Monthly Archives: November 2015
Rook: The rook is a base class that uses skill, deception, and secret techniques to accomplish her goals, often in ways society doesn’t approve of. Use hit dice, base attack, base saves, skill points/level, starting wealth, and starting age as an investigator. Gain all bard and investigator class skills. Use ranger proficiencies. The rook gains a pool of tricks at 1st level. The pool is equal to the rook’s level plus her Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma bonus (as decided at 1st level). This functions as a ninja’s ki pool and also gives all the benefits and options of an investigator’s inspiration. The rook also gains one talent at every level, which may be drawn from investigator talents, ninja tricks, rogue talents, or slayer talents. The rook does not gain most other abilities of these classes (such as sneak attack or alchemy) so some talents are useless to a rook. In addition the rook may select any of the following class features (listed by class or archetype) in the place of a talent: arcane trickster- impromptu sneak attack (gain sneak attack as a rogue of your level, but only to be used with this ability, useable once per day per three levels), ranged legerdemain; bard – cantrips (as a bard of your rook level), versatile performance, well-versed; herb witch – remedy (each remedy expends 1 point from pool of tricks, and heals hp equal to 1d8 + class level, +1d8 per 5 full rook levels); investigator – poison lore, swift alchemy, trap sense; kitsune trickster – kitsune’s guile; monk – evasion (becomes improved if 10th level or higher), wholeness of body; ninja – light steps, no trace, uncanny dodge (becomes improved if 10th level or higher); qinggong monk – any ki power may be selected (rook level must be at least equal to ki power level, saves based on same ability score as pool of tricks); ranger – track (becomes swift tracking if 10th level or higher), wild empathy; skirmisher – any hunter’s trick may be selected; trapper – launch traps (must be 1th level and have traps), traps (each trap expends 1 point from pool of tricks).
At 2nd level the rook gains a clever strike. This functions as an investigator’s studied combat but is based on the same ability score as her pool of tricks. If the rook has a talent that applies to sneak attack, she may instead apply it to her studied attack if applicable (though still no more than one such talent may be applied to a single attack).
The rook gains no other class features. #QuickBaseClass
I mentioned this story recently, and a few folks claimed they’ve never heard it. This amazes me, because it’s one of my favorite stories.
In the late 1990s, my wife Lj worked for Saxon Publishing, a Norman, OK company that made math textbooks. Its staff, unsurprisingly, had a lot of people with mathematics degrees who wrote, designed, and edited the math texts, and even fielded questions from school boards about the hows and whys of their style of teaching math.
One year for their Christmas party, which I attended with Lj, they had a professional for-fun-only casino come in. Everyone was given 10,000 of “Monopoly money.” There was a roulette wheel, craps, poker, blackjack, and a horseracing track. We were to play for 2 hours, and then the three people who had the most Monopoly money would get prizes. Lj didn’t want to play so she gave me her 10k, doubling my stake.
The mathematicians all rushed to whatever game of skill or chance they had pet theories on. Blackjack and poker were the most common, but several wanted to try betting schemes (double every bet until you win, then start back at the minimum and double every bet until you win, or variants thereof) at craps or roulette. I wandered by every table before setting down to bet, curious to see how they ran things. The math folks all seemed to be slowly moving ahead at their preferred games, but no one was playing at the horsetrack.
So I went and took a look.
The horsetrack had six My Little Ponies, each with its own lane that has 12 spaces from beginning to the finish line. A deck of cards was used to deal each horse its odds, before the race. An ace was 1:1, a 6 was 6:1, a king was 13:1 and so on. So if you bet $1,000 on a 6:1 pony and it won, you got your original grand back plus an additional 6k. Once all bets were taken, each horse had 1d6 rolled to see how many spaces it moved. Then they’d roll again, and again, until one of more horses crossed the finish line. In case of ties, every horse that won paid out its full winning.
I was flabbergasted.
The thing is, that game has NO connection between the horse’s odds, and its chance of winning. Every horse was just as likely to win, but some paid 13:1, and other 1:1.
Also, you could have a race where every horse paid out 6:1 or better. In other words, you occasionally had races where, if you bet the same amount on every horse, the worst that could happen was you’d break even.
To make sure I really understood the system, I waited until every horse had at least 6:1, and bet $100 on each. As I recall an 8:1 horse won, so I got $800, plus my $100 bet, and lost my other $500 in bets. So I was up $400 on $600 in bets . The nice lady running the game clapped for me. Several math folks looked at me, playing the ponies, and scoffed before turning back to their games of true skill and probability.
I made sure the nice lady running the game saw what had happened, and wasn’t forgetting a rule. She checked with her manager, who’d been running that same game for a decade, and he agreed.
Then, I started betting in earnest.
Anytime the odds were 6:1 or better for every horse, I divided all my money into 6 bets and bet equally on every horse. Since two horses both won at least half the time, and occasionally 3 horses won, even when a high-odds horse wasn’t the winner I’d often double or triple my money. If every horse was at least 4:1 and some were above 10:1, I’d bet a smaller percentage of my money, mostly to encourage the nice lady to have the race, rather than give her time to call out to encourage other people to place their bets before she began. If the odds were bad, I’d throw $100 on each horse to get the race over with quickly.
My money piled up quickly. A $1500 bet on a 10:1 horse brought in $15,000, and even if I lost $7500 in bets on the other 5 horses, I still nearly doubled my money. Then it was a $3000 bet on every horse. Then a $6000 bet on every horse. When I got lucky, I could have three 9:1 or better horses all win. When I wasn’t lucky, I broke even, or had only risked a pittance.
Within half an hour, I had more than $100,000 in Monopoly money. The casino manager had to raid money from other tables to pay me. One of the people with a PHD in mathematics, curious why so much cash was needed, came over. He bragged to Lj that he had doubled his money playing poker. She told him I had *just* crested $250,000. He was stunned.
To his credit, he watched what I was doing for one round of betting, then immediately began to do the same . Of course, I had a quarter of a million Monopoly dollars, and he had less than a tenth of that. He took more risks to try to catch up, and his ability to calculate odds in his head began to let him double his money faster than I could. We had a brief delay when the casino ran out of fake money, and the manager had to write and sign a stack of $100,000 IOUs.
At the end of the two hours, I had $1.5 million Monopies. The mathematician had $250,000. A third person who worked it out late had managed to get $50,000. The next highest total was $15,000.
When Lj and I reported a total, the wife of one of the poker players complained that since we had combined our funds to begin with, we should be forced to each take half and report it that way. I pointed out to her that even if we did that, we’d both have $750,000, and we’d win the first two prizes, instead of just first place. She agreed that wasn’t necessary.
It turns out $1.5 mil Monopie was worth a $50 Godiva chocolates certificate, which we used to buy little mints we froze and put on the pillows of house quests for years to come.
I also offered some thoughts to the casino how to fix the ponies game, which they’d run without issue for a decade. They assured me it wouldn’t be necessary.
My Top 10 Formative Tabletop Games
I’ve played a lot more tabletop than this in the years since, but these 10 absolutely had a long-running impact on me as a gamer, and later as a designer and developer. These are in order of importance, as I perceive it now, rather than the order I encountered or became obsessed with them.
1. AD&D, 1st ed
I have told the story many times about how I was introduced to this game by my Uncle, who had only the DMG, and he said if I could figure it out, we could play. I had to infer what we were missing from the information that existed, and cobbled together playable (if totally unbalanced) rules. So, I was literally writing RPG material before I ever played an RPG.
2. Tunnels and Trolls
I was hooked on D&D… and for a few years had no one to play with. T&T gave me simpler rules I could actually master, and tons of solo adventures I could play by myself.
3. Champions/ Hero System RPG
This game was what I “graduated” to from D&D, back when I briefly cared about such things. Both the careful combat rules, the ability to design any character I conceived of, and the interesting effect of point-buy PCs for “balance” taught me a lot about what does and doesn’t work in an rpg, and why you might include things in a game most people shouldn’t use.
4. Car Wars
Both a big part of my tactical education, and of my player-build experience.
Once I began to have geeky friends I could play with, it was still tricky to find time and focus to play an RPG, and none of us could DM worth a crap. The Dungeon boardgame gave me 80% of what IO craved, and did it faster an more easily than trying to get 13-year-olds to settle down and play a full RPG session. My love of Dungeon remains with me, and I even wrote extensive alternate rules for a recent edition.
6. Star Fleet Battles
My favorite larger-sclae tactical game for many years. There’s an important lesson in the vast sea of starship designs about being equal without playing similarly.
7. Gamma World
I admit I was hooked on this largely for theme, since it felt very much like D&D, but an important part of that lesson was that theme often trumps system. RIFTS gets an honorable mention here too, for teaching me theme doesn’t always trump system.
8. Monopoly – My father – Professor of Economic – had a homebrew version of Monopoly that involved 2 boards (which overlapped at GO), a set of rules for investment in the stock market, bank interest rates, buying and building businesses, and lots of other things I can’t remember anymore. We only played a few times, but I loved the ability to look at a game, make changes, play it, and get an entirely different experience out of it.
This particular variant’s main drawback was that generally everyone got richer and richer, so the game never ended. we did try using “whoever has the most money when the bank is broke wins” rules, but they made the game less fun and less satisfying.
The irony of an doctor of economics rewriting Monopoly so everyone always got richer was lost on me at the time, but I’ve sit and pondered it on many a quiet afternoon since.
9. Ars Magica
The only game on this list I’ve never played, and the one I read the most messageboard posts regarding. The anything-goes work-it-out magic system, the strong links to historic scholarship, the idea of a troupe system, magi/companions/grogs being intentionally not balanced and still all viable way to impact a game, the overarching Order with its twelve houses and different tribunals, the politics… all had me entranced as an example of a different play mode. And a lot of the things that people later gushed about Vampire were by that time tried-and-true ideas I’d been exposed to by Ars Magica.
This is the last game I consider “formative,” but it was the first CCG I loved, which had a lasting impact on how I viewed the entire category of games. I was a deep lover of a crab fortification deck which was very rarely effective (and then only in 5-8 player games, which my friends and I did regularly engage in for a year or so), but was always something other people had to decide how to deal with.
Honorable mentions – Mancala (a totally different paradigm of game), Lost Worlds (which was for a few years the geek game I played most often, since friends and I could carry booklets at school and get in quick games between classes); Go (which taught me how complex tactics can evolve from simple rules); RIFTS (which I loved everything about – except the entire game system); Hero Quest (which, for a while, was my older-self’s Dungeon); A Charity Casino (where I learned an entire company full of mathematicians may not sit down and examine the odds of various games, resulting in my fake $10,000 stake becoming a fake $1.5 million in the course of two hours); trivial Pursuits (which I learned I didn’t much like, even when I was good at it, unless I was with people I’d enjoy just hanging out with), and Battleship (made me think about information control in games).
Lord of Leftovers. You can benefit from the drabs and crumbs others have given up on. Prereq: Int 13. A number of times per day equal to your Int bonus, you can take a full-round action to scrape together enough of an already-used consumable (such as a potion, or alchemical imbibed substance, or a magic muffin) to gain a limited version of its benefits. If it grants a numerical bonus, you gain only half the bonus. If it doesn’t have a numerical bonus but has a duration, you only gain half the duration. If it doesn’t have a numerical bonus or duration but has a random benefit, you gain the minimum benefit.
Feast. You can lay out a massive, amazing spread for friends and allies. Prereq: Brew Potion or a bonus to an appropriate Craft or Profession check (that comes form a source other than ability bonus and skill ranks) or 5 ranks of an appropriate Craft or Profession skill.
It takes you one hour and 5 gp per person to create a massive feast, for a maximum number of creatures equal to half your level (minimum 1) + your Int or Wis bonus (whichever is higher). People can eat while you prepare the feast (though doing so provokes attacks of opportunity – you have your wooden spoon in hand, right?), or eat after it’s all ready which takes at least 30 minutes.
Each person that participates may choose one of the following benefits: regain a single use of an ability with a daily limit, regain a single expelled spell slot, heal hp as if receiving a day of bed rest, make a save against an affliction or condition that allows a save once per say (with no penalty for failure), or restore one point of ability damage to each damaged ability score. You cannot benefit from your own Feast unless you have at least 1 helper per 5 people served. Helpers must meet the prerequisites for this feat, though they need not have it.
A character cannot benefit from more than one Feast per day unless they have the ability to eat multiple days worth of food (such as from the Overindulge feat, or some of the Sinful Feats of Gluttony), in which case the character can benefit one additional time in a day for every full day’s worth of food it can eat.
For Thanksgiving proper, it’ll be just Lj and myself this year. We literally don’t have room to invite over anyone, and everyone we know has other plans anyway. That’s going to make it a quiet day, and that can be nice. We enjoyed Netflixgiving last week, so we’ve certainly celebrated already.
I’ve never lived away from my hometown of Norman for this long before – 14 months was the previous record, and the overlap was all in summer – and I’ve never had a second holiday season “away.” There are certainly some strong emotions brought up by this. In Norman, I was effortlessly involved in holiday social gathering with close friends regularly, which was amazing for my introverted nature. There was an ease and comfort to having many holiday options, and if I had emotional issues one day, there were many other opportunities to celebrate the same holiday, with a subset of the same friends.
I absolutely have friends in Seattle, including some really close friends. But the traditions that already exist out here mostly don’t involve me, and existing gatherings are often clearly at capacity with people who’ve been doing them for years. I can see the easy, comfortable trends I benefited from in Norman, but I’m not part of them anymore. New traditions take time – more than 18 months.
The ease of the Norman holiday traditions was obviously a rut, and being bumped out of it opens opportunities for new things, which can lead to good things. I just have to remember not to allow the part of my head that’s broken present my new circumstance as something it isn’t. Having fewer holiday events, especially when I never went to all those open to me, isn’t bad, just different. But my depression, anxiety, and other issues being what they are, sometimes it *looks* bad, from the inside.
I’m warm, comfortable, and with someone I love today. I hope all of you are too!
I am, in short, thankful, and maybe thinking about that thankfulness more than in many years past.
At Least It Isn’t Raining
When things get bad, you become increasingly grateful they aren’t worse. When you are suffering from an ongoing affliction or condition imposed by a foe, you gain a +1 morale bonus to saves from other effects that impose new afflictions or conditions. After a number of rounds equal to your level you get used to an affliction or condition, and no longer count it towards the number that provide you with a bonus. #Microfeats #Thanksfeating
Overindulge. You can stuff yourself to the gills. Prereq: Con score higher than your Wisdom score. You can eat up to three days of food without injuring yourself, and your body digests it over three days. Eating more than this results in nausea for a number of hours equal to each additional day worth of food consumed.
Additionally, if you have doses of consumable food or drink that normally require a move action to prepare and a standard action to imbibe, as a full-round action you may draw and imbibe two such consumables.
Return the Favor. Prereq: Good or lawful alignment. When a creature heals you, gives you a moral bonus, gives you an AC bonus, gives you a bonus to saving throws, or takes damage that would normally have been dealt to you, you are inspired to aid and protect that creature. You may choose to activate this feat as a free action immediately after the triggering event, granting the helpful creature a +2 bonus to AC and saving throws for 1 round if it is adjacent to you, or if a ranged attack or effect’s path to the creature goes through a square adjacent to you. You may only active this feat once per day for any given helpful creature.
If you are 8th level or higher, the bonus lasts for 2 rounds. If you are 16th level or higher, the bonus lasts for 3 rounds.
Sigil Lord: The sigil lord is a base class that uses magic sigils and innate magic circles to create powerful combat auras and channeled energy. Use hit dice, proficiencies, base attack, base saves, starting wealth, and starting age as a warpriest. Use class skills as a skald, but gain 6 + Int modifier skill points per level. You can channel, as a cleric of your level, though you can choose each time you use this ability whether to channel positive or negative energy and to heal or hurt. At 5th level, and every odd level thereafter, you may select one spell with a spell level equal to or less than your base channeling dice from the following list: anti-incorporeal shell, antilife shell, antimagic field, antiplant shell, antitech field, aura of doom, circle of clarity, deeper darkness, darkness, daylight, fool’s forbiddance, globe of invulnerability, greater chameleon stride, invisibility sphere, lesser globe of invulnerability, light, magic circle against chaos, magic circle against evil, magic circle against good, magic circle against law, magic circle against technology, peerless integrity, repel vermin, repulsion, sensory amplifier, silence, tower of iron will I-V, undeath ward. You can expend a use of channeling to a selected spell as a spell-like ability, each once per day. Use your Charisma modifier to determine any spell save DCs. These spells can only be cast centered on yourself (even if they are normally cast on an object), and can never be used as traps. At 8th level, and every three class levels thereafter, you may swap out a selected spell for a new spell from the list your qualify for.
You also gain bardic performance (as a bard of your level) and raging song (as a skald of your level). These abilities work from the same pool of rounds/day (6 + Charisma bonus rounds per day, +3 rounds per class level after 1st), and you cannot have a bardic performance and a raging song active at once unless you could somehow have two bardic performances active at once. The bardic performance and raging song abilities represent battle-auras, and do not have audible components or visual components, but are limited to allies in a 60-foot-radius spread. Additionally, at 2nd level and every 2 class levels thereafter, you gain either a bonus feat (which must augment or modify your channeling, bardic performance, or raging song), or rage power (as a skald of the same class level, which you may also apply to anyone benefiting from your bardic performance).
You gain no other class features. #QuickBaseClass