16 August 2018

Healing: The Disabled List and Character Rosters

Major League Baseball has something called a disabled list. I'm sure other sports have something similar, but I only follow baseball. Athletes get hurt. Sometimes badly, and sometimes often. With limited rosters, teams need flexibility to bring in a replacement, usually from the team's AAA affiliate, sometimes elsewhere in the farm system, or more seldom by trade/free agency.

Adventurers also get hurt. Sometimes badly, and generally often. In most games, however, players don't have a roster of characters that they use. What if they did? And what if they could put a character on the disabled list in order to call up a fresh replacement "from the farm"? And what if, like a major league team, the roster size was limited, creating (hopefully) interesting decisions about when to DL a player, when to soldier on, and what to do about the roster crunch created by characters coming off the DL?

I feel a mechanic like this is especially important when using a descriptive damage system as I do. Characters tend to get pretty roughed up, and there needs to be a better way of dealing with it than bogging down the whole party going back to home base.

The Character Roster



Players have an "primary roster" (edit: also called the "active roster") of characters they can choose to adventure with (edit: adventure with as player characters). They also have a "secondary roster" which consists of their active roster and any henchmen they have.

The active roster is 5 characters, and the secondary roster is 10 characters.



Players can't just freely put people on and off the disabled list with no consequences. There's pressure to choose their favourite characters, creating interesting decisions.



At the beginning of an adventure (i.e. when leaving "home base"), the player may choose to play any character from their active roster. They may take along any henchmen from their secondary roster.

The Disabled List


There are 2 disabled lists, the 14-day DL and the 60-day DL. Characters on the 14-day DL are removed from the primary roster. Characters on the 60-day DL are removed from the secondary roster.

Once a character has been put on the DL, they are an NPC and simply rest and heal for the duration. They are safe and will not die. They remain an NPC until their time on the DL is up (either 14-day or 60-day).

When you put a character on the DL, either roll up a fresh 1st-level character, take over a henchman or 1st-level hireling, or bring in a standby character from your roster.



The character is healed of all flesh wounds after 14 days, and all (non-permanent) wounds after 60 days. The character is removed from the active roster, making room for a fresh character.

The player doesn't have to play a gimped, wounded character in the meantime.

It encourages procurement and maintenance of a home base.

It gives the party more stamina to work more than a 15-minute adventuring day.



Declare you are moving your active character onto the disabled list, and specify which one.


  • character is not in immediate danger (in combat, in quicksand, surrounded by fire)
  • character could plausibly make it back to base safely (if they can't walk, someone has to go with them)
    • they're not stuck in a pit; they're not surrounded by enemies; they're not being actively hunted for)
  • must have a "home base" available owned/leased by the party (somewhere they can get food and warm bed)

Roster Moves



The character is removed from the active roster and becomes an NPC henchman, with all that entails (they are an NPC with a morale score, they are nominally controlled by the DM but in practice are largely controlled by the PC, etc.).

Characters get 2 "options". Optioning a character uses up an option.


A henchman becomes a PC, with all that entails.


The character is removed from both the active and secondary roster. They are forever more an NPC, and leave the party to make their own way in the world. The DM is free to have the character resurface as a rival, friend, or acquaintance; or perhaps they will never be heard from again; or maybe they'll turn up dead - in any case, their fate is out of the hands of the player.

12 August 2018

Archery: Variable Range Increments

Following up from yesterday's post. A reminder on methodology.

I've taken men's longbow classifications from the Braintree Bowmen in the UK, ranging from 3rd class to Grandmaster Bowman; analyzed them with a tool I made to convert archery scores into to-hit rates on a d20; and applied those results to a variety of ranges for a 65cm target, which I reckon to be comparable to shooting at a human torso.

Each line on the chart represents a score in a "720 round" of archery, converted to be hit/miss against a 65cm target at the stated range.

Analyzing this chart, a thought occurred to me: instead of fixed range increments and a rising attack bonus, what if we had fixed attack bonuses/penalties and range increments that vary with level?

What we get is a system that seems (to me) much more verisimilitudinous. At short range, there's little to no difference in skill. At long range, shots that are essentially impossible for an unskilled bowmen will be easy for a skilled shooter.

What we give up is some granularity in progression, as we probably don't want the range increments to change in such small steps between levels that it makes no real difference.

65cm target 0 -5 -10 -15 -20
3rd Class 5m 10m 15m 20m 25m
2nd Class 10m 20m 30m 40m 50m
Bowman 15m 30m 45m 50m 65m
Master Bowman 20m 40m 60m 80m 100m
Grandmaster Bowman 25m 50m 75m 100m 125m
World-Class Bowman 30m 60m 90m 120m 150m

Now, how about changing target size? The following charts show the effects of changing the target size by doubles and halves.

What we can notice is that for each doubling of  target size, it's as if the lowest-skilled (31 score) bowman is shooting as if they were a middle-skill bowman (157 score). For the "Bowman", it's like shooting as a "Grandmaster Bowman", and so on.

So, changing target sizes can be fairly easily modeled by shifting the effective skill of the archer - double the target size, increase the effective skill two increments. So a "3rd-class" bowman shooting at a target 1.3m across would use the "Bowman" row on the chart.

This is for considered shots in good conditions. Later we will examine more adverse conditions.

8 August 2018

Archery: Towards a Foundation

I was thinking of archery, and was immediately reminded that Delta had done some good work on the subject some time ago: http://deltasdnd.blogspot.ca/2014/04/a-model-of-archery-for-d.html

There's some good stuff there, and I think the methodology is promising, but I think some upstream errors make it less useful/accurate than it could be. With that in mind, I set out to build on those ideas.

Delta used an article in an old Dragon magazine by Robert Barrow (Dragon #58, pp 47-49) as his starting point, which in turn cites Archery by Longman and Walrond, published New York, 1894. I was not able to find that edition online, but did find Archery by Longman and Walrond, London, 1894, which surely must be different edition (likely the original edition) of the same book. Unfortunately, the page numbering is different, and Barrow's citation of pp 240 leads us to a discussion of the history of  the Royal Company of Archers in Scotland, which, while no doubt interesting in its own way, bears not at all on the matter to hand. There is a helpful chart on pp 264, which I would have surmised is the one used by Barrow, except that when I tabulated the data, it doesn't quite match the figures he quoted.

Barrow quotes 92%, 81%, 54% hits at 60, 80, and 100 yards, respectively. I calculated 96%, 86%, and 65%. Perhaps there was an error in his calculations; it was, after all, 1982, and he likely did not have a spreadsheet to do the calculations quickly and easily. Or perhaps he was simply using different data from a different part of the book and the editions are even more different than seems likely. In any case.

What I've done is write a little commandline tool that allows us to enter in a wide range of archery scores and get back out a hit rate for a given range and target size. The Archery data was useful, as it had a hit rate and a score, whereas most modern sources only list the score, and this was very useful to make sure I was getting sane results. I can set the output and input ranges and target sizes to be the same, and the compare the hit rate my model predicted based on the score with the actual hit rate in the data set. I found results were typically within 10% or so, which I'd say is more than good enough for our purposes.

One thing I can tell you - modern archers are much, much better than the archers in the Archery dataset.

So, with this tool in hand, I set out to find some data on how good archers are. I didn't just want a soup of scores, I wanted some guidance/interpretation of what those scores meant. Eventually, I found this site, which helpfully lists scores for 6 "classes" of archers, from 3rd class to Grandmaster. It didn't go all the way to Grandmaster for the 720 round scores I had calibrated my tool for, but this site helpfully allows you to convert a score from one type of round to another (using a similar approach to the CLI tool I made).

So, this got me scores with meanings attached, and my tool allows the conversion of these scores into hit rates for any target size and any range. Results of my investigations in a subsequent post.

3 March 2018

Response to "Fight Semantics" at Tao of D&D

 Alexis and I were discussing why players always want to don their armour before a fight, and we got drawn into the question of the weapon's role in the defense. Alexis is of the opinion that the weapon is already accounted for in the D&D system by the fact that we do not auto-hit an unarmed combatant. This was originally in comments on this post on Tao of D&D, and then continued here, in a new post by Alexis.

Incidentally, that first post is an excerpt from Alexis' "Masterclass" on DM'ing, available to his patrons on Patreon (of which I am one). I can highly recommend it. Alexis analyzes the DMing techniques he has used in his online campaigns in detail, outlining his thought process, what he was trying to do, what worked and what didn't, and generally giving a fascinating look inside the mind of someone who has run more D&D and thought more about the game than probably anyone around.

Alexis is uniquely suited to running a class like this, having DMed for decades, being one of the most considered thinkers on the game (as demonstrated by his long-running blog and several thoughtful books), and by virtue of having two fairly long-running campaigns run on line using Blogger (and which are therefore preserved in their entirety, and available for extensive analysis and discussion).

You should go sign up! Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming. I promise I'm not being paid to say that, haha!

Weapons on the Defensive - not in D&D!

Alexis was making the case that the weapon's role in your defense is already accounted for in the system.

There's only one problem with that idea - dropping your weapon does not change your opponent's chance to hit you whatsoever.

Which I would say is proof-positive that the weapon's defensive role is not, in any way, included in the system. Increasing defensive prowess with level is included (as represented by increasing HP per level). The weapon's role is decidedly not.

Increasing Defensive Skill and Hit Points

As Alexis points out, D&D uses increasing hit points to model increasing defensive ability with level, but not quite in the way Alexis described (at least not in its original incarnation, which I would argue is still the metaphor used in the game today, despite its origins being lost in time).

In Chainmail, one hit was one kill. In OD&D, *on average* one hit was one kill, but they made HP and damage both 1d6 to add a little randomness. The idea was still the Chainmail conceit that one hit killed a normal person. The Chainmail "hero" took 4 hits to kill, essentially giving the hero 3 mulligans on death, and that's the same approach that OD&D took - each additional hit die *on average* is one mulligan against death. A "hit" was always supposed to be a lethal, fight-ending blow. This neatly explains why characters fight at 100% until they're dead. The waters were muddied as time went on and hit dice and weapons started being different dice, but if you clear away the murk, that is the foundation of the current system.

The Issues with Defense in D&D

In analyzing the issues with defense in D&D combat, we need to tease out and treat individually each of the three factors to defense: hard-to-hit, hard-to-hurt, and hard-to-kill. D&D rolls hard-to-hit and hard-to-hurt into one stat (AC), but also puts some of the hard-to-hit into the hit point. It ignores the role of the weapon in hard-to-hit, despite being (possibly) the most important factor. The hit point then involves some hard-to-hit and some hard-to-kill. It's all very muddled.

This muddling causes a variety of issues. For just one, a giant-thrown boulder falling on you doesn't care one whit about your defensive abilities or your armour. It just does damage, and will do damage to Lancelot or his squire equally. But because defensive abilities and life force are rolled into your hit points, and because armour and dexterity are rolled into your hard-to-hit, it's difficult or impossible to tease out how to apply damage in a scenario like that. Theoretically, it would be something like having the giant roll against "touch AC" (which I think only existed as of 3e, being your armour class not counting your armour) and then roll damage multiplied by level (to remove the effect of increasing defensive ability being rolled into the hit points).

Also, because damage doesn't scale up with level, it means that two high-level characters who are equally matched will take a long time to finish a fight, whereas two low-level characters who are equally matched will finish quickly. Which doesn't pass the smell test to me.

Healing is difficult to reconcile into this system, because ostensibly some of your hit points are meat and blood, and some of them are fatigue, and some of them are your increased defensive ability. Well, which ones does a cure spell work on? Which ones get whittled away by walking hours in the cold? It's unclear, because the HP is a mixed metaphor from the get-go.


You can actually fix all this pretty easily in D&D combat by making the following changes.


Weapons and level influence hard-to-hit (i.e. your "AC" is set by a level modifier and a per-weapon modifier). One should actually have three hard-to-hit stats - dodge, block, and parry. Dodge is used against the giant's boulder, a ballista bolt, dragon breath, etc - anything that can't be blocked or parried. Block is used against normal missile attacks and includes the shield. Parry is used against normal melee attacks, and includes the weapon's defensive bonus.


Armour influences hard-to-hurt (i.e. it reduces incoming hit point damage).


And hit points represent only hard-to-kill (i.e. just meat and blood - all hit point loss is of a constant magnitude). This integrates naturally with Alexis' hit points for mass system.


Really, the only difference mechanically from D&D combat is including damage reduction, which is easy enough and better matches our intuitive understanding of what armour does anyway. D&D needs the three categories of hard-to-hit, it just ignores the difference (to its detriment), and it's easy enough to add these to the character sheet.

I don't think any of this is better just because it's more "realistic" (although it is). It's better because it makes each stat clearly model something understandable. This makes it intuitive, easy to understand, and easy to apply to edge cases that weren't necessarily envisioned by the designer. Because the model is explicit and understandable, it's easy for the user to tinker with it, and easy for the DM to make rulings on the fly.

18 December 2017

Railroads vs. Sandboxes

In response to Alexis, here: http://tao-dnd.blogspot.ca/2017/12/everything-is-road.html

This is interesting food for thought, but I don't know that I'm sold on such a broad definition of a railroad - unless I've misunderstood, Alexis is saying any voyage with a destination is now a railroad.

In my mind, the defining features of railroads are the permanence and inflexibility of the route, the scheduled departure and arrival, and the impossibility of changing destination once en route. On a railroad voyage, you are not in control except at stations (where your only choice is to disembark or remain on board until the next station). I cannot board a train and go to my home town. The trains haven't gone there for sixty years. It is impossible. I can go to Montreal, but once I have boarded, I can get off at Kingston or a few other points, but I cannot decide to go to Barrie without disembarking and purchasing a new fare.

Contrast this with a road and a car. I get in, I can pull off the road at any point, stop at a rest stop or just on the shoulder, change destinations at will (along the road network, of course, but at any time). I am in control of the route, the schedule, the destination, and even the moment-to-moment course of the  vehicle, whereas with a train I am not.

The word railroad - emphasis on the "rail" - describes the most restrictive form of travel. Even airlines and cruises, which are superficially similar (set schedules and destinations), have more freedom than railroads. The captain can choose to change destinations at any time to anywhere within range with an airport/harbour, say, in the event of a medical or mechanical emergency, or a hijacking. 

I don't think it's coincidental that we use the most restrictive kind of travel as a metaphor for the most restrictive kind of games. An rpg railroad doesn't merely have a destination. It is controlled by an engineer. It is running on rails. Your options are to get off (and find another game group), or continue to the destination. You will visit the scheduled adventure sites in the scheduled order. Anything not on the itinerary is just so many telephone poles whipping by at sixty miles an hour.

So, at one end we have literally the most restricted form of travel. At the other, we have the sandbox - the ultimate example of self-directed, structureless play. Even more so than on the road network, I'm in control in the sandbox. I can make a hill and raze it, build a road network and have my toys run along it until I'm bored and I decide it's a river and we're rafting along it, then build a town and a forest and play at bandits.

In a game context, we can farm mustard until we get bored, then wander the roads helping travellers until we tire of that and decide to open a river freight business, or go be bandits in the woods, or anything else.

The distinction isn't between whether there is a direction/destination/goal/series of obstacles, it's who is in charge. In a railroad, the DM is the engineer, the conductor, the train, the rails, the stations, and the tycoon who planned the route, while the player is the Sunday tourist seeing the sights by rail.

In a sandbox, the player is the child and the DM is the sand.

From Alexis' conclusion:

"Choosing to set themselves on the path to find a McGuffin and obtain some clues is not how a sandbox works; it only shows a willingness for players to buy their own tickets for the destination they choose.  That's nicer than being told which train we're going to board, but it is STILL a railroad."

I don't know about that. If it's a railroad, then they can't get off, visit the stations in any order, or decide to fuck it and just set up as bandits because it turned out this MacGuffin was boring. If it's a railroad, they'll find the DM-as-conductor putting obstacles in any other path to dissuade them, or sweetening the pot, or otherwise coercing/outright forcing them back onto the rails, because in a railroad, the DM is in charge.

If it's a sandbox, they can decide they don't care about the MacGuffin at any point and make the game about being bandits in the woods, and the DM will roll with it, because the DM is the sand, and there to provide the medium of play.

8 June 2017

Dungeon Design: Shortcuts in the Souls Games

One of the things that drew me into the *Souls video games (Demon Souls, Dark Souls) was their use of shortcuts.

For those not familiar with the series, it is a punishing game where even the humblest enemies are a threat. You die and respawn a lot, and every time you do, all the enemies respawn as well. Your range from the spawn point (they are few and far between) is largely determined by your healing potion supply. It can be hard to push just that little bit farther, every encounter is sapping your strength, and you don't know how you'll be able to reach the boss at all, let alone with enough health to prevail.

However, the worlds are heavily Jacquayed. As you progress, you will find ways to open up shortcuts. This lever raises that portcullis near the spawn that seemed impenetrable, allowing you to bypass the first ten minutes of the level. Here, there's a ladder you can drop down, allowing you to climb up the tower directly instead of wending your way through the castle. After opening up a few shortcuts, you can often get from the spawn to the boss in a few minutes, instead of the hour(s) it took you to find and open all the shortcuts.

The biggest thrill in the game isn't finding a new weapon, or more armour, or another healing potion. It's finding these precious shortcuts!

I love this. I think it should be a part of every dungeon larger than half a dozen rooms.

I'd go so far as to say any megadungeon requires the presence of many such shortcuts.

Get your players looking for ways to cut down their time in the dungeon through shortcuts.

26 December 2015

Forest Excursion - Night-time

I walked some of the same path as the previous post in the dark. Conditions were clear, starlight for illumination. The moon was half full and not yet up. Obviously, there are no photos, as they would not have looked like anything (or, if I used a long exposure, just more or less like an overcast day - this is occasionally surprising to people, as our perception of night is so different, but really it's exactly the same but darker).

First, some general thoughts. While I'm far from an experienced woodsman, this is land I grew up on, that I've walked countless times. I fumbled and lost my way occasionally, even on the path. Even on familiar ground, in a world with no monsters, it was a little unnerving traveling through the woods in the dark. I was glad to have a stout stick with me, silly as that sounds. I'm sure that unreasoned fear would fade if I often traveled by night, but I have grown city-soft from living in Toronto.

The quiet was overwhelming, especially for someone who's lived in the city for ten years. I could hear a leaf fall out to perhaps thirty yards. I could hear hunting dogs barking and howling that could not have been closer than a mile (for that's the nearest neighbour in that direction), and that were probably more like 3 or 4 miles away. I could hear branches break for hundreds of yards.

Once my eyes were adjusted, I could follow the path fairly easily, although I soon learned to keep my arm up to ward off the odd branch that hadn't been pruned back, and to use my walking stick to feel for obstacles. I was able to make a fairly normal pace, only straying from the path and getting caught in thickets a few times.

The denser pine forest, difficult terrain during the day, was impassable at night. During the day, it is noticeably dim under the pines. At night, it was completely dark. No starlight filtered through. Anything hiding in there would have been able to remain completely undetected without the slightest difficulty. I could have passed within ten feet of any number of unspeakable horrors, completely ignorant of their presence.

At one point, something dense and heavy fell from a tree near me with a dull thud. I have no idea what it was, it sounded like it weighed perhaps four pounds and was made of something the consistency of suet. Perhaps a small creature breathed its last breath and fell dead from a tree...

After the end of the path, in the more open deciduous forest, there was enough light to make my way fairly easily, although I don't think I could have sustained a normal pace without a fairly high probability of wrecking my ankle. If I was navigating, the stars were visible, as would be the moon (if it was up), but that was only the case because it was autumn and half the leaves were down.  In the summer, the cover is about 70%, and getting a good view of the stars would be pretty much impossible. The silence was worth noting again - I could easily hear a twig snap, or a small creature moving a hundred yards away or more. I could see dimly about forty yards, it felt like, although movement would probably have been visible a little further away.

And silent movement was completely impossible. Anything within several hundred yards or more that was listening would have been well aware of my progress. The ground cover was dead leaves that rustled with the slightest movement, and it was impossible to take more than a couple steps without crunching a twig or branch. Lest you think "oh, just don't step on them", firstly, you cannot see them, and secondly, sometimes they are beneath the leaves and cannot be seen even in daylight. Branches and small bushes, invisible until it was too late, were constantly getting in my way and rustling or snapping.

An ambush would have been trivial. Concealment wouldn't even be necessary, merely crouching at the base of a tree and remaining very still would hide you until I got within probably ten yards or less - you would just blend in with the tree.

When I turned around to head back for the path, I immediately lost my way. I hadn't gone very far from the end of the path - perhaps a hundred yards - but I couldn't find my may back. I stumbled around, getting caught in thickets, and making an ungodly ruckus for maybe ten minutes before finding the path back into the denser woods.

Back on the path, as an experiment, I used my cell phone screen to approximate a torch for a bit. The light was definitely comforting, although also a little unnerving. In addition to making noise announcing my presence, I was now also waving a huge sign saying "HERE I AM". It didn't really improve the distance I could see, although it made it much easier going - I could step without fear of hurting my ankle. Obviously, it also made me nightblind and totally dependent on it. When I put it out, I could see nothing, where before I could see dim shapes.

All in all, I covered almost exactly a mile in about half an hour, mostly using a path, over familiar terrain, under starlight, stopping occasionally to listen around me. I achieved about 60% of normal walking speed under fairly ideal conditions (it wasn't overcast, it wasn't muddy or raining, no wind, comfortable shoes, well rested and well fed, confident that there are no monsters). The only possible improvement would have been to have a strong moon.

If I had been on unfamiliar ground, without a path, I would have made far, far worse time. I can't imagine I could have managed a half kilometre in a straight line in those 30 minutes I was out. In all likelihood, I would simply have ended up lost and bumbling from thicket to thicket.