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

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Dark Fantasy Basic UPDATE/ERRATA

I am currently running a Dark Fantasy Basic campaign. And it is going great! However, I've changed a few things in my games - the book was written in 2017. I often feel the need to mention this when I recommend DFB.

For various reasons (including my limited skills with InDesign), it is unlikely that I will update the book on DTRPG, although I might write a second edition one day. As always, I'll send a significant discount for people that bought DFB or any of my books (make sure you're getting e-mails from DTRPG).

In any case, here is my current "update/errata".

FWIW, the changes are mostly minor and maybe not strictly necessary (except for the magic part). Some things I'm still playing with - I can't stop trying new stuff... And I think some of them would prove unpopular in OSR circles. 

So, I marked necessary changes with an asterisk; everything else is optional and mostly a matter of taste.

So, here is a comprehensive list. I'll edit it if I remember something else.

- Character sheet*: you can find the one I'm using here. I also added one with six saves if you prefer that.
- Races*: you can find them here... but I sometimes create something on the spot. I'm also trying to write a small PDF on the subject.
- Magic/spellcasting*: I've been using B/X spells, and Spell Points. A MU follows the first column, the cleric has 2/3 of MU, etc. I wrote an entire PDF on magic (Alternate Magic). So, the whole chapter needs updating.
- Starting PCs: Sometimes I start at level 1, with double HP. To make it quicker, choose your primary and secondary skills. Get one tertiary skill on level 2, another on level 3.

Minor changes:
- p. 9 - I'm using a single saving throw nowadays, which requires changing some feats. 
- p. 10. - I use standard arrays instead of rolling [13, 12, 11, 10, 9 ,8].
- p. 10. - I am giving MUs 3+CON HP per level.
- p. 10*. - Five skills per PC instead of 6 (primary, 2 secondary, 2 tertiary).
- p. 12 - When a skill uses more than one ability, just pick the best; it is much easier.
- p. 14*. Extra attack felt too strong in play, so I'd give it a -4 penalty.
- p. 16*. Same for dual welding (-2 penalty).
- p. 24*. I'm giving away fewer feats. MUs get one new spell per level "for free" (these are B/X spells). I was using the table below but ultimately I decided that thieves should get as many feats as fighters, and maybe clerics should be treated as MUs. So, not 100% sure.

- p. 25* - I ditched XP and I'm using milestones now. My system was probably too experimental and cumbersome to begin with.
- p. 40* - Ditch bonus actions and maybe reactions. These were 5e-isms that I didn't need. Some heavy rewriting required because of this.

And... that's about it for now. I'm sure there are many small rulings that I make from time to time, but overall I feel that the book holds up very well, considering I did lots of playing and writing since then. And my players get the system pretty easily, despite playing many system and getting confused by 5e in the past.

Still, if I were to write a second edition, I'd try to improve layout, add more art, add more feats, a few more rules on skills, special circumstances that come up often (identifying magic items), etc. 

I'd certainly add class packages from Old School Feats, more races, and spell systems from Alternate Magic.

Let me know in the comments if there is anything else to fix, if you've been using it in any way, if you prefer my PDFs that are directly compatible with B/X (instead of having my own system), or even if you'd be interested in a second edition.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Where to find me [2023]

Since the demise of G+, I've been trying to get in touch (or get back in touch) with more people interested in OSR games.

So this is just a small reminder for people out there that want to get in touch with me, especially to discuss books and blog posts, become an alpha reader for a future book, provide feedback, get discounts for my books and hopefully talk with like-minded folks

Here is where you can find me - in addition to this blog, of course. If you want to comment on a particular post, this is the best place to do it.

Notice that in all this cases, my goal is to talk about RPGs and things that are directly related (books, movies, etc.). Rest assured, you will NOT see a picture of my lunch in any of these places!

DTRPG e-mails: I send two or three e-mails through DTRPG every YEAR announcing new products, always with a discount. If you got any of my books - including Dark Fantasy Places, which you can get for free - and accept DTRPG e-mails, you'll get this. We promise not to spam - and we never have!

Discord: I use this one once a week more or less. I just created a channel to discuss ideas, drafts, sales, etc. Feel free to join! I recommend this one if you are interested in my work. Let's see how it goes.

Reddit: r/OSR seems to be one of the best places to discuss OSR games  right now, even though it is not great for group conversation. Reddit seems more appropriate for communities than to communicate with individual people, but you can still follow individuals. I'm there often.

Instagram: I post about once a month, mostly about blog posts. Take a look to see if you will enjoy my feed.

Mewe: This is in some aspects the closest to G+, has lots of great groups, and  awesome people. It's still a small place however. Great to make contacts.

Facebook: I can hardly make this one work properly. My posts get no responses, unless I add them to some group. Still, add me if you're in there.

Twitter: I only got in there, still getting the hang of it. Seems to be a bit better than FB so far.

RPG.Net/TheRPGsite: I post on both forums too.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Fun with multiclassing (OSR)

I've never been a fan of multiclassing or dual-classing, and I am not sure I could tell you the difference without looking it up. In my games, we usually do race separated from class, BTW.
However, I find multiclassing in B/X games could be ridiculously simple: just divide XP evenly, and get the best of each class. I think this is the official rule (or how most people do it).

For example, if you're a fighter/MU with 200,000 XP, you pick the best abilities (spells, saving throws, weapons, HP, etc.) from a fighter and a MU, each with 100,000 XP.
Notice that the elf almost works like that already. An elf with 120,000 XP is not that different from a PC that is both a Fighter and a MU with 60,000 XP each. He has dark vision, can hear noises, and has a ridiculously specific immunity to ghoul paralysis, but he stops at level 10, so things balance out.
Let's see how many problems this "fix" could solve.

Level limits. A Halfling can multiclass into thief or fighter, thus transcending his level limit at a significant cost. Each possibility (Halfling, Halfling-thief, Halfling-fighter) has its own strengths and weaknesses. Same for elves and dwarves. The result is similar to a 1978 (!) house rule.
Half-races. Half-elf? No problem, just add an human class to elf. You can combine elves and dwarves to create gnomes, and so on.
Three classes? No problem, divide the XP evenly by three.
Monstrous races. You could have kobold, goblin, and lizardmen NPCs  - any creature that is not remarkably powerful. Just pick a class with a 50% XP tax , get the appropriate powers (usually darkvision, maybe +1 damage), you don't even need to create anything. These are not necessarily balanced - a kobold fighter will always be weaker than a human fighter (although the kobold probably wins in the dark...) - which is fine, as it keeps kobold as weaker humanoids as they are described in the books.
Dual classing - okay, I googled it. So, you could "multiclass" when you're already a 5th level fighter, for example. I see no problem in principle - all your XP goes to your new class until it can match your current XP, and then divide it evenly when both classes reach the same XP. Also, add some downtime and in-game justification for why you became a powerful mage so quickly! This is easier than most archaic, byzantine dual-classing rules.
Balance? This is more or less balanced in most ways I could imagine. It is far from perfect because classes are not balanced to begin with. Notice, you HAVE to keep the XP division even. If you start distributing XP in some weird 75-25 split, for example, you get unbalanced results. 
For example, a 14th level MU would become a 12th level MU who is ALSO a 9th level fighter - with his own barony!
Of course, this is not meant for infinite XP. Let's try with 1,050,000, for example - the highest in the game AFAICT. This gives us, for example:
- A 14th level MU.
- A 10th-level MU who is also an 8th level Halfling. No problems here.
- A 10th-level MU who is also a 11th level fighter. Still has a barony (sigh), but no MU apprentices and doesn't get access to 6th-level spells.
- A 10th-level MU who is also a 12th level cleric. Does seem too powerful (although IMO this is a cleric problem). Probably fixable by using a single spell progression. You still have 5/5/4/4/3 spell slots (like every 12th level cleric), so you could cast four fireballs or cast striking four times - or two of each.
Maybe we need some different limit. Maybe 1,200,000 XP, limited to level 8 in your secondary class, disallowing multiple types of stronghold, for example? Could work, thus adding even more options - a MU/fighter distinct from a fighter/MU, for example. 

An MU/elf abandoned other elves and might build a tower one day, but not become an elven leader; while a elf/MU still lives among elves (this redundant combination might be nearly useless, however).

Ability score requirements still apply, etc.

This gives us... more than 30 possible combinations, even if you prohibit some of them? If you use more than seven classes, the sky is the limit.

It is very simple... but I want even simpler.
As I've said, I don't really use multiclassing. I've been using feats instead. These are from Old School Feats, each balanced separately to disallow overpowered PCs:
2.       Dilettante cleric. You can cast spells and turn undead as a cleric half your level (e.g., if you are level 10 you can turn undead and cast spells as a 5th level cleric), but you’re limited to 3rd level cleric spells. 
3.       Dilettante fighter. You can use any weapon and armor. You can cast spells and even use thief skills in armor, although your ability to climb, move silently and hide is halved in plate armor. 
4.       Dilettante mage. You can cast spells as a magic-user half your level.
5.       Dilettante thief. You have access to all the skills of a thief half your level, including read languages (when you get to level 8).
Notice these do not affect saving throws or allow you to build strongholds or create magic items - not even raise dead if you're not a cleric. A dilettante PC remains significantly less powerful than an actual magic-user, fighter, thief, etc. 
As far as I can see, this is easier and more balanced than the usual multiclassing rules. You can still use the other feats in the book to create a wizardly elf, a barbaric dwarf, and a halfling sniper. Check it out if you haven't!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

100 Dark Fantasy Backgrounds is out!

My new book, 100 Dark Fantasy Backgrounds, is out!

100 Dark Fantasy Backgrounds is a collection of backgrounds for your dark fantasy games. There are no statistics or specific mechanics here; this is mostly a collection of ideas.

Check the PREVIEWS, above, to see some examples!

The first part lists 100 dark fantasy backgrounds with some detail – usually two or three sentences, sometimes more. Most with a tragic or dark twist.

The second part is a single page, adapted from Dark Fantasy Characters, with 80 one-word backgrounds (such as actor, beggar, blacksmith, etc.). These are not specifically “dark”. You can use them to add more detail to your characters’ past or choose one of them instead of the dark fantasy ones. You can ignore part one and combine this with part three to generate your own tragedies – but, again, not all characters need tragedy!

The third part is a tragic events generator, a collection of random tables that can generate thousands of different results. You can use them to create your own backgrounds or to add detail to a background from parts one and two. For example, if you roll the “criminal” background in the first part, you can choose which crime using a random table in the second. Likewise, if you suffered some injustice, you can check this part to find a culprit or to find out how old you were when it happened.

Although this is a systemless book, it is especially suited for medieval dark fantasy games, such as Dark Fantasy Basic.

Monday, April 17, 2023

The HD game III - Mass combat (and a simple OSR mass combat system)

Here are parts one and two.

The reason why I started thinking about this "HD game" was mass combat. I was wondering if there was a way to make combat faster, relying on HD, so we could quickly pit armies against one another. 
And there seems to be an easy solution, although it might take a while to get there.

If you want to skip the math talk, start on method II.

Method I: multiplication

First, average damage is very easy to calculate for most ordinary troops. A sword [1d8] deals an average of 4 damage (we are rounding down), and if you hit 50% of the time, the average damage is 2. But you have to calculate this for each type of opponent, as their armor class may vary. Easy to do with THAC0, if not perfectly intuitive (THAC0 19 means you hit on 19 or 20, i.e., 10% of the time, against AC 0; add 5% for each point of AC, so AC 4 means you hit 30% of the time).

What about ascending AC? It is a bit trickier. Using OSE, +0 means you hit 55% of the time against NO ARMOR (10). So you should subtract 5% for each point of armor over that, e.g., 30% for AC 15. I will use that method since I'm used to it. And if you got an attack bonus, you add 5% for each point (e.g., +20% if your attack bonus is +4).

Let's try the Chainmail route and play with groups of 20. You know the average damage for ONE veteran (4); multiply that number by the number of chances (in 20) that he or she hits the intended target.

The formula for average damage for a troop of  20 soldiers is DMG*(21+AB-AC), where DMG is your single soldier damage (e.g., 4), AB is your attack bonus and AC the armor class. You could pre-calculate it, so a group of veterans has an average damage output of "4*(21-AC)", for example, which is easier to calculate. When attacking a target with AC 15, they'd deal 24 damage per round. No roll is needed.

Of course, this makes things entirely predictable (except for morale, etc.). If you want to add some randomness, you can divide the damage by 2 and multiply by 1d4, for example. 

Method II: attack roll

I wanted a single d20 roll to add to the formula, but couldn't get an exact result without getting things much more complicated. So here's my closest approximation, without using any formula:
Make a single attack roll. If you miss, calculate damage as if one-third of the attacks hit. If you hit, calculate damage as if two-thirds hit. If you hit by 10 or more, ALL your attacks hit. If you miss by 10 or more, ALL attacks miss.

This is easier than it sounds. Roll 1d20 once for all 20 soldiers. If you hit, 2/3 of the soldiers (14) hit their targets, so 14*4 damage. Miss, and you deal 7*4 damage. Miss by 10 or more, no damage. You only deal maximum damage - e.g., 20x4 damage, destroying an entire enemy unit at once - if you hit by 10 or more... which only happens on a natural 20 against unarmored foes.

(If you want to roll for damage, you could of course do so: 14d8 damage, etc. Or use fractions to keep things more precise: if 14 soldiers hit, that is 14*4.5 damage).

Notice that this doesn't require any new formulas, just an attack roll, and works for ANY NUMBER of units: you could resolve a battle of ten thousand (if all soldiers are identical) with a few rolls for each side, or pit an army of 100 archers against a red dragon (which would also be easy to calculate without a roll, of course; but we want to add randomness).

You could calculate 1/3 in advance so you can just multiply the damage by 2 on a hit and three on a great hit (10+), simplifying the math even further.

This is still not PERFECT, but it feels CLOSE ENOUGH, and relatively easy. This is what we'll use from now on.

Taking damage

The group taking damage (e.g., 20 points of damage) loses as many soldiers as appropriate (e.g., 5 individuals with 4 HP each). Excess damage is LOST, so if your target has 6 HP each, you'd only get 3 of them.

This is meant to avoid bookkeeping - but also because any damage will be significant against most groups. If a group is fighting a gorgon, for example, and deals 20 damage, the gorgon has 16 HP left. PCs, tough monsters, etc., should all count HP whenever necessary.

"Lost" soldiers are defeated. They cannot fight anymore, but can occasionally be found unconscious or maimed after the battle (GM's call, or death save etc.).

Ignoring damage in favor of HD?

You could go even simpler if you dialed things back to "hits" instead of damage. So each "hit" kills an enemy soldier regardless of damage, like in the Chainmail days. But this will make you lose some nuance and, without the weapon versus armor table, all weapons would be identical - even two-handed weapons. It is doable, but not my favorite method.

So... in the end, we do not need HD for my HD game.


Let's try this in practice. I'll omit morale rolls to keep the fight going - in practice, they'll be very important.

Example 1: a unit of 20 1 HD veterans against 20 bandits.
- The veterans roll a 17, so they hit and cause (14x4) 56 damage. 14 bandits are gone, 6 are standing. At the same time, the bandits roll 4 - missing every veteran.
- In the second round (if the bandits haven't surrendered, etc.), the veterans roll a natural 1 - missing everyone. The bandits roll 15, which misses the veterans' AC, thus the damage is only (2x3) 6 damage, killing a single veteran.
- Etc.

Example 2: again, a unit of 20 1 HD veterans against 20 bandits.
- The bandits roll a 13, missing AC, so they cause (7x3) 21 damage, defeating 4 veterans. The veterans roll 2, missing everyone..
- The 16 remaining veterans roll 17, causing (10x4) damage and killing 10 bandits.
- Etc.

Example 3: a unit of 45 1 HD veterans against a single red dragon. (notice dragons are not that strong in B/X; I prefer the stronger ones found in AD&D 2e and so on).
- The veterans roll a 13, missing AC [20], so they cause (15x4) 60 damage against the dragon. This kills the dragon, but remember the attacks are simultaneous. The dragon fights as a single unit - so it is up to the GM to calculate how many soldiers are affected by the breath weapon. We could use a similar method for their saving throws, but in this case, every veteran affected will die.
- Etc.

Example 4: a unit of 30 1 HD veterans against a single red dragon.
- The veterans roll a 9, missing AC [20] by more than 10 and causing no damage. The dragon uses breath weapon and the GM decides 9 veterans are caught in the cone.
- The 21 remaining veterans roll 13, missing AC [20], so they cause (7x4) 28 damage, reducing the dragon to 17 HP. The dragon attacks with claws and bite, rolling once - a total of 27, which means all attacks hit! The total damage is 6d8, which we round down to 24, killing 6 veterans.
- Etc.

I really this. There will be some rounds of "nothing happens", but when someone hits, the results are devastating. The combats will be as quick as individual combat, and the results will be similar.

Some additional thoughts:

- Morale is tested when 1/3 of units is lost, and TWICE if 1/2 is lost at once. The loss of a single soldier doesn't trigger morale for a troop of 100. OTOH, big troops have low mobility, might be susceptible to flaking and area attacks, etc.

- Come to think of it, you can test morale for single monsters too - after they lose one third and then half their HP. I suggested a similar idea in Teratogenicon. There is no reason to believe every monster will fight to the death if alone.

- In any case, "snake eyes" means the troop might fight to the death! Make another morale check to be sure if that is the case.

- Notice that single units fighting groups get an advantage, on the other hand: they can attack the whole group with damage, instead of making a few separate attacks. Using normal rules, a dragon with claw/claw/bite can only kill 3 soldiers, but if you calculate damage against a larger group, there can be six victims at once (see Example 4).

- PCs fighting by themselves but should be able to affect troops in various ways (morale, spells, etc.). Maybe a powerful PC can join an unit, taking half (?) the damage for himself and thus avoiding morale rolls (what if he is wearing different armor?).

- Attacks are simultaneous unless conditions indicate otherwise (if you allow one side to attack first, it will all come down to morale too early). Bows seem to have an unfair advantage - but that is just how the game usually works.

- OTOH letting spears attack first, for example, would be a huge tactical difference, which I like.

- How many people can attack once? In most cases, everyone can attack and be attacked to make things simpler. But in some circumstances (e.g., a single PC fighting a group of 20, or two small groups fighting in a corridor) the number of attacks should be limited.

- Consider if add some small "weapon versus armor" rules would spice things up. And flanking, etc.

- Maybe a natural 20 has special consequences (e.g., attack first or add half damage; double damage is too much). Conversely, a natural 1 spells disaster.

In conclusion...

Took me a while, but I think I've created the basis for my mass combat system. Maybe I could turn this into a 10-page PDF with little effort, and if I add my house rules on critical hits and combat maneuvers. I'd have twentysomething pages on combat... What do you think?

EDIT: this is a brainstorming post and deserves further refinement. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 14, 2023

Comfort, Color, Contrast: three types of fantasy (vanilla, weird, grounded)

I've been running an old-school sandbox and using modules from multiple games, including DCC, LotFP, BFRPG, and others. I realized the modules I've been reading illustrate three different approaches to fantasy adventures that I think are worth discussing.

But notice these are generalizations: there are no "perfectly vanilla" adventures, etc. Almost every adventure will contain something familiar AND something new AND something sensible AND something weird.

Adventures for all tastes.

Vanilla adventures

These are the most common. Here are some characteristics:

- They are predictable in terms of monsters, traps and treasure. You'll face skeletons and goblins (or worse, orcs), find a few swords +1 and a reasonable amount of gold and gems. Maybe there are elves and dwarves to help you. Hopefully, the challenges are also balanced to your current level. You'll know most of your enemies upon seeing them, etc.
- Because of that, they are familiar: if you have been playing D&D for a long time, you'll feel right at home. They contain the usual tropes.
- They are often convenient: you'll find a cleric and a mage in every city, shopkeepers have enough gold to buy the stuff you've found, etc.
- They are often, but not always, disjointed - the skeletons and goblins are standing in adjacent rooms with no clear explanation. Maybe there is a tribe of kobolds nearby, some giant bats, and a trap that was set by someone time forgot. There might be no clear reason why the dungeons were built or why they are full of corridors and doors with no rhyme or reason.

The key word here is comfort. You're used to this stuff and you can play with little effort. BFRPG adventures like Morganstfort and Chaotic Caves are good examples, but so are many classic D&D adventures (including the ones that inspired these BFRPG modules, such as Keep on the Borderlands and Caves of Chaos). These are also common D&D 5e (e.g. Lost Mines...; also, here is one example of a 3pp) and every other edition of D&D.

The danger here is boredom. If there is nothing new except successive rooms of goblins, skeletons and giant animals, every adventure starts looking the same.

Weird adventures

Weird adventures are related to weird fantasy. They are:

- Unpredictable in terms of monsters, traps and treasure. You might find creatures you had never seen elsewhere, even if they fit some previous frame (e.g., the Law versus Chaos dichotomy). Even the environments may be entirely new. There might be technology, aliens and time travel involved. Mutations are common. You don't necessarily know what to do when you face a given creature or challenge, and running might be the best option.
- In this sense, the things you'll encounter will also be unfamiliar.
- They might be as disjointed and as convenient as vanilla fantasy. However, weirdness can become very inconvenient for the GM, if running a long campaign. Introducing time-travel and alien weaponry will have bigger effects on your setting than your "sword +1" from vanilla modules.

The key word here is color. There is shiny new stuff in every corner. Most DCC modules I've run are like that (here is one example). Some LotFP modules are all-out weird (think Carcosa - even the characters have unusual colors!). A classic example from D&D might be Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

The danger here is randomness. Things stop making sense, knowledge becomes obsolete (why learn about trolls if every monster is different), etc. If everything is fantastical, then nothing surprises you anymore. 

Grounded adventures

For the lack of a better name, I call them grounded as they are "grounded in reality". These adventures are:

- Extremely familiar (at the start) as they are not based in fantasy (not even popular fantasy), but historical (or pseudo-historical) reality. Instead of dwarves and elves, you have knights, lords and peasants - mostly peasants.
Unpredictable in terms of monsters, traps and treasure - not only because these can be different, but also because they might be absent. Maybe some of the monsters are just humans in disguise, or there is a single monster in the whole adventure. The treasure may be ordinary (painting, books, etc.) instead of magical.
- They are coherent: there is usually an explanation for the monsters, traps and treasure you'll find.
- They create more inconveniences for PCs as clerics and mages might be harder to find, adventurers are not necessarily well-respected, and the authorities exist and might react to law-breakers accordingly.

Now, you could describe your GURPS, Hârn or maybe even Game of Thrones campaign as "realistic", "historical", "sensible", etc. And, even in vanilla modules, you will have ordinary keeps, castles, soldiers, etc.

But I'm also using LotFP modules, which start on an ordinary setting and then throw the PCs into a well of weirdness. The key word here is contrast: in the middle of an ordinary village, there is a giant blob monster (example). Or: the Swedish army is coming to Karlstadt... and the city has been already been invaded by strange creatures you've never seen anywhere (Better Than Any Man).

This way, you make the fantastic more special by internal contrast. Conversely, in "weird" adventures, everything is fantastical, and the fun comes from contrasting it with more familiar modules.

A strange example from 5e might be Curse of Strahd. The scarceness of fantastic creatures (goblins, dragons, aberrations, etc.) and the repetitive nature of the foes (mostly undead, witches and werewolves) enhance the weirdness of Strahd and the castle, making it more than a mere vampire in a random dungeon room - which, BTW, is why the whole thing was created in the first place.

The danger here is monotony. Are we even playing fantasy games if there is nothing fantastical about it? Do we play these games to fight monsters or to battle starving peasants? 

I've run games of "cops and robbers" before, but I find games with fantastical features much more fun (which might be one of the reasons so many people play D&D and even most GURPS books involve large amounts of fantasy). These features are not necessarily dragons and spells: you could have weird technology, time travel, zombies, deities, super-powers, etc.

Which one is better?

I realize that by merely reading this post you might think I prefer weird/grounded adventures to the more "vanilla" stuff. I do think vanilla, by itself, becomes a bit boring for me as a GM after a while - although I've seen PCs have fun with it, as it is comfortable. So yes, I'm a bit tired of the same old clichés - but I do not think vanilla is bad "per se" (and I still use vanilla adventures). 

I think it is one flavor that you can mix with others for great results. Maybe you give it a coherent take (see GURPS Banestorm) or use the vanilla as a basis to throw an unexpected contrast at your players (e.g., inserting a spaceship in the middle of an otherwise vanilla campaign). Or vary a little so things do not get stale. As noticed above, I'm using many different kinds of adventures in my sandbox, and I think this keeps things fresh. I already used more vanilla BFRPG stuff, but also LotFP and DCC, and they interact in interesting ways.

Familiarity, coherence, novelty, sensibility, etc., are qualities that can be inserted into any adventure.

My own adventure tries to use a bit of each ingredient: you have the (more or less) familiar demons and imps, but no goblins, orcs or skeletons. The hive-inspired shape of the dungeon has a reason, but it probably looks different than most dungeons. There are peasants and clerics, but also mutants and insect-people - and they all have a reason, or at least a justification, to be where they are.

But mixing it all is only one possible solution. Many of the adventures mentioned above lean heavily on one of these aspects, and do great things with it. And these are not, of course, measures of quality. There are many things I look in a module: organization, novelty, usefulness, coherence, etc. 

"Weird", "vanilla" and "realistic" are just flavors - everyone has their tastes, but you can have superb ice cream with all kinds of ingredients.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The controversial "Old School Feats" is gold!

Old School Feats is now a gold bestseller on DTRPG!

This is my most controversial book yet - although I cannot say I always understand WHY. I've got mixed opinions - unlike my other books (which received overwhelmingly positive reviews). I've heard several people saying that the entire concept of "feats" is incompatible with old school games in general, an idea I tried to debunk here, or disliking the book for other reasons (e.g., "there are not enough feats" - it has 74, as mentioned in the blurb). 

On the other hand, I've got some positive reviews and several people said they LOVED the book - and the overall rating is 4.3 stars out of 5 (unfortunately, lower than my average 4.5). There are also mixed reviews such as this.

Me? I have to admit I really like how the book turned out. I definitely do not court controversy on purpose. I understand some people will dislike it and, if you think feats are not for your Old School games, feel free to skip this one! However, if you like the idea - or at least think it COULD work - I'm confident you'll find these feats simple, quick and balanced.

If you liked the book, positive ratings and reviews are really helpful. If you think there is something mistaken or unbalanced, let me know in the comments so I can reflect on it and fix it! And if you haven't read it, here is a discount coupon (I'll leave it here for a while).

OLD SCHOOL FEATS is a collection of feats for old-school games. If you like "Basic" games and its clones (Old School Essentials, Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord, etc.), or even other OSR games, and want to expand character options, you'll certainly enjoy this one!
I love the simplicity of the old school classics, and these feats add customization to your character without adding much complexity to your games. Take a look at the previews to see for yourself!
Notice that this is not exactly compatible with Dark Fantasy Basic. Instead, it adapts some ideas from DFB to use with other, more traditional, games (see above).
In these pages, you'll find:

- 74 feats, with a special focus on fighters and thieves (20 feats each).
- Suggested feat progressions for each class, starting on level 2.
- Notes on creating and picking feats (randomly, deliberately, or with feats packages).
- Over 20 feat packages (War Priest, Ironclad Dwarf, Knight, Warlock, Mountebank) to help you choose your feats according to one of these archetypes.
- Optional rules, including separating race from class, unified XP tables, and flaws.
- Designer's notes on how to use feats and why I added them.
- ... and many other tools.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The HD game II - Fighters

Continued from here. First, we talked about monsters. Now, let's see if a 10th-level fighter can beat five 2-HD creatures.

Using the same example as before, let's take 5 cavemen with AC 11, 9 HP and 5 damage on average. A 10th-level fighter surely has plate armor (although this costs speed); let's give him a shield too (no torch...), and +2 miscellaneous magic bonus, for a total AC 19. With my approximation, the cavemen would hit on a 17+, thus doing about 5 damage per round to the fighter.

A 10th-level fighter could have about 45 HP or so - killing him would take 9 rounds. He would hit basically every time against AC 11 (either because you're using my approximation or giving him a +2 weapon etc.). Even if we give him an average damage of 7 (1d8 plus some miscellaneous bonuses), it is not guaranteed that he will kill one cavemen per round, but he will probably take fewer than 10 rounds to take down all opponents (provided he has any bonuses to his 1d8 damage at all).

So it is still an easy fight (especially because of morale), although the 9 HD elephant from last post had it even easier.

Could this fighter take down an elephant? Using B/X rules, I'd give the elephant an edge due to increased damage - about twice as much than the fighter. The fighter would deal about 5-6 damage per round, while the elephant has a similar THAC0 and more damage due to trampling. Using Dark Fantasy Basic or even Old School Feats, I'd bet on the fighter, since he has a few additional perks (same for BECMI with weapon proficiencies etc.).

What if the high-level fighter faces ten 1st-level fighters? Well, it would depend on the equipment. B/X gives "veteran" 1HD fighters AC 17. Is that fair? Maybe give them chain (AC 15 with shield) to start with. Lets be generous and give them 5 HP, 5 average damage. Against AC 19, they only hit 20% of the time... a single point of damage on average, but 10 points for the whole group.

In five rounds, the 10th level fighter would be dead. He would kill almost one adversary per round, but would still lose from accumulated damage after six rounds or so: 10 + 9 + 8 +7 +6 + 5... that is 45 damage. If the adversaries had plate, he would have no chance at all (barring morale).

Of course, we are completely disregarding tactics here - in a narrow corridor, the low level fighters would be easily defeated.

What about magic-users? A 9th-level MU (similar in XP to the fighter mentioned above) can fireball (or "sleep", etc.) an entire group of veterans, cavemen or an elephant, likely winning the fight on the very first couple of rounds (while a wall of fire will simply be impassable by veterans and cavemen alike, but useless against the elephant - which can be controlled by charm monster). 

However, with no armor and about 20 HP, he can be killed in few rounds if that doesn't work - e.g., if he loses initiative and gets attacked first. Notice he doesn't require any magical equipment, being able to rely on his or her own magic. Also, he recovers spells faster than the fighter can recover HP.

Notice that the whole rationale breaks (in B/X) if you reach level 14th, for example. When compared to a 10th-level fighter, the 14th-level one has 8 additional HP, +2 to hit. He has no chance against 14 veterans (or two 7th-level fighters) unless you give him lots of magic items or favorable circumstances. The MU will be more powerful, with amazing spells and 14d6 fireballs, but still very frail.

One final note. If you're using the Teratogenicon suggestions mentioned in the last post, a fighter should be doing about 12 damage by level 10. In B/X, this is basically impossible - fighters do not get more damage as they level up, except for magic weapons, and even these are usually caped at +3. In Dark Fantasy Basic (and, say, BECMI) a fighter has many different ways to achieve that.

So... what can we learn from that?

* Monster HD is not really equivalent to fighter HD.
* A B/X fighter needs some magic items to keep up with monsters of a similar HD. Magic items are necessary.
* A B/X MU is a lot more powerful (especially against low-HD creatures) but a lot frailer than a fighter. Their stakes are higher from round 1.
* A 10th-level fighter has an easy time against 5 2HD cavemen, but a hard time against 10 1HD veterans.
* 14th level is not really comparable to "10th level plus 40%".
* In short, it is hard to generalize from HD or even XP.

But we will try some generalizations anyway on part III.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Low Fantasy Silver Standard

I have written about this before, so just a brief thought today.

I like the idea of using a silver standard because it's much more sensible than gold. There are other advantages and disadvantages from that. One thing Delta recommends (and I follow) is keeping armor under the gold standard, so chainmail costs 10 times more than a long bow, for example.

Although I think the whole equipment list deserves rewriting, I still use it for reference when needed. But one thing I am thinking of doing automatically, in addition to making armor more expensive, is also keeping all magical items in the gold standard.

There are not hard numbers in B/X The OSE SRD suggests this for research:

As a general rule, items should cost from 10,000 to 100,000gp and from 1 month to 1 year of game time to complete. Some examples: 20 arrows +1 (10,000gp, 1 month), plate mail +1 (10,000gp, 6 months), crystal ball (30,000gp, 6 months), ring of x-ray vision (100,000gp, 1 year)

AD&D suggests 100 GP per spell level for hiring an NPC to cast a spell AFAICR.

Keep them in the gold standard and everything else in the silver standard, them let your players buy magic items if they are available. Now, every magic items costs more gold than they ever seem in their lives. This gives another "low fantasy" layer to a setting.

This has not happened in my current campaign, as there is no "magic item store" in most of my games. But it might be interesting... It makes me think of ASOIF, where a Valyrian steel sword is a dowry by itself, or enough to trade for a nobility title, but it's cost in gold is too much even to the richest families.

Magic items become much more special. I might keep a few exceptions - healing potions, maybe. And I could even safely use 5e lists that are easy to find online. 

Of course, if you keep giving the characters lots of magic items, as as it often happens in most TSR and OSR adventures I've played, you risk ruining the entire economy and making PCs instantly wealthy if they can sell the stuff they find (not that it would be easy to find a customer). So this would also require adjusting in a low fantasy setting.

Anyway, just an idea at this point. Maybe it would be easier to make my own list...