Sunday, July 20, 2014

Combat in Man, Myth & Magic


It is a basic principle of ADVANCED MM&M that every activity, from fighting to soothsaying, has a fundamental failure rate.
– Book II

The fundamental failure rate means that – by default – the player will need “to throw 50 or better on the percentile dice” for the character to succeed at an activity such as striking an opponent in combat.  Of course, this number is subject to modifiers.  The actual number needed to hit is appropriately referred to as the “to hit number” or THN.  The amount that a result succeeds in excess of the THN is the amount of damage subtracted from the target's Life Points.  We are told in Book I that, “Any throw of 100% (00) is scored a kill, however unlikely the circumstances.”  This rule is not rescinded in Book II, so it evidently applies to the basic and advanced versions of the game.

If a character belongs to a Class having combat as its “Prime Ability,” the character's 'Skill' characteristic may affect the THN.  For every ten points of Skill in excess of fifty, the THN is reduced by one (meaning an increased chance of success).  For every ten points of Skill less than fifty, the THN is increased by one.  This means a 'fighter' character with a Skill of 40 (or less) fights less effectively than a 'non-fighter' character regardless of the non-fighter's Skill (or lack of Skill).  How much does that suck?  Also, all else being equal, between a 'fighter' with a Skill of 100 and a 'fighter' with a Skill of 01, the difference in the THN is merely 9%.

Advanced MM&M has several, optional characteristics.  If these characteristics are in use, then they may affect a character's THN.  Different 'types' of weapons are affected by different characteristics.  For instance, a character's 'thrown weapon' THN is modified by “Sight, Strength, Skill, and Throwing.”  For the value of each of these characteristics, deviation from 50 is determined.  Every ten points difference from fifty indicates a THN modifier of one; a negative modifier when the value is greater than fifty and a positive modifier when the value is less than fifty.  (Presumably, modifiers from Skill are only applied if 'combat' is the Prime Ability of the character's class.)  For some weapon types, there are Characteristics that influence THN at different rates.  For instance, the Characteristics of Agility, Speed, and Strength can modify the 'bludgeon weapon' THN.  Each five points of Agility over fifty decreases THN by one, but each ten points of Agility less than fifty increases THN by one.  Additionally,  it is curious that 'Skill' is not one of the modifying Characteristics for bludgeons.

Each Class has certain 'allowed' weapons.  For example, the allowed weapons for a Hebrew sorcerer are dagger, sword, and trident; for an Egyptian Apothecary, the allowed weapons are dagger and dart.  A THN for a weapon not allowed by a class is not modified by any Characteristic (not even 'Skill' for a 'fighter'), instead, a fixed +25 modifier is applied.

A character may expend POWER points to reduce his or her THN.  For every 10 POWER spent, THN is reduced by one for a single attack.  I assume that POWER used in this fashion is 'recoverable' just as POWER used for magic (i.e., regained at a rate of 10 points per segment).  The intent to spend POWER in this way must be stated prior to making the roll.

“In ADVANCED combat, you must specify, in advance of rolling, which part of your opponent's body you are attacking.”  Aiming for a hand increases THN by 15; Aiming for a particular thumb, finger, or toe increases THN by 20.  Aiming for the torso or back does not modify THN.  Non-player characters, however, do not aim for hit location.  The Lore Master randomly determines hit location after a target has been hit.  Percentile dice are rolled and a table consulted.  A roll of 89 indicates “Left Foot Toe”; a roll of 98 indicates “Right Thumb.”

As might be expected, weapons increase the amount of damage a character inflicts.  A knife does +8 damage, a dagger does +10, and a sword, +30.  Armor reduces damage with regard to protected hit locations.  A loinguard (leather) protects “Abdoman [sic], loins, and thighs” with –15 damage.  If a character lacks armor, the damage sustained for each successful attack is increased by ten.

The amount of damage may be modified as a result of the attacker's Strength characteristic.  For every ten points of Strength over fifty, +1 is applied to damage; likewise, for every ten points of Strength under fifty, –1 is applied to damage.  Strength modifiers to damage do not apply when using weapons like bows or blowpipes.

Regardless of a character's total Life Points, different hit locations “cease to function” after suffering specific amounts of damage.  For instance, each finger or toe can sustain a maximum of 25 points of damage; a thumb can sustain 30.

In combat, a character can attempt a limited number of attacks before he or she must rest for two turns.  For every ten points of Endurance (or fraction thereof), a character may make one attack.  A character may make an additional attack for every twenty full points of Courage.  For every twenty-five points of Speed a character has in excess of fifty, he or she may make an additional attack per turn.  These attacks are not counted against the Endurance/Courage limit for purposes of rest.

In a turn, characters attack in order of descending 'First Strike Capacity' (i.e., Speed + Courage).  A character may try “Avoiding the Blow” of an opponent; this must be announced prior to the opponent's attack roll.  Each attempt at avoiding a blow counts as an attack with regard to the Endurance/Courage limit.  If a character attempts to avoid a blow, that character's 'Combined Modifier Figure' is added to the opponent's THN for that attack.  The rules helpfully inform us that the Combined Modifier Figure (or “CMF for short”) is the sum of the character's Skill and Strength modifiers.  Alas, the rules neglect to inform us what is meant by “Skill and Strength modifiers.”  Does that mean a modifier of +1 for every ten points (of Skill or Strength) more than fifty and –1 for every ten points (of Skill or Strength) less than fifty?  If so, an attempt at “Avoiding the Blow” could actually make it easier for an opponent to hit.  Given that some of the other rules do not seem well thought out, I fear that my surmise is correct.  Also, 'Skill' is applicable to combat only for 'fighters'.  Does this mean that only 'fighters' can attempt to avoid blows?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ode to a Faceless God





Robert Bloch's “The Faceless God” appeared in the May 1936 issue of Weird Tales accompanied by the Virgil Finlay illustration shown at top.  Inspired by the drawing, H. P. Lovecraft submitted a poem to the magazine.  By the time the poem (above) was published in the July 1937 issue, Lovecraft had died.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Most Phenomenal Game Ever Created


Compare with print ad: The clothing colors are
different and the girls have switched places


Not surprisingly, the recent release of the Fifth Edition Starter Set and Basic Rules has fostered an abundance of commentary in various forums and blogs, including those associated with the OSR.  In general (from what I can tell), criticism has been mild.  Wholesale acceptance, of course, is impossible and there are some who would treat 5E with contempt no matter what.  Criticism about the system tends to boil down to the fact that 5E isn't like (or isn't sufficiently like) the older editions (i.e., how the game is “supposed to be”).  With these criticisms, it is important to remember that people who already play D&D don't need the fifth edition; they can take or leave it in whole or in part.

“Dungeons & Dragons” exists as different concepts.  The Product is the trademark, intellectual property, merchandising, and everything associated with D&D that makes money for Wizards of the Coast.  The Practice is how people play D&D.  WotC has learned to its detriment that the Product does not control the Practice.  The Practice doesn't need the Product and, for some people, the two are entirely divorced.  With this latest edition, WotC is attempting to embrace the current Practice in the hope that the Practice will embrace the Product.  It is also attempting to cultivate the future Practice.  Only by thus engaging the Practice can WotC maintain (if not increase) the profitability of the Product.  I don't know if WotC will succeed, but they're certainly trying.  The true test of this latest edition is not acceptance by a legion of jaded grognards, rather it is the favorable exposure of new players to the game (and thus to the hobby).

When looking for a picture for today's post, I came across this commercial.  About five seconds in, there is a glorious pronouncement, “You're playing the most phenomenal game ever created!”  One might easily dismiss that statement as advertising hyperbole, but it's arguably true.  Thanks to the commercial, not only did I have an image for this post, but I also had a title.  (The title I originally intended – “Playing D&D with Paint Sellers” – lacked a certain gravitas.)  Anyway, I participated in a 5E game yesterday.  This is not something I would normally make the subject of a post; however, this particular session was the first tabletop role-playing experience for a majority of the players.

The most important change in 5E from previous editions is the inclusion of Personal Characteristics – Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws – along with Inspiration, the tool that integrates Personal Characteristics with play.  Many experienced players might ignore these rules as they are not essential to the game.  After all, D&D has managed to exist for forty years without them.  In a post two-and-a-half years ago (!) when 5E was first announced, I said “D&D needs to leverage its differences from computer gaming.”  This is exactly what 'Personal Characteristics/Inspiration' does.  It accomplishes what graphics and algorithms cannot; it emphasizes the personal interactions inherent in tabletop role play.

Elitists might sneer at the notion of using game mechanics to promote “playing in character.”  The execution is new, but the idea isn't.  In 1E, Gygax associated 'good role playing' with adherence to class function and professed alignment.  Characters who deviated from the ideal were penalized with extended training time and costs for level advancement.  (DMG, p. 86)  5E approaches the issue differently, it immediately rewards 'good role playing' with a currency the player redeems at will.  This sort of thing isn't necessary for veteran players, but it effectively educates new players as to how tabletop role-playing is different from/better than computer role-playing.  'Player' means “theatrical performer” as well as “person who plays a game” and both senses are applicable to RPGs.  Just as a theatrical performer considers the motivation of the character he portrays, so should the role-player consider the 'Personal Characteristics' of the D&D character he plays.  Appropriately, the Personal Characteristics are written on the character sheet alongside other important pieces of information like Armor Class and Attack Bonus.

In addition to Product and Practice, there is also the Phenomenon of Dungeons & Dragons, by which I mean the effect of D&D upon popular culture and the lives of the players, as well as the reciprocal effect of culture and individuals upon D&D.  The world is a different place than what it was thirty and forty years ago when D&D was achieving its initial popularity and the new players now are a different generation from the new players then.  The Phenomenon is necessarily different and so is the Product.  What made the Product successful back then may not be the best way to make the Product successful today.  The Practice may not need it, but the Product can benefit the Practice.  Regardless, D&D remains most phenomenal game ever created.

(“Only by doing so can we hope to have a Fifth Edition that’s worthy of the Dungeons & Dragons legacy” – I actually wrote that?)


"Use your Lightning Bolt!!"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

MacGuffins, Plot Devices & Bric-a-brac

Plate 10 from The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems

When 'incarnated', an Advanced Man, Myth & Magic character receives an inheritance.  I suppose only the first incarnation receives an inheritance given that equipment is retained when a character is reincarnated.  However, there is no rule that addresses this and a new inheritance that somehow shows up with each incarnation is no stranger than the MM&M 'reincarnation' process itself.  By rolling percentile dice, the inheritance table “will tell you which of your ancestors remembered you and how much you receive.”

There is a 4% chance that your grandfather has bequeathed to you a:
7 pound piece of fallen star (meteorite); [worth] 300 Lbr.)[sic](If piece is melted into sword it will have a plus 15 to damage).
Whether or not this grandfather is maternal or paternal is not stated.  However, the table lists another grandfather who provides (also at a 4% chance) a silver helmet complete with horns (worth 100 libra) and a ruby (worth 500 libra).  It seems both the maternal and paternal branches are included, but not specified.  One of your aunts might give you “Seven vials of rare spices (150 libra each).”  Your other aunt – perhaps the crazy one – might leave you 200 libra and a leopard skin.  If your father really loves you (1% chance) you will get “10,000 Libra and the Emperor's Seal.”  Otherwise, there's a 4% chance he will give you a suit of legionnaire armor (complete) and 200 libra or (another 4% chance) 500 libra, a broadsword, a dagger, and a Greek helmet.

The 'ancestors' on the inheritance table are related to the character (Older Sister, God Mother, etc.) with the exception of Livia the Poisoner, a non-player character from a couple of the adventures.  (I guess she could be a relative, but the familial tie is not given.)  There is a 4% chance that Livia will leave you:  500 libra, a blowpipe, one hundred darts, and – true to her epithet – a bottle of cobra venom.

Yaquinto's The Egyptian Trilogy was marketed as “A TRIPLE Adventure Module for use with Man, Myth & Magic.”  It is also a 'system expansion' or sourcebook.  The setting of the MM&M rules is AD 41 (or thereabouts), but The Egyptian Trilogy module takes place in 1375 BC.  As such, the book provides nationalities, classes, rules, etc. appropriate for that era, including an inheritance table.  The 'ancestors' include the relatives from the original table (other than godparents), but also includes 'ancestors' such as Ex-Lover, Childhood Friend, Tribal Hetman, Priest, and Hunter.  Your uncle might give you sixty ounces of silver, a bow, a quiver of thirty arrows, and a vial of five applications of curare.  Your other uncle might give you a copper poleaxe, an iron-tipped spear, and a bronze helmet.  There is a 4% possibility that your ex-lover will leave you a leather kilt and a lethal dose of hemlock.  (I wonder if that's supposed to send some kind of message.)

The MM&M inheritance table provides characters with starting equipment and/or money.  The items can also be plot hooks.  What was your uncle doing with an “African Ju-Ju Bone”?  A spool of golden thread is worth 500 libra, but first you need to find someone who will buy it.  Why would “the Hunter” leave you his magical bow and magical charm?  What's the story behind the silver chalice your cousin left you?

In the recently released D&D Basic Rules we see a similar 'plot hook generator' with the 'Trinkets table' (which I find reminiscent of 1E Gamma World's 'Treasure List').  The table takes up two pages, with more than half of the second page blank.  Surely, the Trinkets table is not necessary for the Basic Rules; they could have used those pages for a couple of additional backgrounds or a detailed example of play or an index or more passages from that literary genius R. A. Salvatore.  While not necessary, the Trinkets table does something important – it connects (however faintly) the character with the setting in a unique way.  It shouldn't be the only connection, but it may be the first.  Anything that spurs the imagination is worthwhile.

The Trinkets table “can help stock a room in a dungeon or fill a creature's pockets.”  The problem with this is that some trinkets are more appropriate as contents for a monster's pocket than as possessions of a player character.  Why would a player character walk around with a “rope necklace from which dangles four mummified elf fingers” (Trinket #9) or a “glass jar containing a weird bit of flesh floating in pickling fluid” (Trinket #20)?  Why would you keep a “small idol...that gives you unsettling dreams when you sleep near it” (Trinket #8)?  Some things useful for dungeon room/monster pocket stocking should be in a Dungeon Curios table and not a 'player character possession' Trinket table.

Most of the Trinket table items are unusual, but some are not.  Trinket #41 is a “scrap of cloth from an old banner.”  That's an example of a trophy from the Soldier background; it shouldn't be a “trinket.”  On the other hand, perhaps there should be a separate Trinket table for each background.  (I'm ambivalent about Trinket #29, “A pair of old socks.”)

I notice possible product placement with trinket #46, “A dead sprite inside a clear glass bottle.”  (Get it?  A bottle of Sprite!  Haha!)

Trinket #99 is “A wooden box with a ceramic bottom that holds a living worm with a head on each end of its body.”  I wonder if this is an allusion to one of Sherlock Holmes' “unsolved” cases; namely, “that of Isadora Persano, the well-known journalist and duellist, who was found stark staring mad with a match box in front of him which contained a remarkable worm said to be unknown to science.”  (“The Problem of Thor Bridge”)