Thursday, March 14, 2019

Skills (part one)

Well, I guess this post should start with a quote of the first line of the first post I'm linking below:
Skills. Mention them in relation to Old School games, and some grognards start to cringe. 

Skills are indeed a controversial topic in OSR but I believe they deserve some attention.
First of all, if you think that your game should NOT have Skills, EVER, then it's easy. Just skip this article.
But if you are interested in adding a skill system or in some inspiration for house-rules, this post is for you.
(And honestly, I believe that even those who say no-skills-ever, have anyway used at least the roll-under-your-ability-score ruling... which is indeed one of the proposed solutions)


So, the first post contains a nice overview of some basic ideas for Skills:
- a d6 system with a 1 in 6 default chance (LotFP style), perhaps with bonus by class and race
- a d20 system with a roll-under the related ability score
- a system derived by Saving Throws (a similar matrix, or perhaps even the same matrix - adapted with a grain of salt - if you want to save time)
- a list of skills, a list of Difficulty Classes (DC), factoring in the ability modifiers... which steers away from the traditional OSR but it's something already done and proved to be working fine... Except for the part where skills are used as a substitute of role-playing

Skills in Old School Games
by AHL
Skills.
Mention them in relation to Old School games, and some grognards start to cringe. However, this is not one of those blog posts discussing skills or no skills. This post is about how to handle in game situations in old school games.
Also, I mention just a few systems here. There are many more, using 2d6, 3d6 and so on (just google “OSR skill system”), and they’re more or less complicated. Here, I will talk about the ones that I have used at some point in time and some ideas I’ve been thinking of.
I’m not sure that Old School games is in need of a skill system per se. However, I’m positive that Old School games is in need  of a solid task resolution system. These days, “Bend Bars”, “Open Doors” and “Find Secret Doors” just feels wonky. [...]

Old School Galore I – the d6 system
This is the bona fide old school way. When something is to be resolved, you have a x in 6 chance to succeed. Most of the time, it’s just a 1 in 6 chance, but some classes and races get bonuses to specific tasks. [...]

Old School Galore II – the Ability Check system
When a situation isn’t covered by the rules, old school systems often suggest an ability check. Basically, you try to beat (i.e. roll under) an appropriate ability on a d20. [...]

Akrasia’s Save system 
For S&W players, there’s a fan made simple system out there (Akrasia’s house rules), which is also used in Crypts & Things. The idea is to use the Saving throw number also as a target number for various tasks. The list of tasks is deliberately kept vague, to empower flexibility, but all PCs can do anything. [...]

5e’s skill system
I think that the new D&D really have nailed the task resolution system. Everyone can do anything, but some are better than their peers at doing said things. Also, as a GM, I appreciate to have a defined task (or skill) list to choose from when deciding what the player should roll in a given situation. [...]
5e has a list of 18 tasks, usable by anyone. Sweet. The GM decides a Difficulty Class (DC) for the roll, which is the target number to beat. The player rolls a d20, adding his ability bonus for the specific task (for example Stealth uses Dex). [...]

Bolting a task resolution system to your OSR game

Another problem if the system you like haven’t got a built in task resolution system is how to define what skills/tasks your characters are extra good at. Of course you could write down a list of “fighters are good at this” and “dwarves are good at that” and pre-define such things. Another way is to grant the players a couple of things (maybe 2) they are good at. For example, your fighter might be good at “Sneaking” and “Obtaining information”. [...]

Dawnrazor’s Old School Universal Task Resolution System mk I
Here’s what I’ve decided to use for my adventures (unless they’re for a system like B&T or FH&W).
1. Task format (in adventure text): Task at hand (DIFFICULTY: ABILITY). Example: Spot the hobgoblin (HARD: WIS) 
This format excludes the actual skill, but since I suspect that not everyone will use skills, or if they use systems with different skill sets and names, it will get confusing. [...]
https://nerdomancerofdork.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/skills-in-old-school-games/


This second post notes a couple of potential issues with the lack of a skills system in an OSR game. What if instead of skills you have classes (like the thief, or the ranger)? It's easy for GMs to rule that other characters cannot do anything covered by the thief or the ranger skills.
What if you stick with the original cleric-fighter-magic-user but no skills system? Everyone can try everything, but it's hard to adjudicate based only on common sense and GM's rulings.
It introduces a heavy GM-fiat component, and even those GMs with the best intentions would find it hard to be consistent across sessions. And it would always be hard for players to judge what chances do they have to accomplish anything, before actually trying.

So, yes, a skills-system is a good thing to introduce, probably, but it must be easy enough, scalable by level and/or training, and possibly with no DC (no impact on existing old-school adventures which have no DC or ability tests or stuff like that).
The system provided in the link is a bit too complex for my taste, but its guidelines are good and they provide both a system for character vs. character tests, and for which kind of bonus to apply to various kind of other tests.

Skills: The Middle Road
by Benjamin David
Rules for non-combat skills in D&D have spanned a rather broad course over the years. In OD&D, there were no rules for non-combat related skills other than magic until the introduction of the thief--a point that most grognards put in its favor, since it encouraged everyone to try their hand at everything. However, this lack does present problems when trying to determine exactly what a character can do that's better than other characters, and as more classes were created to cover these non-combat niches (first thieves, then rangers) the implication set in that unless your class abilities said you could do a thing, you couldn't except by DM fiat. [...]
The extensive rules for dealing with non-combat skills in other systems, both classic and modern, speaks of the desire of players to be able to know in some quantitative sense what their characters are good at. However, if we are to come up with any such system as a house rule for OD&D, it has to meet several basic parameters:
"Having" a given skill, NWP, or whathaveyou should not, as a rule, be a requirement for attempting any adventure-related action or for having a reasonable chance of success.
The system must be scalable, allowing for characters to improve existing skills by the expenditure of time and wealth or as a reward for a successfully-completed adventure (as described in my previous post),
And yet it must be simple enough that no OD&D product must be significantly altered to employ it (i.e., the referee should not have to go through every adventure and install DCs for every challenge or create a complete set of skills for every goblin) and that any referee can easily ad-hoc it during play. [...]

There are four levels of competancy for any given skill: unskilled, skilled, expert, and master. All characters are assumed to be unskilled at any given task unless it falls under their class (especially in the case of thieves) and/or background. Having a background that encompasses a particular action means that one is skilled only [...]
Of all character classes, only thieves automatically advance in skill levels as they increase in character level, and then only in those areas directly related to thievery [...] In all other cases, advancement or gaining new skills must come as a result of gameplay [...]

Before explaining further, a particular mechanic must be described. The skill die denotes the type of die rolled for a given skill level, to which is added the appropriate ability modifier (using the Moldavy scale) when a skill contest arises between two individuals. For example, a 1st level thief with a 16 dexterity is trying to sneak up on a 1st level cleric with a 15 wisdom. Since the thief is considered skilled at moving silently, he would roll a 1d8+2 (modified for dex) against the cleric's 1d6 (unskilled) +1 (wis) to determine if he succeeds. [...]
In cases where there is no contest between two statted characters--for example, a thief sneaking up on a goblin whose wisdom score is unknown, a character climbing a cliff, or a character with a jeweler background trying to make a gift to impress a noblewoman--the referee should assign an ad-hoc possibility for success. [...]
Unskilled
Skill Die: d6
No bonuses to die rolls
Skilled
Training: 1 month and 100o gp
Skill Die: d8
+1 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d4, 1d6, or 1d8
+2 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d10 or 1d12
+3 bonus when making skill-related rolls with a 1d20
+15% on making skill-related rolls with percentage dice [...]


The third link proposes an elegant system with a skill die, which increases as you become more trained at a given skill. To succeed you need to roll 5 or more (Paolo Greco has a similar system in his own OSR system... more on this at the link).
The good things about this system is that it's easy to roll and evaluate, that it has a verbal connotation of your skill level (i.e. rookie or novice, etc.), that it slows down in the improvements as you go ahead in the game, so no character becomes easily overpowered.
What it lacks, is a list of skills.

Skill Systems: Tweaking "The Middle Road"
by ktrey parker
[...] The “Ratings” are expanded a little bit, success is still on a 5 or more (making UNABLE impossible for the player without circumstantial modifiers...which are generally kept low/stingy). The bell-curve comes into play with MASTER which really increases the chance of success, but with a cost.
Skill Rating Skill Die/Dice
UNABLE 1d4
ROOKIE 1d6
NOVICE 1d8
VERSED 1d10
[...]
I don't tie skill improvement to level in any meaningful way most of the time. This is mostly to mitigate the “20 HD MASTER Blacksmith NPC” and “I gained a level and am suddenly an EXPERT at Tracking” issues, although Thief classes and formal training-as-cash/time-siphon can open up some additional improvement avenues during downtime with some good fictional explanations. Instead I like to tie Skill Rating improvement to actual play.
Any successful Skill Roll (5+) prompts for another skill roll immediately, and on a maximum die/dice result, the first letter of the next Rating is written down. Once you spell it out, you've achieved the next Rating (this is why all Ratings have 6 letters).
This has diminishing returns: It becomes more difficult to improve/master a skill as you get better as the chances of success increase, the chances of rolling the maximum also decrease. I also like that improvement is actually tied to “Doing the thing,” so players are encouraged to attempt it, even if the odds may not be great (Practice makes perfect!). [...]


I have to admit my preferences for the d6 skills system provided by LotFP, as you've seen already when I proposed to change even Saving Throws to d6-skills, here: d6 Saving Throws for LotFP.
But while I like the default skill system of LotFP, I am less in love with dice pools, and therefore this link is less interesting for me. Still, it is definitely worth mentioning also because James Raggi is doing something similar (but for Saving Throws, not Skills) in the beta document of the next version of the rules (which who knows when and if it will ever be published).

Game Mechanics: Dice, Doors, and Decimal Points
by Dan Domme
So I have a skill system hack I am working on and I want to share it with you.
Start with Lamentations of the Flame Princess [...] One of the nice things about it is that skills are based on d6 rolls. Virtually everything is a 1-in-6 chance, and specialists (read: thieves, but a less pigeonholed concept) get to invest points into expanding these skills. E.g., put two points in Sleight of Hand and your chance to execute such a task goes from 1-in-6 to 3-in-6. [...]
I am hacking that d6 system a bit. Mostly because I love dice pools, but there is also a logic behind it. 
First off, rather than expanding the range of success, I expand the number of dice you roll, while keeping 6 the target number. Note that statistically this is more difficult. [...]
A solution to the increased difficulty is that the GM should be more generous with the bonus dice. We already add dice based on invested Specialist skill points, but let's also add Ability Score bonuses. A +1 to Strength is easily added to your pool if you want to Open Doors, for example. Have a crowbar? Add another die. And so on. [...]
The problem that we have already come across thus far in my Megadungon game is that opening doors is still fairly likely to result in failure. Even with crowbars, people helping, and strength bonuses, you are pretty likely to not open the door.
This is where I got the idea to go straight into story game territory and offer the players a narrative choice. In the first option, the players could choose to let the door be. The door is swollen shut, just like St. Gary said it probably would be. The other option is to note your margin of failure. (E.g., was your highest result a 4? Then your margin of failure is 6-4 = 2.)  I'll let your character(s) persist at opening the door until they succeed, but I get to roll the margin of failure in Wandering Monster checks. (A dice pool of 2 in this example.) Again, each of these is a simple 1-in-6 chance.  The logical basis is that the worse your initial check result, the more noisy your success is going to be and the more likely you are to attract attention to yourself. [...]


Design notes
- Without skills but with classes (i.e. the thief, but also the ranger), it's too easy to rule that other characters cannot attempt actions as the thief
- Without skills but with just the original three classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user) it's all related to the GM's fiat
- It's hard to have consistency and to judge your chances, as a player
- Skill systems in the OSR must be simple, scalable by level/training, with no or very simple rules for difficulties (to remain compabile with old modules)
- a d6 system with a 1 in 6 default chance (LotFP style), perhaps with bonus by class and race
- if using a d6 system, consider also to use d6 dice pools and 6 as target number
- a d20 system with a roll-under the related ability score
- a system derived by Saving Throws (a similar matrix, or perhaps even the same matrix - adapted with a grain of salt - if you want to save time)
- a list of skills, a list of Difficulty Classes (DC), factoring in the ability modifiers... which steers away from the traditional OSR but it's something already done and proved to be working fine... Except for the part where skills are used as a substitute of role-playing


Will continue here.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Some theory behind Saving Throws

After a month or so discussing Saving Throws, I promise this will be the last entry about this topic, at least for a while. In this post, I want to present some very interesting discussions and theories about the subject.
For those coming late to the party, though, these are the links to the previous posts that discussed of Saving Throws:
d6 Saving Throws for LotFP
Saving Throws compared across rulesets
Saving Throws ideas
Saving Throw Effort


Let's look at an interesting prospective about Saving Throws: they give better odds against more mortal threats. Let's look at it in the order as in the article:
- vs. Death (or Poison) has the better score of all
- vs. Wands or Paralysis or Petrification it has a still a "decent" score (well, not so good but we're talking about Saving Throws)
- vs. Magic or generic Spells even lower
- vs. Breath or Area Effects, the lowest of all

Now, the progression is not so linear and it is lost, if you check across the various rulesets present here in Saving Throws compared across rulesets, in many OSR retro-clones.
The change of scores messing up the order of severity is something I never noticed before.
I particularly like this analysis because it does not focus on the usual "simulation of reality" but instead presents a game design reason for scores that otherwise would just be arbitrary numbers on a table.

by Delta
[...] Here's an observation I haven't seen expressed before: The save categories in OD&D are most easily interpreted as just levels-of-severity. Consider the following:
The first category is "Death Ray or Poison", and receives a +4 bonus [...] which represents instant death. In order to give our characters a fighting chance, a fairly hefty bonus is given.
Second is "All Wands -- Including Polymorph or Paralization". [...] render the victim effectively helpless and subject to a follow-up coup de grace. Hence a relative +3 bonus is given to avoid these effects.
Third is "Stone", i.e., turn-to-stone (petrification). [...] Bonus is +2 here compared to baseline.
Fourth is "Dragon Breath", which is not instant elimination from a failed save, but (obviously) pretty bad, major business. Bonus is effectively +1 in this case.
Fifth and finally you have "Staves & Spells" which is in some sense "everything else", i.e. non immediate death or incapacitation. This is our baseline, hardest to avoid, i.e., +0 bonus in similar terms. [...]
But more generally, you could use these principles for judgement on the fly about the severity of effect: basically you're awarding between +0 and +4 to the save, with more heinous effects given a more generous save (again, just to give the characters a fair, fighting chance). [...]


Another post about Saving Throws, by Brendan (which has proven already that he has many interesting things to say about this subect): 4 reasons to love them (as GM, I guess...), and why are they so important.
First, they allow to introduce a save vs. death or save vs. consequence which remain threatening even against high HP or other high scores at high levels. No one is invulnerable. No one rolls dice vs. a tremendous damage, which would kill nearly anyone. You roll a Save or die, not grind HP to zero.
Second they progress by level but do not make characters invulnerable. This also implies that even high level characters may die with a single failed Saving Throw roll. Keeping the game deadly at high levels is a powerful thing.
I care less for the fact (third) of giving players something to roll.
But the fourth point speaks aloud to me: what are the Saving Throws categories saying about your game and setting? If you play low-fantasy with no dragons, change the Breath Saving Throw into something else.

Why I Love Saving Throws
by Brendan
1. Saving throws solve all the problems with hit points. [...]
Saving throws (coupled with critical hit tables) are even the best way to model serious injuries (allow a save versus critical hit when HP drops to zero or whenever your system of choice would threaten an injury). [...]
2. Progress without certainty. [...]
The essence of the traditional saving throw is progression with level. What this means is that better saving throws are a reward for surviving a long time. However, even if your saving throw is really good (down in the single digits), there is still a nontrivial chance of failure, and failing a saving throw is often fatal. [...]
3. Proactivity. [...]
Saving throws are proactive in the sense that they are something the player does. They get to do something in order to avoid some potential bad outcome. [...]
4. Atmosphere.
This is a minor point compared to the others (which in my opinion are critical to traditional Dungeons & Dragons), but it is still worth mentioning. The saving throw categories in original D&D are:
Death Ray or Poison
All Wands – Including Polymorph or Paralization [sic]
Stone
Dragon Breath
Staves & Spells
This communicates a tremendous amount of information about the setting and the challenges that are present. If these categories don’t match the challenges that characters are likely to face in your campaign, I would recommend changing them [...]
http://www.necropraxis.com/2012/07/31/why-i-love-saving-throws/


The third post today is by Jeff Rients, and contains a list of categories from various editions, for comparison. Note how Jeff also observes how categories have merged or separate across different versions (sometimes it's Wands / Staves & Spells and other times it's Rod, Staff or Wand / Spell for example).
More important, notice two important rulings:
- If a category is quite restrictive such as "Dragon Breath", he doesn't use the Save for different breath attacks
- When assigning the Saving Throw to a category, he goes in order if undecided, so the first one applies

Saving Throws, part 1
[...] Today I'm going to start this analysis with simply listing the categories of save for each edition that I have within reach as I type this.
OD&D
Death Ray or Poison
All Wands -- Including Polymorph or Paralization [sic]
Stone
Dragon Breath
Staves & Spells
AD&D1
Paralyzation, Poison or Death Magic
Petrification or Polymorph
Rod, Staff or Wand
Breath Weapon
Spell
[...]
Observations
One of the interesting things I see here is how the various categories evolve, couple, and de-couple. Poison and Death/Death Magic/Death Ray are always the same category of save, but Wands may or not have anything to do with Staff. [...]
A saving category called Dragon Breath implies that non-draconic breath weapons don't allow a save unless specifically indicated. This is a special case of the broader principal that may or may not inform your own game. I tend to assume that the category names Mean Something, in that if an attack form doesn't obviously fall under one or more category on the chart then the implication is that a save isn't allowed. [...]
In most editions Wands are the second save listed, but AD&D they're third. This matters when I run because of a rule of thumb I use. Some attacks fall under mutliple possible saves. Like a dragon breath attack that is poison gas or a wand of paralyzation. Sometimes the monster/item/whatever description tells you what to save against, but sometimes it doesn't. In the latter case I give precendence to saves listed earlier on the chart. [...]
http://jrients.blogspot.com/2009/05/saving-throws-part-1.html


The last post is very interesting because it suggests a abstract point of view on Saving Throws, which goes against possible house-rules which connect the Save to an Ability/Attribute, but does so for a very precise reason and with an original, yet very interesting intention.
Saving Throws, according to Courtney Campbell, are not a simulationistic tool. They are abstract: in a single roll you determine if you suffer or not the consequences of an impending danger, but if you succeed, a Saving Throws does not tell you how. This is possible if you keep abstract categories such as Death/Poison or Breath/Area, but if you connect Saving Throws to Abilities/Attributes or use the next categories "reflex, will, and fortitude", such abstraction is lost.
To make an example, if you trigger a poisoned dart trap, and make a reflex Save, you should simply narrate how you avoided the dart. If instead you roll vs. Death/Poison, there are plenty of possible descriptions: the trap didn't trigger, the trap didn't hit the character, the character avoided the dart, the dart didn't pierce the armor or the poison had lost its power, etc.

On Abstraction and Saving Throws
by Courtney Campbell
Modern systems seem to assume a baseline representation - i.e. I rolled twice, so each roll represents a swing of my sword or I can possibly move up to 10' a second, so in six seconds I move 60'.
At first blush this seems to make a lot of sense, but if you look at it too closely the abstraction inherent in hit points and saves breaks suspension of disbelief. i.e. Hit points suddenly becomes literal wounds dealt by specific sword blows. There are 3 saves reflex, will, and fortitude, and they literally and in a direct and visceral way represent 'getting out of the way' 'resisting with your mind' and 'enduring with your body'. [...]
But what of old school saves you say? Abstraction, and this indeed is why they are cool. [...]
Why that's the coolest thing about them! Nothing specific at all! All we know is success or failure - the actual means of that is up to you. (and your classes general ability to handle that specific kind of threat is built into the numbers) [...]
The point is, that the game *doesn't* tell you how you make your save - that's part of the discovery of what's happening and the fun. Logistically it's a lot more fun to come up with answers for why things happen then trying to plot out a specific sequence of events that is occurring every six seconds. Also, you've got a lot more room for awesome and rule of cool in your descriptions. [...]

What I especially liked about this article, is that it pushes the game, the descriptions, to be a little more inventive and original. It resonates with me (although often in my house-rules I used to connect Saving Throws to abilities) and it gives me a new prospective (and the next time, I might go back to the original categories or make my own, but stop connecting Saving Throws with abilities).
In fact, it connects well with my attitude for example to describe combat in original ways. Combat is not just hit and miss. A failed to-hit roll in combat could be many things: it's not just a sword swing which misses the target; it can be described as blocking, as parrying, as hitting the armor or missing just by an inch, as the target dodging cleverly, and so on.


Design notes: 
- Give better Saving Throws scores vs. more deadly threats
- Give lower Saving Throws scores vs. less deadly threats or threats that only affect HP
- This is not to "simulate" something specific but rather to increase a little the characters' resistance, or give them "a fair chance"
- Bypass HP buffers, or in other words: Save or die is still "fair" when it makes sense, because the game has indeed Saving Throws built-in for deadly threats which should bypass HP as a combat/health buffer
- Progress by level but still do not make characters invulnerable (again, Saves are against serious, deadly threats, even at high levels)
- Saving Throws categories say something important about the most deadly threats of your setting
- Make sure that Saving Throws categories make sense for your game, or tune them
- If a category is quite restrictive such as "Dragon Breath", it might not be applicable to similar breath attacks by other creatures (decide if you want a category to be restrictive or inclusive)
- When assigning the Saving Throw to a category, go in order if undecided, so the first one applies
- The original Saving Throws categories are abstract and provide more freedom in their descriptions
- Connecting Saving Throws to abilities or to the new "reflex, will, and fortitude" turns them into a "simulation" tool, which narrows their scope and descriptions

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Saving Throw Effort

While re-reading the various posts and considering the various ideas about Saving Throws, I also had a thought... Saving Throws, with their original categories, are often the ultimate barrier between a character and their death, especially at low levels. Several house-rules aim to maintain a low chance of success as in the OD&D and tune instead the mechanics (see my intro of this post). Other house-rules, though, have an impact (wanted or not) on those low chances.
Be it because they are changed to a roll-under on the ability score or because they are given better odds, these house-rules make Saving Throws more likely to succeed (especially at low levels).
But what about achieving a similar result (better chances) without drastically changing the game?
If every character is given for instance a 3 in 6 chance for all Saving Throws at level one, this changes the game.
What if instead there was a price to pay for a better chance?

Saving Throw Effort
Whenever you face a threat which triggers a Saving Throw, you may spend points to improve your chances of success, before rolling the dice.
For a d20 Saving Throw, spend 1 HP for a +1 to your roll.
For a d6 Saving Throw, spend 3 HP for a +1 to your roll.

As an alternative, you may sacrifice an item for a +1 (if approved by the GM) or a shield or armor, with a +1 for each AC point it grants, but only if this is applicable to vs. the given threat.

If the threat is magical, you may sacrifice a memorized spell (spend it as if it was used) for a +1 bonus for each level of the spell.

With Saves vs. Death (and Poison), vs. Wands (and Device), vs. Paralysis (and Stone), for example, you may sacrifice a shield if there is a physical threat, otherwise against poison or similar you must use HP.
With Saves vs. Breath (and Area Effects) it is much more likely that you could sacrifice AC points for a bonus to your Saving Throw (or HP as stated above).
With Saves vs. Spells (Magic and Curses) it is possible to sacrifice a memorized spell (or HP as stated above).

This would give low level characters a better chance to survive, but only a very limited amount of times per adventure or session. The point would be that lost HP would be recovered probably not before the end of the session or when back to civilization, broken equipment or protections could become a problem later on, and lack of spells similarly so.
There is therefore a trade-off, a significant decision to be made by the characters.
It preserves players' agency, makes the characters a little bit more resistant, but without being overpowered.

If you'd like to push this further, you might introduce a XP mechanism. Remember that in this case you probably want to factor in the current character level, and put a limit to it. Reasonably, the limit is that you should not spend XP to go below your current level (in other words, you are more vulnerable when you just leveled up, and on the other hand you may loose a chance to level up by spending XP but with the advantage of increasing your chances of surviving a given threat).
The rule could be something like: spend 100 x your Level in XP for +1 bonus on a Saving Throw.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Saving Throws ideas

We've seen Saving Throws compared across rulesets and proposed a d6 Saving Throws for LotFP - which has the advantage to replicate the beloved (well, I am in love with it) d6 skills presentation.
What if you want to start messing around with Saving Throws, then? After all, they're the last barrier between a character and an horrible death (or anyway some serious trouble)...

First of all, let's say something: when you change Saving Throws mechanics but keep the odds reasonably close to the original, you are not changing the game. You may have a mechanical improvement (an easier rule, a rule which fits better with other rules, an easier progression, perhaps a little more freedom in points allocation...), but the game (read: the odds) remains substantially the same.
If instead you make drastic changes to the odds (i.e. Saving Throws based on Ability scores, roll 1d20 equal or under the score), you're changing the game. It's not bad, but keep in mind that you're making a substantial change.
If you increase the chances of survival for low level characters, it is not bad per se. Perhaps you want a game where characters are more durable and have a chance to last longer. Just be aware of it (and there's plenty of other opportunities to kill characters nevertheless, regardless of Saving Throws).
If you change drastically the level progression system (i.e. make it easier to gain a level) you have an impact on Saving Throws as well.
If you take away a progression by level, you probably have more resistant characters at the start, but more vulnerable ones at the high levels (which is fine by me... I like to play low levels more).
In any case, be aware of the consequences of your changes. Playtest your house-rules and be ready to tune them, change them, discard them if they don't serve you well.


So, the first two links are by Brendan. The first post is about keeping it simple: find what is “most favorable” or “least favorable” for the various classes, and use a unified progression chart for all classes. I like the simplicity of it, and before you start arguing about one point more or one point less here and there, if compared to the OD&D, remember that 1 point in a Saving Throw is worth a 5% chance.
I wouldn't loose sleep over it, if it simplified the system.
It is not mentioned in the article, but it makes it easy also to improvise rules about Saving Throws without having to worry about categories (is this a Save vs. Wands or vs. Petrification?).

Favorable and unfavorable saves
by Brendan
Swords & Wizardry collapsed all the saving throws into a single number, with some class-based modifiers. For example, clerics get +2 when saving against paralysis or poison, and magic-users get +2 when saving against spells. The traditional saving throw categories do provide atmosphere (death ray, dragon breath), but are somewhat cumbersome and nonintuitive. [...]
One thing I’ve been doing recently is using “most favorable” or “least favorable” save numbers for cases where the choice of what save category to use is not immediately clear. If it seems like something the class in question would have some competence with, the character gets to use the most favorable. [...]
All classes would reference the same values, but would differ as to which number was used by situation. This method would require two numbers, but would avoid needing any class-based or situational modifiers. [...]


The second link by Brendan is a little more technical, but definitely worth a read. Remember when I said that Saving Throws are strictly tied to the level progression? Brendan makes it explicit in this post, and insists (and he's right if you want to stay loyal to OD&D) that such progression is one of the cornerstones of the game.
So in this house-rule, Brandan ties the level itself in the Saving Throw roll. If combined with the previous Favorable and unfavorable categories, or with specific bonuses, it can recreate similar chances as the original tables, but with a linear progression by level (which I like) and a simple formula instead of multiple tables (which I also like very much).

Level as saving throw
by Brendan
So if the saving throw is really just a shorthand for level, a reward for extensive successful play, why do we need another number at all? Maybe Swords & Wizardry doesn’t go far enough with its single saving throw. Why can’t we just use the level directly? [...]
There are a few problems with using level directly. For one thing, saving throws shouldn’t be too hard at first level or too easy at high levels. In the original game, a fighter has to roll 12 or higher at first level to successfully save versus death. A beginning magic-user has to roll 15 or higher to save versus spells. The endgame saving throw target numbers range from 3 to 8, depending on category and class. They cluster around 5. These probabilities should be our guidelines. [...]
What about d20 + level, 16+ = success and 5- = failure? That’s simple enough to remember, is symmetrical, and handles low and high levels well. Ranges from 30% success at first level (since there is a +1 from being first level) to 25% failure at level 10 (after which saves wouldn’t functionally improve anymore, though you never need to track anything other than the level). [...]
http://www.necropraxis.com/2012/09/19/level-as-saving-throw/


This third post deals with the single Saving Throw as presented by S&W. I don't know if perhaps the original S&W rules didn't provide bonuses back in 2009 when this post was written, but I think it's rather a misinterpretation of the rules by James Maliszewski. Leaving this aside, though, the post insists on the need to differentiate the classes by type of threat, and there are a few interesting comments following the post (which is otherwise not so useful to us in this conversation).
One comment for example shows how to approach Saving Throws again by class and level, another comment presents a unified Saving Throw by level and attribute modifier, and a third presents a list of attributes and the Saving Throws that could be tied to the various attributes.

A Point of Dissatisfaction with S&W
[...] For reasons I don't quite understand, S&W uses a single saving throw rather than several, as did OD&D and AD&D (and as do OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord). At first, this didn't bother me very much. Indeed, I was starting to feel that the reduction of saves to a single number for each class was actually an improvement over the original mechanics. [...]
Efficient though it may be, it also eliminated one of the more eccentric mechanical elements of D&D, something that gave each class a lot of distinctiveness. In S&W, as written, clerics are hands-down better than all the other classes when it comes to saves and that just feels wrong. I particularly miss the way that old school fighters had the best saving throws versus breath attacks, which always felt right to me given all the tales of dragon slaying.
[...]
clovis
i find it easier to base saves on ability scores then arbitrary categories such as wand or breath weapon 
adding a set bonus based upon character class;
1/2 per level for fighters, rangers, clerics and sorcerors and
2/3 per level for mages & thieves;
[...]
S'mon
How about do it by attribute?
Target number =(Base Number, eg 18) - (attribute modifier + Level)?
This is basically the C&C approach, minus Primes. You could make it minus half level, too. And you could leave out attribute modifiers if you don't want to emphasize stats.
[...]
Norman Harman
I'm enamored with Troll Lords C&C system. Ties into their SIEGE engine of prime non-prime attributes.
Each stat is the save vs particular kinds of attacks.
STRENGTH Paralysis, Constriction
INTELLIGENCE Arcane Magic, Illusion
WISDOM Divine Magic, Confusion, Gaze Attack, Polymorph, Petrification
DEXTERITY Breath Weapon, Traps
CONSTITUTION Disease, Energy Drain, Poison
CHARISMA Death Attack, Charm, Fear
VARIABLE: Spells (based off of spell effects, CN for poison spell, CH for charm)
[...]
http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/06/point-of-dissatisfaction-with-s.html


Staying in the same spirit as the last comment, here is the rule I used in the Black Dogs (including the priority order, to be able to rule which ability to check for the Saving Throw).



Design notes
- Use a single value (as S&W) with appropriate modifier
- Use two values (favorable and unfavorable) with two different progressions
- Use the level as a measure of the improvement
- Keep in mind that differences among classes and vs. different types of threat are in purpose
- Of course there is the possibility to use the ability modifiers or the ability scores, in connection to the Saving Throws

All this talking about Saving Throws gave me an idea... Saving Throw Effort - let's discuss this next time.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Saving Throws compared across rulesets

When we looked at the 3d6 in order as char-gen procedure, we compared five major rulesets:
- B/X Essentials
Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox
Swords & Wizardry Core
Labyrinth Lord
Lamentations of the Flame Princess

This time, let's see how the same rulesets treat Saving Throws - your last chance to avoid terrible harm or death. As in the other post, we'll see BXE first, as it's loyal to the OD&D scores.
In all rulesets, Saving Throws are handled with a d20 roll which has to be equal or higher than a given threshold.
In the tables below, you can see the different values divided by class, at level one.

Note how S&W (as you for sure already know) uses a single value for Saving Throws, granting a bonus to the d20 roll (making it better for the character) for certain categories, to the various classes.


Cleric
Originally (BXE) more resistant vs. Death, and Wands, in S&W WB they are more resistant to Death, and Poison, and in S&W Core the improvement is instead vs. Paralyze, and Poison. LL and LotFP remain faithful to the original scores.
BXE Death Wands Paralysis Breath Spells
Cleric 11 12 14 16 15
S&W WB All Death Poison Magic
Cleric 14 +2 +2
S&W Core All Device Paralyze Poison Wand Spell
Cleric 15 +2 +2
LL Breath Attacks Poison or Death Petrify or Paralyze Wands Spells or Spell-like Devices
Cleric 16 11 14 12 15
LotFP Paralyze Poison Breath Device Magic
Cleric 14 11 16 12 15


Fighter
Slightly less resilient than the Cleric, the Fighter is also originally (BXE) more resistant vs. Death, and Wands. In S&W WB fighters "loose" two points on the Saving Throws compared to Clerics and have a lower bonus vs. to Death, and Poison, while in S&W Core they have a better score than Clerics but without any other bonus. LL remains faithful to the original scores again, but LotFP presents much worse scores for the level one fighters, on every Saving Throw category.

BXE Death Wands Paralysis Breath Spells
Fighter 12 13 14 15 16
S&W WB All Death Poison Magic
Fighter 16 +1 +1
S&W Core All Device Paralyze Poison Wand Spell
Fighter 14
LL Breath Attacks Poison or Death Petrify or Paralyze Wands Spells or Spell-like Devices
Fighter 15 12 14 13 16
LotFP Paralyze Poison Breath Device Magic
Fighter 16 16 16 15 18


Magic-User
Even less resilient is the Magic-user, in the original (BXE) scores, and who's better only vs. Paralysis. In S&W WB and Core Magic-users have one point less than Clerics in Saving Throws, but one point more than Fighters, plus they are the only class with a bonus vs. magic. In LL there are slightly better scores than the original vs. Wands, and Spells, reinforcing the idea that Magic-users know best how to resist or avoid magical effects. In LotFP we have slightly better scores than the original, thus granting the Magic-user a little higher chance to survive at level one.

BXE Death Wands Paralysis Breath Spells
Magic-User 13 14 13 16 15
S&W WB All Death Poison Magic
Magic-User 15 +2
S&W Core All Device Paralyze Poison Wand Spell
Magic-User 15 +2 +2
LL Breath Attacks Poison or Death Petrify or Paralyze Wands Spells or Spell-like Devices
Magic-User 16 13 13 13 14
LotFP Paralyze Poison Breath Device Magic
Magic-User 13 13 16 13 14


Thief
The last class in this review, the Thief (Specialist in LotFP) has in the original (BXE) the same Saving Throws as a Magic-user (thus worse than the Cleric and the Fighter). In S&W Core the single Saving Throw score is the same as a Magic-user, but with bonus vs. Device, and Wands (there is no Thief in S&W WB). In LL we have scores close to the original but just just slightly worse (opposite to the slight improvements granted to the Magic-users). In LotFP the Specialist has decent and average scores across all categories with a noticeable vulnerability to poison (better check before opening that chest you thief!).

BXE Death Wands Paralysis Breath Spells
Thief 13 14 13 16 15
S&W Core All Device Paralyze Poison Wand Spell
Thief 15 +2 +2
LL Breath Attacks Poison or Death Petrify or Paralyze Wands Spells or Spell-like Devices
Thief 16 14 13 15 14
LotFP Paralyze Poison Breath Device Magic
Specialist 14 16 15 14 14


When we look at those scores we can note that there are very few scores of 11 (50% chance of success), and few with score 12 (45% success). Most of the scores are in the range of 13 (40% success) to 15 (30% success), and several scores of 16 (25% chance of success, rather poor).
Breath attacks (with a damage roll) are the hardest to resist, while poison/death is in average a bit more likely to allow a successful save (probably because a failed save vs. poison means usually certain death).
In any case, though, the chances of success with a Saving Throw are definitely low, and this means that the old saying that if you're rolling a Saving Throw it's already too late, you already screwed up, is true.


I remember when I was young and Saving Throws initially confused me. I played other games before which did not have this concept of low score=better score (roll above your score). I played games with a roll-under concept and % chances (very intuitive), or games where high scores and high rolls were both good, because you rolled and added your score to the roll, trying to beat a target number or a defense.
It felt especially funny to have Abilities with high=good scores (and the common house-rule of roll-under you Ability to accomplish something), while Saving Throws were on the same scale (1d20) but with inverted scores (roll above).
My understanding is that if you use Ability rolls and/or Skills and Saving Throws, you should have similar mechanics in place (roll under? roll above?).
They do not need to be on the same scale (some might be d20, some d6, etc.) but using the same or a similar mechanic is probably a plus.
If not, at least make the roll-under or roll-above mechanics to be intuitive.
This is why I believe that the d6 Skills in LotFP are so good. You have the images of dice on your character sheet and you color the pips when improving your chance of success.

The idea of using the same d6 mechanic for Saving Throws is a natural consequence of that. Everyone is familiar with a roll-under ability check with a d20.
It's just as easy to roll-under with a d6 on your Saving Throw score.
Read this post if you missed it: https://daimon-games.blogspot.com/2018/12/d6-saving-throws-for-lotfp.html


If you want more about the standard Saving Throws progression by class, you may read Saves in OD&D by class by Jeff Rients which also includes some nice charts.


There is more to be said about Saving Throws, definitely. A roll-under with a d6 is not the only house-rule option there.
Next time, we'll talk more about Saving Throws.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

About characters, so far

This is just a fraction of the index of the OSR Bible project, which includes what I collected so far about characters.
Read more here if you want.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Name your character

Now, we all know that naming your character is easy for some people, while others would pour over their character sheet for half an hour before coming up with something unoriginal or silly.
This is true for GMs as well; as GM you have to put a name on this or that NPC, sometimes on-the-fly, sometimes you need a name for a certain humanoid, sometimes you need a name for an entire family...
So coming to the table with one or more lists of names is a smart thing to do.

Because I like both PbtA games and OSR, I've seen something quite interesting in the PbtA playbooks (character sheets by "class"): each of them comes with several names to choose from, so players can give a name to their character which fits the theme and style of the game, and avoid name-paralysis.
This might feel a little bit restrictive for OSR players and GMs: why a fighter gets only 10 names to choose from?
Of course, those are simply there for your first game(s) and as inspiration... You can change and improve the list, but you should have a list. Having a list, perhaps divided in some categories, is the lesson to learn.

So come to the table prepared. The things to keep in mind are just a few:
- Have a short list or two, for those who want to pick a name fast
- Have a long list or two, for NPCs or for players who like many options
- Consider even the option of giving random names to characters; again, this is OSR and you get to play with what fate handed you
- When making lists, set a category for them: names for humans coming from different regions should be different, names for humanoids, etc.


When making the lists, try to make sure you don't just use a random generator online, but somehow make sure that the names will fit the tone and style of your campaign.
A very useful resource is the Story Games Name Project, which contains a lot of lists divided in several categories, which will allow you to select a name while also taking in consideration the background of the character or NPC: https://archive.org/details/story_games_name_project


There are several online tools, of course, and they can be used as long as you are ready to "re-roll" any result which does not fit the tone of your game. In addition to names, consider the option of using nicknames, and/or titles.
- Random Name Generator
- donjon Fantasy Random Generator for NPCs, including a little description
100 Evocative Character Titles (Part I)
by wizardshaw
This is a resource for sparking character ideas. Descriptive titles have always done a lot for me when imagining characters: they imply history, presence, and persona with a single word. [...]
1d100
1 - The Abominable
2 - The Adorned
3 - The Airy
4 - The Ardent
5 - The Attractive [...]
51 - The Gleaming
52 - The Gloomy
53 - The Golden
54 - The Goodly
55 - The Grisly [...]