Sunday 4 April 2021

Alternative Group Combat Rules for D&D BECMI/BX/AD&D and Basic Fantasy, OSR etc.

Although I don't often post on here, I still have a very active Tumblr blog with the same title: It's mostly a reblogging pretty covers of games, miniatures and dice, but it's worth the occasional look.  The following post is longer than most so I felt that it would benefit from being in the blogspot blog here.

Solo-play, large adventuring parties and D&D pre-history

I'm a fan of simpler editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and even more so of some of the old school rules “clones”, such as Basic Fantasy and S&W White Box (Finch, Mythmere Games).  For all sorts of strange reasons I rarely get to play.  I am very much an armchair reader and collector of RPG rules.  With momentary fantasies of running a game at short notice, I'm drawn to systems which look like they would be quick to set up and play.  One example is Tunnels & Trolls, partly because the notation required for planning a game can be minimal (i.e. "Room 3: Orcs MR30 Roll for treasure ; Room 4: Fountain Trap LSR2 ...").  I have to mention T&T because you will see an clear influence here in the way those rules treat combat as collective - with handfuls of dice being thrown and totalled in a deadly face-off, not like in a wargame or many FRPGs where each die roll equals one success-or-fail strike.  In recent years, I've found myself reading the original Chainmail rules which was a precursor to, and part of, the earliest Dungeons & Dragons rules.  If you like Basic/Expert D&D or AD&D but have not looked at Chainmail or “original” D&D I recommend that you do, especially if you have an interest in the evolution of gaming systems.  It's my belief that just by focussing on specific constants like Hit Dice and the Morale Check in D&D old school systems, players can unlock simple and sometimes rewarding mechanics.  

For myself I was interested in running solo- DM-less- games against pre-written scenarios.  Some scenarios, especially "tournament" adventures, often recommend a large number of player characters. Running a party of 5 to 10 PCs through encounters with dozens of adversaries is a far cry from, what for me, was the ultimate model of solo-play, the Fighting Fantasy gamebook, where you controlled one survivable hero against individual monsters.  Suddenly solo-run party adventures in D&D become a rapid turn off.  I can imagine it's similar for a Dungeon Master with one or only a couple of players at the table.  This being said, controlling handfuls of 0-level characters in a "funnel game" in Dungeon Crawl Classics seems to acceptable.  The assumption being that you will lose most of the characters before the end of the session.  If you want to start at first level in a D&D game, there's some serious limits as to how far back a DM can “scale” down encounters, whether or not you want to control hired NPC fighters, and the fact that you have to kill a lot of rats to reach second level. ;)  The issue here is partly a record keeping one and keeping track of which character or monster is acting when in a combat round.  I don't want to change any stats in the rules of adventure, and I'd like to find easy ways to control a large party, especially in combat without x times the paper work (x being the multiplier derived from number of characters, NPCs or adversaries). 

Going back to D&D's roots, the specialism of Chainmail (and it's Fantasy' supplement) was that it was "1 to 1" scale  i.e. every miniature was represented uniquely and not just as a whole unit or troop (Playing At The World is good book for explaining this).  These rules evolve in D&D into one player controlling one miniature or character, hence role-playing as we know it today.  As with many wargames, a single die would be rolled for a standard "fighting man”.  Special characters, like a "hero" or "super-hero”, might get to roll more dice for more attacks.  Those "levels" of fighting force are tabled with the "Hit Dice".  I'm over simplifying here, but the hit dice were rolled with modifiers as the attack roll.  Like many players, when I started playing D&D in the 80s the term "Hit Dice" seemed abstract and too easily confused with the "To-Hit Roll", but these were legacy terms which you just got on with learning.  In D&D, "Hit Dice" to the player represent how many potential Hit Points they can have when rolled, but they the dice are rolled only in character generation and experience level gain.  For players "Level" is the universal phrase for measuring power and strength, especially in relation to the abilities of their class.  For the Dungeon Master, looking at monster stats, Hit Dice are implicitly the indicator of fighting power because they tie in with the To-Hit AC matrices.  In some of the cloned rules the HD number becomes the attack modifier, eliminating the need for attack matrices.  In all of the early systems and retroclones, if you remove all references to character levels, the hit dice (and total hit points) are still the simplest way to compare survivability in melee combat.  Okay, I know this sounds like "1+1=2", but hit dice only have a passive role in combat itself, which I wanted to turn that into an active roll (see what I did there?  role, roll?  I know, I know).

I'll probably be repeating some of this below, but I felt context is needed.  The following rules are being floated for opinion on the Basic Fantasy RPG forum. I feel these rules can work for several different editions of OSR clones and older D&D, but I'm not comfortable posting them in Facebook groups, because edition gatekeeping is very tight at the moment, understandably to stop those groups becoming overwhelmed with off-topic posts. The Basic Fantasy forum is a welcoming community without hang-ups, so I've posted it there for review and suggestions.  In light of the rules possibly becoming associated with Basic Fantasy and an Open Game License, it's good practice for me not to refer to alternative editions of rules.  Old school players will recognise the universality of what is being suggested.  Just now I remembered that in S&W White Box, all HD for monsters and PCs are d6, which would simplify even further the mixtures of polyhedrals suggested below.  

There's a single small reference to Armour Class as a type of saving throw.  Basic Fantasy uses an "ascending" system, so AC is often somewhere between 11 and 20, with 11 being no armour and Chain Mail being 15, for example.  Hence rolling under or equal to Armour Class with a d20 might be plausible as a type of Saving Throw.  Different maths would be required with the traditional "descending" system of AC.  Also, it's worth noting that Basic Fantasy is more flexible with race and class combinations than some rule systems.

I advocate the ungentlemanly use of dice rolling apps, but in recent tests, with a low level party of adventurers, the quantities of dice are not a challenge for average dice-hoarding math-juggling gamer.  Enjoy.

Thursday 17 December 2020

Those Dark Places - Industrial Sci-Fi RPG

Those Dark Places - informal review - 

If you enjoy the fact that the door keyboard isn't responding, the bulkhead lights are flickering out, the air tastes bad, the company-loyal synthetic automaton is the only one on the bridge, and that the strange passenger from Sleep Pod 7 is running amok naked, prising open magnetic cargo crates with a broken multitool ... then Those Dark Places  by Jonathan Hicks is probably for you.  This is a gritty "industrial sci-fi" RPG where players need to keep their characters' stress levels down, doing a job they might only be half qualified for, in a claustrophobic starship, in the arse-end of space, with jump scares, mishaps and environments which just want to kill them.  This is definitely a "mood piece" with a very accessible pick up and play system.  Downbeat 70's/80's movies are cited like Outland and Alien as inspiration.  The technology is physical, mechanical: tightened levers, illuminated switches on panels, interiors are about function over comfort.  Refreshingly, the setting is broad enough for a referee to create their own campaign with plausible locations for grizzled archetypal company-paid characters to be challenged in.  Space stations are like oil rigs in space etc.  The employer's profit is king.  As opposed to the Alien RPG, there's no pressure here to eventually encounter a bio-hazard organism or xenomorph, but as a dark thriller themed game the option is always there - and the players really will not know what to expect.  There's some lovely illustrations by Nathan Anderson, of clunky computers, space helmets and on-edge characters by steaming pipes, but no actual deck plans.  To be honest, plans, sci-fi art and film set photos are a dime a dozen with a Google Search by an enterprising referee, so no problem there.  The simple one six sided die based system means that it might adapt easily to online play - the publisher's facebook page features that games shared on Twitch.  The rules are appropriate for both long term campaign play (across many sessions) and one-shot "do the job" / solve the problem / "try to survive" games.  As a collector of TTRPG rulebooks, I end up often reading a lot more than actually playing, and the in-character prose here doesn't disappoint (although it can get confusing when they are describing "simulations" as though the RPG itself was something in the reality of game world, like a type of holo-deck, meta-meta).  It's definitely worth a look - it's a complete game in one, very easy on the eye, compact book.  

Those Dark Places, Jonathan Hicks, Osprey Games.  This plush colour hard copy is from . The PDF is on DriveThruRPG too.

... / END / ... / SIGNAL DROP / ... [ ACT/PREP:  >> estimated new transmission event window in # 15 hours 3 minutes ] ... ERR/CHK ... power break / location D28 / back up module? 0-zero-NO ... / FAIL / ... [Action required: --]...

Friday 6 October 2017

Puerto Rico and Caribbean Hurricane Relief Bundle

“Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria a few short weeks ago, and is in dire need of humanitarian assistance and relief. We’ve organized this bundle to provide what help we can. The proceeds for this bundle will be going entirely to GlobalGiving’s Puerto Rico and Caribbean Hurricane Relief Fund.” -DriveThruRPG

Bundle cost/donation $25.00 (USD)
(Total value of products provided is $545.33)