4Ward/FrankenFourth: Picking The Pieces

My initial goal for 4Ward/FrankenFourth was to take 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, strip out the redundant math, and convoluted character creation, character advancement, and monsters, and tweak other parts like hit points and magic so that they made more sense.

Having shown the current draft to a number of people, in addition to overwhelming praise, I've also been told that it looks/feels a lot like BECMI, though outside of a very short-lived one-shot using I think the original version of Dungeons & Dragons (whatever was the three small books), I don't think I've played BECMI (not sure if the black box with the tagline "easy to master" counts).

So, to kick off my series of 4Ward/FrankenFourth design posts, here's a rundown of the editions I've really played, what I'm not using, and some of what, if anything, I am.

NOTE: Feel free to recommend other editions/clones/hacks/houserules and the like, especially ones that share similar mechanics, or have mechanics you think might be useful for this game.

Original Dungeons & Dragons(?)
Again, when it comes to the really old editions, I'm not sure what the hell it is that I played over 20 years ago. All I know is that it came in a black box and featured Escape From Zanzer Tem's Dungeon. Though I'd flipped through a 2nd Editon Player's Handbook before, this was my first real exposure to Dungeons & Dragons.

Looking at it again (I managed to find a cheap copy on eBay), I like the simplicity: there are only like seven classes (three of them being races), five levels, and the stats all provide modifiers ranging from -3 to +3 (as opposed to 2nd Edition, in which they determined a variety of things like your bend bars/lift gates percentage, bonus cleric spells, and so on). Monsters are also mostly pretty simple.

Unfortunately, that's pretty much it. I don't like how a lower AC is better, that you roll a d20 to hit things, a d6 to try and force doors/notice secret doors, percentile for thief skills, and that sometimes when you cast a spell your target rolls to avoid/resist it. I despise pseudo-Vancian magic, especially when its applied to every spellcasting class. On the topic of magic, I also dislike that magical healing is essentially mandatory.

I guess, conceptually at least, simplicity is definitely a design goal for 4Ward/FrankenFourth: I want players to be able to quickly roll up a character in, say, 5-10 minutes, or less if they're familiar with the system. Something I might lift is the concept of race-as-class. Just gotta cook up enough race talents, and then attach Vitality/Wound values for each, and you're good to go.

2nd Edition
I barely remember playing this anymore, but from what I can recall all of the issues with OD&D are present here: seemingly random ways to resolve tasks, pseudo-Vancian magic across the board, THAC0, mandatory magical healing, etc. I did like that all classes got skills (though, oddly, thieves still rolled percentile for some of theirs), and that you also got to choose a race.

Really, I can't think of anything we're using that was directly inspired by and/or exclusive to this edition.

3rd Edition
This edition pulled me away from Rifts and Shadowrun, and got me back in the dungeon proper. I suppose it also got me off of various White Wolf games, but we barely played those anyway because the general theme seemed to be "you're a monster/wizard, now don't use your powers" rather than having actual fun.

I liked that task resolution was a bit more straightforward, in that pretty much everything I can think of was resolved with a d20 roll, and you wanted to roll high. It was nice to see THAC0 get dropped, and Armor Class flipped so that bigger numbers were better: it became the number you needed to meet-or-beat in order to hit someone, which was more elegant than doing the whole subtract-a-positive/add-a-negative-from-another-number deal.

Feats, easier multiclassing, and prestige classes were added to the mix, all of which I initially liked due to the increased character flexibility/customization, but this ended up being a negative thing in the short run, what with all of the books adding new feats and prestige classes (as well as new races, classes, spells, and so on).

Base Attack Bonus and Saving Throw math was a problem: monster AC was mostly based on its Challenge Rating (about 13+CR), and you were supposed to just tack on whatever bonuses were necessary to inflate it to a certain point (natural armor was great for this). Spell DCs were based in part on the spell's level, so if you didn't constantly level up your spellcasting class, monsters would start to easily resist your magic.

To be fair, I suppose 4Ward/FrankenFourth will be going largely with this edition's take on multiclassing, just without the experience penalty that people just seemed to ignore anyway. Same for rolling against a target number (though, I'll have to lower the numbers since you don't spend skill points at every level, and they don't automatically scale).

4th Edition
While 3rd Edition got me back into the dungeon, 4th Edition made me love it all over again: it was easier to plan and run, any race could be any class and still be at the least effective, and you actually got to make choices when you leveled up. Multiclassing was greatly throttled, but easy to houserule if you wanted to allow a player to choose more powers from another class (and they eventually added hybrid options of varying functionality).

Unfortunately it went too far in that direction: character creation and advancement could take forever, and combat could be a slog, even to those that had a strong mastery of the system, and it only got worse as you leveled up. It also took the redundant scaling math issue of 3rd Edition and magnified it. For example, at 1st-level you might fight goblins with an AC of 15 or 16. You've got a +6 or +7 to hit, so your odds are pretty decent, but as you level up so do the monsters.

So, at 10th-level when you have something like +17 to hit, the goblins will have an AC of around 25: if the AC just scales with your character, what the fuck is the point? Hit points also increase, so even though your 10th-level fighter is rolling out exploits that inflict 3d12+8 or whatever damage, the goblins now have a fuckton of hit points.

That said, there's still a lot of good parts to 4th Edition, which I'm using with some modification.

The first is flexible characters. Like 4E, when you make a character you get to make choices beyond race and class. Unlike 4E, you only pick one or two things from your class. When you level up, you get to choose something, but many bonuses can be folded into your character, so if you want to keep things simple, you can. There aren't any feats or prestige classes, either.

The second thing is having a unified task resolution: if you do something, you roll a d20. This means that if you attack, you roll the dice, and if you cast a spell to harm or hinder someone, you still roll the dice. None of this you roll, but then a spellcaster might sometimes roll, and other times he just casts a spell and everyone else rolls to dodge or whatever.

NOTE: I am willing to entertain arguments about the pros of using saving throws.

This leads me to the third thing: defenses. Mostly. Fortitude, Reflex, and Will are in, but Armor Class is out. In this game, when someone tries to hit you they typically roll against your Reflex, with armor providing damage reduction. It took some tweaking, but we got it at a really nice point. It definitely helps keep the characters alive, but not invulnerable.

NOTE: Currently Defenses are calculated as they are in 4th Edition; 10 plus the higher of two ability score mods (STR or CON for Fortitude, DEX or INT for Reflex, and WIS or CHA for Will). I am willing to entertain arguments about linking each Defense to a single ability score, and maybe even giving each ability score its own Defense.

Something I'm on the fence about are encounter powers. Despite all the flak they've gotten, I've seen them in Rules Cyclopedia, 3rd Edition, and 5th Edition. So, really the "problem" seemed to be they were in the "wrong" edition (that, or they weren't each followed by a sufficiently long sentence that repeatedly explained when they were recovered).

5th Edition
I only played this during the playtesting period, and found it to essentially be 3rd Edition, just a bit more simplified, and unfortunately with only a dash of 4th Edition on top. Aside from perhaps skill names (like Medicine instead of Heal) and various starting gear packages, any similarities are purely coincidental, or derived from previous editions.

Edition Independent Bits & Pieces
Here are some things not taken from any edition, but stuff we came up with to start fixing issues we've encountered.

First up, there's actually flat math, or at least flatter math. There's no steady, global progressions for all attacks and saving throws, no +1 every two levels, and no redundant 5E proficiency system. Characters might start with, say, +1 to weapon attacks or magical attacks based on their class. I dunno, haven't decided yet. We've played a lot of playtest games without it, and things are going pretty smoothly.

So, a 1st-level character might have +3 to hit something with an axe, purely derived from Strength, while a 10th-level fighter might have a grand total of +5 (+3 base, +1 for every five levels). This might not seem like a huge fucking deal, but a dragon currently only has a Reflex defense of 10 or 11. Easy to hit, sure, but it's got more than enough armor (which reduces damage taken), hp, and damage to keep it from being easily taken out by a low-level party.

Defense-wise, most things are sitting around the 9-12 range. As the wizard player in the Age of Worms playtest campaign put it, he likes having decent odds of being able to clonk things on the head, but due to his low hp isn't about to go wading into melee (unless he wants to get his ass kicked, which has happened a couple times now).

On that note, hit points. These got split into two pools: Wounds and Vitality. Wounds are more representative of "meat" points, and take longer to recover than Vitality. Currently we're doing a full-heal after every day, but I like the idea of a healing rate based on your Constitution and where you rest (ie, inns are better than dungeons), medical supplies (so stuff like bandages might be useful), and other various things (healing clerics could boost this).

Vitality replenishes after a "short rest", as defined by 4E: you take a breather for 10 minutes, and you're topped off. Could also see this being extended, so maybe you need half an hour, or maybe even an entire hour. Vitality could also be recovered at a rate, like 3 points every 10 minutes (ie, an "old-school" turn). If you're using a random encounter chart, which is rolled every 10 minutes, then the party has to gamble on how many "turns" they wanna wait before heading out again.

A Sundered World is out!

The Fighter is geared up and ready to go! Unlike the default Dungeon World fighter, your skills matter more than your special "can sometimes be lost but not really" weapon. There are a variety of fighting styles to choose from, including the ability make a DEX-based fighter.

Grave Goods is the latest magic item compilation in our 10+ Treasures line. If you want nearly 30 undead-themed magic items, some monsters, and advice on how to make your own, pick it up!

Lichfield is available for public consumption. If you want a concise adventure with a Silent Hill feel, be sure to check it out! Primordial Machine is also out, so if you want to catch a glimpse of A Sundered World, now's your chance! Finally, we've updated If These Stones Could Scream.

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