Sunday, November 15, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: Grappling made simple(ish)

Grappling is one of those things that's always a nightmare in RPG combat.  It's almost invariably a fiddly mess that doesn't mesh or scale well with standard combat rules.  To an extent, grappling is a part of normal combat, as a lot of grabbing, pushing, tripping, and so on takes place even in a sword fight.  Sometimes, though, a combatant will expressly attempt to grasp and hold on to an opponent, and some grappling-specific mechanics come in handy.

What I'm going for here is something reasonably simple, without too many conditions and modifiers, which complements rather than contradicts the basic combat rules and minimizes absurd outcomes such as a high-level fighter wrestling a war horse or a giant to the ground.

For the basics of my fantasy heartbreaker combat system, see here and here.

Without further ado, here's what I've come up with for grappling.

The first phase of a grappling attack is resolved with standard combat rolls.  The combatant initiating the grapple must either have at least one hand free or use a natural attack capable of grasping, such as a crocodile's jaws.  A defender may be either unarmed or armed.  (Included in standard G&G combat, if I haven't mentioned it already, is a rule that attacking unarmed against an armed opponent incurs a -2 penalty to AC; thus grappling an opponent with deadly weaponry is more hazardous than grappling an unarmed one.)  A grappling combat roll is always modified by Agility; if the defender chooses to attack normally and try to avoid being grappled, it uses whatever modifier it normally would for its own mode of attack. 

Both combat rolls have their normal effects, inflicting damage if they exceed the opponent's AC.  If the attacker's roll is higher than the defender's (including all modifiers for both) the attacker has achieved a solid grip on the defender.  If the defender's roll is higher, it eludes the attacker's grasp and remains free.  Note that neither necessarily needs to inflict damage; the higher roll wins, even if it's otherwise dismal.  Ties always go to the defender; i.e. no change in status.

Once a grip is established, in subsequent rounds the attacker may simply hold on, or may try to overpower the opponent.  Regardless of which action is chosen, each combatant may continue to attack the other, making normal combat rolls each round and inflicting damage as appropriate. 

Holding on to an opponent means that the combatant is maintaining its grip on the opponent and avoiding the opponent's attacks.  One common tactic is to hold the opponent from behind, or in the case of a larger opponent, to climb on and cling to its back.  While holding, the grappling character's combat rolls against the opponent are made at +2, while the opponent's combat rolls against the grappler suffer -2.  Additionally, attacks by other creatures or characters against either grappler or grappled are made at +2 to the combat roll, as their ability to dodge and parry is limited.

The opponent chooses the direction of movement, if any, possibly at a reduced movement rate if the grappler is heavy enough to encumber it. 

Each round, new combat rolls are made, and if the opponent wins a combat roll against the grappler, it may either throw him off or establish a grapple of its own, which leads to an overpowering contest.

Only small, medium, or natural weapons may be used while in this stage.

At the GM's option, holding onto certain opponents may render some attack forms impossible and others more likely to succeed.  For instance, a grappled medusa may be unable to turn and use her gaze attack on the grappler, but the grappler would be extremely vulnerable to the bites of the writhing snakes on her head.

Overpowering occurs when one combatant tries to restrain, subdue, or move the other.  When two combatants are both grappling each other, it automatically becomes a contest of overpowering.  Overpowering requires a contested roll of 1d6, with each combatant adding its Combat Rating and Might adjustment.  For monsters without a Might score, use the creature's unadjusted Hit Dice.  Characters not using both hands to grapple (holding a weapon or other item in one hand) are penalized by -1. 

The one with the higher total is in control, and may do one of the following:

Automatically inflict 1 point of damage per point of difference in the rolls
Reduce damage done by the opponent by 1 point per point of difference in the rolls
Drag/carry the opponent 5 feet per point of difference. 
Break free, if its combat roll also exceeds that of the opponent. 

Ties result in a stalemate, with no movement possible. 

A new overpowering roll is made each round that the grapple continues, until one or the other combatant escapes or is subdued.  A combatant reduced to 0 hp in a grappling contest is considered subdued and unable to resist further.  A subdued opponent may be automatically slain if desired.

Only small or natural weapons may be used while involved in an overpowering contest.

Example 1

Gort the fighter wishes to grapple and subdue an outlaw without killing him in order to bring the miscreant to justice.  He has a Combat Rating of 4 and a Might adjustment of +2, and an Armor Class of 14.  The outlaw has a CR of 3 and Might +1, and AC 14 also.  Gort is unarmed, and so suffers a -2 penalty to his AC against the outlaw's dagger.

Gort scores a total of 17 on his first try, beating the outlaw's AC by 3 points, doing the maximum unarmed damage of 2 points.  The outlaw, however, gets an 18, tagging Gort for 4 points of damage and preventing him from getting a good grip.

Next round, however, Gort gets a 12.  This isn't enough to deal any damage, but it beats the outlaw's roll of 8, and Gort grabs hold of the cad.  He immediately tries to overpower his foe, aiming to subdue him.  Gort rolls 1d6 and adds 5 for his combat skill and strength, achieving a total of 10!  The outlaw rolls and adds his total bonus of +4, with a -1 penalty because he's not letting go of his dagger; he only scores a 6.  Gort could inflict an automatic 4 points of damage, or he could reduce the damage done by the outlaw by 4 points, or he could drag the bastard up to 20 feet.  Since the outlaw failed to do any damage with his combat roll, the second option is moot.  Gort chooses to wear him down with a punishing choke hold, doing 4 points of damage.

In the third round, the outlaw's combat roll is a resounding 18, but Gort outdoes him with a 21.  Gort does 2 points of damage with his (unarmed) combat roll, but will take 4 points from the outlaw's dagger.  Since Gort has maintained his grasp on his opponent, another overpowering check is made, which he again wins, 9 to 7.  Gort could choose to reduce the damage the outlaw inflicts on him by 2 points, to increase his own damage against his foe by 2 points, or to move him 10 feet.  He chooses to keep the pressure on his choke hold rather than fend off the outlaw's weapon hand, so he takes the full 4 points of damage but inflicts 4 points of his own.

So we leave their struggle, and move on to...

Example 2

Sera the thief gets caught picking the pocket of a burly fighter.  With no easy escape, she decides her best bet is to grab and hold on so he can't skewer her with his sword.  Sera's CR is 1, her Agility bonus is +1, and her AC is 13.  The fighter has an AC of 14, +1 Might, and CR of 3.  Sera has one free hand and her club in the other, so she suffers no penalty to AC.

Her adjusted combat roll is a 10 - not enough to hurt her opponent, but the fighter rolls only a 7, and she seizes him by his sword belt and jumps on his back. 

Next round she rolls a 15 and the fighter gets a 16, but since she has him grappled, she gets +2 to her roll, and his roll is penalized by -2.  Their adjusted totals are 17 and 14.  Sera wins, holding her relatively safe position on the fighter's back.  He does 1 point of damage to her, and she does 3 points to him.  If she hadn't successfully grappled him, she would have taken 3 points and done only 1 to him. 

If the fighter should beat Sera's combat roll next round, he could choose either to throw her off, or to attempt to overpower her.  As the thief hangs on for dear life, we move on to...

Example 3

Dorn the Overly Inquisitive prods a crocodile with a stick and gets the result any person with basic common sense would expect.  The croc attacks and scores a total roll of 13, not good enough to pierce Dorn's plate armor (AC 16) but enough to beat his pitiful flailing roll of 7.

The croc naturally tries to overpower him.  It rolls a 4 on 1d6, plus its Combat Rating of 3, plus its unadjusted Hit Dice (also 3) for a total of 10.  Dorn rolls a 5, plus his CR of 2 and Might adjustment of +1, coming up short with an 8.  The croc chooses to drag him 10', into the water.

The next round the croc wins again with a combat roll of 8 over Dorn's 5, neither scoring any damage, and wins the overpowering roll 11 to 6.  Now the croc goes into its "death roll" and deals 5 points of damage to Dorn, who is in serious trouble...

Optional Rules

Multiple attackers: If more than one combatant tries to grapple the same target, any that is not counterattacked succeeds as long as its combat roll is not a natural 1.  For example, four goblins try to grapple a fighter wielding a mace, with which he can sweep up to three opponents.  The first three goblins succeed only if they beat the fighter's combat rolls against them.  The fourth succeeds unless it rolls a 1; the fighter doesn't have enough actions to oppose it.

When multiple attackers attempt to overpower a grappled opponent, only one 1d6 roll is made for the entire side.  Add the most powerful member's CR and Might or HD adjustments and +1 for each additional member.

Multiple defenders: An attacker with more than one available grasping appendage may attempt to grapple more than one target.  This is treated as a sweep, with combat rolls modified accordingly.  Overpowering rolls are made, dividing the attacker's bonus from CR and Might or HD evenly among the opponents held, rounding down.  For example, a fighter with CR 4 and Might adjustment +2 who grapples two goblins rolls 1d6+3 for each of his overpowering rolls. The goblins roll without penalty.

Holding onto a grappled opponent while attacking or fending off others is likewise considered a sweep and combat rolls should be adjusted accordingly.

Mutual grappling: If two combatants both wish to grapple, both are automatically successful.  Combat rolls determine only whether any damage is scored.  A mutual grapple is always a contest of overpowering; proceed to the overpowering roll.

Disarm: If a combatant wins two overpowering rolls in a row and chooses the "reduce damage" option (whether or not the opponent would actually score any damage), the opponent is disarmed if desired (and applicable.)

Tackle: Charging or leaping onto an opponent adds +2 to the initial grappling attempt.  For example, a panther leaping from a tree branch to grapple a target on the ground would get this bonus.

Adapting to standard D&D

Use Dexterity adjustment instead of Agility, and Strength instead of Might.  Use (20-THAC0) instead of Combat Rating.  When Combat Rating is increased or penalized due to grappling positions, increase or reduce any damage caused by rolling twice and taking the higher or lower roll, respectively.

If I've made any mathematical or logic errors, or if you find a serious (or even not-so-serious) rules expoit that could result in an unbalanced advantage or an absurd result, please point them out!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Dark fey: Shadows

I can't let Halloween go by without another entry in the Dark Fey series, can I?

(Disclaimer: This is the non-undead monster from B/X, not the AD&D undead of the same name.  I figured it fits pretty well among the dark fey.)

What's that?  You wish to hear another tale?  Not so keen to head out toward home, are you, even on such a clear crisp evening as this?  As well you might not, what with the moon at its full and the shadows reaching their long arms across the earth...No, hardly a fit night to be abroad.  Another pint, then?

Well then.  Where was I?  Ah, yes.  No, you needn't be afraid of your own shadow.  But when you finally walk home tonight, to your family and your bed, you'd best have a care that the shadow that follows you truly is your own.  There other things that cast shadows, things no longer of this realm.

Did you know that even among the fey, there are crimes too horrible to countenance?   Yes, the wild and perilous fey, to whom the snatching of babies from their cradles and blasphemy against the gods themselves are worth scarce a first thought, never mind a second!  What enormities could so horrify them?  I know not, nor do you, and pray the gods will it we never should learn!

Only the fey themselves know, and it's a dire business indeed when one of their kind should be deemed guilty of such hideous misdeeds.  And what punishment could be meted out against soulless folk, who live on and on without end, to whom neither the gallows nor the headsman's axe holds any menace?  Nothing short of eternal banishment!  Not from a village, or even a kingdom, but from the world of the living itself.  For an instant, on moonless nights, the sorcerers of the fairy court may tear back the veil between the worlds, and through that awful rent are cast the condemned, those irredeemably monstrous beings, and there they sit to brood and hate until time itself should crumble away and all barriers fail.

Yet even there, they are not wholly powerless, and from time to time they may still work their malice upon mortal and fey alike.  For theirs is a prison not of solid walls, but of silken curtains.  When and wherever light shines in our waking world, so it shines in that queer place also, and through the veil it projects the shadows of those fallen wretches.

In full darkness no shadows are cast, and in the noonday sun they are but shrinking things, huddled close about the feet of wall and tree.  In twilight, though, the shadows come into their full.  Then the shades skulk and creep, blending with the shadows of our world, stalking mortal folk.  If you're lucky, they may do no more than that, watching you with ill intent unfulfilled.  Out of the corners of your eyes, you may catch glimpses of shadows that mismatch the things which seem to cast them, or move in unnatural ways, when naught else moves to pull their strings.  And then, my friend, you would be well advised to get you at once to a place with lamps all around to disperse the shadows, or failing that to douse your light and sit huddled miserable in the darkness until the sunrise.

For if they catch you, they will reach out their long shadowy arms and touch you!  A touch from beyond this world, to chill the blood and the marrow of your bones, but more than that, to pull your soul, bit by bit, into that nether place, to sit beside the flesh and bone of that very thing which casts that dreadful shadow.  If you should manage to resist or to escape its clutches ere it takes the last, the lost bits find their way back in time, and you'll be well and whole again, and none the worse for the ordeal.

But beware!  Should the last piece of you fall into its greedy grasp, then it draws you through the barrier, body and soul, and there you shall dwell with it, forever in its thrall, your mind shattered and mad beyond redemption - casting your own terrible shadow through the veil.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: Abilities

As this fantasy heartbreaker project continues to evolve, I find myself re-evaluating the traditional ability scores of D&D-like games and their functions.  In the process, I've mashed a few together and pared down the list to just four: Strength and Constitution combine to form Might.  (It always seemed a little weird to me that physical strength and fitness should be wholly independent of durability and endurance.)  Intelligence and Wisdom merge to become Wit.  Dexterity and Charisma remain more or less the same, but I renamed them, because the new names fit the feel of the whole mess better.

Might is a measure of a character's muscle power, fitness, and fortitude.  It modifies combat rolls with impact weapons such as axes, clubs, and pole arms, feats of strength such as opening stuck doors, and the amount of weight a character can carry.  It also adjusts rolls for hit points to a lesser degree.

Wit represents the faculties of the character's mind, including memory, intuition, will power, reason, and understanding. It modifies the number of spells a spell-caster can memorize at once, the maximum number of languages a character may learn, and saving throws vs magic.

Agility is the character's coordination, quickness, and ease of movement. It modifies combat rolls with precise weapons such as daggers, swords, and bows, and the character's Armor Class.

Presence is a character's personal bearing, charm, and magnetism. It affects the reactions of monsters and NPCs, the maximum number of retainers and henchmen a character may employ, and their morale.  For spell-casters, it also negatively modifies a target's saving throws vs. spells.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Interlude: Disarming the combat magic-user

A frequent commenter has asked why I would want to take away spells which cause direct damage.  It's a good question, and one about which others might be curious too, so I thought I'd blog my thoughts on that subject.

So, why do I want to take away the magic-user's potency in deadly combat?

1) I want something that better matches the wizardly archetype in literature and folklore.  Outside of D&D, how many wizards are incinerating foes in battle?  Barring the obvious example of Tim the enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I can't think of many.  Merlin's magic is extremely subtle.  He doesn't blast Arthur's enemies with lightning, but he is nonetheless an important figure in those tales.  Gandalf knows spells for light and opening and sealing doors, and he's been seen to set pine cones aflame and hurl them at goblins and wolves.  Most of his magic is much less flashy.  Even in the wizarding world of the Harry Potter books, where wizards throw around spells with no discernible limits to how many or how often they can cast, stunning, paralyzing, and disarming spells are used a lot more often than spells that cause bodily harm.

The wizards, witches, and sorcerers of literature and lore aren't nearly so direct as a fireball in your face.  They're subtle, guileful, mystical, and uncanny.  They influence and manipulate, enlighten and deceive.  Make them angry, and they might turn you into a toad or give you the evil eye.  They don't blow stuff up.

2) D&D is about a lot more than fighting, and fighting is about more than just inflicting points of damage.  I think the impulse to ensure that every class is effective at dealing damage is misguided.  There is already a class that specializes in dealing damage: the fighter.  Other classes can do it too, but are less capable, just as the fighter is relatively less capable at sneaking, healing, gathering information, and so on.  Every class can contribute to almost every situation, but not every class has to be equally useful in every situation.  If a character wants to contribute to a situation that isn't his specialty, he can do so through creative use of abilities, whether we're talking about the fighter helping out in negotiations by being intimidating or the mage flinging utility spells to give the party an edge on the battlefield.

There's a lot that a spell caster can do.  Besides their usefulness in non-combat situations such as exploration, information gathering, and negotiation, there are many ways for a spell caster to contribute to success in battle without directly dealing damage.  Without an arsenal of magic missiles and lightning bolts, what's a wizard to do?  Quite a lot, actually:  Terrify and confuse the enemy with illusions.  Beguile it with charms.  Rescue the fighter in trouble by casting invisibility on him from a distance.  Protect your allies with defensive and misdirecting magic.  Polymorph the black knight's sword into a bratwurst.  Hex foes with bad luck.  Turn them against each other with a spell of confusion.  With a little imagination and a decent selection of spells, the possibilities are vast -- so much so that to me, spells which simply do points of damage seem a bit lazy.

3) Some spells can potentially deal damage when used cleverly in the right circumstances - for instance, a spell to manipulate fire.  What's the difference between that and just allowing fireball spells?  A fireball does one thing, it does it automatically regardless of almost any other circumstances, and the only real limitation on it is that you don't want to catch you friends in the area of effect.  Other than that consideration, you just say, "I cast fireball!" and boom, 1d6 damage per caster level in a 20' radius, any time, anywhere.

Contrast this with a manipulate fire spell.  Let's say that this spell allows the mage to cause fire to spread by x amount per round in whatever direction the caster desires, provided that there is fuel for it to burn, and also to make it explode, throwing burning embers over all within the radius of the burst.  How much damage and how big the burst is depends on how big the source flame is. 

You can't just break down the door and incinerate the orcs at will, unless they're gathered around a sizeable fire.  However, if they have a torch, or you have an ally with a lit flask of oil ready to throw, you might be able to pull it off.  You might also have to take a few rounds to spread a small fire into a bigger fire to make a bigger burst.  Either way, this spell is going to be a lot more effective in a room full of straw than in a bare stone chamber.

At once, you have a spell that is more versatile -- it could conceivably be used for non-combat purposes -- and requires certain circumstances and time to be optimally useful in combat.  In a way, it's like the thief's backstab ability - only situationally useful, but still quite worthwhile in those situations.  It encourages the player of a magic-user not merely to throw the biggest damage spell at the enemy, but to think creatively within the parameters of immediate circumstances and resource management.  It doesn't just give you what you want; you have to figure out how to get the result you want from it.  Not simply, "Boom!  Fireball!" but, "How can I most effectively weaponize my manipulate fire spell?"

I'm not trying to tell anyone that they're having fun wrong if they love their magic missiles and fireballs.  Games with magic-users as heavy artillery can be a lot of fun, but I think a game in which magic is less about shredding bodies and more about guile and subtlety would be a lot of fun too, and in no way would a magic-user in such a game be useless or helpless simply because he can't nuke opponents for 1d6 damage per level.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: 1st Order Spells of Mind

One of the parts of my fantasy heartbreaker that I'm most excited about is the selection of spells for magic-user and cleric characters.  As stated before, I'm creating lists for four different types of spells: Mind, Matter, Divine, and Nature.  One of my design goals is to make these spells interesting and useful while abolishing, or at least vastly reducing, the role of magic as combat damage dealer.

These spells should be easily transplantable into B/X or another old school D&D or retroclone game, either as replacements for the by-the-book spell lists or as supplemental material.

Naturally, some spells are nearly identical to long-familiar ones.  Most have been tweaked at least a little, and some are heavily altered or entirely new.  Without further ado, here are the list and descriptions for the Spells of Mind of the first order.

  1. Charm Person
  2. Decipher*
  3. Endure
  4. Figment
  5. Glamour
  6. Minor Transposition
  7. Sleep*
  8. Thought Projection
  9. Unseen Servant
  10. Vocal Projection
Charm Person

Range: 60'       Duration: Special

This spell causes the target to view the caster as its best friend if a saving throw vs. spells is failed. A charmed creature will seek to protect the caster from harm and will obey most commands if they are given in a language it can understand. It will resist commands to do things which are against its nature. For instance, a very peaceful person or creature won't be eager to harm others even if its “friend” tells it to, and may argue with the caster, though it would fight to protect the caster from imminent harm. A creature will also generally resist harming any of its real friends and allies. Just because the caster is its new best friend doesn't mean it immediately forgets its previous loyalties. Forcing a charmed creature to act against its nature or conscience grants it another saving throw to escape the effect.

Remember also that charmed creatures don't change their personalities. A charmed ogre is still an uncouth brute and a charmed evil priest is still cruel and devoted to his evil god. They also will not necessarily like the caster's other companions, though they will grudgingly coexist and cooperate with them if the caster so orders.


Range: Caster only      Duration: 2 turns

This spell enables the caster to read unfamiliar languages, codes, and ciphers.  Each turn, the caster may read about 10 pages or skim as many as 30.

The reversed spell, Encrypt, makes a single written work appear to be unintelligible gibberish for a duration of 1 day.


Range: Caster only      Duration: 6 turns

With this spell, the caster becomes resistant to pain and discomfort. Damage from all attacks is reduced by 1 point. Ongoing effects, such as being exposed to open flames, are reduced by 1 point per round. The caster is still aware of sensations which would otherwise be painful, but is not distracted by them. While under the effect, the caster's spells may not be disrupted by attacks.


Range: 60'      Duration: Concentration

This spell creates an illusion affecting one of the five primary senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, or touch. The illusion must fit within a 20' x 20' x 20' cube entirely within the spell's range. The spell cannot cause illusory harm or damage.


Range: Touch      Duration: 6 turns

The caster may change his or her own appearance or that of a creature touched, including all equipment carried. The new appearance must be of the same general shape, but up to 50% larger or smaller. The appearance of a specific individual may not be taken. Thus, a human could appear to be a dwarf or an orc, a horse may appear to be a bear or a deer, an unarmored mage could look like a warrior in plate or vice versa. Note that actual size and shape do not change, only the perceptions of observers, and that the target's voice, scent, and other non-visual details are not altered. An unwilling target is not affected.

Minor Transposition

Range: 60'      Duration: Instantaneous

With this spell, an item in the caster's possession instantly trades places with a chosen item within range. The items to be affected must be approximately the same weight, up to a maximum of 10 pounds. If the item to be swapped is held or worn by another person or creature, a saving throw vs. spells is allowed to resist the effect.


Range: 120'     Duration: 2 turns

When this spell is cast, 2d8 Hit Dice of creatures with 4 HD or less in a 20' square area are put to sleep. Only base Hit Dice are counted; pluses or minuses are not. The spell affects creatures with the lowest Hit Dice first. Sleeping creatures may only be awakened by physical force, such as a slap or kick; loud noises or cold water will not wake them. A sleeping creature may be automatically slain by a blow from any weapon.

If the spell is cast on creatures in combat or otherwise highly alert, a saving throw vs. spells may be made to resist. Otherwise, no save is allowed.

The reversed spell, Awaken, causes any and all sleeping creatures within the 20' square area of effect to wake in 1 round from natural or magical sleep.

Thought Projection

Range: 120'      Duration: 1 turn

With this spell, the caster may project thoughts directly into the mind of another creature within range. The creature will hear the thoughts in the caster's voice, even if it has never heard him or her speak before, but always in a language the creature understands. This communication is one-way only; the creature may not send responses. The spell does not compel the creature to act in any way; it simply conveys messages.

The recipient of the message must be a living creature able to understand verbal communication. Constructs, the undead, and most plants and animals are unaffected.

Unseen Servant

Range: 30'       Duration: 6 turns

This spell creates a weak telekinetic force within the spell's range which may be used to manipulate small objects weighing no more than 10 pounds. The caster may consciously direct the force, or may set it to perform a simple repetitive action such as stirring or sweeping. Very rapid actions such as fighting with a weapon, and those requiring delicate touch such as writing with a quill or picking a lock with thieves' tools, are beyond the capability of the spell, even if the caster possesses the expertise to perform them with his or her own hands.

Vocal Projection

Range: 120'      Duration: 2 turns

By means of this spell, the caster may cause his or her voice to emanate from any point within range. Any sound which the caster could normally make with his or her mouth and vocal cords may be projected, including speech, singing, whistles, humming, growling, grunting, whispers, shouts, etc. 

Notes on Illusions

Some spells of Mind create illusions which affect one or more senses. Most illusions have a visual component, but some may be entirely of sound, smell, or touch (including sensations of heat or cold.)

Illusions may not be disbelieved simply because a player says so or expresses skepticism. Instead, the character must interact with the illusion as if he or she disbelieves it, and bear the consequences if he or she is mistaken. For instance, a character who disbelieves the illusion of an angry dragon might walk up and touch it. One who disbelieves an illusion of a bottomless pit may step into it. Clever players may ask questions of the GM about an illusion to discover evidence of its unreality. Often an illusion will lack one or more of the basic senses, such as sound, smell, or touch. A suspicious player might ask, for example, if there is any smell accompanying an illusionary monster. It is always up to the player to decide how to act on that information, however.

Some illusions simulate creatures, traps, or other things which would cause injury or death. If an illusionary monster is created, it has an Armor Class of 10, and makes combat rolls as if it had a Combat Rating equal to the caster's level and inflicts illusionary damage with the same limit as a real creature of the same type. A character “attacked” by such an illusion may make a save vs. spells to realize that it is not real. If the save is failed, the character will believe that he or she has been hurt or killed, but the effects disappear in 1d4 turns.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Alternative to 3d6 in order

Here's an idea that popped into my head today.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with traditional 3d6 in order ability scores, but if you want to give players a little more say in how a character turns out and don't mind a little extra time in character creation, this method might work.

Roll 2d6 in order for each ability and record the scores in pencil or on scratch paper.

Then, roll 1d6, one at a time.  The player gets to choose to which score to add each result.  The choice must be made in order, before the next die is rolled.  One die is added to each score in this way, so that each totals 3d6. 

Do you shore up a low score to avoid a terrible penalty, or go for a bonus on one of your better ones?  If you roll a 5 on your third die, do you add it to the 12 you got the first time around for a 17, or stick it somewhere else and hope for a 6 to come up later? 

While there's a lot of chance involved, it's less likely that a character will have an extremely low score, unless the player actively chooses not to bolster them with good rolls from the second phase of dice-rolling.  If you have an ability that you really hate to have a low score, you have some power to mitigate it - you may end up only average in it, but at least you're not dismal. 

Of course, neglecting those low scores gives a little better chance of getting a very high score. 

It's pretty easy to get a very average character this way.  There's still a fair bit of luck involved, but deviations, either high or low, are to some extent the result of player choice rather than pure random chance.  That might be a good thing.  Sometimes it's more satisfying to know that your character's strengths and weaknesses are at least partly the result of your own choices. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: A few basics of magic

Magic in G&G will be divided into four lists: Mind, Matter, Divine, and Nature.

Magic of mind includes all spells that enhance, manipulate, or control the mind, including illusions, charm, telepathy, telekinesis, and sleep spells.

Magic of matter includes spells that create, destroy, or alter living and non-living matter, including polymorph, transmutation, size changing, and elemental magic.

Divine magic encompasses effects considered holy or unholy, such as detecting and protecting from evil or good, blessings and curses, and spells that directly affect life and death, such as healing spells.

Nature magic includes spells that affect plants, animals, and weather, plus healing magic.

Obviously there is some overlap between lists.

Mage characters normally have access to Mind and Matter, though they may opt to give up one of those lists in exchange for learning Divine or Nature spells.  Clerics have access to either Divine or Nature magic, but not both.

Spell lists use the terminology "order" or "order of magnitude" rather than "level" for spells of differing power, to avoid confusion with other uses of the word "level."  Lists run from cantrips and orisons (Zero Order, usuable at will) to 6th Order.

You won't find many direct damage spells in these lists, though some will have that potential.  You won't find, say, the old standby fireball spell.  Instead, there are some spells to manipulate fire, and maybe one that will allow the caster to make an existing fire explode outward, extinguishing itself in the process.  Damage and area of effect will depend on the size of the fire rather than the caster's level.  Getting the target creatures near the fire, or the fire near them, is left to the player's ingenuity.

Casting Spells

Spell-casting is similar to the B/X standard, but a character can memorize one spell per day per level of experience, modified by Intelligence (mage) or Wisdom (cleric) adjustments.  In the case of penalties, a minimum of one spell may always be memorized.  This spell allotment may be divided among the orders of spells usable however desired.  For instance, a fifth-level mage with an Intelligence adjustment of +1 may memorize any six spells, dividing them between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order as the player wishes.  The spell table determines the number of spells of each order which the character may cast per day, but any memorized spell may be cast as often as desired within those limits.

Learning Spells

Whenever a caster gains access to spells of a new order of magnitude, the first such spell is free.  Additional spells may be learned through research.

Learning additional spells is done between adventures, and requires time and money.  The base cost is 1,000 sp and five days of time per order of magnitude of the spell.  For spells of Mind and Matter the cost is spent on books, reagents, and laboratory time.  For Divine spells, the cost is spent on prayer and activities beneficial to the deity or church, such as donations of money, texts, holy items, and so on.  For Nature spells, the cost may be expended on books, rare materials, and time spent observing and communing with the natural world.

Spell research succeeds on a 1d20 roll of 10 or greater.  Add the character's Intelligence (Mind or Matter spells) or Wisdom (Divine or Nature) to the roll, and subtract 2 for each order of magnitude of the new spell.  A natural roll of 1 always fails, and a natural 20 always succeeds.  An adjusted roll of 0 or less means that the character cannot attempt to research that spell again without assistance (see below); otherwise, each unsuccessful effort adds a cumulative +1 adjustment to each further attempt to learn the spell.

Learning a spell is easier if it is similar to one the character already knows.  "Similar" is left to the discretion of the player and GM.  Use the highest order of similar spell known:  Subtract 500 sp and 2 days from the cost for each order of magnitude of the known spell, to a minimum of 500 sp and 1 day.  Add +1 to the research roll for each order of magnitude of the known spell.

Having a scroll or spell book containing the desired spell increases chances of success by +2, regardless of the order of magnitude.

Assistants improve the chances of success.  An assistant must be able to cast spells from the same list, but need not be able to cast spells of the order being researched.  A full-time assistant who is not capable of casting the order of spell being researched adds +1.  Consulting once per day with someone capable of casting at least that order of magic also adds +1, while studying full-time with such a caster adds +3.  Apprentices and masters will generally perform this function for no additional charge.  Otherwise, the other caster must be paid 100 sp per level per day for full-time service and 10 sp per level per day for consultation.

So, if a mage with Intelligence 15 wants to research a 3rd order spell, and knows a 2nd order spell that the GM agrees is similar, the cost is:

3,000 sp and 15 days for a 3rd order spell, -1,000 sp and 4 days for knowing the 2nd order spell already = 2,000 sp and 11 days.

The 1d20 roll is modified by -6 for the desired 3rd order spell, +2 for the known 2nd order spell, +1 for Int bonus = -3.  The research will thus succeed on a roll of 13 or better.  On a roll of 3 or less, the caster won't be able to research the spell again without the aid of another caster.

If the caster had captured a spell book with the desired spell, and was working with an apprentice, she would gain an additional +3 to the roll.

Of course, in a sense time is money, and to an extent the two are interchangeable in spell research.  One may be reduced by a factor of 2, 3, or 4 by increasing the other a corresponding amount.  (Always apply these adjustments after adjustments for knowing similar spells.)  A character researching a spell with a base cost of 1,000 sp and 5 days may take 20 days and pay only 250 sp, or may speed the process up, paying 4,000 sp and finishing in 1 1/4 days, for instance.

The aim of these rules is to encourage a degree of specialization without a load of rules for specialist mages.  Of course, a character may choose a scattershot approach to learning new spells, but the reduced cost and improved odds of success for learning spells similar to what one already knows provide an incentive to pursue the path of least resistance.