Friday, April 13, 2012

In which I disagree with the RPGPundit, then agree with him

Over there on your right, unless you hang upside-down while reading, is the list of RPG blogs I actively follow. There are a few more I dip into from time to time when I'm hungry for the particular flavor they offer. If I'm jonesing for someone to be angry about something, it's time for RPGPundit. He'll deliver.

Today the Pundit is talking about people who remove mechanics from D&D, then get unhappy that things work differently, then put other mechanics in to fix the situation. I guess that's annoying... maybe it's homebrewing? Maybe it's Rule Zero? In general it's not a bee in my bonnet, but the two specific examples that the esteemed Pundit grabs are both worth considering.

First is Raise Dead. Once we had a Resurrection Survival roll that characters made when raised. Then it was removed. Now apparently there's hue and cry about how we can possibly control the flood of ex-corpses blatantly living all over the fantasy landscape. I'd agree that something needs to be done about this in the D&D context. But it's not reverting to an old mechanic, as the Pundit advocates.

Get rid of Raise Dead.

Solves the problem very neatly. A character died? They're gone forever. No spell, simple or complex, can return them. It encourages the kind of poke-all-objects-with-a-pole play that many old-schoolers enjoy. It opens up chances for big, funky, mythological quests that would appeal to people like me. It's avant enough for the new-school crowd. By cutting the knot this way, you solve the immediate problem (controlling the flow of people returning from the afterlife) and you help clarify how important PC death will be in your game. Whether a game is incredibly lethal like the DCC RPG, or more like 7th Sea where you'll only die on purpose, eliminating Raise Dead makes death more serious. And thereby it becomes cooler. It's a better solution than raising a clunky old mechanic from the dead.

I might allow an exception for the older Resurrection spell. Letting your PC come back as a swarm of bees or a ficus tree is pretty entertaining.

So then the Pundit addresses the questions surrounding minions. How do we handle a bunch of little enemies in a fight? He disdains complex minion rules. I agree. He says we should return to the old days of Morale rules for NPCs. He's right. Encounters are a lot more fun if you don't know how they'll turn out. Maybe it starts as combat, but maybe not. Once combat starts, maybe the minions will fight to the bitter end, or maybe they'll break and run, or maybe they'll throw down their swords and beg for mercy... and nobody knows until the dice stop rolling.

As a GM, I like that uncertainty. As a player, it's fun when you have to use more skills than just the fightin' ones on a crowd of NPCs. I started using these again after seeing the redoubtable Jeff Rients post about them a few times.


  1. Even more important than the morale rules is the initial 2d6 reaction roll to determine the disposition of the creatures encountered. Are they hostile or open to some bargaining? But in any case I heartily agree.

    1. The reaction roll is a good rule, but I think it's better in some contexts than others. It makes sense in a stereotypical dungeon crawl with its weird ecology and sociology. I *might* use it for something like Cyberpunk, at least in the more brutal urban warrens. It would have limited application in a superhero game or, say, Castle Falkenstein. Reaction rolls make more sense in some contexts than others. Morale rolls, on the other hand, are almost always handy within their limited now-we-are-punching context.

      That said, it's a cool mechanic and I'm glad you brought it up!

  2. Morale rules (and often-times reaction rolls) are always the first I forget. My first few DMs tended to ignore it, establishing each fight as a fight to the death. Now that I run more games than I play I really do see the value of it.

    So much so that I gave a PC playing a reflavored thief as a Spy a Shock and Awe ability to replace his backstab. Forcing morale checks when he dispatches minions or performs any heartbeat-skipping activities. Needless to say it's been fun watching him try various ways to make the most of the ability.

    1. That's a really neat idea. I'd be interested in knowing how you manage it mechanically -- have you written that up? Do you wanna?

    2. I have a loosely defined write up from when I talked about results of reflavoring classes over here

      "The Spy reduces common monsters/men Morale by their level and forces a morale check after performing any action that will shock, inspire fear, or awe their opponent."

      I should note that morale ranges from 3-18 rather than the standard cap at 12.

      I have been meaning to do a more definitive writeup. I'll see if I can work that into the A-Z challenge.

    3. Sorry to not have replied earlier -- I'd love to see these written up further, whether in the A-Z Challenge or just on your own.