Friday, June 5, 2009

Possible Dwimmermount Changes

As Session 13 looms this weekend, I've begun contemplating several small changes to the Swords & Wizardry rules. All of these changes are the result of my having observed, over the course of three months, how the rules as written have played out in my own campaign. In every case, the changes I'm considering are small and have more to do with the "texture" of play rather than any serious belief that rules X or Y are "broken." That is, I want to build upon the feel that has already grown up in the campaign by slight changes to rules that, in my estimation, run counter to that feel.

Ability Score Modifiers: Having a maximum +1 bonus for scores 13 or better isn't working for me. While it's nice that the rules work against the perceived necessity for very high ability scores, it'd still be nice for a little more mechanical differentiation between, say, having a 13 Strength and a 17 Strength. What I might do is introduce an expanded table that applies only to a character's Prime Attribute, so that Fighters get more Strength options and Clerics more Wisdom options and so on.

Experience Bonus: Again, I appreciate the way that the rules of Swords & Wizardry try to eliminate dump stats by making Wisdom and Charisma important to determining a character's XP bonus, but I've found it somewhat nonsensical in play. In addition, a character with a Prime Attribute, Wisdom, and Charisma 13+ gets a 15% XP bonus, higher than what's possible in OD&D. I'm considering going back to OD&D's Prime Attribute 13-14 = 5% bonus and 15+ = 10% bonus and leave it at that.

Variable Weapon Damage: I have to admit I miss using more than just D20 and D6 in play. In addition, I'm finding that the lack of differentiation between one-handed weapons irksome. I can certainly see why OD&D moved away from universal D6 damage over time.

There are other, bigger changes I might consider introducing at some point, but, because they'd represent fairly significant shifts in the reality of the campaign setting, I'm holding off on introducing them until I can do so with a minimum of disruption.


  1. Ability Score Modifiers:
    I suggest using a method I first met in Melan's "Kard és Mágia" game.
    It's [(Ability Score/3)-3], rounded down, so:
    1-2: -3
    3-5: -2
    6-8: -1
    9-11: +0
    12-14: +1
    15-17: +2
    18: +3

    These bonuses are not that high or low to make ability scores count that much, but differenciate nicely and the mythic 18 still has it's uniqueness. :)

    Experience Bonus:
    I don't think any game needs the "more experience for higher ability scores" rule, as higher ability scores give advantages in the form of higher bonuses. I also think that in OD&D, the +5% for 13+ and +10% for 15+ rule helps to differenciate between high and very high ability scores. If you are using a higher ability bonus method than you don't really need the +% experience for ability scores.

    Variable Weapon Damage:
    I my "Kard és Mágia" campaign, I use the following weapon damage rules:
    Fists/feet/headbutt: 1d3
    Tiny weapons (eg: dagger): 1d4
    Small weapons (eg: shortsword): 1d6
    Medium weapons (eg: mace): 1d8
    Large weapons (eg:two handed sword): 1d12

    All dice are used, even the lonely d12, and maked two handed weapons a real threat!

  2. Your blog inspired me to start my own retro D&D campaign, James, and I continue to enjoy your Dwimmermount updates.

    For variable weapon damage, we found a compromise that works very well for us. We do 1d4 for small weapons (sling, dagger, dart), 1d6 for hand weapons used with one hand (spear, axe, short sword, sword, etc), 1d8 for hand weapons used with two hands (sword or spear used two handed), or 1d10 for great weapons (great sword, polearm, battle-axe) at the cost of initiative loss.

    This seems to accord with pulp fantasy very well. Conan seems to fight equally well with any standard weapon (1d6), but definitely would show a preference for a sword or axe over a dart or dagger, and does change up how he fights (sword and shield, two axes, etc) from time to time.

  3. Of course, you see my recommendations in my OED house rules (just updated).

    In my view, effective ability bonuses (for all abilities) make the XP bonuses unnecessary, so I just dropped them entirely in my game.

    The Moldvay-esque 18/+3 bonus should be avoided, because the day you need to consider a score of 19 or 20 it doesn't extrapolate well. Using +1-per-3 points is my preference, as it matches up with the statistical "z-score" of the 3d6 distribution (among other reasons).

  4. do you ever allow saves vs wisdom as a kind of warning to engage common sense?

    I would also, following thoughts on Prowess, allow Charisma to act as the core stat for an MU instead of intelligence, reflecting a different school of magical discipline, but I realise I'm way off canon there.

  5. James,

    I am especially eager to read more of your mechanical insights into how you will modify the existing S&W rules-set.


  6. James,

    In my S&W campaign, I use this attribute bonus table:

    3: -2
    4-6: -1
    7-14: 0
    15-17: +1
    18: +2

    I haven't had an issue with experience bonus since I force 3d6, rolled in order for attributes. The highest bonus (from memory) is a fighter with a high Wisdom, and his bonus is 10%. Actually, I think his is the *only* experience bonus.

  7. Ahem... James,
    Why not just use the AD&D 1st Ed rules? It has the most sophistited ability bonuses, not just the variable weapon damage, but also modifier against each type of an armor class! Truly, I have unique stats for each weapon/fighter to really influence the tactics and fighting styles!

  8. For weapons I made a "Weapon Builder" thats a series of tags.

    Small weapon: d4
    Medium weapon: d6
    Large weapon: d8

    Then other tags come into effect. Is it a slashing weapon? Up the die size one (I use d10's mind you). Is it a "Devestating" weapon, up it again but give -2 to hit (Devestating weapons could be considered axes, pick axes, hammers). Of course there are other minor tags to balance things out and what not. And you can make weapons as complicated or not as you wish by expanding or limiting the amount of tags.

    If you don't care about an axe vs sword, leave it out. If you don't care about slash or pierce or blunt, take out the tags for those kinds of weapons (and their benefits)

    Its part of the Piecemeal "Plug and Play" system.

  9. It may seem silly, but the "funny dice" were one of the reasons that roleplaying charmed me oh so many years ago. Even today, while I might enjoy games that use only one type of die, it's missing that little extra something that a multi-colored pile of polyhedra brings.

    And I agree with the idea of giving more variability to the damage done by weapons: one die for all one-handed weapons just takes away some of the flavor. (For me, at any rate.)

  10. So you are bascially re-evolving the Moldvay rules...?

    Why not just play Labyrinth Lord?

  11. Ability bonuses: I tweaked it this way - score 3-5:-2; 6-9:-1; 10-13:+0; 14-17:+1; 18-20:+2

    A character with a Prime Attribute of 15 or less adds +1 to his ability bonus; +2 if the Prime Attribute is 16 or higher.

    Chaacters know how to leverage their prime attribute to its best advantage, so of two characters with str 10, say a fighter and a cleric, the fighter gets better advantage of his prime attribute (a +1 bonus in this case vs +0).

    I suppose it is "inflationary", since an 18 jumps from the current +1 to a +4, but that doesn't really bother me. Just makes the fighter more fighter-y.

  12. So you are bascially re-evolving the Moldvay rules...?

    Not quite. I don't like the Moldvay ability score progressions, which I think are too much for me. The other changes just make my game more like OD&D + Greyhawk, which is probably where I wanted to be all along anyway.

  13. I think evolving rules is a good thing, especially the d6 only thing.

    I LIKE rolling funny dice. I actually listed that as a design priority.

    You can't write "funny dice" without "fun". The tactile aspect of RPG's is often SADLY overlooked in game design.

  14. I LIKE rolling funny dice. I actually listed that as a design priority<

    I can actually remember being around 12 or 13 and seeing all the "funny dice" for the first time in a math class. When I got into gaming a couple of years later, I was so mystified as I held them in my hand. May sound lame, but I'm getting a chill thinking about that. I still have an emotional connection to those darn dice.

  15. I'm curious. Did you ever enact the bonuses for weapons against different armour types? Admittedly it is extremely cumbersome (which is why I suspect most people soon dropped it, even if they used it in the first place).

  16. You can't write "funny dice" without "fun". The tactile aspect of RPG's is often SADLY overlooked in game design.

    Quoted for truth!

    I love those funky dice.

    One way to diversify damage is to only use d6, but allow two handed weapons users to roll two dice, then chose one. That way everything except the really big ones is similar enough.

  17. @Ian: I actually do. Not cumbersome at all. What I do is figure out "To Hit" stats, damage stats, range stats, saves as well as the same stats for the characters to get hit by monsters by different HD, and use THAT reference sheet in my gameplay. Nothing needs to be figured out in the game, it's all "pre-figuered" and I am even designing an Excel spreadsheet to do all the figuring for me. At this point I can input the character abilities and class level, and it tells me what that charater neds to roll to hit. To this I have to manually add the effects of weapon type versus AC and effects of spcialization. So I have this table: Each line corresponds to each character and specific weapon and a string of 10 numbers to hit each AC. ergo for Party seving throws. For the missile weapons I have three lines one for short medium and log ranges. When combat occurs - there is no thinking - just talking and rolling. The numbers are already there. No need to interrupt the flow of the game.

  18. It's interesting to hear that the OD&D modifier range has fallen out of favor with you.

    How are you doing ability checks, if at all? The standard D20 <= stat way makes every ability point significant, at least.

  19. Did you ever enact the bonuses for weapons against different armour types?

    No, I didn't. Every time I got ready to do so, I couldn't bring myself to do it. Somehow, it seemed like an unnecessary complication to achieve a comparatively small benefit.

  20. I do damage by Str, assuming an appropriate weapon is at hand.

    Converting to the OD&D scale.

    0-2, 1d2 - 1d3 (+3)
    3-5, 1d3 - 1d4 (+3)
    6-8, 1d4 - 1d6 (+2)
    9-11, 1d6 - 2d4 (+1)
    12-14, 1d8 - 2d6 (+0)
    15-17, 1d10 - 2d8 (-1)
    18, 1d12 - N/A (-2)

    One or two handed respectively. I run one step higher for damage (against higher HP), to 2d6/3d6 max. The bracket is a to-hit modifier, capped by your Dex.

    Nice to see other people using the stat/3 method for bonuses. I try to leave it extremely limited where they can be used though, and limit how they stack with gear or magic bonuses when they are.