... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

State of the PDFs

I've been working on the PDFs, but obviously I've fallen behind. I'll admit, part of it is because I've been distracted by Skyrim, which I recently got. But also, I got bogged down in some layout issues, including redoing the Our Infernal Neighbors PDF to include a table of contents and adding a few graphics to that and to Ranks of the Undead. Also, although I skipped the issue of treasure for infernals, it's a bigger deal for the undead, so I've been thinking about how to address it. A quick line about rough treasure value and typical magical items, or an actual treasure types table? I've gone back and forth on this.

I've also felt overwhelmed by some of the tables, especially the monster reference appendix. I'm considering writing some scripts to automate some things, so that I can just tag something in the text as a monster and run a script to fix the formatting and copy the stat lines to an appendix file. Or describe a table as CSV text and run a script to insert all the stuff about row shading and multicolumn spanning that I've been doing by hand.

However, I started writing this post before Windows took a nosedive, possibly because an update it installed last night hosed the MBR. CHKDSK currently says it will be finished in 346 hours, 37 minutes and 17 seconds. So, I probably won't be playing Skyrim or working on the PDFs for a little while.

Skill Reactions II: Dual Tables

To continue from the previous post: I proposed rolling 2d6 and improvising the result on the reaction table if the roll is less than or equal to an appropriate ability score. But much earlier, I'd proposed a death and dismemberment roll that sort of did the reverse: looking up the result on the reaction table if the roll failed, because the roll is higher than the ability score.

What might provide even more detail is to combine the two methods. On a successful roll, interpret the result as degree of success. On a failed roll, interpret it as degree of failure. In either case, low rolls mean worse results.

Lett;'s take Physical Adversity as an example. You would roll this for exposure to disease, severe physical trauma, and possibly as a death & dismemberment roll. A successful roll means the character survives, possibly with a scar or limp on a low roll, possibly recovering faster than normal on a high roll. A failed roll, in contrast, means a severe problem. High rolls would mean the least severe results (permanently crippled.) Mid-range rolls mean incapacity and possible death if no appropriate action is taken. Low rolls definitely mean death, and the lowest roll means mutilation or other severe effects preventing resurrection.

For types of rolls made frequently, like the physical adversity roll, you would want an actual pair of tables, or a single table with columns for both success and failure. The table entries would have to be crafted to take into account the fact that high Con (or other ability scores) make low failed results impossible, and low ability scores make high success results impossible. This can be modified somewhat: I suggested halving the score (round down) for dire situations, but it might be better to use four categories and define them a little better:

Trivial: Auto success. Double the result rolled and consult the success table for degree.
Standard: Roll and compare to ability score as normal.
Dire: Roll and compare to half ability score.
Fatal: Auto failure. Halve the result rolled and consult the failure table for degree.

For physical adversity, you would use Trivial for allergies and minor irritants (characters getting hit in the face with pepper to make them sneeze.)  Standard would be for typical diseases and recovery from injuries, Dire would be for severe injury like being caught in an avalanche or any combat that reduced a character to 0 hits. Fatal would be for rare deadly diseases or extreme situations like falling into a giant meat grinder.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Skill Reactions

I've seen a couple people promoting the idea of 2d6 skill rolls,  and at least one person -- don't recall who -- suggesting using the reaction table to interpret results. I prefer avoiding  a skill system, but there's a certain niftiness to that idea. I did do something like that with Con rolls for adversity (aka "system shock". Roll 2d6 under Con to survive, but if the roll fails, look up the roll on the reaction roll table (or custom death and dismemberment table derived from it.)

What I'm thinking is that there's an easier way to adapt this to improvised ability checks. Here are the rules:

1.  Roll 2d6 under relevant ability.
2. Halve the ability score if it's a particularly dire situation.
3. If the roll is less than/equal to the ability score (or half the ability score,) it's a success, with the reaction roll indicating the degree of success.

Hostile/Bad results (5 or less) mean the check succeeds, but with a minor penalty. Very Bad (2) means a major penalty. Good results (9+) mean a slight bonus, and Very Good (12) are even better. Some suggestions:

Physical Adversity rolls: Roll under Con, or half Con for severe disease. Bad means a scar, Very Bad means a limp or lingering condition, Good means a slightly quicker recovery, Very Good halves the recovery time.

Raise Dead rolls: As Physical Adversity, but you need to decide whether all Raise Dead attempts count as "dire", or just the second attempt, or each character gets one "non-dire" roll every 4 levels.

Thievery rolls: Roll under Dex for thieves, half Dex for anyone else. Bad means it takes twice as long or you only take half of the loot or the thievery will be noticed after a short delay (result = turns; you have that long to get out before the victim notices.) Good means the victim won't notice for days unless told.

Search rolls: Roll under Int or Wis, but only if player doesn't do something that would obviously find the item. Bad means it takes twice as long, Very Bad could mean an accident, like brreaking something or making a loud noise. Good takes half as long, and Very Good is nearly instantaneous success.

I'll post about an advanced option later.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

More or Less Deadly

Here's something I'e been thinking about for a while: using hit point bonuses for monsters as combat bonuses. There's a hint of this in Monster & Treasure: "Attack/Defense  capabilities  versus  normal  men  are  simply  a  matter  of  allowing one  roll  as  a  man-type  for  every  hit  die,  with  any  bonuses  being  given  to  only  one of  the  attacks,  i.e.  a  Troll  would  attack  six  times,  once  with  a  +3  added  to  the  die roll." This seems to have fallen by the wayside, and those trolls with 6+3 hit dice were later reduced to using the 6-8 HD" column on the monsters attacking combat matrix.

But there's a seeming survivor: the water weird. It attacks as a 6 HD monster, but has lower hit dice. Today's post  on the Save or Die blog reminded me, though, that the water weird's hit dice listed in the AD&D Monster Manual are specifically 3+3. Perhaps it's a coincidence that the HD and hp bonus added together equal the effective hit dice, but I'm thinking it shouldn't be, especially when using the older one attack roll per combat turn approach of the LBBs.

My possible new rule: a monster's effective hit dice for attacks equals the total of its actual hit dice plus any hp modifier. This allows us to easily describe monsters that are easy to kill but dangerous for their size: a 2+7 HD creature would have no more than 19 hit points, but would attack as a 9 HD monster, which would normally average 31 hit points. It also allows us to describe monsters that are weak in combat  but hard to kill: a 9-7 HD creature would have an average of 24 hit points and as many as 47, but would attack as a 2 HD monster.

I'd also like to keep my house rule of modifying morale rolls with the hp bonus. That 2+7 HD creature is likely to fight to the death, while the 9-7 HD creature may bolt at the first opportunity.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spirit Monsters

So, picking up where I left off: when a person dies, they lose their spirit and roams around, normally decaying in a couple weeks, unless they have a strong unfilled desire that sustains them. Spirits are ethereal and thus can't interact physically except with other ethereal things.

There are tons of people dying every day, especially in a D&D world. But most of the dead have zero impact on the world of the living. Those that do, such as vengeful spirits, can attack other spirits, including the spirits of the living. They can basically harass people, rarely killing. The most dangerous spirits are those able to make psychic possession attacks, since a successful possession means they now have a body to use for their goals.

What does this mean for adventurers?

Adventurers kill lots of people, and surely many of the spirits of their victims long for vengeance, but that alone won't leave behind an angry spirit. Your typical bandit who picks a fight with the PCs basically gets what he always knew he'd get, someday. They same goes for things like goblins. A surprise ambush of not immediately hostile creatures might create some vengeful spirits, but they would linger in the area and eventually fade away. Figure if PCs return to the scene of the crime within a week or two, there might be something waiting: make a reaction roll, with a Very Hostile reaction meaning a vengeful spirit is present. The third or later visits get no such roll.

Slaughtering a townie in cold blood, even if the townie deserved it, might be more likely to create a roaming vengeful spirit. Make the reaction roll, but any Hostile reaction means the spirit seeks vengeance.

If a townie slain in cold blood by anyone had something important to do, the spirit comes back as vengeful on a Hostile or worse reaction, but comes back as non-hostile on a Very Good reaction. These would be remorseful spirits, guardian spirits, and spirits of warning. These may be of interest to PCs, even if the spirit isn't "out to get" them.

Disturbing ancient spirits is also a possibility. Usually, this is caused by defiling something. Make a reaction roll if PCs go treasure hunting in a still-active cemetery or desecrate a Lawful temple.

Spirits should be difficult to reason with. They are not quite the same as the person who died, more like a psychic shadow of one facet of their personality. They aren't even fully intelligent, just intelligent enough to be dangerous. Getting useful information out of them should be difficult, if not impossible. Speak With Dead or Contact Other Plane may basically "wake up" the soul of the departed to answer some questions that a mere spirit can't.

Of course, the undead aren't quite the same thing as a spirit. Undead are spirits and sometimes souls that have been bound to a dead body, or at least something vaguely physical, in the case of spectres. They are not as free as the truly dead, but as a consequence they are more dangerous, since they can attack physically. Most cannot make psychic attacks, the way a spirit can.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ba and Ka

Since I'm still working on Ranks of the Undead and also thinking forward to the ethereal monsters and psionics PDF, I thought I'd ruminate on how I handle spirits and souls.

In ancient Egyptian lore, humans aren't just minds living in bodies. There are actual multiple parts to the nonmaterial side of a person. I think everyone has something like seven souls, but I don't recall the number. But in particular, there are two, the ba and the ka. The ba is the personality and takes the form of a bird with a human head. The ka is the vital essence and is what goes away when the person dies.

I've seen some examples from other cultures that use a similar two-fold division, but re-assign some feature. The more emotional "animal soul" is the one that leaves the body in the form of a bird, butterfly, mouse, or other small creature, while the personality and essence of what the person was survives as a ghostly image or shade. The animal soul is the vital part, the spirit (Greek pneuma,) and the intelligent part is what we normally call the soul. AD&D seems to use this same distinction, or at least distinguishes between spirits and souls. Occultism and theosophy get a little more complicated and distinguish between the spirit or ethereal double, the astral body, the mental body, and sometimes the causal body. But we don't have to go there...

Anyways, I follow this pattern, but keep it simple: the spirit is the ethereal part. When a person dies, the spirit typically dissolves into ethereal particles and that's that. However, the spirit is connected to emotion and passion, so strong emotion can sometimes allow the spirit to continue its existence even after detaching from the body. It may maintain the appearance of the person at first, but the distinctive features tend to erode. It may retain some memory, usually about whatever strong emotion created it, but the spirit is at best semi-intelligent and really no longer the original person.

What you would call the person exists as an astral image. When the ethereal part or spirit separates from the body, the astral part or soul loses all connection to material existence. It can only be seen in dreams or by those with psychic abilities, and usually eventually gets caught in some dream-world. It can't return to a body without some kind of spirit. The Raise Dead spell repairs the original spirit, which usually lingers near the body, while the Resurrection spell rebuilds a new spirit to forge a new connection between body and soul.

I'll have more to say in a future post.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Liber 3d6

I know I have been promising for a while to finish Liber Zero, but I keep re-assessing priorities. Not sure where I want to go with it at the moment.

I feel bad, though, even though I haven't set any deadlines. To make up for it, I did a rush job on a simple RPG called Liber 3d6. It took one day! Natuurally, the layout kind of sucks, and it hasn't been proofed, but I think it is mostly OK.

The name comes from the emphasis on using 3d6 in order for everything, even things like spell casting and purchasing equipment. It's a bit light right now: only a few spells, and a mostly-improv equipment list, but there are six races and six classes, 9 abilities, and a good chunk of rules. Perhaps later I will expand the spell system and do a monster manual.

So here it is, my April 1st PDF offering: Liber 3d6. Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

No Initiative Redux

I thought some more about not using initiative at all, as described in this post. Whether or not I decide to give in and dump d6-only weapons (probably won't,) I do think I've refined it even more.

(1) The side that attacks first announces actions first. If that side also surprised the other, they get to attack, then announce their next attack. If there's a tie (both sides charge, for example,) players get to choose whether to announce first or last. This order stays the same for the rest of the combat.
(2) Hasted actions all go first, then normal actions, then slowed.
(3) Actions are otherwise more or less simultaneous, even though one side announces first. If there is ever a question about interrupted actions, lowest damage goes first. If comparing damaging attacks to actions that don't do damage, roll a d6 for the action's pseudo-damage. If doing this for a spell, the pseudo-damage can't be higher than the spell's level.

There, sorted. Don't really have to bother with extra rolls or comparing Dex or anything else. I've dropped weapon length, although on a charge I would probably still resolve pole weapons first. Otherwise, all weapon length would do is allow a special action, "Move out of Reach". But that's worth a separate post.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Uncertain Undead

On G+, I posted some work-in-progress icons for both a revision of Our Infernal Neighbors and the upcoming Ranks of the Undead. What you see here is the icon for the mummy chapter, a good segue into what I'm doing with the project.

See, when I got to the mummy chapter, I realized I'd put in more detail, compared to the other chapters. When I did the zombie-vampire and skeleton-lich tracks, I took the existing OD&D monsters as data points and filled in the "missing levels". I added a few interpretive twists, but not much. But when I did the mummy track, there was only one OD&D monster to work with, so I went to the movies instead. I made Kharis my low-level datapoint and Imhotep my high-level datapoint. That added a lot more backstory, a lot more flavor... but it makes the other undead tracks seem kind of unoriginal by comparison.

I need to insert more flavor. For the rotting undead, I made a passing reference to a bargain with "darkness" as their method of survival. I need to emphasize that more. I already mentioned plans to randomize the method of slaying a vampire permanently, and just finished writing that table. Lots of entries based on different vampire legends from different regions. The implication of the random method of permanent death is that it comes from the vampire's bargain with darkness. I'm also adding a Bargain with Darkness table for the lower pre-vampire levels. The undead gets a special power in exchange for a price, which at the moment are additional vulnerabilities similar to the vulnerability to garlic and mirrors. So, an Unhallowed might get the power to change into a rat, but can be turned by a ring of salt, exactly as a vampire is driven away by a cross. I even added "Counting Obsession" to the Price Paid table; scattering poppy seeds on the ground forces the undead with a counting obsession to gather and count them all, instead of attacking or chasing the victim, but it otherwise works using the Turn Undead roll.

For skeletal undead, I'd made a few references to their obsession with magical research, which seemed natural as something a proto-lich would do. I need to emphasize that more, possibly with a random table or two. My rewritten lich doesn't have the periapt of other versions, but I'm thinking of making that into an optional random feature (get one extra power through an arcane gem or amulet, but destroying it removes that power and possibly affects the skeletal undead itself.) I'm also toying with the idea of a random magical obsession table.

I haven't quite decided what to do to improve the spectral undead. One idea may have to do with random vengeances. Or I might find inspiration in interpreting them as an analog to another class. In a sense, vampires are the undead equivalent to fighters, and liches are magic-users. I rewrote mummies to be a little like clerics. So spectres and ghosts would be thieves, specializing in sneaking and surprise attacks. I'll have to think about that some  more.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Problem With Paladins

... Is that many players don't want to play paladins. They just want the powers.

This is the conclusion I've come  to after reading many, many discussions about paladins. Whether you think of paladins as the flower of knighthood, as I do, or the servant and epitome of some god on earth, as many modern fantasy games do, the point of the paladin class is not the powers. It's the the paladin's code, the restrictions on behavior. I've written before about what I think the paladin's code should be, so I won't go into that. The point I'm focusing on here is that there has to be a code, and it really shouldn't be one the player creates. If you want to make up your own code, pick a class like Fighter that has no code and add your own code. If you want powers that come from some god, pick a spell caster class and say your powers come from some god, although even there, there should be some expectation of being judged by your god.

And you shall be judged. None of this "I'll do whatever I want, then retcon my actions as being in line with my code." That's bullshit. If you want to do something like that, play another class and say, "I have a code," but don't say what it is. Make it up as you go along. The point of a class that has strict behavior standards is to challenge yourself to see if you can meet those standards. And the point of taking a moral code is to have your moral code challenged. Saying "I want to be a paladin" is you challenging the GM to test your morality. You're saying "this is what I want my personal story to be about.

And don't get me started about the "Lawful Good, not Lawful Stupid" argument. Critics who bring up the Lawful Stupid charge always provide examples where what's expedient is in direct conflict with most strict moral codes. What's expedient is often not what's good, maybe not even what's Lawful. Again, there are already classes to play if you want to base all your decisions on expediency. Choosing the paladin means choosing to not always do what's in your personal self-interest. You have to choose, sometimes, and know that if you do what is expedient instead of what is right, you may lose your righteous powers,. If you don't want the GM to ever, ever take away or reduce your powers, then the paladin is not for you. Move along.