Building a Better D&D

#70
Rules in the Fiery Crucible
11/30/15

So I mentioned (a couple months ago now) that I started a new 1E campaign using a lot of house rules.  Quite a number of those rules were untested.  Well, after 4 or 5 sessions of 6-8 hours each (or so), I've had opportunity to see some of them in action in the fiery crucible of an actual, ongoing campaign, and I thought I'd mention how some of my brilliant (!) ideas were actually holding up.  After all, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

First thing I supposed I'd like to note is that I need to do some work with handling languages.  I mentioned in the last entry that the topic was coming up in play, but I haven't really done anything to deal with it - other than write that I need to deal with it.  So, Saturday it became something of an issue again.  Mostly it's just because PC's are beginning to level up and I'd set forth the rule that your additional languages from intelligence needed to be acquired one at a time AS you level up.  So the simple matter is that I need to provide players with a list of what languages their characters can actually LEARN.  Aside from basic humanoid monsters and demi-human languages - what languages ARE THERE?  One of the players jumped online with a phone and called up the 3E SRD list of languages and started asking which ones could be taken.  I don't think he sees the same distinction between editions that I do.  That's both amusing and a bit of a tragedy.

See, he hasn't seen and wallowed in a decade and a half of Edition Wars on internet forums.  To him, D&D is D&D... isn't it?  But in the moment, although 3E was to be... admired in a way for having a list of available languages for players, whereas I had to beg off the issue and note that while I HAD a list of languages it was buried amongst all my other D&D files on my computer.  I was fairly certain I didn't want to go with all the generic linguistics of 3E, even temporarily, for reasons described in the aforementioned previous blog entry.  If there was going to be a language specifically for demons, devils, and other supernatural outer-planar nasties, it wasn't going to be, "Abyssal", or "Infernal".  If anything it was going to be something more like Professor T's "Black Speech" that players would be learning, with MAYBE later access to the former two - with different, much more evocative names.  And I'd also have a better idea of how those languages would be used, where they'd be heard or written, and how PC's would find someone to TEACH it to them.

Of course, I really should have expected it anyway.  I've been running B2, which for anyone at all familiar with it, features contact with just about ALL the standard humanoid monsters.  Of course I had them speaking their own languages, and of course the PC's then made sure to then render the matter moot (again, as noted in the previous blog) by ensuring that their PC's covered as many different languages as possible - and now want to be covering even more.  So one of my prep tasks for the next session is to provide them with at least a list of languages their PC's can readily learn as they level up, and probably some information on how they then would go about learning more obscure languages as they become aware of them.

What of other rules?  Healing procedures is a BIG example since I really stirred that up.  The basics of the house rules on the matter is in Blog #65 from back in January and shows that it's some pretty radical changes.  I'm happy to say that it's so far working out fairly well.  It's definitely a bit on the confusing side though.  It's certainly a more complicated approach.  However, so far it feels like it's doing what I expected it to do in the way I expected it to do it.  I DID put a lot of thought into it as I developed it after all.  Healing is just a huge part of D&D and seriously affects how it plays.  If I was going to change it I needed to be confident that I wasn't just blowing smoke.  It needed to WORK.  As I said it IS more complicated so both I and the players are still getting used to the function of it, but hopefully with greater familiarity will come more confidence from all of us in its workings - and maybe then I can take a whack at re-writing it to explain itself more clearly.

The game is still in low levels though, so the dynamics of it all may change.  They're starting to acquire potions and items which will provide more healing resources.  More healing resources means a geometric jump in their overall power and survivability.  Playtesting is far from over.

The surprise and initiative rules are working fine.  PC's make individual initiative d12 rolls and I have so far had no reason not to keep their opponents on just one d12 roll.  I then count up from one to twelve and every so often it becomes somewhat crucial IF the PC's or the monsters will go first, and who of the PC's that will be.  It does lend itself to its own brand of tactics in a round especially in choosing targets.  Surprise has largely been a DM's call and so far hasn't figured heavily into circumstances.

Something else combat-related though is the matter of my weapon proficiency and specialization rules.  I had to go back over my house-rules handout to remember what benefits I'd actually given specialization.  There was a particular question by a player whether they were correctly applying bonuses.  The issue was with use of a bastard sword.  Obviously it can be used one-handed as well as two-handed.  So the character had bastard sword proficiency, specialization in bastard sword, two-handed weapon STYLE proficiency and then specialization in that as well. This kind of optimization was something I'd handed to fighters as something they could do at 1st level which other warrior types couldn't do until later as they gained levels.  Really, it just wasn't quite clear what bonuses were going to apply in what circumstances.  So that's something that I'll need to take a look at punching up the writing for.

One thing is certain - the players haven't really READ the nice, fat house-rules handout.  They're going primarily by what I tell them.  They ASK ME about the rules instead of looking it up.  Which says they probably don't read it BECAUSE they just get the answers from me.  Maybe that means they just don't know where to look for rules answers is it in the house rules or the PH?  Since they aren't as intimately versed in the rules-as-written as I am, and experience MUST be demonstrating to them that they CAN'T rely on any particular answer being found in one place or another, that's going to be a bit of an issue going forward.  If they were to actually read it they'd become more familiar with what's actually IN it and would then at least be able to say to themselves, "Say... didn't I see that mentioned in the handy house-rules document?"

One thing that I realized on Saturday that ISN'T in the house rules document, is the revised combat tables.  I kinda decided not to experiment with using "bounded accuracy" principles when I already had so many other changes going on.  I thought I might be able to get the same effect using different techniques if I really wanted to explore that, but in the meantime it'd be better to leave some things be.  Except that even then those tables weren't going to be taken as-is from the DMG.  At the very least they were still going to be using the "5% Principle" where the tables are smoothed out.  I'd included the save tables with those and other changes in the house rules handout, but not the combat tables.  Now it seems I don't even HAVE a standard "5% Principle" set of tables, just the ones I'd re-written for bounded accuracy.  I'd apparently overwritten the basic 5% revisions so I'll have to do up a set of those tables again and hand them over and keep a hardcopy for myself too.

One thing I'm noticing is that I MAY have gone too far in boosting the abilities of the low-level magic user with all the bonus spells.  It's fine for 1st level when it's all just Magic Missiles and there simply isn't that much change anyway, but when the PC made 3rd level and the player was rooting about being able to cast 3 Invisibility spells I realized I'd overlooked that SERIOUS jump in power for M/U PC's with decent Intelligence (if you haven't been following along - I took away the wisdom bonus spells for clerics and gave the same number of bonus intelligence spells to wizards).  I may re-write that table.  Jumping from simply having four 1st level spells to having four 1st and three 2nd might have overdone it.  It may be that I should just rewrite the MU spells-available table to incorporate the "bonus" spells in a more appropriate manner.  Anyway, I'm not sure that the same player in question is actually adding casting time for his spells.

I never DID like Invisibility being available at such a low level though.  I'll probably just take it in stride and keep the game going rather than try to walk those changes back though.  We'll see how things continue to play out.  It may not even BE a problem, or at least may not be as bad as I think it could.  Certainly I'll have to remind the players that Invisibility ISN'T all it's cracked up to be by D&D rules - since there were some after-the-fact nerfs placed on it to try to keep a lid on abuse.  Actually, now that I think about it a bit, if it NEEDS to be controlled then the easiest way to do that is simply by applying a shorter duration on the spell.

There's still other things I'm gonna need to work on in the coming weeks like seat-of-the-pants compatible encounter tables to be using now that they're going to start doing some travelling longer distances into terra incognita.  But something like that is more a matter of campaign setting details than it is house rules.  The major points are covered above.

Entry #71 (Under Construction)
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