As I was writing about the keyed monster list, I had cause to generate a random dungeon as an example using the generator over at donjon. The example that popped out was fine . . . but I did notice that nearly all of the fun threats in that particular output were from random encounters – the Wandering Monster table was far more interesting challenge-wise than the encounters that were in place.

Perhaps that makes sense in some cases, but it got me thinking about the why of wandering monsters. Why might monsters wander, and what kinds of wandering are more likely to provoke violent encounters?

I wonder why I wander

Brainstorming a bit:

  • Travel from place to place – migration, resettlement
  • Hunting for food
  • Patrolling territory that has already been established
  • Scouting new territory for home, food, mates, or resources
  • Scouting new territory for fun
  • Looking for an encounter for a specific purpose – rite of passage, hunting for sport rather than food
  • War party, genocidal or punitive expedition
  • Investigating strange goings on (loud noises, sounds of a struggle, cries of a wounded creature)

I’m sure there are others.

One interesting divide here is that some of these are more appropriate for sapient beings than sentient ones.

A tiger will set up a territory. It will patrol that territory on very regular intervals. It will hunt for food within that territory, and within reason, it will defend the territory from incursion. It uses spray, urine, feces, and scratch markings to not only signal the territory, but to purposefully signal its patrol pattern. So it’s likely to share territory at the borders, so long as other animals don’t encroach during patrol hours, so to speak.

A band of traditional orcs, who are aggressive, warlike, and sapient, may be wandering from place to place, and if they are migrating, they will do it in very large numbers – a clan or tribe (thinking on it, regular migrations will frequently be in force). They may engage in many of the listed activities, and can be counted on doing so with (relatively speaking) great creativity. Their patrols may be more random and less signaled. They may hunt for sport as well as for food.

In a dungeon environment, or any sort of encounter really, it may help the GM or encounter designer pondering a wandering monster or chance encounter table to consider the kinds of encounters that might be had. Continue reading “Purposeful Wandering Monsters”

Wodensday Wonderings is a new feature where I will discuss and comment on things that have sparked my interest of late. Sometimes (like today) it’ll be an animated discussion over mapped vs. mapless combat. Sometimes it might be a game design discussion. Or thoughts about why and why not of firearms and the like in fantasy gaming (to pick on a heated topic I saw on Facebook). More food for thought than “folks should do this,” this is my weekly free association column, so to speak. With that:

I was reading a Google+ post about using mapless/gridless combat, and the poster and commenters were musing about what was basically the tendency of players to precisely place their area effect spells for maximum effect. I’ve seen this too in GURPS games with both spells and grenades.

A quick fix – Random Location

It adds a die roll or three, but there’s an easy way to handle it. Assign scatter to every area effect spell. You can use either d6s or d8s. Continue reading “Spell Targeting – Margin of Error (5e, GURPS, others)”

ACKS of Dissection

So, I’m new to the ACKS game, in that I’ve now got a bunch of the books (Core Book, Player’s Companion, Domains at War, and one other). I’ve also developed a hellishly amusing friendship with Alex Macris, the author of ACKS and proprietor of Autarch, the company that publishes it.

Why hellishly amusing? Has to do with how we got to know each other. It was all very friendly, but one of those things where he was aware of my work through the ballistics part of gaming ballistic, and I was aware of his through Google+ and his publishing of an open gaming licence alternate rules set to his published domain rules. We discovered a mutual and growing admiration for each others’ design work.

Well, now I’m reading the ACKS Player’s Companion, and my admiration for his work is not a whit smaller for it.

One of the neat bits of the basic ACKS system is that it takes the table-based and fairly rigid Basic/AD&D schema and deconstructs it. Not literary deconstruction, where one looks for the inherent contradiction that weakens or undermines a general theme, but in actual “let’s take this apart” methodology. So perhaps “dissection” is a better phrase. Not just because he did cut it apart, but because hey, this is DnD, so taking things and rules apart with bladed objects is in genre.

I will doubtless be returning to this theme, because the work he did in ACKS is going to need to be repeated for the inevitable sequel to Dragon Heresy. I need something for my envisioned “next project” that has the kind of flexibility and kit-bash capability that Alex built into the ACKS system via the Player’s Companion.

I will also be returning to this theme because the number of puns I can make since ACKS sounds like “acts” and “axe” and “asks” depending on enunciation and accent is just vast, and I cannot resist drinking from that trough. You’ve been warned. Continue reading “A Class ACKS”

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. :-)