April 21, 2015

Violent Resolution - Never Tell Me the Odds 1

Roleplaying combat can be about telling stories through the medium of action and physicality. It can be a pure tactical exercise, driven by achieving the best outcome (say, “crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women”) at the least cost. It can also just be fun fantasy wish-fulfillment, where you get to act out the role of your favorite Chop Socky star seen through the lens of a paper avatar.

One thing that is important for all of those things is that both the player and the GM have a reasonable idea of how skillful their character actually is.

In short, and to invert the title of the post: you have to know the odds – even in a basically dramatic system.

Part I of this post will deal with three systems that use “roll vs. a fixed target,” and don’t encourage much active participation on the part of the defender. Part II will discuss the two remaining systems (of the five of which I’ve chosen to focus), which feature active defenses on the part of the target.

What Happened to “Never tell me the odds?”

Ultimately, when it comes time to exercise your right to fight, you need to know how good you are – or at least how good your character thinks he is. Your tactics, not to mention your confidence in the outcome (or in dramatic terms, the tension caused by an unknown result) will probably depend on what you can pull off.

This isn’t just about gaming, either. If you’ve been training in Tae Kwon Leap for twenty years, you’re going to know pretty much what you can do. Whether it’s a quick kick to the knee, a jab to the solar plexus, a (jumping!) boot to the head, or a complicated arm lock and throw, the serious practitioner of applied violence will know what she can and can’t do. If they’re really serious about it and have made an effort (or had effort thrust upon them) to obtain a degree from a branch of the school of hard knocks, they will probably have a fairly good idea of what works and what doesn’t, and what works particularly well for them, and what doesn’t.

But that visceral knowledge of skill isn’t necessarily present when what you have on your paper is Level 7 Thief (D&D), Judo-16 (GURPS), or perhaps Fighting d4 (Savage Worlds). That leaves you reliant on math and a feel for the resolution mechanics.

That’s not always easy.

April 20, 2015

Majestic Wilderlands: Fosco Chubbs Summons Popcorn

We pick up immediately after a fireball and a command to cease fighting.

They ask which of us in charge, and we muddle. We decide that the paladin has the most moral authority, Keyar the arrow-happy elf is the most decisive, and Carmina tries to keep us from getting killed a lot.

They tell us the town is under their control, but they don't want to fight us. That's a nice change, really.

The Bishop of Tain says that they're in charge, on behalf of Dracolindes and Mitra.

We're pretty much being dictated to, so we go with it. We're told in a week a forest of orcs will come to Tain, after the column of smoke signals a ready victim.

We come to an agreement that the Twilight Company is in control of the town, but that they're going to leave and the Bishop will be allowed to rearm and reassert normal order in Tain.

We think that quitting the fight here is by and large a good idea, and if that means getting our noses rubbed in it by an NPC mercenary company, so be it.

We try and figure out how we're going to untie this knot.

April 19, 2015

Apropos of Nothing: Return of Wonder Woman

If you've been wondering what I've been up to for the last week or so, basically working on my daughter's combination outfit for Comic Con (two-ish weeks!) and an Ancient Greek History night that her school is putting on.
She wanted this w/o the cresst

So the last time I put this down was I think April 7, where I was talking about her helmet, which I worked out a pattern for. Well, since then, I finished that one, found it too small, and made it again, with a modified look my daughter requested.

Then I set to work on the torso armor, made from a linothorax pattern.

I'll answer any questions people have on how I did it, but highlighting a few things.

  • It's all sheetstock cardboard, sometimes more than one layer glued together.
  • I used craft sand glued to the cardboard to provide texture that didn't look like cardboard.
  • Krylon "hammered metal" finish spraypaint is awesome stuff
  • The hockey tape I used for a lot of the edge binding is very different in taking both sand and paint. Plan accordingly.
Torso armor based on this image
  • There are about 100 scales on the abdomen
  • I'm very proud of how I managed to embed the D-rings for closure of the bits into the cardboard. There's a picture of that below.
  • I used a template to spray the star on each skirt strip. Gotta watch out because it tends to drip
  • Greaves and bracers and a sword are next

  • Sorry to take a break from RPG content, but the convergence of her interests and mine was too good to pass up. And the gratitude was pretty breathtaking, so wouldn't pass up on this for anything.

Lots of pictures after the break.

April 17, 2015

Appreciating Swords and Wizardy

Today is Swords and Wizardry appreciation day, and since I've been involved in a S&W campaign for a bit thanks to the kind invitation of +Erik Tenkar, I thought I'd throw my own thoughts into the ring.

I came to S&W after being reintroduced to playing D&D through a short tour in a Pathfinder campaign. Pathfinder was cool, though as you got into higher levels, you really needed to up your game in terms of system mastery.

S&W is the other side of that coin. The rules start simple and stay that way. The ascending AC system provides a mostly unifying mechanic that's easy to understand. There's just enough structure to adjudicate fights, and plenty of room to improvise outside of that.

The biggest thing I've grown to enjoy with S&W is, of course, playing with the group. Erik, +Peter V. Dell'Orto+Tim Shorts+Joe D and Reece, to name a few. We spend a bunch of time each game, sometimes as much as an hour, just shooting the breeze, largely because we only play monthly, so there's usually a bunch to catch up on. Also, both the D&D5 game that +Rob Conley runs and Erik's game is basically cheek-to-jowl with really excellent content creators.

I've learned a ton about small-encounter design from Tim. S&W in general has taught me the joy that is a simple and flexible mechanic, a trait that I hope Peter and I have properly exploited in the upcoming issue of Gothridge Manor.

S&W has reconnected me with the broader world of D&D and its flavors. It's also given me a great opportunity to not fight the system, and settle into gaming mechanic and roles that I did not get to groove on when playing GURPS. Things like not having any active defenses; it's not my favorite way to play, but I'll tell you what: it's fast as heck.

Likewise, running adventures and dungeon crawls as a resource management challenge, rather than a tactical one. Different way to play it, but still a lot of fun.

I'm very much looking forward to the new S&W layout by +Stacy Dellorfano and her team. The prior work she's done on her zine was top notch, truly amazing stuff, as I noted in my Firing Squad interview with her. So I bet the new book will look fantastic. I've got a paper printout of a PDF now, and I will eagerly add it to my hardback collection when it comes out.

So . . . how many potions of Extra Healing does the vendor outside the dungeon have today? I'm going delving.

April 16, 2015

Armor Piercing on a sliding scale

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and as part of writing a future entry in my Violent Resolution series (it should show up as my fourth content post, I think), I got thinking about armor piercing weapons again when reading about how the Oakeshott Type XVII sword typically had hexagonal cross sections so they could punch through armor better on the thrust, etc.

I've seen arguments (and one optional rule appears in print in Low-Tech, p 102) that edged weapons have a hard time penetrating any sort of metal armor. On the other hand, weapons like the pollaxe would mount two out of a hammerhead, spike, or axe blade (plus a nasty spike on top, likely for thrusting into joints?).

Just musing here, and wondering if a way to go would be to apply some sort of conditions to the armor divisor, as we oscillate between (0.5), (1), and (2).

April 13, 2015

Majestic Wilderlands - We're all only down 3 HP

We pick up in media res, as we always do. The team at the gatehouse is first up in the list, and they managed to pick up three hirelings. One medium infantry with a crossbow, and two light infantry with spears and shields.

They nab the knight-killer crossbows that are "spare," with 10 bolts each, and otherwise loot weapons from the gatehouse. They also find 6 arrows.

They beat feet after Mark Bludiell, who is busy escorting the bishops, and as they pass a Charcoaler, and as they do, they see a secret sign used by the Rangers of Silvanus discreetly marked on the sign.

But after this bit of conversation, things heat up very rapidly . . . 

April 12, 2015

Violent Resolution - Let's Get Ready to Rumble (repost)

It’s perhaps old news to state that at the very least, the largest force in the tabletop RPGing market – Dungeons and Dragons in all its flavors – evolved from fantasy wargaming, and that combat is a huge part of the game, and therefore a huge part of roleplaying games in general. Gygax noted the evolution as follows:
"Rob Kuntz and I had acquired a large number of 40mm figures, and many of them were so heroic looking that it seemed a good idea to play some games which would reflect the action of the great swords and sorcery yarns. So I devised such rules, and the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association proceeded to play-test them. When the whole appeared as CHAINMAIL, Dave began using the fantasy rules for his campaign, and he reported a number of these actions to the C&C Society by way of articles. I thought that this usage was quite interesting, and a few months later when Dave came down to visit me we played a game of his amended CHAINMAIL fantasy campaign. Dave had taken the man-to-man and fantasy rules and modified them for his campaign. Players began as Heroes or Wizards. With sufficient success they could become Superheroes. In a similar fashion, Wizards could become more powerful. Additionally, he had added equipment for players to purchase and expanded the characters descriptions considerably — even adding several new monsters to the rather short CHAINMAIL line-up." -- Gary Gygax (The Dragon #7)
There are, of course, games (or at least campaigns) in which combat is not prominent, or even a focus. Sometimes it’s just to be avoided because the assumption is you’re spectacularly outclassed. I recall a game of Call of Cthulhu back when I was in high school where I was warned by either the other players or the GM that while our characters might be packing a pistol, shotgun, or maybe even a military weapon, that such things are to be used on the human variety of bad guy – cultists and the like – because any eldritch horror we might come across would be basically immune to it, and would drive us insane anyway.