Monday, November 30, 2015

Considering the Half-Orc (again)

I received positive feedback on my Holmesian half-orc post the other day, which is cool (because I liked it myself), but I find myself wondering if it's enough. Enough to make players consider the possibility of playing a half-orc, I mean.

Because, as it stands, the only real advantage we see here is the ability to play an assassin with infravision. Since there's no multi-classing in my Holmesian vision (leaving out the special case of elves), there's nothing else you get with this species of semi-human that you can't get from, say, playing a half-elf...and the half-elf doesn't carry the same reaction penalty as the half-orc. That's not much of an incentive, especially as my version of an assassin is one that relies, in part, on its ability to get close to a target...something a good reaction roll could definitely help with.

SO...the half-orc needs another bone, in my opinion. Here's what I'm thinking: half-orcs receive a +1 bonus to reaction rolls (no penalty) when interacting with monstrous (non-player) humanoids of an "evil" persuasion: orcs, goblins, trolls, bugbears, etc.

This could make any half-orc PC (of any class) a bit more interesting to play, as well as opening a door that encourages social interaction, and it also increases the possibility of a motley crew of strange henchmen and followers (though the half-orcs' low CHA score would still limit the number of followers in their war bands). What do you think...too much? I definitely prefer something like this to giving them some orc-specific exotic weapon specialty.

"Let's discuss this like civilized folk."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Back to Levels

It is so quiet here.

The house in which we reside in Paraguay is this cavernous, concrete, wood, and tile conglomeration in which sound echoes and carries. And my family (excepting the wife) is loud anyway. Here, even with beagles, you can sit in one part of our home and know next-to-nothing about what's going on in a different section. Right now, the loudest sound is the tapping of keys on my laptop. In fact, I might have to move so I don't wake the boy (who is sleeping in the bed in which I currently write).

Anyway...this is the first post I've written since being back in Seattle (just too much to see and do). It's a cold, Sunday morning with football starting in a couple hours and oh, how I miss days like this. By next Saturday I'll be back in Paraguay with the heat and bugs and...ugh, I just don't want to think about it. Too depressing. Best to enjoy the moment.


When I started writing EID, my latest-greatest in fantasy heartbreakers, I was working within a different paradigm...specifically one that didn't use levels, as in "levels of experience." It had other ways to increase competence over time, through accomplishment (the basics? providing a replenishing resource pool that increased as characters met various milestones, said resource being available for a number of different purposes: buying off damage (extra HPs), increasing attack/save rolls (extra competence), gaining more "skills" (think "feats"), etc.).

However, after working with Holmes the last couple-three weeks. I find again that I really dig the ease of levels, even though there are problematic aspects to it. Problematic? the artificial progression of advancement, across a set spectrum/range. What if I'm a wizard who spends ten years to learn one high level spell, rather than the accumulation of a plethora of low-level spells? What if I'm a thief who focuses on a particular skill at the expense of others? What if I'm a fighter that specializes in a particular style and weapon? Etc., etc. Real world people seldom progress in such broad - and tidily packaged - style.

But,'s a game. I finished reading Alexis's The Dungeon's Front Door a few days ago (I'll write some sort of review in a bit), and if there's one thing he emphasized for me...has been emphasizing's the essential game nature of Dungeons & Dragons. Not that the game is "just a game;" D&D is much more than a game of Risk or Gin-Rummy. But it's not reality, either...whether purposefully designed as such or not, it delivers a particular experience to the players and the main product of that experience should be, must be fun. A strange type of "fun," perhaps, to people who've never played, but fun nonetheless.

Levels are fun. Treasure (not treasure units) is fun. Dungeons are fun.

We already know these things aren't "realistic;" realism isn't what we're striving for in a game of magic and monsters. Are they sensible? Probably not...but even ridiculous nonsense can be fun to people who dislike such things so long as it is contained within the proper context. And in the context of a game designed (even by accident) to deliver a particular experience, these things are appropriate (perhaps even essential) to increasing the fun factor. And if your design would otherwise diminish fun, Why O Why would anyone be interested in playing?

So...the 48 page FHB? Probably dying a stillborn death on my hard drive. Sorry, folks.

Note, when I say "probably," I mean with 99.9% certainty...however, there are aspects, snippets that might make it into something else. However, even so, one has to ask: WHY? Why, why, why would I want to write Yet Another class-based, level-based game based on D&D?

Talk about spinning your wheels! The EID project was, at least, different...a different paradigm, maybe even a more sensible paradigm. But if it's not as fun as D&D, if it doesn't offer the same fun potential as D&D, what's the point? Really. Practice? Well...

At the moment, I've got an idea for something that (even I think) is really dumb. I mean, truly stupid. And, no, it has nothing to do with megadungeons, if that's what you're wondering. But I'm a little in love with the idea. Let me see if I can make any headway with it (probably after I get back to Paraguay) before I discuss it more. But it really is pretty stupid, so don't get too excited.

All right, that's it for now. The boy just woke up so we're going to go play a game.
: )

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Half-Orc

[sorry for the delay in getting this one might imagine, it gets busier 'round these parts the closer we get to the holiday proper. This represents the last of my "Holmes Rules" index of posts will go up tomorrow or Friday (depending on free time) for folks' convenience]

"What'd you say about
my mother?"
Half-Orcs -- are nearly as tall as humans, but tend to have a hunched, stooped posture and bowed legs. Their features are heavy and there is a definite "orc-ness" to them that makes others uncomfortable (-1 to reaction rolls). A half-orc character receives a +1 to both strength and constitution and a -2 to charisma; these adjustments may not take the character out of the normal 3-18 range. Half-orcs have the equivalent of infravision, and suffer no ill effects in sunlight (though they do not love it). Due to their human ancestry, half-orcs enjoy a good choice of classes in which to progress, including fighters (and the ranger subclass), clerics, as well as both thieves and assassins. Not all half-orcs are churlish and ill-mannered; player characters should generally be assumed to have been raised by humans and thus exhibit the full spectrum of human personality.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Half-Elf

"You making fun of
my beard, or my ears?"
Half-Elves -- are nearly as tall as humans, and exhibit the same human range of skin color, but are slighter in build. Like elves, they have infravision and an increased ability to spot secret doors, and usually speak both Elvish and Common speech, in addition to any languages due to intelligence. Their mixed ancestry makes them natural diplomats and they are generally charming and well-liked by all who meet them (+1 to reaction rolls). While they cannot mix fighting and magic as elves, they have a good range of classes in which they may progress, being barred only from the paladin, illusionist, assassin, and monk subclasses. Despite their name, half-elves may have as little as 25% ancestry (from either side) and still possess the attributes of a "half-elf."

[the long awaited Holmesian half-elf. I've only got a couple more of these pre-scheduled posts...then I'll have to start writing again. If I can (holidays, ya' know?)]

Monday, November 23, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Bard

Bards -- some thieves of a less larcenous bent have found the life of a traveling minstrel more to their taste; the coin still spends (and is less dangerous to come by), and the open road satisfies their wanderlust. A thief must have a score of 9 or better in both charisma and intelligence to become a bard.

Bards can wear chain in addition to leather armor and unlike other thieves they roll 6-sided dice for hit points. Bards do not have the same skills as a normal thief, and gain no advantage for attacking from behind; however, they do have the same ability to read languages and magic scrolls as a thief (upon reaching 4th level). Their main talent is their music, and any creature that hears a bard's music has a chance of being mesmerized as indicated by the charm percentage on the table below. A successful roll indicates creatures must stand rapt, doing nothing but listen until the bard finishes playing or the creature is attacked. Members of the bard's party need not be affected, and individuals with hit dice or levels in excess of the bard receive a saving throw to resist. A bard may attempt to plant a suggestion in the minds of mesmerized creatures ("go to sleep," "follow me," "show us your treasure," etc.), but the target automatically receives a save to resist. A bard may attempt to use her charm a number of times per day equal to her level of experience.

Trippin' tunes.
The range of the bard's music is 60 feet, and it will automatically counteract the song effects of harpies and similar "sound attacks;" likewise, it will still the noise of shriekers. In most towns, a bard can earn D6 gold per day by busking in the street. In their travels, bards pick up all sorts of rumors, legends, and stories, and has a chance indicated by their lore percentage of knowing useful information about any locale, person, or object (like magic items) encountered. Bards also learn extra languages in addition to those known due to the character's intelligence. A bard may use any magic item available to thieves.

Lore Master
Master Bard

[EDIT: I have to say I am (again) very pleased with how this one turned out, especially with regard the class abilities. I don't think bards really need spells (aside from the magic of their music), though that might come as a disappointment to folks who've been playing bards since their 2nd and 3rd edition incarnations. I know that when I played my AD&D bard (waaaaaay back in the day), I almost never resorted to using its druid spells. One thing about going through the weird "fighter-thief" progression first: you learned how to adventure withOUT magic. By the time my character became a bard, I continued to use my fighting and thief skills (supplemented by my musical ability), and the druid-shtick was a serious afterthought. With this simplification (Doug Schwegman's original write-up in SR also had spells), I think it focuses the character, making it more in line with its "parent class," the thief. I even like the 12 level limit...but I'm finding it really difficult to make that work with my 1,000,000xp limit. I might need to expand it to thirteen]

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Big Twelve

You know, I almost forgot to mention a thunk I had.

Holmes (as adapted by me) has a total of four classes and seven subclasses. For the record, they look like this:


Obviously, basic symmetry demands an additional subclass to go under the Thief heading. 

I am very seriously considering an adaptation of the bard for the gig, though it will be a lot simpler (i.e. "Holmesian") than what you've seen in the past. I found a copy of The Strategic Review in which a suggested bard first appeared (penned by Doug Schwegman, February 1976). It is the clear precursor to Gygax's appendix class in the AD&D PHB and is a "hodgepodge" of Norse skald, Celtic bard, and southern European minstrel (the author describes it as such). Unlike the PHB version, there is no "class switching" involved in the class's actually looks quite a bit like the version I cobbled together for my B/X Companion and (later) developed for The Complete B/X Adventurer.

Anyway, as I said way back in my post on thieves and assassins, I think the bard is an easy subclass fit under the thief (despite being its own class in AD&D), and...well, if I'm going to do a half-orc, I might as well round out the class list to twelve.

Hey...six races (human, elf, dwarf, halfling, half-elf, half-orc) and twelve classes. There's some nice symmetry there, too. I'll take it as a (positive) sign.
: )

Saturday, November 21, 2015


And then I look at half-elves and I what the hell am I going to do with them?

As I mentioned way back when, I wanted to do a Holmesian write-up for half-elves the same way I did for the various subclasses mentioned in his Basic text. Unfortunately, while I can understand why such a player race might exist (and it provides interesting role-playing possibilities in elf-human relation scenarios), mechanically, it's kind of...meh.

At least, when you consider it in light of my decisions on demihuman classes, level limits, and the absence of multi-classing. I mean, here's what a half-elf gives you:

Infravision (as an elf)
Extra languages (as an elf)
Secret door spotting (as an elf)

Aaaaannd...that's it.

Now, in a game of OD&D or AD&D, there's some incentive to play a half-elf. Additional class options not available to elves (including the cleric, ranger, and druid). Additional multi-classing opportunities (which I'm not using). Higher levels to be gained in some classes...well, really only fighter and assassin (+1 level each). If one uses the optional bard class in 1E AD&D you also have a great incentive to be a half-elf (my long-running AD&D character was a half-elf bard).

I'll probably end up going "off-book" again when it comes to this hybrid species. Considering my current race-class restrictions:
  • All elves are combo fighter/mages (no, there are no "elven thieves")
  • Dwarves may be either fighters or thieves
  • Halflings may be either fighters or thieves
  • No demihuman may belong to a subclass
...the best mechanical incentive I can probably include is the loosening of class restrictions for half-elf characters. However (as usual), it has to make sense within the setting of the campaign.

Furthermore, if I decide to include half-orcs (a strong temptation) I need to apply some consistency to how a semi-human hybrid functions. If the half-elf's human nature gives him the ability to participate in human-restricted classes, the same should be true of half-orcs, right? But while the original PHB rules provided a bit of parity (similar levels and classes) there were some inconsistencies (cleric for both, yes; druid, no...and no ranger or magic-user options for the half-orc).

ALSO, I really dislike the idea of giving a character the ability to be a subclass but not the class. For example, I'm tempted to allow half-orc witches (that "earthy magic" thing) but half-orc magic-users? I guess I'm stereotyping the fantasy subhuman here, but I don't see half-orcs scribing scrolls like a Holmesian mage.

Less viable than a half-elf
What to do, what to do. Thing is, do hybrids get "the best" of both species? Should they? The typical Old School D&D response would be "no" to both these questions, but I'm not sure that's right. Certainly humans of mixed race have a tendency to be healthier (less chance of genetic duplication and defect). But we're talking about mixed species, here, not races within the same species. A mule is a good example: combining a horse with a donkey gives you an animal that is:

"more patient, sure-footed, hardy, and long-lived than horses, and...less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys."

However, that's not to say they're as fast as a horse, nor as tough and easy to care for as a donkey. They aren't and they aren't. But what they are is their own thing...their own hybrid species.

Tolkien half-orcs were taller than (normally squat) orcs...which could simply mean they had better posture...and no fear of sunlight. Tolkien half-elves were required to choose whether to live as elves or humans, though those who chose humanity were still blessed with abnormally long lifespans (well, abnormal compared to a normal human). In Tolkien, half-orcs were inherently "bad" and half-elves inherently "good," unlike humans who might go over to either side...and until 3rd edition D&D, I never did see a half-orc of good alignment (probably because they were so often multi-class assassins, with an evil alignment restriction).

*sigh* Have I ever mentioned how little I like infravision?

All right, I'm going to have to chew on this for a bit...I'll try to get something written up tomorrow (either for one or both). Later.

[EDIT: while I did "write up something tomorrow" this post was written several days ago, as was its subsequent follow-up. I have half a dozen posts scheduled to roll out on the blog in anticipation of my writing restrictions while traveling. However, I am still looking for comments and feedback on these thoughts.]