Thursday, February 25, 2021

Alignments: 2 vs. 4 Trends


I recently updated guidelines to convert Calidar ratings to classic OSR stats. In particular, the issue came up about alignments. The conundrum emerged as follows:

  • Calidar uses 4 trends: Benevolent vs. Malevolent and Rational vs. Instinctive.
  • Classic OSR only recognizes Lawful vs. Chaotic.
How to translate AD&D into basic D&D stats and vice versa has always been the subject of debates. It is "almost" exactly the same here. Calidar has, however, one feature that solves the age-old question.

Calidar assigns numerical values to gauge trends. So if someone is deemed benevolent, the question then becomes: how benevolent? Though values range from 0 to 10 in theory (zero being "neutral"), 0 to 6 is more common. So, if this guy is Benevolent "1," well, he's okay, kinda-sorta. If he's Benevolent "10," put on your sunglasses, 'cuz he's too awesome to contemplate!

There's a bit more to this. Calidar has actually 6 trends. Heart (Benevolent vs. Malevolent), Mind (Rational vs. Instinctive), and Spirit (Lively vs. Stern). Calidar philosophies can be abbreviated as follows: H (for Heart), plus or minus a numeral. "Plus" alludes to Benevolent, "minus" to Malevolent, and * to someone who's neither (basically a Neutral trend). Likewise for Mind, "plus" relates to Rational, "minus" to Instinctive. For Spirit, "plus" relates to Lively, and "minus" to Stern.

So, a paladin might have the following trends: H+5/M+5/S-2. Your basic thief could instead be rated: H*/M-4/S+3. A druid would be H*/M*/S+6, etc. Conversion to the AD&D game, for example, is straightforward: just drop the Spirit trend since it doesn't translate, and you're good to go. The paladin is LG, the thief CN, and the druid just plain N. You're done.

For classic OSR, there is more to this as four trends need to be shoehorned into just two: Lawful or Chaotic (along with Neutral, if neither of the other two applies). It's where numbers become more relevant, aside from the face value of the information they provide to begin with. Three options emerge:

  1. If H and M trends both have numerals 0-2 (regardless of whether they are "pluses" or "minuses"), the classic OSR alignment is Neutral. These are fairly weak trends.
  2. If H and M are 3 or greater (regardless of "pluses" or "minuses") and are equal, then Heart prevails. For example: H+3/M-3 is Lawful, H-3/M+3 is Chaotic. In other words Benevolent is Lawful, Malevolent is Chaotic.
  3. If H and/or M is/are 3 or greater but with different numerals (regardless of "pluses" or "minuses"), the greatest of the two trends prevails. For example H+2/M-3 is Chaotic, H-4/M+5 is Lawful, H+4M* is Lawful, H*/M-3 is Chaotic, etc.

This should solve the issue.

The numerals in "calidarese" relate to actual personality traits, if you really want to go this far to describe the temperament of a character or a monster. Just pick the ones that apply, count them up, and you have your rating.

Heart

o   Benevolent: Friendly, altruistic, humble, merciful, considerate, generous, truthful, trusting, tolerant, magnanimous

o   Dispassionate: None

o   Malevolent: Wicked, selfish, insensitive, vengeful, deceitful, unscrupulous, mistrustful, jealous, manipulative, spiteful

Mind

o   Rational: Analytical, calculating, patient, straightforward, cautious, stubborn, methodical, conventional, principled, obedient

o   Practical: None

o   Instinctive: Impulsive, hasty, emotional, unpredictable, bold, creative, curious, adventurous, cunning, unruly

Spirit

o   Lively: Mirthful or sarcastic, cheeky, flamboyant, passionate, outspoken, hedonistic, shameless, feisty, indomitable, eccentric

o   Even-Tempered: None

o   Stern: Ascetic, aloof, brooding, formal, dreamy, haughty, enigmatic, reserved, self-conscious, dour

 Art Credit: The Cycle of Rebirth by Quarter-Virus

Thursday, February 11, 2021

D&D Revised Halfling Class

Previous "experimental" articles recently addressed a desire to boost low level characters used in the D&D BECMI game. So far, the spell progression tables for magic-users and clerics have been addressed, I've given the elf class my take on related issues, as well as the classic thief's skill progression table. I haven't addressed the classic fighter and dwarf classes since I didn't think they needed anything extra. One more topic remains therefore: halflings, the grandest of little heroes.

Disclaimer: These articles are exploratory in nature. Anyone reading this who is of the opinion nothing in the grand ol' RPG should ever be altered, this isn't for you. But you knew that, right? Just in case: this isn't AD&D or D&D 5e. These are different games, with different mechanics. Changes I'm suggesting will intentionally alter the balance of the game at the first few levels. I guess I'm a heretic. Playtest is needed to identify what still appears too weak or seems too powerful in order to ensure all classes remain equally attractive. Constructive feedback is always welcome. Gripes and fist-shaking... not so much. Thank you.

Back to the Halflings. Based on what I could observe over the years, few people really like the "official" halfling. Its by-the-book benefits are as follows: a few combat bonuses, stealth abilities, resistance to spells and dragon breath at higher levels, and really good saving throws. Were all those enough to make the halfling as attractive as the classic fighter? Apparently not. I think the biggest issue is the level limitation. The RC introduced optional rules (page 266) enabling demi-humans to reach level 36, like human classes do. As a result of this, suggestion is made there to use the cleric's combat table.

General Ideas: I'd like to suggest a drastic revamp. Following the idea of the elf being a hybrid fighter/magic-user, I thought of making the halfing a hybrid fighter/thief, with a twist. Halflings have been portrayed in fantasy literature and hobby gaming as folks oriented toward nature. Following this mindset, perhaps halflings should also have a limited access to druidic spells. This would depart dramatically from the notion that D&D BECMI should be as simple as possible. A halfling with some thieving skills and some spellcasting ability does not make for a "simple" character class. With a broad grin on my face, I'll just say that I'm really not writing this article for noobs anyway. So there!

Spellcasting: My "alternate" halflings earn their first druidic spell at level 2. Access to higher level spells comes much later compared with the "official" cleric. Halflings earn 7th level spells at level 25, vs. the 17th for a normal cleric.  If absolutely needed, normal clerical spells can be substituted for druidic magic, provided the choice of immortal patron warrants it. Druidic spells are more related to the halfling's closeness to nature than actual alignment orthodoxy (as regards Lawful or Chaotic vs. Neutral) or a specific faith. Alignment otherwise ought to befit a chosen immortal patron.

Burglary Skills: Alternate halflings do not enjoy the classic thief's backstab ability. I also removed Pick-Pocket as an option. Given how short halflings are, trying to pick a human-sized individual's pockets might lead to improbable situations. I combined Open Locks, Find Traps, and Remove Traps into one single Fingerwork skill. In a bind, Fingerwork can also be used for anything requiring precise manipulation. Outdoor Stealth comes from the official rules allowing a flat 90% chance of success hiding in woods and underbrush (I'd throw in any vegetation tall enough for halflings to hide in, such as cornfields, for example). Indoor Stealth is akin to the thief's Hide in Shadows, although it does not allow moving while hidden (as described in the official rules). I'd halve the outdoor score and request a reroll anytime the halfling attempts to move. Most success scores are lower than those I listed in the improved thief skill table I posted earlier.


The remainder of official rules seems appropriate to retain. This includes the combat bonus table (RC, pg. 26), special attacks, fighter combat options (at 13th and 24th levels), and special defenses (at 9th and 15th levels). Attack rolls and saving throws should be those of the classic cleric. Base HD remains a d6, +1 hp at level 9 and above. I've also trimmed down experience points needed at level 9 and higher.

Conclusion: Although this version of the halfling cannot compete directly with my "upgraded" thief, it can still prove useful in this capacity. It does have better combat skills and special abilities due to its size, as well as a base d6 HD (vs. d4 for the official thief). This halfling also develops druidic spellcasting, with a slow spell progression compared with the cleric's. 

Edit: This variant of the halfling ought to be limited to just leather armor, given its thief-like features and druidic spellcasting.


Monday, February 8, 2021

D&D Revised Thief Class

Following the general goal of making low-level characters a bit more efficient (see previous article), I had a look at the standard D&D BECMI thief class. Some of the success rates for first level characters are really low in the official rules. Increasing some of the initial scores while preserving those at 36th level seems like a no-brainer. I recalculated everything in between, using the same numbering scheme as the one in the standard rules. Effect: 1st level thieves get the greater benefit, while upper level characters gradually return to success odds given in the original rules. 

I didn't think the thief needed a whole lot of tinkering--certainly nothing like what I suggested for the elf. I had a look at class benefits other than thieving skills. There could be some minor tweaks, as follows.

Backstab: If the mechanics on Weapon Mastery are not in use (see RC pp. 75-80), I would suggest increasing the damage multiplier at higher levels, x3 at 10th level, x4 at 15th, and x5 at 20th. I'm sure everyone out there have their own approaches on this. I only multiply the damage rolled (not magic and strength bonuses). If Weapon Mastery is in effect, then limit the multiplier to x2 (multiply the weapon's base damage including "plus" modifiers listed on the Weapon Mastery table). Complying with the above ensures maximum damage with a normal sword stays around 40 hp regardless of whether Weapon Mastery is in use.
          There's a newly implemented Bruce Rule (perfect for this occasion!) When I play a thief and gleefully demonstrate a beautiful 18+ natural score on my backstabbing Attack roll, you can safely bet I'll roll a 1 for damage. I kid you not. It's like rolling nothing but ones when casting your first fireball. I once had a pile of hard-earned "luck coins" generously proffered by a DM, which enabled me to trade one in exchange for rerolling a bad score. Sure enough, I traded all six in quick succession, rolling nothing but miserable fails, until the very last roll yielded a critical fail with which I was finally stuck. Trust me, I'm a specialist when it comes to bad rolls. So! The Bruce Rule for backstabs is that players may choose between scoring maximum damage OR applying the damage multiplier. So, if you roll a 1-3, it'll be 8 pts of damage from your "trusty" sword; if you roll 4-8, apply your x2 multiplier instead. 

I say! No longer shall your wretched thieves be cursed with beggarly damage
from their most fair-and-square backstabs!

Read Languages: Alors là, on ne change rien du tout, et si t’as pas compris, t’as raté ton jet.

Scrolls: I'd allow 1st level thieves spellcasting from scrolls just for the sheer fun of it, implementing a 25% chance of backfiring, until 10th level.

Beginners' Luck: Here's a wildcard helping low-level characters. A first level thief rolling a 91 or worse while using a thieving skill gets to reroll the pathetic result. Whatever is rolled next must apply. Especially given the D&D BECMI thief's d4 base HD, such a small boost early on will be much appreciated. Beginners' Luck decreases at level 2, only concerning scores 96 or worse. At level 3, it solely concerns the odd "00" scores. At level 4 and higher, Beginners' Luck runs out... since these characters really aren't newbies at all (and they get Read Languages anyway, which more than compensates).

Monday, February 1, 2021

D&D Revised Elf Class

Following the previous article and logical questions from readers, here's my attempt at tinkering with elves. The original goal was to make a few more spells available to low level characters. This was easy enough with magic-users and clerics. Elves (as described in the D&D BECMI rules) are decidedly more problematic. In the standard game, elves are "kinda/sorta" limited to 10th level. This never made sense to me, and it looks pretty awkward. In the optional rules introduced in the RC, page 266, level limitations are done away with, and elves are enabled to acquire spells at the same rate as human magic-users. I didn't like this either, given that BECMI elves are basically a hybrid fighter class. Should they obtain as many spells as specialized magic-users? Maybe not. That's a lot of variables. Let's first have a look at how elves compare with the magic-user and fighter classes.

Hit Dice: Elf gets a d6 vs. fighter's d8. After the 9th, the elf gets +1 hit points per extra level. The fighter gets +2.

Attack Rolls: Elf and Fighter enjoy the same attack table when using the standard rules. The RC's optional rules suggest using the cleric's combat table instead.

Saves: The elf's saves are way better than either the fighter's or the magic-user's. They bottom out at 2 starting at 10th level. RC's optional rules do not alter this, so from 10th to 36th level, the elf saves with just a 2 or higher on a d20. Hmm...

XPs: Ouch. The fighter needs 2,000 XP to reach level 2. The magic-user needs 2,500. The elf needs 4,000. Though I understand the logic, I think that's a bit much since the elf isn't as good as a fighter and is limited in its experience levels. It's not much fun trying to level up these elves either.

Spells: In the standard rules, the elf acquires spells like magic-users, but is limited to 5th level spells. In the RC's optional rules, there's no limitation.

Conclusion: The elf isn't quite as good as a human fighter with standard rules. With the RC's optional rules, they get worse. Saves in the RC's optional treatment are downright goofy in my opinion. XPs are a pain to deal with either way. Since the elf isn't supposed to be as good as a specialized fighter, why then should the elf be as good as a specialized magic-user? I'm sure everyone has their own opinions on the matter. If the elf were as good as either class in every way, then 4,500 XP would be needed to reach level 2 (F 2,000 + M-U 2,500 = 4,500 XP). I'm definitely not going there! I'd like to suggest a hybrid solution that takes all the above factors in consideration. 

"Alternate" Elf with Extra Spells and no Level Limitation

As a first step, I toned down the XPs needed just a tad, especially at the first few experience levels. I personally never played at the really high levels that BECMI offers, and I don't know of a whole lot of players who have either. So, I'm not going to worry an awful lot about anything higher than levels 15-16.

Base Hit Dice remain a d6, with +1 hp per extra level above level 9. Use the Cleric attack table and saving throws.

For spells, I went with a completely different scheme, following the idea that: 1. More spells are needed at low levels; 2. Elves just aren't quite as good as specialized magic-users (compare with the previous article).

As a consequence, I reduced the maximum number of spells elves can get at level 36, and also increased experience requirements to earn higher level spells. The effect of this is somewhat lessened by the lower XP progression at lower levels. An elf earns its first 9th level spell at level 25 vs. level 21 for a specialized magic-user. That is to say that the elf suggested above needs 3.5 million XPs for that first 9th level spell, vs. 2.1 million for the magic-user (vs. 3.3 million suggested in the RC's optional rules).

Consequently, the elf suggested above has no hard limitations compared with the two versions given in the RC, has more spells to start with, but does not compete directly with either the fighter or the magic-user classes. It's a hybrid solution for a hybrid class. 

Edit: The Revised Thief Class is up. Click here for details. You can also find a more-recent article updating the elf's level progression. Click for the latest.