Let's roll some dice, watch some movies, or generally just geek out. New posts at 6:30 pm ET but only if I have something to say. Menu at the top. firstname.lastname@example.org on Mastodon and @gsllc on Twitter.
This memory isn’t really random. It has a catalyst.
I registered to run a 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons game at Winter Fantasy. To prepare for running it, I’m going through my usual routing of creating a Word document placing the encounters in my own words and organizing them in a way that’s more intuitive for me at the table.
Eventually, I came to encounter 22, (spoiler alert!) the frictionless room, which spurred a series of memories from when I was an undergraduate physics major at the University of Maryland. Friction always made things difficult when solving problems related to movement, so unless you were specifically studying differential equations, our problems would assume no friction (as well as assuming every chicken is a sphere). Accordingly, my professors occasionally (and unnecessarily) thought it was necessary to remind us that friction is actually a good thing.
We’re physics majors. We know that friction is important, and life would be impossible without it. Perhaps our professors should have instead just had us play White Plume Mountain as part of the curriculum.
Today, I fly to Las Vegas for my annual blackjack trip, only this time there will be some major disruptions. I usually go on Columbus Day week, and last year I went in September. This week it was delayed to the Christmas build up week because I had some friends going there. I figured it was about time I do something other than blackjack when I’m there. For example, I’ve always said I was going to see Penn & Teller‘s show at the Rio but never did. Well, I already have tickets for the Friday night show, so that’s finally going to happen (sans Teller, who’s recovering from health issues).
Nevertheless, I’ll still be playing some blackjack. I’m getting there a day before they are so that I’ll have at least one day to game. Overall, I’ll make sure I have two full days to gamble, so it can’t hurt to ask for help from the gods. The luck gods? No, I don’t need them. Blackjack is more a game of skill. I’ve practiced at a local casino over the course of three Sundays and Thanksgiving Day since October 9th. I’ve brought in just over $4,000 in winnings, having started with $800 or less each of those days. (I don’t mind mentioning this because I will be reporting these winnings to the IRS.) At this point, I’ve sharpened my system to so fine a point that it’s like taking candy from babies, only I have no moral qualms with taking this candy from casinos.
That $4,000 pays for my airfare, Penn & Teller, and the resort fee as well as bankrolls my play. As for food, that’s covered through my gambling comps. I’ll be eating at steakhouses all week and won’t have to pay for anything but the tips.
So, with that in mind, here’s a video of Ebisu, the god of luck through hard work . . . sort of. He’s really just a luck god and master fisherman from Japanese mythology, but in Deities & Demigods for 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, he was characterized as the god of “luck through hard work.” Considering how rough a childhood Ebisu had, and considering that I’m an RPG nerd, I’m going with that.
But I don’t like fish, so here’s another one. This is a video about Daikokuten, the Japanese god of wealth.
Lugh, the Irish god of skill and law (among other things).
Hey, a divine lawyer? How can I not get behind that?
As for the rest of this week, I’ll be busy, so my posts will be filled with limited content.
Yesterday, I posted druid-related memes, so you’d think the next day would be a great day to post a video on druidic folklore. The problems is I’ve already done that. Instead, I’m posting a video on Gwyn ap Nudd (sometimes Gwynn ap Nudd), the Welsh figure associated with the traditional “Wild Hunt” (among other things).
There are several figures from mythology and folklore associated with this tradition, but Gwyn ap Nuddm and his supernatural hounds, the Cŵn Annwn, seem to be the one that provided the closest inspiration for the Celtic “Master of the Hunt” from the 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook, Deities & Demigods. This is why I chose him.
Last week, I signed an online petition. There’s very little I could do that’s dumber than signing and online petition.
There’s no guarantee that each signature comes from a unique individual. I alone have a seemingly infinite number of email addresses through which I could have voted. In the case of political petitions, there’s no guarantee that the signors are from the relevant jurisdiction, but that’s no relevant here. The petition at issue here is requesting that Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) complete and release four cancelled books from the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“4e“) era: Player’s Handbook Races: Humans, Gazetteer: The Nentir Vale, Player’s Option: Champions of the Heroic Tier, and Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
We have no idea how many people actually want that, but that number has to be far too small to justify a release of books. Also of note, even if we know Fred Snerd signed the petition, how many of those books would he buy? These aren’t core sourcebooks; they’re supplements. Supplements never sell as well as sourcebooks because only the core sourcebooks are necessary for the game. Supplements don’t necessarily appeal to everyone that plays. If Fred never plays humans, he’s not going to buy Player’s Handbook Races: Humans.
Besides, the timing couldn’t be worse. Earlier this month, WotC removed the last remaining 4e content they had from their site. I think the remaining material was their Dragon and Dungeon magazines archive. There’s simply no way they’re going to reverse course so quickly. You can still buy existing content via the DMs Guild, so the material is out there. Hell, I recently bought a ton of 1st Edition material, and I now having everything that was every lost, stolen, or destroyed. It’s a bit much to expect WotC to create new content for that edition. The legacy communities have to rely on each other to create and publish material for those editions. Of course, that’s made difficult by the fact that WotC legal have stifled such creativity with horrible mischaracterizations of intellectual property law, but do you really want me beating that dead horse again?
I love 4e and am currently in discussions to host a new campaign, but WotC has moved on, they have no reason to complete new material for it, and they have no reason to believe it would be worth their while financially speaking.
But it felt damn good signing that petition. I can’t wait to play again.
Recently, a friend and I started planning a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (“4e”) game, so my Facebook, Twitter, Mewe, and now Mastodon(!) posts have brought up 4e. It resulted in a loose commitment from an old friend to join the game, which is great, and it has me thumbing through my old material searching for the unfinished business I have with 4e.
I always wanted to roleplay a jannisary, which is a character theme (read: background) from the Player’s Option: Heroes of the Elemental Chaos. This is a character whose backstory includes time in service to a genie. In my case, I’d choose a marid as my former master — probably Ajhuu — who might justify me taking a slight twist on the Prince of Genies paragon path when the time comes. All I’m saying, Vic, is that I have a maird mini if you ever want my benefactor to make an appearance.
Mixing a jannisary theme with a melee bard (valorous bard, maybe?) could be fun, and mechanically wouldn’t be too underpowered. I have a tendency to create underpowered characters because I’m far more interested in building an intriguing character than a powerhouse.
I’m extremely eager to add this game to my schedule. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but I’ve always been a slave to living campaigns, either directly or indirectly. When I returned to the game after a 23 year absence (due in large part to the Satanic Panic), I found games through the Living Greyhawk campaign, and from that formed relationships with people who were living campaign enthusiasts. As a result, most games I played were in living campaigns, but even my home games were populated with people that, because of their devotion to living campaigns, always wanted to play the current edition of the game. As a result, playing a past edition, and certainly an out-of-print game, was almost never an option.
Henry, Sr. shouldn’t have slapped Indy. He should have used a baseball bat.
As you know (if you’ve ever read my blog), I’m running 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons for the first time in 40 years, and I’m in talks with Luddite Vic about organizing a 4th Edition game. Moreover, in the back of my mind, I’m contemplating a FASA Star Trek RPG game. That one may never happen because I’d absolutely have to run that online to find any players, but it’s certainly something I’d like to do in theory.
The point is that all of that material has been sitting on my shelf for years (if not decades) collecting dust, but it’s still as good as it ever was. The potential is always there, and you never know how your circumstances will change. Hell, I even have 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragonsmaterial on my shelves, and I can’t stand that edition. I’ve played it a couple of times in the past ten years just so I could hang out with some friends, and I’ve written not one, not two, but three posts on unfinished business I have with the edition, so even that has potential value (assuming the DM gets rid of confirmation of critical hits). Two editions of the Gamma World RPG, Star Wars Saga Edition RPG, Dragon Age RPG, Margaret Weiss’s Marvel Superheroes RPG, several board games (Demons!), and some games still in shrink wrap all litter my “man cave,” but I wouldn’t consider my collection huge. If yours is huge, that in my opinion you’re doing things better than I am. You never know what you might need to pull out for company. Hell, I’m even ready to host a night of blackjack or poker.
Where’s a roided-out Barry Bonds when you need him?
Two days ago, I published a system for abstracted combat that seemed appropriate for dealing with the (wonderful) circumstances the players created for themselves in my run of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.
In short, the evil wizard (PC) charmed an orc while invading their lair, killed the orc boss, and then convinced the remaining orcs (12 warriors and 19 non-combatants) that they were taking over the tribe. The wizard was assisted by his charmed victim as well as the half-orc rogue PC. Their first mission was to use the orcs to clear out the kobold lair. Rather than play it out as a combat involving over 30 characters, I decided to come up with a d6 system on the fly. One of the players said, “Do it like in the game, Risk,” and to the best of my recollection I did. Each combat required an evolution of the system, as its shortcomings kept revealing themselves. This evolution continued as I created example combats on that last blog post. Here’s are the only corrections I need to make to that last system:
When determining how many dice to roll, use your gut, but try to get to 3-5 dice for each side.
In order to avoid difficult fractions, allow one or two characters from a side to sit out a round of combat.
You have to read the last post for context, but here’s how this would play out. As to #1, let’s say each side has 16 hit dice (“HD”). I could roll 8 dice for each side, with a “loss” resulting in 2 HD lost for the side. I could also roll 2 dice on each side, with a loss resulting in 8 HD lost for each side. The first way is rolling far too many dice, and the second way is far too swingy (i.e., the combat is likely to be resolved after only one round). So, you should instead have each side roll 4 dice with each loss resulting in 4 HD lost for each side. Of course, the multiplier is optional, so even if you roll 4 dice, you could choose for each loss to result in either 1 or 2 HD lost for each side depending on how long you want the combat to run. However, I’d think you’d want to go more quickly than that considering that this entire system is meant to provide a relatively quick resolution to combats you don’t want to play out meticulously.
As to #2, let’s say one side has 16 characters and another has 15 characters. The only common divisor (that produces an integer) is 1, so that means you’re rolling 16 dice for one side and 15 for the other. That’s fine if you have that many d6s (who doesn’t?) and you want to roll that many dice (who does?), but I’d rather roll between 3-5 dice. So, what do I do? I have one of the characters on the first side sit out that round. Maybe he tripped while attempting to close into melee. Maybe he pulled out a broken arrow and needed to grab another one. Whatever the explanation, now it’s 15 v. 15, and I can roll 3 dice, each representing 5 HD of characters, or I can roll 5 dice, each representing 3 HD of characters. The 16th character doesn’t get an automatic win but is also immune from getting killed. You may not like this solution. You may be thinking that having more characters should result in a tactical advantage, so you should give the side with the extra character an extra die to represent that advantage. However, that already occurs only when the advantage is significant (i.e., 15 v. 9 with one side rolling 5 dice – two uncontested – and the other 3). Adding a die here would be quite an advantage (i.e., mathematically, it’s always rounding up no matter how small the fraction), but to each their own. I’m not the boss of you.
An Addition to the Rule
Now I have to break new ground. What if the PCs want to get involved? A PC could join one of the groups as a leader, adding their own level (HD) to the mix. For that to make sense, there must be both a risk and a reward attached to it. Here’s what I’m thinking:
On a loss, that loss must be shared by a PC such that every other round each PC involved must share in the a loss suffered. This loss is expressed in hit points, not HD, such that if a PC takes a loss of 4 HD, the PC actually loses only 4 hps. Otherwise, a 1st or 2nd level PC would never survive past the 2nd round.
One PC should also be able to use what’s on their character sheet to influence the combat beyond simply adding their HD to the equation.
I think #1 is self-explanatory, but we clearly need guidelines for #2. Remember, this is being written for 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, so you’ll have to translate these ideas into to your own system. Imagine a larger combat where each PC leads a small group of NPCs in their fight against a group of enemy NPCs. Only one PC should be permitted to lead a given group to avoid these benefits being cumulative, though a second PC could certainly be permitted to join a group led by another PC so as to increase the number of HD in that group and share the PC hit point damage from #1.
Cleric: Can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round if the other side has at least one undead creature on it.
Druid: Can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR use terrain such that the druid’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
Fighter (Barbarian, Ranger), Cavalier, Thief (Assassin, Thief-Acrobat), or Monk: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round, but every even numbered round can add two HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round.
Ranger: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR use terrain such that the PC’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
Illusionist, Paladin, or Wizard : Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round.
Bard: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR use terrain such that the druid’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
Example #1: Five d6s are rolled, each representing 2 HD, and a cleric’s team loses 3 times. Rather than losing 6 HD, that team loses 5 HD because one of those loses is reduced from 2 HD to 1 HD.
Example #2: Five d6s are rolled, each representing 2 HD, and a fighter’s team wins 3 times. Rather than inflict 6 HD of loss to the other side, that team inflicts 7 HD of loss because one of those wins is increased from 1 HD to 2 HD.
Note: PCs should be permitted to choose which effect they want to deliver after they see the results of the rolls.
There isn’t much variation here because the system isn’t complex enough to support it. Each class should have the same degree of impact on the combat, but if the system is simple (as it should be), that precludes significant variation in class abilities. That said, players should be able to suggest how they can appropriately contribute to their groups, even if based on alignment, race, or a specific spell in their arsenal. I suggest being careful not to allow an imbalance. Remember, NPCs often have those abilities as well, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The NPCs should often be able to introduce such complexities. Don’t overcomplicate this system and place yourself in a position where you might as well play out combat meticulously.
I’m also considering adding a morale shortcut for cutting off combats when it’s clear the other side should be routed, which would in turn allow me to give the fighter and ranger a means to boost their team’s morale in light of their ability to attract followers. Even a small group could do some damage, and that may prove useful in the big picture.
You might see another sequel to this series of posts with better ideas.
I have this urge to somehow distinguish between melee and ranged attackers in this system, and to make the benefits level-dependent, but no matter how I imagine it, it makes the system far more complex than it should be for combats involving 10s of characters rather than 100s of characters. The former is my focus, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this system didn’t work as well for battles between armies (if at all). If that’s the case, so be it. I can always look up how others have handled those situations if needed.
My Ending to the Keep on the Borderlands
I have an idea for how to end this adventure mod. Though it’s easy to guess what it would be, I won’t post it here because my players may read it. I posted it to my D&D MeWe groups because none of the players are members, so if you want to read about it, head over there. This idea would allow me to use this rules system as modified, but it would also allow the characters to gain reputation points. As I’ve written, I have a reputation system that’s important to how I run this game. By being involved, the players aren’t just crossing their fingers and watching the DM roll dice, and they can increase their reputation in the process.
Clearly this system needs tweaking, so your constructive comments are appreciated.
On Sunday, I promised a post explaining my abstracted combat system. This came in handy when my 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons PCs took over an orc tribe and sent them in to clean out a kobold gang and some bugbears. However, I built it on the fly based in part on how Risk handles combats, so I never ran it quite as I wanted it to go.
Here’s the system:
Add up the number of hit dice on both sides, treating any “+” as 0.5 HD (e.g., HD 2+1), giving a total hit dice for each side (always rounding up so that no character is rendered useless). (If using a different system, perhaps CR or level would be more appropriate.)
If it’s practical to roll a number of dice for each side equal to their number of hit dice, then do that, but otherwise divide those total hit dice values by the least common devisor between them (using at least 2 to avoid a 1 unless absolutely necessary), giving each side a modified number of dice to be rolled (rounded as suggested below).
Roll a number of d6s for each side equal to their number of dice (which could differ for each side).
Starting from the highest roll for each side, compare the rolls, giving each side a win when they roll higher than the other side, giving a side an automatic win for each extra die they roll, and if one side can be deemed to be on their home turf, awarding a win to such a defender on a tie.
Optional: To speed up combat, multiply the number of wins for each side by the greatest common devisor.
Subtract a number of characters from a side with hit dice equal to the number of wins its opponent received (rounded as suggested below), starting with the lowest hit dice creatures available, but always modifying your selections if it avoids having to round fractions.
Rinse and repeat.
As for rounding, as a physics major, I was told to round down for decimals below 0.5, round up for decimals above 0.5, and round to an even number for decimals of exactly 0.5. Thus, 4.5 would be rounded down to 4, but 5.5 would be rounded up to 6.
As always, examples help to explain the rules.
Side 1: 12, 1-hit dice (“HD”) orcs
Side 2: 6, 1/2 HD kobolds defending their home turf.
The orcs have 12 HD (= 12 x 1), and the kobolds have 3 HD (= 6 x 1/2).
The least common devisor between sides is 3 such that the orcs will roll 4d6 (= 12/3) and the kobolds will roll 1d6 (= 3/3).
The orcs roll a 1, 2, 3, and 6, and the kobolds roll a 6.
As defenders, the kobolds get one win on the tie against the orcs’ 6, but the orcs get three wins because of their unopposed dice.
Optional: The wins are multiplied by least common devisor, which is 9 (= 3 x 3) wins for the orcs and 3 (= 1 x 3) wins for the kobolds.
The orcs lose 3 characters (3 wins for the kobolds costs the orc side 3, 1-HD characters) and all the kobolds are killed because their total hit dice (3) are less than how many they lost (9).
There are no kobolds left, so the combat is over.
Side 1: 9, 1- HD orcs
Side 2: 19, 1/2 HD giant rats defending their home turf.
The orcs have 9 HD (= 9 x 1), and the giant rats have 10 HD (= 19 x 1/2, rounding 9.5 up to 10).
The least common devisor between sides is 2 such that the orcs will roll 4d6 (= 9/5, rounding 4.5 down to 4) and the giant rats will roll 5d6 (= 10/5 = 2).
The orcs roll a 6, 5, 1, and 1, and the giant rats roll 5, 3, 1, 1, and 1.
The orcs get two wins (6 v. 5 and 5 v. 3), and the giant rats get three wins (the tied 1s go to the defender, plus the one unopposed die).
The orcs lose 3 characters (left with 6 characters), and the giant rats lose 4 characters (2 x 1/2 HD, left with 15 characters).
The orcs now have 6 HD (= 6 x 1 HD each), and the giant rats have 6 HD (= 15 1/2-HD each, rounding 7.5 up to 8).
The least common devisor between sides is 2 such that the orcs will roll 3d6 (= 6/2) and the giant rats will roll 3d6 (= 6/2).
The orcs roll 5 and 4, and the giant rats roll 3, 2, and 1.
The orcs get two wins, and the giant rats get 1 win.
The orcs lose one character (left with 5 characters), and the giant rats lose four characters (2 HD lost = 4 1/2 HD characters lost, left with 7).
The orcs have 5 HD (= 5 x 1 HD each), and the giant rats have 4 HD (= 7 x 1/2, rounding 3.5 up to 4).
At this point, it makes sense to simply roll 5d6 for the orcs and 4d6 for the giant rats.
The orcs roll 6, 5, 4, 3, and 1, and the giant rats roll 5, 4, 4, and 3.
The orcs get wins for 6 v. 5, 5 v. 4, and the extra 1, but the giant rats get victories for the ties with 4 and 3.
The orcs lose two characters (left with 3 characters), and the giant rats lose six characters (3 HD lost = 6 1/2 HD characters lost, left with 1).
At this point, the orcs can’t lose. They’ll roll three dice, and the lone remaining giant rat will roll one. At best, the giant rat will take out one orc (leaving two remaining) but may just be skewered without accomplishing anything.
Let’s try one more.
Side 1: 10, 1- HD orcs
Side 2: 2, 1+1 HD hobgoblin guards and 1 4 HD hobgoblin chief defending their home turf.
The orcs have 10 HD (= 9 x 1 HD each), and the hobgoblins have 10 HD (= 4 for the chief + 3 for the two, 1+1 HD guards, each treated as 1.5 HD).
The least common devisor between sides is 2 such that each side will roll 5d6 (= 10 HD / 2).
The orcs roll a 6, 6, 5, 4, and 2, and the hobgoblins roll 6, 3, 2, 2, and 1.
The orcs get four wins, and the hobgoblins only one win (the tied 6s go to the defender).
The orcs lose 1 character (left with 9 characters), and the hobgoblins lose 4 HD worth of characters. They can’t lose both guards because that would be a loss of only 3 HD. Therefore, they must lose the 4-HD chief. Only the two guards remain.
The orcs now have 9 HD (= 9 x 1 HD each), and hobgoblins have 3 HD (= 3 1-1/2-HD guards).
The least common devisor between sides is 3 such that the orcs will roll 3d6 (= 9 HD/3) and the hobgoblins will roll 1d6 (3 HD/ 3).
The orcs roll a 5, 4, and 2, and the hobgoblins roll a 6.
The orcs lose 1 character (left with 8 characters) and the hobgoblins lose 2 HD worth of characters. Because each hobgoblin is treated as having 1-1/2, they lose 1 guard, leaving 1/2 HD left. That rounds down to 0 HD, so the other guard survives (though not for long).
As with the giant rats from Combat 2, the lone remaining hobgoblin will at best take out one orc before the uncontested die takes him out. If you’re trying to apply this to mass battle but don’t want to take all day doing it, you can fairly and intuitively adjust the system as follows. Choose a common devisor greater than the least common devisor. After rolling the dice to determine the number of wins, multiply the number of wins by that common devisor. Here’s an example.
Side 1: 100, 1- HD orcs.
Side 2: 30, 2 HD hobgoblins.
The orcs have 100 HD (= 100 x 1 HD each), and the hobgoblins have 60 HD (= 30 x 2 HD).
The least common devisor between sides is 2 such that the orcs will roll 50d6, and the hobgoblins will roll 30d6. No thanks. Instead, we’ll divide by 20, so that the orcs will roll 5d6, and the hobgoblins will roll 3d6
The orcs roll a 4, 3, 3, 3, and 2, and the hobgoblins roll 5, 5, and 4.
The orcs get two wins, and the hobgoblins get three wins. Now remultiply the devisor you chose (20) and multiply the wins by that. That means the orcs have 40 wins, and the hobgoblins have 60 wins.
The orcs lose 60 characters (left with 40 characters), and the hobgoblins lose 20 HD worth of characters, which amounts to 10, 2-HD characters (left with 50 characters).
Now we proceed to round 2 with 40 orcs v. 50 hobgoblins. Using 10 as a new multiplier, the orcs will roll 4 dice, and the hobgoblins will roll 5 dice.
The orcs roll 6, 5, 5, and 1, and the hobgoblins roll 5, 5, 3, 1, and 1. Because neither team is defending their home turf, the orcs earn two wins, two dice are ties (and thus ignored), and the hobgoblins earn one win from the unopposed die.
Multiplying these wins by 10, the orcs gain 20 wins, and the hobgoblins gain 10 wins.
The orcs lose 10 characters (left with 30 characters), and the hobgoblins lose 10 characters (20 HD worth of 2-HD characters), leaving them with 40 characters.
In round 3, the orcs have 30 characters, and the hobgoblins have 40 characters, so we can again use a common devisor of 10, giving the orcs 3 dice and the hobgoblins 4 dice.
With rolls of 5 and 4 for the orcs and 6, 5, and 4 for the hobgoblins, the orcs lose all three rolls, and thus 30 from their ranks, with no losses to the other side.
There are no more orcs left, which is good because I don’t want you to think I like orcs. So, the 40 remaining hobgoblins can now loot the bodies and drink themselves silly. Wait, does this mean I like hobgoblins?
If you’re comfortable with the system, this will go more quickly than it looks. However, I know plenty of game systems have created mass battle rules, and I wouldn’t be surprised if those rules are far better than this ad hoc one for dealing with small scale, abstracted battles. If you have any you prefer, send me a link, but you can see for yourself whether this works for you by getting out your d6s.
No, not those d6s.
FOOTNOTE: I’ve made a few changes and additions to the system. You can find them here.
Last night was session 5 or 6 (I don’t remember) of module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, my first 1st Edition AD&D (“1e“) game in 40 years. It was by far our best session yet. Everyone is more familiar with the combat system, so it went far more smoothly. We had two new players join: Vic and his 23-year-old son, Nicholas. For someone so young, Nicholas certainly got into the 1e spirit. He played a neutral evil wizard because . . . well, why not? He also chose to randomly select his spells, which I don’t require. Wizards get Read Magic at 1st level, but rather than randomly roll for one offensive spell, one defensive spell, and one miscellaneous spell (see Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 39), I allow them to choose one from each, and then choose another spell from either the defensive spell list or miscellaneous spell list. If they get to memorize only 1 spell at first level, they might as well have options.
So, Nicholas randomly rolled and learned Charm Person for his offensive spell. I noted at one point is a spell I’d never choose over Magic Missile or Sleep, but holy crap did that work out. Not only did his two uses of the spell have every bit as good a mechanical benefit as Sleep ever did, but it made the session memorable. In short, he charmed an orc, which (SPOILER ALERT!!!) greatly assisted towards taking over the remaining orcs in the tribe, which they then led to take out the kobold tribe. Next, they decided to clean up some unfinished business with the bugbear tribe, where the remaining orc minions lost their lives, but not before softening up the area. Nicholas’s second Charm Person was used on a prisoner that himself was evil and is supposed to wreak havoc on the party as soon as he could. That crisis was averted. Now Nicholas has two new allies that don’t get an automatic save against the charm for an entire month (in game time). The combats with the orcs were abstracted, which forced me to create a mass battle system on the fly. This session represented growing pains for that system, but with some help from the players, I think I have a good system in hand that allows for abstracted combat. I’ll discuss that system later this week.
While interesting, the anecdote above is also presented for context relevant in small part to this post’s theme.
As recently as last night’s session, I had a player (Erik) comment in passing on how stupid he thought segments were. I’ve discussed why I like segments, but here’s the short version: They replace material components that no one actually tracks (in 5th Edition at least), as a means to encourage variety among casters. That is, when you’re selecting a spell, you have to decide whether you want to take a strong spell that takes long to cast and risks being dispelled before it takes effect or a weak spell that you know will almost always take effect. Well, different players have different personalities, so that should result in different spell selection among players. A risk-averse player will choose a weaker spell rather than an uber-powerful spell that takes 8 or 9 segments to cast, while a risky player will accept the risk in favor of the reward something like Time Stop provides. Someone who’s mildly risk-averse may choose something in the middle. The same can be said for fighters. Which is better: a dagger that does only 1d4 (or 1d3) damage but has a weapon speed factor of 2, or a two-handed sword that does 1d10 (or 3d6) damage but has a weapon speed factor of 10? Well, a two-handed sword, but there are tougher choices than that.
But none of this becomes apparent at low levels. Sleep has a casting time of only 1 segment, and it’s uber-powerful for a 1st-level spell. Get to higher levels, and these decisions become far more interesting, and identically-classed, identically-raced characters will play out very differently. That’s a good thing that’s been inadequately replaced in modern versions of the game by relying on material components or, for example, increasing the number of races from which you can choose, but that can get a bit ridiculous at times (anthropomorphized hamster PCs?). Segments represent a far better way to encourage diverse character builds because they not only allow for player agency but actively encourage it. You get to build your character to suit your personality rather than according to pre-built build packages for classes.
Here’s another example that received far more grief last night than segments. If a DM awards experience points (“XP”) for gold found (as I do), then by definition your characters will always have more experience than they can afford to use. That’s weird, so let me explain by example. A first level thief needs 2,251 XP to level to second level, but let’s assume that the thief earns 1,000 gold pieces (“gp”) during the course of earning those XP from combat. For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume that you earn 1 XP for each gp you find adventuring, so in fact this thief is sitting on 3,251 XP (= 2,251 XP earned from killing monsters + 1,000 XP from the gold acquired). In the best case scenario, a thief must spend 1,500 gp to afford the training necessary to advance in level, so at this point, the thief is sitting on 3,251 XP he can’t use. That’s okay. He heads out to do some more adventuring. He finds another 500 gp while killing 1,000 XP worth of creatures. Now he has 1,500 gp, so he can spend it to move to level 2.
But wait a second. He just earned another 1,000 XP from killing monsters, and 500 XP from the 500 gp he found, so now he has 4,751 XP. That qualifies him for 3rd level with room to spare, but after leveling to level 2, he now has literally no gold left to pay the 3,000 gp necessary to level to third level. No, you’re going to have to go back out there and earn some coin, and that’s just going to exaggerate the problem.
Again, this is an issue at lower levels, but as the spread in required XP for leveling increases, this is less of an issue. I also noted to Erik that, “Hey, why are you complaining that you’re getting ‘too much’ gold. Just be happy you’re wealthy.” But let’s face it: That’s frustrating, so Erik has a point. You know you’re sitting on enough XP to level one or two times, but you don’t have the money to do so. It drives you nuts. That’s why I’m saying that this game requires patience. In the end, it all works out as you gain higher levels, and at that point you’re going to be very happy that you’re earning XP for wealth found, especially if you’re a fighter wanting to build a castle or a wizard wanting to build an ivory tower.
Just be patient, and it’ll all work out.
So, let’s bring this full circle with a simple statement so you can all go home: As these wizards increase in level, I may regret having given these characters an extra spell at 1st level. Remember, all spells scale with level, so a 1st level spell cast by a 12th level wizards is a lot more powerful than it was when the wizards was 1st level.