Archive for November, 2012

Curves vs. Linear Rolls

November 30, 2012

TL;DR: You can just do d6 x 5 instead of 5d6 for damage and get the same kind of game results, but you have to do it that way for both damage and HP for it to work well. See last two paragraphs for ideas about linear HP if that matters to you.

Anybody who has access to a 1E AD&D DMG and hasn’t checked out the part in the front where it talks about probability tables, please do so now. If you don’t have the book, or if that section never made sense, check out Anydice, which does a good job of explaining visually how any combination of dice gives a pattern of results on average.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, and I don’t understand why I never thought about it before.

1: M-Us cast spells that require lots of dice to roll. Stars Without Number has weapons that deal 5d12 etc.
2: You might have that many dice to roll at once, but you might have to roll over and over and sum as you go.
3: It takes a while and it’s boring except when you get a really high or low result.
4: You generally get an average result because of the curve of the roll probability table.
5: As you add more dice, the result becomes more predictably average.
Conclusion: This doesn’t work as well as it should.

We can try to fix this problem by addressing any of these five points. There are probably more but I didn’t think of them.

Mainly, let’s talk about shifting the roll from “sum many dice” to “one die times multiplier”.

For example, instead of rolling 5d12, which generally gives us something near 32 (and almost always 18-47) we can roll d12 x 5, which is equally likely to give us 5-60 in 5-digit increments. The min, max, and avg are the same.

This is faster and easier, more accurate, requires fewer dice, and changes the kind of result. The first few are simply advantages, but the last is a sticky point because some people might like the curve instead of the linear 5-60 result.

Let’s assume Gygax knew about these methods (since he did write about it) and intentionally used XdY throughout his game instead of dY*Z. Let’s look at a 5th level M-U from 1E AD&D.

He gets a single Fireball, his best damage-dealing spell, which does 5d6 and the victim(s) save for half damage. The average damage is (take one die’s maximum, halve it, add 0.5, multiply by the number of dice) 17.5. More important is what I’ll call a “reasonable range” which I threw in above with the 5d12. It’s the range where 95% of the results will come out. The RR of 5d6 is 10-25.

But let’s look at this from the perspective of a monster of various Hit Dice, using d8 per HD, using the RR of their average HP rolls:

1 HD: 1-8
2 HD: 3-15
3 HD: 6-21
4 HD: 10-26
5 HD: 13-32

Again, remember this is the range that you could generally expect to have happen: a higher or lower result is possible but highly unlikely, effectively half the chance of a natural 1 or 20 on d20.

What we see is that, even if the 1 HD monster saves, he will definitely die. The 2-4 HD monster will generally die unless he saves. But the 5 HD monster will generally survive even if he fails his save.

The saving throw for these monsters is 20% chance for 1-2 HD, 25% for 3-4 HD, 35% for 5-6 HD. If it saves, it takes half damage.

So imagine a 5d6 Fireball hitting a group of 100 (tightly-packed) monsters. Here are how many remain after the blast and saves are rolled:

1 HD: None
2 HD: 20
3-4 HD: 25
5 HD: All 100

Now let’s look at a d6x5 Fireball against creatures with d8xHD HP.

We have a problem. Our old “exclude the 5% outliers” doesn’t work so well because we eliminated those outliers. Let’s just use the straight result pattern possible. This means the Fireball is 5-30 and the monsters’ HPs are as follows:

1 HD: 1-8
2 HD: 2-16
3 HD: 3-24
4 HD: 4-32
5 HD: 5-40

Here it looks like the Fireball is still generally going to fry the 1 HD regardless of save. The 2-4 HD need to save to survive. The 5 HD will probably make it even if the save is failed.

The saving throw chances and results are the same as above.

And of course, remember that the average damage and HP are the same between the two methods, so laying out the numbers and running a comparison of XdY vs. dY*Z using avg is pointless.

Obviously it’s not going to be exactly the same game. When you gain a level, for example, you can’t just roll your hit die and add to your total. That’s going to result in a curved graph for your HP; that is, you are unlikely to get all 1s or all 6s if your hit die is d6. Instead, you will need to roll HP all over again at each level, simply d6 x Level if your HP are d6s.

This may result in grumblecakes from a player who went from L1 (and rolled 6×1=6 HP) to L2 (and rolled 1×2=2 HP). You could let the player take the better of the two HP totals, but that will skew toward higher HP. It’s not a game balance problem if you also give the same benefit to monsters, but it will result in longer fights since damage is relatively lower than HP and will make damage effects less valuable compared to save-or-X effects. That’s not something you’d be worried about if you usually give max HP at 1st level or let people reroll 1s for HP.

Use local tourist maps for D&D

November 26, 2012

Just took a trip with my girlfriend to Cottage Grove, OR. They have a tourist booklet that has various maps which are pretty useful. Mainly I liked the trail map which gave the major ones with destinations like waterfalls, a mining ghost town, lakes, covered bridges, campgrounds, etc. It left out virtually all other information like most street names and businesses. It was perfect for D&D and I’m totally going to swipe it.

So, go out and use these maps! But there are problems. I can’t find the Cottage Grove map online anywhere! Not even on their Chamber of Commerce site, which is about 3 years out of date. The blog that they set up for the booklet’s advertising campaign doesn’t have the map. The USDA forest service has maps but they sell them and don’t let you download them, though they have free maps that are mostly for elevation purposes. It’s a huge disappointment. I think other locations may have the same problem. You might actually have to just pick these things up when you come across them. Hotels and small businesses often have displays of pamphlets for local attractions, and these might have good trail maps.

Mainly, look around for small towns near national and state parks. This is because the local geography will be interesting enough and there is enough tourism that the town might have put out a tourist map. The park may also have a map, but it may not be offered online.

Check out this Mt. Rainier National Park site, and click the mappy thing on the lower left side of the page. It’s not a Google Maps style thing, it’s their map. The map is clean and useful, though it could be better, and the scale is too large to include small trails and features.

The point is, Google Maps may be a good resource especially for elevation and visible terrain, but it isn’t good at showing creeks, trails, waterfalls, and campsites. Hopefully someday they will add that feature but it will take a LOT of work on their part!

Execution Undead

November 21, 2012

Howzabout making up some undead based on how they died: in this case, executions. I like the idea of undead created through extreme conditions rather than just “a wizard did it” or “anybody can be a ghost”. The realm of a cruel king will be heavier in wandering Undead than a kind one because he does a lot more executions.

“Headless” / “Hungry Head”
Headless mope and paw their way through thickets and marshes where vision is normally restricted. You might be paralyzed with fear. If it grabs you it slowly tears your head off and puts it on, able to see and speak for 2d6 days.

Hungry Heads roll and gambol about, gibbering and leering. You can outrun it on foot but there’s a small chance you trip and fall, letting it catch up. It attacks by biting and swallowing chunks of flesh, growing a miniature grotesque body under it which gives it MV 1″ per successful bite. At 12″ the body is full-formed and the Hungry Head scampers off to enjoy its body until it withers away in 2d6 days.

Haunting lanes and squares where hangings occur, a Brokeneck tries to look like a normal person by resting his head against the wall or doorframe, but occasionally it slips and he must prop it back up with his hands. If he has to move he holds his cowl as if to ward off rain but really to hold up his lolling head. If he can sneak up on a lawman, judge, or similar official he will try to snap the victim’s neck. If you seize the noose around his neck you can command him – for as long as you grasp it!

“Whimpering Haunt”
This ghost shudders and whimpers in the dark, especially prison cells and beggar’s alleys. Annoying and scary, he can be appeased by giving him food. But if you begin feeding him, if you ever stop he will attack by inflicting a gnawing hunger that can’t be appeased. You live with it and go mad or die of gluttonous rupture.

“Dripping Soul”
Looks like a wet, pale person with no shoes. It leaves wet footprints and passes through leaving doors unlocked and windows open. It haunts a neighborhood for 2d6 days before moving on. Any people who try to drown a living thing (like a person or cat but not a little bug) are attacked, the Dripping Soul reversing the situation – so the drowning victim escapes and the drowner is pressed beneath the water.

“Charred Man”
Regardless of the gender, these Undead are called Charred Men because you can’t tell the difference. Their flesh is burned away to the bone, leaving only dried sinew and strips of muscle (like a skeleton you can’t see through). Charred Men can turn into a cloud of ashes and blow up or down chimneys, but can’t enter lit ones and can’t travel through clean ones at all. If he gets in he drinks your wine and beer, leaving sooty handprints everywhere. If challenged he attacks by blinding with a spray of soot or breathing a cone of hot cinders.

“Bloated One”
This wretch has red, stripped, bloated flesh and wallows moaning in pools and rivers trying to cool off. Local folk must drive it away else it will heat up a stream or evaporate a pond, but risk gouts of steam from its belly.

Carrion Birds
“Crow Caller”
Looks like someone pecked and pierced all over, always bleeding. Appears to attack lone people along a road or meadow with clear sky above, when a flock of circling crows comes together and becomes a human-shape. If slain he reverts to crows and they flee, but can reform 1d6 days later. Must be exorcised in human-form or else you must capture all the local crows at once!

“Vengeful Rattler”
Looks like a skinny, broken-limbed scamp with black-rimmed eye sockets but no eyes. Sounds like pebbles and stones rattling down a deep well when it haunts an area. Throws stones at lone walkers in the area and breaks windows. If a stone-throwing fight happens it joins in, pelting anyone involved each round until the fight ends. It especially targets anyone who has in the past participated in a stoning.

“Heavy Heart”
This brooding spirit makes a room seem dimmer, closer, stifling. The ceiling seems to hang lower and the air dense and stale. Heavy Hearts press on people when they sleep, sometimes waking them but other times just giving disturbing dreams. Occasionally a Heavy Heart will suffocate a victim, especially if it’s been riled up by failed exorcisms, and may strike a wakeful person who kneeled or slipped.

“White Sleeper”
Looks like a still, sleeping, languid person in white clothes, thin blue veins on white skin. It’s very passive but creepy, and often appears in the bathtub or sitting at the dining table. If shaken awake it softly begs for some blood, and if fed some it will regain some vitality and wander off. It settles again somewhere else 1d6 days later.

“Gibbering Wailer”
It appears exactly as it did when it was disemboweled, roped or chained at the limbs but these are not attached to anything, grasping with both hands the slippery guts hanging from its abdomen. It staggers around bleeding everywhere and causes revulsion. You might flee and/or slip in the pools of blood. After it leaves the blood soaks into the ground or floor without a trace.

Later I might come up with more related to Electrocution, Impalement, Poisoning, Drawing and Quartering, Flaying, Breaking Wheel, Rack, Sawing, and Burrowing Insects.

Man people can be shitty to each other.

Steamroller Initiative

November 20, 2012

Here’s an initiative system I came up with a while back. It basically just breaks away from one action per round and instead counts up segments.

Everything has a Delay, which works like 2E weapon speed. Roll d6, add Delay, that’s the segment you take. After you go, roll d6, add Delay, add to the current segment, that’s when you go.

Example: Dagger has Delay 2. You roll d6, result 4. So 4+2=6 until you next action. You stab on segment 6. On 6 you roll again, and this time you want to just Move (2 Delay). So you roll d6, get 3. 3+2=5, so in 5 segments you can Move (on 11, which is actually 1 of next round).

You can move and act in a segment, but you use the worst Delay. If you want to run away quickly, you’re better off just doing a Move (2 Delay) instead of attack with Longsword (5) and Move (2) because you’ll end up slowed down by your weapon and using Delay 5.

The delays are simple to find: they’re the weapon speed of the weapon or the casting time of the spell according to 2E D&D. Other things have specific delays which match up with the initiative penalty found in 2E D&D (3 segments to activate a wand, so wands have Delay 3). Wearing Semi-Bulky armor gives you +2, Bulky +4. DEX gives the usual modifier. Fighting underwater gives +6, while hip-deep water gives +4, etc.

So on your character sheet you should have a list of weapons, right? Next to each weapon you have your bonus to hit and damage, and the damage roll, right? Next to that write in the weapon speed. Magic weapons take -1 off the speed per plus. Then if you have armor on add the modifier to all your weapons. Now you’re set!

If you have spells, write in the spell’s casting time next to the spell in your list of memorized spells, or maybe the ones in your spellbook. Or, just say M-U spells have a casting time of 1 segment per spell level and Cleric spells are 2 or 3 segments per spell level.

There are a couple important rules regarding modifiers. First, we have two moving parts in this system on your character: the “waiting roll” which is the d6, and the “delay”. Modifiers on a weapon can reduce its delay. Maybe you can find magic gloves that reduce the delay for your spells. Magic armor reduces its weight category to the next place down, so magic Plate (Bulky type) is equivalent in delay to nonmagical Mail (Semi-Bulky). Anyway, your specific items apply to specific delays. Boots of Speed would give you faster Move but would not affect your attacks.

Second, a general speed enhancement like Haste or DEX applies to your ROLL, not all your other delays. This makes Haste very powerful, so I like to give it only a -1 bonus. Remember too we’re dealing with a d6 roll here so a -2 to the init roll would be really powerful.

Finally, the roll can be no lower than 1 and the delay can be no lower than 1. Which means at absolute maximum you can do five things per 10 segment round.

This initiative system is pretty swanky for a bunch of reasons. Some of my favorites are that it takes care of armor encumbrance, running (which is really just making Moves instead of doing other stuff), and includes all the stuff this guy cares about from the Ready Ref document.

Mainly I like that it makes light weapons and lightly-armored characters viable.

What I don’t like about it, and why I don’t use it anymore, is that it’s just really complicated. You can just roll d6 per side, high roll wins, reroll ties. And as for balancing light weapons against heavy ones, just make everything do d6 damage and call it a day. Heavy armor gives 9″ or 6″ movement instead of 12″ unarmored. It’s just not necessary for me. Also it requires the Initiative Countdown, which is where the DM counts out the initiative segments and people jump in when their number comes up.

But it’s fun and hectic and everything is happening all the time and it reaches out into the rest of the game and grabs onto fun pieces like spells and magic items and makes you use them. So maybe someone else will use it or maybe I will again someday.

I downloaded the free Hackmaster thing and it turns out they’ve been doing something similar for a while. Not exactly the same but close enough for horseshoes.

1st level M-U is actually pretty awesome

November 19, 2012

This blogger posted about how weak 1st level M-Us are and how most would probably stay in academia until 5th level or so, which he calls a journeyman status.

First, on the combat abilities of an M-U. I don’t know what game system each of you are looking at, but what I find is that many numbers were taken from earlier editions of D&D even though the assumptions behind those numbers changed. Delta talks about this related to archery.

In 1E AD&D a 1st level Fighter (who is a “Veteran” which is a person not only well trained but experienced on a campaign) has a to-hit number of 20, the same as everyone else. It only starts getting better at higher levels. His saving throws are terrible compared to all other classes. I’m using the Fighter as a comparison because Normal Men act as 0-level Fighters.

So take this Normal Man. If he’s sedentary he’ll have d4 HP and -2 to hit, if he’s a laborer d6+1 and normal 0-level fighting. From that we can see the M-U isn’t weaker than a sedentary human; in fact he has the same HP as any sedentary man and a better attack chance than even a miner or woodcutter.

Furthermore this M-U has the ability to cast one spell per day from a short list that incudes:

Charm Person: mind-slavery
Sleep: drop 2d4 first-level enemies with no save
Magic Missile: auto-hit with an arrow’s damage, good chance to kill a normal man
Comprehend Languages: read any language and equivalent to 100% Read Languages skill as Thief
Armor: invisible, silent, weightless Scale Mail

These are all pretty miraculous, and worth using weapons that do -1 damage and having -3 HP on average compared to a Fighter.

There’s the question of why anybody would go out and adventure at 1st level? Because you need experience and money. I’ll give a few examples:

In 1E AD&D, you have to get XP by killing monsters and seizing treasure. You don’t get XP for sitting around in town. Also, you need such large amounts of money to train that even if you killed pigeons all day you still couldn’t train.

In 2E AD&D, it’s possible to get XP by performing class functions, but only in a useful way. You can’t go out into the woods and cast Magic Missile at a tree to get XP. The DM needs to exercise some common sense in preventing abuse. The DM might decide that someone in town casting Cure Light on farmers’ injuries counts as useful. Another DM might say you need to be on some adventure in danger, do something useful to furthering the adventure, and succeed (which is my criteria). Even if your DM’s rulings allow townie spellcaster advancement, where does their money come from? The supply of low-level spellcasting is going to be pretty high with the local adventurer Wizards traipsing through every week, so either fees will be low or demand is not enough to support many townie wizards. Training costs in 2E is an optional rule. Again, let’s say the DM is generous and requires no training cost or time. What about getting new spells? Wizards don’t get new ones for free; specialist wizards get one per level. With little money you can’t afford new spells, even if NPCs are pretty open about selling theirs.

To create new spells you need an expensive library and pay high fees, and even then you might fail. Someone can just waltz into the dungeon and pick up a scroll or maybe even a spellbook and come out with the equivalent of months or years of research and tens of thousands of GP in research costs. It’s not worth it to research spells unless you can’t find them “in the wild”. Because a 1st level M-U can research spells, I would call him a PhD in Magic. He’s already gone through the equivalent of a decade of college or private tutoring. Wouldn’t it take another decade to hit level 2? Who has that kind of time?

(Right. Elves.)

Similarly, XP advancement, even if possible in town, is faster in a dungeon. You could walk out of a dungeon after your first expedition, rest a couple days, go back in, and come out ready to train for level 2. The guy in town might not have had a customer yet.

Yes of course you could die. That’s the tradeoff. That’s why adventurers are all the crazy kind of folk who are willing to take big risks for a big payoff. Maybe your M-U has a feud going with another young academic wizard, and in order to best him you have to learn faster: by experiencing magic use in strange situations and against different monsters, and getting cool magic items. As long as he survives the ordeal, the adventuring M-U will definitely, absolutely outpace the academic.

I say that for two reasons. 1: it’s supported by the rules in 1E, 2E, 3E even assuming the most generous possible DM interpretation, short of very generous house-rules. 2: it supports the existing assumptions of the game. If it were possible to sit around in town and get more XP and treasure then literally nobody would go into the dungeon. We would be playing Papers & Paychecks.

If you want a game where NPCs sit in their ivory towers until they’re at least 5th level, you need to come up with a reason why PCs won’t do the same thing. Here’s how I envision the exchange:

DM: Ok guys you all have 1st level PCs, let’s hit the adventure!
Players: Uh, we’re ging to stay in town until we’re 5th.
DM: How will you pay for this education?
Players: However the NPCs do it.
DM: But you’re edgy, risky people!
Players: My character sheet says Lawful Neutral with cowardly, bookish tendencies.
DM: But the quest! You’ll run out of time!
Players: There’ll be some other quest in a few years when we graduate. It’s not like we’re the only ones who can save the world.
DM: (reading DMing advice) Ok I’ll level with you guys. Why don’t you want to go on the adventure?
Players: We like the adventure. We just want to take a good opportunity. It’s like anything: you can use a +1 sword or a normal one, which do you pick? You take the better opportunity. Why adventure at 1st level?
DM: Fine the town is burning down and you need to escape. Also there are no other towns and all the universities are full and there are no more grants and there’s a double standard for prices of goods and services between NPCs and PCs.
Players: Choo choo! *all circling the table completely twice in a conga-line*

Or avoid the rigmarole and say high level town NPCs used to be adventurers and now are at least semi-retired.

This crops up in almost every game I’m in, player or DM. Some player tries to do something that will bring some advantage because he’s acting like an NPC: being an armorer, making magic items, casting spells in town, picking pockets in town. The player says “oh, this NPC makes this much money, I’d be happy with a tenth of that!” But the DM brings him down to earth and explains that you need a storefront, you need a reputation, clientele, business connections, etc. Most importantly you need to spend so much time running the operation that you can’t go adventuring. So do you want to retire this character in town and roll up a new one?

Not to say that players shouldn’t do stuff outside the adventure. But the player’s goal is usually to get a big payoff with no risk or effort. If the player just wants to have a bookbinding shop, I’m fine with saying he gets some percentage of return on his investment every month. I’d go so far as to make a little table with investment risk levels, with riskier investments having a higher return rate but a higher chance of ruination. Hire an NPC goober to run the place and pay him his wages, and you’re good. What I don’t want is a player setting up a bookbinding shop and churning out spellbooks, expecting to sell as many as he can make, and get such a cashflow that he has to come up with a RP reason to leave town again.

Item Destruction on Failed Save, Or, Equipment Durability II

November 16, 2012

This one’s about when a Fireball hits and you fail your save so your stuff has to save or get destroyed. I wrote about this here too, differently. I like what I say here better though.

Read somewhere on the Wizards site (Proud Nails article) about how the guy doesn’t like how the 3E rule for equipment damage is hidden and the index is bad. He offhandedly talks about how he doesn’t like going down the list of stuff a player has and saving for each thing, referencing the table.

There’s a table in 1E like that for item saves, and I think there’s one in the 2E DMG. The point is, your stuff may need to save vs. various attacks when the DM says it needs to, including anytime you fail a save vs. something like Fireball or Cone of Cold. It’s usually a pain in the butt, and hard on the player since he’s losing his magical gizmos, which is probably why in 3E they changed to “only on a natural 1” instead of on any failure.

Well here’s a way around saving for every dang thing: if your stuff would need to save, instead the DM rolls d6-3 and the player has to pick that many big-ticket items to destroy.

A big-ticket item in this case could be a Fighter’s non-magical platemail he’s wearing, or a potion, or a sack of coins, or a 1,000 GP gem. The player has to choose from among the best stuff he owns. He can’t pick his 50′ hemp rope, torch, and clothes unless he didn’t have ANY big ticket items!

As a general rule, the item needs to be worth at least 1,000 GP. If it’s a single magic dagger worth less than that, it’s fine. But you would lose a whole quiver of arrows, for example. A coin with Continual Light cast on it is, in most campaigns, worth only slightly more than the coin itself (although in 3E it costs 25 GP to cast the spell, so it’s worth that anyway).

It’s okay if the player doesn’t choose his best stuff. What matters is that he chooses legitimate stuff. Here’s an example of a player who understands how this works (Assume 1/2E, so the potions are worth 400-600 each):

Leather Armor +2, Spear +1, Shield +1, Potion of Healing, Potion of Levitation, Girdle of Hill Giant Strength, 500 GP Garnet, 1000 GP Emerald, Backpack of Adventuring Gear.

The DM rolls d6-3, result 5-3=2. Player says, “hey DM, can I lose my whole pack of gear for one item?” and the DM will probably glance at his gear and think, well that’s all his food and tools and he’s in the wilderness, sure let’s say yes.” and the player picks the 500 GP garnet as the second item. If the DM had said no on the backpack of gear, the player probably would have picked the garnet and the emerald. The levitation potion is worth less than that emerald, but could really come in handy on the adventure.

At no point would anybody expect him to pick the girdle, which is by far his best item, or his arms and armor. But what if he gets blasted a second time? Some hard choices. And interesting choices are what I like about D&D.

If it were a 1st level PC, with nonmagical Spear, Shield, Leather, Adventuring Gear, Sack of Coins, I think any of those would be valid choices. If he had Plate instead of Leather I’d still let him lose his Spear before his armor, since the values are within the same scale as each other. Remember, it’s fine if someone chooses to lose a Dagger +1 instead of a Crystal Ball.

Some points about this system:

1: It puts the choice in the hands of the player. He doesn’t groan that the acid pool ate away his magic boots. He chose to lose the boots because he wanted to keep something else more.
2: It’s a lot faster since the DM can tell the player to pick X items to lose and move on with the combat or answer another player’s question or whatever. It doesn’t require looking up any rules: just remember the d6-3.
3: The number of items is combined with a chance of occurence. That is, there’s a 50% chance that no items are lost, and 1 in 6 chance for each of 1, 2, or 3 items. If that still seems harsh, you can modify the die down for less-damaging effects like Cold or Crushing Blow. You could also be a nice DM and say “since it was a fall I’ll let you break your lantern for one of your picks if you like” and the player can take you up on it – totally an ad hoc thing. Of course, if the lantern breaks you’re without ilght and covered in lamp oil … Furthermore in my experience, even people with a lot of stuff will tend to lose 0-2 items to a round of item saves, so the chance and the amount seem reasonable.
4: Players who don’t understand or intentionally try to scam the system (the bag-of-rat-pelts from the older post) should hand the character sheet to the DM and he will pick the items to be destroyed. This gives the player an idea of what the DM would do if he were playing, so the DM should pick the cheapest legitimate item choices rather than the PC’s best items. Mechanically it’s the same as having the player choose (and this is a case where the DM needs to favor the player rather than be impartial since he’s acting on the player’s behalf) but I think most players will prefer to choose their own misery. If a player really doesn’t want to choose, he can ask the DM to choose or have another player do it. It doesn’t really matter.
5: There’s a good reason to carry backup weapons, potions, generally just to keep magic items instead of selling them (I know, some people just sell all the stuff they won’t use tomorrow). It also encourages carrying those items instead of stowing them safely at the home base.
6: What happens when the guy carrying some party treasure decides to sacrifice the nice magic sword the party just found instead of burning up his own equipment? Again, interesting choices with important results.

Fewer die rolls, rolling them up into one (Specifically wilderness and town encounters)

November 9, 2012

Yesterday I posted a thing on Thief skills and how you could let a Thief keep rolling for success, with limits. Brendan made some good points. I can’t help but cling to the value of just one die roll for success, though, since I remember times when I was sitting there rolling and rolling and spinning my wheels.

For example, let’s day I’m playing a Ranger and I say I want to look for any special herbs that I can find when we camp every day. We have a ten-day march and the DM says to roll under my WIS on d20 for success per day.
(Maybe if it had been winter, or I wasn’t a Ranger, or the terrain was dry, I would have less or no chance)
So I sit there rolling ten times. Feels kinda dumb.

Same thing with the DM rolling for random encounters over a long trip. Or for weather. Usually you roll to see if there’s a thing, and then you roll to see what the thing was. I think there’s a better way.

Instead of rolling to determine whether something happens in a time period, roll to see how many time periods it takes before something happens.

Let’s say on my encounter table I roll a 1 in 6 chance of an encounter, once per day. That’s a 16.67% chance per day, which amounts to a near-certainty that it will happen within the next 6-day period. If I translated that to a d6 roll to see how many days until the next encounter, it’s a 16.67% chance that it occurs in any of the next 6 days but it will definitely happen in one of them.

I don’t know the right way to describe the probabilities here, but this is what I think it boils down to:

Check Events Per Period: You MIGHT get a lot of encounters, or no encounters, during the next 6 days. You’ll probably get 1 encounter.
Check Delay to Next Event: You MIGHT get a lot of encounters, but you will definitely get something, during the next 6 days. You’ll probably get between 1 and 2 encounters.

Here’s the main thing: if your trip ends in a town or something, and are in town when there would have been a wilderness encounter, the encounter misses you. It’s not like the bear wanders past the town walls and everyone goes “oh okay we’re safe, let’s head out again.”

You could also have a town encounter roll, for stuff like pickpockets, muggings, tax collectors, abusive soldiers, drunken brawls spilling into the street, lovers with grudges, ex-husbands, lenders, etc. The situation is reversed though: if the PCs are in the wilderness or dungeon when the town encounter hits, nothing comes of it. Specifically, when the PCs leave the wilderness for a full day, erase your old wilderness encounter date. Same with a town.

Here is an example of how I think it would work.

PCs set out from town. DM writes down the date (DAY 0).
DM rolls d6, gets 4 for wilderness encounters. The PCs don’t know this.
DM writes down the date of next wilderness encounter, 4 days away (WILD DAY 4).
They travel 3 days and stop at a roadside inn (DAY 3). A carousing mishap results in a shotgun wedding which takes up a day (DAY 4) and they decide to leave the following morning. Since the inn counts as wilderness, the encounter wanders through on DAY 4 – let’s say it was a hungry hungry hippo and the PCs ignored the thing.
The DM rolls a new wilderness encounter check – remember they’re still in the wilderness. He gets a 6, meaning it hits 6 days away (WILD DAY 10). They travel all next day and arrive at a village near the dungeon on DAY 5.
The DM rolls town encounter and gets a 4 (hits 4 days from now, on TOWN 9).
DM writes down the date of the next town encounter (TOWN 9).
They stay the night of DAY 5 and remain 2 more days and leave morning of DAY 8. Because they stayed in town for at least a day, the old WILD 8 encounter gets wiped. The DM now has in his record DAY 8 as the date, and TOWN 9 as the town encounter.
The PCs leave the town and spend DAY 9 getting to the dungeon. They’re in the wilderness for the day, which means the town encounter missed them and the DM wipes it. But he rolls d6 for the wilderness, and gets 4 (WILD 12).
They do the dungeon on DAY 10, leaving that night and marching back to the village. They arrive on the morning of DAY 11. They’re going to stay 7 days for training, until DAY 18, so the encounter WILD 12 misses them. We wipe it from the record and don’t roll WILD again until they leave town. But on DAY 11 we need to roll for TOWN, and the d6 comes up 4. That means they’re caught by the TOWN 15 encounter. Then we roll d6 after that and get a 2, which means TOWN 17 (caught again!) and a new TOWN roll, which comes up 6 (TOWN 23). The PCs leave on the morning of DAY 19, and that TOWN 23 encounter won’t catch them if they stay out for at least a day.

Compare with rolling d6 once per day for 19 days.

At this point I’ve lost my love for this system, for a couple reasons. But I’m putting it up here because maybe someone will do something else with it. Here is why I like the old way of rolling per day better.

1: You may have different chances based on region. What if the town has a bad district where encounters are more likely? What if the Haunted Forest has a higher encounter rate than the road? You could shift the WILD or TOWN encounter appointments closer for time spent in a dangerous place, but that’s hard to get right in an ad hoc ruling and would make for a complicated rule.
2: I like the idea that a really lucky party could go weeks with no encounters, or one fateful adventure could result in encounters nearly every day.
3: It’s extra paperwork for the DM to manage. It’s enough to keep track of the date and season, no need to add more burden unless it’s really worth it.

I do like:
1: There’s this weird feeling that I get about the probabilities. It seems like the longer a party stays in an environment, the higher their chance of an encounter mounts, since after enough days it’s a guarantee. The players will feel like they can’t spend too much time in any place, even someplace as safe as town. This increases the feeling that they’re drifters uncomfortable with sitting still.
2: It’s possible to roll for long journeys in the same terrain and speed up the process. If I roll 6d6 for encounters in the old method, I get 6 days of results. If I roll those 6d6 with this new method, I average 21 days of results. The structure of those results is easy to explain: “X days into the desert this happens, another Y days later this happens, after Z more days this happens.”

So I don’t know what to make of this. The main reason for going to all this trouble instead of just adding the chances is that you can’t get multiple successes.
Let’s say I have a 1 in 6 chance to find herbs per day. I search for 5 days. DM says ok, let’s just say it’s 5 in 6 chance for finding one unit of herbs. While that does sound good because of the high success chance, it’s not quite the same as 1 in 6 rolled 5 times. If I did it 5 times I might get lucky and get 2 or 3 units of herbs! The chance seems pretty low though (1 in 6 per die, which means 1 in 36 for two 1s, 1 in 216 for three 1s, 1 in 1296 for four, 1 in 7776 for five). Effectively, rolling the 5 in 6 chance (83.33%) is like rolling 1 in 6 five times (16.67% each) except that there’s no chance of a jackpot result from multiple dice coming up 1s.

The Lucky Thief

November 8, 2012

This is sort of a repost of my comment here on Thief skills.

Instead of improving a Thief’s skills as he levels up, why not give him one 2 in 6 chance per level for any Thief skills in any one turn (10 minutes)? This ensures that the Thief never reaches a true 100% at the expense of more than one die roll. But there are other benefits.

You eliminate an entire table of skills in exchange for a simply-stated rule.

You also get situations where a low-level Thief concentrates on one skill at a time while a high-level Thief can afford to do two things at once.

For example, if your Thief will Move Silently while Climbing Walls, and he’s 4th level, he gets 4 chances total this turn. Maybe he rolls 3, 4. Failing both. He has two more rolls and nothing is finished yet, so he uses a roll for CW and gets 3. Dang, another failure. He tries CW again and gets 2. So he managed to climb, but not quietly.

Another example would be a Thief trying to Hide in Shadows in a side passage and Pick Pockets as people come by. If he ends up with no success on his Pick Pockets he got nothing or possibly jostled the victim. But if he fails Hide in Shadows he’s spotted! A lower-level Thief would need some other way of approaching a victim, such as in a busy marketplace, where he doesn’t need to use other Thief skills at the same time.

What if many traps require a Thief to deal with the trap at the same time he handles a lock? You can’t just Remove Traps first in a turn, then in the next turn Open Locks. This trap is suddenly much more difficult, the enclosure more secure, without adding a modifier. You just say the two have to happen together. This is how you’d add more difficult Thief skill situations (Climb Walls over a guard also using Move Silently, Remove Trap along with Detect Noise because the trap’s workings are invisible but can be heard, Open Lock with Move Silently so the door opens silently, special lock that relocks itself unless you open all three locks at the same time – so you need 3 successful rolls at once!).

The main thing is that this isn’t a dice pool count-the-successes rule. It’s a retry-on-fail rule. So you wouldn’t want a floor that was really squeaky that required 3 successful Move Silently checks to move across. A better choice would be Detect Noise and Move Silently so you can hear when you’re about to squeak and step someplace else. I know that seems like a faint justification, especially when the skills are all 2 in 6, but it keeps the DM on his toes and inventive. You can’t just say “roll open locks at -50% because this is a tough lock” anymore. But more work and creativity on the DM’s part helps make a more interesting game for everyone.

The main downside I see here is that it involves lots of rolls. On the upside, there’s increased tension as these rolls come up fail, fail, fail, “if I don’t make this one guys the Frost Giant will kill us all” SUCCESS! WOOHOO!

But it is a weird mechanic in D&D because we don’t have other stuff that works this way. In all other cases you have a single roll for success, the chance of which increases as you gain levels. Maybe this method would work for other things. A Fighter might have a 2 in 6 chance to hit, but get 1 try per level. A 6th level Fighter could declare 3 tries on one enemy and 1 each on three others. If he gets any tries that make it, he hits.

The more I think about it though, the more this really does sound like a dice-pool system like WoD or Shadowrun. Part of the problem with these systems is that it’s tough to predict how easy a task will be and a modifier to the number of dice can have a HUGE impact on success chance. When I wake up tomorrow I’ll probably have a pretty low opinion of the whole thing as a D&D rule :/

Playing-Card Encounter Generation

November 6, 2012

The premise here is to draw cards to get a day’s travel results. You can adapt this system for other things like running a business, training, etc.

For this to work you have to use a standard deck of playing cards, including two jokers.

Draw three cards. The first card is the weather, the second card is the ruins and settlements, and the third card is the monster encounters. Replace and shuffle if you want to draw for another time period.

The number value of the card gives the type of weather. A-3 is weak weather, 4-10 is normal, face cards are heavy weather. You have to take the climate’s average into account. If it’s monsoon season then drawing A just means it’s one of the rare days when the rain is intermittent. If it’s a desert’s dry season no rain will come regardless except on a K result and then it’s a flash flood.
If you care to specify a type of precipitation, when multiple types can occur in that climate and season, consider red suits as peaceful precipitation (fog) and black suits as harsh (rain, sleet, hail).

There is a ruin if the card’s number value is a multiple of 3 (counting face cards as 10s), so 3/6/9. There is a settlement or castle if it’s a multiple of 4, so 4/8.
Ruins are inhabited by monsters if it’s a Club, by bandits if Spade, by food animals if Heart, and valuable animals if Diamond.

Wandering monsters appear based on the suit. You need to write up a list of 4 monsters that appear in groups and what the group multiplier is. If you get a number card, multiply the number value by the group multiplier. For example, if you decide Giant Black Squirrels appear as Spades with a multiplier of x1.5, and you draw a S9, your encounter is with 13.5 (14) squirrels.
Face cards are individual special encounters. As these monsters are slain, captured, or driven away they might be one of many or else truly individuals. Generally Jacks and Queens should be encountered every time, while Kings should be unique creatures.
Off the to of my head, for a swamp, I might write this:
H = Leeches x 2.5
(J = Giant Leech, Q = Rot Grub Infested Corpse, K = Will-o-Wisp)
D = Hairy Spiders x 1
(J = Giant Spider, Q = Big Anaconda, K = Hydra)
S = Slugmen x 1.5
(J = Giant Slug, Q = Slugwitch, K = Exiled Slugprince)
C = Yellow Musk Zombies x 1
(J = Inactive Floater Corpse, Q = Yellow Musk Creeper, K = Jeweler Zombie)
Joker: Peat-cutting villagers
TM Joker: Adventuring party

This results in a lot of the same types of lowbie monsters and fewer encounters with interesting single monsters. The face monsters don’t need to be the same type as the main number monsters, but it helps to organize them that way. The example above has unique encounters for KC and KS, but non-unique for all the other cards. Also note that there are some tricks (you don’t know if that floating body is inactive or full of grubs, or one of the zombies in a group underwater, or the zombie of a gem-laden jeweler who died in the swamp).

You could use the same type of structure for generating a treasure chest (number value x 100 x dungeon level is the amount of coin value, black is locked/ red unlocked. Spade and Diamond (sharp symbols) are trapped (d6 damage per dungeon level), Heart and Club untrapped. Multiple of 2 has silver and copper, multiple of 3 has gold, multiple of 5 has platinum, face cards have equipment instead of coinage, J = adventuring stuffs (rope, oil, food), Q = armor, K = weapons. So a H10 on level 10 has 1,000 of silver and copper, 1,000 of gold, and 1,000 of platinum. S3 on level 4 is trapped (4d6 damage), contains 1,200 GP.

Players choose their difficulty level in D&D

November 5, 2012

This idea sprang out of an observation that I can’t find anymore to link to it. In any game where you can make character choices, if some choices are better than others, you can choose how difficult the game will be for you by making weak choices or powerful ones.

For example, in Thief you can choose to go around stabbing people or knocking them out, and harder difficulty levels in the game give more required objectives and you lose if you kill anyone. But there’s an unofficial difficulty type called “ghosting” by the player community. This means sneaking and not alerting any guards or creatures (some people figure spiders don’t count as people since nobody’s going to understand some giant spider saying a guy snuck in) while still getting all the treasure. People just come to work the next day and find everyone gone. The game isn’t built to recognize this as an achievement, so it’s just a fun thing for players who can already win on the Hard setting.

Take D&D. The DM sets the difficulty of any adventure by the monsters, traps, tricks, etc. that he puts in. Players approaching the dungeon can reduce that difficulty by researching the dungeon and questioning folks, but generally two groups of PCs will face the same dungeon. That’s just how dungeons are written these days. But that doesn’t have to be how it is: DMs can include plenty of opportunities for making the dungeon easier or harder based on player actions.

Besides player actions, though, you have all kinds of choices that happen before the game even starts. Some classes are more or less powerful, some races have cool abilities while others are dopey, you can choose worthwhile or stupid proficiencies / feats / skills, and equipment choices matter a lot too. Take these two Fighter PCs who each have 100 GP to spend on stuff after misc equipment and food:

Fighter A: (AC 4, Damage d8 1/rd) Chainmail, Shield, Longsword.
Fighter B: (AC 7, Damage d6 1/rd) Leather, Shield, Spear, 4 War Dogs (2+2 HD, AC 7, Damage 2d4 1/rd).

Fighter B made some great equipment choices. While he’s not as tough individually, he has four dogs which each are about equal to two 1st level Fighters. They’re also pretty expendable.

Fighter A is choosing to play normal D&D. Fighter B is playing on Easy Mode.

You could argue that choosing optimal strategies is part of player skill and as such we should strive to achieve that. But in reality, after playing the most powerful character types, you start to get bored and you want to play something else. You also start to realize that the game is fun when there’s a good challenge (a Goldilocks spot) and if you are a really good player you need to handicap yourself to get that good level of challenge.

This assumes the DM sets the challenge based on level not on player performance. In a game with an adaptive DM, you should play as well as you can because the DM will give you a good challenge regardless of your choices. The reward for winning against challenges beyond your level is additional XP and treasure from the tougher opposition.

If I wanted to play a tough 2E D&D PC I’d do something like a Wood Elf Fighter + double weapon specialization in longsword + Myrmidon kit with free specialization in longbow + bowyer/fletcher so I can make a Strength bow. Or a Deep Gnome Thief who will level up really fast and pick up excellent AC and MR unarmored and put all his proficiencies into martial arts from the Ninja Handbook or Punching specialization from the Fighter’s Handbook. That’s not getting into all the crazy stuff you can do in a hybrid 1E/2E game with racial restrictions dropped.

But while that PC would be a good damage dealer or resist damage well, it’s not interesting at all. Sometimes you just want to play a Bard or a regular old Human Illusionist.

There’s also the matter of alignment. In my experience, unless the DM adds in cool stuff for people playing Good characters, being Good means you lose out on profitable opportunities that a Chaotic Neutral would jump at. If that’s the case, playing a Good character adds an ethical burden which is more difficult (and fun) to play. People talk about Paladins falling from Lawful Good because they did something wrong. An alignment restriction really is a restriction.

If the whole party ramps down their power levels the next game, it also forces the players to be more attentive regarding challenges they decide to attack or flee from. This crops up most commonly when a party member is absent and people say things like “we don’t have our big fighter” or “we won’t have Fireball” or “no Cleric, gotta be careful”.