Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reworking the Bard

As I mentioned last May or June when I was preparing my currently running campaign, the bard is among the classes I would like to allow. However, I find the AD&D 1st edition bard to be an unsuitable mess, and I've had an inquiry from a potential new player wishing to be a bard. This forces me to do something I have been meaning to do, which is to rework the bard for my game. I'd like him to maintain his old, druidic, kind of Celtic/Germanic feel. At the same time, I don't want the bard to be a proto-prestige class. So, after perusing the internet and various PDFs I have (legitimate) access to, I have started cobbling together a middle-of-the-road version of the bard. Please feel free to critique or offer thoughts. So, the Save vs. Poison take on the Bard:

Ability Requirements: Strength 9, Dexterity 9, Wisdom 13, Charisma 15, Comeliness 12. Bards do not gain bonus experience for high ability scores.

Races Allowed: Human, Half-elf. A half-elf is limited to advancing to the 13th level. For every point of Charisma above 15, he may advance an additional level.

Alignment: At least one axis of a bard's alignment must be neutral. (Neutral Good, Lawful Neutral, etc.)

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level from 1st through 9th level. Beginning at 10th level, the bard receives 2 hit points per level, unmodified by Constitution.

Weapons Permitted: The bard may become proficient with a battle axe, hand axe, club, dagger, knife, dart, javelin, scimitar, sling, staff, sword (any), spear, or bow (but not crossbow) A bard may use flaming oil in combat, but can only use poison if evil.

Armor Permitted: Chain or lighter; shield permitted. Note that armor heavier than leather will adversely affect a bard's thieving skills, and a shield will preclude the casting of spells and some bardic abilities.

Initial Weapon Proficiencies: 2, gaining a new proficiency slot every three levels. Bards suffer a -3 to attack with a weapon that they are not proficient with.

Combat: Bards attack using the fighter matrix. Note that bards may not specialize in weapons or gain additional attacks per round as a fighter does.

Saving Throws: A bard saves as a thief.

The bard's abilities are as follows:

-A bard can Pick Pockets, Detect Noise, Move Silently, and Hide in Shadow as a thief of the same level. However, his skills may never exceed 95% A bard may also Read Languages, though his percentage is equal to his level multiplied by five. A bard may reach 99% maximum skill in Read Languages.

-A bard may use spells. Bards originally learned their arts from the druids, though over time they have developed a versatile spellcraft all their own. Bard spells are words of power taken from the druid tongue and turned into songs. The spells are taken from the other spell lists, but with these changes: a component of V indicates that the bard must sing loudly use the spell, an S indicates that the bard must play a two handed instrument to invoke the spell, and material components are ignored altogether. A bard prays for spells in the same manner as a cleric or druid. Bards progress in spells at the rate shown in the AD&D PHB1 index. (I'm still working on the list of bard spells and I shall post them when I am finished)

-A bard can charm with his music, as the magic-user spell. The ability works as charm person at 1st level and charm monster at 7th. The percentage is listed in the PHB1. Unlike the spell, the effect of a bard's music ends when he stops playing. In addition, attack from any creature or sufficiently loud noise will end the effect immediately.

-The bard has a chance to know something about a legendary person, place, or item, and a chance to discern the function of any magic item he observes closely. Percentage chance is found in AD&D PHB1.

-A bard can attempt to sway the reactions of a group of NPCs. The maximum size group is equal to five individuals per level of the bard. The group must be able to hear and understand the bard. The initial attempt takes a full round, and cannot be used on a group already in combat or who are clearly in danger. (Such as if the bard's companions are threatening the group, etc.) If the group has a clear leader, the leader may save for the entire group. The saving throw is vs. spells, with a -1 penalty for every five full levels the bard has attained, rounded down. If there is no leader, the saving throw is made at the level or Hit Dice of the highest member of the group, but at a -1 penalty. Success means the bard can sway the group one level toward the friendly or hostile range of reactions. On a failure, a group trying to be made friendly moves one more step towards hostile, and a group trying to be moved towards hostility is unaffected. The bard may try this but once per day on a given group. Note that a group that saves against the bard is immune to his musical abilities for the remainder of that day.

-A bard may attempt to rally the party and all friendly NPCs within 30 feet. The bard must play, sing, chant, orate, or otherwise communicate for two full rounds to activate the ability. During this time, the bard may move and may even engage in melee combat, but cannot cast spells or use other bardic abilities. Once activated, the ability lasts one full turn, and grants the recipients a +1 to attack rolls and +2 to saving throws against any effects that would cause fear, charm, or other mental/emotional influence. Allied NPCs receive a 10% morale bonus in addition to the aforementioned benefits. Obviously, the allies must be able to hear and understand the bard to receive the bonuses.

-A bard's singing or playing will negate the effects of a harpy/siren's song, or any other monstrous ability relying on song. The playing or singing of a bard will also still shriekers.

-A bard learns additional languages according to the table in the PHB. He may learn the druidic language, which is normally not taught to outsiders. A bard may also learn thieves' cant provided he can find a willing teacher.

-A bard may use any magic item usable by thieves, fighters, and druids. A bard may read druidic scrolls once he has learned the druidic language.

-A bard will never serve as a henchman to another longer than 1d4 months. A bard cannot employ henchmen until 5th level. A bard will only accept henchmen who are of the fighter, thief, or druid class, and only humans, elves, and half-elves. A bard will at first employ a single henchman, attaining additional henchmen at levels 8, 11, 14, 17, and 20. A bard who advances to the 23rd level can employ as many henchman as he chooses. These maximums for henchmen are superseded by the number of henchman allowed by the bard's Charisma score.

Anyone with thoughts, feel free to chime in.

Charmed and Counter-Charmed!

The party suffered what could have been a TPK last night after half the group failed their saving throws against the alluring song of some siren-like creatures. Luckily for them, the sirens were content to retreat and drag off an NPC with them. I ended up sort of cobbling together wrestling/grappling rules since the old AD&D1 system for wrestling is an unplayable mess. The party was dismayed to discover that, in the old editions, charm person lasts...and lasts... and lasts... we're talking saving throws made every week or so, depending on the character. However, our player new to the game (who is seventeen, I was corrected last night) came up with the idea to use his own charm person or mammmal spell to bring the errant party members back to their senses. (After bending them to his will, he simply released the charm.) Well done, Adam!

I forgot how potent and nasty charming is in the older editions. Like sleep, it's got a lot of bang for your buck, being a first level spell and all.

...oh, and I must say, conducting my game using OSRIC is so much easier on my brain. I actually found no use for the older books last night. I suppose you could say that I have been charmed by OSRIC.

...on second thought, don't say that; it's kind of weird.

Monday, December 28, 2009


My copy came today, one week after I placed the order... not bad, considering we had a major holiday and Snowpocalypse last week. Yeah-yur!

The Joy of Newbies and the Process of Initiation

I neglected to mention that one of my players, the one who plays remotely via Skype, asked me if his son (who I think is 16-ish) could join the game. Obviously, he would also be playing via Skype, but it has worked out so far so I said yea.

I forgot how enjoyable it can be to game with someone who hasn't done much, if any, gaming. When one of my players was explaining the usefulness of the shillelagh spell, I couldn't help but crack a smile.
"Some monsters can only be hit by magic weapons!"
Everybody seems to have the new player's back. I like that. I also found his proposed backstory to be quite interesting. (Backstory rarely, if ever, comes into play in this campaign, but I appreciate any fleshing out that a player is willing to do, particularly when they aren't asked to.)

Having a new player who is new to the game and not just new to the group has refreshed me, in a way. It almost makes me want to go out and introduce new people to the hobby, an endeavor that I previously had no interest in whatsoever.

While I'm on the subject of people new to the game, I have realized that I might be something of an oddity in that I had no gaming "mentor," that is, nobody introduced me to or taught me the game. I discovered D&D quite by accident because I started reading Dragonlance novels. I reseached it myself, somehow persuaded my mom to get me a boxed set despite my grandmother's insistance that D&D was a gateway to devil worship, taught myself the game, and proceeded to teach my friends. Most everybody else I know was initiated into the game by a friend or relative. How curious.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Havin' My Cake and Eatin' It

So I may have a few extra dollars thanks to the Holiday. I might just get me some Supplement VI after all.

Although I must say, I do wish there was some OSR stuff available at my LGS... perhaps 2010 will bring me some love in that regard. An old school boxed set would we a wonderful celebratory gift for when I (hopefully) land a job in my new profession after completing my last semester.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Rules I Cannot Abide

Because I am running on less than five hours of sleep and being forced to work a half-day on Xmas Eve, my blog today is about various rules I hate in various games. Without further ado:

*Taint of the Predator- Vampire: the Requiem. Apparently, someone at White Wolf decided that vampires are not bitchy and stand-offish enough. They must have overheard two WoD players at a convention talking about how their characters could work together to accomplish their mutual goals, and we cannot have White Wolf characters who cooperate. Hence, Taint of the Predator: when two vampires meet, they can instantly sense that one another are vampires (Ok, I'll admit I actually like that part.) However, their Beasts (inner predator instinct for you non-WoD players) have an impromptu dick-measuring contest, and if one vampire is significantly more powerful than the other, the loser flies into a panic. The VtR demo actually has a plot point that is reliant on this happening.
My solution: Vampires can sense one another. That's it. This does require a reworking of the lowest level of Protean, as it was designed to mitigate this rule. I haven't thought of anything yet. Good thing I'm not running VtR.

*You can't dodge more than 4 missiles at once- Palladium's Robotech RPG. Whoever wrote this rule must not have watched a whole lot of Robotech.
My solution: Ignore this rule entirely.

*Half-assed dodging- In Nomine. In the In Nomine system, every die roll is 3d6, counting two of those dice as the actual roll and one of them as the "check digit" that provides some kind of detail about the nature of the roll. (Damage, number of points healed, etc.) If you successfully dodge an attack, the CD subtracts from the number of points of damage you receive. My old group couldn't get past the idea of characters usually getting "winged" by every shot.
My solution: If your check digit beats the attacker's check digit, you dodge entirely. If the attacker beats you, you take full damage. On a tie you actually get winged and take half damage.

*You can hit yourself with your lightsaber- West End Games D6 Star Wars. On a sufficiently low lightsaber attack roll, it is possible for a Jedi to damage himself with his lightsaber. Because, you know, that happens all the goddamn time in the movies.
My solution: I make it a policy to ignore any rule that causes me to imagine Yakity Sax as the background music for my game.

*You can trip a gelatinous cube- D&D 4th edition. Actually, 4e has so many rules I have a problem with it could very easily be a post unto itself. Realizing this was, however, the Beginning of the End for me and the latest edition of Ye Olde Game. It is a cube, people. If you trip it, you've just changed what side of it is on the floor.
My solution: Play a different edition.

Ah, I just found out we can leave now. More stupid rules may or may not follow.

Happy Holidays to all you Blogging types.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I like Lulu

I placed my order for a copy of OSRIC today, and was informed that it would take 3-5 business days to print and ship my book. Not two hours later, I was informed that my book had shipped out. The shipping was reasonable for me. ($3.99)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the Fence

Ordinarily, I do not speak of my personal life on this blog except for in passing reference. I will mention, however, that I am leaving my job to finish a program of study I'm in. I mention this because gaming dollars are going to be tight whilst I live on student loans, savings, and a whole lot of mac n' cheese.

I have a few dollars to throw around before the lockdown truly starts. As such, I'm thinking over a number of books I'd like to have. This is mostly my thinking out loud, but any of my dear readers are invited to chime in with suggestions.

So, these are some things I want to buy, in no particular order:

-Rob Conley's Supplement VI, Majestic Wilderness. I'm more interested in all the sub-classes, variant magic system, and other stuff one might call "crunch." I almost never use pre-made settings, but I seldom overlook the chance to see how another DM does it.

-The infamous Supplement V, Carcosa. I mostly want it for the alien tech, psi systems, etc. I doubt very much I'd ever run Carcosa straight up, but there's a lot of neat stuff to plunder.

-A copy of OSRIC. I'm getting increasingly fed up with the layout and organization of the AD&D DMG, plus I'd like to have everything between two covers.

-No Dignity in Death. I have so far enjoyed Raggi's work very much, and I don't think that Insect Shrine or his new one that's in the works will be available before I go into thrift mode.

In Which Almost Everyone Dies

Only two characters survived last weeks' session, leaving only one character alive from the original party. As the de facto leader of the party (or what is left of it, rather) he has decided that he has had his fill of Tarraxian and is now devoting his energy to finding a way back to his home world.

Normally, I don't give much in the way of advice to the players as a DM, but I did dispense two recommendations based on recent play trends:

1. You don't have to attack every single thing you meet right away, and
2. You probably shouldn't attack when you are vastly outnumbered. I suppose I must also add
2.a If you cannot ascertain how many opponents you face, it is probably wise to assume you are vastly outnumbered.

That being said, the party has something of a history of slaughtering potentially friendly creatures out of nervousness or because "they're worth more xp," so I'm going to go ahead and say that karma was responsible for this near-TPK.

I must also note that it is to my players' advantage that I generally ignore alignment, because I don't know that I could classify any of them as "good" anymore. They are quite ready to sacrifice henchmen, they have no compunction about slaughtering helpless opponents, and until recently they had something of an obsession for running down fleeing enemies to kill them off. One player defended his actions by saying he was just being pragmatic. I reminded him that good is not a pragmatic alignment. However, I am generally ignoring alignment because I find that it adds nothing to the game, and it has been beaten to death, and most players act in a fashion I would consider neutral evil regardless of what is scribbled 'pon their character sheet.

Do not misconstrue this post as criticism of my players, or if you must, consider it constructive criticism. If anything, I'm impressed with myself for being much less "soft" as a DM than in previous years, and for not fudging the deaths of characters, even veteran characters who had been in the party since the first session.

Also, we're playing the week of Christmas... so this group has managed to play every single week of both November and December, months that have pretty much been a gaming wasteland with previous groups. You, gentlemen, are hardcore.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 ain't so bad.

Earlier this year, I played and enjoyed a game of Beyond the Supernatural, which warmed me to Palladium after years of dismissing it. For some reason, I am hung up on the absurdity of SDC, and I was going to make a blog post about it, when I realized... SDC is really no more or less absurd than any wounding system in most of the games I have played. Hit points are just as absurd. I suppose the difference between the two is that hit points have always been semi-abstract, whereas SDC is blatantly stated to be damage that is "just a scratch."

...of course, take all the athletic skills and pick the right OCC and having a magnum unloaded into your character can be "just a scratch."

...but is this any different than a D&D character surviving a blast of dragon's breath, or being shot five times with a heavy crossbow, etc, etc...? If hit points are abstract and don't necessarily represent injury, then what is cure light wounds? Does it not restore "luck" or "plot immunity" or any of the other abstract stand-ins for what hit points are supposed to be?

I imagine the feasibility of hit points is also impacted by one's perception of combat round as an abstract representation of an exchange between two parties, or if every attack roll is a swing of the weapon.

I had planned to house rule SDC into a sort of "fatigue" that absorbed damage from fisticuffs and other low-lethality attacks, but I remember how cumbersome that type of thing was in Champions, plus I seem to have deconstructed my own criticism of it. If a 9th level fighter can take a hit from a hill giant's club, for whatever reason, I suppose I can stomach the concept of SDC. I sometimes wonder if my mind can more easily accept medieval weapons and the hit point system are far removed from my daily existence, while the news regularly reminds me how fatal modern weapons are.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inspiration: Vampire Hunter D Novels

I'm reading the first Vampire Hunter D novel, translated into English. I think the setting of the novel (only touched on in the anime films) would make a great setting for a goth-lite, horror themed game of D&D and/or Mutant Future. It's got vampires, zombies, golems, dragons, robots, lasers, were-creatures, fairies, mutants, lost technology, feudal lords, cowboys with heat-rays, mad science, and of course, monster hunters of every stripe imaginable. It's a shame they only made two movies out of the seventeen or so books that have been published so far. (I'm not sure how many have been translated...looks like at least the first ten)

Of course, I'd probably use a different system if I wanted to approximate character's with D's level of skill, (Savage Worlds, perhaps?) but the idea, a sort of Ravenloft-Meets-Gamma World, is immensely appealing to me. This will have to go on the back burner, though, because my current campaign's excursions to the realm of post-apocalyptic science fantasy is still going strong, and if I were crazy enough to run two campaigns I'd want a bit more diversity in terms of genre.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Disaster Preparedness

Well, one of my players just had his schedule change, so Wednesday nights may perhaps become Tuesday or Thursday nights. We will adapt.

A storm of blizzard-like power is supposed to brew in my town over the next two days. Our remote player in Kentucky, free of the fickle rage of wintertime in Nebraska, is going to try to set us all up on Ventrilo, so that we might continue our record of six months with only one session missed. I have also received word that half our group may be available on the 23rd... if we can get the last of us, we shall game! This group is hardcore... we don't let silly things like holidays and hazardous weather stop us. ONWARD!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Grinding Gear: Initial Thoughts

I can't post too much, because some of my players have been known to read my blog, and I intend to run them through this module. So, just a few initial reactions:

-I like the inclusion of the "author's commentary" in the form of the Cheat Sheet; what would otherwise be an insane funhouse dungeon actually has a great deal of internal consistency. This changes the way I think about funhouse dungeons.

-Like Death Frost Doom, the dungeon itself has character. The Grinding Gear will most certainly not feel like just another dungeon crawl.

-Adventuring, and dungeon crawling in particular, is dangerous, and Jim Raggi brings that to the forefront of the module. People who muck around in places like this can get killed, or suffer unpleasant long term effects.

-The party can fail/lose, and doing so does not necessarily mean a TPK. I have read many a published module where the only two outcomes that are contemplated are the players killing the big bad guy/winning or they all perish.

I look forward to putting people through this module. I would say it is probably one of the most difficult modules I've read in a long time. A word of caution: you will not like this module if you are the type who prefers to solve problems with Knowledge skills or other skill rolls. The puzzles and hazards are all you, baby, and ain't no Dungeoneering die roll goin' to save you.

I shall post a play report once I've run a group through this.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Talk About Skin of their Teeth...

It's pretty close when the entire party has one hit point between them. If the medic hadn't made his death save, he would have died and subsequently been unable to revive the henchman who died. We lost Josh's third character, but we knew he was doomed when he rolled up the defect where he takes double damage from attacks. Of course, he rolled up a new character with an equivalent defect, so... yikes.

In other news, my copy of The Grinding Gear arrived today. I've only had a chance to read half and skim the other half, and all I have to say is... muhuhahahahahahahahaha.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Chainmail Combat Tables

Does anyone know if there is a retro-clone of Chainmail, or if the Chainmail rules are OGL or anything like that? I'd like to reference them out of curiosity. I suppose that I might have to dive into the unsavory depths of Ebay.

Any information is appreciated.