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

Monday, July 29, 2019

Dark Fantasy MAGIC - Get it FREE!

So, here is the latest pamphlet in my Dark Fantasy line: DARK FANTASY MAGIC!

It is currently PWIW (pay what you want), so you can get it for FREE if you want to. Or you can read it for free then buy it if you like it.

Dark Fantasy Magic is a collection of tables and short essays to inspire the creation of wizards, spells or entire magic systems. You can also use this book to generate characters, spells and magic for stories, comic books, etc.

The focus is on dark fantasy tropes: flawed heroes, terrible villains, corrupting magic, ominous ruins and damned wastelands.

This is mostly a system-less book, to be used with any game of your choice, but some parts are written with the most popular RPGs in mind (you know, six abilities, hit points, saving throws, etc). It is especially suited for medieval dark fantasy games, such as my own (Dark Fantasy Basic).

It includes sections such as:

Appearance: Exotic looks for your spellcasting characters!

Familiars: Cats, frogs, flying skulls and faerie dragons are worthy assistants to your magician!

The cost of magic: Tables and essays on what magic should cost - from gold pieces and hit points, through bloody sacrifice, all the way to the wizard's life and soul!

Pain and destruction:  A table of magical mishaps and catastrophic failures!

Would love to hear your opinion!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

D&D is too VERBOSE (small rant + book suggestion)

In a little follow-up to the last post, I started wondering if all those spells in 5e could actually fit a card... Anyway, tried to do my own version. Just got a list of spells to cut out the ones the PCs used, for easy reference...

Well, the spells took LOTS of pages. These pages dt didn't, however, contain that much information; many of the words in 5e (around 40%, I'd guess) are useless repetition; they don't contain any new information. Some of it could be cut by using abbreviations.

For example, look at this spell:

Acid Arrow
2nd level evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 90 feet
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
Duration: Instantaneous
Classes: Wizard
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each slot level above 2nd.

Compared to:

Acid Arrow (2)
Evocation; 1 action; 90'; Instant
Components: V S M (Powdered rhubarb leaf and an adder's stomach)
A shimmering green arrow streaks toward a target within range and bursts in a spray of acid. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 4d4 acid damage immediately and 2d4 acid damage at the end of its next turn. On a miss, the arrow splashes the target with acid for half as much of the initial damage and no damage at the end of its next turn.
Higher slots: The damage (both initial and later) increases by 1d4 for each level above 2nd.

No information is lost.

(To be honest, a single "deal damage, choose type" spell template would be enough for me; one page and you get rid of 50+ spells. But that's a different matter)

The same pattern (unnecessary letters, words and sentences) is repeated throughout the book.

"On a short or long rest" is used again and again where "on a short rest" would do.

Darkvision is described over and over - but the rules about light and vision still do not make much sense.

The contents of monster stat-blocks get repeated over and over again or gain needless details. Look at the dragons in the Monster Manual. 30 pages? They could have used 10. Or less... Just check the DCC RRG. Or the Rules Cyclopedia. Or wait a couple of months for my monster book! ;)

Of course, using things like HP instead of Hit Points, saves instead of saving throws, etc. would make the book even smaller.

I know this sounds like nitpicking, but the size of 5e books (and the amount of words in them) is a HUGE factor for me - and, I would bet, for many new players. 5e is not THAT complex, but it LOOKS complex because of these things.

There would be a lot less page-flipping and weight-carrying (and less intimation to new players, I guess) if the books were more concise.

But I guess WotC would make less money? I dunno. Seems to me that adding lots of "casual" players would be great to D&D.

Anyway, rant over.

After spending more time than I should with this exercise I gave up on buying spell cards for now. Maybe I'll still get monster cards, I dunno. Certainly items.

To end this on a positive note, here is the stuff I like.

First, monster variations. You know, when Curse of Strahd (or the MM itself) says "this monster is like a zombie, but wearing plate armor", or "treat this NPC like a noble, but she is carrying a +1 rapier"? That is more than enough for me and provides interesting twists to familiar monsters. I wish more books would do the same (and I will give you a book based entirely around this idea soon).

Second, games that manage to be simple and short without being minimalist or incomplete.

You can always try my Dark Fantasy Basic; 5 classes with lots of variations, 20 spells that can be cast at any level, and about 50 pages. But if you're tired of hearing about my game... here is another idea, specially if you like the idea of a B/X and 5e mix, but would prefer more 5e than B/X.

Try Into the Unknown [affiliate link - by using this, you're helping to support this blog].

About 250 pages (including everything), 13 bucks for the PDF (25 for the print version), straightforward, concise and EFFICIENT. Few classes, but a lot more customization than B/X. Monster have small stat blocks, with morale and number encountered! And just look at the guidance spell:

Priest (Divination)
Range: Touch
Duration: Conc. (up to 1 minute)
Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one ability check of its choice. It can roll the die before or after making the ability check. The spell then ends.

Notice that it seems similar to guidance, but it omits useless info; no mention of casting time (assume 1 action); no mention of components (assume V, S).

In short... that's AWESOME. Congratulations to Anders Honoré! Check his blog The Setting to End All Settings, BTW.

If you want to introduce someone to D&D 5e, I would prefer this game even to D&D basic. Great stuff! It could save lots of folks some time, money, patience... and maybe spare a few trees!

Friday, July 05, 2019

Cards against pencils

Some players missed the last RPG session, so we played some cooperative boardgames. Something I should do more often, it seems.

Anyway, the game had cards in addition to the board, and it got me thinking about how useful cards would be to my RPG sessions.

Come to think of it, using cards is also something I should do more often.

I think I disliked dealing with cards because of 4e; it practically required you to browse through your "cards" every round to find the right power, etc. I dislike that idea not only in practice but also on principle.

However, I used to LOVE D&D cards back in the TSR days... Specially those from Dragonquest!

And I enjoyed playing with cards this week. One mechanic I particularly enjoyed is discarding; you have a maximum number of cards to hold, and when you get something new, you must discard something else.

Such a mechanic is obviously well-suited for items. With one obvious advantage: item cards do not make me feel like I'm looking at the character sheet, but at actual items - like my character would be in order to solve a puzzle, decide what items to carry, etc.

Cards representing monsters and spells are cool as well, mainly to avoid lots of page-flipping.

I think the main difference is, these are things you actually have - most are things you can actually see (unlike a "clever shot" or "rapid shot" from 4e). They strengthen immersion instead of making you feel like you're playing a character sheet instead of an actual character.

Brief digression:

Of course, you could argue that there is no difference between a "rapid shot" power and a "fireball" power. And I agree, up to a point - the main reason I'd like to use spell cards is because there are SO MANY spells to choose from that this would just make things easier.

However, there is another conceptual difference, at least in my head - the fireball is an actual THING in old school D&D. Anyone can tell when a wizard is using a fireball. It EXISTS in some vancian spell slot inside your head. You might even CHOOSE the spell BEFOREHAND, and CARRY it in your mind - it occupies SPACE. You can write the spell down in a grimoire or scroll, etc. A "rapid shot" is not a "thing"; it REPRESENTS an action an archer could take. If you miss a "rapid shot", it is likely that no one could even tell you TRIED to "rapid shot" in the first place... unlike a fireball.

Yes, they are pretty much the same in 4e and, you could argue, in 5e, since spells slots work a bit differently now. But anyway, I prefer this old school flavor.

Digression over.

Anyway, now I feel like buying some cards. I didn't buy many back in the day because, well, they were too expensive. Looking at cards now... They are still expensive in most cases, and just UGLY in other cases. But we'll try anyway.

Gale Force Nine

The "official" D&D 5e cards.

Monsters look cool enough, and the art is certainly high quality. However, I really I prefer the old ones (see above). Much more inspiring, with movement and backgrounds... I don't quite get it. WotC has access to these old classic pieces of art. If that is not enough, they should at least learn something from Magic the Gathering. Have you seem any MtG monsters without movement or backgrounds?

Spell are not illustrated, but are good enough, I guess. They have "martial power" cards if you like that, too...

Prices are reasonable - not much more than, say, 10c per card in most sets.

Unfortunately, item cards - my main interest - were apparently done in such a lazy manner that it turns my stomach. Just check some customer images on amazon.

Let's look for itens elsewhere...

The Deck of Many Weapons

The art is a bit cartoony, but looks cool and gets the point across. I find this a bit expensive - 15 dollars for 33 cards? - but I might consider it. Find it here.

Inkwell Ideas

There is also this*. It seems to be the most functional of the bunch, since I can add my own info (although it doesn't contain much info of it's own - for example, the damage, weight or cost of the greatsword below). Decent price, too. The art seems too "computer-based" for my tastes, but good enough.

[*Affiliate link. By purchasing stuff through affiliate links, you're helping to support this blog].

Free stuff

There is plenty of FREE cards online. Some of it is of higher quality or usefulness than the "official" stuff, but you must print them for yourself... Unless there is an easy way to do that, it won't work for me. But if you're interested, check this and this.

What else?

Have you ever tried playing D&D with cards? Did I miss some interesting product? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

DARK HACK: weapons and armor

So, expanding a bit on this idea, just for fun... Let's have a little brainstorming session.

Here is what I'd like weapons and armor to be:

* I'd like armor to be more or less "bounded", meaning that if you roll 10 or more on the dice (but under your stat), you'd basically hit anybody, AND maybe get a critical hit.
* Heavy armor is less useful if you have high Dexterity, and vice-versa.
* Bigger weapons are more useful if you're strong.

There are lots of ways to do that...

Don't worry, this ain't real

One I like is having armor go from 1 to 9, for example (maybe the maximum armor you can carry without penalty is half your Strength), but when you get attacked you can make a dodge roll (roll under Dexterity), and pick the best result (either you roll or your amor)...

This is somewhat similar to my Dark Fantasy Basic. Works well enough - the lower your Dex, the higher the chance of missing and using your armor value instead.

A different idea would be putting a soft cap if your AC gets too high. For example, say you get your dexterity and then add two point for each "weight unit" of armor you're wearing, then compare the total with this table:


11 or less+0

The downside is that it requires both sides to roll, unless I use some workaround.


I'm tempted, as always, as make things simpler. No weapon restrictions. No strength bonuses. BUT I'd like bigger weapons to be more useful if you're strong.

Maybe your roll is equal to damage, limited to your weapon type. So each weapon has a "maximum damage". One less roll, I like it. But not something that scales well when you're fighting titans, dragons, etc. Maybe fixed damage would be better.

AND if you beat your target by 10 or more, you get a crit, and add some extra damage.

How does it look so far

Warrior with Strength 15 walks around with a two handed axe (max damage 12). By rolling a 12, 13, 14, or 15, he deals 12 points of damage.

When fighting someone with AC 1, any roll of 11 or more is a crit.

When fighting someone with AC 6, there is no chance of a crit.

One caveat

Someone with heavy armor (say, AC 6) would only get hit by significant blows. Which is not that bad, per se. But probably armor should add something OTHER than AC: some extra HP, damage reduction, etc.

And you might have dragons dealing one point of damage... I dunno. Probably weapon damage would be something like min/max/crit: for example, 4/12/18 for a greataxe. The upside is that it adds lots of possibilites: a dagger with 2/4/10, for example, is nasty when it crits, while a club could be something like 5/10/15, dangerous even in the hands of unskilled folk.

Maybe just min and crit would be enough.

And maybe this is adjusted by Dex in some weapons.. Using the table above... Or just combine strength and dexterity...

Well, that is more complex that I'm willing to accept for this project... So let's leave it at that for today.