Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hey Bob the Elf: You Looking for your old copy of B2?

If any of these characters sound familiar to you, then I think I have your copy of B2 Keep on the Borderlands:

Cleric the Cleric
Bob the Elf
George the Thief
James Bond the Assassin--Strangely, he has the lowest charisma on the entire roster.
Khon the Fighter/MU
Handy Smurf the ranger--Significantly, the next character in the lineup is a paladin named:
Johann--who was the smurfs' human ally in their ongoing war against Gargamel.
A pair of fighters named Fred & Barney
Higgens the Fighter/Thief--a Magnum PI reference?
Spock the F/MU who seems to have met his end; and
Jim the fighter

Besides being generously endowed in the ability department--several characters don't have a single ability score below 18--every single one of these genial dudes is described as being "Kind."  And while several of them have their "Place" listed as "Cave Chaos" others have "Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh"--including 007 and Spock--and yet others have their place listed as "Dungeon Death."  Wherever that is, I want to go there.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Demi-Human Level Limits

So I've been going through a serious rules-lawyer phase lately, hacking away at inconsistent rules or ambiguous wording wherever I can find them; adding my own muddled interpretation wherever I can shoehorn such in. Today's topic: the much beleaguered demi-human level limits!

Class Level Limits Table: Occasionally I miss my old scanner.
I know, I know, when most of you make house rules regarding level limits it's to write them out of the game.  I see your reasoning, but I am that one dude (actually, there are two of us) that actually likes level limits--even if they are all dissociatey or whatever. 

But there is an aspect of the level limits that doesn't gibe the way I'd like it to: in the AD&D rules they're tied to the characters ability scores.  This makes it even more important that your dwarf fighter roll a damn 18 for strength; as if he already needed a reason beyond the outrageous to hit and damage modifiers and the 15% XP bonus.  Additionally, ability-based level limitations encourage multi-classing; your already-pathetic elf with a mere 16 Strength is limited to 5th level fighter so he might as well add magic user to his resume just to stay in the game a little longer.

Oh sage Caveman, what magic salve are you brewing in your laborotory to heal these misbegotten woes, you ask?  Something to which Herr Gygax actually alludes in the friggin' PHB.  Check it, fellow nerds:
"Only Humans will normally have clericism as their sole class; thus they are the only clerics with unlimited advancement in level."--EGG, PHB, pg. 20.
I actually remembered it being a much more damning quote, but the implication is still there: it's the lack of focus which makes demi-humans so limited in their advancement.

So, the more you diversify, the less advancement you get in any one class.  It makes sense--Jack-of-all-trades, master of none and all that.

So I'm thinking that a single-classed demihuman character could reach the maximum level indicated in the class level limits table--normally reserved for those with an 18 in their prime requisite; a double-classed character could reach the level indicated for those with a 17 in their prime req., and triple-classed characters would max out at one level below that.

Thus, a single-classed elven fighter could reach level 7 regardless of his strength.  Similarly, a single-classed elven MU could achieve wizardly status (11th level), yet a multi-classed F/MU could achieve only 6/10 respectively and a triple-classed F/MU/T would be limited to levels 5/9/*.

*I'm actually considering limiting Unlimited thief advancement to single classed demi-human thieves; double classed thieves would be limited to name (master thief) level, and triple-classed thieves to 9th level.  But I'm not sold on it yet, and it is unlikely to ever come up in my game anyway.

Man, that feels better.  Even if it's totally irrelevant since none of my players ever seem to play demi-humans or survive past 2nd level before we switch characters again. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tramp's Lizardman

Man that dude is bad ass.  Back in the summer of '81, I meticulously copied this drawing from the Monster Manual for the character sketch of my second-ever AD&D character, a chaotic good Lizardman Ranger/Assassin named Krazgul or something along those lines. 

My older brother hated him and, as DM of Lizardman's first dungeon, quickly killed him off.  Krazgul dove into a pool of water only to find out it was acid.  RIP Badass Lizardman.  My brother was just jealous that I thought of making a character based on this dude first.

I especially like that Tramp drew this guy in defiance of the description of lizardmen in the MM, which basically says that they are uber-(neder?)-primitives, and only the most sophisticated amongst them will use a club as a weapon and yet here's this guy with a bad ass sword and a gleaming metal shield that's so awesome Captain America would've fellated Perseus to get his hands on it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Level Title Enthusiasts Rejoice: Noobie round up

A while back I did a piece on why I think it odd that first level fighters go by the moniker "Veteran" a term which denotes experience in the field and confers a degree of respect on the recipient; something which first level fighters have, in my opinion, yet to earn.

While some folks agreed with me, several dissenters pointed out that experience in combat is what separates a Fighter from a Normal Man.  It makes sense on a certain level, especially when you consider the game's wargaming roots--everybody in the game was engaged in warfare so something had to set the Fighter apart.

But let's have a look at the n00b status of the other adventuring classes to see how they rate:

First Level Titles by Class:

Young man of fashion.
[EDIT: Young Gallant would
become the inaugural head coach
of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017,
living up to his Paladin roots.]*

Cleric: Acolyte--Latin for altar boy.
Druid: Aspirant--Keep reaching for the stars, little buddy.
Ranger: Runner--Either a messenger or a member of the cross country team. 
Paladin: Gallant--Webster says: A young man of fashion; a lady's man.  Kind of odd, eh?
Magic User & Illusionist: Prestidigitator--A fancy name for a birthday party magician. 
Thief: Rogue (Apprentice)--While rogue is more of a stance than an occupation, the parenthetical title provides everything we need to know.
Assassin: Bravo (Apprentice)--I did a thing on Bravo a couple of years ago; otherwise as thief above.   
Bard: Probationer--Under the Olde Rules, you had to first rise to 5th-8th level in fighter, start over as a thief and rise to at least 5th-9th level in that field before you could finally call yourself... a probationer.  Don't screw up now or you're finished. 
Monk: Novice--Webster offers a few more synonyms: abecedarian, apprentice, babe, colt, cub, fledgling, freshman, greenhorn, neophyte, newbie, newcomer, beginner, novitiate, punk, recruit, rook, rookie, tenderfoot, tyro, virgin.

As you can see, all the other AD&D character classes--with the possible exception of Paladins--had level titles that bespoke their status as tyros in the field, to which the respectful term "Veteran" stands in stark contrast. 

* EDIT 2: He would switch class in 2021 to become a Ranger.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Associating Invisibility

Susan Richards goes
unnoticed while on the
So there's been a lot of discussion of dissociative rules and all that Crap lately, which reminded me of one of my least favorite dissociated rules of D&D that I'm aware of.  I'm talking of course about invisibility.

More specifically, the rule that says that an invisible character immediately becomes visible upon initiating violence.

Why on earth would the forces of magic all of a sudden sprout a big hippie beard, fire up the patchouli-scented incense, and do their best yogi-pose as soon as an invisible character decides to garrote someone?  There's no similar rule for polymorphed beings entering combat, nor for the charmed, strengthed, featherfallen, etc.  Why the inconsistency?

Famous invisible people
of literature.
My assumption has always been that it's because our Founding Fathers considered remaining invisible during combat to be too much of an advantage, so they bolted on an external (dissociated) mechanism for leveling the playing field.  But it's a sucky one, especially when one considers the options available in literature, most famously in the writings of H.G. Wells and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Please read on:

If you really want to associate the effects of invisibility, our man H.G. is the way to go; only your body is invisible, anything which is not attached directly to your epidermis is going to be seen.  Which is why the invisible man walks around dressed like a mummy all the time.  That means that if your party wants to turn inviz to sneak past the guards, they gotta strip down to their goods, which might lead to this type of scenario:

Player:    I strip down and turn invisible to sneak past the guards to the Baron's bedroom. 
DM:       Once inside the chamber, you see a large, luxurious bed which is occupied by the baron and his wife who are sleeping soundly under a thick, cozy feather bed.  There is a fireplace, but the fire in the hearth has gone out and the wooden shudders on the windows do little to prevent the wintry drafts from chilling the room to near freezing temperatures. Your feet are icy from walking on the bare stone floors of the castle and though you are invisible, you don't need to see your naked flesh to tell that it is covered in goosebumps; you are beginning to shiver uncontrollably.   Did I mention that there is plenty of room in the bed for a third? What do you do next?
...which might lead to far different results than intended.

In addition, how far do you go with the associating?  Would an invizible Mr. Huge Ruined Pile look like a mobile, man-shaped mural?

In The Hobbit, Tolkien's take on invisibility is a bit more user-friendly.  Bilbo, thankfully, did not need to strip to his hobbit-sized giblets to take advantage of the invisibility conferred by the one-ring-to-rule-them-all, but when he whipped out Sting to slash the spider webs, the sword was fully visible.  And, as I recall, ring-wearing Bagginses were also said to cast a faint shadow, though I can't be bothered to look for the reference at the moment.

I think right here you have the beginnings of an effective leveling mechanism:
  • the presence of an invisible being is marked by a slight visual anomaly, and 
  • anything held in the hand is going to be visible.  

I think I'd take it a bit further and say that anything that extends beyond, say, 3 inches from the person's body, would become wholly visible i.e., that whole sword is visible including the hilt, not just the part that extends beyond ~3" from your hand.  Sure, this is a dissociation of sorts, but it's one that I can live with cuz it makes for a cooler image.

By this rule, any handheld item larger than a mid-sized link of sausage would become visible including swords, shields, staffs, but also non-handheld items like great helms, loaded backpacks, cloaks, wizard hats, pointy elf shoes, etc.    

So you're fighting in combat, everyone can see your weapon and the aforementioned visual anomaly--which, in my mind, is somewhat akin to the shimmery distortion that was apparent when The Predator was hassling Conan back in '87.*  That makes invizzos a lot easier to nail down in combat; let's say attackers are -4 to hit, even less if invizzo-dude is fighting 2-handed, using a shield, or is fool enough to be wearing a cloak or a backpack.  If he's doing all three, then he's pretty much given it all away; give 'em a -1 to hit  and that's it.

*And, of course, invisibility would also be useless against infravision--unless you cover yourself in mud. 

But what about invisible MUs blasting off spells from the 2nd row?  What's to make them less "unfair"?  Well, beside the aforementioned wizard hat ruling, what about this: when casting spells, the interaction of the aura of invisibility with the incoming magic of the new spell combine to create a magical reaction which causes invisible spellcasters to glow for the duration of the casting time of any spell and leaves a faint after glow for the remainder of the round; any attacks made against them are at +2.

That's an invisibility rule I could live with.  You have to treat invisibility a lot differently; no more hiding an entire party in a bag of holding which the invisibled thief then picks up and sneaks out the dungeon with.  In order to remain invisible, a character is going to have to ditch a lot of gear, making it useful only in certain situations.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Cleric Abilities and Disciplines

Clerics have pretty much dropped out of my AD&D game lately; not by fiat mind you, but we've had neither PC nor NPC clerics loitering about for quite some time.  That said, I am very open to radical restructuring of the class.  Towards that end, recently I was looking at the "Matrix for Clerics Affecting Undead" on page 75 of the ol' DMG which got me thinking if I add some color to it:

... it kinda looks like the Marvel Super Heroes Universal Action Resolution Matrix:

...just expressed a little differently

Which got me to thinking, could the Turn undead ability resolution system be used as a universal Cleric action table?  Which is to say, what if cleric spells functioned not like MU spells--i.e. guaranteed success--but more like the turn undead ability, with a chance of outright failure but also a chance of super-extra success?  

Back to the Marvel Super Heroes (MSH) table: what do the different colors mean?  For turning undead, they could represent the different levels of undead to be turned; but what for spells?  Enter this recent post on Magic disciplines by Brendan over at Untimately wherein he basically establishes how shocking grasp could be a prerequisite to learning lightning bolt in a discipline-driven magic system; if I may oversimplify his thesis liberally.

Now what if we did something similar for clerics: stacking related spells into disciplines?  All the cure wounds spells, for instance, could be piled into a single discipline.  To accommodate the seven spell levels available to clerics, we could expand the 3 degrees of success of MSH--green, yellow, red--to 7 colors.

Here's a rough draft of what the universal cleric ability matrix might look like:

For this prototype, I've kept the original AD&D turning undead granularity intact--odds improve in leaps of 3 (15%), with the same level progressions across the top as on the DMG matrix--but this could easily be modified to suit tastes/statistical appropriateness.  It does show that eventually lower level abilities would be automatically successful--can you fumble at turning undead?

As an example of  how a cleric ability might work:  Rhonda the Rogue (apprentice) has contracted a bad case of rot grub, and her good friend Arnie the Acolyte (1st level cleric) is hoping to save his comrade-in-arms.  Cure Disease is the poor slob's only chance, but that's a 3rd level spell, available to 5th level clerics or higher.  But with this table, third level abilities are represented by the light red band of color.  Cross reference the table and we see that a first level cleric with knowledge of the sacred discipline of Curatives would need to roll a 20 to achieve success with a (light) red ability--I gotta' change those colors.  That only gives Arnie a 5% chance to save Rhonda's bacon; not great odds but still a better chance than the 0% chance the ol' spell system gives him.

At the other end, if Arnie were trying to use his healing ability to mend Gordie the Gallant's light wounds, he would have only a 55% chance of success; a marked depreciation from the 100% chance even 1st level AD&D clerics are used to.

Or, alternatively, you could eliminate the entire line of sequential hit-point restoration spells.  Instead, a cleric would just roll a d20 against his or her Healing ability and the color associated with is or her result would determine how many or what sized dice of healing were achieved.  Say, green scores you heal a d6 worth of HPs, yellow 2d6, etc.

One problem that this table presents is that it no longer works for its original purpose:  Turning Undead.   Seeing as there are 13 levels of undead to turn as opposed to only 7 levels of spell ability, determining affect on undead would result, I think, in an overly prissy-looking matrix.

Another problem: How do I finagle it to handle thief abilities too?