01 August 2021

#RPGaDay 2021 Begins

This year, I am participating in #RPGaDay2021 in the same manner as the previous two years, i.e. tweeting my daily responses throughout the month of August and publishing them here as a single article on 1 September. If you wish to follow my progress on Twitter, my handle is @Cuparius. To follow the conversation at large (or to participate in it), use #RPGaDay2021 for this year's topics. Visit the RPG a Day Facebook page for more information.

04 July 2021

First Place: Fleeting Luck

It may sound like the name of a racehorse, but fleeting Luck is a rule from DCC Lankhmar that is so good I shall be using it with all future games of DCC RPG and MCC RPG I run. I was never fully satisfied with the Luck rules in DCC RPG, but fleeting Luck solves the problem I had.

What problem? The problem is threefold.

  1. For the price of 1 Luck point, all you get is a +1 modifier to one roll.
  2. For non-thieves and non-halflings, regaining Luck occurs rarely.
  3. Luck is capped at character generation. If you are awarded Luck, but you are at your maximum, you get nothing.

If the judge awards Luck sparingly, the cost of using Luck is too great to justify unless you are a thief or a halfling. If the judge awards Luck generously, then only those who spend Luck will ever benefit from it, and those whose starting Luck is low will not be easily persuaded to spend what little they have when Luck may be all that saves them when it comes to "rolling the body."

I think the problem could have been avoided by separating Luck from other ability scores in the first place. Luck isn't an "ability." It's just something you have. It ought to be fluid, with no upper limit, and it ought to be spent freely to a point. But that issue is moot. Luck is entrenched as an ability.

Luckily... DCC Lankhmar introduces the concept of fleeting Luck, which is a compromise between Luck as a mostly static ability and Luck as a fluid resource. To summarize, player characters have the traditional Luck ability, but they also start with 1 point of fleeting Luck. Fleeting Luck is gained far more easily and often, but if anyone in the party rolls a 1 during an attack, spell check, or ability check, then everyone in the party loses all of their fleeting Luck, which must be gained anew. Every player character starts each new adventure with 1 point of fleeting Luck as it cannot be saved.

This makes Luck far more interesting to use. It still carries risk, but it also makes it worth the risk. It also enables the player characters cursed with low Luck scores to take riskier actions when necessary without hobbling them for the rest of their adventuring careers.

So, fleeting Luck will be standard in my games from now on, but I do have another alternative, which I may or may not use, but I'll save it for a future article.

03 July 2021

DCC Dying Earth on Kickstarter

Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories, adapted as a setting with expanded rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, is currently in progress as a Kickstarter project. This new boxed set promises to be as glorious as the Lankhmar boxed set, and has already surpassed it in pledges. For more details, see the DCC Dying Earth Kickstarter project.

26 June 2021

Fly, You Fools!

The wisdom of knowing when to fight and when to flee in a role-playing game is of paramount importance in those games that eschew the concept of "balanced" encounters, and of this matter I am in complete agreement. It is an elementary aspect of strategy that is as true in a game as it is in fiction or life. Why, I must ask, do those very same games then punish player characters for availing themselves of this legitimate tactic? Let us examine their ways. First, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 70) has this to say:

At such time as any creature decides, it can break off the engagement and flee the mêlée. To do so, however, allows the opponent a free attack or attack routine. This attack is calculated as if it were a rear attack upon a stunned opponent. When this attack is completed, the retiring/fleeing party may move away at full movement rate, and unless the opponent pursues and is able to move at a higher rate of speed, the melee is ended and the situation becomes one of encounter avoidance.

From the 1980 Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (p. B25), we are given this version:

RETREAT: Any movement backwards at more than 1/2 the normal movement rate is a retreat. If a creature tries to retreat, the opponent may add +2 to all "to hit" rolls, and the defender is not allowed to make a return attack. In addition to the bonus on "to hit" rolls, the attacks are further adjusted by using the defender's Armor Class without a shield. (Any attacks from behind are adjusted in the same manner.)

From the 5th printing of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (p. 95), we are given this version:

Once a character is engaged in mêlée, he cannot back away without opening himself to attack. If a character or monster withdraws from an active melee — whether to retreat, move to a new position, or attempt some action — his opponents immediately receive a single free attack.

Granted, there is a distinction to be made between retreating from combat versus choosing not to engage in it in the first place, but I would suggest that breaking off from a fight ought to have only two possible negative consequences: either the opponent will pursue or the opponent will attack with a ranged weapon (and the character in flight will have no ability to dodge, parry, or block such an attack). No special rules are needed. Combatant A chooses to retreat. Combatant B, when her turn comes up, may choose to give chase and make a mêlée attack if and when she is close enough, or make a ranged attack where she stands. It's a natural result that requires no intervention.

What is served by ignoring the rules above? Besides not having to commit them to memory, it preserves a viable tactic that one can see in fiction and reality. Sometimes combatants retreat. Not every fight is to the death. The rules as written would have you believe otherwise, however, as combatants are forced to consider opening themselves to attack in order to avoid attacks.

And how exactly does one achieve this seemingly magical "free attack" when an opponent is literally moving out of range of close combat? All it does is enforce static — and therefore unrealistic and boring — fights. And none of us wants that.

So, in summary, my house rule on free attacks against retreating combatants is that there are no free attacks against retreating combatants. Follow the normal flow of action.

03 June 2021

Setting Nomenclature II, or, More Dumb Names for Campaign Worlds

Previously, I mentioned the name change of one of my more recent settings (wherein The Sundered Land became Some Dread Land). Now I would like to describe the folly of my earliest campaign worlds.

Murdundia (q.v.) was, I believe, my first original setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike most role-playing fantasy settings, it reflected a monotheistic culture to make better use of paladins, clerics, demons, and devils. I think the name itself might have been inspired by "Mundania," the nonmagical land in the Xanth novels by Piers Anthony, but there the similiarity ended. "It's the world of... uh... Murdundia."

Cyclica was a setting dominated by a vast, circular megalopolis reminiscent of Constantinople and Lankhmar, but far more orderly. It was the only significant city in the known world, and the rest of civilization was feudal. I created the world of Cyclica as a setting for the adventures of a player character who was a saint, which was a class that appeared in DRAGON Magazine and was strictly intended for non-player characters. (Ludicrous, I know. We were junior high school students at the time, so that's our excuse.) "Cyclica" was meant to evoke the idea of a circular structure expanding gradually, but it always sounded contrived.

The World of Chickenhawk was my most detailed setting, a parody of a certain popular campaign world complete with sophomoric puns. I even ran an adventure at Gen Con set in Chickenhawk when I was a high school student. And I still have the world map and the adventure and the pregens! Chickenhawk is just, well, silly.

02 June 2021

Setting Nomenclature, or, Dumb Names for Campaign Worlds

Unless I come up with the title or name of a thing first, I find coming up with titles and names of things to be the hardest part of creating a thing. Oh, I can have a very vivid idea of the thing, but giving it a name that is both a.) good and b.) not already taken is a herculean task for me.

This is all just to say that I have changed the name of the setting I created when I started actively gaming again in 2014 after a long hiatus. (See session reports.) That setting was originally called "The Sundered Land," but after seeing that same name, or variations thereof, used for other fantasy settings (oh, the shame), I decided a moment ago to change it to "Some Dread Land." I will not, as I tend to do, agonize at length to find the "perfect" name. No, it's just Some Dread Land (sometimes rendered Somedreadland), which is simple, somewhat descriptive, and somewhat sounds like its previous name. I think it serves its purpose.

If only I could think of a name for that other project...

29 May 2021

The Burden of Adventuring

Encumbrance has been a thorn in my side since the dawn of my gaming experience, and with the exception of the Ghostbusters role-playing game (with its carrying limit of three pieces of equipment — that's pretty much the entirety of its encumbrance rules), I inevitably resort to that old hand-waving standby: whatever seems reasonable. There ought to be consequences for overburdening oneself, but if calculating the weight or encumbrance units of every item carried is the price, I'm not willing to pay it.

There is a solution. In Aeons & Augauries, JDJarvis introduces the idea of Save vs. Encumbrance. I have vowed to try it in the next session of DCC RPG I run, with a few additional rules. I have codified it thusly:

A character can carry up to 20 items, which are listed numerically on the character sheet. Backbacks, pouches, bags, and the like (and their contents) count as one item each. Armor worn counts as one item.

Whenever a character attempts an activity that would be hindered by a character's encumbrance, a d20 Encumbrance check must be made. The difficulty of the check is the total number of items carried. If the check is successful, things proceed normally. If the check is unsuccessful, then there is a complication.

Complications could take the form of outright failure, partial failure, a -1 fatigue penalty (that is cumulative and affects all d20 rolls until eliminated), or the loss of (or damage to) the item in a character's inventory corresponding to the number rolled for the Encumbrance check.

N.B. One carried item is always protected from loss or damage in an Encumbrance check: the last item on the list. Since a check succeeds when the roll is equal to or higher than the target number (i.e. the total number of items carried), the item corresponding to the target number is automatically safe.

Example: An adventurer is carrying eight items:

  1. sword
  2. backpack (containing food, cooking gear, a blanket, extra clothes, a waterskin, a tinderbox, a knife, and a mirror)
  3. shield
  4. pouch (containing coins)
  5. hand axe
  6. lantern
  7. flask of oil
  8. scroll case (containing maps)

The adventurer attempts to leap across a crevasse. Ordinarily, this would not require any kind of roll because the crevasse isn't that wide, but since the adventurer is being pursued and is carrying equipment, an Encumbrance check is deemed necessary. The player rolls 1d20 and gets a 4. The GM can rule that the character fails and falls into the crevasse; partially fails and is hanging on the edge (requiring a further roll or help from a comrade); succeeds, but now has a -1 fatigue penalty to further rolls; or succeeds, but drops the pouch of coins (item #4) into the crevasse. Had the player rolled 8 or higher, the adventurer would have made the leap with no complications.

Again, this was inspired by Save vs. Encumbrance by JDJarvis.

01 May 2021

Table: Scrolls of Profound Deja Vu (Expanding Unknown Table)

Behold the Scrolls of Profound Déjà Vu! Do they not remind you of something? This is the twelfth table of the Expanding Unknown Table.

Scrolls of Profound Déjà Vu

Roll 1d12

1. One spell
2. Two spells
3. Three spells
4. Protection from Logic (Invokes a potent invisible sphere of anti-logic in a 4 cubit radius from the reader, preventing any form of logic from passing in or out of its confines for 1d30 minutes.)
5. Protection from Possessions (Causes all of one's possessions to fly from one's person instantly. Prevents the gathering of any possessions for 1d30 hours. Affects only the reader.)
6. Protection from Unfun Dead (Creates a barrier with a 6 cubit radius against all undead who do not embrace fun. Has a duration of 2d6 hours.)
7. Protection from Verification (Prevents anyone from verifying the reader's identity for 3d4 hours.)
8. Protection from Weevil (Destroys any weevil that enters its 8 cubit radius with an accompanying clap of thunder. Has a duration of 1d30 days.)
9. One misspell
10. Two misspells
11. Three misspells
12. Four misspells

28 April 2021

Table: Tavern Encounters (Expanding Unknown Table)

Ah, taverns. Ah, encounters. Encounters in taverns. This is the eleventh table of the Expanding Unknown Table.

Tavern Encounters

Roll 1d8

1. A fortune teller offers to foretell your future in exchange for a drink. (The fortunes are surprisingly accurate if a bit meandering and slurred.)
2. A troubador asks to sit at your table to listen to your tales of adventure. (The troubador is prone to extreme exaggeration, and will recount any tale with at least twice as much danger and bravado.)
3. A rat scurries from under your table, and you could swear it paused and winked at you before it disappeared through a hole.
4. A mysterious individual in a hooded cloak sits alone and unmoving at a table in the corner, seemingly listening to everything, but uttering nothing. (It's a trick of the light. Someone just put their pack on a chair and hung their cloak over it. It isn't Strider.)
5. A fight erupts between two identical individuals who claim they are the same person. Each will accuse the other of being an imposter. (In fact they are two drunk doppelgängers fighting over who gets to impersonate the person they may or may not have killed.)
6. A guard bursts through the door and demands to know if the quiz has started yet. (It hasn't.)
7. A lutenist and a singer perform a very sad song, creating a melancholy atmosphere in the tavern until someone tosses them a coin and tells them to play something more cheerful. They perform the same sad song, but with a faster tempo and smiles on their faces.
8. The tavernkeeper's cat — a lynx, really — curls up on your lap and falls asleep, flexing its long, sharp claws as it dreams. (Sudden moves are inadvisable.)

27 April 2021

Table: Words of Rejection (Expanding Unknown Table)

Are you being pestered by unwelcome advances at your favorite local [anywhere]? Do courtiers try to court you? Do your suitors not suit you? Are you tired of saying the same thing day after day and night after night? Then try these random words of rejection. This is the tenth table of the Expanding Unknown Table.

Words of Rejection

Roll 1d10

1. "Are you through with that so-called proposal? Well, I propose you back off before I run you through!"
2. "Death is a likelier outcome. Your death, to be precise."
3. "Do you need a pantomime to explain it to you?" (Rude gesture.)
4. "Fare thee in Hell."
5. "I'd rather succumb to the plague than spend an evening with you."
6. "I'd sooner clean stables than continue this conversation."
7. "Marry you? No, but I'm willing to bury you as soon as you like."
8. "What? I don't speak oafish."
9. "You call that a sword? Looks more like a pig-sticker to me."
10. "Your offer is as tantalizing as a pit full of dung."