Saturday, 30 April 2022

Z is for The Zhentarim (and other cults)

X, Y, Z. The bane of all of A-to-Z bloggers.

The Zhentarim is a "shadow network... that seeks to expand its influence and power." In D&D this organization is both "a mob" and a cult. It's public face is a "family" seeking to dominate the "trade markets" of the default setting, The Forgotten Realms.

Cults like The Zhentarim are often great factions for fantasy TTRPG campaigns. 

Darker cults of the "Ruinous Powers" are heavily used in WFRP. There are several well known cults in the canon including the Cults of the Purple Hand, Yellow Fang, and Red Crown. 

It is often something of a trope in many games that the cults are so insular, they may amount to little more that cells, possibly operating in the same areas, possible for the goals of their patrons, but completely uncoordinated, and often clashing. For both story and table hijinks. Some cults may employ false flag operations to divert attention, and many have such opaque structures, the role of the mortal in the unfathomable timelines of god-like patrons makes for seemingly random narrative hooks for the Game Master.

Posted by caffeinated at 4:47 PM in d10

Friday, 29 April 2022

Y is for Yeti

The penultimate entry for 2022 A-to-Z!

Yeti?! How is Snow Big Foot an edge mechanic? While it's not a mechanic in the purest sense, but it represents a broader crossover topic in many fantasy TTRPGs.

The Yeti stands in for hundreds of fantasy creatures and races that populate D&D, WFRP and many other games and how each forms a critical story telling friction in the World and in game play. Many such creatures are "playable" races for characters in recent editions of D&D; even AD&D 1e discusses the Monster as Player.

Monsters often hoard treasure. In the idea of Gygaxian Naturalism, creatures populate dungeons and wilderness with an ecologically sound purpose. Characters encountering them need not be hostile, but we often see encounters escalate to violence. Not that I have anything against it. But just pausing for a moment, a party might find that negotiations are apropos.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:47 PM in d10

Thursday, 28 April 2022

X is for XP

Every year. X. Never gets easier. Totally copping out.

XP. X.P. Experience Points.

Every game has them. It is the mechanic of advancement. "Gaining Levels" as they say.

In the narratives of a character, one must suspend the disbelief that a 300 year old elf is "just beginning" a life full of adventure.1 300 years old and Level 1. This is not so much a narrative problem for Humans mind you. But the long lived, immortal by most measurments, a problem. Mechanically, not so much. Characters all start the race crossing the same line.

XP can be somewhat arbitrary in games and "schedules" or "rubrics" can be found in the rules or online. WFRP for example tended to have printed schedules in published adventures and it was far more arbitrary on the part of GM in sandbox play. I tended to award 150-200 XP per session including a bonus of the player updated the character wiki or summarized the last session at the start of the next.

D&D was far more prescriptive. One earned XP for defeating monsters—kill the monster, take its stuff!—or for coin. Bonus were even possible for character traits. Magic Items had XP values. It was all quite inflationary. So it was house ruled.

My favorite D&D house rule is that XP for gold or magic items is not earned unless spent or the item is sold. And for magic items with a "listed XP value," if sold you could lose or gain value based on the market for such things. The trait bonus was awarded on the front end, i.e., 1000 gold pieces found was 100 XP earned, the 10% trait bonus. 1000 GP was "in the float," unearned until spent. How? It didn't matter. Whores? Drink? Good clothes? Charity? Didn't care. Well one couldn't just give it to the fellow standing next to them. They were likely taking a share of the same treasure. 

Hmmm... Though I might rule that if a debt with the fellow standing next to them was being paid was spending the gold. Good on you!

  1. [1] A pingback to my friend Roger Brasslett at the titular blog, A Life Full of Adventure

Posted by caffeinated at 8:37 PM in d10

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

W is for World

The "worlds" of TTRPGs are many and varied.

My worlds lean into an apocryphal, anachronistic, and culturally fluid fantasy types. Sometimes generically thought of as a science-fantasy setting. 

World settings tend to have wildly detailed histories and geographies. These tend to "set the stage" and most of my players will tell you that their characters actions change the world from the moment the begin acting on the story they are telling and the arch of the campaign I've outlined for friction.

My Greyhawk campaign—Greyhawk being the E Gary Gygax's original D&D setting—has been dramatically altered by the player's actions. While they stopped an extinction event, their actions altered the world geographically as a new moon created geological upheavals. Kingdoms fell and new ones rose, cultures died, new ones replaced them, and some long lived races hold grudges against those "heroes."

The new campaign is set in this world almost 1000 years later. Blackpowder weapons are now present, elves still walk the land and closely guard the histories of the past in great libraries, while ghosts of the past watch for signs that the bloodlines of the past heroes no long wane, but wax.

These worlds are so fun to play in and, through play, change and create something new.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:14 PM in d10

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

V is for Verbal (Spell Components)

As a GM I love spell reagents, read components. Many fantasy TTRPGs provide mechanics for these. How each are portrayed at the table is a matter of taste, but please...don't.

D&D 5e has three components and for the most part they are nearly fully abstracted. The Material components can be simply part of a "component pouch" or "focus." Never mind that each spell that has a material component is specific. If you need a the fingernail, the component pouch is fully stocked. However, if the spell states that a material component is consumed or has a specific monetary value, i.e., 500 GP diamond, then the character must have that specific item and can not "handwave" the reagent.  Verbal and Somatic (magical gestures) components require the character to be able to speak or move, respectively. A Silence spell can be particularly effective sometimes.

I love this mechanic in the abstract and have constructed vignettes in play for the characters to collect reagents.

GM: A flash of lightning, followed instantly by peals of thunder and the crack of a tree crashing in the forest to the right of the cart path distract you from your wet and mud soaked misery.
Player (Magic User): Oh, I need a piece of wood from a tree struck by lightning! I immediately turn to run into the woods to find the tree.
Player (Ranger): No! There's a wolf pack following us just inside the tree line! I told you that already. I yell for him to stop, but don't chase after him.

I had a player once just announce at a dinner party that his character was stealing the butter plate with the butter for his Drop spell.

This mechanic certainly has some history, especially in the Satanic Panic of the 80s. "The Players Handbook has the descriptions for casting real spells! And the ingredients too!" Alas, I never did find that Ice Giant's toe nail to make that Strength Potion.

Also, butter. See butter is slippery. Just the component for real spells.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:00 PM in d10

Monday, 25 April 2022

U is for Ultravision

For a fantasy gaming enthusiast Ultravision sounds a bit comic superhero-y. Marvel. Not DC. Of course.

Nein! Ultravision, and Infravision, are racial attributes of creatures, some playable by Players and others not. The former being most often in AD&D an attribute of "monsters" and the latter an attribute of Elves, Gnomes, Half-elves, and Dwarves.

Ultravision is the ability to see in complete darkness as if in twilight. Infravision is less capable and can be ruined by friend and foe alike wielding torches or fire spells.

The mechanics are a science-fantasy gold mine in AD&D. We are treated to topics of light spectrums and heat radiation. If you were a teenager in the 80s, just saying, one might read these rules, introduced to some serious scientific concepts, if distilled for simplicity, and be somewhat conversant in the topics. Like reading Wikipedia and citing it—Wikipedia is really only "close enough," and provides pointers; don't cite Wikipedia.

Jason Cove wrote a fantastic supplement for D&D play, Philotomy's Dungeons and Dragons Musings in 2007. One can find this out there on the internet. I have a copy I keep handy. Jason expands a bit on the abilities in a simple way without new rules or tables to think about. He sets out early that the dungeon is a "mythic underworld." Monsters always have Infravision or Ultravision, but lose the ability if in the service of Player Characters.

In my current game of D&D 5e, my players are aware of my love for Jason's work. Most recently my single human character in the party made it a point walk behind the elf so as not to ruin the elf's Infravision! The player knew that if his character took point, I would have ruled the elf could not see with proper acuity as the lantern was a particularly bright heat source.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:06 PM in d10

Saturday, 23 April 2022

T is for Time

In the High Gygaxian Catechism, one stricture from AD&D that is oft quoted, debated, and puzzled over is "the one about Time in the Campaign


Emphasis E. Gary Gygax. Before the idea that writing in ALL CAPs is how one yells at someone online.

Of course there is context. Context loss in the 40+ years since it was written. Let's look at the whole paragraph:

One of the things stressed in the original game of D&D was the importance of recording game time with respect to each and every player character in a campaign. In AD&D it is emphasized even more: YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT.
So we see that Gary is saying that Time is a game mechanic that drives an underlying story function. This is further framed by the prior paragraph:
Game time is of utmost importance. Failure to keep careful track of time expenditure by player characters will result in many anomalies in the game. The stricture of time is what makes recovery of hit points meaningful. Likewise, the time spent adventuring in wilderness areas removes concerned characters from their bases of operation—be they rented chambers or battlemented strongholds. Certainly the most important time stricture pertains to the manufacture of magic items, for during the period of such activity no adventuring can be done. Time is also considered in gaining levels and learning new languages and more. All of these demands upon game time force choices upon player characters, and likewise number their days of game life.
I love High Gygaxian.

However, I think that we often don't give credit to Gary's contemporaries, those that he was writing for. They certainly believed the reader would "get it." Gary and Dave debated these things in war games, in journals, letters, and rule sets for years before. They tried to elaborate for the n00b. Add they wrote in a voice for a college educated reader. Many players first encountering these rules were not even out of high school. I know I learned more Latin from D&D then I encountered in high school outside of biology class.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:11 PM in d10

Friday, 22 April 2022

S is for Secret Language

Secret Languages differ among gaming systems and tend to be mechanical, but highly narrative in execution. Let's look at a few.

Thieve's Cant

In D&D, the Thieve's Cant in a slang language that Thieves (Rogues in D&D 5e) learn. Mechanically, it's a manner of communicating with other roguish types. In 1e AD&D, there even was a Thieve's Cant to "English" dictionary produced in the contemporary D&D periodicals. It could be printed (or photocopied!), folded and used at the table. The Thieve's Cant as I recall was more of a slang, much like Cockney is a slang in Great Britain. The dictionary even included some instructions on grammar. Only Thieves could learn the "language."

Alignment Languages

Volumes have been written on this gem in the early editions of D&D. The creators intent of a language that only those of specific moral dispositions, i.e., Alignment, could speak and understand appears to have originated in the ideas of the early Christian church's Liturgical canon that was once only in Latin. Priests performed the Liturgy in Latin and most commoners did not read or speak Latin. 

Complicating this mechanical concept was how it worked as written in the rules. If a Lawful Good character should perform an action that the Dungeon Master deemed antithetical to the character's moral disposition, narratively it was possible to force the character to another alignment. Thus a Lawful Good character could become Neutral Good or Chaotic Good (or worse) and this alignment change meant that the character would forget the original language and learn the new one! 

This change would create endless debate at the table. Nevermind, that magic was a thing in the worlds most were playing. Call it divine fiat. The necessity to understand why this happened was often distracting.

Battle Tongues, etc.

Like Thieve's Cant, WFRP has a number of secret languages. Mechanically and narratively these often make sense in the world. Take Battle Tongue. it is a slang that soldiers use. Your character could have the skill, but if no one else had reason to possess this slang, then it was effectively useless.

Using theses secret languages must often be discussed early in a campaign and are often house ruled. For example, I would not make Alignment Languages suddenly a forgotten skill, but instead work with the player on narratively explaining the loss of one and the finding of another. Like practicing one language, and lacking practice, begin forgetting on and learning another.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:28 PM in d10

Thursday, 21 April 2022

R is for Raise Dead and Resurrection

In fantasy TTRPGs, especially D&D, the idea that a holy person, particularly of a "good" alignment (read: moral disposition), can raise the dead, even resurrect a dead individual, is common.

In D&D, the difference is a mechanical one. 

In Raise Dead, the spell is limited to a number of days since death. Thus a Cleric—the aforementioned "holy person"—of ninth level can raise an individual1 dead nine days. 

Resurrection however is ten times as powerful. The same ninth level Cleric cannot perform a resurrection. The cleric must be 16th level to even have the opportunity, and then it is limited, initially, to Clerics of exceptional Wisdom.

Both spells must be "survived." Use of Raise Dead does not heal the subject, thus you cannot raise a subject whose head is missing. Resurrection on the other hand can restore to life the "bones of a [subject] dead up to [ten times the level of the Cleric]." The subject is limited, as in Raise Dead, to specific subjects2. Casting the Resurrection spell even ages the caster!

Both spells can be reversed as well. Raise Dead can be caste as Slay Living and Resurrection as Destruction. And for a Cleric of a particular moral dispostion, especially a good one and worshipper of a Lawful god, could—narratively—face serious consequences.

The above cites the 1st Edition Advanced D&D (AD&D) rules and they changed a bit in the intervening editions. As a DM, I tend to flavor my D&D 5e (fifth edition) campaigns with these details, adding some unique flavor to the "Rules as Written."

  1. [1] Raise Dead may only be performed on a Dwarf, Gnome, half-elf, halfling, or human. That's right, no Elves!

  2. [2] Ibid.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:18 PM in d10

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Q is for Quartz

You're thinking, "Quartz?! That's a TTRPG stretch for the A-to-Z blogging challenge. And you would be right. But not really much of one when we look at those mechanics at the edge of play.

First edition (1e) AD&D's Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) included a section on types of gemstones and the reputed properties of them. The DMG, in classic High Gygaxian1, then cautions the Dungeon Master about these properties as follows:

Note Regarding the Magical Properties of Gems, Herbs, et al. 2
Regardless of what qualities gems, herbs and the other substances are purported to possess, the mere possession of a score of a type of gem or a bale of some herb will convey absolutely no benefit of magical nature to the character concerned. These special qualities are given herein merely as information for the Dungeon Master use in devising special formulae for potions, inks, &tc. The information might also prove useful in other ways, particularly with regard to description of magic items, laboratories, and so on. Under no circumstances should you [the Dungeon Master] allow some player to convince you to the contrary!3
Gygax is particularly opinionated about allowing gemstones and herbs to possess properties that would be in all contexts magical. Oddly, this "note" is in a game where gods and goddesses walk the world, miracles and magic are observed and practiced, but "we" must not allow "purported properties" of gemstones and herbs to be manifest...?!

Me thinks there is a disconnect here. 

Yet at my tables, "Yes! Please!," tell me the properties that you ascribe to gemstones. Maybe these properties perform as advertised. Or your character's culture got it wrong in some insignificant way, but the properties are there, just not as strong or as expected.

  1. [1] High Gygaxian is an honorific given to the "voice" of earlier D&D editions where the co-creator, E. Gary Gygax, takes an authoritative, often admonishing, and one without room for interpretation, language directed at the reader in a context that might not be obvious on first, or second, read.

  2. [2] I think et cetera, etc., is more appropriate here, but hey, Latin notations like this are littered throughout the DMG.

  3. [3] Emphasis mine.

Posted by caffeinated at 8:38 PM in d10

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

P is for Player Character

Player's, possessive? Player? There's a weird debate about the grammar of D&D that can lead down some equally weird rabbit holes.

The Player Character, or PC, is the obverse of the NPC. Each player in a game may be in control of one character, or more, characters. Thus the Player Character.

Like much in this A-to-Z challenge, there have been volumes written about the Player and the Character together or individually. Early TTRPGs tended to think of them as a single entity: the player's intelligence influencing the character's Intelligence, even with the character having a very low Intelligence score. Puzzles tended to be solved by the Player, not the Character; even when the Character may be portrayed as dumb as a box of rocks at the table.

Gaming has evolved. As the role-playing aspect of TTRPGs matured, so to did the separation of the Player from the Character. It is more often now that Players will gleefully play up the stats of the Character. Weak? Dumb? No Common Sense? Clumsy? Often these portrayals of Character attributes are ham-fisted. I find no fault in this and encourage it.

Mechanically, these Character attributes often work well at the table, especially for Players that may not be extroverts or like to speak extemporaneously or have improvisational skills. Social encounters can be deferred to the game mechanics and the Player can set simply the goal of trying to blather a gate guard. Roll the dice, possibly spot bonuses given for good reasoning, and the Character can succeed or fail based on its attributes. The Player can add flavor at the table for the results.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:58 PM in d10

Monday, 18 April 2022

O is for Outdoor Survival

Outdoor Survival has a history going back to the beginning of TTRPGs. 

Today, most Players tend to see it as a Character Skill, it is in most games, or a mechanic.

The beginnings have probably produced hundreds of blog posts in the last 15 years. Since there is "too much," I'll "sum up."

Outtdoor Survival (1972)

Before the release of the original "white box" D&D, Avalon Hill released Outdoor Survival: A Game about Wilderness Skills. Boardgame Geek describes it as a "varied wilderness simulation scenarios—from simple survival to search and rescue."

The game was certainly influential to the creators of D&D, known fans of Avalon Hill games such as Gettysburg. So influential, the game was considered an important third party system the original D&D. Outdoor Survival used a single board with varied types of terrain. The mechanics of Outdoor Survival are such that it is possible to develop random encounters with terrain and obstacles for characters exploring and traveling between villages, towns, and cities. Each use of the system providing new challenges.

This may have been the nascent use of a "hex crawl" in the "sandbox" exploration of a territory or kingdom in D&D. The board of Outdoor Survival was superimposed with a hex grid, apropos of Avalon Hill's wargame maps.

I have never used Outdoor Survival in my games or campaigns. Many modern games with published modules for short sessions and even in campaigns detail all of the possible territory characters may encounter, making the need for terrain generation less imperative. However, the use of the system is intriguing to me in hex crawl campaigns and I may have to visit it sometime soon.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:42 PM in d10

Saturday, 16 April 2022

N is for Non-Player Character

Volumes have been written on the Non-Player Character ("NPC"). This will not add to that scholarship

NPCs, as in plural, are every being inhabiting the world in which the Player's characters live. The shopkeeper. The tavern barmaid, the orc, the goblin chieftain, the dragon, even the zombie horde (to the extent that the characters are interested in the actions of the group or swarm and wish to interact with the entity).

NPCs will have motivations, for good or bad, toward the characters. And well played NPCs have been known to become attached to the characters and players can be upset at their "deaths."

Mechanically, NPCs can be "stripped down" characters or fully realized as the Player's characters are. It is skill to develop NPCs that are not simply tools to keep Players on a story line. Even more a skill to keep NPCs out of the spotlight. NPCs in the spotlight can become a "GM PC," and this is dangerous. The Game Master has an omniscient view of the game, the world, and the plot. Using an NPC to "play" is simply a bad idea for this reason alone.

My rule of thumb is that NPC should be background if embedded with the party. Take orders from a player at the table and act in good faith if allied. My NPC allies and protagonists are often reoccurring elements. My last D&D campaign had at least three NPCs that aided or goaded the players. Hugh was a peasant that a player met and hired to be his business manager. Captain Jacque was only a military escort that the players loved to meet, often in his role as agent to the King, and Vog'dramach, a demon, goaded the players throughout the campaign, often cowardly retreating at the last moment, running back to his patron with news of the players whereabouts and actions.

Posted by caffeinated at 10:03 PM in d10

Friday, 15 April 2022

M is for Mapping

A quick hit for a late entry.

Mapping in TTRPGs has been around in D&D since the beginning. Early editions often called out mapping as central to play, especially when exploring the eponymous dungeon in Dungeons & Dragons

The rules often called on players to pick a "Mapper." This person would be charged with putting to graph paper the Dungeon Master's descriptions of the character's movement.

GM: The party, in single file, moves 30 feet north. The hall ends at a staircase going down. You can see a landing and the stairs switchback continuing into darkness."

The mapper would of course draw this; and yes, the player could get it wrong. No compass rose on the map, maybe the mapper draws it south. The mapper might ask questions.

Mapper: How far to the landing?
GM: 20 feet.
Mapper: And it switches back to the south?
GM: Yes, then into darkness.

D&D has common mapping notations for stairs, natural or otherwise, cliffs, doors, fountains, statues, columns, tapestries, secret doors, trap doors, pits, stalactites, stalagmites, and much more.

I loved being the Mapper. 

Posted by caffeinated at 11:11 PM in d10

Thursday, 14 April 2022

L is for Lifestyle

Many fantasy, modern, and sci-fi TTRPGs build in a system to "model" the player's character lifestyle. Often at the periphery of play, the idea is one that many past and present game designers "ticks a box." For me, lifestyle systems are all about digging deep into the story one is trying to tell at the table with the other players.

Lifestyle is encoded into the WFRP Career System of advancement. Some, including this writer, would say that the system when introduced was revolutionary, and arguably a core element of the setting and invoking that setting at the table.

The Career System was straight-forward. A character, ideally randomly, started in a "Basic Career": Agitator, Grave Robber, or the ionics of Rat Catcher and Troll Slayer, and many others—over 200 careers are available!—the latter available only to Dwarves. Basic Careers are usually poorer ones, incentivizing the characters to seek adventure that would change their fated lot. 

Advancement through a career means getting better at attributes that apply to the career, mastering skills, and collecting the trappings necessary for Career Exits. For example, an Agitator on the streets, pushing broadsheets for one cause today, another tomorrow, might align and become a Demagogue. To do so, the player would advance the character though the attributes and skills of the Agitator. To finally advance, she would have to acquire a Leather Jack and Skullcap. How? It is on the Player and the Game Master to develop these opportunities. She could save coin, or possibly salvage from the body of a deadly encounter, or just steal them (an opportunity made or given).

The system aided in creating story friction and developing the character. In WFRP, it was often such that these things might be simple to acquire, but just out of reach, sometimes with devious and laughable intent. Maybe the character encounters the scene of a recent ambush where she witnesses the bodies of the dead being stripped by goblins and orcs. And a Leather Jack is held up and inspected by an orc, the matching skullcap on a pile of dismembered heads. Our agitator really needs those items to advance. Wait out the night and sneak in? Or look for an easier opportunity?

These opportunities drive the story and the campaign, through the otherwise daily mundane effort of existing in the "world."

Posted by caffeinated at 9:18 PM in d10

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

K is for Keen Senses

Under the wire! 2330hrs!

Keen Senses is a talent in WFRP providing a bonus to what many games mechanically, and generically, call Perception "tests."

In D&D through most editions manage such rolls as influenced by the character's "Wisdom" attribute. Perception in WFRP is a basic skill influenced by the character's "Intelligence" (there is no corollary to D&D's "Wisdom").

In play, as a regular Game Master, one can find that "Perception" rolls are extremely common to resolve the friction in the story telling. Did you see the scratches in the floor revealing the secret door? Did you see the ambush ahead? Did you feel your purse being lifted? It can be somewhat tiresome.

There are a number of Game Master "best practices" that were developed first in small press RPGs that have since become almost ubiquitous across many RPGs.

The Rule of Cool

This rule is simple enough is a roll even necessary? Speaking personally, I find makes RPGs less a game where dice and character talents resolve story friction in unexpected ways, and leans harder into "We're all just playing pretend." While the "pretend" part is always present, I don't want the game to just be forgotten for might be "cool" in the moment. I like The Rule of Three. I also find this to be so forceful, that I might as well be asking my players to read a novel I've drafted. There is no agency in the game.

The Rule of Three

Here a story element important to the advancement of the character's or a resolution of a particular plot element must eventually be provided. The Rule of Three states that players should have three opportunities when appropriate. The key to open the chest will be found, but the challenges may be costly. Discovering that a thief picked your purse is not such case. The thief is gone. Drunk on your coin. The first volley of arrows reveals the ambush. There was no other chance to "perceive" the attack. 

But the key. First it may be in a bureau not searched. Then it may be on the belt of a captain of the guard. Finally, it may be given to the characters in exchange for coin by an enterprising character. But the key will be provided. This can also be forceful, but it allows for much more Player Agency at the table.

I tend to find myself leaning on Perception as a first resort. And I mix the other practices in. All to taste.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:52 PM in d10

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

J is for Jumping

How far can you jump from a standing position? A running start? How high for the same?

Jumping mechanics in TTRPGs are varied and another example of attempts to simulate such athletics in rule systems. Systems make conceits for abstraction and playability.

AD&D 1e

Jumping in First edition AD&D is ... not a defined mechanic (as near as I can tell; the word jump occurs in the text mostly with the Jump spell and the magic item for Boots of Striding and Springing. A Googling suggests that such actions were heavily house ruled—Rulings of Rules!—at the table. Falling is grossly abstracted as a number of d6 (six sided die) per ten feet, to a maximum of 20d6 (twenty six sided die, all added)1.

It is quite possible for a D&D character to fall 200 feet, take only 20 points of damage, and brush themselves off, especially at high level play. It would most certainly be deadly to a first level character.


WFRP differentiates Jumping (vertical movement, i.e., from a rooftop to a street) and Leaping (horizontal movement, i.e., from a rooftop to a rooftop across an alley). Jumping or Leaping may result in Falling, a further distinction. 

Jumping is an Agility test for every three yards, or nine feet. A 12 foot jump is thus two Agility tests. If the character were to fail the second test, the character would take Falling damage for the uncontrolled descent of the last three feet. 

Leaping distance is twice the Movement of the character, in yards!, for a running leap, or just the Movement for a standing leap. Failure is simply judged on the number of degrees of failure, a calculation: An Agility of 43 is tested by a percentile roll (d100) and 64 is rolled. this is one degree of failure, (64 - 43) = (|-19| / 10) = 1.9, or 1 whole number. For each degree of Failure one yard, or three feet, of distance is subtracted. This could be the difference between grabbing the ledge and pulling oneself up, or learning about Falling damage.

  1. [1] Let's just skip the discussion on failing to leap to the roof on the other side of the alley and falling three stories. Because your character is likely to survive, likely without a lasting penalty, and I already blogged for the letter F.

Posted by caffeinated at 2:06 PM in d10

Monday, 11 April 2022

I is for Insanity

Note: this was scheduled for Monday, April 11, but a server error delayed its posting.

Insanity in TTRPGs has a long history, appearing in 1e AD&D, as early as 1978. Typical of a game, Insanity is broadly portrayed in gross stereotypes at the table by individuals often not suffering from the condition, not close to someone with the condition, not educated on the condition, and certainly not a clinical psychiatrist capable of recognizing the condition.

This is not to say that Insanity should not be played at the table. In fact, I would go so far as to say what happens at my table is not your table and if I as a GM or player portray a mental illness unfairly or in gross stereotypes, too bad for you.

However, that does not mean the rules for insanity are not without criticism. In fact, most "rules," and the use of "rules" here are not strictures or adjudication play, yet more mechanics for developing the condition in game from an encounter or event.

Real world mental illness, or "insanity," is typically not a contracted condition, but types, such as PTSD, can develop over time. We must first remember these are games. And second, the portrayals of these mental illnesses will be grossly ham fisted and offensive to a few that are experiencing the conditions in their lives, managing them personally or with loved ones. At the table, this is a trust exercise to be sure. And the table is an important context.

Portraying a mental illness ham fisted and with gross stereotypes at a convention table is very different than portraying that such an illness at your home table. At a convention, the players may be meeting for the first time. The possibility that someone at the table has PTSD or a mania, e.g., kleptomania or pyromania, may be very, very real. At home, it is not an unfair consideration that everyone is likely aware of such things, though not always.

WFRP's Insanities are very much portrayals of gross stereotypes of clinical manias. And I love every one of them. Mechanically, these "insanities" are earned though injury and terror, some are the real world expressions of PTSD. Yet, I would not discourage any player from portraying them. However, I would give every consideration to a character earning an "insanity" for the player to chose from the provided list in consideration of themselves or another at the table, even to develop an expression not listed.

However, I would not eliminate the mechanic for some idealized view that "if we eliminate ham fisted and stereotyped game portrayals of mental illness, we can eliminate such behavior in the real world." Such a position is the same position that created the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. "The mechanics of Spellcraft and Demon Summoning in D&D are the real world instructions for the same." 

No, the real world doesn't work that way.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:13 PM in d10

Saturday, 9 April 2022

H is for Healing

Healing in a fantasy table top roleplaying game (TTRPG) is not without problems and solutions.

The fantasy aspect of Healing of course is often wrapped up in elements of magic, arcane and divine alike. Both forms have escalating power in the game as a character gains levels of experience. Arcane forms of healing may also take the form of potions. Truly powerful healing potions can be used by inexperienced characters if found.

Healing tends to address most forms of damage short of death or loss of limb. Characters wounded in earlier editions of D&D often required lengthy in game healing without Arcane Magic or Divine Miracles. This was largely last in more recent editions of D&D where resting eight hours (or more) can restore all damage from a fight. Between long rests it is possible to restore a portion of damage, expressed as Hit Points, a number of times equal the character's level (and regaining half of those in a longer rest).

This abstraction, to me, feels too much like a video game. It often fails the story being told at the table. Variant rules for natural healing bring back some of the "pain" of fighting or encountering a particularly troublesome trap.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:46 AM in d10

Friday, 8 April 2022

G is for Grappling

Let's get to it! Another mechanic everyone loves to hate. Grappling, the action of close quarters wrestling to restrain, and injure, a foe. The rules for grappling have a reputation for being notoriously complex.

AD&D 1e

Wow. I don't think I've ever read the rules for grappling in AD&D this closely, and damn, the math alone is stupid. Assuming that the initiator of the grapple has initiative in the round a base score is calculated from the Armor Class (AC) of the attacker... which, wait. It's possible to have a negative AC in AD&D (lower is better) so... oh, to hell with this.

Grappling as I recall was heavily house-ruled. Every table likely adjudicated grappling differently. James Maliszewski of Grognardia wrote in 2011 about the vexing problem of 1e Grappling rules and alternatives.

Grappling really didn't get better until the fifth edition (5e) of D&D was released where it is a simple opposed ability check to attack and to escape. While I never played editions between 1e and 5e Grappling had reputation enough that, in the introduction of fourth edition (4e) it the subject a video teaser in 2007 at GenCon.


Grappling in WFRP 2e, released in 2005, is a simple opposed test of Strength. Unlike D&D 5e, the attacker can injure the opponent with an additional opposed Strength test.

Narratively, grappling is often a rule that adds to the story friction at the table, and how the rules favor or disfavor the character can lead to some exciting encounters.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:00 PM in d10

Thursday, 7 April 2022

F is for Fleet (of) Foot(ed)

It cannot be overstated that Movement in RPGs lays bare the wargaming heritage.

In war games, units move a number of hexes on the map equal to their movement points, or "movement factors," paying a cost for the type of terrain entering or moving through.

Narratively, a character in an RPG is rarely consulting his or her's base movement value. For a human this is 30 feet per round—six seconds—in D&D. It's 24 feet in a ten second round in WFRP. In combat, movement becomes important.

How far away is the threat? Can I get away from it without penalty, or must I engage in mortal combat, and if so, can I get there now and attack?

In AD&D and BECMI the movement of a character, and a party of characters, was a central conceit in the tracking of time as well as moving through a dungeon. One didn't just "walk to the end of the hall 90 feet away." That was about a minute and half of time. Nine six second "segments" moving ten feet. The abstraction involved an unspoken narrative taking place: physical exertion, the threat of an encounter, looking for traps, watching for secret doors, each slowing the characters as they approached the door.

Fleet (of) Foot(ed)

Enter those that were just a little bit faster than others. D&D's notion is Fleet of Foot. Such a character, typically a Wood Elf, could move an additional five feet more than the typical human. Fleet Footed in WFRP is a learned Talent in the character's background, even a Dwarf could be Fleet Footed!, and could move an additional two yards, or six feet.1

This could be a decisive amount on a tabletop with miniatures. A game where weapon reach mattered, most have a five feet reach, or it's the difference between a long range bow shot and one that is short range with bonuses.

It could also be the amount, that in a chase, prevents a threat from catching up.

  1. [1] WFRP and AD&D carries a lot of wargaming cruft to the tabletop. For example AD&D movement was measured in inches, and inches were equivilent to ten feet. A movement rate of six inches in a round was the same thing as 60 feet a minute, or six feet every ten seconds. The mental gymnastics were often learn by rote. WFRPs base movement was a number between 1-10 that converted to yards which followed a simple 2x multiplier. A Movement of 4 was 8 yards or 24 feet. Charging and running were further multiplied by x2 and x3, respectively.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:16 PM in d10

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

E is for Encumbrance

Encumbrance is far from an "edge mechanic" in RPGs. It is one of those rules gamers have a Love-Hate relationship with.

My introduction to D&D and WFRP came years after my father had introduced me to table top wargaming, the hex-and-chit kind. Titles like Panzer Leader, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich (yep, a grand strategy simulation of the ETO), Tactics II, and Squad Leader. I still play them, mostly solo, and discussed where these hobbies meet at the edges. I just finished Game Wizards by Jon Peterson and one comes away from reading with a foundational understanding of how influential wargaming was on the early hobby.

Thus we see why a mechanic for the burden of armor, weapons, and miscellany, the encumbrance on the character, makes an early appearance in rule sets. It's, again, an abstraction. Millions of words have been spoken and written on the realism of such a mechanic. And the mechanic is often set aside for it requires a more than a certain amount of bookkeeping on the player's part.

Encumbrance leans into the "simulation" mode of play and when ignored can make a game feel like a video game—where your weapon choices can be as many weapons as the player has recovered, switching between a pistol and an man-portable anti-tank weapon a simple button sequence—and thus leading to humorous meta-narratives at the table:

GM: Wait, you're going to repair the wagon?"
"Player: Yes, I have a Wagoneer's kit."
GM: Hold up. Reading the books description of a Wagoneer's Kit. It states this includes an anvil, hammers, a stock of wood, rolls of wheel bands, nails, chisels, a lathe. No, you can't repair the wagon."
Player: But I have the kit!"
GM: The listed in encumbrance is 350 pounds! You don't have a wagon carrying it, or a horse to pull said wagon. The wagon you do have is broken in the ditch and it was carrying wounded from the battlefield. Not your kit."
Player: But I paid for the kit! It's on my character sheet!"
GM: Yes. You have the kit, but it's escrowed to the seller back where you bought it. You don't have the kit with you. You can't carry these things in your backpack!"
Player: Ugh, I hate encumbrance."
While I don't enforce the strict bookkeeping of Encumbrance, I generally use it as a guideline, and use more than a dash of common sense at my table. But given the right kind of gamers at a table, I would gladly embrace a strict use of Encumbrance for a campaign.
Posted by caffeinated at 12:31 PM in d10

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

D is for Drunk

No. I'm not drunk. Though I could be. You really don't know.

However, I'm learning that this year for A to Z I'm leaning into gaming mechanics, at the edges. Probably the best place for a blogging "event" really. Obscure and often engaging.


I've probably recounted more times on this blog how one game captured my attention so much that I could not part with its "first edition" rules when I sold so much else. How another game, Twilight:2000apropos somewhat of current events—rekindled my love for the hobby of role-playing games.

WFRP has some great mechanics for consuming to much alcohol. I can't think of similar rules for D&D off the top of my head.1 In WFRP, a character can consume a number of drinks equal to his or hers Toughness Bonus (TB), which is equal to the characters Toughness divided by 10, rounded down. So a Toughness of 40, is a TB of 4, or four drinks.

Drinks are actually qualified as the following: ale, beer, wine, and spirits. Ale and Beer? Wait, aren't they the same thing? No, grasshopper. As a homebrewer, they are similar, but distinct styles. And that is enough. Particularly in context of a 17th century fantasy Europe.

WFRP cleverly escalates the effects of alcohol on the character with the first drink through the drink that equals the character's TB. And then things go down hill from there.

Narratively, at the table, a lot is on the player to a) be aware of the rules and b) play them for the friction in the narrative developing at the table2. WFRP, for its irreverent nature, of course describes these effects from the position of a freshman in college, the last stage: passed out in your own vomit3.

AD&D (Advanced D&D) 1e ("first edition", c. 1979) describes mechanical effects of intoxication on characters in some coarse terms, slight, moderate, and great (and really through poisoning). However, I don't find mechanics for getting to such states of intoxication. And without serving alcohol at the table, to the player, we can't develop a story from the mechanics.

There. I said it.

  1. [1] 1e and beyond probably elaborate on getting drunk, narratively, beyond the books: in supplements or articles.

  2. [2] Roleplaying games must provide rules and mechanics in opposition, "friction," to the players wishes. Often, I've heard and have quoted the idea that without rules and dice, "we are playing pretend." This "friction" is the impetus between playing pretend and playing a game in which the story develops against the base wishes of the players.

  3. [3] We all probably have been there... or so close we wished we weren't there. And I've been in both positions.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:18 PM in d10

Monday, 4 April 2022

C is for Critical Hit

The "Crit," or Critical Hit, has a storied history in role playing games, and more recently, the use of "Crit!" has broken out of gamer slang to more casual use in corporate-speak. Blame the Millennials. I do.

The idea of a Critical Hit or Miss is only more recently codified in the game rules of D&D. In the first edition (1e) rule set for AD&D (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) the phrase "critical hit" appears only once in the context of combat rules "cutting both ways" and somewhat critical of rules "such ... as double damage and critical hits" that "grossly [misrepresents]" monsters. E. Gary Gygax, the co-creator of D&D—and in this writer's opinion certainly its first champion—speaking to the reader in the Dungeon Master's Guide goes on, "I'm certain you can think of many other such rules," punctuating a clear distaste for such rules published or "house ruleed" at gaming tables around the world.1

While I have always known and played with the "Critical Hit"—most certainly as a house rule as my first D&D was BECMI and 1e—my heart is in the Critical Hit tables of WFRP. In D&D, the Critical Hit is, as I have always known it: a natural roll of 20 on a 20-sided die ("D20"). A 5% chance in any single Attack roll. The result most typically expressed as "double damage."

In WFRP, the Critical Hit is instead expressed as an attack on an otherwise seriously wounded opponent. Wounds in WFRP go to zero and then any damage beyond zero is automatically a "Critical Hit." And the WFRP Critical Hit tables are wonderfully evocative of the game and the setting.

Given a character or opponent with two wounds, that takes a hit dealing six wounds (after subtracting for Armor and "Toughness"), the four extra wounds are then used to determine the nature of the "Critical Hit!" And this is specific to where the character or opponent was hit. Head? Arm? Chest? 

You take four critical wounds to your arm! 
Rolls percentile dice, two ten-sided dice with one representing 10s, the other 100s, and gets 72. 
Ouch! Your arm is wrecked by his blow! You drop your sword staring at a grievous wound that soaks your gambeson through, blood immediately begins dripping to the ground from your hand, fingers splayed in shock.

WFRP enjoyed many "third-party" critical hit tables as well, some written by doctors. All with a bit of irreverence. 

  1. [1] This same section elaborates, "in High Gygaxian," attacks and wounds as to what each are—abstractions!—and are not—realistic accounts of injury! How we forget so much, yet "just know" what Gary was thinking. RTFM.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:18 PM in d10

Saturday, 2 April 2022

B is for Beer

I started on post about Blather. But I already did a post about Blather. Ten years ago!

Staring into a blank page, I took a sip of my beer and was inspired to make a short post about how beer is influential in my gaming and gaming more broadly.

My current D&D games started as a "beer and pretzel" game with my neighbors. Now, more than five years on, we still share a couple of beers playing, but never have pretzels.

Beer, ale, or mead are often story elements in game. "You all meet at a tavern" is the common trope of starting a game. Hopefully, beers are being shared as adventure is laid out.

Beer was often a "young" style and lower in alcohol that today. While yeast was understood to be the catalyst, the chemistry was not understood at all. It was much "flatter" than we know beer today, and every town, village, or coaching inn would have an "house beer."


Posted by caffeinated at 10:10 PM in d10

Friday, 1 April 2022

A is for Attack

In tabletop gaming, particularly the RPG variety, the Attack is ubiquitous.

It is an abstraction, typically, of actions that results in a miss or hit. The abstraction of the attack is debated endlessly in gaming circles, never mind that the results are equally debated, on this blog even. 

D&D and WFRP generally agree an Attack and outcome is the result of feints, parries, and injuries. An attack that results in a miss may have been parried or landed on a buckler. A hit might be the result of a lunge following a particular good feint. 

Abstracted into a die roll mechanic.

In my first A-to-Z, eleven! years ago, I discussed Wounds and even now I find bringing life to the abstraction relevant:

The player is encouraged to express what the character experiences or the GM should offer something about how the "goblin's rusty halberd bites into the chain mail of your left leg. The blow dampened by the leather padding beneath, but cutting into flesh. Split chain mail links bite into the skin around the cut. Blood begins soaking your leather."
I have found that most players will not bother with the narrative. Hit or Miss. Though I love it when players do embrace the agency of the narrative. I strive to add flavor to the abstraction of an attack with my NPCs and will inject a narrative to the player's own actions.

How do you tease out the abstraction at the table in your games?

Posted by caffeinated at 11:00 PM in d10