Friday, November 2, 2018

Sixteen Credits

A short filk about college debt I co-authored with Steven Brust.

I will admit to a degree of squeeing that I get to do this sometimes. My years of writing weird lyrics to existing songs pays off!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hackmaster Surprise Example

(Another post from the KenzerCo message boards, here for easy reference)

Let's say 4 goblins ambushs 4 PCs. The goblins will use standard goblin stats; he humans will be, for our purposes, a Man-at-Arms, a Brigand (with Improved Awareness), A Laborer, and a Sedentary ('cause they're all together in the HoB).

Goblins are in a prepared ambush, have their weapons ready, and are going to go. They will be rolling d3+3 for initiative (because Goblins have a +3)

The Brigand (B) and the Laborer (L) noticed the goblins; the Man-at-Arms (M) and the Sedentary (S) (engaged in a petty argument) do not.

Initiative rolls for the party are:
L d8+5 ("Can hear opponents in a concrete direction, but not see them", p 216 of PH)
B d6+2 (Same as the Laborer, but he gets 1 initiative die smaller)
M d12+4
S d12+3

Everyone rolls their die and gives their total. Initiatives are:

G1: 1+3=4
G2: 2+3=5
G3: 2+3=5
G4: 3+3=6
L: 4+5=9
B: 5+2=7
M: 9+4=13
S: 10+3=13

Because the Brigand rolled poorly, all the goblins will get to act before he does and, unless the first goblin hits someone, the goblins will all act before the party. If Goblin 1 hits someone, that person will go on 4 (the goblin's initiative) +2 (page 217, last paragraph of second column), or 6, which is the same time as Goblin 4. We'll say that the Sedentary got hit by Goblin 1. Goblins 2 and 3 fire normally on an entirely surprised party, but they miss. Goblin 4 also fires, but S is not surprised when he does so. If this were melee combat, surprised characters would be rolling a d8 defense die, with no bonus... but since the goblins are shooting at moving (walking) targets, the party still gets a d20 defense die (p. 218 of the PH). L & M might get the cover value of their shields, depending on their arc of defense (p. 224, 225 PH).

So, Goblin 1 hit S, whose new initiative is 6. S is a bit of a wuss, and starts screaming bloody blue murder (he's been ToPed, but you can still start screaming "I've been shot" while ToPed, IMO, which counts) on 6. This means he is "Raising the Hue and Cry" (p. 217 of PH), and everyone's initiatives drop by 2. This doesn't affect the goblins... they've all gone. With an 8 speed on a snapshot, the Goblins will be going again on 12, 13, 13, and 14. Normally, G1 would be able to fire on a surprised M with his second shot, but S's Hue and Cry means that the new initiatives are B 7 (it decreased by 2, but can't act before the second after the Hue and Cry), L 7 (dropped by 2), and M 11.

Now, with B moving towards them (and probably telling his friends where they are), the goblins might wind up changing their next actions entirely... if B and L start walking towards G1 on 7, G1 will have a couple seconds to drop his bow and ready his weapon... and he doesn't really need any, since he's got a Small weapon, which takes 0 seconds to ready. G1 drops his bow and draws his short sword on 7 (it's a 0 second action). G2, next to G1, also draws his short sword; G3 and G4, on the other side of the cavern, decide to keep firing. L & B reach their goblins on 9 (L is NOT readying his shield, since it will take too much time), and there's a brief reach comparison, which G1 loses (he's a goblin, they're humans). L and B start smacking goblins on 9; With a speed of 8, B will get his next attack on 17, and L will get his on 19 with his speed of 10. G1 and G2 will get their next attack on 18... since they had a shorter reach, they have to wait until second 10 to attack (p. 223).

On second 11, M gets to act. He stays put, standing over S until he's better, readying his weapon and shield. Readying a shield takes 1d4p+1 seconds; he'll have his shield readied on 15, but his sword will be readied on 12 (1 second ready time; p. 218). This means G3 (count 13) and G4 (count 14) will get shots on an unshielded M, who only gets to roll a d12 for defense (since he's standing over S). This is why you wear armor, kiddies.

At this point, everyone (except S) is up and engaged and the regular combat continues. Due to a rough roll on B's part, the goblins had 3 seconds of surprise... had B rolled a 3 (5 total), G1 would've been the only one with complete surprise. Had B rolled a 1 (3 total)? He might have thrown a dagger on 3 (0 ready time, plus a snapshot), injuring one of the goblins, and catching THEM by surprise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Oriental Adventures Styles in your AD&D campaign

So, I like the martial arts styles created in Oriental Adventures (and, subsequently, in the Complete Ninja's Handbook). While the Complete Fighter/Combat and Tactics styles are fine, they're also very generic, and don't add neat special abilities to warriors, like wizards and clerics get at higher levels. So, I started thinking about using the old OA styles in a non-Asian-flavored campaign setting. This uses the mechanics of OA Martial Arts, but presumes that practically everyone serious about combat will have a martial arts style. If your fighter favors a longsword, he might have a Weapon style that focuses on its use... or he may use a style that focuses on Blocks, and takes full advantage of his shield. Or a style that focuses on movement, unlocking feints, leaps, and superhuman speed.

Conversions between AD&D and Hackmaster

This is something I developed on the Kenzerco Message Boards, as "How do I convert material from AD&D to Hackmaster" is a not-uncommon question. These are not perfect guidelines by any means; they're a means to get you "in the neighborhood", balancing the different mechanics.

General Conversion Rule For Monsters:

Base HP: 10 + size modifier (0 for tiny, 5 for small, 10 for medium, 15 for large, etc), plus normal HD, plus any bonus HP the regular creature has.
Base Attack: HD of original creature
Base Defense/DR: Look at the AC of the original creature; decide how much is agility and how much is toughness. For agility, double that and make it a defense modifier. For toughness, apply the equivalent armor as DR (if they have a 2 AC just from toughness, don't give them an 8 DR, but the DR of plate)
Base Damage: Double what it was in AD&D.

As others will say, there's more art to it than science... while those guidelines above WORK, they need to be looked at and tweaked.

Sample Conversion using these guidelines:

The Ogre.  (They're a simple creature, and available in the free Hackmaster Basic PDF)

An Ogre in 2nd edition AD&D had 4+1 HD, an AC of 5, and did 1d10 damage (or "By weapon +6"). They are size L.

So, we know its HP are going to be 10+15+4d8+1, or 26+4d8. It's AC is 5, but that's going to be all toughness... the equivalent of Chain Mail. Looking at Chain Mail, they have a DR of 5, but -5 defense, +2 initiative, and +2 speed.

Their base attack is going to be +4 (for their HD). We can either call them 2d10p or give them a big weapon and add +12. I prefer the second method for ogres, so we know their strength will be prodigious... assuming the PH chart continues, they have about a 25 strength, meaning a +23 FOS.

A few other things... It's 8 intelligence, so we'll stick its wisdom there, too, giving it a -1 to attack, +3 to intiative, -1 to Defense and Mental Saves. No particular reason to Buff Dexterity, so we leave it at 10.5, for another +2 to initiative. The starting HP assume a Con of 11 (10, +1 because of it's 4+1 HD). That's low, but we'll leave it for now.

So, arming my ogre with a Bardiche (because, in Phantasie III, my brother's epic Ogre Fighter Fogey used a Bardiche), we get something like this...

Hit Points: 26+4d8
Size/Weight: L/650 pounds
Fatigue Factor: +0

Physical: +4 (base HD)
Mental: +3 (base HD, modified for wisdom)
Dodge: +4 (Base HD)

Attack: +4
Defense: -2
Damage Reduction: 5
Damage: By weapon +12
Speed: 16
Init: +7
Reach: 6'
Trauma Save: 5

This looks a little puny, so I'm going to buff it up... instead of counting it as 4th level, I'm going to count it as a 4 HD fighter, or 8th level, which will give it better saves and a bit of a reduction in speed and initiative. I'm also going to kick up its assumed Constitution, to 15, which gives it 4 more HP, a better TOP, and a bonus to Physical saves.

Hit Points: 30+4d8
Size/Weight: L/650 pounds
Fatigue Factor: -2

Physical: +10 (base level, plus con bonus)
Mental: +7 (base level, modified for wisdom)
Dodge: +8 (Base level)

Attack: +4
Defense: -2
Damage Reduction: 5
Damage: By weapon +12
Speed: 15
Init: +6
Reach: 6'
Trauma Save: 7

A fair bit stouter, my naked ogre with a big axe.

How does he stack up against a HoB ogre? Here's the same numbers, with the HoB number and commentary in parentheses

Hit Points: 30+4d8 (34+4d8; the HOB seems to assume a 19 constitution, not the 15 I went with)
Size/Weight: L/650 pounds (L/550#; mine may have a lower Con since he seems to be a bit of a porker)
Fatigue Factor: -2 (-2/-1)

Physical: +10 (+8)
Mental: +7 (+2)
Dodge: +8 (+4.... seems my calculations were a bit off, here)

Attack: +4 (+5)
Defense: -2 (-1)
Damage Reduction: 5 (4)
Damage: By weapon +12 (By Weapon +6; I aimed a bit high, it seems)
Speed: 15 (8)
Init: +6 (+4)
Reach: 6' (long; I think I'm on target, there)
Trauma Save: 7 (9)

So, the HoB Ogre assumes about 4 more points of Con than I did, but about 6 less points of strength. My calculations for saving throws a pretty off, which means I need to revisit them... probably make more sense to base those on HD, not level, since my first numbers were closer. Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my quick-and-dirty conversion of the ogre, following the above principles. It's not perfect, and there are a couple of clear places where I made mistakes (WAY overinflated their strength and saves; my weapon choice leaves this ogre very slow), but close enough that I'd use it without problem.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Star Wars: Orbastra's Planetary Peril!

Anoat, once a world poisoned by the Empire, still has influential citizens on Bespin... citizens whose mercantile might is enough to warrant some deference from Governor Adelhard in the wake of the Imperial collapse and the Iron Blockade. Chief among these citizens is Cincinatus Orbastra, scion of a noble house and environmental engineer. Inspired by the historical restorations of Taris and Telos, Cincinatus Orbastra suggests a bold plan to cleanse Anoat of its poisons: Siphon the atmosphere completely from the planet, and replace it with the atmosphere of nearby, and officially deserted, Hoth.

The plan is bold, yet deemed feasible. Using the ice of the planet Hoth, two enormous, 1000 kilometer in diameter spheres would be created; one above Hoth, the other above Anoat. The atmospheres of both planets would then be siphoned into the ice spheres, and  Hoth's clear air towed, through hyperspace, to be placed on its new planets, with the ice of Hoth contributing the hydrosphere of the newly revitalized Anoat. The poisoned air of Anoat will be simply discarded... why haul an ice box full of poison to place on a nothing world? While this plan will cause a near-total loss of life on both planets, it will leave Anoat ripe for resettlement... with Governor-General Adelhard and Cincinatus Orbastra as the chief beneficiaries of the new world.

When this plan comes to light, it will be vehemently opposed by several factions. The Anoat Sector Rebellion, cut off from the galaxy by the Iron Blockade, still uses Hoth as a waystation and salvage yard, as do many smugglers and more legitimate businessmen. Furthermore, anything that damages Adelhard's regime is good for the rebellion, and so teams will be sent out to hinder the creation of the Ice Spheres, and to damage the pumps that will be necessary to turn the planets into giant vacuums. If this plan succeeds, what too could it mean for the galaxy, where one world may be robbed of its very breath so another might flourish? What other worlds, deemed "undesireable", would have their atmosphere stolen to create a biosphere on some Imperial or corporate rock?

Orbastra must be stopped.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


New Skill: Trapping
Relevant Abilities: Intelligence and Dexterity
Cost: 6 BP
Universal: No
Prerequisite: Novice level Hunting, Novice Level Animal Empathy
Materials/Tools: Yes

Trapping is the skill of placing pre-made hunting traps, and creating snares, deadfalls, pits, and other natural traps. Trapping requires some basic knowledge of hunting, but is developed separately. A skilled trapper not only makes a snare, but knows exactly where to place it to catch the game they’re after; like hunting, trapping is limited to a specific climate. Also, like hunting, trapping does not always provide you with a dead animal, merely the opportunity to kill one.

Traps are oriented towards a certain size of creature; a pit trap that will catch a bear might be safely hopped over by a rabbit, and a snare that will catch a rabbit will do little more than annoy a bear. Depending on the size of creature sought, and the skill of the trapper, a trap can be created in minutes to hours. The difficulty of trapping varies with local conditions, but trapping for meat is usually an Average check. If you wish to preserve a saleable fur, it becomes Difficult; an Average trap will destroy (5-DR)d10p% of the pelt.

Novice Tiny: 60 minutes, Small/Medium 60 minutes, Large 4 hours, Huge 8 hours
Average: Tiny: 45 minutes, Small/Medium 45 Minutes, Large 3 Hours, Huge 7 Hours
Advanced: Tiny: 30 Minutes: Small/Medium 45 minutes, Large 2 Hours, Huge 6 hours
Expert: Tiny 15 minutes, Small/Medium: 30 minutes, Large 90 minutes, Huge 5 hours
Master Tiny: 10 Minutes, Small/Medium 15 minutes, Large 1 Hour, Huge 4 Hours

Note: Huge creatures are generally only vulnerable to pit traps or deadfalls; effectively creating a pit trap for a Huge creature requires Mining. These times are in addition to the necessary time to excavate enough earth or stone to create an effective pit trap. Deadfalls for Huge creatures often involve dropping hillsides on them.

Materials required vary, but usually start with a knife or hand axe, and some wire or twine. Not having these bare requirements increases the difficulty by one step. Having a premade mechanical trap makes the base difficulty Easy, and reduces the time for all mastery levels to 10 minutes per trap, regardless of size (though premade traps are seldom made larger than Large).

Hunting snares can be effective mantraps, but are relatively easy to spot. Observation checks to locate mantraps set by trapping are +50% if the trapper is Novice, +40% if they are average, +30% if Advanced, +20% if Expert, and +10% if Master. This bonus does not apply to wild animals, but domesticated animals trained for hunting do receive this bonus, as do humanoids and any creature with an Intelligence of 7/01 or higher.


The Outdoorsman is a woods-wise warrior, similar to both a ranger and a barbarian, but with key differences. Unlike the ranger, they do not necessarily have a dedication to the health and safety of others… outdoorsmen might be poachers, smugglers, or marauders, happy to devastate a township or simply quickly move illegal goods over the land. Unlike the barbarian, however, there’s no necessary component of chaos in their alignment; an outdoorsman could equally be a King’s Forester, responsible for catching those poachers and smugglers, or stopping marauders along the road. Or an outdoorsman may be a tribesman, not quite so tough or superstitious as a barbarian, but still capable of living off the land and surviving the wilderness.

While able combatants, most Outdoorsman favor tools over weapons; they might learn to use a sword, but facility with a hand axe, spear, or bow is a lot more practical. While they benefit greatly from the physical attributes of Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution, they also find Wisdom to be of great use, given its relation to key skills such as Hunting, Survival, and Weather Sense.

Unsurprisingly, those Outdoorsmen who are religious favor deities such as The Traveller, The Great Huntress, and the Bear, but there’s not restriction on their following other deities or no religion at all. Most are moderately suspicious of magic, especially those of a tribal background, but it seldom manifests as a true phobia, as one sees amongst barbarians; it is simply something beyond their ken, and so they may have little use for it.