Monday, April 20, 2015

The Magnificent Seven

What I really want to write about this morning is skill trees, but mine won't make much sense until I've had a chance to discuss classes in the new FHB.

[which reminds me...new Game of Thrones last night went unseen due to the disgusting inability of my internet to stream shows (couldn't watch Mad Men, either). As such I'm irritated by the whole subject at the moment. Which means, Crowns of Blood stuff is on-hold, despite my original plans for today's posting]

All Basic editions of D&D have a pool of seven classes to draw from...the same seven classes actually. Well, all pre-1985 editions of Basic. They are, of course:

Cleric
Dwarf
Elf
Fighter
Halfling
Magic-User
Thief

I read somewhere, once upon a time, that the average human brain has a rather easy time when it comes to holding grouped data where the data points number seven or less, but struggles when the number hits eight or more. This was a few years ago, and I don't remember where I heard it (maybe NPR when I still listened to that radio station?). But I remember thinking (at the time) that perhaps this is why the Basic classes of D&D are so easy to remember and regurgitate (along with their associated capabilities): that magic seven number.

Seven has always been a bit of a "mystic" number. In numerology, it represents the planet Neptune, and it's astrological meanings. Seven was the number of "celestial bodies" visible to the naked eye in ancient times (counting the Sun and Moon), from whence we get our seven days of the week. Seven is considered a "lucky number" by many folks. It is a number that fires the imagination.

Anyway...I didn't have seven classes in my Moon game (the prior iteration of my FHB) or either of Moon's prior incarnations. Instead all had three classes (the three classes being different in each) attempting to model archetypes with "sub-classifications" (i.e. specializations) under each basic class.

Of course, I wasn't using demihumans, which knocks out three of the four Basic D&D classes.

[for an example of what a JB "subclass" looks like, check out Five Ancient Kingdoms. A subclass (of which there are eight in 5AK) is the same as the main class, but simply loses one or two of their normal class abilities to gain a subclass specific ability. No new spell lists or major strictures of the druid or paladin type...just subtle variation]

Welp, the latest version is junking that and going back to something more basic. Well, more "Basic" anyway. It's got seven classes, classes that (somewhat) ape the original seven, though they don't include demihumans:

Explorer
Fighter
Native
Outsider
Rogue
Sorcerer
(Sorcerous) Dabbler

I figured I'd go ahead and list 'em all, and then explain my thought process here. Sorry for the ass-backwardness.

First off, in considering the setting (South America-ish) and premise (treasure hunting) of the game, I made a list of what classes I wanted to see at the table. Not which classes I thought should be part of the game, but what I wanted to see people play. While I could take a picture of my crummy, hand-written notes ad post it, it will be faster (and more legible) to simply type it out:

Sorcerer-Priest (the same...some more pious, some less)
Fighter-Knight (the same...some stouter than others)
War Priest (big guy with smiting ability)
Thief-Assassin (the same...just with different focus)
SpellSword (Lythande, Elric, etc.)
Hunter (the "halfling" class...primitives)
Illusionist (charlatans & rogues)

That's what I wrote...but as you can see I ended up with something a little different (and yet, not terribly so).

The hyphenated guys (sorcerer-priest, fighter-knight, and thief-assassin) were concepts that I envisioned as classes with two sides...not necessarily a coin with two sides but more of a sliding scale with (for example) sorcerer on one end and priest on the other. I saw the difference of side being more one of perspective...or perhaps one of opportunity (the "knight" being born a higher caste than the more mercenary "fighter"). I needed something that would allow the slide to take place between the two poles of these classes...and since I wanted to be consistent, I felt I would need to create similar poles for each.

There's some obvious re-skinning going on here. The "spell-sword" (a character that fights AND uses magic) is a pretty obvious "elf" re-skin (something I've been doing since waaaay back in 2009). The halfling has been rebranded specifically as a "hunter," which in the case of this setting is more of a "savage" or "barbarian" type (and no, they ain't short). The only odd-man out was the illusionist...made more odd by the fact that I still wanted to use the magic system I have from Moon which is really just a bunch of sorcerous spells of different flavors, none of which are really "illusionary."

O Illusionist...how quickly you meet the axe outside of 1st edition AD&D. In my notes, the class is scribbled out, which happened pretty early in the brainstorming process.

Anyway...looking at my now six I started wondering where I was going to get a seventh (because I liked the idea of having this Magnificent Number), and realized I'd done no re-skin of dwarves. Of course, this was due in part to me hating dwarves lately. 'But if I did not hate dwarves,' JB asked himself, 'what would they look like? What archetypal place might they hold in a class system?'

This line of questioning led me to "spelunker" and from there to the Explorer class, named above. See how my brain works?

Then I let it all stew a bit in the setting that I was envisioning (a setting that I am still developing, mind you...currently it's progressed from circa 16th century South America to something 10,000 years earlier). I decided the War Priest was going to be something decidedly primitive in nature: a dude with a lot of feathers, animal hide or plant-skin armor, and a big war mace of some sort. This dude was not coming from the same "colonist" faction as the other conquistadors, but rather from the ranks of the indigenous people. And so he was lumped under the class heading Native along with the pre-funked "hunter" class as two ends of the sliding scale (between the tribal warrior and the tribal shaman-type).

It was game system that had me excise the "priest" side of the sorcerer-priest equation. I mean, I suppose they are still "sorcerer-priests," setting-wise, but the magic system necessitated different poles...plus I really didn't want to include a "piety" stat (or ability score) that would really only be of use to one of seven classes.

One of seven? Wait a sec...I consolidated war priest and hunter so now I'm back down to six! But then, I still didn't really have any type of healer or "wise man" class. Some people think that lore master types are boring as shit, and (like sages) belong in a support role (back home), not traipsing off on adventures. I, on the other hand, always come back to the film Krull, and Freddie Jones portrayal of Ynyr "the Old One." This type of wandering mystic is exactly the kind of thing I prefer to the D&D "cleric" class.

I eat slayers for breakfast...with my muesli.
[remember when I mocked up a Krull campaign setting for B/X? Check out the "Wise One" class]

Plus, this type of hermit-dude gives me a chance to include another of my favorite archetypes: the solitary witch. Like Mr. Brannan, I am a sucker for the inclusion of a good witch archetype in any game I write-play. Creating an Outsider class allows me to include the witch on the opposite pole from the mystic. And now I'm back up to seven classes.

Let's see, have I covered everything? Knight-merc fell into the Fighter category; thief-assassin is in the Rogue classification (natch); Sorcerers have "adepts" and "eclectics," though that won't mean much to folks at this point.

Oh, yeah...the Dabbler. That's just the "spell-sword" renamed because, neat as that sounds, I didn't want any confusion with the "sell-sword" pole (that I later converted to "mercenary" anyway). Besides, I still needed two spectrum ends for my elf re-skin. Here's my thought: what really defines the spell-sword more than anything is that they know "a little magic." They dabble in it, but they don't pursue it with same single-mindedness of "real" sorcerers. In fantasy literature, they're too busy wandering around, killing people with swords, getting paid, brooding on their fate, etc. Elric may profess to be the greatest sorcerer of his time, but you rarely see him actually working magic (maybe once or twice per story)...he's pretty damn laissez faire about the whole magic thang. Grey Mouser likewise curtails his magic use (despite being raised by a magician)...though perhaps more so out of fear (respect?) or distaste for the art.

SO..."dabbler." The two poles I'm currently working with are "spell-sword" and "spell-thief," the latter of which may act as a stand-in for any type of illusionist/mountebank trickster-type character I'd like to see in the game. We'll see how that works out (it's all still a work in progress).

Okay...so now you've got my classes (and the thought process behind 'em). Now, I can talk about "skills" (which will be my method for sliding between the twin "poles" of each class).

Later, folks.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Big Six

As I look towards writing a "new" Fantasy Heartbreaker (or, more accurately, converting a conversion of a conversion), I find myself looking back at D&D editions over the years to see how ability scores were handled. Of course, I always start with OD&D (the Little Brown Books) because, well, that's where it all originates, yeah?

So in looking at the Big Six ability scores I notice something that I have (of course) noted in the past: namely that the Great Three Prime Requisites have absolutely zero effect on characters other than "rate of advancement" (i.e. XP gain). Which, just for the record, is no MINOR mechanical effect, BUT is really small potatoes compared to the mechanical effects of later editions and the incredible importance and weight these attributes carry. Things like attack and damage bonuses, number of spells known, and potential power limits of spell-casters.

I hate all that.

I especially hate the whole Strength bonus thang, not the least-wise because it got me into stupid trouble in the past. Nope, I hate it because The Game is soooo combat-oriented that it is just a matter of time before one's character gets embroiled in a melee and the importance of being able to hit and inflict damage gains life-and-death importance and thus becomes a paramount mechanical adjustment for ALL characters. When really, the only thing I want to use to model attacking ability is: A) character's training (class), and B) experience (level).

[there's also the issue of the resentment I've seen at the table due to the random strength roll. The fighter with the 13-15 STR, for instance, who looks at the cleric with the 16 STR and sees that healer is a better melee fighter for three levels of play, despite the focus of their careers. In reality, there have been plenty of small statured warriors who were better at inflicting damage with a single blow than incompetent, larger individuals. Ask any U.S. marine about that sometime!]

SO...since I wasn't planning on using Prime Requisites in the FHB, I thought I might simply DROP the whole stat from the character sheet. Just ix-nay the issue all together in a Gordion Knot kind of way. If there's no mechanical bonus to be derived from the attribute, why bother rolling the 3D6? Issue resolved.

Likewise, I figured I could do the same, axe-wise, with Intelligence and Wisdom. After all, I've decided to take a hint from folks like Alexis (and 3rd Edition Pendragon) and just realize that the whole "challenge" of not being able to speak another sentient's language isn't all that fun. Or rather, it detracts from an aspect of what IS fun: namely, being able to negotiate and bargain with potential allies and adversaries encountered. If a creature is sentient, it's going to speak the language of the region, not some weird "other tongue." Besides, do creatures with a split-tongue and a mouthful of fangs or tentacles really have the ability to form words like a "foreign human" would? It's all just fantasy, yo...let 'em talk "real people speak." Give 'em an accent, if it suits you.

So...axe, axe. The Lesser Three attributes were a different story. Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma have ALWAYS carried in-game mechanical bonuses: Dex adjusted missile attack rolls, Con adjusted rolled HPs (and "surviving adversity"), and Cha adjusted maximum number of hirelings and said hirelings loyalty base. Since I was trying to move away from ability scores adjusting combat rolls, I was pretty certain I wanted to cut Dexterity from the game.

IN ADDITION, I had to consider the "new" ability scores I'd dreamed up back in my last go around with this project: Agility (which had replaced DEX), Learning (which had replaced INT), Spirit (which is really its own thing), and Wit (which had...more or less...replaced WIS). Of these, I really only considered Spirit a "must have"...it really represents something new that I want. And Agility and Learning were tied to classes (and class abilities) that I've kind of decided to do away with. Oh...and I find myself hating Dex/Agility bonuses to Armor Class (whatever you call it in your game) these days. Just armor, folks. Just armor. Axe.

SO, I found that I only really had three ability scores I wanted to use in the new FHB:

Charisma
Constitution
Spirit

But was I getting too far away from the roots of this fantasy adventure game?

The designer in me would say that such is an irrelevant question. BUT...even if I don't like the mechanical benefits derived from most of these ability scores, as simple NUMBERS, they still provide a ready, short-hand description of one's character. Something that could quickly identify (as in "create an identity") the words on the paper into an image in a player's mind. And those three by themselves, really aren't enough.

Then I came across GusL's abstract encumbrance mechanic based on Strength that I mentioned in my earlier post, and I realized that maybe there was a way to make a descriptive number of the stat useful without being mechanically overwhelming (i.e. by not being of benefit in combat, but of retaining a mechanical advantage for exploration, as described in the follow-up post). Strength added back. It also turns out that Wit, then, still proves useful for abstract accounting of items brought along (previously, I had thought I'd need to go back to old school, granular, encumbrance and resource accumulation to model the treasure acquisition that would be the focus of the new FHB iteration). All of a sudden, I was back up to five ability scores...and if I was going to get all "traditional" like that, why not just find a sixth to complete the batch.

GusL's "skill tree" system (my term not his)...which I have yet to blog about...convinced me to add back Learning, and develop my own similar system (it's not a super-original take...see both 1st edition Empire of the Petal Throne and World of Warcraft, but in a simplified way it adds a nice little variety). I haven't yet talked about "classes" (that's another post), but the return to "roguish" roots has meant that the heroic "everyone-gets-magic" idea has been dropped by the wayside. Acquired skills ("dabbling") puts a little bit of this back, and having a LRN stat models the characters who benefited from early education (its availability and/or their level of focus) over those who did not. Which I like.

OKAY: we've got Strength (for representing that strong back). We've got Learning (instead of "Intelligence"). We've got Wit (instead of "Wisdom"). We've got Spirit (my own, personal deal...but one that I really like). And we've got Constitution and Charisma, largely unchanged...

Wait a sec...Constitution? No, no...we can fold its traits (and mechanical bonus of +1 HP per level) into Strength. Back down to five.

So...still looking for that sixth trait apparently. And there's ol' Dexterity staring me in the face. I don't want Agility because (again) the game has moved away from the heroic swashbuckling I once envisioned (and the help of uber-AC bonuses I was...previously...going to provide).

[sorry Boris Vallejo hero-types...y'all need real armor in this version]

What the hell exactly was "dexterity" back in the days before it became the second most preferred combat stat (after strength)? Well, Gygax's description in Men & Magic states simply:
Dexterity applies to both manual speed and conjuration. It will indicate the character's missile ability and speed with actions such as firing first, getting off a spell, etc.
No chainmail bikins. DEX is speed only.
This is all very nice, but with the exception of missile fire (+1 to attack rolls for DEX >13, -1 for DEX <9) absolutely none of this is mechanically modeled within the OD&D books. Chainmail (the default combat system for OD&D) has no such "speed" rules in it; first attack in combat goes to the dude with the longer weapon or that is behind cover (like a castle wall), or else (if neither of those apply) then whoever attacked first (i.e. whose turn was it that decided to move into melee). It isn't till Holmes Basic, that DEX really starts to see the mechanical benefit as applied to "speed of action." In addition to the aforementioned missile fire adjustment (which remains the same in Holmes), melee combat is determined in order of descending DEX.

This inclusion of "melee speed" as part of dexterity's purview is a Holmesian addition, and not a terrible one. What I think is especially interesting is the part in Holmes where
if dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent and the higher score gains initiative - first blow.
Which is actually different from what is portrayed in Holmse's combat example (where Mogo the Mighty with DEX 9 simply strikes after the giant spider with DEX 10). I like the idea that two folks, close in natural "speed" ability have a more-or-less chance of getting their "go" before the other. Of course, I also like Arrowflight's spot rule that in cases of ties (with regard to speed) the guy with the lighter armor gets first go (wow...an Arrowflight reference. That might be a first for this blog!). Yeah, probably some combination of all these is what I'm going for...

Aaand...I suppose that means dexterity is back in the game.

So there you have it...I went from "my own" five, up to six (with Charisma), down to three, back up six, almost all of which are the same as the original "Big Six" of D&D:

Strength
Learning (in place of Intelligence)
Wit (in place of Wisdom)
Dexterity
Charisma
Spirit

I'm not sure they'll appear in exactly that order (alphabetical makes a lot more sense, don't you think?) but that's where I am at the moment. Cue snickers and usual jibes about "reinventing wheels."

Just wait till I get to my post on the classes that are going to make an appearance.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

'hammer Musings

Huh. Just discovered Roger's A Life Full of Adventure blog, which is kind of crazy considering he's been around since 2008 and lists a host of shared game interests with Yours Truly, including D&D (B/X and 2E), WFRP (of the oldest variety), Blood Bowl (!), and Shadowrun.

I really need to get together with some of these guys (Steve C. and Mike Davison included) and do some sort of D&D-Warhammer mash-up. I know, I know...I've talked about this in the past and never brought anything to fruition. I'm BUSY, people! Anyway...

Huh. I can't believe I have only a single posting under the topic "Nurgle" (not counting my single post under the topic "Deathguard"). Might have to rectify that.

Ignorance

I don't want to say that I hate ignorance. It really, really irritates me, but "hate" is such a strong emotion, even for such an amorphous entity as ignorance. Hating ignorance itself, really just translates into hating the ignorant people that display it. And I really don't want to hate people (as individuals or groups).

No, I don't. But you know, I really hate ignorance.

And it's not like I know everything. I'm ignorant about a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff. I'm always finding new shit out. Even about games that I blather on about like some expert...like, say, Basic D&D. I've been playing the thing for 30+ years, I've been blogging and writing about it since June of 2009 (nearly six years!), and I'll still discover the occasional thing about which I'm ignorant.

[though admittedly, with regard to D&D, I'm a bit less ignorant than in other arenas of knowledge]

So I'M ignorant, too...about a great many things. And I prioritize what it is I want to enlighten myself about, just as everyone else does. I know a lot more about the current state of the NFL, for example, then the state of the NBA. I have a tiny smidgeon of knowledge about South American history, and effectively zero knowledge of Thailand or southeast Asia (other than that shitty bit of U.S. history involving armed conflict in the region). Do I hate myself for being ignorant? Do I hate myself for being selective about that which I choose to learn? No...but I'm sometimes disappointed or frustrated with myself, and folks might consider me a bit obsessive when it comes to researching things about which I find myself ignorant.

[this can be chalked up to a Scorpio Mercury in the 12th House, by the way...not everyone has that drive to know everything about everything]

So maybe I don't "hate" ignorance in others, either. Maybe I'm simply frustrated and disappointed she I see it. Like people who believe Fox News has even the slightest accuracy. Or that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

[wow...how is that bullshit going to be explained in schools in 2021?]

The internet is a wonderful place to learn stuff about which you're ignorant. It's also a fantastic place to get distracted for hours by stupid memes, dumb videos, and free porn. But even if you manage to avoid wasting too much time in idle surfing, your search for enlightenment can often be roadblocked by the conflicting opinions of various parties on the subject of study that you're pursuing. I suppose this might be slightly better than listening to a single professor giving his/her single opinion on a topic...but it really depends on the quality of teacher and the quality of school, no? I went to a pretty good school and received a fairly decent education (when I bothered to show up to class), and while the wikipedia is uber-convenient, there's something about studying a multitude of books from your local library that just seems to cover subjects in more depth. Not that the people of Paraguay have bothered to build any libraries in this damn country.

[oh, wait...they do have one: the Biblioteca Roosevelt. It's 69 years old, was named for the the 32nd president of the United States (FDR), and is part of the Centro Cultural Paraguayo Americano (the Paraguayan American Cultural Center). Huh...I wonder who's responsible for that? I should probably check it out, but it's located downtown, which is inconvenient for a number of reasons. Ah, well]

Anyway...I'm all for youthful fire being injected into all things old and crusty and having the cantankerous, conservatives give up their seats at the high table, but would it be too much to ask that they do at least a minimal amount to alleviate their ignorance? When I read about teenagers not knowing Cameron's Titanic film was based on an actual event, I get...well, irritated.

I'm sure there are plenty of intelligent young people out there who will help to make the world a better and brighter place. In fact, I know there are. But there's still a shit-ton of ignorance out there and a lot of folks (young and old) who just don't seem to care enough to educate themselves. Sorry for the ranty-ness; it depresses me at times.

Okay...back to gaming stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Counting Coins (Part 2)

[continued from here; while the pertinent rules will be presented in this post, you might be interested in the motivation and basis for it (described in Part 1). Then again, maybe you aren't!]

Just to pick up where we left off, we had our three containers: the small sack, the backpack, and the large sack (yes, yes...we'll get to Jeff's treasure chests, too. Just not yet). In B/X terms they hold 200 coins, 400 coins, and 600 coins respectively. Since, in B/X:

10 coins of weight = 1 pound

we can happily convert these containers to units of "poundage:" 20 pounds for the small sack, 40 pounds for the backpack, and 60 pounds for the large sack.

It might be helpful to imagine exactly what these look like. A small sack is something that can be carried in one-hand, even by a spindly adventurer (when I was a fairly scrawny teenager working a summer gig at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was routinely asked to carry 20# sacks of flour under each arm). The space age, ultra-light backpacks you find at REI these days have capacities up to 80 liters or so (180 pounds of water weight)...but they can measure liters because your back is likely to give out long before you put enough "weight" in to burst its frame and fabric. The primitive pack of D&D was probably based on something that looked like my father's (circa 1950's) wood frame and cloth, Boy Scout pack. Small, clunky, and painful compared to the ergonomic camping gear of the last 20-30 years. It's designed to be worn on the back (hence the name).

The 60# large sack (leather? burlap?) is designed to be carried over the shoulder, probably using two-hands. I picture something like this (or probably half-again as big):

Getting lighter every minute.
Anyway, these are our basic containers for carrying treasure. You can see that they break down into an easy ratio of 1-2-3. And it is from here we (well...me) extrapolate our basic unit of measurement: the treasure unit. For my purposes:

20# of treasure = 1 treasure unit

So, a small sack holds one treasure unit, the backpack holds two, and the large sack holds three.

What exactly IS a treasure unit (besides its weight)? What's it's value? Well, I give it the same value as a small sack full of gold coins. No, not 200 gold coins...I've really gotten over the 10 coins to the pound thing (this happens when you do a bunch of research into silver marks and gold dihrams and other ancient currencies). No, I mean a sack of coins of the basic currency (whatever that is for your game world)...remember its all relative. For my purposes, I think Alexis's 7g Roman-era coins are perfectly reasonable. At 64 coins to the pound, that means one small sack (i.e. one "treasure unit") consists of 1280 coins. And if each of these "gold pieces" is worth 1 x.p. to your intrepid treasure-seeking adventurer, than you can say:

1 treasure unit = 1280 XP

"But JB," you cry, "This is madness! Are you saying a sack of gold is equal to a sack of silver is equal to a sack of gemstones?" Yes...with caveats. But let me come back to that in a moment. You're interrupting my train of thought!

The advancement scheme for your normal fighter class looks a bit like this:

Level 2: 2000 XP needed
Level 3: 4000 XP needed
Level 4: 8000 XP needed
Level 5: 16,000 XP needed
Level 6: 32,000 XP needed
Level 7: 64,000 XP needed

If we divide that up by 1280 XP we can find the number of treasure units needed to advance the character...oh, and here I'll be rounding UP when we have remainders (no fractions of treasure units!):

Level 2: 2 treasure units needed
Level 3: 4 treasure units needed
Level 4: 7 treasure units needed
Level 5: 13 treasure units needed
Level 6: 25 treasure units needed
Level 7: 50 treasure units needed
Level 8: 100 treasure units needed (if you double 64K, you get 128K, yeah? Look how easy that is!)

My game only goes up to 8th level because there aren't any domains being awarded to "name level" characters in my game...however, if you wanted to extrapolate, you could just add an extra 50 units per level after eight.

100 treasure units...2000 pounds (1 ton) of treasure. It can take you a long time to move that much wealth...especially if you multiply it by the number of characters in the adventuring party. Pulling that much treasure out of the ground can give you a nice, long campaign with plenty of adventure. And if you do "earn your ton," I can't see how your character could find herself wanting to do anything but retire and enjoy the fabulous life of luxury she's earned for herself and her descendants.

Now, back to your question: isn't some treasure "worth more" than others? Sure...but we're talking about convertible, spendable wealth. A bag of jewels will go farther (with a lot less effort) than one big jewel. And who's to say small or fragile items aren't likely to get misplaced, broken, and pilfered between their dungeon resting place and "wherever-it-is" that you want to take your items to convert it. And who's to say you'll get "fair market value" even should your cartage go off without a hitch?

Plus, consider this: adventurers in a dirty, dimly lit, and hazardous subterranean environment...fearful of being beset by monstrous foes at any moment...aren't going to get terribly caught up in sorting the dross from the treasure hoard. I picture much more of a "dump-your-rations-and-rake-in-as-much-as-your-pack-will-carry" approach to treasure gathering, not a careful sifting for platinum coins among the silver. Call the treasure unit an "average" of what is found and carted off.

HOWEVER: I would allow for some treasure units being more or less valuable. Just not on the scale of your usual D&D campaign; simply a "double value" treasure unit, or a "half value" treasure unit. I would also allow the occasional worn piece of jewelry or pocketed gemstone to be considered a half treasure unit (or even a "full" treasure unit for an extremely rare and valuable piece...think the Eye of the Serpent in the film Conan). BUT as a basic rule, if it's not portable, it ain't spendable.

Worth a full treasure unit...though hard to split up.
You found a golden throne that took 12 guys to carry out of the dungeon? Who cares? Unless you know of a shop that deals in giant, golden thrones, you're not going to get anything out of it until you break it up, melt it down, pry out the gemstones, and/or otherwise reduce it to a portable form...a standard treasure unit form. Bags of cash, in other words.

Hey, it's what the conquistadors did.

Now as for how much one can carry...well that brings us back to the encumbrance question. In Holmes Basic, a character is considered "heavily loaded" (with a halved movement rate) when carrying 60# of treasure in addition to their normal adventuring equipment (including armor). AD&D is more specific (and granular) giving a reduced movement for up to 70# (all equipment and treasure) or halved movement at 105# (again, for everything). However, AD&D gives a bonus for high strength (up to +75# for 18, the highest possible for non-fighter characters).

Moldvay Basic is a bit more generous and more granular going up to 160# for everyone (high strength is not considered). However, anything over 80# of combined treasure and equipment QUARTERS movement, effectively slowing the character to a crawl...maybe a stagger.

All three systems give a range of unencumbered movement of 30# to 40# (30# being for Holmes Basic which doesn't count the PC's "standard gear"...30# of treasure weight in other words). Personally, I like the Holmes bit about PCs being used to their own adventuring gear and only worrying about treasure...however, I also like Gygaxian "strong backs carry more treasure" thing. As such, here's how I factor encumbrance:

Normal gear +1 treasure unit = Unencumbered (12" or "normal" movement)
Gear +2 treasure units = Light Load (9")
Gear +3 treasure units = Heavy Load (6" or half movement)
Gear +6 treasure units = Staggering Load (3" or quarter-movement)

For every point of Strength over 12, add +1 to treasure units that can be carried. A character can dump their normal gear (though still retaining armor and maybe a weapon or two) to carry one extra treasure unit.

Characters can combine their treasure allowance to carry really heavy items, like Jeff's treasure chests. Just to sum up these, here's how they measure out in my game:

Small coffer/strong box = small sack (1 treasure unit), though more durable
Medium chest = 10 treasure units. Such a container can be carried by two individuals working together, or by one (fairly strong) individual.
Large chest = 20 treasure units. These are really a four-man job (like carrying something the size of a coffin).

Note that since treasure units can be converted to weight (in 20# increments) it's easy to figure how hard it is to carry, say, a fallen comrade or other bulky, non-standard item.

Last note (since this is running long again): lest you think your iron-thewed, 1st level barbarian is going to come out of the dungeon with two large sacks and a backpack full of treasure and advance to  4th level, keep in mind the following limitations:

  • There's still a limit to how much treasure is found at an adventure site (as determined by the DM).
  • Treasure units found must still be divided between the characters (and if a bag of treasure is divided too far between henchmen, there may not be enough for advancement).
  • Characters are still limited to a maximum level gain of one per adventure (standard B/X rule) regardless of how much treasure is brought out at once. 

Even so, a dragon hoard (average treasure valued at 50,000gp in standard B/X), could be worth a staggering 39-40 treasure units. That's a big haul to divide amongst such a bold group of adventurers.

All right...that really is enough for now.

[oh, wait - one more thing! some folks might be wondering how to figure XP for defeating monsters if you're measuring advancement in "treasure units" recovered instead of individual points? Short answer: you don't. I've decided XP will only be gained from treasure recovery. More on this later!]

Counting Coins (Part 1)

I've been wanting to write this post since Friday. Unfortunately, I figured that I should probably write a couple-three other posts first in order to "set the stage" for my ideas. But, well, spending the last two days solid on taxes (just got 'em e-filed at 1am this morning, thank you very much) has pushed back all my posting...and anyway, now I've got money on the brain.

[speaking of push-backed posts: still have returned to the Crowns of Blood series and Game of Thrones just started up again...at least in South America. Haven't had a chance to watch it yet...maybe later today...but I'm sure it'll inspire me to get back to my hack of Pendragon]

One of the things I'm doing these days with my designs is to abstract equipment/items, cutting out that particular "hard aspect" of resource management. This is something that's been evolving for me over the last several years. It started a while back with my B/X play when I created basic equipment lists for each class based on a player's 3D6 roll for "starting gold" (I was kind of tired of low-income characters blowing their wad on plate mail and having nothing left over for standard adventuring equipment). A large part of this was in aid of speeding the chargen process: hand the player a card, cross-reference the number rolled and then note your starting possessions. It worked fairly well.

Later, when working up my DMI (card-based) game system, I was even more abstract...the cards dealt to players determined their "important characteristics" (I think I use a different term in the rules, but I don't want to look it up right now), and diamonds dealt to the character's hand represented any kind of important "resources," including special equipment. It was very non-specific, but (without going into too much detail), say you were playing my DMI "supers" game: a character like the Hulk would probably have no diamonds dealt to him (because the Hulk doesn't use equipment), whereas a Batman-type guy would have lots of diamonds to represent the shtick he pulls out of his bat-belt or his various vehicles and Bat Cave and whatnot. The "items" the diamonds represent might change from session to session (just as the specific gear ol' Batman uses changes from adventure to adventure) but the basis of his powers (lots of goodies/gadgets) doesn't change. A Reed Richards type might have a single (big) diamond in his hand to represent the one Earth-shaking invention Mr. Fantastic pulls out of his stretchy brain every few comics.

ANYway...abstract. But not very Old School.

Cry Dark Future...my B/X-based "Shadowrun" style game (which has since morphed into something much more post-apocalyptic) was a return to B/X gear-counting sensibilities. You had "New Dollars" (or whatever) to spend instead of gold, and you were picking up similar NDs from adventures instead of D&D-type treasure...such ca$h being used to provide all the upgrades to your adventurer that you'd expect in an Old School-type game (instead of magic items you're upgrading your automatic weapons and cybernetic-implants, etc. Spell research remains largely the same). Very resource-based in the traditional sense.

However, a funny thing happened during play-testing: I observed (and other groups, too) that players weren't really interested in "bullet-counting." Or worrying about how many hours of juice was in a particular piece of gear. The resource management of individual equipment items was a real secondary concern (if that!) to the slam-bang action of blazing away in cinematic fashion. As opposed to aiding the immersion, forcing players to track every nuanced resource was breaking their immersive process. Asking a sniper character's player what type of ammunition he was going to use for a long shot, he replied "the best one." The granularity of gear wasn't as important to the action at hand. And away, who am I to say how much a bionic limb costs in a futuristic economy?

Plus chargen for a game like CDF takes a shit-long time if players are buying their own gear...there's simply too much, compared to the short lists of D&D.

So when I started revising CDF I figured a way to abstract gear selection. CDF was reworked as a class-based system (with classes determining the character's available suite of cybernetic gear), and then a choice of equipment based on the character's Intelligence (INT) score, such picks being limited when it comes to "expensive" selections from the gear list.

Because no matter how rich characters get, the kind of "missions" they go on in CDF only allows them to carry so much gear anyway. And tying that gear to INT helps to model a lot of real world "inconveniences" in an abstract fashion. Gear that a person forgot to bring (even though he meant to and even laid it out on the table the night before). Gear that's batteries died, or that suffered a break in transport to the drop site. Gear that hasn't been well-maintained due to laziness or ineptitude. Gear that's been misplaced or stolen or sold for food between adventures. Gear that gets brought along but that the character forgets he has in his pocket/pack. Gear that just mysteriously breaks or stops working because you're living in a post-apocalyptic region where resources are scarce to fix or repair equipment...you've got to prioritize what's important. INT determines the absolute number of "useful" pieces of equipment the character has for a particular session...and yes, the number is modified by the character's level of experience (because experienced adventurers are more prepared...duh).

[characters automatically start with a couple weapons regardless of INT, of course, because those are your livelihood and necessary survival tools and I know you're maintaining those without me having to ask]

The most recent stab at a "new" fantasy heartbreaker (which is currently being revised...see last post) uses a similar "useful item" system, except that it's based on an ability score called Wit (because there are seriously learned wizard-types who are a little too addled/befuddled to remember to pack the tinderbox). Now this was fine when my FHB was about heroic heroes doing heroic things and not worrying about finding treasure (they had a much "grander quest" to accomplish). But with the recent revisions...to one of conquest and colonization in a Brave New World...there's a need to account for coin counting and the collection of goodies. After all, in a fantasy adventure game based on treasure hunting, counting treasure is the way we count points.

"JB, you're losing me," says one of my readers. "I can see simplifying gear selection (maybe), but why does that create any issue with acquiring treasure (and counting it) in the 'normal' fashion? You find 2000 shiny gold doubloons, and you get 2000 XP...no big deal, right?" Um, sure, except there's the little part about encumbrance to consider, another thing I intend to abstract.

[see, this is why I needed to log earlier topics BEFORE starting this one]

While I haven't (yet) written about it, I had all but decided to axe STRENGTH as an ability score from the list of abilities describing characters. The multiple reasons will be dealt with in soon-to-be-forthcoming post. But then I got hipped to this post from GusL (remember me talking about him?) on using a super-simple abstract method of counting encumbrance which, while not perfect, is the perfect complement to my abstract gear-selection-process. Because while "what you remembered to bring along" might be set by the limits of your character's Wit, what you find (and pick up) along the way is not.

But THAT is actually putting the cart before the horse. I've been thinking a lot about treasure lately (being in the presence of a lot of real world treasure does that), and then I stumbled across this year-old post from Alexis...

[I can almost hear him yelling at me to leave him the fuck out of my abstract B.S. schemes. Sorry, pal]

...and its precursor prompt post from John Arendt (just for reference; not nearly as pertinent). It's really not a new gripe...it's something I was blogging about waaaay back in 2010. While Alexis's post points to a different issue (how much treasure monsters have in relation to each other), he rightly points out that the system is fundamentally arbitrary (numbers of value...both for character advancement and for cost of in-world goods...is largely subjective). Combined with this earlier post of his...and, yeah, throw in this excellent one, too, on gemstones...and you start to get an idea of where my brain is headed: abstract treasure accounting.

This one's a fancy piece.
[just BTW, Alexis's posts on gems...see here and here...went a long way towards explaining my befuddlement at the rinky-dinkness of medieval jewelry. I've been to a lot of museums over in Europe...in Bavaria, Prague, Spain, Italy, France...and seen a lot of crowns and tiaras and bracelets and whatnot that looked like so much battered costume jewelry. Granted, many pieces were hundreds of years old, the precious metal bent and dinged, but what really disappointed me were the gemstones set in the pieces. They didn't LOOK like gems (at least, to my UNeducated historical mind) but rather like polished, shiny stones. They were not cut, you see, and were probably plenty valuable for their luster and color and rarity. I was expecting cut gems (like something from, oh say, an illustration in one of my gaming books) rather than colorful smooth circles of what could have been "pretty glass." The lighting in the museums probably didn't help much]

Part of this also has to do with my research into the history of South America's conquest (much of what might have been deemed "treasure hunting" as well). The thing is this: not only is the value of treasure arbitrary and fully modifiable in terms of it's game worth (i.e. what amount of treasure constitutes enough XP to "level up"), but it is of relative value in the game world as well. It doesn't matter that a gemstone is "worth 500 g.p." if my character has no way to determine, nor collect the value. So what if I find a platinum and ruby-studed crown worth 50,000 gold...who will be willing (and able!) to buy such a thing? It's doubtful the local "gem-changer" has 2.5 tons (the D&D weight of 50K coins) of gold sitting in his back room, waiting for such a piece to come along.

It's been an acceptable statement for years that adventurers would much prefer precious items like gems and jewelry over sacks of coins. But sacks of coins are readily spent, easily converted to real goods, easy to divide amongst companions. There's no need to find reliable (competent and honest) appraisers or fences for the loot. There's no need to know kings who MIGHT have access to stacks of coins and be interested in acquiring such items (the wealth of the nobility is mainly tied to their land...and who's to say an unscrupulous lord wouldn't consider treasure found within his domain to be his "by right" and simply take it?). If I want to buy a horse, I can probably get one for a ruby...but I might not get exact change in the bargain.

[and when the local tax man comes a-calling, what are you going to pay him with if all you picked up was a fancy silver bracelet? Your magic boots?]

Treasure is treasure is treasure. Some is more valuable, some is less, but in a primitive society that doesn't have, say, a global economy like ours with auction houses (on-line and off) and plenty of extremely wealthy folks keeping an eye out for desirable stuff...well, you may just be better off with a sack of silver or gold. At least you won't be much worse off than the guy with a sack of "the good stuff."

SO...now we come back to encumbrance. We have three basic containers in D&D, with (per B/X) an extremely easy measure of how much each holds:

Small sack: 20 pounds of treasure
Backpack: 40 pounds of treasure
Large sack: 60 pounds of treasure

Nice easy numbers, which will be the basis for a whole new method of treasure accounting, encumbrance, and (drum roll, please) experience point acquisition and advancement.

All of which will be laid out in Part 2 (since this post is getting long).

Friday, April 10, 2015

15 Minutes to Blog

It is 5:46pm my time. In (roughly) fifteen minutes, hell will more or less break lose in my home as one-half the help leaves and I am left managing my small children with one less person and no mother coming home tonight. "Cry me a river," says the single parents living in the USA that can't afford the kind of childcare that small money buys in Paraguay. I know that. I'm not saying I'm suffering terribly...just that what is a "non-usual" situation for me and my family creates (some) discomfort. And that my writing time is limited.

(11 minutes to go)

Probably people think I've been futzing around the last so-many odd hours since my last post. Or doing taxes. Or have run out of inspiration after so many thousands of words pumped out in recent days. Nope...that's not it. Well, maybe the "futzing around" part...but that's what I might (deprecatingly) call my "research." I've just been slogging through the internet you know. Today spent several hours intensely researching the conquest ("colonization" if you want to use the Wikipedia term) of South America. The Pizarro's were assholes (as were the Portuguese), and they took up entirely too much of my time...I really don't care much about what's west of Argentina or north of the Brazil's southern border.

Mostly I've been spending time catching up on Paraguayan history (which I haven't done for a few months since first coming down here). It's depressing as shit.

(7 minutes)

Other than real world history, I've been reading blogs, blogs, blogs. A lot of Tao. A lot of Hill Cantons. A few others. Old Dragon magazine articles by Ed Greenwood (as suggested by HC), and MAR Barker essays (and commentary on same in other blogs). Because I'm doing fucking-A world building.

Which I hate and which is daunting and which I'd like to do right for a change.

Because the FHB I was working on waaaay back in the September-November months (you can check previous blog posts labeled under Moon) is getting an overhaul. Because (and I'll explain this in a future post) I doubt it could be taken quite as seriously as I had originally intended.

Plus I want to do something that makes use of my time down here. The stupid environment in which I live. This fucking country with its heat and ants and bullshit "social values."

And treasure finding. This isn't a land of heroes. My FHB was going to be a fairytale, "heroic" fantasy adventure game. Nah. People want to dig coin out of ancient temples in jungles. Let's go with that.

(two minutes over)

More later. People are (nicely) sticking around as a I type this up. There will be posts in the near future on the following:

The Magnificent Seven
The Big Six
Skill Trees
Counting Coins

And maybe some stuff about world building in South America. Maybe not till next week...but then again, maybe tonight (I've been having serious bouts of insomnia lately).

More later.

(four minutes over)