Housekeeping

It’s been a couple of months since the last post, and I thought the seven people who are continuing to follow the blog may want to know where things stand. At the moment I’m continuing to work on the new magic systems, drawing together many of the rules we have been discussing over the last couple of years. I’m more or less on course, although there’s still a fair amount to do.

So here are my current projects and expectations of when they might be finished:

February 2011

In February I’ll a document containing the new and revised magic system to this blog. If there’s time, I’ll also be running a few low-level Pathfinder games around this time to test it out. The document will include following:

  • Explanation of the magical weave on Iourn, and how spellcasters draw powers for their magic.
  • The refined mechanics for Acquired casters (recharge magic) and Instinctive casters (languor checks). We’ve discussed these rules on the blog before; they remain essentially the same but have been tweaked to work in the context of third edition D&D as opposed to HD&D.
  • Descriptions of the six magical traditions: Arcane, Divine, Pact, Primal, Psionic and Song. Casters in each of these traditions share new mechanics that should make each approach to magic feel special and unique.
  • Many spells published in the third edition PHB are being revised. Largely these are the same spells that Pathfinder revised, but I’m revising them slightly differently. Summoning, Polymorph and Teleportation spells are the ones I’m specifically looking at.
  • There will be new spells (mainly new 0-level spells) added to the game.
  • There will be a number of new feats that play off the new magic system. These will include new mechanics for the way Divine Feats work, as well as feats that help Acquired casters overcome some of the limitations of their craft (such as Favoured Spells).
  • There will also be some revised class abilities, where those abilities play off the new magic system. I’m looking at the druid’s Wildshape particularly, to bring it in line with the new rules for Polymorph. It won’t be a debilitating change, so don’t panic.
  • There will also be new classes. I’m specifically looking at classes and prestige classes that the characters in the League of Light campaign have acquired. I’m going to check over classes such as the Divine Servitor, Templar, Warshaper and Spellsword to make sure that are suitably ‘Pathfindery’.
  • If there’s time you may see a new version of the Warlock as well. But I make no promises.

Hopefully, by posting the document to the blog many of you will find the time to read it. At the time I will urge you to take a firm interest in the way the proposed changes are affecting your character.

April 2011

During Roleplaying Retreat VII we will convert the existing PCs from D&D 3.5 into Pathfinder – or rather into the version of Pathfinder that we’re going to be using. We won’t be adopting Pathfinder whole-cloth as there are aspects of it that are still a bit rubbish in my view.

As I’m taking some Pathfinder rules, some third edition rules and some of the rules we developed for HD&D and squashing them all together, I suspect there could be some confusion over what applies. The only thing I really want to finish before the retreat is the magic system, everything else – including the way we deal with Concentration checks and Attacks of Opportunity – can be fleshed out at the retreat. My view is that we don’t need either, but I’m willing to be guided on that.

I had originally intended to upload all the rules to the Iourn site before the retreat. Realistically, that’s not going to happen before April, but I’m sure we’ll manage.

Winter 2011

By the end of this year (or whenever the current Star Wars game has run its course) I’ll be back running a weekly D&D game with whatever rules we’ve managed to up with in the meantime. More on that nearer the time.

As for the blog, it will continue to be somewhere we can get together and discuss new rules: both the magic system that you’ll see in about  a month or so as well as all the other smaller changes that are coming out of RRVII in April. So bear with me, I’ll let you know when new content appears.

HD&D: The Luck Sphere

You know, I have this great post on Turning Undead but Steve just keeps sending me stuff! Here’s his take on the talents and feats associated with the Luck sphere. Don’t forget, there’s still time to pick try your hand at one of the outstanding spheres from the recent design call: Charm, Elemental Death, Healing, Magic, Order, Strength and Trickery are still up for grabs.

Now take it away, Steve:

Luck Sphere Talents

Aura of Calamity (Cleric Talent)
Others around you suffer adverse fortunes. They slip at the crucial moment, and miss you by a fraction.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite:
Major access to Luck Sphere
Duration: 1 Die roll/continuous
Target: Individual within 10ft of you

Effect: You project an aura out to 10ft which causes bad fortune to your enemies.The first D20 Die roll which an enemy in the aura makes each round (beginning at the start of your turn) suffers a penalty of 2. If the roll would ordinarily succeed on 2+ or 3+ even when this penalty is applied then the roll is instead adjusted to 4+. You can voluntarily decide that this aura effects your allies too.

Boon of the Luck God (Cleric Talent)
The luck of the character is greatly enhanced.
Recharge (Special) | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite:
Major access to Luck Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous (1 Die roll)
Area of Effect: Personal

Effect: Once per game hour the player may re-roll one of their own die rolls three times and take the best result. They may not re-roll other people’s dice. Players do not need to declare they are using this ability before they first roll the die.

Daredevil (Cleric Talent)
You do not fear taking outlandish risks. In fact your god favours it.
Recharge (Special) | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous (1 Die roll)
Area of Effect: Personal

Effect: Any single die roll that would otherwise require a natural 20 in order to succeed, will succeed on a roll of 16 or higher for you regardless of any modifiers. Please note that this will not increase rolls that require 17-19 to succeed, it only affects natural 20s. This is usable once per round

Luckless (Cleric Talent)
Some people wish each other luck. You quite literally don’t need it.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous (1 Die roll)
Area of Effect: Personal

Effect: Once per round, instead of making a D20 die roll you can assume that you rolled an 11. This can be done in any circumstance.

Probability Control (Cleric Talent)
You are able to adjust your chances of success and failure to suit your needs.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous (1 Die roll)
Area of Effect: Personal

Effect: You maintain a pool of luck points. Before making any D20 die roll you may declare that you wish to add or subtract up to three from the result. You may only add points to a die roll if you have points in your luck pool or subtract the balance from another roll which you make in the same round. For example you could add three to your first attack and subtract three from your second or vice versa. Luck points will only remain in your pool for 24 hours. You may have a maximum of 15 points in your luck pool at any one time and you can only add points to your luck pool if there is danger associated with failing a roll. For example before going into a fight you could not spend ten minutes attempting to weave baskets with penalties to the rolls in order tor build up your pool. The DM has complete discretion. 

Luck Sphere Feats

Enlarged Aura of Calamity (Cleric Feat)
Your Aura of calamity projects over a larger area.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural
No Action

Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Aura of Calamity talent

Effect: The range of your Aura of Calamity is extended out to 20ft

Extraordinary Risks (Cleric Feat)
You become even more adept at taking risks that look ridiculous to most.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Daredevil talent

Effect: Any single die roll that would otherwise be a natural 20 will now succeed for you on a roll of 14 or greater.

Fearless Daredevil (Cleric Feat)
Your lack of fear over risk taking extends to a general lack of fear.
Continuous Effect | Mundane
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Daredevil talent

Effect: You may re-roll any fear saves that you are required to take.

Greater probability Control (Cleric Feat)
You are able to adjust your chances of success and failure to a greater extent
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Probability Control talent

Effect: The maximum amount that can be added or subtracted from each roll is increased to five points

Improved Luck Pool (Cleric Feat)
Your pool of luck is enhanced.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Probability Control talent

Effect: The maximum size of your luck pool is increased from 15 to 25. In addition your luck pool begins each day with 5 points of luck already banked.

Increasingly Luckless (Cleric Feat)
You can avoid the problems of probability more frequently.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Luckless talent

Effect: You may now apply your luckless talent to two dice rolls per round

Increased Boon (Cleric Feat)
Your luck is enhanced even further.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Effect: Major access to Luck Sphere, Boon of the Luck God talent

Effect: Instead of one re-roll per hour you may make one re-roll per half hour.

Lucky Strike (Cleric Feat)
When striking your opponents your blows happen to land in the most damaging locations.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequisite:
Major access to Luck Sphere, Boon of the Luck God talent

Effect: You can choose to forego your hourly re-roll in order to gain a different type of boon which effects all damage rolls made during the hour. When you roll maximum damage on a damage die, such as an 8 on a d8, then you may roll the damage die again and add it to the first roll. If you also have the Increased Boon feat then you can forego a half-hourly reroll to gain the lucky strike boon for one hour.

Supremely Luckless (Cleric Feat)
To be the best, most people require good fortune as well as talent. You only need to will it.
At-Will | Supernatural
No Action
Prerequiste: Major access to Luck Sphere, Luckless talent, Increasingly luckless feat, Level 11

Effect: Once per hour instead of making a D20 Die Roll you can assume that you rolled a natural 20. This can be used in any circumstances

Targeted calamity (Cleric Feat)
You may choose to target one foe for even greater calamity.
At Will | Supernatural
Standard Action
Prerequisite: Major access to Luck Sphere, Aura of Calamity talent, enlarged aura of calamity feat
Duration: 3 rounds

Effect: Once per round as a standard action, you may target any enemy within your 10ft aura of calamity with a spellcraft versus will attack. If you succeed then all of your opponents D20 die rolls in the next three rounds suffer a penalty of three. In addition no roll which they make can have a greater chance of success than 5+.

HD&D: The Sun Sphere

A little while ago, I opened a design call on talents for clerics. Steve has come up trumps and provided details of five talents and five feats for the Sun Sphere. Well done Steve! Not one to rest on his laurels, Steve is already looking at the Luck Sphere. However, it is far from too late for anyone else to get involved. Follow the link to the previous post, pick a sphere and get cracking!

I’ll add my thoughts in the Comments section below the main post. In the meantime, I will hand over the floor to Steve:

Sun Sphere Talents

Blinding Aura (Cleric Talent)
When an opponent attempts to strike you their senses become dazzled.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
Immediate Interrupt
Trigger:
A creature is about to strike you
Prerequisite: Major Access to the Sun Sphere

Effect: Any opponent that attempts to strike you feels an intense burning light penetrating into their eyes, although anyone else who was observing would see no effect. Please note that this effect also applies to outsiders and undead even though they would not normally use their eyes (if they have any) to locate enemies. This talent grants an immediate interrupt of Wisdom versus Fortitude. If this succeeds the target is blinded and the penalties to hit for being unable to see your opponent apply to all attacks that they make before the start of their next turn. Undead creatures, outsiders and creatures associated with darkness or the plane of shadows are blinded until the end of their next turn. You can only make one blinding attempt against each opponent.

The Eternal Light (Cleric Talent)
You can emit sunlight from your body and cause touched objects to do the same.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
No Action or Standard Action
Prerequisite: Major Access to the Sun Sphere
Duration: Continuous Effect or 1 Day/level
Area of Effect: Personal/Creature in 20ft/1 object

Effect: This talent has two separate effects:

1) At will you can choose to emit sunlight from your body out to a range of 20ft. This effect cannot be dispelled or repressed by mortal magic and any areas of magical darkness will be repressed where it overlaps with the light. The light deals 0 points of radiant damage per round so although it will not harm most foes it will be effective against creatures which are radiant vulnerable. The light does count as natural sunlight for the purposes of creatures special weaknesses so it would be particularly effective against Drow and Vampires for example.

2) The cleric can imbue touched objects so that they emit magical light. This functions in exactly the same manner as the light spell except that the objects continue to emit light for a duration of 1 Day per level. The cleric can have many objects lit at a time subject to 1/level and the cleric can choose to end the effect on any object at any time. They can be carried an unlimited distance from the Cleric and will still function even after the Clerics death.

Searing Gaze (Cleric Talent)
You can project beams of sunlight from your eyes.
At-Will | Supernatural, Radiant
Standard Action
Prerequisite:
Major Access to the Sun Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous
Target: One creature or Flammable Object

Effect: This talent grants a ranged attack from the eyes of the cleric, which can be used at will. The ranged attack can target a single flammable object or individual and is carried out using Wisdom against Reflex. Against an individual the attacks deals 2d4 + the Clerics Level in Radiant damage which ignores Armour Class. Against an object the light is mitigated by the objects hardness but this can be overcome by maintaining the beam for consecutive rounds. For each consecutive round that the beam is maintained against an object its hardness is treated as two points less. Whenever the beam exceeds the objects hardness and inflicts damage, the object catches light which causes an additional d4 damage to it each round (ignoring its hardness) until it is extinguished. Flammable objects include cloth, rope and wood.

Solarflare/Solarfire (Cleric Talent)
With a glance to the sky, one of your spells hurtles down from the sun itself catching your opponent unaware.
Recharge (special) | Supernatural, Radiant or Fire
Standard Action

Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere
Duration: Instantaneous
Area of effect: As per component Spell

Effect: This talent can be applied to any spell in your repertoire with the Radiant or Fire key words once per day. You must be able to see the sky (whether the sun is visible or not) and must be able to see your target. The component spell originates in the sky above your target, instead of from you which effectively increase the range of the spell to the limit of your sight. The target does not have to be out in the open. For example, you and the target could be inside a castle but if you can see the sky through an open window and see your target then the talent can be applied. A spell that is used through this talent does not require any components, including your focus. You gain a bonus of +4 to any attack rolls to confirm a hit as the attack is somewhat unexpected. As the spell is fuelled by the energy of the sun, all damage dice are maximised.

Sunblock (Cleric Talent)
Your skin, respiratory system and other bodily functions adapt to protect you from the harmful effects of the sun.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere
Area of Effect: Personal

Effect: You become immune to all harmful effects of sun exposure including sunstroke, sunburn, heat exhaustion and sun blindness. In addition, regardless of your environment you only require water enough to sustain you as if you were shaded and in a mild climate. Finally you gain resistance 10 to radiant damage. Please note that you are able to let enough light through your sunblock that you gain the customary bronze skin and bleached hair of a sun priest.

Sun Sphere Feats

Additional Solarflare/Solarfire (Cleric Feat)
You are able to use your Solarflare/Solarfire talent more often.
At-Will | Supernatural Radiant or Fire
Standard Action

Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Solarfire/Solarflare talent
Duration: Instantaneous

Effect: You may now use the Solarflare/Solarfire talent three times per day.

Banishing Light (Cleric Talent)
Your stunning light is so powerful that it may force unnatural enemies from this world.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
Immediate Interrupt
Trigger:
An undead creature, outider or creature of darkness succombs to stunning light.
Prerequisites: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Blinding Light talent, Stunning Light feat, 11th level

Effect: If an undead creature, outsider or creature of darkness / the shadow plane succumbs to your stunning light then you may make a third roll against them using Wisdom versus Will. If you succeed against an outsider or a creature from the shadow plane then they are banished back to their home plane and may not return for at least one day. A creature generally associated with darkness but not actually from the shadow plane is also sent to the shadow plane for a day, although they automatically return once this time has elapsed. An undead creatures link with the negative energy plane are disrupted causing all of their supernatural abilities to cease functioning for 1 round per 2 levels. Any energy drain abilities do not function for 1 round per level.

Disintegrating Gaze (Cleric Feat)
Your searing gaze can completely destroy non magical objects.
At-Will | Supernatural, Radiant
Standard Action
Prerquisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Searing Gaze talent
Duration: Instantaneous

Effect: If you searing gaze damages a flammable non-magical object i.e. it exceeds its hardness; immediately roll 4d4 and add your level. If this total exceeds the objects remaining hit points the power of the sun completely disintegrates it without it bursting into flames. For example, this could be used against a blindfold or rope binding you and if successful would completely obliterate it without it catching light and causing any damage to you for being in contact with a flaming object.

Empowered Solarflare/Solarfire (Cleric Fear)
Your Solarflare/Solarfire talent now deals additional damage.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural Radiant or Fire
Standard Action
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Solarfire/Solarflare talent
Duration: Instantaneous

Effect: Your Solarflare/Solarfire talent now counts as empowered so deals one and a half times as much damage as it ordinarily wood.

Improved Sunblock (Cleric Feat)
The potency of your sunblock talent increases.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
No Action
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Sunblock talent, 4th level

Effect: Your resistance to radiant damage increases to 5 points per level.

Shattering/Vaporising Gaze (Cleric Feat)
Your searing gaze can also shatter glass and vaporise liquids.
At-Will | Supernatural, Radiant
Standard Action
Prerequiste:
Major access to the Sun Sphere, Searing Gaze talent
Duration: Instantaneous

Effect: You can target your searing gaze against glass objects. They will crack when they first take a point of damage and will shatter completely when they lose all of their hit points. Alternatively you can focus your gaze on liquids, including those in glass containers. You can vaporise a small amount of liquid such as a vial of holy water or a potion in a single round, or can ignite flammable liquids such as oil or alchemists fire. You can heat larger volumes of water over consecutive rounds causing them to heat, simmer and eventually boil.

Stunning Light (Cleric Feat)
Creatures affected by your blinding light talent may also be stunned by its potency.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
Immediate Interrupt
Trigger:
A target succombs to your Blinding Light talent.
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Blinding Light talent, 6th level

Effect: If a creature succumbs to your blinding light you may make a second attack roll against them using Wisdom versus Will. If it succeeds then they are stunned until the beginning of their next turn. The blinding effect is postponed by 1 round and now commences at the beginning of their next turn lasting for 1 round, or two rounds if they are undead, outsiders or creatures associated with darkness or the plane of shadow.

Subtle Solarflare/Solarfire (Cleric Feat)
You can use your Solarflare/Solarfire talent with more subtlety.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant or Fire
Standard Action
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, Solarfire/Solarflare talent

Effect: You may now use the Solarflare/Solarfire talent when viewing your target through a portal, when scrying or while using any other divination device. In addition, you are now able to use mirrors, water and reflective surfaces to satisfy the conditions of being able to see the sky and your target.

Sunshade (Cleric Feat)
You are able to give the benefit of your Sunblock talent to your close allies.
Recharge (Special) | Supernatural, Radiant
Move Action
Prerequisite: Major Access to the Sun Sphere, Sunblock talent, Improved Sunblock feat
Duration: 30 minutes/level to a maximum of 8 hours

Effect: Once per day as a move action you can project your sunblock talent so that it effects any allies within 10 ft. in a limited capacity. They gain all of the benefits of the talent, except that their resistance to radiant damage is half of yours.

Tokens of the sun god (Cleric Feat)
The objects which you are able to imbue with light giving properties also gain some of the effects of the light your body emits.
Continuous Effect | Supernatural, Radiant
Standard Action
Prerequisite: Major access to the Sun Sphere, The Eternal Light talent
Duration: 1 Hour / level

Effect: For a limited time the objects which emit light as per the second use of the Eternal Light talent gain some additional effects. They cannot be dispelled or repressed by mortal magic and any areas of magical darkness will be repressed where it overlaps with the light. The light deals 0 points of radiant damage per round to any creature within 5 feet, so although it will not harm most foes it will be effective against creatures which are radiant vulnerable. The light does not count as natural sunlight.

Taking Stock in 2010

New Year’s Resolutions are the among the most pointless and misguided inventions of mankind. The change in year is just an artificial construct necessary for measuring the passage of time. It doesn’t really mean anything. Midnight on the 31st of December is no more important that midnight on any other day of the year. The only significance it has, is the one that we give it. If you want to change your life, give up a filthy habit or start a new one, then do it now. Why wait for cusp of the year? It’s procrastination, and shows a distinct lack of commitment to your cause.

So this post is not a list of New Year’s Resolutions. Call it instead my intentions for the next year regarding all things roleplaying. It has been one year since we embarked on our joint quest to create a hybrid version of the D&D game. It is appropriate to take stock and see exactly where we think we’re going with this. There is also the issue of my ongoing campaigns, and the new weekly game that is due to begin next September. As many of you reading this blog are also my players, any input on my intended direction for the campaign would be very welcome. So let’s make a start.

Iourn

As I mentioned before, September 2010 is the tenth anniversary of our first Iourn session. This has prompted me to cast a critical eye on the setting, its current direction and what I want to do with it in the future. I think that over the past few campaigns, the setting has rather lost its lustre. For a while each campaign was better than the one that preceded it, with The Crucible of Youth being a creative high for me, and featuring tour-de-force performances from the players. Since then, it’s all rather gone down hill. While enjoyable on many levels, the Game of Souls and (particularly) The Hand that Rocks the Cradle weren’t really in the same league.

There’s no one reason for this, but I think the lack of time and attention that I’m able to lavish on the campaigns has to be a major factor. It’s not just about having material to run through every week, it’s about tying that material together into a rich and coherent story that weaves together the background material provided by the players into the ongoing narrative. One of the reasons The Crucible of Youth worked so well was because I didn’t bother writing any adventures until after I’d had the character backgrounds. There’s wisdom in that approach. I’ve also come to believe that campaign logs have a great role to play in keeping the game alive between sessions, and in maintaining consistency and verisimilitude from session to session. Any new campaign I ran would have to have campaign log accompaniment.

Of course, the campaign logs are the first thing to go when I’m pushed for time. As INdran continually points out, there are literally hundreds of unwritten or unfinished logs over on the Iourn website. This lack of narrative information actively hurts the credibility of the setting and makes it far more difficult for me as a GM to keep track of events. That’s why I started writing the Timelines, but then I ran of time to do those as well. In the future I either have to be more disciplined in writing the logs, or I have delegate their responsibility to a willing players. And I’m far too much of a control freak for that.

I therefore think Iourn has to enter an extended period of re-examination and rationalisation for its own good. I need to take the time to build up my narrative understanding of the world, and draw together all my notes from a hundred different Word files into one coherent whole. I am not therefore running a weekly Iourn campaign from September 2010. I will still be running a weekly game (you can read on to find out what that will be), but it will not be set on Iourn. I’m not abandoning the setting by any means, but I am giving it a good polish.

I should point out that this decision will have no effect at all on the League of Light campaign, that will continue at its current pace for the foreseeable future. Anything that happens in that campaign can be more properly discussed at the next retreat. However, I would like to moot that the next weekend game takes place on 24-26 September next year. A little earlier than usual, but dead on the tenth anniversary of the first ever session. That date seems extremely appropriate, and we can do something special.

Hybrid Dungeons and Dragons

So, it’s been one year since we embarked on the HD&D project. What have we actually achieved? Well, we’ve got a few races hammered out, the full skill system, a bucket of feats and the combat system (finishing soon, I promise). We’ve discussed – at length – how all the mechanics should work, and what principles HD&D should live by. We have done a great deal, but we’re still not close to a working playtest. There’s also been less and less discussion of HD&D with each successive post. So have we grown cold to the idea, or is it simply taking too damn long to get anywhere?

These are legitimate concerns. Even if HD&D has no bugs and turns out to be the greatest fantasy roleplaying rules ever, do we really want to wait ten years for me to finish writing it? We still don’t have any character classes, a magic system, spells, monsters and umpteen other important things. Games like D&D and Pathfinder have a squad of professionals writing the game from 9-5, Monday to Friday. I don’t have the luxury of that sort of time to devote to it. Neither do we have the capacity to playtest the rules as thoroughly as they need to be playtested. At what point do we cut our losses and say that HD&D will never be finished?

I don’t want to sound defeatist, and I have no intention of giving up on HD&D yet, but I am going to need some serious help to make this a reality. Over the next few weeks I’m going to post the rules on Atypical Combat, Wounds & Healing, selected weapons and then (finally) the rules for the Fighter class. When I’ve done that, I think we’ll have all the rules we need to make an informed decision on the future of HD&D.

You see there is a prime alternative to HD&D lurking in the wings called Pathfinder. It’s a far more logical extension of the third edition rules than 4e, and it corrects many of the problems I had with version 3.5. However, Pathfinder is not a perfect fit. Its combat is still heavily dependent on the use of miniatures, and it hasn’t really solved the problems inherent in the magic system, multiclassing, playing powerful races or advancing to very high levels. Pathfinder is an open gaming product in the spirit of third edition, so all the rules are available freely online. You can look at them and see what you think.

The thing is that if we did adopt Pathfinder, I still couldn’t run it as published. We’d ultimately wind up playing a hybrid of third edition, Pathfinder and some of my better ideas from HD&D. I would have to come up with all these house rules anyway, so perhaps the time would be better spent writing HD&D? The next few months should allow us all to make that decision once and for all.

BUT… if we do press on with HD&D after the rules for the fighter are published, then I’m going to have to ask you to step up and shoulder some of the workload. I can’t come up with all the character classes, spells, prestige classes, talents, feats and monsters that will be necessary to even playtest the game. So it’s not just a case of whether I have the time to make this work, but whether you have the time to help me.

Iourn.com

As I mentioned above, I have significant plans to go back and add a lot more content to this site over the next twenty months or so. You will also recall from a recent blog post, that I have intentions to revamp the look of the site and drag it into the twenty-first century. It won’t be cutting edge, but at least it’ll look like a site that was made in 2005 rather than 1995. However, the appearance of the site is not the real reason I want to tackle this project. I think that a change in the structure can actively help me get more information about the setting online. However, I want to see if the new structure works first.

Which is where Karris’Mohr comes in.

Karris’Mohr is Marc’s fourth edition campaign setting that we are currently playing each week. And, like Marc’s Cthulhu game before it, I’ve been taking copious notes in order to keep track of what’s going on. At present I am collating those notes into a coherent whole. Once that is done I’ll post them online in a new website that will be designed to have the same structure as the future Iourn site. We’re less than twenty-five sessions into Karris’Mohr. Regardless of how deep and colourful the game is, there is significantly less information available about it than there is about Iourn. The great swamp city will be my guinea pig.

I should be in a position to distribute the content of the site to Marc and my fellow players at some point in January, with the site itself going live later in the year – hopefully before the next Retreat in March. Once it’s created, I’ll do my best to keep the content up to date – which will also give me an idea of the sort of workload I can expect from my own ongoing games in the future.

If the structure is successful, I will look at porting over the content of the Iourn and FBI sites to the new format. However, both sites will require a bit of a shake-up and additional content if they are going to successfully fit in with what I have in mind. What is most likely to happen is that Karris’Mohr will appear next March, but the rest of Iourn.com won’t follow suit for about a year, as the planets align and I finish the work that has been pending for the best part of a decade.

The Next Weekly Campaign

Taking time out to play week after week is a pleasure. At present I feel no burning desire to run a game. I’m enjoying the peace and quiet. However, I have been having ideas about what I want to do next. Give me a few months, and I’ll be straining at the bit to get back behind the screen. I think it needs to be something other than stock fantasy D&D. I want to do something different, that gives me the chance to tell slightly different sorts of stories. However, I’m going to ease myself in gently.

Fourth Edition Dark Sun

In August, Wizards are releasing a new edition of the fantastic Dark Sun campaign setting. I cut my GMing teeth on 2nd edition Dark Sun back in 1993 – I loved the setting then, and I still love it now. I don’t see how on Athas they can make it work under the fourth edition rules, but I’ll be interested to see them try. However, I am not running an extended Dark Sun campaign. Although I can see how I might make it work, my patience with 4e is finite. We’ll drop into the burnt world for about six sessions and then get out again. I might run a published scenario – either one of the new ones, or a converted one from second edition.

I’m going to try and keep my 4e house-rules to a minimum. The game works best when you don’t try to overcomplicate it too much. That said I will probably be instigating the following changes to the rules as published in PHB1:

  • I’m going to partially use the optional rules for Inherent Bonuses from p138 of DMG2. Under these rules all PCs get +1 to attack and damage rolls at levels 2, 7, 12, 17, 22 and 27; and they get +1 to all defences at levels 4, 9, 14, 19, 24 and 29. These bonuses replace the bonuses the system otherwise expects you to get from magic items.
  • All Daily Powers can be used once per encounter instead. This poses no problems for 95% of powers. If using a daily power every five minutes would break the game, then that power becomes a ritual or it is simply excised from the game.
  • Rituals take time, effort and know-how but they don’t necessarily require money. I’ll alter the economics of rituals, and also rationalise the lists so that ritual casting is only open to certain specific classes.

I’m not going to spend any time looking at these house rules until character generation. If someone wants to play (e.g.) an Avenger then we can look at the Avenger’s daily powers together and work out which ones we need to change. It won’t take too long. I went through the entire cleric power list in PHB1 in about ten minutes and identified seven powers I thought could be converted to rituals. All the various electronic resources provided by D&DI will certainly help in this.

Sanctuary Campaign

At present I’m watching an unprecedented amount of television. One of the programmes that I haven’t given up on is Sanctuary. The premise of the series is that our world is filled with different thinking races collectively known as “abnormals”. These beings might resemble creatures of myth and folklore such as mermaids, werewolves and vampires but they true breeding races in their own right. In the nineteenth century a scientist named Helen Magnus gained immortality and set about creating a refuge to help these abnormals survive in the world, while at the same time protecting the world from abnormals that did not want to be helped. By the present-day she has a worldwide network of Sanctuaries for these creatures.

I always thought that Sanctuary had great potential as a role-playing game. Many of the main characters are supernatural creatures, or individuals of history and folklore. Sort of an ersatz League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, if you will. This is the series where Bigfoot teams up with Jack the Ripper and fights crime. That one line alone is enough to send you imaginations running isn’t it?

Unfortunately, the series itself has never really lived up to its promise. It’s entertaining, and the characters are endearing enough, but it’s all rather bland. It isn’t quite daring enough to push the limits of its own concept, and suffers from the ‘Star Trek Syndrome’ of effectively resetting between episodes. But there’s definitely something there that I can use, and it’s definitely different from anything that I’ve done before. And I definitely want to try it. So the question is how to convert Sanctuary the TV series into an as-yet-unnamed roleplaying setting that bleeds cool from every pore.

From the outset I wanted a game where players can take on (almost) any character they want. This could be a character of their own devising, one plucked from literature or something out of legend or myth. If I wind up with a party consisting of a vampire, the golem of Prague and Spring-Heeled Jack then so much the better. I intend to run the game under the versatile, simple and deadly Basic Roleplaying System (the percentile system used by Call of Cthulhu). For the most part I’m not going to worry about rules. As long as each PC has a distinct role, and as long as those roles don’t overlap, I don’t think the characters need to be balanced. There will be far more roleplaying and co-operative storytelling than fighting.

The TV series is grounded very much in the present-day, and the Sanctuary is the sort of high-tech environment that would make Bil Gates green with envy. I’m not sure I want to go down that route. Science fiction is tricky to pull off if you have little understanding of science, and the modern world seems a little too small for all these abnormal races to have gone unnoticed by the population for so long. Therefore I’m going to dial the setting back to the nineteenth century when there was only one Sanctuary. You’ll probably also find that I’ve dispensed with most of the other trappings of the series, like the term “abnormal” which is bloody awful. I much prefer the term “deviant” which has far more interesting connotations, and seems a better fit for the Victorian age. In summary:

The Campaign Setting: The 1890s in a world familiar to our own, but differing in several key regards. The supernatural creatures of myth and legend walk the Earth. They are few and have managed to keep themselves hidden from the bulk of humanity, but in an age of exploration and discovery this is becoming increasingly difficult. A noted philanthropist named Magnus has established a sanctuary for these deviant races to help protect them from the predations of the world, and also protect the world from them. He is well-regarded, respected and feared in equal measure. This Victorian age sports wonders not seen in our reality: thinking automata, analytical engines, etheric shock rifles and all manner of weird science exists side-by-side with secretive thaumaturgists, phrenologists and mediums. These resources are used by Magnus in pursuit of his goals, as well as by his nefarious enemies.

The Player Characters: You are disparate individuals: perhaps human, perhaps deviant, but certainly humanoid and capable of passing as human in Victorian Society – even if you have to wear heavy make-up, a hood or bandages. You each owe a debt of gratitude or of friendship to Magnus. When he asks for your help on a delicate matter you drop what you’re doing and come to the sanctuary in London to offer your assistance. And that’s when the campaign begins.

The Inspiration: Sanctuary, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic, not the film), Cthulhu by Gaslight, GURPS Steampunk, From Hell, For Faerie Queen and Country, and pretty much anything by H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.

Although my understanding of history is far better than my understanding of science, this will not be a campaign that slavishly recreates Victorian England. Certain facts will be unchanged, and the game will be set in the creepy smog-filled London that you would expect; but I will take liberties where I have to for the good of the story. The game will involve mystery, investigation and adventure. I’m not going for the sort of claustrophobic horror that Cthulhu does so well; this campaign will be a romp through a fantastical reinterpretation of the nineteenth century. Heroism, death-defying leaps and pithy one-liners are required.

So am I selling it to you? This campaign would start after Dark Sun, but hopefully before Christmas next year. It’s my intention to finally break with the convention of playing to the university calendar. I would hope to run the campaign in short bursts (one adventure at a time) and then pause for a few weeks while Marc resumed his weekly Karris’Mohr game. In this way, I would hope that we might be able to share the available game nights between us. It might also give me a chance to catch up on the campaign’s housekeeping.

If you want to play, then start thinking about a character not. Just as in the Crucible of Youth I want to build the campaign around your characters. If one of the PCs is a member of the Golden Dawn who draws magical power from a tarot deck, then I’ll create all the various connections that that requires. If you want to play a vampire then you tell me how vampires work in this game setting. I have no preconceptions. Rules aren’t important at this stage. We can work them out later (the BRP rulebook is very thick), it’s the concept that is the key.

Comments

Over to you.

Iourn.com – Phase III

Friday, 24 September 2010 will be the tenth anniversary of the Iourn setting. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since a bunch of fresh-faced nobodies decanted themselves down to the Rutherford Cloister for the Sugar and Spice adventure. To mark this momentous occasion, I have decided to devote some considerable time and attention to updating the Iourn website, revamping it and bringing it in line with the twenty-first century. In this post, I’m going to discuss some of the ideas I have – and hopefully those of you that have opinions will be willing to voice them in the comments below.

The web is not the place it was in 2000 (or even during the last website update in 2004). A static site like Iourn.com has rather fallen out of vogue, replaced by all manner of interactive gubbins such as blogs, social networking sites and so on. These various “Web 2.o” entities have their place, and I plan to use them to augment the existing website. For example a don’t need a page of upcoming events if I can simply imbed an interactive Google Calendar in the site. I don’t need a page of Links when I can simply store all the links on Delicious and then link to that site. The Iourn site doesn’t need to contain important and time-sensitive news, when I can simply upload that sort of material to this blog, and post the blog updates on the front page of Iourn.com via an RSS feed.

None of the above is beyond even my puny web-building skills. However, none of them replace the need for a single, well-known and coherently formatted source of information and resources for the unending game. As I’m sure that HD&D is demonstrating, a blog is a poor place to try and build a coherent body of information. The amount of time I’m spending cross-linking the Combat system is testament to that. The question before us is not whether Iourn.com should continue to be the main source of campaign specific and house rule information, but how that information is presented.

I don’t think that the general skeleton of the site needs to change. Under Iourn.com will hang various sub-sites as now: The HD&D rules, the Iourn setting, the FBI game as well as the Hurssia and Karris’Mohr campaign settings. The Special Features can spin off into a second blog that I’ve been working on for a while. In addition a complete archive of the Iourn site as it was can also be included for historical purposes. Graham has been kind enough to offer me more than enough web space for that to be feasible.

The Structure

So how is information presented within that structure? If you have a look at the sitemap of the Iourn site, you’ll see that the site is laid out in an extremely basic fashion. There’s no search feature, so you need to either use the sitemap or drill down through the site to find what you’re looking for. That can be quite cumbersome, particularly if you’re trying to find something in the Religion section. The sitemap itself is an increasingly long and unwieldly page, that will only grow longer and more unwieldly in time.

And then there’s the A to Z: an encyclopaedia of all things Iourn. A nice idea, but one that hasn’t really been updated since session 35 of the Notoriety of Kings campaign – that’s October 2001 for those not in the know. My intention was always to have the definitive world information on (e.g. Religions, Countries) in their own sections, and then to have the A-to-Z acting as an encyclopaedic index of the rest of the site. A short-hand destination. Recently, I have come to think: what’s the point in that?

Having an A-to-Z in addition to the rest of the material in the site is simply duplicating information. Why not simply have everything in the A-to-Z? If you can imagine every entity, location and object in the setting listed as a separate entry on the site, and then simply indexing those entries. An over-arcing ‘Contents’ page can still group thematically similar pages, or you couldjust use the encyclopaedic index to jump to information about any one specific  thing. The addition of a Google Site Search box would make it even easier to find information.

Again, I can create all of the above with static HTML pages. I can dress them up with style sheets, templates and widgets, but at the core the pages would simple HTML. There wouldn’t be anything clever going on under the surface. But then… the thought occurs to me that if I’m structuring the site in the way I have just described, am I not creating something that is perfectly suited to being a database?

Iourn the Database

The advantages of turning the various subsites of Iourn.com into databases should speak for themselves. There would be a greater ability to classify and sub-classify the entries, allowing for far more sophisticated seaches. For example, Nicos Allumière could be classified as a Player Character, a cleric, a human, a worshipper of Calafax, the Firewalker, one of the Chosen of Narramac and so on. Any search on the database could then be limited by any of those criteria creating a list of all player characters, or all humans or all firewalkers. It would be a whole new way of searching for information, and might reveal new connections and relationships that were previously not apparent.

A database would not preclude a contents structure similar to the one the site has now, that would allow users to drill down and find an entry (rather than rely on the search feature). Neither would it preclude browsing through entries alphabetically. Plenty of database allow for a search feature, as well as the alphabetic browsing of entries through an index. So is this a win-win idea for the Iourn sites?

The main problem with this idea is that I don’t know how to make a database. I’m not a complete Luddite, and I’m sure I could learn, but doing so would take time. Therefore if we did go down the database route we would have to wait for me to master the necessary skills, or to impose upon the good will and the time of someone who already has the skills. With the best of good intentions, the sort of work I’m envisaging would be a tremendous imposition on the time of someone else. I’m happy for the help if someone wanted to volunteer, but I think it’s asking quite a bit.

I’m also not entirely sure how the campaign logs would fit into this database structure. Would they just be absorbed like everything else, or would they in some way stand alone.  Graham and I toyed with the idea of turning the Timeline of Events into a database last year, which I still think is a very good idea. However, I don’t know whether the timeline entries would necessarily sit in the same database as everything else, or occupy one of their own. And this highlights another big problem of using databases: although I interrogate them for the a living, and I know what makes for a good database from the user side, I don’t actually know how they’re made. This means that my expectations of what a database is capable of may be either too small or too great (or both).

Do we need a database?

All that said, and assuming for a moment that turning the Iourn sites into a database was as easy as not turning them into a database, do we really need a database at all? Take a moment to look at the wonderful www.d20srd.org. That’s the complete rules of the d20 Open Gaming Licence rendered in HTML. The world information for Iourn may be complex, but it is in no way more complex than the third edition rules. Site navigation over there is simply dependent on drilling down through the HMTL links, or using the Google Site Search box. I can create a site like that right now.

Of course there are things that the Hypertext d20 SRD can’t do. You can’t sort all the spells by descriptor or school. You can’t find a list of all Large monsters and so on. In fact the limitations of the site are such that has it has a companion site, Pen, Pixel and Paper, that does just that.

Conclusion and Advice

The fact is a database provides a greater degree of utility and control over the information on the site. The question is: do we need it? Is it worth the time and the hassle of turning the site into a database, when we probably won’t need the features of a database most of the time? Or am I simply underestimating the ease with which a database can be integrated with the site. Maybe it’s not as much hassle as I’m thinking?

Over to you.

Powerful Races: Pathfinder Style

I have recently picked up a copy of the Pathfinder Bestiary. It is an essential accompaniment for running the Pathfinder game, as it brings all the core monster in line with the new “D&D 3.75” system. It isn’t as good as it should be in certain areas, but I’m not proposing to review the product in this post. What the book does do is provide rules for building new monsters, calculating Challenge Ratings, applying templates and also presents new rules for using powerful races as player characters. The latter is the thrust of today’s post.

Now, these rules have limited application for HD&D. As you will undoubtedly remember, powerful races will simply have their abilities broken down into a succession of racial talents that players can choose to select, or not, as they advance their characters. There is no such thing as racial hit dice or racial character classes in HD&D. However, the Pathfinder rules are very interesting, in that they try to make the third edition system work properly. It was something that I never managed to achieve, so let’s see how they did.

The following, blue, text is taken from p313 of the first printing of the Pathfinder Bestiary (9781601251831):

Using one of the monsters presented in this book as a character can be very rewarding, but weighing such a character against others is challenging. Monsters are not designed with the rules for players in mind, and as such can be very unbalancing if not handled carefully.

There are a number of monsters in this book that do not possess racial Hit Dice. Such creatures are the best options for player characters, but a few of them are so  powerful that they count as having 1 class level, even without a racial Hit Die. Such characters should only be allowed in a group that is 2nd-level or higher.

For monsters with racial Hit Dice, the best way to allow monster PCs is to pick a CR and allow all of the players to make characters using monsters of that CR. Treat the monster’s CR as its total class levels and allow the characters to multiclass into the core classes. Do not advance such monsters by adding Hit Dice. Monster PCs should only advance through classes.

If you are including a single monster character in a group of standard characters, make sure the group is of a level that is at least as high as the monster’s CR. Treat the monster’s CR as class levels when determining the monster PC’s overall levels. For example, in a group of 6th-level characters, a minotaur (CR 4) would possess 2 levels of a core class, such as barbarian.

Note that in a mixed group, the value of racial Hit Dice and abilities diminish as a character gains levels. It is recommended that for every 3 levels gained by the group, the monster character should gain an extra level, received halfway between the 2nd and 3rd levels. Repeat this process a number of times equal to half the monster’s CR, rounded down. Using the minotaur example, when the group is at a point between 6th and 7th level, the minotaur gains a level, and then again at 7th, making him a minotaur barbarian 4. This process repeats at 10th level, making him a minotaur barbarian 8 when the group reaches 10th level. From that point onward, he gains levels normally.

GMs should carefully consider any monster PCs in their groups. Some creatures are simply not suitable for play as PCs, due to their powers or role in the game. As monster characters progress, GMs should closely monitor whether such characters are disruptive or abusive to the rules and modify them as needed to improve play.

These rules certainly seem better thought out and proportionate. I like the way that they acknowledge the diminishing return you get from playing powerful races at very high levels. Taking the late Game of Souls campaign as an example,  I don’t think anyone can argue that the Scribe of Tam was the equal of the resurrected Tam. I am also pleased that the book states that there can be no universal rules for creating balanced PC monsters. That said, I am not 100% convinced by Paizo’s take on this.

There is no Equivalent Character Level (ECL) in Pathfinder. All creatures simply run off their Challenge Rating (CR) value. The CR is still used to balance encounters and calculate experience points. A CR 4 creature should be roughly the same power as a level 4 character. Which is obviously where the logic for these new rules have come from. However, it does make for some interesting anomalies.

Taking the minotaur that they use as an example, we can see something a little unexpected.

A minotaur is a CR 4 creature, but in Pathfinder (as in regular third edition) the minotaur is a six hit dice creature. The rules state that the minotaur adventuring with a 6th level party should have two additional class levels (CR 4 + 2 levels = level 6). That means that while the rest of the adventuring party has six hit dice, the minotaur actually has eight hit dice: six from its racial HD (CR 4) and two class levels.

Because racial hit dice count for less as the minotaur advances, this gap widens at higher levels. By the time the party are halfway through 6th level (6 HD), the minotaur PC will be a Minotaur Barbarian 3 (7th level with 9 HD). By the time the party are halfway through 10th level, the minotaur PC will a Minotaur Barbarian 8 (12th level with 14 HD).

Does that strike anyone as odd?

Also what is not entirely clear here is how class-independent benefits such as skill points, feats, hit points and saving throw progressions will accrue. If you’re a minotaur barbarian 8 do you have the feats of a 12th level character (which is your CR) or the feats of a 14th level character (your HD)?

So there are still problems to be ironed out. I think that a little more than six paragraphs should have been spent explaining this. Paizo had an opportunity to truly integrate the rules for playing powerful characters with every single monster in the Bestiary, and they blew that chance. Which is a shame. But it is interesting.

Which is really all I had to say on the matter.  If you’re a Pathfinder fan then you may be interested to know that free previews of classes from their upcoming Advanced Player’s Guide will start appearing on the Paizo Blog later this week. We wil see the Cavaliar and Oracle on Friday 13th November; the Summoner and Witch on Friday 30th November; and the Alchemist and Inquisitor on Friday 14th December. I am far from above pillaging these new classes for HD&D.

HD&D: Well that won’t work, will it?

In writing and adapting rules for the hybrid game I try not to second guess myself. I’m not convinced on the power level of some of the talents, or whether the magic system will function at all, but I’m putting those concerns to one side until after play testing. But there are occasions when I question the basic assumptions of the game. The matter I am currently mulling over is Skill DCs.

The problem was crystalised for me when I was playing Marc’s game a few couple of weeks ago. My character needed to balance over a roof, which called for an Acrobatics check. Now the character’s not that clumsy (she has a Dex of 13) but Acrobatics isn’t a trained skill for her, so the total skill modifier is +3. Rolling 1d20+3 is no guarantee of succeeding at anything, and inevitably I wound up taking a tumble. I got to thinking: how would that situation work in HD&D?

Well, in HD&D a character who is untrained in a skill wouldn’t have any ranks in at all. In HD&D, Maia’s Acrobatics check would have been made on 1d20+1 not 1d20+3. And to make matters worse, all the DCs in HD&D are about 5 points higher than their fourth edition counterparts. Playing under the hybrid rules, I wouldn’t have had a hope in hell on that roof.

Now, I could console myself by saying that I would have chosen Acrobatics as a skill for my character if the 4e rules had let me do it. HD&D is more flexible in this regard. However, that would be missing the point somewhat. And besides a fifth level character with a Dex of 13 who has maximum possible ranks in Acrobatics, still only has a skill modifier of +3 in the hybrid game.

So the question is: are DCs too high or are skill checks too low? Or is it both? Or neither?

The HD&D Assumption

There are various elements that can improve your skills in HD&D, but there are less than you’ll find in third edition, fourth edition or Pathfinder. There are no skill synergies in HD&D, and no feats that grant +2 to two vaguely related skills. This all seeks to keep the maximum skill modifier low. In fact, pretty much all you have in HD&D to modify your skills is the following:

  • Your ability score modifier
  • Level-based increases to your ability scores
  • Your racial bonus (+2 to two skills)
  • The Skill Focus feat (+1 per five levels to one skill)
  • Your skill ranks (equal to a maximum of half your level rounded up)

I am keen to base max skill ranks at half your level, rather than your full level (as in third edition) because the latter case leads to an unnecessary escalation of DCs. When the difference between what a very skilled character can achieve and what an unskilled character can achieve is greater than any result you can roll on 1d20 then the game begins to break down. HD&D will still break down, but it’ll break down at a much higher level than third edition. Probably not until about level forty – which is well beyond the scope of most games.

The skill DCs don’t take into account racial modifiers or the skill focus feat. I judged these as welcome extras that players can use to make their characters even better in their chosen pursuit. Let’s set those aside. Instead the skill DCs are based on a character who has maximum ranks in a skill, an ability score of 18 at first level, and who continues to increase that ability score at every possible instance. There is an assumption that a first level character has +5 in a skill, and that a twenty-first level character has +18 in a skill.

A used this calculation to extrapolate the DCs I would expect characters of levels 1-30 to be able to achieve. And then categorise the DCs as Easy, Moderate, Hard and Impossible. Remember that a Moderate DC needs maximum ranks, and an 18 starting stat. I’ve been using this table to set DCs for all elements in the HD&D system:

Level

Easy

Moderate

Hard

Impossible

1

10

15

20

25

2

10

15

20

25

3

11

16

21

26

4

11

16

21

26

5

12

17

22

27

6

12

17

22

27

7

13

18

23

28

8

14

19

24

29

9

15

20

25

30

10

15

20

25

30

11

16

21

26

31

12

16

21

26

31

13

17

22

27

32

14

18

23

28

33

15

19

24

29

34

16

19

24

29

34

17

20

25

30

35

18

20

25

30

35

19

21

26

31

36

20

21

26

31

36

21

23

28

33

38

22

23

28

33

38

23

24

29

34

39

24

24

29

34

39

25

25

30

35

40

26

25

30

35

40

27

26

31

36

41

28

27

32

37

42

29

28

33

38

43

30

28

33

38

43

The key point to bear in mind is that a Moderate check is designed to be something that is Moderate for a trained professional. Not something that is Moderate for an unskilled no-hoper. This principle was enshrined way back in the second HD&D post, and it’s stood up till now.

How it works in Fourth Edition

Fourth edition sees things differently. Now you may be thinking that 4e is hardly a source of good mechanics, but there’s a lot of good stuff buried under the dross. And the 4e designers have been fairly open about how the system is put together.

The following is an excerpt from Dungeon #170 on the “Maths Behind the DCs”. It’s written by Mike Mearls, who is the lead designer for 4e so he should know what he’s talking about. He did write Keep on the Shadowfell, however, and I may never forgive him for that. Still this makes interesting reading:

The standard DCs for levels 1-3, after errata, are:

Easy: 5
Moderate: 10
Hard: 15

If you’re like a lot of D&D players, those seem a little low to you. The key is, though, to understand why they sit where they do. The following examples all assume a 1st-level character.

The easy DCs are meant to represent trivial tasks, the sort that rarely go wrong but could. We aimed for an untrained character with no particular aptitude (+0 or a penalty in the appropriate ability score) to fail about 20% of the time. A trained character succeeds automatically.

For moderate DCs, the character with a +0 modifier fails 45% of the time. A character with a +2 bonus and no training fails about a third of the time (35%). A trained character fails 20% of the time, while a trained character with a +2 to +4 stat mod looks at 15% to zero chance of failure.

Finally, for the hard DC, our +0 character stares at a 70% chance of failure. Training brings that down to 45%, and a half-decent stat slashes it down further to a 35% failure, or 60% for the untrained character.

The really interesting case here is the super-competent character. That character has training (+5), a good stat (+3), a +2 bonus from race or background, and maybe another +2 (or so) from a feat or magic item. That PC fails the hardest check 15% of the time. Not bad, is it?

All this math is to illustrate an important principle: The DCs are aimed at the character who might have training and a +2 stat bonus, and at PCs who made no effort to improve a skill. If a PC really wants to maximize a skill, the system lets him show off his mastery by blasting through the DCs with ease. By spending those feats, training in a skill, and picking a combination of race, background, class, and so forth to maximize a skill, the character is a master compared to other PCs.

So fourth edition has higher skill modifiers and lower DCs than HD&D. The entire philosophy behind the DC setting is completely different. I want a trained character to succeed a moderate DC  50% of the time. They want a trained character to succeed at a moderate DC 85% to 100% of time. By the same token an untrained character should succeed at a moderate DC about 50% of the time, while in HD&D untrained characters can easily have a 0% to 5% chance of success – and carry that level of success with them throughou their adventuring career.

Of course, one of the challenges in HD&D that is not in fourth edition, is that we use the same skill system to adjudicate combat. You can’t have a mega skilled  character hitting a difficult Reflex defence 85% of the time. That strikes me as a little broken. However, this article did get me thinking about my skill DC assumptions. As a player, I wouldn’t want to look at my character sheet and see a numbe of +1s and +2s next to all my skills.

How it works in 3rd Ed. and Pathfinder

Both third edition and pathfinder base maximum skill ranks of your character’s level, not half his level. I’ve already said I don’t want to do that, but there are still some things we can take from the way these systems work.

Third Edition: Sets a character’s maximum skill ranks as your level +3. This gets away from the problem of having cripplingly low skills at first level. The maximum ranks of cross-class skills are set at half this. So a 13th level character can only have +8 in a cross-class skill.

Pathfinder: The Pathfinder system does away with having different maximum ranks for class and cross class skills. In Pathfinder you can put a number of ranks into any skill equal to your level. Each class has a list of class skills. If you put ranks into one of your class skills you get +3 to your check. This is the same principle as the +5 modifier to trained skills you get in 4e, but it creates skill modifiers that are exactly the same as third edition (a goal of the Pathfinder design process).

Could we do something similar in HD&D? Bump up the skills of first level characters to make their skills more meaningful at very low levels. It’s worth a thought isn’t it?

The Future of Skills in HD&D

I was thinking of something along the lines of this: The maximum ranks you can have in a skills is half your level +3 (rounded down). This means characters would start with up to three ranks in any one skill, and could put an extra rank in at every even numbered level.

This would be quite helpful from a progression point of view, as not much happens at even numbered levels at present. If your skills could increase, and your defences increased by +1 at even instead of odd levels then it would make the progression more balanced.

In practice, characters under this system would have skill modifiers that are 2-3 points higher than they would have been in the original HD&D system. It’s a small difference, but one I think could be necessary in the long term.

As for DCs…. I say leave them where they are. They’re already quite high. Rather than assuming characters have a stat of 18 and maximum skill ranks; I’ll just assume a stat of 14 and maximum skill ranks. That can easily be justified.

The question is…

What version of the rules do we use for playtesting: my original thoughts with very low DCs, or this new idea with not quite as low DCs? My opinion is still not to second guess myself, to hold this new ides in reserve and use it only if the first obviously fails. We’ll know that when we enter play-testing, but I’d be interested in hearing your opinions in the meantime.