Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Horror in Holyoke: A Savage Worlds one-shot Halloween adventure

A group of friends are invited to a killer Halloween party at their friend Jared's house. His parents are out of town, they've taken his little sister with them, and he lives out in the middle of nowhere, so there are not really any neighbors to complain. Only, very quickly into the night, Jared is nowhere to be found. And what is that orange glow, growing on the horizon?

pdf, 9 pages, hosted at Download Link.

Does not include pre-generated character sheets.

The Village Above the Sea -- A 2nd level Dungeons and Dragons, 4th edition, adventure for 3-4 characters

What begins as an end-of-summer sojourn in a seaside town ends up being far more sinister. The PCs discover a terrifying secret that threatens the entire village, but can they find the source and stop the threat from getting far more out of control?

pdf, 22 pages, hosted at Download link.

An entry for Jeff Dougan's blogging carnival, On a Night in the Lonesome October.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Rules: The Demi-Human Classes

For my final installment of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG races, I will look at all three of the "demi-human" races. In DCCRPG, we see the retroclone-classic race-as-class construction. In other words you can be a cleric, a fighter, a thief, a wizard... or an elf, halfling, or dwarf. Apparently all elves, halflings, and dwarves act the same, much like how in science fiction humans are incredibly diverse, but all aliens have monolithic, undifferentiated cultures. Additionally, with the "character funnel" mechanic in DCCRPG, if you want to potentially have a dwarven, halfling, or elven character, you need to preselect those races for your 0-level characters, because, as far as they're concerned, dwarves, halflings, and elves have no job prospects besides their prescribed roles.

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the ways in which the character funnel fails most utterly. You're supposed to start with generic townspeople sort of characters, which you then assign a class to should they survive, but dwarves, halflings, and elves don't get this option. You already know what their class is going to be; it's a dead end situation, no different than if you had just simply chosen, without the character funnel, that you wanted to play a dwarf, halfling, or elf. In fact, you can easily abuse the character funnel by just making all your 0-level characters dwarves, halflings, or elves. Or you can just skip it. DCCRPG seems very dedicated to making everything random, which is just not something that everybody playing it is going to want.

Dwarves themselves do not have much to distinguish themselves. As a class, they are remarkably similar to warriors, having the same attack die mechanic, as well as also having access to Mighty Deeds of Arms. In fact, under "Mighty Deed of Arms" in the dwarf section, it doesn't even bother describing it, referring instead to the description under the warrior entry. Dwarves have a racial ability of "shield bash," which deals negligible damage against a harder threshold (d14 instead of d20 to hit), as well as the ability to see in the dark. However, they are slower than humans. Of course, it also says that dwarves can smell gold and gems, and can navigate underground flawlessly without a compass. While this would likely be pretty handy in a dungeon crawl, it seems a bit... strange. Dwarves are limited, lastly, in their ability to spend Luck.

Like warriors, dwarves have to specialize, at character creation, with one weapon, and then can only use Luck towards attacks with that weapon for the rest of their lives. Overall, dwarves are very similar to warriors in skills and mechanics, only they are slower, weaker, and spend a lot of time sniffing gold. They have +1 on Willpower saves compared to the warrior at any given level, but that is basically where they distinguish themselves. Dwarves only crit on a 20, use a lower crit die per level compared to the warrior, and do not have access to most of the abilities that make warriors really stand out. Additionally, they have fewer hit points and gain fewer hit points per level, but I suppose this is supposed to be balanced out by the fact that they all are running around with shields and are therefore marginally more difficult to hit. Dwarves, at the end of the day, are just a crippled version of the warrior class. They are described as being "demi-human," and one must assume that is in abilities as well as appearance.

Elves are described as being older than humans, yet also as "demi-humans" (but wouldn't that mean that humans are demi-elves?). It is said that they can cast spells as competently as human wizards, but that they will usually wear mithril armor, despite the fact that it gimps their spellcasting ability. Elves can see in the dark like dwarves, but in fact also have all other senses heightened as well. Elves can only spend Luck on one specific level 1 spell, no matter how long they live and no matter what all their other abilities are. They can't be magically put to sleep or paralyzed, but also can't touch or wear anything made of iron. This doesn't matter though, because it says that at character creation, elven characters can just buy mithril armor instead of steel armor at no additional cost. Elves are sort of like thieves in their mechanics, only are better at casting magic (and have an innate magical ability). They favor lighter, longer weapons, don't deal much damage and have very limited critical hit abilities, but are also much better at fighting than wizards, so overall are a much more balanced class than dwarves are.

Halflings are small, good at sneaking, can see in the dark, remarkably lucky, are great at fighting, and are the only other class in the game that can recover spent Luck. In fact, Luck is where halflings shine, since they can spend luck on other party members, as well as act out of initiative to do so. Additionally, halflings get a +2 bonus on spending luck, rather than a +1 bonus (although it is still +1 when spent on other characters). The problem with halflings is that only one halfling in the party gets all of these special Luck features. If there are any other halflings in the party, they don't have access to any of this. It doesn't say what additional halflings' Luck features are, but, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, one has to assume that they will still recover Luck, get the +2 modifier on their own rolls, but can't help allies. Halflings are said to excel at two-handed fighting, but not in any way that is very far superior to warriors fighting two-handed. I don't see any modifiers for halflings or dwarves being any more difficult to hit on account of their small stature, so there doesn't seem to be any advantage, as far as combat is concerned, to being short. One only gets a penalty in speed.

In short, there is no reason in DCCRPG to play anything besides a warrior. Wizards get transformed into tentacle beasts, sweat excessively, and grow tails and gills and have to cut large pieces of flesh out of their bodies in order to continue casting magic. Clerics have to destroy all of the party's possessions in order to keep getting boons. Dwarves are like wizards with chronic fatigue syndrome and bad knees, elves are like wizards suffering an identity crisis, halflings are particularly incompetent thieves who have a tendency to come after you with two knives. Thieves and clerics end up getting off the easiest, but there is absolutely no reason in DCCRPG to play a magic user, or any sort of demi-human. Warriors get a whole extra chapter to describe all of their incredible abilities, but wizards end up looking like pustule-covered frog-octopus versions of Peter Pettigrew, finding it harder and harder to cast spells or read scrolls on account of the fact that their hands turned into flippers several weeks ago, and they are constantly exuding large amounts of sweat from all parts of their bodies. While this could all potentially be ripe material for roleplaying in a zany, off-the-wall one-off adventure setting, DCCRPG makes it difficult, in my opinion, for players to become too attached to their characters, because there are too many random penalties for playing any class besides warriors (who all look like Conan the Barbarian and get laid every night, or so it seems).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: The Thief

Returning to the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, today I'm going to talk about the Thief, as written in the July 2011 "Beta" rules of the game.  I'd read a lot of people were critical of the thief, but as you will see, I think those reservations are unfounded. I will be comparing the DCCRPG to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition Thief, for no other reason besides that's the book I have at hand, and the thieves from these two RPGs are mechanically comparable.

Thieves in DCCRPG have quite a few innate abilities, most of which are directly drawn from the D&D "stock." For example, consider things like Thieves' Cant, backstab, pick lock, read spell scroll, find trap, hide in shadows, climb walls, etc.; all of the thiefy things like you'd want. In fact, all of the thief abilities, like in AD&D2, are percentile rolls, rather than d20 rolls. In such a d20-heavy system, this seems a bit odd. A few people have commented that this was one thing they didn't like about AD&D, and wished that DCCRPG normalized the system a bit. Personally I am also baffled why you'd need percentile rolls for thievery checks, rather than just a straight d20 check like in D&D 4.  Since all percentile values are given in multiples of 5, could someone just set a d20 DC on the roll? certainly. 25% chance turns into a DC of 15; 5% chance turns into a DC of 20. Kill any modifiers on the roll (for now), and you have a straight n-in-20 chance of succeeding just as the Twin Gods Dogar and Kazon Gygax and Arneson intended.

I'm no statistician, but my gut says that the only reason for rolling two dice across a larger spread than one die across a smaller one is that it SEEMS like the d% system would give a slight statistical advantage of succeeding. It might be thought fallacy, so I did an experiment. I rolled a d20 against a DC15 threshold, and d% against a roll-under 25 threshold 30 times, each (successes in bold).

d20 d%
6 5
15 86
19 6
8 9
20 55
3 88
18 98
7 17
16 67
8 72
9 31
6 95
8 16
20 65
14 54
10 70
19 57
7 52
10 44
6 59
2 95
20 9
11 61
10 48
3 19
7 54
4 21
3 52
11 71

As you can see, in my experiment (I was rolling GameScience Precision dice on a hard wooden table covered in a thin cotton tablecloth), for both configurations I got 8 successes out of 30 attempts or...  roughly a 5 in 20 chance of succeeding. DCCRPG DOES concede that the Thief's agility modifier affects the success rate, where every +1 earns another 5% chance to succeed. AD&D2 is much less forgiving. Given the statistical harmony between a d20 roll and a d% roll, I see no reason, personally, to not houserule in substituting one for the other; instead of the agility modifier bonus being +5%, just leave it at the modifier value and add it to the d20 roll. The only caveat to this is that, while most skills improve at a rate of 5% a level, "Climb Sheer Surface" improves at 1%. But, given that it's a skill rated at 90% at level 1, I hardly think an improvement of a 92% chance would mechanically have much different than an unmodified DC of 2.

Another significant difference between AD&D2 and DCCRPG is the Thief ability to read spell scrolls. At level 10, Thieves gain the ability, in AD&D2, to read spell scrolls at a 75% accuracy. Failures result in the spell backfiring. In DCCRPG, Thieves gain the ability to attempt reading spell scrolls at level 1, albeit with an almost impossibly high rate of failure. Good and Chaotic thieves can make a spell check, but must use a d10 for the check die; given that the spell check DC is 10+(spell level x2), a first level Thief would not be able to cast a first level spell from a scroll, since their maximum roll would be 10, and the minimum DC is 12. It does say that clerics add their Personality modifier, and Wizards add their Intelligence modifier to spell check rolls, but it does not say that Thieves add any modifier to spell checks, so therefore though the possibility exists, and considering that there do not appear to be 0-level spells in DCCRPG, it is actually impossible for a first level Thief to succeed on a spell scroll. This quickly changes, since by level 5 Thieves may use a d14 (usually) to attempt a spell check. Neutral Thieves apparently have an easier time casting from scrolls, because at level 1 their check die is a d12, and by level 5 they have already advanced to a d16.  The pattern set from the level 1 to 5 table is every other level the check die improves, so at level 10, if the pattern continues, the Good and Chaotic Thieves would be rolling a d20.

Backstabbing is not particularly different between DCCRPG and AD&D2, despite some apparent opinion to the contrary. The only rule is that "when attacking a target from behind or when the target is otherwise unaware, the thief receives an attack bonus." This is actually more generous than the AD&D2 provision, which also states that the victim must be humanoid.  Additionally, AD&D2 only has a damage multiplier for backstab successes, whereas DCCRPG automatically awards a critical hit.  Critical hits reward a roll on the crit table, which can occasionally be very damaging, but also can be uneven. The luck of the dice can mean the difference between an additional 3d3 or 2d4 damage, or a result of "Foe is reduced to making wet fish noises" without a real benefit (except, perhaps, that it can't call for help?). Being a longterm fan of MERP, rolling critical hits on tables is very appealing to me, but I can also see why many people would just want an additional attack die, or a damage multiplier.  It's hard to hit with a backstab in DCCRPG; but so it is as well in AD&D2.

The last thing to discuss regarding the DCCRPG Thief is the issue of Luck. All DCCRPG characters have Luck, and all can burn Luck points (permanently) in order to avoid something particularly sticky from happening on a failed or botched roll. Thieves luck out (heh heh) on this one: they are the only class that can (slowly) recharge Luck points; evidently to be more in accorance with their Tricksy™ nature. Additionally, the Thief gets to add a die roll modifier to checks when burning luck, instead of just 1:+1 like for every other class.

Besides all that, the D&D Thief and the DCCRPG Thief are more or less similar. Overall, I like the DCCRPG changes to the Thief, and I think it makes the class more playable and more interesting.