Author Archive

November 3, 2010

the one page adventure

I’m not gaming much these days, thanks to parent-teacher conferences and my toddler failing her morale check vs Hallowe’en. What I have been doing is reading blogs about gaming–the time-honored substitute for playing–and lately found this post by a blogger named Flynn: GM Mentoring: the One Page Plot.

Maybe because I’ve been running One Page Dungeons for the last two years, but lately I’ve been wanting to run games that aren’t primarily about exploration. I’ve been wanting to run games that are about achieving in-game goals while rival NPCs do their best to stop you. In other words, adventures. Naturally any post that promises a one-page version of an adventure got my attention.

In a follow up to his original post, Flynn outlines an interesting adventure involving an exiled lord framed by a rival and a venal merchant for treason, so the rival can marry the exile’s betrothed instead.

Compared to most published adventures, Flynn’s template packs in a lot of information in a very small amount of space. In that sense it’s a model of brevity–it has everything a DM could need, short of stat blocks, to run the adventure. But I’m spoiled by the One Page Dungeon Template. I want something even more brief, even more skeletal, with only the barest minimum necessary to scan and run on game night.

Anyone who has talked to me about DM prep lately knows that I’m a huge fan of a blog post called Don’t Prep Plots by Justin Alexander. He’s got a lot of great articles on dungeon and adventure design, but that one is by far my favorite. He says, in a nutshell, that contingency planning for player actions is at best a partial waste of time (because you prep for X and Y, but the players only choose one, so half is wasted) and at worst a complete waste of time (because we all know that players have a knack for surprising DMs and thus rendering all prep useless).

He recommends preparing Situations instead of Plots. Plots are a sequence of events. But he points out that you can’t be sure what the sequence of events in a game are before you play (unless you railroad, which has its own problems). A situation is a set of circumstances, period. What happens after that is based on what the players do and what their adversaries (played by the DM) do in response.

The other advantage a Situation has over a plot is that it’s a lot shorter to write.  We all know the plot of LotR, so I won’t transcribe it. But can we agree that it could take several pages to summarize? At the very least, you’d be hard pressed to fit the entire plot on a single page, even if you left out many, many details. So here’s the same plot, written as a Situation:

Frodo and his companions must cast the One Ring into Mount Doom before Sauron finds it and takes over the world.

Boom! What happens next is up to the players of Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, et al. And we already know that it might not go like the DM planned.

A situation really makes the DM’s life easier, because he doesn’t need to remember all sorts of contingency plans. All he needs to remember are some NPC goals and the resources they have to achieve those goals. So if you’re playing Sauron and you know the Ring is in the Shire, you look over your sheet of resources and think: army of orcs, too slow… Saruman, can’t be trusted… evil men in Bree, too weak… Nazghul, fast, smart and unswervingly loyal, perfect! It’s the players’ job to deal with it, so you don’t need to worry about complicated if/then scenarios, and you can go back to picking a craft beer for game night.

I’ve tried to give one of my own campaign ideas the Situations Not Plots treatment, but I had a hard time, probably because it’s tough to kill your babies–and if you’re like me, you usually have several cool “scenes” in mind when you think up an adventure. And any given scene may or may not happen with a Situation-based game.

So I decided to give Flynn’s very cool one page plot the Situation treatment (by accident because I didn’t read his post clearly enough and understand what kind of feedback he was looking for). But I enjoyed the exercise enough that I decided to blog about it.

In any case, this isn’t an attempt to fix Flynn’s adventure or imply that it has problems, it’s just me seeing an adventure I thought was cool and trying to make it work for my style of DM prep. None of the following will make sense unless you go read about his adventure now.

Here’s Flynn’s synopsis:

The party must protect an one-legged, greedy trader from the actions of a branded, slovenly noble, who is motivated by love.

It’s a really cool premise, and the characters are interesting! They’re morally gray, with the “good guy” exile being slovenly and sort of unlikable, the merchant being a greedy, treacherous type and the “bad guy” being a jealous lord. The only person you could consider “good” is the betrothed, and she’s completely in the dark!

So the first thing that I thought when I read the adventure is how most of my players wouldn’t care a bent copper piece about a squabble between a scruffy noble and a greedy merchant. The next thing I thought was how they’d be most likely to care about whomever could pay them the most. And that got me thinking that they’d most likely end up working for the “bad guy”, rubbing out the pesky exile or tying up loose ends by murdering the merchant.

Clearly I needed something more flexible than a plot. Here’s my attempt at a Situation:

Bad Lord hired Lying Merchant to frame Exile for Treason, using false Evidence.

First thing I did after this is specify the treason and the evidence. Mainly because it’s easier for me to remember “planning to assassinate the king at the wedding” than an unspecified charge of treason). Also because if there’s false evidence, the players are going to want to examine it, destroy it, or otherwise interact with it. Not to mention DMs don’t have time to figure things out, they’re downloading/buying your adventure because they want you to do their work for them.

Here’s the re-write:

Bad Lord hired Lying Merchant to frame Exile with a forged letter planning the assassination of the king at the wedding to Betrothed.

I’m also using descriptions rather than names at this early stage. DMs have a hard time remembering names if they didn’t come up with them, and I’m no exception.

The next order of business is to come up with some NPC goals. This is the part that creates the real Situation. The summary I wrote above is static. The Exile is exiled, and the Bad Lord and Lying Merchant are getting away with it. So let’s whip up some goals that shake things up:

Bad Lord: Marry Betrothed and get her lands. Keep conspiracy secret.
Lying Merchant: Sell info to the highest bidder.
Exile: Clear my name. Marry Betrothed.
Betrothed: Get out of marrying Bad Lord.

Now we’re talking! That jerkwad Merchant isn’t content with the dishonest buck he’s making by framing the Exile. Now he wants to sell what he knows, too. This puts him in conflict with the Bad Lord and creates lots of hooks. Replace “hired” with “asked”, “begged”, “forced”, “blackmailed”, etc as fits your game:

Hired to protect the Merchant from the Bad Lord’s goons.

Hired by the Bad Lord to kill the Merchant.

Hired by the Exile to steal the info, buy the info, or kidnap the Merchant.

Hired by the Betrothed to protect the Exile, steal the info, etc.

Note that Flynn’s original hook is in there, so we’re remaining faithful to the original adventure idea. Except now it’s a lot more robust. There are lots of ways to engage with the adventure, and we can guess from their goals how each NPC might react to any actions by the players.

Next we need to figure out what resources the NPCs have at their disposal. This is the part that feels the most like traditional “DM prep”. You examine party powers, look at CR/ELs, levels/Hit Dice, etc. Or maybe you’re running a sandbox, so you just decide how powerful the Bad Lord is, and let the players figure out whether they can take him (or if they should work for him instead).

So here’s what some resources might look like, minus the stats for whatever game system you’re using:

Bad Lord: a fortified manor in the country (site of wedding), a town house, a personal bodyguard, two squads of soldiers, 4,000 cash, a carriage, a court magician.

Lying Merchant: a warehouse, a wagon and driver, a personal bodyguard, 6,000 cash, line of credit for 10,000, an office in town, contacts with a smuggler’s crew, personally skilled at forgery, a bribed guard captain, a hideout in a bar he owns.

Exile: 2,000 cash, a personal bodyguard, a huge estate in the country (unavailable while exiled), a good horse, a terrific disguise.

Betrothed: 3,000 cash, access to her father’s estates, a line of credit for 5,000, a sexy servant girl, a childhood friend of the king, a brother in the clergy.

Then let the players do whatever they want and have the NPCs use their resources accordingly. No worrying about contingencies, no elaborate encounters going unused, much less time wasted.

It practically runs itself! If they get hired by the Merchant, they’ll quickly find themselves facing off with the Bad Lord’s men, being scryed on by his wizard, attacked by the Exile, approached by the Betrothed’s sexy servant girl, etc. If they are hired by the Bad Lord to kill the Exile, he and the Betrothed will do what they can to stop them. The Merchant might even decide that having the Exile alive makes his position stronger, and pitch in.

And lets say they meet the Exile and kill him on the first encounter. Big deal. The Bad Lord will naturally want them to bump off the Merchant next. And then he might want them to bump off the Betrothed after the wedding, so he can inherit without having to deal with her. And then what? Well the Bad Lord can’t have a bunch of adventurers wandering around knowing his darkest secrets…

Every step of the way you’ve got options. And what’s more, every step of the way you’ve got more material for future adventures, more NPCs popping up with a stake in what’s happening. The father of the Betrothed. The brother of the Exile. The master thief who wants the info to blackmail the Bad Lord. The Other Lord who is a rival of the Bad Lord. And on, and on.

The other nice thing about this design is it quickly exposes logical inconsistencies that often crop up in plot-based adventures, particularly ones that involve any kind of conspiracy or mystery. For example, why hasn’t the Bad Lord murdered the Exile already? Sure, the short answer is that if he had, there wouldn’t be an adventure. And that’s fair enough, but this gives us a chance to fill in the blanks a little, and gives us even more material to work with.

That’s why I added “a terrific disguise” to the list of resources for the Exile. Originally it wasn’t on his list, but now I consider it the reason he’s not already a corpse. Then I got to thinking–the king must not be very strong if he can’t execute a traitor, even a noble one. Maybe it’s a situation like medieval England, where several Dukes nearly as strong as the King rivaled him for power. The King may have had to compromise with exile, or risk civil war.

That makes everything a lot more interesting! Suddenly the Exile might have more options, and a powerful family. His estate is confiscated, but the rest of his family might be able to protect him if he can get to their territory. Other Dukes might welcome this loss in prestige for his family–or might want to help to keep the King from getting too strong. Foreign princes might give him safe haven. He might need the players to spirit him over the mountains. Or he might need them to break up the wedding long enough for him to assemble an invasion force.

Once I sort that out, I add it to the summary (which is probably a small paragraph  or series of bullet points by now) and then I have an answer when some pesky player asks why the Bad Lord didn’t have the Exile killed. The King couldn’t execute him, so he banished him instead. And Exile evaded the Bad Lord’s thugs with his terrific disguise.

Next post I’ll format my examples as a one-pager and see how it turns out.

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October 9, 2010

Red Box to d20: Thief

Before we get too far into the Thief let’s talk about Skills, since he’s the only Red Box class that has what is a “modern” conception of skills. Whereas the other classes’ attempts to do things are governed by a variety of rules: the surprise rules covers hiding and sneaking, door opening is covered by the open doors rules, finding pit traps can be covered by the “trap goes off on a 1-2” rule, and of course there’s Moldvay’s offhand remark about rolling under a stat.

For our d20 conversion, I’m going to use stat checks in lieu of skills, modified by various situational bonuses (ie Elves get a bonus when searching for secret doors, but not when searching for treasure in a pile of garbage).  Thieves are going to work the same way, which means that stats are going to be even more important for Thieves than for any other class. And it also means, given the difficulty of rolling decent stats using Red Box’s 3d6 in order method, that Thieves get completely screwed by this system.

Both seem faithful to the original text. 🙂

So here are the Thief’s saves, with the Fighter in parentheses:

Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 13 (12)
Magic Wands (Will) 14 (13)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 13 (14)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 16 (15)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 15 (16)

Virtually identical. Fort 13, Ref 16, Will 14.5.

BAB HD  Fort Ref Will
+1  1d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  2d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  3d8 +2   +0  +0

It’s weird to think of the Thief as bad at Ref saves. I’m actually starting to wonder if Dragon Breath maps well to a Reflex save, considering that the Fighter is better at it than a Thief. It makes you wonder: how did the designers imagine the Fighter surviving a blast of fire from a Dragon? Hunkering down behind a shield and gritting his teeth, or diving out of the way? Likely neither–it was a simple calculation of: Fighters are tougher than thieves.

Next let’s have a look at the Thief skills:

Level  Open Locks  F/R Traps  PP   MS   Climb  HS   Hear Noise
1      15%         10%        20%  20%  87%    10%  32%
2      20          15         25   25   88     15   32
3      25          20         30   30   89     20   50

Man, this is a weird class. Thieves are actually not the stealthy, skilled burglars they’re cracked up to be. If anything, they are amazingly nimble climbers and desperate pickpockets who likely live short, brutish lives. I wouldn’t hire these guys for anything except climbing impassable walls and other underground barriers in order to place ropes for the rest of the party.

I’ll give Thieves the following bonuses:

Level  Open Locks  F/R Traps  PP   MS   Climb  HS   Hear Noise
1      +3          +2         +4   +4   +16    +4   +1
2      +4          +3         +5   +5   +17    +5   +3
3      +5          +4         +6   +6   +18    +6   +5

It’s a little weird, I’ll admit it. I’ve made him a worse climber at 1st level, in order that he can get a small bump at 2nd & 3rd. I’m comfortable giving him the same percentages in d20 for Open Lock, because even the simplest lock is a DC 20 in the d20 system. Ditto for Finding and Disabling Traps, which although they are separate skills in d20, don’t need to be here.  Same with Pickpocket (Sleight of Hand in d20).

The Listen skill specifically says a 1st level Rogue using MS to sneak past you is DC 15. The +4 seems reasonable enough. Climbing a typical dungeon wall is DC20, so our +16 is actually a bit low to map to the Basic numbers, but the d20 system isn’t granular enough to do 1% bumps, so I’m going to keep it, if only so we can end up with a number near 89% at 3rd level.

Hide is tricky, so I’m going to use the same reasoning that I used for Move Silently and move on (silently). Hear Noise jumps from 32% to 50% at 3rd level, so I’m going to do what I did with Climb and back into the higher number, giving Thieves a nice +2 bump per level.

So not terribly faithful, but approximate.

This exercise in converting the Red Box classes to some sort of d20 approximation has been interesting. I never realized how underpowered they are compared to their d20 counterparts, never mind the stat bonuses.

I also never realized how concepts like niche protection and class balance were really just hand-waved until 3e D&D. Regardless of how you feel about 3e and later versions, you can’t make the argument that they didn’t at least consider how the classes stacked up with each other. Seeing these classes translated into the d20 “lingua franca”, I really understand why only a masochist would play a Thief. I also see that the Fighter, long held to be the workhorse of the Red Box, is actually really a tough row to hoe.

The other thing this has shown to me is that a d20 conversion would be a lot more faithful if, rather than trying to port Red Box classes over, I’d worked on some brand new, 3 level d20 classes.

I’m not going to continue with the experiment any further, but hopefully someone (other than me) found it interesting.

September 29, 2010

Red Box to d20: Halfling

I haven’t got much enthusiasm for the last two classes, but it feels like we’re on the home stretch, so let’s just power through the Halfling and then take a bit longer with the Thief, because he’s the only class is Basic that has Skills.

The Halfling’s saves are identical to the Dwarf, something I never noticed before–that’s how popular the Halfling is at RBV. One thing I did notice is that the Dwarf/Halfling saves are different in Basic and Expert D&D, which is just strange. I’ve been referring to the expanded charts in Expert so I can see where the first improvement is for a class (ie 4th level for Fighters), and the Dwarf/Halfling saves are significantly better. Here they are side-by-side (Basic/Expert):

Death Ray or Poison 10/8
Magic Wands 11/9
Paralysis or Turn to Stone 12/10
Dragon Breath 13/13
Rods, Staves or Spells 12/14

I’d love to know what the story was here. Did they decide that Dwarves needed more advantages? Is one a misprint? It’s weird. Anyway, I’ve been using the Expert saves until now, so I’ll keep ’em. The Halfling:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will
+1  1d6 +6  +2  +4
+2  2d6 +6  +2  +4
+3  3d6 +6  +2  +4

This guy has the same xp as a Fighter: 2,000. He can’t use long bows or two-handed swords, so he’s no different than a Dwarf (although the wording is different, talking about weapons that are “cut down” to size). He can’t see in the dark, nor does he have d8 hit dice. But his saves are very good. Seems reasonable so far. What else?

He’s accurate with missile weapons, getting +1 to hit at all times. Call it Point Blank Shot, even though it’s quite a bit better than d20 with the lack of a range restriction. He gets +2 to AC against larger creatures, but I’m not going to mess around with size categories right now, so let’s call it a +2 Dodge bonus.

He gets a 16% bonus to initiative. Call it Improved Initiative, to make up for PBS. Their hiding ability is fearsome. Outdoors, it’s 90% and indoors it’s 33%.

Calculating a hide bonus is a little complicated, because the average adventurer has a 16% chance of hiding–never stated explicitly, but in general that’s the rule of thumb for Basic: when in doubt, roll a 1 on a d6. I’m going to keep DC 15 as the baseline, even though Goblins and Orcs have +2 and +1 to Spot, respectively. Why? I don’t know exactly. It seems like a reasonable compromise to handle the range of DCs the Halfling is likely to face from level 1-3. Adding to the trickiness is that the average d20 PC has a 30% chance of hiding with an unmodified d20 roll vs DC 15.

Probabilities are not my strong suit, so I asked some smarter nerds to weigh in. Here’s what one of them said:

A 15% chance of success corresponds to the smaller part of the area under the normal distribution curve about one standard deviation from mean. A 90% chance of success corresponds to the larger part of the area about 1.3 sd from mean. A 30% chance of success is about 0.5 sd, so I’d just up the halfling to 1.8, which yields a ~96% chance of success when hiding outdoors, and a 50% chance (0 sd) to hide in other conditions.
That’s assuming that skills follow some kind of normal distribution, and that returns on ‘investment’ in the skill tapers off, which is exactly how it doesn’t work in d20.

A 15% chance of success corresponds to the smaller part of the area under the normal distribution curve about one standard deviation from mean. A 90% chance of success corresponds to the larger part of the area about 1.3 sd from mean. A 30% chance of success is about 0.5 sd, so I’d just up the halfling to 1.8, which yields a ~96% chance of success when hiding outdoors, and a 50% chance (0 sd) to hide in other conditions.

That’s assuming that skills follow some kind of normal distribution, and that returns on ‘investment’ in the skill tapers off, which is exactly how it doesn’t work in d20.

The consensus was that +4 to hide indoors and +9 outdoors was a reasonable compromise, given the complexities in translating Basic’s percentile system to the d20 DC system.

So here’s how the abilities shake out:

Weapon Proficiencies: All (except long bows and two-handed swords)
Armor Proficiencies: All
Hide bonus: +4 (+9 outdoors)
Point Blank Shot, Improved Initiative, Dodge (+2 vs Larger than man-sized)

And that’s the Halfling. Next up is the weakest class in Basic, the poor, pitiful Thief.

September 28, 2010

Red Box to d20: Cleric

Next up is the Cleric, a class that I consider to be the best overall class in Basic D&D, despite what I said earlier about the Elf. The Cleric is nearly as good a fighter as the Fighter–he does slightly less damage and his ranged weapons suck–and he’s got the same hit points as an Elf. But instead of 4,000xp, he needs even less than the Fighter: only 1,500. And he can turn undead as well as cast cure light wounds once he makes 2nd level. Even though Elf is the most popular class at Red Box Vancouver, it’s no coincidence that of the three highest level PCs, two are Clerics.

In other words, the next time someone complains about the CoDzilla in 3.5e, tell them it’s part of a long tradition of divine ass-kicking. 

So the Cleric. Here are the saves, with the Fighter and M-U for comparison:
Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 11 (12, 13)
Magic Wands (Will) 12 (13, 14)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 14 (14, 13)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 16 (15, 16)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 15 (16, 15)

These are surprising. Looks like the Cleric has one of the better Fort-type saves in the game ~12.5. Ref is not great, but no worse than the M-U, at 16. And versus magic, the Cleric is decent, ~13.5. Using DC 15 as our baseline:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will Spells
+1 1d6 +2 -1 +1 none
+1 2d6 +2 -1 +1 1 1st
+1 3d6 +2 -1 +1 2 1st

Clerics don’t get spells until they’ve “proven themselves” to their god by leveling.  We can revisit that when we look at spells. They can use all armor and all non-edged weapons (swords and arrows are specifically called out in the text as examples). And they can turn undead.

Armor Proficiency: All
Weapon Proficiency: Simple, Martial (non-edged).
Eschew Materials: Basic has no material components or focuses.

I gave the Cleric Martial weapons because the warhammer, a highly iconic cleric weapon after the mace, is a Martial weapon. That’s something I might change when I give the equipment list the d20 treatment.

As far as turning undead goes, I don’t see any reason why we can’t use the d20 version. It’s close enough to the Basic one, although because Charisma isn’t a prerequisite for the Basic cleric, we’ll use Wisdom as the operative stat.

Saves are still a little weird to me. Being no good at Ref works with the whole “heavily armored priest” archetype, but being better at Will saves than an M-U is strange to me. I think it’s the M-U that is weird, though. There’s an analysis of the Basic classes that shows that they’re all about as powerful as their relative xp costs… except for the M-U which has a very high xp cost to the amount of powers it has. Maybe the M-U saves were nerfed at some point for the same reason?

Next I guess I’ll tackle my two least favorite classes, the barely used Halfling and the nearly useless Thief.

September 27, 2010

Red Box to d20: Elf

Elf. The best class in Basic D&D. You can fight. You can cast Sleep. You can wear Plate Mail and use a Sword. D&D sure did love Elves back in the day. Admittedly, they need twice as many xp as a Fighter to level, but given that they combine the Fighter class with the M-U class, plus the Elvish abilities, the price tag seems actually pretty cheap (Fighter + M-U == 4,500).

So here we go. Everyone fights like our poor Fighter, so let’s jump right to saves. Fighter’s and M-U’s saves are in parenthesis for comparison:
Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 12 (12, 13)
Magic Wands (Will) 13 (13, 14)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 13 (14, 13)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 15 (15, 16)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 15 (16, 15)

It looks an awful lot like the designers just took the better of the two classes’ saves and gave them to the Elf. Boy they had a hard-on for Elves. So let’s do the same thing. And we’ll split the difference with HD, just like Basic:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will Spells
+1 1d6 +2 +0 +0 1 1st
+1 2d6 +2 +0 +0 2 1st
+1 3d6 +2 +0 +0 2 1st, 1 2nd

Weapon Proficiency: Simple, Martial
Armor Proficiency: All
Eschew Materials (as M-U)
Darkvision (as Dwarf)
Search bonus: +3
Immunity: Ghoul Paralysis.

Elves can see in the dark like Dwarves, have a bonus when searching for secret doors similar to the Dwarves searching for traps, etc. They’re also immune to the paralysis of ghouls, which doesn’t have a d20 equivalent that I’m aware, but we’ll just make it a special feature.

And that’s the Elf. This is getting easier now that we have our base classes to work from. Next I’ll do the Cleric, which is easily the best class in D&D (some things never change, huh?) and I guess I’ll do the Halfling and Thief, which have to be the two worst classes in Basic D&D.

September 24, 2010

Red Box to d20: Magic-User

On to the Magic User. I’m a little anxious about this one, because I never play M-Us, so let me know if I miss anything.

The amazing thing about M-Us in Basic is that they fight as well as a Fighter from levels 1-3. Fighters really get a raw deal in Basic.

Their saves are:
DR/Poison (Fort) 13
M Wands (Will) 14
Para/Stone (Fort) 13
Dragon (Ref) 16
R, S, Spells (Will) 15

So Fort is 13, Ref 16 and Will 14.5. This surprised me. Magic Users are a little worse than fighters at dealing with Death Rays or Poison, but significantly better at resisting Paralysis and being Turned to Stone. That is just plain odd. They’re not as good at getting out of the way of Dragon Breath, which makes sense, and they’re good at resisting Spells… but no where near as good as a Dwarf. And only a little better (10%) than a Fighter. All in all, a real dog’s breakfast for Saves, and they don’t map very well to what you’d expect: sucks at Fort/Ref, good at Will.

Then again, M-Us have some serious disadvantages in Basic, so I won’t mess with saves just yet, but make a mental note to revisit this class again. So here’s the M-U:

BAB HD Fort Ref Will Spells
+1 1d4 +2 -1 +0 1 1st
+1 2d4 +2 -1 +0 2 1st
+1 2d4 +2 -1 +0 2 1st, 1 2nd

This class doesn’t feel right. +0 for Will saves just looks weird. And it has the same Fort save as our Fighter? Something ain’t right here. I’m wondering if I need to look more closely at my Magic == Will and Dragon Breath == Ref approximation. Come to think of it, I have no idea if a DC 15 Ref save is even remotely approximate to dragon breath in 3.5e. So before we go any further, let’s examine that.

A Basic Red Dragon is a 10 HD monster with average hit points of 45, which is also how much its breath weapon does. That puts it roughly equivalent to a Wyrmling or Very Young 3.5e Red Dragon. The DC for those categories: 15 and 18.

The DC 15 Ref save seems okay to me, as does the Dragon Breath to Ref save conversion. The Fort and Will values we ended up with are strange, but I’ll have to come back to that, when I do the Spell and Poison conversions.

M-Us can’t wear any armor or shields, and they can only fight with daggers. A lot of DMs allow them to use quarterstaffs or other small weapons, but by-the-book, they’re guys in a robe with a knife and a book.

Armor Proficiency: none.
Weapon proficiency: dagger.
Eschew Materials.

Basic (and I believe Expert) have no material components for spells. Basic has no rules for writing scrolls, copying spells into spellbooks, or making magic items. Expert D&D notes that M-Us can make scrolls and magic items when they hit “name” level, but that’s out of our scope. I’ll keep the Basic spell progression until I convert spells. I think we’re done.

A couple things I’ve noticed while doing this: the first is that the mere act of going through the Basic game makes me want to house rule it to make it more like the D&D I want to play. For example, I’d give the M-U proficiency with swords. Why? Because Gandalf, Elric and probably a bunch of other cool wizards had magic swords they liked to swing around. And it doesn’t really matter, because if you’re a Basic M-U in melee, you’re not going to be proficient with that sword for very long. 😛

The other thing I notice is how much 3.5e captures D&D for me, at it’s core. The classes, the class features, the race features, the strengths and weaknesses: they feel right to me. All the supplemental material, feats, etc didn’t always feel like D&D, but the core game hits the sweet spot for me. A great example are those M-U saves up there. They look bizarre! M-Us should be good at dealing with spells (ie Will saves) and crap at everything else!

Booyah. Next up, the Elf. I’m feeling pretty good about him.

September 23, 2010

Red Box to d20: Dwarf

Next I’m going to tackle the Dwarf class. In Basic D&D, the Dwarf is pretty much a Fighter who doesn’t need torches and can find traps. In fact, in lots of ways you never want to be a Fighter if you can qualify for Dwarf (just like you never want to be a M-U if you can qualify for Elf).

By the book, Dwarves can use any armor and any weapon except for long bows and two-handed swords. They have infravision and are expert miners who can find slanting passages, traps, etc. They also have much better saves than the Fighter, whose values are in parentheses:

Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 8 (12)
Magic Wands (Will) 9 (13)
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 10 (14)
Dragon Breath (Ref) 13 (15)
Rods, Staves or Spells (Will) 12 (16)

So Fort saves are his best at ~9, Ref saves are his worst at 13, Will saves are a decent ~10.5. We’re using DC 15 as our benchmark, so that would be a staggering +6/+2/+4. That’s about the same as a 9th level Paladin in 3.5e! Basic Dwarves are limited to 12th level, but holy criznut that’s bad ass. On the other hand, saves don’t come up quite as much in Basic as they do in 3.5e, because if it’s not on the chart PCs don’t save against it (or use a stat check, unlike 3.5e where Reflex is used more often for environmental hazards, etc. We’re probably going to have to adjust these saves later, but for now let ’em stand.

BAB HD Fort Ref Will
+1 1d8 +6 +2 +4
+1 2d8 +6 +2 +4
+1 3d8 +6 +2 +4

For now, give the Dwarf proficiency with all armor and both simple and martial weapons minus the two weapons noted above, but I’m guessing that later we’ll nerf that a bit when we do the full Basic weapon and armor list. As for his racial abilities, d20 is interesting. I’d give him darkvision as is (I prefer darkvision to infravision for mechanical reasons anyway), and also give him a bonus when he’s searching for traps, sliding walls and all that Dwarven jazz. Since we don’t have skills, just stat checks, I think that works just fine, but in Basic his bonus is 16% better than normal, so I’ll give him a +3 when he searches.

In Basic D&D everyone has the same movement rate for simplicity (modified by encumbrance… we’ll tackle that later), so I’ll ignore the d20 movement rate for Dwarves (and Halflings, when we get there).

Armor Proficiency: All
Weapon Proficiency: Simple, Martial (except long bows and two-handed-swords)
Search bonus: +3
Darkvision 60′

I think it’s time to say BOOYAH! Damn, Dwarves rock. I never noticed how much better their saves were than… everyone.

One thing to start thinking about is xp. In Basic each class has it’s own xp chart, and the better classes (like Dwarves) need more to level. If we don’t do that for this conversion, then this class needs to have a few more limitations on it. Even if we do that, these saves are so good, and so much more useful in d20, that I’d be tempted to slap some limits on them. But right now we’re just trying to model Basic, and in Basic D&D the Dwarf is always, always a better choice than Fighter, even with needing an extra 200 to get to 2nd level. So far so good.

Next up: M-U, the base spellcasting class.

September 21, 2010

Red Box to d20: Fighter vs Goblin

Before going much further, I decided to compare our converted Fighter to the 3.5e Goblin as a sanity check, plus this means we have to dig into some armor and weapons as well, so it’ll pay off later.

The Basic D&D Goblin:
AC 6, HD 1-1, Move 20’/round, Saves: Normal Man, Atk: as HD, Damage 1d6.

Comparing him to the Goblin from the 3.5e SRD:
AC 15, HD 1d8+1, Speed 30, Saves: Fort/Ref/Will +3/+1/-1, Atk +2 (+3 Ranged), Damage 1d6.

So this sucks! On paper the d20 Goblin is better than our Fighter at fighting and saves. And he’s much, much better than the Goblin from Basic.

The AC is +2 better: Basic AC 6 is Leather Armor & Shield, which is +3 points of protection (Basic AC starts at 9), or a d20 AC 13.

Basic hit points average 4. d20 hit points average 5.

Movement is a wash: 20′ round is normal for a Fighter wearing metal armor in Basic D&D.

Saves are better than our Fighter by +1 net. But compared to the Normal Man in Basic, they’re leagues better. The Normal Man has the same saves as a Basic D&D Fighter (see my previous post) except at -2! The d20 equivalent is probably Fort/Ref/Will of +0/-2/-2. Even if we give our d20 Normal Man +0 across the board (like the NPC Commoner class), the d20 Goblin still comes out way ahead of his Basic counterpart.

The combat ability of a HD 1-1 monster in Basic is the same as a 1st level fighter. But the d20 Goblin has the fighting ability of the 4th level version of our Fighter: +2. And he’s even better at ranged attacks. His damage is the same, thankfully, but it’s looking like the 3.5e Goblin will mop the floor with our Fighter, even if the Fighter is wearing Platemail & Shield, standard load out for a low level Basic D&D guy.

Let’s find out.

Our Fighter needs a 12 to hit the Goblin’s AC 13. That means he’ll hit 45% of the time and do 1d8 points of damage with a longsword. The sword is the best weapon in Basic for a guy with a shield (and therefore the best weapon in Basic), and the damage is the same as the d20 longsword, so we’ll use it verbatim. Anyway, the longsword does an average of 4.5 hit points per strike. 45% of 4.5 = 2.025. Gob has an average of 5.5 hp, so 5.5/2.025 = 2.72 rounds.

Going the other way. Plate mail & Shield in Basic is +7 to AC. I’m a bit torn here. Obviously AC 17 isn’t right, because the scale is different when AC starts at 10. I’m tempted to just go with armor type and call it Half-Plate & Shield. But then is it a heavy shield or a light shield (AC 18 or 19, respectively)? I’m going with AC 18, though I can’t exactly explain why–other than there is only one kind of shield in Basic, and it gives a +1 bonus to AC. It’s not a perfect conversion. 🙂

So the Gob needs a 16 to hit the Fighter’s AC 18. That means he’ll hit 25% of the time and do 3.5 hp per strike, a measly 0.875. Our fighter has an average of 5.5 hit points at 1st level (Basic rules let you re-roll 1-2s for HD at 1st level). So 5.5/0.875 = 6.3 rounds.

This is fascinating to me! We’ve observed over the course of nearly 18 months of Basic D&D (see my sig) that superior armor and weapons is one of the main advantages that Basic PCs have over monsters that are invariably better fighters.

Let’s compare the Basic version of the Fighter vs Basic Gob. Gob hits the Fighter 20% for 3.5 hp = 0.7. 5.5/0.7 = 7.85 rounds. Fighter hits Gob .40*4.5 = 1.8. 5.5/1.8 = 3.06 rounds.

I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s the same ballpark, provided we use the d20 Armor values. Speaking of which, let’s do that for the other Basic armors: Leather and Chain.

Basic Leather and Chain give +2 and +4 to AC. The d20 versions give +2 and +5. Close enough for me, but if someone wants to run some numbers that’d be interesting.

Basic: d20
Leather: Leather +2
Chain: Chainmail +5
Plate Mail: Half-Plate +7
Shield: Light Shield +1

Right now I’m feeling pretty good about our conversion. For thoroughness sake, I should probably run some numbers for other iconic Basic monsters… but I’ve got work to do. 

Next post I’ll tackle the Dwarf. In the meantime, if someone could take a look at my calculations and make sure that I’m not doing it wrong, I’d appreciate it.

September 20, 2010

Red Box to d20 Conversion

I know, you’re wondering “How can cr0m, that paragon of Old School virtue and banner-waving Red Box champion speak SUCH HERESY! BURN THE WITCH!”

What can I say? A project like this is very near and dear to my heart. 3e D&D gave me hours and hours of fun, and the d20/OGL movement completely revitalized roleplaying games (not to mention allowing all my favorite retro-clones to exist). And then I ran across a thread on rpg.net about the same subject, that almost immediately veered off topic, but still got me interested to see if it could be done. So put down your pitchforks. Lower the torches. Let’s give this a shot.

It’s really easy to get bogged down in all the fiddly bits of the d20 system, so I’m going to work on something very limited in scope: porting Basic D&D to d20. I want to make something that could be used with monsters and treasures from the d20 SRD without any modifications (other than some omissions). Then, if I want to, I’ll add more levels, spells, tweaks, alignment systems, and all the other things that make it fun to hack any version of D&D.

Let’s start with the building block of the Basic D&D classes: the Fighter. And keep it simple by restricting our port to Basic D&D. In other words, levels 1-3.

So here’s the fighter for levels 1-3:

BAB HD
+1  1d8
+1  2d8
+1  3d8

Seriously, the Fighter doesn’t increase his fighting ability until level 4 in Basic D&D! 

On to saving throws. In Basic, the saves (and their d20 equivalents) are:
Death Ray or Poison (Fort) 12
Magic Wands (Varies) 13
Paralysis or Turn to Stone (Fort) 14
Dragon Breath (Ref) 15
Rods, Staves or Spells (Varies) 16

So basically Fighters are decent at Fort saves (~13), worse at Ref saves (15) and about the same at Magic saves (~14.5). If we decide that Magic == Will, no surprises here.


BAB HD  Fort Ref Will
+1  1d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  2d8 +2   +0  +0
+1  3d8 +2   +0  +0

So for a difficult save (DC 15), our fighter is going to fail a Ref/Will save about 25% of the time–which matches up pretty well with Basic’s chart. Ditto for Fort saves, where he needs a 13 or better. (It’s almost like 3rd Edition’s designers were working from an older edition…)

Do you need Feats to model Basic D&D? Not really, but might as well use the various Weapon/Armor Proficiency Feats.

Fighter gets Simple and Martial Weapons and all Armor/Shield Proficiencies. Since Basic D&D doesn’t have any skills, we just use Attribute checks. BOOYAH, we’re done.

I don’t know what I’d do next. I’m tempted to do the Dwarf, since he’s pretty similar to a Fighter but with some interesting special abilities, but it might be a better idea to port over a goblin and make sure that our Fighter operates pretty similarly to the Basic D&D version against a typical 1st level foe.

Stay tuned…

September 16, 2010

D&D: the game you love to hate

The Kiltedyaksman, who I collaborated with on a hireling generator for Classic D&D and who runs Red Box Niagara, posted a rant at his blog that generated a serious Dice Storm in the comments section. The rant was pretty much about having a major hate on for 4e D&D, especially what he sees as WotC co-opting current interest in older editions of D&D for it’s new Red Box.

I was tempted to weigh in, because as much as I respect the Kilted One, I don’t agree with him. And as much as I can understand why people like 4e, 3e or whatever edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game, there was a lot of misinformed opinions about the older editions being thrown around by defenders of modern D&D. There were also a lot of common prejudices about 4e being thrown around by defenders of older editions. And plenty of willful ignorance on both sides.

But then it hit me–what’s interesting about the edition wars isn’t the wars themselves, it’s what it says about D&D.

D&D is like this weird rorschach blot of a game that people see all kinds of things in, and I think that’s why D&D persists. People don’t think, they know, that D&D is:

  • A game about killing monsters and taking their stuff
  • A game about exploring a mythic underworld in search of treasure
  • A game about improvised acting in a fantasy setting
  • A game about building the most combat capable characters money can buy
  • A perfect framework for playing a variety of homebrewed games

The same people also KNOW:

  • Modern D&D is too complicated
  • Modern D&D’s rules are more realistic than older versions
  • Modern D&D is too combat oriented
  • Modern D&D has more options and ideas, just like modern fantasy
  • Modern D&D is a callous attempt to squeeze gamers for money
  • Modern D&D is a miniatures game, not a roleplaying game
  • Modern D&D is a tabletop version of World of Warcraft
  • Modern D&D is a natural outgrowth of better game design
  • Modern D&D character building is totally unbalanced and broken
  • Modern D&D is well-balanced and provides more consistent gaming experiences
  • Modern D&D is designed by corporate lackeys looking to make a buck
  • Modern D&D is well-balanced and boring
  • Modern D&D has come a long way since the days of hobbyist designers
  • Modern D&D is a game about superheroes for munchkins
  • Modern D&D is a genre unto itself
  • Modern D&D is a video game
  • Modern D&D is capable of deep, meaningful story-telling
  • Modern D&D is a railroad

And they also KNOW:

  • Old D&D is a hodge-podge of rules and poorly designed systems
  • Old D&D is exactly like modern D&D, except more primitive
  • Old D&D completely unrealistic
  • Old D&D’s lack of rules is way more realistic than shoe-horning everything into the same unified mechanic
  • Old D&D is faithful to the fantasy genres that inspired it
  • Old D&D is for adults, not MMRPGers
  • Old D&D is a great game for kids
  • Old D&D is an arcade game
  • Old D&D is capable of deep, meaningful campaigns
  • Old D&D is a railroad
  • Old D&D is just like modern editions, only worse
  • Old D&D is totally unbalanced, unlike modern editions
  • Old D&D is totally unbalanced and that’s great!
  • Old D&D is all about random tables and makes no sense
  • Old D&D is all about random tables and endlessly surprising
  • Old D&D was designed by people who loved the game

And of course:

  • Old D&D is a great game, if you ignore its quirks and follow the spirit of D&D
  • Modern D&D is a great game, if you ignore the haters and follow the spirit of D&D

So why is that? One reason is that for the most part, this game is a Cargo Cult. We learn by playing with a particular group of 2-8 people. And then we play with another group of 2-8 people. And then we do it again with another group. How many groups have you had? I’ve been playing for about 30 years, and I guess I’ve had 5-6 distinct groups: my first group, my teenage group, a group I played with after 3e came out, and my Vancouver group (including RBV). Throw in some con games and the occasional short campaign with other people, and my sample set for what D&D is doesn’t even break 10 groups.

From now on, this is the only metric I’m going to judge editions of D&D: is it malleable enough that all those groups out there can play the game that they consider D&D? If not, we have a problem. If so, game on.

Cue discussion of whether [some edition] meets those standards. Cue flame war. Cue cr0m deleting this blog post.