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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: Thievery and secondary skills

Skills not directly related to combat or formal spell-casting fall into this broad category.  All of these skills are used by rolling under the target number on percentile dice.  I know percentile skills have kind of a mixed reputation in OSR circles - there are quite a few house rules to convert them to d20 or d6 - but I find that it's a useful mechanic for a couple reasons: 1) Rolling doubles may amplify the success or failure of an attempt; and 2) The tens digit may be used to signify degree of success, with a higher number indicating better results.  Both of these special cases reward a higher skill beyond simply a greater chance of success.

Unlike in B/X and other versions of D&D, all skills use the same table.  By default, all skills advance according to the "Good" progression.  (See table at the bottom of this post.)  However, a thief may choose to reduce a skill to Basic in order to become Elite in another. 

Each skill has an associated ability score which may modify the chance of success, if desired.  Each point of bonus or penalty equals a 5% adjustment, so +1 = +5%, +2 = +10%, and +3 = +15%, with negative modifiers exactly the opposite.  Ability modifiers are optional; if the GM prefers that the percentages be used as-is, ignore them.

The skill list below is divided into two parts, Thiefly Skills and Other Skills.  The first is the default array of skills for the thief class.  The second is a supplemental list, which may be used to modify the basic thief to a more general "Expert" class.  Characters of all classes are allowed a secondary skill to bolt onto their core class abilities, and may choose one from either list.  Thus, you can quickly make, say, a fighter character into a ranger (Tracking), a holy warrior (Divine Piety), a combat medic (Herbalism), a stealthy scout (Stealth), or a herald (Lore.) 

All secondary skills are at Good level, unless modified by a class or race feature.  (For example, all halflings have Stealth at Basic level.  A halfling taking Stealth as a secondary skill adds that to his default Basic, and gets it at Elite level.)  Optionally, if the GM allows it, a character may take two secondary skills at Basic instead of one at Good.

Note that secondary skills are skills that will see much use in an adventuring career, and are effectively part of a character's profession.  They do not include, for example, background skills of a profession practiced before the character became an adventurer which are only rarely applicable to adventuring, nor skills which have negligible mechanical effects on play like music or etiquette, nor skills primarily of use between adventures such as blacksmithing or animal training. 

I've deliberately kept the list fairly short and focused, for a couple reasons.  Firstly, because character creation shouldn't be an agonizing process, and the GM shouldn't have to remember what dozens of different skills do.  Secondly, because I want them to be useful, in conjunction with the basic classes, for building archetypal characters, something which becomes difficult when you must have multiple skills to affect the archetype you want.  If, for example, there's a separate skill for survival in each type of wilderness terrain, in addition to tracking for wilderness and underground, then your ranger character arguably isn't complete without all of them, and that would torpedo the simplicity of character creation.

It would certainly be possible to use the skill table and general principles (doubles or tens digit degree of success) for tasks in which all adventurers are assumed to be proficient and improve with experience.  For instance, if all adventurers know how to survive in the wilderness in your game, it's trivial to look up a character's level on the table and roll the dice against the listed percentage to see if she finds food, with the tens digit representing the number of character-days of food obtained, or doubles on a failure resulting in poisonous or tainted things mistakenly identified as safe and edible.

It's also easy to allow any character a marginal chance to succeed at any skill.  Just use the 1st level Basic line for any skill the character doesn't actually possess, i.e. a base 10% chance of success.  (This purposely doesn't allow for success with doubles!)

Thiefly Skills
The standard thief has the following skills by default.

Tinker (Int) is a knack for things mechanical, and encompasses the old skills of opening locks and removing traps.  Normally each Tinker attempt takes one turn (10 minutes.)  Rolling doubles on a success reduces the time to a single round (10 seconds.)  Doubles on a failure jams the lock or sets off the trap. 

Stealth (Dex) mashes together the abilities of moving silently and hiding in shadows.  A stealth roll is made only when some person or creature has a chance of noticing the character.  Doubles on a failure indicates that the character has inadvertently done something to draw attention, such as knocking something over.  Stealth is not possible when wearing medium or heavy armor. 

Climb (Str) allows a character to ascend sheer surfaces, as long as the surface is rough enough to provide hand- and foot-holds.  A climbing roll is made at the beginning of a climb.  The tens digit of the roll gives the number of rounds the character may climb before making another roll (on a success) or the number of rounds the character is stalled and looking for a way forward (on a failure.)  Normal climbing movement is at 1/4 the character's normal movement rate per round.  Doubles on a success allows double climbing movement until the next check.  Doubles on a failure result in a fall after covering half the distance.  Climbing is not possible while wearing medium or heavy armor.

Alertness (Wis) is similar to Hear Noise.  It isn't the ability to hear, per se, but rather the ability to interpret what is heard, making sense of the obscure mumblings behind a door or recognizing the significance of an anomalous sound from amid background noise.  Alertness is not possible when wearing medium or heavy armor unless the helmet is not worn (-1 penalty to AC.)  Time required: 1 round.

Sleight-of-hand (Cha) allows the picking of pockets, but also juggling, simple faux-magic tricks, and any other gambit that requires quick fingers and misdirection.  Each attempt takes one round (10 seconds.)  When used to take items from an unaware NPC, the roll is penalized by 5% for each level of the victim above 5th.  Each success procures one item.  Rolling doubles on a success nets an additional item, while doubles on failure means the attempt has been noticed.  Time required: 1 round.  (Why Charisma as a modifier?  Because picking pockets is often about misdirection rather than pure stealth - engaging your mark in distracting conversation while you surreptitiously loot him, staging a convincing "accident" as an excuse for invading his personal space and possessions, or simply looking nonchalant in a crowd while your hands are busy in the lady's shopping basket.  Substitute Dex if you prefer.)

Cipher (Int) is the ability to puzzle out codes and unfamiliar languages.  Rather than gaining a flat 80% at 4th level as in B/X, it is gained at level 1 and improves like any other skill.  The tens digit of a successful roll indicates the number of questions about the document that the player may ask and have answered by the GM. (If the tens digit is 0, the GM chooses one piece of information to give the player.)  Time required: 1 turn.

Other Skills
The following skills are not automatically gained by thief characters, but rather may be taken by characters of any class as secondary talents. 

Lore (Int) is knowledge of the campaign world and its history.  When a lore check is made, the tens digit of a success indicates the number of questions that the player may ask and have answered by the GM about a particular topic.  (If the tens digit is 0, the GM chooses one piece of information to give the player.)  Time required: 1 round.

Tracking (Wis) is the ability to follow the trail of some individual or group, or to cover the tracks of oneself and/or one's party.  On a successful tracking check, the tens digit of the roll indicates the number of questions the player may ask and have answered by the GM.  For example, what kind of creatures, how many, how quickly were they moving, which direciton, were they encumbered, etc.  (If the tens digit is 0, the GM chooses a piece of information to give the player.) Time required: 1 turn.

Herbalism (Wis) skill may be used to make healing salves, infusions, poultices, and such, to treat wounds, disease, or poison.  A concoction must be made for a specific purpose; it does not work for all afflictions at once.  The tens digit of a successful roll indicates how many points of damage are healed or a bonus to saving throws to overcome poisoning or disease.  Time required: 1 turn.

Arcane dabbling (Int) allows a character to use magic items normally usable only by mages, including wands and spell scrolls, on a successful roll.  Doubles on a failure result in a mishap, possibly spectacular.  The character also gains limited spell-casting ability, and may attempt to cast a number of spell levels per day equal to half his or her level or Intelligence bonus +1, whichever is less.  Thus, a character with 16 Intelligence could use one level 1 spell at 2nd level of experience; at 6th level she could attempt up to three level 1 spells, or a level 1 and a level 2, or one level 3 spell.  A roll must be made, with the same chance of mishap on doubles as for item use.  Failed spells still count against the day's total.  Time required: 1 round.

Divine piety (Wis) allows the character to use items normally reserved to clerics on a successful roll.  Doubles on a failure means that the gods are angered and the character suffers a curse.  The character may also attempt to pray for divine favor (i.e. cast divine spells) a number of spell levels per day equal to half his or her level or Wisdom bonus +1, whichever is less.  A roll must be made, with the chance of angering the gods as above.  Unanswered prayers still count against the day's total.  A character who abandons his or her faith loses all associated abilities.  Taking up a new faith may restore the benefits of piety, at the GM's discretion. Time required: 1 round.

                               Skill Advancement by Level
Level Basic Good Elite
1 10 20 30
2 15 28 40
3 20 36 48
4 25 44 56
5 30 50 64
6 35 56 72
7 39 62 78
8 43 68 84
9 47 72 90
10 51 76 94
11 54 80 98
12 57 84 102
13 60 86 106
14 63 88 110
15 66 90 113
16 69 92 116
17 72 94 119
18 74 96 121
19 76 98 123
20 78 100 125

Friday, September 4, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: Combat sequence

Initiative: I can take it or leave it.  I'm not sure it really adds much to the game, other than another die roll.  How would I run things if I left it out?  That's exactly the kind of thing to include in a fantasy heartbreaker, right?

One of the things I don't like about traditional initiative is that it often produces weird results when each side (or even each individual) is able to complete its actions for the round before the other even starts.  It also often disrupts what should be the logical sequence of things.  It seems ridiculous to me if, for instance, a swordsman can make a full round's worth of movement to attack an archer before the archer gets a shot off, just because the swordsman won an initiative roll.  Moldvay, though, explicitly allows missile fire to occur out of normal initiative sequence in the example of combat in the Basic Rules.  In other words, go in order of the die roll unless logic dictates otherwise.  But with that in mind, why not dispense with the die roll and simply have action occurring simultaneously unless logic dictates otherwise?

Here's what I've come up with as the basic sequence of actions in G&G.  Each combatant is allowed movement plus one other action per round.  The other action can be melee or missile combat, using an item, drinking a potion, picking something up, or anything else a player can think of to do.  In each phase, all characters and creatures who are taking an appropriate action will be able to act, regardless of which side they're on, and regardless of whether the events of that phase result in their being killed or incapacitated.  Combatants slain or incapacitated in one phase may not act in subsequent phases, however.  For example, two archers both get their shots off in the ranged combat phase, even if they kill each other, but if a swordsman moving to engage a foe is killed by arrows during the ranged attack phase, he is dead before the close combat phase, and thus may not complete his declared action. 

  1. Morale is checked, and attempts to surrender or parley are initiated.
  2. Declarations of intent. GM describes what the opponents are doing.  Players state their characters' intended movement and actions in general terms.  If an action is not declared, the character or creature acts at the end of the round, after the close combat phase.
  3. Ranged attacks. Any combatant using a ready missile device or a thrown weapon acts in this phase. Ranged spells and those cast on self or nearby allies take effect now. Magic items which are activated by a word or thought may also be used in this phase.
  4. Movement. Combatants who are not engaged in melee combat move now, up to their full encounter movement. Those who are engaged in melee are more limited. (5' per round, which may be dictated by an opponent's combat roll; see the previous post.) Combatants moving toward one another will meet somewhere in the middle.  Where enemy combatants meet, one or both may choose to engage the other in melee, which halts further movement.  If neither does, they simply move past each other.  Miscellaneous actions, such as opening a door, picking up an object within reach, or drinking a potion, are also resolved during this phase.
  5. Close combat. All actions involving melee combat or disengaging from it occur now. Spells that require close proximity to the target are also resolved in this phase.
  6. Held or changed actions.  A combatant who has not yet taken an action, and has not been killed or incapacitated, may abort a planned action and take some other action at the end of the round.  Using this rule, a character could, for example, hold a ranged attack action, move during the normal movement phase, and shoot at the end of the round from the new position.  If  movement itself is held, the combatant may move only up to half its normal rate at the end of the round, the other half being "wasted" during the moments of inaction.  If multiple combatants hold actions, they are resolved in the same order as the original combat sequence, i.e. ranged, movement, melee.  No further holding his possible.

    Example of Combat (refer to my previous post for the basic rules of combat)
A party of five characters consisting of Culhern and Saedrith, fighers; Telos, a cleric; Sorrel, a halfling burglar, and Kierdran, a mage, meets a band of a dozen orcs.  After attempting to negotiate from across a wide chamber, the encounter turns hostile.  Combat begins, with the groups 60' apart.

Round 1

Phase 1: Since combat has just begun, and the orcs outnumber the party, no morale checks need to be made yet, and negotiations have already broken down. 

Phase 2: The GM states that ten orcs draw their axes and charge, while two hang back and prepare to throw spears.  Culhern and Saedrith's players state that their characters draw weapons and rush to meet the advancing orcs.  Telos's player decides that his character will follow them, while Sorrel loads a bullet in her sling and Kierdran begins a sleep spell.

Phase 3: The two orcs throwing spears, Sorrel with her sling, and Kierdran's spell all act at once.  One orc throws its spear at Culhern, and its combat roll of 18 against his AC of 15 scores 3 points of damage.  The other comes up short on its roll against Sorrel, and its spear hits the wall behind her.  Sorrel fires at one of the oncoming orcs.  Her combat roll totals 21 after all adjustments, which deals maximum damage of 4 points against the orc's AC of 13.  The orc had only 3 hp, so it goes down, and will not be able to complete its action for the round.  Meanwhile, Kierdran finishes her sleep spell and sends four of the advancing orcs off to dreamland.

Phase 4: Orcs and humans move at about the same rate, so the moving combatants meet roughly halfway between their starting points.  There are five orcs left of the ten who began the charge, against three heroes. 

Phase 5: Culhern, Saedrith, and Telos all choose to engage in melee with the orcs, with the two fighters using the sweep option to engage two orcs apiece.  Telos fails his combat roll and does no damage.  Saedrith makes two combat rolls, each at -2, and gets results of 7 and 15.  The first orc is unharmed, but the second takes 2 points of damage.  Her orcs both wish to withdraw so they can go slay the unarmored mage and burglar.  They make their combat rolls and get a 5 and a 16.  Neither is enough to pierce Saedrith's sturdy plate and mail armor, but the second orc menaces her with its axe and manages to back away, disengaging from the melee.  Culhern rolls 12 and 19; the latter roll is enough to deal a mortal wound, but since actions happen simultaneously, the orc gets to make its roll against him.  It succeeds, and with its dying breath slashes at him for 5 points of damage!  Its cohort fails, though it lives to fight another round.

Since no actions were changed or held, no actions occur in Phase 6.

Round 2

Phase 1: At the start of the second round, the GM checks the orcs' morale, and determines that they will fight on. 

Phase 2: The orc who withdrew from melee with Saedrith charges at the mage and burglar, while Culhern, badly hurt, decides to defend, and also uses his greatsword like a spear to interpose between himself and the remaining orcs.  Saedrith takes on two orcs again, while Telos begins casting a spell to revitalize Culhern.  Sorrel readies her sling again, while Kierdran draws a dagger and prepares to throw it at the approaching orc.  The two orc spear-throwers draw axes and advance on the fighters and cleric.

Phase 3: Sorrel uses her combat roll to attack one of the fresh orcs threatening the fighters, and rolls a 14, dealing a paltry 1 point of damage.  Kierdran hurls her dagger and also scores 1 point of damage.  Since Telos is within easy reach of Culhern, the GM rules that he may touch his ally and the revitalize spell takes effect during this phase, restoring 5 hp to Culhern.

Phase 4: The former spear-throwers rush into the fracas in the middle of the chamber.  Everyone else is either engaged in melee already or chose not to move.

Phase 5: Culhern, restored, decides to drop his defensive stance and go on offense against the orc in melee with him.  Since this is a changed action, he'll have to wait until the end of the round to do it.  The enraged and slightly injured orc moving against Kierdran reaches her and attacks, rolling a 14 vs. her AC of 10, dealing 4 points of damage and seriously hurting her.  Saedrith manages to hold her own against two orcs, neither taking nor dealing any damage.  Two orcs attack Telos, wounding him for 3 points, and the last fails to hurt Culhern.

Phase 6: Culhern now takes his changed action, and rolls an adjusted total of 23!  Against AC 13, that's 10 points of damage, neatly liberating an orc's head from its body. 

So we leave our brave heroes, on the brink of victory or defeat as Round 3 looms...

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Goblins & Greatswords: Combat

Combat may be a "failure state" in fantasy RPGs, but it's also a central element of a rule set, and as it's one of the things most fundamentally altered from standard D&D-style combat in my fantasy heartbreaker, it seems fitting to examine it first.

Stats relevant to combat in G&G are:
  • Armor Class, which is ascending from a base of 10
  • Hit points, which are pretty much what they've always been.
  • Combat Rating (aka Attack Bonus or some such) which is determined by character class and level or monster Hit Dice. 
  • Damage: How much harm a weapon or natural attack routine can inflict.  May be expressed simply as a maximum (e.g. "4") or as a dice range (e.g. "1d4," if you use an optional critical hit rule.)

The core combat mechanic is a d20 roll, which has been referred to as the "to hit roll" or "attack roll" in most games, but which I'm calling a "combat roll" to call attention to the fact that it does not necessarily represent a single attempt to hit an opponent.  Likewise, I prefer to think of successful or unsuccessful combat rolls rather than "hits and misses."

In the most basic form of combat, a combatant makes a d20 combat roll against its opponent's armor class to determine if it successfully inflicts damage.  Combat Rating and adjustments from ability scores and magic, if applicable, are added to the roll.  If the total exceeds the opponent's AC, damage caused is equal to the difference between the adjusted combat roll and AC.  So, if a fighter engages a creature with AC14 and scores a total of 17 on her combat roll, she does 3 points of damage to the opponent.

The Damage stat is a cap on the maximum damage possible, so if our hypothetical fighter is using a Damage 4 weapon and beats her opponent's AC by 6 on the combat roll, she still does 4 points of damage.

This means that
  • There's no longer any dissonance between attack and damage rolls.  Who hasn't felt the thrill of a great attack roll and then chumped out with a 1 on the damage die?  No more. 
  • Weapons with higher damage ratings reward higher combat skill.  You can still use a Damage 8 weapon even if you're inept in battle, but it's less effective when you don't have a mathematical possibility of exceeding your target's AC by at least 8 points.
  • You can have low-damage weapons that are easier to wield, or that are effective at punching through armor, receive a bonus to combat rolls, and high-damage weapons that receive no bonuses but are more deadly in the hands of a combat expert. 
  • You avoid the double-dip of Strength bonuses (and the double whammy of penalties) on attack and damage rolls, while still making Strength very relevant to melee effectiveness. 
A combat roll may also be applied as a contested roll.  Sometimes a character wants to do something that relies on combat skill, but which doesn't require actually penetrating an opponent's armor to score damage.  In that case, the action may succeed if the combat roll beats the opponent's roll, regardless of whether either one is good enough to score damage.  (This is the basis of the G&G grappling system, which will get its own post later on.)  A few more examples of using a combat roll in this way may be found in the combat options below.

Combat options in this system include:
  • Defend: Combat Rating is applied to AC instead of combat rolls for that round.  Combat rolls may still be attempted, but without the bonus.  Good for when you're overwhelmed and waiting for the cavalry to come to the rescue, or you want to toy with weaker opponents.  (Advanced option: Combat Rating may be split between offense and defense.)
  • Sweep:  Attack more than one opponent in a round.  Maximum number which can be fought is equal to half the weapon's Damage - you can threaten more opponents at a time with a battle axe than with a dagger.  All targets must be within reach, i.e. no movement is allowed to reach others.  Make a separate combat roll against each opponent, but all rolls are at -2 per opponent over one, i.e. -2 for two opponents, -4 for three, -6 for four, and so on.  Obviously a tactic best used against weak opponents, or by a very skilled combatant.
  • Beleaguer: Opposite of sweep, several combatants concentrate their efforts against one opponent.  Each receives +1 to its combat roll for every member of the attacking group above one.  Makes being outnumbered very dangerous.
  • Interpose: Hold your position and fend off attackers with a weapon with long reach, like a spear.  If your combat roll exceeds the opponent's, it can't get to you, and thus can't damage you, even if its roll would normally succeed.  
  • Disengage: If your combat roll is higher than your opponent's, whether or not either one scores damage, you may disengage from melee and back away 5'.
  • Retreat: Turn tail and run!  An opponent that chooses to attack you in melee gets +2 to its combat roll and ignores your shield.  If you survive and you're faster, or the opponent chooses not to follow, you're no longer in melee.  Avoid the attack from behind if you disengage first.
  • Force movement: Whichever combatant scores the highest combat roll, regardless of damage, may force the opponent to move 5' in a direction of the winner's choosing. 
Any of these may be used by any character class and by monsters, though of course some will be better at them than others.  No feats or any of that funny stuff necessary.  They're also, I think, pretty intuitive, so the GM and players should be able to learn and apply them with minimal difficulty.  Many combinations are possible; for example, one could use sweep and interpose to keep multiple opponents at bay, or defend and disengage to withdraw cautiously, or beleaguer and interpose to keep a single opponent behind a bristling wall of weapons, or sweep and disengage to back out of a melee in which you're outnumbered.

Some of these tactics could be adapted to house-rule a more traditional D&D-like combat system, but I think they're particularly elegant with the G&G model.

Critical success and failure (optional): When a combatant rolls a natural 20, it strikes a particularly vulnerable point on the opponent.  Roll its damage die and add the result to the normal damage caused.  Optionally, the critical damage die explodes - roll again each time the maximum possible result is rolled, and add the result to the previous damage.  If desired, a player may choose an alternate critical success result before the combat roll is made, such as disarming, snatching an item, pulling the opponent's helmet over its eyes, etc.  If the roll is a critical success, the desired effect occurs, but no extra damage is done.

A critical failure causes something unfortunate to happen to the combatant who rolled it.  Exact results are up to the GM and player.  The target of a critical failure may be allowed to narrate a result.  Game mechanical effects are at the GM's discretion; losing the next round of actions is typical, but others are possible.

Just about any action in combat should be able to be modeled by one of these applications of the combat roll - either vs. opponent's AC, vs. opponent's roll, or special result on a critical success.

Most of the foundations of this system are not of my own devising.  The concept of an attack bonus rather than an attack matrix or THAC0 is used in quite a few games.  Likewise, the idea of attack roll directly determining damage is something I read about elsewhere, though I can't recall where.  My contribution is mainly to bring these elements together, and tie those mechanics into the various combat options above.

That's it for the basics.  Next up, the iniative-less combat sequence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dark fey: Trolls

Hmm...yes, that's all the ingredients, and you even managed to tell the drake-tongue root from the bog fern this time.  Well done.  We might make an alchemist of you yet.

What's that now?  Trolls?  Yes, they have their uses, too, but that's best left to more accomplished practitioners than you, my young apprentice.  You're most likely to find them in places of decay - ancient forests where the leaf-litter is knee-deep, midden-heaps in abandoned villages, and of course in bogs and swamps where the stagnant water belches up the rot-gases of aeons of dead things fermenting beneath the surface.  Decay is a troll's element, and some scholars (though I use the term loosely!) even assert that trolls are made all of animate fungus.  Nonsense, of course, but one can see whence the misconception arises, if not why it persists.  They certainly are as resilient as mushrooms, though; their flesh knits right before your eyes, even if you've just hacked off their heads and all their limbs, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

Fascinating creatures, trolls, so long as you don't get too close.  They are really a rather diverse lot - some are great squat toad-like lumps, others are long and sinewy, hides all encrusted with algae and moss, manes of stringy green hair hanging lank from their huge flattened heads.  All of them have in common a striking elasticity of substance, with monstrous jaws that can gape thrice as wide as you'd think to look at them, all full of cruel pointed teeth, and great bellies that stretch to hold the most mountainous meal.

All of them are ravenous eaters, but there is no greater glutton than an old troll-hag.  She can down a wolfhound at a single gulp, and the mightiest plough-horse in a single sitting.  Of course she prefers carrion, but no troll has the self-will to restrain itself from a fresh kill.  If meat is scarce, she sates her hunger as best she can on vegetation - great gobs of slimy weeds, tangled roots, even rotten logs.  If you see a gnawed tree-stump, beware!  A ravenously hungry troll is likely nearby.

Some troll-hags have a measure of sorcerous powers, with a terrible fondness for hexes and curses.  Many a farmer whose stead lies too near a troll-bog has seen his livestock inexplicably sicken and die, so that local troll-hags might gorge themselves on rotting carcasses.  Wise folk either move their herds and flocks elsewhere or keep the monsters appeased with periodic offerings.

Next to gluttony, a troll's greatest weakness is its pride.  Even a hungry troll will stop to listen to flattery - the more exaggerated and embellished, the better.  Not that there's much point to flattering a troll: Once you've talked yourself too hoarse to go on, she'll gobble you right down all the same, and you'll be too out of breath even to make a good show of running away.  The only time it's even remotely safe to approach a troll is when its belly is distended with several hundred pounds of meat and it can no more than waddle after you, and...

Oh no.  Oh no, no, no!  Cedwin, my boy, didn't I send you out with a mule?  Where is my mule?

Offensive foul

Well, the internet is up in arms once again, or at least the RPG-playing and blogging sectors of it are.  This time it's over a certain controversial product and online RPG store Drive Thru RPG's reaction to the outraged demands of a (probably small) segment of its target customer base.

Are you offended by stuff?  Good, I say, with complete sincerity.  That means you have sensibilities, and you have standards.  There's a lot of rude, nasty, ugly stuff out there, and if you're not offended by some of it, I have to think you're either lying or you have something seriously out-of-whack inside your brain.  I certainly found the product in question to be offensive, too.  Based on the little I saw of it, I wouldn't buy it.  You couldn't even pay me enough to take a copy, unless I could immediately toss the misbegotten thing in the trash and keep the cash.

You want to speak out and let others know that you find something offensive and why?  Bravo!  A robust conversation is always a good thing.  Tell us what affronts your sense of justice or trips your squick alarm, or just makes you uncomfortable.  Blog it, write reviews, whatever.  There are people out there who might appreciate your perspective, or even change their minds because of it.  Sometimes offensive material shakes up moribund patterns of thought, disrupts complacency, and raises important issues.  Other times, it's just vile and vulgar.  Talking about it helps us figure out which, and plot new intellectual and artistic courses. 

You want to silence those who offend you so there's no chance that anyone else will be offended by it ever again?  Nope, you just lost me.  I don't have much respect for people who want to stamp out offensive material, even if they are technically within their rights to organize boycotts and such. 

To be clear, DTRPG has the absolute right to decide what it will and won't sell through its website, and what types of expression it will and won't provide a forum.  As a business, it has a vested interest in defusing a situation which might lead to its losing some of its revenues.  Sometimes, picking and choosing what products have a place on your shelves, digital or actual, is entirely appropriate, for a variety of reasons.

I think DTRPG caved all too readily on this one, though, and that's a shame, because it's a slippery slope from there.  It only emboldens the folks who believe it's their right to silence whatever they don't like, and I hardly need to point out that almost everything under the sun offends someone.  I suspect that there would be pretty broad agreement that the product in question this time was at least seriously pushing the envelope, if not way over the line of bad taste, but what about the next time?  What won't be pulled if a vocal minority of strident voices are raised in threats to boycott DTRPG - and by what standard will that decision be made?

DTRPG has apparently prided itself on providing a venue for the sale of just about anything RPG-related, so long as it's not outright illegal.  It would have been perfectly respectable too, of course, if it had a policy of screening content and refusing to host some, based either on objective criteria or the subjective sensibilities of its proprietors.  Most businesses regularly discriminate based on all sorts of considerations, including cost, quality, and brand identity.  Toys R Us doesn't sell sex toys. Time magazine doesn't publish hardcore porn.  You probably won't find Hot Pockets and Cheez Whiz at Whole Foods.  DTRPG could behave similarly if it wanted to.  But DTRPG based its brand identity to a great extent on being an open market for RPG creators, and it should have been prepared to hold the line against a very predictable backlash when it eventually occurred.

Where DTRPG went wrong, in my opinion, is not in the act of exercising executive control over what it sells, per se, but in giving in to threats.  It made a decision it had every right to make, but for the wrong reasons.  "Take this smut down (from the adult section of the site, no less!), or I'm NEVER buying anything from your store again!" cried the outraged, and DTRPG meekly and apologetically complied.

Small wonder, I suppose, that people on the opposite side of the fence are responding with threats of their own.  One well-known game designer has gone on the record threatening that if DTRPG pulls any of his works, or those of any of his friends, he'll take his ball and go home, regardless of the monetary losses he or anyone else might suffer as a result.  Yes, refuse to sell your PG-13 stuff through any venue that won't also take your XXX.  That'll show 'em.  Of course it's within his rights to do so, but it seems more than a bit petulant to me.

Despite vociferous cries of "Censorship!" this isn't it.  Censorship applies to state suppression of speech, not someone declining to furnish you a forum in which to speak.  Nonetheless, using badgering and bullying tactics to get a business or individual to bar certain viewpoints strikes me as dirty and cheap.  So does using similar tactics to compel it to rescind that decision - however much you or I or anyone else thinks that decision was a mistake. 

Others are loudly complaining about what the vagaries of the whole situation mean for creators hopeful of selling their products on DTRPG.  Will it have a chilling effect, particulary on edgy content?  That, at least, is a conversation that seems to be worth having, but ultimately not a very compelling argument.  I'd like to know when any creator has ever been absolutely assured of shelf space to sell his work.  In the past, that's been far more of an issue than it is today.  Writers had little choice but to submit their work to numerous publishers, enduring seemingly endless rejection letters, and maybe, if they were lucky, finding one who saw potential in their work and was willing to take a chance on it.  So far as I know, that didn't do much to stifle the dreams of aspiring novelists, playwrights, and journalists.  Writers write, and artists make art, whether or not they have a guarantee that anyone's going to see it. 

But with the rise of the internet, those concerns are rapidly becoming irrelevant.  Barriers to entry into the business of selling images and written content are at an all-time low.  Any fool with a little know-how can open up a digital storefront at minimal cost, and if DTRPG starts restricting certain kinds of content, no doubt one or more alternative venues will pop up.  In fact, a spate of competing online RPG and book stores might be the best thing that could come out of this whole ruckus. 

In the final analysis, this is one of those stories without a hero.  There's not even really a right or wrong side to it; everybody raises some good points, but nobody comes out smelling like roses - not the righteously offended mob calling for removal of the product, not the people on the other side crying censorship and making counter-threats, and not DTRPG, caught between them and timidly trying to straddle the fence with a "solution" that's more likely to escalate the hostilities than facilitate a detente.