Thursday, December 17, 2009

How To Handle a Bugman?

(That's a little Lerner and Loewe riff for you show-tune cats out there)

Yesterday, I posted about my issues with the Scorpion Men in play-testing. This whole thing has me rethinking my approach to non-humans. A little background if you please:

Although I started gaming with the Holmes edition, I soon leveled up to AD&D. And even though, as a kid, believing that the Great G could do no wrong, I had a big problem with Elves. Elves received way too many racial benefits for my taste and the limiting mechanic was level limits. Both sides of that equation rankled me, but the latter more than the former. Level limits stuck me as a misfire of a balance mechanism. This argument is as old as the game, so I won't go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I didn't find it to do what it was supposed to do. Making a character stronger in early play but then capped later didn't play well with me.

Later, I read an article in the Dragon that suggested that demi-humans receive an experience ding instead of level limits. This made sense both in-game and out-of-game sense to me. But, in practice, I could only give it two cheers. Maybe one and half. The penalty was so arbitrary and even what sounded like a hefty 15% wasn't really felt early enough in the game to make a difference.

When I went back to OD&D, I enjoyed, as many others, the simpler rules which were as evidenced in the handling of nonhumans as anything else. The basic advantage of the Elf was being able to multi-class. So, when I was putting together my house-rules for my Onderland Campaign, using Spellcraft & Swordplay, I was happy to stress that aspect. Elves can take any combination of Warrior, Wizard, Thief, but must split all experience equally between the classes. That turns out to be a pretty hefty ding and gets felt very early in the game. It's still only two cheers, maybe, but it's the best I've got right now.

But in Under the Dying Sun, I mostly removed the multi-classing which didn't fit so well with the way I redid the classes. And that left me back at assessing an arbitrary XP penalty. Now I find that with the Scorpion Men, I have recreated the whole AD&D Elf problem: too many perks and a clumsy balancing mechanism. So where does that leave me?

Well, it would make sense to remove some benefits. The biggest offender, as I mentioned yesterday, is the built-in armour which make a 1st level Scorpion Man all but invulnerable. But built in armour just seems so right. They are bug-men in a iron-poor world of giant bugs, where most plate armour is made of chitin anyway. It a big part of the flavor.

Rather than remove a benefit, I could come up with some significant penalty. But I must admit to a paucity of ideas here. I don't want to give them a glass jaw; they are supposed to be my Tharks for Issus' sake!

So, anybody with any smart, semi-smart, or quasi-smart ideas, please let me have them.


  1. Are you over-thinking a short term problem? The benefits of great armor will diminish as play advances and levels are gained.

    If you really feel the need to fix it, perhaps chitin-based armor is susceptible to damage, and Scorpy needs to shed it once in a while to replace his armor or it gradually loses effectiveness. Freshly molted armor is weak for a few days, starting as leather equivalent and gaining a rank of toughness per day.

  2. You know I look at from a completely level, much like looking our current reality, when you intergrating the parellel universe as apart of your construct, your not so bound. So just like some say in this culture. If you make a choice to go one way a daul aspect of your choice still makes the other choice and both co exist (think about that _ very doppleganderish right) so, a roll of the dice tells me if this will amount to arch enemies or be able to intergrate and maybe even hit a epic level advance. I have been playing since about 1989 and have a character that has defied more rules that any other I have seen, this has expanded my gm skill tremendously. May you agree Maybe you don't or you can do really is throw it into a mod and see if it rolls out right.

  3. I've been following this dilemma and decided to throw my hat in the ring.
    Treating chitin as plate, to my sensibilities, seems like overkill. A lobster is not a car-part.
    In 1e Gamma World total carapace received an AC of 4. In AD&D that's AC 5 (according to the 1e DM's guide).
    If they are still overpowered maybe give them a weapon deficiency. Perhaps due to their bug eyes (360 vision), they have poor depth perception, so no ranged weapons.

  4. Alternatively, perhaps you could have the insectoid's exoskeleton harden with experience? As the character increases in level, the AC would decend?

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    @mthomas768--I might well be over-reacting. But it isn't a short-term problem for this game since magic armour is rare-to-non-exisitant and normal plate (that is, artificial armour) carries a bunch of drawbacks that organic doesn't.

    That molting idea is interesting.

    @EarthKeeper--I must confess that I'm not quite following you.

    @Portly--removing missile weapons is really interesting. That would quite a disad and woudl also add a bit of alieness to their culture.

    @Alan--I'm using Chaimail combat, so AC isn't just a modifier. Plate geenrally confers better protection than other armours, but a mace, for example, works better against it than against lighter armour.

  6. I figure chitin is basically like fingernail armor, it's attached to your nerve endings.
    Unlike plate, if it absorbs a blow or gets dented you are going to feel it.

  7. I look at the picture of the Scorpion Man and can't imagine it using missile weapons effectively that require any finesse.

  8. Well, the picture I have in the draft right now, isn't really what I imagined. But denying missiles weapons 0- througha combo of too many limbs, no depth perception, and just plain alien thinking - might still be a good idea.