October 25, 2009

Plane Trek, Part II - Tropes

So yesterday I posted about Plane Trek. I missed a few tropes, though:

  • Space is an Ocean: It's almost a no-brainer. Most sci-fi stories use it, and while I haven't read Spelljammer, I've seen some ships, and they look more ship-like than spacecraft-like. (Most wouldn't float in water either, but they have sails.)
  • 2D Space: Makes for easy mapping, if nothing else. I think the Astral Sea should be a few miles "thick", though, to allow for 3D maneuvering in ship battles without the hassle of mapping a spherical Astral Sea.
  • Home Is Kinda Nice: The Federation in Trek is a pretty decent place to live. Adventure is out there, on the Final Frontier.
    (I couldn't find a TvTrope on the subject. Home usually sucks in fiction, after all.)

Plane Trek

One of my crazy ideas for a future D&D campaign is Plane Trek. I'm not a Trekkie by any means, having only seen the Shatner movies and Nemesis, but the idea of a party of D&D characters exploring the multiverse, meeting strange creatures/cultures and dealing with them appeals to me.

So what would the basic concepts be for this game?

  • Diverse crew: Okay, the original movies had a bunch of humans and Spock (with other non-humans among the nameless crew), but The Next Generation has a Klingon, a half-Betazoid (granted, she looks human) and an android among the main characters. In a group of five characters, I'd probably rule that there can be no more than two of any given race.
  • Worldbuilding: Races aren't from one planet with all the PHB races living in harmony. Each "planet" (actually some sphere in the Astral Sea) has at most two races (with some interesting relationship). Each player gets to detail the planet they're from. The "Federation" of known worlds then consists of the homeworlds of the player characters, with everything else a possible surprise.
  • No material plane: The Normal World, Feywild and Shadowfell aren't their own thing separate from the Astral Sea and the Elemental Chaos. They're just planets among others, floating in the Astral Sea. Actually, the Elemental Chaos might be toned down a bit too.
  • Planet of Hats: As with player races, monsters live in monocultures. There's a hobgoblin planet to land on and get in trouble, for example. Next week, the crew finds a sahuagin planet...
  • Spelljammers ahoy: The high-tech of Trek becomes magitech. Spelljammers instead of spaceships, and everything else works mostly as usual in D&D.
  • Overly obvious moralizing: Er... I'd skip that part.

October 18, 2009

No Post On Monday

Aaaand is this the point where this blog starts jumping the shark? Anyway, no post on Monday, as the title says. I'll try to have one up in the middle of the week instead.

October 13, 2009

I Am A Daredevil-Seeker

According to the BrainHex test, at least. The Daredevil likes Mirror's Edge, Canabalt and just going really fast in general. The Seeker wants to find stuff, so he likes Morrowind. Not a bad fit.

I'm mildly amused that both categories list Shadow of the Colossus as a favored game. I'll have to pick up that and a PS2 sometime.

October 12, 2009

Cost of Hirelings in D&D4

Looking over the costs of mounts from the 4E PHB and Adventurer's Vault, one finds that all the mounts - with the exception of the level 1 and 2 ones - are priced like magic items. Often items at higher levels than the monster's level.

This is quite understandable, as many of these mounts grant powerful abilities. The Rage Drake, for example, give its rider a +2 to hit and damage, which stacks with every other plus. Neato. A Dire Wolf, on the other hand, is just a dire wolf with no frills, so it costs the same as a magic item of its level (5).

The interesting part is extrapolating this to henchmen. A mount shares its actions with the rider, so it's not an extra set of actions on the field, just a power boost to the rider. Buying a henchman, on the other hand, would mean that there's an extra ally taking actions every round. Which is a huge boost.

But let's pretend for a while that it works. Many mounts cost the same as a magic item of its level+2. Applying the same reasoning to henchmen would let you hire a bandit (Human Bandit, level 2) for 840 gp (a level 4 item). Mind, this is a slavishly loyal bandit. For the cost of Bloodcut Armor +1, you get an ally that flanks with you and can unleash a Dazing Strike once per encounter. That's... a bargain.

Weekly rates make more sense than "buying slaves", since your adventurers will soon outlevel the henchmen. One might want to halve the cost and make that the weekly wage. Or if you find that the Bandit is indeed even better than an equivalent magic item, make the original cost his monthly wage - he'll eventually quit.

Finally, companion characters from the Dungeon Master's Guide II are probably better balanced as PC allies than creatures from the Monster Manual. PC and monster numbers are slightly different, after all.

October 05, 2009

Alternative Skill Challenges: Combat-Style

In D&D 4E combat, the PC:s fight whatever, and either win solidly, win with relatively heavy losses (of HP, daily powers etc), or lose (which means game over, or at least "you wake up in a cell".)

In a D&D 4E skill challenge, you either win or lose. No intermediate results, except for those special "wilderness travel" challenges where someone has to make an Endurance check to avoid being exhausted. The developers seemed to want to do more, but they didn't go further with the system in the first DMG.

A system I've been thinking of using is to divide up a skill challenge in "rounds" instead. Every round, each PC does something (makes a skill check). Once all PCs have acted, the "monsters" act. What this means is that each round that ends without the PCs having succeeded, something nasty happens. This could be a fight (drains resources), or something else. Failures aren't counted, the PCs are just trying to get the requisite number of successes in as few rounds as possible.

Lacking the patience to do the statistics for this by hand, I used Scott Gray's Dice Pool Calculator. Knowing that a trained or talented character has about 80% chance of success, I just have to look for the cumulative probability of getting the requisite number of successes. At first I assumed a goal of 5 successes, because that leaves a slight chance that 5 PCs could succeed before the end of the first round. If the party is smaller or larger, the requisite number of successes should be changed to mirror the party.

As the table on the right (click for bigger picture) shows, it's actually hard to get all successes in the first round, but the group is all but guaranteed to get them in round 2. Larger groups obviously have a harder time if everyone must succeed. If you really want to prolong the challenge, require twice the number of players in successes - they have a small chance of winning in round 2, and are likely to win in round 3.

Weirdness with large groups aside, this does do what I'm after. The PCs are likely to see what happens after a round they've failed, but they have a chance to avert it, and it probably won't happen twice. It seems to work, especially for "investigation"-type challenges, where the characters do something for a day (make a skill check each) and then the bad guys send assassins each night (Fight!).