Friday, November 26, 2010

Roll To Advance

As previously discussed, levels are obtained in a Roll to Advance scheme. Essentially, everyone earns one experience point per session and then rolls against a target number in order to level. Earned experience points modify the roll, as does race and class.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Experience and Character Advancement

Design Goal: Implement an experience system that rewards more than just killing monsters and earning money.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skill Use For Any Character

Design Goal: Create a mechanic for character skills that allows for any class to attempt any skill while still giving Thieves the best chance to succeed.

Skills are a common sticking point when it comes to D&D. Most DMs have tried to tackle the problem of what happens when a fighter wants to move silently or a magic user wants to find traps. The goal here will be to give everyone a baseline chance to attempt a skill, generate some modifiers so that a character with exceptional abilities has that fact reflected in their skills, and still have Thieves be the best at what their class does. We will specifically focus on Thief skills here, but can expand this to other skills as well.


Every skill starts with a base 1 in 6 chance for success. Ability modifiers can be applied at a maximum of +/-1. Racial modifiers apply as detailed in each race's description. Let's develop each skill from there.

Pick Locks. Modified by Dexterity. Any character can attempt if he has lock picks.
Find And Remove Traps*. Modified by Wisdom. This skill is also a catch-all for detection skills. Elves would have a bonus here only if searching for hidden doors, Dwarves only if searching stonework, etc.
Move Silently**: Modified by Dexterity. Penalties due to armor worn apply: light armor -1, medium armor -3, heavy armor -5.
Climb Walls**: Modified by Strength. Penalties due to armor worn apply: light armor -1, medium armor -3, heavy armor -5.
Hide In Shadows: Modified by Dexterity.
Hear Noise: Modified by Wisdom.

For all of the above skills, Thieves receive a +1 bonus every third level. Thieves also have no penalty to their skills when wearing light armor.

We've achieved our Design Goal here, every character now has a chance to perform any skill, there is room for exceptional abilities to play a small role, and Thieves will always be better at these skills in the long run. The choice to add +1 every third thief level is to mimic and linearize the actual wacky %s listed in the Advanced Edition Companion. We sacrifice some granularity to gain some simplicity.

In addition, we roll a mechanic for armor modifiers into skill use. We also open up thieves with an added option to forgo their skills to wear armor, giving them a slightly better chance to survive combat. Of course, that choice still entails throwing away any decent chance at a move silently for a backstab in combat. A very high level thief would be able to even wear medium armor and still have a decent shot at their skills.

* These skills primarily work through character action. For example, if a character uses a pole or staff to prod the ground in front of him, he WILL detect a hole in the ground directly in front of him that is covered by a thin blanket of leaves and twigs. Using a roll is a catch all method for "I look for traps." Similarly, if an object is hidden under a bed, for example, anyone who says "I look under the bed" finds it. A roll for finding hidden items/doors is the catch all for "I search the whole room."

** These skills are modified by common sense. A guard who is napping is easier to sneak past and a rough wall with many hand holds is easier to climb.

Design Goals

So as I've been working through these rule changes in my head and then trying to transcribe them into words, I inevitably get halfway through a post and ask myself "Why?" I am having a hard time giving myself a really good answer.

Some ideas would make for nice alternative rules or just as thought experiments, but when it comes down to actually improving the game, they are minor tweaks at best and just unneeded complication at worst. I am seeing this come about from my methodology of meticulously going through the rule sections. It just seems I am finding areas to change that don't really NEED it.

So in order to get myself on track with changing rules to improve the game rather than to just change rules, I am going to go with a new design methodology. I am going to start with a Design Goal and proceed towards what rules changes would best fulfill that goal. Here's an example:

Design Goal: Allow greater freedom for players to create the type of characters that they want.

This goal comes from the frustration of level limits, restrictions on class and race combination, and ultimately having people settle on what character to play. I like how 3e really opened up character generation options. While they quickly went overboard with prestige classes, splat books, and an overall emphasis on 'character builds,' I prefer to open options rather than to restrict them.

So that is why I threw out all level limits, restrictions on race/class combination, and allow any combination of classes to be used in multi-classing.

Design Goal: Giant monsters and animals are too easy to kill.
Design Goal: 1st level characters are especially fragile.

Ok, so this is post facto reasoning for the mass within hit points system. Either way, it gives 1st level characters more durability and helps to separate PCs from average people without creating "NPC classes" or "0 level" NPCs. In addition, big monsters have more hit points without hurting all the mechanics that are built around Hit Dice.

Moving forward, I am going to actually put the design goal ahead of the rule changes whereas previously I have been putting the rule changes ahead of the design goal.

The little fiddly rule changes are best made as rulings on the fly and then slowly incorporated into the rules in general rather than front loading the system before play even begins.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Saints of Bohemia

Something I came across, these patron saints of Bohemia will probably come in handy while developing the EMP campaign. I plan on having the game world open in this area in the times leading up to the Defenestration of Prague and eventual rebellion.

Placed here so I don't lose it!

St. Wenceslaus

(Also Vaclav, Vaceslav.)

Duke, martyr, and patron of Bohemia, born probably 903; died at Alt-Bunzlau, 28 September, 935.

His parents were Duke Wratislaw, a Christian, and Dragomir, a heathen. He received a good Christian education from his grandmother (St. Ludmilla) and at Budweis. After the death of Wratislaw, Dragomir, acting as regent, opposed Christianity, and Wenceslaus, being urged by the people, took the reins of government. He placed his duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests. Wenceslaus had taken the vow of virginity and was known for his virtues. The Emperor Otto I conferred on him the regal dignity and title. For religious and national motives, and at the instigation of Dragomir, Wenceslaus was murdered by his brother Boleslaw. The body, hacked to pieces, was buried at the place of murder, but three years later Boleslaw, having repented of his deed, ordered its translation to the Church of St. Vitus in Prague. The gathering of his relics is noted in the calendars on 27 June, their translation on 4 March; his feast is celebrated on 28 September.

Mershman, F. (1912). St. Wenceslaus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 18, 2010 from New Advent:

St. John Nepomucene

In his early childhood, John Nepomucene was cured of a disease through the prayers of his good parents. In thanksgiving, they consecrated him to the service of God. After he was ordained, he was sent to a parish  in the city of Prague. He became a great preacher, and thousands of those who listened to him changed their way of life. Father John was invited to the court of Wenceslaus IV. He settled arguments and did many kind deeds for the needy people of the city. He also became the queen's confessor. When the king was cruel to the queen, Father John  taught her to bear her cross patiently. One day, about 1393, the king asked him to tell what the queen had said in confession. When Father John  refused, he was thrown into prison. A second time, he was asked to reveal the queen's confession. "If you do not tell me," said the king, "you shall die. But if you obey my commands, riches and honor will be yours." Again Father John  refused. He was tortured. The king ordered to be thrown into the river. Where he drowned, a strange brightness appeared upon the water. He is known as the "martyr of the confessional." He is patron of Czechoslovakia, where he is invoked against floods and against slander. His feast day is May 16.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ontological Consequences of No Raise Dead

My position on no Raise Dead does create some interesting questions as to the nature of the campaign setting. Rather than trying to stress myself with definitive and logical answers, I'll just explore the ideas and then leave them be. Ultimately, the answer is of little importance so long as Clerics are casting spells.

Since Jesus is the only person to have ever resurrected, the monotheistic God of Abraham is definitely the supreme power in the universe. There's no doubt that he is the big man. But I also want to have Clerics of pagan religions, Druids, and spell casters who follow all of the world's religions.

Can they coexist? Is it that only the mortal followers of God who insist all other beliefs are false? Or maybe all other divine powers are actually derived from Satan, channeled through and disguised so as to lead souls away from the path to God?

From a game mechanics point of view, Druids and Clerics can choose any religion and still cast spells. Ultimately, the answer to this question isn't really necessary. Maybe it will come up one day in play, but until I actually start a campaign, I can't even begin to start on the way to reaching that need.

So just food for thought.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The One True Resurrection

In my previous post on Clerics and magic in the EMP, I didn't pick out any spells in particular to focus on. When I get back on track and start going through the rule book in order again, I will address spells at that time. However, there is one issue that would fit better here and now.

Raise Dead

Without the Resurrection, Christianity doesn't really exist. If anyone could be raised from the dead, than Christianity doesn't really exist either. I hope this is obvious.

So there has only been 1 resurrection, THE Resurrection. The ability to raise the dead is explicitly off limits, unless you are the Son of God.

This will have implications for this campaign as a game setting. Without the ability to raise a high level character, the game has taken on a distinctly new feel. I will come back to this theme throughout constructing both the world and the rule set in order to make some tweaks.

But for now, it stands at NO Raise Dead.

Friday, November 12, 2010

S&W White Box: Session 17, 11/8/10

Schedules have gotten pretty bad all around. Donovan has been MIA for almost a month due to work, Bill is down to bi-weekly due to his new job, and I am truant as always. Either way, we did find time to meet up this past Monday.

I'm playing a Cleric now, Frederick Bartholomew, after the passing of Gloin so there's a shift in perspective. Oscar is the other Cleric and Drew is the magic-user. Bill is DM and Donovan is MIA, but would be playing a Dwarf were he here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Divine Magic and Clerics in the Early Modern Period Campaign

At some point, magic has to be reconciled with reality when creating a campaign based on some semblance of Earth. It is a common topic among DM's who go the stimulationist or historical route and it often manifests itself in Clerics, divine magic, and healing spells.

The Catholic Church held great power through most of its history due to its position as the mortal connection between man and God. The reckoning comes into play when you try to imagine a Catholic Church that could also demonstratively show its divine favor by healing wounds, curing sickness, and being able to perform multiple miracles a day. So let's reconcile this issue.

Look back to the hobby's roots in Chainmail and OD&D. A first level Fighting-man (or Fighter in AD&D parlance) was considered a veteran. This was a man who had fought in battles, faced his own death, and presumably killed a man. He was a trained warrior, not a neophyte facing battle for his first time. The precedent here is that even a first level character is a cut above the average person. Secondly, Clerics did not receive their first spell until second level. This was often justified as a requirement that a Cleric had to demonstrate his faith before his deity would deign to grant him divine power.

So let's extrapolate this a little. Most clergy in the EMP are not capable of channeling God's power into spells. Practically every manor had a chapel and every village a church of some sorts. The main spiritual requirement for this type of priest would be the ability to perform the sacraments (baptism and last rights at an absolute minimum) and lead prayer or conduct mass through some sort of missal or spiritual tract. Even after Gutenberg's printing press, Bibles were still not widespread and definitely still expensive. They were also still in Latin for the most part; vernacular was just beginning to enter into religion due to the efforts of reformers and 'heretics' in general.

A priest of this caliber is not going to be casting any spells. The majority of peasants and serfs would not be living in a community with a divine leader with the ability to perform miracles. You can see where this is going, the reconciliation here will be via scarcity. The potential to heal wounds miraculously and perform miracles will still be existent, but not common place. This feeling can be forced into a kind of anachronistic reality if you take the perception of a common man in that miracles really can be performed, but they usually manifest themselves as stories of how a man was saved over in another town by a traveling healer. We should only be so lucky, or faithful, or penitent, or flagellant, to experience one ourselves.

So who can cast divine spells? Mechanically, all Clerics can, as well as Druids and the other classes that gain spell casting at higher levels. In terms of lore, only someone particularly dedicated to God would have this ability:
  • Traveling Friars. Friars were typically better educated and traveled than priests in a rural church. Historically, they preached directly to and lived among peasants, were invited by a local priest, and were required to give a portion of all offerings to the inviting Church. This could still lead to problems as a friar would be more liked than the local priest. For a fantasy setting, it makes for an excellent idea for a Player Character. While a PC won't be role-playing traveling and preaching, it does provide the context for why a Cleric would be adventuring.
  • Monks And Monastic Orders: Monastic orders can represent people of particular faith and dedication so as to be able to cast spells. The long litany of orders, both Catholic and even some Reformed, provide plenty of room to create Divine casters that are still removed from every day concerns, preserving scarcity.
  • Pardoners and Inquisitors: Pardoners offered indulgences to allow people to literally pay for their sins to be forgiven. They could have the ability to call upon miracles or could just be charlatans looking to fleece the flock. Inquisitions still occurred in the EMP, just none so infamous and widespread as the Spanish and Portuguese versions. In general, an inquisition was used to rout out heresy, and with the Reformation, there was plenty of heresy to be found. Inquisitors could have been granted spell casting ability due to their dedication to orthodoxy.
  • Heretics And Reformers: Basically one in the same, depending on which side of the conflict you were on. A dedication to reforming religion, getting close to God, or a deep idealism could all be grounds for earning the right to cast spells.
In the end, I'm attempting to preserve some sense of sanity in a world with divine magic. History doesn't really make any sense if every community had priests to cure wounds and save lives. From the gaming perspective, we can have a huge clergy without having Clerical magic become trivial either.

That does leave one loose end, the raising of the dead. That will be covered in a post unto itself.

    Sunday, November 7, 2010

    Historical Resources - Fief: A Look at Medieval Society from Its Lower Rungs

    Fief: A Look at Medieval Society from Its Lower Rungs by Lisa J. Steele provides an excellent overview of historical Norman manorial society in the Middle Ages. The material covers England and northern France, and mentions Norman Sicily as well, from roughly the 10th to 14th centuries. The author touches upon nearly every subject from defining the Three Orders to agriculture and architecture through governance, society, the parish, and even warfare.

    Where Ms. Steele hits her material with appreciable breadth, she doesn't penetrate too deeply into any one subject. The introduction states the book is a "primer on medieval life for fantasy gamers, SCA enthusiasts, and others interested in knowing what made society tick in the days of crusading knights and the Black Plague." That accurately describes the content of the book. For those who have never shown an interest in looking at the actual historical framework that D&D assumes, this is an amazing introduction to the material. For those looking for deep analysis, usable figures, and concrete game material, this book would require further research and work.

    For example, there are price lists for common items, fines and fees for transgressions of manorial laws, and even upkeep fees for knights attending tournaments. However, the numbers are mostly presented as is, without explanation as to why prices can widely vary (up to a factor of 10) between certain years. It is certainly good fodder to work with, but nothing that can be used as is.

    Personally, the material provides good reinforcement for what I already know. The time period and location depicted are outside of the scope of my Early Modern Period campaign. Yet, manorialism was still strong in the Holy Roman Empire at the time my campaign is set. So the material is still pertinent.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    World Building Resources: Grain Into Gold

    I just finished reading Board Enterprise's Grain into Gold: A Fantasy World Economy. It is a well thought out explanation of agricultural industry for a pseudo-realistic Middle Ages setting. The author, John Josten, uses a sound methodology; he bases his calculations on the "gold standard" of wheat. Seeing as how wheat is a fundamental food for survival and nearly all rural industry (of the time) goes towards its production, this makes for a very realistic and logical economic construction. From there, an entire rural economy is crafted with considerations for transportation to market towns and beyond.

    Overall, this pdf provides insight into how each product is created and what would influence its price. The author presents a fast and simple methodology for incorporating a wealth of variables into a working economic model. For example, take growing wheat. A farmer starts off with a certain acreage of crop, then accounts for a certain % yield and then a required % that has to be set as seed for the next year. Then, the wheat has to be milled with a certain efficiency, minus the cut a miller takes. Then consider taxes and fees, and you have a logical yield and price for wheat that a farmer would see.

    Yet, the wheat doesn't stop there. The miller has a portion of flour and, hopefully, the farmer has some excess. So how does that move through a pseudo-historical economy? Well, the miller prices his flour in order to secure a certain profit or daily wage. From there, the flour can be made into a wide array of food products, with each craftsman boosting the price according to the profit or wage they want to make and the complexity of their trade. So there are price points for wheat and its derivatives at nearly every point of production, whether you would want to buy wheat from a farmer, flour from a miller, bread from a baker, pastry from a chef, or a meal at a tavern. Of course, taxes and transportation sit over all of these price points, simulating common sense demands for moving goods to markets and beyond.

    So iterate on that basic idea for other products and you get the cost of meat, cloth, beer, and even metals and precious gems. The finished product of this system creates an enormously helpful baseline of prices all relative to grain. With a spreadsheet, all of these prices can be instantly flexible according to how a harvest runs in a year, or based off of different products, or tweaked according to varying effects of each factor or refining step.

    At the end of the book, a table of prices is presented along with standard yields of different crops and food animals. This supplement is valuable for introducing a methodology to establish a credible economy, rather than just using the fiat and arbitrary numbers that most games incorporate into their item lists. This will be a great resource when I get to the economic sections of this Early Modern Campaign.