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

Thursday, December 30, 2021

I WANT it to attack me! Defenders, marking, and cover (5e quick fix)

Merry Christmas folks! And Happy New Year!

Just a quick fix I've been using lately.

When I have too many foes against the PCs (or too few) and I don't know which PCs get attacked, I've been letting the PCs choose when they could reasonably do so - by declaring they are trying to protect another PC or taking the front, etc. If there are more NPCs than PCs, usually everyone gets attacked, and the ones who choose to be in the frontline get attacked more often.

This alleviates some of the burden of running multiple NPCs in combat.

Intelligent NPCs that have motives to do otherwise can choose to attack the flank or rear instead.

If you play with miniatures, this is even easier to do; but I play mostly theater of the mind. Many RPGs tried to solve this issue: Dungeon World even has a specific "defend" move. The One Ringlet's you choose a  forward, defensive, open, or rearward stance - which gives you a bonus/penalty both to attack AND defend. D&D 4e had its "marking" etc. D&D 5e has some optional marking rules too, but I think you could even use the "core" rules to put yourself between an attacker and a victim. Other than that, there are "opportunity attacks" to insure foes do not walk pass the fighter to get to the wizard with impunity.

This feels organic to me - the bravest fighters will be attacked first, as it should be. It is also fictionally appropriate.

Mechanically, there are other ways to deal with that - make the attacker roll two dice, the highest one attacks the defender, the lowest one the defended. The interesting bit is that the defender is putting himself in significant danger. The downside is that it makes the defender EASIER to hit when the attacker is trying to get to someone else!

Maybe a better solution would be mixing the two - the defender serves as cover and, if the attack "hits the cover" (missing by 2 points, for example), then he makes another attack against the defender. Its the same rule I'd use for "shooting in the mêlée" - you can hit an ally by accident! Notice that even if you "hit cover" the defender might be unscathed - maybe because it was a glancing blow, or maybe the hit was absorbed by armor.

Mechanically, it feels perfect - hitting the intended target is harder, but the chance you'll hit SOMEONE is a bit higher.

(BTW, would we use half cover [+2] or three quarters[+5]? Maybe +5 when you're intentionally being the cover, +2 when unintentional. It opens interesting ). 

Additional reading:

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Brazilian monster sketches (Rick Troula)

So, here is my next project: a collection of Brazilian monsters for 5e (might do an OSR version if there is enough interest). These first project is focused on folklore, urban legend, and maybe some prehistoric animals. We hope to have it finished late next year. I will keep you informed. 

I might write a few original monsters with Brazilian flavor later on (unfortunately someone already invented a macawbear, lol) or maybe even an hex-crawl... 

As always, any feedback is useful!

We are at the first stages, but I hope I can share a few monsters soon... Some of these are surprisingly dark, others are very weird, but all look like fun to have at your table. We've got killer anteaters, flayed tapirs, demonic sows, alligator witches, fire-breathing goats, giant sloths, burning anacondas covered in eyes... cool stuff!

The finished book will be full color.  We've got some great artists working on this project - the art below is from Rick Troula. Take a look - and follow my blog, Rick, Pedro, Thay, and Iago on Instagram! For now... let's look at some sketches!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Black Company (dark fantasy book review)

I've read quite a few books in 2021, but almost no sci-fi or fantasy. So I asked some recommendations from MeWe, and my friend Jens from The Disoriented Ranger (check his blog!) recommend me this one. Well, I'm all about dark fantasy, and I share many tastes with Jens, so here we go!

From Wikipedia:
The Black Company, released in May 1984, is the first novel in Glen Cook's ongoing series, The Black Company. The book combines elements of epic fantasy and dark fantasy as it describes the dealings of an elite mercenary unit – the Black Company – with the Lady, ruler of the Northern Empire.
BTW, while I'd usually avoid an "ongoing series", I get the impression that the first trilogy completes some kind of cycle. And the first book can be enjoyed by itself, even if you don't read the rest.

I've found the book fun, but not especially well-written. My copy claims the book is a mix of Tolkien and Bernard Cornwell (somewhat like George RR Martin, I guess) but these three authors are far superior. This might be an unfair comparison, since they are some of the greats. This is somewhat comparable to the first few Witcher books, but so far I think I enjoyed the Witcher a bit more.

The book is told in-character from a "military" point of view. Cook spent time in the army, and it shows. The narrative purposely resembles the account of a modern soldier.

The characters are a little shallow, the action and war scenes a bit rushed and confusing, and the plot twists relatively predictable. Monsters are few and not particularly interesting. The villains are very reminiscent of Sauron and the Nâzgul (with added intrigue and betrayals, which is cool)... The twist, here, is that the Black Company is fighting on their side!

On the other hand, the book is easy and pleasant to read. I couldn't put it down and ended it in a few days, unlike many more recent fantasy series.

If you want to mine the book for RPG ideas (and there was a Black Company RPG published in 2004), you'll find some useful stuff here. The "mercenary company" structure seems perfect for adventuring. It has all the upsides of a military campaign with a bit more freedom, side quests and sketchy characters.

In short: 
Interesting book, but I wouldn't add this to my favorites, at least in this first iteration. I plan to read the second one to see where this goes!

Post Scriptum:
Just found out that Gygax recommended this book!
In Dragon magazine issue 96 (April 1985), Gary Gygax wrote this about The Black Company which is what inspired me to seek it out originally. Anyone else read this way back then?

"A good “game” book If you haven’t read The Black Company by Glen Cook (Tor Books, Tom Doherty Associates, Inc., 1984), then you are missing a good book which relates closely to the AD&D® game. I can’t swear that the author plays FRP games, let alone any of TSR’s offerings, but somehow he has captured the essence of them, regardless. The Black Company reads as if it were a literary adaptation of actual adventuring, as it were, in a swords & sorcery milieu akin to that of a proper AD&D game campaign. The style of writing is neither heroic nor swashbuckling. There is none of Robert E. Howard in the book. It is a dark work. Nevertheless, it is one fine bit of fantasy authorship. I recommend it to all role-playing game enthusiasts for many reasons, not the least of which is that it will assist in proper fantasy role-playing. For $2.95 this book will provide both reading enjoyment and much support for your RPG activity. It is one you shouldn’t miss."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Table tools, booklets, and Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown is a remarkable game. It basically boils down the most relevant parts of 5e into small booklets (Characters, Playing the Game, Magic, Monsters, etc.) and gives it an OSR feel, close to Moldvay's Basic. It is a very abridged version, and the only reason I can see to choose 5e over ItU is if you like lots of options (for races, characters, classes, etc.). 

ItU goes to level 10 instead of 20; I don't see it as a big downside, since these are my favorite levels (and good enough to run most existing campaigns). I'm considering doing the same for my "minimalist 5e".

(As an aside, ItU is 5e-compatible with OSR flavor; my Dark Fantasy Basic is OSR-compatible with some 5e flavor. You can use ItU to run 5e campaigns and DFB to run OSR campaigns, for example).

Anyway, this is not a review. It is the booklets I want to talk about here. I've written a few booklets on different topics myself, but my "ultimate" goal is to one day publish a beautiful, full color, thick, hardcover book with a complete system - including PCs, monsters and DM tips. My inspiration is the Rules Cyclopedia, probably my favorite D&D book.

I imagine this would look good on my shelves... however - and that's the point I'm trying to make - it might not be the best tool for running the game on the table.

The traditional D&D format - PHB + MM + DMG is cool too. But when running a 5e game, I have a few issues with page-flipping. First, we could use a couple of PHB, at least, if everyone is creating PCs at once. Finding classes and subclasses is easy - picking spells takes a bit longer, and finding them during a game a bit more (just write down the page numbers). Wouldn't it be nice if we had a separate book of spells?

During the game, I feel these big books get a bit unwieldy. I do appreciate having hundreds of monsters, but I'll rarely use more than a dozen in a session - usually two or three. Going from level 1 to 20 is cool... but as I've said, most my campaigns end around 10, and almost none go past 15. Makes me wonder if levels 11-20 should be in a separate "epic" PHB.

The DMG is another thing. It is full of tables and tools to use at the table... and also advice on how to create your own planets and pantheons, something you probably won't read during a game. Maybe we should pair magic items with other items and not with DM advice?

In short: these books are not optimized to use in the table. Fortunately, we have various tools that are.

- Characters sheets are an obvious way to reference information. I do think that 5e PCs have so much information that it is hard to keep it all there, unless you memorize most of the powers - or go through the book to find them. Copying things with pencils feel disorganized and ugly - but also "liberating" since you can add house rules, exceptions, etc.
- Playbooks in the vein of Dungeon World. A pre-written character sheet for each class, including all the options you can take. Making a feat choice is just ticking a box.
- Cards are great for monsters, items, etc.
- Online tools: this is probably where all this is going. D&D has its own, but when I need to look something up at the table it is usually faster to just google it. In addition, character builders are very useful.
DM Screens are something I usually avoid because I object to the idea of hiding my rolls. However, they can be a very useful compilation of tables and rules.

I find that booklets might be one interesting way to have books that are easy to use on the table. ItU was apparently made with this in mind:

 The game is divided into five digest-sized booklets, optimized for use at the gametable:

  • Book 1: Characters holds all you need to quickly create a new character (52 pages)
  • Book 2: Playing the Game has all the essential rules for players to get going (28 pages)
  • Book 3: Magic is strictly for those players whose characters are spellcasters (54 pages)
  • Book 4: Running the Game has everything a Game Master needs for running old-school games (85 pages)
  • Book 5: Monsters holds a selection of ready-to-use critters, complete with morale scores and treasure types (65 pages)
These are all laid out and edited to be as quick to scan and find what you are looking for at the table as possible- no more getting bogged down by looking things up in play!
I like this idea. Notice that the GM book is the biggest one - and you can get it out of the way when you're playing.

There is probably something to be said about how cheap the books are (you can get the whole thing in print for 25 bucks). If you're actually going to use them a lot, this is specially important. Fancy, expense books are often made to be admired in a slower pace (again, I have nothing against them - I love beautiful books, especially with lots of monsters... even if they go mostly unused).

You could could even further. For example, big campaigns would be a lot easier to run with booklets - as WotC realized in the "deluxe" version of Curse of Strahd. No more page flipping between the table of encounters, the encounters themselves and then the monster stats.

I'd like to see that trend continue.

In short...

Big, expensive books are cool and attractive, both to old players and new. But if you are actually going to run these games, you might look into other tools.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Hexcrawl x Pointcrawl - when to use them

I've been through this a couple of times but I think it is worth a quick summary. 

I'm not going through definitions here. Let's just say that a hexcrawl means exploring a territory that is divided by hexes, with no clear paths, and a pointcrawl means exploring a territory through preexisting paths and points of interest. 

This is a typical hexcrawl map (source). Notice the lack of clear paths. We might have to count hexes to know the fastest way from k2 to k6, and we don't know if there is a road; this indicates that important details are missing form the map.

This is a typical pointcrawl map (source). You cannot make your own path; to get from Gettysburg to Grafton you must pass through Harper's Ferry.

You can have both at once (source):

Notice that some regions (upper right) have no clear paths. it's up to the travelers to choose their own way. For other places, there is usually no reason to avoid the roads; but we still have to calculate how long each road takes.

When to use each?

Well, I'm convinced that pointcrawls are more useful and hexcrawls are only good for an specific (but very popular) type of campaign: one in which the PCs go exploring the unknown wilderness beyond civilization.

Pointcrawls, on the other hand, are useful if you're dealing with roads, cities, caravans, or even when going though the wilderness with a guide; if the guide knows a place, it knows a good path to this place. A dungeon, with rooms and corridors, resembles a pointcrawl.

One thing about pointcrawls is that you should focus on paths, instead of only points of interest. How does the Old Road look like, and what kind of creatures use it, how long does it take to travel it? Etc. 

This kind of information is also important for any hexcrawl that uses roads or trails; why count hexes every time you go through a road instead of having these numbers beforehand?

And this forces you to think about the journey itself (or "expeditions"), which is good. You can estimate the duration of your travels. You can keep "STRICT TIME LIMITS" in a meaningful way.

As I've said before, Curse of Strahd should be a pointcrawl. Tomb of Annihilation would be a mix of both; the PCs rely on guides, so the paths should be previously known until they go out on their own. Descent into Avernus could be either; the abstract territory of Avernus shifts and changes.

The problem with pointcrawls, of course, is that you usually have fewer tools when you go "off the road" or get lost. However, this is not hard to calculate, and if you use the same way more than once you can add a new path to your map. The paths that already exist are used often even before you arrive; making new ones could be part of the adventure.

What about urban adventures? Well, most of the times they are neither. We are not dealing with wilderness, obviously, but streets are not exactly roads either; the path you take from point A to point B is often unimportant in most of our city dealings (barring ambushes, etc.). Maybe city adventures must be construed as a web of events or NPCs instead of places, but that's the subject for another post. If the city is in complete chaos or ruin, an hexcrawl might be a better fit, provided "zones" of the city are more important than specific streets.

Recommended reading:

http://hillcantons.blogspot.com/2012/01/crawling-without-hexes-pointcrawl.html - start here. this is the post that started it all AFAICT.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale DTRPG sale

DTRPG is making a Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sale.

It includes more than 12.000 titles... but don't worry, I'm here to help! Here are some of my favorites. They'll have special deals Friday and Monday.

Cyber Monday - best discounts

There are six special discounts for cyber Monday. They all look very cool, although I haven't played any. Mörk Borg looks amazing; as far as I know, the systems is ORS-ish and cool, although I haven't found anything that particularly attracts my interest other than the art and layout. Might get it anyway. Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Dissident Whispers, Wolves of God, Kamigakari: God Hunters, and Savage Worlds Adventure Edition are also 60% to 70% off.

Classic D&D

Some of my favorite classics are on sale, so I'll repeat what I've said before...

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia (Basic) is my favorite "all in one" book in the history of D&D. If I could only choose one book to run a campaign, it would probably be this one.

The Monstrous Manual (2e) is my favorite D&D monster book. Maybe because of the art, or nostalgia, or the amount of lore and relatively small stat-blocks.

The Dungeon Master's Guide (1e) is one of the best ever written. It has a few oddities, but it is amazing to see how much of 5e (and all editions) were already in here. Even the appendixes can generate lots of ideas... the bit on demons inspired my Teratogenicon.

The D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic) is the best D&D book for its size (about 64 pages). It contains multitudes despite being so small. It is the book that inspired Dark Fantasy Basic.

Planescape is another classic setting that you can get in PDF or print. Unfortunately, I haven't found Dark Sun or Ravenloft stuff in this sale...


Most stuff I've found in this sale is from Goodman Games. In addition to the amazing Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC RPG), I really like The Dungeon Alphabet and The Monster Alphabet - they are near system-less and full of awesome stuff. I STILL haven't read How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck but it is also on sale.

Worlds Without Number is probably the hottest "new" (released in April) OSR title on sale. I have only read the free version briefly, but seems very good overall, and I've appreciated many other titles form the same author.

Several Old School Essentials titles are also on sale.

D&D 5e and compatible

Also, I'll recommend the Kobold Press stuff... WITH ONE BIG CAVEAT: there is also a huge Black Friday sale over Humble Bundle where you can get all this stuff a lot cheaper. But if you want a book or two (or maybe you have some DTRPG credit like me), check Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts (both for 5th Edition). I have both and they are amazing.

BTW, the Dungeon Masters Guild is having a Black Friday sale too. You can find loads of 5e stuff there. One I can recommend is the Tomb of Annihilation Companion; you can find similar stuff for ALL official campaigns and they are often very useful.

Other things

The curious and recently released Pathfinder® for Savage Worlds Core Rules is also on sale... Now, I'm not a big fan of EITHER game, but this strange combination feels like the perfect amount of crunch for me. Might have to check it out.

My stuff!

My books are not included in this sale, for some reason. Anyway, I've just made a 50% discount for my OSR adventure The Wretched Hive; it will cost only 1.99 until Cyber Monday at least. 

100 Undead was already on sale (also 1.99), and I'll keep it till Monday too. I just noticed a recent positive review! Yay!

Teratogenicon is still at a special price if you buy print+PDF (if you already have the PDF, you probably received a discount coupon for the print version when it was made availiable).

These are all Affiliate links - by using them, you're helping to support this blog!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Teratogenicon - print version now available!

TERATOGENICON - our most impressive book so far - is a collection of tables and essays on how to create your own monsters.

It contains one chapter for each of the fourteen most famous monster types (aberrations, beasts, celestials, constructs, and so on). Each chapter examines specific habits, appearance, goals, traits, powers, origins, and many other topics. In addition, the appendixes will help you to create stats (for both old school and contemporary games), to roleplay monsters, and to include all monster types into a coherent whole, among other things.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Rick Troula (of The Displaced fame). Take a look at the previews to see for yourself!

After analyzing all the POD (print on demand) options, we've chosen to make the book available in softcover, in two versions: Premium Color Book and Standard Color. 

Both look awesome in print! The premium version looks sharper, brighter, with vivid shades of gray (see below). The paper feels glossier. The standard color is darker - both art and text - but the quality and resolution are mostly maintained.

We've decided to reject the B&W version, as the price difference is too small to justify a (slightly) lower quality (and some text/art visible through the back of the pages) for such a beautiful book. We've also decided that the book is too thin for hardcover, which would also make it more expensive. In both cases, if you have a different opinion, let us know!

As promised, we've sent previous costumers a discount coupon today. If you haven't bought the PDF before, you can buy both the PDF and the print version at the same time at a discounted price (we will keep this price for a week, at least). As always, you can buy bundles of our digital products for a great price. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Inverse Ravenloft

I've been reading Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. I know I'm late to the party, but I'm probably writing a review soon. If you want the TLDR: it is better than I thought. The art is not great (everything lookss a bit grey and computer-generated for my tastes), but the writing is above-average for WotC.


I got me thinking about an old idea I've read somewhere about "Inverse Ravenloft". 

Ravenloft is located in the Shadowfell, the depressing plane of shadow, nightmares, etc. It's inverse is the Feywild, the brightly-colored home of the fairy, dreams, and fairy-tale logic. Ravenloft is repetitive, predictable, still, while the Feywild is the opposite. 

Both are dangerous in their own ways. It wouldn't be much fun otherwise. 

I haven't read The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, and I'm not sure I'm going to, but it seems to have a structure that is somewhat similar to Curse of Strahd. 

In any case... what would an direct inversion of Curse of Strahd? Can we do this and still make it dangerous, scary and fun? 

Let's try. 

Vallaki. The village of Vallaki is ruled by a tyrant that wants to force everyone to look happy. Its reflection might be a place ruled by a "benevolent" ruler that needs everyone to be sad and depressed to make sure it can cheer them up. "Natural" happiness will cause suspicion. How could they be happy if not for the tyrant's interference?

Krezk. In Krezk, there is an abbey that houses the deformed, but mostly helpless and marginalized, "mongrelfolk". Its reflection is a place ruled by the sick and deformed. Ordinary people are institutionalized (and maybe eventually modified) for their own good. Instead of the isolation of the original Krezk, its mirror-Krezk welcomes strangers, as long as they are willing to conform. The original Abbot is an insane angel in disguise; its reflection is a subtle, scheming devil.

Village of Barovia. The original village of Barovia lies in the shadow of Castle Ravenloft. Everyone is afraid of being kidnapped by vampires at night. Its reflection suffers under the light of Castle Fey-something. They look at the castle and hope every day to be kidnapped and raised among the beautiful fairies, through endless parties, banquets, and no responsibility, forever.

Castle Ravenloft. Castle Fey-something is a beautiful place; maybe a stranger version of Castle Neuschwanstein. Instead of a nightmarish place full of undead, it is a dreamy place full of beauty, dance, and apparently harmless play. People want to get in but are rarely invited. Everything is always changing, even the truth, maybe even the past. Every time you open a new door, it might take you to a different place. Come to think of it, that's what I wanted Castle Ravenloft to be in the first place.

Argynvostholt. Originally a castle ruled by undead enemies of Strahd, now the last bastion of ugly, smelly, stubborn humans who insist on keeping their independence and their rudimentary ways. Probably located underground.

The Amber Temple. The evil temple is replaced by a warm summer grove. The Dark Powers are replaced by Powers of Light. They will offer you various gifts, and only ask good things in return. For example, you might never tell another lie again (and especially not badmouth the queen - that is a lie regardless of any other considerations), never harm an innocent (and all fey are innocent, even when they're trying to kill you), never show dissatisfaction with your beautiful surroundings, etc.

Lord Strahd. The Fey-queen is not a tyrant like Strahd; most of her subjects follow her willingly, and since she only wants the greater good, her minions are happy to imprison the recalcitrant for re-education, or even slay them if they can't appreciate the Queen's beauty. Someone has to rule the place, after all; left to their own devices, the humans might harm themselves or others. 

She is not admired for her immense power; instead, she is seem as a frail, delicate thing, who succeeded against all odds, and reluctantly accepts power to protect her subjects. If you doubt her best intentions, she might even shed a tear. She doesn't need an iron fist; she will strangle you with a silk rope, sincerely hoping you would just thank her for ridding the world of your miserable existence.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ford's Faeries (free OSR bestiary)

It's been a while but I think I have never mentioned this one in the blog... Well, I did share the Moon-Headed Giant, but not the finished product.

Anyway, back in the G+ golden days, Eric Nieudan issued an invitation/challenge for OSR creators to make up creatures using Henry Justice Ford's illustrations. He then turned into a free product (Ford's Faeries). I contributed with the one above; many great OSR creators contributed too. It gathered amazingly positive ratings and reviews. 

There are awesome, out of the box entries... collective creatures, time-travelling portals, random tables... Well worth your time!

Here is the blurb:

A bestiary inspired by the masterful work of Henry Justice Ford.

Meet the Moon-Headed Giant, the Leechlich, and the Fencer Familiar, and more than 50 other weird creatures fit for campaigns of every level. The full-page illustrations, often taken from fairytale books, have led our 15 authors to create original monsters that will give a quirky twist to your game. They all come with enough material to become the centerpiece of the session.

Contributors: Dan D., Daniel Lofton, 
Dat Epic Fish, 
Emmy Allen, Eric Diaz, Eric Nieudan, Goblin’s Henchman, Guillaume Jentey
, HD Atkinson, James V. West, Jean-Marc "Tolkraft" Choserot, 
Ktrey Parker, Magimax, 
Roger SG Sorolla, 
Sébastien d’Abrigeon, 
and Vance Atkins.

Stats are compatible with most early editions of Dave and Gary's game and their retroclones.

NOTE: none of the contributors are making any money for their writing. I (Eric Nieudan) collect a small margin (a little over a US dollar) to try and pay for the 60 or so hours spent on coordinating, editing, and layout. I'll appreciate the help if you get a copy!

Henry Ford's illustrations, of course, have the perfect OSR vibe:

FYI, "old Eric" pictured above has no relation to the author of this post or the book. ;)

So, if you're looking for an OSR bestiary... try this one! Get it here!

(Note: there is a Halloween sale going on in DTRPG . Almost all of my books are on sale. There are also new free titles every day. [affiliate links] Check it out!).

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

How far can you see (in hexes)?

Just a passing thought.

From the top of the Everest, you could theoretically see things that are more 300 kilometers away. I'd assume, however, that conditions are not always perfect, and that getting to the very top of the Everest is an adventure in itself (taking 6 to 10 weeks).

Six-mile hexes are almost 10 kilometers.
2. Horizon. Your average human in a flat area without any obstructions in view (think a becalmed sea) can see up to 3 miles. Thats the distance to the horizon best case scenario. So a party travelling straight through a 6 mile hex is not going to see out of it. Unless they climb a tree or find a high place with a view. But the idea is that a 6 mile hex with varied terrain covers the distance that the party can see. A good rule of thumb is that if they take the time to survey the surrounding land then a party should be able to be aware of the terrain of the next hex over. Some pushback might come with the idea that you can see a mountain quite a ways away. But mountains are tricky in that you really can't tell how far away they are until you are a few hexes away. Getting a good vantage point (like the top of a hill or mountain) could be the opportunity for adventure in itself and being aware of the lay of the land can be its own reward. If you want to be able to tell your players how far they can see when they climb up the hill or tree or tower a good rule of thumb is that the distance to the horizon is the square root of thirteen times the height they are viewing from (http://enwikipedia.org/wiki/horizon).
"The square root of thirteen times the height" would be okay if I could come up with mountains heights easily, which I can't (conveniently enough, the Everest is almost 6 miles high; an easy way to remember how tall the highest peak in your setting might be).

For my games, I'd prefer an easier formula, even if a bit inaccurate.

So, here is what I'm thinking: pick a number from 1 to 10. 1 is finding and climbing a high tree, 10 is finding and climbing the highest peak... IF available in your region (finding it should be easy!). That's how many hexes you can see. Also, if the number is 2 or greater, it takes at least as many days to get there - in addition to any hexes you traverse while getting there (I always thought that the expedition to the Amber Temple, in Ravenloft, should be very hard...).

(Here is a post on how to make a map, BTW).

Not sure this would be useful. Seeing further than a few hexes would be good if the players were looking for something specific. Maybe the Tomb of Annihilation? I often consider running this one again. Or other campaign that involves mapping and exploring. Let's see...

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Small Press Spotlight Sale - huge discounts

DTRPG is having a Small Press Spotlight Sale. This includes more than fifty thousand titles (all of my books are on sale).

I went looking for " titles has been marked down by up to 60%". I haven't found many books with 60% discount... except for my own! Dark Fantasy Basic is only 2 bucks right now. Probably one of the best prices I ever had.

Teratogenicon is also heavily discounted. The print version is (hopefully) coming soon, and I'll send customers of the PDF version an e-mail with a discount when ti comes out.

Other than that, here are some books that might be of interest:

Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe Edition is a great take on sword and sorcery OSR. I review an earlier version here.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is also a great AD&D sword & sorcery clone - this is the second edition, there is a third edition on the way.

Into the Unknown is one of my favorite "minimalist 5e" out there. Completely compatible with 5e.

Mythras is a d100 game (adjacent to Runequest) with cool combat mechanics, analyzed here.

The Chapel on the Cliffs is one of the best 3rd-party 5e adventures I've ever played. If you're looking for a 5e Halloween adventure, this is it. Recommended.

Warlock! and Troika! are "British OSR" games, inspired by Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Both look fantastic in different ways, but I haven't played them yet.

Did you find other good deals? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, October 05, 2021

HP bloat in old-school systems

We usually talk about HP bloat as a modern problem in D&D; something that started (or at least accelerated) in 3e and peaked around 4e and 5e. To sum it up, the idea is that a 9th-level fighter might have 50-60 HP in B/X, but more likely about 80-100 in modern D&D.

(I'm using B/X and 5e as my examples here because these are my favorite versions of D&D. The comparison is not perfectly suited for other editions. AD&D has bigger numbers than B/X overall, and BECMI goes all the way to level 36, while 4e goes to level 30)

Some people will even notice how modern PCs got it easier since they have more HP. In the old days, even a goblin could drop you with a single hit!

Well, this second part is just wrong. A 5e fighter has about 12 HP while a B/X fighter might have half as much. But while a B/X goblin might deal 1d6 damage, the 5e goblin deals 1d6+2 damage; it also has twice as many HP and can hide with a bonus action, which mean it is likely to attack you with advantage, increasing the chances of a hit (and of a critical hit). It's attack bonus is +4 (instead o ZERO), which you usually make PCs get hit more often than they did in B/X.

(As an aside, if you allow AD&D fighters extra attacks against HD 1-1 creatures, a 9th level fighter might have a BETTER chance against nine goblins than a 5e fighter!)

So, maybe the problem is not HP bloat, but everything bloat; HP is higher, but damage is also higher, and more powers are available. In 3e (and even more in 4e), attack bonuses and defenses were also a lot higher when compared with old school games. The same applies to skill bonuses, saving throws, and so on.

(This might be a problem when the inflation becomes REDUNDANT; say, by doubling all HP and ALSO all damage, or by giving ludicrous skill bonus but also enormous DCs. The advantage is that this gives more granularity; maybe too much).

5e dialed it back almost everywhere except HP and damage. A 9th level fighter might have a +8 or +9 attack bonus, while a B/X fighter has +5 (+7 on level 10). [This is part of what they call "bounded accuracy, BTW]

We could think of it this way: a fighter has to be level 7 on B/X to get that +5 bonus. At this point, he has 7d8 HP at least (it is likely that he has a bit more due to Con bonus; let's say about 35-40 HP). In comparison, a 5e fighter STARTS with a +5 attack bonus (and about 12 HP). This is unlikely to change until level 3 (which means about 24 HP).

In short... if you compare fighters with the same attack bonus, the old school fighter has more HP!

In other words, I think the right question is not "how many HP a 7th level fighter has in B/X when compared to 3e (or 4e, 5e)", but "what level do you have to be in 5e to be comparable with a 7th level fighter in B/X"?

There is not a perfect answer, but I'm guessing it would be about 3 or 4. Ultimately, this is comparing oranges and apples. But we can certainly say that a 7th level fighter in B/X has more in common with a 4th level fighter in 5e than a 7th level fighter in 5e!

Of course, this changes when you reach level 9; in old school games, your HP will raise slower after that. However, since you gain levels a lot faster, the amount of HP per XP is raised too!

Anyway... modern D&D does not exactly inflates HP; what does is that it takes PCs to a higher magnitude of power

For example, while in B/X you would reach (at most) level 14th with (at least) a +9 attack bonus and (at least) 9d8+10 HP, in 5e you can do the same by level 9, and you still have 11 more levels to go.  

Now, I'm not saying the modern method is better; in fact, I usually stop my campaigns by level 10 when playing 5e, and even published campaigns usually stop around 10-13th. The "additional tiers" of play that modern D&D adds are a lot less useful for me than each of the 14 levels you can get in B/X. My own game stops at level 10 (which is roughly comparable with level 14th in B/X). Because of that, material for higher levels are mostly "filler" for me - but they might be useful and fun for other players.

In short, "HP bloat" is not really a thing that can be separated from "power bloat" (or, at least, "numbers bloat"). The important part is not how many HP you've got, but what kind of heroes (or superheroes) you want to play.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Warduke's armor and nostalgia ramblings

With 5.5e coming soon, I was made acutely aware that some of my love for D&D (including 5e) is driven by nostalgia. I have noticed the new products are not for me since Tasha's, at least. 

I still like 5e, but I do not think I'll convert to 5.5e. If I can ever finish it, I'll be playing my minimalist 5e instead.

In addition, I have more 5e books than I need, and I don't think I'm buying new books unless they came up with a good campaign (like Curse of Strahd and Tomb of Annihilation, despite all the flaws of both products). Is The Wild Beyond the Witchlight this book? Not sure, I'll wait for more reviews.

The thing that made me curious about the book is the presence of Warduke. I barely remember anything about him except his cool looks (which haven't been improved in the picture below IMO), but, again, it does hit me in the nostalgia.

This version by Timothy Truman is probably my favorite. The helmet looks better, IMO, and the bare chest gives him a "barbarian" (or gladiator?) look. And the short stat block is awesome... Imagine if all 8th-level fighters could be described in a similar space... the game would be a lot lighter.

But does the armor make sense? Well, by the looks of it, it might have been made from bits and pieces of other sutis of armor. Even the boots are different from one another. Maybe he is indeed a barbarian and a full suit or armor is hard to come by. It counts as "plate mail" anyway.

Would it be useful in a fight? Yes, as long as the armor protects the side of the sword - while the shield protects most of the rest (unfortunately, some artists seem to forget that). This is the reasoning behind some gladiator's armor (although I've also heard that defeat by dismemberment was less enjoyable to the Roman audience...). 

I can imagine not armoring your shield arm to make yourself lighter. It could work for a one on one duel, although in grappling or war you could easily be stabbed in the gut...

Anyway, no version of D&D that I can remember has rules for asymetric armor. Maybe some version of Runequest or its derivatives.

I prefer to keep these thing a bit more abstract. Here is how I do it (in case you haven't read this before): "Let the players choose how they present their armor, as long as it makes sense. Chain mail with breast plate and no helmet? Cool! Shoulder pads to protect you in your right arm, big scary helmet, and bare chest? Nice!"

Just abstract the looks and judge armor by its weight. And quality too - but that adds another dimension. I wrote a book for 5e on this matter - 5e Manual of Arms: Armor & Shields. If you like the subject, check it out! Or take a look at my other posts on armor.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

So D&D 5.5e is really coming out in 2024 (official)

I thought we wouldn't know so soon, but apparently we are getting D&D 5.5e in 2024. 

I heard about this on Reddit. The talk was included in the Future of DnD panel (around 08 hours and 10 minutes in). As the redditor mentioned, "They used the words "new evolution" and "new version", but not "new edition". They also confirmed that it's going to be backwards compatible with 5e.".

"New version", "backwards compatible"... Crawford mentions that the game "is always evolving" in the video, Winniger is talking about "new versions of the core rulebooks" with feedback on existing classes... etc.

Yeah, I'm betting on something like 5.5e.

This will coincide with the 50 year anniversary of D&D.

My opinion? Well, I'm a bit surprised, but not excited nor disappointed. 

5e definitely needs a 5.5 version, because the new options in Tasha's and other books change some fundamental things about the game; so this is positive IMO. But I'm not really confident that they will improve the game a lot. Every change will have its fans and detractors, and making the game fundamentally simpler and more straightforward is basically impossible without alienating the (huge) fanbase that started playing with 5e. 

They are probably not fixing weapons and armor, and I'm not sure they even fix the champion (although at the very least I expected the beastmaster ranger to be improved!). I'm betting they'll add more options and few rules changes.

I'll probably be playing with 5e, the SRD and some house rules regardless of what WotC does at this point.

Also, we are getting a new monster book, Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse. I dunno, the Creature Codex is hard to beat. Well, we'll see.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

"Race requirements" (B/X) might be the best mechanic for fantasy "races"

I recently wrote a post about adding fantasy races to Dark Fantasy Basic.

Since then, I've been thinking about the various mechanics that D&D has used to implement fantasy. Basic D&D is somewhat unique in using "race as class" (i.e., you're either a dwarf OR a fighter). However, class and level limitations (i.e., a dwarf cannot be a wizard and can only advance until level 8 as a fighter) are common in old school D&D.

In modern D&D (3e, 4e and 5e), dwarf gets bonuses in certain abilities (Strength, Constitution, etc.); in some cases, there are penalties too.

This is somewhat limiting, both in mechanics (by making some race/class combination forbidden or so bad they won't exist in practice) and setting (some setting could have great dwarf wizards, for example, and every people should have its warriors). Of course, the settings might have its build in limitations - dwarven culture frowns upon magic, etc. - but this shouldn't necessarily be built into the mechanics.

In addition, there are people who object to playing creatures that are "dumb" or "weak" on average (although this is circumvented by giving EVERYONE - including humans - bonuses and no penalties... which is just semantics as dwarves are still dumber than humans on average, and occasionally makes humans better or worse than all others).


It occurred to me that having "minimum requirements" for some races solves lots of these (real or perceived) problems, and creates additional positive consequences.

Say, for example, that dwarves need Constitution 9 (assuming you're using 3d6 in order to generate attributes). This means that the most frail dwarves are still healthier than humans, but it DOESN'T say the dwarf is much more likely to be the toughest guy in the party - or that he is much more likely to be dumb or clumsy. It is just that, if he HAS a weakness, it is probably somewhere else. It also DOESN'T say he is limited in his class choices, etc. It does say that most dwarves are at least a bit healthy, which tells you something positive about each creature.

This limits player choice in an interesting way: if your Constitution is lower than 9, you cannot be a dwarf. So, your ability score rolls will suggest (but usually not force) not only class but also race.

It also makes sense. Want to play an ogre? Maybe you need Strength 13 minimum. You could negotiate a frailer specimen with your GM, etc., but usually ogres are strong, although some humans are even stronger.

In addition, this seems like the SIMPLEST mechanic available. It is binary. You do not have to recalculate or set limits to ability score or class. You can get a vague about how dwarf society might function, but you cannot pidgeon-hole dwarf individuals.

Of course, if dwarves get additional powers (darkvision), this has to be balanced somehow, but this is easily done by giving humans a power or two to compensate.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Curse of BloodStone Isle (5e dark fantasy Kickstarter by Mark Rein-Hagen)

The Curse of BloodStone Isle is in its final days on Kickstarter. This KS is a part of LOSTLORN - a dark fantasy roleplaying game by Mark Rein-Hagen (creator of World of Darkness), with the participation of many creations and artists.

I worked briefly in the project a while ago but ended up being unable to continue due to personal limitations. Still, I love many of the ideas included in the setting - vampire knights and pirates in a quasi-renaissance dark fantasy setting just sound awesome to me! It has all the trappings of a good setting. I'm very excited to see how the final product turns out.

The system is a modified version of 5e - new classes, skills, mechanics, etc.

Here is a small preview.

If you like dark fantasy, 5e, and MRH's work, you should check this KS out!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Should monsters "know what they're doing"?

I haven't read much of The monsters now what they're doing, but I like what I've seen. 

It seems to be a collection of "combat tactics" at a first glance (i.e., how the monsters should behave in combat for optimal party-killing), but on a second glance it's actually a lot better than that: it contains relevant reflections about whether the monsters should fight (and continue fighting) in the first place:
When a corpse flower is seriously wounded (reduced to 50 hp or fewer), its self-preservation impulse kicks in to tell it that it’s not going to survive just by digesting its corpse collection. Lacking the Intelligence to Disengage, it Dashes away in whichever direction it senses the fewest enemies in.

(Bone knight)
Their Charisma is high enough that an encounter will probably involve some measure of parley, and maybe only parley—they understand, after all, that it’s better to get what you want without fighting if you can—but their social skill proficiencies are in Intimidation and Deception, so we’re not talking about good-faith negotiation here. Instead, this combination suggests to me that they’re about trying to get their opponents to capitulate, through a combination of outright bullying and more subtle manipulation. Any rhetorical maneuver an abuser might use is right up the bone knight’s alley: direct and indirect threats; negative reinforcement; false accusations; gaslighting; DARVO; demonstrations of explosive anger and sudden, unpredictable violence; dividing enemies by singling out individuals among them for particular blame; and so on.
I feel that this kind of reflection is even more valuable that "monster tactics", because it's more scarce in the "official" D&D 5e books. If anything, I'd like to see more of this kind of material instead of monster strategy and tactics.

Which is why I've added a chapter on "Roleplaying Monsters" in my Teratogenicon book, including all the stuff that I find lacking in 5e: reactions, morale, encounter distance, etc. Here is a bit:
Each monster has its own capacities, knowledge and
goals. Most monsters know nothing about the characters
and their powers, even if the GM does. Do not fall into the
trap of assuming the monster will always come to the right
conclusions. “The old guy with a staff is probably a sorcerer”
should be an uncommon line of thought – instead, he is
most likely someone that needs a walking aid, at least until
he casts a spell. A huge fighter with a sword, on the other
hand, is clearly someone you should watch.
Once the player characters start fighting and using their
abilities, some things will become obvious, and monsters
will react accordingly. Still, most monsters will not be able
to see the whole picture at once. One easy way to dealing
with this is assuming most monsters will attack whoever
hurt them most (individually, not as a group) since their last
turn, unless they have an obvious reason to do otherwise.
A good leader or tactician can change everything – he
can order the other monsters to work as a group, making
the best choices for their side even if he needs to sacrifice
a soldier or two. A good plan will make monsters ten
times more dangerous, at least until it is derailed. A careful
study of the PCs tactics will give the monsters an edge
(and vice-versa). 
In short, play monsters not as pawns, but as individuals.
Intelligent, experienced monsters will fight intelligently,
bestial monsters will fight instinctively, and stupid monsters
will often make dumb mistakes.
I've heard people say that there is no real "balance" in any D&D fight - if there was, the monsters would win about half the time! That's a fair criticism. "Balance" is a bit of a misnomer if the monsters are punching bags, meant to die in order to spend the PC's resources.

On the other hand, it might be worth remebering that monsters aren't traps. Their have their own issues. 

Why should every monster be waiting behind the door to kill the PCs? Why should they picks fights with someone more powerful (or even less powerful) that often? Should ma lion be an expert on fighting PCs... or hunting deer? Why should monsters be "fresh" for every fight? If PCs - who are, more or less, rational beings - get into half a dozen fights before dinner, how often would chaotic evil creatures fight each other? Why is it so rare to find wounded (or malformed), starved or cowardly creatures in published modules?

Then there is personality, society, diet, habitat, etc... D&D 5e is not particularly concerned about these issues, as we've seen. This makes monsters feel a bit one-dimensional unless you choose to do a "deep dive" like "The monsters now what they're doing" does.

Anyway, this makes me think that maybe monsters should sometimes choose suboptimal tactics. Maybe they are dumb, feral, os just desperate. They do not know that this is their last fight - why should they use every resource they have against the PCs? 

But this is a heavy burden to place over the shoulder of the GM. You cannot consider whether each monster has eaten or fought that day, or whether he is scared enough after a couple of wounds to keep fighting. 

That's why having specific procedures in place is very helpful. In addition to reaction, morale, and rolling randomly for HD before a fight, assigning random tactics and attacks is also an interesting idea. It is something that 13th Age and Low Fantasy Gaming do: "if the dragon rolls a 19, it uses breath weapon", etc. This is also helpful to overcome the urge to adjust the monster tactics to the convenience of the game (for example, making monsters fight more efficiently if the fight feels too easy, or, covnersely, "pulling punches" when you want to "save" the PCs).

Well, I guess this is something to consider for my next book - a collection of monsters inspired by Brazilian folklore. The first one has long claws, cloven hooves, the head of an anteater and subsides on small kittens and human brains. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

5e quick fix: classes

 My minimalist 5e project is going very slowly. It always seems that I have to choose between sticking close to 5e or going full minimalist. Anyway, I'm unsure about that one. I think I might release something anyway, just so people can play with that as they wish.

If you want to take a look or comment on it, I'll often be talking about it here in the blog, but I've also started a thread in the GitP forum. Feel free to participate!

With that said... 

5e is a decent enough game. Probably my second-favorite version of D&D. I get the feeling that the "fixes" it needs are minimal. So, instead of writing a minimalist version of 5e, maybe I should just use 5e with house rules? Or, as I call them, "quick fixes"? We'll see. I'm currently playing Shadow of the Demon Lord and I like it. But D&D still has something enticing for me.

Anyway, here are some small fixes, for example, that I'd add to existing classes. 


- Indomitable - when you re-roll, you have advantage.

- Improved crit also adds your prof bonus to crits.

- Expertise to athletics or acrobatics.

- Remarkable Athlete also applies to damage.


Divine Sense used at will.


Frenzy: costs one HD instead of exhaustion.


Colossus Slayer: the extra damage is according to the target's HD (for example, giants would take an extra 1d10 or 1d12; 1d20 for gargantuan creatures. Colossus slayer indeed!)


- Ki is equal to level + wis.


- Uses sorcery points exclusively. (TBH I want all spellcasters to do that, but that's another story...)


Any other quick fixes you would use for 5e?