Archive for February, 2012

Level/HD = “Normal Men Equivalent” is Bogus

February 29, 2012

In 1st edition AD&D there’s this concept (I know not where) that your level equates to the number of normal men you equal in a fight. A 4th level Fighter Hero is equal to four normal men. It’s a cute approximation and gives a general guideline for power. But it’s actually bogus when you dissect it.

Your toughness in a fight relates to your chance to deal damage, damage potential, chance to resist attack (AC), and hit points. Even if we stick to these the formula doesn’t work out. Related magically is your ability to hinder your opponent or help yourself with spells and your chance to resist hindering by your opponent (saving throws).

Let’s assume anything in the 1E main books (PHB / DMG / MM) is available if you have the starting cash. We roll up two Fighters. Immediately we see differences: one will probably have higher starting HP than the other and so have the ability to last possibly a whole extra round in a fight. Let’s say they both end up with stats without any modifiers and the same average 120 GP starting funds (which is fairly improbable but let’s go with it).

Fighter A: Equip him with Banded Mail, Small Shield, Longsword. AC 3, damage 1d8. Spent 115 GP.

Fighter B: Banded Mail, Short Bow, Spear, and Quiver of 24 Arrows. AC 4, damage 1d6 x 2 (bow) or 1d6 (sword). Spent 109 GP.

Between the two, the second guy will do more damage at range but the first will do slightly more in melee. It depends on the encounter distance, surprise, and the first initiative roll.

What if one of them spent his resources on hiring men-at-arms (expert hirelings, not henchmen)? As a PC he commands these men and so his power includes their power. He might be able to handle the whole dungeon expedition without other PCs!

Fighter C: Hire 10 Heavy Footmen for one month each (2 GP pay, 2 GP upkeep), buy a Spear and Small Wood Shield for each (2 GP) which totals 60 GP for hirelings. Since we have 60 GP left, buy Scale Mail, Small Shield, and Spear for himself. Total spent: 116 GP. AC 5, damage 1d6. 10 hirelings AC 9, damage 1d6 x 10.

Fighter D: Buy 5 Hunting Dogs (cost 85 GP), buy Studded Leather, Small Shield, and Spear for himself. 111 GP. AC 6, damage 1d6. 5 dogs AC 6, damage 2d4 x 5 (and they’re 2+2 HD! Attacking on the monster chart! 16 THAC0!).

This ignores special tactics like buying oil to throw, which does a lot of damage and gets some scientific flak for realism.

I think the combat potential of these four 1st level PC Fighters is different in each case. A and B are similar, but B will win most combats if he gets initiative on the first round. C is dramatically more powerful as a whole and personally only slightly lower AC than A and B. D is somewhat weaker than A/B because of low AC but as a whole his power is amazing.

Of course, we also have M-Us with Sleep who can win a low-level combat if they get initiative but will almost certainly die in melee with any of these Fighters without that spell. And as you gain levels PCs vary wildly in power depending on HP rolls, magic items and equipment chosen, and hirelings / henchmen.

I guess this might sound like a game balance argument, but it’s not. One of the benefits of a game with classes and levels, for me, is being able to compare characters easily. As we all know, each class is different. As the above shows, luck and equipment choices can make far more difference. It’s even worse when comparing PCs to monsters, who may have outlier ACs or special abilities reflected not in HD but in XP value. If anything, XP value should be used to determine difficulty!

This isn’t any better in 3E, with customization making comparison almost impossible. Monsters also vary greatly by type and have an arbitrary Challenge Rating to determine XP value (which is effectively rating difficulty by XP value). Of course, the CR doesn’t match up with HD but it roughly correlates.

So it’s not to say that the game should be better-balanced. It’s taking one stick from the bundle of benefits to using classes in a game.

AD&D Slows Beyond Name Level and Ends at 20th

February 28, 2012

Related to my previous post about whether each level on your PC is equivalent to one normal man, look at the benefits for gaining a level below name level (9th or 10th usually). You get a full HD of HP plus CON bonus, your saves might improve, your attack matrix / THAC0 might improve, you get access to new levels of spells, your Thief skills go up sometimes as much as 5%, etc.

What happens after name level? You get 1 to 3 HP depending on class, no CON bonus. Your saves keep getting better and your attack rolls get better. Rangers and Paladins get some spells. Thief skills keep improving but as they reach 99% they stop. You’re definitely getting less per level than you did from 4th going to 5th for example.

Now let’s see how each class winds down. Druid ends hard at 14th and that last level takes 750k XP! At the same XP level the Druid ends, the Thief also stops earning skills and saves / attack rolls at 17th. Assassin likewise ends at 1.5m XP and level 15, his class maximum.

The Fighter gets his last new ability at 12th when he gets two attacks per round. After that he’s just collecting saves and attack bonus until he hits 17th at 2.25m XP. At about the same time Ranger hits 17th at 2.6m, getting his last spells and attack bonus. Paladin grinds on until 20th at 3.975m XP collecting his last few spells.

Monk ends a hard road at 17th with 3.25m XP, his maximum level.

After these either end with a screeching halt or continue collecting in vain for an extra HP here and there, the Cleric / M-U / Illusionist soldier on gaining new spells per day. They’ve already attained the best spells they can ever cast, but getting more spells per day is still something, right? By this time they’ve probably learned as many spells per level as they can based on INT. And of course many spells give an effect based on level and don’t have a level cap such as was introduced in 2E. Illusionist gets his last memorization improvement at 26th with 3.96m XP and Cleric is close behind at 29th with 4.725m XP.

M-U continues grinding on until 29th with 7.125m XP.

So let’s see the XP values at which each class completely caps out:

Druid / Thief / Assassin 1.5m
Fighter 2.25m
Ranger 2.6m
Monk 3.25m
Illusionist 3.96m / Paladin 3.975m
Cleric 4.725m
M-U 7.125m

Let’s say you start a game with one PC of each class, all humans. The players with non-Thief demihumans would hit maximum level quickly and maybe stick around for more magic items or to complete other goals in-game. By the time each PC gained 1.5m XP there would be no demihuman who hadn’t capped and the humans Druid / Thief / Assassin would be finished. Sure the Thief can get 2 HP every 220k XP, so maybe he sticks around for a while.

The PCs Fighter / Ranger hit their cap together and some time later the Monk / Illusionist / Paladin hit their caps around the same time. At this point everyone is looking at the Cleric and M-U thinking they want to start a new campaign (the demihuman players already switched to human PCs).

How in the world does any Cleric or M-U gain enough XP to reach the end of their spell charts? Why did the game designer bother to extend those two classes so far beyond the rest?

And purely from an editor’s standpoint, why extend the M-U advancement chart to 18th just to include the “Mage” and “Archmage” level titles?!

One could argue that the magic items in the books and monsters represent examples only, and you could expand them for your game, which is what almost everyone does. Increase in magic items can improve PCs other than M-U and Cleric so they’re still interested in playing the same character. But the player has been concerned with XP until then and will probably feel like he’s spinning his wheels waiting for an unlucky Disintegrate save to come along.

By the way, this slow progression is part of why in some/many games Demihuman level limits don’t matter. One level of difference at low levels is worth about the same as three levels of difference above name level. So if you have a Dwarf Fighter level 9 he’s not going to be much behind until the Human Fighter rises to 12th. That said, many demihumans have very low level limits and that really sucks if your game goes above that level.

I don’t think this is a problem (except it would have been nice if characters ended around the same time). Most games have boundaries. I wonder if the 3E design decision to continue epic character advancement to infinity was a good move. Everything flourishes and then decays, circle of life, heat death of the universe, etc.

How are the non-Wizards also fun at high level?

February 28, 2012

Wizards are special. They can invent new spells and make lots of different magic items. Their spells provide interesting choices. At high level a Wizard can be a highly customized even in games where there isn’t much customization available (B/X, 1E, 2E). In games with pottery-style customization (where you can mold your character but once fired in the kiln you don’t get to change those choices, such as 3E) the Wizard can still completely change his approach by researching a bunch of different spells (some game time and money).

I think the Wizard has an incredible amount of interesting things he can do at high level. What does everyone else have? In 1E/2E, nothing much except followers. In 3E there is more customization for all character types.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: you’re a Wizard and you want to make a long-range courier system. Packages and information. You could use the standard options available to you in the rules:

Make some teleport pads to transport items from post office to post office,
Charm peasants and ask them to ride Light Warhorses between towns,
Charm Griffons or whatever and have them fly between towns,

But why stop there? You can make new spells!

Create a spell that burrows a 3′ tunnel through earth and stone and reinforces the walls. Dig secret access shafts along the route. Two parallel tunnels allow unobstructed two-way traffic. Create a variant Reverse Gravity that affects only a 5′ column but really long and at any angle. Semipermanency that sucker and you can ignore it for 1 year per level. Put a water pool at each end to catch the waterproof packages.

Create a chain of stationary, mid-air Continual Unseen Servants who hand packages off to each other.

Create a Continual Dimension Door spell that has a short gap distance and a maximum weight limit per round, with the option of making it visible or not. Create a midair chain of them so a package flies out one Continual Dimension Door and enters the next one immediately.


I guess what I’m getting at is the M-U has such a bounty of cool opportunities and nobody else gets anything remotely as good.

I’m not making that tired and void “M-U is a win button” argument. I don’t care about how powerful it is (though of course versatility is powerful) but just how well your desires as a player can be fulfilled through your character’s abilities. If you don’t care about followers, most of the 1E/2E classes look like a bummer at high level compared to an M-U. In 3E you’re just doing more damage or getting to trip or disarm or go berserk so you can kill it differently. Or everyone gets M-U-like powers such as in 4E and Gamma World. Or everyone’s an M-U like in Ars Magica. Or M-Us advance like snails and everyone else has magic-like tech like in Shadowrun.

Then again, what if it’s okay that you don’t get to interact with the world in lots of cool ways? Maybe a player doesn’t care about that or doesn’t want the hassle. Maybe you want to roll up a dude who stabs things, name him Snarls Charley, and get to playing.

Depending on the campaign, your interaction with the world can be meaningful and fulfilling because the world is relatively small. In a megadungeon, you interact with features of your dangerous world on a turn-to-turn basis. Who needs to worry about magical FedEx when there are Green Devil Faces to poke at?

House Rules

February 27, 2012

House rules are pretty different from group to group even if they play the same game (although some seem common, like the “pot” for Free Parking in Monopoly) and this guy came up with a list of 20 common house-ruled circumstances. I’ll answer for our current 1E AD&D game.

1.Ability scores generation method? 4d6 drop lowest in order. If you don’t have high enough ability scores to qualify for a class, you can take points from a non-CHA ability score and put them in the insufficient ability score until you qualify at a 2:1 ratio.

2.How are death and dying handled? Unconscious at 0, lose 1 HP / rd to bleeding if below 0, dead at -10. If you’re helpless, an intelligent or voracious enemy can drop you to 0 HP in one round of attacks. A wild animal or nasty NPC might even go after you in a later round, killing you.

3.What about raising the dead? Raise Dead / Resurrection / Reincarnation are available. Raise Dead is usually the only affordable option although you can be Raised only once per point of CON. You can also use Limited Wish to act like a Raise Dead or a full Wish to act like a Resurrection.

4.How are replacement PCs handled? Roll it up. If the party is in town they can pick you up immediately. If they’re in a dungeon I’ll stick you in at the earliest opportunity (you’re lost in the dungeon, or a captured meal, or whatever). But you don’t wait.

5.Initiative: individual, group, or something else? No action declaration. d6 per side, highest wins, individuals may have different initiative based on DEX modifier. It’s the result of getting lazy about declaring actions, and as a result you can’t disrupt a spellcaster unless you hold action and smack him when he casts.

6.Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work? No.

7.Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet? If you don’t wear one (because you have a magic hat or something) you have a -1 AC penalty.

8.Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly? Yep, your target is rolled randomly based on the sizes of all the combatants in melee with your target. DM can decide that you can aim at the target without mistake if you have a completely clear shot (humans fighting a giant for example).

9.Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything? The things you encounter are based on what I’ve decided previously. You might waste time in a dungeon level that’s too weak for your party’s level, or you might stumble inadvertently into something really hard. Things generally make sense though. Short answer: you should consider retreat among all your tactical options.

10.Level-draining monsters: yes or no? Yep. Restoration is a commonly-offered reward / payment from temples for you doing things for them. Otherwise they’re fairly expensive.

11.Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death? All the time. You could die from damage from a Burning Hands, or a Ghoul could paralyze you and slay you on the following round if nobody else menaces it.

12.How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked? Players write down their encumbrance and determine movement based on their standard equipment load. Treasure gained in the dungeon is marked down as split up among the party and I tell them when they would start moving slower as a result. It’s not super strict.

13.What’s required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time? You need to spend 500 GP x current level and one week to train for the new level. Cleric / Druid spells are all available by level. For M-U type spells you need to capture a spellbook or transcribe from a scroll but you get one free standard spell of your choice that you can cast every time you level up. Everyone gets EXP at the end of the session, so the only possible way to gain a level mid-session would be to read a level-raising book (Libram of Gainful Conjuration etc).

14.What do I get experience for? Capturing treasure from adventure, carousing, and defeating monsters.

15.How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination? Large traps and secret doors are located and manipulated by description. If you search the area appropriately for the trap you get the standard “search for secret doors” roll by race (though since the whole group rolls you’re virtually guaranteed to find it). Anyone with Find/Remove Traps skill uses that instead of the Search for Secrets d6 roll if it’s better. Small traps such as poison needles in chests and doors can be located and removed only using Find/Remove Traps. The Find Traps spell finds all traps, including magical ones normally impossible to find or remove otherwise. Magical traps can be removed with Dispel Magic or descriptive manipulation by spell. A Knock spell opens any door or chest type thing without setting off related traps.

16.Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work? Not encouraged or discouraged. Morale is based on treatment, pay, alignment and Charisma of liege, etc. It’s rolled only if the retainer is offered some chance to make off with a lot of money or flee / desert in dangerous circumstances. I’m pretty lenient with morale: don’t roll unless the circumstances are pretty bad.

17.How do I identify magic items? Detect Magic tells you if it’s magical. You can experiment, or do Identify. Because ID has a small success chance and you need 100 GP worth of powdered pearl, and you expose yourself to any curses, it’s usually done by 7-8th level NPC M-Us for pay per item.

18.Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions? Rarely. Specific ones may be available for sale based on events in the game and high-level friends you make. Some potions may be available at irregular intervals. The purchase price is typically double the book’s sale value if available at all. There are no magic shops and if you make a shopping list of any extent I guarantee your disappointment. Some buying and selling can be done at some peril: a broker will expect a percentage commission, a black market or private deal has a chance of foul play (ambush or counterfeit), and high-level patrons have limited stock and expect your work or magic items in trade rather than accepting gold.

19.Can I create magic items? When and how? Yep, high level spellcasters can make magic items appropriate to their spell lists. You need a facility (lab, temple, library, workshop, grove, etc) and must expend resources or else buy them (metals, gems, incense, rare oils) which is basically just spending money. Some ingredients will be specific (you need a Displacer Beast hide to make a Cloak of Displacement). It’s up to you to stock up a reserve of cash and decide what special ingredients to use. After you describe your preparations I tell you how long it’ll take and after you finish I tell you your chance of success and have you roll. With sufficient prep, the chance is well over 75%, but time can range between days for a potion or scroll to months for a standard magic item. Permanent items (anything that’s not single-use or charged) require Permanency and a permanent -1 to your CON. Restoration and Wishes can’t prevent or repair this CON loss. Magic item creation is not a way to get rich; it’s not more profitable than adventuring. Look at it as a way to get ahold of a magic item you want but can’t find on adventure or from an NPC.

20.What about splitting the party? Go ahead but realize it actually takes longer at the table to handle it and each side of the split is a weaker group encountering the same dangers. That is, you’re at 50% strength and resources against the exact same dungeon, so you’re much less able to cope.

The answers are different for Game XYZ.

Fast Kids and Slow RPGs

February 16, 2012

Just watched a video at Tedx Rainier of Dmitri Christakis. His research argues that kids and mice who watch quick-changing TV stimulation during early life are likelier to have a hamstrung attention span. A 10% greater chance per daily hour of TV, in fact. He found frenetic media like Powerpuff Girls and baby Einstein was bad, violent programming (which shifts more rapidly) was twice as bad, but slower-paced programming like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood had no increased risk of attention deficit.

He hypothesized this is why children act up: their early development prepared them for the world in which they would live, and geared them up for “frenetic animated violence”, but our world doesn’t actually have those things in it except in those media. That is, if you go to a farm, the pace is slow. The same goes for reading a book or painting a miniature. These kids would not enjoy those things because the stimulation level is too low.

Further, experiments with mice showed they were more active, learned or cared less about their environment, and engaged in dangerous behaviors more frequently.

I could say something glib about how player-characters were probably all raised on bad TV and that’s why they act like that in the town and dungeon.

Here’s what interests me from a D&D perspective: Dmitri placed the rise of baby TV viewing as beginning in the 70s. Which means D&D sprang up while these babies were being born. But the pace of TV wasn’t as unreletingly fast as it is now, which means the children born in the 70s and maybe even the early 80s probably missed the potential harm. It’s at that time we see the beginning rise of video games in the home as well (the NES in the late 1980s after the failure of the video game market).

D&D is a slow game. You have to wait for your turn. The spectacle is low: no flashing lights, few sound effects. It’s social, which means it moves at the speed of human communication. You have to do your own math!

Is it possible the market slip of wargames and tabletop RPGs (and board games, etc.) is not just because video gaming provides a superior spectacle (among other benefits)? Could it be that young people have been conditioned by early TV to prefer the higher stimulation levels found in video games and related media? Even fast-paced RPGs are still slow in comparison to any CRPG.

It’s a complicated topic. It would be too easy to grab this research and make a lot of hypotheses, and likewise too easy to shrug and ignore the research because it doesn’t jive with our biases. What I take from it is again probably a little too glib: Powerpuff Girls and similar shit will ruin your child’s life. Play with him instead, and watch good TV in moderation. Doesn’t every parent want to raise a successful child who will outcompete the scrubs in his age group? It’s like 4d6 drop lowest for stats.

Speaking of attention deficit, this post has been a lot of soapboxing so HERE SI JOESKYTAX !

Sage Excuses Table
(Roll on this table to determine why the sage you hired isn’t getting the job done)
1 – Doesn’t actually know much about the topic, just sounds good at a cocktail party.
2 – Never studied, had someone else do his homework.
3 – Keeps getting distracted by his gardening.
4 – Drunk all the time.
5 – Spends all his time (and your money!) on his lady-friends.
6 – Has the wrong reference texts.
7 – A colleague keeps spoiling his notes.
8 – He’s being extorted by the Thieve’s Guild (beatings, smashing up his library, etc)
9 – Too busy hunting down ravenous Bookworms in his library.
10 – Evangelists from the local temple chanting outside his windows keeps him up all night.
11 – Voices in his head.
12 – Forgetful – keeps misplacing his notes.
13 – A nypmh from the nearby forest sunbathes every morning and he has a nice view from his tower windows.
14 – His students bother him too much with their personal problems.
15 – Someone cursed his beard to grow back to full length every hour if shortened and he’s trying to stop it.
16 – Fumes from the local tannery waft through and knock him out regularly.
17 – Street youths have taken to throwing mud on his windows and he spends too much time cleaning it up.
18 – *opens curtains to a beautiful sunrise* How could I possibly be expected to do research on a day like this?
19 – Too busy playing Papers and Paychecks with his chums at the tavern.
20 – He was shockingly overstimulated as a child for experimental purposes and now he has runaway ADD.

Some ways of handling character rules

February 12, 2012

Some people like class-based games, and others like skill-based games. Here’s a quick list of the variations I’ve found / come up with. I define a class / feats as the powerful things you get to do, while a skill is a side thing like basket-weaving or fire-starting.

Primary Color Classes
You have some basic classes that describe skill groups. One example is Fighter / Magic-User / Cleric / Thief. Players can mix classes to form “secondary colors” like the Conan-type Fighter / Thief or the Grey Mouser type Fighter / Thief / M-U. It helps a lot if players can level up each class separately because then you can do the above Grey Mouser as mostly Thief, with some Fighter, and a minor smattering of M-U.

If Primary Colors feel like only a couple class choices and the ability to mix them, try this list of classes.

Profusion of Classes
You have a buttload of classes because each class does a different thing. While the M-U above might have been able to cast all kinds of spells (except healing) and able to make all kinds of magic items, maybe you want an Alchemist who just does Transmutation spells and can make only Potion magic items and specifically Transmutation other magic items. You don’t need multiclassing, but it helps to cut down on the volume of classes. See selective multiclassing above.

Classes + Feats
Here classes are modified in some way by the player. The 2E D&D Player’s Option let you customize your class by swapping out class abilities. 3E D&D was a Profusion of Classes plus Feat selection. I count Prestige classes as regular classes here.

You can also have Classes + Delayed Feats. For example, in 1E D&D, an Assassin could learn special poison training after name level (9th). This gives him a mechanical bonus to using and making poisons. That sure sounds like a Feat. The cost is money and time. You could make up a list of feats available after name level to specialize high-level characters to make them cooler.

Just Feats
No classes. Everyone just picks feats to create a customized character. This is what my Game XYZ does.

No Classes Or Feats
Here we assume the characters are all mechanically the same in the important ways even though their skills may differ. This would be like playing 0-level men at arms in D&D, or else everyone restricted to the same class.

Classes Morph
Your Fighter, at a certain level, gets to choose whether to remain a Fighter or else switch to another class. They did this in the Rules Cyclopedia for BECMI D&D but it might be in earlier sets of those rules. A Fighter could become a Paladin at name level (9th) if he was Lawful I believe. This is cool because it does the same thing as level-titles from 1E D&D (I’m a Superhero! “Oooh”) but without the difficulty of coming up with 9 level titles per class and with some ambiguity in exact level.

I also saw this done in a Playstation game Vandal Hearts. Your archers could for example change into either flying dudes or just better archers at a certain level. It was done in 1E D&D with the Bard and the Thief-Acrobat in Unearthed Arcana. As a Thief you choose whether to switch to Acrobat or else remain a Thief at 6th level.

Following are the skill variations:

No Classes – Basic Skills
Here we have skills separated into task type, like GURPS. Your character doesn’t have a class. Effectively you create your own class by choosing skills. Skills do basic mechanical things.

Classes + Proficiencies
Here the skills are bolted on to the class system. Skill choice may be regulated by class. This is the standard 2E and 3E/3.5 D&D way of handling it.

Classes + Secondary Skills (Minor Class)
This is the 1E / optional 2E D&D way of handling skills: you get a secondary class that’s vaguely defined and gives few mechanical effects compared to the main class. An example might be a Fighter who is also a Sailor.

Some games don’t care about skills. They’re not important enough to write down except for roleplaying purposes. We assume adventurers know how to set up camp and make fires. We assume people are literate (or not!) depending on class.

Other games have skill lists, but a lot of skills are stupid and worthless. This is the 2E D&D proficiency system, Car Wars 2E, and Shadowrun 2E. Take D&D 2E: you need Swimming and Read/Write because otherwise you’ll suck. After that, Tumbling is completely awesome because you get a defensive option, unarmed attack roll bonus, and reduced falling damage. Or you could choose Juggling, which gives a chance to catch thrown weapons if you’re unarmed. Or you could choose Agriculture, which you’ll almost certainly never use and has no detailed mechanical benefit. My Car Wars examples are Bodybuilding, Driver, Gunner (Great) vs. Journalist etc. (Terrible). In Shadowrun you could spend the same number of points to become an expert at pistols, or an expert at playing the guitar. No, guitar-playing had no mechanical effect. Pistol-shooting could blow a dude’s eyeball out James Bond style.

Alternately, your Feats can include skill-like things but give important mechanical advantages to them. In Game XYZ I give people with Mining skill the ability to oversee other miners, act as multiple men when mining, and gain a combat bonus against Earth and Stone creatures. My goal is to make any Feat choice potentially worthwhile on an adventure even though the list has to include the types of things a non-adventurer might know.

Here is where Adventurer Conquerer King / ACKS comes in. From what I’ve heard, it’s a class-based game with feat-like choices restricted by class. Class is restricted by race, which along with a lot of other things make it feel like B/X D&D. I think that’s pretty groovy, and I’ll get my hands on a copy as soon as I can. I wonder if it will be the kind of thing I use straight (with new monsters and magic etc. of course, and things that I enjoy like squandering treasure = XP) or whether I’ll just use it as another print example for different character-rule structures.

Not described here is how you gain levels, whether you can add or remove classes, etc. That also modifies how the players percieve the game and their characters.

Monster Populations, Making Locales Unique

February 8, 2012

Yep, you don’t wanna travel through Tilver’s Gap in the Springtime cuz the Couerls will getcha. You wanna see a unicorn? Try them elf-woods over yonder but mind the elf patrols and don’t get too close to Myth Drannor or you’ll be up to yer eyeballs in demons. Best place to catch poisonous rockfish I ever heard is the deep water off certain o’ the Pirate Isles, ‘cept I don’t know rightly which one …

Some monsters should appear anywhere: giant rats, giant spiders … basically “giant” versions of regular animals should appear wherever the normal animal type appears. If the Mythic Underworld typically spawns certain creatures they should be common throughout. But otherwise I like the idea of fitting monsters into certain predator / herbivore / scavenger / decomposer roles within any area. It would work for the wilderness or for a dungeon. If it’s a large dungeon, different dungeon levels or zones within the dungeon should have different monster makeups. It’s like taking maps of the ranges of various animals and plants and translating that into regional lists of what can appear there.

Does this sound familiar? I guess this is the typical way to handle random encounter charts. What I’m saying is that the Snaggletooth Mountains should have a special encounter chart that’s different from the Yuketooth Mountains. They shouldn’t use the same chart. But you can include monsters on both charts that come from a “standard mountains” list. Add the new stuff that will appear there, remove the specific things that aren’t.

Important reasons why you want regional encounter charts:

1: Adding a new monster. If it’s something you want to be fairly common (because you don’t always want to create a Very Rare monster), how come the PCs have never heard about it or seen it?

2: Asking the village dude what kind of stuff there is in the countryside, or interrogating a monster as to what is in the dungeon.

3: Players ask you “where can we find X monster” and you stall for time while they arrange finding and paying for a sage to check your encounter charts for it.

4: Adventurer’s journals found on gnawed bones basically write themselves. Just pick an encounter chart and run with it.

5: The economy or military structure of a place will change if there are certain monsters present. Lots of flying / jumping monsters will necessitate high walls with spikes on top and high nets across the streets. Digging monsters will mean deep-sunk walls and safehouses on the roofs. If there are giant singing clams, then the town will probably export pearls and have lots of guys missing an arm or fingers. Again, these things write themselves once you get started.

5: Players enjoy seeing new places because every place is different. There are strange beasts and treasures over yonder and the folk are weird and entertaining. If you’re scared out of your gourd because the monsters here are too tough or whatever, wait until daylight and scurry over the mountains for a different experience. You want six-legged Troll horses? Fastest thing on six legs either side of the Trollstep Mountains.

6: If all this is in place, you can begin making connections between places. What if one region has a monster that poops tin and the next region over has one that grows copper feathers, you’ve got an opportunity for a bronze trade to start up. Big towns gather the cool things from everywhere else as a rare import. You’ll see a fine lady walking down the street with a watch-leopard on a leash and you think, “hmm, you don’t see a lot of leopards around here” and you ask the DM where there are any. DM explains it’s common knowledge they’re imported on red-sailed ships from the jungles of Klesh.

Monster: Lanternmen

February 7, 2012

The Lanternman is a demon that looks like an elderly naked man, with grey wizened skin turned transparent and scraggly white hair. Its powerful hands have claws permanently bloodstained. Its eyes and mouth are humanlike but empty and black inside, and a huge gnarled nose. Lanternmen generally look scrawny but sometimes have a big potbelly, depending on how much human fat they have stolen. Every Lanternman also carries a black wrought-iron lantern, perpetually lit. Hideous black fumes from the lantern herald their arrival, but Surprise is still possible if the Lanternmen attack from ambush (2 in 6 in that case instead of the normal 4 in 6 for invisible attack).

A Lanternman scavenges human fat from battlefields and cemeteries. It cut the fat away with its claws and eats it, which takes some time. The fat is just stored in its body, though, as it vomits the fat carefully into its lantern for fuel. It carries excess fat in its body, typically going straight to its belly and thighs. The Lanternman digests the fat just enough that it can’t be used for Raise Dead, Speak With Dead, etc.

Some vain humans summon Lanternmen to take their fat away, which much to the summoner’s displeasure is torturous and leaves scars.

A typical peasant has about 40 pounds of fat. Sedentary city folk can have double or triple. Much of that fat is time-consuming for a Lanternman to gobble up, so consider only 10% of it immediately useful. It takes 3 rounds for the Lanternman to take the easy fat from a corpse. Desperate Lanternmen will go through the effort to take the rest, but the time taken per extra 10% doubles each time. The capacity of a Lanternman’s potbelly is 60 pounds. Any group of Lanternmen encountered should have 1d6x10 lb bellies in normal times, half that in lean times, and a full belly if in times of plenty.

In combat, a Lanternman can perform any standard Light and Darkness spells up to spell level 3rd, once per round. Each such use drains 1/10th pound of fat from the reservoir of the lantern. The lantern holds 3 pounds at maximum, and it takes the Lanternman three rounds to vomit 3 pounds of fat from its body (if it has some) into the lantern. Anyone witnessing the spectacle must make a CON check (d20 under CON succeeds) or lose one round of actions (but not movement) trying not to retch.

The lantern can also summon 1d3 Ghouls or Shadows, at the cost of 3/10ths fat per ally, but Lanternmen are loathe to summon as the Ghouls eat too much of the spoils directly and the Strength-draining of the Shadows leaves the victim’s fat shrunken and dry (time to harvest is 1 turn for the first 10% and half is gone entirely).

Besides its Light and Darkness abilities, Lanternmen’s sharp claws are accurate and quick. They get two slashes per round and if struck the victim must save vs. poison or be wracked with pain (-1 DEX) for 1d6 hours after the fight (roll just once at the end of the fight for anyone affected, regardless of the total penalty).

If a Lanternman dies, it convulsively vomits all its fat immediately and drops the lantern in a puddle, igniting it in a burning shower of fat which causes 1d6 fire damage per 20 lb or fraction thereof to all within 5′ of the lanternman. Anyone holding action or who have not yet acted that round at DM’s option can roll to grab the lantern before it lands (d20 under DEX).

In 1st Edition D&D terms, Lanternmen are as follows: HD 6, AC 4, MV 12″ (15″ on an empty belly), DMG 1d4+4 (2/1) claws at +4 to hit, ATTACKS Darkness and Light spells, Summon Ghouls or Shadows, Pain claws, DEFENSES Death vomit, immune to fire / disease / poison, vulnerable to cold iron (otherwise +1 weapon required to hit), XPV 750 + 6/HP.

Lanternmen don’t loot their victim’s belongings, but sometimes are struck by memories of their human lives upon spotting some article that looks familiar. Lanternmen will hang on to these things out of sight, embarassed and afraid of retaliation by greater demons and their peers, so careful search is required (in the nose, amid hair, folds of skin, attached to the underside of the lantern). Each Lanternman has 1d4-2 valuable pieces, worth 1d10x10 GP (reroll 10s as one decimal place higher, so if you roll 10 then 5 the roll is 5×100 GP). If encountered in town there might be relatives of the old owners still around!

The lantern is still usable, though harvest and burning of human fat is looked down upon in polite society. The smell is atrocious and clings even when not in use. The Shadows and Ghouls will turn on a human summoner unless he’s an experienced necromancer able to summon/create them otherwise. A lantern is worth 250 GP to a collector of the grotesque or someone who will use it, but buyers rarely want more than one and sellers of these things gain a certain reputation.

The Grey and Wolves

February 3, 2012

This is sort of a reply to Wolves are Really Scary. One thing I’ve noticed is that I tend to overdo it when I try to do “X is pretty dangerous” in my game. So I consciously refer back to game stats to try to keep things sane.

In 1E D&D: A normal human is d6 HP, so just under 1 HD. Maybe call it 1-1 HD. A Veteran fighter has 1d10 HP, so possibly twice as many as a regular dude. Few people in the world are 1 HD. Adventurers, some military officers, etc. The policemen in town? 0-level. Dude standing watch on the tower roof of the local garrison? 0-level. Sedentary adults (like us modern folk, most of us, even if we go rock-climbing on the weekends and hit the gym twice a week) are 0-level humans with 1d4 HP. Two minutes of getting beat up with good solid punches is enough to knock us out. A single dagger stab can do it. Falling 10′ uncontrolled is risky, but falling 20′ is likely to cause some serious injury.

Now a wolf has 2+2 HD. You can hit it with a spear (3.5 average damage vs. it’s average 11 HP) for three minutes before it goes down. Unarmed you’d have to fight it for 5 or 6 minutes, all while it’s chewing at you. Here’s the math:

Non-sedentary mercenary with leather armor and spear (AC 8, HP 4, 3.5 average damage per hit, 35% chance to hit AC 7 wolf per round, damage output 1.225 per round)

Wolf (AC 7, HP 11, 3.5 dph, 65% chance to hit AC 8 merc, dpr 2.275)

Our merc can hold out for 2 rounds against the wolf, while the wolf can last 10 rounds with the merc. That is, if we had 5 mercs, the wolf will probably still drop one of them before dying.

You can add better armor or a better weapon to the mercenary. You can give him an extra round of missile attacks because in your mind he could encounter the wolf with a huge open plain between him and it. But by my math, you’d need to have this merc in Full Plate (AC 1) and a Shortbow (1d6 x2 attacks per round) to have any effect on the 1v1 outcome: the merc lasts 4 rounds, the wolf lasts 5. An I can bet no random 0-level dude is going to be able to afford 4,000 GP for armor when he makes like 4 GP per month in wages.

There are other reasons wolves are scary. Its movement is 18″ which means you can’t run away from it if it wants to catch you (especially if you’re wearing decent armor). It also means the wolf can run in, bite a couple times, and run away and survive. You can’t really chase it. And in its rough terrain you probably can’t shoot it down before or after it attacks.

In the Monster Manual it gives an ability for wolf howls to panic herbivores 50% of the time if not handled directly by a human. If your horses are tied down for the night this could send them running, with a chance to bust loose of their leashes. There go half your mounts and equipment-donkeys.

Finally, the wolf comes in packs of 2-20 outdoors. That’s an average of 11 wolves in an encounter. They are willing to fight (75%) and fight as a group. Ignoring the howl effects, that means a wolf encounter will easily shred an armed band of around 30 men and the only hope these guys have is to team up and focus their attacks on the same wolves to at least kill some before they die and possibly drive the wolves off with poor morale because of the pack’s losses. Or to flee and hope the pack sits down to eat the ones they killed already.

A Sleep spell, standby of lowbie M-Us, will drop only 1d4 wolves. Assuming an adventuring party of 5 1st level fighting-types and one M-U, and six 0-level men-at-arms, the encounter with (11 – 2.5 from his one Sleep) 8 wolves is the equivalent of 8 wolves vs. 16 0-levels. That is, a hopeless massacre.

Now take a dozen unarmed, unarmored, injured, demoralized, starving, frozen, non-sedentary 0-level humans and one 1st level Fighter vs. 8 wolves. Those are still pretty gnarly odds and I can see why it isn’t a cakewalk to get to civilization.

Wolves don’t need amping up.

If your players, with their 5th to 6th level PCs don’t fear wolves, it’s because these characters are heroes! The equivalent of 5 or 6 normal men each! The party M-U could blast the wolves with a Lightning Bolt and kill a couple, driving the rest off yelping. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a group of 5th level PCs with decent equipment fight a pack of 11 wolves without a problem. Cleric patches everyone up after the fight and we’re back in marching order. This is expected, and good, and it would be silly if regular wolves that threaten peasants are still a huge problem for high-level adventurers.

That’s why we have Dire Wolves and Winter Wolves and Werewolves etc.