Old-timey Morale for 5e

June 15th, 2015

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Dungeons & Dragons had a lovely feature missing from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and some of its successors: morale.  By this I mean a mechanism by which the Dungeon Master could determine if an antagonist was willing to fight it out to the bitter end or choose the better part of valor. A mechanism transparent to the rest of the players and therefore fostering a general feeling of trust in the DM as a fair arbiter of the rules. The evil henchmen didn’t doggedly stick to it because the DM wanted to whittle down your hit points and force you to expend resources. They did so because their basic stats and the dice said so.

An old copy of the Basic D&D Creature Catalogue says you simply roll two six-sided dice and compare the result to the “morale” stat listed for a given creature.  Second Edition used two ten-sided dice and a broader scale. Personally I like to use a twelve-sided die in my Type V campaign. It’s one of the few times that die is used, and my players are learning to associate it with morale checks.  If the die roll is greater than the creature’s morale check, it bugs out.  When is the check called for? Whenever the narrative seems to justify it. A few times I’m likely to pull out the d12:

  • A creature first takes damage (and hadn’t been expecting to)
  • A creature is reduced to under half its hit point total
  • A creature witnesses an ally fall or flee
  • A creature witnesses half its allies fall or flee
  • A creature is subjected to explicit intimidation

These are more-or-less in keeping with the rules available from the battered old Red Box of my youth. While this basically works out fine, one big missing factor is a direct translation from the Basic D&D to 5th Edition D&D creatures.  We could compile an exhaustive listing of all the newer monsters and their closest Basic Edition analogs, but the return on investment seems out of whack.  Instead perhaps we rattle off a few well-known creatures and their morale values as points of reference for winging it. Keep the improvisation of stats to prep-time whenever possible, of course.

  • 5 – Herd animal, Rat
  • 6 – Kobold
  • 7 – Normal dog, Sprite
  • 8 – Bandit, Elf, Orc, Small White Dragon
  • 9 – Ghost, Goblin, Treant
  • 10 – Dwarf,  Elemental, Grizzly Bear, Hobgoblin, Troll
  • 11 – Archon, Huge Red Dragon War dog
  • 12 – Beholder, Berserker, Golem, Skeleton, Zombie

Modifiers can apply, naturally, such as when there is a particularly charismatic or renown leader present, bolstering an adversary’s confidence. Or if a player character just decapitated the same renown or charismatic leader. Common sense, as always, is welcome when adjudicating rules. Doubly so with old rules home-cooked into new systems.


Victorian Brazil AAR

April 6th, 2015

It’s my understanding that in Victoria 2, the five-year-old grand strategy game from Paradox, Brazil is in a pretty good position to do quite well. I’m a veteran of several Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and a couple of Hearts of Iron games, but new to Vicky 2 and I think things turned out pretty well.

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One of my first goals was to liberalize Brazil enough to become an immigration magnet. The first 50 years or so were rough going in this regard, as all three initial political parties available (Reactionary, Conservative, and Liberal) weren’t big on granting legal rights to immigrants.  Once the Partido Paulista came in, I was set.  The Paulistas favored full citizenship rights, were pro-military, and allowed “state capitalism.” State capitalism is a great position to be in for this game, as you can interfere with the economy whenever your computer-controlled capitalists are making dumb choices like putting liquor distilleries in the wrong places or doubling down on fertilizer when it’s losing money.  With full citizenship on the table and lots of trouble in Europe and China, the immigrants started pouring in and Brazil’s population flourished.

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Military expansion in South America was limited to Brazil’s core provinces. This meant giving Bolivia, Colombia, and Paraguay (not shown here, as it was later gobbled up) a bit of a haircut. Colonial expansion was the goal here, not strife with our Spanish-speaking cousins.

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Speaking of colonial expansion, Brazil waged three separate wars for colonial concessions from Sokoto and Egypt to get a toehold on the Dark Continent. This provided access to Darfur and the Hausaland early on. Portugal was able to colonize inland from its initial holdings.  In 1870 the race was on, with Brazil being first to unlock Colonial Negotiations (an in-game euphemism for diplomacy by machinegun). After spending decades building up naval facilities along the Brazilian coast, my patience and foresight were rewarded with rich territories in Nigeria, the Congo, Somalia, Kenya, Togo, et cetera.

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The other colonial nations were slow to pick up the Southern end of Africa, so Brazil mopped up with a few late expeditions. France cut us off from linking with our Northern colonies, something that would cause headaches in the Great Wars.

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Speaking of Great Wars, colonization, industrialization, immigration, and a bit of military enthusiasm put Brazil into a tenuous Great Power status. Through moderately-shrewd diplomatic action and the judicious use of influence, Brazil was able to force the United Kingdom to give up much of her initial holdings.  Here we see a late 1935 British Isles with an independent Ireland (sphered by Germany), an independent Scotland (sphered by Brazil), and Brazilian-held Cornwall. That’s right, they’re speaking Portugese in Bath.

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For spheres of influence, Brazil did nicely. Several fascist and communist revolutions aside, Brazil ended up with 17 subsidiary states, including the bulk of sub-Saharan Africa (a revolution kicked Portugal and the Netherlands out of our sphere late in the campaign, otherwise it would be green here). We were able to grab Cuba and Haiti away from the United States, and aside from lands held by Britain and France, the entirety of South America lay under Brazil’s protective umbrella.

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A little look at the end-of-game summary:

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And the ledger:

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We were able to enact all of the political reforms, abolishing slavery, introducing universal suffrage (including for women). We were able to enact most of the social reforms, with a 98% literacy rate, won several Nobel Prizes, hosted the Olympics four times, and sent the first successful expeditions to both the North and South Poles. We defeated Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the Ottomans in multiple wars, and formed a mighty three-way alliance along with Germany and China that was so potent that France spat out Algeria diplomatically rather than risk open conflict.

My only regret is that there was no battle between North and South America for dominance of our hemisphere. The USA and Brazil were allied early on, but they proved worthless in intercontinental struggles, reluctant as they are to send soldiers abroad. They had a tremendous early edge on immigration flow, swiftly outpacing Brazil in population and industry.


A Few Simple Admonitions

January 30th, 2015

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Some things never chance. Observe, for a moment, the “Tips to the Players” found at the back of D&D Module B2: Keep on the Borderlaneds (published in 1979 when I was but a wee lad):

It often helps for beginning players to have advice on how to play D&D. Many points are overlooked by novices is their eagerness to get on with the adventure, The following points are given to help these players.

Most importantly, players should be organized and cooperative. Each player should have complete information on his or her character easily on hand and should supply the DM with this information quickly and accurately if asked. As parties will usually involve a variety of alignments and classes, players should work together to use their abilities effectively. Arguing among players will cause delays, attract monsters, and often result in the deaths of some or all of the members.

Cooperation should also be given to the DM. He or she is the judge of the game and his or her decisions are final. If a player disagrees, he or she should calmly state why, and accept whatever the DM decides. Shouting, crying, pouting, or refusing to accept decisions only angers the other players. The game should be fun for all involved. Not everything will go the way players want it.

Planning is another important part of play. Players should be well equipped, comparing each member’s list and balancing the items on each. No character should be overburdened nor under-equipped. This may mean sharing the costs of extra items. Rope, oil, torches, spikes, and other useful items should always be carried. Plans should be considered for encountering monsters and casting spells.

Caution is also necessary and is a part of planning. A party that charges forward without preparation is almost certainly doomed. Danger should be expected at any moment and from any direction, possibly even from one’s own party. Lying and trickery are not unknown. Cautious play will help avoid many (but not all) tricks and traps and may save a life. However, too much caution is as dangerous as too little. Many instances will require bold and quick actions on the part of the players, before all is lost.

Above all a player must think. The game is designed to challenge the minds and imaginations of the players.

Those who tackle problems and use their abilities, wits, and new ideas will succeed more often than fail. The challenge of thinking is a great deal of the fun of the game.

It’s like a Five Commandments of tabletop roleplaying. They keep releasing new rules and we keep adapting our own house rules, but the game’s the same it’s always been in the ways that matter most.