... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

NPC Phenomenal Features

There’s a discussion on G+ about making city NPCs interesting. The specific question was how to make them mechanically interesting, which was later qualified as “interesting in combat”, which I’d argue is the wrong approach for city adventures. In oldschool play, combat in general, but especially combat with the local personalities and schemers, tends to be anticlimactic. You don’t want to fight… or you do, but you want to get it over with as soon as possible, so that you get to the good stuff.
If you want to make a city combat interesting, usually it’s with equipment or allies/pets. This guy attacks people with flaming oil bombs from the rooftops. This other guy’s armor has little tiny vials of sleep gas tied all over it. The head of the merchant’s guild has a bodyguard that’s really a charmed troll wearing a ring of illusion. The high priest keeps a pack of hellhounds as pets. Occasionally, there will be environmental hazards as well. NPCs who want to attack the party will triy to lure them into trapped areas, rather than just fight them in the open.
None of this requires feats or skills, but if you really, really need some NPCs to have innate powers, here’s a quick trick I’ve suggested before: use the spell list as a guide. Not only do spells work as out-and-out powers, but they can be toned down to represent extraordinary but still basically mundane abilities as well.
Here is an expanded version of what I described in a comment on G+. For each NPC, roll 2d6 and use this modified reaction roll table. Optionally, if the result is 9+ and both dice come up even, roll for a second feature. NPCs probably shouldn’t have more than two features, however.
2d6 Roll NPC Feature
2 Curse (Affects NPC)
3-5 Obsession
6-8 No Special Feature
9-11 Extraordinary Ability
12 At-Will Power
The At-Will Power result is pretty straightforward: the NPC can use one spell at will, but make a 2d6 reaction roll when used: on 5 or less, the power fails and is unusable for that many days (but on a 2, it’s lost completely.)
A Curse inconveniences the NPC in some way, instead of being useful. Beneficial spells are either reversed or affect the NPC’s attackers/enemies. Spells like Sleep, Confusion or Fear may be permanent or intermittent (5+ on 1d6 means permanent, otherwise roll during any encounter.) Attack spells attack the NPC (or the NPC’s property, for area attacks like Fireball) at random intervals. All of these are things an NPC might be looking for help to get rid of…
An Obsession means the NPC doesn’t have the power, but wants it, or is afraid of it being used against them.
An Extraordinary Ability is the closest non-magical ability equivalent to the spell. You can often turn spells into Extraordinary Abilities by simply making it take longer to use, require tools, and require materials. An NPC with Knock is a super-thief. An NPC with Contact Other Plane is an amazing sage. An NPC with Dimension Door can squeeze through ridiculously small openings and is probably an amazing burglar or escape artist. An NPC with Move Earth is perhaps the only person experimenting with explosives.
Use your preferred method to randomly select a spell, then consider the details: does the NPC keep the feature secret, is it vaguely rumored, or is it well known? How does the NPC use the talent? Is it for sale? What does the NPC want to do about any curse or obsession?
And more importantly: How do other NPCs react?
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Adversity Rolls

I sent off two articles for the upcoming issue of Fight On!, a weapons critical system and the Leech class (with rules for injury and disease. Both are reworked versions of material I've posted here, but I changed so much, I really want to talk about it here. I'm going to hold off, though, for the most part. But I could go into more detail about one element that only gets a paragraph or two in the articles: adversity rolls.

The idea of adversity rolls starts in an easy-to-overlook section on attributes in Men & Magic:
Constitution 13 or 14: Will withstand adversity
Constitution of 9 - 12: 60% to 90% chance of surviving
Constitution 8 or 7: 40% to 50% chance of survival
No real explanation, although an earlier comment about "how well the character can withstand being paralyzed, turned to stone, etc." suggests that this is the early version of the system shock roll, or a Constitution  check. What I decided to do was to use this, or something like it, to resist or recover from critical injuries and disease.
  • Damage > Constitution = Critical Injury
  • 3d6 > Constitution = Catch Disease (after exposure)
  • 3d6 <= Constitution = Critical Injury or Disease Healed 
It's typically a 3d6 roll, but Minor Diseases (Cough, Sneeze, Sniffles) only use 2d6, and some serious stuff requires 4d6 or more. It's a very tiny disease system, compared even to the simple suggestion I posted ages ago: no disease levels, not much disease detail, just two broad types of disease:
Minor Diseases lower reaction rolls, reduce surprise chances, or have other nuisance symptoms that don't prevent adventuring. Roll every day to recover. 
Major Diseases prevent the use of a body part or incapacitate. Roll every week to recover; if a vital organ is affected, a failed roll after the first week means death.
All of this so far is much longer than what I actually wrote in the article. But what I wanted to focus on here was the way you catch diseases. I don't see the point in having too much disease in the game, especially at the start. There's the obvious exposure to filth, and  there's infection from not cleaning and bandaging wounds. All mostly avoidable. But I make a brief notation in the article that dungeon diseases have a level equal to half the dungeon level (if associated with a place) or half the monster's hit dice (if passed on by a monster's attack.) The obvious example is mummy rot, although that is specifically a magical disease, not curable by bed rest or mundane treatment (but Leeches can cure it.)

(In the article, I didn't mention whether to round up or round down. In truth, I was undecided. But I'm thinking now it should be "round up".)

The implications of this? Diseases on the 4th level of the dungeon would be 2nd level, with 2d6 adversity checks to resist or recover. In other words, these would be minor diseases, mere symptoms like an annoying cough that could spoil surprise, or a rash that could provoke negative reactions when bargaining with merchants. On the 1st and 2nd levels of the dungeon, there probably shouldn't be any diseases to worry about, not even ear seekers and rot grubs.

On the 5th level, that's where you could encounter major diseases, tainted waters that could put you away for a couple weeks or blind you. Or a 5 HD giant lizard could have an infectious bite that makes an arm or a leg useless until you recover.

Ear seekers and rot grubs are combo monster-and-disease. The revised ear seeker would be 3 dice monster that attacks the ear, success means it crawls inside, damage is ignored except to compare it to Constitution to see if the victim goes deaf in that ear. Every week, make an adversity roll to see if it reaches the brain, where it does damage and causes unconsciousness. A second failed adversity roll means death. 

The revised rot grub is likewise 3 dice, attacks exposed flesh (or crrawls around looking for an opening,) and does damage; damage > Constitution means it burrows into the flesh and infects, followed by weekly adversity rolls to see if it reaches the heart. A second failed adversity roll again means death.

Both are still pretty serious, but there's plenty of warniing and time to address the situation. What I always hated about the official ear seeker and rot grub is that they had such byzantine rules and unusual cure restrictions, which add nothing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Imagining Magic: Gestures

Can a Magic-User cast a spell while holding a torch?

This question popped up in a debate on a forum. The implicit question is: Does spell casting require what AD&D refers to as "somatic components", and if so, how much? AD&D has an answer, or at least a partial one. OD&D doesn't, because that's left up to the GM or group, as are all the derivative questions.

If a spell caster can't hold a torch, but must have both hands free for magical gesticulations, does that imply that spell casters can be prevented from casting spells by chopping off a hand?

If a spell caster only needs one free hand, do cautious villains and/or barons need to chop off both hands to prevent magical reprisals?

Does losing a hand through accident make a PC spell caster useless?

If spell casters don't need their hands free at all, but do it entirely with magical words, why can't they carry shields or use swords?

These questions have no right answer, but must be answered at some point. Players are going to alter the way they play based on how they think magic works. GMs are going to change the way they build the world based on how magic is supposed to work.

My own answer is that the the words and gestures are mnemonic triggers for a prepared spell. They aren't actually part of the spell itself, but part of a memory system the spell caster has developed and practiced. Cutting off a hand disrupts the ability to cast currently prepared spells, and for a time also prevents preparing any new spells, but the caster can come up with a new set of mnemonic triggers tailored for any new body configurations, using the spell research rules.