25 February 2012

20 Answers for Brendan

Brendan over at Untimately posted 20 questions about rules you use in your campaign. Good timing. Here's how things work in The Bastard's Blade:
  1. Ability scores generation method?
    3d6 in order. My S&W house rules rely a lot on attribute scores, so people gots to roll with the die.
  2. How are death and dying handled?
    Minions, henchmen, and goblinoid rabble are on their way out at zero hp (but might stay long enough to whisper something important). For PCs and big bads, zero hp means you roll on the Hit Location table.
  3. What about raising the dead?
    Yeah, a raise dead spell will work, but the character just isn't the same. Better to get him resurrection to avoid nasty side effects, though clerics aren't gonna raise just anybody.
  4. How are replacement PCs handled?
    Roll 'em up, and the GM needs to figure out an artful way to bring them into the story.
  5. Initiative: individual, group, or something else?
    Moldvay-based group initiative. Something like this.
  6. Are there critical hits and fumbles? How do they work?
    Criticals, yes; working on fumbles. Here's the gist.
  7. Do I get any benefits for wearing a helmet?
    Yeah - a save vs. a head crit.
  8. Can I hurt my friends if I fire into melee or do something similarly silly?
    You can, and it's embarrassing. When you fire into melee, you have to roll a critical to hit your intended target. Otherwise, it's a sheepish "Sorry pal," then you watch your character's back.
  9. Will we need to run from some encounters, or will we be able to kill everything?
    As the renowned bard Kys Regor advises, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run."
  10. Level-draining monsters: yes or no?
    Yes, except they drain CON. I hate recalculating level-based stuff.
  11. Are there going to be cases where a failed save results in PC death?
    Sure, but not in and of itself. You have to be low on hit points before a failed save kills a PC.
  12. How strictly are encumbrance & resources tracked?
    Fairly. Characters have a limited amount of storage space. Something based on the Chimera RPG encumbrance experience.
  13. What's required when my PC gains a level? Training? Do I get new spells automatically? Can it happen in the middle of an adventure, or do I have to wait for down time?
    An d20 advancement roll whenever you earn your base XP amount (i.e., the XP required for 2nd level). If the d20 result is greater than your current level, you level up. When you do, you get hit points, save bonus, and to-hit increases instantly. Any class-based ability or spells, though, require 1d4 weeks of training. But there are rules for what your character gets up to in-between adventures...
  14. What do I get experience for?
    Dispatching foes, figuring out my tricks and puzzles, spending coin, and taking outrageous risks.
  15. How are traps located? Description, dice rolling, or some combination?
    Description of a reasonable plan, but a good die roll forces the GM to give you clues to work with. Same for removing traps, finding secret doors, diplomacy, hiring red shirts, and figuring out of you're being lied to.
  16. Are retainers encouraged and how does morale work?
    By all means, load up on retainers. Morale based on the character's CHA, and henchmen check after each adventure, plus whenever they're asked to do something crazy-stupid. During a fight, henchmen ignore morale checks as long as their master is doing alright.
  17. How do I identify magic items?
    Gandalf-style research if you're smart. Trial and error if you're in a hurry or don't mind getting possessed or having your soul sucked out by any one of several eager demon lords. Clerical magic items are another matter—they just tase you if you're a non-believer.
  18. Can I buy magic items? Oh, come on: how about just potions?
    Yes, but just potions. You can buy armour and weapons of quality, which grant non-magical pluses. And every now and then, you might pick up a magic tchotchke from a merchant who doesn't realise what he's selling.
  19. Can I create magic items? When and how?
    Yes, but it's a home brew system that requires its own post. The "when" is whenever you think you can hack it (because failure hurts). The "how" basically requires a skill roll, spell-casting, and a bit of your essence.
  20. What about splitting the party?
    You can do it, but the cranky GM in me tends to punish the PCs because it's a pain in my butt.

23 February 2012

Worlds of Hurt

More confessions: I'm not, nor have I ever been, a fan of hit points. While I agree that they’re an easy way to gauge combat stamina and track damage, they fail me on two counts:
  1. You can’t do one-shot kills—when a foe has more than 1 HD, you usually need multiple hits to bring him down, and
  2. You can’t simulate performance degradation—meaning you’re just as effective at 1hp as you are at 50hp
Yet, it's hard to beat hit points for convenience and familiarity. I mean, everybody knows what a hit point is, and pretty much every OSR resource is going to use them. So here’s a possible solution to the two issues above, with the added benefit of being able to use existing S&W stats without modification. [1]

We'll start by keeping hit dice and hit points. When an attack hits, roll damage normally and subtract from the target's hit point total. However, when an attack is a critical hit (see below) or when a combatant reaches zero hit points, the defender rolls on the Hit Location table to see what happens. [2]

Critical Hits

A critical hit occurs when an unmodified attack roll result falls within the attacker’s critical range, which is 20 minus his class-based to-hit bonus. For example, a 4th-level fighter with a to-hit bonus of +2 has a critical range of 18-20. Thus, if his d20 attack roll shows a natural 18, 19, or 20, and the attack succeeds, it’s a critical hit. A monster's critical range is calculated the same way (though tops out at a critical range of 5-20).

Hit Locations

When a critical hit is rolled or a target is reduced to zero hit points, [3] roll on the Hit Location table (use a lame 1d6 or use these super-bitchin' dice):
1d6  LOC.      MIN. DMG (1)    NORMAL DMG (2) MAX. DMG (3)
1    Lf Arm    Armour (4)      STR -1         Lost limb (5)
2    Rt Arm    Weapon (6)      DEX -1         Lost limb (5)
3    Lf Leg    Knockback 10'   -1 to Move     Lost limb (5)
4    Rt Leg    -1 to AC        -20# to Carry  Lost limb (5)
5    Torso     Knock down (7)  Stunned (8)    Shot to the Heart (9)
6    Head (10) Stunned (8)     Knocked out    Head shot (11)
1.  Use if the damage roll is a natural "1." Penalties last until
    treated (i.e., 2-7 hp worth of healing).
2.  Use if the damage roll is between "1" and the maximum die
    value. Save or effects are permanent. 
3.  Use if the damage roll is the maximum die value.
4.  Reduce armour (or shield) protection by -1 (destroyed if
    reduced to zero).
5.  Save to convert into a bleeder (death from blood loss in 1
    turn/level unless given 4-14 hp worth of healing); if save
    fails, limb is gone, but no further damage.
6.  Reduce weapon's damage die by one step (e.g., 1d6 becomes 1d4);
    weapon broken less than 1d4 damage.
7.  Requires a full action to get back on your feet.
8.  Stunned combatants are -1 to all rolls, AC, and Move.
9.  Death in 1 round per level or HD unless given 4-14 hp worth
    of healing.
10. If wearing a helmet, save to treat as next lowest crit
11. Decapitation, throat slit, or weapon embedded in skull type of 
    thing. Unless the victim was caught by surprise or somehow
    unable to act, he gets one immediate retaliatory strike at
    -4 before falling in a crumpled heap.
Option: Instead of modifying the to-hit or damage rolls, reflect weapon proficiency by modifying the hit location roll. More on this later, but you're now on notice that it's coming.

Using this table, you'll quickly discover that it's hard to kill things, though combatants do get messed up. As a result, reserve this table for PCs, Big Bads, and "Boss" NPCs. For fodder, henchmen, and minions, just consider them gone when they reach zero hit points.

Soooo... the table. Too much? I like the idea of different results based the amount of damage rolled, but I think the entries can stand some improvement. That said, feel free to suggest said improvements in the comments section.

UPDATE (2/25/12): Edits resulting from playtesting: now all Max Damage crits are potentially life-threatening. Other results got shifted to the left, and I incorporated saves to make things more heinous interesting.

Next Up, Unfocused thoughts on religion, Evan-style
Listening To: Tears for Fears, Sowing the Seeds of Love
  1. Based on the optional damage location system for Chimera RPG: http://www.welshpiper.com/hit-locations/; the zero hit point limit was inspired by Robert Fisher (http://web.fisher.cx/robert/infogami/Classic_D&D_injury_table).
  2. Traps, spells, falling, and other sources of damage won't inflict a critical hit, but they can reduce a target to zero hit points, so the system applies to anything that inflicts damage. This also allows you to deduct hit points for intangibles such as fatigue, disease,substance abuse, prolonged exposure to the elements, and going off on adventures without twinkies and beef jerky.
  3. A character at zero hit points is still active and able to fight. However, he does so at whatever penalty is imposed by the Hit Location table, and if he's hit again, he has to make another Hit Location roll.

19 February 2012

Revised S&W Combat To-hit Table

First off, it's been awhile, so thanks for being patient. Last time, I promised that I'd write about Germanic Kingdoms, but I need to work on some campaign foundations before drilling down into specifics.

Second, and onto the topic at hand, a confession: I'm an ascending armour class guy. I've never liked descending armour class. Not even once. It makes no sense to me in a game where "plusses" mean good things, and the fact that a shield +1 actually reduces AC is just all sorts of counter-intuitive.

There. I said it. If you want to take me to task for it, feel free to post in the comments section, but I'm telling you right now that you're gonna have to piss nickels before descending AC makes sense to me.

I mention all this because I like that Swords & Wizardry (4th printing) gives you the option of choosing which flavour of AC you want to use, and the way it presents AAC makes rolling to-hit very easy and potentially chartless and fast.

But I am noticing some... opportunities for my OCD to take charge in the area of to-hit bonuses by class. What strikes me is that the progression (1) is non-linear, (2) doesn't differentiate class enough for me, and (3) seems too powerful at higher levels.

Here are some working assumptions about how classes fight:
  • Fighters get the best to-hit bonuses, ever. Because they're fighters. S&W reflects this, though the non-linear progression doesn't "feel" right to me.
  • By contrast, thieves and magic-users are the worst at fighting, though I'd like to differentiate them and give thieves a bit of an edge.
  • Clerics, as fighting crusaders, should be somewhere in between. But given their spell use and undead banishing, I suggest that they should be farther behind fighters than the Core Rules advises.
Taking these factors into account, I submit the following:

"To-hit" Bonuses by Class
LevelCleric FighterMagic-userThiefMonster
< 1+0+0+0+0+0

In summary, fighters get the best to-hit progression: +1 every 2 levels. Clerics are second, with +1 every 4 levels (i.e., they're half as good when it comes to smiting). Thieves are slightly worse, getting +1 every 5 levels; magic-users fall behind that, also gaining +1 every 5 levels, but unlike the other classes, they start at +0.

These values are almost universally lower at all levels than suggested in S&W, but I feel better about the standard progression. One thing you'll note is that clerics and thieves are closely matched at lower levels. I rationalise this by assuming the thief's physical acumen does for him what the cleric's limited martial training does for the cleric. However, at higher levels, the disparity is more pronounced because the thief's combat practice is less disciplined (and probably deprecated in favour of more intense study of all things stealthy).

Next Up, Critical Hits and Hit Locations
Listening To: Talking Heads, Remain in Light