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.

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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.

Class Guilds

I’ve been taking a look at different organizations in my campaign world recently – it all started when my players asked me for a bank or other solution for storing excess money. I’m not a big fan of this, and I’d rather see them spend their money, but I also believe in taking your players’ wishes seriously so I made some outlines for a punishingly expensive way of storing excessive wealth…

Working out the quick details about the bank, my rogue player asked me “well, what if I wanted to keep my money with the thieves’ guild?”. Part of his back story was that he was an actual member of the local guild, but we hadn’t determined anything about it yet. It was a good idea, however, and I let him use his guild as a bank at a lower rate.

The whole thing got me thinking, and also reminiscing about old computer games and adventures – where are the Fighter’s Guild and Mage’s Guild? I guess they fell by the wayside somewhere along with actually speaking of character class in-game, but I still love the concept. I started tinkering with the idea, and developed a few concepts for what these guilds might be and what benefits they might offer to members.

My first is a take on the Fighter’s Guild; the Condumbra, an association for mercenaries and sell-swords meant mostly to take contracts and ensure that contracts are honored in a realm where the rule of law is not always a given. It is also a primary source for armed hirelings for characters, and membership ensures that you can recruitthese more effectively.

You can take a look at the Fighter’s Guild PDF here, or find it in the Library.

The Oath of the Guild is “borrowed” word-for-word from the beautiful and simple hireling rules written by Telecanter on his blog, and the rules for hirelings are also heavily inspired by his system.

Occam’s Greatsword

I have many good things to say about Lamentations of the Flame Princess (as I’m sure is evident from ny blog), but there is one very simple mechanism in particular for balancing out classes that I think is not only good but a stroke of genius. In LotFP, fighters are the only class to get an incremental bonus to hit as they level.

Why is this so smart? Well, it is the elegance that does it. Many systems have tried to fix the perceived problem that fighters are a boring class without an edge. The attempts do have some merit, but all solutions I’ve encountered are not to my taste or fit very poorly into the general OSR “feel”.

Let’s have a look at three common solutions, all of which have been used in other iterations of the D&D ruleset.

  • Feats and Powers are one way to make fighters more diverse; give them their own superpowers! Apart from making both combat and character generation more complicated and balancing even harder, these also limit all other characters. After all, if there are special powers to accomplish all kinds of tactics and moves, why should those without these powers be allowed to attempt these feats?
  • Weapon specialization is perhaps my least favorite solution, especially combined with a weapon list which favors certain weapons mechanics-wise. It only serves to make fighters even more clones of each other, and keep them as such through the levels.
  • Weapon and armor restrictions also feel very crude to me, and seem to be the wrong approach to the problem. These are tools; warriors should be experts in their use, not simply get some sort of union-brokered exclusivity.

In comparison, increasing the base To Hit score for fighters relative to other classes gives them a clear edge in combat, which improves over time as other classes gain other powers. It also meshes perfectly with OSR mechanics, where tactics, rulings and improvisation are important; no matter what, rolls to hit opponents are almost always going to be made in a fight. In addition, this rule will also work well with most other house rules and adjustments.

The balancing of the four basic classes is excellent in LotFP overall, mostly because they are kept so clean and simple. Admittedly, in my slight class revision (which I will post details on here, eventually), I have given dwarves and elves the option of gaining a couple of points of To Hit bonus, but this is limited to roughly +1 per 4 levels at the cost of the only skill points they get to develop other abilities and mainly meant to give these characters some slight flavor.

Delving in the Dale

I’ve decided to start this unassuming blog about my OSR escapades mostly for myself; I enjoy writing, and I find that it helps me focus my thoughts. An archive of thoughts, ramblings and house rules is also always fun to have, and should it prove an interesting read for anyone else… well, no harm done!

About a year ago, I found a copy of Lamentations of the Flame Princess sitting on a shelf in one of the local gaming stores in my native Stockholm. Having spent a lot of time playing both editions of AD&D as well as some D&D growing up, I had something of a shock when I picked it up and started reading – is it still OK to play this way? I’m sure many readers are familiar with the wave of nostalgia that washed over me.

Needless to say, I bought that copy and went home to read it. Mr Raggi’s narrative is a very fun read, although I’m glad it wasn’t my first time around or it might have felt a bit overwhelmed. Things were, however, still the way I remembered them. I downloaded a number of other “Retro Clones”, among them Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry and Dungeon Crawl Classics, but with time it turned out I had struck gold the first time around.

After a bit of planning I had my starting point; a “gaming world” described with nothing more than a hex map and a short description of some of its major religions, and a slightly more detailed description of a place called Windfare Dale. I was ready to try out this crazy old-school on my players – a group of complete rookies in the RPG world as well as veterans of many game systems but newcomers to classic Dungeon Delving!