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A Design Exercise in 4 Steps from Concept to Mechanics

hobgoblin_leader__storn_cookThe character in your head (PC or NPC) fits the vast majority of thematic requirements for the game or campaign you’re about to join, but none of the abilities available fit what you want. Homebrew is hardly unheard of, but nobody wants to waste time arguing over some house rules—you need a strong set of mechanics that the GM and other players can fully approve of.

#1) Idea
Where do we start? How do we take an idea from our brain and onto the table in an intelligent, responsible fashion? First, obviously, we need an idea.
For today’s purposes, we’re going to be using “Speedball” from Marvel Comics as our example (I was a big fan of his up until the whole Penance business—I’ve even got most of the first run of the terrible solo issues). making up a very basic framework for an equivalent in Pathfinder. For those not in the know, Speedball could basically make himself into a big bouncy ball, redirecting kinetic energy.

#2) Search
The first thing to do is see if the tools are there already or not. While the PRD is fantasticwhen it comes to designing something for Pathfinder, you should be using d20pfsrd.com. John Reyst and his slew of minions are constantly adding 3rd Party Publisher material (so you know your design is unique), have a more accessible search engine (use those quotation marks, folks) and you can break up results by category (this saves an enormous amount of work vis-a-vis magic items, classes and spells).

133-Chained-library-at-Wimborne-Minster-1709x1021Let’s look up some keywords for Speedball’s abilities: “bounce”, “bouncing”, “kinetic” and “redirect”. Whenever possible, we want to mirror or incorporate the established mechanics set up within the RPG in question, so don’t be lazy about looking at what comes up. Most of the page counts shrink as well for some reason, so sally forth!

Bouncing Spell—We’re not really doing anything with this. If I was writing an entire base class, this would absolutely become a part of it somehow, but we’ll stick to levels 1-5 if we go that route, and feats or a simple archetype if not.
Greater Ring of Bounce—A cursed item that gives a +10 bonus to Acrobatics check for jumping, but a -10 for any other use, CL 7th. This sounds like something we can use, so we’ll put a star by it to remember, and maybe a note. [***attack ability?]
Bounding Hammer—From Pathfinder Companion: Dwarves; on a successful hit with a thrown hammer, the feat makes it land in your square. [*** feat to catch thrown weapon]
Roll With It—This goblin feat looks like we’ve struck gold. Take a melee hit, make an Acrobatics check (DC 5 + damage) as an immediate action, success means that you take no damage but move in a straight line (in a direction of your choosing) 1 foot for each point of damage you would have taken, halting after half your speed in movement. Run into something and you take 1d4 damage and go prone, and all that movement provokes AoOs. Worse yet, you are staggered for a round after attempting the feat. [***fundamental]
Tumbling Descent—This roof runner rogue archetype ability from Ultimate Combat fills another great gap: so long as there are two surfaces no farther than 10 feet apart to bounce against, they can fall indefinitely with an Acrobatics check (DC 10 + 5 for every 10 ft. increment descended beyond the initial 10 ft. drop) [***fundamental]
Shield of King RytanRicochet Shield—This is an interesting combat trick; a -2 attack roll penalty to bounce a thrown shield around an 
obstacle, with a note about range increments for total distance traveled rather than from wielder to target. [***attack ability?]
Bouncy—Another goblin feat from the Pathfinder Player Companions; the first 1d6 lethal points of falling damage are automatically converted to nonlethal damage, and you get a +2 Reflex save to avoid unexpected falls. [***the cushion effect]
Kinetic Reverberation—This 2nd-level wizard spell lasts rounds per level, allows for SR and a Fortitude save. On a failed save, the weapon striking the target enchanted by this spell takes the same amount of damage it dealt to the target. Doesn’t effect natural attacks. [***fundamental]
Impact—For the equivalent of a +2 weapon enhancement bonus, increase a weapon’s damage die; CL 9th. Good stuff to know. [***fundamental]
Redirect Attack—This advanced rogue talent allows a once per day redirect of a melee hit to strike an adjacent creature as a free action, requiring the attacker to roll a second time. Definitely high part of our core concept. [***fundamental]
Flowing Monk—This guy has quite a bit of what we’re looking for: redirection, unbalancing counter, flowing dodge and elusive target (as well as the Elusive Redirection feat) fit the bill for our core concept. [***fundamental]

At least he's not weaing skin-tight red leather...

#3) Assess
Our design ends right here. We could break some of this down and rebuild the pieces, creating a more specific monk archetype (the bouncing goblin, perhaps?) but as it is, a goblin flowing monk with the right feats, a few errant class levels or new magic items and a bright attitude should do it.
A lot of our work is done for this guy—let’s assume we make a goblin flowing monk 5/rogue (roof runner) 2. They can flow around attacks via flowing monk abilities (and, of course, the Crane Stance feats), with the Roll With It feat they can redirect movement from a solid hit, they can bound downwards with tumbling descent and slow fall, and on top of all that, jump extremely far thanks to high jump. None of the flowing monk’s abilities prohibit shields, so next level we grab up fighter and a feat for tossing things, keeping a few hammers around for the purpose; if we can manage it, with the impact quality. For good effect, I’d throw in the Mobility feat somewhere to avoid those AoOs.

I’m not at all bummed, by the way. We didn’t even it make it to the repeat of step 2: searching for 3PP material to see what else can be (or has already been) done (hint: Trick Shot from Psionics, along with other Marksman things). That’s one of the reasons Pathfinder is so excellent—there’s rampant versatility even within the core rules. We’ll take another shot at something totally original next time..

#4) Design
What didn’t we pick up along the way here? We’re going to miss out on Redirect Attack, but that’s hardly the end of the world. Kinetic reverberation is something we can work with however.
Let’s head back to d20pfsrd.com, do a search and click on magic items—nothing shows up, so we’re clear for liftoff.
Of course, firsthand knowledge never hurts (ideally I’d be hip-deep in Paizo books for “research”) and I have an example from a Magic Item Monday back in September. While I obviously liked it, we want our goblin flowing monk/rogue to use some kind of impact weapon anyway. We could get the quarterstaff enchanted, but then the shield aspect is gone.
Instead of enchanting the weapon, what about making an enchantment that activates a kinetic reverberation?
gauntlet-12We want something like a cape of the mountebank—activated on command with limited uses per day. This is a math problem now [(CL 3rd) x (spell level 2nd) x 1,800 gp] divided by (5 divided by 3 charges per day) = 6,480 gold. It’ll be costly to buy at 12,960 gold pieces (assuming we don’t have a buddy with Craft Wondrous Item), but our goblin flowing monk will now have bracers of rebounding strike that can be activated 3 times a day, granting 3 rounds of weapon damaging, kinetic action
 (Fort DC 13) with each use.

Maybe next time we’ll get lucky and hit the fields, but today we’re staying in the stables. Now, however, I am genuinely interested in putting together an elusive little goblin monk and am surprised I haven’t already…perhaps that will be something to be see in the upcoming Sidequest Saturdays? 😉

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design

A FIVE BOG TROLL HEAD RATING!

The Complete Kobold Guide to Game Design is an intimidating and healthy 244 pages of collected musings, thoughts, insights and essays from a collection of industry names that should prove familiar to most gamers or would be designers looking to sit down and read through this book. At first glance, and yes by the assumption made from the books title, it would appear this book is strictly for the designers out there, a how to guide if you will, on how to make a successful game and thereby put your name on the map when it comes to the gaming industry. But looking through the chapters and essays contained within one discovers very quickly there is so much more to this book then first impressions. Written largely by Wolgang Baur, you will be treated to his insight on everything from borrowing concepts from throughout all of media and history, why MtG worked as a game, how one actually defines design, to nurturing one’s own creativity. Wolfgang spends a great many chapters walking the reader through the many different aspects behind what makes a great designer, as well as why many will fall flat on their faces. He takes an unblinking look at the industry, and then reflects that here for the readers, which I have to admit, was refreshing. Far too many people are convinced they have the next great idea, and find themselves at a total loss when the whole o f the world doesn’t agree with them. He even voices his opinion on Magic Item Creation ala RPG Superstar, he has judged twice now, and is well established to detail what works, and what doesn’t. I can’t help but think every gamer/designer who’s ever considered publishing or submitting would do themselves a great service to spend some time reading at the very least the first section of this book, if not all of it.

Section 2 takes us into what I thought of as the reason gamers would want this book, not that the material and thoughts of the first section were not excellent, but they were aimed more towards designers looking to publish, as opposed to GM’s (who in their own right are designers, whether they realize it or not). Here is where this book really starts to attack the concept of how to improve one’s game from the ground up. Chapters dealing with topics like plot design, handling city adventures, the underdark and what one can really do with it as an ecological setting as well as a built in monster infested killing field. Hordes, humor, mystery and hardboiled adventures, this section tackles several different topics I can honestly say I wasn’t aware I had problems in until I found myself reading through these and realizing that I saw parts of my game in what they were addressing. Again, any GM worth his player’s time should spend some time with this section.

Section 3 takes us back to the business side of it again, with Writing, Pitching and Publishing. And again, we find that unblinking eye, which is what is needed in a product of this nature. After all, if you are going to buy a book that is largely a collection of advice and insight on how to succeed, would you want it to be sugercoated? No, you would want exactly what is delivered here, a fantastic collection of industry veterans not only telling you how you can improve your design and game, but how they themselves have improved their own games and designs. And just who are we talking about there when I say industry veterans, take a look:

Colin McComb– Extensive writing credits with TSR, Malhavoc Press, Paizo, and Open Design.

Rob Heinsoo – lead designer for D&D 4e as well as an extensive list of RPG, tabletop roleplaying, board, miniature and card games.

Michael A. Stackpole – Author, Game Designer both within the computer world and RPG industry

Ed Greenwood – The creator of the Forgotten Realms and successful author

Bill Collins – ENnie award winning designer (Tales of Zobeck)

[b]Nicolas Logue – WOTC Voyage of the Golden Dragon, Several credits with Paizo

Ben McFarland – credits on several Open Design projects, contributor to Kobold Quarterly, and The Breaking of Forstor Nagar

Willie Walsh – Longtime contributor to Dungeon Magazine, AD&D Road to Danger & Dungeons of Despair, Member of the Werecabbage Freelancers Creative Guild, 0one Games

Monte Cook – 1/3 of the design team for D&D 3e, Malhavoc Press, Arcana Unearthed, Ptolus, Iron Heroes, World of Darkness

Wolfgang Bauer – TSR, ICE, Open Design, just to name a few companies he has worked with. Won the eighth annual Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming in 2008.

So, 244 pages looking behind the curtain with some industry insiders. Very very few errors in editing, and by very few, I mean I think I found one. A must have book for both those looking to get into this industry, and those who merely want to play. I will admit, I did not know what to expect than I first saw this book, but by the end I was very happy that I turned the first page and kept reading, and I think you will be also.
I think my biggest fear in tackling this book was page hypnosis, and since it was a fear of mine, I would like to address it. Page hypnosis, as I call it, is that trance state you hit when reading textbook material type writing for hours on end, where you’re not really absorbing anything so much as you’re just staring at it because it’s so boring. Why would I be afraid of that? Because every guide on getting into the industry I’ve ever seen before this one essentially ended up being one of the most boring reads I ever tried to get through. The Kobold’s Complete Guide handles this with a very subtle method, that I think shows a great deal of intelligence on Wolfgang’s part. No matter how interesting someone is, when they are teaching the human brain will attempt to go on autopilot eventually, so this book breaks up Wolfgang’s writing style by interspersing essays from the other game designers throughout, giving you multiple writing styles to keep it fresh constantly. Now, am I saying that any of the material is boring? No, I am saying that the format of having multiple writing styles, and therefore multiple “voices” in this conversation proactively help to keep the book fresh throughout the entire read.

As I believe every GM and designer should have a copy of this in their library, I am going with a solid 5 star rating, but am adding the clarification, this is a collection of text. There is no pretty artwork breaking up the text, no game mechanics per say. This is a collection of insight into how to make the games we play that much better, and well worth the read, as long as when sitting down to read it, one understands that that is what they are sitting down to read.