Monday, December 10, 2018

Paul & Dan's Old-School Livestream, Ep. 1

I got together with my good friend Paul (of Paul's Gameblog) for a project we've been kicking around for a few years now; an online, live-streaming conversation about old-school gaming, and the various always-interesting ways in which we agree and differ on philosophies, rules, strategies, and so forth.

We decided to dive in head-first here and get something online as an experiment this weekend; I'm sure we'll be testing and adjusting things like pace, visuals, lighting, audio levels, name of the series, etc., as time goes on -- but I always enjoy conversing with Paul, and if you're a reader here, then I think you will, too.

This first episode tries to wrestle with the foundational question, "What is Old-School Gaming?". Our current plan is to be live on YouTube every other Sunday at 1 PM EST (next episode Dec-23). Feel free to chime in here, or there, if you have suggestions for improvements or topics you'd like to see us hash out. I'm pretty excited about this!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Chainmail Missile Hit Chances

One of the critical observations that I've made in the 7 years since releasing the first edition of the Book of War mass combat game for D&D (see sidebar) is that missile fire is definitely not scale-invariant. That is, at a given range (say: max range for a longbow), an individual firing at an individual may find it effectively impossible to hit, whereas at the same range an army firing at another army may find it effectively impossible to miss. So using the same range modifiers for both cases doesn't make sense.

Now, post-D&D wargames from TSR lead us in the wrong direction on this score: both Swords & Spells and Battlesystem use modifiers for ranged missile fire which are direct carryovers from the RPG system (respectively from OD&D and AD&D). On the other hand, arguably the original Chainmail had a better understanding of this; there are no ranged modifiers for mass combat (even though there are for man-to-man combat). However, on investigating this, the Chainmail tables are a little hard to analyze; they are organized in an unusual fashion where you will be rolling just a single d6 for as many as 10 or 20 mass figures jointly. Here, then, is a breakdown in which I try to estimate that chances to hit for each single mass figure:

Note that there are three armor categories here: Unarmored, Half Armor, and Full Armor. (We can very broadly correlate these to the D&D Leather, Chain, and Plate types.) The hit rates vs. Unarmored figures are very consistent: between 44-49% in any row. The Half Armor types are radically variable: 0% in the first row and 32-36% in the last three rows. Full Armor is somewhat less variable: 6-16% depending on which row your situation falls into. Again, note that range modifiers do not apply; the same chances apply for any target within maximum range of a shooting force.

If we convert this to a simplified and uniform roll-one-die-per-figure mechanic, then we could approximate these values this way: say, 3-in-6 (50%) to hit Unarmored, 2-in-6 (33%) to hit Half Armor, and 1-in-6 (16%) to Full Armor. That's slightly generous on average to the Half Armor case, but seems like a nicely coherent mechanic. That also just happens to be the same hit chances as seen in the core rules to Book of War (sans ranged modifiers, of course). But if we do go in this direction, then it may be a requirement to include rules as in Swords & Spells which reduce hit rates against small unit (or individual) targets.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Alignment Distributions

What should the alignment distribution for men in the OD&D game look like? I tend to have a bias towards Anderson's original presentation of the Law vs. Chaos alignment system in Three Hearts and Three Lions;
"In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Law. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faeries, Trollheim, and the Giants...
This seems to nicely fit the model of a Chainmail-style wargame, in which the game is basically Men versus Monsters, as typified by the Law and Chaos alignments. However, this isn't actually how alignments are identified in Chainmail or OD&D. Specifically: Alignments for men are entirely undefined in Chainmail, and in OD&D, men appear in all 3 categories (per Vol-1 p. 9: Law, Neutrality, and Chaos).

So what happens when I need to roll a random NPC, such as a merchant, guard, or potential hireling? Previously I've been using a uniform distribution, i.e., 1-2: Lawful, 3-4: Neutral, 5-6: Chaotic. However, in my recent campaign games something has felt off about that: for example, too many Chaotic-types for them to really get away without notice. Compare to the DMG chart (p. 100) which likewise gives a near-uniform distribution: on d10, 1 pip for each of the 9 AD&D alignments, and 1 extra pip for "neutral".

So what I've recently switched to is a quasi-normal distribution, in which the majority of men are Neutral, and only the exceptional outlier has some ethical commitment, thus: 1: Lawful, 2-5: Neutral, 6: Chaotic. This seems to give a better flavor to my background campaign. Most men are merely self-interested, mercenary, and incurious; as seen, for example, in a Vancian or Leiberian work. The Lawful and Chaotic types are more rare and surprising (and the Chaotic one thus easier to hide themselves unexpected and unrecognized). Now that I look at it closely, this can even be interpreted as compatible with Anderson's view, with regards to the clause, "most of them were so [Lawful] only unconsciously"(which tends to fade in my recollection compared to the other parts).

So this "normal alignment" distribution feels about right for Men in my campaign these days.

Open question: What about other PC/NPC types? Dwarves are Lawful in Chainmail, Lawful/Neutral in OD&D. Elves are Neutral in CM, Lawful/Neutral in OD&D. Halflings are simply Lawful in both. Does this imply some different variable distribution should be used for these types? At the moment I'm using the same distribution as for Men, for simplicity and the general idea that any adventuring NPCs of these races are equally likely to be exceptional. Other thoughts?

Bonus side note on PC alignment: Many recent editions have general restrictions on PCs taking evil/chaotic alignments, for which I understand the motivation (e.g., disruptive party behavior). For some time in my OED house rules I've had the dictum, "New characters should list either Lawful or Neutral (if Chaotic, secretly inform the DM)". Without giving away the exact number, I'll say that the number of players who have taken me up on this is: very small. Especially for new/casual players, the extra step needed to document a Chaotic alignment itself seems to reduce the number, without a rule explicitly forbidding it. This is a nice counter to the AD&D-style convention that Chaotic means "independent free spirit", as opposed to our OD&D usage here, taken to mean "committed to the fiery destruction of all civilization".

Monday, November 19, 2018

OER Dungeon Maker by Arts & Adventure

Here's a cool tool -- the OER Dungeon Maker spreadsheet by Arts & Adventure Academy. This builds on several pieces of research/work we've done here on this blog, such as the revised OED Monster Level Tables, Monster Challenge Matrix, and Monster Number Appearing dungeon recommendations. Just fill in the dungeon level of interest in the highlighted first column, and it automatically populates a dungeon with monsters, traps, tricks, treasure, and more. Spectacular!

This was original posted to the OD&D Discussion forums by user rustic313; thanks so much for the work and drawing our attention to it. That section OD&D Discussions require a user login to view; also highly recommended. For your convenience, I've also linked it below. Fight on!

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pre-Publication D&D and Target 20

Jon Peterson has, as usual, posted an extremely interesting snippet on his Playing at the World blog, for the pre-publication draft of D&D now known as the "Guidon Draft". Specifically it's the following:

Jon presents this in the context of the question, "Why did armor class descend from 9 to 2?". Which is of particular interest because the prior work, Chainmail, did actually have ascending AC, so one wonders what motivated the flip. And here we have an answer: The initial concept for the system was not table-based, but rather, a simple formula in which one could subtract the AC from 20 to see the target number one needed to hit. For higher-level fighters, the chance would increase by one pip per level.

Jon kindly links back to our blog here as he includes the observation, "in its relentless quest to perfect combat systems, the OSR has previously recognized this as the rough algorithm behind the original attack matrices". And one of the commenters on his thread writes, "How cool to see Target 20 in the pre-publication D&D." We are happy to agree.

Of course, the system above is based on subtraction, whereas for Target 20 we think it's easier for players to use the equivalent addition algorithm (roll d20, add fighter level and target AC, and check if the result is 20 or more). Also note that there's at least a one-point slippage in the exact system above; there's an 18 hand-overwrritten with a 19, a correction which didn't transfer to the associated combat table. This is broadly in synch with the one or two pip error we accept with Target 20 for the sake of simplicity. Also note the draft statement 2 - 20 = 18, and that we can imagine two different perspectives in which either 18 or 19 is related to the "90%" figure. As Jon said on the OD&D Discussions forum, "These things were... loosely reckoned".

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Creepy Crawl

New product in time for Halloween from my good friend BJ/BigFella at DriveThruRPG: The Creepy Crawl.

This is based on a famous series of adventures he'd run around All-Hallows-Eve over about a decade in Boston. They were always a hit with players, and nigh-legendary in our extended circle of gamer acquaintances.

This book contains a complete mini-capaign setting, 5 separate dungeon adventure locales, 3 creepy new custom classe, a bunch of new supernatural-themed monsters, and a whole bunch of scary shenanigans.

BJ's creativity is really astounding, at a minimum you should check out the preview document at DriveThruRPG. You'll likely be hooked:

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Master's Monastery, Ep. 9

Sextilius 21st, 4729.
  • Personae: A reduced group assembles: Tim, Maccus, Aslak, Tamar, and Yulia (respectively: Hobbit Ftr4, Ftr3, Elf Ftr3/Wiz1, hireling Elf Ftr1/Wiz1, hireling Elf Ftr1).
  • This group decides, with some skepticism, to follow up on clues from prophet-girl last time. Takes the guide Andreas, who conveniently waives chances for lost or monsters on way to monastery. Group enters by the secret back tunnel, leaving Andreas to guard the way out.
  • Proceed to the oddly-shaped room with frescoes on five walls (a former PC member was killed here by a giant snake). Group carefully and comprehensively searches for secrets on each panel. As they do so, they are attacked by (another) swarm of giant rats; six must be slain.
  • Resuming search, a secret keyhole is found. Aslak tries the keys from the old priestess, and one works! A panel rotates left and the group with some surprise proceed into a northward-running corridor. 
  • Stairs downward. The party descends, leading down to a natural tunnel which connects with a large open tunnel running roughly northwest-southeast. Several other craggy side-tunnels seen; party opts to stick to large tunnel to southeast. 
  • Enters a very large cavern; far walls and roof out of sight. A 20' terrace rises in the center. As PCs look up at this with lantern, shadowy creatures appear at top and begin slinging stones at them. Party runs closer to get better light and shooting; several drop swords and pull out bows. Creatures are seen to be large reptile-men with hissing forked tongues, some 7' tall. Heavily-armored Maccus pulls out snake-teeth necklace and taunts them; stones rain off his helm and magic shield.
  • More creatures appear from the darkness, at foot level, behind the party, attacking the archers with wicked pole arms. Tamar takes a critical hit; triple damage, 12 points, she fails the save vs. death and expires. Tim counter-attacks with rapid swordplay. Others keep firing up. These creatures are tougher than those met earlier, and the fighting is hard. Finally Tim and Maccus fell the three on ground level, and those above withdraw out of sight, hissing angrily.
  • Four party members explore further into cavern, working southeast, then northeast, between central terrace and high cavern wall. In the narrow gap, they are attacked by wandering zombies; Tim and Maccus hold the front line while Aslak and Yulia fight with polearms from behind. Four zombies cut and speared down.
  • Another connected large cave to the east. Find a 5' tunnel south some 100', leading to silent and dark waters-edge. PCs want none of this and return how the came (wandering monster check from behind: nil). 
  • North and east into a long cave with five statues along the wall. Maccus searches one and tries to shift it. Suddenly a wraith-like creature is in the room, gliding aggressively towards the party. The run back to the large cave and regroup.
  • PCs take out silver arrows and daggers and return to the haunted statue cave. Aslak grabs the statue and the wraith returns. Tim fires the first shot, hitting with preternatural hobbit accuracy; the thing smokes and hisses. Others run to melee en masse, stabbing with daggers. Mostly misses. Wraith tries to choke Maccus but the magic shield blocks it. Yulia lands a cut. Wraith misses her narrowly. Tim pulls a dagger and double-strikes, destroying it. 
  • Worried about more wraiths from other statues, the group withdraws. Finds another cave. Exploring southward, find a huge web with three giant spiders; retreat. Run into more zombies behind them. Retreat some more. Regroup and move forward; find large group of zombies and also several become sick and weak from gas. Retreat again. 
  • Southwest of the main cavern, a tunnel leads to an underground river; narrow wooden bridge leads over to a cave beyond. Guardian lizard-men with polearms ae engaged; several arrows shot across, but their thick hide turns most. Splashing is heard from upstream, and then several begin crawling out on ledge beside bridge. Maccus suspects the danger in advance, and steps before being dragged into water.
  • A heroic and deadly fight occurs here; tired of retreating, the small party makes a bold stand. A dozen lizard-men are held ff on the narrow ledge; with difficulty one is cut down, and more pile up out of the water. One advances on the bridge to add polearm-attacks. Yulia at the back fires arrows overhead, mostly to no effect. Aslak fumbles, slips on the wet ledge, and goes down for 2 rounds, while Maccus tries to cover him. 
  • A lizard-man-wizard appears on the far shore, shakes a staff and chants magic words; a perilous sleep spell. 2d6 for hit dice affected: comes up only 4. Yulia falls into a helpless slumber. Aslak rolls a save: natural 19 and he stays in the fight, but staggering and bloody under many claw-wounds. Worse, the lizard-wizard then casts web, sealing off the tunnel behind the PCs; now there is no escape.
  • Maccus cuts down the lizard man on the bridge; next round he bull-rushes past the next one (opposed Strength checks; he wins) and chops at the wizard with swordplay. Tim kills another on the far ledge. Morale for lizard men; narrowly fails, stand still but cower and cannot press attack. Thus, no help for the wizard and Maccus and Tim finish him off others. Others scream, get attacked, and are finished off in a bloody, sopping mess. 
  • Wooden huts in the dark, open cave. Ancient and exotic gold jewelry taken from the wizard. A staff with a magical aura; read magic reveals inscribed words: "Bone and flesh/ Be refreshed". A side cave with furnishings, foul fish, and a metal coffer. The dart-trap is detected, avoided; a small amount of silver and gold coins. 
  • PCs exit the caves, greatly worn and reduced in number. Andreas asks if they found the fabled fire opal; disappointed for party they did not. Group returns to village and splits up good deal of treasure among the small, courageous party; each PC gets 505 sp and 2024 XP. (Hireling Yulia now 5 XP from of 2nd level.)

Player-Written Summary
  • They had an entire civilization of lizard people, a lizard wizard, and some kind of structurally unsound bridge. But we had something better: 5 fighters. Now they have no wizard lizard, no lizard lizards, and we have one less overpriced mouth to feed. So, win-win-win.

Adventure Log