Thursday, December 31, 2015

Writing B/X Stuff with LaTeX

A few weeks back I started rewriting my B/X house rules and I wanted to make things look roughly like the original B/X books. Note the roughly! I took some liberties with the original layout where it seemed appropriate.

Then Alex Schroeder said he'd maybe use such a LaTeX style as well, so I spent a few hours extracting things into a little LaTeX class file. Here's what documents formatted with bxart look like:


You can get the relevant files from my Google Drive. I am sure that this thing needs more work in the future, so I'll probably slap it on github.com sometime in 2016. Happy to hear your feedback!

Update 2016/05/03: I've finally pushed this onto github.com so I am going to take down the Google Drive link to encourage folks to contribute. Of course to the best of my knowledge I only have one user anyway...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Basement Delving: Tékumel

In a very dark corner of my old basement I discovered a few of my Tékumel purchases from years ago. I have to admit that I never got very much into Professor Barker's creation. Don't get me wrong, I always thought that his work was most impressive as far as I understood it. But I was very much distracted by the chaotic publication history of the darn thing: I could never really figure out which of the many books from all those many publishers is supposed to fit where. In any case, here's what I found:


I don't know about you, but when I saw this thing in my FLGS back in the days, I just had to buy it. I mean come on, has there ever been a cooler looking RPG supplement? Ever? I just wish they had released a leather-bound hardcover written in actual blood! Even better, it had the following warning on the back:


Not for children? Sorcerously explicit? Demons and shit? Very clever marketing indeed! I don't think I ever did more than flip through this thing, but I'll put it on my "should really be read soon" list now. The good professor even shows us what the "original" book looked like before he translated it into English:


The language thing is after all the most obvious Barker-Tolkien connection. Barker's languages always seemed more exotic and scary to me, how very fitting for this particular book. Next we have what I think is the original Tékumel game system in the combined re-release from Different Worlds? But what do I know:


And check out the cool "The Professor Approves" logo on the back! I wonder what Gygax's equivalent would have been? Presumably something a little less Playboy-like? I mean all he needs is a smoking jacket, right?


Speaking of Gygax, the man himself actually wrote a Foreword to the original Empire of the Petal Throne which is also included in this reprint:


I cannot tell how much of this is Gary being honest and how much of it is Gary being jealous. Maybe the truth is neither and it's really just a marketing blurb. The format of the book is quite curious, check out the table of contents:


An interesting approach to numbering chapters and sections to say the least! Looks like a pretty complete system: character generation and advancement, combat, encounters and the underworld, magical items, gods and divine intervention... What's not to like? And hey, even a city is included (albeit not with a lot of detail):


Finally one of the "newer" reincarnations of the game system, and honestly I have absolutely no idea why I bought this after already owning the version above:


I feel a little bit like Alex Schroeder did back in 2009: Fascinated by the potential of this stuff, not entirely convinced that there's enough of a chance that I'll ever play it to dedicate more time to it. I am happy to give away the last one up there to someone who'll give it a good home, just email me if you're interested. I'll hang on to the other two for now hoping to find some bits and pieces to roll into my regular D&D gaming.

Basement Delving: Thieves' Guild

I have to admit that this post is mostly for me: I could never remember which of the various Thieves' Guild volumes I already had lying around in Germany, so I never ordered what I am missing from Different Worlds. Now I can finally complete my collection!




I have a thing for the products that Gamelords Ltd. used to put out in the 1980s. The quality of most of their products is remarkably high although some of the "desktop publishing" from back then is pretty sad. (If someone gave me the raw text files I'd probably do a new layout for free!) Heroes and Other Worlds has a fascinating article (including further links) on Gamelords and Thieves' Guild as well.

Basement Delving: War Cry and Battle Lust

I am in Germany again (yay!) so I can go into my old basement and hunt around for weird gaming crap that might be hiding down there. Today I found this little booklet between a whole bunch of other strange stuff I never actually played:

War Cry and Battle Lust: Cover

As you might guess from the cover, this is a war game and not a role-playing game. On a quick browse it seems to be suitable for about the same kind of thing as Gygax and Perren's Chainmail. Although War Cry came out seven years later (1978) it doesn't seem more advanced in any particular way. Better organized maybe? But of course I am hardly an expert on these kinds of games. Here are the combat tables (presumably the core of the game) from the center of the thin booklet:

War Cry and Battle Lust: Combat Tables

The Acaeum reports (and the preface to the game admits this as well) that it's a very streamlined system: Maybe not overly realistic, but with reasonable outcomes and useful for resolving large battles more quickly than comparable systems.

I'd love to hear from people who have used both Chainmail and War Cry. Sadly I won't have time for a thorough comparison myself, I am mired too deeply in the role-playing part of the hobby, just not enough interest in the war-gaming part. Hey, here's an idea: If you know Chainmail well and want to explore War Cry, I'll mail the darn thing to you for free. You just have to promise to write a blog post about how the games compare. Good deal?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Exceptional B/X Characters

Enough about average characters. We learned a bunch, but most of it was fairly obvious anyway. Let's talk briefly about exceptional characters instead. Out of a million characters rolled up, how many are exceptional? Well, what do we mean by exceptional? Maybe a good approximation would be the total sum of all ability modifiers? For simplicity let's just use the "standard" scale from -3 to +3 for all abilities. Here are a few examples for "amazing" characters as well as the chance for rolling one:

ClassSIWDCXTotalChance
Cleric151618121618+110.0001%
Fighter181116171418+110.0002%
Magic-User91817181316+110.0003%
Thief181015181613+100.0016%
Dwarf181314161818+130.0001%
Elf181814141815+120.0001%
Halfling181317161815+120.0002%

You may have guessed it, rolling up one of these monsters is basically impossible. The best result (certainly not a systemic issue, just a bunch of lucky rolls) is that 16 out of 1 million thieves are this awesome. That's not a lot, certainly not enough to ever actually see one of these characters in your games. But let's scale back a little bit: A character is pretty decent already if you get a total of +3 or more in terms of modifiers (and pretty bad if you get -3 or less) so what's the chance of rolling that? Better it turns out:

ClassChance >= +3Chance <= -3
Cleric11.65%12.79%
Fighter11.57%12.75%
Magic-User11.54%12.79%
Thief11.60%12.75%
Dwarf14.59%8.05%
Elf15.51%8.33%
Halfling19.53%4.61%

It's a little surprising (for me anyway) that human characters have a better chance of being "bad" than "good" according to my simulation. Demi-human characters, on the other hand, have a better chance of turning out "good" as it were. Halflings are especially lucky in this regard, so maybe the next time you roll up a character who actually qualifies for being a Halfling, you should really go for one of those little buggers?

(Sorry, I am sitting at my dad's weird Windoze box in Germany, so I don't have access to my usual Python toolbox of visualizations. I was going to plot the actual distributions for you, alas I'll have to add those things at a later date. I hope you still enjoyed reading what I have.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Average B/X Characters

I've been fooling around a lot with rolling 3d6 lately. I don't roll them myself, I have a little Python script roll them, but it's a lot of fun to look at what happens. Nothing too surprising actually, but still, worth a little post I thought.

Normally you roll 3d6 in order and see what you get. Well, for this post I am turning that around a little: I'll roll 3d6 in order as long as necessary to get 1 million characters for a certain class. Of course for clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves there's actually no difference: None of those require minimum ability scores in B/X. But when we get to dwarves, elves, and halflings you need to keep in mind that we're not looking at 1 million totally random characters, but one million totally random dwarves, elves, and halflings. Subtle difference? I hope you're still with me in any case.

Just rolling 3d6 in order is not enough. In B/X you get to perform prime requisite adjustment: Once you pick a class, you can increase a prime requisite of the class by 1 point if you in turn lower some other ability score by 2 points. That's somewhat of a subtle process because sometimes you might choose not to add another point to your prime requisite to keep a nice modifier elsewhere. For example, you may decide to keep Strength 17 and Wisdom 13 for a fighter instead of going for Strength 18 and Wisdom 11. True, in terms of overall modifiers you'd still be at +3 but maybe you really like to get that +1 to saving throws against magic? I have not modeled such subtleties directly because they seem too specific to the whims of a particular player. What I've done instead is to order the attributes that can be lowered by what I think most players would agree is reasonable:

ClassPrimeLowered in orderRationale
ClericWisdomIntelligence, StrengthPreserve melee potential
FighterStrengthIntelligence, WisdomPreserve saving throws
Magic-UserIntelligenceStrength, WisdomPreserve saving throws
ThiefDexterityIntelligence, WisdomPreserve saving throws
DwarfStrengthIntelligence, WisdomPreserve saving throws
ElfStrength, IntelligenceWisdomNo other choice
HalflingStrength, DexterityIntelligence, WisdomPreserve saving throws

Yes, the result of this is that I err on the "dumb side" of character generation, but since there's no simple mechanical game effect of high intelligence that seemed to be the reasonable thing to do. (One could make the point that thieves should reduce wisdom first because they need to be smart cookies and taking large risks during a heist would correlate with low wisdom, but that's beyond what the rules give us.) In any case, given these "lowered in order" rules, once I have a character that qualifies for a certain class, I use prime requisite adjustment to attempt to get those abilities pumped up as far as possible: First to get the best XP adjustment, then to get the best modifier.

Alright, now that I've explained how the characters get generated, let's get to the point of this entire post: What does the average B/X character look like? It's probably not too surprising for many of you, but here we go (I abbreviate Charisma with X).

ClassSIWDCX
Cleric8.848.7912.2010.5010.5010.50
Fighter12.198.788.8410.5010.5010.50
Magic-User8.7812.198.8310.5010.5110.50
Thief10.508.788.8412.1910.5110.50
Dwarf12.198.798.8310.5011.8110.50
Elf10.8512.318.7810.5010.4910.50
Halfling11.358.798.8312.6611.8110.50

It is perhaps not hard to understand how these numbers come about. Take the cleric for instance. The average roll on 3d6 is 10.5 so we start out with roughly the same average everywhere. Then we try to increase Wisdom at the expense of first Intelligence and then Strength. Note how in the average character, Strength is slightly higher than Intelligence. Starting at 10.5 we have a good shot that we actually rolled an 11 in both Strength and Intelligence. That would give us 2 points to raise Wisdom by, roughly anyway, so from 10.5 Wisdom we get to 12.2 Wisdom. All makes sense, doesn't it?

For demi-humans we first have to remember that we re-rolled all characters that didn't qualify for the class. Observe, for example, that for both dwarf and halfling the Constitution is higher than the expected average of 10.5 precisely because all rolls of less than 9 were removed before we even started. For elves we have an even higher Intelligence because not only did we enforce a minimum of 9 as part of the experiment, we're then able to increase Intelligence further because it is a prime requisite. If you compare halflings and elves you notice furthermore that the average halfling is stronger than the average elf. This is because halflings can reduce Intelligence and Wisdom to increase their prime requisites, whereas elves can only reduce Wisdom.

I should mention at this point that thieves in B/X are only allowed to reduce Intelligence and Wisdom. In BECMI, however, they are also allowed to reduce Strength. That leads to a slightly different average thief:

S 8.84   I 8.79   W 8.91   D 12.98   C 10.50   X 10.49

In a strange way, thieves are therefore "better off" in BECMI when it comes to their average dexterity score (their skills are a different matter). And hey, not only do they finally beat halflings, they also become the class most likely to have a 13+ in an ability (on average).

That's it for now on "average" characters. Of course there's an equally fascinating question in the air: What about "exceptional" characters? If you roll up a million dwarfs, how likely is it that you get an amazing dwarf? Sadly, since I am about to hop on a plane to Germany, that'll have to wait for another time. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ability Score Minimums in B/X (Part 2)

I've been looking at ability score minimums for humans in an earlier post, suggesting that we can impose them without too much trouble if we so choose. Today I want to look at the existing ability score minimums for demi-humans briefly. If you check the B/X Basic Rulebook, pages B9-B10, you'll find the following:

  • Dwarves require a constitution score of 9 or higher.
  • Elves require an intelligence score of 9 or higher.
  • Halflings require a constitution score and a dexterity score of 9 or higher.

What's the effect of this? Well, if we roll up a million characters using 3d6 in order, we find that about 74% of those could be dwarves or elves and about 55% could be halflings. Let's not worry too much about the details here, what's important is that without futher consideration, a player is least likely to roll up a halfling.

If we go a little further and for each of our one million characters pick an actual class uniformly at random (out of all the classes a character qualifies for), we find (approximately) the following:

  • 17% Clerics
  • 17% Fighters
  • 17% Magic-Users
  • 17% Thieves
  • 12% Dwarves
  • 12% Elves
  • 8% Halflings

I don't know about you, but this doesn't sit right with me when it comes to the demographics implied by B/X. I always thought that elves should be rarer than dwarves which in turn should be rarer than halflings. The only thing that does work out as expected is that humans are the most populous: we get about 68% humans and 32% demi-humans.

Curious side note: Before I ever ran these simulations, I came up with a house rule to randomly determine race. I did this because I got tired of parties that were mostly demi-human. (I am with Gary that demi-humans should be exotic, not commonplace.) The rule I "guesstimated" was this:

d20Race
1-14Human
15-17Halfling
18-19Dwarf
20Elf

In other words, 70% humans and 30% demi-humans seemed mostly reasonable to me. Now I'd be hard-pressed to say why exactly. I seem to recall fiddling with the d20 numbers for a while and this seemed to be the simplest way to make sure that elves are rarest, followed by dwarves, followed by halflings. So it may just have been an accident. (End of curious side note.)

If we wanted to tweak the resulting population by only modifying the required minimums, where should we start? If we added strength as a minimum to dwarves and elves all we'd achieve would be that each of those populations will be about the same as the halflings. Here's the (approximate) breakdown:

  • 18% Clerics
  • 18% Fighters
  • 18% Magic-Users
  • 18% Thieves
  • 9% Dwarves
  • 9% Elves
  • 9% Halflings

Not really what we'd want. But how about now tweaking the actual numbers? Let's leave halflings at strength and dexterity 9+ but move dwarves to strength 9+ and constitution 12+ and elves to strength 9+ and intelligence 14+. What do we get (approximately)?

  • 21% Clerics
  • 21% Fighters
  • 21% Magic-Users
  • 21% Thieves
  • 10% Halflings
  • 5% Dwarves
  • 2% Elves

That's more like it, at least it's closer to what I would expect. So if you feel like I do about what the population mix should be like, I'd suggest going to these stricter requirements for dwarves and elves. (Or you could do intelligence 13+ for elves, then you'd get slightly more of them, roughly 3%, but still not too many.)

Keep in mind that we've dealt only with minimum requirements here. It turns out that B/X has many more mechanics (prime requisite adjustment, XP adjustment, etc.) that impact the actual demographics implied by the rules. But that's for another post...

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ability Score Minimums in B/X (Part 1)

At the end of my post on strict spell books I complained that B/X allows magic-users that cannot read. To quote:

I noticed that B/X interprets low intelligence scores as a limited ability to speak/read/write. However, magic-users are not required to have a minimum intelligence score. This either implies magic-users who can be almost braindead yet cast Fireball or a missing minimum requirement. I am about to house-rule that magic-users need a minimum intelligence of 9 just like elves.

Now I've finally had time to think through what such a minimum requirement would mean. And I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised when I found out that it means almost nothing.

Let's assume that the B/X world is populated with "3d6 in order" humans only. What's the chance of rolling a 9 or greater on 3d6? Answer: 74.07% So almost three quarters of all attributes will be 9 or greater.

Now if I wanted to add a minimum intelligence requirement for magic-users, I should probably add one for clerics, fighters, and thieves as well, right? So let's say that all four human classes have such a minimum requirement. What's the chance that out of the four rolls determining strength, intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity not a single one would be 9 or greater?

Let me not bore you with the math, it turns out to be 0.45%. So out of a million humans, roughly 4,500 would no longer be able to qualify for any class. Yes, it's tough, those 4,500 would have to remain "normal humans" for the rest of their lifes.

Not trusting my math I hacked a quick Python script to roll up characters and evaluate them, so we can actually look at a sample of these poor sods:

{'C': 6, 'D': 4, 'I': 8, 'S': 8, 'W': 8, 'X': 11}
{'C': 12, 'D': 7, 'I': 8, 'S': 8, 'W': 7, 'X': 11}
{'C': 17, 'D': 8, 'I': 8, 'S': 7, 'W': 7, 'X': 13}
{'C': 7, 'D': 5, 'I': 6, 'S': 7, 'W': 6, 'X': 10}
{'C': 9, 'D': 8, 'I': 8, 'S': 4, 'W': 8, 'X': 12}
{'C': 8, 'D': 6, 'I': 8, 'S': 8, 'W': 8, 'X': 17}

Some have "redeeming" features, take the one with a constitution of 17 and a charisma of 13 for example. Presumably there is a player somewhere who'd have fun playing this character: A healthy and charismatic (leader-type?) magic-user who has a hard time writing down notes. But let's be honest, just how many players are we talking about here?

So here's my verdict: Adding a minimum requirement of 9 for the prime requisite of a class is totally fine. True, if we look at individual cases, there may be some characters that we could still find a player for. Overall, however, I don't see how 0.45% of rolled up characters contributing to nothing but entropy are a problem. I'd much rather be sure that magic-users can actually speak/read/write, that fighters can actually carry their armor and weapons into battle, etc.

Appendix: Once I had the Python script, I couldn't resist running it a few more times. Say we wanted to make sure that characters are actually good in their chosen class by requiring a 13, what would that mean? How about requiring 16? Here are the results for each 9, 13, and 16 when generating a million characters:

Minimum
 Prime Requisite
Classed
Humans
Normal
Humans
9995,3724,628
13699,147300,853
16173,279826,721

Obviously the higher minima have a huge impact on who can join a class and who has to remain a "normal human" as it were. Those higher minimums are certainly not recommended for standard B/X, although I have a feeling they'll help me in my house rules regarding multi-classed characters.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Demi-Human Abilities in B/X

Neat ideas always hit me when I should really be grading. No matter, let's write it up. Quickly! If you check pages B9-10 in your B/X Basic Rulebook, you'll learn that dwarves, elves, and halflings can do some very special things:

  • Dwarves have a 2-in-6 chance to find slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction.
  • Elves have a 2-in-6 chance to find secret doors.
  • Halflings have a 2-in-6 chance to hide in shadows. (Let's ignore the wilderness version.)

That's awesome stuff of course. The only problem is that it stays that way forever. You can scan the B/X Expert Rulebook all you want, those special abilities don't improve! Doesn't matter that your dwarf is level 12, your elf is level 10, and your halfling is level 8: 2-in-6, 2-in-6, and (cynical drumroll!) 2-in-6. Depressing. Possibly one of the worst oversights in all of B/X?

Luckily it's easy to fix: Just tie those chances to the demi-human's level and you're done! There's already one (and only one!) 2-in-6 ability in B/X that improves with level: the "hear noise" ability for thieves. It goes to 3-in-6 at level 3, 4-in-6 at level 7, and 5-in-6 at level 11. So just declare that demi-human abilities also improve at those levels and you're done! You now have a better, more demi-human-friendly B/X to please your players with. Yay!

Of course using "hear noise" has the strange consequence that elves and halflings don't get to "max out" their special ability. I can live with that, but just in case you can't let's try to find another way to read B/X that might make you happier. One idea could be to look at XP instead of levels. Thieves reach level 3 at 2,400 XP, level 7 at 40,000 XP, and level 11 at 400,000 XP respectively. What do those numbers mean in terms of demi-human levels?

XPDwarfElfHalfling
2,400212
40,000656
400,000109n/a

Alright, so halflings still get the shaft and never reach 5-in-6 for hiding. Worse than that, elves now start with 3-in-6 for finding secret doors. I don't actually like this better than the first approach, but hey, maybe you do?

In my house rules levels 4, 8, and 12 are "special" because they coincide with the level limits and level progressions used. So there I reuse those numbers to determine when demi-human special abilities get upgraded.

Of course the important point for me is not which progression to use, it's much more about adding another small way in which characters improve over time. Take it from someone playing a level 12 dwarven fighter in AD&D every week: Nothing is more boring than (apparent) lack of progress!

PS: I don't think that any of the other "general" d6 skills should improve with level. But for demi-human special abilities, I find the idea rather appropriate (and indeed appealing).