quinta-feira, 16 de novembro de 2017

Them Bones of Adventure - VIII: Chases

Continuing my exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats & rules, which began here with part one.


Now for chases, prelude or blood-pumping alternative to fighting. The DMG offers a couple of example tables for chases. It so happens that the system’s both mechanically lackluster and a gaping sinkhole of prep, so no. What I need is a good universal mechanic, I’ll worry with a chase’s particulars pending its context. 

I found it interesting (and problematic) how the system forced me to separately account for both the distinct stat of movement speed and sometimes-contrasting ability scores, namely Dexterity, ultimately leading me to decide to integrate both stats under a single mechanic.

The Crunchy Bits

Step zero is determining if a chase is actually what is going to take place and not a turtle and hare situation. Vastly differing speeds can be flatly denied the chance: there’s just no way you’re escaping on foot from a flying monstrosity on an exposed tract of moorland, but if what’s at stake is seeing if you can just reach that tree line over there in time

As well it is important to establish both a beginning and an end condition to a chase, impeding iterative and redundant chase behaviour from PC and NPC alike and ushering a resolution.

Breaking Away from Melee

Discounting special circumstances, a character that attempts to break away will be exposed to a round of opportunity attacks to the rear (read: with Advantage) from the opposition on the round he decides to turn tail and go seek the better part of valour.

- While Disengaging and Moving are good enough for a fighting retreat, a proper escape requires a Dash and can’t be initiated if a character is hit by a melee attack, opportunity or otherwise, unless he passes a [Dexterity Save (DC = higher of 10 or Damage Taken)].

- Likewise, if struck by a missile weapon during a chase, a character must make a [Constitution Save (DC = higher of 10 or Damage Taken)] or lose half his progress for the round.

- If the attempt to break away is successful, the character will now be running away, a first roll dictating the starting distance away from the opposition who may then attempt pursuit, turning the situation into a chase.

The Thrill of the Chase

1. Define the type of chase – the key to the nature of a chase is its context and from there to one of the three physical stats, naturally aided by training in athletics:

Short, sudden burst-speed chases in crowded and obstacle-rich contexts, such as in an urban environment rely on Dexterity. Mid-distance, even-grounded athletic chases, free of obstacles, are a contest of Strength, both are measured in feet and take at most a couple of in-game minutes to resolve.

Protracted chases such as made overland by parties spread far apart but within visual contact or being followed through tracking end up subsuming the above considerations of who moves slightly faster than whom and resolve into a slog, represented best by Constitution as what counts in the end is the stamina to endure the chase and distance is gained or lost by how much time is spent recovering and catching breath and not so much on how hard a party pushes itself at a given moment.

The shorter chases, being quick to decide, won’t usually offer a great deal of options. If within a dungeon or other constrained environment, I’ll describe everything only in the broadest strokes and try to keep in mind that space is usually very limited and time is of the essence. Protracted instances on the other hand can be much more rich and fluid in terms of choice, as this kind of chase tipically lasts from several minutes to hours (even days, depending on how open the terrain happens to be and how easy to track the quarry is) and the progress will be measured accordingly (Hundreds of meters and Kms or yards and miles for imperial scum).

2. Adjudicate how far apart the two entities begin. This will be a dynamic total, adjusted as the chase unfolds and distance is gained or lost. If the distance between participants was not set in stone prior to the chase’s commencement, it will be now.

Keeping unified track of everyone will require a dice array or a diagram on a sheet of graph paper, it being important to emphasize both the evolving distance between the two parties and how much ground the chase itself covers. I’ll default to applying the “each square = 5 feet” scale, as yet unsure if it’ll hold properly to ensure the desired effect.

3. Roll as needed until resolution is reached:

Short Chases

- Extended check of [Movement Speed + Rolled Dexterity/Strength (+ Athletics proficiency die)], contested by the opposition.

- A character who doesn’t devote his full concentration to running, with the player dithering, asking questions or taking some other action will lose half his movement for the round.

- Fumbling means the character was faced with a context-appropriate obstacle and must roll to save or lose his round of movement.

Each character’s movement in a round is thus a number of feet resulting from the summed total of the character’s speed with the rolled attribute, modified by the proficiency die if trained in athletics. I choose to use the proficiency die here to lend a bit more weight to athletics training than just the flat “+2”, which would otherwise be of too little consequence in a typical 40’+ total.

Protracted Chases

Accounting for scale and the fact that a group moves roughly at the speed of its slowest element, differences in movement speed between parties will get shrunk into irrelevance unless they’re noticeable (difference in speed of 10’+) and shared by all the members of a group, in which case an adjunct roll of d4 to d8 can be added to the main check. Overland progress will depend on how close the chase is taking place with the time-compression deriving from that, which can range from something like “furlongs of progress/hourly roll” to “miles of progress/daily roll”.

- Extended and contested single group roll of [Constitution] as the party is being pursued for hours over a long distance with visual contact (possible on a desert or mountainside chase) or tracked over several days through the snow.

- A unified group roll is a single d20 roll made with the worst modifier available in the party, this roll does not count as being made by any particular character and is not subject to effects that do not extend to the whole of the party.

Harsh? Yes, a bit. But I prefer fresh-faced harshness to the illogical incoherence (not to mention statistical trap) of collective rolls as prescribed by the PHB, that reads that “the stronger characters help cover for the weaker ones” in some way that until today utterly escapes my reckoning.

Mounted Chases and others
Mounted or vehicle chases will use the mount's Speed but rely on the rider's Dexterity, with the roll's total capped by the mount's own Dexterity or Strength if we're talking a ponderous type of beast.

Climbing, Swimming or Rowing chases will be the province of Strength.

Even erring on the side of generosity with the game’s assumption of average competence level for all characters (i.e. all characters are old-school fighters and then have some additional capabilities slapped on top), more specialized means of transportation will forcibly require training in the relevant skill (Athletics or Animal Handling) or some other background-specific means of determining aptitude at a given challenge or the roll be made at Disadvantage.


For short chases, upon fulfilling one of these conditions, the fleeing party will have escaped:

- Reaching a predetermined distance to shelter.

- Putting such a distance from pursuers as to be able to effortlessly hide, this distance varying in an inverse proportion to the amount of sight-obscuring features:

- City, heavily wooded tract: twice the pursuers’ running distance

- Town, mildly wooded grounds: three times the pursuers’ running distance

- Hills, light woods, rocky outcrops: five times the pursuers’ running distance

The examples above rely on heavy abstraction, being subject to be superseded in play by a better defined lay of the land. A typical example being the dungeon, a place concrete to the point of being mapable and where thorough searches are much more likely to occur and be successful, no matter the distance.

- Attempting to hide even if not conforming to anything approaching the above might still be possible, but it will require rolls.

- The pursuers, if unintelligent, becoming distracted or disinterested. For this I thank 5th edition’s exhaustive stat-blocking, for it will be decided by a Wisdom check.

- The pursuers becoming discouraged by a difficult to traverse hazard (again, WIS or relevant check, no DM fiat).

- The pursuers becoming tired of the chase. Here’s a placeholder for the link to where I’ll dwell further on this.

Long chases will by necessity have to be treated in a more case-specific fashion, though tiredness will always definitely apply.

Closing Thoughts – Cutting Loose

On short chases, a party on the run will naturally get spread apart due to the differing movement and progress rates, the distance between parties being measured from the front chaser to the tailing element of the quarry.

If dealing with groups of characters, the unified party roll represents the fastest of the chasers and the slowest element of the quarry, depending on the roller’s role in the chase, the remaining individuals of each group, if any, being presumed to be in close proximity.

I’m thinking, if a group expresses the desire to, it could ponder cutting loose a lead-footed element, the party choosing to abandon the man who drags his feet to his luck rather than face the consequences, making for some good drama if we’re talking henchmen or – Gods forbid – PCs. This would net the party a better modifier, signifying the party’s timely letting go of someone who is struggling to keep up or unable to continue altogether and is dragging the group down.

What this (or these) disavowed element might then do is up for guessing. Attempt a splinter chase, try to hide or even stage a noble time-buying sacrifice, all are within the realm of possibility. I get that this is controversial and not something that I’d enforce or encourage, just entertaining the thought.

quinta-feira, 9 de novembro de 2017

Them Bones of Adventure - VII: Resting & Striking Camp

Continuing my exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats & rules, which began here with part one.


Slow and measured health replenishment through natural means, yet another solid borderland fort in the great divide between new and old school gaming; Once yesteryear’s reliance on magical healing to bridge the five-minute adventuring day became passé, the trend now in vogue is the “Wipe Away All Bad Things” reset button. If you go to sleep, you wake up fully charged, just like a cellular phone. This will obviously not do.

Despite my grip on the rudder ever itching me to sail unto where the water’s foamiest, I’ve got to consider that tightening the net too much can get my game to a point where I will no longer be able to draw proper use out of the Monster Manual (in my view, fifth edition’s strongest book), whose entries invariably cause a rather drastic amount of damage, no doubt balanced to keep up with 5E’s ludicrous pace of healing. Given that the resting and healing options in the DMG are nothing but a joke, it’s time to break out the trusty hack-saw once more.

Quality Time

There are certain things that I set out wishing would get at least the semblance of an answer: what if a party can’t rest the full prescribed amount of time? What if a character’s rest is disturbed partway through the night? What about rests made in worse than usual conditions? Or better than average conditions, for that matter?

By associating the benefits of rest to both its duration and its quality, I propose a system that slightly complicates but yet strives to be also intuitive and, importantly, reworks rest into an associated mechanic, pulling away from its excessively gamist present form.

Note: I fully subscribe to the “Hp as admixture of Grit and Physical Fitness” paradigm.

The Crunchy Bits

Below are the standard rules for resting, which come in three flavours:

Pause or Breather

- A ten minute lull from exertion to recover breath, drink some water and regain composure. Taking one has no direct tangible benefits but not taking one when prescribed will cost 1 Hp. One such sample occasion is immediately after a combat.

Short Rest

- A wakeful pause of one hour. Character recovers 1 Hp per Level, with no influence from Constitution modifiers.

Long or Extended Rest

- Any rest longer than one hour. The hours need not be wholly filled with sleep but periods of wakefulness must still be spent in relative quiet, without any strenuous activity (allowing for 2-hour watches during the night).

- On a partial or interrupted reast, a character recovers a rolled amount of Hp per HD, applying only negative Constitution modifiers and the remainder of each roll then being capped by the number of hours spent resting, with a minimum of 1 hp recovered per die.

- An uninterrupted rest that reaches or exceeds eight hours drops the above time cap and allows for positive Constitution modifiers to the rolls. Once per day, this will also unlock the recovery of Spells. If a character is Exhausted, he receives the minimum possible amount of Hp and reduces his Exhaustion level by one instead of rolling.

- Exceptional resting conditions such as lavishly appointed rooms allow for a number of re-rolls, keyed to the extra quality of the boarding.

Sleeping Under the Stars

The above entries are meant as applied to civilization, when sojourning in a room. Rests are treated slightly differently when in the Wilderness.

Pauses and a Short Rests require only mild conditions or basic shelter to be engaged in, Extended Rests and their benefits are more difficult to unlock while in the wild. Exceptional conditions are but a hazy and distant dream once outside the pale of civilization.

Finding Shelter & Striking Camp

Striking camp is a freeform process rather than a strictly procedural mechanic, the better to allow for player contribution to shine through. Players can ask for pretty much anything within the bounds of logic, but it all starts with finding shelter.

Finding shelter while exploring is done simply by spending time of day to find one (conventionally a couple of hours). Finding an exceptional spot suitable for pitching a camp will either have to be done within context of the narration, due to some concrete place found by the party during the running that is noted as fitting the purpose or rolled for by the party's scout as a [Wisdom (Survival)] check that will cost the same two hours for less certain gain. This roll will abstractly account for both expertise in intuiting where to find the desired conditions but also represent the serendipity of these conditions existing at all.

The DC for the survival roll will begin at 10 (assuming hospitable weather and terrain in a temperate climate) and increase by 1-4 for every particular quality desired by the party. Even on a failure, a roll total of at least 10 will always ensure that basic shelter is found, rolling less means that the party got sidetracked in its ranging quest for the ideal conditions and wasted the time alloted for the skill check. A fumble means they find more than what they bargained for.

Here is a non-exhaustive sampler of camp site qualities that a party can attempt to secure:

- Shelter – this one’s graded from Minimum through Light and Medium up to Heavy (still working the descriptors). Whether through reduced exposure or better temperature insolation, suffice to say that higher levels of shelter translate into better healing on long rests.

- Water Access

- Access to Dry Firewood

- Drainage

- Defensibility

- Hidden Access

- Observation Capability

I equally associate a baseline of roughly an hour for a party to accomplish all camp-related activities – the drudgework of taking off armour, unloading equipment, pitching tents, fetching water and firewood, digging ditches, a firepit and maybe a latrine as well as prepping the evening’s meal.

Extended Rests away from Civilization

- In the Wilderness, each HD used to roll for Hp recovery starts out as a “d1” for basic shelter and layers of creature comfort are then added to it, enbiggening the die with each existing camp ammenity: 1 to d2 to d3, etc, up to a maximum of the character’s class hit die. Conversely, for any discomforting elements present in the camp grounds, reduce the rest die size accordingly.

Note that the above determines the type of dice that are rolled, their total being also still capped by the number of hours spent actually resting, as per a standard long rest.

Again I resort to freeform declaration, as player input is ever the most important thing and engagement is what I’m after. To be counted, all comforts have to be described verbally and have to imply either:

- Securing a better than average shelter as described above;

- Some reusable but encumbering possession such as blankets, weather-appropriate clothing, tents or a tinderbox.

(Tents get a special mention because they allow for Basic Shelter even when none is otherwise found, meaning they can replace their role as improver of shelter for that of provider, as long as they’re weather-appropriate).

- Perishable resources (either brought as supplies or foraged for in the wild), such as firewood, water, food, liquor;

- Soul-warming entertainment: an exceptional cook, a bard or a camp follower;

Closing Thoughts – Unbound Inhospitable Conditions

Systems that hinge on weather conditions are always very voluble, with a lot of assumptions having to be made. This means the above rules will definitely be subjected to a heck of a lot of improvisation and referee dowsing before I’m anywhere near happy with them and that, of course, they won't ever really cover everything.

To head off a paradigmatic question: resting in dungeons is so insanely dangerous that no rational being would manage to gather enough peace of mind to properly do it. You can have trouble sleeping on account of exams, so how to feel about warty beasties with gutting knives and rusty hooks? An hour’s wakeful rest, yes, long tracts of shuteye, only on rare and identifiable safe havens.

Beyond that, already I can see extreme cold or hot conditions messing with the baselines for finding shelter and the gradient of shelter needed for rest to be productive, due to a miriad of variable factors, possibly requiring fine-tuning. From there, one crosses over into the truly alien landscapes precipitated by the Wyrd, which habitually redefine reality and hence the game rules defining the meaning of reality. All in due time.

segunda-feira, 6 de novembro de 2017

Them Bones of Adventure - VI: Thievery

Continuing my exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats & rules, which began here with part one.


Bookending the set of skills that I’ve been covering lately – trap detection, stealth, climbing –, all of which were to some extent the traditional province of the Thief class, I now devote some attention to the remainder of the suit, though I have markedly less to say about these last few, their application being relatively straightforward and not meriting too much of an intervention systemwise, except to dispel a few misconceptions in GMing ethos.

This post comes more as aknowledgement that the fertile ground provided by the many facets of criminality is narrative in nature and not served at the table by abstraction into different systems, like having a rogue on the party enables license to access some kind of Magic: The Stealing gameplay that is otherwise walled-off.

As such, consider that taking flight with a bulging purse or assaulting the unwary will be an encounter but most other instances should be setpieces (or whole adventures) possibly enabled by a thief but requiring the whole party to come to fruition.

The Crunchy Bits


- A simple [Dexterity (Thieves Tools)] check, requiring the respective proficiency to even be attempted, DC depending on the strength of the lock, with exceptionally complicated locks requiring iterated successes. This check takes ten minutes and can be repeatedly attempted as long as there is time, although a fumble will snap the tools and jam the lock.


Marks for Pickpocketing are an urban encounter all of their own. You just don’t find pocketable goods lying around unattended or hanging from fat purses like that. In this regard, the traditional declaration of a thief player that he “stands around the middle of the square until he finds something worth scoring” is not very conducent to a productive time. In fact, this is not behaviour that will lift anyone out of poverty. It’s what a thief might do to get by and make the ends (barely) meet, but make no mistake: this here troupe of strangers, the mythic underworld and the wilderlands beckon for a very good reason.

- If the opportunity presents itself, a target in a crowd being acquired, the standard steps of seeing if a theft is possible (only for palmable objects, as bulkier items will forcibly require some subterfuge), can lead to testing [Dexterity (Sleight of Hand)] against the mark’s rolled [Wisdom (Perception)]Disadvantage can be doled out for well secured or bulky possessions, and Advantage for thick elbowing crowds or the mark being inebriated.

Sticks, Stones and Broken Bones

Two things must be impressed upon the player, as follows: first, that depending on the location, currency money is not necessarily the standard means of value exchange; it is considered technology, much like a credit card would be today, used for convenience by a moneyed elite and not by the average village dweller. Money is the preserve of large towns and cities, as the barter economy is for the rural world.

The second thing is that risks must be assessed, for getting caught stealing is bad. Really bad. Appendage-severing bad.  Most DMs would try to awkwardly shift in their seats and give their sticky-fingered player some rope, some teflon suiting that always leads to the debacle of the player misbehaving as he stretches the rope more and more in an attempt to dice-leverage gains out of the setting.

I’m no moralist: Thieves will thieve. But players must know that there’ll be dues to pay if things go awry. As such, if an angry mob seizes the thief by the neck and drags him down to the wet mud, the player will be directed to roll on the dismemberment table promptly, so as to represent what fate has in store. The non-lethal results can then be interpreted as the usual cop-out fare of “we’re rather cross with you right now but for some reason we’ll just lock you up in this here minimum security box for a fortnight and hope you’re not running any backup”. Egregious thefts can command more than one roll. The exact nature of this penalty is always to be communicated ahead of time to the would-be thief, such that the player’s risk assessment can dictate how to proceed, instead of the usual “dive in there headfirst, make an appeal to the ref’s goodwill later if the rolls don’t pan as expected”.

This may come as a shock to some, but wealth is invariably guarded; sentries are on hand and they’re no pushovers. Bad come to worse, an angry mob of people who know each other and take a dim view of foreigners may well decide to take matters into their own hands; This is not the hollywood equivalent of shifty footing, where the heroes get some sketchy sidelong glances but things never really get out of hand; No, what I’m looking to impress is the downright likelihood that a thief getting caught can very well be done for and the party end up having to join the mob howling for his blood on pain of themselves being strung by the heels and fed to a rope noose and no funeral.

Closing Thoughts - Best of the Rest: Procuring, Smuggling, Extorting, Trafficking, Defrauding, Burglarizing, Robbing, Intruding, Fencing, Counterfeiting, Pawning, Spying, Loaning, Gambling, Begging and Shell Gaming

‘Whelmed much? So am I.

As par for the course of urban adventuring, it is of course expected that players might want to get into all sorts of trouble entrepeneurial endeavours. I can’t imagine wanting (or needing) systems for any of the above other than some downtime streetwising and the occasional opposed die-toss to convince a mark at a crucial point of an interaction or some discrete applications of the stealth, chase, ambush or combat rules.

These activities may thicken the lifesblood of urban adventuring but they’re not really begging for any kind of specific treatment by themselves. In any event, from a yield to effort perspective, why should I or anyone rush to systemize a caper that a party might be engaged in a total of once or twice in a whole campaign?

Suffice to say: the play’s the thing, and if a party ever sets the bearings of a running for illicit activity in an urban setting I’ll not be one to back down on them, it’s a wide open world after all.

sexta-feira, 3 de novembro de 2017

Them Bones of Adventure - V: Stealth

Continuing my exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats & rules, which began here with part one.


The fact that the use of the Stealth skill shapes the dynamic of play at the table along with the explicitly all-or-nothing nature of its stakes turns this into a design challenge on a league of its own.

Speaking for the characters, failing at most other activities even at a level most dire can result in the loss of one character’s life, but with Stealth this can extend to the whole party: once you’ve blown an attempt, the game is up, which can mean from a chase to an unwanted combat to a whole gaggle of complications in the case of an active enemy compound.

And this without even mentioning the use of Stealth upon the party, something that will lend itself to a whole other slew of problems.

At the table management level, stealth is a black sheep insomuch as it’s generally a lone wolf activity, agressively shifting the spotlight onto the practicioner to the detriment of the rest of the group.

A Comedy of Errors

Due to the potentially huge implications of the use of Stealth, I’ve noticed it as a particularly fertile ground for the highest-horsepowered kinds of DM fiat, leading it to get either (A) brickwalled or, arguably even worse, (B) excessively rewarded. One or more of the following scenarios are commonly witnessed:

- The lone character that lopes ahead of the party scouting for trouble, defying the wishes of the DM that, witting or unwittingly, resists the behaviour and starts calling for a smattering of rolls until the poor sod fails and is forced to desist, bowed to the impossibility of ever beating the unending succession of knee-jerk hurdles as he beats a hasty retreat, possibly with pursuers right in tow, if not worse.

- The player’s subtle realization that the character specialized in stealth is comparatively called out by the DM to roll for stealth checks a lot more times than his more modestly endowed party mates, even in concretely equivalent circumstances.

- The party that clanks along with no recourse to stealth, being implicitly barred from sending out a scout by knowing he’ll always fall prey to either fiat or “rolling until failure” (cross-referencial wisdom: don’t split the party).

- The call for frontloaded stealth rolls that, for better or for worse, condition the entirety of the gameplay that follows.

- The need for the character to overcome a barrage of differentiated perception rolls from every foe in sight.

- The sundry awkwardness associated with managing information between characters who clearly are not supposed to be psychic yet behave pretty much as if they constituted a collective metasynapse.

The above statements regarding the onerous stakes of stealthing through the opposition have to be kept in mind, and it falls upon the referee and not the players the need to aknowledge their underlying cause and take the steps to refrain from driving the game into the hands of the select few with stealth aptitude. If a burden of risk is uncompromisingly affirmed by the game’s logic instead of arbitrariness, I trust that rational choice will emerge that keeps the game going in a way pleasant to all. Sometimes stealth is the desirable and inviting option, at others the forbidding one. The referee’s not directly the judge of that, the circumstances are. And these, despite being drawn up by the DM, once set into place should be gaugeable by the players.

A Gathering of Psychics

I’ve actually experimented with asking players to take a short smoking break from the table for the duration of certain solo and stealth segments (yes, I’ve been one of those guys, but in my defense, hanging with the smoker crowd kind of lent itself to the experiment); Though it served the purpose of not having the players act as though their character were psychic, once the lukewarm amusement from novelty faded I had to admit that the time spent correcting the players as they played “telephone” with the left-out crowd or even rehashing description in case the stealther took too long and the party decided to follow on his footsteps made for rather ill-spent run time.

I’m going to take a different approach now and enforce silence while the stealther goes in to do his thing. All communication with the severed party member is suspended while he’s absent, even if the scene’s not focusing on him. I’m not worried about metagaming (now there’s a windmill if ever I saw one), I’m more concerned with preserving immersion during the running.

The Crunchy Bits

Stealth is a set of means to an end, a tool in the toolbox and not something to be engaged in systematically, as it’s either not logically possible or because it would imply slowing the party’s progress to a crawl.

Procedure for engaging in Stealth:

1) It must be possible to even resort to stealth. A character can’t just vanish in the middle of a featureless corridor or clearing. Stealth represents a combination of actions and subtle physical displacement, not a cloaking device, and certain actions from NPCs can win over any attempt at stealth.

2) Just declaring stealth dispenses any immediate need for rolls, the character is simply pronounced as attempting to move quietly, with the player declaring at what speed.

3) When an creature unwittingly comes into contact with a character moving stealthily the referee privately rolls up a sensorial distance: the basic encounter spotting distance of 3d6*10’, modified by the spotter’s perception serves the purpose well.

This does not represent the full sensory reach of an NPC, merely the distance an unwary creature’s senses will pick up on nearby noise and movement depending on how distracted or attentive it happens to be at the time.

4) Upon entering the perception radius laid out above, the character needs to make a Stealth roll opposed by the creature’s Perception for every turn that he moves within it.

For simulating the ebb and flow of dynamic situations opposing living entities my gut-feeling likes contested rolls best rather than one die-toss versus a static wall of DC, such as it goes for finding objects. The rolls are made in the open, both driving tension and signalling transparency: if a character is caught at the wrong time with no support nearby, it can well be the death of him.

- [Dexterity (Stealth) vs. Wisdom (Perception)] 

The stealther wins tiebreaks against an unwary creature but loses them to an active searcher.

Groupings of creatures should usually be abstracted into one single roll, save for special circumstances (ones that the player is to be aware of beforehand).

- Moving just 5’ means Advantage on the Stealth roll;

- Up to half-move is a normal roll;

- Half to a full move is made at Disadvantage on the Stealth roll;

- Running while maintaining Stealth is impossible.

Armour or other circumstances that would imply Disadvantage in the PHB instead aggravate all the above categories, meaning it starts at a normal roll for a 5’ progress, Disadvantage for half-move, and the rest being impossible.

Closing thoughts – Uses of stealth against the player characters

Ideally, a referee ought to be able to flip a procedure around by simply reversing the roles filled by PC and NPC. In practice, managing a running occasionally necessitates that some corners end up on the cutting room floor, exercising discretion, especially if dealing with potential ambushes that put the characters’ lives on the line. 

As a sample of some shortcuts and adaptations:

- Abstracting the PCs sensorial distance into 3-6 (or d4+2) successful stealth rolls for a sneaking monster. This is necessary for situations in which the party is being followed while moving, which would make structured use of the original mechanic overly difficult.

- Rolling a single die for the Stealth checks of a whole group of similar monsters sneaking on the party.

- Using the party’s highest Passive Perception (or just that of the formation’s tail member), so as to not have to communicate to the party that they’re being followed.

This last one is pretty huge to me, because I don’t much care for Passive Perception and its mechanical implication of each character having a numerically valued “radar sweep” always scanning their environs; yet in this I feel like I found the redeeming use for it, as a reference total for the referee to discreetly roll against when having a creature tailing the party from a distance, without tipping his hand by soliciting rolls from the player.

This can also imply a cornercase reversal of roles, wherein it can be desirable to test a creature’s Passive Perception against a character’s “passive” Stealth, such as when a PC is moving quietly and – without the player knowing it – enters the sensory reach of an unseen observer.

segunda-feira, 30 de outubro de 2017

Them Bones of Adventure - IV: Traps

Continuing my exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats & rules, which began here with part one.


Directly adjacent to the topic of searching and spotting static objects is that of Traps. Broaching it is in itself a meta-trap of sorts, recalling my readings around the blogosphere. I’ll try to lay my thoughts clear.

Trap Lethality and the Player

Trap: noun, spelled “[uhn-fair]”.

Should traps be lethal? Of course. 

Should traps be lethal in a real-world-logic sense? Absolutely not. That’ll just invoke the kind of jadedness and powerlessness that frontline soldiers are eventually reduced to. Not at all a feeling that fantasy, even the gritty flavoured one, should be in any rush to recreate.

Traps must have their rationality hammered into a gameable-shaped hole. The game is, after all, about facing and conquering adversity through pluck or might; something that the deadly-yet-unseen spear trap is totally remiss in bringing into focus. Thus, I defend that a trap’s difficulty to spot should be inversely proportional to its lethality, nurturing meaningful decisions instead of feeding the voiding hopeless sense of being a runner in a landmine marathon.

That said, rationally, traps, even the weaker ones, should have the credible damage potential to bring down an ordinary man. Meaning our levelled protagonists will be able to take their lumps and live to see another day well within the logic of the setting even as their feet come awash in the blood of any redshirts they happen to have bravely volunteered to take the point.

On the traits of the Useful Trap

What exactly is a trap in an RPG context? They’re pretty much akin to narrative devices and come in three flavours:

Erosion – Very low lethality; Difficult to discover;
- Exist to tax a party’s resources, slowly building up tension and unease as the characters choose to push deeper.

Pacing  – Low lethality; Findable as long as the right measures are taken;
- Exist to slow down a party’s progress, causing existential risk only if they are not aknowledged.

|-------- verboten design space ---------|

Setpiece – High lethality; Obvious to recognize;
- Exist to serve as meat of the game i.e. being interesting or at least unusual in nature and requiring creative input to be surpassed. Can sometimes assume the shape of puzzles but not necessarily.

The verboten design space filler means “I don’t go there”; Not that I like to plant absolute border markings, but the combination of “potentially lethal damage output & moderately hard to find” is much akin to sterile soil from a game running perspective. It can certainly be used productively given the right effort or party configuration, but it lacks universal utility.

The Crunchy Bits

As per the previous chapter on Searching, the player’s input is of the greatest importance.
It is here that the clarifying question: “how do you go about doing that?” comes into its own: if a player is getting ready to tackle a door, a chest, an object, or the party is gearing to spread out across a room, I’ll remember to tease out these open-ended questions that help reinforce the collective mind’s eye picture of what is happening and allow me to adjudicate fairly how likely anyone is to perceive certain sensory details, to spring a trap or walk into an ambush.
A good trap should be laid like a pop quiz question – obvious yet slippery to the mind, in bottlenecks that make sense and otherwise unguarded and remote passages with little to no foot traffic, with traces alerting the savvy observer. Once the player gets himself some seeing eyes, the answer should be almost a given most of the time, to enourmously rewarding effect when well pulled.

Detecting Traps

A note on Passive Perception – Like any other static object, traps are either In Plain ViewConcealed or Hidden, the later two necessitating an active search declaration by the player, as well as time spent doing it (scan, rote or thorough), to be revealed. I reiterate that I don’t care about Passive Perception, to my mind it serves little purpose, only being usable to detect things that are both visible and amiss, something that a trap shouldn’t be.

Mechanically, the corresponding Spotting DC will either be in the 7-10 range for Concealed traps – that only need a rote search from a character directed at the correct space – and 12-20 for actual Hidden ones. These numbers are more formalism than dogma: generally I’ll want the traps to be found in response to careful searching behaviour, even by the most perception-challenged of characters, as per old school play, rewarding player involvement and not using stat shortcomings as a barrier to stunt play development. This is to say: if a character is weak at Perception, it should mean he pretty much always has to search extra carefully, not that he’ll blunder along from trap to trap with no recourse.

A declaration on game principles: if a search is forgotten, the player must be the one brought to task for playing the game poorly, pure and simple; there’s no crying about “my 9th level thief would never forget to check that!”, the player is the one running the character, not the other way around except where forceful abstraction is involved. Last I checked, Chess players were not allowed to rectify their opening moves on the basis of their rank never allowing them to forget certain things, I don’t see how DnD players should be any different.

Springing Traps

Like the old editions of the game proscribe, it is possible that a trap, particularly ancient ones, will only be triggered on a given chance (“1 in 4”, “1 in 6”, etc.), meaning that missing its detection and passing through its space, tapping ahead with a pole or sending ahead the most able-bodied man won’t necessarily result in a predictable conclusion.

From there, unless we’re going exotic, they’re either treated as attacks, if the armour the character is wearing can conceivably block the effect, or as Save-or-suffer rolls, for most everything else.

Disarming Traps

While propping a walkboard over a pit trap requires no great brain wattage, describing the inner workings of a complex trap can be daunting for the uninitiated (exhibit A: me) so, given that I’m not a swiss clockmaker, this will occasionally have to be deposited on abstraction's running bar-tab unless I get confortable with Mechanisms 101.

On the adjudication front, two rolls can be asked for, the DCs should begin at Hard ~ 15 and only go up from there.

[Intelligence] check for determining how to disarm a given trap – or even if it is at all possible for the character to do so. Success on this roll will give the player access to the Disarm attempt's DC and the springing chance, as such it can be obviated if the character has experience with the trap type or if the player wishes to save time and risk going in with “never tell me odds”.

A failure won’t carry any special penalty, unless it is a fumble, in which case the observer has probably gotten carelessly handsy and either sprung the trap or made a ruckus.

[Dexterity (+Thieves Tools)] check for the actual disarming effort.

A failure here will have the referee rolling the trap’s springing chance, a fumble will skip right to the hurtful part. Also, every time the character fails and tries again, increase the DC and/or the fumble margin by one, raising the tension on account of the character worrying the mechanism.

Note that, as ever, a well thought-out approach to a trap by the player (“I jam the spear trap’s firing tube”) can obviate any and all need for rolls, stepping over any of the above stages.

Closing Thoughts - Traps and the Open Table

I won’t practice illusionism by shifting the damage baselines. Instead I’ll be keeping these categories consistent: if a very-low lethality trap keeps to the same damage averages the dungeon will remain accessible even to a lower-level party that just wants to poke around under cover of stealth. The monsters can be beefier, sure, as they can always be evaded/outrun/misdirected, but if the baseline of “hard to spot/low damage” trap turns up actually being lethal, I’ll have a problem on my hands, likewise if the damage rates are ostensibly shifted around according to the level of whatever party wanders in, as it saps bricks from this fourth wall that I’m building in an altogether too visible way if suddenly I start saddling the exact same type of traps previously encountered with twice the damage.

It is possible, of course, to shift the type of trap being encountered, but that counts as special dispensation and should come along with ample foreshadowing, as the vanished ancient civilizations of the world at large certainly won’t be switching to the upgraded model at the mid-point of their aeons of dust-collecting activity.

If dealing with a high-level character, I’ll simply aknowledge the obvious: that he’s earned his survival stripes and can stand a few hits before resources start being sweated. I’m not worried, since the erosion is all I’m after. Of course, that is only possible because I’ll be doing away with the sworn enemy of attrition: 5E’s prohibitively friendly hp recovery.