A couple of options I'm curious about with Trailblazer
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  1. #1

    A couple of options I'm curious about with Trailblazer

    I just picked up TB from Amazon. Came in a few days ago and I was hooked. Read the whole thing, pretty much front to back. Very interesting work and I agree with others that I probably would've stuck with 3.5 longer had this book been in my hands sooner.

    That said.

    One of the things that's killed me about 3.5 is how long it often takes to create characters. For 4e, it's even worse IMO.

    And a lot of that I lay down on Feats and Skills (of course, it's Powers in 4e). Especially Skill Points. Sure, some of us have a pretty good grasp on what we're going for and we can knock out a non-spellcaster in less than half-an-hour. But then there are the analysis paralysis types who are going to sit there and grouse over whether they should take Cleave or Power Attack or something else for an hour or two.

    Long story not-so-short, I think it's the added investment in character creation that gave 3.0 and now 4.0 players this sense of entitlement they they deserve to eek through and be "heroes". Even though I think it's more what a player does with a character (than what numbers are written on a character sheet) that earns that distinction. But I get where they're coming from. If it's going to take 90 minutes or basically the rest of the night to put together a replacement character, suddenly PC mortality is something that's just not fun, cool or whatever.

    That said, TB is great at breaking down the math of third edition. And I'm looking forward to the monster book, even though 3e isn't on my list of games that I play regularly anymore.

    That would change, though, if I could do TWO things.

    1) Get rid of Feats. Or at least move their function into another, more freeform, less shopping-list, mechanic. Like Action Points maybe?

    2) Get rid of Skill Points. Just offer the +5 for Trained and all that.

    Could either of those work in Trailblazer? Is it possible?

    I'm also of the opinion that the skill points inflate the skills to insane levels in 3e. 4e too. Making it such that a regular lock needs a DC of 20 to pick. That's kind of crazy, IMO. But it's something I feel I can easily address by slowing level progression down (Epic6 style) after a cutoff level -- like 8th or 10th.

    I really like what I've seen with Trailblazer. It's still 3e -- which means I still find it fidgety and trying to fit a rule in for every hole. But it's a very PURPOSEFUL 3e. Whereas a lot of 3e revisions seem like they're just throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it's done, Trailblazer seems to have things figured out and exudes a confidence that "yes, this will work and will fix the issues we've identified".

    I only wish it would've taken a step or two further, perhaps even as variants.

    But I'm concerned with how either (or both) of those changes would completely mess up the game.

    How would "no feats" look in Trailblazer? How could those abilities be modeled using another approach? Let's say it was tied off Action Points, as in "spend an Action Point to use Power Attack" or "spend two to use Rapid Shot". How would the Action Point economy need to change to allow for characters using them for crazy stunts and/or already defined Feats?

    Or maybe "Bonus Feats" stay and only the generic feats per level go?

    And how would the "+5 for Trained" model (or something similar) translate to TB? How many Trained skills would characters get? When would they get new ones?

    Maybe these questions are easier to answer than I think.
    Last edited by smathis; Sunday, 26th June, 2011 at 05:41 AM.

  2. #2
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    Ditching feats would involve a Fighter redesign above all, feats are his shtick. Without feats the Fighter is nearly featureless.

    Maybe feats could be better organized. Vespucci's "Brevity" thread had some innovative ideas on feats and skills.

    FantasyCraft took the idea of organizing feats pretty far, but FC is a thoroughly redesigned engine from 3.x making borrowing some of its concepts rather more difficult.

  3. #3
    Ah. I was afraid of that. Sort of.

    What about substituting "Trained Skills" for Skill Points. Star Wars Saga had them. Could they be used in TB too?

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    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    One of the things that's killed me about 3.5 is how long it often takes to create characters. For 4e, it's even worse IMO.

    And a lot of that I lay down on Feats and Skills (of course, it's Powers in 4e). Especially Skill Points.
    Really? Huh, that's an unusual conclusion.

    In my experience, agreed to by the gamers I talk to about such things, 4e character creation is slowed down by Magic Items (a level 30 character takes about 30 minutes to knock out if you have a clue about what you want to do; picking his gear takes 7 hours).

    3.x is a bit more variable, but the two biggest slow downs that I see are spell selection and gear selection.
    Choosing feats is just a matter of deciding on your character's emphasis and sticking with it - and skills are so rarely useful in campaigns that you just grab what you want and don't worry (one talking skill, one movement skill, and one knowing skill should cover all the needs of a character in a given campaign; plus Spot and Sense Motive if you've got the points left over).

    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    I'm also of the opinion that the skill points inflate the skills to insane levels in 3e. 4e too. Making it such that a regular lock needs a DC of 20 to pick. That's kind of crazy, IMO.
    While I agree with the premise, the example makes me balk. My complaint is every dungeon door having a lock DC of 40 to 60, when the DCs of locks are supposed to be 20 (common lock; nearly impossible for the untrained to open) to 40 (super-lock, able to stymie all but the best thieves), with most around DC 30 (great lock, only very good thieves can bypass it).
    For some reason adventure designers decided that characters should always have a given skill maxed out or untrained, and set DCs based upon the maximum value for that level.
    As it is, the only skills that need more than 10 ranks are the Opposed skills - stealth & perception, deception & seeing through deception. Everything else is against static DCs, and the DM can make sure that he keeps those sane (Effortless to Nearly Impossible: 0 to 40).

    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    1) Get rid of Feats. Or at least move their function into another, more freeform, less shopping-list, mechanic. Like Action Points maybe?

    2) Get rid of Skill Points. Just offer the +5 for Trained and all that.
    1) As already mentioned, this will require a hefty redesign of the martial classes, especially the Fighter. It might be as simple as giving the class(es) a lot more freedom to use the option, or it might be really complicated. Regardless, it will take a fair bit of work.

    2) You can go for the 1/2 level + 5 model, but you'll end up with very front-loaded skills (or extremely front-loaded if Skill Focus is also a +5). Not many skills will be worth it, but the ones that are will be huge. It will give you a much faster skill chunk of leveling, and more predictable PC skills (so you know what is and isn't a challenge), which seems to be the goal. So, yeah, it will do (some) of what you want.
    For a TB translation of the concept, the only things I see needing to change on the player side are "Skill Points per level" to "Trained Skills" - maybe have Training add +3, and Class Skill add +2, so characters can be all-rounders or archetype focused. New trained skills come with increased Int bonus, and maybe a feat (or equivalent replacement); or just every 5th (or 3rd, or 10th; alter to taste) character level.

    ... For my own games I'd probably give them Level + 2 (Trained) + 1 (Class) in all skills. But I have never seen a skill check break the game (except for Diplomacy, but those rules are exceedingly silly and always incorrectly run by the DM; one more reason I like Trailblazer).


    Best of luck.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by ValhallaGH View Post
    Best of luck.
    Thanks.

    I would guess it's better in Trailblazer than in a lot of other 3e games. Trailblazer's feat list is smaller and it's contained within one book. When I ran 3e, I just remember a shopping spree for feats rifling through 3 or 4 books to get "just the right one" for a character. It could take hours.

    My idea for the skills was just to allow something more freeform that didn't require such granular assignment of skill points. I mean, I used to be able to pop out a 3e character in an hour or less. Usually a lot less.

    But I had a couple of players that would agonize over whether they'd put 2 or 3 points in a skill. Having the skill synergies removed is another plus in TB's column. Because a lot of times players would forget about them or realize late in chargen that they're 1-2 points off from a synergy and then rework all their bonuses at the last minute.

    As far as 3e rulesets go, I really like TB. I wish there were a little more Grim Tales options in it -- so it could be dialed up or down intelligently. But I like TB considerably more than regular 3.5.

    I was considering running a 3e game in the near future. TB may be the ruleset I use. There are a lot of changes that are just really nice.

  6. #6
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    Smathis,

    Thanks for the purchase. Welcome!

    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    1) Get rid of Feats. Or at least move their function into another, more freeform, less shopping-list, mechanic. Like Action Points maybe?
    I understand the issue with character creation but removing feats is essentially removing one of the fundamental systems of 3ed. To me it's one of the selling points actually!

    Is your issue the time it takes to select feats during character creation or the fact that you have to select what you want? Again, this is pretty core to 3ed.

    2) Get rid of Skill Points. Just offer the +5 for Trained and all that.
    Well Trailblazer is actually pretty close to this. Removing cross-class greatly speeds up and improves the skill system. In Trailblazer, every character puts their skill points wherever they want, and if they put ranks into a class skill, they get a one-time +3 bonus. Simple as that.

    I'm also of the opinion that the skill points inflate the skills to insane levels in 3e. 4e too. Making it such that a regular lock needs a DC of 20 to pick. That's kind of crazy, IMO. But it's something I feel I can easily address by slowing level progression down (Epic6 style) after a cutoff level -- like 8th or 10th.
    If you read through our design notes in the Skills section, we make some mention of the goal of skills in 3ed. Basically, skills and skill checks shouldn't be a Boolean obstacle for the players.

    If the players can't pick the lock or find the secret door, it shouldn't prevent them from continuing or succeeding on their quest. Skill checks shouldn't be a substitute for story, clever ideas, or quick thinking. Skill points also don't factor in too much to a character's (or monster's) CR since they generally don't have much of an impact on combat.

    I tend to subscribe to the idea of "let the players succeed". If a player comes up with a cool use for a skill, great. Give them a good chance to succeed.

    During our playtest, we also used combined skill checks quite a bit, especially when using Knowledge skills. It got more players involved and made skills check more interesting than just a flat roll of the dice.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    Smathis,

    Thanks for the purchase. Welcome!
    Thanks. I picked up a copy of TB as an impulse buy. It's an understatement to say it exceeded my expectations. More like it blew them away and then made me interested in trying 3e again for the first time in about 10 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    Is your issue the time it takes to select feats during character creation or the fact that you have to select what you want? Again, this is pretty core to 3ed.
    Mostly it's the time it takes to select feats. Dungeon Crawl Classics replaces feats (at least for the Fighter) with a mechanic known as the "Mighty Deeds of Arms". It's a very fun mechanic that's freeform and pretty doggone cool.

    After some serious reflection, I think that's what I'm asking about. What's the mechanical impact of using something like that in place of feats?

    Because if it can work, all of a sudden Fighters can be made in about the same time it takes to make a Basic D&D character. And we can fit PCs on an index card again!

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    Well Trailblazer is actually pretty close to this. Removing cross-class greatly speeds up and improves the skill system. In Trailblazer, every character puts their skill points wherever they want, and if they put ranks into a class skill, they get a one-time +3 bonus. Simple as that.
    Yeah. I still might only allow skills to be allocated in +2s or something though. With any +1 remainder going wherever the player wants.

    Just to speed up allocation of skill points even more.

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    If you read through our design notes in the Skills section, we make some mention of the goal of skills in 3ed. Basically, skills and skill checks shouldn't be a Boolean obstacle for the players.
    Yup. Read that. I've never treated them as such.

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    I tend to subscribe to the idea of "let the players succeed". If a player comes up with a cool use for a skill, great. Give them a good chance to succeed.
    Instead of a "good chance to succeed", I often take a different approach. What's always been missing from the d20 skill system, IMO, is a "degree of success" approach. Similar to games like Mountain Witch, HeroQuest or Marvel FASERIP.

    Many times, I'll assume that the character is going to pick the lock. ESPECIALLY if it's crucial to adventure moving on. But the quality of the skill check determines how LONG it takes the character to finish the task.

    This can be crucial in a dungeon or when the characters are on a time-sensitive mission. Making Action Points all the more awesome, IMO.

    Quote Originally Posted by GlassJaw View Post
    During our playtest, we also used combined skill checks quite a bit, especially when using Knowledge skills. It got more players involved and made skills check more interesting than just a flat roll of the dice.
    I'm interested. How did these work?

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    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    What's always been missing from the d20 skill system, IMO, is a "degree of success" approach. Similar to games like Mountain Witch, HeroQuest or Marvel FASERIP.
    Well, it's had a "degree of failure" approach forever (see 3.0 Balance, Climb, Jump, . Which is easily translated into a corresponding "degree of success" (every 5 you beat the DC by). Then the DM just has to figure out what happens at increased degrees of success.

    (This is the mechanic that is used by the d20 RPGs, Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition and DC Adventures.)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ValhallaGH View Post
    Well, it's had a "degree of failure" approach forever (see 3.0 Balance, Climb, Jump, . Which is easily translated into a corresponding "degree of success" (every 5 you beat the DC by). Then the DM just has to figure out what happens at increased degrees of success.
    Yeah. And that's usually how I do it. Every increment of 5 above or below the DC. I have to adjudicate on the fly, though. It's not difficult or anything. But it's often hard to thin up how something gets augmented or diminished.

    A lot of times, it's the length of time it takes to do things. I use that a lot. Pretty easy with skills outside of combat. Other times it's something else. Combat reactions help with this. Because it gives something I can award following a really good stunt roll or something.

    Like if the Monk did this awesome maneuver to get behind a Hobgoblin. Needed a 15 and got a 21. I could give him a free combat reaction to use that round. That's nice.

    Trailblazer's pretty neat. I think I'm going to give it a try here soon.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by smathis View Post
    I'm interested. How did these work?
    It's basically a slightly expanded version of the Aid Another rules. There's actually a small paragraph in the Skill section called Aid Another With Alternate Skills.

    Wulf played around with a few variations during our playtest campaigns as well. It was sort of a mash-up of Aid Another, 4E Skill Challenges, and role-playing.

    The idea is that multiple characters can contribute to a skill check but it's up to the player to explain to the DM how they are using a particular skill and why it would be applicable. It works especially well for identifying magic items or Knowledge checks.

    If I recall correctly, the system worked this like:

    First, the DM sets the success/fail rate. This is the number of successful skill checks required before getting a certain number of failures.

    Each player that wants to contribute to the skill check tells the DM the skill they want to use and how it applies. The caveat is that a particular skill can be used only once for the skill check. So two characters can't use the same skill.

    Each character then decides if they will make an Easy, Moderate, or Difficult check. The DM sets the DMs depending on the overall challenge of the skill check but usually these DCs are in increments of 5 (20, 25, 30 for example). Succeeding on a Easy check grants the group 1 success, a Moderate 2, and a Difficult 3.

    If I recall, failing an Easy check did not result in a failure for the group check whereas failing a Moderate check counted as 1 failure and failing a Difficult check was 2 failures.

    The idea here is that if there are fewer characters than successes needed, the group needs to decide the level of difficulty of each skill check each character will make.

    I'm sure we had discussed including the system in TB but I'm pretty sure it was still a work in progress at the time. Overall, it's a fun system that involves the whole group instead of one smarty-pants character just making Spellcraft and Knowledge skills all the time.

    It does take a little bit more work on the DMs part but it's also a system that can be completely improved if the DM knows the kind of information he wants to reveal to the players and the corresponding DCs.

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