Equipment slots

I use the LotFP encumbrance system; I like it’s blend of doing away with math but retaining a bit of complexity as compared to the very bare-bones systems of “carry STR items”. For my current campaign, this strikes a good balance.

I have made one addition to it, though; the “item slots”. As some players start to outfit their characters with scrolls, potions, weird bombs, poison-covered undead ferrets or green slime jars, things can get a bit out of hand. It makes sense to track at least on a rudimentary level where all this stuff actually is, and how readily available it is.

SLOT SPACE ACCESS
Belt 4 Immediate
Back 1 1 rd
Pockets (cloak) 1 Immediate
Pack/satchel 10 D3 rds
Sack (in hands) 10 D3 rds

The back slot may hold an Oversized item. Such items must otherwise be held in the hands. All other Slots hold only Standard Items. Armor adds encumbrance as normal. Any worn items, including armor, is listed separately, and apart from armor they do not encumber the character. In addition to this, any character of course has two “hand slots”, but I find tracking this goes too far into fiddly territory for me. A character with a Great Weapon is assumed to old it over her shoulder, otherwise the hands are most often kept as free as possible to allow for easy movement and manipulation. I’ve changed the rules as we went along to include “stacking” of certain items; for example flasks such as potions, oil or holy water stack two in a slot, iron rations and torches stack three.

This imposes some interesting limits on the characters; they really can’t carry an unlimited amount of items around, especially oversized ones. Pretty soon they will be carrying around their loot in filled sacks, carrying chests between them and running into all sorts of fun.

Tracking this is pretty easy, the players use different methods (and I’m not too particular about it, as long as they keep track). Letters next to the relevant items (Be or Ba etc) works, as does making little sections in the equipment list.

In Sickness

I’ve created a quick document for my current campaign which details a number of generic diseases; I love the basic D&D approach which usually boils down to “will be fatal in X days”, but I also like a bit more flavor both to the mechanics and the descriptions of the disease’s progress.

The basic concepts are that the GM determines which type of disease to use and its severity, although this should be fairly evident depending on the source (Giant Rats feels like the Raging Disease (which is always Deadly), whereas the Heucuva of the Barrowmaze my PCs are about to encounter cause Severe Infectious Rot).

The optional “infectious” rules would mean those who travel with an infected person might be forced to Save at the same time they do, or contract the disease. This can quickly lead to disaster for a team of adventurers, of course, and might also mean a bit more of a hassle than it’s worth. I don’t think I’d apply it except in special cases.

Have a look at the document here, or download it from the Library.

frontis

Spicing up randomness

I do love random encounters, for the same reasons I love location based adventures; they let me be the voice for a narrative told by the dice, they surprise me, they supply flavor to a location and they serve to enforce time as a limited resource better than anything else.

That being said, the classic D6 or D8 table with X number of entries is a bit boring. I’ve devised a fairly simple way to spice it up a bit, but without having to rewrite the table or add any complex mechanisms beyond making some notes (on a paper or in the book/adventure itself, as per preference). It does delay the encounters a bit, but at least for me that is as intended; it’s meant to serve as foreshadowing of what roams the dungeon and to give the players a greater sense of dread and urgency as they feel they are being stalked by more and more creatures (which, in a sense, they are) as they rummage through the tunnels and make ever more noise and leave more tracks.

The system amounts to the following:

  1. Instead of rolling just one of the specified dice, roll two.
  2. If you roll two different results, check to see if you’ve rolled any of them before.
    1. If not, make a mark on the highest rolled entry, and foreshadow it.
    2. If yes, then the PCs encounter the highest rolled encounter which has previously been foreshadowed.
  3. If you roll doubles, that encounter happens immediately (regardless of whether it has previously been foreshadowed).

Source: http://recedingrules.blogspot.se/2010/08/art.html

So, how do you “foreshadow” an encounter? I usually just do it by improvisation; tracks, droppings, the remains of a meal, the corpse of a dead creature, a strange smell in the air, scribblings on the wall – the possibilities are endless, and I think most GMs get excited rather than pressed when asked to do this. What I basically aim for is to convey both hints on the nature of the creature and it’s general power level if possible – it’s great if clever players can use this foreshadowing to plan their delve and make preparations.

If I’m lazy or tired, I usually just roll 1D6 on this ready-made table. It’s simple, but it’s easy enough to pad the result.

  1. Droppings, tracks, dropped item
  2. Remains of meal/victim
  3. Sounds in the distance
  4. Remains of one of the creatures OR signs of a battle
  5. Message (territorial markings, scribbles etc)
  6. A glimpse

I usually allow these foreshadowings to “reset” as the PCs leave a dungeon, in order to camp or resupply. The players soon learn how the systems works, which is as intended, as they realize that they will be in more and more danger the more time they spend in the same area.

Top Ten Troll Questions, Pt II

I normally just read these things, but something with these questions got me thinking, and then gave me the urge to actually answer them. It’s a great collection of thoughts on what is the “core” of Old School D&D to me; this isn’t about whether it’s for you, but just how much of a fundamentalist you are… 

Here goes!

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

Currently, I play that way, but I do allow a saving throw to avoid that level loss. This one is hard, though… it’s severe. In many ways more severe than killing the character off, actually, so I might change this one around.

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?

Definitely! LotFP uses D4, with a 4 causing lasting burn, but I usually go much further and use D6 damage with a save to avoid damage for one more round.

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

Yes! Ish… fail the save and you’re out, and probably dead, but Slow Poison gives another save and Neutralize Poison saves you, provided they are used within 1 Turn. That’s for a lethal poison, of course – they can also paralyze, cause blindness, make you mad or what have you.

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

No… that’s too harsh for me. They drop unconscious at between 0 and -2 HP, with no further danger. If they reach -3 or below, they will start to bleed 1 point per round, and even if brought above -3 they must roll a save to survive, and will suffer a loss of D3 points to a random attribute (the player him/herself makes up the injury/scar to explain the loss).

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a “memorize and forget system” (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

For a Magic User, yes, but I do allow for a “Weird Magic” spell retention system to keep cast spells in memory, based on a saving throw and nasty side effects if the roll is low. Clerics have spell slots, but choose which spell to cast with them at the point of casting.

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc…) for damage?

Nope, I do the usual spread of D4-D10 for different sizes – pretty much exactly as in LotFP. I don’t have a strong preference either way though.

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?

Nah… they will fare better on adventures and thus have a greater chance to get that gold, and thus that XP. That’s enough of a bonus. LotFP does give meaningful bonuses beyond an XP bonus for high attributes, though.

(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

I use LotFP’s normal bonuses, since I enjoy the variation between characters. (13-15, +1; 16-17, +2; 18, +4). They affect game mechanics, but not in dramatic ways (Str affects To Hit, but not damage, for example).

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

I currently use the 5 “old classics”, but I will switch to the 3 Ref/Fort/Will saves as soon as possible; they are less Old School but make so much more sense. I will keep the LotFP way of having Int affect saves vs magic and Wis affect saves vs everything else, though, with the saves being class-based beyond that.

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

I do 1 spell at first level. In LotFP Turn Undead is a spell, though, so it evens things out a bit. No bonus spells, though; my bonus for clerics is that they choose which spell they want to cast upon casting.

Reactions and Interactions

My latest project, slowed down by summer vacation, has been to examine types of encounters and try to open up the interaction between me and the players with regards to the Reaction Roll, the setup of an encounter and the PC’s options, Parley is an option chosen rarely in D&D as far as I’ve found, and I think that’s regrettable.

One major concern for me is that the Reaction roll would somehow be rolled in secret and it would be for the players to determine if parley is an option. With most groups of players you end up with a situation where attacking instantly to have a chance to perhaps surprise your opponent, or at least not cede any tactical advantage, seems the most prudent choice.

Gustave_dore_crusades_mourzoufle_parleying_with_dandoloMy first step in this process was picking up the excellent On the Non-player Character by Courtney Campbell of Hack & Slash. It’s a very ambitious system for putting these sorts of interactions into a framework, and though I’ve wound up using only the basic bits of it myself I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point if you’re thinking about these kinds of things.

I wound up with a system which basically opens up the Reaction Roll to the players, making them participate and if they so want make that roll themselves. The Reaction Roll also further defines how much the characters can interact with an NPC or a monster before the encounter ends or dissolves into a fight; the guidelines are very basic, and the actions the party can take are broad and subject to some modification on the spot. Generally speaking, the characters can attempt one interaction for each point on the modified Reaction Roll, typically around 5-9 or so depending on the situation. Some of these will call for rolls, possibly further modifying Reaction, while others are automatic or have other interesting circumstances.

It does suit my GM’ing style perfectly though! We usually play along through an encounter naturally, and I sometimes stop and point out that the characters have used up an interaction, that the NPC’s seem to change their attitude or that a roll would be called for if the players press on. So far, I’m very happy with it.

Since I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, I’ll share a single-page handout I prepared based on my thoughts and the lists from On the Non-player Character. You can download it here or in the Library.

The dice tell the Story

Last session, I took one final plunge when it comes to die rolling – I thought it would be a big one, but actually it felt completely natural.

Since about a year I’ve begun rolling almost all rolls in the open; not only does it prevent me from fudging rolls, which I had vowed to stop but found extremely hard after having done so for far too long, but it is also a godsend in a deadly game such as mine. It clearly shows the players that I’m not killing their characters; monsters, traps and a cruel world is.

I held on to three rolls, however – search rolls (which I will keep for mechanical reasons), random encounter checks and rolling to determine which random encounter occurred. All of these still make my “fudging nerve” tickle though; they have a huge effect on game play and pacing. I do everything I can, but those random encounter checks when the party is leaving a dungeon and badly beaten or when we’re close to calling it a night; too hard.

duvanku_diceThe easy solution; open them up. I now simply tell the players it’s time for a check, and have them roll. Normally, they roll one die and the chance for an encounter is 1-in-6; if anything is different, I let them know before the roll. Instead of telling them the risk is greater than 1-in-6, I have them roll more dice; I have some beautiful dice with ornamental “ones” which work great in this situation (next session, the players will learn to fear the dreaded Duvan’Ku Dead Sign since my LotFP dice arrived!). I still determine what the encounter is and how it happens, but they know something is coming (or not, as some random encounters will flee the party, or perhaps just stalk them and wait for them to make camp, which adds even more to the tension).

It felt like a weight off my back. I really can’t recommend open die rolling enough – to everyone.

Miracles big and small

I’ve always liked Clerics. I think part of it is how I was first introduced to non-Swedish RPG:s – it was 2nd Ed AD&D, and I was a complete rookie. I came from the established swedish “It system” which was based on Basic Roleplaying, and concepts such as AC, THAC0 and Saving Throws were completely new to me. I was also new to a lot of the more powerful D&D tropes; the healing cleric, the “thief”, scrolls, trolls… I could make this list as long as my arm. I paid the price gladly, dying and trying again, and I learned pretty quickly. Soon, my own system of choice was AD&D.

The warrior-priest wielding divine spells and wearing heavy armor just stuck with me. It feels like the kind of person you’d want in a gloomy dungeon where death is all around.

With my recent return to my “roots” (not really, I’m going further back, but hey) I’ve started thinking about the cleric class and their brand of magic. One thing I find is that I actually miss the channeling rules from 3rd Ed and onward, which actually made clerics cast something other than healing spells. The other is how ill-suited I think the Vancian system is to clerical magic. Why would a cleric pray each morning and ask for specific “miracles” from his/her deity? The reasonable thing to expect would be that aid is asked and given on the spot. “The foul undead approach! I call upon Spindleman the Preserver to ward them off.” (Turn Undead is a spell in LotFP)

I’m thus going to introduce the following rules in my campaign, on a trial basis:

  1. Clerics do not need to prepare spells; they are able to cast a number of spells per day and per spell level as specified in the Rulebook, but may choose which spells to cast when casting.
    1. A slot for a higher level spell may be used to instead cast a lower level spell, but the “excess” is lost
    2. The spell to be cast must still be specified at the start of a combat round
  2. Clerics must still pray in the morning, in order to restore their faith and ask penance from their deity for wielding its power. The time spent is determined by the spells cast the previous day.
  3. Clerics must use the powers of their deity with scrutiny and care; they are not employing their own power (or at least, they do not believe they are, depending on your take on clerics). When praying for new spells, roll 3D6 + the highest level spell slot used the previous day – Wis modifier and check the table below.
    1. The player of the Cleric may choose to apply a modifier of -1 to this roll if he/she considers the use of holy magic the previous day especially justified, such as being used to destroy the undead if worshipping a God of Light or to slaughter elven babies if worshipping the Vile Deity.
    2. The DM may choose to do the same, making the total modifier up to -2.

The table below will probably need some tweaks after I’ve seen it in action, but I think it has about the severity I’m looking for; something that might be an annoyance if spells are used carelessly, but rarely something that spells disaster.

Roll

Prayer effect

≤15

Succor; all non-withheld spell slots regained

16

1st level spell slot withheld; roll again

17

2nd level (or highest) spell slot withheld; roll again

18

3rd level (or highest) spell slot withheld; roll again

19

Highest level spell slot withheld; roll again

≥20

Penance; all spell slots withheld

What is a Specialist?

I’ve played a couple of specialized Magic-Users while playing AD&D and 3rd edition D&D. I liked the concept in a way, but at the same time it always felt a bit like min-maxing; the benefits of a specialist in the regular D&D rules were always far greater than the drawbacks.

What I find strange is that this should be some sort of sub-class. Specialized magic-users are defined by one thing; the kind of magic they use. This option, however, is completely open to a “normal” magic-user. Want to be an illusionist? Learn a lot of illusion spells and use them as your preferred weapon of choice. To my mind, that makes you an illusionist.

I do like the general idea that a magic-user would choose to specialize in a type of spells, though. A mixture of circumstances, personality and availability should probably influence the spell repertoire of all magic-users, and some would naturally choose a more narrow path. They research new spells within their chosen field and attract apprentices with the same focus, and gradually an entire school, cult or college might be founded.

I use specialized mages in my game, but I do it in this way; they have access to unique spells (as in distinct from those in the regular rulebook) but that access is not restricted by rules but by circumstance. Sometimes a special pact or action is required to harness their type of magic. Sometimes, casting the spells themselves leaves a mark on the caster which will over time set them apart from others. Most times, it is simply a matter of finding someone to teach you the specific magic, which might require membership in a specific order or living by some kind of code.

  • The dreaded Necromancer is nothing more (or less) than a mage who seeks knowledge of the undead and learns spells which let him create and control them, but among these twisted souls knowledge of some powerful and forbidden rituals are passed.
  • The Viper Mages of Al’Kulia fuel their unique spells with the venom they must constantly saturate their blood with, and the marks this leaves on their body strikes fear into all inhabitants of the Khalifate of Imrah.
  • The Fire Walkers live ascetic lives and strive for bodily perfection in order to master the difficult somatic components of their unique brand of spells which harness fire and heat.
  • The Order of the Seven Secrets is a society of mages who share a few unique spells used for scrying, but which most importantly teaches a special ritual which opens a portal to a sealed fortress in the Astral to which only order members have access.

I’ve prepared one special example where the drawbacks are very much tangible – the heretics who learn the spells from the Liber Heresiac, either to protect themselves from the prosecutions of the Trinity Church or because they resent the church for some other reason. Casting these spells will mark you as a target for the church, but the spells themselves are potent weapons to use against those of the faith.

You can take a look at the Liber Heresiac here or find it in the Library.

Bleed them dry!

It feels like many OSR campaigns, especially in games where treasure equates XP, there is often a growing problem with the characters amassing a huge amount of wealth. We’ve run into this issue in my games a couple of times as well, and I’ve thought about it. I don’t think this is necessarily always a problem, although it can be, and I don’t think there is a universal solution, but I’ve put some new rules and tools in place to deal with it.

  • I’ve created a banking system in my world, which lets the characters stash wealth but which also charges 10% on both deposits and withdrawals. This means that those players who don’t want to invest their money in real-estate and really just don’t want the bother have an option, but it’s costly.
  • I use the simply awesome Carousing rules from Roles, Rules and Rolls. Usually, I fidget with things when I import them into my campaign, but these were just added straight off.
  • I’ve made one-use magic items available for the right price; they are, after all, entirely craftable by Magic-Users in LotFP and thus it stands to reason that they should be available on the market, but at rather inflated prices. This seems to be a very effective method. Most adventurers would rather have a couple of healing potions than a couple of thousand coins in the bank.
  • I don’t shy away from ridding the characters of their wealth through random events; bandit attacks, thieves in the night, what have you. It has to be about something other than GM Fiat, though; I don’t simply want to take away what they’ve rightfully gained because I want to.
  • I enforce costs of living strictly, and I try to emphasize what these mean. If you live in a common room and eat slop, you’re really slumming it and doing this with a pocket full of gold is both not very appropriate for many characters and possibly downright dangerous.

Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coins

When it comes to costs of living, I’ve prepared a chart which draws the basic prices from the LotFP rulebook but aggregates this per week and also establishes some basic risks and rewards for choosing different lifestyles. It is still a work in progress, but you can download it here or in the Library.

D6 ability checks

I’ve been a bit back-and-forth about ability checks in my game since it started; I want to let Skills shine as much as possible, and I also don’t want to tie up the action with too many rolls. There are, however, a number of situations where an Ability Check is not only reasonable, but feels appropriate.

The classic ability check is, of course, rolled with a D20; I’ve used the method myself for many years. I see nothing inherently wrong with it, but I’ve also always felt that it integrates poorly with the other mechanics of LotFP; the D20 is used in combat and for Saving Throws, the D6 is used for skill checks, and an ability check feels much more akin to a skill check than anything else. Also, I’ve noticed that it encourages taking chances for some reason, maybe because my players are poor statisticians… the solution is obvious (at least to me). Ability checks should be rolled with a D6.

All ability checks I use have a difficulty; a number to be rolled or less on a D6, just like a skill check. That number, however, is also modified by the stat modifier. A standard Dex check thus requires a character to roll 1-3 on a regular D6, and that target number is further modified by the Dex modifier. Statistically (at least with the bonus scale I use), this means you end up with roughly the same chance of success as with D20 against raw stat value.

The actual difficulty is decided by the GM, but I try to set these in advance as much as possible in modules. I also firmly believe that this difficulty should be openly communicated to the players before they attempt the roll, and I try to be clear about what the consequences of failure will be as well. Beyond this, a bonus to the check can be given out for having the right equipment or the right plan; player skill can still kick in here. There is usually between +1 and +3 to the chance of success available. As per normal LotFP checks, if you need a 6 or below to succeed you roll two dice, and a double six fails.

So what’s the point?

For me, apart from aligning with the system, there are several. I find that the D6 makes things very clear to my players; they are acutely aware of their chances of success. Also, modifiers beyond stats become critical, and vying for them becomes a part of the game that encourages creative thinking and ties player skill to the situation.

An example:

Our three intrepid adventurers reach a pitch-black chasm, over which a slippery stone bridge reaches. Crossing this bridge is an excellent example of a Dex check in my game; it is not reactive (Saving Throw) and is not a trained Skill, but there is a clear risk of failure (at least if you are in a rush, as we shall see). I tell the players right away that crossing requires a Dex check at a difficulty of 3 (roll 1-3 on a D6). In the party we have Mr Hobbit (Dex +2), Mr Fighter (Dex +0), Mr Cleric (Dex +0) and Mr Wizard (Dex -2). Clearly, Mr Wizard is a problem, but no player really wants to cross. What to do?

My players sorted this out the following way:

1. Break out the 50′ rope and tie it around Mr Halfling. Mr Fighter and Mr Cleric hold the rope and brace themselves.
2. Mr Halfling crosses with the rope, needs 1-5 on a D6 and rolls a 4. Success!
3. Mr Halfling ties the rope on the other side, the players argue this should make crossing trivial (+3) and I agree.
4. Since there is still a slim risk for failure, Mr Cleric crosses with the group’s second rope across his waist, He rolls 2D6, and since both don’t show up as 6’s he crosses safely.
5. The second rope is tossed over and tied around the waist of Mr Fighter, and he proceeds to cross safely.
6. Mr Wizard unties the first rope, ties it around his waist and wobbles over (needing a 1 to succeed, as he has no rope to hold on to). Unsurprisingly, he drops, but the other three characters can easily brace themselves and haul him onto the opposite ledge.

There is a case to be made for not requiring any rolls to cross the chasm, but I find that these kinds of situations engage my players and are interesting to them and I know others do as well. Also, if there had been time pressure, perhaps there would have been more risk-taking which also gets the adrenaline pumping.

This same situation could probably have been handled similarly with D20 ability checks, but for some reason I really appreciate the clarity of this method.