31 March 2013

Level Equals Spell Capacity

I am thinking about adopting Brendan's Simplified Spell Progression. I'll use it unmodified for both magic-users and clerics (I have always allowed clerics to have one 1st level spell at 1st level) and combine it with Ritual Spellcasting Variant 1 and 2. Spell memorization is thus simplified without sacrificing access to other spells (which may be cast ritually with a considerable increase in casting time).

One aspect of the simplified spell progression I really appreciate is the fact that it can be used to refer to a spellcaster's level in-character and actually be relevant in the game world. Depending on the setting, it may be common knowledge to everyone or possibly just to those with magical training that a spellcaster's level refers to how many spells can be held in the spellcaster's mind at one time. "She's a sorceress of the fifth level? Why, she can do five magical things every day with the snap of her fingers!" In my campaign, it will also be known that spellcasters commonly carry scrolls that enable them to cast even more spells (thanks to Holmes Basic), and that even without memorized spells and scrolls they can still use ritual magic. Some of Telecanter's Vancian Spell Ideas (namely #16) about magic items with their own spell slots that can be used by a magic-user to increase spell capacity is particularly useful here and fits in well with many fantasy settings in literature where objects often hold much of a spellcaster's power.

Overall, I think the combination of simplified Vancian magic and ritual magic will make magic-users more competent at low levels, less ultra-powerful at higher levels, and generally more enjoyable to play.

Ritual Spellcasting Variant 2

The Ritual Spellcasting Variant really only applies to magic-users, so here is the variant for clerics. As before, the standard rules of normal spellcasting in Basic/Expert D&D and Labyrinth Lord apply (verbal and somatic components only; casting time of 1 round; granting of spells with 1 hour of prayer after 8 hours of sleep), but clerics may also cast any currently unprayed for spells that they are qualified to cast with the follow restrictions:

  1. Casting time is increased to 1 turn, after which the spellcaster makes a saving throw vs. magic. If failed, the casting time is increased by another turn, followed by another saving throw. Repeat until saving throw is successful or spellcasting attempt is abandoned.
  2. The casting must be uninterrupted.
  3. Material components must be used.
  4. An appropriate holy book or sacred object must be present.

Clerics may use material components appropriate to their religion and culture such as censors, holy water sprinklers, bells, chimes, gongs, prayer wheels, candles, bonfires, etc. Rituals may also involve meditation, chanting, singing, bowing, dancing, acrobatics, theatre, or other activities appropriate to the cleric's religion. For the ritual to work, it must be something of a production and may or may not require participation by others.

This lends the cleric a little more versatility in fulfilling his or her duties, enables the creation of alternatives to the standard cleric (medicine men and women, witch doctors, shamans, and other practitioners of religion-based ritual magic), and allows for a style of spellcasting based on religious invocation familiar to many readers of fantasy literature.

[Edit: Casting time revised 5 June 2014.]

30 March 2013

Swords and Wizardry and Appreciation

Tenkar's Tavern has announced a Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day to take place on April the 17th. Simply add the URL of your Web log to the comments on this page and post an article pertaining to Swords & Wizardry on your Web log on that day (April the 17th).

Applied Phantasticality will be participating.

29 March 2013

Zombie Dice and Spell Interruption

[The following rule utilizes the Zombie dice from Zombie Dice, a game published by Steve Jackson Games. Zombie dice, which will hereafter be referred to as dZ, have the following faces: brain, footprints, and shotgun blast (abbreviated here as simply blast). The distribution of faces varies by color. A green dZ as 3 brains, 2 footprints, and 1 blast. A yellow dZ has 2 brains, 2 footprints, and 2 blasts. A red dZ has 1 brain, 2 footprints, and 3 blasts.*]



When a spellcaster announces an intention to cast a spell and the casting is interrupted, the spell is disrupted and lost. It neither takes effect, nor can it be cast again until it is re-memorized. If, however, the caster decides to attempt to maintain concentration in spite of the interruption, there is a chance that the spell may still be successfully cast, but there is a chance for a mishap. The caster must roll 1dZ depending on the nature of the interruption. If the distraction is minor (the caster is jostled, asked questions, or briefly loses sight of a target), the caster must roll a green dZ. If the distraction is major and physical (the caster is physically injured or threatened with injury), the caster must roll a yellow dZ. If the distraction is major and mental (the caster is magically or psionically attacked) or the caster fails a saving throw, the caster must roll a red dZ. The result of the roll is compared to the table below:









dZEffect
brainThe spell is cast successfully.
footprintsThe spell is disrupted and lost.


blastRoll on the Spell Mishap table.

Spell Mishap

Roll 1d6

  1. Stunning Blow. The spell fails and the caster is stunned for 2d12 rounds.
  2. Reversal. The reverse of the spell is cast. If there is no reverse version, it backfires instead.
  3. Backfire. If offensive, it affects the caster. If beneficial, it affects the opponent. If neither apply, then the result is concussion.
  4. Concussion. The spell fails and the caster is rendered unconscious for 2d12 hours.
  5. Memory Drain. The spell succeeds, but all memorized spells are forgotten in the effort to maintain concentration.
  6. Explosion. The spell fails and the uncontrolled magical energy explodes causing 1d6 hit points of damage per level of the spell to all within a 10' radius.
* Standard six-sided dice may be substituted as follows: "Green" d6: 1-3 = brain, 4-5 = footprints, 6 = blast. "Yellow" d6: 1-2 = brain, 3-4 = footprints, 5-6 = blast. "Red" d6: 1 = brain, 2-3 = footprints, 4-6 = blast.

28 March 2013

Random Background Generator Example 4

Rounding out the last example to test the Random Background Generator by creating a standard adventuring party, here is our fourth subject, straight 3d6 in order:

Strength: 14
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 7
Dexterity: 11
Constitution: 10
Charisma: 10

Once again we have a character who is naturally inclined in one direction, in this case the magical arts, but we have a position to fill in the party, which is for a fighter, so he'll just have to be a fighter. A smart one. Named Norid. (*shrug*)

Rolling All Dice, my results were d4: 4; d6: 4; d8: 8; d10: 3; d12: 10; d20: 2.

The d4: Family Reputation

With a roll of 4, Norid's family is "Admired" — for what we shall see.

The d6: Personal Relationship

With a roll of 4, Norid is "Appreciated." He wasn't neglected, but neither was he saddled with the pressure of overly high expectations.

The d8: Number of Siblings

With a roll of 8, Norid has no siblings. Maybe I spoke too soon about expectations.

The d10: Extended Family in Household

With a roll of 3, his maternal grandmother lives in his parents' household. She has always doted on him, what with being an only child.

The d12: Family Occupation

With a roll of 10, Norid comes from a long line of soldiers, which explains why he is a fighter. Being the only child, did he have a choice (even though he knows he was born to be a scholar of magic)?

The d20: Motivation for Adventuring

With a roll of 2, Norid was "Chosen." In this case, he was chosen to be a warrior and a hero. His family is admired for the heroes it has produced, and Norid will doubtless maintain the tradition and fulfill the expectations of both his family and the community that has always looked to it for leadership (despite Norid's unexceptional charisma).

Summary

Growing up an only child in a family admired for its heroic martial lineage, Norid has been marked as chosen for a destiny of heroism, and as such he has spent his life preparing for that moment of truth on the battlefield, despite the fact that he has always felt that the study and practice of magic was his true calling. Perhaps life as an adventurer will allow him to satisfy both his sense of duty and his scholarly curiosity.

27 March 2013

Ritual Spellcasting Variant

I thought I would write up my house rules regarding spell memorization. The standard rules of normal spellcasting in Basic/Expert D&D and Labyrinth Lord apply (verbal and somatic components only; casting time of 1 round; memorization of all spells in 1 hour after 8 hours of sleep), but spellcasters may also cast any currently unmemorized spell in their spellbooks that they are qualified to cast (i.e. are of a high enough level to cast) with the following restrictions:

  1. Casting time is increased to 1 turn, after which the spellcaster makes a saving throw vs. magic. If failed, the casting time is increased by another turn, followed by another saving throw. Repeat until saving throw is successful or spellcasting attempt is abandoned.
  2. The casting must be uninterrupted.
  3. Material components must be used.
  4. The spellbook containing the spell must be available to consult during the casting.
Instead of burdening the system with specific material components for every spell, spellcasters may use a standard set-up for all spells such as a magic circle complete with candles and/or incense or a specially prepared potion used as a magical catalyst (and which cannot be made without access to a laboratory). Each vial of potion is good for one casting. The potion is used by drinking it, pouring it, or smashing its vial. Spellcasters may use either set-up at their convenience. The advantage of adding this method to the existing method is that spellcasters can continue to be useful even after they have used up their memorized spells (albeit at a considerable cost in time), it enables the creation of another type of spellcaster who is restricted to casting only unmemorized spells (witches, shamans, and other practioners of ritual magic), and it allows for a style of spellcasting more common in literature than the Vancian magic of the Dying Earth stories. I would use both methods in my game, but I can see using only the ritual method for campaigns meant to evoke a certain mood or flavor such as the fiction of Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft. [See also Ritual Spellcasting Variant 2.]

[Edit: Casting time revised 5 June 2014.]

25 March 2013

Random Background Generator Example 3

I felt a need to round out my examples for the Random Background Generator, so here is another one:

Strength: 11
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 16
Dexterity: 16
Constitution: 11
Charisma: 7

With a high dexterity and low charisma, this character would have been a natural thief, but the party needs a cleric, so with a wisdom of 16, he's a cleric. Meet Reffold the Scruffy.

Rolling All Dice, my results were d4: 3; d6: 6; d8: 6; d10: 2; d12: 12; d20: 15.

The d4: Family Reputation

With a roll of 3, Reffold's family is "Respected" (not surprising since they produced a priest).

The d6: Personal Relationship

With a roll of 6, Reffold is "Favored" in his family (not surprising since he agreed to become a priest).

The d8: Number of Siblings

With a roll of 6, Reffold has six siblings. I'll roll 1d8 to determine his birth order (rerolling if the result is 8). Randomly determining the sex of each in order (evens vs. odds), they are: sister, brother, sister, brother, sister, Reffold, sister.

The d10: Extended Family in Household

With a roll of 2, there is a maternal grandfather in the household. He's a quiet fellow, but he has reservoirs of wisdom he occasionally shares.

The d12: Family Occupation

With a roll of 12, it's another family of woodsmen. We'll make them loggers (and secondarily carpenters). Reffold will have some knowledge of both professions. And the family, being respected by the community and proud to have a son in the clergy, has probably contributed lumber and labor in the construction of churches and hospitals. Such a family of do-gooders needs a surname: Woodfell will do. Reffold Woodfell, sometimes styled "the Scruffy."

The d20: Motivation for Adventuring

With a roll of 15, Reffold's reason for adventuring is "Rejection." This is at odds with his favored status in a respected family, so we'll say he was rejected by his religious order and he is seeking to atone for something (probably an unfortunate social gaffe exacerbated by his below average charisma) so he can rejoin the order.

Summary

Growing up the favored sixth child amongst seven in a family of respected and devout loggers and carpenters, including wise old Grandpa, Reffold entered the clergy and made the Woodfell clan proud, but a blunder made worse by his deficiency in social skills caused him to fall out of favor with his religious order and now he must atone. He has been cast out until he can return with proof that he is worthy to rejoin his order.

Table: Ill-Conceived Reasons to Adventure

For those who find the Reasons to Adventure table too reasonable, I offer the following...


Ill-Conceived Reasons to Adventure

Roll 1d20

  1. An amateur botanist and professional florist, you are interested in specimens native to great dark swamps such as the Great Dark Swamp (from Whence None Return).
  2. An amateur entomologist and collector of insects, you have heard that there are several unclassified species of beetles reportedly found in catacombs and tombs.
  3. A composer of songs, you seek inspiration for your next ballad in the ruins of Castle Doom or any equally forboding fortress that might be haunted.
  4. A "people person," you are eager to meet as many people as you can no matter how isolated or xenophobic they may be.
  5. An entrepreneur, you know there are lucrative opportunities awaiting you on the fringes of civilization and/or sanity.
  6. A pioneer, you have trails to blaze through the most benighted, hellish, fiend-infested wilderness to get to that perfect plot of arable land you know awaits you on the other side.
  7. An animal-lover, you are convinced that there are beasties craving affection and tender loving care even in the vilest recesses of the subterranean ecosystem.
  8. You prefer to picnic in uncrowded locales faraway from the intrusiveness of towns and roads — faraway, in fact, from any sign of civilization or security whatsoever.
  9. An au pair by profession, you are scouting out sites for potential field trips. Spelunking is educational!
  10. A student, you were instructed to continue your research "in the field," which may or may not mean desolate, barrow-covered heaths.
  11. Noticing a string leading into a dark labyrinth, you thought you would follow it and see where it takes you, winding it onto a spool as you go...
  12. You are nostalgic for the golden age of a dead civilization and seek to bask in its genius by picking through the bones and rubble of its long deserted ruins.
  13. According to your horoscope, you will meet a stranger who will make a proposal. This is a time of great change in your life. Do not be afraid to try new things. Embrace the surprises that Life gives you!
  14. You have heard that subterranean environments are great for those who suffer from allergies. You have many allergies.
  15. A chef who takes freshness of ingredients seriously, you have heard that a certain rare and exquisite mushroom you seek can be found in certain caves...
  16. A promising student-doctor, you need cadavers with which to cram for your tests, but cadavers are expensive and difficult to obtain in towns where a high percentage of the population is superstitious and mob-inclined. Catacombs, however, are safe from prying eyes and the cadavers there are free for the taking!
  17. The fortune-teller sees a hazy image. For two silver pieces it becomes clearer. Ah, yes! It is... a man. Or perhaps... a woman. In... a tavern. The person is holding... a map! A very old map. Another image... becoming clearer... hills of gold and precious jewels! (This fortune is provided for entertainment purposes only.)
  18. Your chums have dared you to spend at least one night in the old abandoned cavern/dungeon/manor house/mine shaft (pick one).
  19. A stage magician, you are convinced that you can perform the greatest illusion ever seen if you can find the perfect location. Someplace authentically spooky would do nicely.
  20. Although Chaotic humanoids and their philosophy leave you nonplussed, you are willing to visit their homes and listen to their side of the argument.

[Edit: I just realized the sans serif typeface renders this a "Roman Numeral III-Conceived Reasons to Adventure." It ought to read "ILL-CONCEIVED Reasons to Adventure," but I don't like to shout unless someone is considering them in real life.]

23 March 2013

Random Background Generator Example 2

Because it was fun the first time and because I need to meet my goal of posting 24 articles per month, I rolled another character to test the Random Background Generator. Once again, I rolled straight 3d6 in order for attributes and came up with:

Strength: 12
Intelligence: 13
Wisdom: 12
Dexterity: 14
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 15

None of the classes in Basic/Expert D&D have charisma has a prime requisite, so the next highest attribute, dexterity, makes the character a thief for the purpose of this example. His name will be... Bastrado. He's a bit of a bastard. (Not really.)

Rolling All Dice, my results were d4: 3; d6: 5; d8: 5; d10: 5; d12: 12; d20: 8.

The d4: Family Reputation

With a roll of 3, Bastrado's family is "Respected." Their surname will be... Astradi (like the stars... sort of).

The d6: Personal Relationship

With a roll of 5, Bastrado, despite his name, is "Beloved." A lovechild, if you will.

The d8: Number of Siblings

With a roll of 5, Bastrado has five siblings. Since there are six offsping, we can roll 1d6 to determine Bastrado's birth order. Another roll of 5 makes him the fifth brat out of six. Any means can be used to determine the sex. I'll roll 5d6 in order. Evens will be one and odds will be the other. The resulting order is: brother, brother, sister, brother, Bastrado, brother.

The d10: Extended Family in Household

With a roll of 5, a paternal grandmother is in the household to help herd the rambunctious children. Granny Astradi!

The d12: Family Occupation

With a roll of 12, the Astradi clan is a clan of woodsmen. They live in the woods and they do woods-related things. If it's a royal wood, perhaps they are gamekeepers. If not, perhaps they are loggers or hunters or trappers. I'll make them gamekeepers.

The d20: Motivation for Adventuring

With a roll of 8, Bastrado Astradi is a fugitive. Why? Because he poached a prize stag belonging to the king, of course, in clear violation of the law the Astradi family is sworn to enforce. The incorrigable Bastrado, in an effort to save his family from punishment, surrendered to the sherriff under a fictitious name, but subsequently escaped with the help of certain criminal elements. Now inextricably involved with the Thieves' Guild, Bastrado has charted a new course for his life quite unlike the one he knew with his family.

Summary

Growing up as the beloved (if mischievous) next-to-youngest child in a respected family of woodsmen (who are royal gamekeepers) with the additional supervision of Granny Astradi, Bastrado Astradi committed the crime of poaching. To spare his family, he surrendered under an assumed name. With the help of the Thieves' Guild, he escaped custody and is now at large, practicing his new profession.

These things write themselves!

20 March 2013

Table: Reasons to Adventure

For those who want an instant background alternative to the Random Background Generator, I give you:


Reasons to Adventure

Roll 1d30

  1. Afraid of stagnation more than death, you have discarded the predictable life of an official in exchange for the thrill of adventure.
  2. Anointed as a future leader, you must first venture forth and bring back proof of your worthiness before you may take your rightful place in society.
  3. Assuming a false identity to protect your noble name, you seek something that rightfully belongs to you and your family.
  4. Bored with a life of luxury, you seek danger and excitement at any cost.
  5. Collecting artifacts and solving the puzzles that stand between you and them is your hobby. Death traps and monstrous guardians merely add interest.
  6. Disowned by your wealthy family, you are determined to find success without their aid.
  7. You are the 7th child of a 7th child, destined to go down in folklore.
  8. Driven from your village due to an unwise dalliance, you seek a distraction from the object of your affection.
  9. Encouraged strongly by everyone in your village, you have left it to seek your fortune despite some misgivings.
  10. Embarrassed by your humble upbringing, you seek the wealth and status you affect.
  11. Expelled from a prestigious university, you cannot go back to your family without first finding glory or at least a way to be re-admitted.
  12. Family tradition obligates you to have at least one adventure that can be added to the family saga.
  13. Fascinated by the fantastic tales of travellers, you want to discover such wonders for yourself and more.
  14. A gambling debt leads you to gamble with the unknown rather than face a very well known fate at the hands of pitiless creditors.
  15. Haunted by a crime you witnessed and for which you may have been blamed, you find freedom in the rootless life of an adventurer.
  16. Hunting is in your blood and you seek ever greater challenges, which inevitably leads you to keep the company of moneygrubbing treasure-seekers.
  17. Inspired by the accomplishments of a legendary hero, you aspire to equal or surpass your hero.
  18. Inspired by the words of a mystic, you are possessed with a zeal to bring truth to the uncivilized corners of the world.
  19. Leaving behind the comforts of home and plunging into danger is a necessary rite of passage in your community.
  20. A life debt compels you to accompany the one you owe even into the bowels of the earth or anywhere else the fool decides to roam.
  21. Mistaken for an evil sorcerer or monster, you scorn civilization and pursue power wherever it may be found.
  22. Motivated by a life of hardship, you desperately seek to improve your lot in life.
  23. On the losing side of a bloodfeud, you were banished from your ancestral homeland.
  24. Pursued by local authorities, going where no sane person would follow for a chance to get rich seems like a sensible plan.
  25. Roving merrily across the countryside is the best sort of life, and if fate should intervene by proposing adventure, so much the better, you say.
  26. Thirst for knowledge, unquenched by books and tutors, has led you to slake it in forgotten tombs and ruins.
  27. Turning your back on a decadent society and seeking your fortune in the cruel wilderness makes you feel alive.
  28. Unable to face your family's terrible curse, you have left the castle for the anonymous life of a lowly adventurer.
  29. Uncertain doom in a cavern is preferable to certain misery in a forced marriage as far as you are concerned.
  30. Wanted by a criminal organization for certain indiscretions, you hope to relocate your activities beyond its sphere of influence.

19 March 2013

Random Background Generator Example

To illustrate how the Random Background Generator may be used (but equally just for fun), I decided to roll up a character and apply its results. I dislike rolling straight 3d6 in order for attributes, but did so anyway as a tip of the hat to a certain segment of the gaming populace. At any rate, I rolled:

Strength: 7
Intelligence: 14
Wisdom: 10
Dexterity: 14
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 13

I already decided that the highest attribute would determine the class, but there is a tie for magic-user (intelligence) and thief (dexterity). I am choosing magic-user because the low strength would be less of a disadvantage for a quill-pushing magic-user than it would be for a law-flouting thief. So a spellcaster he is. His name will be... Phyrenzo, because it popped into my head.

Rolling All Dice, my results were d4: 4; d6: 3, d8: 8; d10: 2; d12: 8; d20: 19.

The d4: Family Reputation

With a roll of 3, the reputation of Phyrenzo's family is "Respected." We can assume that his surname, whatever it is, is a good one.

The d6: Personal Relationship

With a roll of 3, Phyrenzo in "Unappreciated." This may have something to do with why he would leave his respected family to go adventuring.

The d8: Number of Siblings

With a roll of 8, Phyrenzo has no siblings. This means we don't have to determine whether each sibling is a brother or a sister, nor do we need to determine his birth order, but it does mean he may have been a lonely child. He was probably a disappointment, hence the lack of appreciation.

The d10: Extended Family in Household

With a roll of 2, Phyrenzo grew up with a maternal grandfather in the home in addition to his parents. Maybe Grandfather knew something of the magical arts and provided attention that wasn't available in the form of siblings.

The d12: Family Occupation

With a roll of 8, Phyrenzo was born into a line of scholars of some sort. This fits well with his class. Maybe, however, his line of scholarship is at odds with the family tradition. Maybe his family is a line of religious scholars, possibly even clerics, whereas he and his grandfather felt a pull toward the dangerous study of secular magic.

The d20: Motivation for Adventuring

With a roll of 19, at least one of Phyrenzo's reasons for adventuring is the "spiritual quest." Maybe his respectable family of religious scholars turned him out with orders that he should not return until he has made his peace with their deity and given up dabbling in secular magic. Maybe they sent him on a pilgrimage in the hope that the journey will cause him to witness the miseries of the world and recognize the vanity of his chosen profession. Or maybe, alienated by his family's religious views, he is undertaking a spiritual quest of his own volition to find answers to his own questions, and these questions might be answerable by exploring the ruins of the past.

Summary

Starting with a blank character sheet and some randomly generated attributes, we now have a magic-user who grew up as an unappreciated only child in a family of respected religious scholars with only his grandfather to share his interest in magical studies. Now he is on a spiritual quest, willingly or unwillingly, that will cause him to face dangers nigh unimaginable, but may also end in rich reward (literally, metaphorically, or both).

Not every player character needs this much background information, and sometimes it's enjoyable to generate the background as one is playing, but for those who need the extra nudge to help them visualize their characters, I think it's a useful tool.

17 March 2013

Random Background Generator: Roll All Dice

It has been my observation that many players, when confronted with creating a new character, suffer from something akin to writer's block. They are, after all, engaged in a similar process: charged with generating a unique personality with whom they may be spending a great deal of time and facing a dauntingly blank sheet of paper. This role-player's block can strike players of any level of experience. Regardless of the amount of background information a player is expected to provide, it can sometimes be helpful to generate some of it randomly. The following tables are provided as an option to players who are suffering from the dreaded role-player's block. Feel free to use the results from any or all of the tables.


Random Background Generator
(Roll All Dice)


Family Reputation

Roll 1d4

1. Despised
2. Tolerated
3. Respected
4. Admired


Personal Relationship

Roll 1d6

1. Disowned
2. Scorned
3. Unappreciated
4. Appreciated
5. Beloved
6. Favored


Number of Siblings

Roll 1d8

1. One
2. Two
3. Three
4. Four
5. Five
6. Six
7. Seven
8. None


Extended Family in Household

Roll 1d10

1. Cousin
2. Maternal grandfather
3. Maternal grandmother
4. Paternal grandfather
5. Paternal grandmother
6. Maternal aunt
7. Maternal uncle
8. Paternal aunt
9. Paternal uncle
10. Roll twice or choose none


Family Occupation

Roll 1d12

1. Artisans
2. Beggars
3. Craftsmen
4. Criminals
5. Merchants
6. Nobility
7. Peasants
8. Scholars
9. Serfs
10. Soldiers
11. Tradesmen
12. Woodsmen


Motivation for Adventuring

Roll 1d20

1. Addiction to danger
2. Chosen
3. Conquering fear
4. Curiosity
5. Debt
6. Fame
7. Fortune
8. Fugitive
9. Hobby
10. Investigation
11. Last option
12. Lost
13. Mistaken identity
14. Refugee
15. Rejection (of or by: family, village, civilization, etc.)
16. Revenge
17. Rite
18. Secret mission
19. Spiritual quest
20. Wandering

Notes:

  • "Family Reputation" refers to how others view the player character's family.
  • "Personal Relationship" refers to how the player character is viewed by his or her family.
  • "Number of siblings" does not mention whether they are brothers or sisters. This can be chosen by the player or determined randomly.
  • "Extended Family in Household" refers only to those members living with the player character's parents. The player must decide whether the character also lives with the parents.
  • "Family Occupation" refers to the family's traditional profession. Not all members will necessarily belong to the same profession.
  • "Motivation for Adventuring" may be primary or secondary. Roll more than once on this table if desired.
[See also this example. Or this. Or this. Or this.]

12 March 2013

I Will Maintain

For over two months I was able to post daily to Applied Phantasticality, but the exigencies of survival on the Prime Material Plane caught up with me at last. Since that previously unannounced resolution has been defeated, I have decided to implement a new one. I hereby resolve that I will post no less than 24 articles to this Web log per month. This is made all the more difficult since I shall soon be resolving to resume regular posting on my Fudge-centric Web log, too.

I have also taken the plunge into Google+, albeit in the manner of a thrashing non-swimmer. As you can see, I have added the Google+ widget that enables you to add me to your circles if you are so inclined. I guess I'd encourage all of my OSR-blogging comrades to add such a widget to enable all of us to communicate more easily, but I would do so with the following request: Please do not neglect your Web log (Blogger-hosted or otherwise) in favor of your participation in Google+. The Web logs are a vital resource to the OSR community and the gaming community at large. They offer ease of use, ease of reference, and are the gateway for many gamers who are re-discovering the lore of the ancients or are encountering it for the first time. Not everyone is able or willing to participate in Google+, so please don't wall them out. The Web log is a powerful medium. Take advantage of it.

Game on!

* Trans. of title: Je maintiendrai.

09 March 2013

The Joy of Hit Point Recovery

This is just an idle thought that perhaps bears further development. I am one of those referees who dislikes having an adventure derailed by the constant necessity of watching player characters spend inordinate amounts of time resting to regain lost hit points, but I also don't believe in giving them access to large quantities of inexpensive healing potions (unless they carry the risk of side effects). As an alternative, what about a rule that states whenever a player character eats a well-cooked meal made with fresh ingredients, he or she automatically regains 1 hit point in addition to whatever other rules are being used regarding hit point recovery? This would ordinarily occur in a safe environment such as a house, village, city, manor, or castle rather than the dungeon or out in the untamed wilderness. It would take place in the party's "off time" that they spend in resting, buying supplies, gathering information, and carousing. It also encourages them to spend money and teaches them to appreciate the worth of good cooking. Good food is a comfort one should long for when one is stumbling about in damp caves with sputtering torches and eating cold, flavorless "rations."

This doesn't mean a player gets 1 hit point healed for every meal eaten at a table. The food must be prepared by a good cook with fresh ingredients in an environment conducive to comfortable dining. In other words, not your usual tavern fare. Look to holiday feasts, royal banquets, guild suppers, expensive inns, or even the homes of hospitable farmers. Each such meal will restore 1 hit point automatically, although the question of remuneration must be negotiated on an individual basis.

08 March 2013

Thy Inheritance and Thy Duty

Families and Heirlooms, written by 1d30, solves the problem of how to pass on the possessions of a deceased character to his or her successor in a way that enriches the setting, invests new characters with a sense of continuity, and takes a bit of the sting out of character death. I particularly like how a character's actions affect his or her family's reputation, which in turn may affect the fortunes of any family member starting out as a new character. These rules are probably more suitable for some settings and cultures than others, just as they are more relevant to some role-playing games than others. The next time I start up a Dungeons & Dragons, Labyrinth Lord, or Tunnels & Trolls campaign, I will give them a try.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

07 March 2013

Let the Dice Fall Where They May

Dice in any game contribute suspense. Your strategy may appear flawless, but dice represent the fickle finger of Fate that tends to poke you in the eye just when victory is in sight. On the other hand, it can also point the way to safety just when you think all hope is lost. In a role-playing game, dice are the element of chance that is the great equalizer between the GM and the players. For the GM, dice are both a limitation and a liberation. The GM already bears the burden of describing a world and all the inhabitants the players encounter. When the dice are rolled, however, there is no such burden except to describe the results. Here is where the GM gets to participate like a player, where events in the world the GM created can be influenced by an external neutral force. For those GMs who rarely get the opportunity to be players, this is where they, too, can watch events unfold from a non-omniscient point of view.

In order for this dynamic to work, it is necessary for the dice to be rolled in the open. That is to say, the dice ought to be rolled in full view of the players and the GM. Certain kinds of rolls would still be made secretly by the GM, such as a percentage chance of a certain event or encounter happening or when a player character attempts a skill for which success is not readily discernible (e.g. searching for a secret door or detecting a trap), but rolls that represent a contest between characters or a character and the environment should be visible to all participants in the situation.

One problem this alleviates is distrust by the players. If a player can see the GM's roll, he or she knows that the GM is not fudging rolls for the players' benefit or detriment. Although some GMs are suspected of fudging rolls in favor of their NPCs or monsters, I suspect many more are actually guilty of fudging rolls in favor of the players because they do not wish to be too harsh. I suspect this because I was one of those GMs in my early days in the hobby. Mollycoddling players does them no good in the long run. You may think you are helping them, but in actuality you deprive them of the true taste of victory when they succeed if you withhold the bitterness of defeat when they fail. You are also obstructing their growth as gamers.

Any given dice-rolling tradition is probably as old as any other. Some GMs roll in the open; some roll in secret; some let the players roll, but never tell them the target number; some even roll for the players, too. Different groups have different needs. My needs, both as a GM and a player, require that I get to roll dice and let them fall where they may.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

06 March 2013

Character Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

In most adventure role-playing games, it is important for players to understand that death is a real possibility for characters. If the GM is constantly snatching player characters from the jaws of defeat with fudged dice rolls, an important aspect of the game is being sacrificed. Essentially, it encourages less intelligent decision-making on the part of the players, which usually results in a degradation of verisimilitude at the same time that it diminishes role-playing. Actions that have cushioned consequences (or none at all) lead to irrational and unrealistic character behavior. When the possibility of character death is eliminated, another thing is eliminated, too: risk. Risk is the very heart of game-playing itself. It is also the heart of what constitutes an adventure. So, what happens when you eliminate the element of risk from an adventure game? It makes the activity rather pointless, doesn't it?

Character death is not equal in all role-playing games, however. In some games a new character can be generated in five minutes. In others the process may take hours. In either case, if a player has been using a character for many months (or years), the sudden death of that character can carry quite a sting. Without detracting from the significance of a character's demise, it is possible to make the experience less painful for the player and perhaps even make it enjoyable.

When a character expires, it should be almost as much an occasion for celebration as for mourning, like a traditional New Orleans funeral procession. The character's journey has ended, but that doesn't preclude the player from role-playing the death scene to the hilt. If the scene is role-played well enough, whether seriously or comically, the player ought to be rewarded in some manner when they generate the next character. Depending upon the game, the GM might award the new character bonus experience points, a reroll of one attribute, an extra skill, a special ability, an increased chance for psionics, or anything else that appropriately encourages good role-playing and rewards good sportsmanship. And if any particular behavior should be encouraged above all others, for the health of the hobby and the enjoyment of all, it's good sportsmanship.

[Originally posted here in Fudgerylog.]

05 March 2013

Specifically Why Basic

[Continued from Basically Why Basic.]

First, the advantages of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (practically speaking)...

Basic/Expert D&D

1. Favorable and Simpler Spellcasting

A magic-user must have the freedom to speak and gesture in order to cast a spell, but there are no "material components" to worry about procuring, expending, or recording. The casting time for all spells is one round, so that simplifies the process and reduces rulebook consultation.

2. Favorable and Simpler Spell Memorization

After an uninterrupted full night's sleep, a magic-user requires only one hour to re-memorize all "erased" spells. It's a better rate of recovery and it's uniform.

3. Favorable Ranged Weapon Modifiers

Ranged weapon attacks are +1 at short range, normal at medium range, and -1 at long range compared to AD&D's normal at short range, -2 at medium range, and -5 at long range. Is Basic/Expert D&D generous? Perhaps, but the odds of hitting an opponent at low levels is already ridiculously difficult in D&D. In light of that, I don't think the Basic/Expert modifiers are unreasonable (and it might reduce player frustration).

4. Simpler Alignment System

Three alignments instead of nine. Let the rules demand allegiance to one of the three, and let the players work out the subtleties for themselves.

5. Simpler Spell Descriptions

Simpler spell descriptions are more quickly and easily understood and remembered by players, which means less time is wasted consulting rulebooks. It also gives more freedom to DMs and players to add their own twists to the spells, either in how they function or in their "flavor."

6. Simpler Weapon Damage

Each weapon causes one range of damage regardless of the size of the foe. This reduces complexity and also allows more kinds of weapons to be conflated. The added benefit of this is that a player is likelier to choose a weapon that matches a vision of the character rather than being distracted by a minute examination of relative advantages and disadvantages. The simplification of weapon weight and the absence of weapon speed modifiers also contribute to this benefit.

7. Simpler Weapon List

A simpler weapon list, in addition to the benefit described above, means that players will spend less time trying to decide how to arm themselves. It also means they won't need to research obscure polearms. (Personally, I enjoy researching obscure polearms and all sorts of arms and armor, but it's a wee bit more academic than is required for a game of exploring dungeons and stealing treasure from dragons.)

8. Streamlined Classes

Simpler classes encourage quicker character creation. They are also less intimidating to new players. Perhaps even more importantly, they are not weighed down with fiddly special abilities and rules exceptions that often go ignored by players who can't keep track of them all. With simpler classes, DMs and even players are free to interpret them in their own unique way.

9. Superior Organization of Rules

The Basic and Expert rulebooks may not be perfect (they are divided into two rulebooks, after all), but they are organized in a way that maximizes ease of learning, which is a tremendous advantage if one wants to introduce more people to the hobby. It also contains pretty much only that which is essential. Some rules may be lacking, but they can be easily extrapolated or invented, and this is one of the greatest advantages of Basic/Expert over Advanced. Some of the rules you create to meet the needs of your game as they arise during play are amongst the best rules you will ever use. There are plenty of Web logs in this hobby proving that point daily.

10. Absence of Weapon Proficiency Rules [added 23 March 2013]

I did not realize when I first started playing D&D what a blessing it was not to have to worry about certain things. If I played magic-user, there were few weapons I would be able to wield; if I played a fighter, I could wield any weapon I could buy, find, or otherwise obtain. It was one of the perks of being a fighter. AD&D weapon proficiencies put a stop to that fun. Rather than describe everything I find repugnant about those rules, I'll just pose a simple question: In what way do weapon proficiency rules contribute more fun to the game than they detract from it? I rest my case.

Next, the advantages of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (practically speaking)...

AD&D

1. Favorable Hit Dice for PCs

There's no doubt about it, I prefer the class hit dice in AD&D. I like the idea of each class having its own hit die type. I like the fact that a hard-living thief has a slightly larger hit die than an academic magic-user. I like the fact that a clean-living cleric has a slightly larger hit die than a thief. I like the fact that all of them except the magic-user have a marginally better chance of surviving in a fight. When I play Basic/Expert, I prefer to keep the Advanced hit dice.

2. Favorable Spell Acquisition for Clerics

If ever a party desperately needed a cleric with the ability to heal, it's at first level. I can fathom no reason to withhold the spellcasting ability until second level. Therefore, I don't.

3. Negative Hit Points

In some cases, I can see instant death resulting from a blow, but in a great many cases there is a period of incapacity or limited capacity before death occurs and during which stabilization and later recovery might occur. Sometimes the wounded lie bleeding until they die. Sometimes help arrives in time. That's why I don't mind the negative hit point rule of AD&D. It may not be perfect, but I think it's on the right track. There are many variations, and I'm giving some thought to my own.

Needless to say, I decided to run Basic/Expert with a few Advanced modifications. I'm quite partial to many of the spells and monsters of AD&D, so many of those will be transferred, too. If Labyrinth Lord were published in an edition that incorporated the Original Edition Companion so I wouldn't have to switch between the two books, the work would be done for me. Alas.

04 March 2013

Basically Why Basic

I thought I would outline my reasons why I have returned to Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons instead of continuing with 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, so I decided to list what aspects I prefer of each in purely practical terms. As far as their artistic merits are concerned (writing style, ability to inspire, illustrations), I enjoy both and will continue to draw on both. The purpose of this exercise is to evaluate how the rules are used at the game table. For now, I'll just share the list, but in the future I'll address each aspect in turn. [See Specifically Why Basic.]

Basic/Expert D&D
  1. Favorable and simpler spellcasting
  2. Favorable and simpler spell memorization
  3. Favorable ranged weapon modifiers
  4. Simpler alignment system
  5. Simpler spell descriptions
  6. Simpler weapon damage (no S, M, L divisions)
  7. Simpler weapon list
  8. Streamlined classes
  9. Superior organization of rules
  10. Absence of weapon proficiency rules [added 23 March 2013]
AD&D
  1. Favorable hit dice for PCs
  2. Favorable spell acquisition for clerics (spell at 1st level)
  3. Negative hit points (no automatic death at 0 hit points)

03 March 2013

For the Multi-Classed

I have been drifting in a decidedly anti-multi-class direction lately, but I have been considering hypoethetical circumstances under which I might find it acceptable or possibly even desirable. What immediately springs to mind is the Renaissance man or woman. I am not, of course, referring to anyone who might exist during the Renaissance, but to those individuals whose talents and skills extended to a wide variety of subjects. They were not mere jacks-of-all-trades, but dedicated experts in multiple fields. For these individuals a multi-class option would make sense. This falls in line with another experiment I was considering when I was planning to write my own Original Fantasy Role-Playing Game-compatible RPG. I wanted to create a neo-retro-whatever-clone that justified all the crazy traditional rules in the context of the game world, just as Empire of the Petal Throne did, but without having to place it in an alien setting. Things such as "level," "alignment," "(character) class," and possibly even "saves" would be utterable in-character at the game table because they would be part of the setting. The only way I could justify it without resorting to a campaign world requiring Tékumel-levels of detail was to frame it in terms of a secret society. Certain rare individuals — Renaissance men and women — are privy to the knowledge that there is more to reality than what is ordinarily perceived by most. They are inducted by secret ceremony into an organization that seeks to deal with this other reality in accordance with their goals, or alignment. As they increase their experience with the unknown, their achievement in each class of endeavor is formally recognized by an increase in their level within the organization. As they rise, their ability to save themselves from worse threats also rises.

Such ultra-competent individuals would be above the constraints of the traditional D&D class system, but the traditional multi-class system also falls short. Instead, I envisioned a system based on the OD&D elf. Just as an elf decides at the beginning of each adventure whether to function as a fighter or magic-user, gaining experience only for that class during that time, a player character in my game would decide at the beginning of each adventure whether to function as a cleric, fighter, magic-user, or thief (although I renamed the classes to better fit the setting). Player characters could remain in one class as long as they like and switch classes as often as they like (as long as the switch occurs at the beginning of an adventure). Abilities gained from a class are retained, and the best available saving throw or attack roll is always used.

Non-player characters who are not part of the conspiracy do not qualify to multi-class, nor do they gain levels. They gain ranks. Functionally, they are the same, but to mention "levels" outside of the organization is to reveal a secret and raise the suspicions of the ignorant, which is almost everyone. Mentioning "alignment" also raises eyebrows amongst non-members, and discussing spells, monsters, demons, or planes of existence will surely get one branded as a witch and burnt at the stake.

In this conceptualization, all player characters are human and the setting is more Renaissance than Middle Ages (to reflect the rebirth of the sciences and to emphasize human achievement), but exceptions could be made for the rare visitor from the realm of faerie or those hidden worlds beneath the earth's surface.

Hm... Maybe I should revisit this idea and publish it.

02 March 2013

Against the Multi-Classed

I remember when multi-classed characters appealed to me. I was a beginning role-player, and in Basic/Expert D&D there was only one multi-class option: the elf. Who wouldn't want to wield magic and weaponry and wear armor? One of the greatest attractions of AD&D for me and, I suspect, many others, was the dizzying array of multi-class options. In some ways they made little sense with their arbitrary limits, but the fact that there were so many choices was a strong lure for many gamers. The side effect (at least in my group) was that the ratio of demi-human player characters to human player characters was much higher than their populations in the campaign world. For some players, the preference was based on special capabilities, such as multi-class; for others it was the desire to play an exotic character; for many it was both. I wonder, though, how popular the demi-humans would be if they were functionally identical to humans and differed only in their culture, history, and physical appearance. Perhaps that would be an interesting alternative to explore.

Multi-class options largely bore me now because they water down the classes. Classes are a feature of D&D. If one doesn't like it, one should play a skill-based role-playing game (which is actually my preferred kind). As long as you are using classes at all, you might as well play to their strengths. A character with a class (as opposed to a 0 level character) has a special status in society as well as special capabilities. Let that class inform the development of your character. Instead of the irrational limits of D&D and the multi-class free-for-all of the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion (forgive the hyperbole), try eliminating all multi-class options and level limits, but allow demi-humans to choose any one class just as humans do. Dwarves, elves, and halflings can be clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves. They have no limit to their potential advancement, but they can only choose one class. What makes demi-humans special is the way they are role-played. Allow them their minor abilities, such as the elf's heightened ability to detect secret doors, but don't allow them to be experts at everything (or nearly everything). It just might encourage more players to play humans and reserve the playing of demi-humans to those players most interested in playing them for their own sake rather than for the multi-class advantage. That, I think, is where I am headed.

[See also For the Multi-Classed.]

01 March 2013

Magical Spell: Miniaturize

Magic-users are crafty when it comes to making their lives easier. A case in point is the spell miniaturize. It has many uses, but it was originally researched to enable magic-users to make their libraries more portable. Casting this spell will reduce a book the size of the Dungeon Masters Guide to about 4x3 inches (10x8 cm). An entire bookcase with 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica measuring approximately 28x24x12 inches (71x61x30.5 cm) could be miniaturized to 9x8x4 inches (23x20x10 cm), which is about the size of a single hardcover dictionary. A miniaturized book will often remain perfectly readable (as owners of the miniature AD&D rulebooks published by Twenty First Century Games will attest), so a magic-user with good eyesight or a magnifier need not restore a book to normal size to use it whilst adventuring. Spellcasters have found other ingenious uses for this spell, but reduction of book mass remains its most common application.

Miniaturize

Spell Class: Magic-user
Spell Level: 4
Range: 0
Duration: permanent

This spell will reduce the size of an object or collection of objects to 1:3 scale. The initial area affected may not be larger than 1 cubic foot (30.5 cubic cm) per level of the caster. Only inanimate objects can be affected by this spell. Each casting of miniaturize on the same object will reduce its size by a factor of three, i.e. the second casting will reduce it to 1:6 scale, a third to 1:9, a fourth to 1:12, etc. The magic-user must use a dispel magic spell to restore a miniaturized object to its normal size.