Obligatory St. Patrick’s Day Post

Just want to point out that Leprechauns are one of the five “common” Kindred in Tunnels & Trolls.  Their modifiers are:

STR 0.5
CON 1
DEX 1.5
INT 1.5
LK 1.5
CHR 1
WIZ 1
HT 0.25
WT 0.33

Leprechauns are automatically Wizards, and they have a natural Wink-Wing (teleportation) spell that they can do without magical training or cost (though that means that they can’t pump extra WIZ into it for more distance).

So play a Leprechaun today!

RPG Rules and the Direction of Causality

There are two ways you can view causality flowing in terms of RPG rules: from the game-world to the rules, or from the rules to the game world. Either game rules attempt to describe a game-world, or they define the game-world.

In the first view, game-world effects have game-world causes, and the rules are just a model or approximation of the factors and chain of events from cause to effect within the game-world. They’re there to make adjudication more consistent, predictable, or speedier, but they’re intended to be sacrificed whenever they don’t accomplish those goals. It’s taken for granted that the rules are only approximations, and they need not be consulted if the results are obvious to all the players (or perhaps just obvious to the GM), and they need to be overruled whenever they yield a result that doesn’t make sense in terms of the game world.

In the second view, the rules are in effect the physics of the game-world, and it’s impossible for them to yield a result that doesn’t “make sense” in the game-world. If there’s any flaw, it’s in the players’ improper grasp of the way the game-world operates and their invalid attempt to apply ordinary ideas of cause and effect or probability imported from our world into the game. The rules are there to tell the players what is and is not possible in the game-world.

The choice is a matter of taste, but the two views are mutually exclusive. Even if you switched back and forth from one view to the other, or used one view for certain rules and the other view for different rules, you can’t simultaneously hold both views of a single ruling. If they are temporarily congruent you might not be able to tell which you were using, but when they conflict you have to come down on one side or the other: conform to the rule despite the apparent illogic, or conform to the logic overriding the rule. (You might subsequently adjust the rule to try and make clashes less frequent, but at that moment, you came down on the side that the game-world trumps the rules.)

Game systems tend to favor one view over the other, even if they don’t make it explicit or apply it consistently across all decisions. Even the same rule often can be viewed one way or the other by different gaming groups. In original D&D, for instance, the game explicitly took the view that the rules were approximations but in every case the referee was the final arbiter; nevertheless there were rules such as Magic Users being forbidden to wear armor which weren’t explained in terms of game-world logic, leaving different groups on their own to either come up with explanations to justify the rule so that causality still flowed from the game-world to the rules (e.g. “armor is too restrictive, MUs can wear it but any attempt to cast spells will fail”), or to reverse the direction for that rule and say “Magic users can’t wear armor because that’s the rule. There is no why.” (Or perhaps by an appeal to a meta-game consideration, such as “MUs can’t wear armor because that would be unbalanced.”) Note that if the group followed the first tack, there would be further in-game consequences that flow from it, such as MUs having their companions carry armor around so that when they ran out of spells they could armor up. If the group took the latter tack, there’s often an awareness that the world is operating in strange and arbitrary ways. Much gaming humor (such as in Order of the Stick) comes from making the characters as aware of the flow of causality from the rules to their world as the players are.

Some games simply make no sense in terms of the first view: you cannot really regard the rules as an abstraction of game-world causality without it becoming a gonzo humor game. For instance, in the PDQ (Prose Descriptive Quality) system used by games such as Truth & Justice, when a character takes damage in a fight, the damage can be applied to a trait such as Accounting. So Spider-Guy getting hit by a truck thrown by the Blue Boar makes it more likely that some time later in the campaign, some complication will crop up having to do with his Accounting, such as being audited by the IRS. But even the most pronounced rules-first, game-world as a result system such as Truth & Justice, Dogs in the Vineyard, or D&D 4th Edition will have fairly large areas of the game that can be decided not by interactions of the rules, but consultation with the logic of the game-world, such as ordinary conversation between the PCs and NPCs (at least where the PCs aren’t trying to “win” a conflict with the NPCs or gain information that the NPCs do not wish to divulge).

On the other hand, unless you’re running system-less, there are probably no “rules as model” games where the rules never yield a somewhat implausible result that’s nonetheless taken as the actual game-world result, if for no other reason than to speed the game along and not make each ruling a source of debate.

Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between games which aspire to the view of game-world causality as primary and those that take the opposite approach, and not understanding which approach the game is taking can lead to debates, frustration, and anger.  Players and GMs may be seen as trying to twist  or undermine the rules or even cheat in a group that expects causality to flow from the rules when they reason from game-world causes to game-world effects; in the opposite situation they may be seen as stifling creativity, being rigid, or power-gaming when they reason from rules causes to game-world effect regardless of game-world logic (another common form of gamer humor, as epitomized by The Knights of the Dinner Table, particularly Brian).

When you GM and when you play you should try to remain aware of which direction causality is supposed to flow in the game you’re playing, so that you can keep it clear whether the rules are the alpha and omega, or are they, as it were just guidelines…suggestions, really.

Multi-Classing

The Valley of the Blue Snails, a really interesting blog mostly about an unusual setting that Canecorpus has created, has a post about Multi-Classing in his D&D setting:

Valley of Blue Snails: Multi-Classes Revisited

I will be changing a few of the multi-class titles though I’m a bit mixed on what direction to take it. The titles are similar to normal class titles (Veteran, Cutpurse, Wizard, etc) in that they are mostly for fluff with perhaps a minor ability to adhere the two classes better. I’m deciding on wither to make it very setting specific or use more intuitive titles.

Example, a Fighter-Cleric would be a Paladin. Pretty intuitive. Setting specific would be something like a Dwarven Fighter-Cleric would be a Whitebeard. Not so intuitive but perhaps a better choice since this sort of multi-class fluff is well outside of the realm of B/X anyhow. The main problem is the setting specifics titles would indeed be rather specific, slanting towards race with specific classes.

I did something similar for a (for now abandoned) retro game I was working on, which I might as well share in case somebody finds it interesting:

Primary/Secondary Fighter Mage Priest Thief Actor Ranger
Fighter Warrior Magic Knight Paladin Brigand Swashbuckler Barbarian
Mage Wizard Mage Seer Warlock Witch Hermit
Priest Monk Thaumaturge Priest Charlatan Oracle Druid
Thief Rogue Mountebank Fraud Thief Spy Outlaw
Actor Bard Conjurer Idol Jester Actor Minstrel
Ranger Scout Shaman Pilgrim Vagabond Emissary Ranger

Basically, there are six primary classes (one for each of the six standard stats) and they combine into 36 different classes, with differing emphasis depending on whether a particular class is primary or secondary.  Somebody who’s primarily a Thief but uses magic to steal and con is a Mountebank, while somebody who is primarily a Mage, but uses stealth and deception to accomplish his ends and impress people with his power is a Charlatan, etc.  You mostly got the armor restrictions of your primary class, and the weapon restrictions of your secondary class, with most other abilities splitting the difference.  Spell user progressed as in their primary as if they were one level lower, and their secondary two levels lower.  And so forth.

I actually think it’s pretty workable, but it’s not something my main face-to-face play group would be interested in, and I have too much on my plate right now to pursue it further.  If I start a play-by-forum or play-by-post campaign, I’ll probably use Tunnels & Trolls instead of trying to sell people on and play-test some wacky homebrew.

Announcing Rollon!

I am pleased to announce that after countless hours in my secret underground labs, I am ready to release my creation on an unsuspecting world!

I give you…. Rollon!
Rollon Plugin – a plugin for rolling randomly on tables

The goal of Rollon is to make creating and rolling on tables as easy as editing a wiki, or cutting and pasting from a blog or web page.

Rollon is a TiddlyWiki plugin designed to let you roll randomly on tables, such as you might find in roleplaying games. When we talk about “tables” in Rollon, we don’t mean an HTML <table> , just a list of entries such as a Wandering Monster Table or Treasure Table might have. To Rollon, any tiddler containing a list is potentially a table, whether the list is an unordered list, an ordered list, a dictionary list, or even just text where each line starts with a number. This gives you a great deal of freedom in designing lists, or cutting and pasting them into your TiddlyWiki from other sources.

The basic idea of Rollon is that you create a very simple table of results, just a list really, and give it a name.  In TiddlyWiki terms, it’s just a tiddler.  Think of it as a page in a wiki, or a 3×5 card, if you will.  Most of the time creating a table is as simple as cutting and pasting from a blog post, web page, or other document, or just typing in a bunch of numbered lines.

You can then create a button in another tiddler (wiki page/card) just by typing <<rollon “The Table Name”>>.  When you save that, it will create a button in that tiddler.  When you press that button it creates a new tiddler, with a random element of the list.  Every time you press it, you get a new tiddler of the result.

But that’s not all!  If the line of the table you created itself contains a rollon macro, <<rollon “Some Other Table Name”>> then if that line is chosen, a random result from that table will be returned.  That means that you can have tables that refer to sub-tables… but more than that, you can have tables that contain text, where part of the text is a look-up into another table.  This lets you do things like :

<<rollon “Character Names”>> has <<rollon “3d6 * 10”> GP, and  <<rollon “Magic Items” 1d2>>

and so forth.

There are various parameters you can pass to roll multiple times, to roll different dice, to prompt the user for input, to change the separator character, and so forth.

Rollon requires TiddlyWiki, which I’ve mentioned before, but all that means is that you have to download an HTML file containing TiddlyWiki and the Rollon plugin to your local disk.  If you already have TiddlyWiki, perhaps because you’ve been using Uncle Bear’s TenFootWiki or World Building 101, then you can just import the Rollon plugin and go.

The version I’ve hosted at TiddlySpot includes instructions, and example tables such as the Powers and Perils Special Events table from Jeff’s Gameblog, the Grim’s Swords & Wizardry Random NPC chart, and A Rust Monster Ate My Sword’s Captcha-inspired Character Names. Rollon itself is licensed under a the Artistic 2.0 license.  That means it is free.   Free!  You are free to copy it, use it, distribute it, alter it and distribute that (with certain provisos about credit and naming), whatever.  (The example tables are copyright their respective authors, and are linked and credited in the examples.)

So what are you waiting for?  Check it out!  The link is to a live version that you can play around with (though you can’t save it back to the web, you can save it to your hard-drive).  Let me know what you think, and whether you find any bugs or can think of enhancements that you’d like.  Planned enhancements include some helpers for capitalization, pluralization, number and gender agreement, saved variables and things to make text read more consistently (e.g. you could make is so that it would correctly say “1 Orc” or “2 Orcs”), as well as a more lenient format for tables that contain ranges (something like 1-2 Nothing, 3-6 A monster, 7-9 A monster and a treasure, 10 treasure currently has to be formatted as a dictionary list; it would be convenient for it to also just accept that if the start of a line looked like number-number it was a range and the rest of the line was the entry).

I’ve set up a Google Group for discussion, help, and to share tables you create.

Google Groups
Rollon Plugin
Visit this group

Randomness Rules!  Get Rollon today!

update: note that I changed the license from the CC 3.0 NC-SA to the Artistic 2.0 license…entirely because in order to use Google hosting for the bug-tracker I had to use one of their approved licenses.  The major difference between them is that while you can now charge for distributing Rollon (good luck with that), if you want to distribute modifications you have to fork or send me the changes to include in the core.

Open Game Table Anthology

Since I am one of the contributors, you’ll naturally want to buy six or seven copies. And six or seven copies for all of your friends. It’s your patriotic duty, after all, to stimulate demand and lift the economy.

Open Game Table — Released March 23rd

Open Game Table, The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs will be released for intergalactic sale on March 23rd, 2009. It will be available directly from Lulu Marketplace, Indie Press Revolution, and Amazon.com for the retail price of only $22.95. Look for it on March 23rd, trust me… you’ll love it.

Actually, I don’t get anything from this except the satisfaction of seeing my name in print, and an author’s copy.  But from what I’ve seen, it looks pretty nice.

Tunnels & Trolls: Magic

Magic in Tunnels & Trolls is a fairly standard (though innovative back in ’76) system of individual spells that cost spell-points to cast.  In earlier editions, your spell-points were your STR, now they’re your WIZ, which seems to me widen the range of possible character types quite a bit.  The names of the spells are whimsical, like “Take That You Fiend!” (the basic magic blast spell),  “Dis-Spell”, “Oh, Go Away!”, which some people find a bit off-putting, but the spell effects are generally straightforward: do damage, turn invisible, heal wounds, and so forth.  Not always: “Troll God’s Blessing” causes a big club to appear over the head of the target and bash it, but if that kind of thing is a problem for your players you can easily substitute more “serious” flavor text.  Spells range in level from 1 to 13 (or more, I suppose, but that’s as far as the books go). Wizards begin with all the standard 1st level spells, and learn new spells from the Wizard’s Guild, by paying 1000 GP per level of spell.  Spells can only be taught by direct instruction (presumably by casting the first level Teacher spell until the Wizard succeeds at the SR to impress it in his mind).  Casting a spell requires a Saving Roll against the level of the spell, which should mostly be a “gimme” except for very low level casters or when trying to cast a spell at a higher level than you’ve reached.

That brings up an unusual feature of T&T magic. While spells have a minimum DEX and INT to cast, they aren’t restricted by the level of the caster.  A 1st level Wizard can attempt to cast a higher level spell, it just requires a harder Saving Roll and higher stat minimums.  A 1st level spell requires 10 INT and DEX, a 2nd level 12, all the way up to 100 for a 13th level spell. Many spells can also be cast at higher level than their minimum in order to ramp up their effects, e.g. Take That You Fiend! costs 6 WIZ and does damage equal to the caster’s INT at 1st level.  If a Wizard with INT 15 casts it as a 2nd level spell, it costs 12 WIZ but does 30 points of damage, as a 3rd level spell it costs 18 WIZ but does 60 points of damage, etc.  Whether a spell can be “Powered Up” and the effects of doing so vary depending on the spell.

Spell costs can be reduced in a variety of ways.  If you’re higher level than the spell you’re casting you get a discount, with a bigger discount the higher level you are compared to the spell level, though there’s a minimum cost of 1.  You also get a discount for using a “focus” such as a wand or ring.  In fact, the primary purpose of wands and staves in T&T is as spell foci rather than bearers of independent spell effects.  Specialist Wizards get to cast all the spells in their specialty at half cost, but can’t cast spells outside their specialty at all. WIZ recovers fairly quickly, 1 point per ten minutes of non-strenuous activity (no combat or running, but you don’t need a lie-down), but high-level spell can still take hours to recover from casting since they can cost 30, 40, 50, even 200 points to cast (for the 13th level “Born Again” spell).

An even more unusual feature, and one that’s apparently new and somewhat controversial, is that spells cannot be directly cast on any target with a current WIZ higher than the caster’s.  That means that not only are Wizards unable to affect more powerful wizards (at least until their targets have expended enough WIZ to make them weaker), but Wizards may find themselves unable to bespell Warriors and monsters if they have built up their WIZ.  Monsters typically have WIZ equal to 1/10 of their monster rating, so a dragon with MR 500 has quite a substantial barrier against direct-effect spells.  Wizards who attempt to cast against a target with higher WIZ get a “bad feeling” that lets them stop before they actually waste any of their own WIZ.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of this.  On the one hand, I certainly see roleplaying possibilities, particularly since spells that indirectly affect the target (e.g. its clothes, or by affecting the ground under it, or drop something on it) are possible regardless of differences in WIZ.  It also gives magic a very otherworldly feel, not at all equivalent to simply having a laser pistol or even crossbow.  On the other hand, since WIZ amounts vary round by round in combat based on the spells the magic users are casting, it might become something of a pain to track, and even if it didn’t you could potentially lose a lot of actions to “bad feelings” when your estimates of the current WIZ of your opponent miss the mark.  On the third hand, it adds another tactical dimension when unleashing a huge spell at the beginning of combat can render you vulnerable to lesser magicians for the rest of the combat, and I’m in favor of increasing the number of tactical decisions, at least in moderation.  As with other things T&T, I really have to see how it plays out in practice.

Now That’s Comedy!

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Review | gamegrene.com

Well, it’s finally out. This is the review you’ve been waiting for, the one you expected as well as the one you secretly hoped you’d never read. They’ve finally released D&D 5th Edition! Of course, a lot’s changed about the publishing industry and the way we read books since 4e came out, so it’s probably no surprise to see 5e now. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if we started getting new editions every few years, since it’s all just a download away, on your computer, Kindle, console or iPhone.