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

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

DTRPG's Halloween gold run - free stuff!

Almost all of my own products are 25% off due to the sale, since I write mostly dark fantasy stuff.

Dark Fantasy Basic and Dark Fantasy Characters are close to getting a gold badge! Can we make it until Halloween?

Well, just in case, here are some coupons with bigger discounts for the readers of this blog. They are good until Halloween!



Dark Fantasy Places is still free.

In addition, you can get free stuff on the site by clicking on the pumpkins, hats, ghosts, bats, etc. Just click all the menus to find icons such as these:

I found some good stuff already: Xas Irkalla, Stranger Stuff (TinyD6) and some things I didn't know.

Have fun looking for them. I'll post a list of all I can find here before the sale ends!

Try these pages, for a start:


If you've found anything cool, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Curse of Strahd Guide - Part III - Minimum resources

The third part in the series (here is part II) would originally be a rant about how curse of Strahd is somewhat incomplete and badly organized, and that you need additional resources (and not jut the book) to run it without a headache.

However there's already a huge trove of fan-produced stuff for the campaign online, for free. Because of that I have little to add, other than a few links and comments. 

In fact, there is so much good material out there that's what I thought it would be more useful to do the opposite: tell you the bare minimum additional resources you need to run this campaign. Because there's so much decent stuff online bet you could run this company forever, but I'm guessing this is not your goal.

Some of the essential stuff you need is in the official DM's screen. Now, I don't use or recommend using DM screens, but that's the subject for another post. The material contained in this screen, however, is very useful to have in hand. One might even guess that some of this was left out of the book on purpose... But they wouldn't do that, right? I mean, you can find some of this stuff in the book, but it is badly organized. See this rant if you want to know what I mean. 

Anyway... Let's take a look at this. 


It contains: 

* Lists of random encounters for Barovia and for the Castle, with page numbers.
* A few maps of the castle. 
* A map of Barovia. 
* A list os locations in Barovia, in alphabetical order, with page numbers

Half of the screen is useful whenever you are traveling outdoors through Barovia, from one settlement to another - which means, almost always. The other half it's only useful when you're within the castle- which means, in a small aprt of the campaign.

Other than that, you need a good player map. There is no reason the characters wouldn't know the geography of the valley after talking to a few people, so there's no reason to hide the map from them (although you could certainly rip the edges of the map to make some locations  more mysterious). 

There's a map in the book, of course, but it is big and unwieldy. It is also too beautiful and detailed - doesn't look like a map you'd find in Barovia -  and in divided in hexes, which is not useful (see below).

Here's a better one (if you know the author, please give him credits in the comments): 

The last thing you need is a guide to the distances in Barovia, so you don't have to count hexes. The map of Barovia makes the campaign look like an hex-crawl, but there is no reason to look at it this way. The characters will not be exploring unknown locations (like they would on a hex-crawl), but the only traveling through roads and trails, and going to cities, castles, ruins, etc. 

This should be organized as a point-crawl, but apparently they were not familiar with the concept. Going "off road" is possible but not expected and should carry explicit consequences.

You can find this in many forms, even a detailed spreadsheet, but the most useful would be some kind of map with the distances written down. Here's one example, although the distances are off I (they should be one third of that). However, you can play with the distances as you want. 

Here's my suggestion (click here for the full map): 

Each marking represents one hour of travel, AND one check for random encounters (yes, I tweaked things a bit). Of course, you could also number and describe in advance each of these places... But this is not necessary. 

Why do distances matter? Because you should never be out at night in Barovia. But that's the subject for another post.

But anyway, this is enough to get you started:
  • Two good maps - one for players, the other for the DM. Notice that the map can include the next two bullet points.
  • An alphabetical index of locations, with page numbers (or write them down in the map).
  • A guide for distances in Barovia.
  • A copy of the list of encounters; add a copy of pages 29-33 (encounters) to avoid flipping back and forth.
If this is not enough... well, the sky is the limit. Here is that trove of resources I mentioned earlier:

If this is useful, let me know in the comments!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Minimalist D&D VI - SUPER-FAST 5e COMBAT!

Here is part V. That was the theory. 

Here is what I'm doing in practice. 

I am NOT using 5e rules exactly as written... but I am convinced you COULD use these rules and keep 90% of 5e. At least until level 5... see below.

In short, the idea is this: you only roll ONE d20 PER ROUND. Everyone rolls at the same time, saying what they plan to do.

The result will tell you: 

- Initiative. 
- Attack roll. 
- Damage. 
- Saving throws.
- "Luck".

This is really simple but I'll explain some details.

Let's use a fighter as our example. She has a +4 Strength bonus. She rolls 12 on the d20.

Her initiative is 16. Forget adding Dex to initiative, it is unnecessary and not necessarily realistic.

Her attack roll is 16. That works as expected.

Her damage is a fixed number (say, 10). 5e D&D already suggests this when dealing with monsters. In our example, let's say her weapon deal 6 points of damage, plus 4 from Strength. a natural 20 would cause 20 damage instead.

Her saving throw is 12+ability score. Saving throws work as intended in 5e. 

(Alternatively, you don't roll for saving throws anymore. Instead, saving throw is a number like AC; 10+stat+proficiency. Since the attacker is always rolling a d20, this also works).

Her "luck" seems decent (12). Here is one cool thing I improvised hen trying this system for the first time. I had a few goblins archers shooting at the PCs. Rolled all at once. One of them hits... but who was hit? The PC who rolled the lowest number on the d20. Of course, you're free to ignore this part.

And that's basically all of it.

Combat example:

Fighter, wizard and rogue are fighting three orcs.

Everyone attacks - except the wizard, who cast fireball, hitting all three orcs. The wizard rolls 12 (+4 from Int, 16 total), the fighter 17 (21 total). The rogue (trying to "sneak attack") rolls a natural 1 (obviously a miss). The orcs roll 14 (17), 3 (6), and 5 (8).

First, fighter hits an orc. Unless he has chosen an specific orc, just chose the one with the lowest roll. The orc is injured.

Then, one orc (17) sees the rogue trying to sneak around and hits him (since he has the lowest roll; however, circumstances might dictate otherwise, if only the fighter is in the front line, for example).

Wizard casts fireball; two orcs failed the save (since they rolled lower than the wizard). One dies (he was injured). The other is engulfed in flames and misses the attack. (Let's just assume for the sake of argument that the fireball didn't hit the wizard's allies in the first turn).

End of turn.


Since most of the system is unchanged, there are few problems to be found. The MAIN problem is advantage and disadvantage, but I'm inclined to apply it as written. Attacking underwater? Seems obvious that the disadvantage should apply BOTH to initiative and the attack roll. Etc.

A bigger problem happens if you have multiple attacks. But I'm okay with having separate attacks. Fighter attacks, then goblin attacks, then fighter attacks again and again, etc.

There are other problems, surely... but I've found nothing insurmountable so far.

Other consequences

Combat is faster and more random. A bit more exciting, maybe a bit less tactical. I like it so far. Need to test it further.

What's next?

The play-test of this "minimalist D&D" is going very well. I'll probably make the whole system public very soon, I just have to adjust a few things.

I will post a bit more about Strahd soon, too; sorry for the delay.

Friday, September 04, 2020


One thing that lacks elegance in most RPGs, including D&D, is the fact that you generate lots of information to get one simple, often binary, result.

For example, you roll initiative, then make an attack roll, and then roll for damage. Say you get 7, 15 and 8. Adding your initiative bonus, your "to-hit" bonus and your damage bonus might give you 9, 21, and 11.

Most of these numbers matter ONLY to indicate if you go first/second.../last and if you hit/miss.

For example, if you hit with a 15 on the d20, you also hit with a 16, 17, 18, or 19, in the exact same manner (a natural 20 will at least give you a critical hit). A 19 does not mean a good hit - the damage can be low, for example.

In theory, you could have 20 different results when you roll a d20, but in practice you get two or three.

We are so accustomed to this that it seems reasonable.

However, I've been thinking of a different method: roll ONE d20. This will tell you your damage, if you hit or miss, and who goes first in the round, etc.


There are infinite ways to do that, but let me give you an example.

Start with a "roll under" mechanic. If you have Strength 15, roll 15 or less to hit, etc. Armor Class is 0 if you are unarmored, 2 for leather, etc. (saving throws follow a similar pattern).

Say we have a wizard with Int 16, a fighter with Str 15, and a thief with Dex 15, fighting against three Str 13 orcs. 

Everyone says what they want to do and rolls a d20. 

Example: the wizard rolls 12, the fighter 17, the thief 5, and the orcs 14, 3, and 8.

Then you resolve the action in the order of highest dice to lowest.

Everyone that rolls ABOVE their stat missed - so you quickly remove all dice that came up 16 or more (the fighter rushes forward and misses; one orc also misses the target!).

The wizard rolled a 12, which means the spell worked! 

An orc also hit with an 8.

Finally, the thief hit an orc (5) and an orc hit someone (3). However, these low rolls might be stopped by AC (simply compare the dice to AC, no addition or subtraction).

Damage? Well, if you need variable damage, just add one point of damage if you roll more than 10. Rolled a 12, add +2 damage. If you hit with 15, add 5 points of damage, and so on. Its easier and faster than rolling 1d8+3, for example. You could go one step further and multiply damage instead: double it on a twelve, triple it on a 13, etc.

This method has many advantages.

* The most important one: the results are VISIBLE. This si an important principle in design that is mostly ignored in RPGs. In ordinary RPGs, for example, you might roll a 15 (visible in the die), add +7 from you PC (visible in you sheet), and get a result of 21. The only number that matters here is 21 - but this result is nowhere to be seen; it must be calculated with every roll, and said out loud.

* It resolves things in order of complexity: first, ignore the misses, then calculate the obvious hits (high rolls), probably taking out a few foes, and just then check the "near misses" - hit that were avoided by AC, etc.

* If the accuracy is more or less "bounded" (i.e., if their main abilities are similar) it is easy to know which dice to ignore very quickly. And if you roll a 19 for a powerful foe and keep it on the table... Well, now your players will be scared!

* Easy to work with multiple attacks: discard the ones above your Str, etc. Same thing applies when rolling with advantage: roll a couple of dice, choose the best.

* A great way to stop wizards when they're casting a spell, if you like this - hit then before they act, and they fail, period.

* It makes combat a lot faster and more chaotic, instead of following clunky "phases" or "turns".

* Notice how it makes sense to tie initiative to the action being attempted. An intelligent wizard casts a spell FAST - despite being frail and low on dexterity. If he tries to swing a sword, OTOH, he will be a lot slower...

* Tying the roll to damage allows characters to slowly augment their damage as they level up, raising the stakes as they fight high-level foes.

* You can guess the results of your moves just by looking at the dice: too high means you fail, unless you're high level yourself. 10+ is a good hit: almost never misses, and damage is good too. 10 or less is a weak hit, low damage and probably can be dodged or stopped by armor.

It requires some play-testing, but looks very promising IMO.

NOTE: I've written this post a while ago and hadn't published it for some reason. Since then, I've tried it using 5e D&D. It worked! I will write about that experience next.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Dark Fantasy Basic - DEAL OF THE DAY!

Just found out my OSR book is "deal of the day" on DTRPG (we don't get to choose the day, it waits in a line until there is an opening, I think).

Since it was already on sale, the discounts apply on top of each other... In short, it currently costs only US$1.60.

The sale lasts or about 24 hours... be quick! :)


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

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

This is a complete game (from the player's side), with five classes (fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user and hopeless), skills, feats, weapons, etc. There are no races - all PCs are human or similar - but there are notes on how to create races for your games. There are 20 different spells but each one is flexible, meaning you can choose the spell level and some of the effects as you cast them.

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

Monday, August 31, 2020

Minimalist D&D IV - How many skills do we NEED?

Here is part III.

As I write my "Dark Fantasy Hack" - a somewhat minimalist (or at least elegant) version of the game - I'm considering cutting skills entirely... but less make a small exercise first.

Here is what we've got int he original game:

* Athletics
* Acrobatics
* Sleight of Hand
* Stealth
* Arcana
* History
* Investigation
* Nature
* Religion
* Animal Handling
* Insight
* Medicine
* Perception
* Survival
* Deception
* Intimidation
* Performance
* Persuasion

How many skills can we cut without significant loss?

art by Rick Troula.

* Athletics - this skill in redundant with Strength. This means that characters with low Strength and high athleticism are rare; you'll have a hard time finding them in movies, literature, etc., when comparing those that are good (or bad) at both things. You can safely ditch this skill by using the optional rules in the DMg or doubling the Strength modifier.

Notice I'm using "adventurers" or "protagonists" as a rule. Of course you can have some kind of professional athlete (or other specialist) that is only good in one sport. But this is not a common character concept in D&D and adjacent fiction.... at most, a great athlete that cannot fight would be a NPC.

How do we measure that? Well, ONE way is to see how many classes in 5e have athletics as a skill and ALSO Strength as a "suggested" ability. I'm not looking at this one a case by case basis, but, to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, you can see that the classes who rely most on Strength (Barbarians, Fighters, Paladins) have athletics on their skill lists.

* Acrobatics - similarly to athletics, this skill in redundant with Dexterity.

* Sleight of Hand - a bit redundant with Dexterity... However, I could see a character good with delicate things that is not necessarily good at dodging or shooting a bow, and vice-versa. Maybe this has more to do with Dexterity being too powerful than with the specific skill. Does this make sleight of hand a specialist skill? I dunno. I gonna say "maybe" for this one.

To make things clear, I would call a specialist someone who could be great with a skill regardless of ability. So, maybe we might have someone who is not wise or clever, but is REALLY good with nature. A healer with low Wis and high Int is also easy to imagine, etc. Also, so specialists are a bit RARE among adventurers... every PC should be able to run, hide or dodge, but not necessarily know magic or medicine.

This is not clear-cut. But I think you get the idea.

* Stealth - redundant with Dexterity.

* Arcana - like sleight of hand, I could see how this would be redundant with Intelligence (and, in 5e, there are no classes I can think of that rely on Intelligence except spellcasters). It si easy to see, however, how this would be a specialist skill in a low magic setting.

* History - probably redundant with Intelligence... like arcana, could be a specialist skill.

* Investigation - "When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check". I had to look that up to make sure. Well, this is similar to history; probably redundant, could be a specialist skill, but I doubt it - all PCs should be able look for clues and make deduction, and even Batman and Sherlock Holmes are extremely intelligent characters.

* Nature - This is where things start to get difficult. This is certainly NOT redundant with Intelligence, when you think of the low Int barbarian that know a lot more about nature than a high Int wizard. Using Wisdom would make it slightly better, but not much (think Barbarian versus Cleric).

But it is also not exactly SPECIALIST skill - since it is a common enough character concept IMO, and also something LOTS of characters in the same party could have (a party with three healers or historians is a lot rarer, for example). So... this skill is almost necessary.

* Religion - look, a cleric or paladin know a lot about HIS OR HER RELIGION... but not necessarily ALL religions. So, specialist skill. However, theologians are rare characters. and, in a world where deities are magical, magicians will certainly know a bit about deities, demosn, spirits, ressurrection, etc. (use history for the non-mystical aspects). So, probably redundant with other skills (arcana and history).

* Animal Handling - Similar to nature. In fact, a bit redundant with other skill (nature), since, again, not many character that are "good with animals, bad with nature".

* Insight - Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. Redundant with Wis.

* Medicine - a bit redundant (most doctors in fiction are smart, but smart people are not that often capable of doing medicine), but mostly a specialist skill. Also, could be Intelligence instead of Wisdom, but anyway...

* Perception - redundant with Wis, and also a bit redundant with other skill (Insight). Also, wouldn't it be cool if perception were context-specific? So,t he ranger notices everything in the wild, but the aristocrat measures every look in the court, etc.

* Survival - a bit redundant with other skill (nature),

* Deception - redundant with Charisma. Not being able to lie is a common limiting factor in some archetypes, but not exactly a lack of skill.

* Intimidation - shouldn't be a skill. Also, you could intimidate with Strength, etc.

* Performance - redundant with Charisma. If very specific (playing a lute, for example), it might be a specialist skill.

* Persuasion- redundant with Charisma.

Notice that it is hard to think of a good actor, leader, or lair with low Charisma.

In short:

* Athletics - redundant.
* Acrobatics - redundant.
* Sleight of Hand - redundant, maybe specialist.
* Stealth - redundant.
* Arcana - redundant, maybe specialist.
* History - redundant, maybe specialist.
* Investigation - redundant.
* Nature - useful.
* Religion - redundant.
* Animal Handling - redundant with nature.
* Insight - redundant.
* Medicine - specialist.
* Perception - redundant.
* Survival - redundant with nature.
* Deception - redundant.
* Intimidation - shouldn't be a skill.
* Performance - redundant.
* Persuasion - redundant.

So, let's say we keep sleight of hand (which should probably include Thieves' tools), arcana, history, nature and medicine. Everything else gets folded back into ability scores. Five skills.

Here is one idea: you get to choose one skill, or more if you have high Intelligence (two at 14, three at 16... or something). Spell-casters MUST take arcana. Thieves (or other classes with many skills) get a few extra ones. Maybe you could trade a skill for a few languages or tool proficiencies. Might be a cool way of making Intelligence more useful.

Notice that these five skills are VERY close to backgrounds... you have a "wilderness" background (nature), an "urban" background (sleight of hand), and "arcane" background (arcana) and a couple of "scholar" backgrounds (history and medicine). If assign "history" to relevant nonmagical events (important families, lineages, wars, etc.) you'd have a "noble/knightly" background in there.

On the other hand, this is almost - ALMOST - fighter, thief, wizard and cleric.

But I'm still not sure that the entire skill system is worth keeping for these five skills.

Well, this is what I have for now. See you soon!

Further reading:


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Cleric spells with NO divine intervention

I've written about this before... but I guess I didn't consider all of the consequences.

So, the idea is this: you can get spell in multiple ways - study forgotten tomes, worship a deity, bargain with a demon, have magic blood running in your veins... But once you learn a spell, it is yours.
 A paladin that falls from grace still keeps his powers - making fallen paladins the stuff of legend! What is worse, they can pledge loyalty to an evil, rival deity becoming more powerful in the process. There is always a high demand for turncloak healers in the Evil Lord's army! That is why lawful deities are so careful when choosing their clerics and paladins!  
Chaotic deities, on the other hand, will be more flexible - they might exchange spells for goods and services.
Of course, forgotten tomes of forbidden lore are also useful when studying magic. Their authors must guard them carefully, or such secrets might be turned against them.
On the other hand, casting spells you haven't memorized should always be dangerous. Magicians can also create "trap grimoires" to fool their rivals.
The idea that a deity can strip you of yours powers is not only a shackle to the character, but also wastes interesting possibilities, such as the renegade paladin that goes rogue (with all his powers intact) and must be hunted by other followers. The fact that the deity cannot take you powers away directly opens a lot of indirect possibilities like this one.

It also makes sense in other ways. 

The idea that your deity is right there with you when you cast a haling spell gives deites an omnipresence/omniscience that is NOT fitting to the vast D&D pantheon. If the deity can strip you of your powers, why not DOUBLE your powers when you're in dire need? Also, why even CHOOSE the spell you want to cast and not let the deity intervene in a way that is more beneficial to its goals? The deity knows a lot more than you, anyway...

In short, I think of most D&D deities as non-intervening. At least, direct intervention should be rare. Deities act through angels, avatars, followers, etc. In addition, the deities are not omnipotent. The spells they can teach are limited resources.

(BTW, I really like the RC idea that deities need more followers to be more powerful, and I love the idea that a deity without followers maintains its powers for a while...)

But I hadn't really thought this through. In Dark Fantasy Basic, a magic-user that fumbled a spell roll had the spell wiped from memory... but a cleric that fumbled a spell roll could anger his os her deity.

But, come to think of it... why? If the deity had given the cleric magic powers to heal the wounded, why would the cleric be damned just because of bad luck?

What if you say, instead, that the deity will just TEACH you a spell from time to time - through prayer and meditation, you can get to revelation, but deities are careful when imparting such gifts... A deity can give a spell... but it can also give a sword, a prophecy, a vision of guidance, heal your wounds, etc. 

Cleric's spells are not "miracles" anymore, and miracles become a lot more varied. In addition, divine gifts are not only for clerics - maybe a god of war will give your fighter the strength to fight an important enemy, etc. Religion becomes a lot more relevant for ALL characters.

As you can see, this solves LOTS of problems.

So, in my new RPG, spells are just spells (or maybe living spells). 

YOU choose the spell level, BTW. Pushing your luck is risky.

Fumble your spell-casting roll and it is wiped from your memory. You have to learn it again. If you have a grimoire, all the better. Otherwise, it will take a while. Your deity might help you... but ONLY if you are in good standing with it.

So, even if you LIKE the idea of a deity giving you a quest after you fumbled a spell, this has the same effect... but the motives are different. The deity isn't necessarily punishing you. It simply has to be careful while sharing limited resources with someone who is so eager to use them in imprudent ways. 

In addition, these quests are not only proofs of faith - if they were, any dumb thing such as removing one of your eyes would do. 

The quests are are means for the deity to further its own goals in the world. This makes them much more interesting - maybe you have to find a lost relic, or convert more people to your faith... or even hunt down a rogue paladin.