered within the Commonwealth have the option of the prefix CMS (Commonwealth Merchant Ship), but the use isn't mandated.

How useful is this for the potential NaNoWriMo project this November?  This is background work that may not even appear.  But Colony Base 182 is just part of the work.  The Terran Confederation could easily be a campaign setting, whatever the game mechanics used.  Details like the above help define the setting, making it more real.

* As in the not actually being named ship, RRS Boaty McBoatface.
** There is no RRV Labby McLabship.