Sunday, August 26, 2012

Introducing: Square Fireballs RPG

So. I just decided to make the jump and evolve from enthusiast game tinkerer to a creator of sorts. Granted, my first project won’t precisely be an original idea, but it is an ambitious one, nonetheless: I intend to remake and improve my favorite role playing game system as a way to keep it alive and kicking after its lifecycle has ended. This is a work of love and admiration from a fan who has devoted several years playing, studying and, ultimately, obsessing about a great game. My goal is to stay true to the original, embracing its strengths while improving some areas whose implementation didn’t live up to expectations.

Like its predecessor, Square Fireballs RPG will be a combat-focused game featuring deep tactical encounters, huge character customizability and little DM preparation effort. On top of that, I plan to introduce a considerable number of changes, which are listed below.


  • Game math updated to improve monster balance: Same level encounters should present a credible challenge regardless of tier, now.
  • Better integration of skills in combat.
  • General combat maneuvers are more varied and useful.
  • Character conditions revised to be more fun and balanced.
  • New rules to improve pacing of combat by regulating resource usage: reduced effect of nova rounds and end-of-combat grinding.

Non-combat interactions

  • Reworked skill system with flat DCs and bonuses.
  • Ritual system overhaul: Rituals are better integrated with skills and game economy.
  • Revised healing rules to streamline surge usage during short rests, reducing bookkeeping.

Character building

  • Feat system revision, with a standalone set of feats to cover all player needs. Feat slots are now divided in two categories: greater feats, condensing all relevant combat benefits, and lesser feats, for non-combat effects or  weak/situational combat bonuses.
  • Magic Item revision, with a standalone set of items to cover all player needs. The number of simultaneously equipped items will be greatly reduced, to cut down on character complexity.
  • New standalone sets of themes, paragon paths and epic destinies, emphasizing openness, flexibility, power uniformity and differentiation of campaign tiers.
  • Guidelines for character effectiveness per level, made possible by reworked game math and integrated design of secondary character options.
  • Reimagined versions of the most iconic character races (human, dwarf, elf, halfling) and classes (fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric), to play by themselves or alongside existing alternatives.
  • In order to achieve a wider variety of viable builds, some of the most dominant strategies will be weakened through global rules: multiattacking powers, stunning and dominating, off-turn attacks. Likewise, some previously underwhelming yet quite common mechanics, like attacks that deal lots of damage dice, will be improved.

Encounter preparation

  • Greatly improved flexibility in monster selection thanks to flatter game math. Monsters now remain challenging across a wider range of levels
  • Mixed-level parties made viable by flatter game math.
  • New monster creation method allows quick and easy stat generation, mixing of monster abilities, and random monster generation for encounters.
  • Better balance makes it much easier to achieve challenging yet fair encounters for all party levels.


  • Base game fully compatible with existing races and classes.
  • Adventures and monsters usable after quick stat conversion - tools will be provided to make this as painless as possible.
  • Current PC options (feats, items, themes, paths, epic destinies) usable but not recommended, as they break balance assumptions.
  • Guidelines to mix and match the new rules with the existing ones.

This covers the most important stuff, though you can expect several minor tweaks and adjustments apart from those listed above. Regarding licensing and other legal aspects, I haven’t consulted a lawyer yet, but the idea is to stay away from GSL and write everything from scratch, likely using a Creative Commons license. From what I have read, this is fair game as long as I don’t use someone else’s IP nor copy text from other publications - which have no intention to do.  That said, if any reader is aware of potential legal issues that could be derived from this approach, I’m all ears.

I’m vaguely aware of the existence of other similar projects currently in development. My position, for now, is to keep this as a purely personal initiative. While additional writing hands would definitely be of use, given my ever scarce spare time, I’d like to keep a tight control of the design process. I will, of course, be very interested in listening to any reader feedback and, if things go well, there will be a need for playtesting... but that is still far away in the future, at best.

To conclude, a few words on the publication medium. For the foreseeable future, all material for Square Fireballs RPG will come in the form of freely available blog articles. If the game ever becomes mature enough, I will also release it in PDF form, possibly for a price. Eventually, i have this crazy dream about making  everything available in a fully linked web database (more like d20SRD than D&D Compendium, if possible), though that would be a ton of work on top of what is already a ridiculous amount of effort, so we’ll see.


  1. I think you should call it something like "Tested by Fire, a tactical fantasy combat game".

  2. I don't know about that... TFCP is a much crappier acronym than RPG, and I do include role-playing elements, like gaining experience and levelling up.

    Jokes aside, the tactical combat bit is not an inaccurate description of what the game does, but it is an incomplete one. The way I see it, it is a role-playing game, with a strong focus on combat (not unlike many other popular products in the genre, and notably those about the exploration of underground complexes and the slaying of large winged reptiles). Granted, a lot of space and effort is devoted to killing things and taking their stuff, but there will also be a significant amount of material for players looking for occasional non-killing (though perhaps still stuff-taking) duties.

    As we are on it, I may as well comment on another issue related to the role-playing, or lack thereof. The text I will eventually deliver consists mostly on game mechanics, with just the minimum flavor and description to understand how to use each game element. This is not a statement about the relative importance of flavor, but an acknowledgement of the fact that I'm a human being with limited time and (to be honest) not a lot of talent for writing background and stories. The assumption is that most DMs will choose to use the ruleset alongside their campaign setting of choice, published or not.

    Incidentally, while I was figuring out how to answer your comment, I came across a thread on EnWorld discussing whether referring to 4E as a tactical combat game should be considered pejorative ( I'd rather take comments in good faith (since, after all, it IS a tactical game, among other things), but it's true that this kind of expressions can sometimes be a bit... flammable.

    Finally, as to the name of the game, I think the name of the blog is as close to a recognizable brand as I'll ever have, and it happens to describe the tone of the game rather well. But I'm curious about this: do readers consider this a fitting name, or do you think it sucks?

  3. I just thought "Tested by Fire" sounded more evocative. "Square Fireballs" is cool for a blog name, but if I were trying to introduce someone to a new game, I think the name would be a bit of a turn off.

  4. How are you intending on handling daily resources? One of the things that annoyed me about 4E was that, in order to make the game challenging, you basically have to write plots that make sense with 4+ encounter days, because otherwise people will have too much ability to nova. It's my general thesis that when the gameplay gets in the way of the narrative, it's the gameplay that's in the wrong.

    When I begun 5th Edition Now (my blog title obviously, but also what I was calling my own version of "5E" while I was working on it), I ultimately decided to bake daily resources into each individual class. Rather than creating separate daily powers, I had each class have various features that "replaced" dailies. Arcane characters were able to "boost" arcane powers. Barbarians had their own rage mechanic. Etc.

    Also, how are you handling power sources? Or, are you for that matter.

  5. For daily powers and resources in general, I have in mind a rather heavy-handed approach, though oddly enough it doesn't look as drastic as yours. It's based on restricting how frequently each type of attack can be used, which will cripple novas, but also encourage players not to hoard daily powers (which is a common problem in my games).

    I won't be making many changes to the existing classes, other than generalized errata to specific categories of powers, and perhaps a tweak here and there to make sure nothing breaks with the new rules. Also, the 4 classes I will include should have a fairly traditional structure, perhaps with a few Essentials-style touches thrown in.

    Power Sources will remain mostly intact, with the exception of psionic power points (they are in dire need of a fix!) and some new options that specifically refer to power source.

  6. One thing I attempted was in minimizing the number of powers I was going to have to write. To do so, I experimented with making powers power source based-rather than class based-and having classes class features be the defining trait between the classes (sort of like how the Executioner is wildly different from the Slayer).

    Unfortunately, this lead to weird results such as rangers with full access to druid powers. It's one of the reasons I ceased development.

    Onwards, to the table of contents!

    As for power points, I have a lot of thoughts about those. To me, for psionics to feel like psionics, they have to be "fluid." That doesn't necessarily mean power points based, but whereas arcane spells make the most sense being highly specific, psionics seems like it works better as vague techniques such as psychokinesis that have specific "applications." Of course, how you implement this in a balanced fashion is tricky. In particular, it opposed modularity.

    One other concept I toyed with was the idea of investment-that psions (and other psionic characters) have passive benefits (like initiative boosts or something like that; defense bonuses to OAs?) that they invest power points in, and they detract points away from those investments in order to utilize powers. Psions really strike me as having a "conservation of energy"ish approach to them.

    Of course, psionics in general are pretty low on the radar of "Things that must exist in DnD." Even as a huge psion fan, I ultimately decided to put them on the backburner when I first started on 5EN, owing to the added complexity of psions.