Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pearl of Portal

I had an idea for a magic item over the weekend. I can not in any way claim much creativity for it, as you'll see. The flavor of this item should be different between OSR and D20, so I'm providing both versions. Needless to say, if you like one version over the other, don't let my arbitrary preconceptions get in your way of your game.

Pearls of Portal, Swords&Wizardry/OSG Edition

The Pearls of Portal are a matched set of flawless but otherwise unremarkable pearls, often stored together in a small felt pouch. To use the pearls, first touch them together, then place (or throw) one of them to another location no more than 360 feet away. While touching the pearl you still have, speak the command phrase ("the cake is a lie") and you will instantly be transported to the other pearl. Transportation works in both directions, and includes any items you are carrying and up to two friends with whom you are holding hands.  The pearl does not teleport with you, and if you were holding it, drops to the ground where you were standing.

You may use the pearls to teleport 3 times per day, after which the pearls must be reunited and exposed to moonlight for at least an hour before they can be used again.

Pearls of Portal, D20 "High Magic" Edition

Pearls of Portal are a matched pair of flawless pearls with a limited dweomer placed on them. To use the pearls, touch them together, then leave (or throw, etc.) one pearl wherever you wish. To activate the pearls, hold the pearl in one hand and speak the command phrase ("the cake is a lie"), and you and anyone else holding onto the hand with the pearl will be instantly teleported to the other pearl. Both pearls are consumed by this action. The pearls have a maximum range of 100 feet, and cost 1000gp.

Essentially these are a Dimension Door spell (Wiz4) crafted into a wonderous item that uses one of a pair of pearls as the destination. The S&W version is a permanent item that needs a "ritual" to recharge, the d20 version is more like a scroll or potion, and is priced accordingly. Players will hopefully come up with clever ways to place the target pearl (slings, henchmen, monsters who believe they found a treasure, etc.) and in the case of the S&W version, will hopefully be equally inventive about how they plan to retrieve the pearl(s) once they have used them. (Remember, the pearls do not transport themselves - someone has to go get them.)

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Just a quick shout out to "Standard Action"

I just wanted to make a quick shout-out to "Standard Action", a fun web-series that chronicles the events of some adventurers in a D&D 3E/Pathfinder-inspired game world. They're going for funding to make more episodes, and they've already reached their first goal, so the only question now is how far will they make it?

The episodes are admittedly "low budget" level productions, though to be honest the video quality and makeup is surprisingly good for the shoestring budget they must have, and the writing is entertaining if you're a D20 geek. (And if you're not, why are you reading a gaming blog?) If you've seen "The Gamers: Dorkness Rising", (and if you haven't, you should) that's a similar level of production, though I think Standard Action's costuming and effects are a touch better.

Search for them on YouTube and watch the first two seasons. As you might expect, the second season is more polished than the first, but the first season has some fun moments in it. The cast and crew has a lot of heart and clearly loves what they're doing. It's no Raimey production (alas), but I like to throw a few extra bucks and projects like this, especially ones that make me smile, which this one did.

So check 'em out and see if you feel compelled to drop a few bucks in their tip jar as thanks for the laughs and funds for the next installment.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

So What's This "Swords & Wizardry" Thing Anyway?

The very short answer is, S&W is a "Retro-Clone" of the old, original Dungeons and Dragons game.

The complete rules are online at http://www.d20swsrd.com/, and you can buy printed copies from the same site. The same site gives a good description of S&W's goals and history. Much like their Pathfinder sister site, the d20swsrd is an invaluable resource for search for rules and such. Also, the downloads section contains character sheets, adventures and other aids.

"Why not just play the old D&D?" you ask? S&W has cleaned up many inconsistencies and vague wordings, and has added optional rules to smooth over some of the clunkier aspects of the original D&D, such as the crazy "low is good" armor class system. S&W includes both that system and a more d20-ish "ascending AC" system, which is supported through all of their creature lists and such. For gamers like me who have lived through the "to hit" tables and THACO, I'm happy to have the modern system available, as in my opinion it is the "right way" to do AC.

And, more subjectively, I believe Matt Finch's (the author of S&W) writing style is very clear and engaging. I first read S&W when I got a copy from the Reaper Kickstarter, and reading it made me want to play so much that I ordered the hardback version from Frog God Games.

A nifty innovation of S&W is that there is only a single save number, which is used for all saving throws. The author did include the original save table as an optional rule, but the standard S&W save is a single number. Certain classes get bonuses for different kinds of saves, such as the Magic User's "+2 for saves against effects caused by spells". At first, I wasn't sure about this system, but the more I use it the more I like it. The old system was often vague (is a wand of petrification a paralyze/petrify or a wand save?). Also, others have suggested using the Save for any situation that requires a throw of some sort that isn't covered by another rule, since the save improves with level. I've used it for a "three strikes" type of death system, sort of like 4e's, where once you drop to zero hitpoints, you must make saves each round until you either pass three and stabilize or fail three and die. A friend can stabilize you as their round's action.

Well, that's it. If you're at all intrigued, head on over to the SRD site and see what you think.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Traveller version of the Spectrum of Awesome

Following the excellent idea proposed on Venger's old-school gaming blog, I have adapted his "Spectrum of Awesome" table to work with Traveller's 2d6 idiom as opposed to Venger's original percentile system. Visit his link to get the basic concept, which I won't repeat here.

Note that my probabilities are not exactly the same as his, and since 2d6 has 11 "bins" that do not map directly to Venger's 9 categories, this is not a direct conversion anyway.

I've provided two variants - Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller. In both cases, I've "repurposed" existing game mechanisms to get a similar effect.

The CT version applies SoA principles to CT's reaction table. If you determine that the players have advantage, add a +1 DM to the roll. And naturally, apply a -1 DM for a disadvantage. The original reaction table has "critical fail' rolls, which I have retained. It does not have "critical success" rolls, so I've left them out as well. Complications should be things like, "got away but dropped something important" and mitigating factors would be things like, "captured, but were able to hide a weapon on you before you were thrown in jail".

Spectrum of Awesome, Classic Traveller Style
2 ~ critical failure, worst possible result
3 ~ failure, critical failure on 5+
4 ~ failure. critical failure on 8+
5 ~ simple failure.
6 ~ borderline failure, impose mitigating factors
7 ~ stalemate, mixed result; some success and some failure
8 ~ borderline success, impose complications
9 ~ minor success
A ~ solid success
B ~ high degree of success
C ~ critical success, best possible result

The Mongoose Traveller version is really just the standard MgT task roll against an average difficulty.

Spectrum of Awesome, Mongoose Traveller Style
Throw 2D, Average Difficulty
6+ ~ critical success, best possible result, +2 to relevant follow-on tests
1 to 5 ~ Average success, +1 modifier for relevant follow-on tests
0 ~ success with complications
-1 ~ failure with possibility of recovery by accepting complications
-1 to -5 ~ Average failure
-6 ~ Exceptional failure

Friday, April 5, 2013

Twilight's Peak Preparations

I have a large-sized group willing to subject themselves to my attempt to referee (what Traveller calls "Dungeon Masters") the Classic Traveller Adventure #3, Twilight's Peak.

Hopefully none of my players will google the adventure and get spoilers. I'll avoid spoilers on this blog as well.

I am still deciding if I'm going to use Classic Traveller+DGP Task System or Mongoose Traveller. I'm sure I'll continue to angst about it until the game starts, and none of the players has expressed a preference yet.

The setup is simple - the players are captain and crew of an old merchant starship, the Empress Nicholle, which is just about to set out on a trading journey down the local branch of the "Spinward Main". The Spinward Main is a chain of star systems with no more than one parsec between any two systems in the chain. The 'main meanders and branches around the sector, and provides a slow and steady route for inexpensive Jump-1 capable ships to traverse. "Tramp" freighters are the lifeblood of those marginal backwaters that the big boys with their fancy high-jump number drives just jump over.

The Empress Nicholle is of a class of ships known as "Far Traders", which means that she can make 2 parsecs per jump - In theory. Unfortunately, her jump drive is old and run down, and can only make Jump-1. To fix (really, replace) her drive will cost 3.5 million credits, which is a whole lot more money than the crew has lying around. Getting that money is the owner's primary reason for taking on this trade mission. The rest of the crew will have their own reasons, but will also be expecting to make money.

The plan is simple: cruise down the 'main, looking for sweet deals and bulk cargo when there are no deals, and maybe (ok, definitely) do some "odd jobs" to cover for the inevitable dry runs. If they get lucky, they'll find leads relating to even more wealth. The Empress can theoretically carry passengers, but there are few enough staterooms that most will be occupied by the crew. Still, passengers often pay lots of money, and it could be worth it to double-bunk for a few dozen extra Kilocredits from time to time. You never know.

Being an "old school game", this will be a semi-linear sandbox. Semi-Linear, because their ship in its current condition can only go further down or back up the 'main, and will have only a few branches to choose from. "Sandbox", because though I plan to have possible encounters and patrons planned out for each world they visit, there are very few if any "must do" missions in the story line. (There *is* a story line though.)

I'm going to rely on the players to handle the ship's finances on their own. I'll tell them their costs and present mercantile opportunities to them, but aside from the crew charter, it will be up to them to decide how they want to split things up. Since only the captain has an ownership stake in the ship, I suspect the first order of business might be to work out how they intend to save up for their new jump drive, and if other players will "invest" their own cut in the venture. (Spoiler alert - they are not going to be able to make enough money hauling bulk cargo to buy the new drive.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Traveller Damage in Various Incarnations

Traveller, in its "Classic", "Mega" and "Mongoose" incarnations (the only versions I have access to) has an interesting system for tracking wounds. Here are some random thoughts about this system.

Rather than abstract "hitpoints", damage is tracked by reducing your three physical stats (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance) directly. If for example your Dexterity is damaged, you're going to have more trouble firing weapons or doing delicate tasks. The details vary by version, but essentially when you "zero" one stat, you are lightly wounded, when you "zero" two you are seriously wounded and require surgery, and zeroing all three means you're dead. (Death can be averted in some versions by quick application of medical procedures.)

Oddly, animals and vehicles use a different system, where they list the number of points needed to incapacitate, and the number of additional points to kill. They don't worry about "stats".

Classic Traveller is the most straightforward. All damage is in "Hits", where each "hit" is 1d6 points of damage. Armor makes you harder to hit, but if you do successfully attack the target, you roll the Hits of damage immediately, applying each whole dice to a random stat. (We always played that you could choose the stat, because that's more fun.) The first hit in any combat is supposed to come entirely off of one stat, on the theory that your first wound could knock you unconscious. I use that rule for "mooks", but not important characters. For animals, the points all go against their "hit points".

MegaTraveller takes a different approach. You add your physical stats together to get a "lifeforce rating", which indexes a table that gives you an animal-style "incapacitate/kill" hitpoint track. The difference from CT is, these numbers are in "hits" not "damage points". Armor in MT reduces the number of hits (possibly to zero), and only after combat do you take all hits and then apply them to the stats of combatants you care about (usually only PCs). The downside of MT armor is that the rules for penetration are complex and involve a somewhat complicated set of fractions. It's no worse than THAC0 in D&D 2e, but it lacks the immediacy of "roll to hit, roll damage".

Mongoose goes the exact other direction, giving animals physical stats, but specifying that the first hits always come from Endurance. Damage is rolled at the time of attack, and armor blocks damage points. MgT armor seems much less effective than CT and MT armor, but I believe that's a side effect of how they brought the MT armor values over.

I've always found CT's "armor modifies your chance to be hit" to be an odd abstraction. For example, rifles get a big bonus to shoot at unarmored targets, and it's practically impossible not to hit someone at 10 meters with a shotgun. Someone posted a "fix" for this that involves first rolling to hit without armor modifiers, then rolling to hit with ONLY armor modifiers to see if you penetrate. I like this idea a lot, especially since against unarmored opponents, it generally means that you won't need to bother rolling penetration because the hit will be automatic. However, I feel like that system would work better with MT's "track the hits, roll the points later" approach.

T20, being a D20 derivative, has an interesting take on damage. "Hit Points" are renamed to "Stamina", and you always take damage to your Stamina when you are hit. At zero stamina, you pass out, but are not seriously wounded. In addition, you have Constitution worth of "Lifeblood", which you only lose if the damage penetrates your armor or you are unconscious when you take the damage. So in other words, get shot without armor, and you'll probably die, no matter how high level you are. But a veteran is going to be able to keep going a LONG time with some decent armor. I like this system a lot, and it would be interesting to try to graft it on to a more standard version of Traveller.

Something to think about for another entry....

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Traveller - have I come full circle?

I found a piece of what for me is Traveller Archaeology - a full set of Megatraveller rule books, and a ton of DGP's "Traveller's Digest" issues. The TD was DGP's version of the old "Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society", which in turn was basically like "Dragon Magazine", but only for Traveller instead of D&D.

The Traveller's Digest articles are always a ton of fun to read, and the style of adventure presentation DGP had is to me much more evocative than GDW's style. Even if I'd only picked those magazines up, I'd be a happy man. But the Megatraveller rules, now that's really something to dig into.

Megatraveller (which uses the abbreviation "MT" on the web) came out almost exactly a year after I stopped playing Traveller. So though I was aware of its existence, I never saw a copy in person until now. In fact, it turns out that I'd confused it with "Traveller: The New Era" in my mind, which as it turns out is a very different game system whose rules I also have never read.

The MT rules are very much like a straight-line extrapolation from Classic Traveller (CT). If you're fluent in "D&D speak", MT is the AD&D 2e to CT's OD&D. The analogy is very apt, since MT adds a TON of chrome and optional rules in supplements, and even the basic rules are considerably more full than CT, though the core concept of character creation is nearly identical. As an example, the core CT has 6 "services" you can join to gain skills (analogous to D&D classes), but core MT has 18! MT  adopts a uniform task system and then re-creates the entire Traveller game around it. CT has skills to, and though there was a certain logic to how they work, MT takes the concept way beyond anything CT offers. (DGP did actually publish a version of their task system for use with CT. This system was popular enough that it ended up in MT.)

The down side of MT is that along with the chrome comes complexity. Ship design is wonderfully expanded, differentiating hull displacement from mass, specifying in great detail the type and power requirements of various ship subsystems (sensors, inertial compensators, etc.) that are hand-waved away in CT, etc. Combat is more rational than CT, and unifies person, animal and vehicle damage systems. There are MANY tasks listed for first aid, repair, etc., to take advantage of the new (and yummy) task system, etc. But because of all this flavor, MT loses much of CT's "rules light" charm. (You know, just like when OD&D became AD&D....)

As I read MT's rules, I do so not so much with the intent of playing MT, but maybe of raiding MT for ideas to port to CT. I've very seriously considered simply using the DGP task system with CT and hand-waving in some sensor rules. I'll leave CT's combat system alone, but adopt MT's initiative/interrupt system, and I'll use MT's "life force" rules for minions.

On the other hand,

I've been an on-again-off-again fan of Mongoose's Traveller (MgT), which I used to believe was a "modernized CT". But I'm reaching the conclusion that MgT is actually a "trimmed down MT". Could it be that I've been going about this all wrong, and that MgT is really the Traveller that I'm looking for? MgT has a unified task system (similar but not identical to MT's) and a lightly more detailed ship design system than CT.

I still think that MgT has dropped the ball on certain details, and their task system encourages the "playbook" style of role playing that I want to avoid. But I wonder, would I be better served by bringing some MT into MgT, playing MT straight-up, or using MT rules to flavorize CT?

Something to ponder as I prepare to run "Twilight's Peak" for some friends....

Side Note: I mentioned a few posts ago that I got T20, which I now recognize as being very much a D20 version of MT - plenty of crunchy details wrapped around a D20 engine - but I've found character generation in T20 to be very confusing. Much of the stuff in T20 that got me so excited appears to have been extrapolated from MT. That doesn't diminish the coolness of T20, and T20 may still have the best combat and damage model of any Traveller I've seen, but unless my players are willing to do some studying on their own (some will be, some won't), I need to stick to a Traveller that is easy to use.