Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Eldritch Cock's New Saving Throws

I've been thinking about Lamentations of the Flame Princess' new book, Eldritch Cock, ever since I picked it up on FreeRPGDay. The new spells in the book are pretty interesting, but the new playtest rules in the back inside cover are what I've been thinking about most. James Raggi has made a number of changes with the intent of increasing the influence of the ability scores in the game. One of the biggest changes is how saving throws are handled. IvanMike1968 just covered this very well on his YouTube channel (here), and it kind of prompted me to put my thoughts down.

To be perfectly frank, the new E.C. saves feel pretty foreign to me. I've only just started coming around to Swords & Wizardry's single saving throw mechanic after having used the standard five categories from old school Dungeons & Dragons for years. S&W creator, Matt Finch, gives special bonuses to certain classes for particular types of saves which gets it close to the original D&D rules. It's also extremely elegant which is part of the reason I've come around after my initial resistance. Now Eldritch Cock's new saving throw system comes around and has challenged my old school prejudices once more.

The new E.C. saves are based on a character's Charisma score for magic-related saves and their Wisdom score for non-magic-related saves. Instead of the traditional roll high on a d20 save against a target number based on the character's level and class, the new system is a dice pool mechanic where the relevant ability score determines how many d6s you throw. A roll of one 6 is a partial success, and two or more 6s are a full save. These saves don't improve with level progression, but last the lifespan of the character. The percent of at least partial success, however, is generally better with this new system.

Although I've never struggled too much with the idea of level progression impacting saves, it does make a lot of sense to keep it relatively static. The idea that a character gets better at ingesting poison without dying after going on a lot of adventures is a little absurd (although maybe you work up a tolerance, or learn to distinguish some telltale aftertaste/scent). At the same time, I'm still not a big fan of dice pools. I understand the utility of a bell curve, but there's just something about clattering all those dice on the table which doesn't thrill me.

So I came up with a d20 approximation of the new system that combines S&W's single saving throw, takes ability scores into account, and approximates the math of the new LotFP system so that characters have more of a shot of survival at 1st level without ever getting crazily invulnerable at high levels.

With this new hack, all saving throws would be made on a d20 with a roll of 1-10 indicating failure, a roll of 11-17 being a partial save, and a roll of 18-20 a full save. This universal saving throw wouldn't increase with level progression, but would (or could, based on GM ruling) be affected by your ability score modifier, from a -3 to a +3. When you break it down into the math it looks something like this:

Ability Score
Failure %
Partial Save
Partial %
Full Save
Full %
3 (-3)
4-5 (-2)
6-8 (-1)
9-12 (0)
13-15 (+1)
16-17 (+2)
18 (+3)

*Maybe a natural 20, plus a second partial save gives you a full save.

For comparison, here is the new saving throw rules for Lamentations featured in the back of Eldritch Cock. Again, a character's Charisma score determines the number of dice thrown for magical saves, and their Wisdom score determines the number of dice for non-magical saves. One roll of "6" is a partial save, and two or more "6s" are a full save.

Ability Score
Failed Save
Partial Save
Full Save

Now, right away, you can see that my d20 method and the EC save percentages are not exact, but they're close. The d20 saves are generally a little better, but not by much. The big difference is one is a flat distribution (d20) and the other is a bell curve (xd6) which leans towards the middle values. The outcome of this is that Partial Save category is dynamic with xd6 bell curve where it's static for the flat d20 roll.

Where my d20 version does make up the dynamic difference is in its use of multiple ability scores depending on the type of save, whereas LotFP's new system just uses Wisdom or Charisma. Having Constitution affect the save versus poison makes more sense than Wisdom. Having Dexterity affect versus Breath Weapon/Devices/Jump-out-of-the-way saves seems more appropriate. So on and so on. I get that by using only Wisdom and Charisma, Raggi makes them not dump stats, but I don't know if that justifies it for me. If I were to use the d20 global save system above I would keep the traditional, seven-bracket B/X ability score modifiers ranging from -3 to +3 to give it that dynamic swingy-ness.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure I'm sold on a global saving system for one big reason: how it affects adversary saves. Traditionally in OSR games, "monsters" save as a Fighter class would at the same hit dice level (or possibly M.U. if more appropriate). In a system that uses ability scores to modify a global save range, a couple of things happen.

First, not only do your low-level PCs have better saves, but all of your low-level adversaries/minions do too. It might make spellcasters possibly less effective against lower-level opponents. Next, you will either need to assume a standard 4d6 save for all NPCs and monsters, or start giving full stats for all your monsters. The first option works fine for your average bandit or evil human in LotFP, but doesn't feel right if you add in any otherworldly or eldritch horrors. The second option is where all the modern D&D systems have gone, creating huge stat blocks for monsters, something I have no interest in. While it wouldn't be too hard to ballpark a stat in the moment, I might bias myself for or against the players in the moment.

In the future, I'm toying with using a S&W style single save that improves with level and may be influenced by an ability mod at the GM's discretion. That leaves it open for a flexible rulings approach, helps low-level PCs save better against threats that test their strengths, allows for experience to influence your chances, and keeps running a monster fairly low-crunch.

I have heard some playtest reports on G+ that the new level-less spells found in Vaginas Are Magic and Eldritch Cock are way too powerful at lower levels, making the fighters feel useless. I wonder how many of them are using the new saving throw rules, where the average opponents has a decent chances at saving for half. The new LotFP Ref book should be out in 2019 so maybe we'll find out if these new save rules make the cut.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Over the Garden Wall as Inspiration for a Dolmenwood/Gardens of Ynn Campaign

I recently discovered Cartoon Network’s short animated series from a few years ago, Over the Garden Wall. It’s a charming world full of faerie mystery and autumnal melancholy. While watching it I was reminded of Necrotic Gnomes’ Dolmenwood setting and Emmy Allen’s Gardens of Ynn. Like those two game worlds there is a light whimsy with dark, folk tale undertones to this story of two brothers lost in a strange woodland named the Unknown with their talking bluebird guide, Beatrice.

Over the Garden Wall is a parable with Divine Comedy parallels, a bittersweet journey of self-discovery. It would be incredibly easy to tuck any of the characters and places into encounters in Dolmenwood or Ynn. I’d love to create a campaign using either of those supplements, and populate it with the harvest revelers of Pottsfield, the Woodman of the Dark Lantern, Adelaide – the Lady of the Pasture, the riverboat frog constables, the hysterical Auntie Whispers, and especially the Wraith-like, operatic Beast of the Woods.

I can’t be the first person to think of this. The series ran just one season, enough to cover the characters’ story arc of trying to find their way home. A series of graphic novels followed afterwards. There’s not enough of this gentle strangeness in D&D and I want more of it. Particularly now, since it's fall and Halloween is in the air. Everyone always thinks about dark horror-themed games this time of year, which is all well and good, but a little more Something Wicked This Way Comes is nice sometimes too.

If you haven't checked it out before it's worth a look. I think they are all still on Hulu as of this writing, and also on Dailymotion.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

GM Notes - Morgansfort Session 9

After spending the next several days resting and recuperating, the group leave the cave they have been hiding in and hit the road. The past few days noises and lights could be heard at night in the direction of the Old Island Fortress and the fort above, but the morning of their departure all is quiet. They have lived off the fruits of the sea as Nyphus was quite capably able to keep them all fed. This includes the sullen and taciturn, Br. Karnoff, the Green Mark acolyte and their captive. They let Karnoff know in no uncertain terms should he attempt to bolt for they will not hesitate to dispense with him. Their plan is to keep to the road until other travelers are heard, and then taking cover in the forest until the way is clear.

Very soon on the road they begin to see signposts with bounty notices looking for four travelers meeting their description. The group is wanted for the murder of one cultist, and the abduction of another. It is signed by the Bailiff Tomandy and Father Thelbain of Morgansfort. Conspicuously absent is Baronet Halden Rathwynn’s name. The group pull the notices and destroy them as they go. Mel cuts her into a choppy shag to hide her ears, Nyphus shaves his beard, Pater and Renic do what they can to look unobtrusive. Karnoff, however, still looks like a cultist.

Nyphus takes off his gear and pretends to beg for food and clothes at a nearby farm. The clothes are for the cultist, to disguise him as well. Nyphus is taken in by a farmer who asks her grown son to take him upstairs to get some of his older brothers’ old clothes. The son quietly complies while the woman fixes some bread and cheese for Nyphus, who hides a gold piece near a window to pay them for the debt. Nyphus gives the clothes to Karnoff for disguise.

A few nights later the group are camped in the woods off the eastern side of the road. During the middle of the night, while Renic is on watch, noises outside the group’s clearing are heard. Sounds of shuffling feet in the brush. More tellingly, a rank smell of fecal death permeates the camp. The group wake up and quickly arm themselves. Figures appear on the edge of the campfire’s light. They are human, naked and smeared with dried blood, dirt, and human waste. They are moaning and one of them is holding his prolapsed bowels below him in his hands. Renic leaves the light to circle around the intruders to find out where they came from. He tracks their trail back to a filthy hole of a cave where the smell of excrement and sickness is more pungent. Back at camp, Mel tries to communicate with them. The figures make motions to stay away from them, but make imploring motions. The group interpret the pantomime to indicate that they are asking for aid. The group gather some of their food and place it outside the circle. The emaciated diseased take the offering and shuffle off.

A few nights later the group is again awoken in the early morning by the emergence of dancing lights moving toward them in the forest. As they come closer they reveal themselves to be otherworldly Will-o-the-Wisps. They get the group to follow them further east, away from the road. Twenty minutes later the eerie lights lead them to a clearing, built like a natural amphitheater with a horseshoe-shaped marble temple at the bottom. Lifelike statues dot the courtyard. Pater scouts ahead and enters the temple building starting with the room on the right, which he finds to be an artist’s studio, smelling of turpentine and stretched canvas.

While Pater examines the left room the group finds a gallery of work in the room on the building’s right. Before entering the middle archway, or the crest of the horseshoe of the temple structure, a cloaked and hooded figure walks out. A female voice asks them who they are and what they are doing here. When she sees the Will o’ the Wisps she makes some snarky comment to them. The figure and Mel exchange introductions. The woman is Calista. She removes her hood to reveal a burlap mask covering her head, the top of which riles with movement. She explains she has lived in this shrine for a millennium, cursed by the elven goddess to remain here for her crimes. Once a rich and beautiful noble woman, Calista was transformed into a medusa for by the goddess after she burned a dryad wood. She came to the shrine and exacted vengeance on the elves there turning them to stone. The goddess imprisoned her in the shrine, doomed to recreate the lost beauty in art form. No one may leave the shrine without permission of the goddess below.

The party explain their mission of rooting out the cult of the Green Mark. The medusa tells the party the Wisps brought them for a reason and they will need to speak to the goddess. Small figures, wood golems the medusa has created through dead dryads. The child-like beings mutely lead the party into the shrine, through underground tunnels to a lower chamber where a door in the wall stands. The door opens and they are presented with avatar of the goddess. All by Mel are paralyzed with fear. The goddess communicates to Mel telepathically telling her she will let the party lead and even aid them in their quest by conferring gifts upon them.

For Mel, a Root Crown which gives her the ability to awaken one tree a day per level (achieve sentience, take on human characteristics, and uproot themselves to become mobile). For Nyphus, an Bridging Arrow (single use, creates a bridge over a chasm, river, etc. – fist-sized stone sphere tip). For Pater, a Lantern of Concealment (a steel construction adorned with moons and suns, that renders the bearer + 1 invisible as long as the lantern is lit) and one canister of expensive oil. For Renic, ­­a bundle (6) of Witchfinder’s Candles (detect magical enchantment, spells, conjured spirits, or creatures).

The group leave, taking the terrified cultist with them. They decided to hit the road early. A few days later, a wagon can be heard coming over the hill. The group hide in the roadside forest, waiting for them to pass. The wagon is being driven by two black-robed individuals and out front, two men in leather masks and harnesses clamber ahead on all fours. The group decides to let the strangers pass, but Karnoff runs out into the road, saying, “Brothers! Brothers! Help!” The maniacal leather berserkers rip him to shreds before the cultists on the wagon can stop them. Four more cultists pile out of the back of the wagon (six total) and inspect the corpse of Karnoff. The group launch a missile attack taking out a cultist and hitting the berserkers. The berserkers and five of the cultists are dispatched quickly. Renic is hit by friendly fire from Pater. They take one of the cultists hostage, a terrified, callow youth. They plan to make for nearby Slateholm (only a couple of days away) to catch a ship to Ravenstone, home of the Green Mark.

GM Notes - Morgansfort Session 14 - Death Frost Doom - Part 2 of 2

So, here stands the final chronicle of my two-year Basic Fantasy campaign. It ended a year ago and I'm just now getting around to fini...