Biblyon Broadsides

Gods & Monsters news and old-school gaming notes.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

First level calculations in Pocket Gods

Jerry Stratton, January 16, 2016

I’ve just added a new feature to the Pocket Gods mobile app. It does a quick calculation for all the “good numbers” that first-level characters need: reactions, movement, carry, etc.

And as a caveat, I have tested it on various desktop browsers, but for mobile devices only on my own iPad and iPhone. Because it’s just an HTML5 app (HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS), you should be able to use it on any computer with a browser, whether your computer is a desktop workstation, a tablet, or a phone. In each case, the app will work even if you don’t have Internet. Just save it when you do have Internet and it will be available later. It should also automatically update when new features are added or old bugs fixed.

I resisted an automated calculator for a long time, partly because I worry that having a calculator will encourage more pointlessly complex calculations on my part, but mostly because I think it’s a good idea for players to know what goes into their scores. I’ve tried to keep character generation relatively simple; it’s more complex than OD&D and BX, and depending on how you look at it less complex than AD&D with its calculations scattered throughout the books.

I have several times seriously considered just going back to the AD&D method of pushing these calculations into gameplay. Except for verve, mojo, and movement (and one reaction depending on how you look at it), all of these calculations have a counterpart in AD&D. Part of my design goal for Gods & Monsters was to avoid spreading those calculations through both time and space.

For example, saving rolls were modified by abilities; we just did the calculation at the time the saving roll was made, usually involving a table lookup since the modifiers were different depending on the ability. The saving roll targets themselves were on another table in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Technically they were supposed to be secret, but in practice what this meant was that after a couple of sessions our DM told us to write down our saving rolls so that play could go faster.

Encumbrance was always used and always ignored at the same time: at some point, the DM would marvel at all the stuff we were carrying and tell us it was time we started tracking encumbrance. That’s a big reason for why the encumbrance system in Gods & Monsters is so simple, just the number of items the character is able to carry. Because it was very simple in AD&D up until it was very complex.

And then system shock, loyalty, reaction adjustments, these all tended to be looked up in the game, temporarily shutting down play while calculations were made—often at a time when things were most exciting.

Gods & Monsters was designed, as you can tell from the introduction, for play spanning several sessions. And we played a gobsmacking nine years before I moved to Texas from California and we wrapped that game up. However, on visiting my friends last year we decided to play a new game, just one session. We considered using OD&D rules, but our GM was a first-time GM and was familiar with Gods & Monsters, so we went with the familiar game.

For a one-time session, the character generation is too long. With a group of five people, it’ll take 45 minutes to an hour, and with all the socializing added in afterward that’s a significant chunk of game time. I have since then been mulling over how a calculator would work, and this week I finally got a handle on it. The actual programming didn’t take long, of course.

This calculator is targeted for that use case. It is only for first-level player characters, and it doesn’t take into account specialties. When a player chooses a specialty, they’ll still have to read about the specialty. And very importantly, it does not enforce the minimum score of 9 in the archetypal ability (as you can see from the screenshot). Enforcing that would have required either (a) blocking the entry of the ability before you choose your archetype, or (b) blocking the choice or archetype before you enter your ability. This is meant to be a quick calculator, that’s its whole purpose. Adding blocks would detract from that. I may update it later to provide some sort of unobtrusive warning, perhaps next to the offending stat in question.

It will also accept partial data. If you only enter two ability scores, it will calculate whatever it can for those two, and leave the rest blank.

It is not a character sheet. Your browser may choose to save scores after shifting pages, but the app itself does not. Once it makes the calculations, the player will need to copy them to their character sheet. I still believe in home-made character sheets.

I do still recommend that for beginning players, and even as a reminder for existing players, if you have the time and are starting a new campaign go through the calculations by hand. It’s good to know, or be reminded, of how the world works. It’s important to know that wisdom and charisma are what go into willpower, that charisma and agility are what go into perception, and so forth. Players know so little about their character, it’s good to have a better handle on how their character and the world interact.

  1. <- Campaign firehose
  2. Imagination ->