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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Some RPG plans por 2020

I know, the best-laid plans of mice and men and yadda yadda. I didn't succeed in everything I wanted in 2019, but I wrote some RPG stuff that made me happy.

And 2020 is the year of the double critical, so I'll stay optimistic!

RPG-wise, what I want to do in 2020 is publish a few books. Some are already written, some are just vague ideas at this point, and some are in the middle.

ALL are related to the stuff I write in this blog, mostly because this is the stuff that is on my mind.

Here is what I've got so far.

Dark Fantasy series

I have two more books for my Dark Fantasy series: settings and magic items

I also wrote a book with 100 magic weapons for Dark Fantasy. I like the result. If people like it, I might make a few more (have a few ideas for armor and other magic items).

I am planning to have these three books out before the end of the third trimester.

I'm very, very tempted to write a Dark Fantasy Cyclopedia of sorts. That would include ALL the stuff I have plus a few things from the Teratogenicon (see below). And I want to revise and update a few things from Dark Fantasy Basic. If I do this, I think I'd like to have a print version to use at my table.

This might be lots of work, so maybe I'll leave it for last.

UPDATE [2020]100 magic weapons was made available in January. Dark Fantasy Magic Items and Dark Fantasy Settings are available since February.

Teratogenicon

The Teratogenicon is written. Now I've got some revising to do. The art (by Rick Troula) is not finished yet, but it is looking GREAT so far.

I think we might get this finished before July.

I really like this project, and I want it to be huge. However, I'm not sure if everyone feels like me about monsters. In short: that they should be more varied and interesting, and that this is more important than stat blocks.

Anyway, this is happening regardless. I really hope you like it. If lots of people want it, there might be a print version.


UPDATE [2020]:

Fifth Edition stuff

I have been thinking a lot about 5e lately. I feel I could create an easier, faster version of 5e without losing anything significant. I think I could reduce the relevant parts of 5e to about 100-200 pages. It looks like hard work, but I have the SRD to work with. I dunno. There are a few good books on the market that do that already.

My manual of arms book didn't get much traction, reviews, comments, etc. I'm unsure about making one for armor (and stunts, options, etc.).

There is no date for that so far.

UPDATE [2020]:

Setting stuff

I have a few settings in mind, but nothing is written. Well, some ideas were added to the Teratogenicon and Dark Fantasy Settings, but a have no "setting book" yet. 

I feel a bit silly about inventing names for places, races, people... I don't even USE published settings as written, I added stuff from multiple places, and my books are like that, more suggestions than hard rules, so not sure how useful it would be for other people.

Anyway, I am curious about creating a gonzo, post-apocalyptic setting from this and this. And maybe this and this. In short, my own version of Dark Sun.

There are other ideas too, maybe I'll test the waters a little before I dive in.

There is no date for that so far.

UPDATE [2020]:

Stay tuned!

Here is my idea if you want to keep track of this stuff. I'll update THIS post during the entire year, giving you links as these things come out. See how I wrote "UPDATE [2020]" under each topic? Yeah, I plan to use these blank spaces as soon as I can.

If I fail, well, feel free to call me out in the comments!

Also, I'm writing a second post about my "2020 RPG resolutions" in a couple of days, specifically to ask what would YOU like me to do

Do you want more blogging or more publishing? Do you want OSR, 5e, or both? Lots of arts, lots os writing, or both? Print or PDF? Let me know in the next post... Or, if you can't wait, let me know right here!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

D&D sells you fish, but won't teach you to fish [Part I]

"Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime"... Or so the saying goes.

So, here is the thing. D&D (and pathfinder, etc.) is selling you fish. Classes, races, spells, etc.

Take the 5e PHB, for example. Tons of great stuff. You buy the game, make some choices, and you get a character, and you're ready to play. Not much effort needed. I really like this book.

Same for the Monster Manual. You get a big list of monsters. Find the monster you need, and you're ready to go.

Modules are basically the same thing. You buy more races, monsters, adventures, spells, etc. There is not much material on creating your classes, races, monsters, etc. These should be on the DMG.

And this is great - I love monster manuals, I love cool adventures, and I really like the 5e PHB. The DMG... is a bit disappointing, but we'll get there.

First, the problem with the PHB. While races, classes and feats are cool, there is an obvious point buy mechanic behind them. I ranted about it here. It goes more or less like this:

A feat will give you SIX POINTS.
An ability score increase costs 3.
A skill costs 2.
Expertise costs 4.
Languages, tools or fighting styles cost 1 [NOT the same as a skill!].
A couple of cantrips cost 1.
Saving throw proficiency costs 3 .
Etc.


I mentioned feats, but there is also a "hidden" point buy for races and class features. And that is the entire problem: they never tell you the numbers, making your job of creating races, classes and feats harder.

Of course you can "reverse engineer" this stuff, but it discourages you from creating your own stuff.

Worse, it sometimes seems to mislead the reader on these issues. For example, while skills are obviously better than tools - which is reflected on races, backgrounds, etc., - the "skilled" feat treats them as if they had equal value. Same with saving throws - some are obviously better than others, but the book never mentions it explicitly.

The DMG should fix it - but it doesn't.

While the first chapters of the book are pretty good (with some caveats) to great (see below), the parts about the rules do not explain how this "point buy" rules actually work, even though it hints at it. For example, it says "fire" resistance is more or less equivalent to "necrotic" and "radiant" resistance combined, without measuring it... and failing to mention it while discussing new spells!

The new spells part, BTW, is not that bad... just short and full of useless advice such as:

"If a spell is so good that a caster would want to use it all the time, it might be too powerful for its level."

Or guidelines that are so vague that they have no utility at all:

"A long duration or large area can make up for a lesser effect, depending on the spell."

How long? How large? How lesser? Which spells?

This vagueness is not necessary - you can extrapolate good guidelines from the sorcerer, for example. But, again, they seem to discourage you from creating your own stuff.

The DMG is also bad when messing with other rules. The rules on "damage severity by level" (page 249) treats 1st level PCs as if they had the same HP as 4th level PCs without discussing the issues, for example.  The automatic success rules (page 239) can create baffling effects - for example, a PC with Strength 19 might have 50% chance of battering down a door, while Strength 20 will give you an automatic success (shouldn't be there some middle ground there?). And so on.

Now look at this insightful advice on how to find if a task is easy, moderate or hard:

Then ask yourself, "Is this task's difficulty easy, moderate, or hard?"

It sounds like some kind of joke, but this is what the DMG actually say (without addressing that in most adventures there are a lot of DC 12 and DC 13 tasks).

The part about creating monsters is, well... good enough, I guess. Probably deserves a post of its own. Here is something to get you started.

The interesting thing is that the DMG is great when discussing other issues.

The NPC tables are awesome, and the magic items generation is just FANTASTIC. Even the tables on creating adventures is great. Same for settings (although occasionally a bit boring).

These do not only teach how to fish, but provide with hook and line to create your own stuff!

In fact, there is so much awesome stuff in the DMG that I almost feel bad for criticizing it.

But anyway - I feel there is this strange tendency towards avoiding teaching people how to fish, for fer of not being able to sell fish anymore. Which is silly, IMO. In reality, there will ALWAYS be more people willing to buy fish than to do the fishing themselves.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Sacrifice (D&D 5e) - are you WILLING to DIE?

Here is an idea I mentioned a few times, in improved form, and in one single post.

In short, it is this: if you want to fight to death, you can fight past 0 HP, but it is dangerous.

The table below is inspired by a similar one in Dark Fantasy Basic.


Here is how it goes: 

When you drop to 0 Hit Points (and are not killed outright, as per the usual rules), you do not necessarily fall unconscious.

Instead, you can choose to fight on if you're willing to fight to the death.

In theory, the player should consider his characters motivations, bonds, etc., but in practice its his choice (with some justification required).

If he choose to fall unconscious, that's all that happens for now.

If he choose to fight on, he immediately makes a death saving throw.

Death Saving Throws
Whenever you start Your Turn with 0 Hit Points, you must make a Special saving throw, called a death saving throw, to determine whether you creep closer to death or hang onto life. Unlike other Saving Throws, this one isn’t tied to any ability score. You are in the hands of fate now, aided only by Spells and features that improve your chances of succeeding on a saving throw.

Roll a d20: If the roll is 10 or higher, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail. A success or failure has no effect by itself. On your third success, you become stable (see below). On your third failure, you die. The successes and failures don’t need to be consecutive; keep track of both until you collect three of a kind. The number of both is reset to zero when you regain any Hit Points or become stable.

Rolling 1 or 20: When you make a death saving throw and roll a 1 on The D20, roll on the table below. If you roll a 20 on The D20, you regain 1 hit point.

Death's door table:
1 - This counts as two failed death saving throws, instead of one.
2 - Gain one level of exhaustion.
3 - Permanent scar.
4 - Temporary disability.
5 - Permanent disability.
6 - Falls unconscious.
7, 8, 9... - etc... Immediate death should probably be on the table.

You get the idea.

Optional additions:

While you have 0 HP, once per turn you can ignore one source of damage (up to 10% of your maximum HP), unless it is a critical hit (see this post). [another alternative would be getting temporary HP due to Adrenalin...]

You do not recover from death saving throw failures until you take a short or long rest. This is meant to avoid abuse such as allowing the paladin to recover a single HP every turn to avoid death.

What's the point?

Letting PCs choose if they remain fighting after mortally wounded is dramatically appropriated... and just plain cool. Sacrifice suits dark fantasy even better than random death, IMO, and it is obviously more suited to epic fantasy too.

Notice they can still die if they choose unconsciousness, but it is a bit less likely. Unless the adversaries go out of their way to kill a fallen character, he might survive anything but a few bad die rolls or a total party kill. An unconscious characters can also be ransomed, etc.

It is cool for the players, too. They get to choose when to put their characters lives on the line. In practice, I've seem players get a bit more mindful of their battles, taking responsibility in their own hands.

Friday, December 06, 2019

The 10% HP rule (just a flesh wound)

It goes like this:

If an attack causes less than 10% of your HP in damage, it has no further detrimental effect on you (besides damage). No concentration checks, no death saving throws, etc. If damage stops spells in your game, damage that is lesser than 10% doesn't, and so on.

Something like massive damage in reverse, I guess (I dislike this rule in 3e, but 5e has an interesting variant in the DMG... that I find a bit unecessary).

The inspiration for my (probably unnecessary too) rule comes from an old game of Marvel Superheroes RPG (FASERIP).

If I remember correctly, I was playing as the Hulk... and, after taking massive damage from some super-villain, my PC got stabbed by a mook... and died!

I really hated that.

To be fair, I have no idea if this was because of the rules, of the game master, or just faulty memory (it was more than 25 years ago).

And, now that I think of it, it reminds me of Achilles... So, it might make sense in some contexts.


Source.
In 5e, it works as an anti-mook rule. This means your 15th-level fighter will not be executed by a kobold with a knife in a few seconds, just after being knocked out by a dragon. Also, the same kobold will not break your 15th-level wizard's concentration.

Again, this kind of grittiness has its uses, but doesn't quite fit the heroic fantasy tone of most official D&D stuff. Remember that the 15th-level fighter will probably survive a fall from any height!

In fact, if you want to make 5e less "bounded" and more "epic", i.e., the 15th-level fighter simply cannot be hurt by a single kobold, you might just ignore damage smaller than 10% altogether.

I have also considered a 50% HP rule as a complement... Say, if you WOULD take more than 100% of your HP in damage, the excess damage applies regardless of immunity.

So, in theory, the Tarrasque CAN hurt a werewolf with a bite, although it isn't easy.

AD&D had something like that IIRC. If you had enough HD, your attacks bypassed the usual "magic weapons" defense.

OTOH, some small creatures could be immune to fire, and swim in magma... So maybe this rule would only work for attacks?

I dunno. Maybe it is a case of rulings, not rules ("of course the Tarrasque killed the werewolf!"), or a matter of taste.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

LESS BORING types of government

You read the DMG: a nation (or village etc.) can be governd by democracy, monarchy, theocracy, etc. Maybe even a magocracy, I guess. Or kleptocracy - a lot more realist, right?

This is good and all, but sometimes we need something more interesting.

Here are a a few options:


d20
Who governs?
1
The highest bidders
2
Magical curses and laws that enforce themselves
3
A secret society which cannot be mentioned
4
The church
5
An oracle
6
The winners (or losers) of the annual lottery
7
A powerful monster
8
A set of ancient written laws of unknown origin (which are barely understood)
9
A witches’ coven
10
A semi-mummified elder
11
A genetically-altered ethnic minority
12
The wielder of a sacred artifact
13
Whoever can survive the local deities’ ordeal
14
The family that sacrificed the greatest number of members
15
The mob rules
16
A conquering warlord (or local thugs)
17
The brain-damaged survivor of hard drugs
18
Blind counsellors, relying on lies
19
A dying monarch with no apparent heirs
20
None – govern yourself

A world in which everyone is under these types of government might strain your suspension of disbelief, but I assume you'll only use random tables when you're looking for new ideas.

I have often considering leaving two columns on my tables - one for "ordinary" stuff and the other for stuff like this. Not sure how useful that would be.



This is from my book Dark Fantasy Places, by the way.

Like the rest of my stuff, it is currently on sale until Monday due to DTRPG's Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale.

If you like this table, you'll find more stuff like this on my Dark Fantasy line.

Hope you enjoy it!


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Moldvay's ORACLE (Basic D&D is the best, and it contains multitudes)

Here is another great post from Trollsmyth:

http://trollsmyth.blogspot.com/2019/08/why-bx-is-best.html

The title, appropriately enough, is "Why BX is the Best!", but it talks about the Charm Person spell. Go read it, I'll wait.

Awesome, right?

Moldvay's basic might the best RPG ever written, indeed. Only 64-pages, and contains answers to questions that have been discussed for ages - before and after this book.

What modern D&D book (full of useless complexity and repetition) could do something similar with this page count?



I don't have a ton of examples to give you, and some might be from OD&D or other sources. But every time I read it, I learn something new.

Take open locks, for example:

Open Locks may only be tried once per lock. The thief may not "try again" on a difficult lock until he or she has gained another level of experience.

Compare this to the 5e DMG, page 237, which doesn't actually address picking locks (and suggests taking ten times longer to attempt any given task to automatically succeed... but with no mention of how long it takes to pick a lock, and using the "Fast Hands" thief feature as reference, one could assume that ANYONE can pick any lock in one minute - even with no proficiency - provided it is possible at all).

[BTW, want another option for 5e? If you fail, it means the lock cannot be picked by you or anyone less experienced than you. Someone more experienced can try but the DC is raised with every attempt. Or try this.]

Here are a few other things that come to mind right now:

- Moldvay's encumbrance system is better than it looks. It makes the choice between armor/gold/movement explicit, something that is lacking in modern versions. In 5e, encumbrance is either too lenient or too strict (depending on whether you use optional rules).

- Loyalty rules are succinct and precise:

LOYALTY: The loyalty of a retainer is a measure of the retainer's morale and willingness to take risks for the PC and not run away in the face of danger. A retainer's loyalty or morale is based on the charisma of the player character employer (see page B7). The loyalty of retainers should be checked whenever extraordinary danger is met during an adventure. Loyalty should also be checked after each adventure. The DM may wish to adjust a retainer's loyalty due to actions of the player character, such as if the PC pays the retainer more than agreed upon, or rescues the retainer from danger and vice versa.

- You get XP for defeating monsters (in addition to treasure). Does that mean you must defeat every monster? Not quite:

ADJUSTMENTS TO XP: The DM may treat an unusually "tough" situation or monster as one category better (use the next line down). Situations might also allow the DM to give partial experience if the characters learned from the encounter without actually defeating the monster. The DM may also award extra XP to characters who deserve them (fighting a dangerous monster alone, or saving the party with a great idea), and less XP to characters who did less than their fair share ("do-nothing" characters). The DM should consider the character's alignment and class carefully, and should remember that guarding the rear is an important role in any party

- What about this rule, that grant you more XP if your allies died in the process, but reduces total XP (I assume) if you take many NPCs with you:

DIVIDING XP: Treasure is divided by the party, but the DM handles all the XP awards. At the end of an adventure, the DM totals the XP from all treasures recovered plus all monsters defeated and then divides the total by the number of surviving characters (both player characters and NPCs) in the party. EXAMPLE: A party of 7 (5 player characters and 2 NPCs) goes on an adventure but only 6 come back alive. They killed monsters for a total of 800 XP and also collected 5800 gp in treasure, for a total of 6600 XP. Each character receives 1100 XP at the end of the adventure. (The DM may give each NPC 1/2 normal experience — 550 XP in this case — since the NPCs were "directed" and thus benefit less from the adventure.)

- Well, but what if a single weakling survives an expedition where true heroes have fallen? Does he suddenly become a demi-god? Nope:

MAXIMUM XP: A character should never be given enough XP in a single adventure to advance more than one level of experience. For example, if a beginning (0 XP) 1st level fighter earns 5000 XP (a rare and outstanding achievement), he or she should only be given 3999 XP, enough to place the character 1 XP short of 3rd level.

And, of course, there is this bit (a rule that Moldvay certainly didn't invent, but inspired many later versions):

"There's always a chance." The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on ld20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to + 4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail.

The whole "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art" section is great.... well, the entire book.

Moldvay's Basic is far from perfect, mind you. Mostly because it keeps things that I didn't like much in OD&D in the first place... For example, it seems that climbing a rope RAW is harder than climbing sheer walls for a thief... There are some things that are obscure, others are convoluted (I'm not a fan of all those tables, for example).

As you know, I wrote an entire book trying to improve D&D Basic.

But that's only because I really love it.

There is hardly any better material to start from.

EDIT: In addition, Moldvay mentions Clark Ashton Smith as an inspiration, unlike AD&D. I rest my case.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Trip (D&D 5e melee weapons)

As you know, I have many issues with D&D 5e and how it treats melee weapons; I've discussed this many times in my blog, and I finally compiled a small document to put in DTRPG.

You can find my Manual of Arms here; if you like my posts about weapons, you'll certainly like this book.

Anyways, one thing I found is that by adding the trip propriety to the list, I can fix most of the issues I have with martial melee weapons:

Trip: This weapon can be used to trip a creature, knocking it prone. It uses the same rules as Shoving a Creature. However, you cannot use this weapon to push a creature away.

Add this to the flail, warpick and trident to make these weapons more useful; you can also add this to the whip and halberd to add flavor (you need to add something else to the glaive). 


Source.

There is an entire book to be written about grappling with weapons, of course. But this single propriety is small enough to fit in the existing rules (disarming, for example, is an optional rule, while "Shoving a Creature" is not) and to add some extra nuance, detail and balance to the current weapon list.

By the way, if you WANT to read a whole book on grappling, I'd recommend Dungeon Grappling* by Douglas Cole. There is a review here; might be worth mentioning that I wrote a page in one of Douglas' books (Dragon Heresy) but that was a while after I had posted the review. [Affiliate link - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!]

Friday, November 08, 2019

RANT: the useless complexity of D&D 5e

So, here is the new unearthed arcana: Class Feature Variants. It has some cool options. Lots of optional rules that should be there from the start, but hey, at least they are there.

But I will not discuss it in detail. I'll rant about another thing that's been bothering me for a while.

If you don't want to read a confused rant, well, you've been warned.

This is my main issue: 5e builds characters with "points" [for example, it "costs" 6 points to get a feat, and maybe 1 point to get a fighting style, 2 points to get a skill, etc.], but we never get to see the cost in points. Instead, we get convoluted ways of doing the same thing, so we never have to subtract two from six.

Or, to put it in another way.

Tell me each one is simpler/easier:

---

A: "When you get to level three, you can choose one of these talents: T1, T3, T5, T7, T9, T11, T13, or T15".

B: "When you get to level three, you can choose one odd-number talent (provided its number is 15 or smaller)".

C: "When you get to level three, you get the T1 talent, but you can opt for talents T3, T5, T7, T9, T11, T13 or T15 instead".

D: "When you get to level three, you get the T1 talent, but you can opt for T3 instead. Alternatively, you can take a level in other class, that will get you T5, but you can replace that with T7 (you cannot replace T1 with T7 otherwise]. You can also get a similar talent, T9.1 that will be identical to T9, at least 98% of the time (but not always). You cannot get T11 unless you get five levels into a new class.  T13 is identical to T5, so don't bother. T15 is inferior to T3 in ALL aspects, but you can get it instead of T7 if you want".

---

My opinion is that, while A and B look simpler, C is actually the simplest one.

I'm sure someone, somewhere, has already developed some psychological theory on the reason why. Paradox of choice? Analysis paralysis? I don't know. Let me know in the comments! But the fact that the book choose for you makes things a lot easier and faster, specially for beginners. In addition, it reinforces archetypes, which is useful.

D is obviously a mess and, in my opinion, is the path 5e has chosen. It feels like a Rube Goldberg machine of some kind to me.



Let me give you a few examples that were very clear from the beginning of 5e.

---

* Expertise. Expertise should be a thing for everybody, maybe at a cost equivalent to picking a new skill. The champion should get some expertise instead of remarkable athlete, BTW.

What do we get? If you're not a bard or rogue, you have multiple convoluted ways to get expertise.

Look at this feat for XGE:

Prodigy 
Prerequisite: Half-elf, half-orc, or human 
You gain one skill proficiency of your choice, one tool proficiency of your choice, and fluency in one language of your choice. 
Choose one skill in which you have proficiency. You gain expertise with that skill, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with it. The skill you choose must be one that isn’t already benefiting from a feature, such as Expertise, that doubles your proficiency bonus.

In this UA, they added this option to the ranger:

Canny 
Choose one skill: Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Stealth, or Survival. You gain proficiency in the chosen skill if you don’t already have it, and you can add double your proficiency bonus to ability checks using that skill. In addition, thanks to your extensive wandering, you are able to speak, read, and write two languages of your choice.

Yeah, this is good. But anyone can see the ranger should get the option of being an expert in Nature from the beginning of the edition. The druid too. And why not the barbarian? And why shouldn't barbarians, fighters, etc. get access to expertise in athletics in the first place? Or elves and dwarves? Etc. etc.

Spells. We already have the magic initiate feat:

Magic Initiate
Choose a class: bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class’s spell list. In addition, choose one 1st-level spell from that same list. You learn that spell and can cast it at its lowest level. Once you cast it, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it again. Your spellcasting ability for these spells depends on the class you chose: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, or warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid: or Intelligence for wizard.

How many feats, features, etc., do we need to get more spells?

Look at this feat (from XGE):

Fey Teleportation
Prerequisite: Elf (high) 
Increase your Intelligence or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20. 
You learn to speak, read, and write Sylvan. 
You learn the misty step spell and can cast it once without expending a spell slot. You regain the ability to cast it in this way when you finish a short or long rest. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for this spell.

And this fighting style (from the latest UA):

Druidic Warrior [fighting style]
You learn two cantrips of your choice from the druid spell list. They count as ranger spells for you, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the druid spell list.

Languages/tool proficiency. They are obviously interchangeable and inferior to skills, but the game makes things complicated (on purpose?) by adding a feat that make them look equivalent:

Skilled
You gain proficiency in any combination of three skills or tools of your choice.

Also, thieve's tools are obviously better than other tools (will not discuss this now, this is just a rant remember?).
---

Anyway...

I bet you can think of infinite examples.

How to fix it? It would be very, very simple. Just make these things explicit. 

For example:

A feat will give you SIX POINTS.
An ability score increase costs 3.
A skill costs 2.
Expertise costs 4.
Languages, tools or fighting styles cost 1 [NOT the same as a skill!].
A couple of cantrips cost 1.
Saving throw proficiency costs 3 [maybe 2 for weak saves, but that's a different subject].
Etc.

Want to pick something outside your class? Fine, you get FIVE points instead. Do what you want with them. I'm not even sure that's necessary...

But what the heck do I know, I sold a couple of books and WotC has sold millions. How can I criticize a business model that allows them to sell 500 pages where 50 would suffice? And they can claim they are keeping archetypes (or, worse, "class niches", "balance", etc.) intact.

EDIT: BTW... WotC, we get it. You screwed up the beast master ranger. There are enough "fixes" already. Just add the whole class to the errata or something.

This is enough for today.

Rant over, something shorter and more organized next time.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

zauBeR (old-school RPG review)

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

zauBeR [affiliate link*] is the most recent RPG by Marcelo Paschoalin, the author of  Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone. The system is similar, but while Mehliu was focused on old school fantasy, zauBeR has a different setting, somewhat reminiscent of the stuff  White Wolf published in the 90's:

zauBeR is a RPG set in a world almost like ours. The difference is magic is real, creatures from other planes of existence visit us, and the evil in the people’s hearts is even more evident. It’s part of a genre known as urban fantasy, a mix of real and fantastic in the contemporary era.
[...]
Our adventures take place in Brazil, during the year 2018. You know the basics: the urban areas are not unlike the streets of Detroit or Glasgow, with excess traffic, some crime, usual daily affairs… The problem is the same, add a degree of government corruption on top of that, and no one knows how to implement good solutions, but there a few more questions people who awoke are, maybe, able to answer.


Like Mehliu, zauBeR has an "introductory" vibe to it, with sections explaining what is an RPG, "Who wins this game?", how to roll dice (the game uses only d6s, BTW), etc.

The system is tight and simple (enough that you could, indeed, use it with someone new to RPGs in general): six ability scores (rolled with 2d6), skills that are defined by modern careers (detective, lawyer, scientist, etc.), and four "Elemental Paths" that replace the usual classes (described as warriors, clerics, sorcerers and rogues).

In short, the crunch seems to be inspired by chainmail and OD&D, whit modern sensibilities.

The spell system is similar to Mehliu: the spells are few, but somewhat flexible. The spells are all quite subtle, which suits this modern setting better than the usual fireballs and magic missiles. Likewise, spell-casting is dangerous - which fits the genre.


The setting is of the "secret history " type. You basically have nazis migrating to Brazil and Argentina (which some actually did) and opening portals to different planes of existence, which brings all kinds of evil and distorted creatures to this earth. The PCs are "awakened" folks who will find and face these threats.

Even tough the setting is focused in Brazil the rules and fluff are flexible enough that they can be used in any place and [modern] time (as the book itself mentions). There is not much that is distinctly Brazilian here (except for a list of names and a secret agency that is "named after Brazil’s victory during the Soccer World Cup against Sweden").

The bestiary, with twenty-something antagonists (including angels, demons, cultists, zombies, agents, etc.), is good enough to take your characters from level 1 (or 0) to level 12.


Likewise, the random tables - which use an interesting way of generating results, by rolling 8 to 10 dice and counting the number of 1s, 2s, 3s etc. - could be used in many settings or even other PRGs (like Kult, CoC, etc.).

In short...

Like Mehliu, this book will please those wanting a simple, streamlined, old school experience, within the urban fantasy/modern horror/conspiracy genres. Unlike Mehliu, however, which is focused on a single valley, zauBeR is flexible and vague enough that can be used almost anywhere. It encourages you to warp existing cities into something more sinister, and it is likely that you'll use your own city as a setting for your adventures.

The rules are tight, the art is good (specially the antagonists... some creepy guys in there!), and the writing is clear - specially if you're learning about RPGs, game-mastering, etc.

Get this game if you want a concise "modern horror" setting, simple 2d6 rules that suit this setting, or both these thing at once.

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Friday, November 01, 2019

All weapons d6 - an important distinction

Take a look at this post from Jeff Rients. Interesting stuff.

The part I want to address is the conclusion:

Sometimes when you float All Weapons Do d6 rule on the internet, some joker will come back with something like "Well then, I should just spend 1gp to buy 12 iron spikes and hand them out to all my friends. No need to spend the money on anything better, since everything does d6." My response to that is twofold: A) All Weapons Do D6 is not the same concept as All Objects Do D6. Prepare to encounter mechanical penalties for wielding a non-weapon in combat. and B) There's a fine line between clever and stupid and you are are nowhere near that line.

I completely agree.

There is an important distinction to be made here.

If you use the "All Weapons Do d6 rule" and all your players decide to fight with daggers, AND you dislike that, you probably have a problem with your system.

If you use the "All Weapons Do d6 rule" and all your players decide to fight with iron spikes, AND you dislike that, you probably have a problem with your players.

In the first case, players are just playing by the rules (and you might consider changing the rules); in the second, they are misrepresenting the rules on purpose - and you might consider changing your players.

Anyway.

In 5e D&D, there is no reason IN THE RULES for you to buy mace or greatclub, since the quarterstaff is equal/better at everything. But you can always use one of the options Jeff mentions (aesthetics, narrative-style advantages, etc.).

In my latest book, 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons, I give a few rules-oriented options for maces and greatclubs, but also these bits:

Finally, damage types are useful when adjudicating the effect of weapons on objects. Bludgeoning weapons are good against chests and doors, slashing weapons can cut ropes, piercing weapons can put holes on a sack or barrel, etc. Even in the same damage type, you can make distinctions: an axe is useful to cut wood, a whip is not, and a sword can be ruined in the process.

[...]

Martial axes, picks, bludgeoning weapons: double your Strength modifier when calculating damage (if you attacked with Dexterity, add both modifiers instead).

Swords, slashing weapons: get a “free” attack against the same target or another target within range.

Critical hit tables can be fun, but I find that for such a special event, coming up with something adequate and cool on the fly is even better.


In short... If you play 5e and like mechanical differences between weapons, you might be interested in this book.

However, even if you prefer to play with NO explicit differences between weapons, weapon choice can still be meaningful if you and your players use weapons creatively.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Considering a "Fifth edition hack"

Not my first post about the subject (see this and this). Just trying to tackle this from a different angle.

First, I like D&D fifth edition (5e). Well, I like a big part of it. What 5e lacks, IMO, is simplicity. That is why my games (Dark Fantasy Basic and other "homebrews") are often a blend of 5e and Moldvay's Basic.

I also like minimalist games such as The Black Hack and Knave. I do think, however, they have too little stuff, and are not sufficiently compatible to either 5e or Moldvay's Basic for me to use.

So, what I need is a simple system that is somewhere between these games and 5e. A Fifth Edition Hack of sorts. There is already at least one game of this sort - Into the Unknown. And it looks great.

These are ALL great games, BTW.

Here is how I'd make my own.

Could THIS be a good idea?
Simplification

First, we cut ALL the small stuff. A Fighting style that gives you +1/+2 damage, or +1 to AC? Gone. Skill are mostly gone. Class features are 80% gone. Armor and weapon proficiency are gone. Hit points are not defined by class (but Constitution will have a similar effect). "Save DCs" are replaced by opposed rolls. Anyway, we're ditching a lot of stuff to make the game a lot simpler simpler.

Ability scores and modifiers

Probably start with 3d6 in order (or something slightly better) and use a method similar to Knave or Shadow of the Demon Lord:

ScoreModifier
100
11+1
12+2
13+3
14+4
15+5
16+6
17+7
......etc.


Skills

I am of two minds here....

1) Use "roll under" skills, like TBH; it is what Moldvay's Basic suggests as an optional rule. So, you have Strength 10, roll 1d20 under 10 to succeed. Difficult rolls can impose a penalty (up to -20), but they'll be rare enough.

2) Just add your modifier and roll against a DC form 10 to 30, like 5e. This way, we keep the game "unified", with a single mechanics, and we can use the 5e DCs as written. Hum... Probably a good idea.

Proficiency

Proficiency is a bit harder. the 5e method is simple and works well. However, I like the simplicity of TBH. I dunno; I think I'd rather assume proficiency since most rolls will be made with proficiency anyway.

Maybe the Thief gets some skills (i.e., some bonus), and that's it.

Another options is defining skills by ability and class. This one is pretty obvious (and is described on the 5e DMG): thieves are "trained" in Dexterity and therefore Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth, and so on. Works well enough, but there are a few exceptions. IMO, the cleric should get religion, the fighter, animal handling and survival*, and the thief, perception. Charisma skills (deception, intimidation, performance, persuasion) are all over.

* This works for rangers, barbarians, hedge knights, mounted mercenaries, and even noble knights - they are supposed to be able to hunt, etc. There is a "rural"/"wild" feel to the fighter, as opposed to the "urban" thief.

Saving throws

Again, "roll under" would be good. The problem is that someone with Dex 10 will make a save against an ancient red dragon 50% of the time. TBH has a good solution for this (HD), but doesn't wok perfectly with 5e, since HD is less important than CR in 5e.

So, this is an opposed roll; one side rolls, adds modifier, and tries to beat the other.

Forget proficiency in saving throws, since we're not using that anyway. The Fighter is better at Strength saves by having great Strength, and that's it.

Maybe monsters still get their usual saves, since we don't want to rewrite their stats.

Combat

This is harder. Well, attacking is an opposed roll against AC.

AC is calculated more or less like normal, but AC will be a little higher than usual - because modifiers are bigger and other things.

Damage is 1dx+modifier. Notice that this modifier will also be bigger than usual.

HP - keep them as written for now.

Classes

Here is the fun part. Every class has exactly FOUR special features.

You get one feature PER TIER; this means, levels 1, 5, 11 and 17. These are the official "tiers" of 5e.

Level 1 features are things that define your class.

At level 5, you get a second attack (fighter), double the damage of your spells (wizard), get a small bonus to all skills plus more damage to your sneak attack (rogue), etc. And again for levels 11 and 17.

Leveling and feats

Every level, you can make a choice - raise one attribute (probably limited by tier) or get a feat.

Spells

My favorite method: spells are feats, and they are flexible. A "control fire" spell allows you to fireball, protect against fire, light a candle, etc. However, maintaining compatibility would also be important, so we could keep it traditional and leave this is an alternative.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The day the characters killed a baby

I'm currently playing Curse of Strahd. It certainly has its dark moments. However, the most appalling thing that happened in one of my games was in a different campaign. I was always a bit hesitant to tell this story here but... here it goes.

What was it? Well, you've seen the title of this post.

Anyway, during the height of the "Game of Thrones" TV show popularity, I did the whole "Shadows of Westeros" campaign.

The PCs were big players in the seven realms, a few years after Robert Baratheon took the throne (i.e., a decade before the begging of the books/show). The fought in Pike, went to tourneys, met the laughing lion, etc. It was fun!

One of the PCs had his whole family slain by a scheming bannerman (allegedly, for supporting the Targaryens against Bob Baratheon). In the end, they stormed his castle and managed to kill him. But they forgot to ask if he had a wife before storming the castle. Oh well, they finished the job.

Then they heard a baby cry.

The campaign ended immediately after that, in the same, session. Maybe it was partly because I couldn't stomach what the PCs did, they became villains IMO, but also the PCs got sentenced, killed, or sent to the wall (which was EXACTLY the plan of the their "ally", who encouraged then to attack the scheming bannerman by surprise). The whole "season" was ending anyway.

I didn't condemn the players, though; it was probably my own fault for trying to give the game that GoT vibe.

And, well, these things happen in Westeros; even ordinary peasants commit atrocities as you can see in Martin's latest book. But is not a type of campaign I enjoy.


Anyway.

Somebody asked a question about GoT campaigns on reddit, and I told this story. This was the most popular reply:

"So, how much xp for the babe?"

I have to admit, it made me laugh.

Moral of the story: The PCs will often surprise you... and you won't necessarily like it! ;)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

My MANUAL OF ARMS for 5e is out!

Since you've been asking... my MANUAL OF ARMS for 5e is out!

Well, at least the first part. This one is all about WEAPONS.

Check the amazing cover (once more, courtesy of Rick Troula):


If you've been following this blog for a while, you already know most of the stuff here. This is the organized, good-looking version of my thoughts on 5e weapons.

But anyway:

What is MANUAL OF ARMS?
Manual of Arms is a series of booklets that enhance, change and reinterpret existing equipment and mechanics for non-magical combat. Each booklets deal with a single subject. If there is enough interest, they’ll be collected in a single tome in the future.

What is this book about?
This book is a collection of ideas to make weapons more diverse, streamlined, balanced, varied, and fun.
Old versions of the game had many weapon options that were not used in the current one. Fortunately, they are easy to use, with a few adjustments to match the current rules. Many ideas in this book are updated and adapted from other iterations or other games.
In addition, I changed some weapons, added a few, created a few new rules and made notes on how to choose and create your own weapons.

Which game system?
This book contains ideas that are useful for many games. However, the main focus is the world’s most famous role-playing game, in its latest version.

What did you change?
I’ve made a few changes in chapter I to make weapons more streamlined and interesting. I explain these changes in chapter II. In these two chapters, I used asterisks to indicate what was changed. One asterisk (*) means I changed the traits of a weapon that already existed. Two asterisks (**) mean that the weapon or property are not in the original rules.

Must I use the entire book at once?
Not really. The chapters are modular. You can choose which ones to use, or even choose what paragraphs or single weapons to add to your game.

Chapters
Chapter I contains a list of weapons and their properties. If you want to use this book only to find new weapons, without any tinkering, or you don’t care for designer’s notes and analysis of the game mechanics, this is the chapter you’re going to use.
Chapter II is a brief weapon-by-weapon analysis and description. It describes existing weapons and explains why I have made some of the changes I made in chapter I.
Chapter III is a melee weapon builder, made so that you can create your own weapons or change existing ones.
Chapter IV is a list of loose ideas to alter weapons further, or add even more weapons to your game. Unlike chapter I, however, chapter IV discusses significant changes to the game mechanics.

Buy it here!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

RPG artist spotlight: Rick Troula

Starting a small series on my favorite RPG artists... I think my last post about art was on Sidney Sime, the original Old School Artist - but RPG art is something I really appreciate and enjoy.

The next artist I must mention is Rick Troula. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know him from the cover of all books in the Dark Fantasy Basic line - you can see a couple on your right.

In addition to being an amazing artist, Rick is a huge friend of mine, so I will avoid praising him too much and let the art speak for itself.

If you want someone to work on your RPG, I can attest to his professionalism and talent (as I'm sure other people who worked with him can do the same). You can fin his stuff at www.ricktroula.com, and Instagram, or e-mail him at r_troula@hotmail.com.

Rick is better known from his comic book The Displaced, which you can find here or here. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy RPGs (but then again I am credited in the book):


But he also does concept art, storyboards (this one for "Sintonia", a netflix series)...


...book covers...


Some SUPERB work for the Mana Rocks game...


And, of course, RPGs!

Besides Dark Fantasy Basic, you can find his work in Dungeon Grappling*, Lost Hall of Tyr*, Misspent Youth: Sell Out with Me* and Dragon Heresy, among others.

This one is my favorite from Dungeon Grappling (which I also mentioned in my review of the book):


Oh, and did I mention he is going to be featured in my next book? Click here if you want to know more! And get in touch if you want to take a look at the book - I want to hear your opinion!


Next in this series: my favorite old school artist!

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Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone (old-school RPG review)

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

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone [affiliate link*] is, like other recent games, a mix of old school mechanics with some new school sensibilities. Specifically, it uses a combat system similar to Chainmail (with 2d6 rolls and d66 tables) but resembles modern D&D (especially 5th edition) in other aspects, such as skills, unified XP tables, backgrounds, etc. It also has some aspects of Basic D&D (race-as-class) and other interesting ideas, both original and from other editions/games.


The book starts with a few pages introducing you to RPGs - good, but not especially necessary for most of us, I'd think - and then starts describing the area that gives the book its name:

Mehliu is a coastal valley to the west of Minassi, an
important dwarven region. It’s a wild and secluded
place, dotted by dark forests and rolling hills. It’s a place
of blood and bone, but also of adventure and magic.

In the past, Mehliu was a no-man’s land, relegated to
the beasts. When the elves forced their tyranny over the
trolls, many sought refuge in the valley, and they were
soon followed by humans and dwarves alike. It was an
uneasy peace at first, but Mehliu was isolated enough
not to instill even more anger against the elven tyrants.

As you can see, you've got the "usual suspects" of fantasy creatures (elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.), but they are used in creative ways, with elves being the aggressors and trolls apparently being invaded twice over (although they resemble ordinary monsters int he bestiary).

This pattern will be followed in most of the book: usual concepts with small creative twists (for example, sorcerers replace magic-users, and clerics use Charisma instead of Wisdom).

Anyway, the next few pages describe this setting with just the right amount of detail for my tastes, answering all the relevant questions (where to find weapons and treasure, how to learn spells, who is the ruler of the valley, etc.).

It is all very clear and straightforward, and it reads like it is meant to introduce new players to the area (or the game, or even RPGs in general).

After that, the characters classes are described: Warriors, Clerics, Sorcerers, Thieves, Dwarves, and Elves.

All classes get a single XP table, a few distinguishing characteristics, and a new feature every level (until level 12). They also have a list of starting equipment, which is helpful.

I really like this part - classes get flavorful traits, but never become too complex.

Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variations to player characters without hassle.


Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variation to player characters without hassle.

Equipment and gear is pretty straightforward, nothing odd or groundbreaking here.

Next, we get the rules of the game, that are simple yet effective. With valuable old school advice, this part contains something resembling an OD&D version of 5e's proficiency bonus - which works well - in addition to saving throws, group rolls, reactions, followers, etc., all with 2d6.

Then there is the spell system. This games avoids the classic "Vancian" method in favor of a 2d6 roll to cast spells. The spell list is short and sweet - and spells have flavorful names and flexible effects. My kind of spell system...


Combat is like the rest of the game: simple (but not simplistic), effective, and 2d6. It is divided in "phases", in the old school style. Damage (equal to the lesser of the 2d6, although there are feats that may change it) is the same for all weapons. Special combat situations are covered here too (camouflage, morale, etc.).

An extensive example of combat carefully explains how to use the rules in practice.

Next comes the bestiary. It is very short - only eight creatures - although you could probably use creatures form other old school games.

Treasure, on the other hand, is very detailed, with a fair amount of examples, both ordinary and magical.

Next, we have a couple of chapters for the GM. One is on GM tips, which contains advice (mostly of the old school flavor, but also dealing with sensitive themes, session zero, etc.), a few random tables (for generating dungeon, encounters, etc.), and an hex map of the whole region. The second contains an introductory adventure (a few pages, probably enough for one session).

The appendices contain name generators for humans, elves, dwarves, etc., and a random adventure generator.

In short...

This book is good at what it offers - a streamlined version of OD&D with modern sensibilities and balanced rules. Organization is good, text is very clear and concise, and the art is simple, but pleasing (see above). The mechanics are very good, and there is enough stuff for players to play and entire campaign from level 1 to 12.

What the game lacks, however, is GM stuff - especially monsters, but also some additional detail on places, quests, etc. In fact, the whole game has a somewhat "introductory" vibe to it, from the "what is an RPG" parts to the slimmed-down descriptions and tight regional focus.

As I see it, this game is good for two purposes: introducing new players to old-school games of the Chainmail type, or, if you already like this type of gaming, adding new, more interesting options to player characters.

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