Thursday, 30 April 2009

Ascending Saves for Labyrinth Lord

With Mexican Coughing Pig Death stalking the streets of England like some ghastly piece of Hodgsonian nightmare fuel, it's time to lock the doors, stoke the fires high, and turn one's mind to merry escapism.

Today's braincustard? Saving throws.

Now, much as we love them, let's be honest; saving throws in Classic (TSR era) D&D are wacky. I mean, there's everything from a 15% to a 60% chance of characters at 1st level saving against a weird-and-wonderful grab-bag of things up to and including bizarrely specific niche stuff such as spells-from-wands (as distinct from all other spell effects). In a word "Huh?"

Now, to some people tinkering with the time hallowed system is heresy, but until someone does for B/X what Sham did for OD&D and explains to me WTH is going on with 5 fixed-number saves I'm quite happy to say "Screw understanding original authorial intent: this is doing my 'ead in!" and tinker.

*hefts screwdriver and wrench, squints at system appraisingly*

Ok, so the essential "higher is better" vs. a DC paradigm of saving throws makes sense. But five different saves, some of which trip one another up, is a bit excessive for an otherwise system-lite game. So, stealing a leaf from Dan Collin's Original Edition Delta mod (hey, I'm just trying to avoid reinventing any more wheels around here), I'm thinking of importing the 3 save schema of 3E to LL. Three saves is just easier to remember and to work with than five, and I like easy.

Here's my current thunks on the matter:

d20 + lvl + stat mod + magic vs. DC 20

So far, so OED. But here's the thing. Looking at the Labyrinth Lord saves you can see that, even at 1st level, saves go from anything to +3 (at worst) to +12 (at best). Now anything over +8 or so is one of those odd outliers thanks to bloated demihuman saves (these can be replicated with flat racial save bonuses). But, for a human character, even a +8 save is a big ask using the unmodified OED system.

My suggestion, weight saves by how good a class is expected to be at various things (the LL saves tables are a big clue here), and award a flat bonus at level 1 accordingly.

ClassPoor Save
(+0 bonus)
Average Save
(+2 bonus)
Good Save
(+4 bonus)
Dwarf * RefWillFort
Elf ** FortRefWill
Halfling * FortWillRef

* Dwarves and Halfings get a flat +4 bonus to all saves
** Elves get a +2 bonus to their saves vs. magic

It's not a perfect fit for Labyrinth Lord as written, but it's close enough that it smells right.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Link to a location I could have found this wheel before reinventing it?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Fresh Gaming Lewts

In defiance of the prevailing financial gloom wrought upon my beloved country by Jonah McDoom and his caterpillar-balancing sock puppet I have recently been stimulating the toys, games and trinkets part of the international economy. As a result of point-&-click witchcraft (although the chain of cause and effect is tenuous at best) more stuff has manifested from the boundless tat bazaars of the electroweb:

In other news: The first quadrant of Level 1 of the Vaults is just about complete, as is an accompanying sub-level I've dubbed Zeno's Dollhouse. The former has been something of a slog, with re-writes, re-mappings, tantrums and tears before bedtime, the whole shebang. In fact there's probably a whole blog post worth of drama in there... The latter (annoyingly) popped into place fully formed and sat there looking smug at me.

Both chunks of murderous tunnelised doom use the already famous One Page Dungeon template (no, I shaln't be entering the competition: I have quite enough trouble with my own dungeon thanks), said template being liberally sprinkled with unoriginal ideas nabbed from here, there and everywhere. All I have to do is work out how to make a decent-looking map ("I am teh suk"), and onto orbitfiles they'll go for perusal and mockery.

More later.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Zero hp. Fall down, go boom?

The D&D system of "fine at 1hp, dead at 0" is - despite the oddness of the stark binary contrast - a useful game mechanic. It's nice and simple, and keeps argument to a minimum. Despite that I still think it could do with a little tinkering.

The simple fact is that a lot of casualties in any fight aren't actually dead dead, they're just incapable of fighting on due to shock and/or injury. Given that soldiers (for which read adventurers) are generally fit and healthy people, most of them - exceptional circumstances or butchering of the wounded aside - recover from life-threatening injuries if M*A*S*H gets to them quickly enough. I don't think it would harm the game to represent this in play.

In support of this I'll be stealing an idea from GW's Skirmish series of games (Necromunda, Mordheim). When an character you care about in any meaningful way - PC, Henchman, etc. - is reduced to 0 hp instead of just having them keel over roll d6 on the Hawkeye Pearce Memorial Triage Table below:

1-2: *blargh* I'm ded!
Unless you're using Fate points, or something like SuperNecro's heroic escape mechanic, the character is dead, dead, dead. Drape a cloth over them. Play The Last Post. Fight over their stuff. Roll up a new guy.

3-4: It's just a flesh wound! Oh...
Character is bleeding out and will die unless treated immediately after combat. If the character survives they have a huge f-off scar and a 50% chance of some kind of permanent injury as a momento of their barely cancelled appointment with the Reaper.

5-6: You dive like Italian footballer!
The puny weaky soft girlyman has been thoroughly knocked about, but is among the walking wounded. Give them some band aids and aspirin, and tell them to stop malingering. 0hp? Pah! There are people worse off than you sonny.

Sure, you can always roll on Critical Hits tables of positively Rolemasterine complexity if that's what floats your coracle, but I like to keep it simple. Roll d6, take yer lumps, move on with the game.

Meet Jenny...

Players not sufficiently scared of cloakers or darkmantles? Flash something like this at them and watch the shuddering:

(pic source, via pink tentacle)

Wikipedia on the subject of Jenny Hanivers

Friday, 17 April 2009

Monolithic WTF?-ery

(source) Remember: it's the mystery that endures, not the explanation.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Siren Lure of BECMI

♪ We will fix it /
We will simplify /
We'll divest the game of cruft ♫

Perhaps inevitably, the version of D&D I'll now be using is for the Vaults game is still going to be a horrible kludge. It'll be largely Labyrinth Lord read through the filter of Mentzer and the Rules Cyclopedia, with some elements from C&C, the SRD, my beloved Tome Series, and sundry internet lootings thrown in to taste. Think of it as Mentzer midweek leftovers curry.

I'm going to try and keep things to an almost Microlite74 or OED simplicity initially, but hopefully I'll be able to add back in some personal favourite elements as our collective comfort levels with this bizarre new world of (non-3E) strangeness increase.

What's coming from where:
  • Most mechanics from LL - Nice and simple. Simple is good.
  • Amityville Mike's skill-less skill system - 'Tis teh shiny.
  • C&C-style BAB and ascending AC - "More is better" is just more intuitive.
  • 3E three save (F/R/W) schema - I never 'got' the reasoning behind the five save system.
  • Unified level advancement rate (3E/Berin style), with traditional training costs and times.
Classes will be left per LL initially, although I'll be using Amityville Mike's advanced classes (all the fun of classes, but with that great Mentzer-ish taste) later on.

The whole weapon proficiencies/weapon mastery system will probably get kicked into touch. I'm inclined to replace the whole morass with re-jigged Tome scaling feats for fighters - pick one feat as a class ability at 1, 3, 6, 9, etc.

Funnily enough, there's a character sheet that suits what I want almost perfectly: Goodman Games fine Dungeon Crawl Classics sheet (pdf link).

Given the scads of additional time freed up I might be able to make some more progress on my How It Should Be system for Alchemy, Crafting and skill use in 3E. The more I look at it in the light of old school wisdom, the more apparent quick-and-simple fixes for that baroque monstrosity of a game become...

edit: hardcopy of Labyrinth Lord on order. The old school whirlpool is sucking me in! Don't send help. :)

"It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation."
-- E.A.Poe, "Into the Maelstrom"

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ulysses 31: What Spelljammer Could Have Been...

That show had it all. Cool ships; Greek myth; the most dynamic images of space since Kirby; a hero with epic facial hair, a jetpack and a laser sword; sleeping hovering cursed crew; cute comic relief robots; blue space loli; nightmarish imagery and weird electro music; the titan Atlas as personification of binding force energy...

I wonder if there's a game system that could do the surreal mythic weirdness of it justice...? (and don't quote Risus at me, Risus can do anything)

Yep. We had the best nightmare fuel cartoons in the 80s.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Surprised (1in6) by Joy

or: How Mentzer Basic Saved my Brain

I've been trying to hack together a first couple of levels of the Vaults in preparation for actually getting together with my gaming group and throwing their latest batch of PCs into the grinder (yes, there will be actual grinders... and chessboard rooms... and my own twisted take on the Hellevator... and fonts of arcane weirdness... and Sealed Evil in a Can galore...). Now, I have to say that writing up a traditional dungeon for 3E is... problematic. Even with the d20 SRD (long may it reign) open in Firefox there's just so much cross-referencing and bookkeeping to be done.

While taking a break from transcribing notes (and modifying to my 3E/Tome Series/homebrew hack as I go) to read a little nostalgia-soaked Mentzer Basic I suddenly had a minor epiphany, one which will be very familiar to many of the oldschoolians out there:

"It's all in here. Why the hell am I reinventing the wheel?!"

And slap me with a three-day old fish if almost everything I need isn't already in the little red box.

Monsters? Check.
Treasure? Check.
Tricks and Traps. Kinda...

Ok, that's the basics. What about Retainers? Check.
Monster Reactions? Check.
Morale? Check.
Loot as XP? Check.
Spellbook costs? Check.
Status effects? Check.
Halfling size modifier to AC? Check. 0_o

As for what little either isn't in there, or that doesn't quite work as I want; well, I've got 20 years as a gamer and linear yards of gaming books and pdf printouts to fill in the blanks. Surely it's not beyond me to make 'old D&D' appealing and playable to a bunch of regular gamers?

Maybe it's just because it's a nice sunny Easter Monday. Maybe I'm getting lazy(er) in my old age. But it looks like Vaults of Nagoh will actually be going old school, rather than just smelling a little old and fusty. Don't get me wrong, I still love 3E as a system (at least when it's been suitably rehacked by yours truly), but there's just too much damn homework involved to build a megadungeon with it from scratch (disclaimer: IANAMonteCook). Spreadsheets are not for fun, and swedging my way through pages of legalese is a job; not a hobby.

Apart from the question of which particular flavour of retro-stupid I'll be using (I'm leaning towards a quick-and-dirty, easy-on-the-brain LL/C&C hack atm), only one other problem remains:

Who do I have to kill to open up a space among the blessed 137? ;)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

In Honour of One Who Has Gone Before

RIP Dave Arneson

One less prince down here;
one more saint up there.

...and I bet there's one heck of a reunion dungeoncrawl on in Gamers Valhalla right now.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

WOTC Poison the pdf Well

In a move of breath-taking moronism WOTC have pulled all their pdfs from online stores.
(source: Paizo,, WOTC forums discuss this)

I initially thought this latest let's-shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot-for-Great-Justice move was a late April Fools joke. It would appear not.

One of the few sane things WOTC did in recent years was making old edition D&D material available cheaply and legally. It was a perfect example of why both the internet, and Smithian enlightened self-interest, are "A Good Thing" (pace Sellar & Yateman):

More money for WOTC, more game for customers; everyone won!

But it looks like the above was too complex an equation for the beancounters. So the orders went forth to poison the well from a moronic combination of spite and misdirected greed ("But hey, you can still buy 4E...and pay us monthly for D&D Insider. That's just as good, right? Herp derp."). Yeah, that'll totally work; because cutting off the only legal source of material makes that material wholly unavailable in an era of copy/paste and file sharing protocols.

I imagine the decision-making process went something like this:

Scene: WOTC HQ, Interior, Daytime.

WOTC pointy-haired boss: "Times are hard and money is tight. People are pirating pdfs and that costs us money. We'll have to strangle this piracy at source. Suggestions?"

WOTC minion 1: "Shut down the legal downloads operation."

WOTC minion 2: "Yeah, that'll larn them dirty thieves!

WOTC pointy-haired boss: "Excellent. Make it so!"

WOTC codemonkey: "Oook ook ak ook EEEEEK!"

[WOTC Codemonkey flings poop, spams Ctrl+X]

WOTC pointy-haired boss: "Our troubles are at an end gentlenerds."

The Internet: [censorship = damage. Route around] "lulz @ wotc. torrentz plz"

WOTC (all): *Doh!*

As for the promise of a 'new improved' WOTC downloads site: {bizarro} That'll work so well. I mean, look at WOTC's impeccable track record in online service provision.{/bizarro} Stick to making pretty cards lads; it's all you were ever good at. Leave the complex computer stuff to the clever people who actually understand computers... and rational business decisions... and internet sales...

WOTC business decisions recently are like watching a bunch of drunken chimps crash an Aston Martin in slow motion: simultaneously sad and hilarious. All we need is "Yackety Sax" as the soundtrack.

This story in one picture:
*click* "Gate locked sir."

edit: In light of WotCs forthcoming release schedule - notably the promise/threat of "Dark Sun" novel re-releases - I'm wondering if this sudden decision to hoard their old IP like a miser does his gold isn't actually part of WOTC's latest hare-brained marketing strategy. Why go to the risk and expense of trying to make something new when you can just strip mine and 're-imagine' an old success? It works for Hollywood...

re-edit: Even the non-gamer tech press think WOTC have been huffing the gas a little too hard.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Minor Blog Housework

Orbitfiles links to all the VoN pdfs corrected.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Building the Vaults

OK. So that's the mechanics tacked and wired, physical paraphernalia (minis, battlemats, charsheets, dice, etc.) assembled, players corralled; now what we need is a dungeon to explore and loot. That'd be the eponymous Vaults of Nagoh then.

So what are the Vaults? So far I picture them as a variation on the time-honoured theme of the big-ass mad wizard's hostile underworld megadungeon (tm). You know the type: masonry walls and oaken doors; piles of loot beyond the dreams of avarice; swarms of surly natives looking to kill and eat the puny surface-dwelling interlopers; successive levels of ever greater strangeness and danger; mainly built in the Cyclopean Monolithic and Overblown Gothic styles; and all decorated by someone with a magpie's eye, an unlimited budget, and thousands of freshly-whipped slaves.

The sole aesthetic unifying touch to the Vaults so far: the ceiling will almost invariably be held up with vaulted ceilings. Why?

1. Because vaulting is an efficient load-distribution system
2. It looks cooler than boring old domes or post-and-beam construction (rib- and fan vaulting especially so)

Here's a list of possible names and themes for levels, sub-levels, dungeon features and such for the Vaults. Opinions sought and welcomed.

Major Levels
The Gearworks
The Invert Tower
The Tumbled Halls
The Self-Created Halls
Crypts of the Sacred Blood
Cantonment of the Undefeated
Porphyry Halls of the Mage-King
The Warrens of the Cloaked Heralds
Court of the Resplendent Judge of Harmony

The Seraglio of Silver Masques
Quire of the Screaming Dead
Tomb of the Moonstone King
The Gallery of All Worlds
Reclusium of the Magus
The Sealed Barracks
The Fane of No Gods
The Barren Treasury
The Orbital Palace
The Dread Forges
The Mirror Realms

The Ferris Wheel of Doom
The Stalagmite Mansions
The Ascending Streams
Shimmering Pools of the Ever-Holy
The Grand Vault
The Vortex of Unbeing
The Brazen Gate
The Jotunbrand
Hall of Blind Windows
The Chambers twixt the Walls
Duo-Directional Corridors
The Necrosump
The Lifemill
The Vents

For minor colour and detailing, I'll be borrowing the idea of omnipresent pest holes from Sham, a native trap restocking crew from Amityville Mike, vertical connections between levels from Jeff, and the idea of explorable ventilation shafts from Pat.

What the hey! If I can't do original (*rassa frassa* Harn), I might as well do the best derivative possible.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

The Passage of Time 2 - Calenders

Fantasy calendars; was there ever a subject more prone to over-elaborate systematisation of the fantastic (or as I prefer to call it fanwank)? You can make a sophisticated calendar of Mayan or Javanese complexity if that's what you want; but, if your players are anything like mine, they'll just glaze over when the infodump hits them. So the question must be asked: why bother?

Some of the friendly crazies out there pull off an interesting twist by making the ordinary seasons we know into ones of positively Helliconian duration and impact, and thus make the passage of time a significant aspect of their game.

I personally prefer to go follow a simpler route, ripping off the primary world calendar (as discussed here by RipperX). Given that I find our own terrestrial calendar quite complex enough, and moreso than necessary for gaming purposes, I've decided the Vaults game calendar is going to work as follows:

1 year = 12 months of 30 days each + 5 intercalary days (365 days)

4 seasons/year – each of 3 months
13 moons/year – each 28 + a bit days
52 weeks (of 7 days) per year +1 extra day

All the fractional day/leap year stuff that our unoptimised cosmology primary world lumbers us with gets thrown out of the window in favour of a single repeating calendar. The first day of the year is always a Monday.

Now, as with our world, the seasons, months, lunar phases and such don't quite synch up. I've managed to fudge this a little with my use of a repeating calendar by making the 5th intercalary day into Year's End, a day that mysteriously contrives to fall on both the winter equinox and the last New Moon of the year. Think of it a combination of New Year's Eve and Halloween.

As for naming the seasons, moons, months, days of the week and such, for the moment I'm going to stick with the mundane world versions. This is for simplicity as much as anything. Everyone knows that Friday falls three days after Tuesday, but not many people can recall whether Needfast or Growmeet comes first.

This will probably all be subject to change as we add more background during play.
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