Sunday, December 20, 2015

An elegant solution to the cleric problem

I've been debating writing up my ideas for an improved 5e cleric class, and have a few that I really like. The idea is to make the cleric a much more versatile and customizeable class, rather than what the cleric is now. To that end, there's a few simple fixes. Conceptual at the moment, I might mock up a version later. I'll say cleric and priest interchangeably, but I might ultimately call it a priest because there's not a real reason you couldn't also use the cleric class in the same game as this priest.

Spells and domains. The cleric spell mechanism is stupid. For some reason, they're much more flexible than wizards in their spells known (two bonus domain spells for spell levels 1 through 5!) and any increase to the number of cleric spells automatically makes all clerics more versatile. I think there's a solution to this problem (that I've written about twice before) to be found via Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria: just give them a few spells per level. When clerics and druids have a whole list to choose from, its unbalanced. Wizards have to work to expand their list of spells knowable, so why can't clerics? Originally, clerics had a thematic and reasonable spell list which wasn't too big, so why not keep it that way? Then, you can expand the list with a few simple mechanisms. I think it would work something like this:

1) All clerics have access to a small set of pretty iconic priest spells. This is basically the sphere of All from 2nd edition, with a few staples in it like bless and protection from good/evil. So make that 2-3 spells per spell level.

2) Add to that a couple iconic domain spells. All clerics of a specific faith gain the training/insight of their deity or aspect of the deity. This is largely what happens in 5e, and similar to gaining one or two spheres in 2nd edition.

3) Add one more layer to the system, where, based on a cleric's wisdom, you gain a few bonus spells for insight. This allows a player to pick 1-5 additional spells per spell level that a cleric can add to their list which are derived through piecing together obscure bits of theology or delving deeper into the mysteries of their faith. These might be restricted to secondary domains or spheres, but means the player has a finite set of possibilities. This could be ditched simply by expanding the universal cleric list a bit (still restricted from what it currently is), but I like the idea of being able to pick a few additional spells that others of your order might not have access to.

4) As is, you keep prepping spells normal-like, you just create a custom list for each priest. Its definitely not as simple as the current system, but I could imagine two clerics of Lolth in a drow game with different spells this way.

Cross this spell system with a vocation system. Just like fighters or thieves choose an archetype at 3rd level, why not give clerics another meaningful choice? Priests would have a few distinct options:

A) Crusader. The militant of the faith. This option would get a few combat bonuses, like weapon and armor training and extra attack.

b) Evangelist. This is the skillful priest, who gains expertise in persuasion and performance. Alternately you could reword this as votary so the archetype is trained in the deity's ways, so it might cover thief skills for a god of thieves or knowledge skills and tools as appropriate. Or maybe they're two distinct options.

c) Theurge or mystic. This is the caster priests, who probably gains a few additional spell options and maybe a "divine recovery" for a few extra spell slots. You could get halfway to wizard by allowing a theurge to maintain a ritual book as well, giving them more rituals (or a limited number of rituals, like 1 their wisdom modifier).

d) Prophet. A cleric free from the heirarchy, the prophet might lose some basic spell training but gain some big guns and granted powers.

This makes a cleric about as complex as a warlock, with two meaningful choices (domain/deity at level 1 and vocation at level 3).  And I can imagine a game in which the party all follows one deity yet has multiple clerics in the group actually working.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Why I fell in love with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria

I've started two or three posts on why I love Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria, but it finally hit me last night during a bout of insomnia. The classes are almost exactly what I think you need for a solid D&D game. Its not just that there's a good number, or that they're thematic for the game that is being played, but really reading through them leaves me hard pressed to do much more than what there is. And I've been vaguely working on a personal version of 2nd edition and we get some very similar things between AS&SH & my 2nd edition.

While I still think the basic fighter is a bit generic, AS&SH has Barbarians, Berserkers, Cataphracts (Knights), Paladins, Rangers, and Warlocks (Fighter-Mages). The warlock is a multiclass character, plain and simple. But this is the same list, more or less, as I'd really like. Though I might replace the generic fighter and make him more low-class (ala the Oriental Adventuerers Bushi) and add in a weaponmaster/kensai. Whether or not knights are a separate group is kind of irrelevant. Also, I had never really consider the Barbarian worthy of classhood (particularly when contrasted with Berserker) but I can almost see it here, particularly if the fighter was given a power or two of civilization.

AS&SH has Thieves, Assassins, Bards, Legerdemainists and Scouts. The Legerdemainist is a mouthful and also just a multiclass thief/mage. That leaves the expected thief, assassin, and bard plus the unexpected scout. I like it because the scout is a different archetype and makes a primal rogue. The legerdemainist could also be a mountebank or fire thief (thief/pyromancer), but the mountebank or trickster are much better names for the class. The bard seems like a really interesting class learning a few magician and druid spells plus the generic song/poetry stuff.

I go back and forth one whether or not specialty priests are great, but if you want a few different priest classes it's hard to go wrong with AS&SH's Cleric, Druid, Monk, Priest, and Shaman. Now, I've been thinking that a purely martial monk ought to be a fighter type and most monk/mystic classes ought to have a few spells like the Spells & Magic monk of 2nd edition or be psychics, but these are some solid archetypes. Prophet is the only thing really missing, and you might need to muck around with spell systems to make it work well. As an aside, they solved the priest problem where priests get access to their whole spell list and get a power boost with every suplement: clerics and priests choose a few spells (3-4) per level to add to their lists. Simple and effective.

This is where AS&SH fails me a bit. They give us the generalist Magician alongside Illusionists, Necromancers, Pyromancers, and Witches. Its a nice little slate, but they don't seem as distinct as I might hope, and its not clear that an illusionist can preform the same work for the party that a magician or witch can. But they have unique spell lists and a couple special abilities, so its a nice slate assuming there's only one or two ways magic works in the world. I think with a couple well done spells you could add the idea of the warlock/pact-mage into the game as is, and I'm never 100% sure that the game needs sorcerers (though if they were run like 13th Age Occultists...).

One thing that really caught my attention and made me read through AS&SH again was the ability of
a few of the "primal" classes (Barbarian and Shaman) to draw poison: basically they get a chance to remove poison before it takes effect if they're quick enough and a bit lucky. The other "primal" classes (berserker, ranger, druid, scout) get some similar abilities but they don't all overlap. I'm not sure how it all washes out in play or if some of those skills could be a bit unified as "thief" type skills, but I like how the wilderness classes all give nice abilities (or at least fancy ribbons) that are thematic and cool. If I wanted to take that into a four class system, you could crib the civilized/barbarian theme and add it in as a background. So a civilized fighter might get some towny powers while a barbarian fighter could choose from the wilderness ones.

Essentially, AS&SH is looking very close to a 2nd edition game which uses Fighters, Barbarians, Berserkers, Paladins and Rangers; Thieves, assassins, and bards; Clerics, crusaders, monks, druids, and shamen; and mages and all sorts of specialist wizards. Just tweaked to cover a sword and sorcery setting with a few hard-coded multiclass options. In otherwords, AS&SH gets it about as right as Oriental Adventures.

The big flaw with AS&SH as I see it is that it's based on AD&D 1st Edition, and I'd like it a bit more if it were basic D&D. The unified ability bonus and simplified combat system appeal to me a bit. The combat phases really disinterest me, but by and large I think the game is decent looking (even if I might import a few 2nd edition-isms like d10 for initiative).

Anyway, of all the retro-clones out there I think this one is worth a second or third look. I wouldn't give up Al-Qadim Church for the world, but I'd definitely consider running AS&SH sometime. At least the class system looks to do a very good job of mixing Conan with D&D as though D&D never had elves or dwarves. The only real competitors in my mind are Adventurer Conqueror King and actual published D&D stuff. And the only real reason I like ACKs is that its based on basic D&D (i.e. simpler rules) and yet has some good variety to its classes. Though ACKs classes seem to be more about mixing fighting, thieving, clericing, and wizarding than anything unique and innovative (yeah yeah, Dwarven Machinist and Mystic and such). 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What makes an old school module good?

I've been musing about this since I started running Al-Qadim Church, and I suppose before hand too. I've read most of Bryce Lynch's reviews, but perhaps more enlightening is how much I feel he's largely accurate in what makes old school modules good. His review standards are pretty much a must read and should be a guide for most people producing old school modules today, whatever rules set they're for.

I think I disagree with Bryce on a few points, but that's more a matter of style than substance. I'm happy with canonical monsters in a generic fantasy because they're easier to replace and I'm not sure I've played enough D&D to get absolutely sick of using and reusing the same old things. I'm generally happy with something less gonzo, but that's mostly because I like to know how much whimsy is going to be in my fantasy. But I want to hit a few highlights:

Loops and multiple pathways. People have been talking about the Jaqueys and a particular less-linear style of dungeon. I bought copies of Caverns of Thracia and The Dark Tower a while back, and I have to say they do look pretty good. I'd love to run them sometime. The idea is a dungeon should have a couple ways in, and shouldn't just be a line of 5-7 rooms. A lot of games over the years stick to pretty linear dungeons, or maybe mega-man style dungeons where there's a couple linear paths each leading to a different end. I'm not sure I'd agree that every single dungeon needs this (the spice of life, and all) or that this needs to be heavily used. But having run a few dungeons with these features, I can say they're nice to have even if they're discovered late or not really used much by the PCs. It gives NPCs escape routes, monsters ways to sneak up behind the party, and some uncertainty about the actual layout of things. Any dungeon of reasonable size ought to make use of this.

Wandering monster random encounter tables. These give a good sense of what types of creatures are in the dungeon, even if you never use them. And what's better is when they're considered random encounters, rather than wandering monsters. In a dungeon, I want to be able to bring other enemies in if the PCs are dilly-dallying. I want to have some ideas for what else could have been around if things are too easy. And I want some options that are full of flavor in addition to (or instead of) crunch. Simple things like vermin are nice to for flavor of an abandoned ruin, while things like "hobgoblin war party lead by a dwarf" really make you think. I've had fun with a few of the Al-Qadim monster tables as the party randomly sees things like a horse. What a banal encounter, until the party opts to chase it and catch it. Their questions lead me to debate whether the horse was important to the story or not, and ultimately decide whose horse it was. Similarly, after rolling a sea hag as a random encounter (with a non-hostile reaction) she becomes an easy way to remove a bit of treasure from the PCs and can be tied into a previous encounter with a massive turtle that I rolled before. If I'm spending money on a module, it really ought to include some of this stuff because it makes the DM's job easier.

Concise writing. If I have to read through a 32 page module, I want to get the maximum amount out of it. Flavor text is nice, but its best as a spice or at most side dish. Room descriptions need to complement the map: there's no use describing the things already on the map unless its really important. The descriptions of NPCs are best when they include at least one quirk (a visual aspect, note on their dialect, personality type, etc.) that tells me how they can be used. Background can be kept to a minimum. Largely the players may not care whose tomb they're looting, and if they did they'd spend a bit of time investigating that beforehand in town. So things like rumors can give a lot of stuff away without it needing to be repeated as five pages of backstory on dead NPCs that might not matter to anything else.

Overview. Here's one place where I may differ from others, but I want the quick DM's summary of what's happening. Why is the module fun. What will the PCs do? What are the most important NPCs or encounters? Is there one or two sentences of backstory that are important to the adventure? The overview or summary, when well done (i.e. concise writing) is very helpful and worth a quarter to a half page of text. Some recent adventures (I'm looking at Out of the Abyss and Deep Carbon Observatory) are disturbingly lacking in this.

Modularity. This doesn't get mentioned by Bryce in his standards, but I want things I can easily modify to fit my game. I want to be able to replace Orcs or Hobgoblins with humans or something else appropriate. I need to swap out deities and demons for the ones in my setting. I'd rather have a few NPCs in a nearby town than the whole town itself. I do like a wilderness map and possibly a town name and images of the dungeon, but a lot of the backstory or factions are things I'm likely to disregard and change so I can place the adventure in my world (or, in the case of church, my vision of someone else's setting).

All this said, there are some pretty good modules out there alongside some pretty bad ones. I'll have to compile my own list of good ones, but it'll be largely culled from Bryce's suggestions.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The greatest old school spells (low levels) and dreams of a better system.

Now that I'm running an Al-Qadim Church for SundAD&D morning fun, its feeling pretty crazy to explore some of the brokenness that was old school D&D. Obviously we're doing it with some mid-to-late second edition material, but its is crazy seeing some of these hidden gems.

1) Animal Friendship. Traditionally a druid spell, but it turns out any specialty priest with the animal sphere gets it. This is a set of permanent animal companions, whose total hit dice is less than twice your level. You do need to train them tricks if you want them to do more than follow you around friendly-style. The animals won't be your friend if you have ulterior/sinister motives, but basically its a huge pile of semi-competent companions. Good uses thus far: big cat than can shred goblins. Good suggested uses thus far: guards to stand watch at camp (especially at night) and something small/quick that can fetch things. There's probably a lot more uses, but eventually one or two combat creatures plus one to master each other trick sounds pretty reasonable to me.

2) Charm person. The duration is measured in weeks. And this is a step down from permanent in the Swords & Wizardry book (which I assume is faithful to the original edition). In my game calendar, I have to roll a bunch of saves to see how long folks will be charmed and I'll mark it off when we come to that date. This means if a character of average intelligence is charmed for about 1-4 weeks for each failed save, and the save for 0-level characters is a 19+ on a d20. Still less broken than permanent, but I literally now have a day log so I can eventually decide when NPCs break the charm.

3) Goodberry. This second level spell belongs to druids too, and is a nifty way for them to provide some food or minor healing to the party. The Antagonizer pointed out that the spell seems to need fresh berries, so I guess this is mostly going to be things on the vine from now on, but I also have to keep track of how many berries were made on which day. I think, perhaps, I'll need to start sharing my calendar with the PCs so they can more easily keep track of some of these things. I did decide to enforce that goodberries will first function as rations before doing healing, but only if its actually been 24 hours or so since the last meal (i.e. you don't need to have one for breakfast before you can get healed, though that'd be another good ruling). We're playing in a jungly setting, but I suppose maybe there could still be a winter-ish month where berries are out of season.

4) Armor. Thankfully it doesn't actually stack with actual armor, but it does stack with physical shields (not the spell) and dexterity, and it lasts for a long-ass time till you start taking damage. This spell is definitely saving the collective asses of the players, but they're all restricted in their armor somewhat (specialty priest, or multiclass wizard or thief).

5) Sleep. I knew it was good, but it can basically take out a couple low-level goblins like none other. I'm waiting for the PCs to use it for a hunting spell (sleep on a flock of game fowl?) or some other good uses, but even just putting one or two guards to sleep is pretty amazing.

6) Entangle. This is another druid spell that the specialty priest has, but its basically stopping creatures in their tracks. Because its a huge radius, its stopped a couple encounters right away. Rereading this, I think the creatures aren't effectively paralyzed, so next time I think the party will need to expect a few missile attacks or creatures struggling to free themselves (probably depending on the weapons creature have and the plants in the area), but even if the creatures might get missile attacks this spell is pretty great.

-1) Ventriloquism. Not really a great spell, but I managed a pretty fun encounter with it because it was the only spell the enemy wizard could cast. Obviously he's going to use it as best he can, even if his goblin allies didn't get a surprise round.

These have been the big-use spells thus far (minus ventriloquism), but I expect some others eventually. One disappointment is that I think other low-level spells would be a lot more enticing if their durations were a bit longer to begin with and didn't creep as much. A lot could be something like one hour plus 1 turn per level, and they'd actually be pretty competitive with some of the ones listed above. Invisibility to Undead, for example, lasts a flat six rounds and never improves.

To be fair, some of the lackluster spells of 5e suffer this problem as well. A lot of them simply don't scale with higher slots, and I'd love to re-write some to do this. Things like Invisibility and Greater Invisibility should just be combined into one spell, for example. I'm just yearning to use Create Water to flood things in my 5e game, but that's in part because I once won a 2nd edition gladiator game with the spell when my 30+ level wizard cast it once or twice to flood our arena (8 feet of water really puts a damper on the dwarf warrior). Also, by the book, the 5e version of Create Water fills a container, dramatically lessening its use potentially. I like the precision of 5e, but sometimes things like spells attacking a creature really rubs me the wrong way.

Ultimately, I'm really liking some of the clunkiness of these old school spells. As I do this a bit more I think I'd love a game that is a bit more of a blend of old school stuff with 5e. I like some of the simplicity of how 5e has a nice handful of conditions which don't really overlap, but I also like how the old school spells leave a lot more room for interpretation (I like the reaction mechanic of 5e and would love to see feather fall be able to stop missile attacks mid-flight). I like how the old school game is decidedly lower-powered at low levels so far and its fairly gritty. While I love warlocks and sorcerers, I really love how I can hand out spellbooks to PC wizards to give them things to find and potentially add to their list of powers. I also like how not everyone has to have magic. I suppose there's always room to tinker. I do like 5e, but wish it had skewed a little more old school or that those modular dials that were touted could be turned down from Heroic a bit more. I might have to look at some other OSR games and see what's best to steal from them eventually, but I think this Al-Qadim game, crazy old school spells and all, will keep my attention for a quite a while still.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gussying up the Kenku

I had decided I'd attempt to monster gussy creatures I actually encountered in my 5e Princes of the Apocalypse game, and we finally (this was the fourth session maybe?) fought something that wasn't just people or undead people: Kenku!

Now, to be honest, we took out four of them with two sleep spells so we barely saw anything particularly kenku about these kenku, but I haven't gotten a chance to do this yet so I'm starting at a suboptimal place. Also, I suspect there'll be more kenku to fight eventually.

Flipping to the 5e entry for Kenku, we immediately see they're 100% lackluster. They gain advantage against surprised creatures (had to look that up as I figured everyone might) and the ability to mimic any sound they've heard. Otherwise, they're basically gypsy goblins that don't really talk.

Language rant: its pretty outrageous/implausible that creatures (as a race) can understand languages but cannot speak them. Individuals with speech deficits, sure. As a race which can mimic any sound they've ever heard, why they wouldn't communicate with efficient language rather than some crazy pantomime is stupid. In fact, its likely that with a vocal tract that can really mimic sounds well, they'd have a language that's truly baffling in the number of subtle distinctions in speech sounds; an agglutinating language with monosyllabic words comes to mind as things like tone, voice quality, and a large array of consonant clusters are all possible. So first fix: kenku can't understand language either. A bit reminiscent of how I'm imagining treating orcs and the like in my vision of the Empire of Man.

Now that that's out of the way, we have boring, featureless bird-like humanoids with an interesting quirk of language making them a little reminiscent of the Dabus of Planescape fame. But what will make them better?

There's a few more things ravens/crows are kinda known for: pecking out eyes and stealing glittery things (we've already got mimicry down). Unfortunately Kenku (or Tengu as they're known in Pathfinder) don't have a 13th Age entry anywhere as far as I can find. They're known as Ravenfolk in the Midgard campaign setting, and I have the 13th Age version of the Midgard Bestiary, but Ravenfolk're only presented as a PC option, not a monster to do battle with.

So without further ado, here's a couple abilities to tack on:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I think I appreciate the Forgotten Realms...

There's some required amount of background for any RPG game, and its maddening to try to parcel it out to players. I've obviously been thinking about it in the context of my own gaming, but also the antagonizer's latest post bout past and current dungeon thoughts and these silly comics I bought off of Humble Bundle a while ago.

One huge benefit of a campaign setting is being able to play in a world where everyone is on the same page. To some extent, the world of darkness games were genius: start off with 100% familiar things and add a layer of fantasy on top. You could easily start a game where players turn into vampires and then navigate their new existence without any background info, or at least without much.

So its time for a confession: not only have I been reading some of these old D&D comics set in the forgotten realms, but Lords of Waterdeep has been one of my go-to time-wasters. And its actually kinda neat seeing some of the random names from that game show up in the comic. And playing through Princes of the Apocalypse now, I also have a few better ideas about the sword coast and the religion of the Forgotten Realms in general. And its frustrating a bit when new DM brings in crazy greyhawk deities for no good reason. Because he's also then using random Forgotten Realms stuff like the Harpers and whatnot. But the point is there's a vaguely coherent and shared framework that could be used.

I missed the print edition of the Guide to Glorantha, and I'm a bit sad of that. I was warned about this, but I didn't want to drop that much cash on something I might not use. But after backing the 13th Age in Glorantha kickstarter I've come to appreciate Glorantha a bit more. Or, at least the basics, and especially the religions. See, originally the Gloranthan deities were designed to be a bit like a lost pantheon of familiar gods, at least the Orlanthi gods. So Orlanth is the sky-father, Ernalda is the earth-mother, and so forth. There's pretty clear parallels for Orlanth with Odin and Zeus and so forth. Now it's not just some proto-indo-european religion, as Runequest/Glorantha incorporates some aspects of Semitic and Sumerian religion as well, but its somewhat easy to draw parallels with these (dare I say iconic) deities.

13th Age similarly does a nice job of presenting a fairly iconic fantasy world without introducing dozens of nonsensical names full of apostrophes (this is a problem with Princes of the Apocalypse: there's so many NPCs with such nonsense fantasy names that its maddening for me as a player, I can imagine its similarly maddening as a DM). I think the genius of 13th Age is leaving the world half-baked so that the players and GM can fill it in. I think this was, in a way, the genesis of the Antagonist's games which involved a floating island in the midst of the "mist sea". Start small, the build outwards.

Its hard to get this shared sense of the world if you're not starting off. When The Antagonizer and I (and another friend) started playing 3.5 back in the day, we built a world together. Each player had the option to bring things in but it was mostly the three of us and when I decided I wanted a priest of a small pantheon of Wisdom Kings, our friend decided that rather than being dedicated to goodness, they should be dedicated to law. I promptly concurred because it not only took advantage of the shared aspect of world building, but it was, frankly, a bit of a better idea. When I left, crazy things happened that I was never apart of, and it was hard going back to occasionally play with them as new things just kept being added to the world that I had no part in. Likewise, my dreams for our empire of law include the peninsula of Twantu which is mostly ruled by incan-like Dwarves, separated from the Empire of Man by the Sargassso Sea (ruled with an iron fist by Blunanda, Kelp Queen of the Sargasso Sea), and further afield lie the Isles of Abandon where misfits and adventurers dwell. So if I ran things it would be alien to them as well, though with some shared elements (ancient blood gods, a powerful wizard's guild, and a senator named Taira who may or may not be evil).

So the point of this rambling? I'm putting together some background info for my game, but its also hard to know what is enough. I can give players some sections of books to read, or suggest chapters, but I don't know who read what. To make matters worse I'm drawing What I want are some quick setting intro videos or 2-4 page setting overviews for things like Al-Qadim and Planescape and more. I want comics (like the Unity of Rings or maybe Ianto's Tomb) that actually introduce some vital elements of the setting, and novels that hew closely to some of the game mechanics and setting lore (and don't drastically change things from the books like the Prism Pentad for Dark Sun or the Avatar Trilogy for Forgotten Realms or the Chronicles trilogy for Dragonlance did). I miss the World of Darkness short story anthologies and ditto for The Sinful Stars: Tales of the Fading Suns (though I don't think their purpose was to really introduce the setting, we definitely passed those around like a doobie back in the day). I really hope that WotC can make some of this work now that D&D is a huge brand, at least for their big worlds.

Obviously the problem here is trying to figure out what is enough. I love Fading Suns for its detailed world, but I doubt I'll ever use that much intricate backstory. I think an ideal way to do this might be the quick and dirty short into to the setting and then the 2+ page entries on different races and factions, or the short story that focuses on an individual character option (city/region, race, possibly class). I love this new Vampire: The Dark Ages behemoth I've got, but there's no way I'd ask players to read a 400+ page RPG manual as though we were using all those options (and it doesn't even go in-depth on the various clans much more than all the bloodlines). God help me if I were ever a marketer for Wizards of the Coast as this might all just muck things up, but a few simple things like this seem like they'd be immensely helpful.

For me though, I'll just have to ask the players what they've had time to read of the Al-Qadim stuff and put some things together for them. And, I guess, appreciate that the new D&D stuff does have a setting, with a stable of deities and cities and NPC groups even if I find it a bit lackluster. I can at least see the benefits, even if it still just makes it feel like 5e is a great compromise edition.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Surprises from Second Edition

So my Church of Al-Qadim (i.e. SundAD&D) game is up and running, and four brave souls are letting me run my dream Al-Qadim game (with a few modifications to fit their points of view). Its been a bit rough so far, because I forget how much work it can be to run a game, in this case stitching a number of Al-Qadim and non-AQ adventures together into a nice sandbox. So I haven't even given out all the background info I was hoping to, and might need to recommend a couple changes to characters still, but things are coming along fairly well I think.

However. I had a few surprises with the second edition rules.

First off: random wilderness encounters. I mucked it up a bit and ran the dungeon rules for the wilderness, but I'm not sure it affected all that much there. But afterwards when I sat down to really read through the random encounters rules I see this:
Unlike the dungeon tables, those used for the wilderness are not so neatly organized according to deadliness or power. One principle of wilderness adventuring (which makes it more dangerous for low-level characters) is that virtually any creature can be met—and often in sizeable numbers. This is a risk the players should be aware of before they take their characters out into the untracked forest.
This really hit home after killing one PC and rolling for a 10-hit die giant snapping turtle (6d4 damage with a successful bite means it would be virtually guaranteed to kill any of the PCs with one hit).

Second off: Death's door. After killing a PC, I used the obvious Hovering at Death's Door optional rule. I shocked myself a little, as PCs can't recover more than 1 hitpoint for a full day (and are basically useless that whole day). This is definitely a lot gritter than the rules in modern D&D where there are cantrips to stabilize people and warlords can yell people back on their feet. I definitely like it, but I wonder if there's a role for letting high-constitution characters get off a little easier. Though maybe it could just be you're officially dead when your negative HP hit your constitution score, rather than -10 for everyone. This rule also makes me feel a little justified with my proposed 5e house rule of assigning a level of exhaustion if you get to negative HP.  Second edition also made it a bit easier than first edition, where it can take a whole week of rest before the injured character can adventure again. I suspect we'll find the pace of healing a lot slower too unless the priestess uses all her spells for healing constantly. Makes me think a little about whether I want those second level healing spells in the game or not: priests can't heal as much if there are no healing spells at a particular level.

Third off: Crazy spells! The save for Charm Person might only be made in spans of weeks, not days or hours. I kind of knew this but didn't actually read it before we played. Animal Friendship is basically indefinite (though there's a limit to how many you can have at any given time), which we discovered right before we started. These are all basically hidden class features (much like Eldritch Blast & Hex or Hunter's Mark or Find Steed in 5e).

Fourth off: Ability scores! I didn't know dexterity didn't modify initiative (probably cause it was hard on group initiative which was the early standard). Instead it modifies your likelihood of being surprised (you might not surprise everyone in a group). Likewise both dexterity and wisdom have broad impacts on classes of saving throws (dodge-able and mind-affecting spells) and everyone gets a constitution bonus to saves versus poison (though dwarves and halflings get a bigger bonus for their race). I like some of this and you can see how it prefigures the fortitude, reflex, and will saves/defences of later editions.

Overall, I'm liking it. It definitely seems to be working for a gritter game, is easy-ish to modify some aspects, and it would be a bit harder to get 5e to do some of this as well as second edition seems to be (not to mention I have all this second edition stuff, I doubt they'll ever actually convert Al-Qadim to 5e).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Good techniques: Background Info

Since I've had a few days of boring meetings, I've been thinking about some of the good that I've experienced recently and hope to bring to my own game. The first one is hooks and background info.

New DM used some little faction-based hooks for Princes of the Apocalypse, so that each PC has a few ideas of what's going on. Now he did it in a kinda odd cut-and-paste style where we have no idea who Windharrow is or why we're after them, but meh. The idea is good. So I'm hoping to give out a few specific ideas to specific characters, both in terms of background info and possible leads. Also, giving people stuff pre-written-down might help alleviate a few issues of player record keeping. The PCs in Al-Qadim SundAD&D (Ruined Kingdoms Church) are going to be a bit more selfish than in New DM's TuesD&D game, so it'll be nice to give out some good info to different PCs without everyone else knowing.

Hopefully my cut-and-paste jobs won't be too much of an info dump for PCs, but I think it'll be a little helpful to give the PCs some knowledge (slightly redacted) of what I'm working with. The only problem I've got so far is how much info to give people, but I think I can just be cautious to start and add to each PC's document over time as needed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TuesD&D Recap II: Heavy Hands

Continuing my bashing of New DM (He's still doing quite well, I'm just going to focus on the less-good things so far): Things felt rather heavy handed last night.

First, there was another party in play. I wasn't expecting another adventuring party to be in the same location as we were. That was kinda good, but how did they avoid the first trap which was a Zombie pushing rubble on top of us. Did they somehow sneak past the zombies? I really do like this idea though that there are others interested in the same goals as the players, but its kinda odd for the GM to portray whole parties at once, and a party of two dudes seemed very small to encounter. 

Second, New DM doesn't really roleplay charactersBut he had one of them killed so he just did one character, and didn't even say the words the NPC was saying: he just said things like "He basically tells you X". All of this while one of the other players was trying out voices for his character. It was also funny, because after we slaughtered the guy in the cave, he mentioned how it was sad cause he wanted to roleplay that guy... So... I'm confused.

Third, I'm not sure how much information we're supposed to be getting or how quickly, but he was doing a lot of reveals. This other adventuring party gave us quite a bit of info, all but saying there were four evil cults we needed to deal with. [Its very tempting to look through the module to see how the location was described and if he's adding new stuff or what.] He also loves the idea of the factions in these new D&D modules, and I've found them all rather lackluster and generic. But now the factions are actively trying to recruit PCs and also spilling information hither and yon. I was kinda expecting something a bit slower, like how I ran Against the Cult of the Reptile God. It all seems rather fast.

Fourth, dude has just raced us up to third level: that was the second session and now we're 3rd level. This might not be a mistake, but it did seem quite swift. Obviously characters don't really come into their own till 3rd though, so its probably fine. I still have a few spells/powers that I haven't even used yet though.

Monday, September 14, 2015

TuesD&D Recap I: First session thoughts

So I joined a D&D 5e campaign on Tuesdays, we'll see if it lasts. The DM is running Princes of the Apocalypse, which makes it difficult for me because I have to not read the book I have. Oh well. Here's his mistakes thus far.

First mistake: I am chaotic neutral apparently. Despite my thoughts that maybe I'd be Lawful Evil at the beginning and transition to something more good. He basically told me my character is chaotic neutral. My character is a warlock, former pirate captain who was captured by Blunanda, Kelp Queen of the Sargasso sea. She forces me to do her bidding because she's got my lover captured in her shipwreck castle, and it pleases her to watch the evil pirate do good. Also I've been replaced by some changeling fetch, so there's still a Captain Glafiro sailing the sword coast and causing trouble. I'm playing the character as an evil dick who's being forced into do-goodery and is suspicious that the Kelp Queen is watching over his shoulder constantly. And I'm arbitrarily Chaotic Neutral.

Second mistake: He's enthusiastic, but probably hasn't played this new edition much. The first encounter he gave us an NPC light cleric of St. Cuthbert (we're in the forgotten realms, that's a greyhawk deity). So that seems wrong to me, not just the mixing of D&D worlds (which isn't a huge deal) but also feeling like we need a healer NPC. Ick. And he's somehow a NPC with the healer feat at first level. Double ick for us not needing to worry about healing ever apparently.

Third mistake: My crazy wizard eyes didn't see the zombie coming. He gave us a level up midway through the first session, so I obviously take the detect magic at-will warlock invocation. I'm actively detecting magic when we investigate this body lying on the ground, nothing. No faint aura of necromancy, just flat out nothing. 5e is a game with a lot of silly little absolutes, so I was a little miffed at this.

Anyway, I'm picking on the dude but the rest was actually pretty good. I hope he can keep all the NPCs and locations clear and distinct, cause this might be a fun little sandbox for the Captain to explore.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New DMs fucking things up before we start...

So I'm travelling for a conference but see this message about a new D&D game that's starting up that I was going to play:

For those of you wanting to roll up a character, use a 16,14,12,12,10, 8 point spread. Place them where appropriate. If anyone needs help rolling up a character, message me.

Now... WTF? Dude admits he hasn't played/run this edition before and is already mucking up the 15,14,13,12,10,8 stats the book recommend? So here's my thinking.

1) By giving me a 16 it does open up all races to all classes. So that Aarakocra or Lizardman diviner might be a bit more appealing.

2) However, that makes the +2 to an ability score super powerful as now I can start with an 18. +4 to hit, +4 to damage on all my attacks is nice.

3) And that +1 from my race is basically useless. Like non-variant humans, who get +1 to everything, or Half-Elves who get +1 to two different abilities in addition to the +2 charisma

4) High scores mean feats will be important. Because if I were a half-elf warlock and start with a 18 charisma, I can only take one charisma boost, the rest might as well be feats.

5) I kinda do things like this too maybe, but I don't think I'd change the basic stat array. More likely to modify spell lists or something. I'd like to think that I'm more aware of the consequences of doing things like this though.

And these are the things going through my brainpan. It seems particularly true in 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions where ability scores are huge, but it is really odd how just seeing one little set of numbers starts me along the lines of: maybe that Aarakocra Diviner isn't such a bad option afterall.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Random Stats: Story vs Creativity vs Math

As I'm gearing up to try to run a game or two, I've been thinking of how to generate ability scores. For my tentative 2nd Edition Al-Qadim game, I've got the following penciled in:

Roll 4d6 and drop the lowest die in order for each ability score. If you are human, you may rearrange them in any order you choose. You must fit race and class minimums and maximums for any given score.

This gives us randomness while, at the same time allowing people to play the class they desire at the cost of an interesting race. I waffle over whether to somehow encourage a few other races by allowing them one ability swap to a "favored class" sort of thing: something like an elf may swap Intelligence with one other score, a dwarf may swap strength with one other score, a halfling may swap dexterity with one other score, etc. "Rare" races could be not allowed a swap so you either pick the race you want or the best class but not both. Less relevant for a game with a limited slate of races than an open-ended game like 4e which had a Mos Eisley cantina of races.

I like the idea of random ability scores, but the post third-edition math makes rolling potentially really bad. That is to say, a few high scores can be slightly unbalancing, whereas older editions didn't assume you'd have particularly high scores at all.

Now, I wouldn't encourage rolling abilities for anything third edition or later. The bonuses are just too important. One high stat can make a great OSR character, but you're not hindered by mediocre stats.

What's the benefit of randomness? I think, beyond some fetish for tradition and dice rolling, I think it forces a little creativity. We often let players make characters ahead of time, or else they have ideas of what they want to make before arriving at the table. But once you're stating at a 16 strength and 12 intelligence you've got a choice: Do I make the wizard I want who struggles with wizardry, or pick the fighter because I've got the stats for it? Because fewer things are based on stats in older versions of D&D, you can make a 12 intelligence wizard who is relatively functional. You cannot do that in modern editions of the game.

However. Some of the randomness may come at a price. Namely, it may be best to start with a coherent party rather than character concepts. And once the players decide they want to be crusaders fighting against demonic old gods and founding a new city to dedicated to their ideals... Those paladin-preventing scores could be rough. If I'm asking players to decide before they create characters what sort of alignment or ideals the party might have, that may limit some character options that randomness would encourage or possibly discourage.

I'm hoping my rule above has struck a reasonable balance. By allowing humans to swap scores around, it allows people to be the rarer classes of their choosing. It also will make demihumans less common: non-humans are more likely to have unexpected high and low ability scores for their class which or the player might opt for a class that fits the race better.

One possible problem I see, however, is that 2nd edition (like pretty much all editions) needs a healer. It may be beyond randomness in character creation though. If no one rolls well for wisdom or wants to be a priest, there's not many healing options. I'm hoping to alleviate this decision by including the Spells & Magic crusader and monk (revised as Dervish) alongside the more native Al-Qadim classes. I.e. more priest choices so one might be more appealing to players.

None of this, however, deals with the problems of a possible 5e game though. If you roll 4d6 drop the lowest the average character will have at least a 15 as their highest score and its reasonably likely to having between a 14 and 17 as their highest on either end of the probabillity curve. These numbers are high at low levels, but the cap at 20 probably helps. Most ability scores will end up 9-15 (within one standard deviation of the mean of 12.2), which is at least in a reasonable range for modern D&D. Maybe its not worth worrying about it and using the same rule will be fine. Or maybe the rule should only be by-the-book humans rather than variant humans. But here's the real problem: low scores aren't a huge deal in second edition, but in modern editions (including 13th Age) they are.

Low scores can be damning in modern editions. The fact that the 13th Age designers hadn't encountered characters with a negative constitution modifier before making the necromancer in 13 True Ways highlights this. Stats under 8 make for some really shitty characters. This is obviously mitigated by point-buy options, but rolling a 6 isn't going to be super uncommon.

The possible answer: Modify the rule above to allow humans to choose the standard array. This would ensure no PCs have crazy low stats, but doesn't prevent luck from giving someone three 17s, which are bumped up by the chosen race. I might just have to live with a little luck, I suppose, unless I want all the characters to include no randomness whatsoever. And I like how my rule encourages humans at any rate.

I suppose I could reduce the role of luck by changing the rolling method if there's a point buy backup for humans. 3d6 in order, or 3d6 twice in order might do. There's still a chance that luck will grant an exceptional character to one player while the others rely on a point buy.

One possible problem remains with randomness: The players decide on a mercenary party attempting to raid the tombs of old gods to find the wealth needed to found a new city and rule over it, yet one player rolls perfect paladin or monk stats. Maybe that's just a roleplaying or creativity challenge if the player really wants to play the character they rolled who doesn't quite fit the party. Or maybe the party needs to be designed at the same time as ability scores are rolled.

Ultimately, I still like my rule. Modulo it might need to be adapted for a specific version of the game and specific racial desiderata. Minimums or rearranging ought to prevent absolutely useless characters, and randomness can nicely constrain creativity. However, it means one does need to tread carefully with the party story perhaps.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Gussying up monsters (the Ogre!) and crits

The Antagonizer lamented that running 5e monsters was a bit lackluster compared to 13th Age or Dungeon World. Like: he wanted an ogre to grab two PCs and smash them together, giving me a vague impression of that scene from the Avengers where Hulk whips Loki around like a rag doll. So obviously I challenged him to a contest of gussying up some of the basic monsters in D&D. I sorta said I'd work on the Ogre. This has definitely sprawled beyond the Ogre, but I think in a good way. Ultimately my thoughts have moved a lot more to critical hits and fumbles over fixing the Ogre, it seems.

But I said I'd do the Ogre, so here's some thoughts. Also we've now agreed that we should both write up our thoughts separately on this topic, so I'll come back to this after I read what the Antagonizer has written. tl;dr: There's stuff for ctitical hits and additions to the Ogre at the bottom.

First up, 5e Ogres are boring, but 13th Age ones aren't all the inspiring to me. Though I do like a few of the story implications of 13th Age ogres, the stats are still a bit lackluster even with the rock-solid—if not completely incredible—13th Age Bestiary.

Second up, I want to respect the rules lawyers out there. Being a bit of one myself, I totally understand wanting to know how I escape the ogre's grapple. So the restriction I've got here is one that keeps the basic combat rules intact, but adds a few options. So this can't be full-on Dungeon World style narration where anything goes.

Third up, gussying up combat might have some interactions with critical hits and weapon properties that I've toyed with before.

Fourth up, there is no fourth. All hail discordia. Or some nonsense like that.

Mechanical and Narrative Options
So gussying up the Ogre. What you really want is something that makes combat more interesting by adding complications in:

  • Dungeon World does this by giving mechanical and/or narrative penalties for failed rolls (you attack the Ogre but roll low, so it damages you or knocks you prone) and bonuses for high rolls (sweeping attack, you damage the ogre and knock it perilously close to the cliff's edge).
  • 13th Age (often, but somewhat irregularly) does this by using the technology of the d20. Low rolls against certain creatures open you up for attacks or effects, natural odd/even results can trigger secondary attacks or less common effects (essentially replacing generic: it hits you, save vs whatever to avoid some condition), and sometimes specific numbers (a generic high roll of 18+, natural 2, natural 5, 10, and 15) can also trigger effects. This makes 13th Age a bit more exciting for the GM because you don't know when a creature will unleash its bigger power, and makes combat a bit more random. Its a little unevenly applied in some monsters get this treatment and some don't, and some get a lot more of it than others.
  • 4th Edition did it by adding rider effects to just about all your powers. Damage wasn't the only thing you did, but you also moved creatures about and inflicted conditions. Now 13th Age does that a little bit as well, but 4e really made tactical combat shine. And, I suspect for some, changed the game a lot beyond just "I hit it with my axe." Before 4th edition (and the 3rd edition Book of Nine Swords, I'll wager) this sort of awesome combat was largely found in indie games. Now it's becoming necessary in the mainstream stuff.

So what we want is a way to add in some of these mechanical and flavorful benefits into 5e or even OSR combats. I think we see the lack of this in the 5e Critical Hit rules.

Critical Hits
In 5e, these simply do double damage dice on a nat 20. How unexciting is that? I think the 4e method was slightly better: max damage plus maybe an extra die. Thing is, people like rolling dice but double dice is statistically equivalent to max damage in terms of averages, but has lackluster low possibilities (2 damage on a crit?!?) and unbalancing highs (one attack is effectively two really powerful blows). I've mused before (though apparently not written about?) altering critical hits to include some of these tactical options. Like: a crit can either do max damage or you get to shove the enemy and do normal damage. I included this as an option in some weapon properties (disarming, sundering, tripping) to make combat more interesting.

One could make a table of these sorts of effects:

  1. Knock the opponent back
  2. Knock the opponent prone
  3. Disarm the opponent
  4. Sunder the opponents weapon
  5. Sunder the opponents shield
  6. Sunder the opponents helmet or +1d6 damage
  7. Grapple the opponent
  8. Inflict a level of exhaustion

Ultimately it might be satisfying if the ogre could grab or knock back an opponent (or some other weapon-appropriate option), but crits are pretty rare. And an extra table roll for a crit isn't a huge game stopper, but if we want this to be flavorful and more common than a natural 20 you don't want to always roll on the table.

Interestingly, you can make this happen twice as often simply by allowing the effects to happen when the opponent rolls a natural 1 as well. So now we're getting into a 10% chance that some of these effects are going off, even if the players are benefiting from them quite a bit as well as the enemies. No longer is that natural 1 just some random "You horribly miss" but "You leave an opening, the ogre uses its reaction to grab you."

Templates for creatures
One idea to apply a 13th age style mechanic to creatures is by adding templates. These were a third edition idea where you simply increase the power of a monster and likewise increase their challenge rating and XP value. So we could give our Grabby Ogre the ability to get a free grapple in on a successful even attack, and when an opponent is grappled the Grabby Ogre gets the ability to fling the opponent 10' feet (preferably into a wall or an ally). Given that this is random though, and that the ogre would need to survive for about 3 rounds to have a good chance of having this go off (and the PC probably gets one chance to escape the grab), I'm not sure it really necessitates modifying the XP values in this case, but if you add in something else it might. Like if this were instead a scourge-wielding priest of Ishishtu who is knocking players prone on a field of caltrops on natural even hits... You can see why this might be something to consider in encounter building if you're the type to actually count XP or even just want to inform PCs that "It is obvious that... you are outmatched in this fight."

But assuming we want to go the template route, I think it follows on those weapon properties to some extent. We can build a few templates that can be applied to give 13th Age style mechanics to these creatures. Like:

Grabby X.
Natural Even Hit - Target is grappled. (Limit the number of grapples by the creature's number of appendages probably).

If you have a grappled target, you can make the Dirty Hands attack.
Natural Even Hit - Squeeze the target for extra damage and inflict a level of exhaustion.
Natural Odd Hit - Fling the target at a nearby ally. If you hit, both take X damage.
Miss - Fling the target 10' away, can make a dex save to avoid X damage.

Scourge-weilding X
Natural even hit - Free grapple
Advantage when knocking grappled targets prone. Target takes normal damage from attempt.

Avoiding the Rules Lawyers (a.k.a. Nastier Specials)
I would apply these templates post hoc and liberally. First off, many humanoids will be equipped with weapons and should benefit from the same types of weapon properties the PCs get. So you can easily apply a Pokey X template to the three orcs with spears (meaning maybe they get to be 3 abreast in the 10' corridor because they're using spears rather than big axes). You might not describe the weapons of each combatant at first, so just deciding to give someone a Sundering Axe midway through combat isn't the worst. You can also just apply a template when a creature is enraged (or bloodied?), so the ogre could be grabby once it gets disarmed or gets hit by that annoying ranger. I'd just be careful to remember that I decided that this combat I've got a Grabby Ogre that uses odd numbers because that's when I decided to apply the template.

Its also important, I think, that these templates only change the rules for monsters. That is, they do get a chance to escape the grapple or maybe a dex save to avoid being tossed off the edge of a tower. Because you want to know what your character can be expected to do and you want to be able to possibly minimize some effects that you hate.

Some effects may be better off as the PC makes a save after each attack, such as poison. Dwarves get a bonus against poison, and if I played a dwarf I'd like to make use of that. So that's not as good of an option as knocking someone back, disarming them, or sundering gear. Extra rolls can slow things down, but in the case of poison and dwarves, its worth it to show off how awesome dwarves are. This might also apply in other cases, such as frosty enemies slowing you down or whatnot.

Types of effects to apply
So what types of effects can be readily used and reused?

Forced movement & prone. A staple of 4e, but I'd restrict it to shorter (5'-10'?) increments in theatre of the mind in general: some of those 4e effects could be ridiculous (beguiling strands pushing opponents 25-feet!?!). Falling rules can be applied in terms of giving additional damage as needed.

Grapple. There are already monsters in the book who auto-grapple on a hit. Gives PCs a chance to waste some actions to attempt an escape as well, and those with athletics or acrobatics type proficiency get a chance to show off. Obviously restrained is harsher, so I'd reserve that for actual criticals maybe?

Sundering and disarming. I like these, just because it teaches players to carry a back-up and also changes the nature of the combat a bit. Obviously sundering is a bit toucher compared to disarming, and would be possibly quite harsh with magic items. It might be worth saving sundering for real bad-asses and critical hits, or both of these for just natural 20 options. Then again that mending cantrip would easily fix a sundered weapon or shield, and who ever thinks mending would be a useful cantrip to have in combat? Given that this is a special action for PCs though, it seems a little less appropriate for villains unless they're wielding crazy special weapons (flindbars!!!) or are weapon masters. 

Exhaustion or wounds. I've considered using something like this with criticals in the past. Its a good way to remind PCs that combat is dangerous. These should be reserved for major bad asses though. Or possibly exhaustion for level-draining types of undead. Cause level drains are fucking nasty, but exhaustion at least is kinda similar. Aside: Obviously I think the exhaustion rules might be a good way to simulate some lingering injuries, but it may require a bit more thought.

Blinded, charmed, deafened, frightened, stunned. Sure, but it probably needs a end of the round or save ends thing. Also not at all sure what creatures would apply these effects, they're probably already built into the creatures.

Paralyzed, petrified. I feel like these effects are probably already integrated into the creatures in question by and large, more so than the others.

Poisoned. Again I really feel that, since dwarves get advantage on saves against poison it should require a save.

Difficult terrain. Don't overlook changing the battlefield. But I wouldn't let the monsters do this in ways that PCs can't (i.e. no free overturning bookcases generally) but maybe some that leave huge footprints or trails of slime...

Reduced movement. That ray of frost spell does it, so I don't see why some monsters couldn't reduce your movement. Though again... harder to imagine when to use this.

Looking at all these effects we can kinda categorize them into a two groups: normal and unusual. Forced movement, Prone, Grapple, Sunder/Disarm, and maybe exhaustion are pretty normal. You can imagine these happening a lot. They're good candidates for templates. But Heck, even a slime trail template could involve leaving oozy puddles for difficult terrain. The others though: particularly petrified and paralyzed, are poor choices for these templates. They require really specialized monsters (medusa, basilisk, etc.) and are already built into the design for those creatures.

So a lot of this kinda comes down to a few normal-ish monsters doing many of the same normal-ish things.

The end game
I'm looking at a two-way solution here which involves critical hits and fumbles, but also possibly 13th Age style templates. I'm eager to see if the Antagonizer came up with some similar thoughts as I did, but I expect to revise some ideas after we bounce things around more.

First: On a critical hit or fumble, mirroring the weapon properties I advocated for earlier (whether they're whole-heartedly adopted or just ad-hoc adapted) I like the option of doing max damage or normal damage with the appropriate condition. These would be a free grapple, shove, disarm, shove aside, mark, tumble, or whatever attacks. Your weapon should take that into account, and canny players should ask things like "Can I do normal damage and also topple the bookcase over onto them?" I think you'd also make a ruling about whether things auto succeed or not based on how likely they are or if they do lots of effects. Like: knocking someone down with a whip or large staff seems like it'd happen no problem. Knocking someone down with a longsword or axe might require the roll. Knocking the bookcase over to block an escape or create rough terrain seems fine, knocking it onto the guy to possibly trap him or do extra damage might allow a save. The reverse should be allowed on a fumble: the knight fumbles his attack against the scourge-wielding priest and the priest gets to trip the knight. This may warrant a little revision of my weapon properties, like the sundering property activates on a 19 or 20, rather than just a 20. I can live with that probably.

In terms of fumbles, I like these less. So I'd generally advocate for something where the fumble involves a die roll (i.e. shooting into melee might force you to attack an ally) rather than simple bad things happening (your bow breaks). Also you may give the player an element of choice to avoid the fumble (you rolled a 1. Your shot is awful, you can either lose your successful attack against the ogre or you have to roll against the fighter). Still thinking about this a bit.

As an aside on probabilities, the third edition critical confirmation is actually genius, though it does slow things down. It takes actual critical hits from a flat 5% to 5% of hits, meaning they're much more common for fighters than wizards. In the flatter math world of 5e I'm not so sure it matters. Combat & Tactics gave crits on any natural 18+ that also beat the AC by 5 or more points which at least doesn't require another roll and eliminates the thing where you can only inflict critical hits against the dragon because you can't hit any other way.

Critical Hits. If you roll a natural 20 in combat, your attack deals either: a) maximum damage or b) normal damage and allows you to do something interesting. The DM may suggest some standard interesting things based on your weapons or spells (i.e. staves and flails tripping an opponent) or you can suggest something interesting yourself (i.e. disarming an opponent or knocking over a bookcase). The DM will tell you if your interesting thing will automatically succeed or if it may require a roll before hand so you may still opt for maximum damage instead.

Critical Fumbles. If you roll a natural 1 in combat, you've made a mistake. This may open you up for reactionary attacks from nearby enemies, force you to attack a different target, or make a save against some effect.

Second: Templates for more common effects. If you want a grabby ogre, or a slime that trails difficult terrain, or a frosty sword that slows enemies down... just let that happen on a natural even or odd. Well, ok, you might need to work out a slightly more complex template if you want to let the dice tell you what happens after he grabs you (rip off your helmet and try to eat your face!). But half a dozen templates or maybe even a dozen will probably go a long way and see lots of reusability. Even Grabby could be applied to the Orc when he's fighting the gnome and halfling!

So without further ado, additions to the Ogre's normal stat block based on the Grabby Hands template. I'm not 100% sure I like it all yet, but its a start and could be re-used for other creatures.

Slam. Melee attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Natural Even Hit: 13 (2d8+4) bludgeoning damage and the target is grabbed. Natural Odd Hit: 13 (2d8+4) bludgeoning damage.

Dirty Hands. Melee attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one grappled target. Natural even hit: 13 (2d8+4 bludgeoning damage and inflict a level of exhaustion. Natural odd hit: Throw the target 10 ft, 15 (2d10+4) damage if the target hits a solid obstacle. If you fling the target into another creature the target takes half damage and that creature must make a dexterity save (DC 14) or take half damage. Miss: Fling the target up to 10 ft. Target must make a dexterity save (DC 14) or take 13 (2d8+4) damage.

Quick Grab. The ogre can make one grapple attack against one target within 5 ft. that rolls a natural 1.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Must buy: SlaughterGrid

Christ on his cross. Sometimes I really debate telling other people about a glorious item that is 100% amazing because I have dreams of running it. (I had this problem with Far Away Land.) But sometimes a thing is so good you have to spread the word. This thing I SlaughterGrid. Read the review here.

Let me be frank. This is a little too weird/gonzo for me. I'd have to really detail the crazy hex-crawl nonsense a bit and even then it wouldn't quite fit into any campaign I'd run long term. And this is coming from a dude who recently ran a game that included an onion witch whose crazy onion eyes let her see things from afar but only during the lead-up to orgasm (and probably a bit post orgasm)... And that was, in part, because the players opted to avoid the river rafting which was kinda the railroad of the module. For gonzo/weird shit, I have a hard time keeping all the crazy in mind and making it meaningful crazy. I know when it looks good though, even if its not quite for me.

Nonetheless. I agree that this adventure seems very well done. For me, the adventure is unuseable as it. But still 100% amazing. You get enough details to run each little encounter. Specific attention is payed to smells, writing, and the like. I <3 the bullet points, I've long debated if I could get away with a bullet point format (not just for myself but when gifting things to others) and this answers with a resounding yes! This thing is basically wonderful. Buy it. Read it. Dream of running it and realize it was still worth the cost for all the ideas you'll steal from it.

In a way, it seems overdone. Each encounter is kinda meaningful. Almost Torchbearer/Dungeon World meaningful. Like its a big deal, more than 2d8 gnolls. I think the real trick is figuring out how to use this as inspiration to make 2d8 gnolls meaningful.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The cleric is broken: or, how the eff do I give clerics (and others!) new spells...

I'll admit it: I legitimately believe that the 2nd edition specialty priest was one of the best forms of the Cleric class. But we live in a post third-edition world (and first-edition and before are part of that world too), and I have a legitimate dilemma. How the eff do I give clerics new spells..? (I've noted this before.)

Clerics, since time immemorial, have always had access to their entire spell list. The problem is that every book that expands the cleric spell list directly expands the cleric's versatility and therefore power. The conflict is: certain gods should grant certain spells, but the cleric class doesn't have a great mechanism for gods granting spells.

The genius of second edition (at least following on the heels of the 1st edition Dragonlance Adventures) was dividing cleric spells into spheres. You could easily assemble a list of spells known based on spheres, and new spells were simply added to the list of spheres. It wasn't perfect, but at least each book with new spells didn't automatically add to each priest's selection. And those that did add were reasonably appropriate.

Now, I wish 3rd and 5th edition had expanded domains a bit, such that each domain granted more than a couple spells at each level. Ultimately that would be like an expanded second edition sphere of all but more distinction between deities/domains. It still suffers because there's no way to grant appropriate spells to a cleric of Isis and not to a cleric of Horus or Set. The problem remains: expand the cleric list, you do it for all or none (or specifically just to a few).

So I'm considering running a 5th edition assorted Saturdays game here in faraway and need to decide how to integrate spells from the Elemental Evil stuff or the Necromancer Games' Book of Lost Spells. I'm picking on the cleric here, but most D&D classes are now like this: bards, clerics, druids, fighters (eldritch knights), rogues (arcane tricksters), sorcerers and warlocks [Edit: forgot paladins & rangers!] all have the same basic problem. However, there's a few options.

1) Just fucking add them for everyone. This is the least satisfying option.

2) Let some appropriate spells overwrite generic spells. This is say I offer detect disease or putrefy food and drink in exchange for some spell on the regular list. This is reasonable at each spell level, and requires the DM (i.e. me) to decide which spells belong to a particular deity, patron, or whatever-the-fuck bards and sorcerers use for gaining spells. Its reasonable, but also unsatisfying.

3) Discovery. Through mystic tomes, journals from dead mages, runestones, or whatnot I could add spells to particular characters' lists. This is still in the DM's hands, and could be combined with option #2 I suppose. The thing is... there's no real reason why bards couldn't have found a particular spell anyway. For bards and sorcerers this is a bit more satisfying as they basically just add to a set list of spells known. For clerics and druids, this is less exciting because, by the rules, it seems like their god should have either granted the spell from the get-go or not.

4) Replacement. This is like #3 but without discovery. Here I (i.e. the DM) just arbitrarily replace some spells on a PC's list with others. Doesn't motivate anyone to discover new shit, but it is reasonable.

5) Bonuses. Like #4, but based on spellcasting stats. Essentially, the DM gives bonus spells to particular characters based on their spellcasting list. So a Cleric of Ptah with a +3 wisdom bonus would add 3 additional spells of the DM's choice to their list. I like this option, but it might be hard to come up with that many spells per level. Simply replacing the bonus/level with the bonus spread across levels this would be pretty manageable, or maybe double the bonus across levels (so that +3 bonus translates to six added spells of whatever levels are appropriate). The problem with this option is finding the right number of additional spells for any given priest. That's 5 or 10 depending on wisdom scores, I suppose. Thankfully the Book of Lost Spells does provide quite a few, but there might not quite be enough great options for any given priesthood (or bardhood, druidic cult, sorcererous bloodline, or warlock patron).

I'm obviously still brainstorming a bit, but option 5 seems like its the best. Its DM-sensitive, but gives some customization to different types of cleric (or bard or druid or sorcerer or warlock) without stupidly expanding each class's spell list. I'm still looking for something better. I'm thinking combining #3 Discovery with #5 Bonuses, but ultimately anything that could be discovered also feels like it could be a bonus. If deities are active in the world, I suppose one-off spell options could be given as well: Isis knows her agents may need a Detect Curse spell and offers it on one particular occasion. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hidden in the depths of 2nd Edition...

After going through a bunch of second edition stuff (and even scouring forums and blogs and the like) I've discovered a few things I've never really realized 2nd edition had. Many of these come from the campaign settings, which were, in many ways, the laboratory of the game. Designers could craft crazy nonsense and at least if they were in one campaign setting they weren't "polluting" the entire game line. There's a tension between game designers wanting a stable core game with players wanting lots of crazy options and expansions, and the settings of 2nd Edition are where good ideas were tested out. I suspect we'll see this philosophy a bit in 5e now, such as Adventurer's League only allowing people options in the core books and the most current setting/player's guide. Heck, we did it once during our first Empire of Man game, where we let each player bring one book to the table. Anyway, three things of interest, though #2 and #3 are kinda related.

1) Racial proficiency groups. This might only be in the Domains of Dread book for Ravenloft, but it is such a superb idea. Just like your class gives you a list of proficiencies you get a discount on, your race could do the same thing. Maybe the groups aren't perfect and maybe races don't need more than 0-3 options to make this a thing, but its kinda nice that elven warriors might take astrology or elven wizards may take bowyer/fletcher.

2) Extra classes. Second edition was obviously full of a lot of nonsense, but they did craft a good number of additional classes, mostly restricted to the campaign settings. Monk and Assassin classes? Added in the Scarlett Brotherhood book (And the internet thinks they're decent too!). Berserker and Runecaster are added in Vikings (and again, the internet thinks they're on-par with the other classes, though runecaster is a bit weak and might could be augmented with the Giantcraft runecaster for Forgotten Realms). The later Forgotten Realms also gave use Harpers, Crusaders, Spelldancers, and Shadow Walkers hidden away in splat books. These last four were news to me just this past month, so I had to update the Wikipedia list of alternate D&D classes.

3) Unlimited slow/weaker spellcasting. Linked to extra classes, both the Al-Qadim Sha'ir and the Forgotten Realms Spelldancer (Wizards & Rogues of the Realms) are spellcasters with unlimited casting potential at the cost of speed. They're both odd options where you have a decent chance of getting just about any spell you want as long as you're willing to wait. Not too useful in combat, but you're a pretty grand utility caster. I'm not 100% sure I think this is fair and balanced or would work well in a low(er) magic setting that I'd prefer, but given that this has appeared a few times (and the interned hasn't shat all over the Sha'ir) it might be reasonable. Presumably in-play the characters also end up getting a number of wands or something for a few things to do in combat (though I might opt to multiclass rogue or something). It does sort of green-light some crazy ideas though like making all spells have a longer casting time (in rounds/turns) and just letting wizards/priests cast at will. Likewise, two versions of the runecaster show up (Vikings, Giantcraft) which has lower-powered but essentially unlimited spells as well. Someone felt this nonsense was balanced at least.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dreams torn? Online AD&D 2nd Edition

So after all kinds of thinking how I might modify this or that for my dream 2nd edition game, I booted up Roll20 last night to see if they have a 2nd edition character sheet.

Obviously they do, but some options all of a sudden seem better or worse than others.

Stone for Encumbrance, for example, is designed to math things out easily. But that seems less necessary when your character sheet will automatically tally up your weight and tell you what your encumbrance is.

Also Spell Points and Alternative Magic Systems. If your character sheet isn't designed to track how many spell points you actually have left from channelling (or your fatigue levels), that seems like a waste of the online resource.

Now, it does look like its possible to go through all the trouble of paying for Roll20 (not a big deal probably) to modify character sheets to include all this stuff, but its an extra layer of nonsense that might be required.

On the plus side, because the system is doing a lot of the math for you, THAC0 seems pretty easy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Old School Al-Qadim

Its no secret that I love Al-Qadim (evidence) and think Al-Qadim did a reasonable job of getting the Arabian Adventure for D&D right. I think I might try to run an actual game of it in the fall: possibly in-person or possibly on roll20. So I wanted to catalogue some of my thoughts on how to fix it up.

1) If I ran it 5e style, there's some changes that need to be made. I've posted quite a few thoughts on this before.

2) If I run it with AD&D 2nd, I still want to consider a few changes. This is what I'll focus on.

Why change things if I want to run original Al-Qadim? Simply put, I want a few more options and to really utilize some of more modern ideas to bring it up to speed. Plus, it's actually fairly easy to mod second edition because of that old Core Rules CD-Rom which included all the books in .rtf format. So a cut-and-paste player's handbook will actually be quite easy to compile.

Races. The original Al-Qadim book came out before Complete Book of Humanoids. City of Delights makes it clear that some of the monstrous races are totally appropriate for Al-Qadim, and I'd like to take them up on it. Its totally fitting that Ogres and Goblins are PC races as the racial enmities are eliminated in the setting. I think I'll focus on Goblins and Ogres just to shy away from the more "common" orcs and also keep things a bit more limited. I'm tempted to add in Githzerai because I've fallen in love with them, but they might not be needed. I also might use Skills & Powers to re-create Dwarves and Gnomes basically by giving them something to replace the racial enmity. That said, this all might be useless if I have some mechanism to encourage playing humans: i.e. everyone rolls ability scores in order, if you're human you can re-arrange the scores as you like. Nonetheless, I like the idea of having some options.

Classes. I finally found a forum post on Dragon's Foot which touches on people's experience with some less-standard classes. Basically confirming my intuition that the Spells & Magic classes (Crusader, Monk, Shaman) along with Vikings (Berserker, Runecaster) and Scarlet Brotherhood (Assassin, Monk) classes are reasonably balanced with the core classes. Meaning I'll consider adding in the Crusader and Shaman as options, and possibly a couple others if I can work out the details. Well, crusader might be a bit stronger than the cleric, so maybe a tiny bit of toning it down. I'm also considering the magic of Spells & Magic for Al-Qadim, which might let wizards use channeling (Elemental Mage, Sorcerer & Sha'ir). Channeling basically ends up giving a boost to low-level mages who recover spell points over the course of the day, while limiting higher level mages by exhausting them when they cast their highest level spells. I might ditch Channeling for Sha'irs because they already have their own crazy system of magic. Temple priests would use ritual prayer (Presumably crusaders & clerics and Shamans) and free priests (presumably de-martial-art-ed Monks and Hakimas) would use conditional magic. These two systems seem like they limit clerics by requiring more time to cast their highest level spells (ritual prayer) or enforcing a code of conduct on mystics, visionaries, and prophets (conditional magic), they're otherwise your standard vancian casters. This does mean I'm considering converting the Priest/Wizard kits to classes, which brings me to kits. I'd also consider adding in the Skills & Powers rogue skills to the rogue classes, because why not? Rogues are a bit weak as it is and more skills ain't going to really hurt them. Because I'm thinking of having the game be human centric, I'm also considering letting normal humans multiclass. Though perhaps only the only options are Fighter/Whatever or Thief/Whatever, and maybe they'd be more like 2/3 one class and 1/3 the other. Not sure how stupid/wacky that would end up being.

Kits. Because I think the wizard kits are really classes, I'd need to borrow a few kits for these classes to use. There are some fairly reasonable options, such as something for temple priests, religious judge, scholars, viziers, and secret hidden mages. Maybe throw in some sort of ascetic and its pretty much good to go. I'm basically tossing out all the Complete Sha'ir's Handbook kits at this point, but I might be willing to re-consider something like the Mystic of Nog, because I love the Ruined Kingdoms. Maybe it can basically take that Monk from Spells & Magic but give them one elemental province of wizard spells plus unarmed fighting...

Proficiencies. I'm leery about these, but I might use them. Basically as long as they're based on a character's background, they're probably reasonable. So maybe what should happen is both the player and I should select proficiencies for their character and then we could see how much we agree. Also, I could just eliminate the cheesy ones like blind-fighting or require weapon proficiencies be spent on those guys.

Spells. I'll probably cull a few options from the spell lists to keep them manageable, but secretly add in whatever sort of crazy I want from the Spell Compendium. As one should.

Plot. I've got a few ideas linking some of the published modules and adventures for the Ruined Kingdoms. I'll have to bill it as an exploration game, because it will be. I'd love to have it start out with seeking out ruins further afield in the Ruined Kingdoms while a noble PC or patron NPC plots to start a whole new city. Depending on whether the players want to be part of the Enlightened Faith or the Old Faith will steer them towards certain enemies, but I'd imagine that eventually the game would involved actually founding a colony and dealing with some of the affairs of ruling a city. Cue Birthright rules as needed. There's a few obvious factions to involve: Enlightened Faith, the Old Faiths of Shajar and Ragarra, four+ rulers of local city-states (Dehliz, Kadarasto, Rog'osto, Afyal), the Brotherhood of True Flame, one or more Holyslayer groups, one or more Mamluk orders, plus whatever independant NPCs I have in mind. Running a city would, potentially, necessitate a few different characters: 1) a noble to rule, 2) a wizard for the magics, 3) a priest to play pontiff, 4) possibly a guild-rogue for the underworld, 5) a merchant-rogue for trade, 6) a holy slayer for all the jazz, and 7) a sha'ir for genie dealings. Maybe we can ditch one for simplicity and have an NPC or two as needed.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Vision and Light in Basic and Advanced D&D

After thinking about light in 5th edition, I went back a bit to see how earlier editions handled light. The results are a bit more varied than I expected. I'm primarily referencing the first and second edition AD&D books and Rules Cyclopedia for basic D&D here. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that things were different in other versions.

First off, what's immediately apparent is how much second edition really did organize things fairly well. First edition scatters things about and the Rules Cyclopedia was the worst for trying to find these things. Thank god for the digital version where I can actually search for all the terms you need (light, darnkess, blindness, infravision...). But second edition both the PHB and DMG have short chapters on vision and light, though you do need to reference both books to get the whole story.

Light Spell
The second noticeable thing is how the light spell itself differs. Clerics and wizards had different light spells. In AD&D, the cleric spell lasted 60 minutes + 10/level, while the wizard version only lasts 10min/level. That's a huge difference at low levels when torches really matter. In the Rules Cyclopedia, the cleric version just lasts a flat two hours while the wizard version is 60 minutes + 10min/level. So the wizard is eventually better at light than the cleric when the spell no longer matters much.  Interestingly, both the Rules Cyclopedia and second edition explicitly call out the ability to cast light on a creature's eyes to blind it, which is just implied in first edition AD&D.

Infravision (and Ultravision)
Most important are infravision and ultravision. These would later become darkvision and low-light vision in third edition and beyond, but back in the old days these were somewhat scientific. Infravision is sight in the infrared spectrum and largely heat-based. Ultravision (I'm not sure which creatures had it) was ultraviolet vision but apparently since only stars tend to give off this sort of light, it just means you can see outside at night fairly well. Apparently it didn't occur to Gary Gygax that Elves or Dwarves could have low-light vision just like dogs and cats. The first edition DMG makes it clear that there are, in fact, two types of infravision: 60' range and 90'+ range. The 90'+ range infravision is simply better. Generally restricted to underdark-only creatures, these creatures see their surroundings as though it were a bright, moon-lit night. With only 60' range, you see as though it were a dark night (with presumably some very dim light so you can make out rough shapes of your surroundings but few specifics).  The second edition AD&D books call out the meaning of infravision as option: you can do it as actual heat-vision or it just means you can see in the dark. Obviously this is where third edition ran with things. The Rules Cyclopedia mentions infravision as specifically heat-vision and explicitly calls out that it is hard to recognize individuals and also that reading is impossible. So fighting a bunch of goblins using only infravision is easy because you can tell what's a goblin and what isn't. Dwarves fighting Derro or Deurgar however... an interesting option.

So infravision is pretty clearly useful, it even penetrates normal darkness spells (i.e. reversed light, available only to clerics), but infravision has some clear limits. Not even mentioning that fire can spoil the use of infravision. It is obvious that, as originally written, infravision alone (at least the PC version of infravision for the basic races in the books) is not a primary method of dungeon exploration. Its a neat trick, but unless you're a party of Drow you still want other sources of light. And even creatures like enemy drow using infravision will be messed up by your torch. As far as I can tell, the drow archers 120' away should be able to target whoever is holding a light source but take a -4 attack penalty because they can't actually see the character. It isn't spelled out very clearly in the rules though.

It is also relatively interesting how some aspects of the game are written to be real-world accurate and others aren't. In a few descriptions of infravision, for example, you may be able to track some creatures by their warm footprints. Presumably only warm-blooded creatures (or otherwise warm creatures?) and I'd imagine that wearing shoes of any kind would largely make humanoids immune to this. Also, the light spell is described as emitting light, whereas the reverse, darkness, must somehow magically dampen light in the radius? You can imagine a more magic version of light where no shadows are cast. But if the light spell does cast shadows, that gives us leeway to interpret the rules like Torchbearer where a light source on the ground only casts dim light (dim light not really being a concept in these older rule sets).

Another aspect that's come up about darkness is when you can't see, you can't move very fast. Blinded characters or characters in darkness can only move at one-third their normal rate. I haven't seen this in later editions of the game, but I like it.

Third edition reclassified vision into a lot of little categories, but its actually delightfully clear on many things. Low light vision still requires some form of light, and you can read using it. Darkvision is black and white and requires no light source at all, but you don't get color. Its not clear if you can read while using darkvision, but I'd assume you can't given that low-light vision specifically calls out that you can. Though in the race description, dwarves are said to be able to function just fine with no light at all. Then there's blindsight (sonic and non-sonic) and blindsense and tremorsense, which are cool but its not clear how useful these are as in older editions I don't think anyone would have automatically assigned oozes or slimes attack penalties for being blind. Though up until now it never occurred to me to target an ooze with a blindness spell or "cast light at its eyes".

How do the retro clones do it? Swords & Wizardry, an original edition clone, just defines darkvision as the ability to see in darkness, so that's either what was originally there or the S&W simplification. Basic Fantasy likewise lists darkvision as the ability to see in the dark without color but also notes you can't use it when there is other light around. Lamentations of the Flame Princess seems to just ignore infravision alltogether. OSRIC, a first edition AD&D clone, lists it as the ability to see in the dark but that it is not a help with making detailed investigations, so even orcs will often carry torches in the darkness.

What can we take out of this all? 
Light spells are a bit kooky, and the priest was the best source of light early on. Infravision is a bit mixed, and it seems that the interpretation of this rule would have huge consequences for how light sources were tracked. At least in later D&D, infravision wasn't intended to eliminate the need for light sources, except possibly for underdark dwelling creatures. It seems like it was a neat bonus that dwarves and elves got which would let them function a little bit when the lights went out, primarily in combat. A nice magic trick, but not a primary sense. But this gets lost in 3rd edition and later when we shift to darkvision, probably because that's how people were beginning to play it in 2nd edition. Infravision as heat vision was just kinda weird and maybe hard for people to describe. So you either just pretend it means you can see in the dark in the rare cases you assume the PCs actually need to because who was really counting torches back in the day? Well, its possible your interpretation of infravision leads to one play style or another. The grittier play style (more resource management at least) is the one in which infravision or darkvision are that little trick, not a primary sense.

I think infravision made for a more nuanced game. There's certainly more tricks you could use against the PCs, like having them fight skeletons (difficult to see until they start moving) or enemies of similar shape and girth (human bandits rather than orcs or goblins). You could use fire to distract the drow archers and ruin their sight temporarily, and maybe track a few foes by their heat signatures or discover a couple clues because of the temperature. Its maybe not quite worth it all though.

But in 5e, we can bring that back by altering Darkvision a bit maybe:

Option A: Say it isn't that you don't see the world in black and white, but you see no color at all. Its hard to make out differences in people other than gross body shape differences, you just have a sense of where walls and objects are. Fine detail is lost, so maybe you can make out large carved letters but the texture of walls are lost and you clearly can't read anything.

Option B: consider "darkvision" to be more like low-light vision, and it doesn't function in absolute darkness. A single candle or a bit of glowing moss would allow all the dwarves to use their darkvision though.

Option C: By the book. You have disadvantage on perception checks while you're in dim light, and with infravision darkness is dim light for you. You could still force perception checks to have people discern allies from enemies in darkness, and there's plenty of traps or missed secret doors (or just missed writing on the wall) that can be used to teach a party not to rely on darkvision. Heck, you could take another line from Torchbearer and force wisdom saves to avoid being scared for being in a dimly lit dungeon for too long, or just have the natural hazards causing people to trip in dim light.

I could see either option A or B, but option A is a bit more in-line with the rules and doesn't require a dramatic change. Though interpreting dim light as in option C might be just as good. What's really lacking with these is the protection that torches provided from infravision: that torch was super noticeable, but so overwhelmingly bright to infravision that its the only thing that could be seen, and firey spells could possibly blind infravision users for a round. A few underdark races are susceptible to bright light though, so you could make those rulings just for those cases.

I also really like the idea of penalties for moving too fast while blinded, so I'd imagine a DC 12 dexterity save or dexterity (acrobatics) check to remain on your feet might be the way to go.