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, 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!

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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.

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