Monday, May 21, 2012

Maneuvers and Monsters [Blood & Treasure]

The magic section is almost completely edited, leaving just the monsters to go before this baby is (almost) ready for publishing. Last week, I finally figured out how I wanted to handle "encounter levels" - i.e. how tough is a fight? Today I thought of another way to handle special maneuvers in combat. Here's a sample of each - let me know what you think.

[Oh, more previews from the final three circles of Hell and the B&T monster stats are on the way. As soon as I'm finished with B&T and the Rappan Athuk conversions, I'm going to get into 1800 - American Empires. I'm jonesin' for some Napoleonic fantasy!]

Encounter Levels
First question from the Old Schoolers is, of course, why? The answer has nothing to do with balance (sorta). The real answer is "treasure". If you're not using something akin to "treasure types" for the monsters, and I'm not, you need a guide to how tough killing something is to determine the value of its stuff. It also helps dungeon designers, especially the new ones, to determine just how tough a given encounter is. If you're designing a game for some 5th level characters and you overload it with impossible encounters, you've just designed yourself a shitty game. I know the concept of "balance" has been decried of late, and I agree with the sentiment when balance equals "make sure the players win", but obviously the old school cared about balance as well, if not then there would be no need for racial level limits, more XP to be a magic-user and paladin or the concept of dungeons getting tougher as one descended into them.

The B&T system, in a nutshell is as follows:

A group of 3 to 5 monsters of a given "challenge level" is a challenging encounter for a party of that same average level. In other words, four ogres is a challenging encounter for a 4th level party of adventurers (assuming most parties contain 4 to 6 characters).

Two monsters of a challenge level equal to the average party level +1 is also a challenging encounter, as is one monster of a CL equal to the average party level +2.

Likewise, if you're throwing lesser monsters at a party, you throw more at them. It goes something like this ...

This, of course, begs the question: How do you calculate a monster's Challenge Level?

I'm glad you asked. A monster with no special abilities has a CL equal to its HD. Thus, ogres, which have 4 HD and no special powers (big and ugly isn't a power) have a CL of 4. Monsters with various minor powers (yeah, minor and major powers are defined in the rules) have a CL equal to their HD +1. Monsters with major powers have a CL equal to their HD +2. Pretty simple, and so far it has held true in the play tests.

I want special maneuvers in the game to be (1) easy to run and (2) worth while. All too often, I see people giving special maneuvers a try and regretting it later - while they were trying to trip the ogre, the ogre was just beating the crap out of them. As the rules usually go, it makes very little sense to do anything but attack. In reality, this is probably the case. Most of the ARMA fights I've seen involve wailing on your opponent with a sword rather than jumping around like a Hollywood stunt man. But B&T is, like most fantasy RPG's, based not on the real middle ages, but rather on pulp fantasy stories and fairy tales, and Conan liked to get tricky.

The current system involved making an attack against a special AC that you had to calculate based on the maneuver. The new one doesn't bother with that. Instead, it is modeled on the current combat system, with the two-pronged "attack" and "damage" concept. In essence, D&D combat separates combatants in two ways. You have an attack against a set AC. The attack improves as the attacker gains levels, but the AC, in general (monks don't count here, dang them) does not, other than high level characters often have better equipment.

The "damage" side works the opposite way. The damager's level doesn't matter much (again, please ignore the dang monk) other than high level characters maybe having better equipment, but the hit points being damaged do scale with the defender's level.

In other words, if you have two guys in padded armor with clubs, and one is a 1st level fighter and the other a 12th level fighter, the 12th level fighter has a much better chance of hitting his opponent, though his damage per round is about the same. He also has a much better chance of absorbing his opponent's hits, even though his Armor Class is about the same.

So - Special Maneuvers. In essence, the attacker needs to hit a set AC based on the maneuver being attempted (i.e. the AC doesn't improve just because the defender is higher level or has more HD). If the attacker hits, the defender rolls a saving throw to avoid the special effect of the maneuver, so the defender's skill/power does make a difference. In addition, if the attacker's attack would have penetrated the defender's normal AC, he scores some damage (often unarmed attack damage).

Naturally, there are a few provisos and quid pro quos ... mostly involving what weapons you can use for some of these maneuvers (that's what those numbers in brackets in the table above refer to). Hopefully, this makes attempting a special maneuver more attractive and keeps the process pretty simple.

Oh - also - Captain Kirk!

So - special manuevers.


  1. Seems pretty cool, for both things.

    Only the monster chapter is left? What about the magic items? Don't get me wrong, I'd love less work, but I'd like to know XP

  2. Oh yeah ... magic items. Crap. Who would have thought putting a 400 page game together would be so much work?

  3. I really like the combat manuevers solution. Elegant and takes level into consideration. One question - any special benefit to fighters (apart from the biggest bonus to hit) to attempt those? I somehow feel they should be better in performing those than barbarians (if they are in the game) or paladins. Dunno why.

  4. Fighters already have the best attack bonuses and, ultimately, the most attacks, so no special bonus. If a Ref wanted to amend it to give fighters, duelists, monks, etc. special bonuses to hit with special maneuvers, there's no reason why they couldn't.

  5. I actually had a question about the Encounter Levels: How would you calculate it if you threw a group of mixed enemies at a party? Say, a group of Goblins lead by an Ogre?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Glad you asked. My method is to find the average CL of the monsters. So, let's say 6 goblins (CL 0) and 1 ogre (CL 4). You get an average CL of .57, so we can round that to a CL of 1. There are 6 monsters, so looking down the 5-8 monsters column, we find that CL 1 monsters represent an Encounter Level of 2 - so that encounter would be a challenge for a 2nd level party.

    Oh - and if you want to use those maneuvers with OD&D, I would line the saving throws up as follows:

    Blind = Death Ray
    Bull Rush = Turn to Stone
    Disarm = Dragon Breath
    Feint = Spells
    Grapple = Wands (because it includes paralyzation)
    Sunder = Item Saving Throw
    Trip = Dragon Breath



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