Archive for March, 2012

How fast is combat?

March 22, 2012

Game systems have varying mortality levels. There is a complaint about high level D&D combat that it takes a long time to resolve – a “grind”.

I think it’s a different style of combat.

In D&D, high level characters feint and parry and dodge. Eventually they get worn down and stagger around worried about the next sword thrust. That is, that’s how it goes in “all HP are 1d6 per HD and all attacks do 1d6 damage” games. In post-OD&D, a 7th level Thief who gets pounded by an Iron Golem for 4d10 damage can get flattened in one blow.

Then take Shadowrun, where a character can be stabbed by a Troll and take no damage if he wears good armor, some damage if he has lame armor, or possibly die if he has no armor. It all depends. But this assumes the same attacker and defender, just a change in armor.

I think any of these are legitimate. The OD&D way of doing things means high level PCs will be heroic and fights will take a little while. There are also interesting magic items and spells to use in combat and a longer combat gives you more time to use them. Low level combat is simpler, with fewer choices, and it goes much faster. I think that’s a feature.

Rufio Bad

March 22, 2012

This guy had a bad experience in a Google+ D&D game and talked about it.

I think having a 7th level PC in a party of 1st levels is a bit lame, since the adventure they were going on was a level 1 type thing. At what point would it have been appropriate to ask the player to roll up something else? If he were a 15th level M-U? A 30th level Bard?

The class doesn’t sound absurd, since it’s basically a no-armor Cleric with a couple special abilities. Maybe its XP advancement sucks and there are other restrictions. Point is, DM let the class in, and some people like playing Incantantrixes and Demihobbits.

And the 7th level Monk bullying people really is not a problem either. This is the beautiful thing about being an adult in an adult social situation: you can refuse to play with that person. Let’s say Rufio’s player joins another Google+ game and the other players recognize him. They tell the player outright that they won’t stand for any bullshit and if he acts like a dick they will quit. Now the DM has a choice: if the guy starts bullying people, the DM can eject the bully or lose all his other players and end the session. It is an easy choice to make.

More leniently, Rufio as a character can be refused by the other players. I’m sure the players of the 1st level characters in that game were happy to have a 7th level Monk along with, because it makes the group more successful. But if Rufio is known as a guy who steals the spotlight all day and takes the loot at night, nobody will want him in their adventuring party. Again, the players can say “no, we don’t want a repeat of the Thug Rufio Experience, have him roll up a L1 or we quit”.

Rufio wouldn’t be much of a problem in a level-appropriate game. If he tried to take the choicest treasure when there were five other L7 PCs standing around, something tells me the duel would have ended very differently. Then again, perhaps the player just always tries to join a game with a character several levels above the highest PC.

Online gaming is nice and convenient, and that also makes it easy to drop the game. If someone is bastarding up your fun like Rufio / Rufio’s player, and you join a game with him again, it’s just a matter of clicking that little X instead of packing up your books and driving all the way home.

While it is admirable that the F3 stood up to Rufio the Mk7, the combat was a foregone conclusion. Rufio had already set himself up to be the winner before the game started, by creating a character that was so much more powerful than the rest of the party combined. If anything, the fight played into Rufio’s hands: he got to emotionally bully people and then when someone stepped up to him he got to show himself physically superior.

I think the interconnected nature of Google+ games is a good security feature too. Maybe someone trustworthy can maintain a blacklist of Google+ accounts and PCs to put the group on Jackass Alert so they can make an informed decision as to whether they want to play with That Guy.


March 8, 2012

There’s been a lot of talk about variable vs. uniform weapon damage. I personally like both, and there are good reasons to use either. Here’s another system. It gives varying weapon damage by size but not by type, with optional special weapon abilities by type if you like that sort of thing. But it leaves open the choices of two Human Fighters so they can choose something other than Longsword.

Weapons are divided by type. Axe, Bow, Club, Crossbow, Flail, Fork, Hook, Rope, Sling, Spear, Sword. Give a base price and weight for each type. This is a Medium weapon of that type.

Then give a list of price and weight modifiers for each different size from Tiny to Large.

Now you can make a Tiny Sword (which you can call a Dagger or Kukri or whatever) or a Large Spear (Pike) or Medium Fork (Trident). The player writes down the size, weapon type, and whatever he wants to name it.

Weapon damage is based on weapon size. Tiny = 1d4, Small = 1d6, Medium = 1d8, Large = 2d6.

You can have varying weapon special qualities. For example, Rope weapons (Lasso, Whip, Net) could have a bonus to entangling. Fork weapons (Sai, Main-Gauche, Trident) could have a bonus to disarming. Spears can attack from the back rank if the spear is larger than the size of the person in the front rank. Slings can shoot easily available ammo (rocks) instead of bullets but at a -1 damage penalty.

You can use a weapon single-handed if it’s your body size or smaller (Humans etc. are Medium, Halflings and Gnomes are Small). You can use a weapon off-handed if it’s smaller than your size. If the weapon is one size larger than you, you must use two hands.

Range for missiles is based on weapon size. If you have special weapon class qualities you can vary range by weapon class too to balance them (crossbows have longer range but have a reload time, slingers can be interrupted like spellcasters, etc).

Compound weapons are problematic. A polearm could have a spearpoint, a hook on the back, and an axe on the front. I suggest allowing combinations but you must choose which part you will use in any round and the whole weapon has -1 to hit per extra part beyond the second. The total weight of the weapon is the combined weight of each part. This reflects how many compound weapons end up being too fiddly to use effectively. The size of the weapon overall is the size of the largest component, though each component can have a different size for damage purposes.

Some example compound weapons:
A pole-noose which can be used as a Spear to poke or as a Rope to entangle.
A Halberd which has a Spear point, a Club back, and an Axe front.
Kusari-Gama is a Hook and Club chained together by a Rope.
Dwarven Tunnel Bow is a Crossbow with a Spear bayonet on the end. (Medium Crossbow and Medium Spear)
Elven Hookbow is a Bow with a Hook on one end for desperate melee action. (Medium Bow and Small Hook)
Orcish Punchgauntlet is a Club (in gauntlet-form) with a trio of Wolverine-claw Swords built in. (Tiny Club and Tiny Sword)

You will also have some weapons which could fall into multiple categories. A Druid using a crescent-shaped Sickle might build the weapon as a Hook or a Sword. I think the Hook is more fitting for a Kama, but I don’t think of Hooks as slicing weapons. It’s probably best to use the compound weapon rules for these, calling them Hook / Swords.

The 3E D&D double weapons I’d construct as a pair of smaller-size weapons. For example, a two-handed Double Sword would be a pair of Small Swords joined at the pommels so they point in opposite directions. This fits the rules above: a Human can use a Small Sword in his off hand, and he can use it in his main hand, so even though the weapon is in one piece it has the exact stats as two Small Swords. I’d say the whole thing probably looks like a Large Sword especially since he uses it in two hands. But it has the reach of a single Small Sword because he can’t hold the blade of one end!

A Quarterstaff would similarly be built as a pair of Small Clubs. If you wanted a big honkin’ staff with one end big and the other end narrow, I’d call that a single Large Club. I guess it’s debatable whether the Quarterstaff-user should be able to swing two-handed baseball-style, but I’d make an ad hoc ruling that the item does damage as a Medium Club (1d8 damage single attack) or else just have the player roll for attack and damage normally (two attacks of 1d6 each) which is sort of the same as Large (2d6).

I like how this is balanced. Two handed weapons do more damage, your offhand weapon does less, small people’s weapons do less damage, but you can choose what your weapon looks like without regard to damage. The combined weapon rule could make for some creative cool things!

There are some downsides to this system. There’s no difference between two Medium Clubs, one made from wood and the other a professional Mace. Perhaps the Mace is actually more compact because it has a metal head and their weights are the same. They should still cost the same. If someone goes out into the woods and grabs a branch, I’d call that a makeshift weapon and say it breaks on a natural 1 or 20 attack roll.

For very small weapons, continue the progression downward to d3-1 for Diminutive (average 1 HP) and d4-3 for Fine (average 0.25 HP). For larger than Large, continue upward to Huge 3d6, Gargantuan 4d6, Colossal 5d6, and Colossal+ 6d6 (for a Colossal creature with a two-handed weapon). Consider the giants in your favorite edition of the game (probably Huge) and compare the listed damage to 3d6 one-handed or 4d6 two-handed.

Unarmed attacks should be two sizes smaller than your body size (so a Human does d4, a Halfling does d3-1). Monsters have different damage because their natural weaponry is better than a Human’s for their size. A nonmagical predator should probably count primary weapons (bite) as one size smaller than its body and secondary weapons (claw) as two sizes smaller. If you want a single attack from each creature (such as a single attack routine from a horse rather than two hooves and a chomp) then just use the damage equal to its size. Magical creatures could have higher damage.

Wizard Maximum Spells Per Level

March 5, 2012

Here’s one we never used, and I’m still not using right in this campaign: Magic-User Chance to Learn Spells.

Here’s how it works in 1st edition AD&D: You roll up your M-U and look at your Intelligence. You’ll get a percentage. You go down the list of 1st level spells and roll for each. If you succeed on a spell, it is possible for you to cast it eventually. You still need to find the spell to put in your spellbook. This is part 1.

You also have a Max and Min spells per level. This way, out of a list of 30 spells, you won’t know none and you won’t know them all. If you hit your Max, you stop rolling. If you get through the list and haven’t hit your Min, you go through again and reroll for ones you failed on.

This is stupid.

First off, you’re least likely to know spells that start with later letters. Huh?
Second, people typically say something like “how come if I’m stupid I can’t have a big library” but this isn’t about the books you own. It’s about the books you understand. I can see an M-U saying “yeah Web? I never could get the hang of Web” and he has a spellbook with it but just can’t memorize it. But the presentation doesn’t explicitly say this.
Third, why limit the M-U on which spells he can use? It’s bad enough that he has to find the spells, and then memorize only a small number at once. Here’s my main gripe with the system: it adds a whole extra step to the M-U process.

1: Roll for spells you can learn.
2: Try to find the spell so you can put it in your book.
3: Choose which spells from your book to memorize.
4: Choose which of your memorized spells to cast.

This is way too many steps. I have new players look at me and ask “okay, so which spells do I have?” and the answer is a huge pain in the butt.


I think Chance to Learn Spell is usable in two ways.

First, the way I use it in the current 1st ed game, you roll it when you transcribe your spell into your spellbook. Failure means you burned the scroll up without successfully transcribing the spell. It’s still fiddly and I included it only because I was determined to use all the rules I could from the books.

Second, you could use it as-is but roll only when the M-U first encounters the spell in question (not when you get access to the new spell level) which makes it a lot less of a hassle. The M-U slowly becomes a specialist in certain spells, though a hodgepodge, which makes each M-U different and interesting. When not everyone can use Fireball, Fireball is no longer the boring default.

I would pair this with specialization so you choose a magic school and you get +25% to your learn chance for that school and -25% to all others. This way you can legitimately play a Fire Mage or a Diviner or whatever and be reasonably certain you will be able to use the spells in your specialty. It’s like making a custom spell list for your subclass except it develops organically. I’d also cram all the Illusionist spells into the M-U list and delete the Illusionist class entirely because he’s been subsumed. This also involves strategy on the part of the M-U player: I can try to learn this non-specialty spell, but the chance is low and even if I succeed this represents one of the few spells I have left after I learn all my specialty spells in this level. So, if I’m a Transmuter, and I want Fireball, I’m basically choosing Fireball instead of some other spell and I’m not even guaranteed to be able to learn it.

I’d like to see Cleric subclasses besides Druid develop similarly: specialized spell list and a couple special abilities. It’s what 2E did but I see people ignoring their allowed spheres way too much and besides too many spheres are allowed anyway.

Treasure Composition

March 1, 2012

Delta makes some good points about treasure hoards in this post and its comments.

I already adopted a 1,000 cn per stone standard in Game XYZ. The transition to silver standard I’m not so sure about, but there’s nothing keeping me from doing it. Adventurers will still handle gold coins, after all, past a certain level.

As it stands, in my AD&D 1 game nobody wants to take silver and copper because it’s worthless. When you need 15 GP to buy a long sword and 400 GP for platemail, a pile of 10,000 CP worth 50 GP (1/8th a platemail) is just stupid. You might as well sift out the gold and throw the rest on the floor. (I suspect that’s why in B/X an unguarded treasure hoard always has silver in it – someone came through and looted as much of the good stuff as they could carry). If the coins were worth 10x as much, there would only be 1,000 CP there, and it would weigh 10 lb instead of 1,000 lb, but still buy 1/8th a platemail.

But platemail (and other armor) probably needs to change too. Let’s say your platemail is 45#. If you use 1/10lb coin weight, it’s 450cn, but if you’re on 1/100lb coins it’s 4,500cn.

Iron right now in real life is worth about 1/20th copper’s value. It’s actually 1/26 but there is no way I’m using that in a game. One problem is that copper has industrial uses now that it wouldn’t have in D&D. I’ve heard that copper wasn’t worth much compared to silver until it started being used for electrical and telegraph lines. Does that mean copper in D&D is worth about what iron is worth? Rarer, but softer and so not as useful? Let’s go with that.

So the suit of plate is worth 450 CP in materials, or 4,500 CP, depending on your coin size. I’ll let realism take a swing here and say that coins really are about 1/100lb and platemail really is about 45lb. Based on that, in game the platemail has a material value of 22.5 GP melted down. Using the AD&D coin weight, it’s only 2.25 GP. If you want to preserve modern copper vs. iron values, cut those by 1/20th.

The 1E DMG lists the additional cost for a craftsman working on a piece, under Expert Hirelings, as 10% of the value of the completed piece. For platemail, that’s 40 GP. Let’s say the finished leather pieces, the wear on tools, fuel for the forge, etc. are included in that 40 GP (although it’s not paid when the armorer just works to support soldiers). I think it’s reasonable to assign that 10% if coins weigh 1/100lb but if they only weigh 1/10lb the material in the armor is almost nothing.

This has consequences for PCs immediately. Imagine you smash your way into the Swamp Witch’s hut and after smacking her Giant Asp you find the following loot:

1,000 CP
1,000 SP
100 GP

What would you take? My first reaction, from an AD&D 1/10lb coin perspective, is “if we have time to haul it back to town, all of it, on several rowboats, otherwise just the gold”. But what if we give the values and weights in 1/100lb coins?

1,000 CP = 10# and 5 GP
1,000 SP = 10# and 50 GP
100 GP = 1# and 100 GP
Platemail = 45# and 400 GP

Now remember an average-STR PC can carry up to 35# of gear at full movement, and high STR raises this amount, and a party of 6 splitting this up means just 11# each.

If Smaug’s hoard is 1,000,000cn, that’s 10,000lb. It will take 17 mules to carry it but it is possible to transport it. Any normal D&D dragon hoard is movable by a strong man with a sturdy backpack. All but gone are treasure-hauling logistical nightmares.

If you still want that, I suggest putting in fewer coins and more tapestries, paintings, big oak desks, heavy silver mirrors, ebony statues, etc. These things should have a weight of ten times normal coins (back to 1/10lb) but if the players want treasure that’s what they have to deal with. You also get to deal with finding a buyer, haggling, vagaries of the market, “hey that painting is of my ancestor Gutboy Barrelhouse II!” etc. Assmuming you find that fun. If not, make a larger proportion of treasure in coins.

But let’s say you don’t want to change from by-the-book 1e/2e AD&D. You can still get away from the coinage weight problem by including more gems and jewelry and magic items in the game’s treasure. This shrinks the weight of a hoard because gems and jewelry are really light for their value.

I think a lot of problems with flooding of markets in D&D stem from too much coinage. What if the PCs come back to town with a tapestry or magic item worth 1,000 GP and can’t find a buyer with that much money? It’s not wealth, it’s the ready cash that’s the problem. So you trade for 1,000 GP worth of land, or horses, or armor, or whatever. Players would just need to get past not having actual coins. They would hoard coins because they’re easier to carry around and would trade away their captured furniture for new equipment and such. This also solves the “I donate 10,000 GP to my temple” weirdness, changing it to “I donate that nice bed and all those old books and papers to my temple”.

A Class Game: Kitchen Sink or Thematic

March 1, 2012

If you have a game with classes you have some or a lot. Or a ton. I can give you a couple examples:

OD&D, before any supplements, has 3 classes: Fighting-Man, Magic-User, and Cleric (or Cleric-Man if you like symmetry). If you want to play a Fire Mage, you write down M-U on your sheet and try to use fire spells more than anything else. You roleplay a Fire Mage, but mechanically you’re an M-U.

1st edition AD&D, you have 11 classes (including optional Bard). This is pretty much what we had in OD&D plus supplements, and it’s close to what’s going on in the Rules Cyclopedia (which is all I have much experience with when it comes to B/X). Among these are the F/M/C trio, plus Thief, and subclasses of these. Supplements like Oriental Adventures and Unearthed Arcana ballooned the number to about two dozen.

2nd edition has the same, but systematized the M-U and Cleric subclasses so you can make up your own. Supplements and game settings expanded the available classes to several dozen distinct types. Kits modify your character slightly, and you can have one kit regardless of your number of classes.

3rd edition has 10 classes (11 with Warlock) and several hundred prestige classes with expansions. You’re expected to come up with more.

End of the relevant history.

Now you have a choice when you run a D&D game. You can have a small number of thematically-aligned classes or make every class available. Using the stock ~11 classes in the core book is the worst possible choice, since you lose both values: a solid theme, or lots of choice.

One example might be running an Oriental Adventures game with only Oriental Adventures classes. That’s fine. You don’t have lots of choice, but you have a good theme. Or circus performers. You can also use this to allow unlocking of classes. For example, if someone has a PC or henchman from the Oriental Adventures lands, he has a different class than is available in the Arabian Al-Qadim setting, which are different from the ones available in Dragonlance.

Choice is really important to some players, and I’ve heard it said that you should be able to handle a party consisting of a Halfling Gunmage, Drow Ninja, Tinker Gnome, and Saurian Swashbuckler (paraphrasing). If that doesn’t jive with your campaign, then maybe your campaign is more important to you than your players are to you and they’ll eventually sense this (DM as frustrated novelist).

I’d like to think the DM is going to put together a game and players will either like it or play something else, but in reality you have your gaming group and they’re your friends and you want to play with them.

Maximizing choice means The Binder. I haven’t made The Binder, so it’s entirely theoretical. You have a three-ring binder with plastic sheet covers in it, and in each sheet cover is a single class. You start by printing out a copy of every published class, choosing the most interesting if there are multiples. Then you add a ton more and solicit ideas from your players and work all of those up. Then you consider allowing completely free multiclassing (2e or 3e style, whichever) so if someone wants to play an Alchemist / Disenchanter / Spellstealer / Shaman / Bullette-Hunter, that’s fine and dandy. This is how I personally run Spelljammer. It’s the one time I’ll break out the Complete Humanoids Handbook and everything else and just tell them to go for it.

So what are your thoughts? Would you rather play in a game that didn’t quite have your desired class available but had something maybe close to it (and again, you can always roleplay whatever you want!) or would you want to be handed The Binder? Or do you really just like choosing between the same 3-11 classes every campaign?