Friday, April 17, 2015

NASA and the US Geological Survey have prepared your new campaign map

Hello, Moon.

Everything blue is underwater. Craters replace mountain ranges and valleys. Nearly all islands are rings around massive, circular lakes. The gray areas represent the highest elevations, and in that area on the eft of the map you could have hundreds of isolated cultures/habitats, cut off from one another by steep, round walls.

And of course, there's the question of what caused all these craters? And will it happen again? Is it happening now?

The more-than-sufficient low-rez version is here. There's also a high-rez version where you can count the buttons on the Moon Prince's frock coat.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thinking about Attributes

I'd love to know more about how the attributes in D&D originated.

 Rolling dice for STR-DEX-INT-WIS-CON-CHR is the most emblematic and formative act in D&D. Maybe you've fought a melee or cast a spell or conversed with a dragon, but everyone who has ever sat down at the table for any length of time has picked up three six-siders and scribbled down the results.

The six attributes are such an oddly specific abstraction of a character's capabilities. They're the weird little numerical window you peer through when trying to figure out who your character is—who you are—in this shared fantasy. When I was younger, I would obsess over getting the "right" attribute scores, and this frequently tipped over into fudging. I played a statistically improbable number of half-elves with 18's in Dexterity and Charisma—I just wanted to be pretty, dammit!

And yet... what good are they?

Haintz-Nar-Meister, 1494

The attributes are all there, fully formed, at 0e, but they seem to have arrived well in advance of any real use for them. There are a couple bonuses and the XP bump from your Prime Requisite. In Holmes, Strength and Wisdom have no function whatsoever except as Prime Requisites.

In the first issue of The Dragon, there is an article called "How to Use Non-Prime-Requisite Character Attributes." It begins,
Whenever a player performs a non-ordinary task, or attempts to do so, the referee is usually in a quandary — how to determine fairly whether the character can perform the attempted action? Normally, the referee gives consideration to the player’s attributes and then more or less ‘wings it,’ attempting to be fair — usually giving the player a percentage chance of success.
What follows is a pretty entertainingly convoluted process that involves rolling a die to determine which die you use to multiply by the attribute score in order to arrive at a percentage which you can then attempt to roll under.

Then Moldvay spelled out the almost irresistibly elegant "There's Always a Chance" rule, albeit as little more than an optional footnote. And over the editions, more derived stats and bonuses were accrued to the point where a common grognard complaint is about having de-emphasize attributes.

All of which makes the attributes look like a mechanic in search of a function.

So why were they there in the first place? Were they character-development fluff? Was there crunch that I'm missing? Or was this an arbitrary collection of seat-of-the-pants rulings (as I assume the saving throws were) that fortuitously became a centerpiece of the game?

EDIT: Some excellent answers in the comments. tl;dr: Time to go buy a copy of Playing at the World.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Dice: How's It Going?

How’s the harvest?
Disastrously bad: Withered crops produced only cursed locusts and dysentery.
Bad: Poor yields mean hard times for the coming year.
Bad with some good: Too much rain flooded the fields, but the fishing industry is having a boom.
Good with some bad: The yield was good, but the Goblin Horde has been targeting towns for supplies. Better fortify the wall!
Good: A bountiful harvest means a prosperous year ahead.
Spectacularly good: Surplus crops combined with neighbors suffering droughts means the gold is rolling in.

How did the Ogre King sleep last night?
Disastrously bad: Was haunted by the angry ghosts of his ogre ancestors, demanding the blood of any trespassing adventurers.
Bad: Dyspepsia and bad dreams kept him awake, and he’s his very grumpy about it.
Bad with some good: It was a restless night, but he thinks he has time to take a nap in the afternoon.
Good with some bad: Well rested, but concerned about a possibly prophetic dream involving adventurers coming for his magic Wurlitzer.
Good: He’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Spectacularly good: What a glorious morning! Let’s make waffles and release some prisoners!

How’s the food at this Inn?
Disastrously bad: You are now host to a civilization of parasites. Save vs. Poison or the parasites joyride your body for 1d6 hours.
Bad: Just awful. No one recovers HP from eating this slop.
Bad with some good: The innkeeper apologizes for the terrible meal, and promises to roast a dozen suckling pigs tonight, if you’re sticking around that long.
Good with some bad: It was delicious, but you overate, and now you’re feeling slow and logy.
Good: A fine meal, well prepared.
Spectacularly good: This is a meal you will remember for years to come. If you are a bard, you’re already halfway through a song about it. Everyone recovers full HP, and any henchmen get +2 to loyalty for the next two days.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Here's a Handy Die Roll

1 Disastrously bad.
2 Bad.
3 Bad mitigated by a little good.
4 Good mitigated by some bad.
5 Good.
6 Spectacularly good.

How’s the weather? How goes the war in the next kingdom over? How’s the market for turnips, this season? What kind of mood did the Lich wake up in? How’s the dragon’s digestion?

How were things at home while we were away?

Even more concisely:

1 Disastrously bad.
2 Bad but something good.
3 Good but something bad.
4 Spectacularly good.

But I doubt I’d use that, for the perhaps-ridiculous reason that I just don’t like rolling 4-sided dice. I think it’s because they don’t tumble—they plop. And they don’t feel nice in the hand, the way all other dice do.

Besides, extremes can get wearying, right?

Of course, I can roll two dice and keep highest or lowest, if I need the results to skew in a given direction. Instead of a flat 16.67% chance of any result, I get:

2d6, keep highest
1 2.78%
2 8.33%
3 13.89%
4 19.44%
5 25%
6 30.56%

This gives me a basic range:

2d6, keep lowest = 25% chance of success.
1d6 = 50% chance of success.
2d6, keep highest = 75% chance of success.

This is too blunt an instrument to use for ability checks or combat in an OSR-style game—players need to deal in more precise units of advantage and disadvantage. But for getting the broad strokes of the world, this looks about as flexible as I need.

This whole line of thought is inspired by Nathan Russell's FU: The Freeform/Universal RPG.