quarta-feira, 14 de março de 2018

Rules Musings - On Colossal Foes


Something’s been a-tumble inside the brainbox right from when I thought about the particularities of hunting large game. When men set out to battle giants, what music should be stirred by the felling of tyrants? Being more prosaic, I don’t appreciate the lack of tactical variety arising from combat with foes drastically larger in size than player characters.

This is not about pushing an agenda that large creatures should by rights be tougher to beat, rather that, as a challenge, they should feel different and require a distinct approach rather than the mended old hat of getting the cudgels out and whacking away at the ankles of the Hp piñata until it keels.

Plucking right from the stories, monstrous creatures of legend are something that garden-variety folk heroes run away from and which only epic Heroes will tackle willingly, though even then more than likely through some use of cunning for tipping the scales.

In DnD all that is absent: the gameplay surrounding combat with large monstrous opponents mostly plays like Times New Roman twelve, wrong-headedly reduced to a slugging match with a large juicy bag of Hit-points saddled with a bad action economy, leading to the mechanical juncture of monstrous foes, due to being single targets, being actually easier to face than an equivalent challenge made of multiple smaller ones (the DMG’s guidelines on CR copping admission to this very fact). Occasional legendary and lair actions feel like just a tacked-on mitigation device. Being one to go looking for trouble where there is none, I’ve been thinking up ways to change this.

The aim is set on differentiating low from high-level play tiers in a shape that pays homage to the epics and brings up monstrous foes into more credible threats without resorting to the dreaded one-shot kills, since squashing player characters like so many rude cockroaches is probably what the wrong dosage of game-realism would bring about.

Artist's Rendition
To avoid sysiphean roadblocks such as messingly tampering with individual MM entries, here are some blanket-rules. These all presume that the PC protagonists are human or near-to-human sized. I am, of course, still grossly abstracting and not at all accounting for a wide range of variables, such as large sized but lightweight creatures, as I want to keep the system nimble. These rule proposals are intended for bulky, giant-like foes, such as Ogres and Cyclops, against whom adventurers ought to be required to employ specialized weaponry (reach, ranged), as well as different tactics.

The Crunchy Bits

Colossal Foes (creatures Large-sized and greater):

- Inflict incidental damage, as their shifting bulk makes them dangerous to stand around: At the beginning of the monster’s combat round, any normal or smaller sized character within 5’ suffers d4 points of Incidental Damage (bludgeoning), unless the character passes a [Dexterity save (DC 8 + Monster’s Dexterity modifier)]; the incidental damage die grows by 2 sizes for every size category above Large.

- Have greater odds of inflicting deadly wounds: Player Characters checking for Death and Dismemberment roll one less d6 on the table;

- Are fearsome and awe-inspiring: Characters wishing to face them in combat must pass Fear (PCs) or Morale (for NPCs) checks, unless they have significant experience overall (Character Level above creature’s CR) or have victoriously faced down such a creature before;

Heartbreaking Departures

Moving even further afield from the traditional rules basis, one can distill the quintessential failure of suspension of disbelief surrounding large foes: that their attacks somehow care about whatever armor a puny and minuscule target happens to be wearing at the time they smash into its skull with a tree trunk. It’s just such an oliphant in the parlour that, once noticed, it never then ceases to gnaw at you with its mocking tusks. Roger G-S’s sadly fallowed Roles, Rules and Rolls has an excellent post on the matter. 

It is known before cramming any wedge between DnD and abstraction that it'll turn into one of those “carefully pick your battles” type of thing: is it still even DnD once such changes are contemplated?

Seeing how the current ruleset would have a Dexterity 3 fighter in plate mail avoid attacks from giant kin better than a Dexterity 18 unarmoured combatant, I as gamerunner am decidedly not confortable with chalking this all up to abstraction, so I don’t see how it can be otherwise.

Tin-tanks ought to do good against hordes of smaller foes. Against creatures that can shade them from the sun? Not so much. After casting for alternatives (monstrous attacks resolved through DEX saves, for one), landed on this:

- Attacks from Huge and Gargantuan creatures upon normal-sized and smaller characters ignore any mundane armour worn and instead treat the target’s Dexterity attribute total as its Armor Class.

[Independent of, but relevant to the above: I don’t intend to have monsters – especially ponderous and lumbering ones – frequently boast a proficiency modifier on attack rolls as I’ve found 5E to have made the target numbers for hitting attacks exceedingly low and easy to obtain.]

To draw this to a close, my hope’s to remedy the disconnect imposed by the excessive abstractions of armour class and to allow the unarmored combatant a time and a place to shine, introducing a tactical situation where having armor will be, if not an outright liability, at least completely irrelevant. If on the one hand I feel pretty strongly about applying the above rule or some variation thereof to Huge-plus sized critters, I stop short as regards Large monsters, as they don’t fray the rope of credibility quite as much and – in more practical terms – as it could turn armour useless against too vast a portion of the playing field.

quarta-feira, 7 de março de 2018

General Rules Revisited - Death and Dismemberment

Reassessing my incipient proposal for a Death and Dismemberment Table. Although much of the thinking behind the original proposal still sticks, two things immediately jumped out: its lethality is through the roof and it is lousy with fiddly die rolls. I want to rein in the killing potential, streamline the design and make it more evocative all in one fell swoop.

Even for a game where the deliberate choice has been made for character death to be on the cards, I made the egregious mistake of viewing several degrees of results as distinct, whereas their empirical value ranks them right alongside with death. Let’s face it, if a campaign is low level and the setting presents magic as scarce, a severed limb result is about as good a character send-off as full fledged death.

After accounting for a whole party as frame of reference, with each character making multiple rolls as time goes by, one would soon enough find the group turned into a roving gang of cripples, akin to the remnants of the Grand Armée.

I also want a more elegant, tiered single table that accounts for a greater variety of circumstances, reflecting the fact that opponents of immense size or hazardous catastrophes are much more likely to cause grievous injury and death than the brigand's knife thrust.

The Many Faces of Death

Once a game’s been decided to allow for character death, it can either be done in a dry fashion or through a table such as the one that follows, which implies subscribing to a certain aesthetic, rather than simply bidding a character farewell once the last hit-point drains off. The major purpose of a dismemberment table, other than scratching that jig-ai itch, is upping a combat’s tension without pulling the plug too soon, all the while keeping a measure of meaningful decision in the hands of those seated alongside the referee. Some of the results are harsh but it must be kept present that the alternative would be the simple death and nothing else.

After pushing down the table’s bottom tier, the lower rungs gave me room to play with some branching types of death, from slowburn agony to the goregrind excesses, allowing last ditch heroics at first and aknowledging that healing magic and even resurrection may fail, being negated in the most grievous of cases.

Dosis Facit Venenum

With the recalibrated version, a standard roll is vastly less likely to see a character perish. The chance is there: tucked away at the fringes of probability and yet centerstage on the player’s thoughts when rolling, which is just the way it should be.

The most likely results are deliberately plotted to be a recoverable string of consequences, the intent being that the average roll’s result should not be too punishing, that a harried character may, excepting for truly ill luck, escape the occasional brush with death with little to weigh him down for it. It being true, however, that once a character starts rolling repeatedly, he is liable to lose something he'll later miss and be eventually cut down. The one safeguard at the end of the Hp rope is there to signal to the player the kiddie gloves have come off, allowing a last call to reassess.

The Crunchy Bits

The Wounded Condition

On some of the more dire table results, the character will become Wounded, becoming subject to the following penalties until the character is magically healed or the injury’s healing time has run its course:

- Disadvantage on attack rolls;

- Base exhaustion level increased by 1 per wound;

- Certain physical tasks may now require a roll (at referee’s discretion);

The Table

Base Assumptions

- Rolling on the table is a player-character’s privilege (or, at the least, a levelled character privilege). NPCs, once stripped of hit-points, are simply dead.

- The table presumes the character to be near to man-sized.

- All saving throws requested by the table are rolled for at the end of the character’s combat turn, unless specified otherwise.

- Any uses of non-specific healing magic deliberately applied to lingering injuries may instead restore no hit-points and deduct the spell’s level from the number of days remaining until the wound is healed.

When to Roll - Outside of Combat

Situations may crop up, however rarely, where a character’s misfortunes will merit resolution through a direct roll on the table, bypassing Hp entirely, depending on whatever proves the most adequate abstraction.

When to Roll - In Combat

- If a character has no Hp left, every attack or non-incidental source of damage that connects means a roll on the table.

- An attack partially absorbed by any remaining (or regained) Hit-points allows a Constitution Saving Throw of DC equal to the excess damage.

What to Roll

A player rolls 3d6 on the table, minus one d6 for each of the below circumstances:

- Opponent is a Monstrous Creature (of Large size or larger);

- Attack is a Critical Hit or a Coup de Grâce;

- Damage rolled exceeds the character’s maximum hitpoint total;

In a pique of irony, the dismemberment table was itself mangled by the mobile formatting. Expand.

On Getting Too Old For This Shit

A player is completely free to roll up a new character at any time and retire his old persona, returning him to the coils of the setting, to become a living entity much like any other in the world, probably allied with the party, possibly otherwise. The logistics of the open table then dictating how the economy of coincidence is to thrust the newly-minted protagonist onto the world’s stage.

quinta-feira, 1 de março de 2018

Them Bones of Adventure - XVIII: Experience

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


Like spice melange, the Xp must flow.

And flow it should, from multiple wellsprings.

Advancement mechanics act as player behaviour drivers and what they reward ultimately serves to define what a given running’s all about. This informs my interest in affording a modicum of choice between options rather than reducing the whole process to a simple univocal “gain” mechanic, certainly not limited to death-dealing.

We’ve all been there, done that and gotten the mythril t-shirt. The plan’s to keep it old school, with some twists. I’m doing like the Inca civilization here so no invention of the wheel at all: Xp is to come mainly from loot, with second fiddle reserved for death-defying stakes through combat and some residual thought given to hazard and survival.

A World of Dunces

The game’s setting will operate on the presumption that NPCs have no inherent level. Being levelled implies a world of potential simply beyond the reach of most mere mortals, it implies that more can be attained, that the peak of one’s abilities and condition has either been pushed up way past the cloud cover or altogether removed, the way to demigodhood laying ripe for the paving.

Of course, enemies – sentient ones – can acquire greater skill in arms and resilience, but I feel no need whatsoever to align and harmonize these facts into a coherent system of levels common to all characters.

Are You Experienced?

I’ve toyed and tinkered with mechanical ways of keying a character’s starting Xp to his age or stats but ended up bowing to the simple gaming truism of “a player begins a game with zero points on the scoreboard”.

No matter a character’s age, physical potential or status, it must be assumed all the time up until now was spent accruing the life experience to make it to first level. Not all of that time need have been necessarily productive, as achieving first level simply represents the moment the spark of greatness is ignited within the character.

Casualties of Cool

Straight from the page, narrativism is very much ingrained in the 5E rules through the whole bonds/weaknesses/bullshit (basically WoD’s lunch money) and the Inspiration award which, despite its name, is a rather uninspired mechanic.

My head's banged on this wall enough times to get a Pollock out of it: to award or not to award Xp for roleplay, for treasure, for quests, for accomplishments, for milestones, for tardiness (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it done), for mapping, for journal keeping, for fetching the DM some cigs.

In short, I’ve seen Xp used in completely tone-deaf ways and its attribution attached to totally arbitrary acts and game-removed situations, some of them verging on homework assignment.
My own attempts to establish a clean procedure for awarding rewards for roleplaying (as, for the longest time, I was wedded to the idea) made me stumble on several blocks that ground at me until I gave it all up:

- The slippery slope of reward relativism (“X’s move was cool, but not as cool as that other maneuver made by Y two turns ago, and even less than that other stunt Z pulled last session”).

- The related fact that every time a would-be referee acts as an arbitrary fountainhead of Xp this deepens the Player-DM rift, as it forces table conformity to one person’s aesthetic vision and quantification of coolness. The mantra for me being that a referee should primarily provide challenges. Rewards, if any, should always come indexed to the challenges provided, never to be pulled out of thin air.

- The fact that it is an inherently dissociated mechanic.

- Being new player unfriendly. This one was the deciding factor, as a long lasting game thrives on the capacity for absorbing fresh blood and nothing feels more cliquish than a group that knows which DM-buttons to push for extra sugar cubes while the newcomer is left to conform or see his progress impaired.

Ultimately, my desire for making the game an open table is what sold me on the idea that rewarding roleplay, while not inherently wrong (I’ve done it in the past, which means I’m obliged to stand by it to the death), definitely requires a narrative-driven running, with both a talented (well, willing) table of players and a stable ensemble of characters who can mature without bothersome stuff like getting the loving shit murdered out of them in the midst of their precious growth process clouding up the proceeds.

The decision as it now stands is to keep things on the dry and gamist end of the spectrum, in keeping with the spirit of the original. A scoreboard to track each player’s progress with some spice added while endeavoring to keep subjectivity at bay. By aiming for what some might think of as the lowest common denominator of gameplay, I actively strive to keep the table open, as I’d rather be accused of “the game being all about killing” than have the soliloquist thespian get an unsurmountable edge while the wallflowers get ever more sidelined.

To want immersion one has to be willing to work for it, without having to bribe players into compliance. If someone’s feeling inspired to map, draw, write or in any way contribute to add some ribboning to a campaign, that drive must be genuine, not bought. When all’s said, you can’t put a price tag on enthusiasm.

Despite absence of rewards, emergent roleplay is still possible, as nothing stops me from making voices to my heart’s content and the same going triple for the other players. For narrativism-heavy campaigns, rather than concentrating on numerical rewards, my advice boils down to: always meet the players halfway across the bridge (and be prepared at first to go fetch them to the other shore entirely, too).

A Man Should Have Some Standards

Mine just happens to be silver.

Specifically, LotFP’s 10 copper pieces to the silver piece, 50 silver pieces to the gold piece. This casts the glint of gold back into association with true wealth, giving value back to the bottom tier of coin, instead of mostly pretending it doesn’t exist past expenses one might not even want to be tracking anyway.

Now, if characters are to gain experience for treasures unearthed, this presents a dillema: what is entitled to count as treasure?

The answer is one that sets the goal posts for many a game’s own brand of awkwardness: to award Xp only for treasure extracted from *certain sources* or make it so that only *certain activities* qualify as yielding treasure? The answer, by way of essentialism, is that it cannot really matter how coin is obtained. As only levelled characters have the wherewithal to convert it through training or research into something that will unlock higher echelons of power, this means that a merchant prince, no matter how rich, will ever find himself  locked outside the ornate steps that lead to godhood.

In any event, if a party opts in for the mercantilist approach, I have it on more than just hope that I can probably squeeze an adventure out of that.

The Crunchy Bits

Character Advancement Chart

Aiming for a fairly glacial pace of advancement, one that feels earned, as I don’t feel like the quality of a running is ever dependent on the power level of the protagonists but also don’t disregard the fact that a progress measure of some sort is desirable as psychological reinforcement.

Despite not thinking of wide-ranging advancement in levels as a particular requisite of a successfully evolving campaign and preferring the lower levels, it is important for characters to be ever growing in power and prospects and for players to have something tangible to bear witness as a way of score (as in game score), all the more since my intent's on giving player characters recognition for their power, rather than just throw them onto the hamster treadmill of climbing numbers.

Whoever gives credence to the whole “first and second levels are formative” bullshit can just as well start the characters at third, I for one see no need to corrupt the whole growth ladder with facile little baby steps.

Level Attained
Xp Required to make Level
Experience Total
0 Xp
0 Xp
1.000 Xp
1.000 Xp
2.000 Xp
3.000 Xp
4.000 Xp
7.000 Xp
8.000 Xp
15.000 Xp
16.000 Xp
31.000 Xp
32.000 Xp
63.000 Xp
64.000 Xp
127.000 Xp
128.000 Xp
255.000+ Xp

Prime Requisites

As detailed previously, I’ve decided to attach the old-school experience premiums from high stats to Wisdom and Intelligence, both of which cover different facets of learning and thus relate to experience gain.

This also punishes dumping these same stats, though for even a minimally rounded-out character, it ought to be a wash at worse.

- Both the Wisdom and Intelligence attributes modify the experience needed per level by a percentual point per modifier point, subtracting for positives and adding for negatives.

Lessons in the Steel and the Better Part of Valour

At its core, experience is a reward for stakes. If a character risks life or limb, be it parcels (Hp) or wholecloth, he gets something back from the ordeal.

As such, since combat is to be deadly and the same going for hazardous obstacles, with the existence of one’s beloved character not being the least bit insured, avoiding combats or obstacles through diplomacy or cleverness will stand as its own reward, valued in continued survival to fight another day.

Team challenges – Combat, Exploration, Survival, Treasure Hauling

Experience for combat, exploration, survival and treasure hauling should all be divvied up in equal shares by the party, enforcing team spirit. Even if a character is less than competent and plays only a residual part in a fight , wisdom gained from failure, observation or setting a bad example will still resolve into a learning experience.

- Combat experience is divided into equal shares by all the participants and is obtained by driving the opposition to flight, reducing them to surrender or outright vanquishing it.

- Characters that perish during a combat are still entitled their share of the experience, taking it to the grave.

- Opponents who have already awarded their experience won’t provide any further value if faced again on the same day.

Facing hazards and Individual rewards for risk

Despite the game not being centered around them, occasions will arise where an individual challenge involving stakes will be faced (or initiated) by a player character. Coherence obliges that some form of reward be alloted. As such, individual experience will be awarded whenever the possibility of character demise is placed on the table, such as being the lead climber on a treacherous climb, or disarming a trap.

True to concept that the rewards drive the style of play and that the running should focus on group experiences, only residual experience will be granted, as here I’m none too worried if the rewards don't offset the chances taken. Thus, while individual Xp gains will be accorded to whoever braves risks, in scenarios such as that of the thief that recklessly plies his craft putting life and limb on the line, the player will only find himself accounted for, not rewarded.

For braving hazards, much the same schema of reward applies, but naturally extended to all the participants.

Individual & Hazard rewards come in three tiers. These are then either multiplied by the task’s DC (for single round challenges like trap disarming or purse cutting) or the hazard’s dimensions (feet to a climb, yards to a river crossing, hours of ill weather endured, miles of desert crossed, etc.) for prolonged challenges:

1 - If failure costs Hit Points or Exhaustion: 1 experience point per character level;

2 - If failure implies a roll on the Dismemberment table: 5 experience points per character level;

3 - If failure means Death: 10 experience points per character level;

Note that all of these are awarded independently of the character failing or succeeding (though Xp for a failed number 3 would only be of use to a ressurected character) and that a protracted challenge may shift into a more dangerous category at mid-point (such as a climber ascending enough that a fall will mean a guaranteed dismemberment roll).

Though the exact DC may or may not be open information, the player must always perceive in advance, writ large, what stands to be lost from the course of action, before jamming the pins on a blade trap/plunging into a lava pit/being killed by a raging mob/drowning foolishly.

Training Montages

Taking treasure for experience as a given, there still remain some finer points to hone. My wish is for players to have to strategically weigh the benefits between investing in advancement or equipment acquisition that will keep them alive in the immediate future:

- Treasure must be converted to experience points through training.

- Self-training is completely abstracted, with no prescribed behaviour or basic conditions other than some grounding in-world logic for it being considered appropriate to the character’s Class and upcoming level features being trained for. All treasure converted during this time is considered to be fully spent on any and all requirements, from sundry training arrangements to research material, bribes, adequate equipment, sparring partners, etc, with no tangible benefits afforded beyond the experience.

- Spending a whole day training without guidance allows a character to convert 10 silver pieces into experience points.

This is meant to negate the sudden power-jumps that always bothered me about the “wealth for experience” approach.

As the levels climb, a character will doubtlessly need to turn to illustrious martial masters, infamous retired rogues and capricious sorcerous figures if he’s to have any hope of unlocking greater potential before old age claims him. This feature serves both as story-hook by way of advancement as well as carving a place in the world for any retired player characters that using a fully operational dismemberment table is bound to create.

Though it comes as prescribed that a party share all of its wealth equally, the fanning of circumstances provided by training and the realities of character attrition mean that different Xp totals within a party are to be the norm, rather than the exception.

Closing Thoughts – Upward Mobility

Experience originating from Quests, Titles or Achievements will doubtlessly prove necessary for levelling past the initial stages of play. Though I’m as yet emphatically unconcerned with this, my thinking is that these will first need to be purged from their subjectiveness and may provide the characters with a percentage of the experience needed to level up, rather than a lump total.

This frees up my refereeing hands from plotting appropriate rewards to actually be generous, as I’m unchained from obsessing with artificially curbing the pace of advancement since the natural player and character attrition rate already will do a lot of that pruning for me. And as there’s no narrative “arc” dictating that the characters have to be at this or that level to credibly face down the spectre of plotted threats, it’s all on a come, as you are basis.

Of course, all this slow pace of advancement, besides feeling earned, shouldn’t be seen as a window of opportunity for a canny referee to tamper and develop the character classes as the players progress along them, perish the thought!

terça-feira, 13 de fevereiro de 2018

General Rules Revisited - Critical Hits and Fumbles

It is always interesting to see what a distance of just eight to nine months – not even a full year – can do to a rule-tinkerer’s perceptions. New rule supplements are read, pioneering blog posts are filtered and old classics revisited, influences insinuate themselves and the whole process of fungal spread of these things we call ideas takes place in the damp interstices of our brains.

Still fresh from thinking I have this or that section all cracked as a nut suite when bang: in come the all too familiar pangs of inadequacy; And lo, the wheels are set a’turning once more. I’ll be revisiting my take on a few rules, not for fun and profit (though I’m hoping for some of both), but due to feeling like I can do better.

A Map of All Our Failures

I had initially instituted Fumbles as a free-form process, inflicted by each would-be target upon the counterpart (DM to player characters, players to DM-controlled NPCs) whenever the die roll thus dictated, meaning usually whenever the icosahedron came up as a “1”, with proviso for greater fumble margins.

However, I’ve come to look at this as needlessly adversarial. Though outside of combat the nature of fumbling will of necessity be a lot more open-ended, at least within the confines of melee, where the nature of the exchange tends a lot more towards the do-or-die end of the spectrum, I believe it can benefit from a more rigid and neutral approach.

Thus, we move to extract more meaning from the damage roll accompanying a fumble, a very short – but hopefully sweet – table is born.


Whenever a character fumbles an attack, consult the damage die closest to the d20, rolled simultaneously.


Critical Hits came in two packages: enhanced damage or consequence.

For now I’m still pleased with this shape, but not the substance, as I don’t feel the option for “instant kill or knock out” should be present. I’ll forego on that and institute the following:

Critical Hits

Whenever a Critical Hit is scored, the player chooses:

- Roll the attack’s damage dice twice, treating them as explodable (any maximum result yelds an additional die);


- Roll damage as normal and automatically succeed at a combat maneuver or inflict a non-incapacitating condition upon the target if it fails a Save (of a type appropriate to the condition inflicted, DC as highest of 10 or attack’s damage).

As before, unintelligent creatures who score a critical always default to increased damage, whereas intelligent creatures resort to whatever is worse for the target.

domingo, 4 de fevereiro de 2018

Into The Wild - I: Party Dispersion on Wilderness Encounters


Interluding our regularly scheduled transmission of reinterpretations on common adventuring feats and rules comes this post. I couldn’t quite shoehorn it as belonging to that former category, thus a new sequence of posts begins, one that is oriented to hexcrawl play.

Tying so many disparate actions under the sway of the d20 while preserving a sense of task-identity and immersion is a challenge; one that I relish, but a challenge nonetheless. Many are the times I either see or sense the yawning great vaccuum of design space waiting to be filled by breaking free of dogma and resorting to other mechanic underpinnings; examples abound and some are downright impressive.

And here’s the thing: though I’m loathe to mess about much with the player-facing part of the equation, the referee’s pastures are a complete free-range for me, and I intend to run with that for all that it is worth.

With player-hidden, or at least non-actionable systems, I’m absolutely willing to make do with some alternative rolling mechanics (as already happened with Weather). World running, after all, need pay no heed to Difficulty Classes, as things are not trying to succeed at much of anything, they are simply happening.

'Blazers and Stragglers

This particular entry comes as a reaction to this classic Tao of DnD post. I still get a chuckle out of it: the image choice is spot-on, the argument being made is sound and there’s some gold in the comments, too. Here is my take on this thinking as I’ve chosen for my running, including the part left unanswered, of whom is caught where at which point when an overland encounter commences.

A basic understanding is that I don’t intend to mess with close formations while the party is delving in the underworld, as these are a player choice and the minute-by-minute time frame certainly supports them being strictly kept.

However, over the dreary, capricious miles of unending and unchanging wilderness scenery and at a time scale of many, many a long day, things take on a different tack, as individuals will drift into all sorts of relative positions as dictated by a miriad of factors, social, biological and terrain-driven.

The Crunchy Bits

The following methods should be workable for both linear encounters (danger coming from a defined direction) as well as for irradiating ones (something happens to or in the vicinity of one of the characters, and it becomes important to define where is everyone else). I’m taking it as a given that each player is provided with a personal and identifiable polyhedral randomizer.

The more direct (but less predictable) method:

- Employ a drop-surface, such as the lid of a cardboard box for reams of letter-sized paper and lay a square or hex grid atop it, wherever the dice land is where each character is at the time of the encounter.

- Designate how many straightened handspans of height to drop the dice from, with a greater or lower height being selected for as befits the situation/terrain type (standard being two spans).

Like this, but several of them.
- Die-drop to victory (following the same guidelines as below).

The more convoluted (but stabler) method:

- Have each player die-drop a d6 for the character he controls in the party (animals and possibly hirelings may or may not warrant a distinct roll), each pip being worth 5 feet.

- If the party did not previously indicate someone as navigator or pointsman, the die that ends up closest to the upper edge of the drop surface is the one closest to the threat and is considered the party’s vanguard, its result rendered moot. If a pointsman was designated, then that character’s position is not rolled for and is instead automatically considered the closest one to the threat (as dictated by encounter distance).

- If dealing with an irradiating event or encounter, either randomize from which character it irradiates (here providing a chance for each character in the party to test his fortune) or otherwise mark its spot as the middle of the drop box and begin biasing the rest of the party’s positioning rolls from there.

- Each of the dice represents a character, with the result shown on the dice signalling these many 5-foot increments of distance to the character represented by the next closest die, forming a result chain of sorts, following the die drop’s positioning. Should two dice be roughly aligned, they can be said to be parallel on a given axis.

- Rugged terrain can physically delay and separate the party members against their will and better judgment, with larger dice sizes being used to account for this.

- Open ground, on the other hand, will lend itself naturally to more spreading about as characters keep themselves within sight, hearing and bowshot distance, this can be represented as above but also with the die’s result being worth a greater number of feet.

- A Ranger character may edit his positioning by a number of squares equal to a roll of his proficiency die. If specialized on the terrain type count the roll as being multiplied by ten feet increments.

A more graphic example:

1.       Character A’s result is discarded on account of him being the pointsman.

2.       Character C’s result of “2” indicates he is 10 feet behind A as well as 10 feet to his left.

3.       Character D is 15 feet to C’s right as well as 15 feet to his back.

4.       Character F is 20 feet to the back of D as well as 20 feet to his left.

5.       Character E is 25 feet to the left of F and another 25 feet to his front.

6.       Character B’s result points him as being 5 feet to the front and left of E

Note that a drop of d6 never resolves into too great a spread: no matter where the dice ends up, its maximum dispersion will never amount to more than 30 feet from the closest character.

So Strung Out

For a party making overland progress slowly and cautiously (therefore at half rate), this will ensure that a relatively tight formation between characters is retained at all times (one-two handspans/d4-d6 squares), as it will imply everyone stopping whenever someone does.

If the party is spread out while foraging, canvassing the terrain on a search pattern or is deliberately ambushed instead of just happening across something as a cohese marching group, the lay of the land can certainly factor into things, as the characters will be a greater distance apart (three-four handspans/d8, d10, d12 squares).

If the party is somehow routed and running for their lives or for some other reason separated from all group cohesion – lost from each other, assailed by the weather, out hunting game, individually shopping about in a crowded market square – everyone should make a grab for the d20 or be prepared to drop their die from the table onto the floor.

Closing Thoughts – Turn-About is Fair Play

With this procedure in place, it is easy to see where feats, classes and whatnot magical reasons may enable fruitful modifications to a character’s benefit. I don’t know that any of the processes will prove agile enough to be recurringly applied, but then, no plan survives contact with the table.

Notice that the dispersion method works just as well as applied to a group of enemies being ambushed, championing the underlying philosophy that, whenever character placement matters and the abstraction cannot carry the answer, a good chuck of the diviners can always be relied upon to inject some surprise into a running. This makes no bones about the fact that sometimes life deals a raw hand (by our character getting caught in a dangerously isolated position) but preserving the essential agency of allowing the player to react, overcome odds and make something of it that will yet quake a bard’s larynx. Or die an abject death, it cuts both ways, I suppose.

domingo, 28 de janeiro de 2018

Them Bones of Adventure - XVII: Outdoorsmanship (Hunger, Hunting & Foraging)

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


By now I’ve laid many a foundation as regards prosaic survival while in the great outdoors – rigours of weather, food depletion, exhaustion, encumbrance. There are a few stones still left unturned, so today I’m going to approach the angle of depletion and also active replenishment of resources. Food resources, specifically.

The Hunger Game (guest-starring Thirst)

Most hexcrawl material I’ve seen makes a point of keeping things very simple on this front. I don’t wish to wade too deep into the mire with it, either, as I’m simply after task-identity.

While I've wanted to avoid trackers, I’m conceding that the rulebooks, with all their talk of half-rations and days gone by without eating effectively imply that players must be jotting down notes somewhere already. It might prove profitable, when running a more survival-driven game, to just formalize this in a nonintrusive, out-of-the-way part of the sheet.

As it comes to foraging, I looked at distilling unified mechanics onto a fold of distinct elements, in effect splitting foraging’s hairs into separate tresses, wherever I felt that this would potentially aid immersion and thus add interest.

Consumption, the Conspicuous Way

I had already half-committed to give this topic a second pass, so here it is.

Reading what I wrote a few months back, I am now of the mind that, in order to be able to credibly demand double ration intake on physically stressful days, it is necessary that they be groupable 3 to an inventory slot. As I equate a slot to roughly 5 pounds, this shifts the food accounting to the forgiving side of the spectrum, for once.

Working with the above alteration, this frees up my hand to be more demanding in select circumstances. With water consumption keeping on being a full slot to the day, 2.2 daily liters being about right for a physically active person to consume, with some abstraction to account for usage in cooking and whatnot.

The Crunchy Bits

Food and Drink Consumption

A character’s minimum daily food and water intake is represented as one unit of each type of ration per day. Circumstances of strenuous effort leading to checks to avoid Exhaustion (even it the test is passed) will mean a necessity for supplementary consumption of food rations during that day. Cold temperatures will require double the normal daily food intake, and exposure to extreme heat will likewise increase the daily water intake to two rations.

Failure to consume the prescribed amounts of either type of ration will mean a mark on the respective Hunger or Thirst tracker on the charsheet; filling a tracker will mean daily Constitution checks from Hunger and/or Thirst from that point on, with failures mounting on the Exhaustion main tracker.

Hunger and Thirst tracker marks can be rolled back and erased by eating and drinking over the daily required amount, so as to recover from deprivation. Overindulging on food with a day’s hearty meal above the bare minimum needed to subsist also improves the potential for Hp recovery when camped for a long rest.

Inventorywise, food rations can be grouped three to a slot, a ration of water takes up a full slot.

Food Gathering – Ground Rules:

- Though the plethora of circumstances confound strict mechanic categorization, the rolls normally called for will involve the Wisdom and Intelligence attributes in tandem with the Nature or Survival skills. Also, when coming to a DC, I find that the unbounded natural expanses dictate that it will fluctuate wildly by dint of accounting for varying terrain and geography, weather, season, type of prey, abundance in the region, etc. I don’t have this logically formalized but in a pinch a DC of “10 + roll of minimum yield die” can serve as a rule of thumb.

- The dice for yield size may vary for each type of foraging, starting at the minimum and going up in size for every 2 numbers the rolled total exceeds the DC by.

- A failure can mean inability to find quarry, an appropriate location or any of a number of adverse circumstances. The time is wasted, with little or nothing to show for it.

- Depending on the methods and type of gathering attempted, success on the foraging check yields a die’s worth of rations. If several characters wish to contribute to something such as hunting or foraging, this will imply a group roll with corresponding additional yield rolls per each character involved, or separate individual rolls if they go search for quarry in separate directions (or distinct group rolls, if split into two or more groups). As separate rolls are engaged in, the parties or individuals will necessarily count as being entirely apart for all intents and purposes, so should anything untoward happen, each group will be on its own.

- A ‘1’ on a forage check means a random encounter, not necessarily hostile as the reaction may dictate, but one that will be played to the hilt, so character beware: if the player can’t bluff wandering brigands about a reason for being alone in the wild, things will take a very finger-bone snappy turn, very fast. And no, the ‘character’ and ‘player’ terms were not  switched inadvertently.

A note on resources and preparation: other than the first two options, the remainder will require some sort of equipment in preparation for the attempt as well as cooking afterward in order to reap the full benefits, with this being subsumed in the process of striking camp. Should the characters somehow find themselves prevented from preparing their food, halve the effective amount of rations gathered.


The harvesting of bird nests, mushrooms, fruit, berries, honey, edible plants, seeds and roots, small reptiles, insects, molluscs.

Time required: Two watches

Equipment required: none

Bounty: d4 rations

Special: Bountiful territory may turn the task into a guaranteed success, also allowing for Foraging to be done on the move if the party is moving slowly (half-speed or less) for a maximum party yield of a single d4 per day, as the party picks food along their path, but without straying. 

Locating Water

The process of finding a freshwater source, be it a creek, lakelet or a spring or even certain species of water-retentive plant life.

Time required: One watch

Equipment required: none

DC: Varies by terrain type, at a baseline of 12.

Bounty: Success means finding a source of fresh water, which in all but exceptional cases should be enough to sate the thirst of a whole party plus the filling of any containers.

Special: If near to an already known water source, such as a river, this type of foraging can be done in a matter of minutes, barely slowing down the party beyond the need to detour to the water source and get their fill as the characters make overland progress.


Food gathering by resorting to patient subterfuge for small catches, from pond fishing to line fishing.

Time required: Two watches

Equipment required: a thrown piercing weapon or a net for pond fishing, a fishing rod (hook, sinker, line and bait) for line fishing.

Bounty: d4 rations for pond fishing, d4 to d8 for line fishing.


Another form of passive food gathering over a large time frame, resorting to craftiness and inventiveness, ranging from bird-trapping to noose setting and large pit construction.

Time required: Two watches for bird-catching, one watch for laying nooses, up to days for pit-trap digging.

Equipment required: Nets or wooden cages for bird-trapping, lengths of string for noose laying, shovels for pit digging.

Bounty: d4 rations for bird-catching, d4 to d6 for noose-trapping, for pit trapping, a different baseline of ration is yielded, amounting to a roll of the HD of whichever animal ends up trapped in the pit.

Special: While the more active methods require full engagement from the character, the laying of passive traps can be used to gather food without requiring constant oversight, these yelding something on a 1 in 12, tested up to once every day, per trap, rolled as the trapper goes to check on it. 

Additional days of wait decrease the die size, to a minimum of d4. A maximum roll on the die means the trap has either caught something but it escaped, the trap has succumbed to the elements or it was effective but the quarry has already decomposed or else been eaten by something else.

An additional adequate trap placement spot is found for every 2 points rolled in excess of the DC.

Game Hunting

Active food gathering by engaging in the tracking and hunting down of small and medium game. Mammals (fox, deer, beaver, badger, rabbit, gopher, etc), or large birds (wildfowl, pheasant, partridge, wood grouse, turkey, duck, etc).

Time required: One day

Equipment required: Missile weaponry, with (d12 minus Dex Mod) pieces of ammunition expended per hunter on any hunt attempt. If thrown weaponry is used instead,  it is recoverable but the forage roll is made at Disadvantage.

Bounty: d8 to d12, depending on the catch.

Special: As this method is not tied to geographical immobility, the party can make overland progress – the equivalent of one watch at a slow speed – while in the process of hunting.

Big Game Hunting

This entry serves just for completist purposes. By electing to hunt large prey running the gamut from portly herbivore herds (boar, mountain goat, elk, reindeer, mustang, aurochs, bison, mammoth), to apex and near-apex predators (wolf, bear, mountain lion), the players are entering formal Encounter territory, as I’m not confortable reducing into abstraction hunts with dangerous animals, even non-carnivorous ones. If the prey can strike back and Hp be shed, it can’t be abstracted down into a linear single-roll endeavour.

Time required: Variable, possibly requiring an adequate result on the encounter table of either the creature type or its spoor.

Equipment required: It’s a full-fledged encounter, possibly resulting in combat.

DC: Read as CR.

Bounty: Each creature will yield rations in accordance with its HD, doubling for each size above medium.

Special: As this method is not tied to geographical immobility, the party can make overland progress – the equivalent of one watch at a slow speed – while in the process of hunting.

Closing Thoughts – The Naturalistic/Mythic Divide

I purpusely include only natural fauna here, even if nothing prevents extending such a definition to impressive prehistoric beasts such as mammoths, short-snouted bears and sabertooth tigers or even saurids if one wants to get campy.

But then comes the questioning inherent to the choice: what is, after all, a natural creature? Wholly shedding inappropriately scientific thought as it has little place here, it can be argued that it is that whose presence is a given and whose nature is known or at least knowable and yes, surely, a fantasy world, starting with the playable races, stretches and twists this categorization into all sorts of weird places, but it begs considering that many a creature on this earth was once considered mythical, before becoming a known quantity and then finally hunted down in systematic fashion towards extinction.

To my mind, the hunting of mythical creatures shouldn’t really be thrust into question, as the matter of their essence, far from being a point of contention, is as follows: for the realms of man, I take the natural world as foundational and relegate the mythical beast as something close to a status of rarity that would easily allow ingress into an endangered species list, ranging from the low hundreds to the singular individual. For the untamed wilderness outside the ken of men, anything can happen, always keeping in mind that familiarity breeds contempt.