Monday, November 30, 2015

Considering the Half-Orc (again)

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

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

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

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

"Let's discuss this like civilized folk."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Back to Levels

It is so quiet here.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Half-Orc

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

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

[EDITED to add the bonus to reaction rolls with evil humanoids]

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Half-Elf

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Bard

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

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

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

Lore Master
Master Bard

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Big Twelve

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015


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

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

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

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

Aaaaannd...that's it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

One Million

Let's talk level limits. A common enough gripe of old school play style, generally with regard to demihumans...which is going to be the subject of this post.

[and, frankly, if you're going to gripe about assassins only going to level 15 or druids to level 14, I can't help you. Though, I suppose Gygax increased druids to 23 with the UA...because we need druids turning into fire elementals and stuff? Some stuff I just don't get...]

Holmes (my new "foundation" for all games D&D) has no level limits, of course. This is because the text of Holmes Basic only provides rules for characters up to 3rd level...and even the stingiest edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the Little Brown Books) allows the lowly hobbit to achieve 4th level. However, as I plan my Ten Year Campaign, I know that (as with multi-classing and which classes deminhumans can become) I'm going to need to make some hard decisions as to maximum levels

I might be in the minority with regard to level limits, but I like them. And it has nothing to do with game balance, or throwing human characters a bone, or modeling human ambition as their "advantage" over demihumans. me, level limits make sense based on the limitations inherent in the demihumans.

Take the halfling (hobbit) as an example. Originally, their maximum potential of fighter was 4th level. That's "hero level," four times greater than a 1st level fighter, but pretty small potatoes compared to the ranks of high level humans. But look at their limitations: limitations of upbringing, of temperament, of training (in hobbit communities). Limitations with regard to armor that can be worn and weapons that can be wielded. If I have a small frame, poor reach, bad leverage (in hand-to-hand) and an inability to wield (and thus practice) most of the large weapons available, how am I ever going to reach the potential in training for battle as a human?

Look at elves. If we consider them these stereotypical, daisy-eating vegetarians with a deep respect for life...and thus lacking a killer instinct...coupled with a love of frivolous star-gazing, woodland frolicking, and wine-drinking (the Tolkien model), PLUS a slight frame, shorter reach, less leverage, and the capacity to bruise like a peach...well, you can understand how they might be limited as well.

And the same holds true for dwarves, okay? Don't tell me these are the roughest, toughest warriors in the realm, whose "favored class" is fighter. Fighting in tunnels, hatred of goblins, doesn't provide you with comprehensive fighting skills. You can't even ride a damn horse (not that you have stables underground anyway). Your fighting education is lacking, my beardy little friends. You can still be PROUD warriors, but that doesn't make you SKILLED warriors.

Here's my take: adventuring classes are human scale. Yes, I've decided that (at least for a couple demihumans) race will not equal class, and whether due to their interaction with humans, or adventurous nature, multiple classes will be open to non-humans. However, being "human scale," only humans are able to express the full potential of the class. Even if we're talking about a world setting analogous to Tolkien's Middle Earth (where you have a history of elves like Fingolfin and Glorfindel taking down balrogs single-handedly), this isn't about elves being "diminished in the current age." It's about humans expressing the full potential of the adventuring class (though the class may have been pioneered by this "elder race"). Those heroes of an ancient age may have been hot stuff, but humans in the current setting can be even better.

Yet even for humans, there's a limit to what can be learned...a finite amount of skill that can be acquired. For my Holmes setting, the hard limit is about 14 for the four main classes (fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief), with lesser levels for subclasses. For all classes (and subclasses), hit dice stop accumulating at level 9, and only bonus HPs are gained thereafter; skills and spell acquisition cease at 14, and while saves continue to improve, combat skills stop at level 13 for fighters. This is the limits of the class, mind've learned all you can learn by the time you hit a certain level, and the only thing there is to gain is a little bump to HPs and (possibly) to saves. There's just a limit to what is possible for the adventurer.

But while characters can measure their power by their level, they measure their success...and what they've learned/ experience points. And here, I've decided to simply install a hard cap on how much XP can be accumulated: one million points. Once you've hit that number, you can retire or continue on, but you aren't earning anything, no matter how many monsters you kill and no matter how much treasure you accumulate. One million is, for my purposes, the limit of what adventuring can gain you. 

Well, actually 1,100,000 for individuals with a 10% bonus for their prime requisite. But a million for everyone else...including demihumans, to whom I don't really want to give a prime requisite bonus (let that be the "human advantage").

Elves, as I wrote earlier, simply add the XP required for fighters and magic-users together to determine how much XP they need to accumulate to advance. With a million XP cap, that gives them a maximum potential of 10th level (at 810,000xp). Even earning a million doesn't get them to the next level.

Dwarves and halflings only have the options of the fighter and thief classes (and remember, there's no "multi-classing" round these parts). For dwarves, their normal maximum training is one-half the human potential (call it 7th level), but even after reaching it, they can continue to earn XP (up to a million)...however, each level requires double the normal XP to acquire (giving them an absolute maximum of 11th). For halfling fighters, their base potential is only one-third that of humans (4th level), and continued progression requires triple the normal XP (absolute max of 9th level). For thieves, this would be reversed (dwarves at one-third/triple and halflings at one-half/double). 

This method allows the demihumans to keep earning XP along with their human counterparts, just at a much slower rate of return and (one might presume) with a higher rate of "burnout" or urge to retire...there are some awful long stretches of "no gain" as the non-humans work and work and work to try to match their taller comrades. But...well, it's a bit like the real world: I would have never been an NFL linebacker, no matter how hard I tried, because I'm just not big enough. Nor would I have ever been a genius physicist...I wasn't gifted with that type of intellect. Demihumans have inherent limitations based on their individual species and culture. At least in my game world.

But there's still bragging rights for getting a million points.
; )

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Not a fan.

Oh, I've had plenty of multi-class characters in my time. Most recently I played a gnome illusionist-assassin in a buddy's Labyrinth Lord game (using the Advanced Edition Companion, natch). Way back in my AD&D days, my longest running character was a 1st edition bard, about which I'm sure I've blogged at one time or another. When I played D20, I believe every single character I used was some sort of "multi-class" character...let's see, I had a wood elf ranger-barbarian, a human barbarian-fighter, a halfling monk-ninja, a dwarf fighter-rogue-duelist, and a half-elf ranger-bard-assassin. Most of these (including the dwarf and wood elf) were started at 1st level and "worked up;" others (the half-elf) were created as high level characters (using the DMG3 guidelines) to fit campaign specs.

[lot of fluff and nonsense for little gain. A lot of appeal to a a player's desire for customization and micro-managing, with the game itself suffering (all of these campaigns fell apart as the DMs got tired of tracking all the various PC capabilities while creating/juggling adequate/balanced challenges). Sometimes it got pretty ugly. These were not games with a lot of players. These were not DMs that had little experience, but individuals who'd been playing since the 80s]

I should also mention that I ran 3E games, and had similar breakdowns, not because I was incapable, but because the players kept screwing their shit up. I'd double-check their builds and point out errors and they'd throw up their hands and walk out.

[on a related note, I can see why D20 commands such devotion that people jumped to Pathfinder when WotC cancelled the line. If you put in the time and energy to make the system "hum," and you enjoy character customization, I'm not sure you could find a better game. At least not one that still uses class-level as a major system feature]

Whatever. I'm not a fan. For me, it doesn't make a whole helluva' lot o sense: it is damnably hard to work at two careers at a time, let alone three, especially ones with completely different skill sets. I can get behind elves being both magic-users and fighters due to their thousand year lifespan, their strangely fey brain, or their "inherently magical nature." For one particular species of demihuman: sure, it's okay. For everyone else? No. You learn one trade, and you become skilled in it, or you die.

I really don't want fighter-thieves or cleric-rangers or fighter-magic-user-thieves running around the game. It's messy, sure, but I just don't find it sensical. If a halfling can do it, why can't a human? Which appears to be the question the D20 developers asked themselves when designing the game. However, I would have come up with a different answer: you're right, they can't.

Oh, boo-hoo, I'm so anti-fun. First you spit on dragon born and tieflings and now you're taking away our ability to multi-task. JB, you Big Jerk, you. Yes, I'm a big who's decided it's time to say:

"Enough fence-sitting. Pick a damn class."

If you don't like it, retire the character and pick a new class. This is one of the luxuries of playing a fantasy game: unlike real life, you're not really stuck with the choices you've made in life. Sure, I could go back to school to study international business or computer science or creative writing...but making that kind of life transition is pretty tough. And in my (fantasy) game world, it ain't an option. We're talking about an adventuring career, right? Professional football players take fewer hits, and they're retired by 30.  Maybe some individuals will "dabble" in other classes -- picking up the ability to use a sword, or read a magic scroll -- but wholesale learning of multiple class features? Switching to a new set of class skills? No and no.

Elves are elves are elves, and their combo of magic and fighting gets to stay. Everyone else? Figure out what you want to be. 'Cause that's all you're going to get.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Ten Year Campaign

I've mentioned Alexis Smolensk and his blog more than a few times over here. He has one of the most detailed, thoughtful, and long-running D&D campaigns you'll find...he has made it his life's work, something he eats, sleeps, and breathes. I wouldn't say I stand in awe of the world he's created or the time and energy he's devoted to it...I've known, and known of, enough people like Alexis (dedicated, passionate artists) that I've seen what's possible. But I certainly admire, and am inspired by his work in an arena (gaming) to which I've given so much of my own time and effort.

This is not to blow flowers up Alexis's ass. Like everyone, I'm sure he likes to get compliments. But for an artist, it doesn't matter whether I compliment him or insult him. The Work continues. Internet opinions aren't going to stop that train from rolling.

SO, as I was saying, I can draw inspiration from the work he does. And the other day, he mentioned that he knew of no campaigns (besides his own) that have run for even as long as eight or nine years. Personally, I've heard of such long-lasting campaigns (and some that have lasted 15 years or more), but I haven't experienced them myself. Heck, the longest D&D campaign I've ever run only lasted 5-6 years...and that was in my youth. I've never played in another person's campaign that had existed even half that long.

And there's a lot of reasons for this lack of staying power...some good, some understandable (if lamentable), and some that are downright bad. Regardless, the responsibility for the campaign lies with the person running it (the DM) and so, if you appreciate and enjoy long-running campaigns...if you find it desirable to see a world develop over an extended length of time, with an on-going cast of characters...then there's only one person (the DM) that can make such a thing happen. 

How bad do you want it?

I worked at my last job from September of 1999 to January of 2014...certainly longer than any RPG campaign I've run. And while my job was mostly enjoyable, challenging, interesting, and satisfying (personally, if not particularly financially) it certainly wore on me after the first...oh, nine years or so. Certainly by a decade in I was ready for a change. However, I stuck with it for the usual reasons. Inertia. Familiarity. Fear of looking for something new. Etc. I'll say one thing for Paraguay...coming down here helped me break out of my rut.

[though it's always possible I'll go back to my old job when this Paraguay thing is finally over]

I enjoy or, rather, have enjoyed running long-term campaigns in the past, but I have a fear, a nagging suspicion, that I couldn't sustain the enjoyment of the thing over 20+ years. How could I? Even presuming new scenarios, new monsters, new treasures, new challenges dreamed up (or stolen from ideas on other blogs), wouldn't the thing, the adventuring, get old after a while? Even assuming I had a constant group of players (or at least new ones cycling in as old ones left), wouldn't *I* -- the guy running the game -- get tired of the thing eventually? 

To which my inner "Alexis voice" replies: How would you know when you've never yet tried.

Dammit, Smolensk.

So, now I'm considering creating something I've never really considered in the past...a campaign setting that doesn't simply have a nice premise and a few adventure ideas to last a handful of game sessions. No, now I'm thinking about something larger...something large, period. A world, a campaign, designed to last ten years.

That's ten years of "real time," by the way. 520 weekly game sessions. Long enough to take my boy into his teenage years. I'll still only be in my early fifties, of course...plenty of time left to find something else if I'm bored at the end of the decade.

Such a campaign would certainly be easier to run with a traditional level-XP based system like D&D (the constant carrot of advancement). And it seems like it wouldn't be all that hard to maintain at a decent level, so long as I'm moderate with the XP doled out to the players. I was crunching some numbers, and I found that with an average of 1500xp per session, characters would only obtain levels 12th to 14th (9th or 10th for an elven fighter-mage)...powerful, but certainly not "godlike." And this was an average, could certainly scale it over time. For example:

130 weeks @ 600xp
130 weeks @ 1200xp
130 weeks @ 1800xp
130 weeks @ 2400xp

Not that it would be (or should be) so "planned out;" the point is that a campaign can be structured on a ten year time period, to provide enough reward to allow advancement and player satisfaction without taking the game into the stratosphere with regard to power and overwhelming ability. With an eye towards which magical items might be found and in what numbers. With an idea of the factions that might be encountered, the "dungeons" that might be on the map, the challenges that would face characters with regard to training and character development, etc.

Not just a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" campaign, in other words.

Anyway, that's something I've got into my head to work on developing (in my spare time). Of course, I have no players at the moment (and won't until I'm permanently back in the USA or my children are a little older), but at this point I have time. And I can use that time to plan, and develop, and incubate this that when I do have players, I'll be ready to unleash it.

Just thought I'd share.
; )

What does an adventurer look
like after ten years of play?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Class, Multi-Class, Race, and Holmes

[just family will be flying back to Seattle this Thursday for a much needed two weeks at "home." Posting may very well be sporadic as a result (both leading up to the trip and during our vacation). I'm hoping to write a few posts and schedule 'em to roll out periodically...but we'll see what happens]

A couple posts back, Sean asked:

"What are your thoughts on a return to race as class?"

Which is kind of funny because, for years now, I've been very much about treating "race as class." In B/X (the edition I've played almost exclusively since 2009), race as class is the default, and I've blogged plenty of times why it is well justified, why I appreciate it, why I wouldn't want it any other way. When I wrote The Complete B/X Adventurer, I included a number of new demihuman classes -- the centaur, the gnome, the ogre-kin -- just to give some new options that still bought into that philosophy. It makes sense that non-humans are not human...that they don't share human ambitions and human versatility and do not exhibit the same human variety of "class types" within their species. Hell, if you're talking about a creature that lives hundreds or thousands of years (i.e. dwarve and elves) how can we expect them to have ANY type of world view like humans. They live life on a different scale from humans...their life priorities are bound to be incredibly different.

Think about it: elves and dwarves and halflings might simply not care about the same thing as humans. If all dwarves want to do is mine and carve and smith and smelt and forge and drink, maybe they don't have any time (let alone inclination) for learning magic. Maybe dwarf society frowns so fiercely upon stealing that they simply can't bring themselves to learn thievery. Maybe they have gods, but maybe their gods refuse to grant spells or the ability to turn undead and don't care if their followers carry swords...perhaps it is these dwarven "priests," indistinguishable from fighters, that forge the magic hammers and axes that their kind prizes.

They are not simply a different culture, but a different species, with a different physiology and different ideology based on their non-human life cycle. They don't have the imagination for illusion magic. They don't have the respect for forests that would lead them to the druid path. They don't have the wander lust of the ranger, preferring a sedentary lifestyle of clan and family. They don't have the spiritual thirst for justice that would call them to paladinhood. They are too honest and forthright to become assassins. They have too much attachment to clan and worldly goods (gold, gems, etc.) to join a monkish order.

This kind of thought exercise can be applied to any of the demihumans.

Of course, I didn't think this way when I was younger. I played AD&D for years...and even years after I'd stopped, when my (role-playing) buddies and I would get together we'd guffaw at "basic" editions of D&D with their "silly" race-as-class mechanics. How ridiculous to think a halfling couldn't be a thief! Or an elf be a druid. Or whatever.

'Course, WotC put the whole idea of race-as-class (or demihuman level limits) to bed with the advent of D20. Any species can be any class at any level! Mix-n-match to your hearts' content! It's all fantasy and make believe, so it doesn't need any kind of justification or underlying thought...we're in the business of FUN, dammit. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. No rhyme or reasoning required.

And I could buy into that a bit...I still instilled restrictions in my personal D20 campaign, but the open-endedness allowed me to include monastic orders of halflings and their opposite numbers of ninja-type assassins (for example). I don't know why...well, perhaps it was something left over in my brain from my youthful days of playing Bards Tale. Loved those halfling monks with their multiple attacks. Even in a static graphics program like BT, it conjured such lovely images to mind of tiny, chop-socky combatants.

I also like half-orc rangers and evil gnome assassins. I'm just weird that way.

Anyway...LIMITS. I guess the bottom line is that I like some limits, some boundaries to be in place. And it really has little to do with "game balance;" rather, its about helping solidify the concept of the game world/setting.

Take Holmes, for example (speaking about these subclasses I've been working with). I can say that prior to the PHB there was a strong implication (and sometimes explicit text) that subclasses were only open to human characters, but I could make a choice of allowing any class open to a particular race to have its subclasses open to it as well (so that, for example, elves could choose to be witches or illusionists). OR I could restrict ALL the subclasses to human only, seeing as they are too specialized to appeal to the various such a case, I might still allow half-elves (and half-orcs) to advance in those subclasses by dint of their "human nature."

Holmes himself is somewhat contradictory on the subject. The section on Adjusting Ability Scores (page 6) lists dwarves and halflings side-by-side with fighting-men and clerics, as if they were their own classes (interestingly, one could infer that elves "as a class" cannot adjust abilities in Holmes, as they're not listed). However, in the following section on Fighting Men, Holmes writes:

"Any human character can be a fighting man and all halflings and dwarves are members of the fighter class, unless they opt to be thieves."

Which would clearly indicate that the occupational class is something that any given species (i.e. race) might choose for itself.

Unfortunately, this is contradicted later in the elf section where the elf race is clearly treated as its own "thing" due to its split-class nature. We are informed in the section on elves (the race) that "they can use all the weapons and armor of the fighting man, including all magic weapons, and can also cast spells like a magic-user."

They use the gear of a fighting man; they cast spells like a magic-user. But they are their own class.

This is bolstered by the magic-user section in which only humans are mentioned (not elves). Holmes then makes this note regarding the class:

"They have the advantage (shared with clerics and some elves) of being able to work magical spells."

Some elves?! This must be a reference to elvish thieves, for in the thief section it says: "There are special rules for halflings, dwarves, and elves who wish to be thieves..." which would strongly imply that the thief class may be taken as an occupation by anyone. On the other hand, he later writes (in the section on determining hit points):

"Although halflings are always fighters..."

As I said, contradictory.

Now, most folks reading Holmes (like myself) are operating with a breadth of knowledge that encompasses the texts and rules found in other editions...AD&D, B/X, BECMI, OD&D...and will layer Holmes's contradictions with their own understanding based on this knowledge. Lord knows what people thought back in the day (perhaps, 'I need to pick up this Advanced Dungeons & Dragons thing in order to make heads-or-tails out of the "basic" game.'). For me, attempting to examine this edition "in a vacuum," I'm left with the ultimate conclusion that I'll have no choice but to make some house rules on the matter to make the game work. That basically, I need to lay down my own laws on the subject. And if I'm going to do that, then it's going to need to be in accordance with the campaign setting.

Because I don't know if I want elves to be druids just because they're "foresty." I don't know if I want halflings to be thieves just because they're "small and sneaky." Maybe dwarves make good illusionists because of their innate cleverness and the long periods of time they spend in the under dark. Maybe half-orcs do make good rangers, finding no life for themselves within normal human society.

Probably, it would be best if everyone made their own individual decisions on the subject (and made their decisions based on the proper "fit" of their campaigns). I can tilt my head different ways and see the class-race thing working in a variety of ways. But I haven't yet decided how I want to run my particular campaign.


99 Problems and a Lich Ain't One.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Holmes Rules: The Assassin

[this is the my final subclass post in this series I started waaaay back here. I do still plan to do a half-elf post, and I'm tempted (O So Tempted) to do Holmesian versions of the bard and half-orc, too, despite them not being mentioned in the original passage that touched off this project. I do plan on doing an "index post" when all this is over, BTW]

Assassins -- thieves who possess a strength, intelligence, and dexterity of 12 or better may choose to become assassins: members of a sect skilled in stealing lives the way thieves steal valuables. Characters of good alignment may not be assassins, and assassins who change to good alignment may no longer advance (though they retain their abilities). Unlike thieves, assassins may use shields.

Real assassins don't wear white.
While assassins have the same ability to move silently and hide in shadows as thieves, their other skills differ as their training is focused on getting close to a target for purpose of murder. Assassins may disguise themselves as any humanoid of roughly equal size (height cannot vary by more than three to five inches, either way). An assassin can attempt to manufacture poisons (100gp per dose attempted) that inflict the damage listed; such poisons are applied to edged weapons and must be introduced to a victim's bloodstream to inflict damage. Digestive poisons may be created as well (for the same price) and do double damage, but are slower acting (D6 turns to take effect) and victims are allowed a saving throw to detect "something off" before consuming enough poisoned food or drink to suffer damage.

Assassins enjoy the same +4 bonus that thieves do if they can achieve surprise of a victim; however, instead of doing double damage the assassin has a percentage chance to automatically kill the victim, as shown. Assassination only works on living humanoid targets (not undead, nor constructs like living statues and gargoyles), and may not be used against monsters large than humans unless the assassin has at least as many levels as the creature has hit dice. In the case of human and demihuman adventurers, a saving throw is allowed only if the target is of equal or greater level than the assassin. Should the assassination attempt fail, the opponent still takes normal damage (and poison damage if the assassin uses poisoned weapons).

Brew Poison*
Poison Damage
Senior Assassin
Expert Assassin
Master Assassin
*There is a 20% chance on a failed roll of accidental self-poisoning.

Assassins may never have hirelings or followers. As stated, assassins belong to a sect or clan; while generally left to their own devices, they sometimes are given missions they are obligated to fulfill (a 1 in 6 chance checked by the DM at the beginning of an adventure). Failure to accomplish a mission results in harsh consequences for the character. An assassin of maximum level may aspire to become the head of the sect; usually this is achieved by assassinating the current sect leader.

[this may be my favorite version of the assassin ever]