Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Perpetual Dilemma Of Falling Damage

Most of the writing I'm doing for the game right now focuses on specific situations that may arise over the course of a campaign: i.e., chases, disease, encumbrance, etc.  All of it will be considered optional rules, offered for the BM as suggestions.

In that vein, I've decided to bring back the falling damage rules as they were apparently meant to be: with a geometric progression of damage dice, rather than a linear one.  Here's the text for the section on "Climbing & Falling": 

Climbing sheer surfaces requires a Tough Trickster lore check. “Sheer surface” is defined as any surface without clear hand-holds or other protrusions.  Some species receive bonuses to their climb checks, detailed in their species description, and of course any character with levels in Trickster lore will have a great advantage here.

Any creature who flies under her own power and suffers an attack while airborne that inflicts 50 percent or more of her total maximum HP should make a Challenging Trauma save, or fall to the ground.

There are two ways a BM can model the physical consequences of falling.  One method should be chosen and used consistently.

Characters and creatures suffer compounded damage from falling, 1d5 [1d6] for each 10 feet.  In other words, falling 10 feet inflicts 1d5 [1d6] damage, while falling 20 feet inflicts 1d5 [1d6] + 2d5 [2d6], falling 30 feet inflicts 1d5 [1d6] + 2d5 [2d6] + 3d5 [3d6], and so on.  This geometric progression continues to a maximum of 21d5 [21d6], which represents terminal velocity.

Alternately, the BM can choose a particular height as a threshold, and rule that any character who falls that distance or greater and hits the ground needs to make a Trauma save or be instantly killed. A successful save means she suffers 1d5 [1d6] damage per 10 ft. fallen (in a linear progression), to a maximum of 20d5 [20d6] for falls of 200 ft. or more.

This second method can assign Threat Levels to the Trauma save based on every 10 feet fallen, like so:

Table 4.2:  Falling Distance and Trauma Save Threat Levels 
Distance Fallen                                 Threat Level 
10 ft.                                                   Easy 
20 ft.                                                   Average 
30 ft.                                                   Tough 
40 ft.                                                   Challenging 
50 ft.                                                   Formidable 
60 ft.                                                   Heroic 
70 ft. +                                                Epic

Falling damage is a difficult thing to model in an RPG, because the real-life situation seems so arbitrary.  Sometimes, people die simply while tripping over a curb and landing the wrong way, while someone else survives a fall from thousands of feet after their parachute doesn't open.

Still, the consequences of falling in the real world are terrifying for most people to contemplate, and the same should be true of characters in a fantasy world.  So these suggested rules are meant to address that.  Sure, they're arbitrary, but then, aren't all rules?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A First Look At The Longpaws

I've received several private inquiries as to how I plan to stat out humans and demihumans in Great & Small.  Here's a preliminary look.  These are only first drafts, and don't necessarily reflect what will end up in the final version of the rules.

“Longpaw” is a slang term for humanoid, believed to have been coined by the first dogs.  It is used when referring to any bipedal, mostly hairless, tool-using creature that does things like hunt with weapons, construct and live in buildings, wear clothing, practice agriculture, domesticate other species, and so on.  In some settings, humans will be the only species of longpaw.  In others, typically ones inspired by classic fantasy, the term will also refer to dwarfs, elves, halflings, orcs, goblins, and any number of other humanoid creatures.

Aside from dogs, farm creatures, horses, and small cats, most animals see few relevant distinctions between the different kinds of longpaws.  Nearly all of them are disruptive invaders or upstarts from animals’ point of view, best avoided or driven off when possible.  However, some smaller species – like mice, raccoons, rats, pigeons, and squirrels – have managed to make homes for themselves on the fringes of longpaw settlements, living off of the scraps that longpaws foolishly cast aside as waste.

Although Great & Small is not a game about longpaws, it can be useful to know their game stats anyway, as they make excellent antagonists. Also, some groups may prefer mixed games in the style of Russian fairy tales, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar stories, or C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, which often feature humans and talking animals adventuring alongside each other.

To that end, the four main longpaw races of the classic fantasy game – man, dwarf, elf, and halfling – are detailed below.

Unless otherwise noted, all longpaws have the following default game stats.

     AC: 9 or by armor type
     AT: Unarmed (1d2), or by weapon type
     Beginning HP: 7
     Habitat: Any
     MV: 8
     SZ: Medium 

Species Traits:
  • Bipedal:  Longpaws walk on their hind legs at all times, making them especially susceptible to trip attacks.  They receive no bonuses to resist such assaults.
  • Encumbered: Lacking naturally tough hides, longpaws have invented armor to protect themselves.  However, this slows them down in a fight.  Longpaws add their AC rather than their MV to Initiative rolls.
  • Tool Users:  Longpaws never have to make lore checks to understand or properly use levers, latches, doors, springs, or any other simple tools.  They automatically succeed at such tasks.
Humans like to think themselves the measure of all things, and the masters of all they survey.  Rarely considering other species, they will move into an area and struggle epically to master it by establishing settlements and farms.  This activity drives out some animals, but creates opportunities for others.  In some settings, animals are divided over the question of Man’s existence; those who travel and live alongside Men – notably, dogs, their most loyal companions – are set against those who are driven out by them.  Nearly all animals marvel that individual men are able to survive at all, lacking as they do any claws, teeth, or tough hides.  Weak though they may be compared to some other animals, though, men are nearly unstoppable in large numbers, as many great beasts have learned to their detriment.

Species Traits:
In addition to the standard longpaw traits above, men also possess the following abilities.
  • +2 on all lore checks to interact with dogs, even feral ones.
  • +1 on all lore checks to interact with small cats, even feral ones.
  • +1 on all lore checks to interact with horses and farm creatures.
  • Versatility: Men have a permanent +2 bonus on all lore checks with a single lore of their choice outside their niche, chosen at 1st level and remaining the same throughout their life.
  • Suitable Niches: Any.  
Dwarfs are a longpaw race only found in fantasy worlds where magic and monsters are real.  In such worlds, they are a race of miners who prefer to live underground, and value gold, gems, and mineral wealth above almost all other things (such is their reputation among fellow longpaws, anyway).  They are gruff, surly, and stocky of build, average about 4 ft. tall, and weigh about 150 lbs. as adults.  Their males prefer to grow and decorate their beards.  They tend to have hostile relations, often unintentionally, with subterranean animals, but are not especially cruel towards them when encountered. 

Species Traits:
In addition to the standard longpaw traits above, dwarfs also possess the following abilities.
  • Darkvision:  Dwarfs can see without the aid of any light at all, out to a range of 60 ft.  This vision is black & white only.
  • Tunnel sense: Thanks to their long experience living underground, dwarfs get a +2 bonus on all lore checks to notice unusual earthenworks, such as traps, recent mining, unsafe tunnels, and so forth.
  • +4 bonus on all saves vs. magical effects.
  • +1 bonus on all lore checks to interact with burrowing animals.
  • Suitable Niches:  All dwarfs are trained as Warriors at 1st level.  They make take levels in other lores after this, but Warrior remains their niche.
Like dwarfs and halflings, elves are a longpaw race usually only found in settings where magic and monsters are real.  They fancy themselves a people of the forests and woodlands, self-appointed “protectors” of such realms.  And to be fair, many animals feel that elves are less bad than other longpaws when it comes to respecting other species’s territory… but not by much.  Like all longpaws, elves have certain animal species they like more than others, and will alter their forest homes to favor such species.  They are nearly as tall as men, on average, and have long, pointed ears and slender, graceful frames.

Species Traits:
In addition to the standard longpaw traits above, elves also possess the following abilities.
  • Darkvision:  Elves can see without the aid of any light at all, out to a range of 60 ft.  This vision is black & white only.
  • Fey Magic:  Every elf knows one 1st level magic-user spell of her choice.
  • Ghoulbane:  Elves are immune to the touch attacks of ghouls.
  • +2 bonus on Scout lore checks to spot secret doors; merely passing near such a door entitles an elf to an unmodified Scout lore check to spot it, as though she had been looking the entire time.  The bonus applies if she is actually actively searching.
  • +1 on attack rolls made with long bows or swords
  • +1 on all lore checks to interact with forest or woodland animals
  • Suitable Niches: Familiar, Magic-User, Scout, Trickster, Warrior.
This race of small longpaws is usually only found in classic fantasy settings, where magic and monsters are real.  They resemble men in their proportions, but are notably shorter as adults, average about 3 ft tall in maturity.  They are known for their love of fine food and drink, their gentle disposition, and their adeptness with slight-of-hand tricks.  Notably for longpaws, they often do not cover their feet in shoes or boots, unless it is exceptionally cold.  They normally burrow their homes into the sides of hills, which sometimes causes them to disrupt communities of burrowing animals.

     AC 7 (or by armor type)
     Beginning HP: 5
     MV: 6
     SZ: Small

Species Traits:
In addition to the longpaw traits above, halflings also possess the following abilities.
  •  Darkvision:  Halflings can see without the aid of any light at all, out to a range of 60 ft.  This vision is black & white only.
  • +4 bonus to saves vs. magical effects
  • +2 bonus on Trickster lore checks to climb walls, hide in shadows, and move silently
  • +1 on all attack rolls using missile weapons
  • +1 on all lore checks to interact with burrowing mammals
  • Suitable Niches: Herbalist, Scout, Storyteller, Trickster, Warrior.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Animal PCs for 5th Edition D&D -- Frog Wizard

Turns out, 5e has already gone a long way, quite inadvertently, to making animal player characters more viable than they've ever been in the D&D game. The Player's Handbook and Monster Manual both contain appendices full of critters statted out in a fashion similar to NPCs.

All you have to do to make them PCs is take them as written, re-roll their Intelligence (and in some case their Wisdom and Charisma), and add a character class.  Voila! Instant(ish) animal PC.

Re-rolling Int, Wis, and Cha for animal PCs will almost certainly gift them with ability scores better than the ones assigned to them by the authors.  As an example, here is a frog wizard, for whom I re-rolled Int and got a 12.

Frog Wizard
Tiny beast, Lawful neutral

Armor Class 11
Hit Points 5 (1d6-1)
Speed 20 ft., swim 20 ft.

STR 1 (-1)    DEX 13 (+1)    CON 8 (-1)    INT 12 (+1)   WIS 8 (-1)    CHA 3 (-4)

Skills Perception +1, Stealth +3, Arcana +3, History +3
Senses darkvision 30 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages Common, Amphibian

Amphibious The frog can breathe air or water
Standing Leap As part of its movement and without a running start, the frog can jump up to 10 feet, and high jump up to 5 feet.
Spellcasting This frog is a 1st level spellcaster, and its spellcasting ability is Intelligence (spell save DC 13, +3 to hit with spell attacks).  The frog wizard knows three cantrips from the wizard spell list, and can have 2 1st-level spells prepared.

You can do all the work yourself in just a few minutes, but I'll keep posting other 5e animal PC templates, because I like the work for its own sake, and I figure someone might find them useful.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Featured Creature: Boar

This is the first Featured Creature entry using a format compatible with the rules revisions I posted last night.  The previous Featured Creatures and other creatures on the blog will be updated to be compatible soon.

Boars are among the most aggressive mammals in the wild, remarkable especially since they are not typically predators.  They rarely back down from a fight, and have a reputation for fearlessness that borders on insane disregard for their own safety, though it is possible that many of them are over-compensating.  For this reason, boars (especially males of the species) are revered as warrior totems by many longpaw cultures... and also hunted by them, for it is believed that eating a boar imbues one with the animal's ferocity in battle.

Most wild boars live in matriarchal societies composed of related adult females and their young (of both sexes).  Adult males are typically solitary during the mating season, but rejoin a herd led by their female kin for the rest of the year.

The stats presented here can represent any type of wild boar species (including razorbacks and warthogs), but are not suitable for domesticated pigs.

      AC: 7
      Att. (Dam.): tusks (1d7+1) [2d4]
      Beginning HP: 7 [8]
      Habitat: Any, but prefer temperate forests
      MV: 6
      SZ: Small

Species Traits:
Pumbaa from The Lion King

  • Growth Spurt:  Boars reach full maturity at 3rd Total Level, becoming Medium in SZ. 
  • Low-Light Vision
  • Scent
  • Tenacity: Boars are not easily intimidated, and can fight longer than many other species.  In non-lethal conflict, they can choose the better of two Threat checks they are forced to roll.  In combat, they do not have to make a Trauma save to avoid dying until they reach -5 hp.
  • Venom Resistance:  +4 on all Poison saves to resist the effects of snake venom (and other poisonous bites).
  • +1 bonus on lore checks to push, pull, drag, break, or otherwise use their raw muscle power on heavy objects.
  • +2 bonus on lore checks to hide and move silently in forest underbrush.
  • Special Maneuvers: Charge, Gore.
  • Suitable Niches: Herbalist, Runner, Scout, Trickster, Warrior.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Some rules revisions & housekeeping

Here's a link (which I'll also share on the Quick Start page) to some revised rules that came about as a result of my alpha-test run of Great & Small.  I have a feeling that most of these will be in the final draft of the game.

The big changes are:

1) Hit Dice are now tied directly to Size rating.  Species determines 0-level starting hit points; adding a niche at character creation takes you to 1st level and gives an additional HD roll to add to this total.  Each time you level up afterwards, you gain a new HD of the appropriate type and re-roll all your hp using the new pool of HD, and only change hp total if the new result is greater than the old.

2) Initiative now uses a Move (MV) score determined by your species. I'll be going through the Featured Creatures to revise them, but in the meantime, MV scores can be converted from the old system by dividing the combat movement rate (the number in parentheses) by 5.  This number is added to a 1d10 roll during combat to derive your initiative. Runner characters add their niche die result as a further bonus to this roll.  This will eliminate the system using Speed ratings for declared actions.

3) I've diversified the saving throws so that each core niche now has its own unique save bonus.  The new categories are Blast (Runner), Charm (Storyteller), Deception (Seer), Device (Scout), Fear (Warrior), Paralysis (Trickster), Poison (Herbalist), and Trauma (Healer).  Discerning readers should be able to tell which old-school save category each of these was derived from.

Next week, I will be diving headlong into arranging, re-writing, and compiling the final draft of the full product, including systems for Scent Battles over territory (based on turning undead mechanics!) and hazards of the wilderness, a re-working of OSR treasure rules to accommodate Resources and spandrels, and hopefully expanding the Herbalism list.  Also, creating more tables, including randomized scenario generation ideas.

Meantime, on the blog, I'll continue statting up Featured Creatures -- which will also all be in the final product -- adding 5e-compatible material, more sample PCs of various levels, more setting details for the three campaign schemes, and reviews of some of the inspirational reading.

Thanks to all my readers for the support and encouragement.  This project really feels like it is starting to take on a life of its own.

Monday, September 7, 2015

On Bandits, Berserkers, & Banished Ability Scores

I've made many changes to B/X DNA to create Great & Small -- some more gimmicky than others -- but probably the biggest and most radical has been the elimination of ability scores for PCs.

I didn't make this change lightly, and it happened gradually, as I struggled with the Herculean task of defining ability score adjustments for animals ranging from mouse-sized to whale-sized.  What the heck would the Str adjustment for, say, an elephant be, vs. the Dex or Con adjustment compared to the human baseline assumed by the B/X rules?  How about those aforementioned mice, or whales, or horses? What about a damned T. rex or a griffin? The vast variety of animals (mythical and real) meant it was going to be a long, hard slog, and the prospect of tackling it nearly made me abandon this project altogether.
No class

The root of the problem was that pesky human baseline assumption.  The OSR game rules assume that all characters are going to be obligate bipedal humanoids, with all the anatomy and musculature that entails.  And that's a problem when writing a game about the rest of the animal kingdom because, frankly, us obligate bipedal humanoids are a bunch of mutant freaks compared to even our nearest kinfolk, the apes and monkeys.  The capabilities granted to us by that mutant anatomy are, in many ways, a great restriction on character versatility (how many longpaws can fly at 1st level like a bat, an owl, or a raven can?).  A game designed around us couldn't handle the majority of the world's population very well.  Or so it seemed.

Let's face it: most animals aren't tool-using bipedal humanoids, but they can do a lot of amazing things naturally that longpaws would have to use magic to achieve.  If I wanted to make this game work, I needed to shift the focus off of the freakish mutants who've been hogging the game table all these years and ask myself: what would the B/X game look like if it didn't assume all characters were freakish mutants who walk on their hind legs and use their front paws mostly to play with sticks and rocks?

I started, at first, just focusing on defining and/or expanding what particular types of animals could do within the rules, based on their "monster" entry in some old-school or OSR source, and leaving the great dragon of ability score adjustments for later slaying.  This was, originally, just a tactic to get my butt writing something for the game.

But it turned out that focusing on bestiary stat blocks was the key to the whole project, because monsters (including animals) run just fine without ability scores of any sort.  That point didn't really gel in my mind, though, until I came upon the "monster" entries for freakish obligate bipedal mutants like the Bandit, Berserker, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, or the generic Men.

None of them have ability scores in the bestiaries, either, even if there is a character class listed for them.

And that little detail got me noticing something else, something I'd always been aware of but never really thought much about:  ability scores don't really do anything during actual play.

Sure, they are used at character creation to cross-reference a bunch of derived stats on their associated tables, stats that help define character capabilities and powers.  But the numbers themselves -- say, 12 Str or 9 Cha -- just sat there, taking up space on character sheets that could have been more efficiently used for character portraits, or lists of phat l00t, or whatever.

It's true that successive iterations and editions of the game tried to make the ability scores in themselves useful during game play, leading to varying levels of added complexity. But in the original, they were, functionally, pretty much just place-holders for other things.

Things that were either already accounted for in the stat blocks for non-humanoid creatures, or simply not relevant to their existence in the first place.

And the fact that even the assumed baseline humans of the game could also be designed, through bestiary entries, to run just fine without ability scores solidified my decision:  Great & Small would be a grand experiment in seeing whether the world's first roleplaying game and its descendants could run smoothly using "monster" stat blocks alone.

In a way, this is just doubling down on the B/X "race-as-class" concept that originally defined dwarfs, elves, and halflings.  In G&S, a character's hit points by level, AC, attack types & damage, and base move rates are defined by their species -- that is, their "race" -- rather than by a separate character class.

I turned the character class concept into "lores," collections of dedicated skills and knowledges that any character could earn levels in. Declaring one of these lores as a "niche" at character creation grants access to special abilities that non-specialists can't get, makes the character better at that lore than non-specialists, and gives bonuses to particular types of saving throw, so class and race have still been somewhat decoupled in the game.

But these niches and lores don't, for the most part, define a character's level-based improvements to combat abilities the way character class did for human PCs in most editions of the original game.  They're more like templates attached to a bestiary stat block, to give individual animal PCs a bit of variety.  Nonetheless, most members of a given species will be very similar in their overall capabilities, and these species capabilities improve with experience and levels the way an elf's or a halfling's would in B/X.

In case you're wondering:  yes, I am going to have the freakish bipedal mutants -- men, dwarfs, elves, and halflings -- defined and played without ability scores, too.  The longpaws will be bestiary stat blocks + a niche "template," just like all the other animals in the game.

Because despite their pretensions to the contrary, longpaws are just animals, too.