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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why I Hate – and I Do Mean HATE – the Encumbrance Rules in Every Game I Play

I don't object to realism in fantasy. On the contrary, I think it's a necessary component to a fantasy game – you need the realistic in order to make the fantastic feel fantastic. But I do object to rules that, in the name of realism, create even more unrealistic effects in their own right. Case in point – the encumbrance effects of armor:

Check out the following videos:

"Armor Mobility" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1YEkuWYUKM

"For it to be truly effective, a knight's armor has to allow the freedom of movement to match the swiftness of a lesser-armored opponent on the battlefield." (Note: this excerpt comes from a National Geographic documentary: "Medieval Fight Book")

"Running in Armor" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNcKolKQ1F4

"Can You Move in Armor?" – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-bnM5SuQkI

Now most game rules I've seen do something along the lines of the following, in the name of realism:

Unarmored: move 120'/turn
Leather armor: move 90'/turn
Metal armored: move 60'/turn

and I've even seen some games that break metal armored into:

Chain mail: move 60'/turn
Plate mail: move 30'/turn

As the videos show, there is no way in hell a fully armored man moves at one half the speed (or worse one quarter the speed) of an unarmored man. On the contrary, the evidence shows a fully armored man moves as fast, or nearly as fast, as an unarmored man in most situations.

If we want realistic encumbrance rules (and there's no point in having encumbrance at all if it's not realistic), then we need to reduce the effective encumbrance weight of armor dramatically. What I'd recommend is one of the two following options.

If we must insist on making armored characters slower than unarmored ones we could try this:

Unarmored or Leather Armor: move 120'
Chain or Plate: move 90'

This keeps things easy for dividing rates by three for combat round movement, which a lot of rules call for.

Personally though, I think even this rate is too slow for the armored man. I think the better option is to simply exclude armor worn from encumbrance calculations entirely, in the same way we typically exclude the clothing, jewelry etc. Now if you were carrying that armor, instead of wearing it, it'd just be 35-55 pounds of dead weight. But wearing it, that's another story.

So in the games I run, I intend to treat worn armor as 100% unencumbering, and will put limitations on carried items only.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Out of Action Table

I'm normally not squeamish about player character death (either as a player or as a GM). But somehow, running a one-GM/one-player game with my wife, the idea of PC death feels wrong to me. PC death in a one-on-one game feels more "adversarial" to me in a way that it doesn't in a game with a group of players. Here is something I plan to implement in my game with my wife, so I don't have to feel uncomfortable fretting over the possibility of "killing" her solo character.


When the PC drops to 0 hp, the character is knocked unconscious and suffers some additional penalty. The GM rolls on the table below, re-rolling any result that doesn't make sense in context, or adapting the result so it does make sense.

1. Broken Gear. Some of the PC's gear is destroyed (in order of priority: magic item, armor, weapon, other); remove the item(s) from the PC's equipment list. Otherwise, the PC's henchmen either drive off the enemy or successfully grab the PC's body and flee to safety while the PC is unconscious.

2. Penniless. The PC's body is quickly looted by adversaries before henchmen can drive them off or pull the PC to safety. All monetary treasure (coins, gems, jewelry) the PC was carrying is lost. Otherwise, the PC's henchmen either drive off the enemy or successfully grab the PC's body and flee to safety while the PC is unconscious.

3. Wounded. The PC is severely wounded, permanently losing 1 point from a randomly determined ability score. Otherwise, the PC's henchmen either drive off the enemy or successfully grab the PC's body and flee to safety while the PC is unconscious.

4. Alone. Henchmen protect the PC's body and drive off the enemy, but the desperate struggle costs them all their lives. The PC awakens alone on the battlefield, surrounded by dead henchmen and enemies.

5. Lost. Henchmen grab the PC's body and flee to safety, but lose their bearings in the process. Now they are all safe, but don't know where they are.

6. Captured. The unconscious PC is captured by the enemy, along with 1d6 henchmen. They are all now prisoners.

Many of the above assume henchmen are alive at the time the PC drops to 0 hp. If that is not the case, the rolled result will likely still apply, but with an added penalty such as the PC being looted of valuables or magic items, made prisoner, or whatever other effect allows the result makes to sense.

Friday, February 10, 2017

White Box: Additional Demi-Human Class Options

Same exercise this afternoon as yesterday, only this time for White Box, rather than for D&D B/X.

Dwarven Cleric
   - Max. level 6, prime req. WIS.
   - Take ½ damage vs. large, keen detection, save bonus, and languages as dwarves.
   - Armor, weapons, turning, spells, hit bonus, and additional save bonus as clerics.
   - XP/HD as per table below.

Elven Thief (spellcasting, similar to elf "variant" fighter)
   - Max. level 8, prime reqs. INT and DEX (XP bonus cannot exceed 15%).
   - Bonus vs. humanoids/intelligent undead, ghoul immune, keen detection, languages, spells
      as "elf variant."
   - Armor, weapons, thievery, backstab, hit bonus, and additional save bonus as thieves.
   - XP/HD as per table below.

Halfling Thief
   - Max. level 7, prime req. DEX.
   - Take ½ damage vs. large, missile bonus, near invisibility, and save bonus as halflings.
   - Armor, weapons, thievery, backstab, hit bonus, and additional save bonus as thieves.
   - XP/HD as per table below.


Some rationale on how I set these up:

EDIT: I actually misread the White Box rules, which (unlike the OD&D Greyhawk supplement) do not allow unlimited advancement for thieves of any race. So the rationale I originally had re: setting a level limit at all is irrelevant, and I've edited it out of this post. However, I've still set my level limit a bit higher for the halfling thief, so that he still does not does not surpass the halfing fighter in toe-to-toe combat ability (attack bonus or hp), but can nonetheless attain an overall higher level than halfling fighters, since it seemed to me they'd likely be a better thief than a fighter due to size and natural stealth.

The elf in my game is inherently magical, so the elven thief here again is a spellcasting hybrid just like the White Box "variant elf" (which I use). I lowered the XP value slightly, though. The spellcasting fighter "variant elf" gets better hp than a magic-user and can use all sorts of magic armor. My spellcasting thief gets the same hp as a magic-user and is limited to leather armor (magical or not). So while the fighter "variant elf" requires XP equal to double the number for a magic-user (which for second level is 500 xp more than the simple sum of fighter XP + magic-user XP), my spellcasting thief requires XP merely equal to thief XP + magic-user XP. I also stipulate that the total of all XP bonuses (for prime req., WIS, CHR) cannot exceed 15%, which is how I run the normal spellcasting fighter "variant elf."

For dwarves, well, I just like the idea of the dwarven cleric. And no dwarven thieves at all. In my world a civilization built on mining and smithing precious metals and gems would beat every last larcenous tendency out of their children with extreme prejudice. Plus it's nice to have a demi-human option that is not a thief. So dwarven thieves are out; dwarven clerics are in. And the dwarven cleric works just fine by simply using normal cleric XP and capping the level at 6 like a by-the-book dwarven fighter.