Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Twingol's Tales: Aurora Campaign Chronicle #2

Year of the Bounding Lamb, 5th Waning, Day 4 – The Escaped Rout Pt. II.

Ah, there is nothing like the aroma of a cool Spring morning! The crisp air invigorates the body, and the sounds of the songbirds clear away the shadows and cobwebs from a burdened soul! I have always relished greeting the sun as he first peers over the horizon, though it appears that several of my compatriots find more comfort in the embrace of their bedrolls. The only two who are awake, besides myself, are Sir Ravenmantle and Lady Proudfinger. She kneels in prayer, arms raised in supplication towards her God. She spends far more time praising her God and interceding for others than I would think necessary; certainly more than any other novitiate I've known. It seems to work for her, though, and her demeanor can be like a soothing balm after a hard day. Sir Ravenmantle certainly appreciates it. He's supposed to be keeping the final watch of the night for the whole camp, but I suspect were we to fall under attack, his priority would be to protect the holy woman. It's natural, I suppose; I believe they were traveling together before they fell in with the doomed militia.

Hmmm... I should probably be memorizing spells, but my mind is still awhirl with the events of the previous day. So While my friends slumber, I'm glad to take this opportunity resume my account of the yesterday's madness, in hopes that doing so will give rest to my troubled thoughts.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

When HP are not physical damage

Everyone's been there. Your fighter is going toe-to-toe with an orc/ogre/owlbear/whatever. You hack him for 10 HP, he rakes you for 12, you chop at him for 7, he bites you for 3, and on and on. You trade blows back and forth until that magic moment when your hero goes from 1 HP to 0 (or fewer, depending on edition) HP. Last round he was fighting in top physical condition, now he's wormfood.

This rather jarring transition has always bothered me. If HP represents physical integrity or health, then the loss of HP would seem to suggest strongly a concurrent loss of physical capacity of some sort. But that's never the case. Even with systems that use the "death due to massive damage" rule, if you make your save, the character suffers no ill effects. This is unsatisfying to both sides of my brain. The left hemisphere recoils at the idea of a warrior who accumulates vague, unsourced bloodstains on his armor, all the while slashing with gusto, until he just croaks cartoon-style. It's nonsensical. The right hemisphere pipes up that's also booooring.

The problem is that if you get rid of HP, and you go to a more realistic injury system, you're going to be rolling up new characters every other encounter. Not just due to PC death; even relatively minor injuries would realistically sideline an adventurer for days or weeks. It can be fun to play with that level of lethality, and it works well in games such as Call of Cthulhu. In our group's most recent session, an apparition of an elder god clawed at one of our investigators, raking him for 10 of his 12 HP. The guy was able to get off a wild gunshot, but was then down for the count. He survived, but was in the hospital for most of the rest of the game. But usually, particularly for more pulp fantasy games like D&D, I prefer to have more of a chance to know and develop my characters. So we need some kind of buffer between Full Health and Out of Commission.

I've recently been playing Labyrinth Lord using versions of a "Death and Dismemberment" house rule. Other, slightly tweaked variants are here and here. This house rule envisions HP as an abstraction for some combination of stamina, defensive ability, determination, luck etc. When this collective store is exhausted, the character is at 0 HP, and must roll on the table to see what the consequences are:

2 or lowerInstant Death (decapitated or similar death from CtB).
3Fatal Wound (gutted, stabbed through lung, broken back, and the like) die in 1d20 x 10 minutes. A Wish or similar effect would heal wound.
Knocked Out until death unless Save vs Death is made.
4-5Severed Limb use hit location die, if head rolled and no helmet then as '2', if body rolled and no armor then as '3', otherwise will bleed out and die in 1d6 rounds. Magical healing (magic used for this will not restore lost hp), a tourniquet, or cauterization with fire will allow a Save vs Death with bonus equal to lvl of spell cast, if any. Success means character requires 3d4 weeks of healing.
Knocked Out until death unless Save vs Death is made.
6-7Broken Bone use hit location die. 3d4 weeks to heal.
Knocked Out 1d20 rounds unless Save vs Death is made.  If head bone was broke and no helmet and failed save then knocked out, "in coma", until healed instead.
8-9Knocked Out for 1d12 rounds if wearing a helm. If no helmet then as Broken Head Bone.
10-11Stunned for 1d4 rounds and lose helm if wearing helm. Knocked Out for 1d12 rounds if not wearing helm.
12+"Now I'm Mad" a surge of adrenaline returns 1d4 hit points per hit die. At the end of the combat, the adrenaline drains away, hit points are reduced to zero, and the PC faints for 2d6 rounds. If you roll this more than once in a single combat consider yourself a Berserker under the effects of a potion of super-heroism.

Each time character at 0 HP takes "damage", he must roll again on the table. This is the best way I've seen to model the fact that until someone takes actual physical damage, they are more or less at full capacity. But once they are injured, things get bad in a hurry, as each further injury brings a chance of disaster.

If you haven't tried gaming this way before, I'd highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New Kids in the Sandbox

Norm over at Troll and Flame asks whether new DMs and new players can handle running or playing in a sandbox style campaign. Having never run a sandbox campaign, I can only speculate how a new DM would fare. Being an ultra-planner, I personally would not feel comfortable DM-ing unless I had done quite a lot of the work ahead of time. This may be due in part to the fact that the only systems I've DMed are D&D 3.5 and Mutants and Masterminds, both of which are on the rules-heavy end of the spectrum.

As a player, I feel that little experience is necessary to enjoy a sandbox campaign. For even the greenest tenderfoot, a short briefing by the DM should suffice. Here's an example:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

B2 Caves of Chaos Marathon - Player's Perspective

This Saturday April 3rd, I played in my first ever marathon session of gaming. 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM, a full 12 hours of gaming interrupted only briefly to address various gastrointestinal imperatives. I'd heard stories of people embarking on long stretches of adventuring such as this, but having missed out on tabletop gaming as a kid, I never had the opportunity to try it myself. So when the chance came to go the distance on a return to the Caves of Chaos, I grabbed it.

At this point, you should go over to the Troll and Flame blog to read the first part of the game writeup. Norm, who ran the previous Caves of Chaos session, was back in the DM's chair for this game. The first part of this post will address some of the issues/questions he raises.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Call of Cthulhu Campaign Chronicle #1

This Sunday marked my first foray into the madness-inducing world of H.P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu. Specifically, Chaosium's 6th edition version of that world. I'd long been intrigued by this game, and jumped at the chance to play when I saw a "looking-for-players" post on the Austin RPG meetup board.

Character Generation

I really got a kick out of creating my character, "Mike McTigue". Rolling up a "normal" guy was actually something of a treat and a welcome change from making medieval superheroes for D&D. The game is set in the 1920's, and Mike is a former rising star in the pro-boxing circuit. Unfortunately, his passion for betting on the ponies led to a run-in with an angry bookie over debts he couldn't pay. The mob decided to insist on payment in the classic mob fashion, and Mike's resulting broken leg left him with a pronounced limp. This spelled the end for his boxing ccareer, and might have been the end of Mike if his former trainer, Salvatore Finazzi, hadn't taken pity on him. Sal knew some people at Miskatonic U., and was able to find Mike a job there as a librarian. Mike had become engrossed in literature during his convalescence; next to boxing, books were his great passion.

At my first game, two other players showed up out of a possible four. The two missing PCs were a bootlegger and a veteran/student. The two that did play were:

Louise - A flapper with a taste for the sauce, and who's not above using her feminine wiles to get her way.

Parker - A government agent posing as a psychology student. She carries a gun in her purse, and a combination armory/hardware store in the trunk of her car.