Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I like to watch smaller numbers turn into bigger numbers as a hobby.

So, in most D&D campaigns, you are watching numbers go up...

Primarily, your XP and your Gold, but also your Saves, your AC, your stats, your to-hit, your damage, your save DC's.

For My Dark Sun campaign, there won't be the usual suspects of Gold and XP. I'm fairly certain I'll be giving levels to players via fiat and not standard XP awards, because there will only be one-two fights per session. I'm not certain how I'm going to handle XP yet, but it is very doubtful that it will be a numeric award.

Gold (or more accurately, Ceramic) won't even be up for debate. The players are slaves, any wealth they earn will be enjoyed by their owners.

So, what numbers will the players be watching go up?

FANS: This is how many people in the crowd love *you* more than anyone else fighting. They have your poster on the wall, they want to catch your helmet when you throw it into the crowd, etc. While everyone in the crowd will have an opinion on you, these are the people that you've earned, and you'd have to betray them to lose them.

FAME/INFAMY: This is how well known you are. How many people know you, regardless of how they feel about you. You earn fame points every time you do something impressive/shocking/etc. All fame/infamy awards are added together to get a total fame, but the difference between them is what the crowd thinks of you... high fame and you're a 'good guy', high infamy and you're a 'bad guy'. If you get a lot of fame and infamy, the crowd doesn't know exactly what to think of you though, and you'll be less famous because of it. In general, you want to either play the 'face' or the 'heel', and not try to take a middle ground.

WIN/LOSS RECORD: this is your number of fights won vs your number of fights lost. Like any good boxer or martial artist, your professional record is important. A long string of losses can have you put out for retirement. An unbroken string of victories can push you up into title matches. While all wins and losses will be tracked, the real factor is in 1-v-1 or 2-v-2 duels. Those are the ones that 'really' count.

VALUE: This is how much money you've earned your patron. Every fight has betting odds, and each fighter will be a favorite or an underdog. Factors will determine  how much money is bet on you, with the more being bet, the more you're worth win or lose. In some cases, agents of your owner will bet directly on you, allowing certain fights to greatly increase (or decrease) your value.

All fighters are working to increase their fans, their fame (or infamy), their win streak, and their value. At some point, you'll be worth enough money, or be famous enough, that you could engineer your release/freedom, and the way to do that is through continued success.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Finish Him!

So one of the things that I really like the idea of is a 'Finishing Move'. Something over the top and flashy that makes the crowd go wild.

Now, 4e D&D is all about the finishing moves, they just call them 'Daily Powers'. However, a Gladiator using a Daily Power as a finisher isn't exactly inspired, cinematic combat. As such, here are my thoughts on Finishing Moves...

A Finishing Move is something that makes you famous. A fighter can work on a finishing move and try it out, but more commonly, the crowd may see a brilliant maneuver and decide that's the finishing move for the fighter.

So, what's a finishing move? Well, first of all, it's a sequence of at least three Standard Actions, with any number of move or minor actions as well. The more actions in a move, the harder it will be to pull off, but the more 'Crowd Pleasing' it will be.

Secondly, a finishing move has to FINISH your opponent. Most duels will be to either first blood or to the death. If you have a 4-round finisher, and you kill/bloody your opponent on the second hit, you didn't 'finish' him. The crowd will 'oooh' in anticipation, but they'll let out a collective groan when the foe falls too soon.

Thirdly, a Finishing move has to 'Start' dramatically. The first round of a Finishing move should tell the crowd you mean business. A daily power might start a finishing move, but an At-will power alone never will. However, a Finishing move *could* start with a move action to get adjacent to a previously un-engaged opponent, a minor action to draw two weapons and flourish them over your head, and finally an at-will power to make the first attack. The key here is that when you start a Finishing Move, you're committing to something for the crowd. As a new gladiator, you won't have a crowd-known finisher, so they won't be building up as they watch you... but if you start using the same finisher more than once, they'll start to look for it.

Fourth, a finishing move can evolve. As you gain powers, or find yourself in slightly different situations, you can make minor changes/additions to your finisher 'on the fly' and still have it 'count'. You can't change it too much, though, or the crowd will be disappointed that you flubbed your move.

Once you've developed one or more Finishing Moves, you can utilize them in the arena. If every attack roll of your Finishing Move hits, and you win the fight with the final attack, the crowd is going to go wild. You'll get a multiplier on the number of Fame/Infamy points you'd normally get for winning, for one. You'll pick up more Fans... arena enthusiasts who pull for you above all other fighters. Fans and Fame/Infamy are the out-of-combat stats that determine your value to the powers that be. The higher these go, the better your life becomes.

Failed finishing moves... ones that miss somewhere in the chain, or if you get 'knocked out' of them by a big maneuver, or if they fail to finish/finish too soon generally mean no bonus/no penalty. However, should you fumble the last move, or get beaten mid-finisher, then the truly epic failure could cause you to lose fans as they see their hero totally screw the pooch.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some of the 'Special Rules' for my Arena Game

So, I'm polishing off some of the rules changes for the Dark Sun game... here are my core assumptions:

Assumption 1: All of the players are gladiator slaves, and none of them hold any ranking... all are fresh off the boat, so to speak.

The players need to determine why they are here, what their initial motivation is (survival, escape, martial excellence, whatever). They'll need to have a brief history (where are they from, will anyone come look for them, what is their name).

Assumption 2: Slaves can be of any race or class, within reason.

Players will have free access to all player races and classes that make sense for the game... Eladrin, with their ability to teleport at will, for instance, aren't exactly high on the list of slaves. No slaver would get very far selling goods that escape the next day. As far as classes, Divine and Arcane power sources are completely out. Divine simply does not exist, and no Arena Master would risk putting a Defiler on the arena grounds.

Assumption 3: The players will be known to be different.

The city the players are in is not Tyr, where everyone is free. This will be a brutal City-State ruled by a Sorcerer-King, with nearly 100% of the population as human, and only 10% or so truly free. The PCs will be marked not only by their race (if non-human), but all gladiator slaves will be marked in some way that they can't easily escape into the crowds. The PCs will stand out.

Assumption 4: The way to power is fame/infamy

All players will start out as unknowns, thrown into one of the giant melees designed to please the crowd with a ridiculous amount of death and bloodshed, and will need to prove themselves worthy to make it out of that bloodbath alive and worth being trained. Starting as unknown underdogs, they will need to position themselves to become known, with flourishes, attack patterns, over-the top styles just to be noticed... and then they will need to pick their enemies, going after the well-loved fighters can earn you infamy, while supporting them can grant you fame. Either way, whether loved or hated by the crowds, you'll be a draw, and with a draw comes bigger bets, larger crowds, and more attention from the people that matter.

Assumption 5: This isn't about gear

Players won't have posessions. Armor and Weapons will be ephemeral, limited to what the arena masters grant you for the fight. As such, players will use the alternate advancement tables instead of relying on magical gear. In addition, weapon and armor breaking will be MUCH more prevalent than the rules imply... not only will weapons break on fumbles, they can also shatter on criticals, be targeted for a sunder, thrown across the arena on a disarm, or just wear out through long use. Battles might involve higher quality weapons that can last an entire duel, but it is just as likely you'll be forced to fight with fists and feet, or scavenge other weapons from downed foes. Think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, where the weapons used were varied and many.

Assumption 6: Relationships with the arena staff will be key

While the types of fights held (duels, skirmishes, obstacle courses, death runs, king of the hill) can change, and can the 'random' weapons and armor, and the specialized training before the fight... it isn't necessarily fair. If you have good relationships with the beast master, you can learn the monster of the week. If you and the weapons master came to an agreement, your favored weapons may be chosen for the battle, and if you've bribed the drill instructor, he may train you in climbing if he knows a king of the hill is your next task. Conversely, bad relationships could have them choose to go against you in the 'random' selections.

More to come...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Moving forward with my Arena game!

Well, it's only taken a year or so, but I've actually begun the polishing stages on my DarkSun Arena game. I've got a few set pieces to make, and have a little convention called Origins to go to... but before the end of summer, I'll have character creation and the first adventure underway.

First, I need to make the Cell Block for the slaves, and the Training Yard, and the Mess Hall. All three of these areas could end up being needed for tactical disagreements outside the arena.

Secondly, I need to make the first few combat set pieces... the king of the hill pyramid, and a forest of pillars.

I also need to write up a Player's Guide that describes the core issues (1st draft is done, needs polish), as well as give a little bit of info on how fame/infamy, glory/cowardice, showmanship, and other stats will work in the arena battles.

I'll post some of this stuff as soon as it's 'ready for primetime'.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shots of the arena, as promised

And only a few hours late!

I grabbed my phone and clicked a few shots of the arena, which is still a work in progress (needs some more paint and finishing work done, plus all of the 'little things' added that will make it 'pop'.)

That said, here we go:

This is a (slightly blurry) full shot of the arena. It's sitting on a spare piece of styrofoam. As you can see, it turned out to be about 22x46 squares... almost 2 feet by 4 feet. The walls are about 3" high. Extrapolating the scale, the arena grounds are 110' x 230'... slightly smaller than a football field, with 15' high walls. I would have liked to go a little bigger, but this is really about as large as you can go and have it usable on a standard table.

Here you can see the details in the wall... the bricks were made by using a 'Makins Clay' mold, you simply push it down into the soft clay and you get the brick pattern. The cracking is making use of a feature of cheap craft clay... it shrinks when it dries. This was causing me fits initially, as it would dry, crack, fall off, and crumble. By using spray adhesive on the walls, the clay instead dries, cracks, and stays stuck. Much nicer, and I can use the cracking as a happy accident to add some character. The walls still need a lot of work... another coat of paint, at least, to contrast from the floor, as well as a coat of polyurethane to seal the clay and strengthen the entire structure, then a matte spray finish to cut the gloss of the poly.

Here's some detail on the arch (and you can see the sheets of molds I used to make the brick walls on the green packaging in the background. The steps were cut directly out of the styrofoam base, and topped with Hirst Arts flagstones for the steps. This part needs a lot of finishing work.

Here's another full shot, this time with a squad of Necromunda Delaque Gangers to show scale a little better. These guys were handy... all my D&D minis are still put away from the last session, so you get these instead.

And here's a closeup on the miniatures, to get a better feel for the gridlines.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy crap I got a comment!

So, I'd basically written this blog off, because it became more difficult to post to it during the day, and my passion for blogging turned out to be short lived.

But I got a comment, and so here I am. I was asked for pictures of my arena... sadly, I'm not at the arena, so no pictures yet, but I can give a brief update.

First: I tried to use balsa and basswood for the walls. This was a bad idea, as it was either too stiff, or too brittle. It ripped and tore repeatedly, and this caused me no end of fits. I finally came up with a solution, and that was long strips of foamcore, 4" taller than the height of the arena base. Using these, I cut score marks every half-inch or so, and wrapped it around the arena, using masking tape and craft glue to attach it.

I then covered all the score-lines with more tape, and used spackling material to stiffen the outer edge.

For the inside, I wanted a brick surface. I started out here by rolling out thin sheets of clay and using a mold to impress a brick surface onto it. This worked well, at first, until it dried. As soon as the clay dried, it cracked, crumbled, and fell apart. This frustrated and disheartened me for a couple of months. But finally, I decided to just finish it up, and had a brilliant thought.

I sprayed the wall with spray adhesive, and THEN used the clay on it, and instead of rolling it ultra-thin, I used a variable depth. These two things helped a lot in getting the clay onto the walls, and then, when it was only half-dry, I sprayed the whole thing with spray paint and fleckstone for texture. This appears to have done a remarkable job on keeping it all together.

I'll post some pictures tonight. Hopefully.