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

- William Blake

Friday, June 29, 2018

Old school initiative is the BEST initiative

As you might know, my favorite types of D&D are BX and 5e - because I find them to be the easiest ones. I'm not really into AD&D (or 3e/4e for that matter) becasue I find it to be needlessly complex with its tables, weapon speed, strange XP charts, etc (most AD&D fans usually reply that they weren't using most of the rules anyway).

Which means: when it comes to D&D, I usually prefer to err on the side of simplicity.

Now, one thing I actually like in old school D&D that is a lot MORE COMPLEX than WotC D&D is the intricate initiative system that we see in AD&D (and probably OD&D, BX etc, although AD&D is more detailed - there is a famous 20-page document trying to make it SIMPLER). Although it might be unclear and not easy to understand, the ideas behind the system are in many ways a lot more intuitive - and sensible - that anything WotC has used in their games.

Modern D&D initiative is mostly an abstraction without footing in the real (or fictional) world. It often feels "fake" or artificial - even tough I find it good enough to just ignore most of the time. This has nothing to do with "Greyhawk initiative", BTW, who feel more gimmicky than real IMO, although its goal is probably the same as mine.

Old school initiative, on the other hand, tries to reflect what would REALLY happen in a battle. To see what I'm saying, try to picture a fight. Not necessarily in a boxing ring, but IN YOUR IMAGINATION - maybe with monsters, and spells, and swords, and missiles.

First, the parties would see one another and quickly EVALUATE the other side (are they approaching fast? Are they scared? this is the declaration phase, BTW). Distance would be vital - if they're close enough, the thief might stab the enemy wizard before he draws his magic wand. If one side is using bows, they might get a shot or two if they are far enough, but once the other side closes in... the bow is nearly useless. If parties are reasonably far, one side may choose to flee before the other side can reach them - unless the other side has bows or spells. If both want to fight, who moves first doesn't matter - its all about who strikes first. One could always say a few words before getting pursued and hit, but a spells might take a few seconds to perform - can the barbarian reach the Wizard before his allies are hit by a fireball? And so on.

This is what initiative is for - the action, the tension, the tactics, the randomness and unpredictably.

Most modern initiative mechanics have no function in the fiction: there is no reason why the dexterous character should act before someone who is smarter or more attentive, for example, and there are mechanical incentives to do things that would make no sense in the real (or fictional) word, such as staying 35 feet away from you opponent for the fear he might approach and attack before you do anything at all.

Of course, the upside of new school initiative is that it is really easy - just roll a dice and see who goes first. Arguably, they might be easily replaced with a coin toss with no significant loss. And, to be honest, that would be alright - make it so simple that it doesn't get in the way.

Anyway, let me illustrate my point to be clearer.

Imagine your PC is a soldier of the blue faction, walking down a road. The GM says: "you see a red soldier turning a corner... you're 30 feet away from him... roll initiative!"

PC: "15!"

GM: "He rolled 19! He walk to you and attacks you three times!"

PC: "Huh... okay".

Some situations can get even more ridiculous. Say you can move 30 feet, for example, and you're 50 feet away from your enemy, both with no ranged weapons. Nobody wants to approach first - since this means you cannot hit your enemy but your enemy will be able to hit you, even if you're holding a long sword and he is holding a dagger.

Or imagine your enemy is prone (in 5e): if he wins initiative, he can stand up, walk to you, and attack you a couple of times before you can do anything.

Not to mention silly things such as the infinite line of fighters: fighter A moves and strikes fighter B, who then moves and strikes C, "ad nauseam", covering the space of a mile in six seconds.

How should an actual fight go?

If both sides want to fight, both should approach at the same time. Then they would exchange blows. Any side with ranged weapons might have a change to attack. The longest melee weapons will always attack first. Complex actions - such as moving 30 feet, than attacking four times, then casting a cantrip with a bonus action - would be broke down into smaller components - maybe you can move 10 feet before your opponent shoots you with an arrow, for example.

But... this would be TOO complicated, right?

Well, we will see in the next post.

(Thanks Telecanter for the silhouettes).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ask what YOU can do for the OSR!

Beloch Shrike started an interesting thread over G+ :

My humble contribution:

One things that occurs to me is BETTER REVIEWERS. We have 10-foot pole, a couple of guys calling things "s**t", and dozens of people who say everything OSR is awesome (and, sincerely, it is not - not even some of the most applauded stuff). 
One guy did "Umerican x MCC" the other day, thought that is a great idea: this way he HAS to point the pros and cons of each one.

Lots of people gave their own ideas... And Beloch compiled them all.

I, for one, intend to help as I can... maybe write more reviews if that's what you want to read. I'd say I'm already writing a lot about mechanics, and I often compliment and disucsss other blogs/people etc. 

But let me know in the comment about what kind of stuff you'd like to read... or what books are you interested in, your favorite subjects, etc. This is always helpful!

Without further ado, the current list.


Do you want to make a meaningful contribution to the OSR? Something that will stand out from yet another blogger writing about yet another house rule that nobody will ever use? Something that will make the community better?

According to yesterday's thread, here's how you can do that, sorted from least to most effort.


Start a thread discussing games in some way that isn't just shilling for someone's product. What mechanics are on your mind? What do you wish could be better? What would be useful to you? More threads like this go a long way towards making g+ more interesting. More convivial discussion about games is the single biggest thing we can do to make the OSR work better.

Blogs should be treated as part of a conversation, not as a performative lecture. If you disagree, don't just ignore a blog post, explain why you disagree. If you like it, don't just +1 or reshare, add your own thoughts to the conversation. Make critiques and suggestions. Do this in the blog's comments, or in google+ threads, or in blog posts. More blog posts should be responses to other blog posts.

Give feedback to artists. It's nice to give general compliments, but it's way nicer if you can find something specific to compliment. "Great stuff!" is nice, but "I like the detail on the fingers" is better. Constructive criticism is also great, just don't be a dick about it.

Step outside g+ and represent the OSR on other platforms where general RPG discussion happens. Reddit, Twitter, Facebook. Let them know we exist. Take a few minutes to explain to them why we think the way we do.

If you speak the lingo of RPG communities outside the OSR, help those communities cross-pollinate. Bring us their cool ideas. Take our cool ideas to them.

If you find good, usable game stuff, spread it around. Share it. Let people know it exists.


Run open table games. Do this online, and in real life. Do it both for people who are already in the OSR, and for people who may (through your game) become interested in the OSR. This helps like minded people find one another, introduces people to OSR style games, and most importantly it keeps us all playing.

Tutorials, primers, and other tools to help first-timers tackle layout. Information design makes all the difference in an RPG book. The more of this knowledge we can spread through our community, the better our books will be.

More information to help new people get into and acclimate to the community. Primers on lingo, lists of places to get useful information, collections of links and people to follow, demonstrations of how OSR play can be done. Aggregates of all those things. I, for one, was "part of the OSR" for about 3 years before I knew what "B/X" meant.

Many folks mentioned interest in seeing more small adventures getting publish. A couple pages and a map collected into a semi-polished free pdf is more likely to get you noticed than a month's worth of blog posts.

A lot of things people want already exist, but they're scattered throughout pdfs and blog posts that not enough people know about. Collecting existing information into a single collection of links, and spreading that information around, will help people.

For those with the skills, there's always a need for more software tools like those made by +Ramanan S (http://save.vs.totalpartykill.ca/web-apps/), +Logan Knight (https://www.lastgaspgrimoire.com/generators/), +Brendan S (http://osrsearch.blogspot.com/), and +Alex Schroeder (https://alexschroeder.ch/wiki/RPG).

OSR games that aren't fantasy. Space adventures games, horror games, kids games, using OSR design principals.


The number 1 thing the OSR needs is more reviewers. People who do the hard work of finding new stuff that nobody has ever heard of, reading that stuff, and getting into the nitty gritty of what is good and what is bad. Bryce Lynch of 10' Pole is a great model for how to do this right, but there's more stuff being produced than he can parse on his own.

A matchmaking service that helps people find OSR games to play in would be crazy useful.

People's projects tend to slip out of mind after a month or so. A catalogue of available books, PDFs, & zines, blogs, or even specific blog posts, would be insanely helpful. Not only would it help people to find stuff they're interested in after it stops being talked about, but it would help creators by getting a little more money flowing into their pockets.

Public domain artwork is a great way for smaller publications to break up their text. There are many resources for public domain art online, but collecting those, and even searching out some of the more game-worthy pieces would be a great help.

A periodic look at the community, what work has been done with it, what is good, what deserves notice. The RAMMIES are a good start.

An actual play podcast, or Twitch stream, or YouTube series, or PeerTube series. One that is actually good, with quality audio and focused players. This sorta thing is the future of RPGs. The sooner the OSR gets its foot in that door, the better off we will all be for it.

Better OSR videos in general. Nobody wants to watch a recording of people rambling at one another in google hangouts. This would be a great venue to help new people acclimate to the community.

OSR material that appeals to 5e players. They're the biggest group of tabletop players, they're the group most first-timers will gravitate towards. Bridging the gap between their lame game and our cool games is just good sense if you want the community to grow and evolve.

A frequently-updating OSR news blog, run responsibly.

A podcast that is like House To Astonish but RPGs. Some news, smart people talking, some reviews of new things. Wit and analysis all at once. So that you can learn about new products (which, face it, is a slog bc theres so many--which is good) while being entertained and listening to a smart conversation

A catalogue of people in the OSR who are for hire, with contact information and samples of their work. Help the people in the community get paid!


ConTessa can always use help. Visit http://www.contessa.rocks/ or contact Stacy Dellorfano on Facebook.

Santicore is always behind schedule! You can talk to +Steve Sigety about what is needed to get things on track.

Blogs on Tape has really unreliable updates! You can talk to me about helping with that.

The One Page Dungeon contest is a long standing tradition in the community. Aside from contributing it, I'm sure there are many ways a person could help out. https://www.dungeoncontest.com/

The ENNIES have a huge influence on how people outside the niche communities find new and interesting game stuff. Nobody is allowed to be an ENNIES judge more than once or twice, so they need new people all the time. If you're eligible, apply to be a judge and make sure your views are represented on that panel. http://www.ennie-awards.com/blog/

If you have a local con, and you attend your local con, run some OSR games for them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. However, if you're looking to make your mark on the community, this list would be a great place to start.

Thanks to everyone who participated in yesterday's thread: +Dan Domme, +gregory blair, +Eric Diaz, +Redbeard, +C Huth, +Michael Bacon, +Perttu Vedenoja, +Yann ABAZIOU, +Sean McCoy, +Zak Sabbath, +FM Geist, +Courtney Campbell, +Evey Lockhart, +Logan Knight, +Sándor Gebei, +Dan D, +Alex Chalk, +Patrick Smith, +Shane Ward, +Chris McDowall, +Brendan S, +Steve Sigety, +Eric Nieudan, +Jarrett Crader, +Elias Stretch, +David Shugars, +Jeremy Smith, +Moreven B, & +Iacopo Maffi.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Multiclass-ception: MCing into your own class (D&D 5e)

I hear people ask this on the internet, but never in my group. It sounds like an interesting thought exercise: could your D&D character "multiclass" into a subclass inside of your own class?

For example, could a champion fighter "multi-class" into a battle master fighter? Or, more interestingly, could a thief get one or two levels of assassin or arcane trickster?

Here is why - and how - I'd allow it.

First, it seems like a fair idea in terms of fluff - maybe you want your thief to gain a few arcane trickster features, like Gray Mouser, without multi-classing into wizard, or you like the four elements monk to have some aspects of the kensai.

Also, if my 2nd level fighter can become a battle master... why wouldn't my 12th level champion be able to do the same?

In terms of balance... I cannot see any problems at a first glance, although I'm sure we can find something. I'd rather forbid one or two problematic cases than ban the concept altogether, although I suspect that these rules will seldom be more powerful than simply multiclassing.

Anyway, my first instinct is to treat this as "school credits" or something similar - you do not have to take the "credits" you already have. Or like "prestige classes" that require a few levels in other classes to get to.

This is how you multiclassing work by 5e rules (emphasis mine):

Multiclassing allows you to gain levels in multiple classes. Doing so lets you mix the abilities of those classes to realize a character concept that might not be reflected in one of the standard class options
With this rule, you have the option of gaining a level in a new class whenever you advance in level, instead of gaining a level in your current class. Your levels in all your classes are added together to determine your character level. For example, if you have three levels in wizard and two in fighter, you're a 5th-level character. 
As you advance in levels, you might primarily remain a member of your original class with just a few levels in another class, or you might change course entirely, never looking back at the class you left behind. You might even start progressing in a third or fourth class. Compared to a single-class character of the same level, you'll sacrifice some focus in exchange for versatility.

One random example:

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Fighter 3
4 Fighter 3 Rogue 1
5 Fighter 3 Rogue 2
6 Fighter 4 Rogue 2
7 Fighter 5 Rogue 2
8 Fighter 6 Rogue 2
9 Fighter 7 Rogue 2
10 Fighter 8 Rogue 2
11 Fighter 9 Rogue 2
12 Fighter 10 Rogue 2
13 Fighter 11 Rogue 2
14 Fighter 12 Rogue 2
15 Fighter 13 Rogue 2
16 Fighter 14 Rogue 2
17 Fighter 15 Rogue 2
18 Fighter 15 Rogue 3
19 Fighter 15 Rogue 3 Warlock 1
20 Fighter 15 Rogue 3 Warlock 2

It is obvious that you cannot multiclass from pure fighter to rogue 2 without going through rogue 1; you haven't complete your "credits" in rogue school until you do!

If you are a you're a "pure" fighter, you have three paths to choose from: champion, battle master or eldritch knight.

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Champion 3 BM 3 EK 3
4 Fighter 4 Fighter 4 Fighter 4
5 Fighter 5 Fighter 5 Fighter 5
6 Fighter 6 Fighter 6 Fighter 6
7 Champion 7 BM 7 EK 7
8 Fighter 8 Fighter 8 Fighter 8
9 Fighter 9 Fighter 9 Fighter 9
10 Champion 10 BM 10 EK 10
11 Fighter 11 Fighter 11 Fighter 11
12 Fighter 12 Fighter 12 Fighter 12
13 Fighter 13 Fighter 13 Fighter 13
14 Fighter 14 Fighter 14 Fighter 14
15 Champion 15 BM 15 EK 15
16 Fighter 16 Fighter 16 Fighter 16
17 Fighter 17 Fighter 17 Fighter 17
18 Champion 18 BM 18 EK 18
19 Fighter 19 Fighter 19 Fighter 19
20 Fighter 20 Fighter 20 Fighter 20

To get the 10th-level battle master features, it is not enough that you're a 9th-level fighter gaining a level - you need to have walked the whole path, and that includes having the features of a 3rd and 7th level battle master.

But - here is the house rule - once you've been through the path, you can take a step in any direction you like, including your own sub-classes. You can even change your course if you want to!

Let us some examples.

Say you're a 10th level champion.

Can you multi-class into monk or rogue? YES, if you meet the prerequisites. You start at level 1 in any of those classes.

Can you get a level three monk feature? NO, because to get that feature you need to have walked the whole path through Monk 1 and Monk 2.

Can you multi-class into battle master 3? YES - you meet all the requirements, since you'e already been through Fighter 1 and Fighter 2.

Can you multi-class into battle master 10? NO, because, even though you have all the fighter levels that are required, you do not have levels 3 and 7. On the other hand, you CAN reach you goal in the next three levels. You can even switch your path to Battle Master once you get a few more levels:

Character Level
1 Fighter 1
2 Fighter 2
3 Champion 3
4 Fighter 4
5 Fighter 5
6 Fighter 6
7 Champion 7
8 Fighter 8
9 Fighter 9
10 Champion 10
11 Champion 10 BM 3
12 Champion 10 BM 8
13 Champion 10 BM 10
14 Fighter 11 Fighter 11
15 Fighter 12 Fighter 12
16 Fighter 13 Fighter 13
17 Fighter 14 Fighter 14
BM 15

Notation would be something like Fighter 10 (Champion)/Fighter 1 (Battle master 3) at level 11, and  Fighter 15 (Battle master)/Fighter 3 (Champion 10) at level 18. A bit confusing, I admit, but should work well enough.

But... feats!

Yes, feats are a fair solution too. In this case, the Martial Adept feat. If we used this house rules, would the martial adept feat become obsolete? Not quite. Battle master 3 STILL requires fighter 1 and 2, so the feat would still be useful for other classes, while the champion and eldritch knight would gain a significant boost when taking maneuvers. Sounds good to me!

Would that work?

I have never tested it, but what do you think? Any pitfalls I might be missing?

All images copyright of Wizards of the coast.