I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, March 25, 2016

One Page Rules (or: Taking a page from other peoples’ books)

The problem

I like finished books, but I also like "hacks" and house rules, most of them found online, in blogs and such.

I love retroclones, neoclones, etc, but they are  more than I can count and most of them seem to be 90% repetition of each other, sometimes on purpose.

Many of them are cool, but none is cooler than being able to freely combine OSR Links to Wisdom, for example.

I should probably write my own clone (take a look at what I got so far), but it will take a while (I’m writing something else at the moment - check my DotD posts, more to come), and time seems scarce this days.

Also, it might be 90% repetition anyway.

One possible solution

One Page Rules.

I'm not sure where I got the idea from; probably Roles, Rules, and Rolls. Or the One Page Dungeon contest. Maybe Links to Wisdom, Searchers of the Unknown, Doomslakers!, etc.

Of course I can't the first one to have thought of that; if you already know of a compilation of pages such as this, let me know.

In any case: if you have a cool idea for a mechanic, class, task resolution system, etc, try to reduce it to one page. This page must contain one single subject or subsystem, not a whole game or a compilation of different house rules.

Want some examples?

Roger G-S has just posted his New Edition of 52 Pages here. In most cases, you can use each page separately. One of my favorites is this page, for example.

Check this fantastic page from James V. West. Here is another example. You can find more in his blog.

(Both blogs are awesome BTW).

Moldvay's Basic D&D has some good examples: one page for character abilities, one page for their bonuses and penalties, one page for alignment, one page for weapon and equipment cost, one page for encumbrance and equipment weight, etc.

My first effort was OPH - Hazards, based on this post. It includes rules for food, water, suffocation, poison, intoxication and other dangers.

What's the point?

The one page limit does wonders for brevity. It works well for the One Page Dungeons, right? IF you ever wanted to write your own game, finishing a single page is a good experience. And any class or sub-system that takes more than that is using up time I probably don't have anyway.

The idea is that, after we have a complete set of house rules, you can physically build you book with your favorite rules. Or just instantly merge every page in a pdf.

One page for describing how to create a character. One page explaining character abilities. One page for equipment, one page for movement and encumbrance, one page for saving throws, etc. One page for alternate rules on 0 HP, or stunts, or proficiencies, or feats, etc. A die drop table for hit locations, starting equipment or something else. Maybe one page for all spells, or one per spell level, etc.

Well, you could just do all the work with microsoft word (or something), editing each word to fit your tastes (start here if that is what you want); but the idea of having a chaotic Frankenstein of a book where each page is designed by a different OSR author just sounds too cool to pass.


Choose a single subject per page. Not a whole system, but one mechanic: abilities, saving throws, alignment, a new class, etc.

Make it compatible to classic D&D (or 5e, or both; just make it clear). You can take the usual shortcuts: "XP progression: as cleric", "armor: as chain", etc. If you want to add something weird, make a reference to something familiar (for example, if you mention a "luck check" in you class, say "luck check or Save vs. Spells", for example).

As far as the formatting goes, use whatever you like. Make sure it is readable on a printed page. I would use portrait over landscape, but there are already cool examples using the latter.

You can use something similar to B/X for familiarity, or you can use templates and guidelines found here.

If you need art, check my public domain folder on Pinterest, use an art pack from Kevin Crawford, or check Roles, Rules, and Rolls.

If you like the idea and are willing to participate, comment on this page with a link to you blog post or .pdf page with your one-page rule; and link back to this post or share the idea somehow.

Make it free and easily accessible, of course. Needless to say, nobody would own your stuff but you. This is just a compilation of links, at first.

If you want, you can put it under the "Creative Common Attribution-Share Alike 3.0", like they do on The One Page Dungeon Contest, so anyone can use, share and remix freely.

Some things can take a couple of pages, or even a bit more, as long as you keep it modular and limit yourself to a single subject. For example, you can use two or three pages to describe all equipment, including costs, starting equipment, encumbrance rules, etc.

Many heads are better than one. Right? Source.
What else?

Let me hear your ideas. What is a good name for the project? Should we have multiple covers? Are multiple pages or more on the same subject allowed? Should we use docs instead of PDFs? Scissors and glue?

(BTW: and what about one page monsters? Remember using a three-ring binder to collect your monsters? Why not do the same today, without the hassle of missing pages or having a monster in each page screwing with alphabetical order? Sure, old school monsters might need no more than a line, but with a full page you can have art, plot hooks and subspecies).

I might edit this post to try and keep things organized.... somehow. I'm not sure that there will be any interest at all - if I don't get any responses, I might just organize a list of links on this page.

And let us see what comes out of this.

UPDATE: I'm encouraging anyone who has a one-page house-rule to add it in the comments, and I've been writing my own, albeit very slowly. Here is what I got so far (if you want the PDFs for this "one page hacks", look for "OPH" in the links below):

B8 (character classes & skills):  PDF - post.

B12 (equipment & money):  PDF - post.

B20 (encumbrance and Movement):  PDF - post.
Updated version (harsher encumbrance, better organized): PDF.

Hazards: PDF - post.

UPDATE 10/12/19: ultimately, my "one page rules" effort led me to publishing Dark Fantasy Basic my own homage to B/X. Check it out!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Lost Mines of Ravnica, I - Lost Mines of Phandelver Redeemed

In 2015, my main campaign was "The Lost Mines of Ravnica". As you might have guessed, it is just Lost Mines of Phandelver (LMoP) in a different setting. It was an awesome campaign, but I wasn't sure that there was much point in writing about it, since everybody knows the adventure already and setting it in Ravnica is no big deal.

But then I read this very interesting article in Dungeon of Signs by Gus L. Contrary to much of popular opinion, that received LMoP quite well, Gus was less than enthused about LMoP (to say the least) and ends the review saying that he might have to "give up this hobby entirely" because of it.

It was curious, because I really liked LMoP but found myself agreeing with most of the review. And that is probably because I changed the setting, and some stuff with it, so I didn't really realize the weakest spots in the adventure.

So I thought I should write about redeeming LMoP.

In fact, Gus himself points the way in the end of his post: "For me however there's no saving this mountain of badly polished tropes and predictable plotting without a complete reskin: including a more sensible faction structure, tearing out the subtle railroads, uprooting the lurking moral judgments and generally running a series of linked locations about a scheming evil adventurer making trouble along the mountainous frontier that had only a vague similarity to Lost Mines of Phandelver."

Yeah, but... can it be saved?

I reckon one good way to salvage LMoP might be getting this well-written critic of it and addressing it point by point; hopefully, we will have the adventure "fixed" in the end of the process.

I know, I know; many people think it doesn't need fixing in the first place. To be honest, neither did I; I just changed the setting because I like Ravnica better. Still it might interest other people with similar ideas. Who knows.

So, I'll add some bits and pieces about how I adapted it to Ravnica; feel free to ask if you need any additional ideas. I might write an article with Ravnica tips only, if you aren't interested in the process of "fixing" LMoP.

I'll break it down in three or four posts to make it more manageable.

By the way, if you don't know Ravnica, here are some sources:


Here we go.

Problem #1 - The setting

The first problem addressed is the setting - Gus hates the Forgotten Realms because:

It plunders everything cliched and overused from Tolkien but abandons all the strangeness and mythological references. It fills the land with huge civilized bastions of good like Waterdeep and exhaustively defines their systems of governance, but allows these nations to be plagued by trifling enemies like goblin tribes. Forgotten Realms embraces a pedantic faux-medievalism, but then uses a contemporary positivist understanding to explain magic that allows for cutesy magical technology to gloss over the inconvenient aspects of the pre-modern.  Most offensively, most objectionably, Forgotten Realms is a dense, full world, so steeped in cliched lore and laid out so extensively in dull gazetteers that there is no room for a GM's creativity without excising some of the setting's existing lore and map.
I start with my objections to Forgotten Realms, because I think they are the root of the module's considerable problems.

I have to agree with most of his points, even though I'm not an expert on the Realms, having playing little to no campaigns in it (I'm more of a Dark Sun guy myself). But it shouldn't be hard to just replace the setting with something else.

But why Ravnica?

First of all, it has all the elements that make a good setting in my opinion - lots of shades of grey, a social order that is strong but flexible, no "hard" metaplot, multiple important factions, shifting allegiances, etc.

Ravnica has lots of stuff that attract me personally: a setting reminiscent of Planescape, "non-generic" fantasy (it has no orcs or dwarves, little to no wilderness - it is one single gigantic city, crazy steampunk engines AND crazy geneticists, one single dragon who happens to rule one of the main guilds, etc), Lovecraft-esque deities, and amazing art that inspires me.

In a lot of ways, Ravnica is the opposite of what Gus describes - it embraces the strangeness, government is very messy, enemies are dangerous (Elder Gods, remember?), no faux-medievalism, etc.

The factions are the main point of the setting: the plane is ruled by nine (ten?) guilds with conflicting interests, with no clear "good" guys. The police guild is somewhat reckless, violent and authoritarian (you already know which guild the PCs belonged to, right?); the lawmakers are rigid and quite alien; the church guild is corrupt (but they might save you if you need a lawyer); the nature guild is made mostly of brainwashed pacifists; and even the subterranean hedonist demon guild is necessary to bring riches to the surface.

The factions need each other. Without the swampy zombie elves, there is not enough food; without the crazy engineers, there is no infrastructure. Without the guild pact, there is only war. At the same time, there is the large population of poor, guildless people who are stating to think the whole system is meant to keep them down and that the ancient gods weren't so bad after all...

But one of the most important point of Ravnica is... there is no map.

No gazetteer. No useless minutiae. In fact, quite the opposite - it has lots of SPACE, because it is made for nothing but inspiration for art and game mechanics. Which is why it might be better than any RPG setting to just re-skin something else.

There is no risk of ruining the metaplot, because the metaplot is unimportant when compared with the images and words included in the setting. There are books and story lines, yes, but these aren't the main point of the setting.

Coincidentally, Ravnica also has some stuff that make it a very good fit for LMoP: goblins (more on that later), underground tunnels (and a megadungeon), hidden conspiracies, and a main villain who is basically "The Black Spider". On the other hand, the "no wilderness" thing makes it hard to use with LMoP.

There are some easy ways to get around that, but this post is already quite long as it is. See  you next time!

Part 2.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

"Overclocked damage" - Additional damage for Fighters and others (for old school D&D et. al.)

So here is another cool idea by Jeff Rients, which he calls "overclocking damage":

So here's my basic idea: for every 2 points you exceed to to-hit target, bump your die up one size.  If applied to the monsters as well that's going to make it easier for high hit die monsters to mangle the PCs.

Pretty neat, huh?

Let's see if we can build upon that - I'll use something mathematically similar, but a little more suited for my group.

Forget Jeff's rule for a moment. Use this instead:

If you beat AC by 4 or more, you add a d4 or more to your damage. 6 or more, add a d6. And so on.

Why "4 or more"? I'm not sure about the origin, but for my group a margin of 4 always meant an extra-nice success in most rolls of the d20. Also, the d4 is the smallest die most of us use.

Things are even easier if you use Delta's Target 20 mechanic, because you don't need to worry about subtractions to calculate margins of success.

Well, okay, there is some subtraction but it is still easy, because you always subtract 20 to find the margin.

So, if your d20 + BAB + descending AC beats 20, you hit.

But if your total is 24, you add a d4 to damage; 26, add a d6; 28, add a d8, 30, add a d10; and so on: 1d12, 1d10+1d4, 1d10+1d6, etc.

If fighting multiple (similar) opponents, you can spread the damage dice between them, getting a STR bonus for each separate dice.

A natural 20 does maximum damage. Or doubles damage. Or adds an extra d10. Whatever works.

Still too much math for you? Just ignore all this rules until you roll a natural 20. When you do, everything applies.

What's the point?

* The Fighter (and everyone else) gets better damage without additional attacks.
* High HD monsters too.
* Weapon proficiency can be made a lot simpler.
* You can do multiple attacks with less rolls.
* Low AC creatures take more damage even faster.
* Fighting skill becomes more important in comparison to STR, most of the time.
* Armor becomes even more important. Or you might just use armor as DR from now on. Of course, some people might dislike both of this ideas.
* Unarmed combat is suddenly more dangerous.
* You can still use this, if you want.
* Backstabbing becomes more deadly even before multiplying damage. You can give thieves a single bonus to attack, instead of a bonus to attack and a multiplier for damage.
* In fact, everything becomes a bit more deadly anyway... which is nice.

Haven't tested it. I'm pretty sure it might work - let me know if you don't think so.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Deprived Class - from Dark Souls to your OS D&D games

If you like old school D&D and videogames, you might be a fan of Dark Souls already.

If you haven't played it, it is a very old school, very D&D, and very old school D&D game. There are a few reasons to say that; for now, I will just say that the game is very hard (like many videogames of old), has lots of D&D tropes (mimics, +x weapons, everything is trying to kill you, and of course the whole class-level-HP thing) and some characteristics that many people in the OSR identify with old school RPGs (death is frequent, player skill over character skill, starting characters aren't unique, etc).

Its influences also include lots of Berserk (the manga) and British RPGs (Titan is said to be an inspiration). I wholeheartedly recommend it for everyone that likes any of this things.

It is also one of my favorite videogames of recent times, and a great inspiration for my upcoming RPG, Days of the Damned, which I will discuss in future posts. 

In this post, I want to take a look of one of the most unique classes in the videogame - the Deprived. Bear in mind that I already discussed a lot of the mechanics in another post; there is not much new stuff here, other than the philosophy behind it.

The cool thing about the Deprived is that it starts as the weakest class, but it might become the most powerful of them all if you are skilled enough to survive until you gain a few levels (not that different, in that aspect, to the original D&D Magic-User).

It is an "advanced" class, not for beginners - supposedly, you should try the game with other classes first, and only then try the deprived.

The way the Deprived does it, though, is different, and quite interesting - the class starts with a lower level than other classes; since choices are made when you level up, and leveling ups gets harder and harder, starting with a lower level gives you more choices, and through this choices you can create exactly the character you want.

This pattern might be useful for your D&D games. Many people see classes as straitjackets, but they are often better used as shortcuts and guidelines, both for beginners and for experience players that don't care much for the whole character building mini-game.

And here is one way you can use the same philosophy in old school D&D:

First, everyone gets 3d6 in order to their abilities and starts at level 3 (there are lots of reasons to do that, which I'll discuss later). Also, if the sum of your abilities is smaller than 60 + level (so, 63, the average of 3d6 times six), you can augment your abilities at will until you get a total of 63.

After that, everyone gets one ability point per level. If you already got more than 63 ability points, you gain no more points until your level+60 exceeds the total of ability points (for example, if you roll really well and start with 70 ability points, you only gain more after level 10).

Even with different XP charts, I don't think it will break your game, since thieves can enjoy some faster advancement and MUs already have enough power as it is.

So, the Deprived starts at level 1, with no magic, BAB or thief skills. Also, if the sum of his abilities is greater than 61, he can diminish his abilities at will (minimum 3 for each ability). 

Oh, and Dark Souls basically makes then start with no equipment, too. So, 0 GP. Borrow stuff from someone else. Or steal.

Starting in level 2, he can choose which class to pursue - and he is more likely to be able to get the abilities he wants. 

If he survives, which most won't.

Additionally, some players might enjoy if everybody starts with deprived characters.

There is another interesting facet to the idea: demi-humans. They start with a few powers: darkvision, immunity to poison, disease, or whatever. But each special ability counts as one ability point. So an elf, for example, is likely to start with 65 or more "ability points", adding abilities and special powers. Still, the ceiling remains the same (I am working with a total of 73-80 points, depending on how many levels you're using).

The effect? Elves and dwarves start the game better than humans, but after a while they reach a lower ceiling... as OD&D intended! You can use this formula instead of level limits, of which I'm not a fan; to me, this option seems a little fairer to everyone.