... now with 35% more arrogance!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Monsters in Large Numbers

Delta asked on the OD&D Forums What dice do you use to roll large numbers of creatures? Which got me thinking about some things...

For those not clicking the link, we're talking about monsters listed in Monsters & Treasure as appearing in numbers like 10-100, 20-200, 30-300, and so on, the immediate example being bandits. Delta's asking about what dice most GMs use (he's been asking a lot of survey questions lately, to get a better idea of how many techniques are out there in the wild.)

But I'm thinking more about what that number is for. As many people will tell you, the numbers listed on the Monsters & Treasure table are meant more for wilderness hex stocking than for dungeon stocking or random encounters. I'm pretty sure neither Gary Gygax nor Dave Arneson ever did something like:
Gary/Dave: "As you enter the forest, ahead you see..."
[Stops to roll dice]
Gary/Dave: "300 bandits."
I mean, first of all, why would they wait until the last minute to work out an encounter of that size? Why would they pit that many opponents against 1 to 6 PCs, an equal number of retainers, and a handful of miscellaneous hirelings? Why wouldn't the PCs detect what is basically a military camp until they were almost in the camp itself?

Aside from obvious references in the rules themselves that contradict the above hypothetical example, and people who actually played with Gary or Dave reporting that they didn't roll for monster numbers at the table, but picked a reasonable number from the listed range, we have to take into account what you would even need this number for. Wandering monsters are typically in multiples of 1d6, modified for party size and monster level, so we don't need it for that. What we need it for is:
  • Approximate encampment or lair size (30 bandits have a couple tents, 300 bandits probably have a small fort and a couple buildings.)
  • Guide to encounter size (patrols follow wandering monster rules, deliberate response to threats will be up to a third of the full force, major expeditions will leave at least a fifth of the force behind to guard home base. Also useful for mass combat encounter designs.)
  • Total pool of available monsters (PCs should stop encountered bandits when the bandits have been wiped out.)
  • (For bandits, goblins, orcs, and other structured groups:) Calculating leader types present.
So really, it doesn't matter how you get to that total number of monsters in the group, or if every possible number within that range can be rolled, or has a probability that fits into a linear or bell curve distribution. You just need a number beforehand so that you can make broad decisions like "What's the camp/lair look like?", "How far away can it be detected?", or "Have they run out of cannon fodder yet?"

What that means to me is that we don't need to figure out what die roll best fits the listed range. Instead, look at the maximum. Is it one significant digit? Rounded to the nearest ten or hundred? Roll one die to determine that first digit. For a range of 20 to 80, roll a d8, treat a 1 as a 2, and multiply by 10. For 30 to 300, roll d6/2 and round down, multiply by 100, and treat a 0 as the minimum. If you really don't want a round number, roll d10 or d100 for the last one or two digits, if the number isn't already at the maximum.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Re-Vamped Spells: Invisibility

Another spell altered to fit in better with ideas about conceptual magic: invisibility.

Causes light to pass through the spellcaster to conceal their position until some action reveals it.


  • This is similar to but not quite an illusion. As long as there is no physical contact or visible movement, the caster can remain invisible for a long time.
  • If the caster touches or attacks someone, throws a dagger, or even bumps into a chair or opens a door, this reveals the caster’s position and ends the spell.
  • Anything worn or carried when the spell is cast is also made invisible, but only as long as the caster continues to wear or carry it. Throwing, dropping, or putting down an item makes the item and the caster visible.
  • Other actions can reveal the caster’s location as well. For example, lighting a torch. flapping a fan to create a gust of air. Basically, anything that alters light or the environment around the caster ends the effect.
  • Following from that principle: Food carried at the time the spell is cast becomes invisible, but eating it and causing it to be digested alters the food and the spellcaster, ending the spell.
  • Sound, smell, or vibrations don’t automatically reveal location, but high Intelligence or Wisdom characters have a 5+ on 1d6 chance of figuring out a location and can try to grab or attack the caster. Creatures with sharp senses also get a chance to find invisible targets, or automatically spot them if their hit dice are higher than the caster’s level.
  • Creatures that don’t use vision at all, or can operate completely without vision, ignore invisibility. However, there may be alternative ways to conceal odor or sound, eliminating that as a means of detection.
  • A successful attack on an invisible being, even one that does no damage like throwing a bucket of water in their direction, will end the invisibility.

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Monday, March 8, 2021

Re-Vamped Spells: Phantasmal Forces

This is the first in what may become an irregular series on altering spells, possibly for use with the ideas I had about conceptual magic. I want to start with illusions, and in particular Phantasmal Forces.

Phantasmal Forces
Causes insubstantial smoke, mist, light, or shadow to appear as any physical object or being the spellcaster can imagine, for as long as they can see and focus on it. The primary illusion can indirectly harm intelligent beings as long as they believe it, but touching it reveals the trick.

Some thoughts here:

  • Instead of this being a form of mental domination, this spell makes something real appear as something else. Some other class like Mesmerist or Psychic might be able to create illusions purely with their mind.
  • There has to be a target to transform visually, and it should be something that’s indistinct or even amorphous, even chaotic. When that target is somehow eliminated (wind blows away the smoke) or when the magician can no longer see the target, the illusion ends.
  • Magicians can create this target in a couple ways, if they can’t find a viable target that already exists. In particular, they could burn something to create smoke, or use mirrors to direct a beam of light on the floor.
  • There’s a primary illusion (the imaginary brick wall, a unit of illusory archers, an imaginary dragon) and incidental effects (dust and debris falling off the wall when it is hit by a catapult, arrows fired by the archers, flames flickering from the dragon’s nostrils.) The incidental effects can cause damage as long as the victim believes the illusion. Contact with the the primary illusion, however, does no damage, and the victim will feel that it’s not really there.
  • If a player says “I don’t believe this!” or mentions something they notice about the situation that doesn’t make sense, compare their character’s Intelligence or Wisdom to the caster’s. If the player’s score is 2+ points higher, they automatically disbelieve. If it’s equal or within 1 point, roll 5+ on 1d6 to disbelieve.
  • If something unexpected happens that could reveal the illusion, below average intellect spellcasters have to roll 5+ on 1d6 to adjust their illusion’s behavior quick enough to avoid an obvious inconsistency.
  • Incidental effects that cause damage are risky because they may reveal flaws in the illusion. If a victim is hit by an arrow that does damage, and the victim tries to pull out the arrow afterwards, the arrow won’t be there, prompting disbelief. Fire, similarly, won’t burn anything but a living victim with at least animal intelligence, which causes disbelief. It’s better for a spellcaster to create a slinger throwing sling bullets than an archer, since it’s harder to spot flaws in the illusion.
  • Melee attacks on illusory targets automatically reveal the illusion, but ranged attacks don’t. Use the spellcaster’s level as the creature’s hit points, but each successful attack does only 1 point unless the attack is a critical hit, in which case the illusion is revealed.
  • Once one person disbelieves an illusion, they can reveal the illusion to all other observers. However, the caster can still maintain the illusion as a mere image. It will no longer cause damage or conceal anything, but for as long as the underlying target persists, the caster can maintain it. This could be used to entertain people, for example.

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Monday, March 1, 2021

Latest PC News

So, the (third) new computer arrived Tuesday as expected and seems to be doing fine. There are only three issues:

Bluetooth Disconnects
Periodically, all the Bluetooth devices will disconnect at the same time. That’s only one keyboard and one mouse, but that’s also “almost all my input devices” (I have a USB drawing tablet I can use in an emergency.)
After 30 to 60 seconds, the devices will reconnect. This doesn’t seem to be a device problem, because (1) It’s simultaneous, as if Bluetooth itself stopped working, and (2) The same devices work with another computer that’s farther away.
Updating drivers didn’t eliminate the problem, but things seem to be better: I did have the problem after the update, but yesterday and today were problem free.

No Stereo Sound
Neither the front headphone jack nor the rear speaker jack seem to produce stereo sound, only mono (left ear.) Shifting the stereo balance proves that both channels are being sent to the left side. This might not be a hardware problem, though, because I’ve found lots of reports from people who experienced the issue on other computer models after a Windows Update. Plus, I think I had the same problem with just the headset on the old computer.

Strange Smell
I swear there’s a burning plastic smell. However, I think I smelled it before the computer arrived and can’t track the source. I have no idea if this is even relevant.

Other than that, everything seems to be fine. Computer boots super fast, Chrome browser opens quick. I have most of the software I need installed. Think I’ll order USB headphones and Bluetooth speakers to test some of the issue.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Why I Am Silent

Haven’t posted in a while, have I?

That’s because I was expecting to have some work to do setting up the new computer and migrating everything over.

What new computer, you ask?

Hell, I’m asking the same thing, because it never arrived.

So, in lieu of actual content this week, here’s the timeline as it stands:

  • Order Gaming Computer
    Beginning of January, ordered what I suppose would be considered a mid-range gaming computer so that I could make videos. Ryzen 7 CPU, RTX 2070 Super, 16 GB, SSD. Simple list of needs. Also ordered a special Bluetooth keyboard, for reasons I’m about to explain. Expected delivery: 2nd week of January.
  • Move Old Computer
    My old computer is old, of course, and kind of exhibiting signs of old age, but I figured I could still use it to play DVDs. So I started moving it over near the TV in my bedroom. This also helps clear space for the new PC, because everything around that work area is pretty much a mess. New keyboard arrives, which is good, because it has the feature of being able to connect via Bluetooth to up to three devices.
  • New Computer Doesn’t Come
    Get a message on the morning of expected delivery that the computer is being sent back and my money will eventually be refunded. No explanation, but presumably it was damaged in transit. Even though they have records that their own employees never delivered the PC, they won’t refund my money until 5 to 7 business days after they get it back in their warehouse. And since I usually don’t have much money to spare (which is why I waited years to buy a new computer,) I can’t order a new computer until I get the refund.
  • Get Refund, Order 2nd Gaming Computer
    Finally able to re-order the computer I want. Fortunately, although the price had gone up while I was waiting for my refund, it’s back down to the price I paid before. Also decide to get a Bluetooth mouse that goes with my new keyboard so I can use one mouse and one keyboard for both computers. Expected delivery: End of January.
  • 2nd Computer Arrives
    Actually got a package this time, but it takes a couple days before I even have room where I plan to set it up. Meanwhile, I’m struggling to use the old computer, because of course I wasn’t planning on using it to do actual work, like writing or something like that. My eyesight’s pretty bad, and the TV is just too far away for text to be readable at this distance. Oh, and I did get that Bluetooth mouse, too.
  • 2nd Computer Doesn’t Work
    Connect new computer in multiple ways, with multiple cables, but no video signal, even though there's obviously power. Tech support takes a couple days, but they agree. Store goes through their own rigmarole but agrees. Will not replace PC or guarantee that I can buy it again at the same price, and it’s the same refund process as before: ship it back, wait 5 to 7 business days for a refund.
  • Order 3rd Computer
    Ordered a different brand through a different store Friday. Not necessarily a slight on the previous brand or store, but maybe one or the other is having problems right now? New model is only an RTX 2060, but finding something close to my tight budget didn’t leave much options. Expected delivery: Tomorrow, or at least sometime this week. We’ll see how this goes.

  • Did not order a computer peripheral, because maybe that’s what’s jinxing it all.

I left some things out, like the computer I wanted before I ordered Computer #1. Went through configuring the system on the manufacturer’s site, but apparently you can’t actually buy computers on their website, but must call them and give them a reference number? Screw that crap, this isn’t the 20th century.

If you include that attempt, and if I get a working computer this week, the whole process basically took two months.

So yeah, if you’re wondering why there’s not much going on here, maybe it’s because all this is distracting me.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Updates and Plans: 2021

Don't have much to say yet, because I just got a new computer that I haven't set up yet. Lots of redistributing junk in the room and moving the old computer before I can even start unpacking the new one. And, of course, no one who sells something that connects to a display ever includes HDMI cables, so I'll have to order at least one more of those.

But I thought I'd make some brief comments on plans for the blog. Obviously, I'm scaling some things back. I've also taken a break from the reviews and will probably do future reviews elsewhere, although I will post the upcoming Star Wars reviews here because that's what I promised. I just haven't watched any more Star Wars movies yet.

I do still have OD&D-related plans, but I have fewer random rules observations these days. What I want to focus on is completing some projects I've talked about here over the years, and I've concluded that the blog in a way interferes with those projects, because I've been too focused on getting material for the blog that I lose creative steam and don't work on the projects. The non-rpg reviews in a way were meant to be a way to escape that trap, but turned out to be as much work, if not more.

So, posting is going to be light for a while until I figure out what to use as "light RPG-related entertainment" in between updates on RPG projects. I am now aiming for a weekly posting schedule, instead of twice a week. But even that might not happen in the next one or two weeks while I wrassle with the computer.

Hope everyone is having a good year so far. Talk to you all soon.

Monday, January 18, 2021

WandaVision: Inspiration for Episode 1

I’ve watched the first two episodes of the new Marvel Cinematic Universe TV series on Disney+, WandaVision. Not sure yet if I will do a review of that yet, although that would be a ways down the road. Need to watch a few more episodes.

But some friends and I were having a discussion: Which sitcom is closest to the first episode?

Without getting into spoilers, the first two episodes of WandaVision are designed to look like classic TV sitcoms. The second episode is obviously patterned after Bewitched, and not just because of the animated opening. The layout of the house is practically identical: staircase facing the front door, living room to the right, sliding glass doors on far wall of living room, dining room behind the stairs to the left with door to kitchen. Wanda’s clothes match Samantha’s '60s style, and even the theme of that episode reflects typical themes in Bewitched.

The first episode has a very different style. Some people have compared it to The Dick Van Dyke Show, but I think that’s a very poor fit for a couple reasons:

  • House layout is missing the infamous ottoman that Dick trips over in the opening credits.
  • Also, there’s a window opposite the “fourth wall”.
  • Wanda wears a '50s style dress, not Laura’s '60s style capri pants and top.
  • Theme doesn’t feel like DVD, which is usually not about miscommunication between wife and husband.

I’d almost compare it to I Love Lucy, but again that show has a very different feel because of Ricky’s job at the club and Lucy’s obsession with being in show business. Also, the front door in Lucy is directly opposite the “fourth wall”, with windows on the left, while WV episode 1 has the front door on the left and windows opposite the “fourth wall”.

What it reminds me of are '50s sitcoms about childless newlywed couples, where the plots revolve around a husband trying to get used to his quirky bride. But I’ve only seen clips of shows like I Married Joan, Life With Elizabeth, or The Donna Reed Show, and only have vague knowledge of Lucille Ball’s pre-ILL show My Favorite Husband, so I don’t know how well those match.

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Monday, January 4, 2021

Speeding Up Five-Sentence Character Creation

As I said in my earlier post about Justin Alexander’s Character Creation in 5 Sentences, I think it could be sped up by skipping ability rolls until they are called for. I know some people think you need the scores in advance to know how to play the character (Are they strong? Smart? Clumsy?) But we’re talking about getting people at the table right now. These are people with no OD&D experience, possibly no roleplaying experience. The most important thing for them to know is how to interact with the fantasy world through a character, without worrying about rules. They can think about how to roleplay different kinds of characters later, as they are slowly introduced to each concept during actual play.

In the same vein, I think we can speed things up even more by simplifying equipment rules. Justin’s blog post covers very thorough equipment kits, but I think that’s too daunting. Justin’s first sugestion, just telling a new player “This is what you have”, was more in the right direction. Characters should have:

  • Basic Gear: backpack, rations, waterskin, torches, rope, one spare large sack, two spare small sacks, a dagger
  • Basic Cash: 2d6 x 10 gold coins
  • Fighters Only: leather armor, a sword, and either a shield or a second weapon
  • Magic-Users Only: a spell-book and starting spells, 6d6 extra gold

You will notice that this only gives players two options: Fighter or Magic-User. It also gives them narrow choices for weapons and armor. This is based on my philosophy that you give players, especially new players, limited options, but then freely allow them to choose something else.

If you give a player, again especially a new player, a whole bunch of class, race, and equipment options, they will get bogged down in all the possible choices. If, on the other hand, you give them no choice or a very limited choice, if they don’t like that, they will ask “Can’t I be a bard or thief? Or an elf? Can’t I have a battle ax instead of a sword?”

When presented with no options, their imagination runs wild with other possibilities.

So, I’d revise the five sentences to:

  1. Are you a Fighter or a Magic-User?
  2. What’s your character’s name?
  3. “Here’s the most basic equipment. Your gold coins can be spent on gear or supplies when you are in a town. For just this session, if you think of some simple equipment you’d like, you can spend the money and we’ll assume you bought it before the adventure. Also, if you want to upgrade your armor to chain or plate, you can spend money for that now. Are you good for now?”

We skip everything else, for now.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

Blog Post of Note: Character Creation in 5 Sentences

I know I said I was taking this week off, but decided I needed to draw attention to a blog post.

Justin Alexander of The Alexandrian has a post on Character Creation in 5 Sentences, a way to make running an open table easier. It only takes five minutes for someone to join a game if all they need to do is to write down these simple things listed:
  1. Roll 3d6, total them, and write them down in these six boxes in order.
  2. Are you a human, an elf, a dwarf, or a hobbit?
  3. Are you a fighting-man, magic-user, or cleric? (If they picked a dwarf or elf you can skip this step. Randomly roll hit points and the magic-user’s spell.)
  4. What’s your character’s name?
  5. You have a sword, chain armor, a shield, 8 rations, a small silver mirror, 2 torches, flint and steel, a bedroll, and 16 gold pieces. (Customize equipment list appropriately.)
OD&D is uniquely suited for this of the various official versions of D&D because of the simplicity of the rules. I'll add, though, that you could speed up the process even more by skipping Step #1. Just roll and explain each ability score when it's actually needed.