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, March 21, 2022

"What if you don't fudge?" addendum - OSR versus modern D&D

A small addendum to my latest post. I shared in on Reddit, in both OSR and "general D&D" (i.e., all editions) communities.

While the reaction in the OSR circles has been mostly positive (with a few "this is obvious," "you're late to the party", "you're preaching to the choir" comments) the "general D&D" reaction has been mixed.

In the D&D community, I've got positive and negative comments, and even a few vague defenses of fudging die rolls (especially for new players or low-level PCs since the system is "too deadly"), but not really any extensive defenses of fudging. Maybe the most elaborate response I got is that dice are there to help you tell a story, and they should be disregarded if they hinder the story.

(Even if you think RPGs are meant to tell a story, I do think fudging dice WITHOUT players knowing this possibility is tantamount to cheating. Detailed explanation here). 

It might be a particularity of these two communities... but I do not think so. I think this may point to a fundamental difference between OSR and modern D&D. I am certain that many 5e players and GMs find fudging dice abominable, but at least the idea is more or less acceptable in "modern D&D" circles.

I do not think, however, that this is entirely intentional. The lack of an elaborate argument in defense of fudging and even the lack of honest communication (i.e., DMs fudge the dice without telling the players that this is possible) indicates to me that this is an habit that "modern" DMs adopted without reflection.

Let me reiterate that I do not object to whatever play-style you choose. However, I'd encourage you to reflect on that and choose what you find best. 

I'd also love to see a coherent defense of fudging. 

I am thinking of at least one argument myself: I think PC death is a PROBLEM to be solved and not only a preference (something I address by the end of the last post but deserves a post of its own, coming soon).

Further reading:

Monday, March 14, 2022

What if you don't fudge your rolls?

You are the DM. The encounter is harder than you expected and things are going south fast. You ask yourself if you made an error when calculating the "challenge rating" (don't feel bad - CR is not an exact science and if simply doesn't work sometimes). Maybe the PCs were too inexperienced to know that a dragon is too strong for them, or maybe the dragon appeared as a random encounter - not the fault of the players! You don't want a TPK on your hands - especially if it is unfair. So maybe you change the dragon's HP, or maybe you fudge a few rolls so that the players can survive (just barely) until the monster is defeated.

Voilá - crisis averted. Let's hope the next fight is easier!

Fair enough, this is one style of play. It is popular in some circles, and quite unpopular in others (mainly OSR). Let's say it is a matter of taste.

However, there is another style: you don't fudge your rolls. Let the dice fall where they may. What happens?

This will force you out of your comfort zone, into difficult positions and creates lots and lots of questions.

First, the players will soon realize they are not safe anymore. They must pick their battles carefully, and use strategy wisely. Is it a good idea to start a fight that we don't know we can win? Maybe paying one gp for the bridge troll is cheaper than risking death. The next monster we encounter might be the "wrong" CR for us. Maybe we should talk before attacking, or maybe find out if the monster is hungry or defending its offspring.

But - worse! - PCs are subject to being attacked by a strong monster they cannot defeat in a random encounter! So they must learn to retreat, hide, negotiate, or even surrender.  And, even harder, they must find ways to avoid being exposed in the wilderness for too long. Maybe ask around for rumors to see what they might find in their travels, or hire guides and even guards when exploring.

And the DM is also forced to answer some questions.

Will the NPC negotiate or accept surrender? Now, you must ask yourself WHY the NPCs are fighting. And you'll often realize not every fight is to the death. Beasts defending their territory and even automatons defending treasures are likely to stay put if you run away. Humanoids will prefer ransom to bloodshed. Undead become scarier - although outrunning a zombie is not that hard. In older versions of D&D, you could use food or gold to distract enemies - they prefer the prize to the fight. 

What is the NPC looking for? Few creatures are purely killing machines, and fewer will willingly fight to their own deaths. If you don't use morale rules, use common sense - will that goblin still fight on despite seeing his nine allies fall to four strong PCs? The answer is, probably not - and when he does, it will be memorable.

(This post and my Teratogenicon try to answer these questions).

And maybe the players will ask themselves what they are fighting for, and start accept surrendering, leave fleeing enemies be, and so on.

In any case, now every fight is unpredictable, not only for the players, but also for the DM! You no longer have the burden of control - you let the dice do that for you. Relax and enjoy! Use the time you usually spend fudging with math and dice to think about tactics, motives, and NPC reactions. Once you know you do not control the outcome, you can feel free to root for your favorite team (hopefully, the PCs!).

And maybe all these things will not prevent a PC from dying. Sometimes the PC has a cause he or she is willing to die for. It might be an epic ending to the PC's saga... or a tragic accident. In any case, now we will see that the game as a whole is bigger than any single PC. We can create a new PC and get around to destroy the big bad guy, or maybe this is the story about how the kingdom was lost.

As you can see, not fudging rolls is more complex than fudging. But I'd say you should try it. All these questions will spark the creativity of players and DMs alike, and it will change your game forever. You may want to go back to fudging just a few rolls later on (although in my experience this is a slippery slope). See what style you prefer. 

Let me repeat a recent story. I'm currently running a written campaign, using a new RPG system the players had never tried (nor had I). In the very first adventure, they were almost wiped out by two random thugs and a ghoul. They had no fault in the matter - they couldn't have known (again, nor did I, although I had mentioned this system was dark and gritty and that the PCs were level 0). But I ran the encounter as written - and it did set the tone for the whole campaign. 

It was a dark game. My opinion would be very different if I was going for a funny campaign, for example.

Anyway, there is much more to be discussed. Just how hard is to create a new PC? Maybe you don't want to spend a couple of hours every couple of session doing that (I know I don't!). Or maybe you think beginner players shouldn't be subject to PC death (and that may lead them to believe that PCs never die). 

Maybe you like to leave PC death on the table, but also use tools to revert it - there might be a reason in the setting the PCs cannot die. Maybe they are cursed to fight on and on until they win, like Dark Souls or another videogame. Or change the system a bit - change the "death save DC", or rule that creatures reduced to 0 HP are just unconscious until someone willingly kills them. 

I once had a game where a PC would only die if  he chose to enter a battle to the death - the player would explicitly say, "my PC is willing to die for this" (this is what my house rules about sacrifice are about, BTW).. 

Or maybe you like permanent wounds and maiming, and you can offer  the PC a choice between dismembering and death when the time comes (make sure the players are on board with this before you start the game!).

And then there is resurrection, reincarnation, time travel, clones, descents into the Abyss or deals with Death itself...

The possibilities are endless - fudging dice is only one of them, and not particularly interesting in my opinion.

Further reading: 
This post is another take on this subject, and it repeats some ideas. See also:

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Thursday, March 10, 2022

How many encounters per day? (D&D 5e)

The DMG says 6-8 on page 84:
Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day. If the adventure has more easy encounters, the adventurers can get through more. If it has more deadly encounters, they can handle fewer.
So that's settled, see you in the next post. ;)

Just kidding.

Regardless of being more or less explicit, this generates endless discussion online: are 6-8 encounters needed? Could you replace them by fewer, tougher encounters as the DMG suggests? Or this is just a matter of taste and it can vary from table to table? Are these COMBAT encounters or ANY encounters?

IMO, the game is build with the expectation of 6-8 combat encounters per day, and it is not easy to break away from this - and it is not the same if you just throw harder encounters at your party.

Take a look at the barbarian. He or she progresses from 2 to 6 rages per day, only getting unlimited rage at level 20. This means that, obviously, he is expected to have more than 2 encounters per day, or the rages would be effectively unlimited form level 1. It ALSO means that you will frequently have more than 6 encounters per day for the same reason (otherwise, we could just say "unlimited" earlier).

The barbarian is the best example but not the only one. Many class features can be used a number of times equal to your main ability modifier (usually ranging from +3 to +5) and, recently, equal to your proficiency bonus (from +2 to +6) per day. Bardic inspiration is another example.

Notice that HP follows a different reasoning, since it is more granular (i.e., you can lose 30 HP in three different combats and just heal it all at once).

Unlike rage, you could say that a harder encounter would force PCs to "spam" their abilities, but that's not always easy to do, since most combats will not last for more than three or four rounds anyway. Some features have a duration that indicates they'll last for the entire combat (e.g., 1 minute), so there is no point in using it again. 

Abilities that can be "spammed" or used more often (e.g., superiority dice) are usually based on short rests.

Spellcasting is somewhat similar, but not exactly; you can cast your "best" spells from 1 to 3 times a day. These spells are often more powerful than most features, however, which is why they are meant to be used less often. If you have only two or three encounters per day, wizards - an already powerful class -  might completely outshine other PCs (e.g., the barbarian). In addition, the wizard recovers some spell slots on short rests.

Non-combat encounters? Well... most class features I've mentioned above are about combat. Sure, maybe a trap or obstacle can use a spell slot or two, but hardly a rage, superiority dice or divine smite. Social encounters? That is even harder; there are few expendable features to use here.

There are also "per encounter" features, but they are relatively rare (they usually have something to do with roiling initiative, which means combat).

Can you use a different number? 

Yes, of course. But it is not easy to balance. Twelve different encounters a day with few short rests would be though for wizards... but that's a lot of encounters, and I can hardly imagine even a professional soldier during war having that many.

Maybe sending wave after wave of weak enemies would be interesting; let combat drag on for a minute or more, let martials (and rogues) shine, etc. This might make sense if you dealing with a disorganized army or even invading a dungeon and making noise, so you can fit 6-8 encounters or even more without sounding absurd. If you send them all at once, a fireball will solve the issue faster.

In short, the game is built for dungeons full of monsters in separate rooms.

Is there an easy solution? Well, there are various solutions, but not necessarily easy. You could use HD to power your features, for example, and introduce a 5-min rest to recover some HD right after a fight. You could make it harder to rest in the wild, which would allow you to have dungeons full of encounters and wilderness with one or two per day at most. Or divide your session in expeditions instead of days.

But, ultimately, it depend on the type of the game you want to run, and using the same rules for hexcrawls and dungeoncrawls is not easy.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

GM's Day Sale 2022 (III) - D&D 5e and compatible

It's that time of the year again... DTRPG's biggest sale!

I've already listed my OSR picks and Classic D&D picks with the biggest discounts available (30%). Now on to fifth edition!

Let's begin by saying that I like 5e, and I have written some 5e-compatible books myself, all included in this sale (about weapons, armor and monsters - the first one is 30% off). 100 Magic Weapons also has some 5e inspired stats and is 30% off.

As you know, however, D&D 5e does not have legal PDFs of their physical books in DTRPG. There is 3rd-party stuff (like mine) in DTRPG and the DM's guild.

Anyway, these are the ones I can recommend (all 30% books that I own and enjoy). The last one is my own.

These also look interesting (and 30% off) but I have no idea if they are any good (see some considerations below, and let me know in the comments if you have tried those!):

Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron ("official", i.e., from Wizards of the Coast)

My favorite 3rd-party 5e adventure
The Chapel on the Cliffs is probably of the best 3rd-party 5e adventures I've ever played. Recommended.

Kobold Press
Kobold Press makes some of my favorite 3rd-party monster books, like Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex. The first three books on the list are theirs; I'm guessing the have the same quality throughout all their books.

EN Publishing and "Advanced 5E"
EN Publishing has a popular line of "Advanced 5E" books, adding more player options, monsters, etc. to your games. I think 5e has too many things as it is - if anything, I'd bee looking for a "basic" 5e like Into the Unknown (my impressions) - but these books look impressive and, at the very least, ambitious - each book has 500 pages or more. They are not 30% off, however.

More monsters
One thing I feel is missing in 5e is more monster VARIATIONS, i.e., goblin shamans, burning zombies, and so on. Monster Manual Expanded and Monster Manual Expanded II apparently fill that niche and are 30% off.

Modern 5e
Books like Esper Genesis 5E Core ManualUltramodern5 REDUX and GeneFunk 2090 Core Rulebook look amazing. I wouldn't play a modern-day version of 5e, but I think the system is perfect for space opera.
The Esper Genesis 5E Threats Database is included in the GMing in SPACE! [BUNDLE], which seems to be the best deal here if you're interested in alien 5e monsters (and Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells, an OSR game I can recommend).

Campaign stuff
The DM's guild has tons of material to enhance "official" 5e campaigns. One I've used and recommend is the Tomb of Annihilation Companion; you can find similar stuff for ALL official campaigns and they are often very useful.

Friday, March 04, 2022

GM's Day Sale 2022 (II) - Classic D&D

It's that time of the year again... DTRPG's biggest sale!

I've listed my OSR picks, with the best discounts I could find (30%), including Dark Fantasy BasicGMing in SPACE! [BUNDLE]Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe EditionMonkey Business and many others.

Now, moving on to classic D&D, ALL my favorites (listed below) are 30% off! If if you follow this blog, you might know that already. Here is a short list, followed by a longer explanation:

Dark Sun boxed set.

The D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic) [1981] 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.

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia (Basic) [1991] 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 Dungeon Master's Guide (1e) [1979] 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 one on demons inspired my Teratogenicon. Both the Monster Manual and the Fiend Folio are great too, but my favorite monster book comes from 2e (see below).

The Monstrous Manual (2e) [1993] is my favorite D&D monster book. Maybe because of the art, or nostalgia, or the huge amount of lore and relatively small stat-blocks. I think it is unsurpassed to this day.

And Dark Sun [1991] is my favorite D&D setting. All the iterations are good - even the 4e one! - but I'd pick the 2e box set if I had to choose.

I have physical copies from DTRPG of all these classics. They all look great, except for my Rules Cyclopedia, that looks slightly blurry for some reason, but still, I'm glad I have it.

All in my top 5!

Ravenloft stuff is also on sale, although I don't own these books. I'm a big fan of Ravenloft (you already know that if you're following this blog...), and I considered buying them it the last sale but didn't. I ended up buying the 5e version which is... well, slightly better than I expected. But we will talk about that some other day.

I was looking for the 2e version, Domains of Dread, but I've heard that the 3.0 version (by Swords & Sorcery Studios/Arthaus/White Wolf) is even better.  There is also Realm of Terror (2e), the first boxed set for the Ravenloft campaign setting. Tim Brannan recommended this one to me. Maybe I should start with the original... Do you have any favorites? Let me know in the comments!

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Tuesday, March 01, 2022

GM's Day Sale 2022 (I) - OSR picks

It's that time of the year again... DTRPG's biggest sale!

First, let me remind you that all of my books are included in this sale! If your tastes are similar to mine, take a look! They are mostly compatible with OSR games (except for a couple of 5e books - "Manual of Arms").

Now, let's see what other favorites are there...

Big discounts!
These products seem to be about 30% off and I find each of them interesting. The frist two are my own. Some are also mentioned (and further explained) below:

Dark Fantasy Characters (was already on sale, now you can get it for 0.69!)
GMing in SPACE! [BUNDLE] seems to be the best deal here if you're interested in 5e monsters and Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells.
Low Fantasy Gaming Deluxe Edition (review of the original version);

Okay, some great books here already... Let's see what else we've got.

Goodman Games
In addition to the amazing Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (DCC RPG), I really like The Dungeon AlphabetThe Monster Alphabet and The Cthulhu Alphabet. They are near system-less and full of awesome stuff to inspire your games. I STILL haven't read How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck but it is also on sale. All of them are 30% off except Cthulhu.

Necrotic Gnome
Several Old School Essentials titles are also on sale in addition to the heavily discounted Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome. I really like Old-School Essentials. It is basically a concise, well-organized version of my favorite D&D (B/X). The SRD is great. the version that interests me the most is the advanced version - it is NOT an AD&D clone, but B/X with many new options taken from AD&D, dragon magazine, etc. For players and DMs.

Sine Nomine Publishing
Worlds Without Number is probably the hottest "new" (released in April/2021) 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, including Scarlet HeroesSilent Legions (maybe my favorite OSR take on horror and Lovecraft) and Stars Without Number.

I think that's it for now. If you know any other books on sale that you'd recommend (especially if it is 30% off), let me know in the comments and I'll add it to my list. Feel free to promote your own products!

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