29 December 2012

Monsters: Sizes, Fortitude, Damage

Shamelessly borrowing concepts from Alexis at Tao of D&D and shoehorning them into my own business. You can read about his system for determining HP by mass for monsters here.

Here I've created my own curve for how to roll Fort by applying a modifier to a roll of 3d6 (if anyone cares, the curve is based on the 4th power of the log of the mass), rather than the system Alexis uses that uses varying numbers of odd-shaped dice (which are rolled in Excel). I like the idea of needing only a few dice and a pocket calculator to figure out toughness of critters, and I also really like the idea of the bell curve being the same for all creatures.

Alexis's concept of incidental damage from big creatures is an idea of sheer genius. It perfectly encapsulates the terror and danger of fighting some huge beast. Read his post on it here. I really can't overstate how awesome this idea is. His story of watching a bull bucking and kicking, and how dangerous it would be to go near is a clear illustration of why any RPG with monsters need this system. I've tweaked his numbers a little, but would still go with a base 50% chance for anyone within melee range. Anyone intentionally keeping their distance would not risk the damage, but also wouldn't be able to make melee attacks.

I've also incorporated into this table the idea that small things are hard to hit, and would find it hard to hurt big things with some pretty honking penalties to hit and damage, and commensurate bonuses to Defense. If you think +16 Defense is too much, I'd like to see you try and whack a rat with a mace as it scurries about. Just picture that for a minute.

OK, time for a big table! I've tried to keep things fairly regular but still keep in with my idea of what makes sense.

MassAvg. Fort3d6 MultiplierIncidental DamageAttack/Defense/Damage
1 ton565.31-30/-4/+4
2 tons797.51-60/-4/+4
3 tons9591-80/-4/+4
5 tons12011.41-120/-8/+8
10 tons16015.31-200/-14/+10
15 tons18817.91-200/-20/+12

This table would work just fine for D&D if you use the 3d6 Multiplier and instead apply it to whatever you use to calculate the HP of a normal human. You could either multiply the die roll, or multiply the number of dice. Obviously, if you go with multiplying the result, you'll get a very swingy total. If you multiply the number of dice, you'll get a very average result.

22 December 2012

Even More Spells!

A couple more new spells.
  • False Familiarity (Dorothy Ackworth)
    • PL: 20 + X
    • Duration: X minutes
    • Mechanism: Sight.
    • Summary: Makes everyone in a dwelling believe they know the caster.
    • Occupants will not behave any differently than they would towards an acquaintance - attempts to enter at unusual hours, for instance, will likely be rebuffed.
    • Any extended contact with the occupants will make them uncomfortable - they will start to realize they have difficulty placing the caster, etc.
    • Any hostile or overtly bizarre behaviour (stuffing all the brass candlesticks in a sack, ransacking the library, punching the butler) will break the spell.
  • All Roads Lead to Home (Avis Cossington)
    • PL: 15 + X
    • Duration: 3 x X miles of marching
    • Mechanism: Centred around caster.
    • Summary: a road appears around the caster, leading where she will, and therefore preventing her from being slowed by terrain. 
    • Others may use the road as well.

16 December 2012

More Spells!

    A couple new spells.
      • Shadow Cloak (unknown)
        • PL: 10
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Mechanism: Self.
        • Summary: Caster appears as a shadow falling across the caster's location, so long as the caster doesn't move.
        • Shadow does not fall naturally, the unusual lie of the shadow can be detected by an astute observer.
      • And in its Place, the Simulacrum (unknown)
        • PL: 10
        • Duration: Until reversed by casting again.
        • Mechanism: Sight.
        • Summary: One object is switched with its reflection.
        • The object is now in the mirror, and an insubstantial image is in the real world.
        • If the mirror is destroyed, everything in it is also destroyed.
        • The object can be no bigger than the mirror used.

    29 November 2012

    Weapon Weights

    Just some weapon data.

    Pulled mostly from the Wallace Collection, and from a few other places.

    Weapon Weight Range
    Dagger .5-1 lbs
    Sword 3-4 lbs
    Spear 4-8 lbs
    Axes/Maces 3-5 lbs
    Polearms 5-8lbs
    Bow 2-3 lbs
    Crossbow (Heavy) 4-8 (8-12) lbs
    Sling .1 lbs

    Ammo for: Weight for 24
    Bow 2-3 lbs
    Crossbow (Heavy) 2-3 (3-4) lbs
    Sling 1-2 lbs

    26 November 2012

    Missile Weapons

    The advantage of bows is rate of fire (and sometimes range).

    The advantage of crossbows is ease of use, and - for larger models, armour piercing.

    The advantage of slings is ease of carry and ammunition supply.

    The advantage of spears is weight (and therefore damage).

    So, let's lay this out:

    Range modifiers: 0/-3/-6/-9

    Base Attack
    Range in Feet
    Armour Reduction
    Bow (Longbow)
    Crossbow (Heavy)
    1/2 rounds (1/3 rounds)

    You can get rid of the penalty for using a bow or sling if you're specifically trained in the use of bows or slings. For a fighter, that means forgoing training in one of the other weapon types (daggers, swords, axes/maces, polearms). For another class, it means giving up a comparable benefit (I'll be generalizing the classes soon, and so this will make a little more sense).

    22 November 2012

    Shields, Two-handed weapons, and Offhand weapons

    In the D&D I'm familiar with, 2-handers are always better than shields. The following is for Basic D&D with the "optional" damage rules that everyone uses.

    I'll start off with my proposal, and then go through the reasoning below.

    • Two-handed Weapon
      • 2d8-L
    • One-hander and Shield
      • +2 AC bonus
    • One-hander and Off-hander
      • +1 AC, +1 Attack

    Let's look at some examples. We'll have 2 Level 1 fighters, AC 5.

    Sword and Shield vs. Two-handers

    Give both a shield and sword (AC -1, damage d8):

    Expected damage output is 1.125 dmg/rnd. ((AC 4 + 1)/20)*(4.5)

    Give one a two-handed sword (damage d10)):

    Expected damage output for the two-hander is 1.375. ((AC 4 + 1)/20)*(5.5)
    Expected damage output for the shield and sword is 1.35. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(4.5)

    Off-hand weapons

    Blog of Holding has an interesting idea about off-hand weapons: +1 to attack, and 50/50 chance of doing damage as the large weapon (d8) or the small weapon (d4). Let's look at that. Again, two Level 1 Fighters in chain.

    Shield and Sword vs. Dagger and Sword

    Expected damage output for the dagger and sword is 1.05. ((AC 4 + 1 + 1)/20)*((4.5+2.5)/2).
    Expected damage output for the shield and sword is 1.35. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(4.5)

    Two-handed Sword vs. Dagger and Sword

    Expected damage output for the dagger and sword is 1.225. ((AC 5 + 1 + 1)/20)*((4.5+2.5)/2).
    Expected damage output for the two-handed sword is 1.65. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(5.5)

    Higher Levels

    Let's try Level 10 Fighters, all else equal.

    Give both a shield and sword (AC -1, damage d8):

    Expected damage output is 3.15 dmg/rnd. ((AC 4 + 10)/20)*(4.5)

    Give one a two-handed sword (damage d10)):

    Expected damage output for the two-hander is 3.85. ((AC 4 + 10)/20)*(5.5)
    Expected damage output for the shield and sword is 3.375. ((AC 5 + 10)/20)*(4.5)

    Shield and Sword vs. Dagger and Sword

    Expected damage output for the dagger and sword is 2.625. ((AC 4 + 1 + 10)/20)*((4.5+2.5)/2).
    Expected damage output for the shield and sword is 3.375. ((AC 5 + 10)/20)*(4.5)

    Two-handed Sword vs. Dagger and Sword

    Expected damage output for the dagger and sword is 2.8. ((AC 5 + 1 + 10)/20)*((4.5+2.5)/2).
    Expected damage output for the two-handed sword is 4.125. ((AC 5 + 10)/20)*(5.5)

    Preliminary Conclusions

    It's always better to use a two-hander. I used the most conservative rule I've seen for two-handed damage (2d8 drop lowest has a slightly higher average than 1d10, 5.81 vs. 5.5).

    Blog of Holding's two-weapon implementation, while interesting, would never be the right choice for a player (a min-maxer, anyways) - it's worse than a two-hander, and it's worse than sword and shield. For that matter, it's worse than just a sword.

    The fact is, changes in the to-hit number are dwarfed by changes in the damage number. This is the case for the traditional shield rules, and for Blog of Holding's new two-weapon implementation.

    It's not immediately intuitive, but a +1 to hit (generally) makes only a 5% change in the expected damage. That means if your base damage is 4.5 (i.e a normal sword), you need between +4 and +5 to-hit to equal a 1 point damage increase.

    Next Steps

    Now, I think that the Blog of Holding implementation is a step in the right direction. It's moving away from the draconian penalties seen in AD&D and 3E, and I like that. The problem is that it is still a penalty, albeit a less obvious and less severe one.

    Having a dagger in your off-hand should improve your combat effectiveness, not weaken it!

    I think +1 to-hit and a +1 AC bonus (i.e. -1 actual AC, DAC) might be good, along with changing shields to be +2 or maybe even more. For gameplay purposes, I think I'd like to see some interesting tradeoffs between the three basic weapon options.

    Let's look at why someone would choose any of these three options.

    • Two-handed Weapon
      • deal with armour (longsword vs. arming sword)
      • deal more damage (poleaxe vs. warhammer)
      • extend reach (i.e. spear, poleaxe)
    • One-hander and Shield
      • add protection to unbalanced weapon (i.e. mace, warhammer)
    • One-hander and Off-hander
      • portability (maine-gauche or dagger is smaller than a shield)
      • versatility (more attack options than with a shield)
    And let's look at how we can model this in D&D or similar games.

    • Two-handed Weapon
      • damage bonus
    • One-hander and Shield
      • AC bonus
    • One-hander and Off-hander
      • some AC and some attack OR
      • some AC bonus and some damage bonus
    Personally, I like the idea of the off-hander adding some attack, rather than some damage. But I'll admit it's pretty arbitrary.

    Final Conclusions

    Now, let's look at the specifics.

    • Two-handed Weapon
      • 2dX-L (roll two, drop lowest)
    • One-hander and Shield
      • +2 AC bonus
    • One-hander and Off-hander
      • +1 AC, +1 Attack
    Expected damage output for a Level 1 Fighter equipped with a sword and chain vs. a Level 1 Fighter with chain and each of the above kits.

    Two-handed sword (2d8-L):

    Expected damage output for the two-hander is 1.743. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(5.81)
    Expected damage output for the sword is 1.35. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(4.5)
    Difference is 0.393.

    One-hander and shield:

    Expected damage output for the one-hander and shield is 1.35. ((AC 5 + 1)/20)*(4.5)
    Expected damage output for the sword is 0.9. ((AC 3 + 1)/20)*(4.5)
    Difference is 0.45.

    One-hander and off-hander

    Expected damage output for the one-hander and off-hander is 1.575. ((AC 5 + 1 + 1)/20)*(4.5)
    Expected damage output for the sword is 1.125. ((AC 4 + 1)/20)*(4.5)
    Difference is 0.45.

    19 November 2012

    Simple Unarmed Combat

    Following on my last post, unarmed combat becomes very simple. I've frankly never understood why people feel like a swordfight can be modelled by rolling d20 against AC, but that a fistfight can't. Why make it any more complicated?

    Roll To Hit

    Roll to hit. On a hit, strike for 1-2 non-lethal damage (deals Fatigue instead of Wounds).


    If you don't have martial training, you can only do strikes. Your critical hits mean you and your opponent are now wrestling on the ground.

    If you do have martial training, consult this table:

    1-2: Disarm (or lock, if opponent is unarmed):

    • Your opponent's weapon falls to the ground.

    3-4: Lock:

    • Opponent's choice:
      • Take 1d6 damage (bypasses all armour), drop your weapon, but remain standing
      • Move with the lock, and get forced to the ground. Opponent will still be armed but will be pinned to the ground by the lock.

    5-6: Throw:

    • 2d6-L damage, Armour Reduction 1, opponent will be lying on the ground.

    If you're locked or pinned, you need a critical to break free.

    I think that's about as simple as you can make it. 90% of the time it'll be striking for damage, with a higher chance of higher level fighters getting solid holds and throws.

    14 November 2012

    Critical Hits and Unarmed Combat

    Unarmed combat plays a crucial role in armed combat, with locks, throws, and disarms coming as a natural result of successful weapon plays.

    Threat Range

    A natural 20 is always a crit. In addition, for every Fighter level, add one to your threat range (i.e. a 2nd Level Fighter crits on an 18, 19, or 20.

    Critical Hits and Entries

    On a critical hit, an opportunity for an entry (the term for moving in and attacking with your off hand) has presented itself. You can choose to enter, or to do damage normally.


    If you choose to enter, roll a d6 and consult this chart:

    1-2: Disarm
    3-4: Lock
    5-6: Throw


    If you choose to do damage, roll another attack roll. If this hits, do double damage (i.e. 1d6 become 2d6, 2d6-L becomes 4d6-2L).

    Disarms, Locks, and Throws

    • Disarm:
      • You get your opponents weapon away from them and toss/kick it away 5 or 10 feet.
    • Lock:
      • Opponent's choice:
        • Take 1d6 damage (bypasses all armour), drop your weapon, but remain standing
        • Move with the lock, and get forced to the ground. Opponent will still be armed but will be pinned to the ground by the lock.
    • Throw:
      • 2d6-L damage, Armour Reduction 1, opponent will be lying on the ground.

    Edge Cases:
    • Weapon or object in your off hand: choose to drop it and enter, or strike with it normally.
    • Shield in your off hand: strike with the shield as a medium weapon (1d6 damage).

    9 November 2012

    8 November 2012

    Training vs. Practice

    In reading through Alexis' archives over at Tao of D&D, I read an interesting article and ensuing discussion on training, and the difference between training and practice.

    Now, I believe a starting character should be a pretty highly-trained individual: someone at the level of a journeyman, a member of a professional association, or a Bachelor of a University. In 99% of cases, the character got there through training: there was a master, and the character was a student. This could have been the Master-at-Arms on their father's estate, a scholar at a University, some weirdo who takes in orphans and teaches them to be pickpockets and sneak-thieves, or what-have-you.

    Something I've never been able to reconcile with D&D, though, is stories like Charlie Parker. With a basic education in music under his belt, and some informal instruction from acquaintances and listening to records (let's say he was a 1st level jazz musician at this point), Parker set out to practice. He spent his late teens practicing 15 hours a day, and emerged as a master - one of the best in the world (by old D&D standards, probably level 9 - name level).

    So, in 3 years, practicing 15 hours a day, Parker went up 8 levels. That's an average of 1755 hours of individual practice per level, or about 220 8-hour days.

    How to handle a player who wants their character to "woodshed" (as in practice non-stop out behind the woodshed) for a year to gain a level or two?

    I don't know, but this is something that bothers me. In an ideal world, XP should probably be awarded for practicing a great deal and revoked for failure to practice. This may be too fiddly, and would almost certainly lead to the first act of a campaign being the, "We train for two years, what now?" phase.

    Don't have a solution, but it's something that bugs me.

    1 November 2012

    Classes: The Magician

    Magicians begin with 1 Power Level and knowledge of the Minor Works of the Major Magicians, but no martial training.

    The Magician can gain additional Power Levels by studying new Books of Magic by the greats, or through study. Magical items, creatures, and unfamiliar spells all provide avenues of investigation for the magician's study. Further details on advancement will be covered in an upcoming series about XP and advancement in general.

    I think that tying the magician's advancement to study will serve to cap some of the extreme power that magic can bring at higher levels by slowing advancement in game-time terms. It will also serve to reinforce the archetype I have in mind of a magician who spends much of his time in his library or laboratory studying, venturing forth primarily to find new materials for investigation.

    • Background:
      • Scholar, Hermit, Monk, Gentry, Noble
    • Abilities:
      • Power Level: 1
      • Knowledge of the minor works of major magicians.
    • Advancement by:
      • Studying new Books of Magic, magic sources, magical creatures, spells, etc.
    • Further Advancement:
      • +1 Power Level

    30 October 2012

    Classes: The Fighter

    A first-level Fighter should be a force to be reckoned with. This isn't just someone who picked up a sword. They have either seen battle, or have extensive training. Or maybe both. They should almost always win a fight against an untrained opponent.

    • Backgrounds:
      • Sellsword, Bandit, Man-at-arms, Hedge Knight, Yeoman, Squire, Knight, Noble
    • Abilities:
      • Use any weapon
      • Ignore first failed Fortitude check
      • +2 to Attack and Defence
    • Advancement by:
      • Surviving Battles, training
    • Further Advancement:
      • +1 to Attack and Defence
      • Every second level, fight an additional opponent without penalty
    I haven't quite figured out the advancement rate for these things, but I definitely want to tie the advancement of each class to their key talents.

    Next up: the Magician.

    25 October 2012

    Expected Outcomes: Wilderness Travel Distances

    Roll a 2d6 for an expected outcome check. On an expected outcome result, you travel the amount given in the chart at the end of the post on Overland Movement.

    On a worse than expected outcome, you're delayed by a mishap and lose time.

    On a better than expected outcome, you hit a good stride, or find a game trail or something that makes your travel easier, and you make your day's travel distance early, letting you make a few extra miles, or give you extra time for study and finding a good campsite.

    Worse outcomes:

    1. Poison ivy, etc. - lose 10%
    2. Lost - lose 25% of day
    3. Lost - lose 50% of day
    4. Horse throws shoe, depends on group's skills, or push on without it (slight chance of horse getting lamed - maybe 5%)
    5. Horse lame / Sprained ankle - lose horse
    6. Horse spooked - if pack animal, lose 10% of day tracking it down
    7. Thrown - someone thrown and hurt
    8. Kicked - someone kicked by horse and hurt

    Better outcomes:

    1. Good momentum or favourable game trail - 20% extra or 20% early (more time to look for a campsite)

    21 October 2012

    Major Magicians and Their Minor Works

    Major Magicians

    In which is listed some of the major magicians in the English tradition, and their minor works, suitable for the novice. Scraps of these works survive, and are generally known among people who study magic.

    • Vessel
      • An object which receives and stores a spell. Generally speaking, must be an allied or neutral object.
    • Timer
      • Anything that defines a clear point in time - a candle burning down, an hourglass running out, someone crossing a threshold. It generally can't be more specific than that, i.e. when Bill crosses the threshold.
    • Allied / Neutral Object
      • Any object owned by or which personally knows the caster would be an allied object (e.g. the caster's shoes, the stones of the caster's house, roads the caster walks often). 
      • Any object that doesn't have any specific antipathy to the caster, or which isn't allied to an enemy of the caster would be a neutral object (e.g. a random stones in the forest).
      • This concept can be applied to beasts and plants, as well - some spells will require an allied or neutral creature.
    • Subject
      • A person, other than the caster, on whom the spell works. Typically requires something which is connected to the person to function.
    • Mathias Penshawe, Ab Oculis Avium (From the Eyes of Birds)
      • De Manu, Locus (From the Hand, the Location)
        • PL: 4
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Summary: Hands glow brighter near magic sources.
        • The caster's hand glows in the presence of magic - glows more brightly the closer the source.
      • Visionarios Piscinam (Visionary Pool)
        • PL: 4
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Summary: Peer into a mirror or silver dish to see through any mirror the caster has seen.
      • Ab Obiecto, Oculum (From the Object, an Eye)
        • PL: 5
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Summary: Touch an allied or neutral object to place an invisible phantom eye on it. See through this eye instead of your own, but lose all other sensory input.
    • Miles Tilghman, A Book to Ease Your Toil
      • A Spell for Warming Tea
        • PL: 4
        • Duration: 1 round
        • Summary: Allied/neutral object takes one round to reach 100°C (or less).
          • One object friendly or neutral to the caster increases temperature. It will get to about 100°C (or less, if desired) after 6 seconds, and stay at that temperature as long as the caster concentrates.
          • Won't work on items much bigger than a big teapot.
      • A Spell for Watchful Nights
        • PL: 4
        • Duration: One Night
        • Summary: Subject won't need sleep for 36 hours. Then, they enter a coma for 12 hours (no normal means will wake the subject).
      •  A Spell for Calling Friends
        • PL: 5
        • Duration: Variable Delay / Instantaneous
        • Summary: Caster designates a vessel and a timer. Vessel will chime like a church bell (loud!) when the timer runs out.
    • Francis Holcott, The Edge of the 7th Ring
      • The Distant Finger
        • PL: 4
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Summary: Caster can touch anything with one finger up to 30' away as if her finger was long enough to reach.
        • Roll a normal to hit with a -1 penalty every yard.
      • Peace for a Moment
        • PL: 4 + X
        • Duration: Concentration
        • Summary: Prevents an ongoing enchantment of one-half X (rounded up) from affecting the caster.
    • Dorothy Ackworth, Memories of the Unknown
      • Impossible Reminiscence
        • PL: 5 + X
        • Duration: X Days
        • Mechanism: 
        • Summary: Subject finds it impossible to recall a single fact or image: a name, a face, a location, where they left something...
        • Something like an event would be too complex for this spell, as it involves multiple actions, actors, objects, etc.
      • Searing Glimpse
        • PL: 5
        • Duration: Instantaneous/Permanent
        • Summary: At any point in the future, you can recall every detail of the present instant with perfect clarity, as if you were frozen in that instant.
    • Avis Cossington, 32 Roads Have Died, And I Linger Here
      • The Merest Labyrinth
        • PL: 6
        • Duration: 20 minutes
        • Summary: Makes the room inaccessible by replacing it with a labyrinth.
        • Creatures already in the room may leave normally, but creatures outside will simply find a labyrinth that leads them back to where they began. Tunneling in, etc, will only lead into the labyrinth, not the room.
      •  Misleading Crumbs
        • PL: 6
        • Duration: 20 minutes
        • Summary: Misleads a creature about the direction of its goal. Does not work if the creature can currently see its goal.
        • For example, a beggar is heading to the town square. Under the influence of Misleading Crumbs, the beggar would start making wrong turns until the beggar was heading in exactly the wrong direction. 
        • The subject would have no memory of the route they took after the effect wears off.

    18 October 2012

    Spellcasting - Fatigue and Casting Rolls


    To cast a spell, you must pass a Casting Check.

    For your Casting Check, you roll 1d6 for each Casting Level and 1d6 for each Fatigue you spent (up to a limit of your Casting Level). This check must meet or exceed the Power Level of the Spell.

    You can't spend so much Fatigue adding d6's that you collapse (i.e. make your Fatigue go above your Fortitude).

    If you fail your casting roll, you take a Fatigue (this may make you collapse).

    Concentrating on a spell requires a Casting Check every minute at half the spell's PL, rounded up.


    I've never liked Vancian magic. It doesn't capture the feel of magic I like, where spells take a physical toll on the caster. Spell point systems have always struck me as unparsimonious, and systems using hit points to cast have always seemed too harsh (along with the problems of magical healing creating spellcasting power).

    Including Fatigue alongside physical damage provides a convenient mechanism for physical weakening of the caster.

    The solution I like to Vancian Magic is a system where casters have a Casting Level which defines how many d6's they can roll for their "Casting Roll". Each spell has a power level that needs to be achieved on that Casting Roll. A failed roll indicates that you take a point of Fatigue, and casting the spell will take another round.

    If you want to roll extra d6's on your casting roll, you can - but each one costs a point of Fatigue. Decide before you roll how much effort you want to put into the casting.


    The first problem with any stamina or health based magic system is that Constitution or Strength become very important to Magic-Users, which is considered "out-of-type".

    The first option that comes to mind is giving an extra Casting Level for high Intelligence. This immediately makes Int far, far more valuable than Str or Con for every-day casting.

    The second option is a little more radical: allow characters with low Fortitude to add an extra Caster Level. I'm not convinced this is a good option, but it's an interesting thought - I'll expand on this idea further.

    The third option is to have a more D&D-like cap on caster's ability to absorb damage. For example, if you start as a Caster your Fortitude is capped at 10. I don't think I care for this option, as it short-circuits random character generation a bit.

    The fourth option is to make people choose class before rolling 3d6 in order for abilities. This has the potential to create some fun out-of-type play, I think.

    The second problem is magical healing. I plan to solve that by having little or no magical healing available (limited to first-aid type stuff, to help people who've failed a Fortitude check, for example).

    Converting Spells

    If you'd like to convert D&D spells to this system, I would suggest Power Level = Spell Level x 6, more for direct-damage spells like Fireball. This would up the potential nova power of spellcaster a bit, but at make them trade stamina for that power.

    A first level caster with Fortitude 10 and Casting Level 1, would, on average, be able to cast 1.6 converted D&D spells per day before exhaustion.

    14 October 2012

    DM Tools: Online Maps

    In thinking about mapping, hexes, wilderness, overland travel, domain-level play, and so on, I've come across some really cool mapping resources I thought I'd share.

    What's the Path? - Britain

    If you play in a UK setting, you owe it to yourself to check this out. It's got a split-screen display between Google Maps satellite maps and detailed Ordnance Survey topographical maps and route planning that takes into account overland distance as well as ascent height, and applies Naismith's Rule to figure out how long it would take to hike the route.

    It also will display the route in terms of ascent and descent in a cool little graph.

    Vision of Britain Maps - Britain

    This site has a bunch of nice topographical maps of Britain (and some of the Continent, as well), including a stunning version done in the 19th century. The 19th century hand-drawn version I found particularly useful for visualizing how big a hex is.

    Look at the Lake District in England and mentally project a six-mile hex onto it. Look at all those hills, lakes, rivers, streams... It would take ages to explore that hex thoroughly. I realize that this is not a novel thought, but this map helped me understand this on a more visceral level.

    While a more modern topo map has more hard info on it, something about the drawing style in this map gives me a better feel for the terrain.

    Cassini Maps - France

    Going back even further, these maps are from 1750-1790. If you haven't been to France, and traveled through the vast rolling hills of the south, covered in farmland, these could give you a good idea of just how dense the tiny communities are there - many of them dating back to the Medieval era, or before.

    If you're running something that's similar to Medieval France, and you're not having the party come across a half-dozen little communities (<100 people) every day of travel, it's too sparse. Opening a random square of Southern France, there would be dozens and dozens and dozens of communities in a 6-mile hex. Even allowing for population growth between 1300 and 1750, there would still be many small communities around.

    11 October 2012

    DM Tool: Random Man-Made Terrain Features

    To be used in conjunction with the Random Terrain Features tables.

    Plains (7+)
    1. Manor
    2. Manor
    3. Manor
    4. Mill
    5. Cottage
    6. Abbey
    7. Tower
    8. Castle
    9. Ruins (roll again, this table)
    10. Standing Stones 
    Moor (10)
    1. Ruins (Manor House)
    2. Ruins (Manor House)
    3. Ruins (Hermitage)
    4. Ruins (Tower)
    5. Ruins (Abbey)
    6. Cottage
    7. Hermitage
    8. Tower
    9. Remains
    10. Standing Stones
    Forest (8+)
    1. Manor House
    2. Logging Camp
    3. Lumber Mill
    4. Cottage
    5. Hermitage
    6. Tower
    7. Ruins
    8. Ruins
    9. Remains
    10. Standing Stones
    Hills (8+)
    1. Manor
    2. Shepherd's Hut
    3. Shepherd's Hut
    4. Mine
    5. Hermitage
    6. Tower
    7. Castle
    8. Ruins
    9. Barrow
    10. Standing Stones
    Mountain (10)
    1. Mine
    2. Mine
    3. Abbey
    4. Cottage
    5. Hermitage
    6. Tower
    7. Tower
    8. Castle
    9. Ruins
    10. Ruins
    Desert (10)
    1. Hamlet
    2. Hamlet
    3. Herder's Hut
    4. Hermitage
    5. Temple
    6. Temple
    7. Tower
    8. Castle
    9. Burial Grounds
    10. Pyramid
    Jungle (10)
    1. Logging Camp
    2. Temple
    3. Tower
    4. Pyramid
    5. Ruin
    6. Ruin
    7. Ruin
    8. Ruin
    9. Ruin
    10. Standing Stones

    7 October 2012

    Overland Movement: Naismith's Rule, FM 21-18, etc.

    I mentioned Naismith's Rule in my last post, as it's relevant to overland movement. If you don't know about the Naismith Rule, it's a rule of thumb to guesstimate the minimum time for a given hike. The rule is:

    (overland distance in miles + 8 x ascent height in miles)÷3 miles/hour = time in hours

    Now, this is for a fit, unencumbered adult in ideal conditions (good terrain, daytime), and it doesn't take into account bathroom breaks, lunch, etc. If you're loaded down, walking through sand, traveling at night, or a halfling, it's going to take longer. But this is a good starting point. You can also plug in different values for the assumed walking speed (which is 3mph by default) to adjust for movement rate differences in your system.

    6-8 hours of actual travel in a day is about what is sustainable (according to the US Army).

    Dissenting Opinion - combatreform.com

    At the same time, I've come across this chart, at Combat Reform. It has much, much higher speeds.

    Solder's Load Realistic March Speed Attainable
    0-30 pounds............................5-7 mph
    30-40 pounds...........................4 mph
    40-50 pounds...........................3 mph
    50-70 pounds...........................2 mph
    70+....................................1 mph or less (barely move)

    Now, if I'm interpreting this correctly, this is not intended to be march speeds for sustained marching. This would be for an approach march from an airborne drop into a combat zone. Even taking into account the fact that soldiers are among the strongest, fittest people around, I don't think this is realistic over long distances. My opinion is backed up by the US Army's documents on foot marches.

    US Army Field Manual 21-18, Foot Marches

    The US Army's official chart for cross-country foot marching agrees that this is much too fast (from FM 21-18):
     The US Army figures about 2mph average for an unencumbered soldier cross-country in good terrain. Assuming an equivalence with Naismith's Rule, we can see that the US Army allows for about 220 yards of ascent in an average cross-country march hour, or for loading of the soldier, or some combination.

    Looking at encumbrance, from 0-40 there's essentially no drop in speed, but then things start slowing down. By 80, you've taken a 25% hit, and by 120, you're at half speed.

    This is then backed up by their exhaustion chart (I'm pretty sure MPH is a typo, and should read KPH, as they don't use miles anywhere else in the document). You can see that they figure 9 hours to exaustion at the stated speeds. The manual states the typical travel day is 6-8 hours, which is what you'd expect if you want your soldiers to arrive ready to fight. 6 hours is 8 hours on the trail with a good amount of time for breaks.

    They also talk about forced marches in FM 21-18. They say that moving faster isn't really practical, but that you can move further in a day by just marching longer. Roughly speaking, the guidelines for forced marches say that you can do about 50% more miles per day for about three days. This will tucker you out, though.


    I think I'd follow from the US Army considerations, but simplify things a little into a few categories. If you're exceptionally fit, move up one category. If you're not very fit, move down one. (i.e. if you have a Constitution bonus or penalty.)

    To simplify terrain considerations, for bad terrain (hills, forest), move down one category. For exceptionally bad terrain (sand dunes, mountains, thickets), move down two categories. If you're on a road, move up one category (but not past 3mph, unless you're exceptionally fit).

    Drop one category for night movement.

    Forced marches give you one Fatigue per day plus one for each weight category (0-40, 40-80, 80-120), plus one if you have low Strength or Constitution.

    Speed Weight Daily Move
    4mph Very Fit 24-32 miles
    3mph ~0lbs 18-24 miles
    2mph 0-40lbs 12-16 miles
    1.5mph 40-80lbs 9-12 miles
    1mph 80-120lbs 6-8 miles
    .5mph Unfit/Bad Terrain 3-4 miles
    .25mph Unfit/Bad Terrain 1.5-2 miles

    6 October 2012

    DM Tool: Random Terrain Features

    In working on some hex-crawling stuff, I realized I needed some tables for minor features on travels through hexes. These would also work well for a West Marches-style hexless wilderness crawl (perhaps especially for that!).

    The idea is that with a good network of landmarks, the players can travel in a more believable manner than, "Let's head North into that Forest hex". This way, the players can say, "Let's head past that rocky outcropping and into the forest, then make for that copse of evergreens we found." I think that's got a bit better feel!

    How to Use

    Roll d10 three times a day (or to taste) and compare the result to the number in parentheses next to the terrain type.

    Roll another d10 to see what kind of feature you find.

    Explanations of Some Terms
    • Swamp: wetland characterized by trees.
    • Marsh: wetland characterized by grasses.
    • Moor: Covered in peat bog, rolling hills, wet, foggy (e.g. central Wales, Dartmoor). Peat harvesting can be lucrative. Organic matter in the peat suffers only minimal decomposition.
    • Quaking Bog: A layer of peat, sometimes a metre or two thick, floating on top of water. Possible to fall through a weak spot, which would likely be deadly. Can be detected by feeling the ground "quake" a little.
    • Wadi: depression in the ground, possibly a dry streambed or lake. Can be dangerous during rain, as flash floods are possible.
    Plains (6+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Copse
    3. Copse
    4. Stream 
    5. Spring
    6. Hill
    7. Hill
    8. Wetland
    9. Wildflower Meadow
    10. Wildflower Meadow
    Moor (8+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Rocky Outcropping
    3. Copse
    4. Copse
    5. Stream 
    6. Spring
    7. Dominant Hill
    8. Quaking Bog
    9. Pond, or Small Tarn/Loch/Lake
    10. Grandfather Tree
    Forest (6+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Copse (Different Tree Type)
    3. Thicket
    4. Thicket
    5. Stream
    6. Spring
    7. Grandfather Tree
    8. Clearing
    9. Clearing
    10. Wetland
    Hills (6+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Rocky Outcropping
    3. Copse
    4. Copse
    5. Thicket
    6. Stream
    7. Spring
    8. Grandfather Tree
    9. Cliff
    10. Cave
    Mountain (8+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Rocky Outcropping
    3. Broken Ground (poor footing, treacherous)
    4. Broken Ground
    5. Permanent Snow Deposit (mini-glacier in a crevice)
    6. Stream
    7. Waterfall
    8. Cliff
    9. Cave
    10. Crevasse
    Desert (8+) 
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Rocky Outcropping
    3. Rocky Outcropping
    4. Salt Pan 
    5. Oasis
    6. Hill
    7. Hill
    8. Wadi
    9. Wadi
    10. Wadi
    Jungle (8+)
    1. Rocky Outcropping
    2. Hill
    3. Swamp
    4. Swamp
    5. Marsh 
    6. Marsh
    7. Stream
    8. Spring 
    9. Grandfather Tree
    10. Clearing
    Edited, 2012-10-07: I've edited this chart a little to clean it up and conform it to another chart I'm working on in this series, one on man-made landmarks.

    4 October 2012

    Passing Thought - Skills and the Expected Outcome

    What are the possible outcomes of a skill check? Most systems have a pass or fail, some have some kind of critical pass or fail, and some have an auto pass mechanic for certain checks (Take 10 or Take 20), and some notion of a difficulty rating.

    The way I see it, when looking at a skill check and assigning a difficulty, I have in mind an expected outcome. I then assign the probabilities to likely produce the expected outcome. The expected outcome could be success, failure, partial success, etc.

    It recently occurred to me that there's a needless step here - really, all we should be rolling for is whether we got the expected outcome, something worse, or something better.

    Here's what I propose: roll 2d6. On 5-9, the expected outcome occurs. On 10-12, a better than expected outcome occurs. On 2-4, a worse than expected outcome occurs.

    I think that this, combined with a page of guidelines for the GM, would be a pretty elegant resolution mechanic.

    Just a passing thought, but I think I'll develop this more.

    22 September 2012

    Multiple Opponents

    Something that should count for a heck of a lot in a fight is numbers, but this is something that's basically irrelevant in D&D right through 3E. 3E added a "flanking bonus" of +2. I don't think that's nearly enough. Fighting while outnumbered should be terrifying.

    What I propose is this. The opponent you're attacking has to beat your Defense to hit you. Anyone else fighting you only has to beat the minimum Defense score (9 in descending style systems, or 10 in ascending).

    That means that if your Defense is 3 against one opponent (descending Armour Class style), it's 9 against a second or third. I think this is probably still a little generous, but it has the benefit of simplicity. This would make the party really think before engaging a superior force (as they should), and seek every opportunity to isolate enemies and defeat them in detail (as they should).

    I also see there being a level bonus (maybe every odd level for Fighters) that lets you fight an additional opponent without penalty. Or maybe a feat. The point is, being able to fight multiple opponents without penalty should be a hard-won privilege, not the right of every stable hand that picks up a sword.

    This elegant treatment is made possible by divorcing defensive abilities from armour.

    20 September 2012

    Plugging This Stuff into Basic D&D - Draft One

    Experiments in practicality here. This is a stab at plugging some of my ideas in as a drop-in replacement for the B/X / BECMI combat system.

    Weapons and Armour - D&D Style

    Let's rewrite the Weapon Behaviour chart I made with numbers that make sense in standard D&D. Read Attack as being added to the attack roll, Defense as Descending Armour Class, and armour reduction as moving the armour one category lower (i.e. plate to mail, mail to cloth, cloth to none).

    Weapon Attack Defense Armour Reduction Hands Damage
    Daggers, etc. +0 7 0 1 2d6-H
    Swords, Spears, Staffs +2 3 0 1-2 1d6
    Axes, Maces (1-handed) +0 7 1 1 1d6
    Halberds, Poleaxes, etc. +2 3 1 2 2d6-L

    Armour Type Damage Reduction
    None or Normal Clothes 0
    Cloth (Leather) 1
    Mail (Scale, Splint, Banded) 2
    Plate and Mail (Full Plate, Brigandine) 4

    Damage Reduction

    Simply reduce the damage taken by the damage reduction score, but never to less than one.

    Running This

    This should play out pretty similarly to regular D&D, with the exceptions that weapon choice matters, sleeping in armour is no longer a complete necessity, weapon and armour lists have been simplified into a few simple categories, and the stats are easier to conceptualize due to representing one clear thing. Also, dropping your weapon is a big problem. Backup weapons anyone?

    Converting Monsters

    Converting monsters should be pretty simple, too. Anything with normal flesh and no armour or weapons would have no damage reduction, and Defense would likely be in the 7-9 range (i.e. 9 for a zombie, maybe 7 for a wolf, due to its agility). Anything wearing armour or using a weapon would have DR or Attack/Defense adjustments just like the players do.

    I figure 1 point of DR for AC 7, and double DR for each point after that (which is how the armour table is derived, as well). So AC 3 is DR 4, AC 1 is DR 8, AC 0 would be DR 12. This should serve to make for really terrifying "tough" monsters, which is as it should be in my mind. How are you planning to kill that being made of stone? With your sword? Good luck. You're going to need magic...

    16 September 2012

    Logarithmic Advancement in Old-School Games

    I was originally going to leave this as a comment at Untimately: Hexagram Advancement Draft, but it got kind of unwieldy for a comment.

    As Brendan says, most people increase challenges and rewards to keep advancement at about the same real-world rate at every level, but let's imagine for a second a campaign where those bigger challenges and rewards just don't exist... What you'll see is fast advancement at low level, and slow advancement at high level that eventually tapers off to nothing. Every adventure will pull in, say, 8000xp, but if you need 1,000,000xp to get to the next level, that's basically never going to happen.

    In something like the real world, you can only get so good at fighting - say about 5th level in D&D. If you want to get more powerful than that in real life, you have to become a warlord, baron, king, etc. - which is pretty much what was sketched out in OD&D, B/X, and BECMI. I think the fact that there's levels in the game beyond a certain point (I don't know what that is, but between 5 and 9, probably) is the real illusion - you shouldn't practically be able to get to those levels. And, if you play in a campaign where there aren't dragons around every corner, you won't.

    Now, those systems allowed you to use domain-level play to increase your fighting capability (IIRC), whereas I think only gold found during adventuring should count for XP, but that's another issue. The point is, the old systems could be looked at as attempting to place the higher levels practically out of reach, and thus enforcing a logarithmic progression.

    I think this might be one of those things that was less broken (or just differently broken) than people thought it was, and that they house-ruled or campaign-designed into a problem.

    In fact, I think the notion that all of the levels of the game should be accessible might be the dawn of the level-appropriate encounter dogma...

    14 September 2012

    Weapon Behaviour - Simplifying

    So, this was the weapon behaviour matrix I proposed before. I've been thinking that it's far too complicated to remember. Does the 3-inch blade length difference between an arming sword and a long sword matter? Do we really need three levels of Vs. Armour? Do we need variable damage just to accommodate complex polearms?

     Weapon Attack Defense Damage Vs. Armour Hands
    Dagger 1 1 1 1 1
    Arming Sword 2 2 1 0 1
    Long Sword 2 2 1 1 2
    Axe/Mace 1 1 1 2 1
    Spear 2 2 1 1 2
    Poleaxe 2 2 2 2 2

    I've drafted a new, simpler version. Six columns to four, reduced all stats to two levels, and damage will now be classed by small, one-handed, and two-handed.

    Weapon Attack Defense Vs. Armour Hands
    Daggers, etc. 1 1 1 1
    Swords, Spears, Staffs 2 2 1 1/2
    Axes, Maces (1-handed) 1 1 2 1
    Halberds, Poleaxes, etc. 2 2 2 2

    The new version can be summarized as - daggers are good at nothing, swords and spears are good at attack and defense, axes and maces are good at penetrating armour, and complex polearms (halberd, poleaxe, etc.) are good at everything.

    This sacrifices some of the detail I'd like, but I think the ease of learning and remembering is worth it.
    It's a damn sight prettier than the weapons list from the D20 SRD - that list is incredibly complicated, has no internal logic, and no relation to the real world.

    12 September 2012

    Roadside Encounter Generator: Groups Interacting

    I whipped this up to generate some random roadside encounters that feature two groups interacting. Roll on the first table, the second table, and the first table again to get a result like, "Villagers killing knights".

    Like any random generator, I think it's good to interpret the results pretty broadly. I might read a result of, "Brigands enslaving villagers" to mean that the party comes upon a town where every few weeks some thugs come to collect protection money and crack a few heads to keep people scared. Or I might just interpret it more literally - a group of slavers rounding up local folk to take to auction.

    Table 1 (1d8):
    1. Villagers
    2. Lord & Retinue
    3. Knights
    4. Brigands
    5. Lepers
    6. Madmen
    7. Wizard(s)
    8. Savages (wilderness)
    Table 2 (1d8):
    1. Betraying
    2. Worshiping
    3. Enslaving
    4. Traveling to see
    5. Fleeing
    6. Negotiating with
    7. Killing
    8. Being killed by 
    Obviously, adjust Table 1 to include groups appropriate to the region and your campaign. You could also repeat some results on either table to make the results more likely. Maybe a war-torn region would have only villagers, knights, and lords on Table 1, and only killing, being killed by and fleeing on Table 2.

    Some of the more interesting results I rolled up:
    • Brigands fleeing madmen
      • I quite like this... Maybe the madness is contagious? Maybe the brigands thought they'd be easy pickings, but it turns out the madmen have some kind of wild magic? Lots of possibilities.
    • Savages betraying knights
      • Another interesting one... Perhaps a local guide is leading the knights into an ambush? Or maybe there's a battle going on - a group of savages were fighting on the side of some knights, but are now running away, leaving the knights to certain death?
    •  Villagers being killed by villagers
      • Witch hunt? Inter-village rivalry? Barroom brawl gone wrong?
    • Wizard(s) negotiating with lepers
      • Hmmm... I like this. Why would wizards be negotiating with lepers? Maybe the wizard needs leper blood for a ritual or spell, or maybe the lepers want to settle near the wizard's tower? Maybe the lepers are actually some kind of powerful beings in disguise, or even rival wizards who've gotten sick and need help?

    11 September 2012

    On Sleeping in Armour

    I periodically see discussions of players sleeping in armour. Or walking around a village in plate and mail carrying a battleaxe. There should be personal and social repercussions for this behaviour. No town wants to see strange warriors walking around (especially if they're better armed than the guard, yeomanry, or especially the local knight or lord). And I think sleeping in plate armour would be pretty uncomfortable.

    The problem is, standard D&D is set up to heavily encourage players to do this. Billy the Baker's Boy, known troublemaker in the town (and a 0-level human), needs a 17 to hit Merk the Merciless, travelling adventurer (and 4th level Fighter) when Merk is wearing plate and carrying a shield. Take away the plate and shield, and Billy now needs a 10 or better to hit Merk, more than a 300% increase in hit rate.

    The problem here is obvious. For his own safety, Merk pretty much has to be wearing that suit all the time. It makes such a big difference that it's likely to be a matter of life and death. Now, don't get me wrong, armour does make a huge difference to survivability. If it didn't, it wouldn't have been invented. But it's far from the only factor. The skill of the warrior and the weapon they're using to defend themself are far more important.

    I've talked about the problem of not considering skill and weaponry on the defense before from the angle of verisimilitude. This is a great example of how faulty mechanics lead to bizarre behaviour. Let's see what the situation looks like if we take into account skill and weaponry.

    Let's consider that Merk gets +1 to his defense for each level of Fighter - that's +4. Let's also consider that he gets +4 to his defense for carrying a sword (a reasonable weapon of self-defense, and likely to be allowed in many jurisdictions). Suddenly, our 0-level human needs a 17 to hit Merk, even though he's not wearing any armour!

    Simply by taking into account skill and weaponry on the defense, we've eliminated (or minimized) one of the enduring and troublesome tropes of D&D. Now, I will admit to making these numbers up to match the original D&D example. I haven't finalized this system numerically yet. If anything, though, +4 underestimates the value of a sword by a lot.

    10 September 2012

    Tactical Movement

    In my post on Combat Round Structure, I alluded to a variety of movements it was possible to declare. Now, the players don't need to use these exact words to describe what they're doing, but all movements they do is going to fall into one of these categories.

    My concept for all of this is to make resolution as straightforward as possible. This is pretty much how descriptive combat works in any case. I'm largely just trying to classify the different plans and modes for tactical movement. I think this is a pretty complete description of how you can move in combat.

    I'll also cover Attacks of Opportunity here, as they often come up in 3E as a result of movement.

    Possible Movement Plans

    There are six ways you could plan to move in a tactical situation:
    • Close distance with opponent(s)
      • A careful attempt to get into range (either melee range or missile range, as appropriate)
    • Open distance with opponent(s)
      • A careful attempt to create distance, usually by falling back, and includes fleeing
    • Maintain distance with opponent(s)
      • A careful attempt to keep the distance between you and your opponent the same, usually by circling (perhaps so a ranged attacker will stay out of melee)
    • Hold your ground
      • Defend yourself while moving as little as possible (defend a fallen comrade, or someone picking a lock, etc.)
    • Make for an objective
      • Head to a specific place (get the gem off the pedestal, go to a fallen comrade to administer first aid, etc.)
    • Maneuver opponent
      • Attempt to maneuver a combatant you are engaged with to where you want them (position them as a shield against missile fire, or to back them up against a chasm so you can push them in, etc.)
    I think for the most part the resolution of these actions should be fairly straightforward.

    A few cases:

    If one combatant is trying to close, and the other maintain or open distance, and one of the combatants is moving faster, they're going to get their way. If they're the same speed, the character not trying to close can either circle, keeping the combatants

    The only one which requires a separate mechanic is Maneuver Opponent, as it would not either automatically succeed, nor is its resolution obvious from common sense. I'll go into more detail on this later, but it would probably require some kind of check modified by your level and the opponents level.

    Possible Movement Modes

    The ways you can go about each of those movements are:
    • Normal
      • 3mph, 25'/round
        • Default mode of movement - move at about a walking speed, ready stance
    • Fast
      • 6mph, 50'/round
        • Jog - 50% reduction to Defense
      • 9mph, 75'/round
        • Run - 75% reduction to Defense
      • 12mph, 100'/round
        • Sprint - 100% reduction to Defense
      • Can still attack at the end of a Fast move, but no added damage.
    • Slow
      • 1.2mph, 10'/round
        •  Move while doing something (trying to light a torch, read a scroll, find that damn potion that's in your pack somewhere)
      • .6mph, 5'/round
        • Extra-cautious (maybe because of poor footing, slippery floor, darkness, etc.)
    • Stealthy
      • Variable, likely 1-6mph
        • Attempt to move without being heard/seen/noticed
    Regarding charges, it seems to me that any added impetus would be likely offset by your worse aim. Rather than try to figure out a lot of fiddly modifiers for that, I think it's easier, and likely equally realistic, to just ignore the issue.

    Stealth will be handled with a mechanic where the GM determines (secretly) how close you get to an enemy before being noticed.

    Sticklers may notice the numbers have been fudged a little to make them round.

    Attacks of Opportunity

    Attacks of Opportunity are stupid. Therefore, they are not included. If you're moving past someone, I think it can be safely assumed that you'll do what it takes not to get smucked. Also, if they're already engaged with someone, stopping to smuck someone else would pretty much guarantee getting smucked themself. Not really a good call.

    If someone wants to attack someone moving past them, they certainly can, but that's their action for the round.

    There are also no attacks of opportunity for people trying to disengage from combat. I think that whole notion got started from Hollywood depictions of swordfights, where two guys stand about two feet apart whacking each others swords. In reality, it's madness to stand that close to someone with a sword. Armed combatants stand far enough apart that either would have to take a step to land a blow - any closer, and you don't have time to defend yourself. That's a distance of about ten feet. At that range, it's very likely that you'll be able to high-tail it before the other person can get a solid blow in.

    9 September 2012

    Combat Round Structure

    I was going to follow on from my last post, Exploration Movement, and cover Tactical Movement now, but I realized that I needed to cover the structure of a combat round first. This is something I didn't cover in my earlier post, What's Wrong With D&D Combat, but the you-go, I-go mechanic of traditional D&D combat creates bizarre scenarios, and would benefit from a revision that takes into account reality and common sense.

    Combat is fundamentally an interactive experience. One combatant does not simply stand still and wait for the other one to act, and then act themself while their opponent stands still. This seems like a requirement imposed by the nature of a pen-and-paper game, but that's not true. Dr. Gentleman, at Large Polyhedron Collider, has outlined the problems with discrete actions and the you-go, I-go system very well in his post here.

    My solution to the problem centres around everyone declaring how they intend to move, resolving the movement, and then resolving any combats that take place because opponents are now in range.


    I'll cover the possible movements to declare in my next post, Tactical Movement, but the important thing is the declaration. The side losing the initiative declares how they intend to move, and then the side winning the initiative declares how they're moving. (That's right, initiative by side - this is all happening at the same time in the game world, so tracking individual initiatives is an exercise in pointless bookkeeping.)


    Movement is resolved before combat. Resolution of movement should be pretty obvious - if two characters try to close distance, they meet in the middle. If one closes, and the other is trying to maintain, they stay about the same distance apart, circling each other, or with the one character moving backwards. And so on.

    Once movement is resolved, resolve combat and actions based on where people are/ended up. Characters that end up in melee range can fight, or not worry about defending themself and do something else. Characters that end up outside of melee range can shoot bows, cast spells - anything, really.

    Resolution is considered to be simultaneous. If Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy both hit each other, they would both go down (as opposed to traditional D&D, where if you were hit and killed before your turn in the round, you missed your turn).

    This is actually pretty close to the system I use now for D&D and Adventure Fantasy Game (if you haven't checked that out yet, you should - it's really cool!). When the party encounters monsters, I decide or roll for who gets to go first, then describe what the other side is about to do. Something like, "Rounding the corner, you see a bunch of tiny men with spears - they look pissed, and charge! What do you do?". It then gets into a you-go, I-go, but the movement step is more or less simultaneous.

    Examples and Comparisons

    Let's look at an example of traditional you-go, I-go combat that exposes the absurdities of the system, and then see how a Declaration/Resolution system doesn't have those flaws.

    Example - You-go, I-go

    Lady Nonesuch: High Dex, move 10, 1 HP.
    Billy the Baker's Boy: No bonuses, move 10, 1 HP.

    Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy start out 11 metres apart. Lady Nonesuch has high Dex, and therefore wins the initiative. She moves up 10 spaces, and her turn ends. Billy moves 1 space, and attacks Lady Nonesuch, killing her. The Lady's high Dexterity is supposed to be an advantage, but as we see, it isn't always.

    Example - Declaration / Resolution

    Lady Nonesuch: High Dex, move 10, 1 HP.

    Billy the Baker's Boy: No bonuses, move 10, 1 HP.

    Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy start out 11 metres apart. Lady Nonesuch has high Dex, so Billy has to declare his movement first. Billy chooses Close. Lady Nonesuch also chooses Close. The combatants both advance, meeting at the 5.5 metre mark. They then attack each other simultaneously, and Lady Nonesuch wins out due to her extensive training.

    I realize that 3E allows you to delay your action and preempt someone else's action, which is an attempt to solve this within the bounds of the you-go, I-go system. Personally, I find this rule fiddly, confusing, and bizarre. In this scenario, it's a rule which requires you to specifically declare, using an additional rule, something that is just standard practice for your character (i.e. attack people that attack you). It also requires tracking of individual initiatives (and complicates it further by changing the order constantly), which I have found to be an absolute nightmare.

    Minis and the Battlemat

    I think this system works equally well for a minis-and-battlemat style or for a purely descriptive style (which I prefer - I don't like counting squares). It seems to me like a pretty common sense approach to combat resolution.

    As an aside, I would point out that allowing a square between combatants makes more sense than requiring them to be adjacent. Any attack you make is going to require you to take a step, and with the step, and your arm out, and the length of your weapon you can easily reach past the adjacent squares.

    8 September 2012

    Exploration Movement

    Eric at The Dragon's Flagon has a great post about movement rates that says most of what needs to be said. I'm going to go through some brief experiments I did and the results I got, and extrapolate that to a reasonable table of movement rates for exploration movement (i.e. movement through a dungeon, or other dangerous locale).


    D&D standard movement rates have people walking at .13 mph. That's 4% of normal walking speed. At that rate, it would take me ~3 minutes to walk to the next room to get a glass of water (a distance of about 36'). Actual time: 8 seconds. To account for the fact that you're not strolling through the park, I tried walking to the kitchen carefully - checking corners, listening at doorways, inspecting everything on the way, moving on the balls of my feet, etc. etc. and the actual time was 15 seconds.

    Recap for Kitchen Trip Experiment:
    D&D speed: 3 minutes (120'/turn, .13 mph)
    Actual Speed: 8 seconds (2600'/turn, 3.1 mph)
    Actual Speed (careful movement): 15 seconds (1400'/turn, 1.6 mph)

    D&D exploration rates are TEN TIMES too slow.

    Let's add mapping into the mix. I tried walking through the ground floor my house and making a detailed 5' square map of the place (distance covered about the same as the last example). I also did the same walk, but made only a ring-and-spoke map (i.e. corridors are lines, rooms are blobs, scale is not precise):

    D&D speed: 3 minutes (120'/turn, .13 mph)
    Detailed map: 61s, (350ft/turn, 1/2mph)
    Ring-and-spoke map: 12s, (1800ft/turn, 2mph)

    As I said in my comment on Eric's post, I think that the character's map would be more like a ring-and-spoke than a detailed scale map. In my mind, the scale map is to give the players and idea of what the space is like. The characters just need to know, "How do I get to the Chamber of 32 Doors? How do I get out again?". If your ideas differ from mine on that, that's fine - use the detailed mapping rate.

    I will also note that, while doing the detailed map, I wasn't good for much else. I wasn't checking corners, I could have walked right by a secret door, or stepped on a pretty obvious pit trap. My assumption here is that there is a party of adventurers, and that they each have a role (point, rearguard, mapper, trap checker). If you're alone in the dungeon, I'd halve that rate (which actually get's back pretty close to the D&D rate). That said, I think mapping is the kind of thing that would get easier with practice. I could see an experienced mapper going up to twice as fast as me, or the same speed, but being twice as careful.

    This is what I would say for a party of adventurers, under ideal conditions (i.e. decent light source, decent footing):

    Base Rate: 2600'/turn
    Exploration Rate: 1200'/turn
    Detailed Mapping Rate: 600'/turn
    Solo Mapping Rate: 300'/turn
    Very, Very Careful Rate: 150'/turn

    Edit: Eric at The Dragon's Flagon points out that the mapper could simply pace of distances, and remember them until the next time the party halts, and update the map while the party dickers or searches the room. I think that makes a lot of sense, and more or less obviates all but the base rate and the exploration rate.

    Implications for Resource Management

    So a standard torch burns for 3 turns. In normal D&D, that would mean 360' explored. As I see it, that would be good for 3600' explored. For perspective, that's enough to cross ~3 sheets of 5x5 graph paper the narrow way at 10' to the square. For the trip out, where you're just retracing your steps and not mapping, exploring, etc., it might be reasonable to say you could walk at the base rate, which means that 3 torches would get you across SIX pieces of graph paper, there and back, in a straight line.

    If you check for wandering monsters, that means you'll be checking once for every ten checks you did under the old movement rules.

    As Eric points out, what this adds up to is that it's pretty pointless to track time moving. It just doesn't take enough time to get around to make it worthwhile. Track time in the dungeon spent dickering about deciding what to do, time searching for that gem you know is in that pile of trash, or time spent looting the bodies after a fight. That stuff takes time. I mean, I can spend 10 minutes searching a room in my house for something I know is there.

    4 September 2012

    Hit Points

    Everyone has a theory about what a "hit point" is. Here's mine: bupkiss. Hit points don't represent anything. They don't make sense, and you can't make sense of them because they don't model anything in reality. This is a problem when trying to make rulings at the table, as you can't apply common sense. It also makes it difficult for other mechanics to work with them.

    Any theory that attributes "skill at avoiding damage" to increasing hit points is nonsense. If that were true, then an unawares attack (like a backstab) should deal the base damage times the character's hit dice to account for the fact that the character cannot use their skill at avoiding damage. Also, heal spells should scale, damage healed per day should scale, all kinds of things should happen that don't. 

    These things are problematic because (much like with AC) you're mixing mechanics. Any increase in ability to avoid damage should come in the characters defense attribute, not their hit points.

    And any theory that says a leveled character can actually take ten times more physical damage than a normal person doesn't know much about biology. It's just not reasonable. (Yes, yes, Rasputin. You can always find outliers if you look hard enough...).

    Another problem I have with hit points (which I touched on earlier) is the loss of mystery. I'd like a little uncertainty about where a character is at, but I don't like the idea of having the GM track hit points secretly and only tell the players generally where their character is at.


    The issue of stats meaning more than one thing is solved by moving hard-to-hit to Defense, hard-to-hurt to Armour, and your actual ability to take a lickin' and keep on tickin' to Fortitude. Fortitude is a derived stat based on your natural strength, health, and mental discipline.

    Each time you're hit and damaged, you'll accrue Wounds, and make a check against your Fortitude penalized by the number of Wounds you have. If you fail the check, you're overcome by your wounds, and are hors de combat. This could mean passed out, you've fallen and you can't get up, or the pain is too much to bear any longer. In any case, you are not combat effective, and require medical attention. You'll accrue another Wound each minute until you receive assistance.

    You'll keep track of Wounds much like you keep track of dwindling Hit Points. If your Wounds are greater than your Fortitude, you're dead. Time, medical assistance, and healing magic can reduce your number of Wounds.

    This concept can be extended to fatigue, as well, although I think this should be an optional bolt-on. Under certain circumstances, you can accrue Fatigue - running, fighting in plate and mail, carrying ten stone of loot, and so on... Each point of Fatigue would penalize your Fortitude checks the same way Wounds do, and if your Fatigue + Wounds is greater than your Endurance, you've "hit the wall", and are more or less incapacitated from over-exertion. Rest, food, and water are prescribed. Or magic.

    This mechanic immediately opens up an interesting idea for a feat or class feature - you can ignore your first failed Fortitude check, making you able to stay in the fight longer, but also more likely to suddenly die in combat as you push yourself further than normally possible.

    This system eliminates the problems with the traditional hit point system, provides a workable mechanic, and allows for feats or class features to "hook in" in interesting ways.

    30 August 2012

    Armour (or, more accurately, Defense)

    Armour has one function: to mitigate the damage you take when you get hit. In D&D, though, Armour Class represents difficulty to be hit. This is because D&D has this weird language where "hit" means something other than "hit". To me, if you are hit, the opponent's weapon has struck your body. In D&D, hit means the opponent's weapon struck your body and penetrated your armour. A "miss" in D&D will often have struck your armour, but not penetrated or transferred enough force to hurt you. I play B/X D&D these days, so I'm going to talk about descending armour classes when I reference D&D. Deal with it.

    Armour Class combines a few different things in D&D: dodging, parrying, and armour. I could be AC 5 because I have a high Dexterity (dodging), or I could be AC 5 because I'm wearing chain mail (armour). I don't recall the specifics, but I could also lower my AC in some editions by spending the round only defending (parrying).

    One thing which can't make your AC better is skill. Wait, what? That's right - in D&D, it is equally hard to hit Billy the Baker's Boy or to hit Lady Nonesuch (who has been training at arms since childhood). Bizarre, to say the least.

    The other thing which should have a huge effect on your AC, and which doesn't, is your choice of weapon. Look me in the eyes, and tell me with a straight face that it's equally difficult to land a serious blow on a person holding a sword and a person holding nothing. It's farcical. The first job of a melee weapon is to keep you alive. Killing the other person is a secondary concern.

    Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that there are two factors to the defense: hard-to-hit and hard-to-hurt.


    Not getting hit comprises skill, weapon selection, and natural ability. Lady Nonesuch (who you will recall has been training at arms since childhood), should be very skilled indeed at evading blows, parrying, blocking, ripostes, counterattacks, etc. Even so, if she doesn't have a sword, and Billy the Baker's Boy does, her odds of coming out unscathed don't look so good.

    I covered the relative defensive merits of various weapons in my previous post on Weapon Behaviour, and I'll cover skill in an upcoming post about Levelling.


    Damage reduction typically comes from armour (on a human), but could also take into account the thick hide of a dragon, the impervious nature of a stone golem, or the difficulty in hacking down a solid oak door. I realized while writing this that insubstantial creature don't fit this model - they should have damage reduction, but it shouldn't be mitigated by using a mace. I'll think about that, and come back to it later - for now, we'll only look at totally corporeal targets.

    There were three main types of armour in use in the Middle Ages: cloth, mail, and plate and mail. We can rate them simply as 1, 2, and 3 (with normal clothing being 0) as far as their damage reduction potential. We can also carry on up the scale - I could see a stone golem having an armour rating of 5 or 6 - it's just really hard to make a dent in stone!

    Armour Type Armour Value
    None or Normal Clothes 0
    Cloth or Leather 1
    Mail 2
    Plate and Mail 3

    As an aside, from what I can tell, many of the types of armour commonly listed in D&D are not historical. Studded leather, splint mail, banded mail, scale mail - none of these seem to have historical antecedents (not in medieval Europe, anyway). Early medieval armour consisted of cloth, cloth and mail, or cloth, mail, and plates (either as whole plates, or coats-of-plates/brigandine).

    Leather doesn't seem to have been commonly used in Medieval Europe, but it was common elsewhere at the time. From the evidence I've seen, it has generally similar properties to cloth armour.