D&D Castle Inhabitants

Since I can’t use a multi-step table without wanting to automate it here’s a Inspiration Pad Pro table I wrote to generate the inhabitants of a castle, according to the charts in Original D&D LBBs.  They looked like this:

OD&DCastleInhabitantsOD&DCastleInhabitants2

Additionally, castles would have 30-180 guards, split 50-50 between Light Foot armed with crossbows and Heavy Foot.

Personally, I think the picture of the world they paint is pretty amazing… far more unusual than the “vanilla fantasy” that D&D is often accused of being.  I’m really looking forward to my players interacting with this in the future.

The generator file is on the NBos Software site.  Example output:

Patriarch, with 6 Superheroes, 70 guards
Evil High Priest, with 10 Spectres, 130 guards , Assistant (level 6)
Evil High Priest, with 5 Spectres, 140 guards , Assistant (level 6), Assistant (level 4)
Lord, with 3 Giants, 120 guards , Cleric (level 3)
Lord, with 3 Myrmidons, 140 guards
Evil High Priest, with 10 White Apes, 90 guards , Assistant (level 6), Assistant (level 6), Assistant (level 6), Assistant (level 7), Assistant (level 6)
Patriarch, with 6 Superheroes, 60 guards
Wizard, with 1 Wyverns, 100 guards , Fighting Man (level 7) , Apprentice (level 7)
Lord, with 5 Myrmidons, 110 guards , Cleric (level 4)
Superhero, with 9 Swashbucklers, 110 guards

Infravision

I was just watching a whole discussion that Dan “Delta” Collins and Paul Siegel were having on their Wandering DMs YouTube channel all about Infravision, and just when I was going to leave a comment about how I would rule it, they came to my preferred solution: treat it like thermal imaging.

Basically, if you’re going back to the beginning when Elves and Dwarves had “infravision” and not “dark vision” or “low light” vision, the question is what exactly can they see, and how far. Can they see details?  Colors?  Is the ability washed out by torches? The LBBs are actually silent on the whole matter, while Chainmail says Dwarves and Elves “can see in normal darkness as if it were light”.  Interestingly, so can Wizards (in OD&D that must be the purpose of the Infravision spell).  Greyhawk specifies that Dwarves can see monsters up to 60′ away in the dark.

I’m not 100% sure of how we ran it back in the day, when we didn’t even have Chainmail but did get Greyhawk shortly after it showed up in the local game store.  As best as I can recall, though, we took the “see monsters” and “infravision” description pretty seriously, treating it as the ability to see heat.  That meant no ability to discern anything that wasn’t hot: no stone walls, doors, statues, traps… if it wasn’t warmer than the surroundings it just wasn’t visible without a light source.

Interestingly, I don’t think we arrived at that because of concerns of the distances lanterns and torches worked vs. the 60′ for infravision, because we mostly didn’t track light sources and the like.  It was too finicky for us, we just wanted to kick down doors and kill monsters and take their stuff.  Maybe there was an occasional trap or something that  dunked you in water and doused your torch, but I just don’t recall much if any discussion of how far down a corridor you could see…but I do recall discussions of things like whether zombies were room temperature or not.

The only thing I think I would do differently now is I’d probably let Dwarves and Elves operate in “ordinary darkness”, that is to say outdoors at night, as if it were daylight as per the Chainmail rules.   It’s only in dungeons and caverns where you have near total darkness,with barely a stray photon, that I’d be more strict about the limits of infravision. And I think that Paul has a good point in the video, that you don’t want characters able to see up to 60′ in a dungeon with perfect clarity: most published dungeon maps are drawn to a scale where seeing that far spoils all the surprise about what’s down at the end of the corridor, or lurking in the far side of a big room.  On the other hand, being able to see if there’s a living creature down there, but nothing about its surrounding or maybe even what it is… that’s giving the players options while keeping things still a bit spooky and mysterious.

Having infravision washed out by nearby heat sources like torches, as in later editions of D&D, strikes me as more trouble than it’s worth, particularly if you’re limiting it to only what infravision as thermal imaging would show.

One bit that I  don’t recall seeing much online discussion of, and that Dan and Paul didn’t touch on, is that it’s clear from Book III of the LBB that “Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character.”  I recall somebody somewhere pointing to that as evidence of the “Mythic Underworld” nature of dungeons, and I may run with that for my End Times campaign.  Or I may forget about it  as just another thing that’s too fiddly to worry about.

Original Edition Delta Plus DCC

As much as I’m looking forward to getting back to the stark simplicity of OD&D (as streamlined and simplified by Original Edition Delta) there are certain rules from Dungeon Crawl Classics that I’m unwilling to do without because they fix what seems to me to be genuine problems with OD&D (at least for me and my players).

  1. Mighty Deeds for Fighters. The DCC Mighty Deeds rule just makes Fighting Men more fun to play, and really makes up for the relative lack of options that FM get as they level up and the other classes get more and better abilities.  More than that, it gives me as Dungeon Master and simple and consistent way of adjudicating all the crazy shenanigans that Fighting Men ought to be getting up to: tripping, disarming, swinging from chandeliers, throwing sand in the face of the foe, etc. Of course I can make rulings on the fly, but I appreciate having a rough framework to help.  Gygax, et. al. had an actuarial approach to combat: as long as over hundreds of rolls the statistics worked out, who cares what happens moment by moment in a combat round.  Only everybody I play with regularly, that’s who.  Even back in the 70’s we never really paid attention to the “fast and furious” one minute combat rounds.
  2. Luck instead of Wisdom.  Since OED removes Clerics, and I agree with the reasons for doing that, it leaves Wisdom as a dead stat.  Luck is better for a pulpy game, and the ability to spend Luck when you really need to succeed, coupled with the sure knowledge that your Luck is running out when you do that does great things for the game, IMO.  It also helps with the the problem I sometimes perceive of an allegedly competent character getting a few unlucky rolls and coming across as a useless twerp; yes, in the long run the probabilities will prevail, but in a game with a decent dose of lethality we may all be dead before the long run. I’m not usually a fan of “meta” game currencies like Hero points and the like, but Luck is different… characters like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser worry about their luck in a way that makes more sense with Luck as a spendable resource than just what you get from rolls of the dice.
  3. Luck Die for Thieves. as per DCC Thieves cans add their Luck Die to any of their rolls by spending a point of Luck, which they recover 1 point per level per night. Thieves in OD&D suck, and OED just simplifies the math around that.  I know all the apologetics for really low chances of success at anything except climbing (not even reaching 50-50 chances until nearly name level), and probably have written a few myself.  The fact remains that, except for climbing, you’d be better off playing a Fighting Man or Magic User that sneaks around and steals stuff.  The Luck Die fixes all that.  Even with your terrible starting probabilities, if you spend Luck you can make it count when it’s important.
  4. Recovering Spells Through Spellburn. I’m not going whole hog into the DCC spell charts, because as great as I think they are, some of my players seem to really resent the randomness.  So we’ll be using the clearly defined OED Book of Spells and the usual spells per day charts, but since I think that oh, you’re out of spells, you can just throw daggers is and always was lame, while the 5e solution of endless cantrips makes the game feel like a JRPG setting I’m going to let Wizards attempt to cast an already expended spell via Spellburning. Same as DCC rules, it’s a point of Spellburn per level of spell… plus to succeed they’ll have to roll a check against DC 11+ spell level. The points of Spellburn to recover the spell won’t add to the roll, but I’ll probably let them burn more to try to make sure that the spell actually goes off. I’m definitely going to make them roll on the creepy Spellburn actions chart instead of just ticking off the points of STR, DEX or CON.
  5. Rolling the Body. Instead of death at zero HP or Delta’s rule allowing a Death Save, just roll the body after combat per DCC: roll less than your remaining Luck and you miraculously survived… you haven’t burned all your Luck, have you?  Heh. Heh.  The loss of a point from a random physical attribute will keep this from being a permanent “Get Out of Death Free” card even for players who hoard their Luck.
  6. Crits and Fumbles from DCC. I like Delta’s rule about being able to save against crits and fumbles, as well as 1 HD or less creatures not generating crits, but the Good Hits and Bad Misses chart from the Dragon magazine that he uses strikes me as both too bland and too punishing.  I think I prefer the DCC charts as well as the way that Fighters’ crits are better than other classes and improve with level.  I think I’m also going to keep DCC’s rule that Thieves crit on back-stab, too, instead of just boring old double damage; the victim will still get a save as per Delta.
  7. Dwarves can smell gold, and Elves are allergic to iron. Those are just too much fun in RP terms to part with.  Magic armor and weapons won’t pose a problem to elves, that would be too cruel, but they better stick to leather and weapons like bows and spears or try to find some mithril until they can get magic. I note that in OD&D encounters in the wild, bands of Elves have AC 5, which implies either chain without a shield or (more likely at least in this setting) Leather, Shield and a +1 from DEX.

These Are the End Times

The world has ended. The great kingdoms have fallen, and their cities lie in ruins. Far to the north the forces of Law clashed against the forces of Chaos, and were defeated. But in their moment of triumph the armies of the invading barbarian hordes overreached, and lost control of the dark powers that had carried them to victory, unleashing a magical corruption that consumed them as well as their enemies. Now the pitiful remnants of the armies of Law straggle back to their homelands, through monster-haunted wilderness, past ruined and abandoned villages. The PCs are among them, searching for means to survive, whether that is wealth, power, or just a safe harbor.

This was more or less the intro I gave my group to our new D&D campaign. I wanted to really take the game back to its roots, 1974-style, but hopefully with the advantage of what I’ve learned since I was ten. We’re using Original Edition Delta, which is a set of house rules by Dan Collins that streamline and clarify the little tan books. Onto that I’m bolting a couple of rules from DCC that I think really fix problems that my players and I have with the  oldest version of the game (more on that later). I want to lean heavily into the insights of Wayne Rossi’s The Original OD&D Setting, namely that the wilderness rules and encounter charts are more in keeping with a post-apocalyptic setting than any sort of semi-realistic medieval or even pre-D&D fantasy fiction setting. The population densities and size of the marauding bandit bands and prevalence of horrible monsters don’t make sense in a well -settled area with stable government and regularly-traveled trade routes. But in a post-apocalyptic anarchy…

I also wanted to try a setting where the status quo was terrible, and there was nobody around to do anything about it except the PCs. Maybe they’d try and maybe they wouldn’t, and either way would be fine…but if they don’t, there is no king’s army or great wizard who’s going to clean it up instead. I have a strong tendency to run settings where the government is basically benevolent, and things are largely peaceful, so I wanted to try breaking sweat from that default, just to see how it goes.

I’m really excited about where this could go. I’m using Delta’s rule for starting the PCs at third level to bypass some of the initial grind that my players have had enough of in our DCC funnels. Initial play is going to be dungeon-centric, because Dungeons & Dragons after all, but I’m hoping they’ll stick with it to name level and maybe try settling the wilderness and pushing back against the tide of Chaos with “domain game” play.

Role for Initiative!

David “noisms” McGrogan has an interesting post on his Monsters and Manuals blog on initiative and some ways you might simulate it in RPGs. After some discussion of what initiative is and some examples from history, he proposes something along these lines:

Initiative
When one side is surprised and the other is not, the side that is not surprised has initiative for the entire encounter.
Otherwise, roll a d6 to determine which side has initiative for the entire encounter.
A side which “has initiative” acts first.
A side which does not have initiative can attempt to “wrest” it from the other. The method for doing so is as follows:
The player (or DM if acting for NPCs) announces his character is attempting to wrest the initiative by either carrying out an attack or – at the DM’s discretion – performing a difficult task. He declares his intended action in the ordinary way at the start of the round. If he succeeds in hitting his target or performing the declared task, he wrests initiative and his side has initiative from the next round onwards. If he fails, in the next round he cannot act at all because of loss of focus.

So, it’s not a bad way to simulate the flow of initiative in battle at all…but I think simulating initiative in battle is like simulating solving a puzzle.  Yes, you could absolutely give them a roll against a stat or skill to see if they solve the puzzle, and that would kind of feel like what happens when somebody solves a puzzle… except it takes the fun out of it.

Backtracking a bit to the start of his post describing initiative: “Suddenly, it seems as though one side gains the capacity to act, while the other can only react.”  That’s exactly it: initiative belongs to the side that’s taking actions which the opponent must react to, or suffer the consequences.  So the real way to seize initiative is not to declare “Attempting to seize initiative” but to come up with (or luck into) a course of action that leaves the enemy no real choice but try and stop it.   Attempt to flank them, cut off their retreat, disrupt their supply lines, target their leaders or their sacred banners, stampede their draft animals, free the prisoners, force them to react.

The real job of the DM in this isn’t to decide whether the task is difficult enough to justify changing the initiative, but to play the enemy side as something other than a bunch of automatons going about their programmed tasks.  Actually try to weigh how much trouble it would be for them if the PC’s ploy succeeds and what would they risk to head it off.   Think about the ways they might try to seize the initiative from the PCs along the same lines, modified by how savvy they ought to be at warfare.  Make the players come up with tactics and strategies to seize the initiative and hold on to it. You don’t even need to declare which side “officially” has the initiative: it becomes evident through play which side is acting and which is reacting.  The side that’s going first according to the standard “Initiative” roll might still be stuck reacting if they’re busy preventing a flanking maneuver or stabilizing somebody who got hurt from a previous round.

Standard D&D has a few mechanics to help with this,  primarily morale and the list of things that automatically cause morale checks (first friendly death, leader death, more than half the forces now dead or disabled).  Failing a morale check should definitely cost you the initiative… and don’t forget to check the morale of the PC’s hirelings and retainers.  Actually tracking ammunition and expendables like light sources (or faking it with “exhaustion rolls”) contributes as well: if the archers are running low on arrows or the spell-casters on spells… Gaining surprise or going first certainly gives that side first crack at putting their opponents on their back foot, but such opportunities are easily squandered.  A few bad/good rolls and suddenly a morale-check condition is met or they just get too busy not losing to spare actions that put the enemy in a bind.

Now, I realize that there may be times, particularly to the observer, when it’s not at all clear what exactly is causing the enemy to act as if they were stuck in reaction mode, some of it may be psychological more than practical after all. It might be tempting to go with formalized initiative rules to try to capture that… but I feel that most of the time the best way to simulate psychological factors is with real people’s psychology.  Let the players decide whether they need to react to the latest enemy actions or they can drive forward their own plans; as DM decide the same way, unless you think you’ll have trouble being fair given how much better view of the state of the battle you’d have versus the commanders you’re controlling.  Then maybe you could throw in an informal morale roll or int check or something, but I’d resist the urge to create a hard-and-fast rule.

So that’s my take on initiative: play as if it mattered, but don’t try to formalize it into a set of rules. IOW: Role and not Roll. There’s a lot in gaming that I think works best that way.

http://www.armorclass10.com/products/keep-calm-and-roll-initiative

OSR Guide for the Perplexed: My Take

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
    All Hail Max!
  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
    Stop looking at your character sheet for answers.
  3. Best OSR module/supplement:
    The Dungeon Alphabet This is a really  hard choice, because there are so many amazing supplements like Vornheim, A Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, The Umerican Survival Guide, Sailors on the Starless Sea, Death Slaves of Eternity, and on and on.  But the thing I actually get the most practical use out of is either The Dungeon Alphabet or one of Richard Leblanc’s d30 companions, and in all honesty  I think about using the latter more than I actually do consult them.
  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
    Death and Dismemberment tables by Trollsmyth.  I know a lot of folks go for Shields must be splintered! (also Trollsmyth), and it has its merits, but I use Death and Dismemberment or a variation for every non-DCC D&D-like game I run. To me the former solves more problems with D&D combat than the latter. They both make combat a little less lethal, which is fine, but death and dismemberment also addresses the somewhat bloodless abstraction and the lack of long-term effects, while splintering only solves the somewhat esoteric complaint that shields aren’t as useful in D&D as they seemed to be historically. That said, any good critical hit table (not boring stuff like double damage) like Arduin or DCC have accomplishes pretty much the same as Death and, while good reasons for shields are harder to squeeze in without making big changes to how combat works.
  5. How I found out about the OSR:
    Through Jeff’s Gameblog, and specifically his post “I’ve got your threefold model right here, buddy!”  really resonated with me and led me to his other posts, and Gary Gygax day led me to wanting to run a straight up game of D&D in his honor.  That didn’t go very well, actually, because over the years I’d lost a lot of my chops as an old-school Referee, relying way too heavily on mechanics and rules-as-written, which led me to things like Philotomy’s musings and Grognardia to figure out why the lightning had seemed so easy to get in that damned bottle in 1975.
  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
    Purple Sorceror, and the wonderful generators, plus the Crawler’s Companion app.  I probably would have read DCC and thought, well, that’s probably ok but it’s way too much work looking up stuff in tables if it weren’t for Jon Marr’s site.  Now that I’m steeped in it, I can easily make do without, but it lowered the bar to running DCC and running it well down to the floor.
  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
    G+ might still be it, for a while, though the ship is obviously sinking.  MeWe seems to be the place to jump to currently.  I don’t know of any forums that I think are worth the time to log into, but you can find a ton of blogs via The OSR OPML file at Save vs. Total Party Kill. It’s possible you can find stuff on reddit or tumblr that’s worthwhile, but I’ve not found the discussion to be very high quality on any topic I’ve pursued so far.
  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
    1. MeWe
    2. I’ve got strong reservations about Twitter, but I’ve dipped my toe back in as @Logomacy.
    3. Still on G+ as Joshua Macy for however long they keep it open
    4. I’m on Tumblr as Majyc, but honestly I almost never remember to even look over there.  It is set up to reblog Rambling Bumblers, though, so if you like Tumblr you can see this stuff there without having to mess with an RSS reader or anything.
  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
    If only people had called it “Roll to Hurt” instead of Roll to Hit, it would have been completely obvious to everybody why heavier armor making the number you need to roll higher is a great abstraction.
  10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
    Not counting my own stuff, I suppose D&D 5e.  I used to be quite fond of Savage Worlds, but lost my taste for it. The farther I get from “the rules should be the physics of the world” the less patience I have for systems that try to nail down not only all the details but how they mechanically interact.  To me the important kernel of Rulings not Rules or Rule Zero aren’t that the referee should just make up whatever whenever, but that as little effort as possible should be spent on nailing down bizarre edge cases.
  11. Why I like OSR stuff:
    The thing I like about the OSR is the DIYness of it all.  It’s baked into its very bones that in order to make it work, you have to make it your own.  Nobody could play white box D&D “rules as written”, there were just too many gaps; nobody could play without making up their own adventures, it was four years before TSR even published their first module.  Eventually there would be enough published stuff that you could play only official setting material, but despite playing RPGs for my practically my entire life it wasn’t until the past couple of years I even played a published D&D module (we did do one or two Call of Cthulhu scenarios back in the day, and that odd Judges Guild Traveller adventure aboard the abandoned alien base).  Now, when so much of the hobby is embracing “Adventure Paths” and other such prefab campaigns, it’s OSR folks that are carrying the flag for hacking up published material to make your own thing.  Even though there are plenty of OSR modules, most of them seem to me to be designed to drop into your own setting, or pulled apart for their components, and not presented as “Here’s a complete campaign for you to run, no imagination necessary!” Heck, the two best settings-in-a-book I know of for the OSR (Vornheim and Yoon-Suin) are both kits, not completely mapped out spaces or strung-together adventures.
  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
    1. Delta’s D&D Hotspot – a game blog about original edition D&D, that really tries to dig into the rules and figure out  how they work, how they compare to the real world (e.g. when it comes to the distance or accuracy of archery fire) or sometimes how they might have worked if Gary and Dave had been better at math (scale and time).  It might sound dry, particularly if you’re math-phobic, but it’s really not, and the result of it is probably my favorite restatement/clone of white box D&D: Original Edition Delta.
    2. Hack & Slash – Courtney Campbell’s blog.  Courtney is way more into nailing down and turning what happens in every aspect of an RPG into a mechanical procedure than I am, but even when I think he’s wrong, I think he’s wrong in interesting ways that are worth chewing over.  And sometimes he’s very right, and you can improve your game by adopting something he’s written.
  13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
    TenFootPole – by Bryce Lynch
  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
    Roll M – turn any web page into a click-to-roll random table with this handy Chrome extension.
  15. I’m currently running/playing:
    • Running Dungeon Crawl Classics every other Sunday, with  my  home group.
    • The other Sundays I’m playing a game set in the Warhammer 40K universe but using my Zap! rules that my friend Dan is GMing.
    • I’m also running DCC at work every Wednesday night
    • and playing in a 5e game every other Saturday, with the same coworkers
    • Every month or two I’m a player in a long-running AD&D game. It used to be almost every Friday, but has gotten less and less frequent now that the GM’s kids are grown up and have gone off to college…we mostly play when one or more is back in town for a weekend.
  16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
    They’re mathematically equivalent, and I can show anybody how to convert them on the fly in about a minute:  Roll a d20 and beat AC, or roll a d20 and add AC and see if that beats 20.  Apply mods to the roll or to the target. It just doesn’t matter.
  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

    4Ob6nia

    image by Stefan Poag

 

featured image “Keep Calm and Roll Initiative” courtesy of Armor Class 10.

Once More Into The Breach!

Since G+ is closing up in about 10 months, people are thinking about paying more attention to blogs, and discussions are starting to migrate (or at least plan to migrate) to other venues.  Since I don’t do Twitter and Facebook, I’ve created an account on one of the other ones that seems to be gaining some traction: MeWe (link is to my profile).  I’m also on Discord as Mysterious J#0770.

From now on most of my non-project-specific RPG writing will move back here, instead of being posted on G+.