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 14(+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?

Wednesday 24 February 2016

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.

Friday 19 February 2016

Fantasy Hip-Hop

My playlist today ran through Wolves in the Throne Room, Have a Nice Life, Fetty Wap, and the new Kanye. And a thought occurred to me.

Metal and its (many, many) subgenres is the only genre that consistently does fantasy. And consequently, people like Zak S. and James Raggi, who define and produce a lot of the "weird fiction" content for D&D, are extremely influenced by metal. Vornheim is a Teutonic Gonzo-Norse wet-dream.

I love metal, but it largely draws on European myth and folklore (as does D&D in general). Now I love me Vikings and shit and I have the complete Northlanders and about 3 translations of Beowulf within arms reach (and a giant fucking anthology of Old English, Norse, and Icelandic literature) but, as a delicious chocolate man (or POC if you're boring) I gotta wonder about the alternatives.

What does hip-hop fantasy look/feel/sound like? Hip-hop D&D? Or acid jazz or j-rap or reggaeton or whatever. Or, what does non-white metal look/feel/sound like?

p.s junot diaz write an actual fucking fantasy novel already jesus christ

Thursday 18 February 2016

Busking 101

If you have a bard in your party and want to get more mileage out of the Performance skill, I present to you my rules for busking in 5e (though it could pretty easily be adapted to any other system).

Players can choose to busk as a downtime activity if they are in a civilized area. If the players are busking in game time, wing it with the time they spend busking.

Roll Performance (if performing as a group, roll with advantage in 5e). Multiply the roll by # of days spent busking. The busker receives that number in
  • Coppers or equivalent if busking in a village (street), or a disreputable part of town.
  • Silvers or equivalent if busking in a city (street) 
  • Electrum or equivalent if busking in the cultural sector of a city or a city renowned for the arts, or the inn of a city, or a public amphitheatre in a city.
This could also be adapted to the gratuities received if playing in an inn of some kind, even though that's technically not busking (and you're more likely to be paid in drinks, but you could cut a deal with the bar). Increase the denomination by one step for playing in an inn (so silvers in a village inn, electrum in a city inn, gold in an artistic city inn).

Now the fun part. Roll on the Random Busking Encounters table below. I suggest directly RPing this whether you're busking in downtime or game time. 

The Performance check determines how to roll on the table:

A Nat 1, roll with disadvantage.
A roll between 1-9, roll a d6
A roll between 10-15 roll a d12
A roll of 15+ roll a d20
A Nat 20 or any roll in excess of 25, roll with advantage.


1. Scandal: You said, did, or performed something offensive to the local populace during your set. Receive no gold and you are no longer able to find employment as a performer in this city until such time as public favour returns your way.
2. Play Wonderwall: You've attracted an unfortunate hanger-on, a heckler, an obsessive fan, or 
someone else equally unpleasant who drives the crowd away. Halve money earned.
3. Trespassing: You've inadvertently begun performing in an already staked area. Maybe a bard's alliance lays claim and requires a membership fee, the city bylaws require a busking permit, or a thieves' guild wants a tax for being on their turf. Whatever the group is, they will ask for d% of all busking profits in that area. The PCs can refuse but must deal with the repercussions. 
4. Murphy's Law: Something unpleasant and unexpected happened. Roll on your Random Urban Encounters table, or if you're feeling gonzo, a Wandering Monsters table. Strange rumours circulate about you in response to this incident.
5. Technical difficulties: Something you use in your performance (instrument, costume, script, etc.) is stolen, destroyed, or damaged. You'll need to find a way to get it repaired or fixed, or develop a new act.
6. Harsh words: Someone has it out for you. Your performance was poorly received by a local critic, a patron of the arts, a nobleman, etc. They disparage you openly and publicly. Roll with disadvantage when busking in this area unless you manage to rehabilitate your reputation.
7. Afterparty: Carouse!
8. Dark materials: You made no money. Where was the crowd? It seems unseasonably overcast. And what was the deal with that one guy who left you: 1-3 something entirely useless, a shoestring, a cork, a frayed playing card, 4 a trinket, 5 a strange idol, 6 a random magical item (would suggest something consumable), probably cursed or, if a  consumable, likely to have unintended effects (see here, here, or here
9-12. Business as usual: Nothing particularly interesting happens. 
13. Damn fine performance: You're in the zone. d% extra currency earned.
14. All abuzz: Something was especially remarkable about the performance, or someone important has taken to you. Word of mouth spreads quickly. People will be talking about you. Roll with advantage the next time you busk in this area.
15. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: You're a trendsetter. Your style is taking off locally: being codified into a genre, trend, etc. Imitators abound. You're even more well known than before, but consequently, you're at the risk of becoming passe if you don't change up something in your act or dissuade your imitators.
16. New friends: Your performance attracts: 1-3 a new hireling, contact, or friend, 4-5, a random animal companion (dog, goat, badger, snake, bear, psuedodragon, etc.) who joins your act, 6 a familiar
17. Interested eyes: Someone important has noticed you. You have: 1-2 been invited to play at the manor of a wealthy patron of the arts, 3-4 been invited to play a large show(s), 5-6 been offered a publishing deal (or equivalent based on genre & time period).
18. An instant classic: That'll go down in history. New-found fame attracts attention, both wanted and unwanted. 
19. Keep it secret, keep it safe: While sorting through your tips, you find something you hadn't noticed: 1, a magic rope, 2 a magic candle, 3 a potion (as normal, or here and here), 4 a spell scroll, 5, something from someone you haven't seen in a long time, 6, a random magic item.
20. Lightning in a bottle: You'll never have a performance like that again. Roll twice on the table. Double currency earned after all encounters are resolved (in order of low to high).

This'll keep your bards from becoming complacent and safely getting rich through bardi-ness. Remember, the best bard is a dead bard!