Sunday, 30 May 2010

If only floating disc scaled...

The description for the Floating Disc spell in Labyrinth Lord goes a little like this:

Floating Disc
Level: 1
The caster creates a slightly concave, circular plane of force
that follows him about and carries loads. The disk is 3 feet in
diameter and 1 inch deep at its center. It can hold 500
pounds. If used to transport a liquid, its capacity is 2 gallons.
The disk floats approximately 3 feet above the ground at all
times and remains level. It floats along horizontally within spell
range and will accompany the caster with an equal movement
rate. If not otherwise directed, it maintains a constant interval
of 6 feet between itself and the caster, and will follow the
caster without prompting to maintain a minimum of 6'

What a terrific spell. If only it scaled beyond its simple first level abilities, they'd perhaps be no need for the levitation spell and possibly the flight spell also. If somehow the distance to the caster could be variable, it could be used to do all sorts of things, such as to create a stepping stone across a chasm or a river. Perhaps it could be even be used, as is, to hold a door shut like the hold portal spell, as 500 pounds of force is quite a lot to bring to bear to shift the thing.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

An Overkill penalty for D&D

I recently read an excellent blog post about 'Overkill Penalties'. This is the idea of penalising min-max players to bring them in line with more casual players or players that want to concentrate more on the roleplaying of their characters instead of the roll-playing aspects. 

In D&D, the type of person who builds a character around a concept instead of mechanics, for example, choosing on purpose to use a spear despite its d6 damage over a long sword that does d8, is at a distinct disadvantage to the player who only ever picks a bastard sword because it deals 2d4 damage. The post I've linked to talks about doing penalising these min-maxers, who are less interested in the game setting and only in generating massive numbers, in a more modern game setting or a futuristic one, but this general idea easily apply to fantasy ones too.

Here's a quick idea for how to implement it in D&D; anyone that takes an enemy to -10hp from a positive number of hitpoints, in one hit, unleashes the spirit of the fallen humanoid as a spectre that remains on the mortal coil because of the nature of its violent death. Feel free to tweak the 'spectre threshold' based on the edition of D&D you are using and so on. Why a spectre? It's not massively overpowered but is a hugely dangerous creature with its draining powers. It could always be swapped out with a wraith - or wight - at lower levels.

So why bother doing this or even considering it at all? It's about putting the emphasis on using the least possible amount of force to get the job done. It would help not just with min-maxers (i.e. people who try to game the system for purely mechanical advantage, often at the expense of everyone else) but also with situations that really should be handled with more delicacy. The party mage might be a bit more careful throwing his fireballs around, for instance and the paladin may not simply smite every enemy and then rest after his smites have all run out. You might even find players switching to subdual damage when a foe is running low on hitpoints, letting the enemies merely slip into unconsciousness so the party can continue on their way instead of slaying them outright.

What are the downsides? Depending on your rule set, critical hits could accidentally unleash vengeful spirits. You could always rule that they do not, they are exceptions, or leave it on, as an unexpected and unintended possible consequence of driving your sword right into the heart of an opponent and ending his life in a split second.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The danger of death

As a DM to a regular Labyrinth Lord game, I often revise my encounter strategy for the adventures I create, continually trying to improve the experience. Both me and my players enjoy a bit of strategy in the battles and a bit of danger and excitement too.

I have discovered that short battles are generally better than long ones and often battles where the player is massively outnumbered by the enemy, or is able to gang up on just a few powerful enemies, work well. Surprise is a big element in battles going well so I often throw monsters in to the fights that have never been encountered before... and some of my players have been playing D&D for a very long time so it's always fun to throw something at them that makes everyone of them go 'what the hell is THAT?'

One of the things that has been going through my mind recently is the danger of death. I'm wondering, is there really any point in simulating battles that really have no chance of hurting the party? Might it be better to handle those fights with some simple narrative texts 'You quickly overcome the bodyguards, who prove no match for your skills, leaving you with the champion who slowly draws his glowing sword - and far from being cowed by your martial prowess - leaps right at you!' and simulate only the battles that might actually pose a real risk to the group as a whole?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

All poison should be lethal

The more I play D&D - and I play every week almost without fail - the more I experiment with bits and pieces of it. My combats are quite well known amongst my players for featuring bizarre creatures from all editions of D&D despite the ruleset I'm using being a mishmash of Labyrinth Lord and AD&D (essentially, I use Labyrinth Lord as the base and expand with 2nd and 3rd edition spells). I even throw in a few I have made up myself.

What happens is that various pictures of creatures emerge from different editions. In general, these are in line with what you might expect. Most creatures from basic D&D have far fewer hitpoints and limited damage ranges compared to creatures from 4th edition, which make for good boss creatures and leaders. However, despite the apparent deadliness of the monsters on paper, a lot of enemies I field at the players from later editions seem to have had the lethality drained out of them. By this, I am of course referring to poison.

When poison is save or die, there is real drama at the table. A character may have 50 hitpoints (quite a lot for Labyrinth Lord) and yet, here is a single damage point and the potential for instant death. And it all hangs on a die roll... That creates major panic. Its nullified somewhat by the party cleric keeping neutralise poison memorised and having a raise dead and a resurrect scroll... but everybody seems to understand that these resources are finite and the danger is there. It just doesn't have the same effect when the poison simply is inflicting hitpoint damage per round, and nor does it when I play a game like the Bard's Tale.

So, I may upgrade every single poision wielding enemy to the save or die type. My group has generally very nice poison saving throws on their characters, do have some antivenoms on them and there is the cleric too. I normally give an hour, when someone is infected by lethal poison and collapses into unconsciousness, before they will finally die of it. In that hour, panic rises...