Posts tagged ‘cr0m’

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.

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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.

August 6, 2010

Running a Red Sandbox

Ever since I read Ben Robbins’ now famous West Marches blog posts, I dreamed of running a sandbox of my own, but when I tried to imitate Ben’s experience, using first 3.5e and then Savage Worlds, the prep killed me. Not to mention I couldn’t get the players to organize games, or to set session goals. I could get people to show up just fine, but they expected to play whatever I had prepared. Combined with the heavy amount of up-front prep in a West Marches game: maps, dungeons, wandering monster tables, treasure… and a compelling “history” to tie it all together, well, it was tough without external deadlines and solid direction.

Then along came the old school renaissance, especially New York Red Box. They were having such a great time, and Red Box seemed like it had it all: low prep, lots of tables and charts for winging it, and a really simple system. The One Page Dungeon template sealed the deal; I started my wiki/forum and started running games a few months later, in March of 2009. A little over one year, 44 sessions,  four DMs, thirty-six PCs (not counting the ones that didn’t survive their first adventure), dozens of retainers and thousands of gold pieces later, here’s what I’ve learned about running a West Marches-style sandbox with Red Box D&D.

1. Give the players a hex map.
Ben specifically mentions this, so I have nobody to blame but myself. I don’t have much in the way of art skills, so I tried describing the lay of the land during games. Nobody listened on the way to the starter–and for months, the only–dungeon. Nobody remembered in-between sessions, when the planning was supposed to happen.

Then I wrote up wiki pages for each area, with links to adjacent regions. Even more confusing and harder to visualize than traveling through the area in-game. Finally I broke down, cropped the Nentir Vale map and replaced the place names with my own. That sort of helped. But not really, because I only gave them the immediate area around town, which is what Ben did.

For why I think that didn’t work out for me, you’ll have to read #4 below.

I’m pretty sure what you want is a big hex map, so players can tell how far apart everything is. And on that hex map, you want interesting looking names and pictures, separated by swathes of white space. And the interesting names and pictures don’t necessarily have to be where they really are on the players’ map, just in the general neighborhood. That way players can make meaningful decisions like “let’s do a three-month trek to the Spire of Iron and Crystal” or “let’s see what this ruin is two days down the Dwarf Road”. Versus “let’s go north through the Haunted Forest and find out what’s on the other side. Hope there’s gold!”

2. Make the first dungeon small.
Fully half of the early adventures in my game were in the Lost Mine, the “starter” dungeon. Why? Because not knowing what else was out there, and being busy adults, my players were content to go over the same ground, again and again. Also, Red Box characters are fragile. In a world where the average blow from a weapon does d6 hit points, and fully 5 of 7 classes have d6 hit points at first level, information is the difference between yet another massacre on the Rope Bridge of Death or survival. It pays to go back to familiar territory, because you’ve got prior knowledge of some of the dangers. Knowledge your companions paid for with their lives.

My first dungeon was pretty big: two levels and about thirty rooms/features/death-traps. Even now there are still areas the players haven’t explored and treasure they haven’t uncovered. If you want the players to explore the wilderness, you want them to finish the starter dungeon, and you want them to finish with solid leads to other “plunder pockets”. Not kill nine months and an equal number of characters fighting the same gang of stirges and goblins.

3. Bribe ’em with xp.
None of the players doing session summaries? Award xp for writing them. Nobody talking on the forum/email list? Award xp for signing up. Nobody showing up to a last-minute game? Award xp for attendance. Because the pace of Red Box advancement is glacial, and survival so difficult, it’s like a license to print money. And as everyone knows, in Red Box D&D money == xp. I’ve awarded almost 1,000xp to one player for his session summaries, more than all the xp he’s earned from enemies and treasure, but I don’t worry about unbalancing the game because we both know that odds are that character will die long before he hits 2nd level, at which point it hardly matters if he had 9xp or 1,999xp. And yet because leveling is such a grind, players will do anything to increase their chances of getting another hit die before some shrimp with a rusty spoon ganks them. I know I will, and I play a thief. A THIEF! (My thief died soon after I wrote this — cr0m)

4. Don’t run a West Marches game.
I know, this probably should have been #1, but I don’t think Red Box and wilderness exploration for the sake of wilderness exploration mix well. In the original West Marches, Ben was using 3e D&D, where you went up levels for defeating enemies. Thus, it was worthwhile cruising for wandering monsters and filling in the wilderness map while uncovering new dungeons. Every wandering monster encounter was worth xp (if it didn’t kill you). Not so in Red Box. Monsters are worth bupkis. And they’re worth even less than bupkis, when you realize that nearly every one of them is a potential TPK. I’ve seen a lone orc take out three PCs in three rounds. Do you know how many orcs are in a wilderness encounter? 10-60.

It gets worse. You can run into much tougher monsters in the wild than in the dungeon, where the level below ground roughly corresponds to the level of the bad guys. Also, monsters you encounter in the wild are, by definition, not at home. And home is where the money is. And we already know that money == xp. So in the wild, you have a better chance of running into stuff that will kill you faster than the stuff that already kills you very efficiently in the dungeon, thank you very much. And that stuff won’t have any treasure, so if you survive, you stand to earn at best a few hundred xp.

As a party. Your PC will get 50.

If I ever do this again (a virtual certainty), the wilderness exploration won’t be the focus. Or rather, filling in the map between suspected pockets of awesome will be the focus. Getting from Threshold to the Caves of Chaos, yes. Crossing the ghoul-infested Haunted Forest to find out what’s on the other side, no.

5. Everybody loves being an elf.
It’s not just because you can fight and cast spells. Wait, no. YES IT IS. If anyone ever wants to make a new rules-light sword-and-sorcery game, they’d do very well to let everyone cast a couple of spells. People love being able to solve their problems more than one way, even if it means giving up the laughably remote possibility of ever reaching second level. The Elf is great because he’s a wizard who can fight with a sword, unlike every other wizard except Gandalf. And Elric. And probably a lot of other cool wizards. I’m not terribly well-read when it comes to fantasy, okay? That guy with the flaming sword in Song of Ice and Fire. What do you mean he wasn’t a wizard? Wasn’t he the guy who killed some chick with a shadow? I stopped reading when it took him four years to finish the next book. They need to put out Cliff’s Notes. I’m telling you, there’s an untapped market there.

Where was I? Right, and people love being able to contribute positively to the adventure after their one spell is gone, by firing arrows, finding secret doors, or looking for footprints with their infravision. Which brings me to my next point.

6. Fracking infravision.
You can’t go ten steps before someone wants to track someone else using the heat of their footprints. Cue discussion of infrared cameras. Cue discussion of conductive properties of shoe leather. Cue discussion of ogre footwear. Cue the DM slitting his wrists.

Darkvision. Monte Cook, et al got that one right.

7. It’s a slow burn.
Don’t go whole hog filling up your wiki with stuff before the first session. A wiki populated by DM-written pages is a sterile, alien place. Write the bare minimum your players need: a brief intro to the setting, the hex map, the starter dungeon, house rules, done. It’s way too easy to put lots of energy into tweaking the forum, downloading old school artwork, writing all kinds of interesting NPCs, etc. That time is better spent constructing wandering monster tables, writing up very solid leads to the next dungeon, and stocking your map. My rule of thumb as a DM–which I break constantly–is to only write pages that help me run games. I write-up retainers, because I need to remember which ones are cowards, which are lazy, which are traitors, etc. I used to write-up session summaries, but players do that now (see #3). I do record the shares of xp/gp for each session, for book-keeping purposes. And I update the timeline so I know where and when everyone is. Everything else I’d like to leave to the players.

The reality is that I still spend way too much time on the wiki, but not as much as I used to.

Also, it took nine months of gaming and mentioning my sandbox on the internet before we got walk-ons. I put a link to my wiki in my signature on Dragonsfoot, pestered the NY Red Box guys on their forum until they linked to me, and made occasional comments on various old school blogs. For the first few months, I only had enough players for one group. It takes time to bring in casual players, friends, and eventually, every nerd’s dream: a stranger who tracks you down on the internet.

In all seriousness, the great thing about attracting players off the internet is that they’ve usually done their homework. That is, they read the blogs, have read your wiki (more than the rest of your players can say), and want to play your game. It’s a great feeling, and so far they’ve been an injection of enthusiasm and fun, that after 15+ months, any campaign can use.

8. The wiki is a backup.
When I started this, I got an old three-ring binder for my rule books, dungeons and character sheets. It’s way, way more useful than the wiki. It’s got notes jotted here and there, scraps of paper, old retainers, sketches, all kinds of maps, characters, dead characters, loot calculations… in short, it’s got context. And it goes to every game I attend. The wiki is always out of date, you can’t quickly search it unless you already know what you’re looking for, and you need to be online to access it. It’s great for restoring lost character sheets, remembering what happened two sessions ago, or tracking xp. But it sucks for figuring out who got the healing potion, where the blue stone came from, or which part of the Mine to explore next. It’s a pen-and-paper game for a reason. And that reason is: Gary wrote it in 1974. But paper is still pretty handy.

9. Red Box is an arcade game, not a video game.
There’s an element of slot-machine gambling with Red Box. You roll your stats, 3d6 in order, and see what you qualified to play. Did you make elf? Dwarf? Fighter is cool. Thief? LOL.

You play your character like you play a game of Space Invaders. You know you’re going to die. It’s just a question of how much glory! Bad luck with the dice (whether its yours, during play, or the DM’s while stocking the dungeon) means you start over. Good luck and skillful play (some people would say “cowardly”. People with dead characters, mostly.) means you make it to the next round.

Over at New York Redbox they’re playing a game of White Box where the PCs start at third level. I’ve noticed that game has a lot more investment in the setting, a lot more complicated schemes, etc. I imagine some of this is due to the increased longevity–or at least the expectation of longevity. A first level Red Box character has no such expectations.

10. D&D is a flawed, human creation.
I got into Red Box for the nostalgia, but I stayed because it’s a fun, rules-light system. What it’s not is perfect, by any means. I started this experiment slavishly devoted to playing “by-the-book”, to see how the old girl held up after all these years. The good news is, she holds up fine. The even better news is, she still needs some help from us. House rule the hell out of it. Try things on for size. The nice thing about a rules-light system is that you can introduce new rules without bringing the entire game down. I’ve got house rules about dying, fighting with two weapons, maintenance costs, lock-picking, splintering shields (all of which I stole from the internet)… and probably more. I’m definitely going to take a long, hard look at xp and advancement before I go much further. (We introduced carousing after I wrote this — cr0m)

There are blogs out there that are devoted to the idea that the rules work, if you interpret them correctly, or in the right context, or with Chainmail handy… and they might be right, but that’s a lot of effort. Change ’em. They’ll be fine.

My secret wish (other than a decent public space for gaming on weeknights in Vancouver. (we now play at Waves Coffee on Broadway @ Spruce — cr0m)) is for one of the players to propose a custom class. Someday!

I hope it’s not too obvious how hard I had to work to get to ten, but I couldn’t stop at seven. There’s no seven-sided die. Thanks for reading, and if you’re in Vancouver, BC, and want to play–look us up: http://redvan.wikidot.com/