Monday, August 27, 2018

Improving Ability Scores

Illustration: Caravan Studio ©2013 Wizard of the Coast LLC.
Someone asked recently on a D&D BECMI chat group about house rules. I mentioned I was thinking of improving ability scores during the life of a character. Ideally, I wanted to see an increase in the cost of bumping up a score reflecting not only the character’s experience level, but also how high the score was at the time.

Before addressing that goal, I also felt it was necessary to have another look at how to generate initial ability scores. Everyone has their own method. Perhaps one of the most common house rules involves rolling 4d6 per stat, keeping the best three, and reassigning the six scores as desired. Basic 3d6 rolls amount to 10.5 averages, a bit higher with the 4d6-keep-three routine (it’s all very dicey). For my method, I settled on 11, or 66 points for all six stats combined. From this point forward, players can assign these 66 points entirely as they see fit. This allows one really high ability score at the expense of one or two others well below average. Overall, it makes for rather average (read: “blah”) characters from many players’ points of view. This isn’t necessarily bad, at least in a roleplaying sense—I’ll get back to this later. On the other hand:
  • 1. All players start with the same potential
  • 2. These abilities can be improved later on

 “What? I don’t have everything 13+ with at least two 18s? Oh, man!”

The concept is that players could trade off some of their characters’ accumulated XPs in exchange for boosting an ability score. This trade-off is fine so long as it doesn’t bump a character to a lower experience level than the one already attained (I doubt anyone will disagree with this.) The cost in XPs is listed as a percentage of accumulated XPs, listed in the chart below.

“If you suck at maths, don’t worry, there’s another solution.”

Ability Scores: Relative XP Costs

For example: You have a 2nd level fighter currently with 2,500 XPs; you wish to bump the Strength ability from 17 to 18, it’ll cost 20% of the fighter’s accumulated XPs. This would cost 500 XPs, leaving the character with 2,000 XPs. Yay! Increase your Strength bonus right away, you little rascal!

The Simpler Approach: There is a reason why I mentioned a simpler system. First off, you might have noticed the lack of a 1st level row in the earlier chart. Second, I do question whether it might be harder for a wizard to get smarter vs. a fighter getting beefier vs. a cleric getting shrewder vs. a thief getting sprightlier vs. an elf getting… whatever. You get my drift, right? I think it should all be equal, to be honest. This brings us to the next chart, which gives flat XP costs for everyone across the board. To avoid abuses, only one stat can be improved by one increment at each experience level. Otherwise, I can see clever fellows “dumping” 1,500 XP at 1st level, and boosting a bunch of stats overnight. There’s no logical reason for this. It also guarantees that no 36th level character could possibly claim “Yahtzee 18s!”

Ability Scores: Actual XP Costs

This table essentially uses the percentages listed earlier, applied to the cleric’s experience table. The totals can be used directly, without bothering with the math, giving all character classes the same costs. DMs are free to tinker with these numbers—that’s not the issue here. The above is just a suggestion. Playtest should help determine the best combination. 

Higher? Lower? You tell me.

“Boo, hiss! There’s no cost for pushing stats above 18!”

I’m not necessarily against this idea, but it’s gonna cost ya! Getting stats within the range of epic heroes, monsters, deities, or immortals (as your game world goes), just isn’t the same as dealing with what belongs in the realm of puny mortals. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way. First off, I would not allow this until 8th level is reached. Second, this can only be done every 5 experience levels, therefore at levels 8, 13, 18, 23, 28, and 33. Third, charge 84,000 XP for each improvement. Fourth, no mortal score exceeds 19 because the cost would logically increase enough to bump most characters to their previous experience levels. That’s a no-no. Therefore, anything beyond 19 remains the stuff of supernatural beings. Other means than these simple mechanics are needed to earn such legendary abilities (adventures, quests, artifacts, etc.)

“Hey, my paladin has a crappy Dex with these stupid rules!”

Well, yeah, if you’re using 1st Edition AD&D: your paladin and other demanding specialty classes will have a real challenge. Is there a way to get around this? Sure there is, he says with a wicked grin. For each extra point above the initial 66, permanently add +20% to all the costs listed above, up to and including level 9. In effect, further ability score improvements become more expensive for much of the character’s existence, in exchange for a more illustrious beginning. Rock on!

“This makes the +10% XP bonus for high stats harder to get.”

Of course it does. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d drop that rule anyway. All it does is reward the gifted and punish the others. Why is that? I would think that a more-challenged character ought to be rewarded at least as much as a less-challenged one for the same achievement, perhaps even more. So, as long as prerequisites are respected, you could invert the XP bonus attribution, as follows:

Prime Requisite 12 or less: +10% Experience Bonus
Prime Requisite 13-15: +5% Experience bonus
Prime Requisite 16+: Go Fish!

So, there you have it. With 66 points, your character can now easily get that +10% XP bonus, which in turn helps improve stats more quickly… and then things slow down again. Serves you right, you mooch.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Skyship Spells V

Welcome to the next three spells:
1. Structural Appraisal, 
2. Find the Wind (no beans involved),
3. Protection from Rust.
        Comments and suggestions are helpful to address loopholes and other design clunkers. Click here for the previous three spells.


Structural Appraisal
Spell Level: 1 (School of Divination)
Range: 30’
Duration: Concentration
Effect: Checks a vessel’s sea or airworthiness

          This spell requires basic ship engineering skills. It enables the caster to examine a ship, seagoing or skyborne, and assess its structural integrity. Its magic reveals whether a vessel needs repair, and what kind (including refitting, cleaning, basic enchantments, and so forth). It also unveils design flaws, general weaknesses, as well as areas of strength, and informs the caster of the vessel’s general navigating performances. Appraisal does not reveal unusual enchantments, curses, or hauntings. Examination takes 1 round per mast, +1 for each 30’ hull section. The caster may walk while concentrating on the spell. If interrupted, the evaluation resumes with another spell where the previous one ended.

Find the Wind
Spell Level: 1 (School of Divination)
Range: 3,000’
Duration: 6 Turns
Effect: Detect layers of wind

          Wind direction and strength can be detected at altitude layers above and below a skyship. Each layer, including the one where the skyship is located is about 1,000’ thick. Make two separate d10 rolls for each layer (above and under the vessel), and find their results in Table 2 below.
Results indicate either one or two shifts in direction, or +/– one or two lines in Table 1 (see above), relative to current conditions at the skyship’s altitude.
For example: a +1 rank causes conditions to shift from Moderate Breeze to Strong Breeze; a +2 portside would change the wind direction two increments portside—if the vessel ran before a northbound wind (direction #12 on the diagram below), the other layer’s air current would therefore blow West-Northwest (direction #10).
          At the referee’s discretion, air currents do not normally diverge more than two increments from prevailing winds. If a result breaks this rule, then switch port and starboard around (for example, change an illegal portside shift to starboard instead). Prevailing air currents on Calidar, such as Trade Winds and Westerlies, are shown in CAL1 In Stranger Skies, pg. 70.

Protection from Rust*
Spell Level: 1 (School of Abjuration)
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 Day
Effect: Protects one metal object or an area from rust

          This spell may be applied to the metallic parts of a single object normally fitting together (such as a set of plate armor or an arquebus) or to the surface of a structure (such a ship’s hull or a wall of iron) up to 90 sqft. + 9 sqft. per experience level. Though it does not undo existing rust damage, the protection prevents further corrosion. The reversed spell, Cause Rust, either destroys the metallic parts of a single object, or inflicts 1d6 rust damage + 2d6 for every 5 experience levels, creating a breach about 3’ across for every 10 points of damage. Enchanted objects and structures may save vs. spells (use "plusses" as saving throw bonuses); if the roll succeeds, the rust attack fails.
                Kragdûras gnomes originally created this spell for use aboard dwarven ironclads, especially when expecting a clash with Alorean vessels. A rare spell on Calidar, its original script requires skill in ancient gnomish in addition to being able to decipher magic. Ancient gnomish does not translate well into other arcane languages. Translated spells can malfunction—odds: 30% chance minus the caster’s Intelligence bonus times 5. Detecting magic is needed to verify whether the protection  failed. The reversed spell is subject to malfunctions as well.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Skyship Spells IV

Just so you don't think I've given up on skyship spells, here are another three, written for the D&D BECMI game mechanics. None of those came up in CAL1 "In Stranger Skies," though one of them will in the Star Phoenix story featured in the next Calidar Gazetteer. Have fun. These haven't been playtested yet, so comments and suggestions are helpful to address loopholes and other clunkers. Click here for the previous three spells.


Spell Level: 1 (School of Divination)
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 round
Effect: Identifies the caster’s location

                This outdoor dweomer is useful for navigators and explorers. Three geographical features familiar to the caster must be named while casting the spell, including mountain peaks or urban centers that aren’t perfectly aligned. For space travel, celestial bodies may be selected instead. The effect gives a mental clue to the recipient about the caster’s position on the surface of a world or in the Great Vault, relative to the three chosen points at exactly the time the spell was cast. The enchantment correctly marks a map, navigational chart, globe, or other medium held in hand (if any) when casting the spell. The mark is plainly visible for a round only. A read magic spell is required thereafter to show the mark, as well as the caster’s name and local date/time the spell was cast. The effect can be dispelled permanently.

Phantasmally Displayed Figments
Spell Level: 2 (School of Illusion)
Range: 1 Hour
Duration: Concentration
Effect: Projects stills

                The spell replicates one or more existing images in mid air. Images can be paintings, single book pages, scrolls, maps, or small objects within immediate reach of the caster. Up to 6 images plus one per experience level can be selected during the round the spell is spoken. Flipping through a book to select more images is acceptable, although casting time may take more than a round at the DM’s discretion. All selected images become two-dimensional figments. Known as PDFs, these figments can be enlarged without blurring up to 4 inches high or wide per level of the caster. No other details appear than what was on the original material. The caster may manipulate PDFs, moving them together or separately up to 1 foot range per experience level, at a movement rate of up to 3’ per round. Luminescent properties enable PDFs to be displayed in the dark. PDFs last an hour or until dismissed by the caster, whichever comes first. A locate object spell may be used to find a specific element within a number of PDFs, such as map label; the element must be described in three words or fewer. The locate object spell cannot find anything that isn’t displayed on the PDFs. If successful, the spell fetches the desired PDF and highlights the object of the search. REF. CAL2 (est. release date early 2019)

Restore Wood
Spell Level: 2 (School of Alteration)
Range: Touch
Duration: Permanent
Effect: Purifies and treats wood

                Intended as routine treatment for wooden structures, the spell dislodges organisms living on their surface or within them, such as algae, worms, termites, barnacles, etc. and repairs related damage. Any previous alchemical treatment is restored, as well as sealing material. The spell affects a surface up to 90 sqft. + 9 sqft. per experience level, extending 6 inches deep, enough for a typical wall or a ship’s hull. The spell does not repair any sort of combat damage.

Monday, August 6, 2018

D&D: Skyship Saving Throws

Using D&D BECMI language, here is a look at how saving throws could be handled for skyships in the world of #Calidar. Flying ships are neither living beings nor simple objects, and therefore the topic of their vulnerability to diverse situations may require extra detail. Skyships are complicated devices, likely brimming with magic and housing crews and commanders with different skills, all of which should impact battle results as well as saving throws.

Image: Jason Rainville. #MTG. ©2017 Wizards of the Coast

The most common skyship in Calidar is the wooden-built, galleon-size, sailing vessel. As a general rule, it saves as F7 (level 7 fighter), giving it approximately 50/50 chances to succeed. The chart below gives the complete listing of ship types and their suggested saving throws:

Skyship Type/Save As:
1st/2nd Ed. D&D
Rafts, canoes, rowboats
Barges, sm. galleys, longships
Elven clippers, wizard yachts
Wooden-built junks or galleons
Wooden-built war galleys/warships
Dwarven ironclads
Undead ships from the abyss

Adjustments will be needed to reflect other D&D game versions being used. Actual scores are approximate and will yield different results in each of the chosen game versions. That’s not necessarily bad—just different. The above saving throws can easily be modified to reflect alien or monstrous vessels as needed.

Tactical Modifiers

When engaged in air combat, modifiers can come into play at the referee’s discretion. Here are a number of them to pick from as needed. “Plus” adjustments are bonuses to the target’s saving throws.


·   Attacker or Target is moving
·   Attacker & Target are moving*
·   Gusty winds, stormy conditions
+1 to +3
Magic Bonuses to AC
1 for 1
Captains’ Skills**
1-3 (+/–)

(*) In different directions.
(**) NPC captains can be assigned ranks as needed for a scenario, such as Expert, Good, Fair, Poor, Inept. PCs ranks depend on their average airmanship (Wis), tactical (Int), and leadership (Cha) skills, or a simple assessment by the referee. Average scores are: 3-6 Inept, 7-9 Poor, 10-12 Fair, 13-15 Good, 16+ Expert. Absence of a specific skill counts as a 3. Compare the ranks of the captains on the attacking and defending ships. The difference between their rankings results in a bonus or a penalty to the defending ship’s saving throws reflecting which commander is the best, as follows: 0-2 No modifier, 3-5 +/–1, 6-8 +/–2, or +/–3 with a greater difference. If the attack comes from a monster (rather than another skyship), use the monster’s Intelligence score in lieu of a captain’s ranking.

It could be argued that crew skills ought to be reflected as well. In this case, the referee should make a general assessment of a ship's crew and its captain, and then average their two scores (if they are different), assuming the rank of a crew is as important as their commander's. 

Special Modifiers

Colorful and unusual ship abilities can affect how well they defend against certain types of attacks. For example: wooden ships could receive a –2 penalty vs. fire-based attacks; dwarven ironclads could suffer the same vs. electrical attacks; a ship described as particularly maneuverable (or the opposite), can receive appropriate modifiers, and so on. Calidar is a world full of magic, so imagination is the only limit to possible adjustments and special rules. Remain somewhat conservative to avoid game-balance issues and needless complexity. Storytelling and fun are more important.

Last but not least: a roll of 1 always saves, and a 20 always fails. Savvy?