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Experience Chapter Done! One More to Go…

So, I’ve brought the 9th chapter (Experience) to a close. It actually went more smoothly and quickly than I expected. The Experience system is something I’ve been processing in the back of my mind almost since I started working on 16 Bit Heroes, and I guess that the usual kinks in the system I find when starting a new chapter were already worked out before I got to it. I usually have to work them out while I’m working the chapter, sometimes going back and editing previous references (the Equipment chapter has had to be re-worked in one way or another no less than eight times, and it’s still the chapter I am the most insecure about). Huh… I seem to be getting better at this.

In any case, I thought that a small excerpt of the Experience chapter might be illuminating for my few readers. You’ll noticed that Experience Points is abbreviated as “EP” rather than “XP”; more on that after the excerpt.

Chapter 9: Experience

16 Bit Heroes presents multiple methods of character advancement. Each method has its ups and downs; it is up to the individual Game Group to decide what’s going to work best for them[1]. Only one method should be employed in a given campaign; they do not provide identical advancement, so one character using one method while another character uses a different one can result in some serious character disparity.

All of the methods use a level-based system and an identical experience chart. As characters and adventuring parties succeed in battle, complete objectives, and engage in rewarding role play, they receive Experience Points (EP). Once they have enough EP, the characters gain new levels, improving their Abilities and Stats, and gaining new Spells and Techniques (or access to same; see the Improvement Tree method).

Common Experience Elements

There are several things that are common to all of the Experience methods. All of them use the same Level of Experience table, for example, determining at what amount of EP a character gains a new level.

In all of the methods below, the rules outlined apply to Classes on even levels, and to Races on odd levels. For instance, if you’re using the Improvement Test method, you make Improvement Tests for your character’s Class on levels 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and so on. Tests made for your Race or Personality are made on levels 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, et cetera.

Finally, all of the Experience methods use the same Multiclassing rules, which are described at the end of the chapter.

The Experience Methods in Brief

This section outlines each of the methods of improving characters through experience in brief. There are three methods outlined here. All of these are specifically “alpha”, which is to say that none of them are tested in any way – at least not yet. Some, all, or none of these methods may make it into the final system; it all depends on feedback.

  • Improvement Test Method: At each new level, the characters make an Improvement Test to determine how much their characters improve. Typically, a single Test roll is made, which is then compared to various Improvement Difficulties, each yielding a differing amounts of improvement.
  • Static Improvement: At each new level, a character gains specific benefits. There are no test rolls, and advancement can be easily predicted and tracked.
  • Point Based Improvement: At each level, characters receive a set number of Improvement Points, which can be used by the players to improve their characters.

There are also three special variants that modify the way the above methods work slightly; these are all optional. None of these has to be used at all, and one of them doesn’t even need to be playtested:

  • Buy It Up: The characters gain in level using one of the methods above, but new Spells, Techniques, and Skills must be purchased in game from trainers.
  • Party Experience: The characters do not track individual experience; instead, the Party has an EP total, and there is a unified Party Level.
  • EP Free: The characters automatically gain a level after a set number of Conflicts, or whenever the Game Group decides the time is right. This can be combined with Buy It Up and Party Experience, above.

So, here’s a little known fact in the history of RPGs: The abbreviation of Experience Points goes all the way back to the original Dungeons & Dragons rules put together by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The original D&D had a lot of difference forms of currency, all based on different materials the coinage was made from. There were Platinum Pieces (PP), Gold Pieces (GP), Silver Pieces (SP), and Copper Pieces (CP). Between GP and SP, there was an additional coin, however – the Electrum Piece, which was, naturally enough, abbreviated EP.

A 640 BCE one-third stater electrum coin from ...

Image via Wikipedia

Electrum is a naturally occuring alloy of Gold and Silver, and was actually used for coinage in the ancient world Check out the picture… In any case, because EP is a completely natural abbreviation for EP, and the word Experience sounds like it should start with the letter “x”, XP was a natural abbreviation for Experience Points. And that’s why Experience Point is almost always shortened to XP – because Electrum Pieces (which hardly appear anywhere in RPGs today) stole the EP abbreviation.

Since 16 Bit Heroes doesn’t use Electrum Pieces (or any specific currency system, for that matter), I thought I’d go ahead and use EP for Experience Points. It made sense to me when I was writing Chapter 9, at any rate.

So, now that the Experience Chapter is done, I’m down to the Bestiary before the system is ready for playtest. It looks like I’m going to reach my “Done Before Christmas” goal. It would be nice to achieve a writing goal for once…

Well, that’s all for now. As always, feedback is welcome!

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Elements in Detail

This post (a continuation of the last one) is concerned with providing more specific details on Elements, and the associated abilities of Maneuvers and Processes. I don’t want to ramble on about this, so I’m just going to dive into the info.

Elements represent the stuff a character knows how to do – things like training, skill, talent, special abilities (like magic, super powers, or cybernetics), and so on. Elements are, in a very real way, the meat of a character, and the place where the differences between one character and another really show up.

This entry really needs to be divided up into three sections – details on Elements, details on Maneuvers, and details on Processes. If I have time, I’ll also go over Specialization and Qualities – two other important aspects of an Element.

Details on Elements

As previously described, Elements represent what a character knows, where their talents lie, and so on. The Elements System is named after them because they make up the meat of the system, and are also one of the more unique aspects of the system; not so much in what they are (most game systems have a “skill system” that could be considered comparable), but in how they are utilized and what all they can do and what they represent.

In the last post, I discussed ho Elements are rated (through the use of special Bonus Dice). To use an Element, you combine it’s Bonus Dice with the Base Effort Dice of a Condition that best represents how you’re using the Element. For instance, if you had an Interrogation Element, you could combine it with Fatigue to apply physical pressure to your subject; you could use it with the Passion Condition to appeal to your subject’s better nature or to plea with your heart; you could use it with Insight to “read” your subject during the interrogation: you could use it with Steadiness to make accurate use of implements of torture (or to make it look like you could, if you wanted to; the CIA says that’s more effective, anyway).

Elements also provide access to more specific abilities – Maneuvers, Processes, and Qualities. All three of these provide a specific effect related to  the Element in question. It is also possible to limit how a character can use an Element, thereby reducing it’s cost during character generation and when improving through experience; this is called Specialization.

Details on Maneuvers

The following comes from the Character Generation chapter of the rulebook. I think it does a pretty good job of summing things up:

“Maneuvers are special ways of using Elements when in combat. Using a Maneuver creates a specific, predefined effect, and costs a specific number of Actions. Most of the time, Maneuvers are about combative movement, maneuver, quick-fix healing of self and allies, and special attacks (e.g. inflicting States or dealing out more damage than usual – or both), and aren’t all that useful out of combat; when you’re not in a fight, you’ll probably want to use Processes (see below).”

In short, Maneuvers are special, specific applications of an Element that pertain directly to Combat. A Maneuver is predefined: it lists which Condition is used to gain Base Effort Dice for the check, what defines the Challenge of the Effort, and so on. To use a Maneuver, you spend the indicated number of Actions and make an Effort check with the Element in question. If you meet or exceed the Challenge, you succeed.

Maneuvers that deal damage can be specially improved to deal more than their listed damage. In this way, a Character can be built to concept without regard to things like selecting the best weapon, super power, or spell path. Of course, if your game group doesn’t care about optimization, and your Game Master is running the game right, such tactics are unneeded – Elements simply makes allowances for them.

Details on Processes

Once again, a direct quote from the rule book will get the job done here:

“Processes are essentially the non-combative equivalent of a Maneuver. Processes generally take at least several seconds – if not minutes or hours – to perform, making them more or less useless in combat. There are circumstances when you might need to use a Process in combat – the rules for this are found in the Combat chapter.”

A Process is a specific, defined, non-combative use of an Element.They are essentially the same thing, with only two differences – Processes take longer to perform, and they do not deal damage directly to a target (generally speaking). To use a Process, you declare that you are using it, and when the indicated amount of in-game time passes, you make an Effort Check based on the Element the Process is associated with.

Unlike Maneuvers, even if a Process did deal direct damage to a target, there is no method for improving that damage beyond what is listed in the Process. This shouldn’t be a big deal; Processes aren’t really meant to be used in a fight anyway, and are mostly used when the characters have time on their hands – meaning that dealing damage quickly is largely inconsequential. If you’re at the point where you need to put out a lot of hurt in a hurry, you should probably be using an Maneuver anyway.

Details on Qualities and Specialization

A Quality is an ability derived from an Element that a character always has access to, and is essentially always in effect. For instance, a Character might have a Outdoor Survival Element that allows them to gain a Direction Sense Quality. Instead of making an Effort Check to determine North, or follow a path they were just on, the character would simply know which way was North, and how to follow the path back to where they began. Qualities can provide abilities that most people with an Element simply don’t have, but generally speaking, Qualities make it so that basic uses of the Element no longer require an Effort Check to perform.

Sometimes, people are incredibly focused in how they study something; this is where Specialization comes in. A Specialized Element can only be used in combination with a single predefined Condition. To extend the Interrogation example above, a brutish fellow might only know how to get information out of people by using physical force, and Specialize their Interrogation Element as Fatigue Only. Any Maneuvers, Processes, or Qualities related to other Conditions would be out of their reach, and applications of the Element using other Conditions would be made as if the Character didn’t know the Condition at all. In return, however, the character pays significantly less for the Element during Character Generation and when improving through experience. To learn the other ways of using the Element, the Character needs to essentially start over, buying up the Element in an Unspecialized version. While learning the Element in this new, more versatile form, they  still know and can use their specific brand of that Element.

Wrapping Up

Wow – that took a lot less time than I thought. Which is good, because I want to get back to working on the game, and my time is limited tonight.

The next post will go into some other specifics of the game. I think that we’ll go over Effort Checks and Challenges in more detail, and cover the special applications of those things – maybe including the Getting By on Competence method of succeeding at an Effort Check. But don’t quote me – I might decide to discuss Combat or the difference between a Player’s Character and a NPC instead.

In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed this basic primer on how things work. I’ve enjoyed writing them ,and I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t start doing this sooner. Until next post (I’m guessing later this week to make up for the lateness of this post); I really need to stick to my schedule…


Moving = Hard to Work on Games…

Big frowny-face for the past week. I’ve had little time to do much in the way of work on Elements – or anything else that doesn’t involve boxing, loading, or unboxing. Such is life I suppose, but it sucks nonetheless.

I do have a little to report. I’ve changed the names of the Conditions to Fatigue, Insight, Passion, Steadiness, and Wounds. I dropped “Will” and replaced it with “Insight” because I was having trouble coming up with a description for Will that didn’t sound like a re-worded description of Passion. And for those in the peanut gallery wondering why I didn’t stick with Will and change Passion, there are two reasons:

  1. Will, as some sort of ability or stat or point pool exists in so many RPGs – almost always meaning the exact same thing or something close to it – that it’s almost become an industry trope.
  2. Passion sounds cool, and the word itself comes closer to what I want the Condition to mean than Will does.
  3. Passion came first alphabetically; since that’s the order I was working in, the problem became clear only after I had finished writing about Passion and got to Will… so that’s where I made the change. Dumb, but true.

To pose a question for my readers: I’m contemplating making the Wounds Condition an average of the others. So, base Wounds = Fatigue+Insight+Passion+Steadiness/4… If I did that, chances are Wounds wouldn’t be separately buyable, and in order to get another point in Wounds, you’d need to get 4 points worth of improvement among the other Conditions. Since Wounds isn’t actually used for BED, I don’t see much of a problem with the mechanics, and it would make one less thing that players would have to spend their FATE on. Moreover, I’m not really seeing any drawbacks to the change.

Anyone got an opinion? Let me know. I’m working on how one buys up Conditions now, but the change (either to or back from the averaging method) would be a pretty simple, since (like I said) most other mechanics would be unaffected. And if you’ve spotted a flaw in my logic (difficult, considering how little of the system I’ve actually let out there), it would be nice to know that, too.

Oh – and if anyone just hates the Passion and Insight change, that would be good to know, too… although I am, at this point, fairly attached to both of them.

At any rate, that’s it for this Thursday’s post. See you next week, or in the comments section!

Wow. Oh, so late! But… Juicy Contenty Goodness!

So, yeah – I’ll admit it. I’m late as hell posting this. I mean, I’m upset about that, obviously, but there’s been some crap going on, not to put too fine a point on it. I’m fixing to move in the near future, and (even more fun), my lovely girlfriend got a promotion at work that has increased her pay… and the amount of time she spends at work, which is less fantastic.

But all of this is personal stuff that’s really not here or there. As I indicated in the title, I have juicy contenty goodness… what Zim might call “Mission Goo”. I have actual excerpts from the rulebook.

I have, for quite some time, gone back and forth as to what I should post this time. I have settled on the Base Effort Dice and Special Dice sections of Chapter One: Effort. I may also post excerpts from the Introduction in the near future (the part of it I was able to write, anyway). It makes the most sense (to me at least) to post from chapters I’m currently doing work on, so here it is.

Let me know what you think – I am especially concerned with clarity. It’s a little hard to evaluate the whole of the rules from this, so I mostly want to know if it’s easy to follow and understand, and if not, what parts are confusing.

And, yes – I am much further in the design process than chapter 1. Don’t be silly. I’m working on a rulebook and putting out fires as I come across them, but most of the actual design process is done.

At any rate… without further ado…

Base Effort Dice

The Elements system is based on the ten sided die. The base ten sided a character has to roll for an Effort Check are usually gained from their Conditions – those aspects of the character that show what “condition” they are in.

Conditions grant a single ten sided die for an Effort check for every fraction of ten points in that Condition. For example, a character with a current Will Condition of 23 has three BED for their Will-based Effort checks. If that character then lost 4 Will, leaving them with a current score of 19, they would have only two BED for their Will-Based Efforts.

Base Effort Dice can also be gained from other things; for instance, a character might have exceptionally fine tools that provide 1 BED when they are used for crafting or repairs. Characters may also gain items that provide BED for Damage Effort Checks (see below), or that provide entire Elements for them to use, in which case the item’s BED are used rather than the character’s.

The BED are what are totaled when a character makes an Effort check. Characters may roll additional dice if they have Special Dice bonuses that apply to the roll, but only an number of dice equal to their BED may be added into the roll. In addition, the Elements system is a “closed” system; under normal circumstances, you cannot have more than 5 BED for any given Effort checks. In addition, any total Effort result in excess of 50 is treated as though it is 50. There are exceptions, but other than Overcome and Initiative Effort Checks (see below), such exceptions are exceedingly rare.

Special Dice

Special dice are the most common sort of bonus and penalty in the Elements game. Special Dice modify the way BED are added together or treated. There are three “bonus” type special dice, and one “penalty” type.

Only five of any one type of Bonus Dice can be applied to any given Effort Check, while up to ten Penalty Dice may be applied to a check. Each of the Bonus and Penalty Dice are described in detail below. Each type modifies Effort checks in a different, specific way, and is intended to represent a different thing within the game.

Drop Dice

The first “bonus type” of Special Dice, Drop Dice increases the likelihood of both a high Effort result, and allow for fine-tuning of that result, increasing the odds of an Epic Success. Drop Dice typically represent extensive training and practice with something.

When Drop Dice are applied to a particular roll, the player rolls extra dice in addition to their BED equal to the number of drop dice they have. These extra dice are not totaled in; instead, the Player “drops” dice in excess of their BED from the roll.

Example: Pat’s character Grogg is a highly trained and practiced swordsman. He has the Weapon: Longsword Element with 4d (four drop dice). He also has a current Steadiness Condition of 44, giving him 5 BED. He rolls a total of 9 dice for Steadiness-Based Longsword related Effort Checks, but he only adds together 5 of them. He gets to choose which five on each roll, however.

Drop Dice are an important and significant bonus, significantly increasing the likelihood of either high results or Epic Success; they do not, however, allow characters to achieve results in excess of the maximum total of their BED. For that, characters need…

Bounce Dice

The second type of Bonus Dice, Bounce Dice allow a character to achieve results in excess of the typical maximum of 10x their BED. Bounce Dice are intended to represent innate talent and bursts of inspiration or skill beyond the character’s normal ability.

A character with Bounce dice makes an Effort check normally. He or She may re-roll any result of 10 keeping the original result and adding in the result of the reroll. This may be done a number of times equal to the number of Bounce dice the character has for that roll.

Example: Stephanie’s character Aliah is a talented Sorceress, with 3b (three bounce dice)in her Sorcery Element. She makes a Fatigue-Sorcery Effort (3 BED plus her three Bounce dice) against a Challenge of 25 and rolls 1, 2, and 10 for a total of 13. Using one Bounce Die, she picks up the ten and rolls it again, getting another 10, for a new total of 23 – still not enough, but since she rolled another ten, she picks it up and rolls again, getting a 5 for a final total of 28 – success! Although she has an additional Bounce die, she cannot use it because she no longer has any 10s left to re-roll.

Bounce Dice can be a life-saving bonus because they allow characters to get results that are actually higher than their BED would normally allow. This makes Bounce dice particularly useful for Effort checks made for things where accuracy does not matter – Initiative, Overcome, and Damage Efforts are all good examples.

Mastery Dice

The third type of Bonus Dice is a protective measure. Mastery Dice reduce the effects of Penalty Dice (described below), protecting your other Special Dice (and your BED) from their effects. Mastery dice are intended to indicate high levels of practiced mastery, allowing characters to ignore or work through adverse conditions.

When a character with Mastery Dice is faced with an Effort check to which Penalty Dice are applied, the Mastery Dice destroy the Penalty Dice on a one-for-one basis. Mastery dice do not otherwise affect Effort checks.

Although Mastery Dice do not seem especially powerful, protection from penalties is an important aspect of the Elements system. In their own way, Mastery Dice contribute as much to success or failure as the other types of Special Dice – at least, they do when the chips are down.

Penalty Dice

Penalty Dice are used in the Elements system to represent adversity. Where Challenge represents how difficult something is to accomplish during normal circumstances, penalty dice indicate added difficulty due to environmental concerns, using bad tools, outdated software, or unfamiliar territory.

Penalty Dice work by destroying first Special Dice and then BED before an Effort check is made. Mastery Dice are destroyed first. After that, it is the Player’s choice which Special Dice are removed and in what order. If all of a player’s Special Dice are destroyed, and there are still Penalty Dice remaining, BED are lost. One die is lost per Penalty Die (p) applied to the check.

Example: Nicole’s character Gray is a veteran Archer, with a Steadiness Condition of 43 and a 2d2b3m (two drop dice, two bounce dice, and two mastery dice) in her Archery Element. She has been assigned the task of sniping the evil enchanter while her teammates keep the bad guys distracted. Typically a Challenge 30 task, Nicole is still confident that Gray can handle it. Unfortunately, in the first round, the evil enchanter surrounded the battlefield in a concealing fog, invoking an 8p penalty to all ranged attacks. Gray has gone from 5BED2d2b3m to just 4BED!

Penalty Dice aren’t the only sort of penalty characters encounter, but they are by far the most common.

Changes: Killing my Darlings

Well, it’s clearly been entirely too long since I’ve updated, but since I’ve done almost no practical work on the game in the intervening time, it’s not exactly a surprise.

Of course, specifying that the undone work on the game is of a practical sort, that implies that some sort of, shall we say, less than practical work has been accomplished, and this is, in fact, the case.

Elements has changed a lot since I started it as a project called The Source, about three years ago.  I’ve struggled with so many concepts and ideas that it’s a little like having Ultram mainlined into the brain.  I’ve gone numb upon occasion, running into that special breed of writer’s block one could call Idea Overload Syndrome (or IOS, if you’re into acronyms).  I still run into that problem – or, at least, I was regularly running into that problem.

It’s not like having an abundance of design ideas is a bad thing, you understand.  The problem shows up when the ideas never get much past being ideas before new ideas show up.  It gets worse when those ideas conflict with each other, or when no workable path appears between the idea and the execution of that idea in a game context. That second one was where I kept going numb; the ideas came, and before I could work out how to put them into the game, new ideas flooded in, usually inspired by the original idea or the process of enacting the original idea.

When it came to getting things done, it was the Jackson Pollck method, which might work for modern art, but is absolute shite when it comes to trying to put together a coherent tabletop RPG.

Which brings us back to the subject of less-than-practical work on the system.  I suppose that the work was actually the most practical thing i could possibly do.  Instead of trying to fight through tidal inspiration, I had to sit down and start thinking about what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish, and which of the multitude of ideas I had been playing with fit into that mold.  Further, I had to seriously think about how I was going to accomplish the goals, execute the ideas, and how I was going to, for the love of all things holy, finish Elements.

Stephen King, in his brilliant book On Writing, said that you had to “Kill your darlings”, and that’s what  I did.  I rounded up my ideas, and sat down to a few beers with them.  As we sat about the table, I listened to them, and then quietly slipped arsenic in the beers of those ideas that weren’t going to work out.

It hurt, I can tell you.

My next step was to focus on, and pander to the egos of, those ideas that I thought would be able to form the nexus of the game.  I then invited a few friends of the wordsmith to be collaborators on the project:  Time Management and Scheduling were welcome additions to the team, I can tell you.

So now, I have a desktop calendar that reminds me that I need to update the blog.  Word count goals are almost useless in game design, since word counts have nothing to do wit how much you actually accomplish during the design phase, so I set a tentative schedule for finishing segments of the rules, allowing more time for things that I thought would be especially time consuming (ability and skill design, character and NPC generation, the combat system, and so forth).

I have a timeline now, and that should help.  I’ll share the schedule here when it becomes a bit more solidified; time management or no, I can’t know how accurate my time estimates have been until I get more work done, and sharing a wildly inaccurate schedule with the world would be a superb example of how to annoy people.

In any case, the blog is supposed to be updated at least weekly now.  Let’s see if I can stick to that.

Next Post:  Discussing the Skill and Ability system, and a bit about NPCs.

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