Monday, April 6, 2020

Book of War 2nd Edition Draft Rules

Saturday night Isabelle & I streamed our first episode of wargaming from our house with the Book of War 2nd Edition rules, via the Wandering DMs channel. It was really a blast! I was so jazzed afterward that I almost watched the whole thing over again twice. :-) It's pretty neat to get to share what our normal back-and-forth chemistry is with other people.

Peter Conrad had the bright idea on YouTube to post the brief Player Aid Card that we were using in this episode, so here it is below. This is pretty tentative (I guess it always feels that way), and I was still tweaking and balancing prices in the afternoon running up to our playtest. Part of the goal for the 2nd Edition is to massage some rules in ways that make the basic game play a bit truer to historical reality, as we understand it. What I've been finding is that this accidentally makes some rules actually simpler. Of course, the core of the system meshes directly with classic D&D as it always did, and you can pretty much immediately convert stock D&D monsters into a Book of War game as we always have (pricing, of course, being the hard part... more CPU cycles to come on that).

Monday, March 23, 2020

Gygax on Leveling Up Monsters

The always-informative Zenopus Archives pointed out a post Gygax made in a thread on the Pied Piper forums back in in 2004. In particular, this involves the infamous Old Guard Kobolds on the 1st level of his Castle Greyhawk dungeon that had a habit of surprising and wiping out whole parties of PCs. Here he outlines the fact that every TPK they scored, he boosted their stats in some way. I kind of like this as a very low-crunch way of representing monster "experience" and resource-scavenging. He says this:


Fact is that I have run OD&D games avery year at several cons for the last five or so years. I start them at 2nd level and use the old dungeon levels. So far about eight parties have been taken out by some kobolds on the 1st level. New RPGers seem to have not learned to run away when in doubt.

The first to fall used a sleep spell to get eight of the kobolds, but the six remaining ones used javelins to kill two PCs, then closed and in hand-to-hand killed all but two or the remainder of the party. One was about th kill another PC, while a second charged the m-u of the group, who turned to flee, finally. Too late, a javelin got him. Each group that died thus added to the kobolds:

1st TPK brought 12 more kobolds
2nd TPK gave them armor class of 6
3rd (near) TPK gave them all +1 HP
4th TPK added +1 damage
5th TPK added 4 2nd level and 2 3rd level kobolds
6th TPK gave them tactical manouvering and a 4th level leader
7th TPK upped AC to 5
8th TPK gave them unshakable morale

At JanCon this year the Old Guard Kobolds joined battle with a group of 8 PCs and wiped them out. I haven't decided how that will add to their combat ability, but I am considreing a kobold shaman with at least two 1st level spells


Monday, March 16, 2020

Book of War Skirmish Rules: Odd Encounters

I've had a few inquiries lately about whether there is a skirmish-level (1:1 scale) version of my OED Book of War simple miniature-wargame rules. The fortunate answer is: yes, there is!

My game-design partner Paul Siegel wrote and tested this adjunct to Book of War, now in its 10th year of existence, call Odd Encounters. It gives a very nice stripped-down form of combat for individual figures and mid-level heroes (as you like it), d20-based attack rolls (so it's likely directly convertible with all your standard D&D play), and nicely balanced points costs and features for one-off games. I'm so appreciative that Paul wrote this and made it available for us -- and entirely released under the Open Game License. Get it for free at the link below and tell us what you think!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sarge's Advice: Target 20 Saves

Another question from an observant reader, this time regarding the Target 20 core rule for saving throws.

Quick query on Target 20 for saves -- for OD&D and B/X, as you know, different classes have different saves. Target 20, if I am reading it correctly, basically flattens everyone to the same chance, with the mods varying only by save type and NOT class. Is that correct? 

It's true that with Target 20, the way I run games, there's no distinction between classes for the saving throws. (Occasionally old-school players first realize that when they see there are no save records on the character sheets.)

One thing I've observed in the past is that the seeming class-distinction between saves in OD&D is at least partly illusory; the classes have different rates of increase (every 3 levels for fighters, 4 for clerics, 5 for magic-users), but on average the saves are about the same regardless. Like, just picking a level off the top of my head: at 8th level the save vs. spells are all an identical score of 12. (Which happens to be 20 - 8.) I made a post about that a while back:

In the charts there you can see that the average/regression lines for saves vs. Spells & Stone are almost indistinguishable between the different classes. In Death & Wand saves fighters do have about a 2-point advantage on average (with Breath sort of in the middle). So in early versions of OED I was giving wizards/thieves a -2 modifier on those latter saves as the best recreation -- but that always felt mean/stingy in play, so I wound up dropping it for simplicity.

At an extremely high level (16+), magic-users in OD&D do advance their save vs. spells to a point beyond the other classes -- but play at that level seems very rare, so to date it doesn't seem like a good distinction to make a separate rule for.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Sarge's Advice: OED Player's Rules

Recently on the Wandering DMs Paul pointed out that the rules I write are very concise, with a lot of information packed into the smallest amount of text I can get away with. That may partly be a bit of a math-infection I have. It certainly differs from the direction that late/post-TSR Gygax went in, trying to hammer out every possible detail in the rules to prevent people from playing in a way he didn't approve.

So anyway, from time to time I get really good questions by email about the OED rules. As long as I'm writing responses that way, if my wisdom score was reasonably high, I would also post them here for general consumption. A good opportunity for expansion and examples that I wouldn't want to take space on in the written rulebooks. Here are a few questions regarding the OED Variant Rules for Original D&D.

So I recently picked up OED and I have just a few question about the wizards and thieves attack bonus: Wizards list a +1/2 attack bonus/level is it rounded up or rounded down? For thieves I can't quite figure the numbers so could you clarify on those please?

With the wizard base attack bonus, like most anything else, I round down. Say it's +0 at 0th-1st level, +1 at 2nd-3rd, +2 at 4th-5th, etc. Similar principle for the thieves base attack bonus of +2/3 per level (round down). So that generates +0 at 0th-1st level, +1 at 2nd, +2 at 3rd-4th, +3 at 5th, +4 at 6th-7th, etc. (I usually take a calculator, type in level ×2/3, and round down.)

And about multiclassing it says you roll hit dice for both classes. Does it happens when the character gains a new level in any of the two classes? And for the elves I guess you roll both at level 1 but only once is it correct ?

For multiclassing the novel thing we do is track the hit point for each class in separate "tracks" and then actively use just whichever is highest as the actual hit points.

Example 1: I make a new elf PC at Ftr1/Wiz1. Respectively I roll 1d8 for 5, and 1d4 for 2 hp. So I'm operating with 5 hp maximum on the first adventure.

Example 2: I have a Ftr3/Thf4. For the fighter at this point I've rolled 3d8 for a total of 15; for the thief part I've rolled 4d6 and gotten 16. So on the next adventure this character is operating with effectively maximum hit points of 16.

The sum rolls for each class track are recorded separately on the character sheet (along with the separate XP totals). Any time either level goes up, you roll added hit points for that class; only if that "track" is or becomes the maximum, does the PC then operate at higher effective health.

About general tasks resolution do you still use the Target 20 system or do you just handwave it whenever it happens? I ask this question because I'm still the "not confident enough" kind of GM and I prefer having a good outline of rules before I try to make my own.

I love this question about "general tasks". Personally I tend to only use d20 rolls for explicitly-defined things in the rules; generally combat where the results are life-or-death. If a "brand new" thing comes up (say: baking skill, something like that) then I revert back to a d6 roll -- like OD&D uses for listening, opening doors, finding secret passages, traps opening, etc. I feel like on an improvisational basis I can estimate a reasonable chance for success out of 6 (but not 20) -- as a default I give a 2-in-6 chance to succeed, like: roll d6, add some ability bonus, and a total roll of 5+ is success.

Monday, February 24, 2020

In Which Gygax Gets Disenchanted with Wandering Monsters

Here's the standard rule for wandering monsters in OD&D Vol-3 (1974), p. 10; underlined emphasis by me:

Wandering Monsters: At the end of every turn the referee will roll a six-sided die to see if a "wandering monster" has been encountered. A roll of 6 indicates a wandering monster has appeared. The direction of appearance is determined by random number generation considering the number of possible entries. Distance and surprise are decided in the usual manner. The kind of monster is determined on the table below... 

Recall that in these rules, one exploratory turn is meant to be 10 minutes. So that's quite a few wandering monsters; we expect one every hour of in-game time at that rate. Now let's fast forward to the AD&D DMG (1979), p. 9, in the first section of "Introduction":

The final word, then, is the game. Read how and why the system is as if is, follow the parameters, and then cut portions as needed to maintain excitement. For example, the rules call for wandering monsters, but these can be not only irritating - if not deadly - but the appearance of such con actually spoil a game by interfering with an orderly expedition You have set up an area full of clever tricks and traps, populated it with well-thought-out creature complexes, given clues about it to pique players’ interest, and the group has worked hard to supply themselves with everything by way of information and equipment they will need to face and overcome the imagined perils. They are gathered together and eager to spend an enjoyable evening playing their favorite game, with the expectation of going to a new, strange area and doing their best to triumph. They are willing to accept the hazards of the dice, be it loss of items, wounding, insanity, disease, death, as long as the process is exciting. But lo!, everytime you throw the "monster die" a wandering nasty is indicated, and the party’s strength is spent trying to fight their way into the area. Spells expended, battered and wounded, the characters trek back to their base. Expectations have been dashed, and probably interest too, by random chance. Rather than spoil such an otherwise enjoyable time, omit the wandering monsters indicated by the die. No, don’t allow the party to kill them easily or escape unnaturally, for that goes contrary to the major precepts of the game. Wandering monsters, however, are included for two reasons, as is explained in the section about them. If a party deserves to have these beasties inflicted upon them, that is another matter, but in the example above it is assumed that they are doing everything possible to travel quickly and quietly to their planned destination. If your work as a DM has been sufficient, the players will have all they can handle upon arrival, so let them get there, give them a chance. The game is the thing, and certain rules can be distorted or disregarded altogether in favor of play.

In summary: an extended a harangue about what a bad idea randomly-generated wandering monsters are. Note the passage references the fact that, "Wandering monsters, however, are included for two reasons, as is explained in the section about them" -- but as far as I can tell, there isn't any section in the book which gives a standard process for checking for wandering monsters (nor any explanation of "two reasons" for them).

This is one of many cases in the transition from OD&D to AD&D in which it's easy to recreate Gary's brain saying, "I'm pretty sure I wrote a rule for that somewhere, right?", with the answer being, "Yes, back in OD&D". Recall the "presumed axiom" understood by Gygax & co., as shared by Frank Mentzer last year:

Presumed Axiom: 1e rules set should expand upon, and not directly contradict, 0e rules.

Anyway, what can we deduce about the rule for AD&D dungeon wandering monsters? Despite the preceding, and without any explicit written rule section in the DMG, looking at a parenthetical aside in the example of play it seems that a change has indeed been made, on p. 98:

(Here, as about 3 turns have elapsed, the DM rolls a d6 to see if a 'wandering monster' appears; the resulting 5 indicates none.)

That is; the checks for wandering monsters have been reduced by a factor of 3. Over the course of a 4-hour adventuring session (say), instead of expecting 4 wandering monsters encounters , now we would only expect around 1. It's a little odd that Gygax didn't call out this change clearly as a rule; perhaps he felt somehow constrained by the "presumed axiom" that it prevented him from doing so.

Interestingly, the earlier Holmes Basic D&D rules (1977) feature the same rule, on p. 10:

At the end of each three turns the Dungeon Master can roll a die to see if a wandering monster has come down the corridor. A roll of 6 means that something has come "strolling" along.

Zenopus Archives informs us that this rule is unchanged between Holmes' initial draft manuscript, and Gygax's later editorial pass. So who initiated this revision? Did Gygax somehow inform Holmes about it, or did Holmes invent it and prompted Gygax to follow suit, or something else?

(Side note: Commentator Chris reminds me that the DMG Random Dungeon Generation has a 1-in-20 chance of a wandering monster per periodic check on Appendix A: Table I. If one roll is made per turn, then that's again roughly equivalent to the 1-in-6 chance every 20/6 ≈ 3 turns.)

Personal opinion: This aspect of Gygax's curating of the rules, as seen in the long DMG p. 9 warning -- "here is the rule, but the rule is bad, so it should be disregarded" -- is probably my least favorite of all gestures that he makes. If we find from experience that a rule is not working satisfactorily, then fix it until it does. Spending time and space making excuses for it, or saying that good DMs can be expected to compensate for it, is not productive. The "presumed axiom" perhaps inculcated too much conservatism in what could have been an opportunity for smart edits in other places from more play experience.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Khopesh Curve

Here's something of a follow-up to last weekend's discussion of different approaches to XP Awards on Wandering DMs. I've previously looked at the radical switch in monster XP awards that occurred between OD&D Vol-1 (1974) and the Sup-I Greyhawk supplement (1975; which then became the basis for all XP awards in Holmes Basic, B/X, Mentzer, AD&D 1E and 2E, etc.). But I've been looking for a clearer visualization of that curve.

Here's the raw data just for Sup-I base XP awards (not including special abilities, although that just shadows this data pretty closely). You can see that the HD 1 to 8 range is where XP awards have been depressed, following roughly a quadratic curve; and then the higher HD 9 to 20 range, where the XP pretty much follows the same linear 100-per-HD award seen in the earlier Vol-1:

Now, here's a cleaned-up version showing just the regressed curves in the two pieces (using Wolfram Alpha):

For future identification purposes, I hereby name this shape the "Khopesh Curve":

Side note: The Wandering DMs are at TotalCon in Marlborough MA all this weekend -- check out our live streaming updates and if you're there, please say hi to us in person!