Thursday, February 23, 2017

Critical hits and Critical Fails

Critical hits.  There are lots of different mechanics from different systems, but the ol' default always seems to be 20 always hits + critical effect, and a 1 always spectacularly fails.

Statistically this seems to be stacked against the players.  They are usually the few that fight the horde. So if every roll has a 5% chance of not only hitting no matter what but doing extra damage on top of it that horde of goblins is suddenly a bit scarier (not really, but mathematically they are fearsome!)  That 5% comes up a lot more too but no one really cares if a goblin drops his sword.  There are too many to deal with anyway.

Yet players love Critical hits.  As a player I love critical hits.  I think the first rule we tossed in 3rd edition D&D was the confirming a critical nonsense.  Don't deny me my criticals!

After all this is the stuff those great gaming stories are made from.  In one game the DM introduced us to the big bad (a vampire).  We weren't supposed to beat him, weren't really supposed to get into a fight at all, but we did.  The plan was we were to be defeated, learn a bit of his plan, level up for a while and then climatically defeat him at the end of the campaign.

What really happened though....

We descended into the cave and started to battle the big bad.  A few rounds in we realized what we were fighting.  We didn't have magical weapons, not a lot of magic, and realized we were outclassed, we didn't even realize how badly we were outclassed.  My wife who didn't have a lot of D&D experience at the time, said she was making a called shot with her crossbow at his heart, because stake through the heart works on vampires right?  I cast true strike on her because it seemed like the best option at the time and then she rolled and got a natural 20.  The DM decided it didn't matter if undead "couldn't get critical hits on them" The bolt few true, pierced his heart and killed him.  High fives went all around and the tale is still told to this day (outside this blog as well!) The GM let us kill the big bad early, because it was just too cool an opportunity and the dice were on our side along with a good plan, who was he to let a little rule get in the way of a good time and sharing in player success.  He just pencil whipped in that the real big bad was a deamon or some such, and we fought it later.

So on the other side of the screen now I keep critical hits around for just that very reason.  I've expanded a bit on the critical fails as well.

I ran a group through Keep on the Boarderlands.  It was the one time I was planning on having them encounter orcs and goblins and such so I put in a bit more thought than normal to the cannon fodder.

I did this by expanding the critical fails.  Whenever the goblins rolled a 2-5 I aborted their attack and had them do something rather goblinish.  They would loose interest in the battle and take a nap, stop and pick their nose, get confused and think that they were retreating only to realize that they were wrong and come back next round.  I saved the dreaded 1 roll for them getting some revenge on another goblin and taking the thick of melee to stab the other one in the back while no one was noticing.

I played it for laughs and the players seemed to really like it.  Looking back I think it added more personality to the monsters they fought rather than the normal swing and miss, swing and hit results from the dice.

I liked this so much I expanded this to other monsters, though I ended up reducing the numbers to 1-3.  So whenever this came up I use the opportunity to have the monster do something to show its personality (after all the players aren't going to sit down and have a tankard of ale and get to know them anyway).  They may boast, or gloat.  I'll have the monster give a "tell" in a round as a precursor to using a special ability, like a dragon taking a deep breath as the round action prior to using its breath weapon.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Magical mishaps

I like the idea of magic being a glass cannon in games. Really powerful, but fickle.

The trick is making it incentivized for players enough to be worthwhile, while also actually posing some risk.  Of course the trade off is that this would apply to villains as well.  While probably anti-climactic to have Vecna melt his own skull off, it just might help out mid fight.

A big chunk of the inspiration for this was the book of the dead from Evil Dead.  Where just reading the book (or playing the audio recording of it being read…) was enough to invoke the ancient evil, even if the actual speaker had no idea what they were doing.

-Anyone can cast a spell of any level they have encountered.  Most are written in some esoteric tongue (i.e. latin, etc. ) but other than that they are accessible.  No one wants to actually use a book that was written in code that they’ll have to decipher every time they want to use it. Magic has its drawbacks though.  Every time you cast a spell there is a chance of something bad* happening.  The very act of learning magic also corrupts the mind and soul distancing you from the people around you.  Every spellbook you read will pervert your sense of reality in some way (this is the true reason why wizards are running around wearing pointy hats with stars on them or live as unwashed hermits and so forth) [mechanic effect: for every 6 spells learned, a quirk is developed.  It may be assigned from a spellbook (GM) or if you pick up 6 spells a la carte from scrolls, self study or what have you, you get to make one up!]

So why be a magic user then?

Magic users don’t suffer the chance of something bad happening when they cast spells within their class/level restrictions.

Magic users can also create spells through independent research.  Non-magic users can only cast spells they come across in books, scrolls, or are taught by other means.   

*So what do I mean by bad stuff.

For any spell cast above the normal class level ability for spell per day / level make a saving throw vs. Magic. Upon failure roll on the following table.

If you fail the saving throw here is the spell fail effect. (roll 1d20)
1  Overcome by otherworldly visions collapse for 20+d20 hour coma.  When you wake up you understand more of the deeper functions of the universe.  Ask the DM one Yes / No question.  
2 1d10 wiz damage 1d10 int damage.  Heals at the rate of 1 point an hour
3 cast random other spell of the same level 1-3 cleric spell 4-6 magic-user spell
4 spell failure, no other effect
5 Reverse the spells effect (heal causes damage etc)
6 Mana burn: take 10% max HP (round up) as damage.  Spell fails.  If this kills the caster they burn up from the inside leaving nothing but ash behind.
7 Spell fails.  It was another magic user that made you fail, you are sure of it.  Probably that friend of yours.  They’re jealous of you and your power, best keep you eye on them-the probably want to steal all your stuff for themselves.   
8 Cast Summon (See LotFP Rules and Magic, its free - google it)
9 spell goes horribly wrong (like the transporter incident from Star Trek 1, let your imagination go wild)
10 Illusionary spell: Caster thinks it cast successfully, no-one else sees anything
11 Change target randomly (spell caster included)
12 Area of effect targets single target (closest to center) single target spell affects 1d6 1-2 sphere 3-4 cone  5-6 line (centered on original target)
13 magic drain, suffer -1 int or wiz for # turns = spell level, spell cast as normal
14 stunned -1 to all rolls for # of rounds = spell level, spell cast as normal
15 spell cast with minimum effect, all dice are 1s
16 spell cast with altered cosmetic effect, mechanical effects are the same.  Lighting damage is instead giant balls of hail, or thorny vines that whip out and attack victim.  Sleep is extreme apathy that makes someone completely unresponsive, prismatic spray shoots bubbles, or butterflys, etc.  
17 spell cast as normal
18 spell cast as normal
19 spell cast as normal
20 Spell cast successfully with overpowering effect (max range, have damage dice explode, etc. etc. sleep causes coma, charm creates obsessive sycophant, etc. )

For: OSR/DND 1-2nd ed
Saving throws favor wizards and give ¼ chance of success at 1st level and get to roughly ¾ chance of success at 20th level.  I like this margin because it isn’t horrible at 1st level, but there is still risk even at 20th level.  Other classes don’t have quite such good odds, but that’s ok, they aren’t magic users, so I don’t mind there being more risk for them.

For 3rd ed/Pathfinder  I think a DC 20 save.  It makes the base difficulty a bit higher, but with attribute bonuses and feats I can see it also being possibly abused.

The 15-20 results are so when a spell is cast- given a ¼ chance of success on the save.  There is a ~7/16 chance of the spell being cast successfully and a 9/16 chance of something going wrong.  Risky but not unreasonable odds I think.

I was tempted to include hp damage to the list, but realized this just unfairly punished magic users compared to fighters etc.  

A future project, may be to revise the list to include spell specific side effects. But that is a project for another day.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reoccurring NPCs

It is always great to have a campaign that spans for years.  On the other hand as life so often gets in the way a campaign may sputter and fall flat well before you want it to.  So you can spin up a new game in the same setting, or completely change games for a new feel.

Either way you probably don't want to run the same adventure that you just ran over again, even if the players have changed.  But that means a lot more work on your part as the GM.

I've seen players keep a favorite PC from and transplant them from one game to the next, in fact that is a core concept behind the organized play of the RPGA and such.

But why should the players get all the fun?

I hold to the ideal that I don't need to make an extensive background for every NPC the players meet. Generally a few notes on how the act, and if the players interact with them more then I might flesh them out to give them a stats and so forth.

But sometimes I know an NPC is going to stick with the group either to shore up a party shortfall or as a story hook or something.  But then I have to build a whole new character for the party each time... more work.

A fellow GM of mine introduced me to the idea of recycling main NPCs.  He has a handful of NPCs where there is a personality that he has developed.  Those same couple of characters who he has developed over the course of a game, rather than be thrown away, are lovingly kept and re-cycled into the next game he plays, re-imagined in the context of the new game, but still having the same general motives and personality.  This way he already knows how the character is going to act and react to situations well before hand, because the character is already well defined in his head.  To keep it easy he doesn't even change the NPCs name so it is super easy to keep track of.

But what if the players catch on?

The will, they do, and they have.

I was surprised at first, but then found that I related well to the NPC as the "feeling out" period was significantly reduced.  Sure, it was a bit meta, but because we generally knew how the NPC would fit into the story the game moved smoothly along.

Of course you can always steal a beloved concept from one of your players have and make it your own as a reoccurring NPC.

An example:

I ran a game of shadowrun and one of the players ran a physical adept, with a lot of points dumped into temporary physical boosts (so yeah, he was a bezerker) troll with short term memory loss.  He was smart (for a troll) so just above average mental facilities minus the amnesia, and of course plenty of physical ability and a nifty enchanted sword.

Stealing that idea an re-imagining it as an NPC I can have a bruiser type character who doesn't fall into the strong and stupid trope, and has the fun quirk of amnesia instead, so he's fine as long as he it with someone else but if left alone can completely forget the task at hand.