I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Want detailed weapons and armor? Try Mythras

You know this blog is mostly about D&D stuff. Nowadays, I play only D&D or my own games (like Dark Fantasy Basic), but these are also inspired by D&D.

But I have been playing RPGs for a long time... Pendragon, GURPS, CoC, Savage Worlds, DC Heroes, Rolemaster... and I still enjoying reading this stuff from time to time.

My latest read was Mythras [affiliate link*]. Which is basically Runequest 6 after the publisher lost the rights to Runequest.

Runequest is a classic, but I have never played 6th edition myself (not sure if I played any of it at all, TBH). It is all very similar to Chaosium stuff: about seven attributes/abilities and d100 skills, basically. 

Mythras is a detailed game, with lots of spells (like D&D) and LOTS of tools to give your character a background: tribe, family, civilization, relationships, passions, etc. It is a perfect game if you're trying to build an intricate backstory that really matters, with mechanical consequences.

I'm not into elaborate backgrounds myself at the moment, but since I write so much about weapons and armor in this blog, I thought I'd share this: the combat system in Mythras looks awesome.

Combat in Mythras is detailed and granular like everything else, but I actually LIKE some detail in combat... And Mythras deals with complexity exactly the way I like, which means: combat is pretty simple most of the time, but when you get a "critical hit" each weapon brings unique tools to the game, making the differences really shine.

There are many other interesting details in combat... opposed rolls where you actually have a reason to use one of your actions to defend, for example. Different HP for each part of the body. Or a list with seven or eight shields instead of a single one.

By the way, many characters can take three actions per "turn"... Which is somewhat similar to D&D 5e or Pathfinder 2.

It is still too complex for my tastes but... For a combat oriented-oriented game, I think Mythras would be a great choice.

To be honest, I'm somewhat tempted to run this, or at least some simpler version.

A review?

Well, this isn't a review "per se", but my impressions of Mythras are basically that.

If you want:

* Organic, detailed, realistic characters, with elaborate backgrounds;
* Complex combat, with LOTS of options.
* Many magic systems.
* Plenty of interesting rules for emotions and social interaction.
* D100 skills.

Mythras might be the game for you.

What Mythras lacks is an extensive or interesting bestiary; fantasy races and magic items; superhuman heroes; and shortcuts to make combat an character creation easier. It also has no setting; it is a "generic" fantasy game, but a "bronze age" setting is somewhat implied.

Maybe Classic Fantasy [affiliate link*] has some of that, but since it requires Mythras to play I'm betting it doesn't get any simpler.

In any case, I enjoyed reading Mythras, even if I don't play it. You will probably see me borrowing some ideas for my D&D games soon...

 * Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!

Friday, August 02, 2019

The WEIGHT of GOLD - is OD&D right again?

How much does a gold coin weight?

The answer is not as simple as you think. Here is my favorite post on the subject. Delta's thinking and research are awesome, and have influenced many old school RPGs, including mine. I got convinced of using silver coins instead of gold. I also got convinced to use a reasonable weight to coins, like D&D did from 2e on - now there are 50 coins for every pound, instead of the original 10 coins. (BTW, I use a 1 gp = 10 sp = 100 cp, for simplicity).

He makes a great argument. Here is one interesting bit:

Some of the lessons here, I think, are these: You don't want to "blow your wad" with enormous summer-action-movie-size treasures right at 1st level. A fat purse with a few dozen coins should be worth a thief's time to knife someone over. A wizard should be able to carry enough money in the folds of his robe to buy a night's stay at an inn, hire a lantern-bearer, or procure some interesting ephemera. If you want to jump into "heroic" adventure from the get-go, then it should match the rest of the D&D mechanics in that 3rd or 4th level is where you would start.

This is not only practical but also historically realistic.

However, there are other things to consider.

I've been thinking about item cards lately; I've even bought some. I want to make these things tangible to my players; not just things they can fill in a form. Maybe in this regard, I want my games to LOOK like games instead of accounting exercises. I even thought of buying some fake gold coins... but then it would starting looking like cosplay.

Now, there is something about those weighty, "low value! gold coins that makes them more... tangible.

In Moldvay basic, for example, 400 coins is the most you can carry before being affected (that is, if you're carrying nothing else... like weapons, armor or rations). It's the price of 40 swords (a normal sword weights as as much as 60 coins). These coins are BIG!

Fifth edition is different: you can carry 150 pounds before being encumbered... that is, 7500 coins in 5e. You could buy 500 longswords (15 gp) with that!

In Moldvay (etc.), however, carrying a fortune hinders your movement. It is not always worth it. Getting greedy will kill you. Find a big hoard of coins, and you might be forced to return another day for the rest of the money, or risk being unable to run while being chased by stronger enemies!

In short, carrying coins becomes a meaningful decision, not an exercise in accounting. This might be one of the reasons why keeping track of money is unpolular nowadays. Feels like nitpicking.

There is also the mythical aspect of piles of dragons sitting in huge piles of gold... There is no way any economy can be saved from total destruction if the adventures find one of these! If my memories of the 1001 nights are right, piles of gold were used to buy castles... not entire continents.

See this excerpt, for example (source):

We are the better way to a billion coins being sequestered in a dragon’s hoard, which is more than 5,400 imperial tons of precious metal, including over 1,000 tons of gold. For reference, GFMS (the foremost consultancy and research company for the global precious metals market) estimates that the total amount of gold that humanity had extracted up until 1492 CE was about 12,780 tonnes (12,580 imperial tons). In other words, the dragon would have laid claim to a significant portion of global gold reserves on Earth, and probably would in your world, as well.

Of course, you could go the other way and make gold valuable to add some drama to that bag of gold. Each single gold piece could be impressive in itself - throwing gold around is for kings, not adventurers. This is the best way to use the "silver standard" proposed by Delta, IMO: gold is valuable, but not easy to find. There is absolutely no guarantee the players will find anyone with enough gold in the next town to buy 900 silver from them! Better find a bank or start digging a whole to protect your money...

Gold becomes more mythical than dragons, and dragons lay in piles of cooper and silver, etc.

Conversely, if you use gold instead of silver, finding some electrum piece could be a novel experience for the characters...The 5e SRD says that:

In addition, unusual coins made of other precious metals sometimes appear in treasure hoards. The electrum piece (ep) and the platinum piece (pp) originate from fallen empires and lost kingdoms, and they sometimes arouse suspicion and skepticism when used in transactions. An electrum piece is worth five silver pieces, and a platinum piece is worth ten gold pieces.

As for using tokens... I obviously don't want to play around with thousands of fake coins in my table. 50 coins representing one encumbrance slot feels just right for me. If all players use the same pool, I could use less than 100 coin tokes and a few treasure cards to represent all their money, including gold, silver, cooper and platinum (I fail to see the usefulness of electrum...). Ha, I could even buy some chocolate coins to allow players to eat while they spend...

Anyway, both systems have their merits and the choice is not the easiest one.

However, I can't help but feel that making OD&D better is a lot harder than it looks. There are just so many things that seem wrong, but have excellent reasons to be that way once you consider all the implications.

Further reading:








Monday, July 29, 2019

Dark Fantasy MAGIC - Get it FREE!

So, here is the latest pamphlet in my Dark Fantasy line: DARK FANTASY MAGIC!

It is currently PWIW (pay what you want), so you can get it for FREE if you want to. Or you can read it for free then buy it if you like it.

Dark Fantasy Magic is a collection of tables and short essays to inspire the creation of wizards, spells or entire magic systems. You can also use this book to generate characters, spells and magic for stories, comic books, etc.

The focus is on dark fantasy tropes: flawed heroes, terrible villains, corrupting magic, ominous ruins and damned wastelands.

This is mostly a system-less book, to be used with any game of your choice, but some parts are written with the most popular RPGs in mind (you know, six abilities, hit points, saving throws, etc). It is especially suited for medieval dark fantasy games, such as my own (Dark Fantasy Basic).

It includes sections such as:

Appearance: Exotic looks for your spellcasting characters!

Familiars: Cats, frogs, flying skulls and faerie dragons are worthy assistants to your magician!

The cost of magic: Tables and essays on what magic should cost - from gold pieces and hit points, through bloody sacrifice, all the way to the wizard's life and soul!

Pain and destruction:  A table of magical mishaps and catastrophic failures!

Would love to hear your opinion!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

D&D is too VERBOSE (small rant + book suggestion)

In a little follow-up to the last post, I started wondering if all those spells in 5e could actually fit a card... Anyway, tried to do my own version. Just got a list of spells to cut out the ones the PCs used, for easy reference...

Well, the spells took LOTS of pages. These pages dt didn't, however, contain that much information; many of the words in 5e (around 40%, I'd guess) are useless repetition; they don't contain any new information. Some of it could be cut by using abbreviations.

For example, look at this spell:

Acid Arrow
2nd level evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 90 feet
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Wizard
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each slot level above 2nd.

Compared to:

Acid Arrow (2)
Evocation; 1 action; 90'; Instant
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
Higher slots: The damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each level above 2nd.

No information is lost.

(To be honest, a single "deal damage, choose type" spell template would be enough for me; one page and you get rid of 50+ spells. But that's a different matter)

The same pattern (unnecessary letters, words and sentences) is repeated throughout the book.

"On a short or long rest" is used again and again where "on a short rest" would do.

Darkvision is described over and over - but the rules about light and vision still do not make much sense.

The contents of monster stat-blocks get repeated over and over again or gain needless details. Look at the dragons in the Monster Manual. 30 pages? They could have used 10. Or less... Just check the DCC RRG. Or the Rules Cyclopedia. Or wait a couple of months for my monster book! ;)

Of course, using things like HP instead of Hit Points, saves instead of saving throws, etc. would make the book even smaller.

I know this sounds like nitpicking, but the size of 5e books (and the amount of words in them) is a HUGE factor for me - and, I would bet, for many new players. 5e is not THAT complex, but it LOOKS complex because of these things.

There would be a lot less page-flipping and weight-carrying (and less intimation to new players, I guess) if the books were more concise.

But I guess WotC would make less money? I dunno. Seems to me that adding lots of "casual" players would be great to D&D.

Anyway, rant over.

After spending more time than I should with this exercise I gave up on buying spell cards for now. Maybe I'll still get monster cards, I dunno. Certainly items.

To end this on a positive note, here is the stuff I like.

First, monster variations. You know, when Curse of Strahd (or the MM itself) says "this monster is like a zombie, but wearing plate armor", or "treat this NPC like a noble, but she is carrying a +1 rapier"? That is more than enough for me and provides interesting twists to familiar monsters. I wish more books would do the same (and I will give you a book based entirely around this idea soon).

Second, games that manage to be simple and short without being minimalist or incomplete.

You can always try my Dark Fantasy Basic; 5 classes with lots of variations, 20 spells that can be cast at any level, and about 50 pages. But if you're tired of hearing about my game... here is another idea, specially if you like the idea of a B/X and 5e mix, but would prefer more 5e than B/X.

Try Into the Unknown [affiliate link - by using this, you're helping to support this blog].

About 250 pages (including everything), 13 bucks for the PDF (25 for the print version), straightforward, concise and EFFICIENT. Few classes, but a lot more customization than B/X. Monster have small stat blocks, with morale and number encountered! And just look at the guidance spell:

Priest (Divination)
Range: Touch
Duration: Conc. (up to 1 minute)
Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one ability check of its choice. It can roll the die before or after making the ability check. The spell then ends.

Notice that it seems similar to guidance, but it omits useless info; no mention of casting time (assume 1 action); no mention of components (assume V, S).

In short... that's AWESOME. Congratulations to Anders Honoré! Check his blog The Setting to End All Settings, BTW.

If you want to introduce someone to D&D 5e, I would prefer this game even to D&D basic. Great stuff! It could save lots of folks some time, money, patience... and maybe spare a few trees!

Friday, July 05, 2019

Cards against pencils

Some players missed the last RPG session, so we played some cooperative boardgames. Something I should do more often, it seems.

Anyway, the game had cards in addition to the board, and it got me thinking about how useful cards would be to my RPG sessions.

Come to think of it, using cards is also something I should do more often.

I think I disliked dealing with cards because of 4e; it practically required you to browse through your "cards" every round to find the right power, etc. I dislike that idea not only in practice but also on principle.

However, I used to LOVE D&D cards back in the TSR days... Specially those from Dragonquest!

And I enjoyed playing with cards this week. One mechanic I particularly enjoyed is discarding; you have a maximum number of cards to hold, and when you get something new, you must discard something else.

Such a mechanic is obviously well-suited for items. With one obvious advantage: item cards do not make me feel like I'm looking at the character sheet, but at actual items - like my character would be in order to solve a puzzle, decide what items to carry, etc.

Cards representing monsters and spells are cool as well, mainly to avoid lots of page-flipping.

I think the main difference is, these are things you actually have - most are things you can actually see (unlike a "clever shot" or "rapid shot" from 4e). They strengthen immersion instead of making you feel like you're playing a character sheet instead of an actual character.

Brief digression:

Of course, you could argue that there is no difference between a "rapid shot" power and a "fireball" power. And I agree, up to a point - the main reason I'd like to use spell cards is because there are SO MANY spells to choose from that this would just make things easier.

However, there is another conceptual difference, at least in my head - the fireball is an actual THING in old school D&D. Anyone can tell when a wizard is using a fireball. It EXISTS in some vancian spell slot inside your head. You might even CHOOSE the spell BEFOREHAND, and CARRY it in your mind - it occupies SPACE. You can write the spell down in a grimoire or scroll, etc. A "rapid shot" is not a "thing"; it REPRESENTS an action an archer could take. If you miss a "rapid shot", it is likely that no one could even tell you TRIED to "rapid shot" in the first place... unlike a fireball.

Yes, they are pretty much the same in 4e and, you could argue, in 5e, since spells slots work a bit differently now. But anyway, I prefer this old school flavor.

Digression over.

Anyway, now I feel like buying some cards. I didn't buy many back in the day because, well, they were too expensive. Looking at cards now... They are still expensive in most cases, and just UGLY in other cases. But we'll try anyway.

Gale Force Nine

The "official" D&D 5e cards.

Monsters look cool enough, and the art is certainly high quality. However, I really I prefer the old ones (see above). Much more inspiring, with movement and backgrounds... I don't quite get it. WotC has access to these old classic pieces of art. If that is not enough, they should at least learn something from Magic the Gathering. Have you seem any MtG monsters without movement or backgrounds?

Spell are not illustrated, but are good enough, I guess. They have "martial power" cards if you like that, too...

Prices are reasonable - not much more than, say, 10c per card in most sets.

Unfortunately, item cards - my main interest - were apparently done in such a lazy manner that it turns my stomach. Just check some customer images on amazon.

Let's look for itens elsewhere...

The Deck of Many Weapons

The art is a bit cartoony, but looks cool and gets the point across. I find this a bit expensive - 15 dollars for 33 cards? - but I might consider it. Find it here.

Inkwell Ideas

There is also this*. It seems to be the most functional of the bunch, since I can add my own info (although it doesn't contain much info of it's own - for example, the damage, weight or cost of the greatsword below). Decent price, too. The art seems too "computer-based" for my tastes, but good enough.

[*Affiliate link. By purchasing stuff through affiliate links, you're helping to support this blog].

Free stuff

There is plenty of FREE cards online. Some of it is of higher quality or usefulness than the "official" stuff, but you must print them for yourself... Unless there is an easy way to do that, it won't work for me. But if you're interested, check this and this.

What else?

Have you ever tried playing D&D with cards? Did I miss some interesting product? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

DARK HACK: weapons and armor

So, expanding a bit on this idea, just for fun... Let's have a little brainstorming session.

Here is what I'd like weapons and armor to be:

* I'd like armor to be more or less "bounded", meaning that if you roll 10 or more on the dice (but under your stat), you'd basically hit anybody, AND maybe get a critical hit.
* Heavy armor is less useful if you have high Dexterity, and vice-versa.
* Bigger weapons are more useful if you're strong.

There are lots of ways to do that...

Don't worry, this ain't real

One I like is having armor go from 1 to 9, for example (maybe the maximum armor you can carry without penalty is half your Strength), but when you get attacked you can make a dodge roll (roll under Dexterity), and pick the best result (either you roll or your amor)...

This is somewhat similar to my Dark Fantasy Basic. Works well enough - the lower your Dex, the higher the chance of missing and using your armor value instead.

A different idea would be putting a soft cap if your AC gets too high. For example, say you get your dexterity and then add two point for each "weight unit" of armor you're wearing, then compare the total with this table:


11 or less+0

The downside is that it requires both sides to roll, unless I use some workaround.


I'm tempted, as always, as make things simpler. No weapon restrictions. No strength bonuses. BUT I'd like bigger weapons to be more useful if you're strong.

Maybe your roll is equal to damage, limited to your weapon type. So each weapon has a "maximum damage". One less roll, I like it. But not something that scales well when you're fighting titans, dragons, etc. Maybe fixed damage would be better.

AND if you beat your target by 10 or more, you get a crit, and add some extra damage.

How does it look so far

Warrior with Strength 15 walks around with a two handed axe (max damage 12). By rolling a 12, 13, 14, or 15, he deals 12 points of damage.

When fighting someone with AC 1, any roll of 11 or more is a crit.

When fighting someone with AC 6, there is no chance of a crit.

One caveat

Someone with heavy armor (say, AC 6) would only get hit by significant blows. Which is not that bad, per se. But probably armor should add something OTHER than AC: some extra HP, damage reduction, etc.

And you might have dragons dealing one point of damage... I dunno. Probably weapon damage would be something like min/max/crit: for example, 4/12/18 for a greataxe. The upside is that it adds lots of possibilites: a dagger with 2/4/10, for example, is nasty when it crits, while a club could be something like 5/10/15, dangerous even in the hands of unskilled folk.

Maybe just min and crit would be enough.

And maybe this is adjusted by Dex in some weapons.. Using the table above... Or just combine strength and dexterity...

Well, that is more complex that I'm willing to accept for this project... So let's leave it at that for today.

Sunday, June 30, 2019


You might be familiar with The Black Hack. It is an awesome, hugely successful, game that makes D&D a LOT easier by basically using just ability scores instead of, well, anything else really. Something in the vein of There's Always A Chance (TAAC) - which, by the way, inspired by an optional rule in Moldvay's Basic.

It goes like this: Want to attack? Roll under Strength. Reflex save? Roll under Dexterity. Test your knowledge of magic? Roll under Intelligence. Etc.

Here are the two editions of the game (affiliate links*):

* The-Black-Hack
* The-Black-Hack-Second-Edition

Anyway, the game gained a huge number of supplements from third parties (which the author was kind enough to allow) - The Space Hack, The Cthulhu Hack, etc.

I am obsessed with simplicity... or, even better, elegance. So, these days I've been thinking of making my own version for Dark Fantasy Basic. Not to replace the game, mind you - I just need some nuance in my games - but just to provide a simpler alternative.

So, "roll under ability" is pretty straightforward. Works great for skills, even spells, etc. Notice that, unlike modern D&D (where Strength 14 and Strength 15 get the same bonus), every single attribute point counts.

You can use this with a "blackjack" mechanic - you must roll as high as possible, but not TOO high. For example, if you have Strength 15, the best possible roll would be a 15. If you roll 2, you barely succeed, and if you roll 16, you fail.

There are some clear advantages to this method.

a) In ordinary circumstances, the player can immediately tell if she succeeded or not - without any addition or subtraction needed.
b) If there are special circumstances (such as opposed checks - see below), the player just tells the GM the number he rolled on the dice, without any addition or subtraction needed.
c) Someone with a high ability not only succeeds more often, but she also has better successes.
d) In addition to this, some numbers might immediately cause additional effects. Say, every roll of 11+ is a critical; this would mean that a fighter with Strength 15 would be significantly better than someone with Strength 10 because many of his hits would be criticals.

There are two main limitations.

1) Numbers are somewhat limited to the 1-20 range. You might have a Strength 25 dragon, for example, but that requires additional adjustments. I will ignore this for now. Notice, however, that because of points "c" and "d", above, a dragon with Strength 17 would already be very impressive.
2) Opposed checks - something the requires the roll to not only consider the PCs traits but also external circumstances (for example, an attack roll against AC etc.)

The last point deserves a better explanation.

If you use the "modern" D&D method, you would roll, for example, 1d20+7 and try to beat an armor class (AC) of 15 - you'd need to roll 8 or more on the dice.

However, how to do this if you need to roll under your Strength? Maybe you'd get a penalty to hit because of the enemy's armor. Maybe you'd need to roll under your Strength AND over the enemy's AC. Both solutions feel a bit clunky, since they destroy some of the clear advantages I outlined above.

The Black Hack has a simple solution: armor is just extra HP (the second edition adds some nuance).

But I also like Dexterity to provide some AC. How to do that? To be honest, giving some extra HP due to Dexterity would not be absurd, since HP are somewhat abstract anyway. Although it makes sense within the original idea of HPs, it has never been used in mainstream D&D.

Saving throws are another issue. In original D&D, saving throws are made regardless of your opponent's traits, but I really like the ideal that, for example, it is harder to ignore the poison of a super powerful spider like Shelob than an "ordinary" giant spider the size of a dog.

To solve all these issues, you could probably use some kind of opposed roll: it you hit with a roll of 12, you automatically hit unless your opponent has AC of 12 or more. If he has AC 15, for example, he would still need to roll and get a 13, 14 or 15 to succeed.

It does require some additional rolling, which I generally dislike... But seems doable.

There are even some ways to make an opposed roll without rolling for both parties... For example:

* Just compare the two abilities, give yourself a bonus or penalty accordingly, and roll 11 or more. If you have 16 and your opponent has 12, roll 1d20+4 and try to beat 11.
* Roll 1d20 and use the same result for BOTH you and your opponent, but call odds or evens before rolling (or decide it beforehand for all rolls). In the 16 versus 12 example above, you'd succeed in any roll of 13, 14, 15, and 16; anything else would be decided by odds or even (of course, if you roll 17, 18, 19 or 20, the result could be nothing happens").

Not the most elegant methods... but they work!

In short... I'm tempted. Let me know what you think.

*By purchasing stuff through affiliate links, you're helping to support this blog.
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