Monday, April 5, 2010

Turn and face the strange... ch-ch-changes...

Tonight, I finally got to see "The Eleventh Hour", the newest episode of Doctor Who and the first to feature Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. And man-oh-man, what a great episode it was. Simply brilliant. I think I enjoyed this particular episode more than any I've seen with Eccleston, Tennant, or even the older Doctors. Matt Smith is a fine actor, Steve Moffat did a wonderful job as a writer, and I'm quite impressed by the show's new start. Even as I continue to bubble and glow about the newly regenerated Doctor, I consider the next entry for my shiny new blog...

And, hey, my E&E setting just underwent a little regeneration of its own. I've only just completed a revision to the book, so the E&E Campaign Compendium is now the E&E Revised Rulebook. Yes, I remain a sucker for alliteration. But boy did I ever agonize over whether to publish a revision. I mean, sure, E&E worked fine as it was, but there were still problems, most of which can be summed up in one phrase:

Pointless terminology changes.

By going and re-naming some very basic and high-profile game terms, I idiotically created a needless language barrier between the E&E setting and its own bloody core rules. That was a stupid mistake, and I felt I had to rectify it. On the one hand, it's a minor issue, because gamers on the whole are pretty smart people, and it's not like anyone didn't know what I was talking about with Vitality or Defense or whatever... but, on the other hand, the OSR is a big old nostalgia-driven D&D revival, and how can I claim to be a part of that with a straight face if I don't even use Armor Class in my game setting? So I put a lot of the proper vocabulary back where it belonged. Along with a few little tweaks to the rules and incorporated errata, of course. Here's the highlights:

• Constitution. I had renamed it "Vitality" in E&E, for little more than nit-picky vanity. Basically, I wanted to get rid of two ability scores starting with the same letter, so that my stat-blocks for characters would be more concise: S-D-V-I-W-C instead of the old-style S-I-W-D-Cn-Ch. But clearly, I wasn't thinking this through very far, because the former is no easier to read at a glance than the latter. Yes, I cut the number of Cs in half, but then again, I really just increased the number of Vs involved by 150%, didn't I? On top that, I'm quite disillusioned with modules these days, which pretty much eliminates the whole point of desiring a concise and easy-to-read-at-a-glance stat-block. But, should I ever come around to writing modules again, I'll use a different tactic, I think: I'll list the stat-block entry for ability scores as S-D-C-I-W-Χ, where "Χ" stands for Charisma (as in "Χάρισμα", get it?). Peculiar side-note: etymologically, Strength and Wisdom are native English words, whereas Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution all derive from Latin. Charisma is the only Greek word in the bunch. So, what the heck, I'll abbreviate it with a capital "chi" if I bloody well feel like it!

• Saving Throws. I had changed these to "Resistance Rolls" for E&E. Like Swords & Wizardry, E&E collapses the five saving throw categories into a single stat, but the kicker is this: the new save number in E&E is inverted, so that it goes up as it gets better and you want to roll low to make the save, just like making an ability check. I definitely prefer this mechanic (I'll wax poetic about the merits of "rolling low" some other time), but this name change is just as pointless as the others. So from now on, I'll call a save a save.

• Armor Class. Changing this to "Defense" was a more justifiable change than the others, because there really is a hullabaloo over whether Armor Class should go up or down as it gets better. The nostalgia crowd says "descending AC all the way, and attack tables too, because THAC0 is for heretics." The practical crowd says "ascending AC, because it's just plain illogical to subtract bonuses and add penalties." In the end, I decided to straddle the fence, and to just go ahead and dual-stat the game's defenses. There will always be two camps on this one, and I want E&E to allow for both descending AC and the ascending stat, which I've re-named Defense Class. Every creature or character in the E&E game lists an AC/DC (rock on!), i.e. leather armor is AC 7/DC 14. Why is the DC so much higher than one might expect from, say, BFRPG or the d20 System? Well, it's a matter of compatibility. Like Mr. Raggi's WFRP, I have decided to shoot for maximum compatibility with the old rules. Deriving a Defense Class from Armor Class by subtracting from 21 is definitely the way to go, because it lets both stats work with a single score for attack rolls. That score is now a part of E&E, and I have named it Fighting Ability.

Fighting Ability is just like my old Attack bonus, but one point higher; or like THAC0 subtracted from 21 (instead of 20, as I had been doing before). The original E&E game derived Defense from (20 - Labyrinth Lord AC) and Attack from (20 - THAC0), under the assumption that only the roll high (1d20 + Attack vs. Defense) system would be used. The revised E&E rules are more all-inclusive. So, whereas before, you might have a level 1 character with Attack +1, and he would roll to hit chainmail (Defense 15) by rolling 1d20+1 and trying to meet or beat 15, now there are more options. A 1st level character's Fighting Ability starts at 2, and depending on the campaign, his target in chainmail will have either AC 5 or DC 16. If DC is used, it's pretty much as before: the character rolls 1d20 + FA 2, and tries to hit or beat DC 16, so just like before, he'll hit on an unadjusted roll of 14 or higher. But if the ref would rather use AC, you can use either "roll low" or you can use "target 21". In the former case, you just add FA + AC, and that's the chance to hit: FA 2 + AC 5 = 7 in 20 chance to hit, so you hit on 7 or lower. In the latter case, you roll 1d20 + FA 2 + AC 5, and you hit when the total is 21 or higher (natural 14 in this case, same as all the other systems I've described). It's all up to what the players and the referee prefer, and I can still stat up an E&E character with a reasonably concise summary, i.e. "FA 4; AC 8/DC 13".

There are other changes here and there, like revised critical hit rules, and tweaks to spells and technology, a change to the weight of coins that nods in a small way to the historical value of precious metals, but most of the revised book is unchanged from the original. (As tempted as I was to shift E&E to a silver based economy, I couldn't really do it without altering the relative values of coins, i.e. LL's standard 1 pp = 5 gp = 10 ep = 50 sp = 500 cp. A new ratio would involve new treasure tables, and I'm trying to keep compatible with Labyrinth Lord as much as possible here! So instead, I just decided to keep the ratio, but shrink the coins way down in the E&E setting. That way, you can use whatever is needed according to particulars of the game system. If playing E&E, a coin weighs only one pennyweight, but if playing something closer to LL, a coin weighs 0.1 pound. The number and type of each coin remains the same, which is the important thing when describing a treasure hoard.) It's really just a massive backpedal, an effort to put the old terms back so that E&E has broader appeal with old-schoolers. Shameless, I know, but there it is.

Wow, that ending was abrupt. I feel as if I'm forgetting something. Ah, yes! This evening's Farscape quote:

Crichton: Kinda like Louisiana. Or Dagobah. Dagobah—where Yoda lives.
Aeryn: Who's Yoda?
Crichton: Just a little green guy. Trains warriors.
Aeryn: Oh.
—Episode 1.2 "I, E.T."

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