Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm 3' away from my actual position...

Just wondering out loud why, when WotC released the d20 SRD, they decided that the mighty Displacer Beast was iconic enough of the D&D experience to not include it?

Mind Flayers, Beholders, I can understand. They scream "This is D&D!!!" I suppose Carrion Crawlers do too, to a lesser extent.

But what about Gelatinous Cubes? Rust Monsters? Or the Displacer Beast's natural enemy, the Blink Dog? They're all in the SRD.

It's not even like the Displacer Beast was an original creation of either Gygax or Arneson anyway. It was ripped off from Voyage of the Space Beagle.

It's just one of those nutty things, I guess. Ryan Dancey or some unknown suit decided that it's fine for 3rd parties to use "The Cube," "Rusty" or disappearing dingos, but tentacled space cats can only be used by them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Great Dragon Debate

I started out playing Mentzer (BECM, never got I until recently on .pdf). In those rules, taking the text from Moldvay, dragon breath weapons (and storm giant lightning bolts) are keyed to the creature's current hit points.

OD&D apparently doesn't say one way or the other, but the way it, Holmes, and AD&D are worded, and the way they do dragon hit points (set points per HD per age category, rather than randomly rolled by HD like other monsters) seems to suggest their breath weapon does not get weaker as they get damaged. It's always the full amount.

2E of course has random damage ranges assigned for dragon breath, rather than keying it to hit points, current or maximum.

Frank Mentzer has commented on Dragonsfoot (here) that in his games, and in the games played in-house at TSR back in the day, dragons always do maximum damage with breath weapons, and that the text in his edition of the Basic Set was either that way because of Moldvay, or someone edited it after he finished with it. He doesn't remember the details. And really it doesn't matter.

What I think is funny is the reasoning lots of people, Frank included, give for not liking decreasing breath weapon damage. Players instantly know how many hit points the dragon has left.

But wait, if it's important to players to know how many hit points it has left, they can surely keep track of how much they've dealt it. Sure, the DM is not obliged to let them know if a dragon made or failed a save vs. a damage spell, but how hard is it, for any D&D player who likes numbers enough to care to track this sort of thing, to keep two or three or more potential totals?

If it's important to DMs that players not metagame the remaining hit points of a dragon, 2E would seem to have the best method, a damage range not keyed to hit points.

Besides, with the OD&D through AD&D method of giving dragons hit points, you can already metagame their potential hit points before they even breathe on you the first time. Small recently hatched red dragon? It's got 10HD, so it's got 10 or 20 hit points only. Really big, really old one? 70 or 80.

Now, the idea that dragons should be kick ass monsters, as Frank also mentions he is a proponent of, is a valid reason to keep the max hit point damage to breath weapons as the dragon gets injured. Then, even as it's down to single digits, its breath is still enough to fry most low to mid level characters.

I'm sticking with the decreasing breath weapon tied to current hit points, though. It's what I've always used, and I like the idea that to fight a dragon, you want to get the jump on it and hit it hard and fast to give yourself the best chance to survive. If you were really fighting a super tough monster like that, I'd think that would be the smart way to do it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Only the king and his lord marshall have the keys to these manicles.

I'm just about finished with my Nano novel. I should be able to write the last ten pages or so tomorrow. So I'm taking a break tonight and finally getting around to the final post about the classic 4 classes and my house rules for them.

Back in the day, Thieves were always my favorite class to play. I think it had something to do with the promise of cool stuff that could be done with the Thief's special abilities, even if they didn't work all the time, and a good set of Elven Cloak and Boots, a Rope of Climbing, and a bag of holding made some of them redundant or useless.

Although my main character, Gwydion, whom I derived my internet gaming alias from, was a Fighter, my main Thief, Achaz the Younger (Achaz the Older got liquidized by a black dragon on his first adventure) was always a lot of fun to play. Good old Achaz used daggers most of the time, especially after we got the Companion set with its nice, high power mix-and-match powers charts, and he found a dagger +4, returning.

He also ended up with the sword +2, charm person from the Isle of Dread, and occasionally used it to charm a lovely lady or three, but rarely used it in combat. I'd envisioned him as a dagger fighter, and that was how he played. Roleplaying over powergaming, folks!

In coming up with my "perfect" Thief class, I had a lot of options to choose from. Stick with the standard set skill percentages by level model, go customizable like in 2E AD&D, or some free-form system more like d20? Keep the levels about the same, or ramp them up at lower levels and bring them down at higher levels?

In the end, I decided that with a 20 level cap, I'd stick with the original design. Then the choice became which progression to use? Mentzer was too slow, and with a level 20 cap I would have had to revise them to account for 20 levels instead of 36. Moldvay/Cook stops at 14, so I'd have a lot of 99's for six levels or so. 1E AD&D went up to 17, I think, and also had modifiers by race and Dex. Didn't want that level of complexity.

In the end, I did what the good Zeb Cook hinted at in his Expert set, and went with the B/X numbers up until they maxed out, then created superior abilities that can be used at the higher levels. The exception is Pick Pockets, which just continues to grow so that high HD creatures and characters have a chance to be robbed by high level Thieves.

In the end, I went with these 'advanced skills':
Open Magical Locks (open locks), so Thieves have a chance to pick any sort of Wizard Locked or special DM magical portals (yeah, I'd probably allow it for closed planar gates...give them enough rope, and all that). (from 16th level)
Find/Remove Magical Traps (find/remove traps) As above, now the Thief can detect and safely remove Symbol spells, or other nastiness like that. (from 17th level)
Climb Overhangs/Ceilings (climb sheer surfaces) Cook mentioned it, and I felt it would work. The high level Thief becomes Spider-man. (from 14th level)
Remain Hidden (hide in shadows), so the Thief has a chance to make an attack while hiding and not give away his position (from 17th level)
Ventriloquism (move silently) a bit of a stretch, perhaps, but it allows the Thief to communicate with, or distract and confuse, others while moving silently. (from 16th level)
Read Lips (hear noise) so that Thieves can get an idea of what's being said when they're too far away or it's too noisy to hear, but they can see someone's face, obviously. (from 15th level)

Then Backstab, similar to AD&D, gets better as the Thief goes up in levels. 6th level x3, 11th level x4, 16th level x5 damage. Still only ever that +4 to hit, though.

Each of the Advanced Skills starts at a 50% chance at the level it's obtained, and improves from there. So high level Thieves have something to look forward to besides 2 hit points and some small increases to hits and saves after the original skills get maxed out.

Oh, and I went with weapon restrictions as per Mentzer, since that's what I grew up with and what I've always favored (rather than B/X's any weapon is okay, or the short list of AD&D). Any one handed melee weapon, and all ranged weapons.

That's my Thief. Using this class, and judging the use of skills similar to Robert Fisher's famous essay on the subject, I think they should be a decent class to play, and not take away from the dungeon exploration environment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Game on!!!

Well, I didn't think I'd have time to post this month, but what do you know, my NaNoWriMo novel is already at 35k out of 50k needed to win and it's only the 12th. By the way, it's hopefully an entertaining mix of S&S and Gothic fantasy, about a knight vs. werewolves. More on that when I read it through upon completion and see how much I can salvage into a second draft.

Anyway, on Monday, I brought D&D to the Board Game Group meet-up. Josh was out, quarantined because of the flu (he didn't say if it was H1N1 or not, not that it really matters, I'd rather my son not get either form if possible...). Dave, who's really keen to get some Classic D&D in, and July (Mi Young) were busy. Steve and Alex were out as usual on Mondays, but they don't like Classic D&D anyway. Erica was too lazy to go out on a cool evening (she lives kinda far away anyway).

That left me, Lucy, Pat, and Pat's friend Chloe who was there for the first time. Chloe and I arrived first, which was good because it gave me a chance to show her the basics. She's played Diablo and some other CRPG/MMORPGs before, so she was familiar with the basic tropes. The only really funny newbie question she asked was, "So if I use my mirror, does it go away?"

She decided to try out my home brew Illusionist class. Yeah! Aside from a short-lived Half-Orc played by Alex before he decided he didn't want to play Classic, we hadn't had anyone playing any of my new classes. She took Change Self for her spell, but as the game played out, she didn't actually get to use it. She was kicking some ass with her thrown javelins, however! (My Illusionist, being a cross between M-U and Thief, can use thrown weapons and 1-handed melee weapons if they want to...).

Because Josh, who was sick, is really invested in exploring the Ruins of Castle Mistamere and rooting out the kobold menace there, everyone decided to strike out into the sandbox and see what else there was to see. I had my rumors handy, and let each PC (Pat was playing both his Fighter and Cleric, and Lucy has a Cleric, everyone still Level 1) get 3 rumors plus or minus their Cha adjustment.

There were a few repeat rumors found, and of the short list of potential ones (they wisely ignored the one they got twice about hill giants), they decided to check out the rumor that the castle north of town, that of the town's founder, was haunted.

This was an area I wasn't prepared for them to explore yet, I had thought the ghost would be scary to them--but they don't know how nasty BECM ghosts are, let alone spectres or wraiths. Luckily for me, though, this was a dungeon I'd semi-prepped for the original version of the Silverwood Campaign for 3E years ago, so I had the map from WotC's Map a Week feature, and the knowledge that I wanted lots of spider monsters.

I also wanted to use my new Caesar goblins so I threw in a goblin encounter, as well. And the ghost, who ended up having a quest for them--recover his sword, stolen by looters. Rolling on my Unique Magic Weapons tables (something I'm still working on but plan to release to the RPG internets in the future), I got Chrysaor, a short sword +3. Not sure if I want them running around with that for too long, if they manage to find it (still got to figure out where it might be hidden!), but they're now on the lookout for rumors about this sword.

The actual play went well. They solved problems by thinking about them logically (can't unlock the door? Try to bash it down. That doesn't work? Try to jimmy the lock with a weapon or tool), not just by resorting to game mechanics or things written on the character sheet. They took what rumors they had, researched a bit, and chose their own course for the evening. They defeated the monsters they encountered, found a bit of treasure, and everyone but the brand new Illusionist made 2nd level finally by the end of the night.

And I got to DM by the seat of my pants for the first time in over a decade. Man, it was fun! And I'm no longer sweating not having all the pieces filled in on my sandbox map yet.