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

Friday, December 29, 2017

XP, gold, and alignment

In the "old school" versions of D&D, gold was the main way to get XP. Monsters would give you some XP, but most of your experience would come from treasure. This encouraged going around monsters, parlaying, etc. Modern versions of D&D usually make killing monsters the most important way of getting XP, which makes PCs monster-slayers and a greater part of the game to revolve around combat.

One popular house rule for old school games is making spending gold, not acquiring it, a source of XP. This justifies some sword&sorcery tropes like the carousing barbarian who is always broke.

Another source of XP in some versions of D&D is "good role-playing", i.e., accurately playing your character's personality gives you extra XP. This is often tied to alignment. For example, a good cleric might spare bandits and gain XP because of that. Whether this is a good idea remains a heavily debated topic - one downside is that it makes the DM pass judgement on the characters actions, and leads to endless debates about alignment.

In my game, Dark Fantasy Basic, for example, there are several ways to gain XP, each with its own special rules: treasure, monsters, surviving extreme risks, and achievements (making an impact upon the world) - but no extra XP for "good role-playing".

One way to avoid judgment and debate is making these XP prizes objective and automatic. Jeff Rients has some awesome ideas for that, and I feel that they could be expanded in a complete XP system that would make alignment relevant but not constraining.

Let's give it a try.

For example, using some of my Dark Fantasy Basic categories as guidelines:

* Lawful: gets XP when spending gold on charity, church, helping the needed, etc.
* Neutral: gets XP when spending gold on anything, but only half as much.
* Chaotic: gets XP when spending gold while carousing, buying drinks, etc. Giving to chaotic deities will also do the trick!

* Lawful: double XP for defeating chaotic creatures, no XP for defeating lawful ones.
* Neutral: normal XP plus 10% bonus.
* Chaotic: triple XP for defeating lawful creatures. They are much less common.

* Lawful: adds 10% to current XP upon building the first church for a deity, gaining an honorific title, etc.
* Neutral: adds 10% to current XP upon gaining a nobility title, starting a neutral organization, etc.
* Chaotic: adds 10% to current XP upon destroying an organization or temple, starting a thieves' guild, etc.

A more interesting take on that would be giving each adventures or session some extra XP that would vary according to the groups' choices. For example, in the end of an adventure, the PCs have the option to give the relics they found to the nearby church, sell the to the highest bidder, or desecrate them in a bargain with darker powers in order to gain new spells. The first option would give XP to lawful PCs, and so on.

This would encourage - but not force - PCs to associate with people who have similar goals and worldviews.

Further reading:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Dark Fantasy Basic is here!

My first published RPG, Dark Fantasy Basic - Player's Guide, is on DTRPG!

Click the link above or the one below to check it out:


Let me know if you have any questions!

In any case, I'll post a FAQ here in a few days.

Here is the finished cover, by the awesome Rick Troula:

Dark Fantasy Basic is an old school roleplaying game (or adventure game) that pays homage to a beloved 80's game - which is still, for many fans, one of the most concise, clear and well-written RPGs ever published.

This book uses the same system as the world’s most popular RPGs – six abilities, classes, levels, etc. – and it is meant to be compatible with games from that era. Or any OSR game, really. It also has some modern influences, including all of the OSR and the most recent version of this game.

This is a complete game (from the player's side), with five classes (fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user and hopeless), skills, feats, weapons, etc.

There are no races - all PCs are human or similar - but there are notes on how to create races for your games.

There are 20 different spells but each one is flexible, meaning you can choose the spell level and some of the effects as you cast them.

The book ends with conversion notes for other OSR games. No matter what your favorite system is, we hope you find something useful for your games here!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Giants vs. Dragons vs. Worm

Foes of the Dragons. In times long forgotten, giants and dragons engaged in seemingly endless war. Storm giants created the first behirs as weapons against the dragons, and behirs retain a natural hatred for dragonkind. A behir never makes its lair in an area it knows to be inhabited by a dragon. If a dragon attempts to establish a lair within a few dozen miles of a behir's lair, the behir is compelled to kill the dragon or drive it off. Only if the dragon proves too powerful to fight does a behir back down, seeking out a new lair site a great distance away.
- D&D 5e Monsters Manual

Well, there is another story.

As the behir's color, shape and lighting breath can surely prove, the first behirs were not "created" by storm giants, but shaped by them from defeated blue dragons.

Most dragons were simply slain for daring to resist the (superior) giant race, but blue dragons wielded lighting, and the storm giants could not forgive such a sin against their elements.

First, their wings, arms and legs were ripped off, and then they were thrown, like agonizing worms, into claustrophobic tunnel-prisons, never to see the sun again, never to taste the freedom of the endless skies.

Eventually, the dragons used their magic to grow small legs that would allow them to move and escape, but the predicament drove them mad.

Turned into multi-legged abominations, behirs hide their shame deep into the earth, hating everyone and everything, especially well-formed dragons and the light of the sun.

If you see a behir, it is unlikely to let you live.

On the other hand...

Some people do not believe that behirs are created by accident. These scholars say that, as fire giants shape metal, storm giants shape flesh.

They believe themselves to have in their blood a genetic power that makes them perfect. Every other creature is subject to experimentation... and improvement.

They hate dragons, of course. And they hate magic. And fey. But they love science, their "blood-shaping" art more than anything.

Some say all giants are the result of their experimentation - maybe even themselves. Other think the lower giant to be primitive, or decadent forms of storm giants. The stupid hill giants certainly look like a debased version of their nobler cousins.

But it could be worse.

Fey Curse. The elves remember when the fomorians were among the most handsome of races, possessed of brilliant minds and unrivaled magical ability. That physical perfection did not extend to their hearts, however, as a lust for magic and power consumed them. The fomorians sought to conquer the Feywild and enslave its inhabitants, claiming those creatures' magic for themselves. When the fey united to defend their realm, the fomorians fought them and were subjected to a terrible curse. One by one, the giants fell as their bodies were warped to reflect the evil in their hearts. Stripped of their grace and magical power, the wretched horrors fled from the light, delving deep beneath the world to nurse their hatred. Cursing their fate, they have ever after plotted vengeance against the fey that wronged them.

Or so the elves say.

But the "curse" was something different entirely.

See, "the most handsome of races, possessed of brilliant minds" were certainly storm giants.

But they messed with something storm giants were not supposed to - maybe magic, yes, but more likely defeat. Storm giants despise the weak. After being beaten by the fey, these vile cowards were reshaped into something hideous by their giant kin, and forced to fight the fey until the end of time.

Like behirs, they hide in deep caves and avoid being seem by others - specially giants.

Magic can do nothing for them. Only the storm giants can reshape them back - if they ever fulfill their duty of slaying all the fey.

Golems are obviously the giants' creation too - artificial beings made of earth, metal or flesh, resistant to magic, immune to shape-changing, and made to the (twisted) image of their progenitors.

The dragons and the fey are beings of magic, air, beauty, and freedom. They do not always get along, of course - but they rely on each other to survive and thrive. Sometimes, they are like like lions and gazelles.

Giants - who cannot understand magic or reach to the skies, no matter how tall the mountains their climb - hate the fey and want to destroy them.

Humans? Eh. They will often fight for one side or the other, but are not essential in the grand scheme of things. Both giants and dragons seem to think they are clearly inferior and are not ashamed of using them as plaything, slaves or food.

The Worm

The Abyss is a grey, rocky, and dead place, full of wide spaces, where almost nothing seems to move.

It might be older than time.

Some say that is why the dead - and undead - turn to grey, and why the graves are marked with stones.

And probably why giants give so much importance to their boulders, and why the dragons and the fey - in defiance of death and decay - are so colorful.

In the middle of the Abyss, lies the Worm.

The Worm's colors are grey, yellow and purple.

You will hardly find dragons of these colors. Instead, dragons are the colors of the sky, the clouds, the trees, or living blood - things the Worm usually misses or despises.

As fire giants shape metal and storm giants shape flesh, the Worm shapes time.

Deep in the Abyss, it sends forth their sons and minions to conquer the earth, or manipulates people to worship it.

The purple worm that inhabits the ground, the salamanders that live into fire, the aboleths that rule the waters.

The Petrifying Serpents such as the medusa, cocaktrices and basilisks, that want to turn the world into a stony wasteland to please their master.

And the wingless grey angels that travel through time and space and seem to come from nowhere.

The nagas and yuan-ti, obviously - and who knows what else?

Maybe the undead that pull the living to the underworld, or the aberrations that mock nature.

If it looks like a snake, or reptile, or a dragon - without wings - it was probably created by the Worm.

Likewise, if it looks like something that was never meant to exist, is is probably Worm-spawn. Not hybrid animals, such as the beautiful Pegasus, a colorful pixie or couatl, or the giant dragon turtle that fights the worms of the sea - but something with tentacles, uncountable legs, twisted limbs, numerous eyes... or no no eyes at all.

Some say the Worm avoids fire, and its minions fear it, preferring to use poison and decay as their weapons. But some servants of the Worm can relish in fire too - is is just less common.

In spite of all that, the main power of the Worm is not creating monsters, but seducing the innocent.

Storm giants, serpent cultists, drowmind-flayers and sahuagin - they might all be worshiping the Worm, wittingly or not, since so few people understand what the Worm is.

As they stare into the Abyss... the Worm will happily stare back at them, and show them they are special, perfect, superior to all others, no matter what they say.

The Worm will promise them a perfect world.

But, in reality, the Worm hates the world. And nature. And most colors. And the sky, above all else.

Because, as powerful as the Worm is, it can never leave the Abyss, like the dragons did in ancient times.

But - given enough time - it might make the Abyss swallow everything.

Further readings (some of my inspirations for this post):

* http://udan-adan.blogspot.com.br/2016/04/give-me-snake-man-and-i-will-explain.html
* Dark Souls lore.
* Obscene Serpent Religion.

Moral of the story (if there is one): sometimes, a single origin for many monsters might be more interesting than monsters coming randomly from everywhere. Also, Evil versus Chaos might be more interesting than Good versus Evil.

All images copyright of Wizards of the coast.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Coming soon: Dark Fantasy Basic

Yeah, it's happening.

Dark Fantasy Basic, my BX retro-clone with bits of 5e and WotC-D&D, is coming soon!

The awesome cover above is by Rick Troula.

The book, a 45-page player's guide, will be on DTRPG before the end of the year.

Stay tuned for more updates and information!

Friday, December 01, 2017

D&D 5e fighting styles comparison

In 5e some classes have fighting styles in order to be more effective with a particular type of weapon or technique.

There are also feats that make you better with one style or the other. Feats like Sharpshooter, Polearm Master, and Great Weapon Master are some of the best feats in the game.

Some real-world and fantasy styles are sorely missing, and if you are swinging a weapon without an adequate feat (either because you didn't pick it or because it doesn't exit), you are probably getting outshined by warriors who have them.

Here is a brief analysis of the fighting styles and related feats.

Please notice that these are GENERIC; each class has considerations of their own, which I might briefly comment on, but I do not intend to be exhaustive.
Heavy armor + bow = suboptimal in 5e (source).
Archery: You gain a +2 bonus to Attack rolls you make with Ranged Weapons.

Pretty straightforward. Combining it the Sharpshooter feat makes it a lot better than most styles. Ignoring the penalties due to distance and cover, with a +2 bonus on top of that (and a Bless spell in some cases), guarantees you will be hitting your target often enough, even with a -5 penalty, so you basically get 20 points of damage per hit (if you're using a longbow with Dexterity 20)... against targets that might be unable to fight back.

Defense: While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.

Seems a bit boring at first, but consider it stacks with any other fighting style and doesn't use bonus actions or reactions. The better your armor, the better this style gets; if an enemy only hits you by rolling 18 or more, this style will cut one third of the damage you take, for example. Great against multiple weaker enemies.

I can see this being more useful than Great Weapon Fighting if you're a paladin with a polearm, among other possibilities.

Spear + shield = not that great either (source).
Dueling: When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other Weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to Damage Rolls with that weapon.

This is made for anyone with a one-handed weapon plus shield. It gives you a greater damage boost than GWF, below, and you get +2 AC from the shield. Without any feats, this can be more powerful than GWF in most circumstances - all things considered, if you were using a two-handed weapon you'd usually be dealing a little more damage (less than 20%), but avoiding more than 20% damage from the increased AC.

Shield Master is also a very good feat. Shoving a creature might be more useful than dealing damage and the boost to Dexterity saves is excellent.

Great Weapon Fighting: When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an Attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the Two-Handed or Versatile property for you to gain this benefit.

This adds very little damage to your attacks - about 1 point on average, a bit more for greatswords, a bit less for everything else. Fortunately, great weapons already deal lots of damage. The main perk of using heavy weapons is still the Great Weapon Master feat. Although it allows you to attack at -5 to-hit/+10 to damage like sharpshooter, GWM is somewhat worse for a couple of reasons:

* You are more likely to get attacked back immediately, making the -2 AC you lose from the shield more relevant.
* Since you deal more damage on average and you don't get the +2 bonus from archery, the +10 damage is not as important; knowing when to use  GWM is a bit tricky (here is the formula).

On the other hand, the feat gives you a melee weapon attack as a bonus action sometimes, which is not bad, specially for a Champion fighter.

Protection: When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the Attack roll. You must be wielding a Shield.

This is very flavorful, but has some heavy downsides. Imposing disadvantage is meaningful, but it uses your reaction - and at higher levels, monster damage is usually divided among several attacks, and this will only work against one. You also have to be within 5 feet of your ally - which limits its utility.

Not a great style in my opinion.

Heavy armor + longsword + shortsword (?) = no reason to do that (source).
Two-Weapon Fighting: When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second Attack.

Attacking twice per round deals decent damage at lower levels, but it becomes increasingly less useful as you get more attacks as a fighter, and it doesn't work well with an action surge.

If you get magic weapons, you also need one magic weapon for each hand... and each might require attunement. Same thing with the Magic Weapon spell.

This style is a bit better for rogues and rangers... but it uses your bonus action. Thing is, rangers and rogues often have better things to do with their bonus actions. On the other hand, rogues get a second chance of landing a sneak attack (and rangers their Hunter's Mark, Colossus slayer etc.), making this style more useful. 

The Dual Wielder feat is also very underwhelming. +1 AC is nice, and using a rapier in each hand - as ridiculous as I think this looks - gives you a +1 damage boost per attack, but you still lose your bonus action, and it doesn't help you land that sneak attack. Of course, if you had picked the dueling style you'd have the same +2 damage boost and a +2 AC boost, without using a feat.

Or - guess what - you could just pick +2 Dexterity instead of the feat! The AC bonus would be the same, the damage boost would be equal (+1 per attack on average), you'd get +1 to hit and better initiative, saves and skills!

I guess you can use the feat if you're have Dexterity 20, want to throw weapons, or have Strength instead of Dexterity... but it all pales in comparison to the other feats mentioned here.

Of course, this is not a bad choice for rogues, and in my opinion rogues work well enough even with these downsides. Notice that rogues do not get fighting styles (in this case, it means they don't get their ability bonus to the damage of the second attack) but using one weapon in each hand works for them anyway. 

In any case, it still bothers me that holding a quarterstaff or lance in each hand is a viable tactic in 5e, while sword and main-gauche is not, but mechanically the only issue is using your bonus action.

The worst thing, I think, is that this style doesn't stack with anything; your AC is probably too low to make the defense style useful; you cannot boost your damage with dueling, or use powerful feats like Polearm Master, etc. - and the dual wielder feat is near useless is most circumstances. 

In short, TWF is a bad choice for fighters; not good enough for rangers (but they are being revised anyway); and decent for rogues, even though ranged combat is usually a better choice.

To be 100% honest I kinda LIKE that this style is suboptimal, because I think in real life there would be little reason to use this over sword and board under most circumstances. But TWF has enough D&D tradition and fans to deserve a bit more love in 5e.

But why have fighting styles at all?

So we've got a bunch of fighting styles. Three of them (dueling, GWF, archery) are basically bonuses to damage or attacks, while defense is a small bonus to AC. TWF and protection aren't very good. GWF is a convoluted way of giving extra damage while making the greatsword - a weapon that needs no boosts - even better.

In short, you wouldn't lose much if you would just let PCs choose any fighting style and get two out of three options: +1 to damage, +1 to-hit or +1 to AC. Getting a second fighting style would allow you to get +1 to all three in some circumstances, but not more than +1 for each.

And this simple change would make:

* TWF more viable for different builds.
* The combination of archery and sharpshooter less powerful (which is good).
* GWF equally useful to greataxes, halberds and greastwords.
* New styles easy to create and justify (what about a defensive quarterstaff style? etc.).
* And all styles a bit more flexible.

Simpler and better all around.

In conclusion

Overall, I think that the fighting styles are balanced and simple enough. It is probably my favorite version of D&D in this regard (yes, I DO think the RC made it too complicated).

Is there room for improvement?

Yes, specially in the last two fighting styles.

Is there enough reason to complain?

Not really, in my opinion.

(but I'm fixing it anyway!)
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