Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Not sure what to make of this

Sorry to get political on a gaming blog, but I need to address this.

Earlier in the year I put out the Chanbara Characters paper minis set on my DrivethruRPG store, Hidden Treasure Books. Now frequent blog readers will know that I'm terrible at self-promotion. It's my Midwesterner background, maybe, or my introversion. If people want what I'm offering, great! I'm happy to provide it. But I don't go posting about them all over the place, all the time here, or in barely semi-relevant comments on others' blogs or forums. If they become relevant, I might bring them up.

Needless to say, I don't check for feedback or reviews as often as I should. The paper minis line has only gotten one review anyway (positive), and all of the feedback about Chanbara was here, aside from one comment on Drivethru asking about the print version when only the PDF was available.

I did check the other day, and found that a guy named David B had posted this:

Customer avatar
David B June 10, 2019 12:33 am Asia/Tokyo
Why did you not give them Japanese skin tones or did you not want to lose the opportunity for some virtue signalling 
 
 
I posted a response there, but probably this David character will never check back to see it, since I missed his comment for five months. So David B, if you're reading this and would like to further explain yourself, please feel free to chime in in the comments. 

My response to this was to laugh, honestly. I was pretty up front about the creation process of the paper minis here on the blog. So I'm guessing this guy isn't a regular reader. I'm a pretty poor artist. I never really developed my talent in art. I don't try to create the art myself. I take public domain images and modify them using GIMP. Sometimes that's just cropping out all the background to leave the character. Sometimes, if it's a black and white original, I colorize it. Sometimes I modify them to add weapons/armor or modify the pose a bit. Mostly though, it's selecting the figure I want from the original and deleting the rest. 

Now, with my Basic Adventurers set (see how I did that! Product placement!), I did go to some effort to make sure there were equal male and female figures, and that there were a variety of skin tones depicted. Many years ago, a Filipino friend I was gaming with took a look at my minis and asked me, in all seriousness, "Why are they all white?" And my only answer was that, being white myself, and thinking of Medieval fantasy as typically European-coded, they were all white. Then I stared painting more variety on my minis.
 
It doesn't hurt me in any way to be more inclusive. And if customers appreciate having some choices for fantasy characters that look more like they do (or a chance to use a figure that very much does NOT look like they do), great! Win-win, right?

With the Chanbara set, though, I was collecting Japanese public domain art, and some vintage photographs (also public domain). I didn't need to colorize anything, as they were already in color. The vintage photos were already colorized. 

The range of skin tones found in the Chanbara Characters set are the range of skin colors depicted by actual Japanese artists of the 17th through 19th centuries. In other words, most of these figures are of Japanese subjects as painted by actual Japanese artists. The rest are photos of Japanese people (colorized by someone other than me).
 
And this David B person, since his location lists him as Asia/Tokyo and assuming that he really is posting from somewhere in Asia, should realize that East Asian peoples actually do have quite the range of skin tones. I have students here in Korea who are just as pasty white as my Celtic/Germanic-heritage white ass (one who's even paler!) and some who are so dark they could almost pass for African-heritage. And that's not counting the fake tan "ko-gyaru" in Japan. I'm talking about the soccer club boys or track girls who spent a lot of time out in the sun. 

So I'm stumped as to why David B, if he is actually in Asia and not just using a VPN to make it look that way, wouldn't know this.

I'm also wondering why he thinks I'm "virtue signalling" by this. Makes me think he's just another one of those incel alt-right asshats on the internet, pissed off that someone, somewhere, is doing things without the express purpose of pissing people off. Or even worse, that he's crypto-fascist and doing his own virtue-signalling to his Aryan brothers on one of the most obscure items for sale on DriveThru. Like I've literally sold 4 copies of this thing. That's all. 
 
Now that sounds pretty bad. And I don't like to make wild assumptions about people like this. So David B, if you are reading, please prove me wrong in the comments. I'd love to know what your motivation was for posting that comment. Were you actually offended in some way? Are you (needlessly) defending Asian people from some perceived slight? Are you virtue signalling to the Regressive Right? Or did you just feel ripped off because you're one of those 4 people who spent your buck-fifty on this thing and weren't satisfied with it?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Information in Game Theory

This is the first post in a series responding to Alexis's comments on my Secret Roll post. I don't have time to write up a full reply today, so I'll just get this out there as a grounding for my thoughts.

Let me also preface this by saying I'm nowhere near an expert in Game Theory. I've done some light reading on the subject. My notes here come from reviewing Rosenthal's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Game Theory (2011).

There are four basic states of information in Game Theory: perfect, imperfect, incomplete, and asymmetric.

Perfect Information: all players are aware of all moves made by all other players up to that point of the game. For example, in chess, you can see the board, all the pieces, and every move you have made and every move the opponent has made is done openly.

Imperfect Information: One or more players know the possible moves that could be made, but don't know the exact move that has been made until after they make their move. Rock-Paper-Scissors is an example. You know what move you will make. You know possible moves your opponent may make. You won't know the outcome until the moves have been made already.

Incomplete Information: One or more players has imperfect information and also cannot be sure what sort of player they are up against, what strategies they favor, or the value the other player(s) place on outcomes. Poker is a good example of this, as a good poker player will try to hide their preferred strategies to more effectively bluff.

Asymmetric Information: One player has perfect information while the other player(s) has incomplete information. This sounds to me a lot like the typical DM/player distinction.

Rosenthal suggests that imperfect information games are the most interesting theoretically. "[T]he truly interesting games involving human interaction are games of imperfect information" (p. 84). However, game theorists can turn games of incomplete/asymmetric information into games of imperfect information by using a "call to Nature" or assigning a probability to each possible unknown move or unknown strategy choice in these situations.

It seems like Alexis is saying D&D works best when it's an imperfect information game. Players know the moves that they and the DM have made, but don't know the outcome until the dice are rolled. But once they are rolled, we're in a situation of perfect information until the dice need to be rolled again.

What I'm suggesting is that occasionally, incomplete or asymmetric information situations, where the player is forced to make a Call to Nature to determine the best strategy, can be a good thing.

More later.

Rosenthal, E.C. (2011). The complete idiot's guide to game theory: The fascinating math behind decision-making. New York: Alpha Books.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Secret Roll

I know there are a lot of bloggers and blog readers who favor rolling all the dice in the open. The original West Marches campaign, which I'm not faithful to 100%, also was for open rolls by the DM.

Now, I've come to believe that in combat, yes, the rolls should be open. Fair combat rolls, observed by everyone, lead to fewer complaints when things go pear-shaped.

But sometimes, rolling in secret as a DM for non-combat tasks is a good thing.

Searching for secret doors is a trade-off. There's not guaranteed to be a secret door where you're searching. And even if there is, you're not guaranteed to find it due to the roll. And each search takes a Turn, so the more searching done, the more chances of wandering monster encounters that suck up resources. In this case, if the roll is in the open and a result proves that there is no secret door (1-2 on a d6 for an Elf, 1 on d6 for anyone else, with no door found), the party knows to stop expending resources. But if the result is a mystery, they don't know if there is no door, or if the dice just weren't on their side (and chances are they weren't).

And now, they have to make a choice. Risk a wandering monster check to roll again? Or move on and potentially miss some treasure or a shortcut through the dungeon.

Now, I can understand the rationalization in the above situation that a successful roll where there is no door means the party gets definitive evidence that there is no door. So rolling in the open isn't so bad for that. But the suspense and measuring of odds of keeping that roll secret is more interesting to me.

Similarly, Thief skills are rolls that I, having learned from Mentzer's rules where he advises such, think the DM should roll in secret. Again, it adds to the suspense at the game table. And it's a situation where, as DM, if you were going to fudge the roll anyway, you might as well just tell the player straight up that conditions are such that they succeed automatically.

I mean, no one complains when a DM tells the Thief player, "Sorry, there just aren't any shadows to hide in here." Or if a door is barred rather than locked, so it can't be picked (although a clever Thief can work around a barred door too...). If the situation is such that failure is guaranteed, I don't see many players complaining. So if success is guaranteed, the DM should just tell the player that without bothering to make a roll. 

Just like players, the DM shouldn't have to roll unless the outcome is uncertain. And while certain rolls like monsters' attacks, damage, and saving throws most definitely should be rolled in the open, occasionally there are still times when it is better for the game experience for the DM to keep the roll secret from the players.

IMO, YMMV, all that jazz.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A New Take on Demi-Human Level Limits

This is an idea I've had before, but a quick search of my blog makes me think I've never posted about it before.

So we all know that AD&D had some pretty severe level limits on demi-humans, which Unearthed Arcana and then 2E relaxed. Classic D&D is a bit more generous than AD&D 1E, but you're limited to the race-as-class system. 3E got rid of them altogether and they've remained gone through 5E.

You're probably thinking now, "Thank you Captain Obvious."

I still haven't reverted my Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules to race-as-class (which I'm still considering, but less strongly right now). So my races have limited options for what class they can take, and level limits a la AD&D.

But there's this idea that keeps floating around in my head: What if the level limits only apply to multiclassed characters? 

So TSR classes go up to level 15. Humans have no limits in any classes. Demi-humans do. And unlike AD&D, the highest any demi-human is allowed to go (with the right race/class combination) is level 12. This is to honor the fact that the BX/BECMI Dwarf class maxes out at 12th level. AD&D, as you probably know, allowed most demi-humans unlimited advancement as Thieves.

Well, my idea above would be to allow single-classed demi-humans to reach pinnacles of  power just like a human. It's only when they multi-class that they need to worry about the level limits.

Of course, then some people will ask, why play a human then, if they can't multiclass, and you could get the demi-human abilities along with unlimited advancement as a single-class character?

Well, I do give humans two advantages: dual classing, and Survivability which allows them to roll for hit points with advantage (roll twice, take the higher number). So far, the hit point thing has been a key selling point for the race.

Anyway, it's just an idea that's been rolling around in my head. Not sure if I will implement it or not. We'll see.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fey Planet

A while back, I was reading an article about a new exo-planet that was discovered, and scientists think that it may be in the Goldilocks Zone, but tidally locked. That got me to thinking what conditions on a planet like that would be.

The planet orbits its star, and rotates perpendicular to the axis of rotation. In other words, it would appear from a fixed point in space to roll along its revolution. If you are on the planet, one side constantly faces the star, and the other side constantly faces away. Habitable zones, if there were any, would be along the equator. The day side would mostly be too hot, and the night side too cold.

So any life on the planet would likely be in the perpetual twilight/dawn of the equatorial zone.

And THAT sounds a lot like the Realm of Faerie as described by Poul Anderson in Three Hearts and Three Lions.

And THAT sounds like a great setting for a sword-and-planet style game!

The fey kingdoms inhabit the Twilight Zone (OK, probably need a better name than that to prevent endless Rod Serling impersonations). Sunward, the land gets drier and hotter as it gets brighter. The Sun Lands are an inhospitable desert, with a molten sea rumored at the center. Only the fiercest and toughest of desert-monsters can inhabit even the fringes of this land. Nightward, the land gets sparser and colder as it gets darker. The Night Lands are inhospitable glaciers, with a massive ice mountain rumored at the center. Only the fiercest of arctic-monsters can inhabit even the fringes of this land.

There is no night and day. Time is kept by the moons (this planet should have more than one) and the procession of the stars through the sky. "Days" or hours would be kept by the rising of certain constellations in the sky.

Sounds like a cool setting for either straight D&D fantasy, or for a sword-and-planet style mix of tech and magic.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Giving Credit to Robert Fisher

Recently I've been going back to Robert Fisher's old posts on his Classic D&D (or was it OD&D) campaign from many years ago. Reading these was a big part of what got me back into older editions of D&D.

Looking at them again now, I realized that my "big idea" for energy drain the other day was actually just Robert's idea from a dozen years ago or so.

So thanks (again) for the idea Robert! It obviously stuck with me somewhere in the back of my mind.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Why are stirges gluttonous?

Having dealt with stirges in some games recently as both player and DM, and in Pool of Radiance (still playing it!), I was wondering today why they will suck you dry if allowed

Mosquitoes don't do that. Ticks definitly bloat themselves, but detach before they pop themselves. I assume leeches do as well. So should stirges.

Idea: once a stirge has drained more than double its hit points, it detaches and flees to spawn.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Gold Box: Pool of Radiance

I've known for a while that the old TSR Gold Box DOS game Pool of Radiance was available for play online. I finally checked it out last night, and played around with it a bit more today.

I played it, and the first of the Dragonlance Gold Box games in college. Back then, we just messed around with it, except for one friend who really got into it and played through all three Dragonlance games (there were three, IIRC).

I remember having fun with the character creation and customization more than anything. Yes, it looks so primitive by today's standards. Even by the standards of 1988 (when the first game was published) I think it looks a bit blah. But I was thrilled that I could remake my own D&D characters in the game. Of course, we quickly realized that you could just max out each character's stats, and why not? The game is tough enough as it is.

Playing it now, I'm finding my way back into it, but there are a few things I'm probably missing by not checking out the manual. Like I once combat starts, monsters can lose morale and flee or surrender, but there's no way for my characters to do that that I can see. I haven't tried moving "off the board" yet, maybe that would do it.

And I'm thinking of restarting. I realized that a party of six Half-Elf Fighter/Cleric/Magic-Users might be optimal. Slow advancement, but lots of cure light wounds and sleep spells. Maybe one Fighter/Magic-User/Thief, because I'll probably need a thief later on.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Halloween Seasonal Monsters

Wow, that's a generic title! There are tons of monsters in D&D that fit the Halloween season.

But I'm going way back for this one.

The "pumpkin-head" bugbear.

I've got a Jack-o-Lantern monster (from my old Beast of the Week series), but I'm thinking that in my upcoming session of West Marches, I need to throw in some of these guys. Pumpkin-head bugbears. The group has fought regular bugbears before, but I think this time I'll throw in this twist and see what happens.

I don't remember if it was someone's blog, or maybe one of the D&D themed videos I was watching on YouTube, but recently someone was complaining about the overuse of bugbears in modules. Well, slap a pumpkin head on them and I think there's less reason to complain about them appearing so often.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Random Energy Drain thought

Nearly a decade ago (wow!) I suggested an alternate way to handle undead's energy drain (and swords of life stealing etc.) would be to let the PCs keep their level, and all the spells/day, chances to hit, saves, skills that come with it. They just lose the hit die and associated hit points that go with it.

I never did implement that idea.

Now, I've got another idea that is also worth considering. Energy drain doesn't sap levels, but it does sap XP. So a 6th level Fighter that is energy drained drops from however much XP they had to 24,000xp (half way from 5th to 6th) but keeps the hit points, fighting ability, and saves of a 6th level character. It just takes them a lot longer to level up to 7th. Getting level drained again would drop them to 12,000xp, halfway between 4th and 5th. And if they get down to halfway between 1st and 2nd and get energy drained again, they die and rise the next night as undead themselves.

The penalty is pretty big, but retaining all the level abilities would allow them to keep adventuring with their companions. Also, with my rule of "you keep your level when you die and roll up a new PC" it would work better.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Plus Carousing -- Reinforcing XP for Treasure

I really shouldn't be doing this, but I made a hex map for an East Marches exploration game for TSR-East. I'm still not done with the rules (although getting close, since it's pretty much just BX/BECMI stuff beyond the classes/spells, and monsters).

In my current West Marches game, using my TSR rules, there's XP for monsters, XP for exploration, and XP for treasure earned.

In Chanbara, there's XP for gold donated to your liege. The idea, if you haven't checked out Chanbara (and you should, it's pretty cool!), is to reinforce the idea of duty to your lord/organization, which is something that I think makes Asian themed gaming a bit different than the wild-west style of normal D&D.

And I just had this epiphany. Give XP as I do in my normal West Marches game. Explore new hexes? XP. Find interesting locations? XP. Fight monsters and defeat them? XP. Bring back treasure? XP. But also, when the players spend that treasure in the home base on potions and scrolls, enchanting weapons or armor, hirelings and henchmen, magical research, or just blow it on carousing, they ALSO get XP. So getting the loot and spending it gets double of just hoarding it.

Benefit? For the players, they level up faster if they choose to do so. For me as DM, it's easier to tempt them with hints of treasures, and things like bandits/thieves/ninja that steal loot, or rust monsters that destroy treasure, become bigger worries.

Drawbacks? None that I can see. Characters who are hoarding their wealth are likely going to spend it eventually.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

TSR-East spell expansion

Based on previous discussion, I have expanded the spell lists for Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins East.

Actually, the Mudang and Sohei remained as previously posted. The Wushi, however, gained a lot more spells. There were formerly 12 spells at each level (in line with BX/BECMI). Now, levels 1-3 have 16 spells each, and levels 4-5 have 14 spells each. Level 6 remains as it was with 12.

The Xia still has only six spells per level, but since they're based on the Elf class but can advance to 15th level (my maximum for any class), I decided they need to get some 5th level spells after all. So I added six 5th level spells for them.

For the Wushi, I added the needle and scarf spells from Flying Swordsmen, and a few other attack spells, but mainly tried to add more utility magic for them. I came up with one brand new spell which I'm kicking myself for not having thought of years ago. It's called Thousand Li Horse, based on the famous mounts from the Three Kingdoms. It's a 4th level spell that summons a magical steed (yes like the mount and phantom steed spells) but it can carry you 1000 li (300 miles) in one day.

For the Xia, I had to make up two of the six spells for them, since there weren't enough spells existing in AD&D, OA, Flying Swordsmen, or Chanbara at 5th or 6th level that fit their theme (mystical martial artist). I did give them Finger of Death, the reversed Raise Dead (reverse form only) to simulate the dim mak or five fingers of death or whatever high level "poke your opponent and they die" type technique you like. Touch only, of course, unlike the Cleric/Mudang/Sohei version.

The Xia's new spells are Aura of Courage (reverse to Aura of Fear) which gives bonuses to hit/saves to allies (reverse lowers morale and penalizes saves for enemies), and Cheat Death which resurrects (revives from poisoning/petrification/etc) the Xia at the end of the duration if they die while the spell is in effect.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Funhouse and the Tactical Dungeon

I will come out and say it. I'm a fan of funhouse dungeons. Some people just groan. Some people can't suspend their disbelief. Some people feel like it's the DM (or module designer) springing 'gotchas' on them. But I personally love the zany, goofy, and the straight up bizarre in dungeons.

I've been trying to add more of that to the West Marches, especially now that I'm keying zones that are three or four bands of difficulty from the home town. Yes, there are tougher monsters. And there are more monsters per encounter. But the farther you get from town, the crazier I want things to get. It's a fantasy game after all!

I finally figured out what to do with a certain famous dungeon map from an early TSR module. I won't say which since I know a few of the players read this blog. Sorry guys! What I've decided to do is make it a funhouse. But not just any sort of funhouse. Dungeons like Quasqueton have their weirdness, but a lot of mundane as well. The Tomb of Horrors (it'll get placed in the Marches someday, but much farther from town than the areas I'm working on now) is a bunch of puzzles with deadly consequences but pretty much all funhouse style.

What I'm hoping to do is make this dungeon more of a carnival of crazy, a place where the monsters are there to challenge you to strange contests instead of to combat, where "traps" are more like weird fantasy game shows, and where the "special" bizarre encounter is pretty much every room on the map. I am a Mel Brooks DM after all!

The purpose of a funhouse dungeon is, in my estimation, two-fold. One, it lets the DM flex their creative muscles. Not needing to worry about ecology or economy or social tensions frees the DM up to think about what would make the game more fun. Two, it provides a challenge for the PLAYERS, not just for their ability scores, skills, and collected magical spells/items/powers. Sure, players could choose to fight their way through the funhouse, but they're choosing to miss a lot of the cool stuff that way.

I remember many years ago, maybe on the old WotC forums, maybe on Dragonsfoot, people debating funhouse dungeons. There was a consensus among the posters (which makes me think it was more likely WotC forums in the 3E days rather than Dragonsfoot in the early OSR days) that funhouse dungeons, or any sort of encounter that relied on the PLAYER'S creativity or knowledge was bad design. The proponents of immersion in setting and character thought this was the ultimate no-no. How could you say you were role playing if you were solving problems as yourself rather than as your made up persona?

Well, I think they were wrong. There's nothing wrong with letting your personal player knowledge, creativity, and problem solving skills help you out of an encounter in an RPG. If you have a clever or creative idea, and it circumvents an encounter or a die roll, GOOD!

I find it funny that some players* find the idea that I might use my real world knowledge to defeat a Grimtooth style trap without rolling any dice to be "cheating" but will happily use real world knowledge to help them in tactical battle situations. They will happily design a squad of adventurers that execute amazing levels of tactical brilliance against monster combat encounters, even though their characters don't all have a military background -- using their real world knowledge. They may also engage with the rules to such an extent that they are always making "optimal" choices for how to engage the game mechanics -- using their real world knowledge. They make plans to engage in social encounters, manipulate NPCs, and find methods to get what they want through role play -- using their real world knowledge.

Why is it suddenly a bad thing if my crazy idea saves us from having to go toe-to-toe with a gorgon or dragon and likely losing a character or two?

Why is designing a series of encounters where combat should not be the preferred method of resolution a bad thing? It's not "fair" to the players who aren't good at coming up with the sorts of ideas that will get you through the dungeon? Well, is heavy tactical play fair to the player who just isn't good at tactics? Sure, in tactical play everyone gets to roll the dice and fortune plays as big a part as planning. That does even things out. Even with a great tactical plan, you'll fail if the dice screw you over. And thinking of it that way, isn't an outside the box resolution, the kind that is expected for a funhouse dungeon encounter, a superior way to engage with the game? If your tactical expertise is still limited by the chance outcomes of the dice, isn't avoiding the dice through your player smarts the better way to resolve the situation? I think so.

Small squad tactical infiltration dungeons are fun, don't get me wrong. I enjoy that sort of thing, too. But don't dump on the funhouse dungeon. It's challenging different player skills than the tactical assault, but both are challenging the player.




*I was going to say a lot of players, but this was a few people on a message board thread, so I probably should not the vast majority of gamers feel this way, I have only anecdotal evidence that a small but vocal number of gamers felt that way like 10 to 15 years ago.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Of spells and spell lists

Interesting discussion last night during and after our Rad Hack game. Jeremy had wanted to run a standard fantasy type campaign using The Black Hack 2E. Dean had created his character, and was complaining that there were only a few spells on the spell list to choose from. Jeremy and I have also been looking and talking about Ba5ic by Fr. Dave of the Blood of Prokopius blog. It looks pretty fun, we'd like to play it sometime, but we both want to experience it as a player and we need someone to run it for us! But again, in Ba5ic, there are only 6 spells per level. Dean was unimpressed.

We also had a bit of discussion about how spells have generally become less powerful as editions progress. It used to be, magic-users and clerics had few spells they could cast, but the right spell at the right time (and a bit of luck with saving throws) could win an encounter. And without "my precious encounter' syndrome, you'd just rack up the win and move on to more encounters. These days, [again, I know I've said this before] a lot of game design seems to be afraid of that, thinking the only "fair" way to win is by a hit point slog.

And we also had discussion of spell lists in 1E/2E which were expansive, and later editions which are also fairly expansive. So why are most OSR games limiting themselves to small spell lists?

I can only answer for myself, but my thought processes in only having small spell lists in Flying Swordsmen and Chanbara and Treasures, Serpents and Ruins goes as follows:

Partly it's nostalgia. I grew up playing BECMI. It had 8 spells per level for Clerics. 12 spells per level for Magic-Users. Druids in the Companion set added 4 spells per level to the Cleric list (but had a handful of spells that were alignment based taken away). It was enough spells back then. It is enough now. Or so I thought.

Partly it's an artificial conceit among some in the OSR that the only worthy rule-sets fit in 48, 64, or 96 or however many pages. Based on the page counts of the old TSR books. And while I found it a useful constraint for me to keep Chanbara to 68 pages, it's not really a requirement that I need to stick to for everything I do.

Partly it's that a lot of those AD&D spells, especially some Unearthed Arcana additions, just never seemed worth taking, to be honest. Some of them are so specialized that they'd only be used in very limited circumstances, and it's usually better to fill a spell slot with something more generally useful. Granted, if you are packing one of those specialized spells, and the situation comes up, you look like a genius for having it ready. But how often do you really need to cast precipitation or fire water compared to the number of situations where it's useful to cast sleep or cure light wounds?



So, as I look over my spell lists for TSR-East this morning, I'm thinking maybe I should expand the spell lists.

But I want to be careful doing it. I don't want to be like 5E, where there are lots of spells, but a good 1/3 or so are only useful in combat (and most are just variations on how to do damage). I want a variety of interesting spells that can be creatively applied to a variety of solutions.

Time to expand!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Black Hack Musings

Jeremy has been pushing for a series of one-shot games using variations of The Black Hack recently. He's been using the Rad Hack, a post-apoc version of the system, for a game recently and it's been a lot of fun. It is definitely a simple system. And that may actually be my problem with it. It may be TOO simple.

Now, this post is not meant as an attack on Jeremy, or on the Black Hack family of games, or David Black. It's just, like, my opinion, man. So abide.

That said, there are a few things about TBH that just don't sit well with me. I'm going to enumerate them here, and discuss a bit about why I'm not fond of these mechanics/systems. And once more, for the people who didn't read the above - I'm enjoying Rad Hack, and I don't think it's a bad game at all. It's just not my cup of tea.

So there are a few things that bug me. Two that I've already blogged about are armor and active defense rolls (also armor in this post).

The armor rules require a fair amount of bookkeeping and/or really break immersion for me. The Rad Hack's BTB rules just are weird. In any battle, your armor absorbs X amount of damage then stops working. But ten minutes later, in the next battle, it can again absorb X amount of damage (then stops working). Jeremy has switched to a system of straight damage reduction (but not the usage die suggestion I made in my post liked above).
 ________________________________
Again, I already posted that I'm not a huge fan of "active defense."* Supposedly it keeps players paying attention and allows them to take their fate in their own hands. Statistically, it doesn't matter if the DM needs to roll d20+mods against my AC, or I need to roll d20+mods against my AC to see if I'm hit. Making the players roll the monsters' attacks and the monster's saving throws for the DM I guess takes some pressure off the DM. But the DM still needs to be monitoring those rolls.

*Active defense has two meanings. One, the defense value is rolled each round, or each attack, against the attack roll. Very swingy. Not a fan of that, either. In TBH and hence in this post, the defense value is static (aside from occasional modifiers) but the player rolls avoidance rather than the monsters rolling to hit.

As a DM, I really shouldn't trust every player to be making their own rolls like that. I've played with enough players through the years who always seemed to make those crunch time rolls, and get plenty of natural 20s (although sometimes the dice are just like that, it's happened to me a time or two and maybe some of my fellow players suspected me of cheating too). As DM, if I roll, I know it's fair.

And as a player, it takes away some of the suspense. I don't know why it does. Until I roll in Rad Hack, I don't know if the monster hit me or not. But once I roll, I pretty much know right away. In traditional D&D (or other games) I'm in suspense until the DM announces the result. The time delay between the DM rolling and the DM announcing the result is exciting! Making the monsters' attack rolls for them just seems like more work for me. Again, this is just my personal
________________________________
Milestone leveling is another problem I have with the system. I've posted before about how I think the experience system is one of the most important parts of the game. Maybe THE most important part. Because it informs play. If activities A, B, and C gain you XP, then "good play" tries to maximize A, B, and C. Milestone leveling just says the game master will reward you with levels when they feel it's time.

And yes, a DM can set out a comprehensive set of criteria that result in gaining a level. And then players can try to manage their game play to meet those criteria as often as possible. Jeremy has been using sessions of play as the milestones, rather than basing it off of subjective criteria related to the in-game fiction. And the result? Dean and I are clamoring for him to run Rad Hack more often instead of all these one-shot experiments. Because the more sessions we clock, the faster we level in this game.

OD&D~AD&D gives you XP for monsters defeated but mostly for treasure. Optimal game play is about finding treasure. 2E BTB had a bunch of weird requirements for each class that meant unless everyone was playing the same type of class, there was no "optimal" game play. But I never played with someone who ran 2E experience by the book. Everyone just used the O/AD&D treasure/monsters system. Maybe spellcasters got some bonus XP for casting spells or thieves for picking locks, but mostly it was just fight the monsters and get the treasure. 3E and 4E focused on combat as the way to get XP. And it led to combat heavy games. TBH milestone system leads to...it's fuzzy.

__________________________________
OK, one last one. TBH uses the classic 6 ability scores (although the mecha hack game Jeremy sent uses only 4). And every roll is based on rolling a d20 under one ability score or another. It combines a universal mechanic (which IMO is not always the best way to model probabilities for various actions) with stat dependency.

It can be hard to play a non-combat character in many RPGs. But TBH (or at least the way Rad Hack is run by Jeremy -- again, not an attack, just explaining how I get my experience to base this off of) seems to actively punish you for having a character not optimized for combat. Again, part of this is the active defense system. If I have a low strength Cleric in D&D (and I did play one once), I'm not likely to hit often in combat. Fine. But with plate armor and shield, I'm well able to avoid the monster hits as well. But in Rad Hack, if I have low Strength (or low Dex in ranged combat), it makes my attacks less effective and the monster attacks MORE effective. And the armor only holds up so long.

__________________________________
So, there are my reasons why I don't think TBH is the game for me. It's still fun to play Jeremy's Rad Hack game. I'm invested in my character, Cybersys 842. And it's mainly this investment in the character, not any investment in the rules system, that makes me want to keep playing it.

In my first impression of Rad Hack (and TBH in general), the post linked above for active defense rolls, I said at the end I might try to make my own TBH variant. Now, though, I'm pretty sure I never will. The system, much like 5E, is fine for what it is, but it's just not what I want out of my games. I'm happy to play it, but won't likely DM it.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

It's like a mini Christmas!

Came home from work late (grading papers) and skipping the board game meet-up, but there was a package waiting at my door.

A week or so ago, I used some of my Chanbara/paper minis earnings to order some new miniatures. I hadn't ordered any in a long time (several years), and browsing, I saw that a company I've ordered from before, Red Box, had some new sets of fantasy minis in a line called Dark Alliance. Lots of them! (Other sets only labelled Red Box are historicals.)

I'm not actually using minis in my West Marches game, but if I start, I thought it would be good to have some more female adventuring types. And some of the new sets were Amazons. There were also some Cimmerians that looked cool. So I ordered them. Shipping to Korea was a minimum $35, so I figured what the heck! I got those two, plus some "half-orcs" that look nothing at all like Saruman's uruk-hai from the LotR films...no, nothing at all! Just coincidence! ;) And I saw they have some "fire demons" which again, any resemblance to balrogs, living or dead, is purely coincidental! And another company I've also ordered from before, Caesar, has some lizard man (sorry, lizard folk in these non-gender-specific times) figures as well. Didn't up the shipping cost, so I got them all.

 When I opened the boxes, here's what I got. The Caesar lizard-people were not on sprues, although a few had bits of sprue still attached. And their shields, and two poses' arms, were on sprues to be detached and attached to the minis. I'll get around to that some other day. All the Red Box minis were on sprues.

Obviously the two big guys are the (can't be called) balrogs. The blue are the Modern Amazons (looked the coolest of the various Amazon sets). Brown are the half-orcs. White (the color really resembles the old glow-in-the-dark plastic toys you'd get in cereal boxes back in the 80's) are the Cimmerians (Set 2, which I chose mostly because they have a wizard/shaman pose - farthest back in the picture below). The lizard-personages are still in the bag, in gray.

Now, Red Box doesn't have the crispest sculpts. I've ordered from them before (orcs for sure, maybe some others). I'm fine with that. When I'm gaming, I want figures that can represent PCs and monsters. They don't need to be works of art. But the first sprue of Cimmerians that I pulled out was so covered in flash. It looks pretty bad. Luckily, it was only that one sprue. And I think this must be a mis-labeling not just a bit of luck on my part. The Cimmerican box says "33 figures in 11 poses" and shows 11 poses on the back, but each sprue has only 10 poses. But, and here's where maybe I was lucky, there were 4 sprues. So I got 40 figures in 10 poses. 7 figures ahead, even though I'm one pose short.


I took one set of figures from each set off of the sprues this evening. Since I'm planning to use these for RPG gaming rather than war-gaming, and I'm not using minis at the moment, I figure there's no rush to get them all off the sprues. It's not like I've bothered to pain the Caesar "Adventurers" or the other sets (goblins, dwarves, elves) I'd bought from them, or the orcs and whatever else I'd gotten from Red Box a few years back. They're all still unpainted. One of these days...

Oh, and I should note -- if you're thinking about getting these, be warned. They're true 25mm scale. They're tiny next to a Reaper heroic scale mini. If you have lots of Halfling, Gnome, and Dwarf characters, you could use them together and they'd be fine. Those balrogs will still tower over a Reaper, though.

Monday, October 7, 2019

TSR-East Classes: Yakuza

I had intended to post this yesterday, to get each class out a day at a time. But I posted about character death and then was busy mucking around with the spell descriptions (doing a few updates, organizing, making sure I had all the spells on the lists...and I only got the 1st level spells completed).

So I mentioned this in the comments of my post giving an overview of the classes. The term 'yakuza' is only about 130-150 years old. And modern video games and film give many people the impression of yakuza as a modern thing. But the roots of the yakuza go back to two marginalized groups in feudal Japan, the tekiya (wandering tinkerers, carnies, merchants of shoddy goods) and the bakuto (gamblers). Tekiya were mostly burakumin (部落民 "the outcasts"), or eta. Because they were at the bottom of the social ladder and had few rights, they banded together for mutual protection. That later led to "protection" in the gangster sense, extortion, all that stuff. But they also were protectors of the commoners against excesses of the samurai. The oyabun-kobun social structure of the modern yakuza comes from the tekiya (and many modern yakuza still manage the festivals).

Gambling was illegal, so bakuto were criminals. The bakuto also found it useful to band together to prevent persecution. The tattoo culture, including the iconic slipping off of one sleeve to show them off, comes from the bakuto.

So, on to my class. The base is obviously the Thief class, just as in 1E OA. I'm not using the percentile thief skills, though, just x in 6 chances for simplicity (my TSR-West does at the moment still use percentiles). My Yakuza, however, don't get the full complement. Just the traps/locks skills. What they get in compensation is magical tattoos at every even level. Yes, I borrowed the idea from the 3E OA Tattooed Monk PrC. And the tattoos give them access to all kinds of fun abilities, including more thief skills if they want.

Here's the class:

Yakuza (Gangster) AKA Fěitú, Ggangpei
Prime Requisite: Dex [13 +5%, 16 +10%]
Hit Die: d4 to 9th level, +2/level after
Arms: all weapons, light armor
Special Abilities: disarm traps, backstab, tattoos
Ninja Advancement
Level
XP
BAB
Abilities
1
0
+1
Disarm Traps, Backstab
2
1200
+1
Tattoo
3
2400
+1


4
5000
+1
Tattoo
5
10,000
+3
Backstab x3
6
20,000
+3
Tattoo
7
40,000
+3


8
80,000
+3
Tattoo
9
150,000
+5


10
300,000
+5
Backstab x4, Tattoo
11
450,000
+5


12
600,000
+5
Tattoo
13
750,000
+7


14
900,000
+7
Tattoo
15
1,050,000
+7
Backstab x5
Disarm Traps: A yakuza can locate traps 1-4/d6, and disarm traps or pick locks 1-2/d6.
Backstab: A yakuza that surprises an opponent or attacks from hiding gets a +4 bonus to the attack, and deals double damage if successful. The damage increases at 5th, 10th, and 15th level as shown on the Yakuza Advancement chart.
Tattoo: At every even level, the yakuza gets a tattoo which grants a magical ability. The yakuza must pick a tattoo from the list of yakuza tattoos below.
Bat: Gain infravision 60’ range.
Cherry Blossom: Disease immunity.
Chrysanthemum: Save vs petrification at +2
Dragon: Save vs spells at +2.
Island: Save vs wand or staff at +2.
Koi Fish: Breathe water 1 hour per day.
Lotus: Protection from evil spell, 1/day.
Monkey: Jump 20’ (long or high).
Moon: Hide (as ninja, indoors or outdoors) 1-3/d6.
Owl: Hear noise 1-3/d6.
Orchid: Detect magic spell 1/day.
Ox: Save vs petrification at +2.
Phoenix: Fire resistance (+1 to saves, -1 damage per die).
Pine Tree: Cold resistance (+1 to saves, -1 damage per die).
Skull: Save vs death ray at +2.
Snake: Escape shackles or bonds 1-2/d6.
Spider: Climb sheer surfaces 1-9/d10.
Sun: Heal double from resting.
Tiger: Immunity to fear effects.
Toad: Save vs poison at +2.
Turtle: AC +1
Wisteria: Save vs paralysis at +2.



Yakuza
Save Level:
1-4
5-8
9-12
13-15
Death Ray/Poison
13
11
9
7
Magic Wand
14
12
10
8
Paralysis/Turn to Stone
13
11
9
7
Dragon Breath
16
14
12
10
Rod/Staff/Spell
15
13
11
9

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Character death is becoming a feature of my game

Talking of my West Marches campaign, of course.

When I started it two and a half years ago, in 5E, there was early on an encounter with three 1st level PCs -- Thief and 2 Monks -- against ten or twelve skeletons. It was a near TPK. All of the PCs were down to 0hp. The skeletons moved on. Death saves ensued. Only one PC, the Thief, managed to survive.

I think there was one more character death early on before anyone reached 3rd level, but I don't remember exactly. There was a long span without many close calls even (but with two Clerics, a Paladin, a Bard, and occasionally a Druid in the party, they had lots of healing powers).

After most PCs had some levels, Dean's paladin (who was maybe 2nd level) was killed by will-o-wisps. The Deck of Many Things was employed in an effort to get a wish to revive him, and Ferret Jax was Imprisoned.

Jeremy's character in an online play session was charmed by dryads and never rescued. I think Brad's ranger may have also died facing sahuagin. 

So in nearly two years of 5E play, we lost three or four characters to death, and a couple more to mishaps.

Since I switched to Classic this past March, death has been a more frequent visitor.

Some new players were starting with low level PCs, and yes, deaths have been pretty common.

Nate lost both of his early characters in combat. Julian's Berserker tried a potion and it was poison - he failed his save. Someone else fell victim to the Deck of Many Things as well...maybe one of Justin's characters. There was the TPK a few sessions back (including Nate's 3rd character, the Muscle-Wizard).

Last night, in another online session, Jeremy's Fighter was killed by Dean's Fighter who was mind-controlled by an intellect devourer. And when he was released and Justin's Mage-Thief and Jeremy's backup Ranger were both hit by feeblemind but Dean's PC was freed, there was a pretty tense battle of low hit rolls and low damage results (Dean's Fighter is an archer with high Dex and low Str), lots of misses and whittling down hit points on both sides. Eventually Dean won and slew the second intellect devourer. So we avoided a second TPK.

While the game was fun in 5E, it was a lot less of a challenge for the players. These days, because death is a real possibility, I think the players are feeling like survival (with treasure) is a real victory. Especially when events like last night occur.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Spell Organization and Presentation

I know I've blogged about this before years ago, but I'm blogging about it again.

In the old days, spells were presented and described in lists separated by caster class, and also divided into sections by spell level. More modern versions of the game like to just stick them all on a big old alphabetical list.

The advantage of the latter system is that spells listed that way are in a general reference format. Especially when you have lots of classes that cast spells and there is a lot of overlap between the lists, it makes sense to do this. It saves space because spells don't need to be repeated. It's not hard to find that spell. Just look it up alphabetically.

I find though, that playing a spellcaster is more difficult this way. Presenting spells divided up by level allows me to easily focus on the beginning spells that are or could be available to my character without having to flip around through a bunch of random pages to compare my options. The old school way is a better learning tool. The new school way is more convenient for veteran gamers.

I've tended to stick to the old school method even though the games I've produced have really been targeted at veteran players. And I've noticed some other retro-clones go with the newer method of spell entry.

For TSR (West) at the moment I have the spells divided up the old school way. But if a spell is on another class list (Cleric default, then Magic-User) I don't write it up again. I have a note in the list of spells to look it up under the other class/level. Bards don't have any unique spells. Every Bard spell in TSR is either originally from the Cleric or Magic-User list. So it's probably pretty inconvenient for Bards, actually.

In TSR-East, especially with Mudang and Sohei sharing so many spells, I want to avoid this. So I'm going to be splitting the difference in TSR-East, and when I have time, re-editing my TSR house rules document in this way.

Spells will still be divided up by level, but all spells from every class will be lumped into that section together. All 1st level spells from every class will be presented together alphabetically.

There will be a bit of repetition. Hold Person and Dispel Magic, for example, are different levels for Clerics and Magic-Users (and my TSR-East classes). And I'll either have to include them twice or stick notes to look for them at the lower level spell list. I'll probably go ahead and list them twice, since the point is to be able to see all the spells of a certain level together.

Hopefully this will make the spells easy to learn, but also easy enough to reference when needed.

TSR-East Classes: Xia

The xia is the class I most want to try out (if I were a player) in this rule set. I mean, I want to try them all. I'd love to have someone else DM with these rules. And I'd probably be playing one PC for a bit, then getting them killed or retiring them so I could try another class and work through them all. But this would be my first choice.

The xia can be simply stated as: All of Flying Swordsmen boiled down to one character class.

Based on wuxia movie heroes and villains like FSRPG and Dragon Fist before it, this is the class to play if you want to be like Jet Li's Swordsman or anyone in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or...you know the rest. I based them on the Elf class in BX/BECMI, since they're a little bit fighter, a little bit magic-user. I did make a few changes. First of all, the spell list is very limited. There are only four levels, and six spells per level. The spells I picked were (taking the idea from my player Nate's idea for a muscle-wizard) ones that either boost melee ability (offense or defense) or provide mobility (for those jumps and fighting on bamboo branches and flips and whatnot). There are only two or three other types of spells, and all ones that seem appropriate (Remove Fear, and the reverse Cause Fear, for example).

I also plan to include a sidebar encouraging players and DMs to customize a Xia's spell list. For example, switch out some spells of your choice with the needle spells from Flying Swordsmen for a needle-themed xia. Or if you wanted to emulate the ninja powers of the Eight Demons of Kimon from Ninja Scroll, switch out some spells to give them those themes.

Besides spells, the Elf powers (find secret doors, immunity to ghoul paralysis, infravision) are out. Unarmed martial arts damage is in. They're also limited to light armor only. And they've got that expensive level advancement of the Elf class, too. But they're not limited to level 10.

I may still make a few modifications. I might go ahead and give them 5th level spells, since the Elf gets them. I'd need to decide what 5th level spells are appropriate to the theme, though. It gets harder as you go up in level. I might up the hit dice to compensate for the reduced armor. Just ideas right now, I'm actually pretty happy with how this class looks on paper.

So here's the class:

Xiá (Gallant) Yusha, Yongbyeong
Requirement: Int 9
Prime Requisite: Str and Int [13 +5%, 16 +10%]
Hit Die: d6 to 9th level, +2/level after
Arms: all weapons, light armor
Special Abilities: spells, unarmed damage, multiple attacks
Xia Advancement
Level
XP
BAB
Abilities
1
2
3
4
1
0
+1
Unarmed d6
1
2
4000
+1


2
3
8000
+1


2
1
4
16,000
+3


2
2
5
32,000
+3
Unarmed d8
2
2
1
6
64,000
+3


3
2
2
7
120,000
+5


3
3
2
1
8
240,000
+5
2 Attacks
3
3
3
2
9
360,000
+5


4
4
3
2
10
480,000
+7
Unarmed d10
4
4
3
3
11
600,000
+7


4
4
4
3
12
720,000
+7
3 Attacks
5
5
4
3
13
840,000
+9


5
5
5
3
14
960,000
+9


6
5
5
3
15
1,080,000
+9
Unarmed d12
6
5
5
4
Spells: A xia can cast a number of spells of the levels shown on the Xia Advancement chart each day. The xia must prepare their spells in advance, but may select from any spells of appropriate level from the xia spell list.
Unarmed Damage: A xia fighting with their unarmed strikes or with improvised weapons deals 1d6 damage with the attack. The damage increases at 5th, 10th, and 15th levels as shown on the Xia Advancement chart.
Multiple Attacks: A xia may attack twice per round at 8th level, and three times per round at 12th level. 



Xia
Save Level:
1-3
4-6
7-9
10-12
13-15
Death Ray/Poison
12
10
8
6
4
Magic Wand
14
12
10
8
6
Paralysis/Turn to Stone
14
12
10
8
6
Dragon Breath
15
13
11
9
7
Rod/Staff/Spell
15
12
11
9
7

Xia Spells

 
Level 1

1. Protection from Evil
2. Quinggong
3. Remove Fear
4. Restore Ki
5. Shield
6. Strength

Level 2

1. Bless*
2. Detect Invisible
3. Kusanagi
4. Levitate
5. Mirror Image
6. Resist Fire

Level 3

1. Dispel Magic
2. Elemental Ward
3. Fly
4. Haste*
5. Striking
6. Wind Dragon

Level 4

1. Demon Weapon
2. Dimension Door
3. Elemental Form
4. Fury of Battle
5. Polymorph Self
6. Protection from Magic