Page Collection for ^2013-07

2013-07-02 Initiative

Rolling for initiative… What is it for?

Let’s start with simple group initiative: each side rolls a d6 and the higher one goes first. It’s what I use, and I think it provides almost all the benefits the other systems provide. The basic rule is: everybody gets to act once per round. It seems to me that the worst case that can happen is that you get attacked twice in a row. But even that cannot happen again unless you get to attack twice in a row in turn. AB/BA/AB/BA, after all. Getting attacked twice in a row is an interesting feature that adds uncertainty to the fight.

Individual initiative without modifiers: each character rolls a d6 and the higher one goes first. Essentially this boils down to “Roll roll once for the enemies. Announce the number. Any player character who beats this number can go, in any order. Then the enemies go. Then the remaining player characters go, in any order.” Whether “in any order” is in fact faster than “in initiative order” depends on whether you allow delaying (which slows down “in initiative order”) and whether your players are often unsure of what to do, which I find is best handled by delaying. With slow players, “in any order” is best.

From the point of view of an individual character, however, the situation is just as it was with group initiative. You can get attacked twice in a row, but only once. AB/BA/AB/BA, remember? Thus, it seems to me that individual initiative without modifiers makes things more complicated at the table by adding randomness but without changing much.

What’s the effect of a higher initiative bonus? Let’s compare A with 1d6+1 vs. B with 1d6: how much more likely is A to win initiative? Reroll ties. All we need to do is count:

    1  2  3  4  5  6
 2  A  -  B  B  B  B
 3  A  A  -  B  B  B
 4  A  A  A  -  B  B
 5  A  A  A  A  -  B
 6  A  A  A  A  A  -
 7  A  A  A  A  A  A

A 21 : B 10 or roughly 68% of the time. What does this mean? Here’s how I think about it: It makes no difference whatsoever until one of them is going to suffer consequences. In D&D, that would be the last round.

  • If either A or B can die, A has a 68% of going first, and thus has a higher chance of winning.
  • If only one of the two can die, then there’s simply a 68% chance of landing or avoiding the last blow.

In short: player characters benefit from a bonus to initiative in the very last round only. That seems to be a very minor benefit when compared with the increased complexity at the table.

In mid-level D&D 3.5, a high initiative for casters was often essential because they had the power to turn the first round into the last round of combat. In classic low level D&D, this isn’t as important. In my games, there seem to be less casters of offensive spells, and casters have less spells per day, and there are more fights per day. It all makes individual initiative modifiers less useful.

But what about fun? Isn’t rolling individual initiative more exciting? I don’t know. Certainly everybody is more busy rolling their die and remembering their result. When group initiative is rolled, all the players are watching one single die and there is groaning or cheering at the table. I don’t think one of the methods can be said to be “more fun” in general. Personally, I enjoy the collective groaning and cheering of group initiative.

If you’re DM Florian, don’t worry: I don’t mind playing with individual initiative. Other DMs provide inspiration for blog posts! :)


Comments on 2013-07-02 Initiative

I play Pathfinder with individual ini (and did it since AD&D1st times, then with weapon speed adjustment) every round… With computed results this works fast and gives a little uncertainty, because even the highest bonus goes last sometimes with a d20 initative throw… and it has not the stale boardgame feeling of D20’s regular “same initiative every round”. BUT I’m not quite sure if I would start to do that nowadays in a less crunchy system (and I don’t do it if we’re offline). I guess, I’m just used to it and the unpredictability its resultes in, but it is quite a hassle, I think, if there are numerous equal rolls (as it will happen if everyone rolls a d6).

Rorschachhamster 2013-07-02 10:21 UTC

And what are the perceived benefits, from your point of view? It sounds like “a little uncertainty” is the benefit?

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-02 12:26 UTC

In systems with more variables in combat (usually crunchier games but not always), I have a problem with “enemies group, players individual” initiative. For low-level old school games it’s not as much of a big deal. But when you add in more positioning and different combat effects it can be hell if a whole bunch of enemies go at once. (exceptions can be made for low-power enemies). In 4e, with conditions and such it’s really bad when a group on enemies goes all at once.

I use a spreadsheet with a built in roller to make it easy to roll initiative for the whole group.

– Philo Pharynx 2013-07-02 14:42 UTC

One thing you failed to mentions is that in most early versions, a spellcaster starts his spell at the beginning of the round. So winning initiative matters if you beat him and can spoil his spell.

– Anonymous 2013-07-02 15:20 UTC

You are right, Anonymous. I had a similar comment on Google+. Spell declaration prior to rolling is something I didn’t consider. When I went looking for it in Moldvay’s Basic D&D, however, I didn’t find it. Is this an AD&D thing only?

I didn’t consider it because we usually don’t do it in my game even though I want to. We just keep forgetting. Another reason we don’t do spell declaration prior to rolling is that in melee, I allow people to cover each other. Effectively this shields casters from attackers while allies are still standing. This would make spell interruption hard, even if we remembered it. Do you allow party members to protect casters in melee? Can enemies say go for casters specifically? Are targets determined randomly and include the casters?

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-02 18:16 UTC

That mix of individual for the players and group for the baddies doesn’t seem useful to me either. If the baddies get individual initiative too then individual begins to make more sense. Of course it brings with it some meta game baggage (attack the baddies who rolled worse than you so that they don’t get their turn at all instead of the ones that have already acted).

– Sam 2013-07-02 20:15 UTC

I’m not sure what “useful” means in this context. What specific effect would you like to see?

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-02 21:49 UTC

Interesting post. I basically came to the conclusion of entirely eliminating initiative in melee (the two sides roll attack and damage and apply results simultaneously), and only roll when it would matter (can the archer shoot his arrow before the charging enemies approach him? can the caster get off his spell before he is hit?).

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about a possible alternative; presently, I find it intriguing, but D&D actually lacks that kind of interdependence that makes it work in the Marvel game (or at least there is less interdependence regarding action order).

Ynas Midgard 2013-07-04 22:39 UTC

Ynas, I think you are absolutely correct. All actions can be resolved simultaneously until there are important consequences—until one character or enemy is about to die. I guess there will be occasional problems in three-way actions: A kills B and B kills C, now resolve initiative. I imagine an awkward moment of people rolling for damage and instead of cheering or groaning, they realize they need to roll for initiative.

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-06 08:31 UTC

Recently Robert Fisher had posted a video talking about weapon length to Google+. My first comment was this: «Part of the problem is that characters survive hit point loss without adverse effect. That’s why a “initiative using weapon length in the first round” isn’t a great rule for D&D.»

Brendan wanted me to say more, so I continued as follows, slightly edited:

As I see it, initiative doesn’t matter until somebody is going down—only the last round matters because the initiative systems I know don’t ever result in people skipping rounds or gaining additional attacks. Initiative by weapon length for the first round only affects the first round, by definition. Thus, initiative by weapon length for the first round only has an effect if the first round is also the last round. In D&D, this is often true for low-level combat (or spell casters).

Enemies having reach and other ways of gaining the initiative such as jumping, charging and the like are a problem for the player because enemies get a chance of inflicting damage before dying. Thus, over multiple combats, with no healing between fights, initiative by weapon length in the first round affects the attrition rate.

We could model this, too. Assume many fights of your high-level characters against pike wielders dealing 1d8 damage with a THAC0 of 20. Your AC is 2. They always gain initiative, Thus, for every pike wielder, there’s a 10% chance for your to loose 1d8 hit points before you kill them. In a single fight, this doesn’t matter. You will always win. Over multiple fights, however, there will be attrition. The question is: does this happen often enough for you to model it? Is this a house rule that will see use at the table?

In my games, this is how I see it:

  • Fights are mostly against monsters. Here, all weapons will gain the initiative.
  • Fights against a large number of enemies is rare. Assume a ratio of 1:30 would still result in only 3d8 damage on average.
  • Fights against enemies with longer weapons are somewhat similar to fights against enemies with ranged weapons. Is the remaining difference worth extra rules?

AlexSchroeder 2014-05-26 07:06 UTC

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2013-07-08 FLAC to MP3

Note to self: Assume you have a set of subdirectories named CD01, CD02, and so on, each containing a single FLAC file and a single CUE file, here’s how to convert them to MP3:

for d in CD*; do
    cd $d
    for f in *.cue; do
	n=`basename "$f" .cue`
	echo xld -c "$n.cue" "$n.flac"
	xld -c "$n.cue" "$n.flac" -f mp3
    cd ..

This uses XLD, also known as “X Lossless Decoder: Lossless audio decoder for Mac OS X”. Yay! :)

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2013-07-11 Der Geist Mesopotamiens, überarbeitet

Encyclopaedia Biblica map of Syria, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Assyria Vor zwei Jahren hatte ich mal meine Fate Variante Der Geist Mesopotamiens vorgestellt. In der Zwischenzeit ist Fate Core erschienen, und ich habe mir die Sache mal angeschaut. Ein paar Dinge sind mir sofort positiv aufgefallen:

  • Fertigkeitenpyramide endet bei +4
  • Anzahl Aspekte auf fünf reduziert
  • Anzahl Schicksalspunkte auf drei reduziert

Ein paar interessante Vereinfachungen im Detail – mir gefällt’s! Wenn das Teil nur nicht über dreihundert Seiten lang wäre. Aber das kennen wir ja schon. Deswegen habe ich mein PDF einfach überarbeitet. Meine Fate Variante ist immer noch nur 4½ Seiten lang.

Und ich habe die Dokumente auf GitHub gestellt.

Was mir noch fehlt ist eine Proberunde. :)


Comments on 2013-07-11 Der Geist Mesopotamiens, überarbeitet

Super Serie zum Thema Hellenismus im Rollenspiel: Teil 1, Teil 2, Teil 3, Teil 4

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-17 15:08 UTC

Kartenmaterial? Vielleicht aus dem Atlas Antiquus von Karl Spruner von Merz. In der David Rumsey Map Collection können die Karten wunderschön vergrössert werden. Im Internet Archive habe ich Atlas Antiquus: Taschen Atlas der Alten Welt von Dr. Alb. van Kampen gefunden. Dazu der Kommentar: “High Quality Scans of the Maps. You can find the index to the book on Google Books but they never seem to take the trouble to scan maps properly. This is the first of a series of historical atlases which I hope to upload in high quality scans for all to use since Google Books and others do such a poor job when it comes to maps.” Das PDF ist 300MB gross. Ich habe ein paar der Karten im JPEG-2000 Format ausgewählt und in ein eigenes Verzeichnis gelegt.

Wer Herodot, Thukydides und so weiter lesen will, kann sich die Tafeln zu den Kriegen im Atlas Antiquus von Emil Reich mal anschauen.

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-18 07:04 UTC

Craulabesh hat nochmal einen super Artikel zum Thema Magie und Hellenismus geschrieben.

AlexSchroeder 2014-03-05 12:06 UTC

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2013-07-13 The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster: Beautiful costumes and sets, beautiful choreographers without slapstick humor, a message in favor of martial arts and against style chauvinism. The romance plot wasn’t as thick as it sometimes is in Wong Karen Wai movies and cinematography was not done by Christopher Doyle but I still liked it very much.

I agree with the critics, however: the script wasn’t too good. Or perhaps too much was cut from the original four hours. I think I’d like to see a director’s cut.

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2013-07-15 Nighttrain to Lisbon

I watched Nighttrain to Lisbon (mostly because I learned that my stepbrother was involved in one of the songs via Trio Fado) which had some nice pictures of Lisbon and some interesting aspects of living under the fascist regime of Salazar and his secret police. A terrible thing. The aspects I did not like about the movie:

The Swiss and the Portuguese speak English—and just recently having seen La grande vadrouille where you need to understand French, German and English in order to get all the jokes, this pained me. I felt the Portuguese names were getting butchered. Why did they not use local actors and provide subtitles?

I felt the movie failed the Bechdel test: The women seemed to be either objects in the possession of men—to be fought over—or listening to the men in rapt attention with an appropriately bent neck.

I also haven’t read the book.

In short, if you want to see some pictures of Lisbon and get an idea of the fascist regime in Portugal at the time, I recommend the movie.

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Comments on 2013-07-15 Nighttrain to Lisbon

I haven’t seen the movie, but read the book. It’s great. And even though it’s centered around the fascism in Portugal it’s more about the inner working of it’s protagonists (the teacher and the author), one looking at the stories from outside, one writing it’s own diary. Maybe that’s where that objectifying of women vibe comes from (one being old and afraid of death and the other living in a very reactionary society), this introspective probably doesn’t translate too well to the medium. And I read it 5 years ago, so take this with a grain of salt…

rorschachhamster 2013-07-15 08:29 UTC

I have the book lying around somewhere, so perhaps I will pick it up even though the movie did a bad job advertising it. I guess the occasional quotes from Amadeu de Prado’s book are supposed to invoke these moments of introspection. The cutting was too eager for this to work, I think. Compare this to how Wong Kar Wai and Christopher Doyle generate introspection in movies like In the Mood for Love or Ashes of Time, with long takes, smoke, shadows, patterns, repetitive movements, an unflinching gaze…

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-15 08:48 UTC

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2013-07-16 Inkscape Mapping and mkhexgrid

Today I needed to add the island of Tirnanog to my campaign map using Inkscape. In order to do that, I needed to add more hexes in the background—I needed to “grow the ocean”. I looked at my Old School Hex Map Tutorial and figured I must have used the Inkscape Boardgames Extension. When I checked, however, I was unable to find the menu. Perhaps Inkscape has changed and it needs to be reinstalled? I decided to give mkhexgrid another try. Fiddling with the spec file for a bit, I determined that these were the correct settings:

# start with an odd number!

By now the map is so big, redoing it for Hexographer or Text Mapper seems like a lot of work. When I see the efforts required to update this map in a sluggish Inkscape on a 1024×768 monitor, however, it seems like a lot of work as well.

Update: I actually wanted to see how much time it took to get a decent result using Text Mapper and compare it with my old style, based on the Old School Hex Map Tutorial I wrote.

I don’t know. I like the colors of the Gnomeyland icons. Check out Map Symbols: Trees & Forests on Old Russian Maps by John Krygier for some source material. But really – is it much better? Is it much faster? I don’t think so.

Original, from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy box:

My “old school hex map” style:

Text Mapper, using the Gnomeyland icons by Gregory B. !MacKenzie (CC BY SA):

For the curious, here is the source for Text Mapper:

3901 water
3902 water
3903 water
3904 water
3905 water island
3906 water
3907 water
3908 water
4001 water
4002 water
4003 water
4004 water
4005 water
4006 water
4007 water island
4008 water
4101 water
4102 water
4103 water
4104 water
4105 water
4106 water
4107 water island "Andaman Isles"
4108 water
4201 water
4202 water
4203 water
4204 soil tower "Marechal"
4205 dark-green forest
4206 water islands
4207 water islands
4208 water
4301 water
4302 water
4303 water
4304 light-grey hill
4305 light-grey mountain
4306 light-grey
4307 water
4308 water
4401 water
4402 water
4403 light-grey hill
4404 grey mountain "Needles Peak"
4405 light-grey hill
4406 water
4407 water
4408 water
4501 water
4502 dark-green forest
4503 light-grey hill
4504 green forest-hill
4505 soil tower "Lanka"
4506 water
4507 water
4508 water
4601 water
4602 soil tower "Calfat"
4603 soil lake keep "Kailasa"
4604 light-grey hill
4605 water
4606 water
4607 water
4608 water
4701 water
4702 light-grey
4703 light-grey hill
4704 soil tower "Heratus"
4705 dark-green forest
4706 water
4707 water
4708 water
4801 water "Windward Peninsula"
4802 soil keep "Dalmaric"
4803 soil keep "Talimanor"
4804 dark-green forest "Pardolock Jungle"
4805 water
4806 water
4807 water
4808 water
4901 water
4902 water island
4903 water
4904 water
4905 water island
4906 water
4907 water
4908 water
5001 water
5002 water
5003 water
5004 water
5005 water
5006 water
5007 water
5008 water
lake xml <circle cx="0" cy="0" r="50" fill="#6ebae7" stroke="black" stroke-width="3"/>
island xml <circle cx="10" cy="10" r="25" fill="#dcddbe" stroke="black" stroke-width="3"/>
islands xml <circle cx="-20" cy="20" r="20" fill="#dcddbe" stroke="black" stroke-width="3"/><circle cx="20" cy="-20" r="15" fill="#dcddbe" stroke="black" stroke-width="3"/>

4603-4903 fjord
4602-4902 fjord
fjord path attributes stroke="#6ebae7" stroke-width="20" fill-opacity="0" stroke-linecap="round"

other <text stroke="white" stroke-width="10px" font-size="50pt" x="6300" y="550" transform="rotate(330 6300,550)">Tirnanog Isle</text><text font-size="50pt" x="6300" y="550" transform="rotate(330 6300,550)">Tirnanog Isle</text>


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2013-07-18 Who Is Boss

Every now and then I think of something related to artificial intelligence but forget to write it down. And then I forget it. Today I dreamt of something related to artificial intelligence and wrote it down in my dream so I would not forget. And I did not. Here it is.

I saw two robots, and one of them was deciding what the other one should do. I wondered: why is the second robot following orders? If it’s stupid, it will be inefficient in handling its task. How would I implement this? I figured that every AI needs a property that we would call lazy. A slight resistance to do what is necessary. A slow understanding of orders given. If you’re lazy, you’ll make the others do the job. Create each AI with a random value of this property, and you’ll establish a hierarchy implicity.

What to do with this idea, now? I don’t have any AI projects. I don’t even have a need for intelligent agents in a simulated game world.

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2013-07-19 Pacific Rim

I felt about 25 years too old for Pacific Rim. It was a tiny bit better than Transformers. No quiet moments and insights like in Blade Runner. No mystic undercurrents like in Neon Genesis Evangelion. No character interplay like in Mass Effect. No singing and romance like in Robotech. No strangeness like in Akira. I did like the visuals of Hong Kong, the huge halls à la Star Wars. I find that good movies have me thinking back, recalling scenes, mulling the justifications and consequences of actions. This movie won’t be requiring much thinking back. It has giant robots and kaiju monsters. They fight. The solution to the problem is—as is often the case—a nuke. I expected as much but went anyway, willing to let myself be convinced. Oh well.

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Comments on 2013-07-19 Pacific Rim

I felt exactly the same way. Guillermo del Toro’s other movies are action-packed, but also quite thoughtful. Disappointing.

Eugene Eric Kim 2013-07-20 00:13 UTC

Yeah. Pan's Labyrinth was great visually and it had a disturbing plot. A haunting movie and no comparison. And I’m saying that even though I felt Pan’s Labyrinth was too bleak. I felt punched afterwards. As one should feel considering a civil war I fear.

AlexSchroeder 2013-07-20 05:14 UTC

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2013-07-21 Troll Questions

Trolly Troll's Top Ten Troll Questions for Your Game.

  1. Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes. We can always add more classes.
  2. Do demi-humans have souls? What is a soul? They can all be resurrected.
  3. Ascending or descending armor class? Descending. I can use the books I like as they are.
  4. Demi-human level limits? Yes. They are strange. (Brendan points to Jeff’s article, Everyone has Level Limits exactly backwards except Timrod and me)
  5. Should thieves be a class? No. Anybody can steal. Yes. It’s what some of my players want.
  6. Do characters get non-weapon skills? No. If you want to so something that requires training, explain why your character has that training and add this fact about your character’s past to your character sheet.
  7. Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)? I don’t know. My campaign has not reached that level, yet. With appropriate preparation and the right spells a magic user seems invincible. Without the right preparation, a magic user seems very fragile.
  8. Do you use alignment languages? No. A surprising number of creatures speak the common tongue, however.
  9. XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)? XP for gold spent. I have price lists for buildings and encourage characters to hire servants and guards and specialists to populate them.
  10. Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next? Moldvay. Easy to get started. I’m assuming I’ll eventually switch to the Rules Cyclopedia for the high levels.

What about you?

See also 2013-10-10 More Troll Questions.


Comments on 2013-07-21 Troll Questions

Good answers!

greywulf 2013-07-21 18:04 UTC

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2013-07-23 Gems and Jewelry

For my D&D B/X and Labyrinth Lord games, I roll on the treasure tables by hand—or I have my players do it right then and there because they love doing it. The only thing I hate is rolling for 5d8 gems or jewels… So I wrote to super simple scripts to do it for me.


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2013-07-24 Drellin’s Fall

Today I will be running Red Hand of Doom using Labyrinth Lord rules for a friend of his and his kids again. Some notes for myself regarding the fall of Drelling:

“Goblins on the western shore!” Join Captain Soranna and her militia as they cross over?

  • 3 goblins, HD 1-1, AC 6, 1d6, NM, MV 6, ML 7
  • 3 dire wolves (“worgs”), HD 4+1, AC 6, 2d4, F2, MV 15, ML 8
  • 1 hell hound, HD 3, AC 4, 1d6 or 30% for breath attack (3d6), F3, MV 12, ML 9

Five rounds later:

  • 1 war sorcerer, HD 5, AC 9, 1d6, MV 12, ML 8 with lightning bolt (5d6), detect thoughts, blindness, charm person, shield (AC 4, AC 2 vs missiles)
  • 5 hobgoblins, HD 1+1, AC 6, 1d8, F1, MV 9, ML 8

Warnings of “road blockades, hobgoblins and ogres up in the north” by Teyani Sura, a Lion of Brindol. (Maybe one of the players will eventually want to join them?)

When the attack on Drellin starts, the fight is hopeless. The stats will be useful for future encounters, however. The stats are Open Gaming Content based on the Labyrinth Lord OGL.

Massacre at Drellin’s Ferry, first wave:

  • 3 manticores, HD 6+1, AC 4, 1d4/1d4/2d4 or up to 4×/day 6×1d6 thrown spikes, F6, MV 12 (18), ML 9
  • 3 hobgoblin bladebearers, HD 4+1, AC 6, 1d8, F4, MV 9, ML 10

Second wave:

  • 2 Hieracosphinxes, HD 9, AC 1, 2d4/2d4/1d10, F9, MV 9 (36), ML 10
  • 2 Wyverns, HD 7, AC 3, 2d8/2d8 (poison), F4, MV 9 (24), ML 9
  • 2 hobgoblin war sorcerers, HD 5, AC 9, 1d6, M5, MV 12, ML 8 with lightning bolt (5d6), detect thoughts, blindness, charm person, shield (AC 4, AC 2 vs missiles)

Third wave:

  • Abrithiax, red dragon, HD 10, AC -1, 1d6/1d6/3d8 or 50% for breath attack 3×/day (damage = current hp), F10, MV 9 (24), ML 10
  • 3 manticores, HD 6+1, AC 4, 1d4/1d4/2d4 or up to 4×/day 6×1d6 thrown spikes, F6, MV 12 (18), ML 9
  • 2 hobgoblin war monks (like thieves), HD 4, AC 9, 1d6 (double in surprise rounds), T4, MV 12, ML 10
  • 2 hobgoblin war sorcerers, HD 5, AC 9, 1d6, MV 12, ML 8 with lightning bolt (5d6), detect thoughts, blindness, charm person, shield (AC 4, AC 2 vs missiles)

Fourth wave:

  • 3 bugbear berserkers, HD 5+1, AC 5, 1d8+1, F5, MV 9, ML 12, surprise opponents ³⁄₆ if approaching alone
  • 1 hobgoblin war sorcerer, HD 5, AC 9, 1d6, MV 12, ML 8 with lightning bolt (5d6), detect thoughts, blindness, charm person, shield (AC 4, AC 2 vs missiles)
  • 2 hobgoblin clerics, HD 4+1, AC 6, 1D8, C4, MV 9, ML 10 with invisibility, cure light wounds, hold person, a scroll of summon hell hound and 2× potion of healing

If summoned:

  • 1 hell hound, HD 3, AC 4, 1d6 or 30% for breath attack (3d6), F3, MV 12, ML 9

In the aftermath, looters:

  • 4 thieves, HD 1, AC 7, 1d6 (double in surprise rounds), T1, MV 9, ML 6

Happening upon a battlefield, where ettins just killed some dwarves with mercenary pay to a nearby hold. (Will the party deliver the 6000 gold to the dwarves?)

  • 2 ettins, HD 10, AC 3, 2d8/3d6, F10, MV 12, ML 9 (only surprised ⅙)
  • 4 goblins, HD 1-1, AC 6, 1d6, NM, MV 6, ML 7

When helping some wounded refugees, one female “travelling sorcerer” with a bandaged arm is very curious and asks a lot of questions. In fact, she’s a spider woman spy.

  • 1 spider sorceress, HD 3, AC 8, 1d6 (poison), M3, MV 12 (3), ML 7 with 6× web, sleep, shield (AC 4, AC 2 vs missiles)

Tracked by barghests (goblin werwolves) near an abandoned farmhouse.

  • 3 barghests, HD 4, AC 5, 2d4, F4, MV 18, ML 8 with howl causing fear to split the party up and kill them one by one and dimension door to get away if necessary
  • 6 hobgoblins, HD 1+1, AC 6, 1d8, F1, MV 9, ML 8

Assassins on their trail!

  • 4 black lizard assassins, HD 5+1, AC 6, 2d6 or 25% acid breath for 4d4, F3, MV 12, ML 8 with 1 potion of invisibility each which they use as quickly as possible
  • 2 greater barghests, HD 6+1, AC 5, 2d4, F6, MV 18, ML 8 with charm person to turn one against the other, howl causing fear to split the party up and kill them one by one and dimension door to get away if necessary
  • 1 ogre, HD 4+1, AC 5, 1d10, F4, MV 9, ML 10
  • 5 hobgoblins, HD 1+1, AC 6, 1d8, F1, MV 9, ML 8


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2013-07-26 Extracting Starred URLs from Google Reader Takeout Data

Google Reader was shut down. Luckily Google Takeout allowed you to download all of your data before the shut it down. I did that. I wanted to extract all the URLs to the articles I starred in order to post them on this blog… maybe.

Here’s how I did it. First, take a look at the file starred.json.

    (setq starred-items (with-current-buffer "starred.json (Google"
			  (goto-char (point-min))
    (mapcar (lambda (item) (car item)) starred-items)
    ⇒ (items direction updated author title id)

I’m interested in items, which happens to be an array. Let’s see what each item contains.

    (mapcar (lambda (item) (car item))
            (aref (cdr (assoc-string "items" starred-items)) 0))
    ⇒ (origin annotations comments author content replies alternate updated published title categories id timestampUsec crawlTimeMsec)

As it happens, the URL I’m interested in is part of alternate. Let’s make sure there’s always exactly one entry:

    (mapc (lambda (item)
	    (when (not (= 1 (length (cdr (assoc-string "alternate" item)))))
	      (error "%S" item)))
	  (cdr (assoc-string "items" starred-items)))

Phew! Let’s produce a first list of URLs and the respective titles:

    (mapc (lambda (item)
	    (let ((href (cdr (assoc-string "href"
					   (aref (cdr (assoc-string "alternate" item)) 0))))
		  (title (cdr (assoc-string "title" item))))
	      (insert (format "* [%s %s]\n" href title))))
	  (cdr (assoc-string "items" starred-items)))

I hate feedproxy URLs and so I absolutely wanted to get rid of all the URLs starting with This required a bit more code since neither url-retrieve-synchronously nor url-retrieve do exactly what I want.

    (defun redirection-target (url)
	(let ((url-request-method "HEAD")
	      (retrieval-done nil)
	      (spinner "-\|/")
	      (n 0))
	  (url-retrieve url
			(lambda (status &rest ignore)
			  (setq retrieval-done t
				url (plist-get status :redirect)
				url (replace-regexp-in-string "blogspot\\.ch" "" url)
				url (replace-regexp-in-string "\\?utm.*" "" url))))
	  (while (not retrieval-done)
	    (sit-for 1)
	    (message "Waiting... %c" (aref spinner (setq n (mod (1+ n) (length spinner))))))

Now I can run the following search an replace operation in the buffer where I generated my list:

    (while (re-search-forward "http://feedproxy\\.google\\.com/\\S-+" nil t)
      (replace-match (redirection-target (match-string 0))))

Phew, thank you, Emacs!

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2013-07-26 Google Reader Archives

I’ve been looking through the old blog posts I starred on Google Reader. There are so many of them! Looking at the 42 links for July 2009, I’d suggest the following are still relevant today. I’m not listing the links to “Why B/X is my favorite” because I already did that in my 2012 post Ode to Ode to Black Dougal.

Perhaps I should add some of these links to the Links to Wisdom wiki.

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2013-07-27 Treasure

Recently, Courtney asked on Google+ about treasure generation. I left the following comment.

Like Jeff, I let players roll on the official tables (Labyrinth Lord) if they went somewhere I didn’t prepare and defeated or outwitted a significant foe (in my last game, it was a black dragon).

When I prepare treasure, I simply roll on the tables. The mechanized aspect of this task encourages me to believe in the independent existence of the fantasy world. I use surprising results to think of new twists: dragons without treasure got robbed, a bunch of hobgoblins with immense treasure are on their way to pay taxes to their overlord, things that enrich the world.

I never embellish monetary treasure. That includes gems and most jewelry. It’s simply there to be brought back to safety and to be converted to xp when spent in some way. I might embellish jewelry if it is expensive (500gp or more) and say that it’s a diadem, a crown, a bracelet, a holy symbol of a named person, an aristocratic helmet of a dead people.

When it comes to magic items, I still roll on the tables, but I try to embellish every single one of them. Potions have colors and taste according to a big table I keep adding to as the game progresses. Scrolls are spells from a named wizard, are psalms in praise of a particular god. +1 swords are elven swords; better weapons will pour cold, green mist when drawn, will have runes identifying their former owner (and if possible I’ll then add the same runes to magic armor to be found nearby). Again, things that enrich the world.

I find there’s also a problem of delivery. How interested are your players in actual detail if it isn’t actionable? If it is: How many pieces of actionable treasure cann they take before being overwhelmed? Three? Five? Seven? How interesting will they deem the follow-up quests in comparison to delving deeper or exploring further or pursuing their existing goals? That’s why I prefer bland monetary treasure, personally.


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2013-07-29 Setting Introductions

Recently Joff Graboff wondered about setting accessibility and considered writing an intro for the players. Here’s what I wrote on Google+ in response.

I find that writing a setting intro for players is usually a waste of time. They won’t read it and you’ll be angry. I find it easier to introduce setting piece by piece where each piece is actionable: it affects characters right now or it can be used by the characters right now.

I’ve used NPCs to suggest a different course of action, for example. Henchmen… “What, you have no backup plan? I’m not coming along with a bunch of suicidal lunatics!” Guards… “Hey dudes, be sure not to cross the river because we’ve seen owl bears all over the place!” Wise men… “Hey mighty swordsman, do you need a sage to identify this cloak of yours? No? How about some info about the dungeon up north?” Quest givers… “Yeah, something needs to be done about those brutal hobbit bandits, but make sure you avoid the trolls! I’m not paying for any healing of troll wounds.“

I even use this for party members… “The elves in the party immediately recognize the phrasing. She’s talking about a feud hundreds of years old but she would never put it that way. Elves are unforgiving and extremely stubborn, as you know.” Obviously, if demihumans are very different from us, then most of this input will come from demihumans. “The dwarf immediately knows that no dwarven king would have left a letter accompanied by 6000gp unanswered. Something must have happened on the way.”

Related, but with an eye on character background, which I think has the same problem: one person wants to write it, which is ok, but not many people want to read it.

  • 2012-07-31 Setting Books – “Generally speaking I need much less religion, history and culture background than is usually offered by the big setting books. When I ran the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, for example, I never referred to the Golarion campaign setting book once. Not once! That’s how useless it was at the table.”
  • 2012-01-25 Player Contribution – “The reason I don’t like long backstories is that I think most of them are boring to read, integrating them into the plot is a lot of work, it makes plots depend on the survival of player characters and on the presence of players themselves and finally I prefer to integrate what happens at the table to integrating what people write at home. I want as much as possible to happen at the table because that is what entertains me the most.”
  • 2009-02-02 Practically No Background – “I’ve come to the conclusion that the really important thing is playing at the table. That’s where the game happens. All important things should happen at the table.”

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2013-07-29 Urban Campaigns

The awesome Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine Publishing left a great comment on Google+ when Reese Laundry asked about urban campaigns:

Urban campaigns don’t have the easy execution of traditional dungeon crawls but they’re not an ineffable mystery, either. If I were in your shoes, here’s what I would do.

Pick a city. For optimum simplicity I’d pick an old, rambling, not-entirely-coherent city from fantasy fiction that you’re already familiar with. Lankhmar is a perfect example. Then change the name and just keep the feel and flavor; you don’t want to burden yourself with the difficulty of matching the details to the fiction. You just want something that can give you an idea of what the city feels like and provide you with tropes you can use when you need fast flavor.

Pick a neighborhood in the city. A shabby slum with leavening of crime bosses, corrupt officials, dubious priests, and suspicious foreigners is a good choice. Explain to the players that for the first few sessions you’re just going to be concentrating on activities in that neighborhood so you can keep your NPC roster and local activities manageable. The PCs aren’t trapped in there, but they shouldn’t expect local events to spill over into the wider city until you’ve had more time to get comfortable with the campaign.

Do a quick cut at a couple of opposing power structures: “Criminal Gangs” and “Local Officials”, for example. You can create more of these power structures as they become relevant in play. You put one person at the top of the structure- the biggest local gang boss or the local watch captain, for example. Beneath them you put two lesser figures, like smaller gang bosses or patrol lieutenants. And beneath them, you put four street-level NPCs that the PCs might ordinarily interact with, like typical gang members or local watchmen. At this stage you just give each of them a name, a distinguishing characteristic, and a rivalry/feud/friendship/debt for somebody else, either in the same structure or a different one. These relationships are important because they’re cheap and easy plot fuel when you need to explain why one guy is trying to get another guy killed, or why NPC X is willing to get help for NPC Y.

Now go to the one-page dungeon repository and start pulling maps that you could plausibly reskin into: Fortified Estates, Slum Warrens, Infested Sewers, Long-Buried City Ruins, Haunted Shrines, and other suitable urban areas. When you reskin these maps, just turn the humanoids into local citizens or denizens and drop any of the animals or magical beasts that wouldn’t be appropriate for the area- or turn them into human guards or the like if that’s appropriate. What you need from these one-page dungeons are just references- you can turn subterranean passageways into cramped alleyways and cavern rooms into tenement apartments.

Once you have these ingredients- power structures with NPCs and maps that you can reskin into interesting places- you just pick a conflict between NPCs and make that the evening’s adventure. Somebody wants something stolen, somebody killed, somebody protected, somebody rescued, something sabotaged…. Put it or them into a map, let the PCs negotiate with the locals on their way through, and then let their actions and success/failure shape the local conflicts and NPC attitudes toward them.

As a side note, don’t worry about mapping the actual city or neighborhood. Grab something online if it looks nice, but in actual play most PCs are only ever going to care about their immediate surroundings, which you can fake with a one-page dungeon map that you treat as roads/courtyards/buildings.

– Kevin Crawford

The question was asked multiple times and he got somewhat more comments here and here. I’m currently running The Wererats of Relfren by Grant Boucher and William Kurt Wenz, from Dungeon #14, p. 48–62. I’ve removed the silly and replaced the important people and locations with things from the starting village of my own campaign. It has been working very well until now!

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2013-07-30 Politics

Looking back at how things have gone in the last year I’d say that all my RPG conversation has moved to Google+ and this wiki-blog has turned into a repository of things I don’t want to loose when Google+ is shut down. All my political thoughts are on Twitter: @kensanata and I’m almost exclusively expressing myself via retweets. I’m also more than happy to talk about it on Twitter.

I post my pictures on Flickr at kensanata for myself and cross-post them to Facebook and a protected Twitter channel for the various family members out there.


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2013-07 Book Club

What: Neuromancer by William Gibson

When: 24 July, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut (tram 2+3 ‘Lochergut’)

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace …

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future. (Source:

First suggested: May 2013

Supporter(s): Rene, Adrian, Leon, Nadya, Nicole, Nela

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