Wednesday, March 30, 2011

OED Update (v0.8)

Getting ready for some D&D games at HelgaCon 2011 this weekend, I went and updated my Original Edition Delta house rules (now version 0.8). Some refinements, edits, and clarifications. Folded in some miscellaneous house rules, and also the fighter Feats that I use. Added some tables to make some things clearer.

See the mini-website here. Or get the PDF directly here (5 pages). Or see the updated player-aid card here.

One thing that rather surprised me as I did my editing process was the rule for archery that I decided to use (based on prior blogs discussing things like indoor missile ballistics and archery range penalties). What I decided to run with was this:


Bows: Bows can be fired every round; slings and crossbows take one round to reload between shots. Underground, missile weapons all have an effective range of 30" (assume 10' ceiling). Attacks are −10 to hit at medium range (over 1/3; 50') and −20 to hit at long range (over 2/3; 100'). Note: Thieves can only use a sling or light crossbow.


In the past I didn't think I'd use that option (from the indoor ballistics article), but as I did my pass-through tonight it seemed really elegant and attractive. It's short. It's accurate to the physics (at a 1"=5 ft scale). It's trivial to remember (one number for all missile weapons indoors). It gets rid of one of the tables you'd otherwise need. It's easy to divide into range increments (10/20/30 inches). It's simple to eyeball on a 10'-scale-map (50/100/150 feet). Coincidentally, the penalties are actually the same as the range increments: -10 at 10"; -20 at 20" (which then suggests the idea that you might just apply a -1 per 1" penalty; although it really shouldn't be linear like that, maybe it's close enough).

So that seems like a lot of reasons pulling for it. We'll see how the players respond to it this weekend (or if they even notice a difference). More to come...

Monday, March 28, 2011

On Cold Weather Clothing



This Friday (the first night of HelgaCon 2011), I'll be running the classic Gygax adventure G2, Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl. So this past weekend I thought I'd brush up on some of my cold-weather knowledge.

Thanks to Google, I found one of the most awesome pieces of research I've ever seen on this subject in my many years of looking after it -- Proceedings of the Journal of Fiber Bioengineering and Informatics, 2010 edition. It starts with testing recreations of the different clothing used by Scott and Amundsen in the Antarctic, and Mallory on Everest, with gobs of great data. Then there are lots of other remarkable articles testing both modern and traditional materials (like Tibetan robes) on thermal manikins, etc. Several designs for computer simulations of this stuff. I found it be fascinating. (Looking at the graph here, keep in mind one detail: Amundsen was relatively sedentary riding a dog sled, while Scott & Mallory were both very active in their modes of travel, so it was reasonable for them to need less total insulation. That said, the latter two did both die in the wilderness.) You can see the JFBI paper here.

And a couple of other things. The replica Mallory gear (8 layers of fitted wool, silk, and a Burberry coat) was actually worn on Everest a few years ago, with complimentary reports on its protectiveness and freedom-of-movement (lighter than modern gear).



More pictures from a gallery at Gizmodo.com:





And here's a discussion at MyArmoury.com by some people that have worn replica armor in really cold weather, and what their experiences were. Some interesting observations there. Obviously, you need a thick undercoat with no contact between skin and and metal. I'll let you read the rest of it, if you want.



(Picture above linked from a post last month at The Armour Archive.)

So: Layer up your wool and gaberdine, it's cold out there!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Continental Orcs


So, James Mal suggested that people post some stories about how they've "re-imagined one or more iconic D&D monsters" in their campaign at some point.

Now, truth be told, I haven't done a heck of a lot of that stuff (although I heartily support the principle involved). I tend to be a very axioms-definitions-theorems kind of guy, i.e., I tend to run things as close to the written text as possible (and if that's a challenge, so be it). Much more so in the past than these days.

But one thing I was sort of pleased with is this: Back around 2000-2005 I was part of a regular weekly 3E D&D game in Boston with rotating DMs. For some time my girlfriend Isabelle played with us, running a greataxe-wielding half-orc barbarian named Boudoin. Wierd name for a half-orc, you say?

Well, two things were at play here: First, my girlfriend is, by birth, French. Second, she was playing the only PC half-orc in the party. Who wound up having (naturally) a made-up but French-sounding name. So when I DM'd, I started riffing on that -- orcs in this campaign wound up being a really weird mixture of standard chaotic humanoid barbarism, and classy French cultural influences. Maybe a bit like Asterix comics with orc skins, if you will.

Orcs had villages with giants goats for herd animals. Orcs were fond of dishes with heavy cream sauce. Orcs spoke Common but poorly, in deep-throated monosyllables. Orcs wanted to throw off human imperialism. Orcs drank lots of wine and staggeringly intense cheese. And of course, the native Orcish language was represented at the table French, to whatever degree a handout would get garbled from a run through the Babelfish translator (which only my girlfriend, playing the only orc, could translate for the rest of the party). It was kind of unique and I think it worked very well.

One thing that stuck with me from this experiment is the desire to use real-life foreign languages to stand in at the game table for different racial languages in the game (using modern online translators to quickly create handouts as desired). Of course, this uniquely depends on your particular locality and what counts as "foreign" and what your various players are going to be familiar with. (That said, my current lineup would be something like: Dutch Halflings, German Dwarves, Italian High Elves, Russian Orcs, etc.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Bags of Holding


Observation: Bags of holding are really a rules hack to patch over the broken D&D economy system.

D&D Basic Economy Bug #1 -- D&D set its price list in units of "gold pieces" (OD&D Vol-1 p. 14, etc.). Historically this is incorrect; basic items would really be bought with silver coins. So, broadly speaking, the indicated prices are about ×10 too high.

D&D Basic Economy Bug #2 -- D&D set the encumbrance for its "gold piece" at 1/10 of a pound weight (OD&D Vol-1, p. 15, etc.). Historically, this is also incorrect; actual coins have always been much smaller. So, broadly speaking, the coins here are about ×10 too large/heavy.

Putting these together, the value of carryable treasure (in terms of purchasing power) is only about 1/100th what it "ought" to be. If you carry from the dungeon a back-breaking, seam-splitting sack full of silver (say 100 pounds) then in D&D you can buy, say, 25 gallons of wine with that; while in reality it should be more like 30,000 gallons. If the sack is full of gold, then you can buy 30 draft horses in D&D; when in reality, it should be more like 2,000 such horses. Stuff like that. (See here for documentation on real medieval pricing.)

So, bags of holding are really a necessary fix to let adventurers carry out enough treasure that they can actually do something useful with it (buy a ship, build a castle, outfit an army -- or gain a level). And they're one of the most universally recognized D&D magic items because every PC adventuring party basically needs one.

(This has been mentioned in passing in prior blogs on D&D money.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday Night Book of War

Trying to tighten things up for a public release, and also get ready for the tournament I'll be running at HelgaCon in a few weeks. Another game at 200 points with the new large terrain pieces:

Start -- Opponent at top of map has all horse archers and longbows (in small units of 3-4 figures, hoping to leverage flexibility in actions/attacks/morale). My forces at bottom are light infantry, heavy crossbows, and heavy cavalry. (I know opposition likes horse archers, and armored crossbows are a good counter; and I've taken the hilltops with my first move.)



Turn 2 -- Up to end of turn 2, primary engagement has been missile-fire in the middle. My crossbows have just been destroyed by standing horse archers. In return, they've routed one part of the enemy longbows. Heavy cavalry has taken one hit from longbows; light infantry has been ignored thus far.



Turn 5 -- Two-and-a-half-turns later, my knights (charging off the hill) and flanking infantry have destroyed all of the remaining longbows. Horse archers got bogged down in the marsh, taking an attack from my screening light infantry (scored 1 hit) before turning and galloping out. Other horse archers have taken the hill and killed one of my cavalry figures with bowfire.



Turn 6 -- My light infantry and heavy cavalry (reduced by one more figure from missiles) have each caught a unit of horse archers, and look at those attack rolls! (To-hit was 4 or better on any die.) This eliminates 4 of the remaining 6 enemy figures, routing one of them. And on the next turn the remnants will be cleaned up. So that's all, folks!



In summary: I may have hit on a pretty good army composition, heavy armor combined with light infantry as "pawns", too cheap for the enemy to spend time getting rid of. And the enemy got their horses mired in bad terrain, having to reverse course mid-battle.

On the other hand, it's possible that my girlfriend Isabelle was distracted because she's knitting furiously all the time between turns -- she's had an ambitious art project accepted to try and "clothe" as many trees as possible this summer on NYC's Governor's Island, using knitted, recycled material from plastic bags. So that's mostly what she'll be doing (with public participation) between now and the fall. More at her blog for that project: Knit For Trees.

Friday, March 18, 2011

More D&D Trivia

Three more questions to test your old-school D&D knowledge: answers forthcoming in the comments.

(1) The first use of "race as class" (i.e., advancement tables specific to "Elf", et. al.) was in what ruleset?
(a) OD&D (1974)
(b) AD&D 1E (1977-9)
(c) Moldvay Basic D&D (1981)
(d) AD&D 2E (1989)

(2) The first use of "4d6 drop lowest" for ability score generation was in what ruleset?
(a) OD&D (1974)
(b) AD&D 1E (1977-9)
(c) Moldvay Basic D&D (1981)
(d) AD&D 2E (1989)

(3) The first use of "To Hit AC 0" as shorthand for attack level was in what ruleset?
(a) OD&D (1974)
(b) AD&D 1E (1977-9)
(c) Moldvay Basic D&D (1981)
(d) AD&D 2E (1989)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shillings and Pounds Were Not Coins

An academic might say that shillings and pounds in the Middle Ages were "moneys-of-account", but it's easy to lose sight of what this really means. What it indicates is this: Shillings and pounds were not coins; they were not paper banknotes; they weren't anything physical that you could hold in your hand or carry around whatsoever. They were purely abstract counting units.

Here's an analogy from the current day -- we frequently speak of a "Grand" and know that this indicates a value of one thousand dollars. "This computer cost two grand"; "You could buy that used car for ten grand"; "We spent thirty grand on the wedding". (Or perhaps you prefer a "G" or a "K" or a "dime". ) But of course, there is no "grand" physical money, like a coin or a banknote. We know that it's a counting concept, separate and distinct from the legal notes that we carry around with us. In principle, you could walk into a dealership and pay for a car in cash, and you'd fork over a wad of one hundred $100 bills (or something). You can even write in your ledger something like "10K" and conveniently record the transaction. *

So the same is true with shillings and pounds in a medieval context. When Charlemagne first established the 1:20:240 money system (denier/sou/livre, or penny/shilling/pound; around 800 A.D.), only the smallest "deniers" were actually minted (each 1/240th of a pound weight of silver metal); no other coins existed. Accounting books were kept, recording prices and purchases in shillings/pounds, but they weren't coins that you could carry around with you and hand over to a merchant. And so it was throughout the entire Middle Ages; although a wide variety of silver and gold coins came into use, they weren't so large as to be worth an entire shilling or pound.

For example, the first coin I can find that was worth "one pound value" is the English Gold Sovereign, first minted in 1489 (which I'll point out counts as being after the end of the Middle Ages). And even this was meant as bullion only (it had no numerical value stamped on it). As one site on gold coins says: "The First One Pound Coin: The gold sovereign came into existence in 1489 under King Henry VII... The pound sterling had been a unit of account for centuries, as had the mark. Now for the first time a coin denomination was issued with a value of one pound sterling." Or here (University of London Institute of Historical Research): "Values in the treasure were calculated in pounds, shillings and pence... although there were no coins equal to pounds and shillings and would not be until Henry VII's reign." Or this (Gies, Life in a Medieval City, p. 99): "The livre (pound) and sou (shilling), though used to count with throughout Europe, do not yet actually exist as coins."

So, in summary -- "Moneys-of-account" actually means "Counting units of value that did not physically exist in any form". Nobody anywhere ever minted a gold coin worth 240 of their smallest coins, until almost the 16th century (and therefore it would be ahistorical, and present many problems, if we presented such a system in D&D). Can you find any examples to the contrary?

(I've mentioned this in passing in prior money blogs, but wanted to highlight it on its own here.)

* The U.S. government did print $1,000 bills at one time, but they were discontinued in 1945, and have not been legal tender for several decades.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Useful Computer Language(s)?

At the end of my post last Monday, I included a link to some statistical computer code (in C++) used to verify some of my observations. I will likely be doing some more of that in the near future, so I thought I'd ask -- What computer language(s) would you find the most useful?

Now, there's a good chance that the results won't actually change what I present. :-) Nonetheless, for those of you who might possibly look at such a thing -- see the poll to the right (options taken from the top of the TIOBE index this month). And, you can select multiple options (rock the approval vote)!

Friday, March 11, 2011

ROYGBxV


Did you know that most color scientists no longer recognize "indigo" as a distinct color in the visible spectrum (as opposed to Newton's original 7-color scheme)? I didn't. Makes sense, though.


(For more popular-but-incorrect acronyms, see my anti-PEMDAS screed over at AngryMath.com.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hell Hounds Through the Ages


Tavis at The Mule Abides sent me a question that made me realize for the first time how surprisingly much hell hounds differ between editions of D&D. (The question being: "How to use hell hounds in Book of War?") Hell hounds first appear in the OD&D Greyhawk supplement, where it is written:
The damage caused by their fiery breath corresponds to the number of hit dice they have: hit dice range from a low of 3 to a high of 7 (6-sided dice). [OD&D Sup-I, p. 38]
Notice in regards to this breath attack that (unlike, say, dragons) that there's no range, no time or charge limitation, and no specification as to what "corresponds" exactly means. Now consider the evolution into the B/X line, as seen in the Rules Cyclopedia:
A hellhound will attack one victim, either breathing fire (one chance in three: 1-2 on 1d6) or biting (two chances in three: 3-4 on 1d6) each round. The breath does 1d6 points of damage for each Hit Die of the hound. The victim of the breath may make a saving throw vs. dragon breath to take half damage. [Rules Cyclopedia, p. 184]
So here we have range (namely, one victim), a usage limitation (random 1-in-3, but otherwise usable any number of times), and an explicit damage specification (namely, 1d6 per Hit Die). A powerful ability! Now compare to AD&D:
In addition to a normal attack (simply biting with their great black teeth), hell hounds breathe out a scorching fire at an opponent up to a 1" distance, causing 1 hit point of damage for each hit die they possess, unless the opponent is able to save versus dragon breath, in which case only one-half damage is inflicted, i.e. a 7 hit dice hell hound breathes for 7 or 4 hit points of damage/attack. [AD&D MM, p. 51]
Consider the difference. Again we get an interpretation of range (1" distance), but no restriction on usage (presumably unlimited), and a surprisingly underwhelming damage potential of just 1 point per monster Hit Die. (Notice the text example is for the largest possible type of hell hound.)

I do keenly recall running AD&D hell hounds in a higher-level game, not looking too closely at the statistics before play began, breathing fire on the players and watching them tensely roll saving throws -- and then marking off maybe 2 or 4 points of damage in a rather bemusing, anticlimactic result. Interesting to discover that the B/X branch of D&D did something a lot more significant.

I actually think I like the B/X interpretation more for the game -- breathing fire needs to have some punch to it, one that higher-level PCs would really want to avoid. Compare to dragons, that do points of damage = dragon hit points with their breath (or, equivalent to dice of damage = dragon Hit Dice on average). Hounds doing a similar thing would then resemble mini-dragons in scale and mechanic (hell hounds NA 2-8, HD 3-7; the smallest white dragons NA 1-4, HD 5-7). Maybe apply the same 3-times-per-day limitation if going in that direction (although as usual, use 1-in-3 rounds would usually amount to the same thing in most fights).

Monday, March 7, 2011

Basic D&D: On Archery

In D&D, has it ever bothered you that an archer's chance to hit a target at 200 yards is only minimally reduced from that at 10 yards? Or that lumbering giants can almost unerringly strike their tiny victims at enormous range? I'd like to make a single pointed argument here: the range modifiers for man-to-man combat in D&D are far too lenient.

Rules from Chainmail

Interestingly, in the Chainmail mass-combat rules, there are no range modifiers to hit whatsoever (CM, p. 11-12; although the traditional max ranges are immediately present on p. 10). In the man-to-man combat section, it is asserted that ranges should be split into increments of one-third (p. 25), and in the combat tables, these increments each make a difference of 1 pip to hit on 2d6 (p. 41). Simple, indeed -- however, I'll be forced to argue that the simplicity of 1-point per third-of-range was simply not thought through at all; in fact, it wildly misses the true difficulty of man-to-man archery fire at great range.

On D&D Range Modifiers

The 1-point per range increment rule is carried forward into the basic D&D rulesets. OD&D actually sets the "base" to-hit at long range, with increasing bonuses for closer distance ("Missile hits will be scored by using the above tables at long range and decreasing Armor Class by 1 at medium and 2 at short range"; Vol-1, p. 20). Gygax's Swords & Spells mass combat rules does the same (S&S, p. 24). The Moldvay/Mentzer line does appreciably the same (regular chances at medium; +1 at short, -1 at long; Rules Cyclopedia p. 108).

In the AD&D line we see an admission that these modifiers are too lenient; here, the rule is regular chances at short range, -2 at medium, and -5 at long (PHB p. 38; DMG p. 74-75). But still, I don't think these are severe enough.

On Issues of Range

First of all, let's consider an issue that is frequently overlooked: The difference between shooting at at a massed army, and shooting at a single man. The difference in the size of the target is obviously enormous; and so it's entirely possible that the former may be practically impossible to miss, while the latter may be nigh-impossible to hit, even at the same range. It's reasonable that longbows might be an effective instrument of war at 200 yards or so (against an army); while it's almost unimaginable to think that anyone could hit a given man-sized target (even stationary) at that range. So, it seems like quite an oversight in OD&D (i.e., Chainmail man-to-man rules) to switch blithely from one to the other, using the same range categories and the same chances to hit without major modification.

(Note: In Swords & Spells, Gygax did address this, with full damage only against large formations, reducing as the target unit's ranks decrease. When the "Target is single creature, about man-sized", then 90% of the normal damage is lost [p. 23]. However, no rule like this transfers into any form of D&D.)

Secondly, keep in mind that by the inverse-square law, if you double distance, the visible area of the target is reduced to just one-quarter what it was originally. For example: Say you're shooting at a man-sized target at 50 yards. Moving the target to 100 yards reduces the visible area to one-quarter. Again moving the target to 200 yards reduces the visible area to just one-sixteenth what it was originally.

On a Statistical Model of Shooting

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that the chance to hit is reduced to exactly one-quarter and one-sixteenth in the circumstances above -- that would presume chance to hit is linear with distance -- but it should intuitively imply that hitting targets at very great ranges should be very, very difficult. What should we use as a model of shooting accuracy?

The standard statistical model would be to use a normal curve (previously developed here). For example, the article "Analysis of Small-Bore Shooting Scores" says, "... a calculation model based on the central circular bivariate normal distribution has been used to calculate the expected distribution of the the displacement of shots from the point of aim... ", and that this model was at least "partially successful" in predicting shooting competitor's scores. [A.H. Conway-Jones, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series C, Vol. 21, No 3, pp. 282-296] The term "bivariate normal distribution" basically means a normal-curve model in two dimensions (mostly simply, independent normal distributions for both the x- and y-axis of the target; see here for description and simulator applets).

Let's look for some real-world data. Way back in the day, Dragon magazine published on article on broadly the same topic, "Aiming for realism in archery: Longer ranges, truer targets" (Robert Barrow, Dragon #58, February 1982, p. 47-48). Barrow begins by compiling some interesting information about modern English archery tournaments:
English archers use a 48-inch-diameter target in tournament competition. Since a 48-inch target is about the same target area as a man’s body, these archers’ scores can be examined and compared for use in game terms. A compilation of the twelve highest tournament results during a one-year period shows that the "hit" percentages of England’s finest archers at three ranges were: 92% hits at 60 yards, 81% at 80 yards, and 54% hits at 100 yards distance. The best archers for an entire year of tournament competition still scored complete misses 46% of the time when firing at a target the size of a man at 100 yards range (Archery, p. 240). And these scores were achieved using slow, deliberate fire at a stationary target. [p. 47]
Thereafter, Barrow attempts to extrapolate these numbers into a table for all different ranges. This fundamentally fails, because Barrow is trying to force the numbers into a linear progression, when our normal-curve sense (see above) tells us this certainly won't be the case. For example, Barrow's increments veer up & down irregularly: over ranges 40-140 yards, taken at 10 yard increments, the percentage chances to hit in his table decrease in these steps: 10, 8, 6, 5, 14, 13, 6, 5, 5, 4.

Let's try to do better with our normal-curve model (bivariate, in two dimensions). Write a computer program which simulates this, starting at 10 yards, and stepping back such that distance doubles over the course of 10 steps (or equivalently: shrink size of the target by the same amount in both dimensions). Pick a starting "precision" value that gives results similar to "England's finest archers" above; and fire 100,000 shots or so at each step and see how often they strike the target. A starting precision of P = 6.8 seems to do the job (see sidebar).

First, see how the key targets noted by Barrow basically match his percentages. In the table to the right, range 60 yards correlates with 92% chance to hit; 80 yards is 76%; and 100 yards is something like 58%. (Not a perfect match, but within 5% in each case.)

Let's see what this says about standard D&D longbow increments; we'll look at the middle-point of each range category, i.e., 35/105/175 yards. At short range around 35 yards, the chance to hit is nearly 100%; 105 yards, 56%; and 175 yards, about 26%. We can immediately see that the chance to hit drops off much faster than any of the modifiers in D&D or AD&D. (More specifics below.)

On Our Results in D&D Terms

So, look back and see if we can model "England's finest archers" in D&D terms. At the short range of around 35 yards, who has a 100% chance to hit (0/1 on d20)? In 1E AD&D, that's like a 12th-level fighter against AC 10 [DMG p. 74] -- and hey, that's the same as in our proposed "Normalizing Resolutions" system (level 12 + AC 10 = success level 22 = to-hit 1 on d20; see here).

Now let's derive what the range penalties "should" be for these experts. Taking the chances to-hit above (100%/56%/26%), and taking short range as the base, then the "medium" modifier could be -9 (-44% reduction), and the "long" modifier could be -15 (-74% reduction). Or alternatively we could put this in terms of our "normalized" system (probably more legitimate, granted we've used a bivariate normal curve model for our shooting) and level modifiers therein: as noted, 100% is at level 22; 56% is like level 12, i.e., -10 steps; and 26% is like level 4, i.e., -18 steps from the start.

So to make things simple again, by rounding off to convenient numbers, we see that's it's legitimate to set ranged penalties on the order of -10 at medium range, and -20 at long range. Hitting a man-sized target at 100 or 200 yards out is really, really tough! As we saw from the Barrow article above, even "England's finest archers" should be missing in our medium range about half the time -- and that's against a totally unarmored, and motionless, target. (Any additional penalties for movement are left as an exercise for the reader; or see Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut column in Dragon #45.) Clearly range modifiers on the order of -1, -2, or -5 are fundamentally very broken.

On Firing at Armies

Barrow is typical in including a passage like this:
Many claims are made about the greatest distance an archer can accurately fire an arrow. A modern hunting bow (for use in bagging wild game) can fire an arrow almost 300 yards; however, it has an effective range of only 60 yards. The 300-yard shots require special arrows and near-ideal weather conditions. This evidence is in sharp contrast with other sources claiming that an English longbow archer could hit a man at 400 yards. [p. 48]
Perhaps, but again this collapses the issue of firing at a man, versus firing at army (which is what would be of real interest to the English longbowman). Granted that the chance of hitting an individual man at say, 200 yards is almost negligible (20% for our top expert above). But let's consider a larger target; Barrow indicates a competition by the Royal Company at 200 yards, where any arrows within 24 feet of the target count for points.

Going to our program and increasing the target size from 2-foot radius to 24-foot radius, then the "expert" shooter cannot miss at any range (100% in every category). Even switching to "novice" capacity (Fighter level 1; i.e., starting precision P = 1.9 in our model), our shooter has 100% accuracy up to 100 yards and more, and 90% accuracy even at a distance of 210 yards. So I would conclude that the original Chainmail rule (which is to say; ignore range entirely) is a perfectly good one for the purpose of shooting at armies in mass combat -- even if anything close to that would be wildly atrocious for man-to-man combat.

Some Suggested Fixes

So in short, I would actually go so far as to recommend using this derived modifier of -10 at medium range, and -20 at long range (either as usual to the D&D to-hit numbers, or in relation to "success level" in our normalized system; it's about the same either way in the meat of the progression). Yes, this makes hitting man-to-man targets almost impossible at the longer ranges -- probably for the better, as it's (a) more realistic, (b) keeps the action within playable distance on our tabletop (say, 7" or 14" or so), and (c) leaves some room for progression by the highest-level fighters.

Of course, the preceding was all in terms of outside shots, measured in "yards", etc. What about indoors in the dungeon (where ranges are in feet, thereby closer and easier to hit in our model)? Well, you could think about giving as much as a +10 bonus to hit in that situation (to make a long story short -- literally). But, we never did take into account possible cover, low ceiling, darkness, and frantic combat movement -- so if we start adding those things up, more than likely they add up to about -10 or thereabouts, so we could probably call the whole thing a wash. (Going back to our new -10/-20 modifier.)

Probably thrown weapons -- such as spears, handaxes, and daggers -- with their much smaller range, should not be subject to these increased modifiers for great ranges. I would consider skipping any consideration of range penalties for these weapons entirely. (Or perhaps further research in axe-throwing at targets is in order...)

Open Questions
  1. Would you consider using modifiers of -10/-20 or the like for man-to-man archery?
  2. Can we use the same modifiers indoors as outdoors (assuming that melee movement counteracts reduced range)?
  3. Should handheld missiles be without penalty?
  4. Should we totally forgo ranged modifiers in mass combat rules?
  5. How important is it to give creatures like giants separate melee and ranged attack scores?
C++ source code for the bivariate normal archery simulator (ZIP archive; GPL/LGPL license) can be downloaded here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Aerial Ropeways


Check out this article at Low-tech Magazine on the possibilities of aerial ropeways for transportation & cargo-hauling. Use one of the selections from the ancient/middle ages for your next game! No need for those fancy high-falutin' rope walk bridges around these parts, no sir.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Alignment & Bullshit

Found myself dreaming about alignment the other night; woke up with the following possible characterization:
  • Lawful = Truth-teller.
  • Neutral = Liar.
  • Chaotic = Bullshitter.
This is obviously inspired by Princeton/Yale philosopher Harry Frankfurt's essay "On Bullshit", which posits a difference between liars (who fundamentally know the truth, and are aware of when they lie) and bullshitters (who don't know, don't care, and are possibly incapable of either); Frankfurt argues that the latter is "a greater enemy of the truth" than the former. Of course, I would take my categorization as a pretty coarse description in a D&D context, primarily focused on civilized companies of men, etc.

More generally, I suppose you could set up a binary description of alignment, something like:
  • Lawful = Rules apply to everyone, including me.
  • Neutral = Rules apply to everyone, excluding me.
  • Chaotic = Rules apply to no one, including me.
Again, I'd be taking "rules" here as being synonymous with "the rules of men", much like Poul Anderson's sense of being Lawful. And then this could possibly point the way towards a fourth possibility, "Rules apply to no one, except me", which we might call being "Totally Insane" or "Messianic" or something like that.