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.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

AD&D Players Handbook part 1

It seems like not so long ago that I got done with the Monster Manual, and I've already reached another foundational work for D&D.  While the Monster Manual is officially the first book released for Advanced D&D, it's the Players Handbook that truly sets that version of the game in motion.  The Monster Manual still had a foot in Original D&D; the Players Handbook is Advanced all the way.

Before I get into the book proper, I want to make special mention of the cover by Dave Trampier.  It's been praised by many before me, but it deserves every accolade.  It's wonderfully evocative of the pulp roots of D&D, and it accurately represents the type of scene that would be common to most games.  It's also the single best piece of artwork that the game had seen at the time of publication, and it's a definite sign of the growing professionalism and design standards of TSR. The game is entering a new era.

For the unlikely reader out there who doesn't know what role the Players Handbook plays in the D&D game, I'll let the description on the title page do the work for me: "A compiled volume of information for players of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, including: character races, classes, and level abilities; spell tables and descriptions; equipment costs; weapons data; and information of adventuring."  Basically, it presents everything that the player needs to know to create a character and play the game.  Everything else (and I do mean everything) will be in the Dungeon Masters Guide.  From my perspective, having started with 2nd edition, I'm always surprised by what's not in this book.

But now, on to what is in the book.  First, the Foreword, in which TSR rules editor Mike Carr writes about the importance of players to the game, and suggests some rules of etiquette that players should abide by.  I'm amused by Carr's claim that D&D is special because "even a fair number of women are counted among those who regularly play the game".  And I dare say that his description of the game as a "cult" probably did it no favours when the game came under the scrutiny of busybodies and book-burners.  Otherwise it's an adequate opener that gets across how the book fits into the game (even though it does nothing to explain what the game actually is).

Next up is the Preface, and this is where Gary Gygax comes in with his signature prose.  (You know you're probably reading Gary when the word "perforce" gets dropped in the opening paragraph.)  AD&D was apparently begun a year-and-a-half before the PHB was published, with the Monster Manual chosen as the first product because it could be worked on piecemeal.  Gary's process for working on AD&D makes a lot of sense: get all the charts and tables sorted out, then write the stuff surrounding them.

Gary then goes on to describe how demanding the D&D audience is, and toots his own horn as a way of establishing his credentials to serve that audience.  I had to laugh at his description of himself as the "first proponent of fantasy gaming".  I wonder what Dave Arneson thought of that?  Although, come to think of it, Gary did design the Fantasy Supplement to Chainmail...  He might be right after all.

The rest of the preface is about the purpose of AD&D, and how it's going to bring a certain uniformity to the game across campaigns.  There's some baffling stuff here, though.  When he writes that there will be "no baseless limits arbitrarily placed on female strength" I have to scratch my head, because that's exactly what's in the game.  (Again, though, he's got a point by using the words "baseless" and "arbitrary".  I prefer not to limit character stats by gender, but there's no denying that the upper limit on male and female strength is different.)  I'm pretty sure he's taking swipes at some other fantasy RPGs when he disparages "ponderous combat systems with greater realism", and spell point systems.  Ah, what would a Gygax editorial be without some self-aggrandizement and pot-shots at the opposition?  This preface has it all, though couched somewhat more politely than at other times.

That's all I have time for today, unfortunately.  I'm running D&D for a friend's bucks party on the weekend, so I have to sign off and do some designing.  Alas, that means I have to cut this one short.  Next week I'll be back to dig into the meat of the book.