Saturday, December 8, 2018

Hit Dice, Reloaded

In my last post, I described a somewhat radical house rule for hit points—one that I would inevitably become leery about actually implementing, once I'd thought through the many implications of how it would change player behavior.

At the same time, though, I'd also been pondering the best method for rolling up old-fashioned, static hit points. And I think I've settled on a system I can live with.

Just rolling them straight always has the potential to cripple a character. If a fighter rolls a couple of 1s, 2s, or 3s on gaining his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th experience levels, that's an unrecoverable handicap. So some form of re-rolling is a must if one demands that dice be rolled (and I do). Re-rolling all the hit dice at each level is a pretty good way of keeping the characters just above average; but there also has to be some recourse if the re-roll is low (characters should always gain at least one hit point with a new level). So, taking all that into account, the ideal method would have to be:

• Max hit points at first level (bog standard house rule)
• At levels 2 through 9, when a character gains a level, their hit points go up by +1 (clerics, thieves, and magic-users) or +2 (fighters). Then they re-roll a number of hit dice equal to their new level (adjusting each for Constitution, as normal), and they keep this roll if it's greater than the old, just-incremented hit point total.

I wrote a bit of code to test this method out, and it seems to produce results that put characters where I want them to be, while still being variable. 9th level characters wind up with hp totals ranging from a couple of points below average, to upwards of ten points above (for very lucky fighters), with the smaller hit dice being proportionally less swingy (to be expected).

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

I've been thinking. Thinking about hit points.

The standard way to do hit points in classic D&D is to simply roll your hit die and adjust it for Constitution at every experience level, 1st through 9th. What you roll is what you get, and if you keep getting bad rolls, tough noogies. Some or even most DMs will amend this to allow player characters maximum hit points at level one, but otherwise there isn't much call (or need) in old-school games for different procedures like you see in WotC editions—taking the average or a roll if it's higher, re-rolling 1s or 2s, etc.

The thing is, though, no player ever finds it fun getting stuck with a low hit die roll, just as no player ever particularly enjoys getting level-drained by a spectre. That shit ain't fun, and I'm not some kind of macho old-school dogmatist here to tell you that you must implement harsh rules or else you're doing it wrong.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Annual Reminder RE: this thing we call "OSR"

Every once in a while, the OSR ties itself into an existential knot. "What are we? Who are we? What are we doing here? And what is it all for?" These questions burp up to the surface of the inter-blog-o-socio-media-sphere-i-web from time to time.

I'd like to take just a moment of your time to address a few of them.

1. What is the OSR?

The OSR, or "Old School Renaissance," is a movement within the tabletop role-playing hobby centered on playing, and publishing new material for, the TSR editions of D&D.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Engines & Empires: The Boxer Class

I guess I couldn't help myself. I just love the monk archetype too much. So I've put it back in the game. This little supplemental document I've written up now includes rules for both scholars and boxers, bringing the number of human classes in Engines & Empires back up to the original six.

Just like monks in D&D, boxers are kind of optional and funky, with attribute score requirements, a lower level limit than other human types, and some other quirks. But now the same six classes that appeared in the original Engines & Empires Campaign Compendium (fighter, expert, boxer, mage, scholar, and tech) are available in the Core Rules version of the game as well.

What prompted this?  Well, I was chugging along on revising Retro Phaze, hit the monster section, and then kind of stalled out when the homework started to pile up. (Seriously, I should really be working on homework and papers right now. The workload this semester has become insane.) It's gotten to the point where my Barrowmaze campaign, steadily and surely a weekly affair that I've run for my local game store group every single Saturday afternoon since the start of this year, has moved to a two-week turn.

And this, blast it, has given me space to think. Always a dangerous thing for a DM who suffers from chronic gamer ADD. It makes me long for variety away from crypts full of undead. It makes me want to cook up my own dungeon and put it in my own setting again. I don't actually have time to do the legwork for a completely new campaign of my own devising; but damn it if I can't stop thinking about it. Daydreaming about what sort of setting and what sort of dungeon I'd like to run.

And I realized that for my next campaign, whenever it rolls around, I really would like to try a human-only setting. No elves, no playable demi-humans. Just human characters who are only as interesting as the players make them. (Demi-humans are awfully crutchy that way sometimes. "What's your character like?" "He's an elf." "Okay, but what about his personality?" "He's an elf." "Yes, I got that, but what makes him interesting?" "Elf.") I've really been vibing a more modern-feeling setting, something with a tech level in the Final Fantasy VI through VIII range. And because of that, I think I've felt the need lately to expand the class system in anticipation of such a game. You know, just so that there's more variety available to the players when I tell them that my next game's setting isn't gonna have elves (because there's always that one guy who only plays elves).

I don't know; maybe I'll have changed my mind about it by the time I'm ready to switch games. But for now, it's comforting to have the option.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Engines & Empires: The Scholar Class

The old, Labyrinth Lord based version of Engines & Empires replaced the cleric class with an "occult scholar" class, which was intended as a reference to the origins of the cleric as a Dr. Van Helsing expy. Since the new, stand-alone version of E&E ditched the Vancian magic system altogether, and with it the need for separate arcane and divine spell-caster classes, some of that flavor was lost, somewhat to my regret.

The old, original version of Retro Phaze also had a scholar class, as a stand-in for the red mage or  bard; the new, up-and-coming version of the game moves the scholar from "optional fifth class in the back of the book" to "standard fifth class, right there with the other main four." Calling this version of the character class a "scholar" is something of a reference to the Final Fantasy scholar class, which is noted for wielding books as weapons, and for "scanning" monsters to find their weaknesses.

Well back in January, I decided to combine these ideas and created a "fifth base class" for Engines & Empires, one based on the Van Helsing style scholar. I suppose I just got too distracted to get around to writing it up formally. Plus, I figured that I would wind up debuting the new class in Shade Isle when I got around to writing that. (Turns out, Retro Phaze VI just felt more urgent.) You see, adding a scholar class to Engines & Empires fills a lot of niches that rather need filling. It provides an alternative Int-based class for cultures, settings, and time periods that aren't inclined to use steampunk technology; which means that in a gonzo steampunk setting, the scholar can be an alternative to the technologist for in-game societies that don't use steampunk technology. And in a non-steampunk setting, Engines & Empires can still be used a complete game with a sufficient variety of classes.

But, most importantly, there gets to be a whole class dedicated to monster- and undead-hunting again, and there gets to be a proper "gish" class for human characters now. The link to the (one-page) addendum is going to live on the sidebar of this blog for the time being, but anyhow, here it is.

Monday, October 15, 2018

My Barrowmaze Campaign: The Overworld

I figured it was high time got around to posting this.

My weekly, Saturday-afternoon Barrowmaze campaign is now in the middle of it's tenth month of real time (and its second year of game time). Party members' levels range from 1st to 6th, with the higher level characters all in the hands of the most frequent and longest running players.

But I also wanted to put up a map that I'd just finished recently, depicting how I slot the Barrowmoor into Eastern Karameikos:


(It's a very large image, which should hopefully counteract the sloppy handwriting and make at least some of the landmarks' names legible.)

I figured that I'd need a wider map soon, as the player characters (although still having only explored the tiniest fraction of crypts under the barrow mounds) are starting to grow in wealth and influence to the point where they might wind up traveling further afield. They've heard rumors of monsters massing the far north, and the Castellan Keep (you know, the one on the borderlands); and they've even had a couple of run-ins with Bargle, evil wizard extraordinaire, and cruel lackey to Baron Ludwig Black Eagle (whose lands are still off the western edge of this map, but which the PCs might very well travel to before this campaign wraps up).

Setting this campaign in Karameikos has been, on the whole, a positive thing. It does sometimes take the focus off the local area and the back-and-forth between town and dungeon; but players crave that variety. Same thing every game, week in and week out, would inevitably wear thin. That said, I'm still leaving the pace of this game, and where they go and what they do, entire up to the players. I've no idea how long the campaign will continue to run, where they'll eventually visit, or what they're going to do.

And, tellingly, I myself can feel the first stirrings of gamer ADD setting in. Ideas for other campaigns, for big dungeons with more depth and variety than a big crypt full of undead. A strong desire to back to playing one of my own systems, particularly Engines & Empires. The life of the campaign at this point, if I'm being honest, probably depends entirely on how long I can stay interested in it. So far… I'm holding on. But it's touch and go.

The Final Boss

Submitted for your consideration:

Chaos, King of All Devils
HD: 40 (140 hp; Acc +12; RS 10)
VN: −4
XP: [hp + 40] × 1.5 (avg 270)
MV: 4
DG: 15d
AP: 10
The “final boss” of a Retro Phaze VI campaign is usually some kind of terrible arch-devil. Chaos is but one example of such a monster, since each campaign world must naturally have its own ultimate villain. Chaos resembles a gigantic, gold-scaled fiend with clawed hands, cloven hooves for feet, and bat-like wings. He is the manifest embodiment of evil, hatred, and destruction, the very antithesis of life, order, and weal in physical form.
Terrain Affinity: Flying.
Master of Magic: Chaos has a unique level of spell ability, being able to cast every single spell in the game (black, white, and reversed white) twice per day each.
Summoning: Chaos can use an action to conjure two demons, two devils, or one of each, both of which will stay and fight for Chaos for the remainder of the battle. This costs Chaos 1 Action Point.
Withering Demon Breath: Chaos has a terrible breath weapon with range 1–3 that inflicts 24d damage on all targets, who may resist at −2 for half. The breath weapon has spread 1 if Chaos spends 1 AP to activate it, or spread 2 if he spends 2 AP. The damage inflicted is magical, Dark, and non-elemental, like the reversed white magic spell Unholy.
Immunities: Chaos is immune to all forms in instant death magic (Banish, Death, Kill, and Scourge), poison, and petrification.

(And because Chaos is a boss monster, marked with "•" and a title, it's explained in the rules that he has two actions per initiative cycle, each and every round… nasty. You're going to need a large party of high-level characters to take this guy down!)