Thursday 23 May 2019

More on Save DCs!

In a response to a Facebook post, Jay Davis said:
 "Saves vs spell effects are one thing I have issue with... although many spells allow a save the DC is the spell check result which will routinely be over 20."

I thought that this was worth addressing.

If you look at the DCC core rulebook, on page 432, you will find:

As noted previously, “monsters break the rules”—and that applies to men as well. When sending your players to face a magician or warrior, you need not spend the time to create a complicated leveled-up player character according to the class rules. Make it fast and make it interesting!

And, on page 383:

Spellcasters in particular, whether human or monstrous in nature, should have powers that are unavailable to the players. This does not mean fully defined spells of the same sort learned by the characters. This means a unique power of some kind that would provide a plot hook, leading the player characters to seek out the wizard character and attempt to enlist his services, either as a an ally, hireling, or hostage. On the next page is a table of inspiration, but note that these powers should not be spells. The NPC should be able to use these powers with predictability and accuracy in a way that player characters cannot. It is left up to you to flesh out these ideas, which can apply to any wizard, sorcerer, shaman, witch, warlock, acolyte, priest, cult leader, or other such figure.

In DCC, it is assumed that the rules are designed for defining what Player Characters are (at least in a basic way), but not to limit what Non-Player Characters should be.  For the average human spellcaster that the PCs encounter, save DCs are fairly low: DC 11 for the Acolyte, DC 13 for the Friar, and DC 12 for the Magician. A Witch’s curse ability requires a higher save – DC 16 – but she also gains normal spells with a +8 to the spell check, which makes these formidable on a level that low-level PCs cannot easily match.

From the foregoing we can glean two important design principles in DCC:

(1) By the time the PCs have attained 3rd level, they are better than almost everyone around them.  Page 359 of the core rules puts third level characters at “1 in 1,000”. The average spell check for the PCs will be 15, assuming a roll of 11, +3 bonus for level, and a +1 bonus based off of ability scores. This last bonus is not guaranteed, but it is this writer’s experience that players often choose classes which complement their funnel survivor’s best statistics. This is not always true…an Elf, for instance, may have a penalty to Intelligence but still cast spells.

(2) PC magic is less predictable than the magic used by many NPCs, but it can be awesomely powerful.

Dungeon Crawl Classics urges the judge to let the dice fall where they may. Rather than being invested in an encounter playing out in a particular way, the game design wants you to invest in what actually happens at the table. If the PCs take out your “Boss Monster” with a natural 20 on a spell check and 5 points of spellburn, that is what is supposed to happen.  Likewise, if the Warrior crits and slays the Black Beast of Aaaagh at the top of the first combat round, so be it. Likewise if the Thief backstabs the Emerald Enchanter. Or the Cleric banishes Smaug back to the Lonely Mountain.

You are intended to invest in the process of play rather than any given outcome.

PCs slinging powerful magics might still give the poor judge pause, but there are some things the harried master of games may do. Be careful about using these too much. The idea should not be to make the Wizard, Elf, or Cleric useless, but to provide instances when the player’s “go to” tactics aren’t optimal. You are trying to create an interesting context to spur creative choices and outcomes. You are not trying to gimp the characters for being too powerful. Remember that, sooner or later, the dice will always go sour on the players. You will crit, or they will fumble. You don’t have to set it up so that they lose.

  • High Save Modifiers:  A huge monster may have a +15 Fort save, and a fast monster may have a +15 Reflex save. Used sparingly, and with dice rolled in the open, this can provide a great table moment when the thing saves with a natural roll of “5”. But if the monster still fails, let it. Great gaming memories form around such occurrences.
  • Immunities: Some monsters just cannot be affected by particular types of spells. Some might be immune to magic altogether.  Likewise, some monsters might be immune (or partially immune) to critical effects and/or specific Mighty Deeds.
  • Reduction: Some locations, and the vicinity of some beings, might lower spell check results (but not necessarily the roll itself, so that spells are not lost), or cause spells to be cast with a reduced die type. This might affect only Cleric or Wizard spells, or it might only affect a certain subset of spells (mind-affecting, fire magic, etc.).

  • Stranger Things: Some monsters might be even worse. They reflect spells targeting them back at the caster. They absorb the magic energy and become stronger. They steal spells cast in their vicinity from the caster’s mind. The rules of magic change around them.

The rules also contain spell duels, and it is inconceivable that these rules were not intended to be used. Even if they were not, many DCC modules contain statted up spellcasters which are certainly capable of making the same kind of high spell checks that the PCs are. Even without those adventures, there is the aforementioned Witch. Both Demons and Dragons can do the same.

Suddenly, it is the PCs facing those incredibly high saves! What to do then?

The best answer is to roll the dice in the open, and let the chips fall where they may. Most spell checks will not be optimal. Once you have hit level 1, 0 hp doesn’t mean that you are dead. PCs can spend Luck (and a Halfling will be a major boon here). If the party contains a Wizard, Cleric, or Elf, an attempt at spell dueling may reduce the potency of an enemy spell (or eliminate it altogether).

Ultimately, though, there is a reason that the peasantry fears magic. It can be potent indeed. Rather than reducing that potency, make certain that the players see how magic is feared and respected by the commoners they encounter.

As a last pro tip, if you are having that NPC sling a magic missile with the force of a nuclear weapon, and there is no good reason not to, target the Thief and tell him what the save DC is. A Thief’s ability to use a Luck Die means that she has the best chance of actually making one of those gargantuan saves.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Saving Throw DCs in DCC

Okay, this is a crosspost from a thread on the Goodman Games Forums, because I thought it might be of some value to readers here. It related to setting saving throw DCs when converting materials from other systems (in this case, Barrowmaze).

I wrote:
For saves, use the "average man" standard, where the average man is a schlub in a 0-level funnel:
DC 5: The character succeeds 80% of the time.
DC 10: The character succeeds 55% of the time.
DC 15: The character succeeds 30% of the time.
DC 20: The character succeeds 5% of the time.
Assuming that a natural 20 always succeeds, DCs over 20 represent cases where even a more powerful being has a reduced chance of success. A character with a +2 bonus to Fort saves has a 15% chance of making DC 20, but only a 5% chance of making DC 22....the same as the peasant.
In general, if a failed save results in killing the character outright, or removing them from play, a lower save DC is often appropriate. 
If a failed save results in a change to the status quo that promotes more interesting play, a higher save DC is often appropriate.
IOW, the DC reflects, in part, whether or not you want the save to succeed or fail more often. If you have a way to telegraph the effect, and the level of danger, a high DC can also increase table tension. If there is a way to avoid having to make the save, or to alter the odds of the roll, so much the better.
Remember that save bonuses in DCC don't inflate like they do in some games - a 10th level warrior has a +6 bonus to Fort saves, and nothing else that high. It is barely possible to get up to +12 with an 18 Stamina, an 18 starting Luck, and the right birth augur. The odds are good that you will never see such a thing fairly rolled. You don't have to make save DCs excessive to make them work.

It might seem wrong to include "insignificant" DCs (such as DC 5) for skill checks, or even saves, in the game. Don't fall for that argument.

For DCC, skill checks are made with a 1d20 if you are "trained" and 1d10 if you are not. It should be obvious that there is a significant chance of failure for a DC 5 check using 1d10.

In addition, if penalties for armor apply, DC 5 might be something simple for the unarmored wizard, but difficult indeed for the warrior wearing platemail. The DC reflects the nature of the task in this case, such as climbing a rough wall or swimming across a relatively modest pool. This in turn helps make the armor you choose to wear into an interesting choice, because there are direct and obvious consequences apart from just how hard you are to hit in combat.

As a saving throw, a DC 5 might represent a small chance of something very, very bad happening to you. For instance, if you were fighting a skeleton and each time it hit you there was a DC 5 Will save to avoid permanently losing 1d24 XP....which would become hp for the monster....that save is significant. Even if it doesn't result in a PC losing a level, the lost XP deficit must be "made up" before the PC can progress any further. If those bonus hp are permanent until used, there is an "in story" reason to inflate the skeleton's hit points, thus making it likely that the PCs will require multiple saves - the un-dead creature has a pool of extra vitality it has stolen from others.

Dungeon Crawl Classics has a reputation for being deadly, but remember that your goal is neither to kill characters nor to preserve them. It is, instead, to provide the players with an interesting set of choices, within an interesting context, and then following to see where their choices lead them.

EDIT: As a bonus, when the DC really is 18 or higher, the players know that the shit has hit the fan. Keeping those DCs down means that, when you do not, it has a serious impact at the table.

SECOND EDIT: Consider an Agility check of DC 1. Characters without a penalty do not even need to roll, as they cannot fail. Those burdened by armor, or with low Agility scores (as a result of Spellburn, perhaps?) do need to roll. The chance of failure might be slim (max 15% if just due to low Agility), but the effects could be dire.

And what if this was a check that was required on the way into an encounter where a PC Spellburns the hell out of her Wizard or Elf? What was inconsequential before may well become consequential. Conversely, these minor difficulties reaching an encounter area may limit how much Spellburn the player is willing to accrue.

It has been claimed that "the encounter" is the unit of play for role-playing games, but hopefully this example shows how encounters bleed into each other. A DC 5 Strength check, a DC 2 Agility check, and a DC 4 Stamina check leading to the dragon's lair might seem insignificant, but these things are not really four separate encounters. They are part of an organic this case, a whole that greatly hampers armor-wearers and Spellburners (if they have to leave via the same route).

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Join Me For Free RPG Day!

DCC RPG Double Feature!

12,000 to 0

A 0-level Funnel where the gravity of the situation can really bring you down!

@10 am—2 pm

Geas of the Star-Chons

A 1st-level adventure by Julian Bernick!

@2 pm—6 pm

At the Sword & Board
Saturday, 15 June 2019
1193 Bloor Street West - Rear

Thursday 2 May 2019

DM Workshop!

Saturday, May 25, 2019 from 12 PM to 4 PM at Storm Crow Manor, 580 Church Street in Toronto.

Don't let the name of the event fool you - the principles of good GMing and adventure design apply to far more than just Dungeons & Dragons (any edition)!

Registration provides four hours of instruction and workshopping plus your choice of appetizer and main dish. We'll talk about how to design adventures, how to run things at the table, and how to make lasting campaigns work. Moreover - we will tackling the aspects of GMing that you want to bring up!

If you are in Toronto, and you want to spend some time talking about designing adventures and running games, I would love to see you there!