Cubist here. I've started to work on a pencil-and-paper roleplaying game based on the webcomic's setting. I would appreciate having other folks look it over and offer feedback on what I've got thus far. It's a googledoc which is accessible to anybody who can click on a hyperlink, and anybody can leave comments on it (but trolls being what they are, I reserve actual editing privileges for myself). And if people want to discuss the RPG here in this forum, perhaps because they don't care for Google or something, that's okay, too.
I continue to work on the AAL roleplaying game—and I continue to welcome comments from the readers, either in the googledoc or in this forum thread.
The goal I'm shooting for: Produce a complete, playable tabletop RPG for adventuring in the At Arm's Length universe. I'm thinking that it should be available as a free-for-the-downloading PDF, and also as a printed book which sells for a reasonable price. Both editions will have the same textual content, but whereas the ink-on-paper book will be lavishly illustrated, the PDF either won't have any illustrations at all, or else will have purely low-resolution illustrations (72 dpi in PDF, as compared to 300+ dpi in the physical book).
What panels from the comic proper do you guys think would be suitable for use as illustrations in the rulebook?
An At Arm's Length RPG campaign is fan fiction of the webcomic. As such, no AAL campaign should be required to adhere to all the niceties/details of the webcomic. At the same time, it is the AAL universe we're talking about. So the RPG should make it simple & easy for rolegamers to do fully AAL-canon-compliant storylines, while, at the same time, accommodating rolegamers who want to go beyond the strict bounds of the webcomic's canon. This means we should be able to handle a range of different types of AAL-inspired campaigns.
Campaign type: A baseline AAL campaign is 100% canon-complaint, and therefore pretty much the same as the webcomic. Its focus is mostly on Earth; the edict which forbids Enchanters from revealing knowledge of magic to mundanes is in full force; characters who bear obvious physical differences from the standard anthro-fur model must either have a real good disguise, or else never be in a position where they can interact with standard anthro-fur characters. The player-characters in a baseline campaign should be relatively young Enchanters who don’t share their race’s dismissive attitude towards mortals. Most of the plotlines in a baseline campaign should be about (a) defeating the Monster of the Week, or (b) how the characters maintain their healthy home lives in the face of all the weirdness they deal with on a daily basis. The Masquerade (i.e., the continuing effort to maintain mortals’ ignorance of magic) is an important feature of a baseline campaign, but mostly as an extended sub-plot, not a primary focus of action. In addition to the aforementioned pair of major themes, a baseline campaign can include the occasional story which takes the PCs to other worlds, not least the Enchanters’ homeworld, Aurellia. I'm thinking the RPG should assume that most campaigns will be of the baseline kind.
Campaign type: A variant AAL campaign starts with all the baseline details… and tweaks ‘em a little. You want a campaign where (for example) magic is publicly known to work? That’s a variant campaign, and go for it! Depending on the specifics of how the campaign differs from baseline, the campaign’s overall tone could be quite different from that of the webcomic.
Campaign type: An otherworlds AAL campaign makes heavy use of one or more of the different worlds that have shown up in the webcomic—or even entirely original worlds, invented by the GM for their campaign. An otherworlds campaign may or may not ignore Earth, but Earth certainly won’t be its primary focus.
The webcomic pretty much ignores firearms, for the most part. This makes sense, given that our three protagonists can toss off fireballs at will, and when you can do that, you have a lot less (real or perceived) need for guns. Sure, Temujin got all fangirly about that shotgun in one strip, but other than that? Not a whole lot of gunpowder weapons show up 'on camera'.
So, since replicating the webcomic's 'atmosphere' is a high priority for the AAL rolegame, the rules governing firearms should and will make said weapons appear a less-attractive option for PCs than is true in most other rolegames. Cubist is doing this knowingly, and with malice aforethought. And if any players find the 'nerf'ing of guns to be so unacceptable that they just can't bear to play in an AAL campaign… Cubist is willing to bet that those players wouldn't have wanted to play AAL anyway, so it's all good.
Lethality: The AAL rolegame's combat system has Shock Points (= HeroSys "Stun points") and Hit Points (= HeroSys "Body points"). By default, all firearms inflict HP damage on their target—but you can do SP instead, if you make the appropriate weapon skill roll. Failing said weapon skill roll = doing HP damage regardless. Yes, there will be firearms that are capable of just friggin' killing PCs in one shot with an average damage roll.
Accuracy: Contrary to popular belief, guns are piss-poor at hitting what you're aiming at—I've seen "hit rate" figures as low as 10%, and the higher said figures are, the more likely it is that said figures are bogus for one reason or another. Which is not to say that spectacular feats of marksmanship will be impossible in the game; rather, spectacular feats of that kind indicate that the people who perform said feats are really, really, really skilled. So if you want to be an accurate shot, you're gonna have to acquire mass quantities of the relevant weapon skill(s), for values of "mass quantities" which are not nailed down as yet. Bullets don't stop in their trajectory just because you missed your intended target. If you miss, the GM gets to decide who, or what, your bullet does hit instead of your intended target… and this unintended target will take HP damage, unless the GM is feeling merciful.
Maintenance: There will be some amount of bookkeeping involved with gun ownership. Gun-owning PCs must devote some quantity of money, and time, to upkeep for their weaponry; failure to do so will result in the neglected weapons becoming more and more unreliable (worse accuracy, greater chance of misfire, etc). More-reliable guns will be more expensive, both in terms of initial purchase price and in terms of month-to-month upkeep.
Ammunition: Gun-owning PCs must keep track of their ammo. To whatever extent the game is going to care about encumbrance, ammunition will be accounted for in a PC's encumbrance.
As in earlier posts, the rough draft of the AAL rolegame is a googledoc which is accessible to all, and anybody can leave comments on it.
Game balance in the AAL rolegame: Not a thing. At least, it's not a thing which the game designer thinks is particularly relevant to AAL. If people want to run an adventure with mundane characters alongside multimillennia-old Enchanters, who are we to tell them they can't? The history of the rolegaming hobby teaches that players will do whatever they bloody well want to, regardless of what the rules say. I mean, "house rules", you know? Now, those GMs (gaming groups, etc) who want game balance in their AAL campaign, are welcome to do that, and there'll probably be some optional sidebars about how to implement game balance. It's just that said sidebars won't be binding on everybody who plays the AAL rolegame.
To the extent that any kind of 'balance' is baked into the rolegame, it's dramatic balance. Ideally, all the PCs in a campaign should share the spotlight more-or-less equally. It's okay for one PC to get a disproportionately large share of attention in one gaming session… but if that PC gets more of the spotlight consistently, over an extended number of sessions? In such a case, Something Is Wrong.
Last Edit: Sept 24, 2014 16:43:48 GMT -5 by cubist
Yes, the AAL rolegame will include a magic system. No, the rolegame's magic system is not going to be anywhere close to the one in D&D. 'Fire and forget'-type magic works nicely for a particular subgenre of fantasy, granted, but AAL does not fall within that subgenre.
AAL's magic, as seen in the comic, is basically plot-driven; the details of spellcasting are selected largely on the basis of what would make the story more exciting. This is why teleport spells take a certain amount of time to cast, rather than being more-or-less instantaneous, as is the case for many other spells. So don't look for an intricately-detailed Theory of Magic that everything fits into, because you won't find it here.
For the purposes of the rolegame, AAL magic is a way to edit Reality by sheer willpower. All magical beings can do this to some degree; mundane beings, contrariwise, can't do it without being helped along some sort of external 'crutch'. In game-mechanical terms, when a PC casts a magical spell, the player rolls dice for a skill check. If they make the skill check, the spell works perfectly; if they fail the skill check, there's a possibility of something going wrong with the spell, perhaps horrible wrong. Magical beings have an innate bonus to magic rolls; mundane beings don't.
It's literally true that AAL magic can do absolutely anything—but some of the things magic can do, are easier than others. Some of the things magic can do are lots and lots easier than others. This is why the webcomic's three heroines aren't equally adept at all forms of magic; Ally is better at illusions than Sheila or Reece, to cite just one example. Mages who want to get better at spellcasting can acquire magic-related skills, to boost their spell roll.
Once you clear away the smoke and mirrors, a "school of magic" is really nothing more than a psychological tool that helps a spellcaster force their will onto Reality. When you adopt a particular school of magic, you're reshaping your thought patterns in such a way as to make it easier for you to work magic. Accordingly, you can only adopt one particular school of magic at a time. It should be possible to change to a different school of magic, but that will take a bit of a while, and your spellcasting will suffer while you're in between schools.
The AAL rolegame, like most (if not all) other RPGs, uses stats of one sort or another. The sort that are used in the AAL rolegame are as follows:
Coordination, reaction time, etc
Affinity for magic-use
Yes, the first six stats—ST, DX, IQ, IN, CN, and CH, the so-called 'big six'—bear a nontrivial resemblance to the stats used in D&D. The seventh stat, WD, is a horse of a different color.
When you're building a character, you use point-allocation to determine the values of your stats. For each stat, you start with the default number of pips in that stat. You can spend points to raise that stat, or you can gain points by selling off some of your default supply of pips. For the 'big six' stats (ST, DX, IQ, IN, CN, and CH), you can buy any of these stats up to a maximum of (default + 10) pips, or you can gain points by selling off, down to a minimum of (default - 5) pips. Note that WD is different; you can sell WD all the way down to 0 pips, or raise WD up as high as you've got the points to spend.
During the course of a character's career, you can raise any of the 'big six' stats just by spending XP on it. Which is only to be expected of a rolegame in which stats are determined by point-allocation. right? WD, unlike the 'big six', is largely stable; WD can be changed only as/when the campaign's GM feels like it. Ideally, a change in WD should be a rare and momentous event in any character's adventuring career, perhaps even the main focus of an extended plotline in the campaign.
I started out with the presumption that skills should work via rolling 1d20, with whatever applicable die-roll modifiers; if the modified roll is at least equal to the Target Number for whatever task the PC is tryna use their skillz on, it's a success. Well, I just thought of a different way to handle it: Rather than rolling 1d20, instead roll (number of skill levels) D6—and of course, apply whatever die-roll modifiers on top of the die-roll.
So. Let's see what the numbers look like…
Point budget for a new character: Given what's defined in the googledoc, it looks like a reasonable point budget for a beginning Enchanter PC is 173 pts, and a reasonable budget for a beginning PC who's a mundane fur would be 98 points. In both cases, the estimated budget assumes maximum points derived from taking disadvantages and roleplaying quirks.
Every character starts out with a particular set of default values for their stats, said default values depending on what race they are, with however-many points spent to buy them up from their default values. Buying any stat up to (default +5) costs 9 pts, which is about 1/20 of the assumed budget for a beginning Enchanter, and 1/11 of a beginning mundane-fur's budget; buying a stat up to (default + 10) costs 30 pts, which is about 1/6 of an Enchanter's budget, and 1/3 of a mundane fur's budget. Either way, it seems reasonable to assume that stat-values of (default + 10) will be unexceptionally common. The default stat-values will cluster around 10, so let's assume a stat-value of 20 for our calculations here. The variable will be the number of pips of skill.
In these tables, the first column is the number of pips of skill; the 2nd column, the minimum possible value for (die-roll + stat); 3rd column, the maximum value for (die-roll + stat); the 4th through 8th columns, the minimum numbers that there's at least a however-much percent chance of rolling at least equal to.
When rolling 1d20 for skills, with a stat of 20 and however-many pips of skill:
When rolling (skill pips)D6 for skills, with a stat of 20 and however-many pips of skill:
Hmm… interesting. I think I'll stick with 1D20.
Last Edit: Dec 7, 2014 6:23:37 GMT -5 by cubist: erasing stray tags
As per usual, the rolegame's googledoc is freely accessible to all, and anybody who cares to can leave comments, should they so choose.
We know that Reece has psychic powers. But that vixen is the only character who's displayed unambiguous, honest-to-Rhine psychic powers! Yes, there's been one or two times when Enchanters other than Reece have done mind-to-mind communication… and in every such case, the story provided no way to tell whether that communication was psychic or magical in nature. Anyway, Reece is the only blatantly psychic character in AAL. Her psychicness is mostly centered on information; she picks up 'vibes' from other people, she does precognition, and so on. We've seen Reece doing stuff that sure looks like telekinesis, but it's not clear whether she was using TK or her innate Enchanter magic; we just don't know for sure whether Reece's psychicness is good for telekinesis.
What the above facts tell me is that, while psychic powers actually do exist in the AAL-verse, (1) said powers are not very common, and (2) there's non-trivial overlap between the feats you can do with magic and the feats you can do with psychic powers. So the rolegame's going to need to handle psychic powers… but at the same time, the rolegame is tryna simulate The Way The AAL Setting Works. So, given the aforementioned quirkiness in how psychic powers have been portrayed, rules for psychicness are an interesting problem. Here's my solution:
If you want to create a character with psychic powers, spend 10 points on the special ability Psychic, which gives you access to any & every psychic ability that can exist in AAL. The downside is, psychic powers are not reliable; they all come with seriously large intrinsic penalties to the appropriate die-rolls. They're also fueled by the body's internal energies (as distinct from magic, which pretty much ignores silly rules like the Law of Conservation of Energy). You can negate some of the die-roll penalties by burning Shock Points; you can buy up your Insight, which stat counts as a positive modifier to any Psychic skill roll; you can buy up the appropriate Psychic skill(s) to give yourself a better chance of making Psychic skill rolls.
The details will probably need some tweaking, but I'm thinking this should do the trick. Any character who wants to be an effective psychic is gonna have to invest a non-trivial percentage of their points in Being Psychic, which of course will end up reducing the number of players who want to build psychic PCs. But those players who do make that investment will have some nifty abilities to show for it, so that's cool.
Psychic powers come in three categories:
Mentalist—This category covers powers that affect the mind. Any use of a Mentalist-type psychic power has a -20 penalty to the die roll.
Data—This category is about information. Acquiring information, obscuring information, etc. The die-roll penalty for these guys is -30.
Manipulator—This category includes powers that let you affect the brute physical world by simply thinking at it. -40 die-roll penalty to Manipulator-type die-rolls.
Here's what I've come up with for psychic powers, thus far:
Percieve what's happening at a distant location, as if you were actually present there. Also called 'remote viewing'.
What it says on the label—force other people to feel any emotion you like; prevent them from feeling whichever emotion; yada yada yada.
Make other people see/hear/smell/etc things which aren't actually real. Depending on the specifics of the illusion you're casting, you may be able to inflict SP damage on your target(s); your illusions can't inflict HP damage directly, but (again depending on the details), you may be able to maneuver your target(s) into doing dangerous things like, say, falling off a tall cliff.
Edit other people's memories. Can be used to inflict amnesia, create false memories, 'erase' skills, etc.
Percieve events that happened in the past of the location you're at.
Percieve hypothetical events which have the potential of happening in the future of whatever location you're at. Events which are more likely/plausible are 'brighter', more obvious to the precognitive sense, than unlikely/implausible events.
Edit the 'vibes' which you leave on objects you manipulate. With a good Psychic roll, you can edit previously-existing 'vibes' which were left by other people in the past.
Detect/analyse the 'vibes' which have been left on an object by any people who have handled/manipulated that object in the past. Also called 'object reading'.
See through other people's eyes (and hear through their ears, smell through their noses, etc).
Percieve, analyse, and manipulate all EM radiation, of any wavelength. This lets you do cute tricks like eavesdrop on radio broadcasts without an actual radio receiver, or randomize the information in a data transfer, etc etc.
Move physical objects around just by thinking at them.
Create a mental link with any other mind of your choosing, a link through which you can send thoughts to, and/or recieve thoughts from, the linked mind.
Reshuffle subatomic particles into different configurations. Thanks to the astronomical number of individual particles in even a tiny amount of matter, this power has non-trivial practical difficulties.
Reece seems to have majored in Data-type psychicness, with a minor in Mentalist-type.
Note for those who are interested in the rolegame's googledoc: I've split that sucker up into 11 distinct, smaller docs. The unified version had grown big enough that (on my archaic, steam-powered laptop's screen, at least) it had become unusably slow/awkward. Each of the new, smaller chunks has clickable links to all the other chunks, which hopefully minimizes the inconvenience for anyone who wants to look it over and maybe leave a comment.
The latest addition to the rolegame's googledocs: A set of character sheet "templates" for players who'd maybe like a bit of help putting together a character of a particular species. These templates are strictly of first-draft quality, and the species they cover are: Bat, Bear, Boar, Bull, Canine (generic), Cheetah, Cougar, Deer, Donkey, Elephant, Feline (generic), Fox, Giraffe, Goat, Horse, Hyena, Kangaroo, Lion, Llama, Mouse, Rabbit, River Otter, Pig, Raccoon, Rat, Rhinoceros, Sheep/Ram, Skunk, Snake, Tiger, Weasel, Wolf, Zebra.
As ever, readers are invited to browse the googledocs and leave comments.
As ever, the AAL rolegame googledocs are one click away, and anyone reading this is invited to click on over, browse, and leave whatever comments on the googledocs.
This time around, we're delving deeper into the rolegame's magic system. As was noted earlier, AAL-style magic can literally do absolutely anything at all—but not all magical feats are equally easy to perform.
Game-mechanically-speaking, AAL magic is built around skill rolls. Every spell has a "target number"; to cast a spell, you roll 1D20, modified by whichever appropriate die-roll modifiers, and hope that the modified total is equal to or greater than that spell's target number.
As far as the rolegame's magic rules are concerned, spells are divvied up into 18 (eighteen) different classes of spells, according to what the spell's general purpose is. Each class of spells has its own innate characteristics; some of them are intrinsically easier (i.e., spells of class X start out with a lower target number) than others, some are intrinsically quicker to cast (i.e.., spells of class X start out with a shorter casting time) than others, and so on. These classes are, in alphabetical order:
Communication Transmission/storage of information, often (but not exclusively) from one mind to another. Can be two-way
Create The classic ex nihilo poof-it’s-there creation of something from nothing
Enhance Increasing the target’s capabilities. Boosting a 350-hp engine up to 500 hp, say
Erode Reducing the target’s capabilities. Making steel as brittle as glass, say
Heal Curing the harmful effects of wounds/disease/poison/etc. Like Repair, but focused on biological damage
Metamagic Anything which manipulates/redirects/edits/etc magic goes here
Motion Conventional movement; pushing, pulling, making stuff fly. Telekinesis, basically
Negate The polar opposite of Create
Obscure Any effect that interferes with perception. The polar opposite of Scry, really
Persona Psychic-type stuff (telepathy, mind control, etc) and soul-affecting stuff go here
Power The magical equivalent of “brute force and massive ignorance”; blatantly forcing Reality to obey your will, regardless of any and all relevant factors. Catch-all, good for any purpose whatsoever
Protect Preventing damage/harm/injury from occuring in the first place
Repair Fixing stuff that got broke. Like Heal, but focused on inanimate damage
Scry Acquiring data from the world around you. Clairvoyance, remote sensing, detection in general
Summon Bring forth an entity (person, weapon, whatever) from Elsewhere
Transmute Any type of transformation goes here
Transport Motion that’s not thru the conventional three dimensions. Teleport, dimensional portal, time travel, yada yada
These classes are not hard-edged, rigidly-defined categories. Even when there's one class of spell which seems like the most obvious class for a spell which does Thing X, it may well be that other classes of spell might be able to do Thing X, too.
For instance, let's say that you've got an Enchanter character who likes swordplay. Suppose this character wants to make a spell that makes a sword poof! into their hand from nothing. The most obvious candidate class for such a spell is, clearly, Summon. But making a sword appear out of nowhere could also be a Transport-class spell, couldn't it? And hey, if you wanted to go for a more-exotic mechanism, what if your spell transformed local air molecules into a sword? That would be a Transmute-class spell which fulfills the desired "make a sword appear in your hand from nowhere" purpose! And of course, Power-class spells are, by definition, good for absolutely any purpose whatsoever…
In addition to the possibility of purposes which can be fulfilled by spells from more than one of the classes, it's also possible that there could be purposes which require a spell that fits into two or more of the classes simultaneously. For instance, what about a spell which analyzes a broken machine and performs all the repairs necessary to make that machine work again? The "analyze a broken machine" part is clearly Scry-class, and the "all the repairs" part is clearly, well, Repair-class.
Since each class of spell has its own distinctive set of innate characteristics, it may be that the most obvious class of spell for achieving a given purpose may not be the most practical choice of class for that purpose ("Oh man, [spell class] would be great for this spell—but the target number for [spell class] is just too high! Maybe I can make it work under [other spell class]…"). In a case like that, you may have to think outside the box a little, exercise a bit of creativity, to work up a spell which fulfills that purpose. Such is life in the AAL-verse.
I've been pondering the skill system. Key concept: Some skills are more or less specialized than others—they cover more or less 'territory' than others. As a concrete example of what I'm talking about, consider two characters; one of them, John Doe, has +5 skill in the stylized sword-fighting style called Fencing, and the other, Richard Roe, has +5 skill in the fencing weapon called Épée. Thanks to his +5 skill in Épée, Roe can easily use an épée in ways that people who lack that skill would find difficult-to-impossible—and Doe's +5 skill in Fencing lets him do everything with an épée that Roe can do. But! The épée is not the only weapon used in fencing—there's also the foil and the sabre. So whereas Roe's Épée skill restricts Roe to nifty tricks with épées, Doe's Fencing skill lets him do nifty tricks with foils and sabres as well as with épées. In addition, Doe's Fencing skill should logically cover the strategies and tactics used in fencing, and he should be able to apply those tactics and strategies, or at least recognize when they are or aren't appropriate, when he's using other bladed weapons. As for Roe's Épée skill, well, not so much of that.
So, Épée skill is more specialized than Fencing skill. Or, if you like, Fencing skill is more generalized than Épée skill. Either way works.
In the AAL rolegame, this sort of thing is modeled by providing each skill with a 'scope', a rough measure of how specialized or generalized that skill is. Any skill provides a die-roll bonus when attempting whichever set of tasks, but skills with narrower scope provide that die-roll bonus for fewer tasks than do skills with wider scope. Since wider-scope skills are, therefore, more inherently useful, the cost (in points) of a wider-scope skill is higher than the cost of a narrower-scope skill.
This makes sense; a specialist in Field X should be able to beat a generalist when it comes to that Field X, but the generalist should be able to beat the Field X specialist when it comes to anything except Field X. The specialist and generalist may have both spent the same total number of points on their skills, but the specialist's skills will be more, well, specialized than those of the generalist. The specialist will have higher die-roll bonuses, for a smaller set of tasks, than the generalist does.
Right now, the rolegame regards 'scope' as a five-level hierarchy, like so:
Narrow / cost: 1 pt per +1
Medium / cost: 2 pts per +1
Wide / cost: 3 pts per +1
Expansive / cost: 5 pts per +1
Universal / cost: 8 pts per +1
I'm currently seeing how various other RPG rule-sets' skill lists fit into this five-level framework for scope. Depending on how that turns out, I may add or subtract a level or two from the framework.
[ETA on 22 Aug 2016: Changed the names of two of the scope-levels. 'Super-wide' is now 'Expansive', and 'Unlimited' is now 'Universal']