May all your hits be crits…

Recent posts circulating the blog-o-sphere, especially those dealing with Hargrave’s original Arduin, have caught my attention. Zeitgeist seems to have struck again, and people are talking and writing about critical hits and fumbles… some of my favorite things.

Years ago, I remember encountering a very basic critical hit/fumbles table in a Judges Guild Adventure (I think it was called “Dragon Hall” or something similar). We loved it and adopted it immediately. Over the years, we added to it from Runequest and similar games that had critical hit and fumble tables. Years ago I even created one myself (see below). Up until now, this has been on a tattered sheet of notebook paper stuck into my DM’s binder; typing it up represents a big improvement.

One of the advantages of my ‘critical hit’ and ‘critical miss’ tables (if I may toot my own horn a bit) is that better (higher level combatants) are less likely to suffer bad fumbles and more likely to inflict horrendous criticals. However, I like all the possible effects of the Hargrave Arduin table (with noses being chopped off, buttocks being torn off, etc.) so I may try to figure out a way to combine the two. Perhaps when you roll a ’20’ on your critical confirmation roll (in other words, you roll two 20s in a row in an attack routine), I will add a roll from the Hargrave table to the result… which, if someone else has done their math right, means there is a 1 in 400 chance of a Hargrave critical with every attack.

Limpey’s Critical Hits/Fumbles:

Possible crits occur on a roll of 20 on the d20. Possible fumbles occur on a roll of 1 on the d20. Confirm and determine after rolling a 20 or a 1. Player characters with multiple attacks can score more than one critical in a round.*

Critical Hit: On a roll of 20 on the d20, a crit has occured. Have the player roll a d20 and modify the roll as follows:

  • add +1 for every +1 of a magic weapon
  • add +1 for every 3 levels of fighter (or every 3 hit dice of a monster*)
  • add +1 for every 4 levels of cleric or thief
  • add +1 for every 5 levels of magic user

Roll 1d20, add modifier and apply the results below:
01-05 Roll damage as normal
06-10 Roll damage 2x and add any adjustments
11-14 Maximum damage possible
15-16 Roll damage 3x and add any adjustments
17-18 Roll damage 4x and add any adjustments
19-20 Roll damage 5x and add any adjustments

*I did not allow monsters with multiple attacks to score more than one critical in a round, although I did not clue players in on this fact.
**A peek behind my DM screen: after killing a lot of PCs, I began to not add adjustments for hit dice to the roll on crits for most monsters and just used a straight-up d20 roll for monsters, but players still got the bonuses. I didn’t tell the players this because I wanted them to fear the crit!

Limpey’s Fumbles: On a roll of 01 on the d20, a crit has occurred. Have the player roll a d20 and modify the roll as follows:

  • add +1 for every +1 of a magic weapon
  • add +1 for every 3 levels of fighter (or every 3 hit dice of a monster)
  • add +1 for every 4 levels of cleric or thief
  • add +1 for every 5 levels of magic user
  • subtract -3 for Dex of 3
  • subtract -2 for Dex of 4
  • subtract -1 for Dex of 5
  • no modifier for dex of 6-15
  • add +1 for Dex of 16
  • add +2 for Dex of 17
  • add +3 for Dex of 18

Roll 1d20, add modifier and apply the results below:
01-03 Strike self or nearest comrade(50% chance of either); roll to hit and damage as normal
04-06 Possible break weapon (save vs crushing blow) or, if attacking with hand/claw/etc., take 1d3 damage and lose next attack
07-09 slip and fall (lose round to recover; enemy gains extra attack at +2)
10-13 Drop weapon or shield or other object (1-8 feet away in random direction)
14-17 Off balance; lose next round
18+ No effect


Religon and D&D

This from a post over at Dragonsfoot got me thinking:

[quote=”xyzchyx”]The biggest problem I would see with playing a catholic priest in AD&D is …[/quote]

[quote=”prespos”]Technically, according to [u]Modern Monsters[/u] ([b]Best of Dragon, Vol. V[/b]),
I would think that Catholic priests (or Rabbis, or Imams)…[/quote]

[quote=”xyzchyx”]By the book, yes… but that ruling would be incompatible with the notion of the judeo christian god, who maintains that *NO* supernatural power is good other than that which comes directly from him…[/quote]

Jeez Louise, when people start debating real life religions in D&D, it makes me want to give up on RPGs entirely.

I think it’s perfectly alright to use popular culture, movies, fables, etc., as source materials and not worry so much about what is considered truth or gospel or dogma in the real world churches (which don’t all agree, anyway — ask a religious question of a Protestant, a Catholic and a Mormon and you will get three different answers(all three would self identify as “Christians” — although I understand that some Christians say that the Mormons are NOT christians… whatever)).
In the bible, there is the story of the pharaoh’s priests tuning sticks to snakes and then Moses’ snake swallowing the pharaoh’s priests snakes — it’s not clear to me if this was supposed to indicate that the Egyptian gods had power to to turn sticks into snakes but the Hebrew God was more powerful, so the Hebrew stick-snake swallowed the Egyptian stick-snakes… or did the Hebrew God “allow” the worshipers of false gods to turn their sticks into snakes or does the story have some other meaning? And if the God of Abraham is the source of all power, both natural law and “less than natural” magic or miracles, then why would anyone be worried about occult influences from D&D books? If I could cast any spells as a result of playing D&D, wouldn’t those spells have to be ‘powered’ or ‘allowed’ by the Hebrew God?
It’s things like this that make me just want to say, “Nevermind all that” when someone gets too insistent that a game of fantasy be fueled by either historical truth or run according to someone’s real religion.
In my game, the ‘basic’ cleric can’t use swords because he is forbidden to use edged weapons. That might be based on a misunderstanding/assumption by the 19th century historians looking at the Bayeux Tapestry, but I like it so in it stays. I don’t believe in vampires… but they make great villains so in they go. I’ll base NPCs and organizations in the fantasy world on real world people and organizations like “The Spanish Inquisition” but I will also play fast and loose with the truth — and ‘Van Helsing’ types straight out of a Hammer Film or ‘Aliens’ with acid for blood are all fair game.
I don’t view D&D as a good historical recreation vehicle — it’s more fun as a pop-culture, folklore and history mash-up with an emphasis on the game itself.


How I Paint

Someone recently asked me to post a description of my methods/technique in painting. I don’t feel like I have any big secrets; I definitely need more practice.

I took an oil painting class years ago, but my partner hates the smell and is paranoid about the health effects, so, out of regard for her, I use acrylics — although I have a hard time with acrylic sometimes. But it dries much faster so I can get a painting done in days rather than weeks.
I usually thin with water; liquitex makes a painting medium that I add a few drops to a small jar of water that makes the acrylic paint flow a little easier.

I made the mistake of buying some cheap “Dick Blick” brand Acrylics years ago, but since I am cash poor, I can’t afford to replace them until I use them up. I much prefer the Liquitex brand (although it is much more expensive).

I’m trying to become more disciplined in my painting by trying to paint gradually and trying to plan so I paint from background to foreground (if that makes sense). I used to just start painting and then would try to fill in background around whatever I had painted and it created a lot of work for me and I think the overall effect suffered. So I am trying to be a bit more methodical. If I want to paint a tree against a light sky, I have discovered it is a LOT easier to paint the sky first and then paint the tree in over it. Seems obvious now but I really didn’t think about it before.

I don’t think acrylics blend very well (at least I have not yet worked out HOW to blend them well — looking at the work of others tells me I have more to learn in this regard) so transitions, from light blue to dark blue, are tricky. I paint on watercolor or Bristol paper which I have coated with a couple layers of Fredrix white painting ground. I have to tape the paper to a sheet of masonite or smooth plywood so it does not curl up. If I’m painting something for reproduction, I usually paint at what I call 65% — so if a picture is intended to be printed 10 inches wide, I paint it 16.6 inches wide. Graphic stores used to sell a ‘proportion wheel’ that I use to figure this out — it has two wheels with measurements marked on them, one indicated ‘repro’ size and the other indicating ‘finish’ size and a window that tells you what your percentage will be.

I usually apply 2-3 coats of the Fredrix ground and let it dry between coats, then sand off any rough spots or chunks. Then I sketch in what I want to paint with a light pencil (like a 2h). I usually start by painting things in their base color — sometimes I do a layer underneath of dark areas/shadows in a burnt sienna or similar earth tone, then laying ‘local color’ over it. I have to constantly remind myself not to get too caught up in details but try to just ‘rough in’ the whole painting. Periodically I try to remember to stop and look at the whole thing to make sure it is ‘working’ visually. That is another area in which I need to become more disciplined.
I try to remember to decide where my light sources in the painting will be, early on, and add highlights and shadows to match.

I generally start with a bigger brush, and, as I get further along I switch to a smaller one. I use a ‘flat’ brush for targe areas of color and smaller sables for details.

The majority of the time seems to be spent fixing stuff. I’ll paint in something and then look at it again later and realize it looks wrong, so I’ll try to fix it, etc., and then just keep repeating until I like how it looks. I’m working on getting a little more experimental with paint application — I used an old toothbrush to create a spatter pattern on one of my paintings a while ago and I really like it, so I think I should work on that some more. I also need to work on my color sense — many of my paintings look too ‘primary’ colored when I look at them later — or seem to be too light and without significant areas of contrast; I’ve been looking at some old pulp magazine covers and really digging those; I’d like to insert some more of that ‘noir’ look in my paintings.

I’d like to get better at blending, color work and fine details. I find that acrylic turns kind of thick and crumbly pretty quickly, so sometimes I struggle a bit, but I think I need to make more disciplined attempts at paint control and mixing — including experiments with thin layers of colors over other colors (which was easier for me in oil paints).

Scanning the painting is a pain in the butt. I have to remove the paper from the board and scan it in sections, then use an image editing program to stitch the sections together. The bigger the painting, the harder it is. Therefore I find it easier to just shoot a picture with a digital camera if I need a ‘work in progress shot.’ Someday I dream of buying a more expensive Canon or similar digital SLR with ~12 megapixel resolution that can use a quality lens (but, with current finances, that is unlikely). Right now I have an Olympus camera with 2 megapixels that works OK for snapshots of works in progress, but I’d like to be able to shoot final art with the camera rather than the scanner.


Revised painting


Some of you may remember the drama from August 30th where I screwed a commission and ended up with a painting I didn’t want. In the meantime, I have been working on revising the painting; this is a snap I took with my digital camera (at left). Please excuse the picture quality/color balance

It is currently in progress. In my first run at it, I painted the mountain in and changed the sky to blue… and the mountain had a rough face carved into it with caves where the eyes and mouth should be… but somehow I wasn’t really into that so I decided to revise again and put some sort of ‘otherworldly’ city on the top of the mountains.

When I did the sky in blue instead of the previous black, I had to paint over part of those fern fronds (which was a shame), so I’ll have to paint those again. I also don’t like the foliage at the top of the painting and want to introduce something there — plus the mountains and the mysterious city still need some work… and I want to add some more foliage and texture on the mountain itself as well as do something to move those distant mountain further into the background.

I’m having fun with it and look forward to finishing it as soon as I get some other projects out of the way. Looking at the painting, I’m enjoying being able to dream up a scenario or adventure to fit the painting, rather than coming up with the scenario first and then painting a picture to suit it.


Carriers (Movie:2009)

The other night I watched “Carriers,” an under promoted (and modestly budgeted) apocalypse flick that I really enjoyed.

The main characters are 4 young white 18 to 20 somethings who are travelling across the Midwestern US after a plague has decimated the population. Stars include Chris Pine (the actor who played Captain Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek flick), Piper Perabo (who looks familiar but I don’t know from what — although IMDB tells me she was in ‘Coyote Ugly’) and some others. Chris Meloni (who was on a gajillion Law & Order episodes) plays a father who briefly crosses paths with the refugees.

The premise of the film is simple: the four are a cohesive group who are determined to survive and they all practice a hygiene discipline that they hope will allow them to make it to an abandoned resort on the shore where two of the group (an older and younger brother) spent summers growing up. They don’t stop for strangers (because strangers might have the un-named disease that seems to have killed 90 percent of the population) and don’t touch anything unless they scrub it with antibacterial wipes and bleach. A few chance encounters and lies, however, sow the seeds of distrust in the group and they begin to turn on one another. This is probably less bleak than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but it still does not qualify as a feel good flick (i.e.: spoiler: there is no cannibalism — although you are treated to the sight of a German Shepherd chewing on the corpse of his previous owner). Issues of trust, family, euthanasia and whether or not the principle characters tell lies to protect themselves are dealt with in a fairly deft fashion.

There are ‘flashback’ scenes to the lives of the brothers shot on Super 8mm film that I felt got a little bit heavy handed, but that would be among my only criticisms of the film which I felt told a very effective story in a minimalist manner. Although Chris Pine probably qualifies as a ‘big movie star’ after his role as Captain Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek film, there are no big special effects or other spectacles that seem to be ‘de rigeur‘ in sci-fi, horror or dystopian fantasy genre films (any of which would be a fitting category for a film like “Carriers.”). It is this ‘economy of visual means’ that actually made the film more interesting. One never sees hundreds of corpses or shuffling hordes of the infected — a few blood stained pillows on empty beds and stacked body bags that look like a snapshot of post-Katrina New Orleans tell the story.

“Carriers” apparently had only a small theatrical release and then went straight to DVD, which is too bad; I’d like to see Hollywood work a little harder with less and rely more on dialogue and events than star power and spectacle to bring people back to the movies. I definitely recommend this film; although it is obviously not for the squeamish or all audiences.


The News about the News about the News

While observing anniversaries of doubtful utility (9-11) and meditating on Koran burnings, mosque building and other examples of over-the-top battles of rhetoric, hyperbole and people getting carried away with their own self righteous indignation, I also found myself wondering how much ‘news’ is created by the act of reporting itself, especially in the age of the 24 hour access news cycle.

A pastor from Florida with a moustache that would make the Village People say “Wow” announces that he will burn some Muslim holy books on the 9th 9-11 anniversary. Years ago, this might have been a local news item at best — but today it’s picked up everywhere and suddenly everyone is giving this schmuck his 15 minutes of fame. Suddenly Mayor Bloomberg of NYC and President Obama and General Petraeus are weighing in and angry Muslims are burning American flags in the middle east as the American taxpayer forks over more money for heightened security around the globe. People are scrambling to get the story out and Pastor Jones (who I suspect is a publicity whore who finds the attention intoxicating) suddenly manages to expand the reach of his “ministry” from Gainesville, Florida to anywhere with internet.

I certainly support the right of Pastor Terry Jones to say what he wants (even though I don’t respect the content of his free speech and suspect the motives behind it). But there does not seem to be a ‘perspective control’ on the media. Suddenly this self serving bigot in Florida gets a microphone that reaches the far corners of the globe and seemingly everyone is interested in what he is doing and why. Even more annoying, Pastor Jones can keep himself in the limelight by making numerous announcements about the proposed burning. Initially he said he was going to burn the Koran, then he said the Koran burning was off, then he said he would not burn the Koran if Imam Rauf and his Manhattan congregation agreed to relocate their ‘Park Place’ Muslim center, then he said the burning was back on, etc. I can’t keep track of whether he intends to go forward with this stunt or not… but, then again, I find myself resentful that the story seems to have as big a news ‘footprint’ as it does.

My own opinion is that book burning a) no longer works and b) is stupid. If your intent in burning a book is to deny others access to the work itself, book burning was probably much more effective in the Middle Ages and earlier, when few copies of any book existed. When Bishop Theophilis burned the Library of Alexandria in 391 (if he was the one who burned it; Historians disagree), many of the books that were destroyed may have been one of a kind. But Pastor Terry Jones can’t possibly believe that burning a pile of Korans in Florida is going to prevent others from reading the book (especially since you can read the Koran (or ‘Quran’) online). In the age of mechanical reproduction (perhaps we have moved beyond Bejamin’s “Mechanical Reproduction’ and into “post-analog duplication” with the internet), burning a book becomes simply a symbolic exercise. The people who are “anti-book” can gather around their bonfires and toss the books they object to into the flames and the people who are “pro-book” can cluck their tongues in disgust and fire off screeds into the ether (as I am doing). But nothing changes, other than shallow opinions get more deeply intrenched.

Some older people may remember Patricia Pulling of “Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons” (B.A.D.D.) fame. As an anti-occult activist, she latched onto the Dungeons & Dragons game as the cause of her son’s suicide and launched a nationwide campaign that encouraged people to burn D&D books. I suppose a few cranks still believe her line of twaddle, but other than giving Patricia Pulling (and some other anti-Satan God-botherers) a certain measure of authority in the occult scare movement, they failed to accomplish anything of substance and the movement has largely been discredited.

Now that September 11 is here, hopefully Pastor Terry Jones and the other Koran burners will move quickly out of the news cycle and be forgotten; as they deserve to be.

(Getting ready to burn some books: Picture at right, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center being followed by a Hootchie mama with a Nine on her hip — Given the nature of the rhetoric the Pastor employs, I suspect the “Dove” in “Dove World Outreach Center” is not a dove of peace — perhaps it is a reference to “Dove” soap (as in, “We shall Cleanse the World!”))


What do I see? What do I know?

I’ve posted on the topic of ‘perception checks’ before (can’t find the post right now– trust me; it’s there), but in a group I am playing ‘Dragon Age’ with, we have been discussing our own takes on ‘knowledge’ checks and mechanics in games and whether we like them or not.

If you are not familiar, a ‘knowledge’ check is a rules mechanic within an RPG where you roll the dice to see if your character knows something. If you roll well, the referee will give you a hint or a nudge in the right direction. If you roll poorly, you get no hint (or maybe even a hint in the wrong direction). If your character is smart or knows something about the subject, you might get a bonus to the roll of the dice or vice-versa.

‘Perception’ checks are similar, but instead of seeking to decide what your character does or does not know, they seek to determine what your character notices or sees. If you decide your character wants to look for the footprints of the person you want to follow, you roll a dice to see if you pick up the trail. If your character is a skilled tracker, you might get a bonus. If it has been raining and the tracks are faint, you might get a penalty.

It is worth noting that when I started playing rpgs (1978), ‘perception’ and ‘knowledge’ rolls or rules were unknown (at least to us). I quit playing for a while, and when I returned to rpgs(~2000ish), such rules or concepts were common.

In one of the first 3e games I played when I had ‘returned’ to playing RPGs, I had a character who had high STR and CON and abysmal other stats. He could fight well but I was very limited in whatever else the character could do. It was my first 3e game and I didn’t know the rules at all well, but I remember getting frustrated and bored because there was so little my character could do other than attack things. We were constantly being asked to do ‘notice’ and ‘listen’ and ‘search’ and ‘spot’ rolls… and, not to toot my own horn too much, but when the DM would describe the setting, I paid attention and try to formulate my character’s actions according to what I knew from the description I had been given — so if there were tapestries in the room, I would say that I wanted to look to see if I could spot anyone or anything hidden behind them, whereas some of the other players would just roll a dice and say, “I got a 26… what do I know?” This left me thinking that such ‘notice’ and perception rules were not a development I was interested in. Other folks I currently play with are less annoyed by the knowledge or perception rolls; they see these as means to introduce new info to the players or allow opportunities for further detailing of the environment.

Perhaps it is best to strive for a middle ground — if the player is engaged and takes initiative, and listens to what the DM says and attempts to use his or her own noodle to extrapolate info from what the DM has said or details that may have been offered up earlier, then a low “wisdom” score on the character sheet shouldn’t be as much of a handicap (perhaps the character is not naturally gifted in wisdom, but he or she is paying attention at the right time (since the player is paying attention)). One of the terms that I hear tossed around a lot that rubs me the wrong way is ‘flavor text.’ To me, ‘flavor text’ implies that the words don’t have any meaning or substance — so if the DM describes a red rug and a green metal chest, if it’s just ‘flavor text’ the colors will have no potential significance and the players can just roll ‘search’ to check for traps and whomever has the most skill points in search or perception is most likely to discover if the rug or the chest are trapped.

What I would prefer is having a situation where players can affect outcomes through thinking and remembering and describing actions and asking questions. Perhaps other items they have encountered have been color coded and the players might get a hint if they remember this… or maybe the red rug is just a rug. Players might get a bonus to their search roll if they describe what they are doing (i.e.: “I use my spear to lift up the edge of the rug and look under it — and I rolled X on my search — do we think it is trapped?” as opposed to “We search for traps and I rolled X — do we think it is trapped?” I know that creates more work for the DM, but I really like being able to interact with the environment and figure stuff out.

One of the first DMs I ever played under used the standard rules for ‘search’ for secret doors, but made us describe how we were going to open it — so even if you rolled a 1 on a d6 which meant you found the door, you might have to pull on a torch holder or press on a special brick to open it… which usually had to be determined by trial and error… which could be quite exciting/nerve racking if you were in a hurry. I thought that was a nice touch, and if I were to have my druthers, the ‘pure talking’ method of resolving such events would be my method of choice.