Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An OCEAN of Personality Traits

The OCEAN theory of personalities gauges five criteria:

Interest in new ideas or different points of view.
Placing value on doing what needs to be done.
Attraction to other people and social situations.
General likability, without implying leadership quality.
Susceptibility to emotional hurt.

I have no idea whether this is even remotely scientific (although it seems a heck of a lot more plausible than Meyers-Briggs), but it occurs to me that you could use these to cobble up NPC personality types using a 2d6 scale and rating each aspect from two to twelve. If an event occurs (a PC-NPC interaction, for example) that looks like it would strain or test one of these aspects, roll 2d6: if the result is under, the NPC behaves according to the definition of the aspect. If it is over, they violate that behavior.

When rolling for a quick personality, however, it makes more sense simply to set three aspects at seven (not outstanding one way or the other), and select two to be Roll 1d5 to get first aspect, then 1d4 (and skip the one you already selected) to determine a second aspect. For each, determine if this aspect is high or low. Since average aspects are, well, average, you'll want to come up with a different distribution for the other two.

A neat co-incidence appears when you take away the three middling values of a 2d6 roll (6, 7, and 8): there remain exactly twenty dice combinations. Ergo, you can roll 1d20 for the two aspects, and consult the following chart:

d20Equivalent 2d6

A result of 2 through 5 is Low, 9 through 12 is high. 2 and 12 are extremes, but the following charts only take into account whether the result is Low or High.

High - High correlations:


Low - Low correlations:


High - Low correlations:


Low - High correlations:


This gives us the following 40 possible traits:

Pleasant when engaged with, but not seeking attention.
Easy to get along with, dislikes conflict.
Not necessarily hateful, but doesn't like people.
Doesn't seek company of others; is likely to take offense at imagined insults.
Blames everyone for his/her problems; causes most of them.
Has firm ideas and tries to enlist others to enact them.
Engaged, to the limit of their intellectual capacity, with others' ideas.
Likeable, if not inspiring. Can be a clown, or a true leader.
Dislikes people; tries to assert dominance by hurting others.
Fascinated by philosophies, but has firm ideas of his/her own.
Unafraid of hard work and long study.
Tries to sway others to his/her point of view, tries not to be swayed.
Hard-working, resentful of those who look like they're having a good time.
Centered on a goal. Does not stray far from that center.
Able to see and feel others' ideas and emotions.
Will agree to things that others say, but not stay true to their ideas.
Down on the world, and the people in it.
Up on the world, and the people in it.
Tries many things, rarely if ever sees a project through to completion.
Like Driven, is centered on an idea, but may not know why.
Loud at gatherings, but quick to take offense.
Sees the world of people mostly from the outside.
Sees the down side of everything. Thinks they're doing people a favor by this.
Sees manners as a way to grease the wheels of social interaction.
Willing to get into fights just to prove some ephemeral point.
Thrill-seeking. Wants an audience, or co-conspirators.
Doesn't like people asking questions about them. Their secrets are usually petty.
Mindful of own business, and persistent at it without getting heated up.
Keeping to oneself.
Wildly romantic and imaginative, but prone to mood swings.
As untrusting of others as others should be of them.
Like driven, but less focused on action and more on simple faith.
Likeable, but slick.
A yes man, but not trustworthy.
Willing to take from others, and living by an obvious double standard.
Wants to be liked. Agrees to anything as a result.
Says whatever's on their mind, even if inappropriate.
Tries to be self-sufficient; may or may not succeed.
Friendly one moment, ready to snap the next, something else the next.
Sees no value in people who don't agree with them; never sure what they really think.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Treasure Finders, but not Treasure Keepers?

If we assume that the g.p. = x.p. equation can be hand-waved away by saying that the challenge in finding/retreiving the treasure is figured into the value, the question still remains: at what point do those x.p. accrue? There are three obvious places:

  1. When the treasure is found. Open up the treasure chest and bang! -- you get the x.p. It was hard to find, and you fought or outwitted the guardian or traps that protected it, so now you get the benefit.
  2. When the treasure is taken out of the dungeon. The rationale behind this is that part of the difficulty with treasure is hauling it all out, so you can't really say the equation has been balanced until that happens.
  3. When you spend the treasure in a character-appropriate way. This seems to be a new-ish idea, coming out of the OSR in the last couple of years. This runs into the "Brewster's Millions" problem, where the players have to find ways to spend them, rather than, say, hiding it in their own vault or investing it somehow.

The first one has a hidden side-effect: since you don't actually need to remove the treasure, there's less incentive to rationalize why, in a quest to stop the ravening horde from descending on the city, you need to stop and pick up every coin you see. I.e., less incentive to play "murder hobos", even while retaining the old-school formula for x.p.

This occurred to me while playing the latest Tomb Raider videogame. Lara Croft is on some expedition on a Japanese island, something something Sun Goddess, something something Chosen One--the story isn't particularly new, and video game dialogue and acting has yet to thrill me. But as she zips around the island, fighting off cultists and drawing nearer to the certain Final Showdown, she can raid various "tombs" (a term used as loosely as tabletop gamers use "dungeon") to find the various artifacts they contain. Although she does, in fact, take them (and gets x.p. for them, and points for "cargo"), they have little effect on the game after that point. Certainly not in terms of encumbrance. She may as well never have touched them.

Of course, x.p. here has less effect than it does in a tabletop game, but the idea struck me that this could be a way to have the best of both worlds, by having character-driven labors and story-derived challenges, and still being able to account for x.p. in the tidy, old-fashioned way.

cheers, Adam

Monday, November 4, 2013

Michael Jordan, Baseball player

Although I believe multiclassing has its place, I feel that the modern, "take a class level here, take a class level there" style represents neither the kinds of fiction I like to model, nor reality, very closely. This is chiefly because I feel the first level of experience represents a long background of training and study, but also because being good at one thing doesn't necessarily prepare you to be good at another, especially something that isn't closely related. And here, by "good", I mean "has a level's worth of experience".

As a case in point, Michael Jordan's Baseball career. No doubt he was a better baseball player than I am, but a .202 batting record in the minors and an undistinguished performance as an outfielder does not speak well to the idea that he "took a level" in baseball. Less so if we consider that some of that performance was due to raw athletic talent (a high DEX and CON, say, in D&D terms).

In the pulp source materials for D&D, some exceptions are bound to occur. The Grey Mouser, for instance: is he a M-U/Thief? Perhaps, although his actual spellcasting in the stories is limited, and not too far out of line with thieves' skills anyhow. And Elric? Isn't he a Fighter/M-U/Cleric? Doubtful. He isn't much of a fighter at all without Stormbringer, and he hardly "worships" Arioch (or any other god). He's pretty much a straight-up M-U with some specialty magic items that allow him to function on the battlefield, but that don't make him a "Fighter" in the D&D sense at all.

That's why I feel that multiclassing should be used as a personalization of last resort when deciding what your character can and can't do. In OD&D, what you could do, regardless of class, was far wider than it is today, or even than it was in 1st edition AD&D. You want your M-U to sneak around, lob oil flasks at monsters, and devise some contraption to break down a heavy door? Describe how to do it, and (within reason) it shall be done. I like it that way.

cheers, Adam

Friday, September 13, 2013

Those Poor Goblin Babies

This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ (1 Sam 15:1-3)

Every so often I see a post or a reply, on reddit or on other RPG forums, where someone raises a question like: "What about the innocent orc women and children? Isn't it just as 'evil' to kill them as it is for the orcs to kill humans?" Some people like to pose this as an ethical dilemma for their characters, while others use it as a reason to critice D&D's alignment system. Saving the alignment criticism for another day, I have a question: in a fantasy world where Good and Evil do exist, why is it hard to imagine a species that is always one or the other? 

Some people think it's just a matter of making shoot-and-loot games easier to justify, because Evil becomes a target that you don't have to think about. But I think there's much more to it than that. One advantage of thinking of orcs or goblins or other humanoids as existentially Evil is that it makes them truly fantastic creatures. It also makes them horrific, because if they're otherwise like people but lack any capacity for Goodness (however you choose to define it), then that means they're really monsters and not just people in boogeyman suits.

Conversely, in a game where we wanted to explore, say, the shortcomings of xenophobia, we could create our own non-human race, the individual members of which may be any alignment. I feel that this is arguably a better route, rather than shoehorning kobolds and bugbears into roles that they were not intended to fill.

And if people want to play out ethical dilemmas in-game, why not have them play them out against NPC humans? The definition of Neutral is sufficiently broad that it can encompass plenty of people that you'd like to be out of the way forever, but couldn't justify slaying. For that matter, some people may be Evil, but their transgressions don't rise to a criminal or atrocious level worthy of meting out bloody justice.

I've dealt with the "goblin baby" problem a couple of ways in my games: in one, goblins were human once, but through their cruel and violent ways they fell out with most people and wandered into a realm where Evil corrupted their bodies and souls. Their transformation, moreover, is voluntary: they know full well that it is an evil and irreversible act. Alternately, these non-humans are spawned by magic or powerful entities solely for the purpose of doing their bidding. In neither case can you ever run into an "innocent goblin baby".

Although I realize that others don't see it this way, I've got to say it works well for me. It does make the game faster paced, and like I say, if I want to include ethical dilemmas in a game, I reserve that for humans or other non-goblinoid races.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hello, Handsome...

Social Combat

I'm trying out Courtney's rules for the Gameable NPC (and considering buying his book, although the price is pretty steep). One thing I see about this set of rules, however, is that it presents the game of social interaction within a fairly neutral framework. In other words, the NPC has not decided one way or another about the players, and so there's not really a "Social Combat" aspect to it. When a character has already decided on a confrontational stance, though, there should be a gameable way to convince/seduce/deceive/intimidate the NPC into changing their mind (or, at least, not following through with their original decision).

Here's what I came up with:

  1. Set the Social Resistance Value (SRV) between 1 and 9, depending on circumstances. Bribing the city watch to let you go before they bring you in would be a 5 or 6, say; convincing the king that you're not in his bedroom to kill or rob him would be a 9.

  2. Determine the opposed attributes. Common ones would be:

    • Deception: CHA vs. INT
    • Seduction: CHA vs. WIS
    • Debate : INT vs. INT
    • Oratory : CHA vs. CHA (when two characters fight for the sway of a crowd, for instance)
  3. Determine the Present State Penalty based on the current Social Resistance Value:

    • 1-3: -1
    • 4-6: 0
    • 5-9: +1
  4. Each side rolls 3d6 against their own relevant attribute. Compare the roll to that attribute's value:

    • Over: No result
    • More than 2 times: -1 success
    • At/Under: 1 success
    • One-half : 2 successes
    • One-third: 3 successes, etc.
  5. Move SRV up or down by the difference in successes. E.g., if the PC gets 1 success and the NPC gets -1, move the score down two points. On a tie, move the value up by one.

  6. Adjust the SRV by the Present State Penalty, determined in step 3.

  7. Repeat until the SRV = 0 or SRV = 10.

There's a little work to be done with this; for one thing, there aren't many options for players other than what kind of contest to enter (deception, seduction, et al), and possibly when to bail out. Failure on one front (say, deception) might suggest taking up another (say, seduction).

I'm thinking there might also be actions to take (flatter, threaten, go off on a tangent, bribe, etc.) that may have a bonus if they succeed and a penalty otherwise, and tying those actions to the NPC and situation. Also, the SRV can move up and down a lot, and might not resolve for a long time. GMs could consider adding a time limit to the process.

Nonetheless, the basic mechanism seems sound to me. I'll give it a try on my next game and see how it works out.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

OSR Means Simple Rules, or Something

Everything should be made
as simple as possible, but no simpler.
-- various attributions

The current state of rules for my OSR game:

I start with Labyrinth Lord, except I use the 1st ed. AD&D/OSRIC hit dice for character class and weapon damage. Which character classes to use is still a fluid concept, including race-as-class. Thieves are still a conundrum, because I like Procedural Lockpicking and feel that many of the listed thieves' skills can be performed by anyone, although I'm intrigued byDyson Logos's 2d6 thief skills table.

Speaking of skills, I don't use them. Everything is based either on a character sheet ability, the resourcefulness of the players, common sense judgments, or a die roll as determined below.

AC ascends, and starts at 10. I use the Dex bonus to hit, and add the Str bonus to damage, for both missile and hand-to-hand combat. Intitiative is individual, roll 1d10 + Dex modifier.

Saving throws are mapped from Castles & Crusades, except the base number is determined by the saving throw in Swords & Wizardry. I add a modifier to the roll based on class, any attribute bonus, and selected prime attributes" (from C&C, but with different values), and use the C&C mapping of old-school saving throw types to new (e.g., "Breath Weapon" = Dex).

Anything not covered in the rules that can be resolved as a yes or no question, I use a d20 and a save. Anything where success can be measured in degrees, I use either a generic 2d6 table adapted from the Moldvay/LL "reaction roll" table, or 3d6 (or more) vs. some attribute. The latter is more likely to be used in contested challenges.

Magic use is per Holmes, plus a bit of 1st ed. Material Component fluff. I use the Holmes scroll creation rules so my low-level M-Us can have a little more firepower. I have two house-ruled exceptions to spell use: Read Magic and Detect Magic are both innate skills of Magic Users, although it takes 10+ minutes to use, whereas casting them as spells is near-instantaneous.

I have my own set of grappling rules. Combat maneuvers are like Telecanter's, except I use a saving throw to determine whether damage is taken or the maneuver succeeds. Languages are also per Telecanter, although I have a slightly more detailed way of handling them. Encumbrance is per Lamentations of the Flame Princess, which is also mentioned in the Telecanter document.

It's that simple.

cheers, Adam

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Melody In Your Name

I call everyone "Darling" because I can't remember their names.
-- Zsa Zsa Gabor

One of the things that has turned otherwise interested parties away from Tunnels and Trolls is the silliness of the spell names. One of the reasons Ken St. Andre gives for the names is that, at the very least, they are more memorable than their counterparts in other games. Although that may be true, it can ruin the atmosphere of a gritty, swords-and-sorcery flavored game if, when faced with some shadowy apparition from the netherworld, your wizard calls, with a flourish: "Oh, Go Away".

(As a side note, it seems like it's easier to make a 'serious' game silly than the other way around. Worth pondering, that.)

Following is a list of Level 1 Spells from the 5th edition, along with suggested translations.

Detect Magic: Sense Magic
Lock Tight: Holdfast Portal
Will-o-Wisp: Glimmerlight
Knock Knock: Unbind Portal
Oh There It Is: Expose Hidden
Take That, You Fiend: Vexing Smite
Vorpal Blade: Keen Edge
Oh-Go-Away: Repulse Foe
Teacher: Instruct
Hocus Pocus: Ensorcel Staff

Some of the names aren't so silly, as you can see by the list above, but if the impetus behind "silly" names is to make them more memorable, I suggest that these alterations would do that, without compromising the atmosphere of the game.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Players Only Playin'

Thunder only happens when it's rainin'.
Players only love you when they're playin'.
--Fleetwood Mac, "Rumors"

Someone with a writing style markedly similar to mine has been writing posts on reddit, and by pure coincidence, I've not had much of a chance to write here. But a question there--what advice is there on being a better player?--caught my eye, so I thought I'd write up a few observations of my own.

Like many simple questions, this one hides a lot of complexity behind it. Being a good player means at least two things: first, it means making good decisions for your character; second, it means being a good member of your gaming group. The two reinforce each other, but are not the same. A third meaning--how to dramatize your character--is mostly orthogonal to these, so I'll skip over that for now.

On the most basic level, making good decisions for your character involves two steps--first, gather as much information about your surroundings as possible, and second, think about your options and select a good one. When I say "gather information", I'm not talking about rolling the Gather Information skill, or anything that requires a dice roll or any movement by your character. Instead, I'm talking about visualizing what you've been told, and asking questions of the GM for anything that you personally, as a player, don't have a grasp of.

Visualizing: It's pretty basic, and most people don't have a real problem with it, but it never hurts to take it a bit further. The simplest advice I can give about visualization is to close your eyes for just a few seconds and mentally plant yourself in the space your character occupies. If you're exploring a throne room, for example, visualize the throne, sure, but realize you're probably looking up at it, not down (unless you've climbed a wall or are flying somehow). Think of where your fellow adventurers are: to your left, to your right, in front of or behind you? How far away are they? How far away are any NPCs? Mentally triangulate and connect the critical elements of your immediate location.

Asking Questions: Mostly, this is to ensure that everything your GM thinks you know, you know. The first 3 of the journalist's 5 Ws--Who, What, Where--are the most likely candidates for questions. Engage your senses and ask what color is the magic wand, does the air feel cool or warm, are there any funky smells, and do you hear anything unusual. Be quantitative, at least approximately. Ask how big the stone doors are, or roughly how many people are in the market square.

(A good practice to accompany this is to let the GM know why you're asking. Don't just say, "How deep is the pit?" Say: "How deep does the pit look? Because I'm thinking of jumping it, but not if it looks like missing the edge will kill me.")

After that, selecting a good option is highly situation-specific. The only advice I'd have for that is to think ahead while the GM is resolving actions with another player. Pay a little attention to what happens with them, but keep an eye on what you want to do next.

As far as being a member of your gaming group is concerned, it can be mostly summarized as: be an adult. Don't pout when things don't go the way you planned. Ask for advice, offer help, and don't interrupt when others are talking. Don't check your phone messages. Don't play other games when your character isn't in the spotlight. Don't bring in any electronics you don't need, unless you have the game rules on a pdf or maybe your game's SRD, if they have one. Be someone that people like to be around.

But for RPG-specific advice, I'd add: know your character sheet. Know the rules that pertain to what you have written down there. Know the difference between acting dramatically and hogging the limelight. Remember that characters may have lots of conflicts, but players should have few. Be prepared for your turn, when it comes.

And lastly, ask yourself the question, why am I playing this game? That's not a deep philosophical question, although you could certainly follow it up with one. But I really just mean, what kinds of things do I want to happen in the game? RPGs do not have a single goal, so you have to come up with them on your own. Ask yourself: Do I want to show off my acting chops? My problem-solving skills? Do I want to imagine dragons and castles, or do I just like getting out of my own skin for a while? Knowing your own motivation is the best way to gauge whether or not the game is meeting them, and the first step in ensuring that it does.

cheers, Adam

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mapmaker, mapmaker...

I like maps; I like them for their aesthetic value alone, but I'm old-school enough to want maps for any location my players explore. I'm not adverse to making them up as I go along, but I feel even then that preparation improves improvisation. In any case, being spatially precise helps me visualize the scene and makes things like combat easier to adjudicate.

Some posts about random and semi-random map generation caught my eye recently. I almost never go by random generation alone in anything, but I certainly use it as inspiration. This post, while about computer methods for an as-yet unpublished video game, got me to thinking about how to create random maps in a way that doesn't generate strangely incongrous results.

I took the method described above, and developed my own manual procedure, as outlined below. It requires a little aesthetic judgment, but is still pretty fast:

  1. Start at the center of the map. Roll 3d8+1 to determine the size of the room, in squares. Do not worry about doors at this point. Immediately, we have two considerations:
       a) Rectangles are the easiest shape to draw on graph paper, but can get boring fast. So you either need to round up or down to the nearest factorable number ( 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25 ), or you need to add alcoves and projections to get the exact number you rolled.
       b) If the room is not square, determine which way the long axis runs with a simple d6 roll: 1-3 = the long axis runs north-south, 4-6 = it runs east-west.

    There's an upper limit of 25 squares with this method. Borrowing a concept from Tunnels and Trolls, however, whenever you roll triples, note what size that would be and roll again. Stick these two smaller rooms together to make one larger one.
  2. Starting at the 12:00 position, roll another room in the same fashion. Place it somewhere above the first, spacing it out by rolling 1d4+1. This number is the number of squares between the top edge of the lower room and the bottom edge of the higher one. Place the room somewhere at this point; it probably looks better if the centers aren't perfectly aligned, but that's a matter of taste.
  3. Continue in a similar manner at the 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00 positions.

    At this point, they're just a series of boxes with no relationship. 

  4. Now, starting with the second room you created, repeat this process for every direction that doesn't already have a room filled. In this case, it means that the 6:00 position will already be filled.
  5. Iterate this process in order of room creation, if possible. Some rooms will have to be skipped because all of the adjacent spaces will be filled. Continue until your map is filled, or the number of rooms is otherwise to your liking.
  6. Start connecting the rooms with a Minimum Spanning Tree. Don't worry about the math. Basically, all it means for our purposes is, start drawing corridors connecting rooms that are two squares away, then three squares, etc., until you have a path that connects every room.
  7. At this point, there should be no looping paths, so add a few corridors to create them.

    The room just north of the center was the one I started with.
    The spaces enclosed by looping paths have been darkened; these
    are important because they give multiple routes through your map. 

  8. Add entrances and exits as you will.
This process can be done in about a half hour, and creates functional, decent-looking maps. There is certainly a good amount of corridor space in there; I'll show a method of generating more closely-packed rooms at another date.

Of course, populating the area is another matter altogether. When in a pinch, I'd recommend some of the stuff you can find at hackslashmaster. But I often find myself needing a layout for a scenario I've already anticipated, so this step isn't usually a big concern.

cheers, Adam

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Trust in a Savage World

I find the frequency with which I blog mirrors the frequency with which I game, and the last couple of months have been scarce due to a variety of issues, not least of which being a bout of Strep. Thank goodness for modern medicine.

But I just GM'ed a session of Savage Worlds, and tried to apply some of the wisdom from hackslashmaster while doing it. Primarily, I was going to give the players all of the information they needed to play, without requiring spot rolls or perception checks; if they said they were looking in the right place, they'd find any relevant information.

They kept on asking to make notice rolls anyhow, and in the spirit of making the game go faster, I let them roll; Savage Worlds is a game where, if the characters want it enough and are willing to spend the Bennies to make it happen, they will be successful far more often than not. I don't think anyone missed a notice roll all night long.

The setting was pulp sci-fi in the style of '30s-era Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. They were members of an underground resistance on a moon orbiting a Saturn-like gas giant, in a city modeled after Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The adventure was twofold: first, their previous excursion had almost been sabotaged due to a traitor in their ranks, and since they were also under suspicion, they wanted to root out the mole.

Hidden information is something that requires a die roll in most game systems, but I let them know that three members of the resistance were in a position to be the mole, and they basically guessed the right on on the first try. I role-played a bit of him trying to get one of them into his chambers, where he'd set off a bomb that he could conveniently hide from and survive. That didn't work, and after a few intimidate rolls, he cracked and let details slip that only the mole would have known, at which point I had notified them that the city guards were bearing down on their underground hideout.

That's where phase two came in; I drew up a simple map of the corridor they were in: on either end of a 140' hallway, two empty elevator shafts provided entry for teams of rappelling guardsmen. Crossing this hallway at two points were shorter hallways, and on the end of those, I placed escape routes in the form of maintenance access shafts. I told them that three out of the four shafts were guarded, and let them do as they would.

Long story short: the next session is going to be a jail break. What I thought would be the obvious thing to do--see where the guards were coming from, go the other way--wasn't as obvious to my players. They did a decent amount of damage tactically, but I let them know that the guards would keep coming in waves. Instead, they tried to go up a shaft from which guards were sprouting, so I informed them that they'd not be able to get past them in such a narrow space, and the reinforcements from behind them would catch up soon enough. Even if they shot a guard, he'd only fall down--on them--and obstruct their escape.

I guess the moral of this story is, old habits die hard, and the players didn't take up the information that I was handing out to them. Sometimes it's hard to trust the GM. But hopefully, if the games keep being fun, I'll be able to condition them until they do.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Magic Item: The Abacus of Xallim

Lamentations of the Flame Princess points out that, in a world where magic items can be made, not all of them will be made to benefit the adventuring professions. Since upwards of 99% of people won't fall into that category, in fact, it seems like most magic items will not have direct applicability to exploration or combat. I do like the idea, however, of something that might be pressed into adventuring service with a little cleverness, so I came up with the following:

The Abacus of Xallim.

Looks something like this, but more awesome.

It is widely believed that the wizard Xallim bound the spirit of an obsessive savant into the abacus. Some say he bound it into the very wood of the frame, while others speculate its powers have something to do with the strange engraving on the side: an imp, viewed through a four-paneled window, handing a fruit of some sort to a small, flightless bird. Regardless, it appears as a well-made example of its type, capable of counting up to 9,999,999,999. Four red beads on a rod running perpendicular to the rest, on the top of the frame, count the number of daily charges it has left to use. These slide up and cannot be pulled down until the charges reset.

To operate the abacus, the user must say, in any language known to mortal men, the following: "The task has come to you, servant of Xallim, to tally and report the number of [X] that lies [or stands, etc.] before you." Then, placing fingers on the bead, the user will feel an urge to slide the beads back and forth for a frantic period of 10 - 15 seconds. Doing so will reveal the number. If secrecy is desired, the command may be whispered, but it still must be physically uttered.

Without expending any charges, it can instantly size up the number of objects of a type in plain sight.

For one charge, it can discern between real and fake, or pure and adulterated, coins, by counting how many apparent and real numbers of an item are under consideration. The beads will flip back and forth between the two tallies; although it may confuse the outside observer, the user will be able to read the values instantaneously.

For two charges, the abacus can determine if any hidden/secret doors or traps (and how many) exist within viewing range.

By using up all remaining charges for the day, it can determine, as the answer to a yes-or-no question, if an item is magical or legendary. A count of 1 means yes, 0 means no.

While all of the daily charges are exhausted, even the chargeless function ceases. It still works as a regular abacus, however.

There is a 3% chance per use that the user will become afflicted with the compulsion to remain obsessively clean and orderly, which would preclude most adventuring activities. This effect will remain until someone casts a Remove Curse on the user.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Dens of Iniquity

I've been on a map craze lately, spending hours designing and refining them. I don't even have scenarios planned out for them yet, I just want to be able to pull something out at a moment's notice, if need be, and say "yeah, that's the map of the kobolds' lair". To that end, I've been looking at various ways of coming up with layouts quickly. Failing that, I hope at least to come up with cool looking floor plans.

Although there are excellent random dungeon generators out there, and I've gleaned inspiration from them from time to time, I wanted something where my own sensibilities would guide me. Slower, yes, but at this time that's a trade-off I'm willing to make.

The first thing I wanted to do was create a set of lairs: small, self-contained mini-levels that I could drop into a hill in the countryside or on the side of a mountain somewhere, where a small-to-medium sized clan of humanoids dwell. And the idea hit me to use small enclosures where humanoids dwell as my inspiration.

Behold, the House-to-Map-inator!

hand drawn house map
The house where a certain self-important blogger grew up.
(The second story is smaller than it should be. Sorry.)
Now converted to a general-purpose humanoid lair.
All I did, in case it isn't obvious, was take the rooms and their basic spatial relationships, stretched them out with a few corridors, and threw in a few extras like secret doors and trap doors. I changed things liberally, while staying true to the basic idea of the layout: the second floor now simply extends from the first, I removed a bedroom, and I added more connecting hallways where it seemed to make sense. The basement, rather than being reached by a stairwell, now can be found under a trapdoor in room 5.

Although I know very little about real-world architecture (unlike this guy), it's not hard to see how existing structures can be plundered for inspiration. It works well for houses, and I've got a few of those drawn up. But since I don't have instant recall of real-world monumental structures, I still needed to come up with a system that worked for bigger dungeons; more on that the next time.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Frog, Giant, and Toad, Giant are Friends

 Or possibly, "Friends, Giant". But they're certainly not friends with you.

I noticed something while looking at the table of contents for the 1st edition Monster Manual the other day. Of the 233 main entries, 31 of them are either giants or "something, giant" (not to mention Ettins and Titans, for that matter). Why would that be, I wonder?

Giants appear in the myths and legends of many, many cultures. One common explanation for that is that they are a manifestation of childhood fears, when everything was bigger than we were. Although I suppose that's possible, I would hope that one of our cultures would have managed to come up with an arrangement where children felt basically safe in the world, or at least in the home. Another explanation, and one that rings a little truer to me, is that giant things are a staple of fantasy because fantasy is literally about being larger than life; like Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom, with its eight-legged animals and colors that couldn't be found on Earth, fantasy just has to be bigger, stronger, faster, more. And that led me to think about what the process of fantasy does, and the ways it does it.

Fantasy does a lot of things, to be sure, but there are probably a few recurring principles at work. Monsters, in particular, seem a fertile source for speculation: how many truly different ways are there to make a monster? Some sprang to mind, and since monsters are inherently things to be feared (or at least, things to approach cautiously), I began postulating what fear each type of monster might represent. For example:

Chimerism: the basic process where something bad is made worse, usually by combining it with attributes from something else bad. The chimera itself, the manticore, and the eponymous dragon are all examples of this. The chimera is a serpent, a lion, and a goat. (Which, as a manifestation of the god Pan, would reasonably scare ancient Greeks if he was in a bad mood. Read Euripides' Bacchae if you don't think so.) The dragon, a giant serpent and a bat. And I could imagine the dialogue that went on with the first storyteller to employ the manticore: "It's like a lion." "Big deal, my cousin Demosthenes shot and killed a lion with his bow." "Oh yeah? Well this lion flies, and has the brains of a man, and it shoots back."

As a subset, there is the man-beast hybrid: the Minotaur, the Sphinx, the Centaur and the Lamia all represent something with the physical power of an animal and the cunning of a human. Although if you looked at it biologically, the Minotaur is really just as weak as a man and as dumb as a bull. But nonetheless, the process is the same.

Giantism, and its twin, Dwarfism: not the medical kind, but as I mentioned before, these are the basic manifestations of fantasy as being somehow more than real. In the case of Dwarfism, even smaller than normal represents some kind of schism with the World as We Know It.

Abstractions, personified: e.g., the Undead, embodying Death. Not only do they remind us of our common inevitable end, they personalize it by portraying the dead as resentful of those of us who haven't joined them yet, as if we were all Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls, and Death has it out for us personally. Other abstractions might be the Elements (Elementals), Bad Luck (any Invisible enemy, or anything that can cast a curse), or Social Taboos (Demons and Devils).

I'm sure there are more, and I haven't figured out where some things (like Medusa) belong in this or any taxonomy. But the benefit of thinking about monsters like this is, when you as a DM need to come up with a monster that your players can't simply look up in the rules, this process of conjuring up abominations might come in handy.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Still In the Labyrinth

I mentioned  that I was going to play a game of The Fantasy Trip last week, and I did so. I ended up changing my character's name to Xoltoth, because it sounded more Swords 'n' Sorcery-like than Nicodemus. The campaign is set in the world of Cidri, but that's almost like saying it's set in the world of make-believe, because the official description of Cidri states that it's a world big enough to hold any and all campaigns in it.

Although none of us likes railroaded adventures, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into the initial scenario--trapped in a mountain cave by a landslide--for the sake of kicking things off. We did some exploration, and I feel bad that I didn't press harder to climb down one ravine before the party just decided to explore another path: there was a cache of healing potions at the bottom, which we could have used when fighting the dessicated corpses deeper down in the caves.

After that fight (where my character spent most of his time running away due to some really lousy rolls), we discovered a throne room, and, to make a short story shorter, discovered that this place had been the palace of one of the nations that had been wiped out years ago. The undead were there to guard their king's final resting place, a goal that our inadvertent presence messed up.

After all that, we're still trapped in the cave complex.

Some things about TFT that I learned from this game:
  1. The difference between a 10 DEX and an 11 is notable; you need to roll under your DEX on 3d6 to cast a spell successfully, and it seems like every roll was an 11. 
  2. Consequently, I'm going to buy a point of DEX as soon as I garner enough XP. (That's how characters grow stronger in TFT.)
  3. 1-3 points of armor really adds up against a barrage of 1- and 2d6 attacks. Sometimes, our intuitive assessment of numbers is way off, as I didn't think any of the armored characters got a bargain for their gold, but I was wrong.
When we find our way out, I'll let y'all know what happens.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No Greater Burden

I've been a fan of the house-ruled abstract encumbrance system that Lamentations of the Flame Princess uses since I first read about it on Telecanter's blog. The one thing that didn't sit right with me was what to do with stronger characters, who quite reasonably wouldn't feel the burden as much as their weaker comrades-in-arms.

A simple solution is to subtract two slots worth of encumbering items per point of strength over 12. That way, a character with 18 STR could go from say, 19 slots (3 Encumbrance, or "Heavily Encumbered") to 7 slots (1 Encumbrance, or "Unencumbered"). Items would still be recorded, of course. Tying it to every point of STR makes a 13 or a 14 really worth something, as it might just be the difference between Heavy and Light Encumbrance.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Returning to The Labyrinth

I'm going to start playing a campaign for The Fantasy Trip this weekend. For those of you who might not know, TFT is sort of a proto-GURPS: character creation is point-buy, with a base value of 8 for each of three stats: Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence. Then, the player may add a total of 8 points to one or more of these. The basic resolution is to roll under a target number on 3 or more d6, the target being determined by skills and circumstance. The game only uses d6es.

Steve Jackson, of the eponymous game company fame, created TFT in the late '70s, while working for Howard Thompson at the now-defunct  Metagaming Concepts. TFT proper comprised three books (almost booklets, really): Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In The Labyrinth. Advanced Melee and Advanced Wizard were beefed-up versions of the microgames Melee and Wizard, which were short, tactical combat games; In The Labyrinth took these two and added more in-depth character generation (namely, one of the first comprehensive skill lists in RPGs) and campaign creation rules. One point of interest I found when first reading the books back in 1980 was that Charisma, rather than being an attribute, was a skill you could purchase, either at creation time or later with experience points.

Thompson was dissatisfied with TFT because it was supposedly "too complicated". For this and other reasons known only to him, he dismantled Metagaming in 1983, leaving TFT and other Metagaming intellectual property in a state of legal limbo. One wonders what he would make of GURPS, to say nothing of later editions of D&D. Myself, I find TFT to be very easy to understand and play. Like GURPS, most of the complexity is in character creation; unlike GURPS, that still doesn't mean it takes any longer than twenty minutes to a half hour to create a new PC. Although some might say, since it's a point-buy system with a notch more complexity than D&D, that it's on the cusp between classic and modern RPGs, but I think that the simple resolution system and the logical way the rules interconnect put it firmly in the Old School.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to statting up the wizard, Nicodemus, on Saturday.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Dwarf" vs. dwarf

Whom do you think is the cooler dwarf?

I mention this because I believe, as Gygax did, that D&D is essentially human-centered. In my OSR game, I offer the other races for their game-mechanic benefits, but I still refer to them as humans, and encourage my players to think of them as such. At best, they may be singular representatives of a different race, but there is no concentrated population of their kin to be found in the campaign. If they truly are non-human, they are outsiders, cast-outs, strangers in strange lands.

(P.S., I love Lord of the Rings, and I think John Rhys-Davies did a great job of portraying Gimli. But swords and sorcery is a different sub-genre from High Fantasy, and s&s is the style I currently prefer, and I believe it fits the original game better.)


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thoughts on Multi-Classing

As I've mentioned before, I'm not fond of 3e-style "I'm a wizard, but I'm going to be a monk for this level" style class-switching. But I do think there should be room for some kind of multiclassing. If the character classes really represent years of training and study, then, how are we to model that in the game? (Presuming we aren't simply using the 1e AD&D rules.)

I like two options: one, a character can start out with two classes, representing an extraordinary background; I would require such a character to have at least 13 in the prime attributes of each class. Two, characters can gain another class later on, but I would limit it to one every 4 levels past first, and the player has to pre-declare what their character is studying to become.

In any case, once the character has multiple classes, experience must be split between them.

Since I like to start 1st-level characters with max hit points, the question becomes, which die to use? If you're a "nice" GM (and I try not to be, but who am I kidding?), you might give the best of the two. But you could also roll one die for each class, and use the *lower* result as the die type. In other words, suppose you have a Fighter/Magic-User. Roll a d4 and a d10 (depending on which version of the game you're playing, of course). Whichever die is the lowest, you use that as the basis of h.p., although you may max it at first level if you choose. So if you rolled a 3 on the d4 and a 2 on the d10, you'd start out with 10 h.p. But with a roll of 3 on the d4 and, say, 6 on the d10, you start out with M-U hit points. The rationale behind this is, the less combat-oriented one of your classes is, the less likely your character would be to have learned the skill of mitigating damage.

In this way, players can eventually free themselves from the supposed restrictions that class-based gaming imposes, without too much power imbalance as a result.


We're All Just Playing Holmes Basic

The game is intended to be fun and the rules modified as the players desire. Do not hesitate to invent, create, and experiment with new ideas. Imagination is the key to a good game. Enjoy! --J. Eric Holmes

With that in mind, if anyone asks me what my home-ruled OSR mish-mash is called, I just say it's Holmes Basic. Even though the rules differ, and sometimes radically, from that wise tome.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Late to the Party, Again

Since I've only just recently replaced my stolen laptop, I wasn't able to be the first on the block to share this news, but I'd be remiss in my duties as a self-proclaimed general in the OSR if I didn't mention the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls Kickstarter. They've already hit their funding target, but I'm sure more money wouldn't hurt the end product. And a lot of the old gang have their input, too: Liz DanforthJim "Bear" Peters, and Steve Crompton are working along with Ken and Rick. It looks very, very promising.

cheers, Adam

The Ringing and The Singing of the Bell's curve

How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells -
Of the bells -
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells   -- Edgar Allen Poe, "The Bells"

(This is a sorta-followup to this post, just so you know.)

I've been knocking about the idea of replacing a d20 "to-hit" roll + damage with 3d6 + static modifier. Suppose a sword does 1d8 damage and a 1st-level fighter with no BAB needs to hit an AC 16 target. What is the expected damage done? Assuming an average roll of 4.5 points of damage x 0.25 (25%) chance of hitting, you have 1.125 points inflicted per round.

Now, suppose we use 3d6. Alone, 3d6 have a 4.63% chance of rolling 16 or higher. So that translates, with an average d8 die roll, to .208 points per round. But here's the trick: rather than rolling damage, the sword adds a static number to the 3d6 roll, and additional damage is determined by subtracting the AC from the eventual result. Assuming the sword gives a static 5 point bonus, we get a 25.92% of hitting, on average, 4 points, or 1.0368. Fairly close.

The idea behind this is, people are often going on about how high rolls on a d20 should somehow represent that their attack was extra special. These people do not understand the difference between a bell curve and a linear distribution, but if we don't want the fun experience of having a high "to hit" roll to be spoiled by rolling 1 for damage, we need to swap out systems.

In d20, people like to have at least the possibility of doing extra damage on an unmodified, or "natural" 20. How would we model that in 3d6, you might ask? One answer would be to swap something from the latest edition of Tunnels & Trolls: the concept that doubles and triples add and roll over. So if you roll 5,1,5, you take the two fives, re-roll them, and add that number to the total; say the second roll is a 2 and a 4, you have a total of 17, plus the static +4 bonus for the sword. Now you've done 5 points of damage. If those had been 2 and 2, you would roll them yet again.

(To be accurate, in T&T you only add and re-roll doubles when rolling two dice, and triples with three, but the principle isn't that far off this way.)

The numbers seem to work out if you take half the maximum die roll and add one, so a d4 gets 3, a d6 gets 4, etc.

Now, some purists would accuse me of tainting our dear retro-D&D play with such blasphemous bell-shaped results, but I think this is perfectly within the spirit of the OSR, since this is a simple mechanism that can be swapped out with the existing one without changing any other element of the game. (Magic swords that have different bonuses "to hit" and for damage might be a problem, but consider reversing the adds: a sword, +3 to hit and +1 damage becomes +1 to hit, but +3 damage. So our average damage becomes 3 points. A 40% chance of getting 5.5 points with the traditional system equals 2.2 points. Tweaking the numbers, +1/+2, gets us closer, at 2.72 points. Taking doubles and triples re-rolls into account gets us closer still.)