We rejoin our heroes in the snow flurries created by the departure of the Greenland dragon, and in a new bind. Their task now is to journey to the ruined old town of Good Hope, and invade the church there to kill a lich. They have been geased by the dragon, and so have no choice but to do this as quickly as possible.

So, Brian the Hunter set about making a pool of frozen mermaid blood on the ground, and used it to scry across the Island, seeking the church in which the Lich resided. His vision was drawn initially to a church far away from Good Hope, but then the vision flickered and changed to the main church in Good Hope. The church was damaged in the dragon’s assault all those years ago, but not so badly that it was not covered and protected against prying eyes; however, Brian could see Ghasts moving about the churchyard and the docks of Good Hope, and the characters realised they would need some tactic to enter the church undetected. Their goal was to get as close to the Church as possible before revealing their presence, because Liches are renowned spell-users, and were the lich given sufficient chance to cast protective and summoning magic, they would all be doomed.

To this end the characters realised they needed to scry inside the Church, to find a way in and to know where the Lich hid, and what its defences were. They returned to their ship, and then sailed back to the main port, where they again enjoyed a night of dubious hospitality in Erik’s Longhall. This time, however, they sought something specific – any relic from inside the church of Good Hope. They found an old bronze ewer inside a cabinet in the long hall, and with Erik’s permission Brian the Hunter pretended to check the value of the ewer. He filled it with water and a drop of his blood and then sought, through the water, to view the inside of the church. Though Erik stopped him quickly, he was able to at least identify two doors, a stairwell, and a confessional box in which sat the Lich.

Thus apprised of the Lich’s location, the characters set off for Good Hope. Arriving at the docks, they were attacked by 5 Ghasts, but Brian cast a spell of entanglement which called forth great tendrils of goose barnacles from below the quay to envelop the Ghasts, and while they staggered, trapped, on the docks, Merton, Russell and Brian shot them down. From there they docked, and Dave Black and Merton crept up the hillside through the ruined old town of Good Hope to the churchyard to look for a way in. They slipped past the Ghasts in the churchyard and identified a side door, unlocked, which they could move through, though the door would obviously creak. However, none of the other characters – except perhaps Brian – would be able to slip by the Ghasts, and so they would need a distraction.

Brian provided the distraction in the form of Matilda, his wolf companion. She loped on ahead and, once she had drawn the attention of the Ghasts, led them away from the church while the characters took up position around the doors. Anna Labrousse summoned her Monster, which appeared as a beast made of shattered tombstones and ice; Russell summoned a demon with great webbed limbs to enter the building first, as cover against any powerful spells that would be directed at the door. These beasts smashed through the main doors while Merton and Dave Black slipped through the side door. The Lich, surprised, emerged from its confessional box but was quickly overwhelmed. Anna Labrousse ripped off its left arm with her spell, sending it clattering to the floor in a hail of bones; and then Brian and Merton shot it down before it could muster any powerful magic. Under the protective cover of demon and monster, Russell Ganymede destroyed the Ghasts.

Having destroyed the lich they investigated its treasure. First they had to defuse the altar, which had protective magic cast on it. This magic hurled Brian back from the altar and almost killed him, but David Cantrus healed him and dispelled the trap on the altar. They then examined the books and items on the altar and its nearby lecterns. The book with the dragon’s name in was written in Dragonspeech, which Anna could read; resisting the lure of the geas, she read the name and flicked back through the previous pages of the book, which gave something of the history of the destruction of the Church. It would appear that, having discovered the presence of the Dragon on the Island (through its demand for sacrifice) the priest of the Church summoned a powerful Knowledge Demon and sold his soul in exchange for the Dragon’s name. The dragon, discovering that someone knew its name, raided the town with the intention of slaying him before he could learn to use it. Unfortunately, in the first attack the Dragon killed the Priest’s whole family. The Priest, incensed, turned his family’s ashes into a phylactery and prepared to become a lich. In the second battle he confronted the Dragon, driving it away with its name, but was mortally wounded and died. Before he could return as a lich the Dragon ravaged the whole island looking for him, so that when he came back he was bound to the church and surrounded only by the dead of his old village. So the Dragon and the lich were stalemated, until the characters came to kill it.

Having learnt this, the characters are now ready to travel on to Ireland, to find the killer of the Dragon whose bone they carried; and whose bone Anna Labrousse turned into a corset when they stopped at Iceland en route to Ireland…

This is a topic which has bothered me consistently since I first played Neverwinter Nights, and I was reminded of it today when reading the debate about unified game mechanics at Jeff’s Gameblog. I have been a fan of the development of unified game mechanics for many reasons for quite a while (that is what my own modifications of the d20 system are aimed at), but I was recently reminded by a friend, who is playing OD&D, of the richness and diversity of gaming experience in some of the early games, where every aspect of the system had a slightly (or wildly) different mechanic, and different rules and outcomes. I can still almost smell my Dungeon Master’s Guide and see the dense text describing what were in essence separate game sub-systems for every character and every spell. I wonder sometimes if unified game mechanics – even those with spells – can sometimes spoil this diversity.

What does this have to do with Neverwinter Nights? Well, I played Neverwinter Nights (NWN) purely and simply because it was by the crew who brought me Baldur’s Gate. Baldur’s Gate was a rich and diverse playing experience, with every scene, room and adventure section unique. Even game backgrounds differed from room to room. But NWN was, by contrast, disappointingly arid. Every room looked the same, every outdoor setting had the same sound and scenery, and although the mechanics were much simplified over BG, there was no sense of challenge or fantastic setting in it. The world was empty. I think this came down to the different design methods for the games. By the time NWN was released there was a rich library of graphics-cards programming methods, which I think were based on modern Object Oriented methods, which made it easy to produce scenery at a high level of interaction (visually in fact) using the editor – this sort of thing is facilitated very well by object oriented programming. These methods also enabled the consistent mechanics of action resolution. But in BG, the scenes and the monsters were built up piece-by-piece, using a more old-fashioned and time-consuming method (I think BG was from a previous generation of games which still used large amounts of specialised programming for each section). The result was art. For all the messiness of action resolution through toolbars and pausing so you could click and point and click again, there was a diversity of play and experience not present in NWN (or NWN2, IMHO).

Unified mechanics have, I think, something in common with Object Oriented programming. They essentially define a set of classes of objects, methods and properties for interacting with them, and provide the DM a toolkit for resolving actions smoothly and consistently at every stage of gaming. I think DnD 4e shows this, with every character having an “attack” method which is essentially resolved exactly the same way – only the look of it is different. Cutting out the diversity in favour of simplicity of resolution has removed some of the flavour, too. I think you can get this back through personal effort (I think the spells in my Compromise and Conceit world have a lot of flavour even though they use a common mechanic for resolution), and it is true that ultimately a lot of what happens in the gaming realm can be divided into attacks, buffs, effects or non-combat moves which simply beg for a unified resolution method. But I think it is subject to the same flaw as NWN experienced – it’s easier to bash out a very same-same set of rules, with no powerful descriptive properties or diversity, by favouring ease of game construction and task resolution over detail and the pleasure of developing a diverse and interesting system. Certainly I think D&D4e did this, and even 3.5e to some extent.

So, I think the trick with a unified mechanic is to use the simplicity it presents to enable smooth resolution of the detail of conflict which can be missing or difficult to rule on in systems which rely on sub-systems and exceptions to function. For example, I have some ideas for balancing large and small weapons in combat which would make combat a much richer and more tactical experience, but which I think wouldn’t work well in D&D pre- third edition, a system in which differences in weapons really weren’t used even if they were in the rules. The idea I have in mind uses the unified mechanic naturally to enable users of light weapons to take risks in order to close range on, and gain an advantage over, users of longer weapons. The unified skill-check system I use makes this easy to resolve without needing any special mechanics, just perhaps a sentence or two of advice. In general DMs should be using unified mechanics in order to broaden the range of circumstances in which PCs can act, and to diversify play. But I think in reality most unified mechanics are too clumsy or not well-enough explained (or not really sufficiently unitary) for people to do this easily. So they end up feeling arid, like NWN2.

Maybe this is food for thought in game design – don’t privilege unity of mechanical resolution over house-ruling fun stuff. Or, don’t assume that the unified mechanic will be sufficient for every DM in every circumstance, and don’t be afraid to tinker with it for the key parts of the system (i.e. combat). Or maybe it just means that those of us who think unified mechanics offer improvements need to explain how we use them and how they can work better. I might work on some examples of this from my system over the next few weeks…

Following the discussion of RPG systems with class vs. those without class, I feel now is the perfect time to present my “classless” (but tasteful!) version of the d20 character development system. I hope the brief notes presented here serve to outline how it works without too much concentration on the detail.

Liberating hit points and saves from class

The main way in which class is important in D&D3.5 is in the assignment of feats, saving throws and HPs to classes. The feats part is easy to change, but liberating saving throws and HPs from their class origins requires a little more care. This is done in Compromise and Conceit by turning both Hit Points and saving throws into skills. The four skills for all saving throws are:

Fortitude: Fortitude is the skill which determines your resistance to poison, disease, etc., and also the number of wounds you can suffer before dying.

Reflexes: Your save against traps, elemental spells, and also your difficulty to hit in combat.

Will: Your save vs. mind attack spells

Presence: Your coolness under fire, used to determine intiative and for resistance to  fear

Every wound suffered is a -1 penalty on all actions; so there is a direct trade-off between ranks in fortitude and other key skills.

Other key skills: Base Attack, Spellcraft and Concentration

Concentration: serves the same role as in the d20 system, but also determines how many fatigues a spell-caster can suffer from failing to beat spell DCs

Spellcraft: spell attacks are resolved as a challenged skill check between spellcraft and the appropriate saving throw skill.

Base Attack: Combat attacks are resolved as a challenged skill check between base attack and reflexes. The DC to hit the target is 10+reflexes, or 2d10+reflexes if the target has the dodge feat.

All these actions are penalised by wounds taken. The damage done by a spell or attack is given by the difference between the skill roll and the target, with a maximum determined by the weapon or the spell. For example, maximum damage for a dagger is 1 wound. Armour can reduce this by up to the damage reduction value of the armour, but a successful attack always does at least one non-fatal wound.

Ability scores

The character gets 2 points to distribute between the six scores (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, charisma), which are represented as positive or negative effects on all the skills they affect. So for example a fighter might choose +2 on strength and constitution, +1 on dexterity, and -1 on the remaining scores.

Class and non-class skills

At first level, all players choose 5 skills to be class skills, and the remainder are non-class skills.

Skill development points

Characters at first level have 20 skill development points, and then 5 at every level thereafter. Skills are bought at 1 rank for 1 point (class skills) or 1 rank for 2 points (non-class skills).

Class skills can have a maximum of [level+3] ranks; non-class skills half that (rounded up).

Feats

At first level characters take 5 feats. Characters can opt to spend 1 feat on minor magic, 2 feats on major magic, or 1 feat on extra skills.

Magic and skill feats

Minor magic: character can use spells of a level up to that of the character. Spells are resolved using a skill appropriate to the realm of magic (e.g. presence for the  Regency School).

Major magic: characters can use spells of up to [level +3]. Characters need to choose spellcraft as a class skill.

Extra skills: character gains 24 skill points at first level and 6 per level thereafter.

Fatal and non-fatal wounds

Fatal wounds can be healed slowly or by magic, and when a character receives more wounds than their fortitude skill total they are dying.

Non-fatal wounds are bruising and shock, and heal at a rate of 1 per hour of full rest. If the last wound a character takes before exceeding their fortitude skill total is non-fatal, they go unconscious and do not die.

That’s the whole character creation system. Characters gain a new feat every 2 levels (including level 2), and a stat increase of +1 every 5 levels. Gaining levels is essentially trivial – distribute 5 skill points and choose a feat. I tend to be pretty casual about what feats can be (witness Anna Labrousse’s powerful voice) and have broken most of the rules at some stage, but that’s because I like characters to be interesting rather than balanced. Does it work? Comments welcome…

Spells are cast as a skill, with the base difficulty for partial success given by

DC = 15 + Spell level + Effect Modifications

Usually these effect modifications represent a decision to increase the number of targets beyond the basic amount allowed by the spell level; or an attempt to increase duration.

Partial failure occurs if the character rolls below [DC-lvl].

Whether or not a spell is successful on partial failure, partial success or complete success depends on the basic type of spell effect.

Spell Level is unlimited from 0 up and increases or decreases according to the basic type of spell effect, the duration, the range and the area. There are three main types of effects:

•    Fixed wondrous effects, such as light, confusion, etc. which are either automatic, or affect enemy creatures in an opposed skill check (Spellcraft vs. Will/Presence etc). Duration of these spells is usually determined by the amount by which the target fails the opposed skill check.

•    Variable benefit/damage effects, which manifest as bonuses to a skill or stat, or as damage done/healing. These are characterized by a maximum amount they can attain, and are variable up to the maximum amount. Duration is usually fixed at 1 round per level of the caster.

•    Fixed benefit/damage effects, which manifest in the same way as variable effects, but always to a fixed amount. This means that they can work on partial failure, but their difficulty is usually higher. Also, the duration of these spells depends on the degree of success.

Essentially, a spell can have a variable effect for a fixed duration, or a fixed effect for a variable duration.

Table 1 characterises the way in which the three basic types of effects determine success.

Unit of duration: Every spell has a unit of duration determined as part of its creation. This is usually 1 round, but can be in minutes, hours, days, or simply be permanent. For all units of duration except permanent, the spell lasts a period of time equal to some multiplier of the units of duration.

Table 1: Success determination by basic spell type

Spell Effect type

Basic rule

Effect on partial failure

Effect on success

Wondrous effects, no target

Spell always works on partial

failure or better. Degree of success determines duration

Spell works; fatigue; spell

lasts 1 unit of duration

Spell works; no fatigue; spell

lasts a number of duration units equal to [skill roll-DC]+1

Wondrous effects, hostile

target

Spell effect only takes hold if

the caster can beat the target on an opposed skill check

Spell works; fatigue; opposed

skill check DC=die roll. Duration 1 unit of duration per point of failure, +1

Spell works; no fatigue;

opposed skill check DC=die roll. Duration 1 unit of duration per point of

failure, +1

Variable benefit effects

Spell only works on partial or

complete success; benefit varies up to some maximum

Spell does not work; fatigue

Spell works; no fatigue;

benefit is given by [spell roll-DC] up to the maximum

Variable damage effects

Spell works on partial failure;

damage determined by opposed skill check

Spell works; fatigue; opposed

skill check DC = die roll. Effect = 1+1/point of failure up to the maximum

Spell works; no fatigue;

opposed skill check DC = die roll. Effect = 1+1/point of failure up to the maximum

Fixed benefit effects

Spell works on partial failure;

benefit is always fixed, but the duration depends on the spell roll

Spell works; fatigue; full

effect; spell lasts 1 unit of duration

Spell works; no fatigue; spell

lasts a number of duration units equal to [skill roll-DC]+1

Fixed damage effects (curses,

etc.)

Spell works on partial failure;

benefit is always fixed, but the duration depends on the spell roll

Spell works; fatigue; full

damage; spell lasts 1 unit of duration

Spell works; no fatigue; spell

lasts a number of duration units equal to [skill roll-DC]+1

For the purposes of simple gameplay, we note that spell effects which do stat or skill damage are treated in the same way under these rules as spells that do physical damage. However, this implies that spells which do physical damage will not be permanent. For the purposes of this one type of spell, we assume that the damage effect is permanent. Usually this would require that the spell be considerably higher level than is strictly reasonable, so we waive this consideration for healing and damage spells (see table 3 regarding duration).

Spell Difficulty

Spell difficulty depends on which of the three basic effect types the spell employs.

Variable benefit/damage: Level = [Max effect]/2

Fixed effect/damage: Level = effect

Table 2 shows the wondrous effects with their base level.

Table 2: wondrous effects with their levels

Effect

Level

Light

0

Daze, knockdown

1

Stun, deafness, rage[1],

courage1, telekinesis, fascinate,

2

charm, comprehend/confuse

language, camouflage/hidden, change size, Sleep[2],

3

Blindness, forget, Disguise,

alien environment, Pain[2], slow, freedom of movement

4

Paralysis, fear, invisible,

5

clairaudience, Scrying, minor

spell effect[3], haste

6

confusion, Change form

(mundane), Teleport (minor, not through obstacles),

7

Telepathy, improved

invisibility, medium spell effect,

8

Insanity, major injury (removes

most of a creature’s fighting ability without death)

9

Major spell effect, Domination,

10

petrifaction,

11

Change form (supernatural),

Disintegration, Teleport, Extreme spell effect,

12

Imprisonment/banishment, change

reality

13

Death

14

Time Stop

15

Miracle

16

Note that conjuration can be estimated as a DC given by the level of the creature, with a small addition for the conjuration itself (perhaps 1). These levels have been designed to roughly match twice the levels of spells in D&D 3rd edition, with some modifications made possible by doubling the level range. There is no particular reason why the level range should be fixed at 16.

Combining spell effects should use their sum, minus an amount which increases with the levels and numbers of combinations. So for example, daze and knockdown should be level 2; while daze and pain and blindness should be level 6.

Duration

The base unit of duration for all spells is rounds. Spells which do physical damage or which heal people are considered to have permanent base unit of duration, as are spells of abjuration. This is subject to DM discretion. Spells with base duration permanent cannot have their duration reduced.

The base unit of duration can be extended by increasing the level of the spell, as shown in table 3.

Table 3:

style=”mso-spacerun: yes”> Duration of effect

Duration

Level change

Concentration

-1

Minutes

+1

Hours

+2

Days

+3

Permanent

+5

Area of effect

Area of effect depends on the domain of the spell. The effects by domain are shown in table 4.

Table 4: Area of

effect

Domain

Area effect

Divination

1 creature

Abjuration

1 creature

Alteration

1 creature

Evocation

3m area

The area of effect can be increased by 1 of these base units by increasing the spell DC by 1 freely at time of casting. Evocation can be reduced in size to “beam” (essentially 1 creature) at a DC improvement of 1.

Range

The range also depends on domain, as shown in table 5.

Longer ranges can be obtained by increasing DC by +1 through the categories:

Self / Touch / 10m / 30m / sight.

Evokers and abjurers can step down the range categories to make the DC easier.

Table 5: Spell

ranges

Domain

Range

Divination

Self

Abjuration

Self

Alteration

Touch

Evocation

10m

Examples

Scorching Ray

Range: 10m, Ranged touch

Max. Damage: variable, max. chosen by caster

Attack: Spellcraft vs. Reflex

DC: 14+ max damage

Area effect: beam (1 target)

This spell has the base range of the evoker type, and variable damage up to the maximum chosen by the caster.

Base range: 0

Reduced area effect: -1 for beam

So in order to do maximum damage of 5 (enough to penetrate most armour) is DC 19.

Magic Missile

Range: sight

Attack: Guaranteed damage

Damage: fixed, 2 wounds

Area effect: single target

DC: 20

For guaranteed damage: +2=+2

Range extension: +2

Area effect reduction: -1

Note that this can be extended to multiple targets (+1 DC per additional target) and increasing the maximum damage by 2 only increases DC by 2.

Sleep

Range: 30m

Area effect: 1 person

Attack: spellcraft vs. will

DC: 20

Sleep is a level 3 effect, +2 for the range extension. This gives a total DC of 20. DC can be increased by 1 per additional target.

————- Footnotes to table 2————–

[1] Assumes that the effect is somehow different to a variable benefit/damage, perhaps because it has penalties which partially offset the benefits

[2] Note Sleep differs from Paralysis: after 1 round, sleepers can be woken non-magically

[3] A minor spell effect is a spell which affects magic – draining charges, protecting against spells, etc. Other spell effects represent progressions from this.

A while ago I mentioned that I used to like skill systems which incorporate partial success/ partial failure, but now I am not so enamoured of them. Since I wrote that I had to rejig my magic system slightly, because I had configured it to be a little too easy. As my magic system was constructed, every spell came with a casting DC. Beating the DC meant that the caster cast the spell with no fatigue, and the degree of success determined by the amount over the target DC which the player rolled, subject to some maximum (which partially determined the spell DC). Failure to beat the DC meant the spell was cast, but the caster suffered fatigue; in some cases the spell fails and in all cases, the save DC of the spell is the player’s roll.

The problem with this system is that one of the characters in my system has the spell Grendel’s Demise which rips off a target’s arm; and another has The Angel of Death, which just slaughters everyone in sight. With no risk of not being able to cast the spell, these characters get to basically try and kill one monster every round, at risk of a mere fatigue.

So I introduced a new rule for failures: if the player rolled lower than [casting DC – level] the spell automatically failed, and the character suffered fatigue. Grendel’s Demise has a spell DC of 23 and the characters are 5th level, so any roll of 18 or less means the spell completely fails. As the characters gain levels, the risk of complete failure decreases. This means I can continue to give low level characters very dangerous spells, knowing that they won’t use them unless they’re really desperate, until they’re high enough level to guarantee success.

But this new system introduces partial failure into the system. Given that the system already allows for partial success, this means I have essentially reproduced the Rolemaster skill paradigm (minus a lot of categories and tables of course).

Consider, for example, a 5th level wizard with magic skill of 8, casting a 4th level spell (casting DC 19) which stuns the opponent for 1 round per point of success. Partial success with this system is always possible; for example, if the caster rolls 19 the spell is cast with no fatigue, and the victim has to roll over 19 on a saving throw or is stunned for 1 rd per point of failure. Partial failure occurs on rolls of 14-19; in this instance, the target still has to roll to save,  but the roll is easier, so there will be less rounds of stun (on average) and the caster takes a fatigue. On rolls less than 14 there is complete failure – caster incurs fatigue, spell never happens, victim never notices.

At first I thought that this would only apply to magic but now I realise it can be applied across the entire skill system. Consider, for example, a 3rd level thief on a rooftop who decides to do a sneak attack by dropping off the roof onto a passing guard. Adjudicate this attack thus: the rooftop attack could give a maximum +2 damage, so the DC is 19 (15+2*maximum effect is my current guideline). The actual effect is determined by the player’s acrobatics roll minus the DC, with a maximum of +2. On rolls of 16-19 the character can still attack but is judged to have landed badly and attacks at a penalty equal to [DC – roll]. Anything less than 16 and the character takes damage and loses the attack.

Note also that under this system the maximum penalty a character can take is limited by their level, which makes me think that levels can also serve to put a limit on the maximum benefit a character can gain (and thus also the maximum DC they ever have to beat). This ties the skill system and the levels together more tightly than just allowing levels to determine skill points. In my system this means that a character’s development, saving throws, skills and actual DCs are all joined together through the skill system and the level system.

Unification baby!

And note that none of this is incompatible with D&D3.5 or Pathfinder or whatever. This is another example of how, I think, the D20 skill system is a really natural and flexible way to resolve all the actions which characters face. You really don’t need anything except skill points and levels!

I envisage  magic working very simply:

  • many characters can learn magic, either as a central skill or as dabblers
  • characters learn spells individually, almost like feats
  • all characters who use magic have a certain number of fatigue slots, equal to their concentration skill
  • all spells have a DC to cast
  • all spells are cast using either Spellcraft (for primary users of magic) or one of the save skills (Presence or Will) for minor users of magic
  • failure to make the DC means the spell works but the caster suffers fatigue; success means no fatigue
  • the difficulty to resist a spell is determined by the spell-caster’s skill roll in a challenged skill check
This retains the essential character of AD&D spells (they always work) but builds in the essential skill-based system of resolving saving throws which I want to base the system around. It incorporates the cost of casting into the one roll as well.
The two problems I have with this system are:
  • Defining  DCs: spells are really diverse with diverse effects, so it’s difficult to define DCs for  all of them. The simplest method is simply to set a level on the spell and make the difficulty from a formula based on the DC. I had been working on a set of rules (based on duration, range, maximum damage and type of effect) but this has not been very easy to generalise – for example, healing is a permanent effect, so any duration-type modifier has to increase the DC of a simple healing spell, in order that it be generalisable across other types of spell (such as fireballs)
  • Spell failure: to be properly consistent with a skill-based resolution system, spells should be able to fail like any other skill. The skill being used here is the skill of channelling some kind of essence or force into a physical effect. Obviously this is kind of challenging! So one should be able to fail.
I had earlier written that I don’t want to have a skill system which has categories of partial failure and partial success, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce notions of partial failure and complete failure: complete success occurs if you beat the DC, partial failure if you just miss the DC, and complete failure if you really miss the DC. Partial failure can indicate the spell works but the PC suffers fatigue, while complete failure indicates fatigue and the spell doesn’t work.
So here is the simple method for determining how spells work:
  • level-based DCs
  • partial failure occurs if one misses the DC but beats a lower target (DC-level, for example)
The AD&D 3.5 system gives a clear way of setting out levels, so it should be easy to judge the level of any spell. This system only becomes challenging if one does away with spells and makes all magic skill-based (my ultimate goal), because then the DM has to make judgements about the level of an effect on the fly.
We’ll cross that bridge when we’ve burnt it…

The last 4 sessions of Compromise and Conceit have been conducted using the basics of the system I have been developing, with the main properties of this system being:

  •  All actions are skill-based, with no difference between saving throws, skill checks, magic use and combat
  • All results are determined by a difference between the result of the roll and the target of the roll, and the maximum effect an action can have represents its power
  • hit points and available spells are determined by skills rather than by dice rolls
  • all actions are resolved using 2d10
The 4 sessions to date have given a chance to assess this system in practice, and I think it works. There are a few small flaws, but the main good points appear to be:
  • It is fast: we can run the introduction to the adventure, setting out, travel, a single large combat and a brief denouement in 3-3.5 hours, which I think is good
  • It is simple: there is only ever one die roll to determine the success of any action, and the mechanics of resolution being always the same means that I can assess the outcome of actions quite rapidly
  • The two properties of skill-based magic and wounds affecting combat/magic mean that the system does capture a feeling of desperation as people tire or get wounded, and magic is a powerful and frightening phenomenon
So far we have had 4 battles: 1 teaser with a witch and some zombies, one small conflict (inside a larger battle) with a couple of experienced soldiers and their minions; one ambush by a wizard/assassin and her minions; and one big pitched battle. All have been resolved rapidly, and although the first and third weren’t very challenging, the fourth was a very close call with the characters only being saved at the end by their Iroquois allies. That last battle was between the 5 characters (all 4th level) and 15 soldiers (1st level) and three leaders (all about 3rd level). The characters used some magic items, quite a bit of their more basic magic, and their stealth skills, and came out of it heavily fatigued and badly wounded. 
The main faults I have found so far are:
  • The difficulty classes for spells are a bit arbitrary and need to be tightened up. I think an absolute judgement on level and a level-based difficulty assignment may be a good idea
  • I am working with a system of DCs for spells in which failing to meet the DC on a skill check means that the spell still works but the character takes a fatigue. This makes magic perhaps a little too powerful. I am considering setting a lower DC for partial failure (which could also apply to other skills) equal to the DC minus the character’s level. So for example, if the DC is 15, partial failure occurs for a 4th level character on rolls of 11-15. This will make magic viable but will make people think twice about using their most difficult spells frequently.
All in all, if I can tighten up the magic system I think this system  will work well!

This week at the Pub where I role-play I will start a series of sessions testing my ideas for changing the AD&D rule system. Starting depends on whether there will be players – everyone else seems to be intent on drifting off to some Call of Cthulhu madness – but I currently have at least 2 players guaranteed, and hope for 4.

The first adventure will not use the full details of my reconfiguring scheme. Magic will use some spells I pulled out of my arse, or spells based on conversions of existing spells in the Players Handbook. Everything else will  run on the skill and combat system I have (partially) laid out here.

There will be 0-3 adventures, depending on interest. They will be set in the world of Compromise and Conceit, just before the outbreak of the French and Indian War in America in 1753. The characters will be entrusted with the responsibility of delivering instructions regarding the treatment of Iroquois natives to a chain of forts from Albany to lake Ontario. Things will, of course, go wrong. The characters available at the start are:

  • Anna Labrousse, an enchantress from the Regency school of magic, from a somewhat down-at-heel background (daughter of an industrialist), but able to enter the Regency school through cunning application of her enchanting talents. Being somewhat disapproved of in her School, she has had to resort to adventuring to better her lot in life
  • Lord Merton of Epsom-St. Hilliers, a shiftless and irresponsible junior Earl, who possibly has syphilis or TB, discharged dishonourably from the Trajectors (a division of military engineers and wizards), and wandering the world looking for trouble in the company of his batman and Infernal Engineer. Lord Merton is armed with “the Earl of Epsom’s blurters”, a pair of rather well-enhanced pistols, and has a few other semi-magical tricks on the side. He is not of redoubtable constitution, however…
  • Russell Ganymede, Lord Merton’s batman and the Infernal Engineer of his old division of Trajectors, also discharged dishonourably alongside Merton. Infernal Engineers summon Infernal essence to enhance the power of cannon and small arms, and usually also use heavy-weaponry. Ganymede has some powers of demon-conjuring and infernal enhancement, and is also a melee combatant
  • Father David Cantrus, a Jesuit priest and sometime friend of Labrousse, who has been struck with wanderlust and a certain disregard for his old order. Or so he says…
  • Umit Dilmen, a Whirling Dervish, a type of Turkish mystic, who has come to America to try his hand at the Great Game and been introduced to the group through the General who commands the fort at Albany.
In AD&D terms, the PCs are respectively a Wizard, Rogue, Fighter, Priest and Druid/Wizard. In this adventure,  however, all have some magic skills and the Rogue particularly has a more limited set of Rogueish skills (he is probably more of an assassin). The first adventure is going to revolve heavily around combat, stealth and then some quick thinking, so the Enchantress may be a bit out of place.
But first people have to turn up…