Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gnomes make the cut!

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

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

Dwarf = Koropokkuru

Elf = Tengu

Halfling = Vanara

Half-Orc = Dokkaebi

Gnome = Kumiho

Changeling = Spirit Born

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

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Done with the Half-Elf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Changeling (Spirit Born)

Dwarf (Koropokkuru)

Elf (Kumiho) 


Half-Orc (Dokkaebi)



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

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

Monday, February 22, 2021

A small paradigm shift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 11, 2021

What to Include

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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