Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Critical Hits & Special Manuevers : Too Much

I think something else became clearer in the play-test fight I reported as Blood on the Sand.  This is that Critical Hits and Special Maneuvers kind of overlap too much.  Several times in that fight, I had to stop and think too much about what to do when I got a roll that was both box-cars and 15+.  And that turns out to be a pretty common occurence.  So I think I need to combine those two things.   But which "trigger" to use: box-cars or a Combat Roll of 15+?

I've been debating this for a while now, but I've settled on box-cars being the trigger for a Critical Hit?  Why?  Well, getting a high roll already has an advantage built-in by the One-Roll mechanic.  Plus, I guess I'm just too brainwashed by my past, but I feel like rolling a natural "12" just ought to mean something special.  So, here's the new version:

Combat Results
During each of the three Combat Phases (Melee, Missile, and Sorcery), everyone making an attack of that type makes a Combat Roll with varying results:
Roll is snake-eyes: Fumble
Roll is 10- : Miss
Roll is 11+ : Hit
Roll is box-cars: Critical Hit 
If the attacker is using a weapon made of natural, non-metallic materials, it breaks.   The Referee should feel free to apply other results; for example, he may rule that Artifacts also break on a fumble or perhaps just run out of power.


The degree of success indicates base damage done. This is modified by the weapon’s Damage Multiplier.

Critical Hit
A roll of box-cars results in one of two effects: Automatic Hit or Special Maneuver.
Automatic Hit - if the attacker had no chance to roll 11+ due to modifiers (from Weapon vs. AC, opponent's Defense, etc.) , he still hits on box-cars.  This hit counts as a Combat Roll as 12 i.e. the degree of success is 2.   This means that everyone has at least some chance of hitting any foe.
If the attacker has no need for an automatic hit, then he can choose a Special Maneuver:
Break Natural Armour/Shield - if the foe’s armour and/or shield if made of natural materials, it breaks and becomes useless.   If both armour and shield are susceptible to this effect, the shield will always break first.

Extra Damage - the weapon’s Damage Multiplier increases by one. A Tiny Weapon goes from x ½ to x1, a Small Weapon goes from x1 to x2, and so on.
Wound - the opponent must roll on the Wounds Table (which usually happens only if reduced to 0 or less HP).  This Wound is always temporary.

Knock Down/Back - the foe stumbles back a few feet or falls down.  He needs to use a Half-Move to stand up or lose all Defense.

Disarm - the foe’s weapon goes flying out of his hand.  He must use a Half-Move to draw another weapon.

Stunning Flurry - a flurry of disorienting blows that forces the foe to make an INT Throw or lose his next turn.

Deadly Display - the character's display of martial prowess is so intimidating that the foe must immediately make a Morale Throw.  This is only useful against NPC's as player characters never make Morale Throws.
The Referee should feel free to add any other Special Maneuvers that seem fun.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blood on the Sand II: The Finale

Here's the finale to the fight I posted about previously.  As before, first the mechanics and then the narration.

Melee - Admago attacks Wild Man 4. Rolls 8+2+10. Near miss. WM 4 attacks in return and gets 6+2+8. Nope.

Because he is so wounded, Keendo's decides he will Dodge and head toward Aban Dar (the fallen sorcerer).

Deal attacks WM 3. His first roll is 3+5=8 and misses. But his second (he's fighting with two daggers) is box-cars, for a total of 12+5=17. He pushes his multiplier from x1 to x2 and does 14 points of damage; the bugger is dead (several times over), but the pit-fighter looks cool). WM 3 strikes at Deal and gets snake-eyes! His spear is broken, which would suck for him, except that he is dead and so it's not the worst thing that has happened to him lately.

Missile - none.

Magic - none.

Movement - Admago circles around to see Aban Dar bleeding and Keendo rushing his way.

Deal heads toward Admago and WM 4.

Aban Dar lies still and bleeds.

WM 4 decides to make a run for it, giving Admago a free attack at his back. Admago rolls a lousy 4, though and misses.

WM 6 is gone.

The Desert Man and his foe circle each other - sword feinting against spear, spear clashing with sword - but neither finds an opening.

Further on, Keendo takes the opportunity to slip away from the melee and run toward the bleeding Sorcerer, hoping to avoid any further injury. Dea-laidir watches him go, while warding off his foe's spear with his twin blades. As the Wild Man makes a powerful thrust, the pit-fighter jumps aside and hears, with satisfaction, the sound of the spear splintering against the hard ground. At nearly the same split second, he strikes with both blades: the shaggy barbarian manages to dodge one, but, in so doing, places himself right in the path of the second bone dagger and Dea-laidir claims his second throat of the day.

Rather than savouring his victory, though, the sicarius is immediately off towards the embattled Admago. But even as he does so, that Wild Man, seeing the hopelessness of his situation, begins to run off the path, into the underbrush, in a desperate attempt to save his own life. The Desert Man attempts to strike at the suddenly exposed back, but misses.

All is silent.

What I Learned
All in all, I feel pretty good about the fairly substantial changes I have made to the combat system.  It actually shocks me that I have added complexity to the basic, abstract system of Ye Auld Game; I almost feel like I should turn in my Rules-Lite Gamer card.  But, I dunno, this is all working for me.  There were a couple of intriguing dice results in this combat: a PC got box-cars while an NPC got snake-eyes in not one but two rounds.  The result in the round was inconsequential but made the PC look awesome (14 points of damage in one blow!); the sorcerer's box-cars in the previous round was nifty and had a cool double-kill effect.

But there are some kinks that need working out:

First, I should make clear that in table-top play, you can announce your intentions per phase, rather than all at the beginning of the round.  The Ref should say, "Anyone doing Melee?" and resolve that; then "Anyone shooting missiles?" and so on.  That way, if you had intended to charge someone, but they die in the Melee Phase, you don't have to charge their corpse. You could certainly say that this simulates fog of war and whatnot, but I don't find it much fun. I definitely don't want scripted combat, which is the result otherwise.

Second, I totally made up that parting shot for Admago on the spot, based on a rule in the S&S Combat section that I had heretofore ignored (it is kinda buried a bit in the book).  It occurred to me that melee could become a game of leap-frog otherwise: move in on Round 1, attack and then half-move back to your friends. I don't like where that heads.  So here's the expanded idea for movement in melee, taking cues from the B/X iteration of YAG:

Any character who attacks or is attacked during the Melee Phase is engaged. An engaged character cannot move in those rounds in which he is engaged with 3 exceptions:

1. His opponent dies during the Melee Phase, effectively disengaging the character.  The character can make a half-move the same round.

2. He dodges during the Melee Phase, which also effectively disengages him (a "Fighting Withdrawal").  Half-move possible in the same round.  This also disengages the opponent, who is thus free to make a half-move following the character and re-engage him next round.

3. He forgoes any attack or dodge, doing nothing and thereby disengaging (a "Full Retreat").  The character is free to make a full move at the same phase, BUT his opponent gets a "parting shot": a free, extra attack at the character's retreating backside.  The character in full retreat cannot apply a Shield or a Parry to his Defense against this parting shot (although his natural, level-based Defense still applies).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Blood on the Sand

Same shtick as usual: light posting, but heavy behind the scenes work.  However, I thought it might be interesting if I posted a little snippet of a combat that occurred during the current play-test as it really shows off how combat in Under the Dying Sun works as opposed to more baseline Ye Auld Game. 

The fight is between 4 PC's and 6 Wild Men, those hairy little barbarians that lurk throughout the Tharian Hills.  The PC's, all first level, are Admago (Desert Man Slayer), Dea-laidir of the Pit (True Man Slayer), Aban Dar (True Man Sorcerer), and Keendo (Mutant Survivor).  What follows is just one round; first, the mechanics, followed by a bit of narration (I always liked when gamebooks woudl do that thing on facing pages). 

The Mechanics
Melee - Wild Men (WM hereafter) 4-6 were charging Admago and Aban Dar. Somehow, I forgot that these three guys were in between Admago and the further group. D'oh! Even with the Desert Man's speed, I don't see him running around three charging foes who were only 20 feet away. So, I say that Admago intended to move up, but meets WM 4 halfway (10') and clashes. Each gets a charge attack.

Adamago rolls 9+2=11. He does 1x3 with his bronze sword (3 because he charged) points of damage, not quite killing the Wild Man. His foe gets in his attack at the same time: WM 4 rolls 6+2=8 and misses.

Meanwhile, the WM 5 and 6 charge Aban Dar, who meets them with his wonderful iron dagger. The sorcerer rolls boxcars for a Critical Hit! No point in breaking the Wild Man's armour, so Aban Dar chooses to bump his damage multiplier from x1 to x2. His roll was 12+1=13, so he does 3x2 damage and obliterates WM 5.

But WM 5 gets his attack in. He rolls 11+2=13. Uh-oh. That's 3X3=9 damage. More than the sorcerer has, so he must roll on the Wounds Table. He gets 3:5, which means that his Left Shoulder is wounded; lose 1 STR. He then rolls to see if it's permanent and gets a 4; yep, that shoulder is permanently screwed. Which kind of sucks, but only if he doesn't die right now anyway

WM 6 rolls and gets snake-eyes for a Fumble! He misses and his spear breaks.

Meanwhile, Deal rushes back toward WM 2 and 3, who are rushing Keendo. He goes for the wounded WM 2 [No. 2 was hit by Admago's spear previously]. Deal rolls 6+5=11. Because he is charging he does 1x2=2 damage with his dagger and WM 2 is dead.

Before he dies, he strikes out at his target of Keendo. He rolls 3+1+4 and misses. His partner, OTOH, rolls 10+1=11, doing 1x3=3 points of damage to the mutant (who now has 1 left).

Keendo gets in his licks and rolls 7+2=9. Nada.

Missile - None.

Magic - None.

Movement - Admago and Deal charged so no movement this round. Keendo can do a half-move if he wants to try and get away from the WM. Aban Dar is on the ground bleeding from a massive shoulder wound and needs immediate attention.

All WM charged and so don't get to move this round either.

Summary - Aban Dar is ground zero, next to WM 5 whom he killed. WM 6 is with him, holding a broken spear.

10' on, Admago and a very wounded WM 4 stand.

35' feet from AD, Keendo and Deal, with WM 3. WM 2 is dead on the ground.

WM 6 decided to run from the party in the direction his whole group had originally been taking. He'll gone unless someone wants to chase him.

WM 4 attacks Admago.

WM 3 doesn't want to stand around between Deal and Keendo; he decides to try and run past the otherwise engaged Admago and get away like WM 6.

The Narration
The tense seconds of combat , which had seemed an eternity, suddenly explode into blood and death! Admago tries to reach Keendo, but is intercepted by one of the charging Wild Men.  The Slayer dodges a spear-thrust and delivers a stout backhand to his foe's chest.  The Wild Man isn't dead, but he looks ready to drop.

Behind him, the other two spear-men race forward and find Aban Dar alone.  Alone, but not helpless. He dodges one attack and sees his foe's spear shatter on the ground.  The sorcerer then whirls his flashing steel dagger and cleanly puts it directly into the marauder's right eye!  Yet even as he does, his opponent's spear pierces through the muscles of Aban Dar's left shoulder; pierces and rips through. Blood flashes about both foemen as they sink down together, the third man standing mutely with the broken haft of his spear dangling from his hands.

Meanwhile, two other Wild Men charge Keendo, even as Dea-laidir of the Pit charges them. The Slayer catches one off-guard, parries a spear-thrust, and plants his dagger in his foe's throat. But even as that one falls, the other stabs Keendo in his side with a wicked thrust. The mutant feels burning fire and knows that he can't last much longer.

What will happen?  Will the party triumph?  And, if so, at what cost?  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rethinking Damage Multipliers

As promised - more combat mechanics for Dying Sun.  As long-time readers will doubtless recall, Dr. Samsara thought he was damn clever in figuring out how to handle differently-sized weapons in his One-Roll Combat system.  I had initially thought to have a simple addition or subtraction to the base damage for Large or Small weapons respectively.  In the comments, the estimable Mark Krawec reminded me of Over the Edge, where weapons had a type of damage multiplier instead.  I really liked that and came up with a simple table:

Tiny Weapons multiply base damage by 1/2
Small Weapons multiply base damage by 1 (i.e. no change)
Medium Weapons multiply base damage by 2
Large Weapons multiply base damage by 3
Huge Weapons multiply base damage by 4

I was really pleased with the simplicity of that.  I carried over from the earlier (separate damage roll) version that Large weapons imposed a -1 to the Combat Roll from unwieldiness.  And done was done.

Except when it isn't.  I'm finding Large weapons to be a bit frustrating in practice.  Let's do one of my famous long and drawn out analyses.  The analysis involves one guy with a Medium weapon (let's say a sword) and one with a Large (let's say a battle-axe)

Both guys get a Combat Roll of 11.  The sword-guy does base damage of 1 x 2=2 points of damage.  It's was a weak hit.  The axe-man in this case misses, because his roll is penalized by 1.  OK, fair enough so far, I guess.

Now they each roll a 12.  Mr. Sword does base 2 x 2 = 4 points of damage.  Capt. Axe is modified down to an 11 and so does base 1 x 3 = 3 points of damage.

When they roll a 13, things finally even out.  The swordsman does base 3 x 2 = 6.  The axe-dude modified down to 12, does base 2 x 3 = 6.

From this point on, the axe-guy is doing more damage.  On a 14, the sword does 8, while the axe does 9.  On 15, the sword does 10 and the axe does 12, and on a 16, the sword does 12 and the axe does 15.

The key here is that it is very difficult to roll a 15 on 2D6.  You have to have some substantial modifiers, which would basically come from pretty high levels.  During low- and mid-levels, you would be lucky to get a 12.  Which, when add in the penalty for not being able to use a shield, makes using a Large weapon pretty much a losing bet at those levels.  The central question:

Is that a problem?

The answer: I'm not sure.  It feels somewhat problematic.  Maybe just because I've been staring at it for too long.  But the germ of this actually came up in a sideways manner when a player asked if he could do Large-weapon damage using a Medium-weapon in both hands.  I was stumped. 

If "yes", then why ever bother to have a Large weapon, if a Medium one gives you the flexibility?  Furthermore, my rationale for levying the penalty to the Combat Roll (unwieldiness) seems weird if using a nice, balanced, not awkward medium-sized weapon in two hands.   But eliminating that penalty would only exacerbate the uselessness of the Large weapon. 

If I say "no" instead (which is what I did in this case to keep the game moving), that feels strange.  The guy tossing aside his battered shield and gripping his sword in both hands to cleave his foe from stem to stern is a part of the genre.

What to do (if something actually needs doing)?

I have thought about falling back to some version my original idea: Large weapons give a bonus to damage.  I had proposed a +2, which, when you factor in the -1 to damage from the penalty to the Combat Roll, is effectively a +1 to damage.  I'm thinking now that maybe that should be upped to +3, for an effective +2.  Why?  Well, that balanced better with the loss of 2 to Defense from not having a shield and means that I could say you get an effective +1 if you use a Medium-weapon in both hands (i.e. if using a two-handed weapon, it makes more sense to use a weapon designed for it, but there is still a benefit to be had).

That's okay.  But I still don't like where that takes me with Small weapons.  Since they don't affect the Combat Roll, to make things symmetrical I would have to give them a -2.  I guess that fairly captures the d4 damage range they have in most versions of YAG, but it shifts the odds way off-kilter so that they basically always do 1 point of damage (i.e. you have to get a roll above 13 to do more than 1).  I really don't like the sound of that.  I could stick with halving on Small and addition on Large, but - dammit - that's so inelegant.

Then I started thinking more (as aside, this usually happens when I wake up at 3.00 am and can't sleep).  I could steer away from the damage aspects altogether and find another way of differentiating weapons of different sizes.  Reach, for example.  Maybe Large weapons all strike first, followed by Medium, and then Small.  That doesn't suck, but I really, really like the simultaneous nature of melee in the game as written so far (and totally stolen from the estimable Calithena, with acknowledgment).

I started coming up with some rules about relative lengths interacting.  That Large weapons get an advantage against Small weapons until the Small weapon guy gets in close, in which case the penalty flips and now the Small weapon gets an advantage.  That's attractive in that I have often wanted to have a system show the advantage of using a dagger in close quarters, but it really goes against the abstract nature of YAG's combat; for RuneQuest, it's fine.

And that's where I am.  Maybe I should forget this entire line of thought?

An Idea for One-Roll Combat for Percentile Systems

I mentioned previously that I have recently gotten ahold of the new Runequest II and have been quite favourably impressed.  The most notable "wow factor" is probably the Combat Maneuvers; I was impressed enough to be inspired to do something along those lines for Under the Dying Sun.   I reread the book again over the holiday weekend (note for non-Yanks: we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday last Thursday, making it a four-day weekend for most) and found subtleties to the system that I hadn't see before.

But that never stops me from changing things up.  It's what I do.  The idea that popped into my head was to do a One-Roll Combat System, along the lines of the one I came up with for Dying Sun.  I call it one-roll in that "to hit" and "damage" are both factored into the same roll; there are frequently several rolls required in RQ so this term isn't completely accurate.  But good enough.  Oh yes, I do know that there is the thing called the One-Roll Engine.  It doesn't work for me.  It just doesn't, so don't suggest that I check that out. 

Before I present the idea, I think a bit of background maybe in order.  RQ's percentile system is a type of black-jack system, where you want to roll under your skill number, but still roll higher than the other guy.  It's only implemented sometimes, but it's what the core of the system is (or should be).  Thus, in an opposed contest of whatever sort, if both actors make their roll, whoever rolled the higher wins.  This means that having a higher skill value not only gives you a better chance of success (one is more likely to roll on or under 70% than 35%), but also a better chance to make the higher roll (a roll of 60 is a success for the guy with 70%; the guy with 35% can't beat that roll at all except in the slight chance of a critical hit).

Unfortunately for me, RQ has never implemented that core idea as elegantly as I would like.  This particularly irks me in the cases of critical successes, which are achieved not by rolling high, but by rolling low (10% or less or your base chance).  Is that a bad mechanic?  No.  But it's so aesthetically unpleasing and we all know how important that is to me.  So, in addition to making a one-roll, I also want to drop that "roll high except when you want to roll low" business.
That all said, here's the basic idea:

The tens-die tells you how much base damage you have done.

Our first guy from above has "Sword & Shield" at 70% and roll a 27; his base damage is 2.  Had it been 57, his base damage would be 5.

What I like about this idea is that it plays on the blackjack system: you want to roll under your skill, but as high as you can under that.  It also continues the hidden benefits of having a high skill as the more skilled guy can get better base damage than someone less skilled; if you only have a 35% in "Sword & Shield", you can never get more than 3 base damage.

In this system, each weapon would have some sort of damage modifier that works off of the base damage.  I don't know exactly how I would set-up the modifier: whether it is a multiple (as Dying Sun is for now (hint, hint)) or just a straight plus/minus.  Whatever it is, is doesn't involve rolling dice (since that would defeat the point of the whole exercise).

With this idea, the quality of the roll effects the quality of the success.  And frankly, you could leave it at that, but RQ has always had the idea of critical successes.  I have two thoughts on this, one simpler and one that does plays better with the RQII system.  The first idea is a simple critical hit/miss system:

A success that is a doubles, doubles the damage.  A failure that is doubles is a fumble.

So, back to our two foe men.  The guy with 35%, can get a critical success on rolls of 11, 22, and 33, with the resultant base damages of 2, 4, and 6 respectively.  His opponent with the 70% skill, gets a critical on rolls of 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, and 66.  On that later roll, he would do base damage of 12, which is pretty hot.    But if he had rolled 77, 88, or 99, he would have fumbled (and RQ has always had fun with fumbling).

I have to be honest, I find calculating 10% of a skill on the fly somewhat difficult.  Yes, that may be pathetic, but it is what it is.  So this idea makes me happier.  Plus, what we get again is that the higher the skill, the better the chance of getting a critical success, the better the quality of the critical successes, and the less chance of getting a fumble.  That later one pleases me as I have also never cared for RQ's fumble calculations either which is roll low, but not too low, but not too high either".

What we don't get here is a clear blackjack mechanic.  Does that matter?  I don't know; I kinda like this doubles thing.   But we also don't have Combat Maneuvers here, so one might change the idea so as to say that rolling doubles makes critical success and drop the doubling of damage thing as that is folded into the Maneuvers system.

Maybe once we finish this DC Adventures game, I'll try out RQII with these rules.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stuff Still Happening

Despite my quietness here, stuff still happens.  Like a phoenix from its ashes, my real-world gaming group has been resurrected.  It was small before (3 guys) and losing one seemed fatal, but we have added three new fellas and look to be getting back on track.  We're playing through what I guess you might call an "adventure path" for Labyrinth Lord in a setting heavily-influenced by Vance's Lyonesse books.  We're reaching the end of that now and might be playing DC Adventures next.  While I can't claim to be thrilled with that choice, I feel it's fair enough to let somebody else choose the game and give it try.

I've also been running another Dying Sun play-test and again finding out that there are a bunch of stupid things still in the there.  For instance, my missile weapon ranges are buggered to hell and back.  More importantly, I'm finding that my rules for Large weapons may not work as well as I wanted.  Which means - that's right - expect more posts about Combat Mechanics in the near-future.

Finally, there is a potentially very exciting thing (well, exciting to me) going on that I can't talk about.  So why bring it up?  Because it's eating up a lot of my mental resources right now.  I should be ignoring it and getting back to work on UtDS, but I keep thinking of stuff for this other thing that I can't talk about.  Ah well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

More Geekery: My Booklets

Fresh off the presses:

Many thanks to my unwitting office equipment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Urban Dungeon

I don't recall where I first heard this idea; probably Grognardia, but when a guy posts as prolifically as James, it is all but impossible to search around the archive and find soemthing.  Anyway, the idea was to have an abandoned city as a dungeon.  What that means, specifically, is that movement would restricted in the same way that it is in a subterranean dungeon; the characters can't just climb over buildings.  Not sure I am explaining it all that well, but it's late on a Friday afternoon.  

The point is that I was just idly looking at the old TSR Lankhmar: City of Adventure from 1985 (I think).  It had this booklet with some ridiculous AD&D write-ups for the daring duo, some maps of the various districts of the City of Black Togas, and then a bunch of city geomorphs to be placed in the city as needed.  And it occurs to me that this would work really well for the urban dungeon.  The district maps are probably a bit too much, but the geomorphs are at a much larger scale and are already on gridlines.

One of the appeals of the urban dungeon to me, is that there is an underlying rationale for all these rooms.  I'm afraid I have a lot of trouble with fun-house dungeons or even the regular old dungeons with a bunch of rooms randomly placed in a building.  Who builds like that?  I get how it works in Castle Greyhawk (insane mega-wizard does it for fun), but it gets old after awhile.  A city has some reasoning behind it, but not too much.  There was no real urban planning, but buildings do have to fit together in a city, unlike in a dungeon.

Maybe it's just me, but this has a weird appeal.  It might work really well to give you a Red Nails kinda location.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Groomsmen: Beloved of Death

Groomsmen (Red Monks)
No. Appearing: 3D
Size: Medium
Armour Class/Defense: 1 / 1
Move: 30’
Hit Dice: 1+2 (8)
Attacks: 1+1 (Large Sword)
Modes: 11+ chance for sorcery
Disciplines: 11+ chance for sorcery
Special: Class Abilities: 1st level Slayer
Morale: Never check
Treasure: Type 1
XP: 1

Groomsmen are seemingly-normal human beings; they are also homicidal maniacs.  They belong to the dreaded Cult of the Red Bride, a sect devoted to the spread of death.  They symbolically marry themselves to death, who they represent as a beautiful woman covered in blood and gore, with a two-handed sword in her grasp.

Whether these men are driven insane during their secret ordination rituals or were crazy to begin with is a topic of some idle conversation in the markets of the world.  Certainly something is done to them upon ordination for the eyes of a Groomsman are inhuman: deep black windows into the void.  Should, a PC gaze into the eyes of Red Monk, they must make a WIS Throw or fight at a -2 due to unease and fear; NPC’s must make Morale Rolls and suffer -2 unless they score an Extremely Positive result.

The Groomsmen, who are more often called "the Red Monks" by outsiders, wander the world in small bands and attempt to kill anything they meet.  Although these “human locusts” present no real threat to walled cities, they are frightening terrors to the smaller habitations under the Dying Sun.  Many villages have been utterly destroyed by larger bands of Groomsmen.  They themselves know no fear, nor anything other than the need to present deaths to their beloved Bride; they never check Morale and will fight even in obviously suicidal circumstances.  Red Monks wear light armour underneath scarlet robes, with cowls over their faces, belted at the waist with linked human vertebrae.  They wield two-handed swords of iron and have few other possessions.

Most Groomsmen are 1st level Slayers, specialized in the greatsword (which counter-acts the usual -1 penalty from Large weapons).  For ever 5 Groomsmen encountered, there will be an additional “Elder Brother”, a Red Monk who has somehow survived to make it to 2nd level.  Elder Brothers have an additional Hit Die (12 Hit Points), a further +1 to Combat Roll, and Mass Slaughter giving them 2 attacks versus 1 Hit Die foes.  Whether or not there are any Red Monks who have survived to higher levels is unknown.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Artifact: Somatic Restoriation Matrix

Somatic Restoration Matrix (Super-Heroic -8 to Decipher)

A bizarre assemblage copper and glass tubing filled with vari-coloured liquids all surrounding a hollow crystal larger than a man.  The Matrix is able to restore (or more accurately, “recreate”) a living organism to full health and with it’s natural complement of appendages whether the subject is alive or dead.  To do this, the subject must be placed into the crystal, which fills with various solutions that break down the subject into his component parts for analysis.  This is fairly unpleasant if the subject is still alive, although he won’t be for long.  After that, the Matrix will “grow” a new version of the subject in the prime of health and with all the memories of the original. This restoration process takes some six weeks to complete.

The legendary God-King of Karch was reputed to have such an Artifact, which was the secret to his seeming-immortality. It is said that a treacherous wife (one of the infamous 1,001 Brides) broke the Matrix after the God-King had allowed himself to be dissolved, but before he had regrown to more than a lump of protoplasm. What happened to the protoplasm is unknown.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Places under the Dying Sun: The Sea of Bones

The Sea of Bones (10 XP)
Beyond the Tharian Hills, far to the west of mighty Hajal, lies the much-storied Sea of Bones.  Uncounted years ago, before the birth of the grandfathers of the eldest, the mighty Grand Dukes of the East, whose wealth and power exceeded the dreams of the grandest dreamer, met the heretofore unstoppable Kerchak Horde, whose fury and lust for destruction exceeded the nightmares of the most timid, upon a grassy plain whose original name has been lost to time.  The Horde of the Supreme Khan was so vast that the thunder of their hooves could be heard in the Hegemony of Ashok,beyond the Valley of Mariners, and the people marveled at the ceaseless thunder without a storm.  The united armies of the Grand Dukes were so large that the feet of the marching men carved a great rift in the earth, which is still visible in the Aeon of the Dying Sun. And when the two sides finally met in clash of arms, the force of their violence was such that the entire earth could feel the ground shake so that all feared the end of this world had come at last.

Some say that the vast hosts fought together for a year and a day without end, with some going so far as to say that the Sun took fright and refused to leave the Underworld so that no man could truly say how long the battle lasted without means of reckoning the passage of time; others, such as the anonymous scribe of the Faresian Chronicles, assert that the destructive power of each side was so tremendous that the great battle took but the span of a man’s breath.  Whatever the case, all agree that every man there was killed and no living thing remained on the plains of forgotten name. That once-grassy plain was turned, in a year or an instant, into a vast sea of death, shadowed for miles around by the flight of carrion-beasts, which blotted out even the fiery Noon-time sun.

Yet the sloth and avarice of Men knows no bounds and soon human ravens descended upon that place to loot the bodies of the fallen.  And there was much to be scavenged, for the armies of the Grand Dukes were arrayed with such finery as none now living have ever seen and the Kerchak Horde had spent the previous decade plundering the uncounted wealth of the Far Lands.  But no matter what treasure was prised from the dead hands of the fallen soldiers, no scavenger was ever satisfied for each hoped to find the bodies of the Grand Dukes of the East, to whom mere wealth was the slightest possession.  It is said that one of the Grand Dukes rode a magnificent steed made all of gold to the final battle; another wielded a mace whose head was a perfect diamond of a size exceeding a man’s face and of a colour which no longer exists; a third Grand Duke is rumoured to have brought a personal bodyguard carved out of green jade who could not be slain by ordinary means; while a fourth wore an impenetrable suit of mail made of stars that had been forged in the heart of the sun.  Many stories there were and are of the surpassing splendour of the Grand Dukes of the East and many longed to find and loot their corpses with a passion that overwhelmed all other considerations. Yet there are no tales of even one of the Grand Dukes ever being found.

Today, the Sea of Bones is vast wasteland, so filled with the ancient remains of the great battle that the earth beneath is entirely obscured. For all practical purposes, the ground of the Sea is bone, human and animal.  Virtually every other substance has either rotted away over the centuries or been looted, yet the faint odour of decay somehow remains.  There is no vegetation and, since the carrion disappeared, no natural animal life either.  The only exception are the Scavenger Clans.

Travel upon or through the Sea of Bones is thus an unpleasant, eerie experience.  Animals that are not familiar with the area become very tense and can act in unpredictable ways; some people behave likewise.  Although there are areas at the periphery where the bone has become ground down, from the passage of feet, into a fine powder, in most places traversing the Sea of Bones means picking a way through a thick layer of remains, some of which are heaped together in piles exceeding a man's height.  Travel times are multiplied three-fold in this place and dangerous, even fatal, falls are not uncommon.

And yet there are some few merchants, crazy or desperate, who travel to the Sea of Bones, to trade with the Scavenger Clans.  The Scavengers are an unpleasant lot, largely composed of the descendants of those who came centuries ago to loot, supplemented by the occasional desperate misfit with nowhere else to go. Mutant and barbarian, the Scavengers are ignorant, malnourished, greedy, territorial, suspicious, unpredictable, and extremely in-bred.  Congenital diseases of various unpleasant sorts of common.  Most know of no other life beyond the Sea, being the off-spring of those consumed by lust for the treasures of the dead and learning such lust themselves to the exclusion of all else.  Without any natural resources, however, the Scavengers would all die, but for those merchants who are willing to venture into this place, bringing food, water, and other goods in exchange for the ancient loot still torn up by the residents.   The Scavengers have very little sense of the value of their items, since they have no frame of reference anymore; they regard everything as “treasure”.  Some few merchants have made their fortunes and retired as a result of a single, fortuitous exchange in the Sea of Bone; many others have met their deaths due to some unprovoked outburst of violence.

But there are worse fates than simply dying.  A number of travelers and traders have reported uncanny, manlike forms moving through the bones at night, with only the gleam of their red eyes to see them.  Unearthly keening noises have also been noted.  And bones have been noticed which are both fresh and gnawed upon, although there is no animal life. Some have suggested than at least some of the Scavenger Clans have turned to cannibalism and degenerate ghouls are the result. They say that the more human Scavengers trade only to lure fresh meat into the Sea of Bones.

All animals not bred in the Bone Lands become extremely skittish there. Any attempt to make animals perform even the most routine actions requires a Reaction Roll.  Any action which would normally require such a roll, suffers a -2 penalty.  Similarly, most NPC's need to make  Morale Roll upon entering the Sea of Bones and every day thereafter, rolling at a -2 when confronted by violence.

The Sea of Bones can serve as the reputed resting place of any fabulous artifact the GM needs. The Grand Dukes possessed anything and everything desirable, according to the legend, so if it’s something that a PC or NPC might want, it might be there somewhere (or again, it might not).  It can also serve as a destination for trade, if the PC’s find themselves desperate for cash and fall into the job of guarding a merchant train.  The tensions inherent in the bottom-feeding traders ultimately seeking the same things as the crazed, starving Scavengers can easily lead to violence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back in September, I posted about my dissatisfaction at the asymmetry of the my Psychic Combat Modes.  In play-testing the other day, a thought hit me: most of the physical combat rules assume that you are using deadly force, but all of the psychic combat rules are based on that assumption.  The one really big difference is that there is an option for non-deadly physical fighting i.e. grappling.  So, perhaps a psychic grappling might serve as the solution to my aesthetic dilemma?  Instead of doing direct Ability-damage, like the other Attack Modes, a successful psychic grapple would freeze you into inaction.

What I particularly like about that option is that as normal grappling is STR-based, I can make psychic grappling CHA-based and fill that one missing slot.  Kallos, baby!  The grappled guy has to make a CHA Throw to escape, just as the wrestled guy has to make a STR Throw.

Of course, there are still some details to work out.  In physical grappling, the attacker has the option of squeezing the victim on subsequent rounds to do damage or to throw the victim.  Should mental grappling have the same options?  Although it sounds dangerously asymmetrical, my instinct is to say "no", but I'm not quite sure why.

Another thought is the applicability of the mental grapple.  This touches on a subject that has been bothering me for some while: should there be some kind of Attack Mode that works against the non-psychics?  YAG provided for that possibility (through some ridiculously complicated rules).  I decided against it fairly early on and was working from the idea that having psychic sorcery was, potentially, as much burden as benefit, because it opened you up to the possibility of psychic combat.  And I still like that idea.  

But, something else that came out of play-testing brought this up again.  You will doubtless recall my struggles over Scorpion Man benefits and drawbacks.  One of the ways that I have addressed that is that I have removed psychic potential from the Akrab.  They are now the only playable species that can't have sorcery.  That was a suggestion from Drew and make so much sense I kind of had to wonder why the hell I hadn't thought of it.  The alien bug-men have different brains that the humans?  Shocker.  But, going back to the past paragraph, that isn't as much of a drawback as it might seem because it makes them invulnerable to psychic combat.

So, I'm considering making psychic grappling the one Mode that can affect anybody.  That then brings up another consideration.  The Psionics of YAG had it that every psionic would get the Empty Mind Mode.  So should Mental Grapple be the automatic first Attack Mode that all sorcerer's get?  Or do you just take your chances?


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Mind-Saber: An Elegant Weapon For a More Civilized Age

Inspired by this wonderful thread on rpg.net of re-imagining Star Wars if the original movie was the only canon -  i.e. exactly what you did from 1977 to 1980 - I present this little Artifact from under the Dying Sun.

The Mind-saber appears as a tube of metal covered with electrode touch-points.  This Artifact only works in the hands of one possessing psychic powers; it is simply a hunk of metal to anyone else.   If a psychic holds the device with a bare hand, he may focus his sorcery into the tube, which creates a shimmering energy-field resembling a sword-blade.  Various tubes produce blades of various colours and lengths and no one has any idea why.

The Mind-saber is amazingly responsive to the psychic’s thoughts, allowing even a physically-frail individual the potential to be a combat force.  The wielder of the Mind-saber may use his CHA to modify his Combat Roll, rather than his STR.  Furthermore, the ‘saber can be moved with such ease that it also provides a Defense equal to the user‘s INT Modifier.  The “blade” slices through objects with unnerving ease and is extremely harmful.  It has a Damage Multiplier of x3 and the following modifiers vs. Armour Class:
AC 0: +4
AC 1: +3
AC 2: +2
AC 3: +1
Should the wielder lose contact with the Mind-saber, it will shut off.  No one has ever been able to figure out why a psychic cannot project his mind-force across space into the weapon, but it only functions when in physical contact with flesh.  In addition, because the weapon feeds off of the user’s psychic power, anyone wielding a Mind-saber suffers a penalty of -2 to all sorcery rolls, including using Disciplines and Psychic Combat.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Special Maneuvers: Give A Guy A Chance

In thinking further about Special Maneuvers, it occurs to me that they a probably too powerful.  I think perhaps the victim should get a Saving Throw.  So it would work like this:

Special Maneuver
If the Combat Roll is 15+, the attacker has the option to make a Special Maneuver. If so, he subtracts 5 from the Combat Roll so that he does less damage (so a roll of 17 reduced to 12 has a base damage of 2 now). He can reduce the Combat Roll to 10, in which case he does no damage other than the results of the Special Maneuver. These Maneuvers include:

Wound - the opponent must make a CON Throw or roll on the Wounds Table (which usually happens only if reduced to 0 or less HP).

Knock Down/Back - the foe must make a DEX Throw or stumble back a few feet or falls down.

Disarm - the foe must make a DEX Throw or his weapon goes flying out of his hand.

Stunning Flurry - a flurry of disorienting blows that forces the foe to make an INT Throw or lose his next turn.

Deadly Display - the character's display of martial prowess is so intimidating that the foe must immediately make a Morale Throw.

The Referee should feel free to add any other Special Maneuvers that seem fun.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dodging and Defense

I've been wrestling with the idea of Defense for a long time now.  The concept comes from Spellcraft & Swordplay, which, in turn, takes it from OD&D.  The base idea is that magical armour and shields don't affect Armour Class, but rather levy a penalty to incoming attacks.  That mechanic disappeared as the idea of Weapons vs. Armour modifiers were dropped; at that point, Armour Class became simply a defense number, so it was easier to have armour and shields just change the AC.  Since S&S keeps the Weapon vs. Armour table, it makes sense to keep the original mechanic.

But, S&S doesn't give the mechanic a name and I have expanded upon the concept in Dying Sun.  First, I think shields are criminally undervalued in Ye Auld Game.  I won't rehearse the argument; suffice it to say that there is a reason that most people don't enter hand-to-hand combat  without something to hide behind.  So in Dying Sun, shields gives a Defense of +2.  A fighting-man can use an off-hand weapon to parry instead, gaining a +1 to Defense, but only against melee weapons (you can't parry arrows except in super-hero games).

Something was still bothering me, though.  And then, I got involved in a discussion at rpg.net about the game Atlantis: the Second Age.  And that reminded me that I really liked the idea from Talislanta (the base system) in which a character's weapon skill not only adds to their combat roll, but subtracts from an opponent's roll.  And that caused me to figure out what was bothering me: Defense was too unconnected to character.  It reminded me that I had added a house-rule to the very AD&D-based system in the Arcanum (the predecessor to A2A) in which weapon bonus functioned similarly.  So, anyway, that all prompted this rewrite:

Defense is a penalty levied against incoming attacks.  Defense equals the Attack Bonus from Class and Level.  Thus, a 4th level Slayer with 2+2 Attacks has a Defense of +2.  Monster Size can also grant a Defense.

Shields grant a +2 Defense versus all incoming attacks and may add to DEX Throws for area-effects attacks and the like.  As with other armour, most shields are made from natural materials and break when they take a hit from a roll of boxcars (see Critical Hit).  If a character is wearing natural armour as well as using a natural shield, assume the shield breaks first.

Bronze shields work as normal.  A steel shield adds an additional point of Defense, making +3 in total.

A combatant may use a small, parrying weapon in the off-hand instead of a shield. This grants only a +1 to Defense versus incoming melee attacks and none versus missile attacks. It does, however, give the character 1 extra attack with the off-hand weapon at -1 to the Combat Roll.

In turn, that prompted me to think Survivors.  I felt that while Slayers ought to be the best at actively defending, Survivors ought to be good at just getting the hell out of the way.  And so I write down the following this morning:

In addition to the usual ways in which in a character is protected during a fight, he may also choose a full-bore defense by dodging.  The character declares his intent to dodge during the Declaration Phase of the round.  Dodging means that the character gets no attacks - Melee, Missile, or Sorcery - as dodging essentially replaces those actions.  He does get a half-move exactly as if he had attacked.  Note that the dodging character must have at least ½ of his Movement Rate to dodge; otherwise he is too encumbered to move fast enough.

Any time the dodging character is attacked during the round, he is allowed to make a DEX Throw to avoid the attack.  If successful, the dodger avoids the attack entirely; if unsuccessful, the attack proceeds as normal.

The Referee should feel free to add modifiers to the dodge throw.  A more balanced system, would allow the attacker’s degree of success to function as a penalty to the dodging DEX Throw.  So, if the attacker rolls “13”, the dodge roll takes a -2 penalty.  This ruling is more fair to the attacker, but adds complexity.  Alternately, one might use the attacker’s combat bonus as a penalty instead.  So dodging an attack from a 5th level Slayer is always at -2.   The Referee might also apply a penalty to consecutive dodges with each dodge after the first adding a cumulative -1 penalty; this would reflect the idea that a combatant can only really evade so much in the 5 seconds of a combat round.

As always, thoughts welcomed.

More with Adding to Combat

I'm actually really surprised that no one thought my idea of adding Special Maneuvers to combat might be too complex.  Gratified, but surprised.  I'm hoping to give them the road-test soon.

So, you only have yourselves to blame for my continuing to think along these lines.  First, I decided to codify some of my thoughts into one place.  For example, in what follows, I had discussed breaking weapons and armour before, but I had that rule in the section on Weapon/Armour Materials.  I realized that it made much more sense to put those rules together with the rules for Special maneuvers.
Combat Results
During each of the three Combat Phases (Melee, Missile, and Sorcery), everyone making an attack of that type makes a Combat Roll with varying results:
Roll is snake-eyes: Fumble
Roll is 10- : Miss
Roll is 11+ : Hit
Roll is 15+ : Special Maneuver
Roll is box-cars: Critical Hit
If the attacker is using a weapon made of natural, non-metallic materials, it breaks.   The Referee should feel free to apply other results; for example, he may rule that Artifacts also break on a fumble or perhaps just run out of power.
As discussed previously, the degree of success indicates base damage done. This is modified by the weapon’s Damage Multiplier and sometimes other modifiers as well (such as STR).

Special Maneuver
If the Combat Roll is 15+, the attacker has the option to make a Special Maneuver.  If so, he subtracts 5 from the Combat Roll so that he does less damage (reducing a roll of 17 to 12 means that base damage goes down to 2).  He can reduce the Combat Roll to 10, in which case he does no damage other than the results of the Special Maneuver. These Maneuvers include:
Wound - the opponent rolls on the Wounds Table (which usually happens only if reduced to 0 or less HP).

Knock Down/Back - the foe must stumble back a few feet or falls down.

Disarm - the foe’s weapon goes flying out of his hand.

Stunning Flurry - a flurry of disorienting blows that forces the foe to lose his next turn.

Deadly Display - the character's display of martial prowess is so intimidating that the foe must immediately make a Morale Throw.
The Referee should feel free to add any other Special Maneuvers that seem fun.

Critical Hit
A roll of box-cars has one of the following effects:
Automatic Hit - if the attacker had no chance to roll 11+, he still hits on box-cars. This means that everyone has at least some chance of hitting any foe.
If the attacker has no need for an automatic hit, then another effect results.
Break Natural Armour/Shield - if the foe’s armour and/or shield if made of natural materials, it breaks and becomes useless. If both armour and shield are susceptible to this effect, the shield will always break first.

Extra Damage - the weapon’s Damage Multiplier increases by one. A Tiny Weapon goes from x ½ to x1, a Small Weapon goes from x1 to x2, and so on.
More to come.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Know Your Audience

Alright, I'm a dunce: I just now noticed that there is a button that let's you see your audience on Blogger.  I got 7 views from Russia this week!  There was a period back in my Pleistocene Epoch (i.e. university) when I studied Russian.  It started as just a way to avoid taking Spanish or French, but I ended up really liking it.  My father's family emigrated from Russia in the early part of the previous century so I had a kind of genetic curiosity about it.  If I hadn't been so eager to graduate, I might have pursued it further.  As it is, my knowledge of the language has sadly deteriorated over the intervening years and ya gavoritz pa-russky ochen ploha chasty.

Anyway, zdrastvitye tovarishy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Special Combat Manuevers?

I finally got ahold of a copy of Mongoose's Runequest II.  After a first go through, I'm fairly impressed.  It's still more fiddly than I like - I still think that SIZ is one stat too many, the Parry rules have too many qualifiers, hit locations, etc. - but really it's pretty slick.  The thing that really grabbed my attention was the idea of Combat Maneuvers.  It's the first time that I have seen the idea implemented in this way: rather than choose a Maneuver before you roll and face a penalty, you roll and if you achieve great success, you earn a Maneuver.

That's clever.  It removes a huge waste of time at the front end when the player usually has to decide if he wants to do a special move.   So that has me wondering about using something like that in my gaming.  That's always a suspect thought - "I just saw something cool in some other game; I'll add it into mine!"  That doesn't mean that it is a bad idea, just suspect.  But let's set that aside for the moment and see how it might work.

In my One-Roll Combat, you succeed on a roll of 11+ with each point in the one's place being the base damage (so 11 gives 1 point, while 14 gives 4 points).  Unlike most iterations of Ye Auld Game, this means that the Combat Roll has "success levels" or "margins of success".  And that's what RQII's system is based on.  But my roll also takes damage into account which RQII doesn't.  Thus, here's a first thought:

On a roll of 15+, a character may reduce his Combat Roll by 5 to take a Special Maneuver instead.

If the roll was 15, that takes it down to 10, which means no hit point damage is inflicted (a zero in the one's place), but you get the Special Maneuver instead.  If the roll was a 17, it would go down to 12, meaning you do 2 points of damage plus the Special Maneuver.

RQII has a list of Maneuvers that go on a bit too long for me.   I'd do something like this:
  • Wound - the opponent rolls on the Wounds Table (which usually happens only if reduced to 0 or less HP).
  • Knock Down/Back - the foe must stumble back a few feet or fall down.
  • Disarm - um...disarm.
  • Stunning Flurry - a flurry of disorienting blows that forces the foe to lose his next turn.
  • Deadly Display - the character's display of martial prowess is so intimidating that the foe must immediately make a Morale Throw.
So, does that seem like something  that would add flavour to Dying Sun or just add complexity?  I'm not sure right now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October Playtest Report

Optimism isn't my strong-suit.  I seldom find the silver-lining of the lemons that life gives me (or however that goes).  Still, one can try.

It appears that my Sunday Labyrinth Lord game has fallen apart.  It was a new game with only three of us, but I was quite enjoying it.  The Referee was running us in a setting that was heavily inspired by Vance's Lyonesse, which was nifty.  It was my first go at actually playing LL;  a little trickier than I expected, but only because we could never be sure whether we were remembering the actual rules or the B/X rules, which prompted more book shuffling than desired.  But still, fully enjoyable.  Gaming with three is always a perilous prospect; you are balancing on the knife-edge of being too light.  Alas, our third, a younger fellow to whom we were introducing the delights of old-schooling, suffered some unpleasantness in personal life and appears to have decamped my little postage-stamp of an island.

Undefeated, the now campaign-less Referee and I got together anyway and ran some test combats for Under the Dying Sun.  I had really wanted to do this for a while now because I hadn't been able to kick the tires of the One-Roll Combat System.  I was rather concerned that it might prove too hard to hit and hurt things this way.  Fortunately, that did not prove to be the case in our test runs.  Hits were coming pretty often actually, with my sword-slinging Slayer doing 6 points of damage on most hits.  Combat was brutal and to the point.

Only in retrospect did I think to do some statistical analysis on this.  If that sort of thing bores you, feel free to skip the rest of this post.

In B/X, a 1st level Fighter has a 50% chance of landing a hit  on an unarmoured opponent (assuming no bonuses from STR and so on).  In Dying Sun, weapon choice makes a difference so the comparison is a bit tricky, but let's try.  A 1st level Slayer has the following chances:
  • 72% with a sword (the best weapon against an unarmoured foe)
  • 58% with an axe
  • 42% with a mace or spear
  • 17% with a club
  • 8% with a fist.  
I'm a little worried about that last one, but otherwise it works for me.

That B/X Fighter has 40% chance to hit a leather-armoured foe.  A 1st level Slayer has
  • 42% with a sword
  • 28% with an axe or spear
  • 17% with a mace
  • 8% with a club
  • A lousy 3% with a fist (that is, only a roll of boxcars)
 OK, now I officially think I need to jigger with the unarmed modifiers.  Otherwise, I'm still fine.

Our increasingly-beset B/X Fighter has a 30% chance to hit a foe in mail.  Our Slayer has
  • 17% with a spear
  • 8% with an axe or mace
  • 3% with a sword or anything else.
Finally, a 1st level B/X Fighter has a 20% chance to hit a plate-clad foe.  The Slayer has a flat 3% with anything.

Now, let's do this all over.  But this time, our two warriors will have advanced to 7th level.  The 7th level Fighter has a 75% chance to hit an unarmoured foe.  The 7th level Slayer has the following:
  • 92% with a sword
  • 83% with an axe
  • 72% with a mace or spear
  • 42% with a club
  • 28% with a fist. 
BUT, the Slayer also gets 2 attacks every round to the Fighter's 1.  Unfortunately, I don't have the maths to figure out how that changes the odds.  If anyone does, I'd be grateful.

Now, the Fighter has a 65% against the leather-clad foe.  The Slayer (with his 2 attacks) has:
  • 72% with a sword
  • 58% with an axe or spear
  • 42% with a mace
  • 28% with a club
  • 8% with a fist
The Fighter 55% against mail.  The Slayer has:
  • 42% with a spear
  • 28% with an axe or mace
  • 17% with a sword
  • 8% with a club
  • 3% with a fist
Finally, the 7th level Fighter has 45% against plate armour.  The Slayer has:
  • 17% with a sword
  • 8% with a club
  • 3% for anything else.
Results: armour - particularly heavy armour - is way more useful in Dying Sun as written than in B/X and those calculations assumed that the foe did not use a shield.  Of course, armour is also way more expensive in Dying Sun.  Plate costs a measly 60 gp in B/X and is easily affordable to the 1st level Fighter, whereas a suit of Heavy armour made out of lacquered wood or Scorpion Man chitin costs 5 times that amount (300 coins) under the Dying Sun and represents a huge amount of wealth; steel plate costs 3,000 coins and represents thre income of a small city.  Only the richest can afford heavy armour.  Even measly light armour, which costs 20 gp in B/X costs 50 coin in Dying Sun.  And, on top of that, it is very hard to wear armour for protracted lengths of time under the Dying Sun.

Conclusions: I'm not yet sure.  I think I want to up the weapon modifier for fists against the lighter armour classes.  Otherwise, I think I'm pretty happy with it.

Pakistani Flood Relief & Gaming

Just in case you missed the news, RPGNOW is again doing a brilliant job at collecting money to help victims of disaster; in this case, those suffering from the flood in Pakistan.  It's brilliant because for a mere $25, you get almost $1,000 worth of gaming downloads.  There is some cruft to be sure, but you get some really big ticket items such as Steve Kenson's rules-lite super-hero game ICONS, the repacking of the old-school classic Dragon Warriors, HarnMaster 3rd edition, the gigantic FATE-based Star Blazer Adventures, Greg Stolze's Wild Talents 2nd edition,  some module called The Cursed Chateau by some hack named Maliszewski :), and - why not - Exalted 2nd edition.  And much more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tales of Arthur Machen and the Supernatural

One of the big trends over the last few years in the Old-School Renaissance is the turn towards Weird Fantasy.  Carcossa, Athanor, Planet Algol, and the late, lamented, World of Thool just to name a few.  That last one, Thool, was uniquely interesting in that it's creator passed on some of the most famous sources of inspiration (paging Mr. Lovecraft!) and drank from a less well-known literary well.  Thool's drawing from William Hope Hodgson was particularly well-done: the existentially-creepy Weed Men from The Boats of the Glen Carrig.

In that spirit, I'd like to turn my attention to Arthur Machen.  Machen was a fascinating writer: a devoted Catholic and a Grail Quester, a Monarchist and a passionate lover of his native Wales, a Victorian born some 50 years too late who repeatedly wrote about horrid sexual practices, and a craftsman of ornate prose who was unexcelled (in my opinion) at evoking nameless dread from seemingly-ordinary reality.

I first became acquainted with Machen at second-hand back in a previous existence as a professional scholar of medieval heresy, magic, and witchcraft.  There, I found his name repeatedly linked to the bete noir of witchcraft historians, Margaret Murray.  Unless you sturdy such things, you may never have heard of Ms. Murray, but you have almost certainly encountered her central thesis: that the phenomenon labelled "witchcraft" in the medieval and early modern periods was a dimly-glimpsed survival of a pre-Christian, Northern European religion, which survived in an organized form as a sort of medieval conspiracy or counter-Church.  Once upon a time, this idea was so accepted that Murray was allowed to authour the Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on "Witchcraft".  More lastingly, she was one of the founding mothers of the modern Wicca movement.

Murray's idea incorporated the notion, both attractive and repellent, that the past haunts the present.  Machen worked with that idea as well, but rather than pretend to scholarship, he used it to inform his fiction.  In The Novel of the White Powder he presents something like Murray's Witch-Cult, but the the result is something so dreadful that it is never quite described.  This is a favourite technique of Machen's wherein suggestive phrasing not only adds to the horror (that is, the reader is left trying to wonder what could be so horrible), but alludes to the insoluble mystery of existence (the real world, lying just under our imagined ordinary one, is ineffable).

In stories such as The Novel of the Back Seal and The Shining Pyramid, Machen worked out an idea that had some popularity among the folklorists: British stories of "the Little People" are cloudy memories of short-statured, pre-Celtic inhabitants of the Isles.  And in Machen's stories, these ethnological dead-ends are terrifying.   Even if you have never read those stories, you might know the idea from Robert Howard's loving tribute, The Worms of the Earth (Howard was a happily acknowledged fan of Machen's work).

Machen's most famous horror story is probably The Great God Pan (his most famous story period is undoubtedly The Bowmen, a tale of a war-time miracle that was so convincing to his contemporaries that it supposedly came true).  It's one of his earliest and most Decadent (in the technical sense) and displays his core ideas: a mystical reality invisibly underlying our own own, contact with which lets out the evil within Man.  Perhaps his best story, though, is The White People, which may not be horror per se, but which is an amazingly creepy journey into the mystical world through the mind of a little girl.  If you have ever wanted to make Faeries the scary, alien things that the ancients thought of (as opposed to Tinkerbells), you must read The White People.

Although both Machen and Lovecraft were writers of Weird Horror and both ably used similar techniques of suggestive allusion, they were also quite different.  At the risk of reductionist psychologizing, it is worth noting that Machen was a High Church Anglican, who vehemently disapproved of the stolid, Puritanism to which Lovecraft was heir.  In any case, Lovecraft's vision is cosmic and his terror comes from the realization of man's essential, pitiful smallness within the vast cosmos.  Conversely, Machen's vision is decidedly terrestrial and terror proceeds from the realization of the horribleness that resides within Man.  It is humanistic, but in a strangely distorted way.  Although the actualization of Man's inner evil might provoke a physical transformation (the stunting of the aboriginals or the indescribable bodily alteration in The White Powder and The Great God Pan), these things are still human - are still us - in a way that no Old One ever could be (you might argue that HPL was doing something the sort in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but I think that would be wrong).  

If you haven't read any of Machen, then shame on you.  It's not too easy finding copies of his works as he has not been republished in the manner of Lovecraft, or given the limited, but royal treatment afforded to Hodgson.  Still, Machen is worth the effort.  Even though the revelations contained therein may...change you.

Balanced, Random Character Generation

This is pretty much a random idea that popped into my head for no very good reason.  So why not blog about it?  :)  The idea is to preserve random generation of Abilities, but which would be balanced in the sense that all characters have the same total number of points. 

Start with the B/X scheme of Ability Modifiers (my favourite scheme of Ability Modifiers based on 3d6).  This should be hard-wired into your brain, but just in case it isn't:

Average roll for 3d6 is 10.5, while the range of average (i.e. no modifier) Ability scores is 9 to 12.  We have to decide what we would want the Ability scores of the PC's to average out to.  Let's pick 11 (pretty damn average).   If evenly applied to all 6 Abilities, that would be a total of 6x11=66 points.  If we wanted a more heroic game, we would pick a higher number, but let's just try this for now.

We roll 3d6 for all Abilities in order and deduct the points from the total as we go.  So I get:

STR: 11 (leaving 66-11=55 points)
INT: 9 (55-9=46 points)
WIS: 14 (46-14=32 points)
DEX: 14 (32-14=18 points)
CON: 5 (18-5=13 points, so...)
CHA: 13

That's a nicely-mixed character, with slightly above-average (+1) WIS, DEX, and CHA and moderately below-average (-2) CON.  He's definitely not a Fighting-Man; probably a Thief.

Now that randomly-rolled example turned out easy because I didn't run out of points.  Let's fake it now and push the system with an improbable bunch of high rolls:

STR: 15 (66-15=51)
INT: 15 (51-15=36)
WIS: 15 (36-15=21)
DEX: 15 (21-15=6)
CON: 15 (6-15= -11.  Oops)

Alright, I don't have enough points left to pay for that CON.  So here's what happens now: we circle around and subtract the required number of points from STR.  We need 11 points to make up the difference and our strong-man suddenly goes down to STR 4.  Who said this was going to be fair?  It's still random generation.

But that leaves us with 0 points and we still have to roll CHA.  OK, so let's roll and - mirabile dictu - we get another 15.  Who'd a'thunk?  Now we circle back to the second stat, INT, but we can't take all 15 points because you have a minimum of 3.  So we take 12 points from INT (leaving us now weak and dumb) and then move on to WIS, where we take the final 3 points outstanding.  That gives us a final of:

STR: 4
INT: 3
WIS: 12
DEX: 15
CON: 15
CHA: 15

That's one hell of a weird character which is a good thing in my opinion.  But, if it seems too harsh, you might stipulate that no more than X number of points can come off of any one Ability (maybe 5?).  If you did that, you would end up with this instead:

STR: 9
WIS: 14
DEX: 10
CON: 10
CHA: 15

He's certainly not the ubermensch he would have been with the usual method, but he's a more interesting character for that.  

One alternative that I considered was using total modifiers rather than total Ability Score.  I quickly decided against that, even though it would be much quicker, since it would mean that all characters will be much more samey.

Is this system worth using?  I have no idea.  Like I said, random thought.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Specialties: First Very Rough Draft

This is the kind of thing I am thinking about:

Three Base Classes Plus A Specialty

The debate over the number of Classes in Ye Auld Game goes back at least as far as Supplement I: Greyhawk, which saw the introduction of two new Classes: the ever-lovin’ Thief and the ever-righteous Paladin.  For all I know, however, there may have been debate before that; one of those ludo-archaeologists like James M ought to try and check on that.  I have to assume that there were people in 1975 who looked at Greyhawk and said, “Five Classes? Geez, I can’t take this rules-bloat!”.

Okay, maybe not.  But still, the debate, while it has waxed and waned over the years has never gone away.  At it’s simplest, the question is, “How many Classes do you need?”  But, probing a bit into the consequences of the answer, we see that the real question is, “What does a Class really represent?”

We see that evolving debate play out over the first three supplements to the Little Brown Books.  I already mentioned the introduction of the Thief and Paladin in 1975’s Greyhawk; that same year brought us Supplement II: Blackmoor with two more Classes: the Monk and the Assassin.  Finally, 1976’s Eldritch Wizardry saw the last official Class for original D&D, the Druid.  In two more years, we would get the Player’s Handbook for Advanced D&D, which would give us the Ranger, the Illusionist, and surely the weirdest-arsed class ever produced, the 1st edition Bard.   It just goes on from there, and that’s not counting the innumerable unofficial Classes that appeared in the pages of the Dragon, such the Ninja and the Bounty Hunter.

Obviously, the tendency was to accumulate more Classes as time went by.  Although I’m sure the real reason for this was to bring new, shiny, and cool stuff into the game, the (probably unintentional) consequence was to define the idea of Class much more narrowly than before. Classes began to more and more overlap with the idea of “Profession” and sometimes even “Background” (aka the Barbarian).  So even though the Fighter, the Cavalier, and Barbarian are all basically guys who fight, they all end up as separate Classes due to very slight distinctions which would have been left mechanically undefined in the fruitful void in the early iterations of the game.

So much for the obvious history lesson.  I felt I needed that little recap to get to the real subject of the post.  In it’s pairing back down of rules, the OSR has generally leaned toward the broader idea of Class, which means fewer Classes.  I may be wrong, but I don’t think anybody has felt the need to retro-clone the Cavalier.  I should hope not.

I lean toward the extreme end of this trend.  Adhering to the credo of “Kill the Cleric, Keep the Thief”, I pretty much use what I think of as the three base Classes: Fighting-Man, Wizard, and Thief (howsoever you name them). In Under the Dying Sun, I call them Slayer, Survivor ,and Sorcerer, and have tried to be very explicit about the broadness of their meaning.  I’ll admit that I am using the idea of the Cleric in my Onderland Campaign (recoloured as the Champion), only because I hadn’t reached my stage of current thinking when I began it. I wouldn’t allow it now.

All that said, I too feel the allure of the additional Class.  Not so much for the “shiny and new”, but because there are certain Classes which seem to evoke the archetypal feel that a Class should have.  Although I feel the Cleric is irrelevant, I still think the idea of the Ranger is cool.   I played a Ranger the first time I ever ran through B2 and played his spiritual heir in my longest running campaign.  But really, a Ranger is just a Fighter with some woodcraft. Maybe not in AD&D, where he got some of the weirdest-arsed abilities this side of…well, the Bard, but still, you know what I mean.

I’ve been playing with the idea of staying with three Classes, but adding Specialties (not wedded to the name). The spur to this thought was talking with Trey at the Sorcerer’s Skull about Backgrounds in his City setting.  But I should note that I am explicitly not thinking of Profession or Background.   I am actually thinking of a little something from 2nd Edition.

Yes, yes, pick up your jaw.   I know that 2nd edition is generally vilified in the Old-School circles. I think it had a lot of dreck myself.  But, in some ways, the worst thing about 2nd Edition was a pattern of good ideas poorly implemented.  Look at pretty much anything published for Dark Sun; maybe the one with the surfer dudes.  Yeah.

One of the good ideas poorly implemented were "Kits". Kits were supposed to be a little something that you layered onto Class to give a little distinction.  The Al-Qadim setting actually did them pretty well.  A Fighter could take the Askar kit and be a warrior of the peasants or he could take the Mameluke kit and be a slave raised to be a perfect soldier.  A Rogue could take such diverse kits as Merchant, Holy Slayer, or (my favourite) Barber.  The idea was that to give some additional flavour and, perhaps, a little mechanical tweak or two. The Askar, maybe the best example, gets a benefit to Reaction rolls from people from his town.

Now, the whole Kit idea ended up being a disaster.  TSR began to put out entire books filled with Kits and they became so littered with rules-changes that you might as well have saved yourself the trouble and just made a new Class.  But the idea, I’ll contend, had merit and that’s what I’m thinking off.

At first, I was trying to come up with Specialties that could be used by any Class.   For example, one called “Woodcraft”.  If a Fighter took the Woodcraft Specialty, you’d have a Ranger; a Thief would give us a Scout, and a Wizard would give us a Druid.  Each Specialty would give a little something - in this case, hunting and tracking - and then maybe give each particular Class something else. Maybe the Ranger gets a the traditional Combat Bonus (though I think versus animals as suggested here, rather than against humanoids), while the Scout gets maybe the Armour Class bonus of the B/X Halfling or maybe a slight bonus when using the short-bow on horse-back (for that Mongol-warrior thing).  Druids? Um, something.

The more I work on it, though, I’m wondering if that’s too limiting.  I’m not sure. Anyway, I’ll probably post some sketchy, initial ideas soon.