May 20, 2020

Monastic Knights - Templar

Trained as both monks and knights the Templar Order adheres to a specific code of behavior. Knights are to take their meals in silence, eat meat no more than three times per week, and not have physical contact of any kind with women, even members of their own family. They may own no more than four horses and must dress in a simple manner.

As a monk they are dedicated to serving their deity, as a knight they pledge fealty to their lord.
Templar knights are always noblemen. They are equipped as heavy cavalry, with a horse and a squire. Squires are generally not members of the Order but are instead outsiders who are hired for a set period of time.

Templars are granted spells according to the Cleric spell list starting at 2nd level.

Turn Undead: at 3rd level Templar can turn undead as a 1st level cleric, increasing in ability from there.

Banish Infernals: similar to turning undead, this affects creatures from the lower planes of chaotic (evil) alignment.

Extra Attack: at 7th level the templar gets an additional melee attack each round.

Build Monastery: At 9th level the templar establishes a monastery that may attract sergeants, skilled laborers like blacksmiths, chaplains, servants, and other monks and knights. As the Templars are both knights and monks, their commanderies are both castles and monasteries. Though defensible and strategically located, their castle has all the architectural features of a monastery: church, chapter house, cloister, refectory, dormitory, etc.

May 18, 2020

Monastic Knights

I've been thinking about replacing clerics with military monks.

The basic cleric class has always been a strange fit in the genre of classic swords & sorcery that spawned the settings of D&D. It seems that the cleric was inspired more by Van Helsing as portrayed in Hammer Horror films than by medieval lore or the pulp fantasy novels that filled the imaginations of Gygax and Arneson. The cleric’s Turn Undead ability made them more like protectors of the living from the dead than military monks. In practice they became walking hospitals with a bit of combat ability.

The cleric seems to come almost out of the blue in the first published DnD rules. Chainmail had Religious Orders of Knighthood, it would have made more sense to have a monastic knight character class, which eventually came in a way with the Paladin in the Greyhawk supplement.

Clerics are often the one character class that a group needs to have but nobody wants to play. Paladins are a better fit in the genre than Clerics, but there is obviously an important place for dedicated healers in any adventuring party. They even got an entire booklet dedicated to them with the Gods, Demigods, & Heroes. Despite these efforts they are still some of the least favored classes to play.

To make the Cleric more appealing what if instead of a Van Helsing type, the Cleric was more akin to the military monks of old. Like the Templars, a group that became so powerful the pope and monarchies conspired to wipe them out. Or the high ideal minded Knights Hospitaller who sponsored hospitals, or the legendary and fearsome Teutonic Knights.

Some changes have to be made to adapt them to a world of swords & sorcery where multiple gods vie for servants among the humans, elves, dwarves, and other races. The largest change is making them serve a deity among a pantheon of deities, rather than the monotheism of the real world. Here is an OSR treatment of monastic knights and military monks making them suitable as player character classes, and a worthy replacement of the common Cleric. There are dozens of Religious Orders of Knighthood, the focus here is on the three most well known and distinctive orders. In game terms these represent a spectrum from compassionate healers to formidable warriors.

Here's a basic idea:

Monastic Knights

Templar Order strikes a balance between being warriors and healers. They use d8 for hit dice. Advance like clerics, but only go up to 4th level in spell casting ability. They can turn undead but not as well as Knights Hospitaller.

Knights Hospitaller are compassionate healers and only fight as necessary. They use d6 for hit dice. Advance like clerics in combat and spell ability. They can turn undead.

Teutonic Knights are formidable warriors. They use d10 for hit dice. Advance like fighting men. They cannot turn undead and get no more than 3 spell levels.

May 13, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 8

Chapter 8  A Fair Captive From the Sky

Now we're getting to the good stuff.

Book Summary
A fleet of Helium airships appear on the horizon. The green martians jump to action to attack the ships. The deadly exchange of gunfire cripples one of the ships and sends the others into retreat. The Tharks board the ship to loot it and they capture a prisoner: a two-legged creature that looks just like an earthling except she has deep red skin and is extraordinarily beautiful. The martians torch the ship and send it away. Captain Carter is startled to find the copper-skinned beauty who is naked and unashamed. She fills with hope upon seeing Carter and makes an enigmatic hand signal he doesn't understand, and when he doesn't respond properly she is disappointing and dejected. The green martians take her away.

Character Actions
This chapter has a lot the characters can do. The characters meet a red martian for the first time and experience one of the most remarkable pieces of technology on Mars; the flying ships. They can help the Tharks, or they can capture a ship, this should be quite difficult, or they can save the red martian who is of course the incomparable Dejah Thoris.

The Helium ship itself could be a whole adventure, or at least several sessions, and will require ship plans.

Boothill Retrospective

Boothill came out in 1975, just one year after the original D&D.

A few things stand out about this 34 page booklet. The first is how much of an improvement the production values and layout are compared to previous TSR books. The margins give more room for the text to breath, the spacing between paragraphs is consistent, the headers use an appropriate flavored font, the tables are well aligned, the index is well presented. It is far better organized. All of these things add up to a much more legible and comprehensible rules book.

Boothill is not an RPG, it is clearly a war game but sits in the space between the two with a focus on one-on-one gunfights. It is so close to being an RPG, it has simple character creation and advancement rules, if it just had a few more options and more robust experience rules it could be played as one. It describes a combat system, NPC stats, creating an old West town, and has two scenarios; the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral, and the Battle of Coffeyville. Several characters are given brief write-ups that look like this:

Wyatt Earp
Speed: 97
Gun Accuracy: 96
Bravery: 97
Strength: 99
Experience: 9

The game is percentile based. Character stats went from 1 Feeble to 00 Mighty. Speed is how fast the character can draw,  Accuracy is a bonus to hit as is Bravery, Strength is more or less Hit Points, and Experience is gained after each Gunfight which improves the character's To Hit over time.

Weapons are described with Range (short, medium, long), Rate (of fire), Weapon Speed, Ammunition, and Reload time. Rather than specific weapons such as Colt 45 or Winchester rifle the weapons are categorized more generically like (SAR) Single Action Revolver or (LBR) Long Barrel Rifle. This is a good approach as there were hundreds of different models of weapons produced during that time and trying to list them all is nearly impossible. And there are real gun aficionados who will nitpick the differences, regardless how subtle, between different makes and models.

The turn sequence, like in Chainmail, is described as either Simultaneous Movement, or Sequential Movement. Sequential goes like this:

A. Movement: Each player moves (or opts not to move) in turn, as outlined in the movement rule section.
B. Combat: Each player. after his move, has the option to initiate combat immediately after his move. All players wishing to fire do so at this time, and no one may fire again until all players have had the opportunity to move.

  1. Players state which characters are firing at what target and with how many shots.
  2. Order of Firing: Use the FIRST SHOT section to determine the order in which the characters fire. Keep in mind that as players take wounds it will affect their speed if they have not yet fired in the round.
  3. To Hit: When it becomes a player' s turn to fire, compute his chance to hit as in the To Hit section and roll a pair or percentage dice to determine if he hits his target.
  4. Hit Location and Wounds: If the player hits his target, use the HIT LOCATION AND WOUNDS section to determine the location and extent of the damage.

C. Brawls: After each round of combat (or after all players have moved, if no combat has occurred in the turn) use the BRAWLING section to resolve all hand-to-hand fights. Each participant shall have two rounds of brawling per turn.

This describes turn order and combat far better than D&D books did at the time.

First Shot is one of the best mechanics described in the game. It may be one of the best initiative systems designed.
First Shot:
To determine who gets the first shot add and subtract the bonuses and penalties shown on the FIRST SHOT CHART. Do this for each figure firing that turn. The one with the highest positive total fires first, with other figures firing in order thereafter. Note that subsequent firing must be adjusted for any wounds scored upon the firing figure by figures firing previously. In case of ties fire is considered as taking place simultaneously with regard to the figures whose total scores were tied.
The chart it refers to lists bonuses and penalties based on each character's Speed score, the speed of their Weapon, Surprise factor, Movement such as riding a horse, and Wounds the character may have. It is a solid variety of factors without being exhaustive. There is enough information in the chart that the referee could make calls on other factors not listed.

To Hit is simple: you have a base 50% chance to hit. Roll percentile add & subtract all the modifiers, if the total is 50% or better you hit. Then roll Hit Location which could more accurately be called damage which is subtracted from the character's Strength score. Damage is either 3, 7, or Dead. Fast and brutal as a gunfight should be.

Wounds affect a character's To Hit modifiers and their Movement Rate.

There is an advanced hit location chart that still do the same damage to Strength, it just provides more specifics as to what part of the body is wounded.

D&D is notoriously known for not handling unarmed combat well, too bad it didn't use the excellent system from Boothill! Under Brawls is described punches and grappling. Followed by a chart that describes bonuses and penalties for different moves like jabbing, kicking, bear hugs, and so on. It integrates seamlessly into the combat system.

There is an Advanced Combat system that covers shooting while moving. Arching arrows over cover like a wall, and a Morale system. It isn't really much more complicated, I'd probably use it were I to run a game of original Boot Hill. There are also optional rules that complicate the First Shot system and adds a Greased Lightning rule, Sharpshooting which is almost a skill, and some other miscellaneous rules like dynamite, aging, and more.

This is not a game that was common in the groups I gamed with. It wasn't until much later I picked up a copy and played it a few times at game conventions. But by then Deadlands was far more popular and easier to get into a gaming session with.

Boothill is one of TSR's missed opportunities. Why did TSR keep making wargames when it was clear their RPG line was taking off? All focus should have gone into the money maker when you've got the tiger by the tail. There was a time before GURPS that TSR could have owned the universal roleplaying game genre and Boothill could have been the first entry into that by converting D&D into a western, and then into sci-fi with Metamorphosis Alpha using D&D rules, and on into other genres. I know hindsight is 20/20 but it seems it should have been obvious to expand D&D in this way. They even knew it, because in the introduction to of Men & Magic under Scope Gary Gygax states "Actually, the scope need not be restricted to the medieval; it can stretch from the prehistoric to the imagined future". There it is. Instead they let Traveller gobble up the sci-fi genre, Cthulhu took horror, superheroes was taken up with Champions, and of course GURPS owned the universal genre.

In summary, Boothill is excellent for what it is. A fast, simple wargame-like treatment of the western genre. I'd even suggest that some of the mechanics were innovative for its day. It falls short of being great by its lack of depth in character creation and setting information.

May 11, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 7

Chapter 7 Child-Raising on Mars

Book summary
After breakfast in the dead city, John Carter, Sola and Woola the watchdog, accompany a huge caravan of chariots and armed mounted warriors to the hatching ceremony at the isolated tribal incubator. Every five years, the best 500 eggs presented by the females are selected for a five-year incubation process in the solar heated, sealed incubators. The Earthman watches as the green Martians claim their fully-formed, four-feet-tall offspring. Sola claimed a young male to whom she would teach the barbaric skills necessary to survive the cruel existence of dying Mars. Under Sola's tutelage, both Carter and the child soon learned the spoken language and developed the mental powers needed for the universal Martian language of telepathy.

Player actions
Child Raising on Mars
Egg hatching ceremony
Learn barbaric survival skills
Learn spoken language of Barsoom
Learn martian telepathy

May 6, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 6

Chapter 6 A Fight That Won Friends

Book summary:
After Carter escapes his imprisonment and nearly eludes Woola a giant white ape-like creature and its mate attack. They have six limbs like the green men. Woola saves Carter from being smashed by the female's cudgel. Woola is endangered, Carter grabs the cudgel to defeat the female ape. Carter could use this opportunity to elude the male ape, but feels a sense of duty to rescue Woola.  Carter employs earth tactics with the cudgel and finishes off the male ape. The green martians are impressed by Carter's victory over the apes and wins their admiration. He also wins the devotion of Sola by saving Woola from being terminated by Tars Tarkas' gun.

Player actions:
If (when) the characters escape the prison White Apes attack
If the characters befriended a calot it will fight valiantly for them but will be killed if not helped.
Defeating white apes will win the admiration of the Tharks.
Saving the calot wins the devotion of Sola.

Rereading this the white apes were more intelligent than I remembered, for example they are using cudgels as weapons. I realize my impression of them was formed more by Frazetta's art than the text of the book.

HD 5; AC 6[13]; Atk: 1 bite (1d10); Move 12; Save F5; CL/XP 6/400; Special: Speed Burst 360' for up to 6 turns, 1 hour rest to perform again.
Calots are about the size of a Shetland pony, with ten short legs and a frog-like head, and a small amount of bristly "hair". They are the fastest creatures on Mars. Calots were domesticated by the Green Men who use them for multiple purposes such guard animals and fighting for entertainment in their arenas.

Ape, Giant White
HD: 6+6, AC: 4 [16], Atk: 4 fists or club (1d6 each, or 2d10), Move: 15, Save: F6, CL/XP 7/800.
These hideous, enormous apes resemble Earthly gorillas, but they are snow-white, stand nearly fifteen feet tall, and have four powerful arms. They are hairless except for a shock of stiff hair at the top of their heads which only increases their savage appearance, and are cunning predators, capable of scaling nearly any surface with ease. Many are devastatingly proficient with a club. These selfish beasts will try to kill silently if possible, but will not hesitate to howl for friends if seriously over matched. Some larger specimens have 8+8 HD.

May 5, 2020

A Princess of Mars Adventure - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 I Elude My Watchdog

Book Summary
Sola leaves Carter alone in the prison guarded by Woola. Captain Carter ponders the strange anomalies so far encountered: his guardian Sola, a Martian watchdog, the large plant that provided both food and drink, and the sudden onset of nightfall on Mars. Innately curious and prone to seek adventure, Carter tests the role of his watchdog by leaving the building. The animal stays with him to the edge of the city. Carter realizes that the only means to escaping his loyal, ferocious protector is his unique ability as a jumper. Landing on a sill 30 feet above the ground, Carter's exultation is short-lived when he falls into the grasp of a colossal ape-like creature.

Characters are left alone in the prison guarded by a Calot (Woola)
If they attempt an escape the calot will try to prevent it.
If they do escape they will encounter giant white apes.
Defeating the apes will give them credit with the green martians

Reworked the Ancient City Ruins map a bit, it is likely to continue to be refined further.

May 4, 2020

5th Edition Character Sheet - Family Friendly II

I listened to your feedback on my previous character sheet post and added Skills and Passive Perception. Many sheets put the skills grouped with their Ability score, but I find it easier to look them up alphabetically.

Here is a full rez printable version:

May 1, 2020

Social Status

On page 10 of Men & Magic a simple formula for starting Gold Pieces is given:

"Each player notes his appropriate [ability] scores, obtains a similar roll of three dice to determine the number of Gold Pieces (Dice score x10) he starts with,"

It was noted on the OD&D discussion forums that this can be interpreted as your character's Social Status. It has the exact same range 3-18 of all other abilities, is determined the same way, and is in the same step of character creation.

Today I was re-reading issue #70 of Dragon Magazine from February of 1983 and stumbled across an article by Gary Gygax describing a Social Status system for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. He hints that it will be in the forthcoming expansion volume. I assume that became Unearthed Arcana. In his typical Gygaxian way he systematized social status into multiple tiers from Lower Lower Class, to Middle Middle Class, to Upper Upper class and everything in between. Also adding birth tables and corresponding Non-Human races.

So taking off from there here is a proposal for a very "white box" Social Status stat:

Roll 3d6 to determine your character's Social Status score

3-4 Lowest Class
5-9 Lower Class
10-14 Middle Class
15-18 Upper Class
19+ Royalty

Lowest Class: These are the dregs of society. Freed slaves, peasants, tinkers, vagabonds, beggars, criminals, common thieves and assassins
Lower Class: This is most people. Herdsmen, laborers, peddlers, actors, jugglers, men-at-arms, freemen, tradesmen, petty officers, money-changers, tax collectors, mountebanks, fences
Middle Class: Artisans, craftsmen, petty merchants, junior officers, bankers, landless knights, landed gentry, merchants, petty officials, senior officers, landless petty nobles, guild masters, great merchants, military commanders, officials, doctors, priests, landless nobles
Upper Class: Great landed gentry, generals and marshals, greater officials, knights, commanders, bishops, lesser nobles
Royalty: Great nobles, sovereign nobility, royalty

Parent’s Marital State roll 1d12
1-8: married, character is legitimate
9-10: character is an orphan
11+: unmarried, character is a bastard

Birth Order: roll 1d12 twice. The higher number is the number of children in the family. The lower number is the order in birth your character is.

First born generally inherits most or all the wealth, land, and titles. Subsequent born inherits proportionately less. In some cultures the children inherit their parent’s debt as well.

Your character's starting wealth is Social Status x10 in Gold Pieces. (30-180 GP)

Your class could have an effect, so each 2 or 3 levels you could gain +1 to your Social Status. There would be certain perks associated with them, advantages and disadvantages to each tier.