Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Stone Encumbrance: Detail & Example

I've talked about how I count encumbrance in units of "stone" -- 14 pounds -- before (search for "encumbrance" above and you'll see several entries). I included a full chart for the system in my OED Player's Tables but didn't present them directly as a post before. The first and primary advantage is one of simply dealing with much smaller numbers (single digits; easily memorizable; trivial to add mentally). In particular:
  • 4 stone -- Plate mail.
  • 2 stone -- Chain mail.
  • 1 stone -- Leather, shield, polearm, halberd, pike, two-handed sword, morning star, flail, battle axe, staff, pole, standard rations, 1000 coins
  • 1/3 stone -- Helmet, sword, spear, mace, handaxe, bow, arrows, water/wineskin, lantern, torches, rope, spikes, iron rations
Smaller stuff is discounted entirely unless the player starts ringing the DM's "cheese" bell (maybe 10 daggers, gems, or potions might add up to 1 stone). I've modified this list a little bit over time, with some materials research thrown in once in a while, but in broad strokes it's simply the OD&D list converted to smaller units.

Example calculation -- Typical dwarven fighter. What I do is note a stone value in pencil next to large items, or (*) for the 3-per-stone items, adding up from the bottom for the total. With a little practice, the whole thing can be done mentally at a glance.
  • Plate mail (4)
  • Battle axe (1)
  • Shield (1)
  • Helmet (*)
  • Mace (*)
  • 50' Rope (*)
  • 12 Iron spikes (*)
  • Iron Rations (*)
  • Backpack
  • Small sack
  • Dagger
Total: 2 (5 items @ 1/3, round up to multiple of 3) + 2 + 4 = 8 Stone.

A secondary convenience is that these units are auto-magically scaled the same as a character's Strength score, i.e., a character's maximum "very heavy/armored load" (6" move rate) in stone is equal to their Strength. Much like ranged weapons, divide Strength in thirds for the other categories: up to 1/3 Strength for 12" move, 2/3 Strength for 9", full Strength for 6" (optionally allow "encumbered" movement, 3" rate, at up to twice Strength score).

In the example above with an 8-stone load, a character with 9 Strength would only move at 6" (over 2/3 Strength limit = 6 stone), while a character with 12 Strength would move at 9" (2/3 Strength limit = 8 stone).

A third advantage is in how the term "stone" carries with it a very nice, archaic, Imperial ring to your milieu. Even if one were so crass as to disagree with me on that score, I think the reasons above are more than compelling. (And, more generally, speaks to the advantages of human-based units of measurement.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

The 5% Principle

If we look at the 1E AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide combat tables, we see a table for Fighters (and rangers, paladins, and bards) which improves by 2 points every 2 levels. Immediately below it, there is this note:
Special Note Regarding Fighters' Progression: This table is designed to allow fighters to advance by 5% per level of experience attained, rather than 10% every 2 levels, if you believe that such will be helpful in your particular campaign. If you opt for a per level advancement in combat ability, simply use the table but give a +1 "to hit" bonus to fighters who attain the second level of experience shown in each group of 2 levels, i.e. 1-2, 3-4, etc. You may, of course, elect not to allow per level combat advancement. [DMG p. 74]
I bring this up partly because some people overlook it, and partly because it provides credence for Gygax being amenable towards combat charts with a "smooth" progression in them. In fact, we might hypothesize that the small, "jumpy" charts we see in the classic game are merely a concession to the limited page space available in OD&D and AD&D. A mechanic where we check d20 + level + AC ≥ 21 would perform the task identically, without any need for table lookups (i.e., one pip difference from what I call "Target 20"). This idea is further expanded upon in a Dragon Magazine article by Len Lakofka titled "New charts, using the '5% principle'", which begins thus:
© 1983 E. Gary Gygax & Lenard Lakofka

Foreword

The following material is not official, but is provided for your study and comment. Gary Gygax has said that an expanded combat results table is certainly desirable, so perhaps that part of the following information will eventually be made part of the official rules. However, the suggestions on how to change the experience-point chart are entirely of my own devising. [Dragon #80, December 1983, p. 48]
Thereafter, consolidated charts are presented for attacks and saving throws which increment by exactly 5% (1 in 20) any time an improvement is made -- interpolating the existing tables in the AD&D DMG. This gives at least the impression of Gygax approval, due to (1) the conspicuous copyright notice, (2) the Gygax attribution, and (3) the distinction from the experience tables at the end of the article. I present the former tables below.




Would I want to use these tables? Actually, no -- I think they've become too complicated visually. Once you have more than 7 categories per axis, a person's speed at cross-referencing is sure to fall off. The attacks table here is exacerbated by 6 different lines of numbers across the x-axis (the classes) that you need to distinguish between on a case-by-case basis.

What I really want to argue is that the fundamental intent behind these tables would, in fact, be better served by a simple, much shorter, numerical core rule, but for some reason the Gygax/Lakofka team lacked the mechanical creativity to invest the game with such. While it's been argued that tables can present complicated mechanics in an easy-to-reference fashion, the fact is, there's nothing complicated here for the tables to simplify -- the presented progressions are all inherently linear, and tablature may in fact be about the clunkiest way to express the desired, smooth system seeking a "5% principle".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

OD&D Trivia

Here's a trio of questions to test your Original D&D knowledge. Answers in the first comment.

(1) The "Alternative Combat System" (roll d20 on a table of level vs. AC) was first introduced in which book?
(a) Chainmail
(b) OD&D Vol-1 (Men & Magic)
(c) OD&D Supplement I (Greyhawk)
(d) AD&D Player's Handbook

(2) The Chainmail Fantasy Supplement introduces Wizards with two missile attack forms: fireball and lightning bolt. Their mechanics mimic and reference what siege weapons from the non-fantasy section (pick two)?
(a) Ballista
(b) Catapult
(c) Trebuchet
(d) Cannon

(3) Which of the following statements about Thieves, in their earliest presentation, is true?
(a) Thieves were allowed to multi-class.
(b) Thieves were one of 4 basic classes in OD&D Vol-1.
(c) Thieves were required to be humans.
(d) Thieves were the only class with a "find traps" ability.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Star Wars Saturday

Here's two things I don't normally do -- post on Saturday, or about Star Wars. Nevertheless, James Mal's recent posts on the old Star Wars comic book got me to dig out the only Star Wars comic I ever owned -- a 1977 "Marvel Special Edition Featuring Star Wars" (a.k.a. Star Wars Treasury #1); this being a large-format (10x13 inch) reprinting of issues #1-3 of the original comic book, with art by Howard Chaykin, and retelling the movie up to the point just before the trash-compactor scene. (Therefore, by necessity, this has to be my one-and-only post on the subject.)

A few things I've always found intriguing about this, and that greatly influenced my understanding of the original movie. To begin with, the use of narrative captions frequently gives a different, more-literary texture to many of the scenes. For example, Princess Leia is routinely referenced in the captions as "Princess/Senator Leia", which has a whole different feel. Similarly, here's the lightsabre fight in the cantina:


Perhaps more striking is the fact that the comic production was based a very early edit of the movie, and therefore includes several "lost scenes" in their entirety, of which footage still exists, but has never been included in released versions of the movie. Here are early scenes between Luke and Biggs, intercut around the opening spaceship fight, which set up (a) Luke's later argument with Uncle Owen, and (b) Biggs' appearance near the end of the film. (I used to be very weirded out watching the actual movie and missing these scenes!)



On the same general point, and certainly more jarring to modern eyes, you also get Han negotiating with a skinny, green, humanoid Jabba is his pre-"the Hut" form. As I recall, in the original footage this character is played by a human in bulky furs, and it was pasted back into versions within the last decade with an updated, CGI Jabba the Hut:



There are some nice uses of the large-format comic. For example, this 10x13" splash page has always exemplified my understanding of the scale of the Death Star:



So I guess that's about it, the rest more-or-less follows a pretty close replication of shots from the actual Star Wars move.

... Oh yeah, one more thing: Han shot first.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rules for Exposure

Classic D&D (OD&D/AD&D) somewhat oddly lacked any core rules for exposure to environmental factors such air, heat, and food. Here's my offering for the shortest possible rules to handle those situations; justification and analysis comes afterward. The text between the horizontal rules is designated as Open Game Content.


Rules for Exposure

Characters lacking certain physical necessities accrue 1d6 damage per time unit, as outlined below:
  • No Air: 1d6 per minute.
  • No Shelter: 1d6 per hour. *
  • No Water: 1d6 per day.
  • No Food: 1d6 per week.
* Assumes exposure to extreme temperatures, either below -20°F (-30°C) or above +90°F (+30°C).

There is no saving throw for this damage, and it cannot be healed by "cure wounds" magic. Once hit points are lost, a character suffers a -2 fatigue penalty to hit and AC. When the exposure condition ends, hit points are regained at the same rate they were reduced (1d6 per appropriate time unit). This rule should only be applied at an equivalent game time-unit; for example, if wilderness maps and action are scaled to 1 turn = 1 day, then a "no water" condition may be assessed, but travel under a "no air" or "no shelter" condition results in automatic death!


Justification for the Rule

First of all, one might meditate on the oddity that classic D&D lacked any rules for exposure factors, considering how closely and explicitly OD&D was interconnected to the Outdoor Survival game, that being nothing but a simulation of the effects of lacking water and food for a traveler in the wilderness (hopefully, more on that later).

If we do take Outdoor Survival as an example for rules of this nature, then we might think seriously about making a "death track" for each character, which realistically accelerates the degradation effect over time. However, in this author's opinion, nonlinear effects such as those are fundamentally outside the D&D idiom, and should be avoided. For example, it would short-circuit the supernatural endurance of high-level D&D characters (as modeled by hit points), and it would require a new tracking record at the table for every PC and NPC in a party (and beast of burden?) when these rules come into effect, which is undesirable.

Many other attempts have been made to model environmental and exposure effects in later editions of D&D, such as in various Dragon articles, boxed settings (such as the World of Greyhawk), 3rd Edition D&D, etc. (and also by myself, as well). Most of these are moderately complicated and fail the desired criteria of being (a) simple and resolvable by memory, (b) tied into the core D&D mechanic of level-based hit points, and (c) fixed to a sensible game-turn sequence (for example, most rules for weather are applied per-hour, which is then out-of-synch with the standard wilderness turn made per-day, as noted above). In regards to this last consideration, most likely none of those later sources would countenance the "automatic death" clause seen above, but this author considers it to be necessarily game-playable and tastefully old-school.

Thus, for inspiration I've turned to the outdoorsman's elegant "Rule of Three" (quoting Wikipedia):
  1. Humans cannot survive more than three hours exposed to extremely high or low temperatures, unless individual is using proper gear to cope with heat/cold.
  2. Humans cannot survive more than 3 days without water.
  3. Humans cannot survive more than three weeks without food.
Therefore, it occurred to me to simply assess damage at the same time-units as indicated above, which generally results in hit points being zeroed out for any introductory character (levels 1-3) in about 3 turns, as indicated. Note that the "no air" assessment during combat may differ significantly based on whether you play with 1 round = 1 minute (i.e., once per round), 1 round = 10 seconds (i.e., once every 6 rounds), or something else. The -2 "fatigue penalty" is in line with Chainmail (p. 11).

Now, some possible criticisms or rule alternatives. First, you might consider delaying any damage assessment until 2 turns have elapsed, based on the "Rule of Three" (thus ensuring that even 1HD creatures retain hit points until 3 turns have gone by). This I would recommend against for the following reasons: (1) It introduces an additional record-keeping requirement (instead of using hit points as the entire count of record). (2) We assume the capacity for full activity during the effect, which is a mitigating factor. (3) Wilderness adventures are generally intended for higher-level characters anyway. (4) Most of us don't play with death at exactly 0 hit points, using some other mechanic for a while thereafter. And (5) a large proportion of even 1HD creatures will survive at least 2 turns even with the existing mechanic (see here).

Secondly, you might consider giving a saving throw against the damage (perhaps half-damage with a save vs. paralysis or dragon breath), which I would personally decline because: (1) This again seems outside the D&D idiom if we look to something like "falling damage" as a model (generally a linear 1d6 per 10 feet fallen, with no save -- noting some alternate suggestions in the past). (2) The advantage would be effectively geometric for higher-level characters (with both greater hit points and saves; something like an O(n^2) effect), allowing them to survive not only significantly longer, but for truly outrageous amounts of time. And (3) you'd have the logistical irritation of needing to roll a save for every PC/NPC/creature in the party over and over again for small amounts of damage, in every turn that the assessment is made.

Therefore, I think the rule above has a lot to commend for itself in terms of elegance, simplicity, and playability.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Surprise!

Surprise is a bit of a funny rule -- One wonders exactly what occurred to Gygax/Arneson to require the 2-in-6 chance for any side to be surprised as combat commences. For example, is it reasonable for an adventuring party, armed to the teeth and invading a particular location, to be surprised one-third of the time they smash down a particular door that an enemy is within? I suppose (a) it's at least balanced on both sides, and (b) it's more legitimate in the context of a mostly-empty dungeon as per OD&D.

Here's an interesting and significant difference between the OD&D and AD&D rules for surprise. In each case, the chance is a base 2-in-6 per party, and short-circuited by warning signals such as light, noise, and (notably) ESP. The effect of surprise differs, however. In OD&D:
Surprise gives the advantage of a free move segment, whether to flee, cast a spell, or engage in combat. If monsters gain surprise they will either close the distance between themselves and the character(s) (unless they are intelligent and their prey is obviously too strong to attack) or attack. For example, a Wyvern surprises a party of four characters when they round a corner into a large open area. It attacks as it is within striking distance as indicated by the surprise distance determination which was a 2, indicating distance between them was but 10 feet... The Wyvern may attack once again before the adventurers strike back. [OD&D Vol-3, p. 9-20]
So the effect here is to give one ("a free move segment") advance round of action. In addition, the monster gets a second attack routine ("may attack once again"). This latter clause requires some interpretation; personally, I interpret it as giving automatic first initiative in the subsequent normal round of combat. This makes a lot of sense, otherwise surprise basically degenerates to the same as simple first initiative, anyway. Here's the rather different effect in AD&D:
Each 1 of surprise equals 1 segment (six seconds) of time lost to the surprised party, and during the lost time the surprising party can freely act to escape or attack or whatever. If both parties are surprised, then the effect is negated or reduced... Example: Party A is surprised only on a roll of 1, but party B surprises on 5 in 6 (d6, 1-5) due to its nature or the particular set of circumstances which the DM has noted are applicable to this encounter... Assume A rolls a 4, so it is surprised for 4 segments... [AD&D DMG, p. 61-62]
So here, the primary alteration is the allowance for surprise chances to vary, possibly as high as 5-in-6 or more (see: Spider, Huge), and for each "pip" of the surprise die to indicate an additional free round for the attacker. As the example above indicates, this could result in as many as 4 or 5 free rounds of attack from certain kinds of monsters, without any return action from the PCs! This always seemed overwhelmingly lethal to me, and it's one thing I could never broach applying in actual play (sometimes fudging dice when I was in my younger, OCD ur-text mode). An additional subtlety pops up in the example of melee:
As party B is surprised for 2 segments, party A has a chance to hit in each segment as if they were full rounds (this does not apply to spell use, of course)... [This resolved:] Now initiative dice are rolled, and party A's score is lower, so party B gets to react to the assault. [AD&D DMG p. 71]
As opposed to OD&D, the surprising party does not get automatic initiative after the surprise is over; they must dice for it, and either party might take the next action at that point. In play this seems clunky to me, as it puts the brakes on the action/pacing, and forces me to think about the effect of who goes next. It also has greater variation, since now a surprising party might get as many 6 unanswered actions in its favor.

This is also related to the difference in initiative systems between OD&D and AD&D: (a) OD&D refers back to Chainmail with its roll-initiative-once, then cycle-between-parties approach, while (b) AD&D rolls dice at the start of each and every round to see which party goes first, thereby creating lots of back-to-back doubled actions by certain parties.

Considering the marked distinctions between the games, I find that my preference is (no surprise!) for the OD&D rule, which is - as usual - more straightforward, easier to remember and apply, and has less fiddly game-breaking variation available to it. Similarly, I use the sensibility of the OD&D/Chainmail/Swords & Spells initiative system where the action simply cycles back and forth between parties (in my case, in order around the table) after the initial determination.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Expected Treasure Value

Quick calculation of expected values of treasure in OD&D's dungeon treasure tables:


Calculations include the possibility of increasing gem values with secondary rolls. Click to see 2nd page with those expected-value calculations: gems base 233.5, gems total 500.78, jewelry 3,410 per piece. (Of course, in my game I now divide coin treasures by 10 and interpret all costs and gem/jewelry values in silver pieces; thus, purchasing power and XP remain exactly the same.)

Observation: The treasure troves generated by these tables are very "right-skewed" (many low-value treasures, few extremely large-value treasures) in the sense that the majority of the expected value comes from the pricey jewelry that only rarely shows up in the treasure. For example, at level 1 there's a 95% chance for no jewelry, and in that case an expected treasure value of only 141 gp -- but 5% of treasures do have 1-6 pieces of jewelry, and these will have an expected treasure value of 12,076 gp each! (Thus, we can expect the median values to be much less than the mean/expected values shown above, the calculation of which is left as an exercise to the reader.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Very Short D&D Story

So I've doing some playtests with solo dungeon generation, etc. Very high body count. I've revised encounter tables to iron some stuff out, I've exchanged most of the Appendix A elevator rooms for simple falling bars, etc., etc. Now I decide to bump up the solo PC level to 5th and see if we can at least clear out a 1st-level dungeon. I roll up a beauty of a character:

Garrick, Dwarven Fighter Level 5 (Lawful). S16, I15, W11, D18, C13, X15. Magic: Sword +1, +3 vs. trolls, Potion of Fire Resistance (3 doses), Displacer Cloak. Thus: AC -2, MV 9", hp 23, Atks Sword, magic +8 (1d8+3) or Spear, thrown +7 (1d6), Spec Infravision 60', Resist Magic +4, Rapid Strike feat (x2 melee atks), Cloak gives +2 to targeted saves, etc.

This, I'm thinking, is finally the ticket. Garrick & me should easily clear out a full level (via DMG Appendix A) and then consider any balancing issues for parts that were too easy (I mean, no 1st-level monsters can even hit him normally).

After the entrance, the first room is a big triangle with 1 orc. Obviously, he goes down quickly: collect 1 piece of jewelry & 100 sp. Leaving that room, we roll 19 on Table-I (Trick/Trap), and then a 20 on Table-VII (Chute down 1 level, cannot be ascended in any manner). So after all the safety bumpers installed around "Elevator Rooms", we've still stumbled into a down-one-level trap. Well, so be it.

I'm thinking maybe Garrick's got the goods to recover from a lost dungeon level. Room #1 on the new level: Bars fall blocking access to chute behind. (Well, at least that replaced another lost level from an elevator room.) Room #2: Huge spider with only 2hp, killed by opening spear-throw. (Treasure: 200 sp, 20 pp). Room #3: Monster with treasure indicated.

Roll for monster level: "6" on d6, indicating a 4th-level monster. Monster roll: "8" on d10, indicating a Giant Scorpion. Surprise roll: Garrick 2, Scorpion 4; so scorpion gets 2 actions before Garrick. Distance roll: "1" on d6, indicating 5-foot distance, so scorpion can immediately melee. Due to excellent AC, scorpion needs 17 or more with claw/claw/sting routine. Rolls are: 8, 14, 19. Stinger hits for 2hp, Garrick needs to save vs. Poison: Roll is a "2".

So the sterling Garrick is dead from scorpion poison after 4 explored rooms and just 3 total rounds in combat. Elapsed play time is about 10 minutes. That's D&D, folks.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wall Sizes

Occasionally you hear a complaint that old-school maps of the earliest Gygaxian persuasion (like, here) are unrealistic because the walls don't have any width to them. But to my amateur eye, looking at some historical castle maps, it seems like interior castle walls tend to be about 2-3 feet thick or so. So a simple line between grid spaces could be taken as symbolizing a wall of this nature, right? And if you were modeling actual ruined-castle style structures, it would in fact be more realistic to have your dungeon set up in this style, right? And also it would be thick enough stone to make the AD&D gimmick of tapping on walls for hollow spaces not work, correct?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Elevator Deaths

Early D&D play seemed to be possibly more about exploration/ navigation than fighting monsters. Consider the OD&D "Sample Map of Underworld Level" (Vol-3, p. 4-5). Of the several keyed locations, there seem to be only 4 monsters (and addressed in throwaway parenthetical terms, such as "...let us suppose a basilisk"). Meanwhile, there are something like 15 different navigational tricks such as sloping passages, shifting rooms, transporters, false stairs, etc., all of which send players to some other location against their will and block their return. The list of Tricks and Traps on p. 6 is similar: 7 of 10 tricks there function in some way by sending and trapping players in another part of the dungeon.

While fun to think about, you have to be careful with this kind of stuff and use it in moderation, particularly with traps that send players unwillingly to a lower level. Obviously, this has two major risks associated with it: (1) It increases the danger level of the monsters encountered from what the players had originally planned for (by about a doubling factor per level, in my rough estimation of the OD&D monster ecology), and (2) It simultaneously makes retreat and recuperation impossible until players discover some previously unknown access up and out of the level in question. (You could almost argue that a trap sending players up would make for better game balance; or perhaps the drop-downs are better suited for a reversed tower-of-death, perhaps.)

Interestingly, with some playtests of DMG Appendix A I find that the vast majority of deaths (in fact, practically all of them) are predicated on being caught in one of the several "Elevator Rooms", shunted to a lower level, and unable to ascend again before attrition and some powerful monsters take their toll. Note that unwilling, irrecoverable descent trickery composes 20% (4 of 20) of both Tables VI and VII (Stairs and Trick/Traps); and compounding this is the fact that there are relatively few entries with possibly ascending stairs. (Consider also the trio of traps in the old Dungeon! boardgame with the same function, and similar great difficulty.) I now recommend replacing some of those "Elevator Room" entries in Appendix A with other, less completely fatal trap possibilities (for me now: 5-in-6 get replaced by "Passage behind blocked by falling bars"). In your hand-crafted dungeons, you should probably pre-plan exactly how close players will be to a way back out after any transport-to-a-lower-level trap, or else you may be creating what's effectively a deathtrap without realizing it.

T. Foster also recently pointed out that the earliest version of the Dungeon Geomorphs product included the recommendation from Gygax that "Slanting passages, teleportation areas, slides, and the like should be added sparingly thereafter -- one or two such items per level is a fair guideline" (although the latter clause was edited out in later versions). That seems like good advice from learned experience, and bolsters the need to update Appendix A -- by default, I seem to get around 3 or so of these tricks per page of 34x43 graph paper, and that's not even with rooms nearly as densely tiled as in the Geomorphs product.