Friday, November 27, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 10

Humans: Not much to say here.  Humans are the baseline, they get no special abilities or penalties, and they have unlimited advancement in every character class.  I kind if like that Gary only gives them about a paragraph, because who needs to waste space on humans?  We all know what they're like.

The section on races finishes up with the Racial Preferences Table, which details in general terms how the various races feel about each other.  This is fundamental world-building stuff for AD&D, so let's take a closer look.

Dwarves: Prefer interacting with other dwarves; have a good relationship with gnomes, as well as stout and tallfellow halflings; are neutral towards humans, hairfoot halflings and half-elves; dislike elves; and hate half-orcs.

Elves: Prefer interacting with other elves; have a good relationship with half-elves; tolerate gnomes and halflings; are neutral towards humans; dislike dwarves and half-orcs

Gnomes: Prefer interacting with other gnomes; have good relationships with dwarves and halflings; tolerate elves and half-elves; are neutral towards humans; and hate half-orcs.

Half-Elves: Prefer interacting with elves and half-elves; tolerate humans and gnomes; are neutral towards dwarves and halflings; and dislike half-orcs.

Halflings, Hairfoot: Prefer interacting with other halflings; tolerate dwarves, elves and gnomes; and are neutral towards humans, half-elves and half-orcs.

Halflings, Stout: Prefer interacting with other halflings; have good relationships with dwarves; tolerate elves and gnomes; and are neutral towards humans, half-elves and half-orcs.

Halflings, Tallfellow: Prefer interacting with other halflings; have good relationships with elves; tolerate dwarves and gnomes; and are neutral towards humans, half-elves and half-orcs

Half-Orcs: Prefer interacting with other half-orcs; tolerate humans; are neutral towards halflings; dislike elves and half-elves; and hate dwarves and gnomes.

Humans: Prefer interacting with other humans; tolerate half-elves; and are neutral towards dwarves, gnomes, halflings, elves and half-orcs.

This is all fairly standard fantasy stuff: dwarves and elves at odds, nobody likes half-orcs, etc.  Most of it stems from Tolkien, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you're laying down a baseline for how D&D worlds work, there are worse places to start than the most well-known work of modern fantasy.

The section ends with an illustration showing some of the races, which is handy for size comparison purposes.  But where are the gnome and halflings?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 9

Half-Elves: Half-elves made their debut as a playable race in Supplement I: Greyhawk, but they might as well be a new race as presented here (at least mechanically).  The major advantage of being a half-elf is their extreme flexibility when it comes to class: they can be clerics, druids, fighters, rangers, magic-users, thieves, or assassins, as well as having the ability to combine a whole bunch of those via multi-classing.  The OD&D half-elf, by contrast, were fighter/magic-users, and that was that.  It's interesting to note that multi-class clerics aren't restricted to the use of blunt weapons - is it possible that the clerical weapon restrictions aren't based on belief and religion?  No other explanation seems plausible, unless we give half-elves a special exemption for some reason.

Half-elves get a bunch of elf abilities: their infravision and ability to spot concealed and secret doors are just as effective,  but their resistance to sleep and charm is only 30%.  They get the same list of languages that elves do as well.

Halflings: Once again, players are referred to the Monster Manual for complete details of Halflings: in this case it's almost necessary, because the three sub-races (hairfoot, tallfellow and stout) aren't really described in the PHB at all.  To recap: hairfoots are your baseline halflings, tallfellows are a bit bigger and are friendly with elves, and stouts live underground.

Halflings can be fighters, thieves or fighter/thieves.  Taking a look at Supplement I: Greyhawk, it seems to me that this is the first time that halflings are permitted to multi-class.

Halflings get the same resistance to magic and poisons as dwarves and gnomes.  It's not mentioned here whether their resistance to magic is due to their being "non-magical", but it's possible, as they're not able to take any spellcasting class.

They can speak the languages of dwarves, elves, gnomes, goblins, halflings and orcs.  In OD&D they had no base languages listed.  The list matches that in the Monster Manual, except that only tallfellows could speak elvish, and only stouts could speak dwarvish.

Stout halflings have infravision, and can also detect sloping passages when underground.  There is mention of halflings with mixed blood, and they get infravision to a lesser extent.  To be honest, I don't know why you would ever play a hairfoot or a tallfellow: they get no advantages whatsoever.

Halflings get a stealth ability similar to that of elves: their ability to gain surprise is increased when they are alone and not wearing metallic armour.

One thing that halflings have lost from previous editions is their bonus when using missile weapons.  I guess you could say that it's been preserved in their +1 Dexterity bonus, but there's no guarantee that a halfling's Dex score will be high enough to affect attack rolls at all.

Half-Orcs: We learn here that orcs are "fecund", meaning that they have a lot of offspring, and are able to crossbreed with a number of different races.  Most of these offspring will be indistinguishable from orcs, but about 10% of orc-human offspring will be closer to human stock, and they're the race detailed here as half-orcs.

Half-Orcs can play as clerics, fighters, thieves, assassins, or a multi-class combination.  The option of a cleric/assassin is a tantalising one, I must say.  Half-orc clerics can also ignore blunt weapon restrictions, which is more evidence that this isn't a strictly religious rule.  I can't come up with a good explanation right now, but I'll think about it.

Half-orcs can speak common and orcish, and they have infravision.  They don't get a lot of special abilities.  The real advantage of playing a half-orc is that they get a +1 bonus to both Strength and Constitution.  Alas, they can't get a Strength of 19, but it's still a super combo for Fighters.  Their penalty to Charisma doesn't apply to other half-orcs.  (Though it does seemingly apply to orcs, which makes sense from a bigoted perspective.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 8

Elves: The section on elves begins with a note that all PC are considered to be high elves, the most common sort.  The varieties listed in the Monster Manual include aquatic elves, drow, gray elves, and wood elves.  All of those will become playable races soon enough, but mercifully we are spared for the moment.

Elves can become fighters, thieves, magic-users, or assassins.  They can also multiclass, with the following combinations being legal: fighter/magic-user, fighter/thief, magic-user/thief and fighter/magic-user/thief.  This is a big change from the way elves functioned in OD&D, where they were fighter/magic-users, fighter/magic-user/thieves, or thieves.  The bizarre way that multiclass elves functioned in OD&D has also been jettisoned; now that system has been properly ironed out, and elves do it just like everyone else.

I didn't note this when I was going through the Monster Manual - and I could very well be incorrect - but as far as I can tell the elvish resistance to sleep and charm spells was introduced in the MM (and appears here unchanged).

The bonus when fighting with bows and swords is not new; it was introduced in Supplement I - Greyhawk.  It's clarified here that the bonus doesn't apply to crossbows, and for swords it only applies to short and long swords.  They also retain their ability to see in the dark with infravision, to a distance of 60'.

Elves all speak common, elvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, orcish, and gnoll.  Gnome, halfling and goblin weren't on this list on OD&D.  Adding goblin makes sense, as I generally assume that goblins and hobgoblins are closely related.  As for gnome and halfling, I can say that elves are becoming less insular, and opening the lines of trade and diplomacy with their neighbours.

The elvish ability to sense secret doors has been nerfed somewhat.  In OD&D they had a 2-in-6 chance of noticing any secret door they pass close by, and a 4-in-6 chance of locating one if actively searching.  In AD&D, a differentiation has been made between secret doors and concealed doors.  The elvish chance to automatically notice these now only applies to concealed doors, and has been halved to 1-in-6.  If actively searching, they'll find a secret door 2-in-6 times, and a concealed door 4-in-6 times.

Elves get a +1 to Dexterity and a -1 to Constitution.  (Am I correct in thinking that these racial modifiers to ability scores are new in AD&D?  My notes are becoming a little unwieldy, so it's getting harder to tell, but I'm quite sure I'm correct.)

Elves who are alone and unarmored get a bonus to surprise.  This ability was introduced in the Monster Manual, but there it only applied to wilderness areas such as forests and meadows.  That limitation doesn't apply here, as opening doors is specifically mentioned as something that negates this surprise bonus.

Gnomes: This is the first appearance of gnomes as a PC race.  They can choose to play as fighters, thieves, illusionists, assassins, and can also multiclass.  Multiclass characters are said to be able to wear leather armour while using their non-fighter abilities, which brings up the possibility of gnomes spellcasting in armour.

Gnomes get the same magic resistance as dwarves, based on their consitution score.  The source of this ability isn't stated here, but it seems unlikely that they're inherently non-magical like dwarves; they can play as illusionists, after all.

(Checking the Monster Manual, I see that the gnomes there get the save bonus vs. poison as well, just like dwarves.  That's not mentioned in the PHB.)

Gnomes can speak the following languages: common, dwarvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, and kobold.  Like most other PC races, it's their closest allies and their most hated enemies.  They can also communicate with burrowing mammals such as moles, badgers and ground squirrels.  they have the same limitation as dwarves, and can't learn more than two additional languages.

Also like dwarves, gnomes have 60' infravision, and they can detect certain things when underground: sloping passages, unsafe areas, depth and direction of travel.  Where these abilities overlap with dwarves', the gnomes are slightly better.

Again like dwarves (sense a pattern?) gnomes get an attack bonus against certain enemies, and are harder to hit when attacked by others.  Their attack bonus applies to kobolds and goblins.  Their defensive bonus applies to the same monsters as dwarves', as well as gnolls and bugbears.  I guess being a little smaller has its advantages.

Gnomes suffer a bit from being too similar to dwarves, I feel.  Their ability to speak with mammals, and the choice of illusionist as a class, is really the only thing that sets them apart.  I wasn't at all surprised to see them get cut out of 4th edition, to be honest.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 7

Dwarves: The entry for dwarves here is mostly just a reiteration of things we have already learned from previous books.  Indeed, the race is barely described, and players are directed to the Monster Manual for more information.  It's noted that players can use both hill dwarves and mountain dwarves,  The differences between the two are negligible: mountain dwarves are a little taller, their skin is lighter, and in the MM they have 1+1 Hit Dice, compared to 1 for hill dwarves.  As for PC mountain dwarves no mention is made of that extra hit point, and I'd be inclined to ignore it.

As I understand the rules in OD&D, dwarves could only fighters or fighter/thieves (with clerics and fighter/clerics mentioned as NPCs).  In AD&D they have a bit more freedom, as they can now play as fighters, thieves, fighter/thieves, or assassins.

The dwarven resistance to magic is still here, though interestingly it's described as an inherent part of their nature, rather than a cultural aversion.  So it's not just that they don't want to be magic-users, it's that there's something in their physical makeup that means they can't be magic-users.  In OD&D, this resistance was implemented by treating the dwarf as if he were four levels higher in regards to saving throws vs. magic.  In Holmes Basic, it's done by giving dwarves their own line on the saving throw table.  Here in AD&D, it's a function of the dwarf's Constitution score, with the character gaining a +1 bonus to relevant saves for every 3.5 points of Con.

Dwarves gain a similar resistance to poisons, though curiously it only applies to "toxic substances ingested or injected".  I wonder if this excludes poisons that are inhaled?  The definition of ingested could be considered wide enough to cover poison gas, but there is a point of ambiguity there.

The languages known by dwarves are given as dwarven, gnome, goblin, kobold, orcish and common.  Previously (in OD&D) they were unable to speak orcish.  It's noted that they can't learn more than two extra languages, regardless of their Intelligence scores.  It's a bit of an arbitrary restriction, but I suppose it's due to their often insular society.

Their abilities in regards to stonework are pretty much the same as they were in OD&D, but they've been codified in game terms.  Also, their chances of success are much greater: in the Basic Set these abilities succeeded about a third of the time; in AD&D the chance of success ranges from 50 to 75%.  The ability to determine depth underground is new to AD&D, as far as I can tell.

Dwarves now get +1 to hit against half-orcs, goblins, hobgoblins and orcs.  Previously (as per the errata from Supplement I: Greyhawk), this was applied to creatures of the "Giant Class", which was always an ambiguous rule.  I tend to play it as applying to all creatures listed under "Giant Types" in the Wandering Monster Tables, which includes all of the above plus kobolds, gnolls, ogres, trolls, giants, gnomes, dwarves, elves and ents.  If you use the tables from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry the list becomes even larger (though it does include leprechauns, which amuses me for some reason).  So yeah, in AD&D this rule has been scaled back significantly.  It's probably for the best.

Ogres, trolls, ogre magi, giants and titans all now subtract 4 from their attack rolls against dwarves.  In OD&D this was done by having these creatures halve their damage, but the intent of the rule was the same.

(I've checked the Monster Manual, and it's all fairly consistent with what's presented in the PHB.  The only major difference is that the dwarven resistances are treated in the MM as they were in OD&D, by saving as if the dwarf were 4 levels above their actual level.  It makes sense, as it's unusual for monsters and NPCs to have their ability scores rolled.)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 6

Apologies to everyone for the several week hiatus in posting.  I've been trying to avoid lengthy delays like this, but such are the vagaries of life, family and sleep deprivation.  Let's crack on shall we?

Charisma: Let's go to the source for the definition of this stat.  Gary describes it as the character's combination of "physical attractiveness, persuasiveness, and personal magnetism".  In short, it's how good a character is at leading and interacting with others.  It's stated outright that a character doesn't have to be beautiful to have a high charisma, he or she just has to compensate with high ratings in the other areas that affect the stat.

As always, I'm intrigued by the class restrictions that are enforced by having a low score.  For charisma, any character with a score under 5 can only be an assassin.  It seems like such an arbitrary restriction, and I can't really make sense of it.  Perhaps the answer lies in the necessity of an assassin going unnoticed, and being somewhat nondescript, but that could equally apply to a thief.  It's an odd one.

I notice that a dwarf can only have a maximum charisma score of 17, at least in regards to non-dwarves.  They can have an 18 when interacting with other dwarves, which makes perfect sense.  Half-orcs have the same limitation in regards to interactions with anyone except for orcs and other half-orcs, but in their case their charisma is limited to 12.  It's pretty harsh.

As in OD&D, your charisma determines the maximum number of henchmen you can have in your employ.  The numbers are a little more generous in AD&D, though.  I've always been a bit vague as to what constitutes a henchman; I assume it's anyone in your service who has levels in a character class.  I'll keep an eye out to see if it's adequately explained.

Your charisma also modifies the loyalty score of your servants.  This was in OD&D, but there the modifiers were expressed as a number (-2, +1, +3, etc.).  Here they are given as percentages, so the system has been given an overhaul.  That will have to wait until later in the book, though.

Finally, charisma affects your Reaction Adjustment, which means that it changes how the creatures you meet react to you.  This was in OD&D in a general sense, but I think that this is the first time it's laid out in a concrete fashion.  It's mentioned that a low-charisma character can offset his deficiency with bribes and gifts.

Now we move on to the section on player character races, of which there are seven: dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, halfling, half-orc, and human.  The half-orc is appearing as a playable race for the first time.

The first thing we get in this section is a table listing which classes are available to each race, but I'll deal with that later.  Of more interest right now is the table on racial level limitations.  In AD&D, only humans are unlimited in the level they can attain.  Demi-humans all have caps on how far they can advance.  For example, a halfling can only reach level 6 as a fighter, and an elf is limited to level 11 as a magic-user.  These limits are relaxed slightly for characters with high ability scores, but not by much.  There are a small number of exceptions to the rule: all demi-humans except for half-orcs can advance as high as they want in the thief class.  Half-orcs have no limits in the assassin class.

I'm torn on level limits, to be honest.  I can see their role in creating a human-centric setting, if that's what you want.  Supposedly they're also there to offset the special abilities that demi-humans gain, but I don't think it balances out.  Demi-human special abilities don't make that much of a difference, especially at higher level when the limitations kick in.  On the whole I prefer the approach of giving humans some extra abilities to balance things, rather than punishing demi-human characters.

It's interesting to note that, although they can't be used as player characters, clerics for dwarves, elves and gnomes are listed on the table.  Presumably they're too tied to their home communities to be out adventuring.  Halflings can't be clerics at all, but they do have NPC druids, which could be an interesting little cultural nugget.

Penalties and Bonuses for Race: One of the above-mentioned perks of being a demi-human is the modifiers that are applied to your ability scores.  Each race gets a bonus in a stat, and a penalty on another.  Dwarfs get a Constitution bonus, and a Charisma penalty, for example.  Half-elves have no modifiers, and surprisingly neither do gnomes.  Half-orcs get a bonus to Strength and Constitution, which makes them a pretty attractive prospect.  I always see D&D players trying desperately to roll that mythical 18/00 Strength, but surely it's better and easier just to roll an 18 then pick your race as half-orc.  You have to deal with a super-low Charisma, but a 19 strength has a way of mitigating that.

Character Ability Scores by Racial Type: Each non-human race has a minimum and maximum in each ability score that must be met before you can choose to become that race.  Gary generously gives you the option of lowering your stats to meet the requirements, if necessary.  These scores are split between male and female requirements, but it really only applies to maximum Strength.

This is another rule that's just a bit too finicky for my tastes.  It makes the various races a little bit more distinct, but also more limiting.  I prefer to play without these restrictions.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 5

Dexterity: I'll leave it to Gary to define exactly what the Dexterity stat covers: "hand-eye coordination, agility, reflexes, precision, balance and speed of movement".  It's no surprise that a high score in Dex means that all of these attributes will be superior, but the note about low Dex is a curious one.  It indicates that some character with a low Dexterity may actually be superior in one of the attributes listed, while inferior in others.  It's something of a moot point, because it's all the same mechanically, but it could lead to some interesting situations.  Or to some players trying to use it for some creative powergaming.

Dexterity is most useful for thieves, as it grants them an XP bonus.  It also affects their special skills, which (so far as I can tell) is a first for the core D&D rules (the rule was introduced into the game in The Strategic Review #7).  The bonuses and penalties given here in the PHB are different, of course, because a dexterity score of at least 9 is now required to be a thief.

A high or low Dexterity also affects attack rolls made with missile weapons (a rule present since the original D&D booklets, though here the modifiers can be higher).  Your reaction speed when surprised is also modified, but I'll cover that in more detail when I cover Surprise.  (Not that I'm particularly looking forward to opening that can of worms.)

The other thing that Dex modifies is defense, primarily Armor Class.  Previously, when this rule had been introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk, the bonus had been restricted to fighters.  Now it can apply to every class.  It's also noted that this modifier affects saving throws against spells that can be dodged, specifically calling out lightning bolt and fire ball.  (The wording of this paragraph is also one of the best arguments in favour of 3rd edition's AC system that I've seen.  Gary jumps through some linguistic hoops explaining that bonuses subtract from AC, while penalties are added.  Simply flip the system so that a high number in AC is good, and the necessity of the explanation goes away.)

I have to point out that anyone with a Dexterity of 5 or less can only be a cleric.  It makes sense: thieves have Dex as their primary stat, magic-users need to make intricate symbols with their hands, and fighters require a certain level of hand-eye coordination to wield weapons.  A cleric just has to be able to pray, and wave a holy symbol about.

Constitution: This stat represents a character's general health and resistance to all manner of harm.  There's no class that uses it as a prime requisite, but it has a lot of mechanical effect on the game.  As introduced in Supplement I: Greyhawk, it provides a hard limit to the amount of times a character can be raised from the dead (barring wishes and other magic).  It's clarified here that even if a character's Constitution score is raised in some manner, the number of times he can be resurrected remains the same (and that a rod of resurrection is considered the same as using the spell).  This also seems to be the introduction of a penalty to Constitution upon being raised: each time it happens, the character loses 1 point.

As in OD&D, characters' hit points are modified by Con.  Introduced here is the rule that fighters (and their sub-classes) can get a higher bonus than other classes.  This is part of the strengthening of fighters in relation to spellcasters that Gary was going on about earlier in the book.  Frankly, thieves could have used a bit this as well.

The percentage chance for surviving a resurrection is back, but the numbers are a bit more favourable to players here than they were in Supplement I.  It's clarified here that any character that fails this roll is "completely and totally dead forever".  Not much wiggle room in that wording, I'm afraid.

System Shock (previously known as "probability of surviving spells") is also back, with numbers in the same ballpark as the original table.  The rule was a vague one before, but here it's been greatly clarified: any magic that causes aging, petrification, or polymorph requires the character to roll against his System Shock chance, or die instantly.  I can see the rationale here: anything that greatly and rapidly alters a person's body could kill it.  I've little doubt that it came up as a way to stop the abuse of certain spells, polymorph in particular.  In practice I'm all for it, so long as players are aware of the consequences.  As a calculated risk System Shock is fine, but not as a surprise sprung on the players I don't care for it.  Gary has it spelled out right here in the PHB, so I guess it's all cool.  (Though now that I think of it, several spells have hidden effects in the Dungeon Masters Guide that could System Shock a player to death.  Not cool, Gary!)

Monday, September 28, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 4

Intelligence: This ability score is likened to IQ, and also defined as including memory, reasoning ability, and the capacity to learn all sorts of things not related to the written word.  It's briefly noted that the number of languages a character can learn is tied to Intelligence, with a footnote that non-human characters are generally able to speak more languages than a human.  (I wonder why this is.  It's probably not due to them mixing more freely with other races, as generally in D&D the demi-humans keep to themselves, while humans are the ones who mix in multicultural societies.  I chalk it up to their longer lifespans, and the fact that your average elf or dwarf will have lived a full human lifespan before even beginning an adventuring career.  We'll see later if this pans out; do the races with longer lifespans get more languages than those with shorter?)

Intelligence remains the prime requisite of magic-users, with an XP bonus for those with a score over 16.  Intelligence is also tied to the level of spell that a magic-user can learn: with a score of 9 (the minimum required to be a magic-user), the caster can only learn up to 4th-level spells.  At 10 he can learn 5th level spells, at 12 he can learn 6th, and so on; only a caster with 18 Intelligence can learn 18th-level spells.  (This is a change from OD&D - at least when including Supplement I: Greyhawk -  where there was no minimum Intelligence requirement for magic-users, and spells of 5th level were available to every caster.  Those with 11 Intelligence could cast 6th level spells, 13 could cast 7th, 15 could cast 8th, and 17 could cast 9th).

Intelligence also determines whether a caster can learn a specific spell.  Each caster must go through the list of 1st-level spells, and against each one roll percentile dice to see if he is able to learn it.  (The chances range from 35% with a 9 Int, and 95% at 19+).  If you succeed, you have the ability to learn that spell; if not, you can never learn it.  However, Intelligence also determines the minimum number of spells you can learn, and if you don't reach that total after going through the list once, you can go through again, testing spells until you hit your minimum.  There's also a maximum, and once you hit that you can't go any further (unless your Intelligence is raise somehow.)

(I have to admit, I've always gotten a bit confused by the rule above.  What I need to remember is this: just because I've rolled my chance to know, it doesn't mean that I know the spell already.  It just means that I can know the spell at a later date, should I find it somewhere.  It's not that difficult, really, but it's tripped me up in the past.)

There's a section at the end about "acquisition of heretofore unknown spells" that muddies the waters a little.  I think what it's trying to say is that you can check to learn any spell you find that isn't in the Players Handbook, so long as you don't exceed your maximum number for that spell level.  The wording is a little ambiguous and open to interpretation, but that's often the way with AD&D.

(Most of the above is also present in OD&D Supplement I: Greyhawk, but that book's tables provide for casters with very low Intelligence scores.  The numbers aren't all that far off otherwise, except for Maximum Spells/Level; in OD&D a 17 Intelligence will allow you to know every spell of a given level, whereas AD&D requires a score of 19 to achieve this.)

Wisdom: Ah, good old nebulous wisdom.  It's defined here as "enlightenment, judgement, wile, will power, and (to a certain extent) intuitiveness".  You could perhaps say that it encompasses every mental ability not related to academic learning, though I'm sure I haven't thought that through well enough.  It remains the prime requisite for clerics.

The table showing the various class and race restrictions based on Wisdom is an interesting one, as it says that a character with a Wisdom of 5 or lower can only be a thief.  I've always found this a bit odd, especially as your mythical or archetypal thief character embodies several of the definitions given for Wisdom above.  I certainly don't see why a low Wisdom precludes one from being a fighter.

In OD&D (and Holmes Basic, as far as I can tell), Wisdom had very few mechanical benefits besides granting clerics bonus XP.  Now it is given an effect on saving throws against spells that attack a character's willpower (examples given include charm, fear, illusion, magic jar and telepathic attack, among other).

As with Intelligence and magic-users, wisdom can limit what spells a cleric knows.  The rules are not as strict, however: it simply states that a cleric needs a wisdom of 17 to cast 6th-level spells, and 18 to cast 7th-level spells.  Clerics with a high wisdom are also now able to memorise more spells than before, but those with a score below 13 have a percentage chance that, every time they cast a spell, it will fail.  Nothing spectacular happens with a spell failure: the spell simply disappears without effect.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Some Preliminary Combat House Rules

I've mentioned before that it's my intention to cobble together a version of D&D that is exactly to my liking.  I've done plenty of thinking on the subject, but little concrete work.  Most of my D&D efforts of late have been going towards this blog, and the continuation of my 3rd edition campaign that will be happening ANY DAY NOW.  But I have a few spare moments right now, and some ideas I'd like to hammer out and share with my readers.

So, combat.  If there's one criticism of D&D combat, it's that it can get a little mechanical and repetitive.  A lot of the onus for that falls on the DM and the players, but it's an easy rut to fall into, especially a few hours into a long game session.  I'd like to develop something that makes the basic mechanics of D&D combat a little more dynamic, and takes it away from the endless loop of roll-to-hit/roll-damage.

The first thing I need to do is lay out the kinds of things I want to achieve.  I have three main goals here: create something concrete for critical fumbles, make critical hits a bit more interesting, and introduce the possibility of permanent injury to characters dropped below zero hit points.

The combat system I'm using as the base here is 3rd edition: the attacker rolls 1d20, adds his attack bonus, and that's the Armor Class struck.  It's simple, it works about the same mathematically as earlier editions, and above all it's dead simple to explain to new players.  I have no problem with descending ACs and THAC0, but I've played with countless people who could never figure it out.  In 3rd edition, I've never had to stop in the middle of combat to tell a player what AC he hit, and it's not an aspect of the game that I miss.

Critical Hits
The first thing I want to change from 3rd edition is the expanded critical hit range for certain weapons (i.e. a scimitar doing a critical on a roll of 18-20).  In my game, a critical hit is rolled on a natural 20.  I'm also doing away with the confirmation roll: there's little more disappointing than rolling a 20, then missing on the roll to confirm.  I will have a secondary roll, but it's going to determine some other stuff; once a critical has been hit, a critical it will remain.  (I've never been quite sure of the purpose of the confirmation roll, though I've heard it explained as getting around the problem of monsters that need a 20 to hit always doing a critical.  It's not a problem I particularly care about.)

(I may keep the expanded criticals in if I retain Feats in the game, and use the range in the equipment lists as the maximum amount that the weapon can be expanded to.  If a guy wants to burn two Feats so his scimitar can critical on a roll of 18+, he's more than welcome to do it.)

As far as damage on a critical goes, I prefer rolling extra dice rather than going for a flat multiplier.  I'm torn on whether to apply damage bonuses once, or to each die.  At the moment, I'll keep it conservative: for a standard critical you roll the weapon's damage dice twice, and add your damage bonus after.  And although I said that I was being conservative, I want to add the possibility of infinitely scaling damage: basically, if the dice roll well enough, there's no limit to the total damage that can be dealt.  Player's love doing astronomical amounts of damage, and I happen to enjoy making my players happy.  Besides, the monsters will be doing it as well, and I also love making my players sad.

And now to weapon and armour breakage.  Breaking weapons and armour in D&D is quite rare, and at least in 3rd edition it's something the player has to do in lieu of dealing damage.  I'd like it to happen in the course of regular combat, and to be honest I just like the imagery of a guy blasting through his opponent's shield and smashing the arm behind it.  That's the sort of thing that ought to happen on a critical, and I want to put it in there.  I also want the possibility of a player hitting his opponent so hard that he breaks his own weapon.  I've read accounts of ancient warriors pausing in the middle of battles to straighten their swords with their feet, and while those were bronze weapons, and the PCs will most probably be wielding iron and steel, I want to include something along those lines.

This is where the secondary roll comes in: not to "confirm the critical" as it does in 3rd edition, but to determine if the critical has any secondary effects.  Here's a preliminary table:

Roll (1d20)Effect
1Your own weapon breaks (if possible)
2You are disadvantaged in the next round
3-15Regular critical
16You deal a debilitating wound
17You damage your opponent's armour (if possible)
18You damage your opponent's shield (if possible)
19You break your opponent's weapon (if possible)
20Add an extra dice of damage, and roll again

Note the multiple times that "if possible" appears.  This is to stop magical weapons being broken by normal ones.  Basically, normal weapons can break or be broken by normal weapons.  A +1 weapon can break any normal weapon, and another +1 weapon, but it can't be broken by a normal weapon.  And so on: a magical weapon can only be broken by a weapon of equal magic, and can only break upon armour of an equal value.  I need to do more thinking about how this system interacts with monsters that use natural weapons and armour, but that's always a problem with D&D rules focused on arms and armour.

Being "disadvantaged" above means that you may have gotten your weapon stuck, or overbalanced yourself.  I would play it as the PC being able to make half the usual number of actions in the next round, and suffering a penalty to hit and AC (perhaps a simple -1, or maybe the Disadvantage rule from 5th edition, which involves the player rolling twice and taking the lesser value.)

A debilitating wound is something that makes it harder for the victim to fight: blood in the eyes perhaps, or an injured leg.  I'd simply play it as a penalty on all actions (-1 to all rolls, or 5e disadvantage as described above).

Damage to armour and shields would probably result in destruction in the case of a shield, and the reduction of AC bonus by 1 in the case of armour.

Critical Fumbles
My players always ask me to describe some misfortune that befalls them when they roll a natural 1 to attack.  3rd edition, at least in the core game, has no system for this, so I usually just toss something out that has no actual effect on gameplay.  I'm going to create a chart, like the one above, to throw in some effects.

Roll (1d20) Effect
1 You break weapon your own weapon (if possible)
2 You drop your weapon
3 You are disadvantaged next round
4 You deal yourself some damage
5 You damage an ally (if possible)
6-20 No effect

There's nothing too startling there, just the usual things that players expect on a fumble.  Being "disadvantaged" here means much the same as it did in the critical hit chart above.  Dealing damage to yourself is a possibility I've included, but I certainly won't have it as a full damage roll from your own weapon, or anything so ridiculous.  It might just be a flat die roll of 1d4, to represent a sprained ankle or something similar.  Damaging an ally is always fun, but I've added the "if possible" stipulation to head off particularly silly instances.  I've also left a substantial range for No effect, because I don't want to be dealing with this stuff every single time someone fumbles.  Sometimes an automatic miss can be penalty enough.

Permanent Wounds
Characters spend a lot of time in D&D being hit with swords, but outside of death they rarely suffer any negative side-effects.  I want to introduce the possibility for a character to receive a permanent injury when reduced to negative hit points.  It won't happen every time: I will probably have it as a percentage chance based on how far below 0 the character went when felled.  If he goes to -1, there's a 5% chance, at -2 a 10% chance, and so on.

Roll (1d20) Effect
1-10 Extra bleeding (character loses 2 hp per round while bleeding)
11-15 Extra bleeding (character loses 3 hp per round while bleeding)
16 Severed hand or foot (75% chance hand, 25% chance foot)
17 Severed limb (25% chance each arm, 25% chance each leg)
18 Broken bone (arm, leg, ribs, cracked skull)
19 Impressive scar
20 Disfiguring scar

You may have gathered that this one is really in the preliminary stages, as I haven't worked out the mechanical effects of severed body parts and broken bones (besides the obvious ones). Receiving an impressive or disfiguring scar will influence how NPCs react to the character in certain situations, and either could be detrimental or beneficial.

One thing I don't want this system to produce, though, is a party of permanently crippled characters. I need to figure out which spells can heal these effects. The extra bleeding effects will be healed by a simple cure light wounds spell, or even by bandaging. A severed hand or foot I would allow to be reattached with a cure serious wounds, provided that said extremity is available to press to the stump. I'd let the same spell fix broken bones. A severed limb I might make more difficult to deal with: maybe cure critical wounds? The scars I would have completely healed by any cure spell; those would only come into effect in the case of natural healing.

Gutting It Out
Finally, I want rules for PCs who just refuse to go down. At the player's option, I will allow any PC to make an attempt to keep fighting by making a Will save of DC 15 + the number of hp below 0 that the character currently has. For example, a character at -1 would have a save DC of 16, and a character at -9 would have a save DC of 24. This save must be made every round, using the character's current hit point total, and as soon as it is failed he will fall unconscious. Once unconscious, no further attempts can be made.

Any character attempting to "gut it out" has to check for the possibility of permanent wounds first. That character will bleed at twice the normal rate: 2 hp/round for most characters, but as much as 4 or 6 per round if they get an extra bleeding result as a permanent wound.

In addition to bleeding faster, there's one obvious danger: a character who is still in the fight has a greater risk of being targeted by opponents. It's one thing to be lying on the ground bleeding, but another thing to be bleeding out while also under attack. I like this rule a lot; it gives players in a desperate situation an extra chance to help their comrades, but at greater risk to their own mortality, and it leaves that choice in the hands of the player.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 3

The six ability scores are named: strength,  intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma, as in pretty much every version of the game.  Here we also come to a departure in the philosophy between OD&D and AD&D.  AD&D characters are supposed to be above average, and it's recommended that a character have at least two scores of 15+ to ensure survival.  I'm somewhat taken aback that there's no method given for determining ability scores: players are referred to the Dungeon Masters Guide, a book that won't be released for two years after this.  It's said that the scores range between 3 and 18, but for anyone trying to learn the game from the PHB, the method of getting those numbers is a mystery.

The ability is briefly outlined as a measure of muscle and endurance, and then an example Is given to relate the ability to the real world: as a rule of thumb, a character can lift their strength score times ten in pounds over his head (so a character with strength 3 can do a military press of 30 pounds, and one with strength 18 can press 180).  (As far as I can tell, this is the first time these values are given in D&D).  I tried to look up the world record for a military press, but wasn't able to find anything official.  I was getting figures of 400+ pounds, and some over 500, so Gary is very far away from reality on this one (unless exceptional Strength scales this figure up very quickly).

Strength remains the prime requisite for Fighters, as in OD&D.  This means that a fighter with a high strength score earns more experience points.  In AD&D, you get a 10% XP bonus for a Strength of 16+.  This is a change from OD&D, where the 10% bonus came with a score of 15+, and you could also get a 5% bonus from a score of 13 or 14.  It also looks as though they've done away with XP penalties for having a low prime requisite.

Indeed, it may not even be possible to have a low prime requisite.  Next to the write-up for Strength is a table that shows what classes and races you can choose based on your strength.  To be a fighter you need a strength of at least 9, so the XP penalty is moot.  Aside from the race and class restrictions, there are also upper limits noted for female characters.  As I've mentioned before, it's a realistic inclusion, but I still don't like the idea of penalising female PCs just because they're female.

Any fighter with a strength of 18 can also roll percentile dice to determine exceptional strength (resulting in scores such as 18/54 or 18/98).  A high roll here can net the fighter (and only the fighter) some hefty combat bonuses.  There's a table below that shows combat bonuses and penalties based on your strength score.  In general, characters have actually been weakened here when compared to OD&D; the penalties for having a low score have increased, and the bonuses come later and don't advance as high.

There are also some bonuses and penalties for non-combat activities, such as carrying capacity, and opening doors.  Characters in OD&D were better at opening doors than their AD&D equivalents, but the increase in carrying capacity for a high score in AD&D is far higher than it used to be.  An OD&D character with the highest strength had a bonus of +1200, whereas an AD&D character with the same score gets a bonus of 3000.  I thought perhaps that the games used different units of weight, but it seems that both measure weight in coins.

A new addition is the ability to Bend Bars or Lift Gates, such as a portcullis.  This is given as a percentage chance, but each can be attempted but once on a particular gate or bar.  So if you fail to lift a portcullis you can't try again, but you can still make one attempt to bend the bars and squeeze past.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 2

The introduction begins by touting how great AD&D is, going so far as to claim that it is "superior to any past offerings in the fantasy role playing game field".  It also states that the system has been "written and edited in order to make the whole as easily understood as possible".  Given that there are still people arguing about the intent of these rules nearly 40 years later, I have to call foul on this one.

It goes on to describe the various races and classes included in the PHB, and the relative balance of each.  It's stated outright that fighters and clerics have been strengthened in relation to magic-users; no doubt Gary experienced the difference in raw power between the classes first-hand.  His claim that "none of these over-shadow thieves" is a little dubious, but I'll let it slide; while thieves are notably weaker in combat than the other classes, they fill a vital role in other areas of the game.  The classes and sub-classes mentioned have all appeared in the game before, but there's a new race made available to PCs for the first time: half-orcs.

Finally it gets around to trying to explain what a fantasy role-playing game actually is, which it does in vague terms.  It's a world of imagination created by the Dungeon Master, explored by the players, full of monsters and treasures, etc.  A more concrete example of how the game is played would be useful here.

Possibly my favourite part of this intro is the futile urging that players not buy or read the Dungeon Masters Guide.  (Not so futile at the time of publication, I suppose, as the DMG wouldn't be available for another two years).  I admire the sentiment that certain parts of the game should remain mysterious to the players, but it's ultimately impractical.  Inevitably those players will want to run a game themselves, and even those that don't are going to crack the DMG open eventually.  Anyone sufficiently dedicated to the game is going to want to learn its inner workings, and there's little anyone can do to stop it.

Here we get a little deeper into what playing AD&D entails.  It begins in typically hyperbolic style, describing how the player and his friends act out the roles of their characters, and work together to achieve their goals.  Particular attention is given to the idea that AD&D is played over multiple sessions, and that characters start weak but gradually grow in power.  The role of the DM in crafting a challenging world is stressed, followed by some of Gary's ideas on what constitutes a good player: have an objective, cooperate with your fellow players, know when not to combat monsters, and don't be a dick to the DM.  Sound advice.

It finishes up by noting that a character's stats must be accurately recorded (which you might like to do on an official character record published by TSR!).  Still no example of how the game is played.

There are some named PCs that I will use in my campaign: Falstaff the fighter, Angore the cleric, and Filmar, mistress of magic.  (I won't dignify the last with an exclamation point, as Gary did.)

The basics of character creation are outlined here: roll your abilities using the dice, choose a race and class, pick your alignment and name your character.  Some other steps are briefly described (languages, money, hit points), but that's the general gist of it.

It's stated outright that all characters begin at 1st level.  I've never tried this in practice; being basically soft-hearted, I allow PCs to begin at around the same level as the existing party.  I need to try it some time, if only to test the survivability of low-level characters adventuring with a higher-level party, and how long it takes them to catch up in experience.

The use of the term "level" is outlined, and it becomes apparent just how widespread it is in the game: it's used to denote character power, the strength of monsters, the power of spells, and the depth of a particular dungeon tier.  Gary mentions that he was contemplating some new terms: rank instead of character level, power instead of spell level, and order instead of monster level.  I feel like that would ultimately have caused more confusion than it solved.  The use of level as a catch-all works well as a way of describing how strong or dangerous something is, and Gary made the right call in keeping it.