Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Of Drow, Orcs, Sewers, and Slanging matches...

Any gamer would have to have their head firmly in the sand to have failed to notice the changes being wrought on D&D in recent years, and not just D&D, other games have shifted too - all as part of making the hobby inclusive.  We're now in a position in 2020 where publishers are editing past products, adding disclaimers, and working towards standardising, or even removing, the concept of race from the games.  This follows on from the push in recent years to ensure more diversity of gender and sexuality within gaming products.

I have a problem with it all.  And judging by comments made by a lot of the old-school gamers, I'm not the only one.

Firstly let me take you back to my gaming roots.  I began playing in the early 80s.  I attended an all-male school for intellectually high-achievers, which is where I first experienced Dungeons and Dragons.  Given the environment, D&D was almost certainly more acceptable there than in many other schools, but I still got flak for my hobby from time to time.  Thus my little gaming clique was fairly tight-knit - geeks within a geeky environment, but still somewhat on the fringes.  And in my group, all male of course, there were no girls at the school, we had the gobby short kid with ADHD (me), a Polish immigrant, a ginger kid with glasses, and an outrageously camp lad.  Other gamers we also hung around with included a lad who parents were from India and the tallest guy in the school year (who also had an acne problem).  All we cared about was playing games.  Yeah there was plenty of banter between us, some which might be considered very offensive nowadays, but it was between friends, and it didn't prevent us from being such.

Roll forward several decades, and my gaming experiences are still with fairly diverse groups, and have featured people of all manner of races, genders and sexualities - and it doesn't matter.  Again, all that matters is the game. We all have fun!  Nobody is excluded from any game based on who they are.

So why do I take issue with the recent and current shift in the gaming world?  I'm going to focus on D&D to explain this.  As a child I loved history - give me a book on castles and medieval knights and I'd be gone for hours, then before I was 10 I read The Hobbit. Though I started with Basic D&D when I was 11, I quickly moved over to AD&D. These were my gaming influences.  It's obvious from merely a glance that AD&D has an expected period of history which it is based - albeit rather loosely in places. The weaponry, armour and general technology is late medieval.  Yes there are exceptions - some of the items are mistakes - Studded Leather armour for example - but that's easily fixed by crossing it out and writing Lamellar in its place. It's clear from the rules that gunpowder based weapons are in their infancy.  There are a few items that are a little out of sync, but by and large, it's all stuff that would have been seen on the battlefield of Europe and the Near East between roughly the 11th and 16th centuries AD.  There are other nods towards historical influences - lists of noble titles, the chapter on castle building, and what became the default game world - Greyhawk - with all its wonderful heraldry in the setting booklets.

But the biggest giveaway in the language that Gary Gygax uses.  He either had a vocabulary of Shakespearean proportions, or he wrote with a Thesaurus of Middle English terms by his side. This article discussed it in more depth.. http://phrontistery.info/disq6.html. Gygax's writing served to enhance the flavour. Much of it went over my 12/13 year old head at times, but that didn't matter - I loved it, and was so happy when I finally found out what each of the polearms looked like (1985 - Unearthed Arcana)!!

When online arguments kick off, which they invariably do when the topic of D&D vs history is brought up, there are always those who claim that D&D has never been historical.  This may be true, but early D&D certainly drew much of its inspiration from history, and any who deny this are simply wrong. Even in the 1990s, when the gaming was shifting somewhat, TSR published a number of Historical supplements based on the Celts, Romans, Vikings and others.

Celts Campaign Sourcebook - Wikipedia

Late in the 1980s, the Forgotten Realms was released as a campaign setting. I was a dyed in the wool Greyhawk fan and ignored it. Over time though, the Realms supplanted Greyhawk as the main game setting, and now 35 years later, D&D and Forgotten Realms are synonymous.  The current iteration of the Realms is a highly magical and fantastical place, much moreso than was Greyhawk.  Whereas Greyhawk (and AD&D in general) drew largely from the Tolkien trope of a humanocentric world, with traditionally aloof/arrogant Elves bickering with more practical, dour Dwarfs, the Forgotten Realms is presented a melting pot of racial harmony, expressing many modern day ideals. For me, the Realms feels awkward.  There are airships (1st flight of a hot air balloon carrying living creatures was in the 1780s), and cities have extensive sewers you can get lost in (a Victorian-era invention - previous sewer systems were much narrower pipes). Other material brings in handguns, and players seem happy recreating the Wild West...... All this with a basic background of castles, swords, and mail armour.  It feels like a mess.  Then on top of all of this, Wizards of the Coast have layered a number of aspects of modern society, with a focus on the visibility of gay characters, same sex marriage, specified gender pronouns, and are now discussing tweaking/removing 'race' from the game mechanics to some degree.



I'll openly admit I find it all very awkward.

Now of course, most gamers coming to the hobby now do not have the original gaming inspirations and interests that I or my peers had - more commonly they are inspired by comics, video games, Manga, and superhero films - so maybe the Forgotten Realms does not feel awkward to them.  And maybe this is always why the responses to any suggestion of D&D being based on history get such angry responses?

No I'm not a racist for keeping Drow evil, and Orcs savage.  No I'm not a homophobe for not having gay marriage in my D&D settings. No, I'm not a killjoy for running a D&D game without gunslingers.  I'm just an old gamer whose roots lie with AD&D, and Gygax, and Tolkien.  And I'm proud it.  And by the way, anyone is welcome at my gaming tables.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Making 5E work for me…


I came back to gaming in 2012, having last played in 1992, and thus seen the early days of 2E AD&D and previously played a lot of B/X and 1E – along with a number of older systems such as MERP and Paranoia, and they all had something in common.  They were lethal. Yes Paranoia was comically so, and a parody, but that’s by the by.  Older systems had a strong emphasis on quality of play by the players themselves – you were expected to be cautious, inventive, and most importantly – well prepared.

A couple of years after I got back into gaming, 5E was released – it was declared to be a throwback to the old days, simple, fast and fluid, with more power given back to the DM. This was supposed to be somewhat of a reaction to 3E/3.5E/4E, systems that had shifted the balance of power to the rules and away from the DM. In terms of adjudication at the table, early systems left the bulk of that up to the DM, but as time progressed, the rules became more and more encompassing – a ‘rule for everything’ approach.  Then there’s the blandness of the character classes in 4E, a system where balance was all-encompassing to the point where classes ended up feeling the same.  Everyone seems to have x powers that do x amount of damage – it was criticised as being like an MMORPG at the table, and that criticism is fair.

I thoroughly enjoyed my initial forays into 5E, both as DM and player – of course this was low level stuff as that’s where you begin and yes, the rules appeared on the surface to be simple. The advantage/disadvantage mechanic the game uses in fast and intuitive. The system’s bounded accuracy meant the powergaming style of play which dominated the 3E era was largely shunted out, and the clunky, burdensome combat of both 3E and 4E was largely eliminated.  The character Backgrounds is also an excellent feature, giving PCs personality and purpose.

All good?  Well no, not really….

I often look at my big, beautiful shelf of books, and on there are 6 of the 5E hardbacks.  I now rarely open them, as I’ve not run a 5E campaign in a while.  I do occasionally play games of 5E, and yes they are fun in short doses, but do I have the urge to play in a lengthy campaign up to high levels?  Nope.

At low levels of play, 5E DOES have an old school feel – characters are fragile, the player must exercise caution, and inventiveness and teamwork are often necessary for success.  But the time at these levels is short, and once the party reaches roughly 5th level, the power curve ramps upwards steeply.

As characters progress thus they gain more abilities, often based around a long rest/short rest structure, and this makes it feel more and more like 4E as the game goes on – the video game element still lingers.

All hitpoints are healed on a long rest, if a PC gets reduced to 0hp then receives healing then usually they are good to go on their next turn in combat, saves are often repeated every round to resist effects, the ‘action economy’ is critical, and the obsession with balance still pervades. Yet more nods at the video game style of play.  Keep everyone involved at all times or else!

There’s also a lack of ‘character’ in the game, and this I feel stems from the game being pitched at a player base who get their fantasy inspiration from more modern sources than older versions of the game.  No longer have most players cut their teeth on Tolkien, Greek legends, the stories of King Arthur and Conan, or novels from the Swords and Sorcery genre – nowadays it’s video games, superhero films, and anime.  Thus the tropes of the innocent, naïve Halfling with a pudgy belly and hairy feet, or the coarse beer-swilling Dwarf obsessed with gold, or the aloof and inherently magical Elf – they have all been shunted into the background.  There’s an ‘anything goes’ approach, but the net effect is one of blandness – when there is total freedom in terms of character creation, nothing really feels special, or different. Intolerance, mistrust, and prejudice between races is no longer the default – probably due to societal awareness.  But the game is not set in a modern society!

So how would I fix 5E to make me want to play it?  To give me the enthusiasm required to run a campaign again, and not lose interest quickly…..

COMBAT

- 0hp is unconscious, if a PC is reduced to 0hp and subsequently healed then they can still fight, but all actions by them are made at disadvantage until the end of that combat.
- 0hp causes exhaustion, 1 level of exhaustion added EACH time the PC reaches 0hp
- the ‘save every round’ rule is removed for effects such as Poison and Petrification, I might keep it for mind related spells, I’d have to see how that worked.
- the Healing Word spell is removed, as that is the biggest culprit for the ‘up-down- up again’ nature of combat
- save or die situations will exist

CHARACTERS

- the intention to multiclass must be declared at 1st level, and classes can never be more than 1 level apart
- race and alignment restrictions on classes to be restored similar to 1e/2e – though not quite identically, as some races DO fit classes that were not allowed in older systems – for example Halflings cannot use arcane spells, Barbarians must be tribal Humans or Half Orcs, Dwarfs are creatures of rock and stone and thus cannot be Druids, and so on…
- Racism exists.  If you want to play a Drow on the surface you’ll probably be burnt alive by the people of the 1st village you enter. No, your Half Orc is not pretty, you’re the ugly, unwanted offspring of a violent sexual encounter and society will treat you accordingly. Tiefling?  Dragonborn? See Drow.
- experience requirements are tripled
- xp for gp is restored and full xp is always given if the party intelligently avoid a dangerous situation without resorting to combat.
- material components must be used – and bought and kept track of during play – ditto ammunition.
- most magic items will have fixed charges, and not recover any when you rest
- The Identify spell is needed to properly understand magic items (potions can be tasted).

SKILLS
- Passive Perception is only used to determine the success or failure of an enemy’s attempt to be stealthy – not for traps and secret doors, these must be worked out by the players specifically stating their characters are looking, and using the Investigation skill if necessary.  PCs do not have some innate radar going ‘PING’!
- Information related skills are to be rolled by the DM behind the screen and the result narrated to the players
- If a trained and intelligent Wizard cannot fathom out the meaning of some Arcane writing, those with lesser skill cannot even try… this would be applied to other skills, with 1 roll allowed for the WHOLE party.  Help may be given to give advantage to the roll, but only by a PC who would realistically be able to.
- 20 is not an automatic success (yeah I know by RAW it isn’t, but a lot of people seem to assume that it is), and occasionally, if the player is attempting something really stupid, it would be preferable to fail dismally!  Yeah you can roll, but if you want to flirt outrageously with the fair princess, if you roll a 20 and get her attention then her father will probably have you executed at dawn.

ADVENTURES
- CR and relevant encounter balancing will be largely ignored, the players must not have the expectation that the world will revolve around the level of their PCs.  It’s up to them to decide what is too much for them and what is realistically possible.
-  The PCs are NOT superheroes, caution will almost always be the best option.
- The gritty slow healing rules in the DMG will be used.

Thankfully, 5E is actually pretty well designed at its core, and none of the above changes will break it.  Certainly they would all change its feel greatly, but in my opinion, that is for the better – because I’m an old git who prefers the old ways….

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Inspiration.... not Perspiration


Perhaps the most difficult aspect of DMing, when not falling back on published adventures, is inspiration.  It can be extremely challenging to come up with fresh ideas regularly, and to order, and that is especially true for someone such as myself, who has issues with a wandering mind - which goes where it wants to be, not where it *should* be, and does so when it chooses.  This is one reason why I love running ready made adventure modules.  But that cannot always be the solution, as there is so much bland dross out there.  Plus, coming up with something yourself that works can be extremely rewarding.

I'm running a 2E AD&D sandbox campaign at the moment.  It's a secondary game mostly, used to plug the gaps and change the pace between main 1E sessions.  Sandbox games, by their very nature, are a challenge - there needs to be enough material prepared to ensure the world is consistent, and much needs to be improvised around that basic framework, and even the most open of sandboxes needs to have some underlying goal or theme in order to tie it all together.

Thus I need inspiration on a regular basis.

Now I love music, dark, introspective, moody music.  It's not to everyone's taste, but it gets my mind in the desired place.  So, for my inspiration for the 2E game I decided to base the theme, the hooks of the various adventures, and some of the game imagery on the lyrics of a band I listen to - a lot.  A band who sprouted from the Goth scene of the 80s, who developed from Goth rockers with a brash, crude sound into a highly accomplished unit creating epics reminiscent of Pink Floyd's 70s peak.  Throughout though, their lyrics were inspired by mystical and occult themes - Sumerian mythos, Aleister Crowley, Cthulhu.  Frequently pompous and overblown, but always interesting, this band is the Fields of the Nephilim.

Carl McCoy - growling frontman of the Fields of the Nephilim

The setting for the campaign is 'Summerland', the name taken from the Nephilim's 11 minute epic "Sumerland", one of the highlights on their seminal Elizium LP.

Scenario 1 - Secrets (1986 - Returning to Gehenna EP, reissued on CD version of 1st album - Dawnrazor)

He rides on the crest of a wave, His anger running out,
He acts as if the same way As I ride across town to town,
I forgive you follow me
I forgive you follow me
I forgive you follow me
I'll forgive you
I'll forgive you
I've seen the hardest men fall,  I've seen them crawl
Secrets I know where no-one can find them
Behind the darkened door

It's far from their best work, written and released 4 years before they found their more polished sound - Returning to Gehenna was their 2nd EP, and McCoy's vocals were a work in progress.

Investigating a missing Halfing, the party found a deserted Druid camp and a blighted forest.  Deep within that forest, the source of the blight was found to be a tainted stream.  The Druids were discovered, their minds affected by an unknown influence (their babblings were inspired by the Nephilim track "Trees come down").  The stream flowed from a cave entrance - and at the back of the cave was a black door.  To pass the door, a PC had to utter 'I follow'.  On doing so he heard the word 'I forgive' - but that PC would now become a follower of an ancient Goat Headed Fertility God, taken from Wiccan/Pagan beliefs.  Angry at a new religion being brought to the land, the God would now be placated somewhat, having gained new followers, and the blight would be lifted from the Forest.



The campaign would then continue with 'For Her Light'...

Saturday, 22 June 2019

1E Modules - My Top 10

Most of the feedback I had through Facebook regarding my module poll and the short summaries I used to present the top 30 countdown was very positive, with a number of people asking me what my own personal top 10 is, and to summarise them... Seeing as you asked for it, here it is - but it's a bit of a cop out, I'm grouping a few series together, and I'm not listing this in any particular order, well not quite, this is *roughly* my order, but that can change on a whim.


Firstly, the low level classic that I have run more often than any other module - a perfect intro for any campaign it is U1 - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh:

Has there ever been a module more perfectly paced? Which introduces novice adventurers so gently, and then gradually ramps up the difficulty in such a cohesive manner? Which teaches good play and then also rewards it when it is required? Add to this a loving attention to detail, logical maps that are easily reusable, touches of humour, and a plot that builds perfectly and you have one of the finest products TSR ever published....







Next up, it's a module from my own shores, UK4 - When A Star Falls:

There's a full review of this here, but I will summarise this once again. I LOVE this adventure. While it is on the surface little more than a simple 'fetch and carry', the storyline has some lovely touches, and as with U1, the attention to detail is exemplary. Graeme Morris was a master of creating authentic-feeling locations, and also incorporating some of the lesser-used rules in the 1E DMG - in this adventure we see the rules for Sages used. The UK series came a little too late to gain much of a foothold in the main US market and that is a real shame, as this is a true gem.





Third on my list is yet another UK-written module, UK3 - The Gauntlet:

The second part of the 2-part Alderweg series, The Gauntlet is another I have reviewed in more depth here. It's another Graeme Morris written module, which, as with UK4, displays his ability to make the game environment believable. Most of the action takes place inside a fairly small, cramped, claustrophobic Keep, which the party will need to map out and utilise carefully if they are to survive, as they will need ALL of its defensive strength. Again he brings in little-used rules - this time it's intoxication. Despite being fairly short, this adventure packs one HELL of a punch. Play UK2 The Sentinel 1st to get the full experience, and enjoy the challenge.



Time to cheat a little and bring in a trilogy that really *should* be viewed as one, it's G1-2-3 Against the Giants.

 I often see this trilogy criticised for being too 'hack and slash' - sorry but that is pure nonsense, if your game turned out that way it's your fault - either bad DMing or a 1-dimensional approach to play. All 3 adventures in the series are true masterpieces of module design, the maps are intelligent, the descriptions have just the right amount of detail, and they are bursting with atmosphere, plot hooks, and roleplaying opportunities. Bona fide classics, all 3 of them.







Here's the one that finished 1st in our poll, I'd not put at the top spot, but it's fully deserving of a position in the top 10, it's S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

Lavishly presented, with stunning artwork through, this one puts many of its contemporaries to shame and shows what TSR *could* achieve when they could be arsed. It was very much a showcase of what was to appear in the MM2, but made the most of those new creatures in a mammoth dungeon crawl, backed up by a solid wilderness trek. As with G1-2-3, there's a lot of meat here, plot is kept to a minimum but it doesn't need one, there are plenty of snippets for a good DM to play with.

Great value for money, packed with memorable encounters, it's good, simple, honest AD&D at its finest.


Following on from S4 I'm including its sister module, WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, which was designed to be played alongside its more famous sibling.

Though it was intended to be played with S4, WG4 was a very very different beast. It suffered from poor artwork, and it's overall structure and editing gave the feeling that as a product it was rushed - and I believe that was actually the case. But delve beyond the initial impressions and you find a superb adventure - at least the Temple itself is, the wilderness section was very forgettable.

The initial battle to gain access to the Temple is a showstopper, and worth the price tag alone... digging deeper however you find a Cthulhu-esque nightmare, an atmospheric dungeon crawl with genuine horror elements.

If Otus and Easley had done the artwork, and the editing team actually done some work on this one, it would be hailed by the industry as one of the all time classics. A shame really. It's still damn good.


There are 2 main functions of an adventure module, one is to save the DM time giving them a cohesive self contained adventure, the other is to give them an inspirational framework. This is probably the greatest example of the latter, it's D3 - The Vault of the Drow.

Having introduced the Dark Elves at the end of the G series, D3 was the module which gave us an insight into their sordid society, before the Realms over-used them and later editions of the game made them redeemable - and both combined to make them feel mundane.

The Drow of D3 were anything BUT mundane, and D3 was a license for a DM to really go to town in portraying their vile and sadistic society. It was a lot of work for any DM to do justice to this classic, but hell, it's worth it.

Only adult gamers need apply.



Next on my list is T1 - Village of Hommlet.

Check out my review here to see why I rate this classic campaign intro very highly indeed.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

1E Modules - ranked


I've posted before regarding the main reasons why I love the modules of the 1E era, so I won't go into that again in any real detail.  A few years ago I became aware that Dungeon Magazine had run an article in which they had listed their 'Top 30 Dungeons & Dragons Module", and naturally I sought it out.

What a waste of time.  It was little more than a predictable exercise in industry back slapping.  It was dominated by the lazy Supermodules of the mid 80s, in all their 'disjointed, rehashed with recycled artwork that bore little resemblance to the adventures, poorly edited, and packed with badly written filler' glory.  Certainly the source material for these Supermodules was often classic and thoroughly inspirational, but the reissues themselves, well, they were just cash grabs.  The poll also focussed heavily on more famous modules, ignoring some of the lesser known gems, and there was clearly an effort to squeeze in something from each era of D&D - whether or not these were really any good!

The article was crap.  And from time to time I'd google it and reread it, just to remind myself of how crap it was.

So, for some reason unknown even to myself, many years later, I decided to take it upon myself to do a better job.  I considered how and where I would achieve this for all of about 5 minutes, and then simply plunged in... and here it is....


Method used:

ROUND 1
95 modules were listed in chronological order
They were then divided into 'eras', with a division line drawn every 14 modules
1 module from each era was then randomly placed into each qualifying group, creating 14 groups of 6 or 7 modules each
Members of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons group on Facebook were then asked to assign votes to each module (6 votes per person, maximum 3 to each module)
The top 3 modules in each group then advanced to round 2
*Note some 4th place finishers received a higher vote % than 3rd place modules in other groups (eg I12 getting a higher % than N4, but position in the group was what mattered for qualification),

ROUND 2
42 qualifying modules were seeded according to % of available votes received in Round 1
Modules were then put into 7 qualifying groups of 6 based on that seeding
Members of the Facebook group then had to assign a ranking to their top 5 in each group
Top 2 in each group advanced to Round 3, along with the 2 best performing 3rd place finishers

ROUND 3 ONWARDS
These are straight knockout rounds by means of a poll, modules going head to head.
Matchups were determined based on performance in Round 2, #1 vs #16, #2 vs #15, and so on.

RESULTS



Tuesday, 2 April 2019

AD&D Modules - A Chronological Index

1978:
D1 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (pastel cover - reprinted in D1-2 in 1981 and then in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa
(pastel cover - reprinted in D1-2 in 1981 and then in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
D3 Vault of the Drow (pastel cover - reprinted in 1981 with Blue cover, and then in GDQ1-7) 
G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7)
G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7)
G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (pastel cover - reprinted in G1-2-3 in 1981, then again in GDQ1-7) 
S1 Tomb of Horrors (pastel cover - reprinted with Green cover in 1981, and various other versions since)
 

1979:
S2 White Plume Mountain
(pastel cover - reprinted with Orange cover in 1981 and as part of S1-4 in 1987) 
T1 Village of Hommlet (pastel cover - reprinted in 1981 with Green cover and as part of T1-4 in 1985)
 
1980:
A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (pastel cover - reprinted with Brown cover in 1981)
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (reprinted in GDQ1-7 in 1986)
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (reprinted in S1-4)

1981:
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade
(reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
A4 In the Dungeon of the Slave Lords
(reprinted in A1-4 in 1986)
D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth (re-print)
G1-2-3 Against the Giants (re-print)
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
L1 Secret of Bone Hill
U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

1982:
I2 Tomb of the Lizard King
I3 Pharaoh (reprinted in I3-5 in 1987)
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God
R1 To the Aid of Falx (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
R2 Investigation of Hydell (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
R3 Egg of the Phoenix (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (reprinted in S1-4)
U2 Danger at Dunwater
WG4 Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

1983:
EX1 Dungeonland
EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
I4 Oasis of the White Palm (reprinted in I3-5)
I5 Lost Tomb of Martek (reprinted in I3-5)
I6 Ravenloft
L2 Assassin’s Knot
R4 Doc's Island (re-printed in I12 in 1987)
U3 Final Enemy
UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave
UK2 Sentinel

1984:
C3 Lost Island of Castanamir
C4 To Find a King
CB1 Conan Unchained!
CB2 Conan Against Darkness!
DL1 Dragons of Despair
DL2 Dragons of Flame
DL3 Dragons of Hope
DL4 Dragons of Desolation
DL5 Dragons of Mystery
MV1 Midnight on Dagger Alley
N2 TForest Oracle
UK3 Gauntlet
UK4 When a Star Falls
UK5 Eye of the Serpent
UK6 All that Glitters
WG5 Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure

1985:

C5 Bane of Llywelyn
CA1 Swords of the Undercity
DL6 Dragons of Ice
DL7 Dragons of Light
DL8 Dragons of War
DL9 Dragons of Deceit
DL10 Dragons of Dreams
DL11 Dragons of Glory
H1 Bloodstone Pass
I7 Baltron’s Beacon
T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil (re-print of T1 plus new material)
UK7 Dark Clouds Gather
WG6 Isle of the Ape

1986:
A1-4 Scourge of the Slavelords (re-print with additions)
CA2 Swords of Deceit
DL12 Dragons of Faith
DL13 Dragons of Truth
DL14 Dragons of Triumph
GDQ1-7 Queen of the Spiders (re-print with additions)
H2 Mines of Bloodstone
I8 Ravager of Time
I9 Day of Al’Akbar
I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Griffon Hill
N3 Destiny of Kings
N4 Treasure Hunt
OA1 Swords of Daimyo
OA2 Night of the Seven Swords
RS1 Red Sonya Unconquered

1987:
C6 Official RPGA Tourney Handbook
DQ1 The Shattered Statue
H3 Bloodstone Wars
I3-5 Desert of Desolation (reprint with additions and amendments)
I11 Needle
I12 Egg of the Phoenix (re-print of R series modules)
I13 Adventure Pack I
N5 Under Illefarn
OA3 Ochimo: The Spirit Warrior
OA4 Blood of the Yakuza
S1-4 Realms of Horror (re-print with amendments)

1988:
DL15 Mists of Krynn
DL16 World of Krynn
FRC1 Ruins of Adventure
H4 Throne of Bloodstone
I14 Swords of the Iron Legion
OA5 Mad Monkey vs Dragon Claw
OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes
WG7 Castle Greyhawk

1999
L3 Deep Dwarven Delve (part of 25th Anniversary Box Set)


2010
L4 Devilspawn (Download only)

2013
A0-4 Against the Slave Lords (reissue of A1-4 series with additional chapter A0 Danger At Darkshelf Quarry)

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Failing to be Critical? Part 2.

After my lambasting of the idea of 'punishing a 1 in combat', I guess its time to take a look a system that I believed handled fumbles and similar critical failures in a much better way.  Not perfect by any means, simply better.  And that was MERP.

MERP was 'Rolemaster-lite', set in Middle Earth.  It used d100 rolls as its base mechanic, with tables.  Lots of tables.  Some might say too many tables.  And yes, it was a simplified form of the Rolemaster game system which use, you've guessed it, even more tables!  Where most homebrewed fumble systems in d20 systems rely on a flat 5% chance of failure - a 1 on a d20 - the use of d100 immediately allows for greater variability, but more of that after I explain the base MERP combat mechanics.

All combatants have 4 key combat stats:
OB - offensive bonus
DB - defensive bonus
Weapon Type - 1 handed, bludgeoning, missile etc
AT - Armour Type

An attack is resolved thus:
d100 roll + OB of attacker + situational modifiers - defender's DB.  The result is then cross referenced on the relevant armour column of the table corresponding to the weapon type being used.

OB tends to improve as an individual gains levels, with fighter types improving quickly. DB is dependent largely on the defender's agility stat and whether or not they are using a shield, and is thus usually fairly static.

This is an example of one of the tables used, notice how it is easier to score damage against armoured foes (a total of 46 needed to do 1 point of damage against a defender wearing plate), but how the critical hits (letters A to E) kick in much sooner against lighter armour, and quickly become more severe (E being the nastiest):

The net effect is that an attacker with a high OB has a much higher chance of causing a critical hit than one with a lower OB.  Warrior types typically have higher OBs than other classes, meaning they are much more effective in combat, and this increases markedly as higher levels are reached.

But what about the fumbles?  See that 'UM' on the table above - that is short for 'unmodified'.  So a natural 01 to 08 on the roll *could* be a fumble.  Now look at the weapons table, or at least part of it:


Each weapon has a 'fumble range' - thus a wielder of a Broadsword has a 3% chance of fumbling, a Dagger just 1%, and a Morning Star a whopping 8%.  The chance of a fumble therefore depends solely on the combatant's choice of weapon - an unmodified roll of 01-08.  Look also at the other modifiers.  A Dagger gives -15 OB, and cannot cause anything more than a C critical.  A Morning Star gives +10 OB, and is capable of dealing 2 critical effects with a single hit.

This give the players choice - you pays your money, you takes your chances.

One key point to also note is than in MERP greater combat skill does not directly give you extra attacks, thus the idiocy of better fighters = more attacks = more fumbles is also avoided.  Instead, as they get better at fighting they hit more often (better OB), do more damage (better OB!) and inflict more critical hits (better OB!!!).

This is all good then?  Well, erm, MERP did have a problem.  Your OB with a Shortsword is +62, the enemy wears Chain armour (-10OB for shortswords), uses a Shield for +25DB.  You've moved 15' (-10OB) to attack on the enemy's flank (+15OB).    You roll 42.  Now total it up and look at the table - quickly, so as not to slow the game down.

To help you it's 74, resulting in 4 damage with no critical.

So the maths involved hurts the brain, especially 4 hours into a gaming session!  But what of the fumbles?  Isn't this meant to be about fumbles?  Ok, here's one of the tables:


Firstly take note of the extra modifier - simpler weapons have less severe critical effects - thankfully for Morning Star fans it is a 1H Concussion weapon!  Then look at the effects - lots of stuns, some breakage, some comedy, more maths (!!), and very few involving hindering your allies.  The effects often require added bookkeeping, so this is hard work for a beleaguered DM, who is likely to already be snowed under by keeping tracks of the ongoing effects of critical hits  - lots of stuns and bleeds there too.  I've only posted a snapshot of the tables - there are failure tables for manoeuvres, spells, and missile weapons too, along with attack tables for different weapon types, spells, different types of critical hit, etc etc etc.... so well, you get the idea.

It's patently obvious why the overall critical hit/fumble system works, it doesn't penalise warrior types, the effects are varied, and choice of weapon is vital.  The use of d100 allows for this level of detail, much moreso than a simple d20.  But it all comes at a cost - the DM needs a calculator, a degree in accountancy, and a ready supply of headache tablets.

It's a ball-ache, but it's better than the crap that people seem to take delight in cooking up for the various versions of D&D.

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