Author Archives: Josh

Building Virag (Part 2)

Last time was dedicated to Attribute selection. As you may have noticed in some of my reasoning, the choices were not made in a vacuum — there were times where later choices influence what I decided to do. For example, looking at the available spells to see what the Effect Step would be based on different Willpower values.

This bit of forethought becomes easier as you become more familiar with the game and the options available (especially to starting characters), but even if you’re new to the system and building your first hero, don’t be overly shackled to the process described in the book. If, at a later step, you find you want to go back and tweak something from earlier, go right ahead. The character isn’t done until you set out on that first adventure.

(Even then, I encourage gamemasters to allow ‘mulligans’ — especially for new players. It is possible they may find the character isn’t performing as well as they hoped, or that certain choices had unforeseen consequences. Since many of the players in the Legends of Earthdawn podcast were new to the system, one of the things I did was offer advice on their builds, pointing out potential pitfalls. I think experienced players and gamemasters have some obligation to help out the newcomers.)

All of that said, let’s continue with the character creation process for Virag.

(4) Determine Characteristics

There really aren’t any choices to be made here. The numbers are derived from the Attributes chosen in step 3, but going over these numbers might prompt you to go back and tweak how you spent those initial build points. For example, if you see that your Dexterity is one point shy of getting a Physical Defense increase, you can go back and see if shuffling some things around might help you get that without losing out in another area.

Here are Virag’s derived characteristics, based on her Attributes.

  • Base Initiative (based on Dexterity): Step 6.
  • Physical Defense (based on Dexterity): 8
  • Mystic Defense (based on Perception): 9
  • Social Defense (based on Charisma): 8
  • Carrying Capacity (based on Strength): 140 pounds
  • Unconsciousness Rating (based on Toughness): 28, +3 for Durability, totals 31
  • Death Rating (based on Toughness): 34, +4 for Durability and First Circle, totals 38
  • Wound Threshold (based on Toughness): 9
  • Recovery Tests (based on Toughness): 3 per day
  • Physical Armor (based on armor worn): Will have to wait until I buy equipment.
  • Mystic Armor (based on Willpower): 3
  • Movement Rate (based on race): 14 yards per combat round
  • Starting Karma (based on race and Circle): 3 points

(5) Record Racial Abilities

As with the previous step, there ins’t really a choice to be made here. Or rather, the choice was made back in step two when I decided Virag would be a troll. As a result, she has:

  • Heat sight

(6) Assign Talent Ranks and Spells

Okay, back to some choices. Virag has 8 points to distribute among her talents–5 Discipline and 1 optional. She also gets two free Standard Matrices (which can inform the selection of optional talent).

The First Circle Nethermancer Discipline talents are: Astral Sight, Frighten, Nethermancy, Patterncraft, and Spellcasting.

While it is possible to assign up to Rank 3 at the start, as with Attributes I tend to prefer a more balanced approach. You never know what might come in handy. If you look at things from a perspective of most efficient use of Legend Points to advance, going with four Discipline talents at Rank 2 means you only need to spend 300 Legend to qualify for Second Circle, you end up not having any ranks in one of your Discipline talents, and no optional talent.

That isn’t necessarily a problem, depending on your Discipline and whether you know what you’re doing. You might want to hold off on selecting an optional talent until you have a better sense of who your character is, or looking to fill potential holes in your group’s suite of abilities.

Back to Legend Point efficiency, any other distribution of starting points would cost more Legend to qualify for Second Circle, but only by a couple of hundred points. In the grand scheme of a character’s career, that isn’t much of anything.

So… Virag. I place one point in each Discipline talent, which leaves me with three points. Before I go any further, I take a look at the optional talents available to Nethermancers, and decide which one I want to start out with.

While there are several good options, my choice is obvious: a third Standard Matrix. The flexibility this offers a starting magician cannot be overstated. Having an extra spell available on short notice can be extremely helpful (though this depends on your starting spells). Other choices are certainly valid, especially if you know what you’re doing or have a particular build objective in mind.

If I’m going to take a third matrix, that uses up one of my three remaining points, and there’s no sense in putting more into it. A starting magician–even if they decide to take a Second Circle spell to start–can’t put a spell higher than First Circle in a matrix.

With all my starting talents selected, all that remains is where to spend my last two points. Looking at the Attributes connected to my Discipline talents, all of them except Frighten are based on Perception. Since I have a Step 7 Perception, that means all but Frighten are starting at Step 8. If you recall from last time, I recommend doing all you can to have as many starting talents as you can at Step 8, to get into those multiple-die Steps.

All right then. I might as well put one of my remaining points into Frighten to bring that to Step 8. One point to go.

Spellcasting is, in my opinion, the best option here. It’s the one that most benefits from a higher Step, and consequently a higher average result. But let’s go over the other talents, and the reasoning there.

Nethermancy has fixed difficulty numbers–First Circle spells have a standard thread weaving DN of 5, and 10 for reattuning on the fly. Step 8 has a fairly good chance of success against a 5 (about 83%). Reattuning on the fly is more difficult (only about a 17% chance of success without Karma), but I’ll leverage my third matrix, and make sure my “standard” spell attunement is weighted more toward being prepared for the heat of the moment (aka combat). If I need to swap out on the fly, I can use my Karma (increasing my chance of success to about 83%), but with only 3 points per day, that’s a precious commodity.

Patterncraft has both fixed and variable DNs. It’s fixed for learning new spells (DN 6 for First Circle, DN 7 for Second Circle, etc). Step 8 gives me better than even odds for both of those, and since learning new spells costs Legend Points, it’s not something I’m likely to do early on anyway. The DN can vary when it comes to using Patterncraft to analyze magical stuff, but I’m not sure how much of that is going to factor into this game. Extra information can be helpful, but not critical.

Astral Sight can benefit from the higher results available with higher Steps, but Step 8 puts me at a decent chance of success against the base DN of 6 for seeing into astral space, and even odds against the modified DN of 8 for “Open” Astral Space. I’m probably not going to be using Astral Sight for more than getting a sense of how corrupted local astral space is, or whether a given item is magical–actually studying patterns is based on the target’s Mystic Defense, and probably a bit out of my reach (at least without spending precious Karma).

Firghten I’ve already raised to Rank 2, and with my balanced approach, probably doesn’t need any more. Especially with my concept of going against type. Sure, making it Rank 2 already works against that concept, but I’m also willing to sacrifice some aspects of concept in the name of numerical advantage. I can make it up through my character portrayal, and not relying on the talent too much.

Spellcasting, obviously, goes against the target’s Mystic Defense. The higher my Step, the higher the average result, the more likely I will be able to affect targets, and get potentially more successes. Last point goes there.

Also, once I’ve gotten a few Legend Points under my belt, it’s only a matter of a couple days to bring up those other ranks. Here’s where Virag’s starting talents stand, with the rank in parentheses, and the final Step and dice after:

  • Astral Sight (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Frighten (2) 8 / 2d6
  • Nethermancy (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Patterncraft (1) 8 / 2d6
  • Spellcasting (2) 9 / d8+d6
  • Standard Matrix A (1)
  • Standard Matrix B (1)
  • Standard Matrix C (1)

That will do it for this installment. Next time we’ll wrap up the series.

Building Virag (Part 1)

Earlier this year, I was invited to take part in an actual play podcast for Earthdawn. (For those who don’t know, this means the game is recorded and the audio posted online for people to download and listen to at their leisure.) We’ve been playing for a few months now, building up a backlog of gameplay so  episodes can come out in a regular basis.

The podcast launched yesterday. You can find it here. I’ve been having a good time. It’s nice to play for a change. I’m almost always the gamemaster, whether that’s for my local games (when I had time to run them), or for demos and one-shots at conventions. I went with a magician, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who knows me.

I figured, as a way to generate some content for this site, I would go through the step-by-step process of how I created the character, with some thoughts and commentary on why I made the choices I did. This series will follow the process as described in the Earthdawn Player’s Guide.

(1) Choose a Discipline

I decided to go with Nethermancer as my character’s Discipline. I was originally leaning towards Wizard, going as I usually do for a character that has a reason to know the same stuff I know when it comes to magic theory and such. But upon further reflection, I decided I wanted Virag to be fascinated with spirits and other astral fauna. Kind of an astral David Attenborough. I also decided at this point I wanted to play somewhat against type for Nethermancers, eschewing the deliberately creepy for more of a generally happy sort who enjoys creature comforts when they are available, but isn’t against getting her hands dirty. (And yes, I had decided to play a female character.)

(2) Choose a Race

I decided to go with troll for Virag’s race. I don’t recall what the exact reasoning was. Part of this, I think, was based on what the other players were creating. But I like trolls, and enjoy putting together unconventional Discipline/Race combinations. Trolls are often cast in combat roles, and making my magician a troll goes against type.

(3) Generate Attributes

With my concept established, this is the step where the real nuts and bolts work begins. One of the difficulties when going against type and creating unconventional combinations is the uphill battle of the race’s starting Attribute values not being ideally suited for the chosen Discipline, and needing to spend more points to my scores where I want them.

Trolls start with Dexterity 10, Strength 14, Toughness 12, Perception 9, Willpower 11, and Charisma 10. Perception and Willpower are the most important Attributes for a Nethermancer (and any other magician, for that matter), with Charisma not as important, but useful when dealing with spirits and the like.

When creating a new character, I prefer a more balanced approach instead of maximizing the Discipline’s most important Attributes. I think ‘maxed out’ starting builds, unless you really know what you’re doing, are more likely to hinder than help.

For instance, I could buy a +7 adjustment to Perception and Willpower (using 24 of my 25 available points), but that leaves me with just a +1 to add to one of my remaining Attributes. This means I could bump my Dexterity or Charisma from 10 to 11, giving me a Physical or Social Defense of 7 instead of 6. If I wanted some extra points, I could maybe afford to drop my Strength and/or Toughness… but then I’m hampering my chosen race’s strengths.

I don’t think Earthdawn has “dump stats” as such. Even if a given Attribute isn’t particularly important for your chosen Discipline, it’s often helpful. Dexterity helps you avoid being hit. Toughness makes it harder to take you out. Perception and Willpower each help you resist spells, while Charisma helps you avoid being taken advantage of. For those not expecting to be hitting enemies with swords and such, Strength might count, but even then… a low Strength can limit your options in terms of what kind of armor you can wear and how much loot you can haul out of an abandoned kaer.

You can build your magician around the idea their melee combat companions will run interference, so maybe Physical Defense and Toughness aren’t that important. But Archers are a thing, as is “geek the mage.”

All of this is a rather wordy way to say, I would rather have an Attribute score be one or two points lower than you could otherwise purchase, because it translates into better overall scores. Taking a +6 instead of a +7, for instance, saves you enough Attribute build points to give a +1 bonus to 3 other Attributes, or a +2 and a +1, or even a +3. Bringing up your Dexterity (for example) up enough to get an extra 2 points of Physical Defense is nothing to sneeze at.

Generally, I recommend that a new character shoot for Step 7 in the Attribute (or Attributes) their talents are based on. Not just First Circle talents (though those are important), but the talents available through the first few circles, both Discipline and optional. Shooting for Step 7 in those Attributes means even a single talent rank puts you at Step 8, the first multiple-die Step at 2d6. If you look at the probabilities involved, the jump from Step 7 to Step 8 is significant, and if you can get it, you should.

With all that theory-crafting in mind, here’s how I decided to spend my Attribute build points.

  • 3 points for +3 to Dexterity, raising it to a 13.
  • 0 points on Strength, leaving at its starting value of 14.
  • 2 points for +2 Toughness, bringing it up to a 14.
  • 12 points for +7 Perception, raising it to a 16.
  • 5 points for +4 Willpower, raising it to a 15.
  • 3 points for +3 Charisma, raising it to a 13.

Here’s the more involved reasoning:

Raising Perception to 16 is an obvious first choice, since that puts me at Step 7. Both Nethermancy and Spellcasting are based on Perception, and are the bread and butter for a magician. While a 17 would give me a starting Mystic Defense of 10 (instead of 9), that costs an extra 3 Attribute build points, which as I explained above, limits my options. Also, if I look ahead, I get a +1 Mystic Defense at Second Circle, and I can spend Legend Points to raise my Perception to a 17 later on for that extra point of Defense if I really want to.

Going with a 15 instead of a 16 for Willpower might seem to run against my earlier statement about shooting for Step 7 with my Discipline’s key Attributes, but the only talent based off Willpower to begin with is Frighten. A 16 doesn’t gain me any extra Mystic Armor, and (as we’ll see in a moment), the extra two Attribute build points are better used elsewhere. Spell damage is based on Willpower, but the starter 0-thread damage spells (Spirit Dart or Spirit Grip) are both Willpower+2, which still put me at Step 8. I can put 2 of my starting talent ranks in Frighten to bring that up to Step 8, but given my feelings on going against type… I decide to leave that for later.

Given that I am only one point shy of a Step increase, though, means I will probably aim to have Willpower be the first Attribute I raise with Legend Points.

Between those two, I’ve spent 17 of my 25 Attribute build points, leaving 8. If I divide them evenly between the other four Attributes, that gives me a +2 in each. But that puts both Dexterity and Charisma at a 12 — one point shy of both a Step increase and a Defense Rating increase. Given trolls have a starting Strength of 14, I can get away with not putting any more points there. That frees up 2 points, which get split between Dexterity and Charisma, bringing those each up to 13, granting Step 6 and a relevant Defense Rating of 8. Nice.

The two points remaining go into Toughness, raising that to a 14. Unconsciousness Rating 28, Death Rating 34, Wound Threshold 9, and 3 Recovery tests per day. I could drop my Strength down to a 13, giving me an extra point to raise my Toughness to 15, which gives me an extra couple points of health and a Wound Threshold of 10… but I think things look good where they are.

(I’m not personally fond of dropping scores if I don’t need to, and I think in this case the choice doesn’t make that much of a difference. While the optimization game can be fun, I’m not one to fiddle with the odd point when it doesn’t make what I feel is a significant difference.)

That will wrap it up for this installment. As you can see, none of my decisions were made in a vacuum. I looked at the derived characteristics, along with an eye toward what my talent choices are. This isn’t the only way to approach building a character, but I’ve given you some insight into my process. Hopefully it will help with yours.

Next time, we’ll look at talent selection.

 

Make Art Not War – 2017 Challenge

As I’ve recently expressed in this blog, I’ve been kind of frustrated and emotionally adrift. Work on Earthdawn has been good, but… well, I feel there’s more in the tank.

Driven in part by similar feelings, writer and game designer Monica Valentinelli has put forward a voluntary challenge for this year. Make Art Not War. I’ll defer to her description (at least briefly):

This challenge is about making art to tap into your voice and tell your story. After all, one story can change the world. The problem is, we have no idea which story that will be, when it will be told, or in what medium. It’s up to us to find it–by making art!

I’m stepping up to the challenge. So here we go:

  • I pledge to spend an hour a day on my personal, original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I will write about why I wanted to take this challenge, either for fifteen minutes or one to three pages, whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to keep track of my output in a public fashion to be held accountable.
  • I pledge to be disconnected from the internet and social media during my creative time to minimize distraction.

Here’s my primary (but not exclusive) goal with this challenge. I’ve had a story in my head for more than fifteen years. I started working on it about the time my wife and I first got together. I produced a little shy of 6,000 words for it, and haven’t really looked at it in some time. But even after all this time, it is still with me.

So I want to see if I can make it work.

Will it? I don’t know. But it is probably the only way to get it out of my head. If I want to really make a go at writing (even as a side gig), I need to stop thinking about it, and start doing it.

Wish me luck!

Some days, I can’t even….

I’ve probably taken half a dozen runs toward this post, kind of a post-mortem of the past couple of months. Part of the reason it’s been hard is that I’m not really fond of conflict or controversy–at least in certain areas–and the thoughts and feelings I’ve been dealing with are kind of loaded with that stuff.

What I’m saying is, there’s a lot of negative stuff out there right now, and I’m not really thrilled with the idea of attracting any of it to me. May be a bit cowardly, but… well… *sigh*

Trump was elected.

The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of shock, anger, frustration, fear, second-guessing… not only my own, but also from a lot of friends and acquaintances. The Republican party, with the position it is in, has the power to affect the lives of a lot of people, and probably not for the better.

I’m a middle-aged, white, hetero (well, mostly), guy. I also live in a mostly white, rural state. I’m not likely to be in danger of any kind of systemic oppression or discrimination. But I know a lot of people who don’t have that luxury. As a friend, that’s troubling and upsetting to me. I can only imagine how it might be in their shoes.

On the one hand, I can kind of understand the attitude of those who are frustrated with the way things are. Things are pretty messed up in this country. There is a lot of uncertainty, and that leads to fear. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate…. the way to the dark side.

The world is not as they have expected — as they have been told it was. And those whose fault it is? Have lied and conned and manipulated. It’s the immigrants. It’s the muslims. It’s the blacks. It’s the OTHER.

wish they could be right. That, somehow, the upcoming administration and Republican ascension will result in — somehow — America becoming “great” again.

And, you know what? It will be. For Trump and the hateful sycophants he surrounds himself with.

But not for you.

Unless you are one of the very few with wealth and power, Trump and his ilk do not give a shit about you. They only care how you can be used to stifle dissent. How you can be used to maintain and exacerbate the differences that have been imposed. How you can fuel the engine of their enrichment and aggrandizement.

How you can be used.

There will, no doubt, be the occasional sop. The token gestures. But as the system is dismantled, our society taken apart piece by piece… people will suffer. And die. Any anger that manages to bubble up will be put down, or directed at the bogeymen they have created. The muslim. The black. The gay. The other.

There is no other.

There is only us. We have been divided. Misdirected. Pointed at each other so that we can have our pockets picked, our future sold off to enrich a select few in the present.

It’s frustrating. It’s depressing. It’s maddening. It’s infuriating.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if we (as a nation) are going to get through it, or what we (as a nation) will look like afterward.

I am afraid.

I want my kids to have a future… and right now that future is looking pretty dark.

I need to do something. I’ve been privileged enough to be able to sit on the sidelines the past four decades. But I can’t in good conscience do that any longer.

I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do. What I can do.

I’m one voice, but there are a lot of us out there. Time to speak out.

Making the sausage… one step at a time.

I’ve been kind of quiet this cycle with regard to politics. At least online.

Not because I don’t have opinions, because Lord knows I have those.

It’s mostly because the process this time around has been so gods-damned tiring. And disheartening. Like, “occasionally hating on the entire human collective” disheartening.

The United States is a nation of over 300 million people, covering some three and a half million square miles. Which is to say, it’s massive, complex, and requires a lot of infrastructure to maintain. When you factor in our relationship to the other 190-odd nations and 7 billion or so people on the planet…

Let’s just say I think we need smart, dedicated people running things.

like smart people. I like smart people that are passionate about things, like studying those things, and wonder how to make those things better. I love talking (and listening) to these kinds of people, because I learn stuff.

It usually doesn’t matter what the subject is — math, literature, physics, film, sociology, video games… I typically find myself enriched. Knowledge and understanding are awesome.

As a tabletop game developer, I appreciate passion for systems. Understanding how a tweak in one place can have repercussions in another. Being able to follow the thread of cause and effect. Looking at numbers and testing outcomes to steer towards the most desirable outcome. (Not perfect because… well… strive for perfection, but don’t make it the enemy of the good.)

Humans are… messy creatures. As a result, politics and governance are messy and only get messier the larger the group of humans involved. But it’s how we live together, maintain the support required for the society we’ve developed, and solve the challenges we face as a species.

I understand and sympathize with the many, many people who are frustrated with the way things are. I’m there with you. I wish it was easy to change the world.

But it’s not.

With so many people, and so many competing interests, changing — improving — the world is a slow process. Strive for ideals, know where you’re aiming, but fight one battle at a time. Make deals and work out realistic compromise. Accept three steps forward when you can’t get five.

Work towards a better world, but understand that it is work, and is sometimes (often) a dirty, unsatisfying, thing.

But in the end? Worth it.

As recently stated in the excellent Luke Cage series on Netflix, “Always forward.”

(You may notice I didn’t talk about any particular candidate. That’s on purpose. I’m laying out my general political philosophy — after a fashion — and not interested at this point in diving into the morass of spin und drang that dominates current political and social media.)

Website minutia

For those who care, I’ve finally gotten around to migrating the blog posts from the previous version of the site to the new location. This gives you a couple hundred old posts going back over several years.

Some of the links are broken, and images need to be moved over. That will take some time as I go through, post by post, to add categories and such. I still have a bunch of other content to move over, so perhaps I’ll get to that at some point.

GenCon 2016 Schedule

For those who are looking to catch up with me at #GenCon, here is a rough schedule…
 
Thursday
11am-2pm FASA Games Booth (#2029)
2pm-6pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
 
Friday
9am-10am FASA Games Panel (Crowne Plaza Penn Station A)
Noon-4pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
 
Saturday
10am-2pm Running “Scars of the Scourge” for ED4
2pm-4pm FASA Games Booth (#2029)
 
In the midst of that I have some other events and seminars that I plan on attending. As of right now, my Sunday is largely open up until we need to leave for the airport. If you want a chunk of actual meeting time, best ways to set that up are either to catch me during my booth duty, or send me a message via facebook or twitter.
 
If you’re there, hope to say hi!

How many lives?

Senseless.
Hatred dressed in the costume of morality.
Poisoned hearts. Corrupted minds.
Fear and anger, a loaded weapon
Pointed at the innocent by the guilty.
Dividing.

We are not other.
Brothers, sisters, parents, children.
Bone and muscle.
Mind and spirit.
When one is injured, we all bleed.
Red.

I try not to let their hatred,
Their ignorance,
Their fear,
Affect or infect me.
But it is hard.
The right things often are.

I got a delivery!

Hey there. I realize things have been quiet here. But I’ve been busy.

Writing games.

And stuff.

Anyway, got a delivery today and wanted to share. Enjoy!

More later.

Maybe.

That was the year, that was

(With apologies to Tom Lehrer, whose album of the same name is fantastic.)

So. It’s New Year’s Eve.

2015 was a year, wasn’t it?

It started off kind of rocky, with the last two months of a four-month strike. After that ended, I went back to work to learn that I really didn’t want to be working there anymore. July came along with an offer for voluntary severance, which I took. The last five months of the year were spent on unemployment, living off the buyout money and dipping into savings. I start a new job next week… but that’s 2016. (Okay, technically I had my orientation and some initial training this week, but whatever.)

On the plus side, this year did see the release of the Earthdawn Player’s Guide (PDF Version), and the electronic version of the Gamemaster’s Guide (that book is at the printer and will be out early next year). The response has been pretty decent, but we’re behind schedule, and that has made people not so happy.

In the aftermath of an enjoyable trip to GenCon, I decided to start pursuing opportunities in voice-over. That has been slow going, though I did produce and release my first audiobook. The rights holder was happy enough with my work that I’m signed for two more books with them. I’m working on the first of them now, and expect those to be out in the first part of next year.

The end of the year brings reflection, but also thoughts about the year to come. So here are my hopes and wishes for 2016.

  1. Get the production workflow for the Earthdawn books hammered out so that it doesn’t take another year or more to get the rest of our promised product done and out the door.
  2. Along those lines: Figure out what we’re going to do with future books in the line.
  3. Do more voice-over work. More audiobooks, and if I can get them, other VO gigs.
  4. Produce more content for this website. Entries, reviews, all that sort of thing. This may or may not include a podcast (which will help my voice-over and audio production chops).
  5. See if I can get some forward momentum going on the book that has been brewing in my head for years. And I do mean years.

That about does it for now. Raise a glass with your beverage of choice, toast to the year past and the one to come. We only get one go-round, an it’s important to make the most of it.