Friday, October 31, 2014


Happy Halloween from Paraguay!

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: Paraguay, as a country still trying to figure out its identity, has a shit-ton of random holidays...things like Kid's Day and Youth's Day and Friendship Day and Spring Day. "JB, people in the USA celebrate the first day of Spring, too...or at least mark it in passing." Yeah, but you don't see big banners put up across streets and decorations hung from lamp posts and lunch specials and people exchanging gifts and talking about "what I'm doing for Spring Day." It's like they're starved for things to celebrate.

So, it's not all that surprising when they borrow an American-style Halloween, too, though it's really not the same (this is one of those countries where everyone has big walls, no yards, and prominent razor wire...not the inviting household for, see earlier posts regarding the perils of being a pedestrian in Asuncion). Still, my boy's preschool did a costume day ("no scary masks, please") and my wife, as is her usual thing, was up till three in the morning putting the finishing touches on it:

Robin assumes control of the Justice League.
That's my boy...the only one in the room who didn't have a store bought costume. You might not be able to tell, but the variety of suits on the rack was a little lacking. Superman, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider Man, and Buzz Lightyear for boys; Princess, Minnie Mouse, or Witch for girls. No female superheroes, no Star Wars, no monsters... No monsters?! Paraguayans don't do spicy food, and they don't do monster masks.

[but boy o boy do they LOVE candy!]

Diego wanted to be Robin after his Papa was dressed as Robin for a costume party a couple weeks ago. Why was Papa dressed as Robin? Because D loves to dress up as (and pretend to be/play) Batman, and he insists Papa play Robin. A 40-year old Boy Wonder with paunch and thinning hair. I'm always Robin...others in our house might be Superman or Supergirl or Wonder Woman or Batgirl (this was Mama's costume) or Green Lantern or Flash or whoever. JB never rates higher than "sidekick."

[when D was on his Iron Man kick for awhile, he DID let me play Rhodey to his Tony Stark. I didn't bother explaining I'm the wrong color...I was just happy to get a break from Robin]

Anyway, ever since since D saw me in my outfit (again, crafted by my wife), he's moved his obsession to Robin. Thus the new costume.

'Course it's only ONE of his costumes. In addition to dressing up as Batman or Aquaman (his two favorite superheroes) or Superman, D also enjoys dressing as a police officer, firefighter, pirate, or (most recently) a caballero (knight). In fact, we kit-bashed a knight costume for him from a bunch of plastic play-gear and this is what he plans on wearing when he goes trick-or-treating on Sunday (yes, that's November 2nd. It's even in a different neighborhood...well, really a gated cul-de-sac...that we have to drive to). My son loves to dress up and pretend and my wife and I support him in this, probably because we enjoy doing the same. We've often gone to absurd lengths to make our own Halloween costumes (especially my wife).

And yet, we only do this one time a year. We don't do conventions or ren fairs or cosplay. Heck, my wife doesn't even game, and I've never been one to LARP. It's kind of we won't admit (or buy into) our deeper impulse to dress up and pretend except at socially acceptable times (like Halloween). I'm sure my love of "pretending" is what led me to pursue a degree in performing arts (acting). 'Course the last show I was in was...what, 2007? 2005? Certainly it's been a while since I got to put on a wig and costume for an "extended engagement."

Well, it is what it is. Perhaps the wife and I will start doing more costume events when we get back to Seattle, now that it's as much fun (if not more so) for our child. M is already in the process of making a "Wonder Woman" outfit for our six month old, though I'm seriously doubtful it'll be ready by Sunday. The question arises, "what IS such a costume for?" I honestly have no's my wife's thing. Far be it from me to rain on her creative expression.
; )

Got to go...hope everyone's has a happy one!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Considering Witches

Didn't have much time yesterday (don't have much time today, either). I'm still considering what would be the "set spell lists" or even the choice of "schools" should I go that route (as discussed a couple days ago). In other words, haven't made any progress on dismantling the magic system already written for the new fantasy heartbreaker.

Maybe it's because (subconsciously?) I think it's a bad idea? Maybe.

But flavor...I like flavor. Flavor is important. It makes a game tasty. Without flavor, you might have a robust game system, chock-full of nutritious, caloric-value (just to carry an analogy too far), but I want more than that. I'm not trying to create Hero System: Fantasy or GURPS: Wizards or something. Too bland for my taste. The idea of different schools of magic is flavorful.

Anyhoo...part of the reason I didn't do any work/writing yesterday is that I was again perusing old Dragon magazines. In this case, I was reading every article I could find on witches and witchcraft (for those who're curious that includes issues #5, #20, #43, and #114). I didn't have access to these issues back when I wrote up a "B/X Witch" for The Complete B/X Adventurer...but even if I had, I'm not sure I would've used much of the stuff here.  Certainly not the gemstone level titles (a little too Amway-esque)...not sure where that idea came from. Maybe some of the more interesting NPC spells from issue #5; some of those are pretty cool.

[strange there's no author attached to that article. Wonder if anyone ever figured out the writer]

The point is, maybe because it's so close to Halloween, I've got witches on the mind. I dig the concept of witch mythology (the fantasy witch if you will) - both good and bad - and wouldn't mind seeing something witch-like in the new heartbreaker. The problem is, how to do it without being offensive to folks. 

I remember Long's book with much fondness.
Modern witches, for those who don't know, are very different from the critters you find in classic fantasy literature... whether you're talking The Wizard of Oz or Narnia or those old school Halloween masterpieces. They're very different from the witches portrayed on television and 21st century film, too...but that's not the kind of witch I'm interested in (the witches of Charmed or whatnot are meant for a  different RPG than D&D and its ilk). Nor am I talking about the Satanic, Black Mass coven-types of B-horror films, either.

For me, "old school" witches are more fun than frightening...even if the bad ones do (on occasion) eat children. From Baba Yaga and The Old Sea Hag to the beautiful Circe or Morgan Le Fey...the solitary witch is what I'm talking about. That chick in the first Conan movie or Glenda of Oz. In many ways, they are the female equivalent of the solitary sorcerer: someone who has removed herself from society (generally, by her own choosing) in order to practice her craft. Perhaps out of the (real medieval) fear of being burned at the stake by one's neighbors.

When these Halloween-y witches get together at all, it's only once a year or every seven years or every century (depending on the story) to celebrate in a big brouhaha (bruja-ha?), otherwise staying out of each other's way unless engaged in some petty rivalry or magical dispute. Apart from these occasional gatherings of celebrated solidarity, these "fantasy witches" are private individuals, opting out of any sort of politics, mundane or magical. Any "Queen of Witches" title is more honorary (or a straight recognition of power) than an actual office to which other witches owe "fealty." I daresay the term might be one designed to poke fun at Earthly feudal titles...the witches are, after all, opting out of standard patriarchal society.

Ah, vinyl. In rotation every Halloween.
Does that all make sense? I'm not trying to be offensive here, I'm talking about a tradition of folklore and fiction. I'm not trying to "perpetuate stereotypes" of witches, I'm talking about enjoying some of those stereotypes in a fun fashion...and a little Grimm-dark fantasy to a fantasy adventure game.

Still, maybe that doesn't fly with some folks. Certainly, I've put my "pulp B/X adventure" game on-hold indefinitely because, no matter how one slices it, any game that includes "savages" (or even "natives") is going to tick someone off. It's borrowing from fiction that was created at a time when Colonialism and white privilege was "okay" (and being packaged and sold to folks of a white privilege persuasion). The pagan persecutions and witch-burnings of earlier centuries was also deemed "okay" at the time, and that is where the majority of our folklore on the subject (with its "wicked witches") comes from. If I do a "for fun" version of witches that buys into that folklore, I may be perpetuating harmful perspectives that some people will apply to real world witches and pagans (both present day and historical).

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I don't want to offend folks. I don't want to contribute to ignorance. And I don't want to include "disclaimers" in my wouldn't be a big enough section of the game to warrant such singular treatment (in my opinion), anyway.

Am I making too much out of this? People don't worry how elves or wizards are portrayed in RPGs because we consider these to be fictional creations...magic is considered fictional in general and real life hermetic magicians are considered delusional by most of the population (similarly, no one worries about offending people of the "Jedi Religion"). I don't think dwarves are offensive to little people, as they are based on a fairy race of Norse mythology. But witches...well, a lot of people really  did get tortured and murdered back in the day for their non-Christian beliefs. Real people. And there are plenty of real people today that consider themselves witches, though they don't sport pointy hats and green skin. Making light of the history is a bit like making a game where your intrepid explorers (*ahem*) shoot "savages" (pick a continent). And running with folklore that demonized a particular group of individuals is kind of "making light," no?

Maybe I'M just overly sensitive. But, well, that's what I'm thinking about today. More later, I'm sure.

It's not easy being green.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quick Addendum to Might and Magic

And I mean really quick.

In my last (very early morning) post, I mentioned (briefly) M.A.R. Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne and its skill lists. For those who don't have EPT for reference, here's how it works:

In EPT you receive a handful of skills during character creation that help round out your character. These come in a couple different varieties. First there are background skills, similar to AD&D's "secondary skills" in that they are professional skills with no real game mechanics attached. These include things like butcher, carpenter, and wheelwright, as well as physician, poet, scholar, and slaver.

Actually, some have some mechanical benefits: the assassin-spy-tracker (that's one skill) can hide in shadows, and the alchemist can brew elixirs and poisons, for example. There are a few, but most don't  have more effect then, "Oh, fisherman? You know how to fish." New characters receive a random number of these few as one, or as many as ten.

In addition, characters receive from two to five professional skills. These come from a list based on the character's class, of which there are only three: warrior, priest, and magic-user. Warrior skills are pretty much weapon proficiencies (spear, axe, crossbow, etc.) but priests and magic-users have a selection that ranges from additional languages to spells. While the starting number of pro skills is random, characters receive an additional skill with every level, so eventually a character can claim all on the list (each list has a dozen or so). The interesting thing is that they must be chosen in order...a warrior can't learn bowman until he's learned crossbow, for example. The most advanced skills cannot be claimed until all the lesser skills have been learned.

Summoning The Vapor of Death. Ooo!
In addition to this, priests and magic-users have a random chance per level of learning bonus spells from one of three separate lists ("groupings"). The spells in these groups are very similar to the ones in OD&D, and they are grouped by power (so Group I spells are the "weakest," though many are still plenty potent). Group III spells cannot be learned until 4th level, but with enough experience, EPT spell-casters can become quite powerful.

Over-all, a very interesting system and very "magical" in feeling. I very much like the "knowledge needs to be built on knowledge" attitude of the professional skills. The random bonus spells are appropriate for a campaign setting that features psychic abilities (and the, perhaps, spontaneous development of such abilities), but probably doesn't make much sense for my current project. to go. More later (I hope!).

Might and Magic (Part 2)

[continued from here]

People may notice that the list of blogs listed in the sidebar include a random sampling of non-active blogs that probably need to be deleted...and perhaps someday they will, if I ever get around to getting active on Patreon (and want to make blog listing a "reward" for some level of support). However, I still hold out hope that these might "fire up" again, at some point in the future. And sometimes, I still reference them for their old posts.

Such is the case with long dead Grognardia. As I wrote in Part 1, I was up till the wee hours combing through old (digital) copies of The Dragon, and I was using some of James's old posts to add a bit of additional perspective. Just in random passing, I came across this old post of his and (especially in view of my recent thoughts, dissatisfaction with magic-users as is/was) it reminded me of something. I hate the lumping of spell-casters into one or (at most) two types "magic paradigm."

See my post on this back in 2010. At the time, I was working on The Complete B/X Adventurer (man, THAT has been selling like hotcakes the last two months, just by the way) and in an effort to add more content to a skinny book, decided to throw in some different types of spell-casting classes. I ended up with five total (gnomes, mystics, summoners, tattoo mages, and witches), each with their own variant form of magic...not just "magic-users with different spell lists," but completely different approaches to the form and function of magic. The bee in my bonnet (at the time) was this idea that isn't it Goddamn boring to have everything simply be arcane or divine?

Let me answer that: Yes. Yes it is.

This is the reason you don't find illusionists in D&D after 1st edition (at least, not as a core class). First, ya' fold all their spells under a heading called "arcane," then you say:

"Hey, if you want to specialize in illusion magic, pick illusion spells."

Much as I want a certain cosmology in my game world, I don't want a unified field theory of magic.

[hmm...I say this after already creating a brand-new variant magic system for the current project consisting of a single list of spells: the Forty Magnificent Marvels. Sigh...back to the drawing board...again]

I like the idea of different magical schools, each dedicated to a different brand of enchantment. Fire mages, necromancers, druids, etc. It's not a terribly original concept, I realize: I believe I first saw this kind of paradigm circa 1983 with DragonQuest (I created a stone giant who was a member of the Earth Magic college...sadly, we never had the chance to do more than chargen that day...). Ars Magica does a little of this, too, and I've used the concept a couple times in past FHBs I was developing ("LORE," which I briefly mentioned before, had some of this). The original WHFRP had demonologists, necromancers, battle mages, etc. each with their own separate spell list, skills, and (in some cases) horrifying drawbacks.

I dig has a very old school (please, PLEASE forgive the use of that term!) pulp fantasy vibe. Like the rival wizard guilds in a Leiber story trying to show off why their magic is supreme (shades of 70's Hong Kong flicks with feuding martial art schools). Heck, it's the kind of thing that could work well with the concept of "wizard duels." Forget counter-spells: an illusionist doesn't know the first thing about countering a fire mage's spell. But create a mechanic to simulate dueling, and you can still have two mages of different backgrounds duking it out.

Now that I think of it, this is a big part of why I dug Magic Cards, waaaay back: the idea that you were a Red Mage or a Blue Mage or whatever, and the deck represented your spell book. I always liked working with a "theme;" but then, I've long been one of those people that prefer the fluff of a game over practical application (often to my detriment). that reminds me of the Rankin-Bass film Flight of Dragons with its different colored "wizard brothers."

Of course, that just reminds me of Tolkien (again) with its grey, white, brown, and blue wizards...and weren't Frank Baum's witches color-coded as well? Differing magic by color has a long and distinguished tradition, I suppose...


And to tie this back to the last post... One thing I was considering (just an idea, mind you), is providing more static spell lists for magicians. Limiting them (I suppose you'd say) rather than throwing this huge list of spells at players, only to have them (mostly) choose the same spells over and over. There would be some variation, of course (just as fighters get to choose what weapons they want to carry), and perhaps different lists depending on theme (a druid style list versus the illusionist, for example). Magicians would still acquire effectiveness with experience, though perhaps not so much a greater repertoire of spells. And the spells that would be gained (with increase in level) would be equally limited...something akin to Barker's EPT (1st edition) skill trees, building on knowledge already known.

No necromancers, though...otherwise everyone wants to be one.

The trade-off here...or, rather, what would be gained...would be an increased effectiveness from the get-go. Your magician (or pyromancer or whatever), would have a number of spells at his or her disposal right from 1st level...perhaps the equivalent (in D&D terms) of seven or eight spells ranging in magnitude of 1st through 3rd level. Something fairly equivalent to Gandalf, in other words. None of these would be over-powering, "game changing" sort (unless applied in creative fashion)...most would be of the "utility" type (said utility being determined by the school or "theme" of magic).

Anyway, just an idea I have...I'll see if I can work up some sample lists in the next couple days and post 'em to the blog. I have a strong suspicion that long-time players of the MU class in D&D might hate-hate-hate this concept for a number of reasons: it undermines the work they've put into mastering spell lists, it reduces the choices/options they have, it penalizes the creative strategies they've developed over years of play, it doesn't have the same feel as Vancian D&D, etc. And if folks DO raise these objections, I say: FINE. Go play D&D.

Take your 1st level sleep bomber or charm personer with your bandolier of throwing knives and go play D&D. Pick your's all the same (except that recent ones let you shoot, "cantrips"...just like Harry Potter). Go skulk behind the fighters and clerics for umpteen game sessions until you've acquired enough points that you can be effective. Go do it...I'm not going to stop you! And when you've reached the lofty level where you outclass the non-spell-casters and there's the potential threat of grumbling, you can always incorporate feats and maneuvers and weapon specialization and be a merry band spending an entire game session on a single battle that will be a challenge for your immensely talented party.

That's one way to play (and a time honored one, to be sure). I'm just trying to work on a different way: one that appeals to me. I'm a guy who doesn't play never ever ever. And not because I don't like magic or something. I love stories of wizards and sorcerers and magicians and witches (well, most such stories...sorry, Ms. Rowling). Gandalf is a personal fact, I lied! I a wizard in 3rd Edition, and I modeled the character on Gandalf, right down to taking Martial Weapon Proficiency: Sword.

[I believe I related this story in the past? We couldn't get past the first obstacle in the adventure because I, as the party wizard, had not taken the "correct" spells. 'What do you mean you don't have fly? You're seventh level!' The DM, folded the adventure in disgust and our session ended. It was the last time I've ever played a straight wizard PC]

I don't like magic-users in D&D. I don't like the way they're conceptualized, I don't like their mechanics, I don't particularly like their steep power curve (and I'm a person that likes power!). So, I want to make a magician class that I'd like to play. That's all this is, folks.
: )

Monday, October 27, 2014

Might and Magic (Part 1)

I have so many different ideas for blog posts I want to get up, I feel a little stymied in where to start. But I guess I better do goes:

I was up till...oh...2:30 or something in the morning reading the first twelve issues of Dragon magazine (at the time called simply, The Dragon). I went looking for a particular article, which then led me to another, thence to another, and so on until I finally just said, 'whatever...I'll just read the first twelve issues and see where it takes me.'

Minus the fiction, of course...boy, there was a LOT of fiction back in those days. Much more than what I remember back in the mid-late 80s (when I first started reading Dragon). Anyway, the main article of interest for purposes of this post is Bill Seligman's March '77 essay, "Gandalf was only a fifth level magic-user," found in The Dragon #5.

I love this article...perhaps not the way it is written (though the point here is not to critique Mr. Seligman), but the concept. That is, the idea the man is trying to express. The point (for those who don't have access to this particular issue) is that the abilities displayed by Gandalf throughout both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy can be modeled in OD&D (the only edition at the time) with the stats of a 5th level magic-user. That is to say, the majority of magic Gandalf displays in the text can be mimicked using existing 1st and 2nd level spells (or slight variations) with only the occasional use of a 3rd level lightning bolt spell...though the author points out the latter could possibly be explained by Gandalf's use of Narya the Great.

Seligman also states that Sauron's displays of magic can be modeled with a 7th or 8th level caster's ability (or 12th level "if you're going to be nasty" and allow that he has the control weather spell). Personally, I'd say that Sauron is at least 11th level in D&D terms, given his ability to manufacture magic items (like, ahem, magic rings).

As I said, I really like this. For one thing, if you look at the Tolkien books as adventure guides, you can see just how much is possible with a 5th level Magic-User carrying a bunch of utility spells and one (maybe two) "blasting" type dweomers. Gandalf is no slouch as an adventurer, being quite clever and not reliant on his magical abilities. It helps, of course, that he carries a sword like Glamdring (presumably the sword-equivalent of something like the dagger +1, +2 vs. goblins or similar)...but I've seen plenty of low-level (and not so low-level) magic-users that would be skulking around the back of the party, even with such a blade. Clever and yet bold: this is the kind of character I'd like to see in my own games...but herein lies the problem.

Being 5th level means needing an umbrella.
Gandalf is a very cool character in literature, but how does one get to him in the game? If he starts at 1st level (with only the capability of casting a single spell), he's certainly not going to resemble "Gandalf." More like a very raw apprentice...and one who tires quickly (blows his wad with a single spell-casting). Of course, if he survives to level up (probably by ducking and skulking), you'll get there eventually...and then you'll pass that "Gandalf level" rather quickly and soar into the stratosphere of magical power: polymorphing Nazgul into rabbits, conjuring walls of fire and stone to shore up Minas Tirith, and teleporting back to the Shire as necessary.

Just not quite right.

["JB! D&D isn't Tolkien!" Got it...just bear with me, ok?]

The problem (or, more accurately, MY problem) is that D&D is too slow to get to (what I consider to be) a competent level of magic, is too quick to ascend to lofty superhero levels of power, and too focused on combat, in general...the latter due to the nature of the game.

[plus, not enough geezers (though I recognize that may not be everyone's style)]

That all counts as ONE problem, by the's a problem of granularity that doesn't really exist in the other classes. Characters increase in effectiveness doesn't jump in the same leaps and bounds as other classes...the differences between a 1st level fighter and 5th level fighter are very minimal compared to the difference between a 1st level (raw apprentice) MU and a 5th level "Gandalf." The gulf between the 5th level Gandalf and the 12th level Sauron is gigantic, which is a good thing....until you consider that it's not so terribly hard to advance from 5th to 12th level. Certainly it doesn't take thousands of years (considering the age, experience, and power of Tolkien's "Big Bad Guy") of game time...depending on the amount of playtime, the generosity of the DM, and the skill of the party, and the particular edition being played, a player could reasonably expect to reach 12th level within one to three years of play. I know 3rd edition shot for about one level gained per month (assuming weekly sessions). That is a fast, fast road to power.

How to rectify that?

Much as I liked the essay about Gandalf being "only" 5th level, there IS a part of me that says "how weak sauce!" when you know that it doesn't take that much effort to get to (and beyond) 5th level. Hey, Old Man: he who falls behind gets left behind, ya' know?

Okay, that's one thing I want to talk about...the article made me consider that Vancian magic isn't that terrible as put forward in the original LBBs. But there's tweaking that needs to happen with the advancement dynamic of the wizardly class to get to what I want to see. That and I think I'd like to restrict the variety of spells available to the mage...even more than I've already planned for my "basic" game.

But that has to do with a different issue that I'll be discussing in Part 2.
; )

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Heroic Smack Talk

Back in August, the Prismatic DM posted a neat idea about modeling the dramatic "throw down" in your B/X or LL game. It reminded me of my old blog post on vows, but with a more immediate, impactful effect on game play. Which is (in my mind) better...because it's something that can be practically implemented by player choice, rather than waiting for the DM to "set something up."

Anyway, cool as it was I wasn't 100% down with the mechanics of the maneuver, and I hadn't given it much additional thought until I was posting yesterday's entry on Eowyn. I said I wanted to model the same type of Eowyn-Nazgul interaction in the new heartbreaker, and I've already got a couple systems that will work (in aid of) that goal, but I really don't have anything for the "throw down" or heroic smack talk (as I like to call it) in place.

Not that what Eowyn does is really a challenge. In B/X terms, it's more of a standard negotiation (reaction check) kind of maneuver. "Hey, leave my dead uncle alone, huh? I don't want to fight over this." But the character blows the reaction roll and the fight's on. Not that Eowyn has a low Charisma, but there's probably a penalty involved here given the overall circumstances.

Usually, smack talk is made to ENCOURAGE a fight. Unlike the B/X reaction check, where combat only results due to a low roll, there are times in heroic fiction when a person is actively trying to entice an individual to battle. That's the kind of "smack talk" I'm talking about. And while it may not apply to Eowyn's case, as she was trying to discourage a fight, there are times when one might want to go the other way.

SO...I offer two slightly different game mechanics for your perusal. Both should be compatible with B/X. I call them The Goad and The Challenge.

The goad is what you use to encourage a fight with a lesser opponent. This is the classic dun moch maneuver of Star Wars (when Dooku or Vader taunts some lesser Jedi into a fight). This is Rage getting Armor all riled up so that he loses his cool in combat. The goad issues a challenge to the weaker opponent (a character of lesser HD/level), calling into question the character's courage and saying, "Here, come get me. Heck, I'll make it easy for you."

To goad an opponent, the person goading (called "the antagonist") rolls 2D6 using their Charisma reaction modifier. The result of the goad (which must be done prior to initiating combat) is determined by consulting the following table:
  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the goad (or future goads); if the target of the goad chooses to fight anyway, she receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls against her antagonist, who receives no benefits.
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the goad and future goads from this antagonist.
  • 6 to 8: the goad has no effect; the target may choose whether or not to fight; if the target chooses to fight, treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the goaded target must fight, receiving a +1 bonus to attack rolls (the antagonist leaves himself open, inviting the attack). However, anytime the goaded target misses an attack, the antagonist immediately receives a bonus attack against the target. The effects of the goad continue until the goaded target receives an attack that inflicts maximum damage.
  • 12 or more: as the 9 to 11 result except that the target is goaded into attacking recklessly, suffering a -2 penalty to all attack rolls instead of receiving a +1 bonus.
How's that? Individuals more than four HD/level lower than the antagonist should be immune to a goad attack (assuming they have an accurate gauge of the antagonist), as should ALL 1st level characters. You don't want the neighborhood ogre calling out newly minted adventurers!

Different tactic from Eowyn.
Now a challenge is similar to a goad, but here the the challenger is calling out someone of equal or greater HD/level. The challenger rolls a 2D6, again modified by any Charisma reaction modifier (how lordly/intimidating is the challenge?). The result of the challenge depends on the result of the die roll:

  • 2 or less: the target is immune to the challenge (or future challenges from this source); if he chooses to fight he receives a +1 attack bonus against the challenger (the challenger receiving no benefits).
  • 3 to 5: the target is immune to the challenge and future challenges from this person
  • 6 to 8: the challenge has no effect; if the target chooses to fight treat this result as a 9 to 11 instead.
  • 9 to 11: the target accepts the challenge (i.e. the target must fight); the challenger receives a +2 attack bonus and a bonus die of hit points (rolled immediately) for the duration of the fight.
  • 12 or more: as a 9 to 11 result except that the target of the challenge fights at a -2 penalty to all attacks, as he seeks to prove his greater skill "playing" with the challenger.

Issuing a challenge can really give the edge to someone of equal level, and so DMs may wish to limit the bonus effects only to targets that are of actual greater HD/level than the challenger, though a successful challenge (9+) should still entice the target to fight...a result of 12 or greater, should force the target to make a morale check or surrender to the challenger. Again, this is only for challenged targets of HD/level equal to the challenger.

It should probably go without saying that only sentient creatures (and only those with the ability to mutually communicate) can issue or accept goads and challenges.

I suppose that some negotiations, like the one between our friends Eowyn and the Witch-King, have an implicit challenge within them...a do this, or else kind of negotiation. With this type of system, you really can't mix and match...a challenge is something designed to provoke someone to battle...which is not at all what Eowyn was trying to do. She was attempting to back off the Nazgul: a "Get thee hence, demon!" kind of thing. In many ways, this is the equivalent of a turning attempt...and perhaps it should be modeled as such and not limited to clerics/undead (think Gandalf vs. the balrog: "You shall not pass!").

Hmmm...that may be fodder for another blog post.
; )

Okay, that's enough for now; I've got a baby to attend to and coffee to brew (not necessarily in that order). I will say that I want to return to the concept of "vows" sometime this week. But, to go now (hold on, bebecita!)...

Friday, October 24, 2014


Long before I ever started this blog, probably shortly before (or, more likely, shortly after) I discovered The Forge and became really interested in the nuts and bolts of game design, I tried my hand at creating a system for a new fantasy very different from B/X or D&D.

In fact, I'm going to say it was before I discovered "indie game design" because that was about 2005, and this was an idea I came up with when traveling in Canada with my wife back in the early 2000s...maybe even before we got married (which was in 2000). Whew...a loooong time ago.

This game idea was called "LORE" (which was an acronym for something, though I can't remember exactly what), and I can't seem to find the docs that had my notes...they're probably on some old zip drive back in Seattle. Anyway, back in those days, my main objective was to make sure that character creation could model various (fantasy) literary personalities (Conan, Elric, etc.) from the get-go without needing to wade through a bunch of "low levels" to become a proficient character. And the main literary person I used to model the LORE system was Tolkien's character, Eowyn.

This pic is too small.
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters from least as far as bit parts go. I dig most everything about her; I identify with many things about her. I think many people do: for most of us there have been times that we've been underestimated in our lives or frustrated at the pull between doing one's duty and doing what we want to do. Those who are younger siblings may have felt the pang of being told we need to "stay home" while the older sibling goes off to do something we want to do...and older siblings (like myself) have felt the guilt of not being "responsible enough" (even when our rebellion is only within our own minds). There are some archetypal emotions at work here.

But, mainly I like Eowyn because she kicks ass. This is the equivalent of an unblooded, 1st level fighter...and yet she's not afraid to talk smack to the Lord of the Nazgul. And then she backs it up by killing off his evil dinosaur mount, going toe-to-toe with the guy, and sticking her sword betwixt his eyes. Eowyn is pretty least in Tolkien's book.

There's no crying in battle!
I am on record as saying I received immense enjoyment from the Peter Jackson LotR films, and that I feel they do an excellent job of staying true to their source material (if you own/watch the Extended Version DVDs...which I do). But while I really, really, REALLY like Miranda Otto in the role of Eowyn, and find her interpretation of the character quite good (along with Jackson's writing, she really helps fill out and bring life to a literary character), I pretty much HATE the direction/depiction of her climactic scene on the Pelennor Fields. What is this: cowering? Is she going to cry or something? And the cheap way she delivers the line, "I am no man" after the Witch-King is already on his knees? What the hell is that? Kicking an enemy when he's down?

The scene in the book shows a stronger, confident character. First off, she calls out the bad guy right from the beginning...she gives him a chance to back off, and lays all the cards on the table, long before the first clash of battle...even before drawing her sword. But here...I'll quote the text, and you tell me what sounds better:
"Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!" 
A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgul nd his prey. Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where they flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye." 
A sword rang as it was drawn. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" 
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
[see what I'm talking about? this isn't some chica who's in over her head, backed into a corner and just trying to make a stand. She's just as proud and lordly as Aragorn or Theoden or Boromir or any of them. Except, of course, she actually kills something bigger than an orc. She can talk the talk AND walk the walk]
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes...
...Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Eowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise. 
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
[a few things to notice, here. One is the constant attention Tolkien pays to the Witch-King's eyes, for (aside from the crown floating above his head), nothing other part of the creature's head is visible. This is starkly different from the "empty helmet" (and hollow eyes) of Jackson. Then there's the potency of the Nazgul. In Tolkien's prose there's only two hits: "Me hitting you, you hitting the floor." Jackson's Nazgul swings his ridiculously over-sized flail no less than seven times before finally connecting with Eowyn's shield. It looks silly on screen (again, I say this as a fan of the film trilogy), making a battle between two champions look like...I don't know...a cheesy Kevin Costner-style fight scene. It makes me wince to watch the thing]
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee. 
"Eowyn! Eowyn!" cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
See, there's no clever repartee from Eowyn once the fight starts...just business. She's "all in" before the Nazgul even decides she's worth his attention (I cut out the bits where he ignores the hobbit for a worm writhing in the mud). It's a classic scene of fantasy literature, that makes me dig the character much more than the weak-sauce portrayal in Jackson's film. This is why I still love those Rankin-Bass addition to their beautiful animation, they adhere as closely to the text as they can while still being edited for time constraints.

Check out the video here. The dialogue and sequence is near word-for-word perfect.

Anyhoo, LORE of course was never completed, nor even developed to a point suitable for play-testing. But the idea of building a game capable of creating an "Eowyn-like" character is still something in which I'm interested. It's something I'm paying attention to as I work on the new heartbreaker (though, as magic is more prominent, it's unlikely I'll really get there. Hey, it's not supposed to be a LotR role-playing game!).

Just a couple more notes (I know this post is getting long):

Interesting that in Chainmail the Wraith figure can only be slain by another "fantasy character," like the Hero or Super Hero. I suppose Eowyn fits the bill as a "Hero" (she's certainly not the Super Heroic "Conan archetype"), which means she can slay a Nazgul on a 2D6 roll of 12. A pretty legendary task to be sure.

Second, in B/X both wraiths and (the more Nazgul appropriate) spectres are immune to normal weapons, so Eowyn wouldn't have been able to harm them anyway (though, of course, in B/X such creatures don't wield physical weapons, as they certainly do throughout Tolkien's books. Yes, I know, I know...there's a big difference between literature and RPGs. But I'm talking modeling, here, and many features of D&D were modeled after Tolkien's work). Eowyn isn't really an adventurer either (though perhaps she'd like to be one) and might be better modeled by Moldvay's NPC monster, the Noble:
"Noble" is a general term for the lord of a castle and any of his or her relatives.
The noble is is a three hit dice monster with AC 2 (presumably plate & shield) and damage of 1D8 (or per weapon). This would certainly be a good model for Theoden in B/X and probably both Eomer and Eowyn. But I'm just saying...

"Come get some, dwimmerlaik!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guarding the Galaxy...From Themselves

Our "heroes."
I'm a little surprised I've never yet written a blog post about Guardians of the Galaxy. Well, okay, maybe not. I've been making a bit of a concerted effort to keep the blog firmly on the subject of gaming (with the occasional Seahawk-related is football season), so perhaps NOT opening my yap about the film is me showing restraint. After all, if I really wanted to, there are plenty of movie and comic and book reviews with which I could fill this empty space...but then, you can get such opinions a lot of places other than Ye Old B/X Blackrazor.

Still, I did want to write a post after I saw the film (this was back in August, during my five day jaunt back in Seattle). But I had a bunch of other stuff going on at the time (like shopping for the return journey to Paraguay) and...yeah, I never really got around to it.

ANYway, just wanted to take a short break from the D&D stuff (sorry) and since it was either this or Aquaman (maybe tomorrow) I figured I'd start with this.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Star Wars movie since Star Wars.

"Eat my space dust, suckers!"
That was the overwhelming impression I had coming out of the theater. There hasn't really been a movie like Star Wars, since the original...even the sequels/prequels take themselves a bit too seriously with their angsty soap opera of the Skywalker family. Sure, there have been other movies that have tried to rip off Star Wars or conjure its success with their own brand of SciFi wa-hoo. But of the bunch I've seen, Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest thing to Star Wars...the feeling of Star Wars...since Lucas first delighted folks with his homage to Flash Gordan and Saturday matinee serials. And just in case I'm being unclear, I mean this in a very complimentary fashion.

Now, I realize that the story is based on comic books and existing comic book characters, but they are comics with which I'm UNfamiliar, the sole exception being Rocket Raccoon who is/was one of my all-time favorites (certainly my fave with regard to anthropomorphic animals). Since this Rocket is very different from the upright, "space ranger" type that I grew up reading, I can only assume that the film takes some liberty with all the characters...unless, of course, I just missed a Rocket "reboot/makeover" somewhere in the last twenty years.

And that's fine...the liberties they've taken (such as with Ronan the Accuser...what a great villain that guy was in the film!) make for a great film that I can only judge on its (individual, probably non-canon) merits. This is an attitude I've taken with other films recently, and it's done a lot to ease my mental stress. And you know what? The new take on the Falcon in the most recent Captain America reboot is sooooo much better than the comic book character (sorry, Red Wing!), sometimes I just feel like applauding the filmmakers' divergence from accepted comic book continuity.

"I am the most boring thing in this film."
Having said that, Zoe Saldana's character is so utterly boring and pointless, I really wish they'd gone way-waaay off book with her. Great: she's a badass female assassin who's a bit "detached" emotionally. Haven't we seen this trope a gazillion times? I'm all for women kicking ass, but why doesn't she get the delightful quirkiness the rest of the cast does? Like the guy who interprets everything literally, or the bioengineered raccoon with an inferiority complex, or the simple-minded tree, or the putzy protagonist? I've already seen Saldana do this shtick in Colombiana...she's too good an actor to get stuck as a green-skinned killer who really wants to be good but can't because she hasn't found the right friends to let her open up and blah-blah-blah.

ANYway...(*sigh*) like most films it's not perfect, of course, but there's a lot of fun to it. And it uses my favorite-favorite SciFi trope of all time: the normal human who's had to adapt to life in space, and NOT as a "master race." This is the concept where the galaxy is full of weird sentient beings and humanity is anything but the "dominant species." The animated film Titan A.E. is great at this (I could write a couple blog posts on that movie, BTW). So was the old Continuity Comics title Armor (any of you catch that one? The Canadian brothers that get abducted by alien slavers and adapted to the needs of a pirate fleet? Great stuff).

I really dig the "stranger in the strangest land" thing, and Chris Pratt does a great job of "making do" with what he has as opposed to being some sort of gifted "Chosen One" (like that Alex kid in The Last Starfighter). The whackier the better, I say...if you got whisked away from Earth and jammed into an utterly alien society, how would you cope? Would you be able to cope? Or would you just fall apart?

[I think it's fitting this particular's usually a youngster or kid who ends up being the hero, as kids are often more adaptable to new and drastic life changes than us sedentary adults]

"Go ahead...make my day."
When I saw this film was first coming out, I thought it looked pretty interesting (again, not knowing anything about the comic book canon of the IP) and it gave me an idea for a little game called Outlaw Space. At the time, I was very interested in GM-less type games, and this was one of my stabs at a concept. But after actually watching the film, I found myself surprisingly satisfied...I no longer felt the need to create a game that told a particular kind of story. I found that I had "gotten my fix" with Guardians of the Galaxy, and I really wasn't interested in doing a pastiche of the movie. Right now, between Star Wars, Firefly, and Guardians I've got plenty of space cowboy wahoo to fill my least, for the time being.

Though I'm sure there's a sequel already in the works.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hating on Lizards

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: All over Asuncion, there are these little yellow lizards that are all about getting into your home and scaring the beJesus out of you in the middle of the night by showing up on walls and counters and such. Some are tiny...barely over an inch...though I've seen some as long as eight or nine inches (these you bat with brooms). They're a damn plague is what they are; not as bad as the cucarachas, but...ANYway, the funny thing is, they're not native to the country, or even to the continent. Some years ago, a person brought a box of lizards to Paraguay from China, and the lizards escaped into the wild and they've been here ever since. Kind of like the damn chickens in Kauai. Now why anyone would want to bring a box of lizards from China (or anywhere else) is still a mystery...

You might think this is some kind of segue into a discussion on dynamic dungeon ecosystems or something, but you'd be wrong. My brain is not working hard enough this morning to generate that kind of power. No, I just hate these damn lizards. I've never liked creepy-crawly things, I've never been a fan of the outdoors or camping, and it's a constant irritation that I'm the dude that has to deal with this shit when my wife or kids are freaked out 'cause I'm the "man of the house." Seeing as how I'm about the least "manly" man I know, you'd think I'd get a pass or...well, whatever.

[actually, now that I think of it, I do know at least a couple of guys who are "less manly" than myself (they will remain nameless), but I really had to think about it. I'm pretty much a cream puff...though I do like hiking the occasional mountain]

No need for a loincloth. Really.
Lizard men, on the other hand, is something I can definitely dig least as an RPG monster.

Lizard men...I prefer that term to the gender neutral "lizard folk" because to me folk implies some sort of family/culture (which I don't like my monsters to possess) and I think the archaic use of "man" as a gender neutral term harkens back to Old School pulp of which the monster was most certainly born. Besides, can you really tell the gender of a lizard person? Shouldn't we just call 'em "lizardoids" or something?...

*ahem* Lizard men (as I was starting to write) first appear in Supplement I (Greyhawk). They are not present in Monsters & Magic (book 2 of the LBBs), which isn't all that surprising when you consider that the entirety of the original monster list falls into one of these categories:

  • carryovers from Chainmail (and its Tolkien influence)
  • derivations of creatures from Chain mail (horses, for example)
  • human antagonists fit for wargaming (pirates, bandits, etc.)
  • creatures from Saturday matinee horror flicks (vampires, giant insects, The Blob, etc.)
  • creatures from (mostly Greek) myth...though these may in fact be based on film, too (of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad variety)

It isn't till Greyhawk that we start to see creatures derived from more literary sources, especially pulp fantasy and science fiction. Though maybe these, too, are found in horror and SciFi cinema...I'm not a huge lover of the B-movie genre, so I don't have the "chops" to really give a proper analysis.

Actually, in reading a few articles on-line about where these critters came from (many derived from Gygax's least their abilities, if not their names and images)...I see I'm waaay off base in my assumptions. Many times, Gygax was just "stretching things" to make them fit the needs of his campaign. Many images of iconic monsters (like kobolds and pig-faced orcs) simply come from the artist's rendering (and we've been using those images, incorporating them into the stats and background color ever since).

Well, at least that's better than simply making monsters to fill a niche created by a class ability.

As you might have guessed, I'm thinking about monsters today (well, and lizards...though they only come out at night). A lot of fantasy heartbreakers get dinged (in part) for their zealous adherence to the same old-same old equipment list found in the PHB (and elsewhere). For me, I'm considerably more concerned with the list of NPC antagonists (i.e. "monsters") that I want to include, and making sure they're distinct from "what has gone before," as well as being part of an internally consistent cosmology.

It's not just about re-skinning ghouls as "plague zombies," or orcs as "subhumans;" it's about creating the right flavor of adventure with the right creatures. Gygax made his gnolls "hyena-headed" because he needed something "more evil" and "disliked hyenas intensely." This just feels terribly appropriate to me...I feel the same way about lizard men. While all the entries for lizard man read about the same (from Greyhawk to Mentzer), the best summary of the creature can be found in Holmes's (two sentence!) description:
"These aquatic monsters will capture men in order to take them to the tribal lair for a feast, with the man as the main course! They are at least semi-intelligent and use weapons such as spears and clubs."
Really, that's all you need to know. They eat people, but they have the rudimentary intelligence to form a tribal structure and manufacture crude weapons. In other words, they are (presumably) aware of sentient beings (being sentient themselves) but choose to eat them! How evil is that? Kill 'em all!

Of course, the fact that they are much bigger and stronger (HD 2+1) than humans with a hide like mail (AC 5), means that they're a scourge that ain't going away anytime soon. Sure, a posse of mounted knights could drive them away on the open battlefield, but it's a fool's errand to take a horse and armor into the swamp with the aim of "stamping 'em out." And if lizard "folk" multiply like lizards (birthing half a dozen at a time), how long till your pseudo-medieval countryside is crawling with them, the same way Paraguay is crawling with these little scaly bastards?

Just a thought. I like lizard men in games, because I hate lizards in real life. Those folks with pet iguanas and such? I just don't get it. I've had roommates in the past with two foot (plus) long lizard pets, and while they're "fine" in the cage, taking 'em out and letting 'em run around was just...well, let's just say I used to drink even more than I do now (*ahem*). Anyhoo...

I didn't put lizard men in Five Ancient Kingdoms (though it would've been easy enough to do so) because they don't "fit the fiction" of the game (pulp fantasy versus mythic Arabia). But they're definitely going into the new heartbreaker, if I can make them fit the cosmology. And they're going to be the kind of creature one will feel no compunction about killing, sans hand-wringing.

'Cause I really, really don't like lizards.

[as an aside, if you want to add lizard folk to your Five Ancient Kingdom game, the stat-line would look like this:

HD: 2+1, Armor: Light, Hit/Kill: 8/12, Move: 6/12, Mettle: 4, Save: H2, Hoard: D

The monster works well with the "sword & sorcery" alternate setting described on page 48 of Volume 3, Dragon Master Secrets]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Basic Weapon List

All right! So now I come to the end of my series (yesterday's post was really the last "concept" post) detailing my thoughts on the weapons that should be included in a basic fantasy adventure game like the one I'm currently working on. That was the real point of these posts (in case it wasn't clear)...this blog is serving as my "design notes," so that interested persons can see my thought process (and so that I don't have to include a bunch of sidebars in the game as to "why the designer is doing this"...don't you hate needless padding?).

However, before I post my final list, I wanted to post a few addendum thoughts regarding missile weapons: in an indoor or subterranean environment (like a "dungeon") there's really not much call for long range weapons. Not only are you working with fairly short distances before your arrow hits a wall, not only are you losing the ability to "arc" missiles (due to a capped ceiling), not only are the quarters cramped in general with monsters who (in the main) are trying to get into melee...not only that, but in the darkness you're probably going to be out-shooting your light sources.

So for my game, I don't need a lot of shooting weapons. Certainly not the seven found on the battlefields of Chainmail (short bow, horse bow, longbow, composite bow, light crossbow, heavy crossbow, arquebus). Heck, I don't even need all four to six of the ones in older "basic" editions of D&D. Give me bow, crossbow, and rock (thrown or "slung") and I'm good. And no, I'm not going to worry too much about ranges.

Having got that out of the way, here's the weapon list for my basic heartbreaker:

Ye Old Armory
- Battle Axe*
- Hand Axe (t)
- Dagger (t)
- One-Handed Sword
- Long Sword*
- Bow
- Crossbow
- Sling
- Club*
- Mace/Hammer
- Spear*(t)
- Two-Handed Weapon

* indicates weapon may be used with 1 or 2 hands
(t) indicates weapon may be thrown 

Weapon Notes
  • Unless stated otherwise, all weapons have a maximum damage of 6
  • Two-Handed Weapons have a maximum damage of 8
  • All axes add +1 to maximum damage
  • All swords add +1 to attack rolls
  • Crossbows, Maces, Hammers, and Two-Handed Weapons add +2 to attack rolls versus heavy armor (though the latter loses this bonus in tight quarters).
  • Daggers, Clubs, and Slings subtract 2 from attack rolls AND maximum possible damage
  • Crossbows require a full (10 second) round of combat to reload
Okay,  that should just about do it. The "two-handed weapon" entry includes all pole arms, zwiehanders, giant mauls, etc. The exact type of two-handed weapon doesn't matter as they are all...from the standpoint of game mechanics...effectively the same weapon.

Any questions? Comments? Additional thing I need to consider? Or should I just start working on my post about "wandering monsters?"
: )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Variable Weapon Damage

Let's see...where was I? Oh, yeah...basic weapons.

[I suppose I should extend a congrats to the St. Louis Skaven this week...those tricksy, tricksy rats. Congrats. I was smart enough to only have a couple Fullers on hand this weekend so as not to get too tossed. Ugh...]

Taking a look at the Moldvay list, I find that I want to talk about variable weapon damage. Back in 2009, while working on my B/X Companion, I thought it would be a great idea to vary weapon damage by character class instead of by weapon (an option I included in the book), in order to allow PCs of any flavor to use whatever gear best suited their personal taste. Over 18 months later, after many actual games of awesome B/X play I came to the conclusion that I really preferred straight, Rules As Written, D6 damage for ALL weapons (with minor bonuses for two-handed weapons). I wrote why here, and have been using some variation of "standard D6 damage" ever since.

However, with some evolving ideas I have regarding the nature of hit points, I'm starting to reconsider my stance. Yes, it's easy (for me) to roll D6s when it comes to damage...but then, I've been working on getting rid of damage rolls, anyway. With that in mind, does a six point range of damage make sense?

So we come to that wonderful unit of measure, the hit die, and what it represents. Simply put it is a measure of attacking power, equal to one human scale soldier.

The ashcan that started it all.
There are no "hit dice" in Chainmail; at least, the explicit term is not used. The number of dice rolled for attack (and the target number needed to "kill") depends on what type of troop attacking and the type of troop being attacked. Hit dice, as explained in the second book of OD&D (Monsters & Magic) is described in terms of the default combat system (Chainmail, remember?) so that an ogre (with 4+1 HD) would roll 4 times, attacking the same as 4 men, and requiring the equivalent of 4 wounds (four successful attack rolls) to kill. The +1 gives the ogre a +1 on one of these attack rolls and +1 to the number of "hits" (i.e. HPs) possessed.

Again, these attack dice are not as straightforward as they might appear, as they depend on the type of troop being attacked to figure their relative value. Chainmail is explicit that an ogre fights as "heavy foot." With 4 HD, these attack dice look like the following against various defenders:

vs. Light Foot: roll 4d6, any 5+ kills.
vs. Heavy Foot: roll 4d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Armored Foot; Light Horse: roll 2d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Medium/Heavy Horse: roll d6, any 6 kills.

[remember, the ogre receives a +1 bonus on one die roll, so (for example) really only needs to roll a 5+ against a medium or heavy horseman]

Using OD&D's alternative combat system (the D20 system in place with every edition since, and which is the base for D20 in general), hit dice transforms to a probability of inflicting damage within one round of combat, and a measure of vitality (HPs) for a creature, each HD being equivalent to a single fighting man...the latter being made clear with the advent of Supplement I (Greyhawk) when both fighters and monsters were awarded D8 hit points per HD (and non-martial adventurers/humans being awarded fewer).

Here in Greyhawk we see the first "variable damage by weapon" chart, which is generally adapted in Moldvay. The only differences found (at least where the weapons on the two lists match) are the pole arm whose D8 damage in OD&D increases to D10 damage in B/X (matching the missing "halberd" damage type), and the spear which, in OD&D, has 3 different damage ranges depending on how it is used. Both sword and battle axe are given D8 damage...though note that a battle axe does not carry the "two-handed only" restriction found in B/X.

Just for review, here's how the variable damage types break down (in B/X, which contains a better "dungeoneering weapon list"):

D4 damage: torch, dagger, sling stone ("rock"), club ("stick")
D6 damage: arrow/quarrel, hand axe, mace/hammer, spear, "short sword"
D8 damage: battle axe, "normal sword"
D10 damage: pole arm, two-handed sword

The more I stare at this list, the more sense it starts to make for me...but only with a changing idea of what hit points are.

See, before I was looking at the D6 damage thing in light of the idea that all normal humans have D4 hit points...a range of 1 to 4. But this isn't entirely accurate. A human being in B/X (or OD&D + supplements) has a HP range of 1 to 8 (with a single hit die); however, most humans encountered aren't "worthies" sporting more than four. Allow me to break it down (a little different from my D6 post):

  • 1 hit point: an individual on death's door. Any damage will slay this person. True invalids, babies, people without the will or strength to stand on their own. Such individuals may take no action in combat, save to crawl around on the floor.
  • 2 hit points: small children or the elderly. People with diminished capacity, suffering from severe illness, or wounds. Such an individual might survive a weapon wound...if they're very lucky. Such individuals suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls in combat.
  • 3 hit points: a "deficient" person...someone who's out of shape, lacks energy/vitality or a "will to live," but who is otherwise capable of normal (if weak) human action.
  • 4 hit points: a normal person in full health.
  • 5 hit points: a normal person in full health but one who is exceedingly healthy/strong in body OR incredibly strong-willed and spirited (able to fight through pain/illness, etc.).
  • 6 hit points: a normal person in full health who is both exceedingly strong in body AND in willpower/spirit.

To this range of 1 through 6 use the following adjustment:

  • If a character has had formal fight training (professional soldiers, noblemen, etc.) add +2 hit points.

This gives us the full range of 1 to 8.

This is what I'm currently using, by the way, to calculate HPs for creatures of all shapes and sizes (and by reverse applying these principles, for finding out what kind of monster is encountered based on the average number of HPs per HD the thing has). A normal "orc soldier" would have 6 hit points, for exceptionally strong or cunning one would have 7, while a leader type with both size and an iron will would have the full 8 hit points. A soldier "past his prime" (perhaps retired based on injury in battle) would still have 5 hit points (3 HP category + 2) while even an elderly chap (if he can carry a sword) would still have 4 hit points.

12 to 14 HPs
This is per hit die, you understand. The aged gnoll warrior would have 8 HPs (2 HD at four each) compared to average adult warrior, who'd have 12 (6 per die). If they were hardened veterans, they'd have 14 apiece, while elite types (the chief's bodyguards and such) would have 16. A gnoll child would be pretty tough (4 hit points), but would not fight as well as a human warrior (-2 penalty to attack rolls, reducing Base Attack Bonus to +0).

OKAY...having given you an overview of this "HD reinterpretation," let's look at the weapons and their damage maximums.

First, change the term "short sword" for one-handed sword, and "normal sword" for longsword. Then consider the following:

  1. Remember that damage range is based on "roll over" attack number and so die type (in this case) equals "maximum rollover" (i.e. maximum damage).
  2. Battle-axes and longswords (both with a maximum length of c. 4') can be used one or two-handed.
  3. When used two-handed (and only when used two-handed) these weapons bump their maximum damage from 6 to 8.
  4. True "two-handed" weapons (zwiehanders and pole arms) have additional penalties when used within the close confines of a dungeon environment (even in a wide chamber, you're often dealing with a low ceiling, precluding the full range of motion...poleaxes and two-handed swords inflict their greatest damage when being swung downwards on an opponent). Personally, I would probably model this with a -2 penalty to both attack and maximum damage...but in an open space/chamber, these weapons could prove devastating).

Here we see the damage range of all weapons is enough to slay an adult human at least 50% of the time with anything bigger than a dagger, stick, or rock (these "lesser" weapons can still inflict death on a healthy adult person with a perfect strike of "4 over"). A perfect blow with a one-handed weapon will slay even a trained warrior ("6 over") and a perfect strike from a two-handed weapon will slay even an elite fighting man ("8 over").

The "Big Boys" (two-handed swords and pole arms) have the potential to deliver significant "over-damage," but rather than giving them a ten point damage range, this might be better modeled by having them decrease the effectiveness of armor by 2 (a +2 bonus to attack individuals wearing armor) and leaving their maximum damage at 8. Remember, wearing armor not only makes it more difficult for your opponent to inflict damage but reduces your opponent's ability to inflict significant damage (because the "roll over" target is higher). A +2 bonus to attack armor reduces armor's effectiveness, and increases the chance of doing good (i.e. "killing") damage.

Okay, that's about it for this series...though there might be a slight addendum tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

No Such Thing As "Normal" (Part 2)

[continued from here]

I know I said I wouldn't be examining the PHB in this series but guess what: I lied. I wanted to look at the dimensions of a short sword to figure out what exactly the hell it is. Because there's really no such thing as a "short sword" proper. There are swords that are shorter in length than others...but as swords have a variation of...oh, say, 24" (blade length) up to the monstrous two-hander...well, suffice is to say there's no such thing as "normal," either.

While I'm not a historian, I am something of a sword fanatic. I've studied swords, I own lots of books on swords, I like looking at swords in museums (and have done so all over the world), I fenced and read about/studied fencing for a number of years, I own real (non-replica) swords. Swords are my bag, baby. And for a geeky number-crunching, categorizing, pigeon-holin' dude like myself, swords are maddening, because for the most part they don't fall into hard and fast categories.

The easiest way to look at swords is to see them for what they properly are: the weaponized evolution of knife (and cutting/slicing) technology. Nothing beats a spear for poking, and its hard to argue against an axe for chopping. But the sword is a versatile weapon that can be used to harm folks in a variety of ways, including chopping, poking, slashing, and bashing. They're quick and maneuverable, and yet they're long enough to keep shorter, faster weapons at a good distance. Even though various "types" of swords are specialized for different types of combat (rapiers versus gladius versus broadsword versus saber) in general a sword is still a sword and two swords of different types are still more similar to each other (in how they are wielded) than they are to other weapons. A scimitar and an estoc are quite different, but they are much closer to each other than either is to a pike or mace.

[you can quibble but...well, you can quibble; leave it at that]

Hence, we find in Chainmail only a single entry called "sword" that falls into that intermediate scale between maces/picks and the flail weapons. The two-hander, used and wielded much like a big, edgy pole arm is a few more rungs up the ladder (between halberd and lance), but there's no "short sword, long sword, broad sword, bastard sword, blah-blah-blah." Everything not a dagger or a zwiehander is a sword. Period.

So what the hell is a "short sword?" Because we need to answer that before we get to the even more strange "normal sword."

The PHB has all their weights in GP and their way off real world weights (due to representing "bulk" not just poundage, I suppose), so we can't really rely on that. Length may be a better clue: the short sword is listed as "circa two feet," and with no other info to go on, one assumes this is overall weapon length (like the 6' two-hander), making the short sword only slightly longer than the dagger.  Considering 4-5" for a one-handed hilt, that leaves us room for a 19" blade, smaller than even the ancient Greek xiphos or (most) examples of the Roman gladius. It's barely bigger than a seax, which is really considered a knife, not a sword.

Here's something I was told by a guy who is a historian, as well as a real-life blacksmith, who does quite a bit of sword-work for Ren-fairs: in the olden days, if you were using a sword to fight, it would probably break...and sooner the more you used it. Battle is as hard on equipment (if not harder) than it is on people, and people heal. What's more, swords were fairly expensive weapons, so when your sword broke, you didn't just throw it away. Instead you took it to a smith who'd file it down for you into a shorter blade. This process would repeat when the blade would (inevitably) break again, and then you'd have the thing filed down into a largish knife called a dagger (or dirk, though that's a Scottish term). Could the "short sword" entry on the extensive AD&D weapon list be a stab (pardon the pun) at trying to be comprehensive in including these broken/mended weapons? Perhaps. Though it's maybe just as likely that Gygax wanted a weapon that would be the standard "broadsword equivalent" for shorties like gnomes and halflings.

In fact, if the latter is the case then Moldvay's normal swords becomes a bit easier to swallow: "short swords" are for halflings (and perhaps dwarves) while "normal swords" are for normal-sized folks (like humans and elves). Now, that actually makes some sense (and would also explain why a dwarf would choose to use a battle axe, as such a weapon would become their best melee damage option with regard to variable weapon damage).

But I still dislike the term "normal sword." Not only because there's no such thing as a "normal" sword but because, if you really want to categorize blades, there IS an easy way one could (somewhat) distinguish between them. And that way is to divide them into longswords and one-handed (short) swords, in addition to the two-hander group.

The longsword is "long" (the largest a bit more than 4' in total length, though that's not all blade), but what distinguishes the longsword is a hilt (with a grip of around 7-9") designed to allow two-handed use...despite the weapon being light enough to wield one-handed. This two-handed use was a crucial development (as was a forte...the base of the blade...that allowed easy gripping), in order to make the weapon more effective against the stronger armor being fielded on the battlefield. Along with more typical "anti-armor" weapons (the pick, the mace, etc.) the longsword became the knightly weapon of the late middle ages. It's ability to be used one or two handed (the former when riding or with a shield) just added to the versatility of the already versatile sword, and it would be a mainstay until armor started falling into disuse altogether (with the rise of gunpowder) and one-handed, dueling-style weapons became more the norm.

But D&D is a game of dudes (and dudettes) in armor, right? We don't need basket-hilted blades when we're wearing plate armor.

Longsword and arming sword...not that "short."
With the rise of the longsword, the old one-handed the Viking broadsword or knightly arming sword...are (were?) sometimes called "shortswords" but that's only in comparison to a longsword. The blade length of an arming sword (a typical "sidearm" in the age of the knight) is 30"...nearly a foot longer than the Gygaxian short sword of the PHB. 11" is a lot of distance...that will poke out the back of a person with a good thrust, and gives a lot longer slicing edge to "draw" in a slash. Despite lacking the armor piercing qualities of a longsword, these one-handed blades are plenty good weapons; you just need to be a bit more careful with your distance (because you're dealing with an opponent at closer range).

OKAY, a pseudo-medieval, non-gunpowder, non-battlefield setting that works combat in the abstract (i.e. is not as detailed as the system found in The Riddle of Steel RPG), I would definitely want to limit weapons to three basic categories: the one-handed sword, the one/two-handed (long) sword, and the 6' long monster that can only be used with two-hands. For me, everything from typical "earthly" fantasy...even across different real world sword cultures...can fall into one of these three categories, regardless of length, curve, edge, tang, guard, whatever. All that stuff is just extraneous "dressing" or "color" for how the weapon works in the game.

If you really want to model specific types of swords and how they maneuver differently, I'd strongly recommend picking up a copy of TROS instead.