Monthly Archives: June 2012

Maturity & Gaming

Back in the 90s, when I played Second Edition (this was the edition I started with), my friends and I almost always used 4d6, drop the lowest, re-roll 1s, and arrange to taste when rolling up characters. Max HP were generally awarded at first level. I usually played elves, most commonly elven wizards. I often came up with relatively intricate back stories for characters before play, and our characters rarely died (though we did not consciously run a “low lethality” game; such things were not considered). We enjoyed the process of rolling dice, mostly for the variation they introduced, but we didn’t want randomness to rob us of whatever our predetermined vision was.

By that point in TSR’s history, many of the core elements of the original game had become obscured or removed. For example, some of our characters had animal companions or other minions, but we didn’t really play with hirelings. We scorned random encounters, never used reaction rolls, didn’t use hex maps, and ignored all manner of other early techniques (mostly, now that I understand them, to the detriment of our games). This was also certainly affected by the amateur thespian advice littered around the Second Edition books, and the rise of the White Wolf Storyteller games around the same time (which all the older, more sophisticated kids were playing). I flirted a bit with The World of Darkness in high school, but even at that time D&D was always my game of choice.

I wonder, though, if play style is somewhat generational, not in terms of when you were born, but in terms of maturity level. I started playing during my adolescence, and much of one’s life during that period is about defining yourself. Thus, I think there is a strong pull towards wish fulfillment play (“this is what I want to be”). Gary and Dave, when they originally developed D&D, were obviously not in that sort of mental space. They were already mature adults, and were building an intricate game informed by their wargaming experience. There is still a strong strain of childlike wonder present, but that is different than wish fulfillment. To perhaps oversimplify, if adolescence is about self creation, then maturity is about self discovery. The parallels with “character builds” and its alternative “development through play” should be obvious, I think.

Hex Stocking

I’m in the process of trying to come up with a random hex stocking method that works for me. My point of departure is the traditional dungeon stocking method:

  • 1-2 monster (3 in 6 chance of treasure)
  • 3 trap (2 in 6 chance of treasure)
  • 4 special
  • 5-6 empty (1 in 6 chance of treasure)

In the context of wilderness stocking, “monster” would be interpreted as a lair or dungeon, “trap” as a hazard of some sort (or perhaps an abandoned ruin that is uninhabited but still dangerous), and “special” as everything else (including, probably, settlements). Each of those categories could have a subtable or set of subtables to determine the type of lair, etc. I want to keep the system as simple as possible, but I think I need more than this for inspiration, because I don’t find myself actually finishing a stocking process. That’s a sign to me that I need more help from the tables.

One thing that is blocking me is how settlements interact with the stocking. I could just place the settlements, and then stock the areas between them, but I kind of want the generator to do that work for me. It seems that there are really only three or four meaningful settlement sizes for my purposes here. Stronghold, town, village, and isolated settlement (outpost, traveler’s inn, farmstead, etc). Maybe half of the special results would result in some kind of occupied settlement. Ruins would be covered in the monster, trap, and empty (when with treasure) results on the main table.

I don’t care much about things like logical food supplies (I can come up with after the fact explanations), but I do sort of like the idea of graduated civilization and wilderness. Here is another place where three or four categories seem appropriate: civilization (town, fortress, etc), threatened ground (the border between civilization and wilderness), and wilderness. There is a mathematical choice to be made regarding how this works: should the stocking roll be independent or related to results in adjacent hexes? If the process is independent, then we can infer the level of civilization (and thus danger) from the resulting distribution, which will end up being regular.

If it is dependent, then the process would be more like an organic outgrowth from some seed hex (probably the starting town), which would have some chance of going down in civilization level and some chance of going up. The chance of civilization level decreasing as you expand outwards would probably be greater than the chance of civilization level increasing, resulting in a setting that is dominated by wilderness (and thus adventure opportunities). Victor Raymond uses a system like this to generate terrain type in his Wilderness Architect series of articles in Fight On! (issues #2 and #3). He places settlements by determining random direction and distance from the starting settlement.

So, to expand the the “4 special” hex result:

  1. Trick (magic statue, etc)
  2. Settlement
    1. Stronghold (50% chance includes another settlement)
    2. Town
    3. Village
    4. Outpost

The meaning of this table (based on expected values): 1 in 12 hexes will contain a settlement, and 1 in 48 hexes will contain a stronghold. Following the DCC recommendation of 100 miles square, I am considering approximately 16 x 16 six mile hexes, which is 256 hexes (and also compatible with my ideas on hex zooming). Overall, such a wilderness would have (approximately) 86 lairs, 86 empty hexes, 43 specials (21 of which would be settlements) and 43 hazards. How does that distribution look? One thing that does not seem quite right is that an outpost is just as likely as a stronghold using this scheme, but on the other hand this will lead to around 5 strongholds on the map, which seems to be about right (especially if they are of varying levels of power and influence). Also, the “monster” result would include things like bandit forts and the towers of evil magicians.

Any ideas welcome.

Magic Disciplines

I read this post over at The Mule Abides about Starting Magic-User Spells, and for some reason that got me thinking about how higher level spells often seem to be improved versions of lower level spells. With a bit of mental flexibility, many spells almost feel like they belong in a progression. For example, consider a hypothetical discipline “gravity” with the following effects: floating disc, levitation, fly, telekinesis. Or a discipline “interposition” with the following effects: shield, protection from normal missiles, globe of invulnerability.

Extending this idea further, what if magic-users just had access to the discipline as a whole and never needed to learn (or prepare) individual spells? Higher level effects would just be harder to cast. Following the conventions of the 3 LBBs and B/X, there are six levels of effects (or spells) within each discipline. Spells are not learned; disciplines are determined at first level.

A magic-user gets one discipline, plus one additional discipline per point of intelligence bonus. All magic-users would get the metamagic discipline for free. Yes, this means that magic-users with a higher intelligence are more flexible, but we’re all playing 3d6 in order, no? A magic-user with an 18 intelligence is assumed to be a rare an wondrous occurrence. For example, a magic-user with an intelligence of 14 would have access to two spells, determined randomly (or selected, you cheater). It is not possible to switch disciplines after character creation.

The system I am envisioning for casting is similar to these variations of Vancian magic, but magic-users don’t need to prepare any spells beforehand. They may cast any spell which is of level less than or equal to half caster level (rounded up). For example, a 3rd level wizard may cast up to second level spells. When casting a spell, a magic-user must make a saving throw versus spells. Upon success, they may use spells from the discipline again in the same day. Upon failure (but not a roll of 1) the spell still goes off, but the magic-user may use no spells from that discipline again until they have had a good night’s sleep and studied magic books. If a 1 is rolled, the spell fails or backfires in some inconvenient manner (use the spell fumble system of your choice).

Higher level effects may be attempted, but at greater risk. The same procedure is used as above, but the saving throw takes a penalty equal to the spell level, and the save must succeed for the spell to go off. A roll of 20 is always considered a success. Also, the fumble range is extended by the level of the spell. So, if a 4th level magic-user (max spell level: 2) is attempting to cast a 5th level spell, they roll their saving throw with a -5 penalty and the spell backfires on rolls of 1 through 6. This same procedure will obtain until the caster reaches 9th level, when the save penalty disappears and the fumble range drops to 1. In other words, the progression is not linear (though the base save versus spells does improve at 6th level and 11th level); this is intended. You don’t get it, and don’t get it, and then it finally clicks.

Thus, magic-users may attempt any effect at any level, though doing something like conjuring an elemental or attempting telekinesis at first level will almost certainly result in disaster. This could also be done with an ability check and some DC math, but I prefer the simplicity of the traditional saving throw. If possible, I wanted to build this system entirely with traditional D&D spells, using the more iconic ones where possible. Here is an (incomplete, preliminary) example of how the disciplines might look:

Discipline 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Transmutation enlargements
polymorph self, polymorph others transmute rock to mud stone-flesh
Illusion phantasmal forces hallucinatory terrain projected image
Divination detect magic locate object clairvoyance wizard eye contact higher plane
Necromancy VAMPIRIC TOUCH animate dead, magic jar death spell
Destruction magic missile fireball disintegrate
Ward protection from evil prot. from evil 10′ radius
Shield shield protection from normal missiles anti-magic shell
Domination charm person forget confusion feeblemind geas
Thuraturgy knock, wizard lock pass-wall
Gravity floating disc levitate fly telekinesis
Stasis hold portal web hold person hold monster
Optics light invisibility,  invisibility 10′ radius massmorph
Energy shocking grasp lightning bolt
Summon conjure elemental invisible stalker
Space rope trick dimension door teleport
Metamagic read magic dispel magic remove curse

Spells that look like this are originally from OD&D.
Spells that look like this are originally from Holmes.
Spells that look like this are originally from B/X.
Spells that look like this are originally from AD&D.

Note that by “originally” I mean showed up in a major ruleset; they may have also appeared earlier in a periodical like The Dragon or Strategic Review; this is not intended as an historical treatise. That being said, any corrections are still welcome. Shield, magic missile, and ventriloquism were from Supplement I: Greyhawk, not the 3 LBBs. Merciful Shiva, but the spell list exploded in Second Edition!

Ideally, I would have one spell per discipline per level. Sorry about the overloading of terminology; I hope the meaning is clear. Though maybe it’s okay if a few disciplines are just inherently more dangerous, like necromancy or summoning. In a final system, the level of a few effects would probably be adjusted (for example, animate dead could be level four).

This system seems to have several benefits:

  • Familiar D&D spell effects
  • Simple character generation
  • No time spent selecting prepared spells
  • Risk/reward trade-offs
  • Genre flavor (apprentices overreaching their power, etc)
  • Each discipline could be given to a player as a one-page handout
There are a few downsides too:
  • No spells as treasure (at least not in the traditional manner)
  • Scroll rules would need to be revised
  • Potentially more powerful magic-users?

This almost ends up looking like a White Wolf power system (three circles in celerity allows you to do X, Y, and Z) but with traditional D&D effects. Such a system would work well for cleric spells too (for example: purify food and drink, create water, create food), though I’m not sure the flavor works unless you are merging the spell lists like Akrasia’s colors of magic system.

Okay, the data part of this post is not quite complete, but it is taking way too long to cross reference all the rule books, so I’m just going to go ahead and hit publish, and if I still care later I’ll come back and finish that part. In any case, the idea should be clear.