Tuesday, October 29, 2013

D&D Next: Surprise

I am somewhat astonished that the D&D Next playtest packet has no rule for Surprise. It simply says "The DM determines who is Surprised." How far D&D has wandered from its roots that such a core provision isn't deemed important enough to be playtested...

At any rate, here is my House Rule for Surprise in D&D Next, using the preferred d20 engine.

First the DM determines whether any side of the encounter is Hidden or in the open. A Hidden force has taken the time to lay an ambush, either because they know the other side is coming (aka, an ambush) or they are opportunistically waiting for the next mark to come along (like bandits).

If one side is Hidden, the approaching side makes a Perception contest opposed by the hiding side's Stealth roll. Depending on how much time or effort has been invested into Hiding (making blinds, wearing special camouflaged clothing, or deploying helpful magic), the Hiding party can have a significant bonus to their role. Success indicates that the approaching side notices the hidden side before being attacked. Failure means that everyone on the approaching side is Surprised.

If both parties are in the open (as with a random encounter, or if a band of adventurers stumbles into a monster's lair), both sides make a Perception check opposed by the other's Perception check. Each PC makes their own Perception check, but the DM may group monsters for this purpose. Winning the Perception contest by 5 or more means that you were paying more attention and thereby gain one round of Actions while the other side is Surprised. Any results with 5 or less points difference means that no one is Surprised and initiative is rolled normally.

Characters or Monsters that are in the open may be Alert, Relaxed, or Distracted. Most of the time, you are Relaxed, even when in a dungeon, as maintaining an Alert status requires a WIS check each turn (DC 10), and once lost cannot be regained for 1 hour. Alert characters or monsters have Advantage when making Perception checks, and Distracted characters or monsters have Disadvantage. Sleeping or unconscious entities are automatically Surprised.

Once Surprise is determined in a dungeon or urban environment, multiply the highest successful Perception roll by 5 to determine the initial distance between the parties in feet. In the Wilderness the multiplier is 30 feet. If there are no successful Perception checks, the Hidden party dictates the encounter distance.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Basic Iron Heroes

Before Numenera or Ptolus, Monte Cook released Iron Heroes, a game I have some fond memories of. Iron Heroes was a d20 engine game, and its primary design difference from D&D 3.x was the idea that characters were inherently bad-ass and not dependent on magic swords and armor to stay ahead of the monstrous adversaries. A 10th level fighter with a rusty knife would be nearly as dangerous as one wielding Excalibur. It's not the sword, but the arm that wields it.

I want to offer a rule that recreates that in OD&D or Basic. Towards that end I offer two house rule ideas, one very simple and the other a bit more complex.
Very Simple: Give Fighters and Demi-humans a +1 to-hit and damage at 2nd level. This is over and above their normal to-hit progression and weapon damage. The bonus increases by another +1 every three levels beyond that (4th, 7th, 10th, 13th). Ignore bonuses from magic weapons.
See? Simple. However, personally, I find this unsatisfying. You see, one my "problems" with the current status of D&D combat is that your AC and damage are more or less fixed at 1st level (or whenever you buy plate armor), and never improve without magic. Meanwhile your Hit Points and To-Hit improve with level. But you know what's weird about that? If To-hit improves but AC doesn't, your odds of hitting get ridiculously good pretty quickly, to the point where it's hardly worth rolling. Meanwhile your damage per round becomes fairly inconsequential relative to the number of Hit Points your opponents have. It's like "En guarde! I will now nibble you to death!".

The only thing that keeps the above death-nibble phenomena from getting out of hand is the magic item bonus to damage. And while we have provided that with the Very Simple Fix I proposed above, I want to also propose a system where To-hit is fixed relative to AC at 1st level, and Damage output scales with Hit Points and Hit Dice.

Towards that end I threw together this quick spreadsheet computing the number of rounds it would take a fighter of a given level to kill an opponent of the same number of Hit Dice. This is not a fancy spreadsheet, and does not account for damage dealt back to the fighter or any other factors. However, crude as it may be, it allows us to at least ballpark what sort of numbers would be required to keep a damage-scaling Fighter competitive with player expectations formed by the to-hit-and-magic scaling fighter.

Here's the link to the spreadsheet again. Please note there are two sheets, and the important table is on the second one.

For those who don't want to click through, or find the formatting difficult to read for some reason (like you're on mobile) here's the summary of what a damage scaling fighter would look like:

At Level 1 a fighter has +4 to-hit and a damage multiplier of x1 (this multiplies the number of dice of damage his weapon does).

To-hit only increases a small amount - +5 at 5th, +6 at 10th, +7 at 15th. The reason for having a to-hit bonus at all is that I wanted something to set the fighter apart from the non-fighter classes at 1st level.

The damage multiplier increases 1 step every 3 levels. x2 at 4th, x3 at 7th, x4 at 10th, etc. You can interpret this either as a single blow that does 4d8+8 damage, or as four attacks that do 1d8+2 each. Personally I prefer the latter, as it allows a high-level fighter the option of attacking multiple weak opponents.

Magic items give a +1 to-hit and to damage, but that's the best they ever do.  It's not the sword, but the arm that wields it. Presumably in this campaign, magic items are wielded for secondary reasons, like the ability to detect the presence of orcs, rather than for flat numerical bonuses.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Top Ten Troll Question Part Two

(1). Should energy drain take away one level of experience points from the character? Yes or No? If no, what should level drain do?

I have house rules that require you to roll your Hit Dice to do stuff, as a measure of your vitality and power. So Energy Drain reduces your current Hit Dice pool. 

(2). Should the oil used in lanterns do significant damage (more than 1 hp in damage) if thrown on an opponent and set on fire? Yes or No? If yes, how much damage should it do?

1D3 per round, for 3 rds or until extinguished. 

(3). Should poison give a save or die roll, with a fail rolled indicating instant death? Yes or No? If no, how should game mechanics relating to poison work?

No. All poisons acting the same way is boring. There should be poisons that make you Chaotic, or insane, or induce full-body paralysis for a week. 

(4). Do characters die when they reach 0 hit points? Yes or No? If no, then at what point is a character dead?

Roll of the Grievous Injury table. Maybe you'll just lose an eye. And if you die, the reason is specific (Oooh! Gut wound! All your internal organs spill out onto the floor.)

It's sort of hard to explain how much more fun the game is to die in hilariously specific ways.

(5). Does the primary spell mechanic for a magic user consist of a "memorize and forget system" (aka Vancian)? Yes or No? If no, what alternative do you use?

Basically everyone is a 3e Sorcerer. 

(6). Should all weapons do 1d6 damage or should different weapons have varying dice (1d4, 1d8, etc...) for damage?

Variable damage. I also offer variable to-hit bonuses.  Choices with consequences are good. 

(7). Should a character that has a high ability score in their prime requisite receive an experience point bonus? Yes or No?


(8). Should a character with an strength of 18 constitution get a +3 bonus to hit points, or a +2 bonus to hit points, or a +1 bonus to hit points or no bonus to hit points? And should other ability scores grant similar bonuses to other game mechanics?

What crazy edition are you playing? I play Basic by the book in this regard. 

(9). Should a character have 1 unified saving throw number, or 3 saving throw types based on ability scores (reflex, fortitude, will), or 5 types based on potential game effects (magic wand, poison attacks)? or something else?

I have five generic Saves: Might, Fortitude, Dodge, Deflect, and Will. 

Deflect is modified by your Shield bonus to AC, not a stat. 

(10). Should a cleric get (A) 1 spell at 1st level  (B) no spells at 1st level (C) more than 1 spell at 1st level?

Bonus spells from high Wisdom at 1st level, if any.