Showing posts with label House Rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label House Rules. Show all posts

Sunday, July 11, 2021

With a One-Two Punch

I'm working on revamping my offerings on DriverhruRPG. What I noticed is I don't list my house rules which changes a fair bit of how these products work . I also discovered I don't consistently apply my own house rules. 

One house rule I have is for unarmed attacks. A punch does 1-2 hp of damage. I hate the AD&D e1 unarmed combat system for grappling and simply don't' allow it. 

So here are my general rules for non-lethal combat for punching and kicking. Every character can throw a combo of punches, the classic one-two punch. Roll two d20 and each hit does a point of damage. If you roll at 20, your opponent makes a save vs. petrification to avoid going down for 1d4 rounds. 

If a punch downs a character by hit point damage, they get back up in 1d10 rounds. 

If a punch puts someone on the ground either by loss of hit points or a failed save, that damage is not recorded. It's a nod to not tracking too much stuff. When they get up, they simply have whatever hit points they had before being knocked down. 


When using B/X rules fighters, dwarves and elves can add strength bonuses to damage. No one less can. 

Thieves who meet the backstab requirements can throw a single sucker punch for 4 points of damage. There is no to hit bonus or damage bonuses. It is also a single attack roll making this all or nothing. 

When using AD&D e1 rules, not much changes. Rangers, Cavaliers, Barbarians and Paladins add their strength bonuses like fighters. Assassins can sucker punch. Monks and Mystics can retroactive decide to use these rules AFTER the attack roll. This can change a lethal hit to a non-lethal blow. 

Kicks use the exact same rules but do 2 points of damage in a single roll and no one can perform more than one per round. 

Fighters, monks, mystics and assassins can make a coup de grace strike barehanded. No one else can. If someone attempts to finish off a downed creature or character barehanded, it will take 5 rounds. Generally, these types of finishers are chaotic, evil or both which the characters are aware of before they make the attempt. 

This will help me clean up some stuff for my character classes I am writing for sale on DriveThruRPG. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

House Rules - Swords and Life Stealers - "Well, Mike. I calculated the odds and I went ahead and did it anyway..." (Part 3)

To the left is one of my favorite colognes, called Perversion. My other favorite is called Villain. However, at the game table, I hate being called either one of those words. 

I used to be afraid to use level or life draining creatures on my parties, but I got over it with a couple of house rules. By the way, you should probably pick up a copy of Ravenloft if you like sucking the life out of your players.  

The first house rule was on silvered weapons being an equivalent to magic weapons. That goes along ways when fighting the undead horde. Players still go through that whole "I'd be a fool to walk in there..." but at least they know they'll have an effective weapon. However, sometimes that isn't enough to get them to bite. 

I have a trick to life stealing that I unload on players. Life draining creatures live between worlds, their grip on this one is temporary. If the party kills the life draining creature, they get their levels back the next day, no saving throw. This is different than 3.5+ version of saving for recovery, which happens because it's the next day.  

This one is give and take, and I love it. Imagine the look on the player's face when they expect that they're going to get those levels back and end up with this discussion:

"No, you don't."
"Oh, crap. That thing is still alive!"

That one is as stressful as fun. It can really crank up the intensity of the game because now the players have to race back to the monster's lair to kill it before it can heal up. If the creature heals back to 100%, the loss of levels is permanent. Usually, the players have the means to heal themselves up as best they can, but the time limit stops them from padding the party with extras and alts. 

In the case of characters being turned into a life stealer themselves, it gives a brief window where the effect can be broken. Healing back up to full health is necessary immediately afterwards, so while it's fun, it's also a nightmare for the player(s). They get special powers for bit, but at a cost with a threat of death. 

This idea of having a life draining creature exist between two realms also creates the expectation that anything that travels the planes is a life stealer. Devils, demons, etc. all have this power in my campaigns. Usually it's in lieu of a different attack and I use it for drama. The basic criteria in my campaign is that the plane crosser must be immortal. Life stealing githyanki would be way too much, but it does explain their fancy swords. They probably encounter this problem all the time. 

Another quirk of this system is disruption. If a player strikes the life stealer with a weapon or spell that is 100% effective, that creature cannot drain in that round. It is also weakened to the point that non-magical weapons can affect it for the rest of the round. Silver arrows are life savers in this scenario, as are spells. Tick-tick-tick, the clock is running! Make those initiative rolls or beat feet. This makes those Lost Boys style combats incredibly likely and reasonable, which is also very fun. Just make sure you have a good map for the players so they can run in and out of trouble easily. 

I have not used the gimmick from Lord of the Rings where a character is immune due to some sort of basic definition, like being a woman or a hobbit. I'd like to, but that would cause a gender-race race. As funny as that is, the gag would be all used up by the ridiculousness. Play the character you love, not the character with the most mechanical advantages.

(I have a ridiculous gender crossing story here, and let me tell you, it was far less fun to be a participant than documentarian. It was painful because everyone's assumptions made for hard feelings.)  

Since the players are generally aware that if they kill the life stealer they could get their levels back, they go at it like the heroes they are. That is a lot of fun because they walk off extremely battered, but the next day, everything resets.

A lot of this is would not be possible or practical if not for one other thing that I do at the table. I don't always hand out experience at the end of the session. If I did, there would be a problem with ending a session after draining event. The characters would accumulate experience after the drain, then lose it if they get their levels back. That wouldn't be any fun and creates book keeping nightmares. 

I hand out experience at points where there are long pauses in the action, rather than at some real life time measurement. If they characters are waiting out a snow storm, training or researching, they get their experience dump at the same time. It puts the players on an "off topic task" at the table in lieu of boredom. I can tell stories as they do paperwork. 

It also removes the whole concept of "just 10 points way from the next level" occurring via a break from the game where the player is inclined to cheat. I avoid this by throwing out a mini-event for that player or players so they don't feel like they needed to cheat. I'm not inclined to give away the milk for free, but if I can play out a special one off event, I will because that is enjoyable. 

Click here for part one and click here for part two of this series. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

House Rules - Making Swords Magical (Part 2)

Magic swords and other weapons are special in my campaigns. In my last post on magic swords, I wrote about allowing silver weapons to count as magical weapons and limitations I place on true magic swords. 

One of the side effects of allowing silver weapons to count as magically, they can be used to create "character feature permanence". There are a couple of ways of doing this, if the player wants his character to be "that axe wielding fighter". To be that, they always need an axe. Do I force them to be on the look out for magical axes in the future, or do I allow the axe to progress with them?

Seeking a specific weapon is how Fritz Leiber did it with the Gray Mouser. Scalpel and Cat's Paw were merely names that the Mouser tagged various weapons with. They changed, but not really, through out his adventures. Mechanically, they did the same task as the prior weapon, but were in some way better. Or not, Leiber wasn't really clear if the Mouser was breaking or losing normal weapons, or replacing with better.

While I like this methodology, it places an onus on me as the DM to provide special things. I don't like that because it creates the impression that I am screwing a character by the omission of certain items or it seems like I am singling a character out for special rewards. In some cases, the big prize will not be desirable to the party, it's a McGuffin for something else. I can't make someone's prize sword the McGuffin because by definition, the McGuffin exists for a purpose other than what it appears to be. I could, but that's just mean. 

Since I let players use silver or silvered weapons in place of magic weapons, I have a special formula for the pricing of such things. Basically, the character needs to pay the base price of the weapon plus the volume or weight of the silver necessary to make such an item. 

"Volume? Why volume?" Good question. If the weights of items are in gold coins and the price is in the same unit, I get a nice formula for silvered weapons, which are merely plated with silver. A dagger costs 2 gps, and weighs 10 coins, so the price for a silvered dagger is 2 gps, 10 silver pieces. That is one merely covered in silver. 

If the player wants a dagger made entirely out of silver, volume changes to weight. The character pays the base price of the weapon, plus the weight in silver of the manufactured weapon. So, a silver long sword costs 15 gps plus the weight of silver put into it. It weighs the same as 60 gold pieces, so the player must provide 60 gold pieces of silver, or 1200 silver coins. 

This gives me a nice formula for improvement of weapons constructed out of silver. An item can be reforged into a higher bonus weapon by repeating the process, with the only exception being plated weapons. Improving a plated weapon results in a magical copy, leaving a memento of where one has been. 

You might want to hold on to that, in case you drop your nice sword. Just saying. 

Improving a wholly silver alloy weapon merely has a cost and a time to produce. To go from a wholly silver weapon to +1, the cost is the base price of 15 gps plus the cost of the silver needed, which is again 1200 silver coins in the case of the longsword. The extra silver doesn't end up in the weapon, it is simply materials needed for the special task. It's basically a silver drain, which creates interesting scenarios if the characters can't get their hands on silver for some reason. Like they tried to do this with a suit of armor in a small town. This process is costly, but relatively easy to do if players are selling off treasure.

By creating a standardized way of improving weapons, I create item permanency for the players and a tool for magic users to make magic weapon. This is also a coin dump to explain why experience is equal to gold. It has many features.  

(Oh, my wiley players. I will mention that I do use encumbrance for carried items and I have had players request a new weight for their for wholly silver weapons. On paper, gold is almost twice the weight of silver. Since this would be an alloy, I say the weight of the silver weapon is only 80% of a regular one for the purposes of encumbrance. I never let this reduce the cost to make a silver weapon.) 

Anyway, what do you think? 

Click here to go back to part one and click here for part three of this series. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

House Rule - The Magic of Magic Swords (Part 1)

Magic swords are special in my campaigns. In the various rule sets +1 swords are denoted as special, but aren't the first magic weapon the characters get their hands on. These special weapons and tools are found right in the equipment lists. 

Silver daggers, holy water and symbols, wolvesbane and garlic are all magical weapons. So why can't a player purchase a magic sword right from the get-go? 

Because it's annoying and unbalancing for players to get a bonus right of the gate. In my campaigns, I have a system in place to limit the use of magical weapons.

Being a history buff, magical equipment in my campaigns mirrors the idea of Cursus Honorum from ancient Rome. Sulla was an exiled Roman who managed to set himself up as dictator for life. Since his ultimate plan was to step down from power, he set up the Cursus Honorum to prevent other people from making the power grab he did. Basically, he set up a system of term limits, age and rank requirements for every level government. If one wanted to be a Concul, one need to be 42 years of age and must have held the rank of praetor. Every rank on the Curus Honorum had criteria for eligibility. 

Although not intended by Sulla, the Cursus Honorum created a concept of superiority. This came about when people coming up for office were elected to that office in their very first year of eligibility. This was referred to as "in your year". A praetor who was elected in his year put on the airs of being superior by virtue of nailing his election to office the first time he was eligible. He was better than a praetor who was elected later in life. 

Anyway, back to magic swords. In pretty much all versions of D&D actually have this concept baked in. On the to hit tables, characters are sorted by levels and their relative combat effectiveness. Fighters beat clerics who are better than the lowly magic user.The tables prefer actual skill (level) over a magical weapons. Each bracket improves the to hit roll by two. So a 3rd level fighter with a +1 sword is not better than a 4th level fighter with a non-magic sword. The only negative for a higher level fighter with a non-magic sword is the ability to hit magical creatures. 

In an effort to get around this in my campaigns, I count silver weapons as magical, whether or not they impart a bonus or not. In this way, a high level character can hit magical monsters with silver, rather than a magic one. I have to do less adjustments on my monsters and encounters, because I can just follow the to hit table to determine how hard the event will be. 

An additional house rule is, one must have "ranks" necessary to hold a plussed weapon. Anyone can hold silver, but characters must be within a specific band to hold a weapon with a bonus and of a higher band to use it. Sort of like, "in your year". 

Silver  1-3 levels
+1       4-6 levels
+2       7-9 levels
+3      10-12 levels
+4      13-15 levels
+5      16+ levels

I like this schedule as a first level fighter could be given an heirloom +1 sword but can't use it. They don't need to search for a great weapon, they have it. 

At levels 1-3, they can merely carry it. At level 4, they can use it. The sword will refuse to be drawn for low level characters. If the character somehow figures out a way to draw it, it operates in reverse in the hands of the unworthy. It imparts a minus. This simulates a battle of wills between the magic of the sword and the would-be wielder. In the case of an heirloom, the character is fighting the spirit of the former owner(s) for control. It still counts as magical, even if the magic is a detriment to the player. 

This method also creates a game logic to specific tools. Characters, especially fighters, have a mechanical way to assess weapons which is linked to the settings. 

(I have all kinds of wiley player who find ways to get swords out of containers. I'm ready for them.)

Please let me know what you think of the classic +1 sword in the comments below. 

Click here for part two and click here for part three of this series. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Encumbrance and Campaigning with ads from Gander Outdoors.

I love my characters, but a lot of times they come up with some odd choices. Backpacks are one of my favorite sources of amusement.

I haven't done an ad in a while, so I've plugged some backpacks from Gander Outdoors here. Clicking the pictures will take to their site to buy.  

On the left we have a 70 liter bag while on the right, we have about a 30 liter bag. They are very approximately in scale.

Guess which one my players think they have?  

I really don't mind overburdened players, but somethings are beyond the pale. The people walking around with stakes and hammers and a small fry pan aren't the problem.

I have a very ad hoc encumbrance rule, one which secretly hides one of those never named zeroth laws. My ad hoc encumbrance rule is armor OR a backpack plus two items in your hands means you are totally encumbered. It may or may not slow you down, but you certainly can't carry more. You can also be encumbered by having stuff (or an opponent) wrapped around your legs.

Romans would pack a lot of stuff on their soldiers. Gaius Marius demanded that the soldiers carry most of the load themselves. That earned them the nickname Marius' Mules. The Romans didn't wear backpacks, but carried a sacrina.

Not a link to Gander Outdoors

The sacrina held a cloak bag, a pot, a satchel, a Patera or mess tin, food, a waterskin and a net for loose items, all on a big forked stick. Notice the rectangular satchel on the back and the net on the front. When they dropped these, they landed on that satchel with the stick projecting upwards for easy recovery and unpacking. The bonus of the sacrina was that it made armor a benefit to carrying one as the armor distributed the weight of the stick on their shoulder. This is probably a better tool for carrying stuff than a backpack over armor or a backpack full of armor.

Here is where my zeroth law comes in. You drop your stuff and I will almost never have someone mess with it. If you leave it behind, that is one thing, but I really don't want to annoy my players with cheap shots like stealing all of their gear. Stealing money, sure. But not a backpack.

In my most recent campaign, my players have made an art of being unencumbered at all times. They have 2 wagons, oxen and a bunch of NPCs in tow. When they say they have a pack, it's pretty much a purse: a snack, some useful items and some water. I'm vaguely annoyed because they should have purchased a boat, but instead got the wagons because I left that word, "ship" out by accident.

Oh, well.

How do you handle encumbrance in your campaign? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Star Smuggler: e036 Rewrite for New Ships

When I created 3 new ships, I did so without access to e036. I was working from memory. So, let's rewrite the whole scenario using my house rules. The table at the end also addresses e001, which now gives you a choice of what ship to start with.

You can read all of e036 as it stands, but add in the following paragraphs to the end:

"Other options exist if you already own a starship. You may purchase another Antelope ship on credit and can trade in your old Antelope. Assuming you have paid off the loan on the first ship, that is. This option is not available if you owe anything on the old ship. If this ship is paid off, you will receive 60,000 credit against the principal and the interest payment will be reduced.

"You may also purchase a different class of ship under the same terms.

"Ships obtained from e001 have all of the items listed for an Antelope class, meaning you could be missing guns, hoppers and the like.

"When purchasing a new ship, you obtain it under the same conditions as the Antelope in e036. It will not have guns or hoppers or any other equipment. However, you have access to the shipyard's inventory. You may purchase boats (e035), boats guns (e053), ship's guns (e056) and hypercharges (e025). Stasis Units are not available here. Purchases each of these items at the dealership adds a premium. Add 100 secs. to the base price of each item.

"If you wish, you may purchase anyone of these ships outright. Please see the table below for all options.

"When trading in an old ship, you may transfer any gear or cargo from one ship to another, however, you may not remove the ship's guns, boats, boat guns, hypercharges, or permanently installed stasis units in the pilot's area. Items in the cargo hold count as cargo not equipment. If you are missing equipment, the ship is not sale-able and you will have to purchase these items either before going to the dealer (a die roll) or purchase them at the dealer's price.

"You may not roll against Cunning to negotiate the price of these ships, nor may you use ANY another mechanic such as psionics, drugs or pheromones to alter the prices. All attempts to do so will make you wanted in this system."

- no title specified
    Antelope    Alicorn   Blockade Buster    Buffalo   
Starting Ship120000300160000400256000640300000750
Full Purchase1800000240000038400004500000
Fin. w/Trade 60000150100000250196000490240000600

Players may wish a refresh on the alernate Hoppers:

Orbiter, e034. 1800 secs. base price. e035 is 2400 secs.
Fast Boat, e034. 1000 secs. base price. e035 is 1500 secs.
Interceptor, e034. 2500 secs. base price. e035 is 5000 secs.

Remember, the Orbiter is larger than most hoppers. Their full description is here.

The Alicorn's full description is here. Click the links for the Buffalo and Blockade Buster.

Look out for more house rules updates.

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Movement Game

In AD&D, movement is not real clear. On page 39, of the PHB distance is covered. 1" is 10 yards outside or 10 feet inside. Ah, easy. Next it says: "Your referee will have information which will enable him or her to adjust the movement rate to the applicable time scale for any situation".

Actually, that's not true. The information is on 101 and 102 of the PHB. Characters move 12" per round or 120 feet per minute. Outside, the rate changes to 12" = 12 miles per half day of travel, where "day" is defined as "daylight hours". Encumbered characters move less.

It is all very reasonable, so long as one doesn't ask "how fast can I move?". If you can run an 8 and half minute mile, you're moving at 62" in game terms or 621 feet per minute. An Olympic runner would be much faster. That is totally nuts.

But why break the math like this? This is AD&D, not a running simulator.

Last session, my players got in a dice heavy combat that came dangerously close to killing several of them and as the DM, I didn't realize how bad it was. 8 NPCs were actually killed, in some cases over-killed.

In this session, I wanted that fun without the element of danger and without railroading the characters with imaginary danger. The players realized the scenario was good fun without too much danger.

Here are the rules:

  1. A character can move 12" per segment, or 6 seconds. Encumbered characters move less fast.   
  2. At these speeds, no weapons can be used. 
  3. Turning 45 degrees costs 1" of forward movement. 
    1. Diagonal movement on the ground has no penalty other than the loss of distance covered, as the character moving parkour style. 
    2. Diagonal movement for flying creatures is doubled. One unit at a 45 degree angle counts double as they need to avoid things to stay airborne. 
    3. Turning 90 degrees costs 3" of forward movement.
    4. To stop, one must roll a 1d4 to see how many inches they will travel before stopping. 
  4. You can hit people with things in the environment, such as tree limbs, baskets, boxes, etc. 
  5. Everyone is AC 10 to these attacks, less Dex bonus and magical item bonus.
  6. These attacks don't do damage, they change the target's facing. 
  7. Roll to hit vs. AC 10, then roll a 6 sided die for effect. Consult the following table: 
    1. Turned 90 degrees to the left for free, but returning to your previous course costs 3".
    2.  As above, but to the right. 
    3. Turned 45 degrees to the right for free, but returning to your previous course costs 1". 
    4. As above, except to the left. 
    5. You hurtled the object and moved one 1" forward for free. 
    6. You are knocked down. You are motionless for the remainder of the segment. 
  8. Repeat as long as the fun allows. 
What is great about this system, is everyone can participate with little danger of death. Of course, wiley characters will invent ways to kill each other like this.

As near as I can tell, there is no good way to implement normal combat with this set of mini rules. Some rules of thumb. Bow fire could come once every 5 segments, twice per round and always comes last in the order above. Crossbows can fire immediately on segment 1, but then have to reload over the next ten segments. The interesting effect of bow fire and crossbow fire, is the environment itself. In a crowded city street, even a slow character can step around a corner preventing a shot from landing or even being fired.

As far as melee weapons go, even a lowly magic user or urchin should be able to stay one jump ahead...

Monday, December 2, 2019

I Totally "Invented" My Own Archery Rules for AD&D and It Screws Up Everything

The other day, I had a game session that featured an awful lot of archery. Bow fire in this campaign turns out to be very deadly. It probably didn't help that between myself and the player characters, over a half dozen 20s were rolled in a single combat.

I decided to look back at my PHB and DMG for AD&D e1 to see what I was doing wrong.  According to the PHB, characters get two shots per round. On page 61 of the DMG, missile fire comes after evasion, parley and awaiting other party moves. Step 4 D covers all kinds of distance attacks. The old wargamer in me sees no problem with this.

Bow wielding characters can fire twice before the onset of melee in Step 4 E. But the question in my mind is: do you have to shoot twice? Since you have two shots, can you invoke 4 A, B, or C in lieu of your second shot? The extremes of this are "yes, what if you only have one arrow?" or "no, you missed your chance this round".

As a player, I have seen the "best" way of avoiding this is to have each character roll their own initiative. As a player, I like this choice, but as a DM, I think it's too much paper work and dice throwing. I am certain to goof this much dice action up. 

My house rules make clarify to the order of battle, without making too much of hash out of out. It does have the effect of making bows more deadly.

Here is how I handle initiative. If all parties are in one group, then they get one die roll modified by the best player's reaction. As a reward for that reaction bonus, the best player goes before all others on his team. Everyone else in each party is going at rough they same time.

Sometimes, I have a three or four way initiative if there a number of players not in the same general area. Note: I never allow separated members to roll for surprise on their own. Surprise is strictly an all or nothing affair. The curve on a six-sider makes an extra surprise opportunity too deadly.

Typically, in the first round of action missile fire is king and it is important to get off all missiles into the closest targets first. In the second round, spells are trump arrows, as they tend to hit harder and archers have to start selecting targets more carefully.

I don't really need to think about missile fire as fragmented actions until the second round.

I use a modified initiative system:

1. Roll for initiative. Win or lose, the player/npc that provided a bonus goes first for his team.
2. Side A proceeds down the sequence of combat.
3. Side B proceeds down the sequence of combat.
4. Side A performs any awaited actions. (Repeat 4 A-H from DMG)
5. Side B performs any awaited actions. (Repeat 4 A-H from DMG)
6. Last actions occur, such as slow monsters always striking last. If there is more than one, they are simultaneous. Do not repeat 4 A-H, it's a free-for-all.
7. Go back to one.

If a character decides to hold an arrow for some contingent event like a new opponent stepping into the battle, that is an awaited action and occurs at either 4 or 5 of the sequence above. It turns out that players who are used to the bow mechanics don't always shoot when they can. 

I have some other special rules.

  • Magic trumps missile fire. Either the spell was prepared last round* and is available first or is coming from a device with no prep time. 
  • Once you shoot, you can drop your bow and draw a weapon. You can't melee this round but are ready to do so in the next round. 
  • Missile fire can occur while advancing at a walk (or on a mount) with no penalty. 
  • An archer jogging fires at a -2. Running is a -4. Sprinting is right out. Mount speed is treated the same as character speed, so a running horse is just as bad for shooting as the player running.   
  • If an enemy charges AT someone with a ready missile weapon, their AC is reduced by 2 for thrown weapons and 4 for bows and crossbows. The target is only getting bigger. 
  • Shooting at a foe moving quickly across your field of view is done at a -1 for running and -2 for sprinting. This is ignored if charging a ready archer. I am pretty sure much of this is right out of Car Wars
Shooting into a melee is kind of interesting in my game. Instead of trying to figure out cover, size, and concealment, I merely note which guy has cover or concealment and which does not. The archer rolls two to hit dice for each arrow, because there are two targets. Typically, one will hit and one will miss and the damage is applied to the target hit. It's fun to shoot your friends in the back! 

If both dice indicate a hit, the first two points of damage are applied to the target which was providing cover or concealment. All remaining points are applied to the covered or concealed target as the completely stopped the arrow's motion. If there is nothing left to damage the second target, oh well. 20s are handled as per normal, doubling the damage to that target. 

In this method, I do not consider the flanking or back attack modifiers. It makes things too deadly and besides, the archer is at a disadvantage because he is trying to avoid one of the targets anyway. His ability to hit anyone is degraded. 

How do you handle missile fire in AD&D? 

*I do have a handful special rule for spells to make this system work. Once you prep a spell, you can hold it as long as the spell description says OR as long as you do nothing more than walk or turn, which every is MORE restrictive. Casters can step behind barriers and pop out later with a spell prepped, but can't go prone as that requires not holding your hands correctly. 

If combat ends before the moment of casting, the caster can pull back the power in a controlled fashion, so they don't lose a prepped spell for a lack of opportunity. It saves on rest and study time. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Never, Ever Do I Ever... Horses, Drownings and First Aid.

I never let my characters have a skill called "horsemanship", "swimming" or "first aid". Know why? Killing a player because they don't have these skills is painful. Boring. Nothing is worse than being in bored and in pain. I wrote a book just for that reason. 

If a player wants to role play that they can't ride a horse, the other players can cart him around like a bag of oats. No need for silly rolls. I'm not prepping a campaign for players where one of them wants to die of a horseshoe to the face.

How hard it is it to jump in the ocean in a full set of plate armor, shield and sword? Super easy. Why roll? It's obvious as to what happens next.

One time, I amused myself with this very scenario by having the player to roll a four to succeed. As an epic battle of life and death raged around him, he was the only person not in on the joke.

"No... you're still aliv- er, hanging in there... keep rolling..."

I have this rule that characters aren't dead until they hit -10 hp and once you hit zero or less, you lose one point per round. Anyone attending to that character stops to the hit point drop. It creates an interesting scenario where the wizard drops to -4 hp, and all the way down to -7 before the cleric hits him with a cure light wounds for 4 points leaving them at -3 until they heal naturally. It's a couple of days before the wizard wakes up.

No need to screw any of the characters by telling them the medic couldn't figure out the arrow was the problem due to a bad roll. This is realistic for some reasons and total BS for others. In the Middle Ages, if you didn't respond to treatment, they'd bleed you. Save vs. Barber? No thanks.

Why do this? Because I like to reuse bad guys. A dude with a club isn't assured of killing someone with it unless they beat that person downed and beyond. If THAT doesn't occur to the players, well, I can be lazy with their enemies and they can have endless rematches with opponents. My NPCs can have names.

Which is more legendary, beating someone to death in a dark, dank, dungeon or having a horde of people who refuse to fight you because they don't want to be whupped again, third time this month? 

In my last aborted campaign, the "heroes" hacked apart 4 raiders that wouldn't surrender and took two captive. The captives were obviously intimidated by the PC's bloodthirsty treatment of their friends. Although the campaign ended, one of the players put two and two together and realized that the prisoners were the ones responsible for most... actually all of the raiding parties kills in the village. The 4 guys killed were a patrol that didn't mix it up with anyone. They let the wrong people live.

Trust me, that would have come back to haunt the party.

The lesson is, don't give people stupid skills.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Drinking from Pods - Red Dice Diaries

Lately, I have listening to a bunch of different podcasts, new and old stuff. One 'cast that stands out to me is The Red Dice Diaries. John Alan Large has been hosting the show for a while now, and he has many interesting titles. This week I picked four: Potions (new), Magic Items (also new), DMing Rough Spot and Setting Agnostic vs Setting Specific. The first 3 I listened to really made me think of all the games I've played, to extent of not listening (yet) to the last.

Back when AD&D was the big boy game for TSR, we had about 12 regular players but only 3 of us would GM. Mark had an excellent style that was deeply planned out, but he rarely branched out into improvising anything. If it wasn't in the book, it didn't happen. Doug had an excellent game plan, but improv'd his way through everything. The rule book was something for the dice to fall on. My style was someplace between the two, very well planned out but using almost improvisational style comedy to make a point.

Doug was my best friend, so we argued. But it was a strange sort of arguing. If I didn't like something he did, I'd say so, but didn't expect this to change anything at the table. Usually, it didn't matter much. But for one campaign, Doug switched up his style and went entirely by the book. I couldn't get a sense of what he was doing and tried to play characters as smash mouth, in your face sort of people.

It didn't work out at all. My characters would level up the fastest and get the best equipment, but I died six times. My last character was "Reg". That wasn't his name. Doug asked me what kind of character I had rolled up and I answered, "Aw, just one of the regulars." Man, did that make him laugh. And the tag stuck. Reg the Magic User.

As a player, I understood the REASON for the change in style. The issue was Doug wanted to tell a complete story, therefore he needed to drop the goofy, light-hearted improv. My characters kept dying because I didn't know what story they were in.

Reg the Magic User broke out of that by being dangerously wrong genre savvy. He was also help by some incredible luck. I am not much of a magic user type, so I advanced by wit and cunning rather than magic. Usually by the end of the session, I had expended most of my 1st level spells, but nothing higher.

One bit of luck I had was a couple of magical items meant for the party cleric who expired before they could claim them. I could heal. An old man gave all of the characters magic weapons, except me, who received a black rock and a bag of holding. We battle a witch, killed a massive pack of wild animals and generally hunted for loot. We chased a unicorn and bought a ship.

One player found a green ring of regeneration, which I identified for them. At the time, I asked if there were any other magic rings in the treasure.

Doug said, "Yes."
I asked, "What kind is it?"
"What kind do you think it is?" Doug answered.
Doug rolls some dice and says, "It is a yellow ring of flying!"

You totally know where this is going right? For the next year or so, my ring of delusion provided endless humorous to horrifying scenarios.

Doug decided that if my character had time, then he would cast fly on himself while attributing the magic to the ring. Unsurprisingly, my character would discover they forgot to study that third level spell. However, if my character ever tried to fly spontaneously or with no prep time, the ring would fail.

This went on for over a year, the player tagging off the DM to create interesting stories. Suddenly, the campaign ended, as we had completed the story, whatever that was. I had though the whole thing was lost on me due to my style of play. I couldn't figure out what the point was, or what the ending meant, but I did have a lot of fun. That seemed to be the message sent.

Fast forward 25+ years. I was watching a movie with my kids. There was a scene that left me dumbfounded. I picked up the phone and called Doug. "Reg was in Narnia!"


I got it. Being a good DM goes beyond storytelling and being a good player doesn't have to follow expectations.

Monday, June 10, 2019

House Rule - Empowering Arcane Casters

For years, I battled my players on Magic Users and Illusionist. No one would play them because at low level, they can't survive combat. Of course, they can't. They aren't meant to rush headlong into combat. You need those clerics, thieves and of course, the mighty fighting man to smash whatever remains of the enemy after the Magic User has his or her way with them. Once a couple of spells are released, Magic Users should take a back seat to the action.

No one likes the back seat.

I even had trouble trying to get players multi-classing MUs. My players' opinion was that fighters fight, thieves steal and Magic Users use magic. And never the three should meet. Two of my players advanced a ranger and paladin to spell casting levels, but then never used the option because they believed it to be to unbalancing.

I was always a fan of Fighter-Magic User-Thief when I couldn't be a Bard under AD&D, and wanted my players to do the same.

In an effort to inject something attractive to the players into the Magic User classes, I tried some house rules. The only one seemed to appeal to the players was Counter Magic. Back then, I didn't have the whole thing codified like I do now, so it was a relatively unsuccessful trial run of House Rules.

Two other ideas struck me: Down Casting and Crisis Casting. They also turned out to be untenable.

Down Casting is simple. The character has a certain number of spells of certain levels. A fifth level Magic User has 4 first level spells, 2 second level spells and 1 third level spell. When Down Casting is in play, the Magic User can forgo his or her third level spell and convert that to 3 second level spells. They can take it a step further and convert a second level spell into 2 first level spells. Note that you get x number of spells based on the level of the forgone spell. I had thought this was diminishing returns, but it wasn't enough.

You can probably see how that didn't work. While we were play testing this rule, the 5th level Magic User Down Casted his 3rd level spell to two second level spells, then Down Cast all of his second level spells to first level spells. He then spent the entire combat casting magic missile. I am uncertain as to how many times that was, but he could have potentially put 36 magic missiles in to the enemy. I recall they ran out of enemies really fast.

I still think the idea has merit, but needs a different mechanic to prevent a magic missile MERV attack.

Crisis Casting was a little more successful, but also equally untenable. The rule was, if a Magic User has 10 or less hit points and is hit for damage, they regain memorized one first level spell. I had intended for this ability to make a spell caster more dangerous in combat, but it ultimately caused the deaths of several characters.

From a DM's perspective, Crisis Casting seemed to be a cure for any number of tactical problems. However, in practice, it made the Magic Users too aggressive. Instead of using Push, Jump, Spider Climb or Feather Fall to take control the tactical situation, most player simply unleashed another offensive spell. Usually of the type which didn't help them the first time. It could be that with limited spell slots available and combat being on the mind, they didn't memorize the right spells to make good use of the talent.

I'm probably going to try to reintroduce these option in my next campaign, but need to rethink each of them. I have the most hope for Counter Casting. What do you think?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Gotta love a sale! Rules Cyclopedia on DriveThru

Rules Cyclopedia is on sale at DriveThruRPG. This game was published back in 1991, long after I had abandoned my Basic D&D campaign. This set of rules brought me back to Basic.

Being a player from way back, perhaps 1977 or so, the concept of "edition" was not real clear. I had started with D&D and moved on to AD&D as it seemed like the expected direction. Transitioning from D&D to AD&D seemed expected, but felt unnatural. When second Edition appeared, I had little concept of what it was. It didn't feel like AD&D that I knew, so I did my best to ignore it.

I had difficulties ignoring 2.0 as Unearthed Arcana seemed to be the first indication that a new edition was coming. Back in the 1990s, it was possible to see all of the various sets, in pieces, on a store shelf and it was very unclear as to what was happening.

My campaign had evolved from D&D to AD&D without regard to the change in setting. Our band of adventurers absorbed new materials and tossed others aside. While I said I was playing in Greyhawk, our shared world was a mishmash of Blackmoor, Greyhawk, Mystara and Hollow World, with Mystara taking the lead place.

When I found Cyclopedia on the shelves of my local Waldenbooks, I was entranced. It expanded on classes and levels while adding a few new spells and most importantly, weapon mastery and character skills. It was exactly what I was looking for. Gone was the one paragraph explanation of skills.

I immediately incorporated it into my hodgepodge campaign with only a few tweaks to make it fit the AD&D rule set. All abilities were generated as per the AD&D methods while character classes of race could either be played as described in AD&D or per Cyclopedia's rules.

Technically, that combo of classes and races vs classes should have been very broken, but as players, we made it work. The RC Druid was a subclass of Druid from AD&D, Mystics became a subclass of Monk. The Racial Classes became the "default class" of those races, as if someone didn't pick a specific class to play.

And we loved it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Handy Post - Handling Hands

Ah, we all have that player that wants grab an advantage. The easiest advantage to seize upon is being ambidextrous. Two hands, two attacks. Right?

Well... by the rules, sometimes yes, and sometimes no.

Ok, let's look at a scenario where someone actually needs both hands. A boxer. This is the default ruling that opens up the whole "left hand AND right hand as an advantage" line of thought. It is pretty natural to swing one hand then the other. It's like walking or breathing. My house rule is that left and right punches or kicks have no bearing on the game. There is no penalty if someone kicks left and punches right, even in the same round. The motion lends itself to the practice.

What about a sword fighter? Well, to be honest, fighting men probably bust their wrists a lot, so it would not be implausible for them to train as if ambidextrous. Archers train heavily and off hand shooting would be something they would explore as a gimmick or challenge. Wizards and clerics casting spells probably causes them to do the same.

So, most of your characters should be ambidextrous... to an extent. It might be plausible for a wizard to write with either hand because all of their magic is focused on hand movements, but a fighter isn't going be especially noted for writing, period. Fighting, the focus of most games, should not incur a penalty for using the off hand. Hockey players, baseball players and other athletes typically have the ability to use their off hand, sometimes even with the wrong type of tool because they are professionals. And all RPG characters are professionals, so the logic neatly follows.

However, using your off hand for other, uncommon tasks should incur a -2 penalty. Say, painting a picture with the off hand, especially when your character isn't a professional artist.

What the players are really asking for is a second attack because the character has two hands. The rules are punishing, a significant penalty because this is a gimmicky move. And unfortunately, these rules get abused by both players and DMs. When should it apply?

When the player is demanding a cheap and easy advantage for goofy reasons the negatives should apply.

History is full of cases where people walk into combat with two weapons. The player abuses this fact. A soldier with a sword and dagger will likely use one item to parry and one item to attack, which one depends on the circumstances. And it's fluid, they switch back and forth. For example, a swordsman may make an obvious "attack" with the sword only to swing the dagger in because the sword was blocked. That is one attack, the sword wasn't really swung with the intent to hit, merely to tie up the opponent's attention and weapon. The DM should be aware that this was relatively common, so she or he shouldn't want to invoke this penalty at this time.

How do you simulate this?

Option one: Average weapon damage. If a character has two daggers, then they do (1d4+1d4)/2. If they have a long sword and dagger, they do (1d4+1d8)/2. At first glance this looks odd. How can a dagger do 5 points of damage? We have two weapons and there is a small chance that both land hits, but one of them was far less effective than the other because it wasn't swung with intent. To this end, if a 20 is rolled, both weapons have hit but instead of double damage, the player merely rolls damage once for each weapon and adds them together. It could be great or could be poor.

Option two: Have the player declare which is the parry weapon, forcing them to roll for damage with the other weapon. In this case, the player has the option of either weapon and is technically declaring which hand they are using without saying so much. Damage rolls for a 20 are back to the normal double. Technically, they are handling two weapons, but don't have a chance with one of them. 

If they player insists they can swing both weapons at the same time, this is when you start piling on the off hand penalties. They aren't entitled to two attacks because they aren't skilled enough. So add those penalties up.

Now, what happens if the character IS entitled to two or more attacks? Nothing in the rules says that the player can't swing one mace 3 times in a round, nor does it say they can't kick someone as an attack in lieu of swinging the mace. Let them do it. Options one and two can be combined with this, if the character is so armed.

How do you handle two weapon attacks in your campaign? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

House Rules - Combat Tempo - Swinging Two Weapons

Many PLAYERS attempt to gain an advantage by swing two weapons at once. The various sets of rules accommodate this in one of two ways:

1) the character is simply swinging two weapons very fast, like a skill-less boxer.
2) the character is high level and receives extra attacks.

The first has a significant penalty, while the second does not.

My house rules handle these events slightly differently. Unarmed characters, who are not monks, can punch or kick twice per round. They receive no penalty unless they are making a last attack after losing a morale check. Failing a morale check removes any strength bonuses as the character is panicked. They are kicking and punching to get away, not to do damage.

By the way, punches do 1d2 points of damage per hand and kicks do 1d3.

Having established that it is natural to attack with both feet or hands and that panicking is bad, we move to the next scenario: Weapons. If a player has a weapon and a free hand, they can attack with the weapon and punch or kick at the same time. There is no penalty, as being unshielded is a penalty enough.

Characters may use a shield as a weapon, but they operate paradoxically. Bucklers do 1d3 points of damage plus strength bonus, while larger shields are relatively ineffective as weapons and do not do damage. A large shield, although it does no damage, it can disrupt a spell casters ability to cast and can foil a missile attack against another character. To hit someone in this fashion with a shield, one must normally be able to use a shield. Fighters, clerics, assassins, etc.

Now let's add in that second weapon. A character with a long sword and a dagger, 1d8 damage and 1d4 respectively, can use the tempo of combat to strike or threaten with both weapons each round. Only one attack roll is made. The effect is that the damage is shifted to a point between the two weapons: 1d6. Maybe they hit lightly with both weapons or perhaps they used one to force an opponent into dropping their guard for a single attack with the opposite weapon. Which one happened is not important, we are merely empowering players to act out realistic scenarios as they see their characters behaving. If a character is using two equal weapons, say two short swords or a mace and short sword which do 1d6 each, there is no change to the damage. It is simply a 1d6 roll.

In the AD&D rule set, there are significant penalties to swing both weapons at once. These rules should remain in effect when a character is unskilled, panicked or otherwise unwilling to be subtle in their attacks. Given the choice of using combat tempo or taking a big penalty, when would a character desire the penalty? Attacking massive creatures that can't strike back, attacking from behind, attacking creatures where a little damage is worse than no damage.

The last scenario, when a fighter gains multiple attacks can be handled either by the combat tempo rule which reduces damage, OR they pick one weapon to swing OR they can do the crazy "two at once" swing with a penalty. The player should choose based on the needs of the situation.

Did you know I have a little book called Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners, over at DrivethruRPG? It contains all kinds of rules you can use in your campaign. Give it a try, it's pay what you want.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

House Rules: Oh, no you don't!

I've always like the idea of counter magic. On several occasions I have thought of implementing it into my campaigns.

For a dirty hack applicable to most game systems, I would use the following system:

1) Magic user knows the spell being cast at them,
2) Is not prepping a spell themselves,
3) Makes a save vs. magic,
4) Enemy spell is disrupted and fails to function.
5) Enemy spell caster does not lose the spell.

1) Magic user knows the spell being cast at them,
2) Magic user has the exact spell memorized,
3) Is not prepping a spell themselves,
4) Makes a save vs. magic,
5) Enemy spell is reflected on to them.
6) Both spell casters lose that spell.

1) Magic user knows the spell being cast at them,
2) Magic user has the exact spell memorized,
3) Magic user chooses to prep that spell themselves.
4) Target magic user makes a saving throw vs. magic, Spell is reflected back at enemy,
5) Enemy makes a saving throw vs. magic. If passed, the spell is reflected back at the original target.
6) Cycle repeats until the spell strikes either caster.
7) Every cycle adds 1 to the damage roll, if applicable.
8) Whoever is hit by the spell loses that spell, the other caster does not lose the spell.
9) Magic users hit by spells in this fashion will experience subduing damage, meaning that they can't be killed outright in this fashion.

A couple of other thoughts. The subduing damage is there to encourage players to use this ability. First, being a magic user effectively allows you to shield the rest of the party. The magic users, friendly and enemy casters attract spells meant for other targets while countering magic. A magic user struck by a spell with an area of effect is a barrier to that magic. The effect of the spell will not pass a plane defined as a wall 90 degrees to the angle of the spell's path. People standing between dueling magic users can be hit by an area of effect spell, but those standing behind either caster are unaffected as the magic user absorbed that power.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

3.5 House Rules - Arrows

I don't like tracking arrows. Treasure Hunters HQ has posted on this very issue. Treasure Hunters HQ has a whole collection of posts to make your game more interesting and flow better than ever before. Everything from shields to magical unguents. Go ahead and follow them, the HQ is full of good ideas.

Ah... back to the point. Arrows. Tracking arrows on character sheets simply burns holes in the sheet. It is annoying and subject to abuse. Many years ago, I realized that player's will cheat on ammo more than any other thing. Why? Because, it is annoying. To avoid it, I tended to have the players encounter lots of arrows, either because the enemy had them, they were working from a fortification, or they had a natural pause to collect up their used arrows. Some players will want to roll a number to see if the arrow broke, but that is as exciting as my other pet peeve, save vs. drowning.

After a while, I decided to impose a rule that if a player rolled a 1 with ranged weapons, they fumbled the quiver and dropped all of their arrows on the ground. Picking one up, pulling one from a target or returning an arrow shot at the player takes time, a single action. If the character doesn't take any other action, they can refill a quiver in a single round. It seemed reasonable, since the standard has been changed from a quantity to have something or don't have something.

My primary issue with running out of arrows as a DM is, the rules don't take "out of ammo" into account. It is assumed the characters have a functional method of attack, and a certain quality of weapons. But if the requisite ammo is missing, they have neither. Suddenly striping the characters of missile weapons isn't really accounted for in the rules. While a good DM will give players and characters time to reprovision, the DM really can't account for 4 character's missile counts on the fly.

Monday, December 28, 2015

3.5 House Rules – A Crock of Equipment

Sometimes, deception is required for characters to make headway. If a caravan is ambushed every time there are no obvious defenders, it may be beneficial to hand the wizard a lance. Weapons, no matter how old or unserviceable maybe pressed into service for deceptive purposes. I have a house rule for this effect.
When a character is untrained with a type of weapon, but that weapon itself is unserviceable, the attacker only suffers half the normal penalty but only does half the damage. For instance, a wizard with a lance will suffer a -2 instead of a minus 4. The attacker only does 1d3 or 1d4 damage, which can be doubled for being mounted. The weapon is also dropped on impact. This modification occurs because the wielder is using a  known weapon in an extraordinary way. It is not normal to fling a two-handed sword at someone’s feet or let go of a lance on impact.
Players may opt to retain the weapon, but automatically switch back to the normal -4 penalty for being untrained.
Armor can also be used in the same way, with the Armor check penalty being halved. Old, unserviceable armor is ripped away when the wearer is hit or the wearer fails a Armor check roll. Since this is really poor armor, it is easily damaged. Damaged armor still inflicts half the penalties, so characters should remove it immediately. This requires either a Dex or Str roll, at the DM’s discretion.
Another trick is Doodad Armor.
Doodad Armor is a fake armor. Typically, this deceptive armor is constructed of leather, wood and blocked felt, with metal connectors. It is very warm to wear, but far less cumbersome than real armor. It imposes one half the normal Armor check roll for the type simulated and is not destroyed when struck. However, it may show signs of distress atypical of normal armor. For example, Plate Doodad armor will show a large tear when struck by a weapon.
It functions as padded armor, no matter the type of armor simulated. This can cause an Arcane Spell Failure. Speed is unmodified by this special purpose armor, so enemies may be surprised by quick movements.
Doodad armor can also be ripped off, as it is designed to be removed quickly. This requires a Dex check.
Depending on your campaign, deceptive armor types can give a bonus one or two to grappling, as both Doodad armor and damaged armor has all kinds of extra friendly grab points to enable an attacker. The attacker would have to be aware that the armor is fake to receive a bonus. This requires either a prior strike or a Wisdom check.
One comical result is a grappler grabbing the arms of the armor and pulling, which is a Strength check. The defender can also make a strength check to rip the armor off. What happens next is usually comedy gold.