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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

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

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

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

For example, look at this spell:

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

Compared to:

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

No information is lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, rant over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 05, 2019

Cards against pencils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brief digression:

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

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

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

Digression over.

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

Gale Force Nine

The "official" D&D 5e cards.

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

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

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

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

Let's look for itens elsewhere...

The Deck of Many Weapons

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

Inkwell Ideas

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

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

Free stuff

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

What else?

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

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

DARK HACK: weapons and armor

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

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

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

There are lots of ways to do that...

Don't worry, this ain't real

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

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

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


11 or less+0

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


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

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

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

How does it look so far

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

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

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

One caveat

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

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

Maybe just min and crit would be enough.

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

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some clear advantages to this method.

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

There are two main limitations.

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

The last point deserves a better explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 21, 2019

Fire & Blood (book review)

Okay, this one is going to be nasty, brutish and short.

I haven't written book reviews in a while, but I feel compelled to write this one.

Fire & Blood is the latest book from George R. R. Martin, of "Game of Thrones" fame.

I've read lots and lots of stuff from GRRM, and I really like it. All of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), the Dunk and Egg books (very good), but also lots of short stories, novellas, etc. To be honest, when I started reading ASOIAF I had to throw away a setting I as working on, just because it felt so lame when compared to GRRM's world-building.

Like most ASOIAF fans, I was eagerly waiting for the next book in the series (a little less eager every year, and a lot less interested after the TV show ended awfully).

Anyway, I found Fire & Blood on a sale and decided to try it...

The book is written "in-universe" by a scholar studying old documents. It starts with the conquering of Westeros by Aegon Targaryen. This is probably the best part in the book - it deals with wars, dragons, alliances, backstabbing... All the thing ASOIAF fans would love.

As for the rest of the book... GRRM once said this to Rolling Stone (in 2014 maybe):

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs?

Well, Fire & Blood spends a lot of time discussing tax policy. Worse, it feels like it does so from a modern point of view. Good kings, it seems, are those who can rule medieval kingdoms with a modern mind: make roads, tax the rich, allow women into "universities" (apparently the university of Bologna had more success than dragon-riding kings to achieve that; oh well, I guess at least they got the church to legalize incest...), make reasonable laws for divorce, etc. Unfortunately, they are too primitive to agree on any simples rules for succession, so they must war against each other all the time.

But the book is not all about medieval kingdom administration. It contains plenty of sex and violence, maybe more so than the ASOIAF books, and lots of dragons (certainly a lot more than the ASOIAF books).

This doesn't make the book any better; on the contrary. The sex is often gratuitous (apparently GRRM thought it was a good idea to use a sex-crazed dwarf as one of the three main narrators narrators for fun and color; it wasn't). You can easily become desensitized by the violence, as it becomes more and more commonplace (ordinary peasants rip a baby to pieces for no reason in one scene) and there are not many interesting characters to root for (or to hate; everyone is kinda dumb and evil). And the dragons become a lot less impressive once you seem a bunch of them waltzing around with references to piles of dragon shit.

After the conquest, the main part of the book is the "Dance of Dragons". The legendary war of ASOIF is disappointing. Heirs die like flies, important allies change side for no reason, and both sides are so evil (and kinda dumb) that you only hope they find someone better for the throne.

The book doesn't take itself seriously. It spends many paragraphs planing a tour that never happens. The narrator continuously mention possibilities or sources just to tell you they are false or exaggerated (while I continuously asked myself "what's the point?"). It also contains a scene in which a character makes a seemingly absurd decision after reading a mysterious letter. The contents? "We will never know". If you don't find this irritating, well, maybe you could like this book.

What about the world-building? It doesn't add much to ASOIAF. The economical and political systems of Westeros seems to revolves mainly around prostitution. There are some new characters like Elmo, Kermit, and Grover (no, really), but nothing like the cool, nuanced characters of the original books. Some parts of the book had been published before, abridged versions. I think I liked the abridged versions better.

In short... not my favorite GRRM book.

What to read instead?

If you like ASOIAF, try Tales of Dunk and Egg; it has a similar feel to the ASOIF stories, while being shorter and lighter in tone. The comic book versions are also very good (unlike the comic book adaptations of ASOIF, that seem to have a wrong tone).

If you like GRRM's writing, he has lots of great books. I am a big fan of Dreamsongs, a collection of shorter stories.

If you like GRRM's world-building, A World of Ice and Fire is very good. It is written as a manual, not a story, but it is often a better read than Fire & Blood. It is also a beautiful book, full of great art... and, honestly, makes a great RPG setting out of the box.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Personalyzed armor

One more attempt at "fixing" armor; a bit different from encumbrance armor, but the basis is the same. Hope I am not repeating some old post...

The goals:
* Armor should be suited to your character. Stronger characters can carry more armor.
* No arbitrary class restrictions ("wizards cannot wear armor", etc.).
* As your level rises, so does your AC.
* Armor should follow a simple formula rather than an arbitrary list not-quite-historical armor types.

Here what I can up with.

Light, medium and heavy armor are three different categories (light/medium/heavy), but with no fixed AC. One person's light armor is another person's heavy armor, etc. You can also be unarmored.

You can also have No/Light/Medium/Heavy encumbrance, but with no exact correspondence. For example, you can have light armor but be heavily encumbered (specially if your carrying lots of backpacks etc.)

Rounding: there is no need to round any numbers; it your strength is 15, half of it is 7.5, so 7 is smaller than 7.5, and 8 is larger, etc.

AC is 10 plus Dexterity modifier.

Light armor
Anything that weights less than your one fourth of your Strength. The AC bonus is equal to the weight. You still get your Dexterity modifier.

Medium armor
Anything that weights less than your one third of your Strength. The AC bonus is equal to the weight. You still get your Dexterity modifier, but it is reduced by one third.

Heavy armor
Anything that weights less than your one half of your Strength. The AC bonus is equal to the weight. You still get your Dexterity modifier, but it is reduced by half.

Encumbrance: None/Light/Medium/heavy
* None: If your current encumbrance is smaller than one third your Strength. You get a +1 bonus to AC,  sneaking around, acrobatics, etc.
* Light: If your current encumbrance is smaller than half your Strength. You have a harder time casting spells. You might get an AC bonus if you're a monk, etc.
* Medium: If your current encumbrance is smaller or equal to your Strength. You have a harder time casting spells, sneaking around, etc.
* Heavy: If your current encumbrance is larger than your Strength. You have an even harder time casting spells, sneaking around, etc., and your speed is reduced.

In short:

Weight (= AC bonus) Dex modifier
No armor 0 100%
Light Armor smaller than Str/4 100%
Medium Armor smaller than Str/3 66%
Heavy Armor smaller than Str/2 50%
Weight Special
No encumbrance smaller than Str/3 +1 AC bonus
Light encumbrance smaller than Str/2 affects spells
Medium encumbrance smaller than Str also affects Dex
Heavy encumbrance larger than Str also affects Speed
The result

The results are pleasing, but not ideal. Take a look at this chart; it uses the rules above and assumes that "no amor" gives you a +1 bonus to AC (which is only true if you're unencumbered):

There are some problems. Medium armor is often useless if you have high Dexterity, for example. A simples fix would be allowing your full dexterity bonus to medium armor:

Anyway, it's a matter of fine tuning. And there is LOTS of fine tuning to do. For example, under this system you have good reasons to avoid wearing the heaviest armor you can.

But maybe even HAVING light/medium/heavy armor is one step too far. Encumbrance alone might be enough. Once again, this might be too complex for the types of game I play, but I cannot help playing with the mechanics of the game. But maybe I can come up with a mechanic that is even simpler. Let's see...

Monday, June 10, 2019

Dark Fantasy Characters

Here is my latest effort for Dark Fantasy Basic (and all RPGs, really; it's pretty system-less): Dark Fantasy Characters.

Once more, the cover is by the awesome Rick Troula.

Dark Fantasy Characters is a collection of tables to inspire the creation of characters. It includes tables meant for player characters, non player characters, or (frequently) both. You can also use this book to generate characters for stories, comic books, etc.

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

This is system-less book, to be used with any game of your choice (except for one table). It is especially suited for medieval dark fantasy games, such as my own (Dark Fantasy Basic).

It includes tables such as:

Names: 100 names plus 20 surnames and particles.

Ability scores: Generate six ability scores by rolling 3d20.

Backgrounds & specialties: More than 80 options to flesh out your characters.

Dark Secrets, Flaws: Two different tables to give a dark twist to your PCs and NPCs.

Grievous sins: Reserved for the worst villains.

Here is a taste for you:

Dark secrets are not only for villains, but also for tragic heroes. Even PCs may chose a dark secret if they want. If the secret is revealed, the character might be shunned, cast away, or even hunted down. Hirelings and followers may have dark secrets if the player characters get unlucky while hiring them.

Family. Your family is made of criminals, monsters, tyrants, or traitors.
Crime. You committed a heinous crime that would scare away even your allies.
Trauma. You (or someone close to you) has been the victim of unspeakable acts. It haunts you.
Birthright. You could rightfully claim a position or thing that is currently into a powerful usurper’s hands.
Curse. There is a dark prophecy about your future. It may manifest repeatedly (everyone you love will get hurt, etc.)
Addiction. You cannot be trusted near a bottle of alcohol (or other dangerous substance).
Debt. You owe someone, big time. He or she will come to collect eventually.
Cult. You are part of a secret cult. It is secret for a reason.
Sin. You committed acts that, while not criminal, would get you shunned if discovered.
Insanity. You have bouts of madness, or even hallucinations, that you think you can control.
Disease. You have a terminal or infectious disease.
Pact. You made a deal with a dark entity, and now you have to fulfill it.
Knowledge. You know something that puts you in danger.
False identity. You are not who you say you are.
Enemy. A dangerous foe is searching for you.
Disgusting. You have a (mostly harmless) habit that would make people disgusted.
Fraud. Your stories about your deeds and skill are greatly exaggerated.
Suicidal. Your bravery hides a strong death wish.
Artifact. You are hiding a dangerous object that you are not willing to throw away.
Bond. You have a deep affection (or loyalty, etc.) for someone that most people see as an enemy.

I am selling it for half the intended price (i.e., or $0.99) to benefit "early adopters" and to see if I can get new people into the the fold.

Who knows, this might become an entire series, if people enjoy it. Dark Fantasy Locations is already half written... Dark Fantasy Magic and Dark Fantasy Religion are probably next.

Dark Fantasy Monsters, you say? Well, I got something even better in the oven...

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Bounded accuracy in combat: OSR, D&D 5e and Dark Fantasy Basic

Warning: this post got very technical, very fast. Is mostly about number crunching through editions. Hope you enjoy it anyway.

So, D&D has this thing where your "to hit" bonus rises faster than your armor class AC. Soon enough, everybody is hitting everybody a lot more often.

On the other hand, hit points (HP) rise faster than your damage. So, while you're hitting more often, each hit takes a smaller percentage of your enemies HP.

These two thing balance of another, sort of. But there are also other things to consider. For example, Making numbers too high is usually a bad idea, because adding and subtracting all the time detracts from the flow of combat (this applies to "to-hit" and AC, but also HP and damage). Making numbers too small ruins granularity; a 10th level fighter (and, arguably, a thief) should hit more often than a 1st level one, but a 10th level wizard should (arguably) still have SOME chance to hit an opponent that is adequate to a 10th level fighter. Missing attacks often is boring; but if you hit all the time, you will probably deal less damage, and rolling attacks over and over again is equally boring. Etc.

There are numerable ways to deal with this.

In old school (and most OSR) games, the most usual method is keeping AC more or less stable, adding decent amounts of HP and to-hit bonuses, and SOME extra damage, but not much, unless you use weapon specialty rules. You may also get additional attacks, which raise damage per round.

In D&D 3e/4e, you get LOTS of bonuses. HP is significantly raised. To-hit bonuses rises faster and longer. Now AC is bigger, creating an arms-race of sorts. Damage gets bigger, but perhaps not always big enough. It is said that in 3e, creatures get so much HP that damage becomes less significant, although I don't have enough experience with the game to say for sure. In 4e and games like 13A, damage get exponentially bigger, like HP (although IIRC 4e had to be fixed because monsters just had too much HP).

D&D 5e tones things down a bit. To-hit and AC are diminished almost to OS levels (in fact, often even LOWER than OS levels), but damage and HP are closer to D&D 3e (without the 4e HP inflation). A wizard has a to-hit bonus that is not that far from a fighter, but the fighter gets extra attacks, the barbarian gets higher damage, etc.

Another interesting thing about 5e is that you're chances to hit an appropriate opponent are more or less equal at every level. Compare this to OS games where the chances to hit get higher and higher, but damage gets proportionally lower.

Let's do a quick and very rough comparison of a monsters in these systems (the stats are from S&W, Pathfinder, 4e and 5e).

Adult Red Dragon [OSR / 3e / 4e /5e]
Attack bonus (claw): 10/25/22/14
HP: 40/253/750/256
Damage (claw/bite): 23/40*/50*/55*
AC: 17/29/33/19
* Damage is WAY trickier. In 3e, the dragon can makes lots of attacks with tails, wings, etc, (apparently) at the same time, while in 4e it cannot "bite" and "claw" at the same time, so I've only counted claws. But it can also take reactions, free action, etc. 5e also has legendary actions every turn. So, hard to compare.

I'm not even sure the iconic red dragon is the best comparison, since modern editions (rightfully, IMO) made them more dangerous on purpose (in fact, the Rules cyclopedia already made them more dangerous in comparison to AD&D, for example). But it serves to illustrate the "number bloat" in comparison to earlier editions.

There is no right or wrong here; I dislike dealing with monsters with 750 HP or +25 to-hit, but they serve a function. For example, they make monsters more "epic". One hundred 1st level archers would stand little chance against this dragon in 3e and 4e, but they might win in 5e, and will destroy the dragon in AD&D or Basic D&D.

In my own game, Dark Fantasy Basic (DFB) - a mix of old school (specially Moldvay´s Basic) with modern stuff - I prefer to keep big numbers in check. The to-hit bonus are, at most, something close to +20 at the highest levels (that would be level 15th in my planned next iteration; currently it has only 10 levels) - suits a d20 roll very well, IMO.

Monster AC is unchanged from AC, but they get an HP boost. For PCs, they get a boost in both AC and HP. Damage is doubled for monsters, almost doubled for PCs.

I use this OSR to 5e conversion, BTW.

As you can see, DFB plays like an OS game in this regard - the higher your level, the most often your attacks land.

The difference between DFB and these other examples is how I closed the gap between high HP and more or less static damage. In DFB, whenever you hit a number that is equal to AC+10, you get a critical hit, which raises damage. So, not only you hit more often, but you also crit more often. AFAIK, Pathfinder 2 will use a similar formula, but there are certainly other examples outside of D&D.

This allowed me to make high-level combat somewhat shorter and still maintain an epic feel to big monsters (but probably not as much as 3e or 4e), while avoiding dealing with big numbers all the time.

Again, there is no right or wrong - it is mostly a matter of taste. If you would like to see how this turned out in my game, you can check Dark Fantasy Basic here.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Knives, armor, and a solution (3 random thoughts)

Some random thoughts I had this week.

1. Knives (and fists)

Have you ever held, or even seen, a fighting knife?

Goggle it if you want. This thing is REALLY dangerous. I'm pretty sure any random person could stab a trained fighter to death with ease.

In fact, I have recently heard a jiu-jitsu champion say exactly that.

AND Eddard Stark is held by a knife to the throat in A Game of Thrones.

So it's both true in real life and in TV.

No 1d4s, hit points or saving throws.

One good stab and you might be dead before you can do anything about it.


No so much.

Even professional fighters might have a hard time knocking someone with a punch.

Or club.

But sometimes a single hit is enough.

Who knows...

2. Armor

On the other hand...

Seeing someone in armor really makes you think combat is survivable.

Again, not only in TV, but even in youtube channels that study the issue seriously.

Even in medieval manuals of arms, a longsword (1d8? 1d10) would require special technique to wound someone in plate armor.

Killing an ironclad warrior would usually require some grappling and a long dagger.

Or just a mace.

3. A solution

The easiest way to combine both in a D&D context would be having some small damage that would get MULTIPLIED against little or no armor.

Say, hit 10 points above AC means "critical damage".

12 points: double damage.
13 points: triple damage.
14 points: quadruple damage.
... etc.

If your armor is not that great, you're always one good hit always from being killed.

Blunt weapons would deal more damage, probably, but the "criticals" might be less dramatic.


Maybe slashing and piercing damaging have different "crit" number.

So, a dagger would be d4 (crit d8), and a longsword d8 (crit d10), for example, and a mace simply d6.

This manages to both make knives very deadly against opponents with no armor WITHOUT requiring repeated rolls, while also making decent armor very useful against blades etc (but not impervious).

Of course, the chances of rolling AC+10 are not usually that great.


A better solution - for other RPGs - would be using a d100.

Say your "dagger" skill is 70, and you hit 70% of the time.

Treat "doubles" as crits. So, 11, 22, 33, 44, 55 and 66 are criticals.

And you get to double (22), triple (33), quadruple (44), etc., your damage.

This stuff happens very often - about 10% of the time you hit.

A skilled knight could kill a dragon with one blow.

Armor, of course, would REDUCE incoming damage... up to a point.

So, instead of taking, say, 10 points of damage, the wearer would take 3... Not that much, EVEN if you multiply by four or five.

Starting HP would be at least 40...


Of all the systems I have played, GURPS comes closest to this.

Unfortunately it has too much die rolling and a critical hit table in which "nothing happens" is the most likely result.

But I reckon a simple "critical hit" table would take care of most of this stuff, even in D&D.

I've been there already... Oh well.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Marks of Corruption (Dark Fantasy Tables)

So, I'm into making tables now. This is inspired Ravenloft, probably. Also, by the lack of enough "dark gifts" in Curse of Strahd, and DCC RPG before that, and WFRP even earlier... Always liked the idea that contact with the dark powers made you weirder, although I am having a hard time remembering actual books like that (except for Moorcock's Stormbringer, I think).

Anyway, roll a d20 and choose one of three options.

Tongue. Bifurcated, long, or purple.
Teeth. Sharp, fangs, or horse-like.
Hands. Crooked, clawed, or tentacled.
Skin. Hairy, pale, or wet.
Eyes. Glowing, feline, or dilated pupils.
Wounds. Scars, open sores, or bleeding.
Feet. Cloven, inverted, or webbed.
Organs. Dilated, twinned, or pulsating.
Belly. Bulging, moving, or negative.
Additional parts (human). Arms, misplaced eyes, or misplaced mouths.
Additional parts (other). Tentacles, tail, or horns.
Bones. Deformed, apparent, or malleable.
Smell. Sulphur, death, or spice.
Mind. Hallucinations, rage, or despair.
Missing. Mouth, eyes, or hair.
Surrounded. By insects, smoke, or worms.
Scary. To small animals, children, or horses.
Rotting. Sours milk, ages plants, or spoils wine.
Limbs. Too long, too articulated, or too thick.
Torso. Too fat, too thin, or too muscular.

Notice that most of these marks are useful. The dark powers take care of their own... in a way. Strange eyes will give you night vision or infrared vision. Fangs and claws are useful in a fight. Malleable bones and wet skin might help you escape. Etc.

This list is pretty mild and concealable... maybe make a list of extreme corruption next?

Update: I collected this table and more in my book Dark Fantasy Characters. Check it out!
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