Saturday, April 08, 2006

Converting to D20 (part 3)

Continuing from this post...

I'm going to step back for a second and stress that my goal in the conversion process is only to produce enough information to actually use the character in a D20 game. I do not intend to create complete characters. With that in mind, the very nature of Risus affords us with a handy shorthand.

STEP # 3 - Skills
The most time consuming aspect of creating D20 characters is assigning their skills. I could post suggestions on how to translate cliché values into ranks for the standard list of D20 skills. But this doesn't take advantage of the power of the cliché system. Instead, why not keep the character's clichés and translate the cliché level into a D20 bonus? The cliché "Social Butterfly with a Natural Sense for Fashion and Culture (4)" implies proficiency in Appraise, Bluff, Diplomacy, Gather Information, and Knowledge (various). Thus, the cliché becomes a shorthand for all those skills.

So when using the cliché in D20, what should the bonus be? One approach would be to convert the cliché dice to D20 rank. One suggested conversion: cliché (1) = 1 rank, cliché (2) = 2-3 ranks, cliché (3) = 4-8 ranks, cliché (4) = 9-13 ranks, cliché (5) = 14-18 ranks, and cliché (6) = 19+ ranks. This is a relatively precise way to go, and has the advantage(?) of closely mirroring the original cliché values.

But an even easier way to handle it would be to discard the D20 rank entirely. We've already derived the character's level from the her cliché ranks. That means we could simple list the clichés with no level (which might be called "backgrounds" instead). Any task that relates to a cliché would be given ranks based on the character's total level. If, in the example above, the character with the "Social Butterfly" background is a 4th-level character then she might be assumed to have 7 ranks [level+3] in skills that relate directly to that background, perhaps 4 ranks [(level+3)/2] in skills of secondary importance, and 2 ranks in tertiary abilities [(level+3)/4].

This approach has the benefit of producing really abbreviated npc cards.

STEP # 4 - Feats
Simply select whatever feats seem appropriate. The important thing to remember is that these are significant feats - feats that let the character do cool stuff. Feats that simply give bonuses should not usually be specified, as bonuses are usually factored in elsewhere (and bonuses are boring).

As a rough rule of thumb, I select up to one feat for each die of any cliche (and try to pick feats that work for that cliché). Don't worry if you violate D20 standard here... these are NPCs, after all.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Converting to D20 (part 2)

Continuing from this post...

STEP # 2 - Class & Level
The difficulty in converting Risus cliché levels to D20 class levels is that D20 class levels do not fall neatly into the "putz->professional->master" progression. Any conversion to D20 will involve making assumptions about the meaning of a class level. This assumption will vary from campaign to campaign, even for the same GM.

For an upcoming D20 version of Dragonspire, a fairly typical heroic fantasy game, I am making the assumption that a 1st level character represents professional competency (assuming 4 ranks in the relevant professional skills). This makes designing a conversion formula a bit tricky, given that only 4 cliché levels need to be spread among 20 class levels. Since I'd like a fairly linear progression, I arrive at 5 class levels for each cliché level from 3 to 6. A Cliché (1) would convert to a 0-level character, while a Cliché (2) would be 1st-level character with fewer than 4 skill ranks in their chosen profession.

Once a cliché level to class level formula is defined (and there are many more possibiltiies than the one I suggested for Dragonspire), the next step is actually converting characters.

Begin with a character's most important (and usually highest) cliché. Convert the cliché dice to a number of class levels (usually at the low end of a range of possible levels). Then assign these levels to one or more classes that seem appropriate for the cliché. Pay special attention to the things the character can actually do, increasing levels in certain classes to make sure the character still retains those abilities.

A character with more than one cliché can then add additional class levels, but generally not enough to put the character outside of the range of levels available to their primary cliché. Once again, pay attention to the abilities granted by the secondary clichés.

An alternative approach would be to convert all clichés equally with a less generous formula... perhaps one cliché level to one class level. Superficially, this would seem like a better approach. However, it fails to account for the stacking multi-classing mechanics of D20.

Next Up: Feats & Skills

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Converting to D20

I apologize in advance to all you D20-phobes out there in the Risusverse, but I'm going to start to tackle the issue using Risus as a short-hand for D20 characters. As mentioned in this post, I typically generate a large number of NPCs for the local area of my campaign setting. Doing this in Risus is a snap, where a character can be represented in as few as 2 phrases (plus cliché level):

Name: Cliché (level).

A more complicated character might include additional clichés, a physical description, a Hook, some Lucky Shots, notes about Tools of the Trade, and role-playing hints. But even the most complicated of characters will only take a few moments to imagine and document. There is no need to consult a rulebook or worry about a bunch of inter-dependent statistics.

A Risus character is usually sufficient for most NPCs. But if a character is expected to see combat in a D20 game, more concrete statistics will be needed. Deriving those statistics is what I plan to address.

Before I get there, though, I need to mention my philosophy of character conversions. While I try to stay true to the numbers, the most important thing in a successful conversion is to remain true to the character concept and preserve the things that the character can actually do. The actual probabilities of doing things are a secondary concern.

STEP # 1 - Ability Scores
Deriving D20 ability scores from a set of Risus clichés is not as hard at it would seem. In a sense, any single cliché implies a set of ability scores. At their most obvious, clichés may explicitly state a connection to an attribute: a Charismatic Socialite (4) or Brawny Lass with Heroic Potential (4), for example. They may also state a connection in the cliché description: "being tough" or "being clever". In these cases, one simply needs to convert the cliché dice to the attribute bonus [i.e. D20 ability score = 10 + 2*cliché dice]. Funky Dice give proportionally higher ability scores [i.e. Supernaturally Strong Son of a Demigod (3d12) should give a Strength of 22].

When an ability score is not listed directly in the name of the cliché or in the cliché description, one must determine if the given ability score is a secondary or tertiary ability of the cliché. Strength might be a secondary ability of Dwarven Hardcase (4), while Constitution might be considered a tertiary ability of Successful Warrior Adventurer (4). Secondary abilities convert at half the level of primary abilities, while tertiary abilities convert at one quarter. When deciding if an ability score is primary, secondary, or tertiary to a cliché (and if it is an ability at all), I tend to ask myself "how much better at the attribute is a character with one more die in the cliché ".

What about substandard ability scores? There are two ways to get them. The first is through a Hook. The second is through a negative cliché descriptor, such as in Dumb Jock (3) or Sickly Wizard (5). In either case, assign the relevant ability score a value of 8 or less.
If the character has more than one cliché that covers the same attribute, use only the cliché that provides the ability score that best suits the character concept.

Up next: Class & Level

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

D20 Grunt Squads

As a GM, one of my favorite tools when running Risus is the Grunt Squad. It is, hands down, simply the best mechanic for handling hoards of nameless mooks. The idea is simple... treat the entire group of mooks as a single character (albeit one that can be in more than place at a time). Everything else is handled through description.

I have been wondering, as of late, if the concept could be ported to other systems, specifically the omnipresent D20. One of the major flaws of the D20 system is that combat is excessively tactical and takes far, far too long. Want your party of heroes to wade into a battle against hundreds of goblin spearmen? Using a battle mat and the rules as written, this would take hours and would probably result in some inconvenient player character deaths. But could those hundred of goblins be represented as a single monster? Here's how I might handle it...

First off, I'd most likely dispense with a battle mat in this situation. Cinematic combat against hundred of opponents is going to be primarily narrative and the rules for Attacks of Opportunity won't make any sense when a the "Goblin Hoard" grunt squad occupies hundreds of squares.

Next, I'd communicate to the players that the goblins that they are facing are a Grunt Squad and that they should assume their characters are attacking more than one character in a given action (even if the character is not usually capable of making multiple attacks in a round).

The "Goblin Hoard" would look like a suped-up version of an ordinary goblin, built to whatever CR the GM feels is appropriate. The Hoard's hit point are divided among the actual number of goblins for descriptive purposes only. The Hoard is only destroyed when the Hoard's hit points are reduced to zero. But when a character does 10 points of damage, it's fun to describe how many goblins he just killed.

The "Goblin Hoard" would get to attack each character that is threatened by at least one goblins. The number of attacks would be the minimum of the number of goblins that threaten that character and the Hoard's number of attacks per round. This is to make things exciting for the characters, and it ensures that the characters share the risk equally.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

A GM's Friend

Things have been slow on the Risus Monkey for the last few days. The reason is that I've been trying to think about how I might run Dragonspire for another group using (gasp!) Dungeons & Dragons. While I like Playing D&D, I find that actually running something using it to be incredibly cumbersome. Not only is the combat system overly complicated (and too tactical for optimal cinematic play), but quick character generation is just not possible without throwing out fidelity to the rules.

That's why I always return to Risus. Even while running games using other systems, I find that if I do my preparations as if I were using Risus, I don't feel quite so overwhelmed. Converting characters from Risus is a snap, which is great because my usual style of preparation is to create a bazillion NPCs so that they can drive the story. I could never do this in D&D or GURPS (strike that... I used to do it in GURPS, but I can't imagine doing it now).

One of the things that I've been meaning to do on this site is to post tips for converting between Risus and other systems. Finding time to do it has been a challenge, but I hope to get to it soon.

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Created: 2 December 2005 / Last modified: 5 Feb 2010
Risus: The Anything RPG ©1993-2010 by S. John Ross.
Risus Monkey ©2005-2010 by Tim Ballew.

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