Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Ruling the House pt. II

As mentioned in the earlier post here, I intend to use some house rules in our new game of D&D/Pathfinder. The ones I already mentioned I will try out are:

1. Keep player HP secret. Just what it says.

2. Flip Saves into Defenses (Attack:[DC-10]+d20, Defense: Save Bonus+12). [note: much the same effect could be accomplished by having the GM roll player Saves in secret, but I think this is cooler]

These don't change anything mechanically and are purely a matter of taste and are about changing the tone of the game a little bit. There are a few others I want to lay down. Some I'm already using, and have been using for a while, others are new-ish.

3. No grid. We used grid combat in our Dungeonia games, but as far as I remember most our D&D combats in high school had been run without a grid (but not necessarily map-less). I'm totally cool with this and although I have never explicitly asked players about it, I suspect they're cool with it, too. It's not radical.

4. Simple Monster Stats. Not really a "rule" but I think it's worth putting it down. I've been doing my own variants of this for a while, but looking at old school D&D material from the 0D&D/AD&D days has really opened my eyes. Most statblocks for old-school monsters consist of: a HD number (sometimes accompanied by average HP), AC, Attack, Damage and possible Special Ability. That's all you need really, in most instances.

5. Homebrew Monsters. Even if it's a humble goblin, don't expect it do have the numbers listed in the MM. Bring back the wonder. Same goes for items and everything else really. I am confident in my belief that D&D is best run with the rules as a toolkit or a framework. The game should be made your own: screw the books, invoke rule 0, rulings not rules. This is quite the opposite of a lot of indie games, where you're supposed to do things RAW, because they work on completely different premises. Crossover brain damage.

6. Push hard on Critical Failures and Critical Hits. One of the things that has bothered me about D&D (and similar games) for a long time is that they have no real rules for failure, which results in a high degree of what is known as the whiff factor. The fighter swings his sword, misses and whiffff... nothing happens. I'm not going to change that, because it is, in a way, integral to the game. I am going to grade it a bit however, by separating the roll in four degrees:
*Critical Hit: Yes, and... The character succeeds and something extra happens. In combat, by the rules, this means extra damage, I intend to switch this extra damage for conditions instead, wherever possible. Hammer critical-banged on your helmet? Consider yourself Deafened for a round.
*Normal Hit: Yes...the usual.
*Normal Failure: No...this is the boring bit, but I guess it deserves to stay, however...
*Critical Failure: No, and...You fail and something bad happens. for that 5% of the rolls, I think it's appropriate to spice things up a bit. Not only do you fail, but something bad happens. We've been doing this on-off in games for a while, but I intend to stick with it and apply it with rigour.

7. Monster Morale (and other countdowns). I think monster morale is a really neat bit about old D&D that got totally overlooked in newer editions. These days, mechanically, it's all kill or be killed. I want to bring back that older sensibility and combine it with the track from WHFRP3. This isn't so much a rule as a GM trick. The track is a neat way of showing how a conflict is progressing or evolving, giving the players something to fight for (other than the death of their adversaries) and it can be used for a lot of other things.

8. Encourage Combat Maneuvers. Again, not a rule but a principle. Frankly, there really is no reason why not use the new CMB/CMD stats from Pathfinder to their fullest. Ideally, the fighter shouldn't be saying "I attack" every turn anymore, he can bull rush, trip, grapple, sunder overrun and disarm with far greater ease now, why not take advantage of it?

P.S.: (To be honest if I were to take this the full distance, I would throw out normal attacks all-together, go back to the Old D&D without multiple attacks and handle all combat as maneuvers, using CMD to determine how hard it is to hit someone and re-delegate Armour (hard skin, scales, plates and all) to damage reduction. But I'll refrain from doing that.)

The last one is a biggie and might or might not get a pass at the table. I'll dedicate a little more space to it.

9. Ditch Initiative. I've always been bugged about how initiative was based on Dexterity: having a good hand-eye coordination does not make you more willing to act. I guess in some D&D-perception of how Dexterity is also Agility it represents Speed of Action, but that really doesn't groove with me or the rest of stuff that happens in combat. For example, how is being Dextrous help a Cleric have his prayers answered faster?
Again, I turn to Old D&D for a bit of inspiration, with a side helping of some contemporary systems. In OD&D, you picked your action, and those actions happened at a certain point during a round, based on which action you picked. I've always liked this kind of distinction between actions, and I like its tactical aspect more than the new mode of initiative. The reasoning that Magic simply occurs before Hand-to-Hand Combat (as it was in the Rules Cyclopedia) somehow appeals to me more.

Ok, so no Initiative, but we still need to figure out who goes when, right? So, we could use the simple old D&D way: each side rolls 2d6, winning side goes first, resolves actions in order and then the other side goes. But I'm not really happy with that either, so here's what I would like to see (I admit that I might be simply forcing something into D&D that doesn't belong in D&D)...
First of all, I really like how in Dogs in the Vineyard and IAWA, your "attack" is also your initiative. High roll goes first. I also really like the concept of Aggro and I think that Initiative, by its very definition, comes much closer to Aggro than "speed of action". By definition the person who has the initiative is the guy who's most willing to act, the most aggressive, who steps on up and makes the move, he forces everyone else to react to him, he shapes the action. Combining those two gets me this:

New Initiative Rules
1. GM chooses an action for each of his monsters and rolls for it. (note: this is step 1 only because he has the benefit of the screen, if the characters were to decide first, the GM would have an advantage, and choosing simultaneously would be problematic, unless you introduce scripting, which I'm not comfortable with). He keeps these secret for now.
2. Players choose their actions and roll for them.
3. Actions are announced by the GM and resolved in order of highest roll to lowest. Characters can either decide to carry out their declared action or react, at an appropriate penalty.

This ensures that characters act faster based on their ability (a skilled swordsman will attack quicker and more decisively than an unskilled one) and models aggro better (the guy that has the higher initiative will force others to respond more actively).

The general actions you can take:
-Attack: roll normally, your roll is also your initiative. This includes charging as described in the rules.
-Move: roll +Dex+[move/6].
-Cast Spell: roll +caster level+casting ability (like a concentration check).
-Other: skill and ability checks roll as normal.
(-Do X and Y: roll the lower of the modifiers, -2 for each additional action)
(-Shout out orders: roll +Cha, use result to manipulate initiative or morale of party members)

Some assumptions:
-The Improved initiative feat still gives you +4 to your roll, but only for purposes of initiative.
-There are still free actions.
-An attacking character in meelee can, after all rolls have been declared, choose to Press his attack (+2 attack, -4 AC) or Parry (+2 AC, -4 attack) and readjust his "initiative position".
-Attacks of opportunity are still triggered descriptively, just as before.
-This pretty much does away with the Standard/Move/Full...etc. action division. It covers most eventualities but I supposed it really needs to be tried out in play to find any/all loopholes that might emerge.

Now, as I said earlier, I might be forcing this and it might not fit and people might not like it. But it's how I'd prefer initiative in a "perfect" game. If Pathfinder cannot accommodate that, fine, I can live with the old system.

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