Saturday, July 16, 2016

NO, NOT BLACK LEAF! Death, Dying, and Dismemberment in D&D

This quick little post is off the schedule I set for myself in my last post. The ideas in this post have been swimming around in my head for a while. Also, before I get started, this post is not a post about me playing D&D the right way and anybody else who plays D&D being dumb-stupid-wrong-jerks. I got back into older edition, OSR, DIY  D&D after having spent about 18 months playing 4e. And even though 4e is a very un-D&D-ish form of D&D we still had a shit load of fun. I have played most editions of D&D. My first game was played in the back room of my parents house. I had picked up a Moldvay Basic set at a garage sale. It rocked. That was the summer of '88. I got pretty seriously into AD&D, both editions mixed, in '90 after having met a few new friends during my freshmen year of high school. I played AD&D on and off until the late '90s. Then we started up with 3e. The last 3e (PF) game in which I played was about 5 years. And it was great! No matter which form of D&D you are playing, just play and roll some dice. I am not an edition warrior.


A good friend has started up a 5e campaign (I wish someone would run a game around here) and he is having some problems adjusting. The game is not lethal enough... characters are too hardy and the risk of death is not really something characters need to deal with. Many players of older editions of D&D are familiar with this discussion: basically, older editions of D&D are more lethal or at least we remember them being that way, and therefore play them that way. My friend is thinking along these lines. In short, if hit points are the metric which we are using to gauge combat successes, then the threat of losing all of a character's hot points and dying must be ever present. So, if we are going to stick with hit points we need to make 5e D&D more deadly. Strangely, on the other hand, my reaction when getting back into old school D&D was in the opposite direction. I was not used to characters just dying at zero hit points. I was irked in two ways. First, it is pretty final. Even if characters start at 1st level maxed out on hit points... a 1st level magic user starts with only four hit points. Shit... one unlucky dagger stab and he's dead! characters are pretty flimsy. My second issue with zero hit point death is that getting beat up in a fight and just dying steals the narrative opportunity to hand out eye patches and peg-legs. A world without pirates equals hell!

Pirates are sweet... but seriously... to make my campaign work the way I wanted it to I needed to find ways to accomplish my goals of keeping characters alive... at least a little longer, making D&D dangerous and rough... gouged out eyes covered by eye patches, and finally (and maybe most importantly) keeping people playing; I like speedy, efficient chargen (one of the thing which draws me to old-school/OSR/DIY D&D); it is essential if dudes are going to die at your table.

Requirements one and two were relatively easy to tackle. Whenever I start looking for a new hack, the first thing I do is look at the rules and hacks which I have used in the past. To start myself off, I took a look at classic criticals and fumbles. Arduin provided some ideas; I also looked at some old WHFRP materials that I have had lying around. I also tried critical and fumble PF cards which I picked up online. In the end I found something that was pretty simple and was both narrative enough while finding, at least for me, that sweet spot between being fun and leaving characters with crippling injuries: the critical and fumble tables made by up by AJ of Simple DND.

But adding (or keeping) crits was not quite enough to get me to the point where I wanted to be on bloodying up characters. I still wanted a mechanism to hurt them while keeping them alive when they dropped below zero hit points... permanent injuries and sweet scars (with stories to match, of course)
being the trade off for an extended chance at life. Over the years I have seen almost every DM have some sort of system, whether explicit within the ruleset or not, for going below zero hit points. Typically this involved some sort of unconscious/incapacitated state combined with a slowish recovery. It works well enough and is satisfying enough, but it is certainly not heroic and wild, and often feels kind of like a hand wave from the DM on order to keep everyone happy.

In short, unconsciousness rather than death is good enough, but it is certainly not good. After trying a few things that did not work very well, I came upon a post which inspired me and I came up with this great little, house ruled death and dismemberment hack. For me it really scratches my DM blood lust itch while keeping my players alive longer, but sometimes with horrible injuries.

A combination of these (above) hacks hits the sweet spot. It keeps us playing, while keeping combat bloody and dangerous. One of my last gaming sessions I had with my Korea based group had a total of five lost fingers, a gouged out eye, an awesome smashed nose injury, and a chopped off foot. After a while of playing with the death and dismemberment hack, I have realized that I may have inadvertently made my PCs a bit too tough in comparison to their foes, because now they have a cushion of "extra hit points" with which they can go negative (it actually does damage to their CON score). To offset this bump in "extra hit points", I have decided to do the same to the enemies... now most monsters and NPCs get five "extra" hit points before they are killed. But at the same, as the enemies get closer to death, I also impose serious injuries upon them,

Now that I have solved the problem of dying to easily by replacing sudden death with horrible injury, I still have to tackle insuring my players have a speedy chargen method. If you check above, I do have a page for rolling up new characters but it is far from a perfect solution. I am linking four good solutions below which other DIY DMs have put together. They other a variety of solutions.

Zak's One Page Chargen Contest 
Gavin's Post for The Island
Tale's to Astound's Yoon-Suin Chargen Pamphlet 
Ed's Dark Sun LotFP Conversion Doc

All of these solutions are great. I am quite envious of all four products. They span a scale of complexity running from quite simple (KISS at it's best) to complete, leaving out no details. A perfect solution would be having all of these products available to my players. My goal is to start with Gavin's method, move on to the Yoon-Suin Pamphlet product and then the others. I am sure I will never got to the point of having a complete book; but it is a worthy goal to set for myself.

I hope this post helps someone find the point where the balance between life and death hits the sweet spot the campaign's sweet spot.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Back to Basics!

So, the new game started a few months back has been on hold. Adult-life scheduling issues keep getting in the way. But that has not stalled my gaming altogether.

I have started working on a severely hacked... to the bone... version of D&D for a gang of six and seven year olds. They are friends of my daughter. She has played before and has had no problem getting into the game in my BX/LL game. The problem is that I need about six young girls to smoothly roll up their PCs and get down to it quickly without too much trouble. More to come about this in the next week as I nail down a few final details. But, spoiler alert, we are starting with the classic B2 Keep on the Borderlands. After I get the girls going we are going to shift to a very West Marches style of play in which the girls do a round robin, player agency thing. The girls will tell me what they are doing during the next session: point out a location on the map and fill in some general details about what's there (monsters, traps, etc.). They will provide the skeleton and I will flesh it out between sessions.

A new gang of adventurers approach the Wilds of the Borderlands
Next, on to magic. After much reading and internal debate, I have zeroed in on the new method which I will use to handle arcane magic in my regular BX/LL game. I am splitting the difference between the classic methods of the ancient mages who memorized and cast formulae from bundles of scrolls and stacks of books, and the newly rediscovered tradition of bending the chaos of sorcery to one's will, involving inherent risks which could put the sorcerer in great danger, possibly even compromising the caster's body and soul until the beginning of the next cosmic age. That's the neo-vancian piece.

As part of an integration of d6 adventuring skills (LotFP and Gus) I am also introducing d6 cantrips. This will give magic-users a little bit more adventuring skill while keeping them magical and spooky.

So, I am calling it a neo-vancian and d6 magic system. I am also pulling together some down-and-dirty spell research, scroll scribing, and dueling rules to port into my game. Just like my D&D Junior game (above), more will follow on this.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ability Scores & Checks

As regular readers (all 3 of you) of this blog have, I am, sure noted, this blog is a combination of two distinct projects: a work space for me to chat about sci-fantasy D&D gaming ideas and throw some of my own inspiration out there to share with the community, and an information source for my players so that they can keep up on the campaign when they are away as well as providing them with a "hard" source for house rules and other game specific data.

Since many of my players are new to D&D and gaming generally, one of the "services" I use the blog, along the blog's second line of effort, to provide general information about playing and enjoying D&D. Often this helps me tighten my "ethereal" ideas about play into defined house rules which we can enjoy at the table. Last session it came to me that many of my players do not really know what their ability scores are and what they are "used" for. This post is going to pull together data from a couple sources into a succinct, cogent article explaining the basics of ability scores while defining how we use saves in our game.

ABILITY SCORES:
"...every character has six principal characteristics, the characteristic's abilities. These abilities are strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma. The [typical] range of these abilities is between 3 and 18."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Players Handbook

So basically in our game, we have 6 ability scores that range from 3-18 when a new character is generated. The scores are generated by rolling 3d6 six times and recording them in the order in which the abilities are recorded on the players's character sheet. After generation a player has a couple options. First, the un-adjusted scores are checked in order to ascertain what their ability score modifiers are (see below). If the totaled value of all six ability score modifiers is of negative value a player may re-roll all six of his ability scores; this character is "un-playable". A player may continue re-rolling her character's ability scores until she gets a set of ability scores which are "playable", i.e. having either zero or a positive value of all six ability score modifiers. The second option allows a player to swap any two scores. e.g. a player's character, at generation, has a strength of 7 (-1 ability score modifier) and a wisdom of 17 (+2 ability score modifier). She would like to play a fighter (a class which certainly benefits from having a higher strength). She elects to swap her lower strength score (7) with her higher wisdom score (17), making her character much stronger.

STRENGTH: 
"The strength characteristic of....human or humanoid....player characters....is more than a simple evaluation of the musculature of the body. Strength is a composite rating of physical power, endurance, and stamina....10 or thereabouts [is] the norm for a[n] adult human male..."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The strength ability score modifiers modify attack and damage rolls in melee combat and when throwing weapons. Strength sets the baseline score used when calculating a character's encumbrance value. A character's strength score is used when making checks and saves against constriction, entanglement, and transformation.

For sake of comparison, I have gathered data from the AD&D DMG and the 2e PHB re: "average" strength scores for different humanoid races and monsters in the D&D-iverse:

halflings: 8
kobolds: 9
humans, gnomes, & goblins:10
orcs: 12
hobgoblins: 15
gnolls: 16
bugbears: 17
ogres & trolls: 18
hill giants: 19
stone giants: 20
frost giants: 21
fire giants: 22
cloud giants: 23
storm giants: 24
titans: 25

INTELLIGENCE:
"The intelligence rating roughly corresponds to our modern "IQ" scores. However, it assumes mnemonic, reasoning, and learning ability skills in additional areas outside the written word."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The intelligence ability score is the key ability score when studying arcane magic. It determines how well a character can read. Character's with higher intelligence scores may also have more skill points to dispose of than other characters. A character's intelligence score is used when making checks and saves against devices, illusions, and magic (generic).

For sake of comparison, I have gathered date from the 2e Monster Manual re: "average" intelligence scores for different humanoid races and monsters in the D&D-iverse:

0: non-intelligent or not ratable
1: base animal intelligence
2-4: semi-intelligent
5-7: low intelligence
8-10: average (human) intelligence
11-12: very intelligent
13-14: high intelligence
15-16: exceptional intelligence
17-18: genius
19-20: supra-genius
21+: god-like intelligence

WISDOM:
"For game purposes [the] wisdom ability subsumes the categories of willpower, judgement, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness. An example of the use of wisdom can be given by noting that while the [more] intelligent character will know that smoking is harmful to him, he may well lack the wisdom to stop..."
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The wisdom ability score is the key ability score when manipulating divine magic. A character's wisdom score is used when making checks and saves against mind control, being magically charmed, and fear.

CONSTITUTION:
"This character ability rating is a general heading under which falls the character's physique, health, resistance, and fitness. An individual who catches a cold if exposed to a slight draft has a constitution of 5 or less in all probability. Rasputin had an 18 constitution!"
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The constitution ability score modifiers modifies the amount of hit points which a character receives at each level. A character's constitution score is a character's amount of wounds. As a character suffers and recovers from damage to her wounds value, her constitution likewise suffers and improves. A character's constitution score is used when making checks and saves against toxins, disease, and death.

DEXTERITY:
The dexterity rating includes the following physical characteristics: hand-eye coordination, agility, reflex speed, precision, balance, and actual speed of movement in running. It would not be unreasonable to to claim that a person with a low dexterity might well be quite agile, but have low reflex speed, poor precision, bad balance, and be slow of foot (but slippery in the grasp).
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The dexterity ability score modifiers modify attack  rolls in missile combat and when throwing weapons, a character's armor class, and a character's initiative value. A character's dexterity score is used when making checks and saves against traps, blasts, and area effects.

CHARISMA:
Many persons have the sad misconception that charisma is merely physical attractiveness. This error is obvious to any person who considers the subject with perceptiveness. Charisma is a combination of physical appearance, persuasiveness, and personal magnetism. True charisma becomes evident when one considers such historic examples of Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolph Hitler. Obviously, these individuals did not have an 18 score on physical beauty, so it is quite possible to assume that scores over 18 are possible, for any one of the named historical personalities would have had a higher charisma score-there can be no question that these individuals were 18's-if they would have had great attractiveness as well as commanding personal magnetism and superb persuasiveness.
-Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide

The charisma ability score modifiers modify social reactions and interactions and summoning attempts. A character's charisma determines how well a character interacts with and leads his hirelings and henchmen. A character's charisma score is used when making checks and saves against negative energy attacks and in cases where a character's "luck" comes into play.

THE TABLE:
So now that we know basically what all of the ability scores "do" the next step is to quantify their effects on play. The table below wraps up the basic modifiers which are applied to any rolls that might touch on a character's abilities, e.g. checks and saves. This table also includes score specific data regarding how well (i.e. if) a character can read and write and how her charisma effects interactions with hirelings and henchmen.

Ability   Roll            Read/             No. of         Base
 Score:  Mod:          Write:          Retainers:  Morale:
     3         -3       Broken Speech           1               4
   4-5        -2      Not Read/Write           2               5
   6-8        -1    Barely Read/Write        3               6
  9-12        0          Read/Write              4               7
 13-15     +1          Read/Write              5               8
 16-17     +2          Read/Write              6               9
 18-19*   +3          Read/Write              7              10
 20-21*   +4          Read/Write              7              10
 22-23*   +5          Read/Write              7              10
 24-25*   +6          Read/Write              7              10

CHECKS:
When a character is required to make a "check" she simply rolls a d20; she needs a score equal to or lower than the ability score for which she is making a check. e.g. When trying to determine whether you can jump over a pit, I might require a character to make a strength check. If the character has a strength score of "12", then the player must roll a d20, getting a result of "12" or less in order to ensure success. A roll above "12" means failure. Critical successes and failures apply when making checks just like when rolling to hit in combat. The only difference being that the critical roll values are swapped: a "20" is a critical failure while a "1" is a critical success.

Making checks is a simple method of task resolution. I am going to use this as the basic mechanic for resolving skill and knowledge type tests in the near future. I will switch to a more comprehensive system which involves using d6'es for task resolution once the majority of the newer players get a hang of making attack rolls and saving throws.

That wraps up this post. For my newer players, I hope this sheds a little more light on what is going on when we play.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

House Rules Update: Rounds and Taking Actions

I have updated my House Rules tab. Just like in every other OSR style D&D game out there, the rules we use in my campaign are always evolving: trying to find the "perfect" balance between simplicity/playability and modelling in and out-of-game behaviors that are evocative, imaginative, and fun. In response to some recent confusion re: what my players can actually do in a combat round I have added the following information:


"I go first... um... what's next? They're charging!"

Doing Stuff in a Fight!
After having played D&D for years, I pretty much know what I can and can't do in a combat round. I have a group with many new players; in order to help then get a good idea of what they can and can't do in a round. I am going with a very 4e-esque method for categorizing actions in my Home School D&D.

Rounds vs. Turns: A round (not a turn) is about 6 seconds long. 10 rounds equal a minute. We generally say that 10 minutes equal a turn.

Move Action: This includes any sort of movement. It can be running, swimming, etc. Move actions typically draw attacks of opportunity from their opponents; they do not when a character takes only a "free" 5-foot step. 5 feet typically equals one square on maps used for running encounters. Each character gets one move action per round. A character may take an extra move action, running, but he also uses his standard action in doing this (see below).

Standard Action: Typically involves a large amount of effort or concentration. Attacking with a weapon or casting a spell are typical standard actions. Each character gets one standard action per round.

Minor Action: Drinking a potion or drawing a weapon are minor actions. Minor actions involve limited amounts of concentration to be done well. Each character gets one minor action per round.

Free Action: Yelling to an ally is an example of a typical free action. A character may have many free actions in a round.

So, this is our solution for now. By regulating what characters can "get away with" in a round, my new players should, over time, develop a feel for how permissive the combat environment is. Hopefully, we will be able to loosen this up and eliminate these stricter interpretations once my players have gotten to the point where they just "know" what they can do.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Draw for Initiative

We've started the new game. Things so far have worked out pretty well. I expect to write up a double session repot for the first two sessions after the next session is over. Planning on trying to get another game in next weekend.

Things, generally, are going well. Like usual, I have a few new players who are new to the D&D.

On and off, for years I have been trying to find a good way to run initiative in my game. I want rolling initiative to be fun and gameable. In 2e and 3x rolling for initiative can be pretty fucking exciting. But since I've transitioned, happily, back to older style/OSR play, I've just found the initiative sequence to be kind of deflated and boring... roll a d6... and that's it. And I can see this kind of apathetic acceptance of un-fun initiative results on my players' faces.

I want the initiative process to be fun.

I've often considered hacking the 2e system into by BX/LoTFP mashup. But it poses some problems. First, it's pretty crunchy, even for me and I'm the one "making" the rules. Second, it would be difficult for new players to even follow and almost impenetrable to really understand as a gaming system.

So I'm going to try something totally new and different. This playing card initiative system will replace the regular d6 with a quick little mini game. It also gives me a chance to drag out these cool new zombie cards I've been waiting for a reason to use.


I am sure that this will ignite the initiative process in my games... making it exciting.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A New Start

Welcome new players to our new campaign. Many of you are new to OSR (Old School Renaissance/Revolution) style gaming... or new to D&D altogether. So in order to help get you going, First, I will give you a few links to posts outlining how some other guys have done to get their parties started.

Death is on the Table: You're not superheroes, you might get your ass cut off.

General tips on getting down for some XP (experience points), when you are the new guy or girl.

And some tips about getting more into this type of play.

And finally some information about our campaign. Its set in the German Reich/Kingdom Bohemia in the 16th century.

It's going to be kind of like a little of this with a lot of this popping up all over the place, and then throw in some of this buried underneath miles of rock and slag and then finally expect some of these guys to try and kick your dick in once or twice.

If you have a chance before we play, just take a look at the pages in the bar above, they can help you zero in on some of the things that might be going down in the game. But, on the other hand, I am used to running games for new players and you need no prior knowledge of D&D to enjoy playing with the gang and me.

Grab some beer and chips and come on over to role some d20s!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cold and Raw doth the North Wind Blow...

Cold and Raw doth the North Wind Blow... -The Rhyme Winter by Mother Goose

The cosmic radiations from the Orbital God Kings are taking control of my mind...


Beaming messages from space right into my brain... making me do things... Things which are awesome.

North Wind Adventures the publisher of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea have built a new, sharp looking website. Check it out. I was in on the Kickstarter for their box set and have been quite pleased. Even though I play a more B/X-ish game than the 1e roots on which ASSH bases its rules, I keep going back to the box, mining it for ideas, using its tables, etc.

Also, check out the adventure modules that are coming down the pike from the North Wind team. I will certainly kickstart all three of the new North Wind titles. See below.




So let the Cosmic Gods take control and back these projects as soon as they become available.