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). [...]

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.
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;
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)

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.

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

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

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

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:

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:

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. [...]
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 [...]