Thursday, 20 August 2015


I’ve had players who took it for granted that it was always better to wear armour than not, and assume they’ll always have it on, whether walking through town, making a voyage by ship (when falling overboard should obviously be fatal), or sleeping. Putting aside for a moment that falling asleep in armour is highly improbable and showing up in a crowded market decked out in military gear would have the local guard surrounding and interrogating the party in no time, let’s focus on the relative merits and demerits of various types of armour in the context for which they’re meant: Combat.

The following benefits and drawbacks of armour in combat are meant to be included in the upcoming revised version of House Rules for the Shropesyre Campaign. The list below describes the range of protection likely to be encountered throughout the British Isles; other items may be encountered if the party travels to other regions, and specific attributes of such can be included later. As AC is already tied to increases in level rather than types of armour, the latter are considered to reduce HP of damage taken by a percentage according to their basic type.

Here is the breakdown for shields, armour, and other protective items.

Shields: Use Hit Location die. HP damage reductions apply only to hits to torso or shield arm.
Small wooden shield (buckler): 25% reduction, rounded down.
Small metal shield: 25% reduction, rounded up.
Large metal shield: 50% reduction, rounded down.
Full body shield: Generally, the only body parts exposed during melee are the sword arm and part of the face necessary to see: Hits to the sword arm are treated as normal, while the face is considered to have an AC bonus of 4 for 50% concealment. Hits to any other location are automatically negated.

Armour: If used in conjunction with a shield, the following apply only to hits taken to areas other than torso or shield arm. For hits to either of these two areas, damage is first reduced by the shield and then again by the armour itself.
Leather or hide armour: 10% damage reduction to all covered areas, rounded up.
Studded leather armour: 20% damage reduction to all covered areas, rounded up.
Chain mail: 50% damage reduction, rounded down.
Plate mail: 60% damage reduction, rounded up.
Full plate (rare item, not normally available for purchase in England): 75% damage reduction, rounded up.

Shields and armour used together offer combined benefits. Full plate armour used in conjunction with a shield offer total protection against blows except in the case of critical hits. A critical hit to the shield arm is considered to break the shield or otherwise render it useless. Furthermore, any critical hits dealing 12 or more points of damage to any location are considered to knock the combatant over. Falling in plate mail armour from a standing position causes 1d3 HP of damage. Falling from horseback in plate armour causes this 1d3 HP of damage in addition to the 1d6 HP of damage ordinarily accorded to such a fall.

Additionally, because armour restricts agility in combat, the following penalties to THAC0 will be applied when any of these types of armour are worn (points by which THAC0 is raised):

Leather or hide: None
Studded leather: +1
Chain mail: +2
Plate mail: +3
Full plate: +4

Finally, wearing or carrying armour while traveling will considerably slow the character down due to additional encumbrance. However, carrying it would be the better choice unless combat seems imminent: Tentatively, I refer to a chart for HP of discomfort damage the heavier metal types of armour cause after a certain period. The reality is that after a few drinks and a number of variables to hold in my head during melee, I tend to forget all about it—but, be warned, I’m not likely to forget to roll for fungal infections and anal fistula if your character is covered in mud, has been sweating profusely, or got caught in the downpour.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


This topic occupies my thoughts this week partly because a sudden drop in temperature has convinced my body that it’s autumn, inspiring a considerable appetite and incessant daydreaming about various dishes; and partly because the last three books to arrive at my door happen to be on the subject. I’m just now through revising my seasonal price lists for the Shropesyre campaign, to the extent of my capacity for historical accuracy, providing the comestibles available in the West Midlands at different times of the year.

A trio of culinary reads

First, a brief review of the books. The leftmost tome was someone’s graduate thesis, and the fact that I’d even want to read such a book, let alone purchase it in hardcover, tells you pretty much all you need to know about the depth and intensity of my medieval geekery. Bread and Ale for the Brethren by Philip Slavin gives detailed statistical accounts of the types of provisions produced and purchased at Norwich Cathedral Priory from the high to late Middle Ages, using that data to extrapolate the number and lifestyle of the monks, lay brethren, servants, visitors, and livestock that resided on the premises. It contains a lot of detail on the hearty diets of the monks, and the methods of obtaining the various foods they ate.

In the middle, The Medieval Kitchen, is more picturesque with its copious colour illustrations, but as the author is a culinary specialist rather than a historian, the social and cultural exploration is simple and oftentimes shallow, although she does do much to dispel a number of popular fallacies about medieval cuisine—including the popular myth, sadly perpetuated in Bread and Ale for the Brethren, that the upper classes never ate fruit or vegetables; Hannele Klemettila cites copious evidence that these were consumed in reasonable quantities both raw and cooked, and just didn’t show up on household registers because they were usually obtained cheaply and immediately. The final section of the book contains dozens of recipes for assorted delights that I’m going to put off preparing until I move to my new house—partly for lack of an oven in the current one, and partly just because I want to keep my body fat low for as long as I can.

Possibly helpful to that end is The Hermit’s Cookbook on the right, by a professor of medieval studies, which uses the history of Near Eastern and European monastic diet styles to explore the development of Christianity from its inception. Interspersed with historical accounts are numerous recipes for things monks and hermits actually ate, including one for boiled tree bark, with an excursion into the customs of certain Native American and African cultures who habitually used this ingredient in breads and porridges. Yum.

Year wheel of farming in medieval England, original source unknown

Rhythms of Food

With agriculture so intrinsically tied to the society and culture, and food such a dear commodity, the rhythms of farming are keenly felt. The wheel above breaks down, month by month, the sort of activities in which ‘peasants’ (read: the majority of the population) are likely to be engaged. This is here to illustrate the reason I have four different price lists for comestibles, broadly divided into four seasonal groups. Prices reflect availability.

I won’t reproduce my price lists in their entirety here, because visually they’re quite similar to those listed under ‘Grocer’ at Tao of D&D, but his campaign is set in a time period called either Late Medieval or Early Renaissance, depending on your politics, when farming methods were already considerably more advanced than what we’re working with. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just describe the differences.

The trial run of this campaign took place in spring, just before Lent, which is the time of year when food of all types is hardest to come by, so fasting was convenient as well as culturally expected. Meats and fish would tend to arrive at market salted and in small quantities, along with a smattering of vegetables that preserve well, like turnips, parsnips, some cabbages, dried beans, and so on. The animals aren’t making copious amounts of milk or eggs yet, either, although a number of lambs are slaughtered around Easter, so such fresh meat becomes more available then.

Summer sees better weather for fishing, with the waves more mellow, so fresh fish is more easily obtained. (Salt fish, though, the typical serf’s meal, is cheap throughout the year. More on that later.) Fresh fruit starts to become available here, along with certain vegetables, and more milk and eggs. (Incidentally, most of the sheep shearing also takes place in early summer, which can become important for the PCs because wool is the biggest industry in the shire, with regular exports to the continent.)

Autumn is the time of greatest abundance, with the harvest of copious fruits and vegetables. Fish now come to market pickled as often as fresh or salted. All sorts of sweets like flans are ubiquitous as well, and the alehouses are serving cider and perry as well as the standard yeasty-tasting brew. November is ‘Blood Month’, when many animals are slaughtered around Martinmas because of the expense of keeping them alive through winter. Some of the meat is sold fresh at market, but much of it is salted and dried for consumption through winter and spring.

In winter, fresh things are obviously scarce. Any fruit eaten will likely be dried, as will be the peas and pulses, and aged or dry cheese will be encountered more often than fresh. At the alehouses, one might drink caudl, made from old ale thickened with egg yolks and sweetened with sugar or honey and spices; or find blood pudding a nice alternative to bread and cheese with pottage. (Simply making a skilled cut in a cow’s neck and draining off the blood in a controlled manner provides meat-like nutrition and calories without necessitating slaughter.)


PCs are generally expected to consume a normal middle-class diet of three pounds of bread plus one additional pound of other types of food, plus three pints of ale, divided over the course of two meals daily, dinner (around mid-morning) and supper (in the late afternoon). Breakfast is optional, and most NPCs they encounter will not eat it unless they’re of a higher echelon of society. This amount may be reduced by a pound and a pint in times of inactivity, but must be increased by the same amount if the character has been in combat the previous day; the party is generally assumed to be on the road. Liquid refreshments may likewise be adjusted downward somewhat in cooler or moister weather, and upward in dry or hot weather, although the party need not consistently rely on ale, but can often fill their waterskin (one gallon) or boget (1/2 gallon) in a town or inn well, or take their chances with river water (unless you’re a paladin, boiling it first is highly recommended).

No specific nutritional requirements are in place in our current house rules, so it is taken for granted that the heavily bread-based diet is supplemented with whatever other foods are available to the PCs. The standard fare is likely to be potage (meat and vegetables boiled to a thick mush), whatever they can hunt, trap, or scavenge in their travels, or whatever is on offer at the inn if available. 

With adventuring parties so inclined to depend on them, rations are considered to be easily available at every town market. They come in two types: dry and fresh.

The cheaper dry rations come in a burlap sack, and require a cooking pot and access to sufficient water and fire for cooking; they would be inedible raw. Salt herring, for one thing, is about 1/3 salt by volume and about the consistency of plywood, so it has to be parboiled before it’s fit for human consumption at all, and even then won’t be terribly appetizing. The legumes are likewise raw and dry and require boiling, and the ground grains can be mixed with hot water for a kind of primitive frumenty, although players with their characters’ happiness in mind might want to add such things as cheese, fruit, vegetables, or even sugar if they’re really extravagant.

The fresh rations, heavier to carry and more expensive, would be the choice if the party doesn’t have a cooking pot or enough water, or doesn’t want to make a fire, or doesn’t want to spend time cooking that could be spent covering more ground. For a meal, a round loaf of bread is stuffed with seasonal vegetables and locally-available cheese, and a string of sausages is included. These items will also only last a few days at the most if the weather is warm.

Another choice recommended to adventurers, available at many inns, is the bustard in clay. This is quail, along with legumes like beans or peas and root vegetables like turnips and onions, encased in clay and baked in the fireplace. One bustard thus prepared counts for half a day’s calories on the road.

Food served in personal residences will have considerably more variety, and if the PCs decide to establish a permanent base requiring household provisioning, as was done in an earlier campaign, the remainder of the items on the price lists provides a guide to the expected fluctuations in such cost over the course of the year.

Naturally, many players will be indifferent to what their characters consume; they just want to get to the business of adventuring. These, it turns out, tend to be the type of people for whom food in the real world is often simply something taken to quell hunger, rather than for enjoyment or considered attention to nutrition. That’s fine; plenty of other goods and services are available in the world for sale, purchase, and capture, and whether or not the party cares, there will always be a potential ally whose eyes light up when offered a steaming mug of mulled wine, or an official to be bribed with an expensive jar of nutmeg jam.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Player Character Spreadsheets

Now that my party have agreed to bring their laptops to the sessions and I’ve finally had the time to sit down and input code for a few hours, I present an example of the spreadsheets I’ve made for each player to keep track of what he has, what he’s capable of, and what he’s doing. No more rummaging through papers for information written illegibly in pencil and crossed out. No more stalling combat to make sundry calculations with multifaceted modifiers. No more malodourous ‘pants duty’. All essential information is now together on one clear, user-friendly screen.

This one is for the character of a player who left the campaign a long time ago but might come back eventually; the chances of him rejoining are slim enough that I’m not giving away confidential information about his character here. This PC is a mercenary from a farming family, who worked at various times for different nobles of the shire. He met the party while between errands and joined them for a spell; this is when he picked up a bit of scarring and maiming, as well as the bit of coin for his time, all of which is now spent. He’s fairly religious and would like to go on a pilgrimage at some point, has much experience with pack animals, and also has developed some talent at card games. The sheet has his bibliographic information on the right, proficiencies below that, and space to list all his stuff along the bottom of the page. Next to certain ability scores go the notes about certain effects based on those scores.

The rule for using these sheets is that the pink cells are sacred and inviolate, because that’s where all the formulas live. Players are free to plug in numbers into any other cells and watch the pink ones change automatically. When they type in sufficient additional XP, their level changes, and along with it their THAC0, AC, and Saving Throws. Maximum HP don’t change under our house rules, and the ‘XP for Next Level’ is just a handy place for the player to keep track of that if he wants to do. (Incidentally, if the character had an XP bonus, it would be at the right side of the XP box, but this character doesn’t.)

His total encumbrance is calculated automatically by linking all the total weights of his containers, which in turn generates an Encumbrance Level category and adjusts his movement rate.

(In this connection, the special box, ‘Items Borne by Horse’ was an afterthought. That box was the location of spells for priests and mages, and of thieving skills for rogues, so it was empty for our fighter here. When I originally input all his equipment into the lower left list for his backpack contents, his Encumbrance Level read ‘Severe’, and then it occurred to me that he had a palfrey named Becky who could carry some it for him, so I decided to see what would happen if I loaded her up with some saddlebags. The result is that her movement rate is still normal, so it might behoove Bret to pass her more of his burden, but I ran out of space. Not ideal, I know, but I liked the relative symmetry that comes of not adding more cells there. None of the other PCs have horses at this point, and I’ll have to make changes to these sheets if and when they acquire them.)

Anyway, there’s also plenty of space for proficiency and special skills as they’re gained, and for everything they wear, carry, and sling over their shoulders. Pouch 1 is a money pouch, with the individual weights of English coins programmed in so that encumbrance changes when more money is carried. Obviously this would be negligible under normal circumstances, but will make a big difference after a big loot haul. 

What I expect to really enhance combat is the 10% reduction in each ability score as the character goes into negative HP (old house rule by Alexis Smolensk, described here). Here are Bret’s normal stats, with full HP:

...And here we see the result of plugging in a random negative number, in this case -5. All ability scores fall, which cause the capabilities related to them to fall in tandem. 

(The automatic colour change in the ‘HP Now’ cell to progressively darker shades of red is a visual reminder of how badly the character is bleeding; when a number -10 or lower is input into ‘HP Now’, the cell turns black, lest he have any doubt about being dead.)

Just another couple of weeks of streamlining and I’ll be ready to start running again.

Thursday, 6 August 2015


I’m working on a new set of House Rules to be bound in book form soon, and spicing it up with a revamped selection of medieval afflictions that our party has to take care to avoid catching. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve been rolling a d20 every time they’ve been exposed to an infectious agent, and having them afflicted if the roll is above their CON score. I’m working on some tables for modifiers, but we’ll continue to play by the simple rules until I’m satisfied that the alternative is an improvement.

The Ague.  A parasitic disease contracted in damp environments such as swamps and wetlands. Onset in 6d6 days. Shaking, chills, severe headache and weakness (STR -2, INT -2, DEX -4, THAC0 and HP reduced by half) persist for 2d6 hours, followed by profuse sweating, after which all ability scores temporarily return to normal. Attacks return every 48 or 72 hours reducing ability scores again. If untreated after second day, save vs. death or lapse into coma. Roll same save once per day thereafter to recover from coma (or lapse into coma if not comatose). Persists 3d6 weeks if untreated. 

Black Plague.  Characters need worry about this disease only when cases have been sighted or reported in the local area. Onset occurs in 1d6 days. Bubonic form causes extreme swelling and pain in lymph nodes in the neck, groin or armpit, accompanied by headache, fever and delirium (INT -2, THAC0 -4).  DM rolls 1d10 for disease progress:

  • 1-2       Advance to pneumonic form   
  • 3-9        One save vs. death per day until dead
  • 0            Recovery after 3d6 days of symptoms
Pneumonic form causes symptoms as above, along with coughing, sneezing, nausea and vomiting. Character is allowed one save vs. death per day until dead. In the much rarer septicemic form, death occurs automatically within 1d6 hours of onset.

The Bloody Flux.  Generally contracted from dodgy food or drink. Onset after 1d6 days. Acute form results in watery, bloody stools, cramps, fever, and weakness (STR -6, DEX -4, CON -4, THAC0 +4, HP reduced by half). Chronic form results in intermittent diarrhoea and mild abdominal pain (STR -3, THAC0 +1). Despite the name, it is a less serious affliction than the Flux (below), and is so rarely fatal that for game purposes no save vs. death is required, although it can be quite persistent if left untreated.

The Flux. Onset in 1d6-1 (0=1/2) days following contact with infected swamp water, offal, or dung. Profuse, watery diarrhea of a fishy odour and vomiting of clear fluid results in dehydration; use the Starvation and Dehydration chart with first day of symptoms equivalent to first day without liquid refreshment. If untreated, recovery is possible in 1d12 days following onset if a character is lucky enough to survive every save vs. death.

Gonorrhea.  Sexual transmitted infection of the genital tract. Onset after 2d4 days. In males, results in burning sensation in urination and profuse discharge of pus, but may be asymptomatic in females. If infection spreads, fever, abdominal pain and hot, swollen, painful joints (DEX -4, THAC0 +3). Symptoms last 1d8 weeks but sufferers may remain infectious for several months. Serious infection may cause permanent infertility.

Influenza.  Spread by contact with infected person. Onset in 1d2 days. Headache, muscular aches, general malaise, weakness, eye pain, and mental confusion (STR -3, INT -2, DEX -3, THAC0 +2) last for 1d4+1 days, after which respiratory symptoms become more prominent (dry or sore throat, cough, runny nose) with no penalties to ability scores. 

Ipydyme. Similar symptoms to Influenza above, plus diarrhoea; very contagious (each character exposed to infected person must roll 1d20 against CON each day to determine whether they become infected). Initial save vs. death determines direction of disease: on a successful save, the character is infectious for 3d6 days but symptoms are not serious enough to affect ability scores; on a failed save, the character’s discomfort causes a cumulative one point THAC0 penalty each day for 1d6 days, followed by a 2d6 day period of recovery in which THAC0 is regained at one point per day.

The King's Evil. Infection is usually spread through close contact with afflicted persons. The most obvious sign of the disease is a painless, discoloured and inflamed mass in the neck which grows with time and may rupture and become further infected (cumulative -2 CHA per month of infection). Approximately half of cases are accompanied by symptoms of fever, chills, malaise, and weight loss (STR-5, THAC0+3). Symptoms will persist until treated, but disease is not life-threatening. The physical touch of the sovereign of England or France has a 1d6 chance of curing the illness; alternatively, certain rare and very skilled herbalists have been known to have cured it.

Leprosy. Transmitted through contact with the breath of an infected person. After a variable but possibly years-long period of latency, facial features begin to coarsen and the voice becomes hoarse (CHA -2). As the disease progresses, skin eruptions and red nodules are visible, with spots of skin insensitive to cold, touch, and pain (CHA reduced by half, THAC0 +2). In later stages, secondary infections become gangrenous, hands and feet lose feeling, muscle weakness and paralysis set in, and the nose decays (CHA effectively nil as individual is ostracized by society, THAC0 and HP reduced by half, STR and DEX reduced by half). Blindness may occur. Lepers are required by law to wear a covering cloak and carry a bell to announce their presence.

Red Plague.  Transmitted by contact with infected person. Onset occurs in 12 days. High fever, chills, aches, and severe malaise (STR and INT reduced by half, THAC0 +4) persist for 4 days, accompanied thereafter by itchy red lesions on face, arms, legs, and sometimes trunk  (STR, INT, DEX and CHA reduced by half, THAC0 +5). DM secretly rolls character’s save vs. death once during this period to check for mortality by secondary infection). In the absence of secondary infection, lesions break and begin to dry up after 9 days.

The Styche. Sharp chest pain when breathing, shortness of breath, painful swelling of throat and joints (CON -3, THAC0 +5, combat fatigue begins immediately on entering combat). For duration of illness, save vs. poison after 2d6 days; recovery if save successful; if unsuccessful, symptoms persist for another 2d6 days, after which save is made again, ad infinitum.

Typhoid Fever.  Generally occurs during times of prolonged warfare or life in crowded conditions. DM secretly rolls players’ saves vs. poison to determine infection in these conditions. Onset random. Diarrhoea, abdominal pain, high fever, blinding headache, cough, exhaustion and patches of red on the abdomen (INT and WIS -3, THAC0, HP and movement rates reduced by half) persist for 3d10 days. Death occurs on failed save vs. death made once during infection.

Other problems likely to affect characters enduring the elements or spending too long in damp or wet clothing or armour are parasites and fungal infections which may result in varying penalties to AC as the itching distracts the character from full combat prowess, and anal fistula, a nasty affliction following abscesses in the colon which particularly affects men who have spent too long riding in wet saddles, and which reduce a character’s THAC0 and HP by half until treated by a qualified surgeon (THAC0 is then restored immediately, and HP regained slowly in the normal way).

Up till now the party has had a habit of ignoring weather conditions on the assumption that no measurable detriment will come of traipsing around in the pouring rain. I should hope that this last bit should at least make them think twice about doing.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Getting Organised

The result thus far of renovating and revamping

There are scores of excellent books I’m still waiting to get my hands on. When our new abode is made livable at the end of this year, I plan to begin slowly stocking the library, which will be the main feature of the house, with books I’ve put off buying for years because of lack of space. My wife has generously allowed that I might purchase a few volumes at a time, though, and store them in boxes until they’re ready to go on the shelves. Of course, the first several will be of a medieval nature and intrinsically useful in D&D.

I’ll be the first to concede that my fascination with the Middle Ages approaches fetishism. Toward the end of the Minoa campaign, the Ancient Greek setting nearly exhausted my inspiration for ideas. Part of the difficulty is that Ancient Greeks wouldn’t be after the same sort of rewards D&D usually encourages—the New Argonauts makes this clear—but would be in the game for feasts, favours of the gods, and the glory of their city-state. Pillaging for profit was simply out of place. In that campaign, we ended on a cliffhanger, and since one of the players leaving that campaign to return to his native Canada has expressed a desire to play again when he returns during vacation, all of the details will be waiting on the shelf so that we can resume that adventure where we left off. The Minoa campaign can be continued with the core players, then, but on a very sporadic basis.

The reconstructed regular campaign will start in fourteenth-century Shropshire, for which the creative well is currently overflowing. It will also allow the party to translate certain characters they’ve already created for a medieval setting but didn’t really get to use. I know my players well enough by now to know what might capture their interest, and I’ve devised a binder full of adventure hooks that, if used, will take them not only through several levels but across the European continent as well.

At the start of the Minoa campaign, I read the ‘Opening Module’ from How to Play a Character, which made it clear that the party could do whatever it wanted, that they were in control, not the DM or any forces of nature or supernature, and had absolute freedom and the consequences thereof. I think it essential, though, that it also be impressed on the party that Ciropesyre is safe, relatively speaking: It is their home, and that if they burn their bridges they will have no haven or homeland to which to return, and that this would be a great loss to their characters, which translates into a gigantic pain in the arse for the players. When they gain sufficient power and prowess by adventuring throughout the shire, I expect they would first travel around England and then venture beyond the islands, where they would find a plethora of things they hadn’t in the homeland, not to mention engaging in increasingly ‘epic’ adventures.

Map of Europe from the Altas Catalan, drawn in 1375

The Holy Roman Empire would have things like blast furnaces for the manufacture of plate armour, with the main industry in Milan; exotic drinks made with hops or distilled; forests with halflings, dwarves, and elves; and new and more powerful weapons. In the Kingdom of France, the party might see gunpowder in action, particularly at the coast as the country wars with their own; exotic perfumes and wine aplenty; and conveniences like oil lanterns, highly unpopular in England because the cold weather would cause the oil to congeal too much to be useful. The Kingdom of Castile would be home to powerful magics and arcane arts synthesized from Arabic and African influences. In Hungary and eastward would dwell orcs and gnolls; in the lands beyond to the east and south would be all manner of bizarre creatures our lads from Ludeforde could scarcely imagine.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had more ideas than ever, and can taste the delight in holding back and starting out small, since too much weirdness too early wouldn’t make sense, and can imagine a number of paths the party might take. Everything that could unfold, of course, will remain unknown for the time being, and the remainder of this post will focus on things that the players and I discussed at length at the beginning of the final Minoa session.

Suggested Changes

I’ve been convinced that closing the shades and shutting out distractions from the outside world would improve the game. Now, the player who suggested this used to play in a basement, which, alas, isn’t an option in Japan. In my new house, of course, I can do whatever I want, and that includes setting up a salon for which my wife is already sewing some heavy brocaded curtains. Eventually the walls of that room will be reinforced and plastered with slabs of uneven stone, with a pair of crossed swords above the fireplace, and general décor that minimises the 21st century as much as possible without detracting from the game (in other words, we’ll still be using computers); but all this is a bit far off for now. As soon as we move in, though, we’ll at least have a table, which will allow much more space for players to spread their material in a way that facilitates focus on the game more than sitting on the floor of my music studio.

I’ve also been persuaded to reduce the use of music. I’ve often allowed period music to play during the game, not to attempt to orient players’ mood, but rather to instill a sense of setting. It’s been made clear to me that sound effects—which I’ve linked extensively in YouTube—would accomplish this much more effectively, and that music should be limited to occasions when characters are likely to hear it. This, in an adventuring lifestyle, would be very seldom, and would be mixed with town or tavern noises. Using sound effects would also eliminate the need to constantly remind players of things like their characters being soaked by a thunderstorm.

Level and Ability Advancement

We still like the idea that gaining a level means only that THAC0 and AC are improved, but the idea of level being tied to proficiencies was argued against. The proposed method is the gaining of proficiencies by finding a teacher or opportunity to learn hands-on, which entails considerable expense of time and money. It won’t be easy, but at least one player insisted on it because it’s more realistic. I like it because it forces the characters to slow down in their campaigning, spending several months learning new skills between adventures.

The way I conceive it, each proficiency would have a basic predetermined chunk of time it takes to learn—generally six months, I think—after which time the player will roll the character’s relevant ability score as a proficiency check to see if he has learnt the skill. If not, he must spend half that time again, paying and staying, before rolling the check again. If he still hasn’t learnt it, the next check will be made after one month, and every month thereafter until the proficiency check succeeds, meaning the character can be considered proficient.

Since cost of education and time required would have some variation depending on the skill, there is leeway for negotiation that can be role-played.

Another point of contention the resolution of which I’m told would increase player interest in the game and investment in their characters is the opportunity to raise any of the six basic ability scores. Previously, our house rules had stated:

Dexterity and strength can be increased through physical conditioning, unlike the other abilities, which are more or less innate and unchangeable. On this logic proficiency slots may be used to boost DEX or STR scores. When a PC reaches a level at which he gains an additional weapon proficiency slot, eh is allowed to use it to gain one point of either STR or DEX if he chooses, instead of an additional weapon proficiency.

An alternative system proposed is that certain experiences can have an effect on any ability score. One way to implement this is for the player to optionally record on his sheet, next to each stat, a small number of cumulative points each time he has a type of significant experience. When those points reach 100, the stat in question is raised by one. The increments are purposely small so that it is difficult to raise any stat, just as in life. A chart for relevant experiences might look like this:

Very lucky feat of strength

Farming, per month

Manual labour, per month
Solving a problem crucial to adventure

Comprehending a difficult work of literature
Solving a moral dilemma

Spiritual insight

One month without skipping a meal

Running feat

Sexual intercourse (max. gained per week)

Successful resistance to infectious disease
Successful persuasion, per success

Befriending a local lord

Befriending a regional lord

Befriending a noble, such as the king
Half hour daily stretching, per month

Winning combat initiative that leads to critical hit

The obvious problem with this system is that it requires an amount of bookkeeping that strikes me as downright ridiculous, and some of these things are so vague as to lead inevitably to distracting plea-bargaining. While I like the incentive for a player to attach significance to his character’s birthday, for instance, I’m not convinced this is the best way to go about that.

I’m sympathetic to players who don’t want to go through the hassle of keeping track of all these numbers when they could be devoting that mental space to strategy and success at the adventure at hand. Why not just take a cue from the Aedenne House Rules and have players roll 2d10 for their Prime Requisite each time they gain a level and accumulate those points there until they reach 100? After all, it makes sense that a fighter is going to spend his down time training to improve STR, a mage studying to improve INT, a bard doing whatever it is that increases CHA, and so on. This seems to me an infinitely more manageable and logical system, but I’m still open to debate.

Hit Location

The last thing I’d like to suggest for today is improvements to hit location. I’ve talked about this before and suggested that melee weapons can sometimes strike the groin; it is exceedingly difficult to hit someone in the foot during melee combat. I think the current hit location die is fine for projectiles, but a different die should be used for melee combat. Since no pre-made die exists that I know of, I would use a d20 assigned with a body part for each number like so:

Hit Location
1.     Scalp
2.     Face
3.     Neck
4.     Right shoulder
5.     Left shoulder
6.     Right upper arm
7.     Left upper arm
8.     Right forearm
9.     Left forearm
10-12. Chest
13.15. Gut
16. Right hand
17. Left hand
18. Right leg
19. Left leg
20. Groin

Consequences could be grisly. The chart would have to be pinned in a place where everyone can see it easily, just as the critical hits tables should always be open during combat; we shouldn’t have to flip through the House Rules every time.

All this is also a reminder that I really need to perfect my understanding of all the game mechanics related to combat, which has always been a weakness in my DMing. I’ll get right on that as soon as I’m done having a ball with all this historical stuff.