Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Invisibile System

This is a post about THAC0.

This system for determining whether or not a player character hits in 2E hinges on two factors: THAC0 and Armor Class.

THAC0 is an acronym for To Hit Armor Class Zero. A character's THAC0 value is the number he must roll on a d20 in order to hit a thing that has an Armor Class of zero. The value of the target's Armor Class is applied to the attack roll of his aggressor.

     Attack roll +/- target's armor class +/- any other modifiers = Modified Attack Roll
     If Modified Attack roll is equal to or greater than THAC0, the hit succeeds.

Complex in its simplicity, no?

You may be thinking, "Fuck that! Why would I want to do that in my head every time I roll the dice?"

Good news, gentle player, you don't. Such things are for the DM to compute. As a player, you tell the DM what you've rolled (plus any modifiers) and your THAC0. The DM adds in the target's armor class and any other modifiers he may have and lets you know if you hit.

The magic of this is that the player is only acutely aware of improvement through examining results. As opposed to an "active" value, like a bonus or penalty, THAC0 is passive. Every time a player attacks, he is not adding his THAC0 or evenly actively considering it unless the DM asks him for it. If the DM has prepared a reference sheet in advance, he might never ask for it.
It should become apparent, however, to the player that their character is hitting more often as their THAC0 goes down. But because they are not reminded with every swing of their mace that they have incrementally improved, they perceive less of the hard mechanics of the game.

But wait! Isn't the to-hit system in 3E the exact fucking same? You tell the DM what you rolled and he tells you if you hit or not?

Yes and No.

In a general, yes. That's how most games work. The players do a thing and then the DM does his things and tells the players about it. Repeat.

In 3E, that Base Attack Bonus is going up. If not this level, then next level. The player must be constantly aware of the arbitrary rule that represents his improvements in combat. Some feats (I'll do a whole other post on why I hate feats) even use those bonus as bargaining chips and let you redistribute them. (I'm looking at you, power attack.)
The bonus is at the forefront. With THAC0 it is in the background. Almost invisible.

Try it out sometime.

To convert, take the sum of a character's arbitrary to-hit bonuses. Do not factor in strength bonuses, bonuses because of fighting style or particular skill with a particular weapon, only the bonus you receive to your hit roll because you are an X-level Adventurer.

Got the sum total? Great. Subtract it from 20 - There's your THAC0.

For armor class, determine how much better your armor is than no armor. Is it two points better? Is it eleven points better? Whatever. Figure out how much better your armor is than no armor according to your system. Then subtract that from 10. That is your new armor class. Have your DM do likewise for all his shit.

Or just pickup (read "download") a copy of the 2E rules. You know, whatever.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On 2E

So, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition is my game of choice. I can't nail down for sure when I started playing, but my best estimates put it around 1996 or 1997, making me around 12 years old at the time.

My only previous experience had been with MUDs, the great granddaddy to the MMO. I was a fan of Greek myths, Lloyd Alexander, and of course Tolkien.
Living in the Bible Belt, all I knew about Dungeons and Dragons was that it was The Devil. I had no idea what an RPG was, had never seen a die other than a d6, and didn't understand the term "roleplaying".

What I had was an interest in fiction and computer games and some older friends who were curious about said Devil Game.

I was skeptical about playing, but one of the older guys who had already started playing told me that it was basically a computer game, but instead of the computer being the arbiter of the action, another player was. I was told tales of fighting goblins in dank ruins and other adventures and immediately decided that I wanted in.

I rolled up a thief, and played him for a good number of years, along with a host of other rogues, warriors, wizards, and maybe even a cleric or two.

I had been playing for years before the idea of searching for Dungeons and Dragons on the internet ever occurred to me. As I recall, things were pretty sparse. We did find some articles written under the moniker "Uncle Figgy". Those articles were gospel to us. They really taught me how to be both a player and a dungeon master. To this day, I make them required reading for new players.

For the most part, however, I played in a vacuum, disconnected from both the future and the past of Dungeons and Dragons.

I could infer that there were previous editions of the game, but the general understanding among our group was that they were somehow broke and almost unplayable. Relics from a bygone and less enlightened age.

I had no idea about what was happening at TSR, I wouldn't learn about Gygax until years after I had begun playing.

I didn't know that this was the "de-Satanized" version of the game. I didn't know that this was the first version of the game without Gygax.

All I knew was that this was Dungeons and Dragons.

And I loved it.

Why specifically? I'll cover that later. I've rambled on long enough for now.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Madness of Elvor

Played D&D with my friend Brian, my roommate Jake, and Jake's nephew who is most likely 11 years old, or so. (I don't know how to judge the age of children.)

Brain was DM, Jake was a fighter named Wendel, I was a cleric named Clinton, and Jake's nephew was Elvor, elven sorcerer.

I had to leave right after character creation, and came back mid-game. I only experienced the conclusion of Elvor's madness, but I was told about the rest.

What follows are the events to my best knowledge.

Elvor was raised by bears? in the forest and for 100+ years unsuccessfully dealing with emotional trauma and his emerging magical powers.

At the time of the adventure's beginning, Elvor, wounded from a battle with spiders, wanders into the city-state of Cameron where he is treated for his wounds at the hospital there.

At the same time, Wendel is graduating from the city guard academy and Clinton is taking his vows as a cleric of St. Cuthbert.

King Cameron summons Wendel and Clinton as well as a recent graduate of the magic school for a mission both to celebrate our new careers and show loyalty to him. Through a case of mistaken identity, or something, Elvor is brought before the king and accepts the mission.

The mission is fairly simple: Meet a caravan at a point outside the city and escort it into town. In order to meet the caravan on time, the king suggests taking an ancient tunnel that leads out of town to the main road.

We all accept, Wendel and Clinton on ceremony, and Elvor because... well, who knows why Elvor does anything.

Clinton has other business to take care of, and sets out on his own, pledging to meet up with the his companions at the rendezvous.

Wendel and Elvor start down the old road, and shit got real.

In a battle with spiders and other nasty beasts infesting the tunnel, Elvor would immediately run away and cry, other times becoming furious with anger at seemingly nothing, all the while collecting every bone and scrap of trash he came across. At one point he kicked Wendel. For why? Who can say. But it was hard enough to do actual damage.

With rests included, what should have been a days journey through the tunnel took roughly 13 hours.
Clinton met Wendel and Elvor at the exit to the tunnel, though both were half dead and bleeding.

Clinton asked them what happened, and Wendel gave him a look that at once said, "Don't ask," and "You don't want to know."

At this point, Wendel had to know he was traveling with someone who was obviously unstable. Clinton only got his first inkling when Elvor enthusiastically offered him a bone, a bit of scale mail, and a javelin. All of which he politely declined.

The party ventured forth to find the caravan under attack by orcs, with only one defender still drawing breath. We charged in, and Clinton began his dazzling display of ineptitude with any and all weapons.

Wendel spent the battle slaughtering things, as a good fighter does, all the while enduring the screams of Elvor who kept claiming that certain orcs were "his prey" and that if anyone else attacked or killed them it was unfair. To his credit, Elvor did punch one orc's head in, he also cast some magic.

The battle with the orcs eventually caught the attention of a manticore, which was quickly and valiantly defeated.

In the aftermath, Elvor removed a wing from the dead beast and spent some time waving it around trying to fly while the rest of the party got the wagons ready to go and learned that the entire caravan team had been slaughtered during the 13 hour delay.

The goods seemed to be intact.

It was then that Elvor declared the quest to be over, and set about stabbing the one surviving defender of the caravan team, and he very nearly did kill her before Wendel and Clinton could cut him down and kicked his teeth in.

His dying words? "At least I stopped you from completing your mission..."

Clinton took the on-deaths-door caravan defending and one of the horses and road to town with all haste while Wendel strung the wagons up and made his way to town.

The mission was something of a success. The survivor of the caravan survived. Turns out she was the king's niece. All the goods from the caravan were saved, but everyone else died.

Elvor was certainly crazy. All he sought was chaos, and that's what he got. His emotions, tactics, and alliances all turned on a dime. The only constant was his enthusiasm.

All of us were bewildered and a bit unsettled by the experience. Few times have any of us, as players, ever witnessed a turn like that in a game. Our characters, should they ever adventure again, will most definitely have trust issues and the memories of those wagons full of butchered bodies will no doubt haunt them forever.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Funereal Disease

So! I didn't play type 4.

I sat down with the other player in the group who had actually played D&D before and we tried to read the PHB and DMG, respectively, and the books began to look like Chinese Algebra.
Based on a reading of the rules, Type 4 is a board game wherein some roleplaying might happen.

The other guy made an executive decision and DM'd a game of Type 3, which I also have issues with.

Anyway, counting me, there were three of us who I think are really interested in playing D&D, one was kind of along for the ride, one was completely clueless, and one was trying to play the game exactly like an MMO and consequently becoming frustrated.

If the group survives, I'll eventually hit 'em with second edition, maybe some LotFP:WFRPWTFBBQHAX.

In the meantime: Funerary things! Or:Why on Oerth would people who live in a world where the undead are a very real thing ever bury their dead if they had another choice?

Look, all I'm saying is, if you live in a world where zombies, mummies, and animated skeletons etc. are a real threat and there's no Christian belief in a mass resurrection at the End of Days, would you not burn grandma so that a wandering necromancer doesn't use her to kill you?
Furthermore, wouldn't big churches sport crematoriums instead of graveyards?
Just a pre-morning-shower thought. Wouldn't have made the post-title but I have a weakness for puns.

Also, I did that thing in the post below and had fun doing it. I think I'm going to try and crank out a dungeon a week, I'll probably fail. And if I don't, it's not like anyone reads this.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

This is a journey into the Hell of Hells

So I might find myself running a D&D Type 4 game this weekend.

In the year 2000, I had been playing Type 2 for a few years, at least two, and then, several times a week, easily more than 300 sessions, so figure more than 1,000 hours.

Maybe 2,000 or more.

When Type 3 dropped, my gaming group ran to the local game shop (long since defunct) and checked out the new books. We thought the art was great, we thought the layout was cool. We thought the rules were shit.

Apparently, we were the only humans on the planet who thought that, but none the less, we were horrified by the new rules.

To us, they were dumbing down the game, making it more munchkin friendly, and generally betraying the game we held dear.

We took it as a slap in the face and looked down on the game, the people that made it, and especially the people who played it.

Fast forward.

Type 4 announced.

"Maybe this won't be shit," says I.

Then I watched a developer diary video where some suit from Wizards tells me the game is designed to allow for and encouraged min/maxing. And he used the term min/maxing.

And rage ate my heart.

Min/maxing, or the process of making sure that your character is optimized in every way, that he has the best "build" that all negatives have been minimized and all bonuses maximized, this was mortal sin. Cardinal sin.

From day fucking one the D&D I played was not about who could roll the biggest numbers. It was about the adventure, what was happening, how we reacted, how interpersonal relationships developed, how we failed, and how we triumphed despite our failures.

And I did then as I do now feel that this type of game is superior to others.

The rules exist as a framework for playing the game, playing the game is not playing the rules.

Shit, I can distinctly remember at least one session where we didn't even have dice.

Type 4 looked like it was built on the antithesis of my gaming philosophy.

A lot of folks seemed to hate it as well and I felt justified. I took sick satisfaction in every negative review I read.

Then I started reading blogs. Gaming blogs, OSR blogs, game design blogs.

And I gave up on D&D. Which is to say, I quit giving a shit about the "official" version of my game. In my opinion, it has sucked for more than a decade, and therefore long past the point where I should even think about it. Fuck it. I have my game and I'm happy with it.

I have even reached the point now where I'm trying to rid myself of the "My D&D is better than your D&D" mindset.

'cause what's the fucking point?

So long as you aren't playing FATAL, your game probably has some merit and so long as you're not coming to my house and slapping the dice out of my hand, who am I to kick you in the throat and cram my horseshit nerd game down your gullet.

To that end, I may end up playing in/maybe DMing a Type 4 game this Friday.

Just thinking those words turns my guts. But this is about growing and development, right?

Also, I hope to lead the noobs who are playing the game in the paths of righteousness, convert them to a more elegant form of D&D, from a more civilized age.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm thinking of running a G+ game, also setting junk and stuff

I've read about flailsnails and I'm hooked up to the G+ and I'm seriously considering running a pickup game.

But then I think, "Maybe I should play a few pickup games first,"

and then I think, "Fuck that."

I think I know my world well enough to run a one-shot at the drop of a hat. So maybe I will.

On Thrailia

                                                      The Dark Ages by Jonas DeRo

Thrailia is an ancient kingdom based primarily on the Zan'drick peninsula on the eastern shores of Skovorod. It has been ruled by the Thrailkill Dynasty since its founding, some 2,000 years ago.
Currently, it is ruled by the young princess Ellysia Thrailkill, who, by the rules of succession, will relinquish the throne to her younger brother, Alexander IX, when he comes of age.
Thrailia is a classical feudal society, with all land within it its boarders belonging to the monarchy and ruled by appointed vassals.

For generations, Thrailia was in a near constant, though not always active, state of war with its western neighbor, Myralon, though the last two Thraillkill Kings made great inroads in the way of diplomacy and the two nations are now on friendly terms. Currently, Thrailish emissaries have been attempting to establish diplomatic relations with the dwarves of the Iron Empire.

All members of Thrailish society belong to one of three orders: commoners, nobles, and clergy. Commoners support the nobles who in turn protect the commoners. The clergy are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the nation.

The principal religion is the Thrailish Irevarian Church, headed by the archdiocese at Searider. Traditionally, the royal family practices a different faith, worshiping the ancient storm god Tor. Elves are allowed to worship their traditional gods, the Seldarine, but worship of the two other human deities of the Triumvirate, Setis and Kali, is forbidden.

Nearly 500 years ago, Thrailish forces captured the a huge chunk of elven territory including the elven capitol. Since then, many elves have seamlessly integrated into Thrailish society, serving as consorts, courtiers, and courtesans to Thrailish nobility. It is seen as fashionable to have an elven paramour among the nobility, and consequently, half-elves are not uncommon.

All Thrailish common men train with bows from the age of around eight, likewise, all Thrailish noblemen train with sword and lance on horseback from a similar age. The Thrailish are renowned for their cavalry, archers, and navy.

The relatively long period of peace in the last 200 years has seen many nobles pursuing the fine arts as well as the martial and occasionally, war will break out between them. These skirmishes are unlikely to attract royal attention, unless of course the threaten the stability of the realm. These conflicts often involved months of troop maneuvers and posturing, perhaps a siege, and sometimes bloodshed. More than once, the whole ordeal has been solved by a literal chess match in the middle of the battlefield while each army cheers on their respective commander.

As a people, the Thrailish tend to be tall, thin, and fair skinned. Hair and eye colors fall within what we would recognize as the normal range. Certain individuals, however, hare born with eyes that range from red to violet and are said to have descended from the original inhabitants of the Zan'drick peninsula, a people who's name and culture has been lost to history.

Friday, March 8, 2013


I haven't had the chance to be a player or a DM/GM/Ref/Storymaster/Arbiter/bastard/etc in quite a while and I find myself hungry to roll dice.

Hungry to the point where I've been rolling characters just roll dice.

There's a fun exercise in rolling up stats. Should you be rolling up stats with no particular type of character in mind, you can roll your stats in order and use them to decipher what type of person those stats describe.

A couple of examples, rolled 3d6 in order:

Character 1:
STR - 4
DEX - 7
CON - 12
INT - 6
WIS - 12
CHA - 14

The pathetic strength score and dismal intelligence could suggest a life of relative luxury, with no need for the character to flex his muscles or brain. The above average constitution further supports this hypothesis, implying an upbringing of proper nutrition and sanitary conditions. The above average wisdom and high charisma means that despite his low intelligence he's a fairly deep thinker, and quite popular, probably because he's not smart enough to be an asshole. Pretty, too.
What we have here is a cleric or priest. Probably the third son of a noble or wealthy merchant shipped off to join a monastery because, frankly, he wasn't good at anything else. He's not strong or smart enough to win glory in battle or business, but he's insightful enough to comment on philosophy when he's not being confounded by his boot laces. He's a surprising fellow, with only the occasional nugget of wisdom keeping him from being more than just a pretty face.
Essentially, we have Steve Carrell's character from Anchorman with all the wisdom of Silent Bob and the looks of Adrian Brody.

Character 2:
STR - 11
DEX - 7
CON - 8
INT - 17
WIS - 5
CHA - 15

A certifiable genius. All that time studying, however, has come at a price, below average dexterity and mediocre constitution tell us that this fellow didn't spend much time running through green fields and climbing trees. More likely most of his time is spent indoors pouring over his beloved tomes. He is also somewhat disconnected from the "real world" perhaps preferring to lose himself in mathematics or literature. Still, he's fairly strong, those piles of books can weigh a ton, and he's had to lug them up and down many flights of stairs. Of course, he probably hasn't realized this. He's the sort who knows the importance of lacing your boots and can describe multiple ways to do so in evermore efficient ways, depending on the situation, but lacks the foresight to tie his own before going on a walk, if he ever went on a walk. In this interpretation, his high charisma points to an "other-worldliness" about him that people find fascinating. He's so far removed from the world around him that he seems special in some strange way. He literally thinks on another level.
Here we have the beautiful genius, most likely a mage, though a fighter would be an even more interesting choice.

Of course, the above examples are just one way to interpret the numbers. In the OSR, the idea seems to be "play the character you want, numbers be damned", and I think it's the same attitude that leads people to eschew alignment. The numbers, alignment, and other things should not be seen as straightjackets, binding the player to certain mechanics, but as frameworks to be built upon.

Try to figure out what the numbers mean, find out who the character is, get inside their head and branch out a bit. The fuck the torpedoes approach ensures that you will always play the character you want to play, but I find that it also leads you to playing the same characters over and over again. Playing the numbers almost guarantees a huge amount of dissimilarity and, therefore, uniqueness in your characters.

Begin Rant:
I've had a player who, in literally every game has played incarnations of the same character: Sarion Hawk, bastard sword wielding human warrior obsessed with gaining platemail. Fuck that guy. I want to play with him one more time. I'll start his character with platemail. Left without his tradition and singular driving force, I'd like to see if he becomes paralyzed or if he will finally mature as a player.
End Rant.

Begin Tangent:
This whole post feels too damn sanctimonious. Do what you feel, whatever, I think this is a neat way to do things, but fuck me, right?
End Tangent.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Plans within plans within plans within plans

The Principal Instructor sat in his private chambers, pawing a map of the continent, greed boiling in his heart.

He was surrounded by opulence. The finest tapestries hung on the ornately paneled walls. He sat on a cushion embroidered with the finest thread. The greatest luxuries shipped from around the world were piled about him. All had been bought with coin squeezed from the wealthy families that sent their sons and daughters to the College. Vast sums (and promising students) had been loaned to the dwarves of the Iron Empire for their forced annexation of their gnome cousins, and those investments were beginning to yield a return. Should he live another 150 years, the Principal Instructor would never want for wealth.

And so, the old magician's eye had slowly turned from his accounts to the map that now lay before him. His eyes had wandered first to the west, to the city states of Myralon. But who would want to rule over such a place? The Myralonians were too independent. Too headstrong. Too used to making their own decisions. The Thralish, however, had lived and died under the rule of the Thrailkill dynasty from time immemorial. The common people would little notice a change in sovereignty and the nobility would bend the knee to whoever sat the throne if it meant keeping their fur collars and paltry chains of office.

The Instructors bony finger guided a long and manicured nail across the velum map tracing an invisible route north from the College to Thralish capitol.

He would not challenge them openly, his pride prevented the thought that he could not. He would be subtle. Beyond subtle. His hand would guide events to create the situations he necessary for success. And of course he would be successful. How could he not? This was his way, he was a gentle conqueror. As he had ascended to the head of his school, as he had ascended to the head of the College, as he would ascend to the throne of Thralia, those he would rule would come to beg him for authority.

He opened a drawer and produced a piece of fine parchment, and reached for a freshly cut quill.

It would begin as it always began: with a whisper. The right whisper, delivered to the right ear, at the right place, and at the right time.

When he had sealed the letter, he sat back and looked upon his work and recalled his first lessons.

"We do not kill. We plant the seed that grows the tree that falls on the house that kills the foe."

He would plant the seed and after a summer, reap a crown.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Flurry of creativity!

For me, creativity comes in spurts.

I think I've ranted, at length, about Vornheim, the complete city kit, yes? If no, google it. Some brits gave it an award for being the best thing ever since 1993.


Easily my most favorite hunk of the thing is the NPC generator tables combined with the E-Z Bake Web O' Intrigue Generator, AKA NPC connections map.

It is a tool for quickly generating  relationships between four NPCs with six rolls of the trusty d6.

Plug in your NPCs, roll your d6, interpret results. And you have a situation, usually a fairly interesting one.

Now, I've been thinking about my campaign world (not the one with deserts and demons and robots) and some retooling I've been doing and I thought, "Let us apply this NPC relationship generator to the four most powerful political entities in my world. Thus, we shall gain an over-view of the current political landscape and insight into the world."

The results?

The Myralonian City States have become a major trade hub for the whole of the continent. Money and goods flow through them, making them powerful, but the lack of a singular government keeps them from focusing that power towards any singular goal for very long.

Myralonian aid to refugee dwarfs returning to their homeland made it possible for a charismatic military leader to unite all the dwarven peoples under one banner and go a-conquering. Enter the Iron Empire. The Iron Empire's first major conquest was that of the gnomish lands to the east. To overcome the gnome's magic, the Empire borrowed heavily from the College of Mages, to which they are now deeply in debt.

The College has become a political beast in the past few centuries, where once any student who showed magical potential was accepted, now huge entrance fees are levied as well as tuition. The various headmasters, have begun importing many luxuries out of the Myralonian City States and it is rumored that the Principal Instructor has set his lustful eyes on the ancient kingdom of Thralia.

The Kingdom of Thralia, ruled by the ancient Thrailkill dynasty, is at peace and on friendly terms with the city states of Myralon and working to establish diplomatic relations with the Iron Empire.