Archive for the ‘Toolbox’ Category

So while I’m working on a couple of longer-term projects (discussing Pathfinder feats at-length; comparing D&D3.5 and Swords and Wizardry, demonstrating that the systems focus on different scopes; discussing healing in D&D, particularly in D&D 5) I wanted to point you over to a really cool idea from LS at Papers & Pencils.

He noted (as I did this weekend, breaking in my new Swords and Wizardry books) that the fist experience new players have of D&D is “”roll these dice, record the resulting sum. Repeat this task five more times, then assign one score to each of these six abilities, the functions of which you probably don’t fully understand yet,” and that’s a kind of sucky introduction to a Fantasy setting.  Instead he suggests describing the Races (dwarves are strong but clumbsy, elves are graceful but frail, gnomes are weak but charismatic) and then weighting attribute rolls by Race, with take-highest and take-lowest rolls replacing flat bonuses and penalties. I haven’t chewed on the numbers yet, but LS claims that 5-take-lowest averages a 7 and 5-take-highest averages a 14 (and 4-take-highst/lowest is probably about 8 and 12 respectively), so you get the benefit of the flat bonus but eliminate scores above 18 at level 1. And if nothing else, I think I really like that result.

So check out his post and then leave me your thoughts in the comments; I’ll probably make another post on this topic once I’ve had some time to look at the implications.

Hexographer Hex-ifies Anything

Posted: 8 February 2013 in Toolbox
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This one snuck past me, but catching up on the other blogs I follow I just learned from Trollsmyth that the Hexographer program just got a new feature that will convert any .png file into a hex map, making it easier to build RPG maps from any old map you find laying around the Internet.  This sounds like a GREAT feature, and I can’t wait to try it out: I’ve been very pleased with Hexographer so far, anyways.

On Chases

Posted: 4 September 2012 in Toolbox
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Role, Rules, and Rolls posted a “Simple Chase Rule” a couple weeks ago, where a character can forgo their normal movement rate for a turn in order to roll for a random movement rate.  In D&D/Pathfinder terms, a character who moves 30′ in a round can move 10d6′ instead (or I guess you could simplify it to 6-spaces and 2d6-spaces if you cared to).  This gives a range of 10′ to 60′ (with an average of 35′) which is a huge range to represent bursts of speed or mishaps/stumbling.

Right off, I like the idea that Roger is going for here: with static movement rates, you can determine the results of a chase before anyone moves anywhere; the faster party wins, or in the case of matched rates whoever can outlast the other.  That’s rather dull, and adding in a roll shakes it up a bit.

That being said, I’m not sure it actually works, at least not in D&D and not with characters or groups who have different speeds.  For example, a human can move 30′ or average 35′ (at the risk of moving only 10′ in a turn).  A kobold can move 20′ or average 23′ (rolling 6d6+2), hoping to get as much as 38′ at the risk of only going 8′.  Assuming a Human is running from a Kobold and chooses to NOT random-roll the chase, he will move away at a steady 30′ pace.  If the kobold doesn’t random-roll the human will pull away at a relative 10′ per turn and the kobold has no chance to catch up.  If the kobold DOES random-roll, he will average a speed of 23′ and the human will pull away at a relative 7′ per turn, and the kobold has no chance to catch up.  Only early on, <i><b>if</b></i> the human and kobold are within 10′ of each other, does the kobold have a chance of catching the faster human, and then only if the koblod gets a particularly good roll and the human doesn’t put any special effort in to running.

Of course, this is all moot given that D&D/Pathfinder has a full-round “Run” action, where the character throws caution to the wind (granting combat advantage) and moves at a rate of 4x their normal speed (120′ instead of 30′).  Combining these would give something silly like 40d6′ (between 40′ and 240′ depending on the whims of the dice) and it breaks down from there.

A short little post while I chew on bigger problems.
Unofficial Games has a post up about using a stealth system to help determine the occurrence of Wandering Monster events.  It’s a neat idea and something that I already do in a loose way: ie, if the PCs do something noisy I have the world around them react, and in certain environments that reaction can be guards showing up to see what’s going on.  Zzarchov seems to imply that there’s a more-formal system he’s using that tracks “suspicion” points, and he doesn’t go into details of how the system works (except generally that noisy things generate suspicion and at some point that suspicion becomes an encounter).  It’s not clear if there’s a threshold, or if it works like old Mage: The Ascension Paradox in that the GM can choose to slowly “burn off” suspicion in smaller encounters or let it build up into something Big and Bad.

I think it would be interesting (and it’s again something I implement informally) to use a similar system to track whether the PCs become aware of wandering monsters, whether it’s a sneaking goblin raiding party or a lumbering ogre looking for a meal.  Not sure exactly how you could translate that to this “suspicion points” system — either you’re telling players “he’s gained enough points, you’re suspicious that there’s something just a couple passages away,” or you’re dropping hints each time the creature gains points and waiting for the players to decide they’re suspicious enough to check it out (“an innocuous sound?  The GM said it, it must be important!”).

Each month the folks from the RPG Blogger Network organize an RPG Blogger Carnival, where a bunch of bloggers all tackle the same question or topic.  This month Game Knight Review is hosting, and the question is “what’s in your backpack?”  The Gassy Gnoll kept the question pretty open — your real world backpack, you’re in-game backpack, whatever — so since this blog is supposed to be about GM tools and game structures I thought I might whip something up about what’s in my “backpack” for running a campaign.

I strongly feel like the most important piece of gear is a hex-map; this may be less true if you’re running a game that takes place entirely inside a megadungeon, or if overland travel is specifically unimportant and hand-waved (as might be the case in any reasonably-civilized setting), but hex maps seem to have been a key component of the game originally and it’s the biggest “missing piece” in modern games if you ask me.  Lots of people have lots of ideas about what makes a good hex map, but I’m going to go ahead and say that it should consist of 6-mile hexes (this makes some of the math a bit easier) and have a moderate-to-high amount of keyed locations (something between 80% and 100% coverage).  These keyed locations can be used to mark settlements, monster lairs, dungeons, etc and can be used to inform “random encounters.” (The Alexandrian has a long-running series discussing his complete hex-crawl system.)

The second bit of gear should be a random encounter mechanism, and you should have one whether the party is in a dungeon, in the wilderness, or even in a city (though that last might be a bit of a stretch). Random encounters give your world a sense of being “alive” and functioning even when the PCs aren’t around.  There are lots of ways to do this; I haven’t had time to use them to great extent, but my favorites are probably the one-page encounters method or more standard, region-based tables.  I think it’s important to note that these don’t all have to be combat encounters (I’d argue they shouldn’t all be combat) but one of the tings that random encounters ward against is the 15-minute work day (because going nova on an early encounter leaves you vulnerable to a random encounter later, and being vulnerable could mean death).

The last piece that I think is essential (and Gygax agrees with me, apparently) is a solid notion of time. Modern games still keep time during combat, and in general people keep track of days (at least in vague terms of night and day), but without the right granularity of time it becomes difficult to keep track of what might be going on “off-screen” and how long it takes your players to accomplish certain tasks — it’s possible that you can get by without a solid notion of time, just as characters can probably get by without flint and tinder, but I think you’re making it harder on yourself.  For me, I use the following:

1 Combat Round = 6 Seconds
10 Combat Rounds = 1 minute
1 simple non-combat action = 1 minute
10 minutes = 1 turn
6 turns = 1 hour
4 hours = 1 watch
6 watches = 1 day
7 days = 1 week
4 weeks = 1 month
13 months = 1 year

Most other tools I’ve found to be essential so far tend to come standard with modern games: things like a combat system, a notion of healing and damage, systems for skill-based action resolution.  A mechanism for adding or tracking weather in your world can add flavor, too; Gnome Stew has a system based on a Dragon article that’s “good enough for fantasy.” I’d recommend finding a system for NPC morale, but I haven’t gotten around to finding a good one yet. And I think there’s a lot to be said in favor of published modules, especially encapsulated ones that can be plopped into any campaign, either for filling out your hex key or presenting to your players when you’ve had a bad week for prep.

What do you think?  Anything I’m still missing from my pack?

Crit Die

Posted: 24 July 2012 in Toolbox
Tags: ,

As a follow-up to my quick note on combat, here’s the idea of the Crit/Fumble Die. I had a discussion about crits with my players, and where I like having a cit-confirmation system, they almost all preferred a natural-20-always-crits system.

My preference stems from the math and what we end up modeling.  With cit-confirmation, when you roll a 20 you get an auto-hit and then roll again to confirm, hitting the creatures AC again (doesn’t need to be another 20) means you get a critical hit.  This means that there’s always a 5% chance to hit your opponent (auto-hit on a natural 20), and additionally that 5% of all your hits are going to be criticals.  You’ll hit weaker enemies more, and thus get more crits on them, and tougher enemies will be hit less and have proportionally fewer crits.  I’m building a similar system for fumbles because I like using them, but “always fumble on a natural 1” just adds in too much chaos (5% of all your swings are dismal failures).

Counter-wise, a 20-always-crits system means that 5% of all your swings (not your hits) will be critical hits.  You will crit as much on strong enemies as you do on weak enemies, and if you have auto-hit on 20 as well you will *only* crit on tough enemies.  That means 95% of the time you can’t touch the guy, and the other 5% you’re landing devastating blows.  That just feels wrong.

But all my players see is that they roll a 20 and then I “rob” them of their crit when they fail to confirm.  And I can see the logic in that.  The Crit/Fumble die is my proposed solution, divorcing the “did I hit him” roll from the “did I crit him” roll.  Each attack rolls 2d20, with one designated as the hit-die and one as the crit-die.  If the hit-die beats the target’s AC, you hit and deal damage; if the hit-die is a natural 20, you auto-hit regardless of AC, but it has nothing to do with a critical strike.  If you hit and the crit-die is a 20 (regardless of what the hit-die was), then it’s a critical strike.  If you roll a 20 on the crit-die but miss with the hit-die, it was a good swing that just didn’t connect.  And of course, if you miss with the hit-die and the crit-die is a 1, you just fumbled and something bad happens.

You’ll have 5% of your hits be critical, 5% of you misses will be fumbles, and 5% of your attacks with be auto-hits and auto-misses.  But hopefully the perception that failing to confirm a crit “robs” the player of anything.

Dr. Gentleman has a series of posts about Combat that I’m trying (and mostly failing) to read.  This post isn’t really about anything I’ve read there, but it has Combat on my mind, and Gnome Stew just posted a little trick about color-coding your dice that I thought was neat, and all that reminded me of a trick of my own that I’d been meaning to mention.

People complain about the speed of combat a lot — roll d20 to hit, what did you get?, that hits now roll damage, what did you get?, describe results of the attack, next action.  With even a handful of players it gets bogged down quickly, especially if there are NPCs (enemies and/or allies) involved.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, really.

A simple trick that I’ve used, and that I’m surprised doesn’t get used more, is to chuck a handful of dice.  Instead of making each piece of the attack sequence a separate roll, grab a d20 and whatever damage dice you use and toss it in one throw.  If the d20 hits the AC damage is already on the table, and you haven’t wasted any real effort if you miss.  I’ve considered adding a Crit/Fumble die to the mix so that crits are confirmed in the same throw as well.  With a little color-coding, you can quickly see hit-die, damage-dice, backstab-dice, crit-die and so on.  It becomes a lot more roll-and-go, especially if DMs aren’t coy about monster ACs (which I don’t think they should be, in general). If people start thinking about their next action before it’s their turn (something my players need practise doing), it gets even smoother.