Friday, October 24, 2014


Long before I ever started this blog, probably shortly before (or, more likely, shortly after) I discovered The Forge and became really interested in the nuts and bolts of game design, I tried my hand at creating a system for a new fantasy very different from B/X or D&D.

In fact, I'm going to say it was before I discovered "indie game design" because that was about 2005, and this was an idea I came up with when traveling in Canada with my wife back in the early 2000s...maybe even before we got married (which was in 2000). Whew...a loooong time ago.

This game idea was called "LORE" (which was an acronym for something, though I can't remember exactly what), and I can't seem to find the docs that had my notes...they're probably on some old zip drive back in Seattle. Anyway, back in those days, my main objective was to make sure that character creation could model various (fantasy) literary personalities (Conan, Elric, etc.) from the get-go without needing to wade through a bunch of "low levels" to become a proficient character. And the main literary person I used to model the LORE system was Tolkien's character, Eowyn.

This pic is too small.
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters from least as far as bit parts go. I dig most everything about her; I identify with many things about her. I think many people do: for most of us there have been times that we've been underestimated in our lives or frustrated at the pull between doing one's duty and doing what we want to do. Those who are younger siblings may have felt the pang of being told we need to "stay home" while the older sibling goes off to do something we want to do...and older siblings (like myself) have felt the guilt of not being "responsible enough" (even when our rebellion is only within our own minds). There are some archetypal emotions at work here.

But, mainly I like Eowyn because she kicks ass. This is the equivalent of an unblooded, 1st level fighter...and yet she's not afraid to talk smack to the Lord of the Nazgul. And then she backs it up by killing off his evil dinosaur mount, going toe-to-toe with the guy, and sticking her sword betwixt his eyes. Eowyn is pretty least in Tolkien's book.

There's no crying in battle!
I am on record as saying I received immense enjoyment from the Peter Jackson LotR films, and that I feel they do an excellent job of staying true to their source material (if you own/watch the Extended Version DVDs...which I do). But while I really, really, REALLY like Miranda Otto in the role of Eowyn, and find her interpretation of the character quite good (along with Jackson's writing, she really helps fill out and bring life to a literary character), I pretty much HATE the direction/depiction of her climactic scene on the Pelennor Fields. What is this: cowering? Is she going to cry or something? And the cheap way she delivers the line, "I am no man" after the Witch-King is already on his knees? What the hell is that? Kicking an enemy when he's down?

The scene in the book shows a stronger, confident character. First off, she calls out the bad guy right from the beginning...she gives him a chance to back off, and lays all the cards on the table, long before the first clash of battle...even before drawing her sword. But here...I'll quote the text, and you tell me what sounds better:
"Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!" 
A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgul nd his prey. Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where they flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye." 
A sword rang as it was drawn. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" 
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
[see what I'm talking about? this isn't some chica who's in over her head, backed into a corner and just trying to make a stand. She's just as proud and lordly as Aragorn or Theoden or Boromir or any of them. Except, of course, she actually kills something bigger than an orc. She can talk the talk AND walk the walk]
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes...
...Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Eowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise. 
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
[a few things to notice, here. One is the constant attention Tolkien pays to the Witch-King's eyes, for (aside from the crown floating above his head), nothing other part of the creature's head is visible. This is starkly different from the "empty helmet" (and hollow eyes) of Jackson. Then there's the potency of the Nazgul. In Tolkien's prose there's only two hits: "Me hitting you, you hitting the floor." Jackson's Nazgul swings his ridiculously over-sized flail no less than seven times before finally connecting with Eowyn's shield. It looks silly on screen (again, I say this as a fan of the film trilogy), making a battle between two champions look like...I don't know...a cheesy Kevin Costner-style fight scene. It makes me wince to watch the thing]
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee. 
"Eowyn! Eowyn!" cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
See, there's no clever repartee from Eowyn once the fight starts...just business. She's "all in" before the Nazgul even decides she's worth his attention (I cut out the bits where he ignores the hobbit for a worm writhing in the mud). It's a classic scene of fantasy literature, that makes me dig the character much more than the weak-sauce portrayal in Jackson's film. This is why I still love those Rankin-Bass addition to their beautiful animation, they adhere as closely to the text as they can while still being edited for time constraints.

Check out the video here. The dialogue and sequence is near word-for-word perfect.

Anyhoo, LORE of course was never completed, nor even developed to a point suitable for play-testing. But the idea of building a game capable of creating an "Eowyn-like" character is still something in which I'm interested. It's something I'm paying attention to as I work on the new heartbreaker (though, as magic is more prominent, it's unlikely I'll really get there. Hey, it's not supposed to be a LotR role-playing game!).

Just a couple more notes (I know this post is getting long):

Interesting that in Chainmail the Wraith figure can only be slain by another "fantasy character," like the Hero or Super Hero. I suppose Eowyn fits the bill as a "Hero" (she's certainly not the Super Heroic "Conan archetype"), which means she can slay a Nazgul on a 2D6 roll of 12. A pretty legendary task to be sure.

Second, in B/X both wraiths and (the more Nazgul appropriate) spectres are immune to normal weapons, so Eowyn wouldn't have been able to harm them anyway (though, of course, in B/X such creatures don't wield physical weapons, as they certainly do throughout Tolkien's books. Yes, I know, I know...there's a big difference between literature and RPGs. But I'm talking modeling, here, and many features of D&D were modeled after Tolkien's work). Eowyn isn't really an adventurer either (though perhaps she'd like to be one) and might be better modeled by Moldvay's NPC monster, the Noble:
"Noble" is a general term for the lord of a castle and any of his or her relatives.
The noble is is a three hit dice monster with AC 2 (presumably plate & shield) and damage of 1D8 (or per weapon). This would certainly be a good model for Theoden in B/X and probably both Eomer and Eowyn. But I'm just saying...

"Come get some, dwimmerlaik!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guarding the Galaxy...From Themselves

Our "heroes."
I'm a little surprised I've never yet written a blog post about Guardians of the Galaxy. Well, okay, maybe not. I've been making a bit of a concerted effort to keep the blog firmly on the subject of gaming (with the occasional Seahawk-related is football season), so perhaps NOT opening my yap about the film is me showing restraint. After all, if I really wanted to, there are plenty of movie and comic and book reviews with which I could fill this empty space...but then, you can get such opinions a lot of places other than Ye Old B/X Blackrazor.

Still, I did want to write a post after I saw the film (this was back in August, during my five day jaunt back in Seattle). But I had a bunch of other stuff going on at the time (like shopping for the return journey to Paraguay) and...yeah, I never really got around to it.

ANYway, just wanted to take a short break from the D&D stuff (sorry) and since it was either this or Aquaman (maybe tomorrow) I figured I'd start with this.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the best Star Wars movie since Star Wars.

"Eat my space dust, suckers!"
That was the overwhelming impression I had coming out of the theater. There hasn't really been a movie like Star Wars, since the original...even the sequels/prequels take themselves a bit too seriously with their angsty soap opera of the Skywalker family. Sure, there have been other movies that have tried to rip off Star Wars or conjure its success with their own brand of SciFi wa-hoo. But of the bunch I've seen, Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest thing to Star Wars...the feeling of Star Wars...since Lucas first delighted folks with his homage to Flash Gordan and Saturday matinee serials. And just in case I'm being unclear, I mean this in a very complimentary fashion.

Now, I realize that the story is based on comic books and existing comic book characters, but they are comics with which I'm UNfamiliar, the sole exception being Rocket Raccoon who is/was one of my all-time favorites (certainly my fave with regard to anthropomorphic animals). Since this Rocket is very different from the upright, "space ranger" type that I grew up reading, I can only assume that the film takes some liberty with all the characters...unless, of course, I just missed a Rocket "reboot/makeover" somewhere in the last twenty years.

And that's fine...the liberties they've taken (such as with Ronan the Accuser...what a great villain that guy was in the film!) make for a great film that I can only judge on its (individual, probably non-canon) merits. This is an attitude I've taken with other films recently, and it's done a lot to ease my mental stress. And you know what? The new take on the Falcon in the most recent Captain America reboot is sooooo much better than the comic book character (sorry, Red Wing!), sometimes I just feel like applauding the filmmakers' divergence from accepted comic book continuity.

"I am the most boring thing in this film."
Having said that, Zoe Saldana's character is so utterly boring and pointless, I really wish they'd gone way-waaay off book with her. Great: she's a badass female assassin who's a bit "detached" emotionally. Haven't we seen this trope a gazillion times? I'm all for women kicking ass, but why doesn't she get the delightful quirkiness the rest of the cast does? Like the guy who interprets everything literally, or the bioengineered raccoon with an inferiority complex, or the simple-minded tree, or the putzy protagonist? I've already seen Saldana do this shtick in Colombiana...she's too good an actor to get stuck as a green-skinned killer who really wants to be good but can't because she hasn't found the right friends to let her open up and blah-blah-blah.

ANYway...(*sigh*) like most films it's not perfect, of course, but there's a lot of fun to it. And it uses my favorite-favorite SciFi trope of all time: the normal human who's had to adapt to life in space, and NOT as a "master race." This is the concept where the galaxy is full of weird sentient beings and humanity is anything but the "dominant species." The animated film Titan A.E. is great at this (I could write a couple blog posts on that movie, BTW). So was the old Continuity Comics title Armor (any of you catch that one? The Canadian brothers that get abducted by alien slavers and adapted to the needs of a pirate fleet? Great stuff).

I really dig the "stranger in the strangest land" thing, and Chris Pratt does a great job of "making do" with what he has as opposed to being some sort of gifted "Chosen One" (like that Alex kid in The Last Starfighter). The whackier the better, I say...if you got whisked away from Earth and jammed into an utterly alien society, how would you cope? Would you be able to cope? Or would you just fall apart?

[I think it's fitting this particular's usually a youngster or kid who ends up being the hero, as kids are often more adaptable to new and drastic life changes than us sedentary adults]

"Go ahead...make my day."
When I saw this film was first coming out, I thought it looked pretty interesting (again, not knowing anything about the comic book canon of the IP) and it gave me an idea for a little game called Outlaw Space. At the time, I was very interested in GM-less type games, and this was one of my stabs at a concept. But after actually watching the film, I found myself surprisingly satisfied...I no longer felt the need to create a game that told a particular kind of story. I found that I had "gotten my fix" with Guardians of the Galaxy, and I really wasn't interested in doing a pastiche of the movie. Right now, between Star Wars, Firefly, and Guardians I've got plenty of space cowboy wahoo to fill my least, for the time being.

Though I'm sure there's a sequel already in the works.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hating on Lizards

Fast Paraguayan Fun Fact: All over Asuncion, there are these little yellow lizards that are all about getting into your home and scaring the beJesus out of you in the middle of the night by showing up on walls and counters and such. Some are tiny...barely over an inch...though I've seen some as long as eight or nine inches (these you bat with brooms). They're a damn plague is what they are; not as bad as the cucarachas, but...ANYway, the funny thing is, they're not native to the country, or even to the continent. Some years ago, a person brought a box of lizards to Paraguay from China, and the lizards escaped into the wild and they've been here ever since. Kind of like the damn chickens in Kauai. Now why anyone would want to bring a box of lizards from China (or anywhere else) is still a mystery...

You might think this is some kind of segue into a discussion on dynamic dungeon ecosystems or something, but you'd be wrong. My brain is not working hard enough this morning to generate that kind of power. No, I just hate these damn lizards. I've never liked creepy-crawly things, I've never been a fan of the outdoors or camping, and it's a constant irritation that I'm the dude that has to deal with this shit when my wife or kids are freaked out 'cause I'm the "man of the house." Seeing as how I'm about the least "manly" man I know, you'd think I'd get a pass or...well, whatever.

[actually, now that I think of it, I do know at least a couple of guys who are "less manly" than myself (they will remain nameless), but I really had to think about it. I'm pretty much a cream puff...though I do like hiking the occasional mountain]

No need for a loincloth. Really.
Lizard men, on the other hand, is something I can definitely dig least as an RPG monster.

Lizard men...I prefer that term to the gender neutral "lizard folk" because to me folk implies some sort of family/culture (which I don't like my monsters to possess) and I think the archaic use of "man" as a gender neutral term harkens back to Old School pulp of which the monster was most certainly born. Besides, can you really tell the gender of a lizard person? Shouldn't we just call 'em "lizardoids" or something?...

*ahem* Lizard men (as I was starting to write) first appear in Supplement I (Greyhawk). They are not present in Monsters & Magic (book 2 of the LBBs), which isn't all that surprising when you consider that the entirety of the original monster list falls into one of these categories:

  • carryovers from Chainmail (and its Tolkien influence)
  • derivations of creatures from Chain mail (horses, for example)
  • human antagonists fit for wargaming (pirates, bandits, etc.)
  • creatures from Saturday matinee horror flicks (vampires, giant insects, The Blob, etc.)
  • creatures from (mostly Greek) myth...though these may in fact be based on film, too (of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad variety)

It isn't till Greyhawk that we start to see creatures derived from more literary sources, especially pulp fantasy and science fiction. Though maybe these, too, are found in horror and SciFi cinema...I'm not a huge lover of the B-movie genre, so I don't have the "chops" to really give a proper analysis.

Actually, in reading a few articles on-line about where these critters came from (many derived from Gygax's least their abilities, if not their names and images)...I see I'm waaay off base in my assumptions. Many times, Gygax was just "stretching things" to make them fit the needs of his campaign. Many images of iconic monsters (like kobolds and pig-faced orcs) simply come from the artist's rendering (and we've been using those images, incorporating them into the stats and background color ever since).

Well, at least that's better than simply making monsters to fill a niche created by a class ability.

As you might have guessed, I'm thinking about monsters today (well, and lizards...though they only come out at night). A lot of fantasy heartbreakers get dinged (in part) for their zealous adherence to the same old-same old equipment list found in the PHB (and elsewhere). For me, I'm considerably more concerned with the list of NPC antagonists (i.e. "monsters") that I want to include, and making sure they're distinct from "what has gone before," as well as being part of an internally consistent cosmology.

It's not just about re-skinning ghouls as "plague zombies," or orcs as "subhumans;" it's about creating the right flavor of adventure with the right creatures. Gygax made his gnolls "hyena-headed" because he needed something "more evil" and "disliked hyenas intensely." This just feels terribly appropriate to me...I feel the same way about lizard men. While all the entries for lizard man read about the same (from Greyhawk to Mentzer), the best summary of the creature can be found in Holmes's (two sentence!) description:
"These aquatic monsters will capture men in order to take them to the tribal lair for a feast, with the man as the main course! They are at least semi-intelligent and use weapons such as spears and clubs."
Really, that's all you need to know. They eat people, but they have the rudimentary intelligence to form a tribal structure and manufacture crude weapons. In other words, they are (presumably) aware of sentient beings (being sentient themselves) but choose to eat them! How evil is that? Kill 'em all!

Of course, the fact that they are much bigger and stronger (HD 2+1) than humans with a hide like mail (AC 5), means that they're a scourge that ain't going away anytime soon. Sure, a posse of mounted knights could drive them away on the open battlefield, but it's a fool's errand to take a horse and armor into the swamp with the aim of "stamping 'em out." And if lizard "folk" multiply like lizards (birthing half a dozen at a time), how long till your pseudo-medieval countryside is crawling with them, the same way Paraguay is crawling with these little scaly bastards?

Just a thought. I like lizard men in games, because I hate lizards in real life. Those folks with pet iguanas and such? I just don't get it. I've had roommates in the past with two foot (plus) long lizard pets, and while they're "fine" in the cage, taking 'em out and letting 'em run around was just...well, let's just say I used to drink even more than I do now (*ahem*). Anyhoo...

I didn't put lizard men in Five Ancient Kingdoms (though it would've been easy enough to do so) because they don't "fit the fiction" of the game (pulp fantasy versus mythic Arabia). But they're definitely going into the new heartbreaker, if I can make them fit the cosmology. And they're going to be the kind of creature one will feel no compunction about killing, sans hand-wringing.

'Cause I really, really don't like lizards.

[as an aside, if you want to add lizard folk to your Five Ancient Kingdom game, the stat-line would look like this:

HD: 2+1, Armor: Light, Hit/Kill: 8/12, Move: 6/12, Mettle: 4, Save: H2, Hoard: D

The monster works well with the "sword & sorcery" alternate setting described on page 48 of Volume 3, Dragon Master Secrets]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Basic Weapon List

All right! So now I come to the end of my series (yesterday's post was really the last "concept" post) detailing my thoughts on the weapons that should be included in a basic fantasy adventure game like the one I'm currently working on. That was the real point of these posts (in case it wasn't clear)...this blog is serving as my "design notes," so that interested persons can see my thought process (and so that I don't have to include a bunch of sidebars in the game as to "why the designer is doing this"...don't you hate needless padding?).

However, before I post my final list, I wanted to post a few addendum thoughts regarding missile weapons: in an indoor or subterranean environment (like a "dungeon") there's really not much call for long range weapons. Not only are you working with fairly short distances before your arrow hits a wall, not only are you losing the ability to "arc" missiles (due to a capped ceiling), not only are the quarters cramped in general with monsters who (in the main) are trying to get into melee...not only that, but in the darkness you're probably going to be out-shooting your light sources.

So for my game, I don't need a lot of shooting weapons. Certainly not the seven found on the battlefields of Chainmail (short bow, horse bow, longbow, composite bow, light crossbow, heavy crossbow, arquebus). Heck, I don't even need all four to six of the ones in older "basic" editions of D&D. Give me bow, crossbow, and rock (thrown or "slung") and I'm good. And no, I'm not going to worry too much about ranges.

Having got that out of the way, here's the weapon list for my basic heartbreaker:

Ye Old Armory
- Battle Axe*
- Hand Axe (t)
- Dagger (t)
- One-Handed Sword
- Long Sword*
- Bow
- Crossbow
- Sling
- Club*
- Mace/Hammer
- Spear*(t)
- Two-Handed Weapon

* indicates weapon may be used with 1 or 2 hands
(t) indicates weapon may be thrown 

Weapon Notes
  • Weapons wielded with one hand (except daggers/clubs) have a maximum damage of 6
  • Weapons wielded with two hands (except clubs) have a maximum damage of 8
  • All axes add +1 to maximum damage
  • All swords add +1 to attack rolls
  • Crossbows, Maces, Hammers, and Two-Handed Weapons add +2 to attack rolls versus heavy armor (though the latter loses this bonus in tight quarters).
  • Daggers, Clubs, and Slings subtract 2 from attack rolls AND maximum possible damage
  • Crossbows require a full (10 second) round of combat to reload
Okay,  that should just about do it. The "two-handed weapon" entry includes all pole arms, zwiehanders, giant mauls, etc. The exact type of two-handed weapon doesn't matter as they are all...from the standpoint of game mechanics...effectively the same weapon.

Any questions? Comments? Additional thing I need to consider? Or should I just start working on my post about "wandering monsters?"
: )

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Variable Weapon Damage

Let's see...where was I? Oh, yeah...basic weapons.

[I suppose I should extend a congrats to the St. Louis Skaven this week...those tricksy, tricksy rats. Congrats. I was smart enough to only have a couple Fullers on hand this weekend so as not to get too tossed. Ugh...]

Taking a look at the Moldvay list, I find that I want to talk about variable weapon damage. Back in 2009, while working on my B/X Companion, I thought it would be a great idea to vary weapon damage by character class instead of by weapon (an option I included in the book), in order to allow PCs of any flavor to use whatever gear best suited their personal taste. Over 18 months later, after many actual games of awesome B/X play I came to the conclusion that I really preferred straight, Rules As Written, D6 damage for ALL weapons (with minor bonuses for two-handed weapons). I wrote why here, and have been using some variation of "standard D6 damage" ever since.

However, with some evolving ideas I have regarding the nature of hit points, I'm starting to reconsider my stance. Yes, it's easy (for me) to roll D6s when it comes to damage...but then, I've been working on getting rid of damage rolls, anyway. With that in mind, does a six point range of damage make sense?

So we come to that wonderful unit of measure, the hit die, and what it represents. Simply put it is a measure of attacking power, equal to one human scale soldier.

The ashcan that started it all.
There are no "hit dice" in Chainmail; at least, the explicit term is not used. The number of dice rolled for attack (and the target number needed to "kill") depends on what type of troop attacking and the type of troop being attacked. Hit dice, as explained in the second book of OD&D (Monsters & Magic) is described in terms of the default combat system (Chainmail, remember?) so that an ogre (with 4+1 HD) would roll 4 times, attacking the same as 4 men, and requiring the equivalent of 4 wounds (four successful attack rolls) to kill. The +1 gives the ogre a +1 on one of these attack rolls and +1 to the number of "hits" (i.e. HPs) possessed.

Again, these attack dice are not as straightforward as they might appear, as they depend on the type of troop being attacked to figure their relative value. Chainmail is explicit that an ogre fights as "heavy foot." With 4 HD, these attack dice look like the following against various defenders:

vs. Light Foot: roll 4d6, any 5+ kills.
vs. Heavy Foot: roll 4d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Armored Foot; Light Horse: roll 2d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Medium/Heavy Horse: roll d6, any 6 kills.

[remember, the ogre receives a +1 bonus on one die roll, so (for example) really only needs to roll a 5+ against a medium or heavy horseman]

Using OD&D's alternative combat system (the D20 system in place with every edition since, and which is the base for D20 in general), hit dice transforms to a probability of inflicting damage within one round of combat, and a measure of vitality (HPs) for a creature, each HD being equivalent to a single fighting man...the latter being made clear with the advent of Supplement I (Greyhawk) when both fighters and monsters were awarded D8 hit points per HD (and non-martial adventurers/humans being awarded fewer).

Here in Greyhawk we see the first "variable damage by weapon" chart, which is generally adapted in Moldvay. The only differences found (at least where the weapons on the two lists match) are the pole arm whose D8 damage in OD&D increases to D10 damage in B/X (matching the missing "halberd" damage type), and the spear which, in OD&D, has 3 different damage ranges depending on how it is used. Both sword and battle axe are given D8 damage...though note that a battle axe does not carry the "two-handed only" restriction found in B/X.

Just for review, here's how the variable damage types break down (in B/X, which contains a better "dungeoneering weapon list"):

D4 damage: torch, dagger, sling stone ("rock"), club ("stick")
D6 damage: arrow/quarrel, hand axe, mace/hammer, spear, "short sword"
D8 damage: battle axe, "normal sword"
D10 damage: pole arm, two-handed sword

The more I stare at this list, the more sense it starts to make for me...but only with a changing idea of what hit points are.

See, before I was looking at the D6 damage thing in light of the idea that all normal humans have D4 hit points...a range of 1 to 4. But this isn't entirely accurate. A human being in B/X (or OD&D + supplements) has a HP range of 1 to 8 (with a single hit die); however, most humans encountered aren't "worthies" sporting more than four. Allow me to break it down (a little different from my D6 post):

  • 1 hit point: an individual on death's door. Any damage will slay this person. True invalids, babies, people without the will or strength to stand on their own. Such individuals may take no action in combat, save to crawl around on the floor.
  • 2 hit points: small children or the elderly. People with diminished capacity, suffering from severe illness, or wounds. Such an individual might survive a weapon wound...if they're very lucky. Such individuals suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls in combat.
  • 3 hit points: a "deficient" person...someone who's out of shape, lacks energy/vitality or a "will to live," but who is otherwise capable of normal (if weak) human action.
  • 4 hit points: a normal person in full health.
  • 5 hit points: a normal person in full health but one who is exceedingly healthy/strong in body OR incredibly strong-willed and spirited (able to fight through pain/illness, etc.).
  • 6 hit points: a normal person in full health who is both exceedingly strong in body AND in willpower/spirit.

To this range of 1 through 6 use the following adjustment:

  • If a character has had formal fight training (professional soldiers, noblemen, etc.) add +2 hit points.

This gives us the full range of 1 to 8.

This is what I'm currently using, by the way, to calculate HPs for creatures of all shapes and sizes (and by reverse applying these principles, for finding out what kind of monster is encountered based on the average number of HPs per HD the thing has). A normal "orc soldier" would have 6 hit points, for exceptionally strong or cunning one would have 7, while a leader type with both size and an iron will would have the full 8 hit points. A soldier "past his prime" (perhaps retired based on injury in battle) would still have 5 hit points (3 HP category + 2) while even an elderly chap (if he can carry a sword) would still have 4 hit points.

12 to 14 HPs
This is per hit die, you understand. The aged gnoll warrior would have 8 HPs (2 HD at four each) compared to average adult warrior, who'd have 12 (6 per die). If they were hardened veterans, they'd have 14 apiece, while elite types (the chief's bodyguards and such) would have 16. A gnoll child would be pretty tough (4 hit points), but would not fight as well as a human warrior (-2 penalty to attack rolls, reducing Base Attack Bonus to +0).

OKAY...having given you an overview of this "HD reinterpretation," let's look at the weapons and their damage maximums.

First, change the term "short sword" for one-handed sword, and "normal sword" for longsword. Then consider the following:

  1. Remember that damage range is based on "roll over" attack number and so die type (in this case) equals "maximum rollover" (i.e. maximum damage).
  2. Battle-axes and longswords (both with a maximum length of c. 4') can be used one or two-handed.
  3. When used two-handed (and only when used two-handed) these weapons bump their maximum damage from 6 to 8.
  4. True "two-handed" weapons (zwiehanders and pole arms) have additional penalties when used within the close confines of a dungeon environment (even in a wide chamber, you're often dealing with a low ceiling, precluding the full range of motion...poleaxes and two-handed swords inflict their greatest damage when being swung downwards on an opponent). Personally, I would probably model this with a -2 penalty to both attack and maximum damage...but in an open space/chamber, these weapons could prove devastating).

Here we see the damage range of all weapons is enough to slay an adult human at least 50% of the time with anything bigger than a dagger, stick, or rock (these "lesser" weapons can still inflict death on a healthy adult person with a perfect strike of "4 over"). A perfect blow with a one-handed weapon will slay even a trained warrior ("6 over") and a perfect strike from a two-handed weapon will slay even an elite fighting man ("8 over").

The "Big Boys" (two-handed swords and pole arms) have the potential to deliver significant "over-damage," but rather than giving them a ten point damage range, this might be better modeled by having them decrease the effectiveness of armor by 2 (a +2 bonus to attack individuals wearing armor) and leaving their maximum damage at 8. Remember, wearing armor not only makes it more difficult for your opponent to inflict damage but reduces your opponent's ability to inflict significant damage (because the "roll over" target is higher). A +2 bonus to attack armor reduces armor's effectiveness, and increases the chance of doing good (i.e. "killing") damage.

Okay, that's about it for this series...though there might be a slight addendum tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

No Such Thing As "Normal" (Part 2)

[continued from here]

I know I said I wouldn't be examining the PHB in this series but guess what: I lied. I wanted to look at the dimensions of a short sword to figure out what exactly the hell it is. Because there's really no such thing as a "short sword" proper. There are swords that are shorter in length than others...but as swords have a variation of...oh, say, 24" (blade length) up to the monstrous two-hander...well, suffice is to say there's no such thing as "normal," either.

While I'm not a historian, I am something of a sword fanatic. I've studied swords, I own lots of books on swords, I like looking at swords in museums (and have done so all over the world), I fenced and read about/studied fencing for a number of years, I own real (non-replica) swords. Swords are my bag, baby. And for a geeky number-crunching, categorizing, pigeon-holin' dude like myself, swords are maddening, because for the most part they don't fall into hard and fast categories.

The easiest way to look at swords is to see them for what they properly are: the weaponized evolution of knife (and cutting/slicing) technology. Nothing beats a spear for poking, and its hard to argue against an axe for chopping. But the sword is a versatile weapon that can be used to harm folks in a variety of ways, including chopping, poking, slashing, and bashing. They're quick and maneuverable, and yet they're long enough to keep shorter, faster weapons at a good distance. Even though various "types" of swords are specialized for different types of combat (rapiers versus gladius versus broadsword versus saber) in general a sword is still a sword and two swords of different types are still more similar to each other (in how they are wielded) than they are to other weapons. A scimitar and an estoc are quite different, but they are much closer to each other than either is to a pike or mace.

[you can quibble but...well, you can quibble; leave it at that]

Hence, we find in Chainmail only a single entry called "sword" that falls into that intermediate scale between maces/picks and the flail weapons. The two-hander, used and wielded much like a big, edgy pole arm is a few more rungs up the ladder (between halberd and lance), but there's no "short sword, long sword, broad sword, bastard sword, blah-blah-blah." Everything not a dagger or a zwiehander is a sword. Period.

So what the hell is a "short sword?" Because we need to answer that before we get to the even more strange "normal sword."

The PHB has all their weights in GP and their way off real world weights (due to representing "bulk" not just poundage, I suppose), so we can't really rely on that. Length may be a better clue: the short sword is listed as "circa two feet," and with no other info to go on, one assumes this is overall weapon length (like the 6' two-hander), making the short sword only slightly longer than the dagger.  Considering 4-5" for a one-handed hilt, that leaves us room for a 19" blade, smaller than even the ancient Greek xiphos or (most) examples of the Roman gladius. It's barely bigger than a seax, which is really considered a knife, not a sword.

Here's something I was told by a guy who is a historian, as well as a real-life blacksmith, who does quite a bit of sword-work for Ren-fairs: in the olden days, if you were using a sword to fight, it would probably break...and sooner the more you used it. Battle is as hard on equipment (if not harder) than it is on people, and people heal. What's more, swords were fairly expensive weapons, so when your sword broke, you didn't just throw it away. Instead you took it to a smith who'd file it down for you into a shorter blade. This process would repeat when the blade would (inevitably) break again, and then you'd have the thing filed down into a largish knife called a dagger (or dirk, though that's a Scottish term). Could the "short sword" entry on the extensive AD&D weapon list be a stab (pardon the pun) at trying to be comprehensive in including these broken/mended weapons? Perhaps. Though it's maybe just as likely that Gygax wanted a weapon that would be the standard "broadsword equivalent" for shorties like gnomes and halflings.

In fact, if the latter is the case then Moldvay's normal swords becomes a bit easier to swallow: "short swords" are for halflings (and perhaps dwarves) while "normal swords" are for normal-sized folks (like humans and elves). Now, that actually makes some sense (and would also explain why a dwarf would choose to use a battle axe, as such a weapon would become their best melee damage option with regard to variable weapon damage).

But I still dislike the term "normal sword." Not only because there's no such thing as a "normal" sword but because, if you really want to categorize blades, there IS an easy way one could (somewhat) distinguish between them. And that way is to divide them into longswords and one-handed (short) swords, in addition to the two-hander group.

The longsword is "long" (the largest a bit more than 4' in total length, though that's not all blade), but what distinguishes the longsword is a hilt (with a grip of around 7-9") designed to allow two-handed use...despite the weapon being light enough to wield one-handed. This two-handed use was a crucial development (as was a forte...the base of the blade...that allowed easy gripping), in order to make the weapon more effective against the stronger armor being fielded on the battlefield. Along with more typical "anti-armor" weapons (the pick, the mace, etc.) the longsword became the knightly weapon of the late middle ages. It's ability to be used one or two handed (the former when riding or with a shield) just added to the versatility of the already versatile sword, and it would be a mainstay until armor started falling into disuse altogether (with the rise of gunpowder) and one-handed, dueling-style weapons became more the norm.

But D&D is a game of dudes (and dudettes) in armor, right? We don't need basket-hilted blades when we're wearing plate armor.

Longsword and arming sword...not that "short."
With the rise of the longsword, the old one-handed the Viking broadsword or knightly arming sword...are (were?) sometimes called "shortswords" but that's only in comparison to a longsword. The blade length of an arming sword (a typical "sidearm" in the age of the knight) is 30"...nearly a foot longer than the Gygaxian short sword of the PHB. 11" is a lot of distance...that will poke out the back of a person with a good thrust, and gives a lot longer slicing edge to "draw" in a slash. Despite lacking the armor piercing qualities of a longsword, these one-handed blades are plenty good weapons; you just need to be a bit more careful with your distance (because you're dealing with an opponent at closer range).

OKAY, a pseudo-medieval, non-gunpowder, non-battlefield setting that works combat in the abstract (i.e. is not as detailed as the system found in The Riddle of Steel RPG), I would definitely want to limit weapons to three basic categories: the one-handed sword, the one/two-handed (long) sword, and the 6' long monster that can only be used with two-hands. For me, everything from typical "earthly" fantasy...even across different real world sword cultures...can fall into one of these three categories, regardless of length, curve, edge, tang, guard, whatever. All that stuff is just extraneous "dressing" or "color" for how the weapon works in the game.

If you really want to model specific types of swords and how they maneuver differently, I'd strongly recommend picking up a copy of TROS instead.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

No Such Thing As "Normal" (Part 1)

Much as I'd like to get sidetracked by a couple different subjects (specifically, "Changing Gamer Culture" and "Wandering Monsters"), I'm going to get back to my series on basic (D&D) weapons because...well, because I said I was going to, darn it! Jeez. One thing at a time, JB!

Now I wrote before that, up through Holmes Basic (i.e. prior to 1st edition AD&D) the weapons available to a D&D player character were the exact ones found in the Man-to-Man combat section of Chainmail. That wasn't entirely accurate, however, as Supplement I (Greyhawk) added a couple additions to the "standard starting thirteen," specifically the military pick and dwarves hammer which, considering my thoughts on hammers, makes perfect sense. The military pick and war hammer are pretty much the same weapon and as I describe them, fall into the same basic section as the mace. Gygax echoes this sentiment by keeping the same 12 step order (as from Chainmail) and lumping both these weapons in the same slot as the Mace (before Sword, after Hand Axe); he likewise gives them the same damage range.

I had not bothered to review Greyhawk prior to my first couple posts in this series, and so I was happily surprised to find Gygax had considered some of the same things I had and was not quite the blithering idiot he's been made out to be be. Here we find some ideas about what "space required" (from the PHB) actually means: for a flail, halberd, or two-handed sword the weapon require "not less  than 6' of space on each side of the wielder" to use the weapon effectively (meaning such a weapon cannot be effectively used in a 10' wide corridor). Morning stars (the one-handed flail) require 5' on either side and battle axes require 4'. And check this kicker...pole arms and pikes?
"These weapons are not usable in dungeons as a general rule due to length."
Ha! Makes you wonder why gnolls (who are "subterranean 85% of the time," per the Monster Manual) have 35% of their soldiers carrying pole arms.

[okay, maybe Gary was a little idiotic at times]


The Moldvay version of Basic cleans up the weapons list, reducing it to "dungeon-worthy" gear and re-organizing it not by length (as such doesn't matter to the basic rules) but by weapon type. Specifically by five weapon types: axes, bows, daggers, swords, and "other." The bows section (which I realize I haven't to this point discussed in the series) is cut down to the short, long, and cross- varieties, leaving out the heavy crossbow and composite bow found in earlier editions. Axes and daggers remain the same weapons found earlier (though with the addition of the "silver dagger," its first mention in any version of D&D). "Other" lumps in the mace, hammer, pole arm, and spear, as well as two new weapons: the club and the sling. The cleric never had it so good.

[actually, the sling was introduced with the 1E PHB. However, I'd contend that part of Moldvay's objective here was to provide a number of options for all class types...hence the silver dagger (for magic-users with too much gold in the bank) and a plethora of blunt (cleric) options]

Flails and morning stars were dropped from the list; likewise halberds and pikes (unless they were subsumed into "pole arms" and "spears"). It's in the sword category however that we find what may be my one (main) gripe about the Moldvay's list:

Short Sword
Sword (normal)
Two-Handed Sword

"This is a really big sword."
The two-handed sword, what the Germans call a zweihander (hey, zwei is German for "two!"), has been around since Chainmail and has been a mainstay of D&D editions until 3rd edition when it was replaced by something called a "greatsword" which, as far as I can tell is a term first used by Michael Moorcock in his Elric books (at least the term "greatsword" is found as in the Stormbringer RPG as early as the 1st edition, 1981), though it is the literal translation of claymore, the two-handed weapon of Scottish highland fame. For swords, two-handers are heavy (5-7 pounds), long (5'-6'+), and carried like a pole arm...over the shoulder and without scabbard. Aside from various movies featuring guys in kilts, Verhoeven's 1985 film Flesh and Blood has an excellent depiction of a typical zwiehander in the hands of a Landsknecht merc (played by a young Rutget Hauer, ladies!).

I've got no problem with the two-hander as an adventurer's long as one accounts for the pole arm-like space requirements needed to wield the thing. It's the other entries on Moldvay's sword list that I dislike.

But this post is getting pretty long, so I'm going to have to break it up into two parts...sorry, folks.

[to be continued]