A Treat, Sans Trick

For the next couple of days, I’m knocking 10% off of the Monster Tome in honor of all the undead (and Elsas, apparently) on the streets tonight looking for free sweets.

As always, if you buy the hard cover and email me a receipt, you’ll get a PDF copy of the book for free.

Happy Halloween, folks!

The Hierarchy of Materials [Grit & Vigor]

Machines are a pain in the butt.

Well, really, they’re a challenge, and challenges are half the reason to design a game.

The challenge in this case is dealing with 100 years of machine technology in a systematic way that allows one decade to flow into the next in a rational way that permits gameplay.

The specific challenge I’ve been playing with is Armor Class. Armor Class and attack rolls and damage rolls work – they’re an abstract way to deal with combat between individuals and they’ve managed to produce fun gameplay for a long time. I don’t want to rock that boat. There are some functional limits, though, that become apparent when you have to allow for a system that runs from “man in loincloth” to modern tank with 12 inches of steel armor.

Functionally, an attack roll involves rolling a d20, which gives you a maximum roll of 20. Characters in the sweet spot of levels are going to bring maybe a +4 or +5 to their attack rolls. High strength or dexterity adds another +3. Side factors throw in a +2 or +4 bonus to hit. The result: You’re not going to get many attack rolls higher than 30. Sure, at high levels, with everything on your side, maybe you roll a 40. But – and this is key – tanks were destroyed by guys with, reasonably, 1 or 2 Hit Dice all the time in World War II. A tank shouldn’t require a “40” attack roll to inflict damage.

So what do we do with that 12″ armor?

Well, damage reduction makes sense. This allows us two mechanisms to govern the ability to damage objects (and hit points lends a hand as well). Now, we don’t need super high Armor Class. We can have manageable Armor Class ratings, supplemented by Damage Reduction that makes sure certain classes of weapons cannot destroy certain objects. A fighting-man shouldn’t be able to sink the Bismark with a revolver, no matter how high his level is.

My first attempt at damage reduction was based on two factors – what is the object’s skin/hull made of, and how thick is it. I came up with some arbitrary values and used them as a place holder. Steel armor, for example, would provide 20 points of damage reduction per inch. Wood would be 5 points. Most other metals 10 points, etc. Simple enough, but maybe not realistic. With damage reduction in play, I needed to deal with the amount of damage inflicted by weapons.

Once again, a system was involved – in simple terms, rating firearms on the energy they were putting into their projectiles and turning these ratings into damage figures. Once again, I had a system that needed to take into account everything from slings to super-cannon, and now I needed it to interact intelligently with damage reduction. Obviously, some of these values were getting pretty big. Tanks were rolling around with 240 points of damage reduction, which meant anti-tank weapons needed to reasonably deal more than 240 points of damage (quite a bit more, actually) to destroy them. How does one roll upwards of 400 points of damage? That could take more than 60 d6, or about 20d20. That’s a lot of dice!

I won’t bore you with the details of the calibrations – and I’m honestly not done with all of them yet – but I did come up with a plan to simplify things.The point of my using damage reduction was to make sure that certain weapons were going to be ineffective on certain machines. In the real world, this isn’t just about how hard you’re hitting something, it’s also about what you’re hitting it with. This gave me the idea of a hierarchy of materials based on the strength of that material (or as near as I could figure it).

With this system, I decided that damage reduction would be 12 points per inch of material, regardless of the material. I chose 12 because it is easy to divide by 2, 3 and 4 (i.e. half-inch, quarter-inch, third-inch).

Using the hierarchy of materials, one compares the material being hit with the material doing the hitting. If they’re on the same “level”, or the hitter is at a lower level than the “hittee”, damage reduction applies as normal. If the hitter is one level higher in the hierarchy, use half the normal damage reduction value. If the hitter is more than one level higher, it ignores the damage reduction entirely. For every level lower, the damage reduction value is increased by 6 per inch.

Here’s the hierarchy I came up with (changes pending):

A. Kevlar
B. Tungsten
C. Steel (Hard, Armor), Titanium Alloy, Uranium (Depleted)
D. Mangalloy, Steel (Medium)
E. Cast Iron, Chainmail, Nickel Alloy, Spider Silk, Stainless Steel, Steel (Soft)
F. Aluminum, Bamboo, Brass, Copper, Fiberglass, Granite, Hard Woods (Ash, Hickory, Maple, Oak, Walnut), Nickel, Titanium, Wrought Iron
G. Bricks (Hard), Glass (Bulletproof), Lead, Limestone, Sandstone, Soft Woods
H. Bricks (Common), Concrete
I. Flesh

Let’s take an inch of steel armor (Class C). It has the following damage reduction values:

6 vs. Class B (tungsten projectiles)
12 vs. Class C (hard steel projectiles)
24 vs. Class E (cast iron, like old cannon balls)
30 vs. Class F (brass and copper, like many non-armor piercing projectiles)
36 vs. Class G (lead projectiles)
48 vs. Class I (Flesh, which sounds ridiculous until you realize you need to deal with things like Kaiju vs. tanks)

If we assume that adamantine is harder than tungsten, then we could say that steel armor has no damage reduction against adamantine. One could make that argument for magic weapons as well if they were using them in their game.

There’s still some work to do with this idea, and I’ll probably alter the hierarchy before I’m finished, but I think this is a simple, workable system that will make that campaign involving Hitler invading Mars as viable as one that just involves a small band of French resistance fighters committing acts of sabotage and espionage during World War II. The main idea is not to build a complex war game that takes every possible contingency into account, but rather to make a system that makes fighting tanks in Grit & Vigor not much more complex than fighting purple worms in Blood & Treasure.

Keep on Trucking!

A while back, I posted and then published a campaign idea and mini-game called Mutant Truckers of the Polyester Road. Illustrator Aaron Siddall is running a campaign based on that idea, and he has produced a nice map and character sheet to go along with it. Samples below, but proceed with all due haste to his website (CLICK HERE) to see more, and for all sorts of stuff related to Blood & Treasure (he’s done some nice work on doing something like Spelljammer with B&T) and Grit & Vigor (and I haven’t even published it yet!). Good stuff – well worth checking out.

Mutant armadillo / bullette – perfect for moonlight strolls through post-apocalyptic deserts

Way prettier than my map!

 

Never thought of using the madflap girls – how did I never think of using the mudflap girls?

Once I get Grit & Vigor out there, I want to do a post-Apocalypse supplement book that will hit on Mutant Truckers, No Mutant’s Land (WW1 that never ends, with weird chemicals subbing for radiation) and Apocalypse 1898 (my idea for a post-Mars invasion New York during the time of Tammany Hall and the notorious street gangs). Until then, check out Siddall’s stuff!

Grit & Treasure (Blood & Vigor?)

German warbird, or …

Work proceeds on Grit & Vigor. The last couple weeks have been spent gathering vehicle data, turning it into something useful, and brainstorming the rules for dogfights, car chases and inventions.

On the vehicle front, I now have data for about 1,400 tanks, cars and airplanes, and believe I have found a way to turn the raw data into game data. Just for fun, I thought I might throw out some comparisons between military vehicles from the olden days and Blood & Treasure monsters. Obviously, I need to look at some heavyweights.

THE MONSTERS

The Neothelid – 25 HD wrapped up in acid-dripping, tentacled horror. Imagine it going toe-to-toe with a Russian T-18 tank. The tank is easier to hit, but can absorb some damage and deal it pretty well.

T-18: Huge Construct (Tank), HD 25 (88 hp), AC 19 (DR 6), SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 tank gun (8d8) and light machine gun (1d8), MVR +0, CP 2/0, WT 13,000 lb.

… fantasy robot – who would win in a fight?

The Balor Demon – 20 HD of demonic fury, roughly equivalent to a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The Warhawk can deal more damage with its six heavy machine guns, but the Balor isn’t affected by such mundane weaponry. Better load that Warhawk up with magic bullets.

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: Huge Construct (Fighter), HD 20 (70 hp), AC 16, SPD 360 mph (5280), ATK 6 heavy machine guns (2d6) and bombs (1000 lb), MVR +2, CP 1/0, CEILING 29,000 ft., WT 8,400 lb.

The Iron Golem – 18 HD of heavy metal death, the equal of Messerschmitt Bf.109 – though let’s be honest, one good strafe or bomb drop, and the iron golem’s iron hide and its vaunted magic immunity is going to go up in smoke.

Messerschmitt Bf.109: Large-X Construct (Fighter), HD 18 (63 hp), AC 16, SPD 398 mph (5830), ATK 2 heavy machine guns (2d6) and 1 medium machine gun (1d8) and bombs (550 lb), MVR +3, CP 1/0, CEILING 39,000 ft., WT 6,940 lb.

A few notes on the vehicles:

Size is based on weight (and how interesting would that be to do with all the monsters?). I used the full d20 scale (I only used Small to Huge in B&T), and added half-steps in. Size determines Hit Dice.

CP refers to crew and passengers. The crew is going to be making the attacks for the vehicle, so it’s their attack bonus that counts when firing their weapons.

The weapons here are generic, and the final stats will include their ROF and range. ROF works into the gun rules, with each addition round you fire at a target either increasing your chance to hit by +1, or contributing to an additional 1d6 damage at a rate of 5 rounds to 1d6 damage – player’s choice and they can mix and match (e.g. an extra 20 rounds of ammo can translate into a +20 bonus to hit, or +4d6 damage or something in between, like +10 to hit and +2d6 damage). The bombs I still haven’t decided on, but probably going to be treated as something like a fireball spell – damage dice and radius based on the poundage, with people and items passing saving throws to halve the damage. The game is really designed more for man vs. man, rather than man vs. B-17 Flying Fortress.

Speed is the vehicles top speed, in miles per hour and, in parentheses, feet per round. For car chases, I’m working out a system that uses top speed as a determinant for the difficulty of stunts, to make it easy for referees and players to create stats for vehicles without having to know much about them other than their weight, their style and their top speed.

Armor Class is based on the material of the vehicle’s skin, as well as its thickness. Size plays a part as well. Damage reduction (DR) is based on the thickness of the armor, since I needed a way to screen the tanks from weapons that, by right, shouldn’t be able to penetrate their armor.

MVR is maneuverability, which is based on the vehicle’s type and its power to weight ratio.

Not a perfect system, I know, but I think it will work well enough for game purposes. My focus is on three systems – aerial combat (aircraft vs. aircraft), car chases and a nod towards aircraft attacking land vehicles. G&V isn’t designed as a wargame, but the combat rules should be able to handle something as basic as two tanks plugging away at one another.

Oh, and just for fun …

Burrough’s Barsoom Scout Flyer: Large Construct (Fighter), HD 11 (39 hp), AC 20, SPD 300 mph (1460), ATK none, MVR +3, CP 5/0, CEILING 11,000 ft., WT 1,500 lb.

Nemo’s Nautilus: Colossal x5 Construct (Submarine), HD 250 (875 hp), AC 22, SPD 40 mph (580), ATK 1 ram, MVR -1, CP ???, DEPTH 52,000 ft., WT 1,500 tons

Well’s Martian Tripod: Huge-X Construct (Tank), HD 31 (109 hp), AC 22, SPD 10 mph (140), ATK 1 heat ray (10d6 fire) and black smoke projector (as cloudkill?), MVR +1, CP 1/0, WT 20,000 lb.

Martian Tripod vs. Balor – now that’s a fight I would pay to see!

What’s It Worth?

I’ll give you 10 gp, and not a copper more

Despite the wondrous quality of my RPG writing, it hasn’t made me a million dollars yet (just shy by about a million), so I have to have a real job. In my case, I research the commercial real estate market in Las Vegas, and write reports every quarter about how the market is doing. In the process, I often get asked questions about how much something is worth, or hear people complaining that a building sold for less than it was worth. I respond by explaining that nothing is worth more than what somebody else is willing to pay for it at any given moment. That got me thinking about a different way to value treasure.

Currently, when I’m writing a hex crawl, I’ll include treasure hordes with notations like “large ruby worth 5,000 gp”. What if, instead, I merely wrote “large ruby” and let the value be determined by the customer?

The basic idea: Come up with a matrix. The columns represent different classes of customers, the rows different categories of treasure. The data would be a random amount of money that the customer would be willing to pay for the treasure. The GM would roll this to determine the starting bid, and then roll a second dice to determine how high the customer will go. Adventurer and customer (GM) could then work out a final price for the item by haggling.

Classes of Customer

Peasants: These are your average working stiffs – laborers in towns and cities, people who carry things and serve others. They didn’t make much money in the real world – some would figure it at the equivalent of 1 or 2 copper pieces a day – but in the fantasy world, the standard is 1 silver piece per day. Either way, they have expenses, so they can’t afford to spend much on luxuries like treasure. There is a 90% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Artisans & Traders: These skilled laborers make a bit more, maybe five times as much as the peasants. This gives them a bit more money for luxuries. Still, if adventurers are going to these guys to sell their treasure, they’re probably a bit hard up. There is a 75% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchants: The merchants have plenty of money, though their assets probably aren’t liquid (meaning they have lots of stuff – goods, wagons, camels, ships – but not lots of money). Still, they aren’t hurting, and they can drop a few coins on the good things in life. There is a 50% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Merchant Princes: These are the big-time merchants, the fellows with royal and noble connections that allow them to own fleets and caravans and manors, etc. They’re going to be a bit more liquid than the common merchants. There is a 35% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Aristocracy: The lower end of the titled fellows – the knights and baronets and such. Like the merchants, their wealth is mostly tied up in things – land, animals, armor, weapons – so they’re like uber-barterers. They have a few coins stashed away, but they’re probably more apt to trade things like armor, horses or favors. There is a 65% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Nobility: The nobility includes barons, counts, and the like. Lots of land, but, as with the merchant princes, more liquid than the aristocracy. There is a 25% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Lesser Royalty: A step up from the nobility – the dukes and bishops. There is a 20% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Greater Royalty: Kings, queens, princes and princesses, and archbishops as well. There is a 12% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Imperials: Not Chryslers, but actual imperials – emperors, empresses, kings-of-kings, popes, etc. There is a 6% chance they’ll offer goods and/or services instead of coins.

Categories of Treasure
These are the same categories you will find in Blood & Treasure, and adapting them to your favorite game shouldn’t be too taxing on the grey matter.

Fancy Stones – agates, hematite – the stuff you find in shopping malls and tourist traps

Gems – better than stones, not as good as jewels

Jewels – rubies, emeralds, sapphires, diamonds

Common Arts & Trade Goods – armor, weapons, things made out of non-precious metals, common animal skins, rugs, many tapestries, common sorts of books. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Fine Arts & Exotic Goods – lacquered wood, rare spices, items made from precious metals, bejeweled items, the skins of exotic animals, rare books, especially fine paintings and tapestries. Assume the price is per ounce where applicable.

Minor Magic Items – potions, scrolls, magical oddities

Major Magic Items – that stuff you really want to put on your character’s equipment list

The Table

The table above is a simple matrix. Find the category of treasure and the category of customer, and you get their opening bid. Roll a d6 to find out how high they’ll actually go:

1-3: No more than 25% higher, and they might have some conditions
4-5: No more than 50% higher
6: No more than 100% higher

Also, remember that there is a percentage chance that the customer offers to pay with goods and/or services rather than actual money. The value of services rendered is up to you, but most games give some sort of guidance. Favors are tricky – they may not be honored at a later date – but they could come in handy.

Obviously, some interpretation is involved here for the GM in terms of treasure category and customer category, and feel free to apply other factors. In a country where gold or silver is common, objects made from gold and silver might be considered common arts rather than fine arts. Likewise, spices, furs and pelts might be common one place and exotic in another.

The impetus for this table was a painting I posted a few weeks ago when I asked the question “Are Treasure Hordes Too Small?”. The idea here is that you can now provide a fairly large horde without having to predetermine what everything is worth. This system also gives adventurers a reason to make contact with nobles and such, which in turn can lead to further adventures.