Sunday, July 9, 2017

Fixing Negative Ability Score Modifiers

The combination of point buy mechanics and new D&D editions have virtually eliminated negative modifiers from low attribute scores.  Seeing a swath of 11's and 12's on a character sheet is bland, especially if  a 13 bumps up your armor class in a mechanical but forgettable way.  Even old and old school games that feature them have issues.  In most cases they're a nice role playing nudge - the thief that is ugly and uncouth, the clumsy cleric, and the magic-user that is always coughing a sick.

The mechanical effects of those score can vary from negligible to disastrous.  If you're stringent with encumbrance, the thief's 8 in strength may come up, or the low charisma cleric is stuck with a few less hirelings. In many cases almost forgettable. A low Constitution for a fighter is annoying, but playable, but even a -1 one to rolled hit dice is crippling to a Magic-user - you're averaging less than 9 total hit points at 5th level.   The odds of survival are realistic for a susceptible person crawling around sewers and fighting monsters, but almost not worth trying.  Making it to 2nd level on 1 hit point can be scary and exciting for those sessions.  Still dreading a single hit from a halberd months later is tiresome.

We can do this better.  Penalties to fundamental game activities can turn a quirk into frustration.  Not only do flaws make the character more interesting, they should come up in sessions.

1.  Remove or change most class minimums.  The fighter with a strength of 8 is awesome.  Maybe for the rarer classes (Paladin, Assassin) you compensate for their not meeting the minimums in some other way (The Paladin Rules), but usually the low score or lack of bonuses is painful enough for the standard classes.

2. Change how penalties from low attribute scores work.  Use the disadvantage rules from 5th Edition (still may be too in some cases).  Find effects that don't require tweaking every die roll - a poor constitution manifests in requiring more rest at night (can't take a watch shift) or twice as much rations due to gastrointestinal issues.

A few ideas:

  • Strength - reroll door opening attempts, decreased encumbrance capacity, needs assistance in manual tasks (piling crates to block the door)
  • Intelligence - ability to read/write, becomes a fan of the New Orleans Saints, inability to learn other languages, may misunderstand written or verbal communications (misinterpret NPC saying: "I don't know if it's poisonous" vs "it's not poisonous") or miscount coins
  • Wisdom - saving through penalties are probably sufficient, becomes lost more frequently, poor perception (distance vision or other senses)
  • Dexterity - clumsy or unlucky in catching or grabbing items (You are Jack Burton), misfortunes that hit once random party member (rock falls from ceiling) tend to hit you.
  • Constitution - I think the examples above, plus the AD&D system shock and resurrection survival percentages are good.  A simplified disease system would make this really shine.
  • Charisma - loyalty percentage per AD&D, increased possibility of hirelings lying/stealing, noticeable feature (weird eyes, scar or tattoo), suspicious feature (extra finger, forked tongue, webbed fingers), poor reaction rolls in more mundane situations ("The innkeeper dislikes you and you end up sleeping in the stables").
Ideally you'd have a dozen possibilities for each attribute on a random table next to it.Multiple rolls or more serious interpretations for the lowest of scores.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

4th Level Clan Tzimisce Fighter of Tzeentch, Part I

.I played a lot of  White Wolf around the time of its peak, though attempts at Sabbat campaigns were more "proof of concept" sessions than anything lasting.  Which I guess is appropriate.  Nevertheless I was fascinated ritae and cult aspects that kept packs together, and the mechanics behind them.  The mechanics made sense to address the challenges of competing character motivations and forging reasons for cooperation, which are a challenge for Vampire game, much less a Sabbat game with higher character turn-over and selfish motivations push to the limit.

While a pack of 1 HD vampires taking on Village of Hommlet may fire some of my synapses, I keep thinking back to Sabbat characters as the ultimate murderhobos (remember to skip the last 10 minutes when you re-watch "Near Dark") even without adopting the cult/organization membership as the binding mechanism for party coherence.  It's too tight conceptually to work outside of specific campaigns, though I suppose the Cleric of Khorne might be able to create potions of healing by mixing the blood of all the party members.  I still feel there's something there in the mechanics even if the trappings don't work, especially in a party where a handful of PCs work with a larger number of henchmen and hirelings.  The vaulderie takes place in the form of sharing treasure, shaping the loyalty of the hirelings to the party and the willingness to take risks, or simply keep working for a boss they dislike.  Not much better than the typical Charisma-based loyalty rules right now, but the concept will remain percolating in my brain while I obsess on how to apply it.

My other hireling and party interaction fascination is the old Warhammer Realms of Chaos books, specifically the warband concept.  For the unfamiliar, it's an (ideally) narrative wargame campaign, where each play creates a fledgling champion of one of the Chaos Gods and puts together a ragtag random entourage of monsters and followers.  As games are played, the champion gains abilities or mutations based on their success (calculated with bias to the God followed), eventually becoming a daemon prince sitting by the right side of their god (winning) or a barely sentient ball of tentacles and mouths.

A winner.
I love the idea of an actual role-playing focused game where each player has a champion and retinue that may work in congress or directly against the other players, despite it being a full time job to actual run as a functional campaign.  More reasonably, I can see this as a way to adapt a game to a very small player count and take on more aggressive changes in the campaign setting.  It could be played from a different angle - exiled nobleman gathering forces to depose an evil occupying force or despot, though I'd gladly see two or three players conspire to take down Altdorf or equivalent.

One aspect of old-skool D&D that I haven't seen successfully improved by the OSR is handling followers during exploration and combat.  Sure a couple of hirelings, especially when PCs are at low levels, but once higher levels are tracking a menagerie of ablative targets becomes both less useful and a pain to manage.  There are some great resources likes Meatshields and Hireling traits generator for creating them, but once combat occurs their utility fades along with their chances of hurting Ogres and the implementation of magic light sources increases.

We can learn from wargames on how to handle the large numbers and use of some abstract benefits, which plan to get to in Part II and explore in details in my Supplement C.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mearls Initiative

Initiative has always been my bugaboo in systems - they were all dumb, boring, or too complex/slow. Then a lightning bolt descended from the heavens, well Twitter-heaven, and struck me stunned.

This gave me the simulations stages of AD&D, the element of planning of side-based initiative, and the delusionally interesting bits of 2nd Edition AD&D.

The first things I'd adjust would adding something beneficial for charges vs normal "action + move",  tie spell casting time in (AD&D casting time + d6 or something, or better yet use the Mythus classifications:, and give some benefit for defensive reach.  But the core idea above is so strong, I don't want to mess with it too much.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In the Minds of Children, Chaos Reigns

The God that Holds up the Moon rules everyone.  Everyone?

Nazi spiders.

Giants have 130 teeth.

Travel to the other side of the earth results in dizziness from being upside down.

Jesus like a nice ghost with magic powers.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Sanities Shall Be Splintered

I've been playing a lot (meaning more than one hour a week) of Darkest Dungeon to get my gaming fix while accommodating family responsibilities.  While I can't quite call it relaxing, it is certainly spurring ideas for mechanics and campaign structure.

It dawned on my as a pondered how to recreate the stress mechanics.  Typical caveats for the poor and unrealistic treatment of mental illness apply.

Sanities Shall Be Splintered  
(yet another incomplete, proposed mechanic, with root concept from Trollsmyth's Shields Shall be Splintered)

Upon taking a hit, a player may choose to sacrifice the character's mental well being instead of losing hit points.  The character must make a save vs death (or wisdom, psionics, etc depending on your ruleset and preference):

  • If successful, the character sustains no damage but will have a temporary (but cumulative) -1 to further saves for Sanities Shall Be Splintered until 8 hours of restful sleep had been had.
  • If failed, the character gains a temporary insanity (from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, p83, or your preferred edition of Call/Trail of Cthulhu).  The insanity can be "cured" by a week spent in medition, prayer, flagellation, or preferred debauchery at a cost of 100 gp / character level.  The character also suffers the side affect of success listed above.
This is my first draft, conceived as a type.  The next revision will probably have results for a save of 1 (and positive revelations for a roll of 20).  Maybe spell loss, wisdom penalty, or something similar would be more appropriate.  

Friday, August 7, 2015

AD&D Bard, Revised

To promote the widest compatibility, and eliminate confusion, please substitute the class "Rogue" for "Thief" where your particularly deficient ruleset makes the same misstep.  This revision attempts to promote the keys elements of the bard class prior to its position as a second-rate Wizard while simplify the character development with moving through fighter and druid levels.

Bard Class Summary
Hit Dice:  d6
Weapons:  dagger, dart, club, short sword
Armor:  leather, padder.  Bucklers may be used at the Dungeon Master's discretion
Saving Throws:  as per thief
Experience Points: Bards advance in levels by the same experience point table as Thieves 

Class Description
The profession of bard is not dishonorable, albeit is neither honorable nor highly respected in some quarters. The major ability for a bard is dexterity, and a character must have not less than a 9 to become a bard. High charisma and intelligence is also desirable. Any bard character with a dexterity greater than 15 gains the benefit of being able to add a bonus of 10% to experience points awarded to him or her by the referee.

A glance at the Class Ability section succeding this will reveal that high dexterity also benefits bards in the performance of their class functions. These functions are detailed a bit later. Many bards are neutral or evil, although they can be good, and of lawful or chaotic nature. Most bards tend towards evil.

All bards, regardless of alignment, known the language of their devious fellows, the "Thieves' Cant". This language is known in addition to others which may be learned because of race and/or intelligence.

Bards are principally meant to take by cunning and stealth. Bards have six-sided hit dice (d6). They are, however, able to wear light (leather) armor and use a fair number of weapons. Although they fight only slightly more effectively than do magic-users, they are able to use stealth in combat most effectively.  

Class Abilities

The primary functions of a bard are: 1) entertainment, 2) opening locks, 3) finding/removing traps, 4) moving silently, and 5) hiding in shadows. These functions are basically self-explanatory. The chance for success of any performance is based on the ability level of the bard performing it. This is modified by the powers of the observer with respect to hiding in shadows. 

These functions are detailed as follows, performing as a thief of the same level:

1. Entertainment:  bards are proficient in an instrument, song, and storytelling.  Subsequent levels improve both their repertoire of instruments and proficiency in such skills already known.

2. Opening locks includes figuring out how to open sliding puzzle locks and foiling magical closures. It is done by picking with tools and by cleverness, plus knowledge and study of such items.

3. Finding/removing traps pertains to relatively small mechanical devices such as poisoned needles, spring blades, and the like. Finding is accomplished by inspection, and they are nullified by mechanical removal or by being rendered harmless.

4. Moving silently is the ability to move with little sound and disturbance, even across a squeaky wooden floor, for instance. It is an ability which improves with experience.

5. Hiding in shadows is the ability to blend into dark areas, to flatten oneself, and by remaining motionless when in sight, to remain unobserved. It is a function of dress and practice.

Secondary functions of a bard are:
1. Listening at doors to detect sounds behind them,
2. Ascending and descending vertical surfaces such as walls
3. Reading languages

These functions are described as follows:

1. Listening at doors includes like activity at other portals such as windows. It is accomplished by moving silently to the door and pressing an ear against it to detect sound.

2. Ascending and descending vertical surfaces is the ability of the bard to climb up and down walls. It assumes that the surface is coarse and offers ledges and cracks for toe and hand holds.

3. At 4th level, bards are able to read 20% of languages, and this ability increases by 5% with each additional level of experience until an 80% probability is attained. This enables the possible reading of instructions and treasure maps without having to resort to a magic item or spell. At 10th Level, bards are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature. However, the fact that bards do not fully comprehend magic means that there is a 25% chance that writings will be misunderstood. Furthermore, magic spells from scrolls can be mispronounced when uttered, so that there is an increasing chance per level of the spell that it will be the reverse of its intent,

Bards cannot build strongholds as some other classes of characters do. They can, however, build a tower or fortified building of the small castle type (q.v.) for their own safety; but this construction must be within, or not more than a mile distant from, a town or city. Any bard character of 10th or greater level may use his small castle type building to set up a headquarters for a company of bards, and he or she will accordingly attract from 4-24 other thieves. However, this will bring the enmity of the local Theater Guild, and they will struggle to do away with the rival organization. Once begun, warfare will end only when and if the Master Bards on either or both sides are dead, or if the bard character removes to another locale.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Niche protection ever has an article about linear fighter, quadratic wizard.  "Reality Ensues" really summarizes the quandry.  I'll save my arguments and ideas for improvement for a subsequent post.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poisons, Wolvesbane, and War Pigs

Lately I've been reading "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World" which leads me to the conclusion that there is not enough poison in my D&D games.

Poison traps and poisonous bites of monsters sure, but they tend to be immediate "Save or Die" situations more than anything.  Spells of Neutralize and Slow Poison exist, and should be resources to expend, and I should structure poisonous threats to generate more building debilitation or death after hours.  Provide anti-venom or potions as resources to be purchased and expended, and accentuate the decision to press on or return to town rather than rolling up a new character.

Poisons in 5E are on the right track, though the PHB item is a little too expensive for the minimal effect, but I like to see it tied in to the proficiency of the character and some resource management.  The AD&D PHB mentions belladonna and wolfsbane with little mention of their use.  I'll have to dig out the Dragon Magazine articles expanding on the AD&D DMG to provide the variety and background of knowledge.  I've never found the exact fit for effective spell component use vs recording keeping headaches, and maybe poison creation (especially with recipe elements like Skyrim or Dragon Age video games) can be a test run of a better method.  I'd like to see thieves, assassins, and alchemists concocting their poisons and others buying them, and actively using in combat (or sneak attacks).

I love a good backstab and don't want that to disappear, but thugs with envenomed daggers fit better than gymnastics amid a melee. Thieves get a resource to be managed, to improve combat damage or eliminate foes.  Certainly one that fits my vision more than some of the "combat effectiveness" abilities presented in various rulesets.

War Pigs, or at least war dogs (guard dogs in AD&D, mastiffs in 5E, I presume), always seemed to be a crutch for low-level characters in my younger days.  They were set aside after a couple leveles, and took the place of some hirelings.  Still, I like the idea of the baggage train expedition.  If war animals or military elements don't work for you in the dungeon,  they work at camp to guard the horses, or assist with the party's night watch.  They require a hireling the manage more than one, and best yet - require no share of treasure beyond some iron dog chow.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Welcome to the New Gods

I'm still working out of the specifics of the New Gods.  There were will be some obvious influences, but these should not be directly derivative ("Flesh for the Flesh God").

Thus far, the contenders worth posting:

  • The Unknowable Womb of Dreams - Creator of the World Made Flesh and Vine, and fundamental elements of the yet uncreated.
  • Master of Writhing Memories - Doomed to wander the paths of the world and steal the thoughts of man to subsist.
The other three are in flux, their elements clear, but waiting a final form (in my brain) to be reborn upon this world.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Old Gods are the New Gods

You believe and hold five gods to be true and powerful, one clearly superior to the others.  All other spirits, divinities, and supernatural beings are either clearly subservient, or inferior and opposed to your gods and followers.  Your comrades believe in the same gods, but some hold others of the same five to be ascendant.

Your mission is to convert or corrupt enemies of the faith and failing that - destroy them.  This includes your comrades.  

I swear I will make henchmen and hirelings work.  Observe the Auctoritas Ritae.