Another Stat Block for SOTU

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I discovered another older ruleset where monsters/creatures have a separate, stat block from characters. In fact, it is a one line stat block, just like older editions of D&D. Granted, it is slightly longer with eight fields, but it is still much smaller than a character sheet.

Before continuing on, I discovered that Footprints #21 came out a couple weeks ago. It has nothing to do with SOTU, but it does give me a chance to say "Thank You" to Alfons, writer over at Mage of the Striped Tower. Thanks also for wishing me luck.

As far as my original point, yes, I am talking about Star Frontiers. The stat block for creatures looks something like this:
Funnel Worm: MV Slow, IM 3, RS 25, STA 200, ATT 70, DM d10, SA Hits automatically from ambush, SD Undetected until it attacks

I did not ever play this game growing up, but thanks to the folks at DWD Studios, I am enjoying reading through it. Especially with my gears spinning around Searchers of the Unknown, I was happy to see a similar dichotomy between character sheets and creature stat blocks.

Translating the block, MV is movement rate. IM is the Initiative Modifier. RS is Reaction Speed, STA is Stamina, ATT is an attack value, and DM is damage. Remembering that Star Frontiers is essentially (but not totally) a roll under d% game, this makes it a potentially very interesting alternative to SOTU. IM pertains to Initiative directly. Reaction Speed is something like a Saving Throw, but also answers the question, "Which one of you drew its weapon first?" STA can function like hit points and the Attack value is pretty self-explanatory.

As I continue to absorb the rules, that may change, but we shall see. I'm still not sure how I would roll reaction speed, or if I would at all. Anyway, I hope to present the Star Frontiers creature stat block as a variation of Searchers of the Unknown.

As far as the original rules that I am working on, I believe I have a bunch of spells 80% converted for use in SOTU. Work continues on. I hope to post something more definitive by this weekend.

That's all for now. More in the next post.

First Look at Searchers of the Unknown

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Searchers of the Unknown is a great concept for a lite game. Characters use a OSR D&Dish stat block, just like the monsters. The original SOTU rules define only fighters, so it offers limited options for characters. Basically, you can be either a Fighter or a Thief. This limitation allows for a tightly focused ruleset for the roles required in the game. Magic is implied to be a scroll, potion, ring, or miscellaneous magic item type of thing. The rules state very early on that Clerics and Wizards do not go delving in dungeons.

Like many mini-RPGs, add-ons and expansions began appearing all over the net. Some changed the ruleset to Target20 and D20, some added spell casters, and others changed genres. You can get a collection of these expansions on Randall's website here. Just like Microlite20 Legacy, a small ruleset begs for filling in perceived gaps. I am not immune to this desire.

When I look back on the history of D&D, the rationale for the creature stat block was partly to conserve space. A bigger reason, though, was that monsters function differently from characters. Up until 3e, characters had stats, but creatures did not. Making monsters was an entirely different process from creating characters. For SOTU, this means that there is a shift away from this separation. Creating characters is a lot more similar to creating monsters.

Looking at character creation this way, how do you create characters with different abilities without importing rules from the players' sections of d20 or OSR games? SOTU is based on D&D, but it is a different game with different mechanics. The biggest change comes in determining success with stunts. In exploring SOTU, I'm going to add-in special abilities like Turning Undead, Potion Creation, and more into the stunts rules. Part of the appeal of the original game is that characters can do just about anything but cast spells. I aim to change that as little as possible. The obvious exception is that I'm going to provide a way for spell casters to escape their cloisters or laboratories and get into dungeons.

It's easy to say something is missing from SOTU. Like I said earlier, its size invites house rules and sub-systems. However, in any stat block from D&D based games, many monsters have something equivalent to a Special field that demonstrates some ability that is different from just the listed attack. For example, medusae can turn others to stone, dragons have breath weapons, mummies have a rotting disease, etc. Monsters of the Unknown (part of the collection mentioned earlier) adds a sentence below certain creatures to represent special abilities. For now, I'm just going to add a field with a three or four word description of that power instead of a small paragraph below the stat block. In other words, I'm adding a stat to the block.

So how do we know what the special ability does? The different supplements offer contradictions with each other (and the SOTU core document) about various abilities. Spells in SOTU have limited choices for range (one dungeon room), area of effect (one dungeon room or 1 person per caster level), and duration (one fight or one day). Other supplements, however, provide range in feet, duration in various units of time, and other variations. Mutant Scavengers of the Ruined Earth, however, offers 20 special abilities, called mutations, with effects defined within the constraints of the original rules. Starting with these 20 special abilities, it should be possible to offer spells in the same way. Coming up with powers, though, will likely require a second page with "reference" information. Maybe I can shrink it down.

Here's the bottom line: SOTU is a very interesting experiment. I plan on playing with it to see what I can invent. I want to add spell casters, but beyond that, I think it is possible to add a variety of player abilities without expanding the rules with a bunch of sub-systems. I also want to stay as close as possible to the original rules. Why? SOTU really is a different game from D&D or Swords & Wizardry. It is not a straight clone and the mechanics for certain things are quite different. I want to see if it is possible to create different games and supplements for it. Don't get me wrong, the existing add-ons are great. I may not be able to write anything nearly as good, but all the fun is in the making, right?

The Numbers of All Things – A Thought Expirement

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This post may seem to be stream of conscious, but the main point centers around having a reason why a setting works the way it does and why people in the setting have the superstitions that they do. Taking the ideas in this post to the extreme can lead to some extreme associations, so caveat emptor. So here are thoughts about my southeastern Asian setting based on setting up a number system to categorize elements within the game world.

Tanah-Con-Rahn is a reorganization of a setting I began developing for Nevermet Press some time ago. I want to make sure that others that contributed to it feel like I am *not* stealing their ideas. So for example, there is no City of Spires in Tanah-Con-Rahn, because John Schutt had a killer idea of an perpetually dying god and various city factions trying to find him. All I did was name the place, John added the awesome.

With recent work on a Verb/Noun magic system, I've begun to work out how magic will work in Tanah-Con-Rahn. Based on an earlier post about how nouns are classified in other languages, I plan on offering NPC wizards with some very unique nouns.

Of course, psionics and ghosts play their part as well. The ACKS Psionicist allows for a specialty in dealing with ghosts that fits a niche for specific settings. Mixing southeast Asia and psionics seem to go together like peas and carrots.

Tonight, though, I was going through some math in my mind in an attempt to go to sleep. While pondering various number sequence, I got out of bed and googled the concept in my head. It turns out to be called the digital root. Digital roots can be laid out in a nine by nine grid to produce a Vedic Square. If you fill in the Vedic Square for a specific number, so get some interesting geometric designs that show some kind of symmetry.

Dude, seriously, you're putting me to sleep. What does this have to do with gaming.

The short answer is that the geometric designs with distinct patterns for numbers 1 through 9 provide a visual code for 1st through 9th level spells. I wouldn't use it much in-game as much as between games in an effort to provide small touches of "otherness" to the setting. I know a lot folks like me that will remember the symbols as a way to classify various power levels of spells. It may not be your thing, and that's okay.

Building on these patterns, I can scrawl some rune-looking glyphs to place throughout a dungeon, wizard's tower, etc. Since libraries are a big part of Tanah-Con-Rahn, the nine glyphs can be used to classify non-fiction material. For priests, the glyphs can represent the eight paths of righteousness and the one path of destruction. Since the present noun/verb system allows most spellcasters to access a specific set of nine verbs only, I could assign one glyph to one verb as a way to list the spells. Rainbows have seven colors. If you include white and black, you have nine colors, one glyph for each color. The list of things can go on and on.

By creating these multiple associations, it provides some subtext for a world without having to write six or seven novels of backstory. These nine patterns have meaning throughout the setting and it can mean different things depending on context. It's not all about magic, like the colors of the rainbow example, and it shouldn't be.

None of this is really game crunch, not yet. Here's where some really out there stuff can help create a seemingly random groups of spells. You can make the group my a mathematic principle instead of effect. Players may forever wonder why every school has a create spell, but if they ever want to know, you can send them on a wild goose chase to find the answer. Here's how it works:

The spell creation system works by assigning effects on a scale of 0 to 8. Then rating the duration on the same scale. Then rating the Range. Then rating the Area of Effect/Number of targets on the same scale. Using the numbers, every spell can be a unique four digit number. Take the digital root of the number and classify the spell book accordingly. In the current draft of the spell system, this would put Create Water and Speak with the Dead in the same school of magic.

Astute players will look at the PHB and see that spells with certain difficulties are grouped together, but at first glance it won't be obvious. Spells with a difficulty of 15 and 6 will be in the same school. One school will be only spells with a difficulty of 9.

Many will probably never, ever care about any of this. But for me as the GM, it lets me sound like a wizard or a numerologist or a half-witted "prophet of doom" that sees patterns in everything. It also lets me sound like a sage that seeks to classify all knowledge according to what he/she perceives to be a universal pattern, like Aristotle. It even lets me throw in day-to-day stuff like why common folk find some numbers lucky in certain situations, but bad in others.

In Tanah-Con-Rahn, the number you are born under (digital root of birthdate) are a boon to specific abilities that benefit a character depending on their class. Others may have a bane, thus they are driven to vile magic, pacts with demons or other horrendous things in an effort to escape their destiny. With some effort, I can come up with a sort of nine month zodiac for beneficial animals or totems and another for detrimental animals.

The number you train under for magic can dictate why some wizards cannot wear certain colors. Such a number would be determined by a number from 1 to 9 that you assign to the verbs of the magic system. The first verb a mage learns determines the number they train under. Nine minus that number corresponds to the color that would be the color that they cannot wear.

Anything you can rate from 1 to 9 will work for this system.