Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kremm-Vs-Kremm; a separation not a divorce.

In T&T some of more persistent complaints has been the magical system.

Often it comes in the form of criticizing the various spell names, especially as they have occurred in previous editions of the game. Apparently the spell "Yassa Massa" itself is too racist a term for the Gygaxian crowd. That same crowd that defines entirely separate species as "races" and happened upon the "Dark Elf," which was an elf who was an elf, but evil because of the color of its skin and where it lived, away from sunlight where skin tones would actually become lighter-- but hey, let's not get cogent or anything. Lordheads know that the role-playing spells of "Charming" persons and monsters aren't about enslaving anybody, and any flippancy in the matter of subjecting someones freewill to yours was just juvenile. Then there was the camp that just thought that casting spells based off of a Attribute point system was simplistic. Indeed, spells, of a certain level, could be learned by the score, but only s few, maybe even only one, maybe as many as three, depending on how many spells the PC, rather player would "choose" (write down, in pencil, to erase, as needed, on his character sheet), that could be cast, at least in a 24-hour elapsed amount of time on the game table, as defined by the GM. If that last bit is starting to sound a little to over-thought, we are in agreement.

And there was the more specific crowd, who worried about T&T's main spell-casting attribute being Strength. Why they argued that every picture they ever saw of a real magic user, they should have said "magician," was of someone that was not built like Conan the Barbarian. And any mention of Zeus and Merlin being rather muscular, or at least endurable, would be countered by mentions of Gandalf, hidden behind so many robes (but wielding a sword to some effect) and a pointy hat. And these days, there is Harry Potter. But hey, it could be said that Ken St Andre's rule about Wizards being only able to carry smaller weapons (less than three six-sided dice worth of damage) supported these arguments-- which in my opinion is wrong and ill-thought in the first place. Still it was a popular point of contention, regardless of my thoughts on the matter.

So in the 7th edition and 5.5 edition of T&T, the solution of the magical Attribute was created. In 5.5 it was the POW Attribute, to be used instead of STR according to the real rules of the 5th edition. So solid a thought that a few thousand paper sets of rules ought to be published a few weeks before the 7th edition would come out, despite 30 years of obstinate silence before then. Now the 7th edition, at least as written by Ken St Andre, was a little cleverer. He came up with the Wizardry Attribute, which by itself was not that big of a deal-- WIZ was POW which had been STR, no deep thinking there. But not only was spell-casting constrained by the DEX and INT requirements, which was always the case in earlier editions, probably negating criticisms of "magic being too easy in T&T;" but the Kremm Vs Kremm rule came into existence.

Now for those of you around here that aren't in the Know of the latest and hippest T&T happenings, the
Kremm Vs Kremm rule states, "... a character with a lower (WIZ) score cannot cast normally cast spells directly upon beings with higher (WIZ) scores...". Not surprisingly, as with most decrees that Ken St Andre proclaims, the rule works. But in this case, only up until a certain point. I find it a little problematic at least in formatting my adventures for the group at the table in front of me when I run T&T.

Okay when a group of less than a handful of players and only one Wizard is rated at first level, it makes a lot of sense for that group to not challenge the group of the same number of hobgoblins and a goblin Wizard rated at third level. But, any GM or player who has read the rules can figure this out. I spent many a night staying awake, actually that would be Thursday AM, between 10am and noon, for me, staying awaking worrying about whether my opponents would over power my player-characters. And as willing as they were, the math could heavily outweigh any strategy that they could come up, outside of me mustering up a few "Wizardly" NPCs to help out. And in case anyone here reading this blog hasn't noticed, it's only kinky the first time. Yes gathering a platoon of magi is fun and can provide a few laughs, but not when the occurrence takes every other day of the week.

So then I'd add this or that artifact to help matters out, a Skull of the First Ork, a "major artifact," should certainly add a boost to any Attribute given right? But after about three sessions it became a little cardboard-based better suited for a video game. I mixed it up with level-based matrices and even more magical artifacts; but the truth was never far away.

The question was, could the Wizard every really challenge anything that he could not already beat? In play my solution was rather breath-taking. This in both terms as to the GM and the players, and it added a lot to campaign which was on-going in front of the both of us.

When my campaign's 10th level Wizard, G.- went up against a certain Balrog, named Dh....j'Q... , with a score of mini-Wizards, and his true friends; a sudden collapsing of the floor beneath the thirty-some odd Wizardlings,
would mean a sudden and unexpected 37 "power" point discrepancy for the heroes in the upcoming conflict. Of the four players at the table in front of me, I had only John that was reckoning what was happening around the PCs. And so when they came to the skeletal remains of the long lost Wizard-king Heraphous the following encounter would ensue :

"Make an SR, a "Saving Throw," on your WIZ score." I said.

"What Level?" Was John's, the Wizard's, question.

"Just roll your dice and add your Wizardry to it." I answered.

Now John rolled a "132" result (DARO Rules always rule, by the way).

Well, I've got "'129' and the group was engaged in 'Spectral combat.'"

Essentially I had the PC, in front of me make a SR versus his WIZ score and the opponent's(s). In short both opposing parts of the conflict had to roll over their opponent's WIZ score, using two six-sided dice and adding their respective Wizardry scores, as expressed on their character sheet. I could go so far as to say that having the Wizard and Rogue character roll above their target's WIZ score works as a drama-enhancing convention when it comes to T&T role-playing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Guide to Creating Monsters.

One of the biggest complaints about T&T is the often unbalanced encounters that players will find in group and solo scenarios. Not helping matters, T&T doesn't really have an established list of monsters that are described in great detail, why the rules say something about liking to avoid complete attributes and long listings of Talents. While there is a compiled sampling of monsters from various T&T contributors called the Monstrum Codex, a title that I came up with for the original publisher, Outlaw Press, by the way, and many of my own creations were included; the encounters presented vary greatly depending on who developed them. There is also a complete lack of details that help GMs translate things into a miniature session for wargaming-style presentation, like a Size rating to help buy the right miniatures, or what scale should be used. This can be viewed as a major flaw in the game.

And all that,
except the part about the title bit and my contributions to the work, is total bunk to the T&T player/GM/designer.

T&T was designed to avoid pages and pages of overly detailed rules and statistics in doing the table-top exercise of play-pretending. While other games like D&D and GURPS require these detailed rules and long lists for role-playing, the true kernel of T&T inspiration has decided to go the other way. And even though some T&T GMs think an ogre is so big and worth so many attacking dice and others might think differently, this actually doesn't turn out to be a problem when these different GMs sit down and play in each others games, or when they run the others scenario. A common trait among delvers, as we T&T-heads call ourselves, is a sense of variable scales. In our fantasy exploits, just like in life, there isn't a uniform standard to what can pop up. Sometimes an ork can be more than an ork, and all trolls are not the same.

Now there is a legitimate complaint in that a GM can vary his monsters' MR (Monster Rating, in case you've teleported here from Mars and never read a T&T book) within a single piece that the player cannot realistically design his adventurer using the rules at hand to be prepared for the tasks ahead of it. That is on the GM, not the rules system and matrix of T&T. And to be fair it takes a bit of time before most GMs get all the moss from other game systems out of their brain, and learn how to craft monsters without too many pointers. Here's the basics, as I have implemented them.

First thing the adventure author, whether he's the GM or someone writing for others, is to decide upon a consistent format. Simple as that sounds, I've noticed newcomers to T&T-dom have a problem with this. Many start out a scenario full of energy with all sorts of information, usually hangovers from whatever edition of D&D they happen to have played recently, stuff like "alignment" or "Dungeon Level Usually Encountered" or the ever important "THAC0." And then by the end of it, they slip in a simple MR 60 and refer to TSR Monster Manual for guidelines for any sort of colorful description or nuance. Creating encounters can indeed be tiring when you don't have cookie cutter monsters listed elsewhere to refer to. Now if they'd have started simple and used a bit of description from the get-go, the later encounters wouldn't have been such a chore. Here's a simple, yet descriptive, format:

Monster, generic
MR 40 (5 dice plus 20 Combat Adds) (I go ahead a write how many dice and CA next to the MR)
Special: (List Talents or Magical Abilities here.)
Notes: (Write a sentence or two for a description to be read by or to others.)

Sure that is what a monster can look like, but I haven't addressed how to create monsters for specific Experience Levels of PCs. This is actually easier than one would think. The trick is the GM actually understanding T&T rules, this can be a rare trait even among famous T&T authors. As played on the table most T&T groups allow for a lot of mutual creation and less than strict observation to the numbers written down. But then this translates into a solo will be listed as a "beginning level" scenario and then the first monster is a MR 150 Ballywog that breathes fire requiring a 4th level SR on DX to avoid taking 10d worth of damage, and after two combat turns, the PC is dead. There's multiple approaches for the author-GM to avoid this problem.

The first is for the GM to decide from get go what level the adventure is going to be and develop abstract PCs to model his monsters to. Nice thing about the 7plus edition of T&T, this is easier than it was before in previous editions. Character levels are based on Attributes and the Type of the character being played. In short if a Warrior is first level, I can expect that his ST, DX, SP, and Lk not to be any higher than "19" points. So I can expect Combat Adds to be at most "+28" and figuring for an average weapon, let's say a gladius (which does 3d+2 damage), I have a potential damage of 28 + 20 (and maybe even more) points per combat round. So a monster that can take 48 points of damage in one round isn't unreasonable. There is a bit more to it than that though.

Now as the astute delver that you are, you know that a MR 48 ork, because I get tire of generic monsters, does 5d plus 24 damage itself. That's a potential 30 + 24 damage points, that's 54, a whole six point advantage for the critter over the player. As a GM, I am comfortable with that, but to exercise the simplicity of T&T monster creation, let's try to even things out. If I reduce the MR to 40, that translates as 5d + 20, which gives a potential strike of 50 points. Ah what the hey, let's do an MR of 38, 4d + 19, a potential of 43, some five whole points to the advantage of our maximized model of a 1st level Warrior.

The above strategy is using a Warrior, but what about if I have a Wizard? My initial reaction is to tell the questioner to go play a video game. I have seen a whole slew of "Wizard-friendly" solitaire adventures waste everyone's time with cumbersome game conventions that defeated the point of playing a solo in the first place. And when a group is involved, the magic that is added to a party makes life easier on the Warriors and Rogues around them. BUT there this approach to module design can even be applied to the Wizard Type as well, and I consider that reaffirmation of my point that belief that T&T monsters are easy to make.

Our 1st level Wizard will have no more than 19 points in her DX, IN, WZ, and CH. So while I know her Combat Adds may be abysmal, I do know her ability to cast Take That You Fiend up to three times in an encounter and the spell will do up to 19 points of damage each time. That's a total of 57 damage points delivered through the expenditure of 18 Wz points. Since Wizards are notorious for having rather low CNs, I'd go so far to only reckon for two combat rounds, which brings us back to the number 38 and a tried and maybe true indicator, as to what MR I should put the beast at.

Okay there is the simplicity of making balanced monsters in T&T. Now how do we make them special? You now, besides just a couple numbers and math equations. The obvious answer is illustrations and video game graphics, but for the traditional table-topper author-GM he has to keep it literary. That is where the creating person gets to add special Talents and additional notes. Let's go back to my favored format and work with it from there.

Ork, Philosoper
MR 40 (5 dice plus 20 Combat Adds)
Special: Has a Wizardry score of 17. Not as Simple as You'd Think (Lk+6) Gets a special saving throw when party reacts stereotypically to encountering him, meaning a successful SR here will negate one specific successful SR by the player-characters. Knows the spell Oh There It Is.
Notes: The fact that this ork is wearing a toga, while quoting Aristotle should indicate something is not quite right in this encounter.

The T&T GM can have the tough task of creating things from scratch, often having to deconstruct norms and archetypes from popular fantasy material and other FRPG systems while doing so. But the math and expression of his findings shouldn't be overwrought.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tom's T&T "X Edition:" Character Types

Within the pages of my "super version" of T&T it's all about the basics when it comes to Types, that's "classes" to the D&D-head reading this blog. In the 7 Plus edition of T&T Ken St. Andre expanded and refitted the first through fifth-plus editions Types from Warrior, Wizard, Rogue and sometimes a Warrior-Wizard. These are the Citizen, Rogue, Warrior, Wizard, Paragon and then Specialist.

While the Warrior and Wizard remained essentially the same, the Rogue was given a bit more definition with the Talent ("skill" for the GURPS accountant set) of Roguery. Roguery allows the PC to have a bonus on any Luck, Charisma and Intelligence based Saving Roll.

The Citizen is essentially Ken exploring the "0-Level NPC" of the D&D world, but with usual the T&T adaptive flexibility where a player could actually play one if he, or she (have to say it once to be hip and modern), wanted to. No special traits, but the ability learn everything and develop Talents.

The Paragon is a Warrior-Wizard given an name with a "p" at the front of it so D&D-heads could identify which T&T Type was the Paladin class. Of course the Warrior-Wizard of T&T was not really the equivalent of the Paladin of D&D ever, so a pretty short treatise about exceptionally talented people and socioeconomic stratification is written in to try and rationalize changing the name. I suppose it's better than reading through the D&D "multiclass" rules, but it didn't add anything for me. And I noticed the people who played dwarf Paladins in D&D, had a tendency to like to roll up Leprechaun Wizards, as that is the special combination where the T&T player can optimize rolling potentials.

And then there is the Specialist, where Ken leaves room for players, and GMs, I suppose, to design their own Types. He even gives two examples of special Types that can be considered unique from other classes in other games, the Leader and the Combat Mage; but neither of these turn out to be very useful. At the game table, the Specialist turned out to be "add your D&D class/subclass here" slot.

So for my perfect set of T&T Types, here's what I have, along with some explanation why.

Warrior, well duh.

Wizard, ayup. Fer ser.

Rogue, keeping the Roguery Talent. It works out well, and avoids the "socioeconomic" babble that seems to permeate multiple editions of T&T to no real meaning. I will get into this further as we get along.

Wizard-Warrior, willfully losing the "P-lettered title" could miff a lot of people who think that T&T should resemble D&D, but not much else. And it focuses on the attributes that make up the Type not long-winded speeches about background and resources that beg for diversions into debates as pointless as D&D alignment and how it should be really interpreted.

The Specialist, okay I'll cede a little to the D&D-head who's willing to play T&T. I'll even work with the player who wants to introduce a new Type into play-- that is as long as he uses the word "type" not "class."

I'd definitely lose the Citizen. The arguments for it, even as a term for uninspired, plain-Jane and worthless NPCs is that socioeconomic thing that I don't like. Not because I do not understand the thinking, I just think that it adds nothing to role-playing and the narrative of an on-going campaign. One of the fantastic qualities of T&T was that it takes an amazingly open-minded view of the world(s) that it would inhabit. Monsters could be players, that were not Typed by their creature form. Wizards have an arsenal of helpful spells even at first level, only inhibited by their attributes. Attributes themselves can sky-rocket from 3 points until infinity. So why can't everyone in a T&T be a Type?

Characters do not need a world where bakers are only bakers to become special. Why having an unadventurous baker that is a 3rd level Wizard adds depths of perspective into a virtual world. It is my argument here that PCs shouldn't walk around any village or "towne" thinking that they might not be in for a surprise from any of its citizenry before the "sheriff" comes swaggering up. This approach to role-playing could help some people out in real life, and we all know the sorts of gamers that I am talking about here.

So there are my Types. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A "T&T Thoughts-Only" Blog?

Though I have been keeping "notebooks" since I was six, and blogging for over half a decade now, for some reason I have never felt ready for the blog where I concentrate on my favorite table-top RPG Tunnels and Trolls only. My other main blog has been a mixture of a travelogue and talking up my projects through my wife and my Peryton Publishing outfit. Often delving into just being the random narcissistic page that we all place on the web these days, Kopfy's Kreche, just didn't seem like the right place. And the works in the hobby of the likes of Scott Malthouse, Andreas Davour and Paul Ingrassia have definitely set the standard pretty high in terms of how entertaining and well-done T&T blogs can be. And though it is only a hobby, I old my T&T up pretty high, and don't think think someone should have to wade through my ramblings on travel and dining to get to my take on T&T subjects.

There are many others as well which I don't have the time to list. Another thing holding me back, has been the lack of a catalyst to start discussing T&T in depth outside of private "house ruling" or quick monster blurb, both of which don't require much more than a quick jot on paper to be transferred later to a private forum online for future reference. The more detailed and longer ideas or articles could be shot over to an associate's fanzine or blog. But not too long I finished up my playtest campaign of T&T 7th/7.5, the 7plus edition.

This "playtest" lasted from the autumn of 2005 until February of this year. And over the last couple of months thoughts have been cropping up in my head as to things that I feel will make the next campaign better. Now everyone who knows T&T knows that there is quite a group norm of "tweaking" T&T already, but hopefully the fact that my observations are based on real play, not just a quick read, this will be helpful towards insightful improvements to T&T, any edition, rules for real and lasting tabletop play at various levels.

Rules tweaking isn't going to be the only focus here, but also comments on trends and movers and shakers in the T&T community. Now don't expect these in the fashion of Tunnels & Trolls.com, but instead in the old "Kopfy Just Got To Noticing Something" fashion that I do with most things. Still hopefully these posts will entertaining and helpful to the T&T enthusiast or even just the casual viewer.