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, August 31, 2020

Minimalist D&D IV - How many skills do we NEED?

Here is part III.

As I write my "Dark Fantasy Hack" - a somewhat minimalist (or at least elegant) version of the game - I'm considering cutting skills entirely... but less make a small exercise first.

Here is what we've got int he original game:

* Athletics
* Acrobatics
* Sleight of Hand
* Stealth
* Arcana
* History
* Investigation
* Nature
* Religion
* Animal Handling
* Insight
* Medicine
* Perception
* Survival
* Deception
* Intimidation
* Performance
* Persuasion

How many skills can we cut without significant loss?

art by Rick Troula.

* Athletics - this skill in redundant with Strength. This means that characters with low Strength and high athleticism are rare; you'll have a hard time finding them in movies, literature, etc., when comparing those that are good (or bad) at both things. You can safely ditch this skill by using the optional rules in the DMg or doubling the Strength modifier.

Notice I'm using "adventurers" or "protagonists" as a rule. Of course you can have some kind of professional athlete (or other specialist) that is only good in one sport. But this is not a common character concept in D&D and adjacent fiction.... at most, a great athlete that cannot fight would be a NPC.

How do we measure that? Well, ONE way is to see how many classes in 5e have athletics as a skill and ALSO Strength as a "suggested" ability. I'm not looking at this one a case by case basis, but, to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, you can see that the classes who rely most on Strength (Barbarians, Fighters, Paladins) have athletics on their skill lists.

* Acrobatics - similarly to athletics, this skill in redundant with Dexterity.

* Sleight of Hand - a bit redundant with Dexterity... However, I could see a character good with delicate things that is not necessarily good at dodging or shooting a bow, and vice-versa. Maybe this has more to do with Dexterity being too powerful than with the specific skill. Does this make sleight of hand a specialist skill? I dunno. I gonna say "maybe" for this one.

To make things clear, I would call a specialist someone who could be great with a skill regardless of ability. So, maybe we might have someone who is not wise or clever, but is REALLY good with nature. A healer with low Wis and high Int is also easy to imagine, etc. Also, so specialists are a bit RARE among adventurers... every PC should be able to run, hide or dodge, but not necessarily know magic or medicine.

This is not clear-cut. But I think you get the idea.

* Stealth - redundant with Dexterity.

* Arcana - like sleight of hand, I could see how this would be redundant with Intelligence (and, in 5e, there are no classes I can think of that rely on Intelligence except spellcasters). It si easy to see, however, how this would be a specialist skill in a low magic setting.

* History - probably redundant with Intelligence... like arcana, could be a specialist skill.

* Investigation - "When you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an Intelligence (Investigation) check". I had to look that up to make sure. Well, this is similar to history; probably redundant, could be a specialist skill, but I doubt it - all PCs should be able look for clues and make deduction, and even Batman and Sherlock Holmes are extremely intelligent characters.

* Nature - This is where things start to get difficult. This is certainly NOT redundant with Intelligence, when you think of the low Int barbarian that know a lot more about nature than a high Int wizard. Using Wisdom would make it slightly better, but not much (think Barbarian versus Cleric).

But it is also not exactly SPECIALIST skill - since it is a common enough character concept IMO, and also something LOTS of characters in the same party could have (a party with three healers or historians is a lot rarer, for example). So... this skill is almost necessary.

* Religion - look, a cleric or paladin know a lot about HIS OR HER RELIGION... but not necessarily ALL religions. So, specialist skill. However, theologians are rare characters. and, in a world where deities are magical, magicians will certainly know a bit about deities, demosn, spirits, ressurrection, etc. (use history for the non-mystical aspects). So, probably redundant with other skills (arcana and history).

* Animal Handling - Similar to nature. In fact, a bit redundant with other skill (nature), since, again, not many character that are "good with animals, bad with nature".

* Insight - Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. Redundant with Wis.

* Medicine - a bit redundant (most doctors in fiction are smart, but smart people are not that often capable of doing medicine), but mostly a specialist skill. Also, could be Intelligence instead of Wisdom, but anyway...

* Perception - redundant with Wis, and also a bit redundant with other skill (Insight). Also, wouldn't it be cool if perception were context-specific? So,t he ranger notices everything in the wild, but the aristocrat measures every look in the court, etc.

* Survival - a bit redundant with other skill (nature),

* Deception - redundant with Charisma. Not being able to lie is a common limiting factor in some archetypes, but not exactly a lack of skill.

* Intimidation - shouldn't be a skill. Also, you could intimidate with Strength, etc.

* Performance - redundant with Charisma. If very specific (playing a lute, for example), it might be a specialist skill.

* Persuasion- redundant with Charisma.

Notice that it is hard to think of a good actor, leader, or lair with low Charisma.

In short:

* Athletics - redundant.
* Acrobatics - redundant.
* Sleight of Hand - redundant, maybe specialist.
* Stealth - redundant.
* Arcana - redundant, maybe specialist.
* History - redundant, maybe specialist.
* Investigation - redundant.
* Nature - useful.
* Religion - redundant.
* Animal Handling - redundant with nature.
* Insight - redundant.
* Medicine - specialist.
* Perception - redundant.
* Survival - redundant with nature.
* Deception - redundant.
* Intimidation - shouldn't be a skill.
* Performance - redundant.
* Persuasion - redundant.

So, let's say we keep sleight of hand (which should probably include Thieves' tools), arcana, history, nature and medicine. Everything else gets folded back into ability scores. Five skills.

Here is one idea: you get to choose one skill, or more if you have high Intelligence (two at 14, three at 16... or something). Spell-casters MUST take arcana. Thieves (or other classes with many skills) get a few extra ones. Maybe you could trade a skill for a few languages or tool proficiencies. Might be a cool way of making Intelligence more useful.

Notice that these five skills are VERY close to backgrounds... you have a "wilderness" background (nature), an "urban" background (sleight of hand), and "arcane" background (arcana) and a couple of "scholar" backgrounds (history and medicine). If assign "history" to relevant nonmagical events (important families, lineages, wars, etc.) you'd have a "noble/knightly" background in there.

On the other hand, this is almost - ALMOST - fighter, thief, wizard and cleric.

But I'm still not sure that the entire skill system is worth keeping for these five skills.

Well, this is what I have for now. See you soon!

Further reading:


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Cleric spells with NO divine intervention

I've written about this before... but I guess I didn't consider all of the consequences.

So, the idea is this: you can get spell in multiple ways - study forgotten tomes, worship a deity, bargain with a demon, have magic blood running in your veins... But once you learn a spell, it is yours.
 A paladin that falls from grace still keeps his powers - making fallen paladins the stuff of legend! What is worse, they can pledge loyalty to an evil, rival deity becoming more powerful in the process. There is always a high demand for turncloak healers in the Evil Lord's army! That is why lawful deities are so careful when choosing their clerics and paladins!  
Chaotic deities, on the other hand, will be more flexible - they might exchange spells for goods and services.
Of course, forgotten tomes of forbidden lore are also useful when studying magic. Their authors must guard them carefully, or such secrets might be turned against them.
On the other hand, casting spells you haven't memorized should always be dangerous. Magicians can also create "trap grimoires" to fool their rivals.
The idea that a deity can strip you of yours powers is not only a shackle to the character, but also wastes interesting possibilities, such as the renegade paladin that goes rogue (with all his powers intact) and must be hunted by other followers. The fact that the deity cannot take you powers away directly opens a lot of indirect possibilities like this one.

It also makes sense in other ways. 

The idea that your deity is right there with you when you cast a haling spell gives deites an omnipresence/omniscience that is NOT fitting to the vast D&D pantheon. If the deity can strip you of your powers, why not DOUBLE your powers when you're in dire need? Also, why even CHOOSE the spell you want to cast and not let the deity intervene in a way that is more beneficial to its goals? The deity knows a lot more than you, anyway...

In short, I think of most D&D deities as non-intervening. At least, direct intervention should be rare. Deities act through angels, avatars, followers, etc. In addition, the deities are not omnipotent. The spells they can teach are limited resources.

(BTW, I really like the RC idea that deities need more followers to be more powerful, and I love the idea that a deity without followers maintains its powers for a while...)

But I hadn't really thought this through. In Dark Fantasy Basic, a magic-user that fumbled a spell roll had the spell wiped from memory... but a cleric that fumbled a spell roll could anger his os her deity.

But, come to think of it... why? If the deity had given the cleric magic powers to heal the wounded, why would the cleric be damned just because of bad luck?

What if you say, instead, that the deity will just TEACH you a spell from time to time - through prayer and meditation, you can get to revelation, but deities are careful when imparting such gifts... A deity can give a spell... but it can also give a sword, a prophecy, a vision of guidance, heal your wounds, etc. 

Cleric's spells are not "miracles" anymore, and miracles become a lot more varied. In addition, divine gifts are not only for clerics - maybe a god of war will give your fighter the strength to fight an important enemy, etc. Religion becomes a lot more relevant for ALL characters.

As you can see, this solves LOTS of problems.

So, in my new RPG, spells are just spells (or maybe living spells). 

YOU choose the spell level, BTW. Pushing your luck is risky.

Fumble your spell-casting roll and it is wiped from your memory. You have to learn it again. If you have a grimoire, all the better. Otherwise, it will take a while. Your deity might help you... but ONLY if you are in good standing with it.

So, even if you LIKE the idea of a deity giving you a quest after you fumbled a spell, this has the same effect... but the motives are different. The deity isn't necessarily punishing you. It simply has to be careful while sharing limited resources with someone who is so eager to use them in imprudent ways. 

In addition, these quests are not only proofs of faith - if they were, any dumb thing such as removing one of your eyes would do. 

The quests are are means for the deity to further its own goals in the world. This makes them much more interesting - maybe you have to find a lost relic, or convert more people to your faith... or even hunt down a rogue paladin.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Spellcasting (Dark Fantasy Hack)

Dark Fantasy Hack is really going to be a thing, although I'm not sure about the name or even format. I am trying to make it 5e-compatible (and I'm currently using it to run Tomb of Annihilation) but there is this constant urge to make it simpler and more OSR-ish... So let's see how it turns out.

Anyway, unlike the (skill-based) Dark Fantasy Basic, it will rely a lot more on ability socres. Classes are almost optional.

And I'm making things a lot more flexible than I initially expected. For example, you can attack with Dexterity with any melee weapon, basically, but the damage still relies on Strength. I'm trying to balance "making each ability point matter" with "do what you will": you can make a magic-user with high Intelligence, high Charisma... or, ideally, both will be useful. I want all these concepts to be viable.

Of course, this is easier said than done. But here is what I've got so far...

Casting a spell requires a spell-casting check with Intelligence, Charisma or Wisdom. The player makes the choice when the character learns the spell. There is one caveat: you cannot harm or control someone directly using Wisdom, unless otherwise noted.

(Notice that ALL spells require dice rolling. And yes, there will be spell failures... something I'll tackle next)

There are a couple reasons behind this decision. First, Wisdom is a powerful "defensive" stat, so it is unlikely to be dumped. Making it a little less powerful "offensively" makes sense and avoids encouraging every single character to pick Wisdom.

But there are some "flavor" reasons as well. In 5e, Wisdom is associated with Clerics, but also Monks, Druids... characters that are better at healing/boosting more than attacking (fireballing) their enemies. And Wisdom seems like a good ability for both empathy and finding stuff. Of course, you can make an "evil cleric" or "firebender monk", but that would take a feat.

Charisma and Intelligence are a bit harder to distinguish. Remember, I WANT there to be a huge overlap between these two, to maximize the number os choices available... But SOME distinction would be nice.

Right now, I'm leaning towards:

- "Charm" spells and other mind-controlling effects rely exclusively on Charisma. 
- Illusion spells and the like rely exclusively on Intelligence.

Not sure about the last one. I guess I could imagine an illusionist sorcerer. But anyway, feels like a good start.

One last thing... I wrote a few names form spell-casting "classes". They use Int or Cha. I've got Wizard, Sorcerer, Witch and... having a hard time with the last one. Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, are all very cool, but too specialized. Maybe Summoner is better. I want something that sounds instantly recognizable, and that relies on very high Int, high Cha, and low Wis.

Any ideas on the matter would be appreciated!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Sword Chronicle + ASOIAF RPG

So, this curious thing happened.

I recently bought Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Game (ASOIAF RPG) on a whim. I am a BIG fan of Robert J. Schwalb, since Shadow of the Demon Lord* is one of my favorite games, but didn't write a review so far.

I did write a review of ASOIAF RPG... but I thought there was no point in publishing it here since the game is a bit old and out of print.

HOWEVER, now I noticed that this is the best seller in DTRPG today:

This book is Sword Chronicle - Feudal Fantasy Roleplaying *. More about it here:

What Kind of Chronicle System?
We’ve also fielded questions about what iteration of the Chronicle System Sword Chronicle represents. The answer is straightforward: The game uses what is substantially the same as the system seen in the original A Song of Ice and Fire roleplaying game, minus the setting of Westeros, as our license for that intellectual property has concluded. Beyond our ability to swiftly make the game happen, one of the attractions of this is the fact that virtually every setting-neutral Chronicle System supplement remains compatible with Sword Chronicle, so the game automatically drops with additional support. And if you’re still playing Chronicle games using earlier books, you can use Sword Chronicle as an alternative core with few adjustments required. The major differences are:
  • In response to long time feedback from Chronicle players, armor no longer penalizes Combat Defense. Some slight changes to other rules support this shift.
  • Intrigue has been revised both for clarity and to bring some of the systems into line with more rigorous player safety standards.
  • Our new setting is the Shattered Era, though the rules themselves are largely setting neutral.

So.... that old review might be a bit useful after all.

BTW, I am probably NOT writing a review of Sword Chronicle in the near future. I liked ASOIF RPG a bit, but not enough to use it over other games, and it seems the revision was not extensive enough for my tastes (I think the game has a few things to improve; see below). I've read some comments online from people that are more experienced with to system saying there are other mistakes that haven't been fixed, but I cannot say for sure. But it looks like a decent d6 system, however, if you are into this kind of game, and I'm glad it got updated.

Anyway, here it goes.

I recently bought A Song of Ice and Fire RPG: A Game of Thrones Edition (ASOIAF RPG) on a whim. I am a big fan of Robert J. Schwalb since reading Shadow of the Demon Lord*.

I'm a fan of the ASOIF book, but I still didn't know RPG very well. I finished reading it quickly, but I haven't played it yet.

Notice that this is a d6 game by Green Ronin, NOT the d20 version ("A Game of Thrones") by White Wolf.

The art of the game is very good, as you can see below. On the other hand, it didn't really appeal to me - maybe because of the "realistic" looks that make things a bit less exciting, even if they are very fitting to the setting. I LOVE the pregenerated characters pictured below, however - great for introducing new players, for showing what kind of PCs you can make, and even for NPCs since they are not much different to PCs in this game.

The book provides a brief description of the setting - focused on the continent of Westeros, with little information about the rest of the planet - before talking about the system. It is a superficial description but serves as an introduction for those who haven't read the original books.

The story takes place a few years before the first book in the series, and the original RPG was released in 2009, so there is much that this book does not cover (which is not really a problem). The system is cool, mixing simplicity in character creation with more details in situations that are important to the setting, such as combat, war, and intrigue.

Instead of the traditional "attribute + skill" format, characters are defined by some 20 skills (agility, cunning, athletics, knowledge, healing ...) that can have specializations (acrobatics, balance, memory, etc.). In addition, they have benefits to further customize the character - something similar to D&D feats. The characters have several traits that are important in the setting: status, age, family, etc., so that the creation of characters fits well with what you would expect from books.

The strong points of the books are precisely the chapters that focus on the particularities of the series. There are rules to create not only your character, but entire families - which go on even after the characters die (something that happens frequently in the series). There are mechanics for managing land and building castles. There are specific ways to create various types of intrigue, with lies, arguments, bribes, etc. There are rules for tournaments, mass combat, and so on.

Combat is also very detailed, with several weapons with specific characteristics and quality distinctions. There are more or less lasting injuries, fatigue, and so on. This is one step or two more detailed and complexity that 5e D&D. Since I LIKE detailed melee combat, that didn't bother me - even though this is not what the series is about.

The book has little to say about magic, since it is extremely unusual in Westeros at that time. There are no spells, magic weapons, etc. The bestiary of the book is also very short. Although there is a dragon on the back cover, the book does not contain statistics on dragons, only one of three rare monsters (ghouls, giants and The Others). Most opponents are humans or ordinary animals.

The book also has some weaknesses. It only uses d6s, which is not a problem. However, in some cases the book seems to ignore how statistics work, so there is a table that indicates that when creating a home you would have a MINIMUM chance of having a boar or wolf in your coat of arms, while the chance of having a dragon is 100 or 1000 times higher, which does not appear to be on purpose.

There are other strange bits. For example, the book seems to suggest that you have better chances to find someone (a perception test) when you are NOT looking for them.

In short, it seems like some details are glossed over and the system seems to be lacking more play-testing and streamlining. But these are small defects that do not ruin the game.

Other than that, the system seems to work well enough. Of course, it assumes that you WANT to play in this world more focused on intrigue and management of lands and castles, conflicts between families rather than a group of adventurers, etc. For that, it is very interesting.

If you want something simpler or more heroic, however, there are better options. ASOIF RPG has an average level of complexity; maybe a bit less than D&D 5e but still very detailed, especially in these chapters on intrigues, lands, etc. Honestly, it might be too much detail with not enough payback in some places (the detailed rules for intrigue are a bit convoluted), while it sounds interesting in other places (land management comes to mind). Overall, it fells a bit fiddlier than it needs to be, but that might just be personal preference.

Anyway, if you are looking for this RPG, you are probably interested in the setting of ASOIAF. If that is the case, I can recommend checking this book out. Likewise, take a look if you're looking for low magic, high intrigue games.

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

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Strahdtroopers (Curse of Strahd Guide, II)

In part I, we discussed a few subjects, including character creation. But my suggestion in this part comes even before that. In the next part, I'll try to organize the trove of awesome advice you can find online about this campaign (you can start here, and take a look at the source of the picture below).

In order to make this easy, I'll use a "problem/solution" format for my ideas.

Problem: nobody cares about the metaplot. 

Curse of Strahd has an amazing story about Strahd's rise and fall in Barovia - it is the background for the whole campaign. This one one of the best bits of the module - everything is there for a (more or less) explicit reason.

The problem is that, usually, PCs don't seem to care. Strahd is just a monster to be defeated. Yes, ti might be cool to realize that the vampire-killing sword was one used by his brother, but in the end the important bit is that it is a vampire-killing sword and the PCs are trying to kill vampires.

Anyway, the book does a half-decent job of throwing bits and pieces from the story to the PCs, but sometimes this is done through talking NPCs, which isn't a great way to tell stories or to draw the players attentions.

My idea is doing things differently. I haven't tried that yet... But hear me out.

Solution: in session one, you are Strahdtroopers.

Session one is about a group of young, brave soldiers (premade characters). They are loyal to the glorious King Barov until the king is slain by a rival lord - a man, many claimed had a pact with dark powers.

Now the king's son, the young Strahd, only twelve or thirteen years old and a but traumatized but full of bloody vengeance, is eager to bring justice to the villain.

Of course, the PCs are enlisted to help.

Though a series of very short scenes, the PCs help Strahd to defeat the villain and conquer his lands. They infiltrate the lands with the help of the benevolent Vistani - although they soon realize that the righteous one among this people shy way from Strahd bloody methods and eventually leave the valley.

But the killings do not bother most of Strahd's soldiers. They are fighting some kind of monster, someone who made Strahd and his (even younger) brother (now protect in a convent) orphans. Someone who eats bones or bathes in the blood of virgins, or something. His soldiers are certainly showing no mercy, and he even has some strange creatures on his side!

This first party of the adventure is bloody... slain PCs might come back from the dead, but they might as well take a new PC on part two.

In any case, the villain is defeated. Strahd wins the day. He builds/names a castle in honor of his widowed mother. He is popular among the people - they seem to be happy to ignore the harsh treatment of criminals and suspect foreigners. At least Barov is avenged and there is no more war in sight.

In the second part of the adventure, though another series of short scenes, the PCs (now respected veterans) go around Barovia hunting monsters looking for threats. But there are few threats, and few monsters, in this time. A few barbarians in the mountains, evil druids, starved wolves who sent strangely adept at attacking people. Except for the Amber temple - no one goes there, and if they do, they die.  Just little hints of what's to come.

Strahd, however, becomes increasingly somber and more cruel. He visits that damned temple from time to time, and nobody knows why. If your players are like mine, they will quickly come to hate Strahd.

Finally, a wedding is announced. Strahd's brother, Sergei, is about to marry Tatyana - even though everyone can see how Strahd looks at her. The soldiers might even joke at this, very discreetly. But everyone is optimistic.

In the final scene, the PCs discover Sergei slain by Strahd, who immediately goes after Tatyana. when they reach the monarch, Tatyana is already jumping from a balcony.

Strahd's soldiers (and probably the PCs too) turn against him and kill him. But he refuses to die. He is a vampire now. Everyone that keeps attacking is slain.

There is no winning this battle. Surviving soldiers that manage to flee get to see the mists growing thicker while the sun seems to disappear forever. There is no escape. Everyone dies.

Or, at least, this is how I see it.

If you want to change some details. it doesn't matter - this will become legend, and there will be no way to tell which parts are true. Eventually, the PCs will hear this story from someone in Barovia - maybe a descendant from one of the soldiers?

Of course, this all sounds very railroad-y. If a way of "showing, not telling" Strahd's story. PCs are doomed, but maybe they can accomplish something that will change Barovia for centuries - albeit in very small ways. Or maybe it is THEIR sword who becomes a vampire killer after it kills Strahd for the first time? And they could came back as undead, of course - maybe HELPFUL undead?

Make sure your players are up for this type of adventure before beginning. With premade PCs, you can run this in less than two hours. But I cannot say for sure, since I haven't tried.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Rant - the BAD HEXCRAWL in Tomb of Annihilation

As you know, I finished running CoS and now I'm probably starting Tomb of Annihilation.

Again, CoS is "a great campaign, with many AWESOME ideas, but also confusing as hell, badly organized, and full of problems."

And now I'm reading Tomb of Annihilation

Oh well. I won't even... 

Look, it is basically the same thing.

But why? 

WotC modules are FULL of great stuff - Ravenloft, Chult, Acererak, the Tomb of Horrors... But this stuff is DECADES old. Admittedly, the put this stuff together in a cool way. I LIKE these modules. Mostly.

But why do I prefer 5e to, say, AD&D or 2E? Well, it is a bit EASIER. The rules make more sense. There are fewer exceptions, but more character options.

But the supplements are all VERY HARD to run. 

The maps are horrible for navigation - they give the DM no clue on where to go. 

The map on CoS in an HEX map... but there is no reason to use it for an hexcrawl. All the significant locations are on roads. Either they've never heard of point-crawls, or they... what? They make it hard on purpose? You have to CALCULATE the distances??? Why doesn't the book just give them to you?

On how are these maps supposed to work, anyway? They are BIG - great for putting in your wall, but not that great for hiding behind a DM screen!

ToA comes with a big map... NOT for players, but for DMs. Players get a small map with blank hexes to fill. Oh, most hexes have NOTHING on them, BTW. Okay. At least is is an hexcrawl.

How do you organize hex-crawls? 

Well, let's see one example from Hex Crawl Chronicles, issue 1:

Easy, right?

The design is really simple, but efficient. 

There are a couple of apparent imperfections - the relevant hexes should be marked on the map, the contrast could be better - but other than that, we always know where to look for. 

The numbers are in the ToC, and even if they weren't, it is easy to see that 1418 comes before 1522, and both com before 1602 , etc.

If you're looking for a particular hex int he map, this is also easy - if you start in 606 and go north, you're in 605. South, 607. East from 606 is 706 (or 705). West, 506 (or 505.

And this is a 24 page product.

Now let's look at my OSR adventure, The Wretched Hive (an hex dungeon, not an hexcrawl, but anyway):

Hexes are marked A, B, C, D... Each color represent one thing. This distinction is marked in the (hyperlinked) table of contents. also, numbers (1, 2, 3) represent another thing.

Just choose the room, click on the ToC, and you're there. Or turn to the relevant page.

And if you open in a random page (page 21, above), each room is color-coded, and in alphabetical order.

Now let's look at Tomb of Annihilation.

Do you see the problem?

First, if you're looking for a place in the map, you have to look all over to find the place in the map. North, south, east... just go look for it.

Try it - click on the map and look for Kir Sabal.

I'll wait. Bear in mind that the actual map is four times larger or more.

Found it?

Okay, let's say the PCs arrived there...

Now you have to find it in the book. Let's see... chapter 2. 50 pages long.

Oh well:

So, we have 50 PAGES with no reference in the ToC. 

Oh, but that's okay - they are in alphabetical order! So let's look for "Kir Sabal"... Open the book somewhere between page 41 and 91 and... 

In which letter are we???? I have no idea. 

Coincidentally, Kir Sabal is in this page... But you have to flip back and forth until you find what you're looking for.

See the letters A, B, C, D and E on the right? I made this in Microsoft paint to show how easy it is to make things easier.

They even made it in the Monster Manual! See the red circle:

And it was even LESS necessary there - since you can easily see which letter you're in (blue circle).

How does WotC get away with this?

Well, other people FIX THE MODULES for them.

There is a numbered hex map of Chult someone made for free. Empty hexes? Well, here is 100 different encounters. Certainly online forums have better solutions for ToA than being TELEPORTED to a big PORT in the begging of the campaign, or better motives to fooling around with dinosaur races and side-quests on a strict time limit. I'll find them.

Just look at this!

BTW, it is the same for CoS. Somebody calculated the distances in Barovia for free, with page numbers (MAN do I wish I had found this BEFORE running the campaign!). There is good map of Barovia to give to your players (although I didn't find one for Chult and I might have to draw something myself).

And there are dozens of guides to 5e modules in the DM's guild (well, as you've seem, I'm writing my own guide to CoS). This are bestsellers. People NEED this stuff.

The problem is - these are things that should be included in the modules. You shouldn't need to find a SEPARATE GUIDE to run a campaign, let alone make your own.

And, of course, these days I'm running games online... But I cannot find a LEGAL PDF of Tomb of Annihilation, which would me me immensely. At least I could ctrl+f the locations.

In short...

D&D is a gateway RPG for many people who have never played before. It shouldn't be unnecessarily hard to run if there is no added value. Heck, NO module should be hard to run for no reason!

The ideas are awesome. All this IP that Gygax, Arneson and others invented years ago are very cool, and there are good creative people in WotC that know how to use this stuff (mostly). The maps LOOK great. The art in ToA is BEAUTIFUL. 

But the books are terrible to USE. Do people actually PLAY this stuff before publishing it? Or do they just expect the fans to organize it for them?

It bums me out. I bought all these 5e books and I want to USE THEM, not look at them. These books got positive reviews online. WotC has lots of fans that will defend this stuff and I know a few people will get angry at me for pointing these errors (fortunately, not many people).

Oh well. I'll do my best. Continue writing my own adventures, I guess. Try to use the books I bought the best I can. 

I might try to put a guide to CoS in the DMs guild. It might sell more than some of those "third party" products out there, since I'm sure there are many people trying to make sense if this stuff. Potentially, a lot more than are looking for books that are not "official D&D"".

Anyway, I'm sorry if this sounds too negative. Back to helping you guys with CoS and finding someone to help me with ToA. Rant over.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Curse of Strahd Guide - Part I - Getting started

There is a lot to be said about Curse of Strahd. The good, the bad, the ugly... even the beautiful.

I won't bother you with long reviews. In short, it is a great campaign, with many AWESOME ideas, but also confusing as hell, badly organized, and full of problems. The atmosphere is top-notch - some of the best I've ever read. The execution is flawed. Many people consider it 5e's best campaign - and, from what I've read so far, I am inclined to agree.

So, if you want something cool, read on. If you want something EASY - skip this one, probably (or read on, and I'll make it easier for you!).

But anyway - I had lots of fun playing it. If you want to play it to, I'm sure you could use some help (I certainly appreciated all the help I could find!). If this advice is useful, this will become a long series. Otherwise, I'll probably write about something else.

So, here is a bit of information and advice to getting started on CoS. I might expand on this bit as I write the series and remember more stuff, or as people make suggestions and corrections (well, it is a popular campaign!). Anyway:


* READ THE WHOLE THING before starting. Its easy to get lost when GMing this thing for the first time.

* BAROVIA IS HUMANOCENTRIC. If your players want to create dragonborn, tiefling, goliath or lizard-people characters, they'll seem out of place. everyone in Barovia is human, elf, os some kind of gothic monster (vampire, werewolf, were-raven, golem, etc.). My advice: re-skin everyone as some gothic trope. You want to be a goliath? Fine, you are just a big human with some form of gigantism (you can still use a goliath's stats). Tiefling? You are a human whose parents made a pact with devils. Your eyes are slightly different, but that's it. And so on.

* CERTAIN CLASSES/ALIGNMENTS ARE EXPECTED. The book assumes you'll find certain items during the game. But, if you're playing by the book, you´ll need a cleric or paladin of good alignment to make some of the most powerful items to work (maybe too powerful, but that's another post). Other item requires good alignment only. So, decide if you're going to change these rules, or tell your players right from the start that "good" heroes - especially paladins and clerics - have the best change in this campaign.

If you want some dark characters instead... well, you can always check my Dark Fantasy Characters.

BTW, a WIZARD is also expected... kinda. There are some instances in the book that seem to require specific spells to solve (or at least there are not many explicit alternatives). I ran the campaign just fine with a druid and a warlock, but I felt a wizard would do better.

Maybe the best party would be something like paladin / cleric / wizard ... and maybe rogue or fighter. The rogue needs a magic weapon to fight effectively and these are not that easy to find. Maybe he gets the sunsword instead of the paladin. A fighter might get better magic items (mace, spear, heavy armor). An undead-fighting ranger could work.

The cleric is probably the most important one here, because of healing, resurrection, turn undead, etc.

BTW - if you want to start with "dark" characters to fit the gothic feel of the campaign, take a look at my Dark Fantasy Characters, it is full of ideas.

* MATURE THEMES. This campaign contains mature themes. I've never worried about this stuff before, since my players like gritty and violent games - but in this case I think this is worth mentioning. The atmosphere is depressing, if you play it right. You can play it for laughs if you prefer, but CoS has some awesome horror fodder and it would be a waste not to use it. Anyway, you've been warned.

* YOU DO NOT NEED THE TAROKKA DECK. The deck is just a gimmick. Use a common deck of cards instead. A deck of encounters (and maybe items) would have been a lot more useful.

Hey. WotC - if you end up making a lot of money based on my advice, consider giving me some of it ;).


There's more, a lot more. Do a "foreshadowing" session - a prologue of sorts. Get a decent map. Then, ignore the map. Rethink the whole list of encounters. Divide the campaign in three acts. Tie Strahd to his allies. Make him more powerful. Keep track of NPCs and factions.

But that's after the campaign begins. AND there are a couple of sessions to make before that happens... This advice are enough to get you started.

For now, I'd appreciate to know if you're interested in this. Please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Dark Fantasy Basic - and Characters - ELECTRUM SALE!

If you already know my stuff, skip this post! Otherwise...

Dark Fantasy Basic is an electrum product in DTRPG. This means that it is somewhere around the top 10% (maybe 15% to 5%) best-sellers in the entire site!

And now Dark Fantasy Characters is also electrum!

I am very happy to see that!

I have about a dozen books in DTRPG. Some short, some long, some free, some PWYW, etc. Of course, I'd like to see them ALL with lots of readers. But there is one in particular that I think deserves more attention: the Teratogenicon.

If you know any of my books, the writing style might be similar. However, the ART and LAYOUT in Teratogenicon is something else, as you can see in the FREE preview, and in the page below. Teratogenicon is already a "best cooper seller"!

Let's reach for gold And beyond!

Anyway, I've put them all on sale for a short while (ate least until the end of August). Enjoy!

Click on the labels  below to se more posts about these subjects!