Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pimping the Cleric Part 2 (REVERSE THEM ALL)

Just an idea about pimping the cleric further (here is Part 1) that occurred to me yesterday: why not make it possible for a cleric to reverse all his spells?
Seems to be a famous meme. It's kind of funny, too...
(source: here)


He basic impulse came from thinking about making a witch class (well, just a thought experiment) and my first thought was to give witches an option to do it either the good way or the bad way*. A comparison to cleric spells was imminent and unavoidable.


Pretty much writes itself. I took a look at the Rules Cyclopedia list of cleric spells and it seems very possible with some interesting spells as a result. Let's see some of those results**:

  • Vulnerable to Cold could be the reverse effect of Resist Cold (freezing temperatures do hurt people as if they were naked, just reverse the rest).
  • Spoil Food and Water is an easy enough reverse to Purify Food and Water. And it wouldn't be that powerful, because it would be obvious to see that the food and the water are spoiled and to be avoided. Useful, though.
  • Hide Traps instead of Find Traps could mean a tactical advantage for the cleric. It could, to give but one example, hide a pit trap in front of him when Monsters/Adventurers are charging him. Again, not to powerful, because directly connected to the clerics position.
  • Don't need to explain Vulnerable to Fire as a reverse of Resist Fire, I guess.
  • Snake Taunt (as a reverse to Snake Charm) leaves you with a very pissed off snake, who attacks the closest target (not necessarily the cleric).
  • A reverse to Speak with Animal could be a bit more difficult. My take would be to reverse it to Irritate Communication with Animal, which would lead to the animal having a -2 to reaction rolls and understands every command given to it as it's opposite. Now imagine a knight charging an evil cleric and the cleric casts Irritation. The horse would come to an abrupt stop, because the knight wants it to gallop, etc.. So there is  value in it.
  • Cause Blindness is treated like a curse and not to be healed by its opposite Cure Blindness. It's a bit redundant, but Cure Blindness itself isn't exactly the greatest idea ever.
  • To reverse Speak with the Dead seems a bit difficult at first. But what does the spell do? A cleric is allowed to ask a spirit up to 3 questions, which are to answered to their best knowledge and, as a worst case, it might be in riddles. Murderers would be caught quite fast with such a spell. I'd suggest to reverse it to Erase Memories of the Dead, allowing a cleric to erase up to 3 memories of a spirit (which should be as useful as speaking with them...).
  • Slay Undead could be the reverse to Animate Undead. Seems a bit redundant, too, but at least it allows for a fast destruction of undead.
  • Dispel Magic is a hard one. Revive Magic might be a good reverse of it. Yes, I'd go with that. Same difficulties as destroying it, as the spell suggests. Might be useful, too.
  • I suggest Disconnect instead of Commune. It allows a cleric to disconnect another cleric from his god for 3 turns (target needs to hear the caster hear praying for the presence of his deity, no save to avoid).
  • Create Hunger (instead Create Food) make for 12 very hungry persons. All the effects of starvation apply for 24 hours, regardless of what they're eating and drinking (no save, because it's a level 5 spell?). If there is more than enough food, this could lead to some serious damage as soon as the spell wears of (drowning because of too much water, internal damage because of too much food. Here are some very creative results possible (what if the only food source left is other people...). 

I could go on (and maybe I should at some point in the future...), but this was supposed to be a short post and I think I made my point. There are some difficult decisions with the spells on higher levels, but that shouldn't be a problem for a creative DM.

It gives the cleric a few more options and variety with just a little bit of work.

Any further suggestions? Alternatives?

*As a side note: I think witches could work using the cleric as is. I mean, Satan could be the petty god of lies or something. Need to think a bit more about it...
**Interesting note: Detect Evil is reversible in the German version of the Rules Cyclopedia (Detect Good would be the reversed version). This need's to be explored further in the future, too.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Alright, let's do this! (D&D 30 Day Challenge)

Sounds fun, I'm in. I'll use the editions I used at the time (if I can find the stuff...). Hackmaster 4e, Rules Cyclopedia, AD&D and even some 3e (it's all over the place!). We'll see.

I still love a good bandwagon :-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

H. G. Wells and the "Kriegspiel"

One of the first of it's kind...
Nerds, 100 years ago
"Little Wars is the game of kings for players in an inferior social position. It can be played by boys of every age from twelve to one hundred and fifty and even later if the limbs remain sufficiently supple, by girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted women." (H. G. Wells, Introduction to Little Wars, p. 7)
One of the very early predecessors of the War Games that led to D&D was Little Wars by H. G. Wells (which itself, as far as I know, was inspired by some other game, used by the Prussian Military to train it's officers).
Discussing house rules of playing
with tin soldiers in 1913.

The first edition was published in 1913 (July of that year, to be precise) and is in the public domain now (you can get it here in every format you could possibly need).

It's delightful to read how they worked on the game to make it more and more "realistic", the debates and problems and the fun they had playing it. All that no less than 100 years ago!

Fascinating, not only as a historical artifact, but also as a game. Small shooting toy cannons should be easily enough attainable. No need to mention miniatures, I guess.

More thoughts about it as soon as I've finished reading it.

I'll start a virtual bookshelf for this blog and this will be the first book on it...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Combat-Strength Evaluation by Size & Level for D&D Monsters

I always wondered how they came up with the damage they used for the monsters in D&D (especially the Rules Cyclopedia, but earlier editions have the same problem, I guess). It always seemed kind of arbitrary to me. And I never found a reasonable explanation or a tool for the DM to build a Monster and have some reasonable damage output in the process.

I have been working on this for some time now and thought it is now far enough developed to share. Might very well be crazy and/or wrong, but here is a structured attempt of an analysis, resulting in something slightly different:

It is true to most of the monster entries in the Rules Cyclopedia, but it also alters some assumptions about what big creatures should deal as damage, mainly because they should be stronger. It's also in connection to my last post (weapons don't have a damage value, but a function) and assumes the same goes for monsters (but it should work with every version of D&D up to 3E).

I'd really like to discuss this and it's implications (or errors...). So if somebody is up for it, you're all welcome to give an opinion.

So my question should be: Is this usefull as a DM tool?

If there is need for a pdf, I will provide it of course. But I'll give it some time to breath first (and maybe to change what needs changing...).

[It is under the cc, but I'm not quite sure about the label. Could use the OSR label instead, I think?]

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Weapon Mastery Redux (Basic)

Gave this a shot some time ago. As things go, I didn't get any further because there were some missing pieces and some more testing. Today I stumbled across this inspiring post about longswords over at Spell and Steel. It was enlightening and some of the missing pieces fell into place. I'll try and summarize how I plan to use this in our game.

Playing it Basic

I don't use it in campaigns, but it is useful for one-shots and to introduce new players to the way we handle combat. The "advanced" version we use will be part of another post. This is, of course, a combination of various house rules. Some are by me, some from around the OSR, some from Hackmaster or the Rules Cyclopedia itself. The first link above sheds further light on the subject. This rules assume medium sized characters, everything else is noted separately.


The HD of a class indicates the damage a character can do with one strike. Every 6 levels all classes get an additional die per combat round.

Weapons have up to 3 different damage types (hacking, piercing, clubbing). A weapon might be able to do one or a combination of those according to it's functionality (a longsword, for example, could do all of those, an arrow not). Every weapon might be used for clubbing.

Hacking allows for follow-through damage. If enough damage is dealt to cut an enemy to 0 hp, the rest of the damage might go to the next enemy close by (no additional to-hit needed).*

Piercing weapons impale a victim with a critical hit. A victim will need 1d4 rounds to get the weapon free, every round will deal 1d6 damage (the impaled does nothing else in this time, DEX does not apply when attacked). The attacker might try to keep the weapon longer in the victim (opposed STR-checks). Even when freed in the first round (by attacker or victim), the 1d6 damage apply for that round. If an arrow deals 4 points of damage or more, the victim is also impaled, same time is needed to pry it free, but it only deals 1 point of damage every round.**

Clubbing might push back or even trip a victim, if an attack misses the target, but hits the armor and would deal 6 points of damage or more (for small creatures 4 damage is the minimum). The victim is entitled to a saving throw against paralysation. If the save is successfull, the target is pushed back or the damage -5 in meters, if not, the target also falls down. More than 3 meters and they get falling damage, too (also if bashed against a wall).***

Dice Distribution

Ranged combat and melee are the categories relevant for this. Unarmed combat is resolved as the Rules Cyclopedia suggests. Here we go.

  • Two handed weapons deal two dice of damage. Until the second die is available (level 6) this means one attack every two rounds.
  • Long weapons also have the benefit of initiative. It keeps an enemy at bay. It means, if the two handed weapon only attacks every two rounds, so does the enemy with a smaller weapon (if the surrounding space allows for it, of course).
  • Wielding a one handed weapon with two hands allows two dice in one round, but only the highest result is taken for damage. It does not work for small weapons.
  • Small shield and buckler do not count for AC, but allow to deflect one attack per round every 3 levels (1 attack per round on levels 1-3, two per round on levels 4-6, etc.). Save vs. Death ray deflects an attack. Using a small second weapon with the off-hand has the same effect.

  • A character may aim for one round and attack in the next. His (first) damage die is then rolled as a to-hit-bonus.
  • Heavy range weapons do two dice of damage. The same rules apply those for two handed weapons (without the benefit of initiative, of course).

Fighters benefit
  • Fighters may use their STR bonus for damage reduction instead of additional weapon damage. But it has to be declared before the fight.****

Aimed hits

Just working with what a basic monster description is giving a DM, this needs to factor in level/hd and AC. Let's assume a limb can take around 40% of the hitpoints a creature has, before it's rendered useless (one may try and give different limbs different values, like Hackmaster or Runequest do, but I'd like to keep it simple and chose a more conservative estimation to cover all...). Just add the AC to that and it's good to go.

Result: 3 x hd (or level) + ac-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)
= damage needed to dismember or cripple

Full explanation about how we handle aimed hits, for the interested, may be found here.

Echoing dice (my reasoning about this can be read here)
  • Roll the highest value of any dice and you might roll again with the next lower die.
  • If you keep rolling that high, repeat again with the next lower die.
  • There is no die lower than d4.
  • Dice in order: 1d20, 1d12, 1d10, 1d8, 1d6, 1d4
  • Not for initiative or hit die rolls.

This concludes all I'd use for a basic combat in our game*****. The advanced rules will be a hybrid between this system and the Weapon Mastery system from the Rules Cyclopedia. The focus will be more on the functionality of a weapon and the tactical advantages thereof. Most of the special effects listed in the RC will also be part of this (but watered down and streamlined, I guess).

*This saves lives if characters die when falling under 0 hp and it helps cutting down low-hp critters fast.
**Makes ranged weapons somewhat better and stabbing a victim a bit more effective.
***Makes people fly around if hit by a giant (or goblins, if hit by the fighter...).
****I'm pretty sure I read this on a blog somewhere, but can't remember where. Sorry.
*****Well, I'd go and use Endurance and some house rules for armor, too. But they are not that necessary for this to work...

For your Inspiration (Suspiria)

I was recently reminded of the soundtrack to the psychedelic horror movie Suspiria by Dario Argento. It has a very haunting quality to it. I don't use music in my Games, but I always found music stimulating when thinking about the Game. So here we go, Suspiria by Goblin:

Tomorrow I'll be back with something a bit more substantial. Until then, enjoy the weirdness...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Random Picture Adventure Seed: The Dome

No idea where I found this weird little picture or when, but I'd like to share it with you:

How big should this thing be?
Well, what is it?

My first thought was, it could be a small but exquisite treasure (500 gp for selling it to a collector). The thought after that, naturally, was about this thing having some magic properties. Animation would be the most obvious (a collector would be willing to pay up to 1500 gp for such a thing). But somehow, I thought, that isn't enough. Sure, you can show the players a nice picture and tell a little story, maybe. But it will be just passing through. Item means gold, end of story.

Lets play a bit with the possibilities.

What if...

What if it was 20 by 20 feet, with the creatures as big as your average human? It's in the middle of the dungeon, blocking the passage. The creatures seem to be in a stasis. Detect magic will reveal, that the weapons seem to be enchanted. Damaging the dome will enter fresh air into it and revive the two frog men in 2d4 turns. Adding water will accelerate the process. If the characters steal the magic weapons, those guys will hunt them down. They are stealthy and deadly, able to hide and travel in shadows, hypnotize their prey and use their surprising leap attack with brutal accuracy (critical hit means a limb gets torn off).


Make it even bigger. Lets say it fills half a market place. The true story how this thing came to be is long lost in history. Elves every now and then visit the Dome, but they have vowed never to speak about it or the strange rites they hold in it's presence. there is whisper in the streets about a secret cult and the weird crimes they conduct in  the name of a lost god that is somehow connected to the dome. What are their goals? And how much destruction will it bring to the city, if those old mechanisms inside the dome are brought back to life...

What else?

So what else could it be? A trap, maybe, with the victim being teleported into the position of the stabbed frog (save vs. death or victim is stabbed to death into the heart, otherwise 2d6 damage). The wizard responsible for it likes to display the fools stupid enough to challenge him...

Any more ideas?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dungeon Robber (OD&D Flash Game)

This is actually news, I guess, because it went online just a few days ago and nobody was excited enough to write about it (at least on the blogs I follow...).

What I'm talking about?

Dungeon Robber (by Paul from Blog of Holding), a free OD&D flash game, using the old Random Dungeon Generation Tables from 1979 to generate a text based dungeon crawl (current version is 1.1, first link gets you there). You have one character with just his clothes and a stick going into a dungeon, very likely to be dead fast or lucky enough to get out alive, level up or even retiring rich and famous. The pure mass of features is just impressive. You can unlock new classes and crawl up to ten levels. It's just beautiful and easy to handle. Honestly, I'm not doing it justice. It's that good.

Here is the blurb from the man himself (source is this post):
  • You can get yourself a pet. Unlike Nethack, you don't start with a kitten or puppy. You have to earn it. If you find a whip, you might be able to tame a giant lizard or a carrion crawler. Some characters might one day gain the capability to raise undead minions. Or, if you prefer human henchmen, you might be able to hire them back in town - once you've built an inn. Speaking of which:
  • Unlike many roguelikes, you can leave the dungeon and return to town. The town's economy is dependent on your success in the dungeon. When you start, there's not much available besides a handful of weapons for sale at the market, a graveyard to commemorate all your dead characters, and a few other buildings. But as your characters loot the dungeon and retire as independent yeomen, wealthy bishops, or even nobility, new buildings will spring up, and new treasures will become available for sale for new characters.
  • The Dungeon Robber game is about what happens before your first game of Dungeons and Dragons, before your character has fighter or wizard skills and can afford decent equipment. But if you're successful enough to retire as a merchant, a thieves guild moves to town. If you retire as a knight, you'll be able to start your next game as a fighter. Eventually, when you've unlocked the four original D&D classes and starting equipment, you're actually playing D&D.
A screenshot to give you an impression. I've planned great things
for Winfield The Greater (and yes, I'm not good with names...).
It couldn't get more old school. It's deadly, but in a good way. There is resource management, risk taking and random death. You can play it safe and avoid (even distract!) encounters. Or you fight everything you see. The thief will pick doors and has a sneak attack and... Well, it's also very addictive. Can't wait to try the Magic-User. And now I stop writing and venture once more into the dungeon.

If you haven't heard of it yet, check it out. It's pure OD&D.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pimping the Cleric Part 1 (Rituals)

Clerics are the stepchild of D&D. So much so that I read several times it should be dismissed as a class. And I agree in as far as it is a very difficult class to do right. This is where I see the main problem: A fighter has his choice of weapons and armor to define him, a magic-user has his choice of spells and a thief, even simpler, has a set of skills. Set your priorities and your done. Not so much the cleric. He's not defined by his choice of weapons or spells, he's defined by a God.

In this series of posts I will offer some ideas and house rules to make the OD&D cleric a more worthwhile (and visible) class.

What to do about it?

The easy way out was always to use the cleric as fighter support and/or heal-bot. Using him only for that makes it a very unrewarding class to play. Makes the player feel like taking a bullet for the team. I've been trying to get away from this since we started playing Rules Cyclopedia.

First part of the solution, although I didn't realize at the time, was to allow a dwarven cleric as a class. In retrospect it's quite easy to see why that worked. The God worshiped being the God of the dwarves made it easy for the player to emulate that as a believe. Which means, he didn't have to alter his perception of what it means to be a dwarf to be a cleric for them. But the player mostly criticized the lack of spells on level 1 and the weak development later. It needed one more change to make him happy.

So the second part was to allow sacrifices. Inspiration was the (excellent, but canceled) tv show Rome. In one episode one of the main characters, Lucius Vorenus (an officer of the roman army), gets his blessings in a temple. An ox is sacrificed and Lucius is bathed in the blood. They are pretty accurate about the multicultural daily life in Rome and the effects of polytheism. In addition to this scene, there are on a regular basis little shrines or cultists roaming the streets. It gave a good impression of how important those small rituals (and religions in general) were at the time. Clerics were a vital part of society. And mostly strange individuals with odd opinions and weird clothes. Here is what we did:

Sacrifices in D&D

An ox about to be sacrificed (source: Wikipedia).
What counts as a sacrifice depends on the individual believe and can be everything from treasure to creatures (alignment should be an indicator here). The ritual is concluded with a successful WIS-check (which may get bonuses for ritual knifes, oils or other materials, inferior materials will result in penalties, a critical failure means the cleric somehow insulted his God, etc.).
Whatever is used for the sacrifice, is always useless after the ritual (destroyed, buried, vanished in thin air, the DM is to decide what works best in his campaign). If the God accepted the sacrifice, a cleric gets at least 1 point Gratitude. This is cumulative as long as the cleric keeps a regular schedule of additional prayers (that is, the player mentions it in the game). Gratitude may be tested with a d100 in times of need. If successful, a minor wonder happens to aid the cleric. If a wonder occurs, Gratitude is reset to 0.
The value of the sacrifice defines the points in Gratitude a player might get gets. Every 500 gp or 1 HD are worth one point of gratitude. The worthiness of the offer in Gratitude Points, divided by the cleric's level is the duration of the ritual in days (but at least an hour).
Every true convert to the clerics believe is worth one point of Gratitude (assuming that the player put some work into it, makes a WIS-check unnecessary).
When using a shrine, altar or temple for the sacrifice, the cleric needs to state his intent. Pure devotion is for the benefit of the holy place*, seeking a blessing for a future endeavor is for Gratitude Points.
If he wants to use Gratitude points to help a fellow players, the penalty on the d100 is -25 for non-believers, -10 for casual believers and -5 for true believers. All points are lost, if the wonder occurs.
One try per situation is advised. A second try in the same situation is allowed (with a -10 penalty), but all points are lost, even if no wonder occurs.

It's a house rule we use for some time now and it worked like a charm. To get gratitude points, the player made very clear what he needed from the other players. He even converted two of them in the process. With a little tweak in the system, his god's name became a visible part of the Game and enhanced the overall experience.

There are some wider implications for the Game a DM might consider. For instance, knowing what kind of sacrifices are needed for an evil cult, could give some hints for the players about what they are dealing with. Or the magnitude of the ritual. In a more investigation oriented game, some stolen relics could hint towards the cult behind it and what kind of ritual is planned.

By the by, an impressive number of small cults to make the groups live more interesting and give some ideas what they might need for their rituals, is (of course) the Petty Gods Project.

Next up will be a selection of cleric spells, some mechanics for holy sites and I guess I'll write up the dwarven cleric we used in our Game to conclude the series.

*This will be part of another post. Basically it will effect the power of a holy site. Something that is not very much explored in the game.