Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review - Dragon Warriors RPG (Part 2 - Professions)

In Part 1 of my Dragon Warriors RPG review, I touched on character creation.  I will now describe a bit about the different Professions that can be chosen.

These appear to be the classic Arthurian knights, generally coming from warrior aristocracy.  They are the only profession that can wear plate armour without penalty.  They also have the best Defence of any profession.  Knights receive several special abilities at Rank 1 (Track, Armour Expert and Ride Warhorse), and a host of new combat abilities at Rank 8.  Player Tip: Choose a Knight if you want a "Tank" character who can withstand many blows, or if you like the idea of a PC who lives by a chivalrous code.

These are the hard-eyed, battle weary savages that can draw inspiration from sources such as Icelandic Vikings or even Conan of Cimmeria!  Barbarians are hands down the best offensive profession, wielding huge weapons that can hack through any armour.  Defensively, they are not as tough as Knights and can only wear up to chain mail, suffering penalties if clad in plate armour.  Barbarians gain several special abilities at Rank 1 (Track, Berserk, and Ride Warhorse), and they gain a super-berserk ability at Rank 8 called Bloodrage.  Player Tip: Choose a Barbarian if you want the savage juggernaut who can mow down adversaries and has little use for fancified concepts of honor.

These are the prototypical wizards, such as Gandalf or a D&D Magic User.  Oddly, they are all left-handed! Due to severe combat and spell-casting penalties, few Sorcerors wear anything heavier than padded armour.  They are weak in combat.  In addition to spells, Sorcerors gain special abilities starting at Rank 4 and continuing through Rank 10 (Calligraphy, Alchemy, Artifice, and Use of Wands).  For example, they gain Calligraphy at Rank 4.  This grants them the ability to write magical scrolls.  Player Tip: Choose a Sorceror if you want to be the arcane master creating scrolls, potions and wands in his workshop but equally adept at blasting his foes with a jet of flame from his fingertips.

Mystics rely solely upon the power of their minds, eschewing such occult fripperies as wands.  In addition to their normal selection of spells, Mystics can also choose one spell to Master (and they can change the selected spell each time they gain Rank).  This spell is always "on" and doesn't require any psychic fatigue or Magic Points to cast.  Mystics can wear up to a mail hauberk without penalty.  In addition to their spells, Mystics gain Premonition and ESP at Rank 1, Enchantment of Arms and Armour at Rank 4, and Adepthood at Rank 8.  Player Tip: Choose a Mystic if you want to be the mysterious psychic/psionist who can read minds, heal the body, create magical arms & armour, and eventually take his mental abilities beyond that of any mortal being.

Elementalists are the druids and shamans of Dragon Warriors, using their willpower and cleverness to harness the very elements of nature.  Elementalists can specialize in Fire, Air, Water, Earth or Darkness.  Elementalists are just as weak in combat as Sorcerors, rarely using anything beyond padded armour.  However, Elementalists have many powers in addition to spells.  They all have Raw Power, which is seperate from magic.  For example, a Fire Elementalist can shoot out a jet of flame doing massive damage to foes.  And Elementalists gain many resistances to their own element.  So an Air Elementalist has huge defense bonuses against magical and mundane hurricanes, wind, tornadoes, etc.  Player Tip: Choose an Elementalist if you like the idea of bending nature to your awesome will, similar to Storm of the X-Men or the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four.

Warlocks are the human equivalent of a F/MU multi-class (very similar to B/X elves).  They are master of both sword and spell.  Unlike Knights and Barbarians, who are skilled in all weapons, Warlocks must specialize in specific Weapon Groups (e.g., Weapon Group 1 = Flail, Mace and Morningstar; WG 2 = Dagger, Shortsword, and Sword, etc).  Warlocks have the unusual ability of being able to cast multiple spells simultaneously in the same round.  Warlocks can wear up to chain mail and still cast spells unimpeded!  Warlocks get a number of very cool abilities starting at Rank 8.  Player Tip: Choose a Warlock if you love playing B/X Elves or AD&D F/MU.  These guys have the best of both worlds, although they are slightly weaker in combat than a Knight or Barbarian and slightly weaker at spellcasting than a Sorceror.

Our last profession we will examine is the Assassin.  This profession is exceedingly rare, as the book states "Barely one adventurer in a hundred is an Assassin."  The Assassin in DW reminds me of a combination of warrior, monk and thief.  Assassins are strong offensively, but weak defensively.  In fact, they are penalized when wearing chain mail or plate armour.  Assassins get a wide array of special abilities, ranging from stealthy thieving skills, to combat techniques such as "Throwing Spikes," to mental techniques like "Deathvow."  Player Tip: Choose an Assassin if you like playing the evil or chaotic type and enjoy stealth, trickery, and killing.

Coming in Part 3: The Adventure!

Friday, December 30, 2011

B/X - the Half-Orc

I am a huge fan of B/X D&D.  To me it hits the sweet spot between OD&D and AD&D in terms of simplicity, elegance, character choice, and PC power.  You can still get robust characters and get a fair number of choices of class and race, but it's not nearly as complex as AD&D.  Also - I'm a sucker for Race as Class.  I just think it adds a cool flavor.  So if you're an Elf, you must be a hybrid F/MU.  If you're a Dwarf or Halfling, you are a Fighter with some extra abilities thrown in the mix.

But the one class that is missing to me is the F/Th combination.  I don't think the Thief class is very robust in B/X (with the d4 for hit dice and the terrible thieving skills).  So my solution is to introduce the Half-Orc.  The Half-Orc is essentially a F/Th.  Here is the full description:

Half-orcs are stocky, brutish figures with a ruddy complexion and coarse black hair covering much of their body.  Half-orcs sport a set of sharp fangs as well.  Most half-orcs have an affinity for violence and deception.  There are certain exceptions to this (such as when infant half-orcs are abandoned by their human mothers and taken in by monasteries, etc), but even in these cases nature often wins out over nurture in the long run.  Half-orcs are completely non-proficient with magic, but excel at combat and thievery. 
The prime requisites for a half-orc are Strength and Dexterity.  If a half-orc has a score of 13 or greater in both Strength and Dexterity, the character will gain a 5% bonus on earned experience points.  If both scores are 13 or higher and either one of them is 16 or higher, the character will gain a 10% bonus on earned experience points.
Half-orcs use d7 to determine their hit points.  Roll a d8 and subtract 1 (re-rolling any resulting zeros).  They may advance to a maximum of 12th level.  Half-orcs have the benefits of both Fighters and Thieves in most cases (except armor).  They may use the Thief ability chart.  They can use any melee weapon, even when “thieving.”  However, they may NOT use the Cleave ability (see my BX house rules).  Additionally, they can only use up to leather armor when using Thief abilities (up to chainmail when not using thief abilities).  Magic armor is the exception.  Half-orcs can use magic armor up to chainmail and still use thief skills A character must have both a Strength and Dexterity of 9 or greater to be a half-orc.
Half-orcs have a fearsome, monstrous fighting style.  They tend to fly into bloodthirsty rages, swinging in high-arching sweeps and go-for-broke lunges, looking to sever limbs and crack skulls with each swing.  As such, half-orcs can choose to go “berserk” at will, adding from +1 to +3 bonus (player’s choice) to their damage roll and taking an offsetting -1 to -3 penalty on either “To Hit” or Armor Class.  Players must declare that they are “berserk” (and whether their penalty is on “To Hit” or AC) during the declaration phase – prior to initiative roll.  (Note: Half-orcs use the Fighter/Dwarf “To Hit” column and use the Fighter/Dwarf variable weapon damage).  Half-orcs have infravision and can see 60’ in the dark.  Half-orcs have excellent saving throws, although not as good as Dwarves.  All Half-orcs speak Common, Orcish, and the Alignment tongue of the character.

Following are Half-orc  XP chart and Saving Throw chart:
Half-Orc Experience Table
Exp. Points
Hit Dice
Skull Cracker
Master Backstabber
10th Level Master Backstabber
11th Level Master Backstabber
12th Level Master Backstabber

Half-Orc Saving Throws

Death Ray or Poison
Magic Wands
Paralysis or Turn to Stone
Dragon Breath
Rods, Staves, or Spells

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dungeon Maps - Do You "Frankenstein" Them?

I'm not a good map-maker.  There.  I said it.  I can get VERY creative when it comes to writing dungeons, designing new monsters & treasures, and even re-writing game rules.  And I'm even a somewhat decent artist when I apply myself.  But I have never been able to design kick-ass dungeon maps.  I just can't do it.  Try as I might.

Another common option is to use randomly generated maps.  I've tried the old-school method (like the charts in the back of the DMG).  I've tried modern methods (like random mapping sites).  While both methods can be cool and give you some interesting results, it doesn't quite do it for me.  Things just don't have enough of a uniform feel to them.  It just makes the dungeon map look thrown together.  I'm sure many of these sites are truly excellent, so this is just my own personal experience.

Since I am an active DM, I can't simply say "sorry guys, I don't have a map.  We'll do a story-telling session instead."  But if I can't make my own maps, and I don't like random maps - what do I do?  Simply put, I "Frankenstein" my maps.

Basically, I collect every map I can get my hands on from dungeon modules and other published material.  Any map that looks cool, I photocopy and save it.  I have a lot of modules and many, many maps.  When it comes time to create a dungeon level, I have several choices:
  1. Simply use one of my stockpiled maps and re-number and re-key it
  2. Or, I "Frankenstein" together some cool parts from several maps - and simply add connection points
  3. Or, I use one of my stockpiled maps and add some additional elements to it
My latest dungeon map was basically made using the 1st-3rd levels of the Caverns of Thracia by Judge's Guild (Paul Jacquays).  I think this is an awesome map.  I mean really, really great!  And my players (who didn't know the source of the map) loved it.  They said it was a really creative map.  So to me, it's a win-win for player and busy DM alike.

Do you ever "borrow" published maps for this purpose?

Review - Dragon Warriors RPG (Part 1)

Today I will begin my review of Dragon Warriors, a British RPG written by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson.  It was initially published by Corgi Books in 1985-1986 as a series of six books which, put together, comprised the entire RPG.  However, my review will be of the newer edition published in 2008 by Magnum Opus Press.

Dragon Warriors 1985
 First off, I'll comment that I have never read the 1980's version.  But my understanding is that the newer edition is not changed much from the older one.  To put things delicately, this is still very much an old-school type of RPG - not anything like the new versions of RPG's that are overloaded with massive sets of rules, skills, feats, etc.  In fact, this game is very simple and elegant - but rich in flavor and atmosphere.  And the rules seem very quick and easy to learn.  I may not be successful in getting my current group to play it, but I will certainly mine it for ideas.

This 256-page book contains everything needed to run the game, for both the players and GM.  It even includes monsters, although it's suggested that the GM picks up the Dragon Warriors Bestiary to further flesh out the beasties and add more options.

I'll do this review in a section by section manner, starting with Character Creation.  (I'll skip the obligatory section on roleplaying, dice, etc).  When creating a PC, the player can only choose a human.  DW tends to be a lower fantasy game.  Elves, dwarves, and the like are regarded as wild, fey type of beings and are regarded with much awe and suspicion.  Character creation has an old-school feel to it.  First off, players roll 3d6 in order for the ability scores.  These scores are Strength, Reflexes, Intelligence, Psychic Talent, and Looks.  There really isn't any Wisdom equivalent.  Strength combines the traditional STR and CON scores into one ability.

Dragon Warriors 2008

Next, a Profession is chosen.  The choices are:
  • Knight (picture an Arthurian knight in full plate)
  • Barbarian
  • Assassin (very rare, sort of a Thief/Assassin combo)
  • Sorceror (like a MU.. sort of)
  • Mystic (uses powers of the mind, kind of like a psionicist but with some clerical type spells.. sort of)
  • Elementalist (commands the elemental powers of nature)
  • Warlock (basically a F/MU combo)
Next, Health Points (like Hit Points) are rolled.  (roll a d6 + modifier for Profession).  E.g., a Barbarian is d6+9 while a Sorceror is d6+4.

Each Profession is then assigned an Attack Score and Defense Score.  Barbarians have the game's highest Attack Score.  Knights have the highest Defense Score.  These are used for combat resolution.  More on that later.  These scores can be modified further by a character's Strength, Reflexes, or even Intelligence.

In addition to Attack and Defense, a PC has Magical Attack Score and Magical Defense Score based on Profession.  These scores can be modified by Intelligence and Psychic Talent.

There are some other skills and abilities:
  • Evasion (for dodging dragon breath, missiles, etc)
  • Stealth (sneaking)
  • Perception (noticing things)
  • Classes have special abilities that are awarded at certain Ranks (levels); for example, a 1st Rank Knight gets Track, Armour Expert, and Ride Warhorse)
PC's then get starting equipment and some starting money.  This is done by Profession.  For example, a Knight starts out with Plate Armour, Shield, Dagger, Lantern, Flint-and-Tinder, Backpack, 25 Florins (the standard currency), and the choice of either a Sword or Morning Star.  He can then use his 25 Florins to buy additional equipment.  E.g., a Bow with a Quiver and 6 Arrows would cost 22 Florins.  I actually kind of like that each Profession gets a "Standard Package" to begin with.

Encumbrance is simple and effective.  Each PC can carry up to 10 items of "weapon-size," which includes weapons, a quiver of arrows, a scroll, a bottle, a lantern, a sack of 150 coins, etc.  Small items like rings and amulets don't count as an item.  Armor is excluded from this since it already has encumbering rules.  Exceptionally weak or strong PC's can carry less or more items.  Simple and easy!

In the next posting, I'll talk more about each Profession.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

OD&D - In Need of a PC Power-Up?

Ahhh, OD&D!  There is something awesome about those Little Brown Books in the White Box from 1974.  This is a game that frequently beckons to me.  There's something about the raw ingenuity, the quasi-Gonzo aspects to the game, and the complete lack of power-gaming that is very appealing.  And it feels like everything hinges on good roleplaying, on clever puzzle solving... on PLAYER skill.  Dice rolls aren't that important in creating characters.  All weapons do 1d6 damage.  There is no To-Hit or Damage bonus from high strength.  The maximum hit point bonus from CON?  +1.  The maximum missile weapon bonus from DEX?  +1.  There are many other examples of this in OD&D.

However, that same minimalist aspect of the game that is so appealing also makes it somewhat limiting.  Pc's are perhaps at too much of the weak extreme.  My gaming buddy Adam refers to his OD&D characters as "Farmers!"  I think this was a common sentiment among certain players in the 1970's.  Thus, when the supplements (Greyhawk, Blackmoor, etc) were published, PC's were given a huge shot in the arm.  All of the ability bonuses that are familiar from AD&D were first introduced in these supplements, along with variable weapon damage and other PC Power-Ups.  So if you used the LBB's along with Greyhawk, you got something that is very close to an AD&D character. 

The problem with using the supplements is that it just feels too much like AD&D.  And if I want to play AD&D, I'll just play AD&D.  :)  Which I frequently do.

What I've always wanted is something inbetween.  (Which you kind of get in B/X - which is one reason why I love that game.  More on that another day!).  By that I mean that I'd like characters that are more powerful than the 1974 "farmers," yet not nearly as bad-ass as the quasi-AD&D characters from the supplements.  Perhaps, given my druthers, I'd use the following system:
  • Variable weapon damage from Greyhawk
  • Variable hit points by class (d10 for Fighters, d8 for Clerics, d4 for MU's & Thieves)
  • +1 bonus for any ability scores of 13-16
  • +2 bonus for any ability scores of 17-18
  • STR bonus would be for To-Hit and Damage
  • DEX bonus would be for AC and Missile Fire
  • CON bonus would be for Hit Points
  • INT bonus for Number of Languages
  • WIS bonus for Magical Saves
  • CHA bonus for Henchmen, Loyalty, etc
  • Roll 3d6 for ability scores - and arrange as desired (point swapping permitted as outlined in Men & Magic)
To me, this would make +1 bonuses fairly common.  You could easily envision a PC having one or two of these bonuses.  Then again, a +2 bonus is quite rare!  In any entire party of adventurers, you might only see a total of 1-2 such bonuses.  Someone with a 17 strength is truly epic in their might!

I think this feels like my OD&D sweet spot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Magic Item - Elemental Essence

I really like thinking up good magic items ideas.  I believe that all magic items should be cool, unique, and completely new and surprising to the PC's.  You will not find a "+1 Longsword" in my dungeon, or a "Potion of Healing."  I believe items should either be (a) mysterious and unknown to the PC's, or (b) at least have a cool, subtle set of abilities.

Here is my first New Magic Item, Elemental Essence.

Elemental Essence:  This powerful powder enables a PC to summon an elemental to serve him.  If tossed into the air, it creates an Air Elemental.  If sprinkled over a flame, it creates a Fire Elemental.  If poured into water, it creates a Water Elemental.  If mixed into some soil it creates an Earth Elemental.  These are of the weakest (8 HD) variety.  They last for the length of a standard potion.  Once the elemental is summoned, it will only serve faithfully if the summoner rolls at or under his level on a D6 (for a multi-class PC, his highest level).  If the roll is failed, the elemental will go berserk, attacking friend and foe alike.  Therefore, a PC of 6th level or higher will always control the elemental.  If two doses of Essence are combined, it will create a 16 HD Elemental, but the “Control” roll will be on a d10 instead of d6. XP: 600.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Monster - Automaton

My first new monster I will introduce is the Automaton, basically a much weaker version of the Golem.  These guys can be very handy for introducing mindless guardians for lower-level PC's if you are tired of using the obligatory skeletons and zombies.  And they will be a nice little change of pace.

                                                Metal                Stone                 Flesh
FREQUENCY:                            Rare                Rare                   Rare                            
NO. APPEARING:                      1-6 (varies)        1-6 (varies)          1-6 (varies)                   
ARMOR CLASS:                        2                      5                        8
MOVE:                                      6”                     8”                       10”
HIT DICE:                                   4                      3                        2                                 
% IN LAIR:                                 90%                  90%                   90%                             
TREASURE TYPE:                     Nil                     Nil                      Nil
NO. OF ATTACKS:                     1                       1                        1                                 
DAMAGE/ATTACK:                    1-10                   1-8                     1-6 or weapon type      
SPECIAL ATTACKS:                  Nil                      Nil                      Nil                               
SPECIAL DEFENSES:               See below           See below           See below                    
MAGIC RESISTANCE:               Standard              Standard             Standard                      
INTELLIGENCE:                         Non-                    Non-                   Non-                            
ALIGNMENT:                             Neutral                 Neutral               Neutral
SIZE:                                         S (4’ tall)              S (4’ tall)            S (4’ tall)                       
XP:                                            175 + 4/hp           120 + 3/hp          73 + 2/hp
Automatons are magically created entities, mindless except to follow the simple commands of their creator.  They are similar to golems, but much cheaper and faster to construct – and much less powerful.  They are often used as guards or soldiers, as they are emotionless and without remorse.  They look like 4’ tall warriors constructed of shiny metal, rough stone, or sewn-together flesh.

All automatons are immune to mind-altering spells.

Metal Automatons take ½ damage from bladed weapons and fire-based attacks.  Electrical attacks destroy them instantly.
Stone Automatons take ½ damage from bladed weapons and fire-based attacks.  Stone to mud destroys them instantly.
Flesh Automatons regenerate 2hp per melee round, starting the round after being initially damaged.  Flesh automatons are also able to use melee and missile weapons.