I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bounded accuracy in combat: OSR, D&D 5e and Dark Fantasy Basic

Warning: this post got very technical, very fast. Is mostly about number crunching through editions. Hope you enjoy it anyway.

So, D&D has this thing where your "to hit" bonus rises faster than your armor class AC. Soon enough, everybody is hitting everybody a lot more often.

On the other hand, hit points (HP) rise faster than your damage. So, while you're hitting more often, each hit takes a smaller percentage of your enemies HP.

These two thing balance of another, sort of. But there are also other things to consider. For example, Making numbers too high is usually a bad idea, because adding and subtracting all the time detracts from the flow of combat (this applies to "to-hit" and AC, but also HP and damage). Making numbers too small ruins granularity; a 10th level fighter (and, arguably, a thief) should hit more often than a 1st level one, but a 10th level wizard should (arguably) still have SOME chance to hit an opponent that is adequate to a 10th level fighter. Missing attacks often is boring; but if you hit all the time, you will probably deal less damage, and rolling attacks over and over again is equally boring. Etc.

There are numerable ways to deal with this.


In old school (and most OSR) games, the most usual method is keeping AC more or less stable, adding decent amounts of HP and to-hit bonuses, and SOME extra damage, but not much, unless you use weapon specialty rules. You may also get additional attacks, which raise damage per round.

In D&D 3e/4e, you get LOTS of bonuses. HP is significantly raised. To-hit bonuses rises faster and longer. Now AC is bigger, creating an arms-race of sorts. Damage gets bigger, but perhaps not always big enough. It is said that in 3e, creatures get so much HP that damage becomes less significant, although I don't have enough experience with the game to say for sure. In 4e and games like 13A, damage get exponentially bigger, like HP (although IIRC 4e had to be fixed because monsters just had too much HP).

D&D 5e tones things down a bit. To-hit and AC are diminished almost to OS levels (in fact, often even LOWER than OS levels), but damage and HP are closer to D&D 3e (without the 4e HP inflation). A wizard has a to-hit bonus that is not that far from a fighter, but the fighter gets extra attacks, the barbarian gets higher damage, etc.

Another interesting thing about 5e is that you're chances to hit an appropriate opponent are more or less equal at every level. Compare this to OS games where the chances to hit get higher and higher, but damage gets proportionally lower.

Let's do a quick and very rough comparison of a monsters in these systems (the stats are from S&W, Pathfinder, 4e and 5e).

Adult Red Dragon [OSR / 3e / 4e /5e]
Attack bonus (claw): 10/25/22/14
HP: 40/253/750/256
Damage (claw/bite): 23/40*/50*/55*
AC: 17/29/33/19
* Damage is WAY trickier. In 3e, the dragon can makes lots of attacks with tails, wings, etc, (apparently) at the same time, while in 4e it cannot "bite" and "claw" at the same time, so I've only counted claws. But it can also take reactions, free action, etc. 5e also has legendary actions every turn. So, hard to compare.

I'm not even sure the iconic red dragon is the best comparison, since modern editions (rightfully, IMO) made them more dangerous on purpose (in fact, the Rules cyclopedia already made them more dangerous in comparison to AD&D, for example). But it serves to illustrate the "number bloat" in comparison to earlier editions.

There is no right or wrong here; I dislike dealing with monsters with 750 HP or +25 to-hit, but they serve a function. For example, they make monsters more "epic". One hundred 1st level archers would stand little chance against this dragon in 3e and 4e, but they might win in 5e, and will destroy the dragon in AD&D or Basic D&D.


In my own game, Dark Fantasy Basic (DFB) - a mix of old school (specially Moldvay´s Basic) with modern stuff - I prefer to keep big numbers in check. The to-hit bonus are, at most, something close to +20 at the highest levels (that would be level 15th in my planned next iteration; currently it has only 10 levels) - suits a d20 roll very well, IMO.

Monster AC is unchanged from AC, but they get an HP boost. For PCs, they get a boost in both AC and HP. Damage is doubled for monsters, almost doubled for PCs.

I use this OSR to 5e conversion, BTW.

As you can see, DFB plays like an OS game in this regard - the higher your level, the most often your attacks land.

The difference between DFB and these other examples is how I closed the gap between high HP and more or less static damage. In DFB, whenever you hit a number that is equal to AC+10, you get a critical hit, which raises damage. So, not only you hit more often, but you also crit more often. AFAIK, Pathfinder 2 will use a similar formula, but there are certainly other examples outside of D&D.

This allowed me to make high-level combat somewhat shorter and still maintain an epic feel to big monsters (but probably not as much as 3e or 4e), while avoiding dealing with big numbers all the time.

Again, there is no right or wrong - it is mostly a matter of taste. If you would like to see how this turned out in my game, you can check Dark Fantasy Basic here.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Knives, armor, and a solution (3 random thoughts)

Some random thoughts I had this week.

1. Knives (and fists)

Have you ever held, or even seen, a fighting knife?

Goggle it if you want. This thing is REALLY dangerous. I'm pretty sure any random person could stab a trained fighter to death with ease.

In fact, I have recently heard a jiu-jitsu champion say exactly that.

AND Eddard Stark is held by a knife to the throat in A Game of Thrones.

So it's both true in real life and in TV.

No 1d4s, hit points or saving throws.

One good stab and you might be dead before you can do anything about it.



Fists?

No so much.

Even professional fighters might have a hard time knocking someone with a punch.

Or club.

But sometimes a single hit is enough.

Who knows...

2. Armor

On the other hand...

Seeing someone in armor really makes you think combat is survivable.

Again, not only in TV, but even in youtube channels that study the issue seriously.

Even in medieval manuals of arms, a longsword (1d8? 1d10) would require special technique to wound someone in plate armor.

Killing an ironclad warrior would usually require some grappling and a long dagger.

Or just a mace.



3. A solution

The easiest way to combine both in a D&D context would be having some small damage that would get MULTIPLIED against little or no armor.

Say, hit 10 points above AC means "critical damage".

12 points: double damage.
13 points: triple damage.
14 points: quadruple damage.
... etc.

If your armor is not that great, you're always one good hit always from being killed.

Blunt weapons would deal more damage, probably, but the "criticals" might be less dramatic.

How?

Maybe slashing and piercing damaging have different "crit" number.

So, a dagger would be d4 (crit d8), and a longsword d8 (crit d10), for example, and a mace simply d6.

This manages to both make knives very deadly against opponents with no armor WITHOUT requiring repeated rolls, while also making decent armor very useful against blades etc (but not impervious).

Of course, the chances of rolling AC+10 are not usually that great.

***

A better solution - for other RPGs - would be using a d100.

Say your "dagger" skill is 70, and you hit 70% of the time.

Treat "doubles" as crits. So, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55 and 66 are criticals.

And you get to double (22), triple (33), quadruple (44), etc., your damage.

This stuff happens very often - about 10% of the time you hit.

A skilled knight could kill a dragon with one blow.

Armor, of course, would REDUCE incoming damage... up to a point.

So, instead of taking, say, 10 points of damage, the wearer would take 3... Not that much, EVEN if you multiply by four or five.

Starting HP would be at least 40...

***

Of all the systems I have played, GURPS comes closest to this.

Unfortunately it has too much die rolling and a critical hit table in which "nothing happens" is the most likely result.

But I reckon a simple "critical hit" table would take care of most of this stuff, even in D&D.

I've been there already... Oh well.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Marks of Corruption (Dark Fantasy Tables)

So, I'm into making tables now. This is inspired Ravenloft, probably. Also, by the lack of enough "dark gifts" in Curse of Sthrad, and DCC RPG before that, and WFRP even earlier... Always liked the idea that contact with the dark powers made you weirder, although I am having a hard time remembering actual books like that (except for Moorcock's Stormbringer, I think).

Anyway, roll a d20 and choose one of three options.

d20
Mark
1
Tongue. Bifurcated, long, or purple.
2
Teeth. Sharp, fangs, or horse-like.
3
Hands. Crooked, clawed, or tentacled.
4
Skin. Hairy, pale, or wet.
5
Eyes. Glowing, feline, or dilated pupils.
6
Wounds. Scars, open sores, or bleeding.
7
Feet. Cloven, inverted, or webbed.
8
Organs. Dilated, twinned, or pulsating.
9
Belly. Bulging, moving, or negative.
10
Additional parts (human). Arms, misplaced eyes, or misplaced mouths.
11
Additional parts (other). Tentacles, tail, or horns.
12
Bones. Deformed, apparent, or malleable.
13
Smell. Sulphur, death, or spice.
14
Mind. Hallucinations, rage, or despair.
15
Missing. Mouth, eyes, or hair.
16
Surrounded. By insects, smoke, or worms.
17
Scary. To small animals, children, or horses.
18
Rotting. Sours milk, ages plants, or spoils wine.
19
Limbs. Too long, too articulated, or too thick.
20
Torso. Too fat, too thin, or too muscular.

Notice that most of these marks are useful. The dark powers take care of their own... in a way. Strange eyes will give you night vision or infrared vision. Fangs and claws are useful in a fight. Malleable bones and wet skin might help you escape. Etc.


This lsit is pretty mild and concealable... maybe make a list of extreme corruption next?

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Generating SIX abilities with THREE rolls (FINALLY!)

This took me a lot longer than I expected, but here is my new version of "3d6 in order".

Roll three 20-sided dice one for each pair of abilities: Strength and Intelligence, Wisdom and Dexterity, and Constitution and Charisma. If you roll 3, 7 and 10, for example, your abilities are 12, 9, 8, 13, 12, 9.
After you’re finished, add a +1 bonus to any ability of your choice for every time you rolled 15 or more. 
Characters of the hopeless class [one of the five classes of my game, Dark Fantasy Basicdo not get this bonus, and instead must apply a -1 penalty to any ability (to a minimum of 8) every time they roll 14 or less on the d20.


d20
Abilities
1
14, 7
2
13, 8
3
12, 9
4
11, 10
5
10, 11
6
9, 12
7
8, 13
8
7, 14
9
13, 8
10
12, 9
11
11, 10
12
10, 11
13
9, 12
14
8, 13
15
12, 8*
16
11, 9*
17
10, 10*
18
10, 10*
19
9, 11*
20
8, 12*

A PC of the hopeless class...

What's the point?

The traditional "3d6 in order" is very good. However, it requires 18 dice to be rolled and added together. It can also create "hopeless" characters (see D&D Basic by Moldvay) which may require ANOTHER 18 dice to be rolled, etc.

I wanted a method which was:

- Faster.
- Fairer (i.e., starting PCs are more similar).
- More balanced (i.e, less extremes, no starting PCs with 18 Strength and 3 Constitution, for example)
- Allowed for SOME customization, but not too many options, to avoid analysis paralysis.
- Was slanted towards "archetypal" results, based on my yin-yang method.

Shall we try it?

Rolls: 11, 5, 13.
Str 11, Int 10, Wis 10, Dex 11, Con 9, Cha 12. There is no "basic" class that benefits from high Charisma, but this might be a starting paladin or mountebank.

Rolls: 17, 1, 19.
Str 10, Int 10, Wis 14, Dex 7, Con 9, Cha 11, AND we get +2 ability points to add as desired - let us make Dex 8 and Con 10. A decent starting cleric.

Rolls: 2, 16, 7.
Str 13, Int 8, Wis 11, Dex 9, Con 8, Cha 13, plus +1 to one ability. I would bet on Strength 14 to make a strong, if somewhat frail, fighter.

The main issue with these examples is that they seem TOO WEAK when compared to the "new school" methods I'm used to in my 5e games... So I should probably add a couple of extra columns to the table... Something like basic/heroic/epic. It would LOOK good, I think, but just adding +1 or +2 to every stat (or every other stat) would be even easier. 

Anyway:

d20
Gritty
Heroic
Epic
1
14, 7
15, 7
15, 8
2
13, 8
14, 8
14, 9
3
12, 9
13, 9
13, 10
4
11, 10
12, 10
12, 11
5
10, 11
11, 11
11, 12
6
9, 12
10, 12
10, 13
7
8, 13
9, 13
9, 14
8
7, 14
8, 14
8, 15
9
13, 8
7, 15
14, 9
10
12, 9
13, 9
13, 10
11
11, 10
12, 10
12, 11
12
10, 11
11, 11
11, 12
13
9, 12
10, 12
10, 13
14
8, 13
9, 13
9, 14
15
12, 8*
13, 8*
14, 8*
16
11, 9*
12, 9*
13, 9*
17
10, 10*
11, 10*
12, 10*
18
10, 10*
10, 11*
10, 12*
19
9, 11*
9, 11*
9, 13*
20
8, 12*
8, 13*
8, 14*

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The INVERTED random encounter roll

Quick idea.

When most RPGs establish a chance of a random encounter, the formula is usually "chance/time". For example, you have a 1-in-6 chance of having a random encounter each turn (ten minutes) you spend in the dungeon. Or you have a 10% chance of meeting a monster each day you spend in the wilderness, etc.

Feels like an awful lot of useless rolling - you could get 5 "nothing happens" results for every encounter, for example. When travelling in an otherwise empty road, the PCs will roll over and over again until they get an encounter.

Why not INVERTING it?


Say, roll 1d6 (or 1d8, 1d10, 1d4+1, etc). That is how many turns (or how many days, etc.) it takes for you to find your next encounter.

A roll of 1 might mean an immediate encounter, with a roll of 6 meaning "nothing happens", and you get to roll again next turn. Which would give you a very small chance of going, say, ten turns (or days, etc.) without any encounters.

Unless you WANT to roll again and again to add tension, etc., this method seems simpler, easier and more effective.

There are other small advantages. For example, if you WANT to have an encounter somewhere along the road, this method will guarantee you eventually get it, while avoiding many encounters in a row. 

For example, you could use 1d6+1 (or, say, 2d4) for how many days you can travel into the dark woods without an encounter. 

This would mean:
- You are relatively safer before getting too deep into the woods.
- You get a small respite after each encounter.

What do you think? Do you know any games that use such system? Do you see any other pros and cons? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

D&D as COMPETITIVE STORYTELLING

This is a brainstorming post. I am discussing ideas that I've just had and, honestly, are pretty contrary to things I wrote in the past (and use in my games). However, they seem like an interesting change of focus and I'd like to  think about them in public and hear other people's opinions.

Is D&D - and, by extension, RPGs in general - a type of game that is focused on telling a story?

Well, no, at least not for me. The whole "telling a story" idea detracts from the experience I want from RPGs (which is, basically, LIVING a story).

However, this week after my Curse of Strahd weekly game one idea crossed my head... what if we think of some RPG campaigns as a game of competitive storytelling? Or maybe a game of competing stories?

The whole idea sounds strange - not only because RPGs are not "storytelling games" IMO, but also because I do not usually think of them as "competitive".

But this makes sense to me for some reason:

- Every player has a story planned for their characters. Maybe they are "meant" to become kings, make their deities proud, or slay an old nemesis.
- The GM - or the NPCs - have their own story planned out - Strahd destroys his enemies or captures his unwilling bride, etc.
- Players and GM compete to see which story becomes "real".
- However, the competition between these stories necessarily change them - mostly because no one has a complete picture in the beginning.

[This makes sense MOSTLY on long campaigns with a single "story-line", like Curse of Sthrad; the GM can hardly think in terms of "story" if each game is a different one-page dungeon with no connecting themes]

With these foundations, the players and GM compete to set the details of the story. Notice that this is not necessarily more or less important than the ending of the story; sometimes the journey is literally more important than the destination.


How do they compete? With arguments. And mechanics, of course. For example:

- "This goblin cannot survive, because he is sleeping and I cut his throath".
- "I hit this NPC with my sword, because I rolled a 17 and her AC is only 14".
- "My character did not die, because I still have 3 HP left".

There is one common thread in all these arguments: they all rely on the idea that "the story must make sense". The mechanics are just a way to enforce this fact - i.e., it makes sense that someone in heavy armor would be more protected than someone without armor (unless it doesn't - for example, if the guy without armor is more nimble, he might avoid incoming attacks, etc.).

There seems to be an enormous hole in this idea: the GM could say "rock falls, everyone dies". However, this is the same as a player saying "well, my character isn't really into slaying dragons, I'll just become an honest baker instead". More realistically, the GM might say "Sthrad sends an army of undead against you while you sleep, even before you defy him. When you wake up there are 100 zombies around you".

The problem is these stories are obviously boring. How popular would "The Lord of the Rings" be if Sauron appeared in Elrond's council and simply killed everybody, with no hope escaping? If the PCs have no chance, or no challenge, there is no fun. So, in addition to making sense, the story must be fun; if you do not think the stories created by GM and players are fun, you'll probably look for other groups.

Also, if the GM's story simply overrules the player's stories, there is no "competition". For this reason, the GM should always be fair. In a competitive environment, "fixing" the dice is cheating.

This indicates another obvious problem: the GM has to be a player/competitor and referee at the same time, which would be impossible in most games. 

Games without a referee have explicit rules that all players must follow; likewise, players in a RPG should agree on a set of rules, even if these include "the GM may change the rules when deferring to common sense", etc.

Still, most RPGs give so many tools to the GM that he must put his role of referee above his role of competing story-teller.

Notice also that the GM does not need to come up with a story of his own; Curse of Strahd, for example, contains (the outline of) a story, for example. But the GM must move his pieces in order to move the campaign story forward, in the way it is intended in the book.

On a micro level, the "story" can be defined scene by scene, without an overarching plot. The PCs enter a room; in the room, there is a troll. The module says the troll wants to eat the PCs, but also wants to acquire jewelry. The PCs have their own "story" planned: they do not want to be eaten, but they also want to acquire treasure. Maybe one of the PCs is a troll-slayer or a pacifistic; the player must "defend" his PC's story against the troll and the other PCs.

Even the most disinterested player has an idea about the story that will unfold. At the bare minimum, she wants her character to stay alive, and the story to be cool (a disinterested player might decide what "cool" is scene by scene).

In the end, through playing the game, everyone reaches a consensus on what the story will become. The story needn't be the coolest story each player could come up with, but it must be cool enough that the players are inclined to play again and contribute to new stories in this manner.

"Consensus" does not seem to mesh with "competition". However, think of friendly sparring or any kind of competitive and you'll realize there must be consensus in order to compete. Competition is not, after all, synonymous with war. We must agree on the rules before playing, and must have fun in order to play again.

The main argument against this view seems to be, IMO, that players and GMs do not have a pre-planned story, but instead PCs and NPCs have goals

However, this doesn't seem as compelling because:

- When role-playing, PCs can take actions that go against the characters "goals". A bloodthirsty PC may start a fight with a potential ally even if her goals are hindered. The reason is that the story must make sense. 
- While GMing, I cannot think of all NPCs in the world. I must choose whatever NPC is nearest, etc. I'm more concerned with making the story make sense than with each individuals NPC's goals. I cannot make Sthrad appear all of a sudden unless circumstances (or the dice)

That is all I've got for now. I'm very interested on hearing your opinion; if you ahve something to add, disagree, etc,. please leave a comment below .
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