Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Scoundrel, Part 2

So, today let's continue with working on the Scoundrel class… We've got two objections to address today:
  • Thieves make it so that other classes can't do what they do. Before Thieves came along, all the characters had to pull their weight doing thiefly things like disarming traps and picking locks and pockets.
  • Thieves can infringe on the proper role of fighting men.
Both of these objections have to do with our thiefly class usurping another class' role. The first objection is mostly about things that are stereotypical of thieves, like picking locks, and the second has to do with being so good at fighting that a fighting man gets serious competition.

The first objection is, honestly, the objection that makes me most open to leaving out a thief class in my games. I don't want any particular class to become absolutely necessary to a party, nor do I want the existence of one class to mean that other classes become more limited than they were. If I have to choose between using a thief class and preventing these things from happening, so long thief class!

I'm not convinced that I have to make this decision, though. Here's how I think my Scoundrel can address this objection:

The Scoundrel is going to be made up of numerous options that can be chosen by a player, a la Telecanter's Choose You Own Rogue, and some of them are going to be abilities and some are going to be skills.

I'll defend my use of skills in my next Scoundrel post, but for now let's just say that abilities are actions that are available to one class and not to others and that they are usually binary- you can either do them or you can't. Skills are actions that are available to every class (though some classes may have advantages in them) and they are scaled- you can increase your chances of success in one way or another.

So, with this dichotomy, which I'll argue exists among most, if not all, other classes, we can make sure that the Scoundrel doesn't impinge upon another class' roles by making sure that anything that I want another class to be able to do that I want the Scoundrel to be allowed to do is made a skill instead of an ability. Picking locks? A skill. Picking pockets? A skill.

On the other hand, actions that I want exclusive to the Scoundrel will be abilities. The ability for Scoundrels to use some arcane magic from scrolls, for example, would be an ability and would not be open to other classes.

This kind of intentionality also addresses our second objection for this post. Fighting can be seen as a skill in which Fighting Men get an advantage. Their ability to use two-handed weapons, the heaviest armor and the ability to whomp on under-1HD monsters are abilities, exclusive to their class. A Scoundrel class, then, needs to first of all leave these abilities and fighting advantage alone: Scoundrels can never fight as well as Fighting men, nor can they do things that only Fighting Men can do. To-hit bonuses won't advance as quickly as for Fighting Men.

There is one other option concerning Scoundrels and fighting, though. Scoundrels can be given abilities that pertain to fighting that Fighting Men don't have. This allows for Scoundrels to keep violence as one of the many tools they keep at their disposal as they solve problems with their wits. The classic thiefly ability in this area is backstabbing/sneak attacking, where thiefly character gets massive damage whenever they attack under certain circumstances. That's all well and good, I think, so long as we don't get ridiculous about it. For example, in 3.5, I believe that any flanking allowed this kind of damage multiplication, meaning that a Rogue of the same level as a fighter could easily do more damage than the fighter if they were on both sides of an enemy. That's lame and it doesn't make sense. I would suggest, instead, something like a Scoundrel doing double damage during a surprise round, then reverting back to normal damage. Not only does the Scoundrel only have a single round in which he could potentially out-fight a fighter, but he has to work for it, getting a surprise round, probably by sneaking… hence the whole "sneak attack" name for this in the first place. That both keeps the Scoundrel from usurping the place of the Fighting Man and it, you know, actually makes some sense.

That, I think, addresses these two objections as well as my cold-addled brain can at the moment. What do you think? Do you buy these fixes?

Next time, I'll address the idea of using a skill system.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gone for the Weekend…

I'm leaving early tomorrow morning for my friends' wedding on the other side of the continent, and shouldn't be back before Sunday. In the meantime, here's an interesting topic.In my game, flasks of oil used as Molotov cocktails are adjudicated this way:

Flasks of oil normally hold half a liter of oil. To hit, roll a d20. A 20 means double damage, 2-19 means normal damage, a 1 means that the thrower catches himself on fire for normal damage. The oil normally does 1d6 dmg per half-liter and does 1d4 dmg per half-liter every successive round if the victim doesn't actively try to put out the fire. 

I was entertaining the idea that this might have been too beneficial to the players, seeing as they've always been the ones lobbing the flaming oil flasks, but they recently seem to have abandoned the practice, so they must not seem to think it's so beneficial… I don't know.

Anyway, how do you run flaming oil flasks in your games? Is it too easy to use flaming oil flasks in my game? What about when the PCs start encountering tuckerized kobolds that use the flaming oil flasks and hit them on 2-20? Do you have any good stories that involve flaming oil or other hot or burning liquids?

The Scoundrel, Part 1

So, let's see if we can get back into figuring out this thief/rogue/trickster class, shall we? From delving into discussions about thieves from the past, and my last post about objections to thieves, I think I've got six objections to a thief class. Thanks to Talysman, Dan, J.D., 1d30, and Theodoric for commenting on that post and helping me figure things out some more.  If I'm going to consider myself successful in crafting a new thiefly class, I'm going to have to address these six objections:
  1. Thieves don't have an established archetype like the other classes do. All the characters, whatever their class, are thieves, or at least "rogues."
  2. Thieves make it so that other classes can't do what they do. Before Thieves came along, all the characters had to pull their weight doing thiefly things like disarming traps and picking locks and pockets.
  3. Thieves encourage skill systems and skill systems are (or at least can easily be) bad.
  4. Thieves are more likely to fail at their special skills than other character classes.
  5. Thieves can infringe on the proper role of fighting men.
  6. Thieves encourage conflict within the party by stealing from other PCs.
I'm going to address the first objection in this post.

I'm thinking of two ways to establish an archetype. The first is to point out a bunch of cool, iconic examples and see if they all roughly seem to "fit." Here goes:
  • Cugel the Clever
  • The Gray Mouser
  • Bilbo Baggins
  • Han Solo
  • Anansi the Spider
  • Coyote
  • Reynard the Fox
  • Puss-in-Boots
  • Tom Sawyer
My lack of familiarity with Appendix N material is showing here, so other examples, especially from Appendix N, would be appreciated in the comments. I do think that this short list is enough to establish some kind of unifying, underlying idea that establishes an archetype. I agree with multiple people, though, that the name for this archetype really shouldn't be "thief." Thief is too specific a term for what this archetype is. Yes, examples of this archetype steal, but that's certainly not all they do. I'm not really happy with some of the other names that have come up as alternatives: specialist, rogue, trickster… I can see why these are all good names, but they just aren't as… evocative as I want. So, taking a cue from Han Solo, I think I'll name my new class the "Scoundrel". It evokes ideas like being out for one's self, twisting the rules, using trickery, etc., that I want someone who plays a scoundrel to immediately understand.

Talysman gave me a great second way to think about classes and archetypes when he commented:
I express archetypes as "I solve problems by ____". You can theoretically be any profession, but still be recognizable as a Fighter (solve problems by fighting back) or a Magic-User (solve problems by using magic.) 
So, how do thieves solve problems? I'm inclined to say they solve problems by their wits. For example:

  • When Cugel wants a wizard's collection of magic items, he tricks him into breaking his sword right before he's set upon by multiple attackers avenging their friend's death. When the wizard is cut to pieces, Cugel nonchalantly picks up the wizard's bag with said magic items and walks away.
  • When Cugel wants a private room in the inn, but the one private room is occupied, Cugel lures the occupant to an out-building and locks him inside it, and then takes the room for himself.
  • When Han Solo is being chased by an Imperial fleet, he locks the Millennium Falcon to the hull of the flagship so that it can't be detected, then lets go when they dump their trash before jumping into hyperspace.
  • When the Millennium Falcon is being searched on the Death Star, Han hides everyone in the secret compartments he uses for smuggling.
  • When Puss-in-Boots wants a giant's castle for his master, he tricks the giant into turning himself into a mouse and then eats him, freeing the castle up for his master.
  • When Tom Sawyer doesn't want to whitewash a fence, he tricks other boys into paying him for the privilege of whitewashing the fence for him.
There is some stealing in these examples, but, even when there is, that isn't the whole story. Stealing is only a part of the character using his wits to get what he wants. This supports the idea that "thief" is too specific a term for this archetype or class, and supports the idea that this archetype can be seen as solving problems with their wits.

Now, does this mean that they don't solve problems with violence? By no means! But it's not their first resort and they tend to use violence in underhanded ways. When Han is held at gunpoint by Greedo, he tries to talk Greedo out of taking him to Jabba, Han shoots him from under the table (and first). When Puss wants to take the giant's castle, he tricks him into becoming a mouse before he attacks him. Cugel gets others to kill the wizard for him. Scoundrels aren't unwilling to use violence, but they know that they stand a good chance of getting hurt or killed whenever violence is used so they avoid it when they can and stack the deck in their favor when they can't. This will be important later when we talk about the relationship between Scoundrels and Fighting men. 

So, I think this pretty firmly establishes that, while all the character classes in DnD are, on some level, thieves and grave-robbers, not all of them are Scoundrels because Scoundrels rely first on their wits to solve problems, not violence or magic, though Scoundrels won't hesitate to include violence, magic and thievery into their solutions to problems.

Next time I'll try to address the problem of Scoundrels taking roles away from other PCs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gnomistavalan Paladin

There are currently 10 available character classes available in the Skype campaign that I'm running. That's way too many, but, at the same time, I want to make lots of cool options available to my players.

The solution? Begin retiring regular classes incrementally as I replace them with Glantri style prestige classes.

First to be replaced will be the Paladin. In the regular class' place will be the option to build a tailor-made Paladin for whatever god the PC worships.

Religion hasn't been playing much of a role in my Skype campaign so far, except for Flynn's PCs, who follow his Gnomish god, Gnomistavala. They started building a temple to Gnomistavala, and also tend to evangelize for Gnomistavala whenever they meet a new NPC they aren't interested in stabbing to death. I decided that this level of piety merited Flynn's surviving PC (the other one recently died in The Tower of the Stargazer) being made a Paladin by Gnomistavala and we cooked up this class, based heavily on the Paladins and Myrmidons of Robert Conley's Majestic Wilderlands.

First off, I swiped the Paladin's Fivefold Code from the Majestic Wilderlands, and Flynn tweaked one rule. I'm not going to lay out the Code here because the Majestic Wilderlands is copyrighted and I'm not up to date on what all the different ways something can be fair use are. The handy thing about the Fivefold Code is that it maps nicely to the five circles of a Glantri class. For each circle attained, there can be a test of one of the five precepts of the code.

EDIT: The Fivefold Code is licensed under the OGL, as Robert Conley generously pointed out to me below. This is the code as Flynn tweaked it:
  • Show no fear to your enemies even when all is lost.
  • Let truth guide your life even unto death.
  • Let the light of goodness and bravery guide you into Gnomistavala's love.
  • Pursue justice, no matter how high or lowly the wronged.
  • For what man is a man that does not make the world better?
Flynn tweaked the fourth item of the code to reflect that "while Gnomistavala is not in any way against protecting the innocent, Justice is his highest concern." End Edit.

For following the Fivefold Code, piety to Gnomistavala and sacrificing XP and gp, a Paladin of Gnomistavala gets these abilities:

Smite [First Circle]
A Paladin may add 1d6 per day per circle gained to the damage of a blow. Added damage dice may be added to a single blow or added to separate blows.

Heal [First Circle]
A Paladin may cure wounds three times a day. Each time the Paladin cures wounds, d4 hit points per level of circle achieved are healed.

Mount [Second Circle]
A Dire Badger that is sentient but does not speak will come to the Paladin. The Badger will communicate telepathically with the Paladin. If the Badger dies, the Paladin will mourn for the Badger for 1d6 weeks and then undertake a quest to find a new Badger.

Light [Second Circle]
The Paladin may shine as if the target of a Light spell. The Paladin may start and stop shining at will.

Immune to Disease [Third Circle]
The Paladin is immune to disease.

Immune to Charm [Third Circle]
The Paladin is immune to the spell Charm Person.

Cure [Fourth Circle]
Once a day, then twice a day once the Fifth Circle is reached, the Paladin may Cure a disease afflicting another character.

Spell Immunity [Fifth Circle]
A Paladin is immune to all spells cast upon him unless he chooses to allow the spell to take its effect. This applies only to spells that directly affect the Paladin, not spells that indirectly affect the Paladin, such as Fireball.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Coming up for Air

Well, finals week is about half-way done, which is nice, but I've got three finals left, so not a lot of time to be blogging. I need a short break, though, after rescheduling a final I missed, and this has been on my mind.

I recently bought Tales of the Dying Earth, a compilation of Jack Vance' four Dying Earth novels, and have been reading it in snatches between studying and flying around the country to see friends and family graduate. I don't have a lot of familiarity with Appendix N material- I've only read a handful of Howard, Lieber and Lovecraft stories- but I'm shocked by how good and enjoyable Vance is.

One thing, though: standard DnD spell names must go. This "Invisibility" nonsense? Yeah, that's "Phandaal's Mantle of Stealth" now. "Water Breathing?" No, it's "The Charm of Untiring Nourishment." So, yeah, after I'm done with my work on a Thief/Rogue/Trickster class, we'll have to see about working with spell lists.

Also, why have I never seen Phandaal's Gyrator on any spell lists before?! It's a levitation spell where the target can be levitated quite a ways by the caster, but can also be spun around and around by the caster at will… "faster and faster until there was only a blur. A strangled wail came and presently the Deodand's frame parted. The head shot like a bullet far down the glade; arms, legs, viscera flew in all directions." That's a spell that I want in my DnD, both because it's creative and novel and because it's the kind of spell that encourages creativity in players. And no, I won't be just flat out telling any players that get this spell that it can be used to kill people; I'll just sit back and watch them find their own uses for it. I seriously doubt they'll be as violent with it as Mazirian the Magician was, which is totally fine by me.

Which reminds me: Mazirian the Magician. Liane the Wayfarer. Chun the Unavoidable. Prince Kandive the Golden. Valderan the Just. So cool! Characters should have such titles. I'm conflicted about whether I should encourage players to give these kinds of titles to their characters during chargen or if they should be earned… thoughts?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Objections to Thieves

So, I've been pondering Thieves lately, and it seems like others have been too. It's been a while since there was a lot of talk about thieves in the OSR blogosphere, so I'm glad that it's coming up again. I like revisiting some of the same conversations over again because I think we get a chance to learn something new and develop existing ideas when we do.

I was just starting to lurk when they was a lot of discussion about them in the OSR, but discussion seemed to peter out when James released LotFP:WFRP and it included the Specialist class. Other bloggers that created "Old School" thief classes were James Maliszewski, Dyson and Telecanter.

I've been using a mash-up of Telecanter's Rogue and James' Specialist in my game, since Telecanter's Rogue doesn't include a system for adjudicating most of his skills, but it hasn't worked out as well as I would have liked. In retrospect, it was a good start, but it was pretty crudely hacked together, and it's time to try again.

So I've got a question for everyone. I've identified four Old School objections to thieves so far. They are:
  1. Thieves don't have an established archetype like the other classes do. All the characters, whatever their class, are thieves, or at least "rogues."
  2. Thieves make it so that other classes can't do what they do. Before Thieves came along, all the characters had to pull their weight doing thiefly things like disarming traps and picking locks and pockets.
  3. Thieves encourage skill systems and skill systems are (or at least can easily be) bad.
  4. Thieves are more likely to fail at their special skills than other character classes.
I'd like to be sure that my Thief class answers all, or at least most, of the OSR's objections so that it can be useful to others as well. Are there any other objections that I'm missing?

[And, yeah, go figure that I post something like this right after I announce a hiatus. I really will have limited time this next week or two, so I'll just be reading any conversation you all decide to contribute in the comments, and probably asking a few questions. I won't have any more posts about this until after the semester's coming to a close, most likely.]