Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Square Fireballs RPG: Table of Contents

In my last post, I provided an overview of my new game project, Square Fireballs RPG, and a brief discussion of the main features I plan to introduce. Today, I will show something less descriptive, but still important: the first draft of the game’s table of contents. This is definitely subject to change, and it’s quite possible that I’m forgetting about critical sections, if not chapters. But it’s what I’m working with, for now. It looks as follows:

1. Introduction

  • Character Stats
  • Reading Powers
2. Combat
  • Turn Sequence
  • Character Actions
  • Movement
  • Attack
  • Character Conditions
  • Healing
  • Maneuvers
3. Adventuring
  • Skills
  • Resting
  • Rituals (30)
4. Building Characters
  • Overview
  • Leveling up
  • Races (4)
  • Classes (4)
  • Themes (12)
  • Paragon Paths (20)
  • Epic Destinies (8)
  • Feats (75)
5. Equipment
  • Weapons
  • Implements
  • Armor
  • Mundane Gear
  • Magic Items (40)
6. Dungeon Master Tools
  • Game Math
  • Skill Checks
  • Monsters (75*75)
  • Encounter Generation
  • Running Encounters
  • Rewards

The numbers in parentheses are the number of options of a given type. As you can see, they are fairly low, considering that all character options but races and classes are supposed to be self-contained: I’m playing around with some ideas to make the most of relatively limited sets of options. If this works as expected, it will make the development of the game much more sustainable, and it might even be possible to build characters without need for digital tools. We’ll see how it turns out.

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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.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

About D&D 4e, D&D Next, and a new personal project

I don’t think I will love the fifth edition of D&D (what is currently known as D&D Next). Sure, I will give it a chance, and go along with the playtest, and do my best to help make it a great game. And, barring some kind of disaster, I will buy the core books, and try to organize a campaign. I’m fairly confident I will be able to enjoy the new game to some degree, but I seriously doubt it will inspire me the same passion that 4E has.

It boils down to this: D&D 4E has the best tactical combat of any game I’ve played, by a mile. It is deep and varied, remarkably (though not perfectly) balanced, and just a ton of fun -beating down monsters and taking their stuff has never been this satisfying. And that's all there is to the game, really:  the mechanics for roleplaying and other non-combat interaction are merely decent, exploration is almost non-existent, and the settings (which I tend to like) are system independent. By contrast, Next is constrained by design requirements that weren’t much of a consideration for 4e, such as pleasing a wide fanbase including hardcore old schoolers, and keeping true to the spirit of earlier editions - which are things that can make it a great, successful product, but that I personally don’t care much about.

The bad news, of course, are that 4E is dying. Granted, it’ll always have a place in our hearts, and we can keep playing it,  but content releases have dropped drastically, and will stop altogether in a matter of months. One could argue that enough 4e material has been released already to cover for many years of future campaigns (and that would be mostly accurate, unless you intended to play at the desolate epic tier), but there s a kind of release that I will be missing dearly: errata. While not everyone is a fan of the rather aggressive errata cycle used for 4e, in my mind it has been a crucial factor in keeping the game alive and constantly improving. Frequent errata has made 4e a much better game than it was at release, but there are still major issues (psionic power point progression jumps to mind) that will remain unaddressed.

Ever since I started writing this blog, one of my main missions has been to support D&D 4E through house rules, making it a more fun and balanced game by improving and fixing what is already there - not unlike official errata. I believe this approach can go a long way, but very often I have found myself wishing for a way to clean the slate for some specific systems, like feats, magic items, or paragon paths. Frankly, I think these parts of the game have become cluttered with too many options of wildly different power levels, and their implementations present some fundamental problems on top of that, so rewriting them from scratch (an idea I already experimented with in the Magic Item Reset) could bring major improvements. One thought led to the other, and suddenly I found myself playing around with concepts for a full revision of 4E... And this (after much digression) is the project I want to present to you today.

So, to summarize: I am working on a full featured game that intends to preserve the awesomeness of D&D 4E, but also to polish it and get rid of its clunkier elements. It should be playable as a standalone, but also remain compatible with the most important mechanical material from 4E supplements: races, classes, adventures and monsters. An option to use isolated modules from my game in regular 4e campaigns would also be provided.

In tomorrow’s post, I will explain in more detail what exactly I have in mind for this project. Keep in mind that this will be a personal endeavor, and thus limited by my (currently very scarce) time to write  - I cant really tell if it will take me months to complete, or years, or if I will be unable to finish it. So please be patient: whatever content I end up producing will be available for free at this very blog.

As for the name of the thing? Square Fireballs Role-Playing Game, of course.

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