Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fragility and uncertainty: pillars of invention

I feel like the grim and gritty healing rule from the DMG that moves a short rest to 8 hours, a long rest to a week is the right way to make players feel the consequences of the action. Why? The purpose of taking 7-8 hours rest in the dungeon is so that the DM can roll random encounter checks that serve to underline the point that it is risky to overnight in a dungeon!

Some grains of salt might be called for, since I also think that if you heed the implicit warning of dungeon and wilderness encounter rolls by going back to town to safety, then you should find that affects only the table on which said random encounters are rolled! Once you're a player you're in the shit and safe is a waste of table time.

Talk and sneak are more appealing than blast and slice if and only if blast and slice seem like a bad bet. I know all the mechanics of the game seem to point toward fighting and magicking your way out of trouble, but the thing people really latch on to about the Old School, is that even though there was really minimal rule support for anything other than those two spell-slinging murderhobo activities, the best way to play was to avoid as much as possible of the adventure-as-written between the opening scene and the final boss room that held the goal of the adventure.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Peg-legged Paladin, and Other Stories

In our last session we had our first taste of the new application of the lingering wounds rule.  The adventure log says, mildly, "Rokdig gets two fingers gored off."  But I think the precedent we set just moved the end game way up.  In the process, we also get a possibly interesting answer to the question that plagues ACKS, B/X, and 1E:  In a world where there's dungeon enough to take a party up to demigod-challenging epic levels, why would the party want to switch to domain play when they hit name level?  Why not keep taking the fast road to wealth and power?

The new rule says that every time we hit 0 points or take a critical hit, we roll on a gussied-up save-versus-maiming table.  I figure that means that every few fights has a reasonable chance of a hero losing an eye, some fingers, even an arm or a leg.  By the time a character hits middle levels, they will likely have rolled on the table a couple of times.  Since the experience chart means progress in the game slows down once you hit middle levels, every few levels likely come with another roll or two.  Absent cheesy gimme's like easy access to regeneration magic, at some point, our hero's special abilities may be very impressive indeed, but the accumulated weight of disability make adventuring impractical.

At that point, one had better have some capable henchmen and a place in the local economy, or risk not being able to keep up lifestyle expenses, which has it's own consequences.

Some fun NPCs suggest themselves: the one-eyed, one-handed veteran fighter who's willing to hire a party of novice adventurers to accompany him in retrieving some object or other from a local dungeon; a blind druid who makes a living making and selling healing potions; and wretched former adventurers with gruesome disfigurements begging for coins at the street corner, actual murder- hobos ready to waylay the unwary drunk,

Friday, January 9, 2015

Rules | Tying HP to Lifestyle

Players get pretty disappointed when they roll poorly for HP. And then they get annoying when they start asking for refills. So how about if we tie HP roles into the Lifestyle rules and turn what is otherwise a mildly annoying tax that is frequently ignored into a reward and something the player really cares about?

HP Re-Rolls Based on Lifestyle
Wretched: reroll Max, Max -1 and Max -2
Squalid: reroll Max and Max-1
Poor: reroll Max hp
Moderate: no reroll
Comfortable: reroll 1s
Wealthy: reroll 1s & 2s
Aristocratic: reroll 1, 2 and 3s

In the fiction this simulates the long term effect of Lifestyle: if you sleep comfortably and eat better you are more likely to have higher hp. Go cheap and live in a dockside flophouse, then you are more likely to be less robust. In the fiction there will be outliers like the frail noble or the hearty street thug, but that's a result of the CON modifier.

Example: a Wizard gains a new level and he's been cheap and living in Poor conditions. He rolls his new d6 HD and gets a 6. Too bad, due to the poor conditions he's been living in he can't take the roll.

So, what's the impact of living on the road? Personally I would tie that into rules for creting Camps, but that's another topic.

Also, I would be inclined to have characters re-roll hit points if their Lifestyle changed for a significant length of time (maybe 1 week, maybe 1 month). This is an aspect of the rule that players will most likely hate but I think it helps provide mechanical consequences for in-game behavior. Get locked in prison? You're health may take a hit until you get out and can spend some time living better. Get wined and dined by a Prince? You'd be surprised how good that feather bed makes you feel. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Advancement Speed

Thought I'd share this since it came up late in our session last night. Dreams in the Lich House has an interesting post on leveling speed in 5E:

One of the issues I have our version of Dwimmermount is that the challenge level just wasn't right. The first few levels are too large and the party level quickly outpaced the difficulty of the encounters.The levelling speed curve of 5E is partly to blame for this: my instincts are much more about slow levelling, and a fairly even levelling curve, but the 5E xp chart is designed around market research (ex. Players want to move through the first levels quickly, the math holds together best in the middle levels, most campaigns flame out at certain level/session number thresholds).

Should my response be to design to the xp chart or change the xp chart to better suit my/our sensibilities?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Why is there a dungeon entrance in my grandmother's basement?

In the current campaign, we recently relocated from a setting where the dungeon was an hour or so outside of town and we usually could expect to just walk the day's loot out, no major fuss involved. Now we're 160 miles away, with our return rides, some hirelings, and the food for the way back camped a short ride outside of monster town, where their existence might be reasonably deduced by some likely future hostiles we've encountered.

At the moment the adventure balance is sort of Warcraft-like. Town is safe, most encounters are site-based. You really have to pick your loot when you have to carry it back for a week's uncertain caravan back to safety or trade with a troll for crude-but-portable swag.

The distance-from-safety involved in the campaign's move poses some interesting role-playing challenges. And I think it's pretty clear that having an unquestionably safe place a trivial distance away removes food and water tracking as a game element, and lessens the importance of planning ahead for gear. I like obsessing over gear, but living out of a backpack is pretty mundane adventure.

There is a lot of adventure potential in having danger on your doorstep, if the danger occasionally crosses the threshold. Then your safe place may not be so safe. Of course, there might be hostile factions in town that shift the focus of play away from the dungeon, but it's a different sort of thing when an evil thing is tearing up Moe's Tavern and you're listening at the doors of the inn. At that point, the dungeon/town dichotomy breaks down.

But then, so does the stability of the game world, so maybe that's why more DM's don't do that. Not everyone wants to play Warhammer or Cthulhu when they play D&D.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why would the next guy want to do it my way?

So: I back-read the contents of the blog tonight, and ran across a link to Zak's seminal rogue/sandbox essay.  Good stuff, that definitely had me questioning whether paladin is really an adventure-friendly choice.  Is my paladin character just a vehicle for the DM to dispense plot?  What may superman choose?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Nathaniel and I have been talking about Gus's awesome HMS Apollyon campaign, which has our heroes literally plucked out of the deep blue sea and set to earn their keep by adventure.  Awesome game, very little player agency at the outset. Yet it's still clearly a sandbox of a megadungeon. Zak's points apply after the outset, and the play reports do contain references to later passenger-class or characters from Apollyon-specific races. It's the agency-denying castaway origin that played into our discussion, though. We were looking for an answer to the eternal question of what unifies our handful of special snowflakes?

Maybe agency is overrated.  Sometimes it's nice to have your options constrained by circumstances.  That's why we all choose to look for our loot and threat inside of nice comfortable dungeon walls instead of seeking treasure and fighting monsters in the woods, with it's profusion of natural cover and map-defying nameless hills. Do we need a say in why the character is in the party?

Tangentially, I'm considering going with order as rolled for my next character.  Not that I'm suicidal, but now that Baldomero is the party tank, I expect to slip on the wrong banana peel sooner or later.  I bring it up only as another example of arbitrary constraint I feel drawn to. I'm not so far gone that I favor pre-generated characters or random character traits. I still think it's worth while to think about what kind of character you want to play.

Back to the main point, which is whether we can afford to have six guys all having their own individual agendas each do their thing in the two or three hours we get to play these days.  If not, then we may as well have been plucked out of the sea.  In Gardmore, the Deck draws us. Groovy. This creates a set of lines I have to stay within when I'm thinking up that next guy.

Whoever it is needs to just happen to be kicking it in monster town and then decide he wants in on the party's thing.  Or, there's always the two hillbillies Rokdig hired, I guess.  One of them could step up. What to do?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Blog, Resurrected

Topics to consider:

- Starting XP
- Distance from Dungeon to Town
- Party Origins & Replacement Characters
- Clerics & Gods
- Megadungeon: underground v. Ruined city
- Transhuman fantasy

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some insightful comments

From "We Always Ignored That Rule"

I concluded that the AD&D version of the "weapon vs. AC" table was interwoven with the variable weapon damage - some weapons have apparently sub-optimal damage dice, but when used with the "vs. AC" table are a better choice for doing damage to a heavily armored character. If you don't use those tables, there's no mechanical reason to use those weapons. I don't have the tables to hand, but I recall it being an issue with piercing weapons such as war hammers, military picks, and stabby polearms. Probably crossbows, too.

FWIW, TSR fixes this ;)

Having returned to D&D after many years, I've come to realize how the rules I previously ignored changed the flavor of the game. For example, as a kids we hand-waved encumbrance, food, light source tracking, etc. It just didn't seem important or fun. Now I realize I missed a significant aspect of the game by ignoring those rules. I've come around to the opinion that it's not really D&D without the resource management.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's been a while.

From BigFella:

I think the trick is not having a certain "magic bullet" that's the only way to kill the monster, but rather being open to unorthodox wacko crap that desperate players come up with when their pointy sticks aren't working.

It's the players' job to be clever, the GM's job is to give them something to be clever about and to inflict the ramifications of that cleverness in an even handed manner.

Monday, June 28, 2010


"Round-by-round initiative was key to the whole combat action system though. Everyone declared their actions, THEN initiative happened. That injected a whole element of uncertainty into the game. Did you plan to boldly advance towards the altar or hang back near the door where you could restrict the enemy? If you decided to advance and the other side got the initiative you could end up in a heap of trouble, but hanging back could seriously hamper your ability to achieve some goal or other. Switches of init between the two sides also promoted the possibility of sudden reversals of fortune and gave combat an uncertain and rather chaotic caste. And of course the whole thing raised heck with magic users, especially if they were planning on using any of the longer casting time high level spells."