Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Combat: bring the escalation die to the OSR

In the Combat rules of 13th Age there is a little neat paragraph called "Escalation Die".
The rule goes more or less like this:
- It starts at 0
- In round 2, put a d6 on the table showing 1
- Every round, increase its value, up to the maximum of 6

The value of the escalation die is added to the characters' to-hit roll, so as the fight advances, characters are more likely to hit.
Some monsters (bad monsters) might use this die as well, other monsters could reduce its value, and some powers might have a bonus related to the escalation die, or some other feats might be linked to it (i.e. certain attacks that can be performed when the Escalation Die is at 3 or more, etc...).

I loved this Escalation Die rule, when I first read quickly through the book. And even though I never played 13th Age (and it's probably too crunchy for my taste), I guess most players love this rule.
In 13th Age it does a few things:
- It gives characters the chance to build momentum round after round, making them more likely to hit their opponents
- It paces somehow the usage of certain feats or skills, which might be tied to the Escalation Die (even if you can use your special attack from the start, you're encouraged by the rules to wait a few rounds, so you can use the Escalation Die bonus and improve your chances)
- Some monsters use it too, which makes them tougher and nastier!

This is nice and good, but...
1- Round 1 equal Esc.Die 0, Round 2 equal Esc.Die 1... wouldn't it be easier to start at 1?
2- Only some monsters use it, why not all of them?
3- Some monsters reduce its value... ok, nice rule, but then there is a counter-effect against it? You make a nice new rule and then make exceptions to go back to default? (ignore nice new rule as a feature?)
4- It has no effect on damage

Now, I realize that this analysis is influenced by what I expect from my OSR games... In the spirit of 13th Age even the things which sound wrong to me, are probably good.
But if I were to use the inspiration of the Escalation Die, and bring it to the OSR, I would say:
1- Make it simple, round 1, equal Escalation Die 1, round 2 equal Esc.Die 2, etc...
2- Everyone uses it, players and GM, characters and monsters
3- No mitigation, no reducing the score, perhaps just reset to 1 after getting up to 6
4- It affects to-hit or damage (decide before rolling), or perhaps even both!

In fact, I see the Escalation Die as a way to make combat deadlier and faster.
Especially faster... By increasing the chance to hit and/or the damage, it should make things faster.

Actually, I guess the rule could be changed, and the value of the Escalation Die could be increased not only every round, but every time someone rolls to hit and misses.
(Yes, I hate it when it happens, see Combat: fight and die faster - where you'll find links about auto-hit, about always inflicting damage also on a miss, or the single roll-to-hit which includes the character's and the monster's attack, diminishing the chances of a miss.)

This is indeed what I did in the Black Dogs issue number 3, I took the escalation die and made something similar - but easier - for any OSR game:
- Put a d6 on the table, showing 1
- Every time someone misses an attack, increase the die value of one point
- When you reach 6, characters gets a certain bonus

In the Black Dogs (which uses a "zones" concept dividing the battlefield in Front, Body and Rear) there are different bonuses.
For a standard OSR game, I would say then the d6 gets to 6, every character and monster gets a d6. The d6 can be used at any time: roll it with the d20 for a bonus to-hit, or with the damage die of your weapon for an increased damage.

So the final house-rule, for generic OSR games, could be:
- Put a d6 on the table, showing 1
- Increase the die value of one point, when: A) Every round, or B) every time someone misses an attack (deadlier!)
- Reset to 1 when you get to 6 and have to increase it again

What to do with the number on the d6? You choose:
A) When you get to 6, everyone gets a d6 to roll together with their nex to-hit or damage roll
B) Everyone decides (on their turn) if to add the d6 number to their to-hit or damage roll (nasty, because things escalate fast!)

Let me know what you think and if you ever used an escalation die in an OSR game.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Combat: initiative in your inventory

When looking at alternatives and suggestions about initiative in OSR combat, I found an interesting article which suggested treating initiative as a "real" object - something to carry around, something that can even be stolen, or used as a threat ("I have the initiative, you better back down..."). In the same article, Patrick also suggested using questions as a tool for initiative - the more questions you ask, the more you know but at the price of potentially delayed action.
The article was called Physical Initiative and Query Initiative by Patrick Stuart.
You know how good is Patrick, and that post is good.

So I thought, why not to mix the two things, and simplify them into a single rule, using inventory as a tool for initiative?
This system assumes inventory in slots (like in LotFP) but counts pounds anymore, nowadays?
NOTE: this rule was not tested. It's just an idea...

The basic rule could be something like:
1- By default enemies have initiative 1 if slow, 4 if normal (humans/humanoids) and 8 if fast (animals and many monsters, own ground, advantage of surprise). Adjust a point or two as you see fit
2- Each character has an initiative score equal to the number of empty slots in their inventory. Zero empty slots is initiative 0 and each slot used above that (over encumbered) counts as going negative
3- Keep a piece of paper with the characters' initiative written on it, so you'll know which enemies act before, which in between characters, which after... Use this info also to tune the beginning of the encounter
4- At the beginning of the encounter, give information to players as their characters could perceive them
5- Each question asked, counts as using an empty slot, reducing initiative. If you want to act fast, you should declare it before others ask their questions
6- When an action is declared and performed (by characters or by enemies), the outcome of the action translates into "free" information

Some notes/examples:

1- Some examples of enemies with their initiative scores:
(one) 1: a status slowly animating, a large monster, monsters with very long limbs or long weapons which take an effort to swing, blobs, deformed creatures, most magical attacks which require a little formula or gesture to be cast...
(four) 4: this is the norm; a regular human or humanoid, a guard, a bandit, a soldier
(eight) 8: most animals, wilderness creatures and monsters. Try to picture them; if they have slender bodies, tendonds and muscles of predators, they have initiative 8. If they look like they might jump at you in an split second, before you could even raise your hands, initiative 8. If it looks like you won't even have the time to draw your sword, initiative 8.
Assign initiative 8 also to slower enemies when they have the advantage of being on their own ground, when they know the place better than the characters, when they are ready to engage, and if they are already at 8, raise it up to 10.
Same goes for enemies with the advantage of surprise (including raising initiative up to 10 if they are fast and have the advantage of surprise). Up to 12 for fast, and own ground, and surprise? I'd say yes.

2- The less you carry, the faster you are. If you are three slots over your quota, you are at initiative -3 (minus three).

3- Keep a piece of paper with the characters' initiative written on it, so you'll know which enemies act before, which in between characters, which after... Use this info also to tune the beginning of the encounter.
If they encounter a fast creature, the creature's attack might strike them before they can react (i.e. the creature has initiative 10 and the fastest character has initiative 7 - seven empty slots).
If they encounter something slower, you may say that they see an attack coming, with a little info. The more they ask questions (see the point below) before they declare their actions, the more there is a chance for the attack to land before they can make their own action or attack to stop it.

4- If the characters have enough time to size up their opponents, they might not need to ask questions. If they encounter a group of bandits in the wilderness, and have the time to spot them, they might already know a lot. How many are there, how tough they look, how are they armed.
But if the enemy has the advantage of surprise or they're just behind a corner and the two groups clash, you can give limited information. For example you could say things like "You stumble on a group of armed men behind the corner; there's a handful of them and you hear weapons and armors clanking", or even "Something nasty, fast and greenish slashes at your legs from the shadows behind you... you hear a slugghish noise and perceive a terrible smell".
The more the enemy has the advantage of surprise, the less information you give.

5- The less you think, the faster you are. Ask the players who wants to act right away, before knowing anything more than what you said at the beginning of the encounter. Those can act with their initiative with no penalties.
If players start to ask questions, each answer brings their initiative score down by one, as if they had a full slot in their inventory. Note that everyone listens to the answers, so everyone's score goes down.
If someone wants to avoid loosing any more points of initiative, they should declare their action.

6- When an enemy gets to act (high initiative score) or a player declares an action (usually an attack or counterattack), resolve it. The information which comes out of it, is for free. In other words, this is something that happens in combat, and those who act later will be able to see the outcome of this action as a sort of additional information.
A classic example could be: a monster with initiative 8, a character with 6, another with 5, another monster (same type but bigger, and slower) with initiative 3. The monster with initiative 8 attacks, and deals 2d8 damage bringing one character to almost 0 HP; it's fast, bloody, messy. The other character has a chance to act and you tell them.
It's their decision now; they may ask additional questions, but they can safely assume that the other monster is slower but even stronger... do they use their action to engage it? Or to run away? Do they ask questions looking for a vulnerable spot, at the risk of suffering the second monster's attack before they can do their own action?

An additional idea is to use the inventory slots to "carry" elements like those below. Each of those "things" will take away empty slots, thus making you to act after but in exchange for some different type of advantage:
- "quick draw" to ready your weapons fast
- "quick swap" to be able to swap weapons fast

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Combat: Initiative

Initiative in combat is quite a topic. It often makes the difference between life and death, especially at lower levels. If both the character(s) and the adversary can sustain one or two hits before going down, being the one with a chance to hit first is a big deal.
If you also implement auto-hits or max damage (or other house-rules to speed up combat, as in the previous article Combat: fight and die faster), then initiative becomes even more of a critical factor.

Traditionally, there are a few "common" methods for Initiative:
1- Everyone rolls for Initiative, including the monsters/adversaries (possibly with the DEX modifier)
2- Only the characters roll; "failure" (i.e. on a DEX check) means going after all the monsters/adversaries (which act as a group), "success" mean going before the monsters/adversaries
3- One roll per group (characters vs. monsters/adversaries); the group with the best score goes first

Also, some groups determine initiative only at the beginning of combat, others do it every round.

Each method has its own benefits and drawbacks:
1- Individual initiative provides the best granularity; faster characters/monsters will likely go first and each combatant has its own "moment"... but of course it requires more attention and more rolls. It gets even heavier if initiative changes every round
2- If the characters are the only ones to roll, there is a decent level of details but without the need to roll for every monster/adversary... with the only drawback that a specific monster's speed might be overlooked (unless you rule for example that monster X goes always before the characters, for example)
3- The roll per group is probably the fastest method, but provides the minimal ammount of details, and then the order of the various characters still needs to be determined within the group, with some method

Re-rolling initiative every round can become easily a mess, since the order will likely change every time, but it allows someone who is usually fast to regain its place in the initiative order, if they rolled badly at the start of the fight.

When looking for alternatives, I found several very interesting links with ideas going from useful to very original to very bizarre...
So let's start with bizarre... which is not bad at all, actually. The first idea by Patrick Stuart is "physical initiative"... something that can be recognized and which is a real, physical thing. I don't know if it will be possible to really use it in a long-term game, but it seems like a rule that could work in certain occasions, or for one-shots or a single specific adventure.

The second idea by Patrick Stuart makes more sense in a long-term game, and it is tied to questions. Players may ask questions about the opposition and each question brings them closer to loosing initiative - this makes a lot of sense because it means that a careful approach (more questions) might translate in a tactical advantage in exchange for giving up the first attack.
If one or more characters would like to act first, let them roll before other players ask more questions in exchange for acting later on (whatever comes up during those attacks, in terms of knowledge for other players, is fair game...). Also, I would suggest to make monsters act when their moment comes, in between questions (i.e. the characters ask the 3rd question and a monster has an initiative rating of 3; let it act and whatever the players learn by suffering the attack, they do not need to ask).

Physical Initiative and Query Initiative
by Patrick Stuart
[...] The first part is a silly list, the second part is less immediately useful but more conceptually interesting.
First idea is what if The Initiative is like a literal physical thing that you can find or recover in a game world, or just in one dungeon, city or area, and as long as you have it then you have the initiative. I.e, you fight first.
And everyone in this area knows what the initiative is, so if they see you with it, they will say 'oh shit, they have the initiative' and be afraid to attack, but if they can steal or grab it off you then *they* will have the initiative, and if they can break, kill, destroy or lose it then there is no initiative.
All of these must be held openly, visible, or held in one hand.
1. A small fragile bird like a starling, or a bat. Delicate bones, moves fast if it can get away. Very specific diet.
2. A big fat awkward robust bird like a Turkey. You have to cradle it under one arm. It becomes alarmed in violent situations, escapes and runs about. There can be no fighting in its presence till it is caught at which point whoever has it has the initiative. The bird is imperious.
3. A delicate glass flower, or a real one in a pot.
4. The Ark of Initiative. A huge heavy stone box that has to be carried about by at least two people.
Second idea is influenced somewhat by the description of fights in Amber Diceless. What if initiative was related to the number of questions a player or side could ask about the encounter before they lose initiative.
This is probably easier to conceptualise as a per-side thing. Enemy types would have an Initiative Value, with low being good. Something like this;
Ambush: D4 -1
Fast things: D4
People: D6
Bigger things: D8
Slllooow things: 2d6 (like Zombies)
You would begin with the most basic description possible;
"A shape attacks. Initiative begins."
Then the player side can ask precise questions about the specific physical qualities that they can sense. Like;
"What shape is it?"
"How many limbs?"
"Is it dressed?"
"Does it/they have a weapon?"
"How many of them?"
I'm not sure on the exact quality of the questions that can be asked. Yes/No seems a bit too tight but wider questions could get easy too quickly.
Then the Players get to ask questions about what their particular character can see or sense, and if they go over a creatures initiative number, then the monsters/opponents get to attack first. [...]

Thinking of these two together, and trying to merge them and simplify them...
What if initiative should be carried in the inventory like a real thing - translating it into questions/actions?
This will require some thoughts and possibly a post by itself, but I would say something like:
- Give each monster an initiative rating like 0 for slow, 4 for normal, 8 for fast, or something like that...
- Characters can "carry" initiative as a real thing: each inventory slot dedicated to initiative is a +1 so to act before normal (value 4) monsters, a character needs 5 inventory slots dedicated to initiative (they can carry less, because they need to act fast and pay attention and be ready to act)
- If you are over your limit, you have automatically initiative zero
- To avoid wasting time to rearrange the inventory (i.e. moving objects to change the value of initiative often), you could also say that the number of empty slots is automatically the value of initiative
- Inventory slots could be also pre-allocated with stuff like "quick draw" to ready your weapons fast, or "quick swap" to be able to swap weapons fast, or "question 1", "question 2" etc. so that you'll be able to ask questions beyond the basic initial description... each of those "things" will take away empty slots, thus making you to act after but in exchange for some different type of advantage
OK, this definitely requires some thoughts and some testing.

The next link uses something I really really love, the hazard system by Brendan (Necropraxis) (I will write about it in a different post) and brings it to combat.
The system allows some dynamic output without the need to roll for initiative (it has cases where characters go first as a group, cases where monsters go first, cases when you act based on encumbrance, and so on).
The system has a great potential, but I feel like the table provided in the article would need some tuning (or maybe a complete rewrite).

by Jacob Aphenaeus
At the beginning of each round of combat, roll the Combat Die. Unless stated otherwise PCs go first:
Combat Die: (1d6)
1. Player Characters go first!
2. "Slow" Creatures go second, Starting with normal PCs, then normal NPCs, then slow PCs, then slow NPCs. (Slow refers to anything wearing heavy armor, wielding large weapons, encumbered, or with reduced speed like dwarves or halflings)
3. Enemies gain a leg up! Enemy NPCs go first!
This would require the reworking of some mechanics but it does allow for some unpredictability in combat and some new design opportunities such as...
Boss Monsters can add effects to the Combat Die!
For instance, Saurfang the Dragon can whip his tail or try to hypnotize a PC off of his turn. Just upgrade the die to a d8 and add both options to the Combat Die chart. [...]

Actually, a cleaner version is available on the necropraxis blog. It gives fewer details but I think it has a better balance between the various options.

Tactical Hazard Die
by Brendan
The current unreleased working version of the Hazard System uses six potential outcomes which are then interpreted relative to the current turn type. The four turn types, from most abstract to least abstract, are Haven, Wilderness, Dungeon, and Combat. The six outcomes, mapped to the sides of the 1d6 Hazard Die, are 1) Setback, 2) Fatigue, 3) Expiration, 4) Locality, 5) Percept, and 6) Advantage. This unifies the set of potential outcomes so referees need learn fewer exceptions. Additionally, the order roughly ranks the outcomes from most negative (Setback) to most positive (Advantage) taking the perspective of player characters.
More concretely, my current play test interprets Combat Turn Hazard Die outcomes as:

1. Setback: opponents act first or reinforcements arrive

2. Fatigue: combatants engaged in melee suffer 1 point of damage

3. Expiration: some or all ongoing effects end (such as burning oil)

4. Locality: the battlefield changes in some way

5. Percept: players gain some clue to opponent strategy
6. Advantage: players choose extra action or forced morale check

I would probably just switch the order, keeping the low results as an advantage to the players, and the higher values in advantage of the adversaries. This way, if there is some special monster or NPC in the encounter, you can increase the die size to d8 (or even d10, or d12) and add those options at the top of the chart.

The next and last link is by the author of Troika!, Daniel Sell. The system is quite simple and plays heavily with randomization: enemies or characters might get the upper hand with a few lucky draws, and then the round may end abruptly, before the other side had a chance to react in a significant way.
This may frustrate some players (or GMs), so you may want to consider some mitigation effect for those characters or enemies that didn't have a chance to act when the round ends.

Troika! Initiative Rules
This initiative system can replace most I-go-you-go style initiative arrangements in role-playing games without much fuss. You need the following:
- Two identical cards for each player character
- One card that signifies the end of the turn
- An abundance of one card to signify henchmen
- An abundance of one more card to signify enemies 
When a fight breaks out you gather up the player cards, the end of round token, henchman tokens equal to the number of henchmen present, and a number of enemy tokens equal to the total initiative value of all enemies. Shuffle these.
Draw a card, the owner of the drawn card acts. If the end of round card is drawn you gather up all the tokens and start again. [...]

If you want to draw inspiration from this system, note that it does two things:
- Gives characters and opponents the chance to act more than once per round, if they draw their card more than once
- It makes the spells' and effects' duration somehow unpredictable

Even with the above caveats, I hope I will be able to give a test-drive to Troika! and see how the system works at the table.

Design notes:
- Having the chance to hit first is a big deal, especially at low levels
- Initiative becomes even more important with auto-hit or max damage or other similar house-rules
- There is a trade-off between granularity (i.e. each character and monster has its own roll) and speed at the table (i.e. roll only for characters, roll for groups)
- Also, repeating the roll every round requires more attention, but allows someone who rolled badly to "regain" its natural place in the initiative order
- Some ideas by Patrick Stuart: make initiative a real, physical thing... or connect initiative to questions asked by the players
- Inspired by the above, perhaps count initiative as the empty inventory slots? (if you use a slot system for the inventory, but who doesn't, nowadays?) You could also use the inventory for questions or things like "quick draw", "quick swap", "access to items", and so on
- Initiative using the hazard system (by necropraxis)
- Random initiative and random end-of-round with cards/tokens, as in Troika! (it may affect heavily how many times a character/opponent has a chance to act, and the duration of spells and various effects)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Combat: Wounds

In the previous article, Combat: fight and die faster, we've seen how to make combat deadly and fast, with auto-hit or max damage or damage also on a miss.
In general, the HP system is one of those most frequently tuned in the OSR, and with reasons.

It's not like the original Hit Points system is bad - it is actually very good and especially at lower levels, it works like a charm. You get hit once or twice and if the damage rolls are high, you're gone.
But somehow, being combat so important in the game, and being HP the only thing that separates your character from death, many players and GMs feel the need or the inspiration to tune this system.
Bear in mind that when I say that combat is so important, it is not because it should be the core of an OSR game. In fact, often in the OSR it is better to avoid combat, if possible, because it is so deadly. But in fact, being potentially deadly for the characters, makes it important.
Everyone pays attention when dice are rolled to hit and for damage.
(Unless the procedure drags for too long or it's an endless sequence of miss-miss-miss-miss... but we've seen in Combat: fight and die faster some options about that...)

Now, we're here to talk about alternatives to the basic HP system.
What I see in this sort of house rules is a hunger for more details - for something more detailed than a simple number of hit points. As I said, not because HP is bad - but it lacks flavor and it lacks details such as loosing actions, unconsciousness, bleeding out, maiming, horrible wounds and scars.
All those things can of course be introduced in the game by a wise GM, but having a rules system for that allows you to have consistent rulings at the table.

The first link is by Emmy Allen, who doesn't like death at 0 HP. This is a neat system which reminds me of some critical hit tables in a certain way... although, here, the trigger is not in the hit roll, but in the fact that the character goes to 0 HP or below.
There are various tables, for different types of wounds, and where the system somehow increases a little your character's chances for survival (you're not dead at 0 HP), it brings also to the table a list of severe penalties and horrible wounds (as by the title).

Horrible Wounds in OSR games
by Emmy Allen
I don't like death at 0HP. From a player side its abrupt and always feels arbitrary, and from the ref side it's both quite punishing and doesn't cause enough complications.
When characters hit 0HP, I want them to suffer. They get chopped up, start bleeding, lose body parts, get messed up. Characters that drop to 0HP should aquire scars and problems. They should risk death but have a chance to avoid it if swift medical attention is received. [...]
When damage reduces you to 0 HP or less, or you take any damage when you already had no HP, look at the exact amount of damage dealt and get a result from the list below. It doesn't matter how far 'into the negatives' you are, just look at the result of the dice. Except for the penalties from actual injuries, you can keep on going just fine on 0 HP; adrenaline can do impressive things. [...]
There are 6 sets of wounds to look the damage up on, depending on what caused it. They are:
- Ballistics, for bullets, explosives and other extremely high energy impacts.
- Ripping, for knives, teeth, claws, and other ‘sharp’ physical damage.
- Bludgeoning, for hammers, falling masonry, fists, and other ‘blunt’ physical damage.
- Burns, for fire, acid, digestive enzymes and other sub-stances that physically corrode, burn or eat away at flesh.
- Shocks, for electricity and perhaps extreme cold, radiation or other dangers that suddenly stun or shock the body into uselessness.
- Toxins, for poison, sickness, and other hazardous sub-stances that make the body ill.
Ballistic Wounds
This damage table should be used for bullets and explosions, and other high-kinetic-energy impacts.
One damage:
The shot rips through internal organs, starting a slow internal bleed. You’re bleeding out, but at a rate of turns rather than rounds.
Two damage:
The bullet’s impact ruins a leg. With one leg, you're reduced to hopping about or relying on crutches. You can’t run, and get disadvantage (roll twice and take the worse result) to rolls requiring physical agility. If both go, you're on the floor unable to get about at all.
Three damage:
The impact of the bullet ruins an arm. You can’t use that hand for anything. Any rolls that require the use of two hands reduces gets disadvantage).
Ripping Wounds
This damage table should be used for physical wounds. Stabbing, cutting, tearing, crushing, grinding; anything where a solid object is tearing up flesh, use this table.
One damage:
The injury fucks your eye up. You take disadvantage to rolls involving perception, since you can’t see properly.
Two damage:
A particularly savage wound ruins a leg. With one leg, you're reduced to hopping about or relying on crutches. You can’t run, and take disadvantage to rolls requiring physical agility. If both go, you're on the floor unable to get about at all.
Three damage:
A particularly savage wound ruins an arm. You can’t use that hand for anything. Any rolls that require the use of two hands reduces suffers disadvantage.
Bludgeoning Wounds
This damage table should be used for anything that batters at the victim without having a sharp edge or point as fist, bricks, clubs and so on, where the likely result is to bludgeon the victim into submission rather than rip them to bits.
One damage:
It hurts like hell. You lose your next action.
Two damage:
A sharp blow to the head knocks you unconscious for d12 rounds.
Three damage:
You’re knocked out for d12 rounds by the blow, and when you wake up you’re groggy and dazed. You’re fatigued until somebody spends a turn seeing to you, and passes an Intelligence roll to do so.

In the next link by Logan Knight we have a slightly different approach. While Emmy Allen introduced wounds at 0 HP, Logan remains on a more classical save or die.
But if an attack causes the maximum damage (so not a critic with a natural 20, but maximum damage), there is a Wounds table - with wounds which could be permanent.
Again, this is interesting because it adds flavor to HP (although in a different way): you may still have even 10 HP but have tremors or spill your guts etc...
Consider that this rule of the max damage makes a d4 weapon/attack potentially much more dangerous, because it has a higher chance of causing a wound.

Death & Dismemberment
by Logan Knight
If you’re dropped to 0HP or less, make a CON save or die.
Attacks that roll maximum damage cause a Wound – roll on Blood & Guts table. (Rolling multiple damage dice causes a Wound if any of the dice roll their highest number.)
If you’re still above 0HP most Wounds will heal when you reach max HP again.
If you’re at 0HP or less the Wound is always permanent. 
All Wounds received at 0HP or less are permanent.
Wounds 15-20, Critical Hits, and Deathblows are permanent regardless of HP.
If you receive a permanent Wound from 11-20 but you’re still above 0HP start the DEATHCLOCK
1 Tremor
[now and whenever your roll for a physical task matches the damage you just took]
Nerve damage causes you to drop what you're holding/fall/otherwise fail.
2 Anal Trauma
[now and whenever any roll matches the damage you just took]
Make a Doomed CON check each Round or remain helpless while you violently void your bowels.
3 Spill Your Guts
The force of the impact causes you to gush projectile vomit all over everywhere.
All your rolls are Doomed for the next 2 Rounds.
Permanent: As above but the blood you're throwing up really isn't a good sign.
Decrease max HP by d4 to a minimum of 1.

In this third link by Paolo Greco, we have yet another table (you should have now more than enough to inspire you to make your own) with yet another rule: this time you roll a d6 on the table plus the damage you took below 0 HP (so this time the accumulated damage counts for something).

by TSOJCANTH (Paolo Greco)
Going to 0 hits and dying is not fun. What’s fun is losing an arm or an eye instead and play a crippled PC that will live fantastic adventures while become more and more crippled.
So, your hits don’t go below 0 and PCs function fine with 0 hits. But anytime hits go below zero, tally the amount and use it as a modifier on the Internal Organs Are Supposed To Be Internal Table. Damage taken is cumulative for the table, but of you play a game where damage is more than, say, B/X, halve the modifier. AFG effects are in parenthesis. 
Staggered is a status characters can suffer from criticals. A staggered character rolls an extra d6 on the IOaStbI Table, can’t act and defend at -3 (-1 FC).

Internal Organs Are Supposed To Be Internal Table (1d6+damage)
2. Cut or bruise. Will leave a scar or permanent bump.
3. For some reason you let your weapon fall off your grasp. That sucks.
4. Badly unbalanced. Staggered for 1 round.
5. Your weapon arm is broken/badly cut. Next time dodge instead of using it as a cover for your head. -3 to hit (-1 FC) for a month.
6. Face blow. You see the stars even from within a dungeon. Staggered for 1d6 rounds. If you have a full face visor, instead SAVE or staggered 1d6 rounds. In any case, SAVE or lose an eye.

The next link is a downloadable document, by Eric Nieudan, originally shared on Gplus.
Horrible Wounds in Lunchtime Dungeons
by Eric Nieudan
Heavily inspired by +Emmy Allen's and +Paolo Greco's simple and deadly critical wound systems, here is my own attempt. Compatible with most old school games. 

Design notes:
- Combat is important because it is often deadly
- Tuning the HP system addresses the need to add flavor to hit points
- It introduces loosing actions, unconsciousness, bleeding out, maiming, horrible wounds and scars
- Wounds have short and long term consequences (and possibly penalties etc...)
- Wounds may be inflicted by different triggers, like getting to 0 HP, or an attack rolling its max damage (a d4 weapon is now potentially much more dangerous because it has a higher chance of causing a wound), or with increasing penalties for how many points below zero you are at
- Wounds and penalties and maiming etc. should be weighted against the total HP which is in any case a natural feature of OSR characters of higher levels; these house-rules should not make higher level characters too weak

Friday, April 12, 2019

Combat: fight and die faster

One of the best products (in my opinion) of the OSR scene, is Into The Odd by Chris McDowall.
Of course, get a pdf or better yet a printed copy, if you don't have one.
Char-gen is a blast, the setting and the Arcana are fascinating, but we're here to talk about combat.

In Into The Odd every attack is a hit. There is no miss.
You attack, you roll your damage; then subtract armor (which may also reduce the damage to zero) and then subtract from HP (or Strength - when you're out of HP or for certain attacks that target Strength directly).
Now, let that sink in for a moment: every attack is a hit.
This makes combat much faster and deadly. You don't enter combat unless you're ready to take damage, because almost for sure you will (and every round, from anyone targeting you). That's bloody (and it also makes Initiative very, very important, and the damage reduction factor of your armor a vital feature of it...).

From a narrative point of view, of course, you should not ignore the chance of a "miss", but a miss is basically time wasted at the table. In other words, you could think of a hit-every-round as a series of attacks (successful and not successful) which in the end deal a certain (variable) amount of damage.
If you manage to take a step back from the "simulation" of the to-hit roll, and accept that damage roll minus armor is the only randomizing factor, the auto-hit may become a powerful feature of a fast paced, thrilling game.

In the link below, Chris proposes a series of little modifications for D&D 5e but I guess these house-rules could be applied also to any OSR system.
(Of course, this is interesting if you're not just playing Into The Odd, but would like to import its auto-hit feature to your OSR game)

D&D Combat Supercharger
by Chris McDowall
[...] Roll to hit as normal:
- Natural 1 is a Miss, no damage.
- Miss becomes a Glance: Cause the minimum damage for the attack [...]
- Hit: Cause the maximum damage for the attack
- Critical Hit (usually a natural 20) causes a Glance followed by a Hit. 
Resting Changes
- To account for the higher amount of damage flying around, you do not roll your Hit Dice when taking Short Rests, instead taking the maximum possible roll on that die. 
- A Long Rest restores all Hit Dice. 
- Other types of Healing function as normal. 
Preparing your Notes
Write attacks with their Glance Damage followed by their Hit Damage, so instead of 1d12+3 you’d write 4/15. [...]

The next link proposes something quite similar, scaled explicitly for OSR games. All attacks auto-hit but armor is not counted for damage reduction, but reduces the die size of the attack (with all weapons/attacks dealing the same amount of damage by default).
It's an interesting read because it contains a nice presentation and explanation about the auto-hit as a feature, regardless of how it works specifically in this set of house-rules.

Radically Faster Combat: Auto-Hits
by JB
Ever get tired of misses in combat?
I mean, it’s bad enough when a player FINALLY gets that solid 19 or 20 needed, but rolls a 1 or 2 for damage. What about the out-right “whiffs?” Especially low-level characters against medium to good armor class foes, the swing-and-miss, swing-and-miss can be quite tedious.
Does combat need to be drawn out and tiresome? [...]
Combat: The System. In its most basic form, combat consists of checking initiative, rolling to hit, rolling to damage, and depleting hit points…until one party dies or morale breaks. And yet it still takes a looooong, long time.
So why do we need to roll to hit at all? Why not just roll damage for every attack?
[we’ll get to armor and armor class in a moment]
If I roll a 1 for my damage roll, it means I got a glancing blow (bear) or simply forced my opponent to duck (hero). If I roll a 3 I get a solid laceration (bear) or a deep scratch (hero). If I roll a 6, I score a telling blow against my opponent, a deep thrust to the grizzly or a knock-down blow to the hero…possibly setting up a kill shot with my next attack.
When you remove to hit rolls from combat you remove a HELLUVA’ LOT of frustration. Players don’t miss. They get highs and lows based on good and bad damage rolls (both for and against ‘em). DMs get to describe combat based on damage rolled, rather than based on some weird interpretation of “to hit” roll plus damage roll. Combats go faster as monsters are whittled down every single round.
Here’s the “what” about armor: You know all those little attack matrices you have in the various Old School D&D rule books (OD&D, B/X, AD&D, BECMI)? Well, you’re still going to have them. However, instead of showing your “chance to hit,” they show the type of dice you roll for damage. [...]

You can also get the PDF with all the damage die by armor, here.

Stepping away from the blogs for a second, this is a Gplus post (saved here because Gplus is shutting down and the link will be dead soon).
This is quite interesting because it introduces the concept of consequences and supports the GM in adding flavor to combat. These consequences are not mandatory - the player can always choose to avoid them by inflicting the minimum of 1 damage on a miss.
(Note that this is on a miss, not on a hit - when you hit you deal damage with no consequences)

Another idea for speeding up combat in B/X D&D
When you miss, choose:
- do 1 damage
- do full damage and accept a consequence

Consequences are at the referee's discretion depending on the situation (they don't have to tell you before you choose). Examples:
- You're knocked prone
- You're pushed back from the doorway you're defending 
- A monster slips past you to attack the magic-user
- You drop or break your weapon
- Your shield is splintered
- An item at your belt is destroyed
- You are thrown clear off and separated from your companions
- Your armour is badly dented (penalty to AC until it's fixed)
- Something (blood or your helmet) gets in the way and you can't see properly. Penalties to attack may apply.

As another idea to speed up combat, taken from the Crying Blades and the Crying Hack (my contributions to the OSR) is a single roll to-hit for characters and monsters together.
The math is fairly simple:
- Characters roll to hit vs the monster's AC as usual (roll equal or higher to hit the monster), applying also the usual to-hit modifiers as by your game. No need to change any monster's stat
- An unarmored character has AC 0 instead of 10/12 (depending on your game)
- The same roll (unmodified, as it landed on the table) is used for the monster: the monster wants to have the roll low. The monster hits with a roll equal or lower than 10+its HD (so an HD 1 goblin hits the character with 11 or less, which is the same % to hit as rolling over AC 10 with +1 for the HD...)
- An armored character is protected by its armor for any roll which is lower or equal than the armor... so an AC 15 (which is basic AC 10 +5) is instead AC 5 (the goblin does not hit if the roll is 5 or less, but still hits between 6 to 11)

This is an example from the Crying Hack:

It speeds up combat in one to one situations, which are fairly common.
Statistically is a bit messy perhaps when a monster has multiple attacks - although often more than one character would be fighting against it, so the monster would "spend" its attacks first of all in response to each character attacking it...
The main point, though, is that it keeps the odds balanced as in the original game, but every round is resolved often with one or even both combatants hitting, and there are very few rounds with both missing!

What I liked better, though, is the concept of the Escalation Die in 13th Age, so next time we might be talking about that.

Design notes:
- Auto-hit attacks as a way to speed up combat
- Would require tuning armor to provide damage reduction, or damage die reduction
- As an alternative, always inflict some damage (min. damage on a miss, max. damage on a hit)
- Consider leaving some choices to the players: on a miss inflict a little damage, or roll normal damage but suffer a consequence
- Single roll combat: use the same roll for the character and the monster
- See also the Escalation Die in 13th Age

Monday, April 1, 2019

Black Dogs zine - issue number 8

Gplus is going away today, and my last post on that platform was to advertise issue number 8 of my fanzine, the Black Dogs.

Issue 8 contains using dead monsters (instructions for a new alchemy subsystem), removing hit-points and using only HD, a mini-system for Blood Magic, how not to use goblins in your game, and the adventure of the Broken Hill.

What I like about this issue is how each chapter works - at least in my opinion - very well as a stand-alone set of rules. Everything is immediately playable.
The alchemy subsystem takes dead monsters and turns them into something your characters can use; I think it's original and funny (requires combining multiple parts, it's not overpowered, and it could lead to an insteresting journey of discoveries for your players).
The HD-for-HP is a simple enough house-rule to speed up calculations in combat.
The Blood Magic is a set of unique spells easy to insert in your campaign - give it to a magic user, or make it a class by itself, it's your call.
The goblins article contains a list of random tables to replace goblins in your game, and the last is a little, challenging adventure (with more "plot" than what I'm used to... let me know if you like it).

What I like NOT...
Well, for personal reasons my production rate has slowed to a halt.
I do not have plans at the moment for issue number 9 - although there might be a collaboration coming up, and so new content might be published in the near future (stay tuned but news will be slow to come).

Download (POD coming in a month or two) on Drivethrurpg:

Here is the link to the POD on Lulu:

This product is an independent production by Daimon Games and is not affiliated with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a registered trademark owned by James Edward Raggi IV.