Wednesday, December 18, 2013

3 Weeks and some Loose Ends

It's been some time since my last post. Work is still draining the life right out of me. It's getting a bit better now and I will be back, but I really believe I wasn't able to write something worthwhile in the last 8 weeks. In the beginning I tried and failed, as anyone is able to see when checking the content of that time. Also: the convention was nearly a complete disaster (it was in the middle of the night and nobody seems to like "old" D&D anymore, so participation was at a very discouraging all time low ..., anyway, more on that later).

But you know what? I needed that. Some perspective about me, the game and all the rest. Even if it meant neglecting this blog and all the other fine bloggers out there for some time. I think I'm done with that for now (the neglecting, that is).

With  this post I'll tell all those interested that I will be back in the next days. Have to get my stuff in order, of course (you know, I did choose the blogs name for a reason ...), but there is more to write about the Cleric and the domain game needs to be developed further. Karek Thel needs some art and some polishing but at least here I made some progress for the first Tales (and I'm really hoping to produce some results before years end ...). So yeah, I'm back. Soon :-)

What else? Did I miss anything awesome other than the party at Dyvers?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Actually at the Convention

Played Cthulhu.

Climbed a tree...

Character dead.

Almost. But he broke a leg early in the game because I wanted to find something out. It sucked. If I ever saw a railroad, this was one. No flexibility, there was just the one way. And we all died anyway.

I'm next (in two hours). D&D Dungeon Crawl. Didn't have the time to finish what I intended to do and I decided to with an adventure by Jeff Rients, no less (link will follow). Don't know how this will go down.

But I have another idea. If anyone has the time and wants to contribute a riddle or a trap or an encounter in a dungeon (characters level 1 to 4), I'll use it live in the game and post how it went, too (after the game, anything else would be annoying at the table, I guess...). So feel free and shoot me a comment.

[Now I really hope someone will do this. Anything else would be kind of sad...]

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Con Diary - Day 8

Often enough a plan is a list of things that won't happen. I'm still preparing for that con game, but right now I'm not so sure how much stuff I will be able to present (that is, how much content and depth I have to "fake" during the game itself...).

While I tried to build a random dungeon generator (so far it failed due to lack of variance), it occured to me how important "story" really is. I already stated in the past that even while play in what is called a sandbox, we still communicate, still tell a story. And the amount of background story a DM has prepared, will be of tremendous help to improvise the rest.

So much for a background. But this, as a technique, does also work the other way around, I guess.

Imagine a totally fleshed out city setting and a totally fleshed out story about corruption and political intrigue in a city.

In the city setting the characters are free to do whatever they want. But make no mistake, the story that will be evolving from it, will be improvised (which means , made up). It doesn't magically arise from some random tables, no matter how good the tables.

Same goes for the story of corruption and intrigue, but with changed parameters. The players are free to do whatever they want within the story, but their surroundings will be improvised at some point (like when the characters need to go to a location the DM didn't anticipate).

This isn't  a matter of taste either. Knowing the story beforehand helps improvising meaningful decisions during the game (mood, pacing, tension, etc.).

Having the setting all made up helps improvising how the environment is reacting to the players.

The question isn't why we can't have both, it's who told us those approaches need to be separated. In my opinion a DM has 3 duties: building a world, providing stories and improvising the rest from player input. Sometimes I start thinking player agency is a myth to justify one mode of working on the game...

Anyhow, for now I've decided to go story first for the con game. More thoughts will follow as  I have them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Con Diary - Day 3

Small steps. Yesterday we established the set up. The characters are thrown in the middle the of ze aktion and have to survive by using only their wits. At least at first. There will be plenty opportunities to get better or worse. Until then I need a check list of all the things needed for this gig.

I'm well covered regarding aimed hits and bashing or protecting skulls. 

The Zombies will be easy, too.

I think I have a pretty solid idea about random dungeon generation. I'll have something written by tomorrow (couldn't do that on my mobile...).

I'm not that happy with initiative. Neither the way we use it nor as written. Initiative is boring and... I wouldn't say "unrealistic", but no one could deny the fact that most initiative systems are somewhat, well, static. I'd really like something a bit more dynamic. The best initiative system I've encountered so far was for a superheroes game (new Marvel?). The idea is to let the acting player decide who's next. The DM decides when it's time for the enemy to choose the next in line. Simple, yet engaging and even tactical. But it doesn't go well with hordes of zombies, I guess.

Also need to think about movement, something I did avoid so far. As far as I'm concerned are all moving rules obsolete as soon as you stop using miniatures (same goes for initiative, by the way...). But in this scenario, movement will be crucial, so I have to decide what to with it.

A lot to chew on. But enough for today. Tomorrow I'll present an analogue dungeon construction tool. Until then, have a nice, y'all...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Con Diary - Day 2 (initial ideas)

Im 12 days I've a table at a convention in the middle of the night and I need to come up with an adventure. The system, no surprises here, will be my hack of D&D. A mix of HackMaster and Rules Cyclopedia with house rules. Some of them from the community, some of them by yours truly. So I get to try them on an unsuspecting audience. I want it fast and simple. Not only because we play so late at night, but also because it's a convention and the players will need to know fast what's what.

Incidently it will mean some new and customized character sheets and a DIY DM screen. At least the screen is on my to do list for some time now, so it would be good to get this done. Got some ideas already how to do it, too and will post the results, of course, as soon as it's done.

Now for the adventure. Needs to be fast, challenging and, let's say, primal. Not much story, but not just a simple dungeon crawl either. I know there is a shitload of excellent and free adventures out there, but doing it myself should be easier than preparing an unfamiliar one. And it's something to share with the community, when it's done. So that's what I'll do.

Contentwise I'm thinking "Zombies" right now. Lots of Zombies, actually. Going "The Walking Dead" all the way. Maybe make a contest out of it, who'll survive the longest and giving those that died early a chance to participate as the living dead. So it will be deadly. I think that goes well with the late hours. Right now I'm tending towards giving everyone a level 3 character, with an option to have a second one after the first death, but level 2 and a third one with level 1 before it's all over. Maybe with an option tovstay dead earlier and have a more powerfull, maybe even concious (?) Zombie to use against the players. If possible, I'll make a mini game out of it to keep those playing the Undead engaged. And people will get points for surviving, but also for playing dead. Tournament style.

Those Zombies will infect people pretty fast (should be a save or die situation, I suppose) and only hitting them on the head should kill them.

Now I need to think a bit more about location and reasons for the group to stay together. All that points towardsva game in a dungeon. We'll see. More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Con Diary - Day 1 (Test)

I'm trying something new and write a few posts on my mobile the next few days. Main reason is, I'm a lot on the road and I miss posting. Now I've found a good reason to do so, too: I'm preparing for convention. Sorry in advance for the lack of editing...

So here it is. It's been at least 10 years, but I've decided to go to a role playing convention again. And I'm scheduled to run a game, too. In theory this is no big thing, DMing strangers and all, but still, I'm somewhat shy about it. And I hestitated to do it almost too long. Couldn't get a table at a convenient and decided to take one at 1 o'clock in the morning. It sucks. Big time. Wanted to playtest an adventure I'm working on (Tales of Karek Thel 1, for those following the blog, it's not forgotten...). No dice. Don't think I'll get the crowd needed for it. And I'm the only one offering something remotely close to the OSR (there's one guy offering a game of AD&D and a bit Pathfinder support, but it's a rather big con). So there is that. Maybe I should get a t-shirt with a big OSR logo...

All in all it means I have to come up with something in the next 12 days. And it needs to be suited for exhausted strangers in the middle of the night. While working full time, no less. But I'm up for the challenge.

More thoughts, some impressions and first ideas will follow tomorrow.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Instant Hierarchies

Sorry for the lack of posting. I'll spare you the boring details how busy I'm right now. But I wanted to share this idea. At least the outlines. There's more to it and I believe it deserves further exploration. But that's not for today. Here's the idea so far.

Roll 3d6, create a hierarchy

Still got the cleric on my mind and I realized a few days ago that a churches hierarchy or the number of active servants of a faith is something that could be very useful for a DM (and the player of the cleric). An easy way to achieve this would be to roll 3d6 and interpret the results.
  • The plain numbers would be the whole clergy of a church. I'm assuming very small groups, obviously, with the level 1 player being the lowest in the food chain. I'd say a die means one temple. More dice in the beginning would result in a bigger church. But they would be all in one region.
  • Every 6 gets rerolled and indicates the number of those travelling holy men that spread the word without having a temple of their own (other than the player).
  • Pairs allow for another roll of 3d6, the church just got a bit bigger and expanded another region.
  • Triples not only expand the church, but give it some holy (or otherwise important) site (could be a university, a site where a saint is buried, stuff like that).
  • If the first roll with 3d6 shows three time 1, the player character (or NPC) is the only cleric with access to a lost faith. Maybe he found a holy text, something like that. It's on him to spread the word now.
  • Other than that, ones indicate lost lore and legends directly connected to that particular faith/deity/whatever, another roll with 1d6 per rolled 1 determining the number rumors, legends, MIA clerics, etc.. Could be the story of a cleric that got lost on a mission, some legend of saints and where their bones might be found, stuff like that. A pair of ones doesn't result in another roll of 3d6.
  • I'm imagining a simple pyramid as far as hierarchy goes, so there is always something like the head of the church (the one with the highest level) and those below. Should make a table for that (in another post...). The higher the number rolled, the higher the levels of those in charge. For now I'd go with something like this:
3 - Only legends and the one guy spreading the word.
4 - Old wise men (level 6) with a lot of stories to tell (and the one green guy that listened and goes on a mission from god, i. e. the player's cleric).
5 - 1 Leader (level 6) and 2 disciples with moderate support of their deity (level 4) .
6-10 1 leader (level 9) 2 clerics with level6 and as many level 4 disciples as dice are rolled.

Doubles and triples will result in higher numbers and other than rerolled sixes, every rolled number relates to the first three (example: a first roll of 3 3 5 and a second roll of 2 1 5 results in two pairs (3 3 and 5 5) and will expand the church further in the second roll, may even produce triples along the way... or quadruples, but I've no ideas for that right now).

I should go on, but I guess that explains the idea. I will write more about it as soon as I have the time. Ideas and comments are always welcome, of course. As it is, this could easily be used to create a thieves guild or any other group that needs a hierarchy. For now I'll go for churches... 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pimping The Cleric - Intermission (Holy Places and a Clerics Motivation)

When writing about the cleric I realized I feel myself being more defensive about my ideas as usual. Everything religious, I've come to believe, is veiled with the threat of opinion above argument. So when I started writing about holy places, it became more of an intermission to explain the structure I try to implement within the game mechanics (because I see it missing and think it could be of use). Terminology and precise arguments seem to get very important at this point. Inadvertently it leads to a very close look of what the cleric means in the game and what he could mean. I'll try.

Ideas so far

I've written about the cleric two times already (Part 1Part 2) and talked about using the Petty Gods as the Pantheon here. For the holy sites it needs two more ideas. It will be a mix of what I wrote in Settlements as Class with some aspects of Territory in them. The result should be a holy site which, depending on size and importance, will have an influence on it's surroundings. Level will be the core element here. But that will be topics for future posts and just showing some possibilities and directions.

This intermission, on the other hand, is more about what I see lacking in D&D as I know it and how I think it could be improved.

Holy or Unholy places

This is not about unholy places. As a matter of fact, the question needs to be asked if something like an unholy place is a possibility in a D&D game. Even the temples of evil priests are holy to them at least. But "evil" and "unholy" are merely expressions of people opposing foreign ideas, at least as soon as it is about religion.

That it is not to say, that cults as some of those associated with Satanism (to give but one example) aren't something real and amoral, often associated with heinous crimes. It is very real (if very rare in it's extremest forms). But within a game and the three-folded alignment structure law/neutral/chaos, evil acts are not something preordained by the system.

So if holy sites are solely connected to what the system defines as clerics, the nature of the rituals and beliefs of all those fictional entities referred to as immortals, gods or deities (even demons or devils), stays within the frame associated with the 3 alignments. Following this logic, something like an "unholy shrine" isn't part of the system, but a descriptive term, only expressing prejudices between faiths.

Terminology and Meaning

As far as places of worship are part of the system I'll be proposing here in the future, they are all considered as "holy". That doesn't mean they are all holy as the general definition of the term suggests. No, the characters will most likely encounter as much sinister shrines and temples with dark rituals, as they will lawful ones. But those worshiping and using those places will consider them as holy, even if they worship an evil immortal like, say, Orcus.

The benefits of this approach are self-evident. If those places are considered to be the same and hold power, destroying them will result in more damage than just the structural variety, regardless of alignment or idol. But there is more, places of worship are a beacon of the faith they endorse, a symbol of the power any entity might muster on earth. More places of worship means more power, more power means suppressing other belief systems, which, naturally, leads to conflict. Conflict, in a rpg-context, is good.

Make pioneers out of them clerics

A player in the role of a cleric should, in my opinion, have the means to use his faith within the game mechanics to some effect. And I don't mean spells. They should be the reward for it. How rituals could be a part of that was already discussed in Part 1. It is somewhat connected, but what I'm aiming for here is a system that encourages clerics to be on the road and preach or claim some land for their god. He needs to do this or he will loose his powers (or at least gets them restricted...).

It's an idea that's not to foreign to D&D, as several adventures and setting descriptions hold the notion that a clerics connection to his god can be interfered with. Mostly this means some very evil places, directly under the influence of some god or another. But what if it is wilderness itself or just that other cult down the street that threatens a clerics connection to his god? What if reclaiming a dungeon would mean to establish a shrine in it and destroy the other shrines in it?

If we now assume a plethora of different deities, as they were (and will be!) presented in the Petty Gods supplements (to give but one example...), we could go as far as saying that every cleric is an important figure within the hierarchy of his faith. It's just more personal. I'd go as far as allowing the players to come up with their own local deity. Now the character is in a very different position. He is one of the few to preach about his god, one of the few that travel the wilderness in search of riches and relics*.

It could make a holy symbol very important, like it's an individual focus of power, just for this cleric. He looses it and his connection to his god will be so much more fragile**.

All of a sudden a cleric has all kinds of motivations to leave a mark on the landscape, hunt for gold, convert folks or search for relics that could help strengthening his faith. It's a clerics trade, it's where he strives. All his investments would be in his faith. But not just the empty pit that is called church. No. There is a career in order, where every money spent will finance the own temple for the mid-level game. If a player wanted to build a shrine, the DM should have rules how such a shrine could become a temple with time and the player should have a chance to make that happen.

Of course, a good DM could just wing it and improvise all those things as options for the player. But that's not what this should be about. Making this part of the system gives the player a chance to develop ideas beyond what a DM could give as options. It's not a place where a DM could shine with his creativity, but a place where the player decides the fate of his character. In this regard, the system may be considered as neutral territory, or better yet, as a basis where interpretation and individual choice is so much more important than a funny d10 table of strange believes the DM could come up with (which has it's place, of course, as part of the setting).

Giving the DM tools for destruction and creation

Preparation and improvisation are the basic trades for every DM. The system he chose could be considered the textbook that shapes his game. There are, again, two different kinds of usage for a system. One is what exactly to use as rules (AC descending or ascending, three saves or 5 or 1, you know the drill), the other is creations stemming from those rules (setting, adventures, campaign, characters, monsters etc.).

These distinctions are important when one is to understand and interpret the underpinnings of any system and it's usage. What is lacking in the "textbook", needs to be improvised and the difference between selecting rules and creating from those rules gets imprecise. This is to be expected in the process of shaping a game to the individual needs of a DM and his group. It is problematic as soon as the gap is to big, because most improvisations won't produce results that are repeatable without a lot of work.

Anything related to "faith" in D&D (including the cleric) has such gaps in the game mechanics. It's just not part of the system, not in a satisfying way anyway. A DM is expected to produce a pantheon, different churches, power structures and factions, acolytes and clerics as part of a setting. Or at least buy the book where it's already done by adding little subsystems, monster book entries, some random tables and flavor text like what underwear a cleric prefers. It's not helping. It's the reason for so many unhappy people as soon as the cleric enters the discussion (and so many claims to just dismiss the class entirely).

But if recognized and not just hand-waved, it should be a chance to improve the system and make changes where they count.

Holy places are one area where I see possibilities to improve the game in a way that enables a DM to prepare them in a meaningful way (with powers, size, influence and acolytes) and without to much work and also, on the other hand, improvise and convert them (if found in an adventure) with ease and as needed in the game. If there are rules how power structures influence each other, it's far more easy to improvise a cult and see it's impact on the surroundings in abstract terms. It being part of the game mechanics will also make it repeatable.

There you go

Not sure how much I was repeating ideas from earlier posts here, but it felt good to give them some (new?) form. Now comes the hard part in finding solutions for those problems. But I'm looking forward to it and believe it's worthwhile to give the cleric a chance to be the class he should be (and those being worshiped the punch and power structure to go with it). We'll see how it turns out. Anything I wrote is, of course, open for discussion, suggestions and ideas.

*If I were to compile this stuff some time in the future, I shall call it Riches & Relics...
**Thinking about it, I always felt a bit underwhelmed by what a holy symbol meant in D&D. Guess I expected something more... divine?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

There is no spoon...

Some ideas I wanted to share:

Wei wu wei

My basic philosophy when DMing a game is best explained with the daoist paradox wei wu wei. Good translations for this are either "action without action" or "control without control". Any approach to involve the players in the game goes back to this idea and it's consequences. In principle it should allow players to give the game they are playing an individual touch without jeopardizing balancing factors of the game. Any approach of building a setting should produce enough moving parts to let the system respond to player decisions before I have to jump in as a DM. As soon as action is required, the result should ideally be spontaneous, not leading in a forced direction, but within the natural flow of the story and the impulses provided by the players.

For this, a system not only needs to be balanced and fully understood, but an individual expression of the DM. It's not something you can buy, it's something you make.

[further reading]

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Moving Fast - Slowing Down

Really busy right now and I won't post trivial stuff if I can avoid it. That's mostly due to a new work place and until I find a new rhythm with all the changes, blogging has to be on the back burner. I do miss it already and there are quite a few things I'd like to see happening. But right now, it's difficult.

I'll have next week some time to catch up and write new stuff.

Also, this:

Sometimes I wonder if this is still (somewhat) accurate...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

R.A.W. vs. House Ruled (or why I tinker with D&D)

When I started writing a post about Clerics and Holy Sites (which will be up some time next week...), I got a bit sidetracked in thinking about how people change rules and how topics like Saves or different approaches to classes or weapons, etc. never get old. Every topic in the OSR seems to resurface every now and then, gets discussed, resulting in some people finding solutions for themselves (and others) and then the topic is done for some time. I kept writing, then the Troll Questions came along and I finally decided to make a post of it's own about it.

Some general thoughts first. How house rules are presented or where the different parts that make a game work are tackled will go in four directions:

1) A reinterpretation of the rules.
2) Some setting specific changes.
3) A house rule that changes the system.
4) A new subsystem (or group of subsystems) to add to the rules.

Or a combination of those four, of course.

Although completely different in their approaches, they all could produce viable results and help an individual iteration of The Game. When I'm thinking about variations or additions to the existing rules set., my approach is aiming for a set of subsystems close to the rules (most of the time, anyway). I'm not trying to invent the wheel here, but I recently had a hard time explaining what exactly that means and I want to be clear about this in the future, mainly because it should explain what I'm trying to achieve when I'm writing about house rules. Here's my thinking:

Changing rules without loosing compatibility to the source

So this is a small attempt to explain how I try to design the rules I write*. The main goal is always that a rule doesn't interfere with the original rules. That's quite easy, because the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (my system of choice) leaves a lot of free room to maneuver and I believe that's on purpose (and true for most or all rpgs out there). D&D was never intended to be a "finished" set of rules. It's more like a proposal.

Of course one could go all Tékumel on the system and change most of it to leave but a small trace of resemblance. It sure is one way to make a system your own. But only if you change the Game within the rules, you can keep all the sweet tropes D&D is famous for and still customize it to your needs. Basically I'm saying, it's okay to change it as long as the source keeps holding valuable and translatable data for your game (in an ideal case, this would also mean every edition) and still sounds like D&D.

Most changes someone will do within the Game would be on the surface, cosmetic even. Maybe another option for the players, some sort of restriction on a spell or a few setting-specific changes on the rules, stuff like that. And, if done right, it gets the job done well.

So you keep all them levels and saves and fireballs and hit points and AC and all the other terms we associate with D&D and make your changes in the natural space that occurs in every system: the mechanics that lead to those results. In the end, if the AC is descending or ascending is totally indifferent to how the game is perceived when playing it. The decision to choose either way of handling it (or find a new one), is most of all a matter of taste.
D&D is like an engine: as long as the parts fulfill the same function,
you may change and alter them for an individual performance...[source]

To fill in the blanks

It's a trip down the rabbit hole to look for those blank spaces between the rules and the deeper you go, the deeper the understanding of the original rules needs to be. But it's not something a DM should be afraid about.

It is an ongoing process with several construction sites, but the more one gets acquainted to a game system, the more blanks will be found. Sometimes those blanks are filled with something as easy as a random table (but even there is room for further development), but more often than not it needs a decision where a DM wants to go with his game. And this is where a DM has to tinker. It's a natural occurrence.

So what I try to do is going as deep as possible and add subsystems at a layer where a change could have broad implications without changing or while using the output given by the Game. The idea is mostly to produce fringe and transfer benefits with the change that apply in general and will result in the solution to what I believe to be a problem or a blank space in the system.

One of my attempts to do this was with armor class (Part 1Part 2). It doesn't impact the data given in the game "as written", but adds to it and gives the DM the freedom to describe his NPCs the way he likes, while building an AC in the process (even when just showing random pictures, the numbers and the visuals correlate). And it encourages looting. There you go, a (easy) subsystem giving the rules some depth without changing them, while adding fringe and transfer benefits for the players and the DM.

There is nothing wrong with playing it R.A.W., but...

When I write about my house rules, I'm not saying I'm fixing the game for everyone and for good. That'd be foolish (to say the least). It's merely a proposal how the game could be tinkered with and where I think those blanks might be, but I'm still talking about the same system.

It's like those guys that take an antique car to restore it. They take the engines apart and put them together again, often enough altering it for a "better" performance while doing so. There are different opinions about how to do this, of course. But when they talk to other car enthusiasts, they talk the same language and about the same topics. Their general understanding of the hobby allows them to acknowledge and evaluate different solutions to the same problems, while being fully aware of the fact that it is totally possible to drive the car in it's original form.

This is how I've always seen the OSR, this is how I interpreted the Top Ten Troll Questions. It's like an exhibition of altered game systems, just like they do with antique cars. And I'm as much interested in showing my versions as I am in seeing what others did with it. So why make more of it than a friendly and creative exchange of opinions and ideas? When all is said and done, we're all playing the same game.

And now back to the cleric...

*Needless to say, but here it is anyway: I'm not a professional, I'm a hobby enthusiast. Those ideas are just that, I've no claim for an absolute truth and they will change with time. I still hope they have some merit, though. But there is a lot to discover and I constantly get the feeling that I'm just at the beginning...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

About Healing Rates

Have a lot of work to do right now, so this will be a short one and blogging in general will be somewhat slow the next few days...

Have been thinking about healing rates lately. My default is how it's done in HackMaster (which is emulating AD&D 2E, so it might have been done there already), but it doesn't hurt to write it down on this here blog.

Under normal travel circumstances (being in the wilderness, with no harsh conditions like rain or heat, etc.), the healing rates are 1 hp per level, but only when resting 24 hours (a full rest). Just with the eight hours sleep it's 1 hp per day. Several conditions will improve these rates, though*:
  • If someone has medical experience or is good with healing herbs or something down that line and has the tools and medicine needed, it's 1 hp more.
  • Having someone in the group that is able to produce something to eat beyond what iron rations might offer (like a cook), the rate is again increased by 1 hp.
  • Comfort is important, so if the characters have a roof over their head and a cozy fire going, it's one more hp they can count on.
  • If two of those conditions are met, it's another plus 1 hp per rest.
  • If all those conditions are met, they heal 2 hp instead of one for cooking, comfort and medical care.

So a character level 3 will, under ideal circumstances, heal 9 hp per full days rest. Staying at an inn, but without medical attention would heal 6 hp per day, etc..

I feel it's necessary for characters to have those options. For one, it makes healing not only the clerics business. So if a group is trucking without one (or lost him deep in the dungeon...), they'll still have a fair chance to heal relatively fast. It's also a bit more engaging if they have a chance to improve their conditions with a palpable effect.

What I'd really like to know, though, is how y'all handle healing rates. So please feel free to comment!

*We use a loose interpretation of the skills presented in the Rules Cyclopedia, so to be a cook, they need to have the skill, etc.. But it shouldn't be this hard to argue if skills aren't used, I guess.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weird Movie Sunday: THSMwtEIW (Short)

[I like movies. I see a lot of strange movies. I always think they might be good for something in the game. Then I decided to make a feature out of it.]

If you read the title and instantly think you need to see this movie, you might like it, too:

Made by a guy named Richard Gale. It is unusually cruel, as the title indicates, and it's a very special brand of creative dark humor. It's only 10 minutes and it is free, so if you haven't seen it already, you might just do so right now. Have fun!

That's it from me for today. More gaming stuff tomorrow...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Answering more Troll Questions!

When the Random Wizard asks for more answers to troll questions, the Disoriented Ranger will of course answer that call!

It's like in that famous movie.

Well, at least it's a bit like that (and I love that scene). But without further ado, ten more questions and my answers:

(1). Should level drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

Yes, it should. It's not popular with the players, but that's part of the charm and those monsters are dreaded for exactly that reason.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?

I had to check what the Rules Cyclopedia said about it and there were two versions how this could go down, one without using Weapon Mastery and one when using it.

Without Weapon Mastery an opponent soaked in oil from one flask would get, when set on fire, 1d8 points of damage per round and it will burn two rounds.

When Weapon Mastery is used, it's only 1d8 points of damage, but it might set the characters cloths, hair, etc. on fire with a chance of 5% per 1 point of damage dealt in the initial attack. This, in turn, would burn for 1d6 rounds with 1d4 points of damage per round.

Never bothered to look that one up before (it really didn't happen that often with my group) and I'll use the Weapon Mastery version from now on.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicated instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

If that specific poison is labeled "Save or DIE", then this is what should happen. Maybe I'd leave some wiggle room if the players act very fast and very sharp. Shouldn't be the only poison in the game and very rare, though.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

Zero hit points is a save vs. death rays or be unconscious. Even if the save is made, the character is out of the fight. -1 to -3 is the same save, but regardless of the result, the character dies for -1 hp per round until someone gives him first aid or some sort of healing. If that doesn't happen, the character dies at -10. If one blow puts them directly down to -4, they are dead.

Same goes for the monsters.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

No, I've gone the Arduin way. Magic users memorize the spells they want to use and burn Mana to activate them. They won't cast more because of it, but it is more flexible, with the need for the caster to think about the spells he'd like to memorize at the same time

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?

No for a general d6, but also no for weapon damage. We use a mix of damage as the classes hit die suggests and a cooked down version of the Rules Cyclopedia's Weapon Mastery (further elaboration is here).

I also felt it was necessary to make some new evaluations for monster damage based on hd, size and strength to complement that system (works with all variants, as far as I'm aware). For the interested, it is here.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?

Yes, as per the Rules Cyclopedia.

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

Yes, I try to balance the importance of ability scores by doing exactly that for all of them. They are the core element of a character and everything is connected to that somehow (saves, skills, hp, damage, AC, etc.). 

That doesn't mean players will have all ability scores at 13 or higher. We still use 3d6 in a row, but I allow for more customization (actually it's 18d6, assign 3d6 per ability score...) and the players have to decide what they deem important.

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

As per the Rules Cyclopedia. Never saw the need to change that and they are useful that way.

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

Again, as per the Rules Cyclopedia (B). Giving a cleric spells at level 1 doesn't make him a better representation of his deity (where I see the bigger problem, actually), so I really don't see any valid reason to change that. Hit points, the ability to turn undead and wear heavy armor and good fighting skills are more than enough to reach level 2 alive and without being useless.

Let's see who joins the party!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Witches, Warlocks, Souls On The Cheap... (Dark Thoughts 1)

Power corrupts. We know that. And there are always those that will feed from those with power. We know that, too. What is always good to remember, though, is how sweet an evil and corrupted soul tastes to a demon. It's something they cultivate like a viniculturist his vine. And it is a delicate art indeed to harvest the tainted soul at it's peak, either at a moment of regret or just the moment before they got too powerful. This first post about the machinations of evil will illustrate how the weak may be corrupted. It's system agnostic and could be used with every system that uses ability scores and xp for level advancement. Be warned, this will give the game a very dark turn*. So: magic users may become witches or warlocks by selling their soul. Her are my thoughts.

The Pitch
A human** magic user may sell his soul, if the opportunity arises. The decision alone will shift a lawful character's alignment towards neutral. If the requirements are fulfilled, they just gain the next level with all the benefits and powers associated with it (hp, spells, etc.). No xp needed. A character may start doing this at level 1 or on higher levels. If he enters later, he'll only have to pay the price needed for the located level. A demon may offer special powers for those prices not yet used up to level 5 (see below), so if a character is already, for instance, level 4, he might buy special powers instead of the levels he already has. If a demon sees a possibility to get away cheap, he will do so, of course.

The Lower Price Ranges
and Special Offers (enter at ANY level!)
Notes: A demon will naturally never talk about the consequences or the fine print. It's always just "I really only need the memory of your first kiss to make this happen! You won't need it anyway and you'll be so much more powerful afterwards...". Always leading a character nicely in the wrong direction to screw him up. And even if a character is only using it to gain a one-time benefit, the demon just won't let him alone and the dark deeds accompanied with it will fall back on the character somehow, someday.

A pleasant memory - shift alignment towards chaotic, if this shifts the alignment beyond chaotic, the player needs to succeed in a save vs. death or he looses control over the character (who is then considered "evil" and going for the next 1d6+2 levels in this list), gain level 2

Special offer: By giving the entity a pleasant memory, a character gains the ability to always float on water instead of drowning. If that isn't enough a demon might add a spell slot more or two. The character will still shift alignment.

A first kiss - loose 1d4 points CON permanently, gain level 3

Special offer: Giving away this memory will make the character immune to the effects of fear. He'll still loose CON.

Ambition - the character has sold his complete soul now and may only gain xp when following the orders of his demon lord, gain level 4

Special offer: The character gets the ability to control undead as a cleric would. Of course he'll only gain xp when doing his demon lords bidding from now on. Now the gloves come off...


An unholy union - gives birth to a demons child, this is gender indifferent (be creative), gain level 5

A friend - kill someone that trusts you, gain level 6

A virgin - sacrifice a virgin (nothing fancy for the ritual needed), gain level 7

A child - kill it, let it feel the pain, gain level 8

An unborn - get it out of the mother, make the mother realize what happens, kill both, gain level 9

Build unholy shrine - needs the sacrifice of at least 20 hd of some innocents, half of them need to be consumed, the character will have an uncanny appetite for young human flesh after that, gain level 10

The Fine Print
Every level gained like this will have the character loose (1 + half the level gained) points Charisma. If this is reduced to 1 the character is considered hideous (with all the attributes you'd give a witch, nose, warts, cackle and all) and further losses will instead reduce Wisdom by 2 points per further level gained this way. After reducing Wisdom to 1, the character ages 10 years per level gained. They won't die because of old age, though, they'll just look incredibly old, fragile and ugly...

An entity powerful enough to grant this powers won't allow the ones it granted those powers to become more powerful than they are themselves, of course. They'd rather arrange an accident and claim their price. Sometimes the victims get wise, though, and fight back. Best way to do that is killing the demon lord that owns your soul, gaining it's power in the process. Betraying the demon also has a nice ring to it. Someone like this might become a demon himself (it has to start somewhere, I guess). Other, more creative solutions are always possible, too.

Up to gaining level 5 a character sells only parts of his soul. If he gets the complete package including level 5 he has sold his soul complete. Being already level 5 or higher, means he'd have to sell his entire soul to gain the next level. A character level 1 that wants to buy any other level but the next, will have to pay for the levels in between, too.

If a character is able to recover his soul, he will, of course, loose all benefits he gained by selling it. The crimes he did will remain, though, and he is still accountable for them..

Regular Advancement

A DM or player might want to keep a separate tally for regular gained xp. For calculating regular advancement, the xp for the levels gained by selling the soul will count as if gained regular, too, and all other xp are added to this. So if a character has earned 2500 xp and bought 4 levels he have 22.500 xp and he'll need 17.500 xp to get level 6. If he would gain 5.000 xp more and decides nevertheless to buy level 6, his new xp tally would be 47.500 xp (as per the Rules Cyclopedia).

*Clarifications: If a player is foolish enough to sell his soul to a demon or devil, it has to have dire consequences. I'm not proposing this for the players to have fun "being evil", but to make them realize what "being evil" may entail. So this is to produce tension and maybe to see how far they'd go. But it's entirely possible too use this just for NPCs. In the end, it's a DMs choice what and how much of it he is willing to use in his campaign. My stance on this and further thoughts are found here.

**How this is handled for other humanoid races depends on the campaign world. Elves might have no soul to sell and all that.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The People vs. System Mastery (Ode to the Dungeon Master)

Charlie over at Dyvers started reading Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Being published in 1987, the tome is problematic for several other reasons than the obvious "only system mastery can lead to a fulfilling game experience!"-antics (Gygax is referencing AD&D quite often, but had TSR already left and the witch hunts of the satanic panic were on its peak). It's an interesting read and everyone interested should join discussing it. So this is related, but I wanted to add a more contemporary view of the topic. System mastery is the pink elephant in the room everybody decides to ignore. Here are some thoughts.

All I hear is excuses

Presentation is key if you want somebody to understand the rules you're writing. Having all necessary rules in one book is one way to make this possible and it has been successfully done for D&D (I'm talking about the Rules Cyclopedia, of course). But presentation goes deeper into the system than just accessibility. Rules for role playing games should cover most eventualities and build a complete frame from which everything else could be achieved or derived. This should be basic, not optional.

What do we get instead? A game that publishes itself obsolete within a few years because of rules bloat and a licence for everybody else to publish additional rules without any quality control at all, just to accelerate the process. This is, of course, on purpose, because you can only earn money with a game if it's not complete to begin with but has the need for clarifications and alternatives already build in to a degree that makes it easier to just buy the follow up instead of making the game your own. See the pattern? Sounds familiar? I hope so.

If this is questioned you will hear excuses as long as it is convenient. After a time they'll just say, they hear the complaints now and it is time for a change. Now they'll listen from the beginning, of course. And they need you to believe this, too, because only if you believe in a final nature of published rules, you will value your contribution (or lack thereof) more than the work that is implied by buying and using the books. Or to put it another way, it's the illusion of a finished product and the bluff that the customer was somehow considered during the process.

This, in turn, has so many implication, it's hard to see where to start. For one, the quality of a game designer working for a big company is not measured in his ability to make a good game or system or adventure, but in his ability to produce those illusions to sell more product. It will produce a system that totally relies on product support, final answers regarding the system will always need the publisher to have the final word. It also diminishes the position of the DM dramatically and to a point where players think they have the right to use the rules against the DM*.

System Mastery is still possible in those games, but they sure make it as hard as humanly possible to achieve, questioning the need for it all the time, damaging one of the most important parts of the game in the process. The rest is done by the people believing in the publishers and talking about the game in a social context**.

All I hear is lies

The first lie you will hear when encountering someone who's into playing the game, is that you can sit down and start to play. In a worst case scenario it's the most annoying thing you can have at the table. Why is that? There are at least the social etiquette and the long-term narrative aspects that need to be considered as essential parts of the game. Those are pretty basic concepts, but they should be understood before the game starts. The rules are secondary to the interaction of the people meeting to do nothing else for hours at a time but playing this one game***.

This is only natural. You just don't tell someone you want to get excited about something you're excited about, how much he would have to invest to have fun with it. Or the desire to have someone joining the game exceeds that person's suitability for it. But it's wrong nonetheless.

The second lie is that those players knowing all the published rules of a role playing game have an advantage in the game. Not only is it as worthless as only knowing the rules of chess, it also ignores the theoretical nature of published rules. At best they could be considered as a proposal. The more complex the game, the higher the probability that a DM will custom it to his needs. It's a natural reaction, but mostly not considered as something that is an important part of every individual game and as such predominant to the rules. Of course, most of the early rule books were aware of this, but what it really means when they write that the DM has the last word about the rules is mostly ignored nowadays.

The lie in this particular case is not that there is a use in knowing the rules, but that there is an advantage to be gained for a player. To be honest, I hate this kind of thinking. It's selfish and all that might be achieved with an attitude like this will most likely damage the game. The important thing is to know how the DM interprets the rules and how that benefits the group. A player might have an active part in the individual manifestation of a system and he should have at least a basic understanding of the rules, but as soon as he searches for advantages only aimed at personal gain, it harms the game****.

Again, it is only natural. A published system is the common ground between individual groups, after all. And it's normal for players to look for the best possible character or weapon or whatever and talk about it. It's the first thing you encounter when making a character with another player and not with a DM guiding you. But in the end it means just two things: a broken part of the system will be used against the system, players will have no problems with finding and abusing broken parts of the system. Doesn't make it less wrong, though.

The pink elephant

For the publishers it's more important that you buy the game than that you're actually playing it. As far as they are concerned, they will provide you with everything they deem necessary to play the game, as long as you're willing to pay for it and they see a profit. After that they'll make sure enough people believe they had an epiphany and the next edition will right all the wrongs that have been done in the past. They don't help.

Players who'd rather believe in the marketing and advertisement of a game and what it means for their nerd-ranking than actually starting to think about what it means to play a role playing game, will harm the game in one way or another. They don't help.

Casual players won't help either, but might not harm the game as much as an ill informed but more involved player. They are just not interested enough.

But what is left? If you take away the hyperbole and fanboys associated with the next best rpg in print and believe finding solutions for broken rules to be a DM's duty, you have to consider talking about system mastery, too. This is, at it's core, the DIY movement. This is why, after the commercial pressure of establishing something new had faded, Pathfinder and Basic Fantasy suddenly produced functioning 3E clones or why Swords & Wizardry and all the other clones are considered to be variants of D&D.

It's the sole reason for the OSR being such a vivid and expanding community and why it's, at least in my opinion, not only about D&D, but about discussing and discovering what is really important in all role playing games: how to make it work. It's not about a free adventure the-guy-on-that-other-blog did (which is nice, nonetheless), it's about seeing that it is indeed possible to do such things and an idea how to do it. It's about experimenting with what was proposed and pushing it to it's limits to see what happens.

It's what nobody wants you to realize, what nobody really talks about: this will result in an individual version of the game you want to play and it will (eventually) result in system mastery. But it is work.

Consider this as an Ode to the Dungeon Master. The game is yours, make it work and do with it what you want.

*To clarify: I'm not against players using the rules in a clever way, maybe even to beat "the system", but as soon as a player starts a sentence with "But the rules say...", implying that I'm DMing the game wrong or to my advantage or with an agenda or whatever, I will make sure that the player realizes it will have severe consequences if he keeps doing so during play. In the end, if the players don't believe in my integrity, they might as well go somewhere else.

**I'm not talking about blogging or discussing in forums, because those activities are not about introducing new people to the hobby, but discussing it among people that are already in the hobby. Thought I might clear that up.

***I once had a new player that was just staring at me, listening with a faint smile, as if I were some kind of radio and he was treating himself with some sort of entertainment. He just didn't realize he had to participate...

****To be clear about this, in my opinion is a combination of rules that leads to a way too powerful character considered a broken part of the system and I won't allow it. A powerful character is not result of a system, but result of good role playing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rules Cyclopedia Oddities Part 2 (The Druid)

One of the odd birds in the Rules Cyclopedia is the druid-class. It's advertised as an alternative to the cleric, some sort of prestige class you can switch to as soon as your cleric reached level 9. If changing classes at level 9 doesn't seem odd enough, look at level advancement, the new spells and the special abilities. It's a bluff package. Level advancement is the same as with the cleric, there are no special abilities, only restrictions the cleric didn't have and the spells may be good for some flavor, but aren't anything special. So it's less than the cleric for the same xp and you loose Turn/Control* Undead (which is a shame). There is really no good mechanical reason to switch to the druid.

Although it seems not enough material to make a new class from it (which I believe to be the reason for this oddity), I hate it when material is not accessible. Other than googling for a druid variant usable with the Rules Cyclopedia, I can think of at least 3 possible ways to make this happen just by using the book at hand.

Variant 1: As written, but from level 1

Spell progression is the same, level advancement is the same, hp are the same, just change/add the spells as suggested, use the restrictions as written and you got a complete class going. As easy as that, just not that different to the cleric. And lots of restrictions without any benefits. Nonetheless, it's an easy fix and it only uses material already presented in the book. So that's something.

Variant 2: Add special abilities, calculate new advancement

This is a slightly tweaked variant, also derived from ideas already present in the Rules Cyclopedia and with the calculations for level advancement as proposed here. I wouldn't go for a straight conversion of the AD&D druid just yet. It's the opportunity to create a new class from the material already manifest in the Rules Cyclopedia and I'll try and use it. So what do we have:
  • I'd go and borrow some ideas from the mystic like I did here to give the druid a special advantage. This leaves us with %-chance to identify animals, plants and pure water after the following formula:
d% roll vs. ([3 x Wisdom] + [2 x Lvl])
  • I'd steal the Turn/Control Undead Table and repurpose it for the druid to Turn/Control Animal. Consider this: Turning is ranked by hd, one hd per column on the Turning Table. A druid won't be able to slay living creatures with this, so every result of "D" is an attempt to control the creature. Intelligent animals get a save vs. spell if the result is "D" and the attempt is "control", a successful save treats them as turned instead (intelligent animals are those with an INT of 3 or more, humans and halflings count as intelligent animals, penalties for low intelligence should count for the save).
  • Take cleric spells, add druid spell, take away those spells connected to good and evil. Spell progression as the cleric.
  • All other special abilities and changes suggested in the book apply.
  • I'd also steal the hide (outdoors) ability from the halfling.
Prime Requisites: Wisdom
Experience Bonus: 5% for WIS higher than 12, 10% for WIS higher than 16
Hit Dice: 1d8 per level up to level 9, then +1 hp per level (no CON-modifiers)
Maximum Level: 36
Armour: All, but restricted to organic material, shields are allowed, but with the same restrictions
Weapon: No edged or pointed weapons, only made from organic material
Combat Progression: like Cleric
Weapon Mastery: like Cleric (normal)
Saving Throws: like Cleric

xp needed to reach level 2: 1800 (progression like the Cleric)

Variant 3: Add shape-shifting ability

Gains the ability to change into another animal as per the spell Polymorph Self at level 4, usable 1 time per 4 levels. I do not think it is necessary, though. But it makes the class feel a bit more like D&D. This lifts the xp needed to gain level 2 up to 2200 (still, level progression like the cleric).

There are several attempts to achieve this for the Rules Cyclopedia and clones, of course. The three above are just what I would use if I had nothing else but the Rules Cyclopedia at hand. I hope some of you find it useful. I'll go now and build a ranger class for the RC. It's something I wanted to do a long time ago, but the druid needed to be done first.

If you liked this post, you might want to check out the other oddities in this series. Comments are, as always, very welcome. Especially if they praise the Rules Cyclopedia :)

* I allow Control Undead as an option, just like AD&D suggested (allowing control for some time with a "turn" and absolute control with a "destroy"). So it's not RAW. Anyway...
[Edit] Forget that this is not RAW, the Avenger could control undead, so the RC is already doing that one, too. Thanks to the Random Wizard for pointing me in the right direction!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dirkterwalde - Urban Fantasy Setting (WitchCraft)

Halloween is approaching and I'm about to prepare a few sessions of an urban fantasy setting I was thinking about end of last year. Got already 2 players interested, so that's something. And since I'm blogging now more or less on a regular basis and the season is quite fitting, I'd say I share my ideas for the setting*. I intend to use the WitchCraft rule book for this endeavor (which is still free, by the way), so you can expect some NPCs for that game in the near future. But first some ideas about the setting:


The year is 1999. This small town exists somewhere in east Germany. That's as precise a location in space and time as anyone would be able to give. Even google maps fails:

The day they shot the area where this town is supposed
to be, they got clouds instead...
You won't find it on old maps, too. The reason for that is some strange magic that was, if the legends are believed, always there. But what at first was only some weird and misdirecting magic where people got lost in the narrow alleys of Dirkterwalde, was blown to protect the whole area just before communism and the cold war threatened all occult communities in this part of Germany.

Maybe it wasn't the first time most of the known Covens would work together to protect their own, but it certainly was a well kept secret that they did and how they did it. And then the DDR stopped existing in 1989 and the world changed again. Now this town, with all it's history and all it's forgotten secrets, is facing a new challenge. Something is stirring in the dark and some gifted already start to feel it's presence.

Impressions of a very old town**

Castle Hundseck is right above Dirkterwalde. It was used for all kinds of
purposes in it's time, from hospital and asylum to public administration,
today, after some heavy renovations, it's a private elite school . (source)
An abandoned Russian military base nearby. 
More from the same military base (source for both).

The town has an active subculture...
Historical inner city (source)

Somewhere in the outskirts of town.
Just loved this guy in American Horror Story
and intend to use him...
This town will have a lot of history. It has seen two world wars and has deep roots in the middle ages. I'm pretty sure some Nazis did bad things here, too. And then there is the DDR, the whole reason this town went into hiding before the Stasi or the Russians could catch up with the covens. It's a pretty colorful little town, with a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe (I hope).

Lot's to do, but two players already said they wanted to give this a shot and I'm eager to get some gaming going!

* This is, of course, fiction. I used pictures of existing places and interpreted them new in the context of the game. Just saying...
**Found those pictures on my hard drive, so I did find them somewhere in the internet. I don't own them and if somebody wants his work attributed, I will certainly rectify that as soon as I know where it's from. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 30 - Best DM I've ever had (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

The best DM I've ever had was the one leaving a lasting impression on me. It was at least 16 years ago at a convention. It was our first time at a convention and we were eager to play some new games, so we looked for open seats and were lucky to join a Runequest game.

Buddha in a lotus position.
After making new characters (I made a halfling, don't blame for it, my buddy made a barbarian), we started playing. And had a blast. The DM was a fantastic story teller. He was a thin guy with long hair and was sitting on a bench in a lotus position. Not that it was a spiritual experience, but he was very relaxed and in control. He never checked the rules and it all came very natural. System mastery had been an ideal for me ever since.

Whatever we wanted to do, we could try and it became part of the story. If it was stupid, it had consequences. But we always got the impression that even some questionable calls from our side of the table just gave more opportunities for playing the game, never a dead end.

I have no exact recollection of the story he had told, only some faint memories, but that's more than I can say from other games I participated in. What I will always carry with me, though, was the impression of a perfect DM. Never saw the guy again...


And thus ends the 30 Day Challenge. I'm glad I went through with it. The questions weren't that good at times and it made me doubt my decision to join at a few occasions. But I've discovered some interesting blogs on the way and all the participants I followed did an excellent job with it.

So I'd have to say, it was fun and I hope some of my contributions were as entertaining as those of the others.

But now for something completely different...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Day 29 - Least favorite question of the bunch... (D&D 30 day Challenge)

So the question was: What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20? And I'm at a loss. I've rolled the d20 many times since we first met 20 years ago. I guess it averaged out at some point. Sure, there were days when I thought nothing goes or the dice favored one character or another. I always roll bad when I'm rolling for myself, but roll like a mean bastard when rolling against my players (not in a bad way, but the dice can be harsh...). And yes, we like to see a pattern in those things. We all do, don't tell me any different. But as a question it is somewhat... uninteresting.

I've written too much words about this as it is.

The last question tomorrow is more promising and than this affair is dealt with.

So as a compensation for the lack of content, I thought I'd treat you with a lecture by Benoit Mandelbrot about complex structures. It has (in my opinion) some relevance to game design and it got me thinking about how simple rules are often able to produce extraordinary complex results. Combat in D&D is an example for that. Well, anyway, enjoy:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Endurance and Skill Resolution System (Redux)

I just want to give this a clear write-up, adding some of the newer ideas regarding the system. After all, writing rules in a concise way makes them so much more accessible (and I have to admit, it's something I have to work on). This is about Endurance and skills (which are connected). I'm pretty happy with how those house rules work by now, but I never came around to write a short summary with all the changes and connections like I did for Weapon Mastery (Basic) a few weeks ago. I'll also link to the older versions of this house rules, but this here will be complete. So let's try this again...

Endurance and Exertion

Characters have CON -4 as Endurance (the endurance skill changes that, see below). Monsters and NPCs have 4+HD as Endurance*.

Basically every action a character could make, costs 1 point Endurance (a fight, an ability check, a skill check, etc.). Travel costs Endurance per mile depending on terrain** and weather. Only a full nights sleep or some sort of magical healing will recover those lost Endurance points.

Strenuous actions that need consecutive die rolls (like fighting or fleeing) exert a character faster. During the strenuous action they loose 1 point Endurance every round due to exertion. As they reach 0 Endurance, they can force themselves further with a successful CON-check (-4) or a skill-check (Endurance).

With zero Endurance a character counts as Exhausted. He is last in initiative and (playing with Rules Cyclpedia) his Weapon Mastery is down to Basic. MUs have to make an Int-check when casting or the spell (mana, whatever) is lost. Every round after that gives a cumulative -1 to AC, to-hit and check until it reaches the characters negative Endurance value (so if a character had 7 Endurance, his negative Endurance value would be -7).

After that the character goes down, breathing hard and only able to crawl.

The accumulated Endurance loss counts as basic exertion (a character had a busy day with already 4 actions, so for the next strenuous action the Endurance countdown starts with a -4). As soon as the strenuous action is over, the Endurance loss due to exertion is regenerated and all the character lost, is the one point because of the action (so the busy character in the example above would be at a -5 after the next fight).

If a strenuous action were to happen immediately after another strenuous action (fleeing after a fight, etc.), the DM is to decide how much breath the characters were able to catch again. An easy method to simulate this would be a roll with a d8 (or higher) with a threshold of 6 (lower that threshold by 1 for every 2 points a character is below zero). If the character rolls below 6, their Exertion is already recovered, if they roll 6 or more, that's the number of Endurance they had recovered before they have to exert themselves again***.

[Edit]: In addition to the damage due to a critical hit, the victim also looses 1d12 Endurance.

It should be very easy for a DM to keep track of those numbers for the players.

Skill Resolution System

Gathering skills is handled like the Rules Cyclopedia suggests:
"All 1st level characters start with four "blank" skills, often called slots. (When a skill is chosen, it stops being a slot.) Characters who have an Intelligence of more than 12 start with more than four skill slots. If the character has an Intelligence of 13-15, he gets 1 additional skill slot; if his Intelligence is 16-17, he gets 2 additional skill slots; and if his Intelligence is 18, he gets 3 additional skill slots." (Rules Cyclopedia, p. 81)
Characters get another skill slot every 4 levels. Skills are connected to ability scores. Which ability score is relevant at the time depends on the circumstances the skill is used under (a magic-user could intimidate another magic-user using INT instead of STR, etc.). The basic skill resolution is:


Unlearned skill use will get a penalty of -4 or more. At best players are unaware of the difficulty they're rolling against.

Skill checks and Exertion

If a skill check is not successful a player might decide to exert his character to get there. The difference between the failed roll and the difficulty (say the difficulty was 30, the characters ability score was 13 and the rolled a 5, exerting himself will cost him 12 points of Endurance to make it). This will cost him one additional point Endurance to the one for the action itself. This applies to every skill check (even searching a library or reading can be exerting).

Here, too, a character can force himself below zero Endurance with a successful check on CON (as the skill, CON -4 without the skill). See above for further penalties.

Skill Mastery

The abilities/skills a Thief already has are: Backstab (melee), Backstab (ranged), Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (moving, hiding, keeping a low profile or doing something like picking a lock in total silence...) and Sabotage.Using the skill system of the Rules Cyclopedia, every class has access to all skills but backstab (which even for the thief is only activated if chosen for skill mastery). 

At character creation a player of a thief may now choose 4 abilities/skills for Skill Mastery. So skills like Disguise or Alchemy are, too, relevant for Skill Mastery if the thief chooses to do so (but backstab is only activated if chosen, which might be done at higher levels, of course).

Basic Skill Mastery is one additional D6 either for the skill check or as backstab damage. Every 3 levels a Thief gets one more point Skill Mastery to distribute. Progression is: Basic +1D6, Skilled +1D8, Expert +1D10, Master+1D12 and Grand Master +1D20.

Echo applies.

So I hope this helps in understanding how I integrated those rules into D&D without bloating the system. The example I wrote about killing a horse should be much more transparent now, too (it's still pretty accurate, the only changes I made here were for characters...). It should be compatible with most (if not all) D&D variants up to (but not including) 4E.

A complete list of skills is on my to-do list.

*As an alternative one could roll a d6 instead the 4, interpreting the result as something between -1 and 5 to simulate activities of the day of an encounter. So it'd be 1d6 + HD...

**Suggested Endurance loss per mile:

Travel Mode      Trail    Clear   Hills   Mountains Desert

Foot              1/3      1/2     1/1       1/1      1/1
On a horse        1/12     1/10    1/10      1/8      1/4

Horse, riding     1/6      1/4     1/3       1/2      1/1
Horse, war        1/5      1/3     1/2       1/2      1/1

*** Using a higher die (a d10, a d12 or a d20) would allow for a higher regeneration, but the chances to roll below 6 get worse the higher the die.