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

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Magic: The Gathering setting comes to D&D... now oficially

Like many of you, I have been waiting for years for an official Magic: The Gathering setting book for D&D (or any RPG, really). I'm a fan of these settings, specially Ravnica, and I use them in my D&D campaigns often.

Well, the day is finally here. Plane Shift: Zendikar is one of the most recent MtG settings, adapted for D&D. You can download it for free in this link.

The PDF looks stunning - as MtG art often does. The text is... well... a bit underwhelming.

You see, one of the reasons I like Ravnica is because it seems so alien to traditional fantasy. Sprawling cities, no feudalism, strange technology, one single dragon, no orcs or dwarves, and so on. 

Zendikar, at least as portrayed by this PDF, seems to be the opposite. They have chaotic dragons, nice angels and evil demons, vampires scantly dressed in leather and silk, and... well, look at the Minotaurs:

Do you think such paragraph belongs in a 38 page PDF? "There are Minotaurs in Zendikar" would be enough to me, and would save some time and space (although the art is still awesome). And don't get me started on humans...

Well, the cliches seem to be intentional. It says right on the introduction that Zendikar is meant to be a "traditional D&D" world. Which makes it ideal if you want something more "generic" and easily suited, but is not the most useful setting for my tastes.

Now, there seem to be some awesome stuff in Zendikar: Lovecraftian deities, wild magic, flying island everywhere, etc. Goblins, merfolk and elves get some interesting traits (somewhat), and to be fair vampires also wear chitin carapaces in addition to leather. And the art certainly indicates there is plenty of space for creative stuff. 

The problem, them, is focus: Plane Shift: Zendikar spends little time the things I consider essential for a good setting

Factions are mentioned briefly, and other conflicts seem to be very black-and-white. The metaplot is seems to be central to the setting; I have a hard time understanding why one would be looking for gold and gems if they know Cthulhu has awakened (although I can't blame Zendikar for some of its choices, as my own Days of the Damned revolves around the awakening of Ttians, and is inspired by classic D&D settings, as well as Berserk and Dark Souls). 

NPCs and locations are also not detailed; "Emeria, the Sky Ruin" and "the monstrous demon Planeswalker Ob Nixilis" sound cool, but get nothing but a mention. Hedrons, essential to the setting, are also not fully explained.

Now, I didn't intend to be so critical to a thing I waited for so long (and also not a finished product). Nor do I want to write a long review of a free product that is 38 pages long; go read it for yourself. 

But for now, your best bet when immersing in MtG lore is still the internet: check the MtG wiki., where you can find about the story of Ob Nixilis, the origin of hedrons and, more importantly, what is so cool about Zendikar. You might also or one of these two sites by WotC.

Or maybe you should buy The Art of Magic: The Gathering: Zendikar... which might be the whole point. 

To be honest, even the cards are more flavorful than some of the text in this product. It is hard to see how they managed to make such a vanilla PDF from this material

All in all, I'm happy WotC finally decided to give us D&D players a taste of MtGs settings. I wish they focus on some of the weirder settings, such as Ravnica and Mirrodin, or at least focus on the weirdest parts of each setting. Reading that "humans are the most numerous, diverse, and adaptable folks" is the last thing I need.

BTW, you can let WotC hear your thoughts here. I, for one, would certainly buy a "Hardback; 160-320 pages" in the vein of "The World of Ice and fire", if they do it right.

And I'd also like to hear you in the comments section!

All art and text copyright by Wizards of the Coast LLC, used under fair use doctrine, for purposes of criticism only.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Don't like armor class? Here are some options...

A quick post today, inspired by this one. JB's classification is more straightforward than mine; I would like to detail it further, although many examples below would fit in his 4 categories.

So, do you need an alternate rule for armor in D&D? Here is what armor can do for you in different games, specially D&D and similar.

1 - Armor Class - Makes you less likely to be hit (example: traditional AC, as seem in  classic D&D).
2 - Damage Reduction - Reduces damage dealt to you (example: this and lots of other RPGs).
3 - Damage Division - Divides damage dealt to you (example: resistance in D&D 5e).
4 - Damage Conversion - changes damage from one type to another; slashing to bludgeoning, etc (example: GURPS does this IIRC).
5 - Ablative armor - Gives you extra HP (example: The Black Hack).
6 - Free pass - gives you immunity against one or more attacks, regardless of damage (example: shields shall be splintered, Fate).
7 - Life-saver - allows you a saving throw against damage (example: WHFRP, see JB's post).
8 - (Low) Damage Threshold - ignore damage up to a point; for example, armor 3 would completely protect you from 1, 2 or 3 points of damage, but if you take 4 points it isn't reduced (example: Dragon Warriors uses a reversed version of this, I think).
9 - (High) Damage Threshold - protects you against damage after a point (example: I have never seem this used, nor do I think it is a good idea, but I had a house rule in OD&D that used exploding d6s for damage, unless you were using a helmet).
9 - Critical protection - protects you against critical hits or make them less deadly (Rolemaster)
10 - Damage immunity - fully protects you from some types of weapons or special attacks (haven't seem it in a game, although it might be "realistic" in some cases, or might be caused by damage reduction - the fight of Sir Barristan against a Dothraki in ASOIF comes to mind).

... but if armor is so useful, why isn't everyone using it?

1 - Too expensive.
2 - Too heavy.
3 - Slows you down (not necessarily the same as #2).
4 - Too hot.
5 - Too conspicuous.
6 - Too wimpy.
7 - Too hard to find.
8 - Not allowed (because of social class, etiquette of other reasons).
9 - Gets in the way of your spells, skills, sight, hearing, swimming, or even fighting accuracy.
10 - Requires a special class, skill or feat.

There is still lots of possibilites around... Attacking hard armor bare-handed hurts your hand in GURPS, and rigid armor stops arm locks, among other things. More exotic ideas would include spiky or fiery armor that damages opponents, mirror armor to confuse foes and fight the medusa, mechanical or biological armor, etc.

What did I forget? Let me know in the comments!

BTW: Do you like any of these? Or some combination of them? Consider writing it down in one single page. The images in this post are on the public domain in the US, as far as I know, so you can use them if you want (the artist is Walter Crane).

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Encumbrance, Movement and the rule of four

As you might know, I've been trying to create a clone/hack of D&D that you can manipulate on the page-by-page level, i.e., add, remove and replace each page without destroying the game, and thus create your own, customized, frankenstein version of a game with the best advice from multiple bloggers.

I've been thinking of adding structure and deadlines to the project, to encourage other bloggers to participate; for now, I'll just say "similar to Moldvay" and "not before the one page dungeon deadline" for this two questions, but I'll add more details soon.

Today, I want to tackle another page of Moldvay: encumbrance and movement. That is, page B20 in the original, if you're keeping track.

Nobody seems to care much for "coin" weights, so a number of alternate systems have emerged. Delta's stone encumbrance is a favorite and an inspiration for this one.

I favor rules that are easy for me to remember. For example, I used another "rule of three" as a mnemonic device in last week's page.

For encumbrance, a "rule of four" might work quite well to help you remember that a regular character can carry 40 pounds without adverse effects, and up to four times time much, but with one fourth of their speed (if you carry more than STRx3). Combat movement is 40' per round.

I wanted STR to be relevant to encumbrance, so let us say that you can carry a number of 4-pound items equal to you STR. Four pounds is a good weight for a sword, mace, etc, with a scabbard. Two-handed weapons, or shields, counts as two items. Armor is a bit trickier; to keep it easy and quite close to Moldvay, I would make it count as 5/10/15 for leather/chain/plate, or 5 items per +2 AC (or just keep things "rule of four" and use 4/8/12 instead).

Without further ado, here is my one-page replacement for B20.


Take this as an example of what you could do with this one page hacks; maybe you could use a rule of three pounds to make things a little bit more realistic, or just change the weights around.

Do you want to make your own page on the subject?

Here are some links for research:


And the art in this post is public domain in the US (I think; find the sources if you're worried), so you can use it as you like.

Good luck!