Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bounties of the Megadungeon

The following is a list of the current bounties offered at my megadungeon open game table, as they are presented to my players. Well, they get everything all nicely printed out on individual half-sheets of paper, but you get the idea. I hope some of them may inspire you for your own games.

Part of this is a lesson I have heard, but not entirely completely internalized: whenever possible, have something physical to hand your players. Tangible objects are supposedly much more interesting to them than mere descriptions in the air. As one hears often in Westeros: words are wind. This particular technique, the bounties on paper, suffer somewhat from still mostly just being words, though if you can interesting them up by trying to get as close as you can to the actual handwritten documents (mostly with creative font choices), that helps.

A side story: one benefit to using LaserTron tokens for mini bases: I had a couple left over (which I did paint on one side, intending to use them for swarms or miscellaneous markers or something), so when my players tried to squeeze money out of a particularly unwealthy viscount, I had five coins on hand to drop on the table and say "This is all the money I can spare".

My next idea to liven things up is to include bounties that are just pictures, no words. Not everyone who wants to post a bounty is literate, after all. Even Sir Bigglesworth counts as literate, if only barely. But this is a major challenge for the DM to try to convey instructions without using words, and to the players to understand.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Baggies of Holding

Because low-level characters being unable to carry all their gear is a recurring problem: here, have smaller bags of holding that even a newbie may be able to afford (depending on starting wealth).


Baggies of Holding, sometimes called Bags of Holding Type 0 and -1, act as normal bags of holding, but are even smaller and cheaper.

Bag Bag Weight Contents Weight Limit Contents Volume Limit Market Price
Lesser Baggie of Holding 2 20 2 250
Greater Baggie of Holding 7 90 10 1000

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On the Virtues of "Yes, And"

You may have heard the virtues of "Yes, and" extolled. If not at DMing school, then perhaps at improv comedy school.

The thinking goes like this: Saying "no" to a player discourages them and makes them sad and makes them not be having as much fun. (Saying "no" to an improv comedian not only makes them sad, it also disrupts the pace of the banter and throws everyone off their game and makes the act less funny, so the parallels are only surface-deep.)

Consider the following:

"Yes, and" > "Yes" > "Yes, but" > "No, but" > "No"

Always aspire to be as far left on this list as you possibly can. Whenever you make a decree, ask yourself "is there a good reason I'm here, and not one to the left?" Going one to the left if you can will make it more fun for your player and more fun for you. (A possible exception is players who ask for all sorts of stupid things for no other reason than because they suspect you'll let them get away with it. I'm honestly not sure how to deal with this kind of player. It may be that this is the only situation in which an unadorned "no" can actually be justified.)

Certainly, there are good reasons to find yourself somewhere on the right. Some things are just broken. Leadership, for example. This core principle is why I go with the "yes, but" of nerfing it, rather than the "no" of banning it outright. Similarly, rather than banning Divine Metamagic ("no"), only ban nightstick abuse ("yes, but").
Rather than disallow all flaws, allow them and make an effort to exploit them to the fullest possible extent -- if people take Shaky, throw lots of ranged and flying enemies at them; if they take Murky-Eyed, throw them against lots of enemies with concealment (This works out to either a "yes, but" or a "yes, and", depending on the adventurousness of the player).
You want to buy 50 flasks of lamp oil? Yes, but several sessions later you may find a factotum casting a scorching ray at them.

But it's still always more fun for everyone to go as far to the left as possible. You want your character to be a prince? Yes, and also take this plot I've hung on that hook for you.
You want to buy dragonhide armor? Yes, and what colour is it in case you come across somebody who doesn't take kindly to you wearing a relative? (Is "Yes, if you provide the dragon skin" a "Yes, and", a "Yes, but", or a "No, but"? Probably depends on how plausible the party killing a dragon is at their level.)
See how much more fun that is for you, the player, and the party than just "yes"?

As of this writing, I just told a player "no, but". I'm sadly in the bad habit of saying "no, but" much more often than I ought, though I've mostly broken myself of the habit of outright "no"s. The question was "Can I use this homebrewed flaw?" and my answer was "No, but you may refluff a WotC-published flaw to achieve a similar effect." (Homebrewed flaws tend to be terrible, or as I heard them described once, "pants on head retarded", so I am more prejudiced against them than I am against other homebrew, even if an individual flaw seems non-terrible on the surface. Not that I'm not prejudiced against homebrew in general. But this is prejudice, which is why my wording was "I'd rather you didn't, though I may allow it if it's a deal-breaker" rather than a flat "no". An empty justification, perhaps.)

The other day, I got to say "yes, and", and it made me feel good. A player asked if he could use Central Casting: Heroes of Legend (which seems awesome, by the way). I said (provisionally) sure, and when he rolled up a character, I got to say "Oh, hey, 'human nomads' probably means a nation of sailors who didn't bothered to recolonize the land when the Subsidence came, and 'light cavalry' means riders of sharks or dolphins or porpoises, and 'skiing' means 'water skiing'." It made me feel like I was World Head again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Proper Housekeeping: How Many Rules Are Good?

There is a golden rule of houseruling that everyone should always keep in mind when they decide to enforce a house rule, and that is:

A house rule should always either a.) make the game more fun or b.) make the game more realistic while not making it less fun.

I will draw an analogy with John Stuart Mill. A (very) rough summary of Mill's ethics: Restricting freedom by declaring a thing unacceptable (e.g., passing a law against it) is inherently an evil act; the only way for banning an act to be good is if that act is more evil than the evil of banning it. Even more roughly: freedom is good and restricting freedom is evil, so the only acts it is good to restrict are those acts which restrict freedom even more. (The garuda of Perdido Street Station are explicitly Millian in this limited sense: the only crime in garuda society is "choice theft". Anything which restricts another person's choices is choice theft, and thus criminal.)

The analogy is this: a house rule is inherently an evil. Each house rule you add makes the game slightly more confusing and gives your players one more thing they need to remember. I am lawful neutral and have a strong "rules for the sake of rules" tendency, so this is a hard thing for me to keep in mind, but it's important.

So every houserule needs to have a reason to exist. As above, it needs to make the game more fun, or it needs to make the game more realistic while not making it less fun. Because houserules inherently make the game slightly less fun, this second clause should be read as "make the game more realistic while making it also slightly more fun", unless you're playing with a table full of hardcore simulationists for whom increased realism is automatically more fun (this describes me to an extent).

That said, I've decided to make an audit of all my current house rules, to make sure they all adhere to this rule.


• Ability scores: point buy 30, starting at 8, as on page 169 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
• All characters begin with 1,000 gold and an adventurer's kit containing a backpack, 5 torches, flint & steel, 50' hempen rope, a waterskin, and clothing of your choice (excluding courtier's outfit, noble's outfit, and royal outfit).
• All characters begin at 0 experience.
• Content from any 3.5e rulebook or supplement published by Wizards Of The Coast may be used (including some material for other campaign settings). Other sources -- particularly Dragon magazine, the Wizards of the Coast website, and official 3.0e sourcebooks -- may be permitted, with DM review in each instance.
• A character may have up to 2 flaws and up to 1 trait (but bear in mind that you should consider no flaw “safe”; I may deliberately throw encounters at you which prey specifically on your flaws).

These are not really "house rules" so much as they are "variables that it is necessary to define for every game". I could just say "begin play according to the PHB", with the standard 3d6 ability scores and starting wealth rolled by class, but those are rules that are so rarely used they almost count as house rules in their own right. (Plus rolling for ability scores is evil and sadistic and I would never inflict that on anyone.)

Incidentally, I picked that high starting gold amount for a reason: it's enough to get anything cheaper than a +1 weapon or armor. You can afford good stuff, increasing survivability at the painful low levels, without significantly changing balance (creatures with DR/magic will still be fully effective until after you've won a few fights, because you can't afford a magic item).

• Monster class progressions (e.g., from Savage Species) may be used. A character is not required to finish their monster class progression before entering another class; however, a character may not have more class levels than monster levels unless their monster class progression is complete. The “empty levels” that do not add hit dice may be reduced like level adjustment, as below. The experience cost to do so is determined by the final LA of the monster class.
• Bloodlines (from Unearthed Arcana) may be used. A bloodline level counts as a level adjustment and nothing more; it does not count as a class level for any purpose. However, bloodline levels may be reduced like level adjustment, as below. The experience cost to do so is determined by the bloodline strength (+1 for Minor, +2 for Intermediate, +3 for Major).

These are partially laying out some specific things that I will allow and which not every DM does. So, again, variables that need to be defined for each game, rather than house rules. They also lay out some minor changes and adjustments.

The "empty levels are level adjustment" thing is simply making explicit something that was previously implicit, so not even really a house rule, per se, because it's not even really a change.

The "bloodline levels are level adjustment" are making simple something that was unnecessarily complicated. The game already has class levels and hit dice and level adjustment (which are confusing enough), and Unearthed Arcana saw fit to create a new category that nothing else uses? Pshaw. Just use one of the existing ones. So this increases fun by leading to a net decrease in complexity.

• A character may have up to two base classes without an experience penalty, or three if one of them is their racial favored class (or if their racial favored class is “any”). After that, experience penalties for multi-classing apply.

I'm starting to rethink this rule. When I instituted it, I hadn't realized that prestige classes don't count towards experience penalties. With that in mind, the default rule seems fine - you get a class plus your racial favored class, which should be plenty for anybody who isn't going some bizarre build that calls for dipping half a dozen different classes.

I do want to discourage said bizarre builds, so I don't want to just say "no experience penalties for multiclassing ever" like most DMs do. Being restricted to one or two base classes is a little harsh, though - sometimes a 1-level dip is just the thing to make a build even playable. So two or three is a fine number.

But the bookkeeping for XP penalties if anybody actually does choose to go with such a build is a nightmare, so I don't want it to ever happen. If I really want to discourage such bizarre builds, I should just say you're not allowed to play a character with more than a certain number of base classes. However, the very fact that the bookkeeping for these XP penalties is such a nightmare will automatically prevent 99% of players from even bothering with them, so the problem solves itself.

In short: not using the penalties would be going too far, and keeping them as-is isn't any fun, so I think this compromise does fall into the "makes the game more fun" zone.

• A modified version of Unearthed Arcana’s variant rule for reducing level adjustment may be used. A character’s level adjustment may be reduced at any time (including at character creation), provided the character has enough experience. You may spend as much experience as you desire, but your total experience cannot go below zero. Your class levels are never reduced in this way, no matter how much experience you spend.
Starting LA : XP Cost
1 : 6,000
2 : 11,000; 13,000
3 : 16,000; 21,000; 23,000
4 : 21,000; 29,000; 34,000; 36,000
5 : 26,000; 37,000; 45,000; 50,000; 52,000
6 : 31,000; 45,000; 56,000; 64,000; 69,000; 71,000
7 : 36,000; 53,000; 67,000; 78,000; 86,000; 91,000; 93,000
8 : 41,000; 61,000; 78,000; 92,000; 103,000; 111,000; 116,000; 118,000
9 : 46,000; 69,000; 89,000; 106,000; 120,000; 131,000; 139,000; 144,000; 146,000
For example, a character with a +3 level adjust may reduce it to +2 by spending 16,000 XP, to +1 by spending another 21,000, and to +0 by spending another 23,000.

This... I unfortunately haven't had a chance to test this system extensively. It does, however, simplify and streamline the baffling-even-once-you-understand-it Unearthed Arcana system (the UA writers must have had a fetish for needlessly complex house rules), making it probably a good house rule.

• If your name is in the "Player Name" field of a sheet, only you may play that character. If there is no name in that field, anybody may play that character. You may claim or unclaim a character at any time.

I'm actually considering doing away with this rule, and saying that pregen characters are always fair game for anybody to play. But what if a player gets really attached to one? (Unlikely, I know, what with the players not having had a hand in their creation.) So this rule is definitely a candidate for deletion.

• A character is considered dead if he reaches negative his Constitution score or negative 10, whichever is further from zero.

I play with this rule because I played with it in the first game I played in. But what's the point of it? It doesn't make the game any more realistic (high constitution already means you're less likely to die, you've already got an extra hit point for every two points of constitution you have, plus it adds to your fortitude saves.) It makes a character slightly less likely to die in one hit if they're low on HP, which is I suppose good, but is it worth making a house rule about it, given the John Stuart Mill analogy? I don't think so. Definitely a candidate for deletion.

• An attack roll of 1 is a threat for a critical miss, which works just like the inverse of a threat for a critical hit: you roll to confirm the fumble, and if your confirmation roll would miss your target, you have critically fumbled.
If you critical fumble on the last attack you would make on your turn, various bad things happen (e.g.: you hit yourself or an ally, your weapon breaks, etc). If you still have attacks left to make when you critical fumble, you lose them, but nothing else bad happens.

The grounds on which people object to critical fumbles (usually "it makes no sense for you to be more likely to hurt yourself as you level up") apply only to unadorned "you hit yourself if you roll a 1". Everything about this rule is designed to answer that objection, and it does so admirably. But does critical fumbling as a concept actually improve the game?

Yes! I refer you to the tales my players still tell of excessively powerful monsters biting themselves to death in the chaotic throes of combat. And isn't the ability to tell stories of your exploits the point of D&D? The critical fumble rule stays.

• The reincarnate spell chooses randomly from custom lists. A creature is overwhelmingly likely to be reincarnated as a creature of its type and somewhat less likely to be reincarnated as a creature of a different but similar type.
Gender is random. The original form's racial hit dice and level adjustment are removed. Half the experience points for any previously paid off level adjustment are immediately refunded to the character. If a character is reincarnated as a creature with more than one racial hit die and/or a level adjustment, the racial hit dice and level adjustment are applied to the character. If a creature doesn’t like its new form, it has the option of refusing to return, in which case the spell is wasted, as with any resurrection spell.
• The experience of dying and returning to life leaves a person drained of vitality even beyond the loss of a level. Upon resurrection, a character is aged a number of years equal to 1d20 minus their Constitution modifier (a negative Constitution modifier can increase the number of years aged). The True Resurrection spell negates this effect. These years are added to the base adult age in the case of the Reincarnate spell.

The former of these makes the game both more fun (though many people will argue that allowing Reincarnate at all makes the game less fun; these people are spoilsports) and more realistic (living constructs, native outsiders, and monstrous humanoids coming back as humanoids? engineers not having a chance to come back as engineers? Nonsense!). It stays.

The latter is an attempt to stave off the revolving door of death, which enough people complain about that it seems to be something that makes it more fun for some. That makes it good. It helps that rules for resurrection and reincarnation will only be used very rarely, so they're not something the PCs really have to keep in mind.

• A wizard may copy any arcane scroll into his spellbook, even if it is not on the Wizard class list. However, to do so he must pass an additional Use Magic Device check as if he were casting the spell from the scroll. The Archivist must do the same for spells which are not on the Cleric class list.

This isn't so much a house rule as it is an answer to a question that actually did come up. Only wizards and archivists even need to pay attention to it.

• There are no negative levels. In place of each negative level bestowed, the victim immediately ages 3d10 years. The victim may immediately roll a fortitude saving throw at the same difficulty as removing the negative level; if this saving throw succeeds, the aging is halved. If the victim receives a restoration spell within 24 hours, the aging is reversed; otherwise, it is permanent.

This makes the game more fun (nobody likes negative levels). I guess nobody can really describe the effect of having your life sucked out by an undead monster, so it doesn't really alter the "realism" scale.

• When crafting an item or casting a spell with an experience component, you may spend as much experience as you have, but your total experience cannot go below zero. Your class levels are never reduced in this way, no matter how much experience you spend.

This: probably unnecessary. I don't know that it makes the game more fun at all. I could drop it, though it would require altering the level adjustment reduction rules for consistency. Definitely a candidate for deletion.

• Participants in combat act on a shared initiative. Each member of each group (usually there are two groups: the PCs, and whatever they are fighting) rolls initiative and reports the highest initiative from each group.
In cases where there would be a surprise round, initiative is not rolled. The surprising party simply goes first, and the surprised party begins combat flat-footed.

As far as I've been able to tell so far, this house rule improves the game. It certainly speeds it up, though I have several players who don't seem to understand the principle of it at all and simply wait until everybody else has gone. I'm hoping eventually the principle of coöperation will click in everybody's minds.

• If you are a prepared caster, casting a level 0 spell does not remove it from your mind. If you are a spontaneous caster, casting a level 0 spell does not use up a spell slot.
This does not apply to Cure Minor Wounds or Repair Minor Damage, nor does it apply to any spell-like abilities. If you use a level 0 spell or spell slot to do anything other than cast that particular spell (e.g., spontaneously cast Inflict Minor Wounds by sacrificing a different spell), it still unprepares the spell/uses the spell slot. If you apply a metamagic effect to a level 0 spell, casting it unprepares the spell/uses the spell slot, even if it doesn't change the spell's level.

This: also probably unnecessary. You can accomplish much the same end by just taking reserve feats. Who actually runs out of 0-level spells, anyway? Does that happen? Are 0-level spells so useful people are in danger of running out of them?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monster PCs in the Open Game Table

So it was established that the best way to handle experience in the open gaming table is to just start everybody off at 0 and go from there, it sorts itself out.

But, I fool that I am, thought to myself, "But this kind of makes players unable to play characters with level adjustments or racial hit dice." Sure, there are various monster class progressions (and if you want to play a character that doesn't have a published monster class progression, I can just make one). But what of +1LA or +2LA? It would be awfully silly to make a one-level 0HD class progression, I'm not even sure how it would work (start with a racial hit die and then once you've completed the monster class progression you can switch it out for a class level? Inelegant).

And it's not great to just say you can start at 0XP with +1 or +2LA, because then you're stronger than the other characters for free and there's no reason not to do that, unless you don't want to deal with LA later on.

So I decided on this compromise: if you've got a character to level n, you may make a new character at 0XP but at level n, as long as n-1 of those levels are racial hit dice or level adjustment.

Sounds reasonable, right? Nope! Of the two players who have decided to take advantage of this offer so far, neither got it right. One missed the second part and made a character with two class levels (which I provisionally allowed because they were cleric and barbarian, so the character wasn't really actually much stronger than a level 1 character). The other made a character with a monster class level and a regular class level (which I'm allowing, as long as your monster levels are equal to or greater than your class levels, until you finish the monster progression), but didn't actually have a level 2 character in the first place (which I allowed, but the character conveniently died and was resurrected in the first session in which he was played). This is, uh, not auspicious. I'm going to call this policy a failed experiment and do away with it.

What to replace it with? Maybe nothing. Or maybe I'll do what Vaxia did (with pretty much great success) and say that, if you choose to permanently retire a character (e.g., if the character dies, or you grow so bored of them you know you'll never play them again) you can transfer 75% of their experience to a brand-new character. (In Vaxia, you could also transfer the experience to an existing character, but only in the form of banked XP that you had to work off through RP in order to earn. D&D doesn't really have a mechanic like that, so I'd just say brand-new characters only.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Naming Conventions of High Seas

I discovered a suggestion that I have recently been putting to good use. The suggestion is basically "take a real name and change one letter".

I named Prior Trakis and Abbot Waxter of the Monastery of Pelor on Perch Hill after a pair of friends I have. Viblet Kewne is from a random regular-person name generator (the last name was Keyne or possibly Keene, and I can't remember what the first name was -- I don't think it was Violet. That just goes to show how effective this method is, if even I can't tell what name I started with). Jov Sauart is another with that method. I think I'll mostly use this for humans from Shell and a minority of mongrelfolk.


For Sahuagin, I use roughly the naming conventions from the third-party Slayer's Guide to the Sahuagin. The BBEG's dragon from my first campaign was a sahuagin cultist called Searches-the-blackest-depths-and-loves-what-she-finds-there, with other sahuagin going by such names as Reading-reading-hunt-with-book and Big-fella-kills-whales.


Mind flayer names, based on precedents from all over WotC canon, tend to be all Xs and Cs and Qs in unpronounceable configurations. Thus, the ascended mind flayer BBEG of High Seas, Quasxthe. And the level 1 mind flayer PC, Kibstellischa. And the old oracle of Ilsensine, Absterbossk. And the latter two, now that I consider it, contain no Xs or Qs and only one C. Huh. I think I used a mind flayer name generator for Absterbossk.


Omorashi humans, of course, have Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and other East Asian names.


I was reading Libris Mortis, and in the introduction, I discovered that the name is intended to be (bastardized) Celestial for "From the Books of the Dead" (you may hear people refer to this book as the "Book of Bad Latin" - it's actually perfectly acceptable Latin for this meaning). The interesting thing about this is that it implies (bastardized) Celestial = Latin.

Interestingly, before I discovered that, I had decided that Romus, the fantasy counterpart culture of ancient Rome, was ruled by a descended movanic deva. Obviously, the reason why the cives Romi (Romo? Genitive or ablative? "Of Romus" or "from Romus"? I'm not actually entirely sure!) have Latin names is because they actually have Celestial names, because Celestial is the state language of Romus, because Vozdael Arkhigael says so. (The capital is still called "Landrise" instead of something in Celestial because hey look a firetruck!)

Incidentally, my naming custom for celestial creatures was to look up words that describe them on wiktionary, consult the Arabic, Aramaic, and Hebrew translations for those words, string them together, and stick -el or -iel or -ael on the end of them. I'll probably add Latin to this system now, if I don't just switch entirely to Latin for celestials and leave the arabic/aramaic/hebrew for fiends. But there's precedent for celestials having this naming convention, so I think I'll stick with it, and just say that angels, archons, devas, demons, and devils all have names that are mixtures of celestial, infernal, and abyssal.


Mongrelfolk, going from Races of Destiny, have either weird or normal contemporary human first names, normal contemporary human surnames, and appended onto the beginning of the surname, a random three- or four-letter word. Peph Box-Cooper, Laurence Tepp-Stewart, Bob Har-Johnson.

Mongrelfolk place names, of course, are just silly, but generally bizarrely descriptive. The Disreputable City, the River Easy, the Don't Drink This River (aka the Poison River), Noodleton, Winkle Village, Stank Cave, Perch Hill, Mount Dis. Endeesy, of course, is a quick way of saying N.D.C., New Disreputable City.


Engineers have names randomly selected from both the gnomish and dwarven languages in Races of Stone.


Anything dragon or dragon-descended has a name selected from the draconic dictionary in Races of the Dragon. (Well, more specifically, this draconic translator, which includes the RotD list as the core of its dictionary.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Keeping Track of Initiative

Even though I've concluded that the standard way of handling initiative is flawed and a group initiative system is better, I'd like to briefly cover some of the options for dealing with the standard initiative system.


In the first game I played in, one of the players kept a list of the characters on a small whiteboard, and kept track of initiative with little numbers next to each name. This is adequate, though there's a (very) slight delay every time you look at the board and do the math to figure out what number comes after 4 or whatever, and try to find that number on the board. It was the initiative-keeper's job to announce whose turn it is and who's up next.

In that particular group, this system was much improved when the initiative-keeper got an iPad, and the iPad initiative app, which is much cleverer. You sort the characters into proper initiative order, then you push a button after each player goes, and it moves that player to the bottom of the list. An easy, simple visual representation of how soon your turn is.


When I first started DMing, I used initiative cards (which, being a cheapskate, I created and printed myself). You put everybody's name on little cards, and write whatever initiative they rolled in one corner, and then sort them into order. After each player goes, take their card and put it at the bottom of the pile. These are handy.

Because I didn't at the time have any of the books or a laptop for consulting the SRD, I had to print out all the monsters I was going to use in condensed statblock form, so their statblock just joined the pile as their initiative card, as well as the place where I tracked how much HP each one had.

The downside of this system is that the players never know when they're going next. And the cards I printed were all different sizes, so sometimes people would get lost in the shuffle.


When I got a laptop, I started increasingly switching over to completely paperless DMing. Because I no longer printed out the creature stats, I didn't automatically have an initiative card for each one, so I had no reason to keep this system.

So, for a while, I flirted with the technique of keeping the list on the big whiteboard behind me. I usually play in classrooms nowadays, and as long as I have the whiteboard markers out, I might as well use this vast empty space of whiteboard for something. This introduces an additional problem, in that I always sit facing away from the whiteboard (for various reasons involving being surrounded by D&D paraphernalia), so I have to turn around to see who's up next. Plus, I really should have designated a player to keep the initiative, doing it myself is a bottleneck on the whole process.

Then, for a few weeks, I switched to keeping half-cards with each character's name folded over the top of my DM screen, sorted into order. There was a gap the width of a card or two between the card of whichever character is currently going and the card of the next character up. When it's your turn, your card crosses the gap. At the top of the order, everybody's cards go back to the other side. A slightly more intuitive visual display, where you can tell who's up next by who's next on the screen.

I probably would have stuck with that method for awhile, cumbersome though it is, if I hadn't decided to switch over to the group initiative system.


A side note, on the subject of initiative: if you're playing with group initiative, it turns out that if you run on "each group goes on the highest initiative rolled by anybody in that group", the PCs will go first nearly every time.

Consider this addendum: in any given group of NPCs, one of them took the Unreactive flaw (-6 initiative) and gave his bonus feat to another one, who took the Improved Initiative feat (+4 initiative). This should mix it up a little without significantly altering balance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HP Rolling Alternatives

Not realizing this seems to be common, so I'll just point it out here: the default rule is to maximize the hit points you get at first level. A barbarian gets 12+con, a wizard gets 4+con. Only at levels after first level do you roll your hit die.

I'm massively opposed to rolling stats, much preferring point buy. And it sometimes strikes me as inconsistent that I do roll for HP. The difference, I suppose, is that HP should even out to an average after enough levels. I might eventually switch over to half-plus-one (alternately phrased as average-rounded-up, though that's a worse phrasing given D&D's Always Round Down rule) for HD rolls, but until then, is there some way to make rolling HD better?

I've played in high-powered campaigns where if you roll below average on your hit die (after 1st), you simply take whatever is on the opposite side of the die. E.g., if you roll a 1 on a d12, you instead take a 12. If you roll a 3 on a d6, you instead take a 4. This obviously had the effect of substantially increasing one's hit points.

It has occurred to me to institute a system whereby, at each level (after 1st), you may choose whether to roll your HD as normal, or take your average HD (rounded up does seem to be the standard, but offering it as an option should probably round down, to make it a choice between the certainty of one result, or a random result that could be much higher or much lower but which will average out to slightly higher than the certain result; it may still be an even choice, because people supposedly tend to pick the devil they know over the devil they don't). But I haven't thought through this idea, and I don't think I'll ever test or implement it.

I've also heard tell of a house rule to this effect: if you don't like your HD roll (after 1st), you can reroll on the next die down (d12, d10, d8, d6, d4). You can continue to do this until you hit the d4.
This has the effect of making a high hit die mean more: not only are you getting a higher number to start with (on average, each HD step increases your HP by 1/level), you're getting more cushion in case you roll poorly. No more barbarian crippled by rolling a 1 for his level 2 HD! Well, he still can, but it's profoundly unlikely (unless my math's wrong (which it is -- see if you can identify why), he has a 1/23,040 chance under this system to wind up with a 1, where before he had a 1/12 chance).
I like this system, and may implement it at some point in the future. Especially because it benefits high-HD classes (i.e., melee) quite a bit and benefits low-HD classes (i.e., spellcasters) not a whit, which is good.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Warforged Forged For Things That Aren't War

High Seas has warforged originally designed for mining operations deep beneath the ocean, what with not needing to breathe and all.

The idea of warforged being used only for war has always struck me as a little silly: a sapient being is so much more versatile than that. It makes more sense to put the "war" part of the name from your mind, and think of them as robots like any other robots.


Which is to say, basically, this: think of a thing that's too dangerous or too low-oxygen or gross or tedious for feeble normal fleshy people to do; somebody made a line of warforged to do that thing.

Specific ideas to play with:
- undersea exploration/work
- space exploration/work
- exploration/work on hostile planes
- mining of any sort
- sewage treatment and sewer line maintenance
- household chores
- guinea pig (specifically thinking "test pilot", however you might go about incorporating that concept into D&D)
- research ("Librarian-bot, find me all the information you can on avocados...")
- law enforcement (or traffic enforcement)
- worshipping a deity to free up the rest of the community for more useful activities (along the lines of prayer wheels, the Tibetan devices which do your praying for you)
- worshipping a deity because the deity in question is such a distasteful one that you're trying to power it up with prayer but wouldn't be able to find very many human worshippers to do it

(Side note: most of those are pretty good if I do say so myself, but holy awesome those last two are an amazing idea and I must immediately incorporate them into my campaign setting.)


On another side of the d20 altogether, for an individual adventurer rather than an entire line of them: the notion of a warforged who broke free of his creators and is now his own guy is probably Drizz't-level cliche at this point, but there are still drastic variations on that which aren't common in D&D.

I'm thinking specifically this: (re)read I, Robot and the rest of Isaac Asimov's robot oeuvre, most of which take the form of logic puzzles or detailed explorations of a concept, where the concept is almost always a variation on "Robot X is Three Laws safe in every way, except for subtle defect Y" ("It can read minds"; "it's missing the 'or through inaction' part of the First Law"; "it's put into a situation where the laws conflict in exactly the wrong way"; "it has creativity").

I mention Asimov only because he put out the highest volume of the purest distillations of this trope. You could also consider things like Data, Marvin, or Kryten; basically any fiction that has a robot. Or just pick a random robot trope. There's such a wide variety of fiction to rip off, it's hard to know where to start!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Character Sketch I'll Probably Never Get To Use

Masuulael Lamakavodael

I may be an elemental embodiment of Law and Good, and no more capable of committing an evil act than you are of juggling anvils with your face, but that's my path, not yours. My path is not for everyone to follow, and I never seek to impose it on anyone. As long as you get to your destination eventually, you're alright in my book.

You see, killing, while an objectively evil act (and thus something I am usually not personally capable of), doesn't actually hurt you mortals. You kill a Good person, they go to one of the better afterlives, which are much nicer places than this cesspit of a Material Plane you've got going here, so you've done them a favour. Conversely, you kill an Evil person, they're immediately off to burn in one of the less pleasant afterlives, which is exactly what they deserve. And, of course, Neutral folks go to the more Neutral afterlives, which are about on par with the Material Plane, so it's sort of a lateral move.

So you go on, kill whomever you want, steal and rampage across the Material Plane. The bureaucracy of the afterlife has infinite capacity to get every soul to their proper place once they move on from the Material Plane. Including yours.

Now, if you were a vampire, or a lich, or a mummy, or a brain in a jar, or an illithid, or any of the other myriad perversions you folks have invented to avoid eternal justice, then we'd have something of a problem. All the abominations that clog up the natural workings of things and really tangle up the bookkeeping. Fiends rampaging all over everything on the Material Plane tend to muck everything all up, too. Never really quite seen eye to eye with the angels, either, though their hearts are usually in the right place.

- Lantern Archon Masuulael Lamakavodael ("Mal" to his friends)