Thursday, February 25, 2010

Geekery Updated:: Pictures of the Ref's Screen

I have been rightly chastised for building a Ref's screen out of a tequila box and not posting pictures.  I hang my head in shame and herewith attempt to rectify that omission:

Beauty, eh?

Geekery: Referee's Screen

In preparation for my table-top play-test next week, I put together an Under the Dying Sun screen from a tequila packing-box (that seemed appropriate).  I'm no crafty-guy, so I just taped some print-outs of the cover and other evocative pictures on the front and put the combat and wound tables on my side.  It's delightfully amateurish and I may marry it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wounds Table: Finished At Last!

Yes, True Believers, I have finally, finished my Wounds Table.  The key, as usual, was realizing something obvious: instead of trying to figure out which rolls were temporary injuries and which permanent, I realized that I could make that subject to a second roll and get on with it.  So here we go:
Obviously, I will play around with this as time goes on, but this is good enough for the first, table-top play-test, which is scheduled for next Tuesday, March 2nd.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Personalizing Classes in Under the Dying Sun

Sooner or later, some player wants his character to be “different” and a frequent response has been to create a new class to accommodate that or to allow multiple classes.  The Classes in Under the Dying Sun are very broad in scope and are intended to accommodate many different types of character.  However, if the group feels the desire to change things around, one simple option is to swap out certain analogous Class-based Abilities.

For example, removing the Slayer’s Steely Thews and replacing it with the Survivor’s Survival Instinct creates a more dexterous type of warrior.  The Referee should consider this carefully however.  Some Class-based Abilities are more useful than others.  Swapping out Steely Thews for the Survivor’s Jury-Rig ability is probably an unfair trade given the greater applicability of the latter ability.

In general, the bonuses to Ability Throws are probably equivalent swaps.  The “signature abilities” of the Slayer (Combat Reflexes, Weapon Mastery, and Mass Slaughter) and of the Survivor (Stealth, Jury-Rig, and Back Stab) may be reasonable swaps depending upon play-style and expectations.  I could see playing up a more assassin-type guy by swapping out the Slayer's Mass Slaughter for the Survivor's Back-Stab and less-technical Survivor who gives up Jury-Rig in favour of the Slayer's Combat Reflexes.

The Sorcerer’s “signature ability” (Psychic Sorcery) is not a good candidate for this sort of thing. It is the defining ability of the class and allowing another class to take it renders the Sorcerer pretty pointless and the other class a bit too flexible.

(Here I resist the urge to make a snarky comment about more recent iterations of Ye Auld Game.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Should We Have Depesperate Efforts?

When prepping for my Play-by-Post Anglo-Saxon game a year or so ago, I wrote up a little thing of Spellcraft & Swordplay house-rules for the game.  As loyal, imaginary readers already know, I'm a rules-fiddler (see any of my twelve hundred posts on the Weapons vs. Armour Class chart). As that game has gotten to an R&R stage (return from the dungeon), I have been, unsurprisingly, adding to the house-rules.  But I haven't updated the web-site yet, only done so in my head.  As I went to the site to begin the update (including incorporating my brand-new Weapons vs. AC Chart from Under the Dying Sun, as well as new stuff like replacing the Wizard/Cleric magic split with a Natural/Demonic magic split), I noticed a rule that I had half-forgotten, since none of the players has ever used it: Heroic Effort.

With this rule, a character may alter the results of certain class-appropriate rolls to grant himself a better result. To do so, he uses up some of his vitality and luck i.e. Hit Points. Points can be sacrificed to raise the dice result on a one-for-one basis plus an additional 1d6-1. This means that Heroic Effort is an uncertain action. Lower levels characters are unlikely to use it much since it could easily kill them (although they may do just that for an heroic death scene). But that is fitting, since low-level characters are not great heroes. Not yet.  Characters can only use Heroic Effort to affect certain class-appropriate rolls:

  • Warriors: Combat Rolls (both To Hit and Damage), Strength- and Constitution-based Saves.
  • Wizards: Casting rolls (including dispelling), Intelligence- and Charisma-based Saves.
  • Champions: To Hit rolls, Casting rolls, Wisdom- and Charisma-based Saves.
  • Thieves: Thief Abilities, Dexterity- and Intelligence-based Saves.

Now, I'm wondering if some version of that would be a good addition to Dying Sun.   As the title of this posts suggests, I think I would rename it Desperate Effort or something along those lines, but the idea would be pretty much the same.

Good idea, bad idea, or ugly idea?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Melee Weapon Classes Explained

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am avoiding deliberately generic names for the various Weapon Classes because they bore me to tears with their technical connotations and I suspect they make things that much harder for new players.  But, I realized that my current draft of Dying Sun didn't really explain that.  Deciding that players are unlikely to read my mind, I'll be adding the following section.

Melee Weapons are distinguished by Class and Size. The various Classes are provided on the chart below. Each Weapon Class provides a different modifier to the Combat Roll against the various Armour Classes.

Melee Weapon Classes are generic, encompassing all similar weapons.
  • Axe - any weapon with a relatively short blade on the heavily-weighted end of the haft, including hatchets, battle-axes, tomahawks, halberds.  Small axes can be thrown as clumsy missile weapons. 
  • Club/Stick/Rock - a catch-all Class for relatively ineffective, often improvised weapons, including truncheons, chair legs, femur bones, and the like. If the weapon is better crafted, it generally falls into another class, so that something like a Plains Indian war-club is better represented as a Mace/Hammer. However, a Quarterstaff is treated as a Large Club with the special ability of granting the +1 Parry Defense while being wielded with both hands.
  • Flail - weapons in which the haft has a chain, rope, or hinge with a bludgeon on the other end. Effectively, “a mace and chain” and thus may have spikes or flanges. 
  • Foot/Fist - also includes head butts, shoulder strikes, etc. 
  • Mace/Hammer - A weapon with a weighted, bludgeoning end. This end may include spikes (i.e. a morningstar), flanges, nails, shards of flint, or other details, but not a blade (in which case the weapon is an Axe).
  •  Sword - a weapon with a long blade, such weapons as the stiletto, khurkri, gladius, broadsword, and claymore. Small swords can be thrown as missile weapons. 
  • Spear - a relatively long-hafted weapon with a piercing point that may be metal, stone, bone, or even just fire-hardened wood. Small or Medium-sized Spears may be used as either melee or missile weapons.
Melee Weapon Sizes are Small, Medium, and Large.
  • Small melee weapons roll 2D for damage, with the lower result used. In addition, a small weapon can be used in the off-hand to parry. This grants a +1 Defense to incoming melee attacks, but no Defense to missile attacks. However, anytime such a character scores a critical hit (12+), he automatically gets a second hit in with the other weapon rolling 2D damage for damage, with the higher result used.
  • Medium melee weapons are the normal ,baseline weapons with no modifiers.
  • Large melee weapons roll 2D damage for damage, with the higher result used. They are unwieldy and impose a -1 to the Combat Roll. A character using a Large weapon cannot also use a shield (even Scorpion Men, due to tangling of limbs and tools).

Melee Weapons vs. Armour Class, Take..Oh, Who the Hell Knows?

Maybe I'll just make this a continuing feature and create a new Weapon vs. AC Chart every week forever.  I could rename the blog, "A Weapon Chart a Week".

Oh, you know I'm joking.  Actually, the version below is the best one I've done in my grossly-informed opinion.  The key really was to simplify Armour Class by getting rid of the weird, Jan Brady, "Studded" category.  With that gone, the thing almost rewrote itself.

What do I like about this version?  Notably, I was able to get rid of the weird way in which heavier armour was sometimes less useful than lighter armour (a varietal of Bulletproof Nudity, I suppose).  In this iteration, heavier armour always improves your defenses, but to differing degrees depending upon the weapon.  That's what I wanted all along, but couldn't seem to get before.

Additionally, I feel that this version makes weapon selection a bit more interesting.  The Sword is the best weapon for whacking naked people, followed by the Axe, with the Spear and the Mace tying for 3rd place.  Moving to Leather Armour, the line-up is much the same, except that the bludgeoning weapons drop in effectiveness and Spears and Axes tie for 2nd place.  With Chain, the Spear takes pride of place, with Maces and Axes in 2nd, and the Sword dropping to 3rd.  Concluding with Plate, the Mace is now superior, with the Axe in 2nd, and Swords and Spears in 3rd.  

This has a neat dynamic to it in my mind: no weapon is clearly the best (unlike the fabled longsword in AD&D).  The Spear is generally a less optimal option, but has the advantages of being cheap, throw-able, able to set vs. charge, and being very effectively as a lance.  One might expect the rationale fighting-man to carry a spear in hand, with a sword, axe, or mace in his belt.  He could cast the spear at an approaching enemy (unless clad in hauberks), and then use a more effective weapon.  And, what do you know, this turns out to be exactly what lots of folks actually did.

The Flail is the other tricky one: it is essentially a slightly poorer bludgeon, but with the advantage of going around Shields and Parrying weapons.  Now, that's not totally realistic, but it keeps the tactical element: a Flail ends up being equivalent to a Mace when used against a parrying opponent, and slightly better when used against a shield-bearer.  I'm still debating whether to swipe the wonderful rule from Pendragon wherein a fumble with a Flail means you hit yourself (I love that rule).

Finally, the Fist/Foot and Club/Stick/Rock categories are clearly worse-case scenarios, with the chart giving some advantage to using even a bone as a weapon rather than the bare fist (shades of Samson).  As I mentioned previously: this isn't a wuxia game.  One little thing I just thought of is that if one's weapon breaks (all non-metal weapons break when you roll snake-eyes), you can keep attacking with the broken haft as a club.  I have a cool image in my head of a Dying Sun bad-ass laying waste about him with only the handle of his axe in hand.

One further note: several of the wonderful commentators to my post on simplifying armour class, mentioned that they had abstracted the classes down to Light, Medium, and Heavy.  That is essentially what I have done here, with Leather=Light, Medium=Chain, and Heavy=Plate.  I gave some thought to changing my nomenclature as well, but have decided against it.  I'm playing a somewhat obscure game with names in Dying Sun; mechanically, I have reduced armour and weapons to abstract classes, but I have kept specific names.  Thus, I have the Weapon Class Sword instead of Bladed; Mace/Hammer rather than Bludgeon, and so on and I intend to do the same with Armour Classes.  Why?  I find those generic names very uninspiring.   I also can't help but think that newer gamers would find them confusing.  I may be wrong about that, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

So, I end this post on a very hopeful note, sure to be greeted with huzzahs by all the faithful, imaginary readers: I think that this might really be the final Weapons vs. AC post on the blog.  Oh, I'll probably fiddle with specific numbers here and there (I am wondering the modifiers are a bit too low across the board), but I don't expect any major, substantive changes.

As long as you don't count Missile Weapons which I haven't even begun to tackle yet.  :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Simplifying Armour Class?

As all my imaginary readers know, I have simplified the Armour Classes down to 5: None, Leather, Studded, Chain, and Plate.  In my constant struggle to simplify, I'm wondering if I should cut out the Studded class.  Does Studded really bring anything meaningful to the table when I've abstracted as far as I have?  I must admit that I find myself in great difficulty, when playing with the Combat Table, coming up with a differecne between modifers against leather and modifers against Studded.


Azdarkho: Dragons Under the Dying Sun

No. Appearing: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Size: C
Armour Class/Defense: 3/+4 to attacks from Medium foes
Move: 60’ ground, 100’ fly
Hit Dice: 7
Attacks: 1 Bite +2 (Large Sword) OR 1 Tailslap +2 (Flail)
Modes: --
Disciplines: --
Special: -2 Damage from Me-dium foes, +2 to Physi-cal Ability Throws,, Throws, Fly, Swallow Whole
Moral: +7
Treasure: 6 in gullet
XP: 900

The flying dragon under the Dying Sun. The Azdarkho is a reptile with massively elogated front digits, forming the structure of it’s membranous wings. The wing-span of an average, adult Azdarkho is about 30 feet, while its torso averages some 15 feet in length. A relatively slow flier, the Azdarkho is a quick and agile runner. Thus, these monsters are capable hunters on land and in the air, using their dagger-like teeth to kill and thick hide to protect themselves from attack.

It is said that some powerful Sorcerers dominate huge Azdarkho’s to serve as flying mounts.

New Advancement Tables to reduce Dice Rolling in Combat

One of the distinctive things about Spellcraft & Swordplay is that it tends to reward advancement by giving additional attacks (or Combat Rolls) rather than the more usual bonuses to rolls.  I like this idea as it keeps the combat scale from exploding unlike, say, AD&D wherein you have to invent negative Armour Class to balance out the large hit bonuses of high-level characters.

And yet, I'm thinking about changing that for Under the Dying Sun.  First of all, the a harsh, survival game is designed for lower-level play.  36th level guys don't ever really worry about finding food and water.  Second, I've massaged the combat bonuses down already from the S&S Rev. rules, plus reduced ability bonuses through adopting the 2-12 scale rather than the 3-18.  And third, I don't really like rolling dice that much.

This third is rather a gamer heresy, I know, but there it is.  Since I used to love throwing dice as a younger man, I'm going to put the blame on Champions.  I played several long-running campaigns in the 80's with a guy whose sole delight was in making characters so strong that when they hit someone, they filled the table with damage dice.  His favourite character, Golem, had STR 80, which, if I recall correctly, meant that he rolled 27D6 for damage with a pushed, haymaker (HERO players know what I'm talking about; the rest of you can look it up). I always feel a bit trepidatious throwing dice.  One of the things I love about S&S is that I can handle 2D6, which is the core mechanic.

So, I'm thinking now of having the combat progression straddle a middle-ground between S&S and Ye Auld Game.  Here's the current version:

One notable difference from YEG is that I give everyone a slight bonus upon reaching Level 2.  I'm not sure that I have a great reason for this; the resultant scheme just seemed to fit better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Once More (Grappling)...With Feeling

Why am I still going on about this?  Well, as the philosophical Scorpion Man, Sot Sojat, said, if weapons break one roll out of thirty-six, you gotta expect this to come up a lot.  At the same time,  David responded to my last attempt that if grappling is too attractive an option, you end up with the soldiers all tossing aside their swords to wrastle.  So this topic actually needs some careful consideration.

What follows are the proposed grappling rules for Under the Dying Sun, Mark II:

  1. The grapple attempt is made as a Fist attack vs. AC1.  The Grappler must drop items held, such as weapons and shield.
  2. If the attack misses, then the target gets free, return attack.  If the attack hits, then target gets STR Throw to escape.
  3. If STR Throw fails, target subject to Small Weapon damage (2D, take the lowest) and can take no further action until he escapes.
  4. Grappler can do one of the below on subsequent rounds:
  • Squeeze for Small Weapon Damage
  • Trip and throw down
  • Exceptional STR (10+) to lift whole body and throw (within reasonable limits of relative size etc.)

Explanations: I don't want to go with the opposed DEX rolls idea.  Nothing else uses opposed rolls, plus this option favours Thieves in the long run if you construe their class-based modifier to DEX as applying.  I want this to be a straight-out combat maneuver, albeit one with unique aspects.

Could the target get a DEX Save instead of STR?  Yeah, sure; either could apply.  But I don't like like rules of the "take the higher of two stats" variety so I'm picking one and I'm going with the STR.

Unless I change my mind. 

    Friday, February 5, 2010

    Before One Shoots Off One's Big Mouth... should look in the damn rules book.

    Hypothetical readers know that I have been grappling with unarmed combat rules for Under the Dying Sun (that "grappling"? that's a pun, you see) here and then again here.  Then, a few days ago, I was leafing through Monstrous Mayhem, the only S&S supplement at the moment, a book I have read through multiple times, and saw grappling rules.

    Yep.  Grappling rules.

    That sound you hear through your screen is my hand slapping my head.

    Now, to be fair, I think that I might prefer my own rule--attack vs. AC 1 with target getting a STR Save to escape--versus the official rule--opposed DEX Saves.  But still....

    Ah well.