Friday, March 20, 2020

Whence comes hitpoints?

What are hit points? I wanted to know because I was thinking about how they benefit from ability scores. DH Boggs has some things to say with quotes from Gary and Dave. Or we can compare texts. Here are a few:

These hit points represent how much damage (actual or potential) the character can withstand before being killed. A certain amount of these hit points represent the actual physical punishment which can be sustained. The remainder, a significant portion of hit points at higher levels, stands for skill, luck, and/or magical factors. {snip} Let us suppose that a 10th level fighter has 55 hit points, plus a bonus of 30 hit points for his constitution, for a total of 85 hit points. This is the equivalent of about 18 hit dice for creatures, about what it would take to kill four huge warhorses. It is ridiculous to assume that even a fantastic fighter can take that much punishment. The same holds true to a lesser extent for clerics, thieves, and the other classes. Thus, the majority of hit points are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces. (PHB p. 34)
Each hit scored upon the character does only a small amount of actual physical harm - the sword thrust that would have run a 1st level fighter through the heart merely grazes the character due to the fighter's exceptional skill, luck, and sixth sense ability which caused movement to avoid the attack at just the right moment. However, having sustained 40 or 50 hit points of damage, our lordly fighter will be covered with a number of nicks, scratches, cuts and bruises. It will require a long period of rest and recuperation to regain the physical and metaphysical peak of 95 hit points. (DMG p. 82)
Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile. (5E PHB p.196)

Literally healthier than a horse. StawickiArt.

Pendragon Trait Modifier

A piece of my previous post mentioned that I had yet to write a means of changing Pendragon traits after that had been rolled. I want to be able to easily adjust distribution of character traits on the fly, for reasons of player character race, culture, class, alignment, or any other factor I can imagine. For example, Chaotic characters were classically more associated with demons, the unsavory, and generic villainous Bad Guys, and such people are also typically associated with various flaws, both physical and spiritual. So if the character generator determines that this is a Chaotic character, the code needs a means of biasing the scores negatively. Meanwhile, Dwarves may stereotypically (and now actually, per the dictates of the RNG) exhibit certain behaviors more often than the baseline-human, and so adjustments to make them more selfish, honest, vengeful, and valorous would be appropriate.

the code in question
JSFiddle is pretty handy
I wrote and tested my code on JSFiddle which I have found is a very convenient environment in which to code. You can see it here, colored and indented for readability, the code in question. This simple function "incTra" takes in two elements when it is called, a trait and a value. The body of the code first combines the 13 vices with the 13 virtues so that they can be trivially accessed at the same time in the variable "all". Then it takes the traits element pointed to when called and converts it to lowercase purely for functionality and to dodge potential future goofs. Then the meat of the function:
  1. it searches out the pointed-to trait from the combined list 
  2. if the element is a vice (which we determine by it being among the first 13 elements) it subtracts the value from the trait, biasing it negatively 
  3. otherwise, it adjusts the trait score upwards, biasing a positive result

statistical analysis of 3d6
Chances of a 3d6 roll summing to at most a specific
number, from Anydice, also handy
Through some playing around with it I found that an adjustment of 2 caused the results to skew one way more often at a reasonable frequency. Obviously, with a range of 3-18, and money numbers showing up in the ranges of 3-7 and 14-18, adjusting it by as much as 4 ensures that extreme results occur exceptionally rarely (adjusting +4 ensures that negative results occur only on a roll of 3 in 3d6, an occurrence with just .46% chance). A bias of 2 would produce negative results approximately 7%, while an adjustment of just 1 would move that up to 16%, which is actually really close to the 1-in-6 chance favored by Gary's game.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Combat System, Some Assembly Required

At some point, the PCs are going to fight something. While combat may or may not be a fail state, it's going to happen regardless. Traditionally, this has involved a complicated minigame with rules and procedures entirely unlike those found outside it. A move and an attack are an assumed default in most D&D-alikes. Special tricks are always a pain to adjudicate, initiative is always a hassle, and it always takes too long if it gives you very many options at all. The way many choose to play is then ultra-light and heavy on adjudication, in contrast to the method chosen by the world's largest RPG and its imitators, which are cumbersome and, well, still heavy on adjudication. Some of the more popular OSR games, like the GLOG, attempt to bridge the divide by giving PCs a limited number of options while hard-capping endless growth.

I want to try to create a set of rules for running Shadowrun using Knave, tentatively called Crave unless I can come up with something better. It wouldn't be strict by-the-book Catalyst Game Lab Shadowrun, but more a pastiche or reimagining of it, both because of the needs of the system and also because I simply don't like some of it. But to make it work would require some reworking of some basic assumptions of old school games, which typically focus on gritty early modern adventures. In that vein, here are some ideas that I've been noodling and discussing on the discord but are as yet untested. I just needed to get everything out of my head an on a sheet. Hopefully, someone else might find something useful. Some or all of this may need to work itself in any eventual hack.

Covered in this post: Intentional Surprise, Weapons, Automatic Fire, Range as Armor,  Locations and Cover, Death and Dismemberment, Stamina and Fatigue, Actions and Initiative, Stunts, Maneuvers, Unarmed Attacks, Ripostes, Monster Magnitude, and Signature Techniques

Klaus Pillon

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Idea For Useful Languages in RPGs

Languages are never fun in tabletop roleplaying games. People have come up with numerous ways to handle them, and their methods become especially absurd in games where languages are handled by leveled skill points ("Sorry, professor, but I can't learn Spanish until I go shank some goblins and steal their loot."). LotFP has a linguistic skill, for example, that you roll to determine whether or not you know a language; max the skill and you know everything. AD&D had "alignment languages" and people the first part of that term was even worse than the second. Some effort has been made to at least make the languages interesting. Meanwhile, most people just dispense with languages entirely. Here's a proposal.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Skill Checks for OSR Games

I can already feel my 7 or 8 readers cringing at the title. OSR style games tend to try to avoid the very idea of skills. From goals of simplicity to theories of gameplay, the concept has a very contentious history. I don't like skill systems in general.  They are cumbersome at best, troubling intrusive and game-breaking at worst. What I've done, instead, is sorta universalize something that was already going on in early D&D and made more explicit how to apply and adjudicate it in various situations. It'll be quick, I promise.

Shadowhaxz0r on Deviantart

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Pendragon Character Traits and Passions

Chris Perkins (not the WotC one, so far as I am aware) of From The Sorcerer's Scroll wrote about utilizing Pendragon's Traits in a Dungeons and Dragons context. It's an interesting idea to generate a bit of personality in ordinarily-quite-plain PCs. The first post laid out the basics of rolling these traits like ability scores and then modifying the base number according to some assumed racial traits.  The second post lays out famous traits and trait tests, a sort of continuation of the old idea that acting against your alignment produces an alignment change, but in typical 5e with trait checks and DCs and an overabundance of detail. The final post lays out passions (Hate, Honor, Hospitality, Love, Loyalty) and feeds both traits and passions into the nascent storygamey Inspiration mechanic.

Chris surely finds this useful but it is far more than I'd ever want in D&D. I'm not interesting in mandating certain character behavior, or mechanizing role-playing, or creating a new mechanic for my players to have to grok. But I still think some of the ideas he lays out can be utilized in an OSR brew. And like 50% of all OSR content, it breaks down as an add-in to character generation: Player Characters start as a tabula rasa. They don't have, nor should they have, detailed personalities or backgrounds. Any detail in that direction should be created and noted as smoothly as possible; in other words, something ripe for random generation.

The fun part is that this is an element that I'd leave entirely in the capricious hands of the random number generator. The specifics will never appear written down, the requirement to make thirteen additional 3d6 rolls will never make an appearance in my game, and the existence of its biases will be known only by me. If I want more knavish characters generated, I can slightly alter the balance of traits by changing a single number upward and from then on vices will appear more often than virtues. If I want to (and I plan to do this) weigh traits according to player character races, that is a slight addition to hard code and a slightly larger addition to make dynamic and from then on I can make Dwarves trend towards lustiness and piety, for example, while Elves might be indulgent and honest, and because the number crunching is done in secret there doesn't even have to be the appearance of balance.

That's what I've done with this little button here. It generates 3d6 scores for each of the 13 Pendragon traits, judges which ones are interestingly different from average, and then feeds out the top 3. It's also a lot heavier than it probably needs to be, code-wise, but that's because I intend to incorporate it into further character generator randomness. I didn't bias it either way, so heroes are as likely as villains.

Finally, a major reason I made this is that I want to work on my programming skills, something spurred on by Spwack's and Saker's own random generators. In that vein, I'll try to explain what I did and why below.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


I have a problem with Clerics.

At a purely game level, they don't add a problem-solving strategy to dungeon-crawling. While there are certainly approaches to game design that encourage a huge range of available classes (3rd Edition, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and GLOG, for example), I contend that classes revolve more about generalized player strategy, with a secondary element of game-interaction preference. The more general the structure of classes in the game, the greater the amount of the game open to participation by all players: hyper-specialized niches leave players with naught to do much of the time. Given that, the classic trio of Wizard, Thief, Fighter provides a range of strategy and interaction:

Maximilien Robespierre
Famously not a fan of
clerics either.
  • Fighters provide a simple, brute-force approach to problems. They are best equipped to tackle situations with violence, in the sense of both dealing and resisting. Because of their greater toughness, they can take more risks than their companions. Their abilities are always "on".
  • Wizards are for lateral thinking approaches. Their toolbox of spells opens them up to possibilities beyond the purely mundane. While later editions (and, to be honest, their origin in Chainmail) situates them more as artillery, they ideally serve to create new opportunities for the adventuring party. Their powers have finite uses.
  • Thieves (which is a bad name, more on that later) are the finesse problem solver. They show up to the dungeon with a broader collection of skills than the fighter but less diverse than the wizard. In a sense they are a middle ground between two extremes, something made explicit in 1975's Tunnels and Trolls' Rogue class. More recent iterations have turned this archetype into an "Expert" with less attention granted to breaking-and-entering-type skills.