Monday, February 1, 2021

A new beginning

 I've been blogging here for a while now, but I think it's time to move on to a new blog with a new title. There's a lot of dragons and flagons and flagons with dragons and dragons with flagons out there. It's also come to my attention that there's a facebook page called The Dragon's Flagon which produces 5e materials (which, probably needless to say, I have nothing to do with, and I could not possibly care less about 5e.) All in all, a lot of duplication and a lot of potential confusion, and I've been kind of looking for an excuse to start anew anyway.

So, you can find my future posts at Gelatinous Icosahedron. If you're interested, add the new blog to your reading list. Or don't. I'm not the boss of you.

Peace out.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Abstraction, fighters, and multiple attacks

 As I work on the long-delayed playtest draft of Goblins & Greatswords, I've been pondering the combat system, specifically as it relates to fighter-type characters. 

Fighters, as combat specialists, should naturally be more effective in combat. In most editions of D&D, this manifests primarily in terms of being able to use any weapon or armor, higher hit points, and better chances "to hit." Since combat is abstract, though, a single attack roll doesn't represent a single swing, but rather the sum of everything a combatant does in a round. It could mean one good solid blow among a lot of feinting and parrying, or it could mean a couple glancing slashes with your weapon, an opportunistic head-butt, and a kick to the knee. Fighters should be better able to perceive and capitalize on these opportunities, and so, in my opinion, should have the potential to do more damage per round.

Of course, better attack rolls do accomplish that, but the effect is overall rather trivial. A fighter who has an attack roll 4 points better than the cleric will do, on average, 20% more damage per round over the course of a fight.

AD&D gives the fighter a boost with multiple attacks, which are not only somewhat abstraction-breaking but also rather clunky in their execution. In order to avoid huge jumps in damage potential, there are "half steps" -- 3 attacks per 2 rounds and 5 attacks per 3 rounds, which means you have to remember whether you attacked once or twice last round.

Basic D&D of the BECMI line has multiple attacks at level 12 and above if the fighter can hit his target with a roll of 2, which is also quite wonky in my opinion, as well as having enormous stretches of little or no improvement followed by big sudden jumps. Also, I and many others would consider a campaign somewhat broken if PCs are regularly hitting foes 19 times in 20.

What I'm thinking of instead is to tie extra damage to the attack roll itself. At certain levels, a fighter gains the potential to roll an extra damage die for whatever weapon he's using if his attack roll is "x" higher than the minimum needed. Say, at character level 4, if the attack roll 4 or more higher than needed, an extra damage die is rolled. At level 8, a roll 8 or more higher than needed gets a third die, and at level 12, a roll 12 or more higher than needed gets a fourth die. These are only examples; you could tweak the levels and the thresholds for additional damage dice as desired. You could also grant other classes similar benefits at larger level jumps, e.g. maybe at 5th and 10th or 6th and 12th, or you could even give them at the same levels as fighters, relying on their poorer attack roll progression to make the benefits kick in less frequently.

In this scheme, armor never becomes obsolete as it tends to do at high levels in D&D. Even if a relatively low number is needed to hit at all, having better armor may keep the attack from surpassing the required roll for one or more extra damage dice, which is a fairly big deal. 

Additionally, you could allow the player to apply the extra dice to other opponents within range, so long as the attack roll is good enough to hit them at the required threshold -- easy to judge if he's fighting a gang of monsters with the same AC, and only marginally more complex in a mixed group. 

I'm thinking of applying this not only to characters, but also to monsters which traditionally have multiple attacks. Instead of an owlbear rolling three attacks for 1d8 damage, it rolls once, doing 1d8 on a basic hit, 2d8 on a roll 4 higher than needed, 3d8 on 8 higher, and in any case, the extra 2d8 "hug" on a natural 20. A giant who normally does 4d6 could have its damage broken down into d6 increments, easily wiping out several lesser opponents with a single good attack roll.

Obviously, more analysis and some play-testing are in order, but I'm cautiously optimistic about this method.

Character creation challenge day 31

 Day 31 - The Finale!

System: B/X

Desired class: Fighter

Ability scores rolled: 8, 9, 11, 9, 8, 8

Starting gold: 80 gp

No high scores at all here, but we can still make a playable character out of them. Let's start by dropping Wisdom to 9 so we can bump Strength up to 9 and avoid that penalty. Fighter hit points on d8 -- 6, -1 for low Con = 5.

Aulf Colford, 1st level fighter

Strength 9

Intelligence 9

Wisdom 9

Dexterity 9

Constitution 8 (-1 hp per die)

Charisma 8 (-1 to reactions, max. retainers 3, retainer morale 6)

AC 4       Hit points: 5        Alignment: Lawful

Chain armor, shield, mace, sling, backpack, standard rations, water skin, 6 torches, tinder box, 8 gp left.

Height: 5'7"        Weight: 160 lbs.     Age: 21

Aulf never let a lack of talent stand in the way of trying something, and an adventuring career is no exception. He finds humor in his missteps, but also possesses a gritty determination to learn and progress past them. Some say he is overly optimistic, but he laughs at them, too.

It seems oddly appropriate that my grand finale of the Character Creation Challenge should be a fellow with no high abilities at all, two even garnering penalties, yet who still stands a good chance of success as a dungeon-crawling adventurer as well as brimming with roleplaying potential. That's the wisdom I take away from this challenge: Don't succumb to cookie-cutter notions of what a character or a class should be. Don't throw up your hands and throw out a set of stats that seems mediocre or even subpar; find a way to make an interesting and fun character from them, and play it for all it's worth. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Character creation challenge day 30

 Day 30

System: B/X

Desired class: Magic-user

Ability scores rolled: 15, 12, 15, 8, 14, 7

Starting gold: 110 gp

Very good scores here, which would make a superb fighter or cleric, but we're after a magic-user, so let's take 2 points from Strength and bump Intelligence to 13. I could raise it to 16, but having bonuses in Strength and Wisdom is kind of cool too. Hit points on d4 result in 2, +1 for Constitution =3. Rolling d12 for spells gives us a 4, hold portal.

Alessa the Studious, 1st level magic-user

Strength 13 (+1 to melee attack and damage and opening doors)

Intelligence 13 (+1 bonus language)

Wisdom 15 (+1 to magic-based saving throws)

Dexterity 8 (-1 to missile attacks, +1 to AC)

Constitution 14 (+1 hp per die)

Charisma 7 (-1 to reactions, max. retainers 3, retainer morale 6)

AC 10        Hit points: 3        Alignment: Lawful

Spell: hold portal

Dagger, silver dagger, backpack, lantern, 5 flasks of oil, tinder box, large sack, mirror, wolfsbane, 27 gp left.

Height: 5'6"        Weight: 160 lbs.        Age: 29

Knowledge is power, and Alessa craves the power that comes from knowledge of magic -- not to control others, but to be independent of them. Plain and socially awkward, she'd rather be studying dusty tomes by herself, but her mentor has decreed she go forth and gain practical experience, and that means learning to get along with an adventuring party, something that causes her no end of anxiety. 

I think this is the first character I've rolled to have no average scores -- everything is either above or below, which does make for an interesting character. Hold portal is not the most glamorous spell, but it's sure to have its uses if one is clever enough to look for opportunities. Fortunately, Alessa is also sturdy for a magic-user, so if it comes to it, she can contribute in other ways, maybe using her strength to bash down doors so the fighters are left free to leap into the breach.

Character creation challenge day 29

 Day 29

System: B/X

Desired class: Elf (alternate: magic-user)

Ability scores rolled: 15, 12, 9, 12, 3, 9

Starting gold: 160 gp

Yikes, a natural 3! And in probably the worst possible spot, too. Well, let's see what we can make of this. There's no room for adjustment with these abilities, so I'll have to use them as-is. A d6 for hit points comes up 4, which is adjusted down to 1. Is this a character or an ice sculpture? A d12 for starting spell comes up 11, sleep, which definitely helps.

Indirion Star-shadow, 1st level elf

Strength 15 (+1 to melee attacks and damage and opening doors)

Intelligence 12

Wisdom 9

Dexterity 12

Constitution 3 (-3 hp per die)

Charisma 9

AC 2       Hit points: 1            Alignment: Neutral

Plate armor, shield, spear, short bow, 20 arrows, backpack, standard rations, 2 water skins, mirror, wolfsbane, rope, 24 gp left.

Spell: sleep

Height: 5'2"        Weight: 95 lbs.        Age: 59

Strong, but sickly and lacking endurance, Indirion laments his frailty. Adventure is his way of coping, either living to the fullest despite his fragile health or ending his miserable life as gloriously as possible. Unusual for an elf, he is taciturn and grim in his outlook.

This may be the only character I've rolled up during this challenge whose viability I doubt, and he highlights one of the few real flaws in B/X D&D as I see it. Hit points are far too important to a character's survival to be crushed under a penalty so out of proportion to the die. A penalty of -3 is a big enough deal on a d20, being 15% of the die's range. Against a d6, it's a full 50% burden, producing an average of only 1.5 points per die, assuming no roll reduced to less than 1. And if your hit die is a d4, you get only 1 hp per level, full stop, no need to roll at all. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Character creation challenge day 28

 Day 28

System: B/X

Desired class: Halfling (alternate: Cleric)

Ability scores rolled: 6, 10, 11, 8, 13, 15

Starting gold: 130 gp

That 8 in Dexterity would disqualify a character from the halfling class, but it looks like we can take care of that with the ability adjustment rules, taking 2 from Wisdom and bumping Dexterity to the minimum of 9. Halfling achieved. Hit points on d6 are 3, +1 Constitution bonus =4.

Callie Fairmeadow, 1st level halfling

Strength 6 (-1 to melee attack and damage and opening doors)

Intelligence 10

Wisdom 9

Dexterity 9

Constitution 13 (+1 hp per die)

Charisma 15 (+1 to reactions, max. retainers 5, retainer morale 8)

AC 4       Hit points: 4        Alignment: Neutral

Special abilities: -2 to AC vs. large creatures, +1 to missile attacks, hide outdoors 90%, hide indoors 2 in 6.

Chain armor, shield, short bow, 20 arrows, 3 silver arrows, spear, backpack, standard rations, 2 water skins, lantern, 4 flasks of oil, tinder box, 9 gp left.

Height: 3'0"        Weight: 62 lbs.     Age: 33

Callie's older brother was a well-known halfling adventurer who disappeared several years ago. Now she's of age, she is determined to carry on the adventuring tradition in his memory. Normally merry and carefree, she is prone to occasional bouts of melancholy, worrying she doesn't measure up.

Another very non-typical player character, having no high scores in the traditional prime requisites, and in fact a low score in one of her class's PRs. She has the Charisma to hold a small stable of retainers together, and to serve as a party spokesperson in non-combat encounters, and even with average Dexterity, she's got the halfling missile bonus to make her a fair shot in ranged combat.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Character creation challenge day 27

 Day 27

System: B/X

Desired class: Halfling (alternate: fighter)

Ability scores rolled: 15, 7, 10, 17, 13, 12

Starting gold: 100 gp

Hot dice again today! Not only do the stats qualify for the class, they're good enough for the 10% XP bonus (St 13+, Dx 16+.) There's nothing that can be done with them point-exchange wise, so let's move on to hit points. A d6 roll yields 6, +1 for Constitution = 7. 

Andobras Hayfiddle, 1st level halfling

Strength 15 (+1 to melee attacks and damage and opening doors)

Intelligence 7 (can read and write simple words)

Wisdom 10

Dexterity 17 (+2 to missile attacks, -2 to AC)

Constitution 13 (+1 hp per die)

Charisma 12

AC 3      Hit points: 7        Alignment: Lawful

Special abilities: -2 to AC vs. large creatures, +1 to missile attacks, hide outdoors 9/10, indoors 2/6.

Chain armor, short sword, short bow, 20 arrows, backpack, standard rations, water skin, rope, 11 gp left.

Height: 3'3"        Weight: 58 lbs.        Age: 38

Andobras, Andy to his friends, is a strapping young halfling and doer of odd jobs that require strong arms and nimble fingers. Like any young halfling, he was entranced by stories of adventure and danger as a child; unlike most, he's never outgrown them and settled down to a respectable trade. Eager and with the bravery born of naivete, he'd love an opportunity to make a name for himself in one of those stories.