It has literally been one month since any sort of “real” content post on Gaming Ballistic. That ain’t right.

There are good reasons – or they seemed so at the time – but still, there has to be more to the blog than an occasional play report and a “work was done” update about the two RPG projects that are eating my time and some of my creative energy.

Make a List: Bad Guy Rosters

Starting small, though: I endorse fully Peter’s notion of Bad Guy Rosters from his post a few days ago.

I’ve used these myself, and I find there are two ways of doing them that just rock on toast.

The first is the simple spreadsheet list, but organized in such a way that the order has meaning. In short, if you’re mucking about in a room killin’ monsters and takin’ their stuff, then you’re probably making noise. Lots of it. The blood-curdling shriek of a fallen hobgoblin. The whoosh of air as it escapes from lungs the size of forge bellows as an ogre’s throat opens the wrong way. The dull but powerful woomph of a detonating fireball.

All of these should instantly alert neighbors that fouble is a troot. At least one “nearest neighbor” should go on high alert, and if these dwellers have any sort of communications system (and I don’t mean cell phones, though magical equivalents are great – I mean runners and messengers) the entire dungeon will soon be on alert.

The key information in a bad guy roster is pretty obvious: what’s in a room, notable things in the environment that must be noted, distance to next rooms, and nearest-neighbor connections.

The easiest way to do this will be with an example. Continue reading “Benefits of a Keyed Monster List”

Not Good, but Profitable

That’s become our motto. Tim Shorts got a great writeup done, and Peter followed. They covered everything, so I’ll restrict myself to comments about the system itself.

I like Swords and Wizardry. It’s a fairly rules-light system even in its Complete version, though some simplification or rationalization of game mechanics could still be done. That’s more a result of hewing to the original source material, which was of course a design mission for the game. But Erik, Tim, Peter, and others have played S&W Complete through many adventures.

Sword and Wizardry Light, and now it’s “Extra” version, which adds material rather than being Extra Light, is a rules skeleton by design. It’s got a bit more – such as the ranger and paladin classes – than the basic four of the SWL set. But it really does work best when all of the concepts in playing D&D are already reasonably well known, and also when the players are not shy about roleplaying disadvantageous ability scores with no mechanical support.

You roll 3d6, either in order or assign as you like. We’d decided on race/class before the game started, with Peter an Elf/Mage, me an Elf/Ranger, and Tim a Halfling/Fighter. I rolled 3d6, mostly hit 9-12, but picked up two 15’s, which are good for +1 to something. In my case I did DEX (for my bow) and CON (for HP).

The system only uses 20-sided and 6-sided dice, and d20s are only used for attack rolls and saving throws. Everything else, from Hit Dice to initiative to damage, are d6s. I’m cool with that. I play GURPS. Continue reading “Swords and Wizardry Xtra (Light) – B-Team Makes Friends”

This update definitely falls along the lines of “shameless plug.” Nonetheless, as part of any pledge level to the Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter that includes the basic Dungeon Grappling PDF, you can add to it The Manor Collection (1-8). You do this by adding the cost of the product to your pledge. This will give you a credit when the Backerkit survey comes around, and you can then add it to your “email/ship it to me” shopping cart. This is a digital only product, so instant gratification is where it’s at.

The Manor is a ‘zine published by Gothridge Manor‘s Tim Shorts. I became aware of it when I joined Erik Tenkar’s “B-Team” playing Swords and Wizardry on a more-or-less monthly basis. That was my re-introduction into DnD after a long hiatus, and my actual introduction to the OSR (Old-School Renaissance).

It’s got some great stuff in it, and the nice thing is how, well, digestible it is. A lot of this stuff can be simply dropped into existing low-level campaigns.

And it’s at a pretty steep discount. Adding all eight issues to your cart will run you $12, which is $1.50 per issue, 40% off the usual $2.50 (and way less than the original price of each ‘zine, which could be as much as $4 each). Each issues has an eclectic mix of adventures, adventure seeds, random tables, characters and NPCs, and poetry. Yes, poetry.

Below you can find the contents of each issue. There are plenty of ready-to-play adventures, interesting folks, and exotic locations. It’s definitely worth your time. Continue reading “The Manor Collection – Great Content for the OSR and other games”

I know my blog has been filled with Kickstarter reports these days. It is, of course, rather important to me to make the best book I can, and in order to do that, I would need to bring in about $4,800, which means I’m roughly halfway there (though the project has funded and will be made regardless – each extra chunk of money just makes it more attractive).

In any case, a fun article that can be read tongue-in-cheek but really isn’t showed up on the Cirsova blog.

Called Parrying: I get it now, it goes over a point of potential misunderstanding in OSR rules – namely that once engaged in melee combat, two foes are “locked” there. Therefore, having a defensive option such as “parry,” which makes one harder to hit, is a synergistic move, because it allows your fellow combatants – archers, spellcasters, and backstabbers – to destroy the foe safely and quickly, while the low Armor Class, high Hit Point fighter keeps him occupied.

The only problem with these “parry” type options in D&D style games tends to be the very, very mild benefit that one gets. Fifth Edition does it perhaps the best by granting disadvantage if an option like this is taken – this option is Dodge, and unless the odds are already really good for your foe, or really bad, this decreases your chance to be hit by about 25%. That’s much better than a shield (10%) in this system, and in most systems that shield is only worth 5% (+1).

Note: I reflexively use ascending Armor Class in my writing, since I’ve been writing based on SRD5.1 for almost a year, and even when we played S&W, we used ascending AC.

But it got me thinking. How many defensive options exist in Dragon Heresy?  Continue reading “Defensive Options in Dragon Heresy”

Setting the Stage

Today Jeffro Johnson linked to a post by The Frisky Pagan where the author analyzes in some depth that Hit Points aren’t really wound points, and why. I pointed out what I call “The Quote,” which is found on p. 82 of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide:

“It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage – as indicated by constitution bonuses- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the “sixth sense” which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.”

Frisky acknowledged gracefully that reading the original source material is good – in his defense, I think Jeffro has articulated before that no one really knows or can suss out completely all of the gems buried in the barely-edited, scarcely-organized AD&D books.

But that’s not why I’m posting – even though The Frisky Pagan’s post is basically a giant endorsement of the tack I’m taking in Dragon Heresy.

No, the cool bits happened in the comments for Jeffro’s post. Continue reading “Save or Die revisited”

A quick Dragon Heresy update.

Things are moving along, and monsters are being written. I’m super-excited about my lizardfolk writeup, and the elementals and giants are pretty fun too. Actually, the undead are kinda awesome. Anyway, having a specific setting to tie monsters into is a great creative aid.

In other news, I got some feedback on the magnitude of the project which has . . . given me pause isn’t exactly right, but it’s not wrong either. “Hey, here’s a new company, doing a SRD5.1 project that is probably 700-750 pages in two volumes” is a big ask.

So I’m going to try something different. I’m going to rip out the grappling rules from the Dragon Heresy manuscript, plus +Peter V. Dell’Orto and my “Grappling Old School” rules from Manor #8 (which also appeared in Guardians, an OSR Superhero game), and polish them up for a very small Kickstarter. 

I have many, many more words written about grappling than I can use. I have months of playtest of the system, plus all the GURPS stuff where folks have played Technical Grappling. 

I’ll get to trial my layout, give my artists (one under contract, three pending) some early paying work, my indexer and I will figure out a process there, and I’ll get to run myself through the Kickstarter process from start to finish.

Total ask? Likely less than $1,000 . . . maybe much less. 

I’m reaching out to some other authors about some add-ons for extras (all will be PDFs – this is designed to be an “instant gratification” Kickstarter unless it smashes stretch goals for “MOAR ART! COLOR ART! COOL COVER!” or whatnot, in which case you get the B/W version RTFN, and a color version when it’s done.

I will also have a “so . . . you want to help fund Dragon Heresy” set of . . . call them “elite tiers.” I’ve got ideas for this that have to do with having your face and image appear as major historical characters in the art in the DH books. Still cooking on that idea, but I’d commission art to mutually satisfactory specs (real or idealized version of you? What class? pose? that sort of thing) that fit within the scope of art direction for the book. You’d get (minimum) a signed copy of the piece. At best, it reduces what I need to fund for the DH book, as all the art can be re-used.

Anyway, I anticipate having the manuscript done by this weekend or middle of next week. Prelim layout using the DH format (simplified, I think) and density the following weekend. Then I’ll reach out to my artists and we get to see how well we all work together. 

I’m excited about this. It’s a much lower risk project than The Big One, and if successful, the OSR and SRD5.1 crowd will finally have grappling rules that don’t suck. :-)

A quick note, and perhaps a question.

Last game three PCs charged into combat (well, snuck into combat) and went head to head at 1st level into the face of 4:1 odds. The results were predictable.

One commenter on Twitter noted “they should have run away.”

Now, there are two ways to take this. One is that they never should have entered combat to begin with. +Tim Shorts noted that yes, this was the right call, but he’d never had a combat in the game and so wanted to see what it was like. In short, he provoked a losing battle to see what would happen.

Well, he found out. 

Edit: They found out and got dismantled with grace and graciousness. They rolled poorly, and did not complain when the orc horde came screaming down on them. So this “well, he found out” sounds way, way more pejorative than it is meant. He wanted to find out what combat was like, did find out, and we all learned about tactics and emergent behavior in the process. Even me. Or perhaps especially me.

The other way to take it was that once things started to go poorly, they should have withdrawn. I’m wondering how viable that is. I think that as long as each PC decides to run the heck away while their foes are about two moves (usually about 60′, but not always) away this might have worked. But I see no way, really, for a bunch of fighters to extract themselves from melee in the face of a determined foe, unless they have a speed advantage.

I’m not saying this is wrong. In fact, I believe that the typical battlefield archaeology reports will tell you that yeah, the majority of the casualties were taken when one side turned tail and ran. 

But it seems to me that’s darn hard to actually run away in D&D-style games unless you really plan on it beforehand. Once things are already going badly, you’re basically in it unless the foe lets you out.

Does this match your experience? Who’s been chased, killed, and eaten?

+Jeffro Johnson loves him some d4 Thieves. He’s pretty emphatic about it, as is his right.

In my Heretical DnD project, he recently quipped that when I asked a question about rolling a pile of d4s he thought, for a brief, glorious instant, that I was returning the Thief (now the, sigh, Rogue with a Thief subclass) to its glorious roots.

That got me thinking, though. How different is the d4 Thief from BECMI to the d8 Thief from Fifth Edition?

The BECMI Thief and Fighter

Let’s say that our thief has attempted – unsuccessfully – to pick the pocket of a lonely neighborhood fighter. Both are first level. 

I’m going to first assume that we roll 3d6, but can assign stats. Based on my work with the Standard Array, those stats for both fighters, at the median roll (50th percentile in luck) are 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 7.


What does that mean? It means that there is precisely one score that will get a bonus: a +1 for the 14. 

The Thief has a prime requisite of Dexterity, so that’s where his +1 will go. Leather armor, no shield. So basically, he’ll have an AC of 6, or a roll of 13+ will hit him.

Our fighter will have Strength as his choice, so he’ll roll 1d20+1 to hit, and thus will hit on a 12 or higher – 45% of the time. He’ll do 1d8+1 damage with his sword, or 5.5 points on the average. Each turn, he’ll deal an average of 2.48 points of damage.

In short, he’ll kill the thief on the average in about 1.01 attacks.

The 5e Thief and Fighter

Let’s look at the 5e fighter, using the 50% percentile instead of the standard array. They’re not that different, but the Standard Array actually represents the 45% percentile of die rolls. 

The important thing for our human fighter is still his Strength, and his standard array gives 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9 – actually one better than the standard array in both the highest and lowest score. With the right selection of race – Dwarves, I’m looking at you, Mountain Dwarf – you can start with STR 18. This is impossible with the standard array.

Swinging a battle axe, then, he’ll roll 1d20+2 (proficiency)+4 (STR) for 1d20+6, doing 1d10+4 damage on a hit.

Our Thief also gets to play the min/max game, and we can cut right to the chase. If our fighter can start with STR 18, our Thief can as well – Wood-Elf Thief for the win.

With DEX 18 and CON 13, this gives him 9 HP. Studded Leather and no shield, but a +4 DEX bonus for armor class, and he’s AC 16.

So our fighter has to roll 10+ on 1d20, and will hit 55% of the time. He will do 5-14 damage, plus a bit more for a critical hit – an average on a hit of 9.78 damage. Or 5.38 per round.

This means our 5e Thief will, in general, withstand 1.67 blows from our fighter. A 1d8 battleaxe will increase this a touch. to 1.88 attacks to drop the thief to 0 HP.

Parting Shot

I had thought that with the higher damage values of the weapons due to STR bonuses and whatnot, that a d4 Thief would, in fact, be perhaps as robust as a d8 thief. But no. By and large he takes another swat to put him down – a bit less.

What would equality be? You’d need to have the typical HP of the thief equal the typical damage done in one turn by one swing of the sword. That’s 4.8 to 5.4 HP. Call it 5, and . . . you need to get back to the d4 Thief in order for the classes to be as fragile as they were in BECMI.

Why? Armor classes are higher due to higher bonuses, which offsets weapon damages. Higher bonuses from STR are offset by higher DEX bonuses, though average damage is higher. The real boost comes from giving 1st level characters maximum HP per Hit Die at 1st level. If 1st level 5e characters rolled dice instead of getting the max, a 1st level thief would need an average of 4.8 to 5.4 HP to be as robust as BECMI. That’s basically a d9 rather than a d8!

So yes! The d8 5e thief is actually less robust than the d4 Thief from BECMI if you roll the first level HP, but if you don’t, well, obviously he’s more robust.

It’s the lack of randomness for rolling hit points that makes the difference. If you gave all 1st level BECMI thieves 4 HP to start, then they’d wind up with almost exactly the longevity of a 5e Thief.

It’s like the designers thought about this or something. 

We got together with a small sample of the B-Team for the first time in over six months. I think we decided the last time we played was June+Erik Tenkar has been on a White Star (by +James Spahn ) kick, so we left S&W behind and rolled up characters for White Star.

This is a retro-clone, using extremely terse rules. So three people rolled up three characters in probably three minutes each. There are only four character classes, plus three more races-as-classes.

Peter chose a Star Knight. +Tim Shorts played a Scoundrel. I was basically exhausted from a long week, so I was tempted to just play Chewbacca, and growl and hit things a lot (the Alien Brute). But I decided on Mercenary.

White Star is about as OSR as you can get, I think. Nonetheless, we immediately broke away from 3d6 in order, because we’d already picked classes. We rolled 3d6 seven times, dropped the lowest, and arranged to taste. Then roll for credits (3d6*10) and my equipment-dependent character rolled a sucky 80 Cr. Ouch.

I named him Payne Stalk (Jayne Cobb . . . ), picked out a bare minimum set of stuff, and we all got to it. This is the character at the end of today’s game, having leved up after play.

Jayne Stalk

  • Lvl 2 Mercenary (White Star); +1 to hit
  • 2175 XP; 1250 Cr
  • 12 HP; Saving Throw 13; Max 4 assistants
  • 5% bonus to XP
  • Initiative 1d6+1
  • To-Hit Roll 1d20+2

STR 13 (+1); INT 7 (-1); WIS 11; CON 13 (+1); DEX 13 (+1); CHA 10
  • Laser Rifle – 1 eCell
  • Laser Pistol 
  • Clothes
  • Ammo bandolier
  • Dagger
  • Light Armor

Really Short Game Summary

Not really this guy. But too cool not to post.

We started out in a Cantina, and dealt with the owner of the place, a slippery gangster of ill repute, known for double-crosses and shady dealings. Still, we were desperate.

We were asked to go recover samples of a genetically altered food animal, some sort of avian bovine thing that grew to the size of a hippopotamus and could be tweaked to taste like just about anything. The samples were on a ship that had crash-landed a half-day out of town.
We asked if anyone else knew this. He hadn’t told anyone. Great, any knowledge that he didn’t provide? Well, maybe. But there’s 1,000 Cr in it for us if we succeed.
Fine, we rent transport from him (some sort of ground cycle which I cannot help but call speeder-bikes, though the feel of this game is more Firefly or Jakku) and bolt to the location of the ship.
We find it, see a glint of something reflecting from something in the distance. We feel our time is limited. We virtually sprint through the ship, but are eventually waylaid when we hear a dropped tool and footsteps behind. We lay in ambush, and more or less slaughter those trying to sneak up on us. Two dead (our first loot – an extra laser pistol, a laser rifle, and extra power cells), one fled in terror.
We continue, fight and kill some sentient space cockroaches. One of them bites Peter and reduced him to 0 HP, but he makes his CON save and doesn’t immediately die. We restore him with a medkit after the fight is over: 2d4 HP makes for some technomagical awesome.
Somewhere along the way we find a functioning computer terminal, and get a map of the place. It’s a map Tenkar found online, and looks nothing like a ship, but does spell out F**king Bull***t. 
We locate the likely place where the cells are, and find a treasure trove – dozens of vials of the stuff. We take all of them, wrap them up in Peter’s sleeping bag for insulation, and leave.
To find that there are three more outside. Two muscle, one short guy who reminds us strongly of Tim’s character, Chicago Jones. He tells us to hand over the goods, because we know what he’s capable of.
Chicago Jones uses his “he shot first” ability and blasts the short guy in the chest instantly, taking him to 0 HP where he starts to expire. The “muscle” decide they’re in the wrong line of work, and beat feet out of there.
Searching the body gives us 650 Cr, a “pocket” laser pistol akin to a derringer, and a datacard with info on us, the speeder-bikes we rented, and a reward of 2,500 Cr for the stuff we were going to be paid 1,000 Cr for.
OK, two can play at this game. We immediately figured our shady bartender set us up. So we found some bullcrap samples of nothing – probably piss and mucus – and rigged up some false vials. We then proceeded to an exchange, where we got paid the full 2500 Cr in exchange for the vial of nothing, set up as a dead drop. We tried to ID the buyer but couldn’t.
We then went back to our original buyer, and offered up one of the many vials we had for the 1,000 Cr. He produced – naturally – the one we’d already given him as the secret buyer. He thought we were his kind of inventive scum, and after some mutual threats, he collected all the vials (he heard them rattling around in Peter’s sleeping bag) and we wound up paid 3,500 Cr in total. 
All in all, a good quick mission.
I can easily see the appeal of games that take less than five minutes to make characters. West End Games’ Star Wars RPG is on that list, as are the various OSR derived “pick race, pick class, roll some dice, pick some basic starting equipment, play” games.
The system has nice flavor, and is quite minimalist. There are relatively few nods to genre in the rules mechanics, but there don’t need to be. One saving throw target, roll vs. armor class (with both descending and ascending variants – we use ascending), etc. 
The play of the game and the combats are fast and relatively tactics-free. The best we can hope for (and we did succeed in this, twice) is to nail guys with a surprise round, and to luck out and win initiative. 
We got a lot of fun out of the alignment system, which says that there are two alignments: “Us” and “Them.” That’s pretty clear.
The three of us worked well together, and it was great to get the B-Team playing again. We are going to try and game every third week, accelerating the rate of play as availability allows.