Sunday, November 25, 2012

Variants - Oh where have all the Magic Items gone?

The dustbin of history, I hope. Seriously, I cannot tell you the amount of times that players have found and sold that +1 sword in my career as a Ref/Judge/GM. Or the potion of healing, or any other of the various bags of holding, wands of restoration and the various other flavorless drek that has crowded the backs of character sheets over the years.

The fact that something so inherently interesting as an enchanted item would be reduced to so much clutter means that there must be something off. The various fixes with this, from RuneQuest to EarthDawn to DragonQuest and all the other noun-mashed RPGs over the years show us the way. Simply turn what was magical into something a player can produce and that can be treated as if it were a commodity. After all, these sorts of items are commodities anyway. This does have the potential to disrupt certain elements of the system, but only if we let them.

What about providing magic weapons to hit creatures that can only be harmed by magic weapons?  - Allow the ‘superior’ weapons detailed in an earlier post to harm corporeal creatures that require magical weapons to hit, and/or say that un-enchanted weapons do only half damage vs. these creatures. This makes the creatures more dangerous (a good thing) and makes a those few, interesting, significant magic weapons even more treasured, and not something to be cashed in when you reach a higher level.

As for the items itself, use the Earthdawn model, where each magic item may be presumed to have a detailed history, secret name, or an inhabiting spirit. The magic item starts out weak (that +1 Sword or Ring of Invisibility) and becomes more powerful the more that one discovers about it. “Bah! That’s no mere enchanted sword, you fool, but Dargaeron’s Arm, inhabited by a spirit of slaughter, which foments discord among those who wield it!” “Ring of invisibility? And you say you won it in a riddle game...?”

As for potions and scrolls, having items with single charges of magic strikes me as not only silly, but beside the point. Resources like this are made to be lost, unintentionally duplicated on a character sheet or ignored. “How many potions of extra-healing is your character up to this week, Sara?” “Thirteen...” If they are needed, it might be better for the players not to be on the adventure that requires them until they have grown in power. Further, players always remember character abilities more than they remember consumable resources. Maybe an invocation which allows one to strike creatures that cannot be otherwise harmed, for a limited number of rounds, is in order.

Scrolls and potion need not disappear entirely – after all, there is alchemy, as long as the concoctions produced do not duplicate the effects of already existing spells. In the 2nd wave RPG Bushido, players can acquire Suryas, which are scrolls that allow for effects to be produced as long as the words on the scroll are recited. The words do not fade after use, and may be reused. I stole this directly, and they now substitute as the older protection scrolls in my game. Scrolls as treasure maps, clues and rumors still appear regularly, but now as sources of information rather than as a minor effect, promptly recorded on a character sheet and then forgotten.

As for wands, staves and such, I prefer them to be magical foci, as they are in historical magic.

Here’s a wand or three as an example:

Wand of Jet – A silver rod of perhaps five inches in length, topped with a stone of Jet. This wand focuses mental energy, especially for healing and protection. It increases the variable effects of a spell or invocation by +1, up the maximum allowed by the effect, as long as healing or magical protection is involved. It also adds +1 to all saves vs. fear or magical domination while wielded.

Wand of Fire – An Ironwood wand, with a Fire Jasper at the base and a Quartz crystal tip, focuses vibrant energy, allowing a caster to re-roll any 1s, 2s, or 3s with any fire-based spell that causes damage. In addition, it can kindle the fires of men’s souls, providing +2 to morale checks for the duration of a single encounter.

Wand of Jade – This wand of Jade stone, banded with Silver, and tipped with a carved sphere of Quartz crystal, give the wielder a +2 save vs. all curses. In addition, if used to focus protective spells, it increases their strength, either by raising the caster level by two, or by maximizing their random effects.  

The final benefit of treating magic items in this manner is to reintroduce a sense of mystery into play. If the player can’t look at the back of the book and immediately see what the item is and how it works, then these elements begin to regain their original aura, and become genuinely magical.

Note: Sorry if you read this post earlier. It really needed a second round of revision, which I have now provided, which will hopefully make it a little more clear.  Next: The Dangers of DIY

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Variants – Milestone Quest System

You may remember in previous blogs my complaints about systems where feats are granted to players on a regular basis, and are used, generally, to min-max various character builds in those systems. But I don’t object to special abilities being gained by characters, I just object to players being able to pick from a cafeteria list for these options.

The crux (IMNSHO) of a campaign is how the characters interact within the campaign. When players design builds for their characters, using feats as one of the building blocks, they are not really connected to the campaign as a whole. Rather, they are building their characters in a vacuum, which can lead to all sorts of problems.

So any system which has characters acquiring special abilities should allow for them to do it within the confines of the greater campaign, so that these abilities are added organically, as the result of the choices that characters make, rather than the choices that players make.

This is the reason for a system that I call Milestone Quests. These aren't formal quests in the game itself, but rather a simple mechanic for gaining non class-related special abilities.

A character may gain a special ability when they accomplish a major goal. A ‘major goal’ varies by level, being composed of a number of Milestones equal to the level of the character when the Quest is initiated. A Milestone is a simple, specific goal that can be accomplished during the course of a single session of play.

Here’s an example. For a third level Quest, a character needs to complete three Milestones. As his village has been torched by a dragon, the character desires to find a dragon slaying magic weapon. The character already has clue that such a weapon may be found at the tomb of a long-dead dragon slayer. For the first milestone, the character cleans out the dungeon-tomb and find parts of the magic weapon. Then, he must re-forge the weapon to recreate it, which requires another adventure. Finally, he journeys to an ancient library, where after defeating various undead librarians, he learns the secret of the weapon, which allows him access to the anti-dragon magic of the weapon. After all three Milestones have been completed he gains a +2 attack bonus against dragons as a permanent character ability, separate from the weapon itself.

As you can see, the gain of permanent character ability matches (roughly) the power level of a feat, and was earned by accomplishing tasks within the campaign. The referee decides the exact details of the ability, and the character simply expresses a desire in a general way (I am looking to get better at fighting dragons) and takes actions which would lead to such an end.

All this is very casually dealt with during play. I’ll turn to a player, and ask, “Does your character have a quest for this level? What is it?” I’ll then talk it through with the player, just asking in general how he or she thinks the character would accomplish the task.

Here’s another sample. The character in question is a third level fighter.

Ref: So what’s your quest for this level?

Player: I don’t know, I hadn't thought about it yet.

Ref: Didn't Josiah (the character in question) say he wanted to learn to fight with two weapons?

Player: Yeah, that would be cool.

Ref: Well Josiah has heard of dueling masters who fight with a sword and dagger. They supposed to train students in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord.

Player: That hell-hole! I don’t want my character going anywhere near that place! Are there any other ways to learn the skill?

Ref: Well, you might ask a bard or a sage, if you don’t know any other rumors.

Player: Fred’s character is a bard. Hey Fred, does your bard know where to get two-weapon fighting?

Fred: My dear Josiah, if one seeks to advance oneself in the art of combat, I, Turin the bard, advise you to seek out those masters of the dueling art in the City-Sta...

Player: I don’t wanna go there! Anyplace else you know of?

After a quick lore check, the Referee tells Fred: You know of an ancient manual, Hanko’s Fechtbuch, which contains the secret of two-weapon fighting. You think it might be buried in the ruins of Ostval, which is on the Skandik coast.

Fred relates this (in character, of course) to Josiah’s player.

Player: Great, so that’s my Quest for this level.

Ref: OK, but you need three milestones to achieve a Quest at your level. So, in addition, you will have to get the Fechtbuch translated, and then you will also have to learn how to read, or get someone to read it to you.

Player: Fine, whatever (eyes the bard). How far is it to Ostval?

I want to stress that this is not some hard and fast rule, but rather more of a guideline. It’s framework for introducing a way of integrating the character with the campaign, while rewarding a character for working with the environment. If, for reasons of suspense, you don’t wish to negotiate all of the milestones ahead of time, that’s fine, but I would resist ‘springing’ a Quest on a player with their input. This, as much as humanly possible, should be a player-directed activity. A player should never be forced into this sort of Quest, as I am defining the term.

The abilities granted by a Quest should be in the 3.5 feat range, getting a little bit better as you go up in levels. Here are some guidelines:

1: +1 attack, leather which allows an elf to cast spells while wearing it.

2: +2 save vs. some specific circumstance.

3: +2 Attack vs. specific target type.

4: Ability to attack ghost or other incorporeal, 3/day

5: At about this level, the benefits should top out, and stay consistent, because at this level you leave the power scope encompassed by feats, and enter the level of minor magic items.

Next time: Where have all the Magic Items gone?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Variants - Curses!

One of the interesting things about the OD&D magic system is that it takes all sorts of different practices and subsumes them under Vancian Magic. Because of this we are asked to make choices about the sort of spells we want to use (in a bog-standard campaign) and if curse is the same spell list as a fireball, which would you pick?

The lesson in this, I believe, is not to have fireball or curse on the list. When you decide to make changes to things like spells lists,  many of the seemingly problematic elements of D&D cease to be an issue. You note in my previous variant on Vancian magic, there weren't any spells that affected more than one creature. This is deliberate. Of the following two images, which is more emblematic of sword and sorcery literature; a wizard casting a fireball that destroys many foes while the warrior guards the mage? Or a warrior slashing his way through a horde of foes, while the alchemist/shaman/sage prepares the ritual which will force the great old one back to the void from whence it came?

Hence curses. They become all the more interesting and useful if we divorce them from the Vancian model of Fire & Forget and treat them as a power that is usable whenever the caster chooses. Or, at least as much 1/day per level or hit dice.

Here are my standard three curses that I use when the party fights humanoids that have Shamans/Witch Doctors among them:

Curse of Weakness
Effect: Character may defend himself, but not attack. Treat strength as three for all other purposes. 

Curse of Cowardice
Effect: Character drops his weapons, and collapses in abject fear. 

Curse of Darkness
Effect: Character is blind (+4 Attack bonus to hit the blinded PC, and the PC may not attack).

For curses, always allow the curse to work and last a single round before calling for a saving throw. This is the character ‘throwing off’ the curse. In the event of a failed saving throw, continue to allow a save every round until the curse is thrown off. Curses of 3rd level and above may limit the number of save attempts before the curse becomes permanent.

Since these curses  are in the unintelligible goblin/orc/gnoll tongues, they can’t be learnt by a PC.  (Hint, at the start of your campaign don’t let the player learn any of the dark tongues.) If they do try to learn such magics, require them to undergo awful experiences to do so, far greater than the utility of the magic provides. The dark side has its price, you know.

As for players, curses should be available, but slightly more varied in power. Here are some PC curses from my campaign, along with spell level equivalents.

“Bright-coiffed Hekate, turn your triple-gaze upon mine enemies!”
Level: 1
Effect: Curses a single enemy with a -2 to attack. May cause a morale check, and 1s in Attack rolls result in self-injury.

“May all the demons in Hell damn your soul!”
Level: 2
Effect: The curse victim dies automatically at 0 hit points, and may not be resurrected. (Note: nasty villains will wait until you are nearly dead before casting this spell.)

“By Janus, let your weapon be turned against you!”
Level: 2
Effect: Any failed attack roll causes the victim to make a second attack roll, against himself.

Curses are like Invocations in that you can know any amount of curses, you can learn them from other players, NPCs or written sources, and you are limited to amount per day equal to your level. Curses always affect others, and always affect the target in a negative manner. You player is always required to role play and recite the words of the curse.

One thing I neglected to address is my earlier post on invocations is how expect these rules to affect play. Well, I hope to improve role playing by encouraging players to yell out these really flavorful utterances. I want to make magic users more flexible and interesting (by letting them access invocations and curses that affect magic-users only, or giving them access, through grimoires, to little known or powerful curses and invocations), while not overshadowing other classes. 

So far, play testing has turned out well. But the mage in my group just broke 2nd level, so time will tell how this works out at higher levels. 

Next: Quests and Milestones; or, how to have feats without breaking your game.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Variants – Invocation: Magic for Everyone

Some variants exceed the bounds of the base rules set you happen to be using so much that they end up overwhelming the original rules. So this variant, which started out in a really minor fashion, has grown now to the point where it is a significant part of a few classes.

Invocation is the act of calling upon a god or other supernatural being, not with the expectation that they will show up, but with the intent that they will spiritually aid you in some way, which leads to a minor magical effect.

You may wish to note that I am using ‘invocation’ in the original sense of the word, and not in the modern occult sense, which is somewhat different.

This rule has its origin in many other systems, the only two which now come to mind are Mark Smylie’s Artesia and Sword & Sorcery’s Scarred Lands. This rules variant, in complexity, falls somewhere between the two.

An Invocation is a short phrase or poem that is recited by a character to create a magical, though subtle, effect. Any character may use an Invocation, at any time, though the character will only receive a magical effect once per day per level. That is, the character may use the phrase as much as he or she wishes, but will only gains a benefit a number of times of day equal to their level.

A character may know any number of Invocations. In addition, the player must recite the invocation, in character, in order to gain the benefit for the character.

Other than that, there aren't that many restrictions. I expect that some invocations are dangerous to use, either because you are invoking a god unpopular with those listening, or because there may be hidden effects associated with the invocation that the invoker doesn't know about.

As to effects, most should be in the +1 or +2 to some roll or another. Any more than that seems too strong. Also, I think that the sort of minor invocations that I am talking about should always affect either the invoker and/or the companions of the invoker, not the invoker’s enemies. If you want to affect your enemies, use curses, to be covered in a future post. I allow invocations to be used concurrently with normal actions; most of them are short, anyway, and this encourages their use.

Characters can learn Invocations by visiting temples and offering a donation. 100 gp doesn't seem to me unreasonable. Others are learnt from books, and characters can teach each other, as well.

Here are several examples, with the wording of the invocations drawn from history or fiction. Since most of the Gods of the Wilderlands are drawn from history or fiction, deriving the invocations isn’t all that difficult.

Oh Mighty Asa-Thor, who smashed the limbs of Leikn; you bashed ├░rivaldi;
you knocked down Starkadhr; you trod Gjalp dead under foot.
Let your hammer guide me to throw down my foe.
Type: Lesser
Effect: This gives a +1 Attack bonus, and if fighting giants, increases the bonus to +2.

Mitra, whose speech stirs men to labor!
Type: Lesser
Effect: This allows the invoker to inspire others to bravery. The invoker’s allies are less likely to desert (If you use the B/X inspired Morale rules, all allies and followers gain a temporary +1 to their Morale scores).

Hermes Trismegistus, bless us with your triple wisdom!
Type: Lesser
Effect: This invocation allows you to recall a single arcane spell of up to third level after it has been cast for the day.

You will note that these invocations are typed as lesser. I’ll cover greater invocations in a future post. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Variants – Mixing it up: Alchemy

Essentially, I added an alchemy system to beef up Mages and other casters so they would have more to do at low levels. In my own mind, there is a real difference in herbalism, ancient chemistry, poison making and actual historical Alchemy, but I congealed them into one blob so that the list of things you could make would be more extensive. I stole freely from many systems that utilize herbalism, without taking too much from any one thing directly. There are a couple of fan net books for AD&D 2nd edition that I draw from, as well as Rolemaster’s herbalism, the Bard Games version and some others.

Basically, a player learns a recipe, which once learned, he or she never forgets. Once you know the recipe, have the ingredients and proper laboratory, and finally expend the time necessary, you can make the product.

Here’s a list of recipes, some from Irtaxes’Grimiore that I discussed yesterday, and some that my players have learned since. 

In these entries, you will note a level requirement; this refers to the level of character (usually mage). This is the only limit to recipes; you must be of sufficient level to be able to understand the recipe and use it. You will also note that that some requirements are very specific ingredients, while others are quite generic, this allows some flexibility in determining how easy it is to create certain recipes.  

A Basic laboratory requires 250 gp and weighs 20 lbs. It may be transported, and takes two hours to set up and break down. It consists of beakers, tubes, lamps, wire and metal apparatuses, along with common reagents.

An Advanced laboratory costs 1000 gp, and has the same basic equipment as a basic laboratory, but requires a 10’ by 10’ ft area protected from the elements, and is not portable. There is more equipment, which also more diverse and sophisticated, such as the alembic and athanor.

Creation times refer to a total amount of time to prepare, which is invariable. The creator need only spend 6-8 hours per day required on labor, however.

Snake Venom Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Greenish potion
Ingredients:  1 Giant Snake Venom pouch or 1 dozen normal viper or adder venom pouches.
Creation: 2 days
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by snake venom, this will revive the recipient.
Spider Venom Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Clear potion
Ingredients:  1 Giant spider Venom pouch or 2 dozen normal black widows.
Creation: 2 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by spider venom, this will revive the recipient. (Note: this may be useful against all insect venom, at the discretion of the Referee.)

Fungal Antidote
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Thick yellow potion
Ingredients:  6 drams yellow mold spores.
Creation: 5 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: If drunk or poured down the throat within one turn (10 minutes or ten rounds) of death by fungal spores, this will revive the recipient.

Phosphorescent Formula
Level: Alchemy, 1st Level
Form: Dimly glowing green potion
Ingredients:  30 drams phosphorescent fungus
Creation: 3 days           
Requires: Basic laboratory
Effect: if this potion is smashed on the floor, it will provide dim light in a 20’ radius for ten minutes.

Herbal Bandages
Level: 1st Level
Form: Damp bandages, infused with herbs.
Ingredients:  5 drams medicinal herbs (common), boiled bandages (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: fire and iron pot
Effect: These bandages, if used after combat, restore 1d3 hit points.

Herbal Poultice
Level: 1st Level
Form: Soggy mush, wrapped in gauze
Ingredients:  20 drams medicinal herbs (common), boiled gauze (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: fire and iron pot
Effect: This poultice, when applied to a wound during eight hours of sleep, restores 1d6 hp. If used for a full 24 hours of rest, it restores an additional 1 hp.

Alchemical Fire
Level: 2nd level
Form: Small ceramic jug
Ingredients:  10 gp of Naptha (uncommon) quicklime, and sulfer (common)
Creation: 1 day             
Requires: Advanced laboratory
Effect: When tossed, this jug will explode upon impact (successful attack vs AC 10, range 5) and cause 1d6 damage in a 5 ft radius. In a subsequent round, unless a save is made, it will cause and additional 1d4 damage, at which point the flames will die out. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vancian Magic – How is this a Variant?

It might seem strange to declare that your variant magic system for D&D is Vancian, but bear with me a moment.

As most of you reading this probably already know, the magic system of D&D is based on the Dying Earth short stories of Jack Vance, in particular the first two or three collections (depending on who is counting). Vance himself later treated magic differently in his last collection of tales, but by the time this appeared D&D was fully formed.

Now the truth is that de Camp and Pratt’s Harold Shea stories had as much to do with the D&D magic system as The Dying Earth tales – just ask Joseph Goodman.

Vancian Magic as described by Jack Vance is somewhat different from D&D MU spells. In short, Vancian magic represents the powerful spells of a long-lost aeon, which can no long be completely understood or created; all that remains are the folios of the ancient wizards, and those who control them, who struggle to be able to cast them. A spell must be memorized, and once cast, the force of magic releases the knowledge of the spell from the mind. The best among these modern wizards may perhaps memorize as many as four to six spells at once.

And these spells are powerful indeed, for none of them ever seem to be resisted (except by amulets or magics which nullify the spells themselves). Most spells intended to hurt someone kill the target, more or less immediately. They are usually very specific, and there are no spells which offer a truly general utility, like, say, Teleport.

Needless to say, these are generally not the spells of D&D.

·         No saving throws.
·         No creation of new spells.
·         No creation of magic items, most likely.
·         No copying of spells.
·         A limited set of spells, no more than a hundred, contained in an ever-shrinking supply of ancient books.
·         Each book has a different set of spells, with few or no overlaps.
·         No spells of extreme general utility.
·         Lots of instant-death spells.
·         A very small set of casters, mostly those casters who have been around for a long time, and collected most of the available librams.

Alright, for the sake of discussion, let us take a given the admonition that I have heard from other members of the OSR community that spells of 7th, 8th, and 9th level are spells of ancient power, more like great rituals than most of the spells currently on the list.

Magic-users in S&W can cast at most four spells of each level. A fifth or sixth level mage gets as many spells as Turjan of Mir or Mazirian the Magician get (these are two best examples of mages we have from The Dying Earth). So the amount of spells that a MU gets in the game seems about right, so now we just have to get the spells correct.

So, every beginning mage gets a single grimoire when they begin their career. This has about 9-16 spells in it, usually one to three spells of each level from 1-6. If you want to randomize this process, roll 1d3 for each level.

Next, come up with the spells themselves. Here’s a sample grimoire that the player who was running the mage got.

Irtaxes’ Compendium

This volume is a quarto (12’ x 9’), bound in ebony and leather with iron fittings. Irtaxes’ symbol is embossed in a small leather disk on the front of the book.

Contained within its 132 pages are various spells, alchemical recipes, and notes on various elements of arcane lore.

There are 16 spells using 56 pages, 12 alchemical recipes over 38 pages, and 32 pages of notes. Six pages are blank.

Learned at 1st Level:

The Incarnadine Incitement to Probity
Spell Level: Magic-user, 1st Level
Range: 100 ft
Duration: Immediate

Multiple violet particles stream forth from the mage’s finger, which is pointed at the target. The target must be made of living flesh; spiritual entities, constructs, and the undead are not harmed by this spell. The particles strike the target infallibly, but all particles must be must be directed against the same target; they may not be ‘split’. The target is struck by 1d6+1 particles, each of which does 1 point of damage.

The Conjuration of the Ebon Embracement
Spell Level: Magic-user, 1st Level
Range: 60 ft
Duration: Immediate

Upon utterance of this spell, shadowy vapors emerge from cracks in the earth and grasp at 1d3 enemies that lie within 60 ft of the caster. These vapors hold their victims immobile for 1d3 rounds before the vapors melt away.

The Evocation of Illumination
Spell Level: Magic-user, 1st Level
Range: Personal (Caster only)
Duration: 10 minutes (one turn or ten rounds)

For the duration of the enchantment, The Magic-user’s eyes glow weirdly; his vision is augmented, and he may see in perfect darkness for up to 30 ft.

As mentioned in the description there are also invocations and alchemical recipes; these will be covered in a future post.

You might have some questions about how this sort of thing works in play. Let me try to anticipate some of your questions and concerns.

Aren’t these spells more powerful than normal 1st level spells?


Isn’t that an issue?

No, because, generally speaking, only PCs will have access to this magic. Most minor casters in the world rely on curses, alchemy or invocations. Very few have access to true magic (Vancian spells). I expect that players will have conflicts with maybe three or four true mages by the time the campaign ends, but such bigwigs can be customized with some time and effort. 

What about monster casters?

Use the standard spells, including saving throws, for things like Demons and other-planer beings. They are supposed to be weird anyway. I would avoid using the excessively D&D spells, like fireball and magic missile. Stick to the more subtle stuff. For minor casters among mortals, use the aforementioned curses, alchemy, and invocations (again, to be covered in a future post).

That sounds like a lot of work.

It’s not, trust me, I am the laziest guy I know. I am definitely not into more work for myself.

What about the higher level spells?

Don’t worry about that now. Tell the player that they are there in the book, but won’t ‘unlock’ until he gets high enough level to be able to cast them.

And what do I do then?

Either check back here to see if I have posted some higher level spells, or make ‘em up yourself from the lists of Vancian spells floating around on the internet. Or better yet, buy a book or two from Pelgrane Press, and use the spells therein to figure it out. They could use the money.

What about if a player want to create spells or magic items?

In thirty years of gaming, I have known exactly three D&D players who created their own spells or magic items, and I was one of them. If you have a bunch of players like this, why aren't you playing Ars Magica or Fantasy Wargaming with them? I would be.

What about Scrolls?

No fire and forget scrolls in my campaign. I do have magic scrolls, but they are used in a different way. More on that in an upcoming post.

Doesn't this wreck game balance?

Maybe. Who cares? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Variants – Amateurs are influenced; Dungeon Masters steal.

This re-purposed quote, variously attributed to Picasso, Lennon and Eliot, holds as true for campaigns as it does for art. There are plenty of good ideas out there and no good reason not to steal them outright – just make sure that if you publish, you have got the OGL to back you up.

For my Wilderlands campaign I stole:

Encumbrance and Movement from James Raggi’s Legend of the Flame Princess, who revised significantly (and brilliantly) the rules in Dan Proctor’s Labyrinth Lord, who OGLed them based on the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Rules, which were a revision of J. Eric Holmes D&D basic rulebook, which were adapted from Gygax and Arneson’s Original D&D. (Whew. From here on in I’ll just list my primary source.)

I stole these rules because they were the easiest implementation of encumbrance and movement, better than the Swords & Wizardry rules, if only because they required less math. Raggi also implemented the rules on the character sheet in such a manner as to make tracking encumbrance easier. I stole most of the design of his back of the character sheet for my sheet as well.

The only easier system would be to use item cards, and allow an amount of cards based on strength, which I may still implement if my players don’t start tracking encumbrance better.

I also lifted Raggi’s treatment of Skills from LotFP, which is based solidly on the original d6 rolls that players could attempt in previous versions. These include (from OD&D) noticing secret doors, finding food and water in the wilderness, avoiding traps, sneaking, and surprise. Raggi renames these and formalizes them somewhat; I do the same, but have a slightly different list.

Everybody has at least a one in six chance to perform these tasks, while some start out with a greater chance, while non-human classes (see below) have somewhat greater chances. Some skill levels increase as they rise in level, again depending on class.

Avoid Trap
Open Doors
I stole these rules because they seem entirely natural assumptions to make that all players would have at least a minimal chance to perform these skills, and some of them should obviously increase for certain classes as they go up in level. This makes these skills easy to use and modify on-the-fly during play, something I found difficult to do with 2nd or 3rd edition versions of skills.

Again, from Labyrinth Lord/B/X I stole the Morale & Recruiting rules. These exist in a rudimentary fashion in S&W, but I was always more pleased with how they were implemented in later editions, and I use them in other ways then originally intended. I also use them to determine if your hireling or henchmen does what you intend them to do, as well as assigning a ‘Morale’ score for patrons of the party or characters, to determine how easily the NPC will provide aid upon request. Charisma, as usual, provides a bonus, which makes this it much less of a ‘stat dump’.

For Combat, I stole the Target 20 system, found here in its original iteration, I believe.

Delta’s brilliant system allows us to use original AC numbers (the so-called descending system) with an Attack Bonus number, which strikes me as the best of all possible worlds.

To successfully attack, roll 1d20 +Attack Bonus + AC + Modifiers (from strength, magic weapons, etc.). If the result is greater than 20, you hit. This duplicates the original mathematical algorithm, without look-up tables.

Your attack bonus will vary by class and level, which means you only need to know your total modifier, plus the AC of the opponent, to determine if you hit. Very, very elegant.

That said, I don’t use Delta’s system for anything but combat, finding saves (for example) in Swords & Wizardry to work quite well as they are.

Finally, I don’t use the multi-classing rules, from S&W, instead, I use race as class. I have always hated multi-classing in D&D, especially since my 3.5 experiences. Therefore, everyone has one class, even if these classes are heavily modified. More on that in the weeks to come.

Next: A real Vancian magic system.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Variant Weapon Table for Swords & Wizardry

Weapon Table: Ranges are in feet, Cost is in gp.

Axe, battle 1, 2
+1 damage vs. Shield
Axe, hand 3
Range 5
Bow, long 4, 5
13+ Str, Range 50
Bow, short 4, 5
Range 40
Crossbow, Heavy 4, 5
Range 50 Fire once every 3 rounds.
Crossbow, Light 4, 5
Range 40 Fire once every 2 rounds.
Dagger 3
Range 5
+1 Attack vs. Shield
Javelin 4
Range 20
Inflicts double damage with successful mounted charge.
+1 Attack vs. Chain & Plate
Polearm 5
2nd rank, Set vs. Charge
Sling 4
Range 40, 1d4 damage for stones
Spear 1, 2, 3
Range 10, 1d6 damage thrown, 2nd rank, Set vs. Charge
Staff 5
Sword, bastard 1, 2
Sword, long
Sword, short
Sword, two-handed 5
Requires 10’ to use.
Improvised Weapon, Small
Improvised Weapon, Medium 5
1 Weapon can be used either one or two-handed
2 When wielded two-handed, gain +1 damage bonus
3 Can be used as both a melee and a missile weapon
4 Missile Weapon only
5 Requires two hands

Other Notes
Range refers to the maximum range in feet that the weapon may be used to attack without penalty. For every multiple of base distance after that, a -2 penalty is assessed. There is no maximum total range.

Type refers to those social castes that may bear the arms with impunity. If you travel to a city or village, and you do appear as the requisite social class, you may be arrested and tried for crime, which may result in prison or corporal punishment, or beaten and have your weapons or armor confiscated.

Set Vs Charge means that the weapon can be set to receive a charge, by declaring it before initiative is rolled. If the weapon hits successfully, it inflicts double the damage dice.

Superior Weapons Weapons may be purchased that have modifiers to attack or damage bonus. In general, these are the product of expert craftsmen, and so are both rare and expensive.

A superior craftsman is capable of producing weapons that are finely balanced (+1 Attack) or weapons with a keen edge (+1 Damage) but not both. These weapons cost 20 - 30 times the normal amount. There are craftsmen like this in a largest cities, and occasionally in smaller cities. Only one village in ten will have such a craftsman. 

An expert craftsman is capable of producing weapons that are incredibly balanced (+2 Attack) or weapons with a very keen edge (+2 Damage) or weapons which are +1 to both attack and damage. These weapons cost 30 - 50 times the normal amount. There are occasionally craftsmen like this in a largest cities.

An legendary craftsman is capable of producing weapons that are impossibly balanced (+3 Attack) or weapons with a diamond-keen edge (+3 Damage) or weapons which are +2 to both attack and damage. These weapons cost 100 times the normal amount, if they are available for sale at all. There are occasionally craftsmen like once in a generation, in the very greatest of cities.

OK, so why this variant?

The table is the result of several influences, but let me begin by stating why I wanted to change weapon stats in the first place. Generally speaking, the charts as they exist tend to encourage a relatively narrow range of choices, based on the fact that the damage is best for swords, and for maces and staves depending on your class. I wanted to raise the damage for non-sword weapons, and then give them minor modifiers that would accent their historical purpose (the idea for this, BTW, comes from the Pendragon RPG). So all the one handed noble weapons deal 1d8 of damage, two handed weapons deal 1d10, and all single handed weapons wielded with two hands inflict +1 damage, etc. Crossbows deal slightly better damage, but are much slower.

My general aim was to encourage a more divergent use of weapons among the party, and reinforce caste ideas, which I’ll talk more about next time.