Monday, December 31, 2012

Tunnels do flood

So when your party enters a dungeon you think it all looks like the following image?  All nice and dirty with lots of darkness ahead?

Well got news for you.  Underground passages are damp and humid.  Water drips from the roof and pools on the floor.  As it collects it flows to the lower parts and builds up there.  Water alongside gas have been an everlasting concern in mines, what would make us think it is different in dungeons?  A rainy season can bring flooding to an otherwise empty dungeon.  Turning it into something like this:

Flooding alongside rock hardness were the limiting factors for serious mining in the early middle ages.  Only when the issue of flooding was solved with water extraction mechanism was deep earth mining possible.  Such systems like the one shown below allowed for the pumping of water from the deep tunnels out to the surface.

A building like the one below could be a tell tale sign of a dungeon existing below its foundations.

The need for water pumps (mechanical or magical) can also be a great source for adventure.  Maybe the pump is in a remote part of a mine and the party is asked to help fix it.  A team of "engineers" are willing to go fix it, but the party is needed to flush out the monsters and clear the way through the deeper parts of the mine which are now abandoned.

Maybe the pump is of magical nature and the party can disable it to flood the dungeon and thus entrap a terrible threat about to break out.  Or the first part of the adventure is rehabilitating the pump so it clears the water out from the deeper sections of the dungeon.  This will allow the party to continue into the deeper areas of the maze.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

2000 tp

So you party clears the room of some nasty rodents and among the rubble finds 2000 tp.  You say what's this?  It looks like silver, but it isn't.  It's way too soft although about as heavy.  You pass it around and one member of the party realizes what it is.  It's tin, a highly valued metal in the area.  As an element required to make bronze it is brought from distant lands to supply the smiths who mix it with copper.  Mined as Cassiterite it is then processed to make the metallic blocks we're more familiar with.

Maybe years back when the dungeon you're in was first explored tin was common in the area and this metal practically worthless, but as the mines ran dry it was necessary to bring the valued tin from distant lands.  To bring this small treasure to town could mean some good gold for your party.

So what other apparently worthless pieces of treasure could a GM put in a dungeon?

Well there's salt for starters.  A very valuable product for salting food.  Medieval fantasy settings lack something we take for granted: refrigerators.  So food needs to be salted to preserve itself.  Armies marched on their stomachs and needed lots of preserved food.  Salt can be a valuable item to find in a dungeon or as a treasure after defeating a hostile tribe of monsters.

Salt was traded for gold in the Sahara. Large caravans would take it from its mines in the middle of the desert to the sub-saharan cities and trade them there for gold.

Another metal you might want to put as treasure is quicksilver, now known as mercury.  It is a liquid metal at room temperature and can be used in many things.  One of which is amalgamation of gold, making it useful in gold extraction and processing.  Mercury is very heavy though, as can be seen by the floating coin in the image below.

Mercury has another outstanding property.  It is very toxic.  So it can be useful in spell components and for not so honest activities.  As its ore cinnabar it is very toxic to mine and process.

Pure elements like sodium can be very interesting as treasure too.  Sodium doesn't naturally exist in pure form.  It can be isolated through electrolysis or in the world of D&D through magic.  Pure sodium in a jar full of oil can be easy to carry around, but take it out and place it in water and a monster comes to life.

Sodium is one of the elements of common salt which is found diluted in water in large amounts known as oceans.  Isolated though, sodium becomes very exothermic in water (produces a lot of heat).  The reaction produces the highly caustic sodium hydroxide (trust me I accidentally took a breath of it and it burned my nose and throat real bad) and the highly flammable and explosive hydrogen.  When in water and in sufficiently large quantities sodium might melt into spheres and explode.  So you've got heat, corrosive colorless and odorless gas and liquid and a very explosive gas.  Could there possibly be something cooler than that?  What better for a party to have at hand and a GM to surprise players with!

Sodium Hydroxide burn (2d8 HP + 1d6 per round until neutralized)

Images from :

Friday, December 28, 2012

To the Bitter End

Should characters die only when they run out of hit points? Or should the character be susceptible to death at any one moment by a well crafted hit?  If your game doesn't use hit points, should they only die when they reach a predetermined amount of damage?  For example three hits.

Most games that use wounds as damage tokens still can't easily allow for a single kill wound.  So should there be a threat index?  A level of damage that is significant above which the character dies?  Is that the meaning of weapon damage or should there be another indicator?  A damage effectiveness?

Death by RPG impact is pretty final, but there's a lot of room for discussion between taking a .45 to the heart and a 7.62 to the femoral artery and bleeding to death over the course of minutes.

Hit point systems that add hit points give characters a fighting chance during combat.  It protects them from sudden death, extends their life expectancy and thus the game and enjoyment.  But they bring forth other issues.  Escalating power issues as weapons, spells and healing needs to escalate as the characters level up.

Personally I prefer systems which are closer to one hit and your dead.  That promote character survival through skill and training.  You can't die if you can't get hit.  Characters can have about the same life expectancy as hit point systems with the added adrenaline rush for the player (and the excitement that brings).  It also eliminates many of the drawbacks of having to deal with large hit point values.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Emergent game dynamics in RPGs

Emerging dynamics have caught my attention recently.  It is something that is talked about in computer games, but I see little talk about it on table top RPGs.  I think it is a great table top RPG strength   The potential for simple rules to build synergy and create new and thrilling dynamics in the game.

While synergy has can make things blow out of proportion it is something I'm looking to exploit and not kill through imposed balance.  I'm looking into not imposing balance through game rules. For example: classes or fixed progression, but rather make things fall into place by using negative feedback.  Tailor the rules so opposing forces interact and balance out.  Putting "costs" in such a way that it favors the underdog.

Table top RPGs have a great strength in the GM and player creativity.  Something no other game can equal. Sure computer RPGs have great graphics, but are undoubtedly bound.  Table top RPGs obviously are not bound in that way and I don't believe they should be bound by unnecessary balance rules either.  Sure these rules seem needed to balance the game and make it fair for all in the party, but they should not interfere with the creative potential of players.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

High hit points nerf fighters

The more I think about it the more I believe that higher hit points in D&D is counter productive for the fighter class.  From my point of view it is one strong element that makes the power curve so unbalanced as compared to other character classes like the wizard.

At higher levels and unless there is an outstanding damage in one attack the fighter and wizard have the same number of hit points.  Not that they have the same overall amount, but imagine they both take 20 hit points of damage.  They would certainly have died at lower levels, but at higher levels it's pretty much the same thing within the scope of a single round.  Sure the magic user goes from 50 to 30 while the fighter goes from 90 to 70, but they both suffered 20 hit points.  Shouldn't the fighter, who is more skilled and better trained in the art of combat suffer less?  To which you'd answer, yes they do.  Proportionally the fighter does suffer less than the magic user.  A little over 20% for the fighter vs nearly 50% for the wizard. But they never risk their life until the end. There is no risk of sudden death from a hit during the first attacks.  Unless, as I mentioned earlier, the damage is outstanding.  So for practical purposes the magic user is just as good as the fighter.  The fighter will just be good a few more rounds longer than the magic user.

So what am I getting at? Read on.

The problem arises when the party level goes up and alongside it the hit points.  The more hit points the more the spells and weapons need to do damage to remain competitive at those higher levels.  Thus the wizard spells become stronger and deal more damage.  I'd like to focus on area of effect spells in particular.  Namely fireball.

As the magic user's level rises so does the damage of the spell in hit points.  Does this mean the spell gets luckier?  More effective?  Hotter and more intense?  I don't want to get all tangled up in the "what hit points are" rhetoric. What I want to point out is that overall the magic user has more power because the spell hit point damage increase is needed to overcome overall hit point increase in NPCs and monsters, which are in turn increasing due to player character hit point increase.  Characters increase so opponents increase so spell increase and so forth a positive feedback loop is created that quite surely spirals out of control.

Meanwhile the fighter also increases the damage that can be done per attack and also increases the attacks per round.  But lets face it, it doesn't matter if the fighter does 10 or 36 hit points to an orc, the orc is dead.  So that extra damage is overkill wasted on a single creature.  Meanwhile the magic user that does 10 or 36 hit points of damage is laughing himself silly as no damage is wasted.  He just wipes out the charging horde.

Now lets consider for a second what happens if the hit points don't increase with level.  Death for one would come much faster.  Unless some means of representing skill and endurance is placed into the game a second blow would end a character's life at any level.  To solve this in Era I've added a secondary value called stamina which acts as a shield around hit points.  But only so much of it can be used in any one attack to buffer damage.  Let me put forward an example of different character classes and their values for a fighter, cleric, rogue and wizard.

Cleric - hit points: 18 stamina: 18 pain threshold: 2
Fighter - hit points: 21 stamina: 30 pain threshold: 5
Wizard - hit points: 12 stamina: 15 pain threshold: 2
Rogue - hit points: 22 stamina: 16 pain threshold: 3

Note: weapon damage in the game is in the order of 2d8 for arrows and 2d10 for heavy swords.

Hit points are the life of the character.  Once they reach zero they are dead.  Stamina represents combat endurance and could be seen as similar to current D&D hit points.  Pain threshold is the amount of stamina allowed to buffer a single attack.

As you can see the fighter has the highest pain threshold, as it should be, given his battle hardened body.  He has less hit points than the rouge, but higher stamina and can endure harder blows.  A 10 hit point hit would only do 5 hit points of damage as the other 5 would be soaked by stamina (pain threshold).  Whereas the rogue would take 7 hit points after the 3 stamina soak.  The fighter can endure 4 such hits while the rogue only 3.  The cleric can endure 2, but hardly 3 and the wizard would be hard pressed to endure 1 as 14 points of damage with a 2d8 take him down regardless of stamina (14 - 2 = 12, which kills him).

We are now looking at the 90 hit point vs 50 hit point example from another angle.  One in which weapon damage weighs less depending on character class.  More so stamina and pain threshold depend on constitution values.  So a fighter type who puts higher values in those attributes would be directly benefited with higher stamina and less direct damage to hit points (higher pain threshold).

The need for ever escalating damage in spells is no longer needed.  Since pain threshold is but a fraction (usually 10%, but slightly higher with better CON) hit points don't spiral out of control.  Characters will gain more stamina level after level, but only one or two points at best can be added to the buffer ever so often.  A fireball that does 3d6 is pretty life threatening and will be so many levels later as well although the more hardened characters will have a good fighting chance against it.  As the pain threshold goes from 2 to 5 or higher the probability of enduring a blast grows, but not as fast as it does in D&D.

This breaks the positive feedback loop of D&D and eliminates the need for ever escalating spell powers and actually nerfs the wizard instead of the fighter.  More so as you can see the fighter now has a clear advantage round after round in melee combat.  Holding 5 vs 2 points of pain threshold is huge advantage.  Adding that to twice the stamina makes the fighter capable of withstanding 5 times more hits than the average wizard.

Monsters don't need to spiral their hit points out of control and thus spells don't need to be so powerful.  Keeping them within human killing range is ok.  The wizard might not be laughing so hard against a horde of orcs if his fireball now does only 2d6 or 3d6 at best for higher level spells.  A giant will have a bit more hit points, certainly a higher stamina, but a fraction of that as pain threshold.  So it could be considerably injured by a single well placed hit.

Thus my belief that high hit points, the quintessential characteristic of the fighter, is also its largest limitation and the source of imbalance with other classes.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Field repairs and the value of chainmail

So you've encountered a few ogres.  You've come out triumphant, but they've shaken your party a bit.  What now?  Pick up the treasure and keep driving deeper into the dungeon?  No thought about fixing those beaten up armors?

Keeping track of armor damage can be a pain.  I'm not really concerned about going down the "realistic" road of having some quasi-simulation of combat.  I want to explore the implications of tracking armor damage and the though of having to do field repair.

Armor damage and the eventual degradation of protection that it brings means the character can't go on forever without loss of armor class bonuses.  This will either lead to a much shorter adventure as the party needs to go back to town for repairs or it will lead to a longer game session as the party slows down to fix things.

But there are two other options as well.  The party might get smarter at fighting to actually reduce being hit and thus having the armor damaged or it can choose armor that is easier to repair.  This is the part that I really like to look into.  Generally armor damage and field repairs are seen as a hindrance to adventure.  An unnecessary realism that only slows things down.  Yet as a stimulus to change gaming habits it is of great value to the game.

Chainmail is clearly easier to repair than banded armor or full plate.  Fixing chainmail can be done by spare patches, extra links and wire.  Fixing banded or plate mail requires a lot more hardware and heat to fix.  Not something you'd find nearby, unless you're near an underground dwarven city.  Which, BTW, gives inspiration for a quick adventure to fix the armor.

Armor damage and field repairs can be used as a stimulus to promote armor types that characters would generally migrate away from once they get sufficient money to buy the "better" stuff.  Better being measured by AC bonus only.


There is chainmail and then there is chainmail

I never knew there were so many chainmail weaves until I began researching chainmail to build my own.  Like this beauty called dragonscale.  Built with two ring sizes and clearly a very tight knit.

The type of chainmail I always knew about was the 4 in 1.  Called that way because each ring is crossed by 4 others as seen in the following image.

But there are tighter weaves as well.  For example the following image shows a 6 in 1 which has six rings passing through any one ring.

This clearly leads to stronger chainmail which is harder to pierce or slash through.  So it got me thinking how does this get represented in games.  Chainmail was a very common piece of armor.  Its invention attributed to the celts it became the standard armor for the Roman Empire under the name of lorica hamata.

Unlike the more commercial examples shown above the real thing (lorica hamata) was made of punched and riveted rings as shown below.  This made for a stronger chainmail.  Half the pieces were solid rings of iron and half the other were riveted shut.  So a weapon was not prone to easily separate them and bring the rings loose.

As you might imagine making the riveted part of the mail was very hard.  The following video shows how to make riveted mail with today's comforts like electricity, power tools and nails.  Just imagine doing this back in the middle ages.  Chain mail was a cherished item, very costly and quite literally the difference between life and death on the battle field.

So shouldn't all that hard work pay off on the battle field?  What about paying an extra for 6 in 1 or even 8 in 1 chain mail which adds more protection to the wearer?  And how should this be represented in the game?  As a +1?  A +2?  Where does this leave plate mail and full plate then?  What mechanical benefits does it convey?  Is armor encumbrance represented well enough in the game to be worth it?

D&D economics is to inflated to make a real difference.  After all chain mail is cheap relatively speaking.  Once a character gets going and survives the first few adventures there is little interest in worrying about chainmail anymore.  In Pathfinder chainmail gives +6 armor bonus, costs 150gp and has a -5 armor check penalty coupled with a +2 max dex bonus.  Full plate costs 1500gp has a +9 armor bonus, -1 max dex bonus and -6 armor check.  Is there niche for chainmail costing between 150 and 1500 gp that can give +7 or +8 bonus while still have the same low penalties for chainmail?  I sure think so.  Thoughts?

Images from , &

Three stabs for every cut

Watch this video (minute 4).  Listen to the closing sentence "You can stab me three times for every cut I can give you".

So, why does your D&D character have only one attack per round regardless of weapon?  I understand that combat in D&D is an abstraction and the one roll represents a chance of a successful hit among many movements and strikes (except with arrows in which those movements and strikes represent the usage of just one arrow, but who's counting).

Anyway, even within this abstraction, shouldn't a weapon that allows three times more stabs than the opposing cuts get three times more die rolls?  After all there are three times more possibilities of getting a successful hit?