Saturday, 31 July 2010

Intervention by deities

So I've been browsing through the AD&D DMG, and I must say I'm really impressed with it so far. "1e" has the reputation of being overly complex, arcane and difficult to understand, but I've not found it any more complex than 2e was, say. The "rules" section of the book (and that includes all sorts of guidance and examples, not just hard rules) only encompasses 119 pages - the rest being magic item descriptions and various random tables.

Anyway, I'll probably write here about anything I read that particularly grabs my attention. One such thing was the presence of the following two sentences, amidst the section on INTERVENTION BY DEITIES:
Serving some deity is an integral part of AD&D. ...the accumulation of hit points and the ever-greater abilities and better saving throws of characters represents the aid supplied by supernatural forces.
That's something that's never occurred to me before! And I don't think most people play that way, nowadays at least. (I'm not sure how many people would have taken those sentences literally back in the day, either.) But taking those sentences literally is a really interesting proposition, I think. What if every character, not just clerics and paladins, were required to choose a patron deity, and that that patronage is required in order to advance past 5th or so level. Like, normal people can advance up to a certain degree, but it requires the patronage of a deity to attain the abilities of higher level characters. That sounds like a pretty interesting premise for a campaign to me!

AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

Look what I just received in the post!

I've just had a flick through it, to see what's in there (I've not looked at the 1st edition DMG for quite a few years), and was delighted. I'm especially pleased by the huge number of random tables for all manner of things: NPC personalities, dungeon dressing, treasure, tricks & traps, etc etc.

It's going to be a fun read!

Treasure tables

I've been thinking about creating some more detailed random treasure hoard tables for Savage Worlds, as a kind of expansion to the system given in the Fantasy Companion. The rules there go into incredible depth for randomly selecting magic items (as is traditional in fantasy RPGs), but all other treasure is described simply as "Silver & Gold". Which definitely has the advantage of simplicity. However I personally rather like to at least have the opportunity to roll on tables for gems, jewellery, books, maps, and other miscellaneous items of value. I like the feeling this gives to a campaign - that the PCs aren't just racking up chests full of gold pieces - that a painting or a bracelet or a pouch of herbs are all valuable too. So far this is what I've thought:

I'd like to keep the simplicity of the system, by determining the total value of a treasure hoard, excluding magic items, by just rolling 1d10 and multiplying by the magnitude of the hoard. So that'd be the first step, as normal. But then it'd be nice, once the total value has been determined, to have some more tables to roll on to determine exactly what the valuable items are. Something like:

Hoard contents (1d6):
1-3 Just coins
4-5 Coins + one valuable item
6 Coins plus multiple valuable items

For a hoard with one or more valuable items, we need to determine what proportion of the hoard's total value is made up of coins, and what proportion is made up of the valuable items. A simple system is to say that the extra items are worth d10 x 10% of the hoard's total value. The remainder is coins.

Obviously if a hoard contains just one valuable item, its value can be easily calculated. Multiple items have proportional values as follows:

Multiple items' proportional value (1d6):
1 Two items - 50 / 50
2 Two items - 25 / 75
3 Two items - 10 / 90
4 Three items - 33 / 33 / 33
5 Three items - 20 / 40 / 40
6 Three items - 10 / 10 / 80

An example:
A Worthwhile treasure hoard has a total value of 1d10 x $100. Say we roll a 7, meaning that it's worth $700. We then roll to see if there are any special valuable items in the treasure hoard. A roll of 1d6 results in a 6 - multiple valuable items. 1d10 is rolled to determine what proportion of the hoard's value is made up by these valuable items - a result of 5 means 50% = $350. A further roll of 1d6 - resulting in a 3 - denotes that there are two valuable items, with proportional values of 10% / 90% of the valuable items sub-total (i.e. $35 and $315).

So the hoard contains $350 worth of coins, an item worth $35 and an item worth $315.

Well, perhaps that all sounds a bit complicated. But I think it'd work smoothly enough in practice, and I can't think of anything easier for now!

Of course there'd also need to be a set of tables to determine what exactly these "valuable items" are! This is the fun bit. Here's a simple table for starters:

Valuable items (1d8):
1 Gems
2 Jewellery
3 Books
4 Maps
5 Art / furnishings
6 Fur / cloth
7 Herbal / alchemical
8 Mundane

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Tower of the mad archmage

In a diversion from the usual events of the campaign, in last night's session (arranged to coincide with Gary Gygax's birthday) the PCs had an odd encounter with a tower which erupted abruptly from the ground near to where they were camped. Being keen adventurers they went to investigate it, and discovered it to be part of the castle of the mad archmage Zagyg. Of course they climbed inside, through an accessible window, and had a marvellously old-school time looting and pillaging! :) This was much to the dismay of the inhabitants of the castle - white-furred ape guards, floating eye spheres, and an amusingly non-violent group of robed figures who did nothing but flee in fear of the band of armed raiders.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

If I were to play AD&D again...

What would I do? Well, I'd want to play it "by the book" as much as possible. As discussed in the previous post, I've had more than my fair share of house ruling odysseys. So one of the big points of playing AD&D 1st edition would be to experience it how it was / is, rather than how I think it could or should be.

I'll see when I receive the AD&D rule books I ordered recently, and have the chance to read through them again, but in all honesty I think I'd be tempted to run Labyrinth Lord with the Advanced Edition Companion. From what I've seen, LL appears to capture the essence of the early A/D&D rules, while presenting them in an improved and streamlined format. Plus of course it's compatible with all the really great things like the AD&D Monster Manuals and the 2nd edition Wizard's Spell Compendium (which I have a full set of, and am very very keen on).

But is there anything, even at this stage, I can say I would do differently? Any areas where I wouldn't play by the book? Well...

1st level wizards. I've always had a problem with them and their measly one spell per day. So I'd think seriously about giving them three spells per day at 1st level (basically two bonus 1st level spells). Even one extra spell per day would make a big difference. And I don't think a bonus 1st level spell or two would make any difference once a wizard is past 5th level or so.

Specialist wizards. I really like the 1e split between Magic-user and Illusionist - the way they're actually separate spell lists. I also really like the concept of the 2e schools of magic. But I'm not so keen on the watering down of specialists in 2e, by the fact that a generalist wizard (Mage) can cast any spell from any school - which kind of makes the specialists less interesting. So, blessed as I am with the Wizard's Spell Compendium, I would think about only allowing specialist wizards. Yep, no Magic-user / Mage. Just Illusionists, Necromancers, Invokers, Abjurers, etc. And yes that really would be possible. Get this: 231 Abjuration spells, 136 Divination spells, 280 Necromancy spells... So these specialists would have a seriously wide repertoire of spells available, even if they were strictly limited to a single school! Even relatively obscure schools like the elemental schools or the school of shadow would have enough spells to make it perfectly feasible for a player character to specialise in them. I reckon that'd be pretty interesting, and would make for a lot of variety in PC wizards.

Weapon proficiency. While I wouldn't want to go for a full import of the 2e weapon proficiency system, I think I'd probably relax the class-based weapon restrictions a bit. Only a bit. I'd probably say that characters can use weapons not on their class list, but at a (fairly harsh) penalty to hit. Simple.

One thing I really wonder about in old-school A/D&D is combat tactics. To be honest I don't think the combats we played as kids / teenagers were very tactical or interesting. Just your basic hack 'n' slash d20 rolling, as far as I recall. Since playing Savage Worlds my mind has been opened to the huge possibilities of a combat system which provides simple flexible rules for characters to perform all sorts of different (i.e. not just "I hit it again") actions in combat, and for them to make a big difference as well. In Savage Worlds a huge range of potential actions can be imagined, described and resolved with a couple of really simple mechanics - everything from intimidating or taunting opponents, to throwing sand in someone's eyes, to trying to tangle them up in a rope, to putting them off guard by briefly pretending to surrender. The big revelation here is that "non-combat" characters (like, for example, 1st level wizards who've fired off their daily magic missile) still have something very valid, useful and interesting to add to a fight.

I don't have much of an idea how I'd handle stuff like that in AD&D.

Journeys through RPG land

I've been on a round about journey through RPG land the last few years. After drifting away from the hobby in my twenties, when the urge to re-enter the world of roleplaying hit me, I (perhaps?) inevitably picked up where I'd left off - AD&D 2nd edition. I still had all the books, so I gathered a few friends and ran a couple of adventures. We had a great time - especially as it was early winter and the house I was living in at that point had a log fire which we had burning away in the background during the games - the perfect atmosphere! But soon after reading through the 2e rules and playing the game again, I found a lot of things that I actually wasn't very keen on in the system. The biggest being the class system. In those couple of adventures I ran there were 2 Ranger PCs, and I remember finding it both frustrating and weird that they both had exactly the same "cookie-cutter" abilities.

Now I don't recall if I also found the class / archetype system problematic in my "first time around" with D&D, as a teenager. Probably not. But as an adult I found that I was none too keen on it. So I embarked on an epic and (in retrospect) futile attempt to house-rule AD&D 2e into something that was closer to my ideal, at least in terms of how character creation and growth could work. What a waste of time... I sort of semi enjoyed most of it, but I spent so many hours on activities like: working out the relative XP costs of the various abilities of all the standard classes, cross-referencing them with each other, trying to unify the non-weapon proficiencies system with the thief skills and other class abilities, re-organising the schools of magic, etc etc. Basically I think I was trying to recreate D&D 3rd edition, which I'd never played or even heard anything about. I gave up before my task was finished.

At that point I started making a few friends in a local RPG club, some of whom were playing D&D 3e and 4e. So I had a whirlwind tour of the later editions of Dungeons & Dragons, even including the Pathfinder beta. While I found the "cleaned up" and rationalised rules set of 3e satisfying on one level, I also found that the feeling - mainly the style of books, i think - had changed a lot since AD&D, and this newer style or tone didn't speak to me in the same way as the earlier AD&D books did. And the character creation system, while a lot more flexible, still persistently centred around those pesky cookie-cutter classes. Enter True 20. Since my aborted attempt to modify AD&D 2e, I'd been looking for a game which suited my tastes, and which I wouldn't "have to" spend months house ruling. True 20 seemed to fit. The concept of classes has been all but removed; everything that had formerly been a class ability works within the d20 skills & feats system; and a lot of the complexity of D&D 3e has been simplified once more. So I dived head first into True 20. I bought and read the books, and started creating a campaign world.

There was just one thing though... One niggling thorn in my side - the True 20 powers system. I can't even really remember now what my problem with it was, but I just couldn't resist embarking on another epic rules re-working. This time was worse, since I was actually running an on-going game using this constantly morphing rules set. The players were confused. In the end I was confused. The campaign kind of fizzled out.

At this point someone mentioned, completely tangentially, Savage Worlds. I'd heard of it before, and had actually been put off by some of the weird things I'd heard about it - using playing cards, lots of miniatures, "Bennies"!? But this time I thought I'd look into it. The €10 cover price of SWEX certainly helped there. Reading that book, I was soon a convert. A system designed from the ground up to be fast to prep and play. A truly classless system, but one in which it's actually very easy to play archetypal characters if you want to (due to the nicely packaged professional Edges - Knight, Wizard, Thief, Holy Warrior, Woodsman, etc). An effects-based and highly flexible powers system. A game which is built around and has systems to facilitate the idea of improvised rulings, rather than attempting to list extensive rules for every possible situation. Many things appealed to me about Savage Worlds. At last a system which I was (and still am) committed to not messing with.

So I started again... A new campaign, in the form of an old-school fantasy sandbox! It's funny, all through this journey of my re-entry into roleplaying, I feel like I've basically been trying to get back to where I started, in some way. I guess this is probably a fairly common experience. We played these games as kids, so there's always going to be some degree of nostalgia / yearning involved. And that nostalgia still burns hot inside me. I love Savage Worlds, it really feels to me like the most solid and simultaneously the most flexible RPG rules system I've ever played (which admittedly isn't saying a huge deal, as I've not played that many systems). BUT... part of me misses magic missile and charm person and tenser's floating disk and polymorph other and death spell and limited wish and and and... Part of me misses the Monster Manuals. Part of me misses all the weird random tables for all manner of obscure things.

It's odd, but I'm not nostalgic for D&D BE(CMI), which I played as a kid, and I'm not nostalgic for AD&D 2e which I played as a teenager. What I'm nostalgic for is AD&D 1st edition. Which I've never played. I have all the books (well, the Player's Handbook, the DM's guide and MM 1 & 2), but I've never played it. "The spirit of Gygax"? I guess so. There's something so wondrous about those books, so fascinatingly fresh and weird and arcane. I really want to play that game. I really want to play D&D like it's the 1970s, somehow!!

Perhaps that same feeling can be evoked in a Savage Worlds campaign? We'll see. It's early days yet, and I've really enjoyed the games so far. But despite my love of the Savage Worlds system, I still have this kind of yearning for 1st level Magic-users and Xorns and Assassins and XP for gold. Maybe I will run AD&D 1e at some point... I've just bought the books on ebay (my original copies are in an attic somewhere in another country!), so I'll get the chance to at least read them again and feed that flame of nostalgia!

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

New Hindrance: Complicated Powers

This Hindrance is associated with my system for Power activation methods.

Complicated Powers


The character uses two simultaneous activation methods for his or her powers, or three for the Major version of the Hindrance.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pregen characters

I've got a couple of new players joining the campaign next week, and as we're only able to play for a few hours, we won't have time to make characters beforehand. So I've created a bunch of pregens for them to choose from. All except one were created using my random tables for Attributes and Hindrances. The characters are presented here in the preceding posts.

They're deliberately left with no background information (apart from the what their Hindrances hint at), and no names even, as I'm imagining the players will want to fill that stuff in gradually from their own imaginations.

Pregen characters VII: Wandering healer / Spirit-binder

Race: Human

Attributes: Strength d4, Vigor d4, Agility d4, Smarts d8, Spirit d10.

Skills: Fighting d6, Shooting d6, Notice d6, Survival d4, Healing d6.

Parry: 6, Toughness: 5, Pace: 5 (running d4), Charisma: -1.

Edges: Hard to kill, Arcane Background: Spirit-binding (concentration), New Power.

Hindrances: Obese (m), Habit (m) - zones out when talking to people, Impatient (M).

Bond with Oakenwold, spirit of the woods (10PP): Guest of the wild (environmental protection) - through rain, cold and storm, you are always at home in the wilds, Nature's grasp (entangle) - plants and roots leap up to trap your foes, Tree's root (burrow) - like the deepest roots of a tree, you can disappear into the earth.

Equipment: Bow, Quiver, 20 x arrows, Quarterstaff, Belt pouch, Healer's kit.

Gold: 55

Pregen characters VI: Northlander follower of Arg (god of storms)

Race: Human

Attributes: Strength d10, Vigor d10, Agility d6, Smarts d4, Spirit d4.

Skills: Fighting d10, Throwing d6, Intimidation d4, Notice d4, Climbing d4, Tracking d4, Survival d6.

Parry: 8, Toughness: 10, Pace: 6, Charisma: -2.

Edges: Brawny.

Hindrances: Outsider (m), Illiterate (m), Code of honor (M).

Equipment: Chainmail armor, Spear, Backpack, Bedroll.

Gold: 50

Pregen characters V: Rune-chanter / Archer

Race: Half-elf

Attributes: Strength d6, Vigor d4, Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d6.

Skills: Fighting d4, Shooting d8, Taunt d4, Notice d4, Stealth d6, Spellcasting d8, Knowledge (Arcana d6), Craft (Bowyer) d6.

Parry: 4, Toughness: 5, Pace: 8 (running d10), Charisma: +0.

Edges: Agile (racial), Fleet-footed, Arcane Background: Magic (words)

Hindrances: Quirk - scorns melee weapons (m), Deathwish - hates Goblins (m), Rival (M).

Powers (10PP): Charm arrow (smite) - chanting the names of runes of power, your arrows become sharp and deadly, Analyze foe - runes of knowledge grant you an advantage over those who cross you, Speed burst (deflection) - you move like the wind, dodging attacks.

Equipment: Leather armor, Bow, Quiver, 20 x arrows, Backpack, Knife, Book of runes.

Gold: 165

Pregen characters IV: Mercenary

Race: Human

Attributes: Strength d8, Vigor d6, Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d4.

Skills: Fighting d8, Shooting d10, Notice d4, Climbing d4, Tracking d4, Survival d4, Streetwise d4.

Parry: 7, Toughness: 7, Pace: 6, Charisma: +0.

Edges: Brawny, Trademark weapon (crossbow).

Hindrances: Impatient (m), Illiterate (m), Slow-witted (M).

Equipment: Chainmail armor, Crossbow, Short sword, Pot helm, Small shield, Quiver, 20 x crossbow bolts, Backpack, Oil, Lamp.

Companions: War dog (stats as Dog in SWEX, Fighting d8).

Gold: 153

Pregen characters III: Priest of Nag (god of delvers)

Race: Dwarf

Attributes: Strength d6, Vigor d6, Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8.

Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Healing d4, Faith d8, Knowledge (Underworld) d4.

Parry: 6, Toughness: 6, Pace: 5, Charisma: +0.

Edges: Low-light vision (racial), Tough (racial), Arcane Background: Miracles (memorized casting, words), Arcane resistance.

Hindrances: All thumbs (m), Flashbacks (m) - wars with Mountain Goblins, Curious (M).

Powers (10PP): Nag's blessing (armor) - a glowing field protects you from harm, Shadowbane (light) - you can summon light in the dark, Healing - cure wounds, Master of doors (open / lock) - no door bars your way.

Equipment: Leather armor, Warhammer, Holy symbol (silver), Backpack, Waterskin.

Gold: 145

Pregen characters II: Cut-throat rogue

Race: Human

Attributes: Strength d6, Vigor d4, Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d6.

Skills: Fighting d10, Throwing d6, Notice d4, Stealth d6, Lockpicking d6, Climbing d4, Streetwise d6.

Parry: 7, Toughness: 5, Pace: 6, Charisma: +0.

Edges: Ambidextrous, Two-fisted.

Hindrances: Bad liar (m), Weak-willed (m), Greedy (M).

Equipment: Leather armor, Short sword, 5 x knives, Backpack, Lockpicks.

Gold: 0

Pregen characters I: Sonic wizard / Blade master

Race: Human

Attributes: Strength d4, Vigor d4, Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d4.

Skills: Fighting d12, Notice d4, Stealth d6, Persuasion d4, Spellcasting d8, Knowledge (Arcana) d6.

Parry: 8, Toughness: 4, Pace: 6, Charisma: +0.

Edges: Arcane Background: Magic (focus - Songblade), Florentine, New Power.

Hindrances: Insomnia (m), Enemy (m), Hard of hearing (M - deaf).

Powers (10PP): Sound blade (deflection) - a vibrating blade of sonic energy defends you from attacks, Wave of disruption (burst) - produces a burst of destructive sound waves, Sonic boom (stun) - a deafening blast of sound, Wail of the banshee (fear) - a beastly howling terrifies all who hear it.

Equipment: Songblade (short sword), Dagger, Backpack, Lantern, Oil, Flint & steel.

Gold: 220

Arcane Background options: Activation methods

In my campaign I've been requiring characters with Arcane Backgrounds to determine how their powers are manifested. In addition to deciding the trappings of each of their powers, I've asked them to choose from a lit of "activation methods".

All characters with an Arcane Background should choose one of the following activation methods. Optionally, a different activation method can be selected per power.

Words: The character cannot use his powers if silenced or unable to speak. Even if the character whispers there is a chance his spellcasting will be noticed – make a Stealth roll, opposed by Notice.

Gestures: The character must use his hands to activate his powers. Normally, he uses both hands, but he may attempt to use only one hand at a –2 penalty (and at an additional –2 if attempted with his off hand). The character can make a Stealth roll, opposed by Notice, to make the required gestures without being seen.

Materials: The character's powers require some kind of material components (the details may be specified if desired). These materials must be purchased in advance, and are consumed at a rate of $1 worth per Power Point spent. The character must have at least one hand free to access his components.

Focus: The character's powers are channelled through a specific object which the character must be holding in his hand. If the object is lost or destroyed the character cannot use his powers again until he regains it or spends a whole day attuning a new focus.

Concentration: Using a power consumes the character's entire action; he cannot take any other actions while doing so. In addition, he may only move half his Pace in a round in which he is casting.

Music: The character must be able to sing or play an instrument to activate his powers. His music cannot easily be concealed, and is audible to all within range (or 5” at a minimum).

Arcane Background: Spirit-binder

This new Arcane Background is inspired by a discussion with vedic & Clint Black on the Savage Worlds forum. I've just introduced it into my campaign.

Arcane Skill: Invocation (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10 (but see below)

Starting Powers: 1

Aside from the major deities of the world, there are a huge variety of lesser entities (demons, devils, fey, angels, nature spirits, ancestral spirits, etc.) which can grant boons to those who enter into a pact or bond with them. Such bonds usually occur in one of two situations: a character who is in concordance with the entities with which he is bonded, or a character who has learned the arts of controlling various entities against their will.

Characters with this Arcane Background begin with a bond with a single entity. Each entity grants access to a limited number of powers, of which the character may choose one initially. New powers may be gained, as usual, by taking the New Power Edge, which grants either 2 new powers with an existing entity (to a maximum of 5 powers per entity), or a bond with a new entity, granting one new power.

Each entity has its own pool of Power Points (similarly to AB Weird Science), beginning at 10 PP. If the character learns the Power Points Edge, instead of gaining a flat increase of 5 PP, he gains a number of Power Points equal to his Spirit die type, which can be divided amongst the PP pools of all his bonded entities.

Maintaining an active power only impacts the use of powers granted by the same entity. However, as the character's powers are dependant on an arcane connection between the Binder and the entity, they are subject to effects which dispel or ward against spirits. If one of the character's powers is successfully targeted by the dispel power, his connection with that entity is disrupted, and requires a long ritual (2d6 hours) and a successful Invocation roll to re-establish.

Displeasure: On a roll of 1 on the Invocation die, the entity is displeased with the character, and refuses to grant further powers until it is appeased. Appeasement requires a long ritual (2d6 hours) and a success with an interaction skill of some kind (usually Persuasion or Intimidation).

Arcane Background options: Memorized powers

Much as many people have a hatred of D&D's Vancian magic system, it definitely has a quality of its own, which isn't replicated by the Power Points system of Savage Worlds. One of the most prominent, and most interesting, features of the D&D magic system is the necessity for magic-users to memorize spells in advance. This is one thing which I actually miss about the system, as it requires players to make tactical decisions on which spells will be needed. This option for AB characters is my attempt to bring back some of the feeling of the Vancian magic system, while not radically messing with the core powers system in SW.

Characters with Arcane Background: Magic, Miracles or Spirit-binder can choose to cast spells either spontaneously (as in the normal rules), or by memorization, as follows.
  • Instead of spending Power Points and casting spells on the spur of the moment, some magic-users must spend time in study, meditation or prayer in order to imprint the magical formulae for spells into their minds. When memorizing a spell, a character must spend the required Power Points as normal, including any Power Points needed to extend the spell's duration. Memorizing spells takes one hour (regardless of the number of spells memorized).
  • Casters who memorize spells cannot cast spells spontaneously, thus they have to choose carefully, in advance, which spells they will need. When they have cast all spells they have memorized they cannot use any powers until they get a chance to memorize more spells.
  • They regain Power Points at the normal rate, and, given enough time, are free to study and memorize spells as soon as they have Power Points available. However, the Power Points taken up by a memorized spell do not recover until the spell has been cast.
  • The counterbalance of the limitations of this form of spell casting is that characters gain double the usual number of powers. So, for example a beginning character with Arcane Background: Magic who casts spells by memorization knows 6 powers (as opposed to the standard 3) – having a much broader repertoire than a spontaneous caster. This rule also applies to the New Power Edge, which grants two new powers to spell memorizing casters.
  • Characters with the Wizard Edge should make a Spellcasting roll at the time of memorization, to determine if the power's cost is lowered. This is in addition to the normal activation roll at the point of using a memorized power.