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

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Simplifying encounter procedures

In a recent post, I mentioned that I find the procedure for random encounters too lengthy - it can require half a dozen rolls or more to go from "is there an encounter?" to "you see 20 surprised, hostile bandits".

There are some simple ways to shorten this procedure significantly - mostly by reducing encounter checks to ONE per encounter (instead of two to six) and folding distance, surprise and initiative into a single roll.

Random encounter check

The chances of random encounters vary according to terrain: usually, 1-in-6 for in grasslands (clear, plains), 2-in-6 in barren lands, hills, deserts, woods, oceans and rivers, and 3-in-6 in mountains, jungles, and swamps. This means you have an average of one encounter per six, three or two days of travels, respectively.

If you want to avoid rolling six times to get an encounter in the grasslands, for example, you can invert the rationale: roll 1d12 to see how many days the PCs will travel before the next encounter (a one means an encounter in the first day of travel, etc.). Use 1d6 for forests and hills, 1d4 for jungles, and so on.

Adjust the numbers to taste – for example, if you want to make encounters more often count 8-hour periods instead of days. Alternatively, if you think deserts should be a little less crowded, use 1d10 or 1d12 instead of 1d6.

(As suggest to me by someone else in social media, also here).

Encounter tables

I think B/X encounter tables are bonkers, but to save some time, you could reduce the process of "1d8 table and 1d12 sub-table" to a single d100 roll. It makes little difference, but you could use the opportunity to "fix" the tables to your liking - giving forests more green dragons and fewer red dragons, for example.

Number appearing

Not much to say or fix here (excepted as noted under surprise and initiative, below), but let me know if you have any ideas!

I've toyed with a couple of ideas, but I ended up simplifying things: 1/3 of NA in "civilized" regions and 1/2 in the "borderlands".

Surprise and initiative

These rolls are connected. You usually only for initiative if you are not surprised. I find this redundant; you can just roll 1d6 for each side to decide both surprise and initiative (with one caveat: if only one side is surprised, it cannot take action in the first round).

If you want to make surprise/initiative more detailed, you could assign a bonus (+1 to +3) to the smaller side, if there is a significant difference. A group of five PCs is very likely to hear 40 brigands approaching – or maybe even a big creature (such as a hydra) in a forest. Alternatively, you can describe someone surprised by a dragon or army as temporarily paralyzed by fear!

One important thing to remember is that rolling for initiative does not mean starting a combat. The side that gains initiative has a good opportunity of running away or making a sign of good will before the other side can act.

Encounter distance in the wilderness is 4d6 × 10 yards (or 1d4 × 10 yards if either side is surprised). This post suggests that the surprise/initiative roll could replace this -  a very elegant solution! 

For example, you could add the rolls from both sides and multiply it by 10 yards in dungeon, or multiply the three numbers in wilderness.

I might use 20-40 yards in open plains, deserts, etc., IF there is nowhere to hide. 


To be honest, I simply do not want to simplify the reaction roll. On the contrary, I like the social mini-game it can create

One thing to consider is maybe only rolling in the creature's initiative, so that PCs do not know how they'll act beforehand (and the PC's actions may affect the roll). Another idea is giving chaotic monsters a reaction penalty, and lawful ones a bonus.

A book of encounters?

I'm working on a PDF about B/X encounters, to be released in May! It includes these ideas and much more. 

It reduces encounters to a single d100 roll, each giving a result such as:

24 Berserker 11:00 130/20 No (5) 12 (F) Gromm’s clan is extremely hospitable.

Stay tuned or follow me on social media if you're interested.

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Monday, April 29, 2024

Building the perfect campaign - CHAPTERS

Writing a coherent campaign is tricky.

As we've discussed before, RPGs are not "stories". On the other hand, they can occasionally produce a satisfying "emerging narrative" - a series of events in which you participate and, looking back, can outline a beginning, a middle and an end.

Many RPG players/GMs fall into strict "must have story" and "must not have story" camps. 

I believe that there is a middle ground to be found - the merging narrative/metaplot that Gygax describes in AD&D:
Furthermore, there must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement.
A "purposeful" campaign has an ultimate goal. For example, defeating Strahd, Acererack or Vecna, saving the realm from a powerful red dragon, saving the world from a Lovecraftian horror, etc.

Notice that the paragraph above mentions how CHARACHTERS - not only players! - will eventually realize their place in the grand scheme of things.

How to deal with character death, then?

Again, there are usually two big camps: "fudge to save PCs from unjust death" and "just create new PCs". I will notice that the DMG has contradictory advice on the matter.

IMO, it is difficult to imagine a coherent story if the main characters keep changing, but it is ALSO difficult to have a good adventure story if there is no risk involved. 

One good example of this is A Song of Ice and Fire, that manages to keep a few important characters while making you believe anyone can die at any moment.

Anyway, there are a few solutions to this problem:

- "Fudge" the dice to save PCs (which I dislike).
- Create a new PC.
- Turn hirelings or NPCs into PCs.
- Use some form of resurrection, raise dead, etc.
- Make 0 HP mean unconsciousness/maiming as suggested in the 1e DMG.
- Have immortal PCs (examples: Toon RPG, Dark Souls).

Today I was thinking of a different solution; a campaign that is divided in distinct chapters, each in a separate place and time, but all connect trough a bigger struggle.

In the event of a TPK, you just skip to the next chapter.

This is not dissimilar to 5e campaigns (Strahd, Tomb), or old school "series" of interconnected modules. 

I'm just thinking that maybe with a few requirements I could create a coherent campaign that could still support the death of a PC - or a TPK - without total ruination.

For example:

- Each chapter has two beginnings, one assuming the PCs "won" and other assuming the PCs failed or died.

- There should be consequences either way (this is tricky, you NEED to avoid the temptation of starting anew each chapter, because if you do nothing the PCs have done will matter).

- Each beginning has its own "hooks" (why would PCs be interested), and they must be renewed at every chapter.

- There should be a "clean break" between chapters - different place, different time; I think allowing time to pass make things more organic and believable than "a new party immediately arrives".

- If a different level is required, new PCs start on the appropriate level.

- PCs should still be free to ignore the "mission" and roam around to different chapters/places, although they may arrive "too early" ("before the goblin invasion", for example).

Maybe you know some campaigns that work like that - let me know in the comments. 

I'll use an a hypothetical example (with some AI help):

* Chapter 1 (Levels 1-3) - The adventurers arrive in a small village besiege by goblins. If they fail, the city is overrun. If they succeed, they become heroes and may follow to join a local force of goblin-killers going into a goblin infest forest.

* Chapter 2 (Levels 3-5) - The party delves into the depths of the forest to confront the source of the goblin raids. If they succeed, they may be invited to the king's army, but if they fail the forest might be lost to goblins.

* Chapter 3 (Levels 5-7) - One year later. Goblins have been defeated or consolidated their domain. Now the kingdom faces a bigger threat: a dragon has awakened in the nearby isles. The PCs are veterans of the king's army...

And so on. The main difference to something like "Curse of Strahd" or "Tomb of Annihilation" is that you have multiple entry points, which IIRC is unlikely in these campaigns. 

For example, ToA has a time limit of a couple of months to look for a lost city; it would feel strange (but doable) to say, after a TPK, that the PCs are a group of explorers that have just arrived in front of the lost Tomb.

CoS has an "automatic resurrection" clause that prevents a TPK from ruining the sequence of events. Which is also a fine solution, but not what I'm looking for.

(Maybe one method is starting chapters like some Conan stories - the PCs suddenly find themselves in a far city, without money...).

One advantage I see is that the players (not the PCs) will get progressively more familiar with different parts of the setting.

I don't know if I`m making sense here. This is just a brainstorming post for now.

I`d love to hear different opinions, examples, etc.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

ORWELL @2081 - the PDF is now available!

ORWELL @2081*, by my friend Jens, is now available on DTRPG in PDF format, as mentioned in his blog.

As I've mentioned before, this is an interesting RPG - one of a kind, really.

Maybe you could see it as the "current" version of the classic Paranoia* - once we were afraid once war, treason and constant vigilance, now we are threatened by social media, AI, infantilization, pharmaceuticals, fake news and, well, constant vigilance again.

It also reminds me of Misspent Youth* or Cyberpunk* somewhat. 

But these are just references - ORWELL (or Ø2\\‘3||) has its own thing going on.

The writing is provocative and enticing; it paints a very grim picture of the future (and present...). 

The art is dark and awesomely creepy, check this out:

The layout is clean and good looking.

The system is quite unique, using 3d12 and various twists that distinguish it from the D&D-like RPGs I'm used to. 

Anyway, here's the blurb:

    Welcome to a very dark world ...

    The setting is Europe in the year 2081, unified under one totalitarian party called The Family. The United States of Europe (USE, for short) are a playground for all the bad ideas this century has already come up with (and some of the classics from the last 100 years). Citizens are rated by an arbitrary and mean Social Status system, puberty blockers are mandatory for all but the Elites. All of this is shrouded through a huge media ruse: reality is hidden behind a fully augmented and gamified layer, maintained by an AI implanted at birth and controlled by The Family. Citizens never grow up, just grow older and if they aren't high in social status, they are bled and used for everything they have, most of the time without even realizing it. That veil is lifted for some, and with that comes resistance (or opportunity).

    It’s a game that assumes players are open to exploring all kinds of ideas and willing to put some thought into the stories they tell and experienced DMs who want to explore a system that challenges them as well. It is also a satire of a dystopian future that may not yet fall upon us …
I'd recommend you check this one out especially if you like:

- Tragic/satiric views of our possible futures.
- Very dark humor.
- Games such as "Paranoia" and "We happy few".
- Books like 1984 (Orwell), Brave New World, and The Futurological Congress, or anything by PKD.
- Black Mirror.
- Amazingly creepy art.
- An innovative, unique system.

* Affiliate links.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

AD&D ability tests, streamlined

 As I've mentioned in my Hyperborea review (check it pout!), I really liked how the game tries to streamline AD&D ability checks: 

This is a simpler version of the (much more complex) original, which included percentile Strength (see OSRIC, for example):

18.91-18.99+2+5+2001-4 (1 in 6 extraordinary success)35
19+3+6+3001-5 (1 in 6 extraordinary success)40

Although I like the simpler version I think it would be easier to go even simpler - while keeping vaguely similar chances.

Here is a simple formula:

- Ordinary ability checks: roll under ability.

- Extraordinary checks: roll under ability-10 if your ability is remarkable enough (13+, which is where you start getting modifiers), otherwise it is a % roll. 

Alternatively, just make a percentile roll with HALF you ability score if you want to keep things more similar to the original, or your whole ability if truly exceptional (17+).

[You could probably achieve interesting results with 2d20 for extraordinary checks: less than 1% for Strength 3, and about 38% for Strength 18. But this is YET ANOTHER system to try someday...). 

Other tables could be similarly replaced: 

- "Survive" checks (Constitution): roll under ability, you get a +4 bonus.

- Thieves' skills are extraordinary checks, but add level to your ability before rolling.

Of course, the exact numbers do not really matter. It depends on what you're trying to achieve.

This is just another example of ability checks I found interesting (I probably wrote more than a dozen in this blog already, this was probably the most recent, using 1d30).

Anyway, just another skill system for you to play with if you don't like sheets with lots of data or consulting tables during the game.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

HYPERBOREA Player's Manual (review)

I'm a fan of sword & sorcery. I read an played several RPGs in the genre, but hadn't read Hyperborea 3e, mostly because it felt to extensive to me (the whole thing is over 600 pages, with the PHB being around 320 pages.

I finally bought the PHB and found that there is much to like about this game, and fact it is not as complex as the page count would seen to indicate.

BTW, I've been reading lots of S&S RPGs to acquire ideas for my own games (I hope to write a new one someday). There might be more reviews of S&S games to come...

So here's my review. I'll tackle it chapter by chapter. Since I'm familiar with the D&Disms and AD&Disms the game uses (I assume my reader is also familiar with those), I glanced over some parts, so let me know if I missed anything.

A brief note about art

This book contains amazing B&W art all over, including pieces by (my favorite!) Russ Nicholson and other OSR luminaires. It looks great!

A brief note about organization

The book's table of contents are pretty terse and not hyperlinked. The index, however, is very good.

Chapter 1: Introduction 

This chapter describes what is an RPG, how to roll a d3, and other things you probably don't need, but also contains a great breakdown of the S&S genre and why this is a S&S game.

Chapter 2: Character Generation

First, a short (and sweet!) primer on the setting, which I'll skip because most of the setting is in the DMG (but I must say it sounds AWESOME), then a summary of the PC creation process.

Chapter 3: Statistics 

Attribute and statistic generation (several methods are presented). System-wise, the books is "streamlined AD&D", which I love. See the Strength and Dexterity tables, for example:

This is clearer than AD&D, although I cannot help but to think that a "test of Strength" could simply be rolling under strength and you wouldn't to check the table/sheet.

Like AD&D, I find Hyperborea relies unnecessarily on tables, but the system is straightforward enough that you might as well choose to ignore half of them - which is good.

Other statistics are similarly streamlined: you have fighting ability, casting ability, a single saving throw (with some exceptions)... AWESOME stuff, since it is a lot simpler than matrices, THAC0, saving throw tables, etc.

Chapter 4: Classes 

This is where the book really shines. "Four principal classes (fighter, magician, cleric, thief) and 22 subclasses are available for play". Impressive.

Each class is described in 2-4 pages, so while there is a lot of overlap, the classes themselves are not complex.

Fighters are AD&D-ish - d10 HP, extra attack on level 7, weapon mastery, cleave, etc. Magicians get familiars and the usual spell slots. Clerics get a turn undead table, and thieves a d12 skills table. Needless to say, this could be simplified further, at the cost of becoming less AD&Dish. 

Each class and subclass has starting equipment, which is love.

The subclasses are an interesting set of options. The books contains different (but similar) classes for barbarians and berserkers, rangers and hunters, etc.

There is lots of redundancy here, but the book is very complete - you have all the usual suspects (paladins, assassins, druids, etc.) plus plenty of alternate archetypes.

Chapter 5: Background

This chapter describes hyperborean "races", deities and languages. Races include vikings, greeks, "half-blood picts", etc., each with a different weight, height, skin color, and culture, but not really different statistically. 

Obviously, "viking" is not a "race" in the real world, but this kind of language is very common in S&S books.

I have to say it is refreshing to see a fantasy game without elves and dwarves!

Deities are a mixture of Greek, Lovecraftian, pulpy and D&Dish - pretty good and very appropriate to the S&S genre.

Chapter 6: Equipment

This chapter contains an EXTENSIVE list of equipment with detailed description. There are some oddities - the falcata, short sword, and short scimitar are described as separate weapons despite being identical, and AFAICT the horseman’s pick is better than ANY of them (it is cheaper AND  better against plate, with no downsides).

I'm probably nitpicking because I'm obsessed with medieval weapons; this chapter is very complete, describing both equipment and some services (but not hirelings).

I love the way Hyperborea treats armor, giving medium and heavy armor some damage resistance, and adding two types of shields instead of one - overall, making armor more important. I'm extremely tempted to use this in my games!

Chapter 7: Sorcery 

I skimmed over this one. It is the longest chapter in the book by far (except classes/subclasses). But I can say it is very complete/detailed and seems genre appropriate. Here is an example of both things at once:

Chapter 8: Adventure

Adventuring rules: time, movement, light, hirelings, etc. Encumbrance is left to referee discretion, except for armor. There is a d6 task resolution that boils down to referee fiat, if you don't want to use attribute checks.

Chapter 9: Combat

This chapter includes not only combat but also encounter reaction. It contains several special combat situations and combat maneuvers. It is more detailed than your average D&D game without becoming cumbersome, which I appreciate. Unarmed combat has plenty of detail in jsut one page - and is a vast simplification over AD&D. There is a combat matrix, but it could be easily replaced by Target20 if you don't want to check it (AC is descending).


The appendices describe names for each "race", armies and strongholds for each class and subclass when they reach level 9, and a small note explaining that RPGs are cooperative efforts.


I really enjoyed reading this book. 

It has great looks, great rules and is simpler than I imagined, even tough it could be reduced to 100 pages or less if you prefer something more minimalist. Still, it is simpler and clearer than AD&D RAW and has tons of additional options in the subclasses - while maintaining perfect compatibility to AD&D modules, monsters, etc.

The S&S vibe is on point, the author really seems to know the genre. I'm curious about the setting and might get the setting book someday.

If you like AD&D and S&S, this book is a must have! Buy it here.

* Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

A new terminology for D&D weapons (and using WEIGHT for speed, length, and armor)

Same subject, different take. 

I thank to Roy Fizzbin for the comment in that post, which inspired the bit about weapon weight.

The problem

Weapon terminology is confusing, both in D&D and in history.

In AD&D, a footman's mace is apparently longer than a horseman's, while history (and common sense) would say the opposite; you need longer weapons to fight on horseback.

You might assume you need 2h to use footman's (since it deals more damage), but that is unclear too.

Is a battle axe in D&D two-handed? Probably, but we can't tell. In B/X, if the battle-axe is two-handed it would make it strictly worse than the (one-handed) sword. No one would ever carry an axe (not even dwarves) - except that it is a bit less expensive and lighter.

Why is the one-handed sword heavier than a 2H-axe? Again, history and common sense would say otherwise.

I tried learning historically accurate names for weapons, but that is hard too. Distinguishing a "sword" from a "large sword" is much easier than defining what a broadsword actually means.

One thing I learned from historical swords is that D&D weights, if converted to pounds, are exaggerated, especially for swords, especially 2H-swords when compared to heavy axes and long polearms.

The solution

Here's my terminology for medieval weapons; the first time I used something similar was in Dark Fantasy Basic, but of course I can't be the first to think about this.

Tiny weapons (T): 1d4 damage. 1 pound. Basically, daggers and knives.

Small weapons (S): 1d6 damage. Weight 2-3 pounds. They always include an adjective indicating its diminished size/mass: short sword, hand axe, light spear, light mace, smallsword, etc.

Medium weapons (M). 1d8 damage. One-handed weapons, weighting 3-5 pounds. No adjectives needed: sword, mace, axe.

Large weapons (L). 1d8 damage - thus very similar to medium weapons, but add 1 or 2 pounds, and +1 damage if held with both hands. They always include an adjective indicating its increased size/mass: long sword, broad sword, heavy spear, long spear, battle axe, heavy mace.

Great weapons (G). 1d10 damage, weighting 6-10 pounds. Greatsword, great axe, great mace, great spear, etc., plus all polearms.

Cheap wooden weapons: clubs, staves, etc. Any size from S to L., but reduce damage by one step. A greatclub deals 1d8 damage, for example.

Another possible uses of weapon weight

Weight is a good indicator of size, speed, effectiveness against armor and large opponents, even if not perfect.

The fact that 1-10 pounds is a reasonable range for weapon weights is perfect for our decimal-oriented minds (there are heavier weapons, specially long polearms, probably more suitable for war than small duels).

For example, we might use weight as a speed factor, giving a -4 penalty if you want to attack twice with your 4-pound sword. When fighting someone with a 3-pound sword, we already know which weapon is longer, etc.

We could even allow the player to choose a weapon's weight (within reason), knowing that heavy weapons have pros and cons (AD&D hints at this whit spears).

To find a weapon's weight, use the order: spear, sword, axe, mace. Length is the opposite. This means a large sword weight 3-5 pounds, and a greatsword weights 6-7. A greatmace weights 10 pounds.

I'm tempted to use the same reasoning for defeating armor and large opponents; heavy weapons are better at both. 

There is still room for more detail; a mace is better against armor, and a sword against large foes, if the weight is the same. But a heavy mace is better than a light mace in BOTH situations. Likewise, a 5-pound spear probably has more reach than a 10-pound mace.

The problem is that the exceptions start to be so numerous that we start to wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just use extensive tables such as the ones found in AD&D.

Anyway, I've considered that possibility too; here is what I've got so far.

One day I might write a PDF about that... I certainly spent enough time thinking bout it. I could probably write 100 weapons in this format.

I'd love to hear some feedback on the table - or these ideas in general!

Friday, April 19, 2024

Special weapon maneuvers

Another quick idea on how to differentiate weapons. in old-school D&D - somewhat simpler than AD&D, but potentially more varied than B/X:

Give each weapon a Speed Factor (SF) or a Defeat Armor (DA) rating, maybe both.

This is entirely optional for players; it is only relevant when they decide to use a special maneuver.

Here are some maneuvers.

Quick attack.
Make two attacks instead of one, each with a penalty equal to SF. If attacking with a different weapon in each hand, you can add +2 to your main hand. This replaces the usual two-weapon fighting rules from AD&D.

Armor bash.
Make an attack with a +4 bonus against an opponent wearing armor (chain or better), but the damage gets reduced (this can be expressed in a percentage; not sure yet).

Other maneuvers can be added as needed: forceful attack (-4 to-hit, +4 damage), defensive attack (-4 to-hit, +4 AC against one single opponent), ignore shield (+1 to attack but -2 damage unless using a flail, etc.) etc.

Maybe all numbers default to 4, leaving other stats optional.

For example, you could have:

Mace, 1d6, SF 6, DA 80%, Parry 2.
Long-sword, 1d8, SF 6, DA 30%, Parry 5.
Battle-axe, 1d8, SF 7, DA 50%, Parry 4.

And either use each stat as appropriate, or ignore all stats and use +4/-4 to all maneuvers.

So the mace is good against armor, but only when you choose to use it this way (+4 to-hit, 80% damage).

Alternatively, just remove all weapon details (except damage) and leave this to the (optional) maneuvers section. 

These would give fighters more options both when picking weapons and during combat, but also allow you to ignore weapon stats whenever desired.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Weapon speed, size and force: simplifying AD&D

"Forget weapon speed factors. I must have been under the influence of a hex when I included them in the bloody rules." - attributed to Gary Gygax.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might know I'm a bit obsessed with this stuff.

So, I was taking YES another look at AD&D weapons... and, again, I'm torn.

On one hand, I love the idea of certain weapons being awesome when dealing with heavy armor, or large opponents, or tight spaces... OTOH I think the tables as written are almost unsalvageable.

Take the two handed sword, for example.

* It makes attacking someone in leather armor easier to hit than someone who is unarmored. 
* It ignores your shield if you are unarmored, but NOT if you are in leather armor.
* It weights 250 coins. The awl pike (length: 18’+) weights 80 coins.

There is nothing here I want to use. But it also has a few interesting aspects I like:

* It is a decent weapon against MOST  types of armor and shields.
* It is a great weapon against large opponents.

AD&D doesn't tell you this, but it shows this is true with many tables and more than a dozen digits. Here is a radical simplification that would still give me everything I want from 2H-sword:

- The 2H-sword has +2 to hit against any armor, and double damage dice (2d10) against large opponents.

Now, instead of analyzing several tables, the player can choose this weapon for clear reasons. 

We could extrapolate this further; maybe ALL swords deal double damage against large foes, and ALL two-handed weapons get +2 to hit (thus balancing the loss of a shield).

In order to create these extrapolations/generalizations, I compiled this table (right click to open in a new tab):

The columns are:

- Weights.
- Damage (minimum plus maximum, so "1-4" becomes 5).
- Speed factor (the lower/red, the faster).
- Attack (the sum of all attack bonuses, from AC 9 to AC 2), meaning the weapon hits more often.
- Armor spread (which is the AC 2 bonus minus the AC 9 bonus), meaning the weapon is particularly bad against heavy armor if the number is low/red. Ignore this last column for now.

The colors help us visualize some patterns

There is a clear tendency of lighter weapons being faster, but weaker against armor and dealing lower damage. 

When there is a visible shift in color, we can notice outliers. For example:

- The awl pike is much slower than other weapons of a similar weight, while the lance (heavy warhorse) is significantly faster.
- The bastard sword is very good against large opponents, even in its weight class.
- The short sword is fast for its weight class; in fact, all swords are kinda fast for their weights.
- Some weapons (2H sword, heavy lance, flail, morningstar) hit more often, while others (sticks, fauchard, guisarme) have a harder time hitting ("attack" column).
- The "bec de corbin" and "axe, battle" are both bad against large opponents.

Now, the last column deserves further explanation. 

A positive/green number means the weapon gets to partially ignore armor, while a negative/red number means the weapon is particularly weak against heavier armor.

This column has a bit less correlation to "weight class". But there are some rules that seem easy to generalize:

- Picks, flails, maces and heavy lances/2h-swords are good against heavy armor.
- Axes, daggers and swords are bad against heavy armor.
- Sticks/staves are terrible against heavy armor.

So... I still don't know what to make of this. I guess my desire is to make a series of small affirmations that could be easier understood and applied ("picks, flails and 2h-swords get +2 against armor", etc.).

An earlier effort resulted in this, which was good but still not quite what I'm looking for.

My next guess is that we could play with the idea of "combat maneuvers" or "special attacks", with some weapons being better doing a "ignore armor" maneuvers, others with a "fast attack", etc.

Another idea is making clear certain weapons are better against giants, other against undead, oozes, etc.

But I'll leave that to another day. This exercise was interesting but a bit frustrating; it almost seems like any effort to streamline this stuff is in vain, and we'd be better off consulting tables.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Where AD&D is better than 3d6 in order

Being a fan of basic D&D, I always thought that rolling 3d6 in order was the cleanest, fastest way to generate PCs. Also the most fair, so PCs start, on average, as a normal person.

In addition, the -3/+3 modifier spread is beautiful and intuitive, while in AD&D you need to consult lots of tables to fill your character sheet.

In comparison, the AD&D methods were not only more complex - involving more dice rolling, sometimes to ridiculous lengths - but also made starting PCs stronger than average humans (but they could still be knocked out and maybe dying from a 10-foot fall).

In addition, this added complexity, redundantly, often got you to the same modifiers you'd get in B/X. 

For example, in B/X you get abilities of 10.5 on average, while you needed 13 Strength to get a +1 bonus to damage. 

In AD&D the average is 12.24... But you still get +0 to damage even with 13! 

So what is the point?

Well, the point is that despite these things, AD&D got a few things better than B/X here.

- The default modifier is +0, like in B/X, despite higher abilities.
- However, the bell curve in 4d6 is "higher" - averages (12, 13) are more likely and negative results are a lot rarer, which makes the game a bit faster since subtraction is uncommon (addition is quicker).
- Maybe PCs should be a bit stronger than the average human? And, specially, avoid PCs that are extremely weak in any area (e.g., PCs that can barely speak).

In short, this 4d6 methods was adopted in subsequent editions for good reasons - and there are plenty of B/X players using it too.

However, in B/X this makes PCs a bit too strong for my taste.

There are several methods to combine the advantages of both systems. In B/X, these are some of my favorites:

A) Roll 2d6+4 to each ability score. This avoids extreme results and gives you an average of 11.
B) 3d6 in order, but replace one result of your choosing by 15.
C) Some standard array to make things even faster (for 3d6, it could be 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 7 or 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8; add 1 point to each to get an average of 11.5). 

I'd let the players swap two attributes to play the PCs they want (or assign to taste in "C").

[One thing to note is that I use feats and ability scores improvement, so that eventually you can raise your ability scores. If I didn't, I'd probably use "B" - leaving the possibility of 3s and 18s and also allowing you to play basically any class you want].

Notice that this is quite close to the averages in the D&D B-series pregens - who have average ability scores around 11-12 or a bit higher, as explained here.

This range looks satisfying to me.

Of course, it is ultimately a matter of taste - do you want PCs to be ordinary, a bit better, or heroic form the start? 

But for my B/X(ish) games, this average of 11.5 - just a bit above a normal human - is what I like.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

A wizard of Earthsea

A wizard of Earthsea is an old favorite of mine. I've read it in more than two decades ago. Seeing a new edition illustrated by Charles Vess and in hardcover, I thought it was a good idea to revisit it, especially in the context of the Appendix N (the book is not on Gygax's list, but in Moldvay's).

Well, the illustrations were a bit sparse and not particularly awesome, but the story is still worth reading again.

The book was written for "young adults", but it does not feel juvenile. It is a good "coming-of-age story" that portrays the upbringing of a wizard, from childhood to maturity - and what that entails. Still, a good book for young teenagers - easy, short, no sex and little violence, but carrying a deep message.

The main character is Sparrowhawk, a child who discovers magical powers and then starts an apprenticeship before going to "wizard school". While trying to prove his worth to his peers (and, maybe, trying to impress a girl - but that's subtle), he foolish unleashes a being that will haunt him for years. While re-reading the book, this was my favorite part, because it subtly shows the character's immaturity and insecurity against offenses that might be small or partly imaginary.

The Earthsea books are famous in D&D fandom for its magic system, which focus on learning the true names of things and maintaining balance. There are a few suggestions of spell mishaps that are very interesting - for example, the book mentions that many dolphins are wizards that forgot they had to shape-shift back to human form!

The archipelago setting looks decent for adventuring. There are dragons of varying size and power and a shadow monsters, both of which might have been used as inspiration in D&D. Other than that, the book does not have many monsters or magic items, but still feels like decent inspiration for D&D games - including an interesting mysterious castle...

While I am usually a fan of dark fantasy, this is "light fantasy" at its best. It is not pulp action in the vein of Burroughs and Howard, nor Lovecraftian horror (although it contains nameless things and being older than humanity) or the dark fairy tales of Dunsany. It is somewhat reminiscent of "The Hobbit" but for older readers, or Piranesi for younger ones - but not quite. The author deliberately tried to subvert some fantasy tropes, avoiding war almost entirely. It contains little parody or humor, and the horror is almost entirely metaphysical. It is reminiscent of fairy tales, in a way, but also more "serious".

It is, in some ways, a melancholic, sensitive book (and setting). 

There are no epic battles (except one brief encounter with dragons) and few great heroes. The people  of the archipelago are mostly peasants and fishermen, some having little knowledge of anything except their own island (in the saddest part of the book, this is a very small island, and almost no knowledge at all). Beyond the archipelago, there seems to be a vast expanse of sea and nothingness. The protagonist also spends a lot of time wounded, sleeping, or escaping, which reinforces this feeling. But it is not a sad book, necessarily - on the contrary, it has a hopeful bend, a light tone, and a mythic/archetypal truth to it that mimics the hero's journey without being clichéd. 

In any case, it is a classic and a short read. Definitely recommended to anyone with interest in fantasy and D&D.

[BTW, after finishing this one I immediately started re-reading The Tombs of Atuan, who centers around a labyrinthine dungeon and the cult of  the "Nameless Ones"... I don't remember the details of ths one, but should be fun!]

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

How big is an (6-mile) hex?

I've been thinking of hexes in abstract terms, but I think something more complete would be useful.

I default to the proverbial "6-mile hex" describe here.

Apparently, the area is about 31 square miles (correct me if I'm wrong).

This is bigger than Manhattan (23 square miles).

The Isle of Wight would cover about 2 hexes.

Siena - plus about 20 towns and monasteries - would cover one hex.

The City of London, within the walls, is HALF a square mile - so it covers about 1/60 of the hex.

Notice how thin the Thames would look in a six-mile hex map! It is about 0,16 miles wide near London.

Rivers such as the Danube, Rhine, and Mississippi have an average width of less than one mile.

In short, this means that crossing an hex will not necessarily allow you to see every relevant site. In the 
plains you are likely to see the entire hex in a clear day, so a village is not difficult to find - especially because there are roads etc. But the village is not hard to AVOID, either.

Anyway, there is no way you can picture every village in a six-mile hex (which I used to do - I marked the hex with a small house).

At this level of detail, it would be better to use 3-mile hexes, which are four times smaller than the original hex - and have their own advantages

A 3-mile hex is enough for a village with countryside, or maybe a very large city surrounded by 4-6 hexes of countryside and villages.

In a 1-mile hex, river thickness may start to vary in the map (and maybe even change from season to season). 

Traveling becomes less abstract - you do not cross "the mountains", but choose specific paths.

This is probably too much detail for me. Too much choice with little consequence. I'll stick to 6-mile hexes for now.

Additional reading:


Monday, April 01, 2024

Character death in RPGs, war-games, and storygames

I've tried to differentiate the three perspectives here.

There is one aspect or issue that I´d like to emphasize: the death of a player character.

The  RPG experience requires first person perspective.

But in this perspective, the death of a character is THE END.

No one sees himself as disposable or easily replaceable.

(This is even more of a problem in a TPK. If you send waves after waves of PCs to fight the Tomb of Horrors, you've playing a puzzle, not necessarily an RPG).

The wargame solution is replacing the PC for an NPC or hireling. Easy. The storygame solution could be simply saving the PC or letting death be a relevant plot point.

But, from the perspective of the PC, death means it is over.

So PC death might be a bigger problem in RPGs than even in storygaming (in wargaming, it is not even a problem). 

A story with many characters can easily continue after one death (think Game of Thrones, etc.)

Let's think videogames for a minute. 

In videogames with a single character, death usually requires a "do over". Go back to your most recent level (or saving point) and go from there, otherwise the game has to end.

In Warcraft, on the other hand, nothing happens if an "unit" is destroyed, as long as you have other pieces. This is the wargaming perspective (Darkest Dungeon is another great example - it really feel like an old-school RPG due to its proximity to wargames).

I felt more "character immersion" in Resident Evil than Darkest Dungeon or Warcraft (although FUN can be found anywhere). This is part of the reason I think a wargaming perspective is not ideal for RPGs.

Are there computer storygames? I am not sure. My first instinct is compare storygaming to cutscenes - certain things just happen because they are important to the plot, including the death of a player character. But storygames have mechanics that are difficult to translate to videogames - shared narratives, story tokens, etc.

There is a tension in there I cannot quite resolve right now: if there is no risk of PC death, immersion/simulation is ruined. But if you can simply replace a dead PC, his life has little value and therefore there is no real risk.

My instinct says the death of a PC should be possible but meaningful. This requires balancing RPGs with some wargaming and maybe storygaming perspectives.

But this certainly requires more reflection.