Saturday, December 25, 2010

Old Moroze

 During the long nights of the Frost Moon, claim the settlers of the Borderlands, the creatures of feyerie grow bold and mischievous. Goblyns, drolls, and tomtens are said to venture indoors, helping themselves to the table scraps and warming themselves by the hearth while the family sleeps, slipping away in the hours before dawn. These strange visitors are made welcome by the wise, for they can be destructive when offended, and may sometimes be quite helpful when they are pleased. Those who seek the favor of their eldritch neighbors will leave out an offering of beer, milk, and small cakes, most especially around the night of the solstice.

Sometimes the family will wake to find small chores done - animals already seen to, some cleaning or mending already finished, firewood split and neatly stacked. Sometimes other, stranger gifts may be discovered - dolls in the likeness of the family members or fashioned after folk of far-off lands, newly-woven hoods and cloaks, even fresh fruit. Such gifts are rare, and a household that has received such is popularly believed to have been visited not by the local faerie folk, but by Old Moroze himself.

The legend tells that Old Moroze rides through the Borderlands during the Frost Moon in a tiny sledge drawn by a silvery goat or caribou. He is drawn to houses where plants have been preserved indoors, for he lives all his life in the northern snows and sees little of living green. He is believed to be the kindest and most generous of all the fey visitors, and is an ardent foe of goblyns and frost giants. Some say that every year he visits but a single house, the most worthy house he can find, while others say that he travels wherever the snow may reach, and visits a new house each night - and sometimes several in a village. It has even been suggested that Old Moroze himself is responsible for turning the wheel of the year forward when it threatens to freeze in unending winter, dooming himself to renewed exile even as he ensures the rising tide of light and life.

None can say with any certainty what is the truth of Old Moroze. But here's hoping he visited your home this year, and left you with a little something to make your winter warmer.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wrestling with the Flame Princess

James Edward Raggi IV (who really does have the coolest name in the OSR) posted a tentative solution to grappling/wrestling rules here and asked for feedback. Grappling rules have a history of sucking, but I like this subsystem a lot. It's straightforward enough I think I could recall it without reference, or recall something close enough to get similar results. However, one line caught my eye:

>>If there are multiple opponents attempting to wrestle a single defender, all attackers add their wrestling rolls together and then compare the total against the defender.>>

Just to clarify, all opponents add their wrestling rolls together, including the d20s, not just their bonuses? Let's say three PCs each with a bonus of +2 gang up against one monster. If they roll e.g. 18, 6, and 8 on the dice, you're looking at a result of 38. An opponent with a +18 bonus could tie on a natural 20. Even 2:1 odds are ridiculous: on average, a team of two can expect to roll 20 or 21 together, plus their bonuses. Only an exceptionally powerful *and* lucky opponent can have any hope to overcome such a duo.

It certainly makes sense that ganging up should be a significant advantage, but as the system is written, it pretty much outweighs the fighting ability of any participant. Is that the preferred effect? In my campaign at least, encounters are very often with groups larger than the party, composed of monsters or opponents who are individually weaker than the PCs. With this rule in place, the only sensible tactic is to dogpile the PCs until they are pinned. And when the party runs into one or two powerful monsters (that single horror arising from the mysterious well) their best tactic is to hurl themselves at it bodily. Even if it has tentacles and the associated bonus, a 1st-level magic-user with a strength of 7 has good odds of counteracting that bonus himself.

Here's my suggestion to preserve an advantage without making traditional combat tactics obsolete: If multiple opponents attempt to wrestle a single defender, the team rolls a single d20, adding melee Attack Bonus and Strength modifiers for all participants. [This already makes ganging up a decent tactic, but we can up the notch with the following add-on.] For each ally beyond the first, add a +4 bonus.

This "gang up" bonus still makes ganging up a significantly powerful tactic, but isn't as totally overwhelming as the original version. To go back to my first example, a group of three against one defender, where each of the three has a +2 bonus overall: if we assume the above roll of 18 was the group's roll, the result is 32 - a very strong opening. If the group's roll had been the 6 above, the end result would be 20 - able to overwhelm the common soldier, but that big tentacle-monster can probably cope. A gang of 2, assuming the same +2 bonus for each, would roll results ranging from 9 to 28, with an average of 18. A single opponent who is a bit more powerful than either individual has some chance, and even a weaker foe could get lucky. These averages are significant given that the system requires three wins to pin.

I expect that this method will allow the party to wrestle individuals into submission, but will preserve armed combat as the tactic of choice against groups and very nasty foes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alternate Encumbrance

This post contains information that is out of date for my campaign. It will be replaced by an updated version eventually.

In my campaign, I've been using Delta's stone-weight encumbrance system, and found it a lot friendlier than the traditional coin-weight system. However, in play we found that tracking items getting used or discarded was still troublesome. Particularly since under Delta's system, a number of items are rated as different fractions of a stone, and these on-the-fly calculations were not going smoothly.

So I offer this streamlined method for encumbrance. It is, obviously, based off of the most basic armor/movement system presented in B/X, with a small addition designed to make Strength matter and to promote a little more careful forethought and planning before each delve.

Base encumbrance is determined by armor:
None = Unencumbered (120'/turn).
Leather = Light load (90').
Mail = Medium load (60').
Plate & mail is Mail + 1 heavy item. 

 Each character will have a carrying capacity determined by Strength. Carrying the limit of this capacity will increase load by one level.


Heavy items count against this capacity. This includes shields, heavy weapons, batches of treasure equal to 500 coins, a loaded backpack, and miscellaneous objects that weigh 1 stone or so. Some items that are not heavy but awkwardly over-sized (such as a 10' pole) may also count against this limit.

Normal equipment doesn't count against carrying capacity. It is limited by available carrying space. Up to 15 small items can fit in a backpack or shoulderbag. (With 5 or more items, it counts as loaded; 100 coins of treasure count as a small item, too.) One waterskin can be safely strapped to the backpack; spares take up room inside.

Very small, light items (such as a mirror, tinderbox, or chalk) can be carried more readily in a belt-pouch, along with a single small item (or up to 100 coins). Items in a belt pouch can be pulled out with relative ease, compared to rummaging through a backpack.

Weapons are limited as follows: 2 spaces on the belt, one space on the back or shoulder. Daggers can be carried in additional spaces, such as boot-sheaths. A bow and quiver can fit in the same space. Heavy weapons (such as a battle-axe or morning star) will also count as against carrying capacity.

Treasure is rated at 500 coins per stone-weight, with 100 coins equal to a small item. A gem counts as 1 coin, while any item of jewelry (and most magical treasures) will count as 10 coins. Treasure will need to be carried. A small sack can carry 1,000 coins (or 2 stone), while a large sack can carry 2,500 coins (or 5 stone).

Effects on game-play:

1) Equipment must be planned carefully, as only a limited amount can be brought on any expedition. This might increase the value of hired bearers.

2) Using up or redistributing ordinary supplies will not usually affect one's encumbrance. (We often found that after the party had burned through several torches, their encumbrance could be recalculated to a faster movement, but nobody ever noticed.) This reduces the need to recount on the fly. I anticipate that the main point where encumbrance need be re-checked will be when a sizeable treasure has been recovered.

3) I haven't yet got a solution to the "carrying fallen comrades" dilemma. Under the coin-weight system, humans were defined as 1600 cn; under the stone-weight system, I had defined humans as 12 st; thus a character carrying a fallen ally would have to lug that ally's encumbrance+12st, which worked pretty well. I have no doubt there's a similarly elegant solution to this one, i just haven't found it yet.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alternate Ability Scores

Jeff Rients posted an interesting thought experiment on altering the core ability scores in D&D. I actually mucked around with something like this a few months back when I tried to start a bronze-age pseudo-Greek campaign. The response was overwhelming - literally! I had more players than I knew what to do with, and after a session realized that I wouldn't be able to rely on my collection of existing modules to flesh it out. So, I kind of bailed.

But that's neither here nor there. In order to promote the Greek-ish flavor, I revised the ability scores as follows:

Charisma - modifies reaction rolls, determines number and morale of followers (very important to fighters, who took advantage of phalanx-style fighting).
Favor - being favored by the gods improves Saving Throws. Being out of favor is a bad thing.
Fitness - modifies both carrying capacity and hit points per hit die, plus the usual feats of strength (busting doors and toppling statues).
Knowledge (or did I go with Reason?) - extra languages, literacy, magic
Skill - specifically "Combat Skill." The +/-1 modifier can be applied to melee attacks, ranged attacks, or armor class, chosen at creation. Particularly high or particularly low scores would apply this bonus to two or even all three options.

Yeah, I trimmed it down to just five scores. Since I wasn't using XP bonuses for high scores, and I didn't feel compelled to make Sorcerers and Witches rely on different ability scores, it just didn't make sense. If I ever go back to it, I'll probably go ahead and make Wisdom the sixth score, and have it grant XP bonuses to any class. Thus, the mechanics could play with the classic split between book-learnin' and learning through experience.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Season 2

I've been referring to my current play as "Season 2." Season 1, as it shall retroactively be known, took an ever-expanding group of players into Stonehell, where they explored roughly 1/8 of the first level and two rooms on the second. It's a pretty rad dungeon. At our peak, the group consisted of four couples and a guy who flew in from the East Coast to hang with us. Shortly after he flew back, every one of the four couples broke up, one after the other like some crazy dominoes trick. Naturally, the motivation to continue gaming was pretty weak.

So, roughly a year after the dissolution of "the Stonehell campaign," one of my original players and I were reminiscing about the fun times, and decided to try and stir things up again. He wound up bringing a couple of new players, and we all had a good time. We decided to meet again the following week, and pulled one of our co-workers into orbit. Now, the word seems to be spreading. A few other co-workers have asked if they could sit in on a game, somebody's girlfriend wants to watch (and, we're all guessing, talk herself into joining in), and I've started mapping out the next few levels.

So, we're not going back to Stonehell (at least, not yet), and only one of the original players has returned. So how do I justify calling this a continuation of the same campaign?


Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting the ball rolling

I've been following various OSR blogs for a few years now, ever since I stumbled onto Jeff's Gameblog and Grognardia. I've enjoyed seeing the ideas tossed around, and pitching in my two cents now and then via comments.

I think I want to get a little more involved. My campaign has just begun Season 2, and I've been finding that I want to share my ideas with my fellow gamers, and I want to get feedback on my experiments. This seems to be the way to do that. This might require me to be a little more organized in my thinking than I normally strive to be. We'll see how it goes.

What brought me to the OSR was a pretty basic issue. I love gaming. I mean that pretty broadly - I'm interested in minis, board games, card games, videogames, just about anything with the word "game" in it. But my greatest love is still RPGs. I got into 'em back in the 80s, when my brother ran the West End version of Star Wars. It wasn't long before I wanted to run my own games, and started collecting: Ghostbusters International, TMNT, Call of Cthulhu, and of course D&D.

I've continued to collect since then. I own more RPGs than most gamers I know have ever played in. Over the years I've tried all kinds of play styles, all kinds of mechanical evolutions, all kinds of nifty tricks and holistic-theatre finery. Over the years, it became a quest. Each new game was measured in its ability to satisfy that quest, and I just couldn't find what I needed. Not until I followed a little white rabbit with a pocketwatch, muttering something about "Retro-Stupid" and found myself, one rabbit-hole later, in a whole new kind of wonderland.

See, this quest was to find the Perfect Game. Well, the perfect game for me. I like my games to provide a solid mechanical support  for the gaming experience, but I also like them to get the hell out of the way and let me have fun. I've tried some very robust game systems over the years, but found that I would eventually expurgate a lot of what I considered mechanical clutter - Palladium without skills, anyone? I've tried some very light games, but found I wanted a bit more of a system to hang my ideas on.

Weirdly, D&D works for me. Specifically Basic-style, classic D&D as seen in the LBBs, the Whitebox, the Blue Book, and B/X. The mechanics are solid enough I can tell 'em to do their job and then ignore 'em, simple enough I can fit them into my brain (okay, I made reference sheets for my DM screen, so sue me), and spare enough that I can dream up just about anything I want for the game, without worrying too much about how the rules are going to digest it.

Sure, there's tweaks and alterations I make. Sure, there are some tricky issues with e.g. customizing the classes to suit a particular campaign. But it totally works for my needs.