Sunday, 12 October 2014

Shattered Bone! A [pinched] Skeleton Rule

Skeletons, by Bob Harvey (Talisman of Death, FF#11)

Before I get round to polishing off the other six Skeleton encounters, I came across a cool little rule in Elric! I've seen rules for adjusting damage to Skeletons based on weapon type - i.e. bludgeoning weapons do more damage, peircing weapons very little, but Elric! has a suitably elegant spot rule. I can't say that I'd ever noticed it before, probably because Skeletons are relegated to a 'Natural Beasts & Generic Monsters Table' at the very end of the bestiary. Anyway, here is the footnote that relates to Skeleton 'armour':

"Does normal attack damage. Destroyed completely by weapon damage roll x4 or less, as rolled on D100: thus damage result roll of 4 needs a D100 result of 01-16, or there is no effect. Include any damage bonus." (p 137)

An elegant spot rule, if inelegantly put. I'm not sure what the first sentence means, but given that Skeletons have only 5-6HP I have assumed this means that armour (which in Elric! reduces damage according to a dice roll) does not reduce the damage roll for purposes of calculating the percentage chance of destruction. If attacks also do HP damage, this rule isn't half so cool - most Skeletons would be 'killed' long before they are shattered. However, reading it my way, this rule requires no increase in bookkeeping (indeed, it requires less, as we're no longer tracking Skeleton HP) to achieve an interesting effect. I don't see why this rule couldn't be applied to Skeletons in most fantasy games. 

I certainly could see myself using this in a D&D/OSR game. If I wanted to make 'tougher' Skeletons - such as the Skeleton Champions in The Cursed Holmgang, I would improve their AC rather than fiddle with the multiplier that is used to derive the percentage chance of destruction. As HP doesn't matter (at least not with regard to crude weapon attacks), improved HD would be used to increase their ability to hit.

If I wanted to complicate things further, we could alter the multiplier by weapon type. For example, piercing weapons have a x1 multiplier, slashing a x3 multiplier, and bludgeoning weapons a x5 multiplier. Or something like that.  

(Credit for this rule is due to one or more of Willis, Watts, Morrison, Pursell, Shirley, and Shaw, authors of Elric! I'm not sure if there are antecedents for this rule to be found elsewhere.)

Incidentally, Magic World (which is largely Elric! reskinned, though the bestiary is drawn from RQ3), does have Skeletons taking HP damage in the normal way. I think. It has Skeletons taking no damage from thrusting weapons (except on a Special or Critical) and being automatically destroyed when it takes a Major Wound. Except the MW bestiary doesn't give us a HP score from which we can derive the Major Wound threshold (a product, presumably, of an incomplete translation of material from RQ3, which had hit locations, to MW, which has total HP scores). Going by SIZ alone (average 13), we could guess that Skeletons might have 13 HP and a Major Wound threshold of 7. However, Elric! gives Skeletons just 5-6 HP, based on (SIZ+CON)/2. If this was transferred straight over to Magic World it would mean that the Major Wound threshold would be just 3 - so pretty fragile! Shards of bone everywhere!   

Friday, 3 October 2014

A Travelling Show (1d6 Skeleton Encounters #3)

Another Skeleton 'encounter'. This (or these, perhaps) are might not be very adventuresome, but it is (they are) colourful. And there is the potential for the PCs to get tangled up in a heap of trouble (when isn't there?), particularly if they meet this travelling showman more than once.

A Travelling Show

Osteus Arcanus is the stage name of a petty Necromancer. Lacking the, ahem, backbone, for the deeper secrets of death magic, he has put his talents to use as a showman. His carriage is made from painted black wood, polished brass, and carved bone. It is pulled by two black shire horses wearing bull skulls as ostentatious champrons. Osteus maintains a sinister appearance, using theatrical make-up to give himself a deathly pallor and darken his sunken eyes. He wears a brass skull cap and the (tattered) funeral wear of the nobility. All this is a mistake; as often as he puts on a successful show, he leaves a village or town just ahead of the pitchfork and torch.   

OSTEUS = MU (Necromancer from Theorems & Thaumaturgy): 3, AC: 7, HP: 7, MV: 120’/40’, ATT: 1 dagger, DAM: 1d4, SV: MU3, MR: 6, AL: C, XP: 100

Osteus’ spellbook – an overwritten volume of the Hagensburg Register of Deaths – contains the Level 1 spells Exterminate (T&T p12), Read Magic, Scare (AEC p75), Skeletal Servitor (T&T p15), and the Level 2 spell Ray of Pain (T&T p14). He also has a collection of books on obscure funereal rites (worth 200gp to a suitable buyer), and a beautifully illustrated copy of Delvecchio’s Classical Clowning (200gp). A locked chest contains a 50gp and 500sp. He also has four human skeletons, bones linked by wire, hooks drilled into their skulls. These hang on a rack in his carriage when not dressed in cheap costumes and animated using Skeletal Servitor for act – a compendium of famous tragic, historical, and comedic scenes. Each casting of Skeletal Servitor allows him to animate a Skeleton for 9 turns.

There are many ways in which the PCs may (repeatedly) encounter Osteus, but here are three:
1 – At the edge of town, Osteus sobs over a charred skeleton. It is dressed in what remains of a ‘princess’ costume. 'She' was burned by angry, confused villagers. Distraught, Osteus will initially say little other than, ‘They burned her!’
2 – A clown picks berries from a roadside hedge. If approached, it will become clear that it is a Skeleton. Osteus is brewing a kettle of tea a few hundred yards away.

3 – Osteus enters a village with great pomp, with two Skeletons dressed a noble guards marching ahead of his carriage, from which he announces himself as a great dramatist. On behalf of the villagers, roll for reaction…

[This should (it does!) fit onto a 6"x4" index card. Maybe I'll have to put together a PDF at some point for easy archiving. As well as referencing Labyrinth Lord, spells have been drawn from Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, and Theorems &Thaumaturgy - a free(!!) pdf from Gavin Norman of City of Iron.]

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

1d6 Skeleton Encounters [2]

Continuing the series (encounter 1, Archaeologists, is here).

The Cursed Holmgang

When crossing land long lost to civilisation, the PCs hear the ring of steel on steel. If they hesitate for more a moment they will notice the curious lack of cries, shouts, or screams. If the PCs listen carefully, they will begin to hear a pattern in the blows as the same series of strikes, parries, and blocks is repeated. Endlessly.

The sound is that of a ritualised duel that has never ended. Two SKELETON CHAMPIONS in tattered chain fight skilfully but monotonously on a 10’x10’ square ox hide, the boundaries marked by five hazel stakes driven into the ground. To one side is a shield, upon which rests a large iron key. Carved into the shield, in an archaic runic script, is “While Brothers Fight, None Will Prosper”. The PCs should be able to decipher this.

SKELETON CHAMPIONS (2) = AC: 4, HD: 3, HP: 12, MV: 60’/20’, ATT: 1 sword, DAM: 1d8, SV: F3, MR: 12, AL: C, XP: 65

The SKELETONS were twin brothers, cursed by their sister as they fought over the inheritance of the family hall. The hall, a few hundred yards away, has crumbled to a few rotten posts and an overgrown hearth. The PCs will find this with if they search the long grass and bushes (perhaps 1d6 chance per turn). A treasure trove is buried by one of the posts (worth 1500GP, mostly copper and silver coins and jewellery - golden torcs, silver rings and broaches studded with semi-precious stones).

The hazel stakes mark the limit of the curse, forming the points of an invisible pentagram. Within, the Skeletons cannot be Turned and are immune to non-magical attacks. If the stakes are all torn up, the monotony of their fight is broken but the duel will not end. However, the Skeletons will turn as brothers to fight any PC that damages either of them, ending the duel. Other methods might also succeed. If the duel, and hence the curse, is not ended, the spirit of their sister protects the family treasure. She sits on the hearth, a weeping corpse, insensible with sadness.

VENGEFUL WIGHT = AC: 5, HD: 3, HP: 10, MV: 90’/30’, ATT: 1 grasp, claw, or bite, DAM: Energy Drain, SV: F3, MR: 12, AL: C, XP: 110. 

Again, this fits on two sides of a 4"x6" index card.

Monday, 29 September 2014

1d6 Skeleton Encounters [1]

Skeletons are boring. They have no motivation of their own and cannot be reasoned with, so a reaction roll doesn't provide for particularly interesting play. They require no morale checks, so that under-used gem of a D&D procedure is rendered useless. In my games, I have been guilty of encounters with Skeletons that are a bit… programmatic. As the DM, I know how the Skeletons will react, that they will not retreat, and that lacking any creativity they will not do anything inventive. 

But it doesn't need to be quite like that. And I want to do this without rewriting the Skeleton entry from Mentzer Basic (or your preferred cross-compatible OSR game). While I have sympathy for the point of view expressed in LotFP and DCC RPG, which suggests that [nearly?] all monsters should be unique and therefore truly 'monstrous', part of allowing the players and PCs to have ‘agency’ is to allow them to make informed, meaningful decisions. Too much novelty, too little stability in the game world undermines the ability of players to make these kind of decisions. 

Anyway, in the format of my 1d12 collection of Goblin encounters [part one, part two*], here is the first of 1d6 Skeleton encounters to add a bit of variety to another stock low-level Wandering Monster. Again, this text should fit on two sides of an 6"x4" index card when printed in Calibri 11pt.

1. Archeologists

The party enter an area of scattered stones. These are not natural features; though worn largely featureless they were clearly once shaped blocks. Several are piled atop each other, the remains of columns long tumbled. Skeletons (6) work with trowels, brushes and small shovels in a shallow pit, collecting pieces of broken pottery and the occasional golden trinket (just 50GP worth in total) in buckets lining the dig site. They are ‘archeologists’, working for the necromancer-sage Angavel Thurm.

SKELETONS (6) = AC: 7, HD: 1, HP: 4, MV: 60’/20’, ATT: 1 tool, DAM: 1d4, SV: F1, MR: 12, AL: C, XP 13

The Skeletons will pay no attention to the PCs unless they disturb the dig site. If the disturbance is minor, the Skeletons will hurry to the disturbance and, using brushes and trowels, attempt to rectify the disturbance. If the disturbance is major, or if the PCs attempt to remove any of the artifacts in the buckets, the Skeletons will attack.

A powerful magic user, Thurm is likely unsuitable as a direct opponent for low-level PCs. If the PCs follow the Skeletons they will be led to a mostly-buried astrological observatory. Thurm is using the dead of an ancient city as the ‘manpower’ to further excavate its secrets. On a hostile reaction, Thurm will send Skeletons armed and armoured in ancient bronze (AC: 4, DAM: 1d8-1) to drive the PCs away. On a favourable reaction, the bookish, cobwebbed Thurm will be interested in exchanging information on ruins – near and far. He can supply adventuring information such as the location of ruins, likely traps, ancient guardians, the translation of hieroglyphs etc. He will also buy ancient trinkets and baubles that the party recovers. Thurm might have use for a particularly powerful party when, in the future, he awakens some sleeping evil, or, accidentally-on-purpose, he prompts the PCs into doing so. 

 [Image by Leonid Yablonsky, borrowed (apologies) from]

(*I have no idea why everything listed in my Goblin encounters has a Movement Rate of 30' per round. A copy and paste error for sure - I have given it as the Movement Rate of Wolves and Boars as well as Goblins. But which D&D or Clone was I referencing that gives Goblins this Movement Rate? Not Labyrinth Lord or ACKS, which I carry around on my tablet for easy reference...)

Thursday, 28 August 2014

AFF2e House Rule – capped ‘effective’ SKILL

This isn’t going to make much sense to those of you who don’t play Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e

In AFF2e PCs and Monsters have a SKILL score, which for PCs ranges between 4 and 12. PCs also have Special Skills, for example Sword, which range from 1-6, which are added to the SKILL score in appropriate situations. This can, eventually, produce PCs with ‘effective’ SKILL scores way beyond 12 - though a starting 'warrior' PC will likely have an effective SKILL of 9 (SKILL 7 + 2 points of Special Skill) when using his or her favoured weapons. The monsters in Out of the Pit were given SKILL scores to provide a challenge to a single gamebook PC with an SKILL score of 7-12. This means that most starting PCs geared towards fighting are at the same effective SKILL level or better than most humanoid monsters. Even a Lizard King is only SKILL 9.

Combat in AFF is resolved by generating 'Attack Strengths' by rolling 2d6 and adding effective SKILL, with the character with the higher Attack Strength doing damage to the STAMINA of the loser. Differences in effective SKILL can be understood as modifiers to the 2d6 roll; a PC with an effective SKILL of 14 has, essentially, a +7 modifier to a 2d6 roll off vs a SKILL 7 Great Orc. Modifiers have a quite dramatic effect on the distribution of results on a 2d6 bell curve, so just a few points difference in effective SKILL can settle a fight. The effect of all this is that PCs with just a few sessions' worth of Experience Points (EPs) spent on SKILL and a weapon Special Skill are BAMFs.

Now, there is nothing wrong with PCs being BAMFs. Don’t misread what I wrote in the PatheticAesthetic – I was explicit that in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks YOU are often one of the most dangerous things on Titan – there is a 1 in 6 chance YOU would have SKILL 12, after all. But YOU are always a poor decision, or a Test Your Luck, away from your doom. In an adventuring party, containing several starting characters with the combat capabilities of a Lizard King, and with characters growing progressively more powerful (neither of which is part of the original gamebooks), the PCs are at risk of outstripping the power level of the world. What I am trying to do is find a way to accommodate the BAMF that AFF2e produces while retaining the risk, danger and peril that is found in every corner of Titan over the course of a long-term campaign. And I would rather fiddle around the edges of the AFF2e system than toss out the monster stats from the brilliant Out of the Pit.

So, I’m not proposing messing with the AFF2e experience point and advancement system. Players, if they choose, can still end up with a PC with SKILL 12 and pour all their remaining EP into getting Special Skill Sword up to 6. The advice in the rulebook is that between 30-40 EP should be given to each PC for the average 3-4 hours of play. Now, while it might take 1000 EP (25+ sessions of play) to go from SKILL 7 to SKILL 12, going from Special Skill 2 to 6 is a matter of just 180 EP (5 sessions of play). So, while the effective SKILL 18 munchkin is the best part of a year of weekly play away, it is likely that combat orientated PCs will have effective SKILLs of greater than 12 within a modest number of sessions.

I am proposing that, no matter what effective SKILL score might be arrived at by adding SKILL, Special Skills and circumstantial modifiers, for the purpose of SKILL tests or generating Attack Strengths the maximum effective SKILL is capped at 12. So in a situation with no modifiers, a PC with SKILL 11 and 1 point of Special Skill Sword has an identical effective SKILL as the munchkin Sword Master with effective SKILL 18 described above. If they are fighting each other, they both roll 2d6 and add 12. Essentially, each round is a 2d6 roll off.

This means that when the Sword Master comes up against a SKILL 7 Orc, he has, in effect, +5 bonus to his Attack Strength, rather than the +11 bonus ‘uncapped’ effective SKILL would produce. This keeps combat (and Skill Tests) dangerous.

But why become a master in a Special Skill? Why spend all those EP to become a 'Skill Master'?

Because in actual game situations need not (and rarely should) be straight forward duels in perfect conditions. There are plenty of factors that can produce negative modifiers. Do note: I am applying these modifiers to the effective SKILL, not to the 2d6 roll***. This means that the Sword Master described above can take a -6 modifier and still have an effective SKILL of 12. Meanwhile, his opponent, who in perfect conditions also has an effective SKILL of 12, fights with an effective SKILL of just 6.

So, when fighting in the dungeons beneath Lord Azzur’s palace, the Sword Master can extinguish the lantern and fight in absolute darkness. This will mean, with the -6 modifier for fighting in darkness, he will still have an effective SKILL of 12. His opponent, Azzur's captain of the guard - SKILL 12 - is reduced to an effective SKILL of 6. And the simplest way to understand this at the table is to think of it as a +6 bonus to his 2d6 roll of the Sword Master. And, having defeated the captain, when fighting up the narrow spiral stairs, he can easily shrug off the -3 modifier to his effective SKILL. In other words, those with an effective SKILL of over 12 are able to cope with conditions that would defeat the ordinary man or woman (or Dwarf, Elf, or Rhinoman). 

Skill Masters can also make easier use of the combat options that apply a negative modifier to their effective SKILL. So those with an effective SKILL of over 12 can more easily go on an 'All Out Attack' (-2 to effective SKILL to add +1 to the STAMINA damage caused) or a similarly 'munchkinned' archer could fire two arrows each round using the 'Rapid Shot' option, even in poor conditions, without compromising his or her effective SKILL.

These rules should also be applied to non-combat situations. However, this is much less important for my games, as I am thinking of doing away with opposed SKILL tests in non-combat situations. I'll write about that, and the virtues of 'asymmetry' in AFF2e in my next post.

***This is an important change. Modifiers that are, as per the rulebook, assigned to the combat total/Attack Strength are instead assigned to 'effective SKILL', which is calculated before the 2d6 rolls. And as described above, differences in effective SKILL can be simplified to a simple modifier to the 2d6 roll for the character with the advantage. Now, in this system it matters whether a condition abstracted into a modifier is represented by a bonus or a 'malus' (negative modifiers). Bonuses are of little use to those with already high effective SKILL if it is capped at 12, but on the other hand they are able to absorb the effects of any malus. I wondered if, with this in mind, all modifiers should be negative (only fighting down steps, outnumbering, and a rear attack give bonuses) but I figured that I would keep positive modifiers for two reasons. One, so that I can use the table in the rulebook, and so can my players. But two, so that being outnumbered would still be a frightening experience.

For example, Six Goblins (SKILL 5) attacking a Sword Master would each have an effective SKILL 10 (+1 for each extra opponent). The Sword Master would still fight at effective SKILL 12 (effectively a +2 bonus to the 2d6 roll), and could 'spend' up to 6 'points' in 'All Out Attack', or find other ways to apply negative modifiers to the effective SKILL of all combatants, in order to make use of his supreme munchkinned mastery. By comparison if outnumbering was abstracted into a 'malus', the Sword Master would still have an effective SKILL of 12, and the Goblins would each have an effective SKILL of 5, effectively giving the Sword Master a +7 bonus to his roll (and that is with 'effective SKILL capping) making for a far less interesting situation.

FINAL NOTE: Only PCs have their effective SKILL capped at 12. Monsters in Out of the Pit with a SKILL of greater than 12 are not capped in this way. These kind of monsters are rare indeed, being Demons, Elementals, Dragons and the like (even Giants are 'just' SKILL 10). Human(oid) PCs are not meant to beat these creatures in a straight stand-up fight, and indeed in the source material YOU are rarely expected to do so. The key is always to find the MacGuffin, the special weakness, or come up with a cunning plan to circumvent the sheer power of these monsters.