Friday, May 28, 2010

One-Roll Combat: Redux and Inverse

I recently posted on an idea for one-roll combat resolution, where the combat roll (aka "to hit" roll) would determine how much damage is dealt.  In other words, eliminate the damage roll without eliminating random damage.  I like that idea and still intend to try it out sometime.  But I was struck by an inverse idea posted by JB at B/X Blackrazor: eliminate the combat roll and only roll damage.  JB's idea goes further than mine in exploring the inherent possibilities of Ye Auld Game's abstract combat system, where hit point damage means a lot more than actual wounding.  In JB's idea, taking 1 hit point of damage is likely to represent getting just a bit more tired; 2 hit points might mean losing your breath, and 3 hit points  getting fouled up with your scabbard at the wrong moment.  Or something; it's abstract.  Really, nothing means anything in particular until you lose that last hit point.

Another thing that JB's idea does is to put a stop-watch on combat.  You and your opponent are going to be losing at least 1 hit point per round.  Time (and life) are running out.  That really changes the psychological impact of combat: the tank can't walk in and hope that all those kobolds' daggers are going to bounce off of him.  And speaking of psychology, I should recall why JB had the idea in the first place: you never whiff in this system.

But as dedicated, hypothetical readers know, I am constitutionally unable to take a system and not hack it just a bit.  So as I was sitting under the old tree at lunch, eating my sandwich and reading a comic-book in the balmy Hawaiian breeze, I thought of two things I might change were I to give this a try (and I might)  These won't make any sense unless you read the original post.  Do that and come back; I'll wait.

OK then:

I. Simplify Armour Class
You might recall that I went through a protracted period of coming up with a Weapon vs. Armour Class matrix that I could love.  There were a lot of missteps along the way, but I did get it at the last.  And the way I was able to make it work out right, was to simplify Armour Class.  I reduced all the various types and numbers to four:
  1. Unarmoured: AC 1
  2. Leather (aka Light) Armour: AC 2
  3. Medium (aka Chain) Armour: AC 3
  4. Heavy (aka Plate) Armour: AC 4
 I really, really like this scheme and I think it would work well with the idea under discussion too with one slight change: Unarmoured becomes AC 0 and the rest all shift down so that Plate ends up as AC 3. 

Base damage remains 1d4 for small weapons, 1d6 for medium weapons, and 1d8 for large weapons.  But, in this hack, the Armour Class number tells you how many die-shifts down to make.  So a guy with a longsword (d6) attacks a guy in leather armour (AC 1): he gets 1 die-shift down and rolls a d4 instead.

For those who like their combat matrices, the PC version would then look something like this:

(Yes, I noticed that I forgot the Cleric and MU parts of the chart.  Sue me.)

Of course, you could easily eliminate the matrix, since the AC tells you how many shifts to make.  All you need to do is to give characters a new stat like "Base Damage Bonus" or something.  Fighters get +1 every 3 levels and so on.  Easy-peasy.

But looking at that matrix, something stands out to me: there are an awful lot of of D20's on there.  That gets me to wondering if you might want to make things slightly more involved and say that, while you cannot shift below D4 or above D20, shifts that would otherwise do so instead give a +/- to the die roll. 

So, Aggro the Axe, a 5th level Fighter (+1) with a battle-axe (D6) attacks a guy in Plate armour (AC 3).  The D6 shifts up to D8 because of of Aggro's level, but then shifts down 3 places due to armour of the opponent:  D8-> D6-> D4-> D4-1.  Aggro rolls a pitiful D4 and then loses 1 point from the total.

Conversely, Gutboy Barrelhouse, a 15th level Dwarf (+5) wielding a great axe (+1), attacks Abner the Wizard (AC 0).  Due to level and weapon, he gets 6 shifts up and no shifts down from armour: D6-> D8-> D10-> D12-> D20-> D20+1-> D20+2.  Gutboy rolls a minimum of 3 and could do 22 points to poor Abner.

If we took this option, the matrix would look like this:

II. Simplify the Dice
My loyal and imaginary readers will also recall that I'm not a huge fan of the full suite of polyhedrals.  I love my six-sider and don't really need much more than that.  So, a further thought was to try and render this system into one using nothing but D6.  This turns out to be easier than I expected at first, although it requires some obscure notations. 
  1. 1 shift down from base is rolling 2D6 and taking the lowest.
  2. Base damage remains 1D6
  3. 1 shift up is rolling 2D6 and taking the highest.
  4. 2 shifts up is rolling 3D6 and taking the lowest two.
  5. 3 shifts up is rolling 2D6
  6. 4 shifts up is rolling 3D6   
And so on.  It's simple, but it's hard to represent on a matrix.  Nevertheless, it might look like this:

Now that's a proper matrix: utterly arcane unless you know the secret of the notation.  Of course, we do know, don't we?  An entry of "<3D means the lowest 2 of 3 dice).  And ">XD" means the highest X-1 (so >3D means the highest 2 of 3 dice).

One thing to notice is where the dice correspond to the original chart: what woudl have been 1D12 on the original is 2D6 on this, which is a nice correspondence.  The full comparison is:
  • 1D4 becomes <2D6 (potential for higher damage)
  • 1D6 is still 1D6
  • 1D8 becomes >2D6 (lower potential max damage)
  • 1D10 becomes <3D6 (slightly greater minimum damage and potential for greater max damage)
  • 1D12 becomes 2D6 (slightly higher minimum)
  • 1D20 becomes >3D6 (slightly higher minimum and slightly lower maximum)

That might be too many dice rolling at the high end though.  This isn't WEG D6 or (shudder) HERO.  One might say that after 3D, the shifts just begin to accumulate as pluses, so that a 35th level Fighter attacking an unarmoured guy rolls 3D6+4.  Really, that's  matter of taste.

Anyway, that was both exhausting and intriguing.  I'd like to try it sometime.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mind Devils: Alien Nightmares

Rahasya ("Mind Devils")

No. Appearing: 1
Alignment: Chaotic
Size: M
Armour Class/Defense: 3/2
Move: 60’
Hit Dice: 8 (32)
Attacks: Tentacles: 1 Grapple +6/+2 OR 2 Large Clubs +6/+2; Bite: 1 Spear +6/+2; Sorcery (see below)
Modes: 4/4
Disciplines: See text
Special: 6th level Sorcerer,
Moral: +6
Treasure: 12
XP: 1200

The Rahasya, also known as “Mind Devils”, are a horrid menace so alien in composition that most savants agree that they are ultra-mundane in origin, although there is debate as to whether they are able to travel between their point of origin and the Lands under the Dying Sun at will or if they have become trapped here.

When encountered, Rahasya generally masquerade as human, covered in robes and cowls or full-body armour so that no flesh is visible. Should this disguise be penetrated, their inhuman nature is readily apparent: Rahasya are large, eight-armed cephalopods resembling octopi. Unlike marine mollusks however, the mantle of the Rahasya is a thick, rubbery flesh of silvery-gray colour which resists drying out in the desert atmosphere and is also highly resistant to injury (AC 3). Despite the consistency of this flesh, the mantle is highly malleable: a Rahasya can flatten itself to some 6 inches in depth , stretch to 10 feet in length, or balloon into a rough sphere of 5 foot diameter. This amorphous quality allows the Rahasya it’s masquerade in front of humans as it shapes itself into vaguely humanoid outlines and then uses two arms apiece to substitute for each of a human’s four extremities. The observant thus occasionally penetrate a Rahasya disguise when they notice that it’s “hand” seems to consist of two large fingers (actually, the ends of two tentacles).

Unlike terran octopi, the tentacles do not have suckers. They are, however, extremely powerful (STR 12); indeed, it could rightly be said that the Rahasya is one huge muscle. The upper side of a Rahasya contains seven eyes arranged in a circle around what might be called “the head”. The monster’s mouth in located on the underside: it is a circular aperture ringed with teeth, not unlike that of a leech, surrounded by multiple, smallish tentacles to guide the food into the maw. Once a Rahasya gets a bite onto something, it requires a STR Throw to pull away, although doing so results in Small Weapon Damage from the tearing away of the flesh.

However, the physical threats of the Rahasya are the least of its abilities for all members of the species are potent psychic sorcerers (Level 6). This is the origin of the name “Mind Devils”. They display racial predisposition towards the disciples of mental disruption and always possess at least one of the following powers: Sensual Obscurement (Level 1), Empathic Projection (Level 2), Hallucination (Level 3), or Feeblemind (Level 4). All other disciples to be determined randomly.

Mind Devils are, by the standards of men, subtle and cruel beings who seek their ends by devious methods and prefer to torture their enemies rather than to kill them quickly. What exactly they want is unclear, although it has been plausibly asserted that they are involved in a shadowy struggle with the Witch-Men for dominance of all the sentient species under the Dying Sun. Their plots often strike men as convoluted in the extreme.

Note: it is, of course, literally impossible to make a psychically-oriented D&D game without including Mind Flayers.  But I didn't want to just plug in regular old Mind Flayers: as awesome as they are, they are also just a little bit played out in my mind.  I always felt that it was a bit of a waste to have cephalopod beasts that didn't take more from real-world examples.  The ability of the octopus to change it's form is both amazing and kind of creepy and I wanted to use that make my Mind Devils just a bit more horrifying.  Also, having done brain-eating Sand Ghuls, I felt like I couldn't make these things eat brains too.  The image of a hooded thing pretending to be a man draws on the imagery of Leiber's two alien wizards, Ninguable of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face, and on the horror of Lovecraft's Whisperer in the Darkness (my favourite HPL story).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Furor: The Prophet of Punk

Name: Henry Caufield
Motivation: To create anger and hate wherever he goes.
Fight: 14 (increases with Signature Stunt)

Excellent [+2] Taunter
Excellent [+2] Scrapper

Addicted to Rage (can't resist creating anger around him)
Sociopath (has no empathy for anyone else and sees everyone as someone to manipulate and/or hit)

Incredible [+4] Inspire Rage: inflicts Failure Ranks, targets composure Qualities or inflicts Weakness: Rage
Incredible [+4] Emotional Feed (Rage Only): recovers 4 Ranks of Damage/Failure each Turn in which Rage is present within 100 yards OR gains 4 HP

Signature Stunts:
Super-Quality (from Emotion Feed): gains ranks in Super-Strength, Super-Agility, or Invulnerability instead of recovery or HP. Maximum rank of Incredible.

Origin: Henry Caufield was always angry, even as a child. As a young teen, he embraced the punk movement that was rising in his native London. He seemed doomed to a short life as a petty thug, until the nice people from the Church of Universal Harmony showed up at his parent’s doorstep. They seemed to have some calming influence on young Henry and, before they knew, they had sent their son off with them. However, the Church was really a front-organization for Imhotep the Immortal. The ancient sorcerer saw potential in Caufield and performed a ritual that allowed the boy to manipulate raging anger as an energy: able to fan the flames of hatred that lurk in all men and then to siphon off that anger to boost his own physique.

Tactics: Furor isn't that powerful one on one. His metier is in crowds and the bigger, the better. If he can enrage large groups of people, he can quickly power up into a super-strong, super-agile, invulnerable fighting machine with maxed-out Villain Points and recovering damage all the while. Fueled by anger, he jumps into the fray, both fists swinging and being as obnoxious as he can. The difficulty for heroes is that while Furor is trying to beat them up, the crowd is also going berserk and will be attacking each other or even the heroes themselves.

Super-powered or not, Furor loves to taunt and irritate the people around him and he's good at it. And if they gets upset, all the better for Furor.

Commentary: Furor is based on the character Temper from the module, "There's a Crisis at Crusader Citadel" by Jack Herman and Jeff Dee. I always liked the idea of Temper, but I could never work out how to use him in V&V. His power let him absorb "Power Points" from his victims; Power Points are essentially fuel, but Temper had no powers to fuel and so, basically, had to hide from all the people he had pissed off lest they hit him. Maybe someone else figured out a better way to play him in that system, but I couldn't.

Therefore, I changed him so that instead of stealing the fuel of enraged folks, he could use that anger to make himself tougher and get in on the fight himself.  He's kind of a transitive Incredible Hulk using someone else's anger.

Since my game is set in the 1970's, I figured a British punk would make a nice choice of background. In my head, Furor's personality is heavily-based on Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (far and away my favourite character from that show). As implied by the illustration above, and unlike STRIKER or Ms. Anthrope, Furor should be a villain that everyone hates for he lacks any redeeming features whatsoever. Therefore, as in Buffy, you should probably force the characters to team up with him at some point and see how long they can swallow his obnoxious behaviour.

Illustration by Jeff Dee. Use here does not constitute an attempt to infringe upon his rights.

Monday, May 17, 2010

You Won't Catch Me Slaggining Off

A lot of folks in the OSR have a bad relationship with  They hate that people pop up to crap on your threads, or tell you that you are wrong to like older D&D, or just won't get off your lawn (damn kids!).  I understand that, but you won't catch me slagging off

Maybe it's because it was my first connection to other gamers when I got back into gaming.

Maybe it's because I have had and continue to have good discussions there.

Or maybe...just's because you can get involved in a little discussion of how cool Greg Stafford's Prince Valiant game was and how cool it would be if it were put out again, maybe for something public domain like Robin Hood or something well-regarded but never licensed like the Chronicle of Prydain, and twenty-four hours later Greg freakin' Stafford pops up and say, "OK.  You guys want it, I'll ask Chaosium for the rights back and see what I can do."

To me, that's just priceless.  Worth any amount of snot-nosed kids and there computer game whatwhosits.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Random Powers in Truth & Justice

Here's a little bit of fun super old-school fun I cooked up: a way to do randomly-determined powers in Truth & Justice.  Here's how it might work:

1.  Every hero starts with 6 ranks in powers to distribute (as RAW).
2.  Roll 3d6 and consult the Powers Chart below to get a Power.
3.  Assign as many or as few ranks as you wish to that Power.
4.  Repeat Steps 2-3 until you run out of ranks.
5.  Now figure out what the hell the hero can actually do and come up with a name and uniform!
(Optional: allow the player to discard one power at any time and reassign those ranks.  This allows a little bit of customization as a Power that was rolled early and given few Ranks might seem better by the end.)

EDIT: I just noticed that I got the dice screwed up between the first column and the second.  As Doctor Doom says, "Nuts!"

The Powers noted as Heightened X are Qualities rather than Powers. Any ranks assigned to them convert into two ranks of that Quality (this is essentially the same as buying ranks of Intensive Training).

Right now, each power is a s likely to come as any other power. To emulate genre better, you'd need to play with the odds, so that Flight (for example) is much more common and Death Touch is much, much less common (I can think of two characters with this power ever).

A special No-Prize to the first person who can tell me from whence I swiped this table.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nabat-Wahsiyy: The Horrible Plant

No. Appearing: 1
Alignment: Neutral (unintelligent)
Size: H
Armour Class/Defense: 2/1 (Parries with extra tendrils)
Move: 0”
Hit Dice: Each tendril has 2 HD (8 HP); core has 6 (24 HP)
Attacks: 1 Grapple +4 OR Large Club + 4 per 2 tendrils (see text below)
Modes: N/A
Disciplines: N/A
Special: Camouflage; Constrict does Medium damage, ½ Damage from Blunt attacks, -1 Damage from M-sized foes; x2 Dam-age from Fire; +2 Attribute Throws
Moral: Never rolls Morale
Treasure: 5
XP: 300 per tendril

Commonly called "Sand Stars", these are large plants with a taste for animal flesh. Sentient, but not intelligent, and unable to move their cores, they are nonetheless quite capable hunters. The Nabat-Wahsiyy consists of a cyclindrical core averaging five feet in diameter with five to ten tendril-like arms (4+1D) of some ten feet in length. This plant grows in loose sandy soils and buries itself so that it is scarcely visible with it’s arms spread about. When something steps on an arm, the Sand Star lashes out and attempts to grapple and crush it’s prey which is then buried near it’s core to be fed on as it decomposes. The Nabat’s tough, fibrous "flesh" is equivalent to leather armour.

Prey is deposited in the sand to decay and nourish the soil. In this fashion, Sand Stars can collect a fair amount of treasure over the years.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ms. Anthrope: The Feminist Avenger

Name: Marion Scheckter
Motivation: Hurt men
Fight: 11

Excellent [+2] Furious Fighter
Remarkable [+2] The Feminist Avenger
Good [+1] Taunting

Irrational hatred of tough men
Retains full-size mass when shrunken

Monstrous [+6] Compression (Meta-Power)
--Excellent [+2] Shrinking
--Excellent [+2] Super-Strength
--Excellent [+2] Invulnerability
--Excellent [+2] Super-Leaping

Origin: Marion Scheckter had a hard life. A small, frail girl, she grew up with an abusive father who made her feel even smaller. At seventeen she married an abusive husband and went from one hell to another. The more she was abused, the smaller she felt. One day, her husband noticed that she was, in fact, smaller. As time went on, she grew tinier and tinier, which prompted more  and more abuse. Then she snapped. The next time her husband hit her, he broke his hand on her remarkably dense flesh. Laughing, Marion beat him nearly to death and then vanished, only to reappear as “Ms. Anthrope”, the Feminist Avenger.

Tactics: Ms. Anthrope isn't a subtle opponent.  She likes to come flying into the scene like a human rocket with her Super-Leaping and smash into the toughest-looking male she can find.  Thereafter she tends to slug it out, taunting her foe all the while.  Her small-size makes it hard to hit her (MOD adds to her defense roll in most cases) and fighting her has been likened to fighting a swarm of angry, super-strong bees that just keep buzzing about.  Ms. Anthrope may try to convince female heroes to liberate themselves from "the Andrarchy" and join her.

Her Weaknesses reflect her inability to resist fighting men and the drawbacks that being super-dense can have: she has been defeated more than once by making her stand on soemthing structurally weak and watching her collapse it on top of herself.

Commentary: This villain is based on the character Marionette from the module, "There's a Crisis at Crusader Citadel" by Jack Herman and Jeff Dee.  My version goes rather far afield from the original concept, which was a girl with self-transformation powers, whose inferiority complex resulting in her shrinking herself.  In order to stop this, she studies yoga, which halted but did not reverse the process and, simultaneously, gave her super-hypnotic powers.  This is definitely not cookie-cutter stuff, but it just doesn't entirely work for me.  Also, mind-controlling villains are not that much fun in play in my experience: the player just has to sit out the scene.

What I find interesting in Marionette is the core idea of a psychologically-wounded girl who's power makes that trauma physically manifest: she feels small and inconsequential and becomes small.  The original write-up doesn't tell us why she feels this way, so I supplied an explanation.  Having done that, it seemed like she ought to turn her anger back onto the men who hurt her.  That gave me a real motivation, which the original lacked.  Since this is for a 1970's game, the character of the Angry Feminist fit right in.

But if she wasn't going to control minds, what was a 2-foot tall woman supposed to do?  The metaphor then appealed to me of having the minority-size figure display unexpected strength.

As for the name, well, Jeff Dee's illo has a prominently displayed "M" so I had to go with that.  Given her motivation, "The Misanthrope" popped into mind; but given my 1970's setting, I just couldn't resist making that into "Ms. Anthrope".  If that's too silly, the other version is good too.

Ms. Anthrope has some of the same potential interest as STRIKER: she has a legitimate beef, one with which many folks will sympathize.  There's also scope for some fun rivalry between her and the group's strong-man, who may or may not have issues with punching a woman (even a super-dense one) and who may or may not have issues with being beaten by a woman.

Illustration by Jeff Dee. Use here does not constitute an attempt to infringe upon his rights.

Monday, May 3, 2010

STRIKER: The Trotsky of Iron Men

[Note: This begins the Villains Reimagined series. These first few posts are drawn from my current 1970's campaign and hit on a lot of Bronze Age tropes. Additionally, most of these are Second-Class villains--the kind who act as aides to the Master-Villain or who group together to take out heroes they can't handle on their own.]

Name: Anthony Hecht
Motivation: Fight the Power!
Fight:20 (all normal-scale)

Weakness: Obsessed with fighting the Man

Excellent [+2] Gadgeteering
Remarkable [+3] Impassioned Trotskyite
STRIKER Suit (Incredible [+4] Battle Suit, Limitation: Damage Ranks require time and materials to repair and cannot be replenished with Second Wind)
--Average [+0] Jet Boots
--Average [+0] Adaptation (Limitation: Half-Hour Air Supply)
--Remarkable [+3] Super-Strength
--Incredible [+4] Power Cannon
--Incredible [+4] Sonic Cannon (target must beat TN 11 to act coherently)

Origin: Tony Hecht was an engineer at Alpha Industries, a large electronics firm in Industry City. He was erratic in his work--occasional flashes of genuine invention followed by long periods of lackluster performance. When he was assigned to the team working on the STRIKER project--a powered battle-suit commissioned by the Think Tank--he found himself inspired and contributed some key ideas. But he grew increasingly frustrated when he felt his moderate contributions went unnoted and unrewarded and he wanted to patent certain ideas that AI legally owned. In the end, he stole the STRIKER prototype and declared war on Capitalism, which he felt ground down the contributions of men such as himself.

As STRIKER, Hecht feels that he is a cross between Robin Hood and Lev Trotsky, fighting the bourgeois power structure, using the tools of industry to destroy industry.

Commentary: This villain is based on the character F.I.S.T. (Flying Infantry Shock Trooper) from the module, "There's a Crisis at Crusader Citadel" by Jack Herman and Jeff Dee.  At first sight, F.I.S.T. is just another minor power-armour guy: jet boots, power cannon, and battle-suit.  Aside from Jeff Dee's expressive illustration, what was interesting to me about F.I.S.T. was his motivation.  When I use this fellow, the heroes can expect more than a fight with a B-grade baddie: they can expect some seriously annoying speechifying:

"Come!  Face the righteous fury of the proletariat!"

"I shall destroy you just as I shall destroy the entire bourgeois-capitalist tyranny!  With my Power cannon!"

"Don't see you see that you are nothing more than the lapdogs of a decadent bourgeois democratic revolution?  Join me and together we can create a worker's paradise!"

It is boring to punch Armour-Man; it is very satisfying to plant one on this guy.  That's what makes him an interesting villain.

Conversely, there is real potential for moral ambiguity here.  When STRIKER targets some fat-cat business that is exploiting 3rd world labourers, are the heroes actually doing good by stopping him?  I could even see STRIKER gaining a small counter-cultural following on university campuses and in burned-out post-industrial ghettos.  Nothing galls a super-hero like nailing a bad guy only to have the crowd begin booing.  Player's remember stuff like that.

Even further afield, after having his iron-butt handed to him by the heroes a few times, I could see STRIKER creating a a new Red Army--call them the Iron Army--equipped with minor gadgets and whatnot.  The players are unlikely to expect silly old STRIKER to be the mastermind behind the newest threat to their beloved city.

Illustration by Jeff Dee. Use here does not constitute an attempt to infringe upon his rights.