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).