TotalCon 2019 Shots

Last weekend I attended TotalCon in Marlborough, MA for the first time and it was pretty nifty! Didn't run anything (this time), but played in lots of different games. I'd broadly guess that this will become a regular thing. Thanks greatly to Paul S. for convincing me to make the trip. Here's a few snapshots of the events -- and check out the Wandering DMs YouTube Channel for live video recaps we did of these and other events at the convention all weekend.


Gracious gentleman after a decisive victory at the OGRE table

And now we're fighting the Ogre in the Caves of Chaos with my (gasp: actual roll at table) 18 Strength fighter!

Mike Curtis' setup for an experimental DCC pulp-Mars game with a nifty screen made from an album cover he picked up cheap on EBay.

20-person Marvel & Transformers game vs...

... combined Galactus & Unicron! Jumping Jehoshaphat!

2019 Car Wars Northeast Regional Championship

Boss Fight for Breakfast, in which I played Flame, an ancient, huge, spell-using, evil-genius red dragon (see Dungeon Magazine #1, "Into the Fire") vs. 9 high-level PCs. I managed to hit them with multiple illusions, hidden spiked pits and portcullis, paralysis magic, 176 hit points of fire damage, etc. Missed it by thaaat much.


Cleric Spells Refined

Another follow-up to the Wandering DMs Clerics discussion -- and another kind sharing of spell spreadsheet analysis from a commenter here.

Of course, I'm semi-infamous for not using clerics in my D&D games, and neither does co-Wandering DM Paul; they don't appear in our OED house rules, and the concise OED Book of Spells and Deck of Spells cover only wizard magic. But maybe you've heard: some other people actually do allow Clerical PCs! I'll let you clean up your spit-taked coffee now.

In a spirit of generosity, commenter William Heilman (often commonly posts as baquies) put together a concise listing of OD&D clerical spells, broadly following the stripped-down style of the OED Book of Spells, and put it in a convenient format. With his permission I've shared it on our site here. Blessings upon you all.


Wandering DMs at TotalCon

This weekend (Thursday Feb-21 to Sunday Feb-24), the Wandering DMs -- that is, my friend good Paul and myself -- will be attending the TotalCon event in Marlborough, Massachusetts. This is Paul's "home" convention, whereas I've never been to it myself. Looking forward to it, should be a good time.

Along the way, Paul and I are planning to livestream some "confessionals" in-between events to catch our impressions, takeaways, and lessons while they're still fresh. We'll be trying to make broadcast around our regularly-scheduled 1 PM Sunday time as a wrap-up for the whole convention. So remember to check in a few times this weekend and see what we're up to -- and if you're at TotalCon, please drop by and say hi! You might wind up as one of the first guests on Wandering DMs. (Do we do that? I don't know, we may surprise you.)

While waiting for that, look for the "Dan in Peru" video from last weekend: "How to get a D&D Castle for Half Price". See you soon!


Ozymandias' AD&D Spell Compendium

About 2 years ago [link] I presented an index to the AD&D Wizard Spell Compendium. That's in regards to the four-volume set published by TSR 1996-1998, compiled by Mark Middleton, that reputedly collects all the spells ever published for AD&D throughout the 1E and 2E periods. My work built on that of James Rizza, who seems to be the first to present a database listing of the spells. What I did was to de-duplicate all the spells into normal database form (James made a copy for each possible school of wizardry, etc.), clean up descriptions and typos, add rarities specified for generalist wizards, etc. -- which allowed us to look at some descriptive statistics for the overall work.

Now Ozymandias of the Crossing the 'Verse blog has kindly shared with us a version that builds on our last version; he's been diligently working these intervening years to make it. Where mine had 15 columns of information, his now has: 139 columns. He's added multiple specific fields for different details of each spell's damage specifications, area of effect, what appears to be a tag for all of the different 28 schools of effect and 21 special origins given in the book, and multiple sheets worth of analysis, tables, and charts. Wow! You can get it at his public Google drive here, and read his analysis on his blog here. (Also other good stuff there, like a recent reflection on redesigning the polymorph spell.)

A few broad comments:
  • Ozymandias has down some mild massaging of certain descriptions (areas, etc.) for his house-ruled campaign. I understand why he would do that.
  • He notes being a bit frustrated that this work, in a sufficiently precise form, hasn't been available before. I share that, too. (Anecdote: Circa 2000 I was working at a company pitching a prototype for online Magic: The Gathering. We were struggling to make all the long spell names fit legibly on the digital cards. Ultimately we found that the winning company had entirely punted on the issue, and just let names run right off the edge of the cards, which we would never have considered acceptable. Oh, well.) 
  • He points out that, while providing a large part of his initial motivation, a relatively small proportion of spells in the system actually deal direct points of damage (15%). I've made the point before that in Original D&D, damage-dealing spells are a distinct rarity: there are only 4 such spells in the whole work!
  • Likewise, he also notes being a bit weirded out by what a tiny number of spells use the "reversible" mechanic (4%), and in the opposite direction, how almost no spells fail to have a verbal component (3%), etc., and so wonders if those are really useful mechanics to maintain in the game. This is definitely one of the wonderfully freeing things I find about OD&D, in that in the initial core conception, none of these were part of the system, and we can ignore them. (OD&D actually had all of two spells noted in the text with some reversible capacity -- oddly transmute rock to mud and stone to flesh -- and I simply ignore those reversed options in my game for simplicity.)
  • Also interesting: The most commonly used spell damage die is the d4! I guess I've been playing my OD&D game with everything as d6's so long I've forgotten about that. But: Ugh, d4, awkward. 
 Thanks to Ozymandias for the excellent work and analysis, and sharing this all with us!


Book of War: Battle of Emridy Meadows

Fellow grognard gizmomathboy dropped me a line a few weeks ago to share his play session with our Book of War mass-combat ruleset -- and it's a doozy! The climax of his campaign set in Greyhawk, the big beat-down with the Temple of Elemental, the legendary Battle of Emridy Meadows. With Thrommel IV of Furyondy and Jolene of Veluna on one side, versus a giant mob of horrible monsters and evil high priests on the other. Here's a few photos from his custom battlemap and game pieces:

Want more? Check this stuff out:
Thanks immensely to gizmomathboy for sharing that -- a tremendous game set up!


Wandering DMs: Dan in Peru

I started a new series on the Wandering DMs YouTube channel this week; specifically, yours truly wandering about parts of Peru (some old, some very old) and making various DM rulings on what I find. This week's question: Are doors in by-the-book D&D reasonable, or totally crazy?

Our plan is to have a new one of these up alternate Sunday afternoons (dates when we don't have a livecast conversation), so if you're informed and/or/xor entertained by that, please do subscribe over on YouTube, so I can get in your face like that promptly.


On Throwing Spears

One of the things I've written more commonly about here is the mathematics of ballistics and ranged combat. [Here are two of the most significant ones: link1, link2. Do a search, and you'll find a lot more.]

Then, in my last update to the OED house rules [link], one of the edits I made was to change the penalty for range from a short/medium/long categorization to a flat −1 per 10 feet shot. The model that I was using previously followed the standard D&D three-step range categorization, but altered the modifiers in question, based on UK long-distance clout shooting tournaments and a computer-simulated model (per links above, and simulator software on GitHub). But in practice (based on my regular campaign game this year) that seemed very weird. While the real-world-accurate model seems like it should be quadratic, what I realized was that a linear approximation is "good enough" in the close ranges where it matters. If the penalty at 480 feet turns out to be −48 when it should really be −32, that is, of course, entirely academic and won't make any practical difference in-game.

Example: Recently my PCs were traveling up a mountainous stairway ridge while under fire from a group of goblins. The PCs were crawling on the stairs to minimize their chance of being knocked off, while attempting to return fire. But the PCs could crawl for a few rounds with no change to their shot chances, and then suddenly in a certain round, the threshold to the next category would be reached, and the penalty suddenly collapsed. The players were somewhat nonplussed by this, and I think reasonably so. Hence the new rule which is both brain-dead simple to compute mentally and makes for a smooth, continuous gradation as opponents close with each other.

In summary: As of my most recent house rules edit, based on both real-world research and in-game testing, we have: −1/10 feet distance to ranged shots. Also I specify a 60 feet maximum range to thrown weapons. (Note that splits the difference between the 3" range in Chainmail [30 yards] and the 3" seen in D&D [ostensibly 30 feet].)

Since I posted that, most enticingly, an new academic paper of interest has been published: Milks, Annemieke, David Parker, and Matt Pope. "External ballistics of Pleistocene hand-thrown spears: experimental performance data and implications for human evolution." Scientific Reports 9.1 (2019): 820 [link]. The background starts with some academic debate about the distance at which primitive spear throwing cultures could hunt prey: Many argue only 5-10 meters? Perhaps 15-20 meters? Some reports assert 50 meters?

What the authors do here is put the issue to a field test. First, they made replicas of 300,000 year-old wooden spears, presumably used by Neanderthals, as found at the Schöningen archaeological site (as shown to right). Then they found a half-dozen trained javelin athletes, set up hay-bale targets at various distances in a field, and had them throw a total of 120 shots (e.g., see picture at top). These shots were captured with high-speed cameras from which they could procure data on accuracy, speed, kinetic energy on impact, etc. From this it seems clear that the impacts could kill prey on a hit.

For my purposes, I'm mostly interested in the hit success rate. Here's the chart presented by the authors, followed by my recreation and regression on it. 

Conclusions: For this data, we see that a linear regression on the chance to score a hit is indeed a pretty good model (it accounts for R² = 86% of any variation). Moreover, the chance to hit drops about 0.76% per foot, that is, 7.6% per 10 feet. That's close enough to 5%, i.e., −1 in 20 per 10 feet, for game purposes, I think -- our current OED rule. And the maximum distance at which any hits were scored is 20 meters, that is, basically 60 feet, also the same as the OED rule. That's gratifying. (The author's main conclusion is that the academic consensus for useful hunting range should be revised upward to at least 15-20 meters distance.)

A few side points: Note that the 60 feet maximum to score a hit on bale-sized target is very different from the maximum distance throwable with the spear. The researchers also had the participants take a few throws purely for maximum distance, and these ranged from 20 meters to a bit over 30 meters (i.e., over 90 feet). Compare this to the base D&D system which fails to distinguish between the maximum bowshot and the maximum hittable bowshot, say. Interestingly: The more experienced throwers (in years) could throw longer distances, something we don't model in D&D.

Another point in that vein is that the hit rates are fairly low. In D&D, granted 4th-level fighters, an unarmored AC 9 target, and say +6 for being motionless/helpless as well, with −1 for 15 feet distance, I would expect to make a roll of d20 + 4 + 9 + 6 − 1 = d20 + 18, i.e., 95% chance to hit (compared to 58% at the first distance in the experiment). But the experiment run by the authors hobbles the throwers in at least two ways. One: "The participants in this study [were] trained in throwing but not in aiming for a target", which reflects standard javelin-throwing competitions today. So perhaps we should lower the equated fighter level in this regard. Two: Hay bales flat on the ground make for a very short target: around 1½ feet, only one-quarter the height of a man or horse, say? (As noted in my own long-distance archery field experiment with older equipment, it's easy to get shots laterally on target; the difficulty is getting the long-short distance correct; link.) The researchers here took a few experimental shots at 10 meters with two hay bales stacked on top of each other, and the hit rate immediately jumped from 17% to 33% (i.e., doubled). So perhaps our D&D model should also include a penalty for the short target. I'll leave crunching those numbers as an exercise for the reader (they work out reasonably well).

It's always super neat to see people putting historical speculations to practical tests -- especially this one, based on a 300,000 year-old find. Major thanks to Milks, Parker, and Pope for thinking this one up!


Clerical Commentary

The second-to-previous Wandering DMs livecast on YouTube (with yours truly and Paul S.) was a discussion of the D&D Cleric class and why we both have abandoned it in our standard D&D games (per OED).

In particular, our friend BJ Johnson was inspired to send us a fairly elaborate -- and in places challenging -- commentary riffing on what we said regarding clerics, healing, and the Christian roots of the class in D&D. At our urging he's posted that interesting essay on his own blog and it's started a further discussion over there -- you should go read it at Saturday Night Sandbox.

And for more like that: Do consider subscribing to the channel on YouTube and tuning in alternate Sundays at 1 PM EST so you can inject your thoughts while the talk's happening live!