Monthly Archives: June 2013

Weapon Dice and D&D

My favorite game hasn’t always used an icosahedron as its core mechanic. Even the much loved “roll a die, add some math, roll higher than a number (either flat or as generated by a similar procedure) is a relatively modern invention.

The original skill mechanic is OD&D’s “Secret doors are spotted with 1-in-6 probability” rule, a humble six sided die.
Attack rolls were from chainmail and were 2d6, as were morale and encounter and turning checks.

The DC system comes from turning THAC0 on its head, by way of Rolemaster (which was an earlier version of d20 on a percentile system…).

So, my point is, we don’t need to love the d20 as much as we do to say we’re playing D&D. The funky polyhedra are our shibboleth, our shared sign, our password into geekery.

I’ve been playing* Zombicide with Andres and struck by how elegant its weapon system is.
Here’s the relevant bits:

All of the dice are six sided.
A very blasty, swingy weapon gets lots of dice, up to five-ish.
A very precise, certain weapon counts wider ranges of numbers as hits.
One success die equals one dead zombie, generally; special zombies take progressively better weapons (but the statistical properties of those überweapons are similar to non-über; it’s just a special permission bit).

I think this is so cool: imagine a spear (1d, hits on 4+) vs a battleaxe (3d, hits on a 6). The spear is 50% likely to damage on a hit. The axe has a higher probability of not hitting anyone, but can sometimes hit 2 or even 3 hits.

I’m not sure about weapon’s überness; maybe that’s magic weapons.

The player can determine internally their possible damage total without reference to the DM. Bam, 2 hits.

Downsides: hit points and damage and armor class and situational bonuses.

Those are hard. I think you lose all of the benefits if you require the defender to tell the attacker to modify their attack or use different dice or whatever, so the defender pretty much has to let the attacker completely resolve and then react. Technically, you could have the defender modify the target number for a hit, but that’s awful complicated.

One way you could deal with this is to let armor increase toughness (like: chain armor absorbs 3 hits per round). You could also let people parry or dodge to negate entire attacks or hits of damage.

The really great thing about this is how well it scales into a wargame — 10 guys attacking? Die-pool time, but resolving the attacks isn’t very hard.

* the present pluperfect hides an awful lot of geography.

Potential House Rule

Player Characters are effin’ addicted to healing potions.

In part because my present group doesn’t have a dedicated healer (their druid prefers to mix it up in melee while shaped like a carnivorous mammal), they drink 1 potion per encounter (any additional risk potion miscibility).


I think we probably need healing surges back, especially given that in the latest packet, short resting takes so long!

I’m considering a house rule: healing potions restore 1 hit die to you and allow you to spend as many hit dice as you’d like. They still cost 50gp or whatever it is they cost.

They still interact with the miscibility rules.

Advantages: naturally scaling effect, because you can spend multiple HD to heal up lots, if that’s the amount of healing you need.

Disadvantages: You can heal to full from dead off of a 50gp item. What the heck does that mean in the fiction?

More thought needed.

Random Encounters: A love note

I DM a lot. I’m no longer the sole DM — our gaming group switches biweekly + time off for good behavior — but I think about things from the DM’s side of the screen.

We’re playtesting D&D 5e.

I have a lot of positive feelings coming from 4e to 5e — it’s my viking hat peeking through — but one thing that I especially like is the move from focus on the encounter to focus on the adventure. The rules that 5e provides for tuning those adventures are underdone, but I appreciate the recognition that a trap can just do some damage, or a random encounter can just be a cakewalk, or that there can be random encounters in the first place.

What is a random encounter? It’s an encounter which has some probability of occurring, because plotting the position of each kobold in the den, in real time, as the explorers break in… it’s just hard, especially to keep that information hidden from the players.

It’s an encounter whose purpose is to encourage the players to pull out of the dungeon with coffers half-empty because they know that the way back will be as tricky as the way in with some probability, even in the halls they’ve cleared.

It’s an encounter whose purpose is to encourage blowing the big guns early before the alarm can be raised (or before that Shrieker Shrieks) — to put some teeth into the alarm spell.

It’s an encounter that raises the threat level of every fight the players get into, because you never know when you’ve made enough noise to attract attention or lose surprise.

It’s an encounter that lets you inject color into an area without keying specific events for it: this area is populated by kobolds, but they’re all cowards and run away! It’s populated by feral dogs, who growl but love rations. It’s populated by one wandering treant — what’s he looking for?

Random anything as a DM is wonderful, because it gives you a springboard for telling a story. It forces unusual juxtaposition, which piques interest. But random encounters in particular are “visible” to the party in a way that other random elements aren’t; they require strategy and calculation.

All that said, perhaps I’ve been using them too much and should tone it down a bit 🙂

Equipment Rules: Bug Spray

Much of this post (including its title) was taken from Untimately’s post,
I have a few quibbles with it; I prefer my die rolls to select from among equally powerful options while those rules prefer to match OD&D’s starting gold.

I like knowing that your character didn’t bring a gallon of water into the dungeon, but rather brandy.
I like knowing that your gourmand character fries their rations in oil and garlic over the campfire, drawing the attention of gnomes while repelling vampires. Or that they have salt. Or pepper.
I like knowing your herbalist has catnip in their kit, or basil or wolfsbane.

A lot of this is still on the equipment lists for 5e, but notably absent are the bits of gear you carry as a specific countermeasure against specific foes.

A given object can have one or more properties, either by analogy to already existing gear or new properties, below:
Attracts X: creatures matching X desire to attack it or possess it, and so will preferentially attack or harass a character carrying or doused with the substance or object. If a character can manage to rid themselves of all of the substance, it often makes a good bribe for its creature type.

Effects that end on a save are generally only effective once per target per day; reapplication doesn’t do much.

Some examples:
Holy water: 25gp, as oil and then acid vs. fiends and the undead (1d4 radiant damage and +5 radiant damage). The square hit is treated by those foes as containing (radiant) caltrops thereafter.
Salt: 5gp for 1lb, as acid vs. slimy bugs and oozes and fungi (salt damage*). The square hit is treated by those foes as containing (salt) caltrops thereafter.
Blinds undead on contact until/unless the victim succeeds on a DC 11 Wisdom save as a standard action.
Offal: free for 1 lb. Attracts stirges, ghouls, and sharks. As oil but for disease, poison and necrotic damage. Blinds scent until/unless they succeed on a DC 11 Wisdom save as a standard action.
Wolfsbane: 1gp for a sprig. May be wielded as a dagger against wolves, werewolves, hyenas, gnolls, etc (silver and poison damage). Resolve as a pool of lit oil if brought into continuing contact.
Belladonna: 1gp for a bunch. If eaten, acts as antivenin against lycanthropy.
Bezoar: 50gp per. This is the antivenin in the rules.
Honey: 1gp for 1 dose. Attracts insects. Acts as one charge of healer’s kit.
Powdered silver: exactly as holy water.
Powdered iron: 1sp per dose. As flaming oil against fey and incorporeal undead (force damage), including continual contact.
Iron weapons deal their normal damage, but additionally gain the force type.
Garlic: 1cp per dose. As wolfsbane against vampires. Attracts snails and creatures with scent. Often aerosolized via incense, candles or dinner, remaining effective and suffusing the space.
Pepper: 1sp per dose. Blinds scent on a hit until the victim makes a DC 11 Constitution save as a standard action.
Cockerel: 2cp, room and board. Advantage on checks made to hear things while asleep, disadvantage on sneak checks, you’re carrying around a fucking chicken. Basilisks and fiends are Frightened of cockerels unless they succeed on a DC 11 Wisdom save. Attracts predators, especially foxes.
Cat: 2cp, room and board. Can see ghosts and other invisible things with full concealment even if otherwise hidden, though usually too cool to react, and occasionally spazzes out at nothing. Attracts canid monsters and vengeful rodents, avians.

* Why invent my own damage types? The creatures I intended to harm with this effect are resistant to the sane damage types! A damage type off “as X but ignores resistance” is effectively a new damage type anyway.

Equipment Rules: Camping

I never again want to hear of the odiose Adventurer’s Kit.

It’s not just the name that I dislike, though that, too.
It’s the commoditization of all this fascinating, weighty gear into a black box of undistinguished omnicompetence.

I like the delicate balance of picking which gear you go into the wild with, versus how far you can go, and how long you can spend there, and how much you can bring back.

I use a stone-weight system.
I first heard of it, but I diverge slightly from that implementation.

Delta gives 3 sub-stone consumables to the stone; I prefer 5 (ish).
I don’t have as granular encumbrance rules in D&D, so I use 7 plus strength mod as your limit, after which you are encumbered; add 5 for maximum encumbrance.
Small characters reduce both numbers by 1.

1000 coins of any denomination weigh 20 pounds in 3e, and continue to do so for me. Make the math nice; that’s 1 stone anyway.

50′ of rope is 1 stone, with the grapple free.
Silk rope is half the weight, giving you 100′ of rope for 1 stone.

10 day’s worth of iron rations for one person is 1 stone.
2 day’s worth of water for one person is 1 stone (necessary to rest in most dungeons).
1 rest’s worth (6-8 hours) of firewood is 1 stone (necessary to rest in most subtropical unwooded locales)
6 torches are 1 stone, too (conveniently, the same number, since each torch burns for 1 hour).
Lamps and lanterns are tricky, though. You don’t need multiple of them and the oil they burn they burn of a long while; should PCs really be wandering around with gallon jugs of kerosene? Anyway, weighs one stone together with a few gallons of oil.
Anyway: 1 stone of oil is 14ish pounds of oil is 2.5ish gallons is 10 quarts is 20 pints, each of which burns for one extended rest (6 hours), giving off light appropriate to the housing.

Additionally, every 3 characters require 1 stone worth of shelter supplies (space in a tent, bedrolls, tarps and lines, pots, spoons).

Small characters consume one-half as much food and drink as large characters do, even voracious hobbitses.

Each night the party rests costs one or more of these units, depending on what they can forage for. Heck, so does each hour of adventuring!

Various spells (Goodberry, Create Food and Water, Moldvay’s Magnificent Mansion, even the humble Light) skip various portions of this, but they cost spell slots. So that’s okay.

If using these rules, most humanoids should have a fair amount of camping supplies (food, drink, bandages, ammunition) as part of their treasure, extending the amount of time that the party can spend in the field looking for the really good stuff.