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.