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.  


  1. Hi. Would you consider a special proficiency for blocking (with a shield)? I find it very suitable for paladins especially, and it's lacking in the way we play. A few things I would suggest about what the proficiency could grant the character:
    - Block 10/20% more damage (someone without the block proficiency should not be given the same damage reduction because they don't know how to use the shield well),
    - Deflect Arrows - Arrows that hit the shield do no damage. If the damage location is the shield arm, leg or full body, arrow damage is cancelled.
    - Counter attack - After a successful Block, you deal X% extra weapon damage to the target for 1 round.
    - Power Bash - Able to do a power bash with a shield. Bashing the attacker deals some damage.
    - Block Runner - Can move at full speed with a shield raised.
    - Disarm/ stagger - Upon completing a block, the last attacker has a chance to be disarmed violently and/or staggered.
    - Power bashing with a shield has X% chance to knock enemies off their feet.
    - Hold the Line - During a Block, allies within 5 feet gain a bonus to their armor class.
    - Shield charge - Able to sprint with a shield raised. This can knock enemies in the path off their feet.
    Inspired from the Gladiator movie.

    What do you think?

    1. Those are good ideas. I would consider it as a weapon proficiency, and a rather powerful one at that. It would seem to be something requiring an extra proficiency slot under the old rules, or requiring double the amount of training under the new ones.

      To address the specific things you listed, right off the top of my head, the mechanics for these things might be something like:

      Block: 10% greater damage reduction should be an automatic benefit to the proficiency. I'll make a post about the different types of armour and shields available and how much damage each absorbs.

      Deflect arrows: With a small shield, hits to the shield arm could be cancelled automatically (arrows just stick into the shield), but to block hits to other areas of the body should require a proficiency check to see if the character can move his shield arm fast enough to catch an arrow that would have gone to another body part. (No check would be required with a full-body shield, obviously.)

      Counter Attack: We'd need some mechanics for how many HP of damage a shield could do.

      Power Bash: I would think this would occur on a critical hit roll when performing Counter Attack.

      Block Runner: I'll need to think more about how this might play out before determining if it should happen automatically or require a proficiency check.

      Disarm/Stagger: Perhaps would come under the Called Shot rules?

      Knocking enemies off their feet: I would like to install an overarching rule, actually, that doing a certain amount of HP damage in one hit has a chance of knocking opponents backward or down.

      Hold the Line: Would definitely require a proficiency check. It would mean that the character is moving her arm all over the place like a maniac to protect people around her. Or this could come under the rules for parrying and happen automatically when the character opts to parry.

      Shield Charge: Again, we need mechanics for how much damage the shield might do, and then can consider if this should be a proficiency check, Called Shot, or work by some other means.

      Definitely food for thought.

  2. I'm rather forgetful so I'd honestly prefer a method of improving stats that doesn't require keeping tons of things in mind while adventuring. That said, I do like the idea of stats naturally increasing through events such as those on the chart.

    1. I'm right there with making a priority of focus on crucial things in the adventure, which is why when I put out the latest update of the House Rules I went with 2d10 added as percentage to Prime Requisites when going up a level.