Friday, October 3, 2014

Punch Buggy Magic Missile

Since D&D spells in general and magic missiles in particular are so open to aesthetic interpretation, I usually encourage players to tell me what form their magic missiles take. The best interpretation I ever got was in a random game I ran this summer for five people, four of whom had never played any kind of RPG before. Yup, VW Bug shaped magic missiles! Why not? Everyone at the table loved the idea, the player got to contribute something memorable to the game, and no mechanics were harmed. 

That also speaks to something that I'm recognizing more and more that I really enjoy about DMing. I do like prepping and setting up dungeons, adventures and situations before hand, but I also want to be surprised by the game. I want players to surprise me with their creativity and scheming and cleverness and dramatic flair, and I want the game itself to surprise me through the situations and conflicts that emerge unpredictably. 

I've been leaning this direction for years, but more and more I think that the way to make that happen is lots of random charts to work with, which are basically ways that a DM can ask questions of the campaign world. When the PC's decide that the dungeon isn't worth it and are more interested in interacting with the NPC's in town (as happened in this summer one-off game), what will I learn about those NPC's? When the PC's decide to take sides in an NPC conflict that I just learned about myself, I need ways of asking the campaign setting what the details are- then it's my job to referee what the game tells me. 
The description of this characters' death, on the right side of the page, is great.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Combat House Rules

Shields Shall Be Splintered
This is one of my favorite house rules. No particular need to restate it here (here's the original, from Trollsmyth), but I'd use an expansive interpretation, as in this. Also, here's a great post from Jeff Rients about this kind of thing.

Two-Handed Weapons
Characters wielding a two-handed weapon would roll their damage dice twice and take the higher number.

Dual-Wielding Weapons
Characters wielding a weapon in each hand may make one attack per weapon (on the same target), but when rolling damage, roll damage dice twice and take the lower number.

Exploding Damage Dice
From this Daily OSR post: "All damage dice 'explode' if they roll the highest possible number on the die. When exploding, count the score, then roll the die again and add that. Keep going until no dice score the maximum. This applies to all sources of damage.

For example, if a character falls off a tower and takes 3D6 damage, the dice might come up 3,5 and 6. Roll the 6 again and score a 4. Total damage: 18 points."

Called Shots 
From this D&D with Porn Stars post: "Here's the deal: if you want to do something real specific--like hit the orc's torch and knock it on the floor, you can if you roll a crit. You can also extend your crit range as much as your heart desires: natural 19-20, 18-20, 16-20, all the way up to 11-20. Your choice.

The only catch is you then have to extend your fumble range from one by the same amount."

Class-Based Damage
I understand that class-based weapon restrictions have a long and storied tradition in old school gaming, but they've always bugged me. I was thinking earlier about starting a new campaign and using the Swords & Wizardry White Box rules, and the cleric's restriction to bludgeoning weapons (because of a religious obligation not to shed blood!) really jumped out at me.

I wrote before about using class-based damage in the game high school game, which I thought worked quite well. If the main point of having class-based weapon restrictions is to safeguard the fighter's ability to do damage, class-based damage does the same thing just fine, without the side effect of needing to police other classes' weapons. It also fits in nicely with my preference for keeping "shopping" in character generation to a minimum. I don't particularly like the experience of players all closely reading over the weapons lists to find the ones which are highest powered, and using class-based damage would encourage players to choose weapons based on what they think would best fit their character idea.

Fighters: 1d8
Clerics: 1d6
Thieves: 1d6
Magic-Users: 1d4

I think that about sums up where I'm at for now. Still thinking about individual initiative versus side-based. I've always used PCs all go at once/Monsters all go at once in the past, but we've been using individual initiative in the campaign I'm playing in now, and it's actually been really fun. Maybe more fiddly than I'm looking for though, we'll see.

Thief Skills House Rule

I started playing as a character in a new campaign recently, and it's naturally gotten me thinking about how I'd like to handle the next game I run. Since I'm playing a thief in a campaign with extensive non-weapon proficiencies, I've been thinking about alternate ways to handle thief skills, and skills in general.

The LotFP "Specialist" system is appealing to me because of its flexibility (each thief can specialize in specific skills rather than advancing slowly in all at once) and because of its simplicity. There's something appealing about rolling the single d6 rather than percentile dice. LotFP handles non-thief classes trying to do thief stuff by saying that all non-thief classes have a flat 1/6 chance of success. Which is nice and simple, but maybe a little restrictive.

Here's my spin on it: 
When a character of any class attempts to do something thief-y, they get a flat x/6 chance and also an attribute check at a high difficulty. They only need to make one of the two rolls to succeed. 

I do attributes with the xd6 roll under method, rather than a straight d20 roll, because it makes it so easy to modify the difficult of check. I would decide whether the check was 3d6 roll (for something that an average non-specialized character could have a good chance of succeeding on) 4d6, 5d6 or 6d6 for something that only a specialist should really be able to handle.

For example, Marsters the Magic-User is attempting to pick a lock of average difficulty, and has access to some small tools to do it with. I'd probably rule that he would make the dexterity check with 4d6, since it's kind of a skilled job, but one that he has the tools for. Since Marsters has a dexterity of 9, he has to roll equal to or under a 9 on 4d6, or a 1 on a d6. If he succeeds in either roll, he's picked the lock. 

I'm terrible at estimating percentages from dice rolls, so I'd need to keep an eye on how difficult these rolls end up being in play. If it turns out that the thief is getting outperformed by other classes, I'd probably just increase the dice used in the attribute check. 

Thief/Adventuring Skills and related attribute check:
Pick Locks/Tinker: Dex
Pick Pockets/Sleight of Hand: Dex
Stealth: Dex
Climb: Str
Sneak Attack/Backstab: Dex
Wilderness: Wis
Search: Wis

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Teaching Dungeons & Dragons Part 1

Even though it's been a couple of years since my last post, I'm very excited to share a workshop I put together for a group of high school students last week. My fiancee, a local high school teacher, was organizing a series of field trips, workshops and other activities for her school, and invited me to do an introductory D&D workshop.

I actually did an "Introduction to Dungeons and Dragons" workshop at her school back in October, so I had a little experience to work from. Four students came to that one, and between three and eight students have been coming weekly to my fiancee's classroom after school to play since then. They tried running their own games a bit, but mostly she's been DM'ing. I started with "The Portal Under the Stars," the 0-level quick adventure in the Dungeon Crawl Classics book, and she's since used "Grimmsgate," "Sailors on the Starless Sea," "Keep on the Borderlands" and the one-page dungeon contest winner "The Burial Mound of Gilliard Wolfclan". I used Labyrinth Lord rules and handed out copies of the rules that I'd had spiral-bound at copy shop.

For last week's workshop, we were expecting significantly more students (15 in the morning session, 10 in the afternoon), few with any idea what they were getting into. Given that, I wanted to be sure to make the workshop a genuine introduction. I run games regularly (I should really post about the Barrowmaze game, which added half a dozen players, moved to a local bar and continues to be a blast), and often include brand-new players. For those games, though, it's not important that the new players get a holistic understanding of the rules. All they need is a basic understanding of how play works- the "tell me what you want to do and we'll roll dice to see if it works" thing- and something fun to hang their hat on.

In addition to that basic concept, which most people pick up in a minute without an explicit explanation anyway, I had a few goals for the workshop:

  1. I wanted students to have fun and not get bored.
  2. I wanted students to play in adventure that incorporated classic D&D tropes.
  3. I wanted students to understand what their characters were capable of, and be excited about them.
  4. I wanted students to interact with NPC's in a meaningful way.
  5. I wanted students to face tough, meaningful decisions, and debate how best to proceed.
  6. I wanted students to get a look at what DM'ing entails, in a way that's accessible and bounded.
  7. Finally, I wanted to give students the tools they'd need to run a basic game without anything or anyone else. 
To meet those goals, I broke the workshop into three sections: 
  1. Character creation
  2. Adventuring
  3. Dungeon creation exercise
Character creation, even in retroclones, can be a genuinely intimidating hurdle for new players get over. I looked through the character creation chapters from a few of my favorite games: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Scarlet Heroes, Spears of the Dawn, and so on, and ended up deciding to create my own super-simple character creation process.

First, I had them roll prime attributes. Since I think prime attribute names can actually be kind of difficult vocabulary words, I created this chart so that students would have some descriptors to work with: 

Strong, Powerful
Agile, Good aim
Slow-thinking, Ignorant
Smart, Fast learner
Fragile, Sickly
Healthy, Tough
No common sense, Materialistic
Sensible, Spiritual
Hard to get along with
Natural Leader

Rather than a +/- 1-3 system, I gave them a +1 for anything 13 and over and a -1 for anything 8 and under.

Next, they chose classes. I created a one-page document for each class (just the standards). The one pages include: 
  • A short (2-4 sentence) description of the class, 
  • Prime Attribute
  • Hit Dice
  • Damage Dice
  • Attack Bonus
  • Special Abilities
  • Saving Throws
  • Class Backgrounds
So one at a time. 
I mostly copied the short descriptions from the core Labyrinth Lord book, though I took a few things from Lamentations of the Flame Princess as well.

I listed the prime attribute just to give players some basis from which to choose a class.

The hit dice are mostly from LL, I believe, though I may have upgraded the thief's. 

In order to simplify equipment buying, I decided to try something I've been wanting to try forever and gave each class a consistent damage die. That way, when it came time to play, we could just hand out a d20 and the class damage die to each player and they'd be all set- no looking up specific weapon damage.

Though I've been playing with descending armor class for a couple years, since we made the switch from LotFP to LL, I decided that it would be easiest for new players to learn an ascending armor class system. To that end, I assigned each class an Attack Bonus, which they would add to their d20 to-hit rolls. 

Special Abilities include spells, turn undead, detect secret doors, thief skills, etc. I decided to go with d6 thief skill rolls, as with the LotFP specialist, to keep things a little simpler and less granular. So as to skip an extra step (and the opportunity for players to power-game) I gave a pre-defined list of skills rather than letting the thief put points into specific skills, using the conversion chart at the back of the LotFP referee book. 

Saving throws were just copied from LL. 

I included a Class Backgrounds table in order to give players something more specifically about their character to get excited about. I mostly just copied the excellent tables from this post: on "The City of Iron," and subbed in a couple of things from the Scarlet Heroes character creation system. I ended up with tables of 1-8 and allowed players to roll randomly or choose, if something caught their eye. There were a lot of "Demon Hunters," not surprisingly! And I really enjoyed explaining to one student that her "Peasant Rebel" thief was basically a populist revolutionary.

I didn't include anything about gaining levels, just to keep it simple. 

Next, I had them choose starting equipment. I kept the choices limited, but tried to allow for some interesting choices. I'm pretty sure I copied part of this from somewhere, but I honestly can't figure out where! If I copied it from you, let me know! Here's the complete starting equipment one-page:
You get 2d6 Gold Pieces and the following automatically:

·      Backpack
·      Dried Rations (3 days worth)
·      Waterskin
·      Tinderbox (with flint and steel)
·      Chalk
·      Torch
·      Dagger*

*Magic-Users and Elves get a spellbook instead. Clerics get a holy symbol.

Next, choose a Weapon and three things from the following equipment list:

·      Leather Armor
·      Shield
·      50’ Rope
·      Grappling Hook
·      5 Iron Spikes and Small Hammer
·      10’ Pole
·      Upgrade Torch to Lantern and Pint of Oil
·      An Extra Weapon
·      Thieves’ Tools
·      Crowbar
·      Sledgehammer
·      Shovel

*Fighters, Dwarves, and Clerics may take Chain Mail Armor instead of the above equipment.
Hand Axe

Bow (with 20 arrows)
Crossbow (with 20 bolts)

Battle Axe
Great Sword

*When rolling damage for two-handed weapons, roll the damage die twice and take the better of the two rolls.

Next, I had them roll one random additional item from a list of 100 things. These ranged from the totally mundane (a spear), to the really very useful (Two men-at-arms sworn to six months service. Armed with chainmail, shield and spear), to the odd (Fancy dancing shoes, a puppet, a jug of pickled eggs). I copied a bunch of this from somewhere a couple years ago. Again, if I copied from you, let me know!

Last, students named their characters and wrote their character name and class on a little namecard,which they put on the table in front of them. We then went around the room and had each student introduce their character by saying the name, class, background, particularly high or low attribute descriptors, and sometimes their signature equipment. For example, a student might say: "I'm Sir Cumferance, a wandering knight. I'm strong and tough, but hard to get along with. I fight with a two-handed sword and I have a chess set."

I'll type up descriptions of the actual adventure and the dungeon creation exercise next, and I'll also upload all the packets I made sometime soon. I hope someone finds this useful! Please feel free to get in touch with questions, suggestions, etc.