The Intended Form and Format for Canopy (and a Mini History Lesson)

Today I will be detailing what the product of Canopy will look like, when all is said and done, and why I’m choosing to do it this way.

First, a little history. As I said in my last post, most RPG supplements historically have fallen into two main types: Settings and modules. Modules are essentially pre-made adventures. They contain all the maps, enemies, and narrative elements necessary for a GM to run a story. They also typically contain some details of the surrounding areas and the general setting, like what the king is like or what wizard built this particular dungeon etc. They tend to be able to tie into other adventures to create larger stories. They’re little bite sized tidbits of a world, that you can tie together to create a fuller whole.

Settings, on the other hand, take the opposite approach. They work at the macro level, giving big sweeping histories of anywhere from a kingdom to an entire continent or world. They detail major factions at play, major wars or other events in the past, and typically contain a lot of details about towns and major people in the setting etc. They are the broad strokes to a modules finer details.

Most supplements fall into one of those two categories. There is also a lot of crossover between products. For example, D&D has the Forgotten Realms setting, which contains both setting books, with the broad strokes, and individual adventure modules, with the finer details.

One of my favorite examples of this cross-pollination is the Gazetteer series for Basic D&D. This is where I got a lot of the inspiration for the formatting of Canopy. Basic D&D was intended to be a version of Dungeons and Dragons which had “lighter” rules, to make it easier to get into, compared to the behemoth that was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Comparing Basic D&D’s 124 pages across two books to AD&D’s whopping 484 pages across 3 individual volumes is enough to illustrate their approach. Basic D&D itself covered levels 1-3, and then added 4 additional volumes (starting with Expert next, covering up to level 14) to slowly add complexity and build up to a greater whole. AD&D just dumped the entire kitchen into one set to cover levels 1-20 right out the gate. For a group just starting to play, 125 pages is much easier to stomach than 484, and then once that is mastered they can move on to greater complexity. There are arguments for and against both methods, but there is something appealing to me about the slow buildup that Basic D&D took.

When it came time for the supplements, a similar effect is seen. While adventure modules have always tended to be slim volumes for both Basic and Advanced D&D, with just enough information to run a single story, setting supplements tended to be much thicker books. As a point of comparison most of the D&D core setting books, such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, come in at 200-300 pages a piece, usually at the higher end of that spectrum. That isn’t counting additional books to add even more detail to those same settings.

The Basic D&D line, however, took a different approach again. The main setting for Basic D&D is known as Mystara (or “The Known World” depending on where you look). When it came time to detail out their setting books, they introduced the Gazetteer line. Each volume in the Gazetteer line ran between 80-110 pages or so, 1/2 to 1/4 the size of AD&D supplements. This makes it a much more manageable chunk to play in. They detail a smaller area than larger settings books tend to, and focus more on the individual details of that area. The brilliant part of this, however, is that TSR went on to produce 14 total Gazetteer books. Each one can be played in individually, without even glancing at the others, but taken as a whole they detail out a setting the size of those larger setting books. Aggregate, they come to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1400 pages total about the Mystara setting. Just as the rulebooks slowly built you up from less than 100 pages of rules for levels 1-3 all the way up to 5 books taking you through level 36 and on to godhood, the Gazetteer line gave an insane amount of detail to Mystara, while still making it simple for a group to play in a little chunk of the setting at a time.

This is the approach I am taking with Canopy. I have some pretty grand plans for this world, but it will be released in individual sub-100 page volumes. The current plan is for 5 to cover the entire setting. Each one will be playable individually, without requiring you to read the whole 5 book series. If you like one particular area, you just pick up that book and go. Each one will cover a unique geography, cover different playable species, and have a rogue’s gallery of the baddies one might find there (along with various other morsels).

My hope is that this will make it an easily digestible, but still deep, setting. Stay tuned for more details as to what this setting actually entails!

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What I’m Doing

In this post: My plan for this blog, and a little bit of info on what the Canopy project is.

My current plan is for this blog to become a lot more active. I’m transitioning this to a more general-purpose personal blog, away from the one-off prose poetry project that it started out as (although that still might be posted sometimes).

So what will this blog be then? For my friends and family who read this blog, part of ROW80 is posting updates on goal progress to the ROW80 site and their Facebook group on Sundays and Wednesdays. That means that twice a week you’ll see an update regarding my writing process in general.

In addition to that, I’m going to start posting about Canopy itself. Even in the Facebook group dedicated to it, specific setting details have been fairly vague so far, intentionally so. I was afraid of putting out too many concrete details, both because I was afraid many of them might change, but also out of a slight paranoia about people plagiarizing my ideas. In actuality the finalized setting books should have enough inherent value in terms of finalizing those ideas and drawing them all together into a greater whole, and such articles can only really work to the projects benefit. Plus, if people copy me that just means that I’m doing something right. I am going to start putting together essays on the people, sites, and dangers of the canopy as a way to both inform people who might be interested, as well as get a more fluid place to put my thoughts together to decide on what all goes into the finalized books. Full disclosure: These ideas are not necessarily final. What goes into the final books may be modified from what I post here.

As far as how I’m holding to my goals so far (30 minutes a day on the project, 5 sentences complete) I have been struggling, but I have found that my mind is on Canopy more and more throughout the day. I have been getting some ideas for it driving to work, preparing meals, and brushing my teeth. So it’s already started paying dividends there, and the actual measurable goals of it are getting a little easier.

Since this post is aimed at the ROW80 folks, I figured I would clarify exactly what it is I’m doing in this post as well. I’ve received quite a few questions about the Canopy project, and I quickly realized that the idea of a tabletop role-playing game supplement is a little alien to most people. For the uninitiated, tabletop role-playing games are essentially story-telling games. You might hear it described as improv, but with dice. To me, it hearkens back to the days of our ancestors sitting around a fire telling stories: a live, collaborative, creative activity. The one most people have heard of is Dungeons & Dragons. You have one game master, and usually between 3 to 6 “players.” The game master (or GM) describes a situation–“Your party enters a cave and sees a small band of goblins guarding a treasure chest”–and the players take turns describing what their character does in that situation–“I try to sneak around and see what’s in the chest” or “I attack!” The players or GM then roll dice to see if they succeed, and play continues from there. It’s a way for participants to act out the roles of different characters, with a framework of rules that provides structure and probabilities to their choices.

Canopy is a setting. Back in the early days of the hobby, all that existed was Dungeons & Dragons (it was the first). It had a bit of an implied setting that the stories took place in; you had elves, dragons, hobbits (known as halflings), goblins, and a set of magic spells named after great wizards. Aside from that though, it was mostly open. Game masters were expected to make up their own maps and dungeons and backstories and castles and villages for their players to adventure in.

Over time though, companies saw that many groups were interested in playing in other peoples’ worlds, where they wouldn’t have to do all the legwork. They started to put out supplements to the rules that detailed adventures and settings that people could play in (many of which started out in their own homes for their friends). All the maps, locations, and backstories were detailed in advance, so GMs could decide to play in that particular world and hit the ground running.

So there are really two main types of products for RPGs: Rulebooks, which tell you how to play, and supplements, which detail where the adventures take place.

Canopy is a supplement. It will detail the peoples, the important locations, the history, and the villains of my setting. It will allow other people to play in my world in their own homes. The ruleset it is based on is called Savage Worlds (which you can find here), which is a set of rules that are designed to be generic and fit in wherever you need. So you use their rules, to play in my world. Canopy will also offer some new rules and modifications to rules that will make it more unique to my world, but that will be detailed in other posts.

Feel free to ask me any questions about the Canopy project, or RPGs in general, down below. I am very passionate about this type of gaming (I use it in my work as a residential counselor with youth to help in skill building) and love to talk about it! Also, keep in tune to my blog for any updates on Canopy in the future. The next post I hope to give a general overview of the setting itself.

Some Thoughts on Saving Throws

Before I dive in, I wanted to address the purpose of this post for those of you that are used to this blog as a place for my short autobiographical fiction. I plan to continue that writing in the future (probably with the same sporadic consistency), but I also want to expand what I’m doing creatively as well. Rather than start a new blog for new stuff, which is what I’ve done in the past and just serves to fragment my creative output, I’m going to start putting everything out under the same banner. So my RPG content (which this post is about) will be put alongside my other content. I may in the future try to separate these into different tabs, but for now I’m just going to tag them “fiction” or “RPG.”

On to the meat: In James Raggi’s recent AMA on reddit he was talking about wanting to change the saving throw system in Lamentations of the Flame Princess to something that would be a flat score and not go up in level, possibly based on attribute scores. His thinking apparently being that poisons should always poison etc. and things that you save against should always be a huge danger to the player. This got me thinking about how I would handle saving throws in that system.

I’ve always admired Lamentations of the Flame Princess for its skill system and it’s take on the thief class, known as a “specialist” in the system. Essentially what Raggi did was convert the basic thieving skills over to the “1 in 6” style d6 roll that was used for things like listening and searching checks in OD&D. I thought this was a great way to integrate thief skills back into the already existing system for checks in classic D&D, doing away with the goofy and out of place percentile checks, and does away with thief skills that increase by level according to a preset table (similar to the way Saving Throws progress). It essentially takes two disparate skill systems and combines them into a more unified mechanic based on the classic “1 in 6” roll from OD&D. He also expanded these abilities to be possible for any class, but gave the thief 2 “skill points” every level that could increase the d6 roll, which gave a lot of player choice and agency in a very straightforward manner.

My house rule for saving throws integrates alongside this skill system. In the same way that the thief skills were taken from a table of automatic progression and their own distinct mechanic, it takes the saving throws off of preset tables and gives them the same level of player choice as the specialist has in its skills.

As of now, I suggest using the same “classic” saving throw categories (Paralyze, Poison, Breath, Device, and Magic), but simply starting each one at a 1 in 6 chance on a d6 of success. Maybe providing class based starting levels, such as starting fighters with a 2 in 6 chance of Poison and Breath saves, to reflect their greater resilience and reaction time. All classes would get a single “Save Point” per level that they could apply to any of the saving throws, moving from a 1 in 6 to a 2 in 6 chance for example. Specialists, on the other hand, would move from getting 2 Skill Points per level to 3 Skill Points per level. The Specialist can use these points on either skills or saving throws. This gives the opportunity, for example, for a specialist that is extremely resilient and dexterous rather than extremely skilled if most points are applied into saving throw categories. Or even a Specialist that is particularly weak in terms of saving throws but is extra skilled compared to others.

This does a few things. First of all, it makes saving throws follow the same mechanic as the rest of the skill system (and fall in line with the “classic” ways of doing checks as d6 rolls). Why shouldn’t a check to see if you don’t fall while climbing work similarly to a check to see if you can dodge out of the way of an attack? It also changes the numbers a bit. In the current system, players start with an average 25% chance to succeed at a saving throw, and by 10th level are somewhere around a 70% chance of success. With my system players start at a 16% chance of success for saving throws, and by 10th level, if they distribute their points evenly, have a 50% chance of success in each category (although this might change depending on the starting values for a class). This increases the risk of saving throws across the board (going along with some of the design goals of Lamentations of the Flame Princess), but also puts a lot of choice in the player’s hands. They could end up at 6th level being almost entirely immune to one saving throw category, but still 16% in the rest.

So what do you think? Does it increase the danger of saving throws too much? Should there be wholly different categories for the saving throws (maybe descriptors like dodge, fortitude etc.)? This is something I’d like to develop out (and playtest) fully and possibly put into a PDF resource, so please offer any thoughts and suggestions you have!