Friday, March 23, 2012

The dugout

How in hell did I get here thought Thorth as he stood in the dark damp room.  His clothes soaked from running in the pouring rain and still no warmth in sight as the woman began lighting a fire.  The cold made him feel miserable.  His beard dripping.  His boots soaked.  He couldn't guess what made him protect this woman in such a way.  He couldn't leave her to those thugs, but on the other hand she had magic and did quite well.  Maybe he shouldn't have gotten involved in the bar fight. She might have gotten away safely and he wouldn't be involved in all this.  He wouldn't be wet either.

"So don't you have a spell to start that fire faster?", asked Thorth with a bit of a grumbling tone.

"Mhhhmphh", replied Mashnauh, "I'm freezing just as much as you are.".  What a grumpy old fart this is, she thought wondering at how she'd gotten involved with him.  Why did she have to get so trigger happy with her spells back at the bar.  If only she'd kept her cool.

"So this is your home?  How long have you been living here?", asked Thorth while eyeing the place.  Clearly some type of catacomb or storage far below the city streets.  They'd arrived there through the sewers and underground river.  Made him wonder what this woman was doing and how she knew this city's underground so well.

"A few months.", replied Mashnauh.

"A few months, hmmm", he said looking around.  Sure didn't look like she's been here just a few months.   Way to much stuff and well settled for just a few months.  "So I take it you're not from here, are you?"

"No, I'm from the steppes to the south.  That's were I was born and grew there with my family."

"What brings you to the city?"

"I'm looking for something that was taken from me."

"Must be a very valuable something to be this far north.", said Thorth as he approached the fire which was picking up now.

"Yes, I'm looking for my sister. She was taken by a slaver an evil mage actually.  A tattoo mage who's used his magic on her to take  her from us."

"A tattoo mage?", asked Thorth.

"Yes.  A very powerful type of talismanic magic.  Tattoo mages turn their bodies into walking scrolls and magic items.  Each tattoo has a spell power.  This mage has used some of the most powerful type of tattoo to entrap my sisters soul in his skin and make her his slave.  To the point she'd kill me if I tried to save her.", said Mashnuah breaking into tears.  "I need to find the magic to stop the spell before I can recover her.  She she", said Mashnuah between sobs, "she won't come with me willingly."

"Now now there I'm sure things will turn out right and good fortune will shine on your path.", replied Thorth stretching his hands uncertain how to comfort her.  Grumbling softly he brought his hands back to his sides.

"Oh no I know I won't.  I blew it tonight I should have kept my cool, but those guys grrrrrrr.  Oh I should have waited.  Now I don't know if he'll want to meet with me again.", she said breaking into tears.

"A contact I had. A smuggler actually.  He was going to help me infiltrate the city and contact me there with someone to help me find my sister.  But now he's gone and I have no way to get there."

Thorth began to feel it again.  That sense that he was about to help her in something he was going to regret later.  Why did a grumpy old fart like him have a soft spot for this woman he'd just met.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A glimpse of history

I've stumbled upon a great treasure chest.  It's wealth unimaginable.  Within it I've found magical scrolls like this one.  Dating back to 1992, I can't believe it'll be 20 years this December.  Engraved on the scroll are simple rules that back then represented certain aspects of combat that were not in the base rules and which we developed to add flavour to our adventures.  These rules are the last I DMed as a few months later I would leave home for college and never look back.  Until now.

Twenty years later a force I thought dead in me is surging to life with a power never before thought possible.  As if these homerules had been brewing in my subconscious for decades.  Coming back with the full force of fantasy role play.  Pushing me to write down idea after idea and bringing me back to the same group of people who wrote these homerules.  With them I am writing a whole new game to play the same old game.

These scrolls are a reminder of what this game is about.  Adventure.  Back then there was no internet.  Way down south, closer to Antarctica tan the Equator each rule book was a treasure in itself.  There were no PDFs, no extra modules nor hundreds of products we now take for granted.  It was three or four books and your imagination and we did wonderful things with just that.

As I sit back now writing new rules for Era I'm greatly inspired by these memories.  They remind me what the game is all about.  This couldn't come at a better moment.  With my old gaming group scattered over three continents, brought together by today's technology, I'm reminded that there is a world where time doesn't pass, were good friends are friends forever and adventure always awaits the brave and courageous.  That world is D&D and it lives strong in all our hearts.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

A quick drink and we're out

Thorth feels a soft draft build as the door is opened letting the chilly wind of a rainy day break in.  He knows a woman just walked in.  This place doesn't get this quiet without a cause and women usually don't come here unless they have a reason.  He brushes his eyebrow and plays with his beard without turning around to see her as she approaches the bar.  He just keeps an eye on the reflexion on the wall mirror.  A medium height slender woman dressed in a heavy rain coat.  She walks quietly and cautiously to the bar.

"Something strong to ward of the cold", she says dropping a coin to the bartender for pay.

"I can help you with that cold of yours sweetie", says a voice a few meters behind.

Oh oh, here comes trouble says Thorth to himself as a man steps up from the nearest table and approaches the bar.

"Maybe I can get you something warmer than that there whiskey, honey"

"No thank you, I'm fine.", replies the woman.

"I insist honey."

"Don't insist too much or you might regret it."

"What could I regret darling?  It's cold and rainy outside and we are in here warm and enjoying a drink together.  You and I."

"I'm enjoying a drink and you're beginning to annoy me."

"I'm not that annoying once you get to know me better.", replies the man as the woman turns up to him and says in a low whisper, "Schnak shni mush na".

The man makes a motion as if to speak, but can't seem to open his mouth and utter a single word.  His hands reach up to his mouth to try and understand what is going on.

"I told you so, boy.", says the woman.

The man stumbles back to his table unable to speak.  His gestures calling the attention of his friends.

"Witch!! She's a witch!!", screams one of them.  The two men on the table stand up and rush the woman.  She, still holding a hand towards the muted man utters the words "Span uk nak" and one of them flies backwards as if pushed by a gigantic force. She turns to the second man, "Span uk nak" and he too goes flying backwards and lands on his back.

"Oh no you don't", says Thorth as he sees a fourth man rush the woman from the side with a short dagger.  He stands in front and parries the blow with his sword.  The man  turns to him and attacks.

Rolling a 20 he hits Thorth dead on.  Rolls 2d4 for his dagger and Thorth 2d6.  Dagger's 3 and 2 are no match for the armors 5 and 2.

"Wrong move.", replies Thorth and he swings a 12 hitting the man.  He rolls a 6 for his swords damage and the man's leather only  manages a 3 and a 3.  The 6 points go straight through and cause 2 points to the leather armor and 4 to the man who is injured.  The man steps back as Thorth swings again and misses.

"Span uk nak", and the injured man is also projected backwards.

"Come", says the woman behind Thorth and she points to the door.  He turns and charges as a man stands to block it with another sword.  Thorth wins the initiative, swings a 14 hitting the man.  He tries to parry with his weapon but has no luck with a 2.  Thorth swings 4 points of damage and the man's leather holds with a roll of 4 and 3.  The man swings with a 14 hitting Thorth who can't parry with his roll of a 5.  The sword delivers 2 points of damage which are easily stopped by the Thorth's armor roll of 3 and 1.

The woman runs behind Thorth and yells at him to go out the door, "This way now".  Thorth glimpses backwards and begins a fighting retreat.  He swings a 9 and misses.  The man swings an 11 and it is parried by Thorth's 11.  Thorth swings an 18 which is not parried (7 rolled) and the man takes 5 points of damage as his armor can't protect him that much (roll 2 & 1).  The armor takes 2 and the man 3.  Irritated he tries to swing at Thorth as they reach the bar's entrance.  The now familiar chant of "Span uk nak" pushes the wounded man inside and the woman closes the door.

"An Auh Mi Na Sa", chants the woman at the door as she points down the street.

Thorth starts moving in the indicated direction followed by the woman who keeps pointing her hand at the door while she chants, "Mi Na Sa", "Mi Na Sa".  Loud banging is going on inside the bar and it is clear she is holding the door in some magical way.

They turn into a dark alley and the woman stops chanting.  Looking up at him their eyes finally meet, "Runnn!!!!" she yells.

Game Masters Notes

Mashnauh, the woman in our story, has helped our hero and herself escape the brawl in the bar.  By casting a few spells she cleared the way for her escape.  But she is now about half way down her mana points, having casted: Silence (7, 5 mana + 1/round), two Push (6, 3 mana each), another Push (3) and yet another Push (3) on the way out, plus a Hold Object to keep the door shut (7, 3 + 1 / round).  That's 26 points and leaves her with only 34 for whatever comes next.  At least 5 hours will need to go by for her to regain that so escape was the best alternative for now.  She didn't find who she was looking for, but this new found acquaintance might just fit in.

Thorth Drk

Thorth Drk is my new dwarven character created with the Era Rulebook.  I'll be posting his stats and progression on this blog as he adventures through the wilderness of his homeland.  First off lets get him rolled up.  Base attributes are STR, INT, WILL, DEX, CON and CHI.

STR 14
INT 11
DEX 12
CON 10
CHI 14

Some attributes have bonuses, but none add any role points which are used to purchase initial abilities and skills.  Thus Thorth starts with 10 role points.  He decides to spend two on raising his Stamina Point roll from 1d4 to 1d8, a hardened dwarf as he is.  He purchases a mana role to have some magic spirit in him and gets 3d4x10 initial mana plus 2d4x10 per upgrade.  And finally gets some will points just in case I ever finish implementing psionics giving him 2d4x10 initial will points (WP) and 1d4x10 per upgrade.  These purchases add some tax on his XP: 1.0% for SP, 1.0% for mana and 0.5% for will power.

He then rolls hit points, stamina points, mana and will power.

HP : CON + 1d10 = 10 + 9 = 19
SP : CON + 1d8 + CON bonus = 10 +3 + 0 = 13
Pain Threshold PT : ceiling (13 * .2) = ceiling (2.6) = 3
Mana : 2d4 x 10 = 70
Will Points : 2d4 x 10 = 50

For skills and collegia he purchases Parabellum to be a good fighter and gets a swords and bow proficiency which allows him to use swords and bows.  This costs him 5 role points in total plus the 5 he spent on stamina and such leaving him dry.  He'll need to adventure to get more role points to purchase more skills.  Adding the xp Tax for these skills (5% Parabellum, 1% sword, 1% bow) to the base XP tax we get 8.5% tax.  That means that each role point that costs 2000 XP will cost him 2186 XP.

With his combat collegia trained he has two attacks per round and suffers no penalties in combat.  He also has a +1 damage bonus from strength with hand held weapons.

He gears up with a sword that does 1d8, a bow and some arrows that deliver 1d8 and chainmail that has 120 damage capacity points (DC) a 3 armor rating (AR) and protects with a 2d6 die roll.

All settled and ready to go he waits at the inn's bar waiting for adventure to walk in while he sips his ale.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hit Roll Aliasing, D&D's biggest issue

I never though I'd use digital signal processing terms in D&D, but here I am.  There are various issues with the D&D gaming system.  The one I believe stands out is combat.  Clearly it has the most convoluted set of auxiliary rules, addendums and tables.  Over the years I've though about what the issue was.  What was the core problem.  Now if I have to put a word to it it is aliasing.  Aliasing is, as wikipedia puts it, " an effect that causes different signals to become indistinguishable [from one another]" . In D&D the d20 system makes it difficult to tell events from one another.  Just like a low sampling rate makes it impossible to digitalize a high frequency signal, so does the d20 system fall short in representing all the events involved in a sword swing.

D&D tries to cram all the events, effects and outcomes in a single number called "to hit roll".  Which is more like the "to damage roll" since once you succeed in it damage is rolled.  If it were really a hit roll it would not include attack bonuses, defense bonuses, parry and dodge bonuses, etc etc etc.  You add all the good things and the bad things and then some, put a d20 roll into the mix and come up with a value that somehow represents your success at making someone very miserable.

We are basically adding a bunch of signals into one value:

Attach Bonus = Base attack bonus + Strength modifier + size modifier

Armor Class = 10 + armor bonus + shield bonus + Dexterity modifier + size modifier + {Enhancement, Deflection, Dodge etc bonuses}

Then "sampling" it with a d20, which has only twenty "5% chance sampling points" and on top of that some may mean something and some not.  For example some character might need only a 3 or more on the d20 while others might need a 19 or 20 to hit their target.  So what does a 12 mean?  Does it mean I moved a ton of air with my sword?  Does it mean I hit the target, but the armor was too strong?  Does it mean I was going to hit the target, but just on the last second he dodged?

My recommendation to D&D, keep those signals separate and sample them independently.  Have a real "to hit" roll.  Give characters the opportunity to parry, dodge or catch the arrows in a separate action.  Then face off the weapon vs the armor "mano a mano" and see what happens.  But if you keep mixing signals you'll end up with rules like these:

Dodge : + 1 dodge bonus against an opponent (no matter how many attacks the opponent has)
Deflect Arrows : Once per round you can try to deflect an arrow.

One adds a value to the die roll and applies to all opponents, the other can only be used once per round.  That type of inconsistencies and add-on rules drive me nuts.  Why not look at other games and see how they have actions and they can be used to attack or defend?  They each have bonuses for that action be it parry or dodge or catch or whatever.  You can dodge as many times as YOU, not your attacker has actions.  Dodge bonuses apply to your dodge roll.  You can deflect arrows as many times as you have actions, not an artificial once per round.

By keeping the actions separate: "to hit", "to evade hit" and then "to damage".  The events are easier to view and the game easier to balance.  More so since you haven't "mixed these signals" you have more detail in the attack, better story telling and less need for tables later on to sort out your "aliased signals".

Friday, March 09, 2012

A case for lower hit points

Last night I was chatting with a friend of mine and good role player.  Like me he hasn't played D&D for quite some time, but has quite a bit of experience and good points as to what makes or does not make a good aventure.  Anyway, getting back on track, he was making the point that characters should not have many hit points.  Which is quite contradictory with common gaming dogma.  After all isn't that the whole point of raising level?

Well yes, but it also tends to do two things: make the character quite hard to kill and "deprecate" local monsters.  This put together with an ever more ambitious search for XP leads us to the "runaway character" or "runaway party".  By runaway I don't mean that literally.  It is more on the lines of a nuclear reaction and the party is quite literally on a runaway chain reaction.  More XP leads to more levels which leads to more hit points which leads to bigger monsters that give even more XP.  This is partially fuelled by the fact that the main source of XP is killing and gold.  So on top of the local Gnoll village becoming irrelevant the whole economy begins to go down the drain due to excess gold.

Now what if characters didn't gain hit points or gained less hit points than usual?  Obviously they would be more vulnerable unless they were harder to hit.  Which leads me to the core of my friends point.  Characters should not gain hit points, they should gain skills that protect them from harm.  And I agree with him.  Without so many hit points the character is almost as vulnerable to a hit as in lesser levels.  The character is simply harder to hit.  So monsters don't need to go into an ascending spiral of toughness.  There would be less difference between a 1st level monster and a 10th level monster.  This leads to more manageable adventures.

Characters can still become super powerful and kill big monsters, but they won't be as invulnerable now.  And that leads to more epic fights.  Face it if you know you can stand and deliver and you're pretty much a hit point wall what worry do you have?  You just keep rolling until the character succumbs.  Now if you're vulnerable you'll pick your fights a lot better and play them out a lot smarter and so will monsters.  So battles will become better, more entertaining and more epic.