Thursday, April 26, 2012

Awesome New (to me) Blog

Apparently this blog has been around over six months, but I just became aware of it today. I've been reading it all day, and really enjoying it! If you haven't already you should check it out:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Familial D&D Adventures with the Girls (Part 1 of 2)

Last weekend two of my nieces, ages 9 and 16, spent the night so as to give their parents some much needed leisure time. My lovely wife had her hands full with our new baby, so I decided to do my best to help keep everyone entertained. I went with what I know best... games!

I got my 3-year-old daughter and the 9-year-old niece together, and we started rolling up some characters. I explained how Dungeons & Dragons was a game where you sit around a table with your friends, eat lots of junk food, make jokes, and possibly have an adventure if you get around to it. They definitely got it. You should have seen these girls stuffing their faces with chips and chugging root beer! The greasy kid-hands all over my dice and pencils kind of made me cringe, but I was able to ignore it with a bit of effort.

I was happy to get a chance to use my new expanded Outland race tables, and I took out a few of the half-character-sheets I made a while back. I tried to get the 16-year-old involved as well, but she didn't seem interested, so I didn't press the issue.

My daughter rolled first and got a human (1-67 on the percentile table is human, although there is a fair chance of a Carcosa-colored-human). She had a crestfallen look on her face, so I asked if she would prefer something else. She said yes, so I just had her roll d30+70 to bypass all the human results. She got a Half-Giant. My niece got a Deodand. Then I had them roll their stats, 3d6 in order. I wrote the results for my daughter, since her handwriting isn't so good yet :)

My daughter chose to make her character a thief named Conan (she always names her characters Conan). My niece decided to go with a wizard which she named "Penny the Great". I was extremely happy that she threw in the title!

Now, here is where I started to become torn. I already knew in my mind that if either of them died, I fully intended to make them roll up a new character. Thus, I wanted to give them some durability, but I also didn't want to give away the store. I place great importance on "working your way up" from less-than-stellar beginnings. So on the spot I decided I would just have them roll 1d3 and that would be their level. Both rolled 2, and that seemed to work out really well. I had each roll their hit points twice and take the better result. My niece was concerned that my daughter had more hp, but a simple explanation about the frailty of wizards cleared that up.

I had them roll their starting gold (3d6x10), and again, my niece expressed displeasure at my daughter getting 100gp while she only got 60gp. I just explained a little bit about the game and how it uses dice and sometimes you are lucky and sometimes not so much. It seemed to satisfy her.

I also had them roll their backgrounds. Turns out the deodand wizard was a fisherman before she started her adventuring career, so she got a fishing rod and a stylish fishing hat. Conan was a goat-herder, so she got a shepherd's crook. The 9-year-old was familiar with this item, so she explained it to my daughter. This brought me back to when I first started playing D&D, and I would pore over the equipment list... "What the hell are crampons? Sounds like tampons!" D&D really does teach us quite a bit, even if a lot of it is trivia.

I gave them their saving throw values, weapons, and armor, and off we went.
Wizard: wizard robes + magic staff
Thief: leather armor, short sword, dagger, bow & arrows, thief tools

I decided to use my Tegel Manor ripoff haunted house, since I had already run it several times, so it would require minimal brainpower on my part. Then I could have more to help them out. I also decided that since it was just a party of two, that they each hired two "helpers" to come along to the dangerous haunted house, in exchange for a share of the loot. The 9-year-old promptly chimed in, "I'm only going to pay them 5 gold and I'm going to keep the treasure we find." She's a natural! The deodand's helpers were named Bob & Joe, and my daughter named hers Jasmine and I don't remember the other. She wanted to make sure that I knew that it was Jasmine from the Conan cartoon, and not Jasmine from the Aladdin movie. Oh yeah, she wanted to name her other helper after the girl from the Pirates of Dark Water, but neither of us could remember her name, so we agreed to watch an episode in hopes of finding out after the game.

We didn't bother statting these guys. I just figured they have +0 attack bonus, d6 damage, 16 for all saves, and treat ability scores as 10 if it comes up. This is how I generally handle zero-level mooks.

Anyways, I present them with a description of the old, run-down manor with 3-foot tall weeds all over the place, and thick forest blocking out most of the sun's rays. I explained how the front door creaked open by itself once they got within 30 feet of it.

At this point, there was some debate, as one would tell me one thing, and the other would tell me something completely different. I explained how they needed to decide together what they were going to do and then tell me, since it was a bad idea for them to become separated in such a dangerous place. Really, I just didn't want to be running two separate adventures for a pair of kids that have yet to develop any attention spans worth mentioning. Immediately after this conversation, the 9-year-old says she is going in the door, and the 3-year-old says she wants to go around the back. I said, "okay", and I was just going to roll with it, when the 9-year-old changed her mind and decided to join sneaky Conan and try the back way.

There was indeed a back door, but it was locked. My daughter tells me, "I USE A KEY!" I explained to her how she had some lock picks, and they were like keys, but didn't always work. I made something up to have her roll, and she was successful! The door creaked open and I told them of the darkened hallway beyond. The wizard's player immediately tells me how she wants to have her magic staff illuminate the place. "Of course, yes, your magic staff can do that!" At almost the same time, my daughter tells me how she turns on her flashlight! That was just too awesome, so I was like, "Yes, you have a flashlight in your pack, so you get it out and turn it on!" Then my daughter tells me, "We leave our car outside", looks at me for a second like she's really confused, and thinking really hard, "Wait, daddy, do we have cars?" "No, sweety, you don't have cars, you guys walked there, but it wasn't too far. There are horses, like the kind Conan rides, but you guys didn't use any since the haunted house was so close anyways." I grinned to myself as I watched her grapple with the idea of a world without cars.

Then we had a brief sidebar, so my daughter could tell her cousin about the time she rode a black horse named Thunder on my mom's friend's farm, and how Conan has a black horse named Thunder in the cartoon, too. What can I say, the girl loves Conan!

So fast forward a bit, and the first room they went into had a kid's rocking chair, rocking by itself. There were some jacks, a doll, and a teddy bear on the floor. Periodically, the ghost of a little girl would appear in a random spot in the room, look at them, scream, and then disappear. 9-yr-old wizard decides to ready a magic blast from her staff for when it appears again. A few more on-the-spot decisions on my part, and I told her that her magic staff has basically an at-will 1d4 magic missile, but she would have to make a DEX check in order to get the thing off in time to hit the ghost. (Of course I used actual English while explaining this to her.) She failed her DEX check and blasted a scorch mark in the back wall. So, she decided to do what any good adventurer would do, and repeatedly blasted the wall until she blew a hole into it. The hole went right out to the back yard, but that wasn't where they wanted to go, so they tried another room.

Now this part is interesting. Before running the adventure, I had decided to "wall up" the stairs that went to the second floor and the basement, since those weren't fully fleshed out. I figured there was plenty of stuff on the ground floor, and why make myself think if I don't have to, right?

Well, it turns out, the next room they went into was free of dust but completely empty. The room itself started breathing, and the walls began to flex as the room began to take deeper and louder breaths. So naturally, the wizard starts blasting the west wall, until she blows it open. What's on the other side? The stairs going down of course!

So, they went down. I had the cave at the bottom keyed with "3d6 child zombies". I rolled an 18. Wow! I just described them as short zombies, since even my twisted self found child zombies to be somewhat repulsive. The wizard is getting ready for a fight, and I'm getting worried the adventure is about to end. Then my daughter says, "If I shine my flashlight at them, does it scare them?" "Of course it does!" I was so proud of her! Our deodand wizard followed up with a sleep spell, and then she and her cronies went about relieving the disabled zombies of their heads and limbs (note that I did not suggest this course of action!).

Back when we were creating the characters, I told my niece that Charm Person and Sleep were the best spells. I had to decide that Sleep would work against these undeads in order to not make a liar out of myself!

Of the 3 tunnels leading out of this chamber, they chose to go northwest. The next room, I don't really remember, but I think it was just a room full of bones that they weren't much interested in. they continued south.

The next room had a large pedestal in the center. In it was set a huge sword that glowed with a blue light, and a mannequin wearing an ornate amulet that also glowed. I described a faint humming noise that permeated the room. My daughter said she wanted to get the sword, so I asked, "You just run over and grab it?", leading her into the trap just as I would any player. "Yes," she says. So she took d6 damage from an electrical shock, but from her new position, she could she a lever on the wall in the back of the room.

I sort of struggled here. It was difficult for me to throw dangerous monsters and traps at them. I wanted them to have an awesome time. But I also wanted the challenges to be genuine. As difficult as it is sometimes, I think learning how to lose or not be successful is very important. Luckily for my sake, it wasn't a lesson I had to take part in teaching for this particular adventure.

At this point, I told them about the "magic healing water" that they had with them, using the same rules I normally use, but using water instead of wine. Kids that age shouldn't be drinking alcohol, you know. I explained that they each had a waterskin with two drinks worth of magical water that would heal them for 1d4 hit points. My daughter gives me a quizzical look... "THERE'S WATER IN THEIR SKIN!?!?" I did my best to explain what a water/wineskin was, but not sure she really got it. My niece knew what I was talking about at least.

So my niece had her wizard, in an extremely careful and brilliant fashion, flip the lever with her staff. This was extremely fortunate, because the lever did indeed deactivate the electrical trap on the items, but it also opened up a pit trap right beneath the lever's location (with spikes at the bottom, naturally). Since she used her staff, she was not subjected to the fall. We did high fives all around.

So my daughter got the magic two-handed sword (d24 attack die, +1d6 lightning damage), and my niece got the magical amulet, which allows a 1/day casting of a 6-die lightning bolt. There was also a drawer set in the pedestal, inside of which were some coins and gems rolled up from the LBBs, and I let them each roll for a miscellaneous magic item. The wizard got a bag of holding, and my daughter's half-giant thief got a flying broom! We all had a good chuckle about Conan, the half-giant thief with her flashlight and magical broomstick!

Good times were had by all. We added up experience, and they both had enough to advance to level 3.

We took some time to eat dinner, and played a game of My Precious Presents as well. Jim Ward gave me a copy last summer - quite a fun game, ironically more fun to play with a group of adults than kids. I asked if they enjoyed the game. My niece said, "It was pretty fun, but not as fun as DUNGEONS & DRAGONS!" A while later, they were asking me about dragons, and if they could go after one. I politely explained how dragons definitely have the best treasure, but they are very fierce, and people usually go on a lot of adventures before they become strong enough to challenge a dragon.

My explanation was met with a chorus of pleas, "PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! CAN WE HAVE ANOTHER DUNGEONS & DRAGONS ADVENTURE!"

Of course I agreed, even though I was quite tired at this point. I would tell you all about it, but I think this next adventure warrants it's own post!

To be continued....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stupid Dice Tricks - Thief Skills

The other day I was giving some thought to how I could make thief skills a tad more fun. Rolling percentages can be boring. Rolling a d20 is kind of boring. So I thought about rolling two dice - one to set the target number and the other to test for success/failure (hereafter referred to as the skill die).

The first application of this will be thief skills. The target die will always be a d6. The skill die begins life as a d3, and progresses from there according to the following:

d3 -> d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> d10 -> d12 -> d14 -> d16 -> d20 -> d24 -> d30

Success = skill die comes up equal or greater than the number showing on the target die
Failure = skill die comes up less than the number showing on the target die
Super-Fail = skill die does not exceed half the number on the target die

In the tradition of JimFirePrincess, all characters may attempt to use the thief skills, testing a d3 against the target number rolled on the d6, but only the thief may improve and use better dice. The thief gets 4 points at each level (including first), and each point may be spent to increase the die for a particular skill by one step in the dice progression listed above.

Here are the skills, which are more or less standard fare...

Acrobatics: Used for crazy stuff like walking a tightrope. Also used to move past enemies or escape from them without allowing them a parting shot.

Stealth: Move your speed while undetected by your enemies. This is used to move into position for a backstab.

Backstab: This skill is not rolled against the target die. Whatever die type you have for backstab is added to your normal damage die whenever you make a successful attack from behind against an enemy that is unaware of your presence. Thieves attack at +4, while other characters only get the normal +2 for attacking from behind.

Sleight of Hand: Used for picking pockets, cheating at card games, and so forth. If your test die doesn't get at least half the number on the target die, your attempt is noticed.

Locks & Traps: Used for picking locks, disarming mechanical traps, sabotaging equipment, etc. Requires thief tools.

Poison Use: Die type is rolled and added to the d20 roll when making a saving throw vs. poison while attempting to extract poisons/venoms from defeated monsters. Requires thief tools to get the extra die.

Spider Climb: Allows you to move your speed up or down sheer surfaces. Requires leather or lighter armor. Works great with your favorite falling rules!

Scroll Use: Allows the casting of magic-user scrolls, provided an actual magic-user of equal level would be able to memorize a spell of that level. Failure generally results in horrible mishaps.

For your convenience, I have listed the percentage odds of success for each of the die types against a random target number rolled on a d6 in order to help you determine if this system is one you might want to use, or what adjustments you might like to make. However, these percentages shouldn't be shared with players, as they run a high risk of having people game the system. If a player wants to do that, fine, but at least make them do the math themselves!

Skill level 0 [d3]: 33.3%
Skill level 1 [d4]: 41.7%
Skill level 2 [d6]: 58.3%
Skill level 3 [d8]: 68.8%
Skill level 4 [d10]: 75%
Skill level 5 [d12]: 79.2%
Skill level 6 [d14]: 82.1%
Skill level 7 [d16]: 84.4%
Skill level 8 [d20]: 87.5%
Skill level 9 [d24]: 89.6%
Skill level 10 [d30]: 91.7%

Other thoughts:
  • This is totally untested, but I hope to present it to the party thief next time we get together and have him try it out.
  • I use the cleric tables from Men & Magic for thief experience/level progression, hit dice, saving throws, and fighting capability. If you use the tables from Greyhawk or Basic D&D, the thief will gain levels (and therefore skill points) at a slightly faster rate. Probably negligible, but there you have it.
  • Other stuff I considered but didn't include either for simplicity's sake, or to keep the scope of this post narrow: starting thieves with a d4 in each skill, while all other PCs begin (and remain) at d3; upping the skill points to 4 per level; having abilities affect skills - for example, a DEX of 15+ could allow some skills to start one die higher; item-based skill improvements - e.g. masterwork thief tools could give a +1 or increase the die for Locks & Traps, etc.
EDIT: changed to give thieves 4 skill points per level, added acrobatics, and added rule that skill rank cannot exceed twice the thief's level.