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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: The Gods Have Spoken (5E)

Disclaimer: the publisher sent me a (PDF) a review copy of the book.

The Gods Have Spoken is a 5th edition supplement with 28 new deities and everything that comes with it: multiple character options (specially for clerics and paladins), holy (and unholy) locations, factions, new monsters, magic items, and a few 13th Age-inspired house rules.

The book

The appearance of this book is puzzling, with a curious mix of good and bad stuff. Most of the art, for example, is very well done (similar to the cover) - but some pieces are repeated two or three (!) time throughout the book, sometimes in adjacent pages (!!). Since the books uses good quality B&W and stock art, I see no reason for this.

The same thing happens with the layout. The overall quality is very good: the PDF is fully bookmarked, with a decent index, table of contents, glossary, and multiple side-notes, but also with lots of empty space. The page borders are not particularly beautiful nor do they have anything to do with the subject of the book , but each chapter is color-coded, which is nice and useful.

In short, it looks like professional work left unfinished. Well, you can judge for yourself:

The setting

First of all, while the book doesn't described a complete setting (since this is not the subject), it does imply a fairly high-fantasy setting with dhampirs, gnomes, and probably some steampunk. It fits 5e assumed setting well.

The book describes 28 deities divided in three different pantheons: the Thirsty Gods (of Egyptian flavor among other things), the Old Gods (Celtic, Norse, Slavic, etc.) and the Bright Gods (who might be based on eastern philosophies, although I cannot say for sure).

The deities are all creative and unusual; you never really feel that a deity is just Thor or Bahamut with a different name. The way the pantheons are described is very organic and flavorful: religions change, influence one another, create superstitions and schisms, guide different sorts of behaviors, etc. All of these aspects are described within the book. This is both useful and inspiring, even if you want to use it to create your own religions.

The holy and unholy places of each pantheon are intirguing, with plenty of ideas about encounters, scenes, and adventure seeds.

Then we get the factions. Again, they are diverse and flavorful: not only sects, but artisan guilds, secret anarchist cults, musician warriors, preservers of the faith, etc. The mechanics involving these factions are an important part of the book and will be discussed in the next topic.

The book also has half a dozen monsters (a dozen if you count variations) and a few NPC allies. Fluff-wise, the monsters are very cool, with mythological roots tied to the exploits of the main deiteis. Mechanically speaking, they have a few twists that I'll discuss in the next section.

Finally we have a few magic items and a whole system to generate holy weapons. This part is short but looks extremely useful, even if you don't plan to use any of the deities in the book.

The system

The character options contained within the book are standard 5e: cleric domains, druid circles, paladin oaths, feats, and three backgrounds, one for each religion (well, actually, the three are variations of the acolyte background - and a bit of needless repetition there). A few warlock pacts would be a nice addition. Everything seems fitting and balanced, with a few exceptions. For example, you get some of this:

"You are proficient in survival if not already. As well, you double your proficiency bonus for all survival checks."

This is obviously more useful to someone who doesn't have the proficient already. Compare this to the feats in the Unearthed Arcana: Feats for Skills from Wizards of the Coast:

"You gain proficiency in the Acrobatics skill. If you are already proficient in the skill, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with it."

I'm not sure this is on purpose, because some feats might be too weak without this "free expertise" (Reknarite Knight, for example).

Flavor-wise, the options are very good and fit well with the philosophies of the respective deities. Overall, they are good additions if you're looking for more religious character options.

The book also has an entire faction system, with suggestions on when and how the factions interact with the individual PCs, how characters get favors, information, potions, enmity, etc. This seems to te heavily inspired by 13th Age (it seems the book has an earlier 13th Age "sibling"), but is much more detailed than the 13th Age SRD in this aspect.

If you want to have formalized rules about factions, these will certainly be useful - I am tempted to use this myself for 5e, even if I was never convinced by 13th Age's "Icons". This is another part of the book that you can use even without the deities.

You can also get "allies" with this system, with various functions: some will heal the party, others will hinder enemies, and so on. The "damage sponge" is a peculiar type of NPC who will draw heat from enemies.; the "red shirts" of the setting. The concept of having someone to die for the PCs doesn't seem particularly heroic (for the PCs) or believable, but I can see how it might be useful. Unfortunately, their stat-blocks are strange; a third-tier damage sponge has +12 to hit (which is probably WAY better than the PCs they follow). So, yeah, they will basically look more competent than the PCs and then die first in battle. I'm not sure the players will appreciate.

Monsters also have a few unique features inspired by 13th Age: they get special attack if they roll a "natural" 16 or more on the dice, or if the result is even, etc. Another feature of 13th age I didn't particularly like for PCs, but makes sense for monsters.

In conclusion

The Gods Have Spoken aims to offer more options for PCs and also flesh out the "Religion" chapter of a full setting, and it does both competently. But the book is much more than that. Specially, the faction system has lots of cool rules that might prove useful to any 5e game (or any RPG at all, if you think about it). It is also a good way to test a few ideas of the 13th Age RPG within a 5e framework.

On the other hand, the  unfinished look of the layout and a few inconsistencies with the mechanics detract from the rest of the work, and the price ($17.45 as I write this) might be a bit exaggerated for the page count with this amount of white space.

Overall, I feel the book deserves a bit of extra work to become really good, as it shows great promise; however, it has plenty of interesting stuff already, specially if you want more options to play with factions, religions and deities in your 5e games.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The double challenge - quick difficulty adjustment (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. Use them wisely!

D&D 5e has few guidelines on fixing a Difficulty Classes (DCs). Basically, it boils down to this:

Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
Very hard25
Nearly impossible30
The idea is that you just eyeball it. Which is good enough, I guess, but it can lead to some incoherence if the GM pulls numbers from thin air while disregarding (or forgetting) past rulings.

The other problem is that many rolls in 5e are contests (opposed rolls) - they rely on your foe's stats and rolls, not on a fixed DC. The simple answer is advantage/disadvantage - but what if I want to add some degrees of EPIC craziness? Say, for example, I have disadvantage if my enemy is in a "Hard" situation - what if I'm on a "Nearly impossible" situation?

It seems to me that, if the DC is that different between "Hard" and  "Nearly impossible", there should also be some distinction when you're NOT using DCs.

Well, you can always adopt a +10 modifier instead of ad/disad for extreme circumstances. There is at least one good supplement - Dungeon Grappling - that does that.

There is no easy answer to all situations, but I use a simple rule that works for many circumstances, provided the challenge can be objectively "measured" somehow - in feet, pounds, number of creatures, minutes, etc.

It goes like this: you can double the effect of a roll by rolling two dice, triple it by rolling three dice, quadruple it by rolling four dice, etc. So, a "double challenge" would require two dice, and so on.

Let us say, for example, that you want to grapple or push four goblins at once with your shield. The GM thinks your idea is both plausible (you have Strength 18 and are proficient in Athletics) and cool, so she allows it - although she thinks pushing four goblins should be harder than pushing two or three.

Just roll four dice and pick the worst - if you succeed, all four goblins are affected.

Likewise, a Warlock could use Dark Delirium against three creatures instead of one - just roll three dice for their saving throws, and if the highest one succeeds, all three make their saves.

Or if you want to use a paladin's Abjure Enemy within 120 feet instead of 60 feet, to stop a skeleton. Technically it should be impossible, but why not allow it - specially for for a high level paladin against low level foes? Just roll two dice and pick the worst (since you doubled the distance).

This is not only for dealing with multiple foes. As you can see, you can double distances, do things three times faster, etc.

This assumes, of course, you must roll to hit and have both a chance of success and a chance of failure (no matter how minimal). However, you can also use this idea with powers or situations that require NO die roll - just assume a natural 1 is a critical failure, a natural 2 is a failure, and everything else succeeds.

This adds a lot of flexibility to the whole system. Say, if you have a power that can automatically provide food for six people every day, what happens if you're travelling with a dozen people? Or if you're in the a dry land with little food? Just roll a couple of dice and you're good to go.

I know, I know, creating a "dice pool" with disadvantages is verboten in 5e - but modifiers also are, as a general rule. In any case, if you prefer modifiers and dislike dice pools, just use the guidelines here. Or DOUBLE the number to get the modifier: -4 for two creatures, -6 for tripling the distance, -8 for acting four times faster, etc.

What is the point?

I added this rule to my RPG (Days of the Damned) to quickly adjust DCs in various circumstances. In 5e, I think it is useful for another reason: it allows high level characters to be more flexible and impressive against low level foes.

Because of bounded accuracy and the action economy, some PCs - specially Fighters, for example - have few options when fighting multiple weak creatures at once (and vice-versa - some high level creatures can be outclassed by a group of low level PCs).

This is deliberate, from what I understand about 5e's design goals - but not to everyone's tastes.

I, for one, think that there should be a greater gap between, say, levels 6 and 16. While I appreciate 5e's more "grounded" heroes, high level characters (specially fighters, barbarians etc.) feel a bit underwhelming.

In short, I like what 5e did - I just think they went too far.

A 12th level barbarian (according to the PHB, someone that deals with threats to whole regions or continents!) should have an easy time against a dozen of goblins archers, and not be completely unable to move if four kobolds ever manage to grapple him! I don't think it is too much to ask - at 12th level, a wizard can cast Mass Suggestion against a dozen foes, and even the fighter will survive a 100 feet fall with no serious injuries... So why not kick a few goblins away in a single round?

This little rule, by itself, is not enough to make high level characters more "epic", but it might be a good start.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Planet Asterion

Here is a few very loose ideas for an unfinished campaign setting. I wrote this a while ago and, to be honest, doesn't feel like an ideal RPG setting, but I thought I'd share anyway. Who knows, it might be the post of an "Unfinished Worlds" series. Unless I get lost in the way...

Planet Asterion

Planet Asterion is an endless maze. It might be a real planet, but then again it might be something else. Nobody has found the way out, and the exit is probably a myth. Common people waste no time with such thoughts.

Most corridors are 10 feet wide. There are wider clearings along the way, but big ones are rare.

The maze might have been created by someone, but most of it was not "built" in any meaningful way. Instead, the maze-like patterns force themselves on reality. Which means:

- Plants will grow into endless maze formations, always connected to one another - loose parts will die out. Most of the maze is made of living or decaying wood. The most common flora on Planet Asterion is made of short (about ten feet), dark red trees, with flat trunks that can go on for miles, no trunks and often covered by a dark leaf wall. These plants seem to take most of their sustenance from the ground, rather than the sun. Their life cycle is no longer than a few weeks, which causes the maze to change constantly. They can be hacked with an axe in a couple of hours, but unless the roots are destroyed they will regenerate within a week. They bear bitter fruit - but it might save you from starving.

- Erosion will cause rocks to become natural mazes. These walls are a lot harder to break, and often taller than plant mazes, but more stable. A stone clearing is valuable territory, since you can build a house in it.

- Animals will build their structures in the same way. Exotic beaver creatures infest the planet, and they are often building walls out of plant materials, re-purposed ruins or random trash. People assume they are intelligent, as they are certainly able to communicate through gesture, but they aren't really interested in other creatures.

There are different kinds of maze - or different parts of the same maze - too. The maze itself is very hard to navigate, but the different parts of it have specific characteristics that can make people know what to expect. Walls made of living flesh or bone are usually bad omens.

And then, there is Old Town. The labyrinth made os bricks and stone, with hidden doors, dangerous traps and crazy inhabitants that speak in riddles. Well, at least the mist cannot reach you in there. Nobody knows who or what built such thing, or for what purpose. Unlike the rest of the world, this is a mystery that actually makes people a bit curious.

Oceans exist, but no wood seems adequate to make a boat. Mountains can be useful in finding directions. The sun and stars are a bit less reliable.

The Oblivion & the mist

People in the maze seem to be forgetful, to say the least, but very adapted to the planet they are in.

The nature of the universe is a non-issue. Everybody know they live in a maze world, and nobody cares except a few demented philosophers. 

Where do you come from? Nobody cares. You assume you had a father and a mother at some point, but, unless they are with you at this very moment, chances are you don't remember how you got separated. No use in brooding over it now.

Languages? Well, everybody speaks Common, because of course they would. They know a language from their past, that they don't really use unless they happen to find a long-lost relative.

You might also know a third language, one that only you can speak. You have tried to find someone else to talk to, but it has been fruitless.

I might have something to do with the mist that comes at random intervals, stealing people's memories without notice. Recent memories remain, and you don't forget the times you spent with people that are currently around you, but much is lost anyway.

Even the things that you thought to be parts of yourself.

People and civilization

There are all kinds of intelligent creatures in the maze, although they are seldom taller than normal humans. Rhinoceros people, noseless aliens, and intelligent quadrupeds are all common, but not much similar to each other and not particularly likely to band together unless they are a family. Most intelligent creatures have humanoid shape, and people don't really notice the differences.

It is hard to be prejudiced -you can often tell someone's strength by the size of their muscles, but having pointy ears doesn't make one more likely to see in the dark.

Genetics work differently in there. It seems like all kinds of creatures can produce children, who only looks vaguely similar to their parents half the time. Children cannot be conceived without love, even if love may also be forgotten in a few minutes.

There is no significant civilizations. There are small tribes and parties wandering around, loose families, and so on. but one can hardly build a city in such environment. Large gatherings of people will cause starvation and death, since the fruits are scarce.

Intelligence creatures have tried to build ample structures. It's no use. Plants will creep through the floor. The ground will fracture. Eventually, it will become part off the maze. Legends tell of the Suspended City, which the plants cannot reach, and of the Mad King who built the ever-changing Golden Maze palace that is undisturbed by the pattern, but then he got lost inside, never to be seen again.

Repeated attempts at building cities have managed to leave lots of ruins - strange, forgotten, warped ruins, that most people avoid.

With no social tissue, it can be hard to know how to treat people. Everybody can talk to each other, but resources are scarce are everybody is hungry.

Fortunately, some truths seem to be self-evident to most intelligent creatures. Killing, stealing and lying are wrong (although people will do it anyway). Adding a brick to the Old Town maze or traversing it brings good luck, provided you survive, while eating the beaver-creatures brings bad luck. All this stuff is obvious.

Intelligent beings meeting you for the first time will treat you like they rolled on a Moldvay reaction table. Unfortunately, not all creatures that look like people are actually people.

What Evil lurks

There are no great, land-based monsters in Planet Asterion; the maze cannot support them. Birds are common, pterodactyls a bit less so, and dragons are the stuff of legend. Most menacing creatures within the maze look like tigers or wolves - seeing one turn the corner is a terrifying experience.

Even small, burrowing creatures have a difficult time avoiding the maze. Snakes cannot go through walls, except ion the greener areas. Monkey-like beings that can climb and jump fare somewhat better.

The greatest danger to the people are the violently insane. They act in unpredictable ways, and often attack on sight. Their eyes are hollow and most are unable to communicate. Nobody knows where they come from - but everybody assumes there is no possibility that someone could turn insane. Those people are just too different from us, although they look the same - they must be of a different, completely unrelated, species.

"Common" people call them Minotaurs. Their brains - not their heads - are like those of violent beasts.

What do we do?

The setting seemed a bit too nihilist and random to me. An endless maze does not look like fun role-playing (turn right, walk 30 feet, turn left, walk 50 feet, which way are you going now?), unless abstracted or used with a decent "oracle" of random encounters.

With that said, adventures in the maze wouldn't be different than most adventures - start with a rumor, explore a unknown location, interact with complete strangers, etc. - but would contain a lot more random elements and no overarching "goal" or "endgame".

Hoarding gold would be useless, but looking for food and knowledge might be enough to motivate PCs. Or not. It is an odd idea, and probably half-baked.

Strangely enough, the concept felt a lot shallower in my read, but writing everything down made it a bit more interesting for me. Let me know what you think.

Things that might have inspired this

My earliest experiences with dungeons (specially "fun-house dungeons" I guess), Labyrinth (the movie), The Citadel of Chaos, Jorge Luis Borges ("The House of Asterion", "The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths"), H. P. Lovecraft ("In the Walls of Eryx") and later the Hellraiser movies and Italo Calvino.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dark Fantasy Basic, One Page Hacks, and Alignment

As you might know, I was trying to rewrite B/X one page at a time... But now it seems I rewrote the whole thing.

Yeah, my "one page hacks" transformed into a fully developed retro-clone. Well, not fully developed; the first "booklet" (a player's guide including spells and all rules on adventuring) is finished, but "Monsters & Treasure" and GM stuff will have to wait. 

I'm calling it "Dark Fantasy Basic"; if you like my "one page hacks", I bet you'll like it, so stay tuned; it will probably be available within a couple of months, at most (if you want to take a look and provide feedback before that, let me know through G+ or in the comments, and I'll send you the current version).

In any case, this post is about alignment.

As you know, the original D&D, heavily based on Poul Anderson's work, used alignment as teams, and "chaotic" was basically a synonym of "team evil". 

Michael Moorcock created a more nuanced (and sometime confusing) view on alignment, making agents of Law as dangerous as Chaos. Later forms of D&D added "good and evil" as a distinct axis to reflect that (Holmes D&D, interestingly, recognizes the possibility of "Lawful Evil" and "Chaotic Good", using 5 alignments). 

This is the Law! - source.
I don't think the Good-Evil axis is particularly useful, but "team good" and "team evil" is also limiting in my opinion. And I like my shades of gray, and the idea of Evil Angels of Law is just too enticing for me. Law, Chaos, and even Balance should be kept a bit beyond the characters' comprehension; they are just too big to grasp completely.

This nuanced view opens interesting possibilities of role-playing; from time to time, the PCs might find themselves fighting against the forces of Law, pitting the forces of Chaos against each other, making deals, etc. It is also a view concept that fits the polytheistic view of the world often sued in D&D; sometimes, the gods of the underworld are the ones who can guide you though the dungeon. 

"Neutral", by the way, is also not a useful concept for me, because it encompasses those who don't care, those who cannot care (animals), and those who think there should be a balance between the opposing forces of Law and Chaos, or maybe that both forces are dangerous to humankind.

Anyway, here is what I came up with. Click here for the PDF. As always, the idea is that you can use it with any version of D&D.

Alignment & World View

The universe hangs in the balance of the cosmic struggle between Law, the infinite unifying principle of order and conformity, and Chaos, the unrelenting entropic force of freedom and change.

It is up to you to pick a side or remain neutral. You can choose to be Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral or Unaligned, unless the PC’s class or other features requires a certain alignment.

Alignment is not a straitjacket for character behavior, but a summary of the PC’s philosophy, world view, and sympathies.

Lawful characters believe in heavenly order. There are divine laws, legitimate rulers, and faithful prophets, although there are also false idols and usurpers. Unholy magic is better left alone, and the undead must be destroyed, along with other aberrations. Some lawful creatures, such as the Ironweb Spiders, are very dangerous, but that is because the universe has mysterious rules that the mortal mind cannot fully comprehend. To defy Law is to bring destruction upon the world.

Chaotic characters believe in freedom and chance. There are no legitimate kings or queens, no perfect doctrines, no reasonable taboos. The universe is ruled by randomness. The strong rule the weak with power and lies, as it has always has been. Magic, people and creatures are just tools for the clever. Some demons, at least, will offer you a deal – which is more that can be said of the silent Stone Angels that seem to want to turn the world into a tidily organized jail block.

Neutral characters believe in Balance. They believe both Law and Chaos are inimical to humankind, as both visions of paradise will turn this world into a living hell. The gods of Neutrality, if they exist at all, are bound by nature and want to preserve reality as it is. Life is more important than order or freedom.

Many people are agnostic to this struggle and remain unaligned, whether because they don’t fully understand it, because they feel they cannot affect it, or because they don’t care.

People don’t necessarily act in accordance to their alignment all the time, and sometimes it is often hard to distinguish one alignment from another. All alignments contain good and evil people. A Lawful character may choose to wage war against other Lawful sects for religious or mundane reasons, for example, or always choose justice over the slightest mercy. Chaotic characters may cooperate with Neutral or Lawful characters to achieve a common goal. A Neutral character can pray to the Lawful gods against the hordes of chaos in a moment of need.

Lawful and Neutral beliefs are more common amongst humankind, although Chaos is often worshiped simultaneously (or secretly).

There are plenty of nonhuman creatures that identify themselves as forces of Law, Chaos or Neutrality. It is often hard to say if they’re telling the true. As a general rule, Lawful creatures are a bit more predictable since they are always seem to be following one some kind of rules, although those rules will often contradict one another.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

GURPS D&D, part IV: Active Defenses and Saving throws

Read parts III and III before, if you prefer.

So, active defenses. In GURPS, unlike D&D, if an enemy hits you, you can still dodge or parry the blow. It makes a lot of sense; having a parrying weapon or shield is useful, but it can break, and parrying a blade with your arm is certainly going to hurt you. 

Like everything in GURPS, you must roll under a target number to succeed. This target number is usually much lower than the "attacking" skill, making attacks usually better than defense. Which makes sense; combat would take forever otherwise.

In fact, sometimes it feels that combat DOES take forever in GURPS. If your Dodge score is 12, for example, you must roll under 12 (with 3d6) to succeed, which means you can ignore 75% of the attacks that hit you.

The concept of "active defenses" is not that different from D&D saving throws.

Curiously enough, spell saving throws DON'T work in the same way in GURPS. At least not necessarily; a magic projectile is still an attack and can be dodged (the sorcerer must roll two times; once to "create" the projectile and the second to hit the target, and then the target rolls to dodge), but a mind controlling spell, for example, requires the target to roll 3d6 under his Will score (with 3d6) AND beat the sorcerer's margin of success, which isn't required when you dodge.

There are half a a dozen additional rules to make it more complicated (critical hits don't allow defenses, special maneuvers can increase or lower the defense scores, a defense of 3-4 always succeeds and 17-18 always fails, the rule of 16, etc), but that's the gist of the thing.

Why does this need fixing? Because it is too complicated and generates lots of useless rolls. 

How do we fix it? Unify and simplify.

Fortunately, using a d20 in a roll under system (like suggested in the previous posts) make things really easy: just use a blackjack mechanic.

(I've written about similar subjects before, here and here; also, Pendragon does something similar IIRC).

First, defenses. Forget GURPS; now defenses are half attribute + skill, like everything else. Obviously, you can defend with any weapon you can use, but "general" defenses should be easy to come by. In my own game, Days of the Damned, I created a "Survivor" skill that applies to, basically, all defenses but combat; we could probably do the same here.

Now, the combat procedure. Roll 1d20 under you skill. If you fail, well, you fail. If you succeed and roll over your opponent's skill, you hit. Otherwise, you opponent gets a chance of defending, but he must roll under his skill (as always) and OVER your skill to defend.

Example: say your Warrior skill is 17, and you roll a 13. You hit. If your enemy's defense is lower than 13, there is no defense. If your enemies defense is, say, 15, he can only defend by rolling a 15, 14 or 13.

Spells? Exactly the same. ONE roll to cast the spell, and one roll to defend (at most). Don't worry, we will talk about spells eventually.

If you want EVEN LESS dice rolling just divide the skill by two for one of the sides, instead of rolling.

Say, if you want an attack roll but not a defense roll in your games, the skill 17 attacker will hit an skill 12 defender with any number between 6 (i.e., 12 divided by two - although a 6 would be a tie, and ties go to the defender) and 17.

Likewise, if you prefer the PCs to make all the rolls, NPCs always divide their skill by 2 instead of rolling.

It seem that, sometimes, combining two games can create something that is simpler than either of them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GURPS D&D, part III: Combat basics & weapons

Check Part I and Part II.

How would GURPS-D&D combat play out?

First, combat is a skill like any other, but it is ROLLED differently. Not because it is a special skill, but because combat is a special situation that requires multiple repeated rolls. Want to enter an archery contest? That is 3d6 (or 4d6, 5d6) under skill. Combat? A d20 all the way.

Why? Because predictably is necessary when dealing with skills, but boring when dealing with combat.

A natural 1 is a critical hit, by the way. And let's get rid of some of the most stupid rules of GURPS (critical hit tables with "nothing happens" as the most likely result) and D&D (the 3.x "confirming criticals" idea) while we're at it. Funny how those rules are similar, right?

Should we use DEX or STR for combat? Both are fine by me. I'd prefer using DEX "to hit" and STR for damage, including missile weapons, as in GURPS. The idea that you should be using a rapier or longbow if you're weak makes no sense to me! And, as you've seen in part II, combat is mostly skill in this hybrid system, so a low-DEX high-STR fight can still work very well, specially with a d20.

Aside from using a d20, combat is roll-under like everything else. Roll under DEX/2+Fighter (or Barbarian, Monk, etc.) and you hit. Active defenses (dodge, parry, etc) deserves another post.

Forget AC; in GURPS, armor means damage resistance (DR; for example, DR 2 reduces 5 points of damage to 3 points of damage). You don't even need the book; DR is 2/4/6 for light/medium/heavy armor. Flexible armor is easier to don and hide under clothes, but has half DR against crushing attacks. Weight is 15 pounds per point of DR, cost is $300/$1000/$3000.

By the way, the paragraph above fixes one of the most annoying aspects of GURPS: it doesn't have "complete" armor sets in the core book. You must buy armor separately for the torso, legs, arms, etc. You can still use the original method if you prefer more detail.

GURPS equipment is in some ways more interesting than D&D equipment, and GURPS Low-Tech is a thing of beauty if you're looking for detail. But even in the core rule book you've got rules for obsidian blades, different weapons against different armor (no table needed!), and so on.

GURPS does have a few interesting twists when it comes to weapons. Basically, stronger characters are more efficient with axes, maces and other "swung" weapons, while weaker ones would better use spears and arrows ("thrusting" weapons). Some swords and pole-weapons have both options! Nice, huh?

But probably too complicated, and you still need a table to find your damage. It is not a difficult one to use, but I'd rather avoid it.

Let us make it simple: just give an WotC-era bonus to damage (+3 for Strength 16, for example), but DOUBLE the bonus for swung weapons (do not double the penalty for weak characters!).

You can still use damage from your favorite D&D edition (1d4/1d6/1d8/1d10; save the 1d12 for halberds only). It works better, and polyhedrals are more fun, right?

GURPS have lots of "realistic" rules for maximum damage, minimum Strength, etc., but they can simplified to this: you cannot have a bonus greater than the dice you're rolling (so, a 1d4 weapon deals 1d4+4 damage at most). If you want to enforce minimum strength, you need Strength 4 to use 1d4 weapons, Strength 6 to use 1d6 weapons, etc.

It also has this cool little rule where cutting/piercing damage that penetrate armor gets a bonus. Piercing weapons DOUBLE that damage (for example, 10 damage, minus 2 from armor would be 8 damage, but 16 if the weapon is piercing). Cutting weapons add 50% to damage after armor. It is easy once you get the hang of it, I promise.

This means a barbarian with a halberd and Strength 20 (assuming 22 as a maximum) deals 1d12+10 damage, plus 50% of any damage that penetrates armor. Which - surprise! - very similar, in average, to the damage he'd deal using GURPS unadulterated rules (3d+7)!

These rules seem simple enough, but cause lots of interesting effects:

- Strong characters are encouraged to use big weapons, and very strong characters are encouraged to use two-handed weapons.

- Certain weapons are better against certain types of armor by default.

- High DEX and high STR Fighters are BOTH feasible, but they FEEL different in play. Unlike 5e D&D, for example, high DEX characters hit more often, but deal significantly less damage per hit.

- A combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain will play somewhat like... well, the combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain (from "A Song of Ice and Fire").

- The result is both more "realistic" than D&D and more fun than GURPS. Which, come to think of it, might be the whole point of this exercise: making combat faster and more fun, while still giving plenty of meaningful tactical choices to warriors.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS D&D, part II: Skills

Click here for part I, where I explain why D&D does attributes better than GURPS. I started writing this because of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but I have no idea if they use a similar system to the one I propose here, since I haven't played GURPS for a while. Let me know in the comments!

One of the reasons I stopped playing GURPS was "too many skills". I know some versions of TSR-D&D (and, obviously, 3e) had lots of skills too, but eventually I decided I prefer 4e and 5e in this regard.

How many skills do I need? Well, around a dozen will do, but I'd take a few extra skills if needed.

GURPS has about 18 skills... that start with the letter A!

But - wait - there is more! At least a few of those MUST be taken with a specialty, so you have Area Knowledge (Neighborhood) and Area Knowledge (City) as two separate skills.

Unfortunately, choosing skills is not enough. Each skill has a different difficulty - easy, medium, hard, or very hard - with different costs (mercifully easier in GURPS 4e than in 3e).

At least you don't have to buy all skills you want to use. Some skills default from attributes, so if you have Intelligence 15 you automatically get Accounting 9. Unless you have the Finance skill. Then you have Accounting equal to Finance -4. Or Merchant -5. You also get a discount to Accounting if you have Finance and want to raise the other skill...

Is accounting a bad example for D&D? Try swords: there is a skill for broadswords, other for short swords, rapier, saber, smallsword, two-handed swords... and they all default to each other.

Even if you don't play GURPS, I think you can see why some people have headaches while reading it.

(And yes, I will STILL say that GURPS is a simple game to PLAY, although character creation can be a hassle).

Sample skills from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Still, GURPS has some advantages over D&D when dealing with skills. Probabilities make way more sense, for example. Nope, the Strength 10 guy won't beat the Strength 20 gal in an arm-wrestling match 20% of the time. Maybe 1% of the time, probably less.

The problem, then, is the skill list.

Fortunately, GURPS has a built in solution: Wildcard skills. They replace ALL the skill in any given "umbrella". If you have a "Sword!" skill you can fight with all swords and knives, fast-draw your sword, and jump around while fencing. The good thing is that you can still use GURPS's humongous list of skills if you need to know exactly how Aerobatics work. Or Accounting.

For a "GURPS D&D" game, its easy to see you can use these skills in lieu of classes.

Of course, in D&D classes are often MORE important than attributes/abilities, so a few tweaks might be useful.

Try this: all skills default to Attribute/2, and each +1 bonus costs 12 points. Since you have a bonus instead of a fixed number, you can add it to different attributes: an Dexterity 16 Intelligence 8 fighter with a Barbarian! +5 skill attacks with a skill of 13 but can also identify plants in the wild with a skill of 9 - better than than the group's wizard!

This is even better than Wildcard skills, because I don't want barbarians to jump around while wielding a rapier... but "Swashbucklers!" certainly will! It is all about archetypes, IMO.

Also form the RC. Same page, actually.
Attributes are still useful to define speed, HP, etc., but less useful for class abilities. Which is good because now my barbarian doesn't have to be able to pick locks (high Dexterity) in order to be a fearsome fighter.

It also fixes the need for a skill list, and makes the "Dexterity as an uber stat" a lot less severe.

Come to think of it, this system would also work very well for D&D games.

BTW, "specialty" skills cost 6 points and are added on top of the existing skills (cannot be more than twice the wildcard skill bonus). If you want multiple specialty skills, all but the highest cost 1 point only (then you can have Barbarian! +5, Axe +8, Survival +7, Climbing +7, etc).

Is this too complicated? I think it is easier than 3.x D&D or BECMI weapon proficiencies, but what can I say... I am a GURPS fan after all!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Quick(ness) alternative to Armor (Class)

When I wrote 10 alternatives to Armor Class, I didn't think of this one. But now I've been writing about opposed rolls and this idea makes perfect sense. I'm sure some edition of D&D, or other game, must have done something similar, but I can't remember any examples.

If you do, please let me know in the comments!

Curiously enough, it is quite the opposite of of the WFB system described in the post that inspired me in the first place.

This example assumes Ascending AC (unarmored AC of 9, 10 or 12, doesn't really matter).

Here is the idea: if you get hit by an attack, you can roll a Reflex/Dexterity save to dodge the attack (probably no more than once per round; use a Reaction, etc.). The DC is equal to the attackers roll.

Pretty simple, right? But it is incredibly effective because:

- If your armor is good enough, dodging in often useless (the roll required is just too high).
- If your dodge improves as you level up, it can make up not only for armor, but also for magical armor bonuses (the numbers must be fine tuned, of course).
- Armor is useful when fighting multiple opponents, dodging is very useful against one single opponent.
- It is a very fun feature for a Thief to have, even if you don't allow it for everybody.
- It makes dodging feels riskier than wearing heavy armor.
- It does away with the need for limiting Dexterity bonus to armor; now they are separate things, and amor just makes dodging less useful.
- It makes one-on-one dueling a lot more interesting.
- It opens up new possibilities of using shields and parrying weapons.

There are some possible downsides to this. The first one is that it will be often frustrating to fail you dodges, but saving throws aren't required to be a sure thing anyway. It may also feel unnatural or intuitive: you see if the attacker beats your armor BEFORE you try to dodge.

And, of course, if you allow everyone to take this option every time they get attacked, combat will slow down significantly - which is why it is probably a bad idea to give this option indistinctly.

But, overall, I think it is a nice alternative to most solutions I've seem around.

It seems like something like this would work well with 5e and maybe even Pathfinder. It wouldn't be hard to use it with TSR-D&D as long as it uses Ascending AC, but even with Descending AC it might be possible to use a similar idea (since you just have to roll higher than your foe).

What do you think?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fixing rests (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. One day I'll put then all in a good looking PDF and the whole will be SMALLER than the sum of the parts - that is how small they are! Use them wisely!

This came up in a thread started by Anders H, from Mythlands of Erce.

The problem: the 5e DMG assumes 6-8 encounters per long rest. That might make sense in a dungeon, but in a wilderness setting not even the most "Fantasy Vietnam" games will have 7 encounters per day on average.

And long rests take too long. How can you rest for one hour in a dungeon without being attacked by its denizens? I don't remember how 5e treats this, but Moldvay makes random encounter checks every 20 minutes.

The result: "long rest" classes, such as the (already powerful) Wizard, are always on the top of their game. "Short rest" classes like the Champion Fighter look weak by comparison.

How to fix this?

Well, I have noticed whenever I have an issue with WotC-D&D the answer is usually TSR-D&D (and vice-versa).

As you know, Moldvay has different rules for dungeons and wilderness. In the wilderness, you're moving three times faster, fighting under the sun or bad weather, and often treading over difficult terrain. Combatants start far form each other, meaning they often have to run while being shot with arrows.

Wouldn't it make sense if rest was harder under these circumstances?

If you're concerned with realism, modern boxing and MMA have probably indicated that smaller rings are less tiring.

Here is the fix: short rests in a dungeon take 20 minutes. Yes! One single encounter check! Very elegant risk-reward mechanic. Long rests still take eight hours.

Resting in the wilderness takes three times longer. Which means one hour for a short rest, and 24 hours for a long rest (unless you're in Rivendell, Tanelorn, etc.)

Coincidentally or not, in B/X characters travelling through the Wilderness must rest for the whole day once per week...

But how many encounters will we have during this time?

Moldvay suggests one check per day as a standard, 3-4 checks as a maximum. I'll use three - not only because it works better for my example, but also because a "rule of three" seems to be the answer to many of my D&D problems. The chances are slightly higher than dungeon encounters (around 1-in-3 instead of 1-in-6).

Which means....

An average of 7 encounters per long rest!


The system is not perfect, of course; if anything, characters might have more than 7 encounters a week because they will be often looking for trouble. Of course, if they fight everything in the way, they have no right in complaining about how hard the game is!

And they can still take short rests as often as they want, but it costs them - leaving the dungeon or wasting one day of travel, for example. Fortunately, if they leave the dungeon for eight hours, that still triggers an wilderness encounter check if you're using 3/day.

These little mnemonic devices are extremely helpful for people like me, that are not interested in memorizing every rule.

That is it for today - off to my eight-hour rest!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

B/X character class: The Hopeless

My B/X retro-clone has 5 classes. Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Cleric and this one. It functions differently in my game (all classes have the same HD and XP progression, for example), but here is a version you can use in B/X.

The idea is that you start the game very weak but can get more powerful if you survive long enough. Idea inspired by DCC RPG, this and thisThis is where I got the picture.

This assumes you're rolling 3d6 for each ability; if you're using 4d6-drop-lowest change the numbers accordingly (for example, the hopeless rolls 3d6 in order but gains 2 ability points per level until modifiers add to 9). In AD&D, you might let the hopeless change class at level 9 provided he meets the requirements!

Beware: this if for hardcore, advanced, fearless powergamers and min-maxers only!

The Hopeless
Hit dice: 1d4.
Requirements: you must roll a hopeless character (page B13) and choose to play it. If the sum of you ability modifiers is greater than zero, change all you abilities that are higher than 12 to 12.
Combat: 0-level human (B40).
Save As: normal man (B26).
Restriction: can only use simple or small weapons (d4 damage at most). Cannot wear armor or use shields. Start the game with no money.
Special abilities: after achieving 1,000 XP, the hopeless gets one ability point and must choose a class*, starting on level 1 with all abilities and restrictions from the new class.
For each new level until the sum of all ability modifiers is 3, the hopeless gets one additional ability point.

* You may choose to be an elf, dwarf, etc. Nobody had noticed that about you before. In fact, they had barely noticed you at all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Of opposed rolls (and fixing 5e saving throws)

In my never-ending search of efficient (or elegant) mechanics for D&D, I keep going back to opposed rolls. Although this mechanic is very common in many RPGs (Shadow of the Demon Lord, my own Days of the Damned), it often feels a bit underused in my favorite forms of D&D (TSR/OSR and 5e).

In short, opposed rolls means just rolling for both sides and making the best roll the winner. You don't even need to roll for both; you can give a roll of 10 for one side and roll for the other, if you're using a d20, for example.

But, basically, any roll in which the possibility of success relies on both you skills and your opponents' skill can be thought of as an opposed rolls. Which is very common today, but NOT usually the case with old school D&D. Saving throws, moving silently, hear noise, etc., were often used without any regard for the opposition's capabilities. Traditionally, there is no "contest" between move silently and hear noise, for example; these abilities are "self referential", relying solely on the character attempting them.

There are some opposed rolls in old school D&D, but they are often disguised and made complicated for no apparent reason. For example, giving the thief a 5% penalty to pick pocket for each level of the victim beyond level 5 is identical to just adding +1 per level on a d20 roll after level 5. Turn Undead is also a opposed roll between the cleric's level and the undead's HD.

The lesson here, I think, is that because D&D is a "class & level" game, opposed rolls should always take level into consideration. Used in this way, opposed rolls reinforce the "class and level" aspect of the game in a way that "rolling under ability score" does not.

Anyway, I like the mechanic and I'm using it use it extensively in my rewrite of B/X.

And I'd say that  opposed rolls solve a number of issues.

For example, it makes it easier to steal from low-level chumps, and harder to save against a powerful wizard's spell, and it allows me to play with no "charts" for thieves' skills and Turn Undead.

Of course, the old school method has a few advantages. For example, you can have more dramatic high-level spells that circumvent HP if everyone has a better chance of resisting them despite you level.

Modern D&D uses of opposed rolls often as a default mechanic; but I think 5e could be improved by applying some of these ideas to saving throws.

One of my main gripes with 5e is saving throws.

Unlike all other editions of D&D, it is possible (and likely) that some of the saving throws will not improve at all during a character's career.

A 20th level wizard can easily survive a fall from 100 feet, but he is no better than a first level wizard at dealing with hunger (curiously enough, being proficient in Constitution saves will help you against dehydration, but not starvation).

Which makes absolutely no sense in my humble opinion.

But to save AGAINST a spell cast by a 20th level wizard is going to be considerably harder for a 20th level fighter if she is not proficient in the right saves.

This is the exact opposite of old school D&D, where saves always get better regardless of the level of the attacker.

You see, hit points, however you define them, are often used to measure resilience; and, since all high level characters have more HP, they should ALWAYS have better saving throws.

This is probably where 3e wizards went wrong, by the way: saving throws didn't scale fast enough, making hit points a terrible path to defeating a foe in high levels. A low level bard has no chance at taking a down a 150 HP Fighter... but a mind affecting spell will allow the fighter to be easily avoided. The iconic Fireball becomes useless with time.

As you can see, 5e uses a similar method, that is made even worse in some aspects, since some saving throws don't scale at all.

If you like characters to have better saves as they level up, just give everybody proficiency in all saves, and "expertise" (double proficiency) in two saves.

And ditch the whole idea of "save DC = 8 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus". Save DC is like passive perception DC: 10 + ability + bonus... like every other opposed roll.

BTW, I think D&D next started this way, but they changed it for some reason. Well, I'm breaking it again! But if you can see the reasoning behind this, let me know in the comments.

So, in conclusion... I am not sure I have a great conclusion for this one. Opposed rolls are extremely useful, but can also be misused. Character level is the main measure of competency in D&D, so most rolls should take that in consideration - for all parties involved.

In any case, this is what I'm using for my B/X house rules. Spell saving throws? Roll higher than the wizard, and you're saved. Grappling? Just roll attack and see if your foe can roll higher than you. Sneaking around? Roll your stealth against your opponents' perception.

But, in the end, this is a matter of taste and degree; no right or wrong here, choose whatever you find more fun.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quick Guide to the OSR Extravaganza

DTRPG is holding an "OSR sale" with three different - and very interesting - bundles.

Here are a few quick notes about them.

First, it bears mentioning that if you ALREADY have some of the books in the sale, you get a discount for those, which is very cool. So "I got that already" is a not a good reason to pass on those; on the contrary.

Second, it seems that now old School D&D is officially part of the OSR... Funny, right? It is like classical Greek originals became a part of the Italian renaissance. Or, as James Raggi said on G+, it means "we won". Well, with all these books easily available I guess we did win... something. But let us talk about the sale.

Anyway, if you know this stuff already, you probably don't need my humble opinion. But if you want to buy something and you don't know what, this is what I think (BTW, I had to look some of it up; DTRPG has plenty of detailed information on each title, courtesy of Shannon Appelcline).

Known World Megabundle (BECMI) - Great system, classic setting

I like the RC over AD&D, so this is the best system in the bundle IMO. Although each gazetteer adds more rules (some are repeated in the RC), I find the core book to be a well-polished version of D&D, balancing detail and ease of use. B/X is still my favorite, but the RC adds plenty of useful detail and has an implicit 2d6 GM mechanic that inspired me to write some posts in this blog.

The Gazetteers are hit-and-miss, AFAIK; I don't know most of them, but most seem reminiscent of a "faux medieval" feel, although there is plenty of "weird" mixed in. If you want stuff to drop on your standard D&D campaign (assuming you're using weird medieval settings such as Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, etc.), it might be very useful.

AD&D Core Megabundle (1e) - Rules, monsters, more rules and more monsters!

I'm definitely not the greatest fan of the AD&D's PHB. Feels overly complicated when compared to my favorite version (B/X) and there are plenty of things that made no sense to me (such as the way the bard class works). The Survival Guides also seem too complicated for my tastes (one or two pages are often enough for me).

But I DO like reading many parts of the DMG. More books should teach GMs how bell curves work! And this bundle includes the original Monster Manuals, including the Fiend Folio (1e). I am a fan of Russ Nicholson's art (among other greats), and the monsters (create by Ian Livingstone and Charles Stross, among many others) include many classics such as the hook horror, the shadow demon and the death knight - and the weird/"planar" githzerai, githyanki and slaad, that went on to become quite important in Planescape.

Planescape Megabundle (2e) - The plain, the planar, and more monsters

2e (the system) is very different from Planescape (the setting).

2e seems to lack an unique, distinctive mark; it is an update AD&D and not necessarily better, although it does include some aspects that I like (such as better organization and its own skill system, unlike the 1e PHB; also, I DO think THAC0 is basically a good idea). The removal of assassins, demons and devils to make D&D more family-friendly after the satanic panic didn't help much.

Planescape, on the other hand, is very idiosyncratic. It has an unique flavor of cosmic high fantasy with many fans but little use in "standard" D&D campaigns. Also, it has a particular jargon (it often uses "in universe" slang) that can be aggravating at times. Tony DiTerlizzi's art is amazing, of course, but Planescape's visual identity bores me sometimes.

Now, if you like plane-hopping high fantasy - and I do - Planescape has innumerable cool factions, characters and ideas that you can use with settings such as Ravnica or, maybe, Ptolus.

And I MUST mention the Monstrous Manual, my favorite monster book. It might be nostalgia, it might be the size (384 pages according to DTRPG), or probably the colorful illustrations (DiTerlizzi has some awesome ones here too). It strikes a great balance between stat-blocks and interesting information (although the stats do include plenty of useless stuff).

Other stuff on sale

Plenty of good stuff 15% off too. Might was well take the chance if there is something in particular you've thinking of buying. The Bat in the Attic sale seems like a good deal too.

In conclusion... what should you buy?

To be honest, I'll probably buy the three bundles. There is too much good stuff to pass. But if I had to choose, I'd take Know World, then Planescape, then AD&D, in that order.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fixing the Charisma problem

Charisma as a dump stat? No way! I'm talking old school D&D here - Charisma is TOO powerful, if anything.

But let's start from the beginning...

Yes, I'm still rewriting Moldvay Basic, one page at a time (and I hope you like that because there will be a few extra posts in the same vein before I finish...).

One things that retro-clones often do when rewriting Moldvay is "unifying" the Charisma 18 to +3 instead of +2 to get it in line with Strength, Intelligence, Constitution, etc. 

This is usually a bad idea, because Charisma is too important in Basic.

If you have a +3 bonus to add to reaction tables, you will seldom, if ever, encounter a hostile monster (less than 3% chance), and almost ALL your offers will be accepted by hirelings (well, you can always offer them LESS money to get a chance of failure, which is a good idea). But, basically, a +3 bonus wrecks the typical 2d6 table (below). In fact, even a +1 bonus to a 2d6 table can often destroy some interesting possibilites. Immediate attack can be fun from time to time!


2Immediate attack


6-8Uncertain, confused

9-11No attack, monster leaves

12Enthusiastic friendship

Not to mention retainers, or the fact that while some abilities may seem useless for some classes, Charisma can be useful for everybody. Always nice to have a few more fighters by your side!

But I kinda like "unified" stuff lately, and even big ability bonuses - as long as it works. How to fix this?

My current solution to this is that PC modifiers apply ONLY to d20 stuff (with the exception of weapon damage): attacks, AC, saving throws, etc. This allows me to use bigger modifiers (up to +5 for Strength 20, for example) while still leaving chance for failure (I'm currently using d20 skills).

2d6 tables are DM's tools: they define NPC reaction, weather, etc., but suffer no influence from PCs' stats.

What PCs can do is use their own actions (roleplaying) and (d20) skills to improve the results of the DM's roll. Thus, a Paladin with Charisma 18 (+3) and Persuasion +5 rolls 1d20, with a +8 bonus and a DC of 15 (for example), to turn a hostile creature uncertain, or to make and uncertain retainer accept an offer.

A similar check allows a warlord to rally the troops after they fail a morale check (I make retainers check morale once per combat, unlike Moldvay).

This is a nice way to use 2d6 tables in 5e without changing the system; use them as DM's tools.

(d)20 Reasons to start at level 3

Well, not that you should start on level 3. It's your game, do what you want. But 3rd level should be the norm in my opinion. 1st level is good for rookie PCs, character funnels, learning the game or practicing detachment from your character. In most old school editions, simply surviving a dungeon in level one should be viewed as a challenge, not something assumed as ordinary. Sure, everyone should face that challenge - just don't get attached or write a backstory until you get to 3.

Want to start on level 1? Okay, but make it level ONE: 3d6 in order, no special abilities, and keep a blank character sheet just in case. No half measures. You either die a victim or survive long enough to become an hero. And then die.

Want to start with a competent character? Start at level 3.

Well, anyway, it works for me. Here is why.

1. 1st level are victims. They are likely to die if they fight a couple of house cats or fall from a tree.

2. Everybody wants to be a hero. But what if we don't? If first level characters are heroes, we cannot play weaker characters because they barely exist.

3. Normal humans (Moldvay) have 1d4 HP. A blacksmith may have 4 HP and a young child, 1. They still fight like 1st level Fighters, and half a dozen children may kill the fighter in a couple rounds if they attack first.

4. HP inflation. Every gets one HD per level, right? But almost EVERY VERSION of D&D has some different rule why this shouldn't apply to level 1. Maximum HP at level 1, double hit dice at the beginning, starting HP equal to Constitution score, etc. Well, why not start on level 3 instead!

5. 1st level characters become too complex when you want them to be heroes. Take 5e, for example: you start with a background, two or three features from race or class, maybe a feat if you're a human, etc. Where do we go if we want to start simpler?

6. 5e wants you to get to level 3 soon, that is why so little XP is needed in the beginning. Well, if that is the case, why not let 1st level cahrachters be simpler so you make choices later on?

7. In fact, 5e DOES leave some choices to level 3. You cannot choose to be an assassin or thief until level 3, for example. So if you want to start as a thief, start on level 3.

8. Dark Sun did it. Or something like that, I think... And Dark Sun is awesome.

9. Gygax did it. 'Nuff said.

10. You cannot have meaningful single-digit characters and fractional skill unless you start on level 3.

11. If everyone starts on level 1 the Deprived Class loses its meaning.

12. I was reading the 5e Volo's guide the other day... An apprentice wizard has 2d8 HP. And he is a first level spell-caster. So your wizard is not even an apprentice on level 1.

13. Have you written a background? If you took the time to write one, maybe you should have a few extra HP so you don't die in the first round of combat.

14. Start on level 3 and now you level 10 character is only three or four times tougher, instead of ten times. Everything makes more sense, not only falling damage and the amount of arrows you can take before dying.

15. Most "modern" methods of rolling abilities (4d6 drop lowest, etc.) create heroic, strong, competent cahrachters... with about half a dozen HP. How come?

16. Granularity. If most heroes are level three, you can have a level 2 squire, a level 1 peasant, and a level 0 child, for example. A veteran would be level 4 instead of level 1. You could face a few - A FEW - goblins or kobolds at the beginning of the campaign and survive to tell the tale.

17. Arneson suggests HP are meant preserve characters because people get attached to them. If I must spend more than 10 minutes creating a character, he should have a few extra HP and probably some skill to go with it.

18. Also, first level characters were meant for Chainmail. Once we zoom in on the PCs instead of looking at the battlefield, more HP is obviously useful.

19. A first level wizard in Basic may have the same amount of HP as a young child if the GM isn't using optional rules. First level thieves are really bad at skills. First level clerics don't even have cleric spells.

20. In fact, the Basic fighter doesn't even get an attack bonus until level 4. Maybe we should start on level 4 instead? Nah, that is obviously too much!

Yes, some of them emphasize or contradict the others. This is "roll 1d20" table, not "read my arguments carefully and make an informed decision"!

Next post: why you should start at level 0 and why level 1 characters are for self-entitled weaklings! Or something.

(note: I had to republish this to make LinkWithin work as intended; hope it does the trick).

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Languages, alignment or otherwise

Still analyzing and rewriting Moldvay basic. No new page today, sorry. Just some random thoughts about language in Basic D&D.

B13 has a list of languages that is not specially interesting - you've got languages for elves, dwarves, lizard men, etc. It makes sense that every creature would have their own language; in fact, if D&D-world is anything like the real world, each species might have thousands of languages that are mostly incomprehensible to speakers of other languages. This is not particularly useful when running a game. so we get a "common" language that 20% of people speak, thus avoiding to deal with language barriers all the time (still too often, probably), while at the same time having a few extra languages that can give you an edge in one interaction or another.

Works fine, I guess, but I haven't got much to contribute, so there is no point in writing my version of this part of  B13. Unless I use it as a world-building tool - if lizard people speak "Low Snake-speech" instead of "lizard men language", or if dwarves and elves share a common language,  it tells you something about the history of the world.

Modern D&D does something like that, while reducing the number of languages and alphabets to more manageable levels - maybe goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears all speak the same language, for example. Again, works well, but feels a bit artificial and it's not something I feel particularly interested in.

Now, alignment language. It certainly has its fans, but it has plenty of haters and has been mostly abandoned in modern D&D, as it makes little sense unless you see alignment as factions. The main inspiration for the concept is probably Black Speech.

Another problem with alignment languages is that, in theory, it could be used to identify anyone's alignment in seconds, making some interesting interactions impossible.

It is not hard to make SOME sense of alignment language; it might be like Latin for the catholic church, a secret language shared among members of the same team, a gift from the gods to their followers (which fits the idea that you forget it if you change alignment), body language that reveals a character's true attitude, etc. But any people prefer to avoid the concept altogether.

My attempt to make languages interesting include giving each language a special "power" or twist, without going too far into etymology, culture and world-building, and avoiding the most obvious pitfalls. Here are some examples:

Darkspeak: the spoken/written language of demons and the mightiest inhabitants of the Abyss. Only chaotic characters can learn it without a significant risk of going mad, and even them will avoid using it unless they are also demons.

Bastard tongue: the gutural, often unpleasant spoken language of goblins, orcs, minor demons and beings that associate with chaos.

Devani: the spoken/written language of Elysium. Learning this language for any character that isn't lawful is like looking directly into the sun, and many will not survive the experience. Every mortal uses this language with reverence and awe and avoid speaking it out loud - even if they can understand it when it comes form the mouth of an angel.

Prisca: the spoken/written language of the fallen Empire, specially common in religious (lawful) texts and legal documents.

Fae: the spoken (sung) language of fairies and the spirits of the wild. Anyone can learn it, but characters that are not Neutral are suffer greater risk of being charmed by sylvan spirits if they understand their words.

Vulgi: the widespread spoken/written language used by different peoples of the realm, specially travelers and merchants, that allow people from different places to talk to each other.

Thieves’ Cant: the secret language spoken by many criminals and beggars. It can be discretely inserted in regular conversation to pass hidden messages along.

Rún: the written language of magic-user’s spells. Anyone can learn to read it phonetically, but speaking the words out loud is very dangerous for people that are not versed in magic.

Trail signs: the symbolic language of rangers, druids and wilderness explorers marked on trees and stones to identify dangers, pathways, etc. People from different backgrounds often use similar signs, but even when they don't the variations are quickly memorized by the ones that are familiar with the language.

Dialect: each people, tribe, region, etc. has its own dialect. There are thousands of them, but there is a good chance that nearby dialects are similar enough to allow free communication. The more the distance, the smaller the chance of being understood.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

One Page Hacks: Equipment (B12)

Still rewriting Moldvay Basic, one page at a time.

Okay, that was harder than I expected. Moldvay's page B12 is a succinct table of equipment prices. It should be easy to streamline this. But I wanted to have all information in the same page: damage, price, weight, etc. I also added some house rules for weapons.

Not all the original weapons are included, but I've added a few of my own.

I used the silver standard instead of the traditional gold.

Click HERE for the PDF.
I really like the final result, but it is not much simpler than Moldvay's. It includes a lot more information (some of it essential, such as a distinction between fresh food and preserved food (which isn't clear in the original text) , and it uses my simplified "rule of three" encumbrance system (check the link above).

My favorite part is "unifying" the price and weight of most items under "light tools". It might seem strange that all costs and weight the same, but you'll see none of the examples are really absurd. I will probably use this section in my 5e games from now on, too. I'm not a fan of tracking money except for the expensive stuff, and I certainly dislike browsing through a book to find the price (or weight) of a certain item.

In any case, let me here your opinion after you check the PDF (click the link above).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

One Page Hacks: Character classes and skills (B8)

I'm still trying to rewrite Moldvay Basic, page by page.

Rewriting page B8 was a lot more challenging than I thought. I wanted to add a functional skill system, to B/X, and thought "streamlining" all skills would make it short. Well, not quite.

B8 has a LOT of good ideas in a single page (as it often happens in this book) - specially considering it has a lot of white space.

For example:

A simple rule about trying again, under "open locks" (here are some thought on the matter).

Rules for critical failures, under "pick pockets" (here are some thought on the matter).

Rules for allowing the GM to roll in secret, under "move silently" and "hide in shadows". Not my cup of tea but might be useful, so I've included it.

From these simple rules, it is possible to extrapolate a complete system, including all the stuff that is NOT on Basic but I still use in my games.

Everything is a skill now, including Combat, Turn Undead, Backstabbing, Spell-casting... Each class has its own special skill. No races here; I'll add them somewhere else.

I've had a hard time with the Thief, because it seemed he should have stealth, athletics, back-stab, perception... Ultimately I just used Thievery for everything and removed Athletics from his "mandatory" skills (he'll have Perception and Combat as secondary skills), so the only way you can have a thief-acrobat or mountebank is through some kind of feat or background.

Skills are d20+ability+skill versus DC (usually 15). I.e., it uses the same difficulty as 5e.

The coolest thing? The numbers make sense! They are not exactly like Basic, of course, but I've decide to give the thief a boost, which I think is adequate. But the percentages and progression are not that far from the original.

And you can still use one of my five or six skill systems for B/X if you don't like this one... I have posts for 1d6, 2d6, xd6, 1d20 and 1d30 skills, just look around.

Fighters, on the other hand, have nothing but combat as a mandatory skill (notice his BAB is way stronger than in Basic), so you can create rangers, thugs and paladins through skills and feats.

The XP table is unified.

Anyway, here is my version of B8.

Would love to hear your thoughts.
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