Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gnomish Clarifications

Some interesting discussion in yesterday's Open Friday comments. It's only fair that I offer my own thoughts and clarifications.

First, the question I asked was purely theoretical. It's not something that's come up in my campaign and likely won't. So, any assumption that I was asking for advice about how to handle the situation in the Dwimmermount game is mistaken.

Second, the question concerned the player of a dwarf character who wanted his character's son to be a gnome, not a player who wished to play a gnome PC. If a player in my campaign wanted to be a gnome, I'd let him without question, provided there wasn't already a gnome PC in the game, as I have a pretty firm rule that there can never be more than one member of a non-human races as a PC in the campaign at any given time.

My own feeling is that effects/outcomes that the rules imply are rare ought to remain so, even if it'd be "cool," "fun," or otherwise interesting to fudge rolls to bring them about. This is a longstanding opinion of mine, as the story of Morgan Just makes clear. I rarely fudge dice rolls for hits or damage. The same applies to rolls for magic items (which is why, for example, there are two rings of invisibility kicking around my campaign right now but very few magic weapons). When a wand of wonder or a deck of many things enters play, I don't cook the books in order to ensure a result a player or I think is the most interesting, because, I have learned over the years that my own instincts or those of my players aren't any more reliably apt to produce "fun" than are random rolls.

In the case of a gnome son, I'd let the dice fall where they may. I wrote the rules specifically to make the appearance of gnomes comparatively rare and, therefore, special, much in the same way that a 3D6 roll makes having a Strength or Intelligence of 17 or 18 rare and special. That's also why there aren't any swords +3 or rings of wishes in my campaign at present either -- the rules intend for them to be rare, regardless of whether or not including them would something that my players or I would like.

Now, obviously, like all rules, I occasionally do make exceptions or bend things this way or that for one reason or another, but that's not my usual habit and it's a practice I generally avoid. I really do think trusting the dice is no less likely to lead to a bad session than is arranging things so that they turn out "as they should." My players and I already plan enough aspects of the campaign as it is; why avoid the use of random rolls when the rules call for them, especially when those rolls can lead to something surprising?

So, word of warning: if you're in a game refereed by me and you want something for your character that the rules make rare, you're getting no special consideration beyond what the Lady grants you through your throws of the dice. Other referees will have their own approaches and that's fine, but this is how I handle things these days.


  1. Alea iacta est or its cousin "let the dice fall where they may" is a perfectly good way to play.

    I like to fudge for fun but YMDV and I'd have no problem playing in such a game.

    I do give you fair warning though (if I ever happen to be in Toronto) I make up attribute rolls to suit me and cheat on HP rolls. For some reason my HP all look like Greyhawk Average -- huh ;)

  2. My gut feeling is that your comparison of allowing a gnomish son by fiat to fudging the dice for damage or to-hit is a bit of apples and oranges comparison; the latter is an action roll on which may hang the fate of a character, while the former is simply a decision about the setting. However,the comparison to rolling on the treasure table is apt; you've largely trusted your world design to Tyche and "making sense of it" after she's spoken through the dice. That's a perfectly reasonable choice to make, and one that appeals to me more and more. My support for giving the hypothetical PC his gnome son was more along the lines of a one-time variance, because the idea intrigued me. :)

  3. 5stonegames, I am shocked, SHOCKED to find out that there are D&D players like you who cheat on Hit Point rolls!

    L. Beau maintains stern glare, then Bogey hands L. Beau an envelope with his cut of this week's gambling proceeds.

  4. Thanks for the clarification.

    And for the exercise in futility. My poor futility has been so lethargic lately and been putting on a few pounds. He needs to be run a few laps for his own health.

    Letting the dice fall as they may is commendable. Rare is rare. Coolness aside. And rarely fudging of rolls for bits or damage...

    what? What? WHAT?!

    Oh, once you start down the path of the dark side of the fudge, forever will it dominate your destiny. Once a fudger, always a fudger. It doesn't matter how little or how much or how discretionary you may be in the choosing. With great fudging, comes great responsibility!

    Yea, let he who has not fudged cast the first unmodified die.

    But seriously, it's okay. As long as the game doesn't suffer for it. That is what truly matters.


  5. Ah, so you DO fudge the dice sometimes, eh? I'm curious, James, when do you consider it appropriate to, er... nudge the old twenty sider? And do you feel ashamed of yourself afterward?

  6. I'm curious, James, when do you consider it appropriate to, er... nudge the old twenty sider? And do you feel ashamed of yourself afterward?

    I couldn't say out of context of my actually choosing to ignore a roll. It's not the sort of thing I plan beforehand; it's more of a spur of the moment thing.

    I don't feel ashamed of myself afterward, but I do sometimes think I'd have been better off just letting the actual roll stand, which is why I so rarely fudge anymore.

  7. Hi James!

    A low magic item campaign is a refreshing change of pace. And I think it keeps players on their toes and it hopefully fosters a role-playing environment rather than stat counters who are hoping for those one of two items of wonder to beef them up, so to speak.

  8. Interesting; would you say that all magical treasure in your game is determined randomly? Is it an old D&D rule that I've missed?
    I personally always saw random tables as optional, and used them more as inspiration tools, even the monster tables. I must say that even now in my old age I still am torn between using the tables as is, or more as inspiration.

  9. I find I have to agree with @Anthony that there is a considerable difference between fudging a dice roll and deciding that something happens. If you roll a die you should never change the result or add modifiers after the act. After all, you are letting the Lady decide, and any attempt to modify the roll is disrespecting her.

    But deciding something happens. That's a dragon of an entirely different colour. <grin>

  10. Interesting.

    My instinct would be that trying to create a gnome should increase the chances of it, but not guarantee it. Thus, on the d20 roll, I'd reverse the "critical failure" and "creates a dwarf" results; a 1 produces a dwarf, a 20+ gets a critical failure. Then roll the d6 as normal.

    If other dwarves found out the player character dwarf was doing that sort of thing, increasing the chances of a knocker or stillbirth in an attempt to get a gnome, the reaction would be horrified, and range from shunning to violence.

  11. I for the most part place treasure rather than full randomness of the die. I got into this game to be Creative.

    I think I'd have replaced the second inviso ring with a class specific item, especially if I posted about how magic items should be special and one of a kind.

  12. why avoid the use of random rolls when the rules call for them, ...

    well, you created that rule. the "rules" didn't ask for that roll.

    I really do think trusting the dice is no less likely to lead to a bad session than is arranging things so that they turn out "as they should."

    there is no "as they should". it's "the way you and your players want". is see this gnomish son issue more like a roleplaying device, a sort of character development than anything else, like someone might decide his character falls in love or starts to drink heavily.

    i play wfrp. when i decide i want my character has had enough and will become a drunk or addicted to a drug, do i have to collect a few insanity points first and then hope to fail a wp roll? and maybe the dm says it's not quite clear if he really will become an alcoholic. there is a table, so we need to use it. roll... you might "get lucky" and become a drunk... or maybe a pyromaniac. wouldn't that be just as much fun?!

    that's how the rules deal with it, so that's the way it should be done? nah... i don't think so.

    the dice never reveal "how it should be" (only "how it is"). they don't know about these things. they can help us when we don't have a clue "how it should be".

    the rules intend for them to be rare,

    I wrote the rules specifically to make the appearance of gnomes comparatively rare and

    will there be some kind of gnome-flood if you allow a single one as an exception?

    what your rules accomplish is that there simply won't be any player related gnome. if i was that hypothetical player, i would not bother. the chance of getting the gnome is not worth it.

    That's also why there aren't any swords +3 or rings of wishes in my campaign at present either

    don't you see the difference between a gnome son and a sword +3?

    i am with you considering the sword, i wouldn't give players any powerful stuff, just cause they want it. that would be stupid. but something that simply adds atmosphere? if it unbalances nothing at all? i'd give them that.

    charts are helpful and necessary at times, but some of the time they are simply in the way.

    i believe that by doing it your way you are taking away from your game, instead of adding to it. i don't see any benefit...

    something rare is rare. is that it?

    ps: one last thing. when you do decide to roll for something, then the result should stand, no matter what.

    edit: i agree with brunomac about the magic items.

  13. I also wonder about why this would be disallowed according to "the rules." Must everything be covered by a die roll? In most games certain monsters are very rare, in the fictional world of the game, yet DMs design adventures around these monsters, such as a very rare powerful demon who suddenly starts causing havoc. In your game, would such an appearance be governed entirely by random dice rolls, or would the DM be allowed to decide "OK, we are going to get a little demon action up in here next week?"

    I'd presume in this hypothetical situation that the player wants a gnome son and the charater *doesn't* want one and the player wants to explore this kind of difficult relationship through role playing. To me, that seems like the kind of thing that the players and DM should simply talk about and either agree upon or decide to disallow it.

    Of course I'm not trying to say that you and your players shouldn't do it this way, it just strikes me as a gaming environment that could end up feeling stifling if I were a player in the game.

  14. Actually this creates an interesting* system for the actual creation of magic items.

    The magic user declares that they are creating a specific type of magic item (by exact name). And then they roll on the appropriate chart once every magic creation period.

    Or in other terms, using the Greyhawk swords table, it typically takes 2 attempts to produce a +1 sword [30%] (and you would be almost guaranteed one after 13 days), but it typically takes 23 attempts to create a +2 sword [3%], 35 attempts to create a +3 sword [2%], and 69 attempts to create a +4 sword [1%]. And by typically, I mean the magic user has reached a better than even chance of having gotten the magic sword.

    Of course, rolling so many times is boring, so you may want to roll once a week (but assume the enchantment period is a day), in which case the rolls become 91% to forge a +1 Sword in that week, 19% to forge a +2 sword, 13% to forge a +3 sword, and 6% to forge a +4 sword or better during that week...

    In comparison brewing a Potion of Healing typically takes 23 days using this method, or a 24% chance each week.

    [* Of course this does depend on your definition of interesting (it's not my cup of tea**), but it does produce an evil DM moment when the player realises that if he'd decided to make a Holy Sword he would have been finished by now.]

    [** For one thing, I still use the Enchanted Weapons Tables form Different Worlds 4 which uses multiple d1000 tables, and the other, I already have a magic item creation process based on the ability of the smith (who does not have to be a mage).]