Wednesday, 29 December 2010

An ability score of 3 is unplayable (Argument 1)

Controversial, especially to all those who believe in the divine holiness of 3d6.
Now I am not a power gamer; or not any more. I think there are many opportunities for excellent role-playing with below normal ability scores. I just think that an ability score of 3 is far more restrictive to the characters physical and mental health than is given enough credit.

Ability scores of 3 are in the rules so I accept the onus is on me to convince anyone that an ability score of 3 is unplayable. I’ve got three arguments to make to support my position: a review of intelligence as it relates to the rules and real life; statistics – bell curves and ordinal data; famous characters with low ability scores and why you may think you are role-playing a score of 3 but you are probably role-playing 6-8. I guess it will take a number of posts – I hope you stay with me.

Let’s start with my favourite blogging ability score - Intelligence.
Let’s take the rules as given.

Non-intelligent or not ratable

Animal intelligence

3 Trouble speaking

4-5 Cannot Read and Write
Low intelligence

6-8 Write simple
Average (human) intelligence

9-12 Read and Write Common & Alignment
Very intelligent
Highly intelligent

13-15  +1 language
Exceptionally intelligent

16-17  +2 language

18   +3 languages

Godlike intelligence

Let us be quite clear what semi-intelligent means – this is one step up on animal intelligence 1. Perhaps a trainable animal is intelligence 2 (dog, dolphin, monkey). Intelligence 3 means you are one step more intelligent than a dog.
Trouble speaking, intelligence 3 – this is not dumbness in the inability to speak variety – this is that your intelligence is such that language is mostly beyond you, as should comprehension beyond the most simplest commands. Cannot read or write, intelligence 4-5, this is not saying something about your fantasy worlds education system. If it is anything like medieval Europe, most of the population can’t read or write. No, a 4-5 intelligence ability score means that even with teaching and instruction you will never get it.
Intelligence is the only ability score that is related in the rules to a real life comparator. The old claim is made, a correct claim I believe, that EGG believed that IQ score / 10 roughly = intelligence ability score.
This is supported by PH page 10 “Intelligence is quite similar to what is currently known as intelligence quotient.” And, PH page 34 “Even the rather slow (80 I.Q.) can learn one additional language. However, his vocabulary, useage, and ability to translate must, perforce, be limited.”
You guessed it no bonus languages until Intelligence score of 8 is reached.

Daniel Collins has a well-constructed article giving further examples and summarizing the arguments comparing intelligence score to IQ.

So at it’s simplest an intelligence of 3 = IQ 30.

I’ll directly quote the below weblink to demonstrate what an IQ of 30 really means:

“Mental deficiency used to be more finely classified using the following technical terms that later began to be abused by the rest of society:
IQ Range
Borderline deficiency
below 20

These are now largely obsolete and mental deficiency is now generally called mental retardation.  The following is the currently used classification of retardation in the USA:
IQ Range
below 20

Moreover, "educable mentally retarded" is roughly equivalent to mild mental retardation, and "trainable" mentally retarded is roughly equivalent to moderate"

So, an intelligence of 3 ability score means you are an imbecile, or in more modern parlance severely retarded. So severely retarded that you are probably not trainable.
Another website has this to say:
Mild mental retardation: Approximately 85% of the mentally retarded population is in the mildly retarded category. Their IQ score ranges from 50–70, and they can often acquire academic skills up to about the sixth-grade level. They can become fairly self-sufficient and in some cases live independently, with community and social support.
Moderate mental retardation: About 10% of the mentally retarded population is considered moderately retarded. Moderately retarded persons have IQ scores ranging from 35–55. They can carry out work and self-care tasks with moderate supervision. They typically acquire communication skills in childhood and are able to live and function successfully within the community in such supervised environments as group homes.
Severe mental retardation: About 3–4% of the mentally retarded population is severely retarded. Severely retarded persons have IQ scores of 20–40. They may master very basic self-care skills and some communication skills. Many severely retarded individuals are able to live in a group home.
Profound mental retardation: Only 1–2% of the mentally retarded population is classified as profoundly retarded. Profoundly retarded individuals have IQ scores under 20–25. They may be able to develop basic self-care and communication skills with appropriate support and training. Their retardation is often caused by an accompanying neurological disorder. Profoundly retarded people need a high level of structure and supervision.
I am not an expert in mental retardation, nor am I claiming the writers of the web sites I link to are experts either. And please I sincerely do not wish to offend anyone. I am merely trying to put our game, as given by the rules and also as related to real life, into context. In this context, severe retardation is close to non-functional. Most Down Syndrome individuals are usually in the moderate to mild IQ range ie in my opinion even playable as characters if desired.

But intelligence of 3, semi-intelligent, trouble speaking, IQ 30, severe retardation? 
Why would an intelligence 3 character be adventuring?
Why would anyone adventure with you? You are a liability.

No really you are a liability. No one would adventure with you.
In more harsh societies you would have been exposed at birth. (And no I am not advocating that just stating history).

We are trying to play a game – it’s about adventure, combat and social interaction. Intelligence 3 should preclude playing D&D as written.

It should be no fun to play an intelligence of 3. If you were method acting the DM might put you in a separate room and every ten or so minutes come in and give you one word to describe the situation. "Yellow" How much fun would that be?

Reroll, readd, redo - for an ability score of 3 is unplayable

Friday, 24 December 2010

Chosen Ones of Prophecy - A Christmas Message from the Jovial PRIEST

After the big JC, who's birthday we are celebrating today, I was thinking how His story has influenced our love of the Prophetic Chosen Ones in Fantasy and Science Fiction. In no particular order I present 10 Chosen Ones of Prophecy (all are men sadly):
Anakin Skywalker
Harry Potter
Richard Rahl
Rand al'Thor

Paul Atreides
Aragorn (less prophesied than the ONE long awaited)
King Arthur, who like Christ is prophesied to return again.

Merry Christmas from the Jovial Priest

PS I'm not a real priest.

PPS I am role-playing one.  Should that surprise any of us?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

No dump stats = EVERY ability score counts for EVERY character

Anyone who has read my recent posts on the ability score Intelligence will know of my philosophy on ability scores: I want EVERY ability score to be important for EVERY character. Every player should rue a low score and be pleased with a high score. There should be no dump stats.

I was making some progress with rescuing Intelligence the number one dump stat in my opinion for all but magic-users. I created rules for Inspiration and decided that only Intelligence gives an XP bonus, there are no prime requisites.
Wisdom I defended by creating a rule for Intuition / Divine Guidance and also by reminding myself that from every edition of D&D after Holmes Wisdom gave a bonus to saving throws against certain magical attacks. See my Wisdom Retrospective for a summary of OD&D, Holmes, B/X, Mentzer/Allston and AD&D rules regarding Wisdom. Since it's a magical world this felt a strong enough defence of Wisdom to stop it becoming the new dump stat.

But it was in another post regarding find traps or FIND TRAPS where Robert Fisher in an almost throw away comment gave me my Eureka moment. Okay, I emailed him asking him to look at my post... absolutely shameless.
Anyway he took the bait and said in his comment, "I allow the Wisdom modifier to be applied to all saving throws."
Wow this is good. In my B/X Indy post I highlighted the importance of will as a facet of Wisdom but to once again quote EGG in AD&D, "For game purposes wisdom ability subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness."   
Let's see how this looks:
Save vs Death Ray = WILL not to die, WILE to avoid the ray
Save vs Poison = WILL to fight off the poison, JUDGEMENT to suck or not suck, WILE to avoid the full fangs

Save vs Magic Wands = WILL to avoid the magical effect, WILE to avoid the wand

Save vs Paralysis = WILL to fight off the effect 
Save vs Turn to Stone = WILL to fight off the effect, WILE not to be looking at stone causing creature, JUDGEMENT to how best deal with that creature without looking

Save vs Dragon Breath = WILE to avoid the breath, JUDGEMENT to how best deal with a dragon, INTUITION to dive at the right moment

Save vs Rods, Staves or Spells = WILL to avoid the magical effect, WILE to avoid the attack

It's a stretch but I'm okay with it.

But the true THING OF BEAUTY is this:
Strength: melee attack and damage, plus I plan to link it to encumbrance allowance
Intelligence: only intelligence gives an XP bonus
Wisdom: Bonus to ALL saving throws
Dexterity: AC bonus, missile attack, personal initiative
Constitution: HIT POINTS
Charisma: Reaction rolls, retainers

I'm a fighter but wisdom and intelligence are still very good to have.
I'm a thief, wisdom and intelligence are probably more important than strength; since when has that ever happened in D&D play? Just like I thought they were for Indy.
I'm a magic-user, what to pick, what to pick...

More work needs to be done on making Intelligence and Wisdom useful for magic-users and clerics respectively. In B/X and especially if I abandon prime requisites, there are no game mechanics that make the spell caster stronger/weaker for their ability score. I am still not ready to throw away thirty years of gaming history where each of the four prime ability scores is linked to one of the four archetypal human character classes.
Charisma; I want to consider you and retainers in more detail in a late post. 

But for now I am satisfied. Thank you Robert Fisher

PS Rudely I had forgotten to welcome my two new followers in may last posts. Welcome The Angry Lurker and humber-grognard.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Dr Seuss does Star Wars

A friend sent me the link to this cartoonist Adam Watson.
Anyone who read Dr Seuss as a child (green eggs and ham) will love these. My two favourite are below. There are more on Adam's site.
The style is perfect.

Great tauntaun

Sunday, 19 December 2010

B/X Indiana Jones

In my last post I said that "in my opinion Indiana Jones fits the D&D thief archetype better than he does the fighter".
Reflecting on this over the last couple of days I present B/X Indiana Jones, Master Thief.
Almost certainly I won't have created the B/X Indiana you would have, he is too iconic for any hope of that but my goal was primarily to explore B/X through reflecting on Indiana not the other way around. 
Ability scores for legendary characters are difficult to assign. I could have just simply given him 18 for everything but that's untrue even in the film series, lacks any intellectual gain for me and frankly is boring. I could have rolled and rolled until I found something I liked, in fact I did this 4d6 take the best 3, a few times, and quickly gave it up. Finally I settled on this challenge, Indiana has ability scores of: 13,14,15,16,17,18; to be assigned as I saw fit. You are welcome to tell me how you would have assigned the scores, or characterised Indiana Jones into B/X, differently.

Indiana Jones
14th Level Master Thief
Str     13                   
Int      15
Wis    17
Dex    16
Con    18
Cha    14
Hit Points 68
AC (4)vs melee, (2) vs missile weapons
Leather Flight Jacket gives the equivalent of leather armor (AC7)
Fedora (hat)
Acts as a +1 ring of protection (+1 AC, +1 all saving throws)
Additional +2AC vs missile weapons
Returning: Indiana's magical hat will always find some way to return to him within 6 turns
Whip +2, (as per Rules Cyclopedia page 66: may be used to cause damage (1-2) or have a special effect, the victim must save vs death ray or become entangled, slowed or delayed, depending on the victim's hit dice and consulting the special effects Table 3 on page 80).
Additionally Indiana can use his whip to perform acrobatics or feats of daring-do using his climb sheer surfaces thief skill (99% at Level 14, modified by the DM for the complexity of what Indiana is attempting)
Negative Characteristics
Indiana has a profound fear of snakes. If he encounters a snake he must save vs Rods, Staves, or Spells, failure means he must flee as per the 1st level cleric spell Cause Fear
Notes - Here I attempt to justify all my choices.
Why a thief?

Look at this picture, what else is he?

This is Indy about to fail his pick pockets / sleight of hand roll.

Yeah he fights, but he doesn't win by pure brawn. He's not stacked like this opponent fighter. He uses dexterity and luck more than strength, traits of a thief.

Look at him



Indy is a thief.

Why Level 14
It's just the best you can be in B/X.
Ability Scores
The exact numbers are really irrelevant, the key is the order I chose. Which I am sure is very debatable.
From least to most:

Str < Cha < Int < Dex < Wis < Con
Strength, as stated above Indy does not win fights by pure brawn. I know it's controversial but I think all his other attributes are higher
Charisma, he always gets a lady.

Not forgetting this student.

Intelligence, he is a professor. Some might think he needs to be smarter but 15 intelligence is very smart on a 3-18 scale.
Dexterity, with the stunts Indy does, and the way he avoids ever being shot, he has a very high dexterity.
Wisdom, this will be controversial. 
From my recent meanderings on Intelligence and Wisdom I quoted Gary Gygax defining the ability score of wisdom in AD&D as, "For game purposes wisdom ability subsumes the categories of willpower, judgment, wile, enlightenment, and intuitiveness."   
Willpower is a very important aspect of this as can be seen in my Wisdom Retrospective, where from editions after Holmes, Wisdom gives a saving throw bonus to certain magical attacks, making the 'will' aspect of wisdom very prominent. Indeed, only in AD&D where clerics get bonus spells from having high wisdom, is there any other in game mechanic for wisdom apart from wisdom as will, benefiting saving throws. For a new take on the intuition / divine guidance of wisdom see this recent post of mine.
The trouble we have is that when we think of wisdom we think of being wise, not of being wilful.
We think of Yoda, not Indiana lurching from one disaster to the next. Though, nine hundred years old, may be a matter of will as well as Yoda species genetics.
Yet, will is clearly a D&D aspect of the ability score wisdom. This isn't as strange as it seems. Charisma is both physical attractiveness and/or force of personality. To quote Gary page 15 DMG, "Many persons have the sad misconception that charisma is merely physical attractiveness." It is possible to be physically attractive but still have a low charisma. Why then should it not be possible to be unwise but very wilful. Or at least not particularly wise but very wilful.
In a recent debate posed by A Paladin in the City regarding who would win if two strength 13 fighters arm-wrestle, Alexis (The Tao of D&D) in his customary style said, "the one who wanted to win." A Paladin in the City asked, which game mechanic encapsulates this? My answer would be, the one with the higher wisdom (will).
Is Indiana wilful? I say a definite yes! He never ever gives up. That is one of his defining characteristics and why I gave him wisdom (will) as his second most high ability score.
Constitution, Indy takes a beating and then he takes another. Bloody and bruised he comes out in the end. He has a high constitution, no question. And I give it 18.
Hit Points

With 18 constitution he gets 27 (3*9 levels). With 5 levels above name level a B/X thief gets 2 HP/level = 10 hit points. 9d4 hitpoints, I rolled a few times using the App Dicenomicon, until I rolled 29. I liked that but the total number became 66, felt like the wrong number for Indiana, though whip in Rules Cyclopedia is on page 66. I found out that Harrison Ford is 68 and for no other reason but that I was looking for a logical reason to move from 66 hit points, I settled on Indiana Jones has 68 hit points.               

I know there are no leather fighter jackets in fantasy D&D. I called his jacket leather armor. I could have made it very magical giving him a really low AC but B/X doesn't need super hyped items or ability scores. Also Indy gets hit in melee fights a lot, it's his high hit points that saves him.
His fedora hat, his most iconic item, therefore his most powerful. A bonus to AC, since I didn't give him one with his armor felt appropriate here. And the bonus to saving throw I am sure he needs and uses regularly! The additional +2AC for missile weapons? Do you know how often bullets, darts and arrows fly at Indy, how often do they hit? Magical returning hat, if I didn't see it happening time after time in the movies, I would never have believed it.
Whip +2. Hardly B/X but there is no whip in B/X. Using cyclopedia was admittedly a cop out and if I really had whips in my campaign I would design a simpler game mechanic. Linking his whip acrobatic manoeuvres to his climb sheer walls thief ability, seemed to encourage his feats of daring-do, giving him a high chance of success, which is what we observe in the films. He doesn't often land flat on his face when using his whip.
His fear of snakes, I was happy enough to use the cause fear spell mechanic already in the rules but had trouble settling on which saving throw it should be made against. Originally I thought save vs paralysis but failing against paralysis and then running away as fast as you can didn't feel right. Save vs Rods, Staves, or Spells, at least conjures the image of snakes as rods or snake staves.
What about guns you ask? I thought about referring to JB's B/X Guns Postings or else giving Indy a crossbow or hand crossbow (too drow like) but in the end decided to drop the whole concept of a missile weapon, his revolver is not one of his defining characteristics as far as I am concerned.


I leave you with this image. Raiders came out in 1981. How much did the opening scenes of Raiders influence our D&D campaigns? It still is, just ask James Raggi, it features in one of his modules.  

I hope you enjoyed, Indiana Jones a B/X Master Thief. 

PS If any wise blogger, that is wisdom as being wise not as in wilful, knows how to stop large empty spaces appearing in my posting, please let me know. It doesn't look like this in the draft, prior to Publish Post.

Image web locations in order of appearance:

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Find traps or FIND TRAPS

I’m confused and this post will hopefully allow me to get my thoughts in order and make a coherent house rule.

Dwarves can find traps, so can thieves. What are the differences?

Let’s start with B/X

Traps (B22)
“Dungeons often contain traps, such as a trap door in the floor which springs open when a character walks over it. If any character does something which could trigger a trap (such as walking over a certain point), the trap will be sprung on a roll of 1-2 (on 1d6)…
Any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap when searching for one in the correct area. [16.6%] Any dwarf has a 2 in 6 chance. (This does not apply to magical traps, such as sleep trap.) Checking a specific area for a trap will take one one full turn. The DM should only check for finding a trap if a player says that the character is searching for one. Each character may only check once to find each trap.”

Thieves (B8)
“Find or Remove Traps is a double ability. The thief has the listed chance of finding a trap (if there is one) and the same chance (if the trap is found) of removing it. Either attempt may only be tried once per trap.” [1st level thief 10%, 2nd level thief 15% and 3rd level thief 20%, which means the thief only surpasses a 1 in 6 chance at 3rd level.]

Dwarves (B9)
“They are expert miners and are able to find slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction one-third of the time (a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6) when looking for them.” [my emphasis]

Stock the Dungeon (B52)
Room Traps:
Poison gas: Save vs Poison or die
Fog: Looks like Poison gas, but harmless
Pit: 1d6 points of damage per 10’ fallen
Ceiling Block falls: Save vs Turn to Stone or take 1d10 points of damage [nice use of a saving throw here as opposed to the ubiquitous d20 vs dexterity]
Pendulum blade from ceiling: 1d8 points of damage
Chute: No damage, but slide to the next level down

Treasure Traps:
Poison needle: Save vs Poison or die
Spring-fired darts: 1-6 darts hit for 1-4 points of damage each [more chance of a first level thief surviving the save vs poison or die, then these darts!]
Spray: Be sprayed with an unknown liquid that attracts Wandering Monsters; double chances for 1d6 hours [this is cool, I’ve never used before but I like it!]
Illusion: Anything, often a monster (as phantasmal force)

From the above Robert Fisher (who I much admire see my previous post) makes the following ruling:
Anybody can search for traps. Dwarfs have a 2 in 6 chance. Everyone else has a 1 in 6 chance. (p.B22). Thieves use the 1 in 6 chance until 3rd level when their F&RT skill becomes more favorable. The 1st & 2nd level thieves, however, must use their less favorable F&RT skill when attempting to disarm a trap.
I’ll make a number of observations:
Traps (B22) appears to imply LARGE Room traps not intricate needle in the treasure chest traps. Moldvay basic was concerned about the dungeon. I wonder what he would have said if he was talking about wilderness encounters. Unfortunately Cook Expert doesn’t discuss traps. My question to myself and to Robert Fisher is, can dwarves detect forest traps, can dwarves detect small Treasure Traps, or can only thieves?


Dwarves (Basic DMR 15)
"Because of their mining experience, dwarves can sometimes recognize special dungeon features made of stone or wood, such as
(1) sloping passages
(2) shifting walls
(3) new constructions
(4) traps
The traps a dwarf can find are those involving large dungeon features, such as a falling ceiling, floor pit, and so forth. The traps a dwarf may discover does not refer to all traps. For example, a dwarf would have no chance at detecting a small dart trap on a chest; this could be detectable only by a thief."

While it is possible to conclude that this is Mentzer that was Moldvay I think this overlooks two key points: 1) Mentzer wrote with a clear vision of the future books in his series, each book was meant to build off the previous and 2) Neither Mentzer and Moldvay wrote in a D&D vacuum, they lived and breathed D&D and were well known to Gygax and the original players. What I am saying is that I think Mentzer is merely making explicit what Moldvay would already have agreed with. Indeed Robert Fisher might also say to me that this posting is just making explicit what he always believed, that dwarves and presumably everyone else on a 1in6, can only detect dungeon traps.

Let’s look for other assistance:

Dr Holmes
Page 6
“[Thieves can]… remove small traps such as poisoned needles.”
Underground, [dwarves] can detect slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new contruction about one-third of the time.” [my emphasis]

Original D&D
M&M page 7
“[Dwarves] note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground settings.” [my emphasis]
M&M Page 10
“Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on.” [really, how exactly?]
Underworld Page 9
Traps are usually sprung by a roll or a 1 or a 2 when any character passes over or by them. Pits will open in the same manner.
Supp 1 Page 4
“[Thieves can] remove small trap devices (such as poisoned needles)”.

DMG page 19
Thief abilities: “Small or large traps can be found, but not magical or magically hidden traps.”
DMG page 20
“Simple mechanical traps can be set by thieves or assassins.”
PH page 15-16
“Dwarves are miners of great skill. They are able to… detect traps involving pits, falling blocks and other stone work.”

Allston / Rules Cyclopedia
Page 261
“A trap is anything that could cause damage, delay or a magical effect to occur. The trap may be found, and possibly removed, by a thief character.”
Page 24
“Dwarves can sometimes detect traps (specifically, traps built into stonework or heavy construction, not other types of traps such as rope-traps in the forest or spring-out needles built into a jewelry box.”

Shall I bring all this together with a few observations:

So much for all singing from the same hymn sheet – the founders of D&D appear as confused as I do
The everyone can detect traps, 1 in 6 chance, rule of Moldvay basic I can not find repeated anywhere in other editions. But I like it, it’s simple and in keeping with other character abilities such as find secret doors, hear noise and open doors. If characters are being particularly sensible, using a 10’ poles for instance, it allows the DM to easily add a positive modifier to the d6 roll.
There is a strong recurrent theme that dwarves can only detect underground traps.
What types of traps thieves can detect, is up for debate. But the thought of limiting them to only small, treasure like traps, removes a potential strong advantage of having a thief in one’s party for exploration. I keep imagining how useful a thief companion would be for Indiana Jones, though in my opinion Indiana Jones fits the D&D thief archetype better than he does the fighter, despite the fights he engages in.

My house rule

Large Traps (Room/Underground or Wilderness Traps)
Small Traps (Treasure Traps)

Anyone can detect Large Traps with a 1 in 6 chance.
Dwarves can detect Large Traps when underground with a 2 in 6 chance.

Only thieves can detect Small Traps
Until 3rd level thieves use their 1 in 6 chance to detect/find Large Traps but must use the given thief ability percentage roll to remove the trap.
Small Traps always use the given thief ability percentage roll at all levels, to both find and remove traps.

I just call the detection of slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction; dwarf sense, which is available when the dwarf is underground or around stone work and works on a 2 in 6 chance. 

PS A kind welcome to Gothridge Manor and ze bulette of Dungeons and Digressions . I am particularly chuffed because I read your blogs already.