Sunday, 24 July 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Monsters

So in +Ben Milton's review of The Black Hack he voices the concern that TBH's Powerful Opponents mechanic doesn't account for things like tough monsters which are slow but easy to hit, or monsters with few hit points that are hard to hit, and other such edge cases; how hard a thing is to hit scales linearly with its hit die: the system lacks nuance.

As a cursory rebuttal, I'm a fan of the system as is. I think of it as not an actual physical representation of how hard a thing is to hit but a mechanical abstraction of what +Pearce Shea is talking about when he talks about monsters: just being around them makes your life worse. That something so much more than you is trying to kill you just makes everything you do demonstrably harder.

However, if what Ben raises is an issue for you, never fear, I am here to dispense ludomantic wisdom. Or rather, just take it from somewhere else and tweak it slightly.

Anyway, it's pretty simple:
For certain monsters, don't roll hit die. Just assign health.

This idea is taken from how S&W Whitebox deals with dragon: you don't roll their hit die, you just assign hp per hit die based on their age (young dragons have 1 hp/hd, ancient have 8, etc).

So for tough but easy-to-hit monsters give them 8 hp/hd or something, but lower their total amount of HD, and vice-versa.

So ogres might be 2 or 3 HD creatures: overwhelming for a rookie adventurer, but not so for one with a few adventures under their belt. But give it 8hp/hd and its still a big beefy threat.

Similarly a wyrmling might still have 9 HD, but only 1 or 2 HP/HD. It may be young, but it's still a dragon: it'll always be terrifying and primordial. To bring up Pearce again, monsters may not be all that terrible mechanically, but it's the things around them that affect you. It really gives the PCs an oh-shit moment when I tell them to roll at a -8 or 6 or whatever and they do the math and they realise this thing has nine fucking hit die how will we kill it holy shit, etc.

Plus it allows for one lucky strike to kill one, giving you that really folkloric dragon slayer feel like St. George or Wiglaf.

EDIT: I had a game involving Players vs Monsters vs Monsters (or rather, a group of NPC adventurers vs Monsters. My casual work-around is to make the Monster "stat" 10+HD. If you feel like the monster is particularly good or bad at a particular stat, make it 10+HD+/-(1-3/d4-1). This can make things wonky if you're using this little HD as AC conversion thing I've got going on, but I've found a work-around that still keeps the stat-block to 3 pretty easy numbers. There's the HP/HD value, the number of HD, and the HD it damages/tests as. If you make a low-level monster have "high AC" by giving them higher HD, don't use the regular TBH HD/damage scaling. Just give them appropriate damage. And vice versa for strong monsters with "low AC".

Let's put this into practice with the notation system I use to show a few example stat blocks.

OGRE: 6/4/3HD, TN 13(+2 STR/CON, -2 DEX). Can INSULT for D6 damage, CHA save. Can eat anything given enough time and ketchup.
To explain what all those numbers mean, the first number before the slash is how many HP/HD to assign, the second number is the HD it deals damage as (i.e. Ogres deal damage as 4HD creatures, doing D12), and the third number is how many HD it actually has. The TN is what it needs to roll below if it ever comes up, plus relevant stat modifiers. As you can see, the TN is calculated using its "test" HD value. Everything else is it's special abilities, so really the actual stat block is still quite small.

So that's a tough but easy to hit monster. The other end of the spectrum is:

ARMOURED GUARD: 1/2/6HD, TN 12. Can use Spear 1H or 2H.

So this guy is hard to hit because he has high AC, but he's squishy underneath that armour and not that capable if he ever has to test himself. He also gets the relevant Armour Points from his HD (5) which adequately represents his AC along two vectors: damage avoidance and damage reduction. Ever seen another RPG represent both aspects of armour that neatly?

Friday, 15 July 2016

Say Something, I'm Giving Up On You


Life happened, for a while, and not in the good way. But it's getting back on track, as shall this blog.

Eyes, Teeth, Mouth, & Hands campaign imploded. That's fine, campaigns come and go.

A new campaign has taken its place, a West Marches style affair called Welcome to Palisade, clearly taking a lot of influence from Rat Queens.

In between these campaigns I'd say something fairly significant happened in terms of my D&D life.

I gave up on 5th Edition.

At least on running it, for the time being.

The original purpose of this blog was finding the old-school at the heart of 5e, and bringing out ways to make it work. But that's what it come down to: work. A lot of it. The backlog of drafted posts I have in "The Elixir" series is huge and it was all terribly inefficient. Why try to wrangle something so hard when it doesn't want to co-operate? Why waste so much energy when I could be devoting it to the game? Why confuse my players with conflicting expectations and make them play subpar systems for the sake of my experiments?

So I gave up and embraced the old school fully.

I mucked about with writing my own composite of S&W, Labyrinth Lord, and LoTFP for a while and was happily tinkering away on it when I found The Black Hack and promptly fell in love, like everyone else in the OSR apparently.

It fixed a lot of the issues I had where I felt other retro-clones were unintuitive, and it honestly feels like that 0e/5e mashup I'd wanted to make myself. The game just sings. The unified roll-under mechanic feels like a nice old-school inversion of the d20 system, and yeah yeah hodge podge systems but it's not like any version of D&D isn't going to have a bunch of stuff tacked on to deal with everything else, but I like the core of the game to be neat, to help with adjudication at the table.

But yeah, goodbye 5e for now. If I want a tactics simulator, I'll pick 5e over 4e or Pathfinder, but that's not what I want right now. Marco is bemoaning the lack of greater choice he got with 5e but he's still enjoying various aspects of the system.

Obviously the blog will change in focus (as well as the redesign). I'll maybe post the 5e essays someday but they're not a focus. 

Anyway, here are my house rules. I use the Sorcerer class and spells from Wonder & Wickedness instead of Magic-Users and Logan Knight's Mystics instead of Clerics. I take the magical activities from LotFP as well. I've added species (races) with class disjunction (no race-as-class).

Thursday, 10 March 2016

The True Dark

The dungeon hates you.

The dungeon is the true dark.

You can go outside at night, and still see.

You can go down a well, and still see.

You can go into a mine, and still see.

But at some point, underground becomes something more. The veins of the earth twist and grow, the dungeon spins itself up from the core of the earth, the autochthonous death machine that will consume the whole planet someday.

And you will not see. All the daylight people will be blind.

A dwarf will dig and dig and dig, goaded on by greed, until he pushes too far and no light connects him to the world. If he survives, he will turn back, and dig that way no more.

The orcs still see in the true dark. The dungeon welcomes them. Their half-breeds have clarity in the night time of the above world, but down in the true dark, they grope as blindly as newborn pups.

The drow see in the true dark. The duergar and the svirfneblin and the ghostwise see in the true dark. They have given up the day. The first change a halfling that eats meat will notice is that the dark holds no secrets for them anymore.

Torches strain and sputter; lamplight is feeble and thin; magical light strains and taxes the user, and takes up their concentration. The light knows it is not welcome there. The dungeon does not mind. The light just creates more shadows.

In game terms:

Darkvision does not work in dungeons (what is and isn't a dungeon? You'll know when you can't see anymore).

Torches and lamps are unreliable and burn out faster (how will you know when your light will run out? You'll know when you can't see anymore).

The Light spell requires concentration.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The Elixir: Type V Warriors

Redoing Zak's d100 Warrior for my 5e/Type V game. This will rapidly spiral out of control with the other classes ._.

Bold indicates changes I've made.

Fighters start as normal sans fighting style and second wind. In lieu of class features, roll 2d100 on this table at first level and d100 each level after (or 2d100 i dont know its 2am).

Don't do this if you're into balance and don't like swingy tables.

Changes indicated in bold.

1-8 You've finally figured out which end to stick 'em with. Fighting Style. If re-rolled pick another one. If you've rolled all of them, start making up ones, or re-roll (DM/Player discretion).

9-16  You smoke less and have been getting some exercise. Second Wind. If re-rolled, extra per-rest. 

17-23 Yeah, yeah, be a cool movie hero and whatever. Action Surge. If re-rolled, extra per-rest.

24-28 Movie hero 2: lame version. Indomitable. If re-rolled, extra per rest.

29-35 Become a Battle Master. Advance per PHB rules, and gain all Battle Master features up to your current level. Do not roll a d100 when gaining Battle Master archetype features.

36-41 Become an Eldritch Knight. Same drill as becoming a Battle Master.

42-52 Extra attack. 

52-57 In battle there is no law, but you're kinda in charge. Once per fight you can give any other PC an extra action, that can not be used to take the Attack action or Cast a Spell action (readying to attack or cast a spell is totally legit, however) . Re-rolling this lets you do it one more time per fight.

58-60 When you hit things they tend to stay hit: +1 damage. If you roll this again it jumps to +3, then +5, +7 etc

61-62 You have learned where not to stand. +2 to jumping out of the way (reflex save, breath weapon save whatever it's called in your system). +1 thereafter if you re-roll this.

62-63 You've gotten real good at shoving. On a melee hit you can do your usual damage plus knock a human-sized opponent back ten feet. If you try it twice on the same opponent they get to save as per grapple rules. If you roll this result again you get 2 free shoves before the saves kick in. After that, re-roll.

64-65 You're good at getting people out of your way. On a melee hit you can do your usual damage plus knock a human-sized opponent prone. If you try it twice on the same opponent they get a skill contest as per grapple rules. If you roll this result again on this table, you get 2 free knockdowns before the saves kick in, then 4, etc. After that, re-roll.

66-67 You're good at aiming for the fingers. On a hit you can do your ordinary damage plus disarm an opponent if they fail a check as per grapple rules. If you reroll this result they get a penalty to their check, -1, then -2 etc.

68 You're grabby as fuck. On a melee hit on a human-sized or smaller opponent you can do your ordinary damage plus your opponent is grappled if they fail a strength check. Note grabbing is not always what it's cracked up to be since now you're vulnerable to attack from elsewhere, but enjoy it while it lasts. If you reroll this result they get a penalty to their check, +1, then +2 etc.

69-78 You've been getting out and meeting new people. ASI/Feat (depending on play-style, you might wanna give your players a feat at first level).

79 Christ you're big. +2 to checks to intimidate people. +2 when your re-roll this thereafter, you're getting like Wolverine scary.

80 You've had a few too many beers, or wrestled a few too many bears, or hey, maybe you just have anger issues. Roll on the Barbarian table (when I've done it).

81 You've found some inner conviction. Roll on Paladin table (when I've done it).

82 AHA!!! You've heard a rumor in a tavern--that thing you wanted? The riding panther? The Axe of Ninety Nymphs? That king totally willing you lend you his army? The parasitic extra limb that grants you immortality? That romantic subplot? It's there. 4 sessions worth of adventure away or less. Tell your GM, who then must place it.

You must have a fair shot at it--like any other treasure, but there's no guarantee you will get it. If you don't get it by the fourth session you can keep trying or let it go and roll again on this table. However if you choose to roll again and then you do get the thing somehow anyway, you lose whatever gimmick you rolled. GM think up some clever reason why.

83-84 You're totally a skullsplitter. Your crit range extends by one. Now you double damage on a 19 or 20. Keep rolling this and it keeps extending.

85-86 You get those sunken eyes like Bronn in Game of Thrones. Immune to fear. If you re-roll this, your companions gain a +2 vs fear if they can see you, then +4 etc

87-88 You have learned to aim jusssst above the eyes. When fighting an opponent with adjacent eyes you can do your normal damage plus partially blind it by getting blood in its eyes. It'll take the opponent an action to wipe the blood away and this trick only works once on any given opponent. If you re-roll this it takes two actions to wipe away, if you re-roll it again you can totally de-eye an opponent on a successful hit, if you re-roll it a fourth time then just re-roll until you get a different result.

89-90 You've been like hunting and stuff with your Ranger friends. Choose from the level 3 Hunter archetype. If re-rolled, get the next Hunter feature, until finished; then re-roll. Alternately, roll on the Ranger Table (when I've done it).

91-92 You have learned the Impetuous Immortal Leaping Strike. You leap six feet in the air and for a mere -to hit you can do double damage if you connect. You can't pull it twice on the same foe (even if you miss) and it's kinda exhausting and puts you in a bad position, defensively--you cannot attack in the round afterwards. If you re-roll this, the damage goes up by 2 points each time.

93 Hey whoa, been going to the gym, huh? +str up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to con or dex.

94 Hey whoa, been doing like laps in pools of the tears of the families of your fallen foes? +2 con up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to str or dex.

95 You have an annoying drinking buddy who thinks throwing like wadded up paper at you is fun. +dex up to racial max. Numbers in excess go to str or con.

96-97 You have become unbelievably metal. You do triple damage on a crit. Re-roll this: you do quadruple, etc.

98-99 You're like a decapitator. If you roll a natural 20 against something with a head in melee and its level/HD is equal to or less than yours, it does not have a head anymore. Re-rolling this means you can do it against things your level or one higher, then 2 higher, etc.

00 Ab..ra...kaaaa..what? Holy hell, someone managed to teach you a spell. The formula is bouncing around in your brain dying to be unleashed. It's any spell you want, up to 8th level, and it will work as if cast by a 15th level Wizard. It will work once, period. Ever.

Gosh this is going to get out of hand...

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Who I play with

The Elixir: Critical Hits & Fails

Some quick notes about ways to make 5e a bit more dangerous, while not falling into OSR level lethality.

Of course, all this applies to both monsters AND PCs.

Critical Fails on Saves

This is very risky. I love it.

A nat 1 on a saving throw = double damage or double effect the same a way a regular critical is.

Critical Hit & Fail effects

Critical Hit & Fail tables are really fun. I hate them. They're too fiddly and slow down play. Most also do rob players of tactical agency in sometimes unfun ways. Decks are fun but we play online and I don't really like roll20's deck feature; I might come around to it, we'll see. 5e went a long way to making criticals simple and effective: no more confirm critical bullshit.

But I do want them to add more uncertainty and an element of reaction and adaptability to criticals. Particularly fails, as I want them to be much more "oshit" then just "you auto-fail".

Somewhat related, I want to make more equipment more ephemeral. Things break, require maintenance, get lost, stolen, etc. The alternate inventory system I use goes a fair way towards this, but I think we can make it go a little further.

Alexis provides a starting point:

"For a long time I've been playing a house rule that a 1 on a d20 'to hit' was a dropped weapon...An ordinary, crummy weapon, I reasoned, would break 1 in 6 upon dropping. A 'hard-forged' weapon would break on a 1 in 8.  A 'blessed' weapon, one that had been hard-forged and both lucky and loved in its construction, would break on a 1 in 12.  And a 'mastercrafted' weapon would be the kind made by an artist ... and it would break on a 1 in 20."

I like it, but there's too many numbers, let's simplify it.
Cheap/shoddy: 1 in d4. Normal: 1 in d8. Masterwork: 1 in d12.

This should apply to spellcasting foci and components as well.

It's interesting that this rule "reflect[s] the value of cheap weapons vs. really valuable weapons, those which didn't happen to be magic" which gives more impetus to Gold as XP.

So the inversion of this on critical hits, is armour.

A critical hit removes AC down 1 till we reach natural AC (10+dex mod). After which a critical hit forces a roll on lingering injuries. If using a shield, deduct AC from shields first.

Cheap/shoddy armour/shields: remove twice as much AC. Masterwork: takes two critical hits to remove a point of AC.

Prices for this follow the same formula: half-price for cheap, double price for masterwork.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Eyes & Teeth & Mouth & Hands - Session 02/21/2016

System: 5e
Akin, level 1 half-orc barbarian
Camo, level 1 human bard
Cecil, level 1 human fighter
Rolen, level 1 wood elf arcana cleric

First session. So the PCs started in Raveslan, a random village map I pulled off the internet and decided to start my campaign in.

Day 1

I decided not to put the PCs in the tavern straight away and let them wander for a bit. Camo cut a deal to perform at the Greenhill Inn for room and board; Crowley, the innkeep, was a bit green about the gills so she tried to get a wage out of him, but no dice. She did manage to cut a deal with the front of house for splitting drink profits (if someone tries to buy her a drink, she orders a hummingbird: they give her a glass of water, she splits profits 50/50). 

Rolen visited the Shrine of Elma very quickly. A shrine devoted to the Morrigan and a local petty god, The Divine Worm (NSFW). There was a crypt with shrines of infants, which a couple of people were praying in front of, but he didn't pay attention to them.

Akin headed to the bar and started drinking a local brew, the Black Plague Stout.

Cecil, who is a fourteen year old girl, went to the general store, doing a wheat delivery from her village which is 9 miles SE of Raveslan. The general store owner, Finn, is concerned: roads are dangerous, she came on her own, he's heard rumours of banditry down south. Cecil shrugs it off because she is a creepy child.

She wanders into a creepy house with a sign that read Trinkets & Curios. The house is dimly lit and smells strongly of patchouli, and is stocked with shelves and shelves of odd objects. She picks up a sphere carved of a dense bone, that looks like this: 

before an odd man with snake eyes, a forked tongue, and a limp politely asks her to leave.

Back at the Greenhill:

Abecan, the town reeve, notices Rolen who looks like the fightin' type and tells him about some of the problems going on in the area: bandits and orcs across the river, the wizard that used to help them, Wokrugh, has been missing for two months, children have been disappearing. Since the royal procession is due to pass through Raveslan in a couple of weeks as they move from the summer capital of Elswark up to the winter capital of Mydern. Rolen says he'll keep an eye out to help anyway he can.

Meanwhile some folks are eyeing Akin hostilely. Camo decides to play some music to lighten the mood and rolls double natural 20s (we play on Roll20 so it auto-rolls the second d20 for advantage/disadvantage). She attracts the attention of the entire village who comes into the village to listen. Crowley is ecstatic: the inn is usually empty. Camo makes a few silvers, and a few villagers thank her for taking her mind off their troubles (dead kids). Cecil approaches Camo and creeps her out. 

A man named Harlen gets quite drunk and tries to start an altercation with Akin, claiming that she's with the orcs across the river who he blames for the missing children. The situation is defused by Camo. The crowd disperses. Cecil is going to leave to walk home but the villagers are reluctant to let her leave at night time, so Crowley lets her stay in the night in the attic, where Camo is also meant to be sleeping.

Crowley starts tidying up and the rest of them get rooms for the night. Akin helps Crowley mop the floor because he is pitiful and she is experienced at swabbing from her time as a sailor. Akin asks Crowley if he knows anything about the missing children. He didn't, but did mention that Harlen saw weird tentacled cats in the hills to the north, but he might have just been drunk. 

Camo decides not to sleep in the same room as the creepy kid and sleeps in a different, empty room. No one else is staying at the inn.

Rolen detects magic as a nightly ritual and notices a blue light emanating from between the floorboards, identified as conjuration magic.

That night they all have a nightmare. They're in the inn, on what looks like the second floor. They all see each other, can all interact with each other, etc. Cecil has a sickle, which she starts talking to, calling it Mr. Sickly and asking it what to do.

They're surrounded by shadowy figures who moan "We've been here for years!" On the floor are empty flagon,  dresses,  evidence of a debauched night. The windows open out into a thick void of utter darkness, full of milky, slurping tendrils that caress. Camo sticks her hand out the window. The darkness has the consistency and texture of jello.

The place where the stairs should be also opens into a hole of blackness. Rolen decides to go down it and would've been pulled down into it for eternity had not Akin and Camo been holding onto him and rolled high on their Athletics checks. Rolen is pulled up gasping and sputtering, hell jello  (hello? Is it me you're looking for?) oozing out of his orifices.

Day 2

They wake up and go downstairs to talk to Crowley, sans Cecil who stays in her room. Crowley looks sleep deprived, eating porridge and having a double of whisky to assuage his nerves. When Rolen confronts Crowley about it he breaks down and tells them: he bought the inn two years ago for cheap, not realising it was, essentially haunted. Five years ago, some wizards had a debauched party and ended up teleporting the second floor of the inn into another dimension. People who sleep here are plagued with nightmares. A few fell down the hell jello hole. No one sleeps here anymore, business is bad. 

Camo urges Crowly to rebrand the inn as a haunted house experience. Initial name suggestions of the "The Spookyhill Inn" are gently dissuaded.

Over porridge Akin, Camo, and Rolen talk about the creepy kid with the sickle and what to do with her. Camo brings her some porridge, Rolen tries to detect magic. Eventually they all go out to find supplies around town. Camo buys crossbow bolts from the smithy because she had a crossbow but no bolts from her starting equipment. The blacksmith asks Cecil why the iron ore shipments from Avol have been so slow. Cecil shrugs it off.

They go to the general store where they see Finn's surly son, Huw, who announces that he's leaving for the Shrine of Elma. Finn asks Cecil why she hasn't gone home and asks the rest of them to please take her back to Avol. They agree to do so, despite Cecil's protests.

On the road to Avol, they all visit the Trinkets & Curios house to try and find some creepy stuff for Crowly. Cecil stays outside. The man from before introduces himself as Grime. Rolen tries to cast Detect Magic but Grime points out the No Magic sign. He leaves the store (notices Cecil has left) and casts it and tries to walk back in but there's a barrier. Akin and Camo look around for some creepy stuff. There's a mummified dwarf (?) heart. They decide on a skull. Grime directs them to the shelf of skulls, including but not limited to: human, dwarf, halfling, gnome, ettercap, troll, and elemental skulls (a puddle, a coal, a rock, and a jar labelled "air elemental skull"). Grime's not sure if they're cursed or not. They decide on a standard human skull, and Grime throws in a free little keychain/earring skull that goes clicky-clack when it moves.

Because Cecil disappeared, missing kids came up. Grime insists it isn't him, and blames Huw, citing some creepy masks Huw brought back from the north when he left town for a few years (after his child died) as evidence.

Cecil's back outside now and they head towards Avol. The clicky-clack skull turns out to be ambiguously Irish and very unambiguously foul-mouthed. It insults people for 5 minutes a day and then falls asleep. Akin wears it as an earring and it loves her. On the road to Avol, they pass Abecan's house and his mother is on the porch. She tries to convince Camo to marry her son, but after a swearing fit from Akin's skull necklace she passes out and the party continues on their way.

They encounter some barrows by the river but otherwise their journey is uneventful. The road to town is blocked by three bandits. They let Cecil past but insist the the other three pay their toll. Bill rolls a d12 twice to set the price, rolls 5 twice, gets angry, and sets the price at 10 gold. Some back and forth occurs and the three bandits end up being of the "lovable rogue" variety rather than the murdering douchebag variety. Apparently Einstein is one of the bandits and they all know the theory of relativity.

Akin manages to persuade one of the bandits, Tristram, to let them pass (they go into a shack and do it for like 2 minutes). 

The town is infested with bandits. They see two houses have burned down. One of them belonged to a family, the Ovrens, that refused to pay the bandits and it was burned down with them inside. They go to Cecil's house and her brother, Tov, tells them the situation: bandits have held the town for 3 months, bribed guards, etc. They've closed off the town mines for some reason and the town is slowly dying. Tov asks if the PCs could take care of Cecil for a while, since it isn't safe in Avol.

The PCs have no idea what to do now so they just go to sleep instead.

Day 3

They go to check out the local inn, The Gargoyle's Nook, where Cecil's older brother Bennet works. It's full of bandits. Camo tries to talk to one, an irritable man by the name of Harvald, but is promptly ejected from the bar. The PCs are left with no idea of what to do, but a vague desire to explore the mines.

Overall, very fun and solid start to the campaign. I have a really good roster of players. Start was a bit slow, and a couple of the players struggled with the sandbox ("I thought Avol was where we were supposed to go! It seemed level-appropriate!") but no more bumps than normal for the first session. Excited for next Sunday.