Thoughts about combat rounds in OD&D

In our games of Original D&D combat rounds usually follow a rather loose routine. Out of habit I usually begin combat time by asking to roll for initiative. Thinking about what I’ll describe in this post, I now believe, that this is a bad habit!

Order of actions should not only depend on random die rolls but just as well on tactical decisions made by the players. At any rate, the way things usually develop, actions are declared and rolled for as everyone sees fit. This tends toward being a hot mess, but most of the time combat gets dealt with quickly and entertainingly and usually without too much complication or the feeling of things being unfair.

Yesterdays game however offered a rather standard situation that illustrated, how an ordered combat round would have made quite a difference. The setup of the scene was like this:

Three player characters, lets call them Sander the Medium, John the Acolyte and Gregory the half-elven Veteran-Medium, walked down a winding path towards the infamous parish of Nulb, when they were waylaid by a bunch of bandits. A roll for surprise revealed that no side was surprised, the player characters noted some movement in the shrubs ahead and could discern the crooks ready to attack them. Another roll indicated a distance of some 50 yards. I narrated how three bandits got up and aimed with their bows (a long distance shot with a short bow as I realise now), and how another three bandits began charging at the PCs wielding spiked clubs.

Order of actions

Now I asked the players for actions, and to roll for initiative. The players of John and Gregory declared to ready their weapons and move for cover. The player of Sander declared to throw a sleep spell at the attackers, and since the group won the initiative I let him roll for numbers of hit dice affected right away. He rolled high, a 12 if I remember correctly, so no doubt he put all of the attacking bandits to sleep … at once … no bow shots, no clubbing … Combat had ended (for now) before it’d begun, with not much to do for the other two player combatants – a dull victory.

OD&D has no fixed rules on order of combat, but our house rules document does. With a nod to the Chainmail rules the order in a combat round is stated thus:

  1. Check for surprise
  2. Declare actions and spells
  3. Roll for initiative
  4. Movement and ranged attacks both sides (!) in initiative order.
  5. Spells take effect (!)
  6. Melee attacks both sides in initiative order
  7. Second ranged attacks for units/characters that did not move during the movement phase.

You will have noticed, that I had skipped the ranged attacks, before the sleep spell took effect. And clearly the scene might have developed quite differently, had I let the bandits loose their arrows just before the sleep spell put them to sleep. The odds for the player characters wouldn’t have been so bad, since a bow shot at Sander would have been at a -4 for distance, and the shots at the other two player characters would have been at a -6 for distance and cover. Still I believe the scene would have felt much more tense and uncertain if I had kept to the proper order. With a slim chance Sander might have been hit, while casting the spell, which would have negated its effect completely. Much more would have been at stake and the victory they achieved would have felt like much more of an accomplishment.

There is also a story telling aspect to this. Casting spells is never easy, it takes time and effort. Introducing a logical break between the declaration of casting a spell and having said spell take effect illustrates this.

Spell Casting in Combat

In order to add some interest and “save” the encounter, I whipped up two more bandits who’d sneaked around the PCs and where now charging in from their flanks. Gregory declared his own sleep spell, but was meleed by one of the bandits, so I ruled he lost his concentration on casting his spell. Sander got hit badly by the other bandit, lost all but one hit point, but could strike back with his staff, downing the bandit, which again caused the other bandit to loose his morale and flee.

Thinking about this I believe here is another mistake. Gregory shouldn’t have lost his sleep spell. He should have lost his concentration only if he’d got hit successfully by his opponent. But the opponent missed his attack roll. Again OD&D has no fixed rules on this, and the situation seemed to be logical. However the original Dungeon Masters Guide is quite explicit on this, and with good reason I think:

“Being struck by something during casting will spoil the spell”

and

“Any successful attack, or non-saved-against attack upon the spell caster interrupts the spell.”

In fact as I see it now, the first sleep spell should have been at stake to be spoiled by a bow shot, while the second should have taken effect as the spell caster was not hit while in melee.

Putting the two topics of this post together also hints at an important tactical option. Casters who notably begin casting spells should become preferred targets for ranged attacks, in order to prevent them from casting.

So here it is, two seemingly minor details which can add so much interest and tactical depth.

Note to self

  1. when declaring combat time, focus on proper order of actions!
  2. whenever an opponent starts to cast a spell, be sure to describe to the players how he does so!

Grenzland Kampagnen-Regeln

Auf dem Grognardia-Blog wurde neulich über große Gruppen geschrieben. Kurz nachdem ich den Post gelesen hatte, traf ich beim Asia Imbiss einen alten Freund, der zu den ersten Spielern unserer Grenzland-Kampagne gehörte. Er meinte er wollte mal wieder mit spielen. Gleich darauf meldete sich dann auch noch ein weiterer früherer Mitspieler per SMS, und fragte, ob wir eigentlich zur Zeit online spielen, und ob er nicht mal wieder mitspielen könnte.

Freut mich! Yay! – Die Kampagne kann immer mehr Spieler gebrauchen … the more, the merrier!

Allerdings steigen damit auf die Anforderungen an Spiel- und Terminplanung und die Regelung der Gruppengröße.

Daher hier nochmal die Kampagnen-Regeln:

Termine

  • Die Spieler planen die Termine.
  • Übliche Spielzeit ist Freitags von 19:00 bis etwa 23:00.

Die Spieler sollten sich in der #taverne auf dem Grenzland-Discord-Server verabreden:

Wo im Grenzland soll gespielt werden? Was haben die Charaktere dort vor?

Die Grenzlandkampagne, 5. Spielzeit gibt einen Überblick über die aktuellen Schauplätze.

Seat Limit

  • Online-Runden: 6 Spieler
  • Runden bei uns zu Hause am Tisch: 8 Spieler
  • Runden am großen Tisch z.B. im Würfel & Zucker: 10 Spieler

Es gilt first come first serve – wer zuerst kommt, malt zuerst. Wenn die Runde schon ausgebucht ist, dann zettelt einfach die Nächste an!

Charaktere

Charaktere fallen nicht einfach so vom Himmel, und können sich nur teleportieren, wenn sie über die entsprechendenen magischen Mittel verfügen.

Hat ein Spieler am Ort der Handlung noch keinen Charakter kann er sich entweder einen neuen Charakter erstellen, oder seinen am nächsten stehenden Charakter nach den Reiseregeln schnell an den Ort der Handlung reisen lassen.

Als Ersatzcharaktere sind Söldner und Gefolgsleute immer eine gute Wahl, also kümmert Euch um Gefolgschaft. Auch auf Märkten und in Tavernen sollte man geeignete Ersatzcharaktere finden können.

An Orten an denen außer den Spielercharakteren und deren Gefolgschaft keine Charaktere sind, gibt es keine Ersatzcharaktere – Game over bis zur nächsten Taverne.

Spielberichte

Es wäre großartig, wenn nach jeder Runde die Spieler in der #taverne berichten, was sie erlebt haben. Gibt es neue Entdeckungen? Haben sie neue Gerüchte aufgeschnappt? Das ist die beste Grundlage um Pläne für die nächste Runde zu schmieden.

Kampagnen-Zeit

Die Zeit im Grenzland verläuft in Echtzeit. Dass heißt, auch wenn ein Charakter über einen längeren Zeitraum in der “Taverne” verweilt, wird er älter, und die Welt im Hintergrund entwickelt sich weiter.

Inspiration

Grand Experiments: West Marches – Der Blog-Post über die originale West Marches Kampagne.

Open Table Manifesto – Ein Blog-Post auf The Alexandrian … über Open Table Kampagnen.

Wanderer Bills Menschen & Magie

Vor fast zwei Jahren, im Januar 2019 habe ich mit meinem Projekt Menschen & Magie begonnen. Es sollte eine Hausregelsammlung für den Spieltisch werden. Gleichzeitig aber sollte es neuen Spielerinnen, die vielleicht noch nie etwas mit Fantasy Rollenspielen zu tun hatten, eine informative Einführung sein, die auch die historischen Aspekte der ersten Rollenspiele in den frühen 1970ern berücksichtigen sollte. Nicht ganz einfach, wie die erste Probeversion zeigte. Ein unvollständiges Konvolut aus Querverweisen, Tabellen und Fußnoten. Mein Nachbar legte die Stirn in Falten und fragte, wer eigentlich die Zielgruppe sei … hm … keine Ahnung …

Aber inzwischen ist das Projekt gereift – und zwar zu drei Bänden:

Menschen & Magie: Wanderer Bills Spielerhandbuch für Old-School Rollenspiele

Das Spielerhandbuch ist nach vie vor das einführende Werk. Es erklärt an Hand einer Charaktererschaffung nach den Regeln der drei braunen Büchlein von 1974 worum es in dem Spiel eigentlich geht, und wie man spielt. Außerdem geht das Spielerhandbuch auf das Spiel in langen Sandbox-Kampagnen ein, was für meinen Geschmack in vielen vergleichbaren Regelbüchern zu kurz kommt.

Als Gimmick enthält das Spielerhandbuch eine deutsche Übersetzung von Necropraxis würfelbaren Ausrüstungstabellen, nochmals Dank an Brendan, dass ich die Tabellen benutzen durfte.

Als der System-Matters Verlag in diesem Sommer den ersten System-Matters Fanzine-Wettbewerb ankündigte war für mich klar, jetzt muss ich mich mal ran halten, und das Projekt über die Rampe bringen. Das Spielerhandbuch wurde mein Beitrag zum Wettbewerb. Es gehörte zwar nicht zu den Gewinnern des Wettbewerbs – die drei Gewinner haben sich völlig zu Recht platziert – aber meine 20 eingeschickten Exemplare waren, wie der Großteil aller eingeschickten Fanzines, nach rund einer Stunde im Online-Shop ausverkauft.

Einen Nachdruck des Spielerhandbuchs, mit etwas schlichteren Ausrüstungstabellen wird es in Kürze als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG geben.

Menschen & Magie: Grenzland-Hausregeln 2020

Die Hausregeln 2020 sind das eigentliche Referenzwerk für den Spieltisch. Es orientiert sich grob an Swords & Wizardry Core, enthält also auch eine Klasse für Diebe. Außerdem gibt es als Gimmick die Klasse der Punks: eine Unregelmäßigkeit im Ebenengefüge hat sie in die Fantasy-Welt verschlagen. Neben den üblichen Fantasy Halbmenschen Spezies Elfen, Zwergen und Halblingen, gibt es Regeln für Orks, Goblins und ähnliche Humanoide, falls diese als übernommene Nichtspielercharaktere zu Spielercharakteren werden. Und auch die Klasse der Druiden ist berücksichtigt. Allerdings kann man nur im laufenden Spiel zu einem Naturgeweihten werden. Man kann nicht als Druide das Heldenleben beginnen.

Die Grenzland-Hausregeln 2020 gibt es für kleines Geld als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG!

Menschen & Magie: Arkanes Wissen und Zaubersprüche

Das Buch mit den Zaubersprüchen für alle Stufen. Meine Philosophie als Spielleiter ist ja, dass die Spieler eigentlich nur die Regeln der 1. Charakterstufe brauchen, da die Charaktere ja dann alles weitere im Spiel entdecken – auch neue Fähigkeiten und Zaubersprüche. Andererseits lehrt die Realität am Spieltisch, dass es auch eine Referenz für Zaubersprüche braucht. Ich habe dazu ein unter OGL veröffentlichtes deutsches Regelwerk als Grundlage ausgesucht, und die darin enthaltenen Zaubersprüche überarbeitet und an die Nullte Edition bzw. an Swords & Wizardry angepasst. Im Laufe der Zeit kamen dann auch noch ein paar eigene Sprüche hinzu, zum Beispiel die Gunst der Fortuna, ein Spruch der die Big Purple d30 Rule in Form eines Zauberspruchs ins Spiel bringt.

Arkanes Wissen und Zaubersprüche ist als PDF und Print on Demand bei DrivethroughRPG erhältlich.

Wie geht es weiter?

Drei weitere Bände sind in Arbeit:

Menschen & Magie: Monster und Schätze ein Monsterbuch mit sehr vielen Würfeltabellen, Menschen & Magie: Geheimes Wissen, Wanderer Bills dekonstruktivistisches Spielleiterbuch, welches sich mehr als Werkzeugkasten versteht, indem es nicht nur die ursprünglichen Regeln in seine Einzelteile zerlegt, und die Hausregeln 2021, die auf den aktuellen Hausregeln aufbauen, aber Elemente aus modernen OSR Regelwerken wie White Hack und Into the Odd enthalten.

Außerdem ist und bleibt Menschen & Magie ein Open Source-Projekt! Die Quelldateien sind frei auf Github verfügbar. Jeder kann sich dort den Versionsverlauf anschauen, von der ersten Stümperversion, über Fehltritte bis hin zum aktuellen Stand der Dinge. Dort kann man also auch sehen, wie Wanderer Bill mit dem Monsterbuch und dem geheimen Spielleiterwissen voran kommt.

Da Menschen & Magie quelloffen ist, steht es natürlich auch jedem frei, sich seine eigene Version von Menschen & Magie zu basteln. Für die Einhaltung der Lizenzbedingungen solcher Derivate legt Wanderer Bill aber natürlich nicht seine Hand ins Feuer.

Die Grenzlandkampagne, 5. Spielzeit

Die Grenzlandkampagne geht in die 5. Spielzeit. Am 08.April 2016 war die erste Session, die mit dem Modul B2 – Festung im Grenzland begann. Zu Beginn spielten wir nach Regeln der “Roten Box”. Inzwischen sind wir zu den Regeln von Original D&D in der nullten Edition übergegangen, und die Kampagnenwelt um die Festung im Grenzland hat sich erheblich ausgedehnt.

Ganz nach dem Motto: “prep situations not plots” hier eine zusammenfassende Einleitung für die neue Staffel:

Es ist Herbst geworden im Grenzland, morgens liegt Nebel in den Tälern und die Berggipfel in den Höhenlagen sind bereits eingeschneit. Aber viel bedrohlicher als der heraufziehende Winter sind die politischen Verwerfungen, welche die letzten Wochen mit sich gebracht haben.

Das Grenzland, der nordöstlichste Teil des Herzogtums Karameikos, ist von Truppen aus dem im Osten von Karameikos gelegenen Thyatis besetzt worden. Ganz überwiegend haben die wenigen zivilen Bewohner des Grenzlandes sich den Thyatischen Eroberern freiwillig ergeben. Was hätten sie auch unternehmen sollen, angesichts der Übermacht. Mehrere Reiter sind nach Spekularum im Süden entsandt worden um Herzog Stefan vom Eindringen der Thyatischen Armeen zu unterichten. Die Menschen des Grenzlandes rechnen daher täglich mit dem Eintreffen von Stefans Truppen.

Die bekannte Kampagnen-Welt

Entspannte Spannung am Grenzübergang

Am Grenzübergang östlich von Hommlet stehen die Thyatischen Truppen unmittelbar hinter der Grenzlinie. Sie haben den alten Turm zu ihrem Grenzstützpunkt gemacht, und sind damit beschäftigt, ein kleines Garnisonsgebäude zu errichten. Sie respektieren bisher die Grenze zu Darokin und es haben sich zwischen den Thyatischen und Darokinischen Grenzern – zu letzteren zählen auch Hauptmann von Berg, und der treue Tiefbart – vorsichtige, freundlich-kameradschaftliche Kontakte ergeben. Das Monstergebrüll welches noch vor wenigen Wochen immer wieder von unter dem alten Turm herauf drang ist verstummt. Die Thyatischen Söldner behaupten, dass sie mit Feuer und zahlreichen bewaffneten Kämpfern ein großes Ungeheuer bezwungen hätten, welches sich in einer der natürlichen Höhlen unter dem Turm in einem riesigen stinkenden Müllhaufen versteckt hatte. Andererseits wird viel gemunkelt über die unendlichen Höhlen unter dem alten Turm, einige sagen es gäbe dort einen unterirdischen Wasserfall, andere behaupten es ginge dort so weit in die Tiefe bis das Gestein flüssig werde. Die Thyatische Führung ist deswegen nervös und sucht nach Möglichkeiten die Gerüchte zu klären.

Burgfrieden im Tal der Landa Heri

Die weiten Wiesen um die Burg von Landa Heri sind ebenfalls von thyatischen Söldnern bestetzt worden. Sie haben etwas abseits der Burg ein großes Zeltlager errichtet. Landa Heri wird auch von Thyatis als bedeutende Klerikerin verehrt und anerkannt. Ihr ist gemeinsam mit ihren Anhängern eine Art autonomer Status zugesichert worden – unter der Voraussetzung, dass sie die Beanspruchung der umgebenden Täler durch Thyatis toleriert. Jüngst berichteten Thyatische Söldner von einem seltsamen Phänomen etwa zwei Tagesmärsche südöstlich von Landa Heri’s Burg. Hoch auf einem Plateau in den schroffen Bergen habe man an einem Tag eine gewaltige schwarze Festung erspäht, am Folgetag sei sie dann spurlos verschwunden gewesen. Da er seine eigenen Truppen schonen möchte, hat Feldwebel Epiphanius deshalb Landa Heri vorgeschlagen eine Expedition auszurüsten um näheres über das seltsame Phänomen zu erfahren – nicht zuletzt fürchtet er eine Bedrohung hinter den eigenen Reihen.

Landa Heris Burg

Gerüchte in Hommlet

In Hommlet bereitet man sich mal wieder auf das Schlimmste vor. In Gundigoots Guter Stube wird hitzig diskutiert wie man sich verhalten soll, falls es praktisch vor der eigenen Haustür zu einem Waffengang zwischen Thyatis und Karameikos kommen sollte. Außerdem ist man ungewiss, ob sich die düsteren Milizen von Nulb einer der beiden Seiten angeschlossen haben, oder weiterhin noch ganz andere Dinge verfolgen. Schließlich berichten Händler gelegentlich, dass sich in Karameikos jüngst viele einfache Bauern, aber auch einige Zauberkundige dem strengen aber rechtschaffenden Orden der Einmonder angeschlossen haben – Die Kleriker des St. Cuthbert werben für Toleranz, allein Jarroo findet klare Worte: er hält die Bewegung der Einmonder für bedenklichen Unfug.

Gute Stimmung in der Felsenheimat

Nachdem vor einigen Wochen eine nicht mehr ganz unbekannte Heldengruppe aus dem Grenzland den kleinen Bergarbeiterort Kinbarak von Untoten und schleichender Verderbnis befreit hatte, wird in Kinbarak wieder aufgebaut. Prospektoren haben in der alten Höhle neue Erzadern entdeckt, die durch das seltsame Sprossen einer mächtigen Eiche mitten in der Haupthöhle frei gelegt wurden. Beon ist exkulpiert worden und hofft nun gemeinsam mit den wenigen Überlebenden Kinbaraks eine neue Heimat aufzubauen. Zum feiern zieht man gerne nach Jarnmörk. Dort gibt es erstklassige neumodische Musik genau nach dem Geschmack der Zwerge, und die Kampfarena ist renoviert worden. Man hat einfach eingesehen, dass man alleine aus Marketinggründen die Pitfights nicht länger als illegales Schmuddelgeschäft auffassen sollte. Daher werden jetzt auch immer wieder mutige Abenteurer gesucht, die den Arenabetreibern möglichst ausgefallene und seltene Monster beschaffen.

A system-agnostic magic system?

System-agnostic seems like a contradiction in itself. Let it be a conundrum to solve (thanks @anahata).

What I’m actually pondering here is a set of magic rules for tabletop rpgs, that would work across a variety of systems. Say it should plug in effortlessly into OD&D and Classic Traveller, but also work with GURPS or Fudge, and maybe even more story telling focused games like FATE or PbtA-Games.

If you think of magic spells as entities that actually break or alter the rules of any given game, it doesn’t seem too far fetched, to have them interface in a sensible way with differing base rules … I hope.

Why?

The undeniable advantage of popular gaming systems is their relatively wide spread availability, a lot of players might already have the relevant book, or can access it easily.

As I like to play old games, or maybe not so popular game systems, I usually don’t expect my players to shell out money for a non-main stream gaming book, or to tediously search the second hand market for a copy.

For players of mundane types as fighting-men, rogues or simple adventurers this usually isn’t a big deal, but the magic users player will at some point want to reference the exact wording of some spell … so she’ll need a book … a spell book possibly.

For this exact situation a freely available (think Creative Commons, OGL …) and easily accessible (free indexed PDF, print yourself at cost at the local copy shop) would be ideal.

So let’s see what can be done …

What’s in a Spell?

I think if you look at the various spells in, say D&D and GURPS, there are certain recurring elements:

  • The spells effect
  • Time to cast
  • Range to cast
  • Duration of the spell
  • Restrictions

The spells effect usually conveys a narrative right, like legitimating the player to state how the magic user moves through a wall, conjures a demon or transforms into a giant mantis or whatever. Under other circumstances, this narration would break the rules of the game. That’s why you need magic. Sometimes the narration directly accesses gaming mechanics, like a fire ball doing 6d6 damage … that’s rules system specific … that’s going to be the difficult part.

Time to cast, range and duration are simple and universal. Even in the far future or in the most unlikely fantasy realm time will come in seconds, minutes and probably also hours days, and so on, and range can always be measured in terms of real world length measurement. Nothing gamey here, use SI units.

Restrictions are important – they tell you when, and only when it is allowed to break the rules by using magic and what kind of effect this has on the base game moving along. Those restrictions make the game fair and playable. Common restrictions are:

  • Spell slots
  • Spell levels
  • Spell cost, in terms of mana, fatigue points, gold, rare ingredients
  • Time and range also act as restrictions
  • agreement and / or support of some super natural being in case of clerical magic

As already said, time and range come in real world SI units, and gold, ingredients and a deities opinion about magic are part of the narrative. But spell slots, levels, mana points are rules-specific, so this is where a “system-agnostic” system would need to substitute alternative, self-contained rules.

First take at universal magic *rules*

This is a work in progress … two basic ideas:

Spells have varying impact and effectiveness, this could be modeled by an abstract spell complexity on a range from 1 (low complexity, easy to cast), to 10 (high complexity, hard to cast).

Magic users probably will be more or less apt at working spells. This could be modeled by some magical aptitude stat. This might be an existing stat, like intelligence (INT) in the original game, it might be derived from a combination of existing stats, or it might be newly added to a given game system.

I think a magical aptitude in the usual 3d6 range from 3 to 18 should be in order. I know, this is somewhat specific, but it also is a very common range for gaming stats, facilitating success rolls with 1d20, 3d6 or derivatives thereof like 2d6, 4d6 or 2d20 with advantage/disadvantage. Also, if multiplied by 5 the 3-18 range converts to 15-90, which is convenient for percentile based systems, and there are commonly known ways, do convert 3-18 to the -4 to +4 range as used in Fudge and FATE.

Now put this together … How about this, just set up a matrix with the difference of magical aptitude and spell complexity:

Spell Complexity
Aptitude12345678910
3210-1-2-3-4-5-6-7
43210-1-2-3-4-5-6
543210-1-2-3-4-5
6543210-1-2-3-4
76543210-1-2-3
876543210-1-2
9876543210-1
109876543210
1110987654321
12111098765432
131211109876543
1413121110987654
15141312111098765
161514131211109876
1716151413121110987
18171615141312111098

This already seems to be somewhat usable to me.

For example, if a magic user with magical aptitude of 12 wanted to cast a spell of complexity level 2, he’d need to roll a 10 or lower on 1d20 or 3d6 … depending on the base rules in action. On a success, the spell would work as expected, on a failure it would fail with some narrative consequence told by the GM.

In a system with vancian magic spell slots, this success roll could indicate, whether the mage managed to learn the spell, and is able to use it safely from then on.

It’s obvious that a character with low magical aptitude and little experience will never manage to work high complexity spells. Or only under certain circumstances, yet to be defined. Seems alright to me.

Now, since those odds seem somewhat depressing, lets add some modifiers:

Experience

Measured on an abstract scale from 1 to 10, experience could be used as a direct modifier. The experience number could represent years of study in a story telling game, or be a derivative of character level in a more classical approach.

As an example, a Mage with aptitude 12 and 5 years of experience would need to roll a 12 or less in order to work a complexity level 5 spell (base number 7 and +5 for experience).

Time

A magic user might invest more or less time into working a spell. Modifiers could look like this, with a basic time to work a spell being hours:

SecondsMinutesHoursDaysWeeksMonthYears
-2-10+1+2+3+4

In essence, this would make it possible for a high experience mage to cast a spell within seconds, while his apprentice might take month or even years to master the complicated ritual.

The time to cast could be further quantified by rolling a d6, so 1-6 seconds for a combat spell, or 1-6 days for some necromantic ritual.

Cost

The magic users might invest a fraction or multiple of the base cost into working the spell. Again, think mana, fatigue points, gold … what ever your system uses. Modifiers could look like this:

Cost multiplier1/101/41/21210100
Modifier-3-2-10+1+2+3

You might think of yet other possible modifiers, but I think this basically covers it.

The actual Spells

I think in order to approach a wide range of spells in a generic way, I’d try a syntax based approach like in GURPS improvised magic, Maze Rats or Magic in the Moment, over on the Papers and Pencils blog: combinations of generic magical nouns and verbs like conjure, banish, hasten, heal, harm, fire, water, demon, monster and so on.

The actual number of magical words going into a spell could be used as yet another modifier. The more words, the higher the penalty ….

As I said, it’s a work in progress. I’ll try to model some commonly known spells with this system and see how it goes. Maybe start with good old light, heal light wounds, sleep and fireball. The players will certainly want those 😉

How’s your campaign?

On his blog @kensanata asked about peoples campaigns and posted a bunch of questions. As others have written already, that’s a fun way to reflect about one’s own campaign, so here we go:

  1. How many sessions have you been playing, more or less?

    About 24.

  2. How long have you been running this campaign?

    We started in April 2017 I think. Played about once a month, and now about every two weeks.

  3. Have you had long breaks? If so, how did you pick it up again?

    Yes, we paused over the summer months. I feel it was not difficult to pick up again. We just did it. Last year a bunch of new players joined the group and at the same time the PCs basically left the place they had been adventuring at over the first sessions of the campaign. So that was kind of a new start.

  4. How many people are at the table when you play?

    Usually around 5 players plus GM, we had sessions with 9 players though and also one or two one-on-one sessions for side quests.

  5. How many characters are in the party when you play?

    Usually every player plays one character, so about 5 PCs, and most of the time they manage to get some NPCs to come along. We had never more NPCs than PCs in the party.

  6. How many players have you had in total over that time period, not counting guest appearances?

    11 regular players in total, right now there are 6 regular players.

  7. Have you had guest appearances? How did it go? Did you gain regular players that way?

    Yes, a few. 3 – 4 I think. Some stayed for 2 – 3 sessions, and then left again. I think most players who joined and stayed were sort of determined from the beginning.

  8. What have the character levels been over time?

    The highest level so far was 5th level. Right now, there are two level 5, one level 4, three level 3, and two level 1 characters.

  9. What classes did the players pick? Did you add new classes over time?

    Mostly standard classes, so fighting-men, magic-users and clerics, now and then we had a thief join the party. Almost all of them are human, very few are halflings. I think there was only one elf and one dwarf character in the whole campaign so far.

    And yes, we have a custum class I’m particularly proud of: Punks! Perfectly normal punks from our timeline, sporting mohawks and leather jackets (AC 7) and wielding clubs or even baseball bats, it they managed to take them along as they were pulled through the limbo to the fantasy world. One of our players has even gathered an NPC punk rock band around his character. They have to get along with medieval instruments though – no electricity in the borderlands 😉

  10. Tell me about some adventures you ran over that time that I might enjoy hearing about?

    Hm, that’s sort of a tough question I find, since everything has been continous events in a sandbox. But here’s one event, that particularly baffled me:

    The party was hunting down some evil wizard who had supposedly kidnapped an NPC female magic user who had helped the party before. The evil magic user had summoned a bunch of minor demons and had a horde of gnolls at his disposal. The party lost 1 or 2 NPCs on the way to the magic user. So a pretty normal dungeon crawl up to the point, when they actually faced off their main antagonist: That evil magic user, crit failed his saving throw against a charm person – so what should I do with the boss going out of commission in the midst of the session?

    I decided to have the demons rip him apart, since being charmed by an opponent he had lost control over them. The demons then took his remains with them to the underworld, so at least some of his mightier magic items were out of reach of the player characters – just for the time being. Then I decided to let the dragon come in early, who had an appointment to get some plunder from the evil magic-user. What finally happend was, that the players didn’t care too much for the kidnapped girl, who was left to the dragon, but managed to get all the plunder and run away with it … oh my … 😉

    I also liked how on some other occasion the party basically took a whole session to plan and set up an ambush on a tribe of orcs. Decent planning, lots of NPCs involved, and our first delve into actually using the Chainmail mass combat rules. Handfuls of dice and the most successful session in terms of XP and gold we’ve had so far.

  11. Have the rule changes over that time? Do you maintain a house-rules document?

    Quite a bit actually. We started with BECM rules as written, but added house rules rather quickly – then, after tinkering with some rules additions from AD&D 1st edition, I decided to take two steps back. What we do now is basically 3LBB plus a bunch of house rules. I like to use d6s for hit dice, attribute bonuses are somewhat deemphasized compared to BECM, and if the players would let me, I’d happily do away with variable weapon damage.

    The house-rules document we use has almost evolved into a stand alone edition. It’s written in german, and is available here.

  12. Has the setting changed over time?¹

    Not much. We started at the *Keep on the Borderlands* at it’s canonical location in Mystara and I added in Hommlet, Nulb and the Temple of Elemental Evil about four days to the west. Everything else is out of the box Mystara.

  13. How much in-game distance did the party cover, how big is the area they have visited?

    Including a side quest, which was an overland journey in which only 3 PCs took part, about 160 miles from east to west. Most PCs have only seen the area between the Keep and Hommlet, so about four days of travel. So the whole area would probebly be about 20 x 120 miles.

  14. Have you used proprietary setting books? Like, could you publish your campaign or would you be in trouble if you did?

    Yes, the B2 *Keep on the Borderlands*, Mentzers *Expert Rules*, and T1-4 *The Temple of Elemental Evil*.

2d6 – the original tabletop role playing dice mechanic

Is 2d6 a hype? I see it everywhere. It’s in games Powered by the Apocalypse like Dungeon World, it’s in Maze Rats and Stars without Number.

Powered by the Apocalypse games introduce three possible outcomes to a roll of 2d6:

10 or more: you succeed

7 to 9: you succeed, but there’s a problem

6 or less: the game master gets to make a move, probably introducing even more complication.

That’s cool, it drives the story forward.

The B/X edition of Dungeons & Dragons (1981), which has become sort of lingua franca in the OSR scene, has morale and reaction rolls based on 2d6. In the lack of persuasion skill rolls like deception, fast-talk or savoir-faire, reaction rolls are an important, and actually quite universal mechanic to adjucate non-combat encounters. It goes like this:

2d6monster reactionretainer reaction
2 or lessimmediate attackoffer refused;
reaction -1 on the next roll
3 – 5hostile, possible attackoffer refused
6 – 8uncertain, monster confusedroll again
9 – 11no attack, monster leaves
or considers offers
offer accepted
12 or moreenthusiastic friendshipoffer accepted; morale +1

Quite a lot of role playing opportunity stuffed into this table. Especially the 6 – 8 range should prompt for some interesting social interaction. Of course the GM can liberally count in charisma modifiers and bonus points for good role playing, bribes offered, or penalties because of overall bad behaviour.

Then 2d6 is the principal die roll in many iterations of the Traveller rules up to Mongoose Traveller and Traveller 5. Classic Traveller was released in 1977. And by the way, there is also the Cepheus Engine, an OGL’ed science fiction system based on Mongoose Traveller 1st edition. There are many supplements for Cepheus, also for non-sci-fi genres, turning it into something like generic universal 2d6 based role playing game system.

But it goes further back. Just look at Chainmail, D&Ds supposed predecessor, published in 1971. The man-to-man combat table uses 2d6 against armor class, just like Classic Traveller.

Blackmoor obviously was the first ever tabletop role playing fantasy campaign. Some time ago, I discovered a post on the gaming experience in Blackmoor. Guess what kind of die rolls were done most of the time? Some character sheets from the Blackmoor campaign have been preserved. Isn’t it suggestive, that attributes and skills had numbers mostly in the range of 2 – 12? The Secrets of Blackmoor documentary released recently is well worth a look if you’re interested in the history of geek culture.

Now I find this quite intriguing. Most people think of a d20 when it comes to role playing and iconic images of dice, but rather likely the original role playing dice were 2d6. In one of my recent posts on reddit I asked how the Classic Traveller rules might be related to the Blackmoor campaign. An interesting discussion ensued and of course the answer is obvious. The designers of Blackmoor, Chainmail, D&D and Traveller knew each other, probably exchanged ideas on game mechanics, 2d6 was commonly used in war games, even before Blackmoor, and after all, d6s were much easier to get at then those funky dice D&D demanded.

Just as a reminder, 2d6 result in a simple bell curve (well, more of a roof top curve actually). Here are the odds:

2d6absoluteat least
22.78 %100 %
35.56 %97.22 %
48.33 %91.67 %
511.11 %83.33 %
613.89 %72.22 %
716.67 %58.33 %
813.89 %41.67 %
911.11 %27.78 %
108.33 %16.67 %
115.56 %8.33 %
122.78 %2.78 %

Finally let my cite this awesome catch all 2d6 based roll playing mechanic found on Norbert G. Matauschs blog, the post is called Back to really simple role playing:

we both roll 2d6; if I’m higher, I say what happens, if you’re higher, you say what happens; if we’re close, we negotiate

What more do you need?

Rules for traveling and hanging around

Here are some house rule for open table fantasy sandbox games.

Hanging around at the tavern

Player characters who don’t take part in an adventure, because their players couldn’t make it to the session, are supposed to hang around at the local tavern. It costs them 1 gp per day to stay there. This may well lead to going into depts, but that’s their problem.

Traveling

Player characters who need to travel quickly in order to catch up with a party may travel 18 to 90 miles or 3 to 15 hex per week. It costs them 15 gp for a week of traveling. Roll on the following table for each week traveling (i.e. if you need to travel 16 hexes, you need two weeks, so roll twice!). You gain the number cast on 2d6 times 20 XP per week!

2d6 event
2 you disappear and become a non-player character. Only the GM knows what happend. You might be found and become a player character again if the party successfully finds you.
3 Something bad happens. You’re traumatised and lose one level.
4 you’ve been assaulted and robbed. You reach your destination with nothing but rags (AC 9) and a cudgel (1d4).
5 you get injured and lose one week of traveling time – roll again.
6 you get help from some higher npc – you owe him a favour now.
7 you make an interesting discovery. You couldn’t gather much, but you’ve found (1) the entry to an unknown cave system, (2) ancient ruins, (3) the lair of a terrible monster, (4) a gate to another world.
8 you meet a traveling companion, roll again with +2. You get +2 on a reaction roll, if you want to hire him as a retainer.
9 you find some work on the way, and earn 3d10 gp
10 somehow you come in possession of a treasure map
11 you find a valuable gem (1d10*100 gp), lucky you
12 you find a magic item (GMs choice)

9 to 5 jobs for adventurers

Characters who stay at some place for a longer period of time might try to find work. Roll 2d6 plus charisma modifier. On a result of 8+ you find a job and earn 2d4 * 10 gp per week. If you miss you have to wait for a week and earn nothing. On a critival miss (2 on 2d6) wait two weeks before roling again.