Posts Tagged With: D&D general

Further Fatescape/Shackled City Thought

It occured to me this morning that part of the problem with Jzadirune in the Shackled City is that it exists purely to give the PCs the XP and equipment they’ll need to face the Malachite Hold, where the interesting challenges are – I could have cut it out of the Fatescape version entirely without affecting anything in the greater plot.

Welp, too late now.

I’ve also got an excellent idea for a very-slightly-tongue-in-cheek 4e D&D game, which can join the ridiculous queue of games I would run if I had the time. Inspired by a throwaway comment on RPGnet about “the design space for a ‘dark lord of the storms’ is huge” I find myself driven to create a game where half a dozen dark lords of the storms have chosen the prime material plane for a giant storm-waving contest – to the detriment of the local peasants, of course, and requiring the intervention of low-paragon level heroes.

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No, THAC0 Really Is Inferior

It pops up time and time again on D&D threads: is the ‘ascending AC’ system of D&D 3.x (where better defences = a higher number) superior to the ‘descending AC’ system of earlier editions of D&D (where better defences = a lower number, dropping into negatives eventually) and their legion of retroclones?

There are a lot of spurious arguments floating around, the primary one I keep seeing being that ‘addition is easier than subtraction’. That, and that having +1 chain mail that gives a -1 bonus to AC is counterintuitive, which I sort of buy – although I’ve played enough AD&D to know that you get used to the idea pretty quickly.

Anyway, I was thinking about this in the shower this morning and I think I’ve realised why I prefer ascending AC: it involves one less step in the calculation of each to-hit roll.

d20/ascending AC

  1. The player rolls the d20 and adds their bonuses.
  2. The GM recalls the target’s AC.
  3. The two numbers are compared. Hit or miss is established.

THAC0/descending AC

  1. The player rolls the d20 and adds their bonuses.
  2. The GM recalls the target’s AC.
  3. The AC is added to the d20 roll.
  4. The result is compared to the character’s THAC0. Hit or miss is established.


  1. The player rolls the d20 and adds their bonuses.
  2. The GM recalls the target’s AC.
  3. The to-hit table is consulted.
  4. The d20 roll and AC are cross-referenced on the table. Hit or miss is established.

It’s not much – just one extra step each time an attack roll is made – but it’s that little bit of extra arithmetic (or table consulting) that makes the THAC0 system less streamlined than the ascending AC system, and you make an awful lot of attack rolls in a typical session of D&D. As I’ve said, I’ve played enough AD&D to know that you can get used to it, but why should you have to?

That said, here’s a handy ascending AC conversion for Labyrinth Lord (which is my current retroclone of choice).

Attack Bonuses**

Level/HD Fighter/Dwarf/Elf/Halfling Cleric/Thief Magic-User Monster*
1 +1 +1 +1 +1
2 +1 +1 +1 +2
3 +2 +1 +1 +3
4 +3 +2 +2 +4
5 +4 +2 +2 +5
6 +5 +3 +2 +6
7 +6 +3 +2 +7
8 +6 +3 +3 +8
9 +7 +4 +3 +8
10 +8 +4 +3 +9
11 +8 +5 +4 +9
12 +9 +6 +4 +10
13 +10 +7 +5 +10
14 +11 +7 +6 +11
15 +12 +8 +6 +11
16 +13 +8 +7 +12
17 +14 +9 +7 +12
18 +15 +9 +7 +13
19 +16 +10 +8 +13
20 +16 +10 +8 +14
21 +16 +11 +9 +14
22 +16 +11 +9 +15
23 +16 +11 +9 +15
24+ +16 +11 +10 +15

0-level humans have an attack bonus of +0.

*Monsters with ‘X+Y’ HD attack as monsters of the next HD up. For example, a 1+1 HD monster attacks using the 2 HD bonus.

**It’s interesting, making this table, to note just how the numbers stack up. Monsters get murderous as their HD increase, being more likely to land a hit than a fighter at all levels up to 15 (and with more hp besides). Clerics, thieves and magic users all kind of suck by comparison although at low levels (where I assume most games happen) the differences are minimal. There’s no difference in attack rolls at all until level 3, so fighters have to rely on having more hp and better equipment until then.

To work out the AC bonus of a piece of armour, subtract the AC it offers from 10. For example leather armour (AC 8) becomes a +2 bonus, and chain mail (AC 5) becomes a +5 bonus. To make life easier, here’s a revised version of the armour table on page 15:

Armour Cost AC (desc.) AC bonus (asc.) Weight
Banded mail 85 gp 4 +6 35 lb
Chain mail 70 gp 5 +5 30 lb
Helmet 10 gp 5 lb
Horse barding 150 gp 5 +5 60 lb
Leather 6 gp 8 +2 15 lb
Padded 4 gp 8 +2 10 lb*
Plate mail 450 gp 3 +7 50 lb
Scale mail 50 gp 6 +4 40 lb
Shield 10 gp 1 less +1 10 lb
Splint mail 75 gp 4 +6 45 lb
Studded leather 30 gp 7 +3 20 lb
Unarmoured 9 +1

* Since padded armour is both cheaper and lighter than leather, and offers the same AC, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever wear leather. Perhaps it gives some sort of Cha bonus for being more stylish? Is it more durable?

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Reasons to be Cheerful – 1, 2, 3

So, plenty going on on the writing front at the moment.

Nanowrimo Victory

I finished Nanowrimo for the first time in a long time, knocking out ~51,000 words about monster hunter Amelia Thorne. It needs serious work, but unlike most of my previous Nano efforts I feel the core is solid enough that any editing work I do on it won’t be wasted. Anyway, I’m going to let it sit until at least the new year while I refresh my mind with other things.

Pathfinder Victory

Purple Ducks gaming have commissioned me to write level 10 of their Purple Mountain megadungeon. Production is going well: I’ve knocked out 16,000 words covering an asylum in the depths of the earth full of crazed undead, some mad priests sent to recover it, mushroom men, a magic item, three feats and some other odds and ends. Just the temple of ooze to go, squish squish. (Oh, and about 20 stat blocks which currently exist only in super-sketchy format.)

Fatescape… Progress, Technically

Still working on the magic system. Slooooooowly. I might try to run another playtest game in the new year, which means I’ll need to polish off all the ‘under construction’ bits over Christmas.

Joan of Arc, Superspy

Candlemark and Gleam have an anthology coming out where the theme is ‘alternate history espionage’, which I’d like to submit something to. My basic idea is that Jeanne d’Arc never reached Orleans in 1430 so the English stomped all over France and now she’s part of an underground resistance organisation – religious visions, badass attitude, remarkable intellect and all. Sadly the execution isn’t coming together at the moment, but I’ll keep poking at it.

The Return of Mr Q

Also on the short fiction front, Pulp Empire are angling to put out an anthology about pulp heroes – either classic ones or entirely new ones – reworked for the 21st century. Since this features both reimagining of old things in a modern context and pulpy goodness – two of my favourite things – I’m all over this.

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Oh look, a bandwagon *jump*

So over on the GitP forums I got into a thread talking about what people wanted from the next edition of D&D. Glib comments about me not really wanting to play D&D any more aside, someone mentioned wanting characters to have things to do in combat and things to do out of combat, without having to choose between them.

And that got me to thinking.

D&D 3.5 has a set of rules for gestalting – taking two classes instead of one. (This always seemed needlessly powergamey and complicated to me but one man’s poison, etc.)

Rift (the MMO) has a system where a character can adopt three ‘souls’, each giving them a specific niche set of powers – my cleric, for example, has a soul that gives her tanking powers, one that increases her damage output, and one for single-target heals.

Vanguard (an older MMO) had a system where each character had their regular MMO fightin’-type powers and a separate track of social powers.

And now that I think about it, all MMOs track crafting abilities and combat abilities separately.

So! I thought about creating a d20 system with gestalt as standard, with a ‘combat class’ on one side and a ‘utility class’ on the other. I sat down and made a few notes, had a few thoughts, and 90 minutes later I’d sketched out about a dozen classes, some new feats, better skill use and a magic system closer to 3.5 psionics.

And now I figure I should finish it off, I suppose. I mean, everyone else and their mother are making a d20 revamp so I might as well give it a shot too. When it’s done, I’ll add it to the downloads section on the right. I may or may not post updates here or elsewhere.

Specificity? What’s that?

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D&D, Exalted and ‘game space’

Recently I’ve noticed an increasing tendency in myself that, when thinking about which games to run, I tend to ‘home in’ on indie games and other one-book-complete systems as opposed to heavily supported product lines. Give me a core book, a sample adventure and some example antagonists and then leave it the hell alone.

For a while I thought this might be because I have become that most dreaded of creatures: a gaming hipster, always playing obscure games that you’ve probably never heard of and rejecting the mainstream on the grounds that popular = bad. *shudder*

But then I started dissecting this attitude. Why did I dislike 3.5 so much but like retro-clones? Why did I like Pathfinder when it was virtually identical? What is it about Exalted 2e that makes me slump with despair whenever it’s mooted as a system?

The answer to all the above is this: the vast and sprawling ‘game space’.

And by ‘game space’ I mean the total mechanical content of the game. D&D comes in about eleventy-billion books, most of which I do not own and have never read. The content for Exalted is spread across 20 books, half a dozen websites and two blogs. I have neither the time nor the patience to keep up with all of this.

The issue I have with an expanding game space is that every new release adds more mechanically distinct options for the players to solve problems. In D&D it’s spells and class features (and entirely new systems, like skill tricks or psionics or incarnum). In Exalted it’s charms, sorcery and artefacts. As the GM you have to track all of this to make sure that nothing in there invalidates the upcoming challenges you have planned.*

The important thing is ‘mechanically distinct’. I don’t mean power creep, where a new power is just flat-out better than an old power – that’s a separate problem – I mean that a new power provides a win button for a specific scenario that was previously tricky but possible to navigate, or that a new power makes a previously impassable obstacle passable. To pull an example from D&D, when a wizard hits level 9 and gains teleport a whole class of encounters becomes irrelevant. The new mechanical option invalidates those challenges. When a level 9 wizard’s player picks up the Spell Compendium… it’s all over.

Compare and contrast with 4e D&D, where all the extra races, powers and magic items really only amount to new ways to win in combat** (leaving non-combat challenges intact), or FATE, where you have an almost-infinite range of possible characters but new mechanical ways to solve problems are limited to stunts or powers (depending on which version of FATE you’re using).

So that’s why D&D 3.5 and Exalted are off the list of games I’d be willing to run these days, and why the aggressive proliferation of supplements for Pathfinder is increasingly driving me away. I have better things to do with my time than spend it tracking game spaces.

*Or you can ban all these new sources, but I find that problematic for a couple of reasons. First is the battle of wills that you must undergo with the player who wants something from the new source. Much like corporate law, ‘my game, my rules’ is a very straightforward concept with less than straightforward execution. Second is when the new material is actually a good thing – if it’s rich in flavour and cool stuff, for example, or if it fixes problems with the game as it stands. It’s good to let this stuff in, but it might still screw with your planned challenges.

**With a few notable exceptions, like that warlock utility power (level 2) that grants an at-will one-square teleport. In combat it’s underwhelming but out of combat it makes the warlock a challenge-dodging machine. The only thing that can stop him going where he pleases is a wall at least five feet thick.

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