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.

Item breakage in Pits & Perils

I like resource management; I think that’s been made fairly obvious on this blog (consider for example the latest post about Hits in P&P). So far, however, I’ve not included item breakage; I didn’t find a system I found suitable since I want things to move fast at the table when the dice are rolling. Now, however, I think I finally got the formula about right, at least for Pits & Perils and its 2D6 mechanics.

As usual, there’s a lot of inspiration here from a number of seriously good blogs (in this case, check out Last Gasp Grimoire’s rules section and also Necropraxis). These systems are also thought-out for a D20 game, which may suit many of you better.

Now, on to the mechanics. Very much intentionally, they build upon using rolls already being made in the system; this has been a requirement from the get-go. Adding “durability rolls” was something I really wanted to steer clear of, especially in the middle of combat. Also, note that these are not limited to weapons and armor; any reusable tools can break, like a crowbar, lock picks or a rope.

BREAKAGE

Breakage is the term for when an item’s quality worsens by one step. This occurs when the item is used and a natural “2” is rolled (snake eyes). If the item is FRAGILE (in my game, this is a property given to improvised weapons, most spears and clubs and some similar items), then this range is increased by one to a natural 2-3. If the item is of POOR quality (see below), the same thing occurs, and thus an item where both these factors are true will suffer a further deterioration on a roll of 2-4.

For armor and other passively used items, breakage occurs in a slightly different way; the breakage range is reversed. Thus, if a creature wearing armor is attacked with a roll of a natural 12, the quality of that armor is reduced by one step. Otherwise, the process is identical. When using a shield AND wearing armor, the affected character chooses which item is reduced in quality unless he/she has an item which is fragile or in POOR condition; in that case, the increased breakage range is applied and that item must be chosen to deteriorate.

QUALITY

The quality of an item is broken down into four levels.

QUALITY DESCRIPTION
High Of superior workmanship, magical item.
Normal Standard, undamaged item.
Poor Worn, damaged, bent, bad workmanship. +1 to Breakage range.
Broken Useless, reduced to pieces. Repair or reforging may be possible (GM’s call).

REPAIRING

Repairing an item up to its original quality (improving quality generally is a more complicated matter, usually handled best by buying a new item) is a Non-combat action which requires the right skill or access to a blacksmith, clothier or similar NPC which will normally be considered skilled at the process. The exakt time requirement, difficulty and cost is outlined below.

QUALITY REQUIREMENTS
FROM TO TOOLS TIME MATERIALS
Broken Poor Workshop or smithy Days/weeks 1/10 of item’s value
Poor Normal Craft tools Turns/hours (camp) Normally none
Normal High Workshop or smithy Hours/days 1%%/100 of item’s value

For magical items, the requirements would probably be more complicated; so far, the situation hasn’t arisen, but I think having a Magician’s workshop becomes an additional requirement as per above, and there would probably be an additional fee to pay for his/her help.

Hit Points (once again)

The discussion about Hit Points seems to be never ending among those of us who play D&D; are they stamina, luck, injuries, skill? I’m not too worried with the discussion, actually; they are a resource which wards off death, and although that might sound dry that suffices for me as a GM. I do not, however, like all aspects of how that resource is managed. The all-or-nothing approach of most D&D versions is simple, but adds little of interest to managing wounds and risk. I’ve toyed with other versions, but so far I’ve been very hesitant because most solutions add complexity to combat, which (although fairly simple in LotFP) tends to be the most mechanical part of the game.

Then I started reading up on and planning a campaign in Pits & Perils, and the match with my concept system was suddenly far better! The lower amount of Hit Points (or simply Hits, here) makes the math work much better, at least to me. Most concepts in this system would probably work with D&D as well, though. I went ahead and included rules for being Felled (struck down to zero Hits or below); I myself don’t mind making that mean certain death, but my players are soft this way…

So, here goes; my system. This is how it has been used so far in my Pits & Perils game, which does not mean any in-depth playtesting, but my players have been very positive. Any commentary on my side is done in italics.

woodcut1

Hits versus Wounds

If a character rests after having lost a number of Hits, she will be able to recover from half of them. The remainder, however, are converted into Wounds. These are more long-lasting injuries, exhaustion and other ailments that will not be cured by a simple rest. For game purposes, resting a Turn (10 rounds) without interruption allows a character to remove all Hits suffered. However, half of these Hits (rounded down) are converted into Wounds. These Wounds are noted alongside Hits suffered on the character sheet, and for all intents and purposes count as damage in the same way as Hits do; they are only different in matters of recovery, as they are not affected by a simple rest.

This does add complexity, and tracking two numbers. The benefit is that any calculations are done after combat, not while combat is happening. Also, the math is pretty simple. And yes, it’s possible to “game” this system by resting only when you’ve suffered an odd number of Hits; that’s intentional, and also slightly risky.

Recovering Wounds

A character will recover 1 Wound from a full night’s uninterrupted rest. For this to be possible on the road, the camp must be well set by a competent Outdoorsman. If a character rests a full day in a bed or in similar environs (a wilderness camp will not do for these purposes), 2 Wounds can be recovered per day. These recovery rates assume that a full ration can be consumed and that water is available. A spellcaster’s HEAL spell will cure Wounds, but will always first cure any suffered Hits (thus making magical healing more effective if used in the calm after a fight, although that is not always a tactical option).

This recovery rate is fairly quick, because I like it that way, but it could be tweaked to be far worse for a realistic approach, especially if you’re not going to use the Injury rules below.

Death and dismemberment

For any but the most important NPCs or monsters, suffering damage from Hits and/or Wounds totaling more than your Total Hits means death. For PCs, and possibly key persona as determined by the GM, this need not be the case; they are simply Felled. A character which is Felled is out of the action completely for the duration of the encounter. If her companions flee or retreat, then she is at the mercy of the enemy and may or may not be revived (usually, she will instead be eaten). Otherwise, a character can be revived once the immediate danger is over, which takes one Turn. A notable exception is if the character is slain by immolation, disintegration or other similarly destructive means (at the GM’s adjudication) or if the damage was too severe (beyond 3 more than Total Hits).

When a character is revived, she must roll 2D6 on the Felled table below to determine her fate. She must deduct one from her roll for each point of damage she has suffered beyond her Total Hits (if any). If revived using magical healing, she modifies the roll with the difference between her total damage and her Total Hits after the spell has taken effect (positive or negative).

Now, these rules do add complexity, although once again only outside of combat. They can also serve to make magical healing or a Cleric even more important; whether that is a good or bad thing.

FELLED TABLE
2D6 RESULT
-5 Slain
6-7 Dismemberment
8 Grievous injury (4 IP)
9 Severe injury (3 IP)
10 Bad injury (2 IP)
11 Fleshwound (1 IP)
12+ Fine

woundman

After revival, the character counts as having Rested as per the rules above, with half the Hits suffered converted into Wounds.

INJURY POINTS (IP) represent serious injuries; they count as Wounds and thus towards total damage. More importantly, they also give the character a negative modifier to any roll made which requires physical activity or concentration equal to one per IP, hamper movement rate på 10′ per IP (meaning armor may sometimes need to be removed) and raise the cost of any Magician spells by +1 SP per IP. Injuries resulting in IP take a very long time to heal; a character must spend at least one month in complete rest per point for them to go away. A Cleric can remedy the situation a lot faster, but a casting of the HEAL spell still only removes one single Injury Point.

DISMEMBERMENT represents permanent injury of some sort. For starters, they come with a Grievous Injury (4 IP) representing time needed to recover from them, but they also require a roll on the table below. In the case of odd injury sources (acid, fire etc) the GM will have to adapt the result below to make it fit the fiction (but the effect should remain the same). Severed legs are assumed to be replaced in some fashion, for arms/hands this is more optional.

DISMEMBERMENT TABLE
2D6 RESULT PERMANENT EFFECT
2 Ruptured lung -1 to all physical activity
3 Severed leg -20′ Movement, -1/-2 to certain rolls (GM’s call)
4 Severed foot -10′ Movement
5 Shattered bones Lose 2 Total Hits
6 Lasting ache Lose 1 Total Hit
7 Scarring Distinctive feature
8 Lost fingers -1 to Fine Manipulation (lockpicks, stealing etc)
9 Lost eye -1 to Missile Attack Dice and Searching
10 Severed hand Only 1h weapons, shield still OK
11 Severed arm Only 1h weapons, -1/-2 to certain rolls (GM’s call)
12 Skull crack -1 to all social/mental rolls, +1 SP cost for Magician

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.

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.

Encounters

There seem to be as many ways to handle “Encounters” (and actually, even some discrepancies regarding what such a thing entails) as there are Dungeon Masters, and so far I’ve been running it a inconsistently; partly because I’ve been exploring different options together with my players, and partly because I’ve been… well, inconsistent.

Time to formalize things. I’ve been looking at different approaches to surprise, initiative and associated rules and I’ve created this simple 1-page flowchart to show my players. It is heavily influenced by the sequence from d20swsrd found here, and also introduces group initiative and surprise as a slight change to the basic LotFP rules. I love the rules for declaring spells at the onset of combat; it really creates tension around successfully casting them and shows just how important allies and defense is for spellcasters – especially Magic Users.

I also add a couple of rules of my own:

Sitting Duck
I agree that casters should be in serious trouble if they try to cast spells in melee, and the Concentration skill and “combat casting” and all that it added to 3rd edition D&D isn’t really to my tastes. I do think, however, that you should be allowed to try – I don’t like a rule that says “you cant cast spells if engaged in melee”. Instead, I give each opponent that has not yet attacked and which is engaged with a spellcaster a chance to take his/her attack before the spell goes off; just a single point of damage will disrupt the spell. This is in addition to spell declaration at the start of the turn, and I think this opens up a lot of interesting tactical choices – both for caster PCs and when combatting spellcasting enemies.

Better part of Valor
Disengaging can get messy, and I wanted to keep this as simple as possible; let those who have remaining move follow a person who disengages. This is an uncomplicated simulation of the fact that movement in combat is still more or less simultaneous; if you move 60′ per round and your opponent does the same, then you will remain beside each other – to change this, you need allies, clever tactics or to increase your movement speed somehow (such as by running).

You can find a PDF of the flowchart here, or in the Library.

Spell Gems

I’ve been toying with some thoughts about the “Vancian Magic” system of D&D; having come back to this grandmother of all games recently, I still love the simplicity of it, but it has its limitations and since I’m currently playing with lower-level groups many of them are rearing their ugly heads…

I did try to give some more options to the Magic-User through my Weird Magic system, and I like the risk and randomness this system adds to the mix. I did however also like some thoughts on G+ (by mr Greg Christopher) about spells as equipment and the various trade-offs between placing powers in gear as opposed to attaching them to certain characters.

I’ve come up with an option that I will start playing around with in my current campaign; it’s not terribly intrusive, and could be cleared out if it doesn’t work well enough, but I like the feel of it. Basically, it allows wizards the option to buy Spell Gems, items that let them cast their memorized spells without losing them from their memory. The price is hefty (about 1 000 sp/gp, depending on your standard, per spell level they are able to supply) and availability is still under the control of the GM. They cannot be crafted in the same way as scrolls and potions – they are craftable, but require investment in a Gem Cutting skill which means only specialists can do the work without significant loss of materials.

gem_ruby

An item like this serves as a complement to scrolls; it seems more powerful, but there is a deceptive difference – scrolls expand the repertoar of the wizard, since he/she can still use scrolls with unmemorized spells. These gems empower the wizard to cast more spells per day, but only from his selected setup of memorized formulae.

I took the chance to add a more traditional magic item in the form of an Elven Spell Gem as well, while I was at it – more or less same function, but rechargeable (and, of course, effectively priceless due to it).

This still needs some playtesting, but the document so far can be downloaded here and in the Library. I’ll get back to this after I’ve tried it out some more.

Weird Magic

I’ve played around with mechanisms for spell retention many times since I first began playing AD&D a long time ago; my first attempts were very clumsy, and later I developed a system of spell points which was ridiculously complicated and required me to rewrite and modify almost every spell. Needless to say, they were all tossed out eventually.

This system is, to me, far more elegant and also a bit more chaotic, which I think fits the Old School feel much better. It is a deceptively risky system, utilized rarely by my players since they’ve gotten to know it more closely; the minor damage suffered can be devastating for a lower-level wizard, and at higher level the risks increase drastically.

The fact that the entire rule can fit on one page, and that I’ve playtested it with good results for a while, means I wanted to share it here.

You can find the Weird Magic rules in this document or in the Library.

Have a sip!

I love potions. I love all one-use magic items, and I dole them out a lot more than I do magical weapons or armor. Why? Because they don’t give a flat, everlasting “bump” to the players’ power level which they soon get used to and bored with, and they encourage thinking and resource management.

Recently, my players asked me to create some rules for making an attempt to identify a potion “on the fly” by using the classical method of simply sampling it. I’ve allowed this in earlier campaigns, but never really codified how it should work, and it was about time!

Basically, the rules allow a character to identify the general purpose of the potion, but at the risk of “suffering” its effects (whether good or bad) or ruining it somehow. I based it on the premise that a potion is a rather disgusting mix och unsavory and unhealthy ingredients that somehow have a magical effect when taken as a whole. Thus, if you accidentally swallow the Eye of Newt swimming in there, you’ve not only made yourself sick, but also turned the remaining potion into nothing but a very disgusting stew…

Sipping a Potion

Potions fall somewhere between mundane items and the more advanced magical items; they usually have a single purpose, and their activation is very simple. Thus, they can be identified “in the field”, especially by someone skilled in the magical arts. The safest method is, still, to take the potion to an Alchemist or other skilled NPC.

To identify a potion in the field, a character must be willing to take a sip from the flask. This carries some risks, but grants the character a roll for the Lore skill to successfully identify the basic effect of the potion, with the amount of details judged by the GM. For a Potion of Flying, the GM might simply say, “you sense that this potion would grant some sort of flight”. The determination of the exact nature and duration of that flight would need an examination by an Alchemist, or that a character is willing to quaff the potion. A bonus of +1 for Deeper Knowledge should be given for this roll to Magic-User characters, but not Elves.

Sipping a potion is a simple action, requiring only one round. There are risks associated with sipping potions, however. If the die rolled for the Lore skill check turns up a 6, the player must make another roll on the table below (note that this might also be a successful identification attempt in some rare circumstances).

D6

Result

1 You Sipped Too Much! The potion takes effect in its entirety upon the sipping character immediately, and is used up.
2-3 You Ruined It! Something in this particular sip was crucial for the function of the potion, and now the entire flask is ruined without any effect.
4-5 Dilution! The potion will now only have half its usual effect. This affects rolled amounts, duration and most other things, susceptible to the DM’s interpretation. If the effect of the potion is very binary, a simple 50 % chance of it taking effect when drunk can instead be used.
6 Barf! This potion was not an appetizing drink to begin with (few potions are, even healing ones), and this particular sip was especially unhealthy. If the potion was dangerous or cursed (such as a poison), you suffer its full effects with a -2 to any Saving Throw. If it was not deadly, you still become violently ill and are stunned for D3 Turns.

New Skills

Adding some skills to the list in LotFP seems to be a popular choice, especially for broadening the scope of the Specialist class. I’ve made some changes myself; I’ve removed one skill, and replaced it with three new ones as well as a loose guideline for adding a secondary skill.

I’ve also made a class revision, which I will present in more detail later, and a part of this revision means that classes other than the specialist get a few skill points as the level (though they have to choose where to spend them based on a restricted class list, while the specialist is still able to increase all skills). These new skills are an attempt to both make specialists able to fill more roles, and to present a couple of skills that can be interesting for other classes.

 

First, the skill that had to go:

Open Doors is, to me, not a skill but a test of strength. You can apply strength bonus to the test, get help and use suitable tools, but I don’t agree with the fact that you can actually spend skill points to learn how to do this better; the task just feels too basic.

Now, for the three new ones:

Lore governs the characters knowledge of most learned subjects, and presents a way for me to introduce some background information into the game. It supplies a lot of flavor, but players can also use it in a number of mechanically relevant ways; it can be used to make rough “identifications” of magical items in the field, such as sipping a potion and testing a weapon. Nothing like an Identify spell, of course, but at least some basics.

Medicine lets a character perform some basic first aid in the field, as well as function as a physician to improve the recovery of fellow characters during downtime.

Riding is for those characters who want their horse (or steed) to be more than a mode of transportation; fighting on horseback, mainly, or riding something other than a horse.

Lastly, characters can take a secondary skill to encompass most anything they want. These are mostly for flavor, however, and must obey two simple rules; they cannot overlap with any of the existing skills, and they must have a narrower scope. Blacksmithing is an excellent secondary skill, “perception” is not.

I’ve created more in-depth rules for these skills, including a closer definition of how and when they are used as well as some lists with situational modifiers – you can find them in this PDF or in the Library.