Archive for April, 2010

Money Conversion

BigFella mentioned in his recent re-cap of our latest sessions my “money conversion thing”, which made me realize I never posted about this one.  So I figured I would.  It’s pretty easy and short.

There’s been a fair bit of discussion recently over at Dragon’s Foot about silver based economies.  Delta also posted about his own thoughts on the topic.  I guess it’s no surprise that I started pondering the issue myself.

Now, there’s two things I don’t like about the standard D&D money system.  First, the huge numbers.  Even at lower levels (I’m talking levels 1-3 here), the treasure is coming in by the hundreds of coins.  Anything less than 100 gp really isn’t all that much money.  Second, the useless copper pieces.  Almost nothing costs less than a silver piece, and in general most adventurers agree that copper pieces aren’t worth the weight to carry them.

I solved both problems in our game by simply eliminating the platinum piece, and elevating the worth of everything else ten-fold.  What was once a platinum piece is now a gold piece, what was once a gold piece is now a silver piece, and what was once a silver piece is now a copper pieces.  The silver piece is now the standard coin, and the one that nets XP for the players (1 sp = 1 xp).  All the costs in the book are cut by one tenth.  The old copper pieces just fall off the end, and in a very few cases some very cheap items that cost less than 1 sp in the old system have increased in cost to 1 cp in the new system.

With silver as the base unit, copper pieces at 1/10th of that are actually still kind of worth while.  Gold pieces are suddenly very valuable, and I find it amusing to quote things in gp prices, where I would have never quoted prices in pp.  For example, in my new system a suit of chainmail now costs 4 gp.  (It’s 40 gp in B/X).  I could have just translated it to silver (40 sp), but I find it much more satisfying to have most costs in amounts of less than 10.  Also, the electrum piece, which I left at half a gold piece (or 5 sp), actually seems like a useful coin now.  What used to cost 25 gp could now cost 25 sp, or 5 ep.

Anyway, obviously nothing has really changed as all money and costs have changed by the same amount.  Just the scale changed, and the new scale is one I find much friendlier to deal with.

The Joy of DMing

I’m going to talk about my home campaign here, so players beware — spoilers within!

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Little Red Books

Little Red BooksI’ve been house ruling my game a lot recently, enough so that I was starting to worry that I was really trying my players’ patience.  I don’t think they mind so much my mucking with the rules, but they do like to know where to look for the correct rules, and we were starting to collect quite a pile of printed house-rule sheets around the table.  Last weekend was a long weekend with not much to do, and so I created this little crafting project to solve my problem: custom player guides.

Basically I took the LL text, reformatted it into booklet size, and edited it to incorporate all my house rules.  Much of this was house-ruling back stuff from B/X, including the original spell list and armor types.  That’s why I went with a style that’s clearly aping the original B/X style.  I also wrapped in my recent reinterpretation of the silence spell, as well as my custom rules for race/class division.  Also I inserted a couple of the brave halfling classes we’ve been using.

Actually, the fact that I had already produced a booklet of the B/X spells was a big part of the reason I did this, figuring I had already done half the work.  I only included the first five sections of the LL text, and these I edited down a bit in places to get the page count down to a nice trim 64 pages.  I created the covers by simply wrapping paper around some cereal box cardboard, and bound the thing using this device bought on Amazon, which has the added benefit of being re-openable so I can replace pages if I need to edit it more.

All in all I’m pretty happy with the outcome.  I know I’m probably stretching “fair use” a bit with the art and whatnot, but I figure these books basically live at my table and I purchased all the original works, so it’s probably OK.  I stuck a “Not for Distribution” warning on the front there just in case.

We played with them last night, and I think we’re still getting used to it, but it was nice to have everything in one spot.  In any case, at least my players will now be too distracted by the pretty packaging to notice all the mucking about with the internals I’ve done.

Spells Through the Ages: Detect Evil

I suppose I’m on the hook now, having been mentioned on both Delta’s blog and Grognardia.  Actually, Delta and I already discussed doing these posts based on the evolution of individual spells through the various editions of D&D, and I’m totally on board.  I’m going to try and stick to clerical spells, as Delta doesn’t use clerics in his game, it should make it easy to avoid collisions.  However, today’s spell is on both lists, so I want to get it out there before Delta does.  🙂

One can’t really analyze the spell Detect Evil without also looking at the changes in the alignment system over the course of the different editions.  I’ll touch on those briefly, but I’ll leave it to the reader to dig up more specifics on the differing alignments systems.  So let’s begin with the beginning, the spell as it appears in OD&D (vol. I, page 24):

Detect Evil: A spell to detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison, for example, is neither good nor evil. Duration: 2 turns. Range: 6″.

This is the level 2 magic-user version.  The level 1 clerical spell differs only in range (12″) and duration (6 turns).  Interesting though that the cleric version gets a boost in both, despite being lower level.  Also interesting to note, the Holmes version is pretty much identical, despite the change in alignment system.  OD&D uses the original single axis alignment of Chaos, Neutrality, and Law.  Holmes introduces the second axis of Good vs. Evil, but does not have variations of neutrality (no Neutral Good or Chaotic Neutral, for example).

Now OD&D doesn’t give us real direction on what is evil.  Holmes however, clearly tells us in monster descriptions whether they are evil via their alignment.  So the question is, in OD&D are chaotic creatures evil?  Well, let’s take a look at the B/X version of the spell, which also has the single-axis alignment system (Basic Book, page B15) :

Detect Evil Range: 120′, Duration 6 Turns

This spell can be used to detect evil intentions, or evilly enchanted objects within
120′ causing the creatures or objects to glow. Actual thoughts are not detected; only the “feeling of evil”. The exact definition of “evil” is left to each referee, and players should discuss this point so that all are in agreement; “Chaotic” is not always “evil”. Poison and physical traps are neither good nor evil.

Well, looks like it was already becoming a contentious issue.  Here we see that chaotic and evil are clearly not equal, and the entire thing is left to the DM to decide.  Moldvay wipes his hands of the issues, and tells the DMs: “you figure it out.”  But here’s an interesting twist, Moldvay tells us that this spell does not read the evil creature’s thoughts, and we only get a sense of evil.  Is this in opposition to the earlier verbiage?  Clearly the old description mentions detecting “evil thought”, but does that just mean that we know someone is having evil thoughts, or can we hear the thoughts themselves, a la an ESP spell?  I suspect the former, and I suspect misinterpretation of this resulted in a lot of teeth gnashing around the gaming tables.

Here’s the 1st Edition version to muddy the waters further (Player’s Handbook, page 44):

Dtect Evil (Divination) Reversible

Explanation/Description: This is a spell which discovers emanations of evil, or of good in the case of the reverse spell, from any creature or object. For example, evil alignment or an evilly cursed object will radiate evil, but a hidden trap or an unintelligent viper will not. The duration of a detect evil (or detect good) spell is 1 turn + 1/2 turn (5 rounds, or 5 minutes) per level of the cleric. Thus a cleric of 1st level of experience can cast a spell with a 1 1/2 turn duration, at 2nd level a 2 turn duration, 2 1/2 at 3rd, etc. The spell has a path of detection 1” wide in the direction in which the cleric is facing. It requires the use of the cleric’s holy (or unholy) symbol as its material component, with the cleric holding it before him or her.

Now we are detecting “emanations” of evil, clearly not thoughts nor intent.  And for the first time, the spell distinctly references the alignment system.  From this version forward, we’ll see this spell is always locked into a an alignment detection spell.  But wait, don’t we have a separate spell for that?  Indeed, it’s on the very next page of the PHB, Know Alignment, a 2nd level clerical spell.

By 3e and later the spell becomes increasingly complex.  So much so that I’m not going to post all the charts that go with it, but you can check them out yourself over on the Hypertext SRD.  Suffice it to say that the alignment hook is firmly in place by now, the spell has been broken out to a version for each alignment leaf node (Detect Evil, Detect Good, Detect Law, and Detect Chaos), and Know Alignment is gone.  Also, we get some very specific tables about what kind of creatures or objects emanate various strengths of evil auras.

I’m not posting a poll with this one, sorry everyone.  I know how I rule this one, and I sort of think Moldvay got it right.  It could be because I run B/X, or it could be because I see this spell as more of a plot hook spell than some kind of tactical bad-guy finder, but I happen to think this really is a case where the DM simply must figure it out for himself.  What is evil?  That’s a pretty philosophical question.  I can tell you how it works in my own game though:

I play the alignments fairly literally.  Either you’re in league with the forces of law, or the forces of chaos, or you just don’t care about the struggle (Neutrality).  Being chaotic isn’t just bucking the system, it’s trying to destroy everything that’s good, let loose the demons from the gates of hell, and purge the world of all that is right and good, or at least enslave them and rule them with an iron fist.  Chaotic people/creatures are just plumb bad, in fact, you might say evil.  Does a goblin radiate evil in my game?  You bet he does.  And he’ll prove it by gutting any of you surface dwellers any time he gets half a chance.

That’s my take on it.  Is it the right interpretation?  I don’t think there is such a thing.  Each DM has got to play it the way it best fits in his campaign.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the writers/editors of later editions really trusted their DM readers to make those kind of choices.

I May Already be a Winner!

I just discovered that I am one of the winners of the 2010 One Page Dungeon Contest.  I posted my entry to this blog a while back, if you care to check it out.  I understand the categories in the contest are kind of arbitrary and selected after the winners are decided.  If you’re confused by my “Best Fitness Center” category, and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be, you’ll have to read the entry.  It’s a direct reference to one of the rooms in my dungeon.  I chuckled to myself as I wrote that room, so it is gratifying to see the humor was appreciated.  Especially when I had to edit it down so much to fit the constraints of the contest.

Anyway, that is all I have to say about that.  Except that perhaps I will post again when I receive my prize.  There are so many good ones on the list, I’m sure I’ll be psyched with whatever they send me.  Heck, just the honor of being declared a winner is enough for me.

To the Rescue!

I ran two games at HelgaCon this year, a Warhammer FRPG game and a Labyrinth Lord game.  I want to talk about the latter tonight, but I’m always kind of hesitant to write about these things when I know there’s a chance I’ll run the game again in the future.  It’s especially keen on this one, given that there are a few twists that potential players would probably want save as a surprise.  So if you think there’s a chance you might play my game To the Rescue! at some point in the future, I recommend against reading on.

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Silence

Oh yeah, I started writing that other post to talk about the spell Silence 15′ radius!  OK, well, I think it’s worth having a post of its own.

One point that Delta and I agreed on was a general dislike of this spell.  Of course, he sidesteps the problem entirely by removing clerics.  Me, I like clerics, and I want to try and do something about this spell.  So let’s start with a little digging into its history.  The spell first appears in Supplement I of OD&D, and reads:

Silence, 15′ Radius: This spell allows the user to either cast Silence upon himself
and his party so as to move with no sound or to cast the spell upon some object or thing to silence it. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 18”.

Next up, it looks little changed in Holmes:

Silence: 15′ Radius — Level: clerical 2; Range: 180 feet; Duration: 12 turns

Allows the user to cast silence in a large area so as to prevent sound or allow his party to move noiselessly.  It can be used to silence some object as well.  Note: conversation is not possible under a silence spell.

Finally, by Moldvay it looks like this:

Silence 15′ Radius Range: 180′, Duration 12 turns

This spell will make an area with a 30′ diameter totally silent.  Conversation and spells in this area will be prevented for the duration of the spell.  This spell does not prevent a person within the area from hearing noises made outside the area.  If cast at a person, the victim must save vs. Spells, or the spell effect will move with him.  If the saving throw is successful, the spell will remain in the area in which it was cast, and the victim may move out of it.

As you can see, the spell has changed significantly over time.  In Supplement I all we hear about is the beneficial effects of silencing a party or an object.  I could see the latter being cast on a rusty portcullis or a door to be bashed down, allowing the party to enter without being detected right away.  Holmes introduces a drawback: no conversation is allowed while under the effects.  By Moldvay, that drawback is expanded to include spell casting, which may have seemed obvious to some GMs reading Holmes, as casting requires speech.  However, already there are signs of this loophole being expanded to become the spells new primary purpose: an offensive spell used to neutralise enemy spell casters.  You can tell it’s being used that way already due to all the language devoted to how saving against this effect works.

My main problem with this spell is how truly powerful it is in that final regard.  Even if the enemy spell caster saves, the area he is in is still silenced and he has to move away to escape it.  In practical use, almost every time I’ve seen this happen there was no good location for the spell caster to move to.  When cast indoors, the confines of a room or hall may make the large radius of this spell far too large to avoid.  This means a simple 2nd level clerical spell can now reduce a powerful 15th level wizard to a doddering old man.  It’s basically the equivalent to the 6th level magic-user spell anti-magic shell.

OK, so how do we fix this?  Well, first off we must decide what the intent of the spell is.  If it is truly a magic-user neutralising spell, we can do things like reduce the area, improve the effect of saving to completely negate the spell, and/or limit the spell to targeting only individuals (no casting the spell on a rock and tossing it next to the enemy wizard).  Or, we can go back to the original intent: stealth.  Allow targets to talk and cast while under the effect, and it quickly reverts to that original use, a means of allowing the entire party to move about stealthily.  I rather like this idea myself, because I’ve never seen a party use the spell this way and it seems fairly useful, about as useful as any 2nd level clerical spell.  How many times have you seen a party try to sneak around only to have their cover blown by the clumsy warrior bumbling about in plate mail armor?

So, here’s your chance to affect my home campaign.  The following poll will be open for the next week.  Tell me what you think the best house rule is for cleaning up this spell.  Note, you can select more than one item in the poll.

How should I modify Silence 15' Radius?

  • Only allow beneficial stealth effect, targets can still talk and cast spells. (43%, 3 Votes)
  • Allow saves to cancel the effect entirely. (29%, 2 Votes)
  • Not at all, it's fine the way it is. (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Remove the 15' radius, it only affects one individual. (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Get rid of it entirely. (14%, 1 Votes)
  • Only allow targetting on creatures, not objects. (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Other (specified in comments) (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 7

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HelgaCon III

Just got back from HelgaCon, and boy am I exhausted.  I think that was the least sleep I ever got at one of these.  I think my biggest problem was that everything I was personally responsible for got front loaded – greeting/helping new arrivals on Friday night, followed by GMing a Friday night game, followed by cooking breakfast Saturday morning, and finally GMing a Saturday morning game.  After that I just got to play and relax, but man that was brutal.  Totally worth it, but brutal.  I think next year I may avoid signing up for cooking duty myself, simply because I have enough other crap to do.  Also, I might tweak the scheduling algorithm to prefer to spread out games GMed by a single individual rather than clumping them together.  We shall see.

Besides all the awesome gaming, it seemed Delta and I were constantly being provoked into a Thieves vs. Clerics debate.  Delta dislikes clerics and doesn’t play with them.  I have problems with thieves, and though I don’t feel strongly enough to remove them from my game, I like to argue the point for their removal in hopes of getting some good strong arguments one direction or the other that will finally convince me.  Of course, between being horribly sleep deprived and having the conversation constantly restarted by one person or another, I felt like we were quickly entering a circular discussion, bringing up the same points again and again.  I think at some point I declared “I’m just tired of having this argument!”  I hope nobody took that as my feeling emotionally charged about the discussion one way or the other.  In fact, I really was just tired of saying the same things, and didn’t have the brain power to process other people’s points.

OK, this post got away from me somewhere.  What was my original point here?  Man, I think I need to go back to bed.

PA and the Old School

On a road trip recently Jenn and I started listening to the Penny Arcade D&D Podcast.  Basically, it was a marketing thing from WotC back when 4e was about to come out to promote the new system.  The podcast is just  Tycho and Game from Penny Arcade and Scott Kurtz from PVP playing an actual D&D 4e game with a DM from WotC.  In later seasons, they were joined by Will Wheaton.

It’s not terribly exciting, and I scowl when I hear them getting bogged down with 4e nonsense, but at its core it’s kind of humorous and entertaining enough for something in the background while I drive.  Interestingly at least one of the PA guys had never played any RPG of any kind before, and in fact had to ask someone to show him how to read a d4.  Funny.

Well, someone pointed me to a recent post at PA where Gabe mentions a D&D game he’s starting up, an OD&D game in fact.  Actually, they’re using Swords & Wizardry, a retro-clone of OD&D, much as my own game uses Labyrinth Lord which is a retro-clone of B/X.  It also sounds like he’s tweaking it for his own tastes, but isn’t that what old school gaming is all about?  I applaud them, especially as guys who started playing with 4e, for going back and giving the old school a try.  I really hope they enjoy it.

I think this may be the biggest profile person I’ve heard of doing anything old school related.  I wonder if this will have any impact on the player base of such games.  If nothing else, a link to Swords & Wizardry right on the front page of Penny Arcade has got to be a good thing.

GenCon Scheduling Sucks

I went to my first GenCon in 1993.  At that time, I had to send away via snail mail for my initial registration, which returned with a magazine listing all the events being run.  Games were limited to specific time slots, there were four each day: 8am-12, 12-4pm, 4pm-8pm, and 8pm-12.  The slots were also sub-divided into 2-hour a/b slots for games that ran only 2 hours long.  You filled out a form indicating which games you wanted to play in, as well as some alternates.  You sent in the form, and eventually you got a pack of tickets back.  They tried to get you into all your games, if not they tried to get you into your alternates, and if not they replaced your tickets with generics.  I’m not sure if it was first come first served, or if there was some kind of lottery, or what.  But it worked, and though you didn’t necessarily get into every game you wanted, I never stressed out about it and was happy with the games I got to play.

Now, in 2010, they release a CSV file with a raw data dump of all the events less than a week in advance, and you’d better know how to use excel well if you want to read the thing.  They also warn you that the list is subject to change up until the last minute when registration opens.  It’s not clear why, as there is an event submission deadline that was many weeks earlier.  Events can be scheduled for any random time frame the GM wants, which naturally means at least one game I’m interested in is running from 11am until 3:30 pm, which totally doesn’t play nice at all with other games meaning the trade-off is usually at least two other games for this one game.  When registration opens, everyone hits the website at once, overloading their bandwidth and causing the site to become unresponsive and time out constantly.  You spend several stress-filled hours trying to buy your tickets, hoping the game you want isn’t getting sold out while your web browser times out.

Sigh.  I miss 1993.