Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

Traveller Articles

There is an interesting article (or at the Internet Archive) on Traveller, linked here for later reference.

Christopher Kubasik's Traveller Out of the Box series and the rpg.net thread (R1) that talks about it, and the Citizens of the Imperium thread or three (C1, C2, C3), and a Classic Traveller thread (P1).

And there is Robert Conley's Classic Traveller Character Generator.

And another article at Tor.com.

And the Traveller Section by Section Comparison.

Miniatures, battlemats, and terrain at my table

When I started playing with AD&D 1E (in 1979 or 1980) we didn't use miniatures or battle maps, it was all theater of the mind. Since all the players I knew personally started with AD&D none of us had seen Chainmail or played miniatures games.

When I moved on to DragonQuest, 2nd edition, (in the mid 1980s) where a hex grid and miniatures was required, I bought a Chessex hex grid Megamat and wet erase markers. One of my brothers had bought a box of miniatures (though for the life of me I cannot remember what company it was from or what figures it contained). We used those for player characters. For monsters, I cut out a bunch of ¾ inch square blocks of wood and numbered them on the top side, put a “D” for Dead on the bottom side, put an “S” on another smooth side for Stunned, and a “U” for Unconscious, leaving the rough sides (where the wood was cut against the grain) blank. I continued to use all these when I moved over to using GURPS 3rd edition, which also had specific Stunned and and Unconscious conditions.

Much, much later I got the Steve Jackson Games Cardboard Heroes but never could bear to cut them up, since I wasn't actively playing at the time it came out (1999 or so?)

When I started playing D&D again with 3.5E (probably sometime after 2004) I mostly played and didn't DM. I was fortunate that the DMs that I played with had good collections of pre-painted plastic miniatures for both player characters and monsters from the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. I did collect some of the Dungeon Tiles (see wikipedia and dmdavid) that Wizards of the Coast published during this time. (I actually used them playing Savage Worlds.)

The one campaign that I DMed with 3.5E I bought an Flip Chart/Easel Pad printed with a 1 inch grid. I would take several sheets to the game in a tubular storage container and draw the rooms on the map with black marker as the players explored. If we ran off the the side of a sheet or went to a new level I'd get out another sheet and draw on that. This worked surprisingly well.

One GM had a fair bit of Dwarven Forge terrain and that was a lot of fun to play on.

When I started playing Savage Worlds (around 2005) I did a lot of GMing, and was thrilled by the Figure Flats and map tiles that that Great White Games (now known again as Pinnacle Entertainment Group — PEG) included in many of their Savage Tales PDF adventures. I had a printer that could print on card stock, so these were ideal for me. Later PEG products, such as their Plot Point campaigns, often had Figure Flats as separate PDF accessories. I found them all very useful.

I also found the e-Adventure Tiles series from SkeletonKey Games very useful. These geomorphic map tiles are 6×6 inch squares, marked with a 1 inch square grid, and by printing them out and putting them together you can produce an infinite variety of maps. I found them most useful when printed on cardstock and labeled on the back with their id number. I'd make up several maps and then sort out the printed tiles for that map into a manila envelope for easy retrieval. There used to be a program that you could use the small preview images from the tiles (which were considerately set up for easy Copy and Paste from the PDF) to lay out your map at the small scale and then print it for reference when later putting together the large tiles. 1 I'd include those in the manila envelope with the tiles.

I used paper miniatures from Arion Games and Disposable Heroes paper miniatures from Precis Intermedia. I also had Paper Wars - Dragon Pass at War, a collection of Glorantha paper miniatures published by The Unspoken Word, which seem to have been drawn by Simon Bray, Dario Corallo, and Sarah Evans.

A lot of the early paper miniatures that I used were tri-fold and were cut out, folded, and glued (or taped) together. They usually had front sides in color and a back side in black and white. Unfortunately, these take up almost as much room as lead or plastic miniatures, though were much lighter to carry. I stored them in cheap plastic food containers, which let me easily see what was inside them. Carrying enough of them to games outside my home was a bulky problem.

Eventually I moved to A-frame paper miniatures, where there are two sides and they are attached at the top, with tabs that fold out or in at the bottom for a base. Instead of relying on the tabs to form the base, I used plastic stands from Precis Intermedia, where you'd just fold the miniature once and stick it in the stand. The stands add a bit of weight to the miniatures and make them much more stable. If you cut out a front that is attached to a back, instead of all three sides, you can just fold them once and stick them in a stand as well, so I could use all my trifold paper miniatures as well.

(The Zen DIY Paper Miniatures Page has some pictures of A-frame and trifold paper miniatures.)

Since these paper miniatures are flat when not inserted into stands I currently organize my paper miniatures into separate small manila envelopes for each type of creature, labeled with the creature type on the outside. Occasionally I use small ziplock bags, especially for the PCs' miniatures.

The paper miniatures described above are all drawn in such a way that the figure is drawn within a rectangle and you can cut them out with long straight cuts and cross cuts. There is another style of paper miniatures drawn in a manner so that you cut out the irregular outline of the figure itself with many small or curving cuts. These are much harder to cut out, and are more difficult to store, but are very impressive to look at. (You can see some examples in the Monsters collection at One Monk Miniatures) That's too much work for me!

I also got a Steel Sqwire Flip Mat, which uses dry erase pens, and it is 24×30 inches and folds up into an 8×10 inch package only a ¼ inch thick or so. Much easier to carry around, since it fits into the same backpack or messenger bag I use to carry my RPG books and accessories. 2 More over, unlike the ones you can find now published by Paizo, it had both 1 inch squares and 1 inch hexes, perfect for DragonQuest, GURPS, or The Fantasy Trip, though I've used mostly the squared side, for Savage Worlds. The dry erase pens are much more satisfactory than the wet erase pens. For some time I haven't had extra time to lay out locations using paper map tiles, and the Flip Mat lets me quickly draw out locations.

While I usually use miniatures and a battle map for Savage Worlds there have been several occasions where I've run games in theater of the mind style, without any miniatures or battle map. It takes a little adapting, but isn't that difficult.

My current practice is to use paper miniatures in stands for player characters and numbered blocks for opponents, with a Flip Mat as the battle map. Some times for opponents that take up more than one square I'll fold over or cut up a 3×5 or 4×6 card and use that, writing an arrow to indicate which way is the front.

I've never used Melee and Wizard style counters, which lie flat on the table, but I got in on The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition kickstarter and am intending to try them out sometime.

Of course, when running AD&D or B/X D&D or retro-clones there of (like Goblinoid Games's Labyrinth Lord (L1, L2), it's AD&D inspired Advanced Edition Companion, or the book that squashes them together: Advanced Labyrinth Lord, or like Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials, or Swords & Wizardry) it's all theater of the mind: no miniatures, no battle map.

1

The program that I used was a desktop application rather than a web-based application, but Tiamat the Tile Mapper is a similar application.

2

Dice of course; usually I carry a couple of extra sets for when someone forgets their dice. For Savage Worlds I carry several differently colored sets of glass beads (stored in small ziplock bags). I use blue beads for bennies, white beads for GM bennies, red beads for wounds, yellow beads for shaken and white beads again for fatigue. I've found it helps the players (and myself) to remember their status if they have physical objects sitting on their character sheet to remind them. When playing with numbered blocks for opponents I put the shaken bead on top of the block; this really helps when I've got 30 opponents on the table. I carry a couple of decks of playing cards for Savage Worlds initiative.

Play a character that will work with the other characters!

In the article A role-playing game player’s obligation David Hartlage of DM David says:

As a player, your first role-playing obligation is to imagine a character who can cooperate with rest of the party to achieve the common goals of the game.

He also quotes Gary Gygax:

“Always seek to contribute the most to the team’s success. From the players’ and the PCs’ standpoint any role-playing game is a group endeavor. Individual success is secondary to the success of the group, for only through group achievements can the quality of the campaign be measured.” – Gary Gygax, Role-Playing Mastery

I think that in general this is a good idea.

Of course, if you are specifically intending to run a game to explore infighting or where the player characters explicitly have goals that seriously in conflict, I think that you should make this clear at the beginning and make sure that everyone is on board. Moreover, it may make sense to use an RPG that is specifically designed for that, like Fiasco or The Mountain Witch rather than introduce those elements into a traditional RPG. Even in a game built for that, make sure everybody is on the same page. It turns out badly if one person in the group playing Paranoia is playing in Zap mode where troubleshooters open fire on each other with little to no provocation and another person in is playing in Straight mode which discourages random firefights and horseplay.

Every edition of D&D has specified some things in terms of miniatures

I ran across an interesting article: D&D Next: "Zones of Control" from Chainmail to 4e which argues, I think with good evidence, that every version of D&D has been based in miniatures as its default mode of play. (Alas the original site of this article, Advanced Dungeons & Parenting appears to having fallen to some annoying entropy creating demons. Some poking about seems to show the original author being Christian Lindke of Geekerati.)

The split between abstract combat and miniatures combat was well established by the time I started with D&D, reading the Holmes 1 edition and then playing first edition AD&D. We never played with miniatures. Indeed, I think the hex grid and miniatures based tactical combat rules were one of the things that drew me to DragonQuest and later GURPS.

1

I'm irritated that Wizards of the Coast has not yet added the Holmes edition, the 1977 blue box Basic Set, to the DM's Guild.

Gygax on Character Death

In the article Turning Character Deaths in D&D Into Deals that Benefit Game and Story, David Hartlage (DM David) points out an interesting quote from Gary Gygax in the DMG on Character Death. (The whole post is worth reading, as are many of his others.)

I went looking for the quote so I could give a more complete reference for it. (PDF versions of old gaming books are wonderful!)

In the first edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, on p. 110, in the section “Conducting the Game”, subsection “Rolling the Dice and Control of the Game”, Gary Gygax wrote:

Now and then a player will die through no fault of his own. He or she will have done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character. In the long run you should let such things pass as the players will kill more than one opponent with their own freakish rolls at some later time. Yet you do have the right to arbitrate the situation. You can rule that the player, instead of dying, is knocked unconscious, loses a limb, is blinded in one eye or invoke any reasonably severe penalty that still takes into account what the monster has done. It is very demoralizing to the players to lose a cared-for-player character when they have played well. When they have done something stupid or have not taken precautions, then let the dice fall where they may!

On a side note, every time I read the original DMG I'm amazed at everything that Gygax managed to fit into that book. Of course, when I read the three booklets of original D&D I'm amazed at what he managed to fit in those as well.

Powers & Perils is Oddly Fascinating

I bought Powers & Perils when it first came out. While I was never able to complete building a character, I did have fun reading the rules and the setting details. It was oddly fascinating. So complicated. Every so often, I circle back to look at it again, usually starting at the Powers & Perils website.

What I noticed this time is that a second edition is available on the rules page, which includes both a PDF of the complete rules and a PDF of the Perilous Lands setting information.

The rules are extensively hyperlinked, both in the table of contents and in cross-references, which should make using such a complicated system easier.

Right now I can't imaging finding a group that would be interested in playing Powers & Perils, but there is always a lingering impulse to do something with it.

BESM 4E - Initial Look

I took advantage of the Late Pledges option on the BESM 4th Edition kickstarter and have access to the PDFs they've released so far. It is a further refinement of BESM 3E with some point costs re-balanced. Interestingly, the combat system in the BESM 4E core book is very, very simple, with only an Attack roll versus a Defence roll. And the detailed list of skills from BESM 2ER and BESM 3E have been replaced with 12 “Skill Groups”, separated into three types based on how expensive the skill group is, rated by utility. I'm hoping that the planned BESM Extras book will include more combat options and the more detailed skill rules. (The BESM 4E Character Folio seems to indicate the detailed skills will be in BESM Extras.)

I liked BESM 3E's switch to roll over, which is continued in BESM 4E. There are 25 race templates and 25 class templates, up from BESM 3E's 20 each, and 20 Humanoid Companions templates that can easily be converted into race or class templates. BESM 4E introduces edges and obstacles, which add 1 (for minor) or 2 (for major) dice to a roll, keeping the 2 best (for edges) or 2 worst (for obstacles), similar to D&D 5E's advantage and disadvantage.

The way Standard and Custom Variables and Restrictions in BESM 3E worked has changed and been renamed. They are now Enhancements and Limiters, and instead of having a character point cost they reduce or increase the Effective Level of an attribute. For instance, If you have bought the Weapon Attribute up to 10 Levels and add the Accurate Weapon Enhancement (1 assignment) and the Area standard Enhancement for 10 metres radius (2 assignments) and the Range standard Enhancement for 100 metres (3 assignments) and Ammo Weapon Limiter for 2-3 shots available (2 assignments) makes the Effective Level 6 (10 - 1 - 2 - 3 + 2). This makes the cost of Enhancements and Limiters proportional to the base cost of an Attribute.

It looks like the point costs for things are one-third to one-quarter those of BESM 3E, which keeps things a little simpler. Here are the suggested power levels:

Power Level

Character Points

Sub-Human

0-24

Human

25-49

Adventurer

50-74

Heroic

75-99

Mythical

100-149

Superhuman

150-199

Superpowered

200-249

Godlike

250+

There is a 10 page index, which I was happy to see, but alas the entries are not hyperlinked. There are copious cross references by page number, which is very useful, but again not hyperlinked. The table of contents is reasonably detailed, though again not hyperlinked.

BESM 4E is firmly in the “GMs should fudge dice rolls if it will make the game better.” I'm ambivalent about that.

There is an 8-page section on Shojo roleplaying that seems interesting.

The “Anime Multiverse” chapter seems identical between 3E and 4E and presents an interesting short take on a multiverse cosmology, if you need one.

Just like BESM 3E, BESM 4E has lots of colors. Lots and lots of colors. (I can see no reason for one column of text on each page to have a background color.) I recognize most of the art from earlier editions. I liked it then and still like it.

There is a simple character sheet, in color and black-and-white versions in the PDF of the core rulebook, or for download from the Dyskami BESM RPG page.

Each of the Dramatis Personae PDFs give 15 example characters, with backgrounds, personalities, discussion of their Attributes and Defects, three Adventure Hooks, and a personal quote. These are useful in seeing how the various Attributes work. The backgrounds are tied into the Anime Multiverse from the core book.

All in all, I think it looks good. If the things are in BESM Extras that I hope are there, I can definitely see switching from BESM 2ER.

Slings in RPGs: Often Nerfed

In response to reading this article, headlined “Roman sling bullets used against Scottish tribes 2,000 years ago were as deadly as a .44 Magnum”, I was thinking about slings in RPGs.

I've often thought that sling bullets are woefully nerfed in many RPGs, especially D&D. In D&D 5E, for instance, they're only 1d4, while a short bow is 1d6 and a long bow is 1d8. For comparison, daggers are 1d4 and longswords are 1d8. In OD&D using Greyhawk's “Damage Done by Weapon Type” table sling stones are 1d4, and the same in B/X D&D's optional “Variable Weapon Damage” table. AD&D has sling bullets as 1d4+1 and sling stones as 1d4. D&D 3.5E has them as 1d4. So the D&D editions pretty consistently have it as 1d4. Definitely nerfed. Except in 3-book OD&D and B/X D&D without the “Variable Weapon Damage” table, where all weapons did 1d6 damage.

In Savage Worlds slings are Str+d4, while a bow is 2d6. For comparison, a dagger is Str+d4 and a long sword is Str+d8. Nerfed.

In RuneQuest 2E they are 1d8, similar to a Composite bow at 1d8+1 and broadsword at 1d8. In Elric! (a member of the Stormbringer line of games, appearing between 4th Edition and 5th Edition, but the rules were substantially equivalent to Stormbringer 5E; It is relative of RuneQuest mechanically, part of the Basic Roleplaying (BRP) family of games) a sling is 1d8+1, similar to a Desert Recurve Bow at 1d8+2, and a broadsword at 1d8+1. So in the BRP games they are not nerfed. In DragonQuest their Damage Modifier is +1, while a dagger is +0, a long bow is +4 and a broadsword is +4. Nerfed.

In Talislanta 4E a sling's Damage Rating is 4, as is a dagger, while a long bow and broadsword are 8. Nerfed.

In Hero 5E, sling damage is 1d6+1, same as a medium bow or a light long bow, while a medium long bow is 1 ½ d6 (that's 1 and ½ d6) and a heavy long bow is 2d6. A dagger is 1d6-1 and a broadsword is 1d6+1. Note that strong enough characters add damage to this based on how strong they are. Not nerfed.

In GURPS 4E, damage is based on your strength, and the only dice used is d6. We'll use an average Strength 10 character as an example. Their Thrust damage is 1d-2 and their Swing damage is 1d. An opponent's Damage Resistance (DR) is subtracted from the rolled damage and any damage left is multiplied by a modifier for each type of damage. Piercing damage has a ×1 modifier, cutting has a ×1.5 modifier, and impaling has a ×2 modifier.

So, sling damage is swing piercing, and the damage for that for our average character is 1d. A longbow is thrust+2 impaling. and the damage for that is 1d, and whatever makes it past DR is doubled. A regular bow is thrust+1 impaling, and the damage for that is 1d+1 (minus DR) ×2. A dagger is thrust-1 impaling, so that is 1d-3 (minus DR) ×2. A thrusting broadsword is swing+1 cutting (1d+1 (minus DR) ×1.5) or thrust+2 impaling (1d+2 (minus DR) ×2). I think that's nerfed a little.

(I'd like to note that when actually playing GURPS I think this is simpler to do at the table than it sounds like. The damage values for each attack is figured out at character creation :-)

In The Fantasy Trip, which like GURPS only uses d6, slings do 1d-2, small bows do 1d-1, longbows do 1d+2, daggers do 1d-1, and broadswords do 2d. A little bit nerfed.

In Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) 2nd Edition Revised, slings are not listed, but a long bow does 5 damage, a longsword does 10 damage, and a dagger does 5 damage. In BESM 3rd Edition, an average person has an Attack Combat Value (ACV) of 4 and a Damage Multiplier of 5. Each weapon has a Level, which is multiplied by the Damage Multiplier and added to the ACV for the final damage. Slings are Level 1 (1 × 5 + 4 = 9), as are daggers. Longbows are Level 3 (3 × 5 + 1 = 16), as are longswords. Definitely nerfed. (It is the same in BESM 4E.)

In HarnMaster, weapon impact (damage) for Melee weapons has three Aspects, Blunt (B), Edge (E), and Point (P). A dagger's impact is B 1, E 2, P 5, while a broadsword is B 3, E 5, and P 3. A Missile weapon's impact depends on the type of missile weapon and the range: short, medium, long, and extreme. Slings are Short 4, Medium 3, Long 2, and Extreme 2. Shortbows are Short 6, Medium 5, Long 4, Extreme 3. Longbows are Short 8, Medium 8, Long 6, Extreme 5. Nerfed. I'll note that these weapon or missile impacts are added to a Strike Impact is decided by a table indexed by how well the attacker did on opposed rolls of attack skill against the defender's skill in Block, Counterstrike, Dodge, or if the defender ignored the attack. For Melee attacks this can result in the defender having blocked the attack, either the attacker or the defender fumbling or stumbling, the defender gaining a Tactical Advantage (a free action), or either or both having made a Strike, which generates from 1 to 4 d6s. For Missle attacks this can result in a Miss (with a chance to hit an adjacent combatant, a Wild (a fumble roll), a Block, or a Strike, which generates from 1 to 3 d6s. The Armor Protection value is subtracked and the result is the total Effective Impact, which is then referenced on the Injury Table to determine where the on the body the injury is and how serious it is. There are no Hit Points like D&D or Wounds like Savage Worlds. Instead the character accumulates injuries like “1 Minor Slash Left Upper Arm, 1 injury level”. The total injury level determines the difficulty of the character staying conscious and penalty to any skill roll. Some of the injuries may immediately kill the injured character.

There is a good thread by Robert S. Conley (1, 2, 3) on RPG PUB that talks some more about HarnMaster combat.

In West End Games' D6 Fantasy, attributes are measured in d6s and 2D is an average human. Bow and sling damage and melee damage as d6s added to a number of d6s determined by your Strength Damage, which is determined by your Physique attribute or Lifting skill (both measured in d6s), drop any adds, divided by 2. So our average human's Strength Damage is 1D. Then longbows add +2D+2, shortbows add +1D+2, and slings add +1D. For comparison, daggers add +1D and broad/long swords ad +2D+2. So, nerfed, although it is hard to make precise distinctions at this level of resolution.

Tunnels & Trolls only uses d6s and weapons are measured in “Dice + Adds”, that is the number of d6s to roll and the number of points to add to the dice total. The common sling is 2d. A very light self bow is 2d, a light self bow is 3d, a medium self bow is 4d, a heavy self bow is 5d, and a extra-heavy self bow is 6d. These all have increasing Strength Required to use the weapon. For comparison, a Dirk is 2D+1 and a broadsword is 3d+4. Nerfed.

In Dragon Warriors weapon damage has two parts: an armor penetration die (measured in dice: d4, d6, d8, etc.) and damage points. The armor penetration die is rolled against the Armour Factor of the defender's armour: a Gambeson has an Armour Factor of 2 while Plate has an Armor Factor of 5, and the attacker has to roll higher than the Armour Factor to inflict damage.

A sling has Damage (d6, 3 points) while a Bow has Damage (d6, 4 points). For comparison, a dagger has Damage (d4, 3 points) and a sword has Damage (d8, 4 points). Slightly nerfed.

When I GM games that I think nerf slings, like D&D, I often use a house rule that sling bullets are higher damage than sling stones, and more similar to the damage of a short bow, 1d6, for example. I may have been underestimating them and should consider them closer to a long bow, 1d8, as Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (BRP) variants (RuneQuest, Elric, Stormbringer) do.

2020-03-14 Addendum

Classic Traveller's Supplement 04 Citizens of the Imperium (1979) has a section on bow weapons, on p. 16! A sling does 2D wounds and a long bow does 2D wounds also. For comparison, from Book 01 Characters & Combat (1981) on p. 47 on the “Range Table” (?) dagger, blade, cutlass, and sword all do 2D wounds. Not nerfed.

Cepheus Engine (C1, C2) doesn't have slings, but a bow is 2D6. Sword of Cepheus, the fantasy variant, has sling as 2D, short bow as 2D, long bow as 3D, dagger as 2D, and sword as 3D. Maybe a little nerfed.

I often read webcomics backwards

I often go a month or two between reading the webcomics I regularly follow. When I got back and read them, I usually start with the current comic and just click the “Prev” button to go back, so I end up reading significant portions of the story backwards. Eventually it all makes sense anyway.