Saturday, February 28, 2009

2d6 Odds

I've been reading some Chainmail, so I figured I'd post the odds of getting various results on 2d6.

First, the odds of getting any given number:
odds for 7 6/36 =0.167
odds for 6 and 8
5/36 =0.139
odds for 5 and 9
4/36 =0.111
odds for 4 and 10 3/36 =0.083
odds for 3 and 11
2/36 =0.056
odds for 2 and 12
1/36 =0.028

These are the odds of hitting the TN or higher:

12: 1/36 = 0.028
11: 3/36 = 0.083
10: 6/36 = 0.167
9: 10/36 = 0.278
8: 15/36 = 0.417
7: 21/36 = 0.583
6: 26/36 = 0.722
5: 30/36 = 0.833
4: 33/36 = 0.917
3: 35/36 = 0.972
2: 36/36 = 1.000

Note that a +1 or 2 modifier gives relatively low benefits at the extreme ends of the scale. In the center of the scale though, small modifiers have large effects.

This can create a snowball effect very quickly, where one failed check that imposes a penalty on the next one practically ensures a slide into trouble. However, the slide slows down at some point when you reach the other tail end of the curve.


Here's a look at a common LBB check, the morale roll. These TNs parallel many other OD&D 2d6 checks so the odds should be similar.

The modifiers for morale are given as:
LOYALTY: Up to +/- 2
CHARISMA affects loyalty base checks (again, mostly at +/-2, although some folks will have +4 with an 18) AND morale checks, so its possibly a double whammy.
So our total modifier is -4 to +5 (theoretically +7 with an 18 CHA).

Morale/Reaction Checks
2 Attempts to attack
3-5 Hostile reaction
6-8 Uncertain
9-11 Accepts offer
12 Enthusiast, Loyalty +3

Random Actions by Monsters
2-5: Negative Reaction
6-8: Uncertain Reaction
9-12: Positive Reaction

Cleric Turn Undead
7: Minor Turn
9: Major Turn
11: Best Turn

Interesting notes from OD&D

Tiers of Play

OD&D had three tiers of play. Levels 1-4 were for Veteran fighters. Levels 5-8 were for Heroes. And level 9-12 were Superheroes (or "name" levels).


I was perusing my OD&D PDFs last night and found an interesting rule buried in the naval combat section. A character's Command Radius is based on their CHA. If an allied NPC is within the command radius, they have a 4/6 chance each round to understand and follow a command.

This is obviously a holdover from wargaming, which often models supply, C2, etc. But I think it has merit.

Say we stick with OD&D-style modifiers for stats (ranging from -3 to +3). A character's effective command radius is 4 +/- CHA modifier paces, furlongs, or leagues. The time it takes to give a command is based on the scale, as is the type of unit commanded. The number of units commanded is equal to 4 +/- CHA modifier.

Orders given within the command radius have a 4/6 chance of success. Orders beyond that have a 2/6 chance of success, or nil if circumstances prohibit communication.

VETERAN: Paces (individuals) / round
HEROES: Furlongs (platoons) / turn
SUPERHEROES: Leagues (companies) / hour

So, a low level character can effectively give orders to several other individuals within 4 or so paces (hexes, squares, etc). As he grows in power, he gives orders to larger groups (perhaps a troop of horse, a phalanx of pikemen, etc) spread out over a sector of the battlefield. And at the highest levels of experience, he is commanding an entire battalion spread out over many miles. For example, a SUPERHERO with good CHA would have strong C2 over a 5 league radius; so he can sit in his castle and send his patrol of heavy horse to go patrol 15 miles in every radius. If they stray further then they might not get his orders in a timely manner.

If he has urgent orders then he could attempt to distort scale as I have previously discussed, perhaps with several Command Checks of some sort (liberal arts based perhaps?) each lasting a Turn instead of an Hour.

A more appropriate scale might be:
VETERAN: Paces (individuals) / rounds
VETERAN: Furlongs (squads) / turns
HEROES: Leagues (platoons) / hours
SUPERHEROES: Marathons (companies) / days

That would have superheroes being truely significant nobles with a regional interest; our above example would feature a ruler that has effective C2 over forces ranging over a 120 mile radius area, which would be many campaign squares.

Also note that by giving a chance of failure to understand orders we help to preserve the economy of actions.

Easy, Medium, and Hard Checks

The Cleric in OD&D can Turn Undead. The type of undead turned is dependent on a 2d6 roll. Target Numbers are always 7, 9, and 11. Interestingly, this gives "easy" (7 -- 58%), "moderate" (9 -- 29%) and "hard" (11 - 8%) checks. Its easy to remember on the fly, and a =1 bonus here adjusts the odds to the following: Easy 58% --> 72% (14% change), Moderate 29% --> 42% (13% change), and Hard 8% --> 17% (9% change). This is different from a D20, where a +1 to the roll would give a flat +5% to all odds.

Heroes and Hoards

Just came up with an idea for a little strategy-board-card game.

OBJECT: You are a dragon, interested in amassing vast wealth. Your goal is to collect as much treasure as you can before the end of the game.

SETUP: You will need a chessboard, a deck of playing cards (with jokers), some six-sided dice, and a pile of pocket change. Only the white squares on the chessboard will be used, basically forming a 4 x 4 grid; label one axis A, B, C, & D and the other one 1-4. Pull the Aces out of the deck and distribute one Ace to each player (each player rolls two dice; the highest picks first). Each player then randomly draws three cards from the deck.

Meet The Dragons: The ace that you draw determines what type of dragon you have. Each dragon has a special ability that can be activated by spending one coin from your hoard.

The Ace of Clubs: You are a fire-breathing red dragon. SPECIAL ABILITY: Gain +1d6 when Razing a settlement.
The Ace of Spades: You are a stormy azure dragon of the air, hurling lightning bolts and able to fly with the celerity of the wind. SPECIAL ABILITY: During the Raid phase, write down two destinations and uncover both; you may decide to fly to either.
The Ace of Hearts: You are an icy white dragon of winter. SPECIAL ABILITY: A wintry chill falls over the land. Freeze all Heroes in place this turn.
The Ace of Diamonds: You are a cunning and covetous serpent from the depths of the earth. SPECIAL ABILITY: Your hoard is safely hidden deep within the earth and you cannot be stolen from this turn.

PLAY: Play proceeds in phases each turn, with a new dealer every turn. The dealer rotates clockwise around the table.

Build Phase. Each player plays one card face down on the chessboard on any white square. SPECIAL: On the first turn of play, each player plays two cards plus their Ace. This should leave them with one card remaining in their hand.

Trade Phase. Players negotiate and trade with each other. Anything can be bartered: wealth from your hoard (coins), captured cards, cards in your hand, promises, or even binding oaths (see Magicians, later).

Raid Phase. Players write down where they want to fly this turn using the 4x4 grid (for example, A-1). This is where their dragon will fly!

Resolve Phase. Uncover all the player's destinations at once.
- At a Settlement: Demand a Sacrifice, Demand Tribute, or Raze the Settlement
Demand a Sacrifice: You threaten the local populace and demand that they give you a tasty morsel to carry back to your lair and consume. Roll a die and add your Size. If you tie or beat the number on the card, you can roll a Size die to grow larger.
Demand Tribute: You threaten the local populace and demand that they give you loot! Roll a die and add your Size. If you tie or beat the number on the card, gain 1 coin from the settlement.
Raze the Settlement: You descend with fury on the population and try to turn the settlement into wasteland! Roll a die and add your size. The settlement rolls a die and adds its number. If you tie or beat the number on the card, the settlement is destroyed. You carry off the treasure (roll 1d6 and add that many coins from the settlement to your horde; the rest are destroyed), devour the citizenry (roll a Size die to grow larger), and destroy the settlement (remove the card from the board).
- At a Hero: Bribe the Hero or Battle the Hero
Bribe the Hero: Pay the hero coins and roll 1d6 for each coin. Retain only the highest result. Regardless of the result, the coins are stored in the hero's stronghold, i.e., the highest ranking card of the same suit of the hero. If there is no appropriate card, then the bribe is placed with the highest ranking Diamond stronghold.
1-2: Attack! The hero rejects your bribe and attacks you as a monster!
3-4: Safe Passage. The hero accepts your bribe and
5-6: Cooperation. The hero either moves one square (your choice) or goes to your lair to guard your treasure until bribed or defeated by someone else.
Battle the Hero: Roll 1d6 and add your size. The hero rolls 2d6. If you tie or beat the hero's result, the hero flees -- move them one square (your choice). If you rolled a 6, then you devour the hero -- remove them from play.
- At a Lair: Steal Treasure
Roll 1d6. Remove that many coins from the lair.

Hero Phase: Roll a die for each Hero to determine their actions. However, a player can expend treasure to control the activities of a Hero. If multiple players desire to Bid for the services of a hero, then each picks up a number of coins in their hand and one die. They reveal their bids simultaneously, rolling the die; add the coins to the die to determine the more influential dragon. The winner decides what the hero will do this turn. All coins wagered are placed on the highest ranking Settlement of the hero's suit that has been revealed. If no settlement has been revealed, the coins are lost.

Hearts. Hearts represent monasteries. Monks are stringy and tough -- not good eating -- but sometimes monasteries are known to sometimes hold valuable relics and other treasure. Unfortunately, monks and paladins tend to be rather inflexible when dealing with monsters.
Diamonds. Diamonds represent trade towns or caravans. They tend to be good sources of treasure to add to one's horde!
Spades. Spades represent fortified towns, outposts, and castles. They are difficult to raze to the ground and tend to be strong points for human civilization.
Clubs. Clubs represent agricultural areas. There is little wealth in these areas, but the peasants sure do make for good eating!

Aces. Aces represent the lairs of dragons. They are dangerous places to enter, but raiding the horde of a dragon while it is out pillaging can be quite lucrative!
Numbered Cards. These represent human settlements. The larger the number, the more impressive and powerful.
Jacks. Jacks are knights and other powerful heroes.
Queens. Queens represent princesses and female rules. They are valuable for dragons to kidnap and many dragons seek to keep a captive princess in their lair.
Kings. A King wields influence over all settlements within his purview. Capturing or bribing a king can have powerful effects.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


x4E introduced "Stances," a tactical move that sets up an attribute for the length of an encounter. So basically, you could sacrifice speed for defense, or increase your damage output, etc.

In AD&D, some characters had "operational stances." By this, I mean that they had choices that could change their basic derived statistics but those choices generally could not be exercised in combat. For example, take a dexterous fighter.

He can choose between Leather Armor and his Chain Mail.
PROS: Retain reaction adjustment to surprise, better init with missile weapons, better surprise if he's an elf or halfling, could be slept in
CONS: Reduced AC
PROS: Better AC
CONS: Reduced speed, lose DEX bonuses

To swap out your armor was usually something done out of combat. Hence, it being an operational choice, not a tactical one.

Why not do something intentional but not linked to equipment so all characters can choose?

- AMBUSH: Surprise 4/6, +2 initiative
- LOOKOUT: Perceive 4/6, +2 on OAs
- MOBILITY: Succeed on mobility maneuvers 4/6, +2 speed
- FORTITUDE: Recover 4/6 (saves, recovering health overnight, etc), +2 stones ENC capacity
- LEAD: Inspire & Command 4/6, +2 morale

Each character can select their status. It takes a Turn normally to change Focus, or you can use my order of magnitude check described elsewhere to do it tactically over a few rounds. Additionally, each character has one status that is naturally "3/6" -- all others being "2/6." So, a thief might be Ambush 3/6. Thus, the thief, if scouting, can AMBUSH 3/6 and PERCEIVE 4/6. It makes him a better scout than a fighter or cleric, but the fighter and cleric can still tag along if they set their focus on AMBUSH.

On Scale and Skill Challenges

This began as an addendum to my "units of time and scale" article, but morphed into a full fledged discussion of its own with some musings on skill challenges.

Here's a more fleshed out system for the above idea. Let's say that we have a task resolution system that gives about 33/66% odds of success for untrained and trained respectively.

1) You may attempt to accomplish a task an order of magnitude faster.
OPTION A: Expend some sort of consumable resource to begin making the attempt.
2) Roll an appropriate check that takes time equal to one order of magnitude faster than the original task requires. Rationale: This prevents characters from trying to accelerate actions all the time, which results in dice masturbation.
OPTION B: A failed check has some sort of negative consequence (beyond just wasted time)
3) Tally your successes. You need 3 successes to complete the task. Rationale: Same as Option A
OPTION C: If requiring three successes, there should be some way to get an "exceptional success" that racks up 2 successes at once. Otherwise, consider requiring only 2 successes. Rationale: Allows for more realistic results. This allows a marathon to be run in some rare cases in 2 hours. It allows 3 miles to be run in 20 minutes.

EXAMPLE: Bert the Mage wants to use a ritual spell in combat. Normally, casting the ritual requires a turn. However, he can expend a mana (option A) to try and cast it faster. Each round he makes an Arcana check. Once he gets two successes, the spell is completed!

EXAMPLE: Barry the Fighter needs to cover a league in a matter of turns, not an hour. He dashes off with an Athletics check. Once he has accumulated three successes, the run is complete. If he fails a check, then he expends a healing surge (from exhaustion and fatigue) and makes no progress. If he succeeds on a natural 1 (assuming low is good, like an AD&D open doors roll), then he gets two successes and makes exceptionally quick progress.

TURN 1: Barry rolls a 2. He racks up one success!
TURN 2: Barry rolls a 5. He fails to make significant progress and loses a healing surge to boot.
TURN 3: Barry rolls a natural 1. With a burst of energy, he finishes the run! He has covered 3 miles in 30 minutes instead of an hour as is normal.

EXAMPLE: Briggs the Smooth-Talker wants to get an audience with the Duke. Normally it takes a day to arrange all the details, but Briggs needs the Duke's help today to solve a problem. He expends a Resource Point (bribes and fine clothes) and starts schmoozing with the palace officials. He can now make checks, with each check requiring one hour. With luck, Briggs should be able to secure an audience in a few hours rather than waiting all day!

The last issue here is to include a mechanic that discourages non-participation. For example, in 4E skill challenges, everyone except the primary should sit out and do nothing. Agon has an interesting mechanic, where the players as a team all want to win the challenge against the GM, BUT the individual winner of the challenge gets a special reward. You can't be the individual winner unless you try. Agon uses a dice pool system, so with a bonus die from somewhere, even an unskilled individual can close the gap with a skilled expert sometimes. Therefore, all players will have a strong incentive to actively engage in the challenge so they can win the reward.

The reward should be short-to-mid term, not permanent. Otherwise, some characters can pull far ahead of others. So, you don't want to give out XP. You do want to give out something like Healing Surges, Action Points, "Fate Points," consumable items, etc.

You also need a mechanic to prevent frivolous engagement in skill challenges to get the reward. For example, "Let's do a basket-weaving contest so someone can win some INSERT RESOURCE HERE!"

For example, say you started the Duke Challenge above. Everyone pays in 1 resource point to "play." The person who gets to 3 successes first gets 1/2 the pot (with the other 1/2 of the pot going to the GM, just like the house rakes the pot in poker). This has some nice implications -- most folks won't bother initiating skill challenges unless (A) its important enough to spend their own resource on or (B) its something most of the party will engage in, thus giving a reasonable chance of recouping your own investment. For example, in a typical five person party, if all five pay into the pot to play the minigame, the winner will walk away with 3x their starting bet. Indeed, if a majority of the party (3 folks) bid in, you can still walk away with more than your starting bet (1.5x to 2x depending on rounding). But if you can't get anyone else interested, then the DM will rake the pot and you individually will lose a resource.

Now, the non-participation problem may be exacerbated by this betting system as individuals that have poor chances to succeed will not be inclined to ante up. You don't throw more money away when you're holding a 2 and a 6 in Texas Hold 'Em. Luckily, gambling games have dealt with this issue already.
1) The House (GM) adds a bonus to the pot. For plot-relevant challenges, the DM could add a bonus to the pot that makes it attractive to ante up. This is like having a prize for the overall winner of a poker tournament; while your individual odds on one hand might be poor, you want to stay in the game in hopes of winning the big prize.
2) Ensure relatively equal odds of winning. This basically entails either narrowing the gap between the skilled and the unskilled and/or allowing multiple paths to victory. The former solution helps but is boring; the latter path is interesting and leads to more creativity. For example, in our foot race example above, the fighter might use Athletics to run it, the cunning thief might steal a horse, and the smart mage might use his knowledge of geography to find a shortcut (or conjure up a flying carpet!). Some of these alternative solutions may have costs of their own (law breaking, spell slots, whatever), but if the pot is large enough, the player may well deem it worth the expenditure to have a chance at winning! High variability also helps out hte underdog.
3) Mandatory buy-ins. This is like the blinds at a Texas Hold 'Em game. For plot-driven challenges, maybe the DM will just require you to buy in. If you have to buy in, you might as well try to win!
4) Costs for not buying in. Maybe you lose an "honor" point for shamefully refusing a challenge. There's some sort of cost. This is similar to the mandatory buy-in. For example, at a friendly poker game, your friends may mock you for continually folding -- you are paying a price (pride) for not buying in.

About Me

Looking at the Geek Grab Bag ( I just realized that I quite rudely have never introduced myself! At first this blog was intended really as more of a "public diary" but as I find myself with a few readers it seems reasonable to introduce myself.

I'm a 20-something working professional, studied political science and history in college, and have been gaming since about early 2004. My first RPG system was AD&D. I've got extensive experience with AD&D (I joke that I minored in it in college!), both running and playing. I've tackled homebrew material as well as classic favorites like B2, the G-D-Q series, and Greyhawk. In the D&D lineup, I've also played and run 3.5. I'm currently playing in a 4E game.

I've dabbled in several other systems and games but am most familiar with the New World of Darkness, which I find to be a good system for telling stories. I particularly enjoy Werewolf and Mage (provisional on a good DM and very mature group).

I have tabletop experience and have also played and run online games via Play By Post (RPOL) and most recently over Maptools and Skype, "live." You might know me in a few of the following guises:
NittanyTbone14 on Dragonsfoot
NittanyTbone on Enworld
Okrin at the Sands of Valathorn Arena on RPOL
Erdion at the Nyrond Arena on RPOL

A new look

I'm experimenting with a new look here. The columns on the previous format were so small that I felt like you couldn't fit enough content on the page. Additionally, readers were clamoring for a follower option, so I added that gadget.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OD&D + Ars Magica

Right now, I think I want to play a system that combines OD&D, Ars Magica, and some sort of decent resolution mechanic. Sadly I do not think such a system exists (yet!).

Sub-systems required:
4E style encounter/daily rationing of shticks
Static HP & Healing surges
Fate subsystem
Perhaps reworked magic subsystem
Skill subsystem
Storytelling subsystem

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Simple Complexity

I like the idea of layering 2-4 systems together to create a whole that is more complex than the sum of its parts.

For example, let's say we have a very simple game with four classes (Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Magician) and four backgrounds (Wilderness, Nobility, Urban, and Ecclesiastic). There are now 16 different combinations.

A fighter could be a paladin (ecclesiastic), knight (nobility), ranger (wilderness), or thug (urban). Instead of requiring four different classes or subclasses to represent those ideas, I've just layered two systems together. Another advantage is that the player is only confronted with four options at a time, instead of being faced with a list of 16 choices.

If we then layered on more choices (Offensive, Defensive, or Balanced, for example; or maybe Human, Elf, or Dwarf), we'd up the combinations yet again. At least 2 systems are needed to take advantage of this. More than 3 or perhaps 4 systems is perhaps too complicated.


OD&D's layers (4):
- Ability Scores
- Class
- Equipment selection or spell selection
- Alignment

AD&D adds (5):
- Race (split from class)

D20 adds (8):
- Feats
- Prestige Classes (basically paragon paths)
- Robust skill system

4E adds (9):
- Epic Destinies

Plus each addition tends to add more choices within each category. 1E had more classes, plus ways to combine the base classes. 3E had yet more classes and even more loose multiclassing rules.

Where's the sweet spot? I think the Rule of 7 helps us out here: Perhaps 5-9 layered systems (erring towards the lower end) with either 3 components each (the Rule of Three) or 5-9 choices.

So if you have 5 "layers" with 5 choices per layer, that gives you 3125 possible character combinations.

Weapons List

I've built a spreadsheet with weapons data, originally intended for C&C. I figured I'd post the key points here as a musing.


Names. One particular weapon in C&C may stand for several real-world items. For example, a morningstar could be mechanically described as a mace. A machete, messer, or other single edge blade might be represented by the same item. If you don't like the idea of using a trident, call it a military fork or steel spear.

Skill Level. Basic weapons can be used by anyone. Martial weapons require some training. Simple weapons are somewhere in between. See the Weapons Allowed table for info. The purpose of this is to give more martially oriented classes more, better weapons choices. The cleric gets to choose their spells, so they have fewer weapons options available to them than the fighter, who only gets to pick his weapon.

Category. Weapons are categorized as light, one handed, or two handed. These are their BASIC characteristics.
Light Weapons (EV 1, base damage 1d4, finessable)
One Handed Weapons (EV 2, base damage 1d6)
Two Handed Weapons (EV 3, base damage 1d10, reach)

Cost. Expressed in gold pieces. Some weapons are free and can be scavenged. Note that cost is not really a significant balancing factor beyond the lowest levels except for arming large bodies of men, unless you allow magic items to be bought by using some sort of multiple of the base cost.

Type. This is how the weapon inflicts harm: Piercing, slashing, or bludgeoning.

EV. The encumbarance value of the item. (NOTE - I would reskin this based on STONES).

Damage. The amount of damage done by the weapon.

Range. For hurled and missile weapons, this is the range increment. For each multiple of the range increment, a -2 penalty is imposed. Maximum range is 5 x Range Increment.

Family. Weapons are organized into groups with shared characteristics. For example, all maces are good against heavy armor.

Ability. Some weapons may differ from the norm or have a special ability.

Space Required. If you must know the space required (radius) to use the weapon, use these guidelines: Piercing polearms such as spears or pikes require 1' regardless of size/length. Multiply the EV of the weapon by 2 in most cases. Multiply the EV of the weapon by 1 if it needs less space or is fast (single edge blades?). Multiply the EV of the weapon by 3 if it is very unwieldy (flails, whip).

SUGGESTIONS: Pick a weapon that thematically appeals to you. All weapons within the types have been balanced against each other. That is, all simple weapons are roughly balanced and are of similar "power." In the long run, a mace will be as useful as a spear, so it is really personal preference. Choose whichever weapon appeals most to you!

Martial weapons are usually superior to simple weapons. Warriors with high STR/CON may be able to select and carry multiple weapons in order to gain a tactical advantage. For example, a paladin may use his horseman's mace against heavily armored foes but then switch to his sword to finish off enemies wearing lighter armor.\


Clubs & Staves. Clubs and staves are free and easily improvised .
Generally, these are poor weapons. But they can be used by anyone and are cheap. Ideal for peasant levies or characters who must scavenge for weapons.

Maces. All maces are +1 to hit foes in heavy armor.
This is your entry level bludgeoning weapon. Little more than a weighted club, a mace is nothing fancy but quite effective against skeletons, plate-mail clad knights, and other heavily armored creatures. Mounted characters benefit from the horseman's version.

Hammers. +2 to hit foes in heavy armor
Hammers are an upgrade to maces. They are the best anti-armor weapons.

Flails. +1 to hit foes in heavy armor; +1 bonus on any check to trip or disarm a foe
Also an upgrade over a simple mace, the flail trades some of the armor penetration of a hammer for tactical options. Knights may appreciate the horseman's version. Flails require a lot of space; this is good if you want to control an area but bad if you fight in formation.

1 Edge Blades. +1 to hit foes with no armor or light armor
The entry level bladed weapon. These weapons are crude but effective against foes who lack armor protection.

. +1 to hit foes with no armor or light armor; Swords also do extra damage
An upgrade compared to Single Edged Bladed weapons, swords are highly versatile. The bonus to damage is useful all the time. Any warrior is safe selecting a blade.

Axes. +1 to hit foes with no armor or light armor; On a "20" to hit, axes score a critical threat (2x).
Axes are also an upgrade to Single Edged weapons. Warriors with many bonuses to damage -- as from high strength -- will benefit greatly from the occasional "critical" hit. Use a STR check to confirm a critical for double damage! If the STR check fails, the axe instead does maximum damage. This makes axes the ideal weapon for a berserker type character.

Spears. Spears deal 2x damage vs. charging foes; -1 penalty to hit vs. heavy armor.
Spears are an ancient and effective weapon. They excel at forcing foes to keep their distance, but are not so effective against heavier armors.

Picks. +2 bonus vs. heavy armor; very similar to hammers but less variation in damage dealt
Picks are similar in many ways to hammers. The damage dealt is comparable but is less random. Mounted warriors may appreciate the horseman's version!

Lances. Lances deal double damage on a mounted charge
Any mounted character -- especially those with high strength or knights -- can make good use of a lance. They are somewhat useful as polearms dismounted.

Advanced Polearms. Various effects, including 2x damage vs. chargers and bonuses to trip/disarm foes.
These are generally variations on spears. They will keep foes at a distance. Some are designed to unhorse knights or tear weapons out of hands.

Hurled Weapons. Hurled weapons are light, and one can carry two per assigned EV
Darts or javelins have been used since ancient times by skirmishers to soften up enemies before entering melee.

Slings. +1 damage vs. large foes; May add STR bonus to damage
David may have slain Goliath with a sling, but most characters will find them to be the least effective of the missile weapons. They are widely available however.

Crossbows. Crossbows require about 1/2 round to reload; one can only move 5' if reloading and firing in same round
Crossbows are ideal for characters with low STR, or for those who want a ranged option but have little martial training.

Bows. Bows are capable of volley fire, firing multiple shots with the two-weapon fighting penalties.
While they require years of training, bows are the best ranged weapons available.

I have this info in spreadsheet form; post a comment with your email address if you want the nicely formatted spreadsheet!


Clubs & Staves All clubs and staves are free and easily improvised

Club LT B 0 2 1d4 10

Staff 1H B 0 4 1d6

Quarterstaff 2H B 0 6 1d6
Reach; Can be dual-wielded at -3/-6

Single Edged Blades +1 to hit vs. foes with no armor or light armor

Dagger/Knife/Sickle LT P/S 2 1 1d4 10

Slings +1 damage vs. large foes; May add STR bonus to damage

Sling LT B 1 1 1d4 50 Cost includes bullets... free if using stones: -1 damage

Staff Sling 1H B 5 5 1d6 50 Arc trajectory - Cannot hit foes in first range increment

Maces All maces are +1 to hit foes in heavy armor

Horseman's Mace LT B 5 2 1d4
+1 to hit when used mounted

Footman's Mace 1H B 10 4 1d6

Heavy Mace 2H B 25 6 1d10

Single Edged Blades +1 to hit foes with no armor or light armor

Machete/Messer/Scimitar 1H S 5 3 1d6

Voulge/Bill/Bardiche/Glaive 2H S 10 5 1d10

Spears Spears deal 2x damage vs. charging foes; -1 penalty to hit vs. heavy armor; only 1' space required

Short Spear LT P 1 1 1d4 20 Considered 1H for dual-wielding purposes

Spear 1H P 3 3 1d6 10

Long Spear 2H P 5 5 1d10

Hurled Weapons Hurled weapons are light and inexpensive, and one can carry two per assigned EV; all sales 2 for 1

Dart LT P 1 1 1d4 20

Javelin 1H P 3 3 1d6 30

Pilum 2H P 5 5 1d8 20

Crossbows Crossbows are slow to reload, limiting the user's mobility and rate of fire

Light Crossbow 1H P 35 4 1d6 80 Requires 1/2 action to reload

Heavy Crossbow 2H P 100 6 1d10 120 Requires full action to reload

Hammers +2 to hit foes in heavy armor

Throwing Hammer LT B 1 1 1d4 10

War Hammer 1H B 5 3 1d6

Maul 2H B 10 5 1d10

Flails +1 to hit foes in heavy armor; +1 bonus on checks to trip or disarm a foe; require lots of space to use!

Horseman's Flail LT B 5 2 1d4
+1 to hit when used mounted; Requires ~3' radius

Footman's Flail 1H B 10 4 1d6
Requires ~6' radius to use

Dire Flail 2H B 15 6 2d4
Reach; Requires ~9' radius to use

Swords +1 to hit foes with no armor or light armor; Swords also do extra damage as shown below

Short Sword LT S 10 1 1d6

Long Sword 1H S 15 3 1d8

Great Sword 2H S 30 5 1d12

Axes +1 to hit foes with no or light armor; On a roll of "natural 20" to hit, axes score a critical threat (2x)

Throwing Axe LT S 5 1 1d4 10

Battle Axe 1H S 10 3 1d6

Danish Axe 2H S 20 5 1d10

Picks +2 to hit vs. foes in heavy armor; very similar to hammers but less variation in damage dealt

Horseman's Pick LT P 5 2 1d4
+1 to hit when used mounted

Footman's Pick 1H P 10 4 1d4+1

Bec-De-Corbin 2H P 20 6 1d6+2

Lances Lances deal double damage on a mounted charge

Lance 1H P 5 5 1d6
Reach; requires 2H when dismounted

Heavy Lance 2H P 10 7 1d10
Reach; Must be mounted on heavy warhorse

Advanced Polearms Piercing polearms require only ~1' of space to wield, making them ideal as a second rank weapon

Trident/Military Fork 1H P 10 4 1d6
2x damage vs. charge

Halberd 2H P/S 10 6 2d4
No reach; 2x damage vs. charge; +2 to Trip

Ranseur 2H P 10 6 1d10
Reach; +2 on all Disarm checks

Guisarme 2H S 10 6 1d10
Reach; +2 on all Trip checks

Pike/Partisan 2H P 10 6 1d10
Reach; 2x damage vs. charge

Bows Bows are capable of volley fire, firing multiple shots with the two-weapon fighting penalties

Shortbow 1H P 30 3 1d6 60

Shortbow, Composite 1H P 75 3 1d6 70 Can be built for high STR

Longbow 2H P 75 5 1d8 100 Cannot be used on horseback

Longbow, Composite 2H P 100 5 1d8 110 Can be built for high STR

Unusual Weapons A grab bag of miscellaneus weapons! All are martial weapons unless otherwise noted.

Saber 1H S 15 3 1d6
+1 to hit if mounted; +1 to hit foes with light/no armor

Crossbow, Hand Lt P 100 2 1d4
Requires 1/2 action to reload

Whip LT S 10 2 1d4
Reach; Deals subdual only; +2 to trip/disarm

Sap LT B 1 1 1d4
Deals subdual damage

Bastard Sword 1H/2H S 25 4 1d8
Deals 2d4+1 when wielded two handed; +1 vs. light/no

Open Fist (not monk) LT B 0 0 1d2
Deals subdual damage; basic

Main Gauche LT S 25 1 1d4
If TWF, sacrifice off-hand attack for +1 to AC in melee

Featherstaff 1H B/S 50 4 1d6
Blades are concealed until use; +2 to Disarm

Shield, Light LT B c.f. c.f. 1d3
Lose shield bonus for round if attacking; TWF penalties

Shield, Heavy 1H B c.f. c.f. 1d4
Lose shield bonus for round if attacking; TWF penalties

Hrm... Looks like the Range and Special ability columns got cut off. Curses on you, Blogger Formatting! Although its likely more just operator error on my part...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Things to Do

Dan and I have identified three main things that RPGs let you do: Tactical Combat, Problem Solving, and Story Telling. More on that in his post over at Geek Grab Bag (

One issue with some games is that in each of the three situations, everyone must have something to do. This seems straightforward, but isn't really.

For example, in 1E AD&D, the first level magic-user does not participate in tactical combat (unless he knows Sleep, in which case, he participates for one round). Likewise the thief is usually at a significant disadvantage. Trading utility in one realm (combat) for effectiveness in another (out of combat problem solving, like our thief or wizard) is bad because it leads to players tuning out. Same thing with social skills in a skill system -- if you have 'em, then you participate a lot in role playing scenes. If you don't, then its safer not to open your mouth lest you botch that diplomacy or bluff check and ruin the whole party's plan.

4E did a good job with addressing this in regards to combat. For perhaps the first time, I feel like all characters have something to contribute in a battle. But there are still gaps in the other aspects of the game. For example, my rogue has little to contribute in the way of social skills and thus storytelling.

Since the OD&D Thief supplement in Greyhawk, there's been an assumption that trading raw combat power for utility skills is acceptable. I think its a false choice. I've been reading a lot about OD&D, pre-Thief class. Without a Thief class, ANYONE could participate in problem solving. Need to deal with a pit trap? The fighter can chop down a tree and put a bridge over it. Need to get past those poison needles? The cleric can ball up a rag and stuff it in the hole in the wall to plug it up.

Additionally, niche protection is all well and good. It encourages teamwork. However, sometimes its pointless. In OD&D, thieves, halflings, and elves were stealthy to some degree -- that was half the possible choices that could try to sneak around with some degree of success! Most parties would have at least two "sneaky" individuals. In AD&D and later editions, though, classes have become even more specialized. Thus, the hapless thief/rogue might be the only person that could sneak. How useful is it to sneak if you're the only one that can really try? That's just a bad idea.

However your system works, all characters have to be reasonably effective at Story Telling (engaging in the story, especially role play), Problem Solving, and Combat.


In design, I think you need to carefully think about how the three-legged stool of Story Telling, Problem Solving, and Combat all interact. On one hand, you want shared mechanics as much as possible. You don't want to have to build three different characters with three different resolution systems for each aspect of the game, so some overlap is good.

On the other hand, the same mechanics that work at the tactical combat level may not work for problem solving.

I see at least two ways to think about it.

1) Use scale. Tactical issues are dealt with in terms of paces/seconds. Problem solving varies from paces/seconds (I need to leap across this gap right now to get away from this monster!), to furlongs/minutes (we need to find a way to bridge this chasm), or even up to larger scales (leagues/hours -- we need to navigate through the Enchanted Wood). Tactical Combat is traditionally used at the Pace/Seconds level, but one could also run it at the higher scales too, using larger numbers of monsters spread over larger distances with longer time spans.

You'd use the same mechanics at each scale level (so perhaps at the Pace/Second scale, a damage roll indicates HP done to one creature; at the furlong/minutes scale, a damage roll indicates # of creatures slain; at the leagues/hours level, its the number of enemy squads or platoons destroyed). The game zooms in or out as needed.

2) Use Aspect. So you have one consistent set of rules for dealing with Combat, and another for Problem Solving. This leads to overlap problems as we discussed above. You might need to use a Problem Solving mechanic in a tactical combat situation. 4E tries to integrate the two realms with Skill Challenges, but it doesn't really work. This approach requires you to fundamentally classify each encounter as a combat encounter, problem solving, or role playing opportunity so that you can let the primary sub-system dominate.

Units of Distance & Time

Here's a comparison of customary units of distance with approximate times that might be appropriate for a game.


PACE (5', ~FATHOM) vs. "ROUND" (5-6 SECONDS)

FURLONG/STADIA (1/8 mile, 625 feet) vs. "TURN" (~7.5 minutes -- we can round to 10 to make it simple)

LEAGUE (3 miles) vs . HOUR

MARATHON (26 miles, ~8 leagues) vs. DAY

Note these are customary units. You'd use the scale most appropriate for the scene. So, tactical combat is probably measured in PACES and goes in 5-6 second periods of time. "Strategic" movement is going to be covered over days and measured in Marathons. Note that the Marathon isn't really a customary unit of measure, but it is about as far as you go in a full day's march (8 leagues).

Furlongs and Leagues fill in the middle. A furlong and 8-10 minute chunks of time would be most appropriate for, say, exploring a dungeon. A league is better for overland travel or exploring, say, an enchanted wood.


Note that certain circumstances could bend these scales.
- An athlete can cover about 3-6 paces every 5 seconds over short distances (the higher end of that being an olympian in a sprint).
- A race horse can cover a furlong in about 10-15 seconds (3 rounds).
- A good time for a 5K (about 3 miles) is around 20 minutes (hrm... 2-3 "turns").
- And a runner in a marathon finishes in... hrm... around 3 hours!

So, with significant effort, one can cover distances at an order of magnitude faster, combined with a x3 modifier.

Obviously circumstances might slow you down, too. One is reminded of the 1E rule for distances covered, where 1" was 10 feet inside but 10 yards outside (the rule of three strikes again!). So perhaps in a particularly difficult dungeon, one might only cover 1 furlong every 3 turns instead of 1 furlong every 1 turn. Likewise, if picking through a bog or swamp, one might cover a league every 3 hours instead of a league every hour.

This has some other implications for bending scales. Say we let a fighter dash a furlong in 3 rounds with some sort of successful check. Why couldn't a magic-user then cast a ritual which normally takes a whole turn in 3 rounds with a successful check then as well?


Here's a magic system thought. First, we've got our various scales:

Most tactical combat occurs at the PACE/ROUND scale. Perhaps most useful magical effects should reside at the FURLONG/TURN scale or higher. Basically many spells want to knock an individual out of the fight anyways (either by status effect or straight damage), or they seek to effect the target a furlong away (magic missile anyone?), or they effect larger than a few paces (fireball). Thus they are tasks that rightly belong at the "turn" cast time level.

To cast something useful in combat requires the accelerated check as described above, with perhaps 2-3 successes required. Mitigating this could be a small repertoire of "Signature Spells" or "Power Words" that the character knows that may be cast rapidly, as rapidly as one swings a sword or shoots an arrow; but using a signature spell might cost some sort of consumable resource.

Skill Lists

Here are some lists of skills that I've found that nicely fall into groups of sevens:

Geometry (Geography)
Astronomy (Calendar)

Vestiaria (tailoring, weaving)
Agricultura (agriculture)
Architectura (architecture, masonry)
Militia and venatoria (warfare and hunting, "martial arts")
Mercatura (trade, commerce)
Coquinaria (cooking)
Metallaria (blacksmithing, metallurgy)
The above list is per Johannes Scotus Eriugena.

Another list replaces Commerce with Navigation, Agriculture with Medicine, and Cooking with Theatrical Arts (Hugh of St Victor). Yet another list replaces Architectura with "Armaments," which broadly includes working with stones, woods, metals, sands, and clays. "The later medieval tradition arrayed the mechanical arts in a range from technological to economic subjects: shoemaking, armaments, commerce, tailoring, metalwork, and alchemy, and occasionally agriculture, navigation, and music, among others."

A bit more:
Hugh's classification strikes a modern eye in that the mechanical arts appear at the top level. Suddenly, after having no place in philosophy whatsoever, they become one of four primary divisions. As I mentioned, John the Scot claims that there are seven mechanical arts, to balance the seven liberal arts, and Hugh chooses them to parallel the trivium and quadrivium:. personifying nature, he says, “three pertain to external cover for nature, by which she protects herself from harm” (fabric-making, armament, and commerce) and “four to internal, by which she feeds and nourishes herself” (agriculture, hunting, medicine, and theatrics).[18] Hugh explains that the trivium is external and the quadrivium is internal in nature, and he thereby partially justifies his inclusion of the mechanical arts in what had previously been closed to them. In order to fulfill his claim that “These four [divisions] contain all knowledge,”[19] his classifications encompass more than is immediately suggested by their titles. For example, through some circuitous reasoning, Hugh classifies “all such materials as stones, woods, metals, sands, and clays” under “armament.”[20] He thereby includes here all technologies such as carpentry, masonry, cooperage, joinery, and metal casting.

We may find a similar list of seven mechanical arts
according to the utility of their ends in the writings of Radulphus de Campo Longo, called
the Fiery (Ardens). Radulphus mentions the following: ars victuaria—the art of feeding
people; ars lanificaria—the art of dressing people; ars architectura—the art of providing
shelter; ars suffragatoria—the art of means of transport; ars medicinaria—the art of healing;
ars negotiatoria—the skill of trading goods; ars militaria—the art of defence against an


Alchemy (often considered a mechanical art)
Arcana (added for "game balance"

Artes Magicae (the forbidden arts)
Nigromancy (demonology, necromancy, "high magic" as from a grimoire)
Geomancy (earth)
Hydromancy (water)
Aeromancy (air)
Pyromancy (fire)
Chiromancy (Divination from palms)
Scapulimancy (Divination from animal bones)

Whether they could form the foundation for a skill system is debatable, but it does have some pseudo-historical flavor!