Reflective Revision: General Rules, Adventuring, Vision and Light, Time and Movement, NPCs, and Expe
As before, I'm using this as an opportunity to discuss some of my design intentions and considerations as I work through proofreading the rulebook of my retroclone. Obligatory link to the main file.
Today, I'll be finishing up the character creation chapters and continuing on to several of the overarching rule systems. Due to the length, though, I'll split them into 2 posts along those lines. Check my previous post for the first part.
The presentation in the source rules is all over the place, jumping from topic to topic with little reason. This is something that WotC did a better job of presenting in 5th edition (despite my many complaints about the awful organization in those books). I tried to take an approach of starting broad and getting increasingly specific with each subsequent chapter, ultimately leading into the combat rules.
Thus, it made sense to start out with rules that affect all facets of play, the most of which being that there aren't rules for everything, so the GM will have to come up with ways of handling stuff in play. This is something that should be obvious, and yet, I've seen it trip people up all the time that this 300-page book they've got must surely have a rule for <situation X>. Honestly, I try to avoid referring to the book during play, because making sure that I'm applying what some douche wrote as a rule (even when that douche is me) is less important to me than doing something to allow the people who I'm with to keep playing. I try to know and use all of the rules, of course, and I'm fine with checking the details for a spell's mechanics or a creature's special properties before just making something up for them, but in general, a close-enough ruling applied immediately is better than a proper rule applied after a 2 minute break. Thus, speed of rulings is my first guideline for them, and reserving disputes for discussion outside of the play session is my last guideline for them (because the first and last items of a list always stand out the most).
The rest of the actual rules presented in chapter 7 are a hodge-podge of things that come up often enough that I wanted a clear line on how to handle them. Here are a few notable highlights.
I made sure to address the case of advantage/disadvantage interacting with skill training since the two mechanics have some superficial overlap, but they are distinct in terms of what they represent. Advantage/disadvantage is about being in a situation where circumstances dictate that your luck is weighed heavily towards success/failure. Skill training is about a character having invested in some training and/or experience which allows them to perform reliably within a certain scope. Therefore, advantage+training makes success overwhelmingly likely in all but the most difficult of applications (4d10, drop the highest two), whereas past training and present circumstances butt heads and mostly negate each other in the case of disadvantage+training (4d10, drop the highest and lowest).
Working together is an area where a lot of the RPGs I've seen are either silent or half-assed. The best I've come across was Beyond the Wall, which uses the weakest link plus helpers. That's great for a situation where everyone must succeed for the task as a whole to be successful, but it falls short when everyone is working collaboratively towards a goal where only a single success is needed, which is why I added that (and since that seems to be the more common situation in my experience, I described it first). Using those weird 2d6 checks required an extra provision, of course, though that really only matters for Strength (in which case I'm fine with a situation where, sure, PC2 can help PC1, but their contribution is so weak that there's no actual difference in your chance of lifting the portcullis; the example provided comes out to 3 people needing to work together to have any chance of forcing open a barred door, which sounds reasonable enough [and perhaps begs the question of why they don't just break down the door]).
Suffocation has always seemed like a tricky thing to include in a way that's meaningful without making it as easy way of bypassing hit points. I put in a rule that allows most characters to survive for 1-4 minutes without breathing. I feel like that lines up well enough with reality to be acceptable, and using 1-minute rounds (which I'll talk about later in this post) keeps that as a meaningful risk.
The first part of chapter 8 (Adventuring) is just me laying out my definitions for certain terms. It's really only meaningful in campaigns with dual-classed characters (where they forfeit experience for the rest of an ADVENTURE if they use their old class during the learning phase, rather than the original rules of forfeiting experience for an ENCOUNTER; this was a purposeful choice because dual-classing is very powerful if exploited well). That said, I do think it's useful for getting me into the right mindset for designing adventures, so even if it has little objective worth, I feel it has high subjective value. As for the examples of play, I liked the approach in Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess to present a few different examples, because the little quickies in Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC show so little that I'm left wondering why they're even in there (OSRIC in particular is a system that I don't think someone can really run without already knowing how to run it; I'm not saying OSRIC is bad, just that the book doesn't try to help someone learn how to use it). At the same time, I didn't want to run on for 40 pages like the example from Lamentations of the Flame Princess does. There's certainly more that I could've covered, but I feel like the examples I chose touched on a nice variety rules, and my new players have brought up references to it during play as a springboard for their own ideas, so I feel like it accomplished at least some of what I wrote it for.
Infravision/darkvision seems to be a mess in every version of an RPG that tries to justify why it works like it does, and yet it also seems to be rare for anyone to consider interaction between different types of vision. This actually came up in my last session for my online 5th edition group, where it was unclear whether darkvision was a constant supplement to normal vision or a different mode of sight entirely. I went with the latter, since races with darkvision wouldn't understand colors otherwise, and that seems nonsensical. Admittedly, it might also just be because I really like the movie Predator, but I digress. The rule that switching between modes of vision is so simple that it almost writes itself, but as has been the case in other spots, I included it to have a clear statement that could help avoid points of contention that I've had to deal with multiple times.
Effectiveness of light sources goes fire > lantern > torch > candle. This seems entirely reasonable.
Ah, time in RPGs (I'm not going to reference the infamous all-caps statement from the first edition DMG). I went with 1-minute rounds and 10-minute turns for a few reasons. First, that's a more intuitive way of breaking them up than anything using 6-second rounds. Second, the slow round makes it more palletable for me to include swift actions (which I'd called negligible time actions previously as an overwrought placeholder to reminder myself to come up with a better term) or to avoid penalties for switching weapons, using items, or otherwise monkeying around with stuff the character is carrying which is readily at hand (drawing a stowed weapon or getting a potion out of a sack that's in a backpack that's loaded with tons of other crap is not "readily at hand"). Third, I like how it matches up with armor dressing/removal times so that those activities can actually be part of combat (whether dressing during a nighttime ambush or doffing armor to flee from the Ooze Bride of Chaos). Fourth, matching with the source rules on that front saves me some hassle in avoiding having to do time conversions for spell casting times and durations. Lastly, moving 120 feet while paying attention to your surroundings, noting room dimensions, etc. fits better in my mind as a 1-minute activity than as either a 6/10-second one (if I'd kept it as per round) or a 10-minute one (if I'd converted it to per turn).
That segues nicely into talking about movement. The short of it is that I tried to make it so that movement speed only really matters when you're doing something other than interacting with the environment. In combat, it matters (whether for maneuvering, engaging, or fleeing), and thus 60 feet/round (or 120 feet/round if you're just hustling around) is the baseline, and there's a rules-extension to handle running (6x speed, maintainable for 10+CON mod minutes without checks). When you're just moving from room to room in a dungeon, you'll tend to do stuff that falls under "moderately time-consuming activity of indeterminate length", so as long as the room aren't more than 500-1000 feet apart, the actual round-by-round movement can be glossed over.
When it comes to long distance movement, I like the rule-of-thumb that a human can travel about 25 miles per day by foot. There wasn't really a clean way of getting that from 60 feet movement speed that I could think of, though, so I settled for 1 mph per 20 feet, or 24 miles per day. As an aside, 1 mph is about 90 feet/minute, which lines up decently with the exploring movement speed of 120 feet/minute (yes, the character wouldn't be taking measurements and paying attention to their surroundings to the same degree, but they'll mix in some breaks to rest, eat, poop, and so forth, so getting in the same general ballpark sounds reasonable enough).
Jumping, swimming, and climbing didn't include anything particularly worth noting. I don't think any of them really need the detailed subsystems that 1st-3rd editions included. A 5-foot broad jump or 0.5-foot vertical jump is not a difficult task, so doubling that with a run-up as a baseline and including some adjustment for STR modifier is good enough. Swimming has a simple system for modeling fatigue through CON checks with cumulative penalties. Climbing just says "do STR and CON checks, let the GM figure out the details" because I think any attempt at standardized tabulation of modifiers I've seen for that is losing sight of the forest for the trees.
NPCs are a key part of the game, in my opinion. While PCs are highly-competent individuals, there's only so much they can do on there own, and there's a lot of sense in having someone who isn't weighed down by armor and weapons be responsible for hauling around treasure. Hirelings are also a great way for the GM to provide commentary beyond narration and cast the PCs' accomplishments in contrast to a regular person's perspective. Plus, PCs are usually going into dangerous places, so having a few extra swords (or a distracting side of delicious ass) along can do a lot to boost their chances of survival. It's a great loss to D&D that WotC has not kept hirelings and morale as core parts of the game.
Such lamentations aside, the old rules were pretty haphazard in how they used "hirelings", "helpers", "henchmen", "followers", and other such terms, so I felt it was important to lay out a clear definitions. Hirelings are the regular, run-of-the-mill people who characters can hire. Attendants are similar, save that they seek out the PCs. Followers are people who stick with the PC out of loyal. Allies are people who've joined forces in a temporary alliance. I feel like those terms all link to what they are describing in an intuitive way.
Job hunts are pretty boring from both sides of the table in real life, so I provided a way to handle them with a pair of quick die rolls to rouse interest and a third die roll to handle negotiation. Of course, in actual play, I'd give names and little personalities to each of the applicants, but I assume breathing life into the mechanics is something that GMs are capable of doing in all facets of the game. Sages and mercenaries warranted some extra attention since they interact more directly with adventuring than just being an extra set of hands to hold stuff. I don't think that I did anything particularly ground-breaking with them, but I tried to set down some standards that could be used as a framework to build on as needed.
Experience points are great. The Angry GM has a great post about them and why they're objectively better than milestone advancement. A bunch of OSR blogs have had posts talking about the impacts of setting XP awards for various activities, from typical ones like recovering treasure or killing monsters to more esoteric ones like fulfilling a wish (in the non-magical sense) or taking in a one-of-a-kind view. For the purposes of presenting a baseline system, I didn't try to anything special. The bulk of XP gain comes from treasure, with some trickle coming from overcoming encounters or achieving major goals. This is sufficient to reward PCs for going on adventures without undermining clever or non-violent approaches. That's the minimum that the XP structure should do, in my opinion. Adding further touches to promote certain approaches in a particular campaign is fine, but the minimum it needs to say is "this is what the game is about".
Training costs for leveling is yet another point that I debated with myself over. In the end, I thought it filled in a key niche from a narrative standpoint (that being providing a basis for justifying how getting XP can translate into getting better at things that weren't part of how you got that XP). Granted, the main complaint I'd heard about training costs in the past wasn't so much their existence as how exorbitantly high they were, and on that, I agree. I toned them down to a low enough point that I can't imagine a character having enough XP to advance without having enough money, but it's still enough that it can't be ignored completely, and not wanting to continue sinking money into training for the marginal improvements that come from most level gains also provides a reason for retiring from adventuring.
That's it for now. Next time, I'll try to finish off the core rules with treasure, encounters, and combat. The latter is probably where I have the most departures from the source rules, so it should provide some interesting topics for discussion.