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

- William Blake

Saturday, November 30, 2019

LESS BORING types of government

You read the DMG: a nation (or village etc.) can be governd by democracy, monarchy, theocracy, etc. Maybe even a magocracy, I guess. Or kleptocracy - a lot more realist, right?

This is good and all, but sometimes we need something more interesting.

Here are a a few options:

Who governs?
The highest bidders
Magical curses and laws that enforce themselves
A secret society which cannot be mentioned
The church
An oracle
The winners (or losers) of the annual lottery
A powerful monster
A set of ancient written laws of unknown origin (which are barely understood)
A witches’ coven
A semi-mummified elder
A genetically-altered ethnic minority
The wielder of a sacred artifact
Whoever can survive the local deities’ ordeal
The family that sacrificed the greatest number of members
The mob rules
A conquering warlord (or local thugs)
The brain-damaged survivor of hard drugs
Blind counsellors, relying on lies
A dying monarch with no apparent heirs
None – govern yourself

A world in which everyone is under these types of government might strain your suspension of disbelief, but I assume you'll only use random tables when you're looking for new ideas.

I have often considering leaving two columns on my tables - one for "ordinary" stuff and the other for stuff like this. Not sure how useful that would be.

This is from my book Dark Fantasy Places, by the way.

Like the rest of my stuff, it is currently on sale until Monday due to DTRPG's Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale.

If you like this table, you'll find more stuff like this on my Dark Fantasy line.

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Moldvay's ORACLE (Basic D&D is the best, and it contains multitudes)

Here is another great post from Trollsmyth:


The title, appropriately enough, is "Why BX is the Best!", but it talks about the Charm Person spell. Go read it, I'll wait.

Awesome, right?

Moldvay's Basic* might the best RPG ever written, indeed. Only 64-pages, and contains answers to questions that have been discussed for ages - before and after this book.

What modern D&D book (full of useless complexity and repetition) could do something similar with this page count?

I don't have a ton of examples to give you, and some might be from OD&D or other sources. But every time I read it, I learn something new.

Take open locks, for example:

Open Locks may only be tried once per lock. The thief may not "try again" on a difficult lock until he or she has gained another level of experience.

Compare this to the 5e DMG, page 237, which doesn't actually address picking locks (and suggests taking ten times longer to attempt any given task to automatically succeed... but with no mention of how long it takes to pick a lock, and using the "Fast Hands" thief feature as reference, one could assume that ANYONE can pick any lock in one minute - even with no proficiency - provided it is possible at all).

[BTW, want another option for 5e? If you fail, it means the lock cannot be picked by you or anyone less experienced than you. Someone more experienced can try but the DC is raised with every attempt. Or try this.]

Here are a few other things that come to mind right now:

- Moldvay's encumbrance system is better than it looks. It makes the choice between armor/gold/movement explicit, something that is lacking in modern versions. In 5e, encumbrance is either too lenient or too strict (depending on whether you use optional rules).

- Loyalty rules are succinct and precise:

LOYALTY: The loyalty of a retainer is a measure of the retainer's morale and willingness to take risks for the PC and not run away in the face of danger. A retainer's loyalty or morale is based on the charisma of the player character employer (see page B7). The loyalty of retainers should be checked whenever extraordinary danger is met during an adventure. Loyalty should also be checked after each adventure. The DM may wish to adjust a retainer's loyalty due to actions of the player character, such as if the PC pays the retainer more than agreed upon, or rescues the retainer from danger and vice versa.

- You get XP for defeating monsters (in addition to treasure). Does that mean you must defeat every monster? Not quite:

ADJUSTMENTS TO XP: The DM may treat an unusually "tough" situation or monster as one category better (use the next line down). Situations might also allow the DM to give partial experience if the characters learned from the encounter without actually defeating the monster. The DM may also award extra XP to characters who deserve them (fighting a dangerous monster alone, or saving the party with a great idea), and less XP to characters who did less than their fair share ("do-nothing" characters). The DM should consider the character's alignment and class carefully, and should remember that guarding the rear is an important role in any party

- What about this rule, that grant you more XP if your allies died in the process, but reduces total XP (I assume) if you take many NPCs with you:

DIVIDING XP: Treasure is divided by the party, but the DM handles all the XP awards. At the end of an adventure, the DM totals the XP from all treasures recovered plus all monsters defeated and then divides the total by the number of surviving characters (both player characters and NPCs) in the party. EXAMPLE: A party of 7 (5 player characters and 2 NPCs) goes on an adventure but only 6 come back alive. They killed monsters for a total of 800 XP and also collected 5800 gp in treasure, for a total of 6600 XP. Each character receives 1100 XP at the end of the adventure. (The DM may give each NPC 1/2 normal experience — 550 XP in this case — since the NPCs were "directed" and thus benefit less from the adventure.)

- Well, but what if a single weakling survives an expedition where true heroes have fallen? Does he suddenly become a demi-god? Nope:

MAXIMUM XP: A character should never be given enough XP in a single adventure to advance more than one level of experience. For example, if a beginning (0 XP) 1st level fighter earns 5000 XP (a rare and outstanding achievement), he or she should only be given 3999 XP, enough to place the character 1 XP short of 3rd level.

And, of course, there is this bit (a rule that Moldvay certainly didn't invent, but inspired many later versions):

"There's always a chance." The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on ld20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to + 4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail.

The whole "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art" section is great.... well, the entire book.

Moldvay's Basic is far from perfect, mind you. Mostly because it keeps things that I didn't like much in OD&D in the first place... For example, it seems that climbing a rope RAW is harder than climbing sheer walls for a thief... There are some things that are obscure, others are convoluted (I'm not a fan of all those tables, for example).

As you know, I wrote an entire book trying to improve D&D Basic.

But that's only because I really love it.

There is hardly any better material to start from.

EDIT: In addition, Moldvay mentions Clark Ashton Smith as an inspiration, unlike AD&D. I rest my case.

By purchasing stuff through affiliate links you're helping to support this blog. 

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.