Friday, March 5, 2021

You got kung fu chocolate in my sword & sorcery peanut butter!

 Yeah, age (and nationality) test in the post title. Plenty of my readers are old enough (and American enough) to get the reference, but maybe not all. 

So I continue to tool around with my TSR compilation rules. After chatting with JB in the previous post's comments, I took a look at the 1E Monk class, and Gary's description, which basically said it's a non-spellcasting cleric with thief skills. And in typical AD&D fashion, it's way more complicated than it needs to be. 5 attacks every 4 rounds? Seriously? Fighters getting 2 every 3 rounds with weapon specialization (or being 7th level without it) is ridiculous enough. And of course there is the mixed bag of special abilities. 

I hadn't read through that version of the Monk in a long time. I played one in my cousin's campaign back in our high school days, and when I ran an OA game after college, one of my players was a Monk. But it had been a while. And my ideas about Monks were really colored by what they are in 3E/Pathfinder and 5E. In those editions, they're basically variant Fighters with some skills that let them be a little like a thief. Of course, the Rogue in WotC editions is also really just a variant Fighter with more out of combat utility, so there's that. 

Anyway, to get to the point, today I decided to return the Monk to the Cleric/Thief slot in my symmetrical class construction system. Instead of the really odd archetype of the Half-Orc who can pick your pocket after he heals you, and unlock a trap after turning some undead (I mean, I love this, it's so random that half-orcs can do this in AD&D), the Monk is maybe the better fit, and more organic (by that I mean what the players will expect a version of D&D to have). 

I even wrote up a very simplified version of the class that I'm pretty happy with. Acrobat is already one of the Thief subclasses I've written up, so it uses the Thief-Acrobat skill tables (each Thief subclass gets slightly different skills and slightly different % numbers). I'd also already given the Acrobat unarmed fighting ability and AC bonuses despite not wearing armor (my previous version of TSR had combined the UA Thief-Acrobat and the 3E/5E Monk concepts), so it was a more natural fit than a standard Thief. None of my Cleric subclasses really fit, though, so following 1E and the RC (and later editions to an extent), I made a Monk class that is a lot simpler. It doesn't cast Vancian spells, and most of its magical/mystical abilities are self only (I did give them "lay on hands" healing instead of self healing, but that may change). 

They are the only non-Fighter class to get multiple attacks, but that can only be done with unarmed fighting, not with weapons. And they only get 2 per round, while high level Fighters get 3. Hopefully they will do alright in a fight, but not overpower the Fighter. 

Oh, and my Darkstalker concept (Van Helsing/Belmont family style vampire/monster hunter) will become a Cleric subclass, the way it probably should have from the beginning.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Symmetry and Organic Elegance

 Now that I've got the revised races for my update of TSR done (if these things are ever truly done), I'm working on the classes. 

My love of symmetry and structural elegance had me thinking that I would have the four basic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief. Then I'd have six "advanced" classes that serve multiclass functions the way the BX/BECMI Elf class does. I think I mentioned this before. 

So, I've got a Cleric-Fighter (Paladin), Cleric-Magic-user (Bard), Cleric-Thief (see below), a Fighter-Magic-User (Lark - taking the name from Ultima 2 but it's basically the Elf), Fighter-Thief (also see below), and Magic-User-Thief (Warlock). 

 Base classes go to level 15. Advanced only to level 10, but cost more XP so end up maxing out around the same place in the end game.

Some of the advanced classes obviously have easy concepts to map to existing D&D classes. Some have no easy analog or else several fit the bill.

The cleric-thief is sort of this odd fish. In AD&D Half-Orcs and Half-Elves (I misremembered) can have that multiclass combo, and it has some interesting abilities, but it's not really a strong archetype on its own. I've got an idea for a Van Helsing/Belmont style vampire hunter, or a monk (but without martial arts and mystical special abilities it's far from the standard monk archetype). 

The Fighter-Thief is the opposite. It could be a Ranger. An Assassin. A Monk. Which should it be? 

Making exactly 10 classes, 4 basic and 6 advanced that evenly combine the base 4 isn't quite working out. Should I abandon the symmetrical elegance for organic elegance of typical D&D editions?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gnomes make the cut!

 Following up on my post from yesterday, I dropped the Half-Elf and Dragonborn. But I realized I can keep Gnomes. 

I decided that for each standard demi-human race, I can map one TSR-East race: 

Dwarf = Koropokkuru

Elf = Tengu

Halfling = Vanara

Half-Orc = Dokkaebi

Gnome = Kumiho

Changeling = Spirit Born

 There is still some fiddling to do, especially since some of the alternate races may have slightly different class selections than the standard, and definitely different abilities (halflings hide, vanara climb, for example), but in general, they more or less match up with the types of classes or themes I'd like for each race.

Also, I'll be able to break the rules down into layered options. 4 basic classes. Each will have optional (at the DM's discretion) subclasses presented. 6 advanced classes, which are basically the 2 class multiclass options of the basic 4 classes.   Each advanced class will have a subclass that toggles them between "Western" and "Eastern" versions. Still working on names for some of these. I have names, but I'm not certain I've got them all down right yet.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Done with the Half-Elf

 The title says it all. Do we really need half-elves as a playable race in D&D? Actually, what I mean is, do we need a mechanically distinct half-elf race in D&D? This is something I had in my house rules several years ago -- just play an elf or a human and style it as such, but then revised to make half-elves their own thing again. This was part of the fallout of switching a campaign mid-stride from 5E back to Classic. Some players had Half Elf characters, so I figured I'd better write up a version of them to suit my BECMI style house rules. 

At the same time, I added Dragonborn (mostly because at the time my son was enamored of them, he's since moved on to Half Orcs, a race I'm good with keeping around actually) and Changelings which are sort of like 5E's Tieflings but less explicitly goth, and a bit more Grimm/Andersen. 

Since I seem to be gearing up to revise the TSR rules yet again, and collapse both the "regular" and "East" rules into one set, I'm considering the benefits of each typical D&D race. 

Half-Elves don't make the cut. Players can easily style their PC as one if they like. But mechanically, I'll just make them play either a Human with elfy role play, or an Elf with humany role play. That's much more in line with the Tolkienian original idea anyway, where the half-elven could choose to have the fate of the Eldar (elves) or the Edain (humans), and once chosen, that was it. 

As for the other races, I'll probably keep Changelings, especially since they fit well with the Spirit Born in TSR-East. I'll collapse them into one race. Dwarves, Gnomes, and Koropokkuru will also likely just be one race as well. Or more realistically, Gnomes will just be gone. There have been some gnomes in the game, and early on some illusionists, but not much interest in either recently.

Nate is having fun running a Dokkaebi (Korean version of the Japanese oni) Shaman in my West Marches game, but I'll likely drop that race, too. I put it in for the Korean influence to balance a bit of the Japanese and Chinese influence of the game, but I'm not happy with the mechanics I gave them. Or maybe I'll just make them a pallet swap of the Half-Orc? Right now they're a bit more magical. 

So the line-up will probably be something like this (TSR-East races in parentheses): 


Changeling (Spirit Born)

Dwarf (Koropokkuru)

Elf (Kumiho) 


Half-Orc (Dokkaebi)



Or who knows, maybe I'll follow through on my threat to go back to race-as-class, and like in BX and BECMI, demi-humans will basically be Fighters or else a unique multiclass combination. Probably not, but it's still a possibility. 

More likely, I'll keep race and class separate, but make "multiclass" classes like the BX/BECMI Elf instead of allowing AD&D style multiclassing. Multiclassing can be a headache anyway.

Monday, February 22, 2021

A small paradigm shift

 This isn't an original idea of mine, I'm sure I read it on someone else's blog years ago. I have no idea whose blog I read it on, so I can't give credit, but I'll at least admit up front it's not something original. 

I've been reading Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. Over the weekend I read the chapter on game balance. It got me thinking of several things, but this was one that especially stuck in my head. 

In OD&D, the only real reward for high ability scores was a bonus to XP, that represented the aptness of a high ability score towards the chosen class. Then supplements and later editions started adding other bonuses for high ability scores. Yet, even though there were now other bonuses of high ability scores, the XP bonuses have remained, at least through 1E and BECMI. I don't have the books handy to check if they were still in 2E and don't remember off hand. They were definitely absent from 3E forward. 

Strength gives bonuses to hit and damage in melee, and to feats of strength like opening doors, bend bars/lift gates. The specifics and numbers vary, but Fighters get a bonus to their main function in added effectiveness, AND faster progression. 

Intelligence gives bonus languages, and in some editions additional spell power (more spells learnable, greater chance to learn a spell, etc.). And for Magic-Users, also faster progression.

Wisdom gives a bonus to saves vs spells, and in certain editions bonus spells to Clerics. And Clerics also then benefit from faster progression. 

Dexterity gives bonuses to ranged combat, AC, sometimes initiative, and in some editions bonuses to Thief skills. And Thieves of course get the bonus to progression.

But then, if we're playing in an edition that rewards high ability scores in this way, especially in editions like AD&D 1E that give more benefits for high scores, playing a character with average ability scores is a double whammy. You're less effective at your class's niche, and you progress more slowly. 

What if that was changed? What if the 10% bonus to XP was for playing a character with AVERAGE prime requisite? 

This small change would shake up a lot. It would add a new type of choice to character creation, especially when rolling for ability scores down the line. If you really want to play a certain class but don't roll high stats in that Prime Requisite, instead of point shifting, you would have some incentive to still play that class. 

By the way, I did consider the effects of giving a 5% bonus for an average PR, and 10% bonus for a below average score, but I think that would be taking it a bit too far. I still think character classes should play to type somewhat. A weak fighter or a dumb MU should not be seen as a good choice. But a choice between an average Strength high Intelligence Fighter who isn't quite as optimal in combat but levels a little faster or a typical Magic User with plenty of languages and spells in the spellbook but with standard progression is much more interesting. 

I haven't decided to try and implement this into my games yet. Since I run Classic D&D, there aren't as many bonuses for high scores, so this might only be a balancing option for Fighters (and demi human classes), with it giving too much advantage to the other classes to play a character with an average score over a high one. But it's an interesting idea to toy around with.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

What to Include

 It's been a while since I've posted. Partly because I'm working on my next academic paper. Partly because there just hasn't been much gaming related stuff to write about. West Marches continues (with another casualty last session, and nearly a few more -- 5th level is still not invulnerable!). Star Wars is still on the back burner. I'm still futzing around with East Marches when I have some spare time. 

And that's where I get my topic today. For East Marches, I have a hex map with 120 keyed locations. The map is 22 by 34 hexes, so there are a total of 748 hexes. That means only 16% of the map will have something detailed in it. I hadn't planned it that way. When I was creating the map, I just started plopping down icons for caves, settlements, ruins, strongholds, holy sites, and special locations fairly randomly. That ended up being about one keyed location for every six hexes. And that leaves plenty of empty space for DMs who would want to add their own locations to the mix. 

Anyway, I've given a title to all 120 locations, and have some ideas and notes for a quarter of them so far, but the notes are still pretty general. And I'm thinking now is the time to map and stock these locations. Most will probably be of the "one page" or "5-room dungeon" type write-ups, with a few bigger locations here and there.

So, that brings me to the title of this blog post. What to include in each keyed location?

Obviously, some will be fairly traditional dungeons. They'll need a map, encounter area entries, monster stats, treasures, traps, hazards. 

Others are places that could be dungeons, or could be resources, like settlements. They need NPCs, lists of resources that PCs can access there, and of course stats for the residents and treasures, in case the PCs go murder-hobo on them. 

Finally, some are just odd locations. They may or may not need maps. They may or may not contain monsters, traps, or treasures. They're the grab bag of encounter areas. 

A few things I need to remember to include in each keyed area's description are: 

  • environmental features to make the area distinct
  • motivations for monsters and NPCs
  • interesting cartography for dungeons
  • contingency plans for the inhabitants
  • connections to other locations on the map

The last one is, I think, the most important. For a wilderness crawl, there should be plenty of clues leading from one interesting area to another. This is something I've often failed at in my current West Marches game. My players have been really good about pushing the borders, wanting to fill in the white spaces on the map. To up my game, though, I should prepare more links and clues between locations. It will give the area more of a lived in feeling, and will provide hooks for future adventures.

Yes, this post is mainly just me getting this written down so I can refer back to it later. But it's also a benchmark I can use to judge if the adventure is good enough or not, once I get it written.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

New (old) Projects

 I'm sitting here at my desk at work, taking a break from research, and fiddling around with game stuff. Thinking about what I could do to add some new content to my Hidden Treasure Books store.

I'm still making slow progress on my East Marches megamodule. I have ideas for most of the 120 keyed locations on the map, and the ones I have left to decide on are in the farthest region, which will be for Name Level PCs. I plan to recycle a few small locations from earlier games I'd run of Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara, plus some new ones. The first region (for 1st to 3rd level PCs) has 14 encounter areas keyed on the map. Once I get those areas done and flesh out the home base a bit more, I'll release it as the first installment. That should give me more motivation to keep working on the other four regions (for levels 3-5; 5-7; 7-9; 9+ respectively) and get each installment out sooner rather than later. Once all the installments are done, I'll also be putting it together in a comprehensive package. 

So while I'm doing that, I'm also fiddling around with my TSR and TSR-East homebrew rules. Jeff is rolling up another PC, and was asking if he could have a multiclass with one class from the regular TSR and the other from TSR-East. I hadn't really given that much thought. In fact, TSR-E doesn't even have multiclassing rules yet. So that's something else to work on. And if I'm going to better integrate the rules, I should finally figure out how I want to do the "thiefy" skills. Thieves, Assassins and Acrobats get % based skills, while the Ninja and Yakuza have x in 6 or x in 10 skills. 

I've also still got the idea in my head that instead of selecting class and race, there should only be classes, and each class has sub-classes/kits/archetypes to choose from, and demi-human versions are subclasses. For example, if you're a Fighter, you can be a normal (human) Fighter, or you could choose to be a Ranger or Dwarf Fighter, for example. Then TSR-E would just be adding new sub-class options like Ronin and Tengu Warrior to the base classes. That's a lot of work for very little real gain, though, so I'll probably just keep it as it is now with lots of classes, and races separate. 

I am also working on my DM side rules for TSR-East, and realized that I should give them an edit to make them generic to TSR. Anything traditionally European or Asian can be in separate TSR-East and TSR-West players books and monster/treasure books, if I ever publish this thing. [I was getting some pressure from players to run a kickstarter or something to get this out.

Oh, and I looked through my old Caverns & Cowboys game from a few years back. The play testing on it seemed to work well enough, although we didn't really put the magic system through its paces. I think I might try to find some time to go through it once more (there were a few things players pointed out I could add) and get it up as a cheap PDF/POD game. 

So I'm looking at plenty of gaming-related stuff to work on this year. We'll see how much time I end up with to do these things. C&C is probably easiest, I just need to make a few tweaks, then format it and add in art (which I've got some PD images saved, and Jeremy Hart has done some mock-ups of potential pieces I could commission from him). But at the moment it's the project I'm least enthused about. 

Ghost Castle Hasegawa, the first adventure I made to play test Chanbara, also is in need of a small edit, then formatting, and art insertion. I should get that done, soon, too. Should, I say, but will I? I've been sitting on it for several years now.