Tuesday, 8 September 2015

2d6 spellcasting checks for Wonder & Wickedness redux

So, I'm having another crack at a 2d6 casting check for Magic User spellcasting, for use with the spells from Wonder & Wickedness.

I really like Courtney Campbell's take on the 2d6 casting check and am going to try adapting (ahem, stealing) it. The basic idea is that the caster has a pool of d6's which can be drawn from for any casting check. Allocating more dice makes a spell more likely to be successfully cast, but also more likely to bring consequences. Dice are lost from the casting pool is if the die face is equal to or lower than the level of spell being cast. Really elegant. However given I'm wanting to use this for Wonder & Wickedness spells which are level-less, that ain't going to work so well. I could just allocate an arbitrary number (say 3+) which results in a die being lost, but that's pretty boring. Another idea would be to link the number a die is lost on to the speed of spellcasting - the caster chooses a bonus to their  initiative roll from 1 - 6 which then determines the roll that a casting die is lost on. That's not too bad, but its not really the flavour I'm looking for. Another element in Courtney's system is that rolls of doubles, snake eyes and box cars trigger extra results. This seems much better appropriated for how casting dice might be lost...

OK, here goes:

The base casting pool is 2d6 for anyone attempting to cast a spell. You add dice (d6's) equal to your caster level and Intelligence bonus to the pool. Dice are lost from the casting pool whilst armour is worn (1 die for each point of AC from armour/shield - I was tempted to retain armour as a penalty to rolls but its easier to go with dice all the way).

When casting a spell the caster chooses how many dice from their pool to allocate to the attempt, rolls and then consults the chart...

Spell Surges

...however the initial rolled casting check is not the end of the story, the natural dice rolls also effects the check result and what can happen during spell casting. Whenever multiple dice come up the same number (doubles, three of kind, etc) it indicates a Spell Surge, an uncontrolled release of additional power. To contain the surge of magic the caster is forced to expend some of their power, with the result that the dice that rolled multiples are lost from the caster's pool (and are not applied to the current casting check). Multiples of "1" or "6" create additional effects:

"1" : Wild Surge - as Spell Surge, and a Spell Catastrophe occurs in addition to the results of the casting check

"6": Backlash -  any 6's are removed from the casting check (but not the caster's pool) and replaced by an equal number of Spellburn dice (see below) influencing the casting check result and incurring hit point damage

Casting check result:

Favourable and unfavourable casting conditions

If the conditions for casting are particularly favourable or unfavourable they DM may rule that the caster has advantage or disadvantage on one or more casting dice. For each instance of advantage the caster may roll an additional d6 and drop their lowest (or least preferred, read: multiple) roll from their casting check. For each instance of disadvantage the caster rolls an additional d6 and drops their highest roll for their casting check (however if this would result in a multiple result being discarded drop the next highest roll). Multiple instances of each may be accrued, however any advantage and disadvantage dice cancel each other out 1 for 1 before rolling.

Favourable conditions:

  • Caster is in a calm environment,  has surplus time and can read from their spell book (all three needed to gain one instance of advantage)
  • Caster has access to special material components, a special casting location or a special casting time
  • One shot magic items which are expended to boost casting attempts
  • The caster may sacrifice their vitality in the form of Spellburn. Any number of advantage dice from Spellburn may be taken, however the caster also incurs hit point damage equal to the rolls (different coloured dice would be useful here).


Unfavourable conditions:

  • Caster has been damaged (not including Spellburn) or significantly interrupted during casting (one disadvantage die per time this occurs during the casting attempt - watch out for the Incomplete castig check result when surrounded!)
  • Caster has lost spell from memory but wishes to attempt casting it again (this may not be a significant enough penalty - perhaps disadvantage dice accumulate each time this happens?)
  • Caster is attempting to cast a spell they do not know but have access to from a spell book
  • An alternative approach for balancing armour would be to incur disadvantage dice per point of AC from worn armour/shield whilst casting in armour.

Spell Catastrophes

In some circumstances the caster may lose control of their spell and rolls on the Spell Catastrophe table (in Wonder & Wickedness) for the matching spell school. Spell catastrophes occurs when:

  • Casting check result is Miscast
  • Multiple 1's rolled in the casting check
  • Casters hit points are reduced to 0 whilst casting (including if damage is due to Spellburn)

When looking for images of spell failures I googled "magic mishaps" which turned up a bunch of odd comics, involving disappearing clothes and gigantic asses/boobs/stomaches

How are dice regained?

A night's rest if you are feeling nice, otherwise you might require some form of recharge mechanic (spend a hit dice a la 5E, consume various expensive/disgusting/illegal material components)

A few  observations 

  • The highest possible check result is 21 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6).
  • If you allocate more than 6 dice you will unavoidably get (at least) one doubles result. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but the incremental value of each extra casting die decreases.
  • Favourable/unfavourable conditions are the quiet achievers/killers of this system. Adjusting the incidence of multiples occurring in a casting check makes a significant impact.
  • If you haven't got any favourable conditions up your sleeve and can spare a few hit points Spellburn is a good option. 
  • If you are going to throw a wholeloadadice at a casting check make sure you've got a bunch of favourable conditions to offset rolls of multiples. Just eyeballing I reckon you'd want at least one advantage die per four casting pool dice.
  • Favourable and unfavourable conditions work well for modelling non casters attempting to use magic. They would only have access to the base 2d6 pool (+Int bonus if being generous) and would apply unfavourable conditions x2 as spell is not known or currently prepared. Other penalties for being a non caster could be applied here. However if they can add enough favourable conditions to the check they my be able to cancel these out or even reach a fairly good chance of successfully casting.

Emergent from these is that PC Magic Users will want to maximise ways of getting favourable conditions, especially through special material components or one-shot magic items. This provides lots of opportunities for Magic Users to spend their loot and for adventure hooks to chase down components and items. There could also be magic items that grant permanent favourable conditions, however this would probably be best restricted to a school of spells or even an individual spell.  Otherworldly patrons might also grant favourable conditions - whilst you are in their favour of course...  Magical components might also drive events in the campagin setting, e.g. a war between powerful ruling spellcasters for access to special resources (kinda like the Heroes of Might & Magic games), or a black market in certain body parts as components.

If you're interested in casting checks I'll give a shout out to Sycarion Diversions where there's been a series of posts recently exploring some similar ideas

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Chainmail style spellcasting checks for Wonder & Wickedness

In my last post I discussed requiring the Magic User to make a roll to cast spells, using a modified cleric turn unread table as the mechanic. Whilst I was happy with elements of this it unfortunately came with one major flaw - it works best with the traditional D&D spell list. However I reaaallllly want to use the spells from Wonder & Wickedness, which are level-less and wouldn't really work with that method (see my brief review of W&W or hit up Necropraxis).  I'd recalled seeing mention in the past that Chainmail made use of a casting check and a quick google confirmed this to be the case, plus a bunch of posts about adapting it for D&D by a number of OSR heavyweights: Jeff Rients, Brendan S (here, here & here), and Courtney Campbell, plus some other good stuff here and here. I mixed and matched bits from most of these and came up with a version that I think should work quite well with W&W's spells. 

How it works

First, if you aren't familiar with Wonder & Wickedness I'd suggest reading up a bit on it (hell go buy it, its fricken awesome). 

As per traditional Vancian casting the Magic User prepares a number of spells per day in their memory (say level + INT). However the casting of the spell requires a casting check - if the spell is successfully cast it is not lost from memory, however each successful casting accumulates Arcane Stress, making further checks harder. The Magic User may elect to wear and cast in armour, however the casting check is penalised.  Further, the caster may elect to incur Spellburn, suffering hit point damage to increase the likelihood of successful casting. The uncertainty in casting is balanced by increased flexibility and the potential to cast more spells than via the normal class progression. Rather than the number of spells that can be prepared per day, Arcane Stress and hit point loss through Spelburn become the primary resources for continued spell casting.

Casting check: 2d6 + Casting Bonus - Arcane Stress - Armour Casting Penalty + Spellburn

Casting Bonus: +1 per caster level + Intelligence bonus 
(I would recommend using the B/X modifiers for 1d6 and 2d6 rolls: INT 3: -2, INT 4-8: -1, INT 9-12: no modifier, INT 13-17: +1, INT 18: +2)

Arcane Stress: -1 penalty to casting that accumulates with each successful casting. Arcane Stress may be recovered by a nights rest 

Armour Casting Penalty: penalty to spell casting equal to AC bonus from any worn armour/shield

Spellburn: caster sacrifices their vitality to increase the power of their casting - nominate number of hit points to burn and receive the same number as a bonus to the casting check

Wild Surges

In addition to the total casting check, the natural dice roll also effects what can happen, representing the vagaries and risks inherent in wielding magic.  Any roll of doubles indicates a wild surge of magic

Roll is doubles (odd):  caster suffers backlash - regardless of casting result caster incurs 1d4 (exploding) points of Arcane Stress and any Spellburn is doubled

Roll is doubles (even):  caster channels surge - regardless of casting result caster recovers 1d4 (exploding) points of Arcane Stress (this can result in a temporary positive Arcane Stress modifier which is retained until spent or the caster's next long rest)

Spell Catastrophes

In some circumstances the caster may lose control of their spell and rolls on the Spell Catastrophe table (in Wonder & Wickedness) for the matching spell school. Spell catastrophes occurs when:

  • Casting check result is: Failure (Major) or Failure (Minor) and Arcane Stress > Casting Bonus
  • Casters hit points are reduced to 0 whilst casting (including from Spellburn)

Favourable and unfavourable casting conditions

If the DM deems that the conditions for casting are particularly favourable or unfavourable they may rule that the caster has advantage or disadvantage on their casting check. 

Favourable conditions: 

  • Caster is in a calm environment, has surplus time and can read from their spell book. 
  • Caster has access to special material components (big ass diamonds, captured souls, eye of gargantuan undead newt), special casting location (conjunction of ley lines, earth node) or special casting time (triple lunar eclipse, solstice / equinox) 

The caster may roll 3d6 and take their preferred two rolls for their casting check.  Wild surges are also less likely, occurring only on double "1" or "6"

Unfavourable conditions:

  • Caster has been damaged (not including spellburn) or interrupted whilst casting - a casting check which was originally a Success (delayed) applies the new result.
  • Caster has lost spell from memory but wishes to attempt casting it again
  • Caster is attempting to cast a spell they do not know but have access to from a spell book

The casting check is rolled using 3d6 with the worst two rolls applied. Any roll of doubles other than a "6" is considered a backlash Wild Surge result. 

Material components and casting talismans 

Whilst it can be assumed that some form of material component may be involved in casting, this system opens the possibility of "special" components which increase the likelihood of successfully casting a spell. Rare and expensive components and corrupting or illegal rituals (e.g. sacrifice) could be used to grant a bonus to the casting check. This could also achieved by the crafting of minor one use magic items (magic items which provided a permanent bonus would bring a significant power boost and would be better perhaps tied to certain schools or even individual spells). I haven't thought too much about specifics but there is a lot of potential here for adding flavour, providing adventure hooks and offering more options for magic users to spend their hard earned (stolen) cash on. 

Maleficence and Spell Defence

Wonder & Wickedness includes the option to expend any prepared spell for Maleficence (generic damage dealing spell) or Magical Defence (protect 1 person / caster level from a damaging spell effect). These would be still be available using this system. Consider them to be the same as any other spell only they do not need to be prepared and cannot be lost from memory following a failed casting check. An option for Magical Defence would be to modify the casting check by (level of caster attempting to defend - caster level of attacking spell).

Changes from inspirational material

In Brendan's system Arcane Stress occurs on a failed casting check. I've changed this to on a successful casting for two reasons - so as to not double penalise failed rolls (arcane stress + lose spell from your memory) and also because in Brendan's system once bonuses to casting check get to a certain point the check will not ever be failed

Spellburn was inspired by DCC,  however I have simplified it to hit points rather than ability scores (as this just makes more resource pools to keep track of)

Given Brendan is the author of W&W and has also tinkered a lot with 2d6 casting rolls, Im very curious as to what he may have done with them for W&W.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Magic User spellcasting using the Cleric Turn Undead table

OK, so an idea occurred to me a while back and has been bouncing around insisting that I spit it out. What if the Cleric's turn undead table was borrowed to use as a spellcasting table for Magic Users. The HD of undead would reflect spell level, and the check result would determine if the spell was cast correctly. 

This is not a particularly original idea. 

I'm not sure if it first occurred to me after reading it elsewhere, but I do know that I have come across the same idea in similar forms on OSR blogs previously (the only one coming directly to mind is this one for using the table for Cleric "Miracles")

OK, so what does it look like...

(this is an edit from the table I originally posted which started the progression on level 1 as 9/11 which was perhaps a too restrictive for the poor MU)

I've adapted the Cleric Turning Table from Dyson Logos's Magical Theorems and Dark Pacts, because it slows down the progression somewhat and introduces a Destroy result as a roll earlier than it would normally become available.

How does it work...

  • The Magic User must roll ≥ target number on 2d6 to successfully cast a spell.
  • The Magic User pays a hit point cost for any spellcasting attempt, regardless of whether the spell is cast successfully or not. I'm planning on using this system with the Akratic Wizardry / Crypts & Things "Colours of Magic" system which uses the below costs:
    • White Magic: 1HP + 1HP / spell level. 
    • Grey Magic: 2HP/ spell level. 
    • Black Magic: 2HP / spell level & corruption. 
(Edit - this is probably too costly for uncertain spellcasting. I would modify this to either a lower cost [say 1HP/spell  level] and/or only charge the cost for successfully casting [and possibly for casting fumbles]. The idea is to provide a limiting factor against the automatic success at higher level and also to make a use for the Destroy result, which I've used as no cost casting))

  • The target numbers in parenthesis are the chance of casting spell with no HP cost. The magic User makes a single roll and takes the most favourable result. 
  •  A roll of  “2” indicates a fumble whilst spellcasting  -  roll again on the table.
    • If the Magic User succeeds at casting on the second roll the spell simply fails.
    • If the Magic User fails the second check they incur a spell mishap - I haven't generated a table for this but there are plenty of good ones floating around (Necropraxis and Last Gasp Grimoire in particular)
  • An “A” result indicates the spell may be cast automatically without rolling. If the Magic User wishes they may still roll to attempt to cast the spell at no cost, however this carries the risk of a fumble.

Why use it...

  • I'm not particularly a fan of the Cleric and will likely remove it as a playable class - so if I'm going to kill it I might as well take its stuff.
  • I dislike risk free / automatic spellcasting and haven't found a replacement system that works satisfactorily yet.
  • Whilst it introduces uncertainty, risks and hit point costs to spellcasting it also provides the opportunity with some luck to cast more than your usual daily allotment / higher level spells than normally available.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A quick & dirty review of Wonder and Wickedness

Wonder and Wickedness is an alt magic sourcebook based around level-less spells. It's a nice little A5/digest sized book crammed full of magicky goodness (or wickedness rather) written by Brendan Strejcek of Necropraxis, illustrated by Russ Nicholson and published through Paolo Greco's Lost Pages. The author's stated intent is to provide a collection of "level agnostic" spells that are appropriate for first level characters yet scale such that they remain relevant. Overall he's done a pretty good job of doing just that - one of the main ways this has been done is through leaving spell wordings open to interpretation and DM ruling. Given that most of the spells are based on D&D standards (often appearing in very different dressing) there is familiar footing to draw upon but with flexibility to make (encourage even) case based rulings. There are significant changes to the flavour, consequences and limitations of the spells compared to their original versions and this also helps with balancing the spells as level-less. 

A good example of this is the Pyrokinesis spell which is basically a reskinned Fireball:
The sorcerer gains complete control over a fire, and may cause it to grow, shrink, or otherwise change. The fire may be detonated, causing 1d6 damage per sorcerer level to all near the blaze, though this ends the spell.

As you can see it scales well by level (probably better than most in the book actually), is vague as to the area of effect, has extra utility with quite a deal of flexibility for a creative caster, but is also limited by needing the presence of fire. I have a wonderful image of the front rank carrying an extra torch which is flung forward for the sorcerer to detonate.

I found that W&W really evoked a similar vibe for me to the old Steve Jackson SORCERY! gamebooks. Now that could just be down to the Russ Nicholson art but I think it's also the limited pool of spells available and the fact that any magic is potentially available to a sorceror (the title for magic users in the book) regardless of level. W&W magic also feels like a force of chaos, something that is risky, unpredictable and undependable, something that warrants fear and suspicion of sorcerors (and not just by NPC's, the party should rightfully be careful about what spells they allow a PC sorceror to cast on them). The inclusion of 12 catastrophes for each spell school goes another step further with this, a number of them have the scope to significantly impact a game world, or at least the PC's little corner of it. There's also 50 unique magical items very much in the same feel, a number of them great plot hooks. The combiination of spells, catastrophes and magic items in the book would form a great base for reimagining the role and perception of magic in a campaign setting. 

To read and look at its a gorgeous book - nice fonts and layout and wonderful art. My only lament on the presentation side is that it's not a hardcover, it would look great hard bound in black cloth with the ouroboros on the front embossed in silver.  I understand that Paolo puts together his own books so it's a shame he didn't make this a a purchase option, I would have happily forked out extra. DammitIwantmyblackhardboundwithsilverembossedouroboroscopyandfuckwhilstI'matitIwantvellumpagesandthetexthandscribedbyquillinhumanblood. Ahem.

A few other quibbles. 

The book doesn't offer any alternatives to standard Vancian casting which I found surprising given the inclusion of spell catastrophes. Certainly the spells are compatible with standard spellcasting, and could be adapted to many other versions of D&D magic, but the authors take on an alternative would've been nice.

I found in a few cases the flexibility and looseness in the spell wordings felt more like ill-defined, serving as little more than a starting point for negotiations at the table of what the effect should be for that game. Again this isn't a biggie, but I would prefer suggestions that I can ignore over fill-in-the-blanks in a published book. For folks that like their spell effects to be clearly defined however this is likely to be a big issue. In fact whilst the spells are in theory transferable to any edition of D&D, the looseness around many of the spell effects will likely be a problem for people not used to a rulings over rules style of play - certainly I would see running combats on a grid as poorly compatible with W&W. 

Whilst I really enjoyed the flavour and consequences baked into the spells, in a few instances I found they were perhaps too harsh. For example the Life Channel spell can be used to transfer either youth or vigor (read Hit Points) to a target. When used for healing the spell drains 1 hit point from the caster (or another target if you have a volunteer / victim) and heals from 1 to 6 points. However on a roll of 6 the recipient receives an extra 1d6 points and on a roll of 1 the recipient gets 6 points of healing but at the price of being "permanently changed by the dark magic".  A 1 in 6 chance of boning a PC for the equivalent of a cure light wounds seems like too much, too often, although I guess that very much depends on what the "change" is taken to be, as nothing further is specified. This is something easily decided upon for each game with a little work, ultimately for the better than a proscriptive result, however I still would have loved some suggestions. I guess this represents for me the strengths and weaknesses of W&W - its a wonderful starting point, a goldmine of ideas, and asks (and prompts you to ask) questions about the game you want to play. If you are happy to work with and expand upon this flexibility its a wonderful book, if you are looking for a source of plug & play spells then not so much.

Ok, so should you buy it? 

If you are a sucker for a pretty book or reckon you would use it at the table then I'd definitely recommend purchasing the print version, it's small enough to not intrude but a great prop for any sorcerer PC. The majority of the spells can be found on Brendan's blog so if you are curious have a gander. If you like, but not enough to fork out for the book there's a pdf which will give you access to the art, remaining spells and the catastrophes and items. If you are too skint / cheapskate then the spells on the blog are certainly worth yoinking.  I think the ultimate deciding factor is whether you need an alt magic system, and if so are you looking for a toolkit approach to tweak for your game. If so I can't recommend Wonder & Wickedness enough. However if you are just curious or like your rules spelled out in detail checkout the blog and see if it tempts you.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The "Challenges 20" expanded combat table

I've come across mention of Tom Moldvay's Challenges Game System a couple of times lately. Essentially it was an ultra compact summary of the AD&D ruleset with a few unique tweaks. Of particular interest, whilst the combat system was more or less standard D&D roll against AC, it featured extra results based on the degree of success or failure. This can result in extra hit point damage inflicted, varying wound states which result in penalties until healed, partial damage for near misses, or even lost initiative or missed actions depending on how much the required to-hit total is made or missed by. My two favourite RPG's are B/X D&D and Rolemaster so yeah, colour me interested.

Last week there was a couple of entries about the Challenges combat system at Lost Pages, where Paolo put the results for degrees of success and failure into table form, and this weekend Jeff Rients also had a crack at it too.

One thing that immediately stood out to me on looking at Paolo's tables was that this system would work really well alongside Delta's Target 20 algorithm - because it uses a static target number (20!) to determine a successful hit, degrees of success and failure could also be mapped to specific attack totals. This would enable a single attack table with results for attack totals from 10 to 30. A single look at the table would tell everything you need to know and the number of results is small enough that most results would become familiar over time making the table just  back up. I only saw Jeff Rients' table just before posting this and it seems to work similarly only with the base to hit total on the table being 0. 

How it works:

The Attack total = d20 + Fighter level/Hit Dice + modifiers + Descending Armour Class. 

Look up your attack total on the table and this is your result. A result of 20 is your bog standard "hit", less is a near, complete, or terrible miss and greater than 20 represents increasingly good blows.

"Combat Tricks" mean an additional effect such as:  lose initiative next round, disarmed, tripped, pushed, bum rushed or similar trick as suitable to combat situation and agreed upon by player and DM. You could codify these using 3E’s combat manoeuvres  or play them fast & loose as is your preference.

Download as pdf

The following attacking options may be combined with the use of this table to generate interesting combat tactics:
Aggressive Stance: Roll 2d20 for your attacks for the round and take both results (extra damage stacks, results of 18 or 19 are in addition to other damage). Attackers roll 2d20 for attacks against you and take the higher result.
Defensive Stance: Roll 2d20 for your attacks for the round and take the lower result.  Attackers roll 2d20 for attacks against you and take the lower result. You do not use the expanded combat table for your own attacks but your opponents do for theirs
Combat Manoeuvre: Roll 2d20 for your attack and take the higher result, however you cannot inflict damage with your attack (useful if generating a combat trick is more important to you than doing damage)

I should clarify that I haven’t ever seen The Challenges System , and the results and margins of success/failure I’ve used are based on Paolo’s hack. Jeff Rients' version seems to be more true to the Challenges version using wounds rather than Combat Tricks to spice up the combat results as per Moldvay's rules.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The One Death & Dismemberment Table to Rule Them All

After spending many a scraped together spare minute over the last few months I've finally finished The One Death & Dismemberment Table to Rule Them All (TODADTTRTA).

Click here and behold the carnage (the image above is low-res and does not have the supporting notes and sub-tables)

Thanks go out to the authors of the many fine Death & Dismemberment tables abounding the interwebs, I have riffed and ripped off mightily from lots of you (consider the honour roll in previous posts as a pretty clear reference list. If any folks feel like I have overstepped the mark please let me know and I'm happy to give more overt credit or remove offending items). The version linked is a .pdf, however if you would like a word version to tinker with for yourself please drop me a line. 

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of the Death and Dismemberment Table, I'll direct you to some recent posts detailing what they are and some good examples of tables available online, and a brief analysis of some design issues I considered in putting TODADTTRA together.  If that's too much work, the short story is: instead of the usual process for resolving what happens when PC's hit points are reduced to zero you roll on the table to decide your fate and may be spared for a while longer, accrue permanent injuries or be killed. 

Ok, so how did it turn out? 

Overall I'm pretty happy with it. Specifically:

The good

  • I like how repeated rolls on the table uses a Disadvantage like mechanic, increasing the risk of a bad result but not guaranteeing it.
  • I'm really happy with how I was able to implement the Adrenaline Surge feature from Trollsmyth's (and many others) Death & Dismemberment table. Using 5E's Hit Dice as a hit point recovery mechanic worked really well here and I'm particularly pleased with how an Adrenaline Surge result always counts despite repeated rolls on the table, enabling the classic heroic last stand (in fact it actually becomes more likely). 
  • I'm also quite pleased with how Shields shall be splintered and what I'm calling Helmets shall be rent integrated into the table.
  • I'm pretty happy with the overall flavour of the table.
  • It looks purdy, and I think I've captured the 5E style pretty well - I'm keen for feedback about whether this works for ease of readability, and just in general about how accessible and understandable the table is. 

The so-so
  • I have lingering concerns that it may be too complex for folks wanting a simple table. That isn't necessarily a problem as there are so many good tables of varying complexity and deadliness out there that anyone wanting to use a Death & Dismemberment Table should be able to find one that's a good fit for their game. 
  • The table is lacking in playtesting, so the numbers could be way off for the levels of permanent injury and deadliness I'm aiming for, again feedback is welcomed. 
  • I personally find the shunting off of extra detail into sub tables highly useful, however this again may make things too unwieldy for some. 
  • I like the Destroyed Item result, however I would've liked to have a non-locational equipment damage chance which included armour damage, but struggled to do so without adding too much complexity.
  • I'm hoping the use of a number of 5E'isms in the table isn't a turn off for folks that just aren't that into it - I feel like I've used the best bits to add to the table rather than shoehorning it into 5E and losing the old school Death & Dismembery goodness. 

The bad
  • I would've really loved to get the supporting notes down to a single page rather than two. 
  • I'll need a new project to start working on now! If there is interest I would consider tweaking the table for other editions. I don't really think this is necessary but it could be fun to play around with the formatting style. I've been toying around with the idea of replicating the process of TODADTTRTA but for other game tables (or things that aren't usually tables but could be cool as tables)

I'd love to hear any comments on how TODADTTRTA has turned out, or feedback if anyone happens to use it in play.  

Thursday, 15 January 2015

[D&D] Design diary: The One Death & Dismemberment Table to Rule Them All

In case it isn't obvious I'm a big fan of the Death & Dismemberment Table (if the name of this blog and the content of the first few posts weren't a giveaway). However I'd come across Death & Dismemberment tables (DADT) a number of times before realising just how cool they were. It was through reading some Actual Play reports of the impact of the Mortal Wounds table in Adventurer Conqueror King System that the idea the DADT finally grokked for me. There's a lot of things to like about the ACKS take on a DADT, it contains both a generic level of wound and then further randomizes with specific injury descriptions, and there's some great flavour text in it. However the table assumes a default result of unconsciousness upon dropping to zero hit points and leaves resolution of the actual wound until when medical attention is given. I really can't see why they went this way, frankly the only possible positives I can see is that it adds a certain level of dramatic tension and avoids slowing down the combat to address the fate of an out-of-action PC (but hell if it was my character's fate in the balance, I'd want to know now, drama and speed of gameplay be damned). 

Once my interest was piqued I started regularly noticing DADT's around the D&D blogosphere (see here, here and here for lotsa links). Whilst I love the concept of DADT's and there are plenty of well implemented tables around, I haven't found one yet that ticks all the boxes for me, so I set about creating The One Death & Dismemberment Table to Rule Them All (TODADTTRTA). Whilst it's likely this post is going to have a target audience of exactly one due to its specific nature,  I'm going to talk to myself out loud as it were about the design issues that I wrestled with (which may be of use for anyone looking to create or update their own DADT) and some of the decisions I've made in creating TODADTTRTA.

Probably the most fundamental assumption that any DADT is built on is it's understanding of what hit points represent.  Reader eyes glazing over in 3...2...1...  

Yes, that old chestnut. I'm not going to waste time defining terms, if you're reading a gaming blog I'm assuming what do hit points represent is well trod territory. DADT's tend to operate from the hit points as skill/endurance/luck/morale end of the hit point continuum rather than the meat end (i.e. hit points as not getting hit [badly] points). Although this isn't often spelled out it's inherently implied in the idea that any loss of hit points up until your last one in no way impairs your combat ability, however once hit points are reduced to zero you roll on the DADT and shit suddenly gets real (meaningful consequences in the form of wounds, dismemberment and death). If the wound results on the table have significant consequences and extended healing times, a DADT pairs really well with easily available (4E/5E level) hit point recovery, making a clear distinction between non-meat hit points and meat consequences on the DADT (this point often comes up in OSR bloggers' posts about DADT's, however any reference to 4E is usually avoided or is acknowledged almost shamefacedly as if the blogger risks losing their OSR cred!) Of course there's nothing that says hit points can't be interpreted as meat whilst using a DADT, however you need a logical explanation for why the meat damage suddenly has consequences once hit points drop to zero and not beforehand (two types of meat? Turducken hit points perhaps... no that's three!) I'd suggest that some sort of critical hit rules make a better fit if you want hit points as meat but with consequences and detail before they hit zero (or hell just go the whole hog and swap to Rolemaster - if you want an inherently risky combat system with the chance of debilitating wounds or death from any attack and are ok with death spirals Rolemaster does this much better than D&D). 

A related and more important consideration for DADT's (which I've not seen discussed anywhere suprisingly) is what do negative hit points represent? (if you are running Classic D&D with death at zero hit points feel free to ignore this section - hell, feel free to ignore any of my rambling in this post) 

Whilst folks are generally happy to embrace abstraction in how they view hit points, negative hit points are usually conceptualised as a much more concrete and meat-ish entity. This makes sense in a game that tracks negative hit points, as the combatant will usually be unconscious when at negative hit points, rendering combat skill or morale moot and I'd suggest that the Death's Door rule (combatant does not die at zero hit points but is instead unconscious and dying up until -X hit points at which point death occurs) heavily informs the common interpretation of what negative hit points represent. However when you look at how Death's Door is implemented across editions (not to mention in house rulings and retroclones) there are significant differences: the original AD&D version extends hit points to -10 before death occurs; 3rd edition kept a 10 hit point buffer but made exactly 0 hit points still conscious, but disabled; 4th edition expanded the death's door buffer to -[max hit points/2]; and 5E further still to -[max hit points]. Lots of old school house rules go the other way and limit Death's Door to the -2 to -5 hit point range. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a good example of this with unconsciousness occurring at 0 HP, mortal wounding at -3, and death at -4. A quirk of AD&D's (through to 3E's) Death's Door rule is that higher level characters are more likely to die if dropped below zero hit points. The concurrent scaling of character hit points and damage inflicted by opponents, makes the static 10 hit point buffer between unconsciousness and death increasingly small in relative terms and more likely to be exceeded if hit points are reduced below zero. By linking the Death's Door buffer to the character's maximum hit points, 4E & 5E fairly successfully address this issue, however to retain a sense of risk they then added in Death Save mechanics as an additional source of death. 

This all points to the problem inherent in negative hit points - whilst they feel like they represent a concrete entity, in most regards they are as abstracted as normal hit points, they only differ in that they most definitely fall to the meat end of the hit point continuum. This brings up the question, if you are using a DADT to determine the meat consequences of being reduced to zero hit points should you also use the Death's Door rule? (or track negative hit points and apply them as a modifier to rolls on the DADT, which in effect is the same thing as using Death's Door e.g. a roll of 2d6 modified by 10 for being at -10 hit points will generate a minimum result of 12. If the only result possible for 12+ on the DADT is death you are effectively operating with an AD&D Death's Door rule). Whilst it makes intuitive sense to track negative hit points and have a cutoff where death occurs, doing so alongside a DADT intertwines two mainly independent systems, one abstracted, one much more concrete, to measure the same scenario - how much meat damage has the combatant taken and how close are they to death. Using both systems means extra book keeping, and unless you draw on a 4E/5E approach to Death's Door you will have the effect of making your game increasingly deadly as characters level up - both from the Death's Door cutoff as mentioned above, but also if you apply negative hit points as a modifier to the DADT it will have the same effect of making the table deadlier as the level of the PC's and opponents increase. Applying modifiers to a DADT based on negative hit points may also skew results on the table in unforeseen ways unless this has been well factored into the spread of results on the table (see Billy Goes to Mordor's brief analysis of his DADT for a good example of this).

Why have I bothered with this mini analysis of negative hit points? - because the majority of DADT's use Death's Door concurrently or track negative hit points and apply them to the DADT roll. I to'ed and fro'ed on tracking negative hit points in my draft of TODADTTRTA a number of times, simply due to the intuitive sense that going further into negative hit points should influence the result on the table. However I've decided to jettison negative hit points and their tracking, adopting the table as the sole mechanism for determining what happens once hit points drop to zero. Rather than relying on modifiers from negative hit points to amplify the risk of a nasty result on the table, I'm planning on simply making the table a bit more deadly. By forgoing modifiers and only using a single die for rolls on the table the probability spread will remain flat, allowing control over how the severity of results such as dismemberment or death are distributed. To increase the risk from repeated rolls on the DADT I will be using an add dice, take lowest approach (read Disadvantage but with more dice than two allowed). I'm contemplating adding dice for attacks from opponents of Large or greater size too, so that the potential for real wounding based on the physics of an attack (as opposed to abstracted hit point damage) increases risk on the DADT. I'm also wondering if the concept of Bloodied from 4E might be useful here, essentially it's just a tag for being at half maximum hit points or below, but might be useful as a further source of dice on the DADT roll. The current spread of consequences I'm looking at is split 25% each for minor wounds (no effect or stunned), serious wounds (debilitating but non lethal and unlikely to cause ongoing problems), critical wounds (potentially life threatening and likely to have significant ongoing consequences) and deadly wounds. 

My next consideration was what balance of abstraction and detail to have in the results on the table. I believe the key here is to create detail without adding too much complexity and to keep the table clean and simple by pushing detail onto a supporting handout through the use of subtables and conditions. Given that DADT's are something that may only see occasional use and that only the specific result rolled needs to be considered in any individual usage of the table, there's scope to have a fair bit of detail and variety in results without making it overly complex. One of my issues with the Fisher / Trollsmyth model of DADT (of which there are many direct hacks, and lots of other DADTs which have been inspired by these) is that the severity of wound automatically links to a certain hit location. For me thee are two problems with this: 

1) combined with the fact that most tables of this ilk use 2d6, there will be a high repetition of certain results. I think a DADT becomes much more exciting if you are really uncertain what the likely result will be, and I prefer there to be a wide possibility of injuries (picking on Trollsmyth's version - because I like it, not because it's bad! -  a roll of 5-6 is a broken bone and 7-8 is knocked out. There are a whole range of injuries of comparable severity that could be included for these levels of severity, alternatively a broken bone result should span varying levels of severity depending on the location).

2) in some situations the location of wound taken will be determined by the nature of the damage (e.g. falling, placing hand into acid) or the damage will be quite abstracted and not correspond well to a hit location (e.g. AoE spell, psychic damage). With limited results on the table this becomes harder to model or falls back to DM ruling (which is totally ok, but some players - and DM's - are going to feel more comfortable with a DADT if they are at the mercy of a standardised table rather than what the DM feels is a good call at the time). 

One of the most common workarounds for this in DADT's is to separate the wound severity from hit location. This is certainly my preference for TODADTTRTA, and my plan is to also include a generic wound result for each severity to model non-specific damage, where hit location may not be appropriate. When using hit locations the question then becomes what level of specificity to include for each severity of wound. For example a moderate wound to the torso might be broken ribs - should the result specify this or just include penalties concomitant with this but open to interpretation as some other similar wound such as a very shallow stab wound or a painful but superficial cut across the belly? I'm inclined to have each result focused on the in-game effects and leave description of the actual wound up to the DM. That said, half the fun in a DADT is having bloody and blackly humorous descriptions for wounds sustained (Lost Pages' Internal Organs are Supposed to be Internal table is a particular fave for just this reason). Certainly a flavour text generation table could work well alongside more generic results. A number of DADT's also have separate tables depending on the damage type (e.g. slashing / piercing / bludgeoning / magic / fire etc.). At this stage I'm not sure I want to go down that path, I think by keeping enough abstraction in the results and also having a generic damage result this level of detail becomes unnecessary - and I think having wound severity, hit location and damage type all as variables would make the table too big. And yet, the Rolemaster fan in me quietly urges, "a separate DADT for each weapon, do it, do it"...

There is various other cool shit I want to include in TODADTTRTA, robbing from the many excellent tables on the internets, making them mine, all mine, my precious... Ahem. Definitely up for inclusion is the Adrenaline Surge entry from Trollsmyth's DADT, and I'm looking for a way to make it a possible result alongside other (possibly mortal) wounds to allow for heroic last stand results. I also really like how important his table has made helmets and would like to find a way of rolling Shields shall be splintered into the table, cos' its way cool but I'm not sure I want it as a separate system for avoiding death at zero hit points.  I'd also like to include options for equipment damage and scarring which are not tied to specific wounds and have a probability of occurring at any time.

A sub-goal for TODADTTRTA was to try to match up the wound categories on the table with the various Cure Wounds spells. Firstly in name, just for forms sake, but given that I plan to pair the table with easy hit point recovery, I'd like to switch the role of healing magic into addressing the wound results from rolling on the table. Natural healing for wounds will be slow, or not possible for some results, making healing spells really important, just not as a routine stock up of all the cleric spell slots. A scroll with a single CCW or Cureall will now be really useful, not just something that saves an extra day or two of resting.

For me the final decision has been which particular iteration of D&D to optimize the table for. My favourite D&D is Basic/Expert (I don't really bother distinguishing between Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer, we houseruled the shit out of our game well beyond it mattering anymore) and I'm a fan of where ACKS goes with B/X. However there's a lot of things I like about 5E. The fifth edition rules fairly explicitly state that hit point loss only represents significant injury when they are reduced to zero or below, making them a good match for a DADT. 5E's Death Saving Throw mechanic, whilst elegant and great for creating tension, produces no lasting consequences even if the combatant goes within one negative hit point of the death's door cutoff and fails two death saves. The 5E DMG introduces Lingering Wounds as an option to address this, but runs them concurrently with death saves. I don't think this works effectively as the two systems are not integrated and a scenario can occur such as a Lingering Wound result of Scarring but the character then fails three death saves, or the character can lose a leg, roll a 20 on their death save and potentially be back up and fighting. In short 5E could really use a DADT to completely replace it's existing unconsciousness, dying and death rules. There's a couple of other good reasons to go with 5E at the moment: it's enjoying a fair degree of flavor of the month even amongst some OSR folks, and there's only one other 5E specific DADT at the moment (I'm not counting the DMG's Lingering Wounds as a DADT). Whilst I'm not sure I would run 5E as is, most likely I will add in some 5E components to a Basic D&D game. I'm creating TODADTTRTA primarily for myself but it's still a nice idea to make it useful for the most possible people, and I can stat up TODADTTRTA for 5E but make things loose enough that it can easily be used in any edition (hell, I don't think inter-edition translation is half the thing some people bemoan it to be anyway). I've got TODADTTRTA pretty close to how I want it to look so hopefully should be posting it (eventually) on the next week or two.

Ok, so there's been a whole lot of talk in this post and not much action, so I'll pay a Joesky tax 

Monster: The Turducken

My lame crack about Turducken hit points up-post got me thinking about a monstrous Turducken, created by a mad wizard long ago in a vain attempt to combine his three favorite meats (Turkey, Duck, Chicken) into the one creature. Unfortunately the experiment got out of hand, creating a giant three headed fowl which then turned on its creator (oh the fate of mad monster-mashing wizards, so predictable). 

Whist the real life Turducken combines three meats, the monstrous Turducken is thoroughly meta and has three types of hit points (meat, skill and morale) and can only be slain by reducing each total of hit points (each of 3HD) to zero. For any hit on the Turducken roll 1d3 to determine which of its hit point totals is damaged - 1: Meat, 2: Skill, 3: Morale (this will definitely work better if you ham up descriptions of what type of damage is being dealt). 

There is a 1 in 6 chance per round for each of the three heads that they will use their special attack instead of biting. When a Turducken head uses its SA it also regenerates all hit point damage to the corresponding hit point total. If none of the heads use their SA there is a 1 in 6 chance the Turducken will lay an Egg of Doom.  The SA effects are as follows: Quack of Cracking- as Horn of blasting, Gobbling Gobble - opponents hearing the gobble must save vs spells or be under the effect of a confusion spell, Crow of Victory - opponents hearing the crow must save vs spells or be under effect of a fear spell, Egg of Doom - upon hatching (time to hatching as the DM sees fit) it unleashes campaign ending or other seriously messed up mojo - go wild (Egg of DOOM people).

Monstrous Turducken (1)  AC 7 (12), HD 3*, #AT 4 (beak/beak/beak/claw rake) 1d6/1d6/1d6/2d6, SA Quack of Cracking (meat), Gobbling Gobble (Skill), Crow of Victory (Morale), Egg of Doom, MV 120’(40’)

To fully appreciate the mindset of the author whilst writing this blog post it is best read whilst listening to: Shellac- At Acton Park & 1000 Hurts

Friday, 9 January 2015

A Quick & Dirty Review of A Red and Pleasant Land for fence-sitters

With The Youngling fast approaching two, I discovered this holiday season that I get more time to myself whilst I'm at work than on holidays. The upshot of this is has been very slow progress of late at getting my planned series of posts on Death & Dismemberment Tables completed. I eventually got my copy of A Red and Pleasant Land in the mail about a week ago so I thought I'd do a quick review to keep some content flowing. 

A quick point before my quick review - this review is aimed at a particular group of people. If you fall into the following camps this review us NOT for you: 

1) Old school peeps who don't mind their fantasy with a bit of gonzo (or at least flavours other than vanilla) and are fans of Zak S. People in this group probably already all have a copy (if not why the hell don't you) and there are plenty of rave reviews written by and for this group. 

2) The Hatorz - people who for some reason have a personal dislike of Zak and then let it get in the way of appreciating his creative chops. These folks will be studiously disinterested in ARaPL no matter how good it is.

Ok, so who is this review aimed at? Folks who have an appreciation for Zak's work, are curious - even interested - but just aren't sure if a setting book about Alice in Wonderland meets Vampires is really gonna be their thing. I certainly felt this way, but decided to buy it anyway, so thought I would share my observations. 

I should note I haven't read the book cover to cover, just a series of increasingly deeper flickthroughs (tell me you don't know exactly what I mean), and my first impression is - it's gorgeous. It's hard bound A5 in matte red cloth with gold embossing, it's filled with artwork and is stylishly laid out. It's obviously a labour of love, and you can see where the money Raggi sunk into this has gone. 

So the killer question, how likely am I to run a game in Voivodja, Zak's vision of Wonderland meets Transylvania, inhabited primarily by vampires, talking beasts and oddities? Probably not likely - but there are so many great ideas to yoink that I can easily see how I could adapt aspects into a game set elsewhere. In fact ARaPL is written with this attitude in mind, Zak knows lots of DM's would rather plunder than run a faithful adaptation. For those who do want to run a Voivodja specific game the book shows rather than tells, using maps, art, random tables, monster ecology, and wonderfully fleshed out examples of the quixotic rituals, events and character of the setting. There is also great advice on establishing the tone of the setting, which is quite unique, and I can see could be difficult to bring to life at the table. 

So, should you buy it? That depends. I'm certainly glad I did, even if it gets limited use at the table it's such a beautiful book that it's worth it even as a gamer's coffee table book. That said there are lots of random tables, monsters, hooks and just flat out interesting ideas that I'm sure it will serve as inspiration at the very least. 

If you are currently debating buying ARaPL I suspect the biggest determinant of whether you buy is going to be your wallet. If you like books and don't need to be guaranteed of getting your value for money, buy it - it's beautiful and you won't regret it. If you aren't willing to / can't afford to get it but are interested in having access to the resources contained within, get the PDF, you'll be missing out on the physical beauty of the thing but will certainly be getting good value for money. If you are still fence sitting or are skint / cheapass, I certainly recognised sections in the book which I'd seen in some form or another on Zak's blog. I can only suggest delving through the last year or two's posts for these (looking through Zak's old stuff is never a bad idea anyway).

Given the theme I seem to be working on this blog at present I should make mention that ARaPL contains a Death & Dismemberment Table. It's singled out as specifically for Duelling but could easily function as a simple DADT. It's a simple 1d6 table, all results on which are only injuries - but a nice touch is that if a result is rerolled the combatant is then unconscious (or dead if that's how you want to roll). This means that as wounds accumulate the finishing blow becomes more likely.