This Blog 2019, Goals and Grommets

Inspired by the 2019 goals post over at Charles's Dragons Never Forget Blog, I figured I would do the same thing. 2018 right around ...

Sunday, July 5, 2020

One Page Game: Phase 2

Below is a game that takes up one page in Libre Office using a 10 point font.
Don't want to play D&D anymore ? play this.
Guaranteed to have absolutely no roots in anything.


Charater Attributes:
Roll 1d6 for each attribute to determine the number of dice the character has in that area.
(Rolls: 1-3 = 3 dice, 4-5 = 4 dice, roll of 6 = 5 dice)

  • Physical (phisical actions, jumping, fights)
  • Mental (Thinking, figuring, casting, searching)
  • Emotional (empathy, Morale, courage, self controll, concentration)
  • Social (Bargain, arguing, deceit, initial reactions)
Actions:
During the story when a character wants to perform an action the player rolls 1d10.

Results use the chart below.
  • 1 or 2: A failure and a new complication that reduces the atribute pool being used by 1.
    (You fail to jump the pit fallign to the bottom and hurtting yout leg -1 Phisical)
  • 3 to 4:  A failure but the enviroment gains a complication. (you fail to jump the pit and slide down the inter wall catching a ledge halway down.)
  • 5 to 7: Plain Success. (You jump the pit)
  • 8 to 9: A success with one bonus. (you jump the pit and suprise the guards)
  • 10: Is a sucess with two bonuses. (you jump the pit and blow past the suprised guards)
A complication = An element in the story that hold the character back. Bad luck, things going south.
A Bonus = An element in the story beneficial to the character. A stroke of good fortune.
Lost attribute dice are regained between scenes.
If any attribute's die level is lowered to 0 that character is taken out of the scene. The exact nature of how and why is specific to the scene.

All sources of resistance are complications.
Complications can be:
Environmental (A pit), Physical (A monster), Mental (A puzzle), or Emotional (an argument).

When a scene is set the Gm describes the complications in the scene. A lose discusion about what the charaters are doing ensues. The Gm can ask for rolls when they feel it's apropriate.
Players and GM work together to describe bonuses and successes. The Gm should describe failures and complications.

Complications can be removed from the scene by spending bonuses gained through actions.

Some areas or monsters might have several complications that will have to be overcome before it is removed. Some complications will need multiple bonuses to eliminate.

Example Complications for a massive dragon:
Dragon:
Environmental Dangerous lair(1), Slippery floor (1)
Physical: HUGE(2), Breath(1), claws (1), Flight (1)
Mental: Manipulator (1)
Emotional: Horde Greed(1), Aura of Fear(1)

Optional Equipment and Skills.
Players define their own equipment and skills. When those items or skills can be logically used in a scene the player may re roll any one die during an action.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

A long look at AD&D2nd ed Players Option: Skills and Powers.






AD&D Player Options: “Skills and Powers”


I have gotten the feeling over the years that this was not the most well thought of book from the 2nd edition library. I have read that it over complicates character creation, That it's simply ripe for min-maxing and exploitation. These things may well be true. 
Strangely I feel it’s kind of been forgotten. More to the point passed over. People still playing 2nd ed play it strait, rules as written.

“2154 Skills and powers”, “2149 Combat and Tactics,” and “2163 Spells and Magic” are three books that have been deemed either harmful to the games purity or worse simply unnecessary.

Back in 1995 I bought “Skills and Powers.” At the time it was a revelation. Here in this book I had a way to ‘Build Characters” with out having to dive into GURPS which was pumping out 3rd edition books at a breakneck pace, or Hero whihc was already on it’s 4th edition by then. It changed the game in some very real ways. In fact I can say that I don’t think any single book from the 90’s shaped my campaign during that time period more than this one.

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With that preamble in place I’m going to take a long look at Skills and powers to see what I think of it through the lens of 25 intervening years. This is going to be a long post I will do a final thought at the end if you want to just skip to the bottom and read it.

As with everything on this blog, the opinions are solely mine. Your millage may vary, and I will not engage in the comments section to defend positions on elf game rules. Blogs are free.

Starts with the Jeff Easley Cover. The art team back then was so skilled. I just wanted those books on my shelf. The styles the colors. As a young man with interest in art, the covers were irresistible.

Looking at the author credits: I’m not steeped enough in TSR lore to know all of the people mentioned. The co-authors were Douglas Niles and Dale A. Donovan.
Donovan I recognize from the “Villains Lore book” and several Dragon Magazine articles. It took a quick serch for me to learn that Niles wrote several Dragonlance and forgotten realms books.

Also mentioned is Bill Slavicrek who I recognize instantly from “TORG” and “Alternity.” For the record Alternity is one of my favorite games of all time. Alterity never really got the love it deserved.
More importantly Mr. Slavicrek wrote the “Complete Book of Humanoids” which will play a part in this work as well.

Rich Baker also has a credit as a designer, he also worked on the other Players option book, “Spells and Magic.” (As well as lost Mine of Phandelver.)

Doug Niles and Dale Donovan each write a short forward for the book. Niles writes about fleshing out options for the game.

“we have attempted to add to the number of choices available to players and D.M.s alike, without adding to the complications of resolving these choices.” (Forward)
Donovan or his part seats the Players option series of books as part of the continuing evolution of the AD&D rules. He mentions “Unearthed Arcanna” as an earlier example of AD&D growing in a similar fashion.

What follows is the typical “TSR Index” of the time period. All of their books were standardized and top notch by this time. (Dee Barnett being the force behind the graphic design in many books of the time.)

https://the-public-domain-review.imgix.net/collections/the-decameron/Boccaccio_-_Decameron+-+1592+-+thumb.jpg?w=640
Bards...Am I Right?


Character points:
Next up is an introduction to the key concept of the book “Character points.” Character points are going to let AD&D go point buy. Character points will be determined by race and class and will also be rewarded when ever a character goes up a level. Right in this piliminary introduction the Authors are already saying,
“Larger Character point awards will result in a higher powered campaign, but if both DM and players agree, that’s fine - enjoy yourselves.”

Depending on how the reader looks at this it’s either a red flag, like “ohh shit this could get out of hand.” Or it’s a signal that these rules are giving the G.M. a new set of knobs to turn. Give the characters 5 character points per level and they will grow to be gleaming powerful heroes. Give them 2 and points per level and it will be easier to maintain a gritty dangerous feel to the campaign.

Over the next page the various uses of character points are explained.
  • Buying weapon proficiencies
  • buying non weapon proficiencies
  • increase proficiency scores (this part of the system reminds me of Boot hill third edition from 5 ears earlier.)
  • Buy racial abilities for demi-humans. Racial abilities are expensive, Humans don’t have any so they can buy other things. Here’s the old school idea of Humans being quicker to pick up skills while Demi-humans have access to innate abilities that balance all that out. (theoretically)
  • Class abilities are purchased by spending character points.
  • Priests and wizards can spend points on extra spells. One per spell level and the cost is exorbitant.. Honestly I don’t remember ever using this option. We’ll hit it again in chapter 4.
  • Hold on for this one… Points can be spent to improve a characters roll for hit points when advancing a level. For every 2 character points spent players can roll and additional hit die and take the best result. As a player who favors martial classes I did this ALL THE TIME.
  • Character points can also be used in the course of play. Basically points can be savd and used to buy one chance re-rolls during a game. Kind of the Meh option n my mind.


Next the book moves onto “establishing character statistics.”
Before I dive into this, a story.
 I played with a GM that was a strict Method 1, roll 3d6 right down the line proponent. HE NEVER LET ME OPEN THIS BOOK. It was banned material. I actually like that style of 100% random character for old school meet grinder AD&D play. My own AIEE games embrace the concept of making the most out of a bad character to the fullest.

With this book we see AD&D moving in a more “craft your character and get invested” direction. I would argue it sets the path for their next 25 years of development. They have never moved away from the concept of character crafting and charaer power coming early. At some point people wanted to play HEROES not some poor sap trying to become a hero by fighting rats. You can see this thread running all the way into 5th ed. In my opinion that thread is first realized here.

The six ways to roll stats from the AD&D player's handbook are summarized for completeness. I like how the authors describe what types of games best fit with each type of generation method. Usefull info that expands on what the original handbook laid out.

There is also finally a good description fo Method 6 all stats start at 8 and the player has 7D6 to divide among them … has anyone used this ? Ever? (I know someone must have... I’m joking.)

→Some new methods are described.
Method 7 players have 75 points to divide among the 6 attributes none can be lower than 3 or higher then 18.
Straight up point buy. I like this one. If there is a minimum score of 3 for each ability they the player actually has 57 points to play with…

Method 8: the player has 24d6 to assign to the six ability scores with a minimum of 3d6 each and a maximum of 6d6..roll the dice keep the best three from the stat.
I never tried this one. Seems like too much work to basically get to 4d6 drop the lowest.

Method 9: Roll 2d6 to determine how many points the character gets to divide among their stats. I get this one, but honestly if I was going to use this method as a GM I would just tell the players how many points they get. “Ok you all have 78 points to distribute among your attributes, minimum of 3 form each score nothing over 18.”

Method 10 is just like method 1 except “Fighters can purchase 10 points of exceptional strength for each extra character point spent.”
I feel it’s telling that this is the only one of the methods that even mentioned exceptional strength. I am wondering if the always quirky “Exceptional strength” is already being looked at as an outdated artifact.

The general theme here is “Build the character you want.” don’t be constrained by the old idea of 6 random attributes. This will manifest again in latter editions. In fact in my opinion the “Standard array of stats” offered by 5th ed has it’s roots here. Here are your stats order them how you like, you will never end up sub standard.

Also on page 9 is an art plate which, my apologies to the artist, I am not fond of. I’m not going to go into the interior art used in this book much more than to say it’s sparse and varies wildly in quality.




Next we get Character Backgrounds. (starts page 9)
First the book talks about traits and disadvantages, which fell out of GURPS on drunken night and landed here. The book describes them briefly then puts them off to chapter 6. Traits will become perks in third edition and carry forward from there. The idea is that the player should be looking to fuse their traits and disadvantages  to thier background… not just picking the ones that work best together… which is, what were going to do anyway.

I like that they mention,
 "every character needs some reason to live such a dangerous life.”
I 100% agree. Why would some painters apprentice run away  from a solid living just to fight goblins in some dark, god-forsaken cave?
Roll 1d20 to find out.

What follows is 1d20 background events that might have started an adventure off on their new life. Each one is given a brief blurb and some suggested non weapon proficiencies that fit that background. (these sugested Non=Wepon Profs can be bought at a discount latter on.

The backgrounds range from the mundane “Went to sea” or “failed Business venture” to the more interesting “Found or stole a valuable item” or “Touched by Magic.”
Backgrounds fall into the category of “things the GM will feel obligated to work into the story.” Some GM’s love that kind of hook and run with it. Others resent the game inserting ideas in to their world. It’s a preference thing.

As a GM I enjoy having things to work with. As a player I don’t always care about a character background. I would rather have that come out in play. The reader could see this as the formative idea behind the 5th edition backgrounds and motivations. Just another way of fleshing out the character if you want to. Though I do find it strange in a book that’s all about player control over their charater the background is a 1d20 roll. Nothing is stopping anyone from just picking one, as none of them have any great mechanical influence.

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Chapter 2 Ability Scores:
ohh wait we already did that….NO…… We did not do that….
This chapter introduces us to the new concept of “Subabilites.” Which was new to second edition Players Option, and never propagated froward into new editions that I know of.
(Jens says it ended up in HackMaster ...... He woudl know...)

Here instead of the straight averaging of attributes (like Top Secret 15 years earlier) the player doubles the score of the parent attribute and divides that number among the subattributes, which in turn must all be within 4 pts of each other. Sounds like a lot, and it kind of is. An example is given wherein Leon determines his character’s “stamina” and Muscle” sub attributes.

The subattribute system is not optional. If the player wishes to use the whole Players option system. The sub attributes are used for ability checks and as the basis for proficiency scores. Again this is a section that requires GM buy in. If a player sits down with a “Skills and powers” character the GM is going to have to know what the hell the “Muscle" attribute is.

Strength gets: Muscle, and stamina
Dexterity gets: Aim and Balance
Constitution gets: Health and Fitness
Intelligence gets: Reason and Knowledge
Wisdom gets: intuition and willpower
Charisma gets: Leadership and appearance

That’s right 18 attributes to juggle.
All of the standard AD&D modifies are spread out among the sub attributes. For example Leadership determines Loyalty and base number of henchmen while appearance determines reaction adjustment.

My 2020 brain wants to scream, “18 attributes! Ridiculous. This is completely unnecessary!” Hold on. I remember it being fun to make a character that was strong but not as well conditioned. Or had better aim than overall balance. Those were hooks I could get my teeth into when making a character.  Details that diferentiate characters from each other.

Page 20 goes into example uses of sub-ability checks. A useful section for any GM wishing to use this book.
IF I squint really hard at “Intuition” I can see the roots of the all encompassing “Perception check” that will rise to prominence in 5th edition.

There is also a wrinkle presented on page 21 where a character with a higher sub ability score may roll more than one d20 and if any one of them register a successful check the actions succededs. This is presented as a way to avoid a character with a high attribute failing a task just to have a charater with a lower attribute attempt the same action and succeed.

The authors go on to present idea that the GM using the multiple D20 rules could increase difficulty of a tasks by requiring more than one die to register a success. And that in roll vs roll contests the character who gets rolls highest with out going over their sub-attribute score wins.

At this point the Authors are writing new game. This is a hairs breath away from the universal 1d20 vs “DC” system that defined 3rd edition. (Five year later) (I can’t find any obvious design team overlaps, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who knows better than I do)

To this point..... I don’t remember anyone using the “roll and additional d20 for every atribute point above 15” rule. It is sort of just tucked into the text wall that is page 21. I had no memory of it before this read through. It’s not bad though. I could get behind it as a GM as it would serve to differentiate the big strong fighter from the puny but super fast Thief. It would surely give AD&D a different feel at the table.

https://collectionapi.metmuseum.org/api/collection/v1/iiif/413632/778054/main-image


Chapter 3 racial requirements. (Page 22)
I needed this information while I was figuring out by attributes.
Someday I woudl liek to see D&D drop "Race" and use the term "species..."

Lets set aside that the idea of “Half – Whatever” is considered innately problematic in 2020 and just
Look at the numbers, half ogres are going to eat up all your attribute points with those realy high minimums for strength and Constitution with no real benefit.

This is what I’m playing at. I have always disliked racial minimums and maximums paired with Racial attribute adjustments (page 23.) Just give m the +1 to Dex an -1 to wisdom or whatever. The minimums and maximums have just never landed right with me… A side note, the racial bonuses apply to the base 6 attributes so I guess after this step I’m going to figure all of my sub attributes again?

The next section on racial abilities is our first brush with the meat of the “Skills and Powers” concept.

  • Each race is given a number of character points to spend on abilities.
  • Dwarves for example get 45 points.
  • Each race has several racial packages a player can buy for most of those points. For example, the “Mountain Dwarves” package costs 40 points.
  • Each package has a set of abilities very much like the standard AD&D races we all know and love.

    OR..
  • Each race has a shopping list of abilities a player can mix and match from.

So if a player wants a custom dwarf sub race with the following abilities, the player ould spend their
45 points as follows:


  • Constitution bonus +1 it’s 10 points
  • War Hammer bonus +1 attack bonus: 5 points
  • Innate ability to cast “Stone Tell” once a day: 10 points
  • Mining detection skills (like the basic D&D dwarf class): 10 points
  • Saving throw bonuses based on constitution score: 10 points.
  • Total of 45 points (page 26)

The book lays out these options out for every race. Each race gets a general description, a few “Packages,” and then a shopping list of abilities.
I honestly love this.
I also used to spend a ton of time trying to build the perfect kits.
A couple things in hindsight. First some of the packages are better deals than making a custom race . You get more for your points when you take a package. I disagree with that decision and feel they should be equivalent in value.

Second. I don’t like the idea of separate shopping lists for each race. Just make one big list and let me mix and match to my hearts content. (this will be a recuring complaint)
A reader could do that if they wanted to, however it would involve a ton of page flipping / searching and for this work, I’m only looking at the rules as written.

The base races presented here are:
Each descriptionhas several sub-race packages 
  • Dwarf
  • Elf
  • Gnome (When did gnomes start? Can some one answer me that? I want to know how they ended up in D&D?)
  • Halfling
  • Half elf
  • Half orc
  • Half ogres (what is the obsession with half races?)
  • Humans. (Humans get 10 points to spend with no pre-built packages to buy. What the reader can do is give a human one “thing” that might represent a societal proclivity. Like spending 10 points to get a +1 Health bonus to represent having been raised in a difficult climate.)

Page 37:
This section is called other races. At this point the authors tackle addressing the races that were presented in the “Complete Book of Humanoids”; (TSR1993 by: Bill Slavicsek.)

From here to page 44 the book gives: Racial level limits, attribute score requirements, attribute bonus / penalties, brief descriptions of abilities and penalties attributed to these races, natural attacks, and a paragraph descriptions of each race.

In my opinion if a GM ever wants an AD&D 2nd edition campaign to go completely pear shaped the quickest way to do it is to drop the “Complete Book of Humanoids” on the table and walk away.
The party will become a Minotaur, Bullywug, Thri-Kreen, and a Wemic and the GM will never be able to close Pandora's box again. If this is what the GM wants great! I’m just saying proceed here with caution.

In the introduction to this section the authors say if the GM wants to use these or any other AD&D races (like the wild halflings from Dark Sun) just use them whole cloth. Forego the point buy system and just use them as written. This feels a bit like an affirmation that the authors could never encompass everything that AD&D 2nd had already produced or I’m sure they figured would produce in the future.



Page 46 introduces us to Character Class.
As you might suspect this is going to go a lot like race. Classes are broken into Warriors, Wizards, Priests, and Rouges. Each one of these broad categories have a set of skills every character in that category receives for free.
(for example all warriors (Fighters, Paladins, Rangers) roll 1d10 per level for hit points, and make additional melee attacks at higher levels. While all wizard types can all use magic items without restrictions.)

From this base the authors then go on to break down the known AD&D classes one at a time giving the player a number of points to spend on class abilities AND weapon proficiency.

This section is laid out similar to races but is by it’s nature more complicated. A player could loose themselves tying to weigh out options. Just like races, I would have rather had one big “Warrior type” abilities shopping list that I could mix and match from. Doing away with concepts like “Paladin” and Ranger” could have streamlined this section significantly. That’s all just Monday morning quarter backing though. Class based separations are one of the things that make D&D what it is, so expecting them to disappear is a bit of a stretch.

The player may also buy class based restrictions to get more character points. This is always a slippery slope but in this case the restrictions are not so crippling that a player could make an unplayable mess out of it without trying to.

So beyond the free Warrior abilities a Fighter character might end up looking like this.
Starting with 15
Move silently when unarmored: -10 points
Magic resistance of 2% per level: -10 points
Limitation of, May only wear studded leather or lighter armor: +10 points
Leaving 5 points for weapon proficiency.

https://66.media.tumblr.com/63416b66a1ba7fa11030075f7e70ac7c/tumblr_okf29jVhLk1ust6nlo1_400.jpg


Each standard sub-class gets the same treatment. While, still inheriting the basic abilities from the over arching category Paladins are still part of the “warrior category” for example

Paladins for example come pre-loaded with a bunch of their goody two shoes restrictions. So they get 60 Character points to buy their kick-evil-in-the-ass abilities. This system maintains the known tropes of AD&D, while still allowing the player the ability to customize the character.

Thankfully experience advancement table are included form each category of classes creating less of a need to have a PHB handy as well.

Rouges (Thieves and Bards) really shine under this system. Thieves for example get 80 character points. Have a long list of abilities to choose from. At the end of the process the Thief receives 60 discretionary points to spend on improving their Scored skills” (These are the 13 skills we all think of as the AD&D thief including Pick Pockets, hide in shadows, climb walls, and so on.) Further more each level the thief receives another 30 Discretionary points! A player could make the thief they want to play instead of having a bunch of abilities they never plan on using.

Page 56: Introduces the concept of “Divine Favor” as it effects priests. Modifiers to spells being cast as the priest courts favor with their choice god. I respect this idea of putting some teeth into the idea of a priests piety. Though this is also another point I don’t remember anyone using. One more thing to track syndrome.

Clerics get a ton of points to spend (125). I think the player is expected to use most of them to buy access to spheres for casting. The possibility remains for a player to create a priest that casts from a limited number of spheres and is more versed in other non casting activities.
In this section even more than the others I strongly feel all of the druid abilities could have been merged with the cleric list and just let players Build a druid if they want one. Fact is some of the Druid abilities would kick ass when used with other clerics. (My Cleric of Horus wants shape change into a falcon damn it.)

PG 59: That wizard loves him some pie.



The next few pages are dedicated to giving Mages and Specialist wizards a similar treatment to priests. Spending 15 character points to get a wizard a weapon specialization in long sword seems fair.

Interesting here is that specialist wizards list of abilities include several of the “meta magic” effects such as “Range Boost” and “Casting Time Reduction.” I’m not sure where this work falls in the development of the meta magic concept. I’m pretty sure meta magic was introduced officially in the “Tome of Magic.” I Don't own that book so I’m not sure. My question why limit meta-magic to specialist wizards? (meta magic is discussed if not explicitely named “Players Option Spells amd Magic” Page 79)

Page 63 dedicates about one third of it’s space to multi class characters. It’s very straight forward. “Divide the character points like so.” Author made a great choice here. Multi classing could have been a mire in this system, and they just took the high road.

There is also a short section on making NPC’s based on character points. Which is well thought out but I never used it. Honestly I would free-hand any NPC before going through the process outlined in the first 63 pages of this book to create the local fishmonger.



Next chapter: Character Kits:
Wait, Isn’t that what were doing?
Not exactly. The Authors are quick to explain that Kits are a way to flesh out the character back ground. Then the book goes into a “social rank” system (PG.65)

Roll 2D6 to determine the characters social standing If we are not using a kit ..Though I think this is better handled in play, but lets press on.

The kits themselves can be attached a variety of classes, so if he reader wants a swashbuckling wizard they can have one (Talley Ho!) There are some class and race restrictions, but not as many as in previous AD&D kit implementations.

Now the player rolls 1d100 to randomly determine thier kit…. Or do what I always did and pick one that makes sense for the character.

These kits are not just frosting however, each one comes with a brief description, a social rank, a series of suggested weapon proficiency choices that can be bought at a bargain price, suggested traits, hindrances, and benefits.

Each kit also has attribute requirements, so not every character will be able to use any kit
.
For example: The aforementioned swashbuckling wizard. Assuming the wizard has a Dex and Intel of at least 12..
the lucky devil will get. +2 AC when unarmored, and +2 reaction roll due to their wit and charisma, As well as a slew of suggested proficiency choices like “Tumbling” and “Etiquette.”

In this way a player could mix and match kit’s to class / race ability choices to make a character to fit what ever concept they might have.

On Page 85 there is a section giving advice about creating your own kits. It would have been cool to have another character point section here where a player could buy the pieces of a kit just like race and class. Seems strange that the point buy system was abandon specificaly for kits.



Chapter 6: Non-Weapon proficiencies:
To start, non-weapon proficiency now costs Character points. Each category of Class gets descretionary character points, any the player has left over from picking class abilities may be spent now, and last a high intelligence grants bonus character points rather than languages.
With all this a player could have a decent number of character points sitting around, no worries non weapon profs will eat them up.

There are several rules here related to the cost of non-weapon profs. The rules aren't overly cumbersome but it can be hard to get on the first read through.

Page 88, holds the information about spending points to improve non weapon proficiency scores between levels. This page also holds a section about acquiring Traits which seems a bit out of place, but I think it’s saying “traits are new, cool, and powerful; traits are also expensive, so save those points!”

“Using proficiencies in play,” This section describes the new system for non weapon proficiency.
In summary each proficiency has a character point cost and an initial rating,

  • (For example “Healing” has a character point cost of 4 and starts with an initial rating of 5) which is modified by the score of a relevant attribute
    • (Chart 44 page: 89, naturally the modifiers are different than any of the other attribute mod tables........)
  • The resulting number is what a player would have to roll under to successfully use the proficiency.
    • (This is precursor to the d20 system seen in D&D 3rd ed. That would come along 5 years later.)
  • Easy-peasy, and totally different than the standard AD&D proficiency system.

I think, form a design stand point the designers had to rebuild proficiency in order to makes buying levels in a proficiency as important as having high attributes. There also needs to be room for base proficiency levels to improve so that the players have something to spend their between level points on.

Page 92: offers some more advise on ways to use this new proficiency system, including non proficient skill use. There is also a chart showing the Traits and their initial ratings. I am not sure why this chart is here. It might be a mistake?

Before I move on I want to summarize my feelings on the proficiency system.. As written it is more complex then the typical AD&D2nd system. I also feel it’s far superior.
A character with high attributes will have an initial advantage when using skills, however a higher level character can surpass them by spending points to improve over time. Players also have more control over the proficiencies they can choose and what they become truly good at. It's well thought out and more importantly it works. 

Page 93 starts disadvantages:
Including a chart that shows the disadvantages and how many character points a payer can get back by taking either a moderate or sever version of each.
Then it talks about removing disadvantages, then it jumps back to descriptions of proficiencies?

I’m not going to pick apart lay out choices but this makes no sense to me. However, here we are. A nice long list of each proficiency with a paragraph or two about each. This runs until Page 104, where the descriptions of traits live.



Traits:
Traits such as Alertness (a whopping +1 to surprise rolls in this edition), ambidexterity, precise memory, and so on will become common in D&D in future editions.

 Each Trait gets a nice write up, with all the necessary information to use the trait in play.
 Starting on page 109 The next section does the same for disadvantages.

Here’s the thing, the charts that give the price for traits and the Character point return for disadvantages, as well as the rules that govern them are on pages 92 and 93 respectively.

Layout strangeness aside traits and disadvantages are a nod to other games of this time period, (I’m thinking of GURPS 3rd ed) as well as a desire to have each character have something unique to hook a player.

This concept would prove to be resilient and show up in various forms in 3rd, 4th and 5th edition. This is AD&D taking a step away from the “Note book full of identical fighters” and towards the “I built this character to represent my own vision of what a fighter is.”

Jen-Tai: the true Weaponlord.


Chapter 7 weapon proficiency and mastery.
Hold on to your firck’n hat.

This is the last time a character gets an infusion of character points based on Class. Fighters and priests get 8 points, wizards get 3, rouges get 6. Add these to whatever is left over from all the other sections and that’s what the player would have left to buy weapon proficiencies.

Weapon profs are bought in “slots” a slot costs 2 Character points for a warrior and 3 for any other character.
As the text describes “The lowest is nonproficiency, then weapon familiarity, weapon proficiency,
and weapon expertise. Characters can advance additionally
through the levels of weapon specialization, weapon mastery, and, ultimately, weapon grand mastery.”

I smell attack bonus bloat coming.... but wait.... 

Weapon familiarity is based on tight and broad groups of weapons. For example a warrior proficient in hand ax will also be familiar with battle ax because they are in the same tight group of weapons. On the following pages all the weapons are shown in their broad and tight groupings.

Characters suffer penalties based on their class when using weapons they are not proficient in.
Not once in all my years running or playing AD&D did I ever write down these non-proficiency penalties or what Tight group of weapons my long sword was part of… never.


  • A warrior and only a warrior, can spend 1 weapon prof slot to be proficient with a weapon and able to use it normally.
  • Two slots and the warrior is proficient with all the weapons in that tight group, and familiar with all the weapons in the broad group.
  • Three weapon prof slots and the warrior is proficient with all the weapons in the broad weapon group.

Shield proficiency is covered on page 115 and can make a shield very useful if still not very detailed.

Next is armor proficiency. I'm not sure I ever used armomr proficiency.

Fighting styles which are a pull over from “Players Options: Combat and Tactics.”
 Over the next two pages each fighting style is given a paragraph. These will return in the fifth edition of D&D. Funny thing is here I think a player can just pick one.. I’m not sure if there are any costs involved.

Page 118 picks back up with weapon specialization.
This section goes into levels of weapon mastery. Well not high mastery and grand master those are tucked away in the “Players Option: Combat and Tactics” book.

Pulling this section apart would be even more time consuming than I already have been. Here is what I like.
In this book Mastery tops out at +3 damage +3 to hit with a melee weapon. Mastery can be achieved by a fighter by 5th level at the earliest, and only for a steep investment in character points. In other words if a player wants a fighter to be really good with a weapon the player can have that. However, the player has to accept that the fighter will be one dimensional due to the character point costs involved.

Like non-weapon profs, weapon Profs are presented in a complex manner, but works and is far more balanced in play than say Basic D&D weapon mastery cluster-fuck from the rules cyclopedia.

There is a section on Monster weapon mastery. Which to be honest is the problem with all such systems in any edition of D&D. For everything the players get the monsters have to be balanced, and combat gets more drawn out. This is one more time that I can say I have never consciously rebuilt a monster to include weapon mastery.

It's a topic for another day, but I belive that the  sytem of Monster Templates from 4th edition, was the best way this monster "arms race" was ever hanndled.



Page 121 brings us to player character wealth.
I don’t think there is anything particularly ground breaking in this section. Though it is a very good section about charter wealth, debts, land holdings, how to make and save money ect. It’s good just not new. The exception are the rules for exchanging character points for wealth. I don’t feel these rules add any great value to the game. (no pun intended.)

Page 124 has encumbrance rues, and simplified encumbrance rules. I also watched paint dry the other day  ..  My warrior carries a catapult  .. fight me.

126 to 135 are equipment list, all typically well done, shopping list style. These are very compete and I feel superior to the PHB equipment lists. I particularly like the section breaking weapons out by historic time period.



Chapter 8 New schools of magic.
Right from the get go this section drops that each level a wizard may buy new spells for his or her spell book at a cost of 2 Character points +1 per spell level each. Take that specialist wizard…. Questing for spells is sooooo last edition!

4 new schools of magic are presented in this chapter. The alchemist, the geomancer, the shadow mage, and the song wizard. I love the ideas but mechanicaly they arepretty boring. More like examples to show GM's how to build thier own custom spell lists then pair them with background fluff.

This section also has more information about the abilities of specialist wizard than the actual magic section.


  • The alchemist: Can brew potions but boy does it gt expensive. This class would be awesome if the party want to go off on adventures looking for strange ingredients. (fun idea)
  • Geomancers: One of my favorite concepts. I love the idea of spells being locked up in runes and glyphs. The hook here is the geomanceer can create scrolls.
  • Shadow mage: the power of this mage varies in different lighting conditions. The darker the better. Sounds bad ass but looks cumbersome as hell to play. They do have a great spell list though. At high levels these guys would make a really cool nemesis to put up against the party.
  • Song wizard: What level is a silence spell?



Next up Psionics starting on page 142.
This is a long chapter. Here’s the elephant in the room: Psionics are not everyone's bag. People love them or Vehmently hate them.

I’m not going to rip this section apart. Here is my take. This is closer to the Dark Sun (TSR 1991) settings psionics than it is to the Complete Psionics Handbook “CpsiH” (TSR also 1991.)

Between This book, Dark Sun, and the CPsiH trying to run a psionic character in 1995 was a mess.
These rules are good. Just like Dark Sun. However, they are another whole sub-system to bolt into a game. So if the player wants this the GM has to embrace it, the campaign has to make room for it… and so on. Psionics are not something just to toss into a game lightly.

(My psion, Oren Shiren was turned into a gold statue by a retriever for just such reasons.)

I admit it feels strange seeing psionics in this book. I guess after the mess with the CpsiH being different from the Dark Sun rules the authors felt there has to be a definitive psionics rules set and this was the best place for it. It's an atempt to  to clean up an old mess that had been drifiting around since Dragon Mag # 78.

To my knowelge this would represnt the last word on AD&D 2nd ed psionics .... correct me if I'm wrong.



The end is a typical of it’s time excellent appendix containing of all the charts. Every book should do this, every book. (do mine? No….)
It’s so useful when using the book at the table.
Then the also well made exceptionally detailed index.

TLDR VERSION

So what is my takeaway from this re-read.

Second edition may only have been 6 years old, but it’s roots went very visibly all the way back to 1977. The good folks of TSR had just released revised Core books and must have seen other systems in their industry doing new things.

Looking closely at Players Option S&P it's clear to me why the third edition happened, why it had to happen. One mechanic to rule them all after years of bolted on systems getting in each others way. The original d20 die mechanic of 3rd ed was such a selling point after over 20 years of system bloat..

Taken together the three “Players Options” (Spells and Magic, Combat and Tactics, Skills and Powers) represent a rewriting of AD&D 2nd edition. Nearly the writing of a new game. If a Group of players would take these three books and run the game using all the rules presented they would essentially be playing AD&D 2.5.

     I give TSR a ton of credit for releasing it.
Not only releasing it, releasing it in full sized hard cover. These were mainline books. Not second string suplemets. Theses were an honest atemept to reinvision AD&D 2nd. It’s a daring, adventurous experimental book. It plays with a beloved property in ways no one had at an official level at that time and I’d argue since.

     If the reader and their groups are still running 2nd ed and haven't given these player options book a look I suggest buying the pdfs and at least reading them through. I guarantee that at least something will jump out and add to the game.



That was a long one...
Thanks for reading .
-Mark.









Saturday, June 6, 2020

You asked for random birds, I deliver.


(Wait you never asked for random birds? .... shit..)

Do you need a random Bird?
Of course you do………
Does the party ranger need a new companion?
Yes, her normal, boring ass Wolf companion got killed by a manitcore last game.

Whoa daddy, I got the charts form you.
See below the magical mystical random bird generator!
(Much of the info below comes from the CornellLab ornithology website.)
There are no system specific stats below. I figure if the reader is in deep enough to be rolling up random bird companions, statting them out for whatever game the reader may play should be a breaze.

Step one:
Bird body type (Roll 2d12)
  1. Auk type (like a loon)
  2. Black Bird (tall thin fan tail)
  3. Chickadee style (Plump)
  4. Crow or Jay style
  5. Dove like
  6. Duck like
  7. Finch
  8. Flycatcher (small very aerodynamic)
    Pheasant like
  9. Sea gull shaped
  10. Hawk, Eagle, or Falcon Like (Bird of prey)
  11. Heron
  12. Humming bird
  13. King fisher
  14. Nuthatch
  15. Owl (night time bird of prey)
  16. Sea bird (often large like an albatross)
  17. Shore bird
    Sparrow
  18. Swallow
  19. Thrush
  20. Songbird or warbler
  21. Wood pecker
  22. Wren (Noisy bugger)
  23. Giant (Roll again to determine a giant version of what body style, this is large enough to ride.)

Coloration:
Roll once Under or Main color: 1d20
  1. Coal Black
  2. Grey
  3. Dirty white
  4. Blue
  5. VIVID BLUE
  6. Pink
  7. Red
  8. Orange
  9. Umber
  10. Yellow
  11. Tennis ball yellow
  12. Iridescent (Roll again to determine which color is iridescent)
  13. Bright red
  14. Glowing (Roll again to determine which color is glowing)
  15. Purple
  16. Brown
  17. Gold
  18. Muted color (Roll again to determine which color is muted)
  19. Dark Rust
  20. Pearlesant white

Coloration details: 1d20 twice
Roll twice (or as many as you want) below then use the coloration chart above to determine the color of the details.
  1. No Color variance
  2. Head coloration
  3. Beak coloration
  4. Wing coloration
  5. Tail fan coloration
  6. wing badge coloration
  7. stripes on body
  8. speckles on body
  9. speckles just on the head
  10. speckles just on the wings
  11. stripes on wings
  12. under wing coloration
  13. crest of head coloration
  14. patches on body
  15. patches on wings
  16. patches on tail
  17. under-color fades from main color to (roll a color) from head to tail
  18. under-color fades from main color to (roll a color) from tail to head
  19. Feet and legs coloration
  20. color constantly shifts from under color to (roll a color)

Beak type 1d6
  1. Short and thick – seed eater
  2. long, thin, delicate, slightly curved -Nectar feeder
  3. Medium length, stout, chisel like. Wood pecker like, Drilling.
  4. Sharp Curved and pointy, Predatory flesh eater.
  5. Bill like, Plant eater or water strainer.
  6. Long and pointed, spear like Spearing fish.

Foot type: 1d6
  1. 3 toes in front one in back (perching bird)
  2. 2 toes in front 2 behind (Climbing bird
  3. Curved talons (Predatory bird)
  4. Webbed (walks like a duck)
  5. Long tall legs long feet (for wading)
  6. Short stout legs medium feet. (good for running)

Details: (optional 1d20)
  1. Pilated crest on head.
  2. Eye patches of a varying coloration
  3. Tufts on body
  4. tufts on wings
  5. Split tail
  6. Long tail
  7. Super fancy peacock style tail
  8. Plump “cute” body and face.
  9. Puffed up chest
  10. Bald head (no feathers)
  11. unusually large beak
  12. rings around eyes
  13. striped beak
  14. glowing eyes
  15. larger than normal feet.
  16. Flightless tiny wings
  17. extra wide wingspan
  18. extremely fancy neck ruffle (Like birds of paradise)
  19. fancy wing tips
  20. fluffy down.
Now you know what your bird looks like. Lets do the fun stuff.

Behavior: 1d12
  1. Playful tugs on strings, moves around a lot, sings
  2. Mischievous: steals things
  3. Serious: Always on guard
  4. Skittish: Jumpy flies away a lot.
  5. Loving, looks for comfort
  6. Aggressive, attacks with no hesitation.
  7. Secretive: Often hies in shadows, doesn’t move much, very quiet in flight.
  8. Scavenger. Always on the look out for a free meal.
  9. Early Bird. Starts each day with a song, just as the sun comes up.
  10. Nocturnal hunter. Most active at night sluggish during the day.
  11. Intricate mating dance that it does relatively often.
  12. Swooping, stays aloft as much as possible.

Birdsong:
  1. Loud squawking
  2. a pleasant tiny quiet chirping
  3. a constant complex song
  4. a gentile cooooooooooo-ing
  5. a stuttering chirp
  6. sings a lovely song usually a few times a day. enchanting
  7. Mimics words
  8. No song or call.
  9. A vicious screech
  10. Roll twice.

Intelligence: 1d6
(Note special ”Magical” abilities, or abilities that a character may have when working with animals are not taken into account on the inteligence roll.
  1. bird brained, literally a dummy
  2. An average bird intelligence very good at what it does but not very trainable
  3. trainable to a limited degree
  4. trainable: will except simple commands such as come back, and attack,
  5. Highly intelligent: Can recognize objects, take multiple simple commands. “Get ring”, “fly home”
  6. Exceptionally intelligent: Can solve simple problems, use simple tools, take complex commands, learn who people are.
Magical or fantasy effects:
This list as always has no stats included it’s system agnostic.
  1. This bird has a psychic connection with one person. This allows wordless communication within line of sight.
  2. This bird can fly completely silently.
  3. This bird can change between normal and giant sized
  4. This bird can shroud it’s self in flames
  5. This bird can talk
  6. This bird is excellent at camouflaging it’s self
  7. This bird has a limited teleport ability, it’s a blink bird
  8. This bird is immune to electricity and can call small lightning bolts.
  9. This bird can give off light in up to 100 foot radius.
  10. This bird can detect magic
  11. One person can see through this birds eyes once a day.
  12. This birds song can be very enchanting or distracting. (can give boons or penalties as a bard would)
  13. This bird can lift larger and heavier objects than you would expect.
  14. This bird leaves a train of sparks when flaying.
  15. This birds flashy display acts as a “color spray” type spell twice a day.
  16. This bird can “smell” gems and precious mettle.
  17. This bird can become invisible for short periods of time once a day.
  18. This bird is immune to fire and has a minor “breath weapon” of fire.
  19. This bird can swim and hold it’s breath for extended periods of time.
  20. This bird transforms into a Man / Woman at night. (yeah …… )
My Bird:
A Tennis ball yelow Humming Bird with Glowing blue Speckles on it's wings and Glowing Blue Patches on  it's body.
It has a Woodpecker Beak an Webbed feet as well as Glowing pink eyes.
It Stays aloft as much as possible and has no song or call to speak of.
This humming bird is Trainible to a limited extent and can lift heavier things than you would expect.

I call him "Pete"

-Thanks for reaing..... 
-MArk

Friday, June 5, 2020

A few changes.

It's been years since I changed anything on the ole blog.
So I made a new banner... with a picture of an opossum from my backyard and a new working title.
Tweeked the background color..
fresh coat of paint.

Why "Diary of a failed game designer"? read the four posts I made between 2019 and 2020.
I'm out of the game. I failed at my goal of getting a serious product out tot the masses.
There are several reasons why:

  • Real life is distracting. 
  • I'm not brave enough to invest the capital it takes to create a serious product.
  • My stuff is not that good. (just being honest)
  • I don't have the dedication it takes to promote an actual product.
  • I stopped giving a shit.
So why carry on the  blog?
I asked myself the same question.

The answer is easy. I like to share things. Creating is something I do still give a shit about.
Sharing cool, fun ideas, random charts, magic items, things that may help games run more smoothly ; those are things I still care about...
So check back for that sort of thing.
Use the links to dig through the archive.
There's quite a bit here.

Thanks for Reading 
-Mark.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Being a system nerd has become a waste of time.


Through out this post I am speaking only about myself and my views. This is not directed at anyone in particular. Yes I recognze there are always exceptions to blanket statements. If  the reader finds the ideas put fourth below somehow offensive, I don’t necessarily care. Leave a comment, just remeber I'm never going to see it.

I'ts 2020.
There is a new generation of RPG players out there and they  have the buying power in the RPG industy. 
  • Ones that have absolutely no connection to the  war gaming history of the hobby. 
  • Players who really only want to see their  tiefling sorcerer steal a kiss from the barbarian the evening before setting off to face the big bad. 
  • Players who don't want a scribe, a mapper, or a caller.
  • Players who want to watch RPG's on youube and Twitch, the way we used to watch Conan and Krull.
  • ones who want to hear how the  light plays off the gems on the gypsie's hem. 
  • Players who don't mind if the game they’re watching is not a group of friends creating an emergent story. Rather a group of actors brought together via casting call, and running through a GM's vision of the game.
  • Players who don't particularity care "Miniatures move and fight using a ratio of either 1:20 (one miniature representing 20 troops) or 1:10 "

This is why D&D 5thE has done so well. It is not a system nerds game. It is a game tht allows players to make characters with clearly defined roles who progress quickly and can do epic things pretty much right out of the box.
Here’s the twist though, it's not about D&D it could have been any system. The system might as well be flip a coin, heads succeed tails fail. The  experience today is no longer about the games. It is about personality, story, and aesthetics. Mostly aesthetics.


Everyday there are more new fans and players and less second generation (started in the 80's) Players. So pack up any fancy system ideas and discussions about game theory. It mattered when I started. Then The Big model mattered, Then The OSR mattered (before it ate it’s self), narrative gaming always mattered. However, like all things do the RPG landscape has changed. What much of the next generation thinks of as RPG gaming and entertainment is an evolution of what I enjoyed about the RPG hobby. 

I’ll still enjoy trying to think of clever mechanics to emulate genre or generate a desired tone of play. I'll think about those things for my enjoyment, but I understand that it’s a compete waste of time. The RPG community at large has past me by. It belongs to the young, as it should. The idea of what makes an RPG experience has evolved.