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D&D Ultimate Edition

The Unlocking System

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The Unlocking System

Unread postby icycalm » 17 Dec 2020 04:01

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All editions of D&D offer far more rules and rulebooks than those found in each edition's Player's Handbook. These are rules that massively enrich the game by massively complexifying and deepening it, sometimes opening up entire new dimensions of play that weren't available before. A D&D edition with ALL its rules and rulebooks activated can often seem like an entirely different game from the base game, and this generally becomes more pronounced the newer the edition (at least up to 4E, where complexity takes a nosedive); i.e. PF1 with everything activated is more complex than 3.5E with everything activated, which in its turn is more complex than 3E with everything, etc.

However, WHO decides when an additional rule or a rulebook becomes activated in the gameworld?

The DM of course.

Just as he decides where the characters can go, and what adventure they will play, and what kind of personality they may have and may have not; he also decides which additional rules or rulebooks, if any, are used at any given time. And, of course, that's just as boring for the players as all the other degrees of freedom he takes away from them when he manipulates the gameworld by fiat as if he's putting on a show, instead of running a game.

And that's where Ultimate Edition's unlocking system comes in, to put the power of decision in the players' hands, where it belongs, enriching the game and deepening the experience with a whole new dimension of interesting decisions and possibilities.

Initially, I was inspired to add unlocking to the game by my desire to REGULATE what D&D products the players may or may not read/play/watch and so on. I wanted to control this aspect of their lives, because I didn't want their dabbling in D&D content to spoil for them the adventures ahead. So that for example, I would recommend that they read the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy of novels only after having completed (or failed at) the Dragonlance Saga, and similarly with computer games like The Temple of Elemental Evil or Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and even with stuff like original novels and comics that aren't directly related to any adventures; I would tie even those to indirectly related adventures, and I would place them on the overworld as conditional unlockables.

As for rules, however, my initial intention was to go the opposite way and make everything available for play right from the first moment: the entirety of rulebooks for all editions. In my mind, more complexity is pretty much always better, and so why not give all of it to the players right from the start, instead of restricting it in any way? This would give them that much more time to enjoy all of it. It was only when I looked into precisely how MANY additional rules and rulebooks exist for the Pathfinder system (1st Edition), and how complex they are, that I began having second thoughts, not because I questioned my initial assumption that more complexity is always better, but because I simply couldn't see how I could learn and effectively run all of it right from the start. I had no experience with the PF1 system, and merely getting to grips with the basics of THAT was a challenge; adding dozens more such books on top of that, right from the start, was an absurd proposition. And so, out of necessity and not choice, I had to keep pretty much all those books out of the game, at the start, and resort to putting them in gradually, one by one, over the course of many months and even years, as I studied and understood them. And that's when the thought naturally arose in my head to add these books to the unlocking system too, by making them unlockables.

The concept of the unlockable is of course—like so many other aspects of Ultimate Edition—inspired by videogames. Only in videogames it tends to be used badly, as it usually unlocks pointless bullshit like extra skins, many of which are actually worse than the original one, not to mention that the conditions for unlocking tend to be stupid, like finishing the game five times while standing on your toes, and other such stupid immersion-breaking shit that no one with a life and a functioning brain would ever consider doing. Many videogames would in fact benefit from TRASHING their unlockable system altogether. None of that however applies to my implementation of the concept for Ultimate Edition, because here the stuff that is unlocked is literally better than the base game. Imagine if in the new Spider-Man games, instead of unlocking a million stupid suits, you were instead unlocking mechanics that make the combat and traversal twice or three times as complex? And without the conditions being immersion-breaking, like finishing the game five times, but immersion-enhancing, like competing with rival groups for who will unlock the mechanics first, if at all? So what I did here was take two distinct types of games—D&D and videogames—and combine the best aspects of both, while getting rid of the worst. More specifically, I replaced an inferior system from one type of game, with the corresponding superior system from the other, with the end result being an insanely deeper and more fun system than both. D&D has way more rules and complexity than any videogame, it literally has tens of thousands of pages of complexity; it has so much complexity that the vast majority of DMs have no idea what to do with it, and in fact use ALMOST NONE of it; I doubt there's even a SINGLE DM who uses ALL OF IT. So D&D has complexity coming out of its ass; what it DOESN'T have however, is an EFFECTIVE and FUN system to DELIVER this complexity to the players; which is precisely what videogames have! Being told by the DM what books you are allowed to use or not, simply because he's a lazy douchebag who doesn't like to read, is not fun, but FIGHTING for these books, and even competing for them with other groups of players? Now THAT'S fun, and that's what the videogame unlockable system can do for us, when properly implemented, unlike in actual videogames. Because you see, precisely because videogames are SHALLOW compared to D&D, they don't HAVE any complexity to offer as unlockable to the players even if they wanted to; if they REMOVE complexity from the base game in order to offer it later as unlockable, there wouldn't be a base game to play at all lol. And THAT'S why it's so hard to offer decent unlockables to videogame players. Moreover, given how quickly videogames end—in a few hours at most—the developers are downright FORCED to make the players replay the exact same damn game a dozen times before they unlock the stupid suit or whatever. Not only do videogames have very little complexity to offer, they even have little content, and are expensive to boot. So "replayability" demands that the player be made to replay the game, and the stupid suit is the trinket that tricks him into thinking he's not wasting his time and his life, but actually accomplishing something. It's just sad any way you look at it. But like I said the sheer length and richness of D&D means that none of these issues exist here, and we can at last adopt the concept of the unlockable to stunning effect.

And that's precisely what we'll do.
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Unread postby icycalm » 17 Dec 2020 04:44

I guess I didn't manage to emphasize in my introduction one important point that I had meant to emphasize. I explained that I stumbled on the unlocking system for rules out of necessity, not choice; i.e. by accident. But what I want to emphasize is that, it turns out that this is the superior system! Because consider what would happen if I could make all the rules and rulebooks available right from the start. Sure it would be an insanely deep system, but first of all you wouldn't be able to use most of it, because you literally wouldn't know your options. You wouldn't know all the extra moves in combat, for example, because you wouldn't have read and understood all the rules, even if I had. Other systems you wouldn't be able to use at all, simply because they only come into play at high levels, and even then only if you've been extremely successful, like many of the Ultimate Campaign and Mythic Adventures systems. It would take you many months if not years to get to the point of actually using these mechanics even if I gave them to you from the start. So why give them to you then? Why not make you fight for them, and force you into hard decisions over which of them to unlock first, and precisely how? Though it seems as if the unlocking system is TAKING stuff from you, the reality is it's taking practically nothing, because you would not have had any of these things anyway right from the start even if I was giving them to you. So I am taking nothing from you but I am GIVING you an entire new dimension of interesting challenges and choices, resulting in a deeper, richer, and more enjoyable game.

But even with the systems that you COULD use from the start, if I gave them to you, it turns out it's still better to give them to you later, after you have decided to pursue them, and fought successfully to that end. Because imagine you had ALL the game's classes available from the start. An antipaladin or a ninja would then not seem like an especially extraordinary option; it would just be another option among many. Wouldn't the very same classes appear much more interesting if you could only access them after years of playing regular paladins and fighters? That rush of pleasure at unlocking these new classes, followed by the joy in building them up and exploring what they can do, would be almost wiped from the game if I gave them to you from the start for free. It will take you forever to try all of the base game's classes anyway, so there's nothing to be gained by piling up a few dozen more on top of that, for you to ignore. There is, however, a lot to be gained by withholding them from you, and only giving them to you, not when I decide to, but when you decide to, and pay the required cost.

So again, that's precisely what we'll do.
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Unread postby icycalm » 10 Jan 2021 19:18

So it's time to talk about the unlocking system in some detail. I've been revising it in my mind and building it up and complexifying it for a while, and I am sure that I'll revise it many times, but I think that I now have a solid base system that I can publish, and that we can begin using. And we MUST begin using it, because people have already unlocked some stuff. So here's how it's gonna work.

At first, I wanted to give groups 1 Epic Point per adventure completed, as a group, with which to unlock the epicest adventures. However, that would make all unlocks group unlocks, so we wouldn't know how to deal with players who jumped between groups, or with brand-new players for that matter: Would they take all their unlocks with them? Would they automatically get all their new group's unlocks? So I decided to go with an individual unlocking system (which is why I recently asked players to start individual player threads). This means that whatever EP rewards and EP costs you see on the adventure selection screens are PER PLAYER. If it says you get X EP for an adventure, that means each player gets X EP. If it says an adventure costs Y EP, it means that every player will have to pay Y EP to participate in the adventure. Players cannot loan around EP, but if a player is lacking the EP to unlock an adventure that all his teammates want to unlock and can afford to unlock, the player can go into EP debt (i.e. negative EP) in order to join them and not hold them back. That said, this can only occur in borderline cases, if one or two players are missing a few EP. If many of them are missing many EP, they can't just pick Kingmaker or The Dragonlance Saga and take it off the market from other groups that are saving up to unlock them first. I will make the call when going into negative EP is justified or not, and it will never be possible for the coolest stuff that groups are competing over, it will be only for stuff that no one cares about. We could even remove my judgement from the process by saying that players can go into EP debt only if no other players object to it, but I know most of you are nice people and probably wouldn't object even if you wanted to, so I'll probably have to handle these judgements myself to ensure fairness for everyone. By and large though, groups should do whatever is necessary to ensure they have the required EP before asking to unlock a locked adventure.

Further, I decided that 1 EP per adventure doesn't make much sense when some adventures are 32 pages, and others are 64 or 96, or even more for the deluxe hardback remakes like e.g. Curse of Strahd that's 224 pages. By the way, these numbers are standard due to the printing process. Something to do with each sheet having four sides, and only being able to order sheets in batches of 16. My dad explained it to me some years ago (he runs a small publishing house); not sure if I am explaining it well now, but you get the point.

So at length, I simply decided to award as many EP as there are pages in the adventure... I know it sounds kooky, but it's actually pretty damn balanced. A Pathfinder campaign is about 600 pages, so gives you about 600 EP, and takes you from level 1 to about level 17-20. Curse of Strahd is 225 pages (so about half of a PF campaign) and takes you from about level 1 to 10 (which is about half of the levels a PF campaign takes you). So you see that, even across systems and settings, the numbers about match up.

Multi-part adventures like trilogies or Pathfinder's six-part campaigns will have their EP listed as e.g. 6x96. This means that whenever you finish a 96-page book, out of the six the campaign is comprised of, you bank the EP, with each player getting his 96 EP. If you wipe before you finish the book, you get nothing. If the group survives but fails the adventure, it gets nothing too. So you can see that if you're hurting for EP it'd be a better bet to try a smaller adventure; since it has fewer encounters/pages, it's much more likely you will complete it and get the EP, all else being equal (which it might NOT be: you might pick a shorter adventure that's more challenging, despite what levels it proclaims, since adventures are not identically balanced: some are more challenging than others).

Now unlocks come in several varieties. I'll list here the ones I have off the top of my head, and add more later (plus I can revise any of them at any time, and I'll be posting all revisions here).

  • First you have the SOURCEBOOKS. Unlocking a sourcebook doesn't generally cost EP (though there may be exceptions): all it takes is your party moving into the general area the sourcebook describes. E.g. D&D1 started the game in Korvosa, so they immediately unlocked the Guide to Korvosa sourcebook. Since this sourcebook however details the entire city, they won't get to read it. It will be posted in each of their players' threads, but only as a cover. Clicking on it won't send them to The Trove PDF. That's how they'll know they aren't supposed to read it. However, they WILL be able to use rules from the book, like new feats or traits and the like, and whatever other information I deem fit to give them at any given point. And as they explore Korvosa, they will be given more and more of the contents of the book, of course, via Fantasy Grounds or the overworld on World Anvil, or both. Other groups however will not be given access to the new material in this book in any way, shape or form, and they won't be able to purchase it with EP either. The only thing they can do, if they want access to the book, is go to Korvosa at some point, and then they'll automatically unlock it the same way D&D1 has. (Note however that they may still be exposed to the contents of the sourcebook by following the other group's Twitch streams, YouTube videos, forum chatlogs and summaries and overworld entries; and that's fine.)
  • Then you have the RULEBOOKS and ACCESSORIES. These are divided into two types: the generic, and the themed ones.
    -Generic rulebooks are stuff like the Advanced Player's Guide, Advanced Class Guide and Advanced Race Guide, or Ultimate Combat, Ultimate Equipment and Ultimate Magic. These cannot be unlocked by completing adventures. The only way for a player to unlock these books and access their rules is to pay the EP cost I have set for them in the "EP Store", and they can do it at any time that they possess the required EP, and immediately all the new rules will be available for them. New classes, races, feats, spells and items, or whatever. If two players walk into a shop that carries items from both the Core Rulebook and Ultimate Equipment, only the player who has unlocked the latter can purchase and USE these items (i.e. he can't purchase an item for a player who hasn't unlocked the required book and give it to him; the other player won't be able to use it, though he can carry it for his teammate if need be).
    -Themed rulebooks are stuff like Horror Adventures, Mythic Adventures, Aquatic Adventures, Ultimate Campaign and the like. These at first won't be available in the EP store. The only way to unlock those will be to play the adventures that are specifically tied to them. There may be more than one such adventure per book: e.g. Aquatic Adventures is currently unlocked via the Skull & Shackles and Ruins of Azlant campaigns—and I may add more in the future as I learn more about the various adventures and campaigns that exist. Any of them will give you the rulebook. However, once the first group has unlocked this rulebook, it will also appear in the EP store, with a price attached to it, and any player that pays the price can unlock the book for himself. Or, if it's a book featured in multiple adventures, he can wait until his group plays one of those, and he gets it for free.
  • Then you have ADVENTURES and CAMPAIGNS. Some of these will be available on the adventure selection screens for free. Others—the epicest or most valuable of them—will have to be bought with EP to be unlocked (and they will also be reservable: e.g. if the players can afford to unlock it, but their current characters are not in the required level- and/or character range, they can pay the EP to unlock for themselves and reserve the adventure until such a time that their group is the required level and/or has the required number of players). Still other adventures might have unlockable prerequisites, which will be noted in their description, and a group can play the adventure only once it has unlocked the prerequisites.
  • Finally you have NOVELS, COMIC BOOKS, VIDEOGAMES and miscellaneous stuff like ART BOOKS. These are unlocked by playing adventures, and once a group has unlocked one of them it is available for ALL groups (though it will only appear in the player's threads of the players who unlocked it), and I am recommending that, at that point, those players read/play those works. Everyone else can read and play them too at that point, but I am especially recommending them to those that unlocked them, because they will be in circumstances where those works will enhance their enjoyment of their current adventure and/or location. And it goes without saying that I do not recommend that anyone read/play such works before they have been unlocked by someone on Battlegrounds. If you have done so, please disclose it as soon as possible in the "past D&D experience" thread [ > ] as it may impact not only your personal enjoyment of the game, but also the running of Battlegrounds, as we might have to ban your group from certain adventures (as we did e.g. with dinopoke's group when they wanted to play Rise of the Runelords, which he had played a bit of, so they ended up choosing Curse of the Crimson Throne for this reason), or move you around groups, and so on. As long as you are prompt and honest, there's no issue we can't overcome. The problems only start when people are hiding things, so please don't do that.

Let's give some concrete examples of the above based on what has already been unlocked, so you can see how things will work. I'll take D&D1 as an example. Right off the bat they had the PFRPG Core Rulebook unlocked, plus the Gazetteer sourcebook, because everyone starting on Pathfinder gets these by default (and I'll be adding them to every player's individual thread soon). Once they chose Curse of the Crimson Throne as their campaign, they immediately unlocked the Guide to Korvosa sourcebook. Once they played their first session and got to the harrow reading section, they unlocked the Harrow Deck accessory, and immediately they also unlocked The Harrowing standalone adventure, since, unbeknown to anyone, I had set the Harrow Deck acquisition as the trigger to it. So you can now see this new adventure having popped up on the main Pathfinder adventure selection map, but stating in its description that it can only be played by players who've unlocked the Harrow Deck, which currently means only the D&D1 players. Btw, I placed that adventure in that map, instead of on the Inner Sea Region map, because it can be triggered from ANY location in the main continent of Avistan. The group tells me they want to play it, and I trigger it for them wherever in Avistan they may be. Very few adventures can be triggered like this. Most require you to be in or travel to a specific region.

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So how does another group trigger this adventure, if they don't have the Harrow Deck unlocked? Let's take the example of group D&D2 that's currently in Sandpoint. In Sandpoint, there is a fortune teller. I know the exact house on the map that she is in, and the players can find it. recoil's character, being local, already knows it. I think some others are locals too. But none of them have the Harrow Deck accessory unlocked. So even if they know where the fortune teller is, I will not allow them to go there. If they type the command in the chatlog, I will ignore it. However, I will put the accessory on the EP Store—it will be the first item there—and I will price it at 32 EP—the reward from a relatively short adventure. So the moment one of them decides to purchase the accessory, he will be able to visit the fortune teller (only he, not the entire group, unless everyone in the group purchases the accessory too), and he will also be able to participate in The Harrowing adventure if his group chooses it (or join another group for it). Currently, none of the D&D2 players possess any EP, but if they finish the first part of Rise of the RunelordsBurnt Offerings—, they'll get 96 EP, at which point they'll only have to spend a third of it to unlock the Harrow Deck. And they might want to do this not just because this way they'll get access to a new adventure, but also because harrow readings can be very useful things. They can foreshadow the future, and thus help you prepare for it. On the other hand, perhaps the players prefer to save their EP to unlock something like the generic rulebook Ultimate Equipment, which can also be very useful. It is their choice to make, and it will be a very interesting choice as you can imagine, and as the universe expands there will be more and more of these interesting decisions available.

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So that's what I have for now. A few notes:

  • EP values given at the TOP of adventure descriptions are what it COSTS to unlock them, if they are locked. EP values given at the BOTTOM are what you GAIN, if you complete them.
  • Only the adventures/campaigns screenshoted above have been updated on the site to the latest version of the unlockable system. I'll be updating more of them over the coming days and weeks, but it will take a while to fully update them.
  • Since many of the unlockables will be costly, players can't be expected to choose between them sight unseen. They will want at least a little preview of the contents, and I am now trying to figure the best way to give it to them. No one has EP to spend yet, so it's not an issue until a group finishes an adventure, which is at least a month or two in the future. I'll have this figured out by then.
  • I haven't yet decided if I want to differentiate between PLAYING an adventure and FINISHING it, for the purposes of unlocking. One idea is to give you the unlocks merely for playing its associated adventure. Another idea is to do this but TAKE THE UNLOCKS AWAY if you FAIL the adventure. The second choice sounds cooler and more hardcore, but I am not sure how fun and balanced it will be. I'll keep thinking about it, and quite possibly I will experiment with both options to see which works better.
  • shock therapy suggested we tie unlocks to bloodlines, as opposed to players. So that when your last descendant of a bloodline dies, you lose all your unlocks and start from scratch.

    CULT|shock therapy wrote:That's one of the great things about your system
    I was thinking, if we can keep bloodlines going on for years there may actually come a time where a player can be the last of their bloodline being hunted by an opposing (maybe evil) party, and it will have all been set up by the new mechanics
    Then when that bloodline is gone, all those source books and accumulated bonuses go with it


    That's an incredibly hardcore suggestion that had never occurred to me. Unfortunately, I doubt it would be playable, as I suspect bloodlines will be hard to start up and fragile once they've been started, and I am not sure I will be able to balance EP gain with EP costs so that, in the long run, all the material will be unlockable by all players no matter how many bloodlines of theirs get wiped. Moreover, there is already a penalty for losing a bloodline: you lose all the city-building and 4X holdings it has acquired, and that's a very steep penalty. After all, the whole reason for the bloodline mechanics is precisely these holdings. So I don't see the reason for MORE of a penalty above that: wiping all the player's unlocks to boot.
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Unread postby icycalm » 11 Jan 2021 03:50

How will I deal with the fact that the Spelljammer and Starfinder space systems are radically different?

Both systems are a mix of magic and technology, but the Spelljammer one is heavy on magic and light on technology, and the Starfinder one vice versa. I haven't read much of either yet, but that seems to be the general gist. The Spelljammer is the old TSR system that assumes that the ancients' theories of space were correct, such as crystal spheres, the phlogiston and so on. Meanwhile, the Starfinder system has normal star systems and mostly normal spaceships and so on. So as you can see, these systems are definitely incompatible as written.

But the unlocking system will take care of this.

At first, both systems and settings are locked. However, Spelljammer can be unlocked fairly easily by paying the EP cost I have set on the first Spelljammer adventure, Wildspace. Note that the number currently on the site needs to be updated to a new value, but generally it will cost as much as what two-three PF campaign completions give. Maybe four, I am not sure. So somewhere around 1,200-2,400 EP per player. Quite a lot, but probably achievable within a couple of years for a group that's set its sights on it.

Once the group unlocks Spelljammer, it's open season on the setting, until all its material has been strip-mined: all the adventures finished, either successfully or unsuccessfully, and all the sourcebooks and developed locations utilized to the full. And THAT will be the prerequisite for unlocking Starfinder. Or, to be more precise, it will be ONE of the prerequisites.

Basically, the way Starfinder is set up, is that some cataclysmic metaevent happened that made the planet of Golarion disappear, and be replaced by a space station. And the gods "aren't saying where Golarion is", according to Paizo. And I doubt they'll ever say, or if they do it will take many years.

So this cataclysmic event, whatever it is, will be our justification for why space will stop working like the Spelljammer mechanics and will start working like the Starfinder mechanics. And that's why we need to exhaust the Spelljammer material long before we start thinking about Starfinder.

So I've updated the Iron Gods campaign with all these prerequisites (and also took the opportunity to rewrite the description in the new spoiler-free format).

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I set the unlocking cost to a ridiculous 10K EP on top of what the Spelljammer stuff will cost, because we don't want to play Starfinder for a number of years. I'd say in maybe five years we can start thinking about it, but not before. By that time there'll be tons of material to populate the SF overworld with, which isn't really true today, especially if we let loose three-four groups in there. If by that time the 10K cost has proved to be too much, I can always lower it, or conversely raise it if it proves to be too little. I am just ballparking these figures for now, and I'll be fine-tuning them as we go.

By the way, I now have all the major settings in spherical planet view. Here's a preview of Golarion:

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I will only be putting these in the overworld when a group unlocks Spelljammer and flies above a planet. Really looking forward to that day.
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