Monday, 17 October 2016

Mass combat rules for 5E - first considerations

For our 5E campaign I was looking for mass-combat rules and was happy to find exactly this on the Wizards of the Coast site (here). However, I have some problems with these rules. The main ones being, it is still one roll per figure (representing 10 individuals), rather than per unit, and thus speeding things up only by a factor of 10. In my view this makes it suitable for skirmishes, but not for large-scale battles.

'Battle of Grunwald' by Jan Matejko (1878)

The other thing is that individuals are treated differently from units, which basically means that heroes/PC's can do things under these rules, they cannot under the rules of individual combat. Dan, of 'Delta's D&D Hotspot'-fame, has written a nice article on the short-comings of this rule set and he identifies even more weak points.

Dan's Book of War

He also wrote the awesome 'Book of War' some years ago. This little booklet contains a very simple, yet elegant and complete, system for playing out large-scale battles within the OD&D system. It is fun, fast, and exciting until the very last pieces on the board. I highly recommend it as stand-alone game and as an extension to your OD&D or AD&D campaign.

One of the nice features of his rule system is that it scales with the individual combat system, unlike many other mass-combat systems. This means that it does not matter if you play out the combat by these rules or by the individual combat rules of OD&D; on average both yield to the same result! This is clearly not the case for the 5E mass-combat rules as presented by WotC.

Would it not be nice if there was such a thing as the Book of War, but then for 5E? I know that I would be interested!

And this is exactly what the next few posts will be about; developing a mass-combat rule set for 5E that scales with the individual rules for combat.

The first, obvious, question to ask is 'Can we use Book of War for 5E as is?'

To answer this question we have to look a bit deeper into the workings of the Book of War.

Core principles of the Book of War

The first thing this the rule system does is granulating the individual combat rules by changing the scales of things: 1 figure represents 10 individuals, 1 round equals 30 seconds (equaling 3 individual rounds of each 10 seconds), and 1 square is 20 feet (in stead of 5 feet as is the case for individual combat).

The combat itself consists of an attack roll (with one die per attacking figure) and for every success one hit is applied to the target unit. A hit equals 1 HD of damage and thus each hit removes one 1-HD figure or deals 1 HD of damage to a multiple-HD figure. The attack roll is done with d6s as opposed to d20s for individual combat, which basically means that AC is now 3 times as coarse.

Since AC has hardly changed with different editions of D&D, we can use the same principle within 5E; just divide AC by three (rounding down), and that is the number you need to roll for a hit on a d6.

So far, so good.

But then things get complicated. As said above, a single hit in OD&D means 1d6 damage but also a single HD means 1d6 hp, and thus a hit is equivalent to 1 HD. That is why damage and hit points are so nicely abstracted away in Dan's rule set.

Within 5E, however, there is no concept of HD, or rather hit points are determined by hit dice ranging from d6 (wizard) to d12 (barbarian) and also weapons deal a variable amount of damage per hit ranging from d4 (club) to 2d6 (greatsword). In other words, a single hit cannot directly be linked to a single HD as both the damage die and the hit die are variable. Even worse, attribute modifiers play an important role in 5E, complicating the situation even more.

Towards a 5E mass battle system

To solve this, the hit points must be normalized to construct an equivalent of HD. In principle you are free to choose any norm, but I think it is sensible to choose it such that a single hit corresponds to the removal of a single low-HD figure (what used to be a 1 HD monster in earlier versions of D&D). This means that we have to norm the damage as well (but not necessarily the same norm as HD because we can stretch or shorten the time scale).

So, in short, the Book of War rule set cannot directly be applied to 5E, but with some normalization of hit points and damage dice, we might be able to construct a rule set very much in line with it.

What these norms sensibly should be will be the topic of upcoming posts.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Thought Eater contest: Group dynamics

For Zak's Thought Eater contest I had to write an essay on 'Group dynamics'. You can find it here. It is the first one.

I really enjoyed writing my part and thought I had done a decent job. Not so! According to Zak's Google+ poll I lost in a dramatic way from the other contestant.

So, what went wrong?

Well, the first thing is that I took the subject literally and wrote about group dynamics within the player's group, which was the straightforward way to go. The other contestant wrote smartly about group dynamics within a certain group in the game itself; the villains to be more specific.
And although the latter was definitely the more original one, I have to admit that I was a bit hestitant on my take. However, after browsing around I couldn't find that many (good) writings about group dynamics within a group of RPG players, so I went for that. I guess it would have been wiser to find a more original view on the matter.

There are two more things that I learned from this contest and both became apparent after reading the comments on Zak's G+ account:
1) Game content is pivotal
2) Elaborate on the game content

I focused on the processes around the table and not on the table. And, although I ended with a remark on in-game solutions to solve group problems, I should have delved deeper into this specific point, as that would be directly helpful at the table. It would have been interesting to see how one could change the mood and dynamics around the table by setting your pieces in a certain way within the game itself.

Should have done that and might do it soon in a future post.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Personality traits as replacement for alignment

As promised the rulings for personality traits as a replacement for alignment.

In stead of alignment, the following should be recorded on a character sheet:

Trait pairs
Selfless ../.. Selfish
Honest ../.. Untrustworthy
Forgiving ../.. Merciless
Spiritual ../.. Materialistic
Preserving ../.. Destructive
Bold ../.. Cowardly
Cautious ../.. Rash
Protective ../.. Careless
Modest ../.. Unabashed
Believing ../.. Doubtful
Friendly ../.. Aggressive

The traits have values between 1 and 20, and the sum of each pair is always 21. Lowering one trait score automatically means increasing the complementary score.

Actions may require a trait test. In these cases a d20 is rolled and when the result is higher than the trait score in question, the trait is increased by one (and the complementary trait lowered by one).

Trait tests occur when:
- A player's action is in line with a trait having a score of 10 or less (For instance, lying with a low Untrustworthy score).
- A player's action is in line with a trait having a score of 11 or more, but only when it would actually be beneficial to the player to follow the opposing trait. (For instance, being honest when lying would be more beneficial).

Upon character creation a player rolls 3d6 for each trait pair. The result is filled in on either side of a pair. The complementary trait score is set to the value such that the sum is 21. For instance, if you roll 13, then you put 13 on one side and 8 on the other.

Every PC has 5 main traits; these are the traits that characterise their personalities mostly and are marked on the sheet, by underlining the trait or put a mark next to them, or whatever works for you. Some classes have certain requirements as which traits should be marked, for other classes they may be chosen freely.

These main traits have a minimum requirement of 10 + level, but never higher than 18. Whenever too many main traits are below this requirement, the character will gradually experience something resembling an alignment change (see below).

Finally, if an NPC knows or has heard about a character, she will now of all the character's 15+ trait scores and the will act accordingly.

These are the predefined traits I would suggest for the AD&D (2E) classes.
Fighter: None
Ranger: Preserving
Paladin: Selfless, Forgiving, Protective
Cleric: Spiritual and traits in line with deity
Druid: Spiritual, Preserving
Mage: None
Thief: In my campaign this will be none, but I could see people using Untrustworthy and/or Materialistic
Bard: Friendly

Find below a table for the effects of (partially) followed main traits. To find your total personality score consult the following table for each of the main five traits and add these together.
Personality score
Trait score Personality score
10 or less -1
11 up to min. req. 0
min. req. or more +1

Effect of your total personality score
Total personality score Effect
+5 +10% XP
+3 of +4 None (for Paladin: No XP)
+1 or +2 No XP (for Paladin: see next entry)
0 or less Loose one level and the traits with the five highest scores become your new main traits

Since the paladin is a class about morality, the requirements are more stringent than for the other classes.

In case you want to reflect that behaviour of one member of a group can radiate towards all others, you can apply the following optional rule: Whenever a natural 20 is rolled on a trait test, all other party members must roll the same trait test as well.

All dealings with alignment can be evaluated in terms of traits. If a LE magical sword is created with the idea in mind to create large bloodbaths, one could decide to replace the LE requirement with a Merciless and/or Destructive score of at least 15.

Detect or protection magic may be changed in a similar way. Detect personality will return the highest trait score. Protection from evil, can be rewritten as Protection from Merciless, Destructive etc.

If this is too much work, one could rewrite the spells as follows.
Know alignment: Whenever 7 or more traits on the left-hand side are higher, the character will radiate 'Good', on the right-hand side, it wwill be 'Evil'.
Protection from evil: Works only whenever 7 or more traits on the right-hand side are higher.

EDIT: HTML tables included

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Banner silhouttes by Telecanter

A quick post, just to say that the silhouettes from the banner are by Telecanter and have been used with his permission. You can find these silhouettes and many more at his blog Telecanter's Receding Rules.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dungeons and Pendragons

Much has been said about the alignment system in D&D and many have tried to 'fix' it. One take I haven't seen yet, or at least not fleshed out, is the Pendragon personality traits system converted to D&D.

For those of you who don't know, in Pendragon you play a knight, or, more accurately, everybody plays a knight. You might wonder, how much fun is it to play a party consisting of only paladins, but let me assure you, it is totally awesome. In fact, it is so awesome Pendragon is one of my favourite RPGs, despite the fact that I totally love D&D and its derivatives.

Yes, you play 'only' a knight, but the game system is built in such a way that you will play your knight to the limit. It is one of the rare systems that the decline and final down-fall of your character is something inevitable, memorable, and something you are in a certain way even looking forward to. The campaign can have epic proportions, covering decades, if not centuries, of game time. Your character will grow, age, and die ... and then you will continue play with one of your own heirs!

But, I digress. Alignment. The way Pendragon handles alignment is by defining a set of opposing personality traits: Honest/Deceitful, Merciful/Cruel etc. The score of each lies in the range 1-20, but the sum of a pair is always 21. So, if your Honest=14, then automatically your Deceitful=7.

In Pendragon these scores may prevent you to perform certain actions: a honest knight might not be able to tell a particular lie. This is probably not the way you would like to handle decisions in D&D where players are used to unlimited freedom, albeit that actions can have undesired consequences. But these consequences are based on the whims of the DM and especially in case of alignment, where do you draw the line for an actual alignment change?

But there is one aspect to the Pendragon trait system that can be used within D&D and that is that the scores can change based on your actions. In Pendragon these changes happen at most once per game year, which corresponds roughly with once per adventure. For D&D I would like to propose to check if the score changes at every relevant occasion. The rules I propose are the following:

- Whenever a character performs a benificial action corresponding to a trait with a score of 10-, she must roll higher than her score on a d20 to gain a +1 on this trait (and consequently a -1 on the paired trait).
- Whenever a character performs a action not benificial to her, but corresponding to a trait with a score of 11+, she must roll higher than her score on a d20 to gain a +1 on this trait (and consequently a -1 on the paired trait).

So, basically there must be a choice: some in-game benefit vs. trait score. For example, if a character with Deceitful=7 is lying to gain something, she must roll a d20. If the die result is 7+ she will permanently change her score to 8 and consequently lower her Honest score to 13. In the opposite case, if she decides to be truthful and therefore forefeit the gain, she must roll a d20 against her Honest score. If the roll is 14+ her Honest score will now become 15 and her Deceitful 6.

In this way characters can do whatever they want to but immediately see the consequences of their actions back in their personality scores.

The main question is now, how to implement D&D alignment rules into this system. Of the top of my head alignment restrictions, spells dealing with alignment, and items usable by only certain alignments, need to be addressed and will be the subjects of the upcoming posts.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Using dice differently

In an old post on D&D with porn stars, Zak mused about using cards in stead of dice when creating something where (random) relations are also of interest. When drawing two or more cards, the suits and numbers indicate relations when the same or opposing forces, for instance, when different.

Definitely useful, and fun to boot, but dice may give you something similar and I do not mean rolling multiple times and see if results are identical or not.

When picking dice from your dice bag, the colour, number of sides, material, texture, transparency, marbliness etc. may also be tagged to different properties of the facts you want to decide on.

This made me wonder to what extent I am using dice at the table, and I have to admit, not so much. What I do, is rolling for multiple attacks (multiple monsters or multiple attacks from a single creature). After tossing the dice, the most left one is then the attack roll for the first monster, the next one for the second etc. Or, different colours may mean different type of attacks; bite or claw. Usually, I also throw dice for damage simultaneously to save time in case the attack is a hit.

Also, for random encounters I use multiple dice. If I have to roll once for every 3 hours, then I roll 4 dice for the day, with the left one happening first etc. Dice may also be used to give info on the mini's on the table (number of rounds for certain effects), or may even reflect monsters.

But to grab a random die and have its properties mean something, that is something to explore more in depth in the coming sessions. I will see if I can come up with something useful during play.

 Any of you a suggestion how to use die properties in play?

Friday, 18 September 2015

My thoughts are being eaten

Two weeks ago Zak, of D&D with porn stars, started the Thought Eater DIY RPG Essay Tournament. The idea is that 2 competitors will write an essay on the same subject and the public may vote who is to proceed to the next round for another essay for yet another subject.

I joined in to see how I will fare within the field of, assumingly, native speakers and DIY guru's. I am not supposed to publish my entries here before the end of the voting, or even to say if my essay is already online or not, but as soon as I am allowed to, I will post my entries here as well.

Might just as well be the proper kick-off of this blog ...