Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mapping: Style and Scale

I've spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles of mapmaking. Two issues continually arise: Style, and Scale.

With Style, there are really two issues at play: GM maps vs player maps. A GMs map by definition has more detail. But in addition to detail, what (if any) should be the stylistic differences between a players map and a GMs map?

To me, a players map should evoke a sense of style about the game setting. It should feel like a prop that the characters would actually hold in their hands, sort of like a primitive pirate map, perhaps complete with tea stains. If using tea stains, I would lean towards scanning the map after staining it, and giving the players a printed copy. This way, they can make notes, add information, and should they ever lose it, you can print out another. Making a gen-u-ine tea stained map is a bit more time consuming.

As for GMs, the more accurate and clear the information is, the better. Icons tend to obscure actual geographical location, while a topographical map can seem noisy and contain simply too much information that isn't really that critical.


I've heard and seen good things about Campaign Cartographer, and there seems to be a wide variety of styles to the maps that can be made.

My own approach is to use Photoshop. I can paint each terrain type on a different layer using a solid color. The Noise filter adds a bit of variety. Drop Shadows, as well as Bevels with Contours and Textures offer a huge variety of possibilities. Here is my map for the known lands of Shatterworld:

To me, this map offers a wealth of information on land masses and terrain types. The premise is that they were once all a single land mass, and a cataclysmic event called The Shattering split the world into separate islands some 1300 years before the time of the campaign setting. It is easy to identify forests, mountains, hills, desert, lakes, and tundra.

The next issue is one of scale. My thoughts on my campaign world is that I don't really need an area much larger than Europe to run a very expansive campaign, and could in fact run 90% of my campaign in a setting the size of Spain. I've taken that center landmass in the middle of the map above, and made it the centerpiece of my campaign. I decided that it would be roughly 300 miles across, for a total area of some 90,000 square miles. Considering that most villagers never wander more than a few miles from where they were born, this affords plenty of space for isolated communities, wilderness, and ruins.

Calabria: 1" = 30 miles

I've dubbed this central area Calabria, and blew it up to fit an 8-1/2 x 11 format. I've settled on a scale of 1" 10 leagues, or 30 miles. A league is roughly the distance a man can travel on foot in an hour. 10 leagues becomes roughly 1 days travel. It should take 10 days, more or less, to walk on foot from one end of Calabria to another.

Note that there is a lot of information about Calabria that is not apparent on the world map. This seems an obvious point to make, but it will become an important one as we continue enlarging our maps and zooming in an an area. I've named mountain ranges, large forests, a few political regions, and five cities.

My next Map is of the central region of the Merchant's Republic. For this map, I chose a 300% magnification from the map of Calabria:

Merchant's Republic: 1" = 10 miles
Note that there are four fortified towns (Wilksbury, Moresbury, Carrnach, and Carrdech) that appear on this map that are not on the map of Calabria. Their absence on the map of Calabria does not mean they do not exist. Rather, if you are using the Calabria map, and adventurers are traveling from say, Pitkin to Birk Nor, you know that it will be a journey of a week and half or so, maybe more. All the information you can really provide is that "after traveling for nearly two weeks, and passing through several towns and villages, you arrive at Birg Nor. The key is to make this the only information that is really important for the time being. The party can always travel back down the road and encounter some more specific details for their journals.

I think the key strength of the map of the Merchant's Republic is that it gives the GM an area to set adventures in. There are forests, bogs, rivers, and fortified cities to choose from. Towns and villages can really be dropped in anywhere. Just be sure to make a note of their location.

Next comes a map of the region I'm calling the Lower Dire Bogs. I've once again magnified 300%, bringing a bit more information into view:

County Carr, Merchant's Republic: 1" = 3 miles

Here some more details come into play. First, it becomes apparent why Carrnach and Carrdech are located where they are. They are each on hilltops, and able to surveil the surrounding lands. The river winding through the Greenwood has a number of interesting islands in the middle. The Via Imperium actually passes right through one of the bogs. There are seven unnamed towns or villages on offshoots of the Via Imperium.

This map probably has more information than a player needs, or should even have. The map the players are given for the area really shouldn't have any more information than the map of Merchant's Republic has,  unless they grew up in one of the towns or cities and are intimately acquainted with the area. The players can fill in details about lands they visit as they adventure and learn about the territories.

I'm planning on one more enlargement; a map of the scale of 1' = 1 mile. This will actually be for a specific adventure, where building sites will be indicated, cave entrances notated, and other various adventure information.

Something to consider is that it will take 9 maps the size of Merchant's republic to map out the majority of Calabria. It will take 81 maps the size of the Lower Dire Bogs to detail those nine maps. It will take 729 maps of the next enlargement to detail one magnitude further. Basically, I should have ample room for 1000 different adventure settings in Calabria, each spanning an area of roughly 8 x 10 miles, and mapped out 1" to the mile. That's about the distance from my house to my mailbox.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Labyrinth Lord Spells in Shatterworld

Magic in Shatterworld is centered around the summoning and control of spirits. As such, even casting simple spells is a dangerous matter. The Spellcaster must wear a talisman that protects him from the spirits which he summons. Otherwise, the spirits will attack the spellcaster, seeking to break the spell. Here is an example of how spells from Labyrinth Lord work in Shatterworld. Note, these are purely mechanical descriptions. Actual results of casting such spells may be unpredictable. Use of any of these spells may attract the attention of powerful spirits who are not bound by the spell.

Animate Dead:
This spell summons a spirit, which inhabits the body of the dead. The spirit will obey the caster per the spell, but the spirit will also have its own agenda. It may relish experiencing the shadow of "life", or resent it. As such, it may aim to prevent the spell from ending, or seek to end it.

Animate Objects:
As in Animate Dead, a sentient spirit is summoned to temporarily inhabit the inanimate object. This is a more powerful spirit than the one summoned to animate the dead, as "objects" are not naturally attuned to hosting sentient spirits.

Arcane Lock:
This spell is similar to Animate Object, in that is infuses an object with a spirit which allows only the spellcaster to pass. Dispel Magic banishes the spirit. Knock simply commands it to allow passage.

Arcane Eye:
The spellcaster links his mind with that of a summoned spirit, which can travel as the spell description.

The spellcaster essentially "freezes time" for everyone else, allowing him to move 2 feet in the direction of his choosing. The target can not move or otherwise harm objects until he returns to moving in standard time.

Clenched Fist:
The spellcaster summons a spirit, which manifests as a ghastly hand.

Contact Other Plane:
The spellcaster summons a ghostly spirit which answers the questions as the spell. 

Continual Light:
This spell summons a weak Fire Elemental. The longer it manifests, the stronger it grows. After one day, the light will ignite objects as a torch in the 60 foot diameter. The temperature and brightness will double every day thereafter until dispelled.

Continual Darkness:
This spell tears a hole in the Void, creating a vacuum which pulls all the light out of it. After one day, the area will be bitterly cold. The temperature will drop 30 degrees each day thereafter until dispelled.

Dimension Door:
The spellcaster essentially "freezes time" for everyone but the target. The target can not move solid matter, but can pass through air unhindered. The target can move up to 360 feet running, but can not open doors or otherwise move or harm objects for 3 rounds from his perspective. The world seems "gauzy" to the target, and there is a chance he may encounter other beings which are not bound by time.

Detect Evil:
This spell allows the detection of spirits with powerful evil intent. I does not detect the presence of members of the Monstrous Races (goblins, giants, orcs, etc...) other than Bogeymen. It may 
detect the Enchanted Undead (golems, skeletons, zombies) if the spirits animating the bodies are malicious.
I can sometimes detect the presence of the Restless Undead, and will usually detect the presence of the Cursed Undead.

Feather Fall:
A summoned spirit physically slows the descent of the spellcaster. The spellcaster must endure the embrace of arms reaching out from beyond the void. The recipient may perform no action while under the influence of the spell, and saving throw vs. paralyzation is required or the recipient is stunned in horror (for 1d6  rounds if the recipient is someone other than the spell caster, and for 1d6 - 3 rounds if the recipient is the spell caster himself) after the spell expires.

Hold Person:
Unseen tendrils are summoned and attack the victim's mind. The victim will suffer nightmares long after the spell is broken.

Magic Mouth:
This spell binds a spirit, which must obey following the spell description. 

Mirror Image:
The spell summons 1d4 spirits who mimic the spellcaster's actions. There is a small chance (GMs discretion) that one or more of these spirits will refuse to leave after the spell expires.

Summon Monster:
This spell causes the affected creatures to travel outside of time, essentially "freezing time" for everything but the creature. They may not move or harm any object while traveling. Thus, a monster may not be summoned into a room with a closed door, but instead may be summoned just outside the door, as long as there were no other closed doors, missing ladders or bridges, etc.. that the monster would have had to pass.

True Seeing:
The spellcaster subjects himself to being temporarily possessed by a spirit capable of seeing reality as it is.
The spellcaster's senses and the spirit's senses are one and the same. The spellcaster must make a saving throw vs paralyzation or fall to his knees in horror. A critical failure is cause for a second roll. A second failure causes the spellcaster to tear out his eyes. A second critical failure causes permanent madness.

Unseen Servant:
This spell summons a spirit, which behaves according to the spell description. It will refuse to obey commands to attack in any way.

A Calabrian Tale of the Ancient Dead

Behold! Gentle Reader,

Our Story begins some 200 years before The Shattering, in the area of Calabria today known as Merchant's Republic. There, between the Iron Hills and the Mern River, is an area rich with peat, known as the Dire Bogs. There is a woodland at the base of the Iron Hills called the Greenwood from which it is said that in ages past a squirrel could travel tree to tree, from the Greenwood to Woodbury Forest of which it was part, and further into the lofty halls of the Elves, without ever descending to the ground.

At the edge of The Greenwood was the home of one of the clans of the men of old, which was led generation through generation by the wisdom of the Druids. Alas there fell a time of corruption, and the wise-man who was entrusted with their well being had darker aspirations. Heeding the call of voices of the void, his cruelty and corruption grew, until his people would have no more of it.

The Druid was bound, and led to the Dire Bogs, where he was subjected to the Tri-fold Death. His name was expunged from the songs of the Skalds, but echoes of the truth persisted in rumor and fireside tales.

Many a child of the surrounding area has been warned more than once that if the did not behave, Gnarleybones would come in the night, from whence they would be bound, stabbed, and drowned in the Dire Bogs.

And so it comes that our tale arrives at a time not to distant from our own, when a doughty Ranger, those men who track the wilds ever on watch against the wiles of the Monstrous Races, came to rest in a small village which lie very near to the Greenwood and only a league or so from the Dire Bogs. Thinking only to get a night's sleep, the soldier of the wilds was recognized as an adventurer by townsfolk, and soon found a local by the name of Goodman Cooper imploring him for help.

It seems the Goodman's wife was suffering from an affliction. Each morning she would awaken with scratches on her feet, and her spirit most fatigued. The Goodman feared for her very life, and moreso her spirit; he was sure there was some evil afoot which plagued his wife.

The Ranger promised to help, and instructed the Goodman to spread flower upon the floor between the bed and the door. Sure enough, the following morning, the footprints of the goodwife were found in the flour, leading out the door, and then returning back to the bed.

Borremos Man
The following night, the Ranger set watch outside the Goodman's cottage. As he anticipated, the Goodwife came out into the open, whence she proceeded to dance barefoot down the village lane. The Ranger followed, and she led him through the countryside to the brink of the Dire Bog. There the Ranger beheld such a sight... there were many Goodmen and Goodwives, cavorting in unseemly fashion. Leading this procession in revelry was a ghastly sight. The mummified body of  the ancient Druid, returned to a semblance of "life". He performed upon a Harp which shone in the moonlight, conducting the crowd as if they were puppets on strings.

As he found his way closer, he heard the Druid cursing and mocking the ancestors of those who had killed him, promising that their suffering would be long and cruel.

The Ranger lie hidden until nearly dawn, when the revelers departed and returned to their homes. He watched as the Druid placed the Harp in the hollow of a great oak tree, and waded into the depths of the bog. The Ranger took the Harp, and destroyed it in a fire amid incantations and blessings. The Goodwife knew no more sleepless nights.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Defending with the Alternative Combat System

There are two fundamental ways to defend with the alternative combat system:

Dodging and Parrying.

Each character has a Combat Penalty (CP) derived from calculating their encumbrance and subtracting their weight allowance. This number can be as low as zero, and the upper limit is the carrying limit for the character.

An opponent attacking the character adds its Combat Rating (CR), which is basically its hit points, to the characters CP to get a percentage chance to hit. Example:

A 5th level monster with 30 hit points attacks a 5th level fighter with 35 hit points.

The Monster has an AC of 6, a CR of 30, and a CP of 0, and a damage mod of +4

Fighter has an AC of 4, a CR of 35, and a CP of 20, a damage mod of +3, and a dex bonus of 10

The Monster has a 50% chance of hitting the Fighter, the Fighter has a 35% chance of hitting the monster.

The Monster will do an average of 5 points damage per hit against the fighter. (roll 5+4 on the damage chart)

The Fighter will do an average of 8 points damage per hit against the monster.

The Monster will do an average of 2.5 points damage per round against the fighter, killing him in 14 rounds.

The Fighter will do an average of 2.8 points damage against the Monster, killing it in 11 rounds, and taking 28 points damage during the fight.

The Fighter has other monsters to fight, and doesn't want to cut his odds that close. He has a few options:

1) ATTACK!: Use his dex bonus to hit, giving him an extra %10 to hit per round. This ups his to hit chance to 45%, increases his average damage per round to 3.6, and shortening the fight to 9 rounds, taking 22.5 points damage during the fight.

2) Dodge: Using his dex defensively, reducing his CP to 10, and reducing the monster's chance to hit him to 40%.

This reduces the monster's average damage per round to 2 points per round, and will take the monster 18 rounds to kill him. He will take 22 points damage during the 11 rounds it takes him to kill the monster.

3) Parry: Use primary or second weapon to block monster's blow

The second weapon can be a sword or a shield. If using a sword, normal "two weapon fighting" penalties apply. If using a shield with shield proficiency, there is a -10 to the primary weapon hand and no penalty to the shield. Shield stats are on the shield chart below:

We are going to give him a medium steel shield. This increases his Combat Penalty by 10 due to the weight, giving him a CP of 30, and upping the monster's chance to hit him per round to 50.

He now gets two "attacks", one with the shield, and one with the sword. The shield give him +10 to CR, so when he block with his shield his CR is 45. Using the shield detracts 10 from his sword arm, so attacks with his sword are at 25.

When he uses the shield, he subtracts the shield CR from the opponents CR. So the Orc is at a modified CR of -15. The orc now has a 5% chance to hit.

His CR is 25, giving him a 25% chance to hit the orc.

When using a shield for defense, if the opponent "misses", it automatically hits the shield. This reduces damage significantly, but does not eliminate it. Here's the chart for reducing shield damage:

Lets say the monster rolls a 5, and adds its +4, for a 9. The shield is AC4. The 9 reduces the effective roll to a -5. Damage is calculated on the normal damage chart below: 

-5 against AC4 does 0 points damage. There is a pretty good chance the fighter can get through this battle unscathed, doing an average of 2 points damage per round and dispatching the monster in about 15 rounds.

Keep in mind that with lucky rolls, the monster can do as much as 7 points damage per round, killing the fighter in as few as 5 rounds. If the fighter is lucky, he can do as much as 11 points damage per round against the monster, killing it in as few as 3 rounds. In fact, the fighter stuns the monster on a damage roll of 7 or higher, giving him a +20 to hit the following round, upping his chance to hit to 45% that round. The fighter should do quite well against the monster.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Monsters and the Alternate Combat System

For those of you interested in DMing using my Alternate Combat System, here's how to make a quick conversion using Labyrinth Lord stats.

LL Orc:

AC6, HD 1, Attack 1, Damage 1d6

First, Subtract the AC from 10 to get the equivalent AC in the Alternative Combat System. AC6 in LL = AC 4 in the ACS.
Now, AC4 = plate mail in the ACS. As orcs are subterranean creatures navigating caves and such, I don't want to give them plate mail. I'd prefer they wear leather armor, unless outfitted for war. So I'm going to give them studded leather (AC7). This penalizes them 3 armor classes from "standard", so I'm going to say that they have a natural tough skin and sheer brute-ness that increases their AC by 1(making them AC6). I'm also going to give them a -10 to their defense, as they are much more nimble than someone wearing an armored coat or similar. The -10 also makes up for two armor classes.

In the ACS, zero level characters get half their stamina for hit points, so I'm going to give all monsters an extra 5 hit points for zero level. So HD are 1+5. I'm also going to assume 5 hit points per hit die for simplicity.

As for weapon, I'm going with a long sword for the standard orc. The long sword is 0 to hit, 0 to damage.

So, standars orc stats are:

AC6, HD 1+5,  HP10, CR 10, Damage 0, CP 25

So, one orc attacking another has a 35% chance to hit. A d10 is rolled with no modifier for damage, and it is indexed against AC6. It will do an average of 7 points damage per hit against AC6, or 2.45 damage per round against an equally matched orc. A battle between two such orcs should last an average of 4 rounds.

Now lets pit our first level thief, Stealthshadow against an orc.

Stealthshadow is fighting with his rapier. His CR of 27 vs the orcs CP of 25 gives him 52% chance to hit per round. His rapier will do an average of 5.5 damage against AC 6 per hit. It will take him an average of 4 rounds to kill an orc.

The orc has a CR of 10. Stealthshadow has a CR of 4. He also has a dexterity bonus of +10 which he can use each round. He can put this either in his attack roll, or he can subtract it from his CR. His strategy is going to be to avoid being hit, so he is going to subtract it from his CR, giving him a new CR of -6. The orc has a 4% chance to hit. The orc will do an average of 10.5 points damage per hit against AC8.
The orc will hit on an average of one round out of 25, and it will take an average of two hits to reduce Stealthshadow to zero hit points. However, odds are that a hit will stun Stealthshadow, and the orc has an extra 30% chance the following round to hit (+20 for stun and another 10 because Stealthshadow can't use his dex bonus), now needing a 34 or less to hit.

The odds are in Stealthshadow's favor, but a lucky swing or two from the orc can take him out quickly.  Fighting orcs should not be a habit with Stealthshadow.

Labyrinth Lord AEC House Rules

Here are my house rules for playing Labryinth Lord.

1) Use the Core Rules and the Advanced Edition Companion
2) Players play Human characters only
3) Stat Generation: Roll 4d6. Re-roll 1's.  Drop lowest. Arrange as you like
5) Hit Points: You get half your Constitution(rounded down) at zero level, and max at 1st level
6) Hit Dice: Advanced HD rule from LL AEC (Magic User d4, Thief d6, Cleric d8, Fighter d10)
7) Saving Throws: Ability Score Bonuses modify Saving Throws as follows:

  • Breath, Wands, and Spells: Dexterity
  • Poison: Constitution
  • Petrify: Wisdom
8) Surprise:

  • All Characters can deal double damage when surprising.
  • Characters who can not move silently must wait in ambush to get the double damage in melee
  • Thieves get a "called shot" if they are successful in sneaking up behind someone or when ambushing
  • Ranged attacks are eligible for double damage when surprising
9) Coins weigh 50 per pound, instead of 10 per pound
10) Combat per my Alternative Combat System
11) Death, Dismemberment or Mortal wounds occur at negative Constitution
12) A character with a mortal would dies in 1d20 - 1 hour. (0 to 19 hours)

Creating a Character using Labryrinth Lord AEC

OK! So now that I've settled on a system, I had to do a little bit of thinking on how to implement my combat system into Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion.

First, you'll have to go to the website for Golinoid Games and download the free pdfs for Labryrinth Lord Core Rules and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion (AEC).

The rules are quite close to Basic D&D from the late 70s. What is nice is that the AEC adds rules for it to play more like AD&D 1e, but those rules don't contradict the Core Rules, but rather expand on them, allowing for example Paladins, Rangers, and Assassins, and freeing up race/class restrictions but keeping the same to-hit and saving throw charts from the Core Rules.

Now, you are ready to roll up a character. In my own campaign, I will be using a variation on the 4d6 rule. Roll 4d6, drop the lowest. Re-roll ones. Arrange to order. Apply racial modifiers. My campaign will be a human only campaign, so racial modifiers won't apply.

Now it is time to create a character sheet. I'll have a blank sheet for your use at the end of the post. Here is a sample sheet for Sleathshadow, a 1st level thief.

His name is Stealthdhadow, and he is a Thief. His is male, and is from the Merchant's Republic in Calabria.
He is 17 years old, 5'-9" tall, and 163 pounds. His eyes are brown, and his hair is black. His is Chaotic Good, has no known foes, and is left handed. He casts no spells.

He has a Strength of 14, an Intelligence of 14, a Wisdom of 14, a Dexterity of 17, a Constitution of 11, and a Charisma of 16. He chose to put his second highest score in Charisma because as a thief, he may find himself having to bluff his way into or talk himself out of many situations.

I'll be using the Advanced HD rule from Labyrinth Lord AEC. With this rule, Fighters get d10, Clerics d8, Thieves d6, and Magic Users d4 for Hit Dice. Since my combat system is particularly brutal as you near zero hit points, I'm giving extra hit points at "zero level". Basically, everyone in Shatterworld starts out at zero level with half (rounded down) their Consitution score for hit points. Stealthshadow has a Constitution of 11, so he gets 5 hit points at zero level. I'm giving also max hit points at first level, so at first level he gets 6 hit points, for a total of 11. The chart in the upper right of the character sheet keeps track of hit points per level gained, in case the character ever has the unfortunate experience of losing levels.

The character sheet keeps track of the d20 ability score bonus from Labryrinth Lord, and also a d100 bonus, which is merely the d20 bonus multiplied by 5.

I am using a house rule that ability scores modify saving throws. Breath Weapons, Wands and Spells benefit from Dexterity Bonus. Poison benefits from Constitution Bonus, and Petrify or Paralyze benefits from Wisdom Bonus.

Now it is time to Armor Class. Using the Labyrinth Lord AEC rule, the most amor he can wear is leather. Using my Alternative Combat Rules, Leather Armor is AC8, and a full set weights 15 pounds.

He is going to use rapier and dagger as his weapons. The rapier offers a weapon with reach that is light and quick (+15 to hit on d100). The damage is low (-3 d20), but he isn't planning on going up against armored foes. Even a -3 on the Alternative Rules damage chart does a healthy 7 to 17 points against an unarmored opponent. He would rather have the plusses to hit than be a a powerhouse of damage. He is also choosing a dagger because he can throw it up to 20 feet.

In my house rules, I'm going to allow him double damage on both his rapier and thrown dagger back attacks if he can execute them stealthily. This double damage applies to all classes. However, since the thief is the only class that can move silently, the other classes must plan an ambush to achieve the bonus. If the thief can get a true up close and personal back attack with his dagger, he can also do a called shot, attacking whatever body location he chooses. Thus, if an unsuspecting opponent is wearing armor but no helmet, he can go for the unarmored head for a throat slit.

For miscellaneous equipment, he has thieves picks and tools in a pouch on his right side. The weight of these is negligible. He has a large empty sack over his back. He has 50 gold pieces in a pouch on his left side. In my house rules, 50 coin pieces weigh one pound. He has 50 feet of rope slung from his right shoulder down to his left hip, which weighs 5 pounds according to the Labyrinth Lord equipment chart. His total misc. weight is 6 pounds.

He has 15 pounds of armor, 7 pounds of weapons, 1 pound of coins, 6 other pounds of misc. for a total weight encumbrance of 29 pounds. All characters have a 20 pounds allowance, which brings him down to 9 pounds. He has an additional 5 pound allowance for his d20 Strength bonus. His Combat Penalty is 4.

His is not permitted a shield due to class according to Labyrinth Lord AEC.

Character Sheet, done!

Almost forgot... a Character Sheet for your use!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

And the Winner is...

I'll be going with Labryinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion from Goblinoid Games.

I have to do a new layout for the character sheets, getting rid of Skills and Feats, which will make life a WHOLE lot simpler.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Narrowed Down System Choices

Looking like a choice between OSRIC and Labryrinth Lord AEC. Leaning towards LL AEC.

Settling on an OSR Game

I've been doing more comparisons today. I'm now convinced, I want to go pre 3.x for my core rule system.
The question is, what to pick? I seem to have narrowed it down to OSRIC and Labryrinth Lord.

Choices, Choices...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Considering Feats into the Mix

I was kind of psyched when I first came across Feats in D&D version 3.0. But the more I look at them now, I see them as patches for an incomplete system. Adding Feats into my Alternative Combat System really winds up making the Feats way too powerful. For many of the Feats, I think the answer is to make those powers the rule, rather than the exception.

Here's one example: Power Attack. Benefit: You can choose to take a –1 penalty on all melee attack rolls and combat maneuver checks to gain a +2 bonus on all melee damage rolls. 

In my system, that isn't Feat. It's a weapon. You want to get more damage, with less accurate to hit? Pick a weapon that does that. You want more accuracy, but less damage. Pick a different weapon. The Feat is superfluous.

How about Cleave: You can strike two adjacent foes with a single swing.

My version is this: Drop a guy from full hit points to zero in a single swing, and you get to roll to hit the next guy with half your CR. Do it again and keep on going. Anyone. No Feats required.

How about Combat Expertise: You can choose to take a –1 penalty on melee attack rolls and combat maneuver checks to gain a +1 dodge bonus to your Armor Class.

Again, this is the default ability in my system for everyone. No Feat required.

It seems to me Feats were invented to allow players to do the obvious.

The Power of Anticipation

OK, so as indicated in A Word or Two on Parrying, it becomes important to be able to read your opponent.
If they are attacking full out, do you want to parry? Or do you want to try to hit them before they hit you?

Fortunately, it isn't too difficult to anticipate the actions of monsters. They tend to attack full out, with little thought for self defense. But when dealing with human opponents or the like, it seems like the higher level character should have the advantage.

One way to handle this is to make the lower level character declare his actions before initiative is rolled. The higher level character can declare his action after initiative is rolled. It would be interesting to bring Charisma into the mix, allowing for more charismatic characters to more easily fool their opponents in battle. Maybe Wisdom helps you see through the charade.

Some things for me to chew on...

A Word or two on Parrying

Parrying can be the key to survivability. In most systems, as your level goes up, so does your chance to hit. Eventually, hitting is almost guaranteed. In a system where a single strike can stun an opponent, this becomes a bit too powerful. Add Feats into the mix, and death is likely around any corner.  Wading into battle with both sides swinging full force is a recipe for quick demise.

Parrying allows for strategic decisions. The basics is this:

Lets say we match up 2nd level Sebastiano against 5th level Arn. Both come to the table with the following stats:

Sebastiao: CR: 27, CP:3, Dex bonus d100: 15, CMR: 39

Arn: CR: 50, CP: 19, Dex bonus d100; 10, CMR: 41

Ok... the two foes come face to face and roll for initiative to see who gets first blow. I like the standard d6 for initiative roll. So I'm going to modify the CMR and give it a secondary vaule based on d100 by dividing by 5 and rounding. So now the CMRs are: Sebastiano: 39/8 Arn: 41/8

Both have a CMR of 8 on the d20 scale. The two are tied. Arn is higher level, but he is slowed down by his chain mail.

Both roll d6, and add their d20 CMR. Sebastiano rolls a 5, and Arn rolls a 4. Sebastiano wins.

Sebastiano is attacking full out. He needs a 42 (His CR +  dex bonus) + 19 (Arns CP) to hit for a 61.

Arn decides he is going to parry. He parries with his CR + Dex Bonus, Subtracting 60 from Sebastiano's "to hit". Sebastiano needs a 1 or less to hit. But we're playing with the equivalent of the rule that a 1 on a d20 is an automatic hit, so he needs 01-05 on d100 to hit.

Sebastiano rolls a 12 and misses.

Arn gets two attacks per round. His second attack is at at CR of 25. He needs a 38 (25+3+dex +10) or less to hit Sebastiano. He rolls a 42, and misses.

Sebastiano now realizes he is in for it, and probably won't survive long if he keeps this up. Next round, he decides to parry Arns attack. Arn attacks full out. Arn needs a 63 to hit, and Sebastiano parries with a 42, reducing Arn's to hit do 21 or less. Arn misses with a 79, but still gets his second attatck, needing a 38 or less to hit. He rolls a 39 and barely misses.

At this point, Sebastiano should be thinking of a way out of this fight, or have some creative ideas on how to get the advantage against Arn.

Sample Character: Arn, the Knight Templar

Here's a sample character sheet for Arn, the Knight Templar. Arn is a formidable knight, but perhaps not the very best in the land. In the E6 framework, I've made him level 5.

As he displayed an innate talent at an early age, I figure he's got some pretty healthy base stats. I've given him a chain hauberk, which goes down to his knees and has full sleeves. Here's a pic of Arn from the movie:

He has a chain hood, long chain sleeves, and his hauberk goes down to his knees. I've given him leather (AC8) on his shins, otherwise he is AC5. He wields the light two handed sword, which is meant to represent a real two handed sword. The heavy two handed sword it the mythical dragon slaying variant.

Ok, so here's Arn's sheet:

I've held off giving him Feats, as that's another matter entirely and depends on the system you are using.
He has a CR of 50, a CP of 19, and a dex bonus of 10 to add to the mix. I've added a box for Combat Maneuver Rating (CMR). This is his CR, minus his CP, plus his dex bonus. It is representative of his overall strengths and weaknesses, and is a great indicator of initiative rating. This number can be used for a wide variety of things.
Edit: the CMR dex bonus rating is d100, not d20. I'll fix the character sheet soon.

At a CR of 50, Arn fights equivalent to a 10th level fighter. As such, he gets a second attack at +25 each round.

A great strategy for Arn would be to parry with his first attack. A parry subtracts the CR from the opponents CR,  potentially forcing his opponent to roll a 01-05 to hit. He then gets a second free attack in the round at +25.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shield Usage

I've experimented with a number of ways of implementing shields in the combat system I use. The most obvious way, subtracting 5 from your Combat Penalty, just doesn't give enough of a benefit, particularly if you are a "walking tank".

I've played using a 50/50 rule. That is, for any attack roll, there is 50% chance that the attack hits the shield.
I've never been thrilled with that approach.

The one that makes the most game sense to me is to treat the shield as a weapon. That is, fighting with a shield is not unlike fighting with two weapons. However, rather than require the "Two Weapon Fighting" Feat, it requires a proficiency in shield usage. A member of the Fighter Class automatically gets proficiency in light, medium, and heavy shield use. Rogues are limited to light shield use, which requires a proficiency.
Normal non-proficiency penalties apply.

Here is a table for Shield Weights, combat values, and such.

The first column lists the weight of the shield, which is added to the user's combat penalty. The second column gives the combat value of the shield, which counters the weight. A small leather shield will give an opponent +5% to hit you because of the weight of the shield, but -10% to hit because of the combat value of the shield, resulting in a net combat value of  +5%.

The leather shield has an AC value of 8. Using the shield does not affect your attack with your weapon hand. The shield provides partial cover against ranged attacks. It offers no bonus to a Bull Rush. Using the shield as a weapon, the shield has a -15 damage modifier.

Lets go to our character Sebastiano. He had a Combat Rating of 27, and a Combat Penalty of 3. He is going to use a medium wooden shield. The 15 pounds of weight brings his Combat Penalty to 18. However, the shield has a combat value of 15, which is added to his Combat Rating. Defending with his shield gives him a Combat Rating of 27 + 15, or 42. He subtracts this from his combat Penalty, for a new Combat Penalty of -24.

When defending with a shield, any attack that "misses" the defender automatically hits the shield. The shield mitigates any damage to the defender.

Example: A Hill Giant a Combat Rating of 40 takes a swing at Sebastiano. Without a Shield, Sebastiano has a Combat Penalty of -3. The Giant would have to roll a 37 or lower to hit.

Instead, Sebastiano uses his shield, with a new Combat Penalty of -24. The Giant must now roll a 16 or less to hit.

The Giant rolls a 30, a "miss". The blow strikes the wooden shield. The Giant rolls for damage. He wields a club 2 handed, and has a +11 damage modifier. The giant rolls a d10, and gets a 5.   5 + 11 is 16. The table below is consulted, and the damage reduced accordingly.

16 damage against a wooden shield reduces the damage roll to 3. The standard damage table is consulted, as well as the hit location table. A roll of 47 indicates a hit to the upper left arm, which is protected by AC8 leather. A 3 against AC8 does 9 points of damage.

Had he not had a shield, he would have taken 19 points damage to the same location.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alternative Combat Rules

One of the things that always bothered me was the basic combat system for d20 style and similar games.
Early on in my gaming career, I adopted Arms Law into my campaign. I thought the idea of more armor making you easier to hit, but you taking less damage, was a neat twist.

However, to me the biggest drawback was needing a separate chart for each weapon. While this was certainly cool from the standpoint of every weapon being custom designed for every armor type, I found it a bit cumbersome.

I soon took to designing my own system, inspired by the same basic principle. I have used it for many years in my campaigns, and am quite happy with it. Among other things, it encourages players to wear lighter armor, and works weal with adventures that require stealth. In addition, I find that there is a lot more control over weapon and monster design, making a monster virtually impervious to weapons, or having sneak attacks that deal dozens of points of damage on the unarmored and unaware.

I'll start by introduction the character sheet:

We have a fighter, Sebastiano, who has an impressive array of statistics. Generate stats your favorite way.
Then, indicate your d20 attribute bonus. The following column is the d100 attribute bonus. This is simply the d20 attribute bonus, x5. His Strength of 18 gives him a d20 bonus of 4, and a d100 bonus of 20.

He has 27 hit points, which is also his "Combat Rating", or CR. His hit points total at zero level was his Constitution or Stamina, divided by 2, giving him 9 points. He rolled a 7 at level 1, and a 5 at level 3. At each of those levels he was awarded his d20 bonus of 3.

Next, we have to pick armour. For this we need an armor weight table. Sebastian is going to wear a light plate (AC4) breastplate, bracers, and helmet. For movement and stealth purposes, he will wear leather (AC8) on his legs and upper arms. A light plate cuirass weighs 18 pounds. The helmet is 2 pounds. The bracers are 4 pounds each. His leather armor weighs a total of 5 pounds. His armor comes to a total of 33 pounds.
Next we'll pick a weapon. He is going to go with the light two handed sword (a 10 pound sword), avoiding "to hit" penalties for a heavier two handed sword, but still taking advantage of his 1.5 damage bonus modifier for his strength attribute. His damage bonus with his sword is +6.

His Combat Penalty (CP) is calculated by adding up all the weight he is carrying, and subtracting his weight allowance. His armor and weapons come to a total of 43 pounds. He is allowed a standard 20 pound weight allowance, and his strength d20 bonus gives him another 20 pounds of allowance. His CP is 3.

Calculating hit probability is quit simple. The Attacker's CR is added to the Defender's CP. So, if Sebastian was fighting himself, he would have add his CR (27) to his doppleganger's CP (3) for a "to hit" score of 30. He has not yet used his Dexterity Bonus. For simplicity, we will say his Doppleganger gets no dexterity bonus. Sebastian has 15 points to play with, which is his d100 Dexterity bonus. He has to keep it in units of 5, so he will put 5 points into defense, reducing his CP to -2, and He will put the other 10 points into offense, bringing his total to hit to 40.

If he rolls a 40 or lower on d100 he hits. His doppelganger has a CR of 27, and Sebastian has a CP of -2. His doppelganger needs a 25 or lower to hit him.

Sebastian rolls a 33, hitting the doppelganger. Now we need to know exactly where he was hit, so we can calculate damage. Rolling a d100 and consulting the Armor Hit Location table on the left of the Character sheet, we get a 62. This number is between 56 and 95, so a hit to the torso is indicated. The doppelgagner is wearing light plate on his torso.

Next, we need to calculate damage, and for that we will need the damage chart. There is only one chart required for all weapons.

All damage for all weapons is rolled using a d10. Strength and weapon modifiers are added to the roll.
Sebastian rolls a 4. His sword does not have any damage modifiers, but he gets a +6 to damage due to his strength d20 bonus (+4) and his use of a two handed weapon multiplies his bonus by 1.5

6 is added to the 4, for a total of 10. This is cross indexed with the light plate AC4 column, for a total of 6 points damage. Had the attack hit an area that was covered by AC8 leather, the damage would have been 14 points.

For each 10 points of damage dealt in a single blow, an opponent is stunned for 1 round. The opponent can not counter attack, and the attacker gets a +10 bonus against the stunned opponent. If the attacker went first in the round and the opponent loses his counter attack in the round due to the stun, the following round he loses initiative and is subject to the +10 bonus against him. If the stunning attack occurs at the end of a round, the stunned opponent is stunned for the entire following round.

That's pretty much it. I believe I've covered all the bases. To calculate damage in excess of 27 points, simply add the damage and the AC together, then multiply by the AC/10 and round .5 up to the next number. Lets say 32 points of damage were done on AC4. 32 and 4 are 36. 36 x .4 = 14.4, which is rounded down to 14.

Sebestiano vs. a housecat

One way to evaluate a combat system is to set an opponent against an average house case. Consulting the weapons chart, my housecat has a CR of 40, with a damage modifier of -19. The cat must succeed in successful claw, claw, and bite attacks to roll once for damage.

Lets say poor Sebastian is sleeping one night, and is attacked by a house cat. Seeing as the cat surprised him (+20) and he was prone (+20), the cat might get an additional +40 to hit. Rolling 3 times and getting results under 80, the cat can roll for damage.

The cat can roll anywhere from 1 to 10, so his modified roll is anywhere from -18 to -9. Looking at the armor chart on against AC10, the cat actually has to roll a 10 to do 1 point of damage. Anything lower than 10, and there is no damage. It is impossible for the cat to harm someone wearing any type of armor on the area of attack.

More examples soon. Feel free to play around with the concept, altering numbers as you see fit. Generally, for each +5 a weapon gets to hit, it gets -1 to damage, and vice versa. Some weapons are worse, but making a weapon too much better creates a super weapon.

Finally, here's a blank character sheet for your use:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Place names in Shatterworld

A reader contacted me, asking why I chose the name "Calabria", as Calabria is a real world region of southern Italy. He was very familiar with Calabria, as that is where is father is from. Here is my response to the inquiry:

I'm of Italian (Sicilian) ancestry myself, and my grandmother's sister married a "Calabrese".

I think that is where the name struck me. I was aware that is was an actual place, but one of my goals is to give the setting "real world" sounding place names, as opposed to everything being some exotic name. My design goal is that the place names sort of "ground" the setting, making the "fantastic" elements of it really seem unusual. (BTW, Calabria has a hard "C", as in Kal-á-bree-ah)

As for other place names, Freehold is a town in New Jersey where my aunt lives, and Woodbury Forest is the neighborhood my parents lived in for 20 years in Charlotte, NC.

The Dwarven stronghold will be named Stonehaven, another neighborhood in Charlotte.

The main paved road winding through Calabria is based on the Appian Way, or Via Appia. I've decided to keep use of the Latin, and go with the Imperial Way, or Via Imperium.

For the northern city of Birg Nor, I wanted it to have Nordic Influence, because the Dwarves live in the mountain range across the Northren Sea. Birg is derivative of Berg, or "mountain", in German. Burg in German is "city" (hence, Burgermesiter, master of the city, and Iceberg, "ice mountain"). "Nor" is my abbreviation of "north" or "nordic".

Pitkin and Carín sound mundane enough, but I wanted the "Rome" of the country to have something a little bit exotic sounding, and sort of romance languagey. (like that term?). So Len Draal came to mind.

Wyvern's Point is the only place name that to me feels "gamey" sounding, but I can live with it because I've made wyrms, wyverns, and gryphons sort of "mundane" creatures, with true "D&D" dragons being much more exotic. To me, this emulates actual real world heraldry, so sort of feels right.

I find coming up with appropriate name places to be a very difficult process requiring much thought to establish the kind of feel I want for the campaign world. I want it to feel like a real place you might have read about somewhere, rather than some bizarre place out of World of Warcraft or Everquest where up is down and down is up, and magic is as common as a cup of Starbucks.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What races are in your campaign, and what can players play?

In the original rules for D&D, there was a big advantage to being human. The idea was that the world was mostly human, with demi-humans being hidden and mysterious and things of myth. In many campaigns, it is hard to find a straight up human player. With all the non-humans running around, the GM has to create rational for this in the campaign. Like magic, non-humans can become ubiquitous and mundane. If "diversity" spreads to ever small village and hamlet, where lies the awe in discovering the heart of Elvinkind? The mountain stronghold of the Dwarves?

Players and GMs should consider the overall feel of the world they want to play in. IMO, there should be plenty of room left for mystery. If a player portrays a character of a non human race, the GM has to give them much information about how that race fits into the campaign. This is information much better revealed through gameplay, rather than character creation. There can only be so many orphans left on doorsteps who have no knowledge of their heritage.

How prevalent are monsters? Is the campaign like something out of a wild west movie, with orcs in the place of indians and full pitched battles happening on a regular basis? Or do the monsters lurk in shadow, and only interact with humans when they are forced to by unusual forces?

Does the sight of a dragon flying overhead fill a typical villager with dread, or it is a ho-hum event like us seeing an airliner.

What about "dungeon clearing"? When a lair of monsters IS discovered, is the goal to go in and slay every last one of them? Or are their numbers so awe inspiring, their survival instinct so honed, that merely being discovered by them spells doom.This story to me, demonstrates what the result should be of being discovered in any lair:


by Lord Dunsany

A sojourn to a lair should have a specific goal. Not a "search and destroy", but a rescue, a specific treasure, or some information. Any deviation from the plan to achieve that goal should be very costly. Traipsing around in full suits of armor should spell the early death of a party. Provide ample opportunity for stealth to be rewarded.

Create monsters that are feared, rather than just a means to get XP

What Place Does Magic Play?

It is easy for a campaign to get out of control, magic wise. Take "light", a first level wizards spell. It lasts one hour per level of the wizard. (In original rules, it lasted until it was put out). With enough wizards running around in your campaign world, every single town could have streetlights lit all night long with light spells. At this point, is magic really magical? Make something common enough, and it isn't magic at all. It is simply mundane.

What about flying? The most interesting, well planed out architectural challenges can be thwarted by a flying character. And adventure that could last an entire evening can be circumvented by one annoying fly spell. Oh sure, you can embed the structure with all sorts of counter magic, making it impossible to fly. But it becomes an arms war... upping the magic ante to make basic things feel basic.

Teleportation? Again, a bane of well planned adventure design. Simple common spells that force a GM to think several steps ahead and up the ante, making magic so ubiquitous that all feeling of mystery and antiquation is lost. 

Think hard about what spells you allow in your campaign. You may get some harsh protests, but limiting the spells your players have access to can create a much richer experience for all.

How common are magic items?

Is there a "magic shop" in every village, littering the landscape like Starbucks? Or are magic items mystical, mysterious, and rare. Sure there are a lot of creatures that require a magic items to be struck, but a little rule bending (and reliance on traditional folklore) and that item could be made of a specific mundane material.

Vampires and werewolves have an aversion to silver. Many fae creatures abhor iron. A nice silver backup dagger, or an impromptu fireplace poker, can make a nice stand in for traditional magic items.

As for combat advantage, nothing wrong with having quality weapons that afford a +1 or +2 without being magical.
Keeps everyone on their toes, and makes finding the right weapon for the right foe part of the adventure.

What about wands, rings, etc...
Lets get back to that "light" spell. How about a type of rock, a material component for the spell, that is required. So you can't just make anything light up. It has to be a specific element, perhaps only found in a certain part of the campaign world. Lets say rose quartz for the heck of it. So you have one rock, non magical, the size of an orange, that you can make light up with a light spell. If you lose it, you have to go adventuring. Or maybe find a lapidary in a decent sized town, or an old woman, shunned by the villagers, who deals in folk magic and lives in a hut at the end of a village.

Wands and rings, rather than having powers of their own, can magnify the powers of those using it. Want a magic wand? Go make one! One that maybe casts a couple of extra first level spells a day. YOUR spells, not spells "embedded" in the wand. Maybe that rose quartz is embedded in a ring, so that light spell can be cast from your hand.

Leave the "real" magic to adventuring. And don't be afraid to let a group get ahold of a magic item that is far more powerful than their level would seem to allow. They don't have to keep it. Let them have fun playing with items before Fate steps in and takes it away, keeping game balance in play but having the excitement of powerful magic in the world.

It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing experience. Done right, low level adventures can be very exciting, and the players don't have to be in a race to attain high levels just to have a good time and a chance at survival, and get to play with the "cool" stuff without throwing off game balance and escalating the magic arms race in a campaign world.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Makes for a Good Campaign?

The Village of Hommlet
There was a time when I had played every single current title that TSR had published. At least monthly, I would go to the local bookstore, hoping that something new would have arrived on the racks. After playing The Village of Hommlet, there were years that went by that I would hope against hope that the legendary "T2: Temple of Elemental Evil" would actually be published. (It eventually was,  and it was NOT what I was expecting or hoping for)

Much to my chagrin, when titles did arrive, they were in no way connected to any previous titles.

Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Well, there were exceptions. There was the Against the Giants (Actually the G series), which had their moments, followed by the "D" series and culminating in Queen of the Demonweb Pits. But these publications spanned almost a three year gap in publishing. We used to eat modules for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner. All summer long.

If all this sounds greek to you, it shows you how far the game of Dungeons and Dragons has come. But the salient point is, there simply was not enough material published by one company to satisfy our rate of consumption. So we'd purhcase this module from this company, that one from that one. Add in an alternate combat and spellcasting system from someone else. You get the idea... it was all very hodge podge.

The thing that kept it all together... kept all of us coming back day after day, week after week, was the campaign world. For every hour of play, I'd spend at least an equivalent hour, and would laboriously pour over these adventures, and try to weave them together with the players past experiences. Often times I would far overreach, making the stories far more complex than the players ever grasped. But the sense of richness it created was there. The world FELT real.

If you went into a village, and talked to a blacksmith, he might recognize the sigil on the hilt of your sword, and an entire night might be filled spent drinking in a tavern and learning local lore from the blacksmith and his friends. They would be aware of your past deeds, and either respect or fear you, based on things you might have even forgotten you had done.

Monsters weren't just faceless stats. They were famous. They had names, reputations. Earning the moniker "giant slayer" might either make you either a target, or grant you safe passage through the heartland of hulking beasts. A blow from a giant's club might be halted as one of your companions calls out a warning to you.

"Stealthshadow, duck!"
"'Stealfshader? The one who killt Mardok the Mountain with a single arrow? Criminy! Run!!!" (Gotta love those alternate combat systems with critical hit charts)

Where does all this take place? And why are there all these dungeons filled with treasure everywhere?

The archetypes of D&D are based in real world history, mythology, and folklore. They are also based on famous novels or movies. This presents some interesting issues. How can you have a Hobbit if you don't have a shire? How can you have a Paladin if you don't have Charlemagne? How can you have a Druid if you don't have Celts? How can you have Cathedrals if you don't have Christianity? How can you have Rangers if you don't have an Aragorn? The answers to these question result in unique campaign settings, some more satisfying than others. The closer the campaign world is to the origin of a specific class or race, the more authentic it feels for that class or race. So the campaign worlds tend to borrow, heavily from their sources.

Of course, the extreme of this is to set the campaign in a literary setting. You can campaign in Middle-earth, the Dragonlance setting, etc... While this gives the players and GMs a good familiarity with the campaign world, it can also be restricting. In a series like Dragonlance, what happens when the players do something the literary characters didn't? In Middle-earth, what happens if Frodo fails to destroy the ring?

A decent balance between disconnected episodes, and a campaign dictated by a pre-existing storyline, is exemplified in many TV shows. And honestly, the worse the show is, sometimes the better the model for a campaign world. Xena and Hercules come to mind as perfect models for campaign worlds. There's lots of action, recurring characters, and in the end, a loose progression of story.

Something like Fringe is a bit more ambitious, as it centers around an elaborate mythology. A campaign designed this way can be very rewarding, but takes a huge amount of commitment from the GM and the players. But in the end, what Fringe is really about is simple... the relationship between a Father and a Son. Don't be afraid of the big arcs... but don't forget the heart behind the story either.

Plot in RPGs

I've been reading in and partaking in lots of discussions online lately of the role of "story" in RPGs, and the merits and weaknesses of "plot" in relation to role playing. I thought I'd start out this blog by expressing some thoughts on the subject.

I'll crib from the Wikipedia entry on plot:

"Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence."

Patterns may be developed by players or GMs. Time in an RPG is generally linear, and events tend to play out sequentially. However, it is certainly possible to present RPG's via flashbacks, or to incorporate time travel. The sequential nature of events is not a given.