Saturday, 29 November 2008

Continuous initiative

Back when I created Necrotech (a computer roleplay game which was itself loosely based on the setting I made for Snapshot 3000 - a game which only my oldest friends and family ever got to play) I implemented a round based combat system into the game. The game played out a little like a Final Fantasy battle, except for one crucial difference - actions took time to complete. Actions and times were displayed together in a menu format so that the player could make informed decisions about what to do - should he risk two snapshots with his pistol or go for one aimed shot instead?

Recently, in our D&D sessions, I decided to resurrect the idea of a continuous initiative system. Continuous initiative means just that - it is continuous - and does not have a one person acting per combat round order. The order is determined by how high the initiative values are (like normal) but then instead of going back to square one after all have moved, the higher initiative combatants may be acting multiple times over low initiative value combatants. This fundamentally changes combat.

Part of my reasoning in trying this out was because we have a number of house rules which we agree on (me as the referee and the players) and its fun to try new ideas out and see which ones stick. The other part is that if the players ever wanted to create a character like Conan the Barbarian, as it is, the game system would completely punish them for this choice. Note that I am playing classic D&D here (Labyrinth Lords ruleset) where platemail and shield is preferable any day to being unarmoured. Unarmoured characters drop like flies. Not necessarily so with a continuous initiative system, however. Read on...

First of all, when thinking about changing or updating combat in a table top roleplay system, anything that gets introduced needs to be simple. Really simple. It mustn't interrupt the flow of combat or it will cease to be fun. So I decided on five initiative bands that combatants can fall into. These are: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Steel and Copper. Gold is very fast while Copper is very slow. Both extremes are fairly hard to get into and bronze is the one that most characters will end up in.

To determine what band a character is in, look at his encumberance first, then his armour type, then his weapon. The 'lower' the band (the closer to Copper) any of these is, becomes the band he or she will act in.

GOLD: Padded or no armour. Club, Dagger, Dart, Light Hammer

SILVER: Leather, Studded Leather, Chainmail. Using a Shield. Light Pick, Light crossbow, Quarterstaff, Shortbow, Spear, Shortsword, Trident, Shuriken, Nunchak, Flail, Hand axe

BRONZE: 41-60lbs carried (lightly encumbered). Scale mail, Banded mail. Battle axe, Morning star, Heavy crossbow,Heavy Flail, Longbow, Heavy Pick, Scimitar, Longsword, Polearm, Two handed sword, Bastard sword, Torch, Oil, Sling

STEEL: 61-80lbs carried (medium encumbered). Platemail, Splint mail armours.

COPPER: 81-160lbs carried (heavily encumbered).

You now need a Continuous Intitiative chart. A chart is helpful because you can draw it out and then place a marker on it to show where in the sequence you are, then move the marker to traverse the sequence. The chart must show the following steps, in order (note that G=Gold, S=Silver, B=Bronze, St=Steel, C=Copper)...


When in combat, anyone in the marked sequence can act as normal. You may note that there are seven golds, six silvers and so on down to only three coppers. This means that Gold gets to have just over twice the amount of actions as copper - but its quite difficult to get into copper (you have to be encumbered, or a zombie). Gold to silver, for example, is only one extra action - although that could prove crucial when fighting for your life. Also note that initially, every band gets to act early on, which was crucial for keeping heavily armoured characters in the battle when I was looking at balancing this.

I share this with you now because the Continuous Initiative rules proved to be a big success in the game session we tried them out. Even the heavily armoured heroes (in the Steel category) did not complain and the mages certainly enjoyed being in Gold, making them far more useful in combat than ever before. The players have sinced started to outfit their characters with secondary, quick weapons (daggers, shortswords), I presume, so they can switch out of bronze if facing an exceptionally quick opponent which is definitely quite interesting!

If you're looking to spruce up your game session, or give players a reason to use a lightly armoured character, why not give them a go?

Monday, 17 November 2008

Random Beastie Maker

As you may know, I put together a little script for my random generator program that can create unique critters for roleplaying games. I posted one of those up in the blog entry here "Random Monster Generation and the Feathered Monrer" and since then I had a couple of requests to make it available for anyone to use... so here it is people, I hope you have some fun making truly unique and bizarre monsters :-)

Random Beastie Maker

PS if any of these monsters should make it into any type of published product, please give me a credit!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Banning magic weapons and armour

I'm thinking of removing magical weapons and armour completely from my campaign setting and from my random charts and so on. This would have a number of effects.

The most obvious effect would be that magically overpowered characters would be a lot rarer. Characters that are powerful would be so through their innate abilities, or other means such as politically. This would make strongholds more desirable goals for high level characters.

The second effect is to de-emphasise combat and make players think on their feet a bit more. Facing off against a dragon is much tougher with a normal sword than a +5 sword of dragon annihilation. Players would have to be very inventive about dangerous combat situations and may even avoid them.

The third effect is that plot-centric special items would be incredibly special. Instead of their being a mass of +2 swords lying around, there could be one Excalibur that adventures and the plot would flow around. Who wields this mythical blade has serious significance. Perhaps only the gods can craft these items and it is beyond the ken of all mortal men, although the knowledge is sought after with a passion.

The fourth effect is that magical items would be highly sought after instead. Suddenly, by way of example, finding a flying carpet is a massive deal to even high level adventurers. Of course, I would need a very large assortment of magical miscellanea to stop the same lot from repeating over and over, but that would be quite fun to come up with, I think, especially if the items are not directly combat or stat bonus related. It could add a lot of spice to what might otherwise another run of the mill campaign.

What's even better is that I could probably get away with it. All the player characters are currently either first or second level and so do not currently own anything magical anyway, the adventures that they have been on so far have not uncovered any. Valuable trinkets, yes, but so far, nothing magical.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Random Monster Generation and the Feathered Monrer

Recently, I've knocked together a random generator program in Flash to help add some spice to the classic D&D game I'm currently running for a couple of friends. I designed it to be data driven and the data format itself to be extensible (think tables, sub-tables, looping and so forth - the program uses recursion [surprise!] so that any number of sub-tables can be traversed from any other ones, even allowing multiple rolls on the same table).

Anyway, I've added charts for things like creature deaths, misses, wandering monsters and so on all of which prove useful when you have to think on your feet. E.g. What is a miss? Oh it's an overhead swing that bounced off the opponent's helmet harmlessly! How did that goblin die? He was cleaved in two!

I generally have the players describe their attacks as it adds fun and a bit of drama to the game but this helps me with describing the enemy.

Another chart that I have put together is the random creature generator. I spent most of yesterday adding things to this (it now uses a lot of charts), testing and tweaking it - and I'm very pleased with the results. Here is the first monster I've had it generate, along with my descriptive text. Feel free to steal it and have it find its way into your own campaigns, I even put a suggestion for how it can be encountered in there...

Feathered Monrer (the Corridor Cleaner)

This small creature has no head and is covered in grey vulture feathers. Its two legs are also covered in a darker set of feathers but its four arms are actually completely featherless, revealing a jelly like fleshy substance, and terminate in bird like claws. The Monrer can use these four arms as either arms or legs, preferring to rear up on two legs in combat and travel on all six of its limbs when moving. It looks a little like a 4 foot long feathered centipede in shape, rearing up to 3 feet tall in combat.

It normally scavenges for food and is quick to steal carcasses from other denizens of the dungeon and is able to make a quick getaway. Its bones are extremely small and the jelly like substance that makes up its flesh is some kind of extreme fat that its body produces. Without a head, it appears to have no way to consume its food, but in fact it is able to consume food through its claws. Without eyes, it is blind but navigates using some form of internal echo location system and seems to key on the smell of blood, although how it does this is not known.

The feathered Monrer is one of the creations of Tarjan, the Mad God to clean up his catacombs of dead adventurers. Since then, they found their way into many dungeons throughout the realms. Suggested encounter - when a character falls in battle have up to six of these little critters run swiftly in and attempt to drag the body away into the darkness of the dungeon!

Attacks: 2 claws (d4, d4)
AC: 5
HD: <1 hp:1-4 (-1 damage from blunt weapons because of its jelly like flesh)
Size: S
Movement : Quick (125% of normal)
Morale: 7
Diet: Carnivore (Niche: Scavenger)
Alignment: Neutral
Number encountered: 1-6 (3d6)

Ah, the joy of random tables lol.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Labyrinth Lord sample adventure notes

Here were my notes for the recently played sample adventure from Labyrinth Lord for anyone that might find them useful. I pretty much went through every event in the adventure and jazzed it up with some descriptive text. Anyway, here are the notes...

Approaching the mine

As you approach the location of the old mine, the forest reveals skeletal remains to you here and there - skeletons of humanoids that have had their gnawed clean by misshapen teeth. The once boisterous forest holds its tongue more and more until you reach the hill itself, a hill that is shrouded in an oppressive silence. Not even bird song is heard around here, or the howl of distant wolves. You catch site of a bloody maw set into the hill side - a large thirty foot hole lined with sharp stakes and leading into a total darkness. Surrounding it are cacasses of deer and people, scattered haphazardly as if thrown there by a bored giant.

The cave

Light illuminates the cave only for a very short distance and then the passage is thrown into a total pitch black. The cave has a high ceiling that is hung with glistening stalagtites and the floor is uneven and wet. The chittering of what you assume to be bats can be heard from time to time and you can see your breath in the cold air.

Area 1

You step into the alcove and are peering at an odd green fungus that is growing amongst the stalagmites when suddenly, with a wet glooping noise, a mass of dark green jelly ooze drops from the ceiling onto [character with lowest wisdom]. He lets out a stuttering, muffled cry and tries to throw this rubbery mess off of him! [dex check or automatic damage from acid if wearing a helmet - otherwise automatic damage!] Damage - X screams in agony as acid burns into his flesh!

Area 2

Your flickering torch light illuminates many figures standing stock still in the pitch darkness, but as you approach you realise that they are but stalagmites - You are not being observed dozens of dark figures. The cavern is littered with gnawed bones and other stinking refuse. Whoever - or whatever - has left these bones here appears to be absent. A large crevasse is visible on the other side of the room, past the gravelly floor.

* Slipping - X slips on the loose gravel and disappears into the pit with a scream that ends as abruptly as it begins!

Area 3

Trap - There is a slight cick and then a loud crash as part of the ceiling comes down without warning, crushing any who are under it and masking their cries of pain! Dust billows out from under the rock fall. [It may alert the denizens of area 4 who will send a single soldier to investigate]

Area 4

You hear footsteps and grip your weapons nervously! Almost a half dozen of the Pale Devils come running at you from inside the darkness of this large cavern; their teeth bared, their dead eyes a piggish pink and their skins an odd white. Their wet muscles glint eerily in the torch light. They carry small sharp blades which they wield clumsily, grunting and shouting as they do so, closing in on your party surprisingly quickly.

The door is a Large Double door.

Area 5

This is a room and not a cave - it is man made and must be part of the old mine system proper. There is a tattered and faded curtain at the back of the room.

Albino ape - surprised. A large colourless muscular creature is ripping into a the body of a man with powerful jaws and looks up at you as you enter. Its large black eyes narrow and then widen as it throws down its meal onto the dirty floor. It rears up to its full height - some eight foot in all, beats its fists against its mighty chest then lets out a loud bellow as it lumbers towards you!

Albino ape - unsurprised. As you enter, a muscular creature without colour that is about as large as any bear you have ever seen beats its fists against its mighty chest. It snorts in what could be derision as it eyes your party up and down, then comes clamboring towards you on all fours with frightening speed. It rears up on its hind legs as it reaches you, gnashing its disfigured teeth together hungrily before emitting a bone chilling bellow.

Albino ape - slain and party in good shape. As the mighty beast falls, the cry of something else reaches your ears as a pallid figure charges into the room through the southern archway and joins the battle! Behind it, standing ominously in the doorway, is a cowled figure who's eyes burn with a seering hatred and whose long white fingers fidget to an unheard tune. It roars something unintelligable in a deep and commanding voice!

Cowled figure - cause fear success - The pallid figure mumbles something you cannot quite make out and then places a withered hand against a patch of your bare skin. A rare panic comes over you as this happens and you run for your life hysterically, as far away and as fast as you can - all you know is that you must escape this unknown enemy for it is pure terror that envolopes you.

Cowled figure - cause light wounds - The hooded figure utters a word and its fingers dance across your flesh nimbly, withering wherever they touch and you recoil in horror as your flesh blisters!

Cowled figure - cure light wounds - The robed one's pink eyes flash briefly with divine power and suddenly the Pale Devil's wounds are regenerating!

Area 6

Beyond the curtain is an even muskier stink. Whether it comes from the carcasses of half eaten sheep or from the stained sleeping mat is not known but what is evident is that this is where the great beast you faught must have spent much of its time.

Area 7

You step into a room with a half dozen straw beds in it. A musky smell emanates from them and you turn to leave in discust when you realise you are not alone; three groggy looking pallid figures are stirring in the beds, grunting as they rise, reaching for nearby weapons and rubbing their odd pink eyes as they do so.

Area 8

A low whimpering can be heard from the left as your eyes follow the wall along this long but narrow hallway. There are four days interrupting it and there is blood and hair on the floor. [400 xp for rescuing the acolytes, treat as level zero clerics]

First door - Whimpering female teenage Acolyte (Caley Dugan daughter of Grant the Soothsayer, daughter of Cornell , daughter of Bryant )
Second door - Stairs down?
Third door - Higher order babboon that has been captured by the Morlocks but not yet trained up to fight. Its fur has been painted white in patches as though they have tried to make it albino.
Fourth door - Second teenage acolyte (Cocidius Haren son of Channon the Soldier, son of Nolen , son of Farrell )

Area 9

You cough from the dust that you have disturbed in this room, which appears empty save for a single small wooden box.

Area 10

You enter an an oval shaped from the north side.

[Not alerted] A cowled figure kneels in prayer in front a of statue of an ugly female brute holding a dagger with three skulls strung around her waist with a cord. Startled, the figure rises to his feet and you see a mad glint in his pink eyes. He is surrounded by an aura of fey and fetid power. He quickly barks an unintelligable order and from the other side of the room, where there is a grotesque male statue with its arms in the air holding head of a dwarf by its beard, another of the Pale Devil's rushes to fulfil his dark master's order.

[Alerted] On the west side of the room is a grotesque male statue with its arms in the air, holding the head of a dwarf by its beard and on the other side of this oval shaped room is another statue; this time of an ugly female brute holding a dagger. Somene has strung three skulls around the statue's waist - but of more immediate importance to you is the cowled figure and his Pale Devil body guard that stands beside him. Both have drawn wicked looking blades and are growling in the gloom. The robed one barks an unintelligable order and the other moves in front of it and utters what can only be described as a gutteral war cry!

Area 11

Pit trap - X steps onto a flagstone and suddenly disappears into a dark pit, crying out briefly as he quickly disappears from view!