Thursday, February 28, 2013

HMS APPOLLYON - Rules and System Changes for future games

Now, HMS Apollyon has generally been played as a hodgepodge of Labyrinth Lord, house rules and whatever else came to the table under the "Flailsnails" conventions.  I think I need to change 
some of that in order for the game play to live up to the level of danger that the setting implies, as such I'm considering the following basic rule changes.

Why is most decent steampunk imagery fashion or pinups?
Generally I'm moving towards Original D&D (Little Brown Book) rules.  Not completely using the LBB rules, but I think there are many things worth stealing from the older, simpler and much deadlier rule set.  I've been playing in The Vaults of Pahvelorn campaign for a while using modded LBB rules and think they work quite well for encouraging exploration over combat and fostering a sense of danger - I am mercilessly stealing from Untimately's Pahvelorn, as it is the best campaign I have played in - ever.  I'm not interested in completely replacing the rules with the older ones, I am still a fan of statistics bonuses, but some items are changing.  Below I'm discussing the changes.

While these changes are specifically for Pahvelorn, I think they're changes that will make for a faster paced game with less focus on combat and more focus on exploration and treasure finding.  Most monsters become deadlier and therefore gimmicks/tricks are no longer as needed to make them so.  PCs will likewise become much more dangerous as they gain power, but they won't become that much more resilient.  I've thought about these things before and much of what's below has been Pahvelorn tested very successfully.  Suffice to say I think the changes will make for a game both truer to my setting and better for play online due to the simplicity of the resolution techniques.  My only concern will be adapting PCs from other hangout's games/rulesets to these rules, but I think it's fairly straight forward. 

  • Armor Class - Nothing makes combat worse than the utter inability of anyone to hit anyone.  As such I am taking a cue from LLB and using the following rules regarding armor.  Nothing human sized can have an armor class lower than 2.  This should mean more successful hits from both PCs and Monsters.  Yet the Apollyon is full of all sorts of strange armors that are better than plate mail, so this seems unfair.  I have two solutions to this.  First, boiler mail is a way to get an AC lower than 2. Second magic armor often causes a reduction to enemy hit rolls.  Lastly just because Characters can't get an AC lower than 2, doesn't mean very special monsters won't have one - though again anything human sized is limited to AC 2 (the more powerful creatures will simply have immunities).  As always cost of armor will be effected by what it's made from (bronze is more expensive than iron for example) and where it's bought/who it's purchased from. There's an enormous variety of armor crammed into these categories, but I am simplifying, not complicating things.  Flailsnails PCs will simply have to note the class of armor they are wearing, and do not import their AC. Some skill sets will improve AC, especially for light armors. 
Damage Reduction/Special
Light Armor: Soft leather  or padded armor  including clothing lined with fine chain mail.
Has no negative effects on stealth or surprise and may be concealed as normal clothing.
10 – 25 GP
Medium Armor: Boiled leather, scale mail, chainmail and breastplates all fit into this category. 
This is standard armor, with no penalties to movement or Dexterity checks. Minus 1 to Stealth or Surprise rolls
30 – 55 GP
Heavy Armor: Heavy scale mail, plate reinforced chain, splint, banded and lamellar armor.
-2 to surprise, stealth is impossible.  Untrained users strike last in melee (regardless of Initiative), Penalties to movement and Dexterity checks
100 – 400 GP
Half Plate: Custom fitted and largely made of metal plates, this armor is lighter and easier to wear than Heavy Armor.  It is also expensive and rare.
 -1 to surprise, stealth is impossible, No penalties to movement or Dexterity checks
500 - 3,000 GP
Full Plate: A full suit of custom made, articulated metal plate armor.  Provides the best protection and is remarkably agile for it's strength.  Armor of this type takes several weeks or months to manufacture or refit.
-1 Damage Reduction. -1 to surprise, stealth is impossible, No penalties to movement or Dexterity checks
3,000 – 10,000 GP
  • Weapons:  Weapons will be simplified, like armor.  All 1 HD Weapons will do 1D6,  All 2HD Weapons will do "Roll 2D6 take the Best" and will always attack last, but will gain the ability to attack from the 2nd rank, and fighter skills can improve their damage up to 2D6 as well as remove the attacking last penalty (Note armor limits will make 2HD weapons more viable for fighters).  Magic Weapons are of limited utility, with direct bonuses under +3 replaced with only the ability to hit immune creatures, and most indigenous magic weapons will have other effect rather than simple damage that require a save vs. wands to take effect.  Non Firearm Missile Weapons will do 1D6 points of damage. 

  • Firearms:  Still very much a part of Apollyon, guns will be simplified.  All guns will do exploding damage (roll again on a maximum damage roll) Smaller guns (pistols mostly) will do 1D6-2 (minimum 1pt, explode on a '6') points of damage, Medium guns 1D6 and larger guns 1d6 +2 (explode on a '6' only).  Shotguns and muskets will do 1D8.  Black powder weapons take 3 rounds to reload and fire once per round (unless they have multiple barrels), Single Shot Cartridge Weapons fire every other round.  Semi automatic weapons may be fired up to twice per round (-2 to hit for the second shot), but take two rounds to reload for revolvers and one for clip weapons.  Automatic weapons will fire bursts, at -1 to hit for every bullet over three and hit once (up to burst size) for every point over the to hit roll needed.  Crew Served Weapons will do more damage (including instant death) and hit a target not taking cover who flails a save vs. Dragon Breath.  Using two pistols at once will result in a -2 to hit for the first (in addition to any other penalties, and a -4 to hit for the second). Long arms used in melee will be at a -4 to hit and +2 to AC. Bullet prices are also increasing.
  • Fumbles and Criticals: In a game where "3" points of damage has a good chance of killing most things, critical hits and fumbles (natural '20' and natural '1') will result in a roll on some table of additional effects.
  • Statistics: I want to retain the importance of statistics, without making them dominate.  I also want variety.  I want a PC with an 10 strength to be almost as good a fighter as one with an 18, but I like a bit of difference. In general I will use the following rule (in addition to the 5% and 10% XP bonuses) - an exceptional (15 or better) stat will grant a +1 to appropriate standard categories, and a miserable stat (6 or lower) will grant a -1.  STR is Melee hit and Damage, INT is search/surprise/perception and counterspell attack/defense rolls, WIS is saving throws vs. magic, DEX missile hit and an AC bonus (can't go below AC 2 though),  CON is HP per die, and CHR is henchmen morale, loyalty and number.
  • Hit Points: HP will be rolled before every session using a D6 HD for all classes. Hit Points will increase based on the following formulas.  Fighters get 1HD +1 HP every level. Magic Users and Thieves gain 1D6 HP at odd numbered levels and a +1 bonus at the even numbered levels (i.e. 5th level is 3D6 HP, while 6th is 3D6+1 HP), Clerics 1D6 per Level HP.
  • Skills: In the past I created a series of "skill" or "proficiency" categories for Fighter, Magic-Users and Thieves (I never did finish a Cleric one).  These were pretty interesting, and I like the way they presented variation amongst classes and skills.  My key goal was to make it viable to play all the weird extra classes: Ranger, Barbarian, Monk, Cavalier, Paladin, Illusionist, Necromancer etc. without resorting to the Unearthed Arcana or numerous extra classes.  I still think this is a viable and laudable goal.  I also think the system I had envisioned, based off the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Specialist system works right.  It encourages min-maxing for one, and worse it's over complicated.  Yet I like the flavor, I like utility abilities (Necromancers can speak with the dead at 1st level for example) and I like character variation.  It's especially important for thieves, who I don't want to be the strange hybrid character that D&D (with help from Cudgel and The Grey Mouser). I want each class to have versatility and some extra widgets to play around with, but these not to be overpowering.  Basically I figure I will give each class the ability to pick a skill set of beneficial sub-skills at 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th level. At each of these level check points the skills (generally by adding 1 to the D6 skill checks of LOTFP) will improve or a new skill will be gained.  Examples for Specialists might include: "Thief (Classic D&D skills), "Assassin/Duelist" (combat skills, stealth and poisons), "Marksman" (Ranged Combat Skills), "Scout" (Wilderness Skills), "Scholar" (Will include Surgery), "Animal Handler" (Monstrous Pet Management) and "Dandy" (Con Artistry).   Cleric will have space to make: Witch/Vampire/Undead Hunters, Preachers/Cult Leaders, Magical Avatar/Healers, Scholars and Crusaders.
  • Non-human PCs: The races available for PC play are "Passenger" (F/MU), "Flying Monkey" (F/Th), "Frogling" (MU/Th), and Merrowman (Th, F or MU).  Other races do exist, but must be discovered to become playable.  All non-human races will have level limits, but will draw their abilities from limited selections off the human skill lists.  Froglings for example are limited to Shamanism and Elemental magic while Flying Monkeys cannot become expert in the use of Heavy Armor or Two Handed Weapons.
  • Combat Ranks: Because of the reduced AC and desire for more risky combat I intend to use a system of combat ranks rather then the ones used in standard Labyrinth Lord or D&D.  The ranks go from 0 - 6, with zero having a THACO of 20 (of course best AC is 2 so really it's 18 or better).  I stole this idea from Pahvelorn, and the blog Untimately, and Brendan explains it far better than I can. I may not use his attack rank rules regarding class (Thieves will start at 0 unless they opt for a combat oriented skill set), but I like the way this bridges the gap between traditional class weapon limitations and LOTFP's lack of to hit advancement for anyone except fighters. Also Clerical Combat Rank will improve slowly or not at all after rank 2 as the Cleric becomes more focused on wisdom and less on smiting (exceptions can occur based on skill set).
  • XP: Experience will be derived from salvage recovered (non-magical items only), carousing and ad hoc bonuses for exploration or task completion.  Fighting most monsters will grant no XP.
  • Death: As mentioned before Character Death has been too rare in my Apollyon games.  Partially this is due to good play, partially this is due to my death rules.  I've had good luck with the Save vs. Death at negative HP and then take a Stat Penalty even if you succeed rule I have been using in ASE, and need to write a table of potential injuries to formalize it.
Obviously I need to draft some tables, but I think this streamlined set of rules will be much simpler to produce and make for both a better play, and perhaps someday better published material.


  1. Interesting. So what will Flailsnails characters have to do to play in your games? Maybe you can draw up a conversion sheet for us where you list what we have and your houserule is next to it or something for easier faster reference?

    1. Not much - roll up new D6 based HP for the session, tell me what armor/magic weapons they have and what level they are - all the rest happens under the hood.

      As to "skills" - I won't be letting flailsnailer's reap the rewards of the system, but I won't penalize them either (i.e. all flailsnail thieves will be presumed to have Attack rank 1 [as a if they were an assassin] rather than 0 and all Flailsnails fighters will be presumed to have skills that allow practical use of heavy armor).

  2. How will you handle hp for multiclass characters? Right now STFU has 27 hp, but he has 17 levels in 4 different classes. You won't give him 17d6 will you?

    1. Multiclass characters (like Elves) will get 1D6 per level (unless they're like a MU/Th) like Clerics.
      Dual Class Characters like Fist will get whatever the best HP for them would be if they were single class - in Fist's case (I think) that's 4th level Fighter 4D6 +4. Fist also fights as a 4th level fighter - Attack Rank 3, THACO 14 (or a 12 to hit a dude in plate armor). Note that the attack ranks go up quick, a 1st level fighter only needs a 14 to hit full plate (the best AC for non devils/dragons and the like).

      I don't think these changes will harm Flailsnailers, they will however blunt some of the system created advantages of certain origin systems, and flatten the power curve, so I don't have to make the Apollyon have Leveled zones.

      For example in a recent Pahvelorn game, Beni my 5th level thief was almost massacred by six spear wilding savages (orcs I think) - his Immutable AC 7 combined (they presumably needed 9's to hit him) and 3D6 HP (I think he had 11HP) meant that without his henchman and dog (henchman died) he would have been making a save vs. Death in one round. Now at the same time, Beni kills an orc or whatnot almost every round as he needs a 13 to hit AC 2 with a bow and a 10 to hit an Orc.

    2. Sir the fist is 5th level fighter, but after this game tonight i ought to be 6th level. on the cusp of it right now, couple hundred xp away.

  3. I'm looking forward to playing this and seeing how it all turns out. The key to it's success I think is that all the stuff is in the background, you doing all the work, so that I, and people like me, who like to imbibe various things while playing don't have to do any math. There's a whole lotta numbers up there. :)

    Also, it will be good if players don't lose the flavor of what makes their flailsnails characters special when they come to your setting.

    Accomplish both those things, and I think you've got a winner.

  4. I really like the Light/Medium/Heavy Armor Types. There are some excellent ideas in this stuff, a lot of food for thought. I've decided to base HD off of CON, and make the higher scores shift the type of die rolled, so an exceptional CON could get you a d8, or d10 for HD. Been kicking around skills a bit, I always liked how EPT handled skills, up to a point. something a little simpler and streamlined, with an emphasis on specific things for each class sounds about right. this post has been very helpful in getting my own thought processes sorted out. Thanks!