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, September 09, 2017

Dark Sun - 10 house rules for 5e (part II)

Here is part I.

Last part was easy. Here come the hard choices. But hey, that is what role-playing is about!

No gods! No healing!

The fluff: the burned world of Athas is, quite literally, a godforsaken place. Did the gods abandon the people of Athas, or was it the other way around? Doesn't matter anymore. There is no one to hear your prayers, no one to bind your wounds, and no one save your soul.

The crunch: there are no active deities in Athas, but, traditionally, Dark Sun allows the sorcerer-kings and the elements to be worshiped instead of actual gods, so you still have cleric-like classes. The main difference is that healing magic is uncommon in Athas. The easiest way to do that is to ban healing magic from the spell lists (trade them for something appropriate), and disallow some features that restores hit points ("lay on hands", etc.). Using the "healing surges" option in the DMG (page 266) is a good idea to balance things out. Any optional rule to raise an stabilized characters to 1 HP after combat would also be useful (just make a DC 10 medicine check or use a healing kit, as long as you're not in combat).


No class!

The fluff: as you might have guessed, some classes don't make much sense in Dark Sun. Traditional clerics and paladins do not fit. Sorcerers, warlocks, and druids must also be adapted to the setting. Some races simply do not exist.

The crunch: personally, I don't like banning classes outright. Warlocks make decent templars, and clerics can worship the elements with the appropriate domains. Sorcerers feel a bit redundant to me, and wild magic is certainly too much if you're using random defilement rules (although you can certainly consolidate one single table and create a new "pure defiler" class from there). Monks make some sense thematically (unless you're using the mystic), although there were banned in 2e Dark Sun. Even paladins can be refluffed as templars, ascended champions of the sorcerers kings (I love the idea of a paladin of vengeance gaining dragon wings or causing necrotic damage whit lay on hands!), or even inspired zealots of forgotten gods. Druids must choose appropriate animals; bards might be assassins with an adequate background. There are enough choices an options to fill a whole book on the subject. Fortunately, there are already some good ideas online. Here is one example.



No races!

The fluff: the original version of Dark Sun forbids some of the traditional races and introduces new ones - some of which aren't available in 5e.

The crunch: you can always re-fluff the the races like you did with the classes, but some options will be inadequate, especially the ones that can cast spells by default. You have enough races in 5e to cover most of the races that are characteristic of Athas: Aarakocra are already oficial, you can use goliaths for half-giants, some variations of dwarf (or orcs!) for muls, etc. The Thri-kreen are trickier, but not much: natural armor, claws, reduced sleep, etc. already exist in the official races. As for the extra arms, my favorite option is saying they can do whatever they want with the extra armas, but no extra actions! A two-handed weapon with a shield and a crossbow? Sword and board AND torch AND knife? Sure, why not!


No metal!

The fluff: Dark Sun is the most metal of all D&D settings, but actual metal is scarce in Athas. This means most weapons are made of obsidian, bone and flint. It also means the may break.

The crunch: coming up with an elegant solution that doesn't penalize fighters with multiple attacks is not easy, but there are a few options. My favorite is that some weapons (slashing and piercing) can break if you roll a natural 20 AND deal maximum damage in the first two dice. This makes breakage rare, but creates some tension when you roll a natural 20.
For example, if you're attacking with a 1d8 weapon, a critical hit would let you roll 2d8; if you roll 8 on both dice (16 damage), the weapon breaks from the impact. Greatswords break if you roll 6 in the first two dice (ordinarily, you roll 4d6 when you crit with a greatsword).
Making metal coins 50 to 100 scarcer also creates interesting situations; now the "price" column in the weapons section finally means something, and you have good reason to use a greataxe or maul.
I also did "no armor" in the first post, but if you want armor just make it heavier and more expensive. Encumbrance becomes relevant again - specially when you notice you will die of thirst before reaching the next city.
High level warriors should get their hands on magical or iron weapons, but there should be other ways of fixing weapons (the mending cantrip, artisan’s tools, etc).

Metal!
No psionics! No psionics?!?

The fluff: psionics are extremely common in Dark Sun, across all races and classes.... and even in animals and plants! On the other hand, psionics are extremely uncommon in 5e.

The crunch: this is the toughest one. 5e's psionics system is unfinished; all we have are a few classes in the Unearthed Arcana (i.e., playtest material). Which isn't nearly enough for a setting where everybody can have psionic powers. The simplest solution here is spells. Not the most elegant or creative way out, but it is the one the Monster Manual officially uses. And 5e is full of magic by default. So, psionics is (mechanically) just magic with no components and no possibility of defiling. There are other subtle differences: psionics are probably invisible, for example. The "spell list" for psionics should be significantly shorter, and "full caster" classes should be reserved for actual magic. All characters start with a random (psionic) cantrip. Again, not the fanciest solution - but it will do until WotC releases official material for 5e.


No rules!
I admit - this is rule #11 in a top ten list, and feels out of place in a list of, well... rules. But it might be the most important one. I do not treat anything in Dark Sun as canon, mostly because not all Dark Sun canon is good. Back in the day, I used to think the characters in the books did all the cool stuff, so there was little left for the PCs to do. 4e did a decent reboot, but I am not a fan of eladrin in Athas, among other things.
Another reasons is that I like to add stuff from other sources: Tékumel, Carcosa, Zothique, etc. Talislanta is a cool source that I failed to mention (the thralls, pictured above, are more interesting than the muls in some aspects), but any source that works for you is fair game.
In short, my favorite version of 5e is the one I fix - and my favorite version of Dark Sun is the one I make.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Dark Sun - 10 house rules for 5e (part I)

It's that time of the year again! When I miss Dark Sun and start writing my own version of it! Anyway, here are some house rules you may use in your Dark Sun games if you're playing 5e D&D.


No armor!

The fluff: who would use armor in the scorching heat of the desert? Gladiators, templars and city guards wear armor, but since you cannot really travel, sleep of even fight in armor in the desert without being exhausted, most are able to fight without armor.

The crunch: anyone can trade their medium armor proficiency for the monk's Unarmored Defense or their heavy armor proficiency for the barbarian's Unarmored Defense. Unarmored Defense can also be taken as a feat (and you get +1 to Wisdom or Constitution if take it), but only by certain classes (as a general rule, you can take the first if you're proficient in light armor and the second if you're proficient in medium armor).

I am tempted to make a Charisma version for Chainmail bikinis and loincloths, but nobody wants that, right? Right?


No rest!

The fluff: the wastelands of Athas are no place for idleness. Days are hot and nights are cold (or warm, I dunno). Sure, you are familiar enough with the desert - otherwise you would be dead - but if you need rest, you better look for shelter.

The crunch: if you are in the desert or a similar wasteland (and that includes jungles, etc.), the grittier rules in the DMG for short/long rests apply (a whole day doing nothing may grant you a long rest if you can find a tent, food, etc). Look for a city or oasis if you want better healing (this actually solves a lot of problems). Those ruins are looking quite inviting, aren't they?


No food and no drink!

The fluff: food and water are scarce.

The crunch: we will use starvation and dehydration rules that actually make sense. Also, finding food and water is twice as hard. This applies to everything: spells, class features, backgrounds, etc. Interpretation is up to the GM.


No easy magic!

The fluff: magic is rare in Athas. There is no petty magic. You're either a defiler, a preserver or you're not a true spellcaster. Everything else gets re-fluffed as supernatural or psionic abilities.

The crunch: that thing in 5e where everyone has spells no longer apply. As a rule of thumb, if you actually have spell slots, you can be a defiler or preserver. Otherwise, your powers come from something else. Monks (if you allow those in Dark Sun) and barbarians, for example, create supernatural effects with inner strength, psionics or experience.


No balance!

The fluff: there are two types of spellcasters: defilers and preservers. The difference is that defilers destroy all around them in order to cast spells, while preservers don't. Common people cannot tell the difference and hate them all. Most spellcasters can use magic both ways, but choose one path over another. Also, defiling is plain better. That is the temptation.

The crunch: when you use defiling magic, you cast spells as if they were one level higher. You also need to roll on a random table to see what effects you cause. Here are some ideas. All negative effects can be avoided by a saving throw (damage and HP loss are halved, not avoided).

1 - Desolation - flora and small fauna wither and die around the spellcaster.
2 - Destruction - people around the spellcaster suffer necrotic damage equal to spell level.
3 - Confusion - spell gets out of control and affects another random target.
4 - Exhaustion - spellcaster gains exhaustion. Nobody said it was easy!
5 - Inspiration - the next time the spellcaster casts a spell, he can pick any result from this table (except for this one!).
6 - Mutation - the spellcaster becomes permanently warped (it can be cured... probably).
7 - Exsanguination - the spellcaster  loses 2 HP per spell level.
8 - Transfiguration - the spellcaster becomes something else for a while. It might be just cosmetic. Black eyes, etc. It is very unsettling and will draw ire from the superstitious.
9 - Provocation - sleeping creatures might wake, the half-dead may rise, or hungry monster will hear a calling.
10 - Demolition - objects break and structures fail around the spellcaster.
11 - Extortion - the spellcaster gains 2 HP per spell level. A amount of damage eqaul to the total is randomly distributed to nearby people.
12 - Putrefaction - food and water are ruined.

Coming up: No gods! No healing! No rules!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Empire of the Dead

Part of the Adryon series.

Artavos was once the greatest empire in the world. Nowadays, even after being reduced to a shadow of they former glory, the Artavians still fancy themselves the most civilized people of the world. They are, indeed, part of a cosmopolitan and literate nation, where many people are welcome and innumerable religions practiced. Gods from foreign lands are worshiped side by side with the Artavian pantheon, and barbarian warriors can rise to some of the highest ranks in the legions.

After all, a man's religion or origin doesn't really matter. They will all die.

Source.
It was the barbarians beyond the borders that first called the Artavians the empire of the dead, when they came marching with endless legions dressed in black armor and carrying heavy shields, with wolves, eagles and skulls in their red standards, to spread peace through endless war.

Physically, the Artavians are shorter and darker than their "barbarian" neighbors. Closely trimmed hair is common in both men and women, specially in the legions. Long hair and long beards are for aristocrats, sibarites and the elderly. Some of the legions paint their faces white. It makes them look like ghosts or skeletons. Since this is sometimes seem within the cities, it might be fashion instead of intimidation.

But the Artavians do not worship Death itself. Well, not exactly. They make no statues of the Pale Lady and ask no blessings in Her name, although they acknowledge and respect Her infinite power.

Mostly, the Artavians worship the dead. They keep masks of their deceased ancestors in their walls, and burn incense to their memory. They study ancient philosophies of forgotten civilizations, and search for wisdom only in the words of the ancients. Their churches are full of cold, black and white statues, and littered with bones, while the sands of the arenas are constantly red and wet.

This doesn't make the Artavian savages. They avoid suffering, and frown upon torture. Their highly advanced codes of laws commands that even traitors are killed quickly. They have no executioners or hangmen - a man condemned to death can, and will, be killed by any honest citizen.

If death isn't enough, the punishment is to send the soul quickly to Oblivion, where all will eventually go to disappear. The convict has his name removed from the records, their statues defaced, their memoirs burned and their houses destroyed. Even the relatives are forbidden to honor their names.

Sometimes, the punishment of Oblivion is cast upon a living person, turning it to a soulless non-being. Few survive the ordeal to start their lives in some distant nation.

Death is not welcome by the Artavians, but is usually not feared as well. Abortion, infanticide, suicide and euthanasia are widespread solutions to such problems as unwanted or malformed children, dishonor and senility.

The Artavians respect the vessels that carry their souls, but do not embalm or venerate them like the serpent worshipers, nor carve cups out of skulls like the barbarians of the Crimson Lands. Corpses are burned or buried, and seldom desecrated, because Artavians abhor disorder and disease. Ghosts and spirits are not part of everyday life, but accepted as natural. In one Artavian island, it is said that the dead come to dance with the living during carnival nights.

Still, the Artavians enjoy life like most other peoples. They like red wine dark bread. They like music, theater and sport, although only lasting works of sculpture and literature are seem as true art, since they transcend death. They are objective and pragmatic, which makes some of their art seem unsophisticated to other people. Their technology is fairly advanced, their tactics excellent, their logistics unsurpassed.

The Artavians enjoy sex and are not ashamed of worshiping fertility deities in the wild during the festivals. An individual life might not be sacred, but the power that creates life is. Marriage is a tool of politics and economics, not love, so both spouses are usually free to pursue their own goals.

And the Artavians seem to enjoy war. But not really.

There is glory in war, but not much happiness. There is also profit to be had. For all the talk of honor and empire, there are many who believe that Artavian generals are more interested in pillaging other peoples and taking slaves to further their own political status, and little else.

In fact, money, glory, honor and status are all means to one end the Artavians do not usually mention.

There is an old superstition that says that after all is said and done, and all the incense burned, and all the children and their children have forgotten the man that lived behind the cold mask in their halls, so that the spirit will leave all ties to the world... then the Pale Lady herself will stare unto your soul and, if she finds it worthy, will uncover Her eyes so you can stare back - if you have enough courage to avoid looking away - and get a glimpse of the meaning beyond it all, before you march into Oblivion.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: The Gods Have Spoken (5E)

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

The Gods Have Spoken is a 5th edition supplement with 28 new deities and everything that comes with it: multiple character options (specially for clerics and paladins), holy (and unholy) locations, factions, new monsters, magic items, and a few 13th Age-inspired house rules.


The book

The appearance of this book is puzzling, with a curious mix of good and bad stuff. Most of the art, for example, is very well done (similar to the cover) - but some pieces are repeated two or three (!) time throughout the book, sometimes in adjacent pages (!!). Since the books uses good quality B&W and stock art, I see no reason for this.

The same thing happens with the layout. The overall quality is very good: the PDF is fully bookmarked, with a decent index, table of contents, glossary, and multiple side-notes, but also with lots of empty space. The page borders are not particularly beautiful nor do they have anything to do with the subject of the book , but each chapter is color-coded, which is nice and useful.

In short, it looks like professional work left unfinished. Well, you can judge for yourself:


The setting

First of all, while the book doesn't described a complete setting (since this is not the subject), it does imply a fairly high-fantasy setting with dhampirs, gnomes, and probably some steampunk. It fits 5e assumed setting well.

The book describes 28 deities divided in three different pantheons: the Thirsty Gods (of Egyptian flavor among other things), the Old Gods (Celtic, Norse, Slavic, etc.) and the Bright Gods (who might be based on eastern philosophies, although I cannot say for sure).

The deities are all creative and unusual; you never really feel that a deity is just Thor or Bahamut with a different name. The way the pantheons are described is very organic and flavorful: religions change, influence one another, create superstitions and schisms, guide different sorts of behaviors, etc. All of these aspects are described within the book. This is both useful and inspiring, even if you want to use it to create your own religions.

The holy and unholy places of each pantheon are intirguing, with plenty of ideas about encounters, scenes, and adventure seeds.

Then we get the factions. Again, they are diverse and flavorful: not only sects, but artisan guilds, secret anarchist cults, musician warriors, preservers of the faith, etc. The mechanics involving these factions are an important part of the book and will be discussed in the next topic.

The book also has half a dozen monsters (a dozen if you count variations) and a few NPC allies. Fluff-wise, the monsters are very cool, with mythological roots tied to the exploits of the main deiteis. Mechanically speaking, they have a few twists that I'll discuss in the next section.

Finally we have a few magic items and a whole system to generate holy weapons. This part is short but looks extremely useful, even if you don't plan to use any of the deities in the book.


The system

The character options contained within the book are standard 5e: cleric domains, druid circles, paladin oaths, feats, and three backgrounds, one for each religion (well, actually, the three are variations of the acolyte background - and a bit of needless repetition there). A few warlock pacts would be a nice addition. Everything seems fitting and balanced, with a few exceptions. For example, you get some of this:

"You are proficient in survival if not already. As well, you double your proficiency bonus for all survival checks."

This is obviously more useful to someone who doesn't have the proficient already. Compare this to the feats in the Unearthed Arcana: Feats for Skills from Wizards of the Coast:

"You gain proficiency in the Acrobatics skill. If you are already proficient in the skill, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with it."

I'm not sure this is on purpose, because some feats might be too weak without this "free expertise" (Reknarite Knight, for example).

Flavor-wise, the options are very good and fit well with the philosophies of the respective deities. Overall, they are good additions if you're looking for more religious character options.



The book also has an entire faction system, with suggestions on when and how the factions interact with the individual PCs, how characters get favors, information, potions, enmity, etc. This seems to te heavily inspired by 13th Age (it seems the book has an earlier 13th Age "sibling"), but is much more detailed than the 13th Age SRD in this aspect.

If you want to have formalized rules about factions, these will certainly be useful - I am tempted to use this myself for 5e, even if I was never convinced by 13th Age's "Icons". This is another part of the book that you can use even without the deities.

You can also get "allies" with this system, with various functions: some will heal the party, others will hinder enemies, and so on. The "damage sponge" is a peculiar type of NPC who will draw heat from enemies.; the "redshirts" of the setting. The concept of having someone to die for the PCs doesn't seem particularly heroic (for the PCs) or believable, but I can see how it might be useful. Unfortunately, their stat-blocks are strange; a third-tier damage sponge has +12 to hit (which is probably WAY better than the PCs they follow). So, yeah, they will basically look more competent than the PCs and then die first in battle. I'm not sure the players will appreciate.

Monsters also have a few unique features inspired by 13th Age: they get special attack if they roll a "natural" 16 or more on the dice, or if the result is even, etc. Another feature of 13th age I didn't particularly like for PCs, but makes sense for monsters.

In conclusion

The Gods Have Spoken aims to offer more options for PCs and also flesh out the "Religion" chapter of a full setting, and it does both competently. But the book is much more than that. Specially, the faction system has lots of cool rules that might prove useful to any 5e game (or any RPG at all, if you think about it). It is also a good way to test a few ideas of the 13th Age RPG within a 5e framework.

On the other hand, the  unfinished look of the layout and a few inconsistencies with the mechanics detract from the rest of the work, and the price ($17.45 as I write this) might be a bit exaggerated for the page count with this amount of white space.

Overall, I feel the book deserves a bit of extra work to become really good, as it shows great promise; however, it has plenty of interesting stuff already, specially if you want more options to play with factions, religions and deities in your 5e games.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The double challenge - quick difficulty adjustment (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. Use them wisely!

D&D 5e has few guidelines on fixing a Difficulty Classes (DCs). Basically, it boils down to this:

Task DifficultyDC
Very easy5
Easy10
Medium15
Hard20
Very hard25
Nearly impossible30
The idea is that you just eyeball it. Which is good enough, I guess, but it can lead to some incoherence if the GM pulls numbers from thin air while disregarding (or forgetting) past rulings.

The other problem is that many rolls in 5e are contests (opposed rolls) - they rely on your foe's stats and rolls, not on a fixed DC. The simple answer is advantage/disadvantage - but what if I want to add some degrees of EPIC craziness? Say, for example, I have disadvantage if my enemy is in a "Hard" situation - what if I'm on a "Nearly impossible" situation?

It seems to me that, if the DC is that different between "Hard" and  "Nearly impossible", there should also be some distinction when you're NOT using DCs.

Well, you can always adopt a +10 modifier instead of ad/disad for extreme circumstances. There is at least one good supplement - Dungeon Grappling - that does that.

There is no easy answer to all situations, but I use a simple rule that works for many circumstances, provided the challenge can be objectively "measured" somehow - in feet, pounds, number of creatures, minutes, etc.

It goes like this: you can double the effect of a roll by rolling two dice, triple it by rolling three dice, quadruple it by rolling four dice, etc. So, a "double challenge" would require two dice, and so on.

Let us say, for example, that you want to grapple or push four goblins at once with your shield. The GM thinks your idea is both plausible (you have Strength 18 and are proficient in Athletics) and cool, so she allows it - although she thinks pushing four goblins should be harder than pushing two or three.

Just roll four dice and pick the worst - if you succeed, all four goblins are affected.

Likewise, a Warlock could use Dark Delirium against three creatures instead of one - just roll three dice for their saving throws, and if the highest one succeeds, all three make their saves.

Or if you want to use a paladin's Abjure Enemy within 120 feet instead of 60 feet, to stop a skeleton. Technically it should be impossible, but why not allow it - specially for for a high level paladin against low level foes? Just roll two dice and pick the worst (since you doubled the distance).

This is not only for dealing with multiple foes. As you can see, you can double distances, do things three times faster, etc.


This assumes, of course, you must roll to hit and have both a chance of success and a chance of failure (no matter how minimal). However, you can also use this idea with powers or situations that require NO die roll - just assume a natural 1 is a critical failure, a natural 2 is a failure, and everything else succeeds.

This adds a lot of flexibility to the whole system. Say, if you have a power that can automatically provide food for six people every day, what happens if you're travelling with a dozen people? Or if you're in the a dry land with little food? Just roll a couple of dice and you're good to go.

I know, I know, creating a "dice pool" with disadvantages is verboten in 5e - but modifiers also are, as a general rule. In any case, if you prefer modifiers and dislike dice pools, just use the guidelines here. Or DOUBLE the number to get the modifier: -4 for two creatures, -6 for tripling the distance, -8 for acting four times faster, etc.

What is the point?

I added this rule to my RPG (Days of the Damned) to quickly adjust DCs in various circumstances. In 5e, I think it is useful for another reason: it allows high level characters to be more flexible and impressive against low level foes.

Because of bounded accuracy and the action economy, some PCs - specially Fighters, for example - have few options when fighting multiple weak creatures at once (and vice-versa - some high level creatures can be outclassed by a group of low level PCs).

This is deliberate, from what I understand about 5e's design goals - but not to everyone's tastes.

I, for one, think that there should be a greater gap between, say, levels 6 and 16. While I appreciate 5e's more "grounded" heroes, high level characters (specially fighters, barbarians etc.) feel a bit underwhelming.

In short, I like what 5e did - I just think they went too far.

A 12th level barbarian (according to the PHB, someone that deals with threats to whole regions or continents!) should have an easy time against a dozen of goblins archers, and not be completely unable to move if four kobolds ever manage to grapple him! I don't think it is too much to ask - at 12th level, a wizard can cast Mass Suggestion against a dozen foes, and even the fighter will survive a 100 feet fall with no serious injuries... So why not kick a few goblins away in a single round?

This little rule, by itself, is not enough to make high level characters more "epic", but it might be a good start.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Planet Asterion

Here is a few very loose ideas for an unfinished campaign setting. I wrote this a while ago and, to be honest, doesn't feel like an ideal RPG setting, but I thought I'd share anyway. Who knows, it might be the post of an "Unfinished Worlds" series. Unless I get lost in the way...


Planet Asterion

Planet Asterion is an endless maze. It might be a real planet, but then again it might be something else. Nobody has found the way out, and the exit is probably a myth. Common people waste no time with such thoughts.

Most corridors are 10 feet wide. There are wider clearings along the way, but big ones are rare.

The maze might have been created by someone, but most of it was not "built" in any meaningful way. Instead, the maze-like patterns force themselves on reality. Which means:

- Plants will grow into endless maze formations, always connected to one another - loose parts will die out. Most of the maze is made of living or decaying wood. The most common flora on Planet Asterion is made of short (about ten feet), dark red trees, with flat trunks that can go on for miles, no trunks and often covered by a dark leaf wall. These plants seem to take most of their sustenance from the ground, rather than the sun. Their life cycle is no longer than a few weeks, which causes the maze to change constantly. They can be hacked with an axe in a couple of hours, but unless the roots are destroyed they will regenerate within a week. They bear bitter fruit - but it might save you from starving.

- Erosion will cause rocks to become natural mazes. These walls are a lot harder to break, and often taller than plant mazes, but more stable. A stone clearing is valuable territory, since you can build a house in it.

- Animals will build their structures in the same way. Exotic beaver creatures infest the planet, and they are often building walls out of plant materials, re-purposed ruins or random trash. People assume they are intelligent, as they are certainly able to communicate through gesture, but they aren't really interested in other creatures.

There are different kinds of maze - or different parts of the same maze - too. The maze itself is very hard to navigate, but the different parts of it have specific characteristics that can make people know what to expect. Walls made of living flesh or bone are usually bad omens.

And then, there is Old Town. The labyrinth made os bricks and stone, with hidden doors, dangerous traps and crazy inhabitants that speak in riddles. Well, at least the mist cannot reach you in there. Nobody knows who or what built such thing, or for what purpose. Unlike the rest of the world, this is a mystery that actually makes people a bit curious.

Oceans exist, but no wood seems adequate to make a boat. Mountains can be useful in finding directions. The sun and stars are a bit less reliable.


The Oblivion & the mist

People in the maze seem to be forgetful, to say the least, but very adapted to the planet they are in.

The nature of the universe is a non-issue. Everybody know they live in a maze world, and nobody cares except a few demented philosophers. 

Where do you come from? Nobody cares. You assume you had a father and a mother at some point, but, unless they are with you at this very moment, chances are you don't remember how you got separated. No use in brooding over it now.

Languages? Well, everybody speaks Common, because of course they would. They know a language from their past, that they don't really use unless they happen to find a long-lost relative.

You might also know a third language, one that only you can speak. You have tried to find someone else to talk to, but it has been fruitless.

I might have something to do with the mist that comes at random intervals, stealing people's memories without notice. Recent memories remain, and you don't forget the times you spent with people that are currently around you, but much is lost anyway.

Even the things that you thought to be parts of yourself.


People and civilization

There are all kinds of intelligent creatures in the maze, although they are seldom taller than normal humans. Rhinoceros people, noseless aliens, and intelligent quadrupeds are all common, but not much similar to each other and not particularly likely to band together unless they are a family. Most intelligent creatures have humanoid shape, and people don't really notice the differences.

It is hard to be prejudiced -you can often tell someone's strength by the size of their muscles, but having pointy ears doesn't make one more likely to see in the dark.

Genetics work differently in there. It seems like all kinds of creatures can produce children, who only looks vaguely similar to their parents half the time. Children cannot be conceived without love, even if love may also be forgotten in a few minutes.

There is no significant civilizations. There are small tribes and parties wandering around, loose families, and so on. but one can hardly build a city in such environment. Large gatherings of people will cause starvation and death, since the fruits are scarce.

Intelligence creatures have tried to build ample structures. It's no use. Plants will creep through the floor. The ground will fracture. Eventually, it will become part off the maze. Legends tell of the Suspended City, which the plants cannot reach, and of the Mad King who built the ever-changing Golden Maze palace that is undisturbed by the pattern, but then he got lost inside, never to be seen again.

Repeated attempts at building cities have managed to leave lots of ruins - strange, forgotten, warped ruins, that most people avoid.

With no social tissue, it can be hard to know how to treat people. Everybody can talk to each other, but resources are scarce are everybody is hungry.

Fortunately, some truths seem to be self-evident to most intelligent creatures. Killing, stealing and lying are wrong (although people will do it anyway). Adding a brick to the Old Town maze or traversing it brings good luck, provided you survive, while eating the beaver-creatures brings bad luck. All this stuff is obvious.

Intelligent beings meeting you for the first time will treat you like they rolled on a Moldvay reaction table. Unfortunately, not all creatures that look like people are actually people.


What Evil lurks

There are no great, land-based monsters in Planet Asterion; the maze cannot support them. Birds are common, pterodactyls a bit less so, and dragons are the stuff of legend. Most menacing creatures within the maze look like tigers or wolves - seeing one turn the corner is a terrifying experience.

Even small, burrowing creatures have a difficult time avoiding the maze. Snakes cannot go through walls, except ion the greener areas. Monkey-like beings that can climb and jump fare somewhat better.

The greatest danger to the people are the violently insane. They act in unpredictable ways, and often attack on sight. Their eyes are hollow and most are unable to communicate. Nobody knows where they come from - but everybody assumes there is no possibility that someone could turn insane. Those people are just too different from us, although they look the same - they must be of a different, completely unrelated, species.

"Common" people call them Minotaurs. Their brains - not their heads - are like those of violent beasts.

What do we do?

The setting seemed a bit too nihilist and random to me. An endless maze does not look like fun role-playing (turn right, walk 30 feet, turn left, walk 50 feet, which way are you going now?), unless abstracted or used with a decent "oracle" of random encounters.

With that said, adventures in the maze wouldn't be different than most adventures - start with a rumor, explore a unknown location, interact with complete strangers, etc. - but would contain a lot more random elements and no overarching "goal" or "endgame".

Hoarding gold would be useless, but looking for food and knowledge might be enough to motivate PCs. Or not. It is an odd idea, and probably half-baked.

Strangely enough, the concept felt a lot shallower in my read, but writing everything down made it a bit more interesting for me. Let me know what you think.


Things that might have inspired this

My earliest experiences with dungeons (specially "fun-house dungeons" I guess), Labyrinth (the movie), The Citadel of Chaos, Jorge Luis Borges ("The House of Asterion", "The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths"), H. P. Lovecraft ("In the Walls of Eryx") and later the Hellraiser movies and Italo Calvino.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Dark Fantasy Basic, One Page Hacks, and Alignment

As you might know, I was trying to rewrite B/X one page at a time... But now it seems I rewrote the whole thing.

Yeah, my "one page hacks" transformed into a fully developed retro-clone. Well, not fully developed; the first "booklet" (a player's guide including spells and all rules on adventuring) is finished, but "Monsters & Treasure" and GM stuff will have to wait. 

I'm calling it "Dark Fantasy Basic"; if you like my "one page hacks", I bet you'll like it, so stay tuned; it will probably be available within a couple of months, at most (if you want to take a look and provide feedback before that, let me know through G+ or in the comments, and I'll send you the current version).

In any case, this post is about alignment.

As you know, the original D&D, heavily based on Poul Anderson's work, used alignment as teams, and "chaotic" was basically a synonym of "team evil". 

Michael Moorcock created a more nuanced (and sometime confusing) view on alignment, making agents of Law as dangerous as Chaos. Later forms of D&D added "good and evil" as a distinct axis to reflect that (Holmes D&D, interestingly, recognizes the possibility of "Lawful Evil" and "Chaotic Good", using 5 alignments). 

This is the Law! - source.
I don't think the Good-Evil axis is particularly useful, but "team good" and "team evil" is also limiting in my opinion. And I like my shades of gray, and the idea of Evil Angels of Law is just too enticing for me. Law, Chaos, and even Balance should be kept a bit beyond the characters' comprehension; they are just too big to grasp completely.

This nuanced view opens interesting possibilities of role-playing; from time to time, the PCs might find themselves fighting against the forces of Law, pitting the forces of Chaos against each other, making deals, etc. It is also a view concept that fits the polytheistic view of the world often sued in D&D; sometimes, the gods of the underworld are the ones who can guide you though the dungeon. 

"Neutral", by the way, is also not a useful concept for me, because it encompasses those who don't care, those who cannot care (animals), and those who think there should be a balance between the opposing forces of Law and Chaos, or maybe that both forces are dangerous to humankind.

Anyway, here is what I came up with. Click here for the PDF. As always, the idea is that you can use it with any version of D&D.

Alignment & World View


The universe hangs in the balance of the cosmic struggle between Law, the infinite unifying principle of order and conformity, and Chaos, the unrelenting entropic force of freedom and change.

It is up to you to pick a side or remain neutral. You can choose to be Lawful, Chaotic, Neutral or Unaligned, unless the PC’s class or other features requires a certain alignment.

Alignment is not a straitjacket for character behavior, but a summary of the PC’s philosophy, world view, and sympathies.

Lawful characters believe in heavenly order. There are divine laws, legitimate rulers, and faithful prophets, although there are also false idols and usurpers. Unholy magic is better left alone, and the undead must be destroyed, along with other aberrations. Some lawful creatures, such as the Ironweb Spiders, are very dangerous, but that is because the universe has mysterious rules that the mortal mind cannot fully comprehend. To defy Law is to bring destruction upon the world.

Chaotic characters believe in freedom and chance. There are no legitimate kings or queens, no perfect doctrines, no reasonable taboos. The universe is ruled by randomness. The strong rule the weak with power and lies, as it has always has been. Magic, people and creatures are just tools for the clever. Some demons, at least, will offer you a deal – which is more that can be said of the silent Stone Angels that seem to want to turn the world into a tidily organized jail block.

Neutral characters believe in Balance. They believe both Law and Chaos are inimical to humankind, as both visions of paradise will turn this world into a living hell. The gods of Neutrality, if they exist at all, are bound by nature and want to preserve reality as it is. Life is more important than order or freedom.

Many people are agnostic to this struggle and remain unaligned, whether because they don’t fully understand it, because they feel they cannot affect it, or because they don’t care.

People don’t necessarily act in accordance to their alignment all the time, and sometimes it is often hard to distinguish one alignment from another. All alignments contain good and evil people. A Lawful character may choose to wage war against other Lawful sects for religious or mundane reasons, for example, or always choose justice over the slightest mercy. Chaotic characters may cooperate with Neutral or Lawful characters to achieve a common goal. A Neutral character can pray to the Lawful gods against the hordes of chaos in a moment of need.

Lawful and Neutral beliefs are more common amongst humankind, although Chaos is often worshiped simultaneously (or secretly).

There are plenty of nonhuman creatures that identify themselves as forces of Law, Chaos or Neutrality. It is often hard to say if they’re telling the true. As a general rule, Lawful creatures are a bit more predictable since they are always seem to be following one some kind of rules, although those rules will often contradict one another.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

GURPS D&D, part IV: Active Defenses and Saving throws

Read parts III and III before, if you prefer.

So, active defenses. In GURPS, unlike D&D, if an enemy hits you, you can still dodge or parry the blow. It makes a lot of sense; having a parrying weapon or shield is useful, but it can break, and parrying a blade with your arm is certainly going to hurt you. 

Like everything in GURPS, you must roll under a target number to succeed. This target number is usually much lower than the "attacking" skill, making attacks usually better than defense. Which makes sense; combat would take forever otherwise.

In fact, sometimes it feels that combat DOES take forever in GURPS. If your Dodge score is 12, for example, you must roll under 12 (with 3d6) to succeed, which means you can ignore 75% of the attacks that hit you.


The concept of "active defenses" is not that different from D&D saving throws.

Curiously enough, spell saving throws DON'T work in the same way in GURPS. At least not necessarily; a magic projectile is still an attack and can be dodged (the sorcerer must roll two times; once to "create" the projectile and the second to hit the target, and then the target rolls to dodge), but a mind controlling spell, for example, requires the target to roll 3d6 under his Will score (with 3d6) AND beat the sorcerer's margin of success, which isn't required when you dodge.

There are half a a dozen additional rules to make it more complicated (critical hits don't allow defenses, special maneuvers can increase or lower the defense scores, a defense of 3-4 always succeeds and 17-18 always fails, the rule of 16, etc), but that's the gist of the thing.

Why does this need fixing? Because it is too complicated and generates lots of useless rolls. 

How do we fix it? Unify and simplify.

Fortunately, using a d20 in a roll under system (like suggested in the previous posts) make things really easy: just use a blackjack mechanic.

(I've written about similar subjects before, here and here; also, Pendragon does something similar IIRC).

First, defenses. Forget GURPS; now defenses are half attribute + skill, like everything else. Obviously, you can defend with any weapon you can use, but "general" defenses should be easy to come by. In my own game, Days of the Damned, I created a "Survivor" skill that applies to, basically, all defenses but combat; we could probably do the same here.

Now, the combat procedure. Roll 1d20 under you skill. If you fail, well, you fail. If you succeed and roll over your opponent's skill, you hit. Otherwise, you opponent gets a chance of defending, but he must roll under his skill (as always) and OVER your skill to defend.

Example: say your Warrior skill is 17, and you roll a 13. You hit. If your enemy's defense is lower than 13, there is no defense. If your enemies defense is, say, 15, he can only defend by rolling a 15, 14 or 13.

Spells? Exactly the same. ONE roll to cast the spell, and one roll to defend (at most). Don't worry, we will talk about spells eventually.

If you want EVEN LESS dice rolling just divide the skill by two for one of the sides, instead of rolling.

Say, if you want an attack roll but not a defense roll in your games, the skill 17 attacker will hit an skill 12 defender with any number between 6 (i.e., 12 divided by two - although a 6 would be a tie, and ties go to the defender) and 17.

Likewise, if you prefer the PCs to make all the rolls, NPCs always divide their skill by 2 instead of rolling.

It seem that, sometimes, combining two games can create something that is simpler than either of them.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

GURPS D&D, part III: Combat basics & weapons

Check Part I and Part II.

How would GURPS-D&D combat play out?

First, combat is a skill like any other, but it is ROLLED differently. Not because it is a special skill, but because combat is a special situation that requires multiple repeated rolls. Want to enter an archery contest? That is 3d6 (or 4d6, 5d6) under skill. Combat? A d20 all the way.

Why? Because predictably is necessary when dealing with skills, but boring when dealing with combat.

A natural 1 is a critical hit, by the way. And let's get rid of some of the most stupid rules of GURPS (critical hit tables with "nothing happens" as the most likely result) and D&D (the 3.x "confirming criticals" idea) while we're at it. Funny how those rules are similar, right?

Should we use DEX or STR for combat? Both are fine by me. I'd prefer using DEX "to hit" and STR for damage, including missile weapons, as in GURPS. The idea that you should be using a rapier or longbow if you're weak makes no sense to me! And, as you've seen in part II, combat is mostly skill in this hybrid system, so a low-DEX high-STR fight can still work very well, specially with a d20.

Aside from using a d20, combat is roll-under like everything else. Roll under DEX/2+Fighter (or Barbarian, Monk, etc.) and you hit. Active defenses (dodge, parry, etc) deserves another post.

Forget AC; in GURPS, armor means damage resistance (DR; for example, DR 2 reduces 5 points of damage to 3 points of damage). You don't even need the book; DR is 2/4/6 for light/medium/heavy armor. Flexible armor is easier to don and hide under clothes, but has half DR against crushing attacks. Weight is 15 pounds per point of DR, cost is $300/$1000/$3000.

By the way, the paragraph above fixes one of the most annoying aspects of GURPS: it doesn't have "complete" armor sets in the core book. You must buy armor separately for the torso, legs, arms, etc. You can still use the original method if you prefer more detail.

GURPS equipment is in some ways more interesting than D&D equipment, and GURPS Low-Tech is a thing of beauty if you're looking for detail. But even in the core rule book you've got rules for obsidian blades, different weapons against different armor (no table needed!), and so on.


GURPS does have a few interesting twists when it comes to weapons. Basically, stronger characters are more efficient with axes, maces and other "swung" weapons, while weaker ones would better use spears and arrows ("thrusting" weapons). Some swords and pole-weapons have both options! Nice, huh?

But probably too complicated, and you still need a table to find your damage. It is not a difficult one to use, but I'd rather avoid it.

Let us make it simple: just give an WotC-era bonus to damage (+3 for Strength 16, for example), but DOUBLE the bonus for swung weapons (do not double the penalty for weak characters!).

You can still use damage from your favorite D&D edition (1d4/1d6/1d8/1d10; save the 1d12 for halberds only). It works better, and polyhedrals are more fun, right?

GURPS have lots of "realistic" rules for maximum damage, minimum Strength, etc., but they can simplified to this: you cannot have a bonus greater than the dice you're rolling (so, a 1d4 weapon deals 1d4+4 damage at most). If you want to enforce minimum strength, you need Strength 4 to use 1d4 weapons, Strength 6 to use 1d6 weapons, etc.

It also has this cool little rule where cutting/piercing damage that penetrate armor gets a bonus. Piercing weapons DOUBLE that damage (for example, 10 damage, minus 2 from armor would be 8 damage, but 16 if the weapon is piercing). Cutting weapons add 50% to damage after armor. It is easy once you get the hang of it, I promise.

This means a barbarian with a halberd and Strength 20 (assuming 22 as a maximum) deals 1d12+10 damage, plus 50% of any damage that penetrates armor. Which - surprise! - very similar, in average, to the damage he'd deal using GURPS unadulterated rules (3d+7)!

These rules seem simple enough, but cause lots of interesting effects:

- Strong characters are encouraged to use big weapons, and very strong characters are encouraged to use two-handed weapons.

- Certain weapons are better against certain types of armor by default.

- High DEX and high STR Fighters are BOTH feasible, but they FEEL different in play. Unlike 5e D&D, for example, high DEX characters hit more often, but deal significantly less damage per hit.

- A combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain will play somewhat like... well, the combat between the Red Viper and the Mountain (from "A Song of Ice and Fire").

- The result is both more "realistic" than D&D and more fun than GURPS. Which, come to think of it, might be the whole point of this exercise: making combat faster and more fun, while still giving plenty of meaningful tactical choices to warriors.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

GURPS D&D, part II: Skills

Click here for part I, where I explain why D&D does attributes better than GURPS. I started writing this because of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, but I have no idea if they use a similar system to the one I propose here, since I haven't played GURPS for a while. Let me know in the comments!

One of the reasons I stopped playing GURPS was "too many skills". I know some versions of TSR-D&D (and, obviously, 3e) had lots of skills too, but eventually I decided I prefer 4e and 5e in this regard.

How many skills do I need? Well, around a dozen will do, but I'd take a few extra skills if needed.

GURPS has about 18 skills... that start with the letter A!

But - wait - there is more! At least a few of those MUST be taken with a specialty, so you have Area Knowledge (Neighborhood) and Area Knowledge (City) as two separate skills.

Unfortunately, choosing skills is not enough. Each skill has a different difficulty - easy, medium, hard, or very hard - with different costs (mercifully easier in GURPS 4e than in 3e).

At least you don't have to buy all skills you want to use. Some skills default from attributes, so if you have Intelligence 15 you automatically get Accounting 9. Unless you have the Finance skill. Then you have Accounting equal to Finance -4. Or Merchant -5. You also get a discount to Accounting if you have Finance and want to raise the other skill...

Is accounting a bad example for D&D? Try swords: there is a skill for broadswords, other for short swords, rapier, saber, smallsword, two-handed swords... and they all default to each other.

Even if you don't play GURPS, I think you can see why some people have headaches while reading it.

(And yes, I will STILL say that GURPS is a simple game to PLAY, although character creation can be a hassle).

Sample skills from the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Still, GURPS has some advantages over D&D when dealing with skills. Probabilities make way more sense, for example. Nope, the Strength 10 guy won't beat the Strength 20 gal in an arm-wrestling match 20% of the time. Maybe 1% of the time, probably less.

The problem, then, is the skill list.

Fortunately, GURPS has a built in solution: Wildcard skills. They replace ALL the skill in any given "umbrella". If you have a "Sword!" skill you can fight with all swords and knives, fast-draw your sword, and jump around while fencing. The good thing is that you can still use GURPS's humongous list of skills if you need to know exactly how Aerobatics work. Or Accounting.

For a "GURPS D&D" game, its easy to see you can use these skills in lieu of classes.

Of course, in D&D classes are often MORE important than attributes/abilities, so a few tweaks might be useful.

Try this: all skills default to Attribute/2, and each +1 bonus costs 12 points. Since you have a bonus instead of a fixed number, you can add it to different attributes: an Dexterity 16 Intelligence 8 fighter with a Barbarian! +5 skill attacks with a skill of 13 but can also identify plants in the wild with a skill of 9 - better than than the group's wizard!

This is even better than Wildcard skills, because I don't want barbarians to jump around while wielding a rapier... but "Swashbucklers!" certainly will! It is all about archetypes, IMO.

Also form the RC. Same page, actually.
Attributes are still useful to define speed, HP, etc., but less useful for class abilities. Which is good because now my barbarian doesn't have to be able to pick locks (high Dexterity) in order to be a fearsome fighter.

It also fixes the need for a skill list, and makes the "Dexterity as an uber stat" a lot less severe.

Come to think of it, this system would also work very well for D&D games.

BTW, "specialty" skills cost 6 points and are added on top of the existing skills (cannot be more than twice the wildcard skill bonus). If you want multiple specialty skills, all but the highest cost 1 point only (then you can have Barbarian! +5, Axe +8, Survival +7, Climbing +7, etc).

Is this too complicated? I think it is easier than 3.x D&D or BECMI weapon proficiencies, but what can I say... I am a GURPS fan after all!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Quick(ness) alternative to Armor (Class)

When I wrote 10 alternatives to Armor Class, I didn't think of this one. But now I've been writing about opposed rolls and this idea makes perfect sense. I'm sure some edition of D&D, or other game, must have done something similar, but I can't remember any examples.

If you do, please let me know in the comments!

Curiously enough, it is quite the opposite of of the WFB system described in the post that inspired me in the first place.

This example assumes Ascending AC (unarmored AC of 9, 10 or 12, doesn't really matter).

Here is the idea: if you get hit by an attack, you can roll a Reflex/Dexterity save to dodge the attack (probably no more than once per round; use a Reaction, etc.). The DC is equal to the attackers roll.

Pretty simple, right? But it is incredibly effective because:

- If your armor is good enough, dodging in often useless (the roll required is just too high).
- If your dodge improves as you level up, it can make up not only for armor, but also for magical armor bonuses (the numbers must be fine tuned, of course).
- Armor is useful when fighting multiple opponents, dodging is very useful against one single opponent.
- It is a very fun feature for a Thief to have, even if you don't allow it for everybody.
- It makes dodging feels riskier than wearing heavy armor.
- It does away with the need for limiting Dexterity bonus to armor; now they are separate things, and amor just makes dodging less useful.
- It makes one-on-one dueling a lot more interesting.
- It opens up new possibilities of using shields and parrying weapons.


There are some possible downsides to this. The first one is that it will be often frustrating to fail you dodges, but saving throws aren't required to be a sure thing anyway. It may also feel unnatural or intuitive: you see if the attacker beats your armor BEFORE you try to dodge.

And, of course, if you allow everyone to take this option every time they get attacked, combat will slow down significantly - which is why it is probably a bad idea to give this option indistinctly.

But, overall, I think it is a nice alternative to most solutions I've seem around.

It seems like something like this would work well with 5e and maybe even Pathfinder. It wouldn't be hard to use it with TSR-D&D as long as it uses Ascending AC, but even with Descending AC it might be possible to use a similar idea (since you just have to roll higher than your foe).

What do you think?

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Fixing rests (5e quick fix)

5e quick fixes are exactly what they say on the tin. Small house rules to fix D&D problems you probably don't have. One day I'll put then all in a good looking PDF and the whole will be SMALLER than the sum of the parts - that is how small they are! Use them wisely!

This came up in a thread started by Anders H, from Mythlands of Erce.

The problem: the 5e DMG assumes 6-8 encounters per long rest. That might make sense in a dungeon, but in a wilderness setting not even the most "Fantasy Vietnam" games will have 7 encounters per day on average.

And long rests take too long. How can you rest for one hour in a dungeon without being attacked by its denizens? I don't remember how 5e treats this, but Moldvay makes random encounter checks every 20 minutes.

The result: "long rest" classes, such as the (already powerful) Wizard, are always on the top of their game. "Short rest" classes like the Champion Fighter look weak by comparison.

How to fix this?


Well, I have noticed whenever I have an issue with WotC-D&D the answer is usually TSR-D&D (and vice-versa).

As you know, Moldvay has different rules for dungeons and wilderness. In the wilderness, you're moving three times faster, fighting under the sun or bad weather, and often treading over difficult terrain. Combatants start far form each other, meaning they often have to run while being shot with arrows.

Wouldn't it make sense if rest was harder under these circumstances?

If you're concerned with realism, modern boxing and MMA have probably indicated that smaller rings are less tiring.

Here is the fix: short rests in a dungeon take 20 minutes. Yes! One single encounter check! Very elegant risk-reward mechanic. Long rests still take eight hours.

Resting in the wilderness takes three times longer. Which means one hour for a short rest, and 24 hours for a long rest (unless you're in Rivendell, Tanelorn, etc.)

Coincidentally or not, in B/X characters travelling through the Wilderness must rest for the whole day once per week...

But how many encounters will we have during this time?

Moldvay suggests one check per day as a standard, 3-4 checks as a maximum. I'll use three - not only because it works better for my example, but also because a "rule of three" seems to be the answer to many of my D&D problems. The chances are slightly higher than dungeon encounters (around 1-in-3 instead of 1-in-6).

Which means....

An average of 7 encounters per long rest!

Nice!

The system is not perfect, of course; if anything, characters might have more than 7 encounters a week because they will be often looking for trouble. Of course, if they fight everything in the way, they have no right in complaining about how hard the game is!

And they can still take short rests as often as they want, but it costs them - leaving the dungeon or wasting one day of travel, for example. Fortunately, if they leave the dungeon for eight hours, that still triggers an wilderness encounter check if you're using 3/day.

These little mnemonic devices are extremely helpful for people like me, that are not interested in memorizing every rule.

That is it for today - off to my eight-hour rest!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

B/X character class: The Hopeless

My B/X retro-clone has 5 classes. Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Cleric and this one. It functions differently in my game (all classes have the same HD and XP progression, for example), but here is a version you can use in B/X.

The idea is that you start the game very weak but can get more powerful if you survive long enough. Idea inspired by DCC RPG, this and thisThis is where I got the picture.

This assumes you're rolling 3d6 for each ability; if you're using 4d6-drop-lowest change the numbers accordingly (for example, the hopeless rolls 3d6 in order but gains 2 ability points per level until modifiers add to 9). In AD&D, you might let the hopeless change class at level 9 provided he meets the requirements!

Beware: this if for hardcore, advanced, fearless powergamers and min-maxers only!


The Hopeless
Hit dice: 1d4.
Requirements: you must roll a hopeless character (page B13) and choose to play it. If the sum of you ability modifiers is greater than zero, change all you abilities that are higher than 12 to 12.
Combat: 0-level human (B40).
Save As: normal man (B26).
Restriction: can only use simple or small weapons (d4 damage at most). Cannot wear armor or use shields. Start the game with no money.
Special abilities: after achieving 1,000 XP, the hopeless gets one ability point and must choose a class*, starting on level 1 with all abilities and restrictions from the new class.
For each new level until the sum of all ability modifiers is 3, the hopeless gets one additional ability point.

* You may choose to be an elf, dwarf, etc. Nobody had noticed that about you before. In fact, they had barely noticed you at all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Of opposed rolls (and fixing 5e saving throws)

In my never-ending search of efficient (or elegant) mechanics for D&D, I keep going back to opposed rolls. Although this mechanic is very common in many RPGs (Shadow of the Demon Lord, my own Days of the Damned), it often feels a bit underused in my favorite forms of D&D (TSR/OSR and 5e).

In short, opposed rolls means just rolling for both sides and making the best roll the winner. You don't even need to roll for both; you can give a roll of 10 for one side and roll for the other, if you're using a d20, for example.

But, basically, any roll in which the possibility of success relies on both you skills and your opponents' skill can be thought of as an opposed rolls. Which is very common today, but NOT usually the case with old school D&D. Saving throws, moving silently, hear noise, etc., were often used without any regard for the opposition's capabilities. Traditionally, there is no "contest" between move silently and hear noise, for example; these abilities are "self referential", relying solely on the character attempting them.

There are some opposed rolls in old school D&D, but they are often disguised and made complicated for no apparent reason. For example, giving the thief a 5% penalty to pick pocket for each level of the victim beyond level 5 is identical to just adding +1 per level on a d20 roll after level 5. Turn Undead is also a opposed roll between the cleric's level and the undead's HD.

The lesson here, I think, is that because D&D is a "class & level" game, opposed rolls should always take level into consideration. Used in this way, opposed rolls reinforce the "class and level" aspect of the game in a way that "rolling under ability score" does not.

Anyway, I like the mechanic and I'm using it use it extensively in my rewrite of B/X.

And I'd say that  opposed rolls solve a number of issues.

For example, it makes it easier to steal from low-level chumps, and harder to save against a powerful wizard's spell, and it allows me to play with no "charts" for thieves' skills and Turn Undead.

Of course, the old school method has a few advantages. For example, you can have more dramatic high-level spells that circumvent HP if everyone has a better chance of resisting them despite you level.

Modern D&D uses of opposed rolls often as a default mechanic; but I think 5e could be improved by applying some of these ideas to saving throws.

One of my main gripes with 5e is saving throws.

Unlike all other editions of D&D, it is possible (and likely) that some of the saving throws will not improve at all during a character's career.

A 20th level wizard can easily survive a fall from 100 feet, but he is no better than a first level wizard at dealing with hunger (curiously enough, being proficient in Constitution saves will help you against dehydration, but not starvation).

Which makes absolutely no sense in my humble opinion.

But to save AGAINST a spell cast by a 20th level wizard is going to be considerably harder for a 20th level fighter if she is not proficient in the right saves.

This is the exact opposite of old school D&D, where saves always get better regardless of the level of the attacker.


You see, hit points, however you define them, are often used to measure resilience; and, since all high level characters have more HP, they should ALWAYS have better saving throws.

This is probably where 3e wizards went wrong, by the way: saving throws didn't scale fast enough, making hit points a terrible path to defeating a foe in high levels. A low level bard has no chance at taking a down a 150 HP Fighter... but a mind affecting spell will allow the fighter to be easily avoided. The iconic Fireball becomes useless with time.

As you can see, 5e uses a similar method, that is made even worse in some aspects, since some saving throws don't scale at all.

If you like characters to have better saves as they level up, just give everybody proficiency in all saves, and "expertise" (double proficiency) in two saves.

And ditch the whole idea of "save DC = 8 + ability modifier + proficiency bonus". Save DC is like passive perception DC: 10 + ability + bonus... like every other opposed roll.

BTW, I think D&D next started this way, but they changed it for some reason. Well, I'm breaking it again! But if you can see the reasoning behind this, let me know in the comments.

So, in conclusion... I am not sure I have a great conclusion for this one. Opposed rolls are extremely useful, but can also be misused. Character level is the main measure of competency in D&D, so most rolls should take that in consideration - for all parties involved.

In any case, this is what I'm using for my B/X house rules. Spell saving throws? Roll higher than the wizard, and you're saved. Grappling? Just roll attack and see if your foe can roll higher than you. Sneaking around? Roll your stealth against your opponents' perception.

But, in the end, this is a matter of taste and degree; no right or wrong here, choose whatever you find more fun.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Quick Guide to the OSR Extravaganza

DTRPG is holding an "OSR sale" with three different - and very interesting - bundles.

Here are a few quick notes about them.

First, it bears mentioning that if you ALREADY have some of the books in the sale, you get a discount for those, which is very cool. So "I got that already" is a not a good reason to pass on those; on the contrary.

Second, it seems that now old School D&D is officially part of the OSR... Funny, right? It is like classical Greek originals became a part of the Italian renaissance. Or, as James Raggi said on G+, it means "we won". Well, with all these books easily available I guess we did win... something. But let us talk about the sale.

Anyway, if you know this stuff already, you probably don't need my humble opinion. But if you want to buy something and you don't know what, this is what I think (BTW, I had to look some of it up; DTRPG has plenty of detailed information on each title, courtesy of Shannon Appelcline).



Known World Megabundle (BECMI) - Great system, classic setting

I like the RC over AD&D, so this is the best system in the bundle IMO. Although each gazetteer adds more rules (some are repeated in the RC), I find the core book to be a well-polished version of D&D, balancing detail and ease of use. B/X is still my favorite, but the RC adds plenty of useful detail and has an implicit 2d6 GM mechanic that inspired me to write some posts in this blog.

The Gazetteers are hit-and-miss, AFAIK; I don't know most of them, but most seem reminiscent of a "faux medieval" feel, although there is plenty of "weird" mixed in. If you want stuff to drop on your standard D&D campaign (assuming you're using weird medieval settings such as Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, etc.), it might be very useful.



AD&D Core Megabundle (1e) - Rules, monsters, more rules and more monsters!

I'm definitely not the greatest fan of the AD&D's PHB. Feels overly complicated when compared to my favorite version (B/X) and there are plenty of things that made no sense to me (such as the way the bard class works). The Survival Guides also seem too complicated for my tastes (one or two pages are often enough for me).

But I DO like reading many parts of the DMG. More books should teach GMs how bell curves work! And this bundle includes the original Monster Manuals, including the Fiend Folio (1e). I am a fan of Russ Nicholson's art (among other greats), and the monsters (create by Ian Livingstone and Charles Stross, among many others) include many classics such as the hook horror, the shadow demon and the death knight - and the weird/"planar" githzerai, githyanki and slaad, that went on to become quite important in Planescape.



Planescape Megabundle (2e) - The plain, the planar, and more monsters

2e (the system) is very different from Planescape (the setting).

2e seems to lack an unique, distinctive mark; it is an update AD&D and not necessarily better, although it does include some aspects that I like (such as better organization and its own skill system, unlike the 1e PHB; also, I DO think THAC0 is basically a good idea). The removal of assassins, demons and devils to make D&D more family-friendly after the satanic panic didn't help much.

Planescape, on the other hand, is very idiosyncratic. It has an unique flavor of cosmic high fantasy with many fans but little use in "standard" D&D campaigns. Also, it has a particular jargon (it often uses "in universe" slang) that can be aggravating at times. Tony DiTerlizzi's art is amazing, of course, but Planescape's visual identity bores me sometimes.

Now, if you like plane-hopping high fantasy - and I do - Planescape has innumerable cool factions, characters and ideas that you can use with settings such as Ravnica or, maybe, Ptolus.

And I MUST mention the Monstrous Manual, my favorite monster book. It might be nostalgia, it might be the size (384 pages according to DTRPG), or probably the colorful illustrations (DiTerlizzi has some awesome ones here too). It strikes a great balance between stat-blocks and interesting information (although the stats do include plenty of useless stuff).

Other stuff on sale

Plenty of good stuff 15% off too. Might was well take the chance if there is something in particular you've thinking of buying. The Bat in the Attic sale seems like a good deal too.

In conclusion... what should you buy?

To be honest, I'll probably buy the three bundles. There is too much good stuff to pass. But if I had to choose, I'd take Know World, then Planescape, then AD&D, in that order.
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