Posts Tagged ‘tools’

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.

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
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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.

Thanks to a post by Shortymonster I stumbled over to the Large Polyhedron Collider (A+ on the blog name), where he’s got a post about the Realities of Falling.  He sets out a few milestones: serious injuries occur from falling 25-30ft onto a hard surface, and death is very likely from a fall of 50-60 feet (onto a hard surface).  He goes on to talk about falling into soft surfaces (like deep water, or snow), and the differences landing orientation makes, and the kind of damage you can expect to do if you land on crates or a car or another person.

Because of this, I think we need to change the way falling damage is handled in D&D: as it is, it’s just too lethal to be realistic. (more…)

Quick NPCs

Posted: 16 July 2012 in Toolbox
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NPCs are the bread and butter of a DM’s toolkit; unless you’re running an adventure deep in the wilderness, your characters are going to run in to other people.  And if they have access to a settlement of any decent size, they may easily meet lots of people.  It’s possible to hand-wave this so they interact with nameless merchants and get rumors from faceless street urchins, but in a lot of cases that could lessen the game.  So lots of DMs put work into coming up with ways to make quick NPCs, and  thought I might add such a method to my Toolbox here.

Given my assumptions, almost everyone my characters meet with be Level 1 Commoners with average stats.  The few craftsmen may be Experts, men-at-arms will be Warriors, and the rare witch or holy man will be an Adept. Rulers and high society will be made up of mostly the same, with the top few actually being classed as Aristocrats (just because you’re high-born doesn’t mean you necessarily take that path).  In short, most random NPCs are probably going to be Commoners or Warriors.

When I’m actually statting an NPC, I like to use the Basic Array (13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8), but it’s probably best to assume that most people will have 10s across the board (it’s Average for a reason).  Conveniently, Commoners and Warriors both get 2+Int Skills, and have essentially the same class skills: Climb, Craft, Handle Animal, Profession, Ride, and Swim — Warriors add Intimidate and Commoners add Perception.  Pick two skills to get a +4 on and everything else is a +0 and you’re done.

Warriors are proficient with all weapons and armors, 5hp, and have a +1 BAB and +2 Fort.  Commoners are proficient with a single weapon and no armor, 3hp, and get no other bonuses.  You can usually ignore things like Feats and Traits for random NPCs (if they become important enough to care, you may just fully stat them between sessions).

If necessary, add a +1 bonus to the appropriate stats if you’re creating a non-human NPC (so elves get +1 in DEx and Dex-based skills, and +1 in Int an extra Skill).

What’s In A Name?

The biggest consideration (since stats are fairly straight-forward) is the character’s name; if you’re doing it off-the-cuff you’re likely to end up with something silly-sounding or “Bob.”  The best thing to do is generate a couple dozen names for Males, Females, and Surnames, and just mix-and-match as necessary (I could easily see a random table for putting together names, and you could vary the frequency of certain names if you think “Tomen” is a common name for halflings in your world).  I generally choose a style for each of my main races: dwarves have Norse-based names, halflings have Gaelic-based ones, and so on.

On Assumptions

An interesting consequence to these “average NPCs” is the fact that most people will easily die to a single sword thrust (the expected result of a Short Sword is 3 damage, 4 for a Long Sword; a Greatsword will fell even trained men-at-arms in one swing), and a creature that has a +2 to damage is essentially guaranteed to kill them if it hits.  This makes Orcs (with a +2 average STR mod) much more frightening to regular folks.


So I finally got the Strength Tables up on my Carrying the World on Your Back post; there has to be a better way to do tables in WordPress…

Anyways, I got the tables up and I wanted to share a few more thoughts on the topic.  The primary complaint about the D&D/Pathfinder encumbrance rules is that they’re too granular.  Each individual item is tracked with weights down to the fraction of a pound, and characters have varying levels of encumbrance based on their strength.  It’s straightforward but not easy or quick to calculate a character’s current encumbrance and, most damning, it is not easy or quick to figure out what the character needs to drop if he suddenly has to run from a monster.  I have a MS spreadsheet-based character sheet I grabbed off the Internet that does a good job tracking such things, but a system that requires a computer to use effectively is not a good system for a tabletop game.  Knowing what their biggest weights are should be as intuitive to my players as it is for their characters. This is the argument Pencils and Papers made that changed my mind on Encumbrance.

There are, I think, two ways to simplify the system, and both of them consist of moving to a coarser measure.  Delta suggested the use of the Stone, an archaic measure of weight that was roughly 14 or so pounds.  She kept herself to whole-Stone numbers, The Alexandrian introduced fractional-Stone measures with certain containers and the notion of Bundles (which he put as 5 Bundles to the Stone).  The math in the Alexandrian’s system bothered me, with talk about Stone and half-Stone and one-fifth-Stone (thanks to Bundles)…  So my thought was to set a Stone at 15lbs and a Bundle at 5lbs (1/3 Stone) and only track to the Bundle level.  I want to say that if it’s less than a Bundle you should ignore it, but I think that may make problems later on.

One of the things I’m happily cribbing from the Alexandrian is his general notions on how much things weigh and how things should be carried.  Basic weights for weapons and armor were taken by him from Delta, but he added containers and more granularity for miscellaneous equipment.  It should be noted that adding granularity when our intent was to reduce granularity is something to be wary of, but at the same time we don’t want to disassociate ourselves to much from the fictional world, and it’s not desirable to me to allow a player to carry infinite arrows or other such things.

From Delta and the Alexandrian, Heavy armor is 5 Stone, Medium armor is 3 Stone, and light armor is 1 Stone. Shields and full-sized (one- and two-handed) weapons are a Stone each.  Obviously characters should still recognize that a war hammer is weightier than a rapier, but I don’t think so much so that our mechanics need to care.  In particular, Items should be measured in whole Stone, as a single Bundle, or as a Bundle when collected (like arrows).

Light weapons in my system are a Bundle for 5, bolts and arrows are a Bundle for 20, and coins are a Bundle for 250. Miscellaneous gear should cover everything else from rations to potions to maps and whatever else you have.  Light items like a compass or Holy Symbol (unless it’s a particularly big or weighty holy symbol, I guess) can be ignored, and everything else gets put together in Bundles of 10.  In most cases if it’s less than a Bundle it can safely be ignored, but you may want to make exceptions if a character has several mostly-full bundles (3 daggers, 14 arrows, 200 coins and 8 misc. items should probably weight something).  Treasure should be assigned a weight by the DM, with a Stone being a hefty statue, a Bundle being a large gem or sack full of coins, and smaller items treated as misc. equipment.  Something unwieldy like a painting or rug may count as several Stone despite not actually weighing that much.

Containers include things like backpacks, belt-pouches, and sacks, and should be used to explain where a character puts his gear when he’s not holding it.  Weapons are assumed to come with sheathes and quivers which can attach to a belt or be slung over a shoulder, but other things need to be packed away. Empty containers are considered misc. equipment, containers holding things are ignored (just count the stuff they’re holding).

Finally, creature weights.  This will usually refer to familiars, who tend to be misc. equipment- or Bundle-sized. Small creatures are about 2 Stone, the average Human is 12 Stone, and a Large creature is 100 Stone. Individuals can weight more or less if you care to make a distinction, but should stick to whole-Stone numbers.  I’m just taking this stuff from The Alexandrian, so look to his page if you want to deal with larger creatures, though I’m not sure I want to know when or how the weight of a Colossal creature needs to be tracked…

Finally, for a guideline on figuring out weights of odd things you want in your dungeon, just divide the weight-in-pounds by 15 and drop any remainder; that’s how many Stone it weighs. If it’s smaller than a Stone but bigger than misc. equipment, call it a Bundle.