Thursday, November 25, 2010
That is doubly true when using the Chainmail combat rules, rather than the "alternative" (d20) combat system. That alternative, d20 combat system diluted the power of those magic swords, and it, along with the innovation of hit points, were a baleful influence on future versions of D&D.
Remembering that the Chainmail combat rules were ODnD's original, default rules, this quote from Chainmail gives some indication of how magic swords were first viewed by Gygax as he penned ODnD:
"Magic Swords: because these weapons are almost entities in themselves, they accrue real advantage to the figure so armed. In normal combat they merely add an extra die. It is in fantastic combat the magical swords are most potent. Besides allowing Elves to combat certain fantastic figures, they give a plus 1 to the dice score when employing the Fantasy Combat Table, and Magical Swords shed a light of their own over a circle 12" in diameter (6" radius) which dispels darkness but does not equal full light. Excalibur and other 'super swords' would give a plus two or three!"
-- Chainmail, p.38
"Merely" adds an extra die? In mentioning the addition of an extra die, Gygax refers, of course, to the use of d6's, in Chainmail's normal (mass) combat rules, to determine the chance of wounding one's opponent. Using Chainmail's normal (mass) combat rules, and assuming both combatants are "armored footmen", either combatant needs to score a 6, on a single d6, to wound his opponent. The combatant with the magic sword, who adds an extra d6, needs to roll a 6 on either of his 2d6, and therefore has a 31% (11/36) chance of wounding his opponent, while the combatant, without the magic sword, has a 17% (1/6) chance of doing the same.
Put another way, that +1 sword, in ODnD, is actually a +3 sword, if you were to convert the odds of wounding over to the alternative, d20 combat system (you need an 18+ on a d20 without the magic sword, or a 15+ with the magic sword). Add to that, the 3% (1/36) chance that the magic-sword-weilding-combatant will score two wounds, and that humble +1 sword looks potent indeed!
Gygax's reference to the "addition of an extra die in normal combat" is more problematic (and potentially powerful), when you consider its application to Chainmail's man-to-man combat rules. Taking the "addition of an extra die" at face value, you could interpret this to mean you roll 3d6, instead of 2d6, when consulting the man-to-man combat table. Again, assuming the employment of our ubiquitous +1 sword, against an opponent with Plate Armor and a Shield, our odds improve from 11+ on 2d6 (3/36 or 8%) to 11+ on 3d6 (109/216 or 50%).
Again, converting this to the alternative, d20 combat system, that +1 sword actually improves my chances of wounding my opponent, from 19+, to 11+. My +1 sword just became a +8 sword!
Even if you dismiss that extreme interpretation, in favor of a more reasonable +1 to the dice score on the man-to-man table, your run-of-the-mill +1 magic sword is still very potent. Against Plate, your odds of wounding improve from 17% to 28%. Against other types of armor, your odds improve from 42% to 58%. Those odds turn that simple +1 sword into a +2 or +3 sword, when converted to the alternative, d20 combat system.
I see no evidence in ODnD that magic swords were considered to be anything but the puissant and dangerous items suggested by the Chainmail rules. In addition to the above combat bonuses, there was a 50% chance that a magic sword would have sufficient Intelligence to have a Will of its own, which it would attempt to impose upon its wielder:
"Swords: among magic weaponry, swords alone possess certain human attributes. Swords have an alignment, and intelligence factor and an egoism rating .... If the Intelligence/Egoism of the sword is six or more points above that of the character who picks it up, the sword will control the person ...." -- D&D Volume II, Monsters & Treasure, p. 27
This was the case, even of the lowly +1 magic sword. Indeed, those +1 swords had a 50% chance of having some special power, a 25% chance of talking, and 17% chance of reading magic or having some other extraordinary ability.
The most powerful sword bonus in ODnD was +3, and for good reason. A +3 sword would truly have been the equivalent of an Excalibur or Stormbringer, particularly if the sword had high intelligence, ego, and several extraordinary abilities to boot. The dilution of the magic sword, first, by the introduction (without adjustment of the odds) of the alternative, d20 combat system, and second, by the introduction of hit points and accompanying applications of 'bonuses to damage' instead of additional wounds, along with a host of additional features to add "granularity" to D&D, led us to the current morass of +16 Swords of Valiant Smiting and Characters with 40 hit points at first level.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Beginnings are always difficult. This is no less true for a Dungeons and Dragons game we've planned for this weekend, to celebrate American Thanksgiving with some friends.
I've two places from which to begin the adventure: one, a decadent, crumbling city in the throws of an economic slump; two, a small town on the borderland, surrounded, on several sides, by ancient ruined cities and temples. Depending on which place the game starts will affect the tone of the game. If it begins in the city, we start with a bustling, urban feel to the game. If in a town, the tone is bleak, windswept, insular and isolated.
The city gives us more opportunities for rumours and varied character backgrounds. But the town provides more focus, as is easier for me, the DM, to manage and circumscribe the adventure options.
The outdoor map, above, is a small slice of the 1981 Dwarfstar Games Barbarian Prince game map. Barbarian Prince is one of the microgames that I always wanted to own, but found far too expensive in the resale market to justify purchasing. Fortunately, you can download a free digital copy from the above link, courtesy of the games licenseholder, Reaper Miniatures. Over at Sigils & Sinews, the author is running a solo Barbarian Prince game which I am following with interest.
The Barbarian Prince digital map is one that I can appreciate and would prefer to employ in my games, since it uses the sort of mapping style that I prefer, and the digital map can be printed at a resolution that makes it easy to add notes and icons to the map for quick reference. The Barbarian Prince map also uses a hex id system (similar to the SPI or traveller subsector maps) that allows one to keep separate notes on the contents of each hex.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I've been giving a great deal of thought, lately, to the design of a megadungeon. One of the purported features of a megadungeon is that it is a "living" dungeon: it is constantly changing, both in its inhabitants and construction. Adventurers come and go, and as they do, killed monsters are replaced by new ones, and conflict between the denizens continues. In addition, new areas are opened up, either through new construction, magic, or perhaps primal forces at work, warping the environment.
I have not yet arrived at a satisfactory solution to my mapping problem. Perhaps different wall colors on my map, or modifying the fill behind the walls to signify different construction? However, I am leaning towards using different Hirst Arts floor and wall tiles to signify different construction areas to the players.
Monday, November 22, 2010
If you are looking at something other than their eyes (i'm referring here to the boxed text, folks) you're probably missing some important information.
Boxed text has always been a bugaboo of mine: I don't like when it is read to me. First, I can read it faster that you can say it, so just hand me the text and i'll read the damn thing myself. Second, the delivery is often mediocre, so I tend to tune out while it's being read. Third, boxed text sometimes delivers information that is superfluous to the encounter, so you just wasted my time and yours. Fourth, the reading of prepared text seems artificial and therefore interferes with player immersion.
I disagree with those who think that information about the environment must be pried from the DM. The DM acts as your eyes, ears, and rest of your senses. Therefore, when the players first enter an important area, any information that is easily noted (particularly if it is relevant to the area or encounter) should be immediately and clearly revealed. Again, eye contact is important here: the players will give you non-verbal feedback as to which parts of your delivery were processed and which parts were not. I'm never shy to repeat something, if I don't think the players processed that information, the first time around.
It is trite to say that people only hear 20% of what they are told. This axiom applies when a great deal of (or very complicated) information is supplied. That is, the more information you communicate, in a continuous stream, the more difficult it is for the receiver to keep all of that information in the forefront of their mind, and sort out the extraneous from the important. That's another reason why I dislike boxed text. The players sit there, passively, while the DM reads, and reads, and reads, and reads. Without eye contact, you can't tell when the players are beginning to tune you out.
When drawing dungeons, outdoor environments and other adventure locations, my preference is to include little bits of one or two-word reference text, and small icons representing certain features, on the map. This allows me to quickly confirm critical details, so as to spend as little time as possible looking down at my papers, and as much time as possible looking at the players. That way, I can easily assess whether I have successfully communicated the environment, and anticipate what additional information is needed to help the players navigate the adventure.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Another magical item from Mormonism (borrowed from ancient Israelite culture). A Urim and Thummim is a set of magical spectacles. They act as both read magic and read languages spells, thus allowing the user to read magical and foreign writings.
A Urim and Thummim can be a set of spectacles, two precious gems or stones set in a frame of silver or other precious metal, or a leather or metal breastplate, to which is attached a viewing apparatus.
Prolonged use of a Urim and Thummim can cause blindness or temporary insanity, particularly when used by Fighters. For every 10 minutes of Urim and Thummim use, roll a d20. If the result is greater than the characters Intelligence or Wisdom (plus the character's level, if a Magic-User or Cleric, or half the character's level, if a Thief) the character suffers some mental affliction. For every 10 minutes of use, per day, after the first 10 minutes, subtract one from your combined attribute and level score.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
The Liahona will only work for a cleric of the appropriate faith. If carried before the cleric, it acts like a permanent "find the path" spell, allowing the cleric to lead others along the shortest route to any location or object. It also gives the bearer the ability to roll two dice, instead of one, every time he attempts to search for something (traps, secret doors, hidden treasures, etc,). In addition, once per day, it can be used as a "commune" spell, to obtain direction from the deity.
The Liahona only works if the cleric is leading a group to achieve an objective considered appropriate to his faith.
If the cleric does something to anger his deity, or if his companions are not of the same faith, or have lapsed, this magic item ceases to function.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
My unstated intention, was to give something to each of the responders, in addition to The Dying Earth RPG going to the winner.
The winner of a copy of the Dying Earth RPG, selected randomly, is shimrod. Congratulations! Email me your mailing address and I will post that RPG to you. To the other six of you, feel free to select one of the following items, by responding to this blogpost: items are on a first-come, first-served basis. Once you have responded, please email me with your mailing address so I can send your item along. And thanks to everyone for playing, again, the responses were superlative!
1. Working Copy Of the Ready Ref Sheets
2. The Fantasy Trip's Death Test, Death Test 2, Grail Quest
3. The Fantasy Trip, In The Layrinth
4. Swords & Wizardry - Core Rules
5. M.A.R. Barker's The Man Of Gold
6. Fritz Leiber's Swords & Deviltry and Swords Against Death
7. My "Working Copies" of the first Three Arduin Grimoires
8. deCamp & Pratt's The Compleat Enchanter
9. Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword
10. Castles & Crusades Players Handbook
11. Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid Games)
12. TSR's Star Frontiers (no box)
13. FGU's Starships & Spacemen
14. The Fineous Treasury
15. TSR's TM1 & TM 2, Trail Maps, Western & Eastern Countries
16. Jack Vance, The Dying Earth
I also have several 1st Edition AD&D Hardcover volumes, including Legends & Lore, Oriental Adventures, Tome of Magic, Dungeoneers and Wilderness Survival Guides and Dragonlance Adventures. If any of those appeal to you, select them instead.
I'm already scheming about how I will celebrate my 320th follower milestone...
Friday, November 12, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Name Of The Rose is one of my favorite films. Besides starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater, two fine, accomplished actors, it is set in the 14th century, at a medieval abbey gripped with fear due to a handsome monk's recent and unholy murder. More murders follow. Connery and Slater's characters arrive at the abbey shortly after the first murder, and attempt to solve the crimes. The abbey is the site of a massive library, off-limits to visitors: its contents hold the key to revealing the motive behind the mysterious deaths.
If you have never seen this movie, or have not seen it in some time, you are strongly encouraged to do so. As inspiration for a murder-mystery adventure for fantasy role-playing, this movie has few peers. There is little in the way of combat, but if you like atmosphere, fantastic sets and elaborate puzzles, this is sure to appeal to you.
One of the set-pieces of this film: a labyrinthine library, filled with octagonal rooms and rising and decending staircases. The two principles become separated and lost within the library, and use their wits to locate each other, retrace their steps and eventually find egress. It's commonly held that dungeon labyrinths are a bore, when it comes to rpg adventuring. I'm sympathetic to that view. Imagine your typical dungeon labyrinth, but now in three dimensions. Doesn't seem that appealing, does it? But, instead of being a labyrinth, what if that many-staired and chambered space was rather a nexus-point, a convergence of stairs and passages, going up, down and across, and giving the players a plethora of adventuring alternatives?
That has been on my mind the last couple of days, as I search for a way to design and develop a dungeon environment which provides maximum latitude to the players to strike out and pursue their own dungeon-delving interests. One of the constraints on the full enjoyment of a campaign by role players is the suspicion that they are being railroaded. What could be more freeing, for both the DM and the players, than that the mega-dungeon have a nexus-point, leading to a myriad potential adventures, with easy access to the surface and the dungeon-locales which most interest the players?
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Knowing that about me will be of assistance, then, in understanding why I experienced some initial resistance to The Dying Earth RPG character creation system.
The Dying Earth RPG (DERPG) is a deliciously punctilious role-playing game adaptation of the fantasy world conjured by Jack Vance bearing the same name. The introductory chapter to DERPG sets the tone for Dying Earth campaigns, by promulgating the following admonishments:
1. If you're in a fight, something has probably gone horribly wrong ... far better to gain the upper hand through cunning, wit and treachery;
2. Characters are more or less alike ... Dying Earth characters have lightly characterised, streamlined personalities;
3. Killing? How uncivilized ... the accepted way to defeat an opponent is through humiliation, impoverishment and slavery; and,
4. Your character will inevitably suffer reverses. Try to enjoy it ... since character improvement comes from entertaining the other players and GM, look at dismal and ridiculous predicaments as opportunities to use your creativity.
Having been properly forewarned in the introduction, the second chapter of DERPG dives into character creation. Like most role-playing games, every character has certain attributes. In the case of DERPG, there are six principal attributes, which I will equate, roughly, with a D&D equivalent:
Persuade (Charisma) -- this attribute determines how convincing you are
Rebuff (Wisdom) -- this determines your resistance to being hoodwinked
Attack (Strength) -- this determines your combat ability
Defence (Dexterity) -- this determines your ability to avoid blows
Health (Constitution) -- this determines your capacity to absorb damage
Magic (Intelligence) -- this determines your magical aptitude
I use those purported equivalences only as a blunt instrument, to provide some conceptual signposts. The actual employment of the DERPG attributes differs significantly from the use of the cited D&D attributes. Each DERPG attribute, above, will have a score attached to it. In combination with that score, each attribute has six styles. For example, I might have a Persuade score of 9. In addition, I will have one of the following persuade styles: glib, eloquent, obfuscatory, forthright, charming, or intimidating.
In addition to the above attributes, DERPG characters utilize a "faculties" system, that encompasses attack styles, skills, relationships, retainers, possessions, and temptation resistances.
DERPG uses a point-buy method of character creation. Between the six principal attributes and the additional "faculties", each player begins with 60 points to distribute between the attributes and faculties. If players are prepared to allow their attribute 'styles' to be generated randomly, they are awarded an additional 6 points for each attribute style so generated. Since the Health attribute has no related styles, a player could have as many as 90 points [60 + (5 attributes x 6 points)] to distribute between the attributes and faculties.
Points can be allocated to the following faculties:
Attack Styles: there are six attack styles, with each style costing 2 points from the player's pool. Each attack style comes with a melee and missile weapon skill.
Skills: there are 23 skills (Appraisal, Athletics, Concealment, Craftsmanship, Driving, Engineering, Etiquette, Gambling, Imposture, Living Rough, Pedantry, Perception, Physician, Quick Fingers, Riding, Scuttlebutt, Seamanship, Seduction, Stealth, Stewardship, Tracking, Wealth, and Wherewithal). More than one point can be allocated to a particular skill, so a player may give his character a "gambling" skill of 4 -- thus increasing his chances of success should he engage in a game of cards, for example.
Relationships: players can assign points to relationships with certain notable figures (a prince, famous wizard, captain of the watch) giving them the possibility of enlisting their aid.
Retainers: the cost of those depend on how loyal the retainer is expected to be, whether they be diligent (expensive), unctuous, or recalcitrant (cheap).
Possessions: points must be spent to furnish yourself with worldly goods. Whether it be a foppish hat, fashionable cloak, a length of rope to bind a deodand, a treatise on edible plants, or a good stout cudgel to subdue your foes, each possession costs at least one point. Extra points can be spent to ensure you and your possessions are not easily parted.
Resistances: DERPG characters are notoriously susceptible to temptation, whether it be through arrogance, avarice, gourmandism, indolence, pettifoggery, or rakishness. Players who wish their characters to resist those temptations during the game must spend points during character creation to do so.
There, then, is an overview of the DERPG character creation system. As I mentioned earlier, i'm naturally pre-disposed to dislike point-buy systems, and just as equally resistant to skill systems (despite my affection for Traveller). I will grudgingly admit that this works for DERPG, insofar as the game itself presumes that "characters are more or less alike". Thus, it stands to reason that the character creation system is going to provide roughly equal points to each player. Still, I can't help but wonder whether the DERPG attributes themselves could not be randomly determined ... but there again, my old prejudices rearing their heads.
Several days ago, I passed the 200 followers milestone. I am humbled and honored. There seems to be a tradition in the blogging community (albeit imperfectly observed) that the affected blogger celebrate the occasion by running a contest. Since I have recently become infatuated with The Dying Earth RPG, it is only fitting that I should award a copy of this illustrious RPG tome to one of my wonderful readers. Therefore, from those responders who comment on this post, I will select one, randomly, to which I will bequeath a relatively unblemished copy of that RPG. I ask only that, in your response, you use a Vancian phrase, or Vancian language. From those who respond in the requested manner by 11:59 pm, November 12, 2010, one will be randomly selected and will be mailed the RPG, at my expense.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
This portion of the Kaiin map shows 'old town' -- crumbling ruins which lie north of the city proper, just outside of the city gates. It is the the haunt of Chun the Unavoidable, who wears a robe of eyes. Gary Gygax drew his idea for AD&D's Robe of Eyes from The Dying Earth tale of Liane the Wayfarer and Chun the Unavoidable.
Several of the crumbling structures in Old Town were built to resemble the people who commissioned the buildings.
The Dying Earth RPG's world, regional and city maps are absolutely gorgeous, with lots of visually interesting detail, buildings and ruins. Kaiin itself is ancient city, filled with cynical, obtuse, selfish residents, who are not above swindling, murdering or enslaving naive visitors.
I've been giving some thought to Pat's Red Box Calgary campaign, and would love to use old town as the site for my adventures, since it is largely undeveloped, but its numerous ruined locales suggest mystery and adventure.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
About six weeks ago, Rob Conley, from Bat In The Attic, posted the above comparison of the Street of the Knights, in Rhodes, to the Emrikol the Chaotic illustration in the original AD&D Players Handbook. I find the comparison of those two pictures endlessly fascinating. Did Tramp actually go to Rhodes, and while there, snap a picture from which he drew his inspiration, or did he find this image in a travelogue of some sort, and use that to set his scene?