Weather Made Easy

If you’re running a wilderness campaign, you know that at some point you have to think about the weather. Weather can create interesting challenges for a party of explorers, or even just lend to the mood of a session. Referees can always just arbitrarily determine the weather based on their needs, but for long treks across the wilderness seem to call for randomized weather.

I’ve tried a few different schemes for randomly determining weather in my years of writing hexcrawls, but for the last couple of years have used a system that I think is relatively easy, and provides something usable, rather than trivial.

In each of my later hexcrawls, I begin my section on regional weather with this:

“You can use the following tables to determine the overall weather conditions during a hex crawl. The table is divided into the four seasons. Temperature is determined by rolling 1d6 and comparing the roll to the chances of temperature being freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher). Freezing, cold and hot temperatures might require the adventurers to take steps to avoid negative consequences. Precipitation is a percentage chance. If the temperature is below freezing, the precipitation is snow (10% chance of hail). The TK can decide how much rain or snow falls during the day and its duration based on how much she wishes the weather to hinder the players.”

This is followed by a table like this:

Western Wood

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze 1-2 1 1
Cold 3-5 2 1 2
Mild 6 3-5 2-3 3-5
Warm 6 4-5 6
Hot 6
Rain 55% 45% 45% 40%

The table provides a bare-bones account of the weather on any given day, which the TK can flesh out as much or as little as he likes.

The upper portion determines the general range of temperature based on the season, rolled on D6, while the last line is the percent chance of precipitation that day rolled on D%. If the weather is freezing, any precipitation that comes up is snow or maybe hail. Otherwise, precipitation is rain. How much rain? That’s up to the TK. If the TK wants the rain/snow to be a real problem for the PC’s, then it is heavy. Otherwise, it’s a moderate or light rain that provides mood and interest, without becoming a major pain in the butt.

Making the Tables

To make the tables, I could just make up the numbers willy-nilly. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I usually like to keep things more realistic. To that end, I choose a city in an environment like the one I’m simulating, and look it up on Wikipedia.

If I’m lucky, the Wikipedia page has a table like this one for Rio de Janeiro:

To figure out the percent chance of precipitation, I just take the total of the average days of rain for the three months that make up a “season”, such as December, January and February for Summer (I almost wrote “winter” until I remembered I was working south of the equator), and divide by 90. In this example, Rio would have a 32% chance of rain during the summer season.

I then take the average high, daily mean and average low for each of those three months, and rate it using the scale mentioned above and repeated here: Freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher).

That gives me 9 temperature readings for each season – I use those to determine the chance on a D6 of a day falling into one of those temperature ratings. Using Rio in the summer again, we get the following temperature ratings:

DEC JAN FEB
Average High Mild Warm Warm
Mean Mild Mild Mild
Average Low Mild Mild Mild

So, we have 7 milds and 2 warms. Seven divided by nine is 78%. Multiply that by 6 (i.e. D6) and you get 5. That means a 5 in 6 chance of mild weather. We don’t need to do the calculation for warm, in this case – it would be 1 in 6, but if we had more temperature ranges, we would use the same procedue for each. Naturally, the Referee can intervene a bit in these figures. Because Rio can get quite hot in the summer, I decide to go 1-4 = mild, 5 = warm and 6 = hot.

You do this same process for the other seasons, and you end up with a table like this:

Rio de Janeiro

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze
Cold
Mild 1-6 1-5 1-4 1-5
Warm 6 5 6
Hot 6
Rain 17% 29% 32% 26%

So, if I’m running some adventurer in the region around Rio during the summer – maybe they’re searching for some ancient ruins or a satellite that crashed in the region – I roll 1d6 and d%, On the d6, I get a “6”, meaning it’s a hot day. On the % I get a 53, meaning no rain – just humidity.

Looking Back – Space Princess

Do you know I’ve been doing this blogging / game writing nonsense for about 10 years? Wow. That was never the intent. In fact, there was no intent – just me goofing around. I certainly never intended to write and publish books when I started.

So here I am, all these years into whatever the heck I’m doing, and I figure maybe it would be fun to look back. Today, I decided to jot down a few thoughts about an early publication of mine, and probably a mostly forgotten one, called Tales of the Space Princess.

Space Princess started out as my response on a message board thread that asked why science-fiction rpg’s had not become as popular as fantasy rpg’s, specifically Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t remember the other responses to the thread, but they were all genre-specific. My theory was that it had nothing to do with sci-fi vs. fantasy. D&D worked because it was a game above all else. Players controlled characters who wandered around a maze in search of treasure. Monsters and traps hindered them. Simple. Anything could be grafted onto D&D, and with each fun thing you added to the mix, D&D became itself more popular. It just so happened that the game was born out of a fantasy supplement to a medieval wargame.

The problem with early sci-fi games, I figured, was that they set out to replicate sci-fi movies and stories. RPG’s aren’t very good at that. Stories have plots, with characters under the writer’s control. They have pre-determined outcomes, which is anathema to games. Checkers works because you don’t know who will win – black or red. Dungeons & Dragons, early on, was the same way. If the characters died delving for treasure, you made new characters. Their death didn’t disrupt a plot – the characters were not central to a story, they were just “avatars” of the players. As a game, this works beautifully. In a novel, it would suck.

I went on to surmise that a sci-fi D&D could have been as popular as the fantasy D&D with the same focus on being a game that borrowed the trappings of science fiction. I took Star Wars as an example. In Star Wars, Luke, Ben, Chewie, Threepio and Artoo venture into the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia from Darth Vader. If we make this more generic, we get a party of adventurers go into a space fortress to rescue the space princess from the dark lord.

Of course, this got my brain popping, so I decided to actually write the game I was describing. I had published a few NODs and Pars Fortuna (more on that in another post), so I figured why not try something else new. I didn’t exactly base the rules entirely on the SRD because I wanted to try some new things. The characters, for example, didn’t have levels. You could start them out as novices, veterans or old-timers – their skills improved with age, but they got fewer luck points to get you through scrapes. This was designed to deal with the fact that, in the source material, you had young Luke Skywalker, old Ben Kenobi and Han Solo somewhere in the middle. How do you make a game work so that different “levels” of characters could adventure together? I had a similar challenge in Mystery Men – the Superman/Batman conundrum. Did my idea work? I decided to use “luck” as a balancing mechanism. Did it work? Heck – that’s for others to decide.

Beyond the rules, I tried to pack the game with all sorts of sci-fi stuff just the way D&D packed in the fantasy tropes. The playable species included humans, of course … which included anything that was basically humanoid and didn’t have special powers … androids and gynoids and “aliens”. The alien species had rules to allow all sorts of alien species to be created, either in imitation of species from existing sci-fi properties – such as vulcan and wookies – or something completely invented by the player.

The classes in the game are psychic, scientist, scoundrel, space ranger and star warrior. Looking through the book for the first time in years, I realize that I had forgotten about my sample characters in the game – Athena Laserwolf, the human star warrior (and an obvious homage to Morgan Ironwolf), Scrimshaw McGurk, the human scoundrel, and Zazzix, the alien psychic. The original art in the project was done by Jason Sholtis, and it was fantastic. It’s fun to rediscover things you wrote long enough ago to have forgotten!

For monsters, I tried to hit the highlights of sci-fi. Space brothers from UFOlogy rub shoulders with the ro-man from Robot Monster and martians from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The olvugai from Pars Fortuna made it into the game – I love sticking things from one of my games into others, to keep them all in the same “universe” – as did H.G. Well’s martians as zarks, the vulcans and klingons as red and blue voltans and the vampire from TV’s Buck Rogers made it in as the space vampire. I stuck girallons in the game because they were inspired by the white apes of Burrough’s Mars, and flail snails because I love flail snails. The point was to mix and match all sorts of nonsense to build gonzo space fortresses (i.e. dungeons), and that was what I did. I also included a way to build random (or non-random) alien animals.

I kept the equipment pretty simple, with some basic gear like weapons and spaceships, and then super-science gear – essentially the same as magic items.

Gameplay was designed to be divided into two phases. The first was the exploration of the space fortress to find and rescue the “space princess”, which can be an actual captive princess or a captive prince, or super weapon, or space station plans, or whatever you want it to be. The second phase is where the adventurers escape in their spaceship. They need a few turns before they can jump into hyperspace, and in the meantime have to battle some enemy fighters, a la Star Wars. Just as old D&D didn’t really deal with life outside of dungeon delving and stronghold-building, Space Princess kept it simple.

Space Princess … it originated in a message board discussion, turned into a chance to try new things in a game, It was a fun little experiment for a new author. Looking through the game, I’m actually pretty impressed with how much stuff I packed into a 44 page game! I guess maybe I should pull Tales of the Space Princess back out and give it another go. My daughter had a blast testing it when she was 14, and I think we have the old character sheets tucked away somewhere …

Sometimes, You Get Lucky …

Sometimes you get lucky … but only after wasting lots of time getting it wrong.

I had a request, probably back in 2017 when I wrote Pen & Paper Football, to come up with a scheme to put stats to actual historical football teams. It was an interesting idea, but it required more work than I had the time for then, so I let it go.

When I was playtesting my game, I came up with a crude way to generate stats for teams using the 2016 stats of pro football teams. For my playtesting, I wanted a wide range of stats so I could see how the rules would work with extreme differences in stats. To do this, I took each team’s rating in passing, rushing, receiving, etc. and assigned stat scores starting at 18 for the top two teams, 17 for the next two, and so on from there. Fortunately, the league has 32 teams and I had 16 numbers between 3 and 18, so the process was pretty simple. This approach was crude, but it served my needs. Unfortunately, it was not what the person making the request was looking for to simulate old teams.

The problem with generating ability scores from game stats is that the ability scores in PPF are abstract. The QB/Passing stat, for example, overlaps to some extent with the WR/Receiving stat. It involves not only a team’s starting quarterback, but also the back-ups, and the offensive line’s ability to protect the passer and give him time to find his targets. Then there’s the coaching – the head coach, the quarterback coach, etc. – and their game plan and philosophy. How do you quantify this?

What I needed was an approach that didn’t just compare one team to another team in a given year, but which laid down an ideal quantification and compared any team, from any era, to that ideal. Back in the 1960’s, the league created the concept of a Quarterback Rating, and I figured I could use that as a basis for my work. It’s a somewhat complex formula (at least for hobby gaming), and I put some work into modifying it to rate running backs, but I would need it for receivers as well, and the defense, but defense stats weren’t compiled very well in the old days, and the receiver stats for a team were bound to mirror the quarterback stats, and … oh boy – what a mess!

My post showing off my brilliant scheme was going to appear last weekend, because I was sure I could clear it all up and produce a spreadsheet for people to use. Oh brother – what a huge waste of time. My whole philosophy about gaming is that it should be simple and fun – quick and easy. This wasn’t.

And then it happened. I was working at my desk the other day when a thought popped into my head. A simple way to simulate a team’s stats, using easily obtainable information, without any formulas or much work involved at all. Like I said – sometimes you get lucky!

Player-By-Player Stats

We begin by dividing among the PPF stats (QB, RB, WR, LM, LB, DB) the actual player positions. For each stat we take the three best starting players on a team that are tied to that stat. The position-to-stat breakout is as follows:

QB Quarterback, center, offensive guards
RB Running back, fullback, offensive tackles
WR Wide receivers, tight end
LM Defensive tackles, defensive ends
LB Linebackers
DB Cornerbacks and safeties

We rate players by their highest level of achievement while playing. This can make things a little tricky if we’re trying to recreate teams from the recent past, or from the present day, but with a little brain work and argument, I think one can figure it out.

Each player is scored for their lifetime achievement in pro football:

Achievement Score
None in particular 3
One pro-bowl/all-star game 4
Multiple pro-bowls/all-star games 5
Hall of Fame 6

Rookies deduct two from their score. One can also knock a point off for a player in the twilight of their career if they have clearly lost a step.

For each stat, you take the three best players, by rating, associated with that stat and add them up to get the relevant ability score.

For an example, I give you the 1984 Miami Dolphins:

Stat Players Score Bonus
QB Dan Marino (6), Dwight Stephenson (6), Ed Newman (5) 17 +5
RB Tony Nathan (4), Woody Bennett (3), John Geisler (3), Cleveland Green (3) 10 +3
WR Mark Clayton (5), Mark Duper (5), Dan Johnson (3) 13 +4
LM Bob Baumhower (5), Doug Betters (4), Kim Bokamper (4) 13 +4
LB Bob Brudzinski (3), AJ Duhe (4), Charles Bowser (3), Mark Brown (3) 10 +3
DB All players rate a 3 9 +3

The Minnesota Vikings were less successful that year – their stats are as follows:

Stat Players Score Bonus
QB Tommy Kramer (4), Ron Sams (3), Curtis Rouse (3), Terry Tausch (3) 10 +3
RB All players rate a 3 9 +3
WR Sammy White (5), Mike Jones (3), Steve Jordan (5) 13 +4
LM Charles Johnson (5), Neil Elshire (3), Mark Mullaney (3) 11 +3
LB Matt Blair (5), Scott Studwell (5), Dennis Johnson (3), Fred McNeil (3) 13 +4
DB John Swain (3), Rufus Bess (3), Tom Hannon (3), Carl Lee (5) 11 +3

The value of this system is that it requires little in the way of mathematics, and it is broadly applicable to different eras of football, since concepts like all-star games are pretty old, and players from the very beginning of football have been enshrined in the Hall of fame.

You can also use this system to create pro squads from the starting players of a given year instead of rolling a team’s stats. Use a random draft for the first year of play, then hold real drafts each year thereafter.

Earlier Eras of Football

To prove one can use this for different eras of the game, I present the 1920 Canton Bulldogs, with a couple caveats:

First – the game of football was different then, so the ability scores must change a bit. This is something else I’m working on for the next edition of PPF. For football before the forward pass dominated that game, you use the following ability scores:

BK (Backfield) = Tail Back, Full Back, Blocking Back, Wing Back, Center

RL (Right Line) = Right End, Right Tackle, Right Guard

LL (Left Line) = Left End, Left Tackle, Left Guard

Note that you only need the one set of stats, since players played both offense and defense in the same general spots.

In this version of the game, the defense commits to stacking their defense on the right or left, rather than against the run or pass, and the offense runs their plays to the right or left. Also keep in mind that the offense’s right is mirrored by the defense’s left, etc.

Using these stats, the 1920 Bulldogs look as follows:

Stat Players Score Bonus
BK Jim Thorpe (6), Pete Calac (3), Tex Grigg (3), Joe Guyon (6), Al Feeney (3) 15 +4
RL John Kellison (3), Pete Henry (6), Bulger Lowe (4) 13 +4
LL Bob Higgins (3), Cub Buck (3), Cap Edwards (3) 9 +3

So the Bulldogs are stronger on the right than the left, and have a pretty good backfield. With just one more all-star in the backfield, that could bump their backfield bonus to +5. Even without another all-star, Coach Thorpe can win some ballgames with these guys.

Hit Points and Armor Class

As soon as I wrote that title, my brain went to “pork chops and applesauce”.

Brady Bunch-isms aside, I recently had an idea about hit points and armor class in D&D-esque games.

In terms of combat, hit points and armor class combine to form a sliding scale for determining how long a character or creature can last in combat. Armor class determines how hard it is to “deal damage” to a target, so it is impacted by the form of armor worn (or natural armor) and by dexterity. Hit points represent how much “damage” a target can suffer before it dies, with damage in this context meaning not just physical injury, but also exhaustion and your skill in avoiding telling blows. In other words, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in the hit points concept.

This is all fine and dandy in the context of combat, but hit points are used outside of combat as well, such as from traps and falling – and that is where it gets a little goofy.

Fighters have more hit points than thieves, for example, because they are more skilled at combat than thieves and should therefore last longer in combat than thieves. But why should that help them survive falls better than thieves? Shouldn’t thieves be better at falling than fighters? And perhaps they are, depending on the system used, via the saving throw system, but even then – a character’s ability to withstand physical punishment outside of combat should have more to do with their constitution score than their fighting ability.

Some games introduce multiple kinds of hit points, or shifting non-combat damage directly to the constitution score, which is fine, but does create more book keeping. I thought of another way to go that is simple and doesn’t require any additional rules or statistics.

First, equalize hit points across classes. Everybody rolls d6 for hit points at each level, and still add their constitution bonus to hit points.

Second, un-equalize the character’s base Armor Class. Using the ascending version of AC, fighter types have a base AC of 12, cleric and thief-types of 10, and magic-user types of 8. Monks use the system they’ve always used. For barbarians, who usually roll even more hit points than fighters, go base AC of 14.

The base AC now represents fighting skill, while the hit points are a representation of one’s ability to survive injuries either through sheer physical endurance and toughness or luck (or both). Fighters can’t take more falling or trap damage than anyone else, but they can survive combat better than everyone else.

Bar Fights Updated

Bar fight from The Spoilers (1942) – click for source

A few weeks ago I began writing a supplment I had long planned for my GRIT & VIGOR rules concerning the “Old West”. I’d been working on the High Frontier supplement, which covers the retro-future imagined for the late 20th century (now in editing – hopefully ready soon) and was cleaning up the G&V file folders. That led me to opening a few files to see what was in them, which led to doing some organization in an “Old West” word document, which led to .. well, let’s say I’m about 50% finished with writing the supplement now, when I should have been completing other projects (i.e. NOD 36 and Gods & Legends).

One element I needed for the Old West supplement was rules for saloon fights, which I’d written up for generic Old School fantasy games a few years back (2012, to be precise). I hadn’t looked up the old post yet when I got an email mentioning that I’d left something off a table in that article, and would I please update it. Strange coincidence!

So, here are the rules as modified (just slightly) for the Old West supplement. The updated table (the first one) is suitable for the old post and use in fantasy games (or sci-fi games if you want to host a slugfest in the Mos Eisley Cantina).

Saloon Fights

A staple of western movies and television shows, especially those of a less serious nature, is the saloon fight. Sometimes it starts with an insult, or sometimes with an accidental bump, but in no time at all an epic free-for-all slugfest erupts.

Running something like this in a game is difficult because there are so many moving parts. These rules are designed to make it easier.

The first thing to determine is the size of the brawl. If you do not know how many brawlers are present, you can roll dice and consult the table below:

D6 Fight Size Combatants Hit Points
1 Kerfuffle 6 to 10 3d6
2-3 Dust-up 11 to 20 6d6
4-5 Donnybrook 21 to 30 9d6
6 Slugfest 31+ 12d6

Hit Points in the table above refers to the total hit points of the crowd of combatants. When the crowd’s hit points are reduced to zero, the saloon fight is over because all the non-PC combatants have either fled, are unconscious or are otherwise unable to fight.

While the fight is still happening, characters can choose one of the following actions each round:

Fight: Character jumps into the fight with feet and fists flying – he’ll take all comers

Flee: Character tries to scramble out of the fight

Hide: Character hides under a table or behind the bar

Loot: Character wades through the fight picking pockets or stealing drinks

Seek: Character wades through the fight looking for a specific target; the target could be a person or an item

The VM rolls 1d10 and checks the matrix below, cross-referencing the roll with each character’s stated action. Any time a character suffers damage, they must pass a Fortitude saving throw with a penalty equal to the damage suffered to avoid being either stunned for 1d3 rounds or knocked unconscious for 1d10 minutes. There is a 50% chance of either. A stunned character is considered to have chosen “Hide” as his action each round he is stunned.

D10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fight N F F B A A A A A A
Flee N N N F F F M M M M
Hide N N N N N N F F B A
Loot N N N F F B A L L L
Seek N N F F B A A A R R

The letter codes are as follows:

A is for “Attacked”: The character is attacked by other combatants, and can attack them back. Roll 1d6:

1 AC 10, ATK +0, DMG 1d2
2 AC 11, ATK +1, DMG 1d2+1
3 AC 12, ATK +2, DMG 1d2+1
4 AC 13, ATK +3, DMG 1d2+2
5 AC 14, ATK +4, DMG 1d2+2
6 Attacked by two combatants, roll 1d4 to determine each attacker’s stats. If both attackers attack successfully, the PC must make a Reflex saving throw or be lifted and thrown. Roll 1d6 for the effect:

Lifted and Thrown Sub-Table

1-2 Slid down the bar for additional 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
3-4 Thrown out door and into street for 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
5 Thrown out window and into street for 2d4 points of damage and knocked prone
6 Thrown off balcony or stairs onto a table, suffering 2d6 points of damage and knocked prone; if this doesn’t make sense, re-roll

B is for “Bystander”: The character catches sight of an innocent (or not) bystander

1-2 Child hiding from the fight; good characters must attempt to save them by fleeing
3-4 Saloon girl motions you to a door; you must “Seek” to get there, and once inside consult the Saloon Girl sub-table below
5-6 A damsel faints, roll under Dexterity to catch her for 100 XP; you now fight with a -2 penalty to hit

Saloon Girl Sub-Table

1-2 Quit the fight and do some wooing and cooing (50% chance of being slipped a Mickey or simply being pick pocketed, 10% chance you are hunted down by a jealous lover afterwards) – either way, you earn XP per a 3 HD monster you dog!
3-4 Suckered into an ambush, roll as per “A” above, but roll 1d3+3, and you don’t get to hit back
5-6 Punched by the girl/guy (AC 10, attack at +1, 1d2 points of damage) – this is a surprise attack, so you don’t get to hit back

F is or “Flying Debris”: The character is struck by flying debris; boxers can attempt a Reflex saving throw to avoid it, but all others roll 1d6:

1-3 Hit by bottle for 1d3 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
4-5 Hit by chair for 1d6 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
6 Hit by a flying body for 2d4 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious; if a compatriot was thrown this round, you were hit by them

L is for “Looting”: The character acquires some loot – roll 1d6:

1 Acquire a single mug of beer or a shot of whiskey
2-3 Pick pocket check to acquire 50¢ or its equivalent
4 Pick pocket check to acquire $1 or its equivalent
5 Pick pocket check to acquire $10 or its equivalent
6 Pick pocket check to acquire a treasure map or some other plot device; only use this once!

On a failed pick pockets roll, you are instead attacked – see “A” above.

M is for “Move”: The character moves 1d10 feet to-wards his chosen exit.

N is for “Nothing”: Nothing happens to you this round, nor do you get to do anything

R is for “Reach Target”: Character reaches the target they were looking for!

Break It Up!

Each round of the saloon fight there is a 5% chance that the town sheriff and his deputies (or deputized citizens) shows up to break things up. The number of deputies depends on the size of the town – use your best judgment – but they are armed with pistols and are willing to use them to restore order.

Combatants, including the player characters, are arrested unless they find a way to sneak out. If the sheriff is on his way, there is a 50% chance that some old coot yells “Sheriff’s coming!” the round before to give the combatants a chance to flee.

Bringing a Gun to a Fist Fight

Pulling a knife or gun during a fist fight is a cowardly and low-down act, and results in you being avoided by other combatants for the duration and suffering a -4 penalty to reactions in this town in the future.

Death and Dismemberment

Saloon fights should not result in PC death, because death just is not the point of these things. At 0 hit points, a character is knocked out and awakens in jail.

 

Thoughts on Designing a Game

A couple weeks ago I came across this little image:

Brought to you by Pluto Water … and if you don’t know what that is, click to find out

It belonged to some form of baseball game. You’d spin the arrow and find out if you got a single or strike, etc. I imagined some kids back in the “olden days” whiling away a Sunday afternoon with this game. and this inspired me to write Pen & Paper Baseball, a companion game, so to speak, to Pen & Paper Football (available now).

I’m in the process now of testing the game rules, and I’m pretty happy with them. I need to “adjust the mixture” a bit, but overall I have a working set of rules, I’ve designed a fantasy league to test them with and … and this is most important … I’m having fun doing it.

So – here are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re designing a new game or an add-on or adventure to an existing game.

ONE – Make a Rough Draft

You have to start somewhere. Conceptualize in your mind what you’re trying to simulate, come up with an easy way to do it, and then put it down on paper. It will change, but you have to get the rough draft down before you can make it better. Do not get bogged down in the minutia right off the bat – work on the overall concept and do it in broad brush strokes. The details will come later.

Once you have a rough draft, play it. This will show you where the obvious errors lie, and may point you in a completely new direction. With my baseball game, for example, I initially decided on a single dice roll to determine the broad spectrum from strike to ball to foul ball to grounder to fly ball, etc. This worked in general, but the details were wrong. I tinkered with that single roll quite a bit before I decided I’d have to do it in two rolls – one to see if the ball was struck by the bat, another to figure out how hard it was struck and a third to figure out the direction. I tried to pack too much into a single roll, and the game really demanded it be spread out a bit. Simplicity is always the goal, but you can also oversimplify.

TWO – Think About Player Agency

A good game should involve meaningful choices made by the players. Candy Land, as great as it is for spending time with little kids and helping them learn their colors, is not so great a game for adults because it involved no meaningful choices.

For my baseball game, there are fortunately some meaningful choices built into the game being simulated – should I try to steal a base, do I throw out the runner heading to second or the one heading to first, etc. At this point, my rules don’t have quite enough meaningful choices, so I’m now engineering an additional choice to make the game more interesting. I’m not sorry I waited to do it. My current set of rules has allowed me to get quite a few of the probabilities right – chances of throwing a strike vs. a ball vs. the ball getting in play, chances to catch a fly ball, etc. Now that the basic rules are working, I can play with modifying them.

THREE – Don’t Forget About Random Chance

Chess is a great game, but it’s all about choices. Awesome for strategy … but maybe not the best simulation of warfare, which is rife with random chance screwing up brilliant strategy and tactics. You want to achieve a balance between player choice and random nonsense – after all, every batter is planning on hitting a home run, but few actually manage it. In the game simulations I’ve run so far, I’ve had some wonderful random chances figure in to make the games exciting – unexpected home runs tying up games in the ninth inning and line drives that were certainly going to win the game for a team being surprisingly caught out.

FOUR – Do Your Research

Do your research. It can come after you have made your rough draft, but it does need to happen. I have a massive database of firearms, aircraft, automobiles and tanks that I built when I was designing Grit & Vigor because, frankly, I didn’t know nearly enough about those things to design a simulation that felt right. Most of that data remains unused … though it won’t forever … but all of it was vital to getting the game real enough – and I mean “enough” – that people could make informed decisions within the game about what to do. I did a tremendous amount of research into professional football games for Pen & Paper Football – from numerous eras – to get things like the likely yardage gained on different types of running plays pretty close to correct. Not exactly, mind you, but pretty close and accurate enough that somebody who understands football can make an informed in-game decision about whether they should run or pass in a 3rd down and 4 yards to go situation.

Even if the game you are working with is fantastic, many of the physical laws of the universe are going to apply, or at least are going to apply until magic enters the picture. If everyone has a good chance at jumping 20 feet forward, what’s even the point of having magic. Do your research – it’s important and will not be wasted.

FIVE – The Fun Factor

Some folks are genuinely happy with exacting, detailed simulations of things that take hours and hours to play. I’m not. I like games to be light, fast and fun. I like games that leave enough time in between rolling dice and making decisions for chatting and snacking. I like fun, and I try to make games that allow groups of people to have fun without too much investment of time and money – because we never seem to have quite enough of those things, do we?

The Evolution of Method

Today I’m going to chime in with a couple helpful tips for those out there writing their own hex crawls. I’ve written more than a few of these suckers, and my usual m.o. was to take a map, divide it in two, and write one half of the hex crawl for one issue of NOD, and the other half for the next, or sometimes with an issue devoted to cities in between.

For the Nomo hex crawl (coming out soon in NOD 31), I had initially meant to use this method, but shifted midway through. It turns out that I was making progress quite a bit faster than normal, and thus doing both halves of the hex crawl in a single issue became a possibility, and one I preferred. There were two things I did differently this time around which I think sped up the process, so I thought sharing them was a good idea.

TIP #1 – Free Association

For most hex crawls, I come up with a general idea for the crawl – a theme – and then draw out the map, generate some random hex contents, some of which I throw out, and many of which I move a round a little to get a good spread, and then I do some research. For an ancient Rome hex crawl, I’ll read through some articles on Roman government, and the legions, and look at Roman mythology and Italian folklore and such to generate some ideas that I can work into the crawl.

This time around, and before I had decided on my theme, I spent a couple hours generating ideas for hex crawls. In this case, I did it by perusing the folks I follow on Pinterest and just free associating the things I saw into things one might meet. I mostly did this to alleviate boredom one night, and if you look at my old Google + posts you’ll find where I posted the results.

Having this list of ideas on hand made writing this hex crawl much easier – it was easier to flesh things out and fit the stream of consciousness ideas into the Roman (and Arabic) milieu of the crawl. Free association is always a good idea when you’re feeling a bit of writer’s block, and it certainly helped me write the Nomo crawl.

Also – I have plenty left over for the next crawl, but will make another attempt at free association before I do.

TIP #2 – Regions

For most hex crawls, I start writing at hex 0101, and work my way down each column. I usually set a goal for myself each night to go through anywhere from 10 to 20 entries. Some randomized contents are thrown out, so I probably write 8 to 16 entries a night. I have no good reason why I’ve done it this way – I just did it without really thinking. I would skip ahead sometimes to write up a city-state or some encounter that I had already generated when NOD was a campaign world of mine, but I mostly just did things in order.

This time, I plotted everything out on a map in advance. I did this because I needed to get the maps to sync up with previously published maps, and to do this dropped them all into an excel document. Having the excel doc right there, it was easy to go through and drop color-coded dots onto the hexes to represent what was supposed to go there – monsters, settlements, dungeons, wonders, etc. With all of these dots, it was also easy to draw circles around groups of them, and then each night to pick one of these “regions” and write up the encounters therein.

Not only did this prove to go muh faster than the old way, I did a much better job of making the encounters more a part of a whole than just a bunch of non-connected things one might meet. I still kept some of those non-connected bits – quite a few, really, because I like the weirdness – but creating connections between encounters was much easier.

So, free association independent of the theme, and regional writing – two evolutions of my method that allowed me to be far more productive. The next crawl covers the entire map below, and so the next issue will be around 130 pages. My next crawl, located to the east of the map below, will hopefully be just as easy to write.

 

Magic in the Blood and Other Ruminations

The main reason I wrote Blood & Treasure was that I got tired of converting material to Swords & Wizardry, which was the first system I used in my hex crawls. I decided, rather than make a clone, I would make a rules lite version of the game that stuffed 30+ years of monsters, classes, spells, etc. into the main rules so I would spend less time converting on the fly, and so my OGL statements wouldn’t be so darn long.

To that end, I included the 3rd edition sorcerer among the classes. After all, some folks who played 3E and Pathfinder probably loved the class, and they might be looking for a rules lite game that would support it.

Now, I’m working on the 2nd edition of Blood & Treasure. The goal is still to have a rules lite game that throws everything into the pot and allows folks to pick and choose what they want to use, but I’m also trying to give the game a bit more character of its own. Part of that involves making sure the character classes have something cool about them that makes people really want to play them. These are generally things inspired by folklore or fantasy literature or movies – things that are part of fantasy, but not necessarily part of D&D. Fighters, for example, are going to get a little boost in the form of being able to subdue monsters and turn them into mounts. We see tons of fantasy art and miniatures with warriors riding all sorts of animals and monsters, and D&D had something like this in terms of subduing dragons, so I’m expanding that concept.

The sorcerer … well, the sorcerer needs some help. The entire class is really just an alternate magic system for magic-users – it has no real character of its own. To help the sorcerer stand on its own two feet, I’ve added two abilities that work well with the “magic in the blood” theme.

In my current draft of Blood & Treasure Second Edition, they have an inborn ability to pick up on “magical vibrations”, which means they know when they’re in the presence of spells, illusions and monsters, but they don’t know what is magical around them or how – kind of like Spider-Man’s spidey sense.

Sorcerers also have a way to increase their spell use through dangerous means, somewhat like the spell casting rules in Pars Fortuna. Sorcerers can attempt to cast spells they do not know, but must make a roll to do so, and if they fail may end up doing themselves irreparable harm, or being visited by powerful outsiders, who are accidentally gated in and might be angry about it, or just casting the opposite of what they meant to cast.

They also gather cult-like followers at higher levels, rather than building strongholds. Sorcerers strike me as eccentric wanderers, rather than conservative castle builders.

I’ve also written some variant bloodline sorcerers that are comparable to the variant specialist magic-users, that give them a chance to be related to some of the monsters they meet, and give them some other boosts.

Other Tropes

Sorcerers get the biggest face lift in the game, but a few other fantasy tropes have found a home with other classes.

Fighters have a way of subduing monsters and turning them into mounts (think of all those warriors riding on weird animals and monsters in fantasy art).

Paladins pick up some knightly honors as they advance in level, giving them access to noble and royal courts and improving their reaction rolls (except with chaotic evil monsters, who become more likely to attack them).

Duelists pick up a lackey to be used and abused.

Magic-users pick up odd bits of pseudo-scientific lore as they learn new spell levels – bits of alchemy, knowledge of parachutes, how to build clockworks and a few tips for slight increases in the potency of their spells.

Druids can sacrifice “despoilers of the wilderness” to pick up some extra elemental power, with the extra power depending on the means of sacrifice (blade, drowning, hanging, etc.)

Thieves at mid-level can assemble teams of lesser rogues for dungeon heists – essentially a quick way to pick up some henchmen for a job (but can they be trusted?)

Assassins can now brew some interesting poisons.

You get the idea. Hopefully, these abilities will prove fun and interesting during game play, and will give Blood & Treasure a bit more character of its own.

Blood & Treasure 2nd Edition – Skills

Part of cover illustration by David Williams

From now until the game is released, I’m going to do some weekly posts on how the 2nd edition of Blood & Treasure is shaping up.

Blood & Treasure was designed to be rules lite and options heavy, and that isn’t changing in the new edition. My goal is to take nothing out of the game, but to, wherever possible, correct old mistakes and streamline old rules to make them easier to understand and play. That brings us to subject #1 – Skills.

Or tasks, as I prefer to call them. I thought the old system was pretty easy – to whit – if a character is unskilled at a task, roll 1d20, beat 18 and succeed. If a character has a knack (such as an elf searching for secret doors), roll 1d20, beat 15 and succeed. If a character is skilled, roll a saving throw to avoid failure at the task. That way, the skilled – such as thieves climbing walls – get better at tasks as they advance.

Apparently, though, it caused some confusion for people, specifically the saving throw idea. So, how do we adjust?

As follows:

To perform tasks outside of combat, one need only tell the Treasure Keeper (TK) what they wish to accomplish. If the TK thinks the task can be accomplished without much difficulty, he merely tells the player they were successful.

If success is in doubt, either because of the degree of difficulty of the task, or conditions that would make success unlikely, the TK can require a task check.

To make a task check, the player rolls 1d20 and adds to this roll the relevant ability score modifier (see table below) and any bonuses they might have for their race, class or other circumstances.

If the roll is 18 or higher, the task check is a success. If the roll is lower than 18, it fails, with the consequences of the failure determined by the Treasure Keeper.

If the task is one in which a character class is “skilled”, they add their level to the task check.

The ability scores associated with various tasks are as follows (though note that the Treasure Keeper may rule that under some conditions a task might be modified by a different ability score.) …

What follow that is a list of possible tasks, and the ability score that modifies them, such as acrobatics modified by dexterity or swimming modified by strength.

Several tasks rely on using tools. Trying to perform these tasks without the proper equipment should be done at a -2 penalty.

The key thing to remember about tasks checks is that if it seems reasonable that a character can do it, there is no need to roll dice! Save the rolling of dice for difficult, dangerous or dramatic tasks.

Here’s where the options kick in. For those who like the 3rd edition approach, I have an optional simplified skill points system:

Skill Points (Optional)

If your players would like more control over their character’s skills – and you want them to have that control – you can allow them to spend “skill points” on the various tasks in this chapter, each point spent giving them a +1 bonus to use those skills in play.

When attempting a task, the player rolls 1d20, adds their skill bonus, ability modifier, bonuses for race or circumstances, and attempts to roll an 18 or higher to succeed.

The number of skill points available to a character to spend at each level depends on the character’s class. Multi-class characters add their class’ skill point totals together.

 

For those who instead prefer the way old editions handled such things, I have a system inspired partially by the rules for finding secret doors and partially on the original (pre-Gygax) thief class that has been making the rounds in the OD&D blogosphere of late.

Simple Task Checks (Optional)

If you would like to keep task checks extremely simple, you may use the following system:

If characters attempt something at which they are untrained, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1, they succeed.

If they are attempting something at which they excel due to their race, such as elves finding secret doors, roll 1d6. On a roll of 1 to 2, they succeed.

If they are attempting something at which they are skilled due to their character class, consult the following table:

 

 

If the task is more difficult than usual, the TK can rule that it must be rolled on a larger dice, usually d8 or d10.

Note that this system does not take into account ability scores, which may disappoint some players.

So, three options on handling skills in Blood & Treasure taking up about a page and quarter in the rule book. As a game master, I would probably let the players use the standard system, and would use the simplified system for monsters and NPCs.

As always, I’d like to hear the opinions of the readership, especially those who are interested in Blood & Treasure.

Next time, I’ll discuss what I might do with saving throws in 2nd edition Blood & Treasure

Thinking About Armor

While playing with Blood & Treasure’s second edition, I was thinking about armor and it occurred to me that you could characterize the armor table as follows (with AAC standing for Ascending Armor Class, and DAC standing for Descending Armor Class):

Leather = AAC 12 / DAC 8

mixture of leather and metal, but mostly leather (like brigandine) = AAC 13/ DAC 7

mixture of leather and metal, but mostly metal (like jazeraint) = AAC 14 / DAC 6

Metal mesh = AAC 15 / DAC 5

mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly mesh (like mirror armor) = AAC 16 / DAC 4

mixture of mesh and solid, but mostly solid (like plate & mail) = AAC 17/ DAC 3

Solid metal = AAC 18 / DAC 2

The values above are for a full or almost full suit of armor – from shoulders to lower arms and torso down to knees. For half-armor – shoulders to upper arm, maybe covering upper legs – you deduct a point from the Armor Class value. You could probably take it further, and drop the bonus by 2 for “quarter-armor” for those punk barbarians out there who like to accessorize with armor without really committing to it.

A shield still gives the normal 1 point bump (or in Blood & Treasure, a 1 point bump for bucklers, and a 2 point bump for larger shields).

The point of this would be to make it easy to figure out what protective value different types of armor should have – not just real armor that doesn’t show up on the old leather-mail-plate table, but also illustrations of fantasy heroes and heroines in the fantastic armor artists often dress them.

Also …

GRIT & VIGOR

In print

200 pages of rules and ideas for modern adventures

Gunslingers, daredevils, private eyes, samurais, scoundrels and even scholars!

Hard cover $26.99 | Paperback $18.99

As always, if you purchase a hard cover and email me the receipt, I’ll send you a download link for the PDF