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AD&D (2nd Edition) DMG, pg32-35: Creating New Character Classes. This is an optional rule, but one that has always piqued my curiosity. I played with these rules when I first started as a DM and I quickly threw them out. They proved difficult to use as they tended to produce classes with little to no focus, and the experience requirements were too high compared to the standard classes. It was an interesting concept, but one that player out poorly.

Fast-forward to 3rd Edition and we had so many different classes, with more added every few months, that it seemed unnecessary to explore new ideas. When I included prestige classes (and who didn’t, really?) it was as though the market was saturated with options. Most of the time my players read about the different classes and conducted thought experiments, or ran test scenarios, to determine the best combination of race + class + prestige class + feats + magic items… but rarely did we see any of these played in the game. They were either too complicated or convoluted – after all, what kind of background will lead a barbarian to take levels in bard and then druid and then assassin and then… – or they just took too much time away from the game itself.

Keep in mind, too, that during 3rd Edition there were no formal rules for creating a balanced or reasonable class. (I’m not advocating balance as a necessary, core design feature – far from it – but without a standard, it’s entirely up to the DM to artfully craft a class that is useful without overwhelming the game.) The entire process was one of trial and error, with not the slightest reliable guidance.

So 2E tried to provide guidance but failed because, in practice, the rules did not produce satisfactory results. And 3E provided no guidance but suggested that all DMs can create whatever class they like (by saturating the market with options).

All that aside, here’s the one thing that’s always bothered me: why can’t I recreate a core class using the 2E method?

If you don’t have access to the book, I’ll sum up: each class feature, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is assigned a numerical value. Take the list of class features and add up their values, and you have the class experience modifier. Multiple that modifier by the base experience table and you have the necessary experience for that class to achieve each level.

There are three ways that this method, as written in the 2E DMG, fails: 1) the modifiers were not balanced against each other. For example, in 2E AD&D, wizards and rogues use different base to-hit values. Yet the experience multiplier for a wizard’s and a rogue’s THAC0 are both -1. Or bonus hit points (beyond 9th level) of +2 or +3 are each worth +2 experience modifier. 2) The base experience chart does not follow the pattern suggested by the various experience tables. So even if the multipliers were reasonable and representative of the actual benefit an ability gave the player, you aren’t guaranteed that the final experience table will work against the core classes.

#3 is the biggest concern for me: I can’t recreate the experience chart of any core class. Consider the fighter:

Category Modifier
Race Any +1
THAC0 Warrior +2
Weapons All +0
HP 9lvl+ +3 +2
Saving Throws Warrior +0
Hit Dice 1d10 +2.5
Armor All +0
Proficiencies 4 +2
Abilities
Fighter Strength +1
Fighter Constitution +1
Total 11.5

Keep in mind that this chart is based on the modifiers listed in the DMG and thus excludes fighter abilities like followers or allowed magic items (since the DMG doesn’t break magic item use into sub-categories).

This gives us an experience table like this:

Level Base XP Modified XP Actual XP
1 0 0 0
2 200 2,300 2,000
3 400 4,600 4,000
4 800 9,200 8,000
5 2,000 23,000 16,000
6 4,000 46,000 32,000
7 8,000 92,000 64,000
8 15,000 172,500 125,000
9 28,000 322,000 250,000
10 58,000 667,000 500,000

Clearly, there is something wrong here.

Yet I feel the concept is solid. All we need do is adjust the numbers and we’ve got a method for assigning a fair experience requirement for each class. It would also allow us to create hybrid classes, or entirely new classes, as required to fit whatever world or genre we’re playing in.

One last note: the core experience award method for D&D is, and always has been, based on fighting and defeating monsters. Experience awards for taking treasure were present in 2E and removed in 3E, but the core remained the same. Adventurers earn experience by fighting monsters and NPCs. Therefore, when we set the experience modifier for a class ability, we need to consider how that ability impacts the class’ strength in combat. The warrior THAC0 clearly offers the best to-hit chance and should be worth more as an experience modifier than a rogue’s Hide in Shadows skill. So long as we keep this in mind, I believe it’s possible to balance the classes in a way creates a dynamic, fluid and interactive playing field for the players.

Experience

I want to talk about experience in D&D (specifically) and roleplaying (in general). It’s a topic that occasionally comes up among bloggers but rarely have I seen an in-depth analysis of its purpose or its relationship to the game. Sure, people will talk about the metagame and how experience awards drive player actions; but what does that experience mean to the character? And is the acquisition of experience the only driving force for the player?

Let’s divert the conversation for a moment: in the real world, I’m an industrial engineer. Management sets goals and direction. Engineers develop and implement the plan. But my role is different from others in the field. I specialize in logistics and work in a factory. Where my peers are concerned with the detailed workings of the assembly line, I’m concerned with the methods and processes of moving and storing supplies.

I’m also the only engineer for the logistics department. I have my hands in a lot of pies, but I only ever take direct ownership of a few. This leads to confusion for my coworkers: they assume that I have more responsibility for planning our projects than I really do. Add to this my work ethic – I never say ‘no’ without offering an explanation and a solution – I despise the phrase, “That’s not my job” – and the result is that I take on more work than I should. So when things go wrong (which they invariably will, because the people who should plan, don’t), I work hard to fix ‘em.

In other words, I get beat up a lot. It’s good in the sense that it’s a (relatively) new job and I’m learning a lot. And that’s where experience comes into play.

I learn from the things I do right. I learn more from the things I do wrong. And, like most people, I learn despite my own faults.

As an engineer, I earn experience for designing and developing processes; for planning; for coordinating with others, especially large groups; for leading and implementing a plan; etc. When I’m successful, I earn a little experience. When I’m not, I earn a lot because I get to see the results of both a bad plan and a good one.

I used to be a cook. As a cook, I learned about… well… cooking. I also learned about organizing inventory, scheduling and ordering product, but only by observation; I never took a management role. I learn a lot more from being an engineer than I did from being a cook.

There are two points to this: 1) we learn as much, if not more, from our failures as we do from our successes; and 2) we learn from different experiences according to our professions.

What is the player character’s profession? Player characters are adventurers. They are the opportunists of the world. They explore and conquer. Traditionally, they live on the fringe of society, but they are not limited to it. Adventurers thrive on conflict and defeating their enemies. How, then, should we qualify their experience awards?

By the system that’s already in place: you get experience for killing things and taking their stuff.

The State of D&D

I prefer to ignore politics when it come to gaming. However, this issue is one that demands attention. I’ve seen posts and threads from this guy before. And I’ve read this guy’s blog. Both are terrible people. Oh, they may be perfectly decent in real-life, but I suspect that has more to do with the listener’s ability to punch them in the face if they step over the line. The internet allows for insane levels of bad behavior, a fact that both The RPG Pundit and Zak S. exploit for business reasons. Though it’s not limited to just financial concerns: Zak S. does this sort of thing which is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is awful. As a member of a community and a fan of our hobby, I feel compelled to break my standards for posting on this blog to say: do not support these people. If you follow the links to their sites, please do so only for as long as it takes to see the same things I’ve seen. Don’t share their work; don’t buy their products; speak out against them if you see their posts anywhere on the ‘net. Let the community know that we do not tolerate assholes like this.

(For my own part, though I wasn’t interested in 5th Edition D&D to begin with, I now know for certain that I don’t want to purchase a product that uses RPG Pundit or Zak S. as consultants. WotC should be more discerning in choosing who they work with. The fact that they are not – and that they’ve dismissed all warnings about these people – suggests that they are not fit to handle the publication of my favorite game.)

Clerics

Nine and Thirty Kingdoms presents a neat concept of clerics without spells. This is not a literal title: the author simply means to show a different way to present clerical power. It is a method apart from the Vancian model used by wizards. I was rather enamored of its simplicity and so I’ve chosen to steal it.

Clerics have prayers instead of spells. When a cleric uses a prayer, the player rolls 2d6 + levek against a target set by the prayer’s power. This target is 7 for prayers, 11 for meditations and 14 for devotions. Success means the prayer goes off; failure means it does not (for who know the will of the gods?). There is no limit to how often a cleric can pray but each attempt imposes a -1 penalty to future rolls. This penalty remains for a period of time based on the power of the prayer: standard prayer penalties go away at the rate of 1 point per day; meditations, 1 point per week; and devotions, 1 point per month. The full list of prayers a cleric has access to is set by the DM (and in my case, I’m still working out the details). One last note: there are no auto-success/fails with the prayer roll. Instead, a natural 2 indicates double the standard penalty and a natural 12 indicates no penalty for the attempt.

Honestly, without testing the system, I have to say I’m rather proud of my improvements…

I’ve made my mind up. I’m returning to D&D for my Planescape game.

The choice was not very difficult to make. I’ve been following the Tao of D&D for over a year now and I’ve found a few OSR blogs that provide some good insight. Having saturated myself with old school mores and opinions, I find myself agreeable to the change.

I guess I’ve known for a while that I want to return to D&D (specifically, AD&D. it’s the edition I started with and thus the one I’m the most familiar with). This is my admission: the time I spent “searching” for an acceptable system was a response to the crap that D&D became with 4E. I liked 3E well enough during my time, but I see its problems through the learned hindsight granted by 4E. And I want nothing to do with 5E, seeing as how so much of it is designed to appeal to “classic” or “old school” gamers.

Which brings me back to the dilemma I faced when I first decided to run Planescape: how do I deal with alignment? I agree with Tao that alignment (as first conceived by Gygax et al.) is a terrible concept. But it’s become something more. It’s possible to use alignment in a game and to not let it ruin your game. Unfortunately, it’s something that so many people get terribly, terribly wrong.

Alignment is this: Good refers to an individual’s ability to empathize with others. Evil refers to a lack of empathy. Neutral (on the moral compass) is a person who can empathize but, at the same time, is not bound by the emotions generated by that empathy. Law refers to a person’s connection to the prevalent social structure. Chaos is the opposite: the need for individualism or the recognition that laws are artificial (and can be ignored at whim). A neutral (ethical) character is one who straddles the line. They are not compelled to act in one way or the other.

Alignment is not a straightjacket. If it’s used that way, you’re doing it wrong. But how, then, can you have alignment in the game if you’re not going to criticize how its employed? If a player says, “I’m lawful neutral,” but behaves in a manner that suggests chaotic evil, won’t the other players feel… odd? Out of sorts? “Hey, dude, I know your god is all about order and stuff, so why are you trying to burn the village to the ground?”

Naturally, the biggest problem comes from the DM. I can solve that problem in my game by simply not demanding any kind of behavior from the players (in regard to whatever alignment they write on their sheet). But, if I do that, then what’s the point of an alignment? Well, in Planescape, it’s to illustrate the relationships between the planes and the characters. A lawful evil being will be uncomfortable on Celestia (a lawful good plane) or worse on Ysgard (a chaotic good or chaotic neutral plane).

But how does that discomfort manifest? In 2E, the only really tangible effect was magic. And those affects weren’t tied to alignment. There were a few other effects that did depend on alignment, but they were scattered here and there; nothing consistent. In 3E, the impact was a penalty to Charisma-based checks (and possibly Will saves; I can’t recall exactly). Who cares?

Here’s the thing: I can’t ignore alignment in Planescape. And I don’t want to. I’ve already found one good use for it.

Assume that mortal creatures (humans, humanoids and similar beings) from the Prime Material have alignments. This does not need to apply to player characters. For the purpose of this discussion, we are ignoring PCs. If we assume that mortal beings have alignments, and we assume that the primary alignment for a given mortal is the one provided to us in the Monster Manual (whichever edition you want to work with is fine; for monsters, I’m using a mix between AD&D, 3rd Edition and Pathfinder) – if we assume these two facts, we can figure out where a mortal goes when it dies.

Naturally, religion can throw this method off kilter, so we’re going to ignore it. For the most part, let’s assume that whatever religion the majority of a mortal race follows is in keeping with that creature’s alignment. In this way, we can assume that a neutral evil character will go to the Grey Wastes when it passes away.

However, there are two things that can impact this transition. First, not all members of a given race are of the given alignment. The alignment listed in the MM is a suggestion. I read it to mean that a significant portion of the race belongs to that alignment, but it’s always possible to have variation among individuals. The second factor here is the arrangement of the planes – the Grey Wastes is not the only neutral evil plane; we also have Carceri and Gehenna. Likewise, the Abyss is not the only chaotic evil plane; it’s bordered by Carceri and Pandemonium. So there’s some “bleed” going on. A few members of a race will go to a different plane because they have a different alignment from the parent race; and a few members will go to a different plane because they align more closely with one of the “mixed” planes.

We can represent this using math. Further, can we represent the total number of a given race among the 2.5e35 universal population (over time).

First, how many goblins are there? Take the rarity of all mortals and give each rating a numerical value. Add them all together; divide the individual rating by the total for all mortal races. This gives a base percentage for a given mortal race among all mortal races. Then break that population into alignment groups. Again, give each alignment a numerical rating based on the most common alignment. The most common alignment has the highest rating, while the rarer alignments have lower ratings. Add them all together; divide; the result is a percentage of a given population that follows a given alignment. Finally, use a similar method for deciding which percentage of a given alignment population goes to a given plane.

It’s about as complicated as it sounds…

The end result, however, is that I know exactly how many mortal souls end up in the Grey Wastes as opposed to Elysium. (Interestingly, because there’s more evil races than good, according to every edition of the game, the number of evil souls dwarfs the number of good at a ratio of about 10:1, or something similarly crazy.)

Where do we go from here? How about deciding how many angels and demons are in the planes? If we assume that these proxies come from mortal souls that have “grown” into a greater state of being, then it stands to reason (as we know how many souls have died over all of time) that we can say how many angels vs. demons exist. (The answer is 1:3.) Or what about coins? Or goods and services? If I know how many people occupy each plane, I should be able to make a connection to that plane’s economic strength. Which means I can create a model for an economy which means I can provide players with rational, accurate information about the cost of equipment.

But all of this is background dressing. It’s numbers and calculations that I run behind the scenes. It has an impact – potentially – because it may be important for the players to know how many souls inhabit Acheron (in case they were planning a major invasion or something). But in the end, it’s background material. I don’t intend to use any of this as justification for telling the players how to play their characters. Or for punishing them when they don’t follow an alignment, which is the same damn thing.

Contact Other Plane

Following up from the last post, here’s the first draft of the spell Contact Other Plane, that I intend to use in my game.

—————————————–

Contact Other Plane

Spell Level: 5th
School: Divination
Casting Time: 5
Duration: Special
Range: Special
Target: Special
Saving Throw: None

With this spell, the wizard can send her mind to another plane of existence in order to receive advice and information from the beings that dwell there. The player must decide which type of extraplanar being she is trying to contact: petitioner, planar, proxy or power. She may ask up to two questions per wizard level. For every two questions, the player must roll to see if a) the target knows the correct answers, b) the target is willing to cooperate and c) the wizard can withstand prolonged contact with a foreign intellect. The relative power of the wizard and the subject determines the chance of success:

Chance to Know Answer / Chance for Insanity
Wizard Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
9 11% 20% 34% 60%
10 13% 22% 38% 67%
11 14% 24% 42% 74%
12 15% 26% 46% 80%
13 16% 28% 50% 87%
14 18% 31% 54% 94%
15 19% 33% 57% 100%
16 20% 35% 61% 100%
17 21% 37% 65% 100%
18 23% 39% 69% 100%
19 24% 42% 73% 100%
20 25% 44% 77% 100%
Chance for a Cooperative Subject
Subject’s Alignment
Wizard Alignment CG NG LG CN N LN CE NE LE
CG 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35% 30%
NG 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40% 35%
LG 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35% 40%
CN 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40% 35%
N 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45% 40%
LN 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40% 45%
CE 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45% 40%
NE 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50% 45%
LE 30% 35% 40% 35% 40% 45% 40% 45% 50%

To determine if the subject is willing to cooperate, consult the above table by referencing the wizard’s alignment against the alignment of the subject’s home plane. This check is made once, in secret and when the spell is first cast. An uncooperative subject will answer questions, to the best of its knowledge, but will be intentionally evasive, curt and misleading.

After the wizard has asked (and received the answers, right or wrong) two questions, the DM must check to see if she is stricken temporarily insane. This check is made after every two successive questions. The more powerful the subject, the more likely that its mind will be too much for the wizard to handle. The insanity lasts for one week per extraplanar category (one for petitioners, two for planars, etc.). The effect is similar to a Quest spell: the wizard takes on the alignment and demeanor of the subject’s plane and the subject may demand a service of the wizard which she will attempt to fulfill to the best of her ability (making it her first priority while the insanity lasts).

The wizard is not required to ask all her available questions and may end the spell at any time. However, contact with another plane may not be prolonged. The wizard must ask her questions in one sitting, without a break; if an interruption occurs, the spell ends.

—————————————–

Maps and Spells

Here’s one way to map the planes (2E)…

OuterPlanes

Here’s another (4E)…

520px-4e_FR_cosmology

Here’s a third (3E)…

d0130714_510b2ee6db536

Here’s an attempt from the real world to describe the higher and lower planes of existence. Here’s another. Here’s an interpretation by JDJarvis at Aeons & Augauries.

What’s our point?

Your compaign world should not be limited to one map of the planes. These are not literal maps. They do not show places. They do not represent borders or nations or peoples. There are no mountains or rivers or grasslands in these maps. They are a representation of the relationship that exists between the Prime Material and the Planes of Existence. As such, there are can be more than one interpretation. All that matters is that the interpretation contains some accurate information. (The quest for accurate information is a task that your party can take on for itself. The rewards should be self-evident.)

Delta D&D started a conversation about the spell Contact Other Plane. It has other bloggers talking about the arrangement of the planes. It has me thinking about how to structure the spell for my own game.

This is where the “map” of the planes is so critical: This spell (and others like it, such as Gate, Etherealness or Summon Monster) is dependent upon the arrangement of the ‘verse. How we map the planes, and the relationship we define between the planes, will impact how we structure this spell.

Roughly speaking, this is my map for the planes: the Inner Planes (the Elemental Chaos) is the “center” of the ‘verse. It’s the seed where all physical matter begins. It has no permanent internal borders. We may loosely describe how water and fire are opposed to each other, and thus they do not “share borders;” and for the most part this is correct. But not always.

From there we have the Prime Material. This is the universe as we know it. There are billions of galaxies. In each galaxy there are billions of worlds. On each world there are billions of people. They live, they die and their souls depart for the Outer Planes.

The Outer Planes are arranged (roughly) according to the Great Wheel map. Limbo does not share a border with Mechanus. However, there are pathways that connect the Outer Planes in ways that are not immediately obvious. The World Tree, for example, links Ysgard directly to Pandemonium, though the two planes do not share a border.

The Astral and Ethereal represent the realms of the mind and the soul. They are the primary conduit for travel through the planes. They connect the Prime to the Outer Planes. They are largely uninhabited, though the Ethereal is home to most non-corporeal undead.

Now we come to the point: how does a spell like Contact Other Plane work?

I understand the intent of this spell is to reach out to an intelligent being on another plane and probe its mind for answers to specific questions. As such, I’m not sure how well it should work with regard to elemental creatures. The Inner Planes are not connected to the Ethereal or Astral. Elementals do not have souls and their “minds” are only rudimentary at best. I realize that, according to D&D and the Planescape setting, there are intelligent elementals and there are mortal denizens of the Inner Planes; this is a conundrum that I must solve for my game. In the meantime, however, I think it best to accept that Contact Other Plane cannot reach to the Elemental Chaos. Another way to explain this is that Contact uses the Astral plane to make the connection. If the Astral doesn’t reach the Elemental, then the spell can’t work that way.

Then we have the Outer Planes, which are arranged in a circle or wheel shape around the Prime Material. There is no distance involved here. Reaching to Celestia is the same as Carceri or the Grey Wastes. Instead, the deciding factor should be the power of the creature contacted. There are four power levels for the Planes: petitioner, planar, proxy and power. (I’d like to add a fifth, though I’m not sure where it would go and what it would represent. Again, we have to work with what we’ve got for the moment.) Naturally, petitioners should be the easiest to contact and should carry the least risk (such as insanity). They also are the least likely to know the answer.

Let’s break down the possibilities for the petitioner. How can we know if a given, random soul knows the answer to a question? (Random because I’m assuming that the caster does not know the name of the being she is trying to contact. That’s an element we can add to the spell after we’ve established some base parameters). I use a demographics table (very similar to Tao of D&D) that I think can be re-purposed here. The basic principle is that the individuals in a population are not equal. Some are clearly superior to others. In the context of Contact Other Plane, the inequality lies in the knowledge of the subject. Some people will know the answers we’re seeking. Some will not. At the petitioner level, given how many of them there are (2.5e+33 for the whole of the Outer Planes), I think it’s fair to assume that the chance you’re going to get a known answer every time is not very good.

Let’s assume that the NPCs of the world who have 3d6 for their attributes are the most likely to actually know anything about anything. About 2% of the total population have stats that are almost that good. (I would post my version of the demographics table, but I think I deleted it from my cloud storage.) That seems like it might be a decent baseline; let’s assume a 1.5% chance (per level of the caster) that the petitioner knows the answer to a given question (this requires a roll for every individual question).

Planars represent mortals that live on and travel through the planes, thus they might have more knowledge than a petitioner. The same applies to proxies and powers, and since there’s only four categories…

Chance to Know Answer
Caster Level Petitioner Planar Proxy Power
5 7% 14% 28% 56%
6 9% 18% 36% 72%
7 10% 20% 40% 80%
8 12% 24% 48% 96%
9 13% 26% 52% 100%

etc…

I think the other components to the spell depend on other factors. The chance for insanity depends on how powerful the contacted being is. Proxies (such as angels and demons) are certainly ‘otherworldly’ and, combined with their immortality and different concepts of morality, logic, ethics, etc, should pose a chance of rendering the caster temporarily insane. (The precise reasoning behind this, however, should be explored in a later post.) The chance that the subject tries to mislead or lie to the caster should be based on its moral inclinations. Good creatures are more likely to empathize with the caster and thus less likely to lie to her. However, I’m not certain that I have a solid methodology for determining the chances of these components. I want to avoid compounding the issue (for example, by rendering a known answer useless when the caster becomes insane for a long period of time) but I don’t have a solid answer just yet.

The bottom line, therefore, is this: careful thought should go into the design of your world. In the case of Planescape, it’s possible to create spells that are dynamic, rich and distinctly unique to your world if you are aware of the details of that world.

How to Run

How to Run, by Alexis D. Smolensk.

Buy it. Read it. Love or hate it, but please let us know why.

More Definition

There are two kinds of games: where the rules are clearly defined and there you have to figure them out on your own.

Most games fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. Poker, I should think, is an excellent example. It has clearly defined rules. I can explain the game to new players. Deal some cards, place some bets, reveal some cards, bluff (or don’t), fold (or stay), etc. Naturally there’s a lot of variance but in the end, the rules are clear. Yet the rules of Poker are not the whole of the game. The other part – the more interesting and important part – is about reading people. How do I know if this person is bluffing?

It’s not just a matter of skill or technique. There are rules for reading people. Salespeople and con artists (and many others) know these rules, and use them to great effect. And if you doubt this claim, please invite me to go car shopping with you. I could use some humor in my life right now.

Monopoly and Risk have these elements; so does Chess. They have clearly defined rules, basic strategies (and advanced ones) for play and the element of knowing your opponent. This latter piece is more or less critical depending on the dynamic of the players involved.

Role-playing games do not have these elements.

Role-playing games have rules. These rules should be clearly defined or the game risks devolving into petty squabbles. Role-playing should not be about reading your opponent because the player does not have an opponent (at least, not in the sense that other games do).

In the game this guy is playing, there is no opponent. And if there is, he is most certainly not the DM.

In the game these guys are playing, the opponent is the DM.

All role-playing games have one element in common: dice. (Diceless RPGs don’t count. Without dice, your rules are suspect. Without dice, you have no impartial arbiter. Without dice, the whole of the game is about reading and manipulating people. That is not a role-playing game.) Dice create a bridge between the real world and the fantasy. With dice, and the rules we use to employ and interpret them, we can claim certainty about the game world and its events. We establish a baseline for referrence. We can KNOW things.

So what are hit points? Because that’s the discussion at hand and the reason I feel compelled to comment. I’ve heard it said that hit points are many things all at once: luck, fate, divine intervention, endurance, fatigue, muscle mass, skill, etc.

Bullshit.

If hit points mean all those things at one time (or nothing at all, because they aren’t real), then what do I know about my character? I have a fighter with 27hp. Is that a lot? Or is it a little? Will I survive the fight with the orc army? Can I tackle a troll one-on-one? If I know that my 27hp represent a dozen (or more) “possible” influences over my character, then I’m confused: why should I have this numerical value instead of something different? Why should my fighter roll 3d10 for hit points instead of 3d8? Why does the thief get 3d6? Aren’t thieves luckier than fighters? Why does the cleric get 3d8? Doesn’t his god care for him enough to grant him 3d12 instead?

Here’s another take on the subject: the DM describes a troll emerging from behind a rock. The creature is massive; eight, maybe nine feet tall, with knotted muscles and thick skin. I know how many hit points my fighter has (27) and I know how much damage I can deal with my sword (1d8+3). The troll takes a step toward me and I can feel the ground shiver. I see the dent it made in the gravel road. Its voice makes my chest vibrate. I brace myself before wetting myself, and swing wildly.

Natural 20. I roll my double damage and get the maximum. The troll takes 22 damage. And it drops. I chopped its head off.

For the sake of this argument, the DM is not using critical hit tables. I got lucky, sure, and did a lot of damage, but how many hit points should this troll have? Remember, the DM in this example emphasized the description of the troll. I know how big and burly my fighter is. I know I can take a few hits from a sword before I’m in danger of going under. This troll is twice my size, at least, and probably a good deal stronger. How can 22 damage take its head off?

The DM is playing by different rules. He subscribes to the “hit points aren’t real, but troll muscles are” philosophy. But I’m the player. I’m limited in my knowledge of the DM’s world to what the DM tells me. I rely on the DM to provide me with consistent information that I can use to understand the world and to guage my actions. What if the example were reversed? If the DM sent a troll at me but the creature looked diseased and sickly? Further, suppose the sick looking troll has 80hp? The DM defends this by saying that this troll is blessed by the gods, while the other had recently been in a battle (presumably one where fire was used, but it left no tell-tale scars… wait, what?).

Dice are the basic building block of a role-playing game. They provide the unit of currency for our discourse. We have common ground to relate ideas because we can reduce those ideas to numerical values. When I hear the DM’s description of a scene I can translate that into factual data. I can use that information to make decisions about my character’s actions.

When we say that 1d8 represent the damage of a sword, what we’re really saying is that it represents the fucking damage dealt by a sword swing. 1 is less than 8. A creature that has 1hp will surely die long before it meets me, the player character. So if I happen upon a hostile creature with 1hp, I expect that there will be a damn good reason. I also expect that it will be a very rare occurrence, as in, not a 1-in-8 chance.

I know that my sword does 1d8 when I swing it. What I don’t know is what that represents in the game until the DM tells me. If the DM tells me one thing and represents the game with another, then he’s playing by different rules. That’s not role-playing. That’s being a dick.

Population

What is the population of the Outer Planes?

The Outer Planes are the afterlife of the mortal realm. They are the heavens and hells of countless Prime Material worlds. In my version of the setting, they also have no real mass; they are the realms of ideas. They are formed and shaped by the souls that inhabit them. If a planeswalker travels to Arcadia and convinces the people of a city to change their beliefs, that city can slip away into Mechanus or Acheron, or virtually any other plane as befits its new alignment

I recently read (though I cannot now find the resourc) that the threshold for culture change is around 30% of a given population. If you want to effect change in your company, for example, you need to get about 30% of the people on board with your ideas. After that, the idea will spread on its own (whether its good or bad). I can atest to this phenomena, albeit in a negative way. My company is currently dealing with negative behaviors from the hourly employees following an internal merger that brought an assembly line-worth of people to us from a different state. These out-of-state workers brought their habits and, over the past three years, have been spreading those habits to other assembly lines. If the new(er) employee group was smaller in size (relative to the rust of the factory), it’s likely that they would have had less influence.

So if 30% is a good threshold for changing ideas in a population, what’s the population of the Outer Planes?

I don’t mean to suggest that players in my game will actually change an entire plane’s worth of people. They might, if they were persistent and capable and organized enough. But there are other reasons to ask this question.

How many angels and demons? How many demons in the Blood War? The Planescape books hint at things like the ratio of Upper Plane population to Lower Plane. But what about the Planes of Order and Chaos?

How much currency is floating around the planes? If I want to present a dynamic economy for my players, wherein the shift in things like price and availability is measureable, I need to know certain constants. What is the base value for the planar economy? It can’t be gold or silver and it can’t be trade goods. These things aren’t real, though people believe them to be real. That’s the issue: the physical goods of an economy only exist because people believe they exist and that they’re needed. Besides, I’ve already established that one of the components for my economy is the population itself; their ideas, their souls, their labor. In order to expand further, I need to know how many souls exist in the Outer Planes.

2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

I had to jump through a few hoops to arrive at that figure, to be honest. I found an estimate for the total number of births throughout human history. There’s a lot of discussion concerning historical periods – how long they lasted or when they started/stopped. Then there’s the question of how many Prime Material worlds contribute to the souls of the Planes.

The total number of births throughout human history is a (very) rough estimate. When I compared it to an equally rough estimate of historical periods, I noticed an interesting trend: the population of the world tended to increase as the length of historical periods decreased. This meant I could play with the relationship between these values and create a standard for the “average” Prime Material world. That average comes in at about 117 billion. We can comfortably assume that the number of deaths per Prime world is about 100 billion.

Interesting scientific discovery: there are potentially 60 billion habitable worlds in our galaxy. Since the Prime Material is our universe, and our universe has upwards of 500 billion galaxies, I think it’s fair to put the number of populated worlds at 5.0e+10 * 5.0e+11 = 2.5e+22. Multiplied by the number of deaths over time and we get 2.5e+33.

The next step is figuring out where those souls end up. There are several factors involved in this calculation, such as alignment and creature rarity. We also have to consider things like reincarnation or ascension: how many souls, over time, end up back in the Prime or absorbed into the Planes themselves? I have the answers, but the explanation is a lengthy one and I’ll have to explore it in my next post.

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