Monday, January 30, 2012

Combat Models

As I've stated numerous times, I'm a Fighter guy. My attention span being what it is, I don't like characters with little margin for error. With fighters I usually have a decent armor situation and ability to roll with a few punches, so if I'm not "on my game" when combat starts, I have a couple of rounds to get my head right.

As a referee I gauge my comfort level directly by the combat system, both how it plays mechanically and how it represents the fighters themselves. Thus we approach the relevant conundrum.

I think it is impossible for me to find what I want in a combat system. Here are some things I would dearly love to have, all in one system, all working together:

  • Armor reduces damage
  • Fighting "inside" is a viable option, making knife fighters scary things (like Ray Winstone's character in King Arthur)
  • Fighting without armor is an option, harder to hit yet easier to kill
  • Shields are truly useful, actively blocking incoming hits, as well as being used offensively (a la Spartacus)
  • Combat should be unpredictable and deadly, but not so random that experienced characters can't have some confidence
  • It should not be too fiddly, but have some tactical options so that combat doesn't become too repetitive

There are a variety of systems that meet some of the above, but I don't know of any that satisfies all of them. The old Microgame, Melee, comes close, but it is a bit fiddly in spots. For me, anything that relies on maps and minis is fiddly off the top. I understand that most of those things require a system that models the combat, and anything that does that is going to be tactical in nature, and therefore probably quite crunchy.

There's no real point to this other than some bitchy whining. If anyone knows of a system that answers those desires, please enlighten me.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New House Rules

I've uploaded my latest house rules for WhiteBox. They are fairly complete (unless I missed something). I do still need to do the spell list, designating which spells are under which colleges. Other than that, I'm happy enough with it. Feel free to comment and offer helpful criticisms.

By the way, this is a completely different animal from the C:ADD project. These are simply house rules for WhiteBox, not the (almost) full-fledged concept that Crucible is. These are the house rules for a sandbox I have in mind.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More to love about OSH

I'm trying not to turn into a raving fanboy, but posts like this make it difficult. For a few months it has been nagging at my mind that to-hit bonuses are not the carrot I always thought they were. I love playing fighters, so to-hit bonuses were the bread-and-butter to my character growth (along with hit points, those being the only things a fighter gets for leveling, oh, and better saves).

A lot of digital ink has been spilt over lengthy D&D combats and that is, in fact, a major selling point for any game comparing itself to D&D, including inter-edition in-fighting. At some point it started dawning on me that combats take so long because to-hit numbers don't really change. Creature AC gets more challenging almost in lock-step with the character's ability to successfully engage more powerful creatures. The thing that doesn't scale, especially from the character perspective, is damage output. HP go thru the roof, eventually, for characters and creatures. So, when the chance to hit remains fairly constant, damage output remains fairly constant, and HP scale upward with level, combats will get longer and longer. It's simple math.

Old School Hack breaks that paradigm. Hit Points not only start stressfully low, they stay there. The chance of hitting an opponent does not scale with level. Fighters get a one-time +1 to hit, by virtue of being fighters. Fighters also have the intrinsic ability to cause an extra point of damage. To someone who is more familiar with later editions of the game I'm sure those "bonuses" aren't worth the graphite it would take to write them on your character sheet. To old school gamers and devotees of a more reasonable power curve, those bonuses are sweet indeed.

This does raise a question, though. Once the characters pass into the 5-8th level tier, and 9-12th beyond that, I wonder if there will be Talents introduced to increase survivability. Personally, I would like to see some that affect an enemy's hit chance, without having crazy AC numbers. I know shields soak damage, so maybe enchanted shields that can soak more than normal. There is also the use of APs to soak damage, but that is "expensive". Some sort of Dodge talent or the like would be good. Just something to get the fighter more comfortable with being on-point heading into the dragon's lair.

Old School Hack Further Thoughts

There were a few things I didn't get into my review, and a few things that a re-read and further thought have brought to mind.

  • Movement Between Arenas

     I wasn't exactly accurate about moving between Arenas. It is as simple as taking a Move action on your turn. I also want to note that Arenas can be vertical relative to each other. For me as a DM, this is significant. I can't think of ever designing an encounter with real vertical options. My abilities were already strained in two dimensions, three was out of the question. Pit traps notwithstanding. I never felt comfortable mapping things of that nature, let alone having players all over the place like that during a fight. With Arenas that isn't a concern. A simple schematic showing the Arenas relative to each other is all that's needed to have some high-flying fight scenes, literally.

  • Arena Talents are more useful than Encounter Powers

     I had said that Talents are similar to Powers, just with better execution. I overlooked one very important, but subtle difference. Arena Talents are roughly similar to Encounter Powers. However, Arena Talents refresh upon entry to a new Arena. Upon my first read, I had mistakenly thought they were essentially usable once per battle, a misconception that was tied to my lack of understanding of movement between Arenas. An immediately obvious benefactor to this is the Magic User, who can blast away in one Arena, relocate, and fire away again. I like this, because it helps keep magic users from using their useful spells, then cowering behind something, hoping they don't have to actually come out and fight.

  • Niche Protection in a game where any class can select any Talent

     In my review I made a cryptic reference to something I would house rule out. I was referring to a rule that there can be only one of any particular class in an adventuring party. I tend to read new rules in a very insular fashion. On my first read-through I don't always recognize the synergy between systems, thus some features don't always make sense to me until I go back and re-read. This is one of those times. D&D, and by extension, anything based on it, relies on niche protection because the character classes are based on archetypes. When a game, like OSH, opens the door to classes possessing one another's abilities, the niches can slowly erode. In that character development environment, I can see the need to maintain niche protection. The rules present the naked mechanics for such protection, which was one of my initial put-offs, but with a little "window dressing" it all makes sense and plays just fine. There are a lot of rules in a lot of games that don't look that good in a vacuum, but with a little context they can be seen for the useful additions they are. This is one of those.

  • Tone and Layout

     The tone of writing in these rules walks a fine line. On the one hand it is familiar and conversational (one of my favorite lines is "Every player picks one of the seven Class Sheets. Once you’ve picked a class, that class belongs to you, and no one else can play it, so don’t be a dick about it.") On the other hand, it is authoritative where it needs to be. Too many games coming out of the OSR go too far with portraying themselves as "just guidelines, not rules, play however you want to".
     The layout and graphics are superb. Each page covers one or two topics. No topic spans more than one page. The rules are presented in a very visual fashion, which appeals to my short attention span. The fonts really add to the presentation, and though I'm no authority, strike me as being quite print-friendly. There is virtually no art, aside from the cover, but between the fonts, layout, and iconography, these rules do not suffer for the lack.
  • Cover is minimalist awesome

     OK, so this has nothing to do with the game as a game. It has a lot to do with the evocation of the mood of the game. It is minimal, yet it speaks volumes. The image is a village (at least that's how I see it), on an island in the sky. There is something hanging off the side. At first glance, it looks like some sort of lantern or street light, but that isn't right. It's a tower or other dwelling. The Lord of the village? Maybe the local wizard? Who knows? The whole thing looks magical to me, without the artist feeling like he needs to beat me about the head and shoulders to make that point. In short, it is a cover that makes me want to see what's inside. I am very glad I accepted that invitation.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Old School Hack Review and Thoughts

I just finished a read-thru of this free game (link to the lower right, under Free Swag). I am impressed.

I avoided this download for a little while, because I had mistakenly linked it with Red Box Hack. I have no interest in RBH, mainly because I can't get my head around anthropomorphic animals as PCs. As it turns out, OSH is a hack of the Red Box hack. As far as I know, it uses the underlying systems of RBH and makes it a little more "normal". I can not attest to the actual veracity of those statements, as I've never read RBH, but it is what I gather from reviews and forum posts and the like.

Like I said, I am impressed by this game. It takes some old, and not-so-old, ideas and puts a refreshing spin on them. I'll lay out some of the things I like, bullet-style.

  • Attributes Rather than "stats" representing intrinsic qualities of the character, OSH uses "Attributes", which seem to be an indication of the raw, inherent quality in the character, combined with the character's ability to actually use that quality to best effect. Thus, Brawn isn't just raw strength and size, it is the character's ability to use that strength and size effectively. It covers obvious things such as weight allowance, but also provides a bonus to things like intimidation. So, attributes provide not only "stat checks", they also become a broadly applied sort of skill system.
  • Attributes are rated by their bonus/penalty only. So, rather than having a STR 15, granting a +1 bonus, you would have Brawn +1. The bonuses are randomly determined using 2d10 rolls for each attribute.
  • Talents Each class has a list of Talents associated with it. Each class receives one talent per level, including first. Talents are very similar to Powers in 4E in principle. In execution, however, they are vastly improved. They are generally quite simple, and where ambiguities do exist, it is almost expected. This is an old school game in spirit, after all. Talents are rated by their usage, much like Powers. Some are Constant meaning they are either always on or may be used as desired. Some are per Arena, basically meaning per combat. Some are Rested, being usable once per rest period. The chief difference, aside from simplicity of the individual talents, is that they don't define the character as much as Powers do. This game has a definite old school vibe, and in the old school role play defines the character. Talents just add a little spice.
  • Spells are Talents, pretty much like 4E. But wait til I get to Awesome Points and you'll see the difference.
  • In OSH any character can take any Talent, regardless of class. When the character gains a level and is able to select a new talent, he can select from any class. The only real restriction is that a character must have more class talents than cross-class talents. There's another restriction, but it is related to something I'd house rule out. I'll get to that later.
  • Weapons and Armor These are rated by categories, such as Light, Reach, Ranged, Heavy, etc, for weapons. Unarmored, Light, Heavy, etc, for armor. The weapon categories are based more on usage than anything else, and armor is based on material/coverage, yielding an Armor Class. There are examples given within each category, but the details are essentially a matter of role playing. As long as the mechanical aspects of the category your character is using are adhered to, it's all good. A Heavy Weapon could be a shiny bastard sword or an old tree limb covered in broken glass and rusty nails. Mechanically if they're both listed as Heavy Weapons, it all comes down to the same thing. Most weapons do a flat 1 point of damage on a successful hit. The main thing that differentiates them in game terms is the type of combat they are designed for, which brings us to . . .
  • Arenas I'll admit, I'm going to have to see an example of this in action. It is a pretty abstract concept, but I have a hunch it plays very well. I can't put my finger on it, because I don't fully understand it in practice, but I get a good vibe from it. As far I do understand it, Arenas are areas where combat occurs. It could be a narrow bridge, a tight tunnel, or across steeply pitched roof tops. They're abstract in that there is no specific map and movement between them is more than just an expenditure of movement points. I don't really want to say more because I don't want my limited understanding lead to misunderstandings.
  • Awesome Points I'm not crazy about the name, but that's just a personal thing. It's easy enough to call them whatever I want. It's not hard to imagine what they are, so I'll just gloss that over. One thing I find interesting about them is that advancement is entirely dependent on using them. The adventuring party advances as a group once all members have used 12 AP. Since AP will only be earned for doing awesome stuff, it means the characters will, by extension, advance by doing awesome stuff. It's an interesting mechanic and its effect on the game is much more nuanced than its brief write-up in the rules suggests.
  • Awesome Points can also be used to refresh Talents, so Magic Users will likely be hoarding them until a big fight, then spending them like water to keep those spells coming.
  • Task Resolution I had to read this one a couple of times to make sure I wasn't missing something. To resolve a task, the character rolls (the much underused) d12, adds relevant Attribute/Talent bonuses/penalties and must meet or exceed the target number. In a contested task check, that target number is d12 plus the opponent's bonuses/penalties. Here's the wonky portion: In a non-contested check, the target number is simply the d12. That's right, the target number is totally random. The DM can assign a modifier to it, if the situation warrants, but it is still random. From the perspective of a guy sitting at a table having fun, I like that. Nothing generates dramatic tension like a little uncertainty. On the other hand, from the point of view of a guy weighing the risk to the character I've been playing the last 10 months, I'd like something solid to base my decisions on.
  • Power Curve This game has a very modest power curve. Characters rarely have more than 8 HP. Almost all weapons and creatures deal 1 point per successful hit. The Talents, while not particularly balanced against each other mechanically, are pretty understated and no particular one should ever come to dominate play.
I really like this game. It isn't perfect, but none are. I may do another post with some quibbles, but quibbles are really all I have. No heavy criticisms, and even the quibbles I have are easily house ruled. Anyway, like I said, this is free and there is a link in my Free Swag thing at lower right. Go check it out.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oil and Water

I have been pondering 5E these last few days. Now comes the news that AD&D 1E will be available for a limited time starting this April. This started me to thinking.

D&D was born as a hobby, not a business. It is blatantly obvious that the LBBs were written for hobbyists. There was virtually no attempt to explain the terminology. It was assumed that anyone reading D&D also owned Chainmail. It was like your buddy's house rules. You got a copy of his house rules knowing full well that you were getting, basically, a shortcut and guidepost to creating your own game. The LBBs were sparse to the point of being terse because they were simply one way to do it. It was like they were saying, "This is how we use Chainmail to play out fantasy adventures in Lake Geneva. YMMV."

It occurred to me today: You can not market a hobby. You market products, not hobbies. Or, I guess, more to the point, hobbyists can't market their own hobby. But, corporations can market support for the hobby. At least while there's money in it.

I'm a creative person by nature. I can tell you that it is my belief that it is in the nature of human creativity that we want to create things of interest to us. For example, I have absolutely zero interest in working up Vive Liberte: The RPG of the French Revolution. No offense to anyone interested in the French Revolution, it's just not my thing. It doesn't matter to me if there was a media wave of interest that could capsize the Poseidon, I'm not writing that game. I'm a hobbyist and I do what interests me.

I think that's where TSR started to unravel. They had passionate people writing things that no one else cared much about, and they had people dispassionately developing things simply because they decided that was where the money was. They were completely out of touch with their audience. There is an article by Ryan Dancey here which discusses the WotC acquisition of TSR. In it he notes the disconnect between corporation and consumer that almost meant the end of D&D. In the end, it did mean the end of D&D, I guess, at least as we had known it.

From that article it is clear that Mr. Dancey is a passionate hobbyist with a heartfelt and emotional desire to save the company that meant so much to him as a youth. Which of us wouldn't feel the same way, if put in a position to save D&D circa 1997? It was, I believe, his hobbyist's heart that created the OGL. In the halcyon days of D&D's youth companies like Judge's Guild created wonderful supplements, setting, adventures, and play aids. They were heady times, exciting times, to be a gamer. I miss those days of wonder, of exploring just how far we could push this limitless hobby. I miss those days to the core of my soul.

Then, history repeated itself, and into the garden a serpent did come. 3E, and 3.5E, trod the same ruinous path as its forebears. Too many "splatbooks", too many supplements touted as necessary, too much crap. After 35 + years in this hobby, watching it grow and evolve, I can assure you of one thing: Nothing will erode gamer trust as fast as treating us like a bottomless pocket. The attitude "They'll buy it because they're geeks and we'll tell them they have to have it" is extremely alienating. So, WotC took D&D to the same precipice TSR did, and once again, it took a corporation to save it.

Here at last we come to the point of my metaphoric title. Hasbro is a corporation, dedicated to making money. They came in and remade D&D. I personally believe that it was done to distance their product (4E) from the WotC product that existed under the OGL. Hasbro repeated another mistake of the past. TSR eventually became extremely restrictive about out-of-house products, which was perhaps the first tolling of the death-bell. Now, Hasbro did the same thing. Release a new edition that is free from the OGL. Reestablish control. Then, they did the unthinkable: they released a bazillion splatbooks, supplements, settings, and adventures. They tried to apply the same peer-pressure bullshit "All the other geeks are doing it. You won't be playing D&D if you don't." Was there really any question how that would play out?

Now comes 5E. I was optimistic at first, hopeful even. The more I think about it, though, the more it seems too ambitious to me. That means that either they are telling us what they think we want to hear, or they really do plan on trying to blend all editions and playstyles, which is as doomed as the Tower of Babel. I'm sorry to be so pessimistic about it, but I think if a fifth edition ever does see release, it will be a big box of goodies and cards, like the Hasbro Gamma World. Hasbro is a toy company run by lawyers and MBAs. They will operate under the old baseball adage "Dance with the one that brung you".

Lastly, I believe the pending re-release of the AD&D 1E core is a bone being thrown to us by some hobbyist still in the ranks at WotC. It is the great beast spewing up one last piece of treasure before it breathes its last. This events lead me to a sad contention: We are living in the last days of D&D as a living, vibrant product line. I hope I'm wrong about this, I really do.

Ask the Bastard

Thanks to James at Dreams of Mythic Fantasy for bringing this to my attention. Not only is this guy funny, he actually makes some decent points. Sometimes. Sometimes he's just funny. Either way it's a win-win.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Free Goodness

Allow me to direct your attention to the bottom of the right column, below the counter. There I will be maintaining a list of links to some free games. The list will be mainly non "mainstream" free games, to hopefully get them some more exposure. I hope you see somethings you like.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

C:ADD Half-Level

I was watching Spartacus: Blood and Sand over the weekend. I think my leveling scheme for warriors maps well to life in the arena, with one exception. First, a brief design note.

The leveling scheme is the way it is because of its source. There are essentially three levels in Chainmail, Normal, Hero, and Superhero. There are more for Magic-Users, but for now we're talking about warriors. The other reason is that I never want players to lose that thrill of danger, the feeling that any given combat against an equal foe could mean death. So, I wanted to keep HD kind of low, and not let bonuses get out of hand. I want the player to have to accept the fact that there are some creatures out there that they can not simply outlast while they methodical bash their heads in. Sometimes it will take strategy, guile, and a willingness to fight dirty.

Having said all that, and based on Spartacus, I think there should be something between Sellsword and Hero. Not a full on level, just some sort of bonus. Something that says "I've faced death". In the show, while the gladiators first arrive at the ludus and begin training, it is mostly raw talent that separates them. Once they've been christened in the blood of the arena, they are different.

Anyway, I came up with the notion of a "Half-Level". At 6,000 XP the warrior can choose to take +1 Combat or +1 Damage Die. This bonus is part of the one he gets at 2nd level. So, if a warrior takes +1 damage die, when he achieves 2nd level, his damage dice will increase by +2, to a total of +3.

Additionally, at 6,000 XP the warrior receives 2 Quality points. Like the above bonus, these 2 points are part of the four he normally receives when gaining a new level. So, when the warrior reaches 12,000 XP and makes 2nd level, he will only receive the remaining 2 Quality points.

It's really just a thought. I'm interested to hear what anyone thinks.

Call me crazy, but . . .

I love Harn. I even love Harnmaster, but it cuts against the grain of my current minimalist leanings. The Harn setting, though, is so cool. This isn't meant to be a review or even some sort of "things I love" post. I just wanted to establish that I do indeed have a long lasting and deep love for the setting.

Here's the crazy part: the last day or two I have been thinking about what a nice fit Risus would be. I know Risus is supposed to be all about fast silly fun, a beer-and-pretzels one-off thing when there is a problem with the regular game. There are, however, many examples of house rules for bringing a more serious tone to the game. I haven't explored them very much, only enough to get this crazy idea.

I have read Harnmaster. I've also seen a pretty good set of conversion rules for using GURPS in Harn. One thing common to both situations is that in such a detailed setting, it really means something to be a certain "profession" from a certain area. There is quite a lot to being a minor Kaldoric noble, or an Ivinian Huscarl, or a Shek P'var. What ends up happening is that by the time you've selected the combination of skills/advantages/perks/flaws/whatever to adequately describe the broad strokes of the character's profession and social background, there is nothing left to describe the nuances.

With Risus Kaldoric Noble (4) paints a complete picture of that aspect of the character. It covers everything it means to be a Kaldoric Noble. Almost as importantly, it can be applied in a nuanced way, thus it also fills in the broad strokes with the subtle shading that brings a character to life.

I like this idea.

An End to Lamentations

If you're been reading my posts for these last few weeks, you know my focus is as splintered as a tree after a lightning bolt. But, like Roy did with his splintered tree, I'm hoping to take the heartwood and make Wonderboy.

I've played a lot of games over the years. I mean a lot. But not a single one has ever let me fully play the character I saw (at least without starting at the equivalent of 10th level or so). I'm no munchkin or min-maxer, but when I have a kick ass concept and I can't play him because even though an ex-Navy SEAL is allowed, the meager build points at start means he'll shoot like crap, can't sneak up on anybody, and is more likely to blow his own hands off than set the claymore right. I can say my first level dwarf is a grizzled veteran of the Orc Wars, scarred emotionally by seeing his entire clan destroyed, but when the dice hit the table, he's still a 1st level fighter.

Now, look, I know the rag about role playing. I can play him like a grizzled veteran, sure. But when we run up on a group of orcs and the thief has as much chance to kill one as I do, it falls a little flat. It is a difficult thing to reconcile, though, because just throwing levels/development points around willy-nilly is like trying to kill a mosquito with a Stinger missile. Sure, It'll be dead, but the collateral damage will be bad.

So, yesterday I rediscovered a game I had a minor interest in a few years ago. I spent a little time with it, and layed it aside. The game is Risus. It is very minimalist, as far as rules crunch is concerned. Which means it doesn't have a lot of rules to get in the way. Best of all are the Cliches. They are things used to describe a character, the things that really make up the character. They're not really skills, although they do give an indication of what the character is capable of. For example, I could have a guy with Battle Axe (4). So, he's a real terror with a battle axe. But it is more than that. This guy knows battle axes. That Cliche also would cover things like appraising them at the weaponsmith's stall and keeping his axe in good order. But consider this, more evocative, twist: Axe-brother of the Blood-fist Barbarians (4). He's still every bit the bad-ass with the axe as the first guy, but the Blood-fist are known for their ferocity in battle, so his dice (4) for this Cliche could also be used to resist fear effects, check moral, and possibly intimidate opponents.

Another thing I like is that Cliches can be applied to items as well. I despise it whenever I picture a fighter in formed boiled leather armor, looking all cool in my mind. Then I note his AC on the character sheet and it is a freaking 7. Well, he's supposed to be a fighter, and fighters go toe-to-toe with the meanest creeps around, right? So, an AC7 is out of the question. I have to bury my vision under 50 pounds of steel. My choices are to compromise my imagination -OR- have a new (better armored) character ready for when this one gets gnawed to death. In Risus (at least as I see it) the material of the armor is window dressing, or possibly important when considering environmental factors (lightning vs metal armor). It is the dice in the armor that matters. Same goes for weapons, a Dagger (3) is every bit the weapon a Claymore (3) is. It is more about imagination, vision, and role play than it is about number crunching, weapon vs armor, and damage comparisons.

This may ultimately be "empty calories", fun to eat, but not really satisfying. I don't know, and to be honest, I probably never will, since my lack of a group is a common theme in my posts. It is fun to think about though, and the idea that designing for Risus is akin to designing system-less is very liberating. I have a hard time maintaining my conceit when it comes to design. I tend to find myself having my design choices answer to the rules, rather than twist the rules to my designed "reality". If Risus frees me from that hang-up it will be well worth the time spent.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

An Ironwood Mace to the Side of the Head

O! Lucky day. On a whim I wandered into my favorite used book store today. There, on their meager gaming shelf, was a true gem from my gaming past: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 1st Edition no less. The first, and only, game to tear my former group away from D&D. I absolutely adore WFRP 1E, warts and all. Some of my favorite gaming memories come from WFRP.

My Norscan Pit Fighter named Kevlar. Our party included an elf, who was being played obnoxiously snooty. We were travelling on a river barge. He started treating Kevlar like his valet. It turns out they ended up in a cabin, and the elf made one condescending comment too many. Kevlar quietly closed and latched the door. He grabbed the snotty bastard by the throat and didn't let go until he threw the body overboard. Even when taking a face-full of some sort of icy blast, hurled before the lack of oxygen made casting impossible.

Second, was Tharen, my elven wizard. The campaign was fairly advanced by this point. Tharen wielded an ironwood mace when he needed to get personal. In the culmination of the campaign he was squared off with a rival wizard. Tharen won inititiative, and cast Steal Mind. The GM declared his guy was casting Cause Stupidity (by that time Tharen's Intelligence was impressive). I said I was putting all Tharen's mana into it, he did likewise and we rolled. He failed, and seemed pissed. I failed also, and he cackled something about Tharen being stupid. I said, "That's ok, he doesn't have to be smart to cave your guy's head in with this mace", and I described in detail dragging the mace over to his slobbering, gibbering wizard and dealing him a fairly brutal coup-de-gras.

Big fun. I can not wait to get re-acquainted with this dear old friend.

C:ADD: Mage

Here is the revised and updated mage class, including level specific abilities:

Damage Dice (d6)

Spells is the maximum number of spells a mage may have memorized at any given time. Casting is the bonus to the casting roll. Casting will follow the table given in Chainmail, basically, with Immediate, Deferred, and Negated results. Negated indicates that the spell was lost from memory and must be restudied before it may be cast again.

Level-specific Abilities
May not engage fantastic opponents in combat without magic weaponry.
Arsenal: There are certain spells that mages never forget, no matter the casting roll. At first level this spell is Counter-Spell. Each level, including first, the player may add another spell to his mage's Arsenal. The spell's complexity may not be greater than the mage's level. Spells in the Arsenal do not count toward the maximum number the mage may have memorized. The casting roll is required as normal for these spells, with the exception being that a Negated result merely means failure to cast.
Identify: The Magician may make a standard roll to identify the properties of a magic item. Certain items may require more than one successful roll. The mage may add a bonus of +1 to this roll for each level above 2nd.
Scribe Scroll: Beginning at 2nd level, the mage gains the ability to create magical scrolls.
Legend Lore: Beginning at 3rd level the mage's experience and travels grants a +1 bonus to rolls concerning knowledge of legends, ancient histories, lost languages, and the like. This bonus increases by +1 per additional level.
Brew Potions: The mage is able to brew potions, given the proper equipment and ingredients. If the mage is in possession of a recipe, the brewing is automatic. If brewing “from scratch”, a standard roll is required.
The mage may engage fantastic opponents in combat without magical weaponry.
Craft Item: The mage may craft magical items, armor, and weapons (not including swords), provided he possesses the proper tools and equipment, supplies, and facility. Item creation requires a successful standard roll. Many items carry modifiers to this roll. If the mage is working from a “blueprint” these penalties are halved, round down.
Forge Sword: The mage may create magical swords. The details for doing this are provided later.
Fearful Presence: A wizard may use this ability once per turn, rather take another action. He may use it in one of two ways:
  • He may cause all opponents of 1 HD or less who are looking his way become paralyzed with fear. This effect will persist a number of turns equal to 5 – Number of opponents affected, with a minimum of one turn. Opponents thus affected will stand trembling and take no action for the duration.
  • He may cause panic in a single opponent. An opponent so affected will flee the wizard's presence as quickly as possible along the path of least resistance. The duration of this flight is (mage's level) – HD, in turns. The opponent is allowed a saving throw, and if successful, the duration of the panic is halved. Additionally, any creatures allied with a paniced opponent must succeed in a morale check or flee also.

C:ADD Warriors

I've tweaked the warrior slightly and added level-specific abilities. Here's the latest:

Damage Dice (d6)

Most of it is self explanatory, except the last two. Combat is a total bonus that can be used to modify the character's chance to hit or modify his opponent's chance to hit. It can be split any way the player desires and applies to all opponents equally. This bonus may also be applied to damage, as a single bonus, not a bonus per damage die. If used in this way, it can only be applied to a single opponent. Damage Dice is the number of dice of damage the character deals on a successful hit.

Level-specific Abilities

Can not engage fantastic opponents without magic weaponry.
Intimidating Presence: A trained and seasoned warrior can be an intimidating sight. When facing opponents with fewer HD than the warrior has levels, he imposes a penalty on their rolls to-hit. This penalty is equal to (warrior's level) – (opponent's HD). This penalty applies to all opponents judged to be engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the warrior. It should be obvious that this ability does not function on opponents with HD equal to or greater than the warrior. At first level it only functions against opponents with 1HD-x. Furthermore, if the warrior's opponents are forced to make a morale check, this modifier applies to that roll, as well.
Battle Reflexes: Warriors may apply their level as a bonus to Initiative rolls.

May engage fantastic opponents without the aid of magic weaponry.
Furious Assault: When fighting opponents with fewer HD than himself, the warrior may divide his damage dice into individual attacks. These need not be divided equally. Thus, a Hero ( 3 Damage Dice) is squared off against 4 goblins. He can elect to make 3 attack rolls, each doing d6 damage; 2 attack rolls, one doing 1 die and one doing two; or make one attack with 3 dice damage.

Receives an additional +1 to-hit and damage when fighting fantastic opponents.
Slayer: The Champion selects one particular type of fantastic creature. He enjoys a further +1 to-hit, on top of any other bonuses when fighting opponents of the selected type. Additionally, once per battle with the selected opponent he may double his damage dice.

Receives an additional +1 to-hit and damage when fighting fantastic opponents.
Inspiring Leader: The warrior is immune to fear. All allies with 15' of the warrior are likewise immune to fear, and never check morale. Allies beyond 15', but still within sight of the warrior, receive a +4 bonus to fear and/or morale checks.

C:ADD More on Qualities

The more I think about Qualities, the more I like them. However, as with anything as wide open as this, the potential for misunderstanding and misuse is greatly increased. So, here are some more detailed guidelines:

1) While being too specific will limit their utility, Qualities can not be too broad, either. Avoiding too much specificity is the concern of the player, policing the breadth of Qualities is the province of the referee. Generally speaking, the broader the Quality, the less it should be allowed to apply to specific situations.
Example: A character has the Quality "Dexterity +1". He enters a chamber split by a bottomless chasm, crossed by a narrow plank. On the other side he spies a chest. Deciding to try the plank, he must make a roll of 9+. Since this involves a general sense of balance, the referee allows the Dexterity Quality to apply. Once safely across, the player announces his character will pick the lock on the chest, and petitions for the application of his Dexterity Quality. The referee would be right to deny the bonus. The player is attempting to use a broadly defined Quality for a very specific task. In this instance a Quality of Thievery would be much better suited, and still broad enough to enjoy multiple uses.
2) Qualities which directly affect either combat or spell casting must be specific, on the other hand. A warrior with the Quality "Strength of Ten Men" would be able to use the bonus on weight lifting, breaking down doors, perhaps arm wrestling, but not as a damage bonus, under any circumstances. That would require a Quality limited to providing a bonus in combat situations, and nothing more. Likewise, a general Quality of "Smart as a Whip" will not affect spell memorization, use, or acquisition. Those activities would require Qualities unique and specific to them.

Generally speaking, a single Quality that can be used in so many ways that it is used almost every turn, is too broad and needs to be reined in. A Quality that only sees use once every session or two may be too specific and should be rethought.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

C:ADD Stats

I was whining earlier about the restrictive nature of stats, but I just can't see my way clear of them, at least in some form. Since the "Big Six" are a D&D trope, I don't have to adhere to them, though, which is good. So, here is what I'm thinking (subject to change):


     All characters possess Qualities. These are mental, physical, and/or spiritual aspects of the character that are above average. The player decides what the Quality is, there is no set list. However, it should be sufficiently broad so as to have utility. For example, Agile would cover pretty much anything that encompassed body control. Whereas Balance would only apply in very specific instances, and so not see as much use during play.
     It is not necessary that a Quality be compartmentalized. That is, it doesn't have to represent a distinct aspect of the character. For example, a character could have the Quality Constitution. It is obvious what that quality represents, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, a character could have the Quality Survivor. The character with Constitution would enjoy a bonus to rolls to resist extremes of weather and to enduring hardship. The Survivor would enjoy those bonuses too, as well as bonuses to foraging for food, finding water, and making shelter.
     Qualities are limited only by imagination. Just remember to keep them broad enough to be usable. It would be frustrating to dump your points into a Quality that only gets used every four or five sessions.

Beginning Qualities
     Characters begin play with four points to devote to Qualities. Each "plus" to a Quality costs a number of points equal to the "plus" being gained. So, to gain a +1 costs one point. To improve that to +2 would cost two more points, for a total of three. Additionally, Warriors and Mages pay additional points for Qualities outside their "comfort zone":

Quality Type

The costs given are a flat amount required each time the Quality is improved. Thus, for a Warrior to have a +1 Mental Quality costs three points. To improve it to +2 would require four points.

Ongoing Improvement
     Each level the character receives four points with which to improve his Qualities, or purchase new ones. The costs for these improvements is exactly as it is during character creation.

Final Thoughts
    Players are encouraged to devise unique names for their Qualities, just make sure it is clearly understood what the Quality represents. For example, the Quality of Survivor mentioned above could also be called Quality: Veteran of the Forlorn Marshes. Then, the player has a piece of the character's history hardwired into the character's stats. Just remember: make sure the referee and player are on the same page as to what Veteran of the Forlorn Marshes means.

My Game

After last night, followed by much thought this morning, I'm going to continue developing the ideas I've had. Some will be ideas conceived of for the house rule project, others will be brand new, like the new class/advancement scheme I posted last night. I'm going to keep the name Crucible for this rules set. I'm going to change the subtitle/tagline to: Adventures Dark and Dangerous. Hopefully that won't be construed as straying too close to someone's trademark.

Design Goals
As much as possible, I'm only going to work with Chainmail. Obviously, it is nigh-impossible to simply ignore 35+ years of gaming experience, so nuggets from that experience will make their way in. My figurative goal, though, is to "pretend" Chainmail is all I have. It's the mid 70's, I've read the fantasy supplement to Chainmail and decided to flesh it out. I've never seen D&D, but I have read Brooks, Burroughs, Lieber, and Tolkein.
So, that's the gist of the project. By basing it Chainmail I can, in my own sordid little mind, free myself of the sacred cows of D&D. See, for all my edition-whore posturing, I am OCD about my OSR. If something is going to claim to give me the LBB experience, I don't want it polluted with a lot of house rules. I'm just an ass like that. What this does is give me the opportunity to make D&D from the ground up, for myself, with my ideas.

By the way, as I post development notes here, the subject will be "C:ADD: whatever", to aid in identifying the development posts.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Does it really matter?

I've been mulling over this attention deficit quagmire I find myself in. What I'm coming around to is this: Does it really matter?

Is it strictly necessary to know down to the percentile who the better horseman is? Not really. Is it going to doom the entire campaign to failure for all concerned if a player declares his character served as a mess chef during his mercenary days, and should be able to concoct a meal for the company of Bad Men holding him prisoner, and gain favor with them. Absolutely not.

So, I have a new idea to occupy my chaotic mind. Start with Chainmail. Two "classes", Warrior and Mage. Warriors fight, Mages work magic. There is a much more condensed power structure, reflecting that in Chainmail. Warriors progress in levels thus:

Level    Title                XP         HD(d6+2)    Combat     Damage Dice (d6)
   1       Sellsword         0               1                   2                     1
   2       Hero            12,000          2                   3                     2
   3       Champion    60,000          3                   4                     3
   4       Lord            240,000         4                   6                     4

Most of it is self explanatory, except the last two. Combat is a total bonus that can be used to modify the character's chance to hit or modify his opponent's chance to hit. It can be split any way the player desires and applies to all opponents equally. Damage Dice is the number of dice of damage the character deals on a successful hit.

Warriors will have certain other abilities as they advance in levels, mostly related to heroically engaging their foes and being able to face more and more fantastic opponents.

Mages will advance thus:

Level     Title              XP         HD(d6-1)     Spells     Casting
   1        Seer               0               1                1              1
   2       Magician    15,000           2                 3             2
   3       Warlock     75,000           3                 5             3
   4       Sorcerer    300,000         4                 7             4
   5       Wizard       750,000         5                 9             5

Spells is the maximum number of spells a mage may have memorized at any given time. Casting is the bonus to the casting roll. Casting will follow the table given in Chainmail, basically, with Immediate, Deferred, and Negated results. Negated indicates that the spell was lost from memory and must be restudied before it may be cast again.

These are some pretty off-the-cuff ideas, unedited. So, what do you think? As for skills and so forth, if the outcome needs to be randomized, roll 2d6 for 9+, modified by circumstance, and a stat bonus, and/or level bonus, depending on the situation.


This will probably be brief and potentially rambling. My focus is all over the place right now, so I'm not completely happy with anything. When my mind turns like this, I start thinking about things I want in a game, but can't seem to find. At least not all together in one game.

One of the things I'm mulling over is the fact that once you establish any sort of list in a game, even if it is included as an example of what can be done, it creates a mutual exclusion. I think part of that is human nature ("I don't have the First Aid skill, I can't possibly wrap a bandage around your arm"), and part is systemic. If stats are weighted toward the high end (characters are exceptional paradigm), then the non-skill penalties are generally prohibitive to keep high-bonus characters from taking over.

Obviously, that thought applies to skills, and also to talents/feats/whatever. What is on my beady little mind this dreary afternoon, though, is stats. Why even mention them if they're average (no bonus, in other words)? Also, if your character is exceptional in some physical/mental/spiritual capacity beyond the Big Six, how do you represent that? There is no "stat" for mnemonic memory, it is subsumed into Intelligence in most systems. But what if my guy isn't a super-genius, just an ordinary guy with a phenomenal memory?

I'm not sure how to implement this sort of thing. Obviously, it would need to be completely open, no "example" lists. Also there would have to be some sort of guidelines for the breadth of the Attribute, balanced against either its cost to attain/improve, or the degree of its usefulness. Like, if you want a character with Mnemonic Memory and I want one that has Superior Intellect. Obviously, SI would be useful for remembering things, so it could provide its bonus to such activities. However, would it provide less of a bonus than the more focused Mnemonic Memory? Or, would there be a disparity in costs based on the fact that MM is more specialised? You could buy it higher, faster, and the trade-off would be that it may not come up too much.

I know there are games that have tackled this concept, FUDGE, FATE, PDQ, and something else that slips my mind (guess I should have put some points into Mnemonic Memory). I'm not sold on those wholesale, though, and thus we return to the relevant conundrum. Dizzying, right? Welcome to my world, enjoy your stay . . .

A Momentary Indulgence

I just wanted to say congratulations to my Alabama Crimson Tide. They devastated the LSU Bayou Bengals last night, 21-0. That's an old-school beat down, or as a buddy of mine used to say "the D-home stomp". Anyway, I've been a Tide fan since Nixon's first term, and through the bad times and good, I bleed Crimson. Roll Tide!

Monday, January 9, 2012

All that was old . . .

Good morning, friends,
I have news of some portent for you this morning. A new edition of D&D is in the pipe. You can learn more from the wizard's mouth here.

There is also an articles in The New York Times.

It is evident from reading the articles that WotC is taking a page from the open playtest playbook, used to such great affect by Pathfinder. It also seems evident that they intend to go back to the "toolkit" roots of the game. Love 3E and 4E or hate them, there are certain unavoidable truths about them. 3E attempted to enable diversity among characters with an idea that looked good on paper. That edition's rules for multi classing and prestige classes originally struck me as very cool. In play, however, they battered the gates of reason allowing a flood of munchkins. I also believe that such a tightly woven rules set, where virtually every contingency is spelled out, further opens the doors for munchkins. Because, really, what is a rules lawyer, but a munchkin with a better vocabulary?

4E was awesome, IF you played its game. Stray too far from the RAW at your own peril. One of my chief issues with 4E was the herculean effort it took to create new classes. As you may know, I'm a fan of a small number of basic classes, role-played as "ranger", "illusionist", whatever. But, that was rendered almost impossible in both editions. So, creating new classes along the new model, in order to personalize the game to the world, was almost impossible in 4E. It wasn't nearly so difficult in 3.x. There were numerous examples of using prestige classes to good effect to bring certain aspects of a campaign to life.

There was another thing that I took away from the article. It seems that with 3E and 4E the keys to the game were given to the players. Sure, there were improved stat blocks and new encounter paradigms, but the players were the clear focus. The DM became less of a Master and more of a Moderator. The game didn't belong to him anymore, it belonged to the rules, and to the players' interface with those rules, the characters. It became less an exercise in collective story telling and more about the DM entertaining a table full of players. Players, by the way, that were empowered to tell the DM he wasn't entertaining them properly if they caught him in a rules faux-pas.

I'm cautiously optimistic. I always look forward to a new edition, at least on the run-up, I'm an edition whore, after all. If they can put more of the game back into the DM's hands, and make it more of a toolkit, it should be pretty exciting. By the way, if you follow the Wizard's link above, you can sign up for the open playtest. Make your voice heard. Power to the people.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Buffalo Castle

I have survived a brief, but lucrative, foray into Buffalo Castle. My first experience was a positive one. I didn't enter very many rooms when I came upon the Bank Vault. I fought one wandering monster, a giant snake with no mate or treasure. I fought an orc on the way out. I opened one chest full of tear gas, and another with an emerald necklace worth 250 gp. In the vault I found a vitamin that doubled my CON, which started at a very respectable 15.

So, my final tally was 32 AP, a 250 gp emerald, a face full of gas (2 hits), and my CON doubled. Not bad, I don't think. I don't know how brutal BC has the potential to be, so I can't say just how lucky/good I was. I plan on hitting it again, though, since I only actually used about 14 entries. I know it has more to offer . . .

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

PocketMod Character Sheet Redux

Ok, since my GoogleDoc has gone rogue on me, here is an idea of the pocketmod sheet. Here is the link directly to the jpg again. Hopefully it will work this time. I've also changed the pointer in my Pages link, so it should go to a better place, vis a vis my GoogleDocs. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Tunnels & Trolls: Combat

I still haven't found time to play this, even a solo. My comments are untested observations on a reading of the rules. You've been warned.

The first time I read T&T some time ago, one of the things that initially put me off was combat. I was in a hyper-tactical frame of mind, and upon reading T&T doesn't seem to fit that bill. Wrong answer.

Combat in T&T is bog-simple. Combatants roll a number of d6, that number being derived from chosen weapon modified by three stats. This modification is called "Adds", and that is exactly what is does, it adds to the roll. Weapons can have adds too, so you might have a weapon that is rated 3 dice +2 Adds. Your stats might yield another +2 in Adds. So, you would roll 3d6+4 when using the weapon. Monsters do the same thing, but their numbers are arrived at differently.

Essentially, there is no "to hit" roll in T&T. There is only one roll, and it does determine who does the most damage, so in a sense it is a hit roll, but not really. Each combatant rolls his dice and totals them. The lower number is the loser. That lower number is subtracted from the higher number and the remainder is the damage. Armor reduces damage directly, so it is subtracted from the damage remainder, and the final result is deducted from the victim's Constitution score. Zero Constitution equals dead guy. There is also a rule for the winner of the combat potentially getting nicked up in the fracas, which is reasonable.

That, to my eyes, seems very simple, straight-forward, and quick to play through. Upon my initial reading there were two things about it that jumped out at me. I'll admit to not really opening myself up to the spirit of the rules, which hindered my understanding greatly. The two things were:

  1. All combatants on a side in combat pool all their dice and Adds. There is a single roll per side, compared for a final result, per side, with damage being evenly divided amongst all combatants on that side.
  2. A distinct and total lack of tactical options.

The thing about #1 that never occurred to me is to split a big combat into individual combats. It is not carved in stone that all combats must be reduced to a single roll per side. Split it up however you want to. It is actually very handy to have a "mass" combat system built right into the base combat system. Who wants to waste half the session in a combat with 14 goblins that were a random encounter to start with? Not me. Just lump it all together and get it over with.

As far as #2, I wasn't applying the Saving Roll concept in combat. In a nutshell, Saving Rolls make it easy to adjudicate anything a player wants his character to attempt. Swinging on chandeliers, kicking sand, flipping table, tangling somebody in your cloak, whatever the player can think of. In a nutshell, there are endless tactical options, they just aren't spelled out.

So, now that I've read it more thoroughly and with a more open mind, what started out as a turn-off for me has become one of the game's selling points for me. Isn't life strange?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tunnels & Trolls Character Sheet

I've created a pocketmod-style character sheet for T&T. It is on my google docs, but you can get to it here. I hope it works out for you, whoever you are.