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.