Sunday, 24 July 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Monsters

So in +Ben Milton's review of The Black Hack he voices the concern that TBH's Powerful Opponents mechanic doesn't account for things like tough monsters which are slow but easy to hit, or monsters with few hit points that are hard to hit, and other such edge cases; how hard a thing is to hit scales linearly with its hit die: the system lacks nuance.



As a cursory rebuttal, I'm a fan of the system as is. I think of it as not an actual physical representation of how hard a thing is to hit but a mechanical abstraction of what +Pearce Shea is talking about when he talks about monsters: just being around them makes your life worse. That something so much more than you is trying to kill you just makes everything you do demonstrably harder.

However, if what Ben raises is an issue for you, never fear, I am here to dispense ludomantic wisdom. Or rather, just take it from somewhere else and tweak it slightly.

Anyway, it's pretty simple:
For certain monsters, don't roll hit die. Just assign health.

This idea is taken from how S&W Whitebox deals with dragon: you don't roll their hit die, you just assign hp per hit die based on their age (young dragons have 1 hp/hd, ancient have 8, etc).

So for tough but easy-to-hit monsters give them 8 hp/hd or something, but lower their total amount of HD, and vice-versa.

So ogres might be 2 or 3 HD creatures: overwhelming for a rookie adventurer, but not so for one with a few adventures under their belt. But give it 8hp/hd and its still a big beefy threat.

Similarly a wyrmling might still have 9 HD, but only 1 or 2 HP/HD. It may be young, but it's still a dragon: it'll always be terrifying and primordial. To bring up Pearce again, monsters may not be all that terrible mechanically, but it's the things around them that affect you. It really gives the PCs an oh-shit moment when I tell them to roll at a -8 or 6 or whatever and they do the math and they realise this thing has nine fucking hit die how will we kill it holy shit, etc.

Plus it allows for one lucky strike to kill one, giving you that really folkloric dragon slayer feel like St. George or Wiglaf.

EDIT: I had a game involving Players vs Monsters vs Monsters (or rather, a group of NPC adventurers vs Monsters. My casual work-around is to make the Monster "stat" 10+HD. If you feel like the monster is particularly good or bad at a particular stat, make it 10+HD+/-(1-3/d4-1). This can make things wonky if you're using this little HD as AC conversion thing I've got going on, but I've found a work-around that still keeps the stat-block to 3 pretty easy numbers. There's the HP/HD value, the number of HD, and the HD it damages/tests as. If you make a low-level monster have "high AC" by giving them higher HD, don't use the regular TBH HD/damage scaling. Just give them appropriate damage. And vice versa for strong monsters with "low AC".

Let's put this into practice with the notation system I use to show a few example stat blocks.

OGRE: 6/4/3HD, TN 13(+2 STR/CON, -2 DEX). Can INSULT for D6 damage, CHA save. Can eat anything given enough time and ketchup.
To explain what all those numbers mean, the first number before the slash is how many HP/HD to assign, the second number is the HD it deals damage as (i.e. Ogres deal damage as 4HD creatures, doing D12), and the third number is how many HD it actually has. The TN is what it needs to roll below if it ever comes up, plus relevant stat modifiers. As you can see, the TN is calculated using its "test" HD value. Everything else is it's special abilities, so really the actual stat block is still quite small.

So that's a tough but easy to hit monster. The other end of the spectrum is:

ARMOURED GUARD: 1/2/6HD, TN 12. Can use Spear 1H or 2H.

So this guy is hard to hit because he has high AC, but he's squishy underneath that armour and not that capable if he ever has to test himself. He also gets the relevant Armour Points from his HD (5) which adequately represents his AC along two vectors: damage avoidance and damage reduction. Ever seen another RPG represent both aspects of armour that neatly?

One last point. If you still prefer the randomness of different monster HP values and/or play online on Roll20, another easy notation to use is something like: 4/3HD, rr1-5 (rr meaning reroll).  

What We Talk About When We Talk About Monsters

So in +Ben Milton's review of The Black Hack he voices the concern that TBH's Powerful Opponents mechanic doesn't account for things like tough monsters which are slow but easy to hit, or monsters with few hit points that are hard to hit, and other such edge cases; how hard a thing is to hit scales linearly with its hit die: the system lacks nuance.



As a cursory rebuttal, I'm a fan of the system as is. I think of it as not an actual physical representation of how hard a thing is to hit but a mechanical abstraction of what +Pearce Shea is talking about when he talks about monsters: just being around them makes your life worse. That something so much more than you is trying to kill you just makes everything you do demonstrably harder.

However, if what Ben raises is an issue for you, never fear, I am here to dispense ludomantic wisdom. Or rather, just take it from somewhere else and tweak it slightly.

Anyway, it's pretty simple:
For certain monsters, don't roll hit die. Just assign health.

This idea is taken from how S&W Whitebox deals with dragon: you don't roll their hit die, you just assign hp per hit die based on their age (young dragons have 1 hp/hd, ancient have 8, etc).

So for tough but easy-to-hit monsters give them 8 hp/hd or something, but lower their total amount of HD, and vice-versa.

So ogres might be 2 or 3 HD creatures: overwhelming for a rookie adventurer, but not so for one with a few adventures under their belt. But give it 8hp/hd and its still a big beefy threat.

Similarly a wyrmling might still have 9 HD, but only 1 or 2 HP/HD. It may be young, but it's still a dragon: it'll always be terrifying and primordial. To bring up Pearce again, monsters may not be all that terrible mechanically, but it's the things around them that affect you. It really gives the PCs an oh-shit moment when I tell them to roll at a -8 or 6 or whatever and they do the math and they realise this thing has nine fucking hit die how will we kill it holy shit, etc.

Plus it allows for one lucky strike to kill one, giving you that really folkloric dragon slayer feel like St. George or Wiglaf.

EDIT: I had a game involving Players vs Monsters vs Monsters (or rather, a group of NPC adventurers vs Monsters. My casual work-around is to make the Monster "stat" 10+HD. If you feel like the monster is particularly good or bad at a particular stat, make it 10+HD+/-(1-3/d4-1). This can make things wonky if you're using this little HD as AC conversion thing I've got going on, but I've found a work-around that still keeps the stat-block to 3 pretty easy numbers. There's the HP/HD value, the number of HD, and the HD it damages/tests as. If you make a low-level monster have "high AC" by giving them higher HD, don't use the regular TBH HD/damage scaling. Just give them appropriate damage. And vice versa for strong monsters with "low AC".

Let's put this into practice with the notation system I use to show a few example stat blocks.

OGRE: 6/4/3HD, TN 13(+2 STR/CON, -2 DEX). Can INSULT for D6 damage, CHA save. Can eat anything given enough time and ketchup.
 
To explain what all those numbers mean, the first number before the slash is how many HP/HD to assign, the second number is the HD it deals damage as (i.e. Ogres deal damage as 4HD creatures, doing D12), and the third number is how many HD it actually has. The TN is what it needs to roll below if it ever comes up, plus relevant stat modifiers. As you can see, the TN is calculated using its "test" HD value. Everything else is it's special abilities, so really the actual stat block is still quite small.

So that's a tough but easy to hit monster. The other end of the spectrum is:

ARMOURED GUARD: 1/2/6HD, TN 12. Can use Spear 1H or 2H.

So this guy is hard to hit because he has high AC, but he's squishy underneath that armour and not that capable if he ever has to test himself. He also gets the relevant Armour Points from his HD (5) which adequately represents his AC along two vectors: damage avoidance and damage reduction. Ever seen another RPG represent both aspects of armour that neatly?

Friday, 15 July 2016

Say Something, I'm Giving Up On You

So,

Life happened, for a while, and not in the good way. But it's getting back on track, as shall this blog.

Eyes, Teeth, Mouth, & Hands campaign imploded. That's fine, campaigns come and go.

A new campaign has taken its place, a West Marches style affair called Welcome to Palisade, clearly taking a lot of influence from Rat Queens.

In between these campaigns I'd say something fairly significant happened in terms of my D&D life.

I gave up on 5th Edition.

At least on running it, for the time being.

The original purpose of this blog was finding the old-school at the heart of 5e, and bringing out ways to make it work. But that's what it come down to: work. A lot of it. The backlog of drafted posts I have in "The Elixir" series is huge and it was all terribly inefficient. Why try to wrangle something so hard when it doesn't want to co-operate? Why waste so much energy when I could be devoting it to the game? Why confuse my players with conflicting expectations and make them play subpar systems for the sake of my experiments?

So I gave up and embraced the old school fully.

I mucked about with writing my own composite of S&W, Labyrinth Lord, and LoTFP for a while and was happily tinkering away on it when I found The Black Hack and promptly fell in love, like everyone else in the OSR apparently.

It fixed a lot of the issues I had where I felt other retro-clones were unintuitive, and it honestly feels like that 0e/5e mashup I'd wanted to make myself. The game just sings. The unified roll-under mechanic feels like a nice old-school inversion of the d20 system, and yeah yeah hodge podge systems but it's not like any version of D&D isn't going to have a bunch of stuff tacked on to deal with everything else, but I like the core of the game to be neat, to help with adjudication at the table.

But yeah, goodbye 5e for now. If I want a tactics simulator, I'll pick 5e over 4e or Pathfinder, but that's not what I want right now. Marco is bemoaning the lack of greater choice he got with 5e but he's still enjoying various aspects of the system.

Obviously the blog will change in focus (as well as the redesign). I'll maybe post the 5e essays someday but they're not a focus. 

Anyway, here are my house rules. I use the Sorcerer class and spells from Wonder & Wickedness instead of Magic-Users and Logan Knight's Mystics instead of Clerics. I take the magical activities from LotFP as well. I've added species (races) with class disjunction (no race-as-class).

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The True Dark

The dungeon hates you.

The dungeon is the true dark.

You can go outside at night, and still see.

You can go down a well, and still see.

You can go into a mine, and still see.

But at some point, underground becomes something more. The veins of the earth twist and grow, the dungeon spins itself up from the core of the earth, the autochthonous death machine that will consume the whole planet someday.

And you will not see. All the daylight people will be blind.


A dwarf will dig and dig and dig, goaded on by greed, until he pushes too far and no light connects him to the world. If he survives, he will turn back, and dig that way no more.

The orcs still see in the true dark. The dungeon welcomes them. Their half-breeds have clarity in the night time of the above world, but down in the true dark, they grope as blindly as newborn pups.

The drow see in the true dark. The duergar and the svirfneblin and the ghostwise see in the true dark. They have given up the day. The first change a halfling that eats meat will notice is that the dark holds no secrets for them anymore.

Torches strain and sputter; lamplight is feeble and thin; magical light strains and taxes the user, and takes up their concentration. The light knows it is not welcome there. The dungeon does not mind. The light just creates more shadows.

In game terms:

Darkvision does not work in dungeons (what is and isn't a dungeon? You'll know when you can't see anymore).

Torches and lamps are unreliable and burn out faster (how will you know when your light will run out? You'll know when you can't see anymore).

The Light spell requires concentration.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Elixir: Type V Warriors

Redoing Zak's d100 Warrior for my 5e/Type V game. This will rapidly spiral out of control with the other classes ._.

Bold indicates changes I've made.

Fighters start as normal sans fighting style and second wind. In lieu of class features, roll 2d100 on this table at first level and d100 each level after (or 2d100 i dont know its 2am).

Don't do this if you're into balance and don't like swingy tables.

Changes indicated in bold.



1-8 You've finally figured out which end to stick 'em with. Fighting Style. If re-rolled pick another one. If you've rolled all of them, start making up ones, or re-roll (DM/Player discretion).

9-16  You smoke less and have been getting some exercise. Second Wind. If re-rolled, extra per-rest. 

17-23 Yeah, yeah, be a cool movie hero and whatever. Action Surge. If re-rolled, extra per-rest.

24-28 Movie hero 2: lame version. Indomitable. If re-rolled, extra per rest.

29-35 Become a Battle Master. Advance per PHB rules, and gain all Battle Master features up to your current level. Do not roll a d100 when gaining Battle Master archetype features.

36-41 Become an Eldritch Knight. Same drill as becoming a Battle Master.

42-52 Extra attack. 

52-57 In battle there is no law, but you're kinda in charge. Once per fight you can give any other PC an extra action, that can not be used to take the Attack action or Cast a Spell action (readying to attack or cast a spell is totally legit, however) . Re-rolling this lets you do it one more time per fight.

58-60 When you hit things they tend to stay hit: +1 damage. If you roll this again it jumps to +3, then +5, +7 etc

61-62 You have learned where not to stand. +2 to jumping out of the way (reflex save, breath weapon save whatever it's called in your system). +1 thereafter if you re-roll this.

62-63 You've gotten real good at shoving. On a melee hit you can do your usual damage plus knock a human-sized opponent back ten feet. If you try it twice on the same opponent they get to save as per grapple rules. If you roll this result again you get 2 free shoves before the saves kick in. After that, re-roll.

64-65 You're good at getting people out of your way. On a melee hit you can do your usual damage plus knock a human-sized opponent prone. If you try it twice on the same opponent they get a skill contest as per grapple rules. If you roll this result again on this table, you get 2 free knockdowns before the saves kick in, then 4, etc. After that, re-roll.

66-67 You're good at aiming for the fingers. On a hit you can do your ordinary damage plus disarm an opponent if they fail a check as per grapple rules. If you reroll this result they get a penalty to their check, -1, then -2 etc.

68 You're grabby as fuck. On a melee hit on a human-sized or smaller opponent you can do your ordinary damage plus your opponent is grappled if they fail a strength check. Note grabbing is not always what it's cracked up to be since now you're vulnerable to attack from elsewhere, but enjoy it while it lasts. If you reroll this result they get a penalty to their check, +1, then +2 etc.

69-78 You've been getting out and meeting new people. ASI/Feat (depending on play-style, you might wanna give your players a feat at first level).

79 Christ you're big. +2 to checks to intimidate people. +2 when your re-roll this thereafter, you're getting like Wolverine scary.

80 You've had a few too many beers, or wrestled a few too many bears, or hey, maybe you just have anger issues. Roll on the Barbarian table (when I've done it).

81 You've found some inner conviction. Roll on Paladin table (when I've done it).

82 AHA!!! You've heard a rumor in a tavern--that thing you wanted? The riding panther? The Axe of Ninety Nymphs? That king totally willing you lend you his army? The parasitic extra limb that grants you immortality? That romantic subplot? It's there. 4 sessions worth of adventure away or less. Tell your GM, who then must place it.

You must have a fair shot at it--like any other treasure, but there's no guarantee you will get it. If you don't get it by the fourth session you can keep trying or let it go and roll again on this table. However if you choose to roll again and then you do get the thing somehow anyway, you lose whatever gimmick you rolled. GM think up some clever reason why.

83-84 You're totally a skullsplitter. Your crit range extends by one. Now you double damage on a 19 or 20. Keep rolling this and it keeps extending.

85-86 You get those sunken eyes like Bronn in Game of Thrones. Immune to fear. If you re-roll this, your companions gain a +2 vs fear if they can see you, then +4 etc

87-88 You have learned to aim jusssst above the eyes. When fighting an opponent with adjacent eyes you can do your normal damage plus partially blind it by getting blood in its eyes. It'll take the opponent an action to wipe the blood away and this trick only works once on any given opponent. If you re-roll this it takes two actions to wipe away, if you re-roll it again you can totally de-eye an opponent on a successful hit, if you re-roll it a fourth time then just re-roll until you get a different result.

89-90 You've been like hunting and stuff with your Ranger friends. Choose from the level 3 Hunter archetype. If re-rolled, get the next Hunter feature, until finished; then re-roll. Alternately, roll on the Ranger Table (when I've done it).

91-92 You have learned the Impetuous Immortal Leaping Strike. You leap six feet in the air and for a mere -to hit you can do double damage if you connect. You can't pull it twice on the same foe (even if you miss) and it's kinda exhausting and puts you in a bad position, defensively--you cannot attack in the round afterwards. If you re-roll this, the damage goes up by 2 points each time.

93 Hey whoa, been going to the gym, huh? +str up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to con or dex.

94 Hey whoa, been doing like laps in pools of the tears of the families of your fallen foes? +2 con up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to str or dex.

95 You have an annoying drinking buddy who thinks throwing like wadded up paper at you is fun. +dex up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to str or con.

96-97 You have become unbelievably metal. You do triple damage on a crit. Re-roll this: you do quadruple, etc.

98-99 You're like a decapitator. If you roll a natural 20 against something with a head in melee and its level/HD is equal to or less than yours, it does not have a head anymore. Re-rolling this means you can do it against things your level or one higher, then 2 higher, etc.

00 Ab..ra...kaaaa..what? Holy hell, someone managed to teach you a spell. The formula is bouncing around in your brain dying to be unleashed. It's any spell you want, up to 8th level, and it will work as if cast by a 15th level Wizard. It will work once, period. Ever.

Gosh this is going to get out of hand...

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Who I play with

The Elixir: Critical Hits & Fails

Some quick notes about ways to make 5e a bit more dangerous, while not falling into OSR level lethality.

Of course, all this applies to both monsters AND PCs.

Critical Fails on Saves

This is very risky. I love it.

A nat 1 on a saving throw = double damage or double effect the same a way a regular critical is.

Critical Hit & Fail effects

Critical Hit & Fail tables are really fun. I hate them. They're too fiddly and slow down play. Most also do rob players of tactical agency in sometimes unfun ways. Decks are fun but we play online and I don't really like roll20's deck feature; I might come around to it, we'll see. 5e went a long way to making criticals simple and effective: no more confirm critical bullshit.

But I do want them to add more uncertainty and an element of reaction and adaptability to criticals. Particularly fails, as I want them to be much more "oshit" then just "you auto-fail".

Somewhat related, I want to make more equipment more ephemeral. Things break, require maintenance, get lost, stolen, etc. The alternate inventory system I use goes a fair way towards this, but I think we can make it go a little further.

Alexis provides a starting point:

"For a long time I've been playing a house rule that a 1 on a d20 'to hit' was a dropped weapon...An ordinary, crummy weapon, I reasoned, would break 1 in 6 upon dropping. A 'hard-forged' weapon would break on a 1 in 8.  A 'blessed' weapon, one that had been hard-forged and both lucky and loved in its construction, would break on a 1 in 12.  And a 'mastercrafted' weapon would be the kind made by an artist ... and it would break on a 1 in 20."

I like it, but there's too many numbers, let's simplify it.
Cheap/shoddy: 1 in d4. Normal: 1 in d8. Masterwork: 1 in d12.

This should apply to spellcasting foci and components as well.

It's interesting that this rule "reflect[s] the value of cheap weapons vs. really valuable weapons, those which didn't happen to be magic" which gives more impetus to Gold as XP.

So the inversion of this on critical hits, is armour.

A critical hit removes AC down 1 till we reach natural AC (10+dex mod). After which a critical hit forces a roll on lingering injuries. If using a shield, deduct AC from shields first.

Cheap/shoddy armour/shields: remove twice as much AC. Masterwork: takes two critical hits to remove a point of AC.

Prices for this follow the same formula: half-price for cheap, double price for masterwork.