... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Grubby Adventurer

I keep forgetting to copy quick ideas I post in forum threads over here, so that I don’t lose them. This is an idea sparked by a thread about the effects of grime vs. cleanliness.

Being on the road, camping in the wilderness, or exploring the underground is filthy work. Civilized people will tolerate some grubbiness, but after a full day of any such activity, characters are at half effective Charisma until they’ve had a chance to clean up. This mainly affects dealing with merchants, meeting new people, hiring help, and other negotiations. It may also affect the behavior of existing hirelings, within reason: the chambermaid responsible for preparing your bath isn’t going to quit because you haven’t bathed yet today, for example, nor will hirelings who do filthy jobs themselves, like stable boys, take exception to your grubbiness. It definitely does not apply to any mercenaries or retainers who have gone through the same grimy events. They know why you’re dirty, because they’re dirty for the same reason.

Some events can make you instantly filthy, for example crawling through sewers, having a chamberpot dumped on your head, returning from a battle covered in the blood of your enemies. This can also be used when dealing with groups that have unique ideas of hygiene or decorum, including wearing lower-class clothing to a party at the palace.

The penalty disappears as soon as you clean up. Pseudomedieval societies aren’t too demanding when it comes to hygiene: get the blood wiped off, wash your face and hands. That’s generally enough. Again, some groups may have additional standards of hygiene, or even lower standards: some areas will tolerate a week’s worth of stink instead of a mere day’s worth. Barbarians generally don’t care at all, or will have exotic standards. “I don’t want to speak to you, whelp! You have barely any tattoos!”

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Primer Rage

So, there’s something I’m sure many of you have seen, either on RPG forums, blogs, or G+/Facebook communities: rage against Matt Finch’s Quick Primer of Old School Gaming. Every time the primer is mentioned, and even some times when it isn’t, someone pops in to say how much they hate it and hate Matt Finch and think he’s a horrible person for telling them you have to play games his way or else.

A good portion of this can be assumed to be hyperbole and attention-seeking, but some people seem to be legitimately unhappy with the primer. And I think I’ve finally figured out why.

The reasons normally given are:
1. that Matt is portraying modern editions of D&D as bad ways of playing the game,
2. that old school play is the only correct way of playing the game, and
3. that only the original three booklets, no supplements, are old school, and everything after that is modern.

This was hammered home in a forum argument I’m currently sucked into, where someone literally said

The popular and previously discussed Primer excludes 2e from it’s definition of what’s “old school”, and arguably excludes everything but OD&D sans supplements.

But I thought, “Wait a minute. Does Matt Finch say that?” I disagree with some minor points in the primer, but I’ve always thought it was fairly laid back. Many of you probably thought the same thing. Does he actually exclude everything except 0e without any supplements?”

Here’s how the primer begins:

This booklet is an introduction to “old school” gaming, designed especially for anyone who started playing fantasy role-playing games after, say, the year 2000 – but it’s also for longer-time players who have slowly shifted over to modern styles of role- playing over the years.

So, right off the bat, he’s making a distinction between games presumably published after the year 2000 and those that weren’t.

He goes on:

If you want to try a one-shot session of 0e using the free Swords & Wizardry rules, just printing the rules and starting to play as you normally do will produce a completely pathetic gaming session – you’ll decide that 0e is just missing all kinds of important rules. What makes 0e different from later games isn’t the rules themselves, it’s how they’re used.

“Pathetic”, here, isn’t a judgment on modern play styles. He’s saying that 0e is expecting you to do something that isn’t written down in the rules, and if you don’t, you will probably be disappointed. The primer is literally an attempt to write that stuff down.

No where in those paragraphs does Matt say “0e is the only old school game”. He’s only claiming that 0e is an old-style game, not the old-style game. He never even says that you can’t play modern games in an old-style way, although for practical reasons, you probably can’t. People would object.

And what about other TSR-era versions of D&D?

I’ve done the searches. I can’t find that he ever mentions any of them. He doesn’t say “AD&D”, “1e”, or “2e”. He doesn’t mention the supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, etc.) by name. He doesn’t even seem to refer to any of these indirectly, or tell you that you can’t use supplements.

He literally names 3e and 4e as “modern” and not “old school” games. He mentions them in a couple places as the kind of games modern gamers might be used to. Again, he never tells you whether you can play those editions in other ways. All he ever talks about is how many people play those games, in contrast to the way people played 0e.

He does give some examples of old style vs. modern style play, which have received some criticism. I’m not going to go into that here, but instead will just point out this quote before the first example:

Note: The modern-style GM in these examples is a pretty boring guy when it comes to adding flavor into his game. This isn’t done to make modern-style gaming look bad: we assume most people reading this booklet regularly play modern-style games and know that they aren’t this boring. It’s done to highlight when and how rules are used in modern gaming, as opposed to when and how they aren’t used in oldstyle gaming. So the modern-style GM talks his way through all the rules he’s using, which isn’t how a good modern-style GM usually runs his game.

(Emphasis added.)

So Matt is telling people these examples are not the way people actually talk when playing these games, but are deliberately designed to emphasize which rules are being used. And none of the three criticisms listed above are supported by a careful reading of the primer.

But I said I think I know why people came to the opposite conclusion. Some people think that if the rules don’t say you can do something, you are forbidden from doing it. Those people are also reading the primer that way. If the primer doesn’t say 1e is old school, then 1e must not be old school, according to Matt Finch. If the primer says playing 0e in a modern style leads to a “pathetic gaming session”, then it is calling the modern style “pathetic”. If the primer says modern games tend to add skills or classes for disarming traps, then any game with a disarm trap skill must be modern. If the primer tells you “rulings, not rules”, then it’s telling you any game with rules is wrong.

And so on. It’s all based on an overly literal interpretation of the primer.

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Exotic Languages

You had no idea when I wrote about broad classification types that I was going to follow up with a post about languages, did you? Well, Nathan Jennings had the right topic, but he was off in one respect: I’m not going to talk about creating a language, but handling fantastic language ability, such as understanding the language of birds. Many GMs would probably shudder at the thought of allowing players to take the language of birds, but it seems appropriate for the kind of world I like to run, especially because I’ve been on a fairy tale kick lately and keep seeing abilities like this in traditional stories.

But naturally, there’s the question of how much a character would be able to understand, as well as how to address the problem of players choosing overly broad languages, like “The Language of All Living Things”, in order to get an undeserved advantage.

First, each animal or plant language must be a specific type, as defined in the previous post. So, you can speak Bird, but not Vertebrate, since that’s too broad a class.

Second, this doesn’t give you the ability to speak to these creatures and be understood, let alone command them to perform services. That would be the class ability of something like a Beast Master or Druid.

Third, the broad language of Birds or Fish doesn’t allow much detail, just basic emotional state right now, with maybe a relevant direction. For example, you would hear the birds say that something big and scary is coming from the north. If you narrow the language down to Tropical Birds or Predatory Fish, you get more details (crude numbers like “one”, “two”, “a few”, “many”, and maybe the broad type of creature.) And if you get even more specific, like “The Language of Desert Birds”, you can get details that go beyond that: what the birds have seen or heard, even if they had no emotional reaction to it or it happened days ago. This will help you locate lost ruins or hear that a band of men on horseback passed through a week ago, and which direction they rode.

Since I like the idea of a semi-animist world, it’s possible to take the languages of stones or clouds as well. However, the degree of understanding is one step worse, compared to animals and plants.

  • Broad types, like Wind, only communicate state (safety, danger)
  • More specific forms, like Clouds, are as understandable as the broadest animal/plant types, like Birds
  • Add an adjective to make the form narrower, to get more specific details, such as whether the Dark Clouds are about to rain or clear up.
  • Add a second adjective or modifying phrase, such as Dark Clouds in the Northern Wastes, to get the most detail.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Classifying the World

A quick idea I should write down instead of letting it slip into oblivion: A way to classify mundane objects in the world, for example as an aide to making rulings. Start with some very broad Aristotelian divisions

  • Immaterial
  • Material
    • Natural (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral)
    • Artificial (Structures, Vehicles, Containers, Tools, Worn Items)

Further subdivide “Mineral” into the four classical elements plus stone and metal. Animals get divided into invertebrates and vertebrates, but the traditional subdivisions of those two might be a little much, so let’s go with

  • Invertebrates
    • soft
    • shell
    • exoskeleton
  • vertebrates
    • fish
    • cold-blooded land (amphibians, reptiles)
    • birds
    • prey mammals
    • predator mammals

(No, this is not scientific. And no, it’s not precise. That’s kind of the point. I’m aiming at something that feels like something medieval or pre-medieval, but also easy to apply on the fly.)

Similarly, we’ll just divide Vegetable objects into trees, other plants, and fungi. That’s three plants, eight animals, and six minerals, for a total of 17 broad categories, which we’ll call types. I tried to make it so that you don’t need to memorize the types or keep a list of them, but can improvise

There are two kinds of modifiers to the types: Substance and Mobility. Many of the Animal and Vegetable classes above have obvious substances associated with them (hide, flesh, bone, shell, feather) which can be used to describe Artificial objects. Mobility is Living/Animate versus Dead/Inanimate.

What do you use this for? One example would be judging how long Polymorph Object spells last. This system is just a tad simpler to the similar one presented in AD&D, but basically if you transform some object into another of the same type, substance, and animate/inanimate status, it will be permanent, whereas one, two or three differences will make the duration shorter (say, a year, a month, or a day.)

Similarly, you can use this for other off-the-cuff rulings, like defining areas of knowledge in terms of the object studied: broad areas of study would be about a specific type or substance, while narrower fields of study would add a distinctive adjective, such as “Elven Metal Tools”. Chances that a sage would be able to identify an object depends on whether it’s in the sage’s area of study, or has one or more differences.

But the real reason why I felt the urge to define these types will have to wait for a future post.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Middle-Earth Magic

I really really need to get back to blogging. In the short term, here are some ideas I posted to a thread about Middle-Earth magic, which may also be useful for other settings with a similar approach to magic: spell-casting and spell-casters are very rare, as are over-the-top magical effects, but lesser magic items seem more common, at least in certain areas. It’s inspired by that old Dragon article “Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User” by Bill Seligman (The Dragon #5, March 1977) and a suggestion I’ve seen floating around to make elves clerics instead of M-Us.

Magic-Users use spell research rules to prep spells. It takes a minimum of 1 week per spell level to prep 1 spell. The value of the library used counts towards research costs, so the few libraries that exist, such as in Isengard or Minas Tirith, are priceless.

Spell scrolls do not cast spells, they teach spells, and there are only one or two scrolls for each spell known, so if you want to cast fireballs, you’d better figure out where the Scroll of Fireball is, and ask to borrow it for five weeks.

Wands and staves can be crafted to allow you to cast one specific spell repeatedly, as long as you know it and have it prepped. Roll 1d6 when used: if the result is equal to or less than the spell level, the wand/staff shatters from the strain. The length of the wand or staff, in feet, must be at least twice the spell level. More than one spell can be imbued in a wand or staff, but the total number of spell levels is used with the spell research rules to determine the cost and time needed. Crafting time is in seasons instead of weeks.

Elves are clerics, the only clerics. Their magic comes from nature, and they can only cast a spell in the location where they prepped it. That natural location becomes their “library”, for the purpose of “research” and preparation. They can’t make or use magic wands/staves, but can make other items that carry elven magic in them: healing lembas bread, globes that give off light, boots and cloaks of stealth. Again, crafting time is in seasons, and anything that isn’t single-use item has a 1 in 6 chance of failing when used. On the plus side, elven magical items may be used by anyone.

Dwarves aren’t spell-casters, but they can create arms and armor with magical durability and sharpness. They can also create stone structures that can move on their own when triggered by a spoken password or other condition.

Because of the added restrictions, the standard class restrictions for magic-users and clerics are lifted: either of them can use any weapons and armor. Magic-users thus look more like ordinary people who can occasionally work magic. The rules about libraries and research means that spell-casters will be taking frequent trips to distant locations in an attempt to refresh some spell.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ceremonial Magic Robes

Obviously, I'm behind on posting, but I may have some things in the near future. For now, here's an idea for riskier magic.

Casting a spell has a chance of attracting unwanted attention from beyond. Roll 1d6 any time a spell is cast: if the result is lower than the spell level, an angry spirit appears to attack the caster (optionally, the number rolled is the number of spirits that appear.) Thus, 1st levels spells are usually safe, 2nd level spells have a 1 in 6 chance of summoning and angry spirit, and higher level spells are riskier.

A set of ceremonial magic robes reduces this problem. These robes cost three times as much as Leather Armor and provide equivalent protection against spiritual attacks only. They provide no defense against physical attacks, and mundane armor provides no defense against spiritual attacks. Furthermore, no roll is required for spells of 3rd level or less.

Better quality robes may exist. Robes that act like spiritual chain mail cost three times as much as regular chain mail and eliminate the need for rolls when casting spells of 5th level or below. Robes that act like spiritual plate cost three times as much as ordinary plate armor and change the roll to 2d6, which makes high-level spells safer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Helm Rule

When I wrote up the new rule for shields, I considered including helmets as well. But I had mixed feelings about that. I already use Shields Shall Be Splintered with helmets, and didn't want shields and helmets to be too much alike. There's also the matter that a shield can be moved to block blows aimed at any location, but realistically, helms should only affect blows aimed at the head, or generic, unaimed blows that could hit the head by accident. In a commment, porphyre77 suggested combining this with the "1 attack in 6 is aimed at the head" rule from AD&D, but I prefer avoiding the extra die roll for that.

In addition, my new priority is trying to eliminate as much "modifier math" as possible. That's part of the underlying motivation of writing the shield rule the way I did. The problem with allowing helmets to use the same rule as shields is: what do you do if you have both a shield and a helmet? I don't want to add the two effects and block all damage rolls of 2 or less. So what I think I would go with for helmets is the following:
Targets wearing helmets ignore any damage roll of 1, as for shields, unless the attacker is aiming for something other than the head. This does not stack with the shield bonus, but does work against backstabbing or other attacks that ignore shields.
Also, since I allow critical hits to cripple the head, I'd allow a helmet to reduce or prevent the added injury. You won't automatically get your head smashed in on a high damage roll to the head if you are wearing a helmet.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Shield Rule

I know I've been off-blog for quite some time, but I haven't forgotten. I've been distracted by some other things... but I've still been thinking about a lot of D&D-related matters, including the PDFs I've promised. Just need to work things out.

Here's one small rule I've been considering:
When using a shield, ignore any damage roll of 1. Damage is not otherwise reduced.
Note that this is in addition to the standard 1 point bonus to defense. It is also in addition to Shields Shall Be Splintered, if that is being used. Off-hand weapons do not get the same bonus. This rule should work with many of the retroclones, but in particular it's meant to compliment some changes I've been contemplating for the combat table.

Background: Although I don't completely buy the argument that shields are underpowered, this seems like a simple way to make them more important without lots of fiddly bonuses. I don't like DR systems you'd see in GURPS or The Fantasy Trip, and more and more, I prefer avoiding subtracting modifiers entirely. Ignoring low results is quick and simple.

I thought about changing it to "ignore any damage roll of 1 or 2", but that might be too much. Plus, it gives the option of using that variant for shield walls or very large shields.

Part of the reasoning behind it is that I treat the damage roll as rating for the attack instead of a measure of physical destruction. Rolling a 1 means you're still doing a potentially deadly attack, but not the best you could do. Rolling a 6 means you've done the best attack possible with ordinary one-hand melee weapons, killing even the luckiest ordinary human.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Natural Demons

A Tenkar's Tavern post encouraged a lot of people to talk about alignment again. But I want to talk about demons. Specifically, the kind of demons that aren't really demons.

Occasionally, people will mention how some old swords & sorcery stories do not have real gods, but have various monsters that are worshipped as gods. There's a giant snake with fangs that drip a paralytic poison that can also trigger astral projection. It lives in a horrible temple, tended by crazed priests who kidnap children to feed to it. The priests harvest the venom and use it for their own purposes. The priests believe the snake is a god, or maybe they just tell worshippers this so that no one tries to stop their nefarious activities. The snake, though, might not be intelligent or even aware of its followers.

What I haven't seen anyone discuss is the fact that you can handle demons the same way. They could just be really weird mutant animals, perhaps left over from genetic experimentation after an apocalypse (as are the demons in Thundarr.) Or perhaps each demon is created by conjuration magic, called forth from a sorcerer's id, as in Roger Zelazny's Wizardworld novels. Perhaps demons are former wizards who either transformed themselves to achieve immortality and power, as would a lich, or were transformed against their will by dabbling in dark magic. Perhaps they are space aliens, as is suggested in some Clark Ashton Smith stories, or in the Cthulhu Mythos.

The reason why I was prompted to write about monster demons by Erik Tenkar's post asking whether alignment is even necessary is because alignment really isn't necessary if you are using that kind of demon. If a demon is not really supernatural, or is only supernatural in the sense of having innate magical powers, then there is no need to  link them to a specific alignment, or even to each other. Each may be a unique entity with individual needs, goals and desires. In contrast, if you want demons to be part of a supernatural menace threatening the world as part of some cosmic battle, then I think you need alignment, though what form of alignment is really up to you. If demons can be banished from this world, if holy water has an effect on them, and if PCs can choose to join demons in exchange for power or oppose their plans, then you need to be able to tag characters to show which side they are on.

It's a matter of what kind of fantasy feel you are looking for. Epic, horrific, or picaresque?