Monday, August 3, 2020

Why You Should be Using D6 Hit Dice

If there's one thing I like about the mechanics of your OD&D/LBB derived games, like FMAG and Whitehack, it's this: the humble d6 hit die. Just in case you're not aware of the difference: in B/X and onward, class's hit dice can be d4, d6, d8, etc., but they always gain one every level. All monster hit dice are given in d8s. In the LBB derived games, all hit dice are d6, for monster and player alike. Different classes just gain additional hit dice at different rates.

So why does this matter at all? First, it makes for slightly less "swingy" damage rolls. The worst case for a damage roll against a 1 HD enemy is that you rolled your minimum, i.e. 1, and the enemy has the max health for their HD. So, would you rather be reducing an enemy by 1/6 or by 1/8 at worst? Seems small, but certainly lessens the sting of rolling low on your damage.

But really, that's peanuts compared to the real advantage. And that advantage is reaped by you, the intrepid referee. And advantages reaped by you will, if all goes smoothly, carry over to your players as well, through smoother combat with less number crunching and note taking. 

fistful of six sided dice

Quite simply, rolling a fistful of d6s, and quickly sliding them into groups is much, much faster than rolling a d8 over and over again, adding it up in your head, and then noting that number down. For example, my party once ambushed six 3HD harpies in their nest. So, I grabbed 18 dice, rolled em all, and then quickly arranged them into six equal piles on my desk (without looking at the numbers too much). And that's it! I track the six harpies that way, knock off dice (or take a second to rotate one) as damage is done, and I never bother to write anything down. I almost always finish my piles before the players are done rolling initiative.

Overall, a pretty strong flock. There's clearly two stronger bosses, but there's not any single pushover.

As an added bonus, I don't even have to add the rolled hit die together. I also like to use pip dice so I can tell at a glance if I got a strong roll or not. 

Chessex brand cube of six sided dice
It helps to have one of these big Chessex blocks of d6s as well. Since every layer of dice is nine, I can quickly grab large numbers accurately. If I need 16 dice, that's one layer, then six more dice.

I'm not the most experienced referee in the world here, but for the last sixteen sessions of my quarantine game, I've used this workflow for enemy tracking in my game quite smoothly. I have completely abandoned using the provided HP rolls in modules I use, since they're done using d8s anyway, and the extra randomness can add fun and flavor. I definitely did this when rolling with d8s in the past, but I like it when a random monster rolls the highest, and they are then the boss of the other ones. It's just faster to make those snap, emergent descriptions with this method.

Maybe someone else finds this useful. Of course, maybe this only works for me because my own brain's idiosyncrasies.

There is one other reason I'd like this to spread though: I think there's some untapped design space here. Having HP represented by dice adds another dimension beyond a flat number. This has been mostly untested by me, but when my players want to, say, chop off a troll's arm, or generally give a disadvantage to an enemy by hurting them in a specific way, I can determine that by seeing if their damage roll beats the highest die in a monster's hit die pool. If so, they can maybe take away one of a monster's attacks along with just the highest die.

I really do mean mostly untested though. This hasn't come up much so far. But there's a whole dimension to use here, and if you're already stuck rolling out a monsters HP, it doesn't have to add any extra note keeping.

Some other ideas for using individual hit dice in battle:
-The HD-derived stats of monsters go down as they lose HD from their pile. Monsters get worse at hitting and saving, maybe even losing attacks as their whittled down.
-A monster regenerates by re-rolling it's remaining hit dice every round. It's only permanently damaged by removing a die from the pile.
-Damage resistance being modeled by not doing damage unless the damage roll is higher than any rolled die, in which case it is removed.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Session Recap: Mausritter and the Moathouse

This past weekend at PAX Unplugged I had the pleasure of testing out Mausritter with some friends and some people I just met. So, here are bits of recap and some thoughts on the system!

Some background: we gathered at a free play table at the con to play. I had the idea of reskinning the Moathouse from T1 The Village of Hommlet to be a mouse-sized fort, built out of what was once a mouse shelter used in human experiments. This was my first time running Mausritter, and my second time with the Moathouse. I have also never played Into The Odd, which I understand is a big inspiration for Mausritter. The players were mostly 5e, only a couple had played a more neo-old-schooly game with me before.

We made our characters together at the table, mostly following the random creation rules. But, hey, it's a one shot, and if they didn't want to be striped or have a lumpy face I wasn't gonna stop 'em. This was a bit last minute, so I didn't have any pregens set up. Next time, I would throw together a bunch. Character creation is definitely quick, but not when we only have one list of random characteristics and everyone has to roll them in order.

The bandits were changed to bandit mice, and I obviously had to change the giant rats (to cockroaches, best I could come up with). I also appended mouse to about half the nouns I said (mouse-door, mouse-bridge, mouse-office, etc.) Lareth the Beautiful is now Lareth Smoothfur, an old lab mouse, who is convinced that the experiments he witnessed were part of some divine process, and he replicates them crudely in his tunnels built under his old old cage. The mayor of mouse town gathered up a gang of mice to go figure out why people were disappearing around the fort.

Some highlights:
  • One mouse burned down the spider's tower. As it fled out the top, another mouse rode it down the fort wall like a horse, whereupon a third mouse stabbed it with a human sized quill (their 2-handed weapon).
  •  A tick ambushed a mouse from the ceiling, but the mouse dodged out of the way and put a barrel on it. Then threw the barrel out the window.
  • Bandit-mice rolled neutral on their reaction. The PCs argued with them, until winning them over with the story about riding the spider like a horse down the wall. They decided to become the bandits' supplier of beer and grain, and tell the mayor it was the spider all along.
  • On their way back, one PC started a mutiny and was quickly stabbed to death.
All in all, a good session! I'm pretty happy with how it all ran, so let me do a quick pros/cons summary from both me and the players:

  • Fast combat. Seriously, lightning fast. Makes it hard to go back to rolling to hit. A great combination of brutally swift, but with just enough of a buffer to keep the PCs from dropping instantly. 
  • The general idea of just moving forward assuming the PCs are competent enough to do what the players want. The idea that if the PCs approach an encounter stealthily, they just win initiative. No futzing with stealth checks and perception and surprise, they can just do it if they plan, all handled in fiction.
  • Real cute art. Real slick layout.
  • Possibly just a player preference, but from the feedback I got, they wanted just a bit more of a skill system. Some of them definitely wanted to know explicitly how stealthy they were, at least more than "always sufficiently stealthy if you say you're sneaking." This didn't bother me, and is the sort of thing I might add for my players in an actual campaign if they wanted.
  • Character creation is definitely fast, but having only one copy of the game and passing it around for each person to roll on the different tables was pretty slow. I think combining fur color, fur pattern, and physical details all on one table could work. (I also only just now notice the instant mouse generator linked in the pdf...)
  • The birthsign was also never once brought up once we start. The backgrounds informed mouse personality much more. I think a small mechanical bonus/minus for birthsign might add a little spice in the right place, but I'm not sure what those would be.
  • Armor is maybe a bit weird. Had a player disappointed when upgrading from light to heavy, and the only benefit is not having to wear a shield. The player asked what bonus he would have if he kept the shield and heavy armor, and, by the rules, it's nothing, which is a bit unsatisfying. Not sure how else to have it work though.
Unused Rules I can't comment on but looked fine on my read through:
  • Hex crawl procedure 
  • Spellcasting
  • Character advancement

I ended up with a longer Cons list than Pros, but that's not to say I didn't like the system. I'm really looking forward to using it again, nitpicks aside. I'm also on the lookout now for adventures that can easily be reskinned to a mousey scale. Maybe some of the Dolmenwood stuff? I may post in the future on mousifying other old schooley products.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

One Piece: Dials

I’ve been watching One Piece recently, and I’m finding it hard not to start stealing D&Dable ideas from it left and right. I’m going to give that a try right now. Presenting: Dials!

A dial is a swirled shell from an extinct magical creature that used to live high up in the skies on land made of ancient, fossilized clouds. The sky people use them to power much of their technology, and, on occasion, will trade them to explorers from the ground level who manage to make it up there.

Dials have the ability to absorb and store energy, or sometimes matter, and then release it when a discreet button on the shell is pressed. Each dial can only absorb and release something specific, so different dials have wildly different uses.

Impact Dial - These dials absorb blunt impacts. The momentum of a blunt attack is completely negated if it hits an impact dial. A palm-sized dial can absorb 6 points of damage, and once fully charged, will deal d6 damage if used in combat. These can easily be charged up simply by hitting them with a hammer, or even your hand if done enough times. If positioned and braced carefully outside of a combat, their destructive power is even greater, as if multiple hammer blows all landed simultaneously on a single point.

To charge: an impact dial in combat, first let your enemy automatically hit you. Then, make a saving throw. If successful, you have negated the attack. Otherwise, you're hit automatically.

Axe Dial - Same as Impact, but it absorbs slashing attacks. These are much rarer, and function as "+1" Impact dials. Their energy is released over such a small area that it could easily cut through an iron bar.

Heat Dial - Stores thermal energy, and emits a flame. A handheld heat dial on its own probably won't be useful in combat, but it's basically a portable stove-top / blowtorch.

To charge: Put in a fire, or similarly high heat environment for an hour.

Flavor Dial - These dials absorb whatever smell or flavor they are immersed in. They can be used to flavor something, or if you're more devious, they can emit capsaicin or farts in the faces of your enemies.

To charge: Put in a flavorful environment. Hang above your pot when cooking, or keep it in a bag full of spicy peppers for a day.

Breath Dial - These store whatever gas they are immersed in. Like Flavor dials, but they actually store and emit a large volume of gas. Whether that's air, poisonous gas, or hydrogen. They can be tuned to emit the gas to generate force, but not as great as a Jet Dial.

To charge: Simply keep it surrounded by the gas that you want it to absorb. Above a campfire to fill it with smoke, or in a gas filled cave.

Jet Dial - An advanced, rarer form of the Breath Dial. These emit their stored gas all at once, causing a rocket-like force.

To charge: They need to be charged up with both force and gas. So, they would charge easily in a high pressure atmosphere, or they need to be pointed towards the wind and blown into, whether you strap it to a windmill or blow into it like a balloon.

Flash Dial - A dial that absorbs light. When activated, emits a blinding flash of light all at once. Lamp Dials are related, but release their light slowly over time.

To charge: Sit it in sunlight for an hour, or in firelight for a day.

Tone Dial - Basically a handheld recorder. Make a sound into the shell, then press the button to replay it.

To charge: Just speak into it!

All of these dials can come in widely different sizes. Your average adventurer might mostly want handheld dials, but larger ones have both more capacity and can generate a much higher force when used. You wouldn't take a car engine sized breath dial dungeon delving, but you could use it to build a jet-ski.

In general, I think inventor type characters should be able to tweak the intensity of a dials emitted force. For example, a character that modifies his Heat Dial to emit all it's stored force at once as a big fireball. Or, as mentioned above, modify a breath dial to propel itself forward.

I generally like that a dial does something super specific, but that the effect has a super wide range of uses. They're another tool to have on your belt to solve open ended problems.

What type of Dial did I just find? d20
1-3 Impact
4-6 Heat
7-10 Flavor
10-13 Breath
14-16 Flash
17-18 Tone
19 Axe
20 Jet

How big is this dial? d12
1-9 Handheld
10-11 Loaf of bread sized
12 Car engine sized

There are more dial types, and examples from the comic here:

PS: Not gonna lie, I really want to play in a game where I can be fighter who has a shield completely COVERED in impact dials

Thursday, October 11, 2018

A Review of Play: Moathouse, Session 2

Below is our second session. As you'll see this one gets a little rough. As before, the player facing summary is in standard text, my DM notes are in italics.

October 2nd, 124 in anno obscuri

YOU CANNOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS yada yada. I forgot about this in the first session, and retroactively decided to start on October 1st. I have a little faux Latin year name. Basically going for something that evokes "Dark Ages."

After a good night's sleep, Alaine and Mabub prepeare to once gain set forth to the insidious, evil infested Moathouse. After a failed attempt to impress the bar patrons with their exploits, Mabub tries to get the nickname "Blood Axe" to stick. It does not.

Characters, especially low level ones, heal pretty fast in Whitehack. Basically 2-4 HP a day, all HP if resting for two full days. I like the speed here, and I think I prefer it to getting them all back after one night. Mabub's player already regretted choosing the name Mabub. I gave him a CHA check to see if he could make his new nickname stick, and it failed. These kinds of situations are where the roll under attribute check works great. Get a new nickname? Sure, roll under charisma. Easy, up to chance, but reflects on their character.

They hired a town crier to announce their hiring of any able bodied men-at-arms. Two responded. The first was a vehement hater of orcs, and refused to work with our boar-faced hero. The second, a old, tired gnome (who the northmen call "dwarfs") accepted the job, and introduced himself as Galg.

I strongly recommended they beef up their ranks with some hirelings. I used the Barrowmaze hireling generator, and they only got two, a dwarf and a man who vehemently hates orcs. Randomly rolling the orc racist turned out to be a pretty fun part of the story, so I'm glad I used the generator. Unfortunately it left them with only a single meatshield. I start to get nervous around this point.

As they arrived, the party saw the flame charred ruins of the southwest moathouse tower. Whatever horrible creature they saw their last time was long gone.
As the party headed into the basement, they noted a large increase of cobwebs in the northeast hall of the keep. A new resident?

I restocked the bandit room with the giant spider who left the burnt tower. They picked up on this immediately, and I think we all felt that spark of the "aliveness" of the dungeon.

The basement floor was newly painted with bright streak of blood, leading from the door of the ogre lair down south to a hallway lined with rusty cell doors. The cells were filled with shambling corpses, animated by some foul sorcery, with tools of cruel torture clamped to their bones.

I figured that the bugbears, or maybe the other ogre had dragged Lubash's corpse to the zombie cells for them to dispose of it. I tweaked this area a bit ahead of time, in a way I thought was interesting and more forgiving, but may have backfired. T1 has the zombies attacking on site, with one cell opening per round. Instead, I had the zombies docile until attacked, and made sure they new the rusted cell bars could easily be broken open.

From within the southernmost cell, the party spied a glint, some jewel hidden beneath a misplaced flagstone, behind three of the stinking undead. Alaine loosed a bolt at one, and struck him down. Mabub tried the same with a handaxe to a lesser effect.

I also didn't hide the hidden gem in the southernmost cell, and told them they saw the telltale glint of treasure coming from a crevice in the back of the cell. The players of course, tried to kill the zombies with ranged weapons, then break into the cell and steal it without consequence.

And then, the zombies started a gruesome howl, and beat at the rusty cell bars. Two cells near the entrance to the befouled hallway burst open, and five corpses shambled towards them, in open mockery of the law of God.

I ruled here that all the zombies would want to attack, and I'd make a check for each cell to see if they escaped. By the book, they could only be attacked by two or three zombies at once, and they would have their back to the exit, or at the very least to the the larger chamber to the east. Unfortunately, they didn't attack them until they were at the southern end of the hall, and my ruling meant that five zombies were attacking. Looking at the map, the problem becomes apparent.

They were down at the very bottom of the passage, while five zombies were between the middle and bottom column.

The two had their back to the wall, with five zombies barreling towards them. Willow, Alaine's trusted hawk, clawed out ones rotting eyes. Galg the dwarf stared horror, as two abominations ripped out his throat and started to feast upon him.

I hoped the hireling would at least help them, but he IMMEDIATELY died. Alaine used her attuned hawk (now named Willow) to blind a zombie and deal five damage (not enough to kill it. These are 2 HD zombies). Were she to make a point to blind a zombie closest the wall to make a way through, they may have been saved, but instead opted to attack the closest one, who had two others right behind him.

Mabub struggled to bring his axe to bear in the cramped underground hallway, and failed to deal any lasting damage. He attempted to run, but not before the horrible ghouls dragged him down and ripped him to pieces.

Mabub attacked, and missed. Then he decided to run away. I figured if he tried to slip by the two zombies eating Galg's corpse, then they'd only get one free attack between the two of them. Sadly, they hit, dealt five damage, and Mabub failed his death saving throw.

Alaine was alone now, and tried to retreat. A last ditch effort to break through the horde was the only choice left. Alas, she could not make it before being hacked to pieces and joining the ever growing pile of meat and viscera.

Alaine decided to try the same thing, thinking there's no way every die roll would roll as badly as possible like it did for Mabub. And of course it did, and she died as well. She asked if her Hawk could make it out, and I said on a roll of 15 or lower, yes. She did.

And thusly, the story of our heroes comes to an end, with Willow the hawk flying out into the woods.

Some real bad luck for them all around, including on the random hireling roll. All these rolls, excepting hit dice, were rolled in the open on Roll20, and I told them the monster Attack Value each time. I think this did add a feeling of fairness, but spirits were definitely low. But most insults were hurled at the dice and at the system. I think those two, even if they don't suck, are a good target for player frustrations. It's easy to just show the rule or the die roll and say, "Yeah, that sucks. Try again?"
I thought change to the zombies' behavior would make it easier, but only encouraged them to place themselves in an incredibly dangerous position. I do think the logic held up in the situation though, and nothing felt forced or unfair. I have to try pretty hard not to give player's incredulous outs, and I definitely didn't this time.
It was only an hour into the session, so I figured we could real quickly spin up two more characters and see where it goes.

October 3rd, 124 in anno obscuri

Two new would be adventurers now came upon the moathouse, having heard rumors of treasure from a retired bandit. As they passed through the gate, Kody, a hardened pit fighter, noticed a giant tick creature ready to pounce from the castle wall onto Rezan, a novice witch doctor.

I finally get a random encounter here. I tweaked a tick a bit before hand, simply because the thing felt way too strong, and I had some ideas to make it more interesting. I had it's AC lower from 6 to 2 after it had drank blood, and made the initial bite less damage. I also ruled that a successful attack would knock it off. Ticks are pretty tough when they're flat and empty, but pretty easy to squish when full.
Rezan did not appreciate pranks, and kept walking. A fight ensued, and Kody hacked off the now engorged tick from the back of Rezan's head. Rezan skewered the beast and celebrated. The two looted the burnt tower to find a handful of copper coins.

I think the players were still a little peeved about the TPK, so we had a little exchange where Rezan didn't want to believe that a tick was above him, and decided to keep walking. In general, the players weren't trying hard at all to keep these new characters alive. I understand, but I do feel that disengaging like that, although tempting, really leads to less fun.
The two decided to explore the cobweb filled corridors to the northeast. There, they found a giant, territorial wolf spider. Kody's bowstring slipped off at the last second, and while Rezan was preoccupied with tearing off a piece of his shirt for some reason, the wolf spider pounced.

They decided to try and take out the spider, which was pretty weak, just 2+1 HD. But after a fumble (I had Kody's bowstring slip off. I still felt guilty), and a miss, the spider rolled a critical success to Attack Rezan. Crits in Whitehack default to double damage. I'm flexible on different crit systems, but decided to stick with this one. Funnily enough, the lowest roll possible, 1 x 2, was enough to kill him after being weakened by the tick.

Rezan was torn asunder, and Kody fled back to the town of Hommlet. The stinking evil heart of the moathouse takes three more souls.

I had been pretty honest about combat difficulty and running away, but I think it took until now for the lesson to sink in. Especially the player more experienced with RPGs, who I think, despite playing for five years, only lost his first (and second) character this session.

Deaths and Injuries:

Mabub a.k.a. "Blood Axe" - throat ripped out by zombies
Alaine the falconer - torn to shreds by zombies
Witchdoctor Rezan - eaten by giant territorial wolf spider

45 copper pieces

Yup, only 45 copper pieces the whole session.

Experience Got:
4 from treasure
150 from slaying a giant tick

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Review of Play: Moathouse, Session 1

In an effort to work on my DMing, I'll be posting my session reports here. These are the same session reports I post to our group's Facebook page, but I'll be annotating these ones with my DM notes. Hopefully writing out my justifications and rationalizations will help me notice some recurring flaws I have. Maybe these would be helpful for someone else to read, so I'm doing this publicly, but this is mostly for my self. The player facing report will be in standard text, while my review will be in italics.

Before we begin, the context. This is a group of two, one is new to old school play (Mabub), the other new to role playing in general (Alaine). We are using Whitehack, and right now I'm making an effort to stick as closely to the rules as written as possible (exceptions will be noted as they come up).

We are running T1 The Village of Hommlet. I'd love to run the Caverns of Thracia in the future, so I made a couple of changes. Generally, the Cult of Thanatos is more far reaching and popular, not just a dying religion practiced by backwoods yokels in the jungle. It is still sinister though, and they use the Moathouse from T1 as an outpost on the way to the Caverns. Lareth the beautiful, instead of a servant of chaos, is mid to high ranking cleric in the Cult of Thanatos. He guards the moathouse, and collects supplies and human sacrifices that will be sent over to the Caverns up in the mountains.

I'm also trying to downplay some elements of Hommlet. The whole thing is very high fantasy, and there are frankly way too many high level NPCs bumming around for my suspension of disbelief. I'm planning on assuming that most of the residents are 0 level nobodies, and simply using the map to tell what's around. If the player's are really interested in blacksmith, I'll refer to the key, but overall the village is not that important to me.

Session report starts below.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

+1 Dagger Replacements

I like to give players a +1 dagger early on, as a nice, but not game changing reward. I don’t think a player has ever been remotely excited. Here are some less boring alternatives:

Grenadagger - stout, pointy blade and a wide, heavy handle with a safety lever along the grip. A pin and ring hang from the pommel. The dagger will explode into shrapnel a round after the pin is pulled and the safety lever released. The explosion does extra damage to whoever it's stabbed into.

Dagger of Binding - Long, thin blade. Does no damage if stabbed into someone, unless removed, or the victim moves 30’ away from the control ring. Roll the damage when first stabbed, the victim can tell how bad removing it will be. If the victim is restrained before stabbed, a critical is guaranteed.

Desperate Dagger- curved blade. All hits are critical hits. On each it, the wielder loses a random finger. (i.e., lay hands flat down on table, number fingers 1-10, left to right. Roll a d10, and lose that finger) Losing a pinky isn’t a big deal. Losing two fingers on one hand or either thumb will impart serious disadvantages.
Masterwork Fake Dagger - telescoping blade filled with fake blood. Makes for a very convincing (and totally safe) spectacle when stabbing someone.

Stone-carver - short, stubby blade. If heated red-hot, it can carve stone like butter. You’ll need some serious oven mitts to hold it. Double damage against enemies made of stone!

Dagger of teleportation - throwing dagger. If you throw it, and the blade hits living flesh, you are teleported next to the dagger. Holds three charges. Regains a charge by dealing a killing blow.

Rewind Dagger - shiny and rectangular. Any damage done with the dagger is undone in a couple of seconds. No lasting damage can be done. Feel free to add a tragic twist, like it won’t rewind if used against the wielder’s true love.

Salmon Dagger - salmon shaped grip. If placed in a river, will swim upstream, even up a waterfall. Can pull two people, or one if going up a waterfall. Balance it on your fingertip, and it will spin to point towards a body of water.

Magnetic Dagger - rough iron. Strongly magnetic. Good at parrying and disarming metal weapons. Completely ineffective against metal armor.
Dagger of Silence - smoky finish on a pointed blade. Anyone in contact with the blade cannot make any vocal noises.

The Assassin’s Friend - rusty red blade. Soaks up any blood like a super-absorbent sponge. Can hold the blood of three fatal stabbings. Unscrew the pommel to drain.

Bacchus’ Dagger - golden, erotic hilt. Does no damage, but each stab is the equivalent to the target taking two shots.
Undead Slave Dagger - thin and gray. Leave it in after the killing blow, and the victim will rise as a loyal, undead servant. Taking the dagger out undoes the spell.