The other day I posted a brief combat overview for Swords Against the Outer Dark: Sword & Sanity Roleplaying. I am glad to report that I received a lot of feedback on this post. Overwhelmingly, there were many positive things said about the way I have decided to handle Initiative. There were also some concerns with the Critical Damage rules I presented, which has had me brainstorming about a different approach these past couple of days, and this morning I woke up with what I feel is an elegant solution. Here is what I have in mind...
First, I should mention that Hit Points (HP) are calculated a bit differently than standard Dungeons & Dragons. All characters, not matter which Class, begin the game with a number of HP equal to their Constitution (CON), which would between 8 and 18 since Ability Scores are generated by rolling 2d6+6. This value is not adjusted by CON at 1st level. Beyond 1st level, HP are rolled as per standard D&D Hit Dice and CON adjustments are added. Beyond 9th level, HP are not calculated by rolling Hit Dice, but receive a set number of HP per level and CON adjustments do not apply. Warriors use 1d8+2 Hit Dice, and gain 3 HP per level after 9th, so a Warrior with an 18 CON (+3 HP adjustment) has the potential to have 99 to 232 HP by 20th level (if my hasty math is correct).
Keeping all this in mind, this is what I have come up with for potential weapon damage and Critical Damage:
Damage dice are set at a standard d4, and the number of dice rolled depends on the size of the weapon.
Damage dice do not vary due to Class (as per the previous rules I presented), but each Class has a Base Damage Bonus (BDB) they receive as they gain levels.
Small weapons = 1d4
Medium weapons = 2d4
Large weapons = 3d4
Roll Xd4 for potential damage. When 4 is the result on any of the dice, Critical Damage has been dealt, allowing those dice to be rolled again and added to the damage total.
These additional damage rolls are not open ended, and offer only one additional roll of the dice, even if another 4 is rolled. If, for instance, damage is being rolled for a large weapon and three of the dice have a result of 4, then all three dice can be rolled one additional time each, and their results added to the damage total.
Critical Damage dealt from a small sized weapon would potentially range from 5 to 8 points of damage.
Critical Damage dealt from a medium sized weapon would potentially range from 6 to 16 points of damage.
Critical Damage dealt from a large sized weapon would potentially range from 7 to 24 points of damage.
Damage is adjusted by Strength and BDB once all dice have been rolled.
Optional Rule: Treat Critical Damage dice rolls as open ended, so anytime a 4 is rolled, that dice is rolled again and added to the total damage.
I believe handling Critical Damage in this fashion eliminates much of the unwieldiness found in the rules presented before. It also addresses the higher potential for 1d4 damage weapons to land Critical Damage rolls, since all damage is now based on an Xd4 standard. And finally, it allows me to assign the d4 a specific "something special" in the rules, which is a goal I have for each dice used in the game.
Now I put this out there for you guys to look over, and tell me what you think. I have not playtested these rules as of yet, but I believe they are going to work just fine once in play.
Lovecraft encouraged other writers to add to his so called Cthulhu Mythos as they saw fit. And many, many writers have done just that. For better, or for worse. If you have read as many of these stories as I have over the years, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that the variances in the way the Mythos is approached is staggering. The beauty of Lovecraft's shared world is that there doesn't seem to be any limit in the way it can be molded and applied to new concepts. Sounds like what is happening in the old-school renaissance, doesn't it?
I guess that is what attracts me to both the OSR and the Cthulhu Mythos. The do-it-yourself attitude is encouraged in both circles, and there will always be those who are willing to do just that. And the sky is the limit for what is possible for both. When reading one of Lovecraft's Mythos stories it is easy to get swept up in the whole thing and want to jump in there and add to it somehow. Same goes for Dungeons & Dragons. We have all had dreams of writing the next big module or campaign setting, or better yet, work for TSR and get paid to create games. The important thing is that both D&D and the Cthulhu Mythos inspire us to dream.
I own PDF copies of Carcosa and LotFP, and Dan Proctor sent me a preview copy of an early version of Realms of Crawling Chaos. I have not played any of these games, but I have read them all. Some more than others. As for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I have not had the opportunity to see the playtest copy of the game that is floating around out there, but I have followed its development for a very long time now. The one thing that strikes me about every one of these games is how unique they all are from one another. Superficially all of these games are shades of D&D, but when you look closer each game has its own feel and flavor. From gonzo over-the-top Weirdness, to more subtle shades of Weird. Swords Against the Outer Dark will be no different. It will have its own brand of Weird as well. I can promise this much.
So in the end there will be those who will say one of the above mentioned games is better than the other. This is conjecture, and nothing more. Hell, this same debate rages on in the realm of Cthulhu Mythos fiction. And it always will. This story, or this game, is "truer" to the original vision than that one, as the story goes. It is like saying chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. In the end they are just different flavors of ice cream. And everyone likes to have a choice of flavors. I know I do. I might like chocolate more than vanilla, but I love ice cream.
By now everyone knows that adding tentacles to a story or game does not make that story or game Lovecraftian. On the contrary. It just adds tentacles, and that's all, as long as other Lovecraftian elements are not added in as well. Does Carcosa, LotFP, Realms of Crawling Chaos, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea and Swords Against the Outer Dark have Lovecraftian elements designed into their game systems? Yes. Do these games stay true to the source material? Yes and no. I'm not convinced that staying slavishly true to Lovecraft's brand of cosmic/existential horror makes for a fun fantasy roleplaying game. It certainly adds depth and flavor. But there has to be some give and take in my opinion. With Swords Against the Outer Dark I decided the game is as much a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard, as it is to Lovecraft. All of these writers wrote Weird fiction, two wrote sword & sorcery tales and all three practiced Yog-Sothothery. In the end, all three were very different writers, yielding different results with their fiction. The same can be said for all the game designers of the games mentioned above.
There will also be folks who review one of these games and tell you "they did it all wrong." I'm not buying this one either. One man's boredom is another's "game of the year." Each and every game/product released into the OSR community, inspired by Lovecraft or not, is a welcome addition in my opinion. And there will always be someone out there loving the product. Even if you don't...
So what drives someone to write a Cthulhu Mythos tale, or to create their own fantasy roleplaying game? Madness is probably a correct answer. Passion for the source material is also a correct answer. I am passionate about the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. I am also passionate about the game that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson gave to the world. I feel compelled to honor all of these men by offering up my own Lovecraftian infused sword & sorcery roleplaying game. If I am wrong for wanting to do so, then I am just wrong. I am not in it because I am under the delusion that writing this game will make me rich. If I make a few bucks then of course that is a plus. A big plus. I am writing this game because I am driven to do so. Believe me, I have tried to walk away from it, but I always seem to gravitate back to the project. In the end, all I can do is follow my bliss, and publish the best damn game I can. Once I have done that then the universe will decide if it was all worth it or not.
In closing, let me explain what I envision Swords Against the Outer Dark to be. It is a game of Lovecraftian horror as much as it is a game of sword & sorcery high adventure. It might even lean heavier on the high adventure side of the equation. The rules presented draw heavily from Labyrinth Lord and classic D&D. I have also taken many design cues from other modern non-D&D roleplaying games that I enjoy. The tone of the book is a serious one, and reflects the influence that Lovecraft, Smith and Howard have had on me as a reader and as a gamer. Adventuring is designed to be a perilous undertaking, and the world at large harbors ancient horrors that lie forgotten or undiscovered by mankind. Those brave enough to explore these dark corners of adventure could be rewarded with fame and fortune, but only if they are smart enough, skilled enough and lucky enough to overcome the challenges that await them.