Thursday, March 15, 2018

GaryCon on Paul's Gameblog

Paul's Gameblog has really ramped up his output recently. This week he's been writing great retrospectives of his experiences at GaryCon... and since half of the time we were in the same games together, I figured I'd just get out of his way and let him tell the whole story. Here's what he has up so far:
Who knows, maybe by the time you see this he has even more postings (search for "GaryCon"). Highly recommended.

P.S. If you're not already aware, "Delta" and "Dan" are synonymous.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Gygax on Dungeon Design

I've always struggled with dungeon design. Nowadays I finally do have a process which gives me some amount of traction, which is like (1) map out a dungeon (likely with the GridMapper application), (2) outline the monsters & treasures in each area with a spreadsheet, and (3) write the descriptive text for each area with a word processor. Nothing earth-shattering; but it did take me a few decades to settle on this. (Also, the spreadsheet step gives me a convenient opportunity to crunch statistics on the overall dungeon.)

Coming back from GaryCon, it's on my mind that many of us at this point are aware that Gygax himself played with very minimalistic dungeon keys -- as evidenced by inspection of the famous photo above, which appears to show a listing on the left with just a single line per encounter area, likely only documenting the monster & treasure in each room. Also: When I had a few minutes to chat with Ernie Gygax on Saturday, he brought this same thing up. Coincidentally, I recently came back across a fairly lengthy answer on the old ENWorld Q&A thread in which Gygax Sr. explicates this, and expands on the fact that all other setting/dressing information was made up improvisationally during the play session.

I think this is worth highlighting (particularly for new DMs and players) for a few reasons. One: This is not suggested anywhere in the published rulebooks, and is in stark contrast to the published dungeons with the company imprint. For example, the 3-room sample key in the DMG is very wordy (and I've previously looked askance at module B1 for likewise presenting a model of very complicated room descriptions). Two: It explains the difficulty he had in converting his Castle Greyhawk to a published product, because the style of his play notes, and the style he expected for a published product, were worlds apart (as he describes below). Three: Perhaps this gives additional credence to the one-page dungeon format which I normally resist -- or at least a two-page dungeon format, perhaps.

In retrospect, I really, really wish that this process had been explicated in the original dungeon-design advice in the core OD&D/AD&D rulebooks -- not effectively kept masked/hidden. It's among the most important revelations that could have been included, I think. Here's the full answer from the ENWorld Gygax Q&A, dated 15th September, 2005, in response to a question from user Clangador:
As to your questions, I usually made one-line notes for my duneon encounters, from around 20 to 25 of same for a typical level done on four-lines-to-the inch graph paper-a few more on five-, six, or seldom used 8-line graph paper, the other spaces were empty save for perhaps a few traps or transporter areas and the like.

I did indeed create details for the PC party on the spot, adding whatever seemed appropriate, and as Rob played and learned from me, he did the same, and when we were actively co-DMing we could often create some really exciting material on the spot, if you will.

When the encounter was elimiated I simply drew a line through it, and the place was empty for the foreseeable future. I'd give Rob the details of any session he was not at and vice versa, so we winged all of it. Sometimes a map change and encouunter kkey note of something special in nature was made, but not often. We both remembered things well, Rob very well and when necessary something was made up out of whole cloth for the sake of continuity of adventuring.

When new maps were made it was often nearly impossible to have the stairs and other connections line up with other maps, so a note or two and "fudging" served perfectly well, this was particularly true of the means of entering and exiting lower levels from secret locations surrounding the castle ruins.

Now you understand why the Castle Zagyg project is such a major design undertaking. If we handed over the binders containing the maps and the notes don't think even thge ablest of DMs would feel empowered to direct adventures using the materials. ..unless that worthy was someone who had spent many hours playing with Rob and me as DM.

I have laid out a new schematic of castle and dungeo levels based on both my original design of 13 levels plus sideadjuncts, and the "New Greyhawk Castle" that resulted when Rob and I combihned our efforts and added a lot no new level too. From that Rob will draft the level plans for the newest version of the work. Meantime, I am collecting all the most salient feature, encounters, tricks, traps, etc. for inclusion on the various levels.

So the end result will be what is essentially the best of our old work in a coherent presentation usable by all DMs, the material having all the known and yet to be discussed features of the original work that are outstanding. .I hope :uhoh:


Monday, March 5, 2018

Going to GaryCon

GaryCon X is this coming weekend! I don't get out to a lot of conventions, but after hearty recommendations from those who have gone, I'll be attending for the first time this year. Flying out late-ish after my Thursday classes, and with a full schedule of games-playing Friday through Sunday morning (no DM'ing for me this cycle). Rooming with Paul, who was a big help with the run-up logistics (and with whom I was furiously SMS'ing as we navigated the unique event registration process that particular Saturday afternoon).

Hope to see some of you there, if schedules permit. Pinging me on Livre de Visage may be the best way to get in touch that weekend. Safe travels to everyone!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Skeleton/Zombie Hit Dice are Confusing

Last weekend, I was copying some information from my OD&D Reference Sheet roster and realized that the line for Skeletons/Zombies was totally different from what I recalled from the Vol-2 text itself. Then I backtracked and realized that the entry in the 1st Printing PDF was totally different from the 6th Printing. I wrote a whole blog analysis about that, then realized that the folks at the OD&D Discussion forum hashed this out a few years ago. Here I ruthlessly swipe the findings by moderator "waysofthearth" and other researchers:

This hot mess completely changes how I've thought of Skeletons and Zombies in OD&D over the last ten years. To my surprise, their hit dice actually started off at (1, 2), and then through a series of typographical confusions and bum-fungled attempts at correcting the ambiguous use of two slashes, changed to (½, 1) in the main text... and some semi-random permutation of those in places like the Reference Sheets and Holmes Basic. By AD&D Gygax had them back at (1, 2) where they started (and likewise any other edition post-Holmes). In the linked thread, Mike Mornard also testifies that the classical play always had them at those latter values.

So at this point I'm going to chalk up the (½, 1) values as just a never-fully-corrected typo confusion that crept into OD&D, and should likely be ignored. The (1, 2) values are certainly what almost all players of classic D&D are familiar with.

As a result, in the last few days I've changed those values in the OED Monster Database to (1, 2), and thus relievedly have them more compatible with most editions of D&D. At some point I need to inject the edits into other places like assessments, monster level tables, Book of War armies, etc. Glad I looked into this, and big thanks to the OD&D Discussion guys for the invaluable work.

P.S.: It's slightly awkward that with Zombies at 2 HD, the Monster Metrics program assesses them at 1.4 EHD, which nominally rounds down to 1 (the same as Skeletons). Zombies with 2 HD and crappy armor, attacks, and move are either the toughest monster in the Level 1 table, or the weakest monster in the Level 2 table. I guess I'll manually set them to 2 EHD so that they're in the Level 2 table, partly for purposes of tradition and completion.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Target 20 System Accuracy

We've discussed the Target 20 mechanic a few times (such as in the "Best Combat Algorithm" discussion, a top-10 post for this blog, per sidebar), in which we replace all the standard D&D combat tables with a mechanic of roll d20 + level + modifiers, and check for a total of 20 or more. This simple, time- and space-saving rule has always been the core mechanic in the OED House Rules; I first jotted it down in my AD&D DMG some time in the 90's; and it frequently winds up bleeding into other people's games after they play with me a few times. I recently created a new explanatory page at the OEDGames website.

A question that the more discriminating gamers are right to ask is: How accurate is it, as compared to the classic D&D rules (of any edition)? There's definitely a smoothing-out effect, such that it's not 100% exactly the same as the combat tables used in those early editions (in some sense, that's the point; to get away from those slow and clunky table-lookups; however, see later comments by Gygax & Lakofka further below). Let's compute to answer that question precisely.

For this purpose, we'll use the statistic called Root-Mean-Square Deviation (RMSD). This is the standard way of measuring the difference between a model and real-world observations (or, in our case, two combat models) when you have a bunch of data points to consider. Basically, we find the difference in each pair of data points, square them so they're all positive (and also extra-punish severe misses in the model), take the average of those squares, and then square-root it to get it back in scale with the original data. The basic concept is almost exactly the same as for standard deviation, and you see this RMSD tactic get played out over and over again in various descriptive statistics. In our present case, you can effectively interpret the result as just "average pips off from the book table results". Let's look at a summary of Target 20 vs. results in several early editions of D&D:

The executive summary, for all of these editions, is this: For attacks and saves, Target 20 tends to be 1 or 2 pips off the book table results. If you want to see the full individual level-by-level data set, you can download an ODS spreadsheet here. Each analysis has been done for levels 1 to 14 (which is where most of the book tables tend to top out). Note that the OD&D and B/X rules used the exact same combat and save tables for the standard classes (so I put those editions next to each other); AD&D represented more of an evolution of the system. However, if you dig into the details, you'll see that the "1 or 2 pip" variation is level-dependent, as follows:

Attack rolls in Target 20 are, at 1st level, exactly equal to the OD&D-B/X combat tables; at middle levels they are very close; and they deviate more at the higher levels, with Target 20 being more generous by a few points. The Target 20 fighter attacks are even closer to AD&D, on average, because the AD&D table was explicitly set up to give a regular 5% boost for every added fighter level (see "Special Note" at bottom of DMG p. 74).

Saving throws vs. spells (for brevity, the only one shown here; others are similar) likewise tends to vary from the book results by about 2 points on average. In this case, looking at the details, you'll see that Target 20 is a bit more harsh at 1st level; closely matches the book at middle levels; and is again more generous at the highest levels.

Thief skills, looking at the grey-highlighted part of the chart, appear to be more at odds with the book rules; however, this is only the base rule, and in practice we apply the thief's Dexterity modifier to their rolls, presumably a 1- or 2-point shift closer to the book. Given that, the Target 20 results are again exactly the same as the OD&D-B/X rules at 1st level, and then track a little bit below the book rule at higher levels. (Note that in this particular case we used a Normalized root-mean-square deviation (NRMSD) statistic, because we changed the scale from percentile 1-100 to a die roll of 1-20.) My overall interpretation: At the most commonly played levels, Target 20 is maximally accurate to the book; at the more exotic higher levels, it deviates a bit.

It bears mentioning that, in later years, Gygax and Lakofka themselves signed off on a smoothed-out progression system (see Dragon #80, "New charts, using the '5% principle'"); although for some reason they were sufficiently locked into their wargame-tablature legacy that they presented this via even larger, mammoth-sized tables. If the system were essentially nonlinear, that could be a time-saving trick -- but since the D&D combat system is indeed fundamentally linear, there's really no need for those tables.

It further bears noting that in practice, when a PC attacks a monster, we (as DM) keep the AC secret -- so players just report the d20 + attack bonus modifiers (a single addition), and the DM mentally adds the monster AC in their head. (Of course, if the player-announced total is itself 20 or more, then they've almost surely scored a hit.) On the other hand, in the case of mass monster attacks or saving throws, the DM may perform a mental reverse-subtraction to come up with the raw die-roll needed, and then roll a fistful of d20's in the open, so that players can immediately confirm if they've been hit or not. But that reverse-subtraction (as is customary with the THACO technique) is never something we ever ask the players to do.

Final thought: If you like the Target 20 method (and we hope you do!), the image at the top here is actually the official Target 20 Compatibility Mark, and you should feel free to use in a new gaming product of your authorship (also, a link to the explanatory web page could be helpful; questions via the email there are welcome). Above all, we hope it's a simplification that helps make your game more fast-paced and furious. Fight on!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Arena on GitHub

"Arena" is a Java code package I've developed over the years to simulate combat in Original D&D and generate statistics on the results. We've used it to look at level-based demographics, assess monster metrics, generate bands of men in the wilderness, and lots more.

Recently I placed all that code in a GitHub Repository, so if you're a coder, hopefully this a more convenient way to access, inspect, verify, download, run, and fork that package if you have any inclination.

Features added in the past few months that are new there: (1) Treasure generation by random methods (for both dungeons and wilderness: see DungeonTreasureTable and MonsterTreasureTable), whereas previously treasure XP was added based on pre-calculated averages. (2) Party-based combat in the Arena, so we can simulate groups of adventurers in a dungeon together (in Arena, see command switch -z), whereas previously it was solo encounters only. (3) Encounter table generation in the dungeon, based on Equivalent Hit Dice values (see EHDToTables). In future posts we'll look at some observations gleaned from these added features.

Also recently I put the up-to-date version of the OED Monster Database, used in conjunction with that software, up on the OED Games website. Recent modifications are changes to Equivalent Hit Dice (EHD) values for about a half-dozen monsters (as a result of new data from the software), and an addition of an "Env" column, which is 1 if the monster appears in the dungeon environment (used for the automatic encounter table generation). Again, hopefully the website is a convenient location at which to access that resource.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sarge's Advice: Book of War Q&A

Some months ago (actually, a whole lot of months ago) Jarrett Perdue wrote to me with a number of good questions that arose from playing the Book of War fantasy miniatures supplement (see sidebar) with his daughter. This seemed like a really good opportunity to start a FAQ-like response list, so here it is. Hopefully it's useful/helpful. Here's our exchange:

First off, thank you for your willingness to field a few questions on Book of War.  I really appreciate how you've brought OD&D and wargaming back together in this product (Battlesystem was cool, but never felt like D&D to me).  My daughter and I have enjoyed the three games we've played since my copy of the book arrived.  The following are all situations that arose in those couple matches:

1. Who chooses which models to lay down (and later remove) as casualties, the attacker or defender?

The current book says all losses come from the back rank ("Formation", para. 2, p. 8), so there's usually little choice. In case of dispute I let the defender flip them over.

2. Are casualties ALWAYS removed from the back ranks of a unit or from the ranks farthest from the unit inflicting the casualties? (e.g. a unit being assaulted from behind)

I do actually go with the back rank all the time. I think this simulates men crowding forward, and getting wiped out more completely when attacked in the rear.

3. What happens when a unit takes enough casualties to cause it to no longer have contact with an enemy unit?

This happened twice in our recent game.  In one case a unit with many files (one rank) entered combat with a very small unit (4 files, two ranks) and suffered enough casualties that every model touching the enemy was lost. In the same match a unit flanked front and rear lost its entire rear rank due to casualties, leaving a "gap" between it and the rear attacker.

Does combat end (the units touching corner-to corner) or is the attacker simply moved forward to re-engage as a sort of bonus move?

The attacker certainly gets the benefit of all their allowed attacks in the current turn (i.e., however many hits accrued from the figures touching when combat was resolved). As the turn then goes to the next player, this may make some slight extra room for them to escape, if desired. In most cases the attacker will be able to close the distance on their next turn and continuing attacking, if they wish (which bears on the next question).

4. When a unit fails a morale check does it get a "free" about face or does it have to await its own turn and pay the regular cost for this maneuver (1/2 move) before moving away from the enemy that routed it?

If the latter is the case, doesn't that mean that routing units can almost always be overtaken by pursuers? (not that this is a bad thing of course)

There's no free movement. The routing unit does indeed have to wait until their normal move turn before about-facing and moving away. Yes, in the majority of cases the attacker can then run them over the backside on their next turn. Generally only light cavalry have the capacity to make the about-face and get far enough away to avoid follow-up attacks.

(I should point out that in current play here, we've actually removed the recovery-from-rout rule to the optional rules section; in default play there's no recovery, and so attackers generally just let them rout of the table and turn their attention elsewhere. See also question #14 below.)

5. When squaring up during an attack, does the attacker shift to match the defender's position or vice versa?

On contact the attacker (that is, the player moving at the time) should rotate forward in the normal fashion to meet the defender along a common line segment. That's not to say that the unit sideways-scrapes to get more contact surface. The basic idea is that units don't contact at just a point/vertex.

6. How do you resolve this when the squaring up adjustment carries the unit into contact with additional enemy units?

I've got to say, I don't recall this happening in a game. Since everyone only move forwards, I think the only way this could occur is for A to meet B at a corner, and somehow have C in the tiny "wedge" space in between. If that ever happened I'd engage "a long unit can be bent along its major axis" and wrap around both B and C as flush as possible.

7. Casualties from missile fire are also removed from the back of the unit first, true (even if the farthest archer couldn't actually reach the rear rank of the enemy unit)?

Yes. The idiom is that men are falling at the front, and other men are stepping forward to fill the ranks automatically. (See #10 below for a related point.)

8. What do you perceive to be the relative costs in points/gold for various attributes?  For example, skeletons would not break morale, regardless of losses.  We discovered that to be very impactful on the battlefield of course.  How should I weight the point value appropriately if I wanted to play a balanced match?

You're right that morale is probably the key mechanism by which games are won, lost, and become dramatic. Undead being morale-free is an advantage; but at least in OD&D they're also very slow (6") which offsets this. E.g., I've found normal skeletons to be balanced at 4 gold, the same as regular light infantry. That said, in playtests, undead force a very long/slow-paced game (has a "chalky" taste to me), where you just have to slowly smash them all down without respite from morale. I kind of recommend not having big undead battles of you can avoid it. See blog links:

9. How about the point values of movement, hit dice, and AH?

I definitely recommend against trying to price out individual attributes. As game design, that always breaks down, and you've got to consider each unit holistically. You might search for the phrase "acid test" on the blog here. (See more about this topic in a future post.)

10. No firing into woods, true?  What if a unit is only partially in the woods (left flank exposed)?

Right, no firing into woods. As written, if even part of one figure of a unit is sticking out, then that unit can be targeted normally. (At times I've considered an optional rule wherein a unit can be flush inside the edge of a wood, fire out normally, and get a +1 armor bonus on incoming fire; feel free to play with that if it sounds like a good idea.)

11. When turning (wheeling) are terrain costs counted as well as the cost of 1" per file for turns between 45 and 90 degrees?  For example, a cavalry unit wheeling in the woods pays double terrain plus the number of inches that it has files ... or the number of files it has times terrain cost x2 (since it is cav)?  Sort of an order of operations question :)

Right, wheeling has normal terrain cost applied to it; so e.g. cavalry wheeling through woods is number of files ×2. The foundational idea here is that the "wheeling" cost is just a shortcut for the normal distance moved on the table; if you get out a bendable ruler or string and measure the outside movement, then you'll find that it approximately matches up. (E.g., 3 figures each 3/4" wide through a quarter-circle has arclength 3 × 3/4" × τ/4 = 3.5").

12. Are terrain costs paid from the front of the unit?  For example, a unit five ranks deep is in the woods, 1" from the edge.  It advances an inch (at a cost of 2") then a second inch (at a cost of 1") before halting.  The rear two ranks are still in the woods, but when the unit moves next turn it doesn't pay any additional terrain costs, true?

Yes, move costs are only from the front of the unit. Once the lead rank gets out of the woods, everyone behind them catches up "for free". That's obviously a rough simplification for gameplay purposes. (Maybe that's a weak point that needs fixing? But I don't recall it being a major issue in the past. Arguably if the front line does anything "interesting" like engage in combat, then the back ranks would have time to catch up and join them.)

13.Can you launch arrows OUT of the woods?

No arrows shot out of woods. See #10 above for an optional rule that I sometimes imagine.

14. Pg 9, para 6 says, "At the end of a turn in which it [a routed unit] avoids any loss, a unit may attempt another Morale check to recover from the routed status..."  Since a unit can only take losses on its opponent's turn, is that what is being referred to here (the normal morale check phase rolled at the end of the enemy's turn, or is this referring to something else? A separate morale check made at the end of a unit's own movement for instance?)

Right, this recovery-morale check happens at the end of the enemy's turn, at the same time the same player in question is making morale checks for all their units who did take losses. (There are times when I consider making "morale checks" the start of the turn sequence, so that everything in the turn is being decided/rolled by one player in question. However, I like getting that over and sweeping dead figures off the board before the end of the turn. See also #4 above that in our current play we've actually removed the recovery rule from the basic play.)

15. A unit of skeletons was attacked both from the front and upon the right flank by two separate enemy units. The skeleton model on the front, right corner found itself in contact with two separate enemy models. The player would have to choose, as an entire unit, which enemy unit to attack on the skeleton turn, true?

If a unit is in contact with multiple enemy units, I do let the individual attacking figures make attacks against whichever unit they're contacting. For example: unit A in contact with enemies B and C; some figures of A will be attacking B, and others C, determined by direct base contact. If a single figure in A contacts both B and C (your corner case), then the attacking player gets to decide that particular figure's target.

16. In the same battle the skeletons, who were about four ranks deep, were simultaneously attacked from both front and rear. In this case could the skeletons, on their own attack phase, attack the enemy units both to their front AND their rear (at a -1) or would they have to choose between the two? If the answer is the former, what does that imply for the hedgehog formation? Does it merely prevent the -1 penalty?

To return attacks, figures do have to face their enemy; I always allow this changing-face for a unit on their turn who's already in combat. So when a unit gets hit from both front & rear, on their next turn they usually about-face outward ("hedgehog", effectively), and then get normal attacks with the units in contact on each side. (I don't think there's ever a ─1 for attacks; the idea being you're either facing/attacking someone, or not-facing/not-attacking at all. Of course, there is the +1 to hit if you're attacking a unit in the backside.)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

D&D Physics Lab: Falling

At the start of the week we revisited the (to some) infamous dueling articles in The Dragon #88 by Parker and Winter: principally, should damage from falling be proportional (a linear function) to speed (and thus the square root of height), or instead to kinetic energy (and thus to height itself)? The physics theory seems clear: work is a linear function of energy, not speed. But we would not be scientists if we never put such things to the test.


The experiment here is inspired by a teacher's guide for high school students: see Jones, "Understanding Car Crashes: It's Basic Physics", Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2000). The goal of that experiment, "Lesson 2: Momentum Bashing" (p. 5-10) was to verify that momentum is a linear function of mass; here we modify it to check on the relation between fall height (or maybe speed) and work done.

The basic setup is to have some kind of track, one end raised on one or more books, with a ball rolling down into a catch-container. Jones' version used a marble, a ruler with a center groove, and a paper cup with a catch-hole cut in one side. I went looking for those things in my house and found I had none of them. So instead I scrounged up: a bouncy superball, a 15" cylindrical mailing tube, and an empty onion dip container with a hole cut out of it. Conveniently, the mailing tube was almost the same diameter as the ball; of course, if you want to try something similar, any replacement materials are fine.

For elevating one end of the track I used my stack of Conan paperback books. Fortunately, the books are all approximately the same width: 1/2" each. So where the track models the gravity of a falling body (angled tracks being a common means for "slowing down" a fall so we can observe it more closely), each added book will smoothly model an additional "floor" of the falling body. I ran the test ten times each with elevation heights of 1, 2, and 3 books. The distance that the catch-container gets pushed forward by the ball at the end is marked and measured with a millimeter ruler, and serves as a proxy for "work done" on the falling body at the end. See picture of apparatus below.


Results of all testing are shown in the chart below, along with a linear regression on mean displacement of the catch-container at each height of fall. For all practical purposes, this proves to be a perfect correlation: the relationship is exactly D = 38h (where D is catch-container displacement in mm, and h height of fall in books), and the 3 data points match a straight line through the origin with R^2 = 99.9994% precision. I wish that any of my high school lab experiments had come out this accurately; I might have gone into a different profession!


Our experimental observations exactly match the physics theory; work done by a falling body is proportional to the height of the fall. In the old D&D falling debate, this again confirms Steve Winters' argument that "kinetic energy is the key", and that damage should indeed be a linear function of the fall height (not the speed, i.e., square root of height, as argued by Parker).

Monday, February 5, 2018

Falling Revisted

The Dragon #88 (August 1984) had an infamous set of articles on the physics of falling damage. Some fans of the game maintain that this investigation of math and physics is unnecessary to a fantasy game. However, I’m on the other side of this argument; if there must be some base rule for a mundane activity like falling, then I see no reason not to “dial it in” correctly. Surely there’s no disadvantage to the parties who claim to simply not care one way or the other. Hence, I consider these articles to possibly be the very zenith of D&D system scholarship as it could be practiced.

Dragon #88: Parker vs. Winter

The issue in question appeared in the context of the OD&D and AD&D book rule that falls do a linear 1d6 per 10 feet; and a recent article and update in UA in which Gygax claimed this was a typo, and should have been a far more brutal 1d6 cumulative per 10 feet (e.g., 3d6 at 20’ and so forth). One of the Dragon #88 articles is by A.A. Parker on “Physics and Falling Damage”, arguing that damage should be proportional to velocity, and thus more violent at the start, but scaling down somewhat with greater height (e.g., starts at 3d6+1-5 for a 10’ fall; reaches 20d6 with a 260’ fall). The other article in that issue was by Steve Winter called “Kinetic energy is they key”, whose conclusion is that kinetic energy, and thus damage, is linear with height – thus arriving back at the 1d6/10’ rule we started with.

Let’s look a little more closely at the argument with the advantage of time. Interestingly – something I tend to forget – is that Parker was apparently conscious of Winter’s following rebuttal, and spends several paragraphs and a sketch (above) addressing the kinetic energy argument, and ultimately rejecting it (p. 14-15). But his culminating argument is fairly weak:
No physical law exists that says kinetic energy is the direct cause of physical injury. We know that there is some relationship between the two – because the more kinetic energy a person transfers to the earth, the greater his injuries are. But no law states that this relationship is linear, or that all the factors involved in kinetic energy relate to the injury. It may be, then, that some part of kinetic energy relates linearly to falling damage. Since no formula exists to tell us what part this might be, we have to use our intuition to determine the crucial property.
At best, all of Parker's counters here are equally applicable to his own velocity-based thesis. But worse: there is in fact a physical law which effectively asserts what he claims is missing, and it’s called the “work-energy principle”: per Wikipedia, “the work done by all forces acting on a particle (the work of the resultant force) equals the change in the kinetic energy of the particle”. Assuming a body goes from some initial velocity to a full stop, then the work on the body is exactly equal to the kinetic energy, given by KE = ½ mv^2. (where m is the mass of the body, and v the velocity). So we see that work done is not proportional to velocity as Parker argued; it is proportional to the square of the velocity, and hence directly proportional to energy, as Winter asserted.

Collision Model Data

Consider this from a different perspective: It’s now easy to access data sources such as those used to model pedestrian injuries and fatalities from auto accidents (a fairly good analog to a body hitting solid ground at high speed). See Richards, “Relationship between Speed and Risk of Fatal Injury: Pedestrians and Car Occupants”, Department for Transport, London (2010). Data for pedestrian fatalities, mapped against auto speed, follow a characteristic sigmoid curve. Several proposals for model formulas for probability of death are given; the simplest, by Rosen and Sander is: P = 1/(1 + e^(6.9 – 0.090v)), where v is the automobile’s velocity, and P is the probability of a fatality (p. 14). Below we attempt a linear regression against speed itself (as a test of Parker’s theory), and also speed^2 (proportional to kinetic energy, as a test of Winter’s theory).

Taking probability of death as proportional to damage to the body, then it’s rather obvious visually that the better fit belongs to the speed^2, i.e., kinetic energy measurement. The coefficient of discrimination to this fit is R^2 = 0.977, that is, kinetic energy serves to explain 97.7% of the variation in mortality asserted by the model.

Interestingly, the auto-collision industry uses a mathematical model for estimating speed from observed damage, called CRASH (Computer Reconstruction of Automobile Speeds on the Highway) which explicitly takes as a first assumption that depth of crush is a linear function of velocity (or momentum). However, at least one presenter admits that this is an approximate model only: see McHenry, “The Algorithms of CRASH”, McHenry Software, 2001 (p. 19-20):
Combined assumptions of (a) linearity of ΔV_c (i.e., the  ΔV preceding restitution) as a function of residual crush and (b) a  ΔV_c intercept near 5 MPH, at which no residual damage occurs, have served as the basis for extrapolations outside the range of available test data... The use of linear relationships may be viewed as a simple empirical process for interpolation and extrapolation of the results of staged collisions... it appears that bilinear fits might yield more accurate application results when a large ΔV range is included in the fitted data.

Terminal Velocity

Many editions of D&D (starting with the AD&D PHB, p. 105) have a rule capping fall damage at 20d6, and often times this is taken as a simulation of terminal velocity of a falling man (as in the Parker & Winter articles). One problem arises, however: in the core rule this occurs after a 200’ fall, when in reality terminal velocity of a falling person isn’t reached until much later. Compare also to Carl Sargent's revised falling rules in PC2 Top Ballista (1989, p. 61), in which he is clearly looking at real-world speed/distance of falls, and greatly reduces damage to have the 20d6 max occur at real terminal velocity.

Terminal velocity for a falling man in a stable, belly-down position is around 120 mph, or about 180 feet/sec (Wikipedia). Due to the asymptotic nature of gravity vs. wind resistance, a person only reaches 50% of this speed after 3 seconds or so (about 140 feet), 90% of terminal at 8 seconds (800 feet), 99% of terminal at 15 seconds (over 1500 feet), and so forth (in a theoretical sense, one never actually reaches the terminal speed; it's only a limit). See the excellent chart by Green Harbor Publications, 2010; to my eye, the “inflection point” in the graph is at around a 6-second, 500-foot fall, at which velocity is about 80% of terminal. In core D&D terms, this would argue for max falling damage of around 50d6 or something like that.

Let's compute for more specificity on that point. For simplicity, I define a new energy unit, the footman force, as one man × ft^2/sec^2 (compare to the foot-pound force). As a preliminary, we compute the speed from a 10' fall, assuming that for such a short height, air resistance is negligible: sqrt(10)/4 × 32 = 25 ft/sec. This allows us to compute the kinetic energy from the 10' fall: KE = 1/2 mv^2 = 1/2 (1 man)(25 ft/sec)^2 = 312 footman forces. On the other end of the continuum, where air resistance is total, we are told that terminal falling velocity is about 180 ft/sec; and in this case the kinetic energy is KE = 1/2 (1 man)(180 ft/sec)^2 = 16,200 footman forces. The ratio between these two energy amounts is 16,200/312 = 51.9; that is, very nearly 50 times the energy (and we would argue, damage) between a 10' fall and one at terminal velocity. 

Again, the calculations above are shortened a bit by assuming the mass (m) of the falling body is simply "one man". It could be an important point to observe that smaller creatures will generate less energy (damage) from a fall, and larger creatures more. Wikipedia quotes the biologist J.B.S. Haldane as writing:
To the mouse and any smaller animal [gravity] presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object.
That said, we ignore this detail at the present time and consider a rule only for approximately man-sized creatures.

Falling Mortality

The real-world statistics of falling mortality are expressed in terms of “median lethal distance” (LD50), that is, the distance at which a fall will kill 50% of victims (who are presumably normal adults). Smith, Trauma Anesthesia, p. 3, asserts that LD50 is around 50 feet (4 stories). Wikipedia asserts that LD50 for children is at a similar height; 40-50 feet (one might think that children are less durable than adults, but note the observation on size/mass and damage above). Dickinson, et. al., in “Falls From Height: Injury and Mortality” (Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 2013) notes that LD50 varies greatly by injury type: about 10.5m (34 feet) for those who land on their head or chest; about 22.4m (73 feet) for those who do not. (To me, this fact argues that falls should get some kind of binary saving throw, possibly save-vs-stone for half damage? And recall that the first falling rule in OD&D Vol-3 indeed gave a saving throw using a different mechanic.)

So: Around 50 feet kills about 50% of human victims. Note that this is actually much more generous than the standard D&D rule, which in its simplest form will kill about half of normal men with just a 10’ fall (1d6 damage vs. 1d6 hit points). It broadly contradicts Gygax’s advice in OD&D Vol-3, p. 6 (“there is no question that a player's character could easily be killed by falling into a pit thirty feet deep”). To say nothing of Gygax’s intuition at the time of UA that such damage should be massively upgraded with a cumulative rule.

Considered Rule Edits

Here we consider a few rule edits based on the mortality data seen above. Among the rules edits considered are:
  • A save-vs-death at zero hit points; this has been the existing OED house rule for some time (recently edited so that any "overkill" damage becomes a penalty to the save). If you like, consider this to be broadly analogous to permitting negative hit points before death.
  • A save-vs-stone for half damage; this is inspired by the medical findings that there is a binary difference in mortality depending on whether a victim hits their head/chest or not (specifically, almost exactly a 50% change in LD50 mortality).
  • Possibly reducing the damage dice to something like 1d6 per 20 feet.
If we consider such changes, we need to keep an eye on the overall effect at both low and high levels. A simulation in Java code was run for the event of falling 50', for each of the proposed edits, for characters of varying levels (trials N = 10,000 for each case). Results are shown below (highlights at around 50% mortality):

On the one hand, the basic D&D rule is unrealistically harsh: 1st level characters (and normal men) have 100% mortality from a 50' fall. Even if we engage any one of our cushioning rules, then it is 3rd-level characters who have around a 50% mortality rate (as shown in the first chart).

But on the other hand,  if we do calibrate the system so that 1st-level characters have a 50% mortality rate (as in the real world), then that requires engaging all of our proposed edits -- reduced base damage, a save for half, and a save vs. death at zero hit points (as shown in the second chart). And then as a result, any higher-level characters have effectively negligible chances of perishing from a fall of that height (further down the same column).

Let's take a case study from the pulp literature: in the short story "The Scarlet Citadel", Howard relates a scene in which Conan grapples the sinister and powerful Prince Arpello and hurls him from a 150' high tower, upon which, "the body came hurtling down, to smash on the marble pave, spattering blood and brains, and lie crushed in its splintered armor, like a mangled beetle" (Ch. 4). If we assume this worthy is a 9th-level Lord (he's described as a capable fighter, a veteran of many campaigns), then we can re-run the simulation at this greater height. If we use the latter fully-cushioned rule proposal, then mortality from this fall would only be 2% -- clearly unacceptable. If we keep the 1d6/10' rule but allow the two saves, chance of death would be 35%; with just the half-damage save 43% (I think both of those are still too soft); with just the existing OED save-vs-death mortality is 72%, which feels about right (no saves at all would give 85% mortality).


In summary: Calibrating the rule so that normal men have a real-world LD50 at 50' requires a rule so generous that it completely violates our intuition and literary examples for higher-level characters falling from truly stupendous heights. The best we can do is massage something acceptable in the middle. And it turns out that the classic 1d6/10' damage, with a single save of some sort (like: OED save-vs-death, or some negative hit point allowance) does give a vaguely reasonable result around 3rd level or so. Considering that this effectively requires no modification to our existing ruleset, it seems like living with this is among the best options.

It also seems like a recurrent theme that many parts of the D&D system are most "realistically calibrated" for characters of around 3rd level; perhaps this gives extra support for starting campaigns at around that level (as Gygax did in later years; see ENWorld Q&A thread, date 11/19/04). See also: Environmental Rule of Three. I'm comfortable with existing OED save-vs-death at zero hit point representing the variation in whether the victim lands on their head/chest or not. And I think I'm now compelled to bump up the maximum fall damage to 50d6 to reflect true terminal velocity (which neatly takes care of the need for extra saves-vs-massive damage or the like, since everyone up to a lesser god gets equally pancaked from arbitrarily high falls).

Open question: In pulp heroic literature what other examples of survivable falls do we see for figures like Conan, Fafhrd, Elric, etc.? Perhaps we could use that to “dial in” the rule better, if necessary.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book of War on the DM's Handbook Podcast

Friend of the blog, Michael "chgowiz" Shorten has a regular podcast called "Dungeon Master's Handbook". In his most recent episode he shares a really nice overview of the history of trying to incorporate mass-warfare rules into D&D games: including Chainmail, Swords & Spells, Battlesystem, War Machine, and so forth.

Just like me, he spent years struggling with them and finding all of them deficient in some way to what we really wanted (the primary weakness to TSR offerings being: rules that are simply out-of-sync with D&D mechanics and results, and likely too abstract and complex to boot). He uses the name "Holy Grail" for the problem of finding a system which is: (1) mechanically compatible with D&D, (2) easy to interface D&D monsters and characters into mass battle, (3) simple enough to easily introduce to RPG'ers who are not expert wargamers, and (4) fun to play.

And he concludes by calling our product, Original Edition Delta: Book of War (see sidebar) the best solution to that problem, using such complimentary words as, "an amazing solution", "worked wonderfully", and "it's all there". Of course, it's exactly these same motivations that had me tinkering for a couple decades or so to find the right, streamlined system -- so I couldn't be more honored to know that it works as a solution to other thoughtful gamers out there.

Chgowiz has consistently given great feedback on the game by email and blog comments here, too. He authored the supplement called "The Fellowship" which allows lower-level PCs to function on the battlefield as joint party-based figure -- he talks about his experiences with that in the podcast, and we wrote about it earlier here. All of his output is highly recommended. If you're not aware of the legacy of mass-combat rules orbiting around D&D, this is a great place to start!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Classes in Tunnels & Trolls

I've never played Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls. But one point jumped out at me while reading the latter part of Peterson's tremendous Playing at the World (p. 515):

... the player decides whether the character will select a career as a warrior, magic-user, or rogue -- St. Andre collapses the Cleric class of Dungeons & Dragons into the magic-user, who learns some healing spells.

And a footnote to that reads:
Broadly, as the rules state, those three types of character are "modeled respectively after Conan, Gandalf and Cugel the Clever."
For a number of years I've made the point that the D&D Cleric class seems like a misfire, something that doesn't fit properly into pulp literature forms, and fails to have any obvious literary or fantasy precedent -- and that my game finally felt "right" once I discarded the class (link). A lot of games nowadays have the fighter/rogue/wizard trinity, and I've wondered what game was the first to do that.

Peterson in Playing at the World asserts that "historians of such games routinely designate Tunnels & Trolls as the second role-playing game" (footnote, p. 518). Recall that this publication came in the summer of 1975, just one year after D&D itself, and only about three months after Sup-I Greyhawk officially added the Thief class in the game. T&T of course sprang directly out of reading D&D -- Andre writes that "I vowed I would create my own version of the game that I could play immediately and that would correct all the other things I thought wrong with D&D" (p. 514) -- and the first edition lacked any defined list of magic-items, monsters, or very many spells, along with depending on knowledge of D&D to fill in many gaps in the rules.

My point is that Tunnels & Trolls seems to stand as the earliest fantasy RPG which made use of the fighter/rogue/wizard trinity (that is: to discard the cleric), that this edit was an explicit fix to the received D&D rules, and that this course-direction seemed obvious to some readers almost before the ink was dry on the publication of the Thief rules for D&D.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Hobbits and Habilitation

Here's about the worst confession I could ever make here. I'll play it out as a historical drama. It was early in 2002, Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring had just come out, and I was interviewing for a job at Turbine for the Dungeons & Dragons Online team. I thought we were having a wonderful get-together, and I was generously invited out to lunch with two of the producers.Then this happened:

Producer: "Have you seen the new Lord of the Rings movie?"

Me: "Oh yes! I loved it. I've actually seen it three times!"

Producer: "But do you think you'd appreciate it as much if you'd never read the books?"

Me: "But that's just it -- I've never read Lord of the Rings."
Is that what scuppered the job offer? Who knows? But here it is 16 years later -- and I've still never read Lord of the Rings.

Let's be honest: D&D junkie that I am/was, a lot of this is due to Gygax-worship. In the aftermath of the cease-and-desist letter from the Tolkien estate, he made a whiplash-inducing change of direction to consistently deny any cross-pollination between D&D and Middle Earth. Even to the point of badmouthing Tolkien's work in print. (E,g., in Dragon #95: "Considered in the light of fantasy action adventure, Tolkien is not dynamic. Gandalf is quite ineffectual, plying a sword at times and casting spells which are quite low-powered (in terms of the D&D game). Obviously, neither he nor his magic had any influence on the games... "). Fanboy that I was, a largely inherited a distaste for Tolkien from reading all that propaganda.

I do think that I've managed to discard the hero-worship at this point (and try to escort others in that direction as necessary), and committed to finally reading those works on my winter break this year. Starting with The Hobbit, which I recently completed. I have some thoughts on that as a decades-long fantasy gamer -- and of course the way I process such things is here on the blog. Of course, you probably already know everything here, but let me organize my thoughts below:

Concerning Hobbits

It seems like we can identify five major traits that Tolkien repeats about Hobbits (see also here):
  • Stealth (hiding & moving silently)
  • Stout and durable (good, or at least equal saves)
  • Deadly ranged attacks (due to eyesight)
  • Excellent eyesight (better than dwarves in dark)
  • Slower than dwarves
The first three -- stealth, saves, and shooting -- are pretty consistently represented in any edition of D&D. Regarding stealth, most of the emphasis is on the Hobbit being able to instantly disappear in undergrowth in the wilderness; but Bilbo is also silent underground (Ch. 12: "So silent was his going that smoke on a gentle wind could hardly have surpassed it, and he was inclined to feel a bit proud of himself as he drew near the lower door."), although we might pin this to skill in the D&D Thief class.

But the last two items do not figure so prominently in D&D. The constant emphasis on Bilbo's amazing vision is probably the top point of highlight in The Hobbit. In Ch. 4, Bilbo is so slow compared to dwarves that it is faster for him to be carried by them like a satchel; yet in Chainmail and classic D&D, halflings are given a much higher standard move rate than dwarves.

Elves & Dwarves

There are several tropes here that are usually mentioned in passing in D&D, and yet I'm somewhat unused to seeing them get played out live. Such as: We usually get a line that elves & dwarves don't trust each other, but I've never seen a game where elves literally imprison dwarves, or in which they march armies against each other (as in The Hobbit). It would seem that the D&D alignment system in which they are both in the Good classification squeezes out that rivalry. Likewise: truly near-sinister elves, and dwarves being greedy to the point of unreason and violence ("There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots...") are themes I should perhaps work into my games more.

Also the refrains of dwarves casting spells to make powerful weapons and armor are of course familiar from mythology, and somewhat at odds with D&D. They have some unique gear in that regard ("Each one of his folk was clad in a hauberk of steel mail that hung to his knees, and his legs were covered with hose of a fine and flexible metal mesh, the secret of whose making was possessed by Dain’s people..."). So too the elven army may possibly have magic weapons throughout ("Their
spears and swords shone in the gloom with a gleam of chill flame, so deadly was the wrath of the hands that held them"); a trait which is fairly evident in early Chainmail, for example, but transitions into a special +1 skill in later editions.

On Geography

There's a motif in which each geographic area seems to have main controlling intelligent race. This is kind of a nice idea, in that it focuses the idea of the area, and presents nice opportunities for roleplaying and political complications (kind of a B2 or D1-3 on steroids; lots of races who can be played off one another). 

Additionally, every region has a distinct flavor and monster population. This is not so evident if we use D&D-style encounter tables keyed only by terrain type. We can consider transitioning to a model where every region has its own encounter table: perhaps just 1-6 options will suffice. We would do well to compare to the D&D underground charts, which in truth represent the Castle Greyhawk population, and other dungeons get custom tables; likewise, the D&D wilderness tables are really the Outdoor Survival-style wilderness locale, and perhaps other lands should get their own custom tables.

Underground tunnels don't fit on 10' scale graph paper; they always go for many miles, bypassing hills and mountains and entire regions above ground (think: Goblin caves, Smaug's mountain, etc.) Perhaps this argues for more D1-style mile-hex underground regions around the campaign world.

On Animals

Consider that every animal species apparently is apt to be intelligent, speak a language, and have some sort of ruling prince. E.g.: Wolves, spiders, eagles, thrushes, crows, bats, etc. Bears and horses appear to obey Beorn, at least. The birds and bats all serve as spies and messengers for different humanoid races. I don't think there's a single "normal" (unreasoning) animal in the entire work.

This is something you can observe in the earliest D&D works: the propensity for any animal to speak and possibly threaten or negotiate with the PCs. In times past I thought this was simply sloppy nigh-oversights by the dungeon designers. Have read The Hobbit, I'm maybe looking in a direction where that really does offer more points for roleplaying activity. (And language acquisition.)

On Dragons

In the earliest printings of Chainmail, Gygax had written this:
We will deal here with the great Red Dragon Draco  Conflagratio, or Draco Horribilis) which is typified in Tolkien's THE HOBBIT... 
So classic D&D dragons represent Smaug, despite how later power inflation might make that seem unreasonable to later players. The main thing that troubles me about that is the scene in Lake-town, where Smaug makes a lengthy attack, and the hosts of men fire arrows by the volley with no effect against him, at least until Bard uses his "Black arrow". (Big money quote: "I am armoured above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me.")

Having crunched copious statistics for Book of War and the Monster Metrics program in the past, one of my primary observations -- and conclusions that surprise other players -- is that D&D dragons with their AC 2 go down real fast to mass missile fire. Like, they're pretty much insta-killed by 30 or 40 normal men archers. Now, in Chainmail, dragons are indeed immune to attacks by any normal men; they can only be hit by special hero-types or monsters -- much like wights, wraiths, elementals, and wizards. Note that the first three in that list are hit only by silver or magic; wizards have the "protection from normal missiles" spells which replicates their defense. But because dragons do not have that in D&D, they are pretty vulnerable to normal men, and not a major threat on the open battlefield. Perhaps that really does cry out for a little edit (noting that later editions do given older dragons a defense in this direction, with the 2E text almost directly quoting the description from The Hobbit).

Friday, January 19, 2018

Races and Rations

Real-world spreads suitable for various RPG races on the go:

Monday, January 15, 2018

Spell Areas on a Grid in the d20 System

In AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition, miniatures rules were optional or even vestigial. Gygax wrote, “I don't usually employ miniatures in my RPG play. We ceased that when we moved from CHAINMAIL Fantasy to D&D” (link).

With D&D 3rd Edition and the d20 System, the new designers worked to make a closer connection with miniature play on a grid (and collection of said miniatures). However, in its first appearance (2000), there were no hard-and-fast rules for such things as measuring distances or placing spell areas on the grid. There is a section in the DMG on “Using Miniatures and Grids” (p. 67-69), but it counsels, “Realize ahead of time that you will have to make ad hoc rulings when applying areas onto the grid.” None of the guidelines there appear in the 3.0 PHB or the Open-Gaming SRD core rules document. (In fact, the text suggestions and illustrations are at many points contradictory.)

These rules became more solidified in the D&D 3.5 Revision, the SRD, and the later Pathfinder game. A first formalization was, “The point of origin of a spell is always a grid intersection.” This was suggested in the 3.0 DMG, but appeared nowhere in the 3.0 PHB or SRD, and was contradicted in the PHB illustration for the meteor swarm spell, for example. A second formalization was, “When measuring distance, the first diagonal counts as 1 square, the second counts as 2 squares, the third counts as 1, the fourth as 2, and so on.” Note that this rule appeared nowhere in the 3.0 text, and the text that does exist subtly contradicts it (see: “majority of a grid square” rule, DMG p. 69; and do the integral calculus).

In the somewhat ambiguous era of 3.0, this author wrote an essay on the different possible interpretations at the time, and put forward three different options to make the system well-defined.  With greater perspective, it is now easier to interpret the 3rd Edition designers’ intent along the lines of the 3.5 rules (which do in fact match the 3.0 DMG spell illustrations, if not the text). While this authors’ graphics for spell templates proved to be quite popular (continuously the top download on the site through 2017!), it seems due time to make them more concise and easier to locate.

Area Accounting

Below is an accounting, for both 3.0 and 3.5, of how many times each of the areas is referenced in the given spell listings. In theory, this highlights which areas would be the most used, necessary, and recommended for having a physical template.

Coloration indicates inclusion in the new document: Green items are included at scale for printing; Yellow included but cannot be at tabletop scale; Red are excluded from the document. Generally, 3.5 reduced variation in its areas: The one-off types in 3.0 (burning hands and meteor swarm) are removed in 3.5. Whereas 3.0 used circles of any radius 5 to 40 feet freely, 3.5 mostly only uses 10, 20, and 40 feet. The variable-range, triangular-style cones in 3.0 were replaced by fixed-range quarter-circle cones in 3.5.

Another important category is not included above: the many conjuration-type spells (such as summon monster) which have a restriction like, “no two of which can be more than 30 ft. apart”. Now, this is not exactly the same as a 30-foot circle, but it’s very close (we can place 3 creatures each 30 feet apart, and require a 35-foot radius circle to enclose them all). There are 44 such spells in 3.0, and 58 such spells in 3.5. So this would suggest that one should have a 30-ft circle on hand for such castings.

Large-Scale Implications

One may note that the implication of the 1-2-1-2 diagonal metric is that for any quarter-circle, the far edge gets shorter by one box for every 2 steps taken – in different directions on each side of the diagonal line itself. This means that in the limit, normalizing for scale, our circles really look like octagons on the grid. Below is an example for a 100-ft radius circle (center and edge only shown) as per this rule. However, this is a larger radius circle than any actually specified in the game, so this behavior will usually not be apparent to players.

Other Options

Disclosure: The d20 System rules provided an enticing mathematical subject of investigation. That said, I haven’t actually played a d20 System game, or use these rules on a grid, in many years. Generally I play classic D&D where miniature usage is relatively rare, and when it does happen, the movement rules are very rough and casual (I may let people count each diagonal as “one”, or else hand out a ruler, depending on mood).

Likewise, for spell-effect areas, I wouldn’t actually use grid templates on paper, as they seem too burdensome, fussy, and difficult to place with miniatures in the way. What I have used in the past are either an ink-pen compass, or a set of brass rings of appropriate sizes, which I found to be much easier to use.

Brass ring

Ink compass


Click the link below to access the document on revised spell areas on a grid for the d20 System.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Insanity Cards Crowd Sale

I'm incredibly fortunate that my good friend Paul Siegel is also one of the finest GM's and game designers that I've ever had the opportunity with whom to game. See here at Paul's Gameblog for some of his writings (which he's massively ramped of late, I might note). He's also the designer of the OED Deck of Spells, compatible with the OED rules Book of Spells (see sidebar).

Now, his latest production in that vein is a work called Insanity Cards. This is a variant add-on to any game that calls out for a Sanity mechanic: I've seen it used in D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Savage Worlds, etc. It's a pretty nifty mechanic: the basic idea is several "suits" of insanities, and as a player stacks more cards on a given suit, they take more aspects of a given type of insanity. This gives players a little bit of agency over exactly when and in what fashion they go insane. But insane they go. This does warm my heart as a pretty good middle ground.

The other thing Paul is testing out is a Crowd-based print run program on The Game Crafter, which he uses for production. The idea is something of a reverse Kickstarter: the product is already completely designed, extensively playtested, and available for purchase. The only remaining variable is: the more people who can commit to the initial print run, the more the price goes down. Sounds like win-win to me; in my own mind, this solves a lot of the conceptual problems and risk around crowdfunding projects. In fact, I'm rather eagerly looking to see how this works, and may release products of my own the same way in the future (whereas I've scrupulously avoided crowdfunding products to date).

Check it out at the link below. Complete rules are in a free document at the bottom of the page. I believe the Crowd Sale program ends this Sunday, Jan-14 (end of day). Consider telling us how you like them in comments below!

Monday, January 8, 2018

On Support and Upkeep

Let's look at some old-school rules regarding PC support and upkeep expenses.

Original D&D

Gygax in Vol-3 says this (p. 24):
Player/Characters must pay Gold Pieces equal to 1% of their experience points for support and upkeep, until such time as they build a stronghold. If the stronghold is in a wilderness area all support and upkeep costs then cease, but if it is in a village or town not controlled by the player/character then support and upkeep payments must continue.
Here we have a fairly simple rule to simulate cost-of-living expenses for the presumably high-living adventurer; including a built-in incentive for one to build a stronghold at the topmost levels. The rate of the expense is not explicated, but we can assume it to be monthly, as it is in both the AD&D DMG and the Dalluhn manuscript (the early draft for OD&D; see the post on the OD&D boards by user aldarron here). One obvious, small gap with this rule: a 1st-level adventurer starts with 0 XP and therefore pays zero upkeep so long as they stay that way.

AD&D 1st Edition

Gygax in the 1E AD&D DMG changes the rule to this instead:
Each player character will automatically expend not less than 100 gold pieces per level of experience per month.  This  is simply support, upkeep, equipment, and entertainment expense. These costs are to be deducted by the Dungeon Master automatically, and any further spending by the PC is to be added to these costs. Such expense  is  justified by the "fact" that adventurers are a  free-wheeling and high-living lot...
The expense calculation is greatly simplified (a linear multiplier by level), and in so doing, enormously reduced in the long run (i.e., after 8th level). The other detail is that the saving from having a stronghold seems to be removed; the passage goes on to establish a 1% stronghold value cost per month, in addition to the preceding cost.

AD&D 2nd Edition

Dave Cook in the 2E AD&D DMG adjusted the rule to give players a choice of living conditions:

Even though this choice is given, as is the idiom for 2E, there are no specific in-game results of this decision; only some vague role-playing suggestions:
"The only direct game effect of living conditions is the expense involved, but living conditions can also determine some role-playing events and conditions in your game. Your player characters' lifestyles even can be used as a starting point for many different types of adventures."

D&D 3rd Edition

The 3E D&D DMG has a "Variant: Upkeep" in a sidebar (p. 142 of my copy), much in the spirit of the 2E rule. Here the options expand to 6 categories, and again, some soft role-playing suggestions attached to each are given, but no hard-and-fast rules. One change is that all of the category expenses are fixed values, including the topmost ones, such that none of them scale by level. The categories in question are: Self-Sufficient (2 gp/month), Meager (5 gp), Poor (12 gp), Common (45 gp), Good (100 gp), Extravagant (200 gp).

Basic D&D

To my knowledge, no version of Basic D&D ever included a rule of this sort. Searching Holmes Basic, Moldvay B/X, Mentzer BECMI, and the Allston Cyclopedia, I was unable to find any reference to "expense", "upkeep", or "support" in this context.


I think it reasonable to have some (simple) rule for simulating mundane cost-of-living expenses to the resting adventurer. I am really not fond of the 2E/3E expression of a choice with no real in-game ramifications. One way of resolving this would be to draft a more full-fledged set of rules with some kind of concrete results from that choice -- like modifiers to abilities, checks, hit points, reaction rolls, different encounter tables, etc. (Somewhat in the vein of the infamous "carousing" rules.) Another path would be to say we're not really that interested in mundane details, and just strike out the whole system in favor of an earlier, simpler, choice-less accounting.

One thing that's interesting to note is that -- once again -- if we convert the OD&D rule to a silver standard, and assume 1 sp = 1 groat (i.e., 1/3 of a shilling), then the results are somewhat surpringly more in line with reality than we first might guess. Check the following table:

Example expenses are taken by looking at the Medieval Sourcebook: Medieval Prices (currently here). They actually track quite well, as around Name level the expense resembles that of a Baron's estate, etc. The 1E DMG rule would not work this well, as its linearity does not reflect the exponential curve seen in a real economy, such as in the Sourcebook above (but nicely modeled by the OD&D XP charts, fortunately).

So for my OED campaign I expect to use exactly the OD&D rule, as shown here. This removes any choice from the player and abstracts out the expenses to something we don't have to role-play around every month (indeed, it presumes our adventurers are a hard-drinking, hard-experimenting, and/or hard-tithing lot, with more rooms and servants as time goes by). It's reasonable to set a minimum 10 silver/month expense to fill in the gap for low-XP PCs (economically we could defensibly set this at 20 sp/month, but I think the round number is easier to remember and distinguishes from the 2nd level tier). I've also got a rough rule that if the PCs refuse or cannot pay this cost, then a −1 modifier to all ability scores is taken (but I'm open to some more refined, if equivalently simple rule on this score).

Monday, January 1, 2018

Halfling Weapons Through the Ages

Here's a "small" issue that gives me fits any time I try to analyze it. Halfling preferred weapons varied wildly across different editions of D&D. Let's look at that. (Also: Happy birthday to J.R.R. Tolkien, who was born on Jan-3.)


Nonetheless, ease and peace had left this people still curiously tough. They were, if it came to it, difficult to daunt or to kill; and they were, perhaps, so unwearyingly fond of good things not least because they could, when put to it, do without them, and could survive rough handling by grief, foe, or weather in a way that astonished those who did not know them well and looked no further than their bellies and their well-fed faces. Though slow to quarrel, and for sport killing nothing that lived, they were doughty at bay, and at need could still handle arms. They shot well with the bow, for they were keen-eyed and sure at the mark. Not only with bows and arrows. If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover, as all trespassing beasts knew very well.
This is the key paragraph on Hobbit martial prowess from the Prologue to the Lord of the Rings ("Concerning Hobbits", 18th paragraph). Interestingly, what takes priority here is first and foremost the bow (and only secondarily stone-throwing). And this is underscored elsewhere, too: the only assertion of historical Hobbit military action outside the Shire emphasizes the same thing (3 paragraphs prior): "To the last battle at Fornost with the Witch-lord of Angmar they sent some bowmen to the aid of the king, or so they maintained, though no tales of Men record it."

In the Lord of the Rings, we see Hobbit archers in action only at the very end. Perhaps more memorable for most readers is the major combat in Chapter 8 of The Hobbit, in which Bilbo, alone and invisible, holds off at least 50 giant spiders by throwing stones at them (one-shot killing at least the first two he targets). Tolkien writes:
Bilbo was a pretty fair shot with a stone, and it did not take him long to find a nice smooth egg-shaped one that fitted his hand cosily. As a boy he used to practise throwing stones at things, until rabbits and squirrels, and even birds, got out of his way as quick as lightning if they saw him stoop; and even grownup he had still spent a deal of his time at quoits, dart-throwing, shooting at the wand, bowls, ninepins and other quiet games of the aiming and throwing sort—indeed he could do lots of things...
So we can forgive most readers if foremost in their minds are the scenes of Hobbit stone-throwing, instead of archery. If you search online, you'll find quite a bit of confusion and debate as to the source, context, and meaning of these passages (e.g., here and here). But if we read carefully in each case, Tolkien indicates that stone-throwing is but one instance of a broad family of similar skills. In the Prologue to Lord of the Rings, it is clear this is due to their being "keen-eyed and sure at the mark". Likewise in The Hobbit it is emphasized at many points that Bilbo has significantly better eyesight than any of the dwarves, e.g., even in the darkness of the Mirkwood ("for by now they knew Bilbo had the sharpest eyes among them", Ch. 8).

We might think that the halflings should therefore get some bonus to finding secret doors or traps or somesuch, but they do not in any edition of D&D; in contrast to elves with their secret-door detection, and dwarves with their stonework traps detection, etc.

Chainmail Fantasy

They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two halflings firing count three on the Missile Fire table.
Unfortunately, in Chainmail (hobbits/halflings being the very first entry in the list of fantasy creatures), the weapon being described is ambiguous: "fire a stone". This is might be throwing (although "fire" is a slightly unusual verb for that; Tolkien does not use it). Or it could be slings (but there is no reference, statistics, or fire rate given for slings anywhere else in Chainmail). Or it could possibly be crossbows (some crossbows fired stones instead of quarrels). It seems like the only thing it couldn't be is the self-bows highlighted by Tolkien. The three-for-two attack rule means that halflings get a boost on the normally mass-attack Missile Fire table, with any group likely scoring an extra hit as a result.

Original D&D

In Vol-1 (Men & Magic) we see this:
... they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL.
This shares the ambiguity of Chainmail itself. Is this meant to be throwing, slinging, and/or crossbows, as it might be in Chainmail? Could it be a blanket bonus to all things that count as "missiles"? Furthermore, handling the numerical bonus gets murkier as we shift from mass combat to man-to-man. (This was written, presumably, shortly before the "Alternative" combat system using d20's.)

On that point, after Sup-I (Greyhawk), we get a Corrections sheet that says this:
Hobbits:  All hobbits add +3 to hit probabilities when using the sling.
Now we have the first clear specification, giving the preference to slings (and only to slings). The bonus of +3 is both odd and surprisingly hefty (equivalent to the melee attack bonus from 18/75 Strength in these same rules, say). But consider this: Against an opponent in chain mail (AC 5, e.g., most humanoid types), a 1st-level fighter hits on a 14 or more (that is, 7 in 20, or 35%). The chance to get at least one hit from n such attacks is given by P(n) = 1 − (1 − 0.35)^n. For 2 attacks we have P(2) = 0.58, whereas for 3 attacks we have P(3) = 0.73. The difference between these chances is 0.15 = 15%, or precisely 3 pips out of 20; so the +3 attack bonus is a reasonable translation of the advantage given in Chainmail.

AD&D 1st Edition

We will see that across AD&D, different books in the same edition always expressed contradictory ideas about the halfling attack bonus. (Perhaps as one was updated and the other lagged one edition behind?) In the 1E PHB, we see no reference whatsoever to any attack bonus in the section on Halflings (9 across paragraphs on p. 17). But the 1E MM says this in the monster entry for Halflings:
SPECIAL ATTACKS: +3 with bow or sling
This is in the statistical summary block (p. 50), with no further explanation in the text. This seems to be a retention of the +3 bonus from the Greyhawk correction, expanded by Gygax to be more in line with Tolkien's original depiction. The illustration of halflings in this book features one in action with a bow (see top of this article); their weapon frequency table shows 20% with short bows, and 20% with slings. However: we will see that this is effectively the one and only time that a D&D editor thought to call out halfling specialization with the bow. (Side note: at this time Thieves cannot use bows, but in the later Unearthed Arcana they will be given permission to use short bows.)

AD&D 2nd Edition

The 2E PHB says this:
Halflings have a natural talent with slings and thrown weapons. Rock pitching is a favorite sport of many a halfling child. All halflings gain a +1 bonus to their attack rolls when using thrown weapons and slings.
Notice that the preference here is different from the 1E MM, shifting from slings/bows to slings/thrown (emphasizing the final line from Tolkien about stones, and overlooking his thoughts on archery). The bonus is dropped from the hefty +3 to a measly +1 (but see also the B/X rules, which the author Dave Cook worked on previously -- this may be from whence his numerical sensibility for the issue comes from). On the other hand, the 2E MM still says this:
They are very skilled with both the sling and the bow (receiving a +3 bonus on all attack rolls) and use these weapons to great advantage in battle.
Note that the weapons and bonus value both contradict the 2E PHB, but are still in line with the 1E MM (likely a copy-paste mistake from that prior edition).

D&D 3rd Edition

3rd Edition can be credited with somewhat better organization, finally synchronizing the rule between PHB and MM. The 3E PHB says this, and the MM agrees:
+1 racial attack bonus with a thrown weapon: Throwing stones is a universal sport among halflings, and they develop especially good aim.
This is different from the 2E PHB rule, and is the most restrictive version seen in any edition (thrown only, no slings or bows). It's also the most likely interpretation to come from someone who primarily remembers the combat between Bilbo and the Spiders in The Hobbit, say.

D&D 3.5 Edition

From the 3.5 PHB and MM:
+1 racial bonus on attack rolls with thrown weapons and slings.
This backs off the hyper-restrictive rule in 3E, and returns the skill with the sling (so: exactly matches the rule from the 2E PHB).

Basic D&D

Here we check in with the Basic D&D line, which branches off temporally after OD&D, but has its own distinct rule. Holmes Basic says this (p. 7):
Halflings are extremely accurate with missiles and fire any missile at +1.
According to Zenopus Archives, this bonus is exactly what Holmes put in his original manuscript (before an editing pass by Gygax; link), which is totally different from any other ruleset. Compared to the prior OD&D Greyhawk, it seems to massively expand the preferred weapons (from only slings to all missiles), while severely reducing the bonus (from +3 to +1).

What was the motivation for this? Well, let's imagine for a moment that Holmes was looking only at OD&D Vol-1, and didn't have the Greyhawk Correction sheet in sight when he wrote this rule. As we saw above, Vol-1 fails to explicate either the exact weapons or bonus applicable for the present ruleset ("they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL"); even if you looked back in Chainmail the weapons are ambiguous, and the bonus is totally not in terms of the present ruleset. So you might very well interpret "missiles" as "all missiles", and some kind of undefined bonus as +1, in all probability. But perhaps more importantly: if you have expert familiarity with the writings of Tolkien, re: Hobbits being "keen-eyed and sure at the mark" with bows and other weapons, then this might be the most faithful expression of that conceit.

This "any missile at +1" was kept unchanged through all later editions of Basic D&D: it is the same in Moldvay-Cook B/X, Mentzer BXCMI, the Allston Cyclopedia, etc.


Below is a table summarizing the always-changing status of the halfling attack bonus across different editions of D&D:

I also asked the question as a poll on the Facebook 1E AD&D group. Interestingly and unusually, the 1E rule (neither of them) did not come out on top, with a strong preference for the 2E/3.5-style rule highlighting slings and thrown items:

Recall once more that Tolkien himself emphasized use of bows, and secondarily thrown items. In the history of D&D, this latter item seemed to get the focus of attention: an ambiguous rule in Chainmail/Vol-1, with the Sup-I correction translating it to slings, around which the rule orbited from then on (and reflected in the poll results above). Yet amusingly, in some sense the sling was the only missile weapon that Tolkien didn't call out by name as favorable for Hobbits.

At this point in my OED house rules I have the benefit to halflings listed as +2 to all missile attacks (the least-popular option in the poll above, but one). It would seem that if we want to be in any way faithful to Tolkien, we must give the bonus to at least bows and thrown weapons; and then the most concise rule is to just wrap in slings on the side and make it "all missiles". Moreover, if Tolkien attributes this to being "keen-eyed and sure at the mark", then by all rights it should benefit all types of ranged attacks. The value I set at +2 as the mean between the +1 and +3 bonuses seen in various editions above (also: I have a rule-of-thumb that I don't want to deal with any situational modifiers less than +2). However: I've juggled that benefit around in OED I-don't-know-how-many-times, so based on that, it might get adjusted again in the future.

What is your preference for the Halfling attack bonus, in terms of both numerical value and preferred weapon(s)?