Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Everybody was kung fu fighting

 Last Saturday evening, I went ahead and took the plunge. I modified my TSR class set up to include more martial arts action. Using Flying Swordsmen as a bit of a guide (plus some stuff I had done in TSR-East, and maybe a little bit of Chanbara that hadn't made it in yet), I came up with martial arts subclasses for the Cleric, Fighter, and Magic-User. The Thief already had one. 

Because of that, I got rid of the Monk as its own class. And the traditional "monk" abilities got divided up between the various subclasses. There isn't a direct analog to the typical Monk class now, but there are options to better emulate wuxia in the rules. To replace the Monk, I made a more standard Cleric/Thief hybrid which got the Darkstalker name I had previously as a subclass of Cleric. It's the Van Helsing/Simon Belmont/Vampire Hunter D class. 

For the Cleric, the subclass gets the Monk name. In addition to unarmed fighting and unarmored defense (using Dex score+BAB), the Monk gets resistance to ESP, charm, poison, disease, and so on as they gain levels. The Monk gets full clerical casting, but don't get to turn undead and don't get bonus spells for high Wisdom scores (something I'd imported from AD&D). They also use the Shaman spell list (AKA TSR-East spells, drawn from OA, FSRPG and Chanbara) instead of the normal Clerical list.

For the Fighter, the Martial Artist subclass focuses on combat, obviously. They get better unarmed damage than the other subclasses, and since their BAB goes up faster, will have better unarmored AC. They get healing (basically like Paladin lay on hands), and as they gain levels their unarmed strikes can damage creatures as if they were magical. 

The Magic-User's subclass draws on Flying Swordsmen and my old TSR-East Xia class (which was modeled on the BECMI Elf class). And it's still called the Xia. Of course they get unarmed damage and unarmored defense. The Xia has a lower Dex requirement than the other classes (11 compared to the 13 the others need), so while they get unarmored defense like the others, the possibly lower Dex and very slow BAB increases will mean they're not as well protected as the others. They gain the ability to reduce damage to the minimum value once per day per two levels. They get MU spells from the Geomancer list (again from TSR-East and its predecessors), but don't get 6th level spells. Instead, they get the Death Touch ability (for Fist of the North Star/Kill Bill fun!). Of course, the target of Death Touch can't have more than double the Xia's hit points or 15HD. And Xia use the standard d4 for HP. So I don't think it will be overpowered. One thing I may change is having it take the place of those 6th level spells, so they could use it once per day at 11th level, twice a day from 12th to 14th level, and three times a day at 15th level. Right now the rules just say once per day but I may modify this in the future. 

Oh, and if you're wondering, the Thief's Acrobat subclass has always had the unarmed damage and unarmored defense. Instead of Pick Pockets, they use those chances for Tumbling and leaping. Instead of Find/Remove Traps, they get Escape Artist at the same chances. They can also use Climb Sheer Surfaces as intended and for feats of balance. At higher level, they get to damage creatures with unarmed strikes as if magical, and at 10th level can make supernatural leaps. They don't get to read languages or cast spells from scrolls like a standard Thief, though.

Also for the Cleric, since the Darkstalker subclass was removed, I reinserted an idea I'd toyed with of a Necromancer subclass. They get the "control undead" feature instead of turn undead feature that the Master Set described for undead clerics. Otherwise they're just like normal. And yes, you can still be a normal Cleric and Chaotic. 

Also for the Fighter, I renamed the Knight subclass into the Cavalier subclass. No need to have a Knight and a Kensei (two Ks) when there's an established name in D&D lore already (and my previous TSR rules used Cavalier for the "paladin" class anyway). 

Finally, to balance out the Thief, which already had the Acrobat subclass, I reinserted the Yakuza from TSR-East. They're a standard Thief in most respects, but get magical tattoos at certain levels. They don't get to read languages or cast from scrolls, though. The tattoos give things like bonuses to Thief Skills or saving throws, resistance to energy damage, and a few other special abilities. 

So now the class structure of TSR (2021 revision) looks like this:  

Basic Classes [Subclasses]

Cleric [Druid (Yamabushi), Monk, Necromancer, Shaman]

Fighter [Cavalier (Samurai), Kensei, Martial Artist, Ranger]

Magic-User [Geomancer (Wu Jen), Illusionist, Wild Mage, Xia]

Thief [Acrobat, Ninja, Outlaw, Yakuza]

Advanced Classes

Assassin (Fighter/Thief hybrid)

Bard (Cleric/MU hybrid)

Darkstalker (Cleric/Thief hybrid)

Lark (Fighter/MU hybrid)

Paladin (Cleric/Fighter hybrid)

Warlock (MU/Thief hybrid)

I did almost all of that on Saturday. On Sunday and Monday I did a bit of tinkering and editing. Part of that included switching around which races can be which classes, and the max levels they can attain. That may be something for another post, however.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Monk-y business

 Just when I feel like I've got my TSR house rules for players finished, I get these thoughts. Looking at the 1E DMG (and the Mystic in the RC) got me to thinking...should the Monk be a basic class? Should I have five instead of only four? AD&D technically does that. The RC does as well, although it's always presented as optional there. 

One benefit would be that the Monk class doesn't really fulfill the role of a Cleric/Thief multiclass, so I could remake my Darkstalker idea (the Van Helsing/Belmont style undead/lycanthrope/demon hunting class) as the Cleric/Thief mashup class. Then the Monk could be its own thing. 

Another benefit would be that some cool subclasses for the Monk, to expand them beyond the whole Shaolin thing. Flying Swordsmen provides some ideas for that.

The drawback would be having to make another class out of whole cloth (well, not really, with 1E, RC, 3E and 5E as resources I can easily draw on, plus the 2E Complete Ninja's Handbook) to make it work. Not an impossible task by any means. But it will take some time and effort, and I'm not sure about the payoff. 

As I mentioned a while back, the Cleric/Thief is not a strong archetype in D&D. So do I really want to do all this work to make the Monk a 5th basic class, when it works fine in the niche it holds as an advanced class?

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

What does the Game Master need?

 The question placed as the title of my post is what's on my mind right now. My Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules for players are pretty much set, and ready for play testing to make sure I didn't include anything bone headed. So I'm working now on revising what I've got listed for the GM. 

In the past, I didn't really bother to codify things, since I was able to just use the BX/BECMI/RC rules on the DM side of things. But if I want to release this thing to the wild, it would be good to write up my own version of how to run the game. Besides, there are some things I do differently, and the rules for the players are assuming those differences. 

When I first started codifying things, they were basically just the bare bones essentials that you need at the table to run the game. Dungeon exploration routines, wilderness exploration routines, combat rules, and that was about it. But that's not enough. If I expect people to purchase the game, I need to provide more than that. I need to assume there might be some people for whom this is their first RPG, or at least their first old school D&D-based game. 

So, I came up with this breakdown for the Table of Contents. This is still subject to change, but right now these are the main sections that I'm thinking a GM would need to run the game. Oh, and if you're looking for the treasure tables and magic item descriptions, they're in the Bestiary and Treasury, not the GM's Guidebook. 

Table of Contents

The Basics


What You Need to Play

Game Terms

Dice Codes

Experience and Rewards

Example of Play

Running the Game

Dungeon Exploration

Wilderness Exploration

Social Exploration


High Level Games

Adjudicating Rules

Preparing for the Game

Adjusting Game Complexity and Tone

Character Creation

Player Character Abilities

Dungeon Creation

Home Town Creation

Wilderness Creation

NPCs and Factions

The Campaign World

Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Baboons of Ravenloft

 Had an awesome session of my West Marches campaign last night. The players had gone to the edge of what I'd keyed already on the map in the previous session, but were on a mission to rescue the Rainbow Unicorn for Goldie the Fairy Princess (played by the daughter of a regular). So I'd spent some time turning a few simple notes on the location and creatures guarding the unicorn into a small dungeon. But I had a nagging suspicion that I should fill in some more hexes, so I spent part of the morning and part of the evening filling in some more regions just in case. 

When the game started, Goldie's player decided not to join us, so they left the unicorn in duress until another session. Goldie is hoping to rescue it, befriend it, and have it as a mount, and I'm all for that, as collecting pets is what keeps her interested in the game. 

Anyway, without Goldie, the players decided just to explore some more hexes and fill in some of the white space on the map. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I'd keyed more. But then they ended up exploring south-ish instead of north or further west, areas I'd keyed long ago. 

They finally entered a hex of the Whitebeard Mountains, a region they knew was there, but weren't exactly sure where they started or ended. They found the northernmost point, and in it a giant animated face on the side of the mountain -- The Living Stone Sage. After much debate about what to ask (like the location of PCs zapped away by the Deck of Many Things), they settled on asking it how to best defeat the guardians of the Rainbow Unicorn, and received a cryptic but useful answer. 

THEN they had a random encounter with some Stygian baboons. This is a creature that I think I got from the White Dwarf Creature Crucible book. Sort of an REH inspired souped up simian of a bygone age. They put them to sleep, slew three and tied up the fourth, hoping to use a recently acquired ring of animal control to have it do their bidding. I was waiting for them to try it, since the creature is more monster than animal (magic weapons needed to hit them) but when they did, I decided to allow it. 

In another hex, they discovered gothic iron gates in the Brooding Forest. The gates were inscribed with the words "Von Zarovich" and passing through would transport them to Castle Ravenloft. They decided to control the baboon and send it in. And various comments like "Oh, it will probably return as a vampire baboon" and "Ah, the children of the night. What beautiful music they Ah! Crikey! Monkey!" make me think, well of COURSE! The baboon will be back some day.

Another highlight of the evening was a random encounter with a treant. Since this is the moody Brooding Forest, it was a very emo/goth treant. Queeg, the party's half-elf magic-user/thief, is also very emo and they got along splendidly, although lots of comments from other PCs like "Hey, keep your chin up, champ!" annoyed it to no end. They later encountered the treant again, and it pointed them in the direction of an area they'd been searching for for several months (real time and game time), a dragon burial ground. After defeating the skeletal dragon guardians (one of them one-shotted by Queeg with a crossbow bolt +1 undead slaying), they scooped up their treasure and moved on to find a desecrated chapel guarded by a demon, which they destroyed.

Finally, they holed up in a cozy little alpine bungalo they'd found to rest up. 

Not much combat, but lots of exploring, lots of RP, a moderate amount of treasure recovered, and a ton of laughs during this session. 

Also, after the session (this morning, actually, not right away) I shared my revised TSR house rules with the group. Waiting to see what people think of them.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Star Wars Rebels

 I finished up Clone Wars a week or so ago. I enjoyed it, although the series overall had its ups and downs. That ending, though, that was very well done. 

Today, I started in on Rebels. And since I had plenty of free time (well, I made time, I have other things I could be doing...), I'm already halfway through the first season. As you can probably tell from that, I'm liking it more than Clone Wars. Maybe it's the lack of "recaps" that aren't always recaps. Maybe it's the single through-line of a story instead of the anthology but heavily invested in a few characters style of Clone Wars. Whatever the reason, I'm wondering why I didn't watch this years ago when it was on Disney Channel. I saw the ads for it. My son was into Disney Channel, and Star Wars. But we just didn't find the time to watch. Anyway, fingers crossed the rest of the series keeps up the fun storytelling. 

It may just be the kick I need to get my Star Wars RPG game going again.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins (TSR) 2021

 Other than a few edits and tweaks here and there, I think I've got my 2021 version of TSR, or at least the players' rules, done. 

I made a few more changes since my last post on it. 

Races got switched around. Instead of the Asian mythology inspired races being variants of the Tolkien inspired races, I made them all their own thing. Only I got rid of Spirit Born, collapsing the best of their special abilities with the Changeling special abilities to have one race. Really, their fluff and most of the mechanics were identical for them. Might as well get rid of one. I also made a bit more variety among the other Asian races as far as what classes they can take, and the max level for each. 

So there are now 12 races. I listed Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling as the basic options, and all the rest (Changeling, Dokkaebi, Gnome, Half-Orc, Koropokuru, Kumiho, Tengu, Vanara) as optional demi-human races. 

Classes have been set. No big changes, just a few small tweaks to make things interesting or different. 

Basic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief. 

Optional Subclasses: 

Cleric -- Darkstalker, Druid, Shaman

Fighter -- Kensei, Knight, Ranger

Magic-User -- Geomancer, Illusionist, Wild Mage

Thief -- Acrobat, Ninja, Outlaw

Advanced Classes: Assassin (F-Th), Bard (Cl-MU), Lark (F-MU), Monk (Cl-Th), Paladin (Cl-F), Warlock (MU-Th). I don't have rules for allowing subclass substitutions for the advanced classes. That might be something to put in the GM's book. 

In addition, I combined the equipment lists for both versions. The only thing I left out were the special ninja gear (basically copy-pasted from Chanbara). I may put them in the GM book, and let each GM decide which items to make available to players.

I also combined the spell descriptions, adding all the Shaman (Mudang) and Geomancer (Wu Jen/Wushi) spells that weren't already Cleric or Magic-User spells. Previously, I had Druids limited to 5th level spells, but now they get up to 6th, so I rearranged their spell list a little bit, too. 

Finally, I had rules for high level characters building castles and getting followers and whatnot at the end of my original document, but I don't think my players ever read it. So I put all that in with each class description instead, and modified versions for the advanced classes. In addition, I had a few notes about magic item creation. I've expanded them a bit, and still may edit them a bit more before I finalize this and show it to my players. 

I plan to let my players switch up their PCs to the new rules if they want, or just continue to play the rules they made them under if they find that a hassle, and when they make a new character use the new rules.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Magic Item Distribution in BX/BECMI and expected progression of power

 I was musing on the fact that when we were young, playing D&D, some of the iconic magic items of the game seemed a lot more common than they do these days. Maybe it's because we were pre-teens/teens, fudging the treasure results to skew for more items. Maybe we were selecting the "cool" stuff instead of relying on random rolls when magic treasure popped up. But maybe it was an artifact of the way the game is structured in Basic-Expert-(Companion-Masters) play that is different from AD&D, RC, or any WotC edition. 

What am I talking about? Pull out your Basic Set book (Basic DM book if Mentzer) and open it to the magic item tables. What do you see? For each category of item, there are six to ten items that can result. And some, especially the Miscellaneous Items, are some nice finds: elven cloak and boots, bag of holding, gauntlets of ogre power, crystal ball, rope of climbing, helm of telepathy and medallion of ESP. Sure, there's also the bag of devouring. But a lot of those items are pretty nice finds, especially at low level. 

Similarly with rings, we get animal control, invisibility, protection +1, water walking, fire resistance, and the cursed ring of weakness. 

For Wands/Staves/Rods, we get wands of enemy detection (meh), magic detection (nice!), paralyzation (pretty good), staff of healing (YES!), snake staff (cool, but not so great in play), and rod of cancellation (really powerful). 

Potions and scrolls are consumables, but still, with only eight types of potion available, healing potions are a lot more common, in particular.

And then there are the magic weapons and armor, but that's not so different as you go up in power. Just the attendant special abilities can expand, and the plusses can go up. 

Anyway, rings, wand/staff/rod, and miscellaneous items are what got me thinking about this. When we were young, starting with only the Basic Set, this made these types of items much more common. There were multiple bags of holding, staves of healing, gauntlets of ogre power, rings of fire resistance and invisibility, etc. Going from 0 to 8000xp (more or less) with only these options meant lots of chances to find these particular magic items. And so these items were more common in the campaign. 

If you start with the expansive lists of AD&D or the RC, your chances of finding those gauntlets of ogre power to boost your Fighter's meager Strength, or the Elven Cloak to make your Thief sneak better, or the staff of healing to help the Cleric maintain everyone's hit points are a LOT lower. Even just the modest expansion of items from the Expert Set makes these items much less common. 

Of course, there's lots of other good stuff that can be found. Some better than the items here. But some not better (and I'm not talking about the cursed items even). 

You're not likely to roll up a Fighter with 18 Strength. If you're rolling down the line, no switches or point adjustments, you've got a 1 in 216 chance to get that +3 to hit/damage. Placing or switching scores, or dropping a score by 2 to increase PR by 1 obviously betters the odds. 

And the chance of rolling gauntlets of ogre power is 1 in 400. But, that's a 1 in 400 chance checked EVERY time there's a magic item in a treasure hoard. How many treasure hoards with magic items are there likely to be by the time a PC accumulates 8000xp? Quite a few. So maybe the odds aren't better than getting an 18 Str at char gen, but it seemed like good enough odds when we were young that you'd find a pair somewhere along the way. Again, my perception of this could be skewed because we were kids and didn't always follow the rules or stick to what was rolled. 

But I'd be interested to run a new campaign some time in the future, starting at 1st level, and only using the Basic tables for magic items until the party had at least two 4th level characters and see how it shakes out. I have a feeling at least one fighter will have the gauntlets, the thief will have elven boots or cloak or rope of climbing, the cleric will have a staff of healing, and the magic-user a wand of detect magic. The party will probably have a few nice rings as well. And that will make a difference in how encounters play out.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Tiers of Complexity

 I'm almost done with my new versions of character classes for TSR. I just have the Warlock (Magic-User/Thief hybrid class) left to go. And then a few tweaks to keep certain options viable and prevent one from being the "go to" option. At least as I see it. How they end up in play will remain to be seen, as I don't know if my West Marches folks will go for another rules switch. [Plus I was just bitching about Jeremy changing the rules all the time in the weird body-horror fantasy game he's running.]

Anyway, the thing I'm kind of proud about with these rules is the modular nature I'm building into it. 

A really basic game might have only humans, who can be Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, or Thief. 

A slightly more complex game might still be human-only, but add in subclasses.

Or human-only, but adding in the advanced classes.

Or adding one set of demi-humans (Euro-Tolkien, or Asian fantasy), but keeping the basic four classes.

Dial up the complexity a bit more, you get humans & demi-humans, with the four basic classes with subclasses allowed, or four basic plus the advanced classes. 

[A few more tiers exist, adding in certain combinations but not others, like limited demi-humans but all classes/subclasses, or allowing some subclasses/advanced classes but not others, etc.]

Most advanced would be to allow all demi-humans, all classes and subclasses, and letting the advanced classes choose subclasses of their basic class counterparts. The big kitchen sink approach. This would be 13 races and if we count each subclass as a class of its own, we get 112 potential class combinations. Some of the advanced class options won't work too well together. The Monk (Cleric/Thief) would lose much of its monkishness if it were a Darkstalker/Outlaw instead of a unique Cleric/Acrobat, but that still might be a cool option for some people. Likewise, a Bard that's Druid/Geomancer (Wu Jen) might feel off stylistically. 

I think the ideal would be to allow a select set of demi-humans (and feel free to mix Tolkein with Asian, why not have Elves and Dokkaebi but no Halflings or Kumiho?), each base class with its subclasses, and the advanced classes without subclass substitutions. But if someone came to me with a concept that called for an advanced class with variation, I'd consider it. Also, I'd encourage DMs to tweak the advanced classes to fit their campaign. If they want more Asian influence, Bards and Paladins should use the Shaman spells instead of normal Cleric spells, and Bards, Larks and Warlocks should use the Geomancer spells instead of the normal Magic-User spells. 

Anyway, it's customizable and easily dialed down or dialed up in complexity/options. If I ever get this in a publishable state, I'd likely give away a "Bare Bones" PDF for free, and then charge for the more detailed version.

Friday, March 5, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Symmetry and Organic Elegance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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