Saturday, 31 August 2013

Beauty is in the Die of the Beholder

If your looks are holding you back,
Get some armour and a small
European country and you'll soon
be beating them off with a stick.
Or a death ray, as the case may be.
D&D had charisma as an "ability" from the start and from that start, the lack of appearance was noted by players, DMs, and adventure writers alike. The idea that charisma subsumed appearance never worked for a moment with anyone I knew and it's still a pretty laughable idea; just talk to a good-looking 18-year-old sometime and test it out.

So, when it was added in UA it should have been good news, surely? All those succubi could be stated out sensibly without giving them huge loyalty bonuses; and handsome rangers could set hearts aflutter across the boarder lands while good-looking rogues could wile their way into the confidences of women without being automatically regarded well by everyone around them.

Yeah, well. You know; didn't work out that way. I think like many others I rejected some aspects out of hand but a recent discussion on DF made me wonder if it was worth surveying it again with a more detached view compared to the exciting days of holding a new AD&D hardback in my hands.

Firstly, there was the name. "Comeliness" is not a neutral word, nor is it an elegant one for the concept. "Appearance" is much better and has the virtue of not abbreviating to something that starts with "Co". Just a plain stupid choice, which I suspect was driven by pride - Gygax simply couldn't admit that so many rival games which had used "Appearance" for years had been right.

Second problem, and the main thing I want to post about: comeliness grants a special power of fascination for the higher scores. Which sounds oookayish, except that "high" starts at 14 in a game which suggested that all player characters should have two scores of 15 or more. So, 14 isn't that impressive sounding to the players.

Heroes are just different.
(click to enlarge and read 2nd paragraph)
But player characters are special. For the bulk of the population, 15 is the highest score they can have and that's only as common as 18 is when rolling 3d6. Combined with a 15 charisma, for a +1 bonus, the best a normal person can hope for is a comeliness of 16. At the other end of the scale, the lowest score possible is 5 - "simply ugly".

In the context of the rules, the 1-in-46656 village heart-breaker is only able to use the fascination power on people with a wisdom score of 8 or less, which sounds fine, really, and probably more of a nuisance than a boon.

But PCs are not normal people and they can have the full range of comeliness from -2 to 21 (-5 to 23 with inter-racial modifiers) and the effects of the fascination are greater as the numbers climb, and not just in proportion.

A character with comeliness of 17 can still only fascinate creatures with wisdom of 8 and under, but with a score of 18 that jumps to 12 for the opposite sex (and starts to work on the same sex, albeit at a lower strength).

The next step up is at a score of 22, which is just about reachable for elves dealing with humans although it would be so incredibly rare as to be insignificant if scores were being generated randomly. While the wisdom score affected remains at ⅔ of comeliness (14 or under at this level), a new power has appeared which means that if such an attractive being actively attempts to seduce a character then they must have a wisdom of 18+ to resist being fascinated.

Fools in love
Strictly speaking, the maximum score is 25 like any other ability, available to a CHA-19+ with a base 18 comeliness and a couple of points inter-racial bonus. The rules however give details for scores up to 30 presumably in the expectation of them being used for an updated Deities and Demigods or something similar. I'm going to ignore this category for now.

In parallel with the fascination power, the new rules say that reaction rolls are modified. Firstly, it seems that ugly characters (scores under 10) simply get a negative reaction. Does this mean no roll is made? Who knows?

For mildly attractive characters in the 14-17 range, the reaction roll is still made and increased by the comeliness score; at 18-21 this is increased to 1½ times the score and at 22 and up the modification is a whopping 2x the score. So that's at least +44%! To put that into context, that on its own is enough to leave just a 1% chance of a reaction below "neutral" and an 88% chance of a positive reaction.

"On its own". Well, is it? Because such a character almost certainly has a high charisma too, which also has a reaction bonus. Combining them simply breaks the system.

On top of that, there's the question of when do the comeliness effects actually apply? Plainly, not while in full plate armour with the visor down. What about when wearing a veil or mask? This is where comeliness gets tricky, because it's in actual play when players want to use or manipulate their comeliness that questions like this come up.

"And where do you keep
your spellbooks, Merlin?"
"Oh, come on! That's got to
be worth +4 at least!"
Leaving that aside for a moment, there is some interesting material in the explanation of the fascinate power. The first one being the saving throw against being manipulated - roll 3d6 and try to exceed the comeliness score in question. Bonuses are given for being asked to do things against one's nature (with +3 or +4 suggested for alignment-changing requests).

Any successful save against the fascination power breaks it permanently. I think this is something that's often overlooked when judging the effect of this power in the game. Until scores get really high, it is reasonably possible to break free quite quickly.

There's also a note about how shape-changing magic works and in particular a mention of polymorphing only allowing a modification of 2 from the figure's original score due to "subtle social clues", which offers a possible solution to the question of hidden faces.

Finally, the whole shebang is modified when dealing across races - and in the special case of drow, across sexes too. Essentially, all the demi-humans and humans are divided into classes and given a modifier for when dealing with others. There are some groupings within these classes whereby two races see each other without modifiers. For example, all races see the grey elves and high elves as having +2 to their comeliness but they do not get the bonus when dealing with each other.

There's an odd note about humans and halflings being paired this way, but since both have a zero modifier it makes no difference anyway.

Drow females get +1 to comeliness from other races, including drow males; drow females view drow males as having a -1 penalty. Which is quirky and quite good, or at least as close to good as anything about the done-to-death clich├ęd tedium that the drow represent ever gets.

Complicating this further is a note in UA for comeliness of 7-9 which implies that the modifier due to charisma is not received when dealing with other races. Perhaps this is another of those cases where subtle social clues leave the viewer none the wiser about what makes a particular dwarf or elf more beautiful or, as I believe, it's just a mistake in the text. I suspect the idea was to point out that dwarves have a maximum charisma of 16 to non-dwarves and do not get a bonus for higher charisma in those cases.

Evil is as Evil Seems
Did I say "finally"?  I lied. Most of the above is about high comeliness and there is a quirk of low comeliness which reflects some mediaeval views on the subject of beauty (which were themselves rather muddled). Ugly evil creatures are, apparently, seen as beautiful by evil characters so that a negative score in such circumstances is treated as positive.

"You can't book me for 'being funny looking'!"
This effect is mentioned only in relation to scores below -8, so it's not entirely clear whether these scores are the only ones to which it applies. Nor is it clear if anything is meant to be inferred about evil characters and positive scores. And on top of that, harsh rejection by a high comeliness character results in their score being treated as negative by the spurned would-be lover. What if both are evil? Does that mean there's no effect? I doubt it but it's another sloppy bit of thinking in a section of rules that has similar issues, I think.
Since this range of scores is impossible to generate, the questions it raises are only in relation to specifically placed encounters so I guess it's up to the DM, and the same is true of the ultra-high scores. I suppose that it makes some sort of sense in a fantasy world to have evil characters view, for example, both  Juiblex and a succubus as equally attractive.
Interestingly, comeliness is defined in the rules as being something that effects creatures of a human sort, not something only they posses, so the DM is free to apply it to anything that takes his/her fancy as being horrific or beautiful, even if not actually humanoid.
There's a subtext here that evil acts perhaps should reduce comeliness, but that perhaps would not go down well with players. Still, it's an interesting "Dorian Grey" notion that might be worth playing with.

"Okay, that's 700sqft of rug
and one Egyptian queen.
Cheque okay?"
That's the rules as written, pretty well. The problem for me is not actually the power of fascination in itself. Stories are full of examples of great characters (usually men, it has to be said) led astray by beauty and the rule reflects that but is, in my opinion slightly too hard to snap out of at higher scores (technically impossible at scores of 24+).

No, for me the problem is the blanket applicability of of the power. Beauty is not quite subjective in the sense that any particular person is as likely to be classed as ugly as they are to be judged good-looking by each other person. The standards for beauty vary over time, but there are standards and certain people clearly float more boats than others. But who floats every boat? Even Helen only managed 1000.

If I were writing a computer game, I would effectively roll 3d6 and add the charisma modifier each time characters met and record the resulting score for future reference, effectively recording how attractive character A is to character B separately from how attractive they are to character C etc. That's not possible in a pen and paper game, clearly.

What I normally do now is to record the PC's comeliness scores (with charisma mods) and keep them secret from the players. I then pick key figures that they come into contact and check only them for the fascinate effect. Players are free to think of their characters looking god or average or whatever and I'm free to track when it matters whether the rest of the world agrees or not.

I also give the targets of fascination a bonus equal to their own level and a save the first time the power is exerted, whether in  a way which is harmful or unnatural to the character in question or not.

Beyond that, I just use it as a loose guideline. But, having looked over it all again for this post I think I might go back to a more BtB system and see how it works out.

Here's my suggestions for using comeliness:
  • Comeliness trumps charisma for reaction rolls where the character's face and/or body shape is visible. Ugly characters get initial negative responses no matter what their charisma score.
  • If only the face is hidden (by a mask or similar) then inter-racial modifiers are based on expectation or are ignored if there is no expectation.
  • Also, if the face is hidden then comeliness is modified by 2 points towards 11 (so 6 becomes 8; 18 becomes 16).
  • Modifications for dubious requests should be cumulative - so if Mistertique asks the Snow Queen for two unreasonable (or just plain annoying) requests at +2 each, she will get +6 on her save for a third such abuse.
  • Age-related changes in wisdom are matched by equal and opposite changes in comeliness.
  • No effect on the opposite sex, in the general case.
  • Only inflict the fascination power on PCs if the situation is trivial and funny or serious and key to an interesting plot line. Don't bother with every damn shop keeper.
  • Only inflict PCs' fascination power on NPCs if the player specifically tries to use it, if it would be trivial and funny, or it is serious and key to an interesting plot line.
  • Call it "appearance" and abbreviate it to "A".

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Fatigue and the Nymph

'Nuff said!
AD&D doesn't have obvious fatigue rules. Which is to say that it has fatigue rules but they're almost unknown as such. The rule in question is under forced movement on page 49 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. The system is fairly simple and has its obligatory "that's just wrong" and "I'm not sure what that means" passages too, for that genuine 1e experience.

The system is this: one can move the normal allowance (whether the DMG's odd-ball hold-over system from OD&D, or the PHB's nicely abstracted system) without penalty.

After that, things get a bit weird and the word "hours" appears in the rules where I think it probably shouldn't and certainly doesn't make sense with the worked example in the text. So, this is my reconstruction of the rule:
  1. For a forced march of 10-30% over normal movement, there is a multiplier of 1.
  2. For a forced march of 40-60%, the multiplier is 2.
  3. For a forced march of 70% or more the multiplier is 3.
The amount of forced march (10-100%) is multiplied by the given value and that is the amount of travel time that is lost on the next day due to resting.

So, a character on horseback (24") has a normal movement allowance of 48 miles in the PHB system. Travelling 55 miles in a day counts as 20% forced march and therefore 20% of the following day is lost to rest, taking that day's base movement down to 38 miles.

If the same horse rider moves 90miles in a day, which is 90% over, then 3x90%=270% of a days travel is lost. In other words, the horse must rest for two days and on the third day will only manage 30% of normal movement, or about 15 miles.

All this resting can be ignored and characters can push themselves, and/or their mounts onward beyond 200% of normal movement. At which point each 10% (or part thereof) extra movement carries a 10% chance, cumulative, of killing "beasts of burden" and reduces the hit dice or level of creatures by 1 until they too drop dead.

The loss of hit dice/levels lasts until the character has rested for 8 hours per 10% movement over 200%.

For an example: a 9th level dwarven fighter with 6" movement can travel (using the simpler PHB system) 12 miles in a day. But there is a battle to get to, and so she marches on doing 20 miles instead (70% over normal). She should rest for more than two days, but can not due to the fact that there's a battle on. Forced to fight, she is only able to contribute as a 2nd level fighter.

That's the whole system and some obvious points are left to the DM. For example:
  1. Can characters rest for some time and recover some levels? I would say yes, so if the dwarven lady was able to rest for a day she would get 4 levels back (at 8hrs per level).
  2. What counts as a "beast of burden"? I take it to mean normal animals such as horses and mules while, for example, a paladin's warhorse would count as a creature with hit dice. I think that it also covers 0-level characters.
  3. How does the loss of hit dice/levels interact with hp? Personally, I would tend towards counting each lost level as loss of hit points at random where applicable. Thus, a 12th level fighter losing 2 levels to fatigue would lose only 6hp but our dwarven lady would lose 7d10hp (I would specifically not add CON modifiers to this) and a thief would suffer damage using d6.
  4. How does lack of rest interact with spell memorization? Actually, I think this is fairly easy to guess; see below.
  5. What's the effect of fatigue on the rider of a horse or other animal? I've no idea on this one but I'm going to try ½ for now and see.
Well, quite
Who Cares?
I'm generally against systematizing any more than is needed - been there, researched the rules for making t-shirts - but fatigue is something that is a common plot device or concern in fiction, and the ability of characters to press on beyond normal limits is something that marks them out as heroes.

Let's get down to generics
Well, this is all nice and good for forced marches; can we use it more generally? I think so. The overall system can be abstracted to:
  1. There is a limit to what normal people can do in some base time period.
  2. There are increments over this which anyone can force themselves to perform which incur what I'm going to call "fatigue points".
  3. Once 10 points have accumulated, beasts of burden have a % chance of dying equal to 10 x fatigue each time a new fatigue point beyond 10 is incurred (so 10% at the 11th point, 20% at 12 etc.).
  4. For each point over 10, characters subtract their one from their level (and, I think, suffer hp damage as appropriate).
  5. Each fatigue point up to 10 requires a number of base time periods times 1, 2, or 3 depending on the maximum total number of points a character has reached since they were last at 0.
  6. Recovery time for points over 10 is 8 hours per point.
  7. Spell memorization is impossible while fatigue points are above zero.
  8. Heal removes all fatigue points.
  9. Cure spells and potions remove one point per d8 of curing done.
  10. Natural healing does not start until fp=0.
For example, characters are normally required to rest a turn in every hour. We could say that pressing on without such a rest counts as one fatigue step per period skipped. For 1-3 such steps the characters have to rest for one hour per fatigue step, for 4-6, two hours, and for 7-10 three hours per step.

So, a party exploring a dungeon is in a hurry and take no breaks for 10 hours. At this point they have 10 fatigue points and each of these will require 3 hours to remove. But at this point they find the lair of a group of drow and enter combat. Rest is also normally required after a combat but the DM rolls a wandering owlbear attracted by the noise and the party are unable to take that rest and so incur another fatigue point, taking them to 11. Each character who fights the owlbear loses one level worth of hit points and performs at one level below normal.

Blocking up the door of an empty room to rest up, the party finally takes a break. The members who did not fight the owlbear will require 30 hours of rest to get back to 0 fatigue, the ones who did will require an additional 8hrs.

Various spells and magic items may modify these effects is more or less obvious ways.

You mentioned "Nymphs". Where are the nymphs?

Monster Name: Ice Nymph

Frequency: Rare
No. Appearing: 1
Armour Class: 6 (10+4 for dex)
Move: 12" (see below)
Hit Dice: 3
% in lair: 10%
Treasure Type: 1-4 Jewels 50%, X
No. Of Attacks: 0
Special Attacks: Fascinate, Stunning
Special Defenses: Immune to cold
Magic Resistance: 50% (12)
Intelligence: High
Alignment: CN(E)
Size: M
Psionics: None
Level/xp: V/330+4/hp

The ice nymph is a nature spirit of water which has been frozen for a long time (i.e, many years). Their normally warm and beneficent nature has become cold and brittle like the water they were born from and they are generally much more hostile than their MM counterparts.

Additionally, their appearance is different and although lively, and lithe, their flesh has taken on the appearance almost of a corpse with blue lips and pale grey/blue skin. Eyes and hair remain as animated and beautiful as ever, however, and it is unlikely that they could be mistaken for undead at any distance under 30' or so.

They share their sister's ability to use dimension door once per day and can also move over ice or snow as if it were dry, firm soil, leaving not even a foot print.

Their druidic spells are normally: 1st) Faerie fire, Invisibility to animals, Predict weather, Speak with animals; 2nd) Cause light wounds, Chill metal; 3rd) Hold animal, Protection from fire; 4th) Quench fire.

While cold-based attacks have no effect on ice nymphs, fire-based ones do an extra hit point per dice of damage.

The change in their appearance has modified the effect of their beauty. Firstly, looking at one causes only a fascination effect whereby those viewing the nymph must save versus spells (with wisdom bonus/penalty, and an additional +4 for females) or be drawn to pursue the nymph for an embrace.

The nymph may give orders to fascinated males by promising various things but each such promise delayed or broken allows another saving throw with a modifier of +1 for each broken promise. Orders which directly harm the victim or their friends or which normally would be against their alignment will additionally allow a saving throw before the order is carried out. Females can not be so manipulated but are otherwise affected by the nymph's aura.

Should the nymph feel particularly threatened, she may disrobe completely. Doing so has the effect of power word stun on all males within 12" on first laying eyes on her. Females are affected but receive a saving throw.

Ice nymphs are generally haughty and arrogant, even those which are not evil, and are loathe to stoop to disrobing and will only do it very reluctantly and usually to take the opportunity to flee. Naturally, they can not be tracked while in their natural environment.

If someone actually manages to get a hold of an ice nymph, their naked touch will cause 1hp of damage per round to both a warm-blooded holder and to the nymph; increasing at the DM's discretion if the contact is extensive. If the grabber is cold-blooded then double damage is only incurred by them and none to the nymph. Undead may handle the nymph without injury to either.

Ice nymphs are only encountered on ice or snowfields and are usually alone. However, 60% (1-12 on d20) of nymphs have 1d4 frost giants as fascinated bodyguards back in her lair (were their treasure will be added to hers), 15% (13-15) have 2d8 wolves who will be nearby, 10% (16-17) have 1-2 polar bears who can be ridden or harnessed to a sledge for transport, and 5% (18) can summon an ice para-elemental (MMII p98) once per week.

A (rare) friendly encounter with an ice nymph may take the form of a distant voice calling out through a storm to guide a lost party to safety. No matter what the weather, an ice nymph's voice always carries as if it were the dead of the stillest night.

A neutral encounter with an ice nymph will usually involve similar use of their voices to play tricks on a party, the severity of which will depend on the exact reaction roll but will not directly kill them.

A typical hostile encounter with an ice nymph will take place when a lone male is out in deep snow which hampers his movement. If there is more than one man the nymph will probably sow discontent. The victim will then be tempted to follow through the snow, either until they collapse from fatigue or encounter the nymph's companions.

Movement through deep snow is very hard work and movement rates should be reduced to ⅓ of normal, to a minimum of 1". Each half hour of such movement counts as one fatigue point as above (with half an hour as the base time period).

In addition, characters who are dressed inappropriately (and removing bulky and warm clothing will be one of the nymph's first suggestions) will suffer additional penalties: firstly, actually taking rest will not help reduce fatigue unless they can find warmth somehow, and secondly, they will receive an additional fatigue point for each one which would normally be incurred.

Don't click here if you're not Australian!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


A horror game should have these possible objectives which the PCs can reasonably attain:
  1. Self sacrifice.
  2. Staving off the end until the next session (including fleeing to "safety").
Attempting anything else should result in death.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Tiamat: A Broken Monster

Babe Calls the Shot
The Monster Manual was published some time before the other two books in the original core set and represents a three-quarter's way house from the original Dungeons and Dragons booklets and their four supplements and the AD&D of the Dungeon Masters Guide. Because of this, there are ideas which are either partly formed and never used in the later books, or which are hold overs from the original books but which were destined to be dropped.

One example of the latter is the hit location system and a related example of the former is the ability to "call shots" as the kids call it.

Supplement II, Blackmoor, introduced the hit location concept into D&D and did it in a way which can only be described as insane. I've never met anyone who tried to use it as written, and there's a reason for that.

Without going into the painful details, the basic idea was that hit points resided in various parts of the body and when that body part was reduced to zero then it was lost. If the lost part was vital, then the creature was thus killed outright regardless of their "overall" hit points. For humanoids, the head was assigned 15% of the creature's total hit points. Fifteen percent!

So, your 3rd level thief with 8hp had 1hp in their head and a storm giant with 45 hit points had just 7hp in their head. I'm not sure exactly why the problem was not immediately obvious to everyone at TSR but the words "area effect" spring immediately to mind. If a fireball does more than 7hp to our storm giant, he's dead. To call this unworkable amounts to flattery.

So, the system was a stinker and useless and I think played a major role in convincing Gygax that hit points could never be interpreted as literal physical damage without turning the game into a detailed tactical combat simulator. Nonetheless, this system is reflected in the MM in several monsters, the chief of which are the hydra and the Queen of Evil Dragons, Tiamat.

BtB Hydra is too easy
The hydra is a pretty simple case and can be solved simply: each head represents one full hit die of 8hp and the monster dies when all the hit points are gone, just like any other monster. What happens on the way is up to the DM but I like to have one head "die" for each 8hp damage done. For the hydra, this is just dandy.

For Tiamat, however, this doesn't work. Firstly, each head has, we are told, 16hp and the body 48hp. We could assign physical attacks to heads or body randomly, but that doesn't solve the issue of area effects like fireballs or cone of cold and so forth, which would seem to reduce her effective hit points to just 48, which is not a good number for the ruler of a plane of Hell.

In effect, all monsters exist to be killed by some party somewhere, but Tiamat as written is weaker than many normal dragons.

Here's my suggested fix for this broken monster, along with a couple of suggestions for dragons generally:

  1. Change hit points from 128 to 130.
  2. Make each head represent 26hp.
  3. Every 26hp done by any method results in the loss of one head at random.
  4. Notice that she has a poisoned sting in her tail which is not clearly mentioned in the MM text, although it is referred to on the special attack list (an allusion to the purple worm as a type of dragon/wyrm).
  5. Dragons save at a fighter or magic user level equal to hit points divided by 4 (use best for each category); either use this for Tiamat or rule that as a minor deity she has a save in all categories of 2 (I'd personally use the former on the Prime Material, and the latter in Hell).
  6. For dragons generally, the saving throw level should also be the effective magic user level (so an average adult silver dragon's spells are cast at level 13th level for purposes of duration etc.)
  7. For Tiamat, each head should cast at its own level based on its equivalent huge ancient dragon, so: 14th for the white head's 1st level spells, 16th for the black head, 18th for the green head, 20th for the blue head and 22nd for the red head.
  8. As an arch-dutchess of Hell, she is only affected by magical weapons while on her home plane (I'd personally make it +2 or better to hit).
As Tiamat is a more or less deity figure, I've no problem with allowing her to use any spell list even though I normally restrict dragons to magic user or illusionist lists (although not both), so here's a suggested list by level:
  1. Command (C), Protection from Good (C). If using the D&DG deity power list, replace command with resist cold (a real disappointment for users of ice storm with its "none" saving throw).
  2. Hold Person (C), Sleep (M).
  3. Protection from Normal Missiles (M), Slow (M).
  4. Minor Globe of Invulnerability (M), Improved Invisibility (I)
  5. Projected Image (I), Slay Living (C)
The combination of improved invisibility and projected image is a ferocious one.

Tiamat is still weak for her hit point total using these suggestions, normal 130hp monster suffer no loss of attack ability as they lose hit points, but I think she's much more viable and interesting. The only question is where a DM can place her.

Level XI Wandering Monster Roll
A typical adult red dragon is a tactical nuke to a normal country, BtB, and Tiamat comes with five of those in her lair. The only really sensible encounter with Tiamat is via a gateway to Hell itself, unless one is playing an apocalyptic campaign of some sort. If she's established on the PMP, there will certainly be a substantial clergy, evil knights, and probably even popular support. Such is the charisma of the dragon and its effect on humans.