Friday, April 30, 2021

Mighty Brightness

Making light matter and keeping track of those light sources in your oldschool(ish) dungeon adventure can be a chore especially since it is so mathy with no real way to directly relatable gameness betond "mother may I" for if things can be seen or not. I may have read parts of this elsewhere in other game materials, if you have too let me know I want to share the credit and improve the idea if I can.

This idea literally just struck me moments ago after replying to my last post. There's been no play-testing of this in my campaign just yet but by gum I think it might just work. 

Each party has a Brightness score. This score measures how much light the part has on hand. "Ooooh amazing" you say another score to track! Yes but... what this score impacts is what is important. Most simply the Brightness governs the impact the party can have in a dark environment. Brightness determines how effective the PCs and NPCs that need artificial light sources can be (it also has other uses I'll get to).

Obviously enough how bright it is impacts what you can see in an otherwise dark environment.  So when was the last time it mattered in a game if you were trying to do something by the light of a candle, a matchstick, or a glowbug lamp? It matters all the time in real life so why not in our RPG adventures. 

So this Brightness score acts sort of like the "passive perception check" in new-fangled talk, if it's bright enough you can see it... pretty simple isn't it? But we don't just stop there this Brightness also serves as a soft cap to how well the PCs can do anything within the illumination. So let's say Brightness is 18 well guess what any d20 roll a player is making to impact the environment or NPCs is "capped" at that score of 18 if sight is generally a requirement to get the act done.  I say a soft cap so that way when players roll really well we don't totally ruin everyone's fun. This cap shouldn't impact critical hits or similar special success. Any easy way to keep this penalty "soft" is to apply a negative adjustment to any (non-critical) roll over the Brightness score. I'm thinking a modifier of -4 or -5 would generally do the trick with d20 rolls as it is inline with the classical darkness/invisibility penalties and when a party is say down to 0 Brightness it would have the identical effect on play

With Brightness having such a large impact on play it's going to be something that is going to get a lot of attention by the players. But let's not stop there. The Brightness can also serve as the morale score light adverse dwellers of the dark have to check against when they normally would be making morale checks. The lights the party are carrying into the depths of the underworld all of a sudden matter a lot more. The more something maters the more the players will be willing to track it. 

We can go one step further and have this brightness score inflict a penalty on such creatures particularly tied to shadow and darkness and one easy way to do this is have the brightness score determine the minimal hit roll required by monsters to hit PCs and their minions within the brightness... the Brightness becomes the worst ac score (if yuo are counting up for AC) anyone can have against creatures bound to darkness.  This is major change but not an illogical one, I'm not recommending it impact all underworld monsters but shadows, some demons, and some undead could surely be impacted in this manner.

Of course with this Brightness being so important in play it also serves as a score the baddies and misfortune can attack in the course of an adventure. The Brightness score itself serves as the lights own AC and HP score against all those attacking it.  Time itself may just knock down that score 1 point a turn or by a couple points each time "lights flicker"  comes up on a random encounter check.

With Brightness producing limits and strengths for he party there is more reason for players to track it and much more reason for players to remember to have their character bring torches and lanterns. 

Still have to figure out campaign appropriate levels of brightness for different sources. It shouldn't be difficult at all to get up to 12 -15 or so but going higher should be tricky (maybe requiring "checks" against the parties own Brightness score...??). It would be very simply to do 1d6 for a candle, 1d8 for a torch, 1d10 for a lamp and add them up. Don't worry how far PCs are from each let the Brightness score be a shared pool for the whole party as long as they don't actually separate over very large spaces(I don't want to track where all the characters are every moment of the game in inches and such).

Hmmm.... final note... how "far" can a party see? No problem at all within a number of feet (even yards/meters if you are a softie) from anyone holding a light source equal to the Brightness. Beyond that things get shadowy...





Thursday, April 29, 2021

Save vs Encumberance

 Let's face it tracking encumbrance is a huge pain in most RPGs. Tracking weights of items is a bother and gets even more annoying when you break things down to the coin weight.  Sure how much things weigh has a serious impact on what folks can lug about with them into dark deep holes but so does volume (don't think so try to carry an unrolled foam mattress through a few door ways and down a staircase?). One of the biggest reasons it is a pain is because aside from the typical impact it has on movement rates set by thresholds of encumbrance it has no regular impact on play.

One way to speed up the tally of encumbrance is the slot method where each item or each significant item takes up a number of "slots" worth of equipment a character can carry. This has cropped up in recent years in OS land every now and then and saw use in The Fantasy Trip decades ago. Of course how big these slots are will vary from game to game and campaign to campaign. They often provide little difference from the threshold impact on movement rates, occasionally a penalty is applied to actions.

So here's an idea I've been kicking about in my own campaign: Save Vs Encumbrance. When a character is doing something exerting, something that could be fatiguing they may find themselves having to make a save vs encumbrance. I use a slot based system myself so the slots of equipment serve as the target number for a d20 saving throw (or ability check). Carrying 10 things worth worrying about? Well climbing that steep slope requires a save vs encumbrance, want to keep running after 5 rounds: save vs encumbrance.

Of course what happens when the save vs encumbrance fails is situational. Sometimes it's just a matter of "not done yet", other times it's a failure, while at others it is a an introduction of a fatigue penalty. The fatigue penalty in my campaign is a -1 to all those things a character has to roll a d20 for. They can keep piling up, i see no reason for a hard limit but it should be clear to a player that bogging their character down with a -10 fatigue penalty probably isn't a good idea.

Players can of course rest or even use stimulants to shake off the impact of fatigue. A 10 minute break shakes off 1 point of fatigue penalty, so does a warm beverage, so does a meal. Each thing required to shake off fatigue has a time cost and in dangerous environments that cost in time can be a hazardous resource expense. After brief rest and a a warm meal the only typical way to shake off fatigue is sleep and that knocks off a HD roll worth of fatigue each 4 hours. Fatigue can be frighteningly enduring but isn't impossible to shake off.

So next time the players want their PCs to swim across a subterranean river in their armor don't worry too much about "swim skills", don't say no, but do have them make a Save Vs Encumbrance and see how that impacts their choices in the future.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Can't see the path for the trees.

 Okay the title for the post is a lie and that's becasue part of what I'm doing with a Woodland Pathcrawl is using a more "dungeon" nature to locla scale outdoor adventuring. The paths serve as a means to direct players from point to point, regulate travel speed, and make choices matter and what's off the path is and isn't the same thing it is in a dungeon corridor: the wall.

Of course saying off the path is a "the wall" doesn't really cut it when it's actually the whole darned forest that's off the path. Players and DM;s don't generally worry about what what is between the paths that isn't room... it's almost always stone and that as we most of us realize is typically laborious to move and even less convenient to walk through. Having the woods itself beign what next to paths and between clearing is a lot less restrictive some of the time.


The density of the woods off the path encourages the PCs to stay on the path, visibility and travel rate are reason enough to stay on the path BUT those woods not generally being a solid wall make it much easier for things to hide and wait. The wandering monster becomes much more palatable, it can come from anywhere, it might have even made the path. So the nature of what surrounds the path can't be ignored in a Woodland Pathcrawl. The density of trees, related undergrowth and other features pathside and beyond will shape how the players respond to the paths and how they work in the adventure.


I feel it's necessary to reflect on what is immediately on the side of the trails and further away. 

Possibilities as to what can be on the side of a trail:

  • Fences and Walls- Not all woodlands are howling wilderness, or they were not always so. The immediate roadside (perhaps) on both sides can have wooden fences or low walls of piled stones. The function in game play is to dissuade leaving the path and to provide tactical cover in encounters. The path also serves to remind the players that their charcetr are walkign through a dynamic area where there are or were other folks.
  • Hedges- Essentially an (originally) manicured wall of dense foliage. It's still a wall or fence like above but much more obstructive to travel and viewing what is beyond. Particularly old and studrcy hedges can slow or stop armored vehicles in the real world and they can certainly do so with adventurers, their steed s, and pack animals as well.
  • Vines- Dense clusters od vine growth can make stepping off the trail troublesome. Vines also produce a sense of fecundity and oppression as well.
  • Ditch- A ditch or trench at pathside doesn't seem like much of an issue and often it will not be at least until yuo are tryign to get your stubborn mules across or out of one. Trenches also offer the chance for cover as walls and fneces but are of course nowhere near as obtrusive. Fill these trenches with water that is being drained away and they are much more bothersome, in some regions people still travel with poles specifically to ease travel over the ever present flooded ditch. The heavier a party of PCs travel the more a trench (and more so a flooded trench) is going to direct and discourage going off trail quickly.
  • A Brake of Trees- a row on closely growing trees with close and dense undergrowth. Such features are either planted or encouraged as border markers, wind brakes, and to restrict rapid travel (It's difficultly to charge a company of horsemen through an area a horse simply can not pass).
  • Drop-off or Hillside- the path passes along side a steep drop-off or an steep hillside (maybe one of each on either side). This obviously restricts travel and creates choke points to make players nervous.
  • Bracken- Dense undergrowth, you can see through it (mostly) but a man or beast will flounder about and find an impressive amount of greenery checking their progress.
  • Waterside- the path travels alongside the water whether it is a brook,stream, or river is of little matter to anyone without a boat it's not getting crossed without difficulty.

Possibilities as to what can be further away from a trail:

  • Dense Thicket- Trees so close together visibility is cut short and moving at a rapid pace just impossible, a thicket can be so dense horses can't even be lead through them.
  • Root Gnarl- no so much a problem to agile folk but a virtually impossible forest floor covering anyone with a mount, cart, or pack animal tryign to travel between the exposed ancient gnarled roots among great old trees.
  • Brambles and Briars- dense tangles of thorny and dense undergrowth that discourage travel.
  • Bog- Sodden mucky land often with deceptively deep spots that could swallow the unwary. Rapid travel afoot is impossible and nobody in their right mind will attempt to go into one with a mount or cart.
  • Water- More obviously flooded than even the bog. A deep water logged forest , a pond, or a bend in a local river can certainly check travel on foot.
  • Hollow- Whether it is a trivial dingle or a sinkhole there is seldom a reason to travel across such a feature as entry and exit are difficult and there is little to be gained. Sure there might be somehting hidden down there but yuo know what is also down there.. twisted ankles.
  • Overgrown Grove- not so much a barrier but a reminder of the transient nature of man and his attempt to conquer the woodlands.

The above are not meant to be exhaustive but simply suggestions and how terrain nearby and afar can be used to funnel and direct travel along the very obvious trails. Mechanically paths are where you get "lost" by not being sure where they go while going off trail is how you get seriously lost and have a much harder and longer time reaching destinations.


As this project matures I'll produce some tables for what's on the sides of trails and further away. It's important to understand the "walls" of the paths are a part of the setting and adventure in a woodland pathcrawl.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Abstract Nature of Hit Points

 Last post I talked about the difference between melee and ranged attacks and what was being abstracted. In summary the abstraction of melee combat covers a host of actions and the end result but he chief abstraction of ranged combat is in the end result. This posy I'm going to tackle the abstract nature of Hit Points themselves. I discussed this topic 9 years ago here: but as it is a perennial topic I feel it's worth a few more words here.

Hit Points are an abstraction of the damage a person or thing may suffer, for combative things (usually PCs/NPCs/Monsters) it is most simply a tally of "still up and fighting points".  That's really it that's the chief abstraction and that's what we are worrying about in fight and the adventures impacted by fights: how much "still up and fighting points" do we have and how doe we make sure opponents run out of ""still up and fighting points". 


Call it stamina, endurance, vitality, vigor, grit,  luck, prowess, sturdiness, resolve they are all abstracted together in this same total of "still up and fighting points"we call Hit Points for the matter of abstraction. Run out of ""still up and fighting points" and you are done with the being up and fighting (for now).


Hit Points being "still up and fighting points" works well and simply in explaining their significance and abstraction in play but what about healing? Oh that pesky healing.  Healing is seldom proportional in RPGs, few healing methods restore a % of HP but instead restore a fixed range of total HP.  This reuslts in healing methods that would restore someone with a small total of  "still up and fighting points"from zero or near zero to complete recovery but when someone with many more "still up and fighting points" receives the same exact number as the less potent character does they get much less significant impact proportional to their total ""still up and fighting points".  This becasue Hit Points while being a metric we use to track the survivability of characters are also a measure of how significant a character can be to the adventure being played and the campaign at large. 


Healing methods that restore a small number of "still up and fighting points" are doing as such becasue that's the limit that method has on impacting the adventure and campaign at large.

But wait what about weapon damage you may ask?  Oh yes what about weapon damage? "Why are some weapons rated as doing say 1 to 4 points of damage when others are rated as doing say 1 to 10 of damage ?" you may ask.  That's becasue different weapons are considered to have a more or less significant impact on the adventure/campaign, weapon damage is a abstraction of how potentially significant a blow from that weapon is meant to be. Originally in D&D all weapons inflicted 1-6 points of damage and that works well and fine if all weapons are just as significant to the campaign (or there are other related mechanics we ignore or have forgotten) but let's face it with rare exception everyone expects a sword or lance to have a more significant impact than a knife or short wooden club and thus we ended up with weapons doing all sorts of different ranges of damage and why for a time some weapons did different damage ratings vs foes of different sizes most large foes were significant and it only makes sense if some weapons are meant to be significant in fights they'd retain some of that significance relative to large foes and we end up with swods that do 1-8 points vs man-sized and smaller foes while inflicting 1-12 points vs larger foes. The abstracted importance of some weapons was extended to retain and heighten their significance to the campaign at large.  In real life it doesn't matter how big a weapon is that opens your artery as your artery is opened but what does matter to the armed combatant is how easily they can open that artery and thus the damage rating balances the significance of that possibility with the target's "still up and fighting points".


In abstract combat resolution the only blow that really opens the artery that can cause a character to bleed to death is that last blow that took away remaining""still up and fighting points". The rest of the blows just don't open that artery, the better someone is at being up and fighting the less likely they are to be slain by having an artery opened by simply avoiding that fate by having a large number of "still up and fighting points. When Conan the 21st is at 65 "still up and fighting points" he doesn't have to worry at all about some nameless rabble with a stick but when down to but 1 ""still up and fighting points" that nameless rabble is able to quickly end the fight. 


Those "still up and fighting points" known as Hit Points give players a measure of how significant their character is during a fight and to the larger campaign around them when things come down to arrows fired, spells flung, and blows struck.  Hit Points are not a measure of foot pounds per square inch inflicted or endured but the much more abstract ability to still be up and fighting.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Abstract combat and ranged attacks.

 In old-school RPG land and elesewhere in broader rpg land there has been an age-old discussion about the nature of HP and "abstract combat" with a major dis-junction being how to account for the abstraction of ranged attacks and melee attacks. In D&D and many similar systems you have an amount of "still up and fighting points" damage suffered in a fight reduce these "still up and fighting points" when the number of ""still up and fighting points" reaches 0 or less a monster/PC/NPC is no longer still up and fighting. The abstraction is in how we get from "still up and fighting" to "no longer up and fighting".


Fighting in melee is a complicated and involved mess with a multitude of feints, parrys, dodges, strikes, and shifts in stance we don't overly concern ourselves with and each combatant has a limited number of chances to inflict damage on a foes in around... that's PART of the abstraction. The impact of blows in melee is typically communicated and recorded as a reduction of "still up and fighting points" the damage these blows are causing isn't a measure of force but a measure of the impact upon the target's ability to still be up and fighting. That blow that causes 4  "still up and fighting points" just isn't the same thing against an insignificant combatant as it is to a Player character,  Godzilla, or a door. Becasue it is a rough abstraction in how much a blow can reduce the targets ability to be still up and fighting (or in the case of the door to be an impediment in getting to or avoiding a fight). Most folks can see to handle the single blow we pay attention to is the only one that could matter in melee but somehow there is a disconnect in rationality when talkign about ranged attacks.

The disconnect many have baffles me and I believe it is becasue they don't understand the ultimate implementation of abstraction is on the results not on the means. A ranged attack just isn't the same thing as a melee attack, ranged attacks are generally limited by ammo supply. The nature of the attack isn't being particularly abstracted the impact is. Ranged attacks are an opportunity to impact an opponents ability to still be up and fighting without providing them the opportunity to do so against you as they would have in melee combat. the discrete number of attacks possible as counted by arrows in a quiver, charges in a laser cell, bullets in a magazine, or rocks in a pouch are not and never were what was being abstracted in old school combat the results of those arrows, bullets, laser blasts, and thrown rocks are what was being abstracted.Ranged attacks are the ability to impact a foes "still up and fighting points" over there instead of right up next to you.

Count those bullets, arrows, laser charges, and rocks, they aren't what is being abstracted.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Scale and the Woodland Pathcrawl

 On working up my procedures for the Woodland Pathcrawl I had to contemplate scale in both time and distance. The 10 minute classical dungeon exploration time-frame could be used but it would take forever to explore the are designated by a typical wilderness hex and while I do want to slow things down but getting in closer I don't want it to drag on and on, so 10 minutes and feet traveled are out. Next up the rules generally only cover daily movement rates across fairly big hexes, I certainly don't want adventurers exploring forests at the rate of 12 miles a single day long turn so that's right out.  Determining the scale of action is going to enforce the flavor  a woodland hex crawl isn't a constant race agaisnt the clock and while paths resemble a dungeon corridor in some manner one also has to consider the impact the terrain and distance really has.

An oddly useful measure that helped me zero in on the much smaller measure I eventually settled on for further calculation and signifigance is the league. Now this measure is specific in the modern world but in older times when measure were not uniform a league came to be identified in the distance a man could walk in an hour and this typically falls somewhere between 3 and 3.5 miles with a healthy unburdened person on a fairly easy route. Interestingly the Japanese have a unit of measure figured similarly to a league but here it is how fast a man can carry a load on a mountain road and this Ri comes in a bit under 2.5 miles. So two hourly travel based distances within slightly different parameters made it easy to zero in on the lower measure of 3 miles for the league I'll be using.  A league is still a large distance for small-scale travel but it also serves becasue t isn't one tightly tied to us in modern life and a league is a league to those of us that travel mile after mile or kilometer after kilometer.The league is also a handy measure if using 30,24,12, or 6 mile wilderness hex maps becasue they all break down evenly into 10 league, 8 league, 4 league, and 2 league hexes. The league measure let's us see how quickly a distance could be traveled in hours if everything was relatively ideal.


The league was however only useful for a larger big measure  scaling down we have miles and kilometers both of which are too large and too tied to modern measures for me to be comfortable with so time to go in closer.  Feet, yard and meters are all too small as we'd quickly be using 100's of those in covering ground in any meaningful fashion even when wanting to use a more granular measure. This led me to look into traditional units of measure which got hammered into imperial units later in history but also had some bearing on how people related to the distance and time in the pre-modern world. 


Looking into the pre-modern agriculturally derived measure led me to the useful measurement of the furlong. A furlong is traditionally defined as the length of a furrow an ox team could plough without resting. While the actually distance would vary on the quality of a plow, the land be ploughed, and the strength of the oxen used it has come to be standardized at 220 yards (660 feet, just over 201 meters). while it's not a measure we may all use now in our regular lives it's an easy one to envision with practice and splits up into other measures fairly well. The furlong being 220 yards in length works out to there being 8 furlongs in a mile. 

The furlong and the 3 mile league come together in a handy synchronicity. Since there are 8 furlongs to a mile there are as such 24 furlongs in the league used here. This is a very handy measurement in oldschool fantasy gaming wherein the original rules had a man moving at movement rate of 12" (later refined to 120 feet or just 12).  So in an hour an unburdened character could travel a league or 24 furlongs. Deciding 12 would be the base movement rate for conformity to classical rules and ease of math this lead to settling on 1/2 hour for the time-frame of the woodland pathcrawl.


The half hour long Woodland Pathcrawling turn works out nicely in my estimation. A furlong is about a bow shot in distance it's possible to relate to this in play as "oh it's about a bow shot away from you" isn't difficult to hold in your head. If one has their wilderness hex maps scaled to 2 leagues that also let's us have sub-scaled maps that would be 48 units across, not too many to deal with but certainly granular enough to have the Woodland Pathcrawl play out more like traditional dungeon crawling than zooming about the map at miles eating pace. It's also possible becasue we are using a relative term to describe distance (the furlong) one could stretch or shrink it to fit their larger scale maps without needles worry and math; the world will not break if your originally 5 mile scale hexes are now 2 leagues across or if your 8 mile hexes are 2 leagues or 3 leagues across as the smaller scale distance and times are still relative and not unreasonable.

Going fourth on Woodland Pathcrawl posts distances will be given in furlongs and the procedures will be based on that.  Unencumbered parties of man-like adventurers could travel two league in but 4 Pathcrawl turns, if the road were straight and no impediments were present but where would the adventure be in that?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead

 I've been playing a fair bit of Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead lately. I somehow managed to be totally ignorant that this post-apocalyptic rogue-like existed for years until a couple weeks ago. The quickest way to describe it would be Minecraft in a post apocalyptic setting with simpler graphics and richly detailed approximations of reality. It hits a lot of computer gaming itches for me: it's turn based so I can play at my pace, it's customizable, it's got cyborgs, it's got hunting and gathering, it's got annoying cars, and it allows for planning and tracking a whole bunch of fiddly moving parts. The player character is generally a lone survivor facing off against foes such as cyborgs, giant spiders, giant ants, mi-go, triffids, other survivors (but all the other survivors are not foes), wild dogs, a whole bunch of different Zombies and more.

There are so many options and after spendign a day or so poking at wikis and forums I decided to fire up a random character in a random starting position. I suppose I got immensely lucky becasue while my character Sally isn't particularly impressive she's a quick learner and had a few survival skills to start out with which couple with the remote LMOE shelter she started in has made it possible for her to survive over 45 days days on winter in post-apocalyptic zombie and mutant infested New England.

The scramble at first to not freeze to death while gathering supplies was the biggest threat of  all and she almost lost her life and her hands due to frostbite but I managed to keep that from killing her and was able to scrape up enough supplies from a nearby farm house to then chase a horse down in a barn and kill it with a hammer so it could be butchered and keep Sally alive.

Further explorations have revealed a gas station, a motel, a school or library with an automated defense system, other farm, and a whole town not too terribly far away by the name of Goffstown (about 30-40 minutes away from me by car in real life). 

I like this game becasue the only path to success isn't being a killing machine. Focusing on combat over anything else will kill your character. A problem I have with some online multi-player post-apocalyptic games are how they devolve into bully wish fulfillment for many players who have no real reason to act moderately decent to other players, this being a solo-play experience there's none of that to deal with but there are NPCs who do more than attack you out there somewhere in Cataclysm DDA.

Currently Sally has upgraded her pathetic staring gear to a shocking excess of clothing and some armor even thanks to a crashed military vehicle recently discovered. She's gone from a paleolithic stone hand axe, to a more proper stone axe, and now thanks to wider scavenging a proper honest to goodness steel wood axe and that makes not freezing to death and cooking a whole lot easier. She's become competent with her bow and has scavenged a couple of guns with a handful of bullets and has managed to hunt a few critters. I'd recommend not eating the giant mutant spiders but giant ant seems to be safe enough to eat despite being dangerous prey sadly the nearest ant colony is being attacked by some sort of armed group with some high-tech and high capacity weapons that have shot at poor Sally but not pursued her, they can't be doing too well because just a couple days ago she spotted one of them zombified while she was butchering a rabbit on a bridge.  So far she's only tangled with 4 or 5 zombies total having avoided to roaming hordes and notgotten pinned down by zombies in the edge of Goffstown just yet. 

I've probably jinxed her by typing about the game here but its good fun and I wanted to clue anyone in who may have similar interests to me but managed to not know about the game yet. 

Here's the wikipedia page about the game

and the actual page for the game: