Thursday, May 31, 2012

BtPG Classes

Here's some updated class info, including the aforementioned XP charts. The "Fights As/Defends As" columns refer to the character's ability to be an extremely dangerous opponent at higher levels, regardless of equipment. I want to model the notion that a 6th level Might character, for example, is someone you just do not want to fuck with. I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it, but it's the first way I'm going to try.
Obviously, the first attribute increase is to one of the two attributes that are tied to the class. The second, "Any Other" bonus may be applied to any attribute, but may not raise any attribute above +3. Attributes higher than that are reserved for gods, legends, and the heroes of tragedy.


Might
Adds STR in combat
Subtracts DEX from opponent's HD in combat
May divide HD among multiple opponents
May wear any armor
May use shields
May use any weapons (including intelligent swords)
May use magical scrolls written for Might characters

Adventurers of Might could be called Fighting-men, Rangers, Skalds, Samurai, Paladins, Knights, Barbarians, Soldiers, Mercenaries, etc.

Level
Experience Points
Hit Dice (HD)
Fights as...
Defends as . . .


Attribute Increase
1
0
1+2
Same
Same

2
2000
2
Same
Same

3
4000
3
Same
Same

4
8000
4
+1 Category
Same
+1 STR or CON
5
16000
5+1
+1 Category
Same

6
32000
6
+1 Category
+1 Category

7
64000
7+1
+2 Category
+1 Category

8
128000
8+2
+2 Category
+1 Category
+1 Any Other
9
240000
9+3
+2 Category
+2 Category

10
360000
10+1
+2 Category
+2 Category



Mien
May only wear Light Armor
Subtracts DEX from opponent's HD in combat
May Dodge melee attacks (see Combat rules for details)
Adds CHAR to Influence and Reaction checks
Adds DEX to Initiative
Subtracts DEX from hits received (not from opponent's HD)
Only Surprised on a roll of “1”
May only use Light Weapons
May attempt to use any magic items (subject to failure roll)
Automatically fights

Adventurers of Mien could be thought of as Thieves, Rogues, Scouts, Bards, Acrobats, Entertainers, Smugglers, Bandits, Outlaws, etc.

Level
Experience Points
Hit Dice (HD)
Fights as...
Defends as . . .


Attribute Increase
1
0
1
Same
Same

2
1200
2
Same
Same

3
2400
2+1
Same
Same

4
4800
3
Same
Same
+1 DEX or CHAR
5
9600
3+1
Same
Same

6
20000
4
Same
Same

7
40000
4+1
Same
Same

8
60000
5
Same
Same
+1 Any Other
9
90000
5+1
+1 Category
Same

10
125000
5+2
+1 Category
Same



Magic
Adds INT to number of spells known
Adds WIZ to Casting Rolls
May only use a dagger or quarterstaff
Any other weapons used roll on “Brawling” row (But see below)
May use one-handed magic swords beginning at 5th level
May not wear armor, nor use shields
May use any non-weapon/armor magic items

Adventurers of Magic could be thought of as Wizards, Sorcerers, Diviners, Summoners, Fortune Tellers, Soothsayers, etc.

Level


Experience Points


Hit Dice (HD)
Fights as...
Defends as . . .


Attribute Increase
1
0
1
Same
Same

2
2500
1+1
Same
Same

3
5000
2
Same
Same

4
10000
2+1
Same
Same
+1 INT or WIZ
5
20000
3
Same
Same

6
35000
3+1
Same
Same

7
50000
4
Same
Same

8
75000
5
+1 Category
Same
+1 Any Other
9
100000
5+1
+1 Category
Same

10
200000
5+2
+1 Category
+1 Category



It Was Just a Joke

The whole Hordes & Whores thing, that is. Who knows? Maybe one day I will want to collect this and make it available as a more stand-alone deal. It is taking on a life of its own. I've been working on fleshing out the class information some more, including advancement tables. The XP per level is straight from the LBB, which I'm not even sure how balanced that is, considering what I'm doing with the system. I just used it as a starting point. Hopefully it will still track pretty close.

Anyway, like I said, if this thing keeps gaining mass, I may try to pretty it up and make it available. If I do, I think maybe Hordes & Whores, as a name, may restrict my audience somewhat. I've decided I'm going to call it Beyond the Pale Gate. I've always liked the notion that things are normal close to home, but once you pass a certain point, you've crossed into another realm.

I've mocked up a new cover, duly submitted for your approval . . .

Beyond the Pale Gate RPG

Quick Task Resolution for BtPG

Many of you may remember a quick resolution for the LBBs that I proposed a few weeks ago. That one was based on d10s. Well, in BtPG I am keeping player operations using d6s, so that system needed a slight re-write. I've also included some guidelines for keeping it from getting out of hand.


Quick Task Resolution
Many tasks undertaken by adventuring characters may be considered to automatically succeed. It should be relatively obvious, based on class, which tasks fall under this. There will be certain tasks, and instances, where success isn't so sure, and success must be randomly determined. There is no skill system, as such, to govern such things. There are, however, opportunities for a character to improve in his abilities to perform specific tasks.
The player will roll 2d6 and add the appropriate attribute. Consult the following chart to determine further modifiers:

If the task attribute is . . .
and the class is . . .
Add . . .
STR
Might
Level
CON
Might
Level
DEX
Mien
Level
CHAR
Mien
Level
INT
Magic
Level
WIZ
Magic
Level

Other modifiers may apply, as appropriate, such as rope and climbing gear for attempting to scale a mountain cliff. These modifiers should normally be +1, perhaps rarely +2.
The referee will roll 2d6, modified by the particulars of the attempt, such as weather, lighting, or any other factors deemed to bear on the task. The player's roll must equal or exceed the referee's roll.
If the player's roll should be a natural “12” (two 6's), the character has gained some special insight into performing the task at hand. He is said to be “good at” whatever the task was. Note the task on the character sheet. From then on, whenever the same task is attempted again, the player rolls 3d6, keeping the best two. Subsequent 12's grant a +1 bonus to future rolls.
Limitations
A character may be “good at” no more tasks than his level, nor may any additional bonuses exceed the character's level.
For example, a third-level character may be good at three particular tasks, and may have a maximum bonus of +3. So, a “thief” (character of Mien) of 3rd level could be good at Opening Locks, Sneaking, and Fast Talking, meaning the player will roll 3d6 when attempting those tasks. He could also have up to +3 in additional bonuses, so he could have Sneaking +2 and Fast Talking at +1, or any other combination that is no higher than +3.
Should a character who is at his Good At maximum roll another “12” he has the following options:
If the task was something the character was not already Good At, he may replace one of his other Good Ats;
If the task was something he was already Good At, but his additional bonus for the task is less than maximum, he may add +1 to his Good At by reducing the bonus of another Good Ar.
For example, continuing with the Thief from above, he is Good At Opening Locks, Sneaking +2, and Fast Talking +1.
Example One: While attempting to Sneak the player rolls a “12”. He can decline the additional bonus on future rolls and nothing more happens, or he can opt for an additional +1 to future Sneaking rolls, but will have to forgo the +1 bonus to Fast Talking, as his total maximum bonus is +3.
Example Two: While attempting to decipher an ancient treasure map the player rolls a “12”. The player can simply decline to become Good At Map Reading and nothing further happens or he may opt to become Good At Map Reading, but he will have to drop one of his other Good Ats.

I hope that isn't too difficult to follow, my words are flowing a little sluggishly this morning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

BtPG Classes


Character Classes
Adventurers are divided into three broad classes, related to how they approach their adventuring careers. The classes are Might, Mien, and Magic.

Adventurers who rely on Might depend on physical solutions to overcome most problems. They may well be quite intelligent, eloquent, or agile, but they always deal with their problems in a direct and usually physical manner.

Adventurers of Might could be called Fighting-men, Rangers, Skalds, Samurai, Paladins, Knights, Barbarians, Soldiers, Mercenaries, etc.

Adventurers who rely on Mien survive on their wits and charm. They may be strong or intelligent, but force of arms or scholarly pursuits are not their way. They deal with their problems by deftly side-stepping or smooth talking.

Adventurers of Mien could be thought of as Thieves, Rogues, Scouts, Bards, Acrobats, Entertainers, Smugglers, Bandits, Outlaws, etc.

Adventurers who rely on Magic depend on unseen eldritch forces to deal with the perils of adventure. They may be strong of arm or glib of tongue, but when trouble starts they summon their magic.

Adventurers of Magic could be thought of as Wizards, Sorcerers, Diviners, Summoners, Fortune Tellers, Soothsayers, etc.

The player is free to use any terms desired to describe his character, but an adventurer of Might has Might as his class, no matter how he is described.

Might
Adds STR in combat
Adds CON to hp
May divide HD among multiple opponents
May wear any armor
May use shields
May use any weapons

Mien
May only wear Light Armor
Subtracts DEX from opponent's HD in combat
May Dodge melee attacks
Adds CHAR to Influence and Reaction checks
Adds DEX to Initiative
Only Surprised on a roll of “1”
May only use Light Weapons

Magic
Adds INT to number of spells known
Adds WIZ to Casting Rolls
May only use a dagger or quarterstaff
Any other weapons used roll on “Brawling” row (But see below)
May use one-handed magic swords beginning at 5th level
May not wear armor, nor use shields

HD in BtPG

The many faces of a HD
Remember when you started playing D&D and you first came upon the term "level"? D&D gets a lot of mileage out of that term. Character level, spell level, and dungeon level, and those three types of levels are used frequently. Until you learned the particular context associated with each one, it could be confusing.

I am afraid that a similar situation will exist in Hordes & Whores. The term Hit Dice (or HD) is getting a lot of use. Now, being that these are essentially my house rules for kitbashing a variety of subsystems, I'm fine with it. I know what the term means each time I use it. However, for those of you trying to follow this development, or even interested in using these mad ideas, perhaps a little disambiguation is in order.

The first thing one must understand about Hit Dice is that they are not rolled to determine hit points. The character simply has 1 hit point per Hit Die (hit point may be modified, but that's another post).

Hit Dice, not level, are used to judge a character's relative ability in combat. In this context, they are literally Hit Dice, being the dice used to determine hits. For example, a character with 6 HD may potentially roll 6d6 when attempting to hit an opponent in combat.

Considering the second point, there are several effects that may alter the number of HD a combatant has. For example, a magical defense may "reduce attacker's HD by 2". This would mean that the 6HD character from the previous example would only roll 4d6. Likewise, there are factors that may make an opponent more formidable, granting bonus HD on an attack. Hit Dice referred to in this context have absolutely nothing to do with hit points.

Anytime HD are listed with a modifier directly attached, such as an ogre, having 4+1 HD, the "plus" is added to hit points. So, the ogre attacks as a 4HD creature and has 5 hit points. The "plus" is also applied to one of the d6's rolled on the Combat Table. So, our erstwhile ogre with his 5 hit points would roll 4d6 when attacking, one of which would receive a +1 modifier.

I think that about covers it. If I think of any other issues with the term, or if any of you encounter any confusing usage, I'll try to clear it up. Let me know if you have any problems, I'm not always the most concise communicator.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A New Name for My New Game

All of this new Chainmail-based stuff I've been working on is for my own edification. Maybe I'll get a chance to play one day, maybe I won't. It's fun to design and develop it in its own right, so I'll take that from it. I have no interest or intention of trying to release it under any license. I make it available here for comments, thoughts, criticisms (offered constructively), and as my own personal development log. Having said that, anyone that wants to play with them at their table is more than welcome, either whole cloth or piecemeal, as desired.

Now, when it comes to my own use (if I should ever get so lucky), I want it to look good. In that spirit, I have given it a name and mocked up a cover. The cover is easily recognizable and will never see the light of day as a cover, other than at my hand at my table. I'll show it to you, though, because I like it.

Anyway, the name is a little racy, but spot-on, I think, for the spirit of old school, swords and sorcery adventure I'm shooting for. So, without further ado, I give you


Chainmail Character Generation

Put the dice down, son
Alright, I'm about to commit a few major blasphemies. You've been warned. In this post I will propose generating characters:
  • Whose stats are bonuses rather than traditional 3-18 stats
  • Who do not have a Wisdom stat
  • Who are generated with a point-buy (gasp!)
The first two shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone that's read my ramblings. The third one, maybe a little surprising. It's definitely not old school, and I'll be the first to admit, I don't really like point-buy. In my opinion it either takes too long as the player tries to hit on the right combination, or it is over too fast because the player already knows what he wants to do and didn't give any thought to this particular character.

However, in this particular set of circumstances, it is the right tool for the job. Hopefully, that will be clear by the time I get done. By the way, this post only covers stats.

The Stats

There are still six: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma, Intelligence, and Wizardry. The first five are as we all remember them. Wizardry is concerned with spell casting and other attempted manipulations of magical energy.

Starting stats range from -1 to +2. Players have 5 points with which to purchase their beginning stats. A +1 bonus costs 1 point, a +2 costs an additional 2 points, for a total of 3 points. You may take a -1 to one stat to garner another point to be spent elsewhere. This may only be done once. No stat may start higher than +2.

Usage

STR is used on the combat table. I don't want to go into detail now, because the term "Hit Dice" is can be as confusing in this set as the term "level" was for all of us in 1975.

CON essentially makes the character more durable.

DEX can make the character more difficult to hit, provided he isn't burdened with too much armor.

CHAR provides a morale/reaction modifier.

INT is used by wizards to expand their access to spells.

WIZ is also used by wizards, as a bonus to magical operations.

Those are the most obvious uses, but players are encouraged to always look for a way to use their character's strengths and abilities to overcome challenges and face difficult situations.

So, that's the gist of it. I'm thinking that there will be options to increase stats as the character progresses, but not more than 2 or 3 points, total. I am also thinking that, barring some powerful magic, stats will cap at +3 no matter how developed the character is.

Design Notes

I went with point-buy because I knew I wanted the stats to be the bonus with no number being generated in order to determine the stat. I also knew I wanted the stats relatively low, since so many of the player-related subsystems are based on 2d6. It was just too tricky to randomize such relatively low numbers and have a viable range, so it just made more sense to me to set a standard purchase pool and go point-buy.

Chainmail Magic Design Notes

Considering the rather terse introduction I gave to these house rules, I thought maybe a little more insight was in order.

My main goal was (and has been for a long time) to come up with a tweak of the magic system in Chainmail that was unpredictable, wide open, and carried an element of danger.

I started with the casting table straight from Chainmail. I took the numbers for a Seer casting a complexity I spell and added +1 to all the numbers. That was my baseline. The extra +1 to the numbers offsets the fact that most any character worthy of being called Wizard should have at least a +1 mod to the casting roll. Next, I looked at the spells-per-day table and plugged that baseline in whenever a new spell level was attained. So, for example, the baseline is used for Rank III spells for level 5 Wizards. Then, I just extrapolated the numbers up or down as needed for spells of higher or lower rank.

I could have just used some formula, but that requires math on the front-end, then more math at the table as mods are considered. Besides, tables are much more old-school. There was another reason, too. I wanted the raw number rolled to mean something when compared to the roll that was needed. Specifically, the chance to lose the spell and the chance to fail catastrophically. That becomes harder to track at the table when the casting roll is just based on pure math. Not terrible, but enough to slow things down.

Speaking of those raw rolls, with the 2d6 bell curve, keeping track of the original number needed was important. If your base chance to cast-with-delay was a 7-8, then you'll lose the spell on a roll of 7, which is roughly 16% of the time. If that was based on the modified roll, then bonuses would quickly make losing spells highly unlikely.

That's it for now. As many of you know, a Chainmail based game has been an elusive dream of mine for some time. That combat modification that I linked to at Howling Tower a few posts back really got me started back looking at it. Now that I have a magic system I like, the project is gaining critical mass. I have character generation ideas almost done (at least conceptually).

Taking those three components and mashing them up with whatever other subsystems I like will likely be the way to go with it, for now. I may or may not try to work up my own advancement, equipment, endgame, and other subs, but for now, I'm happy using my combat, magic, and character subs houseruled into other rulesets.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chainmail based Magic

 Here we go. My magic rules for a more Chainmail based game. So far I really like the look of them, so, please be gentle.

Magic Use
In any discussion of magic, there are two things that must be understood:
  1. Magic is special;
  2. Magic is unpredictable
Any two-­bit conjurer of cheap tricks can light a candle or make a noise seem to originate from somewhere else. Then again, so can an innkeeper, by walking across the room, or a petty entertainer, by throwing his voice.

A Wizard can command flames to race across a battlefield and explode in the midst of his enemies. He can create the sounds of hordes of trolls crashing through the woods. He can command unseen forces and use them to do things beyond mortal capability.

To the common folk a person capable of casting even two or three spells is mysterious and powerful, worthy of fear and respect.

The Nature of Magic and Its Use

The term “spell” encompasses several different factors aligned to achieve a desired effect. No spell is ever cast exactly the same way each time it is cast, even by the same caster. The rituals required; the specific hand gestures, chants and phrases, and material components are all dependent on factors such as stellar alignment, the seasons, the caster's specific location, and many other
minute factors. The caster must commit to memory all of these intricate requirements in order to successfully cast a spell. Everything that powers and influences a spell is constantly in motion, motion that must be understood and accounted for.

This variability is accounted for by the Casting Table. Sometimes a spell will work perfectly, taking effect immediately. Sometimes the caster has to make adjustments during the casting. In this case, the spell is successfully cast, but doesn't go into effect until next turn. Then there are times dreaded by all wizards, when they are able to make on­-the­-fly adjustments, the spell is cast, but it is no longer usable until the wizard studies the spell anew, making certain adjustments for changes in  the ritual variables.

Spell Casting

Spell are grouped by relative power into Ranks. There are six ranks, successively more powerful. A caster can cast virtually any spell he knows, regardless of level and rank. There is a chance that if a wizard should attempt a spell too far beyond his ability, he could suffer greatly. He may cast any spell he knows as often as he wishes, until the Casting Roll indicates it must be
restudied.
A wizard may know a number of spells equal in rank to his level, plus his INT bonus. Thus, a 2nd level wizard with an INT bonus of +2 may know 4 ranks of spells. This could be a single 4th rank spell, two 2nd rank spells, or any combination he desires.

Wizards Command Magic

If the number of spells a wizard may know seems limiting, it should be remembered that wizards are more than capable of modifying the casting of their spells on the fly. Players and  referees should work together to keep wizards' use of magic flexible. If a wizard knows Fireball, for instance, he should be able to use it to light a candle across the room, start a campfire or fireplace, or anything that is not intrinsically more powerful than the Fireball spell itself.

Studying Spells

In order to learn a spell, to know it and be able to cast it, a wizard must spend time committing all the many intricacies of its casting to memory. This is a mentally taxing prospect, and very time consuming. It requires one day per rank to learn a spell. This may be reduced by the INT of the wizard, but never to less than one day.

If a wizard wishes to memorize a different spell than one already known, he must also spend time purging the unwanted spell from his mind. This requires meditation and mind-control to accomplish. It is not a simple matter of "forgetting" something that one puts so much effort into remembering. It requires one day per rank to purge a spell from the wizard's memory. This is not reduced by any faculty of the character.

Casting Spells

When a wizard wishes to cast a spell, the player rolls 2d6 on the Casting Table. There are three possible outcomes, with two potential variables. The spell may be cast successfully, taking effect either instantly, at the wizard's initiative point, or it may be delayed until the same point in the following turn. The spell may simply fail. The spell may succeed but become unusable. The spell may fail with catastrophic results.






Note that the effects of rolling a “red” number or a “2” for Catastrophic casting occur when the indicated number is rolled unmodified. For example, a 7th level wizard is casting a rank II spell, with a +2 bonus. The roll is a 4, with the bonus the casting roll is a 6, indicating that the spell takes effect immediately. However, the unmodified roll was a 4, which indicates that the spell may not be
cast again until restudied.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Next Hit Dice Tomfoolery

I've read over the playtest stuff a little more. There are a couple of things dealing with Hit Dice that caught my eye. It may be due to the incompleteness of the document, in fact I am sure one of these quibbles is a first-release oversight. Even so, they raise some questions about the direction of the rules concerning Hit Dice, hit points, and healing.

First off, hit points. This one is short and sweet. The rules state that beginning hit points are equal to CON + CON modifier. Survivability boost. I get it. It then goes on to say that when a character gains a level, roll the appropriate HD and add it to the total. If the roll is less than the CON modifier, add the modifier instead (emphasis mine). So, CON mods aren't added to hp after 1st level?

Then, under Resting, it mentions that during a Short Rest a character may be treated using a healer's kit. Each such treatment allows the character to expend one HD. Each HD expended is basically rolled like a, well, like a hit die, and deducted from the character's damage. I can't find any other mention of "expending hit dice" outside the section on Resting, so I'm unclear about the overall effects. It seems like it is just a limiter on non-magical healing. Sort of a reskinning of the Healing Surges, just less potent. More info on it would help.

Oh, one more thing. Also under Resting, it states that after a Long Rest (8 hours) all damage is healed. You do have to have at least one hit point to take a long rest, so if you're at 0 you won't wake up feeling any better.

Let the Games Begin

It's May 24th and we all know what that means. I've looked over the playtest documents. I'll keep this brief.

It looks to me as if their design philosophy was to take the 3.x engine and add some chrome from 4E Essentials. Hit dice are back, as opposed to the fixed hit points of 4E. The magic-user is back to remembering spells. Saving Throws mean what they did pre-4E, although they can be based on any stat. It appears that Healing Surges are gone. Cure Light Wounds once again simply restores 1d8 hps.

There is this notion of Advantages/Disadvantages. Essentially in either case you roll 2d20 rather than one whenever attempting the action in question. If you're Advantaged you keep the better roll, if Disadvantaged you keep the lesser roll. That, my friends, is straight out of Barbarians of Lemuria. I think it is a very neat idea, and have considered it for some of my house rules. Here, though, it leaves me a little flat.

In fact, the wole thing has me scratching my head. I'm predisposed to distrusting big-business rpgs. I have a case of splatbook burnout that will never go away. I desperately want to love every edition of D&D that sees the light of day, though. It is more than the words and art on the page, the same way I am more than the sum of my parts. I love all my OSR stuff, but if a version of D&D came out that I could really get behind I would be all over it. It will have to overcome that predisposed distrust, though. These playtest docs don't really give me much hope that this version is the one.

Like I said in the opening, it strikes me as 3.x with 4E Essentials elements house ruled in. Then there's the Ad/Disad thing. If I want to assemble my own rule set from pieces and parts, I will (see my previous post, which, btw, was written before I saw the playtest docs). I know this is just the first release, but it is the foundation they're going to build on, so while it may change over time, this is fundamentally what Next will look like.

I don't think they're worried about us OSR folks. That's not what the "uniting the editions" crap was all about. After seeing this, I think it is all about trying to lure the disgruntled 3.x folks back from Pathfinder. That's ok, too. Life out here on the fringe ain't so bad.

Why Do I Keep Doing It?

Anyone that has been reading the blog for a while will know I am a long-time sufferer of Gamer ADD. I've pissed and moaned about it enough that it is impossible to miss. One of the casualties I haven't talked about, though, is any development of a personal set of rules. Over a course of time I have talked about several attempts that have quietly disappeared. Usually, my internal reasoning is the same: Why fret over making it work when I can just use <insert title here>?

Well, the answer hit me today. It is so simple, and like most simple answers it hit me like a bunny-punch to the back of the head. Why do I keep fretting? Because I want to play my rules. I want character creation to work the way I want it to. I want combat to work the way I want it to. And so on.

Of the last four computers I've owned, I built two from the ground up, and pulled two out of the trash and restored them. The reason I prefer to build my own computers is that I decide which corners to cut, not some engineer at Dell or Gateway. Very few people have the means and desire to throw vast sums at a computer to make it precisely what they want, so corners must be cut in order to meet a budget. I want the ultimate authority to decide where the skimping will go on. Period.

I bring all that up because it directly correlates to gaming for me. When you build a computer what you're really doing is assembling components. I don't craft my hard drives out of raw materials, I order one and plug it in. What I do have to do is make some decisions on what I want the computer to do, then match the components to that desire, and match the components to each other.

I want to approach designing a personal set of rules with the same mind-set. I'm going to do it so that the areas of the game that are most important to me get the most coverage. I'm going to design it to do what I want it to do, specifically. I'll use "components" from other games where I can, polish them where needed, and make up the rest whole cloth.

I'm not talking about a new OSR release or anything. At its most basic, it will be more like a house rule document for stitching together various subsystems into a more-or-less cohesive whole.

Of course, this all looks good on paper. Who knows how it will hold up over time. And by "over time" I mean the next 3 or 4 days. Damn ADD.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mapping for the Masses

I love maps, I always have. In fact, it was a brief, yet tantalizing, glimpse at a dungeon map that first piqued my interest in D&D (although I had no idea the map was a dungeon map at the time). I have always tried to make my maps functional and accurate, and as my meager abilities allowed, artistic. I have explored countless shading and symbol variants when hand-drawing. I've also experimented with a lot of software tools for mapping.
It has started occurring to me that I want to explore an entirely different mindset. I want to try approaching my cartography from a new Starting point, as it were. Consider the following:
  • Maps were not mass produced. Each was a one-of-a-kind deal.
  • Not only was each map uniquely created, the information it contained was arrived at individually. So, even if separate missions explored the same area, the maps would likely be quite different.
  • Most maps were driven by mercantile enterprises.
  • Considering that explorers were exploring for the purpose of opening new markets and sources of trade, the maps their travels generated should be considered akin to trade secrets.
  • Being driven by economic interests, especially related to sea-trade, coastal detail, including ports-of-call and safe harborages, would be of utmost importance.

All of these thoughts has led me to the idea that I want to make my maps more artistic. I've always wanted my mountain symbols, for example, to occupy the proper amount of space, according to the scale I've established. I want to change that. I want terrain symbols to be representative of the terrain that is most likely to be found in the surrounding area.


Another common theme in antique maps are little artistic embellishments. People going about some sort of activity, perhaps tied to local tradecraft or terrain, were quite popular. Farming, herding, hunting, and trade caravans appear frequently. I really like that idea.

Ultimately, the map is a method of communication. Typically, it would have been the map-maker communicating with himself, a device whereby to remember the lay of a land, treacherous sea-lanes or dangerous shoals, or pictographic clues about the peoples found in a particular location. They could be covered in specific notes, perhaps in a personal code.

Finally, I need to stop thinking of maps as being mass-produced and each consistent with the next. Maps for characters should be rare and treated as treasure. What price can be placed on a map through a monster-infested wilderness, sure to befuddle even the most seasoned traveller? Such a map that could virtually guarantee not getting lost, thus saving wandering lost for perhaps days.

More ACKS Thoughts

I read the magic chapter last night (minus all the spell descriptions). In a nutshell, I like it. It is a pleasing combination of Vancian magic and something a bit more free-form.

The biggest eyebrow raiser was the INT bonus. It surprised me to learn that the INT bonus provides a number of spells equal to the bonus at each spell level, as soon as the ability to cast that level is obtained. So, a mage with a +2 INT bonus, upon obtaining 5th level can suddenly cast three spells. That combined with the free-form nature of casting seems to make mages more powerful than their traditional OSR ancestors. That's not necessarily a criticism, I'm just wondering if it affects play.

My favorite thing about ACKS magic, bar none, is the flavor. According to the flavor text:
For an arcane spellcaster to have a spell in his repertoire, he
must keep track of complex astrological movements and star
signs that are constantly changing; he must daily appease
various ghosts and spirits that power certain dweomers; he must
remember and obey special taboos that each spell dictates. All
of these strictures, and they are many, can vary with the season,
the lunar cycle, the caster’s location, and more. Having a spell
in the repertoire is thus an ongoing effort . . .

So, it isn't a matter of constant re-memorization for an ACKS mage. When he has his nose buried in his spellbooks he is actually checking to see which planet is over his left shoulder and the affect it will have on his Sleep spell. Very cool to me.

Oh yes, that brings me to the repertoire. This is the concept whereby free-form casting works. Mages in ACKS still have a chart showing number of spells per day. Now that I look at the chart closer, it is a bit slower progression than some others, notably the LBB, but the same as Dark Dungeons and Labyrinth Lord. Maybe that INT bonus I mentioned earlier is intended to provide a little something extra to mages with the right stuff.

Anyway, the familiar spells-per-day is now the mage's repertoire. It represents not only how many times per day he can cast spells of a given level, it also represents how many he may "keep in mind" of a given level. For example, a 1st level mage with a +2 INT bonus has three 1st level spells in his repertoire. He may cast three first level spells per day. Let's just assume he has Charm Person, Light, Magic Missile, and Sleep in his spellbook. He would designate three of the four to be in his repertoire, meaning he could cast any of the three, as desired, up to three times per day, total. So, the player still has to think about which spells he believes will be most useful, as with the Vancian system, but he has a little more wiggle room when doing so. No more using all your 3rd level slots on Fireballs only to discover you really Water Breathing.

As an aside, if you happen to like ACKS, but prefer traditional Vancian magic, it would be easy to use it, since the spells-per-day chart is already there.

The last thing about the spell system I'm going to cover in this post is spell signatures. They represent tell-tale signs in how a spell actually manifests. Is your mage's Magic Missile shards of glass, or maybe tiny laughing skulls? Whatever it happens to be, it has no mechanical effect on the function of the spell. It is possible to divine something about an unknown caster from studying the signature. Signatures can vary by campaign, meaning that they can be based on the individual, magical philosophy, the college where your mage studied, or any other factor you can think of. So, in my world of Aranor, signatures would be based on college. I suppose within that "college signature" framework it is acceptable to allow individualization, such as the shards-of-glass magic missile being a certain color for a certain mage.

Anyway, there you have it, my first impression on my first read of the magic chapter. More to come as I continue my way through ACKS.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Referee Mystique

No, I haven't shifted gears again
Nobody panic. I haven't had a 1E/OSRIC epiphany. Far from it . . .

I've read a lot of games over these many years. A common theme in some of them is the idea of Narrative Control. In the traditional player/referee relationship the player tells the referee what he wants his character to do. Under the idea of Narrative Control there are instances where the player tells the referee his character's action. For example, rather than saying "I'll try to jump that chasm" the player declares "My character jumps across the chasm safely".

This post isn't about Narrative Control, though, so that's all I'll say about it. I bring it up because it is indicative of the erosion of the mystique of the referee's role over the years. In the name of whatever virtue the designer wanted to espouse the referee's role has slowly shifted from Ultimate Authority to Rules Clerk. It's something akin to going from designing the amusement park to being the guy that operates the ferris wheel.

The referee mystique is a big part of OSR play. Back in my day, the referee was the keeper of such esoteric secrets as the to-hit tables, saving throw tables, and most especially, the wandering monster tables and treasure tables. Keeping the tables was only part of it. The referee also knew the rules. There were so few in those days that it was possible to know them, and not just know where to find them. Knowing the rules meant more than knowing the letter of them, though. It meant knowing how to apply them, which meant knowing when to bend, break, or simply ignore them.

Then there's the referee's screen. I've known guys that didn't like them and those that did, regardless of old school playstyles or not. In fact the group I did the bulk of my playing with didn't believe in hiding much of anything. The referee made all his rolls in the open, and revealed the map room by room and corridor by corridor as the map was explored. A lot of gamers feel like the screen separates the referee from the players, like they're not playing the same game.

Personally, I like them. I don't feel cut off at all. We're still all at the same table, playing the same game. We are fulfilling different roles, though, which is represented nicely by the "separation".

I like the mystique. I like (in no particular order):
  • Subsystems, because most players are too intimidated by them to learn them
  • Wandering monsters, because players can never fully relax when they never know when a monster from 2 levels down may have wandered up to their level
  • Rolling dice behind the screen for no reason at all, "looking it up", and fucking with the players. I'll say something like "Rex, what's your DEX again?" and make another roll. "What's going on?" Rex asks anxiously. "Nothing. So, do you keep walking that way?"

And speaking of dice . . . All this contemplation of Chainmail has led me to a certain idea. If I'm going to be trying to use something Chainmail based, I want to try to limit the players to d6's. I have a couple of reasons for that. One is that it simplifies things for players. The other is the mystique factor. The funky dice are reserved for the referee.
That ol' Referee Mystique