Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thoughts on Chainmail

A lot of ink has been spilled, and pixels inverted, on just how exactly the Chainmail miniature rules are meant to be used with the original Dungeons & Dragons rules. I've decided that I want to give them a try, if for no other reason than the presence of some cool-looking jousting rules.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order. Keep in mind that I'm using the 3rd Edition of Chainmail, as that's the only PDF I've been able to find (and the only one that's available for sale right now). I would normally attempt to use the earliest iteration of something possible, but this was published back in the days when "edition" meant "an error-correcting and possible expansion of the work", instead of "a completely new thing with a similar name". I will also be frequently referring to Jason Vey's Supplement VI: Forbidden Lore, and the multi-authored, Aldarron-edited "Using Chainmail to Resolve OD&D Combats".
  1. According to Vey's interpretation of the Man to Man combat system, the pluses of a character's Fighting Capability score would refer to extra attacks, so a 1st-level Fighting Man would get 2 attacks per exchange of blows. This not only provides a boost to characters of all classes (although Magic-Users and Clerics obviously progress more slowly), but would make combat run much faster in general against humanoid opponents. It would be pretty easy to assume that, for instance, all orcs would be wearing leather armor and wielding clubs; I could just as easily change the entries for "No Armor", "Leather or Padded Armor", etc. to the corresponding AC values as detailed in Greyhawk.
  2. The Troop Type system seems pretty impractical unless actual mass combat is taking place, so I probably wouldn't be using it for a while yet.
  3. The fact that a combatant can't even attack on the Fantasy Combat Table (against dragons, giants, etc.) unless their Fighting Capability is equal to a Hero - or at least Hero -1 for some of the weaker opponents - is another good reason for me to consider starting characters off at 3rd or 4th level. This would at least allow fighters to use this system. Then again, I might as well just use the Alternative Combat System from D&D.
  4. Jousts seem pretty integral to D&D from the way they're described in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, and as I develop the wilderness of my planned game, I'm making sure to take jousting into account. (This leads to some interesting complications, given that one of the possibilities for the guards of a Superhero is a group of Heroes riding on rocs; one of my wilderness castle-dwellers is particularly fond of aerial jousts...)
  5. Hobbits are still present in the PDF that I have of Chainmail, as are ents and balrogs. I have no qualms about keeping these as their names in the campaign itself. If I had ten bucks for every time this conversation happened, I'd be rich:

    Me: "You can play as a human, or a dwarf, elf, or halfling."
    New Player: "What's a halfling?"
    Me: "A hobbit."
  6. I need to get together with one of my friends and try out some of the Chainmail systems on their own, just to figure out how they work in play, so that I could better present them to my players.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Spell Scrolls By Way of 10Rogue

So, continuing on from my previous post, here's my examination of how scrolls work in 10Rogue, and how I've been applying it to my various D&D games.

In the original game, the player can find scrolls with magic words written on them. Similarly to D&D, each can be used only once (no multiple-spell scrolls here). When initially found, the scroll is only distinguishable from other scrolls by the particular nonsense words written on each: there appears to be no pattern or hint. The only way to figure out what a scroll does initially is to read it aloud, which still doesn't always reveal its effects initially. For instance, after reading aloud a scroll, the player might receive the message "You hear a high-pitched humming noise", and is given the option to name the effect to be able to distinguish it again later.

The only way to identify scrolls with certainty (unless the effect is immediately obvious, such as a scroll of sleep) is to use a scroll of identify; this is also the only way to figure out what a scroll, implement, or potion is without reading, zapping, or quaffing it. But the primary difference between 10Rogue and old-school D&D is that past experience is a reliable guide to the future, whereas D&D encourages DMs to vary the appearance of their magic items in order to yank their players' figurative chains.

I think that initially there shouldn't be clues, so as to encourage experimentation, but after that there should be some amount of consistency and repeatable results. The two exceptions to this are poisons and cursed items, which by their nature should be designed to fool the unwary. After all, if the players just shotgun every blue potion they see - without bothering to check the consistency, scent, opacity, etc. - it would just be natural for their cavalier approach to give bad results once in a blue moon. "Nope, upon closer inspection, the potion does not smell like peppermint; it smells like garlic. It's also thick and chalky, instead of thin."

Anyone have any feedback as to whether this would have good, bad, or sideways results in a long-running campaign?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Magic Items, By Way of 10Rogue

Brief bit of background beforehand: I have been playing a small, little-discussed game called 10Rogue off and on since middle school. A classmate was playing it, and I asked for the name, interested as to what such a primitive-looking game might be like; when I downloaded it and started playing, I was hooked. Even though it took the better part of 5 years to understand most of the mechanics (mainly due to the fact that Googling "10rogue" mostly brought results about MMOG players discussing how best to optimize their rogue character builds... and now those people have taken up D&D 5e), I still found it fascinating. I took it for inspiration when I tried to make a pen-and-paper version of it, until I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and learned that I had been essentially reinventing the wheel.

For those who aren't familiar with it, 10Rogue is a freeware clone of the original Rogue, the game that spawned an entire subgenre of "roguelikes". I'd be tempted to call 10Rogue a retroclone, except that it came out in 1984 - less than 5 years after the introduction of the original. It simulates a randomly-generated dungeon crawl, with the primary divergence from old-school D&D being the lack of a distinct class or race system; the player's character can use any weapon, armor, magical implement, or scroll, and can search for secret doors. The main reason that I prefer 10Rogue over the original Rogue is that the interface is very stripped down and streamlined (you can use the arrow keys or the numpad to move). The ASCII graphics are also a huge plus, as any version of Windows prior to 8 can run it in a command prompt window, although I still prefer to use DOSBox so that the save/load and scoreboard features work properly.

Here's one example of Rogue; graphically, it's almost
identical to the version that I play regularly, 10Rogue.

Getting back on topic, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that 10Rogue cemented in my mind the way that RPGs should work. It definitely comes from the old-school way of thinking about dungeons: monsters are there to kill or be killed; the only way to learn what an item does (aside from using a scroll of identify) is to use it, with potentially deleterious effects; and if your character dies, they're dead. The only flaw with 10Rogue is that having a party of multiple characters - essential for any old-school D&D session - is impossible, which means that the odds are stacked against you from the start. But this is part of the reason I pull no punches as a DM of B/X. Your character died? Do you want to pay/go on a quest to have them raised? You can't? Oh well, better make another one.

(I also haven't pulled any punches when I've run the original West End Games Star Wars, but that's for an entirely different reason; it's damned difficult to kill characters in that system!)

The main thing that I like about 10Rogue mechanically, though, is the way magic items are handled. When you find an implement, potion, or scroll, you don't know anything about it other than what your eyes tell you. This staff is made of mahogany; this potion is blue; this scroll has the words "jujmon lij dodlom" written on it. Unless you have a scroll of identify, the only way to figure out what an item does is by using it - wave the staff or wand, quaff the potion, read the scroll aloud. After this is done - and if the effect is immediately obvious, which it isn't always - then other items of the same appearance are automatically "remembered" as being of that particular type. The appearances are consistent from item to item, within the same game - but when you start a new game, everything changes.

This process of risky discovery is what I want to capture in my B/X sessions. I personally don't like the rule that every single potion, even one with identical effects to another one, is a different color (and presumably scent, opacity, etc.), so I decided to make them uniform. This doesn't mean that a potion couldn't be deliberately adulterated to resemble a different one - indeed, poisons almost always are designed to resemble beneficial potions - but in general, two blue potions of identical size, scent, and viscosity will have the same effect. This allows the party to gradually discover more about the world by experimenting.

I didn't want to just haphazardly assign color values and materials to magic items, though, nor did I want to give too many cute clues (a red potion heals, a transparent potion confers invisibility, etc.) to the players. Since I quite enjoy the system of the eight "schools" of magic in AD&D 2e, I decided to use them as the basis for a unifying scheme of colors, metals, woods, and gems. This was partly inspired by my research into Alchemy and the Hermetic Qabala, but I was careful to not apply them too similarly out of respect for the traditions. (Not like I could, anyway; most Western esoteric systems are based on 3-, 7, and 12-part schemes, whereas magic in AD&D 2e has eight divisions.)

Yep, an eight-part color wheel. At least it allows
for opposition, unlike its seven-part counterpart.

I won't go into too much detail about the specific attributions I used, in case some of my players stumble across this post. But the advantage of using the schools of magic in this way is that it allows me to assign specific color values, as well as corresponding materials, for both main types of magical effects - thaumaturgic (arcane/wizard spells) and theurgic (divine/priest spells) - because the designers of AD&D 2e were helpful enough to include the appropriate school of magic even in the priest spell descriptions. This does mean that not every potion or implement is unique; there are obviously multiple potions in B/X whose effects fall under the school of Necromancy or Alteration, for example. But I still like this system a lot.

As for scrolls... I'll have to deal with those in a separate post. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Duemeran Species: Elves

The elves, or erev in their own language, are a demihuman species that live all over the Continent. The Sylvans (or "wood elves") and Varlans (or "high elves") are found throughout the Kingdom of Duemerus, while the Thelvi (or "grey elves") live mostly in the Principality of Le'var to the west.

Elves are outwardly very similar to humans, standing five to six feet high at maturity (20 years) and having soft skin in a human-like range of tones, with Sylvans tending to be darker and Thelvans having ash-grey or white skin. Their primary distinguishing features from humans are their much lighter frames, pointed ears, and lack of facial or body hair. Upon closer inspection, however, even the "hair" on their heads and brows is not actually hair, but very thin feather-like growths. Their extremely light weight is due to having a hollow bone structure; these traits suggest that the elves may have descended from birds rather than land animals.

A close-up of kiwi bird feathers, which have
a texture resembling the "hair" of elves.

Although elves are shorter than most humans initially, they do not stop growing in height after they reach physical and sexual maturity. Because of this, and their extremely long lifespans (often up to 200 years), many elven elders stand well over seven feet tall.

There is virtually no difference in appearance between male and female elves, and in fact their culture holds no difference socially between the sexes aside from the roles played in procreation; attitudes are virtually identical regarding same-sex relationships as heterosexual ones. With an increasing number of elves living in human-dominated cities, same-sex relationships are increasingly seen as desirable among the younger generation who do not want to raise families. A number of elves also have an androgynous persona, which is also normalized by their native language having no grammatical elements of gender.

Despite having very different physiologies, elves do have a limited amount of reproductive compatibility with humans, although the resulting offspring (being of two different species) will themselves be infertile. A sexual relationship between a biologically male elf and a biologically female human is extremely hazardous, however, as the longer gestation period of elves - about twelve months, compared to humans' nine months - will usually result in the mother dying in childbirth. This, coupled with the "half-elf" having a lifespan shorter than their elven parent, but longer than their human one (typically about 120 years), leads many half-elven offspring to have trouble fitting in to whichever society they choose to join; it has been suggested that this is a reason why many adopt the nomadic lifestyle of the adventurer. There has been no evidence suggesting that elves are reproductively compatible with dwarves, gnomes, orcs, or other demihuman or humanoid species; fertilization could hypothetically occur with halflings (due to their physiology being almost identical to that of humans), but such would not result in a child being brought to term, as the mother would die of the strain on her body if a miscarriage did not occur early in the pregnancy.

Elves' hollow bone structure makes them much lighter and more maneuverable than the average human, giving them a +1 bonus to Dexterity; it also makes their bones more vulnerable to breakage, giving them a -1 penalty to Constitution. Half-elves tend to have "chambered" or semi-hollow bones which make them lighter in weight, but do not affect their agility or durability to a significant extent.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AD&D 1e PHB Available on Print-on-Demand

Well, it looks like the AD&D (1st edition) Players Handbook is now officially back in print. I believe the DMG and MM are also available in this fashion.

It's currently on sale, so if you want a high-quality PDF along with the book, I'd grab it soon.

I'm sorely tempted to pick one of these up, as I don't yet own the PHB. If I do, I'll write up a post about it, comparing the physical quality to my genuinely premium-reprinted DMG.

Happy gaming!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Back in the Ring

Well, it has been a while since my last post. This semester was rough on both me and most of my players, to the extent that I didn't get to run anything for over a month, but I just finished the comeback session of my AD&D campaign. Despite all of us being a little rusty with the rules and mechanics, and one of the four players that showed up having to leave before the session proper, we all had fun. I even have that endorphin rush that accompanies my best runnings; while I wouldn't count this one among my best, it was pretty good considering all of the factors that were arrayed against it. (Plus, the pizza this time was excellent... and one of my most regular players recently started working at the nearest pizza joint.)

This campaign in particular was one I've been itching to get back on its feet. According to the notes of one player, the last time we played it was in June. 😧

However, I used the intervening time to do some work on the rules. My goal throughout was to streamline and organize the rules as much as possible, while still leaving the majority of the content in the Player's Handbook valid rules-wise. Some of the changes I've made include:
  • Simplifying the equipment lists a great deal. I used the equipment tables from the Rules Cyclopedia (and some from the Cook & Marsh Expert Rulebook) as a baseline, only adding extra items where absolutely necessary. I removed a lot of extraneous weapons from the "standard" list (the bloated ones from the PHB can still be used, if a player insists), as well as removing a lot of armor; there is now only one armor type for every AC value (from 8 to 0).
  • Organizing the spell lists by class. Clerics (and paladins), druids (and rangers), and illusionists all use the spell tables from the AD&D1 Players Handbook, while mages (and bards) use the spell tables from the Expert Rulebook; this does mean that they do not have a finalized list beyond 6th level yet, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
  • Adding the assassin and monk from The Scarlet Brotherhood as core classes, while removing all specialist wizards except the illusionist. This leaves a total of 11 classes - three for every group except wizards. I'm considering adding another wizard class to balance it out, but I'm not sure yet.
  • Adding Comeliness as the seventh ability score; it's rolled like any other score, but will increase or decrease when Charisma does. It basically functions as described in AD&D1's Unearthed Arcana.
I also tried out the method of awarding experience by damage, detailed by Alexis Smolensk here; it worked well for my fighter and thief characters when the party fought a displacer beast, but the druid (who only got in one hit) came up short. I'm considering combining this with the optional rules for class-specific experience awards in the AD&D2 DMG, to allow some additional reward for difficult non-combat tasks.

Finally, I stayed up until 3:00am last night (Friday) creating a custom character sheet, incorporating all of my house rules. Both my players and I were very pleased by the results; I'll try and post it sometime soon after I add a page for henchmen and animal companions (the current sheet fits everything else on two pages).

Hopefully, getting to run will give me some inspiration for additional posts. I'll be traveling out of town closer to Yule/Christmas, but until then I'll try and whip something up.

(P. S. I used For Gold & Glory as my rules reference, and my PHB and the one owned by one of my players was used by them. For the most part, it worked; I'll definitely be using it instead of my stack of 2e core books going forward, at least for running at the table.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Running the Funnel in B/X

So, this past Friday, I ran "The Funnel" for my B group. The original plan was that we would continue the D&D 5th Edition game that is the usual bi-weekly event of the group, but the DM overslept. Brief mention was made of running Call of Cthulu, but since I had all of my B/X stuff with me, I proposed running The Funnel. After some explanation, the players agreed, and I gave them the 3" x 2.5" index cards on which I had written the 0-level characters. There were seven players, for a total of 21 characters. I put them into a deadly dungeon in the Arcadian Isles (the setting for my regular B/X game), and let them loose.

They loved it.

True, some of the characters died. One especially unlucky player lost all three of his starting characters, so I gave him a fourth (the maximum number, so he'd better be extra careful with this one). Another player - his older brother, in fact - played one of his characters as an impulsive, gung-ho type (very much like one of B.'s characters, in fact), and the other two as more cautious; the reckless Bailey died gloriously, and the players kept talking about him for the rest of the session. Still a third player was making a map of his own using a paint program on his phone.

There were only two points of concern. One: the need for a map. I figured that having a mapper might slow down a group who usually doesn't even use miniatures, but since the aforementioned player was already making a pretty good map without the aid of grid lines, I think having at least one mapper would be a good idea. (In general, my players have enjoyed mapping far more than I expected for a bunch of young'uns - or at least, haven't hated it as much as I feared.)

The other concern was the order of actions. In a group of four to eight player characters, it's not extremely important who goes in what order on the same side... but with twenty-one characters in play, it gets a little chaotic. Next time, I'll probably just go clockwise around the table.

Fun was had by all, and hopefully I'll get to finish the adventure soon. It was also a morale booster, since the last two meet-ups with my A group kind of fizzled. The cool thing about B/X is that it has all the rules for The Funnel hidden inside the saving throw and combat tables, and the monster section (look under "Normal Man"). It's sessions like this that remind me why I persist in being a referee despite the difficulties and frustrations that crop up every so often.