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

- William Blake

Monday, August 08, 2022

Quick d20 skills thought: trying again, critical failures and climbing

 After a quick d6 detour, let's go back to 1d20 skills.

As we've seem, climbing is a bit odd, because of the big chances of success from level 1. The motive is probably a practical one: the consequences of failure are dire. From the OSE SRD:
A roll is required for each 100’ to be climbed. If the roll fails, the thief falls at the halfway point, suffering falling damage.
So, to climb one kilometer, you have ten attempts, and you'll probably die. Those "good" probabilities are not looking so good right now.

And if you make it 1d20+level... things get even worse.


Consider one alternative. Say, 1d20+level, try to get 20. This means 10% chance of success on level 1. BUT. Failure means you're STUCK. A natural 1 means you fall.

And you can try again. Multiple times. But if you roll a 1...

(This works well for dangerous skills, but I usually DO NOT like critical failures when fighting. Except, maybe, for a particularly dangerous maneuver).

Have you ever tried rock climbing? If there is no way to continue, you can usually just climb back. Falling doesn't happen so often (but, when it does, it can be deadly).

Another thing to consider: if you're climbing a mountain, you're not looking for the most vertical wall to climb (unless you're doing it for sport)... probably the opposite. If you fall, you are unlikely to fall ALL THE WAY down. Maybe there is some chance you'll fall to a lower point. Say, a 100' fall (or, even better, 1d20x10'). Which will kill most characters, but not all.

This works well for climbing. But is also a great system for thief skills in general: try multiple times, but a natural 1 means disaster. Looking or disarming traps? Guess what, the trap got to you first. Lockpicking? You broke your set of picks. Hearing noise? You're pretty sure you didn't hear anything, and if there IS someone there, he heard you instead! Reading magic scrolls? The system works perfectly!

This "solves" thieves' skills in two ways: it makes them more effective (multiple attempts) while making disastrous failure less likely (only 5%... at first).

If you want to add tension (and agency), you can always offer your players a hard choice after they fail two or three times. It works with climbing, but also traps, lockpicking, and so on.

"Okay, there is nowhere to hold your hands... except if you jump a few feet to the die. You need 10 or more to succeed, but if you fail, you fall... What do you do?"

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Quick x-in-6 skills thought [d6 versus d6]

I usually prefer using 1d20 for skills when playing old school games, as you've seem on a recent post. And "roll under ability score" is both easy and makes "every point matter". But I've been going back and forth on this issue for a while.

X-in-6 skills (e.g., you have 2-in-6 chances to do something) have one big advantage, however: the fact that the die has only 6 possibilities and ability scores have 7 modifiers (from -3 to +3). So, if you give 50% chance to an average person (3-in-6), the strongest person (Str 18[+3]) will succeed 100% of the time, while the weakest (Str 3[-3]) has no chance at all. 

And that is pretty good. It diminishes the chances of having the weakling magic-user succeed in a feat of strength while the barbarian fails (which, admittedly, will only happen about 3% of the time using a d20 roll under if the ability scores are 3 and 18, but maybe about 10% of the time when rolling 5 against 16).

I like the idea that, as Moldvay suggests, "there is always a chance". But sometimes, no chance at all feels better. The strong fighter can kick down most doors, while the wizard can recall most lore - but has NO chance of performing a formidable feat of Strength.

So, here is a method I haven't tried: the GM rolls 1d6 for most challenges (plus or minus three if too easy or too hard), and the PCs must beat this number to succeed. It still allows the weakest members of the party to try anything, but when they succeed, it is very likely that the strongest ones will succeed automatically.

Here is one example: the PCs attempt. to force open a stuck door. The GM rolls a d6, getting 3. The PCs must beat this number to succeed. Anyone with +3 Strength succeeds automatically (even if a 1 is rolled, 1+3 beats 3). Average strength (+0) will succeed if the player rolls 5 or 6. Even a weakling with -2 Strength might succeed by rolling a 6, but the task is impossible if you have a -3 penalty.

Now, some doors are stronger than others - if the GM rolls a 6, only those with positive modifiers could even try!

Of course, if you want to give anyone a chance, you might decide that someone who would need 7 to succeed rolls 2d6 and, if both dice are 6s, it counts as seven - giving the -3 Str PC about 3% chance of success in the first example.

This looks extremely promising. Still, not sure ditching the "unified d20 mechanic" is a good idea.

Saturday, August 06, 2022

The unsolved conundrum of D&D ability checks

D&D PCs are defined by two things: ability scores and level/class/skills. The unsolved conundrum of D&D is how to balance these two sides in a simple manner.

In OD&D, abilities played a relatively small part. This is fine, but not extremely popular. In AD&D, the influence of ability scores on spells, features, combat, etc., was remarkably increased. Still, level was more important. A level 10 fighter with low Strength and low Dexterity will beat a level 1 fighter with high stars 100% of the time. Eventually, skills were added to the mix.

B/X (and clones such as OSE) has a simple alternative rule for ability checks: roll 1d20 under your ability score. Extremely easy, but also limiting. It puts an upper limit to ability scores. It forces you to roll low - unlike most other rolls in the game. Eventually, it would force modern games to add ability scores to monsters, adding unnecessary complexity to the game.

The worst part, however, is how this roll remains unchanged from level 1 to level 14. A 14th level fighter has the hit points of 10 starting fighter, but is not stronger, smarter or wiser when it comes to ability checks (despite being able to survive a 100-foot fall and great at saving throws). Worse, even the abilities he has used for 10 or more levels repeatedly (hearing noises, forcing doors, finding traps) do not improve at all.

AD&D 2e and the Rules Cyclopedia, IIRC, try to add a set of skills (LOTS of skills), in which PCs can improve... that work differently than thieves' skills, making the game more confusing and complex. While I love both games, I'd never play them as written again, for this reason.

I wouldn't dare.

Well, you might go the opposite route with something like The Black Hack or Knave: ability scores are king, and, while level doesn't affect your ability checks directly, it raises your abilities, thus helping you indirectly. You can even use "roll high" like everything else in the game (or roll low for everything). However, this makes class a lot less important (Knave gets rid of classes entirely) - and classes are one of the most popular aspects of D&D. Classes are also very convenient shortcuts, especially for worldbuilding.

The "Solomonic" solution seems to be similar to what 5e (and modern D&D in general) does: half your bonus come from ability score, half from class. This necessarily makes the game more complex than ignoring either abilities or levels, but seems to be the most popular solution.

It is my preferred method as well. Dark Fantasy Basic does something similar, giving preeminence to classes/skills but allowing ability modifiers up to +5 to influence on almost everything. My upcoming Old School Feats, to be used in conjunction with B/X, OSE, etc., makes heavy use of ability scores and allows PCs to increase their ability scores as they level up.

But there is no ultimate answer to this question. B/X, as written, is one of my favorite games: it is simple, quick, fun. Likewise, games that simplify the rules to make heavy use of ability scores (The Black Hack or Knave) and little else are also extremely fun - I recommend both.

And, for my own games, I'll probably be always in the look for a happy medium: adding classes and skills to Knave, adding ability score improvements (and maybe even general skills) to B/X, OSE, and so on, or creating my own hacks with both methods. Keep trying until a find a porridge that is "just right".

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Monday, August 01, 2022

AMAZING Scared Lands Sale - 90% OFF!

Yes, that is right!

"As part of Onyx Path Publishing's 10th Anniversary celebration select Scarred Lands 5E and Pathfinder PDFs are 90% Off for a limited time!"

Here is the blurb for the Scarred Lands Player's Guide:

Drawing enthusiastically on Greek mythology, the revised and re-imagined Scarred Lands nonetheless retains its place as a modern fantasy RPG setting. This is a world shaped by gods and monsters, and only the greatest of heroes can expect to be counted among them. The most populous continent of Scarn, Ghelspad, plays host to vast unexplored regions, hides unsolved riddles from ancient cultures, and taunts adventures with the promise of undiscovered riches hidden among the ruins of older civilizations. 

Yet the myths of the Scarred Lands are relatively recent events. The effects of the Titanswar still ripple through the world, and the heroines and villains of many of these stories are part of living memory, if not still living. 

I don't know much about the setting, but I bought lots of stuff... including all titles described below.

My favorite is the Creature Collection; it looks FANTASTIC. 

Not only the art is great, but the organization is way better than the MM. 

From a quick read, the entries look interesting and dark... and the book ends with eight "one page scenarios" designed to provide encounters with some of these creatures. Neat!

3rd party publishers, take note!

The art of the entire line seems amazing.

If you play 5e, the Scarred Lands Player's Guide and Yugman's Guide to Ghelspad have a TROVE of new races, classes, magic items, and so on.

And if you want to know more about the setting, try Vigil Watch Collected Volume or Blood Sea: the Crimson Abyss.

There are also Pathfinder versions of the same books.

Will report back once I read it!

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Minimalist B/X III - Dissecting the thief again

Let's talk about the thief a bit more (continued from here).

So, most skills can easily be reduced to a d20 roll. Rolling 1d20+level works well but a small bonus to the starting thief would be even better. Starting with 30% + 5% per level would allow you 99% at level 14.

[Notice: rolling 1d20+4+level gives the thief a exactly 30% chance at level 1. Also notice that I use these numbers just because I want competent thieves on level 1, but you might as well just use 1d20+level]

Now, in the last post, we skipped through a couple of things: read languages and scroll use. And there is also back-stab. And we will finish be consolidating ALL the thief abilities with the same roll.

The OSE SRD says:
Read Languages
A thief of 4th level or higher can read non-magical text in any language (including dead languages and basic codes) with 80% probability. If the roll does not succeed, the thief may not try to read that particular text again until they reach a higher level of experience.

Scroll Use
A thief of 10th level or higher can cast arcane spells from scrolls. There is a 10% chance of error: the spell does not function as expected and creates an unusual or deleterious effect.
These are very similar: the thief can read stuff he was not supposed to, even magic scrolls. And they happen too suddenly: by level 3 the thief knows maybe two or three languages, by level 4 he can read 80% of everything.

What if we use the same system here too? Let's try:

- At level 1 thief has 35% chance of reading languages.
- By level 4,  50% chance.
- By level 10, the chance is 80%.
- By level 14, 99%.

Now, apply the same exact numbers to scroll use. The thief can use scrolls from level 1, but the chance of error is significant.
Now let's look at back-stab, the hardest one.
When attacking an unaware opponent from behind, a thief receives a +4 bonus to hit and doubles any damage dealt.
Now, what if back-stab is a skill? Attack using d20+thief level+4. If functions exactly like other skills. You could even use percentages, but that would require subtracting 5% per point of AC the target has - if you're using descending AC, this is a bit of a hassle.

A level 14 thief has +18 bonus to back-stab, but only a fraction of level is usual combat (in Dark Fantasy Basic, I use 2/3, which means the thief would attack with 10, a significant difference).

Anyway, now let's divide the thief's abilities in categories:

- Read languages, including scrolls.
- Perception/detection (find trap, hear noises, and so on).
- Stealth (move silently and hide in shadows).
- Delicate tasks (pick locks, pick pockets, disable small traps).
- Back-stab.

Every one of these skills can use the exact same system. You have to adjust picking pockets and back-stab to the victim, but other than that it works perfectly.

Notice that separating traps in two different skills is neat because:

- Finding and disabling are separate rolls.
- The thief can only disable small, delicate traps.

And then there is climbing, which breaks all rules and we will leave aside for now (although, again, it is easy to turn it into a 85%+level skill).

In short... as you can see, the thief can easily become one kind of specialist or expert. He has half a dozen skills - swap delicate tasks for tracking and read languages for herbalism (or some other form of understanding nature) and you got yourself a ranger - who can climb, hide, etc.. Swap climbing for lore, change other skills and you have a smart scholar who is competent even at level 1 - and can read unknown languages, do delicate tasks and perceive hidden things. Maybe swap climbing for poisoning and you've got yourself an assassin. Maybe you can trade delicate tasks for 1d6 HD and get yourself a thug.

I think I found my favorite thief so far.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Minimalist B/X II - % skills [and nostalgia, and a rant]

In part I, I tried Target 20. Today I'm thinking of thief skills.

This is a bit of a rant. Normally I'm positive about old school D&D, but today I want to address a part I don't like.

I love old school D&D. Moldvay's Basic is one the best RPGs ever, at least in a similar page count.  

Still, I find it hard to accept that we should use the original typos 40 games after the game was published.

Maybe it is OCD talking... or maybe Cook/Marsh wrote "36" to mess with our heads. Similarly to the Cleric.

Nostalgia is fine. But some of us like old school games because they are great games, despite the year they were published. Or at least that is what we say.

Sometimes, I feel using old school D&D as written is almost as full of meaningless crunch as modern D&D. And I am not even talking about AD&D initiative or the weapon versus armor table (which I've seem people suggest we should keep as written despite its arithmetical errors to be "true to the original") - I'm talking about being obsessed with 1% (or even 10%) minutiae that does nothing to make the game better. Or using tables full of numbers that were adopted to fit a limited space in print.

Things that we do not because they make sense, but only because "this is how it was originally". It is not even preserving Chesterton's fence, it is refusing to even wonder if the fence needs repairs in order to serve its original purpose.

Sometimes I think that elegant games are so rare because the page count would suffer, making the books cheaper and the (depressively small) margins even smaller.

Of course, there are other ways to put more pages in a book without adding content. Maybe play with layout a bit, use big fonts and a creative design that allows you to fill pages with twenty words each, or create a slightly different table for a slightly different class. Well, I'm not great at that, and I while I love some good layout and beautiful art, content is even more important to me - so if I will not use 50 pages for something I can write in 20.

Anyway, rant over. 

Target 20 is great for thief skills, especially if you add Dex. 

With that said, there is nothing wrong with liking percentage skills, even if they are divided in 5% increases that could be replaced by a d20 roll. 

Here is an alternative to existing thief tables:

Thieves start with 30% chance in all their skills (except climbing and pick pockets). They are competent form the beginning. Add 5% per level, to a maximum of 99%. 

Climbing: start at 85% chance, +1% per thief level.

Hear noise: maximum 85% chance, if you want to keep things similar to the original, although I see no reason to do this.

For picking pockets, start at 50%, with no cap (maximum 120%), but subtract 5% per victim level (e.g., a level 2 victim causes a -10% penalty).

Saturday, July 23, 2022

OSR feats

My latest post was about OSR and customization. As I've said, Dark Fantasy Basic (currently on sale) tries to bridge that gap, giving more options to players but not as many as, say, third edition. 

DFB is a small game compared to the "big players" in the OSR scene - say, BFRPG, OSRIC, OSE, and so on. However, I think it has some elements that would interest people that play other OSR games. 

Alternate Magic was my first attempt of adapting ideas from DFB (flexible spells, random casting, blood magic, etc.) to other OSR games. I enjoyed writing it and got some great feedback. Now I'm considering doing the same for other parts of DFB, in a similar fashion. 

Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

Fighter feats

1.       Animal companion. You have an animal ally that follows you around, and will help you and fight for you (the player controls it) as long as you treat it well. It must be an ordinary animal (a wolf, horse, hound, hawk, etc.), although it is an extraordinary example of the species, and its HD is equal to your level divided by 2 (round down). If it dies, you can get a new one after spending 2d6 days in the wilderness.

2.       Armor master. When you wear armor, it is considered as being one step lighter (plate/chain/leather) for all purposes except AC, and you can move in light (leather) armor as if you were unarmored.

3.       Berserker. Whenever you wish, you can enter a state of rage for one turn, during which you get +3 to your damage and saves, and all damage against you is halved. After this, you take 1 HP of damage per level (save against paralysis/petrification for half damage).

4.       Favored enemy. Choose a type of nonhuman enemy – undead, demons, animals, giants, dragons, etc. You get a +3 bonus to your attacks, damage and saves against this type.

5.       Finesse. When you use light melee weapons (short sword plus anything lighter) or attack unarmed you can use your Dexterity bonus instead of Strength for your attack rolls. Damage rolls are still affected by Strength only.

6.       Fortitude. You get +2 bonus to saves against paralysis, petrification, and poison, but not death.

7.       Shield expert. While using a shield, you get an extra +1 AC, and also +2 to all saving throws if a shield could conceivably protect you (usually breath, wands and spells). You can extend these benefits to one ally within 5 feet of you.

8.       Unarmored defense. You get a +3 AC bonus when unarmored, +2 when wearing leather armor, and +1 when wearing chain.

9.       Wilderness explorer. While you are in the wilderness, you can hear noises and find/remove traps as a thief of the same level as you, and find tracks and hidden things with the same chances as find/remove traps. In addition, when foraging, hunting, or rolling to avoid losing direction, you have an additional 1-in-6 chance of success (e.g., 2-in-6 to forage).

10.   Wilderness skills. While you are in the wilderness, you can climb, hide and move silently as a thief of the same level as you.

11.   Warlord. Your followers gain +1 morale as long as they can see you. You can shout orders to attack (+1 to attack throws) or defend (+1 to AC and saving throws), affecting allies and followers within 60 feet that can hear you.

12.   Weapon master. You get +1 to attack, damage, and AC. Choose a type of weapon or a fighting style (blades, two-handed weapons, light weapons, missile weapons, dual wielding, sword and shield, grappling, etc.). When using this style, you get +2 to attack, damage, or AC (choose one when you pick this feat), instead of the usual +1.

I'm planning a 30ish page book, like Alt Magic, with about 60 feats, and small sections on how to replace races for feats, how to choose feats randomly, how many feats to give each class, how to give away feats in exchange for quest or XP, and so on.

I like to keep thins simple... so probably no feat on level 1 and maybe about half a dozen feats for each PC at most. Since my last book was all about magic, this one will have more feats for fighters and thieves... they deserve the boost!

Does this sounds interesting?

BTW, the Christmas in July Sale is on! Almost all of my books are included in this sale. Check my OSR picksClassic D&D picks and D&D 5e picks from past sales.

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Monday, July 18, 2022

Worldbuilding, character builds, and old school D&D / OSR

Old school D&D is not great at "character builds". Meaning, you do not get many changes of customization unless you're a spellcaster (oh, well, maybe); other than that, maybe you have a magic item or two. The B/X fighter, for example, is remarkably simple: he gets a few bonuses (on HP, attacks and saves) but NO new features from level 1 to 9 (an no new feature after 9). OD&D and AD&D fighters are similar, but the Rules Cyclopedia and some other supplements at least gives them weapon proficiencies, etc.

Conversely, 5e D&D has LOTS of customization. Even the fighter has about half a dozen choices on level 1, leading to 10-20 variations; other classes may have more. A level 9 fighter can have at least 20 viable "builds", probably a hundred with all the supplements.

Another interesting thing is the level 9 change: from then own, your HP doesn't change much, nor do your individual capabilities (except for spellcasters), but your impact on the world is considerably augmented by your followers.

It is a matter of taste, mostly. For me, personally, 5e has too much customization, but B/X doesn't have enough (although I'd appreciate even less detail in some aspects), so I'm always playing with some hybrid version.

But there are some details that are present in old school D&D and not 5e. For example, level titles (e.g., calling a 5th level fighter a "Swashbuckler", and a "Lord" at level 9; a halfling will eventually be a "Sheriff", etc.). Also, class and level limits for nonhuman PCs (elves, dwarves, etc.). Most importantly, it shows you when and how PCs can become lords of their own armies and masters of their own castles, towers, villages, etc.

I think this shows a difference of focus between old school and contemporary D&D. 

The first is great for worldbuilding, because:

- Characters are easy to create. It's not hard to make a cast of hundreds, even including higher levels, and using the same rules as the PCs.
- Characters have a distinct place in the setting and the social order. The opposite is also true: if you have a village with a Halfling "sheriff", you can guess his stats.
- Nonhuman armies are easily comparable.

The second is great for character building, because:

- Characters are unique and detailed, you can create you "protagonist" any way you want.
- Characters can take the social role they desire, raising an army from level 1 if they can manage, or become a 15th-level lone wolf, etc. (you can do the same in OS D&D, but it encourages you to follow a certain path).

This is not only in characters, by the way. Monster statblocks follow the same logic. Likewise, alignment - once a tool to indicate you faction - is now almost entirely a matter of personal traits. Everything makes worldbuilding easier, while contemporary D&D prefers to focus on individuals.

I wrote about a similar topic a long while ago ("your character isn't special"). 

Notice that even HP reflects this: some old school games rule that PCs are dead at zero HP, and being knocked unconscious is barely in the rules. For beginning PCs, even wounds are uncommon: you die with one or two wounds. Likewise, critical hits etc., do not need to exist; they are fun in an individual fight, but they are unimportant in the grand scheme of mass battles, etc.

As I've said... Matter of taste, and I prefer an hybrid approach. However, after years of playing different versions of D&D, I find I'm more interested in worldbuilding (and, by extension, creating locations, monsters, adventures, etc.) than character builds, so my interest in modern D&D is dwindling. 

An hybrid approach can even enhance worldbuilding, as adding a few unique features to some characters and NPCs makes the setting cooler (and tweaking limitations allow unique settings, e.g., "all spellcasters are dwarves").

And, in short, the OSR is the place where I find this hybrid approach the most. Come to think of it, Dark Fantasy Basic reflects this kind of compromise, which is why I have a hard time replacing it for more strict retroclones. In addition, my players love customizing their characters a bit - but 5e becomes too cumbersome and thy often forget their own special powers before level 10 - so this method seems to be the best for my group.

If I make my next book (whichever it is) perfectly compatible to B/X, I'm very tempted to just create new PC classes that are a bit more complex than existing ones - requiring more XP, of course. So, the world would be full of "fighters", but PCs could pick a customizable "warrior" of sorts, and so on. This way, you could keep things simple for worldbuilding (especially NPCs) while still giving some character builds to your players.

BTW, the Christmas in July Sale is on! Almost all of my books are included in this sale. Check my OSR picksClassic D&D picks and D&D 5e picks from past sales.

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Minimalist B/X (no tables!)

B/X is one of my favorite version of D&D. One thing I dislike are the tables. I prefer Delta's Target 20 mechanic - simpler, smoother and very accurate:
Every roll is d20 + level + modifiers, with a result of 20 or more indicating success.
Dark Fantasy Basic does something similar, with 1/2, 2/3 and 3/3 skills, including combat and spellcasting (Delta's blog was a big inspiration).

But if you want another minimalist version... here you go.

Every roll is still "target 20". Fighters, thieves, clerics and magic-users all get the SAME attack rolls. A 10th level MU attacks like a 10th level fighter (which doesn't really matter because he has 10d6 fireballs and can't use a sword, but...).


Fighters attack with 2d20, picking the best die (this is just to give B/X fighters a boost. They deserve it).
Thieves do the same for skills (if you want them to be better at climbing, they roll 2d20 and add the results), and also when backstabbing. This means other classes can attempt the same skills but fail about twice as often.
Dwarves and Halflings use the best of 2d20 when making a saving throw.
Elves get the same benefits as magic-users (see below).

There are no more spell slots. MUs can learn one spell per level (spell level no higher than half their level, round up), in addition to read magic. When they cast it, they try to "target 20", subtracting twice the spell level. If they fail, they spell is forgotten for the day. (I recently rembered this idea from JV WestDFB uses forgetfulness as one possible spell mishap).

Clerics start learning spells on level 2 and can learn a maximum of 12 spells. Turning undead uses Target 20 (subtracting target's HD) to destroy undead, but rolling 10 or more is enough to turn them. The cleric uses 2d20 and pick best if his level is higher than the target, pick worst if his level is lower (the distinction is not strictly necessary, it just keeps the numbers closer).

Every roll adds an ability modifier (from -3 to +3). Intelligence for spells, Dexterity for most skills, maybe Charisma to Turn Undead and the other five stats for saving throws (as suggested in the Rules Cyclopedia).

(Playing around with all these d20s is fun, of course... maybe a natural 1 causes a chance of magical mishap, or if the fighter would hit with both dice is a special maneuver or crit, etc.... but that is taking the idea further than the "minimal").

So, if you make a careful comparison of this idea with the actual B/X numbers using a excel spreadsheet, you will notice that the standard deviation is, approximately, "eh, close enough".

Just kidding. But I do think the result would be close enough, and probably I'd prefer that over using tables to find out skill percentages and saving throws. Well, we'd still need XP tables to keep the balance - but the character sheet would be a bit shorter, looking more or less like this (with fewer spells):

Well, this is admittedly a half-baked idea, but I like how it looks.

Is it superior to Delta's formula or DFB? Not really, just a different take - which includes turning undead and spellcasting in the formula, and also gives a bit more importance to ability scores, encouraging smart wizards, dexterous rogues, etc. It also has other collateral effects I enjoy - making early fighters stronger, spellcasting simpler and more random, and so on.

It also functions as an universal mechanic: a 12th level fighter might easily know, for example, something about the biology of a troll... even with low Int, she has more experience than a low-level MU... Just roll 1d20+12+Int, try to get 20, and you're done. 

Use 2d20, picking highest or lowest, if the task is particularly easy or hard.

Anyway, let me know what you think!

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Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Disoriented Ranger talks: D&D and the OSR

The second book in the series is out; here is my post about the first.

I've read this one cover to cover, as the subject interests me greatly. One of the main focuses is the Rules Cyclopedia (which might be my "one D&D book to take to a desert island"). If you enjoy the RC like me, you'll likely appreciate this one.

I never used the RC "RAW"; only as a source with inspiration with AD&D, B/X, etc., so I barely noticed the distinct ABSENCE of dungeon generating procedures in there. Jens talks about this and many other "oddities" in the RC - druids, race-as-class, damage to magic items, etc.

I also appreciated the section on "Changing rules without loosing compatibility to the source" (in the "R.A.W. vs. House Ruled" chapter). I think this deserves exploration and probably a post to explain my own opinion, but for now I'd just say I agree with Jens on this sentiment.

Again, only one dollar - click here to get it.

Here is the blurb:

What's this about?

Nothing is older than yesterday's blog ... or so they say. After 10 years of exploring "all things D&D and role-playing" on The Disoriented Ranger blog, most of it during the Golden Age of the so-called OSR (and some of it in the Silver Age, I presume), it is time to look back and see what I deem worthy of conserving.

I talked several subjects over the years, many of them about game design and gaming advice, but some of it was my continuing exploration of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and, in that context, early D&D. What did those gamers back then actually conceive? What does it mean? How did it change? And: how good had those first attempts at "role-playing games" been?

I shared my takes about these and they make a good first anthology. So here they are: 18 posts on roughly 110 pages with thoughts and musings about The Rules Cyclopedia, as people would back then in the scene that would be the OSR for some time. All edited and prettied up for this pdf.

Also check out Part 1 about Gaming Culture here!

What's to come?

There are five more anthologies to follow in the next couple of months, so look out for:

  • Part 3: Musings about DMing
  • Part 4: Storytelling Advice
  • Part 5: DIY & Gamedesign
  • Part 6: Theories in Action

Parts 1 to 3 as well as Parts 4 to 6 will also be compiled for a PoD option!

This is not a trip down memory lane, the topics presented here are still as important as they had been when I addressed them. My sincere hope is that sharing them here will encourage and inspire new readers (or fans of the blog, but with fresh eyes) to see the wealth of potential our hobby has, as well as its pitfalls.

Other than that: I can just provide the map, and even I get lost ...


The Disoriented Ranger


What qualifies me, you ask?

Just so you know: "You don't need to justify your love, you don't need to explain your love, you just need to practice your love. Practice creates the master." (Don Miguel Ruiz)

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Finding spells is better than choosing them

D&D is probably my favorite RPG nowadays - mostly in the OSR versions, but even 5e sometimes. But one of the things I dislike the most about it is picking spells: there is a HUGE number to choose from, and depending on the system you get to choose EVERY DAY which spells you'll prepare.

I have my own "fixes" to that - which I included in Alternate Magic.

But there is a "fix" I haven't tried much - is just forcing spellcasters to FIND their spells, in scrolls, grimoires, etc.

And it makes sense. Not only because it saves time, but because fighters must find their own magic, too - magic weapons, magic armor, and so on. Both modern and old school versions of D&D assume fighters will get those weapons, but not be able to CHOOSE a Flame Tongue or Vorpal Sword at level 10, for example.

Maybe you can BUY spells if other magic items are available for sale (although a functioning magical economy would encourage all casters to buy the "best" spells unless they are more expensive). Maybe you can ask a specific spell from your deity. Ideally, you'd go on a quest. I prefer to be agnostic about this. Maybe you can even choose a small number of spells. The important part is - do not assume you'll be able to choose new spell as you gain new levels.

This doesn't only make character creation and improvement infinitely faster and easier, but avoids any worry about "balancing" spells, and keeps magic mysterious and unpredictable. It will make wizards crave rare grimoires like fighters crave magic swords. Spellcasters are now shaped by their quests and experiences instead of an "optimal builds".

We probably should consider a roll for learning a spell (see AD&D 1e); some people are unable to learn some spells. I've seem it time and time again when playing D&D: the party defeats a wizard, and wants to learn his spells. It's great!

No two spellcasters are identical. Of course, casters will choose the best spells AVAILIABLE, but what is available will change from campaign to campaign.

(BTW, after you learn a spell, it should be HARD to forget it. Spells are living thingsDark Fantasy Basic has a system that will make spells invade your mind if you use scrolls too often).

Now you only need a spell list of generator. I like this one from Cairn if you want something free-form. There are generators for 5e. And if you're playing OSE, just roll a 1d6 to find spell level and 1d12 to choose a spell. Alternate Magic has 12 cleric spells and 12 magic-user spells, all of them very flexible; just roll 1d12 and flip a coin. And so on.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

D&D 5e fighting styles comparison: Tasha's Cauldron

This is a follow-up for my original post analyzing fighting styles from the PHB. I don't find much stuff in Tasha's Cauldron to interest me, but I like analyzing fighting styles, so here we go.

There is not much to say about these styles. They are mostly straightforward or open too many possibilities to analyze properly (for example, Blessed Warrior is good if you pick the right cantrips, but there are a lot of cantrips to choose from).

Some of them are "half feats" of some sort. For example, Blessed Warrior and Druidic Warrior are just weaker versions of Magic Initiate, and Superior Technique is a weaker Martial Adept. They allow you to change cantrips and techniques from time to time, which is nice.

This would be a good idea, IMO, if only to give more flexibility to "warrior" types - except that Tasha also introduces the Fighting Initiate feat, which only gives you one fighting style! This is baffling. And it is probably a horrible feat in most circumstances - except maybe for some Archery or Barbarian "build"

Oh well. Let's see what the new fighting styles are about.

Copyright WoTC.

Blessed Warrior (Paladin Only). Gives you a couple of cleric cantrips. This is a great choice if you have no cleric in your party, so you can get Guidance and Spare the Dying. Alternatively, you can get some ranged attack options (e.g. Toll the Dead from Xanathar's Guide to Everything).

A decent fighting style; I don't see why this must be limited to paladins, as I can easily imagine fighters, etc., being "blessed" without needing leveled spells - and having Guidance and Spare the Dying would be great for a "leader" archetype.

Blind Fighting. You have blindsight (10 feet), even when blinded etc., and can see invisible creatures unless they are hidden. Very flavorful, but very situational. Overall, I wouldn't recommended it.

Druidic Warrior (Ranger Only). Gives you a couple of druid cantrips. Exactly the same deal... Guidance still a good choice, maybe you can get Shillelagh or Magic Stone to get a magic weapon or ranged spell attack early on. But archery is hard to beat.

Again, I can see a "green knight" or Paladin (Ancients) as a druidic warrior, so not sure why this would be restricted to rangers.

Interception. When a creature you can see hits a target that is within 5 feet of you with an attack, you can use your reaction to reduce the damage the target takes by 1d10 + your proficiency bonus (to a minimum of 0 damage). You must be wielding a shield or a simple or martial weapon to use this reaction.

This is comparable to the Protection fighting style. As I've said, "very flavorful, but has some heavy downsides".... "it uses your reaction - and at higher levels, monster damage is usually divided among several attacks, and this will only work against one. You also have to be within 5 feet of your ally - which limits its utility."

But this one has some nice scaling with proficiency, doesn't require a shield and you can (arguably) defend yourself with it.

Overall, not great, a bit better than protection IMO, but depends on who you're fighting. Disadvantage will usually cut your chances by half, so against strong enemies protection is better.

Superior Technique. You get a Battlemaster maneuver and a d6 superiority die. Well, this is good. Battlemaster maneuvers are nice and you can surely find something useful. A solid choice, even for Battlemasters - since their superiority die will arguably scale with level. Not that Battlemasters need the boost when compared to, say, champions or barbarians, but that's neither here nor there.

Thrown Weapon: Allows you to draw and throw a weapon as an attack, and thrown weapons deal +2 damage. This is a powerful style that makes "thrown weapons" builds viable. Get a few daggers or javelins and now you're deadly at a distance without needing Dex... Nice!

This is definitely a "cinematic" option - in real life, I'm willing to bet that a dagger held in hand is ten times more deadly than thrown dagger - but it fits the genre. You still need a decent number of weapons to avoid running out of ammo!

Notice that you can attack with a shortsword with one hand and throw a dagger with the other, for example, making it a viable way of "two weapon fighting".

Unarmed Fighting. Your unarmed strikes deal 1d6 + Str damage, or 1d8 if you don't have a shield  or weapon. And at start of your turn, you can deal 1d4 damage to a creature grappled by you. This is a great option, making unarmed attacks become a viable tactic, at least until magic weapons come into play. 

Notice that the 1d4 damage does not require a bonus action, making it useful even for monks, and folks that have the Tavern Brawler feat.


Some solid options in there. Not is stronger than say, Archery, but they are all pretty strong except for Blind Fighting. The feat is a bad idea, but other than that these are some good fighting styles. Thrown Weapon and Unarmed Fighting are good for specific builds.

And it is nice that warriors get some love, since we already have approximately a bazillion spells.

I have considered writing a new Manual of Arms with new fighting styles - so far, I have about 20, which is not enough for a book. Maybe if I add a few stances and feats... 

Well, let me know if you like the idea.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Teratogenicon: print costs and a discount coupon

A quick post on the subject before DTRPG updates printing costs. If you have the book already, you might skip this post - I will repeat myself...

The Teratogenicon is the most beautiful book I ever produced. Because of this, is the only book we've created with a print version in mind. I really like how it turned out, both in Standard and Premium color.

Now, print versions are not easy to make - I needed a professional artist for that (Rick Troula). And the margins are very small compared to PDFs, of course. I might do a post explaining that further for the people that ask for print versions of my books (I appreciate the interest, BTW).

But this is a book I think it is worth having in print.

Well, now, because of various reasons, DTRPG's printer, Lightning Source, will be increase the print prices. The change will happen on July 13.

And you can STILL get the PDF for a couple of bucks if you buy the print version. 

If you want to get the PDF only, here is a discount coupon. It is good until July 13.

So, if you don't have the book yet, consider getting it before July 13!

Both versions 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.

As always, you can buy bundles of our digital products for a great price. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Escape the Truman Show, escape the Matrix; the god-DM and free-willed NPCs

Another anti-railroading, anti-fudging rant. I have so many of these that I might write a compilation someday...


If you're unfamiliar with the movie:
Truman Burbank is the unsuspecting star of The Truman Show, a reality television program filmed 24/7 through thousands of hidden cameras and broadcast to a worldwide audience. Christof, the show's creator and executive producer, seeks to capture Truman's authentic emotions and give audiences a relatable everyman.

As Truman was selected from birth following an unwanted pregnancy, Christof claims that Truman came to be adopted not just by the show, but by the whole "world". Truman's hometown of Seahaven Island is a complete set built within an enormous dome, populated by crew members and actors who highlight the product placements that generate revenue for the show. The elaborate set allows Christof to control almost every aspect of Truman's life, including the weather.

To prevent Truman from discovering his false reality, Christof manufactures scenarios that dissuade Truman's desire for exploration, such as the "death" of his father in a sea storm to instill aquaphobia, and by constantly broadcasting and printing messages of the dangers of traveling and the virtues of staying home. However, Christof cannot predict all of Truman's actions.
It is one of those films from the late-nineties, like Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, Dark City, eXistenZ, that questioned the nature of reality. How can we know if we are living in reality or some kind of simulation? We probably can't.

[Why was this theme so popular in the late nineties? I think we went through some kind of societal shift at that time. Now, the simulation is too obvious to even question. The world of internet and social media is bigger than the "real world". Money is kept in bytes, not gold. Narrative is more important them truth. Like cyberpunk, the late-nineties dystopia makes no more sense because it is now partially real. Makes me wonder if that is why the younger 5e players have a harder time understanding that railroading can be ad than old-school enthusiasts and grognards]. 

But that is beside the point.

The point is: nobody wants to live in a simulation. In all those stories, the "game masters" of the simulation think they know what their "subjects" want. Maybe controlled love and happiness; maybe (as in the Matrix) you need to add some misery to make things feel more real.

Doesn't matter. In every case, the hero wants to escape the simulation - even if reality is far worse.

But wait - games are the opposite, right? 

You are conscious and willing to go into a simulated world.

Well, not really. The best simulations are the ones that make you feel that it is real for a moment, even when you know it's not.

That's why the idea of campaigns with hundreds of players sound more enticing to me than writing hundreds of NPCs.

But even when you do write NPCs, you should give them free will. That what makes NPCs resemble actual people: they out their own interests over the "story". That is why I enjoy books and games where the "supporting cast" is interesting and active; Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Game of Thrones.

Even if you think the role of GM is akin to a god of the fictional world, you still give people free will. You can control the weather, earthquakes, you can send plagues, drought and famine, you can even make new people or kill existing ones, but you cannot rob characters of their free will.

Not even NPCs - you must at least guess what they would do.

By the way, if you fudge, it ceases to be a role-playing game - at least for a moment. There is no game if you fix the results. It can be fun, it can great, but not a game.

This is about RPGs, but it is also a deep philosophical idea. It is in religion, philosophy, ideology, politics. Immeasurable evil has been done in the name of "I know what's best for you" (or, wrose, "I know what's best for all"). This doesn't mean you're evil for fudging, of course (I don't think I'm evil myself, even tough I fudged more than once in the past, and I made mistakes that were far worse than that) - this is just something to think about.

When I hear people saying "but you have to fudge - otherwise, a bunch of goblins can cause a TPK by sheer luck, or the big bad can go down in a couple of rounds!", I think of the Truman Show.

Calm down, Christof. You think you know what is best for Truman, but you don't. 

Let Truman choose.


I still think that PC death is a problem, but fudging is a terrible solution.

Will write a post about that in the future.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Dark Fantasy Basic character sheet

Here is a link to my Dark Fantasy Basic character sheet.

If you've been waiting for a while, I want to say I'm sorry it took me so long.

While not as stunning as the work of actual artists (like the ones by Prosaiko and JV West), it is functional, works well for my games, and it has a "gothic" vibe that's adequate for DFB. 

I hope I can make an awesome sheet in some future version of DFB, but that's only a distant goal at this point.

You can get it here ("DFB sheet"). BTW, I'm making this a "public folder" with all my free stuff.

Let me know if you like it! 

I've added a .doc version so you can edit it as you want, or even adapt to your own house rules.

And, of course, if any actual artists want to do their own version, I'd love to see it!