"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Under a vampire's spell

On page X41, the vampire's charm ability is described as:
"A vampire may also attempt to charm any who gaze into its eyes. The victim must save vs Spells to avoid the charm, with a -2 penalty on the roll. A charmed victim will be totally under the vampire's control, but cannot use spells or magic." (Italicized emphasis mine)

On page B16, the charm spell is limited by:
"Any commands given will usually be obeyed, except that orders against its nature (alignment and habits) may be resisted, and an order to kill itself will be refused."

Is the vampire's charm ability the same as the normal charm spell? If a victim is "totally under the vampires control" can they resist orders against their nature?

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mistaken Synchronicity of Basic's Missile Weapons

I like to believe that the Moldvay, Cook and Marsh version of D&D is near perfect and everything in it was very carefully considered and forms a utopian synergistic whole. I also know that all it takes is to look for the description of the Detect Invisibility spell to blow that belief out of the water but let me dream.

Looking at the Missile Fire Ranges and Variable Weapon Damage tables in the Basic rulebook there are four missile weapons (not including thrown weapons):

Crossbow* Short 5-80, Medium 81-160, Long 161-240, Damage 1-6
Longbow Short 5-70, Medium 71-140, Long 141-210, Damage 1-6
Shortbow Short 5-50, Medium 51-100, Long 101-150, Damage 1-6
Slings Short 5-40, Medium 41-80, Long 81-140, Damage 1-4

* Two-handed weapon - always looses initiative.

Even though longbows and shortbows are not marked as two-handed weapons they obviously are. However, I like to think that this isn't a mistake or typo. I like to think this is a deliberate design choice to differentiate longbows and shortbows and allow them to follow the normal initiative rules.

This gives four distinct missile weapons:
1. Crossbows have the longest range, can be used by anyone except clerics but always loses initiative;
2. Longbows are in the middle for range, follow the normal initiative rules but can't be used by dwarves, halflings, clerics or magic-users;
3. Shortbows have only a slightly longer range than slings, follow the normal initiative rules and can be used by anyone except clerics and magic-users.
4. Slings have the shortest range, low damage and can be used by clerics.

Of course, then the Expert rulebook throws out this idealized belief of mine when it says that crossbows can only fire once every other round.

Oh well, I can ignore that if I have to.

Wow, JB nails it

I am late to the party but I wanted to link to JB's excellent post about the differences between classed adventurers and B/X's normal men even if just to make it easier for me to find it again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - You are being followed

A thread on Dragonsfoot about how to handle character perception pointed to an article by Thomas Ruddick in Dragon magazine issue #133 which posited the following example:
His Honor the Lord Mayor was naturally quite interested in the adventurers who took temporary residence in one of the finer inns of the town — especially when he learned that one of their aims was to find the local assassins’ guild and settle an old score with it. The guild had caused the Lord Mayor many problems in the past, and he welcomed the possibility that the guild might soon suffer problems of its own. The adventurers, however, were close-mouthed and were cool toward his offers of assistance. His course of action was to rely on the capable services of Ferd, his halfling informant. Ferd began to tail the adventurers whenever they ventured into the city reporting back to the Mayor on their activities.

At this point, the DM creating this scenario must pause. Obviously, the game is going to develop in different ways depending on whether or not the adventurers notice that a nondescript halfling is following them around. How should he determine if the characters notice or not?

So, using the B/X rules how would you handle the likelihood of the party spotting the halfling?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rulings Not Rules - Sneaking past a guard

My post a couple of days ago about B/X resolution systems got me thinking about how to adjudicate certain situations.

Here is a situation that I remember from an old thread at Original D&D Discussion which I can no longer find. Assuming the use of B/X D&D how would you adjudicate the following situation:

A player character (not a thief) is trying to sneak across the entrance to a hallway in a dungeon. At the end of a hallway is a guard standing in front of a doorway. There is one torch in the hallway where the guard is. The guard is standing about 40 ft from where the player character is trying to sneak across.

How would you handle the situation? Does the PC have a chance to sneak past undetected? What rules would you use or what rulings would you make?

EDIT: Here is what I would do (of course, just one of many ways to handle the situation):

Case 1: The PC is wearing metal armour, carrying usual adventuring gear, etc.
I would give the guard a Listen check with a +1 or +2 bonus (so a 3 or 4 in 6 chance of hearing the PC approaching).
If he heard the guard failed his Listen check then I would roll Surprise with a +1 bonus (so a 1 in 6 chance of being surprised).
If the guard was surprised I wold then rule that he was asleep or something.
This gives the PC about a 5% to 8% chance of succeeding in sneaking past.

Case 2: The PC has stripped off armour, padded anything that could make noise and is generally being really stealthy.
I would roll Surprise for the guard. If he was surprised I would rule that he had is back turned or wasn't paying attention for a moment, etc.
This gives the PC a 33% chance of succeeding.

Case 3: A thief (even though I mentioned the PC wasn't a thief).
Make a Move Silently check. If he succeeded then I would give him a bonus to the same surprise roll I used in Case 2. Note that I am using the RAW that to Hide in Shadows the thief has to remain still so that skill isn't relevant.
This give the thief PC the best chance.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Combat Modifiers

I have mentioned a number of times how much I enjoy the abstract combat system in B/X. To me each individual piece fits together like a puzzle to give a near perfect abstract/narrative combat system that also gives players important tactical options.

Part of this combat system is a distinct lack of modifiers for "to hit" rolls. Taking a quick look through the Character Classes and The Encounter sections of the Basic rulebook gives the following modifiers that can be applied to "to hit" rolls:

- Thieves Abilities (B10): The thieves' "backstab" ability which grants a +4 bonus
- Resting (B19) and Running (B24): if not rested a character will have a -1 or -2 penalty, respectively
- Retreat (B25): opponent can add a +2 bonus
- Range (B26): +1 to hit with missile weapons at short range and -1 to hit at long range
- Cover (B26): -1 to -4 based on how much cover

- And of course Ability score bonuses (Strength for melee and Dexterity for missile attacks) and magical bonuses.

The lack of a multitude of situational modifiers goes hand in hand with the abstract system where one "to hit" roll does not equal one swing of a sword.

It doesn't surprise me that most of the modifiers listed above are related to missile attacks. Missile fire just doesn't fit as nicely into the abstract combat system.

Monday, April 5, 2010

B/X Skills, Actions and Resolution Subsystems

A quick read of the B/X rulebooks gives a list of the following resolution systems (and I may have missed some):

1. "to hit" rolls
2. saving throws
3. thieves' abilities
4. turning undead
5. opening stuck doors
6. finding secret doors
7. listening
8. reaction rolls
9. surprise
10. damage
11. morale
12. ability checks (save vs abilities)
13. evasion
14. foraging
15. spell research and magic item creation
16. becoming lost

These can be broken down into the following basic mechanic systems:
d20 vs target number
1d6, 1 or 2 succeeds
2d6 higher better
d20 under target number
d% vs target number

I think they can also be broken into the following thematic groupings:
"to hit" rolls - combat actions and maneuvers
saving throws - last ditch reaction to an action
reaction rolls - social, non-combat interaction
morale - combat interaction
open doors, foraging, etc - proactive, non-combat, physical, adventuring-type actions
find secret doors, listening and surprise - perception, awareness, intuition, etc.
ability checks - proactive skill-based actions
d% - very granular skills and "holy crap" actions

A quick look at the d20 SRD lists the skills below. Based on the B/X resolution systems, I have given a quick "conversion" of how I would handle each d20 skill-based action using B/X. Of course, each situation may be different and how I may handle each situation may change based on various factors.

Appraise - either roll a 1 or 2 on a d6 or an ability check
Balance - either a dex check or a d% check, maybe a "to hit" roll modified by dex if in combat
Bluff - reaction roll if outside of combat or a morale check if in combat
Climb - a thief ability, dex check or a d6 roll
Concentration - I wouldn't use this
Craft - either an ability check or a d6 roll
Decipher Script - read magic or read language spells, maybe a Int check of a d6 roll
Diplomacy - reaction roll
Disable Device - thief ability
Disguise - a d6 roll or a d%
Escape Artist - a d6 roll or a d%
Forgery - a d6 roll or a d%
Gather Information - reaction roll or a d6
Handle Animal - reaction roll
Heal - healing rules are given in the rulebooks
Hide - thief ability or surprise roll
Intimidate - reaction roll if outside of combat or a morale check if in combat
Jump - d6 roll, a dex check or maybe a d%
Knowledge - d6 roll or an int check
Listen - d6 roll
Move Silently - thief ability, surprise roll
Open Lock - thief ability
Perform - reaction roll
Profession - ability check or d6 roll
Ride - I assume everyone know how to generally ride a horse. Actions that may cause a rider to fall off or lose control of the horse are reactions to other actions so I would give a saving throw.
Search - find secret doors
Sense Motive - the players can decide if the trust someone
Sleight Of Hand - a thief's pick pockets or maybe a dex check
Speak Language - either they know it or they don't
Spellcraft - maybe give a magic-user a chance
Spot - listen or find secret doors
Survival - forage or becoming lost check
Swim - given on page X51
Tumble - maybe a dex check?
Use Magic Device - just use the rules as given in the rulebooks
Use Rope - a d6 roll

EDIT: One thing this shows me is that you can do everything that a skill system can do just using the B/X rules.

But I rolled it!

From page X59:
"A common mistake most DMs make is to rely too much on random die rolls. An entire evening can be spoiled if an unplanned wilderness encounter on the way to the dungeon goes badly for the party. The DM must use good judgment in addition to random tables. Encounters should be scaled to the strength of the party and should be in harmony with the theme of the adventure." (Emphasis mine.)

Okay, I am guilty as charged. I love die rolls and randomness. Not simply for randomness' sake but instead for the creative muse they provide. Trying to figure out why there are ghouls in the elven forest is part of the fun.

I also found the emphasized portion of the quote interesting. My impression is that one of the cornerstones of the OSR is that encounters should not be scaled to the strength of the party. I also rarely worry about scaling encounter difficulty relative to party strength.

However, I do try to scale difficulty relative to depth (for dungeons) or distance (for wilderness). That way players can make logical decisions and their actions have meaningful effects.