Monday, 31 March 2014

A different take on miniatures.

Reviewing Open Adventure turned out to be a bigger task than I expected, in a good way, so for now, here's a quickie to keep you guys entertained.

Last rules article we did was about knocking enemies backwards and today we will talk about unusual ways to move around during a battle.

Movement in OSR combat tends to be fairly basic. You move up to your movement allowance, until you are in melee, at which point you mostly stay there. Some people envision the melee as a big, sprawling affair, while others tend to keep the combatants fairly stationary. This can work with or without miniatures as well, though I find that using mini's will encourage the "static" view of melee combat. I.E. your miniature represents fairly accurately where you are physically located.

Here's a few tricks to keep miniatures fun and exciting, without getting too bogged down in their use.

You'll need to determine a good ground scale. Since movement is in increments of 10 feet usually, 1" = 10 feet is usually decent, but you could do 5 feet without too much trouble either.

In most cases, you can simply translate distances and movement rates without issue, and most OSR combat rules will work as is, with no modification.
Some movements will be exaggerated a little, to make them more interesting when using figures.

What we are concerned with here is how to do the fun stuff. You could probably incorporate some of these options in a game not using miniatures as well.

Note that as is usually the case, I aim towards simplicity. Some groups will want to add additional modifiers to the process, to get the experience they want.

Push backs - We already covered this in the Knock Back article. When using mini's, I rule a knock back as 2", with the attacker having the option to "follow up" 1 ".
This makes it a fairly dramatic move to attempt, and also serves to separate the combatants from melee in most cases.

The target can be pushed backwards diagonally or straight away but must move "away" from the attacker.

Slam - A more aggressive version of the Push, a slam occurs at the end of a charge, instead of conventional attacks.
Roll 1D6, on a 1, the attacker stumbles and is knocked prone adjacent to the target. On a 4+, the target is knocked 2" out of the way (determine direction randomly or as appropriate by the GM) and the attacker may continue moving past the target.
Heavier / Lighter figures in the same size class (a fighter in metal armour knocking past a mage) is a +1/-1 modifier.
Each size class (small, medium, large) is a +1/-1 modifier.

Targets knocked away must make a Save vs Paralysis or be knocked prone.

Needless to say, the target of a slam will have any spell casting interrupted.

Maneuver - A combatant in melee may maneuver up to 1" in any melee round, for each melee attack made. Any combatants in physical contact may follow up, remaining in contact.
Maneuvering cannot displace an opponent, unless that opponent is a smaller size class.
For example, an Ogre could displace a human.

Force back - Any combatant losing hit points from melee attacks, without inflicting damage on the attacker will be forced back 1".
The attacker may elect to follow up, or let the melee be broken.

Slip through - A character wearing no metal armour may attempt to slip through the space occupied by an opponent. Against opponents of the same size, this is a difficult prospect, requiring a D6 roll of a 1-2.
Apply a +1 for each of the following conditions: If the target lost hit points this round, is surprised or has been knocked back/forced back/slammed.

Slipping through the space occupied by a creature one size larger receives a +2 bonus to the roll.
Creatures two sizes larger (a man sized creature slipping through a Huge creature, like a dragon) can always be done, with no roll required.

The character slipping through can take no attacks as they do so, and may not end their movement in melee contact with the creature they are slipping through.

The above should give you some basics to work with. Let me know what you think.

Leave a comment if you want to see more of this stuff, or combat mods/rules in general.

Thing of the day:

Snazzy translucent dice always seem to roll better for me.
Go ahead, grab a set, and help keep the blog going.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Broad class knowledge

I often find myself assigning broad knowledge groups to characters based on their class. If a situation falls within the realm of knowledge for a given character, I will provide them with additional information, or give them a dice roll to understand something, depending on how challenging or obscure the situation may be.

This can be used in place or, or in addition to a formal skill system such as ones we have discussed before:

Some examples you can use:

Fighters -
Tactics, evaluate weapons and armour

Clerics -
Religious symbols and orders, knowledge of various deities

Magic users -
Sensitive to magic in the area, knowledge of languages and ancient history

Thieves -
Knowledge of city layouts, evaluate loot, city contacts.

You can extend this to other classes and even the various races.
I tend to rule that elves are sensitive to magic (being able to identify that an item is magic if investigated on a 2 in 6 roll), while humans tend to be the only ones who are familiar with the various nation states and political situations in the campaign.

Do you use anything similar?
Do you use a formal or an informal system?

Let me know in the comments.

Thing of the day:

Today's crass consumerism is one of my favourite collections of stories ever, by one of my favourite authors ever.

The Dying Earth series by Jack Vance. While Vance is generally a fantastic writer, with a sprawling vocabulary and an outstanding command of the English language, for D&D fans in particular, it is hard to overestimate the contributions he made to the D&D game.

The most obvious is the magic system of course, but spells, creatures and arguably even the writing style of Gygax has heavy influence from the works of Vance in general, and the Dying Earth in particular.

The Dying Earth stories are also a good example of an "evil" character (Cugel) that can act as an adventurer.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Roll 'em later

Conventional GM'ing wisdom is that if the player is not yet aware of the outcome of a dice roll, it should be rolled secretly, and not revealed yet. This comes up often with things like stealth and similar.

I've slowly come around to two other trains of thought when doing these, however.
1: Let the player roll anyway. This may seem counter intuitive, but in many cases, I think it is acceptable to simply let the player roll now. In particular for thief characters, a highly skilled character can be argued to often have a pretty good sense of their surroundings.

If the thief fails a roll to hide in shadows, it can be interpreted as hiding without success, but it could just as well be applied as not finding a suitable hiding spot. 

This has the benefit of driving the player to make another choice: Look for a different spot, find a different tactic, flee, prepare to fight and so forth. Thieves often get treated somewhat harshly by the GM, especially when it comes to failed thief skills, and this can help soften that a bit, by making the thief class feel more competent and possibly realistic.

  2: Let the player roll, later. A favourite option of mine is to not actually make the roll until the result would become clear.

If the thief is sneaking into the castle, describe the sneaking action as you normally would.
When the moment comes that the ogre guard stomps over to the corner the thief is hiding in, to relieve himself, hand the player the percentile dice and ask them to roll at that moment.

 The same can work for things like traps. For a bit of extra fun, give the roll to the player about to move through the trap that the thief attempted to disarm.

The methods above have a few benefits: They increase the players involvement in the game, can increase tension even for simple situations, and they reduce the amount of dice rolling the GM has to do (and more importantly, keep track of)

Give it some thought, and see how it goes.

Today's thing:

There are two types of OSR players: People who like to invent their own games, and people who have a strong affinity for the "history" of the game.
If you are in the latter category, or just like old fashioned fantasy, you could do much much worse than giving "Three Hearts and Three Lions" a read.

It's one of the foundational stories that D&D was based on (In particular, you will find things like early references to law and chaos, many of the paladins abilities, the quest spell and famously, the D&D take on trolls here), as well as being a simple but very fun read.

It's not overly long or complicated, being essentially an adventure tale, so you can get through it in a few days, on lunch breaks or whatever.

And hey, if you do, you can help support the blog too. It's almost like charity except it probably won't make you a better person

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Knock 'em about!

Combat in a fantasy roleplaying game should be more than simply lining up and trading blows. However, many tactical subsystems end up being far too specific, too complex to remember or too fiddly to use in a fun and engaging way, and a dull rule is a rule ignored.

Here is our first take at increasing the options in OSR combat: Knocking enemies backwards:

Any character may forego one of their melee attacks to knock an opponent out of the way. They must be in melee range of course.

Knocking an opponent away requires the same roll used for knocking open a door (in the system of use). In "Classic" games, this is usually a D6 roll of 1-2 modified by Strength.

If achieved, the opponent is knocked backwards. If exact measurements are wanted (for example, when fighting on a bridge), the knockback is 1D6 feet.
The recipient of a successful knockback also suffers a -2 penalty to their next attack roll.
Otherwise, simply assume it's enough to enable someone to slip through or past the combatant, or even disengage from melee. DM discretion is obviously needed for specific situations.

A character with multiple attacks may attempt multiple knock backs on the same or different targets.

Targets larger than the attacker can be knocked back, but it is less likely. On a successful roll, the target is "staggered", inflicting a -2 to their next attack roll. The attacker immediately rolls again, and on a second success, the target is also knocked back the normal distance.

The DM should judge when a target is too large to be knocked at all.

Knocking back a smaller target is not any easier (they're slippery little blighters) but the knockback distance is increased to 2D6.

Give it a shot next time you game, and let me know how it fares!