How Monstrous: Mothman

Introducing a new feature, wherein I create monsters for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, which will be based on both creatures of folklore and my own twisted imaginings. Now, without further ado:

A Creature Of Myth And Legend

Most know little about the mysterious Mothman, and the vast majority of those who do consider it to be a myth. Still, these strange creatures appear in many stories, usually in the prelude to a great disaster with terrible loss of life. A bridge collapse on a busy market day, a fire in night in a small town, or the cave in of a mine shaft could all come in the wake of this strange observer.

A Non-Human Watcher

Standing over six feet tall, a Mothman is proportioned not unlike a normal human albeit one with a massive set of moth like wings protruding from its back. Its entire body is covered in moderately iridescent light-grey fur, although its most prominent feature is a pair of glowing red multifaceted eyes. It is said that anyone who meets it’s gaze is filled with dark premonitions of their impending doom. None can remember what they’ve seen when the gaze turns away, but the chills remain.

An Inscrutable Plan

A Mothman has no discernible agenda, and it is unknown even whether their presence at the site of an impending disaster is meant to be warning, although popular theory is that they cause the disasters themselves. They are normally solitary and non-aggressive, and if attacked they will usually attempt to flee before engaging in combat. Occasionally, they are found in the company of the impressively cruel, who use the Mothman’s reputation and gaze to cow their enemies. Alternatively, some more cowardly individuals chase Mothman sightings hoping for the opportunities brought on by the tragedies of others.

Mothman

Medium Humanoid, unaligned

Armor Class: 13
Hit Points: 85 (11d8)
Speed: 30 ft., fly 60 ft.

STR       DEX       CON      INT      WIS      CHA
10 (+0)  16 (+3)  11 (+0)  5 (-3)  15 (+2)  10 (+0)

Skills: Stealth + 5, Perception + 4
Senses: Darkvision 90 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages: –
Challenge: 3 (700 XP)

Portentous Gaze. When a creature that can see the Mothman’s eyes starts its turn within 60 feet of the Mothman, the Mothman can force it to make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened for 1 minute. A frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, with disadvantage if the Mothman is within line of sight, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a target’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the target is immune to the banshee’s Portentous Gaze for the next 24 hours
Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw at the start of its turn. If the creature does so, it can’t see the Mothman until the start of its next turn, when it can avert its eyes again. If the creature looks at the Mothman in the meantime, it must immediately make the save.

Actions

Claws Melee Weapon Attack: + 2 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.
Hit: 9 (2d8) slashing damage.

 

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Strength And Dexterity

Today I want to talk about statistically influenced mechanics.

In a game of any kind, mechanics control the methods by which you as a player interact with the game world. This is as true in a color matching block game as it is in Football Manager, but I have a very specific topic I wish to discuss today.

Specifically, I am going to talk about the different ways in which accuracy and power are presented in games, especially role-playing games, and what they mean for the players. We’re going to be using Dungeons & Dragons as the ur example, but this is applicable in what should be a fairly obvious array of cases.

In Dungeons & Dragons, a character possesses six statistics, including the eponymous Strength and Dexterity. Strength purports to be a gauge of your character’s aptitude at at tasks requiring physical power, while Dexterity measures your character’s natural talent in challenges that require speed and coordination. You may not be surprised to learn, then, that Strength is the traditional purvey of a melee focused character, while Dexterity more greatly benefits a ranged combatant, as in both cases the single statistic does a fine job of seeing that character through their allotted tasks.

So, this clearly works perfectly well. But why does it do so, and how might it work differently?

Well, traditionally, most games with a more complex set of data for the player to consume benefit from streamlining when they can, as long as it is not at the expense of the experience. Accessibility is a wonderful thing, and any veteran of gaming knows that any game with any RPG elements at all benefits greatly from the ability to say “This is my strong guy, I put all his points in strength, now on to the next fellow”. It also makes things easier on new players, as a character who possesses a great deal of information but relies on a central attribute is one that can be explored at the player’s leisure, absorbing information in their own time.

So, why change it? For a different, more thoughtful, more balanced sort of game, of course. Imagine, if you will, a game of Dungeons & Dragons where all bonuses to strike the enemy were derived from Dexterity, and all bonuses for damage were derived from Strength. Ignoring the more recent invention of Finesse weapons (which can be disregarded if you haven’t heard of them), think of what this does to the landscape. The Ogre, a tremendously strong brute with a previously unerring club, is suddenly a lumbering thug whose strikes spell death for those it hits, if only it lands one. Suddenly, the man mountain in armor and the nimble rapier duelist are on an equal footing, one dodging war-hammer blows by a hairsbreadth and the other trusting armor and luck to save him from death by a thousand cuts. It brings a certain air of Robert E. Howard fantasy to the concept, and is at least a departure from the norm. It also encourages a broader array of abilities than previous, as a warrior with moderate speed and strength will likely prevail over one solely focused on either.

White Wolf actually makes use of this concept in some of their World of Darkness games, in fact. A character needs a solid combination of Strength and Dexterity to stand a chance in combat in Scion, for example, where a strength focused hero will find they cannot land a blow. However, White Wolf also often makes use of an interesting mechanic wherein a well aimed strike gains additional chances to do damage, providing further incentive for improving your character’s Dexterity to prepare for combat situations.

In conclusion, the most important thing to keep in mind is what you want the effects of your mechanics to be on your game. Decide what you want the player to be able to do, and what you want the game to feel like, and then work backwards to create mechanics that support that feeling.

Parallel Paths: Or, Why Dishonored Needed A Club

This week we’re going to talk about player choice, and making sure that you’re prepared for the ones they make.

For starters, I want to clarify that I’m not talking about choice as it pertains to letting the players do whatever they want. If you’re running a D&D campaign and the players decide they want to open a ladder re-purposing Ten Foot Pole Emporium rather than actually play out that cool story with the dragon and the intrigue and the world ending terror you have prepared, then you may as well just ignore them, because they clearly did not show up to play the same game you did.

What I’m talking about is making sure that your game, be it a video game, tabletop RPG, or board game, supports a reasonable number of parallel paths to victory. These are all fairly straightforwards, so I’m going to touch on each of them in turn. I’m also going to focus largely on single player or cooperative games, as with multiplayer games this strays more into a discussion of game balance.

So, to finally get to what could easily have been the opening line of this post, the most important part of presenting a game in which parallel paths are implied is to make sure they are all supported. They don’t have to be equally difficult, but they have to function.

Let’s talk about Dishonored for a moment, if only because I put it in the title. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Dishonored is a first person stealth and action video game about betrayal, revenge, and absentee parenting. The core choices of the game, the ones presented during every moment of game-play and not just during the major moral choices towards the end of each level, are whether you are playing a stealth game or an action game, and whether you are a big murdery murderer or not. Overall, at least in the experience I had, the game does a good job of making both of these choices a great deal of fun, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t let itself down in a few key areas, notably by rather limiting to player to being an action murderer or a nonlethal sneaker. By and large most of the choices the player will make in the game, from the use of either normal crossbow bolts or more limited sleep arrows to the decision of whether to stab a major villain in his neck meat or decipher a fairly elaborate puzzle to send them to a nonlethal fate worse than death, the dual focus design rewards more murder prone players with a quick and easy solution while providing nonlethal players with a more complex but perhaps more rewarding alternative. There are two notable exceptions to this ethos, however. When presented with an unaware enemy, one has the option of loudly and messily stabbing them to death while simultaneously alerting all nearby enemies or quietly strangling them into a restful sleep. While the murder option is quick to reward the player with more murder, something the player may or may not be thankful for, it is something of an issue when the nonlethal option’s only downside is a minor increase in the time it takes. So you have the potential to be spotted, which is a moot point with the other option is to always be spotted. Simply allowing the stealth kill to actually be stealthy would have solved this discrepancy, although combining that with making the strangling somewhat alarming to nearby guards would be more in keeping with the game-play philosophy, if not as balanced.

And then there’s the club I teased you with. Or, rather, there isn’t the club. There is no nonlethal melee weapon in Dishonored. This seems like a severe oversight when every other piece of game-play has a lethal and nonlethal option (for the sake of this argument, the sleep darts from the crossbow are also an alternative to the pistol). It seems like a rather easy fix, simply giving the player a nonlethal melee weapon usable in the same manner of their sword, possibly with a reduced reach and definitely with requiring them to land a few extra blows, and thus not completely removing the nonlethal gamer from the action half of an action stealth game. It could even be upgraded, as with all the other equipment in the game, perhaps adding taser like stun charges and such.

Alright, so that was video games, but what about tabletop RPGs, I hear you ask. Well, the good news, is that I’m not going to ask you to completely rewrite all of your favorite systems in order to cater to as many potential player actions as possible. That way lies madness, and as such has already largely been done. I’m also not going to sit here and tell you that if you were planning a game of courtly intrigue, you have to let Krod the loin-clothed barbarian swing from the rafters and throw axes at the punch bowl. The object isn’t to cater to the players, but to create a story with them. If you’re playing a game of courtly intrigue, and the viscount is holding a piece of important information, make sure that it’s not kept in a mental chest with a single lock. It makes no sense if a character would spill their darkest secrets for five gold, but will resist weeks of torture or the threat of a scary man standing over them with a knife in the middle of the night. If the players want to get into the ancient tomb of a long dead king, and the front is guarded by living statues who ask you three questions about your deepest fears, it’s understandable that they might want to just figure out around where the tomb is laid out and start some exploratory strip mining. Remember, the important thing is not that the players follow your story, no matter how cool you think it is. If you build a world and it reacts to the players actions appropriately, you will find all manner of fun and exciting role-playing opportunities crop up over the course of game-play. Maybe Krod wasn’t a good fit for courtly intrigue, but if he’s allowed in as an amusing oddity, he might just overhear some interesting rumors from folk who don’t believe he can understand them.

In conclusion, make sure that when the player has a choice of paths, each one is worthwhile to walk.

Rallying Round The Banner

This has been a long time coming, but I need to talk about Banner Saga, storytelling, and integrating game mechanics with story.

Starting off with what I liked, Banner Saga is a lot of fun. It manages to marry turn based strategy and choose your own adventure game play around a core of Oregon Trail but with magic. The core resource, Renown, is used to pay for both supplies and character upgrades, so you occasionally have to choose between everyone being able to eat and leveling up your heavy hitters. Granted, that’s an odd situation to be in, but it definitely serves the game-play well. The interplay between story choices and turn based strategy is mechanically one-sided, as your decisions will change who joins or leaves your party, but those choices are in turn informed by your tactics and which characters you are most attached to. More than once I made what was in retrospect a poor decision and lost a character I had invested a lot of time and Renown in, but the events always felt like a natural progression of the story.

The turn based strategy itself deserves a special mention, as it incorporates a couple of fairly interesting mechanics. Opponents alternate moving a single unit at a time, unless one side only has one remaining, and unit health is measured both by an ablative layer of armor and the unit’s strength. Damaging armor is largely inconsequential, while damaging strength reduces an enemy’s capacity to damage others, but remaining armor reduces strength damage. It’s a very interesting interplay, and the leveling mechanic ensures that it’s possible to build any character in a variety of different ways, as a character’s stats are leveled individually and each have a specific function (Armor, strength, ect.). If I have a gripe about the combat system, it’s that there is almost no randomization, which I tend to prefer in games simply for the sour losses and epic but unlikely victories chance can bring. More than once I ended up in a situation where the exact outcome was a foregone conclusion, but of course I had to play out the remaining turns anyways.

Now, to get into the things I did not like as much. When I mentioned earlier that there was no effect from the battles on the narrative (Other than winning or losing), that was not strictly true. In many battles, you are tasked with choosing an overarching tactic for your forces, and that combined with how well you do in your ensuing match helps determine the outcome. The issue I have with this, is that I had no idea in what way my actions were effecting the outcome. There was no indication I could see for which tactic was the correct choice, so I simply picked the one I liked the name of best, and there was no feedback on how that effected how many of my warriors survived. On the subject of surviving warriors, I was initially very enthusiastic about making sure as many people made it through my play through as possible, but as their numbers dwindled, I stopped seeing a reason to care about them. I didn’t experience any negative effects, not even really any grumbling despite the amount of time we spent without food. Even just a few messages or the idea that they might want to take my inept, fumble-fingered self out of command would have been nice.

The big issue that I have, though, is that at the end of the game they changed the rules on me. The game comes down to a final climactic battle, which is beautifully set-up and upon which the fate of every person and place I had seen in the game rested. And then they forced me to take a character with me I had never used, had no idea how to use properly, and had specifically told not to come with me. With my limited for selection, that was crippling, in the face of a legitimately challenging boss battle. That honestly soured me on the whole experience, although it’s a testament to how good the rest of the game was that WAS legitimately upset when it buggered me.

In conclusion, this game is not without flaws, but I definitely recommend it, especially if you’re looking for a good blend of narrative and tactical game-play.

Monster Mash

Working on a game with a couple of friends. It’s about making monsters with punnet squares! Here’s a few pictures from our most recent playtest. I’ll have the rules up soon.