A little song,
A little dance,
A little seltzer
down your pants.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Thursday, May 21, 2015
The previous post on dungeon shorthand left out a few things: a handful of symbols and methods of connecting rooms.
The exclamation mark and question mark are used for specific kinds of doors: barred doors and secret doors. You could roll for which side a door is barred on, but I would probably just make it barred on the side opposite to the entrance to the level, especially if you were using dungeon shorthand as a way to play a solo dungeon.
An apostrophe basically functions like a change in case combined with a quote. In other words, a word like "can't" is a 30-foot square room with a 10-foot square alcove to the north, but the exit from the room is in the eastern wall of the 30-foot section, not the 10-foot alcove. There is an implied "end-quote" at the end of a word with an apostrophe in it.
This leads into the whole question of how rooms are connected. By default, the first room in a line has one exit in the east wall, the last room in the line has one exit in the west wall, and all the rooms in the middle of the line have exits in both the east and the west walls. These exits are doorways. The rooms in the second line are not connected to those in the first line, and so on, for each line. Directional letters change this:
- If the first letter of a word is a directional letter, there is no western exit, but an exit in the indicated direction.
- If the last letter of a word is a directional letter, there is no eastern exit, but an exit in the indicated direction.
- Directional letters in the middle of a word are extra exits.
How the rooms are connected depends on what rules you set up for the theme of the dungeon before you begin translating text into a dungeon. You could make all rooms connect directly, without corridors unless indicated by hyphens or numerals, or you could assume each room occupies a square region 50 feet to each side, or a multiple of 50 feet, so that small rooms of 20 or 30 feet have buffer space and short connecting corridors between themselves.
Extra exits connect to the closest exit of another room. One way to do this: extra exits have corridors heading in the same direction. If this corridor would cross the wall of a room, and that wall has a free exit, connect the two exits. If that wall doesn't have an exit, the corridor turns away from any close walls. If the corridor has no where left to turn., it dead-ends. If a corridor would cross another corridor, the two connect.
An ampersand indicates that two words/rooms share a wall, even if you are otherwise using buffer space around rooms. It also indicates that there are no default connections between those two rooms. If the last letter of the first word or the first letter of the second word is a directional letter, then there is a doorway. Otherwise, the rooms are isolated.
A plus sign is a potential corridor intersection, but not necessarily a four-way intersection. It works a little like an apostrophe: if you have a phrase of the form "A + B C", Room A has a corridor at least 30 feet long heading east to Room C, with a side corridor heading north to Room B. This arrangement may change based on directional letters in any of the words. Longer expressions with multiple plus signs mean four-way, five-way, or other multi-way intersections.
Hyphens, as I said are corridors. I'd probably make the hyphens five-foot wide, rather than the standard ten feet.
I suggested that a hash mark (#) should be bars or a grate, and I typically use pipes (|) as lower-height walls, asterisks as boulders, underscores as trenches or pits, carets (^) as chimneys or chutes, equal signs as ledges. But each of these could be redefined to fit a particular theme before you begin your interpretation.
So, there's been an ongoing debate across several blogs and fora for at least two weeks, perhaps more, about what counts as an innovative new product, whether the OSR is truly innovative, and which direction it should be heading: towards more settings (and more innovative settings,) or towards more rules? This post at Tenkar's Tavern was not the first such post, but it sort of redirected the debate from bitching about individual products to actually thinking about what people's ideals should be. And the Bat in the Attic blog raised some good points. So now I'm going to give you my thoughts.
Let's get this out of the way right now: everyone who reads my blog should know by now I don't think highly of rules, especially mechanics. I''ve said on more than one occasion that I think mechanics -- which dice you roll and how you modify them -- are the least important and least interesting part of an RPG. The rules that surround the mechanics, mostly conditionals like "if you are a fighter and you are facing opponents of 1 HD or less, you can fight a number of opponents equal to your level", are more important, but even those are subservient to the concepts of the setting they are meant to embody. Which, I believe, is the main point of that Bat in the Attic post.
But that doesn't mean I'm wholely behind setting as the goal. Not what we think of as setting, at least. I find the vast majority of setting products pretty boring and poorly put together. The preference is for setting books written like text books, like the writer is some kind of explorer reporting back on the customs and significant sights of some far-away land. It results in pretty much unusable products.
What I am more interested in is setting elements. Have you ever considered the fact that Vornheim is a setting book? Not an entire setting: it suggests some broad details about the world of Vornheim, but doesn't detail all the existing kingdoms or the surrounding geography, and it doesn't even detail every single part of the city. Instead, it tells you what a Vornheim-like city would be, and gives you tools to implement Vornheim-ish details, with the full understanding that you'll probably be dropping this into another setting and making any changes necessary to make it fit. I haven't seen Slumbering Ursine Dunes, but I understand it works in somewhat the same way: the writer has a broad setting in mind, but the product is not about cataloging minutiae in one section of that setting, but is instead a locale with a unique feel that you could drop into whatever setting you are using, with tools to help implement that feel.
Another example would be products like The Dungeon Alphabet. You're probably choking on your own spittle right now and screaming "That's not a setting product! It's just random tables!" Yes, but those tables are built with certain setting assumptions in mind. They are tools designed to produce that kind of setting. Compare the Dungeon Alphabet tables to those in The Dungeon Dozen, if you don't believe me. Like most OSR products, both assume a more or less bog--standard fantasy world, but there are slight differences in the kinds of things you get out of each.
This is what I think the focus of the OSR should be. THIS kind of product. Not necessarily a city or an adventure, but more like a locale or a thematic set, with tools to create something that looks and feels a specific way. For what we traditionally think of as setting products -- gazetteers or city guides -- there should be less "wall of text" and more like a short introductory paragraph and three to five significant features presented as bullet points (this RPGPundit post on his Arrows of Indra setting should serve as an example,) followed by random tables, monsters, treasures, NPCs, or events that you could drop practically anywhere as needed to reflect the look and feel of that area.
Innovation, in this case, means creating setting elements with a new look and feel. What kinds of kingdoms, cities, dungeons, or wilderness haven't been presented, or haven't been presented properly? What could we do that is different, that really evokes a distinctive style? That's what I want to see the OSR doing.
I've been asked to do a sample dungeon illustrating how dungeon shorthand works, and I really should do a follow-up anyways... But there are also a couple posts on other blogs I would like to respond to, including the great "setting vs. rules" debate. But I'll start today with a topic raised on Tenkar's Tavern today: using alignment in actual play. Or rather, I'm going to focus more on his example of all the difficulties in enforcing alignment with a group of people who disagree on what the alignments mean (when it's convenient for them...)
Specifically, I'm going to call out the use of the term "Lawful Stupid", a phrase I loathe. All the examples I've seen of so-called Lawful Stupid behavior involve players who clearly know what their choices are, and the consequences. And yet, they chose the action that didn't net them the biggest treasure haul or eliminated the threat! The fact that some people consider that "stupid" might be worth commentary. But more importantly, it makes it clear that the Lawful concept comes from a different cultural context, one where people worried about what others thought of them as much as they worried about material gain or personal survival. Sometimes, even more so.
But I'm not just harping about "kids these days". The thing about altruism and honor and other such concepts is that they assume people are actually going to react positively to noble sacrifices or restraining one's bloodlust and greed out of honor. But the way most GMs run the game, even the GMs who see Lawful Good in a positive light, is to assume that only wealth and personal survival matter. There's no chance that a Lawful character showing mercy, nobility or virtue is going to impress anyone.
There really ought to be a Virtuous Acts table, used whenever a Lawful character does something noble that would otherwise screw themselves over. Say, a 2d6 reaction roll, with these standard results:
Very Bad: Enemies take advantage of the fool's weakness.
Bad: No affect, other than what you'd expect.
Neutral: Enemies are rattled by the display of nobility and take a penalty on hostile actions.
Good: Enemies are impressed and show mercy or nobility themselves.
Very Good: Enemies are so impressed that they immediately cease hostilities.
... The idea being that the paladin who says, "I'll hold the bridge alone against these goblin hordes. Get everyone to safety!" now stands a chance of surviving, simply because the goblins will be awed. Any third-party non-combatants would join the Lawful character on a Good result, allowing for possible slave revolts triggered by a lone warrior's staunch defiance of the evil overlords.
There would, of course, be a similar table for Vile Acts, performed by Chaotics, which would strike fear into the hearts of enemies. Neutral characters would not roll on a table, unless they performed a Virtuous Act in front of a pure Lawful character or a Vile Act in front of a pure Chaotic (I'm thinking only supernaturals and clerics count as "pure"; most monsters and ordinary people with alignments wouldn't count.)
Pure Lawfuls are more impressed by Virtuous Acts performed by Lawfuls, and pure Chaotics are less moved: double the result for pure Lawful opponents, halve it for pure Chaotics.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
2. The length of a word is the width of the room west to east, ten feet per character.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Over at Tenkar's Tavern a couple days ago, Erik Tenkar asked how many people roll their wandering monsters in advance, and what people thought about it. I don't think I ever have, but I don't feel it really matters, since rolling encounters in advance still remains true to the fundamental principle behind rolling random encounters at all.
Why roll for an encounter at all? We often talk about randomness as a good source of inspiration, or of the GM enjoying the surprise of it all, just as much as the players enjoy being surprised. That's certainly part of it, but the core reason is that random rolls take the decision out of the GM's hands. A wandering monster roll is, at its heart, about fairness. The players must be made to feel the pressure of time and the suspense of not knowing what may come around the corner or through the door, or when. But randomly rolling to see if a monster wanders by, randomly rolling which monster wanders by, and randomly rolling how many monsters show up, keeps the whole process fair. It is not the GM deciding to slam the the players with large roving bands of tough monsters, or frequent nuisance encounters,, nor does the GM decide to take it easy on the players because of reasons that have nothing to do with what the characters are doing in the game world. It is the dice.
Rolling in advance actually supports this a bit. If you roll in advance, you have no idea how many characters will actually be in the party, or what preparations they have made. You aren't adjusting the encounters or the frequency based on metagame desires, because that knowledge doesn't even exist yet. Anything could happen before you get around to actually using the pre-rolled encounters.
Rolling during play doesn't change this, but you might be tempted to fudge the roll based on what you know now. Of course, you might be tempted to fudge what you wrote down before play began, too, but at least there's a slight feeling of "but I already decided it would be this."
The die is cast, and the fates have decided.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
I've been working on the PDFs, but obviously I've fallen behind. I'll admit, part of it is because I've been distracted by Skyrim, which I recently got. But also, I got bogged down in some layout issues, including redoing the Our Infernal Neighbors PDF to include a table of contents and adding a few graphics to that and to Ranks of the Undead. Also, although I skipped the issue of treasure for infernals, it's a bigger deal for the undead, so I've been thinking about how to address it. A quick line about rough treasure value and typical magical items, or an actual treasure types table? I've gone back and forth on this.
I've also felt overwhelmed by some of the tables, especially the monster reference appendix. I'm considering writing some scripts to automate some things, so that I can just tag something in the text as a monster and run a script to fix the formatting and copy the stat lines to an appendix file. Or describe a table as CSV text and run a script to insert all the stuff about row shading and multicolumn spanning that I've been doing by hand.
However, I started writing this post before Windows took a nosedive, possibly because an update it installed last night hosed the MBR. CHKDSK currently says it will be finished in 346 hours, 37 minutes and 17 seconds. So, I probably won't be playing Skyrim or working on the PDFs for a little while.
To continue from the previous post: I proposed rolling 2d6 and improvising the result on the reaction table if the roll is less than or equal to an appropriate ability score. But much earlier, I'd proposed a death and dismemberment roll that sort of did the reverse: looking up the result on the reaction table if the roll failed, because the roll is higher than the ability score.
What might provide even more detail is to combine the two methods. On a successful roll, interpret the result as degree of success. On a failed roll, interpret it as degree of failure. In either case, low rolls mean worse results.
Lett;'s take Physical Adversity as an example. You would roll this for exposure to disease, severe physical trauma, and possibly as a death & dismemberment roll. A successful roll means the character survives, possibly with a scar or limp on a low roll, possibly recovering faster than normal on a high roll. A failed roll, in contrast, means a severe problem. High rolls would mean the least severe results (permanently crippled.) Mid-range rolls mean incapacity and possible death if no appropriate action is taken. Low rolls definitely mean death, and the lowest roll means mutilation or other severe effects preventing resurrection.
For types of rolls made frequently, like the physical adversity roll, you would want an actual pair of tables, or a single table with columns for both success and failure. The table entries would have to be crafted to take into account the fact that high Con (or other ability scores) make low failed results impossible, and low ability scores make high success results impossible. This can be modified somewhat: I suggested halving the score (round down) for dire situations, but it might be better to use four categories and define them a little better:
Trivial: Auto success. Double the result rolled and consult the success table for degree.
Standard: Roll and compare to ability score as normal.
Dire: Roll and compare to half ability score.
Fatal: Auto failure. Halve the result rolled and consult the failure table for degree.
For physical adversity, you would use Trivial for allergies and minor irritants (characters getting hit in the face with pepper to make them sneeze.) Standard would be for typical diseases and recovery from injuries, Dire would be for severe injury like being caught in an avalanche or any combat that reduced a character to 0 hits. Fatal would be for rare deadly diseases or extreme situations like falling into a giant meat grinder.
Monday, April 20, 2015
I've seen a couple people promoting the idea of 2d6 skill rolls, and at least one person -- don't recall who -- suggesting using the reaction table to interpret results. I prefer avoiding a skill system, but there's a certain niftiness to that idea. I did do something like that with Con rolls for adversity (aka "system shock". Roll 2d6 under Con to survive, but if the roll fails, look up the roll on the reaction roll table (or custom death and dismemberment table derived from it.)
What I'm thinking is that there's an easier way to adapt this to improvised ability checks. Here are the rules:
1. Roll 2d6 under relevant ability.
2. Halve the ability score if it's a particularly dire situation.
3. If the roll is less than/equal to the ability score (or half the ability score,) it's a success, with the reaction roll indicating the degree of success.
Hostile/Bad results (5 or less) mean the check succeeds, but with a minor penalty. Very Bad (2) means a major penalty. Good results (9+) mean a slight bonus, and Very Good (12) are even better. Some suggestions:
Physical Adversity rolls: Roll under Con, or half Con for severe disease. Bad means a scar, Very Bad means a limp or lingering condition, Good means a slightly quicker recovery, Very Good halves the recovery time.
Raise Dead rolls: As Physical Adversity, but you need to decide whether all Raise Dead attempts count as "dire", or just the second attempt, or each character gets one "non-dire" roll every 4 levels.
Thievery rolls: Roll under Dex for thieves, half Dex for anyone else. Bad means it takes twice as long or you only take half of the loot or the thievery will be noticed after a short delay (result = turns; you have that long to get out before the victim notices.) Good means the victim won't notice for days unless told.
Search rolls: Roll under Int or Wis, but only if player doesn't do something that would obviously find the item. Bad means it takes twice as long, Very Bad could mean an accident, like brreaking something or making a loud noise. Good takes half as long, and Very Good is nearly instantaneous success.
I'll post about an advanced option later.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Here's something I'e been thinking about for a while: using hit point bonuses for monsters as combat bonuses. There's a hint of this in Monster & Treasure: "Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die, with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks, i.e. a Troll would attack six times, once with a +3 added to the die roll." This seems to have fallen by the wayside, and those trolls with 6+3 hit dice were later reduced to using the 6-8 HD" column on the monsters attacking combat matrix.
But there's a seeming survivor: the water weird. It attacks as a 6 HD monster, but has lower hit dice. Today's post on the Save or Die blog reminded me, though, that the water weird's hit dice listed in the AD&D Monster Manual are specifically 3+3. Perhaps it's a coincidence that the HD and hp bonus added together equal the effective hit dice, but I'm thinking it shouldn't be, especially when using the older one attack roll per combat turn approach of the LBBs.
My possible new rule: a monster's effective hit dice for attacks equals the total of its actual hit dice plus any hp modifier. This allows us to easily describe monsters that are easy to kill but dangerous for their size: a 2+7 HD creature would have no more than 19 hit points, but would attack as a 9 HD monster, which would normally average 31 hit points. It also allows us to describe monsters that are weak in combat but hard to kill: a 9-7 HD creature would have an average of 24 hit points and as many as 47, but would attack as a 2 HD monster.
I'd also like to keep my house rule of modifying morale rolls with the hp bonus. That 2+7 HD creature is likely to fight to the death, while the 9-7 HD creature may bolt at the first opportunity.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
So, picking up where I left off: when a person dies, they lose their spirit and roams around, normally decaying in a couple weeks, unless they have a strong unfilled desire that sustains them. Spirits are ethereal and thus can't interact physically except with other ethereal things.
There are tons of people dying every day, especially in a D&D world. But most of the dead have zero impact on the world of the living. Those that do, such as vengeful spirits, can attack other spirits, including the spirits of the living. They can basically harass people, rarely killing. The most dangerous spirits are those able to make psychic possession attacks, since a successful possession means they now have a body to use for their goals.
What does this mean for adventurers?
Adventurers kill lots of people, and surely many of the spirits of their victims long for vengeance, but that alone won't leave behind an angry spirit. Your typical bandit who picks a fight with the PCs basically gets what he always knew he'd get, someday. They same goes for things like goblins. A surprise ambush of not immediately hostile creatures might create some vengeful spirits, but they would linger in the area and eventually fade away. Figure if PCs return to the scene of the crime within a week or two, there might be something waiting: make a reaction roll, with a Very Hostile reaction meaning a vengeful spirit is present. The third or later visits get no such roll.
Slaughtering a townie in cold blood, even if the townie deserved it, might be more likely to create a roaming vengeful spirit. Make the reaction roll, but any Hostile reaction means the spirit seeks vengeance.
If a townie slain in cold blood by anyone had something important to do, the spirit comes back as vengeful on a Hostile or worse reaction, but comes back as non-hostile on a Very Good reaction. These would be remorseful spirits, guardian spirits, and spirits of warning. These may be of interest to PCs, even if the spirit isn't "out to get" them.
Disturbing ancient spirits is also a possibility. Usually, this is caused by defiling something. Make a reaction roll if PCs go treasure hunting in a still-active cemetery or desecrate a Lawful temple.
Spirits should be difficult to reason with. They are not quite the same as the person who died, more like a psychic shadow of one facet of their personality. They aren't even fully intelligent, just intelligent enough to be dangerous. Getting useful information out of them should be difficult, if not impossible. Speak With Dead or Contact Other Plane may basically "wake up" the soul of the departed to answer some questions that a mere spirit can't.
Of course, the undead aren't quite the same thing as a spirit. Undead are spirits and sometimes souls that have been bound to a dead body, or at least something vaguely physical, in the case of spectres. They are not as free as the truly dead, but as a consequence they are more dangerous, since they can attack physically. Most cannot make psychic attacks, the way a spirit can.
Monday, April 6, 2015
Since I'm still working on Ranks of the Undead and also thinking forward to the ethereal monsters and psionics PDF, I thought I'd ruminate on how I handle spirits and souls.
In ancient Egyptian lore, humans aren't just minds living in bodies. There are actual multiple parts to the nonmaterial side of a person. I think everyone has something like seven souls, but I don't recall the number. But in particular, there are two, the ba and the ka. The ba is the personality and takes the form of a bird with a human head. The ka is the vital essence and is what goes away when the person dies.
I've seen some examples from other cultures that use a similar two-fold division, but re-assign some feature. The more emotional "animal soul" is the one that leaves the body in the form of a bird, butterfly, mouse, or other small creature, while the personality and essence of what the person was survives as a ghostly image or shade. The animal soul is the vital part, the spirit (Greek pneuma,) and the intelligent part is what we normally call the soul. AD&D seems to use this same distinction, or at least distinguishes between spirits and souls. Occultism and theosophy get a little more complicated and distinguish between the spirit or ethereal double, the astral body, the mental body, and sometimes the causal body. But we don't have to go there...
Anyways, I follow this pattern, but keep it simple: the spirit is the ethereal part. When a person dies, the spirit typically dissolves into ethereal particles and that's that. However, the spirit is connected to emotion and passion, so strong emotion can sometimes allow the spirit to continue its existence even after detaching from the body. It may maintain the appearance of the person at first, but the distinctive features tend to erode. It may retain some memory, usually about whatever strong emotion created it, but the spirit is at best semi-intelligent and really no longer the original person.
What you would call the person exists as an astral image. When the ethereal part or spirit separates from the body, the astral part or soul loses all connection to material existence. It can only be seen in dreams or by those with psychic abilities, and usually eventually gets caught in some dream-world. It can't return to a body without some kind of spirit. The Raise Dead spell repairs the original spirit, which usually lingers near the body, while the Resurrection spell rebuilds a new spirit to forge a new connection between body and soul.
I'll have more to say in a future post.