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

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Piecemeal armor

This is going into my next PDF (Manual of Arms: Armor and Shields). It is still unfished, but I think I can publish the PDF in the next few days.

I like the idea of piecemeal armor, but since I'm abstracting the whole thing (as you've seen here), I don't need to deal with specific bits and pieces. The notion of creating your own armor from bits and pieces is interesting. Adding strange materials and the hides of supernatural creatures is even better.

Here is what I've got so far.

Art by dleoblack - source.

Piecemeal armor (and crafting)

Piecemeal armor is built from diverse bits and pieces. Each part might have a different quality, weight, and material. Some are improvised and asymmetrical. This is suboptimal and only common in post-apocalyptic worlds where you cannot find a blacksmith to make coherent armor.

The rules in chapter II are abstract enough to cover these kinds of armor. The only exception is that you do not usually buy this type of armor, but build it over a long time, as you find useful pieces.

As an optional rule, every time you find armor with equal or higher cost than yours (that you cannot simply steal for some reason) or other useful parts, you can make a check with the relevant tools (leatherworker’s, smith’s, etc.) to see if you can upgrade your armor by one step (changing AC, weight and price accordingly). The difficulty is equal to the armor’s current AC.

This can take a while. A quick rule of thumb is adding the result of your check (in gp) each day to the value of armor until it reaches the value of the desired armor type. If you want to upgrade a weapon from a 30 gp value to 50 gp, for example, you need to roll 20 or more. Three failures usually mean you ruined the material. Armor made this way has little resale value.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Monster stats - minimalism x efficiency

Timothy S. Brannan has recently written an interesting post on The Other Side blog, comparing monster stat blocks in different old school systems. Take a look, it is well worth the read.

Making smaller stat blocks is an idea I've been pursuing myself in the context of "minimalist D&D". But, once again, I realized "minimalism" might be misleading, so terms such as efficiency, essentialism or elegance might be clearer - even though the very concept of minimalist, as I've mentioned in the link above, is exposing the essence of things.

“Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design […] where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.” (source)


Look at these two stat blocks (from Timothy's post).

The second one is from Swords & Wizardry*:

Both are good, both are terse enough. The second one LOOKS simpler, so you'd think I'd favor it... but wait. Look at all this wasted space. It could be a couple of lines: 

Orc. HD 1, AC 6 [14], spear (1d6) or scimitar (1d8), ST 17, Move 12, Chaotic, CL/XP 1/15.

("Special: none" is the subject for another post, but you can imagine I really dislike this...)

The second one at least has an excuse for taking so much space: they are describing 4 monsters. The monsters are similar enough that you certainly could makes things even easier, but the amount of information contained there is awesome.

The "number encountered" line is specially noteworthy (and useful); it describes, very succinctly, the orcs' military organization. An important bit of information that you will rarely find in modern D&D!

Could we reduce it to a few lines? Probably. Something like...

Orc. HD 1, AC 6, weapon, ST 17, Move 12, Morale 8, Chaotic, XP 10.
* Lieutenant (1:10). HD 2, +1 damage, ST 16, XP 20.
* Captain (1:20). HD 3, +1 damage, ST 15, attacks 3/2, XP 30.

But the advantage is a bit less obvious here than in the first case.

There are infinite ways to do that, these are just two example. I really like how Low Fantasy Gaming deals with monsters, for example. Instead of the often repeated "Special: none", every monster has something special (requiring a natural 19).

Anyway, I'll be tackling 5e monsters soon. Just thought this observation was worth sharing.

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

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Dexterity, the god-stat that failed

In my latest post about armor, I 've got one comment saying: "I like it, except for negative Dex modifiers applying to plate armour. Dexterity is already the God Stat in 5e, and the last thing martials need is a nerf, however slight. SOMEONE in the world should be able to dump Dex."

He is definitely right.

Dex is already too powerful in 5e, and I've fallen into the same trap, so I am changing that part. Dex shouldn't affect you in heavy armor, even if negative, at least in the usual 5e rules.

There are three main functions for Dexterity in D&D: agility (the ability to dodge, do acrobatics, etc.), aim (shoot ranged weapons) and precise hand movements (pick locks, etc.). This sounds like too much already - in  real life, there's no reason to assume that a decent marksmen is good at acrobatics - but, fair enough, abilities are meant to be broad.

But Dexterity is also the main thing defining your initiative. Even if you're casting a spell. So, dexterous characters also think fast. 

And there is combat. Now, Dexterity allows you to fight with a rapier (not a light weapon in real life...) or shortsword as efficiently as a strong fighter, and dealing the same amount of damage.

Wielding a 18 lb. crossbow? Better have good Dex - because Str in unimportant. Longbow - a weapon that requires a lot of strength to draw? Better have good Dex too, since a longbow doesn't require (or use) strength in the game (well, unless you're using some of the ideas like the ones I've mentioned in Manual of Arms).

Art by Rick Troula.

Dex allows you to have high AC with no armor or light armor. Fair enough, Str lets you wear heavy armor... Although you might have a penalty to stealth because of that, and the armor is encumbering, obvious to enemies, takes some time to put on (and take off), and there are even official modules that say you cannot sleep in armor, or go through the jungle in armor, etc. ad nauseam.

Saving Throws? Same. Dex saves are the most common in the game. For some reason, that heavy armor you're wearing won't protect you from a fireball or some fire traps (oh, you use Dex to disarm non-magical traps, obviously). Fortunately, a trap that shoots arrows attacks AC - do not ask for a Dex saving throw!

Then, there are skills. Dexterity has three in 5e: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. "Mental" abilities (Int, Wis, Cha) have 4-5 skills each, but Str has only one - and Con, none. 

And tools. Check the Player's Handbook, page 154: 
Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. For example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver's tools, or a Strength check to make something out of particularly hard wood.
Both Dex and Str are used as examples... but Dex see to be the norm, with Str the exception ("particularly hard wood"...). I wonder which stat is used to build a chair out of ordinary wood. But I digress. I think most tools would use Intelligence, which is nice because Int deserves the boost.

Here is more form the PHB: 
Other Dexterity Checks. The GM might call for a Dexterity check when you try to accomplish tasks like the following:
- Control a heavily laden cart on a steep descent
- Steer a chariot around a tight turn
- Pick a lock
- Disable a trap
- Securely tie up a prisoner
- Wriggle free of bonds
- Play a stringed instrument
- Craft a small or detailed object
So, now I can play a lute with Dex. And control a heavily laden cart... I assume the PC is on the cart, otherwise I'd use Str. Knots? They require Dex too. In real life, knots require more knowledge (of which knot to use, etc.) than dexterity.

Maybe I'm nitpicking, but I believe I've made my point.

So, instead of complaining, I want to offer some solutions.

* Initiative. The idea that you need high Dex to quickly cast a spell, for example, makes little sense. You can just ditch initiative and you won't lose much. Or, in other words, make a single roll for initiative and whatever ability or skill you're using (casting a spell that doesn't require a roll, use you casting stat).

* AC. I'll skip this one, since I've been writing a series of posts on armor and will continue soon.

* Weapons. My suggestion is this: you always add Strength bonus to damage, regardless of weapon. If this is too radical, consider adding "composite bows" to your games.

* Tools. They should use Intelligence by default. Intelligence is a weak stat for non-casters in 5e. Knots are a matter of Intelligence. Artistry is Intelligence, Wisdom, maybe even Charisma... not Dexterity. well, unless you're dancing or something.

* Saves. First, do not use a Dex save when your armor could (as least theoretically) protect you. But this might require big changes to the game. A less radical approach is just giving +1 to Dex saves when wearing medium armor, +2 when wearing heavy armor. This represents the fact that, while it might be harder to dodge an Cordon of Arrows while in heavy armor, it is somewhat useful to have your entire body covered in metal when that happens!
Or am I crazy for suggesting plate armor should offer some protection agasint arrows?

Of course, you do not get to add a bonus if you're trying to dodge Black Tentacles, since they will grab you feet no matter what you're wearing!

FWIW, I'm incorporating some of these ideas in my next Manual of Arms. I hope I can publish it in April!

Some of them don't fit 5e that well, so I'll incorporate them in my minimalist D&D, further down the line.

Friday, April 02, 2021

D&D 5e armor: a very simple fix

(A quick note: Tiago Rolim, an OSR designer, is ill and needs our help. Please check this out. And you get a lot of cool-looking games for US$10. I don't know Tiago or anyone involved in this bundle, just want to help).

This drives me crazy:

I think we could come up with something better and simpler:

Armor types have no names anymore. Instead, you get to describe your own armor by choosing from the table above and fitting it into of the three categories below. As I've said  before, "Let the players choose how they present their armor, as long as it makes sense. Chain mail with breast plate and no helmet? Cool! Shoulder pads to protect you in your right arm, big scary helmet, and bare chest? Nice!"

Notice that now heavy armor is always heavier than medium armor, and both always heavier than light armor. What a crazy idea, right?

Here is what armor types mean:

Light Armor: Made from supple and thin materials (usually leather or cloth), and maybe a few pieces of metal (just a helmet and or maybe protection for the right arm, etc.), light armor favors agile adventurers since it offers some protection without sacrificing mobility. If you wear light armor, you add your Dexterity modifier to the base number from your armor type to determine your Armor Class.

Medium Armor: Medium armor offers more protection than light armor, but it also impairs movement more. It is made with metal rings, scales or even plates (like a breastplate), but doesn't cover the entire body, although you will often use leather and cloth as padding or to protect exposed joints, etc. If you wear medium armor, you add your Dexterity modifier, to a maximum of +2, to the base number from your armor type to determine your Armor Class.

Heavy Armor: Of all the armor categories, heavy armor offers the best protection. These suits of armor cover the entire body in metal (of varying quality) and are designed to stop a wide range of attacks. Includes a helmet, gorget, or both. Only proficient warriors can manage their weight and bulk. Heavy armor doesn’t let you add your Dexterity modifier to your Armor Class, unless the  modifier is negative.

What about stealth? Here is what I've got.

Some types of armor are noisy, usually due to heavy or low-quality material/craftsmanship. A creature has disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks while wearing noisy armor. You can find noisy, low quality light and medium armor for half the usual price. Alternatively, you can find good medium armor with additional pieces or layers that increases its AC by one, but also makes the armor noisy and doubles weight and price. Heavy armor is always noisy.

Notice that we have more options than the original system, and the whole thing makes sense. We could go even further and just say light armor weights 10 pounds, medium 20 (or 40 if noisy), and heavy, 50 or 60 regardless of AC. 

You could add a line about druids and how you can find nonmetal armor up to AC 12... but I'd go one step further and add bone, stone, etc., to give them even more options. But that's another subject.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

D&D 5e: new types of armor

I have been finally writing the follow up to my 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons; the name is 5e Manual of Arms: Armor and shields.

It's been a bit of a headache. Armor is a lot more complex (and maybe less interesting) than melee weapons. The weight varies immensely, and the types of armor 5e uses have only a vague resemblance to reality (I've heard many people say that "leather armor" is not a thing, and that padded armor should be a lot better, "chain mail" is redundant, etc.). 

Real armor can vary in weight, size, etc. It is also used in many combinations – a breastplate with chain armor, with padding underneath, and so on. There are also cultural differences; think of samurai, gladiators (with asymmetric armor), armor made of exotic materials, etc. 

The issue is further complicated because, even in the original rules, some types or armor are just smaller parts of others, while some include greaves, gauntlets, protection for the legs, layers, etc.  

Helmets? Not mentioned in 5e. I guess it is not an important piece of armor...

To make things a lot simpler, you could just ignore the names of the armor and judge them by price, weight and AC. Let the players choose how they present their armor, as long as it makes sense. Chain mail with breast plate and no helmet? Cool! Shoulder pads to protect you in your right arm, big scary helmet, and bare chest? Nice! 

So, I'm adding this is an alternate system. Build your own armor, never mind the name. Also, an encumbrance system that is both easier and more sensible.

(I already wrote about this here)

But I feel I should at least fill the gaps that 5e leaves for people who don't want a new system. For now, I've got a few shields, but only two types of armor (I don't think we need more than that): 
Gambeson (Light)
A long, padded jacket with a skirt. In this context, a heavier (maybe thicker or longer) type of padded armor. 
AC 12 + Dex modifier Str — Disadvantage to stealth 15 lb. 20 gp

Brigandine (Heavy)
Small steel plates riveted inside a jacket of cloth. The arms and legs are covered with similar protection, or chain. Overall, lighter than chain mail but heavier and more expensive than ring mail. 
AC 15 Str 11 (?) Disadvantage 45 lb. 60 gp 
Not great. I think brigandine should be lighter (i.e., medium armor) and more expensive, but there is no niche there to fill. And brigandine sounds simialr to the way splint mail is described, so...

I'd like to add a Jack of plates as medium armor... but again, no niche (unless I give it stealth disadvantage, which sounds bad).

Any ideas? I'd be happy to hear them.

Anyway, if you want a detailed treatment on weapons, you can also check the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set. I wrote a very small section of it (about half a page, similar to that link, above), and although I haven't talked much to Douglas since the demise of Google+, I know he only creates good stuff AFAICT. Here is another example.

Dragon Heresy has new types of armor, shields, weapons, and a completely novel combat system. Douglas know his stuff - he makes actual shields! If you like to add more detail to your D&D combat, it is worth checking out.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Minimalist OSR

Some random musings on the topic...

When I wrote Dark Fantasy Basic, I was creating a kind of homage to Moldvay's Basic* (as you can see from the cover). This book is one of the best ever, IMO.

On one hand, I was trying to make it simpler, by cutting XP tables, many saving throws, etc. On the other, I was is trying to expand it with character customization (skills, feats, etc.) and additional levels. 

In the end, I wanted to you keep a similar size (about 60 pages), which I achieved, but not without cutting monsters, dungeon-building, and DM advice (which I ended up including in my other books).

I was not especially interested you making a "minimalist Moldvay", since the game was simple enough for me already.

Since writing it, however, I've written quite a lot about "minimalist D&D", usually within the context of 5e - a game I consider unnecessarily complex. 

However, I was browsing through the OSE SRD the other day and I got instantly hooked by the simple classes (in case you don't know, Old School Essentials is a fairly faithful clone of B/X, which you can get for free*). They are wonderfully terse - and you can still find some easy ways to make them simpler.

Basically, you can just Target 20 the whole thing so each class is a couple of paragraphs.

Well, the fighter is already a couple of paragraphs and tables. Same for the wizard. The thief is, once again, a bit more trickier. The hardest thing to convert to Target 20 is the climbing skill. Should climbing be a thief skill? It's debatable. But - what if we stick to Basic and make EVERY skill a thief skill?

In Dark Fantasy Basic (like in B/X) every PC becomes better at fighting as their level increases - regardless of class. Classes such as the thief get some minor "magical" abilities in B/X, and potentially in DFB too. DFB does the same for thieves' skills - everybody can become a better thief as their level rises.

But I've added more skills - such as nature etc. - for rangers, barbarians, and so on. Now I'm thinking that is not strictly necessary.

What if we only have these three "skills" - let's call them Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster - instead of the usual ones? 

Art by Rick Troula.

Like in DFB, the Fighter is 100% warrior, plus 2/3 expert and 1/3 spellcaster. In practice this means a 9th level fighter has +9 to attack, +6 for "expert stuff" (see below) and +3 to cast spells (consider that +3 is a small bonus for such a high level PC).

Conversely, the wizard could be 100% spellcaster, plus 2/3 expert and 1/3 warrior.

And the thief Would get 100% expert, 2/3 warrior, and 1/3 spellcaster.

But we could play around with this idea a little bit. The total bonus, as you see, is level x2 (so our 9th level fighter has a total +18 bonus; +9 for warrior and +9 to divide between expert and spellcaster).

So maybe we make the thief 100% expert, plus 50% warrior and 50% spellcaster. A 10th level thief gets +10 for "expert" stuff, +5 to attack and +5 for spells. An the cleric might have, I dunno, 70% warrior, 70% spellcaster, and 60% expert. A "witcher" class would be balanced between warrior (100%) spellcaster (50%), and expert (50%),

As long as the total is the same.

This doesn't require math. Instead, just give the PCs two points per level to distribute among Warrior, Expert, and Spellcaster. The maximum rank they can get is equal to their level. The minimum should be level/4 (or something).

Expert stuff would do everything that isn't combat or spellcasting. That means climbing, yes, but also deciphering languages, nature, backstab, leadership, etc. With one caveat - you only get to add it if you have the adequate "expertise". It would be equivalent to 5e' proficiency bonus. Some feats would allow you to double it, etc. Animals would be expert at hunting, hiding and so on, a goldsmith NPC would just be good at his job.

Of course, we would add a perk or two to warriors and spellcasters. Maybe add you warrior rank to HP, or twice that much. Spellcasters get more spell "points" or something, in addition to the bonus.

A PC would look like this:

Aurelius (level 7)
AC, HP, etc.
Str +3, Dex +2, Con +2, Cha -1, Int 0, Wis +2. 
War 7, Exp 4, Spl 3
Expertises: stealth, nature.

So, when attacking, we would get a +10 bonus (+7 from warrior, +3 from Str). When sneaking, he'd get +6 (+4 from expert, +2 from Dex).

I wrote this on a whim. But I think it might be enough to build a minimalist OSR game. And, come to think of it, if you tweak the numbers right, you could even make it almost 5e compatible...

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

Friday, March 26, 2021

Did you miss the sale? No problem!

Teratogenicon, our most impressive book yet, was the DEAL OF THE DAY on DTRPG... and now the day is over!

But don't worry - I'm here to help you out! I created a discount coupon, good until Easter (April 4).

If you haven't got it yet, this is your chance. It is compatible both with OSR and modern RPGs.

And it has AMAZING art by Rick Troula - just check the previews!

(This is the first time I do this. Let's see how it works. I was worried that people might miss the deal because I didn't advertise enough in advance... but I'm not sure this is a great strategy for me. After this is finished the price will probably increase to make the whole viable. BTW, I'm planning a physical version soon, in addition to some new books! Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.).