Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Combat As War

 On Sunday, I was running my TS&R game, and the party was exploring more of the mini-mega-dungeon. They were basically looking at their map, and trying to fill in gaps on the 1st level. 

The party consists of: 

Koles' Human Wu Jen 4 and henchman Holes' Human Wu Jen 1 (my son Flynn's characters)

Citizen Snips Human Blade Mage 4 and henchman Niko Human Fighter 1 (my son Steven's characters)

Fei Mao Crane Hengeyokai Kensei 4 and henchman Snakebite Human Mudang 2 (Denis' characters)

10 Bad Habits Koropokuru Yakuza 4 and henchman Savage Poko Raccoon Dog Hengeyokai Fighter 1 (Justin's characters)

4 Men-at-Arms, wearing leather armor with axes and short bows. 

They returned to the Underground Garden and bought some fruits, vegetables, and flowers from the treants that tend the garden. They made peaceful contact with some tengu and got a tip that it might be possible to get some swordsmanship training at the tengu encampment south-west of town (I need to flesh out that spot on the map now!), fought some astral projecting evil spirits called berbalang and got some treasure, discovered a secret door that led to one of the areas they'd explored in the previous sessions where a black bear was snacking on dead goblin rat and giant rat corpses (they used some purchased fruits and flowers to discourage the bear from following as they retreated), and then they came to the first of several locked doors. 

10 Bad Habits picked the lock, and there was a short corridor with another door. He was unable to pick this one, so they bashed it in after listening and hearing nothing. 

This was a subsection of the level that has been taken over by bandits as their lair. And a random roll showed me that no bandits were in the common area, but that there were 60 bandits plus their leader, a 3rd level Xia (martial artist/monk) in other rooms of the lair. The bandits were in three rooms, 20 per room, and the leader in his quarters.

Bashing the door made noise, but a surprise roll gave the players time to set up their forces. There were four doors into the common area that they could hear unlocking. They arranged their men-at-arms in the center of the room to fire arrows, and each pair of PC and henchman took a different door.  Koles' and Holes' weren't next to a door, but they had spells prepared for the door the others hadn't covered. 

When the bandits opened their doors, Koles' used phantasmal force to make the floor lava, and after 20 saving throws, all but three thought they were being incinerated and fell unconscious to the floor, as the arrows from the men-at-arms eliminated two more bandits in the 'lava' room. 

Holes' turned to use his sleep spell at the southern door where 10 Bad Habits & Poko were waiting, and his sleep spell took out nine more bandits. 10 Bad's backstab missed, unfortunately, as did Poko's attack. 

Meanwhile, Fei Mao used his Sweep ability to attack four times against 1HD opponents, and took out three of the 20 in the room he and Snakebite were at, while Snakebite went defense mode to avoid taking massive damage. 

Finally, at the leader's door, Niko hit the leader with his magari-yari +1 doing some decent damage, and Snips used cause fear to make him run back  into the room and cower. 

With their leader running in fear and half their forces eliminated before they knew what was happening, I rolled morale for the bandits and they failed. They surrendered, and were all tied up. 

One 4th level party took out an encounter with five times their numbers without taking a scratch. And the bandits had a Type A treasure, which was mostly jewelry and art objects, so it was easy to transport back to town with their captives. The treasure from the berbalangs and the bandits was around 34,000gp, so everyone but the Blade Mage leveled up, and Niko the henchman is 1xp shy of 3rd level due to the rule on gaining only one level per adventure. 

And now that they have access to the bandits' secret entrance to the dungeon and that easy to seal off section of the dungeon, the players are thinking to convert that to their dungeon delving base. 

This was much more fun and exciting than if it had been a 5E style "balanced encounter" with just a handful of bandits attacking at a time. Oh, and for anyone wondering how fair it would have been if the party had discovered this area while they were 1st level, the bandits aren't killers. They would have used non-lethal attacks, disarms, overbearing, etc. to try and capture the party and demand ransom from town if that had happened. I don't mind it when PCs die in my game, but I'm not out to kill them. That's just too easy.

Friday, February 23, 2024

TS&R GM Guidebook Progress

In the past week or so, I've made some good progress on my TS&R Game Master Guidebook.

I finished up rules for naval mass combat (modified and simplified from those in the module M1 Immortal Storm), wrote some general guidelines for high level epic quests, and revised the section on artifacts. I still need to write up some more sample artifacts. I had an example of creating an artifact from an earlier draft, so that got a touch-up, and I have a list of legendary items from various myths and legends that I plan to give the 1E AD&D treatment, describing the item and its purpose, but leaving the specific powers and drawbacks to the individual GM. 

Oh, and now I'm working on describing the Planes of Existence. 

Once I get the artifacts and planar stuff done, all I have left to do is outline some optional or alternate rules (like suggestions for different ways to do energy drain attacks, or using X in d6 for Thief Skills instead of percentages, or optional rules for multiclassing, or using BX/BECMI style race-as-class). I do have 1st drafts for some parts of this last section done already, as the ideas come to me. 

Once that's done, I was planning to put in a section with quick reference charts from around the book, but I realized that I already intend to release a simple rules reference book for more experience GMs, so this might not be necessary. It would be roughly the same thing, and since the majority of people will own these as PDFs, it might be easier to have quick reference stuff in one document window and more detailed rules explanations in another. 

Once all that's done, I'll give everything an editing pass, and see if I can get someone else to read through it as well. Sometimes I get to rambling and over-explain things, or make an assumption that some point is obvious and don't explain it well enough. When I'm teaching in class, I can tell from student reactions that this is happening and correct myself. When I'm writing, I don't have that luxury. So a pair of fresh eyes or two will help me to improve and clarify things a bit. 

The book chapters are: 

The Basics: what is an RPG, how do you use these funny dice, what is the reward-feedback loop, player-centered play, etc.

Running the Game: How to manage character creation, how to manage a game session, procedures for dungeon/wilderness/town-social exploration, rules for combat, advice on adjudicating rules.

Preparing the Campaign: How to set up a campaign, create a home town, create dungeons, wilderness, NPCs and factions, and how to bring it all together into a campaign world.

High Level Games: Running domains, mass combat, magical research, epic quests, planar adventures, artifacts. 

Modifying the Game: Advice on limiting races/classes/spells to fit the campaign, optional rules, alternate rules systems. 

If I can keep up the pace over the next week (the final week of winter break for my university), I may be able to knock out the first drafts of the sections I still have to write. Then, if I can find a few people to give me some feedback, I will hopefully get this thing ready to release sometime over the summer or fall of this year, along with the Rules Reference book. And then I can consider compiling everything I've put out for TS&R into a print-on-demand volume, and also work on player and monster books for other genres besides Euro-fantasy and Asian fantasy.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Was rolling d20+Mod for skill checks the worst "innovation" of D&D in the past 25 years?

After a long, long break, today Steven asked to play d20 Modern. We got the book out, and I decided to quickly roll up a new PC. My Strong Hero/Martial Artist is cool, but the sorts of adventures we're running don't really play into the strong suits of my PC. So, I rolled up a new Dedicated Hero to join Steven's Fast Hero/Gunslinger. 

While playing, we talked a bit about the rules, especially the skill system. He's gotten used to my old school D&D game, where either you don't need to roll because you describe what you do, you roll x on d6, or roll d20 equal to your ability score or less for stuff like this. He's only 9, not the best at math, but even he can see that rolling d20 plus a modifier sucks for skill rolls. 

After the game, I remembered that there was a modern version of d20 Modern that came out recently. I went and looked it up. It's called Everyday Heroes, and it blends what was good about d20 Modern with 5E, according to its press and customer reviews. 

And from what I can tell (I'm not shucking out $30 for a PDF just to answer a question), it still uses d20+Mod for skill rolls. And instead of the ridiculous bonuses you could get for a few trained skills in d20 Modern (with everything else sucking), they went with 5E's bounded accuracy to keep modifiers low. Yeesh. 

I'm down for d20 Modern's take on classes. Basic heroic classes modeled on ability scores, with backgrounds, easy multi-classing, and later Advanced classes to customize your PC. Although it looks like Everyday Heroes may have ditched multi-classing. 

At least the Character sheet is a free download, and from that I can see that they have a much more reasonable, shorter skill list. And from customer reviews, they took the 5E feat style, so there aren't  dozens and dozens of feats that basically just give you small skill boosts, and ridiculously unnecessary feat chains to get your combat abilities halfway decent. 

So it may have some things going for it, but that skill mechanic just sucks. 

If I were to remake the game, I'd probably go with a 2d6 skill mechanic, like I did for Chanbara. Bell curve distributions make skills more reliable, at least if the target numbers for success aren't ridiculous. That flat d20 distribution is great for combat. You want combat to be swingy. That makes it exciting. Having swingy rolls when you're just trying to climb a rope or convince the security guard that you're supposed to be there, when you're the expert climber or fast talker, really sucks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Price Discrepancies

I'm continuing to work on the GM Guide for TS&R. I'm at the Dominion Management section now. I've never really come up against the prices for stronghold construction in the Expert Set/Rules Cyclopedia before, but while putting my version together (including some Asian style architecture and a few other things that I thought should be added), I checked out both the 1E DMG and the 2E Stronghold guide (one of the splatbooks...which I could only find in a fan-edited OCR version, not a scanned original PDF) and there are some big differences! 

The BX/BECMI prices are generally a lot higher for most buildings compared to 1E. 2E goes a bit overboard IMO with a whole formula to calculate the type of terrain, climate, vegetation, available materials and workforce. So instead of a simple price list, there's a (badly formatted in the version of the book I found) table with lots of numbers that seem all over the place. It may be a list of prices for the example castle they present. It doesn't seem very usable to me. Maybe if I had the original version with proper formatting, it would make more sense. 

Anyway, this leaves me with BECMI and 1E for my sources (and I suppose I could look at 3E+...but nah). 

For the construction costs, I stuck to the numbers I know. It's more expensive, but castles and other strongholds should NOT be cheap. 

However...in addition to structure costs, the Companion Set (and RC) have a list of monthly wages for various retainers and officials for your stronghold and the domain at large. Some of these seem very overly priced to me these days, and others are comically underpriced. Really, the Seneschal of the castle, the most important person you can hire, only gets Mercenary pay rates? Assuming it's a human knight (heavy horse), you only need to pay 20gp per month for this official. Meanwhile, the guard captain gets 4000gp per month. Say what? 

1E doesn't actually provide listings for these sorts of officials, from what I've found so far. Maybe it's in a sourcebook I haven't looked at, or a Dragon Magazine article somewhere (I don't have the archive...maybe I should track that down). So I had to just adjust the numbers to something I thought was more fitting. Every official I list is given a price to hire them, and most have had significant reductions from the Companion Set numbers. 

When we were kids, first making our own strongholds, our PCs were already pretty wealthy for their levels (my cousin Ben was a bit of a Monty Haul DM when he ran games), so paying the prices in the book for the various retainers didn't seem so bad. Besides, as we got up into the high teens and low twenties in level, we had copious amounts of treasure even without Ben giving out generous amounts. 

But if, going by the rules, a PC were to start a domain in a Wilderness or Borderland territory, it would take them a long time to build up the funds just from the domain income to hire many of these positions, so the money would have to come from adventuring spoils (as we did as kids). And going by the rates of treasure going to my group these days, by the time they reach Name Level, they will be spending most of their money on the strongholds, not leaving much for staff. So I feel fairly justified in reducing the staff costs. I may want to reconsider the construction costs as well... We'll see.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Happy Lunar New Year!

It is the Lunar New Year, known as Chinese New Year in many foreign lands such as the USA. And to celebrate, we did what most Korean families do. Get up way too early, go to my mother-in-law's house, honor the departed family members, then eat a bunch of really good food! 

If you'd like to celebrate, why not pick up a copy of Treasures, Serpents, & Ruins Jade Players Rules on DriveThruRPG? It's Pay What You Want, so pick it up for free and if you like it, come back and give me a tip. If you want to add Asian-style classes like Kensei (weapon masters), Wu Jen (Taoist sorcerers) or Xia (wandering martial artists) to your OSR game of choice, they'll fit right in. 

And if you're the DM, you can pick up TS&R Jade Bestiary & Treasury to get lots of Asian inspired monsters and magic items. Also PWYW so grab it for free or give me a little LNY gift if you like.

Monday, February 5, 2024

More Monsters and Wizards!

It's been a few years since I added to my 1/72 scale miniatures collection, despite getting many of them painted up. I actually need to re-paint quite a few of them, as the summer heat, and possibly the clear top coat I used, caused a lot of the paint to melt/blend, and the figures don't look anywhere near as good as they did when I finished painting them. Looking back through old blog posts, I don't think I posted pictures of the finished products, just a work in progress post and this one from two years ago when I finally painted the lizard men

Well, I had a set of Caesar Adventurers which covered a lot of LotR types, plus a few Conan style barbarian types. I had Caesar Elves, Dwarves, and Goblins as well. 

And I had Red Hat Dark Alliance Cimmerians, Amazons, Half-Orcs, regular Orcs...

One problem, and a reason why I still hesitate to switch to 1/72 scale minis instead of standard 28mm minis (not that I'm using minis at all for D&D these days...) is that there just aren't enough spell-caster types. 

I have a few from the Caesar Adventurers and Elves. I had a set of historical Vikings and one of Robin Hood characters (forget who made both of them) that had a few poses that could be a spell-caster. There's one Dark Alliance Cimmerian shaman. Definitely not enough cleric/druid/magic-user types. 

Well, I ordered some more Red Hat/Dark Alliance figures for my birthday. They arrived today. And I'm pleased to say that the Red Hat historical Russian War Monk Artillery make for good spell-caster types! They're all male, but at least I've now got a bunch of robed, bearded little dudes that could be PC or NPC spellcaster types. The tamping rods and fuse-sticks look like magic staves.

I also ordered the Dark Alliance Minotaur and Cyclops sets. I wanted to get their Southern Kingdoms Rangers set (based on Faramir's company in the LotR movies), which obviously are ranger/thief types, but my supplier was out (Michigan Toy Soldier Company -- I always get great customer service from these guys on my international orders!).

Here they are, with a few of the not so nice looking anymore Caesar Adventurers. The cyclopes are nice and big, and the minotaurs look fairly hefty next to them. 

Red Hat figures tend to come with a lot of flash that needs cleaning off, but the cyclops figures are really clean. The minotaurs and war monks not so much.

I compared these guys to a TSR (Dragonstrike board game) figure and a Reaper metal figure. The minotaurs look pretty wimpy next to them, but the cyclops set is still decently big by comparison.

With either scale, I think these will make good additions to the Gauntlet-inspired tactical board game rules I'm working on. 

Time to get these guys off their sprues!