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, April 29, 2021

Information overload: organizing > creating

I have about 3,500 RPG products in my computer (and maybe 50 physical RPG books). Even if I disregard stock art, images, and duplicates, I must have more than a couple of thousand of RPG books in total. Most of them were free or on sale, but I probably spent too much on them, since I will never read - let alone use - more than 1% of those.

In fact, even if I played only good games I can get for free - BFRPG, OSE, etc. - I'd still have more stuff than I could ever read. You could say OSR games make this worse - since much of the text ends up being copied and pasted from the SRD, so you end up with lots of redundancy. Well, I doubt having ten different systems to resolve tasks such as breaking down a door is any better.

This is why I still write some reviews in this blog, even if they don't seem to be particularly popular. Finding a great product can be almost as valuable as writing one.

In short... creating RPGs is nice. But so is finding and classifying them, so you can choose what to read; revisiting old games, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every few years; discarding games that are bad (and saying it in public!) so we don't waste our time; and so on. Another great idea: getting a game and telling people what is unique/special about it, since most of every game will be repeating something written in the seventies anyway.


Anyway, I have written a few books regardless. Mostly because I couldn't find the books that were perfectly suited for my tastes (although books such as Moldvay's Basic*, the Rules Cyclopedia, and Shadow of the Demon Lord*, among others, get close). Some RPGs I've read were so good that I felt like I had nothing to add - and I gave up on a few projects because of that (which is why I find so difficult to write my own DMG, for example). Some projects I almost gave up until I could find why they had to be written. And I tried to be terse in ALL my books. Believe me, writing a 60-page book can be harder than writing 100 pages and leaving everything in, regardless of quality.

(BTW, if you do reviews and are interested in my stuff... let me know!)

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Making something coherent, and better than existing products (at least in SOME aspect), is a lot harder.

The same problem I have across books, I see within existing books as well - which is even worse, since I have to swim through redundant information even after I pick the book I want to read. For example, how 5e repeats the definition of "extra attacks", "darkvision", and "fighting styles" multiple times across the same book, or how 90% of the monsters from de 2e MM had three lines describing "Special Defenses: Nil" and "Magic Resistance: Nil" (more about that here).

I would like writers should do the same with the rules: index stuff so we can find it. Organize it with a good ToC, Index, cross-references, different colors or symbols, roughly one idea per page, etc. Avoid repetition so we can save time. Cut useless things from your games - "inutilia truncat"! This is the reasoning behind Minimalism, Elegance and Multipurpose Mechanics . Make sure you're not just reinventing (or repeating) something that Gygax, Arneson or others already solved decades ago - unless, of course, you have a reason for that.

And, by all means, tell us what is unique about your game from the start!

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

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise (OSR RPG review)

Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise* is a sequel to Cha'alt, an OSR with "weird" and "gonzo" settings turned to eleven (this thing is strange!). Here is part of the blurb:

Cha'alt: Fuchsia Malaise is a continuation of the Cha'alt campaign setting and dungeon extravaganza. Eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic awesomeness compatible with the original RPG all the way up to 5th edition.

In this book, I detail the city of A'agrybah, along with various adventuring locales - the largest being an offworlder high-tech facility called Elysium. Lots of gorgeous maps, random tables, NPCs, magic items, and monsters.

Why did I buy/read this? The author offered me a review copy (we interact very occasionally on social media). I reviewed some of his stuff in the past and I must confess I was curious. I like some weirdness in my games, and I find most modules I read a bit tame on that regard... while Cha'alt, like it or not, is seldom tame about anything.

I love this cover!

First, let's get a couple of things out of the way. This is very much in the same tone to the first book in the series, and chances are you'll like both, or neither. So, take a quick read at the first review if you want to know what the first book is about. The books CAN be used separately, but they complete each other nicely. This second one is in many ways more polished, interesting, and useful for non-Chaalt games than the first, but the first has the Black Pyramid, the setting's most important place.

If you are curious, it might be a good idea to get this one first. You can explore the setting a little, and if you like it get the first one to plan your expedition to the Black Pyramid.

A second thing I'll mention is that this is NOT exactly compatible "with the original RPG all the way up to 5th edition". It is an OSR game, with decent OSR stats, and that's about it, except for the appendixes (see below). Of course, adapting it to 5e is not hard if you ahve some experience with these systems.

It has some 5e-isms in layout, etc., which I didn't particularly enjoy; but if you like this aspect of 5e, you might like this. In fact, I think Cha'alt's approach to layout, changing colors from one section to another, is in some aspects more interesting than the average 5e book.

What is Cha'alt? 

As we've seem in the first review, Cha'alt is a deserted alien planet based on "post-apocalyptic fiction such as Dune (lots of Dune), Dark Sun, Carcosa, etc., plus Lovecraft and others". BTW, now we also have demons, which I might have missed the first time around. These are actual demons, that come from Hell to tempt your characters. In a setting that already has aliens, elves, cyborgs, spaceships, and lovecraftian monsters (not to mentions brothels, pizzas, communists, and "The Author" appearing as a NPC). We ALSO get "crimson space demons with horns, cloven hooves, and black eyes", but these come from space... so probably unrelated.

If this sounds like too much, this book is probably not for you. If you LIKE this level of weirdness, you'll hardly find it anywhere else. Cha'alt remains quite unique, as far as I can tell.

And some of the premises are really interesting. I like the idea of an expeditionary base exploiting a strange planet, and the factions that come out of it. Some want to protect the planet, others want to join the galactic federation, some want to go rogue, some want to get rich (despite the environmental price), some want to awaken the elder gods that can destroy everything... It has the features of a good setting: factions, a flexible social order, shades of gray, etc.

What does this book add to the first one? 

Quite a lot, actually.

It starts with a (random) collection of random tables, meant to generate NPCs, plots, and so on. The new races are more interesting than the ones in the first books, and I like the new NPCs and PC/NPC traits a bit better this time around. We have names, backgrounds, social class, and so on.

There are some random tables of "house rules" of sorts: tables for reactions, morale, loyalty, disguised attempts, a table to tell you if the PCs fall in love... I found those unnecessary (I'd assume you already have them from other games) and not particularly interesting. Then there are tables about drugs, diseases, visions... which are fitting.

Then, we get the setting parts: a city, some dungeons, locations, encounters, etc. I found this quite useful. The first time I've read Cha'alt I felt like I didn't know where to start, but this has plenty of small things you can use to fill your sessions before the players march to the black pyramid.

The whole thing is uneven like the first one. Great art, bad art, cool layout, interesting ideas, silly jokes, things that could be inserted into any RPG setting and things that have no place in any RPG book. Once or twice, while reading this book, I've manage to visualize a world in which all of those disparate elements could form a coherent, awesome whole. In my mind, it looked like something out of The Hyperion Cantos or Dying Earth. All things considered, I think this could become a great campaign, but I'm not sure it would be easy to run.

The Appendix includes "Crimson Dragon Slayer D20", "Cha'alt Ascended", and "OSR Like A Fucking Boss".The first is an updated version of the rules included in the first book. If you like my "minimalist D&D" posts, this in an interesting take. The second is a collection of feats. They are all over - some are good, some are useful, some make no sense, etc. The third is a collection of OSR advice that's quite sensible for the most part.

This is what I mean by "uneven". But most of the art is very good.

OVERVIEW (explanation here):

Useful? It should be obvious by this point that this book is very useful if you like your games weird and funny. Even if you do not want to play in such a strange setting, there are good random tables that you can use for other types of weird games - especially the NPC tables. These are really good.

Inspiring? Yes, in a strange way. It got me thinking of how to use these ideas in my own games, which is definitely a plus.

Bloated? Not really. It contains a lot, but not a lot of filler.

Tiresome? The book is not exactly tiresome, but it does make you roll your eyes in some passages. If you dislike crude humor, puns, sarcasm, etc., this is not the book for you. Overall, I think it has enough interesting stuff to keep you engaged.

Clear? Mostly. The book contains a good Table of Contents and a good Index, which I really appreciate. It is not particularly well organized, and some entries are not in the Table of Contents for some reason ("NPC traits" is in the "Pandorum" chapter... or... are there chapters? anyway...). The map is simple, good-looking and effective.

In short: If you want to read something strange, funny, and unpredictable, you might like this one. If you liked the first one, you'll certainly like this.

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

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Why is Clark Ashton Smith missing from the appendix N? And more...

In my last post I've mentioned that one of the reasons I find the 1e DMG so relevant is that "even the Appendixes generated entire books about them. The Appendix N is the most famous one..."

Here is the Appendix N, BTW. From the first DMG:

Inspiration for all the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors [sic] and dauntless swordsmen.

Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples.

Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950.

The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!
Brackett, Leigh
Brown, Frederic
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: "Pellucidar" series; Mars series; Venus series
Carter, Lin: "World's End" series
de Camp & Pratt: "Harold Shea" series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August
Dunsany, Lord
Farmer, P. J.: "The World of the Tiers" series; et al
Fox, Gardner: "Kothar" series; "Kyrik" series; et al
Howard, R. E.: "Conan" series
Lanier, Sterling: HIERO'S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz: "Fafhrd & Gray Mouser" series; et al
Lovecraft, H. P.
Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; "Hawkmoon" series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre
Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; "Ring trilogy"
Weinbaum, Stanley
Wellman, Manley Wade
Williamson, Jack
Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; "Amber" series; et al
The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you.
- E. Gary Gygax, 1979, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 224
Well, why not Clark Ashton Smith? He was one of the "three greats" of Weird Tales magazine (with HPL and REH), and his writing, to me, fits D&D so perfectly... maybe even more than REH and HPL... it is weird, dark, funny, full of supernatural beings and strange places. He writes of desperate adventures in dying worlds, losing life and limb while facing terrible monsters.

He is also, as far as i can tell, a huge influence on Vance - which was probably Gygax's favorite author.

And I can't help thinking the "geas" spell cames from "The Seven Geases", but I bet you could find many other examples (a Reddit user commented that the shadow monster comes from "The Double Shadow"). The Castle Amber module is explicitly based on Smith's Averoigne. It was written by Tom Moldvay (who DID include CAS in the Basic's version of the Appendix N).

Well, I love Clark Ashton Smith, so this got me really curious. I always thought this was an oversight from Gygax.

But I am obviously not the only one asking that question...

Interviewer: We have a couple more questions from the chat, folks are asking about Clark Ashton Smith what you think of Clark Ashton Smith and what you think about why he may or may not have been listed in the appendix N?

Kask: Clark Ashton Smith was one of Gary's favorites. I have read a couple though, on Gary's recommendation, I got to say that was so many years ago that if I … if I… if I saw the title I could… but there are not any that stand out in my head right away.

I have an excuse for that […] I'm probably a problem reader, in that I read so much and I mean I read it at least a novel a week […] I'm a voracious reader and most of its residing back there in.. huh… deeper memory than RAM.


Interviewer: And do you feel like Clark Ashton Smith’s exclusion from the appendix N was intentional or was more of an oversight?

Kask: As I recall, and again I got a beg […] the ignorance of age and disuse, his writing was somewhat ponderous.

Interviewer: That's very fair.

First thing I've got to say is that this is well wroth listening. It provides some interesting insight on the choice of authors in the appendix N. Apparently, some were excluded for being too "ponderous", risqué, not family-friendly, or hard to read/understand (which is why we have only 20th century authors). Gor is mentioned as a book series that couldn't have been included for having too much sex, which makes me assume Kask and Gygax were familiar with it (IIRC, Gor was a big influence on Arneson).

The idea, apparently, was listing books that were easy to find and read so people could "get" what D&D was about. These were books people would be familiar with, that children could read without upsetting their parents, etc.

Anyway, before this interview, I had come across some bit and pieces.

First, in Dragonsfoot: I don't know who the authors of the comments are except the one in the middle (Allan Grohe):
Gary was never a fan of CAS. I find it hard to imagine Gary just never happened to read CAS (considering all the stuff Gary DID read), so maybe Gary just honestly disliked CAS or even found CAS distasteful.
That said, there were plenty other authors Gary read and enjoyed who did not make it into Appendix N — E.R. Eddison springs to mind — simply because he didn’t consider them particularly influential on D&D.
IIRC, Rob introduced CAS to Gary, and Gary enjoyed him, but not as much as other authors from Appendix N: CAS may have been too literary in tone and flavor, perhaps? Rob's answering Qs over on DF again, so it's a good time to ask him about that history
Anyway, he may not have been as big a CAS fan as Rob is, but he certainly did not dislike him. Gary was never timid about expressing his opinions with me; if he didn't like CAS, these things would not have made their way into the ms.
"Rob" is Rob Kuntz, one of the earliest members of TSR. Unfortunately, I didn't find a direct answer from him, only this:
Clark Ashton Smith: My favorite fantasy/weird author. The Emperor of Dreams as he was self-styled (re: The Hashish Eater)
If there was ever an author that existed during that period who could have ensorcelled words better than he for both prose and poetry, I am not aware of them.
"Connect to" D&D is rather vague phrase, Rossik. I reject the Appendix N list in AD&D as being other than a Recommended Reading list by EGG and not as what influenced major aspects of D&D. His 1911 set of Encyclopedia Britannica, which I read quite often, were more influential in that regard. As far as inspirational matter, that's a bird of a different colored plumage. For me it's all of the Mythos/Weird authors, and I place as most high on that list and right alongside Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith. Derleth fits in; and so does Robert Bloch. Then one can march down the Arkham House backlist and start pegging the rest. Manly Wade Wellman is the overlapping WT author from the first to second wave in that magazine, and quite honestly a great writer of the weird and supernatural in his own right and sorely overlooked until recently.

Robilar, Vanquisher of Dragons
So, not much clarification about Gygax here... but interesting stuff nonetheless.

There is also this episode of Sanctum Secorum, with Ernie Gygax, where he mentions the Appendix N as just a list of books Gary had on his shelf - and Clark Ashton Smith was not one. He does mention Gor as a book series that have been omitted on purpose.

What to think of that? Well, Tim Kask makes a good case for the choices in the Appendix N being very deliberate. He would know, since he helped Gygax in writing AD&D. It makes sense that Eddison would be excluded for his incredibly demanding prose (much more than CAS). It's difficult to say whether Gygax liked CAS or not... but I would think a mere dislike is not the reason for the exclusion.

EDIT: two people commented on social media that Gygax didn't like CAS, while others sAy he hadn't read CAS by 79. I'm looking for sources so I can add them here.

Why do I care? I have no idea. It is just a curiosity I have, am happy to have learned a bit more about the appendix N, and maybe other people would find this useful

BTW, you can find Clark Ashton Smith's stories for free, online. Now go read them and tell me what you think! You can start with The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis, one of my favorites, or The Beast of Averoigne, The Tale of Satampra Zeiros, The Empire of the Necromancers, The Isle of the Torturers, The Abominations of Yondo and so on. Each of them is both great fun and perfect inspiraiton for your D&D games.

If you haven't read those... you can thank me later! ;)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Shoulders of giants (50 years of RPGs)

Today is an important day for Role Players. Yet, after searching my news feed it also seems to be yet another secret history day. No one in the news media has bothered to do an article. Most gamers are just plain unaware of how significant today is, because Gary Gygax's and Dave Arneson's names are no longer on the game book covers.
​Without that connection between the names and the game, the two creators of D&D are fading into obscurity despite all they have done for the hobby.
50 years ago today, a group of gamers gathered in the basement of the Arneson home in St. Paul, Minnesota...
This interesting post, plus some talk about the original DMG, got me thinking about the roots of D&D.

I'm not the greatest fan of playing Chainmail, OD&D or even AD&D, to be honest. My favorite version of old-school D&D is Moldvay's Basic, because I think that the books that came before that were hard to understand and full of inconsistencies (AD&D had complicated rules that not even Gygax used).

[I'm not particularly interested in discussing the exact date either; that's not the point here].

But reading these original books is incredibly useful.

I have a half-written post about how finding, compiling, and organizing things is as important as creating new ones. "Rescuing" certainly can be added there.

In the context of "minimalist D&D", it is worth mentioning that Arneson was playing he types of games I would call "minimalist" in 1971.

Look at this document:

You can find some information about it here.

Now, this might not be a RPG; apparently it is part of a wargame (or something "transitional"). As you can see, Arneson had minimalist stats for characters... including a "Miscellaneous" stat apparently! This is similar to "proficiency bonus" or "expertise" avant la lettre.  And... sex? Well, who knows. Maybe sex appeal or something else entirely.

Comparing this early stuff to AD&D might make one think that it was Gygax that added needless complexity to the game.

But that would be unfair, IMO. It is obvious to me that you needed both Arneson and Gygax for crafting the masterpiece that early D&D is, and Gygax contributions is more abundant and obvious (if not necessarily more important).

(And apparently Arneson would soon be adding rules that I might find too complicated in his own games).

Case in point: the original DMG*.

The 1e DMG is all Gygax, and it is probably the best DMG there is. 

It is amazing to see how little later editions have improved (when they did, which is seldom). Everything is there already; the classic magic items, NPC creation, AWESOME dungeon dressing, GREAT campaign advice (mixed with some odd stuff, surely). It talks about bell curves, something the 5e DMG apparently found unimportant (preferring to add "automatic success" rules that barely take probabilities into consideration).

[What modern editions certainly added is organization, looks, and layout; I feel like I "own" modern D&D some praise because of that, and I'll write a post soon].

Even the Appendixes generated entire books about them. 

The Appendix N is the most famous one - it inspired DCC RPG*, one of my favorite RPGs, and at least one literary analysis book and one anthology. with "appendix N" in the name! 

The Appendix D (random generation of creatures from the lower planes) planted the seed for the Teratogenicon and other books of the sort. One single paragraph ("STRICT TIME LIMITS") is the source of endless debate.

The original DMG is one of those books that leave you in awe. It makes you wonder if there is anything left of value to add to that. There is treasure to be found in every section.

I've said before that apparently "most of the possible variations were created in the few years that followed the publication of D&D, and subsequent editions just adopted one or another without really innovating that much.".

To that, I should add this: 

The original D&D games, published in the 70s, contained a vast trove of information we are still exploring. The amount of material we've added in the last 40 years has not surpassed the genius of the original ones or made them obsolete, and at this time we are not sure it ever will.

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

5e Manual of Arms: Armor & Shields - now availiable!

Here is an organized compilation of all my recent thoughts on 5e armor:




Manual of Arms is a series of booklets that enhance, change and reinterpret existing equipment and mechanics for non-magical combat. Each booklets deal with a single subject. If there is enough interest, they’ll be collected in a single tome in the future.

What is this book about? This book is a collection of ideas to make armor and shields more diverse, streamlined, balanced, varied, and fun. Many ideas in this book are updated and adapted from other iterations or other games.

Which game system? This book contains ideas that are useful for many games. However, the main focus is the world’s most famous role-playing game, in its latest version.


It is cheaper than a cup of coffee, but readers of this blog can buy it even cheaper using this coupon (good until the end of April, but get it now - it is a great way to support this blog!):

And, of course, if you get already have all my stuff, the discount is even better:

Thank you!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Piecemeal armor

This is going into my next PDF (Manual of Arms: Armor and Shields). It is still unfished, but I think I can publish the PDF in the next few days.

I like the idea of piecemeal armor, but since I'm abstracting the whole thing (as you've seen here), I don't need to deal with specific bits and pieces. The notion of creating your own armor from bits and pieces is interesting. Adding strange materials and the hides of supernatural creatures is even better.

Here is what I've got so far.

Art by dleoblack - source.

Piecemeal armor (and crafting)

Piecemeal armor is built from diverse bits and pieces. Each part might have a different quality, weight, and material. Some are improvised and asymmetrical. This is suboptimal and only common in post-apocalyptic worlds where you cannot find a blacksmith to make coherent armor.

The rules in chapter II are abstract enough to cover these kinds of armor. The only exception is that you do not usually buy this type of armor, but build it over a long time, as you find useful pieces.

As an optional rule, every time you find armor with equal or higher cost than yours (that you cannot simply steal for some reason) or other useful parts, you can make a check with the relevant tools (leatherworker’s, smith’s, etc.) to see if you can upgrade your armor by one step (changing AC, weight and price accordingly). The difficulty is equal to the armor’s current AC.

This can take a while. A quick rule of thumb is adding the result of your check (in gp) each day to the value of armor until it reaches the value of the desired armor type. If you want to upgrade a weapon from a 30 gp value to 50 gp, for example, you need to roll 20 or more. Three failures usually mean you ruined the material. Armor made this way has little resale value.


EDIT: The book is now available! Check it out here.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Monster stats - minimalism x efficiency

Timothy S. Brannan has recently written an interesting post on The Other Side blog, comparing monster stat blocks in different old school systems. Take a look, it is well worth the read.

Making smaller stat blocks is an idea I've been pursuing myself in the context of "minimalist D&D". But, once again, I realized "minimalism" might be misleading, so terms such as efficiency, essentialism or elegance might be clearer - even though the very concept of minimalist, as I've mentioned in the link above, is exposing the essence of things.

“Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design […] where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.” (source)


Look at these two stat blocks (from Timothy's post).

The second one is from Swords & Wizardry*:

Both are good, both are terse enough. The second one LOOKS simpler, so you'd think I'd favor it... but wait. Look at all this wasted space. It could be a couple of lines: 

Orc. HD 1, AC 6 [14], spear (1d6) or scimitar (1d8), ST 17, Move 12, Chaotic, CL/XP 1/15.

("Special: none" is the subject for another post, but you can imagine I really dislike this...)

The second one at least has an excuse for taking so much space: they are describing 4 monsters. The monsters are similar enough that you certainly could makes things even easier, but the amount of information contained there is awesome.

The "number encountered" line is specially noteworthy (and useful); it describes, very succinctly, the orcs' military organization. An important bit of information that you will rarely find in modern D&D!

Could we reduce it to a few lines? Probably. Something like...

Orc. HD 1, AC 6, weapon, ST 17, Move 12, Morale 8, Chaotic, XP 10.
* Lieutenant (1:10). HD 2, +1 damage, ST 16, XP 20.
* Captain (1:20). HD 3, +1 damage, ST 15, attacks 3/2, XP 30.

But the advantage is a bit less obvious here than in the first case.

There are infinite ways to do that, these are just two example. I really like how Low Fantasy Gaming deals with monsters, for example. Instead of the often repeated "Special: none", every monster has something special (requiring a natural 19).

Anyway, I'll be tackling 5e monsters soon. Just thought this observation was worth sharing.

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Sunday, April 04, 2021

Dexterity, the god-stat that failed

In my latest post about armor, I 've got one comment saying: "I like it, except for negative Dex modifiers applying to plate armour. Dexterity is already the God Stat in 5e, and the last thing martials need is a nerf, however slight. SOMEONE in the world should be able to dump Dex."

He is definitely right.

Dex is already too powerful in 5e, and I've fallen into the same trap, so I am changing that part. Dex shouldn't affect you in heavy armor, even if negative, at least in the usual 5e rules.

There are three main functions for Dexterity in D&D: agility (the ability to dodge, do acrobatics, etc.), aim (shoot ranged weapons) and precise hand movements (pick locks, etc.). This sounds like too much already - in  real life, there's no reason to assume that a decent marksmen is good at acrobatics - but, fair enough, abilities are meant to be broad.

But Dexterity is also the main thing defining your initiative. Even if you're casting a spell. So, dexterous characters also think fast. 

And there is combat. Now, Dexterity allows you to fight with a rapier (not a light weapon in real life...) or shortsword as efficiently as a strong fighter, and dealing the same amount of damage.

Wielding a 18 lb. crossbow? Better have good Dex - because Str in unimportant. Longbow - a weapon that requires a lot of strength to draw? Better have good Dex too, since a longbow doesn't require (or use) strength in the game (well, unless you're using some of the ideas like the ones I've mentioned in Manual of Arms).

Art by Rick Troula.

Dex allows you to have high AC with no armor or light armor. Fair enough, Str lets you wear heavy armor... Although you might have a penalty to stealth because of that, and the armor is encumbering, obvious to enemies, takes some time to put on (and take off), and there are even official modules that say you cannot sleep in armor, or go through the jungle in armor, etc. ad nauseam.

Saving Throws? Same. Dex saves are the most common in the game. For some reason, that heavy armor you're wearing won't protect you from a fireball or some fire traps (oh, you use Dex to disarm non-magical traps, obviously). Fortunately, a trap that shoots arrows attacks AC - do not ask for a Dex saving throw!

Then, there are skills. Dexterity has three in 5e: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, and Stealth. "Mental" abilities (Int, Wis, Cha) have 4-5 skills each, but Str has only one - and Con, none. 

And tools. Check the Player's Handbook, page 154: 
Tool use is not tied to a single ability, since proficiency with a tool represents broader knowledge of its use. For example, the DM might ask you to make a Dexterity check to carve a fine detail with your woodcarver's tools, or a Strength check to make something out of particularly hard wood.
Both Dex and Str are used as examples... but Dex see to be the norm, with Str the exception ("particularly hard wood"...). I wonder which stat is used to build a chair out of ordinary wood. But I digress. I think most tools would use Intelligence, which is nice because Int deserves the boost.

Here is more form the PHB: 
Other Dexterity Checks. The GM might call for a Dexterity check when you try to accomplish tasks like the following:
- Control a heavily laden cart on a steep descent
- Steer a chariot around a tight turn
- Pick a lock
- Disable a trap
- Securely tie up a prisoner
- Wriggle free of bonds
- Play a stringed instrument
- Craft a small or detailed object
So, now I can play a lute with Dex. And control a heavily laden cart... I assume the PC is on the cart, otherwise I'd use Str. Knots? They require Dex too. In real life, knots require more knowledge (of which knot to use, etc.) than dexterity.

Maybe I'm nitpicking, but I believe I've made my point.

So, instead of complaining, I want to offer some solutions.

* Initiative. The idea that you need high Dex to quickly cast a spell, for example, makes little sense. You can just ditch initiative and you won't lose much. Or, in other words, make a single roll for initiative and whatever ability or skill you're using (casting a spell that doesn't require a roll, use you casting stat).

* AC. I'll skip this one, since I've been writing a series of posts on armor and will continue soon.

* Weapons. My suggestion is this: you always add Strength bonus to damage, regardless of weapon. If this is too radical, consider adding "composite bows" to your games.

* Tools. They should use Intelligence by default. Intelligence is a weak stat for non-casters in 5e. Knots are a matter of Intelligence. Artistry is Intelligence, Wisdom, maybe even Charisma... not Dexterity. well, unless you're dancing or something.

* Saves. First, do not use a Dex save when your armor could (as least theoretically) protect you. But this might require big changes to the game. A less radical approach is just giving +1 to Dex saves when wearing medium armor, +2 when wearing heavy armor. This represents the fact that, while it might be harder to dodge an Cordon of Arrows while in heavy armor, it is somewhat useful to have your entire body covered in metal when that happens!
Or am I crazy for suggesting plate armor should offer some protection agasint arrows?

Of course, you do not get to add a bonus if you're trying to dodge Black Tentacles, since they will grab you feet no matter what you're wearing!

FWIW, I'm incorporating some of these ideas in my next Manual of Arms. I hope I can publish it in April!

Some of them don't fit 5e that well, so I'll incorporate them in my minimalist D&D, further down the line.

Friday, April 02, 2021

D&D 5e armor: a very simple fix

(A quick note: Tiago Rolim, an OSR designer, is ill and needs our help. Please check this out. And you get a lot of cool-looking games for US$10. I don't know Tiago or anyone involved in this bundle, just want to help).

This drives me crazy:

I think we could come up with something better and simpler:

Armor types have no names anymore. Instead, you get to describe your own armor by choosing from the table above and fitting it into of the three categories below. As I've said  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!"

Notice that now heavy armor is always heavier than medium armor, and both always heavier than light armor. What a crazy idea, right?

Here is what armor types mean:

Light Armor: Made from supple and thin materials (usually leather or cloth), and maybe a few pieces of metal (just a helmet and or maybe protection for the right arm, etc.), light armor favors agile adventurers since it offers some protection without sacrificing mobility. If you wear light armor, you add your Dexterity modifier to the base number from your armor type to determine your Armor Class.

Medium Armor: Medium armor offers more protection than light armor, but it also impairs movement more. It is made with metal rings, scales or even plates (like a breastplate), but doesn't cover the entire body, although you will often use leather and cloth as padding or to protect exposed joints, etc. If you wear medium armor, you add your Dexterity modifier, to a maximum of +2, to the base number from your armor type to determine your Armor Class.

Heavy Armor: Of all the armor categories, heavy armor offers the best protection. These suits of armor cover the entire body in metal (of varying quality) and are designed to stop a wide range of attacks. Includes a helmet, gorget, or both. Only proficient warriors can manage their weight and bulk. Heavy armor doesn’t let you add your Dexterity modifier to your Armor Class, unless the  modifier is negative.

What about stealth? Here is what I've got.

Some types of armor are noisy, usually due to heavy or low-quality material/craftsmanship. A creature has disadvantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks while wearing noisy armor. You can find noisy, low quality light and medium armor for half the usual price. Alternatively, you can find good medium armor with additional pieces or layers that increases its AC by one, but also makes the armor noisy and doubles weight and price. Heavy armor is always noisy.

Notice that we have more options than the original system, and the whole thing makes sense. We could go even further and just say light armor weights 10 pounds, medium 20 (or 40 if noisy), and heavy, 50 or 60 regardless of AC. 

You could add a line about druids and how you can find nonmetal armor up to AC 12... but I'd go one step further and add bone, stone, etc., to give them even more options. But that's another subject.