Sunday, November 29, 2009

Failure and Checks

Today DW and I watched Return of the King. Towards the end of the movie, Sam the Hobbit cries, "I can't carry it [the McGuffin Ring of Power], but I can carry you!" He then hefts Frodo the Hobbit and staggers up a steep climb, while laden with both of their gear to boot and barefoot.

If this was modeled in D&D, I'd imagine it'd go down in one of three ways:

1) ENC Bookkeeping. The DM would say, "Hey, you can't carry all that. Add up what you're carrying." They'd then see if gear needed to be dropped to get to maximum encumbrance.

2) STR check. The DM could call for some sort of check. Perhaps a bend bars/open doors roll or save (in 1E), or some sort of skill check in later editions (climb with a penalty, for example). Generally, failure indicates that the task is not performed.

3) DM Fiat. The DM just handwaves it and allows it to happen, perhaps making some sort of ruling on the fly ("You take 1d6 damage, or you take this penalty to AC, etc...").

I want to zero in on case #2 here. The problem with most traditional checks is that there is either success or failure. If the check succeeds, then the action succeeds too. If the check fails, then there is absolute failure. This probably leads many DMs to go to case #1 (obnoxious bookkeeping but no arbitrariness) or case #3 (arbitrary rulings that seem to fit but can cause consistency problems in the long run). Additionally, I think it leads many players to play conservatively. For example, how many will attempt a daring leap over a pool of lava if there is an 85% of success and a 15% of instant death?

What is needed is an additional level. Say checks could result in Total Success (~1/3 of the time), Partial Success (2/3 of the time), or Failure (very rare, save to upgrade to Partial Success). The consequences for partial success should be painful but manageable. In this system, the skill check doesn't determine if you can do it; the skill check determines how costly it is.

Let's take our climbing Mt Doom example again. Say the DM could call for a STR check. If the check is succesful (about a 1/3 chance) then the task is performed with no adverse consequences. If the check fails (about 2/3) then the action succeeds but there is a cost: perhaps Sam takes some damage or loses a healing surge or something. If the check is a dramatic or total failure (say, they roll a 1), then Sam suffers the Partial Success negative consequences AND must save to avoid a dire fate (like slipping into a pool of lava). As a twist, you could allow the player to abandon their action which means that they don't succeed at all in order to automatically pass the save.

I like this because it says Yes! to the players. If the player of the spindly wizard wants to heroically haul the hulking dwarf in plate mail out of the battle, or the player of the retarded half-orc wants to match wits with a cunning lawyer to get the deed to his castle, you don't have to consult ENC rules or say that success is impossible. Instead, you let the player succeed at what they want to do and use the rules to determine the negative consequences. The player gets what they want... But not for free.

Definitely something to flesh out further.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"I feel better!" -- Full up on HP

One thing that has longed bugged me about D&D style attrition based HP systems is the relative ease at which it is to get to full-up status. I.E., it bugs me that characters go from the brink of death to hale and hearty very quickly. Of course, players always want to be at 100%. It maximizes stamina in combat and odds of success. However, making such top-off healing easy does much to remove the gritty wearing of a long day, and it removes strategic choices from the players.

In 1E, clerics get enough bonus spells even at level 1 that taking a day or two off from adventuring is enough to slap Cure Light Wounds (CLW) onto everyone (a 5 hour break should be enough to rest and memorize up 3 x CLWs...) and get everyone topped off. It is rough only if you have very limited downtime, which causes problems for low level parties in many ways in any event.

In addition, once you hit level 7, scrolls of CLW start to proliferate like toilet paper. Potions are soon to follow. This problem is even worse in 3.5, where the Infamous Wand of Cure Light Wounds (or Lesser Vigor) is the FIRST item any party pools money to buy. 50 charges for 750 GP -- a bargain to ensure that everyone is topped off!

This problem is mitigated in OD&D as level 1 clerics have no spells. Plus, its mitigated by the lack of bonus cure spells. That brings its own issues though in that more downtime is basically mandated.

In 4E, healing surges are often anticlimactic. After a fight, folks do some math, cross off the healing surges, and are magically at 75-100% again. There is a little bit of a choice if above 75% but below 100%; do you "waste" some of the spilled over HP from a surge or risk being at less than 100%? Other than that, there's no real thought involved. Once people are out of surges, the day is over. It only gets exciting once at least some members of the party get very low on surges and start entering fights at <100%.

Here's a few ideas I have to make it a bit harder to be "topped off."


Several systems have a HP model where some damage is physical and some is only metaphysical. For example, in a hypotehtical example, say a fighter has HP equal to their CON score + vigor points equal to 1d10 x level. Vigor points are easy to restore but HP are hard and slow. Damage comes off the vigor points first. Thus, after a bruising near-death experience, the fighter can top off their vigor points but will still bear the scars of the physical wounds for some time.

In 4E, you could do this by saying that healing surges may only be spent to bring you up to your bloodied value, AND letting a player burn surges to gain temp HP equal to their surge value (perhaps in some ratio -- say, burn 3 surges, gain temp HP equal to 2 surges that persist until used up but do not stack). Only with daily magic powers or consumables can you recover HP above your bloodied value.


You could also increase the "cost" to heal up the top 10-50% of a character's HP pool. For example, maybe once you get above a certain cutoff, every HP healed "costs" 2 HP of healing. So, if you're trying to top off, that Cure Light Wounds spell that would have healed 8 HP only heals 4 HP. This could also be done with random chance to decrease granularity. Perhaps a healing spell only takes hold if you roll equal to or under the current HP status on a D100 (so if you are at 80% HP, 80% of healing spells used on you fail).

Am I the only one that is bugged by this? Anyways, just some brainstorming.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Encumbrance Consequences

I've been thinking about ENC. On one hand, encumbrance must have consequences if its to be worth tracking. On the other hand, if the consequences are crippling then it will basically preclude a choice -- carrying too much stuff is so painful that nobody will ever carry too much.

I wanted to look at ENC consequences in various systems and see how they are applied. For now I'm looking at D&D based games. It would be of value to check out other systems but for now this will suffice.


Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Light Foot Movement (12") -- 750
Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Heavy Foot Movement (9") -- 1000
Load in Gold Pieces Equal to Armd. Foot Movement (6") -- 1500

From what I can see, its just a speed penalty.


The rules are a bit complicated and spread across several sections. However, this is what I run with.


Weight (GP)*

Armor Type*


Game Mechanics

Normal Gear


12” – Subject can run quickly



Fairly Bulky (Chain mail, studded leather, Field Plate, etc.)

9” – Subject can make a lumbering run

No bonuses to reaction in surprise situations or to initiative
(ex. from high dexterity)

Very Heavy


Bulky (Plate Mail, Splint Mail, etc.)

6” – Subject can trot for short distances

-3 penalty on initiative rolls



3” – No trotting possible

No charging possible;

Automatically lose initiative vs. non-encumbered foes;

-3 penalty on surprise reaction rolls;
-2 penalty to AC



0” – No movement possible

Considered to be “held”

*Use the least favorable category. A character in the normal gear category for carried equipment wearing plate mail is considered to be in the Very Heavy load category.


S&W has a section on page 11 labeled ENC, but there don't seem to be more defined rules.

Microlite 74

Encumbrance (Optional)
"Characters can carry twelve (plus STR bonus) items in addition to armour, primary weapon, and possibly a shield; six items can be readily available dangling from a belt or slung over the shoulders, but everything else goes into the backpack. Small collections of things (10 flasks, 20 arrows, 50 gems, 100 gold pieces) count as a single item."

Labyrinth Lord

Carrying Capacity and Encumbrance
This is an optional rule, and is used if the Labyrinth Lord wants to make sure characters carry more realistic weights. It is important to keep track of how much weight characters are carrying, because they can only haul so much treasure from a labyrinth, and if they are heavily weighed down they cannot move as fast. Encumbrance is measured in pounds, and is calculated based on adding the weights of all significant items carried, including weapons and armor. The maximum any character can carry is 160 pounds. Character speed will be affected based on encumbrance. Refer to the Movement and Encumbrance Table.

There is then a table that compares weights to movement rates with no other effects.


In 3.5, encumbrance is based on a table related to STR. There are three categories, light/medium/heavy load. Per the SRD: "maximum Dexterity bonus to AC, armor check penalty, speed, and running speed."


Medium and Heavy armor has speed limitations built in. It also tends to impose reasonable penalties on agility skill checks. Carrying a heavy load makes you slowed, which lets you move 2 squares/round -- fairly crippling.


The most common penalty is a limitation to speed. AD&D has the most complicated rules, which also affects surprise and initiative.

I'd say that the penalties are crippling in 4E (Slowed = sucks), AD&D (worst categories only -- AC penalty is bad news), and microlite 74 (its just banned to carry more).

Otherwise, the limits have consequences that are generally livable. 3.5 and 4E are somewhat bad with penalties to skills, but many characters won't care. Otherwise its generally just a speed limitation, except for 1E, where high-DEX characters start to lose benefits.

This leads me to conclude that the OD&D model is a good one for a game. Later versions may be more realistic -- yes, its harder to jump a pit or dodge a blow if heavily laden -- but if the consequences get too bad then its rare for adventurers to push the limits, so why have the rule at all? You might as well just go the Microlite version then and say, "You can't bust enc, just because." AD&D rules work well but they are very complicated.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Magic - Syntax and The Spell Tree

This is an update to my very nebulous verb-noun spell system. As a quick refresher, I am thinking of a Verb + Noun system where players combine elements to creatively generate spells.


The nouns will consist of the elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Aether (White), and Chaos (Black). Possibly "Rustica" as well. This matches up quite nicely as you can see with my languages. Proficiency with nouns will be relatively fixed and determined by languages known, race, etc.

Verbs will consist of the spell tree described below; basically, "Abjure," "Divine," or "Conjure."

Spell sentence syntax is typically I + Verb + Noun (Direct Object). Additional nouns can be added to a sentence at the cost of increasing the difficulty of spell casting, and nouns are Declined as in Latin. The available declensions are as follows:
  • Accusative (Direct Object): This is the standard case used most of the time. In this case, the noun is used as the direct object of the sentence; i.e., the element acted upon by the mage. "I conjure fire."
  • Ablative (By Means Of): In this case, the noun is used to express how something is done. For example, "I conjure Aether by Means of Fire!" would allow one to use a large fire as a tool to conjure aether. This might be useful for a mage highly skilled at Fire magic but not so good at influencing Aether.
  • Dative (Indirect Object): This indicates what the direct object is acting on; that is, a specific target. It is used to target spells. "I conjure fire to air!" would be used to sling
  • a fireball specifically at an air-creature like the fey without affecting anything else.


Verbs are arranged into a tree with basic, simple, and advanced branches. This is similar to weapons. A magic-user will have access to all three levels. A partial caster such as an archetypal cleric might have access to only the simple branches. Finally, most characters should have access to the basic verbs.

The basic schools are Conjurations, Divinations, and Abjurations. There is a rock/paper/scissors relationship: Divinations > Abjurations > Conjurations > Divinations. Divinations are needed to exploit the cracks in a complex ward; abjurations can shield from conjurations; solid conjurations will demolish a divination.

The number of verbs that can be simultaneusly "carried" is dependent on INT, just as the number of weapons that can be carried is based on STR. I'm thinking something like 2 +/- INT modifier.

Basic verbs are very general. They have the power to influence a possible and likely event without a high degree of control. For example, "Conjure Water" is very vague and general. If in a desert it could lead to the soon fortuitous locating of an oasis. They are handy as they are so general but limited because its hard to predict their effects. It can be hard to separate basic verb usage from fate or luck.

Simple verbs are more specific. They have the power to cause even unlikely events to occur. For example, "Summon Water" might be used to call forth a merfolk; sure, its unlikely to find a merfolk in the desert, but its possible even if unlikely. The caster has significantly more control but they are perhaps more limited in usage.

Advanced verbs are extremely specific. They have the power to cause impossible events to occur. For example, "Blast Water" could call forth a damaging blast of frigid ice to attack foes even in the midst of a desert. As you can see below I'm not quite sure what all the advanced verbs will be.

  • Conjure
    • Evoke
      • Blast
      • ADV
    • Summon
      • ADV
      • ADV
  • Divine
    • Know
      • ADV
      • ADV
    • Communicate
      • ADV
      • ADV
  • Abjure
    • Ward
      • ADV
      • ADV
    • Dispel
      • ADV
      • ADV

Additionally, there are two other "side" schools. They have no advantage against any other school and thus are "outside" the rock/paper/scissors school. They have no advanced verbs; they only have basic and simple verbs, albeit verbs that are more potent than usual; Basic words have power to do the improbable, and simple words the power to do the impossible. Access to them can only be gained by foregoing knowledge of any simple or advanced words in the traditional schools.

This allows tricksters or shapeshifters to be easily built. The two side schools are Transmutation and Beguiling.

  • Transmute
    • Alter
    • Shapeshift
  • Beguile
    • Charm
    • Elude (illusions)

Anyways, this is the rough outline of things to come. Just wanted to get something "on paper."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

1E - Weapon Specialization

This DF thread made me think about weapon spec for the first time in awhile. The general contention of WS fans is that fighters need a boost to keep up with their peers in effectiveness, so we need to give them bonuses to hit and damage and extra attacks.


I contend that fighters are first and foremost the primary leaders of the party. They have the cash and the spare time (OOC) to hire and manage followers. Even a first level fighter can use his starting cash to recruit a few men-at-arms. Fighters tend to be the first ones to start up strongholds and receive the best benefits for doing so. Sure, a fighter side-by-side with, say, a cleric is not a favorable comparison. The cleric gets equivalent armor, similar THAC0, access to shields and good weapons vs. heavily armed foes, and spells to boot! The only thing the poor fighter gets is access to good ranged weapons and swords (better magic, and better damage vs. large creatures). However, give that fighter an entourage and things look a lot different. Same thing for comparisons with rangers or paladins.

If the campaign does not allow for hirelings/henchmen, or the DM is prejudiced against red-shirts (making them exorbiantly expensive and so troublesome as to be effectively unusable) then yes, fighters will be significantly underpowered. Additionally, if reasonably high ability scores are unavailable, fighters will be weak -- one of their major class benefits is 18/xx extraordinary STR and the extra HP from 17+ CON. If you are playing largely BTB then these issue will not be present.


Let's accept that we need to boost fighters as a given, despite the reasoning above. The problem with WS is that it denies fighters valid tactical choices.

Without WS, a fighter can make important tactical choices. For example, if he's proficient in the spear, mace, long sword, and longbow, he needs to decide whether he wants reach/hurled/anti-charge capabilities (spear), armor penetration (mace), good damage vs. large critters (sword), or ranged (bow) capabilities. Every encounter is an important choice, and the weapon selection may change from round to round in an encounter based on the situation and opponent.

If he gets +1 to hit/+2 damage with the longsword, then the mace ceases being a viable option; the long sword is strictly better in just about every situation. The spear also loses much of its luster; after all, +1 to hit 1d8 + 2 damage is strictly better than 2d6 double damage vs. charge, even! The only time the spear is a valid choice is if he needs reach or a hurled option (pretty situational). Pretty much the only choice the fighter's player makes now is, "Do I use my ranged option (bow) or my melee option (sword)? Or, do I want to Choose to Suck by using a sub-optimal choice (anything else)?"

Additionally, there is the risk that the player will select specialization in a seriously sub-optimal weapon like the crossbow or club. This gives the player a major chance to suck that will drastically impact their effectiveness compared to someone who specializes in, say, the long sword or long bow or dual-wielding specialized hand axes or something. I don't like giving people the choice to suck, as it punishes newbies who don't understand all the implications of their choices as well as roleplayers who are trying to make fun choices and don't care about the mechanical implications.

Thus, my argument that any "fix" to the fighter class' overall power should NOT affect just a single weapon. It removes one of the fighter's few choices. If you need to fix the fighter he probably doesn't have hirelings to command and control. He doesn't have any spells. So the only thing he DOES have is weapon selection. Don't take even that away from him.


Fighters are likely to need a boost if (A) they don't have followers and (B) they don't have 18/xx STR or 17+ CON. The tactical effect of these factors is to give them higher damage per round (high STR, or lots of hirelings all piling in at once), greater endurance (more HP, or a henchman cleric to provide healing/buffs, or hirelings to take hits and then retreat after soaking damage), or greater versatility (the specialized features provided by hirelings/henchmen).

Thus, I would create a fighter variant. Here's a rough hack. This variant is intended ONLY for single-classed fighters. No dual-class or multiclassing is possible. As you will see, this basically creates VERY mild multiclasses anyways to give the fighter additional choices and/or durability/burst damage.

PROHIBITIONS: The variant fighter selects from the following prohibitions at character creation. At DM's option, additional prohibitions may be taken later.
- No extraordinary strength (+1). The fighter loses their entitlement to extraordinary strength. Even if their STR is later raised to 18 by magic or aging, they do not gain the extraordinary strength roll.
- No extraordinary con (+1). The fighter loses the bonus HP gained by 17+ CON. Even if their CON is later raised to 17+ by magic or aging, they do not gain the bonus HP.
- Follower Restrictions (+1; prereq - CHA 9 or higher). The fighter may not employ followers more than 1 alignment place seperate from themselves. Moreover, the number of henchmen they can have is restricted by level as follows: Lvl 1-4 (0), Lvl 5-8 (1), Lvl 9-12 (2), Lvl 13+ (3). Any hirelings or retainers take a -50% morale modifier.
- Lone Wolf (+2; prereq - CHA 9 or higher). This may not be taken with Follower Restrictions; only one or the other may be taken. Any followers must be exactly the same alignment as the fighter. The fighter may not employ any hirelings or henchmen until level 4. At level 5, 1 fighter henchman or non-combat retainers may be hired. At level 9, a second fighter henchman may be hired. if establishing a stronghold, 1/2 the normal followers are attracted.

Count up the total above. For example, a fighter who selects Lone Wolf, no EX STR, and no EX CON gains +4 points. A fighter who only selects no EX CON gains +1. At level 1, and each time a weapon proficiency is gained, the fighter may spend a benefit point on one of the following perks.

Hedge Magician (Prereq: 13 INT). The fighter has mastered some simple magic tricks. Roll twice on the DMG's list of Utility and Defensive spells for new Magic-Users. The player may then select one spell from each list to learn. These spells can be cast at any time and no memorization is required. After casting one of their spells, the Fighter must make a save vs. Spell; if the fighter has 15+ INT, a +1 bonus is gained, if the fighter has 18+ INT, a +2 bonus is gained. No other bonuses can be gained to this save. If succesful, then the fighter may continue to cast. If the save is failed, then any additional castings inflict 2d10 damage. It takes 4+ hours of rest, just like a MU, to recover spell capability after a failed save.

Moreover, the fighter may read magical scrolls as a thief.

The fighter's effective caster level is equal to 1/2 his fighter level.

- This Perk may be taken multiple times. Each time it is taken, roll twice on the defensive and utility spell lists again and select another spell from each list. The fighter may fail one extra save before accruing damage. For example, a fighter who takes this perk three times will know 6 spells (3 defensive and 3 utility). He can cast freely until he has failed three spell saves; then he he will begin to take damage for each additional casting.

Devoted Warrior (Prereq: 13 WIS). The fighter has gained some minor clerical abilities. Each day, the fighter may pray for and memorize two level I clerical spells. These spells may be spontaneusly cast as often as desired, but after each casting, the character must roll a save vs. RSW applying a bonus (if applicable) for high wisdom; no other bonuses apply. Once failed, no more casting is possible. The effective caster level is 1/2 fighter level.

Once reaching level 4, the character may also Turn Undead as a cleric of their level -3, but must immediately roll the above save as if casting a spell. Failure indicates no more spell casting or Undead Turning is possible that day.

If this perk is taken additional times spell capability improves as follows:
Twice: Select 4 / Fail 2 saves
Thrice: Select 5 / Fail 3 saves. Level II spells may now be selected by swapping out three Level I slots. The save is made at -4.
Four Times: Select 6 / Fail 4 saves

Inspiring Warrior (Prereq: CHA 12). Each day, fighter may use the Bard's Inspire Courage ability once for each time they take this perk. Each usage lasts for a turn. Alternatively, the character may make a legend lore check; their effective level is equal to a bard's. Each time this perk is taken, the ability may be used one extra time per day.

Nature's Ally (Prereq: CHA 12 & WIS 12). The fighter may gain an animal companion as a druid using the Animal Friendship spell; the animal may have 1 HD for every 1 HD the fighter gains. Additionally, they may select 2 level I druid spells/day. Either spell may be freely cast but the fighter must roll a save vs. Spell afterwards, with a modifier for high wisdom (and no other modifiers allowed). Failure indicates no further spells may be cast that day. Caster level is equal to 1/2 character level.

If this perk is taken additional times spell capability improves as follows:
Twice: Select 3 / Fail 2 saves
Thrice: Select 4 / Fail 3 saves. Level II spells may now be selected by swapping out three Level I slots. The save is made at -4.
Four Times: Select 5 / Fail 4 saves

This perk may not be selected if "Devoted Warrior" has already been taken.

Nimble Fingers (Prereq: DEX 12). The fighter may perform Pick Pockets, Open Locks, and Remove Traps functions as a thief of their level -3. If this perk is taken again, they may hide in shadows and climb walls as well. These skills may be limited by worn armor. Each time this perk is taken, the fighter gains +1 to AC against attacks on their rear AC provoked by hastily leaving a melee combat.

Durable Warrior (Prereq: CON 12). Each day, the fighter may take 1 turn to recover 1d6 x level HP. Alternatively, they may take 1 combat round to recover 1 x level HP. If this perk is taken multiple times, then they may use this self healing one extra time per day.

Brutal Warrior (Prereq: STR 12). Each day, the fighter may add 1d6 x 1/2 level damage to a succesful melee hit. This extra damage is added after the roll-to hit (so it is never wasted on a miss). 1d4 x 1/2 level may be added to a ranged attack. Alternatively, the fighter may reroll a bend bars or open doors check or any other check related to STR. If this perk is taken multiple times, this extra damage (or reroll) may be used one extra time per day.

Raging Warrior (Prereq: STR 12 & CON 12). The fighter may choose to go into a rage. This rage incurs a -4 AC and saving throw penalty, but the fighter deals +4 damage on hits with melee or hurled weapons. The fighter also gains reduces all damage taken from attacks by 1 and gains +3" to speed. The rage lasts for 1 turn. If this perk is taken multiple times, this rage may be used one additional time per day each time.

Ascetic Warrior (Prereq: STR 12, CON 12, WIS 12). The fighter gains all the benefits of a level 1 monk including unarmed strike damage, unarmored AC, unarmored movement speed, etc. Each additional time this perk is taken the fighter gains the benefits of a monk of one level higher.

Versatile Warrior. The fighter gains proficiency in an extra allowed weapon. They also gain an additional secondary skill. Finally, they may learn one extra language.