Thursday, December 31, 2020

Year in Review

 I was sure on the blog a lot more this year than I have been in recent years! And without going through all my old posts for the year, here are my gaming related remembrances from 2020.

Started off the year high on The Mandalorian and running some WEG d6 Star Wars along with my ongoing Classic D&D West Marches game. Both games are still going. West Marches is pretty regular, Star Wars is pretty irregular, but the players are enthusiastic whenever we play it. Need to get the next SW adventure prepped...

As a player, Dean and Jeremy ran a few games here and there, but the big game for me as a player was Nate's (one of my West Marches players) 5E Lost Mines of Phandelver game. He got a bunch of WotC's free giveaway stuff, and decided to run this online for us. And while I have my dislikes about the 5E system, this was a really fun game to play in. Especially challenging was that I purposefully chose only one weak cantrip that could cause damage for my Conjurer Wizard character (infestation, 1d6 poison damage), although by the end I had cast a fireball from a scroll and had a wand of magic missiles. Still, spent most of the time using my spells to make things easier for the party/harder for the monsters, and I really enjoyed it!

As a game designer, this was a dud year. Well, I had a lot of ideas, but when my wife and kids returned to Korea from the US in the spring because of covid, my game design time was limited. And pretty unfocused. I started the year excited about finally doing something with Krynn, having picked up the Dragonlance Adventures hardback, and reading through the Immortals Set. Quickly lost interest in both of those. 

East Marches is still something I want to work on, but my TSR-East houserules are a bit of a mess right now, and I'd like to get them in a satisfactory form before working on East Marches in earnest. Or maybe I should give up on that and just make EM for Chanbara. Sales have been sluggish lately, may want to put something out for it next year (like my Ghost Castle Hasegawa adventure!). I did spend a LOT of time working on (redundant) GM rules for TSR-East in case I ever release it. I've decided not to mess with phased initiative anymore after it just complicated my West Marches game, though, so they will need a small rewrite there.

And these days, I keep fiddling around with Chainmail combat, and trying to figure out how to make sense of it for D&D. I guess I need to just play it that way, but it seems like played straight, it will be very deadly and very arbitrary. But fiddling around with numbers has been a headache. I should just give up on it, I guess.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Reconceptualizing Chainmail Troop Type meanings

 Yes, one more post about adapting Chainmail combat systems for D&D combat. Yesterday I told myself to give up on this and just play D&D, but this morning I'm thinking about it again.

One thing that the fantasy supplement makes clear is that while in normal Chainmail mass combat a troop's armor and mounted status determines their total combat effectiveness for melee, both offensively and defensively, that doesn't have to be locked solid. There are some fantasy troop types, like Dwarves/Gnomes and Goblins/Kobolds that attack as Heavy Foot but defend as Light Foot (why? I have no idea, especially when the stereotypical Dwarf is in at least chainmail). 

So if I do ditch man-to-man combat (which I'm again considering), weapon choice could still matter. We just need to reconceptualize Chainmail mass combat offense as tied to weapon class, not armor type. 

Light weapons (daggers, clubs, and so on) -- Light Foot

Medium weapons (swords, maces, axes, etc.) -- Heavy Foot

Heavy weapons (great swords, polearms, etc.) -- Armored Foot

Now, things get interesting. A plate mail & shield armored knight forced to fight with a dagger because he lost is sword is now rolling to attack as Light Foot, but opponents still need to roll to hit him as if he's Armored Foot. A naked barbarian with a greataxe rolls to attack as Armored Foot, but monsters only need to roll to hit Light Foot to damage him. 

This means Magic-Users are pretty much always going to be Light for both attack and damage, unless they have a Shield spell or something. Clerics and Thieves will be Light or Medium to attack. Clerics will most often be Heavy or Armored for defense, but Thieves will be stuck with Light. Fighters will be whatever they want, but mostly will be Medium or Heavy to attack, and Heavy or Armored for defense. 

Another possibility, considering how some monsters attack as if cavalry (like Wights/Ghouls) even though they are on foot. In a D&D type game, maybe a good way to make the Fighter better without lots of special abilities like feats and combat maneuvers would be to let them fight as cavalry (light, medium, or heavy depending on their weaponry/armor) instead of foot, even when they're not mounted. This would be a BIG boost for the Fighter. And it would only be applied to characters of the Fighter class, not NPC men-at-arms. Men-at-arms would still need to be mounted to count as cavalry if I went this way. 

This might be something for me to play test with my boys over the winter break and see how it works.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

"Now, I am the master."

 Well, my WEG Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary edition arrived yesterday. I have to say, the rule book and sourcebook are both nicely printed, hardback books with a sturdy slip case. They look like they'll hold up to some heavy flipping back and forth. 

I was busy yesterday, and had my D&D game this afternoon, so I'm only now starting to flip through the rule book. But already, I can tell that the easy reference charts at the back are going to speed up my games immensely. The pdf I've been using will still be useful for stuff like aliens, gear, and ships from the prequels and expanded universe (I don't think there's anything from the sequel series in there, but if I want anything, I can easily improvise it). But the books are going to be my go-to references from now on. 

And yes, this is the first edition of the game, so there will be some differences from what we've been playing, but if it's a rule we've had to deal with already (like increasing attributes) we'll go with what's in the REUP pdf. 

Recently, watching Season 2 of the Mandalorian, and having watched episodes 2 through 7 with my boys (1, 8 and 9, plus Rogue One and Solo, and episodes of Clone Wars, will be coming soon), the boys want to change from Mandalorian characters to Jedi characters. I've already got one Alien Student of the Force, one Minor Jedi, and one Young Jedi (who doesn't always show). I think that's enough Force users for a game set during the Rebellion. Before the battle of Hoth even! My older boy suggested I run a separate game just for them so that they could play Jedi. I may just have to do that. 

They've also been playing Star Wars games on Roblox, and want me to play with them. They spent some of their Christmas money on Robux so they could purchase Jedi/Sith characters in the Roblox version of Battlefront, and I think that influenced their desires to ditch their Mando characters. 

They also were asking why they couldn't play as Sith/Dark Jedi. I explained that the rules said you had to give up your PC if you got too many Dark Side points, but they've played enough D&D now to not buy that. "Couldn't you run that kind of game if you wanted to?" Well, yes, yes I could. So, we may be in for an interesting ride with this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

And it hit me this morning

 I don't know if I'm just slow, but I finally realized why the Dungeon! game's combat system is so different from the man-to-man system. It's because it's the Fantasy combat system, extended to everything from skeletons and goblins up to purple worms and vampires. Not sure why it took me so long to see this. Or maybe I did before, but forgot about it. 

I also got on Google last night, and read some people's reports of playing OD&D with Chainmail combat. Some were very positive, some very negative. Apparently, according to one account which claimed to be of a discussion with Rob Kuntz, Gygax never intended for anyone to play D&D with Chainmail combat except in the endgame when armies were clashing. The references to Chainmail, according to Kuntz as reported by a 3rd party, were just cross marketing. 

Still, though, Arneson used Chainmail for his Blackmoor campaign, and Megarry used the Fantasy Combat rules for Dungeon! which was supposedly his take on how Dave A. ran Blackmoor. So I'm still curious as to how D&D with Chainmail combat would play. And I'd really just need to add the Cleric and Thief to the Fantasy combat table (maybe at high and low level values like the Hero/Superhero?). 

Combat with mundane opponents would be Mass Combat by default, but breaking out Man-to-Man for special battles with human/humanoid opponents (but using D&D initiative instead of Chainmail's complicated version). When fantastic monsters are encountered, players could use Mass Combat or the Fantasy Combat table as they like.

Aside from the realization about Dungeon! just being the Fantasy Combat system, this morning I also thought about this idea. Any PC in the game will automatically get a squad of men-at-arms (or monster mercenaries if Chaotic?) with a Chainmail point value equal to their Charisma score. They would be able to add dice to Mass Combat rolls or help in Man-to-Man combat but not Fantasy combat, and absorb hits in any combat mode.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Yet Another Chainmail Combat in D&D Thought

One problem with using Chainmail's man-to-man combat in D&D is that many monsters don't use manufactured weapons and armor. For those that do -- orcs, goblins, ogres, and so on -- it's easy enough to use. For those that don't, we either need to assign their natural weapons as a weapon class or else come up with some numbers just for them. And I don't think a generic "claw" or "bite" attack line makes much sense when you have everything from giant rats to dragons using them. So each monster would have to be evaluated as to what weapon is closest to its natural attacks, and how they compare against different types of armor.

Then again, if we're still using weapon damage, then maybe it's fine to have one "claw" attack line or what have you. My friends and I mistakenly used the 1st level hit roll numbers for all monsters and even for higher level PCs for the first few years we played, since they were printed on the character sheet on the back of the Mentzer book. So dragons and giants and rocs had the same hit probability as those giant rats in our early games. Dragons and rocs just did a LOT more damage when they hit with their claws and bites. Maybe having numbers for any "claw" or "bite" or "tail slap" or whatever would work. I'd still need to assign those numbers vs each armor type, though. Or decide that all tail slaps count as morning stars and all claws as daggers, something like that.

And then we turn to armor. D&D of course abstracts thick hides, quick movement, large or small size, etc. as part of a generic AC, while Chainmail man-to-man specifies the type of manufactured armor worn by an opponent. AD&D of course kept the weapon vs armor table which is based on Chainmail man-to-man (I assume, never checked the numbers to see if they more or less match). It's one of the things I never liked about AD&D and never used when I ran it, so I don't remember if it's just hand-waved for creatures with a certain AC but not assumed to be armored, or just ignored. For this system I'm developing, though, I can't really ignore it if man-to-man combat is going to be a big part of the game. 

Alternately, when fighting animals, bestial monsters, etc. we only use the mass combat rules, or Fantasy Combat if the creature is on the list (or equivalent to something on the list). 

Of course, if I do simplify the man-to-man tables to match the mass combat armor types instead of the detailed breakdown given in Chainmail, that might make it more manageable. But it's making me think more and more that the system in the Dungeon! board game might be simpler than Chainmail's system. Especially if monsters are just given a general chance to hit. While Dungeon! gives the same attack roll for all monsters, I could give some variety so that bigger, faster, or just more dangerous monsters hit more easily. But then it would negate the bonus that Fighters and Clerics get of wearing the best armors. So I'd need either numbers for armor types, or numbers vs class (the way Dungeon! gives each class different numbers vs monster type).

Or, to make a long blog post short, I understand why the "alternative" combat system using a d20 vs AC became the standard. Many fewer headaches. I'm not quite ready to ditch Chainmail, though, as I think it might make combat interesting.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

A few more thoughts on Chainmail combat in D&D

 Looking more closely at the Grey Elf compiled document for using Chainmail combat in D&D, it's pretty interesting. As classes gain levels, not only do they count as more "men" for the mass combat tables, but they are given additional attacks on the man-to-man tables. They can't engage in fantasy combat until they've gained a few levels (Fighters from 3rd level, but other classes from 5th or 7th), but since most monsters will still have a Mass Combat and Man-to-Man rating, it will be possible to take them on that way. It won't be easy, though. Most of the big monsters from the Fantasy table count as their hit dice worth of light, medium, or heavy horse, so PCs and their underlings fighting as light, heavy, or armored foot (in most dungeon situations) would have a lot of difficulty racking up enough 6s to take them out. 

I think I will keep Fantasy Combat as an all or nothing roll. You defeat the creature or not on that one roll. But it's risky, because that monster also gets one roll to see if it defeats you. Mass combat and man-to-man combat rolls will either deal hits (HD worth of hits needed to kill) or maybe I'll keep hit points and have damage dealt.

I will probably simplify the man-to-man tables, and make numbers only for No Armor, Light Armor, Medium Armor, and Heavy Armor. I may also simplify the weapon lists, as I will definitely include more weapons than the thirteen listed in Chainmail, especially if I retain hit points. 

One interesting thing I noted was that the range modifiers in Classic D&D of +1/0/-1 for short/medium/long range seem to be derived from Chainmail's modifiers. The man-to-man chart has that spread for many of the ranged weapons vs many of the armor types. But there are some where the bonus or penalty is +/-2, or even +/-3! That's a huge bonus on a 2d6 roll, much more significant than on a d20 roll. 

Finally, I think I will be going through the Dungeon! board game cards to get numbers for man-to-man combat against various monsters. Those could be listed in the stat blocks for monsters, one number for each of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief (similar to the Elf/Hero/Superhero/Wizard numbers on the Dungeon! cards). Oh, and I got my son the newest version of the game for Christmas last year, and it's got those classes (well, being 5E based, they say Rogue instead of Thief), and I think some different monsters than the original. 

Monster stat blocks will probably look something like this if I stick to the weapon type vs armor type: 

HD: 1-1
Mass Combat
Attack: Light Foot
Defend: Light Foot
Attack: Spear or Short Bow
Defend: Light Armor
Fantasy Combat: NA
Move: 90(30)
Save As: Normal Man
Morale: 6(8)
XP: 5

If I go with something more like Dungeon! numbers for man-to-man, it would look something like this: 

HD: 1-1
Mass Combat
Attack: Light Foot
Defend: Light Foot
Attack: Spear or Short Bow
Defend: C 7, F 5, M 8, T 6
Fantasy Combat: NA
Move: 90(30)
Save As: Normal Man
Morale: 6(8)
XP: 5

Monday, December 14, 2020

Chainmail Combat in D&D (thinking as I type)

Now that I've realized I went overboard planning a "simpler" version of my Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules (that made things more complex due to additional cruft accumulating), I've decided to more or less stick with what I have. There are one dragonborn PC (oh, and one retainer) and one changeling PC still active in West Marches, and going forward I think I won't allow any new PCs of those races. NPCs may still appear, but I think I will weed them out over time. I'm also thinking I don't really need the half-elf. Play and elf and fluff it as a half-elf if you like. I'll keep half-orcs because I have a fondness for them. And gnomes may be retained, or just folded into the dwarf or halfling races (Willow style halfling magic-users may appear instead of gnome illusionists). 

So simplify the races allowed, and keep the current line-up of classes. 

Next, I'm still considering the idea of Chainmail Arena, but also a simpler version of TSR house rules. Today, I'm considering merging the two ideas. Make a simple BX style set of classes, and use Chainmail combat. Part of me wants to, similar to the Dungeon! board game, use 2d6 rolls for all attacks like the man-to-man and fantasy tables do. Part of me still wants to retain the standard Chainmail mass combat dice pool rolls, only on a 1-1 figure scale instead of 1-20. I think for actions involving higher level PCs, or groups with lots of men-at-arms/retainers, versus large groups of humanoids or pack monsters (wolves, stirges, etc.) the mass combat resolution system will be fine, and faster. Against "heroic" enemies or more dangerous monsters, it would make more sense to play out each round of attack/counter attack, I think. 

But will it make the game more messy? Probably. And will there be arguments about when mass combat rolls or man-to-man/fantasy rolls are appropriate? Again, probably. 

Also, I need to consider how to stat up monsters, especially those that don't wear armor. And do I want to keep the weapon vs armor tables for man-to-man, or like the Dungeon! game, just give each monster a target number for each class to beat?

If I go with the target number by class, it would be easy, because every few levels will just add +1 to all rolls for that class to simulate greater fighting power. But then it eliminates weapon choice. 

And then, what about monster attacks on PCs? Will PC target numbers depend on armor worn? Or class/level? Or a combination? And what about rolling on the fantasy table?

Hmm, need to consider this more carefully, I guess. And take another look at that Grey Elf PDF compilation of how to run D&D with Chainmail combat to see how others did it.

I'm going to post this even though it's a half-formed idea, so I'll be able to reference it easily in the future. And some of you may have a few good ideas to add in the comments, too!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

How Wizards Work

 A friend of mine who runs an AD&D game online recently got into a 5E game and decided to play a Wizard as his first character. And he was pretty confused. There are spells in your spell book, spells you prepare, spell slots, cantrips that are at-will, and ritual spells that are sort of at-will, but take time. 

So he asked me to explain it to him since his DM couldn't in a way that made sense to him. 

Honestly, I flailed around at this for a bit, even though I get 5E and how it runs spell casters. 

The way I finally explained it was to break down for the first three levels how many spells you get in the spellbook, how many of those spells you prepare each day, and then how many spell slots you have to cast prepared spells. Plus, then reminding him of ritual spells and how they work. (He had cantrips down, they're easy.)

I was more wordy than this, but it broke down along these lines: 

At 1st level, you have 6 spells in your spellbook. You prepare any 4 of them (assuming a +3 Int bonus at 1st level). You can cast twice. That may be two different spells you prepared, or the same spell twice. 

At 2nd level, you get two more spells in your spellbook. You prepare any 5 of the 8 spells. You can cast three times, in any combination of the 5 prepared spells.

At 3rd level, you get two more spells in your spellbook, probably but not necessarily 2nd level ones. You can prepare any 6 of your 10 spells. You can cast six times, four times MUST be 1st level spells, and two times could be 1st or 2nd level spells, in any combination of your 6 prepared spells. 

And then you can cast any ritual spell without spending a spell slot as long as you have the time to cast it, but since they're mainly out of combat spells, you usually will.

While the flexibility of this is nice (utility spells don't need to be ignored and never prepared until after the need for them is known), it is fairly complex. 

Preparing X spells of each spell level per day, and then just casting those spells old school style is just so much simpler.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) Season 1 Thoughts

 I didn't call this a review on purpose, as I won't be touching on many things that I would in an actual review. So more just thoughts on the first season of the show, which I finished yesterday. 

First of all, one reason I avoided it for so long is that the 3D CGI animation thing often bothers me. It's not something I can really explain fully. It doesn't always. Shrek movies are fine. Incredibles? Great! But things that I originally saw in live action (like Star Wars) or traditional 2D animation (like Mickey Mouse cartoons) when translated to 3D CGI are just... hard to get into. For the first case, it could be uncanny valley reaction. But for the second, I don't know. I'm just becoming an old fuddy-duddy, I guess, as I approach my late 40's. 

As I watched this first season, some episodes bothered me more than others, but the more I watched, the more used to it I got. 

As for the show itself, it's great for fleshing out the Star Wars galaxy. Very useful to me as I plan the next adventure for my d6 Star Wars game. It's giving me some ideas for sure. There are some odd things about the show, though, and I don't mean that it's too heavily focused on Anakin and Obi-Wan always being in the most important actions. The first episode (maybe the pilot?) made it seem like this was going to be an anthology style show, jumping around the galaxy showing us different Jedi or other important characters in different systems. But only a few episodes were like that. Pretty much it's the Obi & Anni show. OK, I can live with that. 

Next, man, the Jedi and Clone army are ridiculously horrible at war. The first multi-episode arc is about the Separatists' "secret weapon" which is just a big ion cannon. And no one in the Republic stops to think, "Hey, we're fighting droids, maybe we should build one of those! Or at least issue ion rifles to our clones instead of traditional blasters!" Sure, we can hand-wave that way as Palpatine purposefully using substandard troops to play both sides off the other and make the war last longer, but no one thinks of that? They have "droid popper" ion grenades, so why not more weapons that can take out their enemies more easily? 

The way the episodes begin is interesting, too. Since there are some stand-alone episodes and some small arcs, and they all begin with a recap, it can get confusing at times. Sometimes it's just setting up a new story (single ep or arc) and sometimes it's recapping the previous events in the arc. And I often went back to check the episode before the one I was watching to see if I had skipped one by mistake when it was a stand-alone or new arc. I was watching these during my lunch breaks and free afternoon time the past few weeks, so it could be easy to forget which episodes I'd watched already. I like that they do the intros, setting up each episode, as it allows for more casual viewing, even of the episodes that make up a minor arc. 

Finally, it's nice to see some of these characters I've heard/read about for years. Especially, I got my son a LEGO Star Wars sticker book years ago, and it has all kinds of characters I'd never heard of before that, like Kad Bane and Assaj Ventress. 

I will start in on Season 2 during my lunch break today.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Housekeeping, of both blog and game

 The spambots were somehow able to beat Google's verification process and post without my knowledge. So comment verification has been turned off and the ever annoying "captcha" has been implemented. Sorry! 

On the gaming front, I spent last night writing up notes for Cleric subclasses. I'd expanded them to 10. Now I'm thinking this is just way too much. It was an interesting thought experiment, but if I really want a simpler game, I should just go back to real basics. Or just stick with what I've already developed. 

 The only real sticking point/possible problem area between using TSR and TSR-East characters together is that TSR Thief skills use the classic d% rolls, while at the moment TSR-East Ninja and Yakuza use x/d6 rolls. Once I resolve that, there should be nothing to worry about.