I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GURPS D&D, part III: Combat basics & weapons

Check Part I and Part II.

How would GURPS-D&D combat play out?

First, combat is a skill like any other, but it is ROLLED differently. Not because it is a special skill, but because combat is a special situation that requires multiple repeated rolls. Want to enter an archery contest? That is 3d6 (or 4d6, 5d6) under skill. Combat? A d20 all the way.

Why? Because predictably is necessary when dealing with skills, but boring when dealing with combat.

A natural 1 is a critical hit, by the way. And let's get rid of some of the most stupid rules of GURPS (critical hit tables with "nothing happens" as the most likely result) and D&D (the 3.x "confirming criticals" idea) while we're at it. Funny how those rules are similar, right?

Should we use DEX or STR for combat? Both are fine by me. I'd prefer using DEX "to hit" and STR for damage, including missile weapons, as in GURPS. The idea that you should be using a rapier or longbow if you're weak makes no sense to me! And, as you've seen in part II, combat is mostly skill in this hybrid system, so a low-DEX high-STR fight can still work very well, specially with a d20.

Aside from using a d20, combat is roll-under like everything else. Roll under DEX/2+Fighter (or Barbarian, Monk, etc.) and you hit. Active defenses (dodge, parry, etc) deserves another post.

Forget AC; in GURPS, armor means damage resistance (DR; for example, DR 2 reduces 5 points of damage to 3 points of damage). You don't even need the book; DR is 2/4/6 for light/medium/heavy armor. Flexible armor is easier to don and hide under clothes, but has half DR against crushing attacks. Weight is 15 pounds per point of DR, cost is $300/$1000/$3000.

By the way, the paragraph above fixes one of the most annoying aspects of GURPS: it doesn't have "complete" armor sets in the core book. You must buy armor separately for the torso, legs, arms, etc. You can still use the original method if you prefer more detail.

GURPS equipment is in some ways more interesting than D&D equipment, and GURPS Low-Tech is a thing of beauty if you're looking for detail. But even in the core rule book you've got rules for obsidian blades, different weapons against different armor (no table needed!), and so on.

GURPS does have a few interesting twists when it comes to weapons. Basically, stronger characters are more efficient with axes, maces and other "swung" weapons, while weaker ones would better use spears and arrows ("thrusting" weapons). Some swords and pole-weapons have both options! Nice, huh?

But probably too complicated, and you still need a table to find your damage. It is not a difficult one to use, but I'd rather avoid it.

Let us make it simple: just give an WotC-era bonus to damage (+3 for Strength 16, for example), but DOUBLE the bonus for swung weapons (do not double the penalty for weak characters!).

You can still use damage from your favorite D&D edition (1d4/1d6/1d8/1d10; save the 1d12 for halberds only). It works better, and polyhedrals are more fun, right?

GURPS have lots of "realistic" rules for maximum damage, minimum Strength, etc., but they can simplified to this: you cannot have a bonus greater than the dice you're rolling (so, a 1d4 weapon deals 1d4+4 damage at most). If you want to enforce minimum strength, you need Strength 4 to use 1d4 weapons, Strength 6 to use 1d6 weapons, etc.

It also has this cool little rule where cutting/piercing damage that penetrate armor gets a bonus. Piercing weapons DOUBLE that damage (for example, 10 damage, minus 2 from armor would be 8 damage, but 16 if the weapon is piercing). Cutting weapons add 50% to damage after armor. It is easy once you get the hang of it, I promise.

This means a barbarian with a halberd and Strength 20 (assuming 22 as a maximum) deals 1d12+10 damage, plus 50% of any damage that penetrates armor. Which - surprise! - very similar, in average, to the damage he'd deal using GURPS unadulterated rules (3d+7)!

These rules seem simple enough, but cause lots of interesting effects:

- Strong characters are encouraged to use big weapons, and very strong characters are encouraged to use two-handed weapons.

- Certain weapons are better against certain types of armor by default.

- High DEX and high STR Fighters are BOTH feasible, but they FEEL different in play. Unlike 5e D&D, for example, high DEX characters hit more often, but deal significantly less damage per hit.

- A combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain will play somewhat like... well, the combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain (from "A Song of Ice and Fire").

- The result is both more "realistic" than D&D and more fun than GURPS. Which, come to think of it, might be the whole point of this exercise: making combat faster and more fun, while still giving plenty of meaningful tactical choices to warriors.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS D&D, part II: Skills

Click here for part I, where I explain why D&D does attributes better than GURPS. I started writing this because of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but I have no idea if they use a similar system to the one I propose here, since I haven't played GURPS for a while. Let me know in the comments!

One of the reasons I stopped playing GURPS was "too many skills". I know some versions of TSR-D&D (and, obviously, 3e) had lots of skills too, but eventually I decided I prefer 4e and 5e in this regard.

How many skills do I need? Well, around a dozen will do, but I'd take a few extra skills if needed.

GURPS has about 18 skills... that start with the letter A!

But - wait - there is more! At least a few of those MUST be taken with a specialty, so you have Area Knowledge (Neighborhood) and Area Knowledge (City) as two separate skills.

Unfortunately, choosing skills is not enough. Each skill has a different difficulty - easy, medium, hard, or very hard - with different costs (mercifully easier in GURPS 4e than in 3e).

At least you don't have to buy all skills you want to use. Some skills default from attributes, so if you have Intelligence 15 you automatically get Accounting 9. Unless you have the Finance skill. Then you have Accounting equal to Finance -4. Or Merchant -5. You also get a discount to Accounting if you have Finance and want to raise the other skill...

Is accounting a bad example for D&D? Try swords: there is a skill for broadswords, other for short swords, rapier, saber, smallsword, two-handed swords... and they all default to each other.

Even if you don't play GURPS, I think you can see why some people have headaches while reading it.

(And yes, I will STILL say that GURPS is a simple game to PLAY, although character creation can be a hassle).

Sample skills from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Still, GURPS has some advantages over D&D when dealing with skills. Probabilities make way more sense, for example. Nope, the Strength 10 guy won't beat the Strength 20 gal in an arm-wrestling match 20% of the time. Maybe 1% of the time, probably less.

The problem, then, is the skill list.

Fortunately, GURPS has a built in solution: Wildcard skills. They replace ALL the skill in any given "umbrella". If you have a "Sword!" skill you can fight with all swords and knives, fast-draw your sword, and jump around while fencing. The good thing is that you can still use GURPS's humongous list of skills if you need to know exactly how Aerobatics work. Or Accounting.

For a "GURPS D&D" game, its easy to see you can use these skills in lieu of classes.

Of course, in D&D classes are often MORE important than attributes/abilities, so a few tweaks might be useful.

Try this: all skills default to Attribute/2, and each +1 bonus costs 12 points. Since you have a bonus instead of a fixed number, you can add it to different attributes: an Dexterity 16 Intelligence 8 fighter with a Barbarian! +5 skill attacks with a skill of 13 but can also identify plants in the wild with a skill of 9 - better than than the group's wizard!

This is even better than Wildcard skills, because I don't want barbarians to jump around while wielding a rapier... but "Swashbucklers!" certainly will! It is all about archetypes, IMO.

Also form the RC. Same page, actually.
Attributes are still useful to define speed, HP, etc., but less useful for class abilities. Which is good because now my barbarian doesn't have to be able to pick locks (high Dexterity) in order to be a fearsome fighter.

It also fixes the need for a skill list, and makes the "Dexterity as an uber stat" a lot less severe.

Come to think of it, this system would also work very well for D&D games.

BTW, "specialty" skills cost 6 points and are added on top of the existing skills (cannot be more than twice the wildcard skill bonus). If you want multiple specialty skills, all but the highest cost 1 point only (then you can have Barbarian! +5, Axe +8, Survival +7, Climbing +7, etc).

Is this too complicated? I think it is easier than 3.x D&D or BECMI weapon proficiencies, but what can I say... I am a GURPS fan after all!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Quick(ness) alternative to Armor (Class)

When I wrote 10 alternatives to Armor Class, I didn't think of this one. But now I've been writing about opposed rolls and this idea makes perfect sense. I'm sure some edition of D&D, or other game, must have done something similar, but I can't remember any examples.

If you do, please let me know in the comments!

Curiously enough, it is quite the opposite of of the WFB system described in the post that inspired me in the first place.

This example assumes Ascending AC (unarmored AC of 9, 10 or 12, doesn't really matter).

Here is the idea: if you get hit by an attack, you can roll a Reflex/Dexterity save to dodge the attack (probably no more than once per round; use a Reaction, etc.). The DC is equal to the attackers roll.

Pretty simple, right? But it is incredibly effective because:

- If your armor is good enough, dodging in often useless (the roll required is just too high).
- If your dodge improves as you level up, it can make up not only for armor, but also for magical armor bonuses (the numbers must be fine tuned, of course).
- Armor is useful when fighting multiple opponents, dodging is very useful against one single opponent.
- It is a very fun feature for a Thief to have, even if you don't allow it for everybody.
- It makes dodging feels riskier than wearing heavy armor.
- It does away with the need for limiting Dexterity bonus to armor; now they are separate things, and amor just makes dodging less useful.
- It makes one-on-one dueling a lot more interesting.
- It opens up new possibilities of using shields and parrying weapons.

There are some possible downsides to this. The first one is that it will be often frustrating to fail you dodges, but saving throws aren't required to be a sure thing anyway. It may also feel unnatural or intuitive: you see if the attacker beats your armor BEFORE you try to dodge.

And, of course, if you allow everyone to take this option every time they get attacked, combat will slow down significantly - which is why it is probably a bad idea to give this option indistinctly.

But, overall, I think it is a nice alternative to most solutions I've seem around.

It seems like something like this would work well with 5e and maybe even Pathfinder. It wouldn't be hard to use it with TSR-D&D as long as it uses Ascending AC, but even with Descending AC it might be possible to use a similar idea (since you just have to roll higher than your foe).

What do you think?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fixing rests (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. One day I'll put then all in a good looking PDF and the whole will be SMALLER than the sum of the parts - that is how small they are! Use them wisely!

This came up in a thread started by Anders H, from Mythlands of Erce.

The problem: the 5e DMG assumes 6-8 encounters per long rest. That might make sense in a dungeon, but in a wilderness setting not even the most "Fantasy Vietnam" games will have 7 encounters per day on average.

And long rests take too long. How can you rest for one hour in a dungeon without being attacked by its denizens? I don't remember how 5e treats this, but Moldvay makes random encounter checks every 20 minutes.

The result: "long rest" classes, such as the (already powerful) Wizard, are always on the top of their game. "Short rest" classes like the Champion Fighter look weak by comparison.

How to fix this?

Well, I have noticed whenever I have an issue with WotC-D&D the answer is usually TSR-D&D (and vice-versa).

As you know, Moldvay has different rules for dungeons and wilderness. In the wilderness, you're moving three times faster, fighting under the sun or bad weather, and often treading over difficult terrain. Combatants start far form each other, meaning they often have to run while being shot with arrows.

Wouldn't it make sense if rest was harder under these circumstances?

If you're concerned with realism, modern boxing and MMA have probably indicated that smaller rings are less tiring.

Here is the fix: short rests in a dungeon take 20 minutes. Yes! One single encounter check! Very elegant risk-reward mechanic. Long rests still take eight hours.

Resting in the wilderness takes three times longer. Which means one hour for a short rest, and 24 hours for a long rest (unless you're in Rivendell, Tanelorn, etc.)

Coincidentally or not, in B/X characters travelling through the Wilderness must rest for the whole day once per week...

But how many encounters will we have during this time?

Moldvay suggests one check per day as a standard, 3-4 checks as a maximum. I'll use three - not only because it works better for my example, but also because a "rule of three" seems to be the answer to many of my D&D problems. The chances are slightly higher than dungeon encounters (around 1-in-3 instead of 1-in-6).

Which means....

An average of 7 encounters per long rest!


The system is not perfect, of course; if anything, characters might have more than 7 encounters a week because they will be often looking for trouble. Of course, if they fight everything in the way, they have no right in complaining about how hard the game is!

And they can still take short rests as often as they want, but it costs them - leaving the dungeon or wasting one day of travel, for example. Fortunately, if they leave the dungeon for eight hours, that still triggers an wilderness encounter check if you're using 3/day.

These little mnemonic devices are extremely helpful for people like me, that are not interested in memorizing every rule.

That is it for today - off to my eight-hour rest!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

B/X character class: The Hopeless

My B/X retro-clone has 5 classes. Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Cleric and this one. It functions differently in my game (all classes have the same HD and XP progression, for example), but here is a version you can use in B/X.

The idea is that you start the game very weak but can get more powerful if you survive long enough. Idea inspired by DCC RPG, this and thisThis is where I got the picture.

This assumes you're rolling 3d6 for each ability; if you're using 4d6-drop-lowest change the numbers accordingly (for example, the hopeless rolls 3d6 in order but gains 2 ability points per level until modifiers add to 9). In AD&D, you might let the hopeless change class at level 9 provided he meets the requirements!

Beware: this if for hardcore, advanced, fearless powergamers and min-maxers only!

The Hopeless
Hit dice: 1d4.
Requirements: you must roll a hopeless character (page B13) and choose to play it. If the sum of you ability modifiers is greater than zero, change all you abilities that are higher than 12 to 12.
Combat: 0-level human (B40).
Save As: normal man (B26).
Restriction: can only use simple or small weapons (d4 damage at most). Cannot wear armor or use shields. Start the game with no money.
Special abilities: after achieving 1,000 XP, the hopeless gets one ability point and must choose a class*, starting on level 1 with all abilities and restrictions from the new class.
For each new level until the sum of all ability modifiers is 3, the hopeless gets one additional ability point.

* You may choose to be an elf, dwarf, etc. Nobody had noticed that about you before. In fact, they had barely noticed you at all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Of opposed rolls (and fixing 5e saving throws)

In my never-ending search of efficient (or elegant) mechanics for D&D, I keep going back to opposed rolls. Although this mechanic is very common in many RPGs (Shadow of the Demon Lord, my own Days of the Damned), it often feels a bit underused in my favorite forms of D&D (TSR/OSR and 5e).

In short, opposed rolls means just rolling for both sides and making the best roll the winner. You don't even need to roll for both; you can give a roll of 10 for one side and roll for the other, if you're using a d20, for example.

But, basically, any roll in which the possibility of success relies on both you skills and your opponents' skill can be thought of as an opposed rolls. Which is very common today, but NOT usually the case with old school D&D. Saving throws, moving silently, hear noise, etc., were often used without any regard for the opposition's capabilities. Traditionally, there is no "contest" between move silently and hear noise, for example; these abilities are "self referential", relying solely on the character attempting them.

There are some opposed rolls in old school D&D, but they are often disguised and made complicated for no apparent reason. For example, giving the thief a 5% penalty to pick pocket for each level of the victim beyond level 5 is identical to just adding +1 per level on a d20 roll after level 5. Turn Undead is also a opposed roll between the cleric's level and the undead's HD.

The lesson here, I think, is that because D&D is a "class & level" game, opposed rolls should always take level into consideration. Used in this way, opposed rolls reinforce the "class and level" aspect of the game in a way that "rolling under ability score" does not.

Anyway, I like the mechanic and I'm using it use it extensively in my rewrite of B/X.

And I'd say that  opposed rolls solve a number of issues.

For example, it makes it easier to steal from low-level chumps, and harder to save against a powerful wizard's spell, and it allows me to play with no "charts" for thieves' skills and Turn Undead.

Of course, the old school method has a few advantages. For example, you can have more dramatic high-level spells that circumvent HP if everyone has a better chance of resisting them despite you level.

Modern D&D uses of opposed rolls often as a default mechanic; but I think 5e could be improved by applying some of these ideas to saving throws.

One of my main gripes with 5e is saving throws.

Unlike all other editions of D&D, it is possible (and likely) that some of the saving throws will not improve at all during a character's career.

A 20th level wizard can easily survive a fall from 100 feet, but he is no better than a first level wizard at dealing with hunger (curiously enough, being proficient in Constitution saves will help you against dehydration, but not starvation).

Which makes absolutely no sense in my humble opinion.

But to save AGAINST a spell cast by a 20th level wizard is going to be considerably harder for a 20th level fighter if she is not proficient in the right saves.

This is the exact opposite of old school D&D, where saves always get better regardless of the level of the attacker.

You see, hit points, however you define them, are often used to measure resilience; and, since all high level characters have more HP, they should ALWAYS have better saving throws.

This is probably where 3e wizards went wrong, by the way: saving throws didn't scale fast enough, making hit points a terrible path to defeating a foe in high levels. A low level bard has no chance at taking a down a 150 HP Fighter... but a mind affecting spell will allow the fighter to be easily avoided. The iconic Fireball becomes useless with time.

As you can see, 5e uses a similar method, that is made even worse in some aspects, since some saving throws don't scale at all.

If you like characters to have better saves as they level up, just give everybody proficiency in all saves, and "expertise" (double proficiency) in two saves.

And ditch the whole idea of "save DC = 8 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus". Save DC is like passive perception DC: 10 + ability + bonus... like every other opposed roll.

BTW, I think D&D next started this way, but they changed it for some reason. Well, I'm breaking it again! But if you can see the reasoning behind this, let me know in the comments.

So, in conclusion... I am not sure I have a great conclusion for this one. Opposed rolls are extremely useful, but can also be misused. Character level is the main measure of competency in D&D, so most rolls should take that in consideration - for all parties involved.

In any case, this is what I'm using for my B/X house rules. Spell saving throws? Roll higher than the wizard, and you're saved. Grappling? Just roll attack and see if your foe can roll higher than you. Sneaking around? Roll your stealth against your opponents' perception.

But, in the end, this is a matter of taste and degree; no right or wrong here, choose whatever you find more fun.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quick Guide to the OSR Extravaganza

DTRPG is holding an "OSR sale" with three different - and very interesting - bundles.

Here are a few quick notes about them.

First, it bears mentioning that if you ALREADY have some of the books in the sale, you get a discount for those, which is very cool. So "I got that already" is a not a good reason to pass on those; on the contrary.

Second, it seems that now old School D&D is officially part of the OSR... Funny, right? It is like classical Greek originals became a part of the Italian renaissance. Or, as James Raggi said on G+, it means "we won". Well, with all these books easily available I guess we did win... something. But let us talk about the sale.

Anyway, if you know this stuff already, you probably don't need my humble opinion. But if you want to buy something and you don't know what, this is what I think (BTW, I had to look some of it up; DTRPG has plenty of detailed information on each title, courtesy of Shannon Appelcline).

Known World Megabundle (BECMI) - Great system, classic setting

I like the RC over AD&D, so this is the best system in the bundle IMO. Although each gazetteer adds more rules (some are repeated in the RC), I find the core book to be a well-polished version of D&D, balancing detail and ease of use. B/X is still my favorite, but the RC adds plenty of useful detail and has an implicit 2d6 GM mechanic that inspired me to write some posts in this blog.

The Gazetteers are hit-and-miss, AFAIK; I don't know most of them, but most seem reminiscent of a "faux medieval" feel, although there is plenty of "weird" mixed in. If you want stuff to drop on your standard D&D campaign (assuming you're using weird medieval settings such as Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, etc.), it might be very useful.

AD&D Core Megabundle (1e) - Rules, monsters, more rules and more monsters!

I'm definitely not the greatest fan of the AD&D's PHB. Feels overly complicated when compared to my favorite version (B/X) and there are plenty of things that made no sense to me (such as the way the bard class works). The Survival Guides also seem too complicated for my tastes (one or two pages are often enough for me).

But I DO like reading many parts of the DMG. More books should teach GMs how bell curves work! And this bundle includes the original Monster Manuals, including the Fiend Folio (1e). I am a fan of Russ Nicholson's art (among other greats), and the monsters (create by Ian Livingstone and Charles Stross, among many others) include many classics such as the hook horror, the shadow demon and the death knight - and the weird/"planar" githzerai, githyanki and slaad, that went on to become quite important in Planescape.

Planescape Megabundle (2e) - The plain, the planar, and more monsters

2e (the system) is very different from Planescape (the setting).

2e seems to lack an unique, distinctive mark; it is an update AD&D and not necessarily better, although it does include some aspects that I like (such as better organization and its own skill system, unlike the 1e PHB; also, I DO think THAC0 is basically a good idea). The removal of assassins, demons and devils to make D&D more family-friendly after the satanic panic didn't help much.

Planescape, on the other hand, is very idiosyncratic. It has an unique flavor of cosmic high fantasy with many fans but little use in "standard" D&D campaigns. Also, it has a particular jargon (it often uses "in universe" slang) that can be aggravating at times. Tony DiTerlizzi's art is amazing, of course, but Planescape's visual identity bores me sometimes.

Now, if you like plane-hopping high fantasy - and I do - Planescape has innumerable cool factions, characters and ideas that you can use with settings such as Ravnica or, maybe, Ptolus.

And I MUST mention the Monstrous Manual, my favorite monster book. It might be nostalgia, it might be the size (384 pages according to DTRPG), or probably the colorful illustrations (DiTerlizzi has some awesome ones here too). It strikes a great balance between stat-blocks and interesting information (although the stats do include plenty of useless stuff).

Other stuff on sale

Plenty of good stuff 15% off too. Might was well take the chance if there is something in particular you've thinking of buying. The Bat in the Attic sale seems like a good deal too.

In conclusion... what should you buy?

To be honest, I'll probably buy the three bundles. There is too much good stuff to pass. But if I had to choose, I'd take Know World, then Planescape, then AD&D, in that order.
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