Abstract Resources in RPGs, part I

Axe to GrindOne of the key factors with which many rpg players, gamemasters, and designers struggle is the degree of abstraction (DoA…I like that). How much abstraction, what type of abstraction, and where in the game it is.

One common goal that is mentioned by gamers is the concept of Realism. It should be noted that Realism is a loaded term in gaming that means many different things to different people. In fact, most people don’t want Realism at all. In a realistic world, the dragon eats the knight in shining armor…..just about every time and regardless of what the knight does. Most players don’t want that result.

What they do want is internal consistency. They want it to feel right. They way their abstractions in comfortable places and of the types they find agreeable. What they want is verisimilitude. I’ll talk more about that later, but for now…Let’s look at some abstractions.

For example, in D&D, armor makes a character harder to hit…at least superficially. And for this reason, many people look at the D&D implementation of Armor as “unrealistic”. When we look deeper at the decidedly abstract combat system used by D&D, we can see that Armor increases survival or, put another way, makes it more difficult to score a meaningful hit on a character. It (a better Armor Class, AC) is a non ablative barrier to character death. When we express it like that, many players feel a little bit better about it.

The same applies for hitpoints. A 5th-level D&D character has approximately 5 times the number of hitpoints as a 1st-level character of the same class. If hitpoints are viewed as discrete physical damage that a character can withstand, this would seem to imply that our 5th-level character can actually withstand 5x the physical damage that our 1st-level character can. Understandably, this has bothered many people over the years. However, this is not the intent of hitpoints. They are intended as an abstract concept that embodies character survivability. It is an ablative resource barrier to character death. When we express it like that, many players feel a little bit better about it.

Now individual players/GM’s/etc. may not like these particular abstractions any better, but they may better understand the nature of the abstractions. And that is key.

I have been exploring these concepts for some time now. I’ve come the full gambit from wanting the utmost of Realism or, rather thinking I did (hey, it was the early 80’s and I was 10!) to reluctantly accepting certain abstractions in play as a necessity, to embracing abstractions in play and seeking for “new” places to put them in my gaming.

In my next post on this topic, we’ll look at how ablative/non-ablative resources affect play.


C&C Tweak for Spellcasting

C&CAs mentioned, I’ve recently become a Castle & Crusades enthusiast…not so much for the system as is, but for how tweakable it is and for its ease/speed of use for pickup/online games (esp. with people who have played any version of D&D in the past).

Well, in line with the “tweakability” of the game, I recently contributed the following post to the Troll Lord online forum for the game and would like some feedback. In actuality, it uses the HAGUS/Aega Mythea paradigm of magic being just another skill.

I was intrigued by the variety of interesting ideas in the Spell Recovery Idea thread and thought I’d throw something else out there. What if spell casting used the Siege Engine too?

Here’s how I would envision it working:

1) Casters can cast any spell in their book/pantheon/etc. (no memorization, preparation, etc.).

2) Casters would Roll d20 + Caster Level + Attribute Bonus (if any) each time they cast a spell (Make a Siege Engine Check vs. their ability).

3) The DC for spells would be 18 + spell Level + any extra modifiers (high or low magic region, etc.).
If they make the Siege Roll, they cast the spell. End of story.

4) If the caster fails the Siege Roll, he/she still casts the spell, but loses a Caster Level until resting a solid 8 hours. If the effective caster level ever dips below zero…..something bad happens (e.g., Burnout, Magical Coma, HP reduced to half of current, etc.). Note that once a caster fails the first one, they’re more likely to miss the next one as effective caster level is now lower.

5) This can be tweaked to increase or decrease the magic in your game by adjusting the base DC, the consequences of failing the Siege Roll, and the impact of a Burnout.

Any thoughts?


Bad Ass Axe

Axe in Face“Hey!” That’s what the Duke said just before he smashed George Kennedy in the face with an axe handle.

This post is not about game design…not really anyway, but it started out that way. For some reason, while working on mechanically differentiating weapon types (in ways other than raw amount of damage) for HAGIS/Aega Mythea, I got thinking about axes.

For some reason, I absolutely love the 60’s John Wayne-style western movie, The Sons of Katie Elder in which the Duke wallops the blacksmith-bullying George Kennedy in the face with an axe handle. I think much of the appeal is actually due to the axe-handle scene. I suppose I should seek help. Anyway, here’s the relevant section of the movie on You Tube:

While I was chuckling, I remembered the uber-useful linguistic site that provides translations in all known languages for the definitive utterance: “Oh my god! There’s an axe in my head!” Now there’s a lesson in multi-culturalism for you all. Please be attentive.

Inevitably, I suppose, that brought my warped mind to the discussion between Gimli and Legolas in the The Two Towers movie as to why a dead orc was still twitching…Gimli w/ Axe

Gimli: 42, now that’s not a bad score. I myself am sitting happily on 43.

[Legolas pulls out an arrow and shoots the Urukhai body Gimli is sitting on]

Gimli: He was already dead.

Legolas: He was twitching!

Gimli: He was twitching because he’s got my axe embedded in his nervous system!

Gimli's Axe

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got to admit that Gimli Gloinson does have a point there. Even after Legolas fires his “just to make sure arrow” into the Uruk corpse, Gimli is still able to make the corpse twitch with but a little twisting of the axe…

Anyway, I haven’t gotten anything concrete yet as to how I’d like for a Great Sword to work differently than a Great Axe just yet, but I have some ideas. I don’t think it will be working like it does in D&D3.x though.

And with that I leave you….ok, just one more movie image from The Shinning…..that’sDefinitely Holding an Axe right, The Shinning…..after all, who wants to be sued? Shut up, Boy!Not Willie, let me tell youNow, let’s look at this picture…with an expression on your face like that, everyone knows you’re likely to be holding an axe (and be up to no good). Right?

Eh, I better get back to it….

~Adaen of Bridgewater

Digging Castles & Crusades

C&C from Troll Lord GamesI’m really digging Castles & Crusades (C&C). It is an old school (meaning D&D/unmuddled-AD&D) system that cleans up and updates the game going back to the original game rather than dragging it through all the history of D&D/AD&D 1E/Basic D&D/AD&D 2E/ D&D 3E/D&D 3.5/rumors of D&D 4E. It allows for a lot of customization and I like that. This snippet is from “The Trolls Den“, the official Troll Lord Games Blog:


…Castles and Crusades was designed to be fooled with. We have long encouraged players to add, subtract and amend rules to fit their needs and desires. What the CKG does, is give them some of the options available to them and should (in an ideal world) teach others how to amend rules to fit their needs.


In that regard , we have borrowed ideas from every edition of the game and incorporated them into ‘rules sets’ which can be taken and used. The important aspect of this, is that no optional rule exists in and of itself. An optional rule exists in relation to a choice. The CK and Player must choose which optional rule they are going to use because many are mutually exclusive….

That’s great news. I was drawn to C&C due to its familiarity (based on it being derived from old-school D&D) and the ease with which the core system (The SIEGE Engine) can be modified/tweaked/adjusted/what-have-you. As a long-time dabbler in house-ruling and home brew systems, C&C really resonates with me. My own HAGIS projects should interface well with C&C….much of what we do is designed as “targeted tweaks”. Anyway, I’m greatly looking forward to the “Book that until very recently was known as the Castle Keeper’s Guide”.

I should probably do a review of the C&C Players Handbook….and definitely should do one of the “CKG” since it is so heavy on tweaking. Put that on the To-Do List! Damn, I don’t really even have time to play just now…

~AoB, High Adventure Games

HAGIS Element – The TriDie

In getting back to developing and describing HAGIS, let’s talk about the main mechanic randomizer…the TriDie. Torben Mogensen, esteemed RPG Mathematician of DoomTM,has been discussing this very mechanic in his recent article on RPG.net. Torben (and Woodelf….where, o where art thou, Woodelf?) were the first to propose this mechanic to me on the Yahoo RPG Create board.





Let me explain….no, there’s no time….Let me sum up. Rather than tell you how I got to where I am, let me tell where I am at now for HAGIS randomizer mechanics:

The base system randomizer involves rolling 3 dice of the same kind and taking the median (mid) value. The other two dice (the High and the Low values) are not directly used for randomizing normal contests (i.e., the vast majority of contests use the Mid value.

[That being said, the Low and High valued dice are used directly for special contests; when they are triggered. I’ll talk more about that later, for now let’s focus on the median, the mid value.]

For several reasons (which we can get into in discussion or as part of a future post), current HAGIS development is using 3 d20’s for this operation. The following plot shows the probability distribution for the mid_3d20:

HAGIS mid_3d20 Randomizer Probability

Any thoughts?

In a future post (or an update to this post), I will get more into the “grits” of the whats, hows, whys of the HAGIS default system. Also, I will step out of the theory lab and apply it for a real-world use, gaming with my wife (and brother too). The game is loosely titled: HAGIS:  Mythos/Mythos Files/Cthulhu Files/The Quest to fulfill my wife’s expectations……(no comments there, thank you).

~Adaen of Bridgewater