I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dark Fantasy Basic, One Page Hacks, and Alignment

As you might know, I was trying to rewrite B/X one page at a time... But now it seems I rewrote the whole thing.

Yeah, my "one page hacks" transformed into a fully developed retro-clone. Well, not fully developed; the first "booklet" (a player's guide including spells and all rules on adventuring) is finished, but "Monsters & Treasure" and GM stuff will have to wait. 

I'm calling it "Dark Fantasy Basic"; if you like my "one page hacks", I bet you'll like it, so stay tuned; it will probably be available within a couple of months, at most (if you want to take a look and provide feedback before that, let me know through G+ or in the comments, and I'll send you the current version).

In any case, this post is about alignment.

As you know, the original D&D, heavily based on Poul Anderson's work, used alignment as teams, and "chaotic" was basically a synonym of "team evil". 

Michael Moorcock created a more nuanced (and sometime confusing) view on alignment, making agents of Law as dangerous as Chaos. Later forms of D&D added "good and evil" as a distinct axis to reflect that (Holmes D&D, interestingly, recognizes the possibility of "Lawful Evil" and "Chaotic Good", using 5 alignments). 

This is the Law! - source.
I don't think the Good-Evil axis is particularly useful, but "team good" and "team evil" is also limiting in my opinion. And I like my shades of gray, and the idea of Evil Angels of Law is just too enticing for me. Law, Chaos, and even Balance should be kept a bit beyond the characters' comprehension; they are just too big to grasp completely.

This nuanced view opens interesting possibilities of role-playing; from time to time, the PCs might find themselves fighting against the forces of Law, pitting the forces of Chaos against each other, making deals, etc. It is also a view concept that fits the polytheistic view of the world often sued in D&D; sometimes, the gods of the underworld are the ones who can guide you though the dungeon. 

"Neutral", by the way, is also not a useful concept for me, because it encompasses those who don't care, those who cannot care (animals), and those who think there should be a balance between the opposing forces of Law and Chaos, or maybe that both forces are dangerous to humankind.

Anyway, here is what I came up with. Click here for the PDF. As always, the idea is that you can use it with any version of D&D.

Alignment & World View

The universe hangs in the balance of the cosmic struggle between Law, the infinite unifying principle of order and conformity, and Chaos, the unrelenting entropic force of freedom and change.

It is up to you to pick a side or remain neutral. You can choose to be Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral or Unaligned, unless the PC’s class or other features requires a certain alignment.

Alignment is not a straitjacket for character behavior, but a summary of the PC’s philosophy, world view, and sympathies.

Lawful characters believe in heavenly order. There are divine laws, legitimate rulers, and faithful prophets, although there are also false idols and usurpers. Unholy magic is better left alone, and the undead must be destroyed, along with other aberrations. Some lawful creatures, such as the Ironweb Spiders, are very dangerous, but that is because the universe has mysterious rules that the mortal mind cannot fully comprehend. To defy Law is to bring destruction upon the world.

Chaotic characters believe in freedom and chance. There are no legitimate kings or queens, no perfect doctrines, no reasonable taboos. The universe is ruled by randomness. The strong rule the weak with power and lies, as it has always has been. Magic, people and creatures are just tools for the clever. Some demons, at least, will offer you a deal – which is more that can be said of the silent Stone Angels that seem to want to turn the world into a tidily organized jail block.

Neutral characters believe in Balance. They believe both Law and Chaos are inimical to humankind, as both visions of paradise will turn this world into a living hell. The gods of Neutrality, if they exist at all, are bound by nature and want to preserve reality as it is. Life is more important than order or freedom.

Many people are agnostic to this struggle and remain unaligned, whether because they don’t fully understand it, because they feel they cannot affect it, or because they don’t care.

People don’t necessarily act in accordance to their alignment all the time, and sometimes it is often hard to distinguish one alignment from another. All alignments contain good and evil people. A Lawful character may choose to wage war against other Lawful sects for religious or mundane reasons, for example, or always choose justice over the slightest mercy. Chaotic characters may cooperate with Neutral or Lawful characters to achieve a common goal. A Neutral character can pray to the Lawful gods against the hordes of chaos in a moment of need.

Lawful and Neutral beliefs are more common amongst humankind, although Chaos is often worshiped simultaneously (or secretly).

There are plenty of nonhuman creatures that identify themselves as forces of Law, Chaos or Neutrality. It is often hard to say if they’re telling the true. As a general rule, Lawful creatures are a bit more predictable since they are always seem to be following one some kind of rules, although those rules will often contradict one another.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

GURPS D&D, part IV: Active Defenses and Saving throws

Read parts III and III before, if you prefer.

So, active defenses. In GURPS, unlike D&D, if an enemy hits you, you can still dodge or parry the blow. It makes a lot of sense; having a parrying weapon or shield is useful, but it can break, and parrying a blade with your arm is certainly going to hurt you. 

Like everything in GURPS, you must roll under a target number to succeed. This target number is usually much lower than the "attacking" skill, making attacks usually better than defense. Which makes sense; combat would take forever otherwise.

In fact, sometimes it feels that combat DOES take forever in GURPS. If your Dodge score is 12, for example, you must roll under 12 (with 3d6) to succeed, which means you can ignore 75% of the attacks that hit you.

The concept of "active defenses" is not that different from D&D saving throws.

Curiously enough, spell saving throws DON'T work in the same way in GURPS. At least not necessarily; a magic projectile is still an attack and can be dodged (the sorcerer must roll two times; once to "create" the projectile and the second to hit the target, and then the target rolls to dodge), but a mind controlling spell, for example, requires the target to roll 3d6 under his Will score (with 3d6) AND beat the sorcerer's margin of success, which isn't required when you dodge.

There are half a a dozen additional rules to make it more complicated (critical hits don't allow defenses, special maneuvers can increase or lower the defense scores, a defense of 3-4 always succeeds and 17-18 always fails, the rule of 16, etc), but that's the gist of the thing.

Why does this need fixing? Because it is too complicated and generates lots of useless rolls. 

How do we fix it? Unify and simplify.

Fortunately, using a d20 in a roll under system (like suggested in the previous posts) make things really easy: just use a blackjack mechanic.

(I've written about similar subjects before, here and here; also, Pendragon does something similar IIRC).

First, defenses. Forget GURPS; now defenses are half attribute + skill, like everything else. Obviously, you can defend with any weapon you can use, but "general" defenses should be easy to come by. In my own game, Days of the Damned, I created a "Survivor" skill that applies to, basically, all defenses but combat; we could probably do the same here.

Now, the combat procedure. Roll 1d20 under you skill. If you fail, well, you fail. If you succeed and roll over your opponent's skill, you hit. Otherwise, you opponent gets a chance of defending, but he must roll under his skill (as always) and OVER your skill to defend.

Example: say your Warrior skill is 17, and you roll a 13. You hit. If your enemy's defense is lower than 13, there is no defense. If your enemies defense is, say, 15, he can only defend by rolling a 15, 14 or 13.

Spells? Exactly the same. ONE roll to cast the spell, and one roll to defend (at most). Don't worry, we will talk about spells eventually.

If you want EVEN LESS dice rolling just divide the skill by two for one of the sides, instead of rolling.

Say, if you want an attack roll but not a defense roll in your games, the skill 17 attacker will hit an skill 12 defender with any number between 6 (i.e., 12 divided by two - although a 6 would be a tie, and ties go to the defender) and 17.

Likewise, if you prefer the PCs to make all the rolls, NPCs always divide their skill by 2 instead of rolling.

It seem that, sometimes, combining two games can create something that is simpler than either of them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GURPS D&D, part III: Combat basics & weapons

Check Part I and Part II.

How would GURPS-D&D combat play out?

First, combat is a skill like any other, but it is ROLLED differently. Not because it is a special skill, but because combat is a special situation that requires multiple repeated rolls. Want to enter an archery contest? That is 3d6 (or 4d6, 5d6) under skill. Combat? A d20 all the way.

Why? Because predictably is necessary when dealing with skills, but boring when dealing with combat.

A natural 1 is a critical hit, by the way. And let's get rid of some of the most stupid rules of GURPS (critical hit tables with "nothing happens" as the most likely result) and D&D (the 3.x "confirming criticals" idea) while we're at it. Funny how those rules are similar, right?

Should we use DEX or STR for combat? Both are fine by me. I'd prefer using DEX "to hit" and STR for damage, including missile weapons, as in GURPS. The idea that you should be using a rapier or longbow if you're weak makes no sense to me! And, as you've seen in part II, combat is mostly skill in this hybrid system, so a low-DEX high-STR fight can still work very well, specially with a d20.

Aside from using a d20, combat is roll-under like everything else. Roll under DEX/2+Fighter (or Barbarian, Monk, etc.) and you hit. Active defenses (dodge, parry, etc) deserves another post.

Forget AC; in GURPS, armor means damage resistance (DR; for example, DR 2 reduces 5 points of damage to 3 points of damage). You don't even need the book; DR is 2/4/6 for light/medium/heavy armor. Flexible armor is easier to don and hide under clothes, but has half DR against crushing attacks. Weight is 15 pounds per point of DR, cost is $300/$1000/$3000.

By the way, the paragraph above fixes one of the most annoying aspects of GURPS: it doesn't have "complete" armor sets in the core book. You must buy armor separately for the torso, legs, arms, etc. You can still use the original method if you prefer more detail.

GURPS equipment is in some ways more interesting than D&D equipment, and GURPS Low-Tech is a thing of beauty if you're looking for detail. But even in the core rule book you've got rules for obsidian blades, different weapons against different armor (no table needed!), and so on.

GURPS does have a few interesting twists when it comes to weapons. Basically, stronger characters are more efficient with axes, maces and other "swung" weapons, while weaker ones would better use spears and arrows ("thrusting" weapons). Some swords and pole-weapons have both options! Nice, huh?

But probably too complicated, and you still need a table to find your damage. It is not a difficult one to use, but I'd rather avoid it.

Let us make it simple: just give an WotC-era bonus to damage (+3 for Strength 16, for example), but DOUBLE the bonus for swung weapons (do not double the penalty for weak characters!).

You can still use damage from your favorite D&D edition (1d4/1d6/1d8/1d10; save the 1d12 for halberds only). It works better, and polyhedrals are more fun, right?

GURPS have lots of "realistic" rules for maximum damage, minimum Strength, etc., but they can simplified to this: you cannot have a bonus greater than the dice you're rolling (so, a 1d4 weapon deals 1d4+4 damage at most). If you want to enforce minimum strength, you need Strength 4 to use 1d4 weapons, Strength 6 to use 1d6 weapons, etc.

It also has this cool little rule where cutting/piercing damage that penetrate armor gets a bonus. Piercing weapons DOUBLE that damage (for example, 10 damage, minus 2 from armor would be 8 damage, but 16 if the weapon is piercing). Cutting weapons add 50% to damage after armor. It is easy once you get the hang of it, I promise.

This means a barbarian with a halberd and Strength 20 (assuming 22 as a maximum) deals 1d12+10 damage, plus 50% of any damage that penetrates armor. Which - surprise! - very similar, in average, to the damage he'd deal using GURPS unadulterated rules (3d+7)!

These rules seem simple enough, but cause lots of interesting effects:

- Strong characters are encouraged to use big weapons, and very strong characters are encouraged to use two-handed weapons.

- Certain weapons are better against certain types of armor by default.

- High DEX and high STR Fighters are BOTH feasible, but they FEEL different in play. Unlike 5e D&D, for example, high DEX characters hit more often, but deal significantly less damage per hit.

- A combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain will play somewhat like... well, the combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain (from "A Song of Ice and Fire").

- The result is both more "realistic" than D&D and more fun than GURPS. Which, come to think of it, might be the whole point of this exercise: making combat faster and more fun, while still giving plenty of meaningful tactical choices to warriors.
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