Thursday, July 31, 2014

Intelligent Animals as Character Classes (Part II)

This post is a continuation from yesterday's post regarding my thoughts for intelligent animals as character classes (specifically for BX/LL editions).

I'm thinking that as many different animals need to be covered off in as little space as possible (given the sheer variety and species of animals available). That being said, I'm thinking that some kind of chart is called for... specifically something in the order of the one pictured below.

In the chart, the XP Chart Indications of A, B, and C are to coordinate with specially-designed XP charts, but I'm assuming most classes will fall into one of about a half-dozen charts. Please note that the chart shown below is a working concept only, and the numbers/notations are by no means meant to be final.

General thoughts?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Intelligent Animals as Character Classes

To this day, I truthfully believe, that if C.S. Lewis had been a bigger influence on D&D than Tolkien, my best friend from childhood would have had a much greater interest in playing the game. (Be advised, I'm not here to argue whether one influence is better than the other, and there is no doubt in my mind that D&D found its long-term/wide-audience appeal, specifically for the Tolkien influences.) Let me put that into some context...

So many folks out there in the blogosphere spend time deconstructing and expounding upon the 1e DMG's Appendix N, but we don't give the same weight to the the "Inspirational Source Material" found on page B62 of the 1981 Basic Rules. It is broken out into five sections: 1) "Fiction: Young Adult Fantasy," which includes Lloyd Alexander, L. Frank Baum, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and C.S. Lewis, 2) "Non-Fiction Young Adult," 3) "Fiction: Adult Fantasy," which includes most of the material from "Appendix N," including de Camp, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Vance, 4) "Short Story Collections" and "Non-Fiction." Even through the likes of Baum and Lewis have been noted, their influence is all-but-absent from the game we know (even the classic D&D version of it). So here's where I'm going with this...

Because I've been in such a "character class" mode lately, I was giving some though to intelligent creatures as player characters. Ultimately, the goal here is a systematic approach that lets GMs "version out" intelligent animals based on their campaign. Also, given the BX version of the "Appendix N" noted above (and the lack of similar references from the 1e DMG), I'm going to keep these within the BX/LL concept of race-as-class.

Almost any type of normal animal should be available as a PC class. The types of animals available to any given campaign should, however, be limited by the campaign (obviously). There's no reason that mice, or birds, or leopards, or even crocodiles shouldn't be available as PCs.

Classed intelligent animals will come in two basic forms: Option A) a standard version of an animal (i.e., no physical differences between it and its standard counterpart), but with the ability of human speech, and Option B) a slightly anthropomorphized version of the animal, also with the ability of human speech. The important word in that second option is "slightly." Anything more, and dogs might as well be gnolls, and lizards might as well be lizard men. Think puss-in-boots, or Reepicheep from Prince Caspian. The first type will not be capable of wielding any sort of weapon or shield, but armor options should be based on the type of animal (e.g., there is no reason a horse shouldn't be able to wear plate armor, if someone is there to put it on for him, of course). The second type will generally be capable of using weapons, shields, and other objects/tools (within reason), with armor type being limited by the size/strength of the creature (e.g., a mouse might be too encumbered by any type of armor, while a possum might still be capable of fighting in partial plate).

XP advancement for intelligent animals will be limited to a certain level. I'm seeing "Option A" types as having a much lower level limit than the "Option B" types. Maybe somewhere from 7th to 9th level vs. somewhere from 10th to 12th level, respectively.

"Option A" Special Abilities. I see them having the ability to speak with common species of their type (e.g., brown bears may speak with grizzlies, black bears, etc., while most great cats may converse with one another). They may not, however, speak any other languages other than their animal language and common (though I'm considered re-examining this). At a certain level (maybe as early as 3rd), some animal types may attempt to engage an assistant (most likely human) as a paid hireling/henchmen (I don't know about you guys, but sometimes I wonder who the master is... me or my dogs). These types of intelligent animals will also have the ability to summon like types from the area to assist them; this will be an increasing percentage chance of response with an increasing range per level (think Thieves' Abilities here). Some animal types will also have a special magic-like ability with an increasing chance of success per level (again, a la Thieves' Abilities) or as a magic-like ability that improves (range/duration) with each level (e.g., a leopard might have a paralyzing gaze attack vs. an individual, a black panther may have the ability to hide in shadows, a bear might have a fear attack, etc.). At high levels (for their type, anyway), they may establish a "kingdom"; this is really nothing more than an area of land over which the animal rules, but he or she will attract "subjects" who are loyal enough to fight for them should the need arise.

"Option B" Special Abilities. Unlike their "Option A" counterparts, I see "Option B" intelligent animals having to learn their species' language, just like learning any other language. Also unlike their counterparts, I see the "Option B" animals being able to learn other languages (humanoid, demi-human, or even monster languages). They will not have the summoning ability of their "Option A" counterparts, nor will they have the same magic-lie abilities. However, I do see certain types of animals being able to learn certain class abilities (e.g., maybe at a certain level, some have access to charm spells, or some may have Thieves' abilities which increase with each level). At high levels, they will be able to establish a traditional stronghold and attract followers of their same "class" (e.g., an "Option B" mouse will attract low level types of the same mouse class).
Click here for the followup post to this one.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Getting all "game theory" on your asses...

MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research
Authored by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek

I downloaded this doc (above) a while back, "re-discovered" it floating around my desktop this morning, and thought I'd share it with all of you. I think I may have originally found it on the internet while googling my name in relation to game design, as you'll notice one of the authors is a "Marc LeBlanc" (no relation to yours truly).

Here's the paper's abstract:
In this paper we present the MDA framework (standing for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics), developed and taught as part of the Game Design and Turning Worshop at the Game Developers Conference, San Jose 2001-2004.

MDA is a formal approach to understanding games – one which attempts to bridget the gap between game design and development, game criticism, and technical game research. We believe this methodology will clarify and strengthen the iterative processes of developers, scholars and researchers alike, making it easier for all parties to decompose, study and design a broad class of game designs and game artifacts.

"MDA" (Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics) is a game design framework used a tool in game analyzation. It breaks a game into three components (mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics... duh), and provides "precise definitions" for each, as a way of understanding how they relate to one another, as well as how they relate to the player experience. From wikipedia:
Mechanics are the base components of the game -
its rules, every basic action the player can take in the game,
the algorithms and data structures in the game engine etc.

Dynamics are the run-time behavior of the mechanics
acting on player input and "cooperating" with other mechanics.

Aesthetics are the emotional responses evoked in the player -
joy, frustration, fantasy, fellowship.

I could go on here and list a bunch of other stuff from Marc's website (including his classification of "eight kinds of 'fun'"), but I'll just send you his to web page instead. Dig through the stuff there, and feel free to comment below on what strikes your interest and feels particularly relevant to you and why. (I, myself, am overwhelmed with client work right now, so I have not had too much of a chance to dig, and will likely have little chance to respond right away, but don't let that stop you.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Working on making my BX/LL Character Record Sheets as complete as possible...

As part of the included items and stretch goals for the BX DM Screen I'm developing, I'm versioning my BX/LL character record sheet to each specific class, and including all the relevant information for each class on the actual record sheet. This is something that a lot of other editions have, but I don't know that I've ever seen for BX/LL. It includes checkboxes for +5%/+10% in the XP area (as well as a space to record hp needed to reach next level), notes on special abilities (e.g., infravision and distances, bonuses to check traps/doors, spaces to put target rolls for Cleric's turning, etc.), the type of HD to be used under the hit point box, notations on prime requisites and experience point bonuses, and other goodies throughout. There's a generic version of course (already available at the link at the beginning of this paragraph). Originally, I was going to leave space for spells; instead, I'm working on separate spell sheets for clerics and MUs/Elves that give space to list each spell's range, duration, area of effect, etc., in addition to provided the spells by level information for those classes.

The idea is that, between these character record sheets and the DM screen itself, you will rarely (if ever) have to reference the rule books during the game (assuming the monster stats have been provided ahead of time, which I try to do in EVERY adventure I write and produce for publication).

Pictured below: top-left) group shot (), top-right) CU of Thief character record sheet showing Thieves' abilities spaces, bottom-left) CU of Thief character record sheet showing "to hit" boxes w/ backstab note & hit point box with indication of die-type, bottom-right) CU of Halfling character record sheet showing item use restrictions.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Historical Dig into the Planes of Existence Pt. II

Today's post is a continuation of my work into developing a planar model as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL.

As an extension of yesterday's post digging into the history of planar concepts (as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL), today's chart is from the 1925 book A Treatise on Cosmic Fire by Alice A. Bailey. Like Mr. Leadbeater, Ms. Bailey was a theosophist/esoteric philosopher. Also like Mr. Leadbeater, Ms. Bailey suggests the lowest three planes are physical: 1) solids, 2) liquids, 3) gases; and that the next four planes are etheric. From there, Ms. Bailey's planes seem to coincide with Mr. Leadbeater's, with some Western additions to the Eastern naming...


More importantly, I like how this diagram (of the "Kosmic Physical" planes) from Ms. Bailey suggests that gates/portals connect some of these planes directly.

So, at this point, I'm still thinking that...

1) Access to other physical planes from the prime material plane (that is, to the positive material, negative material, elemental planes, etc.) will be through the ethereal plane.

2) Access to the astral plane will be through the ethereal plane. (See this post at Delta's D&D Hotspot, and the comment thread, for discussion of early editions, and whether the astral plane was accessed through the ethereal plane, or accessed directly, from the prime material plane.)

3) Access to the higher planes will be "up" through the "upper" ethereal plane to the "upper" astral plane.

4) Access to the lower planes will be "down" through the "lower" ethereal plane to the "lower" astral plane.

5) Moving to the outer edges of the physical plane accesses the "dreamlands"; moving "up" from the dreamlands access deep dreams, and moving "down" from the dreamlands accesses nightmares. (This is a concept I'm adapting from Steve Marsh's current model of the planes... but that's a whole 'nother post.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Historical Dig into the Planes of Existence

For some additional context on today's post, see this post (and its comment thread) at Delta's D&D Hotspot regarding the spell Contact Other Plane.

I was doing some digging around to older resources on concepts of the planes of existence (as an extension of the mystic class/psionics system I'm working on for BX/LL) and came across a couple of things. First, the writings of the Theosopher Charles W. Leadbeater who really launched the whole theosophy/metaphysics field around 1900. He (along with Annie Besant) is credited with systemizing the planes in his writings. Most of what has come afterward (entire 20th century and beyond) seems to be based (at least in part) on his writings. While his concepts are based on some older Hermetic thoughts (older Egyptian and Greek philosophies), he's the one who (at least in a modern context) suggests concepts like astral travel. This page (at left) from his 1903 book "Man Visible and Invisible" seems to lay out the concept that the astral plane is accessed by means of etheric double.

The Kybalion (by "The Three Initiates," 1912) seems to be the other "go to" theosophic book on the planes. The second chapter, ("The Principle of Correspondence") embodies the idea that there is always a correspondence between the laws of phenomena of the various "planes" of being and life (p.28). This text lists the "Plane of Ethereal Substance" as the 4th sub-plane of the 7 minor physical planes (essentially the same place that Leadbeater puts it). But the Kybalion's ethereal plane itself consists of 7 sub-planes... "This Ethereal Substance forms a connecting link between Matter (so-called) and Energy, and partakes of the nature of each. The Hermetic Teachings, however, instruct that this plane has seven sub-divisions (as have all of the Minor Planes), and that in fact there are seven ethers, instead of but one."

So where am I going with this?

Well, as I stated at the beginning of this post, I'm trying to lay out some ground rules (but, honestly, little more than that, for the sake of fearing being too restrictive and cumbersome) for a "planar travel" appendix to the mystic class/psionics ruleset I'm developing for BX/LL (which is coming along swimmingly, BTW, thanks to some great insight I graciously received from Steve Marsh... the nearly-uncredited genius behind a lot of the planar concepts of D&D1). I've been trying to decide what rules are "givens," and which things are better left to DMs to develop themselves. Based on the above, I think I'm going to stick with the basic concept that one must access the ethereal plane before accessing the astral, even though both the 1e PHB version of the diagram of the planes (and it's predecessor from Dragon Magazine #8, pictured below) suggest that the Astral plane (area 9, in light blue) can be accessed directly from the Prime Material plane (area 1, in purple). This physical-to-ethereal-to-astral model seems to support the "higher consciousness" aspect of the mystic class I'm developing. The ethereal plane will still access all the other material planes (e.g., the elemental planes, and things like the positive and negative material planes, should I keep those "as is"). It's the astral plane and beyond that I'm still contemplating.

But, then again, I might decide to abandon this structure altogether.

There are some other ideas I'm toying with, so I'm sure there will be more posts to come.

1 "When ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS was still in its earliest conceptual stage, Steve Marsh and I exchanged considerable correspondence pertaining to the planes." Gary Gygax, "The Sorcerer's Scroll," Dragon Magazine 38 (Vol. IV, No. 6), December 1979.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Today's new monster comes to us from the Celts by way of The Voyage of Máel Dúin.

Revolving Beast

The revolving beast is a doppleganger-like creature able to morph itself into many different creatures by adapting its loose skin, skeletal bones, and muscles into different shapes. Each transformation takes 1d4 rounds, with the beast revolving in place, accompanied by a massive clattering noise (as its bones crack and snap into place). Any creature standing within a 5' radius of revolving beast during this transformation is subject to 1d4 points of damage, if the revolving beast makes a successful “to hit” roll against that creature. The sound of the transformation is so loud and frightening, that any creature of animal intelligence must make a successful morale check or be frightened enough to run away at full speed.

The shape that may be taken on by a revolving beast is limited only by the revolving beast’s knowledge of existing creatures and its imagination, but the size taken on must remain in line with number of HD of the revolving beast as outlined below:

4HD approximately dwarf-sized
5HD approximately human-sized
6HD approximately ogre-sized

The revolving beast will gain the ability of altered forms of movement based on an assumed shape (e.g., flying, swimming, burrowing, or leaping), but does not gain additional abilities (e.g., water-breathing), and moves at its normal rate.

The number of attacks that a revolving beast may make during a single round (while in an assumed shape) is limited only its number of appendages (in that form), with each attack doing 1d4 points of damage (on a successful “to hit” roll). A revolving beast may not make any attacks during a transformation round, except as outlined above.

FREQUENCY: Very rare
MOVE: 12"
% IN LAIR: 75%
NO. OF ATTACKS: See below
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic neutral
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 120'
ATTACKS: See below
DAMAGE: 1-4 pts./attack
SAVE AS: Fighter:4-6

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Borrowing Champions' Damage Model for D&D?

NOTE: 3.5's Unearthed Arcana introduced a similar system to the one outlined below. I have never played 3.0/3.5/4.0, so was unfamiliar with UA's integration of this concept into D&D when conceptualizing and writing the post below, and only found it in retrospect as a result of research for this post. I also believe that the overall mechanics of later D&D editions are substantial enough that the system below would be more in line with OD&D than almost any other edition.

Sometime over the weekend, I had a thought about appropriating Champions' use of Stun/Body points for D&D. If you're not familiar with Champions', it uses a "stun" rating to track the kind of damage that might knock out a character (either through bashing, system overload, or just plain wearing them down), while a "body" rating tracks truly lethal damage. Stun is calculated by adding up all the pips on the damage/effect roll (Champions uses only d6s), and each result of a "6" does 1 body point of damage (in addition to any stun points.)

Here's where my D&D thinking is going right now...

A monster's (or character's) hit points are treated as their stun rating, and their hit dice are treated as their body rating; the stun rating would include hit points modifiers to their hit dice (e.g., the "+2" in "3+2" would be included), but the "body" rating would ignore it (e.g., a 3+2 creature would only have 3 body points). Character hp/HD would work the same.

– a small weapon (e.g., a dagger, an arrow, etc.) would do 1d6
– a medium weapon (mace, sword, axe, etc.) would do 2d6
– a 2-handed/pole weapon (halberd, 2-handed sword, etc.) would do 3d6

Reducing a monster/creature/character to 0 hp (or lower) is simply knocking them unconscious. But reducing their HD to 0 or below would kill them. The number of rounds a creature remains knocked out/unconscious is 1 round per hit point below 0 (e.g., -3 hit points would mean the creature remains unconscious for 3 rounds). Kill shots are automatic for anyone attacking a knocked out creature (basically the same as if they were put to sleep).

In this context, a 5th level MU and a 5th level fighter would take the same number of body points to kill them (after all, they are both rather experienced by this point), but the MU would be knocked out much sooner than the fighter (assuming, of course, an median number of hp rolled on variable HD).

Now, imagine an encounter where a party of first level characters is locked a battle with a bunch of 1HD creatures (e.g., skeletons). The MU is out of spells for the day, so he pulls out his dagger; he's got a decent chance of knocking the skeleton down/out for a bit, but only a 1-in-6 chance of killing it on any successful strike. By comparison, the fighter pulls out his halberd; each time that fighter lands a successful hit on one of those skeletons, he's got a 3x greater chance of killing it.

Healing would have to be re-figured overall. For example, a healing spell would now need to restore a limited number of body points (rather than stun/hit points). And since hit points restore more quickly, healing would be more directly related to body points.

I don't see reduced HD ("body") points affecting attacks. E.g., a 5HD creature would not attack/save as a 4HD creature if reduced from 5 to 4 body points. Experience/ability doesn't go away as these body points are lost.


Friday, July 11, 2014

d30 Feature of the Week:
d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters

I'm trying to better about doing my promised d30 download every Friday. It keeps me creating new ones. The title says it all on this one... "d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters." Hopefully it will add a little flavor to your berserker encounters. On a side note, right before I got ready to upload this, I noticed that the line which should have been "sacred runes" actually said "scared runes." I like the idea of that... "scared runes." It is, however, fixed on this chart to say "sacred."

Click here to download a free PDF of this
d30 Berserker (Barbarian) Encounters page from MediaFire.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

BX/LL: Optional Rules for Killing Vampires

I've been reading some interviews with Steve Marsh who did the bulk of the writing on the Expert Rulebook (amazing how we remember/credit the editors of such projects rather than the folks who do the bulk of the writing, no offense meant to Mr. Cook). Anyway, what Steve suggested is that particularly strong vampires (12HD+?) shouldn't be so easy to kill. The 1e MM gives some details regarding sunlight damage by round, and a note that staking a vampire only kills a vampire as long as the stake remains in the vampire (remove the stake, the vampire returns to life), so you have to remove its head and fill it with holy wafers. Obviously, this is very AD&D (BX would NEVER mention anything like holy wafers).

What follows (below the quotes from Steve Marsh) are my interpretations for optional rules on dealing with vampires in BX/LL D&D (though I suppose it could also be used for all the other early editions as well, without much issue).

From an ongoing Dragonsfoot Forum Discussion
with Steve Marsh, circa 2005/2006:

"I wanted vampires to require different steps to kill them, basically each step reducing the number of hit dice they had: so stake a vampire, reduce it by 12 hit dice. If it is 12 or less, staking it reduces it to dust. More than 12, then you need to add a step, such as cutting off its head, or stuffing the head with garlic, or burning the whole thing and burying the ashes at a cross roads). -Sat Jun 24, 2006 1:48 am

"I also wanted to do a step reduction for Vampires. Stake them - 10hd. Cut off the head -6 hd. Stuff head with garlic -4 hd. Bury at cross roads, double hit dice reduction. That way, to kill a vampire really dead (so it would stay dead) would require various parts of the classic treatment depending on how powerful it was." -Mon Apr 11, 2005 5:43 pm

Optional Rules for Killing Vampires (Long Version)

For all of the following methods, a vampire that has lost HD (i.e., "levels") may only regenerate 1HD per day, and my only regenerate a total number of hit points that does not exceed his relative total per his current HD. Reducing a vampire to 0 (or fewer) HD and 0 (or fewer) hp permanently turns the vampire to dust.

Sunlight: If exposed to direct sunlight while conscious and if his movement is not restricted (e.g., the vampire may not be tied down), the vampire must save vs. death ray for each round of exposure or lose 1HD and a relative number of hp (e.g., a vampire with 10HD and 80hp will lose 1HD and 8hp). If exposed to direct sunlight while unconscious, or while movement is restricted, the vampire automatically takes loses 1HD and a relative number of hp (no saving throw).

Wooden Stake: A wooden stake in a vampire's heart immediately reduces the vampire by 10HD and a relative number of hit points. If the stake is removed before the vampire has been reduced to 0hp, the vampire will regenerate HD and hp as prescribed above.

Silvered Weapon: A silvered blade in a vampire's heart reduces a vampire by 1HD and a relative number of hit points for each round it remains lodged there. If the silvered blade is removed before the vampire has been reduced to 0hp, the vampire will regenerate HD and hp as prescribed above. A silvered blade may not be lodged into a vampires heart if the vampire is already staked. Likewise, a wooden stake may not be lodged into a vampires heart if a silvered blade has already been lodged there.

Fire: Damage to a vampire by fire deals hp damage only, and does not reduce the vampire's HD.

Removing a Vampire's Head: Cutting off the head of a vampire reduces it by 6HD and relative number of hp. If the vampire's head is returned to it's proper place atop the body before the vampire is reduced to 0hp, it will re-attach itself in 24 hours. Stuffing the head with garlic lowers the vampire by an additional 1HD, and prevents the head from being able to re-attach itself (unless the garlic is removed first).

Burying the Vampire at a Crossroads: If the vampire is buried face down at a crossroads, any HD loss and hp damage is automatically doubled, once the dirt over the coffin has been packed down and the site is blessed by a cleric.

Optional Rules for Killing Vampires (Short Version)

Sunlight: Exposure to direct sunlight reduces a vampire by 1HD for each round of exposure (no saving throw).

Wooden Stake: A wooden stake in a vampire's heart immediately reduces the vampire by 10HD.

Silvered Weapon: A silvered blade in a vampire's heart reduces the vampire by 1HD for each round it remains lodged there.

Fire: Vampires take normal damage from fire.

Removing a Vampire's Head: Cutting off the head of a vampire reduces it by 6HD. Stuffing the head with garlic lowers the vampire by an additional 1HD.

Burying the Vampire at a Crossroads: Burying a vampire at a crossroads immediately doubles any HD and hp loss.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Half-Elf Genetics?

Does this look right?

I really have no idea what I'm doing here, but I know what I'm trying to do.

The underlying assumption is that the mother's genes will always take dominance.
Mother EE HH EH HE
EE=Full-blooded Elf
HH=Full-blooded Human
EH=Half-Elf with Dominant Elven Gene (from mother)
HE=Half-Elf with Dominant Human Gene (from mother)
Eh=3/4-Elf+1/4-Human (Dominant Elven Gene)
Ee=3/4-Elf+1/4-Human (Recessive Human Gene)
eH=1/4-Elf+3/4-Human (Recessive Human Gene)
He=1/4-Elf+3/4-Human (Dominant Human Gene)
Hh=1/4-Elf+3/4-Human (Recessive Elven Gene)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

New Oe/1e/BX Monster: Stinking Pile

Today's new monster is one of those that's not terribly dangerous. Just a little... gross.

Stinking Pile

A stinking pile is an amorphous blob of a creature that reeks of an odor remarkably like that of fecal matter. In fact, it is so close in appearance and smell, there is a 90% chance it will be mistaken as such if the stinking pile is stationary. Its only attack is a particularly heinous expulsion of “breath” that may be used once every three turns. The smell of the breath affects all creatures within a 10' range of the stinking pile with overwhelming nausea for 1d4 turns (on a failed saving throw vs. breath weapon), causing affected creatures to strike with a -1 “to hit” penalty for the duration. Stinking piles have a tendency to pick up loose coins and gems at they move slowly through their dungeon environs. Should a stinking pile be disturbed in an effort to retrieve such items, it will automatically release its breath attack, if it is able.

MOVE: 3"
% IN LAIR: Nil
Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

MOVE: 30'
ATTACKS: 1 “breath”
DAMAGE: Nausea
SAVE AS: Normal man

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Beastmaster
(and Thoughts on it as a BX/LL Character Class)

I cannot tell you how many times back in freshman year of high school I watched Marc Singer in The Beastmaster during its incessant run on HBO. So much so, that when the show V ran on NBC in 1984-85, I half expected the Mike Donovan character to walk into the room and introduce himself as "Dar of the Emurites." Similarly, when the Tanya Roberts showed up in the movie View to a Kill (about the same time as V hit the airwaves), I don't think I could get her topless swimming scene from The Beastmaster out of my mind. But I digress. (Can you blame me?)

I've seen some good arguments about the general character classes in classic (particularly BX) D&D being very complete in that they fill all the holes that characters should fill. For example, why introduce a gnome class when dwarves cover off on their "construction-related" abilities, and magic-users cover off on their magical abilities, and thieves cover off on their... well... "thieving" abilities. Gnomes do have the ability to talk to animals, but that alone is (IMHO) not alone worth enough to introduce the class into the mix.

In that same vein, a shaman or druid could be considered overkill as well. There really is a lot of overlap between them and other classes. For example, the black and white shamans I created for The Valley of the Five Fires, while completely suitable (and arguably necessary) to the setting, do offer a lot of crossover between clerics, magic-users, and even thieves; in fact, they were meant to fill out a party heavy on fighters and light on the other classes (a party-mix which is very appropriate to the setting).

So where do these questions of necessities and crossovers put the beastmaster as a character class? First off, "No shit, 'They're a fighter,'" and in the underground world of dungeons and tombs they would be little more than that. In the wilderness, however, they start to take on a much more enhanced role, bordering on that of the druid and the ranger. But that doesn't make any of them more than a fighter or a cleric or a fighter (respectively).

For a beastmaster to be a character option, the setting has to be right. In the classic sense of the movie, the role is much more barbaric. In the Andre Norton sense of the word, it's much more ranger-like. In both cases, however, they're still just substitutes for the fighter. I question the validity of either beastmaster archetype in the dungeon. That's where you really want that paladin-type fighter (as a negotiator and undead slayer).

That doesn't mean I don't want it anyway.

There have been a few takes on the Beastmaster as a character class. One of the earliest (if not THE earliest) is the beastmaster from Bard Games's The Compleat Adventurer from 1983. It's a pretty thoughtful examination of the class, including the ability to call and befriend animals (similar to the cleric's turning table). The others I have seen since then seem to be re-interpretations of that archetype and skillset. I'm not really suggesting anything below that's terribly unique or innovative in regards to a beastmaster class. What I'm really attempting to do here is refine it for BX play (as I haven't seen one that I'm 100% happy with).

So without further ado...


Beastmasters are primal men and women with a special connection to animals, being able to communicate with them, influence them, and possibly control them.

The prime requisites for beastmasters are Strength and Charisma. A beastmaster who has an Strength Score greater than 12 will earn a +5% bonus on earned experience. A beastmaster with an Strength score of 13 or greater AND a Charisma score of 15 or greater will gain a +10% bonus on earned experience.

Beastmasters use the same attack and saving tables as fighters.

RESTRICTIONS: Beastmasters determine their hit points with eight-sided dice (d8). They are restricted to wearing nothing more protective than leather armor (or furs with an equivalent AC), and may not carry a shield. They may use any weapon. A beastmaster must have a minimum score of 9 in charisma.

Level Title Exp. Points Hit Dice
1 Handler 0 1d8
2 Breaker 2,100 2d8
3 Herdsman 4,200 3d8
4 Keeper 8,500 4d8
5 Ostler 17,000 5d8
6 Wrangler 35,000 6d8
7 Tamer 70,000 7d8
8 Trainer 140,000 8d8
9 Beastmaster 270,000 9d8
10 10th Level Beastmaster 400,000 9d8+2*
11 11th Level Beastmaster 530,000 9d8+4*
12 12th Level Beastmaster 660,000 9d8+6*
13 13th Level Beastmaster 790,000 9d8+8*
14 14th Level Beastmaster 920,000 9d8+10*

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Beastmasters favor missile weapons, and gain a +1 "to hit" bonus (in addition to Dexterity bonuses) when using one. They are only surprised on a 1 in the wilderness. Furthermore, beastmasters possess the following abilities: awareness (the knack for seeing tracks, concealed animals, and so forth, as well as hearing noise in the out of doors), detect snares & pits, move silently, hide in shadows, climb (trees & rocks), track/stalk, and hold animals (by calming/mesmerizing them).

Awareness: The ability to notice tracks, signs, and creatures that are hiding or covered, as well as listening for noise (which must be done in relative silence). The chances for success on the chart represent the beastmaster's ability to perform these feats in the outdoors, but may do so indoors with a -15% modifier.

Detect Snares & Pits: Allows the beastmaster to detect traps (e.g., missile traps) and pits to a distance of 10' in the direction the beastmaster is searching.

Move Silently: Like the thief ability of the same name, all attempts should appear to succeed to the player (with the GM reacting accordingly if the attempt actually fails).

Hide in Shadows: Like the thief ability of the same name, the beastmaster must remain perfectly still while using this ability, and all attempts should appear to succeed to the player (with the GM reacting accordingly if the attempt actually fails).

Climb: Represents the chance of success for the beastmaster to climb trees, rock faces, or similar pinnacles. Wet surfaces will modify the attempt by -10%. Slick surfaces (e.g., covered with oil) are impossible for a beastmaster to climb. A failed climb attempt will result in a fall (which does 1d6 per 10' fallen to a maximum of 20d6). The roll should be made for each 100' climbed.

Track/Stalk: Represents two different abilities. First, it represents the ability to track an animal by evidence left as it passed through an area, with a -5% penalty for each day passed since the animal was in that area. Second, it represents the ability to follow an animal from a distance without alerting them by scent, sound, or sight. Requires a move silently roll when closing to 100', then again at 50', for the beastmaster to be able to attack with surprise.

Hold: This is hypnotic ability which allows the beast master to effectively "hold" an animal by mesmerizing it through through an exercise of will supported by a combination of hand gestures and eye contact (both of which must be possible for the beastmaster to attempt to hold the animal). The hold will last for a number of rounds equal to the beastmaster's level minus the animal's HD plus 1d4.

Level Awareness Detect Snares
& Pits
Move Silently Hide in
Climb Track/
1 75% 50% 20% 10% 70% 90% 5%
2 80% 55% 25% 15% 75% 91% 10%
3 85% 60% 30% 20% 80% 92% 15%
4 90% 65% 35% 25% 85% 93% 20%
5 91% 70% 40% 30% 90% 94% 30%
6 92% 75% 45% 35% 91% 95% 40%
7 93% 80% 55% 45% 92% 96% 50%
8 94% 85% 65% 55% 93% 97% 60%
9 95% 90% 75% 65% 94% 98% 70%
10 96% 94% 85% 75% 95% 99% 80%
11 97% 97% 95% 85% 96% 100% 85%
12 98% 99% 96% 90% 97% 101% 90%
13 99% 99% 98% 95% 98% 102% 95%
14 99% 99% 99% 99% 99% 103% 99%

Beginning at first level, beastmasters are able to speak the language of one of the following animal types:
- avians (birds)
- canine (dogs, hyenas, wolves, etc.)
- equines (horse)
- felines (cats)
- rodentia (bats, beavers, ferrets, rats, etc.)
- ovines & caprines (sheep and goats)
- piscine (fish and aquatic animals)
- saurian (reptiles and amphibians)
- prosimians & simians (monkeys, apes, and similar creatures)
- ursine (bears)
For each 2 additional levels, they gain an additional language (i.e., 2 total languages at 3rd level, 3 total languages at 5th level, and so on).

Beastmasters possess an ability (similar to clerics' turning) that allows them to call, befriend, and possibly control any animal whose language falls into one of the classifications of languages spoken by the beastmaster. Results are determined by rolling 2d6 on the table below.

Call: Has a 1 mile radius, and is accomplished through a combination of vocalizations and mental concentration. Only one specific type of creature may be called, and only one of the specified creature will appear if the call attempt is successful, taking 1d4 minutes to arrive. Once the creature arrives, the beastmaster may attempt to befriend or master the creature.

Befriend: The beastmaster may attempt to befriend any animal that has been encountered or called, as long as the beastmaster is able to speak that animal's language. A successful roll results in the animal offering to aid the beastmaster for up to 24 hours. The maximum number of creatures a beastmaster may befriend per day is a number of HD equal to the beastmaster's level. Attempts to befriend are made at -1 on the die roll.

Turn: Instead of befriending an animal, a beastmaster may attempt to "turn" an animal (or animals) the beastmaster has already encountered. If attempting to turn animals, a successful befriending roll indicates that ALL encountered creatures of that specific type will flee (or cower if they are unable to flee). The beastmaster need not be able to speak the language of an animal to be turned. Attempts to turn are made at -1 on the die roll.

Master: Allows the beastmaster to attempt to gain permanent control over one animal. A successful die roll indicates that the animal willingly becomes the beastmasters companion. If the beastmaster fails on the attempt, that individual animal may never be mastered by the beastmaster. Hostile creatures will attack immediately if a beastmaster attempts to master them. Mastered creatures will remain in the beastmaster's service until released (at which point they will return to the wild). A beastmaster may only retain one animal per three levels of experience (i.e., one creature for beastmasters levels 1-3, two creatures for beastmasters levels 4-6, and so on). Attempts to master an animal are made at -2 on the die roll.

Roll 2d6. Result or over = attempt succeeds.
–=No effect.
C=Animal automatically called.
B=Animal automatically befriended (or turned).
M=Animal Automatically mastered.
Attempts to befriend are at -1 (to the die roll).
Attempts to master are made at -2 (to the target roll).

Level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
1 7 9 11
2 5 7 9 11
3 3 5 7 9 11
4 C 3 5 7 9 11
5 C C 3 5 7 9 11
6 B C C 3 5 7 9 11
7 B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
8 M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
9 M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
10 M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
11 M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
12 M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9 11
13 M M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7 9
14 M M M M M M M B B C C 3 5 7

Beginning at 9th level, the beastmaster may establish a preserve.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The System Hits 7,000 downloads!!!!!!!

If you've followed this blog for longer than a year or so have heard me mention The System, the universal RPG that I originally wrote as a high-schooler in 1985, abandoned when I realized GURPS had hit the market, then finally resurrected when I discovered the OSR, but a year or so before I became part of the OSR blogosphere proper.

Long story short, it's just hit 7,000 downloads from MediaFire (which does not include downloads from 1KM1KT). So you don't have to search through that site, download links can be found at the New Big Dragon web site.

If you've never heard of The System, the original story is here. It was actually the first New Big Dragon RPG product ever published (in the early months of 2011), and the one that set the ball in motion for what I've done since. I'm quite willing to admit the game has its flaws... I mean, c'mon, I was 16 or 17 when I wrote it. (e.g., there is a very convoluted constitution-to-hit-point system, and there is an innovative but ultimately ill-conceived initiative and movement tracking system, and while it purports to handle supers among its genres, I can't claim that it actually scales to reflect the expanse of power levels between the weakest and strongest heroes). But over time, I have more and more appreciation for the fact that it uses d6s only, and led to some underlying things that Welbo and I would like to see become part of a "2nd Edition" of The System. (Should we ever get back to it.)