Oct 16, 2018

Searching: Describing Actions and Rolling

When I run old school D&D, I use a group-based perception system. You can find an old version of it on this blog, and versions in both the Necrocarcerus house rules document and Into the Depths, but here's a summary that doesn't require you to click somewhere else:

Every object has a concealment score (obvious objects have a concealment score of 0), ranging from 1 to infinity, with most hidden objects being between 3 and 10. The party as a whole has a base or passive perception score equal to the number of PCs in it.

This is their base capability to notice things as they move along in an orderly fashion. It represents them looking around for potential points of interest or danger, but not interacting with or examining things in detail. It requires no time or actions spent to observe the world around them at this level.

If the PCs stop moving and start examining the area around them, they roll a d6 and add it to the base perception score. Typically this kind of search requires a turn.

If the party's perception score equals or exceeds the concealment score of the objects, they discover the object once they come in sight of it (which is usually limited by the availability of light).

If the PCs are broken up into small groups, then each sub-group has a passive perception score equal to the number of PCs in it. If only a few PCs stop to examine things, then that's a sub-group as well, but they still add a d6 roll onto the sub-group's score as they actively search.

Hirelings, retainers, pets, etc. don't contribute to this score unless the specific specialty skill that they were hired for is spotting things, like a tracker dog or something.

These are the mechanics that slot into a larger process. That process is actually split down the middle. The initial phase is that of passive observation as PCs move. This passive observation is interrupted when they encounter various obvious objects in the space around them (furniture, architectural features, creatures, etc.).

Then, instead of immediately allowing PCs to roll for actively searching an area, I stage the "roleplaying" element where they can interact with and examine the objects. That involves them making specific statements that clearly indicate what and how they are examining something. "I check under the bed", "I cast detect magic and examine the room for auras", "I bang on the walls and listen for echoes", "I cut open the monster's stomach".

If a PC describes something that should reveal the hidden item or object, then it simply does, no roll required. This is their reward for clever ideas. It doesn't matter if it has a concealment score they could never reach numerically, if they luck into or deduce how to find it, they do.

Eventually, I bring this phase to a conclusion when the PCs run out of obvious ideas (it can be very quick sometimes if they're stumped). At that point, they can invoke the active search rule and spend the turn. But that's it. Once they get whatever they're getting out of active searching, they're done and can't find anymore stuff until the situation changes somehow.

The combination of benefits and restrictions here is surprisingly effective at pushing players to at least come up with a few ideas about how they're searching, and it prevents them from just spending a turn and actively searching an area instead of doing any sort of description of how they do it. I recommend attempting it in one's own games if one does not already.

Oct 11, 2018

A Brief (Re)Introduction

My blog traffic has suddenly picked up through a combination of reblogs, Reddit comments, mentions in Youtube videos, and people adding me to RSS feeds as G+ slowly wraps up. I figured it was time for a reintroduction for all of you new readers.

I've been playing roleplaying games for 28 years now, since I was eight years old. I started with Palladium Games' TMNT and Other Strangeness before moving to the Rules Cyclopedia of D&D and from there through many other games in the intervening decades before coming back to old school D&D.

I play a lot of different games, but I mainly write about Mythras, Openquest, Stars Without Number, and my own "neo-clone" of old school D&D, Into the Depths. I also write a fair bit about my ideas about playing the game, though I try to keep the theory-posting to mostly practical matters. My two main campaign settings are a Central-Asian-inspired psychedelic dark fantasy setting for Mythras called "The Dawnlands"; and a gonzo post-apocalyptic afterlife setting for Into the Depths called "Necrocarcerus" that satirises a lot of the tropes of D&D.

The most important considerations I have when running games include information presentation and accessibility; creating surprise and wonder during play; how to shape and vary the risk PCs face and the agency and control they have; distributing tasks throughout the entire play group (but not "GM-less" play); the operation of incentive systems and social dynamics; creating "living worlds"; and all sorts of play that don't involve the imposition of narrative control by the referee on PCs, but that nonetheless emerge into satisfying situations evocative of the best parts of fantasy and science fiction narratives.

The things I've written that people have found the most useful (as determined by page views, reblogging, copying into their own games, etc.) are:

My redesign of the traditional wandering monster table
My extension of the concept to handle traps 
My use of it to populate and repopulate dungeons as the PCs pass through them
My use of it to determine magical item components
My use of it to create radiant quests
My notes on randomly determining how tables can interact with one another

My notes on running "technical plots" (Plots where a situation has to be resolved through a technical solution instead of punching someone out).
My thoughts on designing rules to make them feel like more skill or luck in involved
My thoughts on how to determine what you need to come up with houserules for
My reviews of popular OSR products

My procedure for PCs who are exploring the wilderness in hexcrawls
My chase rules
My teamwork rules for Into the Depths (Mythras, Openquest)
My perception rules
My alchemy rules for Necrocarcerus
My rules for treating backstories and knowledge as types of gear

My ideas about moving beyond the party-structure in RPGs
My ideas about PC roles (and here's an update on which ones I use these days)
My ideas about letting PCs make rolls for things like wandering monsters

Welcome!