Friday, April 24, 2015

Crazy Train

Now where was I...oh, right: going off the rails.

The last couple days have been spent mostly researching ancient history, and the pseudo-science "archaeological" study of goofy, woo-woo lost cultures (like Atlantis). It would just be so useful if we had real, working time machines and an ability to go back and truly document ancient history (you know, when exactly did the dinosaurs die, who built the damn Giza pyramids, who was mining copper out of the Americas and exporting it to Eurasia to fuel the bronze age, etc.). I don't even need to go back and see Jesus healing lepers and such...just let me fly around the globe circa 9000 BCE and see what was going on. I promise I won't try to put modern Egyptologists out of business. Heck, I'll even agree to stay west of the Prime Meridian; I never had much interest in China anyway.

*sigh* So many people arguing so many crazy things on the internet. So much history tainted with bias and agendas. And so so soooo much of our history unknown. Radiocarbon dating isn't wholly  accurate, and our written material (what we can translate) just doesn't withstand the forces of entropy for more than a few centuries. Unless they're inscribed in gold, or other precious metal, that is...but then, such "books" of that type were likely melted down for ready cash long ago by folks who couldn't decipher them anyway. Or confiscated by the Vatican. Or whatever.

But you folks don't want to to hear about all that stuff...let's talk about games!

SO...one of the purposes in writing the new fantasy heartbreaker (recall that I've already got a pseudo-heartbreaker under my belt with Five Ancient Kingdoms), was to get something down that was more like "Basic" D&D. Yes, funhouse-style gaming...though, now the specifics of the setting are starting to make this look like a long-term sandbox-style campaign setting. ANYway...part of getting back to "basics" was going back to those funny-shaped dice that D&D helped popularize...all those D8s, D4s, and D12s (not to mention D20s!). I wanted to make a game that people would recognize, even if it was a "little different."

Then I started looking at Star Wars.

Specifically Fantasy Flight Game's new Star Wars RPGs (Edge of Empire, Age of Rebellion, etc.). I could find surprisingly little posted on-line about these games (considering the production value and general popularity of the setting)...then again, I didn't spend time perusing the FFG forums. I know there are people playing it. I know there are even more people who simply own it (I want to own it...the artwork and production values are stunning!). The main knock people seem to have (and there aren't all that many negative reviews out there, please realize) is the proprietary dice required to play with their weird symbols (as opposed to numbers or pips).

Personally, I'm not terribly into a this kind of gimmick (says the guy who has special "zero dice" commissioned for sale with 5AK...hypocrite, much?). *AHEM* Personally, I am NOT really into this kind of gimmick when it leads to overly-complicated mechanics that are hard to decipher (how hard is it to read "zero" on a six-sided die? Not bloody-damn hard!), but the REASON behind it (to introduce narrative aspects into the standard mechanics of the game with a single simple dice roll) isn't a bad one. Just one that was kind of clunkily executed.

So I started brainstorming an easier way to do the same thing. And that's where my "basic" idea starts to fall apart.

See, one thing I really wanted to return to was the "roll D20" to hit, to save, to everything. People love those little 20-sided dice and I wanted to give 'em to them. There were three main mechanics in Moon, and all of them used a D20 mechanic. I was intending to keep these mechanics for the new iteration. But now...well, now it's going to be a "roll 2D10" instead.

Bell curves. Nerds like me who look at dice and percentages (well, and maybe some hard-core gamblers, too) know that rolling 2D10 is a lot different from rolling a D20 (and not just because 'you can't roll a 1'). When rolling a D20, each number (1-20) has an equal chance of being rolled (5%) and all "+"s and "-"s from, say, ability scores or level move the needle in simple increments of 5%.

2D10 is different. The percentage chance of rolling very high or very low is much smaller compared to numbers "in the middle." Which, when considering a "roll over target number" scenario (as is my basic mechanic), means easy rolls get easier to make, and harder rolls get harder.

Blah blah blah...what does that mean, JB? Let's look at a basic example: combat. Attack rolls versus armor class (though I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with the "AC" term in the final document). At the moment, you've got three basic target numbers when fighting an armored man:

10 (unarmored)
13 (light armor)
16 (heavy armor)

with a shield adding +1 to those numbers (11, 14, and 17, in other words).

Needing to "roll over" the target number to hit means a dice roll of 11+, 14+, or 17+ against non-shield wielding opponents. Since all PCs get at least a +1 to their attack roll (bonus is level-class-based), this means that, effectively, each character type needs to roll a result equal to the actual AC of the target to make a successful attack (for example, if the PC tries to damage a dude wearing heavy armor and a shield, she needs to roll 17, as 17+1 = 18). We can see that with a straight D20 roll the chance of success for each AC is:

10 (11) - 55% (50%)
13 (14) - 40% (35%)
16 (17) - 25% (20%)

With the bell curve of 2D10, this looks fairly different:

10 (11) - 64% (55%)
13 (14) - 36% (28%)
16 (17) - 15% (10%)

Armor becomes substantially more effective, and the +1 AC bonus from a shield makes a bigger difference...though with a diminishing "rate of return" (only a 5% bump if already wearing "heavy armor" - but you're basically forcing your 1st level opponent to roll the equivalent of a 19+ on a standard D20 to do damage).

Because of the bell curves, smaller adjustments (a +2 versus a +1) make a bigger difference. While at the "top end" (+5ish) it works out to be about the same success chance against hard difficulties as a D20 system, the success against easy target numbers is much greater...in the +10%-15% range. That's the equivalent of giving the D20 character an extra +2 or +3 against easy-medium targets without needing to resort to inflation of effectiveness by making sure everyone has more potent magic weapons (if sticking with the combat example). 

For DMs that don't want to clutter their campaigns with needless enchanted items (just for the sake of meeting expectations of character effectiveness) this is a bit of a godsend...and at the same time makes sure that the harder challenges remain appropriately hard (plate armor doesn't suddenly become useless unless upgraded to mithril, etc.).

Of course, that's just the effective outcome of switching from a D20 base to a 2D10 base for "stunt" rolls (what I call the action mechanic: attack stunts, magic stunts, and physical stunts). The whole reason for switching to a 2D10 mechanic was to enable me to create additional outcomes (similar to FFGs "advantage," "threat," "triumph," and "despair" results) at the same time as determining success/failure. Rolling two dice instead of one allows me to do this by allowing me to compare the results of each die separately (to its partner) in addition to examining the sum total of the roll.

At this point, I'm keeping it simple (it's supposed to be a "basic" game, right?) and just looking at "doubles" rolls (double 10, double 4, etc.) in relationship to two factors: whether or not the end result was a success-failure, and the character's level (I'm tempted to add a 3rd factor: a comparison based on class and type of stunt, but haven't developed the idea yet). Since doubles get rolled 1 in 10 times on a 2D10, that gives a 10% chance of "something interesting" happening on any particular stunt roll...not particularly over-whelming and not much different from saying a D20 roll of "20" is a "critical" and a roll of "1" is a "fumble." It just allows me to be a bit more nuanced with my effects.

SO...I've decided that I'm going to stick with it. The 2D10 thing instead of D20, that is. I realize this puts me outside the normal FHB model (again, jeez...just like what happened with 5AK), but I think the end result will better model what I want it to model.

Which is treasure hunting descendants of Atlantean colonists fighting the monstrous creations of older Atlantean migrations in the South American wilderness with orcichalcum spears and bronze armor, 11,000 years before present. Oh yeah...and sorcery, of course. Got to have sorcery.

More later.

A little too long in the jungle.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Sofia Jeanne!

3% power. That's what my computer's got at this very moment. Fairly reflective of my energy level, too.

Need to buy candles still...shit!
Hi! It's my daughter's birthday today (she just turned one), AND it's Tuesday (a busy day of the week here in Paraguay) so I've been running around a lot, rather than blogging. Sorry about that. All sorts of new, dumbshit traffic-driving stories to tell...I've probably written this a half dozen times already (I think it most every day here), but I'll write it one more time: in my town (Seattle), there's a saying that goes like this:

If everyone on the road appears to be driving like an asshole, maybe YOU are the asshole.

This phrase needs to be modified somewhat when living in Asuncion:

If everyone on the road appears to be driving like an asshole, maybe YOU are the asshole...or maybe you're just driving in Paraguay.

I fucking kid you not. Wife got T-boned just last week (she hadn't been in a traffic accident in a couple decades). I haven't yet...but then, I've learned not to trust anyone on the road. Ever. Even you're friends. 'Cause it's the Wild West down here.

[I say that semi-literally...after all, you're sometimes sharing the road with a horse-drawn wagon]

ANYway...apologies. Not just for the negativity. I had been planning to write about skill trees, but I am currently in one of those "back to the drawing board" stages of design. I had a brainstorm (not just a squall, mind you, but a full on tormenta) related to Star Wars (of all things) and, well, I'm currently crunching numbers to see how things might work.

Friggin' bell curves.

So, today was going to be light posting anyway, but now it's looking more like "non-existent" (except for this post). Plus, I need a nap.

More in a bit (probably). OH, WAIT...for those who like contests and missed it, this guy over here is doing some sort of RPG design challenge, where you need to write a game in 200 words or less. For all you, would-be designers out there, I'd suggest taking a stab (even if you don't actually mail in a submission) as a practical attempt at streamlining concepts under constraint. I know I'll give it a shot.

After my nap.
; )

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Magnificent Seven

What I really want to write about this morning is skill trees, but mine won't make much sense until I've had a chance to discuss classes in the new FHB.

[which reminds me...new Game of Thrones last night went unseen due to the disgusting inability of my internet to stream shows (couldn't watch Mad Men, either). As such I'm irritated by the whole subject at the moment. Which means, Crowns of Blood stuff is on-hold, despite my original plans for today's posting]

All Basic editions of D&D have a pool of seven classes to draw from...the same seven classes actually. Well, all pre-1985 editions of Basic. They are, of course:

Cleric
Dwarf
Elf
Fighter
Halfling
Magic-User
Thief

I read somewhere, once upon a time, that the average human brain has a rather easy time when it comes to holding grouped data where the data points number seven or less, but struggles when the number hits eight or more. This was a few years ago, and I don't remember where I heard it (maybe NPR when I still listened to that radio station?). But I remember thinking (at the time) that perhaps this is why the Basic classes of D&D are so easy to remember and regurgitate (along with their associated capabilities): that magic seven number.

Seven has always been a bit of a "mystic" number. In numerology, it represents the planet Neptune, and it's astrological meanings. Seven was the number of "celestial bodies" visible to the naked eye in ancient times (counting the Sun and Moon), from whence we get our seven days of the week. Seven is considered a "lucky number" by many folks. It is a number that fires the imagination.

Anyway...I didn't have seven classes in my Moon game (the prior iteration of my FHB) or either of Moon's prior incarnations. Instead all had three classes (the three classes being different in each) attempting to model archetypes with "sub-classifications" (i.e. specializations) under each basic class.

Of course, I wasn't using demihumans, which knocks out three of the four Basic D&D classes.

[for an example of what a JB "subclass" looks like, check out Five Ancient Kingdoms. A subclass (of which there are eight in 5AK) is the same as the main class, but simply loses one or two of their normal class abilities to gain a subclass specific ability. No new spell lists or major strictures of the druid or paladin type...just subtle variation]

Welp, the latest version is junking that and going back to something more basic. Well, more "Basic" anyway. It's got seven classes, classes that (somewhat) ape the original seven, though they don't include demihumans:

Explorer
Fighter
Native
Outsider
Rogue
Sorcerer
(Sorcerous) Dabbler

I figured I'd go ahead and list 'em all, and then explain my thought process here. Sorry for the ass-backwardness.

First off, in considering the setting (South America-ish) and premise (treasure hunting) of the game, I made a list of what classes I wanted to see at the table. Not which classes I thought should be part of the game, but what I wanted to see people play. While I could take a picture of my crummy, hand-written notes ad post it, it will be faster (and more legible) to simply type it out:

Sorcerer-Priest (the same...some more pious, some less)
Fighter-Knight (the same...some stouter than others)
War Priest (big guy with smiting ability)
Thief-Assassin (the same...just with different focus)
SpellSword (Lythande, Elric, etc.)
Hunter (the "halfling" class...primitives)
Illusionist (charlatans & rogues)

That's what I wrote...but as you can see I ended up with something a little different (and yet, not terribly so).

The hyphenated guys (sorcerer-priest, fighter-knight, and thief-assassin) were concepts that I envisioned as classes with two sides...not necessarily a coin with two sides but more of a sliding scale with (for example) sorcerer on one end and priest on the other. I saw the difference of side being more one of perspective...or perhaps one of opportunity (the "knight" being born a higher caste than the more mercenary "fighter"). I needed something that would allow the slide to take place between the two poles of these classes...and since I wanted to be consistent, I felt I would need to create similar poles for each.

There's some obvious re-skinning going on here. The "spell-sword" (a character that fights AND uses magic) is a pretty obvious "elf" re-skin (something I've been doing since waaaay back in 2009). The halfling has been rebranded specifically as a "hunter," which in the case of this setting is more of a "savage" or "barbarian" type (and no, they ain't short). The only odd-man out was the illusionist...made more odd by the fact that I still wanted to use the magic system I have from Moon which is really just a bunch of sorcerous spells of different flavors, none of which are really "illusionary."

O Illusionist...how quickly you meet the axe outside of 1st edition AD&D. In my notes, the class is scribbled out, which happened pretty early in the brainstorming process.

Anyway...looking at my now six I started wondering where I was going to get a seventh (because I liked the idea of having this Magnificent Number), and realized I'd done no re-skin of dwarves. Of course, this was due in part to me hating dwarves lately. 'But if I did not hate dwarves,' JB asked himself, 'what would they look like? What archetypal place might they hold in a class system?'

This line of questioning led me to "spelunker" and from there to the Explorer class, named above. See how my brain works?

Then I let it all stew a bit in the setting that I was envisioning (a setting that I am still developing, mind you...currently it's progressed from circa 16th century South America to something 10,000 years earlier). I decided the War Priest was going to be something decidedly primitive in nature: a dude with a lot of feathers, animal hide or plant-skin armor, and a big war mace of some sort. This dude was not coming from the same "colonist" faction as the other conquistadors, but rather from the ranks of the indigenous people. And so he was lumped under the class heading Native along with the pre-funked "hunter" class as two ends of the sliding scale (between the tribal warrior and the tribal shaman-type).

It was game system that had me excise the "priest" side of the sorcerer-priest equation. I mean, I suppose they are still "sorcerer-priests," setting-wise, but the magic system necessitated different poles...plus I really didn't want to include a "piety" stat (or ability score) that would really only be of use to one of seven classes.

One of seven? Wait a sec...I consolidated war priest and hunter so now I'm back down to six! But then, I still didn't really have any type of healer or "wise man" class. Some people think that lore master types are boring as shit, and (like sages) belong in a support role (back home), not traipsing off on adventures. I, on the other hand, always come back to the film Krull, and Freddie Jones portrayal of Ynyr "the Old One." This type of wandering mystic is exactly the kind of thing I prefer to the D&D "cleric" class.

I eat slayers for breakfast...with my muesli.
[remember when I mocked up a Krull campaign setting for B/X? Check out the "Wise One" class]

Plus, this type of hermit-dude gives me a chance to include another of my favorite archetypes: the solitary witch. Like Mr. Brannan, I am a sucker for the inclusion of a good witch archetype in any game I write-play. Creating an Outsider class allows me to include the witch on the opposite pole from the mystic. And now I'm back up to seven classes.

Let's see, have I covered everything? Knight-merc fell into the Fighter category; thief-assassin is in the Rogue classification (natch); Sorcerers have "adepts" and "eclectics," though that won't mean much to folks at this point.

Oh, yeah...the Dabbler. That's just the "spell-sword" renamed because, neat as that sounds, I didn't want any confusion with the "sell-sword" pole (that I later converted to "mercenary" anyway). Besides, I still needed two spectrum ends for my elf re-skin. Here's my thought: what really defines the spell-sword more than anything is that they know "a little magic." They dabble in it, but they don't pursue it with same single-mindedness of "real" sorcerers. In fantasy literature, they're too busy wandering around, killing people with swords, getting paid, brooding on their fate, etc. Elric may profess to be the greatest sorcerer of his time, but you rarely see him actually working magic (maybe once or twice per story)...he's pretty damn laissez faire about the whole magic thang. Grey Mouser likewise curtails his magic use (despite being raised by a magician)...though perhaps more so out of fear (respect?) or distaste for the art.

SO..."dabbler." The two poles I'm currently working with are "spell-sword" and "spell-thief," the latter of which may act as a stand-in for any type of illusionist/mountebank trickster-type character I'd like to see in the game. We'll see how that works out (it's all still a work in progress).

Okay...so now you've got my classes (and the thought process behind 'em). Now, I can talk about "skills" (which will be my method for sliding between the twin "poles" of each class).

Later, folks.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Big Six

As I look towards writing a "new" Fantasy Heartbreaker (or, more accurately, converting a conversion of a conversion), I find myself looking back at D&D editions over the years to see how ability scores were handled. Of course, I always start with OD&D (the Little Brown Books) because, well, that's where it all originates, yeah?

So in looking at the Big Six ability scores I notice something that I have (of course) noted in the past: namely that the Great Three Prime Requisites have absolutely zero effect on characters other than "rate of advancement" (i.e. XP gain). Which, just for the record, is no MINOR mechanical effect, BUT is really small potatoes compared to the mechanical effects of later editions and the incredible importance and weight these attributes carry. Things like attack and damage bonuses, number of spells known, and potential power limits of spell-casters.

I hate all that.

I especially hate the whole Strength bonus thang, not the least-wise because it got me into stupid trouble in the past. Nope, I hate it because The Game is soooo combat-oriented that it is just a matter of time before one's character gets embroiled in a melee and the importance of being able to hit and inflict damage gains life-and-death importance and thus becomes a paramount mechanical adjustment for ALL characters. When really, the only thing I want to use to model attacking ability is: A) character's training (class), and B) experience (level).

[there's also the issue of the resentment I've seen at the table due to the random strength roll. The fighter with the 13-15 STR, for instance, who looks at the cleric with the 16 STR and sees that healer is a better melee fighter for three levels of play, despite the focus of their careers. In reality, there have been plenty of small statured warriors who were better at inflicting damage with a single blow than incompetent, larger individuals. Ask any U.S. marine about that sometime!]

SO...since I wasn't planning on using Prime Requisites in the FHB, I thought I might simply DROP the whole stat from the character sheet. Just ix-nay the issue all together in a Gordion Knot kind of way. If there's no mechanical bonus to be derived from the attribute, why bother rolling the 3D6? Issue resolved.

Likewise, I figured I could do the same, axe-wise, with Intelligence and Wisdom. After all, I've decided to take a hint from folks like Alexis (and 3rd Edition Pendragon) and just realize that the whole "challenge" of not being able to speak another sentient's language isn't all that fun. Or rather, it detracts from an aspect of what IS fun: namely, being able to negotiate and bargain with potential allies and adversaries encountered. If a creature is sentient, it's going to speak the language of the region, not some weird "other tongue." Besides, do creatures with a split-tongue and a mouthful of fangs or tentacles really have the ability to form words like a "foreign human" would? It's all just fantasy, yo...let 'em talk "real people speak." Give 'em an accent, if it suits you.

So...axe, axe. The Lesser Three attributes were a different story. Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma have ALWAYS carried in-game mechanical bonuses: Dex adjusted missile attack rolls, Con adjusted rolled HPs (and "surviving adversity"), and Cha adjusted maximum number of hirelings and said hirelings loyalty base. Since I was trying to move away from ability scores adjusting combat rolls, I was pretty certain I wanted to cut Dexterity from the game.

IN ADDITION, I had to consider the "new" ability scores I'd dreamed up back in my last go around with this project: Agility (which had replaced DEX), Learning (which had replaced INT), Spirit (which is really its own thing), and Wit (which had...more or less...replaced WIS). Of these, I really only considered Spirit a "must have"...it really represents something new that I want. And Agility and Learning were tied to classes (and class abilities) that I've kind of decided to do away with. Oh...and I find myself hating Dex/Agility bonuses to Armor Class (whatever you call it in your game) these days. Just armor, folks. Just armor. Axe.

SO, I found that I only really had three ability scores I wanted to use in the new FHB:

Charisma
Constitution
Spirit

But was I getting too far away from the roots of this fantasy adventure game?

The designer in me would say that such is an irrelevant question. BUT...even if I don't like the mechanical benefits derived from most of these ability scores, as simple NUMBERS, they still provide a ready, short-hand description of one's character. Something that could quickly identify (as in "create an identity") the words on the paper into an image in a player's mind. And those three by themselves, really aren't enough.

Then I came across GusL's abstract encumbrance mechanic based on Strength that I mentioned in my earlier post, and I realized that maybe there was a way to make a descriptive number of the stat useful without being mechanically overwhelming (i.e. by not being of benefit in combat, but of retaining a mechanical advantage for exploration, as described in the follow-up post). Strength added back. It also turns out that Wit, then, still proves useful for abstract accounting of items brought along (previously, I had thought I'd need to go back to old school, granular, encumbrance and resource accumulation to model the treasure acquisition that would be the focus of the new FHB iteration). All of a sudden, I was back up to five ability scores...and if I was going to get all "traditional" like that, why not just find a sixth to complete the batch.

GusL's "skill tree" system (my term not his)...which I have yet to blog about...convinced me to add back Learning, and develop my own similar system (it's not a super-original take...see both 1st edition Empire of the Petal Throne and World of Warcraft, but in a simplified way it adds a nice little variety). I haven't yet talked about "classes" (that's another post), but the return to "roguish" roots has meant that the heroic "everyone-gets-magic" idea has been dropped by the wayside. Acquired skills ("dabbling") puts a little bit of this back, and having a LRN stat models the characters who benefited from early education (its availability and/or their level of focus) over those who did not. Which I like.

OKAY: we've got Strength (for representing that strong back). We've got Learning (instead of "Intelligence"). We've got Wit (instead of "Wisdom"). We've got Spirit (my own, personal deal...but one that I really like). And we've got Constitution and Charisma, largely unchanged...

Wait a sec...Constitution? No, no...we can fold its traits (and mechanical bonus of +1 HP per level) into Strength. Back down to five.

So...still looking for that sixth trait apparently. And there's ol' Dexterity staring me in the face. I don't want Agility because (again) the game has moved away from the heroic swashbuckling I once envisioned (and the help of uber-AC bonuses I was...previously...going to provide).

[sorry Boris Vallejo hero-types...y'all need real armor in this version]

What the hell exactly was "dexterity" back in the days before it became the second most preferred combat stat (after strength)? Well, Gygax's description in Men & Magic states simply:
Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character's missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc.
No chainmail bikins. DEX is speed only.
This is all very nice, but with the exception of missile fire (+1 to attack rolls for DEX >13, -1 for DEX <9) absolutely none of this is mechanically modeled within the OD&D books. Chainmail (the default combat system for OD&D) has no such "speed" rules in it; first attack in combat goes to the dude with the longer weapon or that is behind cover (like a castle wall), or else (if neither of those apply) then whoever attacked first (i.e. whose turn was it that decided to move into melee). It isn't till Holmes Basic, that DEX really starts to see the mechanical benefit as applied to "speed of action." In addition to the aforementioned missile fire adjustment (which remains the same in Holmes), melee combat is determined in order of descending DEX.

This inclusion of "melee speed" as part of dexterity's purview is a Holmesian addition, and not a terrible one. What I think is especially interesting is the part in Holmes where
if dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent and the higher score gains initiative - first blow.
Which is actually different from what is portrayed in Holmse's combat example (where Mogo the Mighty with DEX 9 simply strikes after the giant spider with DEX 10). I like the idea that two folks, close in natural "speed" ability have a more-or-less chance of getting their "go" before the other. Of course, I also like Arrowflight's spot rule that in cases of ties (with regard to speed) the guy with the lighter armor gets first go (wow...an Arrowflight reference. That might be a first for this blog!). Yeah, probably some combination of all these is what I'm going for...

Aaand...I suppose that means dexterity is back in the game.

So there you have it...I went from "my own" five, up to six (with Charisma), down to three, back up six, almost all of which are the same as the original "Big Six" of D&D:

Strength
Learning (in place of Intelligence)
Wit (in place of Wisdom)
Dexterity
Charisma
Spirit

I'm not sure they'll appear in exactly that order (alphabetical makes a lot more sense, don't you think?) but that's where I am at the moment. Cue snickers and usual jibes about "reinventing wheels."

Just wait till I get to my post on the classes that are going to make an appearance.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

'hammer Musings

Huh. Just discovered Roger's A Life Full of Adventure blog, which is kind of crazy considering he's been around since 2008 and lists a host of shared game interests with Yours Truly, including D&D (B/X and 2E), WFRP (of the oldest variety), Blood Bowl (!), and Shadowrun.

I really need to get together with some of these guys (Steve C. and Mike Davison included) and do some sort of D&D-Warhammer mash-up. I know, I know...I've talked about this in the past and never brought anything to fruition. I'm BUSY, people! Anyway...

Huh. I can't believe I have only a single posting under the topic "Nurgle" (not counting my single post under the topic "Deathguard"). Might have to rectify that.

Ignorance

I don't want to say that I hate ignorance. It really, really irritates me, but "hate" is such a strong emotion, even for such an amorphous entity as ignorance. Hating ignorance itself, really just translates into hating the ignorant people that display it. And I really don't want to hate people (as individuals or groups).

No, I don't. But you know, I really hate ignorance.

And it's not like I know everything. I'm ignorant about a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. I'm always finding new shit out. Even about games that I blather on about like some expert...like, say, Basic D&D. I've been playing the thing for 30+ years, I've been blogging and writing about it since June of 2009 (nearly six years!), and I'll still discover the occasional thing about which I'm ignorant.

[though admittedly, with regard to D&D, I'm a bit less ignorant than in other arenas of knowledge]

So I'M ignorant, too...about a great many things. And I prioritize what it is I want to enlighten myself about, just as everyone else does. I know a lot more about the current state of the NFL, for example, then the state of the NBA. I have a tiny smidgeon of knowledge about South American history, and effectively zero knowledge of Thailand or southeast Asia (other than that shitty bit of U.S. history involving armed conflict in the region). Do I hate myself for being ignorant? Do I hate myself for being selective about that which I choose to learn? No...but I'm sometimes disappointed or frustrated with myself, and folks might consider me a bit obsessive when it comes to researching things about which I find myself ignorant.

[this can be chalked up to a Scorpio Mercury in the 12th House, by the way...not everyone has that drive to know everything about everything]

So maybe I don't "hate" ignorance in others, either. Maybe I'm simply frustrated and disappointed she I see it. Like people who believe Fox News has even the slightest accuracy. Or that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

[wow...how is that bullshit going to be explained in schools in 2021?]

The internet is a wonderful place to learn stuff about which you're ignorant. It's also a fantastic place to get distracted for hours by stupid memes, dumb videos, and free porn. But even if you manage to avoid wasting too much time in idle surfing, your search for enlightenment can often be roadblocked by the conflicting opinions of various parties on the subject of study that you're pursuing. I suppose this might be slightly better than listening to a single professor giving his/her single opinion on a topic...but it really depends on the quality of teacher and the quality of school, no? I went to a pretty good school and received a fairly decent education (when I bothered to show up to class), and while the wikipedia is uber-convenient, there's something about studying a multitude of books from your local library that just seems to cover subjects in more depth. Not that the people of Paraguay have bothered to build any libraries in this damn country.

[oh, wait...they do have one: the Biblioteca Roosevelt. It's 69 years old, was named for the the 32nd president of the United States (FDR), and is part of the Centro Cultural Paraguayo Americano (the Paraguayan American Cultural Center). Huh...I wonder who's responsible for that? I should probably check it out, but it's located downtown, which is inconvenient for a number of reasons. Ah, well]

Anyway...I'm all for youthful fire being injected into all things old and crusty and having the cantankerous, conservatives give up their seats at the high table, but would it be too much to ask that they do at least a minimal amount to alleviate their ignorance? When I read about teenagers not knowing Cameron's Titanic film was based on an actual event, I get...well, irritated.

I'm sure there are plenty of intelligent young people out there who will help to make the world a better and brighter place. In fact, I know there are. But there's still a shit-ton of ignorance out there and a lot of folks (young and old) who just don't seem to care enough to educate themselves. Sorry for the ranty-ness; it depresses me at times.

Okay...back to gaming stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Counting Coins (Part 2)

[continued from here; while the pertinent rules will be presented in this post, you might be interested in the motivation and basis for it (described in Part 1). Then again, maybe you aren't!]

Just to pick up where we left off, we had our three containers: the small sack, the backpack, and the large sack (yes, yes...we'll get to Jeff's treasure chests, too. Just not yet). In B/X terms they hold 200 coins, 400 coins, and 600 coins respectively. Since, in B/X:

10 coins of weight = 1 pound

we can happily convert these containers to units of "poundage:" 20 pounds for the small sack, 40 pounds for the backpack, and 60 pounds for the large sack.

It might be helpful to imagine exactly what these look like. A small sack is something that can be carried in one-hand, even by a spindly adventurer (when I was a fairly scrawny teenager working a summer gig at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was routinely asked to carry 20# sacks of flour under each arm). The space age, ultra-light backpacks you find at REI these days have capacities up to 80 liters or so (180 pounds of water weight)...but they can measure liters because your back is likely to give out long before you put enough "weight" in to burst its frame and fabric. The primitive pack of D&D was probably based on something that looked like my father's (circa 1950's) wood frame and cloth, Boy Scout pack. Small, clunky, and painful compared to the ergonomic camping gear of the last 20-30 years. It's designed to be worn on the back (hence the name).

The 60# large sack (leather? burlap?) is designed to be carried over the shoulder, probably using two-hands. I picture something like this (or probably half-again as big):

Getting lighter every minute.
Anyway, these are our basic containers for carrying treasure. You can see that they break down into an easy ratio of 1-2-3. And it is from here we (well...me) extrapolate our basic unit of measurement: the treasure unit. For my purposes:

20# of treasure = 1 treasure unit

So, a small sack holds one treasure unit, the backpack holds two, and the large sack holds three.

What exactly IS a treasure unit (besides its weight)? What's it's value? Well, I give it the same value as a small sack full of gold coins. No, not 200 gold coins...I've really gotten over the 10 coins to the pound thing (this happens when you do a bunch of research into silver marks and gold dihrams and other ancient currencies). No, I mean a sack of coins of the basic currency (whatever that is for your game world)...remember its all relative. For my purposes, I think Alexis's 7g Roman-era coins are perfectly reasonable. At 64 coins to the pound, that means one small sack (i.e. one "treasure unit") consists of 1280 coins. And if each of these "gold pieces" is worth 1 x.p. to your intrepid treasure-seeking adventurer, than you can say:

1 treasure unit = 1280 XP

"But JB," you cry, "This is madness! Are you saying a sack of gold is equal to a sack of silver is equal to a sack of gemstones?" Yes...with caveats. But let me come back to that in a moment. You're interrupting my train of thought!

The advancement scheme for your normal fighter class looks a bit like this:

Level 2: 2000 XP needed
Level 3: 4000 XP needed
Level 4: 8000 XP needed
Level 5: 16,000 XP needed
Level 6: 32,000 XP needed
Level 7: 64,000 XP needed

If we divide that up by 1280 XP we can find the number of treasure units needed to advance the character...oh, and here I'll be rounding UP when we have remainders (no fractions of treasure units!):

Level 2: 2 treasure units needed
Level 3: 4 treasure units needed
Level 4: 7 treasure units needed
Level 5: 13 treasure units needed
Level 6: 25 treasure units needed
Level 7: 50 treasure units needed
Level 8: 100 treasure units needed (if you double 64K, you get 128K, yeah? Look how easy that is!)

My game only goes up to 8th level because there aren't any domains being awarded to "name level" characters in my game...however, if you wanted to extrapolate, you could just add an extra 50 units per level after eight.

100 treasure units...2000 pounds (1 ton) of treasure. It can take you a long time to move that much wealth...especially if you multiply it by the number of characters in the adventuring party. Pulling that much treasure out of the ground can give you a nice, long campaign with plenty of adventure. And if you do "earn your ton," I can't see how your character could find herself wanting to do anything but retire and enjoy the fabulous life of luxury she's earned for herself and her descendants.

Now, back to your question: isn't some treasure "worth more" than others? Sure...but we're talking about convertible, spendable wealth. A bag of jewels will go farther (with a lot less effort) than one big jewel. And who's to say small or fragile items aren't likely to get misplaced, broken, and pilfered between their dungeon resting place and "wherever-it-is" that you want to take your items to convert it. And who's to say you'll get "fair market value" even should your cartage go off without a hitch?

Plus, consider this: adventurers in a dirty, dimly lit, and hazardous subterranean environment...fearful of being beset by monstrous foes at any moment...aren't going to get terribly caught up in sorting the dross from the treasure hoard. I picture much more of a "dump-your-rations-and-rake-in-as-much-as-your-pack-will-carry" approach to treasure gathering, not a careful sifting for platinum coins among the silver. Call the treasure unit an "average" of what is found and carted off.

HOWEVER: I would allow for some treasure units being more or less valuable. Just not on the scale of your usual D&D campaign; simply a "double value" treasure unit, or a "half value" treasure unit. I would also allow the occasional worn piece of jewelry or pocketed gemstone to be considered a half treasure unit (or even a "full" treasure unit for an extremely rare and valuable piece...think the Eye of the Serpent in the film Conan). BUT as a basic rule, if it's not portable, it ain't spendable.

Worth a full treasure unit...though hard to split up.
You found a golden throne that took 12 guys to carry out of the dungeon? Who cares? Unless you know of a shop that deals in giant, golden thrones, you're not going to get anything out of it until you break it up, melt it down, pry out the gemstones, and/or otherwise reduce it to a portable form...a standard treasure unit form. Bags of cash, in other words.

Hey, it's what the conquistadors did.

Now as for how much one can carry...well that brings us back to the encumbrance question. In Holmes Basic, a character is considered "heavily loaded" (with a halved movement rate) when carrying 60# of treasure in addition to their normal adventuring equipment (including armor). AD&D is more specific (and granular) giving a reduced movement for up to 70# (all equipment and treasure) or halved movement at 105# (again, for everything). However, AD&D gives a bonus for high strength (up to +75# for 18, the highest possible for non-fighter characters).

Moldvay Basic is a bit more generous and more granular going up to 160# for everyone (high strength is not considered). However, anything over 80# of combined treasure and equipment QUARTERS movement, effectively slowing the character to a crawl...maybe a stagger.

All three systems give a range of unencumbered movement of 30# to 40# (30# being for Holmes Basic which doesn't count the PC's "standard gear"...30# of treasure weight in other words). Personally, I like the Holmes bit about PCs being used to their own adventuring gear and only worrying about treasure...however, I also like Gygaxian "strong backs carry more treasure" thing. As such, here's how I factor encumbrance:

Normal gear +1 treasure unit = Unencumbered (12" or "normal" movement)
Gear +2 treasure units = Light Load (9")
Gear +3 treasure units = Heavy Load (6" or half movement)
Gear +6 treasure units = Staggering Load (3" or quarter-movement)

For every point of Strength over 12, add +1 to treasure units that can be carried. A character can dump their normal gear (though still retaining armor and maybe a weapon or two) to carry one extra treasure unit.

Characters can combine their treasure allowance to carry really heavy items, like Jeff's treasure chests. Just to sum up these, here's how they measure out in my game:

Small coffer/strong box = small sack (1 treasure unit), though more durable
Medium chest = 10 treasure units. Such a container can be carried by two individuals working together, or by one (fairly strong) individual.
Large chest = 20 treasure units. These are really a four-man job (like carrying something the size of a coffin).

Note that since treasure units can be converted to weight (in 20# increments) it's easy to figure how hard it is to carry, say, a fallen comrade or other bulky, non-standard item.

Last note (since this is running long again): lest you think your iron-thewed, 1st level barbarian is going to come out of the dungeon with two large sacks and a backpack full of treasure and advance to  4th level, keep in mind the following limitations:

  • There's still a limit to how much treasure is found at an adventure site (as determined by the DM).
  • Treasure units found must still be divided between the characters (and if a bag of treasure is divided too far between henchmen, there may not be enough for advancement).
  • Characters are still limited to a maximum level gain of one per adventure (standard B/X rule) regardless of how much treasure is brought out at once. 

Even so, a dragon hoard (average treasure valued at 50,000gp in standard B/X), could be worth a staggering 39-40 treasure units. That's a big haul to divide amongst such a bold group of adventurers.

All right...that really is enough for now.

[oh, wait - one more thing! some folks might be wondering how to figure XP for defeating monsters if you're measuring advancement in "treasure units" recovered instead of individual points? Short answer: you don't. I've decided XP will only be gained from treasure recovery. More on this later!]