Archive for the ‘Kurland’ Category

Backstab, Assassination, Surprise, Stealth

November 7, 2011

This is in response to Lands of Ara, again, too long to comment there.

Just last night our Assassin PC got to use his mojo. I read the rules again and things finally started clicking regarding Move Silently / Hide in Shadows / Invisibility and a victim’s vulnerability to Backstab / Assassination.

Under the Assassin class, it says you can Backstab as a Thief can, or you can choose to Assassinate in surprise situations.

Under the Thief class, it describes Backstab as simply an attack “from behind” which seems problematic.

In a game with high Movement and no area-control like 3E’s Attacks of Opportunity, what prevents the Thief from just circling behind his opponent and Backstabbing every time? In my game I always figured everyone could turn around even when it’s not their turn. This means you would need four attackers on one defender for one of those attackers to get a back attack. Alternately, the Thief could attack from the shadows or Invisibly and attack the opponent’s rear. This was how we did it in the past: you need to susprise your opponent from some concealment like Invisibility.

Our Monk PC stunned a bandit sergeant by punching him REALLY WELL and I ruled that the bandit was vulnerable to backstab / assassination because he was at +4 to be hit from the stun effect. The only place worse for him to be would be paralyzed/sleeping/helpless and that would allow an automatic slay. So the Monk facepunched the dude and he reeled backward onto the Assassin’s two-handed sword.

Similarly, the Assassin snuck up behind some dudes and Backstabbed two. How? He knew they were there, they didn’t know he was there because he was stealthy, and so when he leapt out they had to roll surprise (2 in 6 normally, but here it was 4 in 6 because of his stealth) and they rolled a 4. That gave him 4 segments to beat their bongoes while they were surprised.

It makes sense, and gives the Thief and Assassin more opportunity to use their special abilities.

So you need to surprise your opponent to get Backstab or Assassination. How do you surprise? By leaping up normally, in which case the opponent might be surprised 1 or 2 segments. Or by stealth, which means he’s surprised 1 to 4 segments (4 in 6 roll). What qualifies as stealth? That the opponent can’t sense you.

Some ways you can achieve this:
A: Elf or Halfling in non-metal armor, 90′ from anyone non-stealthy (guaranteed unless you have to open a door, then only normal 2 in 6 surprise)
B: Successful Move Silently from a direction the opponent is not looking (because you can’t Hide in Shadows on the move).
C: Successful Move Silently while using Invisibility.
D: Boots & Cloak of Elvenkind, or similar (remember, the boots prevent sound of footfall, so you can’t wear armor other than leather)

So you see, it’s not about whether you attacked from concealment! Even if you attack with stealth you might not get a Backstab attempt! Note just how powerful the Elf / Halfling ability is. It amounts to 100% chance for Move Silently and Hide in Shadows. If the players can organize a whole party of strictly Elves and Halflings, in light or no armor, it could be super effective!

Also remember, lest you get too excited about how powerful stealth is, that you can lose a chance at surprise various ways. You might have someone too noisy in your party (anything heavier than Chainmail). A fight might have happened too near the enemy for them to be caught off-guard. A failed door-bashing attempt means anyone inside the room can’t be surprised. Some monsters are less likely to be surprised, or immune. Others have special senses that tell them the PCs are coming (vibrations in the ground, life-detection). A monster might be hidden and on watch and the PCs wander by, not engaging the monster until a whole round passes and any potential Surprise on his part would be a moot point.

Finally, Assassination and Backstab aren’t Weapons Without Answer. They won’t pierce Stoneskin, or a Magic Weapon Required monster (unless you have enough magic on your weapon). Against a Fire Shield type defense, I’d say an Assassination effectively caused the creature’s remaining HP plus 10 (to bring it to -10 HP). High AC is a good defense, as are Mirror Images and other such distractions. In the case of the bandits, it was unclear at first who the leader-types were, which might make an Assassination pointless since it slays a random goober instead of someone important. Assassination is a percentage based on the victim’s Level/HD and the Assassin’s Level. The chart makes it quite hard to slay anyone higher than you and not much easier than 50% for people lower than you.

Side note: the Assassin and the Monk teamed up Lankhmar style and went looking for a law-breaker to beat up in the slums before the rest of the players arrived. I was tickled.

Encumbrance and Coins per Pound

October 28, 2011

This goes out to Lord Kilgore, upon whose blog I decided not to reply because my reply would have been way too long. His post was How Many GP per Pound?

I’ve used 10 GP = 1 lb (1E/2E)
25 GP = 1 lb (3E)
72 GP = 1 lb (1,000 GP = 1 stone (14 lb)) (game XYZ I wrote)

(We’re currently playing 1E)

It does make a huge difference. For example, if I want to buy a silver dagger that weighs 2 lb, the minimum materials cost is going to be 1 GP in 1E, 2 GP in 2E, 2.5 GP in 3E, and 7.2 GP in my game. And the workmanship is a big part of the item cost!

If there’s a treasure of 1,000 GP, it will encumber a normal naked person with 9 STR down to MV 3″ in 1E. The same person in 2E couldn’t walk according to Table 47, but he could walk at MV 1″ if he took only 890 GP according to Table 48. In 3E that character could carry the 1,000 GP and another 50 lb and move at 20′ (2/3, or equivalent to 8″ in 1E/2E) (from the SRD). In my game a PC can carry 5 stone, or 70 lb, before suffering movement penalties. That means the naked 9 STR dude can carry 5,000 GP before slowing down.

So you see two dimensions: how much does money weigh, and what are the encumbrance rules? In my game, money weighs a LOT less, and the encumbrance rules are more indulgent otherwise than 1E/2E. In 3E, PCs can carry similar amounts of weight in each encumbrance category, but move much faster even when encumbered, and the coins are lighter than in 1E/2E.

But what about the other equipment? If your game has less or more focus on equipment like rope and other climbing gear, cold weather gear, food and water, ammunition, etc. then that will affect how much treasure an actual PC can carry around. That is, a PC who has enough gear to survive the expedition in the first place!

I think the trend toward more indulgent encumbrance schemes results in less need for magical storage like bags of holding, fewer trips back to town to sell loot, and far less reliance on pack animals and porters. In Game XYZ PCs do see the need for extra equipment, and certainly armor weighs something, and treasure isn’t always in the easy form of precious metals and gems. Despite the very light coins, they still feel the need to yank donkeys around and when someone found a Backpack of Holding (15 stone, or 210 lb) it was a pretty hot deal.

Currently in 1E, I tell them when they find treasure how much it will weigh them down and they decide if they want to carry it around. I note down the current MV of each PC. When they get back to town and dump the loot, I reset the current MV to their normal amount. This means if they find a series of small pieces I don’t care, even though in total it might drop someone down to the next 3″ category. Only when they find a big load do we change things (of if the PC changes his standard equipment loadout on his sheet, such as by changing armor).

Gettin’ Back to Town

October 24, 2011

There’s a sentiment I sense, in the blag-o-sphere, that the adventurers should return to town at the end of the game session.

Rients says so here. OD&D says that Elves choose on any adventure whether to operate as a Fighting-Man or Magic-User, which suggests that “adventures” are discreet operations much like game sessions (arguable). In the game sessions described under the Chronicals of Ryth the sessions are quite clearly discrete adventures and PCs seem to have always returned to town. In the West marches campaign structure the adventurers must return to town after a game session.

Why such a big deal? Well, read the posts above, but in summary, it presents a nice package. A clean slate at the end of the session means one at the beginning of the next. Here’s a simple problem probably everyone has encountered: Eric the Red was here last weekend and we ended in the dungeon. Now he’s not here. What does his character do? Stand there frozen and ignored by monsters? Does a PC or the DM play his character (and what if you don’t have his character sheet and you don’t know what he would do in Situation X)? What if the rest of the group falls under a Geas or buys Rings of Water Breathing? Is Eric the Red just boned? It’s much easier if Eric is back in town for this weekend’s adventure, and next weekend we all start in town so he’s there ready to meet up with us again.

Rients suggests a table of Dungeon Dooms that befall adventurers who don’t get home for supper. I like the table, it’s cool and inventive, but every single player I’ve described it to has totally not liked it. The table is a stick as opposed to a carrot. The goal is to get the players back to town at the end of the session: how can we do that? Nobody else had solid ideas.

Here’s mine. Go with a carrot instead of the stick and use the system’s inherent features to help.

1: Encumbrance. You need to store your loot someplace – it’s probably going to be somewhere secure in town. Or else you hide your loot in a nasty hole in the ground like some ruffian or Hobbit. To access your stash, whether to make a deposit or withdrawal, you need to come back to town. Since town is a safe place, and services you spend money on are there anyway, this is a great arrangement. I typically make safe storage available at very reasonable prices (currently, 10 GP per month for a 10×10 room in a guarded warehouse called the Stone Pens).

2: Training. PCs advance at different rates. This means you typically see some PCs training in town on each trip back. If you need to train, you want to go back to town rather than huddle under a wet tree near the dungeon gnawing on a soft onion like a goblin hobo. My training fees are nominal (100 GP x current level instead of 1,500 GP x current level) but you do have to train.

3: Services. Town offers high level healing, new equipment, sale of loot (see encumbrance), replacement hirelings and war dogs, replacement equipment (arrows, oil, holy water, spell components). You could probably file training under this too but you might not use training rules.

4: Opportunities. I allow Jeff Rients’ Carousing only after coming back to town after an adventure. After each adventure I also roll to see whether any other adventurers in town have a magic item to sell (at some markup!). Participation in the Arena can be done generally at the start of a game session while we wait for a missing player, but only if we ended in town last game. Proclamations are offered every game session but you don’t hear about them unless you check out the town.

5: Division of treasure. I don’t allow anything to be left on a “party treasure” list between sessions. If it’s not on someone’s character sheet it has gone missing (stolen, lost, traded for some “magic” beans). This encourages the appraisal, identification, and division of all treasure at the end of the session. Unless you have an M-U of about level 6+, it’s cheaper to have someone in town I.D. your magic items. Unless someone rolled a secondary skill that would let you appraise a thing, you need to pay a (nominal) appraisal fee to the dude at the trading post or else some merchant.

6: Travel time. Two dungeons are a day’s walk from town. The other two are twice that far. While this admittedly discourages purchase of horses, it encourages frequent trips back to town rather than marathon “been six months since I had a bath and a whiskey” expeditions.

7: Town is safe, the wilderness is not. When you camp in the dungeon, you get random encounters three times an hour. Outdoors, three times a day. In town you get an encounter check only at night and it’s generally just some dude out for a midnight poop unless you’re in the really bad part of town.

AD&D 1 Surprise and Initiative

October 10, 2011

Here’s my take on AD&D surprise and initiative. It’s not “what I think the book says” but “what I want to do with it”. In the case of surprise, I’m doing it pretty much by the book.

–Surprise —

You roll 1d6, I roll 1d6, for each side. If I roll 1 or 2, that is how many segments I am surprised. Same for you. It’s possible we’re both surprised, for example if I roll 1 and you roll 2, we are both surprised on segment 1 but then I recover and can attack you on segment 2, before any initiative is rolled.

Monsters that offer a surprise penalty change the probability space on the die. For example, a monster that surprises 4 in 6 really offers you a +2 to the chance on the die. This means if you are less often surprised, such as 1 in 6, then if you encounter a stealthy monster you would be surprised 3 in 6 (+2 more often than normal for you). Monsters that are surprised or offer surprise on a higher die should be switched to the standard d6 according to the probability, rounded down (a 6 in 8 surpriser is 75%, and would become a 4 in 6 surpriser at 66.66%, that is, one who offers a -2 surprise penalty to enemies). This maximizes the possible number of surprise segments to 6 (assuming a monster is entirely unsurprised and offers a -4 or more surprise penalty, and the PCs roll 6 on their surprise die).

Being invisible and silent offers a -2 to surprise. That’s the typical Elf/Halfling in non-metal armor who does not have to open a door to get to the monster. Anything more than that would have to be pretty spectacular (psionic distraction maybe?). So the practical maximum is more like 4 rounds, but that would be uncommon.

Individuals in a group who have high or low DEX modify the number of segments they are individually surprised. This can’t go below 0 (that is, gain surprise on the enemy if your side was surprised in the first place).

Every segment of surprise counts as a full round of fighting, except that spells cast must have a casting time that fits entirely within the surprise period. So if you gained three segments of surprise on the enemy you could cast a Fireball, but you won’t know ahead of time how many segments you have so that’s a gamble. If you only had 2 segments, it would carry over into the first main combat round and you’d waste those surprise segments.

I think this works because it offers a chance for scouts to do something cool, and for stealthy folks to perform hit-and-run tactics. A scout who approached and surprised a sentry would get his segments of action, but his party far behind wouldn’t arrive in time – they get to charge in on round 1 of normal combat at the earliest.

— Initiative —

We declare actions first. Each PC rolls 1d6 and the monsters do too as a group, modified by individual DEX reaction adjustment. Whoever gets lowest goes first. If you have a weapon, you use your Initiative roll or your weapon speed, whichever is higher. I’m ignoring the jiggery-pokery of splitting up multiple attacks because that’s just silly.
Spell casting during combat is tough. You start casting at the start of the round, so if you’re hit anytime before you finish then you lose the spell. You finish casting on your initiative OR casting time, whichever is higher. Spells with casting times longer than the round carry over into the next round. The same happens with weapon speeds over 10 (although I don’t recall seeing any of those).

If you don’t want to do your action, now that you know what order everything will happen in, tough luck. This represents the dude who runs into the building too early and his friend throws the grenade in and catches him accidentally.

Here we have a system that lets people who just want to move, potentially move very early (because they have no weapon speed or casting time). It accounts for weapon speed and casting time without making everyone go on initiative 6-20 on a 10-segment round. We have the unpredictability of people doing things that require cracker-jack timing (you can avoid that, by the way, by inserting a one-round margin of error. Just tell everyone to stand still while you cast that Fireball …). It allows for DEX modifier to Initiative, but this helps people with light weapons more than it does people with heavy ones. It makes magic weapons with lower Weapon Speed very valuable, but moreso in the hands of an already-quick wielder. There is a chance for spellcasters to spoil a spell because they got hit. There is no (weapon speed or casting time) delay math, just a comparison. It has everything I want in an Initiative system.

It requires that the DM practice restraint in coordinating his monsters. That is, they have a great ability to all act at the same time. The DM should not abuse this, since it’s only there to make his life easier when rolling initiative for 7 giants and 19 dire wolves. In most cases, don’t attempt things that require segment-level timing. If you do, err on behalf of the PCs and have some of the monsters fail to time it right. If it’s a “open the door right when I finish casting Fireball” situation, give a 3 in 6 chance for success (+1 bonus for lawfuls and -1 penalty for chaotics maybe, or a similar bonus or penalty for troop quality). But that’s all ad hoc, just do what seems right while leaning against the monsters in general.

–Weapon Length–

This ties into the initiative system for charging in AD&D, but I’m not convinced it’s needed. I like having the info on the table for purposes of PCs reaching into mysterious fountains with whatever is on hand, but for combat it doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about letting weapons of 5′ or over length attack over the heads of the front rank into a melee as if they were missile weapons, with random determination of target based on size. You’d include the front rank of PCs in that calculation! I wonder if anyone would be interested. It certainly seems like a nice option. Maybe let those with high DEX use their missile attack adjustment to modify the hit determination roll up or down by up to the amount of the bonus. I wonder what to do about Halflings and Gnomes in the front rank – certainly these Small melee members would count as 1 and any Medium ones as 2, which means a front rank of two Halflings against an enemy front rank of two Orcs would give a roll of 1d6: Halfling L, Halfling R, Orc L, Orc L, Orc R, Orc R. That arrangement might make a high-DEX second-rank spearman safe in stabbing above his friends’ heads.

Also anything 2′ or shorter is considered “concealable” and includes Short Swords, Horseman’s Maces, etc. These are the ones you can keep under your cloak or in a robe without people noticing.

DitP 1

October 4, 2011

This session I explained some of the basic differences between my own game and AD&D1. There was some groaning at the prospect of resting EIGHT HOURS before being able to memorize spells.

I decided on no racial level limits, but racial class restrictions and multiclass options, humans gaining +25% to earned EXP. Anyone who calls in to say whether they will play or not by Friday (the game is Sunday) gets +25% again.

We’re doing surprise straight out of the book, we will see how it goes. So far it looks like a very careful group of adventurers will regularly surprise monsters, but this group seems keen on kicking down doors and making a lot of noise.

They explored the first dungeon level below a ruined castle, fought some goblins, picked up some silver pieces and goblin equipment. Most of the session was spent making characters. I thought I could reduce the chargen time by having them roll on equipment tables rather than spending starting gold, but I think we would just end up with a lot of haggling once we get into town. Instead of just buying what you want, you’d sell off that big iron box and the lantern you got saddled with to upgrade your armor. If they didn’t have a town to trade equipment, random equipment could be cool, but I don’t think it’s a time-saver.

The name of the campaign is a bit of a mystery. If I told them what it was actually called instead of the acronym it would spoil a big surprise. Or maybe it would be like knowing the title of a book is something like “The Yellow Dog” and you’re just waiting to see it come along and watching for hints about it.

We have the old goldenrod character sheets. We’re using a wet-erase mat whereupon I draw the dungeon as they explore and the party mapper copies it down on graph paper. If there’s a fight I have the players lay out dungeon tiles to match what’s on the mat and we temporarily care only about those tiles and the figures. We use one figure for the party leader on the mat, with the rest to the side, and the party marching order is described on a small sheet of graph paper notepad for when traps go off or we enter combat.

So far my only problem is initiative. I’ll do a little post about it after this.


September 28, 2011

I’m getting a bit burned out on the new game system / campaign.

1: The things I’m writing aren’t always better. In many cases they’re just different.
2: A completely huge sandbox is demoralizing for the referee because the adventurers will simply never explore all the cool things you made.
3: Wilderness adventure is a bit boring. The players wander around looking for cool stuff – and that cool stuff is typically a dungeon or town.

So we’re switiching it up to a smaller sandbox. It’s a mountain valley with a ruined city, four rebuilt villages within it, and four dungeons in the surrounding wilderness. You can get across town from one village to the next in 10 minutes. You can get from the village to the nearest dungeon in a day, or a half day on horseback.

And to give me a break from writing rules (I’ve been working on the current set for 2 years, and it’s just the latest iteration of serious game-writing work of the past 6 years) we’re doing 1E AD&D. PHB, DMG, MM.

Of course I’m adding a few things. For one, we aren’t using the surprise / weapon speed rules from the DMG, because I don’t like the fact that the PCs could get ambushed and lose 2-4 rounds depending on the monster and get a TPK based on a single d6 roll. There’s a fairly good chance for the PCs to lose 2 rounds, which really sucks. I’m adding carousing like Jeff Rients. I’m also taking away the racial level limits (retaining class and multiclass restrictions) and replacing them with a +25% Human XP bonus.

To get a new M-U spell in your book you need to burn a scroll to copy it in. The only way for you to steal spells from someone’s spellbook is by seizing it and memorizing from it directly. The only way for you to share a spell with a friend is by creating a scroll. You also gain a new spell of your choice that you can use at the new level when you gain a level.

Training and upkeep costs are in. You need to spend the week doing training. I will be using the training montage tables I made.

Some things leap out at me on a detailed reading of the rules. Multiclass characters gain the better of their classes’ weapon and armor restrictions, except for Thieves. That is, a Cleric/Fighter can use edged weapons. A M-U/Fighter can wear armor and cast M-U spells at the same time. But a Fighter/Thief who wears heavy armor can’t use his Thief skills. This makes demihuman multiclasses powerful indeed!

Dang now I’m speaking vaguely Gygaxian.

I think park of this is because I’m burned out on the current game and have a further-refined idea of how best to prepare and run a game. It’s also partly a nostalgia – I want to try playing the edition I first learned to play on its own terms with all its quirks. Third, I want my players to experience this game because most of them haven’t played anything but the one I’m working on!

I’m not especially against the idea of completely scrapping demihuman class limitations. Heck, why not let anyone multiclass with anything? Is there really some game balance issue with a Human Fighter / Ranger / Paladin? Or an Elf Ranger / Cleric / Illusionist / Monk? But that kind of game feels an awful lot different from AD&D as presented in the computer games of the day.

There are some fun things coming next Sunday in the Valley of Kurland.