Roles & Rules

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Roger G-Shttp://www.blogger.com/profile/08594440701279968693noreply@blogger.comBlogger850125
Updated: 1 week 2 days ago

Some Odd Experiences

Wed, 10/16/2019 - 14:18
Although my current RPG campaign is on hiatus I got two chances recently to introduce novices to roleplaying using Chris McDowall's Into the Odd. This is not a review so much as a breakdown of what works and what doesn't work for me.

WHAT WORKS

Character generation is simple and yields perfect shabby-Victorian protagonists for this weird industrial setting, more punk than steam. Starting equipment is derived super quickly, balancing out poor stat rolls with better stuff. All magic resides in things (arcana) and nobody is extra at anything. You are only as good as your starting rolls, your stuff, and later your levels which let you survive better.

The Oddpendium is a fabulous gaggle of percentile tables that let you quickly generate info about characters, places, and things. It conveys and embroiders the setting.

New players love the quirky characters and the quick dive into action. There are real Every-beings without super-powers or fancy tricks. The system forces low cunning and inventiveness to get by.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK

Behind the screen (well, the uptilted book) I was sweating a little. The system outright omits some features I am used to in judging adventurous events.

No skills, just saves vs. ability scores. I guess this makes a statement about the replaceability of characters and importance of possessions in an industrial world. I found it more fun and characterizing to roll a random former profession and give an extra roll, or "advantage" in 5e terms, on saves related to it. And "saves" can be proactive, covering any player action that is unsure to work. New players really need all the hooks for character they can grab.

Combat is simple and safe-till-it's-deadly; being in combat means you score a die roll's amount of damage which is taken first from hit points, which high level characters and monsters have more of, and then from Strength. Each wound to Strength requires a Strength save or you are incapacitated, and dead if not tended to. Advantage and disadvantage in combat means using a bigger or smaller die. Armor can only reduce 1 point of damage, or more for certain monsters.

I like the limited armor - that's in-setting - and randomly deadly wounds. But -- I find there's something you miss by not having a hit roll or the possibility of defense in melee. There's firearms, so taking a long shot seems particularly poor to model and not well covered by the disadvantage idea. You can try to flee when your hit points are zero, but they'll always be able to "hit" you as you run.

At a minimum I suggest: To get a shot in at long range with a ranged weapon, save Dex at disadvantage. Medium range, just save Dex. Automatic damage at close or point blank range.

In close melee, damage with fists (d4) or short bladed weapon (d6) or claws/teeth is automatic. With surprise, damage is also automatic. At swords' length, each attacker saves vs. Dex to hit, and each defender gets one Dex save against one attacker to parry or evade. To speed up a fight you can take Disadvantage on the attack to force the defender to do the same on the defense. If a successful hit is met with a successful parry, both sides roll damage and the difference is applied to the loser.

It's
Odd!






Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Failed Monster Designs

Tue, 10/01/2019 - 08:28
Although I have written about bad monsters in RPGs, you can identify another type I have sometimes written about: the failed monster, whose basic idea is OK but whose mechanics are off. Either it's too weak or too strong relative to expectations, or just not a good join-up between concept and implementation.

Some examples, from AD&D first edition, with my writings about the first three:
  • Ghosts are super-powered, with “zap” effects like aging and possession, but aren’t really true to the variety of their source material. It's a similar failure to golems. There should be lower-level hostile living statues (as in Basic D&D) and lower-level hostile hauntings.
  • The gelatinous cube as a 4 HD bag of hit points just doesn’t, er, gel.
  • Piercers can be much improved. 
  • The carrion crawler with eight attacks is an overpowered paralysation machine. It hits plate and shield on a 14. Good luck!
  • The slithering tracker is an undescribed, underdeveloped monster – really, more of an effect -- of consummate unfairness.It tracks you invisibly, paralyzes you in your sleep, and kills in six turns. There is no way to set watch for it unless you're willing to prod sleeping comrades every hour for a reaction.
  • AD&D dragons are borderline failed. Certainly their implementation in 70’s-80’s D&D, with fixed HP and breath weapon damage, substitutes “special” for “scary,” and has been repudiated by every edition since and even some retro-clones.
  • Harpies are mixed-up with sirens. There should be just normal shitbird harpies. Charm-harpies should be more powerful than they’re given credit for, with squads of charmed minions.
  • The oddly specific horror story of the night hag is hard to use in actual adventuring. Like the Fiend Folio’s penanggalan and revenant, the hag’s description is focused on her threat to a lone civilian. It's assumed the party is supposed to barge in upon and rectify the haunting and draining by the hag, even though the victim by definition has to be exceedingly evil.
A common theme in these and other failures: indecision about combat encounters. There's a desire to make monsters about more than a line of stats, to make fighting them a matter of strategy and decisions as well as lining up and whaling on them. But these work better as rules than as haphazard monster effects. That way the strategy can generalize, and be inverted, working for both sides. Just some examples, some of which I've written on:
  • Monsters can be scarier, and true to life, by coming into close combat where your weapons are less effective.
  • Little monsters can, and must, climb you. You can also, and must also, climb big monsters.
  • Flying monsters should be annoying as hell.
  • Immunity/resistance to weapon effects. No flesh, can't slash. Nothing hard, can't bash. No vital points, can't pierce.
  • Monsters with that one weakness. Puzzle monsters, in a word; murderous locks with murdering keys.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gloriously Water-Logged Mines

Wed, 09/25/2019 - 06:40
In writing adventure material, nothing pays off like primary research. Look into the lives of rats, and you find that they are purblind and communicate subvocally. Pay attention to stone, and you find that at the juncture of limestone and granite sometimes grows a layer called skarn, laced with gold, copper, and gems. Architecture, chemistry, botany: as much as they constrain design with realism, they also open up intriguing possibilities with the ring of reality to them.
Lack of research also shows. How many lost mines, dwarven or not, have been written up for adventures? How many of them have been glommed together from the residue of Moria-sublime (halls, chasms, demons) and Wild-West-banal (railcarts, lifts, ingots)? The one thing that's certain is that horrible things from the deep have been unleashed and are now running around in the place. But can we do better in setting the scene?
Waterwheel-driven pumpEven cursory research turns up one detail of deep metal mining, in medieval Europe or any other civilization, that presents enormous challenges. Below the water table, mines tend to flood. The simplest solution: dig a drainage channel, or adit, to lower ground. But this presumes your mine sits on higher ground from somewhere. Deep mines don't have this luxury.
So, pump the water out. At first people pass buckets hand to hand, then as craft deepens, machines use hand power, mule power, water power to lift out the groundwater using buckets, screws, suction pipes and tubes. All these latter solutions need keeping up, and once the mine is abandoned, the lower levels partly or fully fill with water.

Flooded floors, concealing pits and swimming monsters; flooded tunnels, requiring magic light and water breathing to have any chance of mere survival. Or, another way: get the old pumping machinery working again and see how much you can clear out, and what treasures lie in the murk.
All this assumes a pre-industrial European level of technology. But a fantasy world also has dwarves, that people of notably precocious craft. Indeed, one solution only they might reach comes from the computer construction game Dwarf Fortress, whose worldbuilding is as complex as its graphics are crude. The game simulates groundwater by having some settlements sit over an aquifer level, whose water floods and ruins all construction beneath it. The way past the aquifer requires one of many complicated engineering solutions, including rapid pumping, opening a shaft to cold air that will freeze the water, or dropping a "plug" of dry stone into the wet level and boring through it.
Dropping the "plug"

Although Dwarf Fortress simplifies the geological reality of seepage, the plug idea suggests that dwarves might have the skill to locate the source of groundwater and simply wall it off with non-porous stone. Maybe the water is controlled and channeled into a reservoir, for drinking and industrial use.
Allow a certain amount of magic in mining, and the pumping operation can be helped in a dozen ways. Maybe the dwarven priests have deals with elementals, or maybe these solutions are found among other underground peoples, like the dark elves. Golems can be set the task of working the pumps. The miners themselves breathe water in flooded galleries. Magic freezes flooded caverns so that ice tunnels can be dug through. A portable hole, or elemental portal, does the work of an adit in draining off water. And what might come through the portal the wrong way?
Another difference: human metal production historically had to be distributed over several sites, because the material for processing ore -- water, wood, and aboveground oxygen -- was not present within a mine, and not necessarily plentiful close to it. Dwarves, though, live entirely underground. Their mine dungeons necessarily include areas for crushing ore, then sorting and filtering the metal-bearing compounds through the action of water. They need to smelt ore in the heat of a furnace, creating liquid metal. If steel is being made, the fuel needs to infuse the raw iron with carbon. Most likely for dwarves this will be mineral coal rather than the medieval-era charcoal. Why not have the facilities for shaping and working metal objects right there to hand as well? A whole complex suggests itself. The only limit is availability of fresh air and water, which architecture or elementals need to supply. And Dwarf Fortress gives another idea: using the earth's own magma to power fierce furnaces.
In short, thinking about realistic logistics can take you places in design your unconstrained imagination never would. It can insert unforeseen challenges into mundane mines, or underwrite the need for a thematically varied industrial site in the more fantastic variety.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs