Saturday, February 19, 2011

Towards a 2d6 B/X Bard ... Part 2 of 2 (or 3, maybe)

Spawn said:

In the first part of this epic Bard post, I recounted the problems that Carter's Ara campaign was having with the version of the Bard class we were using (Brave Halfling's), and the d30 rule, which led to maddening results that were messing up the game. Carter was pissed, because Uncle Junkal at Level 3 could Charm very powerful monsters automatically. We then began to work out how to apply Dyson's "2d6 Thievery" system to the Bard, and went down the first of several Bard-mechanic rabbit holes. Now we rejoin that story.

So, in the previous exegesis "How the Hell Does a Bard Do What it Does?" I established (take it or leave it as you like) that even though the Bard does magic-like things, for the sake of 1e PHB consistency, those skills refer to the arcane spells for a common description of the effects, not as an indication that the Bard is doing arcane magic. S/He is not. It's a trick. Okay. That had to be clarified to determine what if any attribute bonuses would apply to the use of Bard skills in a 2d6 system. I needed to know that to know what to plot up on this chart:
To plot that out, I first figured the probabilities of success, and so I had to look closely at the data. Plotting up the Legend Lore chart, I saw it went up to 125%, and I changed the scale of the graph to deal with that. Whatever, no biggy, I've seen that before with some thief skill, there's modifiers ... wait, what? Legend Lore? What modifies that up to 125%? 

Get a load of this:
So, the Brave Halfling Bard has copied some skill charts from Lab Lord. But the asterisk by Pick Pockets tells us that there's a 5% penalty against the roll for every 5 levels the target is above the thief, hence the +100% numbers. Fine, but what does this have to do with Legend Lore? NOTHING! There's no similar mechanic. So I started grumbling about a bad cut-and-paste job and sloppy DIY and blah blah blaggity blag blug blog. I looked at Zak's DIY Bill-of-Rights (having already decided I can do my DIY BoR myself, but wanting another point of reference) and confirmed that according to him I could be pissed off about this.

So I decided to just cut that off at 100%, and assume it was an honest mistake (that distribution is what's depicted in my chart). Then I made some observations about the chart. First the 2d6 pretty much removes the automatic d30 Charm outcome right away, at least until Level 11 (Favored Skill+2), or Level 13 (Fav+1). And that's a good thing. Next, even though Uncle Junkal at L4 still has a good chance of charming with the 2d6 (say ~40% if he's +1, and ~60% if he's +2), he's only getting an ~80% chance of charming with the d30. This margin of advantage decreases as he levels up, and as that happens, the use of the d30 for Charm probably will decline, or it will be reserved for the Other Skills. Even though some d30 weirdness remains, there is still some strategy involved in its deployment. Sounds like we've reached a not-perfect solution, but one hinting at the ringing vastness of a fair settlement.

As delighted as I was by that, and Carter being really enthusiastic about the chart (here it is again), it made made the following evident to me, which I described to Mr. Soles [fyi, DD=Delving Deeper=Brave Halfling]:

'Here's a potential problem/concern: the Other Skill (in green) lags behind the DD base curves (as does the unmodified Favored Skill, not depicted). Maybe this doesn't matter all that much for Legend Lore or Read Scrolls, since they aren't used that often anyway. But consider that since these are derived from thief tables, and the two most favorable skills at that, it means that thieving is harder under Dyson's 2d6 than under Lab Lord. In general it might be a couple of percent, but 10% offsets are common, and some go as high as 20% (e.g., at Level 8). Maybe this is offset by DEX modifiers. Is there any thief without at least +1 from DEX? Probably not. But Uncle Junkal would be taking a hit on Legend Lore and Read Scrolls.'

'I don't want to house-rule the house-rule to the house-rule to the house-rule-version of the merely Appendix-worthy bastard class, but ... ugh ... we already are.'

That being my OSR epitaph, by the way.

But this came out as well: 'And what's with the Read Languages skill? No mechanic for it! WTF Brave Halfling? Does it work like the thief? Bah!'

Carter had been using a 1-2 on d6 roll up to this point in place of no mechanic, and the Thief's 80% chance seemed too high a success rate for him. But the d6 lagged behind all the curves. For a moment we considered leaving it that, but then I realized that pretty quickly you'd have a situation where the Bard would be better able to decipher Arcane Scrolls than read hobgoblin, which is nonsense. Carter suggested we just combine Read Languages and Scroll into one skill. Hmm. Does that make sense? I threw caution to the wolves and asked:

Why Can a Bard Read Other Languages or Arcane Scrolls? (Thine Spawn of Endra's personal take on it.)

Let's say there are no unusual modifiers due to INT.  Exposure to lore during the Bard's training is the basis for being able to decipher languages or arcane scrolls. This is no different than the way I can sort of decipher modern Greek writing based on my math/science familiarity with the letters, my knowledge of English etymology, and my tendency to use ingredient listings on European products as Rosetta Stones. Thus, my ability to decipher the Greek alphabet helps me to decipher maybe 40% of Cyrillic characters, though I know few Russian words. Sometimes they are similar enough to English I can figure it out. Or having watched Clockwork Orange enough times I know moloko is milk and bolshoi (bolshy) is big [Mr. ze Bullette, please believe me, I wrote this several days before your Korova bar comments! For true!]. This is what a Bard is doing for any kind of reading languages or deciphering scrolls. Again, not magic, just knowledge.
Huzzah Part 2! That makes more sense before 9am than most people make all day. And so we ended up unifying Read Languages and Read Arcane Scrolls as a skill, gave Legend Lore a proper level progression, and came to understand that the Bard is not magic even though s/he charms and does magicky looking stuff. Alright. Now we have a workable Bard that isn't totally over-powered by the d30 mechanic.

This exercise taught me a lot about working through mechanics and probabilities, and the importance of trying to identify unintended consequences before you bring them into play. I guess that's what play-testing is for, and we've been play-testing the BH Bard for a year and have found some problems with it. But the real stumbling block for me is "What the hell explains a bard's powers?" It's not that I wanted it to be realistic. That's stupid, I'm playing D&D. But I want it to have a consistent internal logic. In Carcosa you can gain access to arcane power by murdering and raping. That's not realistic (Charles Manson is not known to throw fireballs around, nor is Donald Rumsfeld), but it makes sense within the setting and mechanics of the game. The Bard so far has not, and the unease everyone has with them is partly due to this.

Maybe my version of the Bard's logic doesn't jive with yours, but I hope at least it seems coherent, and maybe gives you some ideas for how to approach a B/X Bard for your game. Tomorrow Carter will conclude this Bardic saga with his own comments, and provide, after all the blood and guts and struggle, a nice clean pdf with the simple 2d6 Bard mechanics to graft onto the BH Bard class.

Rock on.

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