Friday, October 26, 2012

Dead Run: An RPG Mashup Inspired by Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man

There are lots of rules for rule conversions. Can we make a whole new game from an existing set of rules and a rule for plot conversion?

1) Use the rules from any edition of Deadlands, or any other RPG you are familiar with that includes rules that would cover a 19th Century/Wild West era. Games with relatively high PC mortality rates are probably the better choice in a tie breaker.
2) Ignore any rules that have anything to do with magic or the supernatural when creating characters.
3) Think of a plot that would work for a Shadowrun adventure, ideally one where magic isn't completely central to the plot.  Look here for ideas if you want.
4) Perform Plot Conversion:

  • Any journey in a car, truck, or other ground vehicle of under 100 miles is made by horse over a distance that is 1/10th as far.
  • Any journey by plane or helicopter becomes a journey by train of 1/10th that distance.
  • Any international air travel becomes a boat trip that takes 10x as many days to sail as it would take hours to fly.
  • Any reference to Elves, Indians, or Metahumans becomes a reference to Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves, etc.
  • Sprawl residents become frontiersmen, slaves, prostitutes, etc.
  • Any data, blueprints, plans, etc., become account books, ledgers, contracts, papers, etc.
  • MacGuffin's become a more efficient steam engine, repeating rifle blueprints, account and ledger books unveiling fraud, rare ore samples, priceless European art, etc.
  • Super-powerful megacorporations referenced in the plot become powerful local interests that 'own the town', can get away with anything, and employ their own hired guns. Alternately they can be aristocratic European families or East Coast banking and railroad interests.
  • All PCs and NPC still have guns on them at all times. People being shot in the street or a running gun battle in an office building probably draws a few curious onlookers and maybe a short article in the paper tomorrow, but little more.
  • Lone Star becomes local sheriffs, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshalls, the Pinkerton Detective Agency, etc.
  • NPC Physical adepts and street samurai become martial artists, bareknuckle boxers, or gunslingers. NPC Deckers become accountants. NPC Riggers become engineers (train or mechanical). NPC mages, shamans, and intelligent magical creatures (like Dragons) become highly educated aristocrats from Europe or the East Coast.
  • Cyberware becomes conventional melee weapons like knives and axes for bodyware, or journals, libraries, and specialized assistants (translators, copyists, valets) for headware.
  • Communication by net or phone becomes letters, sometimes sent through messengers (who can be trusted not to read the letters because they are illiterate).
  • Street gangs become claim jumpers, horse rustlers, bank robbers, etc.
  • The default setting becomes a nameless county in a federal territory west of the Mississippi instead of Seattle. Travel between locations within the city becomes travel through the countryside between small towns or isolated farms.
  • DocWagon contracts become pre-paid funerals.
Anticipated Questions:
What is this?: The intent for this game is a fairly gritty and 'real-world' Wild West game with a lot of opportunity for intrigue, violence, and general murderhobo behavior. Good choice for a sandbox game, maybe. The isolation of the Wild West and the power that money and violence brought make this setting (or at least its cinematic representation) a nice giant moral void where PCs have a lot of agency.

What is...:
  • Deadlands is a supernatural Wild West game; I picked it for the rule set because the names and range of options available for character creation (and task resolution) are already rooted in the 19th Century American West. There are stats and rules for revolvers, riding horses, etc. If you squint and ignore the supernatural stuff (essentially make all PCs and NPCs mundanes), you get a theme-appropriate rule set for building cowboys, bounty hunters, gunslingers, saloon girls, whiskey priests, etc.
  • Shadowrun is a supernatural cyberpunk game set in the (semi-)near future. A product of the go-go 1980's, it's setting is very concerned with the out-of-control growth of corporations and the eventual Japanese conquest of the commercial world (recent versions may have revised this to make it a little less dated, but I haven't really paid close attention since version 2 of the rules). Players typically take on the role of 'shadowrunners', deniable corporate assets who take on missions like swiping data from a rival, protecting executives from assassination attempts, assassinating rival executives, tracking down defectors, sabotage, debt collection, etc., for organized crime figures or powerful multi-national corporations. The world of the future is a sort of libertarian dystopia where everyone goes around discreetly armed and armored, corporations can make their own laws, and commercial disagreements occasionally erupt into running gun battles in the streets.
  • Dead Man is a 1995 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Johnny Depp. It's been described as a 'surrealist Western'. It went over Roger Ebert's head. Go watch it and see if you're smarter than he is.
What other works convey the appropriate tone?: True Grit comes to mind- the new one with the Dude, not the old one with the Duke. Maybe the old one is fine too, I haven't seen it. O Brother Where Art Thou? could work if you're interested in more humor and less killing people and taking their stuff. Most Spaghetti Westerns and their imitators will also work in a pinch if they keep the fantastic elements to a minimum (i.e., if you're thinking of Wild Wild West  or Brisco County Junior you would probably be better off playing straight up Deadlands).

Why?: I watch a lot of movies late at night.

The numbers for converting a journey from one type of travel to another are off: That isn't a question. I made the numbers up in my head. Do some Googleing and calculate better ones, or just treat them as conceptual guidelines.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

WFRP: Chaos Gifts of Slaanesh

Some Chaos Gifts for followers of Slaanesh that I put together before the Tome of Corruption was released.

          Stained Glass Beauty:  Your personal charisma is such that the weak-willed find it difficult to contemplate harming you.  In melee combat, opponents must make a successful WP test to attack you, unless you have attacked them first.

            Animal Magnetism:  Regardless of your appearance, you have a powerful affect on others.  You gain a +20% bonus to Charm tests made against members of the opposite sex, and a +20% bonus to Intimidate tests made against members of your own gender.

            Tactile Sensitivity:  Slaanesh heightens the effect of your every sensation.  You suffer a 10% penalty to Initiative rolls and Perception tests, because the constant flow of sensation is somewhat distracting.  On the other hand, you gain a 10% bonus to Sleight of Hand, Pick Lock, and Agility-based Trade skills.

            Chemical Sensitivity:  You are an extremely cheap date, and have a wonderful time at parties.  Every alcoholic drink that you consume counts as two of the same type when determining drunkenness, and you take a 10% penalty to Willpower rolls to resist becoming addicted to drugs like Mandrake Root.  You gain a 10% bonus to Prepare Poison tests and any attempt to detect poison in your food or drink.

            Union of Pleasure and Pain:  The character becomes unable to distinguish serious pain from the most enthralling rapture.  For the 2 rounds immediately following an injury of any type, the character receives a +2% bonus to all tests for every Wound lost.  These bonuses do not stack; only the highest bonus available applies.  This bonus applies to self-inflicted wounds as well.

Add these to the random gift table in the Tome of Corruption or add them to your Champion as needed.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Myth & Magic: Q&D Trader Class

I'm considering doing some Dark Sun conversions for Myth & Magic. While poking through some of the old 2nd edition Dark Sun stuff, I was struck by the trader class.

Traders are pretty much like Bards, except that they have slightly more practical skills- they learn to buy and sell, appraise and bribe, etc., rather than just learning how to play the lute.

So here's how we make a rough (really rough!) Dark Sun Trader from a Myth & Magic Bard:

Weapons, attributes, armor, and other core features are all fine as they are. When in doubt, assume that the Trader works just like the Bard in terms of progression, HP, etc., until proven otherwise.

Bardic Knowledge: 'Trader Lore'. This ability makes perfect sense for the Trader, since they would be travelling around and hearing rumors, sharing stories with sources, joining caravans, etc.

Bardic Performance: Swap Performance for Diplomacy. Bardic Charm becomes Fast Talk and reflects the Trader talking his way out of sticky situations. You might even allow the Trader to offer bribes to receptive audiences to improve his chances of success. Counter Song becomes Bid Calling, and now relies on the Mercantilism proficiency instead of Performance. Traders, through long years barking orders and working auctions, have learned how to disrupt audible spellcasting through carefully timed and well-projected shouts and hollering (ever heard a live stock auctioneer in the South?). Inspire Allies becomes I Give the Orders- Traders generally are in the habit of coordinating the movements of drovers, porters, and other lackies and are able to effectively coordinate the movements of their allies in combat, or at least irritate the enemy with their constant hollering and complaining.

Rogue Skills: Replace Decipher Script and Perception with Mercantilism and Appraise.

Arcane Spell: Here we get into deeper water, as arcane magic is quite rare in the original Dark Sun setting. For my purposes (since psionics get on my nerves) rather than try and put together a complete psionics system for my campaign, I'm just going to alter the background of the setting to be more open to magic (though it is still quite mysterious), going for more of a Barsoom/psuedo-Vancian feel. In that setting, it seems not unreasonable that Traders would come across the odd tome of arcane lore and try their hand at a few labor saving (or profit improving) spells. Good spell choices here (I fell a random table coming on) would help make the Trader feel a little more distinct from the Bard- probably a more restricted selection of early spells, for instance.

Armored Caster, Activate Arcane Scrolls, & Activate Magic: Since we split the Solomonic baby regarding arcane spells, there's no need to change these abilities around now. Bardic Influence is also fine as-is.

Renown: Seems fine. There are some charts in the Dark Sun books if you want more interesting followers. These followers will be the Trader's agents, acting on his behalf as body guards, buyers, clerks, etc.

Legend: Again, fine as is. When the Trader dies, his heirs become filthy rich members of the permanent oligarchy and he gets his face on a bank note and a university named after him, instead of some crappy song.

At the upper levels, the Mercantile activities rules from Adventurer, Conqueror, King System will be your friend.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Huzzah for new Goblin Concept Art

Round two of the Goblinoid concept art for D&DNext is out today, and I have to say that I am pretty excited about it (both the cartoon and the actual sketch). I was a bit disappointed by the first round of sketches, particularly the Goblin sketch which looked too gorilla-y and orc-like for my taste. While there are always going to be nits to pick (sweet, delicious nits!), I would be perfectly happy is this became the 'canon' goblin style for D&DNext. In face, I snagged both images to add to my huge folder of goblin images that I keep on my computer for... whatever. Yes, I do have such a thing, and no, I don't know what it is for. I just like having it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Myth & Magic: Random Starting Bard Spells

Bards get 1d4 spells at random two, either selected or random. Here's random:

1d20 RollSpell
2Change Self
3Comprehend Languages
4Detect Magic
5Dancing Lights
9Manipulate Flames
12Arcane Cantrip
13Audible Illusion
14Phantasmal Image
15Read Magic
17Charm Person
20Color Spray

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Animal Friends for Everyone

World building idea blatantly stolen from The Hobbit:

Every in-game race has an ancient alliance with a particular race of wild animals- a species of bird, for instance. Members of this race can automatically communicate with that species or type of animal. Animals of that type are not necessarily the companion or servant of that particular race, they just are cordial with one another and will help each other out if the opportunity presents itself and it isn't too inconvenient. Animals of that type will generally not attack members of their 'ally' race unless the animal is sick or starving to death. Animals of the appropriate type can be negotiated with to provide favors, but they are generally the type of favors that are covered by something the animal would already be likely to do.

Example pairings:
Elves - Robins, jays, swans and other similar birds
Gnomes - Burrowing mammals- moles, badgers, groundhogs, marmots, chipmunks
Dwarfs - Eagles; possibly bears
Goblins - Wolves and wargs
Orcs - Carrion crows
Humans - Non-wolf dogs and wild horses; hawks
Halflings - Mice and sparrows

Example Interactions: An elf could ask a blue jay to carry a message to another elf who lives within 1 days flight, or to pass the message on to another blue jay who can pass it on to whoever. A bird is going to be flying around all the damn time anyway, and doesn't need any incentive to pick one place over another. A wolf (who probably spends all day scouting his territory anyway) would tell a goblin when someone new has entered or left the territory he patrols, and what rumors he has heard through night-time howling from other packs. Violent animals might be willing to go along with their allied races in combat, but their goal is slaughter and feeding, not clearly defined strategic objectives. Carrion crows enjoy telling orcs things that will rile them up and get them out killing people because hey, free buffet. More complicated favors (things that involve doing something the animal would not normally do, like carry a rider or a message, fight someone, fly in bad weather would require convincing the same way you would need to convince or bribe a friendly stranger to do something. Particularly animals may become friends with an individual rather than just pleasantly disposed towards a particular race. Hunting or killing a member of your allied animal species gives you a bad reputation and makes it more likely your future requests will be refused.

It also occurs to me that the Alignment languages from the early versions of D&D could be used for this purpose- your ally species speaks the alignment language of your race- Chaotic Good for Elves, Lawful Good for Dwarves, Neutral for Humans, Neutral Good for Halflings, Neutral Evil for Goblins, Chaotic Evil for Orcs, Lawful Evil for hobgoblins, etc.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Taint as an Alternate Paladin Mechanic

Paladins are one of those classes that provoke a disproportionate amount of debate and/or hate. One of the big problems with Paladins is the use of alignment (a mechanic with a long history of pointless argument and other sturm and drang) to balance the extra goodies that Paladins get as a 'holy warrior' class. The need to maintain Lawful Good alignment and use only Good allies and henchmen can become a pain for the whole party; the Paladin player's choice of character ends up limiting what his fellow players can do and what concepts will work within the game. It might be great for high-immersion groups who are primarily interested in telling a good story, but as a game mechanism it's a source of tension and bother without an accompanying upside. If alignment is ignored (as 4e did, and as some DMs irritated by the whole thing certainly did in pre-4e), Paladins end up being rather flavorless- they're just a super-Fighter with magic powers.

The all-or-nothing nature of 'loosing' Paladinhood is also a particularly blunt instrument- either you're in the favor of your God, or you're not. There is no mechanic that reflects 'skating on thin ice' or a gradual descent into naughtyness- you're either one of the Divine Elect or you're a nobody. So here's an alternative:

Taint Points: Paladins start with a Taint score of zero. For every unlawful act they personally commit ('unlawful' in this case meaning out of alignment with the goals and values of the deity they serve), they gain one Taint point.

Taint Points in Play: Whenever a Paladin invokes a class ability, spell, or spell-like ability, roll 1d20. If the result is less than the current Taint score of the Paladin, the attempt to use the ability fails and that ability can not be used again that day until the Paladin has slept and prayed (i.e., the next time he has the opportunity to prepare spells for the day). This applies to casting spells, lay on hands, auras, turning undead, immunities, and other supernatural and spell-like effects, but not to base attack bonus/THAC0, level/attribute determined saving throws, weapon and armor use, etc.

Getting Rid of Taint Points: To get rid of Taint points, the Paladin must complete some action to bring himself back into the favor of his deity. This can include:

  • An Atonement spell cast by a cleric at least two levels higher than the Paladin. The cleric will likely require the Paladin to complete some task (possible a Quest/Geas) to earn the spell, but not one as complex as the quest option described below. The cleric may also require a donation to his or her temple.
  • Tithing 5% of the Paladin's current wealth to an appropriate temple. The donation can be cash or equivalent magic items/treasure. The donation must be for the use of the temple- the player/character can not, for example, donate treasure to a temple that is part of their own fortress or castle or donate to a temple that they are in control of. If you ordinarily give XP for class-appropriate treasure spending, the character receives no XP for this donation.
  • Undertaking a major quest for the appropriate deity or temple, for which the character receives no XP and donates all recovered treasure to the temple, might be worth wiping a Taint score back to zero.
  • Laboring under a vow for an appropriate amount of time. A god of war might want you to refuse using missile weapons for five combats. A god that protects the poor might want you to give generously to anyone who asks for money or other help for a month. Any god might accept fighting without magical weapons or armor for an appropriate number of combats or using crude and simple weapons (possibly ones that you are not proficient in) like daggers and clubs.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Semi-Random Starting Spells for Myth & Magic

Random character creation is good because it's fast and unpredictable. Picking spells for new wizards is bad because it's slow and you tend to only pick spells you already know how to use and can anticipate using. Totally random spell selection is a pain in the ass because you may end up with too many spells that do the same things (if you already know Magic Missile, as a level 1 Wizard are Shocking Grasp, Burning Hands and Shoot You In the Face really that useful?). Thus the following:

Starting Spell Selection: Wizards in Myth & Magic start the game knowing a number of spells equal to 1/2 their Intelligence, rounded down. In practice this means that you always start knowing between 5 and 10 spells.

All Wizards start play knowing Read Magic and Detect Magic. Use the guidelines and tables below to determine the rest of the spells in your spellbook.

5 Spells: Roll one time each on the Offense, Control, and Utility tables.
6 Spells: Roll once each on the Offense and Control tables, and twice on the Utility table.
7 Spells: Roll one time each on the Offense, Control, and Defense tables. Roll twice on the Utility table.
8 Spells: Roll once on the Offense and Defense tables, and twice on the Control and Utility tables.
9 Spells: Roll once on the Defense table. Roll twice on the Control, Utility, and Offense tables.
10 Spells: Roll once on the Defense table. Roll twice on Control and Offense tables. Roll three times on the Utility table. Enjoy being a Gnome.

Table 1: Offense Spells
1d10 RollSpell
1-2Burning Hands
3-4Chill Touch
5-6Gull’s Stone Storm
7-8Magic Missile
9-10Shocking Grasp

Table 2: Control Spells
1d8 RollSpell
1Charm Person
2Color Spray
Table 3: Defense Spells
1d4 RollSpell
1Arcane Armor
2Protection from Evil
3Thermoc’s Reflective Disc
4Thermoc’s Shield
Table 4: Utility Spells
1d20 RollSpell
2Change Self
3Comprehend Languages
4Dancing Lights
5Detect Undead
7Feather Fall
8Floating Disc
9Hold Portal
12Manipulate Flames
15Minor Cantrip
16Audible Illusion
17Phantasmal Image
18Spider Climb
19Unseen Servant

Friday, October 05, 2012

Google Trends: The Retroclones

It crossed my mind tonight that there is scant information out there about how big of a piece of the RPG market OSR-style gaming represents. We hear the occasional odds and ends in relation to Kickstarter print volumes vs. the economics of the big game publishers like Paizo and WotC, but beyond a vague idea that the OSR market is 'small', there isn't much information available. Despite its small size, the OSR community makes a lot of noise online. So I started plugging things into Google trends to see what I got.

Several surprising things:

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Support the Myth & Magic GM's Guide Kickstarter!

I posted recently about how much I'm loving New Haven Games' Myth & Magic, so I feel obligated to do my part in spreading the word about the Myth & Magic Gamemaster's Guide Kickstarter that launched last week. I'm already in as a supporter- they reached their funding goal in the first 25 hours and are now cruising towards hitting their $15k stretch goal, which will add stats for an extra 50 monsters to the Guide's bestiary. At $20k, a hard copy GM's screen unlocks for purchase.

Myth & Magic is a really nice system for anyone who enjoyed 2e play or likes the feel of 3e, but dislikes the accompanying complexity. As the post above describes, it puts together a lot of the things that I'd hoped would end up as part of D&DNext with a more retro feel that can easily be made to work for both dungeoncrawls and more narrative adventures. New Haven Games put together a great product for their Player's Guide kickstarter, so I fully expect to be similarly impressed by the art and organization of the new GM's guide.

Building a Random Dungeon with Central Casting

At some point in the past, I ended up with a copy of a Task Force Games product called Central Casting: Dungeons, a random dungeon construction module from the early 90's. Despite having had it in among my RPG gear for many years, I had never really used it in the way that it was intended- to generate a complete random dungeon- but had instead just browsed through it, maybe occasionally using a floor plan for a room to fit into an existing game. It always appeared needlessly complex- rolling for corridor lengths, rolling for random rooms, rolling for room sizes and treasure and encounters- and likely to produce nonsense results that, even for the RPG world, seemed implausible in a real structure.

Still, having recently gotten back more into dungeon crawl-style gaming, I decided to pull it out and give it a whirl. The results: it's just as much of a pain as I imagined. It creates results that are just as ridiculous as I imagined. I gave up on using it after an hour or so. And I still came out thinking it's a great product.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Can't Somebody Else Do It? A Random Table for Involving the Authorities

Players sometimes have the clever idea of seeking aid from the local authorities- the local lord, sheriff, etc.- in solving their problems. Someday, perhaps someone will invent a game where 'Call 911 and lock yourself in the bathroom' is a fully explored option- perhaps the core feature of a Bystander class. Until then, I offer the following table.

Can't Somebody Else Do It? Reasons why involving the authorities won't work.

1 - You kids and your drugsAuthorities assume that you are drunk or otherwise impaired. Charisma check to avoid spending the night in the stocks, drunk tank, or other comparable discomfort.
2 - We'll put our best man on itAuthorities assign an unpopular minor flunkie to accompany the players on the mission. This NPC brings no useful skills or insights to the table, aside from an ability to stop arrows with his face. Oh, and if he dies the local officials will be very upset and suspicious.
3 - Not my department.Players spend 1d4 hours being shuffled back and forth between different ministries, offices, and homes of important government officials. At the end of the day, they’ve received several firm handshakes, a promise to 'look into it', and no useful assistance of any kind.
4 - Take a numberPlayers spend 1d4 hours in a waiting room, great hall, or parlor awaiting an audience. At the end of this period, a minor functionary appears and politely but firmly tells them that the person they are waiting for is finished receiving visitors for the day.
5 - Clerical ErrorAn earnest and well-meaning official listens to the player's story with interest, and vows to provide assistance. He sends them on their way with promises that the cavalry will be along shortly. Unfortunately, due to a misheard instruction further down the line, the cavalry will arrive either 1d4 hours later than promised or in the wrong place entirely.
6 - Rabble Rabble Rabble!While visiting the official in question, an angry mob of local citizens appears agitating over some trivial local controversy- sod cutting rights on the Great Moor, the rabbit hide tax, etc. A scuffle breaks out, and the players will need to take action to avoid being drug off to jail or caught in a full-blown riot.
7 - Don’t tell me how to do my job!Officials are offended that the players were attempting to intervene in such important matters. They claim they will handle everything, but will take no action. If it later comes out that the players took care of the situation themselves, they will have made an enemy of the local officialdom.
8 - Fifth ColumnistThe local officialdom is in cahoots with the players' enemies, directly or indirectly. While pretending to offer help and advice, the official will seek to undermine their efforts and possibly get them arrested.
9 - Send word to the capitol!The official is eager to help but, unfortunately, can take no action without advice from his superiors. A messenger is dispatched to seek aid from the next tier up on the totem pole. Of course, it will take 1d4 days for him to reach his destination, get a response, and return...
10 - Call out the guards!The official is so frightened by the threat that has triggered the players’ visit that he insists on dispatching all available local resources to protect himself and the immediate vicinity- the town hall, the village, his castle, whatever. In any case, there are obviously no troops to spare in carrying out the mission- the players will have to do that themselves!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goblin PC Race for Myth & Magic

In keeping with my love of goblins as a PC race, I decided to put together some stats for Myth & Magic. I diverged a bit from the Goblin profile in the GM's guide in the interest of not gimping them too much as a PC- I intentionally wrote the rules for daylight sensitivity, for instance, so that GMs and players could decide whether to impose the penalty or not.

You can also check out my goblin PC rules for Advanced Edition Labyrinth Lord.


Attributes & Speed: Goblins are small and dexterous. On the other hand, they are also weak and unpleasant. Goblins gain +2 to Dexterity, but suffer-1 to Strength and Charisma.

A goblin’s base movement speed is 20 feet.

Weapons & Armor: Goblins can use any weapon allowed by their class. Weapons used by a goblin are considered one size smaller and deal one less die category of damage.

Goblin Senses: Goblins see up to 60’ in total darkness. In low-light or shadowy light, they see twice as far as a human. Goblins not adapted to life on the surface are sensitive to light, and suffer a -1 penalty to AC and all d20 rolls in light equal to daylight.

Languages: PC goblins begin play speaking Goblin and Common. They may also learn to speak Hobgoblin, Orc, Kobold, and Giant.

Heritage Proficiency: All Goblins receive Basic proficiency in Stealth.

Protection from Disease: Goblins often dwell in filthy conditions, and over the years this has rendered them resistant to most common illnesses. Goblins receive a +2 bonus to their Fortitude save to resist contracting or suffering the effects of any non-magical disease.

Opportunistic Digestion: Goblins are accustomed to scavenging for food. At the GM’s discretion, Goblins can locate food in environments that wouldn’t usually feed a human, such as in natural underground caverns, sewers, or urban environments where hunting and gathering is normally impossible. Using this ability may still require a successful Wisdom/Wilderness Survival check, and does not extend to finding food in totally inhospitable environments like deserts, open ocean, or glaciers.

Dirty Fighter: Goblins don’t understand the meaning- or the point- of a fair fight. PC Goblins of any class automatically gain the Dirty Fighting Talent.

Classes: Goblins are typically Thieves, Fighters, or Clerics.

Height and Weight: Goblins stand between 3 and 4 feet tall, with the average falling somewhere around 44” in height. They tend to be quite thin for their height, averaging perhaps 50 lbs.

My D&DNext Looks like Myth and Magic

I learned to play D&D during the AD&D 2nd edition era. Not everything about that era was great for the game (bankrupting TSR, for instance), but I still have a lot of nostalgic memories of it. That is the form of the game that is familiar to me, and certain things about earlier editions (Dwarves being a class, no baseline Bard class) and later editions (sorcerers, Dragonborn and Tieflings) will always feel a little out of place for me.

But nostalgia isn't everything. 2nd editions rules were baroque and confusing in a lot of places. There were arbitrary restrictions from earlier editions ported over whole cloth (restricted class/race combos, alignment restrictions for rangers and thieves) that never really seemed justified within the game. 3e cleaned up a lot of the mess and added a nice unified skill system for task resolution, but added things that over-complicated the picture like multi-class/PrC fever and complex feat/Prc 'builds' that varied from the unplayable to the game breaking. The refined math made the game more intuitive, but also introduced us to the arms race of optimization and 'effectiveness' that swallowed 4e whole.

So when the Next playtest packets started appearing, I was excited. D&DNext, to me, looks a lot like 2nd edition looked before kits and optional rules and torturous attempts at re-building the non-weapon proficiency system into a general purpose skill system turned it into a morass. Shortly before the second playtest packet came out, I started putting together my own criteria for what I wanted from a D&D-ish experience. As of a couple days ago, it appears that what I was looking for is already here: a 2e retro-clone(ish) called Myth & Magic.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Goblinoid Deities of Sharn

More cleaning out of some of my old gaming folders today- here's some stuff that I posted to the old pre-4e Wizards forums on goblin-specific interpretations of various members of the Sovereign Host pantheon. The idea was that goblins who had immigrated to Sharn generations before and integrated with Human/Demi-human society would eventually adopt the worship of the Sovereign Host (or be converted by local priests) but would adapt the traditional views of the Sovereign Host gods to better fit with Goblin values and lifestyles.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Xen'drik Story Hooks

Cleaning out an old folder of gaming stuff today. Below were some story hooks for adventuring in Xen'drik in Eberron that at some point I may or may not have posted to a WotC forum. These range from ideas for full-blown adventures to ideas for small encounters that might occur while parties are on the move between objectives.

Friday, September 07, 2012

D&DNext Exploration Quick Reference

A thread over at EN World a few weeks ago got me thinking about the importance of keeping time during an adventure- particularly during old school, dungeon crawl-style adventuring. All those little bits and pieces of information- how long a torch lasts, how long until a buff wears off between combats- start to actually matter once you start keeping track of how long it is taking your party to move through a dungeon, search rooms, and engage in combat. These type of rules were very important to early editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and they provide some of the raison d'ĂȘtre for exploration-focused classes like the Rogue and (in wilderness environments) the Ranger. If it doesn't matter how long torches burn for, how long buffs last, and whether or not that Thief can see effectively when he or she goes scouting, some of the flavor of an old-fashioned dungeon crawl is lost- and you might as well junk a lot of the mundane equipment in the gear lists.

With that in mind, I used the Labyrinth Lord rules together with some old 1/2e D&D references to come up with some quick and easy rules for keeping track of time, light, and movement inside a dungeon environment. The rules are intended to be used with D&D Next (I'll be using them with my PbP playtest), but are suitably generic that they can be dropped into most D&D compatible settings (though I do reference advantage and disadvantage in the lighting rules, to stay consistent with the playtest rules for blindness- you can easily enough sub your own penalties as appropriate). Credit to GX.Sigma at EN World for the original inspiration for these rules.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Resources for Reclaiming Blingdenstone

I'm getting ready to run Reclaiming Blingdenstone as a PbP for a bit.  Below, I've collected some resources from around the web that can help in running the adventure.  I'll expand as I find new materials.

Trackers and quick reference sheets for Reclaiming Blingdenstone:

Digital versions of the two main maps, plus some more options for chapter three:

A replacement for the Drow antagonist from Appendix 3- The Cult of Urlden

More electronic maps- this time for the Dungeon Mapp program:

What is the last group of maps for?

Several of these are from Jeremy Murphy blog, Over the Misty Mountains.  Well worth checking out his other posts on adapting the D&D Next rules and creating some enhancements to the adventure.

My exploration, time, and vision rules and quick reference tables:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Goblin PCs for Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition

As I've mentioned a number of times, I really enjoy Goblins as a PC race.  For fans of old school gaming, James Maliszewski at Grognardia created these Dwimmermount Goblin PC rules for his Dwimmermount setting using the Labyrinth Lord rules.  James uses a mix of regular LL, LL Original Characters, and Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition for his games, but his race rules for the Goblin lean strongly towards the original edition rules- split advancement, limited class selection, racial prime requisites, etc.

I'm currently working on putting together some OSR-style dungeon crawl adventures that I want to run via PbP.  I'd like to offer Goblins as a PC race (since I expect players will be running multiple different PCs over the course of things, death being a frequent possibility) but wanted to adapt the Goblin rules to be a little closer to the rule system I had in mind- essentially a simplified LL Advanced Edition that keeps the notion of race and class being separate, but focuses on the core four classes of Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric, and Thief.  With that goal in mind, I pulled together the following rules for Goblin PCs in Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

When Good PC Races Go Bad: Dwarves

What makes a Dwarf turn to the diabolic arts?  What makes Elves evil?  In this series of posts, I'll inexplicably examine what might motivate an evil member of one of the normally good PC races- and how they might behave once they've gone over to the Dark Side.

Why, you ask?  Mostly idle hands and idle curiosity.  I also think it may provide some story ideas for people, or provide some more realistic motivations for in-game villains.  Keep in mind here I am describing evil individuals from the non-evil races- Duerger, Drow, and the like are another matter entirely.

Today we'll be dealing with the stalwart and reliable Dwarves.  How might a Dwarf- normally the embodiment of Lawfullness, Goodness, quality craftsmanship, and gruff-but-loveable-ness wind up as an antagonist for the player characters?  How would an evil Hill or Mountain Dwarf go about carrying out his evil schemes?  Read on for some suggestions.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5e Character Creation Redux

After last nights exhaustive (and exhausting) walk through, I tried my hand at creating another D&D Next character.  While Foobar Testface was a pretty straightforward concept and execution, I decided for my next candidate to be a bit more creative.  To that end, I went full Willow on the character creation rules, creating a Neutral Evil Hafling Wizard Spy Necromancer, who I've yet to name but am currently referring to as 'Bad Hobbit'.

This time, I played with the standard stat array (8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15) rather than going for random rolls.  I also ignored the RAW for play test character creation and assigned my attributes right from the get-go, rather than waiting until after my Racial and Class abilities were ready to plug in.


  • Human attribute bonuses seem even more OP after running through the character creation process with a non-human.  +1 to every single attribute AND +2 to your primary attribute seems like a bonanza, particularly if you're someone who likes well-rounded characters.  With attributes getting more attention than ever with D&D Next (thanks to the apparent decline in importance of skills & skill ranks), this really feels like an obligatory feature if you are at all interested in optimizing a character.
  • Halfling racial abilities all seemed to fit the theme of the race quite well.  I'm pleased to see the return of some mechanical benefits for sub-races, but the Halfling race bonuses do seem to push them solidly in the direction of Rogue being their best class, and them being the best Rogues.  That's OK, as long as the playing field is relatively level for everyone else, and they aren't head-and-shoulders above the rest of the gang.
  • Halfling weapon dice scaling salves the bitter wounds left by weapon shrinkage in 3.5e.  Hoping that other Small races (like my beloved Gnomes and Goblins) get comparable qualities to keep them competent at hand-to-hand, but not holding my breath.
  • Creating a Wizard gave me some much harder choices to make compared with the Warlock I built yesterday.  While the Warlock Invocations were fairly easy to pick (and there weren't many of them), I spent a fair bit of time thinking about situational uses for my spells and minor spells.  I quite missed having a larger range of cantrips to choose from that I could plug into 0-level slots instead of a fixed pool of at-will spells.  I've often found uses for Mage Hands over the years, but felt like Light and Detect Magic were obligatory utility spells and that I needed an offensive at-will (like Magic Missile) to round out the selection instead of relying on my sling skills (though the sling does have a nice +6 to hit and 1d6 damage).  I kind of hope Detect Magic eventually gets baked into something like a Magical Lore check- it's such a universally used spell that requiring every character to have it starts to feel like a spell tax, or like you have fewer spells than you are told.
  • Building on the above- the Magic-User specialty feels even more useful when faced with having to pick cantrips that you will presumably have with you forever.  Doesn't seem like (so far) there is a way to gain more later.  Again, I'd prefer the 0-level spell slots option to having this choice be permanent.
  • The level 1 Necromancer benefits seem a bit weak in comparison to the other prime-time spell caster specialty, Magic-User.  At first level you have a choice of two necromantic spells (Cause Fear and Ray of Enfeeblement), which means you aren't going to often have the chance to kill something and then cast a spell within one minute.  On the other hand, it likely will scale better with higher levels than having extra cantrips- being able to blast a minion with Magic Missile in round 1 and then cast a high-level necromantic spell with advantage in round 3 could be a pretty nice combo.  Feels a bit like the nub of a 'combo point wizard' build- wonder if they will build that out further at some point.
  • My Warlock from yesterday's post feels like a much bigger combat threat than my Wizard.  Getting off a Ray of Enfeeblement or a Burning Hands or two, followed by lots of Magic Missiles or sling stones seems pretty paltry compared with the Warlock's at-will 3d6 Eldritch Blast, to say nothing of his higher Hit Points and armor class and better weapon selection (again, still don't know why a Warlock would ever use a weapon).
  • Regarding balance- a number of posters on the forums have noted that the Sorcerer and Warlock feel a lot more powerful than the Core 4.  Not sure whether we will see a boost to the Core 4 or a nerf to the new guys, but one of the two is bound to happen quite soon.  The disparity between the combat potential of the Warlock and the Wizard (at least at low levels) makes me wonder if WotC is trying to push the Wizard a little more into the controller role that it held in 4e, while giving the Warlock the blasting/Striker crown.  Maybe it's just a transient effect of the two classes being in different stages of review, though.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with my Bad Hobbit.  I've never played a Halfling spell caster before, and created him mostly as a laugh, but now I'm quite looking forward to the opportunity to play him for a bit.  Anyone looking for a player ;)

D&D Next Character Creation Walkthrough

As the new D&D Next play test packet is out, I thought I would walk through character creation and see what the experience was like, approaching it from a fairly newbie-ish perspective- just to see what was there, and what was left out.

Character Concept
As my character concept, I decided to play a dark but charismatic arcane type- I've previously created a similar character in Pathfinder as a Infernal bloodline Sorcerer; since Greatsword-wielding Dragonblood is the only Sorcerer archetype available in the current play test, I decided to create him as a Warlock.  In keeping with the spirit of the experiment, I named him Foobar Testface.

Attribute Generation
In honesty, its been a while since I did anything other than point-buy or standard-array a character, so I rolled for variety.  The default method recommended (4d6 drop lowest x 6, arrange to taste) produced the following array: 13, 15, 8, 14, 9, 17

Not bad.  Four above average rolls, and two below average.  I was already eyeing making that 17 my Int (since it's primary for Warlocks) and the 15 my Cha, to provide some face-like interaction potential.

Race Selection
I'd settled on Human at the concept state, so this was a non-decision.  Nevertheless, it lead to a couple of observations.

Observation 1: The Human ability score bump feels overpowered: Right off the bat, Foobar Testface went from above-average to superstar.  His starting array now stood at 14, 16, 9, 16, 10, 18.  Rather than jump straight to 19 for my primary attribute, I decided to share the love a bit and gave myself a second score of 16 for an extra bit of bonus.
Observation 2: Humans are mechanically great, but their race features are boring: Yeah, the attribute bumps are great, but once you've assigned your +2 you're done with the interesting bits.  In previous editions, Humans had fairly generic bonuses, but at least got some choice in terms of extra feats, At-will powers, or other features.  The flavor of humanity is more flavorless than ever.
Observation 3: You actually need to assign attributes before picking a class or race: The provided character creation document gets it wrong on this one, in my book.  What's the first thing you see upon looking at your class description?  An ability modifier.  But I haven't assigned my abilities yet.  For that matter, if I hadn't already kinda-sorta pre-selected which numbers went with which abilities, I couldn't really have picked where to assign my +2 attribute bonus when I picked my race.  Rather than making attribute assignment come after Race and Class selection, WotC needs to provide a little primer on how to pick attributes (for example, a table of primary attributes for each class) and take care of that before we get to the race stage.  Otherwise, character creation happens in a weird order where you pick a race, but can't apply the ability adjustments for that race until later in the game.  Character creation should be a progression, not a process of flipping back and forth between chapters and hoping you haven't forgotten anything.

Class Selection
I'd decided to make Testface a Warlock from the outset, so I flipped to the Warlock chapter of the demo files to take a look at my Warlock abilities.  As I describe in Observation 3 above, I hit a snag here in that I was given the option of boosting an attribute by my class abilities, but hadn't put numbers to attributes yet.  I decided to ignore WotC's instructions at this point, and select abilities in order to facilitate writing down my class abilities.

Here's Foobar Testface's attributes, after class adjustment: Str 9, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 19, Wis 10, Cha 16

Observation 4: Class ability adjustment + race ability adjustment = superman: I chose to create a more well-rounded character, but at this point I could have had a starting Int of 20 if I wanted.  Using the starting array rather than random rolls, I would have been guaranteed an 18 in my primary attribute as a Human.  The max roll possible is now the default for Human members of that class.  Not sure what the implications of that are yet, but it implies a certain amount of built-in min-max-i- ness.  I'm not so naive as to think that a lot of (if not most) PC's were starting out with that 18 in their prime attribute before, but it does reflect a change.
Observation 5: Order of operations: The Character Creation document doesn't have me figuring up my starting HP and other combat numbers until later, but if you look at your Class description you get hit with formulas for this sort of thing immediately, which you need to then flip back for when you finalize your numbers and calculate your bonuses.  Which are on a chart several chapters back.  The order of events and sequence of pages and chapters you move through really needs to be streamlined, and maybe re-thought.  Why are starting HP calculations with each individual class, rather than at the end of the chapter when you are calculating HP?  We've always done this with starting money, but not HP.  Why not put the attribute bonus table at the end of the Class/Character Creation chapter, if your attributes are not going to get their final values until after you've picked your class?  Things get particularly lost when you get to the Class phase of character creation.  As a Warlock, when do I need to pick my invocations?  How do I record my boons- 2 per whatever unit time?  There is a whole ton of stuff to record, and it isn't clear where to put it, or, from a new players perspective, how much of it needs to be recorded at once.
Observation 6: Pact Benefits Need Names:  They just do.  I need to be able to reference an ability rather than writing the whole thing down.
Observation 7: Character sheet weirdness:  In general, I found the process of adding my class abilities to Foobar Testface needlessly complicated.  It wasn't clear where to record things on the character sheet, and how much detail was needed.  Things didn't have names.  There is a whole big huge chunk of text on my sheet for 'Race' and 'Class', and I'm not sure how it is meant to be different from the Racial Benefits and the Class Benefits section.  I don't have any Race benefits as a human worth noting, anyway, since they are all recorded elsewhere, so I would rather just have a big blank 'Class and Race Abilities' section that I could use for whatever I wanted.
Observation 8: Warlock balance:  Eldritch blast feels overpowered to me, in comparison to things like Sneak Attack or Magic Missile.  Automatic 3d6 from 50' away, uses the Warlock's Magic Base Attack Bonus (which is equal to the Melee Attack Bonus of a Fighter), doesn't require advantage, and never runs out of ammo.  At level 1, I ended up with a +7 attack that does 3d6 at-will.  Seems a little bit much.  Meanwhile, Breath of Night seems under powered as an expenditure of one of your two daily (or interval-ly) boons, particularly compared with something like Shadow Veil that can be used without spending a boon.

I left the class section feeling like I would need to come back again later and finish filling things in, and make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.

Background Selection
I didn't really have a clear idea of a background for Foobar, so I looked through the various packages available.  I ended up selecting Charlatan, as I felt like that tied in well with his social skills.
Observation 8: Here a skill, there a skill:  More of a knock on the character sheet, I guess, but there is no single place on the provided sheet to note all of your skill training.  Mr. Testface has three skills from his background, plus another skill from his class.  I'm guessing Races could also provide skill training.  That's three different places to look for your skill modifiers.  Make a 'Skills' section in a future character sheet, please.
Observation 9: Unskilled: It feels like D&D Next characters are trained in fewer skills, or more narrow skills, than in earlier editions.  3e characters had a number of different skills (assuming they weren't Fighters), and 4e skills covered a lot of territory.  Play test characters feel like they have a very narrow range of skill competency- maybe higher ability scores are meant to compensate?  Feels like there are fewer ways to customize a character and reflect their specific skill focuses compared to 3e or Pathfinder, and that the skills that they do have just aren't as valuable as they were in 4e.

Specialty Selection
Specialties are currently Feat-bags of sorts, pending the release of a full Feat system.  Some of the Specialties look great, because they can apply to a lot of different classes- Archer and Dual Wielder, for instance, could work for a Fighter, a Rogue, a Ranger, a Paladin, etc., depending on your focus.  The suggested Specialty for Warlock is Magic User, which adds the ability to cast a couple minor Wizard spells at level 1, and then adds the Find Familiar ability at level 3.  Necromancer was intriguing to me, since I've always loved the idea of having undead minions, but the level 1 ability is entirely useless for a Warlock; since there are no Necromantic Warlock spells for Foobar Testface to cast at level 1, I can either select something useless to me right now and for the foreseeable future in the hope of eventually getting a cool skeleton buddy, or take something useful right now and give up being able to progress towards having an undead minion.  I decided to suck it up and take Magic User.
Observation 10: Limited Specialties:  We really need more specialties available in order to judge how useful they are going to be.  There are really limited options right now that are of use to multiple classes.  While being a Rogue who can cast two minor Wizard spells may be kind of cool, I see most people just taking the Specialty package that 'matches' their class.  Some Specialty features- like familiars and having a fighting style- feel like they should be 'baked in' to classes like Wizard or Fighter or Ranger.

Assigning Attributes
If you hadn't already assigned attributes by now, you would need to go back and pick up your racial adjustments and class adjustments.  Don't see anyone who has played the game before doing that- the order of events needs to be revised.

Combat Numbers
Lots of flipping back to earlier sections here.  Also, though you're prompted to calculate your Armor Class here, you're not choosing equipment until later in the process.

Other Observations:

  • Healer's kits are dead cheap.  Why wouldn't everyone have one, making the Herbalist level 1 benefit kind of redundant?
  • Formatting on the character sheet is screwy- I got a lot of E's that look like 'F's because they are too low on the line.
  • Why would a Warlock bother carrying weapons?  'Eldritch Blast' seems to be the answer to every question.
  • Really liking the idea of making spells into rituals and using the Ritual Component Pouch.  Strikes a nice balance in terms of not needing to prepare as many 'what if' spells for Vancian casters, and adds some point to spell components without needing to count pinches of bat guano individually.
  • Non-savable PDF forms suck.  A lot.  Make the form savable if you're going to make it fillable.
  • No good place on the character sheet to note your melee attack bonus independent of what weapon you are using.  Might be handy if your character picks up a weapon at random- most of what I've equipped in the 'Attack' section so far were finesse weapons that used my Dex bonus + melee attack.
  • Lot of empty space on my character sheet right now.  On the sample characters, the writers wrote out a lot of description for each ability.  I'm not going to do that.  I'm going to write down some bare bones facts (uses per day/rest, range, damage, attack bonus, etc.) and a page number reference.
  • Can't fill out the name field on the character sheet PDF.
  • Seems to be some inconsistency between calling cantrips cantrips and calling them 'minor spells'.  I guess because of orisons.  It would be nice to just standardize things- call them 'minor arcane' and 'minor divine' spells.  Whenever I see 'orison', I have to mentally change it to 'cleric cantrip'.
  • Changing abilities from 'per day' to 'and then they are restored when you take a long rest' is really verbose.  We need a shorter way to say that.
  • Hard to really make too many judgement about the Warlock or Sorcerer classes without more Bloodlines/Pacts available.  Ideally that should end up as a really important choice for your PC, but right now every member of that class looks the same.
  • Some of the Specialties feel like they ought to be class options- Lurker jumps out as one that feels more comparable to Thief and Thug than to anything else.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

5e feels familiar

I've had the 5th Edition (or D&D Next! or New D&D, or whatever they're calling it) playtest docs in my hands for about as long as anyone else.  Haven't actually played with it yet, but a few scattered impressions:

  • Reminds me a lot of second edition AD&D.  This is very nostalgic for me, personally, because 2nd ed. AD&D was what was out and what I was playing when I got into roleplaying games.
  • The OSR seems to have won the day.  Wizards is still claiming that the final version of the game will support styles of play that accommodate people who like the 4e style of play, but what they're giving people as their first taste of the game looks as little like 4e as 4e looked like 3rd edition.  Instead, we get something that looks like the style of game TSR published 20 years ago, with a few modernish tweaks.
  • That being said, I know that AD&D 2nd Edition is where things really "went wrong" in the minds of some OSR purists (growth of tons of player options that unbalanced the game, endless supplements and official settings, added "realism", novel tie-ins, the Dragonlance "game is story" railroad, etc.).
  • Based on looking over the book and the character sheet, I can see teaching someone 5e who was new to gaming.  It seems like a single character sheet actually contains enough information to give a newbie a reasonable idea of how to run their character.  I don't feel like I can say the same about 3e or 4e.  4e seemed to cater to kids who grew up with the Magic-style "cards are powers" paradigm, but not everyone who comes to an RPG is going to know collectible card games.
  • Waiting for character creation rules to see how far back we're going on the race/class/level restriction stuff- will Dwarf Wizards and Elf Paladins get the heave-ho again?  Will we see the return of limited progression in non-favored classes?  Personally I hope not- I always found those things to be a pointless barrier to playing the sort of character that you want to play.
  • Waiting with anxiety to see what indignity is going to be inflicted on my beloved gnomes by this new edition.  Current guess: left out of the core races for the 5e equivalent of the PBH, gain bug eyes and rock crystals instead of hair, favored class continues to be Bard, some obscure interaction between a STR penalty, size levels, and encumbrance renders them incapable of carrying both a missile weapon and sufficient ammunition for it.  You heard it here first.
  • Backgrounds and themes/schemes look interesting.  Backgrounds look like an attempt to merge the old 2e Secondary Skills with the skill/proficiency system,  and Themes/Schemes hopefully prevent infinite class proliferation.  The difference between Themes and Schemes looks a bit unclear at the moment.
Read on for my take on the game as a whole and thoughts for the future.