Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simplified encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks

One appeal for me of old-school D&D is that the rules are loosely coupled. This is less true of encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks. The relatively tight coupling of these systems makes them more fiddly to run, less amenable to house-ruling, and often ignored at the table.

Wandering monster checks are made every turn (or every N turns). Turns, like in chess, are a matter of tempo --- the productivity of a turn of movement is determined by encumbrance. Moving more slowly per turn results in more monster checks while exploring a given area.

Do you count the number of squares over which the characters move to determine when a turn ticks over? Do you make wandering monster checks based on that? Or are the rules fiddly enough that you eyeball it? I admit that I often feel my way through these things, rather than keeping a careful account.

How do we simplify this at the table, while keeping the relationship between encumbrance, movement, and wandering monster checks?


First, encumbrance. We simplify it by eliminating gear counting. Armor is the single heaviest bit of standard kit, and it also has the greatest mechanical importance of any piece of gear. So, we simplify encumbrance by making armor the only piece of gear considered.

Very simple encumbrance:

Armor Worn      Base Movement
None/Shield     18''
Leather         12''
Chain           9''
Plate           6''

Shields don't affect encumbrance.

Use common sense. If the characters haul something very bulky or heavy, movement drops to the next lower movement tier. A fighting-man in plate dragging a statue, for example, falls to 3''.

We have one further consideration. The Original edition measures all equipment weight in terms of coins. This may seem odd and fiddly, but it nicely encapsulates the idea that every ounce of rope, spikes, or candles a character carries comes at the cost of one gold piece they don't have strength enough to remove from the dungeon. To preserve that idea, we add one wrinkle to our very simple encumbrance system:

Every 250 coins of found treasure carried drops the character's movement by one tier.

What about wandering monster checks? Even with our simplified encumbrance, we don't want to be counting squares on the map. Instead, make one wandering monster check per real hour of play time.
           
                                 Odds of A Wandering Monster
Armor Worn      Base Movement    per Real Hour
None/Shield     18''             1 in 6
Leather         12''             2 in 6
Chain           9''              3 in 6
Plate           6''              4 in 6
+Encumbered     3''              5 in 6

Add an additional check at 1 or 2 in 6 when the characters do something that might attract monsters, like noisily bash down a door or roast a kobold.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Road Not Taken in D&D Art

It's not far fetched to imagine D&D might have started with a different artistic direction when we look at book covers of the period, including those from the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, Penguin Science Fiction, or Arkham House.

Wargames of the era offer similar examples, including one from Gygax.

While thinking about this, I wrote:

Game art is largely illustrative in function. The text describes an idea, the art shows it. Realism as a technique is more accessible and less open to interpretation than abstraction. For game rules (but perhaps not other game products?), accessibility and specificity are generally more desired than difficulty and ambiguity.

That's obvious and not absolutely true, but it gave me two further thoughts.

First, abstraction is used extensively in wargame design for the sake of clarity. Tokens evidence this especially, probably necessitated by their small scale; abstraction in this case is taking away inessential elements, like Picasso's bull.

Second, the little brown books of OD&D are often described as difficult and ambiguous. What if the game was graphically as abstract?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Stonehell Risen!

It's been a long time since I last ran Stonehell, but on December 21st the party finally returned to those night-haunted halls. Back in 2012, I was a bit lackadaisical about campaign reports, so I might have missed a couple at the end. The following, played more than two years(!) after the last report, is probably session eleven or twelve of the campaign.

Our dramatis personae include party leader Slim Charles, the Conjurer; Pope Leo, the Village Priest; and Balian, the Swordsman. Joining them are henchmen Derric, Gilgrim, Nartan, and Colwin.

The party searched several stone-doored crypts on the first level of Stonehell. Pope Leo succeeded in turning a ghoul, and found a concealed coffer containing a large amount of silver, some jewelry, and a couple of blueberry-colored potions of salty taste.

The party descended to the second level of Stonehell. They delivered there in tribute the erotic tapestry promised to the intelligent apes as tribute. In thanks, the apes warned them (Slim Charles speaks Ape) that the faerie ring in the theater to the southeast leads to a strange area with great risk and great reward, and that the duplicitous faeries had already charmed a member of their party.

To the south, the party found a large room with several collapsed columns. After defeating the giant spiders lurking in the darkness of the high vaulted ceiling, the party discovered its first major magic item: boots of levitation.

This was a short session, but a good start to our new, resurrected Stonehell campaign.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Robot Lovecraft writes technical documentation

Somebody fed Puppet documentation and H.P. Lovecraft stories into a Markov chain generator to produce The Doom that Came to Puppet. This particular type of nonsense really tickles my fancy.

“Parameters are defined essentially exactly the same way since a surprisingly early time in earth’s history—perhaps over fifty million years.”
“Additionally, the machine(s) acting as reverse proxy (usually 127.0.0.0/8) will need to be able to reach the basement out of which the abyssward aperture opened.”
“During the Jurassic Age the Old Ones had perhaps become satisfied with their decadent art—or had ceased to recognize the superior merit of the older (activerecord) backends in a multi-master environment.”
“Puppet can also be used to demonstrate things here, but it is not wholesome to watch monstrous objects doing what one had known only human beings to do”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

New LotFP releases, including Zak's Red & Pleasant Land

The Lamentations of the Flame Princess store has new books available, including Zak S.'s Red & Pleasant Land. I hear it's selling quickly, so you should order soon if want one. I found that the now-diffucult-to-find Vornheim was much better in hard copy than PDF (and I like PDF's), and R&PL looks super-deluxe.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bells

Until the middle of the sixteenth century, English church bells, like other European bells, had a variety of uses: some sacred, some secular, and many that were both. Bells called congregations to church, and told them to flee if there was a fire; they rang to signal a death in the parish, and they rang to help the passage of the souls of the dead through purgatory. Other bells, or other ways of ringing the same bells, commanded people to say a particular prayer. Bells were incredibly well-loved by their parishes and were often baptized and given godparents; their individual tones were voices that spoke to the communities over which they rang. They were among the loudest sounds in the soundscape, making up a language that its parishioners could understand.

In the Injunctions issued by the ten-year-old king Edward VI in 1547, these many and varied uses for bells were drastically reduced. Only one bell was now allowed “in convenient time to be rung or knelled before the sermon.”2 Bells were so useful that a single one was still to be used to call the godly to church, but in this new post-Reformation England, their other uses were no longer officially approved. The dead didn’t need help through purgatory, because it no longer existed; there was no need to command anyone to say popish prayers such as the Ave Maria by ringing the Angelus bell, because these prayers were now deemed useless. But parishioners had such affection for church bells that this particular injunction was never seriously enforced. They went to great lengths to keep their bells, sometimes by burying them until the zealous storm had passed.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blobogix

Blobogix the Invasive Alien Impostor God

Only a couple of players showed up for this Sunday's game, so we tried an idea I've been considering for a while. Each of us took a half hour to write an adventure with d6 rooms, then we ran each adventure.

In the adventure I wrote, an invasive alien displaced a local god and enslaved the priests at the shrine. This is a common problem on planet Zerapis. The players managed to free most of the priests from Blobogix's mind control (minus one or two they shot full of arrows), saved several villagers scheduled for human sacrifice, and acquired a powerful but unwieldy ray gun that freezes people by sending their minds to a barren alien world. Unfortunately, they made a dangerous enemy by letting Blobogix escape with his enormous pulsating egg.

As a player, I found that I've become more conservative and risk averse; I'll take a modest treasure and leave the dungeon without pulling the tantalizing but obviously dangerous shiny lever. Especially when the adventures are so small, I feel bad about it — like I should play with all the things.

Maybe I just need some fresh blood in my face-to-face group. It's hard to get a small set of busy adults in the same room on a regular basis.