Monday, July 27, 2015

Alternate Turn Undead Mechanics

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


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

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

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

I love questions like that; thanks, Nathan!


38 comments:

  1. The trouble I run into is skeletons and zombies in AD&D with non-standard hit dice. (ie. Gnoll skeletons with 2 hd or hill giant zombies with 9 hd)

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    1. replace the names with 0,1,2,etc hd. a 2hd skel is same as a ghoul

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    2. Right, I agree with Norman.

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  2. I like to assign morale numbers for Undead, but they will only ever need to roll morale if a Cleric is actively turning. This means the Cleric never needs to roll, the Undead have morale numbers corresponding to their tenacity like other monsters, there's no new table or system to use. It also means the Cleric needs to continue using his actions to turn, or else start turning to correspond to a special moment in the battle (when he knows from his combat rules that a "morale moment" is about to happen).

    If you want Clerics to get better at turning as they level up, give a -1 to the morale roll every 2 Cleric levels. Undead with a negative morale roll get destroyed instead. (If you use a roll-high morale check you'd need to change this of course).

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    1. I like this.

      I'm not sure about the penalty, and morale is easier to forget than an ability that players explicitly choose, but I still like the simplicity and fictional logic. Will consider more.

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    2. I like this as well! It's simple and logical. Some theorists these days will say that you shouldn't take rolls away from the players if you can help it, but I guess that's easy enough to solve - along with the problem of forgetting that Brendan mentions - by letting the cleric know that they can force morale checks against undead by "turning," and then letting them roll the check themselves to see whether they get the undead to flee to be powdered.

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  3. Nice post, Delta, and even better house rule, 1d30. I'll definitely incorporate that into my house rules!

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  4. Fantastic. This works perfectly with 5more! Mind if I swipe it?

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  5. Delta, so glad I could initiate your mind rolling in this direction!

    I would add that I would make it a "target 6 system" where all "baptized" (e.g., lawful men) got a generic +1 and clerics added their HD.

    "Turn" would not mean "flee screaming," but throwing their hands up and saying "ahhh," B movie style, loosing initiative, attacks or moves in that round so that the FM could move in and clean them up.

    Only "dispel," would, well, dispel!

    (BTW, did you get my email w/my house rules of your BofW?)

    Thanks!

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    1. Interesting!

      I've got your email, just a bit behind on work this week.

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  6. What about using your target 20 rule for turning undead?

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    1. Yeah, you could do something like d20 + 6 + 3(Cleric level - Undead HD), but it seems awkward to me. The mechanic is really scaled more like a d6 skill roll as far as granularity. Or you could just say d20 + Cleric level - Undead HD, need 20+, but that changes the probabilities a lot (in favor of the Undead).

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    2. Actually, now that I think of it, that's pretty much the d20-based system that Gygax used for turning in AD&D (DMG, p. 75). The steps there come in increments of 3 pretty much just like that (4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19... with one more at 20 to be nice to PCs). So I guess that's equivalent to a base of d20+7, and noting that undead HD got incremented by 1 except for ghouls.

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  7. I think in this case the LBB already lend themselves to an easily rememberable rule. Here is how I have it written up in my rules (although I also don’t particularly care for clerics):

    —Against undead one level lower, clerics must roll a 7 on 2d6 to successfully repel 2d6 in number; for undead of equal level, roll a 9; for one level higher, roll an 11. When undead are two levels lower, up to 2d6 are automatically repelled. When undead are four levels lower, up to 2d6 are automatically dispelled.

    I like that it is basically a modified reaction roll. The reaction roll mechanic is useful for so many things.

    My house rules also use an Arneson-based variant I picked up from DHBoggs, via his comment in a blog post here actually, where three repels equal a turn.

    Battle on!

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    1. That's a really nice way of putting it! I agree that many of the tables in OD&D are really the product of some simple formula; I really wish that they'd expressed them that way in the first place (but maybe it adds to the exotic charm that it's a puzzle to be decoded).

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  8. Sorry for double post. One clarification: I'm using monster HD as their "level"—the same as is used for their "attack level" or "attack bonus" using the Target 20 system.

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  9. Great post!

    I'm leaning towards using 2d6 for everything lately (but d20 for combat and ST, of course), and this makes me even more convinced.

    Since 9+ is positive and 12+ very positive (using Moldvay, B24), one could use 9+ to turn and 12+ to destroy undead.

    Not 100% faithful to OD&D, I know, but adds a nice special effect to good rolls.

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  10. One thought on changing 2d6 to d6: it eliminates the "flattening" effect that comes from rolling more dice. The band with numbers instead of automatic results may be relatively narrow, but rolling more dice means you're more likely to get an average result, which means you're more likely to fall into that band. The twos that you cut out may seem weird and "unnecessary," but their purpose may well have been explicitly to make turning more reliable and consistent than, say, a d20 combat roll - and even if that wasn't intended, it would still be a result.

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    1. You're correct mathematically, of course. However, I tend wonder if that was really part of the intent or thought through by EGG in the first place. For example, he switched from the 2d6 to uniform d20 for turning in the AD&D rules without comment. Or likewise switching from 2d6 Chainmail combat to d20 D&D combat while keeping all the modifiers the same. So granted that, I wonder if the nonlinear difficulty of the 11's was an unintentional mistake, for example; and most easily corrected/simplified like this. Could go either way.

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  11. I've stripped the ability to turn undead from my game, and converted it into a spell of the I-VII variant. It doesn't make sense to me that every cleric would have interest in repulsing undead, as every deity doesn't necessarily cover positive energy, healing, sunlight, or whatever other domains that would specifically oppose the undead. Instead of being an iconic ability of a cleric, it's a spell granted by deities that have a domain covering opposition to undead. Pantheons matter. :)

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    1. That's not bad, I like that idea quite a bit.

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  12. Folks, the idea of turning this into a kind of morale check intrigues me. Would it be rolled by the ref, like regular morale checks? Delta, if it were "good reaction" means turning (9+) and amazing reaction means dispelling (11+) and, further, if we gave a bonus per lawful PC (+1) and per CL HD, subtracting monster's HD, would that yield fairly similar results to the chart? Or would there be almost too much "granularity" added? It would mean a lvl 1 CL could, at least possibly, turn up to a 5 HD undead monster (Mummy). Does that "break" the implicit system, rendering CLs "too powerful." Or would the bell-curve, in the main, prevent crazy abuse? Just thinking it through.

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    1. It's actually a pretty cool mechanic, I agree. The one thing that you're being extra-generous with is the +1 per Lawful PC, obviously that's outside book rules (and is super charitable for really old-school parties with 10-20 PCs). Other than that I'd kind of like it.

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    2. I agree with what Delta said: turning-as-morale-check is a cool idea, but giving a bonus per lawful PC (or party member, which makes more sense) could make most such checks into trivial successes for the cleric. Sentient undead, though, will naturally adjust their strategies anyway if they see a party that clearly has the edge on them in firepower.

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  13. Okay, Delta, I read you. I wasn't thinking that the +1 bonus was being generous. Here was my thinking. The official chart for a lvl 1 CL to turn a "0HD" undead (Skeleton = ½HD) is a 7. If I make the "target" for turning 9 (a good reaction), then he needs more than his HD bonus (of 1) to get a 9 out of a 7. Does that makes sense?

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    1. Sure, but if I'm reading you correctly, "we gave a bonus per lawful PC (+1)", and you've got an old-school sized party of 10 lawful PCs, then you've got a +10 bonus for free and pretty much everything is automatically turnable.

      In addition, you also have to stipulate what range or area PCs are in to contribute the bonus. Feel like that opens up a whole can of worms.

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  14. Okay I see the problem and I am sorry for writing in a confusing way. I really just meant a generic +1 bonus per each lawful PC, not per party in toto! That gives a lawful cleric the +2 bump he needs. Another salvo: the rules already list wooden and silver crosses. Give the bonus to the silver cross. So then it would be CL lvl + silver cross + 2d6 = 9 turn / 12 dispel. Better?

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    1. Oh yeah, that's fine. And I like the bonus for a silver cross, personally (some will say it's too cheap for that, but I like it).

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  15. Another thing this approach adds is the possibility of interesting granularity for ref interpretation, e.g.: "uncertain" could mean the monster avoids the cleric and goes for another member of the party instead, "hostile" could indicate an immediate attack on a random party member and "attack" could indicate that the undead monsters deliberately target the cleric! P.S., Delta, I sent you an email about a week on now with regards to a document I would like to share, publicly. I make use of your "target 20 system." Have you had a chance to take a look at that email? Did it get to you? Thanks, Delta!

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    1. Actually, I don't think I got that, can you send it again? I'll check my spam folder to see if it wound up there. But definitely use "Target 20" if you like it like I do!

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  16. Delta, I tried again by replying to a previous email thread we have shared. Please let me know if you got it. I do not want to clog up comments with this issue as I feel it is unfair to those who are getting emailed for this discussion. Sorry!

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    1. I did get that one, thanks -- got busy this weekend, I'll reply soon!

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  17. Look at page 38 or the PDF. (Page 36 in the old issue of the Dragon.)

    http://annarchive.com/files/Drmg040.pdf

    I used to play AD&D 1e back in the late 70's but gave it up for GURPS because the levels of D&D got ridiculous. A high enough level fighter could not be killed by cutting his throat while he slept... even by a thief with quadruple damage.

    So I am playing again in D&D 3.5 as a cleric. And turning has changed to allow for Undead types with additional hit dice. Fair enough. That was a problem back in the day too. The Mace of Disruption is no longer so powerful. And now there are crazy things allowed like Sun Turns so Turns become Destroys. Charisma factors in with Wisdom to determine Turning Effect. I am playing a Cleric with 18 Wisdom & Charisma, 12 in all other stats, who hits for poop but damn, can he turn! But my DM does not like how the current game mechanic works. It makes him reveal that monster strength - 8 HD skeletal wolves, because with all the bonuses that is what it takes to make undead my cleric cannot turn at 2nd level (has the feat to turn as 1 level higher and the Sun Turn feat) with a super lucky roll (char level + 1 + 4 for the lucky roll on how many HD above your character are you effecting).

    After 35 years I really expected these kinks would have been ironed out already.

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    1. That's a nice reference to the table in Dragon 40; expanded levels vs. hit dice, reduced automatic turns, and percentile-based. Of course, turning and the cleric class are one of things I also really get cheesed at in D&D, so personally I just scrub them.

      Note that technically the AD&D rules do permit a fighter of any level to get killed in his sleep. See 1E DMG p. 67: "In totally immobilized and powerless situations, the opponent can be fully trussed, slain, or whatever in 1 round, so no bonus need be given."

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