Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Rest of the Feats

And here they are.

One type of design idea I toyed with but ultimately rejected because it's a losing proposition as characters fight bigger and tougher things: the intimidate/overbear/stun type of feat that can't realistically be carried out by a 6 foot person against a 60 foot dragon.

The hit point recovery feats are also edging on non-combat, protecting as they do against falling and trap damage. Which raises the question: here are the combat feats; is there any use to having non-combat feats, keeping in mind that most situations of observation, athletics, handicraft and knowledge are covered in my game by a very general and simple skills system?

Friday, 30 March 2012

DEX feats and Combat Sequence

To explain my feats, I need to show you my combat sequence.

Click to enlarge
It's your standard neo-Holmesian Missile, Magic, Move, Melee with a few twists added. Making the phase 6 move a major action creates a "sticky" engagement zone where you have to give up an attack in order to withdraw, if there is no friend fighting the same enemy to cover your retreat. I like this; it's a much more elegant way to implement the "free attack on you" rule for disengaging that evolved into the nightmare of attacks of opportunity. After several sessions using this sequence it seems to work fairly smoothly.

And, the six feats that depend on Dexterity, although some of the requirements are quite easy to meet. All of them are roughly balanced in the manner I outlined last post, but considering the movement ones are hard to match against the attack ones. Which ones would you take? Do the attack feats need to be stronger? My players are approaching 3rd level and they need to know soon!

Next: Strength feats and maybe some others.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

High-Level Combat: Designing Feats

In the Wizards editions of D&D, much is made of the tactical depth that the plethora of feats and skills gives to combat. This is part of a conscious decision to make fighter-types as interesting to play as classes that must make tactical and strategic choices among spells and skills.

I say "Bah to that!" and "Yay to dumb fighters!" Well, not exactly dumb; even when doing little more than tracking positioning in a fight, knowing how to use that can mean the difference between life and death. But in my view of the class archetypes, fighters are intentionally the straightforward ones. They don't have to make as many hard choices that are tied in with their class powers, and that is a good thing that serves the diverse needs of players.

Of course, this doesn't mean that playing a fighter has to be boring. In my house rules, awesome and interesting things happen to fighters without any choice. I use Arneson's "chop till you drop" rule to grant extra attacks when an enemy falls, as well as compensating low damage rolls  by having them inflict a critical effect on the enemy with some weapons (feats of force) and a fumble on the enemy with others (feats of finesse; I now reward low damage for both types of weapons, unlike the linked rule). Over some 8 sessions of play, these rules have proved to be fun and empowering without slowing down play.

It's the rogue - not just thieves in my view, but all kinds of light fighter - that I envision as using optional feats more effectively. But even for this goal, math-crunching can really take away from immersion in the game. An all-out attack where you get +2 to hit and -2 to armor class, for instance, can be wildly more effective depending on the relative to-hit ability and armor class of yourself and your opponent. Against someone you're hitting only on a 19, that doubles your effective damage. But if you're hitting on an 11 and your opponent hits only on a 19, that gives you only 20% increase in potential damage while doubling your opponent's. I want you to use your Piercing Stab not because you have calculated it increases your Actuarial Expected Damage Coefficient (AEDC) by 24%, but because you observe that the plates of the dragon are thick and scaly.

Which feats to take should mainly be a strategic, character-level rather than tactical choice. It should be back-loaded onto higher levels, so it doesn't encumber character creation. Also, the mathy figgering-out should be done by the rules designer rather than the player, trying to keep things as balanced as possible. For instance, do you want each feat on average to give the equivalent of +2 to hit (MATH CORRECTED)? This means, assuming a 50% chance to hit the typical opponent, the feat improves the chance by 20% (50% / 50%); 20% of the average damage per round, 2.5, is a half point of damage per round. It also means that an extra chance to hit (including gaining initiative or opponents being incapacitated from a critical hit effect) is worth 2.5 damage, so to be balanced it should happen about 1/5 (20%) of the time. This is roughly in line with the 1/6 to 1/4 chance of a crit/fumble my "feats of force and finesse" rule gives.

Defensive bonuses are harder to balance out, depending as they do on the relative hit probabilities and hit point totals involved. Anyway, I'm ruling these out as feats because a straight AC bonus prolongs fights, and this is anathema to our goal of making them more fun. Any defense will come as a side-effect of feats such as being able to disengage from combat without penalty, or maneuver into a position where fewer foes can hit. I'm also not ruling out hit point recovery mechanisms mirroring the bonus damage amount (about 1 hp every other combat round), making the most of the concept of hit points as player confidence and morale.

Next: OK, OK, some actual feats.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Menagerie 1

Short break from the high-level combat series as I take the opportunity to share some of the silhouettes I've been making for the somewhat insane project of illustrating a 480 cell random outdoor encounters table. Trying not to overlap with Telecanter's ongoing efforts here ...

These are formatted as transparent and 250 px maximum dimension to mesh with Hexographer. All are derived from public domain sources. Download link is "Menagerie 1" at the right. Stuffit Expander to expand.

Werecreatures are kind of challenging to do ... (one's a wererat and the other's a wereboar.)

Monday, 26 March 2012

High-level D&D Combat: General Escalation

From the comments and my own thinking it seems that the new solutions to the grind of high-level combat break into two categories: escalation of the numbers involved, and giving higher-level characters additional abilities and feats that help make combat faster and more interesting.

In both these classes, a solution should have the following features:

1. If optional, should give some self-evident advantage to the players using it, without mathy thinky gamey time. This rules out things like "you may optionally double your damage if you accept double damage against you," because using that optimally will require you to think in terms of who is likely to do how much damage and have how many hit points.

2. Should balance out the excitement between early and later rounds - either by shortening the number of "early" rounds to get to the crucial rounds (early-combat escalation) or by escalating the later rounds so they get more crucial (late-combat escalation).

3. Should deliver a different feel to the long-lasting high level combats, as compared to the short and deadly low level ones.

Let's consider escalation rules. This was actually on my mind because of the recent discussion of fatigue on A Paladin in Citadel. While most fatigue rules make people less competent as they get tired, that is realistic, boring, and drags out combat even longer rather than speeding and spicing it up.

Here, I'm leaning toward late-combat escalation, because it's a rule you can apply at all levels of play. If that fight against orcs grinds on,  then I guess things get more deadly too ... but it's rare to see that level of combat last for more than six real rounds of action.

Introducing ... the escalation die.

It comes out when the first Escalation Event occurs, set to 1, and goes up by one for each subsequent Escalation Event. What is that, you ask? Just something that happens when one of two numbers is rolled on a d20 in skirmish combat for whatever reason - hit roll, saving throw, ability check.

If you don't have critical hits or fumbles, those two numbers can be 1 or 20. Otherwise, may I suggest lucky 7 and unlucky 13.

The effect is quite simple: the number currently showing on the die is added to all "to hit" rolls and damage rolls while combat is ongoing. The maximum value of the die is the level of the highest level PC in the fight.

For each round of break in the combat with no attempts to hit on either side, reduce the die by one.

Obviously, this shouldn't be used in mass missile fire, so only the PCs and their immediate foes are affected (that is, those fighting them).

Although I've yet to test this system on high-level characters, the good thing about it is that it lets the players get some fair idea of the capabilities of their foes, then tells them exactly how dangerous combat is getting as it goes along.

Next up ... feats.

Friday, 23 March 2012

High-level D&D Combat: Existing Solutions

How to make D&D combat between hit point juggernauts different from combat between glass-jaw first-levels, but fun at the same time?

One option for reaching a Conanesque height of excitement in every fight is just, you know, don't play D&D. Play an abstract system like Tunnels & Trolls where any level of combat is over quickly. But the trouble with T&T, as we discussed, is that the fights are not detailed enough to give a sense of evolution over time.

Immortal level: was this any fun?
 OK, so play a fixed-hits system like Runequest where every fight could be a character's last if the dice roll badly. But the trouble with fixed-hits systems is that players actually want to protect their high-level characters with the Kevlar of massive hit points. Now, this goal can be achieved by having something like "fate points" that are spent only in the most mortal bind. Indeed, realistic-combat-plus-safety-net is a design solution that most systems converge toward once they leave hit points behind. It's easily enough implemented in a D&D framework, but it also takes the game away from one of the defining characteristics of D&D.

I know they're much reviled among the Old School, but the Wizards editions of D&D were developed with an eye toward player experience at all levels, and their solution was to give higher-level characters more feats and options in combat. In 3rd and 4th editions, you're too busy using your great variety of combat moves to realize that this fight has taken 20 rounds as you go to town on a 200 hit point colossal dire wombatborn ear seeker. Dismiss it as you may, I think I'd rather play that way at high levels than just step up, roll d20 and swing for 20 rounds.

But why should the combat take 20 rounds? The E6 approach to 3rd edition aims at making big monsters a bigger challenge by capping hit point advancement at level 6, while allowing the addition of feats and skills to give the sense of some kind of advancement, as well as the aforementioned qualitative increase in combat options. If you're facing something really terrible - like going up solo against a stegosaurus - you're still going to want to grab at all the dirty tricks you can. Hell, I'm not sure the actual Conan stories are set in anything more than an E3 world.

Of course, loading up on feats has disadvantages for those who want a quick and easily improvised game, where you can just drop a 6th level fighter into the mix without worrying what exactly his epic smorgasbord of moves looks like. Can we get a feat list that's shorter, not longer, than a wizard's spell list? Are there any other ways to speed and spice up high-level combat without leaving the assumptions of D&D?

More on that next.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

By the Way, Conan Never Leveled Up

Trying to come up with answers to the challenge of how to make high-level combat more than a grind, I asked myself: "What did the great writers of adventure and fantasy do?" But in classic fantasy fiction there is no such thing as D&D's high-level combat between biological ironclads possessed of three-digit hit point totals. And who can blame those writers? In the pulp market, descriptions of combat needed to be pointed, tense and thrilling; though things have changed in these days of the interminable epic page-churner.

He actually takes one swing, then runs.
Take the Robert E. Howard story Red Nails. Its first combat pits Conan and Valeria versus an old-school, tail-dragging stegosaurus. By all chronologies the action in this story comes late-ish in Conan's career (Fighter 16/Thief 12? Really, Gary?) Valeria by all accounts is no knockover as a fighter. In D&D these two high level characters would come at the "dragon," swords swinging; maybe go a few rounds and take a few big blows before realizing that the monster is too hard-skinned and too strong for them. Instead, Conan sizes up the peril right away and immediately runs up a rock to hide. When he does prevail, it's not in a toe-to-toe slugfest, but through a ruse worthy of a desperate first-level D&D character.

Conan gains experience over time. But his experience is what we would now call player skill: a knowledge of the ways of the world. In battle he keeps rather than discards the sense and cunning to run, hide and fight dirty that kept him alive from the start. He is stronger, faster, more aware than most other men - but these are qualities he had at the start of his career. They have helped him survive, but they do not guarantee his survival. In the end, Conan reaches his kingdom without a battleship's load of hit points and an ability to hit AC0 more often than not. Maybe he's just the lucky one; the unlucky ones, as confident and skilled as they were, Slith and Alderic and Thangobrind, show up in Lord Dunsany's stories.

The point of tension in a D&D combat comes when hit points are low, when critical moves are contemplated, when the decision to cut and run is made. High-level combat takes a long time to reach that point. Unless they're infected with the D&D view of the world - a sad backwash indeed! - fantasy writers need to get there immediately. But how to get there in the D&D game without the deus ex machina of super saiyan sorcery?

As promised, more on that next time.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Does Combat Feel Different Across Levels? And Is That Good?

A parody of adventure game design - almost like the old Dungeon! game, or the present-day Munchkin game - would base combat and skill outcomes on a die roll, factoring in the character's level, the challenge's level, and different outcomes for different end numbers.

Well, I say parody, but such a super-abstracted combat actually shows up in other games that emphasize exploration and interaction over the minutiae of combat, starting with Chainmail, proceeding through Tunnels and Trolls, and following through in a myriad narrative-oriented games that keep a long arm's length from wargaming.

And this is how 3rd edition D&D handles skills. As a result, using skills at high levels feels just like using them at low levels. At level 10 you are picking the super-titanium-elder-dwarven-riddle-lock with exactly the same odds and procedure that you used to pick the rusty old peasant lock at level 1.

But in all versions of D&D, combat at high levels works qualitatively differently than combat at low levels. Skipping over the math and simulation aspect, the executive summary is that low level combat is short and deadly, high level combat is long and grindy, and it relies heavily on magic to keep it from being even more long and grindy. This is because:
  • Monster chances "to hit" pretty much keep up with frontline PC armor class, assuming steady acquisition of magic shields and armor
  • Monster damage rises more slowly than PC hit points (example, a 1st level fighter vs an orc compared to an 8th level fighter vs. a hill giant; the giant does twice as much damage but the fighter has 8 times as many hit points)
  • PC chances "to hit" rise more quickly than monster AC, especially factoring in magic weapons, as shown here.
  • PC combat damage rises much more slowly than monster hit points (example, from 1st to 8th level a fighter might get at best +3 on his or her average-5.5-damage sword from magic, so damage increases 55% while monster HP increase by a factor of 800% or so.)
  • As shown here, the only thing keeping pace with monster HP is damage from spells. Additionally, spells like sleep, hold, charm, polymorph other and so forth have a chance to speed up combat by taking opponents entirely out of the combat. 
Two things are clear from this.

First, without a wizard-type, high-level combats risk being lengthy grinds. This is doubly true of the situation where higher-level characters face a horde of low-level monsters. I remember in my first year of playing AD&D how the party - by then third level and equipped with magical gear - faced a conga line of about 50 kobolds coming through a 5' doorway. Needing a 20 to hit our frontline fighter, the kobolds provided possibly the least fun ever seen in a D&D combat, even applying the multiple fighter attacks rule (which presumably had been put into AD&D precisely to speed up this kind of situation).

Second, while the PC chances to hit rising are more or less balanced by monster damage rising, the leeway available before character death leads to another source of qualitative differences. Low-level combats are deadly because a lucky monster damage roll can knock characters down to zero HP easily. In high-level fights, standard damage is more easily dealt with over the course of many rounds, and deadliness comes from save-or-die effects and the occasional massive damage source like dragon breath.

Both of these qualitative differences, I think, work to the detriment of higher-level combat, taking the basic workings of the system from quick, deadly and exciting to long, slow and predictable. Combat needs to be goosed up with blast 'em spells or deadly monster powers, and this means that when you don't have those elements it turns into a slog.

Next: solutions for high-level combat, old and new.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Glimpse of the Big Encounter Chart

This is a peek at the big encounter chart I'm working on. There are 6 pages, mostly populated from the Monster Manual 1:

1.Civilized (humans, demi-humans)
2. Natural (animals, natural hazards and giant vertebrates)
3. Frontier (a few civilized folk in forts and towers, beset by humanoids, giant insects, and other vermin)
4. Legend (creatures of myth and, uh, legend, plus the weirdos like owlbears)
5. Evil (Mordor calling)
6. Savage (prehistoric and barbaric stuff)

Each page has eight rows: Flat lands, High lands, Wood lands, Wet lands, Dry lands, then salt and fresh water and a generic column.

Click to enlarge ... some columns left out

Your map is divided into areas. Each area  has an order of precedence that refers to the tables.

For example, if you wanted a standard "adventure county" with decent folk, a few wild animals, and some ordinary nasties sneaking in from the fringes, the code would be 1-2-3 (Civilized-Natural-Frontier).

If you wanted a wild, weird area where the normal fauna had vanished and a titanic struggle of good but mostly evil was underway as a few helpless human stragglers looked on then the code would be 4-5-3 (Legend-Evil-Frontier).

For each encounter you roll 3d6. You take the result that is highest up in the precedence. So if you rolled 1-2-6 for the first example you would use the 1 and consult the Civilized table  If none of them are in the precedence then use the table for the lowest number you rolled.

Then, each hex in each area has one or two land types. For example: Hills are Flat and High. Mountains are just High. A plain with a river would be Flat and Freshwater. On a 1-2 on d6 you use the row for the first land type, 3-4 you get the second (or the first if there's only one type), 5-6 you use the Any row.

And then roll d% and there's your encounter. The strange letters and numbers by each silhouette refer to the coding system for hexmaps I outlined earlier. In particular, the top two entries are helpful when stocking a map with monsters, giving the range, time of activity, and total number in lair.

So yeah ... I am going to need a lot of silhouettes ...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Wild Silhouettes

These are all Creative Commons licensed for general use (, adapted from public domain sources. They support a project that I'll be posting on soon (if not finishing any time soon): a graphic wilderness encounters table, with icons to support the use of Hexographer I mentioned before.


Dashing bandit

Lynx - "Whaddya mean we gotta talk to this cat?"
Mountain lion

Water hazard



Sand hazard


Classic "Andersonian" troll

Friday, 16 March 2012

Let's Go Shopping

The availability modifiers refer back to the system on my settlements page. If rolling dice and bookkeeping is too much of a pain you can just say anything with a total availability less than 3 is not available in a particular place.

Anything adventurers would like to buy that I've left off? (Well, I know they'd like to buy a .50 cal machine gun and tote it around on an ankylosaurus, but you know what I mean.)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Business of Settings: Also Dysfunctional

Steve Winter (via Grognardia) posted some very apt thoughts on the inherent self-destructiveness of the business of selling RPGs. Because most buyers are players, the optimal economic move is to market more and more options to them, until the game eventually collapses under the weight of rules and choices and requires a reboot.

My reaction at first was, "That's true for games like D&D that focus on their mechanics and largely let players come up with setting material. But what about games like Vampire or Legend of the Five Rings that are strongly tied to a story or setting? Won't players buy setting-related material just because of curiosity and desire to follow the story?"

Then I realized that this "exception" actually proved the rule in a big way. Settings, too, are prone to glut. As more and more canon details are filled in, there is less and less room for maneuver in actual play, less potential for the surprise and discovery that is a major drawing card of this kind of game. In place of a sense of wonder, you get lengthy forum screeds from canon nerds pointing out the atrocity of Shareena, Fire Guardian of the Blood City, having a daughter in supplement X-22, when in AG-14 it clearly states that Fire Guardians of the Blood City are sworn to perpetual virginity.

I mean, have you seen a map of Greyhawk lately? (And they're wonderful ... but also restrictive canon in that once-wide-open world).

So the GM forbids players to buy setting books, or read setting material. Leaving aside the enforceability of that, it also undercuts the business case, because setting material goes back to being the less lucrative GM-only kind. And if the GM announces that the game is a home-brew and nothing canon should be taken for granted, then what's the point of the players buying the official material?

Eventually - and this isn't just in RPGs, but any world that generates a massive crust of setting detail - the need to purify and cauterize the setting takes hold, and you get the likes of the New World of Darkness. And the cycle begins anew ...

Looks like the best things in life are free .. or nearly so.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Order of St. Hermas

So here are details on the secret society/level titles/ advancement costs hybrid I proposed earlier.

Click to enlarge
This will certainly work best if the Society is the only reliable source for all these goods and services, which adventurers in laxer worlds have come to rely upon as their birthright. Henchmen can be obtained elsewhere, but may not be loyal or brave in the heat of the moment, and may shun a boss under whom too many have failed to return. Banking and treasure identification can certainly be presented as precarious enterprises in a savage world. Clerics, prophets, or whoever do not usually offer their services for a fee.

The four branches are identified with the four iconic classes of D&D but can also substitute for their absence in a party. It is reasonable for a wizard to join the Sword path wanting henchmen as bodyguards, or for a cleric to serve as the party's money handler, joining the Pentacles.

Can you spot the third idea from AD&D this draws on? Yep, alignment language.

More on St. Hermas here.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Orc, Hobgoblin, Wilderness

There are a couple of pending things to do ... secret societies, equipment lists ... but for now I thought I'd share a couple of silhouettes I came up with on the weekend ...
Samurai-based hobgoblin
Legionary/boar-based orc

Not unrelatedly, I also bought the pro version of Hexographer. Remember my wilderness icons and encounters system? I'm finally getting around to assembling enough of a collection, from Telecanter's and other sources, to be able to share a Hexographer icon set. Being able to add numbers with the "decorations" feature helps enormously.

Here's an initial look.

The numbers and letters on the side are plainer (and I've given up on dice icons), but each one tells you at a glance its activity times (day, night or any), range in hexes, number encountered and total numbers (where it's not one or infinite).

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Level Titles as Money Sink

Level titles are cool. They give the same sense of achievement and specialness as the level titles of real-world secret societies: the Mithraic cult, the Freemasons, the Golden Dawn.

Advancement training costs suck. Why do you gain experience points from adventuring but then need some poncey sword instructor to validate your hit points? And wouldn't you rather come by 50 gold pieces while keep them, than 5000 gold pieces while knowing that in your GM's warped economy, most of that is going towards training costs?

But what if you paid money, not to level up your character, but to give him or her the cool level title?

Granted by a secret or not so secret hierarchical organization, level titles represent your social advancement by dint of your donation of loot to their worthy cause. As an adventuring member, not tied to any place but useful to the society, you can only have a level title equal to or less than your actual level.

Benefits from societies vary. One way to model this simply: having henchmen requires membership of one society or another. Other ideas: they can be approached for interest-free loans proportionate to the title, are a source of equipment and adventure opportunities, provide "death insurance" in the form of raise dead spells, are necessary to the ultimate endgame by giving land or political capital for the characters' stronghold.

At this point there are two ways to go:

1. Separate society choices for different character types and classes. One character rises in the Thieves' Guild, another in the Wizards' Academy, yet another in an order of knighthood.

2. The same society for all, an adventurers' freemasonry - perhaps with different titles for different professions, but without the party-dividing drawback.

I think the first option is more "realistic" but the second option has more game advantages. It binds the party together, removes the worry that one guild or cabal might be more advantageous than the other.

If I get enough response I'll whip up a sample adventurers' society that gives out level titles - the Order of St. Hermas.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Need a demon quick?

Think I've seen you somewhere before

Sure, you could head to Appendix D and get something like a purple bison with moth antennae.

Or ....  head over to the Demonicpedia, which catalogues all demons from historical grimoires, claviculi, and folklore. Then your evil cultists can be invoking...

Lord of Swords and Eyeliner


... but peaceably

OK, they can't all be scary

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

One Page Settlements

This starts a series of pages on equipment and urban opportunities. The present page is a kind of master key that categorizes settlemenst and introduces the mechanics of availability; I've gone back to my weapon,armor and follower pages and worked up availability modifiers for those. Coming up are a couple of pages of equipment.

The one thing I'm happiest about is the repurposing of the urban encounter in terms of what is happening to the players, rather than "You have an encounter with a perfumed dandy and three linkboys" and so on. Reaction rolls can still make a difference, but this will be in terms of the conditions of what's proposed or offered. The modifiers mean that small fish in big ponds will mostly be dealing with peasants and lowlife, while any decent level party of adventurers will immediately start getting invitations (friendly or otherwise) from the authorities if they roll into a little village. I may also provide, later, an optional chart for determining exactly what kind of high or low citizen is involved in the encounter.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Undead Mussel Shells

A short note. These clacking monstrosities are the result of the persistent victimization of my nascent Dwarf Fortresses by a nearby dwarven necromancer and his gang, the Crewed Rags.

Emblematic of the procedural insanity in that game (as is, indeed, the very name "The Crewed Rags"), the logic is very simple. If a necromancer can raise the hard remains of any being into a living skeleton, then the remains of your shellfish feast are not safe ... and neither are you!

Indeed, those who cast Animate Dead near a kitchen garbage pail or close to yesterday's clambake are at risk for unleashing this horror on the world; truly a sight to chill the ... ah ... the cockles of the heart ...


HD: 2
AC: 9 [10]
MV: 9
Attacks: Swarm, no need to roll a hit, damage 1d8/round, or 1d4 if wearing any armor.
Defenses: Smashing weapons do full damage, cutting 1/2 damage, piercing none.

Each 5' square of the swarm is a separate entity with its own hit points. The swarm is turned as a ghoul.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Luxury Shopping

Who says leather armor has to be cheap?
If the standard ratio of experience from monsters and treasures in most early versions of D&D tends to oversupply the characters with treasure, what can they spend it on that's satisfying?

Let's leave out the advice of Gygax in the DMG to soak the players with taxes and training fees - which turns the game into an unsatisfying caricature of bureaucratic capitalism, denying the players the freedom of a robber-baron frontier. What remains are two economic phases. In the first phase, players complete their character's acquisition of the best equipment available for adventuring. In the second phase, they get more ambitious and spend on things that establish them in the game world, ultimately leading up to a stronghold.

The problem in many rule sets is that phase 1 is very short, with an excess of treasure and a shortage of expensive things to buy.  We saw previously that in some rulesets, the amouint of coinage amassed getting to level 2 alone can buy several suits of plate armor. In my current games I've succumbed to the temptation to have a bigger and better equipment list. Potions of healing ("vitality" because they only restore the metaphysical character hit points rather than actual physical injury) can be had, reducing the absolute need to bring a "healer" along. Armor and weapons for a steep multiplier can be had in dwarven or elven steel, which  give limited bonuses, less than the magical versions of those things. Spellcasters need to spend money to inscribe new spells in their books. Eventually mounts, camping supplies, boats and ships may be bought.

All this time the players are supposed to be saving up for their stronghold. A second problem arises - the road to settled status tends to be a dull process, with a long mid-level haul before the ultimate payoff. I'm looking to the next generation of old-school games to make this progression a little more interesting, with more subsidiary goals along the way. If anyone knows whether Adventurer Conqueror King makes good on this, I'd like to know. I have a few ideas toward this goal, and also see an inherent problem in the stronghold goal, but that's a whole separate post.

My estimate is that after 3rd or 4th level or so, adventurers should have enough cash to buy all the equipment they can reasonably buy on the market, and around then should start adventuring for items of power and increased respect in society. The game system should then be designed around this, with an intricate balancing of experience, cash, levels of equipment. I guess as people level up in my game it'll remain to be seen whether my house-rules are doing the job. Anyway, those are now getting into good shape so I'll post some of them up as One Pagers throughout this week, with commentary.

Friday, 2 March 2012

More Vance than Vancian

Regarding Jeff's comments on this, I look at the evolution of my own magic system and think it's now actually more in the spirit of Vance's Dying Earth novels than the standard so-called "Vancian" system. I still believe that magic is the one part of the D&D rules as written (any edition) that most strongly needs a revamp, in the name of creativity and crazy fun.

* No multiple copies spells memorized ("Turjan pressed into his head ... four Magic Missiles, two Webs and a Fireball in a pear tree.."? I don't think so.) This removes the conflict between pre-memorization and creative use, especially as I'm being more generous with spell slots at 1st level. Perhaps a *different version* of, say, Magic Missile is one of the most prized magical treasures ... but this is as it should be.

* "Push your luck" effects. I am now letting casters try to cast spells above their level, making a difficult Mind save modified by their level vs. the spell's level and any Wisdom modifier (basically, 15 or more on d20). If they fail, they suffer a gnomish mishap. Basically, a more streamlined version of what the DCC RPG (remember that?) was going for. I might also allow the same risky mechanic for multiple castings of the same memorized spell. Magic is danger - not spray-on, EZ-bake sorcery!

This works for me, anyway, and I think my players appreciate it too.