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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Trip (D&D 5e melee weapons)

As you know, I have many issues with D&D 5e and how it treats melee weapons; I've discussed this many times in my blog, and I finally compiled a small document to put in DTRPG.

You can find my Manual of Arms here; if you like my posts about weapons, you'll certainly like this book.

Anyways, one thing I found is that by adding the trip propriety to the list, I can fix most of the issues I have with martial melee weapons:

Trip: This weapon can be used to trip a creature, knocking it prone. It uses the same rules as Shoving a Creature. However, you cannot use this weapon to push a creature away.

Add this to the flail, warpick and trident to make these weapons more useful; you can also add this to the whip and halberd to add flavor (you need to add something else to the glaive). 


There is an entire book to be written about grappling with weapons, of course. But this single propriety is small enough to fit in the existing rules (disarming, for example, is an optional rule, while "Shoving a Creature" is not) and to add some extra nuance, detail and balance to the current weapon list.

By the way, if you WANT to read a whole book on grappling, I'd recommend Dungeon Grappling* by Douglas Cole. There is a review here; might be worth mentioning that I wrote a page in one of Douglas' books (Dragon Heresy) but that was a while after I had posted the review. [Affiliate link - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!]

Friday, November 08, 2019

RANT: the useless complexity of D&D 5e

So, here is the new unearthed arcana: Class Feature Variants. It has some cool options. Lots of optional rules that should be there from the start, but hey, at least they are there.

But I will not discuss it in detail. I'll rant about another thing that's been bothering me for a while.

If you don't want to read a confused rant, well, you've been warned.

This is my main issue: 5e builds characters with "points" [for example, it "costs" 6 points to get a feat, and maybe 1 point to get a fighting style, 2 points to get a skill, etc.], but we never get to see the cost in points. Instead, we get convoluted ways of doing the same thing, so we never have to subtract two from six.

Or, to put it in another way.

Tell me each one is simpler/easier:


A: "When you get to level three, you can choose one of these talents: T1, T3, T5, T7, T9, T11, T13, or T15".

B: "When you get to level three, you can choose one odd-number talent (provided its number is 15 or smaller)".

C: "When you get to level three, you get the T1 talent, but you can opt for talents T3, T5, T7, T9, T11, T13 or T15 instead".

D: "When you get to level three, you get the T1 talent, but you can opt for T3 instead. Alternatively, you can take a level in other class, that will get you T5, but you can replace that with T7 (you cannot replace T1 with T7 otherwise]. You can also get a similar talent, T9.1 that will be identical to T9, at least 98% of the time (but not always). You cannot get T11 unless you get five levels into a new class.  T13 is identical to T5, so don't bother. T15 is inferior to T3 in ALL aspects, but you can get it instead of T7 if you want".


My opinion is that, while A and B look simpler, C is actually the simplest one.

I'm sure someone, somewhere, has already developed some psychological theory on the reason why. Paradox of choice? Analysis paralysis? I don't know. Let me know in the comments! But the fact that the book choose for you makes things a lot easier and faster, specially for beginners. In addition, it reinforces archetypes, which is useful.

D is obviously a mess and, in my opinion, is the path 5e has chosen. It feels like a Rube Goldberg machine of some kind to me.

Let me give you a few examples that were very clear from the beginning of 5e.


* Expertise. Expertise should be a thing for everybody, maybe at a cost equivalent to picking a new skill. The champion should get some expertise instead of remarkable athlete, BTW.

What do we get? If you're not a bard or rogue, you have multiple convoluted ways to get expertise.

Look at this feat for XGE:

Prerequisite: Half-elf, half-orc, or human 
You gain one skill proficiency of your choice, one tool proficiency of your choice, and fluency in one language of your choice. 
Choose one skill in which you have proficiency. You gain expertise with that skill, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with it. The skill you choose must be one that isn’t already benefiting from a feature, such as Expertise, that doubles your proficiency bonus.

In this UA, they added this option to the ranger:

Choose one skill: Animal Handling, Athletics, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, Nature, Perception, Stealth, or Survival. You gain proficiency in the chosen skill if you don’t already have it, and you can add double your proficiency bonus to ability checks using that skill. In addition, thanks to your extensive wandering, you are able to speak, read, and write two languages of your choice.

Yeah, this is good. But anyone can see the ranger should get the option of being an expert in Nature from the beginning of the edition. The druid too. And why not the barbarian? And why shouldn't barbarians, fighters, etc. get access to expertise in athletics in the first place? Or elves and dwarves? Etc. etc.

Spells. We already have the magic initiate feat:

Magic Initiate
Choose a class: bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class’s spell list. In addition, choose one 1st-level spell from that same list. You learn that spell and can cast it at its lowest level. Once you cast it, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it again. Your spellcasting ability for these spells depends on the class you chose: Charisma for bard, sorcerer, or warlock; Wisdom for cleric or druid: or Intelligence for wizard.

How many feats, features, etc., do we need to get more spells?

Look at this feat (from XGE):

Fey Teleportation
Prerequisite: Elf (high) 
Increase your Intelligence or Charisma score by 1, to a maximum of 20. 
You learn to speak, read, and write Sylvan. 
You learn the misty step spell and can cast it once without expending a spell slot. You regain the ability to cast it in this way when you finish a short or long rest. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for this spell.

And this fighting style (from the latest UA):

Druidic Warrior [fighting style]
You learn two cantrips of your choice from the druid spell list. They count as ranger spells for you, and Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them. Whenever you gain a level in this class, you can replace one of these cantrips with another cantrip from the druid spell list.

Languages/tool proficiency. They are obviously interchangeable and inferior to skills, but the game makes things complicated (on purpose?) by adding a feat that make them look equivalent:

You gain proficiency in any combination of three skills or tools of your choice.

Also, thieve's tools are obviously better than other tools (will not discuss this now, this is just a rant remember?).


I bet you can think of infinite examples.

How to fix it? It would be very, very simple. Just make these things explicit. 

For example:

A feat will give you SIX POINTS.
An ability score increase costs 3.
A skill costs 2.
Expertise costs 4.
Languages, tools or fighting styles cost 1 [NOT the same as a skill!].
A couple of cantrips cost 1.
Saving throw proficiency costs 3 [maybe 2 for weak saves, but that's a different subject].

Want to pick something outside your class? Fine, you get FIVE points instead. Do what you want with them. I'm not even sure that's necessary...

But what the heck do I know, I sold a couple of books and WotC has sold millions. How can I criticize a business model that allows them to sell 500 pages where 50 would suffice? And they can claim they are keeping archetypes (or, worse, "class niches", "balance", etc.) intact.

EDIT: BTW... WotC, we get it. You screwed up the beast master ranger. There are enough "fixes" already. Just add the whole class to the errata or something.

This is enough for today.

Rant over, something shorter and more organized next time.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

zauBeR (old-school RPG review)

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

zauBeR [affiliate link*] is the most recent RPG by Marcelo Paschoalin, the author of  Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone. The system is similar, but while Mehliu was focused on old school fantasy, zauBeR has a different setting, somewhat reminiscent of the stuff  White Wolf published in the 90's:

zauBeR is a RPG set in a world almost like ours. The difference is magic is real, creatures from other planes of existence visit us, and the evil in the people’s hearts is even more evident. It’s part of a genre known as urban fantasy, a mix of real and fantastic in the contemporary era.
Our adventures take place in Brazil, during the year 2018. You know the basics: the urban areas are not unlike the streets of Detroit or Glasgow, with excess traffic, some crime, usual daily affairs… The problem is the same, add a degree of government corruption on top of that, and no one knows how to implement good solutions, but there a few more questions people who awoke are, maybe, able to answer.

Like Mehliu, zauBeR has an "introductory" vibe to it, with sections explaining what is an RPG, "Who wins this game?", how to roll dice (the game uses only d6s, BTW), etc.

The system is tight and simple (enough that you could, indeed, use it with someone new to RPGs in general): six ability scores (rolled with 2d6), skills that are defined by modern careers (detective, lawyer, scientist, etc.), and four "Elemental Paths" that replace the usual classes (described as warriors, clerics, sorcerers and rogues).

In short, the crunch seems to be inspired by chainmail and OD&D, whit modern sensibilities.

The spell system is similar to Mehliu: the spells are few, but somewhat flexible. The spells are all quite subtle, which suits this modern setting better than the usual fireballs and magic missiles. Likewise, spell-casting is dangerous - which fits the genre.

The setting is of the "secret history " type. You basically have nazis migrating to Brazil and Argentina (which some actually did) and opening portals to different planes of existence, which brings all kinds of evil and distorted creatures to this earth. The PCs are "awakened" folks who will find and face these threats.

Even tough the setting is focused in Brazil the rules and fluff are flexible enough that they can be used in any place and [modern] time (as the book itself mentions). There is not much that is distinctly Brazilian here (except for a list of names and a secret agency that is "named after Brazil’s victory during the Soccer World Cup against Sweden").

The bestiary, with twenty-something antagonists (including angels, demons, cultists, zombies, agents, etc.), is good enough to take your characters from level 1 (or 0) to level 12.

Likewise, the random tables - which use an interesting way of generating results, by rolling 8 to 10 dice and counting the number of 1s, 2s, 3s etc. - could be used in many settings or even other PRGs (like Kult, CoC, etc.).

In short...

Like Mehliu, this book will please those wanting a simple, streamlined, old school experience, within the urban fantasy/modern horror/conspiracy genres. Unlike Mehliu, however, which is focused on a single valley, zauBeR is flexible and vague enough that can be used almost anywhere. It encourages you to warp existing cities into something more sinister, and it is likely that you'll use your own city as a setting for your adventures.

The rules are tight, the art is good (specially the antagonists... some creepy guys in there!), and the writing is clear - specially if you're learning about RPGs, game-mastering, etc.

Get this game if you want a concise "modern horror" setting, simple 2d6 rules that suit this setting, or both these thing at once.

* Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!

Friday, November 01, 2019

All weapons d6 - an important distinction

Take a look at this post from Jeff Rients. Interesting stuff.

The part I want to address is the conclusion:

Sometimes when you float All Weapons Do d6 rule on the internet, some joker will come back with something like "Well then, I should just spend 1gp to buy 12 iron spikes and hand them out to all my friends. No need to spend the money on anything better, since everything does d6." My response to that is twofold: A) All Weapons Do D6 is not the same concept as All Objects Do D6. Prepare to encounter mechanical penalties for wielding a non-weapon in combat. and B) There's a fine line between clever and stupid and you are are nowhere near that line.

I completely agree.

There is an important distinction to be made here.

If you use the "All Weapons Do d6 rule" and all your players decide to fight with daggers, AND you dislike that, you probably have a problem with your system.

If you use the "All Weapons Do d6 rule" and all your players decide to fight with iron spikes, AND you dislike that, you probably have a problem with your players.

In the first case, players are just playing by the rules (and you might consider changing the rules); in the second, they are misrepresenting the rules on purpose - and you might consider changing your players.


In 5e D&D, there is no reason IN THE RULES for you to buy mace or greatclub, since the quarterstaff is equal/better at everything. But you can always use one of the options Jeff mentions (aesthetics, narrative-style advantages, etc.).

In my latest book, 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons, I give a few rules-oriented options for maces and greatclubs, but also these bits:

Finally, damage types are useful when adjudicating the effect of weapons on objects. Bludgeoning weapons are good against chests and doors, slashing weapons can cut ropes, piercing weapons can put holes on a sack or barrel, etc. Even in the same damage type, you can make distinctions: an axe is useful to cut wood, a whip is not, and a sword can be ruined in the process.


Martial axes, picks, bludgeoning weapons: double your Strength modifier when calculating damage (if you attacked with Dexterity, add both modifiers instead).

Swords, slashing weapons: get a “free” attack against the same target or another target within range.

Critical hit tables can be fun, but I find that for such a special event, coming up with something adequate and cool on the fly is even better.

In short... If you play 5e and like mechanical differences between weapons, you might be interested in this book.

However, even if you prefer to play with NO explicit differences between weapons, weapon choice can still be meaningful if you and your players use weapons creatively.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Considering a "Fifth edition hack"

Not my first post about the subject (see this and this). Just trying to tackle this from a different angle.

First, I like D&D fifth edition (5e). Well, I like a big part of it. What 5e lacks, IMO, is simplicity. That is why my games (Dark Fantasy Basic and other "homebrews") are often a blend of 5e and Moldvay's Basic.

I also like minimalist games such as The Black Hack and Knave. I do think, however, they have too little stuff, and are not sufficiently compatible to either 5e or Moldvay's Basic for me to use.

So, what I need is a simple system that is somewhere between these games and 5e. A Fifth Edition Hack of sorts. There is already at least one game of this sort - Into the Unknown. And it looks great.

These are ALL great games, BTW.

Here is how I'd make my own.

Could THIS be a good idea?

First, we cut ALL the small stuff. A Fighting style that gives you +1/+2 damage, or +1 to AC? Gone. Skill are mostly gone. Class features are 80% gone. Armor and weapon proficiency are gone. Hit points are not defined by class (but Constitution will have a similar effect). "Save DCs" are replaced by opposed rolls. Anyway, we're ditching a lot of stuff to make the game a lot simpler simpler.

Ability scores and modifiers

Probably start with 3d6 in order (or something slightly better) and use a method similar to Knave or Shadow of the Demon Lord:



I am of two minds here....

1) Use "roll under" skills, like TBH; it is what Moldvay's Basic suggests as an optional rule. So, you have Strength 10, roll 1d20 under 10 to succeed. Difficult rolls can impose a penalty (up to -20), but they'll be rare enough.

2) Just add your modifier and roll against a DC form 10 to 30, like 5e. This way, we keep the game "unified", with a single mechanics, and we can use the 5e DCs as written. Hum... Probably a good idea.


Proficiency is a bit harder. the 5e method is simple and works well. However, I like the simplicity of TBH. I dunno; I think I'd rather assume proficiency since most rolls will be made with proficiency anyway.

Maybe the Thief gets some skills (i.e., some bonus), and that's it.

Another options is defining skills by ability and class. This one is pretty obvious (and is described on the 5e DMG): thieves are "trained" in Dexterity and therefore Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth, and so on. Works well enough, but there are a few exceptions. IMO, the cleric should get religion, the fighter, animal handling and survival*, and the thief, perception. Charisma skills (deception, intimidation, performance, persuasion) are all over.

* This works for rangers, barbarians, hedge knights, mounted mercenaries, and even noble knights - they are supposed to be able to hunt, etc. There is a "rural"/"wild" feel to the fighter, as opposed to the "urban" thief.

Saving throws

Again, "roll under" would be good. The problem is that someone with Dex 10 will make a save against an ancient red dragon 50% of the time. TBH has a good solution for this (HD), but doesn't wok perfectly with 5e, since HD is less important than CR in 5e.

So, this is an opposed roll; one side rolls, adds modifier, and tries to beat the other.

Forget proficiency in saving throws, since we're not using that anyway. The Fighter is better at Strength saves by having great Strength, and that's it.

Maybe monsters still get their usual saves, since we don't want to rewrite their stats.


This is harder. Well, attacking is an opposed roll against AC.

AC is calculated more or less like normal, but AC will be a little higher than usual - because modifiers are bigger and other things.

Damage is 1dx+modifier. Notice that this modifier will also be bigger than usual.

HP - keep them as written for now.


Here is the fun part. Every class has exactly FOUR special features.

You get one feature PER TIER; this means, levels 1, 5, 11 and 17. These are the official "tiers" of 5e.

Level 1 features are things that define your class.

At level 5, you get a second attack (fighter), double the damage of your spells (wizard), get a small bonus to all skills plus more damage to your sneak attack (rogue), etc. And again for levels 11 and 17.

Leveling and feats

Every level, you can make a choice - raise one attribute (probably limited by tier) or get a feat.


My favorite method: spells are feats, and they are flexible. A "control fire" spell allows you to fireball, protect against fire, light a candle, etc. However, maintaining compatibility would also be important, so we could keep it traditional and leave this is an alternative.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The day the characters killed a baby

I'm currently playing Curse of Strahd. It certainly has its dark moments. However, the most appalling thing that happened in one of my games was in a different campaign. I was always a bit hesitant to tell this story here but... here it goes.

What was it? Well, you've seen the title of this post.

Anyway, during the height of the "Game of Thrones" TV show popularity, I did the whole "Shadows of Westeros" campaign.

The PCs were big players in the seven realms, a few years after Robert Baratheon took the throne (i.e., a decade before the begging of the books/show). The fought in Pike, went to tourneys, met the laughing lion, etc. It was fun!

One of the PCs had his whole family slain by a scheming bannerman (allegedly, for supporting the Targaryens against Bob Baratheon). In the end, they stormed his castle and managed to kill him. But they forgot to ask if he had a wife before storming the castle. Oh well, they finished the job.

Then they heard a baby cry.

The campaign ended immediately after that, in the same, session. Maybe it was partly because I couldn't stomach what the PCs did, they became villains IMO, but also the PCs got sentenced, killed, or sent to the wall (which was EXACTLY the plan of the their "ally", who encouraged then to attack the scheming bannerman by surprise). The whole "season" was ending anyway.

I didn't condemn the players, though; it was probably my own fault for trying to give the game that GoT vibe.

And, well, these things happen in Westeros; even ordinary peasants commit atrocities as you can see in Martin's latest book. But is not a type of campaign I enjoy.


Somebody asked a question about GoT campaigns on reddit, and I told this story. This was the most popular reply:

"So, how much xp for the babe?"

I have to admit, it made me laugh.

Moral of the story: The PCs will often surprise you... and you won't necessarily like it! ;)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

My MANUAL OF ARMS for 5e is out!

Since you've been asking... my MANUAL OF ARMS for 5e is out!

Well, at least the first part. This one is all about WEAPONS.

Check the amazing cover (once more, courtesy of Rick Troula):

If you've been following this blog for a while, you already know most of the stuff here. This is the organized, good-looking version of my thoughts on 5e weapons.

But anyway:

Manual of Arms is a series of booklets that enhance, change and reinterpret existing equipment and mechanics for non-magical combat. Each booklets deal with a single subject. If there is enough interest, they’ll be collected in a single tome in the future.

What is this book about?
This book is a collection of ideas to make weapons more diverse, streamlined, balanced, varied, and fun.
Old versions of the game had many weapon options that were not used in the current one. Fortunately, they are easy to use, with a few adjustments to match the current rules. Many ideas in this book are updated and adapted from other iterations or other games.
In addition, I changed some weapons, added a few, created a few new rules and made notes on how to choose and create your own weapons.

Which game system?
This book contains ideas that are useful for many games. However, the main focus is the world’s most famous role-playing game, in its latest version.

What did you change?
I’ve made a few changes in chapter I to make weapons more streamlined and interesting. I explain these changes in chapter II. In these two chapters, I used asterisks to indicate what was changed. One asterisk (*) means I changed the traits of a weapon that already existed. Two asterisks (**) mean that the weapon or property are not in the original rules.

Must I use the entire book at once?
Not really. The chapters are modular. You can choose which ones to use, or even choose what paragraphs or single weapons to add to your game.

Chapter I contains a list of weapons and their properties. If you want to use this book only to find new weapons, without any tinkering, or you don’t care for designer’s notes and analysis of the game mechanics, this is the chapter you’re going to use.
Chapter II is a brief weapon-by-weapon analysis and description. It describes existing weapons and explains why I have made some of the changes I made in chapter I.
Chapter III is a melee weapon builder, made so that you can create your own weapons or change existing ones.
Chapter IV is a list of loose ideas to alter weapons further, or add even more weapons to your game. Unlike chapter I, however, chapter IV discusses significant changes to the game mechanics.

Buy it here!

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

RPG artist spotlight: Rick Troula

Starting a small series on my favorite RPG artists... I think my last post about art was on Sidney Sime, the original Old School Artist - but RPG art is something I really appreciate and enjoy.

The next artist I must mention is Rick Troula. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know him from the cover of all books in the Dark Fantasy Basic line - you can see a couple on your right.

In addition to being an amazing artist, Rick is a huge friend of mine, so I will avoid praising him too much and let the art speak for itself.

If you want someone to work on your RPG, I can attest to his professionalism and talent (as I'm sure other people who worked with him can do the same). You can fin his stuff at www.ricktroula.com, and Instagram, or e-mail him at r_troula@hotmail.com.

Rick is better known from his comic book The Displaced, which you can find here or here. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy RPGs (but then again I am credited in the book):

But he also does concept art, storyboards (this one for "Sintonia", a netflix series)...

...book covers...

Some SUPERB work for the Mana Rocks game...

And, of course, RPGs!

Besides Dark Fantasy Basic, you can find his work in Dungeon Grappling*, Lost Hall of Tyr*, Misspent Youth: Sell Out with Me* and Dragon Heresy, among others.

This one is my favorite from Dungeon Grappling (which I also mentioned in my review of the book):

Oh, and did I mention he is going to be featured in my next book? Click here if you want to know more! And get in touch if you want to take a look at the book - I want to hear your opinion!

Next in this series: my favorite old school artist!

* Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone (old-school RPG review)

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

Mehliu: Blood 'n Bone [affiliate link*] is, like other recent games, a mix of old school mechanics with some new school sensibilities. Specifically, it uses a combat system similar to Chainmail (with 2d6 rolls and d66 tables) but resembles modern D&D (especially 5th edition) in other aspects, such as skills, unified XP tables, backgrounds, etc. It also has some aspects of Basic D&D (race-as-class) and other interesting ideas, both original and from other editions/games.

The book starts with a few pages introducing you to RPGs - good, but not especially necessary for most of us, I'd think - and then starts describing the area that gives the book its name:

Mehliu is a coastal valley to the west of Minassi, an
important dwarven region. It’s a wild and secluded
place, dotted by dark forests and rolling hills. It’s a place
of blood and bone, but also of adventure and magic.

In the past, Mehliu was a no-man’s land, relegated to
the beasts. When the elves forced their tyranny over the
trolls, many sought refuge in the valley, and they were
soon followed by humans and dwarves alike. It was an
uneasy peace at first, but Mehliu was isolated enough
not to instill even more anger against the elven tyrants.

As you can see, you've got the "usual suspects" of fantasy creatures (elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.), but they are used in creative ways, with elves being the aggressors and trolls apparently being invaded twice over (although they resemble ordinary monsters int he bestiary).

This pattern will be followed in most of the book: usual concepts with small creative twists (for example, sorcerers replace magic-users, and clerics use Charisma instead of Wisdom).

Anyway, the next few pages describe this setting with just the right amount of detail for my tastes, answering all the relevant questions (where to find weapons and treasure, how to learn spells, who is the ruler of the valley, etc.).

It is all very clear and straightforward, and it reads like it is meant to introduce new players to the area (or the game, or even RPGs in general).

After that, the characters classes are described: Warriors, Clerics, Sorcerers, Thieves, Dwarves, and Elves.

All classes get a single XP table, a few distinguishing characteristics, and a new feature every level (until level 12). They also have a list of starting equipment, which is helpful.

I really like this part - classes get flavorful traits, but never become too complex.

Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variations to player characters without hassle.

Customization is achieve trough skills and (optional) backgrounds, such as alchemist, archer, barbarian, etc. They function like feats with additional equipment. This is also a great idea, since it allows you to enough variation to player characters without hassle.

Equipment and gear is pretty straightforward, nothing odd or groundbreaking here.

Next, we get the rules of the game, that are simple yet effective. With valuable old school advice, this part contains something resembling an OD&D version of 5e's proficiency bonus - which works well - in addition to saving throws, group rolls, reactions, followers, etc., all with 2d6.

Then there is the spell system. This games avoids the classic "Vancian" method in favor of a 2d6 roll to cast spells. The spell list is short and sweet - and spells have flavorful names and flexible effects. My kind of spell system...

Combat is like the rest of the game: simple (but not simplistic), effective, and 2d6. It is divided in "phases", in the old school style. Damage (equal to the lesser of the 2d6, although there are feats that may change it) is the same for all weapons. Special combat situations are covered here too (camouflage, morale, etc.).

An extensive example of combat carefully explains how to use the rules in practice.

Next comes the bestiary. It is very short - only eight creatures - although you could probably use creatures form other old school games.

Treasure, on the other hand, is very detailed, with a fair amount of examples, both ordinary and magical.

Next, we have a couple of chapters for the GM. One is on GM tips, which contains advice (mostly of the old school flavor, but also dealing with sensitive themes, session zero, etc.), a few random tables (for generating dungeon, encounters, etc.), and an hex map of the whole region. The second contains an introductory adventure (a few pages, probably enough for one session).

The appendices contain name generators for humans, elves, dwarves, etc., and a random adventure generator.

In short...

This book is good at what it offers - a streamlined version of OD&D with modern sensibilities and balanced rules. Organization is good, text is very clear and concise, and the art is simple, but pleasing (see above). The mechanics are very good, and there is enough stuff for players to play and entire campaign from level 1 to 12.

What the game lacks, however, is GM stuff - especially monsters, but also some additional detail on places, quests, etc. In fact, the whole game has a somewhat "introductory" vibe to it, from the "what is an RPG" parts to the slimmed-down descriptions and tight regional focus.

As I see it, this game is good for two purposes: introducing new players to old-school games of the Chainmail type, or, if you already like this type of gaming, adding new, more interesting options to player characters.

* Affiliate links - by using this, you're helping to support this blog!

Monday, September 23, 2019

D&D - "It is only about combat" (?)

"D&D is only about combat" - something I hear more often than I'd like.

I don't think is true, at least not in 5e (you could MAYBE say something like that about 3e or 4e, but I don't play these much nowadays; if you want a combat-focused game, try Mythras).

[BTW, you can tell that I mean it by the number of posts about combat in this blog - more weapons, more maneuvers, more options, etc.]

Look at the PHB: the combat chapter is quite small. The list of weapons is very short and, dare I say, underwhelming. Many races and classes have powers that are related to investigation or interaction (darkvision, languages, etc). "Martial" classes without spells are rare.

The DMG has a few extra combat options, but also honor, sanity, etc. It has plenty of magic weapon, though; see below.

The MM monsters are a bit more combat focused, but they have plenty of lore, art, and non-combat aspects (alignment, languages, some skills, etc). Although I DO agree that encountering monsters is a bit too combat focused in this edition, for the lack of reaction rules and similar mechanics.

D&D's pillars are, supposedly, combat, exploration and interaction, which is a fair thing to say (I might add "character development" but that's another story).

Copyright WotC.

Another thing D&D is about is MAGIC. It takes the biggest chapters, we get more spells with every splat (not a dozen new melee weapons IIRC, two or three new combat styles, but 200 new spells since the core books, or something).

In fact, if we want more tools for combat, we don't get many alternate rules for combat, but more combat spells (and magic weapons).

Maybe you can say that D&D is mostly about magic, or even magical combat... But ordinary combat?

Take another look. There are no details about the interaction between weapons and armor. Only one type of shield. No reason to use a (non-magic) mace RAW. No specific ways of hitting a specific body part. Grappling is very simple. Disarming is an optional rule. This is NOT a game with an exaggerated focus on combat.

I've played many RPGs in which combat was downplayed (say, Call of Cthulhu or Unknown Armies); D&D is certainly combat-focused when compared to those. But it is unfair to say D&D 5e is much more focused on combat than, say, GURPS, Mythras, Pendragon, or even Castle Falkenstein (which has some pretty specific dueling rules). I won't even go into Riddle of Steel, Dark Souls (I don't even know if the RPG I read is official, but...) or other games that ARE much more focused on combat.

Maybe you can think RPGs in general are too focused on combat. It is a matter of taste. Maybe you think videogames are too focused on combat. Might well be. But if you frame it as a criticism to D&D, specifically, it is inaccurate IMO.

I feel the same in practice (although that's anecdotal evidence): we spend only a fraction of our 5e games doing combat, and in my last CoS session there was no combat at all. My experience is not universal, but it is one example on how you can play D&D without focusing on combat.


I posted something similar over reddit and got massive criticism. Still, I believe readers of my blog will have a better understanding of this issue.

BTW, there is more 5e-combat-oriented stuff coming soon!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Teratogenicon! Monster generator looking for alpha readers, playtesters, etc.

As you might know, I am writing an extensive monster generator. The name is, so far, is TERATOGENICON.

It's mostly system-less, including only a few pages about 5e and Dark Fantasy Basic.

In fact, it is 100% written. However, there is still revision, play-testing, layout, and some AMAZING art to come. Seriously, this is looking good:

Art by Rick Troula - this piece will be in the book!
So, for the next few days, I am looking for play-testers, alpha readers, etc. What I want is some general feedback, plus answering some questions.

But is it GOOD? I really think so! Since I'm biased, I'll say that if you like THIS (link below - not working that well in firefox, unfortunately), you'll enjoy reading it. If you like my Dark Fantasy series, you'll like it too.

Here are two pages (notice that the art and layout aren't finished):

Anyone interested? Please let me know in the comments. Leave me your email and I'll get in touch (it will take a couple of days). Or contact me at: ericdiazdotd@gmail.com.

By the way, if you're one of the fine folks who did the same for Dark Fantasy Basic, I'd love you to participate in this too. If you cannot, I'll be happy to send you a review copy once it gets finished.


Monday, September 09, 2019

DARK FANTASY: two new books (Religion & Places) and a sale

I published two small (10 to 12 pages each) PDFs today.

Here they are: Dark Fantasy Religion and Dark Fantasy Places.

One is currently PWIW; you can get it for free for a limited time. The other is currently $0.99.

Any feedback (and re-sharing, etc.) is greatly appreciated.


These are collection of tables and short essays to inspire the creation of fantastic religions and places. The focus is on dark fantasy tropes: flawed heroes, terrible villains, corrupting magic, ominous ruins and damned wastelands.

They are mostly system-less, to be used with any game of your choice.

Here is one example of table you'll find in DFR. It answer the question "Where are your gods now?".

Slain by its foes (demons or even mortals).
Abandoned humankind (or only the wicked) to its own fate for its sins.
Dead from old age, or turned to ash, stone, etc.
Imprisoned by dark forces in the depths of existence.
Evil or inimical to humankind. They hate our guts.
Non-existent, just wishful thinking form puny mortals.
Uninterested in this world, is building a better one.
Unknown, the whole concept is alien to this setting.
Walking the earth as mortals after falling from godhood. 
Terrorizing the world as gigantic monsters.
Gathering followers in order to regain power.
Forgotten to all but a select, half-crazy few.
False, just powerful immortals or normal humans behind the curtains.
Insane, playing dice games with the universe.
A projection of our hopes and fears made manifest.
Gaolers keeping us from seeing the truth and becoming gods ourselves.
Sleeping in the depths until the day of judgment comes.
Incomprehensible to mortals, cannot be please, placated or reasoned with.
 Unborn. One day they will come to save us… hopefully.
Disappeared mysteriously.

In addition, the Dark Fantasy Basic - Player's Guide in on sale, for $3.74.

Which means you can get the whole collection for less than 6 dollars:

Future plans: I want to publish a few "Dark Fantasy Settings" soon, in a similar way. Then I'll publish my big monster book... I'm aiming for a BIG book, print+PDF, for every system - specially DFB and 5e!

If all goes well, by the end of 2020 I'll publish a complete version of DFB - i.e., PHB + DMG + MM, with lots of new stuff.

If you like any of these ideas, let me know! We aim to please!

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Simple scaling weapons and armor (ability overflow edition)

I've written about this before: here and here.

This is just a simplification, but I think I like it better than using tables. It is meant for 5e, but it was originally imagined for another system I'm writing (which is a simplification of 5e).

For the purposes of this post, we're using the expression "ability surplus" to mean ability-10. 

Score Surplus
10 0
11 1
12 2
13 3
14 4
15 5
16 6
17 7
... ...etc.

We have two sample PCs to test this system.

Joe has Strength 13 and Dexterity 16 (i.e., an ability surplus of 3 for Str and 6 for Dex). 

Jane has Strength 18 and Dexterity 12  (i.e., an ability surplus of 8 for Str and 2 for Dex). 

Let's go!


Most weapons add 50% of ability surplus (Strength or Dexterity) to damage. This is practically identical to what 5e does.

Weapons that use both Strength and Dexterity may add a combined 60% (minimum 20% each).

Composite bows, for example, might add 30% of each to damage. Both Joe and Jane would get a +3 bonus:

Joe: 30% of 9 = 2.7
Jane: 30% of 10 = 3.

Lets say heavy slings use 40% Strength and 20% Dexterity instead. Joe gets +2, but Jane gets +4:

Joe: 40% of 3 plus 20% of 6 = 2.4
Jane: 40% of 8 plus 20% of 2 = 3.6.

Turn the nobs a bit here and there and you'll realize you have endless possibilities. For example:

- Two-handed weapons has a maximum of 70% instead of 60%. They usually add +10% Strength.
- Versatile weapons used with two hands may add 10% Dexterity instead (I'm thinking quarterstaves, spears...).
- Off-hand weapons add up to 40% instead of 50%, and must use at least 10% Dexterity.
- Thrown weapons always need more Strength, ranged weapons more Dexterity.
- Magic weapons may add some Intelligence, Charisma or Wisdom to the mix.
- etc. etc.

Art by Rick Troula


Remember this system?

Here is something that can be even simpler. And more granular at the same time.

You add 100% of your Dexterity surplus to AC. Unarmored Joe has AC 16, unarmored Jane has AC 12.

However, that assumes you're carrying nothing. If you are carrying 20% of your encumbrance limit*, you can only add 80% of your Dexterity surplus to AC.

(*your encumbrance limit depends on what rules you're using... slots, pounds, etc. But you can think of it this way: you have a number of slots equal to Str, and +1 to AC takes one slot. So, if you have Str 15, you could carry three pieces of armor [+3 AC] and still add 80% of you Dexterity surplus to AC, but only if you're carrying nothing else).

Here is where things get interesting. Joe, who is quicker, gets more benefits form travelling light. Jane, who is a lot stronger, would benefit more from armor, since it would be less encumbering.

Natural armor is probably exempt, and magic armor is lighter.

The system only "breaks" if you're very agile and very weak: armor will actually hinder your AC. But this already happens in 5e. And, well, sounds quite sensible.

Of course, you do not have to recalculate AC every time you pick up a new item... But when you do, players will quickly realize that encumbrance matters.


Here is another way to do it: use a table. This one, for example. So, if Jane has an "Strength B, Dexterity F" Greataxe, she adds +7 to damage.

10 0 0 0 0 0 0
11 1 0.8 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.2
12 2 1.6 1.2 1 0.8 0.4
13 3 2.4 1.8 1.5 1.2 0.6
14 4 3.2 2.4 2 1.6 0.8
15 5 4 3 2,5 2 1
16 6 4.8 3.6 3 2.4 1.2
17 7 5.6 4.2 3.5 2.8 1.4
18 8 6.4 4.8 4 3.2 1.6
19 9 7.2 5.4 4.5 3.6 1.8
20 10 8 6 5 4 2
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