Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Undead in the 17th Century - Skeletons

No. Encountered:  Varies
Movement:  120'
Size:  Man-sized
Armor Class:  7
Hit Dice:  1 (d8)
Attacks:  1
Damage:  1d6
Special Attacks: 
Special Defenses:  Vanity, Undead Resistances
Save:  Fighter 1
Morale: 12
Treasure:  TBD

Skeletons are the manifestation of vanity. They are walking corpses stripped of skin and muscle leaving just a frame of bone, sinew, and tendons. Skeletons cling to vanity even in death, clothing themselves in the finest linens they can find and bathing themselves in scented oils. Skeletons are driven by a malevolent spirit bent on destroying beauty.

Skeletons strike upon the Vanity of all who behold them as undead; Skeletons can pass for living beings from a distance. All must roll higher than their Charisma score on a D20 or flee in terror.

All undead are immune to charms, enchantments, sleep, and hold spells.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Turn Living

I was toying around with the concept of the undead a while back and I wanted to revisit it. Ultimately, I wanted to change the paradigm around. Rather than having the players being able to trivialize the undead with a Cleric in the party, I wanted that dynamic to work the other way.

Turn Living

Every undead creature has an innate ability to terrorize living beings and send them screaming away in horror or cower in fear. In the case of the Zombie, they exude a "fear of the grave" that requires a wisdom saving throw. So instead of every zombie encounter starting with a turn undead, it now starts with a "turn living."

As I said before, the undead should be something terrifying to characters and even a little bit for the players. With a turn living type ability and a re-imagining of their other abilities, undead encounters should be something special and a learning opportunity. We can create the opportunity for players to become undead hunters, rather than there being one in every church already.

Turn Undead

So the corresponding change would have to come upon turn undead or else a battle with the undead just becomes a battle of saving throws. Let's change turn undead to "Faith" and it allows anyone who failed their "turn living" check to reroll. Of course, this supposes that the Cleric himself succeeded in that initial save.

Now, a Cleric becomes a weapon against the undead rather than an I Win Button.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Internet Amazes Me

Ok, here is a quick post about how awesome the internet is.

Universities are putting videos, audio, and written materials from their courses online for free. It is staggering the amount of information that is publicly available. You can dabble in essentially any subject you want and pick up a pretty damn good introduction to that subject.

For example, you could listen to lectures on early modern German history. Or maybe brush up on your early modern English history. The reference material available can inform your game world in so many ways.

Why are you still buying splatbooks?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bad Inspiration

Every time I get a stupid comment on this blog, it inspires me to pick it back up and write again. Then I realize that discourse online is such a joke. Well, it is a joke face to face much of the time as well, but at least civility persists when you are within arm's length of your interlocutor.

Either way, I looked over the attrition spreadsheet and realized it has a logic error. It always assumes that the high is "hot" and the low is "cold". If you were adventuring in cold climates, the low and the high could very well be below freezing, but the calculation for the high temperature would return 0 damage since it is looking for high apparent temperature. That is fixed now and the link to the right is updated; each calculation will check to see if the apparent temperature is high or low and use the correction equation.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Attrition System Complete (For Now)

Attrition For Overland Travel

This system abstracts the rigors of travel by calculating an attrition value that is applied as hit point damage for characters traveling overland. The primary factor for determining attrition is climate data, namely, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. These numbers are used to derive a hit point value that roughly corresponds to the impact of weather on the human body (heat stress, core body temperature, etc).

Climate Data

Apparent Temperature is a calculated value derived from temperature, humidity, and wind speed that is used to determine attrition. The best way to get good data is to use a historical database of weather (like this one). Use a city that your party is located near and a establish a base date from which to draw the data. For example, if my game session is May 1, 1618, I would map that date to weather data from May 1, 2010. Specifically, you will need the high and the low, average humidity, and average wind speed for the day.

Generating A Value

Use the attached spreadsheet and fill in the values that are shaded light blue. The attrition value in HP is the value highlighted in yellow. Use successive lines from the spreadsheet for successive days since attrition is cumulative.

Using The System During Play

The best way to use this sheet during play is to generate a month's worth of values. Whenever your party travels, delete all the prior days in that month and start counting forward from there. For example, if you populated the entire month of May 2010 as May 1618 and then your party traveled starting May 4th, delete the lines for the 1st through the 3rd.

The Mechanics

Attrition is calculated by using the Apparent Temperature in a correlation between temperature and mortality rate inspired by this reference. Apparent Temperature is a simplified Steadman equation. Two values are calculated, one based on the low temperature for the day and the other for the high temperature. They are then averaged as the day's attrition value.

Limitations And Common Sense

This system is only designed for creating a hit point effect for overland travel. It assumes people and draft animals are taking appropriate precautions against the weather, are fed and drinking, and traveling at a normal pace.

If these assumptions are not true, I don't change these mechanics. Rather, I increase travel time. For example, a heavy rain storm would slow the travel rate down by washing out roads, causing flash flooding, or washing out bridges or fords. So the damage calculation is the same, but the party is exposed to the elements for a longer period for time. If the party were eating only half rations, reduce their rate of travel as they can't keep a good pace up with an empty stomach. If they are under the effects of an Endure Weather spell, feel free to half the damage.

In the end, this calculation provides a realistic damage for travel; it is up to each DM to use common sense in integrating this into your game world. At least you have a strong foundation for adjudication.

The Importance of (Peer) Review

Did you look closely at the previous post's system for attrition? Did you plug in some numbers to test it out? Did you find out where the system works and fails? Did you notice how incomplete it is?

The post only details hot weather effects on attrition, what about cold weather? The heat index is only valid for temperatures above 80F and humidity above 40%, if you try to use the charts' equation for cold weather, you get nonsensical results.

What type of data we we plug in? High temperature, low temperature, average temperature? Desert travel can be brutally hot during the day and freezing cold at night, how does the above system take that into account?

So there's the direction for the next post, finding what the system is incomplete and making it more robust. Always push your design, always test the fringe cases, and always strive to make them better.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Attrition: New Design Ethos, or, Why Your Design Has Been Found Lacking

I've been kicking around the concept of attrition for overland travel for a while now. Let's re-establish the current foundation for this system.

Attrition accumulates per day, according to a base value added to a temperature/humidity factor. The next day, the base value is the previous day's final value, which is then added to the current day's temp/humidity factor. Rinse, repeat. Here's another way of looking at it:

Attrition(0) = Base damage + Climate factor
Attrition(i) = Attrition(i-1) + Climate Factor

Now the whole concept has been simplified to a single factor, that is temperature and humidity. Those two variables, also called the heat index, should cover the vast majority of the effects of weather on the human body. Precipitation will be factored indirectly, namely, heavy rainfall washes out (or covers with snow) paths and roads, which lengthens travel time, allowing for more attrition to take place.

Now here we are at a crossroads, what numbers do we use? D&D was built on pulling numbers out of assholes in order to answer this question. This is where your design fails too, you do not have to guess at any of these numbers at all. Thanks to the information age, you can find peer-reviewed research on pretty much any topic you want. There is no reason to be building systems out of fairy tale numbers of useless heuristics you just made up.

Ok, so where do we find this information? A quick google search lands me at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, and a handy research article called "Climate Effects On Human Health". Why, there is even a section of predictive equations! Who would have thought of this, there already IS a system for determining how your environment affects you. All we have to do is translate it into hit points and we are off to the races.

So stop pulling numbers out of your ass for your designs and put in the same amount of time into basic research.

Ok ok, back to this system. Let's see what we can use: TMR = cycle + 0.10e[0.2(F[1] - 90)] This looks extremely similar to what I want, a "temperature-specific mortality ratio" expressed as a base value added to a function of temperature. But I want heat index, or a value that combines temperature AND humidity. Thank you NOAA:

We have all of our pieces now. Stick our predictive equation into a spreadsheet along with inputs for temperature and humidity. Input the above chart into the spreadsheet and perform a look-up to pull a heat index value to stick into the predictive equation. Then, tune the factors around the exponential term in the equation as well as the output so it translates into usable hit point numbers (nothing too small or too big).

Once the sheet is set up, it takes less than 1 minute to generate an attrition value for the day's adventuring or travel. In the end, you have a system that gives you an answer as fast as you can open a spreadsheet and the answer is based on our shared reality and science.

Oh, need to find climate data for input? You have a few resources from which to work.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why Saving Throws Hurt the Game, Why They Are Needed

The moments that call for a saving throw represent the pinnacle of tension in D&D. They lie at the crossroads of defeat and success, of life and death, and can be the culmination of an evening or a year's campaigning. So why are we rolling a die at this high point? Why are we leaving the resolution of our shared time to random chance, no matter how intelligently or recklessly the game has been played?

The moments that call for a saving throw represent the mundane points of D&D: a pit placed in a hallway, a random trap rolled off some table, or the effects of a harsh environment. Again, random chance takes the place of smart/careless behavior and turns these aspects into something resembling adventuring attrition.

Saving throws are overused. When I first talked about taking attrition damage during overland travel, one commenter wanted to add a save to avoid a day's damage. Like you can really avoid the effects of the environment by being bad-ass? More likely, he was calling for saves because the PCs are precious and should be afforded every opportunity to survive/thrive regardless of smart/reckless play.

Well, the real reason saves are overused is because D&D is under-designed. How many mechanics are just rolled up into a saving throw? Spells, abilities, effects, poison, traps, magic items, the list goes on and on. Just throw a save on an action to create a lazy mechanic to adjudicate its effects. It isn't even a robust and elegant mechanic that could be applied to numerous situations; it is just lazy. Maybe the original designers ran out of creative steam and then we all just kind of turned a blind eye to this gaping hole in the game's mechanics. Or maybe we are blind to the failings of tradition.

Either way, saving throws are a boring, lazy, static mechanic that form an umbrella over countless actions and opportunities in game that could have mechanics designed to add tension, flow, and enjoyment to the game.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Saving Throws Vs Stats

I never really liked how saving throws worked in D&D. The concept of a roll to avoid some horrible fate seemed anti-climatic and antithetical to play, but that would be the topic of a different post. The mechanics themselves are rather stagnant.

At lower levels, saving throws are pretty poor and you don't really expect to make a save in most cases. At higher levels, saving throws can get so good that they can be meaningless. I'd rather have a mechanic that is interesting at all times. 3rd edition used scaling saves, but that really just devolved into the edition's min/maxing attitude; saves became binary, either you maxed out your save or DC or you didn't. Not too interesting there either.

The simple solution is to tie saves to stats, which are rather static. Roll a D20 and if you roll equal to or under the stat in question, you save. Saves stay relevant at all levels and the classes keep their unique quirks (thieves dodging fireballs, Clerics resisting mental effects). For NPCs/mobs without stats, we can make a quick correlation to HD. Maybe assume every stat is average (9), plus some fraction of their HD (half? third?). You will still have the monsters usual resistances/immunities (undead to mental effects) to guide any tweaks. Either way, saves for monsters are mostly "did he die yet or not" and are one more roll in combat; I'm not concerned with having a strict mechanic there.

In the end, stat-based saves makes sense with a nod towards realism. Hell, I am just as susceptible to my wife's ziti today as I was 8 years ago; my willpower hasn't really changed through my adult years. Soldiers get better at fighting, but they don't become wiser or more hardy with age. If you throw in the age effects on stats, you get a small movement in those stats to reflect aging, and that small tweak seems perfect enough.

Yea, nothing monumental.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Bard - One Man's Take

I guess there are tons of different Bard classes out there between the ever-growing amount of editions and home-brewed classes. Here's my attempt to introduce a new game play mechanic to 17th century fantasy gaming.


Bards begin spellcasting by selecting a Motif. This is the base effect that will be further modified as the Bard performs. For example:

Coraggio: A piece that affects courage to those who hear it.


The performance can be in either minor or major key. The major key is an uplifting, positive tone whereas the minor key is a dark and melancholic tone. In game terms, the base Motif will have a positive or negative effect. For example:

Coraggio (Major): bonus to morale
Coraggio (Minor): malus to morale


Each performance can have one of three accompaniments, which essentially affects the magnitude of its effects (oh, there's a grammar lesson for you). One example might be:

A capella: +/- 1 to morale
Cantata: Reroll a morale check
Concerto: Force a morale check

Each motif then is six potential spells; Bards gain motifs per level as a spellcaster gains spells. Maybe a Bard learns one Motif per level. He can always module that Motif in either key. Then, he can sing its weakest effect, play an instrument with the vocals for a greater affect, or play in a troupe of bards for a stupendous effect.

Accompaniments are probably gained as a function of level, so a first level Bard can only perform a capella, a third level bard can perform a cantata to accompany (his own or other?) vocals, and a fifth level bard can lead 2 other Bards (at least one of which is at 3rd level) by playing a concerto. The level up mechanic would most likely increase the range or amount of HD affected.

There's plenty of ground here to come up with tons of motifs. The idea needs some fleshing out, but building on this foundation could be a fun exercise.

I think it is a neat mechanic, what do you think?

[Forgive me for massacring the terminology, I'm obviously not in the music world]

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Divinity And Magic

I've mused on metaphysical questions for the early modern period before, but I still haven't stumbled upon something that I like, fits a pseudo-historical interpretation, and is still recognizable with typical D&D tropes. Let's take some inspiration from the Trinity.

There are a ton of denominations and religions throughout the 17th century world and I don't want them ALL to be Clerics or Druids and I probably don't want religion to dictate class when it comes to divine spellcasters. While it would definitely be neat to have a separate class or at least spell list for Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims, Animists, Ancestor Worshipers, Pagans, etc, I think the granularity would mostly be lost in meta-gaming, both in terms of players who WANT certain spells and players who WANT a certain religion making the decision mostly moot. So let's compromise and utilize the Trinity.

God the Father is the omnipotent, uncaring creator of the universe. He created existence with a set of natural laws and is completely above the care of any individual person or world. Followers of God the Father worship "nature" and natural law, either in a tangible sense or as a personification of the Almighty. Spells for these followers are rarely personal and instead invoke upon the power inherent in the laws of creation and existence.

Christ is a personal God incarnate in every living being. Christ is a God who was both divine and mortal and experienced life and death in a finite sense. Followers of Christ retain a personal connection with Him, whom offers personal salvation. Spells for these followers operate on the intrapersonal and interpersonal level to offer either salvation or damnation.

The Holy Spirit is a power manifest in mortal beings who strive for righteousness. He represents power manifest in the self, derived from following the will of the Spirit. The ultimate expression of the Holy Spirit is the attainment of personal divinity, where one becomes part of the gestalt Holy Spirit. Spells for those who worship him are focused on achieving righteous power.

You can probably see where the lines are drawn now. Druids, Rangers, and similar classes/faiths worship God the Father, in one name or another, and use the Druid spell list. Catholics, Christians, and monotheistic faiths follow Christ and use the Cleric spell list. The Holy Spirit is for pagan and polytheistic followers and will need a spell list. One could break all the divine spells into three thematic lists and assign them, adding spells from source books to have a robust selection for everyone.

Either way, this interpretation allows for multiple religions that are all "right" without implying that there is some all-present celestial holy war playing out in heaven and on earth, which is how the Planes have been presented in canon D&D lore. Each individual religion can have its own flavor and doctrines but it derives all power from the same Godhead.

Another thought crosses my mind. What about magic-users? Could they be shoe-horned into that third slot? One could play a Priest of a Pagan religion, or just an atheistic or agnostic magic-user with the same spell list.

Or perhaps magic-users should stay separate.Whereas followers of God the Father pray for spells implicit in natural law, magic-users seek to cast spells that harness, manipulate, and/or contradict natural law.

Fertile ground indeed and I like what has been sown better than previous ideas...