A Dwarf’s Tale

Fiona is a dwarf fighter in our long running (3 years and counting) AD&D campaign. Fiona isn’t the strongest warrior in the gang but she’s definitely the toughest, with 19 CON and ungodly saves and HP. She’s Chaotic Neutral and possessed of a somewhat belligerent, beserker nature, prone to axe heads first and ask questions later. Fiona’s ferocity in battle is balanced somewhat by her artistic side when it comes to her appearance. Aside from making good use out of the precious jewellery liberated from dungeons, she carefully maintains her face with makeup, unguents and oils, and braids her hair with the colourful feathers of fell beasts which have fallen under her axe.

Fiona’s a fabulous fighter, but her sex on the character sheet doesn’t say ‘F’. It’s M, because Fiona is transgender. And she’s amazing, beloved by her comrades and feared by her enemies. She’s the first transgender PC I’ve ever had the pleasure of DMing, but it wasn’t in any way difficult to incorporate her into the game.

How often does the fact of her gender identity come into play? Not so much. In the smaller towns and villages where the party sometimes make their base, she turns a few heads with her flamboyant appearance, but the adventurers as a whole are a ragtag bunch of misfits, and is a dwarf with some feathers and makeup going to freak out more people than the half-orc as strong as an ogre who flies around in full plate, or the wizard in a robe of moving, staring eyes, with a tiny dragon on his shoulder? In fact, Fiona’s managed to bond with village women over hair and fashion tips. Beauty is her weakness in more ways than one, however, and she’s had unfortunate encounters with sexy vampire ladies and succubi which have resulted in loss of life levels. Nowadays she still reacts strongly to encounters with enchantingly beautiful monsters, but is more inclined to reach for her hammer than her lipstick.

Dwarf society in my game world has the Discworld element of strict conformity to one gender role for both sexes. Fiona’s chaotic nature and rejection of tradition may make her an outcast from the more isolated communities of her own kind, but out in the wide world she has no trouble being taken for who she is.

Fiona’s player is a lesbian and an activist for social justice and I point this out because the character has NEVER been used as a soapbox for any kind of political agenda in the game world. In fact, Fiona as a character is irreverent, occasionally vulgar, and as ‘un-PC’ as they come. Sexuality has its place in D&D, but her gender identity is important to her story but not a major focus in the game.

I write this because of the vitriol and hate I witnessed from a certain toxic element of RPG fandom with regard to the AD&D-based CRPG Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, in which a minor NPC can mention to the protagonist that she was raised as a boy, sparking a massive reactionary backlash and mod spamming of bad reviews against a game that apparently ‘shoved SJW LGBT agenda and political correctness down the throats’ of some fragile, bitter souls. Despite as high an authority on Realms lore as Ed Greenwood defending the character’s inclusion, idiots continued to insist that trans characters had no place in the ‘medieval’ world (and D&D’s about as authentically medieval as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not like was ever intended to be any more so, though), or that sex-changing magic made trans individuals obsolete (just how many girdles are there to go around, really?). These sad individuals look at all the possibilities of a game like D&D and insist that must conform to a particular kind of oppressive hierarchy found in the real world, or they feel threatened. What scares them so much that they try and police the fantastic?

I’m putting Fiona’s story out to demonstrate that I know from experience that anyone who claims that having trans characters in a game somehow spoils D&D is spewing bullshit. And because I’m sure that Fiona isn’t alone out there in many gaming worlds that populate tabletop roleplaying, old or new school, and I want to make queer D&D chars visible on the web for inspiration to anyone who is nervous about playing the character they want.

So that’s Fiona. She’s no one’s political token or fetish. She’s a fabulous fighter and hard-as-nails tank who dreams of find some magic sabatons that let her fight in high heels. Charmer of dusky maidens and slayer of demons. In our last session, she was hurled by a storm giantess onto a polar bear and managed to ride the enraged beast into a throng of enemies. Gods bless you Fiona, whether you find those heels or not, you’ve made your legend.

fifi

This isn’t mine, and I think is meant to represent Cheery Littlebottom from Discworld. Not as many transgender dwarf images online as you’d think.

Advertisements

Advancing Weapons for Labyrinth Lord

In my last post on the topic, I mentioned how I was keen on the Labyrinth Lord ruleset for a future campaign, but there were a few things about it that irked me. One of those was the rules for weapons. Weapons are a bit of a problem point (or edge, or flange) for D&D and related games in general. A lot of this has to do with where you land on abstraction vs simulationism. Simple, abstract rules such as ‘all weapons do the same damage’ or ‘weapon damage = class HD’ keep weapon choice largely cosmetic and don’t bog down combat with too many variables. Full-fat AD&D, with its Weapons vs Armor Class tables and speed factors for every weapon, succeeds in distinguishing weapons mechanically but slow-down and over-complicate combat with a lot of table lookups and number crunching.

In Dungeons and Dragons, different classes are allowed to use different weapons, with one of the privileges of the Fighter class being their unrestricted weapon access. Assuming this, whatever weapon rules are used will end up affecting the power balance between classes, likely that of Fighters most of all.

I like D&D combat to be fast, deadly and easy to understand. For a while, I was sure class-based damage was the way to go. Now I’m leaning more towards a more complex system. This is mainly for two reasons.

  1. Watching HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) channels on youtube and increased acquaintance with the size, shape and weight of medieval weaponry has ramped up my enthusiasm for detail regarding these weapons and their relative advantages and disadvantages in use.
  2. I want the class selection of weapons to be meaningful, and in the case of fighter-types, the choice of which weapons to equip themselves with to be a meaningful tactical choice and appreciable benefit of the class.
  3. I wanted players do be able to quickly add up their damage rolls + modifiers, and to streamline the mental arithmetic, I wanted just 1 dice for damage rolls (e.g. no 2d4 damage, no d6+1 damage).

 

poorsod

Working with these goals in mind, here’s what I came up with:

Swords

Generally the most popular weapon in D&D, swords come in wide variety of shapes and sizes, and generally excel at being all purpose damage dealers. The longsword was tweaked to let it be used one or two handed and made interchangable with bastard sword, as far as D&D terminology is concerned. 2H sword has the highest damage around to compensate for lack of shield use, and the fact that I don’t use AD&D’s damage vs large rules. Also it gives the d12 some exercise.

Short Sword – d6

Broad Sword/Scimitar/Falchion/Arming Sword – d8

Long or ‘bastard’ sword – d8/d10 if used 2 handed

2 handed Sword – d12

Axes

I used a watered down version of AD&D’s WvsAC rules to highlight the armour penetration factor of axes versus many of the less advanced armour types. This makes the axe a very desirable type of weapon versus a common D&D enemy- low hit dice humanoids. Also good against beasts with leathery or scaly skin. The tomahawk or frankish style hand axe can be hurled. Most medieval battle axes I’ve seen seem to be optimised for 2-handed use, but could probably also be used, albeit less effectively, in combination with a shield.

All axes gain +2 to hit vs light armour (up to chain mail)

Hand axe – d6, can be hurled (hurled weapons gain both Str and Dex bonuses)

Battle axe – d6/d8 if used 2 handed

Maces, Morning Stars and Warhammers

I feel that maces and warhammers effectively fulfil  the same role – they’re percussive weapons designed to take down heavily armoured opponents. Morning stars are effectively a spiky mace. Flails, I think, can also be subsumed into this group. To this end they have a bonus that makes them useful against elite enemy characters and things like chitinous monsters.

All maces and warhammers get +2 to hit against heavy armour (banded/splint/plate mail or better)

Mace, Morning Star or Warhammer – d6

2H version- d8

Spears

Spears were the ubiquitous military weapon of the middle ages. For low-level adventurers and their henchmen, getting in that first hit can be the difference between life and death. Javelins are primarily missile weapons, they can be used as a 1H d6 damage weapon but do not get the reach advantage of melee spear.

Reach – Spear wielder automatically strikes first in the first round of combat vs any single opponent, and deals double damage if the opponent was charging. This is negated vs another weapon of similar length.

Spear – d6/d8 if used 2H

Javelin – d6, can be hurled.

Daggers

The last ditch defence option for magic users and the archetypal weapon of thieves and assassins, the dagger is easily concealable and great for a sneak attack. It can be hurled in a pinch, but only specially made throwing weapons can be used effectively thus. Throwing daggers are not available to magic-users.

Dagger – d4, +2 to hit when used in backstab or assassination, can be hurled at -2 penalty.

Throwing daggers – d4

Polearms

Gary Gygax’s polearm is well-documented, but for our purposes polearms such as halberds, pollaxes, guisarmes, bec-de-corbins and the like are lumped together. The main strength of polearms are their reach and versatility – it pierces, it slashes, it bashes! Reach, high damage and armour penetration are enjoyed by the polearm wielder.

Reach as spear. Armour penetration as both axe and mace. 2H required.

Polearm – d10

Wooden Weapons

For the poor or desperate.

Club – d4

2H Quarterstaff – d6

Bows

Labyrinth Lord gives longbows a higher damage die, which I like. No changes to these except to note that I would allow two arrows/round if the user does not also move.

Short Bow – d6

Long Bow – d8

Crossbows

Crossbows user cannot move and fire, but they can pre-load a bolt to be loosed before initiative is rolled for the first round of combat. In addition, the crossbow can be fired straight ahead from a prone or crouching position.

Hand Crossbow – d4, extremely rare except for drow and assassins

Light Crossbow – d6

Heavy Crossbow – d8, +2 to hit vs metal armour.

Slings

Same as bows, can be fired twice/round if user doesn’t move. Handy for adventurers on long journeys away from civilisation, as they can collect rocks to re-stock their ammunition.

Sling – d4

Darts

Effectively smaller, lighter javelins. Portable and used as hurled weapons only. Longer range than throwing daggers.

Dart – d4

Weapon Restrictions

Fighter (and subclasses) – Any

Cleric – mace, morningstar, warhammer, sling, staff, club

Druid – short sword, spear, sling, staff, club, dagger (melee only)

Thief – short sword, 1H sword, dagger, club, staff, light crossbow, short bow, sling, hand axe

Assassin – any

Magic user (and subclasses) – staff, dagger (melee only)

I think these class restrictions combined with the weapon rules work to keep the fighter and assassin on top when it comes fighting power but still gives the other classes some options to choose from. (except for poor MUs but nevermind).

The warrior equipping himself will have to weigh up weapon advantages versus inventory space and what kind of foe he or she thinks the party will face.

My thief list is somewhat expanded because I see the ‘adventuring thief’ as not necessarily limited to urban gang weapons. The AD&D’s Druid’s scimitar was intended to be a sickle like device used to harvest plants, but I don’t see that as being optimised for combat in a way a scimitar would be, but I can see them having smaller blades for self defence, hence the short sword.

I’d love to hear opinions on this, especially from anyone with experience in HEMA or designing custom OSR weapon rules. So far in playtesting with an AD&D group it’s working out well. Does anyone think I’ve made any serious blunders in the weapon attributes?

Liking Labyrinth Lord

The last few months I managed to find some time alongside my long-running AD&D campaign to start playing Labyrinth Lord with a small group, using the free PDFs. It went well enough to get me really excited about switching over to LL core rules (with the Advanced Edition Companion) for my next long term campaign, so I ordered hard copies.  I own the B/X box set and I was already thing of importing B/X elements into AD&D, but having the Labyrinth Lord books as base makes that much easier, especially now that I have the books on the table as a player reference. I still see the game as D&D, whether you’re playing an official D&D product, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry, Pathfinder or whatever. D&D is a genre, not a specific ruleset.

Going forward, here’s what won me over to Labyrinth Lord:

  1. B/X style attribute system strikes me as much more elegant and balanced than AD&D’s, and gives more of an impact to attributes in the 10-15 and doing away with the tacked-on subsystem of exceptional strength.
  2. Most importantly, the books emulate Moldvay’s clear and concise writing style and logical layout, making reading through them and looking up rules much easier on the eyes and head.
  3. Simpler and clearer initiative rules.
  4. More balanced demi-humans, with options to use them with classes or race-as-class.
  5. System is built with plenty of options to turn the dial up to be more like AD&D, or down to B/X style.
  6. All the options of core AD&D, no Unearthed Arcana style classes with their own clunky unique subsystems.
  7. Generally trims the fat and presents a version of D&D that cleaves more to actual play, where some of the fiddlier or less clear aspects of the advanced game go discarded or house-ruled.
  8. LL comes with less ‘baggage’ than D&D, and the players will have fewer ‘BTB D&D’ expectations.
  9. Pretty cool illustrations that reminded me of punk/metal posters and zines.

Some not so nice things to say about LL:

  1. Could’ve done with some more proofreading, in some cases there’s a typo or omission in something that could seriously affect gameplay. For example, Confusion has no save to negate. Other stuff is more minor, like warhammers needing 2 hands to use, or having 2 Monster Summoning VI spells. This isn’t so bad for the experienced DM but is disappointing for a book that otherwise was so good as to inspire me to make it the main rules doc at the table.
  2. I would have loved to buy a compiled hard copy version with the core rules and advanced rules together, to avoid redundancy and make it easier to reference. Goblinoid Games’s rather quiet forums attest to a demand for it, but there’s no clear indications that it’ll happen anytime soon.
  3. LL would be my ideal ‘players handbook’ if it cut out the monster stats and cursed items. I like the players to be able to look up all the information they need to run their characters, including how their items work, but it’s kind of annoying that they can check out all the monster details in the same book.
  4. The seams show up a bit when Advanced Edition Companion introduces 9 point alignment, but none of the monsters or items from the first book are accounted for.

However, my AD&D books will still see use at the table:

  1. I love my 1E DMG in all it’s high Gygaxian genius and mess, and I can’t imagine retiring it. It’ll always be by my side and used liberally.
  2.  Use of AD&D Monster Manuals will keep players on their toes, even if they study the monsters in the LL books.
  3. Some Unearthed Arcana spells and items may find their way in to the campaign. I’ve always had a soft spot at least for the ritual magic from the Demonomicon.

 

Things I want to tinker with:

  1. Combat…getting rid of ‘to hit’ tables and replacing it with a quick algorithm, probably based on Delta’s system.
  2. Weapons. I want weapon choice to mean more than it does in LL without getting into the over-complicated and not very sensible Weapon vs AC modifiers of AD&D.
  3. Fighters. I think they’re badass but since we won’t be having exceptional strength or weapon specialisation, I do want to work on them a little to give them some mechanical tweaks for expressing their badassery, but don’t slow down or over-complicated combat.
  4. Encumbrance and equipment. I feel like a want an alternative system, maybe slot based. Something that’ll get the resource management point of encumbrance across without too much fiddly book-keeping.

 

 

 

Love is in the air, save vs. poison gas

I’m not really one for Valentines Day, but Dyson Logos’ adorable heart dungeon got me thinking about writing something in the spirit of the occasion. I’ve always thought that love and sexuality sit rather uncomfortably with D&D. Usually it appears in the context of certain monsters – succubi, nymphs, dryads, neirids. In this respect, D&D has a puritanical attitude towards sex similar to the horror film – sex is death, indulging your lust leads to your doom. While not necessarily evil, all these female-appearing monsters are dangerous because of their ability to seduce, but mythological monsters that incorporated male sexual aggression, such as centaurs and satyrs, appear to be lacking any kind of sexual threat. This is perhaps because of an assumed male perspective, or maybe just because the details would be quite distasteful (unlike the succubi and co, these beast-men are not seductive, mind-controlling monsters).

snaketits

credit to oglaf.com

In the 1e DMG, love and sex appear, but, like the allure of the succubus, largely as a magic effect. The philtre of love is a classic fairytale love potion which could have interesting gameplay consequences. My players in my current campaign used one to reconcile a separated storm giant couple at the behest of the estranged wife, but I’ve never seen a PC use one to snag a lover for themselves. Satyrisis, nymphomania, sex change and losing interest in sex are all potential curse effects from artifacts. And then of course there’s the infamous harlot city encounter table. No mechanics as to what might happen when this encounter actually comes up. Nonetheless, for these curses and encounters to actually be meaningful in the game, the lovelives of D&D characters must have been assumed  to be going on, and also to be important enough to the players that they would feel the sting of being hit by one of these curses, or interested in a harlot encounter. Some modules encouraged romantic engagements with PCs and NPCs. Scourge of the Slave Lords presented opportunities for romantic dalliances at a festival in Safeton before the main plot of the campaign kicked off. Throne of Bloodstone, which sets up high-level PCs for military campaigning and domain rulership, suggests marriage with particular NPCs, one of which stands to inherit significant territory. This is the level where I think that romance for D&D PCs can get most interesting – dynastic feuds and marriage alliances were at the centre of a lot of intrigue and conflict in the medieval period, and the PCs will be at a level where they likely have more than their fair share of magic and money, but their legacy is still something to fight for.

Still, while all this is hinted at, there’s no crunch to support it mechanically, so the DM who finds themes of love crop up in his murderhobo game just has to wing it. Games which focus more on politicking or interactive storytelling have systems in place to game-ify romance and sexual relationships when these things are important in the game’s themes. The actual act of sex is usually not covered in detail (for the best I think, that way lies FATAL and other cringe-fests). If you’re lucky enough to have erotic fantasy roleplay group sessions, involving hit points and percentile rolls is probably overcomplicating it. Dungeons and Dragons isn’t really about that, and I never set out to include sex and romance in my games, I’ve found that they tend to turn up anyway, usually arising organically from the players, and generally with positive results for the gaming experience. Given how lightly the topic is covered by the rules, I thought I’d share some stories about how love and sex has cropped up so far in my D&D games.

credit to oglaf.com

credit to oglaf.com

My first running of PC-NPC ‘romance’ was when I was DMing a Temple of Elemental Evil campaign. Facing a TPK in the moathouse at the hands of Lareth and bodyguard after all the other party members were bleeding out or had fled, the elf magic-user/thief ‘Raven’ (played by a male, I might add) made an heartfelt appeal to stand their ground to Elmo (lvl5 NPC ranger who had joined as a hired hand), just as I was making a morale roll to see whether he would break. Her charisma and good hearted nature as well as good roleplaying from her player modified the roll and won Elmo over, and he and Raven fought to victory against the odds. This event ended up being something of a meet-cute for these two, as they became fire-forged friends and more. As a DM I was impressed by the amount of effort Raven’s player put into the relationship, including shelling out a lot of money to resurrect the poor ranger after he failed his System Shock roll against a wand of polymorph. Raven took care to impress Elmo’s parents and even bought a house in Hommlet so that they could live close to his family. Sadly our elf’s ambitions of domestic bliss were disrupted when Elmo was kidnapped while out on a solo adventure (I don’t like long-running DMPCs, and Elmo’s stats were so good he outshined the main characters at times, I felt he was better served as a macguffin for the next adventure locale). I have to admit, at first I was reluctant to encourage the relationship, feeling that it might distract from the dungeoncrawl and sideline other players, but to my surprise the other players and their characters were supportive. And clearly the player was getting something genuinely satisfying  out of roleplaying a woman in love. As a tribute to this romance, when I have run latter incarnations of ToEE, the local ranger hireling can be found meeting in the woods with his elf lover, if the players stalk him well enough.

In the same ToEE campaign there was a great example of how a good random roll can add to the game. I was playing with the rules from the Unearthed Arcana book, which added a comeliness attribute to determine a character’s physical attractiveness. Characters with high comeliness scores were able to fascinate those of the opposite sex (although I, and I guess other non-homophobic DMs, applied it to anyone of the relevant sexual orientation). Whenever my players took an interest in the appearance of a certain NPC, I rolled for their score with racial and charisma modifiers as if they were PCs. A natural 18 on the dice plus racial bonus transformed Otis’s henchwoman Murfles into a figure of unearthly beauty. The party’s illusionist and druid became infatuated with her and began competing for her affection. Despite the lovely elf’s indifference, this rivalry culminated with a blow-out display of magics from both characters after a very messy celebration at the inn of the Welcome Wench.  Murfles the elf, however, remained indifferent to and somewhat embarrassed by the attentions of these lovesick spellcasters. No wonder the she kept up her disguise as an old crone whenever she could!

dragrish2k

In my current 1e campaign, romance has not been featured so much. At times I employ a ‘carousing table’ to determine any interesting effects from partying, and one result from a revel in a djinni palace on the elemental plane of air meant that the party wizard snagged the affections of a slyph. Since such creatures are long lived and time passes differently on the planes, I guessed that casual dalliances with mortal planar travellers would be enjoyed but that the female elemental would not get too attached or pursue any serious commitment. But, it did mean that the wizard can call that specific slyph for aid or just company in the future, though a modified conjure elemental spell. Aside from that, one of the fighters has hinted at a slow-burning sexual tension with his henchwoman.

Once as a player, when describing my character’s background, I made an offhand remark about my wizard having having won marriage to a pirate captain in a drunken card game and needing money to pay her off after a divorce. This was intended as a humorous excuse to justify his dungeon looting, but as it turned out, the early campaign was a city-based affair, heavy on intrigue, swashbuckling and cloak-and-dagger politicking, and the main antagonist (a beautiful, manipulative leader of a thieves guild) was presented as my character’s ex. What would have been a rather straightforward enmity was complicated by my character’s personal relationship with the BBEG. He realised that his ex was mixed up in some dangerous plot, knew that she was ruthless and cruel but he still had feelings for her and didn’t want to see her come to a sticky end. By being able to meet and talk with the antagonist throughout the plot, this put more of a splotlight on the nature and motivations of the villain that we wouldn’t have experienced in the game if we’d only managed to encounter her in the back of a dungeon. It also gave the DM plenty of opportunities to fuck with us and try to sabotage our efforts. This was largely done through straight roleplaying although since it was a 3.5 game, some bluff and diplomacy rolls were called for. Also, with both of us being spellcasters with serious trust issues, some charm spells were employed now and again. Although I hadn’t conceived of playing this type of game when I rolled up the characer, I found it rewarding. It let me enjoy role-playing a conflicted character who desired to do good and redeem this villain but was also tempted by the more shady life he used to enjoy. She did eventually come to a sticky end, but my PC’s romance subplot with her made the resolution more satisfying (of course he was the one who had to kill her in the end).

These experiences from both sides of the screen have taught me to open my heart and let love into the game. If your group is mature, it can add a lot of fun and a richer roleplaying experience, resulting in more well-rounded characters and players who are more invested in the game world. I’ve found that love can make players do crazy things against their ‘better judgement’, as in, risk game advantage like money, items or just plain safety in pursuit of a purely role-playing based character goals. Maybe it’s easier to relate to this as a motivation, after your characters are sitting on piles of gold coins and magic swords.

I’ve been wondering about good ways to actually house rule love and relationships and somehow game-ify them, to inspire players and have a system to deal with these things within a limited time at the table. Perhaps a table for romantic entanglements to be checked during downtime that could dish out bonuses or problems. Or one for random generation of suitors if a well-heeled adventurer sets up a stronghold and lets it be known that he or she is looking. One that should also allow for some unusual results like magical beings, curses, spies, etc, to spice things up. Right now though, it seems that players who enjoy the idea of their characters having a lovelife have been happy to take the initiative.

P.S. I updated the post with some images, and for anyone who wants to think about sex in D&D in a more explicit, irreverent way, I can’t recommend Oglaf enough. Read it with your nerdy sweetie. There’s plenty of material in the archives to keep you occupied while I work on my dating mishaps table. Or a post on succubi. Whatever comes out first.