Sunday 30 December 2012

The Spellbook as Laws of Magic

Any sufficiently advanced
maths is indistinguishable
from magic.
There are various spells in the AD&D spell books (PHB, UA) which seem weirdly out of whack with their companions at the various levels of power. Many players and DMs' responses to this is to either change the level of the spell or its effects.

However, the other way of looking at the question "why does it take a 5th level spell to create a moonbeam" is "nobody knows". That is to say that the published spells are a qualitative description of how magic works. It's easy to put people to sleep, but for some inexplicable reason it's hard to make an ordinary arrow burst into flame. It's very hard to teleport without risk; it's quite easy to speak to animals.

It's inconsistent, but that's the nature of magic, or anything which is not actually well understood and has to be treated as a black box. From outside the box, the rules produce surprising results which are often unpredictable. Perhaps somewhere there's a class which finds flame arrow really simple; perhaps not. Perhaps the moon god had some sort of argument with the god of magic. Perhaps the goddess of sleep married the god of magic.

Or perhaps magic is weird and unpredictable and spell casters have to cope with that as best they can.

It's not like sleep being first level is really any odder how an electron works, is it?

Thursday 27 December 2012


"Pigeons From Hell" By R. E. Howard
Frequency: very rare
No. Appearing: 1
AC: By Armour Type (Base 10)
Move: By Armour type (Base 6")
Hit Dice: By form (Base 1d6)
% in lair: 100%
Treasure Type: E (but see below)
# Attacks: 1
Damage/attack: By weapon
Special Attacks: Charm, Possession (1/day), Animate Dead
Special Defenses: Darkness 5' radius, Fear, Std undead immunities
Magic resistance: standard
Intelligence: low
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Size: M/By form
Psionic Ability: none
Level/xp value: II/40+1/hp but very variable; 5 special abilities and one exceptional ability.

The zuvembie is a type of undead created by an evil potion (see below). The thing so created is incapable of surviving sunlight and will therefore always be found haunting some place where it can retreat into darkness. Although it is capable of creating darkness in a 5' radius around itself (as often as it desires) this darkness will not protect it from direct sunlight.

The form of the zuvembie can be any humanoid, human, or demi-human and other than a ghastly palor and emaciation this form will be unchanged and substantial so that the monster can only walk, run, climb etc. as it did in life and is unable to pass through walls or suchlike. Similarly, it can physically attack as it did in life, using weapons or perhaps unarmed combat, but it gains no special physical attacks from its new form but it may retain some from its original body.

If the zuvembie had class levels or hit dice beyond 1d6 in life then it will have half of those levels or hit dice in unlife (round levels or hit dice down and 1d6 remains the minimum) class abilities will be retained only if the thing's new intelligence and wisdom scores allow. Similarly, armour may be retained although over the course if its long existence this may rot or rust away as the monster has no interest or ability to maintain such things.

The zuvembie's initial "attack" will normally be in the form of its eerie whistling. Any intelligent being (human or otherwise, evil or not) hearing this must save versus spells. Those who make their save will be unaffected. Of those who make their save, all but one (lowest wisdom; dice for ties) will be paralysed with fear. The remaining victim will be charmed and compelled to walk to the source of the song.

The charmed creature will be killed by the zuvembie in some secluded spot, usually using some normal weapon such as a dagger or hand axe. Since the victim is helpless, this requires only a roll on the assassination table and if that fails double normal damage will be done in any event. This attack will not break the charm, although it may buy some time for a rescue attempt as the monster can not attack and whistle at the same time, which releases any others from their paralysis.

However, those others who previously failed their saving throw must now make a second save (at +4) against fear or flee immediately and not return for 1d6 turns.

Once the victim is dead, the zuvembie is able to command it while the body is still warm (assume one turn for small, two for man-sized, or three turns for large creatures) and will (mentally) direct it to slay its companions. Anyone killed by such a corpse will not be animated in turn, although the zuvembie may itself kill and animate others in the meantime. Animated corpses should be treated as zombies or monster zombies as appropriate (ie, no class abilities, but they will use weapons - either their own or ones given by the zuvembie).

Although slow on its feet, the zuvembie can project or control non-intelligent normal creatures so that it can pursue or spy on a party in the form of a wolf, cat, or  pigeon etc. The creature to be possessed must be within 3" of the zuvembie initially and the control extends no more than half a mile from the undead's location. Possession ends immediately should the host leave this range, be killed, or enter daylight.

Appearance: When newly created, the zuvembie will not be obviously changed in appearance, although of course its behaviour may be radically different. Only over time does the body become more and more like that of a (normal) mummy - gaunt and blackened with age and unwashed dirt and filth.

Notes: The zuvembie can not generate fear other than as a by-product of its whistling song and is turned or controlled as if it were a shadow. However, due to the nature of the creature's body and origin, it is unaffected by holy water.

Treasure will be incidental based on past victims or possibly the zuvembie's past life. If in doubt, use E as a default.

The zuvembie is a weak monster when pitted against a party, where there is a good chance that someone will make their save and it will strive to split the party so that it can attack only one or two at a time. Similarly, elves with their 90% resistance to charms will be avoided if the zuvembie is able to recognise a character as one and they will be singled out for attack by any re-animated corpses.

Against one or two characters, the zuvembie is a very dangerous monster because of the strength of its charm, which is powerful enough to force the victim into obviously lethal situations such as putting a noose around their own necks and stepping off a chair etc.

Killing the zuvembie instantly releases any charmed characters and returns animate dead to their proper state.

Potion of Zuvembie Making
This potion will turn one being (human, humanoid/giant class, or demi-human) into a zuvembie. If the drinker is unwilling then they receive a saving throw when the liquid first touches their lips to realise the inherent evil of the potion.

However, the potion can be administered over the period of a month in doses small enough to be hidden in food. If this is done then the whole process should be treated as an assassination attempt using the appropriate table.

If the attempt fails, roll a second time on the table to see if the attempt went undetected; if so then the failure was one of dosage or delivery.

If the attempt was detected, randomly determine when in the process the error was made (d30 is useful for this) and what action the victim may take.

This potion has no effect on the undead.

value: 4000gp (Consider the alignment of potential buyers!)
xp: 400

Sunday 16 December 2012

The Players Handout

Quick post as I'm distracted by getting a new job and probably having to move house.

In relation to last week's post, I've become less enamoured of player handouts of late, particularly for new (or rusty old) players. The PHB has plenty in it to be digested without handing out a pile of further details.

So, I've been thinking about what the implied world of AD&D is like and if what is implied in the PHB is directly contradicted by the implied world of the DMG, I'm tending to go with the PHB because both the players and I know what's in the PHB while the players generally do not have or want access to the DMG. Basically, the PHB is an enormous handout all on its own.

In particular, the tables in the DMG for the frequency of the classes seem pretty unlikely to me unless they are seen as special cases. For example, the chance of a particular class looking for employment as a henchman is for some reason not the same as the proportion of characters who take up that class generally, or the chance of having an "interesting" encounter with a class is likewise not reflective of how many such NPCs there are. Either of these may be valid, of course.

Some of the problems with the clash between the implied reality and our personal models of what mediaeval society should look like can, I think, be fixed by saying that most NP classed characters are in fact unable to attain a certain level on their own steam. This is something I've tried in some recent game settings - basically only extra-special characters can be hero level (ie, 4th) or above and so there are very, very few NPCs generated even in large towns and cities who are capable of throwing lightning bolts, raising the dead, or even curing disease.

This seems to have helped to keep the games grounded in a pretend-AD1200 English setting while leaving room for some substantial opponents here and there.

I wanted to get into other ways of doing this but I've got flights to book and forms to fill and other non-interesting things to do. Maybe next week.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Your Local Representative

In case of Law,
break glass
Butterfly Effects
When running a game in AD&D's default "pseudo-mediaeval" setting there is always a tension between drawing on historical information about day-to-day life (such as how drains work, social classes, the value of a good horse) and accounting for those things in the game which are not historical.

A very typical example is the presence of magical street lighting in larger cities. Continual light is not a high level spell and any reasonably successful adventuring party could pay for significant numbers of castings in a year (or cast it themselves) in order to light up some district of their home city or town. This would make a huge difference to the life of people in mediaeval times who were very limited in their outside activities in winter because of the lack of light.

Light Wand
How Many Clerics Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Continual light is, of course, available to magic users and clerics alike and many Good-aligned religions would seem likely to encourage this sort of communal service (for a price, of course. Specifically 9sp per person per month in "trade, taxation and tithes" [PHB p20]). So it's hard to justify the lack of such lighting if a player moots it (which generally happens early on with any given group of players), although naturally there will be people in society who oppose this sort of thing and a dispel magic isn't hard to get either.

This leads to a related question about the availability of magic in the baseline AD&D society. This is a little tricky but there is one interesting thing about the definitions of the classes in PHB: it is easier to qualify for the cleric or magic user classes than it is for the fighter class. The first two require only a single '9' score while the fighter requires both the 9 and a 7 in constitution.

How you extrapolate this to NPCs depends on how much you feel the books' rules for player characters define the workings of non-player characters but certainly there are hints in the DMG that the normal qualifications are needed. It says nothing about ability score generation methods, however.

When I want a town or village I generally run a computer program that rolls up everyone in the place using 3dA (averaging dice) in order with a 1% chance of a particular person being "special" and such characters get 3d6 in order instead and may have a class, with the program then deciding what class, if any, they pick out of the options their scores give them.

For this general pool of NPCs, then, there is a 0.63% chance of qualifying for the Cleric class (and an equal chance of qualifying for the magic user or thief classes). So, in a population of 1000 we would expect to see 6 people capable of casting clerical spells and 6 capable of casting magical spells (there may be overlap between these groups and I'm talkig about adults here, of course).

So, if an NPC qualifies for either magic user or cleric, which isn't too unlikely, which would they go for? Simple answer: cleric. Everyone wants to be a cleric.

Back to Reality
In the real world, "the church" was immensely powerful in most nations and especially so in the West where the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim churches had their centres. The reason for this is simple: people don't want to die and those religions offered a very clear message of "you won't really die".

Quite simply, people could and did give up everything they had in order to ensure that they would qualify for the promise of eternal life even though they had, for the most part, almost no evidence that the claims were true. They didn't need evidence; they needed hope because they had plenty of evidence of the inevitability of death and any chance of escaping that would naturally be leapt on, and was.

Now look at our fantasy world. Here, there is the same message of living on but there is loads of evidence, including people raised from the dead not in some distant Rapture but right here and now and often in front of many witnesses. If you have the cash you can actually speak with the dead (only a 3rd level cleric spell) and get very specific information like "where did you bury the treasure?" instead of vague statements about how much the departed loved Uncle Harry (or was it Uncle Billy? how about Aunt Jane? Some sort of relative, or maybe a friend who was like a member of the family? A favourite car, perhaps? The veil's getting thick; put some more money in the meter).

As if that wasn't enough, look at the cure and heal spells. 6 clerics, even Acolytes, would transform the lifestyle of any mediaeval town, particularly in war time.

The First Dalek Pope
So, if you think the mediaeval churches were powerful, think about what they would be like if they literally could return kings from the dead or cure the myriad of diseases which routinely ran through whole countries.

Imagine, also, the effect of excommunication in such a world? The withdrawl of all healing spells in itself is a major threat to anyone who crosses the church. If the church says "smite this person or we will withdraw our protections from you" then that person had better be fleet of foot because pretty well the whole of society will turn on them rather than face such a loss.

At this point, our pseudo-mediaeval setting isn't looking very mediaeval any more, really, is it? There's little reason to have monarchs and those that do exist will be puppets (not radically different, I know), the populace will have decent health and be safe from the fear of disease and injury while going about their business in the brightly-lit towns with their 24hr lifestyles organized around religious duties. Almost every country will be a de facto theocracy.

Populations will be much more urban, too, as the numbers of clerics suggested are probably still too low to take these benefits out into a scattered rural hinterland, so town life will be more attractive because that's where you're most likely to have clerics on hand. Agricultural output will probably be higher for several reasons (health of farmers and the availability of long-term weather forecasting via divination spells, as well as some perhaps non-adventuring spells for blessing crops which are not listed in PHB) so the lower farming population level will not be a problem.

Good, Innit?
The Duke of Slyonnia
Of course, this all assumes that the dominant religion is basically Good aligned and wants to spread the benefits of clerical magic throughout society. But that's actually a pretty safe bet because those are the sorts of religions that will prosper. If Slyonnia's clergy offer nothing to the peasants and support only the rich elite, while neighbouring Bennifica's clergy support everyone, then Bennifica's population (and therefore its army) will be stronger and healthier and the border regions will see a continual flow of deserters from Slyonnia to Bennifica. With a certain degree of irony, Darwin will ensure that Evil religions will struggle to become dominant in the face of Good.

Evil cults will tend to attract the powerful excommunicated characters from other religions, as they will offer them the healing and so forth that they have lost. The weak can go jump, of course, because Evil despises weakness by definition (AD&D definition). So such cults will be small but with a disproportionate number of high level characters. Zero-level types will still exist because every Evil religion needs its cannon-fodder.

The Evil perspective on all of this is that they are marginalized because the sheep have banded together to thwart the "natural" order where the weak perish and the strong rule and prosper (see previous note about Darwin and irony).

In-Joke for Smalltalkers
The Ivory Tower
I said that everyone who can be either a magic user or a cleric will want to be a cleric. Why? Why are the magic users not ruling the world from their collages of magic instead of the clerics ruling from their churches?

The simplest answer is that first level magic users are rubbish. They certainly offer society at large very little that would work as a seed of a power-base, unless it is a society of insomniacs. Compared to an 18-Wis 1st level cleric with his/her 3 cure spells per day, the 18-Int magic user with one sleep spell is on a hiding to nothing in the popularity stakes.

Cultural values will naturally see the cleric as more useful, and therefor more valuable than magic users and there's an obvious snowballing effect here as the clerics are more respected and therefore have more secular power so more people want to be clerics and the church grows in power and gains respect, gaining more applicants etc.

Meanwhile, people may hear tales of world-shattering arch-mages and army-destroying wizards but the path to that level of power is "back loaded" in terms of reward.

So, while it's certainly possible to imagine isolated cities or maybe nations that are dominated by cadres of magic users, the implication of the rules is, to me, clearly in favour of magic users being loners looking, if at all, for that rare dedicated apprentice who is willing to trudge through the grind of the low levels for the big payoff. A payoff that itself has implications for the numbers of magic users compared to clerics.

When Two Tribes Relax Go To War
The relationship between magic users and clerics also has a bearing on why I weigh NPC generation towards clerics. Basically, I see AD&D as having a built in rivalry between the two classes. There is an inherent challenge to the gods in the way in which the magic user class works.

Clerics get their power from their deities; they may even have to take different spells from the ones they want if the deity disagrees with their choices.

Magic users take what they want, when they want it. Of course, they have to find it first but that's a minor detail. There's a clear statement here that the magic user doesn't need gods.

Clerics, druids, and illusionists get 7 levels of spells; magic users get 9. As I've mentioned before, this is not an accident nor is it some odd design error in AD&D - it's quite intentional. A power word kill is two full levels above a Holy Word in power. This has implications for daemon magic resistance but also various magicks which block spells and effects based on level. In any case it is also an implication that magic users ultimately gain knowledge witch is either denied by the gods or unavailable to them. Neither is something that a cleric would, I think, find a comfortable inference.

So, there is an implied rivalry between the two classes and even mages and clerics of the same alignment must to some degree regard the other as "doing it wrong". And if clerics are in the ascendancy in society then the implication of this is that magic users will find life a bit easier outside the areas where clerics operate. So, it's off to the lonely tower in the middle of nowhere to get on with unpicking the secrets of the universe without some priest constantly saying to leave the universe alone, thank you.

All this stuff flows more or less naturally from material contained in PHB and as such the DM is likely to face questions about it from players in a long-term campaign.

The Big Picture
As I see it, the implied reality of the PHB and DMG is one where magic is both common enough to have an effect across the whole of society (it doesn't take many raise deads to transform people's attitudes) and mostly clerical in nature.

The Friendly Face
of unspeakable
Magic users are likely to be viewed with suspicion by normal people who see clerical magic as something that offers them day to day aid and the possibility of long term salvation from personal death while the wizard has no heal spells and no cure spells, but does have animate dead, disintegrate, and fireball. They may well be of great value when danger threatens, but perhaps with something of the air of nuclear weapons about them - "wouldn't it be better if we got rid of all of them?" may well be a sentiment that gets bandied about from time to time.

The dominant church in an area will generally be Good aligned, but in isolated nations where it is harder for people to simply vote with their feet, a Dr Doom or Dracula might be able to keep people under their control with a religion based on doling out favours to those who tow the line. Such nations, of course, make excellent places to set adventures in.

Similarly, magic users will dominate only where the churches are weak, and that probably means out of the way places which have managed to develop more or less independently of the mainstream cultures.

Fighters will be outnumbered by clerics and thieves, but will probably outnumber magic users by a fair margin in most places. The fighter class will tend to be represented more by the lone hero rather than by a ruling warrior caste.

End of Part One
All this is very simulationist, of course. But role playing is by its nature simulationist in that we're trying to simulate a character in a story which emerges from group play (aren't we?)

The DM can certainly fix anything with the above picture that they don't like by fiat but there are alternatives. But this post is long enough and I'll come back to this next week.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Consider the Badger

Life in the forest
is Black and White
[Edit Sep 1st 2013: a lot of people are coming to this page from Google, presumably in connection with the badger cull being carried out by the government. Just a quick note to say that this page, just like the National Farmers Union page on badgers and TB, is fantasy. Bovine TB is mostly spread by infected cows in cramped transportation and holding systems with other cows, not badgers. In fact, the badgers are probably catching it from the cows. The current culling reflects farmers' superstitious fear of, well, basically anything wild which goes back to pre-history and is a cultural artefact of rural life. Anyway, back to the regularly scheduled programme.]

Somewhere in Vornheim, or while talking about Vornheim, Zak said that the encounter tables are for "days when something important happens" and this melds well with what wilderness encounter tables in AD&D are about. The chance of an encounter, BtB, increases in the wilderness not because there's more happening there, but because when something does happen it is more likely to be worth detailing.

While travelling across plains in the middle of a country, a party will typically have four or five days between encounters, meaning that a mounted party will probably go from point to point without any encounter at all. This doesn't mean that they see nothing and nobody on the way. Quite the opposite - they're probably meeting people all the time: innkeepers, farmers, hunters, other travellers and so on. But none of these are likely to do anything of note.

So, by the same token, things should only appear on the encounter tables if they have some potential to generate an "interesting" encounter.

"My road; my rules"
Countryfile charity calander 2013 just seems wrong to put together a wilderness forest encounter table without badgers on it! If there's one land-animal that says "forest" to me it's deer the badger (clearly, this is influenced by where I live and many people would probably think of bears first, but they were hunted to extinction here several centuries ago). In any case, the badger is just one of several problematic real-world animals that appear in the MM: crows, ravens, even camels hardly set the pulse racing (unless you're the camel driver who offered to kiss his camel for a fiver when we were in Egypt. He seemed a bit too keen to me - and "kissing the badger" is a fairly rude mediaeval term, so let's not even go there).

The answer has to be that when the party encounter "normal" animals, then there must be more to them than meets the eye. There is something "interesting" about them. This is, after all, a fantasy game not an episode of Springwatch.

One thing to remember is that all animals in AD&D can speak, if you have the right spell or have a 3rd level monk with the party (indeed, plants can speak too). So long as the animal's intelligence is not listed as "non-", any encounter may have some value just as a chance to look for clues when trailing someone or looking for some particular location. Speaking with animals, however, is restricted to normal real-world animals and technically does not include even the giant versions which come under the heading of monsters and so require speak with monsters instead.

And some animals have surprising levels of intelligence and even alignments - wolverines are semi-intelligent (not just "animal") and are evil; similarly with worgs and winter wolves. Dolphin are "very" intelligent and lawful good.

Also bear in mind that speak with animals has a pacifying effect on animals and their companions, so it can come in handy when facing, say, a bull elephant in a bad mood.

Morale is also important, as animals below "low" intelligence have a simple 50% morale score and will probably need to check this on a round-by-round basis, so prolonged combat with normal animals is very unlikely and even predators are unlikely to persist if they encounter serious resistance.

So, anyway, you've rolled a badger encounter. What's interesting about this badger? Here's 20 ideas (unless otherwise noted, 2-5 badgers of 1+2 HD are encountered as normal):

Frank Miller
does Springwatch
  1. One badger is a reincarnated NPC (d6: 1-3: druid; 4+ roll on table DMG p175) previous level: 1d6+6. Roll reaction as normal, but unable to speak common.
  2. Badgers are being ridden by (invisible) pixies. Roll the pixies' chance of in-lair (5%) to see if this is a patrol around their home. If not, they are looking for a party of evil adventurers they have heard about. 
  3. A single badger with a gun (6 bullets, 1d8 per hit, treats all AC as 10 plus magic and dex, ranges: 2/4/6), leaning against a tree and smoking a cigarette. Very sweary and taciturn but can speak common. Motivation and history at DM's discretion but generally very bitter about something other than being a badger. If you don't like the gun, use a light crossbow instead.
  4. Badgers are sitting inside a circle of small standing stones (2' tall). They seem to be concentrating. The stones are a magical trap set up by a hunter.
  5. One badger leaps from a tree onto the head of one party member, while the rest attack in an attempt to drive the party away from their nearby sett. If spoken to, will say that a ranger taught them about ambushes.
  6. Tiny badger in a silver cage laying beside the path. Lost pet/victim of aristocratic child who passed here recently. If taken from the cage, the badger will return to full size and attack anyone nearby once before fleeing. The cage will similarly miniaturize anything which can be tempted into it (the top hinges back and is big enough for any animal smaller than a wolf or large dog). Magic resistance works against the cage at base chance. The cage is not very strong.
  7. Badgers are armed in platemail (AC 0) with small halbards (treat as two handed hand axes). They have been enchanted and equipped by a nearby hermit wizard (alignment: any non-good).
  8. Badgers are actually recently dead, animated, and have diseased bite. Treat as zombies for weapon effects, initiative etc. Only one attack, the bite for 1-3, but each bite is an exposure to a communicable disease as per DMG p13. All the badgers will have the same disease (% roll on p14) but roll occurrence and severity separately. A hag or annis lives nearby and is responsible for the state of the badgers.
  9. Badgers have rabies and are aggressive, attacking people and mounts. Treat as above but this is a natural disease and always affects the brain/nervous system with acute (one-off) occurrence and a base +4 on severity.
  10. The badgers have recently moved into area and are simply aggressively barring the party's route in an attempt to claim it as part of their new territory.
  11. Badgers have golden fur, only noticeable in the dark, which grants them +2 to AC (they detect as magical too). If obtained by a party this fur can be used to create a +2 shield (one pelt); +2 gnome-sized (2 pelts), dwarf-sized (3 pelts), elf-sized (4 pelts), or human-sized (6 pelts)  "leather" armour. However, this armour will likewise glow in the dark and receives no bonus to saves against fire-based attacks. The badgers are sacred to the god Pan (or equivalent).
  12. The badgers attempt to join the party (by staying near to them and travelling in parallel). If communication is possible they will say that they are fleeing "a monster". If the party allows the badgers to remain with them, a hell-badger will attack everyone within 1d8 turns. This is a demonic giant badger, AC6, 6" move, HD 7, breath fire as hell hound (ie 7hp damage, 1" range), damage: 1-6/1-6/2-12, immunities as per demons, +1 or cold iron to hit, 30% magic resistance, 1hp/turn regeneration if not killed. If the giant is killed the badgers turn into humans from a distant land who explain they were cursed many years ago to assume animal shape and be pursued by the demon, taking a new shape each year. They are all princes in their distant home and can offer great reward if returned. They are 0-level.
  13. Five bipedal (normal sized) badgers materialize at some distance from the party (normal rules apply, including surprise). They are dressed in Arab-style clothing and carry scimitars and maces. Two are fighters (4th level), one is a cleric (also 4th), one a magic user (3rd level), and one a thief (6th level). They have an orb which has transported them here from their world where the level limits mean that they can not fight a tyrant they call "The Weasel" and its henchmamals; they have come to this world to seek aid. They are all NG. The orb translates for their leader and can transport any willing subject within 1", but will not activate for non-badgers.
  14. The badgers run up to the party and attempt to get their attention. If they can not open communication within five minutes, they run on. The badgers are brothers who have been polymorphed by a nearby witch who has likewise turned their sisters into swans. The brothers know that a party of hunters is in the area and that their sisters are in grave danger.
  15. The badgers are squaring up to a giant badger which has been transformed into a monster by drinking from a nearby pool in a ruined monastery. If the party attack the giant, the normal badgers will join in, otherwise the giant will attack the party anyway while the smaller ones escape.
  16. The badgers are encountered in a dip, clearing, coomb, or glade which also contains a 12' tall stone statue of a badger sitting up on its haunches. The eyes of the statue are overgrown with weeds but are sapphires of great size worth 2000gp each. The badgers will avoid the encounter but try to stay within 3" of the statue. If the statue is molested in any way, the badgers all become giant badgers and attack the intruders.
  17. The ground gives way beneath a mount or party member and angry badgers attack from the ruins of their sett. Any mount suffers 1d6 damage, and its rider must save Vs death or also take 1d6.
  18. The badgers are mounted on black bears and carry spears (treat as medium lances if they charge). Unless attacked, they simply watch the party pass from some high ground. Local legend speaks of the "striped knights".
  19. The badgers have collars studded with minor gems (mostly garnet; each badger has 3-6 red gems of base value 100gp. They are the escaped pets of a 7th level illusionist who is looking for them (10% chance per round of the illusionist arriving). He is very protective of the badgers and will reward their capture or avenge their loss as appropriate.
  20. The badgers are vampiric and each point of damage done by their bite (the 1-3 damage attack) restores them by the same amount (to a maximum of 10hp). Anyone killed by the badgers becomes a badger like them if the body is not buried in holy ground by the next full moon.

Saturday 17 November 2012


Oh, good. A post about economics.
One of the top topics for campaign designers is that of economics in the game world. I've suggested elsewhere that AD&D isn't the right game for this, as there are some design goals which are fundamentally incompatible with a realistic economy. However, that just means that DMs have set about rebuilding the AD&D economy from scratch.

To me, the only real purpose of this (beyond the enjoyment of the DM) is to give players a way of relating to the cost of things. If a new player's character picks up a gem in game and is told (by some passing dwarf) that it's worth 700gp, what generally happens is that the player then says "is that a lot?"

More experienced players are a bit more apt to translate "700xp" into "2% of my next level" and be happy with that, but metagaming the economy like that doesn't satisfy the world-builder in all of us.

So, answering the question "is that a lot?" leads us off down the path of economics and that path can end up in some very strange places. One such place is The Tao of D&D, a blog which has over the years detailed the author's attempts to build a consistent economy as opposed to a realistic one - a wise choice in my view - and also to this weirdo post here where I look at the questions of "what does 'rich' mean?" and "why is the Middle East so bloody important?". The relation to D&D specifically is about zero, but I think there is some interesting stuff for the campaign designer to think about. Maybe not, but I've not got anything else ready so it'll have to do.

Kings and Things
Richard the Lionheart once had a ransom paid for his release which came to something like 6 tons of silver (100,000 marks or £66,666). If we simply convert that into the value of an equal weight of silver today it would be about £16m and in AD&D terms it is 438,857gp.

The AD&D term is a lot of gold; the modern value isn't a lot for a king. It's certainly not representative of what £67k was worth in 1194 (the deadline for payment). Or is it?

In fact, if you are reading this blog, it's fairly certain that you are far richer than old Richard was. The £16m figure is actually probably too high and the reasons for this are of some interest when trying to think about the value of money in a campaign. So what does it mean to be rich?

All economics, at the very bottom, boils down to the question of how much work a person can "command", that is to say in physical terms how much energy they can use in their life to do things that they want done. And the very first chunk of that energy is what is used to keep the person alive, followed by any children they may have who are dependant on them.

Early Yuppies
In a society where no one manages to get beyond this basic level - probably a society that humans have not had for maybe a million years or more - then the concept of wealth comes down to things that are inherent in ones own body - essentially physical strength. The best hunter has the most energetic diet and is by that standard the richest member of the tribe or family.

What our king of the veldt has is more calories at his disposal than the other members of the society. What he needs to express this wealth is a way in which to transfer those calories outside of himself; a way to exploit the excess energy in his diet to improve his life. For our beefy Homo ergaster, that probably meant bullying smaller people into doing things for him, including of course having sex and perhaps cooking meals - the origins of married life! More seriously, the beginnings of what would become mediaeval society with the rich at the top with mistresses and large families of bastards and whole houses filled with servants.

Anyway. The point is that wealth resides in that ability to get your work done for you. In the tribes of 1m years B.C., that meant exploiting the 1500 or so calories that your companions generated per day (they were smaller, so I'm guessing on the 1500 figure). The total wealth of the tribe is basically 1500 units minus some value needed for simply living times the number of members (don't carp - I know there are lots of little corrections to this figure). That's pretty limited and you can perhaps see where I'm going with this when I say that the computer I'm typing on now is doing than 1½ times that 1500 figure for me per day even when idling.

At one point ancient humans seem to have gone down two routes to solve this limitation on energy production. One was a pretty common evolutionary strategy, one which the dinosaurs are probably the best know exponent of - size. Big, heavy with massive jaws and jaw muscles to allow more calories to be extracted from the environment.

Extinct. But happy.
The alternative evolutionary path was trod by our ancestors who developed larger brains which could think about how to get more energy instead of simply beating it out of the world around them. For whatever reason the environment changed and the big-jaws flopped and the big-brains made the first truly unique human break-through by working out how to make and use fire.

Fire allowed energy to be harvested from trees - a foodstuff previously of very little interest to humans. Fire released energy to keep us warm, meaning we didn't have to simply huddle in a cave or whatever and we could go into new lands away from our tropical home, but more importantly it could be used to breakdown cell walls in food without using chemical energy drawn from our own reserves. That meant that we could be more active after eating and have less of our bodies devoted to digestion. The evolutionary pressure was now on to find better things to do with the energy we had saved and the answer to that for the next million years and more was "stick it in the brain".

Talk About Slaves
As brain size increased, at some point verbal communication became a viable means to express abstract concepts that had been limited to those that could be mimed in some way. That meant several things were now introduced into the human world including giving orders, lying, and expressing moral judgements. In other words, religion and slavery became much more practical.

Entertaining and nutritious too!
Slaves were probably around before this in the form of captured members of other tribes (still quite a common feature of life in primitive cultures today). But language and the ability to give orders makes a slave into a much more useful tool and the value of them must have greatly increased. A slave represents another source of work which the owner does not have to do for themselves and, in extreme cases, may not even have to be properly fed. Owning slaves has been a major sign of wealth for much of human history for the simple reason that a slave is wealth in a much more real way than a gold coin is (Roman law recognized this fact in its terminology so that gold was a minor possession and a slave a major one). If times get really hard, you could always eat a slave while a gold coin is of no use to you!

"OK, too much fire now!"
So, fire probably allowed true specialists for the first time - people who could do something other than nurse or hunt. In some cases these were simply the elderly and the handicapped but I'd give good odds that the first priests appeared at this time and that they were priests of fire deities or spirits (I'm also sure that there was religion before this but I'm not sure that a priestly class could have had a permanent fixture in human society). We probably also got our first kings too. These specialists existed simply on the energy of others and what could be produced by fire from wood and as brains improved in a virtuous circle with new ways of harnessing fire we eventually arrived at the next big step up in the energy game: agriculture.

Farming is a concerted effort to gather solar energy and convert it into something we can use for work. Both crops and animals are raised to give food which is used to power workers who build things, design things, even write things down, all in a pyramid of power with the most specialized (and least physically exerted) at the top. Indeed, pyramids seem to have been a feature of this stage of development.

If we stop here and have a look at a member of the Egyptian nobility, say, we can have a look at his or her sources of wealth. There's the food produced on the aristocrat's land for a start. The energy generated by the workers has gone up since Homo ergaster to something like 2200 calories per male worker. Whereas King Ergaster could only command the energy of whoever he could reach, Lord Gypo has hundreds of people to work his fields, and the profit from those fields (meaning the calorie value of the crop minus what the farmers have to be given to allow them to live) in addition. This profit, in the form of grain and meat, can be given to other people as payment which in turn frees them from having to go and work their fields (or own any fields at all) or used to support slaves to waft cold breezes across the lord's brow on hot days. So how wealthy is the Egyptian lord compared to you or me? The answer is that we're probably better off because of something that happened just before the death of Richard I.

Up to this point (12th century), almost all energy was derived from what came in from the sun on a daily basis. There was some buffering in the form of forests and grain storage but forests could not be harvested faster than they would grow and grain would not keep for years in barns so, although there were reserves that could be dipped into if needed the annual energy production of the human race was based pretty strictly on what proportion of that year's solar output it had captured. This is most obviously seen in the close correlation between bad weather and poor harvests and starvation in the period, which was a global pattern only slightly alleviated by the limited international shipping capabilities of the time.

But back, many millions of years before King Ergaster first beat up a smaller tribe-member for the nice joint of meat he was eating, the sun had shone down upon the Earth and that energy was captured and some of it, a small proportion, was stored away.

"So, you chaps are all dwarves, eh?"
In 1199 the king granted a charter for the extraction of this energy in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in the form of coal. Some coal exploitation had been made before this and it would take a few centuries for technology to get to the point where it could be used on a large scale but once it did we hit another virtuous circle where the extraction of coal released more energy, allowing more and more clever humans to be freed from manual work and go to university and discover better ways to extract more coal and so on. The Industrial Revolution had arrived. Coal production in England went from 2.7 million tons in 1700 to 10 million tons in 1800 and 250 million tons in 1900.

All the way down our history, increases in available energy were accompanied by increases in population - the additional energy was quite literally used to make more people - and the Industrial Revolution was no exception.

From 1801 to 1901 the population of Great Britain and Ireland went up by a factor of  x2½, while the energy extracted from coal went up by x92½. Assuming that agricultural production increased linearly with population (which is not true, but in the end it doesn't matter), this means that the average British person had 37 times more energy available to them in 1901 than in 1801. Or, to put it another way, they were 37 times richer and things were about to go even wilder as, in 1899, oil came on the scene.

Today, Britain's 65m people consume about 35 million calories (in the dieting sense of the word) each per year in the form of energy which has not derived from the year's sunshine (ie, oil, gas, nuclear etc.) for every man, woman, and child.

So, how rich am I? I have the equivalent of 44 adult male slaves working for me day and night (and so does my wife, and so would any children we had*). If I had to employ them at average wages they'd cost me a bit more than a million pounds per year. Even if I subtract what I pay for all that energy, I can assure you that I'm quids in. Very few Roman nobles would have had this number of slaves and even if they did, they still would not have had any way of travelling from Rome to London in an afternoon, so even that million quid doesn't actually reflect the value of these imaginary slaves.

*[edit: this would mean that the UK would have 2.9 billion slaves wandering about doing what we use machines and oil/coal/nuclear for!]

One reason that slavery died out in advanced nations is that technology does the same work without all that messing about with feeding and housing them, not to mention the risk of rebellion. Once there was a feasible alternative weakening the ruling class's dependence on slave, the moral pressure was able to push through the abolition, which is unlikely in the extreme to have succeeded in, say, 1607 compared to 1807. In America, where large parts of the nation were very technologically backward compared to, for example, New York, abolition had to wait a bit longer and in modern India and China the practice continues under various guises as rock-bottom housing and food costs continue to make slaves more economical than even quite basic machines. Once that changes, the moral argument will magically become important to the ruling elites.

How Things Have Changed
Back to the main feature: This figure gives some idea of how wealthy people like Bill Gates are today compared to Pharaohs and the "Emperors" of the Middle Ages. It also gives some impression of how difficult it is to compare modern prices to old ones. It's not just that some things are easier to make or do now because of technology, but that everything is cheaper, especially food.

Better dying through chemistry
What made aristocrats powerful was their control of the energy supply in the form of agriculture. They were the landowners and they had a stranglehold on the means of feeding the population. The reason the British aristocracy lost its grip on power in the early 20th century was that the relative importance of food as an energy source was becoming lower and lower and the World Wars simply demonstrated how important chemical energy had become by blowing millions of people to bits with it. In the face of what could be done with the output of an oil well in Persia, owning a lot of fields in Kent simply didn't cut it anymore and real political power shifted to those who controled oil and gas supplies, where it remains today.

In fact, the number of calories which we consume from modern food is greatly outweighed by the number of calories - derived from fossil fuels - which goes into its production, in the "West" at least. So agriculture is marginalized even more as what we have of it would wither without the oil industry.

Almost Time to Shut Up
Against that sort of background, it's impossible to compare an agrarian fantasy game setting's economy with ours in any sensible way. We can't even really look at real-world historical economies and use them because our games have magic, including cure disease and, presumably, NPC spellcasters throwing "bless crop" around the place too. An on top of that, there's probably a few strange creatures knocking about that make a difference too. A pair of stone giants could radically transform the economics of a town if they hired themselves out for pay, and animated dead or statues even moreso as they won't want paying.

Given all this, I think the best advice is to forget "realism" completely and pick a number to represent the conversion from game currency to modern real currency and then just think to yourself "how big a purchase should that be" or, more usefully "how big a purchase do I want that to be?" If you make a mistake, then invent a reason why the price seems different; magic being the fall back for everything.

Why are gems so valuable in AD&D? There was an ancient war of wizards who used gemstones to power Über spells and they actually consumed major proportions of the available gems. Why are bows so expensive? Ents make it too dangerous to harvest the high quality trees needed for the best bows. Yadda yadda yadda.

About 7sp in Old Money
As an example of a figure for conversion, I suggest taking what you think is a minimum wage per year and working from there. So, if you say that £12,000 is an absolute minimum modern wage and you want the poorest hirelings to be asking for a gp per month, then 1gp=£1000, 1sp=£50, and a cp is a fiver. Player wants to buy a small horse buggy? A Fiat 500 is about 9 grand, so that's 9gp. Want a posh carriage with all the trimings? A Rolls Royce will set you back in the region of £200-300k, so 200 to 300gp. Nice house? 250gp. Mansion maybe a few thousand gp. Meal for two at a cheap place? 3cp At a really fancy place? 2 or more sp.

You get the idea. [edit: just for the record, I use a figure of 1gp=£100, 1sp=£5, 1cp=50p but it really is a matter of taste]

Consistency is good, but realism is impossible and probably not worthwhile even if you could manage it, so don't waste time chasing it. You could divide this ratio by 10 and not worry about it. Who cares if a gold piece is worth only £100? or £50? The point is to give you some consistent basis for comparing items, even if the relative costs are almost certainly screwy compared to what they were in a Middle Ages which had no magic.

Assuming that you even want to bother, of course. Just using the book prices is probably not going to annoy anyone who's having fun fighting the evil queen and rescuing the handsome Prince.

Saturday 10 November 2012

The Other Side of the Humanocentric Fence

Here Be Humans
Having lost three long posts to Blogger's horrible HTML editor and had a stew about it for a week or two, I'm going to restrain myself to a simpler post format for now than I would like. I suspect in the long run I'm going to have to dust off my own website to post the sort of material I would like.

Anyway, part of the lost posts included this introduction to a scenario:

In the woods north and west of our kobold cave live many creatures who habitually avoid human contact. They know that where the humans go, farms and fields and towns and cities follow and space within these is found only for a select few of the wild's people, even when patronizingly granted the term "demi-humans".
So even those that are not violently opposed to the world of humans dislike what it represents. King of these are the centaurs, of all the intelligent races the one with the most claim to the title of "demi-human", but by nature probably the one least interested in making that claim. They run free in the forests and glades, strong enough to fight most threats and fast enough to avoid most of the rest. The human village to the south is of no interest to them.
Until now.

This was an attempt to summarise what I think things must look like from the non-humanocentric side of the default AD&D world. It's quite common to ignore the attitude of non-human non-evil races when building an AD&D world, I think. Generally worlds seem to get divided into "humans and allies" and "enemies of humans", and this applies to some degree to Greyhawk as well as later settings. It is true that several demi-human states and locations in Greyhawk are referred to as being to one degree or other xenophobic but the overall picture is that humans and non-evil intelligent races all sort of get along.

This isn't the picture one gets from just reading the DMG and the PHB. Let's have a show of hands, which demi-human races like humans?

Human Fan Club meeting
threatens  to become rowdy

Answer: no one.

Yes, that's right. Not a single PHB playable race actually likes humans. Not halflings, not dwarves, not elves.

All right, then; who is suspicious of humans?

Answer: dwarves, elves, gnomes, halflings, and half-orcs are all listed as thinking of humans "neutrally, although some suspicion will be evident".

It can be argued that in a D&D world, suspicion is the natural ground state of any meeting between strangers, but even so the picture is not one of friendly co-operation between allied races. In UA the picture remains the same except that the two new elven types are actively hostile to humans (moreso than drow!).

The DMG's inhabited area encounter tables bear out this image of a world where "inhabited" is synonymous with "inhabited by humans". Across the board in temperate areas, ogres are more frequently encountered than elves (even in forests) or and orcs than dwarves (even in mountains). Centaurs,  sylphs and their like do not appear at all. Where humans go, intelligent non-evil races leave.

The presence of the evil humanoids on the encounter tables probably represents a desire for a little bit of risk in overland travel during play but it also has an implication that the humanoids are actively resisting or attacking the humans in a way that the demi-humans are not.

"The woods are a resource?
Good luck with that one..."
By and large, Gygax's first edition humanocentric default world means that safe areas are images of an idealized mediæval 11th or 12th century Europe, where magic works and clerics can heal the sick and cure the blind etc. But Europe did not have any dwarven populations living within its borders and its woods were a resource rather than an elven holt.

It's a bit like the red-squirrel/grey-squirrel situation in the UK today. The greys don't actually directly compete with the reds; they're just a bit better at surviving - they're stronger and they have sharper minds. Similarly, humans in AD&D have the ability to rise to levels beyond anything the demi-humans can, and in the long run that's enough to make the latter retreat instead of fight.

"Look at me! I'm 13th level!"
There's an old story about Sparta. An alliance of Greek city-states were facing some foe (probably Persia) and the Spartan general was laying out out the battle-plan. Some of the other cities' generals objected to the Spartan making these decisions without consultation them, because Sparta had only supplied some of the soldiers. The Spartan went outside and tells the assembled me to stand up. Then he says "All the potters, sit down", and all the potters sit down. Then "All the smiths, sit down" and they sit down too. He proceeds to name various skills and professions until only the Spartan troops are still standing at which point he says "All the soldiers, sit down" and, obedient to their laws, the Spartans sit down together. The General turns to the others and says "Sparta has not supplied 'some' of the soldiers; we have supplied all of the soldiers. That is why I am in charge."

Must remember...humans are our allies....
The evil humanoids, of course, simply want to conquer everything else and so there is scope for the humans and demi-humans to unite against an implacable foe. But in the end, Sparta provides the big guns and so Sparta is in charge. The humans supply all the arch-mages and all of the lords* and all of the high priests and in the end that is what makes the 1st edition AD&D world a world of humans and the wilderness a place where one meets not just dragons and trolls, but elves and gnomes and centaurs.

I think there's scope here for making the wilderness a bit more complex than it often seems and both high and low level adventures in it rather less clearly defined in terms of what a party of humans can assume in terms of who will help and who will hinder them.

*Yes, yes. STR 18 dwarves can be 9th level fighters. Don't fuss.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Two Weapons or Sword and Board?

This is going to be a dull analytical post, so feel free to skip it. The question before the house is whether longsword and shield is better than longsword and hand axe (In AD&D, only daggers and hand axes are allowed for the "off-hand" weapon in two-weapon fighting and, since the AD&D dagger is almost worthless as a weapon, I'm going to use the axe as the most effective option).

The rules for two-weapon fighting (TWF) are fairly straight-forward: the combatant is treated like any monster with an attack routine and when it is their turn in the initiative scheme, they roll once for one weapon and then once more for the other weapon. Whether these attacks are both against the same target or not is never specified, but there is some reason to believe that they are and that's what I'll assume.

The primary weapon attacks at -2 to hit and the secondary at -4 if the character's dexterity is between 6 and 15. At dex 16 the modifiers are -1 and -3, at 17 they are ±0 and -2, and at 18 the secondary penalty goes to -1.

I'm going to start off with two fighters in platemail, one with a shield and longsword (sword and board as da kidz say) and the other with the longsword and hand axe. I've not calculated these effects ahead of typing this, so the conclusions will be new to me too and may or may not confirm my own feelings. Isn't science exciting?

1 Puny Veterans
We'll start off with no ability score bonuses and 1st level fighters. This is an easy win for sword and board; hardly worth calculating but it serves as a baseline. Calculating the average hit and damage rates gives this:

S&B: 0.9 hp per attack.
TWF: 0.625 per attack.

TWF is doing almost 70% of the damage rate, although in fact the repeating 20's of the combat chart have helped to level the field somewhat here. Let's try bumping the combat ability a bit.

2 Puny Heroes
Same as above but 4th level fighters.

S&B: 1.35 hp per attack.
TWF: 0.85 hp per attack.

The repeating 20's of the combat table are no longer important for these guys and so TWF falls further behind to 63% of the S&B damage.

3 Puny Superheroes
Moving up to 8th level on the "no bonuses" ladder, we find these values:

S&B: 2.25 hp per attack
TWF: 2.45 hp per attack

Now that armour itself is becoming less important, the TWF has overtaken the S&B fighter and is doing almost 9% more damage per attack. Both fighters are now also getting 3/2 attacks per round, but the effect of this cancels out so we don't need to worry about it.

4 Puny Lords
Final run without bonuses: 12th level:

S&B: 3.15 hp per attack.
TWF: 4.05 hp per attack.

TWF is now 28% more effective per attack routine.

This is all nice but unrealistic. Firstly, the fighters are unlikely to not have some bonuses, and secondly, the high level fighters are unlikely to not have magic armour, weapons, and shields.

Bonuses first.

5 Agile Veterans
We'll give both fighters 18 Dexerity and look at whether this has most effect on TWF or S&B.  The TWF now has no penalty for the longsword and only -1 to-hit on the axe. Back to first level:

S&B: 0.225 hp per attack.
TWF: 0.4hp per attack.

Essentially, the off-hand weapon is pure bonus here as everyone needs 20's to hit.

6 Agile Heroes
Moving up to 4th level with 18 Dex:

S&B: .45 hp per attack
TWF: .4 hp per attack

Simple enough: the TWF needs 20's with both weapons to do any damage while the S&B guy is hitting twice as often with his single weapon.

7 Agile Superheroes
8th level, 18 Dex:

S&B: 1.35 hp per attack
TWF: 1.825 hp per attack

TWF is now clearly superior, doing 35% more damage.

8 Agile Lords
Final run - 12th level 18 Dex:

S&B: 2.25 hp per round
TWF: 3.425 hp per round

52% better with two weapons.

Okay, at this point we've learnt something about the big value of 18 Dex as a two-weapon fighter. I'm not going to list every possible combination but I want to look at the possible effect of a magic shield. I'm going to assume that any magic armour and swords cancel out for to-hit purposes and see what a +3 shield does to the superhero and lord levels. I'm going to assume that the hand axe is not magical and that both longswords are +2 for damage.

9 Magic, Agile Superheroes.
S&B now has an effective AC of -5 while TWF has an effective AC of -1.

S&B: 1.95 hp per attack.
TWF: 0.825 hp per attack.

TWF is back to doing only 42% of the damage rate of the sword and shield.

10 Magic, Agile Lords
12th level as previous example.

S&B: 3.25hp per attack.
TWF: 2.825hp per attack.

Improving back up to 87% of the opponent's score, the TWF is still clearly the less effective option here too.

Next, what happens if the S&B fighter decides to put their 18 into STR while the TWF keeps it in Dex? Assuming 18/50 and staying with the magic listed above, the S&B fighter's effective AC drops to -1, while the TWF's is reduced to 0 due to the +1 to-hit for 18/50 strength. How does the increased damage balance against this AC change?

11 Strong Vs Agile Magic Superheroes
Back to 8th level with +2 swords.

S&B: 3.325 hp per attack.
TWF: 2.825 hp per attack.

I have to admit to being surprised; I thought the TWF would win this one. Instead it scores 85%.

12 Strong Vs Agile Magic Lords
12th level as above:

S&B: 5.225hp per attack.
TWF: 4.825hp per attack.

TWF moves up to 92%.

I'm surprised enough by these results to briefly go back and look at the STR Vs Dex values without magic.

13 Strong Vs Agile Heroes

So we're back to no magic and 18 Str Vs 18 Dex. S&B guy has an AC of 2, while S&B is at 0 (again, because of the +1 to hit from Strength).

S&B: 1.425hp per attack.
TWF: 1.825hp per attack.

Advantage to the TWF guy; 28% better.

14 Strong Vs Agile Superheroes
When we move these two magically-impoverished fighters up to 8th level the pendulum swings again:

S&B: 2.85hp per attack
TWF: 2.625hp per attack.

Now TWF is back to being 92% as effective as S&B

As I suspected, the balance of power between TWF and S&B is quite delicate and it's not an easy thing to call which side it will settle on just by a casual glance over a character's stats and possessions. It's also true that these examples have been quite artificial and I don't expect every fighter to have an 18 in either Dex or Str.

Having said that, even a 16 Dex represents quite a step down for TWF and a quick calculation on some of the above situations suggests that it really isn't very viable.

To really dig into the implications of TWF you'd really need to construct a spreadsheet to allow changing of lots of factors so that more realistic situations could be examined. But "more realistic" equates to a huge number of possible combinations of magic swords, shields, dexterity, strength, weapons (and weapons Vs armour which I've ignored here) and numbers of opponents. Probably there are a lot more situations where TWF is at least marginally better than sword and shield but I'm pretty confident that a shield of the calibre of the +3 one in the examples here will more than negate the usefulness of TWF in any situation likely to arise in play.

Of course, "likely to arise" is of no consequence to the DM who has to handle the situation when it does arise and a fighter with 18 Str and 18 Dex would be mad not to take TWF and there's no value in the DM saying "well, that was really lucky rolling!". Of course it was. But rather than worrying too much about how such an unlikely thing might be "out of balance", I think it's more productive to say "this character could become one of the really memorable ones" and try to embrace it without allowing it to overshadow the other members of the party. All characters have weak points (usually the player behind them) and so long as the game doesn't become a long string of "well, Dexto the Barbarian handles it" then every one should still be able to have fun with such a fluky character in the party.

One other thing I've noticed while going through this process is that the two-handed sword is not as bad an option as I thought, if the character has 18/50 strength. With an average adjusted damage of 8.5 against a human and 13.5 against large creatures, it's probably worth consideration at low levels. At high levels, a magic shield is still a much better option, I think, especially as a magic longsword will probably have made an appearance by then.

As I've mentioned on Dragonsfoot, I charge a proficiency slot for fighting with two weapons over and above any used to learn how to use the weapons singly, although a character can learn, for example, "longsword and dagger" without taking either weapon on its own, and simply receives the non-proficiency penalty when forced to use one or the other alone. This is an additional factor in deciding whether to take two weapon combat or not, particularly for thieves who only start with two slots.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Ninjas: Join the Club!

Ninja at work
Bored on the train today, so I sketched a ninja class; Blogger is lousy for tables so see the PHB for the move, AC, open hand and special abilities except as noted below.

The Ninja is a sub class of monk. Ninja may be of any race and any non-chaotic, non-good alignment. Entrance requirements are:

Str: 12
Int: 10
Wis: 9
Con: 11
Dex: 14
Cha: 6

Ninja do not receive a 10% bonus.

The differences from the monk  class are as follows:

  • Normal ability score bonuses and penalties.
  • 1d6 hit die per level from 1st to 9th and +2 per level thereafter.
  • If the standard monk AC is poorer than AC10+Dex, then the better AC is used.
  • Spy and disguise as per assassin (DMG p18).
  • Backstab as per thief, using stabbing weapons only, including missile weapons.
  • 2 initial proficiency slots.
  • Any armour may be worn as part of a disguise without incurring a performance penalty.
  • No armour may be worn while using any class combat ability (including bonus damage) or thief-related skills, or the monk falling ability. Such abilities as feigning death are unaffected.
  • May use poison.
  • Open hand combat is as per a monk of half the ninja's level (round up).
  • Ninja never gain the ability to speak with animals (A on the monk list) or plants (F), nor do they have the secret of the quivering palm (K).
  • Ninja gain the ability to feign death (D) at third level.
  • At 13th level ninja gain the ability to create a passwall effect as per the 5th level magic user spell. This ability may be used once per day at 13th level, and an additional daily use is gained at each level thereafter. However, the effect applies only to the ninja and has no duration; the passage closes behind the ninja.
  • Ninja gain the ability to heal damage on their own bodies as per monks (E) but the ability requires a turn of peaceful meditation in order to succeed. If disturbed once rest has begun the ability is lost for the day.
  • Ninja may train in the use of any weapon and may retain any number of magical weapons.
  • Ninja may not retain items they can not use but they may accumulate as much cash as they desire.
  • Ninja do not have to fight for promotion and there are no limits on how many ninja of a certain level there may be.
  • The ninja may reduce his/her weight, including carried gear, by 10% of their own body weight per level for 1 round per level. See below for details.
  • All thief-acrobat abilities are gained from 6th level.
Lv  xp, title
  1. 0 Shoshinsha
  2. 2500 Kyodai
  3. 5000 Monjin
  4. 10000 Kumori
  5. 20000 Himeru
  6. 45000 Kemuru
  7. 90000 Kage
  8. 180000 Chunin
  9. 350000 Ninja
  10. 700000 Ninja, 10th level
  11. 1000000 Ninja, 11th level (Jonin)
  12. 1300000 Ninja, 12th level 
  13. 1600000 Ninja, 13th level, Shinobi
300,000xp per level after 13th

Feather Walk

All ninja gain the ability to reduce their weight by 10% of their body weight per level (assume 14lbs per level if body weight not known) to a minimum pressure of approximately half an ounce (14g or 219grains). The effect can be used for up to one round per level per day, in one or more bursts (always count a usage as one full round even if shorter than that).

More than 100% is possible and allows carried weight to be negated too. Thus, a tenth level ninja carrying 60lbs of treasure or equipment can reduce the pressure of their footsteps to 60lbs for ten minutes in a day; at 13th level the same character could reduce their pressure to 18lbs.

The weight reduction aids movement in many ways and when used to reduce weight to the minimum possible, the ninja is able to walk on water and climb even walls of ice like a gecko. Other effects of near weightlessness are at the DM's discretion but it is a magic effect, not a physical one so the ninja will not suffer combat penalties nor be blown away by the wind etc.

Alignment Change
A ninja who becomes good or chaotic becomes a nukenin (literally an "ninja with no shame"). They retain their xp, level, and ninja abilities but further progression gives them only the thief ability improvements that they would normally have received (at the xp cost of the ninja class). If desired, a character may abandon the way of the ninja completely and become a thief of the same level.

Ninja may multi-class with assassin. This option is available to all elves and gnomes. Humans may, of course, dual-class.

Level Limits
Drow: 10th, other elves: 9th (half elves depending on elven blood). Dwarves: 6th. Gnomes: 9th. Halflings: 5th level. Half-orcs: 6th.

With the exception of half-orcs, these values assume Dex 17. For dex 18 add a level and for Dex 16 or less lose one. Single classed elven and gnomic ninja gain two levels to their maximum level as per UA. Half orcs may add one to their maximum level for each point their Dex exceeds 14.

Ninja use the monk starting age for humans, thief for demi-humans.

Starting Cash

All ninja must use a language slot to learn the secret cant of their clan/school.

Poor Japanese
My pidgin Japanese is not up to translating the noun stems above into the correct form so, for example, "kage" means "shadow" (I think!) whereas I would rather it meant "one who is like a shadow". So apologies to anyone who knows their Japanese (or knows someone who does *cough*) for the crudeness of the level titles.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Barbarian/Cavalier Fail

Art: ayamepso

Why, Oh Why?
The seeds for the (generally) poorly received fighter classes in Unearthed Arcana were sown in the earliest days of the game's history and the Barbarian class eventually presented represents the "victory" of one of two strands of influence on the game which represent by far the biggest flaw in the design philosophy of AD&D (and to a lesser extent, OD&D).

As any fule kno, D&D grew out of mediaeval wargaming and this brought with it a certain attempt at simulation in things like armour types, weapons (pole arms!), movement rates, encumbrance, and so on which was based on the real world, at least as far as the designers could make it.

But the players and designers in those early days also wanted to simulate something unreal - they wanted dragons that can fly and breath fire, trolls that regrow limbs, fireballs and lightning bolts (very, very frightening me - Galileo etc.) and other magic items.

These two design aims did not sit well together, not least because the fantasy side of it is much more subjective. It's certainly subjective what parts of the real world one thinks worth simulating in a game, but at the same time there is a basic testable nature to those parts that fantasy does not have and nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the case of the world's favourite barbarian.

Bar Bar Bar
"Barbarian" means to many players, and even moreso in the 70's, "Conan". What does Conan look like? Well, he's big, has blue eyes and black hair, is very strong and wears....? Well, in the books he generally wears armour, usually chainmail but sometimes in hot climes he will eschew the weight for mobility. But that's not what people tend to think of when Conan is mentioned. They tend to think of Conan as depicted by Frazetta and his imitators - naked but for a loin-cloth or sometimes not even that. Simulating one Conan doesn't necessarily give you the Conan your players expected.

Flicking through Judges Guild material such as the City State of the Invincible Overlord will turn up any number of such "no armour barbarians" in the illustrations. It was a big trope from the very start of the game's popularity. Very big.

Class: Fighter
Problem was: the game didn't support it. Playing the no-armour Barbarian was suicidally stupid. Yet it seemed to support it: a fighter could be played as Sir Galahad, Robin Hood in tights, Conan in chainmail, or Conan in leather shorts. That was the whole idea of having a broad "Fighter" class, wasn't it? The player got to rationalize their character's survivability and actions within a very loose framework that allowed all sorts of styles. AD&D improved things by codifying advantages and disadvantages of encumbrance and so on. Didn't it?

Class: Fighter
Well, no, it didn't and the reason was simple and subtle: magic armour.

The magic shield in particular is a classic "unintended consequences" moment. It disrupted both realities in the game - the real-world reality and the fantasy one.

Class: None
In the real world of mediaeval combat, the shield generally fell out of use as armour improved and two handed weapons became de rigour for trying to open the opposing tin-can. The shield's utility was outweighed by its encumbrance effects. This never happens in D&D - the magic shield is capable of redeeming that shortfall, meaning that the two-handed weapons (very rarely magical) become a poor choice for even a mid-level character who can not easily turn away a bonus of 4 to AC for a +3 shield.

Imagine AD&D without magic armour: two players roll up identical fighters and play them, one aiming for playing a Knight (ie, Cavalier) in shining armour and one as a Barbarian in nothing much other than a red cloak. At early levels the would-be knight probably can't afford the best armour so the mechanical difference between the characters is minor in combat. As the knight gains levels and better armour, however, the barbarian's choices start to balance out - s/he has better movement and potentially gets bonuses on reaction and missile fire which the knight loses as s/he dons bulkier armour, even visibility is massively improved and listening at doors etc becomes an instant action.

Insert "Ogre" pun here
A fair DM will allow the barbarian to do many actions which the knight simply can not hope to perform in platemail and shield. In addition, by high level (say, 8th) the barbarian superhero with +8 to hit compared to a 0-level fighter is actually neutralizing their knightly doppleganger's armour advantage for AC2. Clearly in a toe-to-toe fight the armoured character is better off, but the barbarian can just pick up a bow and pin-cushion the knight Ogre/GEV-style using their improved mobility to keep out of melee range as well as a slew of other, mostly non-combat, advantages.

High level fighter
[check this - ed.]
As the levels increase to 10th, 11th, 12th, the barbarian's style is even more viable as the armoured option becomes less and less effective in stopping damage from the high level foe. Against normal men-at-arms, both characters are now mincing machines capable of routing companies of soldiers due to morale-crushing flurries of a dozen lethal blows in a round. The barbarian will be losing hp faster, but against normal people it hardly matters.

Now add in magic armour and the barbarian is dead in the water. Magic armour is listed as being like normal clothes and either weightless or half the normal weight. There's been various attempts to work out what this means, but it certainly erodes the barbarian's mobility advantage. Much worse is the effect of combined armour and shield magic. +3 on each is not unlikely for 8th level characters and the barbarian superhero is suddenly giving up not 8 points of AC to the knight but 14!

Who's Cockamamie Idea Was This, Anyhow?
PHB-era AD&D simply does not support playing as a barbarian, and it has a lot of trouble with playing as Robin Hood too, but if you keep such a character in the wilderness and lean heavily on missile combat I think it's just about doable.

I say "PHB-era" (just there above, look) but really the issue is the contents of the DMG. Well... I say the DMG, but actually the issue is the contents of most of the TSR modules. The level of magic treasure in the 1e DMG and MM is very low compared to the modules from which many DMs learnt their ideas of what a haul of treasure looks like. The books didn't really back that up.

For example, a medusa lair has no chance BtB of containing any magic armour at all. If an 8th level fighter is encountered via the "Men" entry, far from "+3 on each is not unlikely" for armour and shield, there's only a 16% that s/he'll have both a magic shield and magic armour of any sort and a very remote chance that they'll both be equal to +3 plate+shield or better (about 1 in 33, for a total chance of less than ½% of all encountered 8th level fighters).

Anyway, what the books said and what the modules did were two different things and the modules won because, firstly, Gygax wrote most of the iconic tone-setting modules and they reflected his style (who's style do the books reflect? Good question), and secondly modules were wildly successful in the early days of the hobby and literally millions of players and DMs formed their expectations of play from them and not from using treasure types and listed chances for items from the monster manual.

A nice knight in
in front of the fire
So, barbarians be damned, this game was going with the whole Excalibur route, even if it meant Katrina Boorman had to put up with a certain amount of metal fatigue.

And yet...The barbarian fighter is one of the stronger archetypes in fantasy, particularly art and film fantasy. Much moreso than clerics or monks, or even rangers. Clearly there was a problem with a game which was unable to allow players to successfully participate as one of the game's own inspirations.

Thus we arrived at Unearthed Arcana which so sharply drew the line between the Cavalier and the Barbarian and which, rather than mechanically reining in the former (which would have required a drastic change of direction for the whole game by that point), the latter was boosted to give balancing advantages, not least in the areas of AC and hp, in an effort to make the trope playable.

In the end, the attempt largely failed and the UA barbarian and cavalier classes have never really caught on. The cavalier was unneeded - the game actually allowed a player to play a typical knight from the first day of publishing - and the barbarian's "solution" to the problem felt artificial and forced and both classes were far too heavily encumbered with rules that got in the way of player interpretation.

Concluding Conclusions
Classic D&D Thief
Not for the first time, I find myself feeling that the correct solution would have been to simply stick with the low-magic feel of the rules as originally written. Gygax perpetually indulged the paradox of advising that treasure be tightly controlled by the DM while writing modules that had magic items in the hands of even minor NPCs. I've never understood why this was, but the contradiction worked against the game's central idea of broad generic classes right from the start, combining with the clash between the "realistic" wargaming elements and the fantasy elements to produce what so many people have observed about D&D over the years: in the end, the only thing D&D usually simulates is itself.

More realistic thief
My recent thinking is that throwing out one or the other of the roots is the way to go. The rules actually are quite good at supporting "England with Magic" and "Swords and Sandals" and various other sub-genres. What they are not good at is mixing these, for much the same reasons that folk-magic doesn't fit well into the standard game. So when setting up a game or a series of games (I'm not going to pretend I'm running a proper campaign at the moment) I've tended to focus on one or the other but I find that by and large I'm a lot happier these days with BtB magic distribution in a Conan-esque world like JG's Wilderness than I am with S-series-style Greyhawk.