Archive for the ‘D&D’ Category

Initiative: Declared, Phases, Speed and Length

January 3, 2014

Here’s an alternate D&D initiative system.

1: It involves declaring your actions before you do them. And then during the round you can’t change your mind.
2: Action goes in phases: Ranged, Movement, Hand-to-Hand, Items, Spells.
3: Within a phase the order is determined by features of what you’re using.

First, you roll initiative. Whoever loses must declare first, and the winner declares last, giving him the chance to see what’s coming and decide his plan for the round. Roll d6 for each side (usually PCs and Monsters but you could have multiple forces).

The declaration is “I’m moving to X” and also “I’m doing Y”. You can declare some or no movement AND you can declare one or no action phase.

Phase 1 is Ranged combat. This includes fired missiles like sling stones and arrows, and also thrown weapons, but not activated spells or magic items. All ranged combat occurs simultaneously and before any other phases. This means when two parties meet, they can always exchange missile fire before closing to melee (unless surprise was involved). If you declared a shot and for some reason no enemy is available, you still shoot (probably at the place where the enemy used to be before it vanished). This won’t come up often because there’s no time between declaration and Phase 1.

Phase 2 is Movement. All movement happens in order of the slowest to fastest. So a Move 6 character gets to do his entire movement before a Move 9 character can go. This order works unless there’s some effect related to proximity, such as an aura of fire, for which you should move piece-by-piece; for example, the Move 9 will move 3 spaces for every 2 spaces the Move 6 gets. Because melee occurs after all movement is finished, this should come up rarely. For longer-term movement where terrain knowledge, vision, size, and dexterity are factors, use a set of Pursuit rules such as in OD&D.

Phase 3 is Hand-to-Hand. Within this phase, melee weapons can strike if (A) there is an enemy you can reach after Move is finished, AND (B) you had declared HTH previously. If you did not declare HTH, you can’t attack. Similarly, if you held a bow and declared Ranged, you can’t also attack HTH if someone moves up to you. You can strike HTH at any of the targets available – but if you declared a HTH and there’s an enemy to attack, you must do it. Of course you don’t have to strike friends if they’re the only ones available. If there is no enemy and you don’t get to strike HTH you’ve still used up your declared action and cannot act later.

The order of attacks in Phase 3 is determined by weapon length if movement occurred, or by weapon speed (reverse order weapon length) if no movement occurred. If a spearman fighting an axeman wants to keep winning HTH order, the spearman needs to keep advancing or retreating. If he gets stuck in a corner or his allies behind him don’t want to retreat, he’s stuck standing still and fighting the axeman which means the axeman goes before him in HTH order.

All melee weapons are ranked as Short (Dagger, Hand Axe), Medium (Sword, Mace), Long (Spear, Staff). If two Short weapons fight, the result is simultaneous (and may result in a double-kill as with Ranged attacks). If you throw a melee weapon it goes during the Ranged phase instead and weapon length / speed doesn’t matter.

Phase 4 is Items. This includes opening a door, using a key on a door to lock or unlock it, pulling a lever. It also includes activated magic items like rings and wands. The order of resolution here is that smaller items go before larger items – so a magic ring is very fast while slamming a door shut is probably one of the last items to get used.

Phase 5 is Spells. Spells go off in order of lowest-level first, meaning when you cast you need to decide whether to cast a fast weak spell or a strong slow one. Another caster might attack you with his spell before you fire yours. If you’re hit for damage or severely jostled you lose the spell and it doesn’t go off. Since all spells go off last, and you are actually casting throughout the round, you are in danger of being attacked throughout the round by missiles and then by melee and magic items.


Held actions (for example, a melee attack or slamming a door if you see someone coming) can interrupt another phase. But you can’t hold up more than one action and you can’t take other actions in the interim. You could, for example, declare a held missile action. The next time an enemy comes within view you fire automatically – on its movement phase and before it can finish that movement. You could declare a held Spell and on the next round when an enemy Teleports in you would complete the casting and fry him.

Even though you can’t make actions while holding an action, you can still move normally.


Magic can improve your initiative in various ways. It can make you more aware, giving a bonus to the initiative roll and letting you declare second more frequently. It can affect which phase your action occurs in – for example, you might be able to make a second missile shot in the Spell phase. Or it can affect the resolution order within the phase – for example, a Sword of Speed that has length Medium but speed Short.


Yes this is finicky, but it’s also more chewy and offers more opportunities for magic to affect things. Because it’s also less based on die roll, it allows for better planning. It also lets us take advantage of weapon speed and length in a way that isn’t irritating and cumbersome, and more weapon features make the decision of which weapon to use a more interesting one. It makes Movement matter within a combat even if the distances moved are relatively short. Finally it makes the Initiative roll completely good instead of a mixed bag: if you roll d10 and act in order, the people who lost initiative have to wait, but they also have more information to use when their turn comes around.

It’s not sandbox vs. railroad, really. New terminology for the middle ground.

March 3, 2013

While I think the terms Railroad and Sandbox are descriptive, they are awfully value-laden. They’re also the extremes: frequently a campaign with a strict story will have divergent paths and relevant choices, and a campaign with few demands on the player to follow the story will still have overarching plot and boundaries.

I suggest the following for campaigns more aligned toward the middle rather than an extreme on the player-choice axis, but still leaning toward one side or the other.

A Managed Play campaign is one where there is a significant predestined plot but players can make choices along the way that can affect the outcome. The DM probably writes an appendix to each adventure with plans for when players end up doing A, B, C, or D. There are several endgames, possibly with a point value from completed adventures or just eyeballing the result of the adventures up to that point. Or maybe it’s not that strictly pre-written, and the DM wants a result to happen for a major event, but the status of small events are entirely up in the air.

Managed Play is like a Disney amusement park. Everyone who comes thinks they can wander as they choose and experience the park however they want. But the park’s designers know how to build to regulate traffic flow and attract attention. You probably end up riding almost everything once and then grabbing dinner.

In a Managed Play campaign you draw all the dots (adventures, scenes, locations, whatever) and then connect them to form the plot. You flesh out the connected dots, but the ones outside the path you either don’t bother describing or give just a brief outline – because nobody will end up there.

A Distributed Play campaign changes things up by not connecting the dots ahead of time. The DM prepares a campaign without knowing what the players will do. His job is not to direct them to certain dots, but to make the dots known to the players so they can decide what to do. They may choose dots poorly (the adventure was to difficult for their level, or too easy and boring, or required some relic to complete that they don’t have yet). But the choice is theirs, and they may experience satisfaction at knowing their successes and failures are their responsibility.

A Distributed Play campaign can be played several times by different groups (or even the same group!) with dramatically different “story” results. This isn’t really possible with a Managed Play campaign. The players will be able to say “this is what we did during the Locust Wars” rather than “we did the Locust Wars campaign and ended up siding with A instead of B”.

Because it might not be obvious, it’s called Distributed Play because the adventures in the campaign are distributed around the map / timeline instead of just pre-planned, and also because the burden of decision-making for the story is distributed to the players more than in Managed Play.

This is just how I see the middle ground for the railroad vs. sandbox axis. I’m sure you all can come up with different possibilities. Personally, I suspect pure railroad or pure sandbox games are pretty uncommon, and most hover somewhere around these two. Also, the terminology is intentionally bland. If you can think of spicy terminology that’s not unduly positive or negative, you did my job better than I did. Or you could just use two positive terms, or two negative terms, but people will end up using the positive term for the one they like and the negative for the one they don’t.

Land grants from the king to his soldiers

February 11, 2013

Something just popped into my head and it might be useful to someone.

You know how if you hit level 9 or whatever you can establish a stronghold, right? We assume you’re under the aegis of some king, because otherwise anybody can just go out and establish a tree fort or whatever in the empty howling wilderness.

Second, and here I’m mostly drawing on a vague understanding of how the Vikings handled it when they conquered England and how the Romans handled it in general (so it might be horribly off-base): if you serve the king as a soldier, eventually he grants you citizenship (if you need it) and a plot of land. A regular old soldier would go to war and come back to a cottage or something. But big heroes / warlords / generals would come back and get control over a big area, maybe even become the new king / emperor / topbigman.

Using 9th level Baron controlling a keep and village plus surrounding countryside and 1st level as a Veteran with a cottage, here’s what I came up with.

1st: Cottage and small plot. You can retire and feed your family plus pay your taxes and sell a little surplus. You get a vote.
3rd: Larger farm with a house, requiring lots of your children or else hired hands to manage fully.
5th: Townhouse or large farm as above, plus some special right – maybe you hold a license to be a miller, or a village mayor. You’re one of the dozen important people in the village.
7th: Townhouse and large farm, plus an exceptional right – a guild head, tax collector, command of a few hundred soldiers, or some office at court. You’re the most important person in the village, or one of the dozen important ones in a town.
9th: Right to build a keep and maintain a village, plus a townhouse, plus some great office like warden of a forest, command of a thousand soldiers.
12th: As 9th but you might get a special office like ambassador, general, or admiral.
15th: As 12th but also supervision over a dozen Lords (9th) as a Duke-equivalent, and you’re counted as not much less important than a Prince – one of the dozen important people in the kingdom.
20th: Just go out and crush some jeweled thrones under your sandaled feet, because you’re only less important than the king because he’s the king. If you found or conquer a neighboring kingdom, maybe your old king would like to style himself an emperor – or maybe you’ll beat him to it.

I haven’t read ACKS but maybe this is how they handle it? I think it makes sense for the first generation after conquest, but the Emperor’s kid is probably gonna be a snotnosed little 1st level punk. At least, unless there is continual warfare, the 20th level king’s kid will end up being 12th or something, and his kid will be 6th, and his 1st (if not degrading faster). This assumes the king refuses to let his kid be a worthless shit and forces him into combat training.

1st edition Identify is weird

February 10, 2013

I just finally read the Identify spell in 1st edition PHB, and it’s pretty crazy. 2nd Edition D&D simplified Identify a lot and made it much more useful. I think that was a result of ID not being playable as it was, but maybe the change ignored some fundamental reason for just why ID was useless. Here’s the skinny on 1E’s ID spell:

1: The caster takes a CON hit so you can’t adventure soon after.
2: You have to put the item on, so consequences of the magic (like curses) apply to the caster.
3: It works on only one item per spell, and has a 15% + 5% per caster level chance to ID one power on the item, and he gets one identificatin chance per level on the item.
4: There is a large chance of mis-identification or failure even if the above percentage succeeds, based on the M-U’s saving throw.
5: Charges aren’t known exactly, but within 25% of the true amount.
6: If you wait too long after finding it, you can’t ID the item. The limit is just 1 hour per caster level after finding it.
7: The material component is a 100 GP pearl – again, this is just for one magic item.
8: You can always grind up a Luckstone and get +25% to your success chance (which is 100% stupid and I’m certain nobody has ever done this in a serious campaign).

OK, so, let’s say the party finds a pair of magic gauntlets. Jimmy the M-U is their wizard of record, only Level 1 but willing to try Identifying. But there’s a problem: Jimmy doesn’t have Identify memorized (as he has only 1 spell and they’re on an adventure, so he probably took Sleep or more likely something dumb like Hold Portal because that’s all he has. Also who took Detect Magic to figure out the item was magical int he first place?). He needs to get out of the dungeon, sleep 8 hours, memorize Identify, and cast it. But then he’s 7 hours past the deadline so he can’t identify the item at all!

Let’s assume Jimmy knows this and instead races to town to pay someone to identify the item. He spends time exiting the dungeon, travel time back to town, and scampering from wizard to wizard. Say it takes 2 hours to return to town. Let’s also assume that the town is fairly chock-full of Wizards who are (1) willing to risk doing ID, (2) awake and willing to be bothered, (3) have ID memorized, (4) are at least 3rd level.

Here’s a little table of the success chance for varying levels of M-U:
Level — Chance — Save %
3 — 30% — 45%
4 — 35% — 45%
5 — 40% — 45%
6 — 45% — 55%
7 — 50% — 55%
8 — 55% — 55%
9 — 60% — 55%
10 — 65% — 55%

For example, if you’re level 6, you have 6 tries. On each try, you have to roll under 45%, and also under 55%, to succeed on that try. If either fails, that try fails. I’m simplifying here, since the save is actually a roll over on d20, but I converted it to percentage chance for easy comparison.

For a L4, you could expect about one success out of four tries, but then only about a 50% chance to confirm that success on the saving throw. Which means if you have the L4 M-U ID it, it’s a roughly 50-50 chance of success.

If he fails, you need to run around and get another M-U to try it, which probably means an extra half-hour at least of searching and travel (plus the 1 turn casting time), so every other try will have to be done by an M-U one level higher than before.

Finally, I believe the higher level the M-U, the less likely he will be to want to do ID services. After all, he has:

1) More to lose, since he’s higher level
2) Greater income, which means he expects a higher fee
3) His own high-level projects he’s working on, meaning his time may be unavailable
4) A grander mansion, which he’s less likely to allow potential thieves into
5) Finally, far fewer M-Us exist as you go up the levels, for the same reasons there are more Community College graduates than Ivy League PHDs.

So for those reasons, I typically assume no M-U over 10th will ever perform ID services and even those are rare.

Anyway, let’s assume the adventurers are simply out of luck when it comes to magic item identification until about level 5. At that point the party M-U Jimmy can do it himself with a reasonable chance of success. But you need to escape the dungeon to identify, which means wasting time entering and exiting in the same manner as the 15-minute adventuring day. You also need to carry the ID spell at all times just in case you find something because you don’t have time to re-memorize, which means one less useful spell at all other times.

And of course, it only works on one item! And you need to use up a 100 GP pearl per item! And there’s still a 1 in 20 chance per try of mis-reading the item and getting a false result.

By level 10 the spell becomes useful to Jimmy. He’s virtually guaranteed to successfully ID the item and can get multiple readings per spell to sift out false results. He has the money to spend on ID pearls so it’s no big deal. And finally he doesn’t have to carry ID at all times, since he can leave the dungeon and camp to memorize before the 10 hour time limit is up. But again, by that level, will his player be willing to take the risk of cursed items fusing to him and ruining his character?

Here’s my big point: if we assume Gygax intended it to be this way, it means he meant ID to be pretty useless. What alternatives are there?

Legend Lore is a 6th level spell, which means you need a 12th level M-U to cast it. It doesn’t specifically say it gives magic item properties, it just gives any legendary information about the target. You also have to sacrifice a magic item (just a potion) and the casting time is days or weeks.

Bardic knowledge includes Legend Lore and magic item identification, and the fact that Bards don’t have the harsh requirements in the Legend Lore spell mean hardly anybody is going to cast the spell. Bards can’t ID things they can’t use unless it’s a written magic item, which means they can probably ID most things. But Bards have to be Fighters, then Thieves, then Bards before they get any percentage chance. A single-classed Fighter in the group will be 6th level by the time the Bard gets a 5% Legend Lore chance (and that assumes the Bard rushes through F and T, which is a terrible idea). A well-done Bard will have a 25% LL chance by the time the party Fighter is about level 9.

The Bard is an optional class, kind of a weird mix of the dual-class rules and a proto-prestige class like the Thief-Acrobat, sequestered in the appendix after psionics. I hesitate to say Gygax meant Bards to be the go-to solution for magic item identification.

So besides ignoring the ID rules, what are PCs supposed to do? You can reliably Detect Magic, but don’t know what the thing does. Maybe the DM is supposed to say the command words are inscribed on the item. That’s a lot like the problem with modern computer passwords: people often stick them next to the device protected by the word even though that violates security, because they can’t be bothered to remember them. I dislike that concept for magic items because M-Us have memory as a class ability and any M-U able to make a magic item will be able to memorize the command word with no problem. Then again, runes and inscriptions on magic items are a solid staple of fantasy. And if you put the item on or say the command word and see a visible effect, you can safely write down that this is a Cloak of Batman or a Wand of Blowing Shit Up.

Purely from a paperwork perspective, it’s important for players to know what their junk does because otherwise the DM has to keep track of all of it. If you have about 1 magic item per level, that might be okay, but a game with greater-than-Gygaxian magic drops will have long lists of stuff for the DM to track at high levels. We already do it for cursed items, why extend that paperwork to everything?

Baldur’s Gate had a Lore skill which allowed identification of magic items based on the party’s highest-skilled Lore character. If the Lore was high enough, you got it, so if you didn’t ID at first you might after going up a level. Or you could pay for ID or cast the spell. It kinda took the Bard LL% and gave a much lower percentage to everyone.

I guess Gamma World had a system for identifying tech objects, which sometimes resulted in destruction of the item or harm to the researcher. That’s kinda cool, and I’d like to see that done for magic items, but items in D&D are pretty simple. If you get the command word, it works. If you put on the armor you can tell it’s lighter and sturdier. Figuring out just how sturdy, or whether it specifically resists fire or acid or whatever, is a matter of manual testing.

I wonder about charges, though. I can see a DM wanting to keep number of charges secret, but it’s less playable because there’s more bookkeeping for him. I’d rather have charges come as a very visible thing, like glowing runes on the side that tell you how many are left or you have to power it by sticking diamonds in the haft and they slowly erode and vanish so you know when to jam more in there.

There Is No Such Thing As a 2nd Level Blogger in D&D

January 24, 2013

I just saw a picture on a writing site of a woman sitting on her floor next to the couch, grapes and nail polish kit, two phones, shoes, and an empty notebook on the floor. It made me want to write this:

Adventurers in D&D get levels because they’re rough and tough and don’t take shit from nobody (much like Clint Eastwood brand toilet paper). You dig into a dungeon full of death-traps and alien brainsuckers and you come out more experienced and tougher. I can get behind this.

What I don’t like is some NPC in town who never left his neighborhood and someone says he’s a 4th level Shoeshine or Meatpacker. Take any Receptionist and add 20 years of experience, I don’t think that’s going to represent even a single extra Hit Point. If anything, a sedentary lifestyle should reduce HP.

I think that’s why I don’t like the NPC classes in 3E D&D (Expert, Commoner, Noble, etc) because some peasant who hits 20th level Milkmaid shouldn’t be able to take 20 stabs to the head and walk away whistling. And if the game doesn’t give detailed rules for a Limner/Painter’s daily duties, and the only people who will be good at it are dedicated NPCs, and there are in fact no ways for the NPC to actually gain levels unless he spends all day taking potshots at sewer rats and stray children from his roof, why include levels for townie NPCs at all?

I’d just as soon say the NPC gains “pseudolevels” based entirely on time spent working, and he acts as multiple workers based on his rank.

Apprentice: 0-1 yr – Acts as 1/2 man
Basic: 2 yr – Acts as 1 man
Normal: 3-5 yr – Acts as 2 men
Expert: 6-11 yr – Acts as 3 men
Master: 12-22 yr – Acts as 4 men, always produces excellent work
Grandmaster: 45+ yr – Acts as 5 men, always produces amazing work

You could stick with the standard D&D system if you really wanted to. Here’s how I’d construct an NPC class.

Gains XP: Every month of work gives 120 XP (except first year is no XP apprenticeship)
XP Requirements: As Fighter
Benefits: Act as men equal to level for work related to specialty (choose something fairly specific – blacksmith vs. jeweler or armorer or weaponsmith is ok, metalsmith is too broad, blade maker is too specific).
HP: Only 1d6 ever, modified by CON (never improving)
Saves: Worst of 1st level Fighter, M-U, or Thief in each category (never improving)

Partial work months or part-time hours give partial XP. So if you’re a PC Fighter who wants to do blacksmithing (because World of Warcraft has you convinced it’s a great idea or you just need to fulfill the Dwarf Smith stereotype) and you practice for 8 hours one day per week while your party is in town, you’ll gain your first 150 blacksmithing XP after 7 months.

And no, you can’t gain XP in Blacksmith by adventuring, much like you can’t gain Fighter XP by blacksmithing.

Now we could use the 3E model for professions and crafts, where your skill check (in this case, your worker-equivalent) determines how much money you make. In that case, a lawyer earns as much as a shoeshine and a basketmaker earns as much as jeweler. That is to say, it’s dumb. But it’s also very simple.

We could rate professions, say 1-6, in terms of (a) portability, (b) profitability, and (c) demand. A jeweler or tailor is a much more likely profession for an adventurer than a smelter because it’s tough to carry a forge around. Jewelery is much more profitable than weaving per piece, but the number of pieces demanded is much lower. Then we have to figure out based on population how much demand there is for the PC to dump his goods on the market. Maybe a jeweler just ends up working fewer hours than the weaver and still makes more money: that’s fine. Maybe craftsmen and professionals end up gravitating toward cities: that’s expected.

Of course there will probably be guilds, or at least strong-arm types who want to control the market illicitly. The easiest way to handle this is adding the fees / extortion money to the normal taxes levied, and roleplay it only if someone tries to dodge the tax.

When we talk about sale price of goods, remember the book price is how much adventurers pay for things at the shop. Unless a tailor spends half his time working the register, or hires someone to do it, he’s going to be selling his goods to a merchant instead of selling directly. The merchant is thus a speculator instead of a professional, and his profit is based on how much of his investment he sells and at what price. His role doesn’t fit in this rule. Even if he participates in the carrying trade, he hires sailors and so forth, and we’re talking about caravans and foreign trade instead of a guy working on some metal to make it pretty.

Anyway, the tailor will buy materials, add his labor, and sell the goods to a merchant. But the merchant wants to make a profit! So the tailor obviously can’t charge book price. And his costs for materials, facility, and taxes will cut into his profit. He probably makes just about enough to live off of and save a little tiny bit.

And that’s great! That’s how it is. Adventurers despair, you can’t actually get rich working for the Man. Yes, it’s more profitable to steal from the dungeon or whatever. Why do players keep trying to get a sideline in crafting? In my experience, it’s because they either want to roleplay a craftsman (very rare) or else get a little extra money. But by “a little” they mean “a good percentage boost to what I make in the dungeon” otherwise it really isn’t worth the time and skill points.

As a side note, there’s no reason to play an NPC class in 3E. Not even if you’re an NPC. NPCs should all just be Rogues because they get lots of skill points and are more survivable.

Heck, you could ignore the two proposed NPC level schemes and say every NPC is a Thief.

Fix This Dungeon

January 18, 2013

Back in the day, System Shock was pretty awesome. In it you play a cyberware hacker type of guy who has to deal with problems on this broken-down space station. SS2 was also good, and while the graphics and controls were better the details in the original were good enough to play them both.

But there was a complaint that the game felt like playing a space-plumber because your melee weapon was a wrench and you spent most of the time fixing broken things in the ship. The quest to fix the elevators took several hours and it was nearly the first thing you were assigned!

Dead Space is a lot like System Shock. It’s not exact, but if you removed all the text and audio dialogue I’d have guessed it was SS3. In DS you’re actually a space-engineer and many of your weapons are repurposed tools, so it makes sense. And you do even MORE space-repairs!

Anyone who has ever had to find a battery in the garage to jumpstart the generator so you can use the elevator has experienced this gameplay. It’s a nice re-imagining of the “find a blue keycard to open the blue door” game and looks a whole lot prettier.

But what if the dungeon was functional like a spaceship? It would have rooms devoted to controlling various processes. There would be conduits to move energy or materials from room to room. The controls could be broken or missing parts, the conduits could be clogged or mis-routed, and maybe the energy or material source is broken too.

The functional dungeon doesn’t need to have some ultimate purpose that the players can exploit. It could be simply the side-effect of these functions that the players want. Maybe since the level 3 drain system is completely toast you can reverse gravity on level 3 so the water drains upward into level 2, which has a working drain system. Or maybe to get across the Howling Wind Chasm you can extend an ore escalator across. If you also get the escalator working you can zip across really quickly in one direction while people have to labor slowly in the other direction. But does activating it make noise that disturbs the Honkbats? If you activate the Drill Golems on level 8 and the Haulems in the Grand Ramp you can get a steady stream of ore from below – but will this anger the Albino Orcs who were otherwise peaceful before?

Anyway, the ingredients in this recipe are pretty easy to throw together.

1: The dungeon has to be made by people who can make really complex things like this.

2: The dungeon has to have a purpose. Mining, collecting souls, distracting a demon, running a calculation, imprisoning a god, getting heat from lava to make steam power.

3: You need to come up with a Rube Goldberg series of separate processes and break these down into little parts, and think about how each part could go wrong and be fixed.

4: Draw the dungeon map so it performs the function in an efficient way. Maybe throw in a natural obstacle they had to work around when building it.

5: Make up reasons why each process step would be helpful to have working or not, and what effect on the map and inhabitants deactivating / reactivating it will have. Maybe whole rooms shift and levels flood with gas!

6: Parts needed to fix things should be placed where players wouldn’t otherwise go, so exploration is important. Just for a change of pace, have some important stuff just laying out in the hallway. Might help to mark important things – such as emerald and gold circuit boards or something – so players don’t just assume it’s trash.

7: Include a large amount of trash. Maybe the players can think of cool uses for things that you didn’t.

8: The dungeon has to be ruined somehow – the thing that did the ruining could even still be there hiding in dark corners. Are the original makers or their heirs still around somewhere? In stasis?

9: It may help to have a way for players to know what to do here. In the video games I talked about, there’s always a ton of audio and text logs from the crew of the doomed spaceship you’re in. Maybe you could use journals from previous adventurers who were bright enough to think of stuff on their own. You could also just assume that players will gather information using Commune and such, which makes the adventure much more difficult for parties that aren’t high enough level or lack those resources. Maybe notes from the creators are in a strange language or holograms and can help. Maybe Magic-Users will have a roll based on level to get a hint about how something works.

10: Put in some other reason why the PCs would want to be in the dungeon, and make it possible though very difficult to complete this objective without “fixing the dungeon” along the way. Note that partial repair is preferable and PCs may want to take over the dungeon after repairing it. Maybe this is a good way to encourage the domain-endgame? Don’t worry that the PCs will have a huge automated mining operation – assume they will get it and move the game on from there! I think it’s fine when players break my game because the shattered pieces are sometimes beautiful.

M-U Familiar Benefits

January 15, 2013

I like the idea that familiars add to M-U power, and killing one is a pretty hard blow to the M-U. But taking permanent HP loss on its death means as a player I never use a familiar under 1E D&D rules.

Here’s my take on it:

Familiars can gain effective M-U levels if the M-U puts XP into the familiar. It’s kinda like how we do henchmen: instead of the henchman taking a 1/2 share of XP, the employer can split up to half his XP with the henchman. So if the party gains 600 XP, and the master’s share is 100, he can give up to 50 of that away among his various henchmen, familiar, etc. He has to take at least 50 for himself though. An NPC recipient can’t get XP from more than one PC per award (so the whole party couldn’t employ a guy and give him 300 of their 600).

In this case, the familiar doesn’t actually get to cast spells. He gains the HP, saves, attack chance, etc. for his HD or his M-U level, whichever is better. But if the M-U casts a spell from his memory, the familiar can give him a spell from its roster to replenish him (one per round let’s say).

If the familiar dies, the bond is broken. The familiar can be raised from the dead but won’t be your familiar anymore unless you cast Find Familiar again and somehow ensure that he’s the target. Especially important is that he loses his entire store of XP, which means the M-U is now back to square one in terms of familiar level. He’s stuck with his own spell capacity.

Other benefits of having a familiar include:

1: Telepathic communication with it, which means you might have an interpreter if the familiar knows other languages.
2: Sense through its eyes/ears/etc. up to 1 mile away.
3: If the familiar is on your person, and you save against an area-effect (Fireball, Lightning Bolt), the familiar is unaffected. If you fail the save, the familiar must roll on its own.
4: The familiar is always 100% loyal and while it may express misgivings it will obey even the cruelest mistreatment.
5: The familiar can remain awake while the M-U is occupied or asleep, making a surprise attack on the M-U less likely.
6: Familiars typically have some excellent ability: birds can fly very fast and have good vision, toads can swim and breathe water, many others can climb easily or run quickly, and all are small and good at hiding.
7: If a familiar completely stays out of a fight, on the M-U’s person, monsters typically don’t attack it. If the familiar starts giving spells, administering potions, or even entering melee it’s fair game and will probably get whacked as it tends to have little combat ability (AC, HP, saves).
8: Familiar Maladies are hilarious.
9: Familiars give some special benefit to the M-U as a trait that rubs off on him. I don’t like the 3E D&D familiar trait table because it’s all skill check or saving throw, which is weak and isn’t useful in 1E/2E. Use the below:

Basic Familiars
Badger … +1 STR, remain active until dead (such as a system with up to -10 HP before death)
Cat … +1 DEX, Hide in Shadows / Move Silently as Thief
Hawk … +1 CHA, triple vision distance
Mouse … +1 DEX, Pick Pockets as Thief
Raven / Owl … +1 WIS, speaks 1d4 languages master doesn’t know and 2 he does
Serpent … +1 CON, normal snakes won’t attack
Toad … +1 CON, swim at full walking speed, triple hold-breath duration
Weasel … +1 STR, Climb Walls as Thief

Note that no familiar gives +1 INT (unless you want most M-Us taking that familiar) and the benefits are visually subtle and non-damaging (no familiar lets you blast people with Acid Arrow or something).

I don’t think the Thief skill benefits are out of line or in any way diminish the Thief. As I’ve said before, I consider a Thief’s most important skills to be Open Locks / Remove Traps / Hear Noise, and it’s great if more people can Hide/Sneak like the Thief because then he’s not the lone scout (and Rangers, Monks, Elves, and Halflings already get sneaking abilities anyway).

Special familiars like pseudo-dragons and imps give special abilities as shown in the monster description (it seems these creatures exist in the rules to be familiars). I’d add a bunch like Hypnotoad, Mini-Beholder, and Winged Cat. Also I don’t see why some people have a problem with Brownies, they’re like awesome little magical butlers.

There should be plenty of magic items a familiar can use, such as amulets, rings, anything really small. I’d say only speaking familiars can activate a command word – it’s up to you whether familiars can talk but I’d definitely say Ravens and Owls can even if the rest can’t. Remember if that Owl keeps firing off Magic Missiles from his master’s wand he’s going to be a pretty tempting target for enemies.

From a game balance perspective, this is also great news for the monsters, since if a familiar is wearing a Ring of Protection it means one of the PCs isn’t wearing it.

Generate a Village

January 13, 2013

Let’s say your players are travelling through the wilderness and occasionally come upon a fort, or are travelling through a settled land and come across villages pretty regularly. You could draw up a ton of villages but here’s an easier way.

Decide on a number of d6s to roll. This relates to population.

Roll your d6s all at once so they scatter a little. Each pip is a family. Each die is a number of families living close together. Where the dice fall is where these buildings are in relation to each other.

Results of 1 are shops or inns. The first shop in any village is definitely going to be a general store, but any additional shops could be specialists who attract business from the surrounding villages or else travel regularly. Or it could be a church. Maybe the church can act as a combination inn and general store, since you could ask to sleep on the floor and they might have some used gear from failed adventurers they would cough up for a small donation.

Results of 2-5 are farming families. Their hovels are grouped together and walled in so the chickens and pigs don’t get out.

Results of 6 are wealthy people, such as minor nobility or merchants or landowners. The first family is their own, another is a group of servants, and the remaining are attached peasants.

If you don’t get any 6s, then the highest dice are the local gentry. If there is only 1 of the highest dice, there’s just one, but if there are multiples then you have multiple wealthy people.

Example: 1, 4, 4, 5, 5
One general store, two sets of 4 peasant families, one local noble + servants + 3 serf families, one merchant + servants + 3 employee families.

Example: 2, 2, 2, 3
Three pairs of peasants, one headman with his family + servants + scattered men-at-arms.

Example: 5, 6, 6, 6
A stockade of five peasant families, and three local wizards’ towers each walled in with servants and serf families.

One family should be considered as 6 people, or you could roll d6 adults + d6 children or something. I’d say the content of the family is another layer down which you might care about enough to write a method for generating them.

Now you’ve got the layout and content of the village. Draw blocks on the paper to reflect area of control – that is, the plot of land around the buildings – and then draw in the buildings wherever the dice actually fell. Draw roads along the borders between the plots. If it seems like everyone has a long driveway, consider adding a village green in the middle to soak up some extra space with a road surrounding it. Or scoot the dice a little closer together to make it look more village-y.

You could determine what a given building is by making a list of 1-4 and looking at which side of the die was facing you (for this you need to use dice with numbers instead of pips). 1 = top, 2 = right side, 3 = bottom, 4 = left side. For example, you could roll a 3 (peasant families) and if the right side of the number 3 is toward you that peasant family does shepherding. In general, I’d rather just blast through those decisions with stuff that makes more sense, otherwise you could end up with six villages in a row that each have a blacksmith but no other stores …

(Props to Zak for turning me on to die-drop generation which, among other Vornheim and blogstuff, helped inspire this)

Monster: Necroflux

January 6, 2013

The Necroflux is an electric ghost, probably something to do with weird Frankenstien experiments, storms during powerful planetary alignments, or an execution. This creature always inhabits a piece of metal. When it jumps from metal to metal it trails lightning between. Creatures killed by it are re-animated as electro-zombies.

A Necroflux notices when living creatures come near and waits for a good opportunity to attack. It will try to arc to someone in metal armor, since it’s difficult to take the armor off. Anyone between the start and end of the arc gets hit by a 3d6 Lightning Bolt (including anyone wearing or holding either piece). The arc can be up to 40′, or 80′ if both pieces of metal are connected by water. A given Necroflux can’t arc to the same piece of metal ever again. Consider a suit of armor as one piece of metal (chainmail for example) but if your rules count a helmet as a separate piece then it’s fair game. Shields are typically wood and leather unless your game specifies.

A Necroflux can shock the wearer / bearer of the metal it inhabits instead of arcing, for just 1d6 damage (no save).

Very small metal pieces can’t hold it. Ignore things like coins, belt buckles, sewing needles, and arrowheads. Include things like daggers, metal flutes, and grappling hooks. If it’s 1 pound or over in one piece, it’s possible.

The metal is unharmed by the arc.

Anyone slain by the electric attack will rise in 1 turn as an electro-zombie under the general command of the Necroflux. It shambles with a jolting gait, is immune to electricity, but if immersed in water it shorts out and dies. Can be turned. Stats are otherwise as “Zombie”. Electro-zombies tend to gather up metal objects and carry them around, providing the Necroflux some mobility, though it’s not intentional and won’t happen in combat.

If a Necroflux jumps into an intelligent sword (or similar) there is a lightning-fast battle of wills. Roll 3d6, and if the result is under the sword’s Ego the Necroflux is ejected automatically and hangs in the air as a man-shaped electric cloud for 1d6 rounds. This is the same thing that happens when you turn it (although a “destroy” result still means it’s destroyed). An ejected Necroflux can’t move or act, and in this state it’s most vulnerable (HD 3, AC 6).

If you hit an ejected Necroflux with a metal item, it arcs into the item without harm, although it remains stunned for the rest of its ejected duration. If you destroy a metal item holding a Necroflux using a metal tool the Necroflux arcs into the tool without harm. If you destroy the metal item using a non-metal tool the Necroflux has nowhere to go and it’s ejected as above.

If an ejected Necroflux ends its stun duration and there’s no metal within range it can arc to, it dissipates (dies).

Necrofluxes are found in a place with plenty of metal to arc to, such as an old battlefield or dungeon, or else in the bottom of a deep hole trapped in a hand axe or something.

Gas-Steal Potion

January 6, 2013

It’s a potion that absorbs gasses. “Well that goes right on the old post-adventure sell pile” you think. But it’s actually pretty cool.

You uncork it and it soaks up any gas in the area. If there’s natural explosive, suffocating, hallucenogenic, or poison gas around you’re safe for a while. It also sucks up any gas spells like Stinking Cloud, Cloudkill, Incendiary Cloud, or Green Dragon breath. Up to your DM whether it sucks up Fog (I’d say sure) or a gaseous Vampire (which would be hilarious).

The best part is when it’s soaked up the gas, you can cork it and later throw it to shatter and release the stored gas. This way you could grab some nasty gas you find in a dungeon that’s supposed to be a trap and use it later as a weapon!

Let’s say you find 3 vials of this stuff. You might think it’s a great idea to just load up all three and have 3 weapons available. But you’ll probably find interesting gas in the dungeon, so save a couple to use in there.

By the way, normally I wouldn’t bring up any sciency mumbo-jumbo, but if you drink this stuff your blood can’t carry any air. You suffocate using whatever suffocation rules exist in your game, and Water Breathing won’t help. You’d need a Dispel Magic or something that lets you survive in a vaccuum.