segunda-feira, 15 de abril de 2019

Them Bones of Adventure - XXIII: Underworld Delving Encounters


As both mine own thoughts as well as those of the gestalt have been steadily coming back to dungeon exploration and random encounters I figured I’d belabour the thinking presented in this post so as to tie into a greater procedural structure.

Random encounters can be held to serve a vital function as exploration timer, the “stick” part of an equation, to treasure’s “carrot”. Much as I appreciate their unpredictability and the emergent gameplay they offer I still did wish they had some better integration into the play experience, getting more out of them as a feature that added to the game as a source of decision points rather than just an immutable fact of life for the would-be delver.

I can understand why a cynic would dismiss them as a cheap thrill of dungeoneering: they usually carry little weight, amounting to piddling setbacks or speedbumps with HD; to be allowed to be more than nuisances, their nature and terms of engagement must be better defined, lest they cause a party to perish whimsically. As there is only so much structure to which one can bind a procedure before it starts feeling helplessly artificial, ultimately, this randomness will tip the scales onto the “game” side of the balance rather than serving a narrative purpose, as some crude pieces of game-wiring must by necessity be exposed and loudly twanged each and every time. It is up for the canny referee to then provide enough oxygen to fan the flames of emergent narrative rather than settling for cold algorithm.

Grounds Fit for Spawning

The use of a random encounter table and associated encounter chance presumes a place at once big enough and with enough creature activity to be assigned a periodic roll during a delve. Small complexes are better served by having either a simple adversary roster (with keyed initial positions, subject to change) or even simpler “present/absent from lair” percentual toggles for keyed room contents.

Past the assumption of an underground sprawl sufficient to propitiate the use of this kind of procedure, even the act of relying upon it can be tailored to transmit a mood and tone and be made gameable by dint of allowing the actions of a party to either exacerbate or mitigate the chances of encountering the sources of fruitless, potentially deadly attrition contained therein.

Most if not all published modules suffer from an excess of unlikely neighbourhoods and untenable stati quo encounters in near-adjacent chambers, stretching believability past even the fantastical. It bears the question of whether the brunt of the load should be shouldered by random encounters, while leaving the keyed material for setpieces, inanimated background dressing and terrain features.

The gist of my current thinking on this:

.: The roll for chance of encounter should be made public and be sensibly influenceable by actions taken by the party; This should not be seen as breaking the fourth wall since the occurrence of an encounter indicates precisely that the party has become aware that something is off.

.: Modifiers to the roll should be avoided, with preference given to different sized dice so as to keep the result as quick to assess and transparent as possible, given that it’ll be oftentimes repeated.

.: The encounter roll proper should be separate from any subsequent rolls for determining encounter specifics, which by necessity must be kept hidden, for despite the fact that the party is aware that something is close by means not at all that the characters will know what it is or where it lies.

On Stealthful Exploration

Minimizing the number of irrelevant choices becomes important when winnowing game mechanics down to a simplified core. One such false idol for the beleagered delver party is the declaration of silence: whatever its members may happen to be doing from moment to moment, from checking for traps to searching a room, it must be presumed that it is being done at the very lowest volume the activity will condone. The PHB makes a show of tripartite scaled movement, but the question is: does anyone run such a tightly wound joint that halving the movement rate of a cautious party as it explores excavated halls measured in tens of feet and saying it takes a minute longer to cross a room mean anything at all? I very much doubt it.

While a party moving overland can validly declare to be moving cautiously as this carries the impact of a cost in ground covered, as less distance travelled over the course of hours does accrue and translate into more days spent in the outdoors and more provisions spent, those cavorting about the corridors of daedalus, their motions defined by halting progress, faltering stops for listening around and nervous turning of corners have quite no such choice: moving discreetly is not so much an option as it is the norm, one for which a referee ought to require signed declaration if the party ever states to be breaking.

As such, there are only two recognized movement modes down in the underworld: cautious (the gold standard) and heedless (when on the run from someone or something). To get a better deal out of it, tangible measures have to be taken by the players, ones with attached tradeoffs, rather than just wrily stating that “the party takes it slow”.

The Crunch

The Encounter Roll

Transfering random encounters across the threshold of nuisance into that of serious deterrent means that many of the preconditions and outcomes inherent to the procedure should be clearly communicated to the players, even if then varnished with prose.

As a way to paint undertones of urgency, the random encounter roll is made out in the open, the referee explaining what die is being used and the reasons why. Past that, there is arguably a need for veiling the results derived from the procedure, insomuch as the consequences won't always be fully apprehendable by the characters, with whatever fragmentary information eventually pieced together functioning as exploration of a sort, as the players begin decyphering a dungeon’s internal logic.

Despite liking enriched die rolls the advice goes against resorting to this check’s result to tell if characters are tired, hungry, light deprived or otherwise cut short the duration of spells or other effects, limiting it instead to strictly unpredictable effects such as spoor, dungeon-related events (still allowing for the classic gust of wind that snuffs light sources) and, of course, the encounter itself.

Fool of a Took!” – When to Check

A dungeon encounter is checked on the following conditions:

- For every 10, 30 or 60 minutes of in-game delving elapsed, depending on the scale, population density and activity level of an underground complex.

Despite 10 minutes being standard, for the sake of injecting some dynamism in an environment, there may be places where a check is called every 60 minutes so as to represent fallow slices of the underworld (such as the Mines of Moria), these time intervals then becoming reduced as the disruptions borne by events begin to pile up and the anthill comes alive with activity. Normalizing then requiring a number of successive checks without returning any encounters or a number of hours of stillness.

The above timings are either worn down by the duration of prolonged tasks such as searches or, for the case of time spent on nothing but trifling actions and simple cautious movement, abstracted to a rough basis of “d6 rooms explored per every 10 minutes” or, if covering ground already mapped before, “2d6 rooms entered per every 10 minutes”, rolled and counted down in secret by the referee.

Past the point of entering the last room in the countdown, the rolled total can then double as the number of player declarations taken by the referee before the encounter is suddenly rolled for. This extra granularity is meant to deliberately disrupt exploration mid-point, broadening the range of possible individual character positionings rather than always declaring the encounter roll once the party inches past the threshold of the last allotted room and then relying on the staid default formation.

- Whenever noise or commotion is made, including combat (one roll per every minute – 10 rounds – of combat) or rushed movement (one roll per d6 rooms traversed).

Chance of Encounter

- A roll of 4+ means nothing happens;

- A roll of 3 can either be reserved to trigger dungeon-specific conditions as needed but by default also returns an empty result;

- On a roll of 2 the party finds tracks, spoor or other traces of recent activity (unlocking the possibility of tracking, if the traces are recent);

- On a roll of 1, an encounter comes across the party, their efforts at stealth nonwithstanding;

This is a standard result mapping, of which some results can only happen if the party is moving about. The chance of encounter can also be increased by specific hostile actions or events, such as the party being actively searched for (e.g. if they’ve allowed an alarm to be sounded).

Encounter Die Size

- The standard die size of the encounter check is dictated by the environment, varying with each dungeon level or location. It is meant to account for a five-element group moving cautious and silently, bearing one significant light source. From here, it can get better or worse, depending on the group’s composition and measures taken by the party:

Encounter die size decreases (increasing the chance of an encounter):

- For every two additional characters in the group

- For every two characters donning heavy armour or heavily encumbered

- Per significant light source beyond the first

- If the party hastens or otherwise forgoes its cautious movement

Encounter die size increases (lowering the chance of an encounter):

- For every two less characters in the delving party

- If the delving party does not move (also cancelling out any encumbrance and armour penalties gained above)

- If a significant light source is extinguished

- When the party hides (quality of hiding place determining the die size)

Thus, if a group of five delvers burdened with treasure is looking at crossing an expanse of dungeon boasting a standard encounter chance of d8, tested once every 10 minutes, the players will know that choosing to press on in their present condition is bound to bring attention to their doorstep on a 1 in 4, whereas they can lie still as they rest for an hour with an adjusted range of a 1 in 10 chance of being found, heard or tracked. This could be further improved to a 1 in d12 by the choice to douse their sole light and rely on the dwarf’s sight instead (with a light spell at the ready), though this would severely limit what actions the characters could take and with potentially grievous consequences should an encounter actually occur.

- Just as a dungeon has a standard encounter die size, so it will have a minimum size of d4 as well as a maximum size cap, usually d20, though this can rise further for labyrinths spanning leagues or when the party absconds into a particularly effective hiding place.

- If a party splits past a significant distance, meaning far enough apart to have darkness and unguarded passageways between the delvers, separate encounter rolls will be merited for each splinter group.

Dying of the Light – Interactions between Light and Encounter Mechanics

Being thrust into the dark is unnerving. So is trying to make light interact meaningfully with random encounters in a way that doesn’t just spell “the less of it, the better”.

Some creatures will be indifferent to light, others will shirk from it, others still will rely upon it just as much as the characters. This is not about them. Although the encounter abstraction factors in the possibility for the party to intuit the presence of others from either vestiges or sounds, their sensorial handicap will pretty much ensure that underground denizens cannot fail to notice an overlander party first, shining like a beacon. Yet, despite the use of one or more sources of illumination being a surefire way to increase a group’s chance of detection by hostiles, there are tradeoffs to consider:

- Characters need light to function in the underworld, a referee wanting to emphasize this fact might contemplate always questioning the light bearer first as to any actions or movement taken, the rest of the group then having to follow the lead when accounting for their respective actions.

- The extent of bright light radius covering the lead character (relative to an encounter’s approach) will determine the minimum encounter distance, guarding against hostile stealth attempts that cannot cut through to a target enveloped in a pool of bright light.

- Each significant light source beyond the first adds 5’ of bright light and 5’ of dim light to other sources overlapped by its radius. This may seem of little consequence but could well be the difference that allows the party to get to grips with foes that would otherwise wear the characters down from beyond the reach of their senses.

Party Formation & Marching Order

Overshadowing the tactical reasons, a notional positioning of each character relative to the other atoms of the group is necessary to provide a default answer to reiterated uses of the encounter procedure, dispensing with the need for each player to exhaustively restate where their character stands each and every time a check is triggered, leaving at most a limited range of positions as the formation expands or contracts to suit the terrain or the size of the room. This standard arrangement being overriden, of course, whenever explicit placements are stated by players.

Mutual Appreciation Society – Encounter Distance

Whenever an encounter occurs, the encounter distance roll itself serves to establish when (and, rarely, if) each party becomes aware of the other. This is a situationally fluid topic: for medium distances, it is assumed both groups have become at least dimly aware of each other; for short distances it is assumed that the encounter has slipped by unnoticed until now as it has the drop on the PCs, whom it has actively ambushed or around whose vicinity it has been skulking for some time; finally, for long distances it becomes a possibility that the party has become aware of the encounter but the opposite hasn’t yet happened.

The roll for determining the Encounter Distance from the contacting character is made in secret and framed by two fundamental factors:

- A minimum distance equalling that character’s coverage by the bright light radius, if not blocked by obstacles or interposing cover.

- A standard maximum distance of 2d6 x 10’, increasing the dice size for encounters with large-plus creatures and for every six medium-sized creatures (or whatever other factors that may prove relevant).

Skill Interactions with Encounter Distance

As regards skills, where some might find this a situation made for flexing the stat blocks of the parties involved, this approach leans instead towards simplicity:

Perception: If the character who is the point of contact has ranks in Perception, add a roll of his proficiency die to the encounter distance.

Stealth: If the encounter is deemed to be making a stealthy approach the referee makes a roll of the highest Stealth proficiency die common to the whole group and subtracts it from the encounter distance (for the sake of simplicity it is assumed that only groups of creatures wholly proficient in stealth would manage to engage in a cohese approach relying on it).

The Encounter’s Path of Approach – Biasing the Encounter Distance & Determining Point of Contact

- Firstly determine from which directions the encounter might conceivably come from. This must account for the labyrinth’s topography, creatures’ special movement modes if any and the party’s present location (of which the referee should keep tabs through the use of a dungeon blueprint of some sort). Encounters will typically originate from unexplored directions but parties who don’t (or can’t) secure their rearguard can run afoul of all manner of unwanted surprises.

- As the distance dice pool is rolled, trace an imaginary line between its highest and lowest result, adjusting and translating this to the closest point in the actual topography and informing the players as to the encounter’s path of approach, even if it is not yet visible, the characters having intuited its direction through sound, air displacement, smell or other factors.

- If a double is rolled (or other unclear result), it means the party becomes aware of the encounter but is unable to pinpoint its path of approach: if it is not yet visible, the referee randomizes its approach some other way but does not disclose to the party where the encounter is coming from.

In any event, determining an encounter’s bearing will provide a biasing point to enable the distance rolled to make sense:

- The character standing closest to the encounter’s path of approach becomes the point of contact from which the encounter distance is then biased, being the one who detects it first.

Going for the simplest example, if a party is wholly inside a room with a single door (a cul-de-sac) when an encounter is rolled this’ll mean the referee determines its distance relative to the character standing closest to the doorway and the direction of approach as conforming to the immediate surroundings of the chamber’s sole point of entry. Rooms or hallways with more complex connections will allow for a greater range of possibilities, assuming the party doesn’t actively take steps to minimize possible angles of approach.

Contact – Close Encounters of the 3d6th Kind

Finally, depending on the encounter’s rolled distance, path of approach and skill interactions one of five situations will typically present themselves:

For long distances (180’ and above)

1. Distant Sighting: Party has become aware of the encounter without being noticed in turn;

For medium distances (40’-170’)

2. Imminent Contact: The distance roll places the encounter beyond a door or tunnel bend from where it is heard approaching, affording the party a window of opportunity: the players get one combat round to act plus another granted for each distance die that came up a 4+ before the encounter materializes. Note that movement beyond half speed will result in the party’s stealth becoming immediately compromised;

3. Avoiding the Light: The encounter lies in sight of the party but has shirked the group’s light radius, meaning both parties are aware of each other but whichever decision the players take will have to be made without knowledge of the other side’s exact nature, position or intentions;

4. Standard Encounter: The encounter occurs within the light range meaning that the two parties become mutually aware as one steps through the other’s visual threshold, unfolding normally;

For close distances (0’-30’)

5. Ambush!: The party has been waylaid, ambushed or suddenly become aware of a lurking threat: the encounter has initiative and the party will need to roll for surprise;

These are merely guidelines, not an airtight behavioral algorithm meant to overcome all logic. It is certainly possible to conceive of encounter types who would rather keep a safe distance and are instead thrust by a low roll right into the clutches of a numerous melee party, it being up to the referee to reconceptualize such occurrences as they appear (e.g. the lone goblinoid wasn’t looking to attack but is instead a skirmisher or would-be thief, drawn by food or curiosity). Likewise, if the party gets a glimpse of an encounter that lies at an inacessible spot tentative communication or missile exchanges may be possible but a full-fledged interaction is unlikely to occur;

While underground, all of the above works from the assumption that the party is carrying a light source and whatever denizens encountered are not. If an encounter itself is carrying a light source, recognition is much more immediate, with situations “3.” and “5.” becoming moot.

Hammers and Anvils – Mastering the Dungeon Environment (Closing Thoughts)

It would be admittedly easier to downtune the complexity instead of mucking about with encounter approach vectors, party formations and light source placements, it being all perfectly abstractable down into less granular mechanics – purely discretionary encounter placement; allowing any character trained in perception to contribute a proficiency roll regardless of their positioning and keeping the highest result; employing a single “collective light radius” modified by the number of sources, again without placement being relevant, the list goes on.

However, this is one of those cases where I’m willing to brave the muddy waters of “more is more” and retain the complexity for the sake of tactical engagement with the delving experience, one where judicious use of spikes, barred doors, alarm spells and improvised traps in conjunction with clever positioning of lookouts and sources of light, careful choice of party formation and disposition within a room can all serve to influence both the encounter chance as well as its potential spotting distance intervals, allowing a savvy adventuring group to exploit the chokeholds of a dungeon’s topography to engage in unfair fights or selectively keep some of its weaker elements out of harm’s way, allowing, in essence, mechanically meaningful answers to tactically interesting questions that arise from delving.

segunda-feira, 18 de março de 2019

Set & Setting - IX - Spellcasting Revised

Set and Setting is a series of posts intended as aid in fleshing out a world by way of setting-specific rule design and reinterpretation.


Ah, the growing pains of heartbleeding.

With the sliding noose of the four core classes tightening about the wrists I’m finally forced to spend some time considering the caster classes once again.

The bemused sigh comes easy as one recalls the way concepts are toyed with as a cat’s plaything, pawed about the mind until, their interest quite spent, they’re posted to little fanfare and some relief only to find the passing of time casting an increasingly harsh light on ideas once thought to be set in stone.

Platitudes about how things don’t change if they aren’t posted and are not posted if changes aren’t made aside, banging the head appendages against the Cleric’s reconceptualization and attempts to harmonize it with previous ideas led me to reread what someone that I’d swear wasn’t me did post regarding the salient issues, namely the need to build ties to a Magic System as of now still regarded as pretty much a proverbial house of cards.

Garbage In

Treading back over worn pathways, a few months of perspective bring me to a dismaying conclusion: It needs to go.

Well, not all of it, warm feelings are still nurtured about the caster type distinctions, rather, it is the casting mechanics proper – something common to all casters – where the rules seem to fall decidedly short.

Some preliminary conclusions that a savvy reader probably reached immediately upon parsing the original post, now from a timeworn and more dispassioned perspective:

1. Establishing difficulty ratings on the fly from the back of top-heavy complex rule structures is a sure way to clog up a game’s flow, each pause for discretionary refereeing an ebbing tide for gameplay.

2. Combat demands quick, simple and unfailingly consistent resolution mechanisms to keep the plates spinning. Exceptions are acceptable only at such a time as critical success or failure occurs, these allowing limited forays into unpacking complexity.

3. Even transcending combat, where the stakes are highest, a system nevertheless has to gain from player-facing transparency, facilitating antecipated calculations to settle the decision on which is to be the desirable course of action.

All these points were infringed on some level by both the magic system and the divine beseeching proposals. Each relatively stable in a vacuum but proven wholly unmanageable past some preliminary attempts at replicating dynamic combat or multiple intervenients making reiterated use of the mechanic.

Finangling difficulty ratings to the decimal point amid the running does not conduce to seamless play. Things need to be simpler and straighter to remain manageable, all while preserving the design thrusts behind the original attempt, these being “a caster having well-rounded attributes matters” and “casting has a perilous random component, being more difficult than just a snapping of the fingers (or a standard action & expended slot)”.

So, once again, from the top…

The Crunch

Spellcasting (Revised)

- Spellcasting is a standard action that requires at least one free hand.

- Casting a spell will draw attacks of opportunity from any foes in melee range.

- A caster struck amid the process of spellweaving immediately loses the spell.

The Spellcasting Roll

- Casting a spell requires succeeding on a Spellcasting attribute check, DC equal to spell level (or slot level, if applicable).

- Instances where a spell requires an attack roll use the difficulty to hit the target instead, if it is higher.

- Failure on the casting roll will void the slot’s content from the spellcaster's memory.

- A natural ‘20’ will unleash the spell without striking it from memory, trumping any constraints (see below).

- A natural ‘1’ will mean a mischanneling has occured.

Constraints on the Spellcasting action

Spellcasting is a very special type of action, one marrying the greatest need for precision and utmost concentration, and as such easily disrupted by constraints, each translated into game terms by the need for the spellcasting roll to not just beat the base difficulty but also be made under a relevant attribute of the caster, to wit:

- Constraints of Burden, imposed if the character is encumbered or otherwise attempting to cast while physically hampered, such as when bound with shackles or submerged in water: the unadjusted casting roll must be lower than or equal to the caster’s Strength attribute.

- Constraints of Dispersion, imposed on the casting of a spell on a turn in which the character has taken any other action, including movement: the unadjusted casting roll must be lower than or equal to the caster’s Wisdom attribute.

- Constraints of Concentration, imposed when the caster is being actively distracted or is already concentrating on another spell: the unadjusted casting roll must be lower than or equal to the caster’s Intelligence attribute.

- Constraints of Resilience, imposed if the character sustained damage since his previous turn: the unadjusted casting roll must be lower than or equal to the caster’s Constitution attribute (or under half the score, if the damage sustained exceeded the character’s class HD).

- Constraints of Stability, imposed when casting is attempted on unstable footing or in physically disturbing – though not necessarily damaging – circumstances (amid a jostling crowd, on a galeswept ship deck, etc.): the unadjusted casting roll must be lower than or equal to the caster’s Dexterity attribute.

When a casting action is about to be declared but before the final decision is taken the referee will run the player through any constraints derived from the situation at hand that the character is currently experiencing, though in most cases these ought to be self-evident.

- Failure to conform to any single constraint on a casting action will result in a casting failure.

- Failure to conform to multiple constraints will result in a mischanneling, as if a natural ‘1’ had been rolled. 

Other Errata:

- Resting now restitutes a caster’s full complement of slots.

- The Wisdom saving throw (DC 10 + spell level) to avoid overchanneling is now granted by the use of a spell focus during casting, which must be held in one hand while the casting proper is effected with the other.

Revised Overchanneling Table

Mostly unchanged, some entries clarified, some made harsher, others less so.

The Pudding Proof (further design notes)

With the original take the difficulties were hard to establish and escalated much too quickly, leading to frequent casting failures and in turn to efforts to compensate this by establishing that failed spells could remain memorized, making the previous iteration slide down the slope of chain-overcompensation, the intent being to restrain casters, not render them useless.

Drawing from past digressions, I now think that it is much more important to maintain the flow of play without compromising the game feel than it is to bog down the proceeds as the referee makes painstakingly sure that a difficulty rating is fine-tuned to the tee that matches one among a dizzying array of possible circumstances. Going forward, the DC is set deliberately low and isn't meant to be much of an obstacle in becalmed circumstances; It just mattering to have an ever-present chance of mischanneling, with additional difficulties arising from the situation impacting the casting difficulty through broad strokes, in a more organic way and without overconvoluting the numbers proper.

Instead of voluble DCs, circumstances will lead to the roll being reframed but all hinging on the single d20 rolled in cross-reference with the charsheet right in front of the player, an idea somewhat in the vein of Disadvantage’s simplicity, only stat-based, so as to lend importance to a well-rounded character rather than one focused on a single stat, retaining a measure of complexity while being much less wobbly in its math (hence both more transparent and predictable, in a good way).

As one can well imagine, rules were made to be broken: of the six caster classes in the pipe it is expected that some of them might be granted class-derived dispensation from certain constraints due to their arcane training. Or not, I haven’t quite decided if that is a good idea.

'Last comes the proof in the pudding: will the average player (or poster-slash-referee rereading this in three months’ time, enroute to go tilting at the next windmill in line) be able to run with these mechanics from the back of his pocket with but a minimal reacquainting effort? I've learned that my best answer can't hope to beat the simple act of waiting out for three months.

quarta-feira, 6 de março de 2019

Rules Musings - Training and Skill Tiers


I’ve been wanting to give the fighter a weapon drilling class feature, something focused on downtime so as to break with the class’s combat-centric focus. A few blocks promptly presented themselves, ripe for the stumbling.

Trusty as ever, the official book’s version of training associates the learning of languages or “tools” to a fixed number of days and a trivial amount of gold, coming across like your typical online ad-scam, with the rest of the downtime activities equally reeking of perfunctionism (apparently not even a word, but if anything all the more fitting on account of it).

Even disregarding the above, the main curtain wall of the edition’s all too inclusive list of weapon proficiencies granted each class stymies if not defeats the whole purpose right from the start and then, finally, the strong dish is presented as one realizes that, with proficiency being a binary element matched directly to level, learning a skill or weapon proficiency later in a character’s career will result in a sudden performance jump from no bonus (or a penalty) to a healthy +3, +4 or +5. Talk about late blooming.

The proverbial drop thus spilling the cup, here follows a short revision that’s been long overdue.

All Trades Jacked

The game currently tracks between three levels of training: “Inexperienced, Proficient, Master” corresponding to “No modifier, proficiency modifier, double proficiency modifier”, the ubiquity of this same modifier returning characters that are too uniformized, too well-rounded and too simplistic.

I need a stopgap where I can find balance between taoist realism and coastal wizard enablism. Something that'll conform to a workable gradient of complexity while ensuring the “chump-to-champ” syndrome of late skill acquisition is avoided.

Last I was here, I bemoaned the thought of turning to skill ranks. Since no other solution presents itself and this can be implemented without compromising the game’s bounded accuracy, let these moans be; trying it can’t hurt more than countenancing the official book-bound scam of a system.

This’ll represent, by necessity, a huge curbing in terms of power for each character, albeit a uniform one. No snowflakes were harmed.

The Level Structure

Levels, much like Hp, are a conventioned abstraction that is largely left to what the beholder makes of it and that stand up poorly to close scrutiny. Yet, no matter how eloquent the argument that their strictures are inane, unrealistic, artificial and unnecessary, they are ingrained as one of the main tenets of the game. The designer is free to either question the substructural premises altogether or work within them. I choose the latter.

Character advancement conforming to a level structure is a design choice, one to which all kinds of consolidated internal character growth should adhere to. This means things such as skill learning aren’t something that happens in parallel or wholly outside this structure, as the book’s take on this would have us believe. Money and time by themselves are not sufficient to unlock a character’s potential: he must make level.

The Crunch

Skill Tiers

- The general proficiency modifier represents the upper limit of a character’s capabilities, rather than the rating applied to each of them.

- Skills and weapon proficiencies receive a notation after their name so as to indicate their level of training: 1, d4, d6, d8, d10 or d12, corresponding to the proficiency modifiers 0, +2, +3, etc.

- A rank of “1” won’t give any bonus by itself, but it does mean the character possesses the basic notions and can make use of the skill, tool or weapon without penalties.

- New proficiencies of any sort are first gained at rank “1”, unless determined otherwise.

- A starting character’s list of skills, saves and weapon proficiencies come with an implied a rank of “1” in each, customizable through five tier increases at chargen.

- A character’s skill proficiencies are presumed to be continually trained during downtime: with every level gained, a character increases tier on the player’s choice of three skills, saves or weapons.

- Additional skill tier increases past the levelling minimum can be gained through the sucessful accomplishment of certain specialized downtime actions.


The capacity to instruct others in a skill or weapon proficiency is accessed through class feature. It  also requires that the teacher be proficient with the skill being taught, that the student have some degree of innate potential for the subject matter (skills already latent can be improved but new skills cannot be granted wholecloth) and a period of time must be spent on intensive training.

- The instruction effort must be made through a series of nigh-consecutive days totalling up to a number of months equal to the new proficiency die’s size (minimum of three).

- Each individual skill or proficiency can only be the object of successful training a single time per level.

- The students in a group can number up to the teacher’s proficiency die, modified by his Wisdom.

- As the training’s duration is fulfilled, each student rolls an Intelligence check [Intelligence, (DC 10 plus the new proficiency die total, further modified by the instructor’s Wisdom)]; Failure means further training is required and that the character will need to reenact the training period.

- Once success is attained, the character is assumed to continue training on his own, slowly consolidating what he learned during the high-intensity period of instruction into true internalized knowledge that he may call upon. Upon making level, the character increases the trained proficiency by one step.

- Hirelings, Retainers and other NPCs not generally possessed of levels instead receive basic training in a six month time frame and can progress no further.

domingo, 24 de fevereiro de 2019

Them Bones of Adventure - XXII: Climbing Revisited

An ongoing exposition on table procedures for common exploration feats and rules, which began here with part one.


While musing on the thief class my thoughts came back frequently to climbing as an example of the howling void taking tenure where proper rules should be found governing the many activities that class supposedly excels at.

Modern DnD design, besides shunning any structure outside of combat, aims to explode the paradigm of niche protection by shoving a wedge into probability. A whole party will happily be allowed to suspend themselves from the rafters, no matter their class or physical condition, so long as the players wish it and, at most, the proper roll is effected to the satisfaction of a DMs knee-jerked perception of task difficulty.

This was the topic that launched a thousand (well, twenty or so) posts, driving me to attempt to pour some heated rule tar amid the gaping cracks in the system as wantingly presented. By revisiting this I hold up my hands in admission that my efforts were not a success but, in keeping with the gentle cushioning philosophy the rulebooks kindly profess, I can but believe that I’ve been failing forward somehow. Despite my best wishes for effortless perfection, the passing of time makes plain the need for a reheating of the copper plates where these house rules are etched, that another round of hammering may take place.

I’ve shifted my view around from climbing being a feat of pure strength to linking its main progress roll to dexterity. The previous iteration’s principle of roll maximalism is kept though, with climbing being an epitome of athletic pursuit, steps having been made to engage all of a character’s physical attributes through a single reiterated roll and effort put in to drive down the act’s lethality without defusing its sense of danger. I hope to have not just streamlined but better captured the game feel of this feat this time around.

The Crunchy Bits

Free Climbing

- Vertical surfaces deemed to be climbable will have a DC range, ideally determined through some sort of method. A character needs to possess a Dexterity score equal or exceeding the DC in order to be able to attempt a climb.

- A climb’s DC reflects not just its sparsity of handholds, but also its slope and how taxing it is upon the climber: a character whose Strength does not meet or exceed the DC will have his progress roll capped by the attribute score. The DC will also have implications in how long a climber’s stamina can hold up (see below).

- Climbing Roll: each round, a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check determines the movement in feet managed by the climber. This is a progress roll, not made against any DC per se and thus with no failure conditions, though it can be fumbled (see below).

Stamina and Exhaustion

Climbing being a strenuous activity means that it can only be sustained for a limited time, with a character running a serious risk of falling prey to exhaustion during an ascent lacking natural ledges or outcrops of some sort to afford the possibility of rest.

- A climber’s stamina will hold for a number of rolls equal to the character's Constitution score (for an easy-to-hard climb) or CON modifier (for very hard climbs);

- Once the stamina threshold is exceeded a character has overexerted himself and exhaustion begins to mount: the character’s exhaustion level is increased whenever an unadjusted progress roll exceeds the climber’s Constitution score.

- As the climber alights on a perch and takes a ten minute rest the first level of exhaustion acquired through overexertion will be recovered and the character's stamina regained, allowing further climbing efforts to be attempted.

Interaction with Skills

- Characters trained in either Athletics or Acrobatics add the proficiency modifier to their effective Dexterity for the purpose of determining what surfaces they are able to climb;

- The Acrobatics skill adds its modifier to the climbing roll;

- The Athletics skill increases both stamina and, if applicable, the maximum cap on climbing speed per round.

Falling (or “what the crowd came here to see”)

- An unadjusted “1” result during the climbing roll will mean the climber’s hold has slipped, the character has taken an ill-calculated risk or simply encountered unexpected give in the rock face, needing to test his balance to remain lodged to the surface, becoming endangered:

- While endangered, the character will immediately need to make a Dexterity saving throw, DC as per the climb’s difficulty, with success meaning the character spends the round scrambling to hug the rock face, eventually resecuring himself and allowing progress to be resumed the next round. A character that fails the saving throw must immediately repeat it at a halved DC, rounded down. If this too is a failure the character plummets to the ground.

“Should Heights Care About Level?”

The old school way of thinking would seem to point to “no, not really”. The levelled character has doubtlessly gotten better at remaining attached to vertical surfaces, possibly to the point of his fall being flat-out unlikely but at the end of the day mortality still presents as the relatable benchmark.

I remain deeply dissatisfied with the rules for falling damage included in the present rulebook, tasting like nothing but a holdover that hearkens back to a past of low hit-point totals, presently ensuring that a fall from 20 feet will kill exactly no one that’s made it to second level. Yet, attempts to update the damage curves seem to lead to a design conundrum: either the average damage is low and thus falls remain eminently survivable to levelled characters or the average is high and we shoot straight to the point of death being a foregone certainty not worth rolling for. It has to start off tame but escalate in a fashion that is at once threatening yet not entirely hope crushing.

As such, falling damage follows an apocryphal interpretation of the traditional damage progression and also treats all damage dice as explodable, so as to ensure levelled characters remain healthily wary of heights.

Distance Fallen
Additional damage
Total damage rolled
 10 feet
1d6 (1-6)
20 feet
3d6 (3-18)
30 feet
6d6 (6-36)
40 feet
10d6 (10-60)
50 feet
15d6 (15-90)
60 feet
21d6 (21-126)
(the other, rather more ergonomically conservative option that dawned on me being a straightforward save-or-dismemberment, bypassing the hit-point mechanic entirely)

Aided Climbing

For protected climbs, a climber can either rely on pitons and a belayer or rope his fortune to that of his comrades.

A piton arresting a fall will work as intended on a 1-3 in d4 for the first piton, a d6 for the second if the first should fail and so on.

After this, a belayer attempting to arrest a falling comrade must roll a Strength check, DC equal to half the total distance fallen from the slipping point to the catching point below the piton. Each additional belayer decreases the DC by 5.

If two climbers are roped together during a climb and a fall occurs it can be prevented through a DC 15 Strength Saving Throw made by the character immediately above (or below if the pointsman is the one who falls). If the situation involves more than two characters roped together, keep rolling for each consecutively affected companion, increasing the DC by 5 for each subsequent attempt.

Arrested falls still deal damage, though at a scale of flat d4s rather than exploding d6s.

Closing Thoughts - A Mountain of a Problem

Further efforts from my part as regards this topic will probably follow in the key of defining limited climbs as usable setpieces at the table. Despite greater and better efforts than mine own, the wider scope rendition of montaineering remains as yet an unsolved problem at large.

segunda-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2019

Set & Setting - VIII - The Thief Class

Part of an ongoing reinterpretation of the game’s character classes, complete list and accompanying design musings contained here.

Unnecessary Introduction to the Thief Class (design notes)

Thieves are urban specialists, the kind of class that requires a deft touch, subtlety being the watchword as thieves are less about toe to toe and rather more tick to toe to tack to a blade in the back.

This one required deeper oversight as 5th Edition made the thief way too forgiving and thuggish: d8 hit dice, a ridiculous and mindboggingly easy to trigger “sneak attack” that puts the class as near equal to the fighter in damage output, a crass example of a feature designed to hold the player’s hand rather than demanding even the tiniest whiff of skill. Despite being one of the core archetypes, I see the thief as an advanced class option, one whose path to greatness comes about by slowly unpacking a matryoshka of versatility rather than measure who’s got the bigger die size to fall back upon. As such, this meant plenty of padding at the different levels, as the class is intended to slowly but surely gain in power though always as a second dish to flavour.

Crossing the decision point that made me halt my progress with the fighter, the archetype subclasses went the way of the chopping block, as I feel their features ought to be either integrated into the main class structure and fill up the inane “ability score improvement” dead space or else split into a separate class entirely.

Another early drawn conclusion was that the Investigation skill simply had to cease existing. Like the “dungeoneering” forebear of 4th edition, its undefined nature and lack of a grounded practical use makes its existence difficult to justify. At face value, it is like having a skill called 'playing DnD' baked into the charsheet.

The Thief

Proficiency Bonus

Backstab, Thieves’ Cant, Thieving Expertise
Deep Pockets, Dirty Fighting
Cunning Action, Fast Hands
Second-Story Work, Uncanny Dodge

Class Features

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level

Proficiencies: Thieves tools, Light armour, Simple weapons, hand crowssbows, longswords, rapiers, shortswords

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Intelligence

Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Athletics, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation (Mechanisms), Perception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand and Stealth 

Level 1

If the thief attacks a humanoid target unaware of his presence (or otherwise caught completely off-guard) the attack will have its damage multiplied by the thief’s proficiency modifier.

Thieves’ Cant
Allows dissimulated verbal, nonverbal and symbolic communication of simple concepts, urban or thieving related, to a speaker of the same language that is also fluent in the cant. Use of the cant will mark the thief as ‘someone in the know’, modifying the reaction roll from other seedy elements by 1, if they are nonhostile.

Thieving Expertise
A thief always counts as trained in the relevant skill when attempting the classic thieving suite of lockpicking, pickpocketing, climbing, stealth, finding and removing traps. If already proficient, this feature doubles his proficiency modifier.

Level 2

Deep Pockets
Objects concealed on the thief’s person resist casual detection: small items numbering up to the character’s Intelligence modifier may be stashed (minimum of 1) in the inventory, their slot number determining the DC a visual inspection or casual patdown must beat to reveal them; concealed weapons deduct the weapon’s damage die from the searcher’s DC.

Dirty Fighting
An enbattled thief is constantly angling for whichever chinks, joints, soft spots and vital organs he can exploit. Whenever an attack made at Advantage hits with both rolls add the proficiency die to the damage inflicted.

Level 3

Cunning Action
The thief can Dash, Disengage or Hide as bonus actions in combat.

Fast Hands
Adroitness becomes the thief, who once per turn may draw a light weapon or another small item from his fast access slots as a free action. He algo gets Advantage on rolls to access the inventory.

Level 4

Second-Story Work
The thief becomes inured to heights, climbing faster than normal as he ignores extra movement costs on simple aided climbs and gains Advantage on climbing rolls. In addition, when making a running jump, the distance covered increases by a number of feet equal to the thief’s Dexterity modifier.

Uncanny Dodge
The thief may use his reaction to dodge an impending attack he can perceive, forcing it to be made at Disadvantage.