Idea: Focus Crystals

This is an idea for a book series that I will likely start writing in 2018, after my third Shadow Wolf Book (The Whore’s War) comes out.

I have gone on about industrial age fantasy before. My current favourite book series that fits the idea is Brian McClellan’s flintlock fantasy which begins with Promise of Blood. I believe that we will see more and more industrial age settings as the genre branches out. I can even see it becoming one of the dominant forms of the the fantasy genre. Steampunk has done well, but the industrial age is larger than victoriana.

The Focus Crystal

The idea behind the Focus Crystal is to combine the industrial age with fantasy magic. The crystal is a specially treated mineral that converts concentration into magical energy that can be used to power magical effects, or as a mundane source of energy.

Key Points

  • The Focus Crystal works better for people with stronger will and better concentration.
  • The Focus Crystal can store energy for a limited period of time. Small crystals lose half their stored energy every 15 minutes while the largest and most elaborately made have a storage half-life of 24 hours.
  • The energy from a focus crystal can power a spell. Originally they were used by hereditary sorcerers to supplement their magical abilities, but it was eventually discovered that the energy could be used for more mundane uses like electricity in the real world. Eventually it was discovered that it could be used by a non-sorcerer to power a magical effect when combined with a spell plate.
  • Focus Crystals can be mass produced from materials extracted from the earth.

In the setting I am considering Focus Crystals undermine the nobility, who claim power through hereditary sorcerous power, by making magic more accessible.

The working title for the series is End of Kings.


The Reckoning and the Nature of Power in the Domains of the Chosen

Why the Chosen would participate in a system that oppresses the majority of the Gifted?

In my Domains of the Chosen series, the Chosen are the potent, ageless rulers of a sprawling Empire that clawed its way to power after surviving a massive magical cataclysm. The Gifted are those who develop the ability to wield magic, and in the Domains they are considered too dangerous to be allowed to develop their talents freely. The Gifted can choose to become Vassals who are sundered from the most destructive aspects of their magic, or to fight for their right to join the ranks of the Chosen as Gladiators.

The answer, in short, is to view the Gifted as weapons of mass destruction. States with nuclear weapons frown on other states trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, but tend be accepting of those that already have them. This even holds up with enemies: Kim Jong Un is dangerously unhinged and could be a much greater and more lasting threat than Isis, but because seems to have nuclear weapons we must practice detente with him instead of regime change.

The long answer is that the Chosen see other magic-wielders as a threat. The Reckoning began because the powerful Gifted of old began a massive war for dominance. The war was of such impressive scope that new races were created (Armodons and Minotaurs are among these and the created races suffer greater racial stigma in the Domains, because they are the product of magic) and the nations of old were mostly destroyed or became puppet states of powerful Gifted. That war went on and on, ending only when the forces that were wielded spun out of control, resulting in massive storms of Chaotic magic that scoured life from the entire planet and tainted the landscape.

The Chosen represent the Gifted who survived because they set aside their differences (temporarily, for survival) and made a pact with the people with the only safe haven around, Krass. Krass needed the Chosen for extra protection, and to help feed and shelter the massive influx of refugees that made their way to the city. The covenant they made was to the benefit of both groups; people hated the Gifted because of The Reckoning, but they needed them to survive. The Chosen needed shelter and could not survive without people (someone needs to grow food, make clothes, etc).

But The Chosen are not a monumental group. They are old enemies who often trust each other less than than anyone else. Any new Gifted who reaches the status of Chosen, migt be an ally for an enemy faction. Thus they use the Great Games as a way to control who has a shot.

It is also worth noting that by the time any Gladiator has a chance to join the the Chosen they have a large amount of popular support from years of public performance in the Arena, which counteracts the lingering fear of the Gifted for most citizens.

Finally a key point is that the Gift is not hereditary. The Chosen do not have a greater chance of having children with the Gift than anyone else. Thus any Chosen with children has a large chance of having ungifted kids; if they love those kids then they have an automatic desire to protect them from other Gifted. If the Gift were hereditary I expect things would play out very differently, with magical-aristocractic families ruling over ungifted peasant slaves.

In the end it is all about power. We can see the lengths that people go to keep and amass power throughout history, frequently killing their own family members and engaging in horrifying  atrocities. In the Domains of the Chosen, magic is power.

RPG Building: Runepunk #4 (Dice Mechanics 2)

This is a continuation of last week’s post, which sets out my goals for a dice mechanic for a homebrew RPG system to replace Shadowrun 5th for one of my larger and less experienced gaming groups.

I like 3-4 dice because it gives me a predictable bell curve. This won’t matter at all for most of the players, but it does help me set difficulties as a game master. A few of the more advanced players will also grok to that as well.

I love exploding dice, but they work less well with multi die systems. The solution I have used in the past is to roll a different sized die for the exploding die. A different colour of die would work too, but it has the potential to be confusing.

So I will go with that system which uses 3d6 +d8 added together. This gives me a range of 4 to 26 with an average weighted exactly to 15, which is an easy difficulty number. I have used this dice set in the past with good success. I called the d8 the Chaos die.

  • Roll 3d6 and add a d8
  • On a roll of 8 on the Chaos die take another d8, roll and add it
    • Keep rolling. In older versions of Chaos die I just assigned a big bonus to a roll of 8. Open ending more is more fun! The rule is stop once the highest level of success has been achieved.

The standard mechanic for a roll and add system is to set a variable difficulty. The more difficult the action, the higher the target number. I used to do it this way, but having a set target number and rolling difficulty into a modifier for the die roll, might be a way to squeeze more efficiency out the system. It will certainly let the player know how well they did without my input.

Old way: roll + modifiers vs difficulty

New way: roll + modifiers (difficulty included) vs set TN

Thus in this version a 15 is the TN for a basic success. Additional levels of success would be 20, 30, and 50+ for argument’s sake.

Difficulties would be +5 (easy), +3 (routine), +0 (Standard), -3 (Hard), -5 (Harder), -10 (Extremely Hard), -15 (Heroic), -20 (Epic), -25 (Legendary), -30 (Mythical)

This relegates difficulty to another roll modifier. It does lose some levels of precision in choosing a base difficulty and then stacking modifiers onto it like some games might, but that is a degree of precision that is only useful for tournaments and organized play with experienced players; I am willing to lose it for Runepunk.

Opposed rolls would simply be based on whoever rolls higher, with the level of success of the action added to the reaction as a modifier.

Now what about critical failure and open ending down.

I do like the idea of critical failure, though mostly as a gauge of how screwed minions are when they make bad rolls. I’ll set it at 5 or less, which would be pretty unlikely without a big penalty.

With the old Chaos die system I used to have a roll of 1 on the d8 open end downward. This was both complicated and not fun when it happened to a player. Instead with this system, if a player rolls a 1 on the Chaos die they cannot use re-rolls.

The final product looks like this:

3d6 + d8 (open ended) +/- modifiers (including difficulty) vs 15

Not bad for now 🙂

RPG Building: Runepunk #3 (Dice Mechanics 1)

I could have titled the post resolution mechanics because I was considering using cards this time around. The idea of attributes controlling a card pool that the player builds over the career of their character is interesting, but merits more than my amateurish part time tinkering.

So dice it is 🙂

In the last post I decided that the game would use three main attributes (Power, Finesse, and Cunning) for most tasks, encouraging the player to choose which attribute they use approach a roll as a matter of simple role-playing, as well as tactical thinking.

I started thinking about what other attributes I wanted to use to describe the character, how should skills work, do I want to use classes, etc. But before I get there, I think it is best to write about the dice mechanic I am inclined to use.

As an aside; I love dice. They are just fun to play with and you can use four sided dice as caltrops in a pinch.

So what do I want from a dice mechanic for my homebrew Runepunk Game? (The goals for the game are set out here). BULLET TIME!

  • Consistency. When I ask a player to roll the dice, I want them to know what to roll without consulting their character sheet for dice types. This requires that I use the same pool of dice for everything, an idea put forth by the d20 system (D&D, Pathfinder), but not taken far enough by most versions. I do not have the same legacy issues, so I will use the same dice for everything. Higher is better in all cases.
  • Bell Curve: I want to use 3-4 dice to provide a strong bell curve on each roll. Rolling a single die is not as satisfying as rolling a small handful in my opinion, but the main idea here is provide a more predictable average roll. My gaming group for this game is very large, so the players get fewer rolls.
  • No Custom Dice: This one should be obvious, but I am feeling a little butthurt after discovering that two of my FFG star wars dice packs contain some custom dice from other FFG games. Grrr.
  • Elegant Resolution: The important idea here is that I want to make the most out of every roll and keep the action smooth. One of the things I do like about dice pool games like Shadowrun and FFG star wars is counting successes. It is pretty easy for every player to grok, a lot faster than adding a number to the roll. The problem lies in assembling the dice pool to begin with. I think consistency gives D&D the edge in this.
  • Exploding Dice: Earthdawn 1 was one of my favourite games partly because I loved the idea of exploding dice. I would love to find a way to use that in my little homebrew runepunk game.

So I am currently thinking 3 or 4d6 with some sort of exploding dice. More on this next week!


RPG Building: Runepunk #2

A few weeks back I decided to work on a new homebrew RPG to replace my Shadowrun game. The first post set forth my goals.

In this post I want to focus on attributes. I want attributes to be the basis for character creation and advancement.

  • Attributes are the most descriptive terminology for a character. While we tend to concentrate of vocation in the modern day, if someone stands out as strong, smart, or agile that is the first thing that we think of them. Meanwhile if someone is exceptionally skilled at something, it does not always leap to mind when we thing of that person.
  • For a relatively simple system it is easier to center the mechanics of play around a handful of attributes rather than a comprehensive skill list.

I have been toying with the idea of a triumvirate of active attributes based around how the player approaches a problem.

  1. POWER: The attribute for direct action. Power represents strength, will, and presence. Emphasizes brute effect.
  2. FINESSE: The attribute for subtle, circular action action. Finesse represents agility, unconventional intellect, and charm. Emphasizes critical.
  3. CUNNING: The attribute for trickery. Cunning that represents deception, cheating, exploitation, and manipulation. Emphasizes side effects.

With these active attribute the player can choose how to approach a specific problem. Let us take a melee attack as an example. A character can use POWER to batter their way through an opponent’s defences with brute strength and unrelenting aggression, FINESSE to make a swift, graceful attack that slips through the targets defences, or CUNNING to trick the opponent into reacting with a feint and then hitting them.

So what’s the point? If the player can choose what attribute to choose in any situation, what is to stop them from going top-heavy into a single stat and focusing on that? The idea is that different stats are opposed by different defences/difficulties which allows a versatile player to tune their actions. My goal here is to give players tool to approach problems in the game from different angles, rewarding versatile characters without punishing specialists.

More on this later.



RPG Building: Runepunk #1

While considering what to do next of my Thursday serial I came up with the idea of doing a segment on building an RPG (Role-Playing Games). The idea has stuck with me, so I will be posting my musings on creating an RPG occasionally on Sundays.

I am using the name Runepunk for the project, although there is another RPG using that name, I doubt it will conflict with mine.

Why am I doing this?

  • The main reason is that I have been running a Shadowrun 5.0 campaign for several years and the rules are grating on me. Shadowrun is a time-tested game, but it unless everyone is familiar with the sub-systems that are appropriate to their character it slows the game down. In fact, I have stopped using any of the rules beyond character generation, gear, and the basic dice mechanics. Our Shadowrun group is just too large and too inexperienced with the system to handle the system.
    • As an aside, I truly dislike the initiative system. Characters who do not have reflex/initiative boosting are screwed. Not only do they act slowly, they are often ‘lapped’ by faster characters getting in their second and third actions. This punishes people for making non combat character, essentially giving them less turns during action sequences. While it would not be a problem for smaller, more experienced groups, it is here. One of the new RP’ers played an awesome face character, but decided to dump him for a combat character, and I suspect that the lack of turns had something to do with it. He was ok with being less effective, but not pleased with taking less turns.
  • I was considering making a homebrew system for my alternate Saturday game, but we grabbed the new FFG star wars and people seem to love it so far.
  • I love the Shadowrun setting; especially the idea of the Shadowrun itself — the modern dungeon run. On the other hand I find that placing it in the real world limits my creativity. I prefer a blank slate.

What are my goals with the game?

  • The style that I need to run with is episodic with a strong focus on character. I think including narrative hooks in the character creation process will do well for me. Obviously I am also looking for a ‘punk’ setting, which allows the characters to be part of a distinct sub-culture.
  • I need character advancement with enough depth to sustain a long running campaign with complex builds.
  • I want gamified sub-systems that emphasize fun without being too cumbersome.
  • I want an interesting dice mechanic.
  • I want a complex economy that does not break when the characters get too much money. I want players that have a gear fetish to be able to indulge it and players who do not, not to suffer if they ignore it.
  • I would like to have cool powers, but need these to be easy to use and easy to remember.
  • I would like to have sweet monsters and a rationale for dungeon style missions similar to Shadowrun.
  • I would like to have an attribute based system.

Basic Ideas

  • A post-singularity setting. A powerful AI has gained sentience and fundamentally changed the world.
  • The computer creates code that controls the fundamental aspects of reality. The pieces of that Code are Runes and Magic.
  • The AI eventually explodes or runs off the rails, releasing Runes and Magic into the setting and altering the world.

A teaser and a pause for consideration.

I am still undecided on what I want to do for my next serial. Also, Ronan is crawling now, which is too cute to miss. Here is a rough teaser from my next book. Bloodlust: The Seeds of Ruin.

As an aside, I find it interesting to consider the use of language in my world. If I were to describe the towers of Kithkaran to you*, I would liken them to stained glass in an old cathedral or the sun shining through a coloured glass bottle, but these are images that do not leap to mind for a society like Krass.

The same goes for concepts of religion. I cannot have a character exclaim ‘god’ or ‘jesus christ’ obviously, but I also lose out on bloody hell and heavenly, concepts that do not belong in their society.

Instead I tend to focus on the Reckoning, ancestors, the arena, and ocean motifs for the metaphors and exclamations of the people of the Domains.

The towers of Kithkaran shone in the sun*. Many of them were over five hundred feet tall, built from glass, gold and great magic, with lifts and lights powered by the very waters that had been turned against them in the end. Now, at last, they breathed again and people would remember the glory that his people had wrought.

Antilluvius smiled, the thin line of his desiccated lips curling slightly. He remembered the terror of those days, the endless rain, the wall of water that had assailed them. He could feel the horror as their magic failed, slowly and then all at once. He could still taste the bitterness of losing everything he’d ever known and the terrible promise that he had made to his family as they brought forth what was now called the Dark Heart. But now it was tempered, all of it, by the sight of his city once again in the light.

The weight of ages was no longer his to bear. He only wished that he could savour it longer, but just as he could not let his beloved city linger in mud and darkness, they could not suffer him to live. While this moment was wondrous, he had done terrible things to bring it about.

“My king, the Legions have begun to march.”

Moraggi’s voice woke Antidilluvius from his memories. He turned and looked down at this man, a heretic who served him, bound by an oath, in exchange for protection from the Krassians. Although old for this world, Moraggi was but a child compared to him.