Monday, August 19, 2019

"*a held missile impacts 2 steps after being fired"

Rick Stump, one of the more successful dungeon masters in the whole world, inadvertently published a few of his DM secrets on MeWe the other day. Your intrepid thief took down some notes and I'm presenting them to you today. Take a look at this gem from the inside of Rick's DM screen:

Click to enlarge

Sorry about the picture quality. It's extreme detail from a much larger image.

Anyway, look at the order of his combat Rounds. I'm surprised to see that spell casting goes the entire Round. Are you? And I'm thrilled to note the asterisk at the bottom: "a held missile impacts 2 steps after being fired."

This indicates that the archer can hold fire and loose it at a later point in the round, and that it takes time to adjudicate a a bow strike.

This makes a lot of sense. 

I've played it that a thrown weapon goes during the melee portion of the round. This has never been completely satisfactory, and the reason is now clear to me: thrown versus fired is a special effect thing, not a real mechanical distinction.

I really like how Rick orders his combat. Here's my current combat order: 

click to enlarge

In Port, I'm going to keep this chart in mind in case things go haywire, but I'm going to go with Rick's method and see what happens. It will look like this: 

click to enlarge


In addition to Rick's list, I've moved Morale to the bottom to better allow players to see surrenders and retreats coming and plan accordingly.

Incidentally, I fixed the numbering issue on the second Combat Round chart.

Stochastic Combat Rounds


Based on the sometimes-loose-and-vague ways the terms “Turn” and “Round” are used in CHAINMAIL, 0D&D, Holmes and so forth, it seems to me that the actual time period of a combat round is less important than accounting for what happens. The Twin Cities groups of Dave Arneson treated combat as frenzied blow-by-blow action. Dave solidified his Round time as twenty seconds in Adventures in Fantasy later on.

So let us say that a combat round is not a set period of time. It could be 6 seconds or 60. It is simply the period from the first action to the last - going “round” the table (and giving the enemy it’s due.)


The whole of a combat will fit inside a ten minute exploration Turn or perhaps a little more. Recovering from a combat will take time too. 

Therefore after a combat, move the character’s clock two Turns (20 minutes) ahead of when the combat began. If you as the Referee judge that the combat was especially short or long you can adjust this to be one Turn or three or in rare cases even longer. 

This especially solves the problem with the apparently low ROF in one-minute Rounds. Scholars estimate that an Englishman using a longbow would be able to aim and fire 8-12 times in a minute - or about once every six seconds. This likely refers to volley fire from a mass of archers rather than dungeon nonsense which would be slower. But at either rate, the figure using a bow would certainly fire off more than one arrow in a one minute round. Where do those extra arrows go?

We have played around with a couple of answers to the question which I could talk about if anyone is interested. But a stochastic Round seems like a good solution. It also feels better. After all no one keeps a stopwatch on the action and blows the whistle when time is up. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

How to Die in Port. Or Not

In my opinion, Port is pretty lethal. You can die almost immediately if you go into the negative Hits. This is how it goes:

Negative Hit Points is negative hit points. It is unnecessary to track how far into the negatives you are.

When reaching negatives, you are dying. If not in Rounds, go to Rounds.

Upon the start of the next Round, roll a Save or Die. If you miss it, you're dead. If you make it, you're still alive (but dying). When you miss a roll, you die.

  • After you succeed in your Save, if you have a healing device, you can make a CON check to use it on yourself. If you make the CON check you can heal and make it up to 1 Hit Point. You get back up and you're okay to adventure some more.
  • After you succeed in your Save, another character may heal you with a healing device. You do not need to make a CON check for this to happen.

The healing devices that are in common use are:

  • Potions of the several Cure Wounds spells of course.
  • Bandages. Bandages is a healing kit. It takes one Round to apply bandages to yourself or someone else. Bandages can heal one Hit Point after a sequence when your figure takes Hit Point damage.

After you have used Bandages, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, that Bandages is exhausted. It cannot be used any longer. This is like your healing kit running empty of key supplies.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

XP for Gold

You can tell what a RPG is about by finding out what activities award XP. 

That's it. The object of the game is encoded in this statement.

Now let me refute that.

Jim Murphy of Los Angeles, a Dungeon Master mentor of mine, told a story on his YouTube channel. I have no doubt it's true. He said that almost from the time he started playing in 1975, the West Coast people did not like the idea of XP for gold. He was talking about this in the context of explaining how he awards XP to his players.

Jim said that in the early days, his folks out West settled fairly quickly on what he calls  XP for role-playing. That brings to my mind the idea of milestone ad hoc XP awards and/or story-based awards. 

He went on to clarify however. In his opinion, "role-playing" in this context is not being dramatic and using funny voices and props. Rather it means choosing to negotiate, retreat, sneak around, romance, etc. That is, to play your man like a person rather than like a pawn on a game board.

This makes me happy. I call this mode of gaming player-driven or player-directed. That is, players decide what their characters will do within a larger world rather than grind monsters and gold pieces straight up for XP. 

So to conclude, he awards XP for these actions. He explicitly rewards game actions with, let's say, the meta-reward of XP.

Additionally, Jim has the world respond appropriately and justly to the players' decisions. Heroes are treated heroically and licentiousness is treated with scorn by NPCs in game.

I agree that these actions ought to be rewarded. However, I only award XP for treasure (and in small measures, for monsters.) There are no XP awards for RP. Why? Is that stingy? 

Maybe.

Role-playing is its own reward. First it is a table reward. That is, it's fun to do with your friends at the table. Second it is a game reward - the just reaction of the world around the character is the reward for role-playing. If a character does a service to the king, perhaps the kind bestows an marvelous magic item. If he horns in on the thieves' guild's action, maybe he finds himself tarred and feathered outside the city wall!

In other words, treasure is where you find it, and sometimes finding it requires a different tool than a ten foot pole or a Wand of Metal Detection.

So the reward for RP is bigger than the game; bigger than any one game. But it is hidden a bit. 

Hidden perhaps behind a secret door and just waiting for the several players to uncover it.

Clockwork Jewelry

Who made these? What do they do? Are they magic? Are they some sort of key? A key to what?





Friday, August 16, 2019

On the Emergent Nature of Story


I'm happy with this. It's something I wrote when I discovered that there were other people who played the old way and I've updated it only very slightly since. It's not a whole mission statement, but it's a part of one.



All games have rules & fiction. These do not have to be explicit. In the case of playing fetch with a dog, you & the dog know the rules even though the dog has no ability or method to explain them. In chess, the fiction is very thin. But there are no "real" chess men out there which the pieces represent, and you are not really "at war" with the other player.

In a Role-Playing Game specifically, players take turns gathering information & using that information to manage resources to transform scarce turns into other scarce game resources. While situationally-oppositional, players generally work together to achieve goals that are marginally greater than they could achieve individually.  For instance, players may bargain in splitting up the exposure to danger or the rewards gained.


The reward for this behavior is three-fold: in-game resources such as the gold piece; an expansion of the ability to manage resources through character growth (XP & levels), and finally a sense of wellbeing and camaraderie gained through collective success.  The first two rewards are game rewards; the latter one is a table reward.  All game rewards are ultimately subordinate to table rewards, or else players will cease to return to the table.

One player, the Referee, is set apart from the others by virtue of two distinctions:  one, asymmetrical information that the other players have not got; and two, he must simulate the opposition to the group by playing the monsters and describing the effects of traps, &c.

This distinction-- the simulation of opposition rather than actual opposition-- is important. It informs the participants that the Referee is not actually an opponent to the rest, but part of the team of players. Again, while there is situational opposition, the goal of the Referee is to experience the collective camaraderie of the team of players and not to thwart it even if the pieces he controls do thwart certain player actions!

Inasmuch as the Referee maintains this juxtaposition of both opposition & facilitation in his mind, the players (including him) will have a better go at the common table rewards they seek.

This is not an easy concept for the uninitiated; indeed, some Referees shall struggle mightily with their understanding and application of this juxtaposition.    

Let us examine how this role-within-a-role and game-within-a-game that the Referee plays came to be.

In the beginning, there were war-games.  Battles were re-enacted and the use of randomizers (dice) stood in for the Fog of War, as it were.  Tables, based upon real-world physics of machines of war and the real training levels of real soldiers, served as indicia of outcomes.  The men (and they were exclusively men) who played these war-games were military commanders.  They did not play for enjoyment or the thrill of competition, but as a teaching tool in order to prepare these men to lead real battles.  But these tables were incomplete; a Judge was necessary to adjudicate what flat and lifeless numbers could not.

The pieces—little men and tokens—were absolutely representative of actual men and actual machines.  The maps they used were absolutely representative as well.  These were no “fictional” wargames in the sense of Chess.  The rules were explicit, unlike playing fetch with a dog.  In fact, it is hard to say whether these original war-games were games at all.  The object was teaching exclusively.  The simulation allowed iteration at a reasonable cost in money and time rather than any extrinsic enjoyment.  Certainly the rewards gained were far-away in an intellectual sense from those rewards that we think of when we think of “games” today.

In time, some war-game historians and enthusiasts (the earliest we know of is H.G. Welles) divorced this teaching tool from its purpose, and re-purposed it for play. Rather later, war-games enthusiasts made another intellectual leap:  if war-games were no longer about teaching history and stratagems in real wars, then do they need to feature real wars at all?  They did not!  Further, do these war-games necessarily have to feature Man & Machine as they really exist, or shall they rather be allowed to simulate any sort of fantastic creature or device?  This leap of the imagination brought us to the shores of a whole new kind of pass-time.


And from this leap came the idea of the fantasy Hero leading a unit of Men and others in battle.  Eventually, some of the war-gamers rather fancied leaving the armies on the battlefield, and concentrating entirely on the Heroes themselves.  

These Heroes walked off the game board, delved into an ancient dungeon, and the rest is history.

So the Famous Game came to be; & so the Referee became not only an impartial judge of the action, but also simultaneously another equal player at the table.

How the Sausage Gets Made

Story is the goal of playing the game in its entirety; it is not the point of the rules themselves. Without the proper inputs, no set of rules will produce a suitable story.

Story emerges thusly:

The game world exists, brought into imaginary life by you, the Referee. It is largely independent of the Heroes; it is a thing unto itself until the Heroes begin to inhabit it.

Heroes act upon the game world.  Character actions are based on character motivations.  Character motivations change and grow, both in terms of what's going on in the game, and what's going on at (or away from) the table.

Thus far the division of creative labor in the making of the Story has fallen more or less evenly between the players of the Heroes and the Referee.  The Referee often puts in much more labor to create his part beforehand, while the players take up the lead during table time.

This is a process by which the players become entangled in some deep and inscrutable way with one another and a set of premises: there exists a Hero, he lives in this place, these are the events happening, &c; which you feed into a black box called "The Rules."  The rules spit out a different animus, and again, the entangled player-gestalt makes sense of the new animus.  




The sense they make is "The Story."

When the machine works well, players feel like it is magic. When it works poorly, players will seek to place blame- or even disengage from the process and shut that machine down.

As the referee, one job you have is to keep the black box functioning properly at the table, while the proverbial sausage is being made. You must know what subset the rules which you wish to use and where to find them (or have them in your mental catalogue.). You must make or be prepared to make rules which bridge gaps un-foreseen by this set of rules (i.e. create house rules).  You must jump into the breach instantly with your virtual tool-box and make rulings in real time when gears grind and sprockets spring.  And spring they will, at junctures shrouded from prognostication.

This aspect of the referee is essential to the creation of story.  This is your Role, and this guide will help you be ready to play it.




Scott Anderson
Seekonk, Massachusetts
20 May 2014

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Lawful Doesn't Mean Good

Ashurnasirpal II, often depicted smiling. like a complete badass.


Sometimes (re-)establishing law and order requires drastic measures.

"I built a pillar over against the city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes and others I bound to stakes round the pillar. I cut the limbs off the officers who had rebelled. Many captives I burned with fire and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads and I bound their heads to tree trunks round about the city. Their young men and maidens I consumed with fire. The rest of their warriors I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates." 

- Ashurnasirpal II, third king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, reigned 884-859 BC

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On the Profits and Expenses of an Adventuring Company

This is interesting.

I've been thinking about the players who will be at the table for my upcoming Fallen Empire campaign. It at-this-very-moment appears that the several players want to start with a megadungeon style campaign of mostly episodic forays into Castle Triskelion. The last campaign we just finished was an epic sweep through the Realm fighting for the future of the free peoples of that realm and so forth; rescuing gods and fighting battles with a cast of tens of thousands. 

The usual.

So now my bloodthirsty and goldlusting players want something more visceral and down in the trenches.

Cool.

There is literally no way to forsee all the problems we will have at the table (in the dungeon? Yeah, I've got that.) But based on what I know about the personalities of the several players, it's going to be important to get them thinking about how expenses are paid and how treasure is divided up. This is a gold-for-XP game with a hint of HD-for-XP for flavor. The distribution of financial resources will be critical.

Therefore I have written a contract. The fiction is, any group of adventurers needs a patron to raid this particular megadungeon. If they don't have one, they will be fair game for other groups both in the dungeon and for the authorities in town. 

The reason for the fiction is, I want to make sure that more aggressive and/or avaricious players do not take advantage of more agreeable and/or generous ones. It's all there in black and white and they all sign on ahead of time which should prevent many hurt feelings later on.

If the players want to, they can suggest changes to the document at the time we ratify it, but I'll keep veto power over those changes.

Here is the text of the document. Please look carefully at sections 3.b.v subsections 1 and 2; this is a decision the players need to make. Only 1 or 2 will be in effect at any time.



Ledger Agreement

1)       Section 1: Definitions
a)      A SHAREHOLDER is a PC member of the Adventuring COMPANY.
b)      COMPANY is the sum of all PCs adventuring together.
c)       PATRON is the warranting organization which makes a COMPANY official.
i)        A warranted COMPANY will have legal concerns handled by the PATRON.
ii)      A warranted COMPANY is at liberty to keep what it salvages from
(1)    areas outside of normal human occupation and
(2)    contested areas within the areas of human occupation.
d)      A HENCHMAN is a contract worker, subordinate to an individual SHAREHOLDER, who works for a set amount of money for a short period, usually one adventuring session.
i)        The Referee will decide whether orders given to these types will be followed.
ii)      Some contract workers are not HENCHMEN; only those who agree to enter the dungeon are counted as HENCHMEN for the purposes of this document.
iii)    Elfs will not Hench for Dwarfs and Dwarfs will not Hench for Elfs. No exceptions.
e)      A RETAINER is a special NPC who functions as a sidekick and special assistant to a PC for a long period of time and is usually but not always played by the same player as that PC.
i)        The Referee has final say on any questionable Retainer actions.
ii)      Some NPCs such as loyal animals or subordinate monsters will count as Retainers for some purposes, but will never count for the purposes of dividing up treasure. They are compensated as the PC sees fit.
f)        An ADVENTURE is the time SHAREHOLDERS are together on official business for their COMPANY PATRON.
g)      A CONSENSUS is achieved if all living, attending members of a COMPANY are present and agree upon a measure.
h)      REIMBURSEMENT means that the COMPANY pays costs
i)        and then submits receipts to the PATRON,
ii)      which will then pay some or all of those expenses
iii)    based on agreements made below.
i)        INSPECTION means that the COMPANY submits items to the PATRON for the purposes of examination and cataloguing.
i)        INSPECTION will last no more than ten days excepting Sundays and Holidays and no more than 13 days in any case.
ii)      Objects so inspected remain the sole property of the COMPANY in the interim.
iii)    Objects subject to INSPECTION are magic items found or won in the course of Adventuring as a COMPANY.
iv)    The PATRON reserves the right of first refusal on any sale of items so INSPECTED.
(1)    Such sales are not subject to a 10% PATRON fee
(2)    And do award XP for gold.



2)      Section 2: Expenses
a)      Before PCs are paid they must pay expenses.
i)        A warranted Company pays its patron 10% of all takings.
ii)      The Company submits all magic items for inspection. Magic items will be returned to the Company after inspection.
b)      Paying NPCs.
i)        Henchmen.
(1)    The Henchman is paid up-front before the adventure by the individual PC employing him. No exceptions.
(2)    The Henchman is not entitled to any percentage of the take.
(3)    Then Henchman is not entitled to any magic items found.
(4)    After the adventure, a surviving Henchman will divest himself of all gear the PC has given to him for the adventure.
(a)    If the PC wishes for the Henchman to keep that gear, the PC will say so upon its return.
(5)    Then the Henchman will depart and immediately Squander all money earned.
(6)    A dead hireling of any kind, including henchmen, is awarded 25 gp for his next of kin. No exceptions.
(a)    This payment applies even if he is later brought back to life and is non-refundable.
(b)   If his PC employer cannot afford it, the PC will be given a loan by the Company patron at 10% interest compounded four times per year.
c)       Other Expenses
i)        A dead PC gets 25 gp for his next of kin. No exceptions. This payment is made by the remaining living shareholders of the Company.
ii)      This payment applies even if he is later brought back to life
(1)    and is non-refundable.
(2)    If the Company cannot afford it, the Company will be given a loan by the Company patron at 10% interest compounded four times per year.
iii)    A PC made to be Cursed or otherwise fallen ill by magical means will be cured at the Company’s expense.
(1)    This payment will be made. If the Company cannot afford it, the Company will be given a loan by the Company patron at 10% interest compounded four times per year.
(2)    If this is an officially-warranted Company, the cost of this procedure will be reimbursed up to 50% by the Company patron.
iv)    By consensus of the surviving Shareholders, and at their expense, a PC made dead may be Raised or brought back to life in some way.
(1)    This decision must be made by consensus among surviving shareholders.
(2)    If you are an officially-warranted company, the cost of this procedure will be reimbursed up to 50% by the Company patron.
v)      By consensus of the Shareholders and at their expense, gear used by the Company may be replaced or purchased from this money.
(1)    These expenses may include but are not limited to: replacing or acquiring new
(a)    Holy Water, Flaming Oil, dungeon dogs, pack animals, vehicles, and specialty dungeoneering equipment.


3)      Section 3: Compensation
a)      Money
i)        For the purposes of this section, “Money” will be defined as all items of value salvaged
(1)    including art, jewelry, trade goods, furniture, non-magical gear, etc.
ii)      In the case of no SHAREHOLDER having a RETAINER,
(1)    All money which remains after expenses are paid will be split evenly among SHAREHOLDERS of the COMPANY.
iii)    In the case of one or more SHAREHOLDERS having one or more RETAINERS,
(1)    Divide the remaining money into equal shares such that
(a)    SHAREHOLDERS get two shares and
(b)   RETAINERS get one share.
(2)    Award each SHAREHOLDER two shares and each RETAINER one share.
(3)    Do not count monstrous or pet retainers in these calculations.
iv)    All RETAINERS and SHAREHOLDERS are paid simultaneously.
b)      Magic Items
i)        Magic Items award no XP. Magic is its own reward.
ii)      If a Magic Item is sold immediately after the Adventure and not kept or used, the proceeds will count toward XP.
(1)    This sale is not subject to the normal 10% payment to the PATRON.
iii)    Those Magic Items which are kept shall be awarded to one or another PC.
(1)    The awardee may then do with it as he pleases, but selling it awards no XP.
iv)    Magic Items are awarded when other treasure is awarded after the award of Money.
v)      A Magic Item shall be awarded by the following method:
(1)   By chance, as rolled on dice
(2)  By auction. If so the auction will proceed in this manner:
(a)    Each SHAREHOLDER may bid Money for the item.
(b)   Once the high bid has been decided, that SHAREHOLDER gets the item.
(c)    The SHAREHOLDER pays the Money to the COMPANY
(i)     Once all Magic Items have been so awarded,
(ii)   The COMPANY pays the Money out equally to all SHAREHOLDERS (including those who placed winning bids.)
c)       Services and Other Unusual Awards
i)        Those awards which do not have an obvious cash value shall be awarded by the same method detailed under (3.b.v.)