Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Tale of Two House Rules

Last week I posted two of the house rules I was going to use for my AD&D/OSRIC game. We played yesterday, and I'll have a full recap later. For now I want to talk about the house rules and how they went. In short, one of them worked so well that I can't imagine not using it. The other I never even used, because once we started playing I didn't care enough to bother with it.

Delta's Target 20 system was nearly flawless for use in combat. I'll use it whenever I play AD&D or OD&D. It kept things moving quickly, especially once I had the player's ACs memorized.

The really nice thing is that it kept questions and downtime to a minimum. When a character attacked, I reminded the player of the target's AC and that was it. After that it was die roll, and either an immediate damage roll or an announced miss.

There were plenty of times when I didn't even bother with the math. If the die came up a 17 or higher, I knew it was a hit. I didn't ask if the players had the same experience, but I suspect they did. We were moving through combat rounds at a breakneck pace.

In contrast, I didn't bother with the initiative rules. At least, not yet. I think there was a grand total of one spell cast in combat (bless, by Rob's half-orc fighter/cleric), and the initiative system really focuses on spells and keeping casters on their toes. With that insight in mind, I might tinker with it a little more and focus exclusively on casting.

Oddly enough, after years of running iterative initiative having everyone roll each round was fun and interesting. There were plenty of times, at least from behind the DM's screen, that initiative order was a big part of the tension. With things moving so quickly, I just had each player roll a d6 and act on that segment, starting with 1 and running simultaneous actions in the event of ties.

My experience with these house rules brought to mind an old essay by Vincent Baker. I'd link to it, but I can't for the life of me think of any terms that might bring it up on Google. In essence, Vincent argues that each rule a designer adds to a game should make the game more enjoyable. The best design is one that, if the players use all the rules, they have the most fun.

Obviously, that's a platonic ideal, but in play the two house rules showed that principle in action. Delta's rules made things move faster and let us get in more orc-bashing. My initiative rules would've brought the game to a halt and forced players to do math that had a dubious potential for making things more interesting. Thus, one rule lived, and one rule died.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

OSRIC House Rules

I'm running OSRIC this weekend, and like any DM worth his salt I'm adding house rules to the game. Here's what I'm using:

1. Delta's Target 20 System: To me, this is a no-brainer. It sounds incredibly easy to use and keeps the descending AC system in place. I'm not going to go with the rules for thief skills and saving throws, but for attack rolls it looks great.

I linked to Delta's blog, and you can find the rules download there on the right hand margin of the page.

2. Initiative: OSRIC gets a lot right, but I'm not crazy about the basic initiative mechanic. In OSRIC, each side rolls to determine the segment on which the *other* acts. That's counter-intuitive to me. I appreciate how the mechanic functions, but I can't embrace it.

I also have to admit that I always loved speed factor for, frankly, inexplicable reasons. So, that's what I'm using! Here are the rules I'm going to use. If they crash and burn in play, I'll just go back to the OSRIC version.

* Each PC or group of monsters rolls a d6 for initiative.
* The result is the segment on which you decide what you want to do.
* When you make your choice, you add your action's speed to your initiative. The result is the segment on which you act.
* If more than one person tries to act on the same segment, the action is simultaneous.
* If your initiative goes into double digits, subtract 10, and that's when you act on the next round.

Dagger, other small weapons: +0
One handed melee weapons: +1
Two handed melee weapons: +2
Loaded crossbow: +0
Unloaded crossbow: +3 (includes time needed to load; you can load and not shoot for +3)
Thrown weapon or bow: +1

Movement: This is a little tricky. You can move 1/10th your speed per segment and take another action, adding the modifier at the end of your movement to determine when the action takes place.

Special Polearm Rule: If you have a polearm and an enemy charges you, you can immediately attack it on that segment but that costs you your turn that round.

Delay: You can delay your action by as much as you want.

Spell Casting: Modifier equals the spell's casting time in segments. You're considered casting the spell from the time of your base initiative until the segment on which you cast the spell. If you're hit between those two segments but not during them, the spell is lost.

Everything Else: DM's judgment. I'm toying with some weird items and gear the PCs could find for sale in Cort, the town I made up for the game, like a mini-ballista called an ogre stopper that is +0 to fire when loaded, but +20 to load and fire.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Keeping Tiles in Place

I wouldn't be surprised if this is old news to anyone, but I recently started using toolbox liners as a base for dungeon tiles and Paizo's map packs. They're very handy for keeping individual tiles in place, especially if you play on a kitchen table or other glossy, finished surface.

I haven't had as much slipping with dungeon tiles, since they're a fairly thick stock, but the liners really come into their own with the map pack tiles. Those tiles are fairly thin and slide like butter on a tabletop. With the toolbox liner, they stay nice and snug. I originally tried mounting the on foam board, but the liner makes that pointless work.

Anyway, hopefully someone will find that useful.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tonight's Session in Pictures

I snapped a few photos of tonight's session. Here are two of them:

From Gaming Photos

The warden does her job, keeping the githyanki busy while the rest of the party seizes control of the ship's helm. The warden would be stunned by a githyanki knight, be she'd get her revenge by leaping on to the forecastle and critting him twice in a row.

From Gaming Photos

Later on, the party tangled with an enormous dragon. While the warden didn't enjoy being in the dragon's jaws, she did provide flanking for the eladrin avenger on the far side of the wyrm (and vice versa).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Build Your Adventures in OD&D

As those of you who follow me on Twitter might know, I wrote up a dungeon for OD&D to run at this year's D&D Experience. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to run it at the con. However, I learned a useful lesson going forward: From now on, when I design an adventure I'll first approach it as if I'm running it using OD&D.

This approach might seem a little weird, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. OD&D keeps characters simple. They don't have loads of spells, abilities, or magic items. The monsters are built in a similar way. An orc swings its sword or fires its bow at you, and that's about it. Critters like beholders and dragons are a little more complex, but they're the exception, not the norm. There are no skills to roll, just descriptions of what a character tries to do.

When you pull those things back, you're left with only one option for making a dungeon or adventure interesting: Compelling locations, mysteries, puzzles, weird phenomena, *stuff* that the PCs can poke, prod, and inspect. These are all the things that make D&D compelling. They show off the spontaneity, immersion, and creativity that arise in the exchange among players and DM.

In Search of the Unknown is a great example of this effect in action. The dungeon in that adventure is empty of monsters and treasure. The DM is supposed to add that stuff. Instead, it features an overgrown garden of massive mushrooms, a chamber of mysterious pools, hidden chambers, details and color that suggest the dungeon's history, and other elements that make it an interesting place to explore. Reading the adventure, even without monsters and treasures, is fun. You want to know what's in the next room.

That's what this approach embraces, creating a dungeon environment that's interesting without any monsters around. It builds an environment that encourages the players to think of the scene from their character's point of view and act appropriately. It adds enough detail to get things started, and relies on the players choices, rather than the mechanics of skill checks or powers, to drive the action.

Once you have those details nailed down, you can then go back and add in monsters, treasure, skill DCs, and what not as appropriate. If you are running 4e, this approach has probably already yielded some interesting dungeon features that the monsters (and the PCs) can use when a fight breaks out, but you should also have plenty of areas for exploration and experimentation, nice changes of pace from the funhouse effect of one fight after another.