Sep 13, 2019

OD&D session

I had the opportunity to run an original D&D game for some folks a month or so back. I ran the game as vanilla as I could - we used CHAINMAIL for initiative and round structure and I used the weapon vs armor type rules from the Greyhawk supplement for the alternate combat system, but otherwise I ran the system straight from the original Men & Magic.

It was fun - the players were a mix of those familiar with the older rules and those who'd only played 5th edition. I like my house rules like anyone else, but for a one-shot (it ended up being a two-shot but was designed as a single session) I thought it would be more fun to keep it as close to what was written in that little booklet as I could.

For ability generation, I had everyone (I had six players) roll 3d6, and we recorded the results. I then rolled 3d6 and replaced the lowest result with what I had rolled. Everyone could then use this array in whatever order they wanted for their characters.

Virtually everyone took the 15, the highest roll at the table, and put it in Constitution, though I did have a player choose Charisma instead. The fact that the prime requisites don't do anything other than adjust the rate of experience gained made it easier for characters to look at using their highest rolls for abilities that give them mechanical benefits such as an extra hit per hit dice, a +1 to ranged attacks, or even a better reaction roll, than for simply making a fighter with a high strength, a wizard with a high intelligence, and so forth. At first level, where everyone had to roll their first hit die, min/maxing consisted of picking Constitution as the best ability.

For equipment, I used the OD&D equipment lists from (now) Necropraxis, which helped speed the character creation process up. I still had a couple of players who wanted to generate their starting gold in the traditional manner and purchase it, but the lists were appreciated by most.

One potential 'house-rule' that I used was in the interpretation of the 'withstands adversity' entry for Constitution. Rather than having a player die when reduced to 0, I allowed anyone to roll a d20 for a 'death save' instead. One of the characters was dropped to 0 as he tried to run past a line of crossbow-armed highwaymen. As a 15 Constitution has the 'withstands adversity' entry, I told the player he only had a 5% chance to actually be dead, and let him choose the number that would represent a failure. Unfortunately for him, he chose 20 and rolled a 20, so his poor magic-user ended up dead. For other another character who had been reduced to 0, they were able to limp along and continue adventuring, with the understanding that they would be killed if they were hit again for damage.
For anyone interested, here is a summary of the rules and interpretations I used:

  • The table rolled the stats using 3D6, and were allowed to arrange that array as desired
  • The encumbrance and movement rules from Men & Magic were used
  • Elves were allowed to start the session as either Magic-User or Fighter (player's choice)
  • The Alternate Combat System (the d20 method) was used, with adjustments made for weapon vs armor type (from the Greyhawk supplement)
  • No player character or hireling has darkvision, regardless of race. The players were told to presume that every monster, regardless of type, could be presumed to see in the dark
  • Players rolled their character's first hit die
  • Any character reduced to 0 rolled a 'death save', a % score based on their Constitution
  • Turn structure and initiative were used from CHAINMAIL
  • Elves were allowed to split move and fire, per CHAINMAIL

Oct 22, 2018

Changes to the d20 mechanic to fit the Moldvay Basic style

This is Part 1 of an ongoing series - the introduction and table of contents can be found here.

In order to bend the D&D Third Edition rules into the tiny box that holds my re-imagined Moldvay Basic, the biggest change is probably going to be to the core d20 mechanic. There will be other changes, but this one will affect the way attacks, skill checks, and saving throws are handled so it's probably the most important.

For the solution, I propose this set of AC/DC (for Armor Class/Difficulty Class) tables. Will they work? I have no idea. The idea is to provide one table for characters and their associated NPCs, and another for "monsters" (which is the game definition of any NPC not under the control of the players).

Here's the table for the Characters to use:
CharacterAC / DC
Normal Man11121314151617181920202020
4th +08091011121314151617181920

Any time a character or one of their NPCs makes an attack, needs to make a save, or to do something that you deem requires a roll, you consult this table and look up the appropriate number along the top to find the result. One could adjust the table to cover AC 10-20, or expand it higher if you want high level DCs -- I based this table straight off the Moldvay Character Attacks table on page B27. It's not groundbreaking, but remember that all characters use this table, regardless of class. Later on I will talk about using feats or class abilities to modify this, but this is the core combat/save/skill check engine.

Now, for monsters, it's going to be more involved. Even though we're limiting characters to only two stages of advancement (or three if you count their NPCs) Monsters can have 17 hit dice or more. Of course, if you want a really gritty game with lots of rolling you can use the Character AC/DC table, but let's look at how the Monster AC/DC table looks:
Monster'sAC \ DC
Hit Dice11121314151617181920212223
Up to 110111213141516171819202020
1+ to 209101112131415161718192020
2+ to 308091011121314151617181920
3+ to 407080910111213141516171819
4+ to 506070809101112131415161718
5+ to 605060708091011121314151617
6+ to 704050607080910111213141516
7+ to 903040506070809101112131415
9+ to 1102030405060708091011121314
11+ to 1302020304050607080910111213
13+ to 1502020203040506070809101112
15+ to 1702020202030405060708091011
17+ or more02020202020304050607080910

No surprises here, though I never noticed the 2-HD bump beginning with monsters who had 7+ HD. I suppose if you wanted to have an "overpowered" Basic-style game you could use this table for characters, but I rather like the fact that a 10th level Fighter is going to be significantly outmatched in terms of to-hit capability when compared to a 10 HD monster.

Now, I am assuming with this system that we will use the standard 3E trio of saves - Fortitude, Reflex, and Will, along with the character bonuses to those saves based on level and a target DC. Maybe you prefer the increased granularity of the old save system, and/or you prefer to not have your character's saves increase, beyond a +2 bump at 4th level, and you don't want to use DCs? Let's see how an adapted Saving Throw table might look:
DC for Type of Attack
CharacterDeath RayMagicParalysis orDragonRods,
Classor PoisonWandsTurn to StoneBreathStaves, or Spells
Normal Man1415161717
The asterisks next to the Dwarf/Halfling and Elf entries are if you are aiming for a race-as-class style game.

This table should be pretty straightforward - the number is the DC that the character will need to meet or exceed in order to save against the particular hazard. Just be sure to use the correct level (1-3, or 4+) if you use this. It doesn't exactly line up with the old table (you would just use the number above as the target rather than the DC if you wanted that) found on B26, but it still reflects the variety of saves for each class and improves with the jump at 4th level. If you just use the old table as-is, characters of level 4+ gain a +2 bonus to their saving throw rolls.

I will talk more about classes in a later installment, but clearly most of the 13 classes in the Third Edition player's handbook aren't directly represented above. One question about using the five-fold saves above is whether it would be better to consolidate the classes, a'la Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (i.e., Fighters, Paladins, and Rangers all use the Fighter entry), or to expand them. For me, I'll just use the 3E-style saves but I thought it would be interesting to look at the old system and think how to adapt a newer system to use the old saves.

That's it for this installment - In my next installment I'll look at characters - races, classes, abilities, and so forth.

Oct 21, 2018

Basic 3E - Merging the 1981 Red Book and 2000 Third Edition

This all started because I had a strange idea that resulted from a conversation with someone - what would it be like to play a game using only Moldvay Basic -  not by capping the character levels at 3, but instead capping the spells, saves, and attack progressions to what's printed in the 1981 version of the Basic rules. Moldvay Basic has information on Cleric and Magic-User/Elf spell slots and Hit Dice to 6th level (though listed as for NPCs), as well as the attack matrix and save adjustments for characters level 4+.
The articles in this series won't be so much about clear-cut rules, but mainly my musing on how to go about bringing this idea of a Basic-style game and merging it with the parts of the Third Edition rules that I like. Hopefully this will mean that someone who likes the basic conceit but uses a different edition (revised 3E, Pathfinder, or whatever) can use these as a springboard to develop their own.
The way I envision the outline of this series is as follows (I will update this post with the link and title when the appropriate article has been posted):

My hope is by the end of the series I'll have a working system that I can coalesce into a document no larger than the size of the 1981 Basic book - 64 US Letter or A4 sized pages. Fingers crossed!

Oct 8, 2017

Alternate Magic system for Wizards

I've been thinking of wizard spells being affected by the specialization school of the wizard, rather than being a generic effect duplicated by every wizard who casts the spell. I'm working from the spell schools as defined in 3rd edition and later, though it could be applied to older versions of D&D as well. For example, Magic Missile effects would vary by the caster's focus:

  • Abjuration: Target of each missile must save or be stunned for (caster level) rounds. Each missile above the first to hit a single target increases the save difficulty by 1.
  • Conjuration: Caster chooses heavy darts or nets at the time of casting.
    • Darts: Targets are hit for 1d4+1 damage per missile.
    • Nets: Targets are entangled for (caster level) rounds. Each additional missile to hit a single target increases the duration of the entangled condition by 1 round.
  • Divination: Targets are automatically hit for 5 damage for each missile.
  • Enchantment: Target of each missile must be saved or be fascinated for (caster level) round. Each missile above the first to hit a single target increases the duration by 1 round.
  • Evocation: choose fire or ice at time of casting. 
    • Fire: Target must save or catch fire; each missile above the first to hit a single target increases the save difficulty by 1.
    • Ice: Target must save or be slowed for (caster level) rounds. Each missile above the first to hit a single target increases the duration by 1 round.
  • Illusion: Target must save or be struck unconscious. Each missile above the first to hit a single target increases the duration by 1.
  • Necromancy: Target must save or have STR or CON (caster's choice) temporarily reduced by 2 for (caster level) rounds. Each additional missile adds 1 to the reduction, and 1 round to duration.
  • Transmutation: Target must save or be transmogrified into a small, harmless animal (chicken, mouse, etc. - caster's choice) for (caster level) rounds. Each additional missile above the first to hit a single target increases the save difficulty by 1.
  • In cases where a saving throw is required, a target that makes a save takes 2 damage per missile that hits instead.
This will obviously require some re-working of the wizard's spell list, to eliminate duplication of effects. Keep in mind not all spells will be usable by all wizard specialists.

Jul 18, 2017

Simple(ish) Social interaction for d20

The next time I run a d20-based game, I'm going to try this relatively simple social hack my partner and I came up with for players interacting with NPCs. This system should work with just about any d20-based system. The examples below are based on Moldvay B/X and compatibles, but with a little modification should work with AD&D, 3E/Pathfinder, 4E, 5E, and so on.

  1. Referee first determines the disposition of the NPC or group of NPCs (target) the players want to interact with. This is done with a standard 2d6 reaction roll.
  2. Presuming parley is possible, the referee generates a Coercion/Persuasion spectrum for the target by rolling 3d6, and using the modifier determination method for their system. Negative modifiers represent susceptibility to coercion, and positive modifiers represent susceptibility to persuasion. An example using the Moldvay Basic rules:
  3. ScoreSpectrum
    3+3 Coercion / -3 Persuasion
    4-5+2 Coercion / -2 Persuasion
    6-8+1 Coercion / -1 Persuasion
    9-12No susceptibility
    13-15+1 Persuasion / -1 Coercion
    16-17+2 Persuasion / -2 Coercion
    18+3 Persuasion / -3 Coercion
  4. Players desiring something from the target then attempts to convince the target to provide what the player wants by either using coercion or persuasion. The player states the method (coerce or persuade), and gives a general explanation of the action the character takes.
  5. The referee determines the appropriate ability (if any) that might apply, and the player rolls a d20 vs the Moldvay Basic rules combat table (reproduced below; p.B27), applying the bonus/penalty as determined by their choice of coercion or persuasion, plus any relevant ability modifier. Note that this table should be used even if the players are using the Expert rules to keep such interactions challenging for higher level characters. The disposition number becomes the armor class number on the table. Any results higher than 9 are treated as 9, and results lower than 2 are treated as 2, just to keep things simple.
  6. CharacterDisposition roll
    Level9+8765432 -
  7.  If the d20 roll +/- spectrum modifier +/- ability modifier (if any) is equal to or greater than the number on the table, the target will (perhaps grudgingly) acquiesce.
  8. If the players simply want to alter the disposition of the target, they can attempt it by following the same procedure. On a success, the disposition score improves by 1 (up to a maximum of 12).
There is room to tinker here beyond simply adapting for a particular ruleset; some possibilities:
  • One could extend the disposition roll out on either end instead of compressing the high and low ranges,
  • The referee could invert the disposition number if the players attempt to improve the disposition of the target, requiring a harder roll to improve it,
  • Results don't necessarily need to be binary - it should be easy for a referee to incorporate degrees of success or failure based on the roll's proximity to the target number, 
  • The referee could instead use a fixed target number for specific actions.
Credit goes to The Discordian for the initial idea and helping me hash it out, and to the BreeYark article How to Use a B/X Combat Matrix for Everything for the (brilliantly simple) idea of using the Basic Combat Matrix.