08 December 2017

Resolve All Actions!

Or: Okay, Now Roll For Initiative! 

How you conduct combat makes a difference. This is not, of course, a revelation to anyone running a D&D campaign. This post is just a quick look at how changing initiative and order of combat alter combat and strategy.

Everybody Acts

At its simplest, combat is a question of rolling a couple of d6, with highest roll winning. The winning side acts, performing all attacks and resolving all actions. Then the survivors on the losing side get to do the same. It has the advantage of being simple and fast, a resolution for D&D I typically prefer.

Phased Initiative

Taking a cue from Holmes (among others), some referees use Dexterity based initiative, acting in order of highest to lowest. This is a nice perk for player-characters with high DEX, granting importance to ability rolls. It puts a bit more work on the referee, rolling DEX for all monsters. The default position of assigning the same Dexterity to all NPCs or rolling once for a group of monsters can help out.

Phased Combat 

Then there is phased combat, inspired by Chainmail et al. In this system, the faction winning initiative moves first in a series of steps comprising a combat round. Typically magic/missile, movement, melee. I like to call this the 3M's. This adds more subtlety to melee tactics but takes a little more time at the table. Phased combat using this order makes the magic-user a bit more prominent as the artillery of the group, also allowing missile fire or an offensive spell to interrupt the other side's wizard. The movement phase in the middle allows for split-fire and move, a big advantage of the elf class. Movement also lets the fighters maneuver to protect team members or go on the offensive against a particular opponent. Finally, we have the melee phase.

Besides adding a bit more tactical thinking to the game? Phased combat also gives the referee more options. One can decrease the potential of magic-users by moving spell-casting after the melee phase, giving two opportunities (missile and melee) of interrupting spell-casting. Or one can do as we do, adding a second missile phase after movement. This allows half-move/fire or fire/half-move for non split-move and fire characters. This greatly increases the punch of missile fire in the game.

Declaration Of Intent

We have seen games that require declarations and others in which the referee merely asks each player, in turn, what they are doing either before or after rolling initiative. Declaring a spell before knowing if one has initiative requires a bit more thinking than knowing one gets to act first before deciding.

Recommendations?

Go with group initiative and declaring one's actions when it is time for them to act. If you want a more war-gamey feeling game go with:
  • Declaration of Intent
  • Roll for Initiative
  • Phased Combat: magic/missile, movement, missile, melee
  • Morale Check

12 November 2017

Merging D&D & T&T

So, you like OD&D’s monsters but T&T’s fast and easy combat system. What to do? 

There is no question both games have a different feel to them. As this writer sees it, OD&D works better for grim, dark fantasy; while T&T has a definitely lighter tone. While it should be noted both games lend themselves easily to customization, it is equally obvious many players feel constrained by the rules and rarely deviate from them. This problem seems especially common among D&D hobbyists. 

This essay, by the way, is written in the here and now. The 1970’s and all the free time I had back in those days is gone. So please, there is no need to remind me but Piper with a little time and effort you could do that yourself you knob lolzer! Now? I’m lucky to have an evening free to run or participate in a game. So hours of prep time are out the window. I need to be up and running with a minimum of work, and the time I have I wish to put into adding imagination and fun into the game. 

Shaddap already! 

Okay, okay ... so, how to merge the two? Well, I have found it easier to borrow the concepts of T&T than the actual mechanics. Combat, for example. In T&T you roll dice + adds and compare those to your opponents roll. I do not care for damage absorbing armor as in T&T, though I think piecemeal armor is a nice touch, so what to do? I use the AAC of Mythmere Games’ “Swords & Wizardry” (S&W). This speeds up combat tremendously, giving it a much more fluid feel. Also stolen from S&W is the single saving throw, another boon to quicker play and less bookkeeping. 

I like T&T’s kindred. Adding fairies to the mix is easy as pie. Same with weres. I do not like the implied elfin allergy to iron (as from folklore) so I leave that off. I like D&D’s racial variation so I add various types of humans and few different demi-humans from which to choose. With regard to classes, the two systems are similar but I disallow the T&T’s warrior/wizard combo class. That is not within my vision for milieu. I import the idea of the wizard’s staves, I think that’s a dandy addition, but leave D&D’s wands and miscellaneous magic items in the mix. 

I love T&T’s varied monsters, implied by the relative lack of statted creatures in the rules. I could emulate this by throwing the D&D book out with regard to a fiendish folio and writing my own. Heck, I could even completely reskin some of my favorites from D&D and other FRPG systems. Take that, you players who’ve memorized the whole unprintable book! 

So, what else? Much of the remainder is flavoring. T&T’s varied weapon damage? Thrown out, in favor of a much simpler weapon damage system. Spell casting? Hmm ... it might be interesting to see how that works in a D&D setting. I think we’ll fold that into our mixture, but that will take some fiddling. There is some work I’ve been trying, as referee, to avoid but it will simplify play and I believe my players will enjoy it.

At any rate? That’s a few ideas off the top of my head. I don’t know if I’d advertise a game as a D&D/T&T hybrid, but I’d certainly run this game! If you’d like specific questions answered or suggestions on how to merge these two games, please let me know.  

24 October 2017

Bumper Sticker Activism

Or, Should You Wear A Flag Pin In Your Lapel? 

tl;dr: I was taken to task for not speaking out regarding certain current events. I was told my silence was giving support to a socially unacceptable stance within the community. My reply? Not speaking due to insufficient facts is in no way support or opposition to a viewpoint. You can look at my life and see exactly what I support, or ask me how I feel if it isn't plain enough. You do not, however, get to assign motives or thoughts to me ad lib. Doing so makes you a troll and I want nothing to do with such. 

I always struggle with in your face philosophical discussions. I know they have a great many proponents, but I've never been convinced to change my ways by having my words or actions distorted for effect. Certainly not by being insulted or, even worse, having words put in my mouth and being lambasted for that which I've neither said nor implied.

I find myself in a similar quandary now. In fact, increasingly of late and on several fronts. I'm being asked to post this in favor of XYX and that in favor of ABC or I'm just not a good [opponent of cause célèbre]. 

I recall a bit of controversy about a political candidate for president of these United States of America being castigated for not wearing a US flag pin on his lapel during his election run. All the other candidates did, why didn't he? My (now ex) wife accused me "being a communist" when I removed a patriotic bumper sticker from my car, one she had placed there. She didn't accept my explanation I thought bumper stickers looked cheap and trashy, the actual reason (and still the way I feel all these years later). No, she wanted the outward display, erupting into a fury when I told her I lived my life in such a way as to show my love of my country through my actions: I voted, paid my taxes on time and in full, obeyed the laws, and absolutely refuse to engage in idle trash-talk about a sitting president (NB: thoughtful criticism of actual news about the president is another matter entirely). 

Now, we're rolling into a newer public argument about sexual harassment and the attendant libel and slander accusations getting hurled around. I work primarily with younger females, and I'm constantly on guard about what I say or do. I work in the medical profession, and in medical emergencies I often have to make more bodily contact with them than would be considered appropriate in most other situations. So, I take great care to otherwise be extremely respectful of both their space and the way in which I communicate with them. I refer to them as coworkers and healthcare professionals and avoid observations about their sex or appearance. I don't do this to avoid getting into trouble, though it does have that effect, too. No, I do this to insure they understand I look at them as a professional colleague upon whom I can count for assistance in a medical emergency.

In other words, I live my life in such a way as to reflect how I feel on the inside. This is why I don't do bumper stickers or hashtags or copy/paste/reposts. If you can't look at my life and understand I'm on your side? Then all fault lies with me for not living up to what I strongly believe on the inside. 

But understand this ... and hear me well. Talking to me as if I'm stupid or projecting your bigotry onto me to draw me into an argument with you is fruitless. I don't bother with feeding Trolls, I simply block and forget about them. Life is simply too short for tomfoolery.

23 October 2017

OD&D -vs- T&T: Summary

Or ... D&D or T&T, The Final Reflection

Which game should you play? I believe it’s best to first ponder the feel of your campaign.

Comparison Point #1: rules. 

D&D provides much more structure, which grows in complexity with each new edition. Even if you, as referee, do not ascribe to the more rules = more fun school of thought? You would be well served to keep in mind many RPG gamers do.

T&T has less structure but this results in more work by the referee. For fledgling game masters, this may also lead to more missteps before settling into a viable campaign.

Conclusion: as an inveterate rules fiddler, I award this round to T&T.

Comparison Point #2: type of campaign.

Specifically, a short versus long running ongoing game world. In my opinion T&T is well-suited for one-shots and shorter focus campaigns, while D&D is best suited for a years long game.

Conclusion: I love getting to know a fantasy world and all its many aspects, point to D&D.

Comparison Point #3: numbers of players.

In this author's opinion, D&D is a the more the merrier type of game. I've certainly enjoyed games with only 2 or 3 players at the table but I've always found at least 5 or 6 a lot more fun. Though T&T can easily handle a like number of players, I would use it specifically for a group of smaller players or a one-on-one game. Obviously, as years of solo modules published for the game show us, T&T is also well-suited for solo gaming.

Conclusion: a tie, since available game participants can be highly variable in this complex day and age.

Final Conclusion: 

If I were going to run a long term campaign with a semi-stable number of adult players, I would choose D&D. If I were running a one-shot game, a game for a small number of players, or a game for younger players; I would likely choose T&T.

Recall the roots of both games. For D&D, the roots lie in simulation wargames. It's creators loved complexity and accuracy, though neither believed more complexity was necessarily better. T&T was an attempt to recreate fantasy on a simpler level for folks who just wanted to jump in and play a heroic fantasy figure. It calls to mind the old D&D debate of Batman versus Superman. In a D&D versus T&T comparison, D&D is Bruce Wayne yearning to be the Batman and with T&T your character is more like young Clark Kent on the verge of greatness; testing his powers and growing in confidence every day.

I hope this helps you, fellow gamer, with like decisions you have to make.

15 September 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Magic

Or, Are Healing Potions Too D&D?


Being a comparison of the original 1974 boxed set edition of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition (T&T).

In the D&D rules we have a Vancian-based magic system. For those of you unfamiliar with Jack Vance's writings? Let us simply say this is a fire and forget system. The magic-user (MU) studies his spells, imprinting and storing the magick in his mind. This potential is then unleashed when the MU speaks the final part of the spell with accompanying hand gestures. Releasing the spell energy removes that spell from the MU's mind. More powerful spells take longer to both memorize and cast, and take up more room in the MU's mind. With experience, the magic-user can hold great numbers of spells in memory, making him a dangerous foe. This is balanced by the fact he cannot cast a spell he does not have memorized, as well as his relative weakness in combat (though a first level fighter in melee with a 9th level magic-user would still be candy).

T&T magic is based upon some kind of psi-factor [...] all powered by an inner strength. Any spells the wizard knows can be cast at will, provided the wizard has enough Strength (changed to WIZ in later editions) to do so. STR can be exceeded but run the risk of draining the wizard and killing him. Wizards in this system are also poorer in combat, but do have the advantage of being able to wear armor and carry a shield if they so desire.

Though it is a rather useless comparison, magic spells in D&D go as high as 6th level and eventually up to 9th in later editions. T&T's magic goes to level 20. Because the two systems are so different, however, this comparison is of little value. We mention it here because the question has arisen an number of times in discussions of the two rules sets.

Both systems allow spell-casters to research and write new spells. MUs must have a spellbook to relearn any cast spells, or to change their memorized spells to a different one. Wizards either know a spell or do not, though they can learn new spells by studying another wizard's spell books.

Wizards carry staves as an aid to spell-casting (termed a focus in later editions) in the T&T universe, the better the staff the better the magic effects of the cast spells. A wand may be used for the same purpose. D&D MUs use staves for combat. Magical D&D staves are like giant wands, holding specific spell casting abilities and a finite number of charges.

The oddest difference we have found? T&T has no potions! Obviously these would be a simple matter to add to the rules. In point of fact, out of curiosity we checked the most recent edition of the game: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. We found potions and rules for them included.

T&T spells aren't fixed in power, they can be increased in effect when cast by a wizard of higher level. Additionally, as a wizard increases in level he can cast spells of lower level more easily. This is shown by requiring less STR to cast them. A staff also reduces STR needed to cast spells, though no spell can ever be reduced to less than 1 point cost.

10 September 2017

D&D -vs- T&T: Community

Or, What's That Crawling Up From Under The Bridge? 

I've been struck by the stark comparison between the D&D and T&T online communities. Granted, the community for the former is (comparatively) huge. More numbers means a larger sampling of populations and greater opportunity for outliers. Additionally, my time with the T&T community is far more limited than D&D. Still ...

I have to say that I've seen a lot of ridiculous arguments over the years about D&D. I recall when Gary was alive and, both in person and online, always encouraged folks to shape the game to their vision. The one thing that would set him off in a big hurry was somebody arguing rules with him, the dreaded rules lawyer. He despised gamers who did that. He frequently answered rules questions by asking how the questioner handled it and his usual reply was "sounds good." I never had the pleasure of meeting Dave Arneson but his approach to the questions I saw him field online was similar.

But now? Both these innovators have left us. Those among us who actually played D&D back in the day (as current OD&D revivalists often term it) are being increasingly shouted down by persons who weren't around then. Of course, this doesn't prevent them from informing us and the gaming community at large how it was really done back then or even what Gary (or Dave) actually meant when he wrote that. Often this is merely doubled down on when presented with a direct quote from the authors disproving their supposition, or contradiction to their statement by the players who were actually worked with Gygax or Arneson or regularly played in their games.

But even that isn't all of it. The so-called Old Guard representing the TSR staff of core gaming group members during the formative years of D&D's development are increasingly active in the community. Most of them are supportive of the old school gaming movement but a vocal few spend most of their time criticizing everything the fans do. In these cases (no, I won't ID them) the critique has ranged from snarky but somewhat helpful up to strident and outright taunting. The latter is becoming more frequent as the same arguments about this, that, and the other thing get repeated or old threads revived.

I can't help but contrast this with my interactions with T&T fanbase and still active folks who brought that game to reality. I've only interacted with author Ken St. Andre on non-gaming related issues on Facebook but he seems to very approachable. I just haven't known enough about his rules to be able to even cogently frame a question about them. Same with Flying Buffalo notable Rick Loomis. I was looking for an out-of-print edition of the game and Loomis was very helpful. I also interacted with him during the dT&T Kickstarter and, again, he was approachable and willing to answer all my questions.

Finally, this brings me to the one major remaining forum for T&T gamers: the TrollBridge. As a neophyte I have been online and asking questions I'm sure they've heard many times before. Not a single person has given any trouble over these inquiries. Every time my question has been answered in a way that didn't make me feel like something scraped off the bottom of one's shoe for asking. I appreciate this. I don't feel I'm thin-skinned but I have grown weary of the constant bickering over playing a freaking game that bedevils the D&D community.

09 September 2017

What's The Difference? The Various T&T Editions


This list was swiped from the T&T Trollbridge Forum in response to a poster's questions. The answer was written by Aramis of Erak and can be read here. I've edited his words slightly, so my apologies to Aramis.

4E and earlier have lower dice for monsters and weapons, and Rogues are limited to 7th level. Original Monsters! Monsters! (M!M!) is 4E variant. Citizens originate in M!M!... but are different in 7.0.

5.0 is the 25 year baseline. M!M! 2E is 5E subset, but with only 2 types: Monster and Citizen. Shorter spell list. Loads of monster races with special abilities.

5.5 adds options in the back: skills ala Mercenaries, Spies, & Private Eyes; an additional statistic (WIZ); with the optional SPD stat being made a prime; TARO for stats.

6.0 is a fan job. it's got loads of little differences.

7.0 is essentially a redesign from first principles. Same 8 stats as 5.5 and same basic combat mechanics as 5.X. Spells differ in casting procedures, level requisites, and spell lists. Adds a different skill mechanic, Ken's Talent system. Types are: Warrior, Wizard, Specialist Wizard (4 sub-types), Rogue, Leader, Ranger, Citizen. The Citizen here is different, and less limited than the M!M! one. There is an implied extra type (monster), but that's a debate for another day.

7.5 nerfs the talents, and lessens the experience costs. It's better edited than 7.0, but is essentially the same except for talents and experience costs.