Archive for January, 2012

Figures per Rank in a 10′ Hallway

January 31, 2012

In 1E AD&D you can fit 3 figures per 10′ hallway. But because of the 5′ square meme everyone I know says 2 figures per 10′ hallway. 3E D&D locked that in.

I was thinking the other day about using 1-meter squares like in Shadowrun. Your body actually takes up the square, not just your weapon reach requirements. One interesting side thought was that if you cared about weapon space requirements, then slashing, cleaving, and crushing weapons should require an empty square around you, stabbing weapons wouldn’t. This means in a 3-meter wide hall (about 10′) you could fit 3 spearmen or just one sword-swinger.

Failure to have enough swinging space means you include anyone that’s in that space in the missile-into-melee calculation in 1E DMG. That is, if there are 3 Medium dudes and one Small, you’d roll d8, assigning 1-2, 3-4, and 5-6 to the three Mediums and 7 to the Small (reroll 8).

You need that space, too, so having two guys against each wall wouldn’t work: the wall would count as a target in the three appropriate spaces.

So to pack in more dudes, use piercing weapons. Like spears. Like how virtually every culture has spears.

Now look at the dungeon adventure dynamic: you get one guy with a Two-Handed Sword who takes up the whole rank, or you can get three guys with Longsword or spear (if your Longswords can do Pierce damage, otherwise it’s Shortsword). You’ve got Orcs up in the hall too, facing you. You want as many guys in the front rank as possible, because they can attack in melee. Then you want 3 dudes in the second rank hitting over their heads with spears. That’s possibly 6 people who can melee at once. And if anyone in a front rank drops you have someone in a rear rank to seal the breach.

Imagine a room 30′ across, with two groups facing off in ranks. One side has swinging melee weapons, which mean only one man per two 3′ spaces (or, 10 spaces, but only 5 men, because they need empty squares around them). This is an open formation, skirmishers. The other side has spearmen (or shortsword-stabbers) shoulder to shoulder, one per space, or 10 men. That means any one man on the first side is facing two men from the other side. Their formation is dictated by their weapons, and their formation dictates how many men can fight at once.

So basically, we appropriated Roman infantry for dungeoneering.

You could also say that any Small weapons don’t need swing space. This gives some reason to pick up a Hand Axe instead of (or as backup for) a Longsword. Kinds throws something in to balance Small weapons against Medium ones. This solves another problem I had, and the reason I didn’t get any further on the Piercing=NoSpace rule, that you’d need something cool for all the other non-Pierce weapons to balance out this powerful NoSpace spear ability. If it’s just Small weapons, you’ve got it made. Maybe say that any Small weapons OR any Piercing weapons can do it. It’s possible the high-damage polearms and the two-handed sword don’t get Piercing (but I think they do). Hmm.

Side note: Samurai carried the short sword not only as a backup weapon in case the longsword broke or was lost, and not only as an offhand weapon. It was also used for fighting indoors, where there was not enough space to wield a longsword effectively. Also, he notes that bows and polearms are not good for taking prisoners. By that I assume he means you can’t hold the weapon to someone’s throat effectively. Source: Book of Five Rings (Musashi).

I think regardless it might just be too fiddly, unless you plan to build your weapon stat chart from the ground up to include these assumptions. In 1E/2E D&D anyone who could would use a Longsword and Shortbow. They were just the best. But if you include weapons length, weapon speed, critical hit possibilities, special bonuses against certain targets (like a pole weapon vs. charging opponent) it might make weapon selection more murky. No “best weapon choice” and more variety in weapons used by players based on strategy or personal preference, or specific application. That, I like.

I’m having a problem with Blogger

January 20, 2012

These apply only to Blogger blogs; I don’t have these problems with other blog sites and I have these problems with almost every Blogger blog I try to visit. This has come up only in the past few days.

1: Visiting a subpage, that is, a specific post in the blog, often fails. I just get a white webpage with the rest of the browser stuff working properly. Refreshing, compatibility view, and navigating manually through the blog’s internal links don’t work at all. Sometimes when I refresh, the page will load for a moment and then go to white.

2: Visiting a comment page, to read comments or to make my own comments, often doesn’t work. And it’s not a matter of trying again and again: certain pages just don’t load.

3: The word verification doesn’t work. I type it in, it doesn’t recognize. I’ve tried it a lot. Caps lock is off, num lock is off, and I know I’m doing it right. I tried the audio word verification and it sounded like a bored man in a basement bingo hall counting off a string of numbers. It didn’t match the word verification, but I typed them in anyway and tried it. Of course, not a match. Yes, I’m logged into WordPress when I comment, and it’s not the same error.

As I said, word verification etc. is working fine on other blog sites. I’ve been able to view comments and actually comment myself on certain blogs but it’s very hit or miss.

I’ve tested in IE and Firefox. I’m on Windows 7, but I also tested on an XP desktop using IE.

I hope it gets fixed somehow. A lot of my favorite blogs are on Blogger :/

Zak plays 23 questions

January 19, 2012

These can be fun.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
I assume you mean something I invented. I’m pretty proud of this monastery that I made called the Monastery of Everlasting Hope. You walk in and things seem okay, they invite you to stay the night, dinner, etc. But the abbot and monks are all the ghosts of the mental patients who died there – this place was an asylum. If the PCs do stay the night they get trapped, the rooms move around, there are awesome scary hallucinations, and the basement rooms are the cells of the dangerous ghosts.
I like it because I made it up on the fly based on the song “Hotel California”, ran it without notes, the players really enjoyed it and were genuinely freaked out at times, and it was well structured. That is to say, players could have gotten out early easily, and there were plenty of ways out even for low-level low-resource parties to escape.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
Last Sunday, 1E AD&D in a campaign setting I cooked up inspired loosely by Pool of Radiance. I run the game weekly.

3. When was the last time you played?
Oh man, spring 2011, in a stripped 2E Dwellers of the Forbidden City. Need to find some way of playing more.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.
A Sci-Fi Western: Destroy the Overlord of the Iron City. Inspired by Dark Sun and Gamma World.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Flesh out the dungeon level they’re on. I try not to have NPCs in the group so I don’t have to pay so much attention to stuff like treasure division and planning.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
Sometimes nothing. Last game I ate veggie sushi, cole slaw, and cold tortellini in cream sauce, and diet coke.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Some nights I’m tired after, but mostly I’m exhilarated. Same goes for mental status.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
Trying to scheme a way to make magic guns. DM had already added automatic weapons to his game. I was trying to get ammo that had propellant powerful enough that you couldn’t use it else your gun would explode. Then sheathe the gun parts with permanent Walls of Force.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
They like to make fun of the names I come up with for NPCs, but I’m purposely trying to make stupid names now (Slumgullion and his dog Barxamillian). What matters to me is that the NPC is memorable. I like dieties such as Tritus, punisher of cliches, or Lawl the Mirthful. I have a mushroom cult, the members of which carry special magical mushrooms instead of potions, which I suddenly decided one night would call its proto-dynasty the Mushroom Kingdom. This is all pretty much throwaway stuff I do because I don’t want the players to think I’m at all stuffy about my campaign or NPCs or whatever. My players tend to be just about as serious, or a little bit moreso 😛

10. What do you do with goblins?
My goblins are like Dwarf Fortress goblins: stabby hopeless hobo thieves. They look just like the 1E MM1 Goblin illustration, with green-yellow skin, 4′ tall and gangly. They steal other people’s language, culture, clothes, food, tools, treasure, babies, etc. When they speak Common they mix it up a bit: “What’s a matter for you?” or “Why come the rums are gone?” Each tribe has very different little quirks which I tend to make up right then and note for later. They’re scheming and toadying and the easiest humanoid to get as servants – but really not the easiest to keep loyal. If a place is empty for too long, there’s a good bet either Goblins or rats will move in.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I can’t remember that last thing, but one thing I think is cool is tuned coins. You blow on the coin and it rings. So hard to cointerfeit unless you know the secrets! I think I got the idea from the movie Red Violin. In my game, elven coins are tuned just because it totally doesn’t sound like something dwarves would bother with.

12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
I can never remember them. Every single game we end up with stuff that is just so hilarious, but a lot of it is “you had to be there” stuff too.

13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?
I was just looking over Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue. It’s a nice piece of work, but I was just grabbing ideas from it for an equipment list. I would prefer something with better pictures so players can see what some item looks like in diagram, sitting on the ground, and in use.

14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Dave Trampier. First, it’s black and white, which cuts down on printing costs. The forms of his subjects were well-shaped and solid-looking, with excellent perspective and shading / lighting. His choice of subjects was excellent: a rat on a shelf, adventurers interrogating a magic mouth, scruffy dudes with spears and torches exploring dungeons. The art looks so simple but there is so much quality there.
I’d compare him to David Sutherland, who to my tastes seems to have just drawn cape-and-cowl superheroes. Too clean. Too swagger-posey.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
I’d classify this as terror, horror, or tactical dismay. I think many referees can achieve tactical dismay. That’s when things are simply not going well, and while you have a slim chance of success you know you might totally bite it. Terror is hard to do without antics like suddenly shouting to scare the players. I think a lot of instances of terror for players really just amount to tactical dismay. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a player terrified. Horror is achievable at the gaming table, if the players are “in the game” enough, but it’s hard to do. I’ve managed a couple times. The Monastery of Everlasting Hope was one. A certain uneasiness was maintained for an hour or so, followed by maybe a fleeting moment of terror when they realized they couldn’t just walk out, followed by maybe an hour of low-level horror. They seemed relieved and exhausted for a few minutes after, and they weren’t sure they were really free until the end of the session.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)
I don’t think I’ve ever just run a module straight. The closest I’ve come is taking the general theme and making my own thing, stealing a bunch of ideas from a whole lot of places that seem to fit.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
A well-insulated and temperature-regulated finished attic. You can keep all your gaming stuff lying around or on shelves without bothering anybody, it isn’t a walk-through space like a living room, it isn’t dank or cold like a basement. Potential for natural light. Ability to modify the space permanently unlike your living room etc. if you wanted a REALLY NICE gaming table, projector setup, maps on the walls, figurine shelves, bookshelves, audio equipment, mini-fridge, microwave.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
Car Wars. You basically play your car in a post-apoc demolition derby with lasers, machine guns, flamethrowers, flaming oil slicks, and chemical ice slicks. It’s a wargame really.

My idealized Microlite74. That is, removal of all the 3E crap that dude still kept and stripped down to the barest essentials. Vancian spell rarity for M-Us. Include Thief, but on d6s instead of percentages and start him out with at least 2 in 6 on everything (equivalent to 36%). Max level 14. You want to do a whirlwind attack? There’s a magic sword out there that does it. You’re gonna come across all kinds of cool traps and monsters and magic items and stuff because your DM is gonna make it all up, but the book contains the basic types. That’s why it’s actually fine for the players to read the whole thing.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Philotomy, Jeff Rients, Ars Ludi (esp. West Marches)
These three are very much alike in what I take from them.
I can’t think of a lot of other direct influences on my game. There are novels, movies, songs, but those end up filtering through my “D&D lens” to come out the other side as gamable material. Now that I think about it that way, I wonder if that’s holding me back?

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone who wants to interact, who wants to play make-believe, who wants to get along with the other people around the table, who is generally laid-back, and shows up regularly and around the game’s start time. I guess a player like me, except I still argue too much :/ It is a thing I try to work on. Shrug and let it go, I say to myself, because the worst that can happen is you’re back to 3d6 six times on a fresh sheet of goldenrod cardstock, right?

21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?
I use my dreams in the game all the time. I sometimes daydream things that are just so weird and visceral that I have to put it in the game. As for real-life stuff, I try not to make a big deal out of my own experiences. I know a little karate, but I’m not about to write a different combat system – the current one works really well. If I get heatstroke, I’m not going to suddenly make the weather a big deal for the adventurers. I do like to inject a lot of flavor in the game, descriptions and stuff, so if I come across cool ideas I try to find someplace to put them.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?
Dungeon geomorphs, playing card style. A deck of them, 55 per deck, double-sided for extra usefulness. You shuffle in a way that mixes them and rotates them and BAM you’ve got 110 geomorphs. They need to be 10×10 squares with side exits that match with the standard geomorph format – but you don’t need all eight exits per geomorph. Below each geomorph, because you have a little spare space on that rectangular card, you put a custom QR code for the card. It detects orientation as well as which side of which card of which set you have.
Then you have a smart phone which has a program with a custom QR reader just for these geomorphs and a program to arrange the geomorphs IN THE PROGRAM as you scan them. So you can shuffle and arrange as you like in person, then scan one by one. Or you could swap and rotate in the program using your smartphone. Then you output it as a .png and email it to your PC. You can use various “texture packs” to change how the output map looks (blue and white? sepia? hand-drawn?).
Card sets should NOT be collectible because that’s a stupid idea. They should include various dungeon sets, town, caves, world-map, etc. You could even make a single map with cards from multiple sets since the reader can understand what’s going on.
The phone program should be able to generate a random dungeon from any geomorph sets, assigning numerical weights to each set to determine how likely those cards are to appear in the dungeon, and size of the rectangle.
There should be a provision for including a “black block” of solid rock instead of a geomorph, and a choice of shaving off the unnecessary dungeon side exits immediately before export to .png.

Right now the best I’ve got is a plan to draw geomorphs in Paint, print, and laminate each in clear packing tape.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?
Nope. I’m self-conscious about boring someone to tears, so I’ll mention that I play D&D but if they aren’t genuinely interested I don’t talk about it much.

Thoughts about writing Game XYZ

January 14, 2012

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
– Antoine de Saint Exupery

I think the value of this statement directly relates to your plans for the game you’re writing. Take a building as an example: the architect who takes everything away has an empty lot instead of a building. What the quote really encourages is simplification if you can get away with it.

If my goals for the Game were to make it as simple as possible, I would just give up and play something like a stripped-down Burning Wheel:

You’re good at A, okay at B, and mediocre at everything else. Name A and B. Tasks related to A get 3d6, B tasks get 2d6, everything you can’t argue fits under these gets 1d6. Opposed rolls compare dice results; higher wins. Unopposed rolls are actually opposed by the referee: 5 is tough, 10 is really damn hard, and 15 is almost impossible.

Or I could do a very stripped-down D&D style game with classes and races and pretty much end up with a D&D board game, the entire rules written on both sides of a pamphlet.

But the first is almost pre-existing, and the second exists already in the form of the various Microlites (20, 74, etc.).

What I’m doing isn’t out there yet. Sometimes I get discouraged because I feel like it’ll never get finished. Not that I spend all the time editing and fiddling with little things. I just keep finding simpler ways to do things, which is vital to my goals with the Game:

1: Lots of player choices within the Dark Ages fantasy setting
2: Easy to run at the table
3: Strong impartial referee

Goal 1 requires lots of content, which I’m fine with. Testing so far hasn’t shown the players to be paralyzed by excessive choice. Goal 2 requires that all those choices be very simple. Anything complex gets red-flagged for replacement with something simpler. If I can’t do it, I scrap it in favor of something with less complexity and fewer features.

But as I go about this refining process, and I’m running a 1E game at the same time, I find myself less dissatisfied with existing games.

I just read that the development time for 4E was about a year, for 3E two years, for OD&D three years. While I haven’t been putting in as many man-hours as those folks, I’ve been writing the Game for six years. The structure has changed, two primary assumptions were turned on their heads once. I’ve felt like totally changing directions several times lately but instead of putting energy into a different “grass is greener” game I just took a break.

I’ve heard the NaNoWriMo advice: you need to just say it’s finished sometime. I don’t think that applies to a document with headings that need something worthwhile under them and they have nothing yet.

Anyway, just venting I guess.


Familiar Malady Table (What’s Wrong With Sprinkles?!)
1 Diarrhea / intestinal worms
2 Fleas / mites
3 Moaning and complaining about nothing in particular
4 Ate something completely disgusting and has an upset tummy
5 Got into a fight with someone else’s familiar
6 Pregnant / got someone else’s familiar knocked up
7 Excessive shedding of hair / scales / dandruff
8 Ornery, scratching and chewing things
9 Feeling devious, will be up to no good, may ruin spell components
10 Feeling slighted or ignored, demands attention, may interrupt magic work
11 Dental problems: abcess, cracked tooth, tooth decay
12 Got out in the rain last night, coughing and sneezing

Material Components

January 4, 2012

Reply to a post on Grognardia, about material components for spells. His blog for some reason allows replies only from Google accounts. I’ve noticed this with a few Blogger blogs, and I wonder about it. Has Google given up on “don’t be evil”? It would be like if you could call only AT&T phones from your AT&T phone.


I like the idea of material components more than actually using them in a game. There are a lot of things I would love to include in a magic system that would bog the game down way too much. I think spell components, like Encumbrance, were one of those commonly-houseruled into nonexistence. For example, I’ve heard of DMs who said:

Write down on your sheet how many components of each spell level you have. You need to spend 1 CP for 1st or 2nd, 1 SP for 3-4, 1 GP for 5-6, 10 GP for 7-8, 100 GP for 9th. Ignore the costs of specific spells’ components because that’s averaged out in your other spells. All spells use material components.

That ignores the problem that some spells with material components should be really expensive to cast (Identify, Wall of Force, Simulacrum). Then again some interesting spells that have expensive material components are just regularly powerful, and nobody ever uses them because of the extravagant cost.

Another option is to say that you must spend money on components for spells that list a cost, but anything without a cost we assume you pick up along the way and don’t bother recording it. If you get captured they take away your spell components though, so you can’t cast any that have an M until you get more.

Another way to deal with it is just to ignore material components. That’s what most players want to do, at least, and a lot of DMs don’t care to bother with the details.

How do you make it so players don’t feel railroaded?

January 2, 2012

I phrase it that way because deep down, I’m not sure there’s a difference between these scenarios:

A: The DM creates an adventure with hooks and clues that lead the PCs to adventure locations / events that he has made up ahead of time. (Standard adventure creation method)

B: The DM creates adventure locations / events and adds hooks and clues to the world so the PCs can find them. (Standard sandbox creation method)

There are grades of “DM leading the players by the nose” which we would call “railroading.” I think it has a lot to do with whether players have the choice to do something else besides what the DM wants them to do, and whether they can decide the outcome of those things rather than just doing whatever the DM decides will happen.

I’ve been thinking about typical Sandbox play (that is, the referee creates a setting and interesting things in that setting, and the players roam around doing whatever they want). There is Passive Sandbox and Active Sandbox.

Passive Sandbox is when the referee sets things up and leaves clues and hooks and stuff. The players are the big movers and shakers. They do things to the world, rather than the world doing things to them.

Active Sandbox is when the referee sets up things that seek out the players and engage them. The players sometimes have the choice to skip out on the adventure, but sometimes the adventure carries them along beyond their ability to escape it.

I’ve heard from my players that they enjoyed the times when I’ve run a more Active Sandbox session. I think maybe this has something to do with a planned, controlled experience having some added value, like the difference between a Disney theme park ride and just driving down the road in your car.

There are also the differing types of enjoyment found in a movie and a game. The game can be more enjoyable than the movie because you have input on things, but there’s a good chance it won’t work out as perfectly as the movie would (for example, investigation and time travel games). Simply put, a railroad can be fun if the players never suspect they’re being railroaded. Or, in my recent experience, it’s fun for one adventure but the players want to be free after they finish it.

Maybe that’s the tradeoff between a planned experience and an unplanned one. Planned experiences work out exactly the way the designer intended, the same way for everyone, while unplanned experiences are more engaging for everyone and more surprising for people who know how it goes (the referee and players who have played the adventure before).

There are, after all, people who prefer “adventure path” railroad-style games.

I think it’s possible to have the best of both worlds occasionally, if handled properly, but the amount of planning done will limit player agency by the same amount. The trick is disguising the planning, massaging the play experience, trying to keep the players from feeling railroaded.