Dragon Dice

December 10, 2016

So I was doing some cleaning up, and I found my collection of Dragon Dice, a collectible/trading dice game TSR published back in the mid 90s. It was an attempt to get into the market dominated by Magic: The Gathering, but with something different (they were also trying with their own card games, such as Spellfire and Blood War). What makes Dragon Dice especially famous is that the head of TSR at the time tried to get a cheaper price from the manufacturer (as the first run of 35,000 sets sold out entirely at GenCon), and they would only do so with a large order…of one million sets (not dice, *sets,* which consisted of a good number of dice each, and it was the starter pack, not the expansion packs).

Needless to say they couldn’t actually sell that much, and it was a contributing factor to the downfall of TSR. I learned since I found my dice that they are still being sold; apparently another company is still selling the sets, which are apparently from that enormous run (they purchased the surplus when WotC was going to landfill them).

All of that is to segue into me trying to sell my collection, which you can see here:
Full list of the individual dice below the cut. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mathematical Beauty of THAC0

September 2, 2015

Over the years since Wizards of the Coast replaced AD&D 2nd Edition with D&D 3rd Edition, I’ve seen a lot of invectives hurled at THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0). It is considered frightening; when people mention an old computer game that uses it, such as Baldur’s Gate, almost invariably someone will say something to the effect of “Oh god, THAC0!” But THAC0 shouldn’t be frightening, and it isn’t even a difficult system. At its heart, it is a simple form of algebra, and quite beautiful.

Take for example a situation where a 3rd level fighter comes across an orc wearing scale armor. To figure out whether the fighter hits the orc, there are three components: the fighter’s THAC0 of 18, the orc’s Armor Class of 6, and the Attack Roll; they function much like the sides of an algebraic equation:

AC | THAC0 | Attack Roll
The relationship between these sides is as follows: AC and THAC0 are both descending from a positive number to a negative number, while the attack roll is ascending. The correlation between these numbers makes the system easy to use and flexible.

With these numbers, there are actually two ways of figuring out what numbers need to be rolled to determine  whether the orc is hit. The most common way is to modify the THAC0 score with the Armor Class. Since you are essentially moving from one side of an equation to the other, you subtract the Armor Class from THAC0, resulting in a modified number of 12 (i.e. it becomes THAC6, or To Hit Armor Class 6; in this way you could say you are “solving for THACx” as in an algebra equation). Another way to do it is to treat Armor Class as a bonus to the Attack Roll; i.e. add the AC of 6 to the number rolled; if it is larger than the THAC0, it is a hit. In either case, you can see that a roll of 12 or higher hits.

In more advanced scenarios, there are modifiers to the rolls. Such modifiers will always be bonuses or penalties; as described above, such modifiers can be applied to any one of the three “sides” (so long as they are only applied once). A bonus to a creature’s Armor Class can be seen as a penalty to the THAC0 or the Attack Roll, while a bonus to an Attack Roll can be seen as a bonus to THAC0 or a penalty to Armor Class. Take for example the following scenario:

The fighter is under the effects of a bless spell while using a sword +1, gaining a total +2 bonus to hit, but the orc has donned a ring of invisibility, which penalizes attacks against it by -4. These numbers can be applied to any individual aspect of the system (so long as it is only applied once). For example, one can apply these numbers to the orc’s armor class, resulting in an AC of 4 (6, +2 for the bless and sword to 8, then -4 for the invisibility to 4). Alternately, one can apply these numbers to the THAC0, resulting in 20 (18, -2 for the bless and sword to 16, then +4 for the invisibility to 21); this number would then be used instead of the original 18 to determine the fighter’s ability to hit an AC of 6. Finally, these numbers can be applied as modifiers to the attack roll; using the original THAC0 of 18 and AC of 6, the number rolled on the die would be penalized by -2 (+2 for the bless and sword, -4 for the invisibility). In most circumstances, individual modifiers would be added to different sides, however; one-time or short-term bonuses or penalties (such as the bless spell and the invisibility, cover, terrain, etc.) are best applied to the attack roll, while long term or semi-permanent modifiers are best applied to the Armor Class or THAC0 (Dexterity or Strength modifiers, magical weapons and armor, spells that will stay in effect for a whole battle, etc.). This results in a flexible and easy to use system, that also teaches or reinforces basic algebraic concepts.

One final note about the beauty of THAC0: With one exception, each group advances on a mathematic progression. Warriors advance one point every level, priests advance two points every three levels, rogues advance one point every two levels, and wizards advance one point every three levels; all starting at 20. The exception is the monster progression, which gains two points every two hit dice, starting at 19, with creatures less than 1 HD having a THAC0 of 20. Setting aside the slight variation of the monster progression, this regularity adds to the elegance.

On the gaming aspects of this system, the progression of both Armor Class and THAC0 from a positive number to a negative number means they are logically constrained, being limited to the opposite negative number of the starting positive number. This aspect keeps the numbers grounded and tied to specific aspects of the physical game world (while still being abstract), whereas an unlimited system completely severs the system from the physical world of the game.

Hit Dice for Monster Deity Avatars

September 1, 2013

I came to the realization recently that I’ve been doing some of the hit dice for the giant deity avatars incorrectly. The avatars of many of the giants, as well as other deities that are essentially divine versions of powerful monsters (for the most part only dragons), should actually include a monster Hit Die component; calculating them as human or demihuman deities doesn’t really give them as many hit points as they probably should have. I had noticed that the avatars for the Elemental Deities in Faiths & Avatars, as well as the entry for Null in Cult of the Dragon did this, although the Hit Points don’t quite match how they should be calculated, at least as I understand it. I’m sure this won’t be of interest to many people, as almost no one actually uses avatars in game play, but I have to “get it right” due to my obsession with the format.  :) And, well, I figure it would be beneficial to anyone else who is like me and is creating their own deities using the full Faiths & Avatars format.

To calculate the hit points for such an avatar, the basic process is the same as that described in Faiths & Avatars, but you can add, say “20-HD Giant” or “20-HD Dragon” (similar to how Akadi’s avatar is a 30-HD Air Elemental) to the list. Hit points are still generated in descending order of magnitude, however, with Constitution bonuses only applying towards class hit dice. For example, you created a deity whose avatar is a 24-HD Dragon, a 36th level wizard, and a 30th level Priest with a Constitution of 18. The highest hit points for the first 9 “levels” would come from the Priest class, at 8 + 4 hp each level (maximum class hit points per hit die, plus Constitution bonus), for a total of 108 hit points. For “levels” 10-24, the most hit points would come from the monster hit dice, for a total of 120 hit points. Then for the next 6 levels, the avatar would get hit points from the Priest class again, for 12 hit points, followed by the last six levels from the mage, for another 6 hit points. Thus, the avatar would have a total of 246 hit points.

This sort of calculation would really only apply to deities who are essentially divine versions of powerful monsters. In general, unless the god matches an existing monster with 10 hit dice or more, it is best to calculate them as normal for a humanoid avatar. A good example is the god Stalker, from the goblin-kin pantheons; he doesn’t really match any existing monsters except maybe a shadow, and a shadow only has 3 HD. You could of course list him as a 20-HD Shadow, but there’s really no reason to, as it doesn’t offer anything to the avatar that can’t be arrived at through a description of his appearance and powers. Having normal class levels commensurate to the avatar’s power makes Stalker powerful enough on his own.

Of the deities in Monster Mythology, only the actual giantish deities, the dragon deities, Jazirian, Koriel, Shekinester, Emmantiensien, Great Mother, and Gzemnid would probably warrant this treatment.

Specialty Priests and Balance

August 15, 2013

I’ve seen a lot of talk on forums over the years about “Balance” with regards to Specialty Priests. In general, most of the arguments, in my opinion, are ridiculous or (at best) looking at the issue in the wrong way.

The arguments tend to frame it as if all priests should be equally appealing to players, with equivalently powerful abilities at specific levels, and similar sphere distributions. But why should that be the case? Gods can represent a wide variety of portfolios, some of which work well for adventurers, some of which do not, but are by no means less crucial to the fantasy society they are designed for. Gods of fire, magic, luck, and healing will probably be more appealing to players and more useful on adventures than gods of peace, architecture, or history. For that reason, a DM creating specialty priests for the latter powers should not feel they have to choose specific powers that will draw players to want to play them. As adventurers are only a small subset of the population, those other priests would be quite useful to society as a whole, in addition to being useful to adventurers as NPCs between adventures, and their powers should reflect what the populace would look to them to do regularly. And, of course, some players may want to play them, just for the added challenge; there’s nothing wrong with that.

Besides some portfolios being better aligned to adventuring careers, certain portfolios align better with certain spells or abilities. For example, deities of music or love may get access to the power to charm person, but a deity specifically of enchantment/charm magic will probably get charm person earlier or get more daily uses of it, because the spell more closely aligns with the deity’s portfolio. Is this unbalanced? Not at all. It takes into consideration what the deities represent. One should expect that a deity of a very specific subject matter would grant priests greater powers over that subject matter than a deity that is much more generalized, or a deity whose portfolio only touches upon the matter. Similarly, the former two gods may get some other enchantment/charm spells from the wizard spell lists, but the latter deity, as a power specifically of that type of magic, may open that whole school of magic to his priests. Meanwhile, the former two deities would grant abilities that the third would have no access to at all. In fact, having more spells available to a priest can be a curse in disguise, as they have harder choices to make when praying for spells, and may be more likely to take specialized spells that turn out to not be very useful in upcoming situations. Usually only ample time to prepare and knowledge of what is to come truly turns a large spell selection into a significant advantage.

Of course, that’s not to say that a specialty priest of a god of meteors should be allowed at-will use of meteor swarm at first level. There are, after all, multiple types of game balance, and that would clearly violate one of them. But there’s also no rule that says certain powers, such as meteor swarm, can only be granted at Nth level; with suitable restrictions, or with greater usage or flexibility, powers can be granted at a variety of levels without causing problems with gameplay.

Spellcraft: Stoneskin

August 1, 2013

It amazes me how often people fail to understand how AD&D 2nd edition (and 1st ed and OD&D, as well) are written using standard English, primarily. Jargon usage is minimal, especially compared to later iterations of D&D, as well as many other RPGs. A case in point is the stoneskin spell. The spell is written in English, rather than jargon, and yet people still seem to insist that it does things it does not, such as block touch effects from spells (shocking grasp) or touch based-effects, such as those of ghouls or vampires. However, even though the latter are usually caused by a damaging attack by claws, it isn’t necessary. All of those abilities would take effect, if the creature wished it, from a simple hand shake or a pat on the shoulder. The relevant line in the spell description is “the affected creature gains a virtual immunity to any attack by cut, blow, projectile, or the like;” the key point here is that damage by forceful strikes are what is blocked. None of the abilities mentioned above, which are often claimed to be blocked by the spell, fit the description of attacks that are blocked. Similarly, the use of “attack” in that line, as well as the line “This limit applies regardless of attack rolls and regardless of whether the attack was physical or magical” has led many people to claim that you don’t roll attack rolls at all. But that begs the question: if you roll no attack rolls, do the attacks automatically hit and cause no damage, or automatically miss? In either case, what’s the logical reasoning for believing *either* of these cases is true? Simply put, the spell claims nothing of the sort; you still technically need to roll attack rolls regardless of whether or not the stoneskin spell will completely block the effects of the attack or not. A DM can handwave attack rolls if there is no chance of an attack having an effect or not, but even so it is often better to require attack rolls in order to let the PCs discover on their own that a foe is protected.

The silliest thing about arguments against the way the spell is written, though, are the lengths of twisting people will go to in order to preserve their belief. For example, I’ve had people claim that Skip Williams, the author of Dragon Magazine’s Sage Advice column and the DM’s Option: High Level Campaigns, where clarifications of the spell have been published, is wrong so often that everything he says should just be discarded entirely. In addition, I’ve also seen the argument that since the word “blow” is not defined in the game, it can mean anything from a “giant’s maul to the touch of a feather,” which completely disregards what the word means in the English language. If you have to disregard the English definitions of words used by the game to make your argument valid, your argument is not valid.

D&D Classics

February 1, 2013

I’m sure all of you are by now aware of the new offering of PDFs of prior editions of Dungeons & Dragons over at dndclassics.com. However, I’m not sure how many of you had an opportunity to take advantage of WotC’s last offering that ended around 2007. Personally, while I was generally disappointed by the scan quality of those older releases, they were priced properly at $5 each. This new offering doubles the price of most AD&D and OD&D releases at $10 (baring those that were cheaper when released, which is mostly adventures and of lesser interest to me); even if the scans are perfect and incredibly high resolution, they’re not worth that, when hard copies of many of the books are often only slightly more than that. I’m not even willing to purchase one to compare quality; I would have if they were $5, and I would be willing to replace a number of the PDFs I do have if the quality was significantly improved. Finally, two stores offered the PDFs during the last offering: Paizo and Drive-Thru RPG (called RPGNow back then, I believe). This time, the PDFs are only offered through dndclassics.com, which is run by Drive-Thru RPG. I have heard repeatedly that if someone bought a PDF years ago that is amongst the current offering, they can download the new version for free. So on top of gouging for PDFs now, they are also screwing over a significant number of people who just happened to buy from the other store. There is very little that I can imagine to prevent a credit being given to people who bought from Paizo, as Paizo almost certainly had to make sales information available to WotC, which I would think would include the ability to verify order numbers and the like. If they did not, then they could easily have been able to lie to WotC over how many PDFs were sold, thus pocketing all the profits on the sales. Therefore, WotC should have access to what  was ordered before, or have a way to verify what was ordered before, and issue credits. Not doing this means that either WotC doesn’t care about their customer base (a definite possibility) or Paizo is refusing to assist with the information to spite D&D, which is to a degree against their own interests, considering how many people might want to convert old D&D adventures and settings to Pathfinder for their own use.

Overall, I’m incredibly disappointed and not a little bit angry over how this has gone.

Launching the blog!

December 2, 2010

The first posts I’ll be making on this blog will be reposts from threads on The Piazza, so there is a single source of information for these subjects.  Feel free to ask questions and leave your thoughts!