Friday 29 October 2010

La Recherche du Temps Jeux Perdu

When D&D3e arrived on the scene in 2000, I was both pleased and excited. I cut my roleplaying teeth on AD&D when I started university in 1981, and ever since then the hodge-podge high fantasy AD&D milieu is what I imagine when I think of fantasy roleplaying.

I played lots of other games of course — Traveller, Empire of the Petal Throne, Runequest, Space Opera, MERP, Call of Cthulhu, Champions to name just a few. But AD&D was always the core of my roleplaying experience for some years, until a wargamerish frustration at the limitations of the system drove me to convert all my campaigns to Champions (later to turn into the Hero System, as I will refer to it in future). I've written before about my attraction to Hero's unified point-based character construction mechanics, and being able to use a generic system across roleplaying genres appealed enormously — no more having to learn a whole new system for every game.

Shelf 1: The D&D Shelf - post-earthquake, semi-stocked
Anyway, as I said, it was the systemic limitations of AD&D, not the game milieu itself, that drove me away, and much of my time as a Hero GM was spent trying to replicate that milieu with the Hero System. When D&D3 appeared, it seemed to me to have achieved most of what I was trying to do — a game that provided systemic freedom with the feel of D&D. (How wrong I was; as a friend once remarked, D&D3 is still a straitjacket, it just comes in a range of attractive colours).

I immediately started buying D&D3 material hand over fist. I spent literally thousands of dollars on it. After our earthquake last month, I had to put all those books back on their shelves, and I became slightly depressed that I will probably never use any of those books again. I might possibly convert a monster or two, but even that is somewhat unlikely.

After a few years of playing D&D3, I once again became disenchanted with various features of the system — the byzantine complexity of the Feat Tree, for example; the agonies involved in creating an NPC higher than about 3rd level were really grinding me down. I decided to retreat back to the Hero System, and in characteristic form, start buying Hero stuff hand over fist. And again, I spent thousands on it, over time.

Shelf 2: The Hero Shelf
As I've written before, the mechanistic structure of the Hero System eventually palled, and I started GMing using Swords & Wizardry, which was easier to GM, faster to play, and generally (for me at least) more fun. But again, I was looking at my sad, abandoned shelf of Hero stuff and got a little depressed that I'd quite likely never use any of it again. I'm probably even less likely to use it than my D&D3 stuff.

I suppose I could sell it all off, but when I've done that in the past I've always regretted it. Every single time. I don't particularly need the money (though a little free cash would be nice), and I don't particularly need the space, so they'll probably sit there until I die.

But maybe not. If I've learned one thing about myself, gaming-wise, it's that I'm fickle.

Monday 11 October 2010

The Problem of Hit-Points

The issue of hit-points, and exactly what it is that they represent in D&D, is something that has troubled me over the years.

Not that it's troubled me much, you understand — I certainly haven't ever lost any sleep over it.

Anyway, what are these "hit-points"? To what extent do they represent actual physical damage, and how much is luck, fatigue and so forth?

  • Clearly, they largely reflect a level-based increase in defensive skill, luck, the protection of the gods, or whatever. It's ludicrous to think that an experienced warrior would be able to absorb ten or twenty times as much physical damage as an inexperienced one. Granted, physical training and combat experience does bump up one's ability to soak up the smacking, but not to that sort of extent.
  • Clearly, the loss of a single hit-point must mean that the character (or critter) has taken some physical damage, however slight. Otherwise the venom/poison mechanisms wouldn't work, and would have to be extensively rejigged — and frankly, bugger that for a game of soldiers.
  • Clearly, they have little to do with fatigue. If they did reflect fatigue, a heavily armoured knight wielding a greatsword should take more hits per successful attack than an equally fit but unarmoured yokel with a knife. Also, if hit-points were some sort of fatigue mechanism, the character's fighting ability should decrease as hit-points are lost (i.e. as fatigue builds up). That isn't the case; a character fights as well at one hit-point as they do at full health (although they do gradually become easier to kill, I suppose).

I'm sure you get my point; I won't belabour it any further.

Anyway, the point of all this preamble is really just to introduce the method I intend to introduce for rationalizing hit-points and damage. Note that this method is hardly startling or original; I'm sure there are dozens of systems that do something like it.


Hit-points primarily represent luck and defensive ability. The loss of a hit-point does indicate some slight physical damage (so that venoms still work), but it is confined to largely irrelevant scratches and bruises. Apart from making it easier for the next blow to kill you, the loss of hit-points has no mechanical effect. Hit-points are easy to heal.

A character's actual physical resilience is represented by their Constitution, and actual physical damage is taken directly from CON. When a character reaches zero CON, they die. CON damage is hard to heal.

Such situations include:
  • When attacked by surprise in a back-stabbing situation — you'd get a saving throw to take the damage as normal hit-point damage instead.
  • If you are attacked when completely helpless (the old dagger-through-the-visor-of-the-paralyzed-knight trick)
  • When you have no hit-points left. This would be the most common situation; damage is taken point-for-point against CON. If you have 3hp left and take 6 points damage, you'd take 3 points of CON damage.
  • When you take falling damage — damage is determined normally at 1d6 per 10' fallen to a maximum of 20d6; if a die shows a 1 it does no CON damage, 2-5 does 1 point of CON damage, and a 6 does 2 CON damage. This system could also be used when immersed in lava, or doused with acid, bleeding from a Sword of Wounding, or whatever.
This list is not by any means exclusive.

With this method, high-CON characters do get a double-bite at the cherry since they not only get more hit-points, but can also take more below-zero hits without dying. Personally, I don't care about that. So having CON is good, so what?

This system still doesn't address the deleterious effects of fatigue, but meh, shrug. If it's relevant, it's a simple matter to apply a progressive penalty to all die rolls.

Friday 8 October 2010

The New Order

I've completed the new cardboard paint-rack I was working on, and used the opportunity to reorganise my modelling bench work-space a bit.

It doesn't look much more organised than it did before, but believe me, it is. Not only because I have a new paint rack, and not only because I've tidied up a bit, but because my friend Gold gave me one of these kitset MDF tool racks. He didn't have the construction instructions for it, so putting it together was a bit like working out one of those annoying 3d jig-saw puzzles, but I eventually managed to figure it out.

I've been making (very slow) progress on painting some of the HäT plastic 20mm British Peninsular War infantry I mentioned a little while ago. I've been finding it a bit of a hard slog; the painting method (working up from a black undercoat) is new to me, and I spent a bit of time floundering about to find a decent way to do the white uniform trousers decently — a Vallejo Iraqui Sand undercoat did the trick; grey looked too dark and harsh.

This is as far as I've got in the last month or so, at this rate it will take quite a while before I have an army's worth of figures painted and based. I am getting a little bit faster though.

I've always been a metal-figure man, and I still think metal figures are more tactilely satistfying as well as having generally sharper detail, but I have to confess that plastic figures have some significant advantages. They're much, much cheaper for a start, and that's no small consideration when it comes to building large armies. They're light and durable — again a big advantage when it comes to large armies; humping hundreds of lead miniatures around can be a groin-straining exercise, and metal figures are notoriously fragile when they clatter around against each other.

And one last thing — they make basing easier. That may seem a small thing, but disguising the stands of metal figures with putty and what-not can absorb a surprising amount of time and effort. With plastics, I can just use a small soldering iron to melt the figure stands out, merging them with the base material (I'm using 3mm MDF here). You can see the raw, unpainted, smooshed-out basing in the stand on the left; the other two have been painted over. I'll probably flock the bases, but they would serve quite well in paint just as they are.

Saturday 2 October 2010

What I'm up to right now: Organisation, that's what

Tiers of Vallejo
I have a lot of Vallejo paints, and I'm getting more all the time. It's my favourite paint system; the ginormous range of colours available, the convenience of the little dropper bottles, the high pigment density and the good quality acrylic medium all float my nerdly boat. It's made me quite lazy about mixing shades though; with such a huge range available there seldom seems to be much need to put myself out in that respect.

Whenever I get a new bottle, the first thing I do with it is to paint its label and cap with some of the contents, so that I can see at a glance what the colour inside the bottle actually is, and what it will look like dry — an important consideration with acrylics, because they often alter substantially in tone between wet and dry.
The shambles that is my workspace

Anyway, a side-effect of having a vast number of individual shades is that one really does have to take thought for organisation, or else one spends most of one's time sorting through the mass to find the exact shade one wants. To that end, I'm in the process of building myself a rack to organise and display all those little dropper-bottles.

I made a stepped stand for them a while ago out of corrugated cardboard (you can see it in the image to the left) and that works well enough except that the steps have no lips or sides, so bottles can fall off quite easily. Also, I made the steps higher than they need to be, so I can't fit as many bottles on there as I want or need. Clearly improvements are necessary.

The new rack is more compressed, and will hold about 60% more bottles in the same space. I'm building it from Whakatane Board, which is a thick (4mm), coarse, stable cardboard, pale grey in colour. It's not quite as strong as MDF, but on the other hand I can cut it with a craft knife, and it's easily strong enough for this sort of thing — in fact it's a bit over-engineered for the purpose, but never mind. It glues well with plain old PVA.

It's going together pretty well, and I'm looking forward to being able to transfer all those dropper-bottles to their new home. The old tier can have some light card lips and sides added, and be used to store all sorts of other paints and glues and what-not.

Before you know it I'll be completely organised.

It could happen.