A friend recently asked about recommended books on warfare. I recommended a book and and then I started thinking about the handful of books I’d like recommend in addition to that first one, all of them freely available online:
- Anabasis by Xenophon – ten thousand Greek heavy infantry joining a campaign of a Persian prince against his brother. They win the final battle but their prince dies and within a short time their former allies desert them and the Greeks find themselves deep in Persian territory, cut off from home, their retreat back along the way they came made impossible by the thorough pillaging by the passing army. With no cavalry and no archers they make their way north and home by a circuitous route through foreign territory.
- History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides – Sparta vs. Athens, Greek city states at war, in all its glory and misery, Machiavellian dealings in the Melian dialogue, the catastrophic Sicilian Expedition – there are classics aplenty in this book. Thucydides is considered to be the first (Western?) historian. That alone makes the introduction worth reading.
- Anabasis Alexandri by Arrian – how can you not admire the drive behind Alexander’s conquest. Apparently he was one of the founders of a primarily military-based focus on history (according to Wikipedia). Ascended to the throne twenty years old, started the war two years later, reached India when he was thirty, and died three years later. When I was younger I sometimes wondered what Alexander the Great would be doing while I was wasting my life. But these days I look back at my thirty seven years of life, and think of Alexander the Great, who died when he was thirty three. I made my save!
- Commentarii de Bello Gallico by Julius Caesar – political dealings, battles, intrigues, winter camps, summer campaigns, backstabbing and everything else involved in Roman warfare. It’s political propaganda sent home, but it grabs your attention even if you know it.
Read a bit on Wikipedia if you like, but I recommend you get a printed copy from some second hand book seller and read one of these books as soon as possible. They’re tiny by todays standards of science fiction and fantasy trilogies and decalogies.
The actual reason why I started writing this blog post was a different one, however. On the one hand, I was thinking of Explaining d6 Damage on JB’s B/X Blackrazor blog, and on the other hand I was thinking of my new campaign…
Regarding d6 damage: I decided that my next campaign would be using d6 for damage. Yes, some weapons look more impressive than others, but they’re all good for killing people. I don’t want to get into the arm’s race, the fighting styles, the armor improvements. All of this certainly played a role on the battlefields of history, but if my game is going to ignore the advances of infantry tactics, I might as well ignore all the other details and assume that “different weapons inflict harm in different ways…” (JB).
So why the step back from variable weapon damage that I’ve used for all of my role-playing life? In the last years I’ve been reading the old school blogs and realized what exactly I didn’t like about D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder RPG. I’m still playing the games, but I decided that my next campaign will be different. I’ve mellowed a bit in the last year, and decided upon the following compromise:
- I will use Labyrinth Lord rules because they have worked well when playing with Zeno and the kids in the Campaign:Wilderlande campaign.
- I will use the Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting because it has worked well in my Alder King Sunday game.
The real reason for returning to the old school of D&D is my increased dislike of reliance on the rules:
- creating characters takes a long time; it’s effectively a mini-game that I don’t enjoy; it’s time not spent playing the game at the table
- when faced with a problem, players instinctively turn to the rules: some skill, feat, spell or rule must solve the problem; and they are often right because of the sheer volume of it all
I hope that having less rules will solve my problem. Switching to a d6 for all weapons just pushes the game further in the direction I want to take. It might lead to other problems, of course. I think it was my friend Marco who said that I’ll end up with more arguing at the table if there are less rules. We’ll see. All I know is that I have to change something.
Looking at my blog I see that I’ve already made these attempts at convincing myself two years ago. Maybe the onset of winter does that to me. Damn it! This time I really mean it. I do. I do. Once the Campaign:HagfishTavern Rise of the Runelords campaign ends, I’ll switch gears.
Anyway, now I need to think of a way of tying all these topics together for this blog post…
What I did is this: I started writing up some pages for my next campaign (in German) on a new Campaign Wiki, Campaign:FünfWinde Fünf Winde (referring to the Sea of Five Winds region – my Alder King game is situated in the Lenap region), added some explanations regarding the old school style I’m aiming for, house rules, starting village (Oathcomb near Longbottle).
I read up on Mitra and Set and decided to move this conflict into the foreground. My current Alder King uses a lot of inspiration from the Babylonian mythos (Marduk, Nergal, Ishtar), and I think I want to move the imagery of my world in general away from European medieval knights and wizards to a more Babylonian, Assyrian, or Greek background. Which is where the books on warfare in the ancient world tie in! The part that isn’t influenced by Sword & Sorcery literature will be influenced by Greek and Persian culture, I think.
Thinking of house rules, I started wondering about d6 damage and found JB’s blog post to be a nice intro to the topic. And I ended up thinking about the effects of Strength on melee combat.
- if you’re strong, you gain more XP as a fighter, ie. you’ll have a slight advantage over your peers
- if you’re strong, you gain a bonus to hit, ie. you’ll have another slight advantage over your peers
- if you’re strong, you gain a bonus to damage, ie. you’ll have yet another slight advantage over your peers
I think that’s good enough. In D&D 3.5 there are no XP bonuses, but there are a dozen feats to push your numbers up, allowing players to power game and apply their skills to making better characters, moving the arena away from the table into their studying of books and rules. I feel that in order to prevent that, I need to limit rules-relevant options for players during character creation. There shall be options, but they’ll emerge from the game itself:
- magic items and artifacts to find (the classic way of adding options)
- spells to find (because you need somebody to teach them to you – more positive NPC interactions)
- races and classes to unlock (by finding them – more party rewards for exploration)
- special abilities to acquire (by joining certain institutions – rewards for joining factions and cults)
Planning for the next campaign while you’re still playing the old campaign is messing me up as a referee. I need a separation of concerns, somehow. My current plan has been to try and not talk about it until I had pretty much decided on the basics. We’ll see how that goes.
Ok, enough rambling. What happened to my preference for short blog postings!?
P.S.: I added Google Friend Connect to my RPG page a while ago. I didn’t want to add it to every single page because I fear that this will slow everything down. Then again, I hardly ever mind when I visit other blogs. Perhaps obsession over bandwidth and load times just goes to show that I lived through the early years of the web.
Today we played some Pathfinder RPG. I laughed when two of our characters failed their massive damage rolls with a natural 1 and everything seemed to point to a narrow escape by the sorceress and maybe the rogue. But using a contingency spell she was able to get everybody out in a single round, and we got teleported to back to a temple, raised, restored, teleported back “a few days later” and just continued the same fight, with no penalties what so ever, no levels lost. In fact, with all our hit points restored and all our spells back.
That felt a bit cheap. Apparently Pathfinder RPG has even less penalties for getting raised than D&D 3.5 had – namely none. I still remember the days where getting raised cost you a point of Constitution. And in my D&D 3.5 game people still loose levels. I think that without the pain, there is no tragedy, no moaning over “meaningless” death, no fear – things I need in my D&D for me to enjoy it. As we say in German: Viel Feind, viel Ehr’! “Many enemies, lots of honor!” Something was lost when practically all the pain got removed. Negative levels are only temporary. Essentially that sets us up for a total party kill. Any interesting and challenging situation will now have to threaten a TPK in order to put fear back into the experience.
I also remember playing a paladin once that rolled a 1 for hit points gained as she leveled up. The DM had me roll again. “What?” I thought. That’s cheap! If the dice want me to play a low hit point paladin, so be it. I accept the challenge. But everybody at the table was expecting me to reroll. And I got another one. And another. And a fourth. And a fifth! I laughed so hard I cried. I got more hit points on the last roll, but the dice had certainly made it clear that they wanted Rhysalis Eina to have below average hit points!
The adventure we played, by the way, was very enjoyable: It was the old Dungeon Crawl Classic about sphinxes for level 14 and 15 characters, Lost Tomb of the Sphinx Queen. I liked it! Riddles, fights, playing smartly. The labyrinth was a bit too big, and the two last fights at the end too long. If you ever run it, try eliminating the “daughter” encounter. And think about the rules you’re going to use. Will they be for wusses? ;)
Once a month I play Labyrinth Lord with my godchild, her siblings, and her dad. The picture shows dad working on the treasure sheet with sections for each player character and sections for the two buried treasure chests. The adventure we’ve been on is Tomb of the Iron God. I’m starting to think that maybe the adventure is a tiny bit too long, but we’ve explored about 80% of the entire thing, so the Sword of Iron will soon be found, I assume.
As far as I can tell, the stuff they enjoy is
- fart jokes
- bashing the heads of undead – today the youngest went on to detail brain flight trajectories when hitting zombies with a flail…
- bashing the heads of anything, actually
- they really liked talking to the enchanted zombie goblin head that never said anything but “Turn back, grave robbers, or you’ll all die!”
- they laugh when ghouls throw around the hands of victims
- they laugh when dad’s character falls into a pit
- they hate it when three of them are down and paralyzed by the ghouls and the lone elf continues fighting, hoping for the party to reawaken in time
- they seem to like it when I mention how many hitpoints a monster has left, how many rounds a character will remain paralyzed, what AC monsters have – I’m not hiding it from them if that makes rolling the dice more enjoyable
- they like rolling for group initiative
- they all like to shout at the same time (dad included)
- they like to read Elfquest comics before and after the game, and to borrow some to take home between games
- there are no XP to be gained and there is no level advancement; they all just create characters with 5001 XP
I think we’re having a good time!
We play for about two hours. By the end they’re usually really tired. The oldest two want to continue playing but the youngest one is already sitting on the couch and looking at Elfquest instead of playing. But that’s ok.
Anyway… the Sword of Iron. I think they’ll have to bring it to Captain Mithika in Curnithia somewhere in the Faris Hills. Yeah, this will move the campaign into the Wildlands described in Points of Light by Robert Conley.
Previous entries in the series: 2010-01-11 Playing With Kids.
- @RobertsonGames says
- Wow, there’s a lot of #Pathfinder 3rd party products! http://bit.ly/bUBOgQ - Are many people playing it? 
Looking at the ten sessions per month I play (→ MyCampaigns), I see the following trend:
|system||session per month|
|Various Indie games||two|
In my D&D 3.5 Alder King game the 4th level party ran into a young adult blue dragon, twice. My random encounter charts are location specific. I look at the current hex and its surrounding hexes, and quickly jot down a chart when the session starts. Usually it has eight entries and I roll a d6. At night, I add +2. Thus, 1-2 are diurnal and 7-8 are nocturnal encounters.
Was this “fair”? Of course not, if you assume the challenge rating assumptions in the DMG are the definition of fair. But as suggested on Never Have a Plan, “I didn’t have a plan. I never have a plan. I didn’t know whether they’d sneak around it, or figure out a way to kill it, or just charge in and get themselves all killed. I hadn’t even given much thought to how they’d deal with it.”
That’s how I like to play. It pushes me to improvise.
After all, the encounter did not come with instructions saying: “The dragon charges immediately and fights until slain.”
I knew the dragon was out to protect its territory, and it would always welcome a chance to find some magic item loot. So I had the dragon try and intimidate the party into giving up magic items, and the party tried their very best to walk the dangerous line of saving their stuff and not provoking the dragon into a fight. And it worked. And I got to introduce yet another character into the game – and the party already has strong opinions about it. The dragon could be used to beat the Dark Talon lizards if the party told it about the magic sword the lizard king recently aquired (the party having lost it to some Dark Talon lizards), and the dragon’s greed already aggravates them. Conflict and possibilities – I like!
If I’d keep planning the encounters along the average party level ±2 encounter level suggestions, then scenes such as these would be impossible. Why limit myself?
I also enjoy the planning that follows such situations. I like to listen to the players talk, and I like to add my own ideas on how to overcome challenges. You could try this! Or this! Wouldn’t it be cool if you’d try this? This is how I like to provide background information as well. I’ll say “actually, your player would know that there have been no dwarven settlements in the area in recent decades” or “the dragon did seem way too powerful, it’s true.” Yet another fun element of the game.
What I really want to do is make the One Page Dungeon Contest a yearly thing: 1PDC 2009, 2010, etc. We’ve had more than a hundred entries! I’d love to collect them all and make them available for download. Integrate them with a wiki and provide some commentary, too. Like the yearly Interactive Fiction Competition. One page dungeons are simple adventures, and adventures support play.
Essentially I like a healthy mix of adventures I think of myself and professionally produced adventures. But when it comes to my own stuff, I’m never quite sure with what to compare it to. Should I aspire to write as the pros? I don’t think that would be time well spent. The One Page Dungeon Contest gives me the opportunity to compare my work with ordinary DMs from all over the world. I can learn from the successes and failures from others. That’s why I hope that the contest submissions will remain a crazy mix of things. I don’t want a contest dominated by Wolfgang Baur, Monte Cook, Eric Mona, Nicolas Logue and other people in their league. I want to compare my entry with authors in my league.
Anyway, I got pulled into the circle of contest judges, and therefore my 2009-05-15 Water Temple is no longer a competing entry.
I’ll try and report on the things I like and the things I don’t like about entries I see. And to keep track of my progress. Yesterday, I looked at eight entries. It takes me about ten minutes per entry.
Stuff I like myself (the other judges will have different elements, I’m sure):
- A usable map. If the adventure doesn’t require a map, or the encounters don’t refer to the map, then there’s no need for a map.
- Multiple entries and exists. I love extra tunnels, shafts, chimneys, and crawlways.
- A short background. I don’t like the long backgrounds. There’s a German saying: “In der Kürze liegt die Würze.” It says more or less that making it short is making it hot.
- I like there not to be too many numbers. The exact height and width in feet, the diameters and dimensions – I finde them hard to read and easy to improvise.
- I like the use of bold to highlight the important parts in a dungeon key. It makes it really easy to scan. I hate it when I blab about the dimensions of the room, the chasm, the bridge, the sound of drums, the stray arrows, and … the balrog!
More as I dig into the submissions!
What about the use of music at the gaming table? One of my DMs uses the Baldur's Gate soundtrack every time.
I tried it using the Vagrant Story soundtrack and writing down a few key elements of the various tracks. I knew the track that started with a bang and was useful for combat and I planned to switch to that as the dice fell for initiative.
It turned out too complex to juggle. I forgot to turn it off when combat ended until a player complained; I forgot to turn it on half the time; it took me critical seconds between combat announcement and die rolls to skip to the right track.
Lesson learnt. I no longer do this.
I do scream “DO DOO DOO DOOOOOM!!!!” at the table at opportune moments, however.
Or I’ll start with “Ok, so you’re walking down this corridor, when… [humming as I looking up stuff] dumdidumdidooo…” Players will shout “Watch out, random encounter incoming!!”
In a way I have maybe three or four such “musical” humming themes that I use at the table.
“Wheeeeeouuuuwheeeooouuuwheeeeee…” Flying monsters attack!!
I heartily recommend to use a variety of grunting, howling, cackling, drumming, whimpering, and crooning at the table to immitate cinematic soundtrack-like effects. You can’t sing all the time, you can’t produce the real sound-effects, but you can be entertaining!
Reading Basic D&D: Choose Your Weapon, Dwimmermount Campaign House Rules, Philotomy's OD&D Musings on Multiple Attacks, Weapon vs. what?, Shields Shall be Splintered! and the various features each weapon in the D&D 3.5 weapon list, I cannot shake the feeling that it would be cool to produce a small list of weapons and fighting styles, giving each of them a kind of special feature.
- I don’t want to complicate things
- I don’t want there to be a particular weapon that is “best”
- I want it to reflect somewhat why particular weapons were used
- I want it to force players to make trade-offs
- I want potential benefits to be so small such that no player of a fighter feels compelled to carry around more than three or four weapons
Instead of starting with a list of weapons, perhaps it would be better to start at the end and ask: How many weapons should the list have? How many features will I therefore need to differentiate between them all?
Here are the things I would love to see:
- Swords are good for cutting down unarmed opponents
- Maces, hammers, and picks are good for smashing knights in armor
- Shields shall be splintered (see link at the beginning!)
- Flails ignore shields
- Polearms are good for unhorsing knights using the hook, cutting down people using the axe blade, and hammering knights in armor, but bad in close combat
- Knives and short swords are good in close combat
- Flanking ignores shields
- Charging and setting weapons against a charge inflicts more damage; the longer weapon strikes first
- It’s easier to aim a crossbow at something compared with a longbow.
- The longbow’s range is higher.
- Shortbows can be used on a horse.
- Bows and crossbows are armor-piercing.
Things I’ll ignore:
- Halberds can be used to trip, but I hate tripping and other combat maneuvers. I’ll just ignore that and treat halberds like polearms.
- Heavy two handed weapons inflict lots of damage against unarmed opponents, and I don’t want to make them slower. Not being able to use a shield is punishment enough. This also takes care of the overrated two-handed sword.
And then I suddenly go whaaaaaaa… This is too damn complicated. It’ll result in a minigame where people start optimizing weapons against armor, it’ll introduce discussions of what was developed in reaction what, the exact time period equivalent we’re playing in, and I don’t want to go there.
But I cannot resist… How about this? The effective bonus would mean “ignores part of the protective value of the armor”. The “Chains” column is for all sorts of flails. We’re ignoring tripping, disarming, and all sorts of other combat maneuvers. Those should be resolved by common sense instead of rules.
|Weapon vs. Armor Type||Slashing||Piercing||Bludgeoning||Chains|
|Unarmed (AC 9)||0||0||0||0|
|Leather (AC 7)||+1||0||0||0|
|Chain (AC 5)||0||+1||0||0|
|Plate (AC 3)||0||0||+1||0|
|Shield (AC -1)||0||0||0||+1|
What about Monsters, you say? Easy. Anything wearing armor is resolved as indicated above. Most things having a “natural” armor shall be considered wearing leather armor. This makes swords a good choice against all sorts of monsters, which is a nice touch.
What remains to be handled:
- Two handed or two weapon fighting deals more damage but prevents the use of a shield.
- Shields may be splintered.
- Some weapons can be used for a charge (lance), or set against a charge (longspears). In this case attacks are not resolved according to initiative but before all others according to weapon length.
That would be as far as I would take it, I think.