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

- William Blake

Saturday, April 28, 2018

What's so DARK about Dark Fantasy D&D?

As you might know, Dark Fantasy Basic is my vision of how a dark D&D (BX/5e) would look like.

But why do I call it DARK? I do mention this in the FAQ:

How dark is it?
Not that much darker than the original game, if you think about it. The Player’s Guide has a few hints of dark fantasy (in alignment, spells, classes, etc.), but most of the flavor will come from monsters, adventures, setting, etc.

Some people have said this is a cop out. Fair enough.

I intend to add more "dark" stuff as I go. But the DFB Player's Guide has ALREADY included many things that I consider that reinforce the "dark fantasy" theme.

Here is a small list that may be useful if you're trying to add "dark" elements to ANY version of D&D, or other RPGs.

- Magic is dangerous! DFB treats magic as any other skills - roll against a DC (10+spell levelx2), but with a caveat - fail by 10 more and the spell might turn against you, drain your strength, cause mutations etc. Magic "fumbles" are the worst fumbles of the game. You can cast spells WAY above your level.. but that is asking for trouble!

- Nonhumans are mysterious! I made the player's guide human-only; nonhumans should mostly be monsters (and I plan to mention humanoid monsters in monster's books in the future), I think, although I'm not sure many people would enjoy D&D without demihumans (and, it seems, wouldn't work very well for your setting), so I added a few options.

If you're adding elves and dwarves to your dark fantasy games, better make them rare, mysterious and, preferably, utterly alien.

- Alignment isn't black and white! I prefer Chaos/Law instead of Good and Evil (well, good and evil are black and white after all), but I take a Moorcockian, not Andersonian, view of these forces. No good/evil axis on my game. Many evil foes think themselves to be good...

- The gods must be crazy! Deities are unreliable, and followers too. If a paladin "falls", he doesn't lose his powers, and chaotic deities can give you spells if you bargain for it.

- Sacrifice! I don't think being "deadly" is necessarily a mark of Dark Fantasy. This is a common misconception - dark fantasy heroes do not die like flies, nor must they be foolish or weak. I love DCC's funnel, but dark fantasy, IMO, is more about sacrifice than random death - so characters should have some CHOICE about fighting to the death. Basically, they can fight past 0 HP, but this is incredibly risky.

There are other things that can make a game of D&D "dark", but these aren't in the DFB Player's Guide:

- Monster are strange! Each monster is unique. If you encounter an orc after another, or small groups of identical skeletons, they soon lose all mystery. Another way of keeping PCs guessing is making sure some monsters are alien, well-intentioned or simply dumb instead of downright evil. What's worse, some monsters may be guardians against greater evils.

People are stranger! There is no clear distinction between monster and NPC. NPCs can be, literally or metaphorically, actual monsters, or even something in between - since everybody is prone to corruption of mind, body, and soul, you can never really trust anybody. Maybe not even yourself (see next item).

- Corruption! Madness, corruption, mutation... PCs face threats from within, not onyl from without. As Nietzsche famously said, "Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.".

- The Dark! The Dark is an important element for, well, Dark D&D. In the earlier versions of the game, restricting lighting sources played and important part, and infravision/darkvision was less widespread, as you can see in OD&D (Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, page 9):

In the underworld some light source or an infravision spell must be used. Torches, lanterns and magic swords will illuminate the way, but they also allow monsters to "see" the users so that monsters will never be surprised unless coming through a door. Also, torches can be blown out by a strong gust of wind. Monsters are assumed to have permanent infravision as long as they are not serving some character.

So not only monsters have infravision but also they lose this ability if serving some characters, that are mostly restricted to sources of light that will call their foes attention and can be blown out by wind.

In Dark Fantasy Basic, PCs usually don't have this ability, since they are all human, but I've added it as a feat as an option if you want to play one. I also mention this:

"Carrying a light in the darkness will ruin most PCs’ chances of stealth, but other characters in the party might be able to move around undetected."

So, these are all the "Dark Fantasy" aspects I can think of for now. What about you? How would you describe dark fantasy, or dark fantasy RPGs? How dark are your adventures? Any good games or mechanics to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 20, 2018


The latest post might have been a bit confusing.

This is easier, I hope. Well, if you want a different idea - even simpler - then let me draw that for you.

If you want crunch... read on!

First, get rid of 5e's armor tables.
Now you have this:

- A number of encumbrance slots equal to your Strength. If you fill HALF of these, you're half-encumbered. Fill all, and you're encumbered. Less than half means you're unencumbered.
- Armor takes a variable number of encumbrance slots (1 slot for AC 11, 2 slots for AC 12, 5 slots for AC 15, etc).
- Light armor is AC 12, medium 13-15, and heavy 16-18.
- Cost is 10 gp times AC bonus, squared. AC 14 costs 160 gp, for example, and AC 18, 640 GP (yes, it is cheaper, but you need Str 18 to make the most of it). You can get cheap armor for one quarter of the price, but you suffer a -1 penalty to AC.
- AC 15 or higher gives you disadvantage in stealth.
- Dexterity gives you a variable bonus to AC.
- Armor proficiency works as usual.

The bonus is:

* Start with column A.
* If you're using armor, and your armor's AC is greater than your Str, move one column to the right.
* If you're half-encumbered (i.e., half of your encumbrance slots are filled), move one column to the right. If you're encumbered, move two columns to the right instead, and speed drops by 10ft.
* If you're using medium amor, move one column to the right. If you're using heavy amor, move two columns to the right instead.

(The table below is the "smoother" version from last post; remember, column C is the ability modifier you're used to. Notice that there is no column "F"; if you move one column to the right of E, you cannot get a bonus from Dex, but you can still get a penalty).


Some examples:

Unfettered build (AC 17):
No armor, Str 8, Dex 20, unencumbered - use column A, get AC 17. With only 8 encumbrance slots, this PC must travel light at all times to keep the high AC. Light armor would raise your AC to 18; if you're carrying a shield and weapon too, you'd lose the unencumbered status, but raise AC to 20.

Traditional thief (AC 19):
Light armor (AC 12), Str 12, Dex 20, unencumbered - use column A, get AC 19.

Brutish rogue (AC 17):
Medium armor (AC 14), Str 14, Dex 16 - use column C, get AC 17. If you manage to stay unencumbered - not an easy thing to do - your AC is 18.

Heavy and fast (AC 20):
Heavy armor (AC 18), Str 18, Dex 14 - use column D, and you get AC 20. Notice that with 18 encumbrance slots, and 8 of those being filled by armor, is practically impossible for this build to be unencumbered. What this build can do is use a shield - and get to AC 22!

But... I don't like these ABCDE tables!

You can have a similar result by just giving +1 AC to anyone who is unencumbered, provided their DEX is 10 or higher, and -1 to anyone whose strength is smaller than their armor's AC.

What's the point?

As always, we want to give people good reasons to have BOTH Str and Dex. Notice that most of these builds require both, which is suboptimal by RAW, but they get a small AC boost in this system. In practice, PCs will rarely be unencumbered.

Side effects may include:

* Duels! In duels, BOTH sides are more likely to be unencumbered, which makes the fight lasts for a bit longer... perfect!
* Giving a reason to have odd ability scores.
* Making encumbrance more meaningful.
* Making each point of Str/Dex count.
* Making each armor unique (you might be better off with AC 13 than 14, for example, but it all depends on your stats). You might have different sets of armor for dueling, exploring, traveling, etc.

Adverse effects:
* Dex becomes even more useful.
* Barbarians/monks might need fine tuning. Paladins in plate may suffer a little if they have Str 16 or less and low Dex.
* ACs might become higher all around - although the difference is seldom greater than +1 or +2.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

More Dark Souls WEAPON MADNESS for 5e D&D

Tonight we are going into mega-crunch levels of madness! Bring out your pocket calculator because this is getting fiddly!

Nah, not really. In fact this is quite easy, but probably too fiddly for D&D 5e.

Take this as a though exercise.

I wouldn't use as a replacement for the actual rules, but maybe as an option for some players. Why not? If you do the math, you'll see they are getting +1, +2 damage at most...

But I digress.

Here is the deal: we are not messing with "to hit" bonus for now. Just weapon damage.

As you know, in modern D&D, your damage bonus is based on your Strength (or Dexterity, but let's start with Strength): subtract ten, divide by two, round down, and add to damage. So a 1d4 weapon in the hands of a Strength 16 or 17 fighter deals 1d4+3 damage.

I suggested some weapons should get twice this bonus in GURPS D&D, but we'll leave that aside for now.

My suggestion is something less extreme, although a bit crunchier: instead of  subtract ten from ability and dividing by two, some weapons will divide your bonus by three or four, or even multiply it by 2/3 or 3/4.

Dark Souls calls this "scaling":

The Parameter Bonus rating, also known as Scaling, is a gameplay mechanic in Dark Souls. It indicates the level of bonus damage one can do with a weapon, based on the associated stats. This rating can be S, A, B, C, D or E (in order from most to least bonus for the associated skill). Strength and Dexterity will increase the physical damage...

So, an "Strength A" weapon will benefit greatly from Strength, while a "Strength E" weapon will barely benefit from it.

In this regard, Dark Souls is more interesting than 5e: depending on your "build", you might favor a greataxe over a greatsword, for example, something that is near impossible for the 5e fighter (although a greataxe might be slightly better for a barbarian).

Let's play with the concept.

We will use the letter "C" for the usual bonus to damage (i.e., Strength-10/2), and add some new possiblites:
Letter Scaling Formula
A 0.75 Ability-10*3/4
B 0.66 Ability-10*2/3
C 0.50 Ability-10*1/2
D 0.33 Ability-10*1/3
E 0.25 Ability-10*1/4
Complicated? Not that much. Most weapons get a C, which means Strength 16 adds a +3 bonus... But if you have a Strength 16 fighter with a B weapon, he gets a +4 bonus instead, while a D weapon will only give him +2.

Here is a nice table showing the exact numbers, up until that Barbarian with Strength 24:

8 -2 -1 -1 -1 -1
9 -1 -1 -1 0 0
10 0 0 0 0 0
11 1 1 0 0 0
12 1 1 1 1 0
13 2 2 1 1 1
14 3 3 2 1 1
15 4 3 2 2 1
16 4 4 3 2 1
17 5 5 3 2 2
18 6 5 4 3 2
19 7 6 4 3 2
20 7 7 5 3 2
21 8 7 5 4 3
22 9 8 6 4 3
23 10 9 6 4 3
24 10 9 7 5 3

Notice that the "C" column is the "ability modifier" you're used to.

So, let's get some of the worst weapons from 5e: the mace, the clubs, flail, morningstar, war pick and trident. Give them a "B" rating and, voilà: now the barbarian will pick the morningstar over the rapier!

Add great to the list... and now a Strength 20 fighter will pick the greataxe over the greatsword!

But wait - you might say - I actually LIKE my barbarians using rapiers, and I WANT the greatsword to be better than the greataxe!

Well, here is the deal: you can add Dexterity scaling to the weapon in addition to Strength scaling!

Say, for example, that you add "Strength C / Dexterity E" for all finesse weapons, all swords, and spears. The "finesse" trait just mean you can switch the two around (Dexterity C / Strength E).

Which means: the Strength 16 warrior will usually prefer a morning-star over a rapier. BUT if his Dexterity is 13, both weapons will have equal damage. If you have BOTH Strength 16 AND Dexterity 16, the rapier (or spear) is definitely better. And so on.

Of course, at this point you might be picking up you calculator...

Some perspective on damage

If you haven't read this, take a look.

In short: the +1 or +2 bonuses to damage these rules will give you are a lot smaller than they look, and only barbarians will get a few +3s.

Also, keep in mind that in most cases 1d6+4 is worse than 1d8+3 because of critical hits, specially for barbarians.

What's the point?

This solves a decent amount of problems:

- Does away with "useless" weapons.
- Creates more interesting, varied weapons,
- Strength is always useful, even with finesse weapons.
- Dexterity is useful for all fighters - even if you have high Strength.
- Odd abilities (11, 13, 15, 17, 19...) gain some utility.
- Encourages stronger characters to pick heavy weapons, and dexterous characters to pick lighter ones.
- More specifically, monks get additional reasons to use lighter weapons, barbarians get additional reasons to use heavier weapons, and fighters will be encouraged to use different weapons in accordance to their specific build,s most of which will be very flavorful.

My head hurts from the math! Let's see some actual examples!

Mace, Greatclub (Strength B)
There is little to no reason to use these weapons in 5e: the quarterstaff is versatile, in addition to being cheaper/lighter. With these rules, anyone with Strength 13+ will pick one of them over the quarterstaff.

Sickle (Strength C / Dexterity E)
You'd usually pick a handaxe over a sickle, but if you're dexterous enough, this weapon might be a better choice.

Greataxe (Strength B) 
Once reserved to barbarians, now the greataxe is useful for anyone with Strength 13+. Because of how critical hits work, the greatsword has an almost identical damage, unless your Strength is REALLY high.

Greatsword (Strength C / Dexterity E)
Now the greatsword requires good Dexterity for maximum effect. Nice!


As you can see, I used only the letters B, C and E. You can easily add "Strength D/Dexterity D" to some weapons that require an equal amount of Strength and Dexterity, and even "Strength A" for GIANT weapons.

Maybe SIMPLE weapons would have Strength D as an option, to allow Strength 9 wizards to cause damage without a penalty.

Two weapon fighting? Maybe Strength letters get degraded by one level in the main hand, two levels in the off hand... Or something. The ideal is that Dexterity scaling allows dexterous characters to gain more benefits form dual wielding.

Ranged Weapons? Let us give them some Strength scaling, shall we? Or try this.

In Dark Souls, some weapons scale with "mental" abilities. A nice addition to spellcasters! Or check this out.

The 3/4, 2/3, 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 progression is arbitrary: you could easily use something less extreme (for example, 0.7, 0.6, 05., 0.4, 0.3).

Here is a smoother table if you want it. I think I actually prefer this one:

8 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1
9 -1 -1 -1 0 0
10 0 0 0 0 0
11 1 1 0 0 0
12 1 1 1 1 1
13 2 2 1 1 1
14 3 2 2 2 1
15 3 3 2 2 1
16 4 4 3 2 2
17 5 4 3 3 2
18 6 5 4 3 2
19 6 5 4 4 3
20 7 6 5 4 3
21 8 7 5 4 3
22 8 7 6 5 4
23 9 8 6 5 4
24 10 8 7 6 4

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Encumbrance armor - minor update

As I mentioned in my post about "encumbrance armor", the idea, as written, is a bit prone to abuse.

To avoid all PCs to walking around in heavy armor, 5e limits the three heaviest kinds of armor to PCs that have minimum strength of 13 or 15.

Heavy Armor
Ring Mail30 gp14Disadvantage40 lb.
Chain Mail75 gp16Str 13Disadvantage55 lb.
Splint200 gp17Str 15Disadvantage60 lb.
Plate1,500 gp18Str 15Disadvantage65 lb.

There is no rhyme or reason to these numbers, apparently. A Str 12/13/14/15 would make a lot more sense and work perfectly well for gaming reasons.

But why not make Strength requirements for ALL kinds of armor? This is an idea I've got from Dragon Heresy. But I prefer formulas to tables. So:

The maximum number of slots you can fill with armor (including shields) is equal to half your Strength score (rounded up); otherwise, the armor reduces your speed by (at least) 10 feet.
Crisis averted!

This works quite well. For starters, to wear the equivalent of plate armor (AC 18), you'd need... Str 15!

This also bars anyone with Str less than 9 to have AC 15 armor, although light armor (and most kinds of medium armor) is still available for (almost) everybody that has proficiency in it.

You also require a bit extra Strength for using shields, which makes sense IMO, although you could always stick to the original rules and say shields have no Str requirements.

You don't have to apply this rule to monsters - maybe armor is lighter for them because of their dimensions - although it seems to work well enough as written.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Giant Monster versus Angry Mob

Take a look at this great post from Cruel & Unusual Punishment:

[...] I don’t appreciate the lack of tactical variety arising from combat with foes drastically larger in size than player characters.
This is not about pushing an agenda that large creatures should by rights be tougher to beat, rather that, as a challenge, they should feel different and require a distinct approach rather than the mended old hat of getting the cudgels out and whacking away at the ankles of the Hp piñata until it keels.
[...] In DnD all that is absent: the gameplay surrounding combat with large monstrous opponents mostly plays like Times New Roman twelve, wrong-headedly reduced to a slugging match with a large juicy bag of Hit-points saddled with a bad action economy, leading to the mechanical juncture of monstrous foes, due to being single targets, being actually easier to face than an equivalent challenge made of multiple smaller ones (the DMG’s guidelines on CR copping admission to this very fact). Occasional legendary and lair actions feel like just a tacked-on mitigation device.

Great points there.

To be honest, while I like 5e, I am a bit disappointed about bounded accuracy going too far - a tribe of goblins should be a bit weaker, I think, and the tarrasque A LOT tougher.

It bothers me that "the most dreaded monster in the Material Plane" feels a bit like it could be taken down by a hundred determined, well-positioned 1st level fighters with the Sharpshooter feat (no, I have no idea how accurate this is).

And I like the idea that armor might be less useful than Dexterity against huge foes - although I wouldn't want it to be completely useless, since Dexterity is already a bit better than Strength in 5e as it is.

So, if you want to know his solution, click the link above.

Here is mine - largely inspired by his, but a bit simpler.

When a huge creature makes a melee attack against a target, the target and up to 1d4 random  creatures within 5 feet of it must make a Dexterity saving throw (the DC is equal to the attack roll) or suffer an amount of damage equal to half the creature's Challenge. A gargantuan creature affects all creatures within 5 feet of the original target and 1d10  random  creatures within 10 feet of it, instead. 

A sufficiently large rock, piece of rubble or weapon hurled by the creature might have a similar, but smaller and rarer, effect (GM's call). Likewise, a large creature with a big two-handed weapon can occasionally deal damage in the same way.

Even easier if you use minis....
In short, if an angry mob of villagers decides to take down a giant, they are going to have a bad time. Godzilla is coming? Better bring out the big guns.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Encumbrance armor! For 5e et al. D&D

The concept is really simple.

The main downside of armor is encumbrance; it slows you don't, makes you tired, etc. However, it is extremely useful in combat.

Now, nobody likes dealing with encumbrance. Okay, some people do, but it seems enough people dislike the concept since 5e added an alternative to encumbrance when describing armor: minimum strength of 13 or 15.

Which, curiously enough, seem be be pulled out of thin air, having no relation to the armor's weight:

Heavy Armor
Ring Mail30 gp14Disadvantage40 lb.
Chain Mail75 gp16Str 13Disadvantage55 lb.
Splint200 gp17Str 15Disadvantage60 lb.
Plate1,500 gp18Str 15Disadvantage65 lb.

Also like the weapon's list, most of the armor list seems to be useless once you have a bit of coin to spare.

The ideal armor list would be concise, simple, but with enough nuance to provided cahrachters a lot of variation... not an easy thing to do.

But we will!

Here is the deal: you have as many SLOTS of encumbrance as your Strength score. Each  slot is about 8 pounds, but this isn't meant to be exact.

Let us start with Strength 12 as our example.

You can add as much armor as you want... keeping a limit of +8 AC, like in 5e.

Let's try adding +4 AC:

You can still add your Dex bonus to AC, but for that you have to leave EMPTY SLOTS; one for each +1. Other slots can be filled with gold, water, weapons, etc. Probably two slots for heavy weapons, one slot for two light weapons (don't get me started on the meaning of the "light" and "heavy" properties).

Of course, you can combine the two:

And a shield! The shield is +2 AC as usual.

Of course, this is a bit prone to abuse and must be fine tuned.

One would think that in most circumstances PCs would have little space for abuse, since everybody will be carrying other stuff anyway.

Maybe a strong barbarian could carry lots of armor... but armor is of very limited utility to barbarians anyway. Other classes do not benefit from having BOTH dexterity and strength.

And with that, we get rid of the whole armor table, and replace it with this:

Light Armor: +1.
Medium Armor +2 to +4.
Heavy armor: +5 to +7.

Cost is the AC bonus, squared, times 10 gp. So, 10, 40, 90, 160, 250, etc.

Clumsy armor halves the cost (disadvantage to stealth). Any armor with AC 15 or more must be clumsy.

Fancy armor allows you to add +1 to AC to the maximum but quadruples the cost (i.e., AC 15 medium armor costs 500 gp; start with 250 gp, multiplied by four to 1000 gp, but halve that cost because it is clumsy). So you can have +2 light amor, or +8 heavy armor (640, divided by two, times four... 1280 gp).

Nonmetal armor is limited to AC +2.

Now that you got the idea, you can play around with it. Let anyone that has less than half their slots filled get an automatic +1 to AC, for example, or take a -1 AC penalty if you are carrying more weight than your slots would allow. Maybe require empty slots for AC bonuses from Wisdom or Constitution, forcing the monk to travel light (which is probably too harsh) and avoiding abuse from the barbarian. And so on.

Minor update here.