A THAC0 PSA

(from a G+ comment that might be of use to somebody some day)

THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0) was introduced in an an appendix in the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, but didn’t become a staple of D&D until 2nd edition and has been confusing too many people ever since, despite the fact that it’s really quite easy.

Here’s a way of looking at it that sometimes helps people who find THAC0 confusing: THAC0 is your Target Number. Roll your d20, add the critter’s AC and see if you get your Target Number or higher. Functionally it’s exactly the same as rolling a d20 and adding your attack bonus, it’s just that instead of your attack bonus getting higher as you level up, your Target Number gets lower. The part that varies from critter to critter is always the AC, whether you’re adding it to the roll or comparing the roll + your fixed attack bonus to it.

Where it gets confusing is that lazy DMs who want to conceal the AC from the players expect them to announce they hit AC X, forcing them to take their roll and subtract from THAC0, which most people find harder than adding their bonus to the roll and announcing that as the AC they hit. A non-lazy DM who wanted to conceal AC would just have everybody’s THAC0/Attack Bonus written down and then they’d just announce their roll.

Personally, I think DM’s shouldn’t conceal AC, at least not beyond the first round of combat; firstly, AC started as simply a designation for the armor you were wearing: Shield Only was 8, Leather was 7, Leather with a shield was 6, Chainmail was 5, Chainmail with a shield was 4, etc.  Dexterity didn’t even figure into it, so if you saw somebody in armor you knew what Armor Class they were, the DM didn’t have anything to conceal.  Monsters were just given AC to fit in this scheme.  Eventually other factors such as high Dexterity, small or large size, and so forth were figured in, but I don’t think the system was ever suited to the kind of guessing games that concealing the exact AC promotes. It seems to me that even if you believe that it’s logical for the players to not know how fast or what kind of magic the target has that might make it harder or easier to hit than its size and visible armor would indicate, after spending anywhere from six seconds to a minute (depending on edition) locked in combat players ought to have a good sense of what it would take to actually land a telling blow.  Moreover, unless you also conceal their die-rolls from them, they’re going to learn the minimum necessary to hit after a few attempts anyway.  Finally, if you’re open about the AC you make it easier for the players to make reasonable decisions (always a good thing, IMO) and you can speed up the game by reducing the back-and-forth; it’s more satisfying for the player to be able to declare “I hit” than “I rolled a 14, does that hit?”

Save vs Charm

(from a comment on G+ that got too long)

+James Brigham  asked on G+Our wizard casts Charm Person at +6. It regularly occurs that she casts so high that only a natural 20 can save – and the check is repeated only in weeks or months. I know the game is not about balancing, but this seems wacky. Or maybe I got it wrong?  (correction,  James says it was originally Oliver Korpilla’s question and he was just sharing it)

A couple things to think about before you decide it’s OP:

1) the wording of the spell is that the target “falls under the caster’s complete control, as if it were his friend.” As Judge, I would emphasize the friend, not the control; there are strong limits on what people will do even for trusted friends, and the more evil the character the more likely they will be willing to betray or even murder a friend under the right circumstances. Rather than altering the mechanics of the spell, work through the role-playing aspects of it.

2) The spell grants no extra ability to communicate with the target. Maybe you’ve charmed that Reptile-man, but have fun pantomiming what you want him to do. (No, really, have fun with it: make them act it out.)

3) There are penalties for trying to apply it to anything except standard mundane humanoids, and it’s entirely up to the Judge what counts as mundane. Depending on your campaign by the time characters are at levels where >20 DCs on the checks are routine, a 0 or 1st level mundane humanoid doesn’t pose much of a combat threat anyway. If they could kill someone easily, then it’s not particularly worrisome they can befriend it instead as long as you don’t let them turn their friends into complete puppets. If the target is high enough level that’s not true, it’s high enough level that it may have some magical protection against spells like that or boosts to its Will save beyond Per Bonus + Class Bonus. Or be able to cast that spell against the players. Which leads to

4) it’s a core principle of DCC that NPCs and monsters aren’t limited to following the same rules as PCs. If you’re really having a problem with the players blowing through things that you thought would be fun and challenging by befriending everything in sight, consider what kind of situations you could put them in where that wouldn’t help. It could be as simple as if they can neutralize/ally with 2d6 humanoids per round it’s time to  up the stakes to adventures where there are potentially hundreds of humanoid enemies if they play recklessly.  Or perhaps the next enemy employs automata that are immune to charm.  The point isn’t to thwart them so much as to only play out the stuff that’s interesting because it’s hard for them.  Treat the encounters they can  just charm their way through as routine.

5) Try to work out the logical consequences of things and if they seem to be a problem consider how the world would react. If you look at a spell like Charm Person and ask given that, why are there any kings as all that aren’t under the thrall of some 3rd level Wizard? it’s up to you as Judge to make that work for you. Maybe you only get to be (or stay) king if you have some kind of magical protection against that sort of thing; maybe the very fact you’re king grants you a blessing from the gods of the kingdom that protects you; maybe successful kings are paranoid and don’t let strangers within casting distance of them; maybe some are in thrall to their court wizard and anybody attempting to charm the king has to deal with that wizard, etc.

 

Empty Spaces in a Dungeon

A dungeon should be a series of interesting choices, and anything that doesn’t contribute to that should be minimized. A purely empty room doesn’t contribute anything, so if you feel you need them for verisimilitude or on the off chance they’ll provide tactical options in case a fight or chase happens nearby you should spend the least amount of time possible describing them and let the players move through them quickly to the next interesting bit. Similarly, rooms filled with trash or red herrings are just tests of the player’s patience: can you bore them ’til they skip over something relevant isn’t a game you should be playing (imo). Dungeons become much more interesting if every place you stop to describe something at least contains some clue as to what might be nearby or something that might be useful elsewhere in the dungeon. Let them fast-forward through everything that’s just blank or has zero-information choices like left or right down identical blank corridors.

The one exception I can think of is sometimes moving through empty rooms can build tension, but that only works if you establish that the fact you’ve dropped into turn-by-turn describing empty areas means that something is about to go down. If you deliberately do the opposite so the players won’t “meta-game” that they’re about to encounter something significant you lose that opportunity.  If you’re playing a D&D-like, you’ve already got surprise rolls to determine if the characters have let their guard down, you don’t need to inflict tedium on the players until they make sub-optimal decisions.

A Touch Less Lame

Quick, what spell requires a melee to-hit roll in addition to the casting roll, and a point of spell-burn, and allows the target a saving throw, all to have a single round to attempt to do an extra 1d6 damage (at least on a minimal success)?  Yes, it’s the worst spell in any DCC wizard’s Grimoire, even less useful than the much-maligned Ekim’s Mystical Mask: Chill Touch. Really, the spell is so bad I’m convinced that some aspects like the Will save to resist are just cut-and-paste errors from some other spell. The chance of a first level caster actually succeeding at inflicting damage with this spell at the minimal level is around 15% against an unarmored target. (Chance of casting the spell times the chance of landing a hit next round times the chance the target fails its save.) And you have to sacrifice a point of Spellburn to even try!

I don’t object at all to some spells having drawbacks, or being generally less useful than others, but I strongly feel there ought to be some circumstance where even a minimal success makes a spell worth casting. With Chill Touch as written you’re strictly better off trying to hit twice with your melee weapon than spending a round and a point of one of your stats charging your weapon and then attacking and hoping the target fails the save.

I use the following house rules to make it a little more worthwhile: 

  1. As discussed in the previous post on touch attacks, allow the chill damage to hit on any melee attack roll of 10 or better. I.e. ignore armor.
  2. No saving roll.
  3. The effect lasts until the caster scores a successful hit, or if there’s duration remaining (iow on rolls of 18+), every hit until time runs out.

It’s still a somewhat questionable spell because of that Spellburn, but at least this way you don’t have to be crazy to cast it. If you succeed you’ll probably manage to do that extra 1d6 at some point, if you don’t get killed in melee first.

Touché: touch attacks in DCC

This one isn’t even a House Rule as much as an observation that any attack that would have hit but for the AC bonus armor grants presumably smacked the target but failed to penetrate the armor. I like to emphasize this when describing the result of the attack. In DCC this is dead easy because the dividing line between a clean miss and at least hitting the armor is just 10, give or take agility modifiers.

I like this both because it makes the description more vivid at almost no cost and because otherwise some folk get hung up on the notion that armor is making you dodgier and want to introduce some sort of damage reduction instead. Best nip that in the bud.

I think it’s a toss-up whether you want to extend that observation to true 3e-style “touch attacks” where spells like Chill Touch only need to beat the AC before armor bonus in order to take  effect, or you stick with beating the AC.  On the one hand, if the caster has to get into melee and beat the AC that makes all the levels of Chill Touch where it only lasts one round pretty damn punk.  A spell that probably has less than 50% chance of affecting a target even if you succeed in casting it (up to a check of 17), and then only if you put your unarmored wizard in the thick of things, and always costs a point of Spell Burn to cast? What a rip-off.   On the other hand, if you allow that kind of touch you actually need to worry about how much of a foe’s AC is armor vs agility bonus, and that’s the kind of finicky drag that I play DCC to avoid. How much of a griffon’s AC 17 is tough hide vs. speed?  Obviously you can just make a ruling and go, but it’s one more thing to remember when it comes up. That said, I’m inclined to allow it, if only because of how much my one player who got stuck with the spell hates it when he’s reduced to trying it.

TL;DR Make note of when an attack roll beats 10 but not the AC and use that to inform your description of the attack bouncing off the armor.

Paltry Deeds: A DCC House Rule

Mighty Deeds are one of my favorite bits in DCC, but I sometimes feel that if you have this elegant way of resolving everything that might be a maneuver in a clunkier system (push back, knock down, disarm, blind, feint, etc.) it would be nice if you could apply that to 0-level characters and other classes trying the same kind of stunts.  You just wouldn’t want them to be as good at it, since making  Warriors cool and special is part of the point.

Thus, the following house rule: anybody can at least try a minimal deed in conjunction with their regular action (called here a Paltry Deed) by rolling a d6. Whatever they roll isn’t added to their to-hit or damage, but if they get a 6 and their Action Die is also a success then they accomplish their declared Deed as if they’d the rolled the lowest level of a Mighty Deed.

Variant 1: You don’t want them trying all the time, so to attempt a Paltry Deed they have to drop their action die 1 level.

Variant 2: That’s all very well, but shouldn’t they be slightly better if they have a high attribute value in the thing they’re attempting?  Well, the attribute value will help them in the roll on the Action Die, but if you want to tie it to Attribute Bonus then they have to get the highest result possible on a :

Paltry Deed succeeds on highest possible roll on
-3 d12
-2 d10
-1 d8
0 d6
+1 d5
+2 d4
+3 d3

Variant 3: The real problem with Paltry Deeds is you never improve as you level up, except insofar as your attack bonus improves your chance of a success on the Action.  OK, then look at the Attack Bonus for your level:

Paltry Deed succeeds on highest possible roll on
0 d6
1-2 d5
3-4 d4
4-5 d3
6+ d2

Variant 4: Some wacky combination of the above.  Left as an exercise for the reader.

Fighting Withdrawal: A DCC House Rule

DCC combat greatly simplifies the mess that is Attacks of Opportunity and the various maneuvers and feats to get around them in 3e+: you move out of melee, everybody next to you gets one free attack.   Unfortunately, from my point of view, that works against something  I regard as one of the big pluses of hit point systems: the ability to break off and run when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or the dice are running hot against you. DCC combat is deadly enough without making retreat nigh impossible unless you were tough enough to just stand there and take it a bunch more rounds anyway.

A fix for this would be to revive one of the rules from back in the Basic D&D era, the Fighting Withdrawal.  In a Fighting Withdrawal you could back up while still fighting,  up to half your movement distance, and the attacker wouldn’t get a free attack (because of the phased move then melee combat in Basic, it didn’t work precisely like that, but it amounted to the same thing).  Phased combat resolution and zones of control have gone the way of the dodo, and mostly good riddance, but it was handy for preventing people from zipping all over the battlefield as if everybody else was time-stopped while you’re doing your thing.

DCC keeps the essence of zones of control rules (you can’t just leave melee when you please), but makes it a little too strict.  On the other hand, allowing a complete half-move while withdrawing is a shade too generous without phased movement and group initiative, since depending on how the initiative rolls went you could have practically everybody else involved in the combat take their turn while there’s still a half-move sized gap between the retreating defender and the attackers. You could allow the attacker to do an immediate follow-up half-move, but then things could get hinky if there’s a big disparity between the movement rates of the defender and attacker or if the move took the following-up attacker past a bunch of other combatants.

TL;DR here’s my  proposed house rule:

You may elect to make a Fighting Withdrawal by taking a single five-foot step to your rear, if there’s room.  The foe may immediately elect to follow up with a single five-foot step of its own; this takes place out of initiative order, and doesn’t count as the foe’s turn, which will happen in the normal initiative order. If this would take the foe out of melee with any of its enemies, they may also immediately take a step to keep it in melee, just as if it had done a Fighting Withdrawal.  If anybody eligible to follow up a Fighting Withdrawal chooses not to follow, the withdrawer is out of melee with them.

I think this lets you do neat things like, say, backing slowly across a bridge while defending yourself, while still being pretty friendly to “theater of the mind” style play where nobody is using miniatures or marking a battle mat.  I’ll be trying this out tonight.

Update: I tried it out and it worked perfectly.  The caster was able to retreat out of combat without getting chopped up while his mates covered for him; it wasn’t a gimme, because the monsters got to decide whether to follow him, but I rolled and they decided the summoned bear that was in their face was a bigger threat.