Monday, August 17, 2015

D is for Demon

Consider AD&D DMG Appendix D (p. 194-5): "Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes", that is, Demons, Devils, and Daemons. The esteemed Mr. Russell Flowers made a web generator to instantly create these when you need it. I really love this tool, especially in the case of the Chaotic demon types, where you never need have two be exactly the same. That's really a legitimately good use of tablature, maintains the mystery of not knowing the whole game for players, and handles the occasional cry of "every monster should be special" with efficiency and elegance. Thanks to Russell for automating it!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shields & Stuff

Shields, Cavalry, and Mass Combat

Shields aren't highly valued in the D&D rule system, and they never have been. Not the first time that's been said. Start by looking at the original Chainmail mass combat table for missile fire (p. 11):

Ok, so shields give some kind of benefit there -- men with shields (or "1/2 armor"; think chain mail) reduce hits by about 1 for similar dice rolls. But let's consider a historical case like the Battle of Hastings (Wikipedia):
The battle opened with the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. The uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill... After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. The infantry was unable to force openings in the shield wall, and the cavalry advanced in support. The cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began...

This is an example of a "shield wall" which seems to make the defenders effectively immune to missile attacks (and others), as long as they maintain it. But that's a big difference from the one-hit reduction granted in Chainmail. Furthermore, Chainmail has no "shield wall" rule; it never did, and neither did D&D in any classic form. So this action is completely non-simulatable in any version of the game. Worse, consider the switch to the Man-to-Man rules:

That's the start of the Chainmail Man-to-Man missile fire table where, at the top of the table, armor class 1 = none, 2 = leather or padded, 3 = shield only. Note that in most of the cases there is absolutely no benefit given to either the shield or leather/padded armor! (Almost all of the target numbers are the same.) Of course, the D&D d20-based system gives a fixed 1-in-20 benefit for a shield; and AD&D DMG p. 28 suggests the option of changing this to +2 for large shields vs. small missiles, not that I've seen anyone ever use that. In any case: a very small, almost negligible benefit, and not at all representative of "shield wall" type immunity. (Contrast with EGG's almost fetishistic gauntlet of bonuses given to Swiss pikes.)

Let me also comment on cavalry in the system here. In the Chainmail table, no distinction is made to targets of missile fire that are horsed or on foot (see above). Presumably, a hit in any case wipes out one figure, whether mounted or not. But if we switch to EGG's later mass-combat revision of Swords & Spells, we see that he adds the entirety of the mounts hit dice as a benefit to cavalry units (p. 17):

Note the line, "Mounted troops include the hit points of their mounts." So instead of just killing the man riding the horse, you now have to deplete the entire sum of the hit points of horse & rider -- tripling or quadrupling the number hits that a figure takes from attacks before being eliminated (as compared to Chainmail)! That's a tremendous benefit, and later rules like Battlesystem basically carried on that tradition (or at least averaged them in the 1989 revision).

If I watch a Western movie with my father, who's worked on horses et. al. as a large-animal veterinarian for a half-century and counting, then he'll usually say, "Those guys should skip shooting at the riders and just shoot at the horses instead, because one bullet to the leg and they're done for". So at least in one expert's opinion, men on horses would have additional vulnerabilities to missile fire, not added endurance; and likewise when we look at famous historical cases like the Battle of Agincourt or Crécy, we see cases where English longbows were devastating to massed cavalry. But  it's practically impossible to simulate that action in the D&D system from Swords & Spells or later, because the endurance of cavalry is made to be several multiples greater than that of a man on foot.

So the end result of this is that whereas, based on historical sources, we might expect a dominance diagram of the basic unit types to look like this (infantry beats archers via use of shields, archers beat cavalry by shooting either riders or horses, and cavalry beat infantry by charging through shields):

... In D&D the situation, at least when you look at a cost-benefit analysis, looks exactly the reverse (infantry beats cavalry simply because they're so cheap and numerous, cavalry beats archers due to endurance multiplication, and archers beat infantry because the latter have negligible defense from shields):

And there's kind of no way I can see to wrestle this back around without entirely overhauling practically all of the guts of the D&D core system. Something we just kind of have to accept and live with if we take the simple D&D combat system as the basis for our games.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Lou Zocchi at Gen Con 2015

A video from Lou Zocchi from Gen Con this past weekend:

(Tip to E. Gygax Jr. for posting this on Facebook.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alternate Turn Undead Mechanics

I got a great question from commentator Nathan Jennings the other day (in the "Best Combat Algorithm" thread; link). Definitely not something I'd considered before, so it intrigued me. He wrote:
Question (perhaps worthy of a blog post?): I know you don't like clerics. But, for the sake of a nice reader like me, can you imagine how the turn-undead mechanic could be cleaned up?
Let's look quickly at the Turn Undead table in OD&D Vol-1:

Notice that the places where the results are numerical are very narrow; just 3 cells long/wide. These values can be modeled with a table-free mechanic of rolling 2d6 + 2(Cleric level - Undead hit dice), needing a total of 9+ for success. (Recall that in OD&D skeletons are 1/2 HD [treat as 0], zombies 1 HD, ghouls 2 HD, etc., adding 1 for each type.) If we extrapolate this, then the "T" values in the table effectively get replaced by 5's and 3's, easy but not automatic success, and when the roll is automatic then you get "D" results.

If I used clerics in my games, then I might consider taking out the unnecessary multiplier of "2" throughout this formula, and simply roll 1d6 + Clr level - Undead HD. Success, as usual for 1d6 rolls, is 2-in-6; that is, a total of 5+ indicates success. Impossible results are "N" and automatic results give the "D".

But here, let me meta-turn Clerics themselves: I get "D" and the problem disappears. :-)

I love questions like that; thanks, Nathan!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Completed X Series

I finally completed my collection of the X-series modules for the D&D game (at least, the part of the series that I care about). Sweet!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Grimm Legacies

A nice review of various recent books considering the legacy and evolution of the original Grimm Brothers books of fairy tales. I particularly like the call for a "tone licked clean", especially in the context of an Original D&D style game, where the raw material is very curt, and the work is given life through live play and story-telling. (Thanks to Jonathan Scott Miller for the link.)

Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales


Monday, June 22, 2015

SFKH Scenario Table

One weakness of the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game is that it comes with a very small number of set scenario games (4), with no guidance as to how to go about setting up or balancing new games. I've tried to partly address this with point-value costs for the different ships in the game (link). Here's another step in that direction: a short table for random scenarios.

First decide which player has UPF ships, and which Sathar (the Sathar has more limited strategic options; so either dice or give UPF to the less-experienced player). Then players privately buy their fleets by point values -- use 6 points for small game, 12 points for a medium game, or 24 points for a large game. Finally, roll d10 and consult the following table for scenario setup. (Note that simpler scenarios appear first; you may want to play them in order once before using the random method).

Star Frontiers Knight Hawks Scenario Table

1-2: Empty Space
3-4: Rocky Planet
5-6: Space Station
7-8: Gas Giant
9-0: Black Hole

Empty Space

Choose who is the attacker by random method. This player must place ships on the near board edge and make the first move; maximum initial speed is 10. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Rocky Planet

The UPF player sets a rocky planet (1½" diameter model) at least 12" away from any board edge. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. Ships moving within 1" of the planet get an extra 60° turn towards the planet at the point of their closest passing. A ship can enter orbit by reducing speed to ½ within 1" of the planet; thereafter the ship orbits at ½" per turn, and can pivot freely. Ships moving directly into the planet at speed are destroyed. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Space Station

The UPF player sets a rocky planet (1½" diameter model or roughly so) at least 12" away from any board edge, along with an orbiting Armed Station. Sathar ships are the attackers, and set up first on one board edge; then UPF ships may be set up anywhere at least 12" away from any board edge. Movement of ships and orbiting station around the planet is as per the prior scenario. Once one player has no ships remaining on the board, add the point value for all enemy destroyed ships (the Armed Station is valued at 6 points for this purpose). Victory goes to whichever player destroyed the greater value of enemy ships.

Armed Station: HP 80, ADF 0, MR 0; Weapons LB, RB (×6); Defenses RH, MS (×2), ICM (×6).

Gas Giant

The UPF player sets a gas giant planet (12" diameter model or roughly so) in the center of the play area. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. Any ship moving with 3" of the gas giant can take an extra 60° turn towards the planet at the point of their closest passing. Ships may reduce speed to 1 and enter orbit at any location on the table, moving at a speed of 1" each turn at a constant distance from the planet. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Black Hole

The UPF player sets a small black hole (1" diameter model or roughly so) in the center of the play area. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. All ships on the board must maintain a minimum speed or are presumed to fall uncontrollably into the black hole and be destroyed; see the following table. The indicated speed is also the speed for orbital insertion; ships at this speed can be treated as in orbit and pivot freely. Ships must have a higher speed than listed to increase distance from the black hole. Ships orbiting within 3" of the black hole may be placed at any location and orientation within 3" of the black hole on their turn (this represents multiple, unpredictable orbits in a single turn). Ships ending a turn pointed directly at the black hole fall in and are destroyed. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.