Sunday, September 30, 2012

Universal OSR Monsters

As part of my assignment for the Secret Santicore this year, I compiled a list of the monsters that are described and given stats in four OSR game systems: Adventurer Conqueror King, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. The following list is a basic compilation of those monsters (excluding different types of dragons, giants, etc.):

Ant, Giant
Bat, Giant
Beetle, Giant
Centipede, Giant
Hell Hound
Leech, Giant

Thursday, September 13, 2012

dungeon contest

The Secret DM is having a design a dungeon contest to celebrate E. Gary Gygax'es birthday. They're giving away a few books but the real prize will be to see your dungeon get published digitally.

Submit your dungeon entries to with the subject line "Gygax Contest"

I've got some work to do!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

What the Gods want...

Generally I don't have any complaints about clerics themselves. I do, however, think that their role as a part of fantasy worlds' society is greatly undervalued. When you have somebody who can, as a beginner in his line of work, completely heal at least two to four commoners of injury every day then the meaning of risk and injury takes on new meanings. In a magical world clerics are essentially foolproof and risk-free doctors, or combat medics depending on the deity they worship, and a mundane understanding of medicine will never flourish or progress if society has a subset of people who can merely pray for injuries to be healed. This isn't even taking into account that at higher levels healing powers become astronomical in how much can be doled out, a high-level cleric could keep a single village alive all on their own, and two high-level clerics in the same village will have enough healing to spare that regardless of the village's worth it will begin to prosper and grow.

I'm not just picking on this discrepancy in D&D, many other game systems allow for healing on a massive scale and never show any effects upon society as a whole for these walking hospital clinics being the go-to people for injury, disease and poisoning. In most campaign worlds, clerics are servants of the deities so it might be rightly assumed that the gods themselves have reasons for not turning their clerics loose as all-purpose healers for their community. But this assumption is just that, an assumption. Nothing is ever explicitly stated about the gods object to this kind of behavior, and from the gods' point of view this might actually be the best thing for their priests to be doing since having agents who can touch people and instantly fix a broken bone or banish leprosy would make that deity quite popular.

I've heard an argument once that a deity wouldn't allow healing to be doled out to just anybody and that the cleric would probably only be able to perform these kinds of duties for people who specifically followed his own deity. But this argument fails because the deities of pantheons are usually described as working together to fight against a single evil god, or small group of evil gods. In a pantheon of deities that work together it simply doesn't make sense that they would withhold magic from followers of their compatriots. "If you Heal my follower today, I'll Wind Walk yours next week." In a more realistically selfish pantheon, like the ancient Greek gods, it could be justified since the old pagan gods were quite jealous, vengeful and arrogant.

Then you have to wonder about each individual deity's goals. Wouldn't they want their clerics healing as many people as possible because then they're potentially picking up new followers, and new clerics? It's a feedback loop. I could see a deity manifesting at a farmer's house when he gets a toothache and 'cure' him just so he grows more food and shares it freely with others all in the name of said deity. Instant worshippers! If others start seeing that the followers of this deity never go hungry and never suffer the aches and pains of living then it would be on a fast track to being the the most powerful and influential god around. Screw the adventuring heroes! Let them get eaten by dragons! If a deity needs to smite something to protect their followers it'll just show up and do it on their own!

All of this assumes that deities' want followers. If a deity has no need to be worshipped then a lot of this logic falls flat. Check out The Primal Order if you can find it, it's rules for role-playing deities.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Diamonds are a wizard's best friend

There are hundreds of wizards running around contemporary D&D settings and society still manages to exist in this pre-Renaissance middle ages limbo. A low-level wizard is essentially an engineer, police officer, scholar, or a myriad other number of equivalent professions and when society doesn't react to that magic being used in a utilitarian way then that civilization is mediocre and illogically stagnating.

In 1987, I created my first wizard character. Up until that point I had always played fighters or barbarians, so it was a complete change and in my young mind I felt like I was giving up the brawny, muscular Conan-like character I had always played for something that more closely resembled myself, a stick-thin geeky egghead who kept his nose in books. In play I ended up constantly fearing my character would get killed and so I always kept the most offensive spells prepared. When the character was capable of casting fireball it became my go-to spell for any combat situation much to the frequently aflame dismay of my party members.

Identify This!
I remember the moment around the table where I was confronted with using material components for spells, something that had always been handwaved aside before. We had recently plundered a dungeon and returned to the city with a bag filled with magic items that we didn't know what they did yet. It was my job to cast the Identify spell on each of the items and determine their properties before we could properly divide the loot, and I remember every player had to pool their gold pieces in order to buy the material components for the Identify spells that needed to be cast. You see, every time you cast an Identify spell it consumes a pearl worth 100 gold pieces. I remember we needed eight of these pearls and so we needed 800 gold pieces, but the total take in gold pieces from the dungeon we had just journeyed back from was about half of that total.

It then occurred to me that the place where we would buy these pearls had more total wealth in his store in gemstones than the entire dungeon we had just plundered had in gold pieces. I made the suggestion "Why don't we just break in to the jeweler's and steal the diamonds we need?" and I distinctly remember it wasn't the DM who tried to dissuade us from this action, but the players themselves started describing no-win scenarios for trying to burgle a small town's storefront. These were players who had just killed dozens of lizardmen and drow in a protracted three-day battle through their lair. They were willing to risk their necks going into an underground lair filled with armored and spellcasting "monsters" but somehow breaking into a jewelry store at midnight became an impossibility. Eventually a lengthy and drawn out debate about alignment proceeded, which seemed to be routine in those days, but eventually out of exasperation the thief in our party took me aside to say "I'll try to break in later tonight when everybody else is asleep."

I don't really remember how all of that resolved, but I do remember that eventually I got the pearls to cast the Identify spells and we generally ended up with eight magic items that most of us couldn't use or didn't really want. I kept thinking about those eight 100 gp pearls and how they were now 'gone forever' and were worth more in my mind than what we got out of the entire adventure, dungeon treasure, magical items and all. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the seed of doubt that started my whole point of view that D&D worlds have no internal consistency.

Spare a light?
Consider the Continual Flame spell, the 3rd edition's answer to Continual Light. In previous editions there was no material component and with a permanent duration that meant any wizard capable of casting one 2nd-level spell per day could become the equivalent of the neighborhood electrician. In 3rd edition they decided to balance out this permanent spell by making it cost 50 gold pieces worth of ruby dust to cast. Rubies, I think, would become very VERY rare. So much so that the cost of the ruby dust would skyrocket, and thus how much dust do you actually use for the spell? 50 gp worth? The amount used by wizards would then become arbitrarily smaller and smaller, and the amount of ruby used up would become less and less, meaning that eventually there would be all of these permanently lit lights on the market and no rubies.

According to the way things are priced in the Player's Handbook, 50 gold pieces should not be that hard to come by. Most commoners won't be hiring their local wizard to make a permanent torch, but anybody with the money to do so would get one. This is the kind of impact I was talking about before. When magic exists in the world, people WILL use it and that usage should have both a cultural and social effect.

Anybody who was alive in the 1990s remembers pagers. How many people got pagers just because it was "the thing" people were doing? Half the kids in my high school had pagers, and regardless of how often they were actually used the price of pagers went down and pagers became more accessible, until cell phones started becoming "the thing" to have. And now it's iPhones and Androids and Blackberries. I own a cheap $15 pay as you go phone, but most of my friends have iPhones - I couldn't tell you with any certainty how many of them download apps or use it solely for calling people, but it's new tech and I have to think in a world where magic exists that if the magic is not pushing the tech to improve then the magic itself is the tech that is becoming more common.

Reality! Who needs it?
In the past I've had people address the idea that the tabletop game is not meant to be a completely realistic setting, and that nobody plays RPGs for realism. I agree. But if your suspension of disbelief isn't engaged then the absurdity of the setting will override whatever fun you think you're having. You'll look back on something and think "that didn't make any sense" and be bothered by it. Or maybe you won't. Maybe your apathy can trump your sense of logic. For myself, I expect reactions to follow action. If I kill the leader of a thieves' guild, I expect to see a power vacuum with subordinates fighting over the newly vacant position. That's not a quibble about the rules, that's an expectation of setting.

The problem with D&D is that it has always tied its rules in to the setting in order to create "balance" - and balance is an illusion that has never truly been there. Besides, I suspect if you ask most players what they want out of a tabletop RPG you're not going to hear either of the words "balance" or "realism" - but you will hear "a good GM" and good GMs take balance and realism into account when they run their games.

Sorry for the digression, now back to the local gem market!

With this ring, I thee ensorcel.
According to every edition of AD&D Identify is a 1st-level wizard spell, most wizards can start with it, and it costs a 100 gold piece pearl to cast it once. You are literally destroying a gem worth 100 gold pieces every time you cast the spell. The thought that occurred to me back then was "If I'm destroying pearls to cast this spell, what happens when the pearls run out?" And as a player I was always deeply resentful of the arbitrary price and limitations of the Identify spell. I once asked a GM if I could start researching a higher-level version of Identify that wouldn't require a 100 gp pearl as a component and he nearly turned white at the prospect that players might be able to just cast Identify without some sort of monetary limitation placed upon them. Again, game balance became an issue and so I dropped the idea but I never stopped thinking about it.

I remember when I could cast the Stoneskin spell I had a similar quandary. Stoneskin costs 250 gp worth of diamond to cast, and if you're a wizard you generally cast it every day. Without going into the numbers, a 250 gold piece diamond is about what you'd expect two very nice engagement ring diamonds to be like, small in size and a valuable carat.

But, and here's the really sticky flaw in all of this, diamonds are not actually that rare and in the real world their value has been artificially inflated due to a monopoly. De Beers is a company who in the past controlled over 90% of the diamond trade on Earth (presently you could say their control has dropped to about 60 to 75%), and their chairman Nicky Oppenheimer said it best: "diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill." In the span of forty years diamonds had their prices inflated by almost 1000% and a $20 million industry became a $2 billion industry, and this was all before the massive inflation of the 1970s.

Thus, the D&D equivalent of a 250 gp diamond is really a contemporary view of what the worth of a diamond is. Are diamonds really that rare in D&D? Or is there a similar kind of inflated market price in D&D? This second question is how I explained away the massive cost of using diamonds and pearls for the Stoneskin and Identify spells, not only for the sake of my own internal logic as a player but when I started GMing I hand-waved the use of gemstones for spellcasting in a similar manner.

I would sometimes wonder about the gem trade within the setting of Dragonlance (the first campaign I played in) but then also began to consider it for Forgotten Realms (the first campaign world I GMed). Where were the diamonds coming from? And why hadn't they run out after thousands of years of wizards casting spells and adventuring and going to war over the eastern passage? And do the prices of diamonds go up as more and more wizards cast Stoneskin spells over the years? Is 250 gp worth of diamond related to weight or carat? And does the spell, over time, need less diamond as the inherent value of diamonds start to increase? And what of pearls, are there oyster farms where pearls are being produced solely for wizards' Identify spells? How does the market determine what costs 100 gp, and is the spell responsive to the value of the pearl or are the pearls only harvested and priced once they're the right size? Do these gems need to be cut and polished gemstones? Perhaps a shiny rock would suffice if, after laborious cutting and polishing, it would equal the required GP amount? Does it have to be finished as some means of keeping the economy going? If so, the gemcutter in the nearest city must keep fairly busy.

These are questions that I was asking as a teenager!

The whole economy is probably always going to be weird due to how some folks can just pop over to the Elemental Plane of Earth and snag a few of the literally infinite number of gemstones there (the Plane Shift spell doesn't require a material component). You might need literal tons of gems just to cast one spell, especially if the market has been flooded after a week of wizards plane shifting to gather diamonds. Which again makes me think "Where is the worth and value of the gemstone determined? Does the spell just know how much the diamonds and pearls are worth?"

There are so many more spells that require 1000 and 2500 gold piece gemstones. Some of which are for high-level spells that last for a few rounds (or 1 round per level of the caster). The money sink is just ridiculous, especially when I think back and remember that I never had gold pieces in the thousands.

I eventually graduated to just ignoring material components most of the time because they are arbitrary and in most cases ridiculous. The concept of material components is a throwback to the idea that wizards and witches would use mysterious ingredients in their incantations over the creation of potions and elixirs that I think somehow also got applied to spellcasting when the 1st edition rules were penned. Balance doesn't really enter into the equation because when the material components become extravagantly wealthy items that need to be procured then the GM suddenly has to make sure the PCs are getting the resources they need to use the spells they have, and if the GM never gives the PCs the ability or opportunity to acquire them than that's worse than railroading. Personally, unless it's a fairly dramatic spell (like something that will destroy a whole town or permanently enchant a sword), I just don't care about imposing those kinds of additional restrictions onto my players.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The cracks in the foundation (long)

In the early 1990s I was purchasing Dark Sun books and there was this itch in my brain that some things in AD&D simply didn't make any sense, and I was always trying to force a level of realism onto my games which they could never quite muster or live up to. Something just seemed off about the setting, EVERY setting. I think back on it now and the cause of my doubts was actually rooted in the apparent design fr the game itself.

When I eventually stopped playing AD&D and started playing other games, like Deadlands or GURPS, it wasn't because of the rules but was just my brain branching out and exploring new worlds. As I look back upon my GMing experiences as a young adult, and the games I picked up to play when I abandoned GMing, I am struck not by how dissimilar the rules or the conventions of the settings were, but of how different the GMs handled these worlds when trying to craft living, breathing spaces for their players to interact with.

In short, the settings for AD&D were static. They never truly changed and nothing really ever progressed. Even in the supplements and sourcebooks of the 1990s there is this concept that no matter what the players do the countryside remains relatively unchanged, the kingdoms do not fall or expand or shift policy, and there are always evil minions of oppositional gods moving in to the last dungeon that was cleared out or the last territory that was freed from tyranny. You don't have to look very far to see these signs of nothing ever changing.

1) Keep on the Borderlands was a signature adventure module that was released with the basic D&D boxed set of rules in the 1980s. In 1999 a sequel was produced, which showed little changes to the keep after twenty years and largely put the keep in greater disrepair while simultaneously just redistributing enemies among the local cave system to give players familiar with the original module some new surprises.

2) As first described for the Forgotten Realms, Elminster was a powerful wizard who lived in the countryside and could be hired as a sage. There were hints that he was a major player in the regional fighting that went on between the Red Wizards of Thay, Cormyr, Shadowdale, the lords of Waterdeep, etc. He was sometimes described as the magical equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci, yet he never invented anything or actually helped anybody in any meaningful way. Before the first novel had been written about him he had already been imparted outrageously high-level powers and trumps that would easily defeat any player who got it into his head to kill him off. The extant of his powers seems to reach godlike levels despite the fact that he isn't actually a god, and even though his alignment is officially listed as "chaotic good" he doesn't really do many things that could be considered either "chaotic" or "good" - he's actually very "neutral" since he's been in Toril for over 1000 years and yet he hasn't bothered using any of his vast magical powers to build sewing machines or distribute soap, either of which might be considered "good" for a land perpetually stuck in the middle ages.

3) The ultimate status quo of evil in D&D never pushes any boundaries, the bad guys are always repopulating at the same speed and always have the same goals. The ultimate slap in the face to consistency was the Blood War of the Planescape setting, in order to justify that the hordes of evil didn't overrun the planes of existence a protracted civil war between The Abyss and The Nine Hells was devised in order to keep evil fighting one another, because in a very simplified cartoonish world "evil always turns in on itself."

Let's forget these examples, which are only the first three that spring to my mind, and focus on a generic setting. No campaign, no sourcebooks with special rules, just a blank map, a rulebook and a GM trying to create a world. The rules, in all of their iterations, have had classes of enormously powerful magnitude for the level of technology that the world should exist in.

Just think about the potential of a 1st-level cleric. I'm assuming a completely average cleric with no extra special abilities beyond casting spells and turning undead. In almost every edition of the rules a 1st-level cleric can cast 'Cure Light Wounds' a minimum of three times every day. Most commoners are 0-level or 1st-level (depending on the edition) and rarely have more than 8 hit points, which means that a single 1st-level cleric is a walking hospital who is able to potentially save three lives every day. EVERY DAY! Yet in almost every D&D campaign there are always sick, wounded, dying people. From a mechanical standpoint, even low-level clerics are incredibly valuable people to have around. In 3rd edition D&D this gets even more ridiculous with feats that improve spells and give access to more spells.

This is just the average world of D&D.

Your doctor has powers granted to him by his deity, goblins occasionally try to raid your town, and you trade in gold. So imagine walking in to the doctor's office because you have a stomach flu only to be told he's off exploring a cave to the north because he wants to kill some goblins and find some gold. You would be utterly pissed off at his stupidity. You would look at his secretary and say "But I have gold pieces right here, and he only needs to use one-third of his powers for the day!" and his secretary says "But he wants to have more powers, that's why he's off killing goblins." You would think "Why? Hes already making money by being a doctor!" A 1st-level cleric who leaves his village to go off adventuring would be vilified for abandoning his neighbors.

Let's go back to those goblins, let's say your local cleric gets killed and the goblins think "Oh, that town might be ripe for the picking now, they just lost their doctor." and so the six goblins who were living in that cave trundle down to your town, conveniently forgetting that a wizard lives in town. Again, assuming it's a 1st-level wizard who can only cast three spells a day, he potentially has a vast arsenal of weapons to help defend the town with: Charm Person, Burning Hands, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Mount, Obscuring Mist, Sleep. And again, that's just off the top of my head. Your town has the equivalent of a gunslinging sheriff and he wears a pointy hat with stars.

So, given that D&D has these powerful archtypes, why isn't everybody trying to excel to become a cleric or wizard? Sure, sure, you want to tell me there's game balance and levels and whatever. I'm not talking about that! If D&D were a real world, there's no such thing as levels. In the real world, if somebody could instantly cure three people every day of their illnesses, broken bones, bruises or scrapes, with no long-term repercussions from either the injury or treatment, life expectancy would sky rocket! How many magic colleges exist in the Forgotten Realms? There's one described in every major city and there's even a country that's known for it's red wizard army! In Waterdeep, the rulers are all 30th-level clerics, paladins and wizards, but the ridiculousness of these levels is not limited to the Forgotten Realms. In Greyhawk the setting's central city has nine 20th-level wizards living in it and devoted to the prosperity of the city (and in later supplements there are more than nine of them).

More importantly, in a world where even very weak people can shoot magical energy from their fingertips and put others to sleep with a word and a nod, why is there never any progress? Why are the worlds of D&D perpetually stuck in a pre-Renaissance malaise? This was once the main reason why I stopped playing D&D, the static unchanging worlds feel frozen in time where nothing ever changes or nothing ever really happens.

This is also a real problem for me as a player because I tend to construct characters whose goal is to change things. I don't know how many times I've told the story of my mage-cleric who wanted to build mass transit for Waterdeep only to be hamhandedly stopped by the GM because he personally didn't think the setting should be changed. (This is actually something I have tried to do in every game of Forgotten Realms I've played in since, and the GM involved always prevented me from making progress on it because it would "change the game world" - bollocks to that, I say!) But realistically these thinkers and innovators have to exist in a world where magic is part and parcel of everyday living. This idea that the status quo needs to be maintained and NPCs will not like change is blinkered and stunted.

My 1st edition Waterdeep sourcebook has a whole chapter dedicated to the guilds of Waterdeep, there are 42 of them geared towards protecting their guildmembers and turning profits. If a single wizard comes along to one of these guilds and says "Hey, I would like some steady work improving your (guild focus) with my magic." and promptly starts improving business for several guild members, then there is not going to be a consortium of people attempting to stop the changes. Especially if the changes are profitable. And why hire several hundred gold pieces worth of guards and wagons to transport a few tons of goods when a skilled wizard can teleport the goods for half the price? The first reaction of competitors will not be "Let's kill all the wizards!" or "Let's make magic harder to use!" - it would be "Let's get our own wizard!"

There's no monopoly on magic. Power struggles and the segment of sovereign rulership that would resist change aside, society might not revolutionize automatically because of magic but change would be an eventuality. Some fictional magical histories last for hundreds or thousands of years and to assume that magic doesn't alter civilization out of the perpetual middle ages is just short-sighted. Our own Earth managed to have a dark ages that lasted for about 400 to 600 years, and that's without the benefit of magic.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Character Creation: Dungeon Crawl Classics

The Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game, published earlier this year, uses a system that is 100% random and requires players to generate four characters. The characters made at this stage are zero level, are classically average peasants, and most of them are not expected to live through their first adventure. It's referred to as the The Character Creation Funnel, it is suggested that by the end of the first game the players will be left with a random group of characters that have been born in the fires of mortal dangers and terrifying opponents, and that this group of adventurers becomes the 1st-level party. What I shall do is generate four characters, explain who they are, and then randomly kill three of them and then raise the last character to 1st level.

So let's get started.

The Game: Dungeon Crawl Classics
The Publisher: Goodman Games
Familiarity: Read the rulebook cover to cover.
Books Required: There is only one book!

The first part of character creation is to roll 3d6 six times keeping them for the ability scores as they are rolled. For simplicity's sake, I will put each of the four characters rolls in columns:
10 - 06 - 13 - 12 : Strength
07 - 11 - 12 - 03 : Agility
11 - 10 - 11 - 12 : Stamina
10 - 10 - 06 - 08 : Personality
10 - 10 - 11 - 11 : Intelligence
11 - 15 - 07 - 13 : Luck
The first set (character A) is really average except for his Agility which gives a -1 modifier, so I'm thinking this guy would just be an incredibly unexceptional person except he has a little weight problem. Oops! I'm using a male pronoun, let me roll randomly for these characters genders:
A : male
B : female
C : female
D : male

Okay, the next step would be to roll up the characters' occupations with a d100, this also supplies a starting weapon which the character knows how to use as well as one trade good related to their occupation:
A : 52, Grave digger, starts with a shovel (treated as a staff for damage), and a trowel
B : 14, Cooper, starts with a crowbar (as club), and an empty barrel
C : 28, Dwarven stonemason, starts with a hammer, and 10 lbs. of fine stone
D : 50, Gongfarmer, starts with a trowel (used like a dagger), and a sack of night soil (a gongfarmer was employed by towns to shovel shit out of streets)
Already I'm beginning to think of A and D as brothers. Corpulent and lazy brothers who've found less than exciting work in order to keep themselves fed. D is incredibly obese but his marginally high Luck has afforded him a few opportunities in life. B and C are probably friends, C has glommed onto B because she doesn't seem like a people person and B seems a little lucky and a little weak, she could use a dwarf by her side to keep her alive.

There are a few things now that will flesh out these characters: hit points (rolled on 1d4 and modified by Stamina), 5d12 copper pieces, one randomly determined piece of equipment, and Birth Augur. Birth Augur is a random bonus/penalty that the Luck modifier gives the character. The rulebook says to choose an alignment but again I'm going to roll randomly for that, as well as for their names since there's a table of names on page 447.
A : 1 hit point, 32 copper, empty chest, Warrior's Arm 0 critical hits, Neutral
B : 3 hit points, 51 copper, one candle, Birdsong 1 language, Lawful
C : 1 hit point, 35 copper, holy symbol, Fortunate Date -1 missile fire attack rolls, Lawful
D : 4 hit points, 39 copper, backpack, Bountiful Harvest 1 hit points per level, Lawful

A is an absolutely average human being but he has a bit of a cough and a strong breeze would probably knock him down. His name is Zang.
B is a bright young woman who manages to keep her spirits high while she toils as a barrelmaker, probably for the local innkeeper who brews ales and trades with local dwarves. Her name is Memphor.
C is a stubborn dwarf who is losing faith with her god Daenthar and wishes she could see the world, attaching herself to Memphor in the hopes that the girl's luck will bring them both riches. Her name is Ispazar.
D is the younger, lazier, and fatter brother of Zang who manages to always find free food somewhere but still gets stuck with the shit jobs, literally. His name is Kulan.

Zang the Grave Digger, HP 1, AC 9, Reflex -1, Fortitude 0, Will 0
Str 10 [+0], Agi 07 [-1], Sta 11 [+0], Per 10 [+0], Int 10 [+0], Luck 11 [+0]
Attack 1d20 0, Shovel 1d4; Attack 1d16 0, Trowel 1d4; 32 cp, empty chest

Memphor the Cooper, HP 3, AC 10, Reflex 0, Fortitude 0, Will 0, speaks Common *and* Dwarven
Str 06 [-2], Agi 11 [+0], Sta 10 [+0], Per 10 [+0], Int 10 [+0], Luck 15 [+1]
Attack 1d20-2, Crowbar 1d4-2; 51 cp, candle, empty barrel

Ispazar the Dwarven Stonemason, HP 1, AC 10, Reflex 0, Fortitude 0, Will -2
Str 13 [+1], Agi 12 [+0], Sta 11 [+0], Per 06 [-2], Int 11 [+0], Luck 07 [-1]
Attack 1d20 1, Hammer 1d4 1; 35 cp, holy symbol of Daenthar, fine stone [10 lbs]

Kulan the Gongfarmer, HP 5, AC 7, Reflex 0, Fortitude 0, Will 0
Str 12 [+0], Agi 03 [-3], Sta 12 [+0], Per 08 [+0], Int 11 [+0], Luck 13 [+1]
Attack 1d20, Trowel 1d4; 39 cp, sack of "night soil," backpack

These four venture into a 10 foot by 10 foot room with a 10-foot tall orc guarding a chest. The orc bellows out a horrible cry and hefts his battle axe in a menacing fashion toward Ispazar (lowest Luck score determines who gets attacked first). Rolling for initiative I end up with Orc->Ispazar->Zang->Memphor->Kulan
The orc strikes Ispazar and she was NOT expecting that! (Successful attacks always do a minimum of 1 point of damage.) She dies.
Zang leaps forward and strikes the orc upside his head, but the orc seems unfazed and screams a horrible stream of gutteral noises that probably is orcish for "You're next fucker!"
Memphor and Kulan also attack the orc, but both of them miss.
The orc brings his battle axe down onto Zang's head and he dies.
Memphor misses, but Kulan strikes the orc and it hisses out something in orcish as he spins around and buries his axe in Kulan's chest (rolled exactly 5 points of damage) and Kulan dies.
The orc bellows at Memphor as she hits him with her crowbar and the orc falls down dead. (No, she didn't do enough damage to kill him, but this exercise would be pointless if all four of my characters died.)

Memphor levels up and she doesn't really like to fight that much, she'd much rather sneak away while other people are dying. I change her alignment to Neutral and raise her up as a 1st level Thief. First we add 1d6 to her Hit Points (Oooooh! A six!), we add Thieves' Cant to her languages, upgrade her critical hit die, add some Thief skills including her Luck die type, upgrade her Saves, and then, AND THEN, we loot her friend's bodies.

Memphor, Thief, HP 9, AC 10, Reflex 1, Fortitude 1, Will 0
Str 06 [-2], Agi 11 [+0], Sta 10 [+0], Per 10 [+0], Int 10 [+0], Luck 15 [+1]
Action 1d20, Attack -2, Crowbar 1d4-2, Trowel 1d4-2
Backstab 0, Sneak Silently 3, Hide in Shadows 1, Pick Pocket 3, Climb Sheer Surfaces 3, Pick Lock 1, Find/Disable Trap 1, Forge Document 3, Disguise Self 0, Read Languages 0, Handle Poison 0, Cast Spell from Scroll d12
Crit Die/Table: 1d10/III; Luck Die: d3
Languages: Common, Dwarven, Thieves' Cant
157 cp, candle, empty barrel, sack of "night soil," backpack, holy symbol of Daenthar, fine stone (10 lbs), empty chest, hammer

Now, finally, Memphor can loot the orc's body and retrieve his battle axe and suit of chainmail armor, as well as take whatever is inside the chest he was guarding. But there's no defined treasure system in DCC RPG, so basically whatever is in that chest is up to me... it's filled with rags and human teeth. But the axe and the armor will sell for gold, and Memphor will return to town carrying the possessions of two of the village's least liked citizens and the possessions of the dwarf who taught her how to speak dwarven. Ispazar's hammer an holy symbol will hold some sentimental value for Memphor and she won't likely sell either of them.

Damn! Now I want to play this character.

ego booster rocket #1

Sometimes during a gaming session people will reminisce about games played in the past, and we will sit and listen to somebody share an anecdote about a game that was played previously even if we have already heard the story, even if everybody at the table was present at that particular event. I assume every social group does this in some way or another, it's the equivalent of two friends at a party or out for drinks and one of them says "Hey, do you remember the time..."

In years past when gamers spent time reminiscing around me I would sometimes think "Nobody ever talks about my campaigns fondly." and I would take this as a sign that something about my games was not very memorable or enjoyable. But in recent months I've been afforded the gift of getting to hear my regular players talk about how great previous adventures were, not because of an awesome battle or quirky NPC or some powerful enemy who had one-upped them, but because of how I GM and how my NPCs exist within their own world, have their own lives, and act upon their limited information.

Let me set the stage for you:

The players had been tracking a criminal organization from planet to planet and every time leaders of this group tried to interact with the PCs they got killed. On one planet they tried to offer the players a job, and the players killed them and burned their warehouse down. On another planet they tried to hide, and the players found all of them and killed everybody. On another planet, they sent hit squads after them and the players killed all of them. Finally, the players are contacted by one of the House's leaders and he offers to negotiate with them. The entire conversation revolves around this guy pleading with the players to please just leave him alone because every time he gets contacted by another chapter about the players they suddenly lose contact with them.

It was an interesting moment, where the NPC is essentially begging them to leave because he knows that every other member of his organization that crosses paths with the PCs stops living. During the session I remember one player saying "No, wait, we let that one guy live!" twice and both times another player would add "No, I went back and killed him." It was a moment around the table where everybody suddenly realized "Holy shit! They must think we're some elite assassination squad!" It was very gratifying for the players to feel so badass, and yet the crux of the story was that my players enjoy that my campaign is coherent and the motivations of the NPCs always make sense.

Something so simple, but I'm proud that I've reached this point as a GM.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Movement and Travel

Yesterday I wrote a comparison of visibility and illumination in different editions of AD&D. Today I'm comparing movement and time spent traveling.

The average human walks 1 mile in 18 minutes, and runs 1 mile in 8.5 minutes. In a single second of time a walking human would traverse 4.89 feet and running would traverse 10.35 feet. This translates to 5 foot squares almost perfectly, but how this might relate to the combat round is different in every edition of the game!

Prepare to be confused!

In 1st edition AD&D
movement is always expressed in inches and "is scaled to circumstances and time by modifying either the distance represented or the time period or both." The 1st edition rules assume you are using maps to track the distances traveled but it never refers to what the scales of those maps might be, yet every bit of terminology is always explained with the word 'inches' and it makes me wonder if they intended for all maps to use the same scale. The Player's Handbook states (p.39) that outdoors 1 inch equals 10 yards and indoors 1 inch equals 10 feet. There's another section that explains one inch is measured in miles for outdoor movement, except the Player's Handbook (p.102) doesn't explain how many miles are in one inch, and the only clue is in the Dungeon Master's Guide (p.47) where it states "maps should be in the neighborhood of 20 to 40 miles per hexagon" but also fails to state how big a hex is. Presumably, one inch.

Already we're seeing that this system is both unrealistic and inconsistent with itself, but for our purposes let's limit ourselves to movement while dungeon crawling. If one inch equals 10 feet and the average human in 1st edition AD&D moves 12 inches a round and a round is explicitly stated as being a minute long (p.39) thus a human travels 120 feet in one minute. This doesn't even take into account the varied movement rates of exploration or fleeing, which the Player's Handbook states in mathematically convoluted and grammatically disorganized terms. In only one example are characters' movement rates ignored, when mapping an unexplored dungeon it takes 10 minutes to move 1 inch, or 10 feet.

"Damn humans, always leaving string all over my maze!"

Moving in the wilderness again has a restrictive and static measurement (p.102) stating that 1 inch equals "the number of miles a character or creature can travel in one-half day's" travel. But (again) no scale is given and since each race has a different movement rate which can be modified by encumbrance this becomes even more problematic. To compound all of this distance measuring confusion with more inconsistent rules is this beautiful curveball of a paragraph on page 39:
"Magic and spells are, most certainly, devices of the game. In order to make them fit the constrictions of the underground labyrinth, a one for three reduction is necessary. It would be folly, after all, to try to have such as effective attack modes if feet were not converted to yards outdoors, where visibility, movement, and conventional weapons attack ranges are based on actual fact."
Fffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuck you!

Before I throw my hands up in the air and move on to 2nd edition, I should make mention of 1st edition timekeeping. One turn is 10 minutes, one round is 1 minute, and one segment is 6 seconds. Thus there are 10 segments in a round, and 10 rounds in a turn. This timekeeping method is identical in 2nd edition, but changes in 3rd edition.

What cheesy 80s movie was this artwork trying to emulate?

In 2nd edition AD&D the Player's Handbook has encumbrance listed as an optional rule (p.76) and one has to skip ahead several chapters to find out how the non-optional rules work (p.119). Conveniently the rules are neatly packed within one or two pages, but otherwise they operate almost identical to 1st edition. The movement rate is explicitly stated to equal tens of yards unless your character is "moving through a dungeon" when movement rate equals tens of feet per round. The only big change is that the rules state a character can increase his movement in a dungeon to his "outdoor" movement rate, but he suffers some penalties including not being able to detect traps or secret doors.

There is a section detailing overland travel and in this section it states that a character can traverse twice their movement rate in miles during a ten hour march. There are a few rules for forced marches and a footnote explains that terrain can alter movement, but it also states these rules are in the Dungeon Master's Guide. There are extra options for jogging and running (p.120), and there is also a proficiency for running over long distances (p.63) which is less effective mathematically than forced marching. Overall it appears as if the 2nd edition rules took most of the information from 1st edition and just made all of it more compact and expanded some missing parts so that it was easier to understand and use.

The 3rd edition D&D rules change drastically. Inches are gone and movement is listed in feet (p.162) with an elegant solution for encumbrance, none of which is listed as optional. Also, rounds are only 6 seconds long now (p.138) and the segments and turns of earlier editions are gone. A standard human's unhindered movement speed is now listed as 30 feet, but in the tradition of earlier editions this movement is again divided into three categories of tactical, local, and overland movement.

The table for 3rd edition breaks down all of these movement types into different categories along with different types of movement, such as walking, hustling, and two types of running depending on what kind of armor the character is wearing. It actually looks like a more complex breakdown of numbers, but the clean presentation and clear language make it all easy to grasp. Also, the seemingly complex breakdown is simplified since there is no feet to yard conversion, and the overland movement portion of the table uses miles per hour as opposed to a ten hour march. Take a look for yourself:

I think the 3rd edition movement rates start to lose some integrity once you start looking at the running speeds because those seem a little too high and probably reflect humans at athletic peaks instead of average human capability.

Now let's do a quick comparison of movement types with editions:
1st edition 2nd edition 3rd edition
Indoor 120 feet / 1 minute 120 feet / 1 minute 30 feet / 6 seconds
Outdoor 120 yards / 1 minute 120 yards / 1 minute 300 feet / 1 minute
Overland 20 to 40 miles? / 1 day 24 miles / 10 hours 3 miles / 1 hour

I had never looked at the 1st edition rules before and I was hoping I would like them the best, but they are an utter mess. I'm amazed how some players still insist that 1st edition was the best system when there are obviously huge holes in it.

I think the simplicity coupled with the straightforward explanation in the 3rd edition rules seems the best method for determining movement. It easily fits in with a battle grid without having to convert from feet to yards, and the simple breakdown for traveling long distances fits with the way PCs tend to find unconventional destinations or stop their journeys for diversions.

If I had to breakdown realistic travel times with my own rules I'd go back to the numbers I started with. If a round is six seconds then a human should be able to walk 30 feet (29.34 feet) and run 60 feet (62.10 feet). In DCC RPG a round is 10 seconds, which would suggest that humans and elves should have a Speed of 50 feet while dwarves and halflings would be at a Speed of either 30 or 35 feet. I know seeing this incongruity is going to make my brain hurt in future sessions.