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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

2020 retrospective (blogging, publishing and gaming)

It is that time of the year. 2020 is nearly over. It was not the cyberpunk we might have expected (not talking about the videogame, although it might also apply), but maybe some other kind of dystopia. Certainly not the double crit I was hoping for... unless the villains were rolling the dice.

Anyway, I'll focus on blogging, publishing and gaming... because this is what this blog is about.


I maintained a decent pace, and I'll finish the year with around 69 posts (wink wink), making 2020 the most productive year in this blog.

I wrote about RPG theory, OSR stuff, Curse of Strahd, 5e house-rules, combat and minimalist D&D. So, I think I did manage to give the readers what they wanted. I'll do the same next year - see below!


I finished my Curse of Strahd campaign and started running Tomb of Annihilation online. It's going slow. One PC has fallen and that might have caused some loss of interest. The campaign itself is good but flawed, as it often happens with "official" modules.

My version of D&D 5e is now so house-ruled and minimalist I can barely call it 5e anymore. 

I want to publish the entire thing but I'm not 100% sure how to do that - as a collection of house rules? As an entire system based on the SRD? We shall see.

I might play other games in 2021. Maybe some one-shots, maybe with someone else as the GM...

Playing online might be less enjoyable, but it is very practical. 


Some of my 2020 goals were accomplished, some were not. 

The most important thing I published is the Teratogenicon. I really like how it turned out. It is what I wanted it to be - my favorite monster generator.

Also published my first adventure, The Wretched Hive. If you're looking for a short, low-level OSR adventure, check it out! I might add 5e conversion notes down the line, if there is interest.

My most ambitious projects - a Dark Fantasy Cyclopedia and a Minimalist 5e - went nowhere. Mainly because I'm not sure how to separate the two... or if I should separate them at all. Also, see "gaming", above.

What's next?

I'll make a post about my projects for 2021 very soon, and, as always, I'll ask for your suggestions.

Final thoughts for 2020

Here is a classic by Larry Elmore. Like many people, I absolutely love this picture:

A group of adventurers is showing off a slain dragon. They look happy (even if some are still concerned), and you can barely notice the small amount of rusted armor, torn clothes, bruises and scars. I cannot help but to ask myself if the helmet in the ground belongs to one of them... or a fallen fellow.

Their feat seems relatively small. There are certainly bigger dragons out there.

But they have succeeded. They've got the treasure and (what's even better) the XP. More important than all... they fought. And they survived.

More challenges will come... but they will be better prepared to face them.


I hope you have a great 2021!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Chaos Factory EVERYTHING - Christmas sale!

If you bought any of my books, you might receive a similar e-mail through DTRPG - unless you have disabled the option. We e-mail vey rarely, and only to tell you about relevant news and sales - see below.

And if you want to help me out (other than buying my products, of course), all I want for Christmas is that you give some five star reviews to your favorite products from Chaos Factory!

BTW, I'll soon make a post asking what YOU want from this blog in 2021. Stay tuned!


I'm dropping by to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! A great 2021 to all!

This is our second e-mail - ever! As we promised, our emails will be rare - no more than once a trimester. If you want to hear from us more often, follow Chaos Factory Books on Facebook!

In addition, we are making a holiday sale: the bundle with all RPGs we ever wrote has now 55% discount on top of individual discounts.

That's 12 PDFs for $14.99

Here is our entire "Christmas tree"; click the link below to get to the sale and see what each PDF is about!

As always, if you already have something on the list, the price is even lower.  We will keep this price until the beginning of 2021.

Our plans for 2021 so far is a print version of Teratogenicon (with a discount for previous purchases) and more dark fantasy, OSR and 5e content. You can keep updated by checking our Facebook page or my blog.


Merry Christmas and Happy holidays to all!

I'm not sure this is my last post on 2020 in this blog, so I'm wishing you a great 2021 in advance!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Bows are nearly useless (unless you're an expert)

"If you want to train a longbowman, start with his grandfather"
- King Edward III... allegedly.

D&D and D&D-like games treat bows as weak guns - probably more dangerous than daggers but not much better than a rapier.

Have you ever tried using a bow? I tried some modern (not professional) ones... probably easier to use than medieval bows. Let me tell you, shooting someone that is 80 feet away would be hard if you're not an expert (and I'm certainly no expert). That's the "minimum" range of a short bow in 5e - meaning that anyone proficient with simple weapons can use them without disadvantage. The "maximum" range of the short bow is 320 feet - with disadvantage (which would make you hit, say, 42% of the time instead of 65% of the time).

Consider seeing a bowman from 230 feet away (Olympic distance). How likely are you to simply move away from the incoming arrow?

Now, try swinging a bat at a punching bag. Or sticking a dagger-like object into a tree (please be careful... you'll might break your knife or hurt yourself). Even a child with a sharp knife is dangerous. A bow? Not so much. But the short bow deals 1d6 damage, the dagger 1d4.

Also... how many times can I stab while you shoot an arrow?

Bows also require strength... in real life, not in D&D.

Of course, there are people who can do amazing things with a bow. Just look at Olympic athletes, or even hunters... But they require extensive training. But in 5e, a shot bow is a simple weapon... while a short sword is a "martial" weapon, supposedly requiring more training.

D&D is not real life, of course. But even in a gaming perspective, bows seem to have an unfair advantage in 5e... they have better reach, nearly the same damage, and the best feats and fighting styles.

I know bows are useful in war... But that's an entirely different game. You are shooting at an army, not a specific foe. Arrows are good when you have LOTS of bowmen ("so many arrows that blot out the sun").

D&D fighting is mostly about small duels... not much more than half a dozen in each side. The way bows work might derive from the fact that D&D was originally a war game. Curiously enough, I think most games have kept the same reasoning since the. In GURPS, for example, the bow is an "average" skill like swords... although penalties due to distance are harsher IIRC).

There are good points to be made against this - bows have been used all over for hunting and wars, thousands of years. King Edward's archers beat heavily armored knights in Crécy... some bows can pierce heavy armor (although I think a baseball bat would do better on a one-on-one fight). Maybe big monsters - like dragons and giants - are easier to hit with arrows.

In addition, there are SOME limitations to archery in D&D - mainly, the fact that you have disadvantage if you're shooting with someone within 5 feet of you (another good point - maybe archery is so easy in D&D because you are not so worried about parrying, dodging, etc.).

And, when in doubt, I defer to the rule of cool... since everyone seems to like Legolas and Robin Hood, D&D 5e is good as it is.


In my current minimalist D&D game, missile and thrown weapons lose a single point of damage. So, if a short sword deal 1d6, a short bow would deal 1d4. Likewise, a thrown dagger deals less damage than getting stabbed (maybe 1d4-1).

In addition, damage is always determined by Strength. You use either Str or Dex to hit with a melee weapon (your choice), only Dex to hit with ranged weapons, and only Str gives a bonus to damage (more thoughts about this here and here) .

It is not a huge issue, but I like it this way, and it's been working well so far.

Friday, December 04, 2020

"Common law" versus "Civil law" in game design

This post is not about legal systems, but an (imperfect?) analogy about game design. Let's have some definitions for this purpose (source):

Civil law systems have their origin in the Roman legal tradition.  Civil systems vary widely, both in procedure and substantive law, so conducting research on a particular nation's civil law system should include looking at that nation's specific system of law, but they do have some trademark characteristics.  Nations with civil law systems have comprehensive, frequently updated legal codes.  Most importantly, case law is a secondary source in these jurisdictions. France and Germany are two examples of countries with a civil law system.

Common law systems, while they often have statutes, rely more on precedent, judicial decisions that have already been made. Common law systems are adversarial, rather than investigatory, with the judge moderating between two opposing parties.  The legal system in the United States is a common law system (with the exception of Louisiana, which has a mix of civil and common law).

The idea of civil law is basically "think of how the law should apply in abstract, pass a law and then enforce it". In game design, this would be thinking of a cool feat, comparing it to existing feats, and adding it to your game before play-testing it.

Common law would be the opposite approach: play the game until you reach an impasse. Resolve the impasse. If the problem arises again, you already have an answer, which might be enough or might be superseded.

There is also this:

Customary law systems are based on patterns of behavior (or customs) that have come to be accepted as legal requirements or rules of conduct within a particular country.  The laws of customary legal systems [...] are often dispensed by elders, passed down through generations. [...] Oftentimes, customary law practices can be found in mixed legal system jurisdictions, where they've combined with civil or common law.

In RPG-land, these are the rules we used because they were always like this. Falling damage ("d6 per 10 feet") is a good example. It is not particularly realistic or deliberate, and it's basically unchanged from OD&D to 5th edition because nobody cared to change it.

One could say "corporate" D&D is civil law (created by designers for users) while indie/OSR (and probably the ORIGINAL D&D) games are common law (created by users for users). "Grognards" would prefer customary laws (created by Gygax for the good of humanity). I jest, I jest. 

In reality, everything is a mix of all systems. Many OSR writers use old rules without question, and WotC often use feedback from actual players before publishing a new class or feat.

But the "civil law" mentality in corporate D&D might explain why some 5e homebrewers, unlike, say, OSR authors, seem so cautious about changing the fundaments of the system; they do not seem themselves as legislators, only judges.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people dedicated to create innumerable rules and classes... that their players don't need. They are deep in theory-crafting and balancing, but not really into playing D&D. Here are two pieces of advice: first, do not fix what is not broken, unless you really think you can make the game cooler. Second, nobody wants your house rules... or do they?

This mentality also shows in official modules (and also some unofficial ones). Some books seem like they were written to be consumed, while others are obviously written to be played. 

Curse of Strahd, one of my favorite 5e books, is a good example; it feels somewhat "customary" ("we must do that because it is in the original module") and somewhat "civil law" ("this will certainly look cool in the book"), but not "common law" at all ("this didn't work in practice, let1's try something else"). I get the same feeling with the "infernal machines" in Avernus (this LOOKS really cool doesn't it?).

Here is a more specific example: you come up with a rule that requires rolling a lot of dice. You make some calculations and find out that this means +0.7 damage in average, exactly right for your purposes. This is "civil law". If you are playing the game and realized adding half a dozen dice rolls per round for a 0.7 is a hassle, this is "common law".

Again, this is rough generalization. There is plenty of "civil law" mentality even in indie systems - i.e., the idea that the game designer knows the table's problems better than the GM. And, to be honest - sometimes they do. They might have spent more time thinking about this stuff, at least as far as their own games are concerned. However, they do not know what you and your friends enjoy... or hate.

My own books always START with the "common law" approach (i.e., I want to write books I already NEED), but add some "civil law" as I write, because I want the whole thing to be a coherent whole.

Anyway. Play the game long enough, and you'll find that it becomes harder and harder to play with rules that are not your own and not specifically suited for your table.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

SlaughterGrid (OSR adventure - Mini Review)

SlaughterGrid (affiliate link*) is "a strange and gruesome" OSR dungeon by Rafael Chandler. It also contains a small hexcrawl and 32 new monsters... all in 48 pages. It's written for OSRIC (but would work for any OSR game etc.).

Rafael is one of my favorite OSR writers, and this module is indeed "strange and gruesome" like the rest of his writings. 

The cover says "a meat grinder for level 2 characters" which is... kinda true, I guess. I don't see how a 2nd level PC could have any hope of surviving this (although you can get resurrected inside the dungeon), but if they survive it wouldn't be a meat grinder.

The book starts with a (semi-random) explanation for the SlaughterGrids, titanic automatons created ages ago for war. The automatons have fallen and the dungeon is their insides - the levels are called uterus, bowels, and belly, and have the format of internal organs (but walls of stone, etc.).

There are also some house rules and some notes about the dungeon - all interesting stuff (a "resurrection machine" of sorts, gold-smelling monsters, etc.). This resurrection machine is perhaps the strangest and most curious part of the module, but it creates some unanswered questions (if everyone resurrects, why are there so many corpses, etc.).

The hexcrawl is well done, full of interesting encounters. A page on the Golden Citadel would enhance the module immensely, but it is already packed with stuff so I can't complain.

The dungeon itself is good, although it has too many monsters (goblins, kobold, gnolls, oozes) and traps and too few empty spaces. Overall, it feels a lot more "underground nightmare" than "Gygaxian naturalism"

You might occasionally roll your eyes at a monster made of genitals or piles of dung (or other gory, violent, maybe puerile details), but boredom is rarer here than in most modules (even "official" ones).

One last note: the structure of the writing is nearly perfect for this kind of module. The descriptions are terse and inspiring, showing exactly what you need to know and nothing else. It wastes no time on boring details, but it sometimes leaves things vague. This is a good example:

Everything you need to know in a few lines... unfortunately, there are no other references to "carcass creeper" in the book (it is an OSRIC version of the carrion crawler, it seems; had to look it up). But you get the idea.

If you're writing an adventure module, you should at least learn how to write like this. Start with the bare minimum and ONLY add words where it's awesome or necessary.

Anyway, an interesting module, worth checking out.

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