Tuesday, March 31, 2009

ODnD Hack: Combat Styles

As has been mentioned, SEPTIMUS is my long range very nebulous homebrew system. Of more concrete interest however is creating an OD&D hack of my own. So, from time to time I will present sub-systems that can be plugged into pretty much any version of OD&D or its retro-grognardian clones. Here is one for combat styles.

Always-On Benefits: This is a benefit that you derive all the time.
Encounter Benefits: You may use one benefit per encounter. After resting for a turn, you can use this benefit again. Additionally, if they are being used, you may spend a FATE point to use a benefit again this encounter. At the DM's discretion, fighting men may gain an additional "per encounter" usage of a fighting style at level 4 ("HERO") and/or 8 ("SUPER HERO").

These are intended to be used with a relatively simple weapons system like that presented in the LBB.

ONE HANDED WEAPON ALONE - Usable by anyone
Wielding a one-handed weapon alone is the preferred style of the duelist. Most prefer to opt for something that puts that second hand to work, but there are times when the flexibility of using just a trusty long sword or mace is helpful. It also helps one to exploit an opening given by an opponent.
Always On: Your off-hand is available for other items such as a lantern, potion, climbing, or treasure.
Encounter: If you miss with an Opportunity Attack or attack against a fleeing combatant, you may immediately reroll the attack and deal maximum damage if you hit.

TWO HANDED WEAPON - Usable by anyone, weapons selection permitting (mages likely limited to staves)
Polearms and other large weapons are popular for a reason -- they work.
Always On: Gain either Reach or +2 damage (or use a D10 for damage dice instead of D6). Reach allows first strike vs. foes without Reach (regardless of the initiative roll) and may allow the weapon to be used from the second rank.
Encounter: Instead of rolling damage, consider the damage from this blow to be maximized.

ONE HANDED WEAPON + SHIELD - Usable by fighting men and clerics
The sword and shield is a classic staple of both reality and the literature, and any warrior is safe to select a shield.
Always On: Gain +15% bonus to your AC and to saving throws when parrying. If using a large shield, share this benefit with an adjacenet ally.
Encounter: Reduce the damage done to you by an attack to zero.

DUAL WIELDING - Usable by fighting men
Multiple blades flashing is the hallmark of many dexterous fighters who favor an accurate offense over defense.
Always On: If you hit, roll damage twice and take the best roll.
Encounter: If you miss with an attack, you may immediately reroll the attack.

Special Cases:
Archery counts as DUAL WIELDING because it can use "volley fire."
Crossbows count as TWO HANDED WEAPONS because they deal grievous wounds when they actually hit.
Slings count as ONE HANDED WEAPONS, except the reroll may be used against a LARGE target because even Goliath can be humbled by a simple sling.
Hurled weapons vary: Darts are like dual-wielding due to their high rate of fire. Javelins can easily be used with a shield. Pilums (two handed javelins) are like two handed weapons.


Originally, shields give effectively a -5% chance to be hit. Over the course of a 10 round fight, that's about one fewer hits every fight (assuming a fighting man type is taking two attacks per round). So, allowing a shield user to just outright negate one hit per encounter is legit. It also makes the parry manuever viable and lets them shield a friend, potentially.

Dual wielding basically grants +1 damage all the time, makes your damage more reliable, and decreases the chance to miss significantly one time per encounter. This balances nicely against two handed weapons, which also boost offense but in a "swingier" manner; the average damage is higher (+2 vs. +1) but it is less reliable. Two handed weapons are more likely to kill someone outright, but dual wielding is more reliable. A reach weapon does less damage than either but has signifiant advantages of first strike, which might kill a foe outright before they even get a chance to attack you, as well as the potential to be used from the second rank.

One handed weapons are available to anyone, which is a plus. You also get some versatility. The Encounter power is slightly more potent than the dual wielding one, but more situational as well. It nicely reflects the danger of letting down your guard around a duelist, and it makes the opportunity attacks of wizards actually matter (at least once per fight).


Here's an interesting experiment:

The Evolution of the Fighter - Summary

The last post: http://www.hackslash.net/?p=220
The first post: http://www.hackslash.net/?p=212

Now if only it weren't so hard to navigate to the other installments! I did a quick search for "Fighter" and they all popped up just fine, though.

Although, I do disagree on his 4E methodology. There's good criticisms in the comments that don't need to be repeated.

More on Power Sources, Primes, and Ability Scores

Back in "Possible Combinations" I alluded to a few ways that just about every common fantasy archetype could be represented using combinations of "Power Sources," "Prime Abilities," and "Ability Scores:" http://vedronspotionshop.blogspot.com/2009/03/possible-combinations.html

This is an extension of that post, some more thinking out loud to see how it all works out. I want to see what each of the archetypal roles "should" look like to determine which factor controls which aspects of the character's abilities.

THE PRIMES - Primes represent training that your character has undergone. It is "nurture."

BODY PRIME: Fighters (maybe Barbarians), Swordmages, and Paladins.
Weapons: Wide variety, especially melee
Armor: Fighters & Paladins traditionally wear heavy armor, although Swordmages would be fine archetypally in chain, as would barbarians.
HP: The most durable HP-wise.
Body-Related Checks: Get +15% to Body-related checks
Movement: Move an extra space
Endurance: Get +15% to throw off harmful conditions

AGILITY PRIME: Swashbucklers, Wizards, and Monks.
Weapons: They use a pretty restrictive set of weapons. Swashbucklers traditionally are limited to light blades, basic weapons like clubs, and maybe a few basic ranged weapons. Wizards just use their staves, darts, daggers, and the like. Monks prefer their open hands, and I can see them using staves and some missile weapons (I've never really cared for the AD&D conception of Monks using polearms).
Armor: All of these guys tend to wear light or no armor. They tend to be highly mobile.
HP: They tend to not be terribly durable.
Agility-Related Checks: Get +15% to Agility-related checks
Beguiling: Gain an extra minor action each round
Initiative: Get +15% to initiative checks

HEART PRIME: Skalds (4E Warlords), Bards (or maybe sorcerers), and Clerics.
Weapons: As far as weapons go, they use a smaller variety of weapons than the Body prime types but more than the Agility types.
Armor: These guys are all over the map as far as armor goes -- some are in plate, others are in light leathers.
HP: They tend to be somewhat durable.
Heart-Related Checks: Gain +15% to Heart checks.
Inspiring and Impetous: Gain an extra large bonus when spending FATE points
Leadership and Senses: Gan +15% to Leadership and Perception checks

THE POWER SOURCES - The Power Sources represent how your character usually exerts his or her will on the world. It defines the "verbs" that you have mastery over.

MARTIAL POWER SOURCE: Fighters, Swashbucklers, Skalds. These guys dominate melee. They thrive on getting physical with the opponent. They should have lots of "verbs" that let them perform exploits in hand to hand combat and with weapons. They tend to be decent at leadership or in a bad situation.
Martial Verbs: Advanced (3)
Magic Verbs: Basic (1)
Morale Verbs: Simple (2)

ARCANE POWER SOURCE: Swordmages, Wizards, and Bards/Sorcerers. These types are magical. Some are elementalists (Fire, Cold, Thunder, Lighting, etc). Some are conjurers. Some are enchanters. They all tend to be cruddy leaders, and not so useful when the plan goes awry. They need verbs that relate to Power Words.
Martial Verbs: Basic (1)
Magic Verbs: Advanced (3)
Morale Verbs: Simple (2)

DIVINE POWER SOURCE: Paladins, Monks, Clerics. All of these characters should be good to have around when the plan goes awry. I see them as having mastery over Fate. This also has a nice advantage of cleanly differentiating Wizards and Clerics; Arcanists are very Magical, Priests control Fate. They need verbs that let them control probabilities and/or "fate" points, and they also have a splash of magic and melee to boot.
Martial Verbs: Simple (2)
Magic Verbs: Simple (2)
Morale Verbs: Advanced (3)

ABILITY SCORES - Ability Scores are the Nature side of your character, what you are born with. They effect largely derived statistics or the "nouns" you control in your action-sentences.

High Body: I have envisioned Body as controlling HP and carrying capacity. Carrying capacity basically determines two things: Ability to wear heavy armor and ability to carry a wide variety of physical weapons (Melee Nouns).
BEST CASE: A Body-Prime Martial character (Fighter) has the most use for a high body score. They are great with weapons so this lets them wear heavy armor and still carry 3-4 weapons with them. They are often in hand to hand combat so the extra HP are handy.
WORST CASE: An Agility-Prime Arcane character (Wizard) has the least use for a high body score. They can't use many weapons so being able to carry a lot isn't helpful. And they shouldn't be good at using armor. HP are still useful for anyone though.

High Agility: Agility should control the number of Power Words or True Names (Magical/Knowing Nouns) you can learn. It could also perhaps effect skills or languages known.
BEST CASE: An Agility-Prime Arcane character (Wizard) can get the most use out of a high Agility score. They have the verbs to make use of a wide variety of Power Words.
WORST CASE: A Body-Prime Martial type (Fighter) sucks at using magic, so knowing a bunch of power words isn't too helpful. But if you use those Power Words as a sort of basic skill system too then it might be ok.

High Heart: High Heart should affect your retainers (Leadership Nouns). It also could effect "luck" or Fate reserves somehow.
BEST CASE: A Heart Prime-Divine Type (Cleric) likely benefits the most from having high Heart. They have strong Morale verbs that let them make excellent use of followers or a "Fate" mechanic.
WORST CASE: An Agility-Prime Arcane Type (Wizard) likely benefits the least. Although, having reserves of "Fate" and bodyguards is handy for anyone.


One potential problem is that I've made having a high Body ability score important for wearing heavy armor. This is bad in that you could in theory have an agility-based wizard/swashbuckler/monk type with a high body score running around in plate mail, even though that is not archetypal.
FIX: Part of the Agility Prime should be either a ban on Heavy Armor, or a bonus to wearing light armor that makes it better than wearing Heavy Armor.

Arcane Power Sources could deal with being an armor step lighter than their fellows.
FIX: Part of the Arcane Power Source perhaps conflicts with wearing heavier armors.

Should Racial Benefits control your Prime or your Ability Score? Basically, should all Elves be Wizards, Swashbucklers and Monks (Agility Prime)? Or should all Elves know extra power words (Bonus to Agility Score)?


Let's see if we can brew up a classic archetype.

Here's a pointy-hat wizard. The Arcane Power source is obvious: We want control over a wide variety of verbs that relate to magic, because that is the primary way in which we'll interact with the world. Prime is pretty simple too. We want Agility. The extra minor action will let us sustain more spells, we want to get the jump on our enemies, and +15% on ranged attacks (Agility checks) will be nice so we can sling spells from afar. For placing ability scores, high agility is essential because we want to know as many Power Words as possible to fuel spells. The second score can go in Body for more HP and weapons if we think we'll be getting physical from time to time or Heart if we think we might want some bodyguards or protection from Fate.

Vancian Magic: You're Dead To Me

Vancian Magic was the first magic system I ever used. But of late I've decided to scrap it, at least philosophically. That isn't to say that I haven't enjoyed games with spell slots (I have) or that they never work for a game (indeed, sometimes they do). It isn't to say that I've got something infinitely better.

But, here's my reasoning.

1) The Choice to Suck

As has been mentioned before, presenting players with choices that are just bad is not interesting. All it does is open the door to one player sucking it up a lot more than his peers, which is frustrating in a team-based game.

Check out the polling in these DF threads:

As you can see, some old standbys like Protection from Evil accumulate 53 votes out of about 53 voters. That means that 100% of respondents think Pro Evil is a good choice. Precipitation nets zero votes. That's right, a big goose egg. So, if its so woefully unuseful, why even give players the choice to select it? Magic-User spells are even more problematic, because a cleric can fix their mistake the next day, but a mage that picks unwisely is stuck.

There are two sub-problems here:
- Spells that are inferior to others of their level. This is the more minor issue. This just gives players a chance to suck. That's bad, but at least all the other spells remain viable options.
- Spells that are strictly better than others (Sleep, anyone?). There is now never a reason to memorize anything else. The one overpowered spell has basically made everything else a contender for first loser. Its even worse if said uber-spell is also a multifunction spell that can solve multiple problems (see below).

FIXES: Fixing "overpowered" spells is relatively easy. AD&D 3.5 did this with some notable selections like sleep. Applying the nerf bat -- even if you apply it too hard -- is good. You may create more inferior spells, but having an inferior spell is better than having an uberspell. Also, the DM often can help a sucky player pick more wisely, whether its by the deity just refusing to grant useless spells or by placing some very handy spell scrolls in good locations.

2) Multifunction Spells Are King

When given the choice between Zephyr (which is 100% effective at preventing cloudkill TPKs) and Invisibility (can be used to gather information, for defense, or even for offense), everyone will pick Invisibility. Likewise, consider Wall of Ice (which can be used as a defensive spell like a wall, an offensive spell to do direct damage, or a utility spell for problem solving) vs. Plant Growth. Sure, Plant Growth might be really useful sometime, but Ice Spell will at least be somewhat useful just about every day.

Barring exact intelligence on the threat (you know they have cloudkill), almost every player will choose the general-purpose spell that they can use every day. That means that some potentially cool spells get left by the wayside just because it is unlikely that they'll ever be used.

FIX: 4E's attempt to "silo" utility and attack magic is a good theoretical approach. GM-style, if you give players intelligence about what's coming up, they'll feel more willing to pick those oddball spells that are good in specific situations. If you keep them in the dark, the'll be compelled to go with the multifunction stand by.

3) It busts the rule of 7+/- 2 AND the rule of 3.

At the mid levels, the system works fine. Indeed, for me, the "golden levels" of 1E AD&D are around 4-7. There are about 3-4 spell levels to choose from and only about 8 spell slots to fill.

If you've ever played a high level caster though (name level or above), you know how much ass pain it is to fill out the spell roster. Literally hours can be spent coordinating a party's spell lists. As my playing time gets more limited, dealing with this sort of logistical nonsense has gotten tiring. Even in OD&D, there's more than 7 choices at each level. In combat, a high level caster has way more than 7 possible choices for what to cast. A higher level caster has more than 3 spells by far, making magic fell less special -- if you can spam Conjure Elemental 4 times then how special can it be?

Additionally, at lower levels, there are too few choices. Having only 1 or 2 spells lacks even the rule of 3 ("Start, Middle, End") feeling.

FIX: This is harder. I think 4E's At Will/Encounter/Daily silos make some sense. Interestingly, at upper heroic tier, you get 3 powers you can spam every encounter, and 3 powers you can use each day. The problem is that once you add on racial powers, utility powers, paragon path powers, magic item powers, etc, every round someone is doing something special. But philosophically its not bad. Reserve Feats from 3.5 fixed this somewhat as well, especially at lower levels.

4) It is too mechanical

Memorize a spell, get the exact same result every time. Not very magical, is it? That just turns magic into technology. It also stifles creativity.

FIX: Trollsmyth's OD&D Magic Hack is good. Some skill-based magic systems try to address this problem by making it possible for spells to fail, but that just introduces a binary variable to the system -- not as useful. 3.5's Reserve Feats encouraged themed casters, which is kind of cool and flavorful at least.

5) Clerics use the same subsystem

Because clerics use the same Vancian spell slot system as Magic Users, they do not feel clearly differentiated from their Arcane bretheren. Sure, the source of their power is technically different (they need to toe the moral line rather than lug around a tome) but 95% of the time it works out the same.

FIX: I haven't seen anything that really addresses this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Dark Side

Mentor: Yes, run! Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.
Hero: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?
Mentor: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Hero: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Mentor: You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

Games, as one famous designer has noted, are a series of interesting choices. One problem with the traditional D&D alignment system is that its a straightjacket, not a choice.

I think this comes from the game's origins as a war game. The players would set up their minis, one side playing the forces of Law and the other the Antithesis of Weal, aka Chaos. Maybe a few neutral critters thrown in for fun. Its like one side using the white checkers and the other the black, or one team being Axis and the other Allies.

This concept was expanded to AD&D, where you really had a spectrum from LG to CE, with CG and LE really being sort of fringe alignments in the middle. In 4E, there's a return to a more linear spectrum.

But alignment doesn't really entail any interesting choices. It might be a code of behavior and a way to enforce a degree of order among some players ("You're Neutral Good! Raping, murdering, and desecrating the corpse of that orc will lose you a level whether the paladin is watching or not!"), but other than that it doesn't do much. AD&D encourages law to some degree -- your hirelings get morale bonuses -- but that only applies to the subset of players who care about employees and the even smaller subset of DMs who impose morale rules BTB.

If I were to tweak the simple alignment system in OD&D or 4E (the spectrum from Law/Good to Chaos/Evil), I'd add a mechanic that gives short term benefits for evil/chaotic acts versus long term benefits for lawful/good acts. I would also hide the numbers from the player so that they don't know how good or evil they are at the moment. Otherwise its easy to game the system. For example, evil acts might regain you HP, give bonuses to hit and damage, or make you more likely to succeed at a check. They'd have very strong benefits for good characters (to increase the temptation), lesser benefits for neutral characters, and small benefits for evil characters. All of these are valuable resources in a pinch, making characters more likely to compromise morals for a short term benefit when they've been pushed to the limit of endurance.

For example, take "fighting dirty." A good character that fights dirty might get 2d6 retain the highest bonus damage added to a roll but take a hit on their alignment. A neutral character that fights dirty gets 1d6 bonus damage added to the roll. An evil character gets nothing, or perhaps 2d6 retain the lowest at most. They need to move on to even more depraved acts at that point, or recover some morality.

You could also award an "action point" or something like that for Evil Acts, with Good characters perhaps getting two (to make the temptation strong).

A good character would see some sort of minor long term benefit. A bonus to saving throws and/or bonus to reaction checks with good and neutral characters would fit easily. You could even throw in minor Paladin-like bennies for very good characters (benefits of a pro evil spell, etc).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

My readership trends

As some of you more detail-oriented readers might have noticed, on the right hand side tucked in there is a google adsense advertisement (I know only two of you have had the gall to actually click on it).

Of course, dear reader, this is where you think, "Ah-hah! I knew that Chris was a greedy bastard that is just using my readership of his blog to fund his coca-cola habit!" And that is, of course, partially true (I'll let you pick whichever part you prefer). And indeed I've made a whopping, enormous sum of money, one which might actually be enough to purchase a few chiclets and perhaps a used D6.

The more insidious plot behind my addition of google adsense was to get access to the site diagnostics it provides. Google tracks when people look at my site and whatnot. Interestingly, my readership is pretty steady all week. Then, all of a sudden, on Sundays it spikes to about 3 to 5 times the normal daily rate. On Monday things quiet down to about double the normal daily rate then its back to business as usual by Tuesday.

My posting seems to be pretty even throughout the week. Honestly, with all the travel I've been doing lately, I've been trapped in a Groundhog-day style loop where every day seems pretty much the same anyways. So I don't think its that I post on Saturday so all of a sudden folks have something new to read (although its possible that the material I post on Fri/Sat is actually worth reading).

Mondays are pretty easy to explain. I think a lot of folks likely check their blogroll at work, so after they finish clearing out the weekend's email they hit up ESPN.com, CNN.com, and blogger. Sunday is a bit harder. Perhaps sitting down and reading your blog roll is the new Sunday Paper?

In any event, I shall continue to keep a curious eye cast towards the readership statistics from time to time.

ADDENDUM - Google Analytics

Per one of my reader's suggestions, I tried out Google Analytics. Pretty cool stuff, and AdSense ensures its free for me! Well worth a gander if you're curious about your traffic.

DOUBLE ADDENDUM - Reward a Blogger

So I just checked my AdSense and it seems that each click on an ad is about enough to buy a soda or a candy bar. I never used to click on ads before, but I will start clicking vaguely interesting ads on blogs I like to read. I figure that it takes no more than 30 seconds of my life to click an ad and its a nice little reward for the author. Its no different than in real life saying, "Hey, good job on that project. I enjoyed reading it. Let me get you something from the snack bar." Plus you might actually see something that interests you (the ads on the food blogs I read are quite tantalizing). If you're a blogger, try out adsense. I don't think its too obnoxious for readers and its a great way to monitor traffic. And, having adsense lets me reward you for your good posts!

Blogroll Additions

I wanted to note a few additions to my blogroll as well as a notable post or two on the existing ones.


Trollsmyth is a creative old-school DM and player with a lot of good ideas. I like his magic hack for OD&&D/LL a lot (LINK: http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2008/06/playing-with-magic.html), and he's got a lot of other hacks/sub systems that are pretty cool and seem quite playable. All in all, a quality read. He also has quite a few playtest reports/gaming war stories. The worst bad thing here is that he doesn't seem to use labels for his posts. That can make it quite hard to find just what it is you're looking for.


Wow, this is epic. A highly prolific blog with a ton of links to other good gaming resources. I don't agree with everything he says, and the author can be a bit doctrinaire for my tastes, but what a great collection of old-school reviews, thoughts, and discussion. Definitely worth a visit.


The author had very kind words about my blog a few posts back and I am just now getting around to adding him to my blogroll. A wide variety of musings on various topics, with some usable if conventional resources (monsters, treasure, tables, etc). Plus the name is just cool to say. I imagine Hagar the Horrible gutturally spitting it out while jumping out of a longboat or something.


A newer-school bent on gaming in many ways, but one with a lot of tinkering. The posts are nicely labeled which makes it easier to sort through and find what you are looking for. The theory is often abstract but quite interesting to read. Plus, this is another great title (note the sub-title: Doesn’t matter what system or setting: the dude in the pointy hat is going down. ).


Delta just published his own hack for OD&D. I don't agree with everything in there but he deserves great credit for actually put his thoughts together in a coherent and playable manner on paper. As always it is a pleasure to read his blog.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Propp's Folk Tales


Here's some interesting reading with another story telling model.

And here's a few lists of characters:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Archetypes & Heroes

One of my problems with D&D is that everyone is special, so nobody is special.

By that, I mean that everyone is thought of as a hero. PCs are special and unique and different from average joes. All of the players are encouraged to be "heroic." However, this flies in the face of most storytelling. Obi Wan is not the hero of Star Wars; Luke Skywalker. Mary Magdelene or Paul or Judas are not the heroes of the New Testament; Jesus Christ is the one who conquers death with a boon for all humanity.

In one of the best campaigns I played in, a central character became the heroine. The other PCs were important but they assumed supporting roles: the protector, the trickster/instigator, the advisor, etc.

I think that the players should be encouraged to play one of several roles. 4E introduces the idea of tactical combat roles (Striker, Defender, Leader, Controller) but does not define a character's story role. I think its important to separate this idea of character archetype from mechanical class, as well. You could have three "fighter" types but one may be a hero, another may be a wise mentor, and the third a sidekick. Likewise, a Thief/Rogue might actually be the hero (not the Trickster), a magic-user could be a Goddess (abjurations, protective magic, etc) not a Mentor, etc. Based on Campbell's "Thousand Faces," these are the archetypes I've pulled out that seem most appropriate for player characters:

The Hero: The one who walks a hero's path is the focus of the story. However, their path is difficult and dark. They will face death and destruction, but rebirth is an essential part of being a hero. Worst than death itself is the chance for failure, or perhaps even the fear of confronting one's own nature. If multiple players want to be heroes, then they become Allies or Companions. More on this later.

One might think that all the players want to be heroes, but I think that is not necessarily true (especially if the system does not mechanically reward such a choice). Many players will be content to play a different role, especially if that role is valued, can contribute, and is rewarded.

The Mentor: A wise, usually older person encourages the hero to go adventure. This is Obi Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, or Merlin. The mentor provides advice, information, special tools, or even wields magic to protect and aid the Hero. The mentor may actually be more powerful in strict terms than the hero, but they cannot use all of their power for some reason. The mentor should be rewarded for encouraging the Hero to transcend his/her limits or fears.

The Goddess: The Goddess is a figure representing solace, healing, duality or completion. In typical D&D terms it'd be your cleric. If the heroine is female then usually the "Goddess" is a male. I think a different term for this archetype would be good. The Goddess should be rewarded for healing or revitalizing the Hero.

The Trickster/Rogue: The Trickster is an erratic character that brings change, unexpected developments, or sometimes just comic relief. This is Merry and Pippin, C3P0 and R2D2, and other such characters. The Trickster should be rewarded for providing humor or for developing the story in new and unexpected ways, even if they seem to be rash at the moment or bring short term difficulties.

Sidekicks: Allies and lesser characters that help the Hero. This is Samwise Gamgee, Riker (Star Trek), or some of the disciples (the Bible). These might be NPCs but could also be PC roles if properly rewarded. The Sidekick should be rewarded for aiding and assisting the Hero. They may be essential to the hero's survival or success. They accompany the hero for the quest but know that their final destiny may be different from the Hero... Or is it? A sidekick may end up becoming a Hero, as Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit does. A Sidekick might also veer into the comic relief role. A sidekick role is ideal for players who want a lot of spotlight time, but for whom the idea of flirting with death, making deep sacrifices, or making difficult emotional choices for their character may to too hard.

Companions: Allies who are co-heroes, on an equal footing with the Hero. For example, if Star Wars were an RPG, Han Solo's player might envision his character as a Hero just like Luke's player seems himself as a Hero, especially earlier in the chronicle. A Companion becomes a Sidekick if they are unwilling to make the sacrifices required of a Hero. For example, Han Solo becomes key to a main sideplot, he wins a treasure (the Princess, fame, and money), but he is not willing to face the depths of moral challenge and self-discovery that Luke is. This ultimately moves him to Sidekick status.

Aragorn from the LOTR is arguably a companion in a major side plot (assuming Bilbo's story is really the emotional meat and potatoes of the main plot). While Aragorn's struggle doesn't have the same metaphysical weight as Bilbo's journey, he still undergoes a transformation ("Put aside the ranger..."). This is what makes him a companion (co-hero) and not a sidekick.


Here is a post from K&K Alehouse:

Posted by foster1941 on Apr 6, 2005, 12:35pm

I've been re-reading Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces (always a dangerous way to start a post ) and thinking about classic fantasy and mythological archetypes and came to a stumbling block regarding my 'non-thief' stance -- that the rascal/trickster/changeling/coyote is very much one of the key archetypes, right alongside the hero/warrior (fighter), wiseman/mentor (cleric) and mystic/shaman (magic-user).

But, although they are typically played as such (thus the gradual transformation from specific 'thief' to more general 'rogue'), is this archetype really well repsresented that well by the thief class? Does a detailed chart giving percentages for opening locks and disarming traps really fit with the trickster archetype -- if anything it actually seems more akin to a laborer/craftsman, a completely different archetype (see below).

Giving this a little more thought, I was suddenly struck by something -- that the trickster archetype IS present in D&D, but is personified not by the thief class, but by the elf. Think about it -- elves break the standard rules (by operating as more than one class simultaneously -- wearing armor and casting spells), they are sneaky (silent and invisible per Chainmail), they have heightened perception (bonus to hear noise and spot secret doors), they're adept at ambushes and missile combat and 'unfair' fighting techniques (ability to split-move-and-fire), plus their typical personality is flighty, capricious, and irresponsible, unpredicatable and not necessarily trustworthy (even the alignment chart has them falling between law and neutral). These are all characteristics of the trickster archetype, and fit the elf at least as well as (better IMO) the thief class. This caused me to think about the other demi-human races and realize that they also fill archetypal roles. Thus we have:

hero/warrior/protagonist -- fighter
mentor/wiseman/'supernatural aid' -- cleric
shaman/mystic/wizard -- magic-user
rascal/trickster/changeling -- elf
laborer/craftsman/'wise uncle' -- dwarf*
child/innocent/maiden -- hobbit

*dwarfs are sturdy and reliable but also a bit dull, able warriors but not quite as able as the actual warrior archetype, plus they have a degree of wisdom expressed through practical/worldly knowledge -- ability to spot and disarm traps, etc. -- that marks them as representatives of the mundane in the realm of the fantastic (i.e. adults in a world of children) and makes them perfect as both loyal sidekicks of the hero and protectors of the child/innocent (think of the most famous dwarfs from literature -- those in The Hobbit and in Disney's Snow White -- who fill this role exactly)

So now I'm fully satisfied that not only is the thief class not needed game-mechanically (as discussed above), it's not needed symbolically either


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blast from the Past: OD&D Fighting Men & Swords

I just reread my little three books and found a few interesting tidbits about fighting men. Their advantages were thus:

- Best HD
- Good XP progression
- Unlimited level advancement
- Second best land development (clerics were best) at high levels
- Ability to use swords.

Originally, all weapons did the same damage. The advantage of swords was that they were the best magical weapon by far. In OD&D, magic blades were ALWAYS unique. Straight +1 or +2 weapons were rare. It was more common to find a +1 vs all, +2 vs. something specific. Additionally, every magic sword had some degree of intelligence (and alignment). This had two effects. First, it made INT important for the fighter. Because the PC's "ego" score was based on STR & INT, if you wanted to be able to use a powerful sword, you needed to have decent intellect. Second, it made it unlikely that a player would accumulate a "stable" of magic weapons. Intelligent weapons tend to dislike rivals so lesser blades would be discarded in favor of a single stronger weapon.

Magic swords also always came with some sort of supernatural power (almost like a magic spell in a can). Magic blades allowed a fighter to keep up with a magic-user at higher levels. Because his blade could detect secret doors, the fighter could put the demihumans in their place. If it had some more potent magical power (as might be common at higher levels), he could stay current with the magic-user, even in exploration-based or problem-solving adventures.

I think its telling that pole arms generated a stable of special abilities in later versions of the game. In order to be a decent choice compared to uber-swords, the polearm needed to have some sort of advantage (double damage vs. charges, for example).

OT: News & Blogging

This is a brief off-topic rant...

I am somewhat of a news junkie. My job requires me to stay abreast of current events and I enjoy being informed. So, I tend to read newspapers and visit websites associated with major news outlets. I follow a few narrowly focused blogs as well, but I do not consider them a substitute for journalism.

I recently saw something that bothered me a lot on the website for a major cable news organization. I noticed that almost all the articles were very short, perhaps less than 500 words. Single events were broken up into multiple short posts. For example, a major political figure gave a statement that generated a half dozen separate mini-articles, each one taking one "sound byte" out of context.

This must drive more visits to the site. The articles probably show up more frequently on search engines and you can link from mini-page to mini-page. However, it is an absolute abdication of journalism. This "choose your own adventure" style of "reporting" is a travesty. Sure, it allows the reader to narrowly focus on just what they want to see, but there is no context.

Journalism is to current events as history is to past events. The job of a journalist is not only to report the facts but also to put them into proper context and to perhaps even at its highest form to tell a story or advocate a cause. To claim that journalism is unbiased is a joke; like history or any other form of human communication, there is usually a purpose beyond strictly informing. That's why papers have editorial boards and why different papers have different (known) biases. When Ceaser wrote his commentaries on the war in Gaul, he was basically conveying news of current events. They were dispatches from the front. But, they also served an advocative purpose -- he had axes to grind! To think that "just the facts, ma'am" is the order of the day for news reporting is to be short sighted and unrealistic.

With the current "sound byte-ization" of the written word, even limited context and advocacy is lost. The reader just pulls the few bits and pieces of the picture they choose to link to without any broader understanding of the issues. The material lacks any sort of argument that actively engages the reader's critical thinking skills. While some might think that journalists that write with an advocacy purpose are "spinning" the news, I actually think they do less harm than those who selectively report events. At least with the former case, the writer is making some sort of argument and the reader is critically evaluating the thought. With the latter, the reader just accepts facts that likely already conform to their given world view and never need deal with a troublesome thought, opinion, or event. After all, if I google search for something, I likely am already aware of it and agree with it, and with the mini-articles I am likely to find in the MSM these days, I won't get any contextual information that I might disagree with, broaden my perspective, or enhance my true knowledge of the subject.

Related to this abdication of journalistic responsibility is the rise of "I-Reporting" (as CNN calls it) or what is basically amateur hour. The internet allows a great democratization of information. Anyone can post anything. This is good, especially for opposessed minorities or voices that have been stifled or for minor stories that maybe would have never gotten coverage in the past. However, by legitimizing these amateur stories with the label of a major news organization, editorial boards give up their chance and responsibility to review their material for content, accuracy, and journalistic integrity. Who knows how the I-Reporter clowns got their footage -- was it staged a la Borat or actually true? Is it opinion or fact? What is the bias of the reporter? Who knows! At least when I pick up a New York Times or Wall Street Journal I know what the bias will be and can read critically to evaluate the information and the argument.

We would not accept a layperson performing surgery on a loved one or an average "Joe the Plumber" teaching algebra to our children. Why do we as a society encourage our peers -- who are not journalists -- to share information that should inform our worldviews? And why have we destroyed our free press -- look at the rapid death of traditional newspapers and even the corruption of online and TV media outlets -- and failed to hold journalists accountable for a responsible and contextual understanding of current events? The free press -- a press free to express reasoned ideas backed by fact -- is a cornerstone of a free society and we do ourselves a great disservice by allowing it to languish on the vine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

AD&D: Goblins? What goblins?

I just crunched a few quick numbers out of my DMG. Assume if you will a fairly standard level 6 AD&D fighter. He is in Plate +1 (AC 2), wielding a shield +1 (down to AC 0), and somehow gets another two steps of AC (Pro Evil spell, rings of protection, more potent enchantments on armor/shield, high dex, etc) for a final AC of -2. He has about 45 HP -- strictly average for a 16 CON fighter.

A 1 HD critter doing 1d6 damage will basically never kill him. It will take over 200 attacks to off our fighter. A 2 HD critter doing 1d6 damage does better, requiring about 80 attacks. A 4 HD critter doing 1d10 damage (like an ogre) needs about half that many.

Those monsters are basically only a threat to magic-users, thieves, and offensively focused fighters (no shield, for example). Even in large numbers they won't be able to seriously threaten our fighter.

More on D6 dice pools...

So, I've been toying with just using 1d6 and manipulating the TN. That is, if you're "trained," the odds of success are 4/6 (66%), if you're "untrained," the odds are 2/6 (33%). You can move in intervals of 16%, and can generally give up to +/- 1 or 2 in modifiers.

How do the odds work out if you just start with a fixed TN of 5 and then add dice to a pool, taking just the best result? A "success" requires at least one die showing a 5 or higher.

TN 5
1d6: 33%
2d6: 55.56%
3d6: 70%
4d6: 80%
5d6: ~86%
6d6: ~91%

TN 6
1d6: 17%
2d6: 31%

This does not let you modify the odds of success down much below 33% -- although you could make a rule that says that if you're down to 1 die in your pool, additional penalties jack the TN up to 6 and then its impossible.

The first +1 modifier (adding a die to the pool) gives a +22% boost. More than a +1 on the linear D6 roll (+16%), but not by much. The second +1 modifier (getting to the third die) adds a +15% boost. Again, close to our other odds. You then start to get diminishing returns. This is nice because it allows you to add many more positive modifiers. You can give more than +2 out as a bonus without having to worry about auto-success.

Another advantage is that you can use this for degree of success pretty easily. For example, a character using the Athletics skill can leap a number of squares equal to their dice pool roll. Or, you can count successes to see if they can run a race faster than someone else.

Dice Pool Odds stolen from here: http://www.darkshire.net/~jhkim/rpg/systemdesign/dice-silhouette.html

My Blogroll

I've noticed that a lot of sites have extensive blogrolls. Unfortunately, they do not include a literature review. So the casual surfer has no idea why he should visit Blog A over Blog B. Maybe A provides reviews of old-school material, and B is more oriented towards homebrew; the surfer doesn't know until he visits and reads a stack of posts.

That's why I will include a literature review where possible of the links I've put on my blogroll.

Geek Grab Bag (http://geekgrabbag.blogspot.com/). This is my friend Dan's blog. Lately he has primarily been pondering about a homebrew fantasy adventure RPG that borrows heavily from AD&D and 4E. He also occasionally throws out info about WoW or the World of Darkness.

Ars Ludi (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/). This is a blog run by an experienced gamemaster, and its closely associated with an indie company named Lame Mage. I came across it one day with random surfing and was impressed by a lot of the ideas there. Normalvision, the Braunstein History, West Marches, and other articles are quite interesting. There's a lot of D&D material there but he also tends towards indie games that you might not yet be familiar with.

Delta's D&D Hotspot (http://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/). This blog is run by a fellow named Dan who is apparently a statistics professor. He brings a strong analytical mindset and some serious number crunching to the table. The main focus of this blog is OD&D and he shares many of my own ideas regarding customary units, the rules of 7/3, etc. He also occasionally reviews obscure old school material. I just wish that he posted RPG design and theory ideas more often!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Possible Combinations

Originally when I was thinking about the interaction of classes and power sources, I was thinking that each one would have a favored attribute regarding prime and high score. So, a fighter type would want to have STR prime and a high STR score. This is how "traditional" D&D works -- fighters have always been rewarded for having high strength, and its foolish in most cases to select something else as more important. The problem with this is that it prevents a meaningful choice, and it allows an opportunity to choose to suck (i.e., you could make a fighter with poor STR, even though its probably not a good idea and will mechanically punish you).

I prefer to broaden the class archetypes and make differentiation by key stats a meaningful choice. For example, say you can select a "power source" (class) and a prime stat. You could get combinations like:

Body Prime: Traditional Fighter, possibly barbarian
Agility Prime: Swashbuckler ("rogue," if you must go there)
Heart Prime: Skald, warlord

Body Prime: Swordmage, Spellsword, Eldritch Knight
Agility Prime: Traditional pointy-hat wizard
Heart Prime: Bards, possibly sorcerers

Body Prime: Paladins
Agility Prime: Monks
Heart Prime: Traditional cleric

You've now given the player a significant and interesting choice at character creation. By picking from two lists of 3, you get 9 different combinations. Indeed, if you allow for a numerical 3-18 score in the attribute primarily used for derived statistics, a prime used for giving bonuses to proactive activities, and a power source, then there are now 3 sub-variations for each archetype! For example, you could have a Body-Prime Divine character who chooses to put a high score in Heart (so that he can hire a large entourage) instead of Body -- this may prevent him from being able to carry Plate Mail but its an interesting and viable tradeoff.

Basic, Simple, and Advanced

I was looking at my weapons list and realized that I'd basically created three tiers of choices.


Slashing - Single Edged Blades (daggers only)
Bludgeoning - Clubs & Staves
Piercing - None
Ranged - Slings
A few melee choices and one ranged option. Not all the weapon "schools" are fleshed out yet.

Slashing - Single Edged Blades
Bludgeoning - Maces
Piercing - Spears
Ranged - Crossbows

Add another ranged option and fully flesh out three solid "schools" for weapons (piercing, bludgeoning, and slashing).

Slashing - Swords & Axes
Bludgeoning - Hammers & Flails
Piercing - Picks & Lances
Hybrid - Advanced Polearms
Ranged - Bows
Break each school into two sub-choices (Hammers & Flails, for example), and add a superior ranged option (bows) as well as a hybrid choice (polearms).


Why don't we do the same with spells? We'll basically parcel out our Power Words (verbs) which can be combined with the various nouns. This ensures that serious casters have access to just about all of the Power Words despite their noun selections.

School A -
School X1 -
One or two "power words" that can be combined with a noun. Perhaps "ward," so a not-very-magical character who knows the Art of Fire can ward himself against heat and flame.

School A -
School B -
School C -
School X2? -
Three fully fledged schools of magic with basic, entry level capabilities. Perhaps, "know," "create," and "destroy" or something like that. Our restorative magic also needs to reside at least at this level.

School A1 -
School A2 -
School B1 -
School B2 -
School C1 -
School C2 -
School X3? -
Break each school of magic into two sub-schools that have more refined capabilities.


Characters can be assigned proficiencies like so:

Weapons: All
Spells: Basic only

Weapons: Basic-only
Spells: All

Weapons: Basic & Simple only
Spells: Basic & Simple only

This system would leave room for 3-4 primary "schools" of magic, with a total of perhaps 1-2 basic power words, 3-4 simple power words, and 6-8 advanced power words. That's a total of about 14 power words maximum split into three or four broad schools. Any character could know a number of power words equal to 1 + INT modifier, so dumb characters may not know any, but a smart wizard might know 3 or 4. You might allow higher level characters to know additional words, which gives more advanced players more choices. Allow known power words to be swapped out on a daily basis, just as a fighter can swap out what kind of weapons they carry.

This keeps any one character from getting overwhelmed with options. Fighters will have about 6-8 weapons choices, but only perhaps one or two spell choices (if any at all). Magic-Users will have about 6-8 Power Word choices, but only one or two weapon selections. Clerics will fall in the middle, with about 3-4 selections from each.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Limited Connectivity

So, I just arrived in the AOR a few days ago and am experiencing limited connectivity. Once I get to my final destination I've heard that I have internet in my hooch, but for now it is very limited. That will obviously negatively impact my ability to research eccentric topics (Astrology? Obsolete British Coinage? Medieval Armor?) as well as to post here. Hopefully I'll be connected again in a week or two.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Abstract Wealth

In my current crusade against Big Numbers and Obnoxious Math, I am attempting to try out a new system to replace the CP/SP/GP economy as we all know and love it. Here's a few brainstorming ideas.


In this system, player wealth tops out around 7-10 actual physical coins. The standard coin for each tier of play varies; starting out would be CP (pennies), then you move up to SP (nickels), and finally topping out at GP (quarters). You could retain a 1:10 ratio, so if someone gets really rich, they can swap in some pennies for nickels. Prices need to be fixed so that they fall from 1-10 coins of the appropriate tier. Each coin represents 1/3 of a stone worth of cash for ENC purposes, same as a one-handed weapon.

Just like with the stone ENC system, we sacrifice granularity for ease of use by rounding prices to their nearest chunks.

Variant: For items that cost <1>nothing, roll a die. For example, a widget might cost 1 + 50% coins. The purchases definitely spends 1 coin, then they have a 50% to spend a second one on the item. Using a D6 that lets you get down to 16% gradations. Notation for this system might look like X/Y, where X is the number of coins and Y is the number on a D6 that must be rolled to not spend a second coin (so 0/2 means that only on a 1 does the purchases spend a coin).


Here are some historical units of British currency.
So you could measure wealth in pennies, shillings, and pounds. As much flavor as this might have, it lacks ease of base 10 conversions, which is a problem if dealing with large amounts of cash in non-granular units.


In this system, players have a wealth score from 1-7.
- If the item you want to purchase is < is =" your"> your wealth score, you can buy it, but your score decreses by the difference between your current score and the price (so if you have wealth 3, and want to buy Cost 5 armor, then your score is reduced by 2 -- to 1).
- If your wealth score is zero, you have no funds on hand. If your wealth score is negative, you are taking out loans to pay for your expenses. The DM may not allow you to take out a loan or may impose other restrictions.
- Starting wealth is determined randomly, by rolling 1d6.

Whenever you come across significant treasure, roll 1d6. If it is equal to or greater than your wealth score, your wealth score increases by one. Particularly valuable treasure may give a bonus to the roll -- for example, a hoard of gems might be 1d6+2.

The system is roughly geometric in absolute terms. A character with wealth 7 has about 6 times more wealth than a character with wealth 6, but a character with wealth 2 is only a little richer than one with Wealth 1.

Anyone else seen any other systems that work well?


Here's a system that retains the "precision" of more complicated ones with less math/bookkeeping.

10 CP = 1 SP
10 SP = 1 GP
10 GP = 1 PP

At TIER1 of play, the primary monetary unit is the Silver Coin. So, the only wealth that the player tracks is that in SP (or perhaps GP if they manage to acquire many silver coins, but this should be rare).

If anything which is priced in Coppers is purchased, then there is a percentage chance that a silver will be expended. So, say a Tier 1 character buys an item costing 4 SP. They roll a D10 and on 1-4 they lose 1 SP. On 5-10 nothing is lost. If you want to stick to purely D6, you can round off and estimate (1 = 1-2, 2 = 3-4, 3 = 5-6... 6 = reroll) the percentages.

One would need to revise prices (downward) and treasure (downward) so that getting a coin from the current tier is a significant and useful reward. Basically, get rid of inflation.

When you go up a tier, the primary monetary unit shifts up as well. So once you hit tier 2, anything that costs CP is considered widely available "for free" (unless bought in bulk), items costing SP now have a % chance to expend a GP, and items costing GP are the standard purchase. An occasional rare item costing a PP could be saved for or purchased by a group.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Armor & Defenses

Here's an interesting thought:

Should more durable characters (A) get hit less or (B) be able to get hit more or (C) both?

For example, in AD&D, a fighter has good AC (plate mail + shield) compared to a wizard. The fighter also has many more HP. In comparison, in 4E, many characters can attain similar defenses, but the tankish types have more HP and healing surges, which allows them to take more of a beating.

If the more durable characters get hit less, then it makes their HP "more valuable." A HP on a plate-clad fighter is less likely to be lost than a HP on a squishy mage or thief. This makes fighter types a top priority for receiving healing magic in many games with strategic players. One downside of this scheme is that it might be boring for the tank if he never takes damage. Also, it can lead to swingier combat, where the tank goes from hale to hurting in a few lucky rolls.

If the more durable characters can get hit more often, then their HP are about as valuable as anyone else's. It also allows others to "off-tank" for a few rounds if needed, because their defenses are adequete.

If you use both, then the durable characters are potentially really, really much tougher than their counterparts.

Right now I've decided to opt largely for option B, with a touch of C. That is, everyone can attain similar ACs for the most part (although dedicated plate-mail users will still have an edge). That AC will be around 4 on a D6 (AC ~14 on D20), so they'll get hit about 50% of the time. More durable characters will just have to have more HP to make up for their similar ACs.

So with that in mind, here's my current revised rules for OD&D.

Armor: Characters may select between no armor, cloth, leather armor, chain mail, or plate mail.

As a note, these figures use ENC in stones, AC on a D6 (also rough hacks for D20), and cost on a notional scale from 1-7 that is still just a figment of my mind.

AC 5 (on D6) or AC 17 (on D20)
COST 5 coin (upkeep 1 if fail ARMAMENTS check)
PROPERTIES: Individuals in plate mail always lose initiative rolls and take a -1 penalty to speed. Grants CA to bludgeoning.
N.B.: "Upkeep 1" indicates that after each quest (approx 3 milestones), the wearer must either expend 1 coin or have their armor degrade to AC 4. The wearer may make an ARMAMENTS skill check to avoid having to pay this cost, representing doing the MX themselves.

AC 4 (on D6) or AC 14 (on D20)
COST 3 coin
PROPERTIES: Individuals in chain take a -1 penalty to speed.

AC 3 (on D6) or AC 12 (on D20)
COST 1 coin
PROPERTIES: +1/6 chance to surprise others. AC 5 vs. Opportunity Attacks from movement.
AGILITY BONUS: Characters may apply their Agility modifier to their AC (D20); if using D6 based to-hit rolls, a +2 agility modifier allows you to add +1 to your AC, and a +5 agility mod allows you to add +2 to your AC.

AC 3 (on D6) or AC 10 (on D20)
COST 1 coin
PROPERTIES: May be worn under heavier armor; if this is done, such armors no longer suffer vulnerability to bludgeoning weapons. If worn alone, it removes vulnerability to slashing weapons suffered when not wearing any armor. There is no other effect.
AGILITY BONUS: Characters may apply their Agility modifier to their AC (D20); if using D6 based to-hit rolls, a +2 agility modifier allows you to add +1 to your AC, and a +5 agility mod allows you to add +2 to your AC.

AC 3 (on D6) or AC 10 (on D20)
COST 0 coin
PROPERTIES: +1/6 chance to surprise others. AC 4 vs. Opportunity Attacks from movement. Grants CA to slashing weapons.
AGILITY BONUS: Characters may apply their Agility modifier to their AC (D20); if using D6 based to-hit rolls, a +2 agility modifier allows you to add +1 to your AC, and a +5 agility mod allows you to add +2 to your AC.

Blast from the Past: Hit Point Rolling

This is another commentary on an OD&D mechanic I think was particularly salient: HP rolling.

My first experience with rolling hit points was in a dorm room freshman year of college. We had just hit level two in our AD&D game and I held the D6 for my half-elvish thief (who was still pretending to be a monk, I believe -- I don't think anyone else realized monks used D4s, luckily!) with trepidation. "This is the most important roll of the night!" I remarked.

Even that early in my gaming career, I knew that AD&D's style of adding HP upon level up had some issues. Namely, that a poor HP roll could be crippling for a character's entire career. Its quite possible for a fighter with 16 CON to hit level 4 and have 30 HP (average), 48 HP (max) or 12 HP (minimum).

Interestingly, in OD&D, when you gain a level instead of adding the new HD to the total, you roll all of your hit dice over again. You either use the new roll, or your old total, whichever is higher.

This leads to a gradual equalization between the fortunate and the unlucky. Namely, all you need to do is survive another level and you'll get another shot at a decent HP roll. You're not saddled with that "1" for HP gained forever. This ensures more predictability for characters at mid and higher levels, as you can ensure that they will hold more closely to the expected averages instead of being really low or really high.

The Next Step

I like the idea of using this sort of "growth" mechanic for other stats. For example, let's say you rated a skill from 1 to 7. At level up time, if you put a "skill point" into that skill, instead of just adding +1, you roll a die. If the die is equal to or higher than your current ranking, you add a point. Otherwise, its wasted. This allows you to randomly generate starting skill levels if you like, as you know that the poor will close the gap with the lucky in a few levels. It could also be used for improving ability scores (roll LEVEL + 1d6, or +2d6 if its your Prime Requisite -- use it as your ability score if its better than your current one).

I've already discussed using a mechanic like this for storytelling purposes (see "Survival Isn't Everything). Finally, I think this sort of mechanic might also work for wealth acquisition. If you find a stash of loot in the dungeon, everyone rolls 1d6 and you have the potential to increase on the "Wealth Scale."


I think this may not work for stats that can be spent down (like Wealth or even Alignment). Because players will know that they are getting diminishing returns and will spend so as to always be around a score of 2 or 3, tops. Now, this may be what you want (encouraging freewheeling adventurer lifestyle with lots of flagrantly unnecessary expenses) but it might also lead to wonky behavior.

Top o' the morning to ye!

At this moment, dear reader, your author is sitting in Ireland drinking a Guinness. Could be worse!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spell Matrix "nouns" & more on sentences

Right now, this is my tentative list of "Nouns" (Disciplines might be a good name for 'em) for a Verb + Noun system:

Quintessence (or Aether)
Necromancy (Entropy)
Natural (replacing scapulimancy) -- Maybe?

I think that nicely covers all of the biggies. Plus its easy to remember! Imagine it as a square (the four classical elements) with Aether above and Entropy below. Entropy is a non-classical addition, but I wanted something to reflect the dark powers of necromancy, diabolic pacts, and other such things. Entropy seems to embody "unmaking" and descent, which creates a nice duality opposed to Aether. A "natural" delineation would be in the center of the whole structure, representing a balanced mix of the other six elements in appropriate proportions.

In the Spell Matrix formulas (sentences?) it is important to specify some grammatical constructs:
  • The Verb. I.E., which art are you applying? From here I'm I'll call it "X." Replace that with Evoke/Summon/Know/Make/Unmake/whatever.
  • Noun: Ablative (i.e., "I do X by means of Fire.")
  • Noun: Accusative/Direct Object ("I do X to Fire.").
  • Adverb ("I do fiery X.") This is similar to the ablative.
  • Adjective -- possibly

Note the distinction here, especially with abjurations; in the ablative, you'd say, "I abjure by means of fire," so you would theoretically be conjuring up a fiery shield, likely good against Water attacks. In the accusative you'd be saying, "I abjure fire," which is to say, you are likely good against fire attacks. This is one of the issues with the Western Elements, in that they are opposed (as opposed to the more cyclical Eastern elements).

Another example to illustrate the point.
"I unmake by means of fire!" That would mean that I am destroying something with fire.
"I unmake fire!" That would mean that I quench fire itself, smothering flame.

The nouns or disciplines above are likely to be used in the ablative sense. This is an important distinction, as there is a strong inclination to use them as the accusative/direct object ("I do X to Fire") or nominative. Note the difference carefully. For example, there is a difference between, "I know by means of fire" and "I know fire." In the former, one might require a source of fire to conduct a divination; in the latter, the caster actually knows something about fire.

Honestly, I'm not sure which is best. For simplicity's sake, I'd like to specify always using one case or the other. However, it may be necessary to allow different cases in different situations.


The trick now is coming up with the right list of Verbs -- that's harder! Basically, we are inventing a simple language here. It is necessary to decide which words are allowed (vocabulary) and how they can be combined (grammar).

For example, for targeting, can one include "the creature?" as a target? What about a proper noun ("Regdar the Orc?")? Or just a hex (where a creature may happen to be?)?

Here's the most complete sentence I can think of, with as many variables as I can think of:

  • VERB: technique (evoke, summon, abjure, make, unmake, etc)
  • NOUN:
    ABLATIVE: by means of art (by means of fire, water, etc) or
    ACCUSATIVE direct object: art (fire, water, etc)
  • WITH: Additional factors...
    impact/magnitude (how much damage, etc)
Note that with my Dice Matrix pool system we can only determine three separate factors randomly. The others must be specified either arbitrarily or tied to one of our three factors (example, lumping "everything else" into Potency).

Magic Items: Powered by Souls (tm)

Here's a quick idea re: magic items. Rather than being powered by Magic Pixie Dust, or gold infusions, or whatever, what if any magic requires the power of an actual soul to fuel it?

Souls could be willingly given, or forcibly bound to an item. For example, I can see noble knights giving themselves to be bound into a magic armor or something. Its like Fantasy Organ Donation ("He's flatlining! Check his shield... Yes, he's a Soul Donor! Quick, get him to the enchanter, stat! We need to get him into that Shield +1 before he flatlines!"). In this event, factions would be very unwilling to sell magic items except to close allies, and they would certainly try to recover lost items. They might have a compact to destroy the item after completion of a task or period of time, as well, so that the sould can be released to its final destination.

Souls could also be forcibly bound. This is obviously fantastic tactics for Evil, Inc. It also gives a great reason for bad guys to capture good guys.

Consumable magic items might just require part of one's essence. Instead of a whole soul, maybe just a healing surge/temporary ability score reduction/etc. Thus while still valuable they are not as sacred.

So, if the PCs want to make a Blade of Orc Slaying, they need to collect their masterwork blade and find a special forge or whatever reagants the GM wants them to get -- but they also need someone who can be bound to the item. Whether that's an orc chieftien or a fallen knight or whatever, it will certainly be an interesting quest.

It also encourages mages to be sketchy. Which is always good for fostering that "rare magic" feeling.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Units of Distance, Time, etc: Part II

This is a follow-on to my post here, a bit more refined:

The game exists at several scales of play. Each scale has "customary" units that are typically used for interactions at that level.

The first column is a measure of distance. This is the size of a hex on your map.
The second is a unit of time. This is the default unit in which chunks of time are marked off.
The third column is the standard amount of damage dealt with at this scale. For example, in tactical combat, you're concerned with knocking off hit dice. At higher levels, you're knocking off entire groups.
The fourth column is the type of currency. Any task at that level by default requires that type of coin. So, hiring a mercenary for a day would require some silver; hiring them by the week might require gold.

PACE ROUND (~6 seconds) Hit Dice PENCE/COPPER TIER 1
FURLONG TURN (~10 minutes) Individuals PENCE/COPPER TIER 1
LEAGUE HOUR Squads (~10 individuals) SHILLING/SILVER TIER 2
MARATHON DAY Platoons (~40 individuals) SHILLING/SILVER TIER 2
COUNTY WEEK Companies (~150 individuals) POUND/GOLD TIER 3


Note that when designing special abilities, the ability to move up in tier is definitely out there. For example, maybe the fighter wants to cut through multiple foes at once. Well, with 2 successes on some sort of check, or expenditure of a resource, let him act at the next level (his damage rolls indicate the number of individuals cut down, not the number of hits knocked off the total).

Magic should ALWAYS be "hard." I.E., the costs incurred are an order of magnitude greater than normal. This is because of its inherent flexibility and potential power. So, to generate effects at the Pace/Hit Dice level, you need a casting time measured in turn(s). If you want to do it faster (and you usually will) you need to spend mana or make risky skill checks of some sort. Or, you do something easy and low-powered (basically casting a cantrip, the magical equivalent to swinging a sword).

So, let's take it for a test drive. Say our mage knows "Conjure."

  • In tactical combat (i.e. ROUNDS are passing). The mage can opt to spend one round for a quick simple cast. The duration needs to be checked every second, so basically, this would be an instantaneous spell that lasts one round unless he gets a 7 or higher for Potency. The SIZE would be measured in Pips, so the critter would have a handful of HP at best (or be able to deal a handful of HP worth of damage). How Friendly would be unaffected, although if it needs a bribe to be friendly, it'd be copper.
  • We're still in tactical combat but the mage wants something more potent. He attempts a Risky Casting. He begins to make some sort of skill check, once each round, and needs two successes to finish the spell (perhaps this is represented by rolling dice for a dice pool and needing a minimum potency of 2 before the spell kicks in). Now his spell is measured in ROUNDS and HIT DICE.
  • We're out of combat now. The magic-user retreats to his tower for an extended casting. The mage needs a whole week, but when he finishes, he will conjure several platoons of critters to serve him.
Also thinking:
- Use a skill check requiring 2+ successes to increase everything by one order of magnitude.
- Spend mana or some other consumable to increase one category by one order of magnitude.

BTW, I'm really exhausted at teh airport now, so I apologize for this not being even half threshed out. Think of this post as a gentle "push" for myself so I can remember the order of magnitude for mages idea I had.

The Choice to Suck

I wanted to take a few minutes to pontificate on one of my gaming pet peeves: that is, giving players the Choice To Suck.

Giving players choices is good. As Delta quotes Sid Meier (of CIV fame), a good game is a series of interesting choices. A game without choices is a railroad, and while those can be fun (after all, isn't great literature largely a linear railroad with few interactive choices) and effective for telling stories, but that generally isn't the main reason that folks play an RPG.

However, not all choices are good. Specifically, when you give players the Choice to Suck, you introduce a dangerous element into your game. For example, say a fighter can choose three weapons. He can use a 1H Widget, (1d8 damage), a 2H Dire Spork (1d10 damage), or a 2H Gimptastic 2000 (1 point of damage). Most players will opt for the Widget or Dire Spork, and that's fine. But someone will opt for the Gimptastic 2000. The Choice to Suck refers to a false choice, one where one of the options is clearly mechanically worse in almost all situations imagineable (compare Skill Focus Basketweaving to Power Attack in a 3.X game).

Player motivations for selecting such a choice are varied. Some players are truely slow, and don't realize its a bad choice. Some are deliberately contrary and want to "break" the system or prove some inane point. Some are great roleplayers but don't pay too much attention to the mechanics. In any event, they've just made a choice, and its bad.

This is bad for your game for a few reasons. First, it makes it hard for the GM to set up challenges. If your group has one highly effective twinked out munchkin, 3 average characters, and 1 Gimp, then anything that challenges the uber-tank and his three sidekicks will likely wipe the gimp. If you don't believe me, try doing encounter design for 3E. The first character should be a classic spiked-chain trip monkey; the second character is a cleric 1/wizard 1/fighter 3 (he heard mystic theurge or odd numbers of fighter levels were a good idea, or something). If you can build an encounter that challenges both characters, you're a better GM than I.

The other reason this is bad is because in most RPGs, the other players are counting on Gimpy McGimp to fill a role. If there are niches or classes, the Gimp is likely the only one in that role. If he sucks at it, everyone else will pay the price too. The other players will likely realize this and it will generate malcontent and bad feeling. I've seen it at the table. The gimped player may realize their handicap and feel frustrated and/or left behind. Not good.

I think that in general games should avoid even giving the player the option to suck. AD&D did this to some degree with minimum stat requirements for various classes and by encouraging a high prereq very obviously. I often introduce house rules that prevent obvious suckage (for example, in a 4E game, I likely wouldn't allow a starting PC with less than 16 in their primary statistic). You should probably reward players who have system mastery a little bit, but not so much that they put everyone else in the dirt.

Interaction between players

I think one fault of traditional "D&D" is that it fails to encourage a lot of interaction between players. The only choices you really have are (A) support the party or (B) don't support the party. You can either be tactically effective, or ineffective. Alignment is typically a straightjacket, where wildly different alignments are mechanically bad (1e's morale rules, 3.5's spells that keyed off of alignment, etc) or meaningless. You can either freely share your character resources (a cleric passing out heals, for example) or... well, you don't. See how long that lasts. Splitting up loot is usually the most conflict a group will have but that's easily settled because most of the loot is easy to distribute -- the mage wants the scrolls, not the magic plate mail. Also, handing out loot has a lot of bookkeeping, which doesn't appeal to many players, so they just don't get involved and one or two folks dominate the process.

Thus, players don't really have a whole lot of reasons to interact with each other. Usually they're clamoring for time with the GM. This is why even EGG's campaign moved to getting a co-DM -- when the game is so heavily focused on interaction with that one role, you need a good player:GM ratio to allow enough interaction to keep folks engaged.

What if players had an incentive to interact more with each other? Think of a Diplomacy or Settlers of Cataan game, where player-interaction is the main mechanic. No GM is needed but you often get rich, interactive gaming experiences. Even MMORPG's have this interaction beyond tactical support to some degree with crafting, the economy, etc.

Players need some sort of valuable resource that they can trade, but it can't be so essential to character survival that generating conflict over it (because let's face it, competetition and conflict make things interesting) becomes a death-wish and thus socially unacceptable. A few ideas, just brainstorming:
- Raw materials harvested from monsters (usable for multiple things)
- Processed goods (made from multiple raw materials, used for multiple types of characters)
- Oaths or promises
- FATE points or the like

The trick is to make it rules light-enough that you avoid the treasure-trap of obnoxious bookkeeping.

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Interesting Book re: Greek Divination



Along with playing cards and dice, I've neglected one classic item -- the Dominoe.


For the uninitiated, dominoes typically come in sets of 28 representing all the possible combinations of 2d6 (plus a blank -- as if "zero" was a possible roll on 2d6). So, if you had a hat full of all the dominoes in a set (except the blanks) and you drew from it, then it'd be much like rolling 2d6.

I think dominoes could be an excellent RPG aid in the same vein as playing cards. I can see applications for Runic Magic and such. For example, instead of finding a scroll of Fireball, perhaps you find a Magic Rune. Upon finding the loot, immediately hand the player a domino. The player can then spend that Domino when casting a spell (see my whack dice pool idea down a post or two); they use the pips on the domino instead of leaving it up to chance, with Blanks being a "wild card." This makes their "magic runes" basically a consumable source of power. Even the dominoes with lower pip values are valuable under my dice system described below because it may enhance the Width of a set.

Spell Grammer

Here's some "grammatical" expressions that would work with spell-verbs for the dice system I've described below. You can encode 2 + potency + "extra" types on information in each "sentence." The 2 bits of information need to be numerical or sequential with possible results ranging from 1-7 and both need to be about equally important (about as important as potency). The "extra" data can be qualitative and will likely determine the # of dice thrown into the endeavor.

Potency: Potency determines the power of the spell, its range, its duration, and its resistance to being dispelled. Duration is easiest: every round, the caster rolls 1d6 for his active spell. If its equal to or greater than the spell's potency, that spell ceases to function. Dispel checks basically work the same way, except someone else is making the die roll. Power is a catch-all used for comparing spells. Not sure if your Illusion holds up to their Divination? Want to know if your Ward hedges out their Summoned critter? Compare potency. Finally, potency determines range in hexes that the caster can cause the spell to occur. Note that some spells might specifically override some of these factors, in which case, that spell's "sentence" takes priority over Potency.

  • Creature Type: Inserted by player based on desired skill (earth, water, angelic, etc).
  • # of HD: The creature has HD equal to DIE ROLL + Caster's HD - 3. The "3" is variable based on the GM's campaign -- if he wants powerful summons, he should lower the number. If he wants weak summons, he should increase it.
  • How Friendly: Immediately upon completing the summons, the caster makes a reaction roll with this DIE ROLL as a bonus.
EVOKE [ELEMENT] of [Pips of Damage] in [# of Hexes of AOE]
  • ELEMENT: Inserted by player based on desired skill (earth, water, angelic, etc).
  • Pips of Damage: The number of hits of damage done by the spell.
  • # of Hexes of AoE: The size of the area effected, shaped in a line, circle, or ring. Note that this lets "EVOKE" be used to create fireballs (low potency spells), walls (linear spells with higher potency), or dangerous zones on the map (circular spells with higher potency).
ABJURE [ELEMENT] in [# of Hexes or Creatures to be warded] with [Damage Resistance]
  • ELEMENT: Inserted by player based on desired skill (earth, water, angelic, etc).
  • # of Hexes or Creatures to be Warded: The size of the area effected, shaped in a line, circle, or ring, or the number of creatures to be protected.
  • Damage Resistance: Each creature affected gains DR/specified element while the spell is in effect.
Here's a question: Should Potency checks be made by the caster or by the affected creature?

For example, say a mage casts "Abjure Fire" on his party. Should the mage check for spell expiration every round (meaning the whole team loses it at once?)? Or is it up to each individual to check themselves each round for any active spell effects? I'm tempted to say the latter as it gives everyone something to do.

Drug induced dice pool visions

I just finished taking my anti-malarial pills, which have some nice side effects. While in a drug-induced fatigue I had a few nice "vivid dreams," (to use the term on the packaging) including one about dice pools. The other topics shall remain anonymous, although the latest SI swimsuit edition may have been involved. Anyways, here's my idea:

Roll a bunch of D6s.
LENGTH: The value of the highest D6; if you get multiple 6s, each one counts as +1
HEIGHT: Select any die showing in your pool. This is the height of your pool.
WIDTH: Count the number of dice showing the number you selected for the height. The number of dice is the width of your pool.

For example, say I roll 6 dice and get:
2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 6

The length of the pool is 6. The height can be 1, 2, 3, or 6. The player decides to make the pool height 3. The width is thus 2, because there are two dice with "3" showing.

With this system, length will tend towards 6 (especially once 3+ dice are rolled). Height will be highly variable depending on the player's desired effect. Width will tend to be a smaller number (2-3 with dice pools of <5).>
  • DICE POOL OF 2: Odds of a pair are 5 to 1 against
  • DICE POOL OF 3: Odds of a pair are 1.4 to 1 against; Odds of a trio are 35 to 1
  • DICE POOL OF 4: Odds of a pair are 1.25 to 1 in favor; Odds of a trio are 9.8 to 1
  • DICE POOL OF 5: Odds of a pair are 1.2 to 1 in favor; Odds of a trio are 5.5 to 1

  • Note: This is similar to the Godlike system, apparently:

    And here's some odds:

    Practical application:

    Let's say you want to cast a summoning spell. The relevant factors are:
    1) How powerful is the critter that shows up? The critter will have HD equal to the caster's level + X - 3.
    2) How friendly is the critter that shows up? Make a reaction roll immediately upon completing the spell, with X as a bonus to the roll.

    3) How long does it stick around/how hard is it to dispel (Potency)? The potency of the spell equals X. Every round on your initiative roll 1d6. If its less than the potency, the spell continues. If you roll equals or exceeds the potency, the spell ends.
    In all cases, X = height, width, or length.

    The player decides that he wants to be able to control how powerful the monster is, so he assigns that factor to Height. He also wants to be able to maximize its Potency, so he assigns that as Length. That leaves the friendliness of the monster to be governed by Width.

    The mage rolls five dice and gets
    1,2,1,5,5 (I actually rolled that pool).
    POTENCY: The potency of the spell is easy to determine -- that's 5. Every round the magic user rolls 1d6. The spell will stick around until the magic user rolls a 5 -- so it will stick around for around 3 rounds.
    POWER: The player can then choose 1, 2, or 5 for the power of the monster. The player wants a strong critter, so he selects 5. The critter has 2 more HD than the mage.
    REACTION ROLL: There are two 5s, so that means the friendliness is 2. The mage immediately makes a reaction roll at +2. We'll see if the his scary monster is willing to help, or if it will turn on him...

    I like this system for magic because it makes spells more mysterious. The odds are harder to predict before rolling and spell results might be unpredictable (although not so much that the game designer can't predict most likely outcomes). Yet, its easy to tabulate the results and apply them.

    You could run this, action wise, in a few ways:
    - ROUND 1: Declare parameters of spell
    - ROUND 2: Roll dice pool, determine results
    - ROUND 0: Parameters of spell are pre-determined
    - ROUND 1: Roll dice pool, determine results
    - ROUND 1: Roll dice pool
    - ROUND 2: Roll more dice, add to pool
    - ROUND 3: Roll more dice, add to pool, etc...
    This method is cool because the caster could keep going if they don't have the desired results yet, but they don't necessarily feel like they are wasting their round (i.e., they get to roll dice and make a decision). It makes that priest in the back row who is chanting pretty threatening, because every round his odds of kicking off a bad-ass 6/6/6 spell go up.

    ADDENDUM: This is now known as the "Spell Matrix." Labels added to posts as appropriate.

    A few verb+noun spells

    Just been pondering a few Verb + Noun spells that seem quite easy.

    Summons call a creature to assist with combat or a problem.
    Summon Fire - Get a Salamander of some sort
    Summon Earth - Get Gnomes
    Summon Water - Get Undines
    Summon Air - Get a sylph
    Summon Necromancy - Get some sort of undead or demon
    Summon Animal - Get an animal
    Summon Man - Get some sort of conjured man

    Abjurations hedge something out or give protection.
    Abjure Fire - Gain protection from Fire or Water.
    Abjure Earth - Gain protection from Earth or Air.
    Abjure Water - Gain protection from Water or Fire.
    Abjure Air - Gain protection from Air or Earth.
    Abjure Necromancy - Protection from undead and demons
    Abjure Animal - Gain protection from beasts

    Customization Choices I'm Kicking Around

    Right now for Septimus Lite, I'm kicking around the following levels of customization:

    STRATEGIC: These are character choices that don't really change, except perhaps for "retraining" at level-up time. They are fixed from adventure to adventure for the most part.
    - Ability Scores. Determine derived characteristics for the most part, and thus your Operational Choices.
    - Prime Ability: Body (Fighting Man), Agility/Mind (Expert/Magician), Heart (Leader).
    - Primary Focus: Move, Know, Deceive, Influence, Endure. Your selection of primary focus in conjunction with prime ability basically determines your "Class."
    - Race: MAY predetermine your Prime Ability and/or Focus (i.e., all Elves "Know," or all Dwarves "Endure"). Also gives you a few custom "shticks" to spend Fate points on.

    OPERATIONAL: These choices can change during the course of an adventure from encounter to encounter.
    - Focus. You can shift your second focus between encounters.
    - Armor (None, Light, Medium, Heavy). This is mainly a choice for high-body score characters who have ENC to burn. They can choose between superior protection & superior mobility. Equipment for problem solving also falls under here.
    - Power Words. This is mainly a choice for high-mind characters. Words of Power form the basis of my hypothetical spell system. Selecting different power words gives you different options for the day.
    - Followers/Oaths. This is a choice for high-heart characters. They either hire retainers who can serve different functions, or collect oaths (the bookkeeping-lite option).

    TACTICAL: These stances can change within the course of an encounter.
    - Fighting Style (1H, 2H, Sword & Board, TWF). Prime Body characters have the most choices here, but basically its a tradeoff between higher damage (and then a choice between reliable, special effect, or variable) and superior defenses.
    - Spellcasting. Prime Mind characters will need to combine their Arts with their Power Words to create spell effects. This gives them plenty of round-to-round choice.
    - Use of Fate Points. Prime Heart characters get more potent uses of Fate points so they need to choose when and how to use this consumable resource.