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.

HOW to Sacrifice a Shield?

C.R. Brandon, In a recent post on his blog, entitled Sacrifice,  talked about some of the changes he’s contemplating for the revised edition of Heroes & Other Worlds.  I left some thoughts on them on his blog, but I think blogspot ate the comment.  Or maybe it’s just stuck in moderation.  So herewith:

Not really thrilled with the idea of a shield-splintering rule, and particularly not with reducing all the types of shield into one. The availability of choices in arms and armor is, in my mind, the good type of complexity: extra choices in the down-time when you’re equipping your character but not a lot of extra decisions weighing down each combat round.  If I were to create a rule about damaging shields, it would be something like if you block a critical hit, then if the hit does 8 more damage than the shield’s AR (enough to knock you down if it had gotten through), the shield stops the blow but is broken. This actually keeps the choice about whether to risk the high probability of breaking your shield, since in HOW you get to see the attack roll before committing to a shield block as a reaction…and a crit from anything heavier than a dagger is very likely to do the required damage.

Or maybe the even simpler, if you roll to block with your shield and roll a fumble, it breaks.  No real decision there, but it does produce broken shields that occur naturally  as part of fighting with them.

As for the other changes mentioned:

Eliminating All-Out Defense

I’m against it.  I see it as important in offering a somewhat practical way to do a “fighting retreat.” In fact I just realized that by-the-book HOW gives you no real option except stand there and take it, and then hope to win initiative next turn and succeed in your 4/DX check to disengage. So, I’d be in favor of liberalizing it back to the TFT rules that as long as you forgo attacking, you can choose Defend and make attempts to hit you use 4/DX (i.e. it would no longer count as a reaction, but instead be an alternative to attack).  That way you at least stand a better chance of surviving until you can win the init and attempt to disengage. (If you don’t win the init then even if you disengage the enemy can just follow you and you’ll have already forgone your attack.)

Eliminating Berserk Attack

Wouldn’t actually miss this, though there probably ought to be some way of throwing everything you’ve got into attacking and damn defense.  Still giving up armor protection never really made that much sense.  Maybe it would work better as your attack is 2/DX, but attacks on you that turn are also 2/DX?

More HOWs Rules

Some more tweaks to Heroes & Other Worlds.

Weapons and Armor

Per the original Melee/TFT rules, summarized here.  I just like it better, and I know it will be hard for me to get used to Broadswords doing 2d6+3 instead of 2d6.

Wizards may wear any armor, but DX penalties are also applied to IQ for the purpose of casting spells.


Only being able to raise your skills and not your attributes is an interesting design choice, and makes it a lot more like D&D, but… I think a TFT-like needs a way of raising attributes.   For one thing, the min IQ on the most powerful spells is prohibitive if characters can never raise their attributes above their initial allotment. On the other hand, balancing the cost of attributes vs. the cost of skills is hard.  So my compromise position is

Every  time you improve or buy skills related to a specific attribute, you get a tick-mark of XP towards raising that attribute.  When you’ve collected tick marks equal to the attribute+1, the attribute goes up by 1. (The initial 5 points at the start do count towards this.)  You may also improve your attribute by directly training it at the cost of 100 XP per tick.

So it takes 10 tick marks from DX-based skills to raise DX from 9 to 10, then 11 to raise it from 10 to 11, etc.  This does allow for more advancement than standard Heroes & Other Worlds (though you could always adjust awarding XP downward a skosh or the costs upward if it worries you), but eliminates any trade-off between increasing your attributes and increasing your skills.  It may encourage people to specialize a little more, but that’s arguably a benefit.  Letting the initial skill allocation count toward raising attributes means there’s no funny business about remembering which were your initial skills and which you bought later: you can always look at a character and count how many points of skills it has for a particular attribute and so how much it’s raised over the base.  Improving the attribute directly is really only worthwhile if you’ve maxed out your skills, unless you’re desperate to improve it and are saving IQ slots for later.

House Rules, and HOW!

Although I’ve yet to play Heroes & Other Worlds, I’ve played a ton of The Fantasy Trip back in the day, so I’ve already started down the road of house-ruling a bunch of stuff.  Here’s my current list:

Criticals & Fumbles

In HOW, 3 is automatic hit and double max damage, 4 is automatic hit for max damage, 17 is automatic miss and dropped weapon, and 18 is automatic miss and broken weapon.  This is almost the same as TFT, which uses triple and double damage for 3 and 4, but HOW drops the 5 is automatic hit and 16 is automatic miss.

My proposed rule, which brings the chance of a special roll back towards what it was in TFT is this:

Triples are special.  A triple that is also a success (<= Attribute) is a Critical (max damage); a triple that is a failure (> Attribute) is a Fumble (dropped weapon).

So a roll of 12 that’s 4, 4, 4 would be a critical for somebody with adj. DX 12 and a fumble for somebody with adj. DX 10. I like this because it makes it more than just luck: the better you are the more likely to crit and the less likely to fumble (and the opposite if you’re clumsy or wounded).  This is one of the features I always admired about Runequest and its derivatives, though with much less math.

If you’re rolling more or less dice than usual, use different colors to be able to pick out the three dice that govern criticals and fumbles.

E.g. if you’re rolling 4/DX, roll three white and one red.  Success or failure is determined by looking at all four dice, but it’s only a critical or fumble if the three white dice score a triple, 4, or 17.

If you’re rolling 2/DX, roll two white and a red, and the white determine success or failure, while crits and fumbles are determined by all three dice being triple, 4 or 17.

This is way simpler than memorizing or looking up different numbers that indicate a crit or fumble for that number of dice.

Opposed Rolls

Without a degree of success mechanic, roll under stat vs. roll under stat can be a bit dull.  What’s the point of wasting an action shield bashing somebody if any character of  greater than average ST probably won’t go down?  One really strong character will almost never be able to knock down another .  I’ve seen enough football to find that a bit dubious.  A simple fix, employed by a lot of systems, is to make how well you succeed a factor in how hard it is for the opponent to resist.

As a result, I’m planning all opposed rolls such as grappling, shield bash, spell resistance, and the like be resolved by this:

In opposed rolls, whoever rolls the higher success wins, but criticals beat non-criticals. That is, whoever has the highest total on the dice, provided that’s still a success (<= Attribute) is the winner of the contest, but a critical success trumps a non-critical success.

Why higher?  Three reasons: One is my regular players just hate “low is better” systems.  It makes them mad when they get a high roll, start to cheer, and then realize in this particular system that was a bad thing.  They could probably be trained out of this, but why bother? Two is it’s less math than “How much did you succeed by?” systems.  Three is that I find it much easier to reason about the probabilities of the higher wins method.

What about criticals beating non-criticals?  Criticals are pretty rare in HOW, even with my expanded criticals rules, and it’s anticlimactic for somebody to score a critical only to be denied by very common case of the opponent rolling an ordinary success.

Opposed Rolls and Reactions

One of the problems that I had with TFT was that as characters progressed it eventually reached the point where they couldn’t miss except on a fumble.  Equally matched highly experienced characters just whaled on each other until one ran out of ST.  On the other hand, if one elected to defend, that defense couldn’t be broken.  There’s a fairly narrow range where the combats stay interesting and dynamic.

HOW addresses this, partially, by allowing “Reactions” as part of your turn: you can sacrifice your next turn’s move in order to Block, Parry, or Dodge an incoming blow (once per turn).  Since once you’re in melee with a foe you’re probably not planning on moving much next turn anyway, unless you’re going to disengage, most attack rolls will be opposed.1  That addresses the every-blow-hits problem with skilled opponents, but not the unbreakable defense.

Easily fixed:

Block and Parry are Opposed Rolls  against the original attack roll: you need to roll a success higher than the successful hit to block or parry.  Dodge remains unopposed. Eliminate the requirement that you can only React if you’ve moved < 1/2 MV.

This means that Dodging is superior… until you get cornered.  It also means that sometimes there will be no point trying to block or parry, particularly if the opponent is superior; this makes up for the TFT “Forced Retreat” rule that HOW dropped.  Instead of being able to push an opponent back whenever you did damage but took none, it puts the defender in the position of having to opt to retreat to avoid damage.  I think this will lend itself to more dynamic combat at the high end, with opponents trying to maneuver each other into positions where they can’t just safely dodge.

Multiple Reactions

Since you can only do one Reaction per turn, if you’re up against multiple opponents in HOW you’re in big trouble.  Also, Block and Parry are identical in HOW, so there’s no reason to ever use the one you’re worse at unless you’ve broken or dropped your weapon.  For a more cinematic feel, I propose:

You may Block and Parry as part of the same reaction, as long as they’re against different blows, whether from the same foe striking multiple times or against different foes. 


Movement rates in HOW are a little weird.  Basically, they’re like the movement rates in TFT halved.  So all characters have a base move in TFT of 10 hexes in 5 seconds, which works out to about 5 mph, somewhere between a walk and a jog.  In HOW an average DX character has a MV of 5, which is only 25′ in 5 seconds, or 2.8 mph…roughly a walk. Then both only allow you to do a half move and still attack, but in TFT that’s 5 hexes while in HOW it’s only 3 spaces…barely creeping along.  Running in HOW only grants a +1 MV, which takes you from a crawl to a doddle. Let’s get these up to a snappier pace.

First, let’s just change the TFT rate into 5′ spaces instead of 1 1/3 (?!) meter  hexes.  That gives an unencumbered character almost 6 mph pace, or roughly a jog.  Then we can interpret the 5 MV in HOW as a TFT half-move, allowing an attack at the end of it.  Walk up and attack seems pretty reasonable to me.  And what the heck, let’s add an option that lets you jog at the foe and smack him, re-purposing the Charge attack option to actually represent building up some momentum instead of taking a couple of deliberate paces.

You may move up to your full MV and attack (including with thrown weapons).  You may move up to double your MV and attack at 4/DX.  If you Charge (moving at least 3 spaces) with a pole weapon you get +1d6 damage, as long as the last 2 spaces (10′) are in a straight line.

The last bit about the straight line is lifted from TFT, and makes sense to me both physically and as a way of preventing players from just circling around a foe to qualify for the bonus damage.  The +1d6 damage is from HOW, and probably helps make polearms a little less uber.

What about those archers and spell casters?  Let’s grant them a tiny bit of maneuverability, too.

You may move up to your full MV and attack at range (spell or missile weapon), but if you move more than 1 space (5′) the check is 4/X.


I like having Charisma as an Attribute, since it’s patently obvious that being smart has very little to do with how well you can charm or persuade others, or your ability to see through others’ attempts to manipulate you socially.  For HOW I propose:

Charisma starts at 8, characters get an extra 2 points to divide among their attributes.  (Option 1: start characters with 7+1d4 and don’t give them any extra points. Option 2: start characters with 3d6 CH and don’t allow spending any initial points.)   The advantage of Option 1 is it prevents Charisma from being used as a dump stat and can be bolted on to an existing HOW/TFT campaign without severely disadvantaging current characters; Option 2 allows for a wide range of CH and eases translation from D&D-likes.

The following Skills are tested vs. CH instead of IQ: Act/Diguise, Bard, Charm, Detect/Tell Lies, Diplomacy, Merchant, Streetwise

Add a new skill: Investigate (3/IQ) which represents the ability to notice and reason about clues. Investigate can be used to try to detect lies (in place of Detect/Tell Lies which is now a CH skill) by analyzing and investigating inconsistencies in somebody’s story. Detect Lies is used to sense whether somebody is lying by their demeanor.

That’s the gist of the house rules I’m currently contemplating.  I have a couple more ideas percolating (e.g. I’d kind of like NPCs to have EN even if they’re not spell-casters, for the sake of symmetry, but I’ve yet to figure out how best to divide the ST score of the monsters between the two, or just go ahead and add EN at the expense of making them harder to kill), but nothing baked enough to be worth writing down.

  1. This makes HOW a little more like GURPS, or Runequest/BRP. 

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

So, the 1st level Sleep spell in D&D bugs me. I don’t actually mind that it’s an encounter-ender for low-level characters… in fact I regard it as a bigger problem that 1st level MUs don’t really have any other spells nearly as worthwhile. Maybe Charm Person, at least outside of a dungeon, but that’s about it. But being awesome once a day isn’t a deal-breaker. No, what bugs me is the ritual of going around and killing all the sleeping foes afterwards. Not only is that particularly unheroic (granting that not everybody needs to play a heroic character) it just doesn’t feel particularly like the magic in stories that inspired it.

Over the years I’ve played with a number of DMs that had various solutions to this: some made you roll for damage against the sleeping foe, and if you didn’t kill him in one blow he woke up. That mainly served to make players more cautious about arranging a gang-stabbing of any multi-hit die creature they slept and sometimes the spell being wasted; not trying to kill the creature almost never came up. A free round of attacks was basically the best chance you were ever going to have, and chances are you’d be meeting it again. One DM made you roll to hit as well, though at least she applied bonuses. I think I recall one in the early days of playing who would count it as an alignment infraction if a Lawful (or maybe */Good… can’t recall which edition) character killed a sleeping foe; hardly anybody played Lawful characters at his table. A couple have removed Sleep from the game, or made you start with random spells and by the time you found a spell book with Sleep you likely had better mass-murder spells. Some have allowed saves against sleep in addition to the max number of creatures affected (not necessarily horrible if you extend the same thing to the PCs). But nothing I’ve encountered really did more than make the process of casting Sleep then slitting throats a bit more risky and likely to fail.

So I’m considering the following house rule: if you try to attack or move a magically slept creature, you fall under the spell as well.  No save, no limit on the max HD.  To me that feels a lot more like the sleep spell in literature, including spells like abandoned castles with all the inhabitants sleeping for a hundred years.  The 1st level Sleep spell would just be a lesser version of that.

Another version I considered would be the spell would be broken on all sleepers if any of them were attacked, but that seems like it leaves too much room for rules-lawyering it.  E.g.,  trying simultaneous attacks, tying them all up and throwing them off a cliff all at once, smacking your own companion with a small attack to wake the rest, and so on.  They could all probably be patched, but I think the result would be a multi-paragraph list of conditions like a 3rd edition spell.

One thing that I think is attractive about this, besides having more of a fairy-tale or fantasy feel, is the way it makes Sleep a very different spell, with different purposes, than something like Fireball or Cloud Kill.  You always need to think about what you’re going to do when they wake up… are you using it to cover your retreat, give yourself time to burgle the place, pass deeper into the dungeon and figure you’ll deal with them on the way out, or what.  You can’t count on clearing the level one sleep spell at a time.  And on the flip side, if an enemy spell caster uses sleep on you it’s no longer time to roll up a new character unless the GM is having the monsters be far more merciful than the players ever are.

I guess my one worry is whether it’s just too different from the way players are used to using Sleep.  The whole reason for using D&D instead of something like Zounds! is because of the instant familiarity and buy-in.  There’s definitely a certain amount of tweaking and house-ruling that just the way D&D works, but there’s a point beyond which you might as well play something else, and changing one of the most reliable 1st level spells gives me some pause.

Classic Dungeons & Dragons: Hit Points

I mentioned before the House Rule I was intending to use for D&D to cut down on trips out of the dungeon to spend a week resting up after each room, namely that after a combat you can spend 1 GP worth of bandages and salve to “bind your wounds” back up to the the maximum on your character’s hit die (or your actual roll, whichever was less).  That is, if you’re a Magic User with 2 HP at level 1, you can bind back up to two.  If by level 3 you have 6 HP, you could restore yourself to a maximum of 4 (the most you could have rolled at 1st level).

This is mostly motivated by meta-game considerations, since it’s really boring to have a fight, retreat, rest a week, rinse and repeat all the way through the first couple of levels of a dungeon, but it prompted me once again to think about Hit Points in D&D (and similar games) and what they really represent, and I think I had a minor epiphany.  It’s well known that you can’t really interpret Hit Points as being your ability to withstand physical damage, for all kinds of reasons, but most of the proposed alternatives, no matter how hand-wavey (luck, favor of the gods, etc) aren’t very satisfactory since they don’t really match the game mechanics.  If it’s favor of the gods, for instance, why do fighters get more of it than clerics?  And why would sleeping or being tied up completely negate your destiny and allow you to be taken out with a single hit?  If it’s reflexes, why do Thieves get so little, and why is it that high Constitution helps but high Dexterity doesn’t?

Then it occurred to me: you can’t explain it as a single ability or quality, because it’s an abstraction of how hard you are to kill for all kinds of reasons based on your long combat experience.  This isn’t as silly as it may sound at first.  It happens to be true that for as far back as we have records of warfare, experienced soldiers survive longer, and one of the best predictors of success in combat is how seasoned the troops are.  It’s also not a winnowing process, where all the clumsy, slow and unlucky soldiers die, leaving only the hardy and tough ones.  Troops definitely can go through a process where they go from being green, to seasoned, then veteran.   On the other hand, you can’t keep troops in the field indefinitely or they’ll lose their edge.

So, at least in my game, in general Hit Points represent that state of combat readiness that makes the veteran soldier able to react almost instinctively to avoid all the hazards that kill the green soldiers so easily, including not just reflexes, but awareness of surrounding, mental toughness so as not to hesitate in the slightest, physical conditioning, economy of motion, and so forth.  Damage, in this view, is primarily not actual wounds but the kind of accumulated fatigue and minor injuries and strains that require not just a night’s sleep to restore but days or weeks of R&R.   Only that very first hit die represents real, sustained damage to your body, which is why almost anyone at first level can be taken out by a solid blow from almost any weapon, and anyone, no matter how experienced, can be slain instantly if they’re rendered helpless.  This also, to my mind, satisfactorily resolves why it’s Fighters and Dwarves that can improve their Hit Points the most, with Clerics, Elves, and Halflings somewhat less able, and Thieves and Magic Users, even if they’ve gone through all the same combats, lag behind.  It also fits with Constitution being the attribute that modifies Hit Points.

This fits reasonably well with my house rule on binding wounds.  On the one hand, I am letting people just patch up actual tears and holes in their flesh with a few bandages and maybe some stitches, which is a bit generous.  On the other hand, it fairly clearly establishes why it’s only that first hit die that can be restored (bandages are just no substitute for R&R).  I think it also makes for a sense that, at least for the first couple levels, all the characters are improving their physical conditioning (unless they were lucky enough to roll max HP at the start).