Friday, March 28, 2014

The Tiniest Bit of Research Possible: Armor

On the one hand, one doesn't want to fall down the rabbit hole of historical simulationsim. On the other hand, it's nice to not be talking entirely out of one's ass.

from Matthäus Schwarz's Klaidungsbüchlein 
After posting some thoughts/assumptions on plate armor, I was shown this video of a guy in a swimming pool wearing plate armor. He's no porpoise, but perhaps my Kelly Gang comparisons were not as illuminating as I thought.

So, a minimal bit of googling yielded this page from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Arms and Armor—Common Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions.

Here's a choice bit:
When early scholars of armor looked at medieval artworks, they noticed what they thought to be depictions of many different forms of armor: rings, chains, bands of rings, scales, small plates, etc. With poetic license, all early armor was referred to as "mail," distinguished only by its appearance, hence the terms "ring-mail," "chain-mail," "banded mail," "scale-mail," "plate-mail," and so forth. It is today commonly accepted, however, that most of these different depictions are actually various attempts by artists to efficiently show the surface of a type of armor that is difficult to render both in paint or sculpture. Rather than showing each interlinking ring, the small links were stylized by dots, slashes, S-shapes, circles, and the like, which readily lent themselves to misinterpretation.
Obviously, there were a lot of historical variants on armor design, but I'm going to take that as validation for lumping all the mails into one category: Medium/Semi-Rigid.

Regarding mobility, the page makes the point that a suit of field armor (as opposed to tournament armor, which no one would go adventuring in) weighed about 50 lbs., and that this weight was well distributed across the body. This struck a cord with me. My brother is a cop, and he wears 50 pounds of equipment, mostly hanging off his belt. This is not an ideal distribution, and he can run, jump, climb, and, in at least one instance, tackle a guy on a tricycle.
...historical sources tell us of the famous French knight [...] who, in full armor, was able to climb up the underside of a ladder using only his hands. Furthermore, there are several illustrations from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance depicting men-at-arms, squires, or knights, all in full armor, mounting horses without help or instruments such as ladders or cranes. Modern experiments with genuine fifteenth- and sixteenth-century armor as well as with accurate copies have shown that even an untrained man in a properly fitted armor can mount and dismount a horse, sit or lie on the ground, get up again, run, and generally move his limbs freely and without discomfort.
 Fine. I still like the idea of restricting Heavy/Rigid armor to Fighters, but they won't have any restrictions placed upon them while wearing it.

So, question:
Should Heavy/Rigid only be for Fighters (B/X = Human Fighters), or "fighter types?" I have no problems taking plate away from Halflings and Elves, but I feel a little more awkward about striping it from Dwarves. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

B/X Character Class: The Youngest Son/Daughter

Continuing my thoughts from this post, here's a second take on Innocents Abroad.

The goal is to create the sort of talented-but-inexperienced adventurer who is the protagonist of pretty much every fantasy novel and fairy tale.

Several people have directed me to Zack S.'s The Alice. This is a wonderful character concept, but a little more specific than what I'm going for here. I did steal (and water-down) one of her abilities.

And if you have a better idea for what to call this class, I'd be eager to hear it.

Catskin by Arthur Rackham
The Youngest Son/Daughter: An Untrained Adventurer
Almost always the youngest of three siblings, unless they are an orphan. They might be a Princess or a Woodchopper’s Son, but they have no formal training in adventuring skills. 

Requirements: CHR 9
Prime Requisite: WIS
Hit Points: 1d4
Save: as Thief
Weapons: Any
Armor: Shields; Any armor except Plate Mail

1          Naif                 1d4     0                      Adventurous Potential
2          Traveller        2d4     900
3          Adventurer    3d4     1800               Select Class
Adventurous Potential
Roll 1d4. This advantage is lost once you select a class.

1. Inspire Parental Concern: When you look like you need help people want to take care of you. So do animals, spirits, and assorted creatures. When by yourself, you receive a +3 on all reaction roles.

2. Kitchen Wisdom: You listened to your elders. Before every session, you will receive a clue about some aspect of the forthcoming adventure in the form of either a piece of advice or a story snippet. i.e. “When offered food by strangers, refuse three times before accepting,” or “There once was a girl who hid sparrow in her hair, and it taught her how to dance.” It is up to the GM’s cruel whim how relevant or decipherable the clue is. And there’s always the risk that you won’t go anywhere near the scenario the GM had in mind.

3. Lucky: Once per game day, re-roll a failed roll.

4. Wide Eyes: For each combat round spent observing a given combatant, you receive +1 to hit or +1 dmg on one attack against that individual. You can do nothing except observe during this time except non-strenuous movement. If you are interrupted, you cannot continue stacking observation bonuses, although you could start over. Bonuses only accrue for rounds during which the subject is engaged in combat.

At level 3, an untrained adventurer has sufficient experience to select a class. They keep 3d4 for Hit Dice, and all experience points, but now proceed as a Level One Fighter, Level One Magic User, Level Two Thief, or Level Two Cleric.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Plate for Fighters

There seemed to be some interest in my notion of restricting plate mail to Fighters.

First thing: I know. I know. Plate mail is not plate armor. But danged if I don’t still picture the full suit of hinged knightwear whenever I read about plate mail, and also-danged if illustrators haven’t populated rule books with image after image of adventurers running around in plate armor.

I'm not a nitty-gritty combat simulationist. I like nice, broad, simple categories of armor:
  1. Light/Flexible: Leather; Hide; Studded; or, I dunno, how thick is that wool peacoat?
  2. Medium/Semi-Rigid: Pretty much everything else.
  3. Heavy/Rigid: Plate Armor; anything that would make the Kelly Gang sit up and take notice.
The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906 (motion picture)

Heavy/Rigid armor: 
  1. Requires help getting into or out of.
  2. Prevents you from doing pretty much anything except walking, sitting on a horse once you've been placed on it, and swinging weapons.
  3. Will make you fall down if you haven't practiced moving in it a lot.
  4. Sounds like someone has dropped the cutlery bin every time you take a step.

Therefore, I tend to think it should be restricted to Fighters (who have been trained in the stuff), and that all the above inconveniences should be played out in game.  

Of course, I'm no expert. Maybe knights could do a pommel-horse routine in armor that they zipped up like pajamas.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

B/X Not Really A Character Class: The Baseline Adventurer

In my previous post of the Innocent Abroad Character Class, I think I was trying to do a few too many things at once. I'd like to break the idea down a little further:
  1. What does the baseline human adventurer look like?
  2. What would a playable untrained adventurer class look like?
  3. What would a playable all-purpose adventurer look like?
I think I'll ramble on the first point, tonight.

The Baseline Human Adventurer, stripped of any class benefits, looks like this:

Requirements: None
Hit Die: 1d4
Save as Thief

Weapons: any type
Armor: Any armor, any shield
Would probably level at around 800 XP, like what I had for the Innocents.

Pretty simple. If well-equipped, a little better in a fight than a spell-depleted MU or a Thief caught out in the open, and much better than a Normal Human. Not very useful to play, but good for evaluating other classes.

The point of interest for me is the 1d4 hit die. I tend to think of 1d6 as the default hit dice, because Clerics, Elves, and Halflings have them. But if you look at Normal Humans, Thieves, and Magic Users, it's clear that 1d4 is supposed to represent a human who hasn't undergone any professional-soldier-grade toughing up.

It bugs me that Halflings have 1d6 Hit Dice. I assume it is supposed to model luck or agility, but there are better ways to model that, and the 1d6 Halflings must surely be the seminal culprit for Hit Dice inflation.

I like the idea of cleaving a little more closely to the 1d4 Human for characters. It makes Clerics look tougher, like the soldiers of gods they are supposed to be, and Fighters look like tanks. And it would surely encourage more varied play, what with death being a single blow away.

Looking back on the Harpy class, I'd wondered  if their 1d4 Hit Die was too low. I'd even written up a tougher version of the class. But, looking at this baseline human, I feel renewed resolve to keep the light-boned Harpies at 1d4.

Another point:
I wish that "Any armor" didn't seem to be B/X's default position. Plate Mail strikes me as very specialized equipment that requires training to use effectively. I'd like to limit Plate Mail to Fighters. Maybe Dwarves and Elves get it, too. Maaaaaaaybe.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

B/X Character Class: The Innocent Abroad

The Squire from The Canterbury Tales
The character who appears in every fantasy novel ever, and yet isn't modeled in B/X D&D is the wide-eyed innocent: the assistant pig-keeper who dreams of glory, or the merchant's daughter who gets swept up in adventure.

Characters like this often get framed as fighters, as if fighters were just the default human adventurer. This dilutes the concept of the fighter as a trained specialist in arms and armament. 

You could also play the character as level 0. This works if everyone else is also staring at level 0 and your walking into a funnel. But the level 0 characters are supposed to be what B/X calls Normal Humans. Normal Humans are explicitly not adventuring types. And the assistant pig-keepers of the world may be naive and unskilled, but they are still definitely adventurers.

Let's take a look at the Normal Human.

Normal Human
Hit Points: 1-4
Save: Death Ray 14; Wands 15; Paralysis 16; Breath 17; Spells 17 (that is, worse by a lot than any classed character)
To Hit/AC: 11/9; 12/8; 13/7; 14/6; 15/5; 16/4; 17/3; 18/2; 19/1; 20/0 (worse than any 1st level classed character)
Weapons: 1 weapon, presumably any type
Armor: Unarmored

Normal humans are non-adventurers: Peasants, laborers, artisans, scholars, nobles, whatever.

Hit points represent how hardy a normal human is. The very young, sickly, or elderly has 1, a blacksmith has 4.

Normal humans have skills, and these skills increase with life experience, but there is no need for this to have a game effect. There is no mechanical difference between an apprentice baker and a master baker.

If a normal human finds themselves in adventurous circumstances, they might accrue adventuring experience, represented by Experience Points. Once a normal human has Experience Points, they should be assigned a class.

Between the improved To Hit, Saves, and the ability to increase hit points through advancement, it's clear that Adventurers are made of heartier stuff than the rest of us. During chargen, we often think of MU's and thieves as frail, but it's important to realize that a first-level MU is still better in a brawl than the average town blacksmith. 

So, let's look at an adventurer class without any specific class benefits.

Innocent Abroad
Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: None
Hit Points: 1d4
Save as Thief
Weapons: Any
Armor: Shields; Any armor except Plate Mail

1          Naif               1d4     0
2          Tourist           2d4     800
3          Traveler        3d4     1600  

At level 3, an Innocent Abroad is no longer so innocent, and must select a class, proceeding as either a Level One Fighter, Level One Magic User, Level Two Thief, or Level Two Cleric. All of their XP transfer over to their new class. They keep the hit points generated from 3d4, but roll their new classes hit die next time they advance a level.

The mechanical advantage of playing an Innocent Abroad and surviving is slight increase in hit points over a classed character with 1600 XP.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unsolicted Advice for Myself

You probably already know this. I probably know this.

For those of us with a proclivity for the Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism, but who, in our moments of clarity recognize that over-world-building is a barrier between the GM and the players, a tenet:

Don't GM like Tolkein. GM like Chandler.

Raymond Chandler famously resisted plotting out his books, figuring that the only way to keep it surprising was if he himself was surprised. Instead, he concentrated on writing one 800-word segment at a time, and making sure that segment had something juicy in it.

If you gave me the best plot in the world all worked out I could not write it. It would be dead for me.

Of course, if you look back over Chandlers plots, they don't always make sense. But that doesn't matter much, because they were still fun to read.
The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Crowd-sourcing: Reskinned Magic

Some assumptions:
  1. Magic systems should be fun.
  2. Magic systems should offer a lot of variety.
  3. The classic D&D spells are the lingua franca of rpg magic.
  4. It is good when magic is mysterious and wonder-producing.
  5. It is convenient and practical when magic is mechanical and predictable.

Perhaps the thing to do is to use the established spell lists as a catalog of effects for the GM's benefit, not as a menu for player's to pick from.  You get the ease of established mechanics and spell effects that are compatible with other products, while keeping things murky enough that magic never loses its wonder.

Talking to Spirits
Here's a great magic system that does exactly this: Spirit Magic by Brett Slocum. Instead of casting spells, it is a system for negotiating with spirits, who create spell effects for you. But the players never really know what they're going to get. The results could be better, worse, or completely different from what they had in mind. And there's nothing to stop you from randomly grabbing something other than the standard D&D spell list and throwing wholly unexpected effects at them.

I feel like this addresses most of the above assumptions. Except variety. I don't want to force every spell casting PC to be a spiritualist. So, I need other systems that reskin and obscure the established system in entertaining ways.

Beseeching the Gods
Goblin Punch's thoughts on Clerics without spell lists has a lot to offer in this regard: Towards a Better Cleric by Arnold K. Basically, use his Faith system, but keep the Cleric spell list handy for basic parameters of what favors a god is likely to grant.

More! More variety!

Building Machines
I think there might be something to do with the Scientist, an NPC class that John Stater introduced in NOD #2. The Scientist researches and constructs devices that have spell effects: big, wheezing cabinets that spit out prismatic rays; brazen heads that answer yes or no questions; DaVinci's flying screw. I like that it doesn't impose science on fantasy, but builds what a scientist would look like in a crazy magical environment. It would need some massaging to be a playable class, however.

Not enough! More is needed!

Sourcing the Crowd
Do you know any similar systems out there? Systems that don't create new spell lists, but which make players access the old ones in new ways? Alchemists, tinkerers, rune-casters, etc.?

Your help is much appreciated!

Brett Slocum also offers up the Mechanical Artificer. I feel like something halfway between this and Stater's Scientist would hit the sweet spot, for me.

Loot: Blood & Treasure; Nod #1-10

I came back from vacation, and look what was waiting for me! John Stater's Blood & Treasure and the first ten issues of NOD, received in exchange for some doodles I did for Mr. Stater's forthcoming Tome of Monsters.

I encountered Stater's work my first week of noodling into the OSR. The concept of the hexcrawl was kinda new to me (my formative D&D edition was Holmes Basic), and Stater has produced troves of hexcrawl resources. He stuck out particularly to my art-school eyes because of his visual sophistication (NOD #7 has the best cover in the entire OSR).

It's a massive stack of material, and I haven't had a chance to do more than skim, but man-o-pete, it is good.

B&T is a wonderful system, drawing from across games and editions, and designed to be modified for your comfort, with lots of clever new considerations. I might graft race-as-class onto it and use it as my new system, or harvest huge bloody chunks of it for either B/X or Microlite20.

The centerpiece of NOD is the presentation of a sandbox world. I assumed that I'd scavenge it for my own sandbox, but I'm thinking more and more of adopting it outright. Even more exciting are the non-sandbox articles which present races, classes, and rules and system variants. Really clever stuff.

The only downside to these products is that they are print-on-demand from Lulu. This means that they are a) expensive and b) the image quality leaves a lot to be desired. As mentioned, Stater has a sophisticated eye for art, both public domain and commissioned, so it's disappointing to have it reproduced as pixelated, greyed-out lines. Fortunately, everything is available as pdfs, which alleviates both problems. And neither problem is so horrendous that I'm not going to go ahead and get the rest of the NODs in print.

I'll probably write more about the individual issues, because this is going to be the bulk of my rpg reading for some time to come.

You can download issues #1 and 6 of NOD here: Free Downloads.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Setting: The Planet Orcus, part three

Significant Sites and Communities on Orcus
The residence city of the Cacogen. It is headache-inducing jangle of crystalline growths, extending far above and below the surface of Orcus. The actual population of Cacogen is small, and one is more likely to encounter Ancilla going about their duties.

Embassy of the Abjected, Speakers to Filth
An adjunct or suburb or Recordance. This is a surprisingly beautiful structure of crystal panes and silver filigree, the size of a small Aereth city and containing a number of discrete habitats for citizens of the various worlds of the Solar System.  A small number of beings have gathered here with the goal of treating with the Cacogen.

The ambassadors themselves are among the most centered, enlightened beings the Solar System has to offer. All will have WIS and CON stats of 15+1d6. They train for years at mortifying their senses in hopes of inuring themselves to the presence of Cacogen.

At their prime, an ambassador will have as many as three conversations with the Cacogen before retiring.

It is enormously expensive to fund such a conversation, and it is said that the Embassy contains unheard of quantities of treasure.

A site of unknown purpose on the opposite side of the planet from Recordance. Here the Ancilla gather and endlessly rearrange the surface of the planet in a vast sludge-work labyrinth. Sometimes materials are placed in sections of the labyrinth: globes of helium, thin sheets of beaten copper, ingots of sulfur, spindles wound with chains of eyelashes, an emerald the size of a cantaloupe. They will randomly removed or exchanged.

The Ancilla
These onyx golems are the servants of the Cacogen.They come in a variety of sizes.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Setting: The Planet Orcus, part two

GM’ing the Cacogen
All attributes, stats, and descriptors can be randomly determined. A given Cacogen may be physically invulnerable or delicate as steam, and these attributes are not necessarily fixed.

Communication should be a slow, tortuous affair. Cacogen have translators, and are smart and well informed about or Solar System and its inhabitants, but it is difficult to bridge such different minds.

Below are some tools for simulating an alien state of mind. Consult when considering both how the Cacogen receives a communication and how they respond. If needed, run their reply through Google translation a few times.

Random table of primary senses/mode of communication
1.     color
2.     light
3.     scent
4.     temperature
5.     high frequency sound (painful to anyone with better than normal Hear Noises)
6.     palpitation
7.     gesticulation
8.     equilibrium (their conversation requires a Fortitude save or fall over)
9.     magnetism
10. electrical impulses
11. absence of sound/light/scent
12. mathematics
13. pressure differentials
14. pain and pleasure
15. illusion projection
16. exchange of soul fragments
17. exchange and consumption of effluvium
18. time
19. reversed time (this Cacogen remembers the future, but is blind to the past)
20. reality (anything this Cacogen says becomes true)

Random table of primary motivations and blind-spots
1.     Acceptance
2.     Acquisition
3.     Aesthetics
4.     Compensation
5.     Consumption
6.     Curiosity
7.     Hierarchy
8.     Honor
9.     Ideals
10. Independence
11. Knowledge
12. Oblivion
13. Order
14. Perfection
15. Physical activity
16. Power
17. Reproduction
18. Society
19. Tranquility
20. Vengeance

Roll twice.

The first result is this entity’s primary motivation. It is such an ineradicable concern that the Cacogen cannot even question its primacy.

The second is a motivation that the Cacogen cannot comprehend at all. Any statement relating to this motivation will be ignored as meaningless babble.

Conversation Effects Table
If characters have a successful conversation with a Cacogen (defined by spending more than three rounds speaking with them without becoming violent or ill), they will be marked by an otherworldliness for the rest of your life.

For each successful conversation, they permanently lose one point of Charisma, and roll on the table below:
1.     Take half damage from back stabs, because your vital organs are no longer where one would expect them to be.
2.     You see things that aren’t there. Detect Invisible once per day.
3.     You have a new perspective on everything. +1 to Wisdom.
4.     +1 to AC when unarmored because you become slightly insubstantial when alarmed.
5.     Digestion changed. You eat unusual things (soap, strips of leather, small pebbles, candles), and cannot abide regular food. Immune to poisons.
6.     The patterns of this world are so much clearer to you, now. Read Languages at 80%.
7.     You are attuned to the energies of the world around you. Detect Magic once per day.
8.     Your voice does not entirely emanate from your body. Ventriloquism twice a day.
9.     Black Puddings love you. Treat all black puddings encountered as charmed.
10. You are dimensionally unmoored. Mirror Image once every other day.
11.  You hear things that haven’t been said. ESP once every other day.
12.  You feel disconnected from your body. +1 hp and +1 to resist pain effects.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Setting: The Planet Orcus, part one

Orcus, Plightpost, the Filth
Far removed from the civilized routes of the Solar System lies Orcus. It is a small, lightless world, shrouded in black vapors. No sun or starlight reaches the surface. Light sources only illuminate half normal distance. 

Lorenzo Mattotti, Hansel and Gretel
The surface is composed of a black sludge that is corrosive to metal and flesh (1 hp dmg per turn exposed). Travel time is reduced by half, and every turn there is a 1 in 8 chance of being sucked into the sludge, requiring a STR check to extricate oneself.

Gravity is weak. Characters can jump 30 feet in the air, plus an additional 5 feet for each point of STR modifier. There is a 1 in 4 chance of becoming stuck in the sludge when landing from such a jump.

The Broken Covenant
No one remembers who—demon, god, or mortal—committed what transgression. But to ensure it never happens again, Orcus has been set aside as an observation post. This post is held by Cacogen.

Born of Filth
Cacogen are beings from Solar Systems outside of our own. They are incomprehensibly alien. They are loathed. Any natives of our Solar System will feel an instant bond of fraternity in the presence of a Cacogen, united in their hatred of this abhorrent, impossible thing.

Every round spent in the presence of a Cacogen requires checks against Wisdom and Constitution, with a cumulating -1 penalty for every round after the first. If the Wisdom check is failed, you will attack, berserker-style. A fumble results in madness. If the Constitution check fails, you will be violently ill. A fumble requires a save vs. death.

If you die in the presence of a Cacogen, your corpse will raise up as undead and attack it.

There is no indication that the Cacogen have anything but a benevolent attitude towards all the inhabitants of our System.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hey, Harpies!

Google Image search doesn't know who drew this. My best guess at the signature is "O. Hartford," but I haven't been able to find anyone that fits that name. It's a lovely piece, though. Look at the glossy highlight in that one harpy/sirens hair!

If you know anything about this piece or illustrator, I'd love to hear it.

Edit: We have an ID! Writer and illustrator Oliver Herford. Wikipedia claims he was called "the American Oscar Wilde," and that he's the one who first said "Only the good die young."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Maritime Career Path

Okay, first, check this out: Career Paths for 3d6 Fantasy

I link to Goblin Punch a lot. Almost exclusively. You'd think it was all I read.

Anyway, this is an alternative to character generation, where you create your character's history while generating stats. It's not totally elegant, but it works and it's fun. A few random numbers turn into a realized bit of fiction right in front of you.

There's a lot of room for expansion, too. Here's my offering:

Joseph Noel Paton, Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Maritime                                            Useful: DEX, CON, CHA
1.     Helped quell a mutiny. Test STR to influence CHA.
2.     Helped start a mutiny. Test CHA to influence STR.
3.     Survived a shipwreck. Test DEX to influence CON.
4.     Swam with mermaids, once. Test DEX to Influence CHA.
5.     The bosun was a cruel taskmaster. Test CON to influence DEX.
6.     Would stay up all night, telling tall tales. Test CON to influence CHA.
7.     Old Salt showed you how to run the rigging. Test CHA to influence DEX.
8.     Always up for a dare. Test CHA to influence CON.
9.     Stay awake on lookout duty. Test CON to influence INT.
10. Marooned. Test WIS to influence CON.
11. Saw a devil at high tide. Test WIS to influence DEX.
12. Picked up some entertaining tattoos. Test STR to influence CHA.
13. You can smell a squall. Learn Weather.
14. Lived for Shore Leave. Learn Carousing.
15. You know your jib from your mainsail. Learn Sailing.
16. You hate to spend too long on land. Learn Oceans.
17. All you need is a line and a hook. Learn Fishing.
18. The stars will guide you. Learn Navigation.
19. There’s a reason you left home. Learn Random.
20. There are some strange ports in the world. Learn Random.
21. You learned it from a bunkmate. Learn Random.
22. The captain was an enthusiast. Learn Random.
23. You had a lover in a faraway port. Learn Random.
24. You needed to do something to pass the night watch. Learn Random.