Monday, 26 December 2016

Fighter & Rogue write-ups for "RedNext" (B/X-5e hack)

I've finished my write ups of both the Fighter and Rogue for my B/X-5e "RedNext" hack. Unlike the Halfling, which was mostly written from scratch, these were a lot easier. Copy-paste from the SRD, trim and re-organise to make it easier to scan and fit into 3 pages each.

The Figher (PDF)

The Rogue (PDF)

There are a few differences from the 5e PHB version though. No sub-classes, no feats, no race to be chosen (since race is a class), skill lists dumped and only the four core classes (+3 optional race-classes), trims a lot of the fat from the character dev mini-game that modern D&D so wants to become. There are two changes I use to cover the difference:

A much increased focus on the simple combo of (4 core classes + background) to define your proficiency and 'adventuring identity' as opposed to a proliferation of classes and long lists of skills (I do appreciate that 5e vastly cuts down on the skill lists. Still a bit too long for my taste).

A choice of "Class Feature" at 1st level - This is my own innovation and only the human classes have one. It hearkens more to the AD&D notion of the various later classes (ranger, druid, paladin, bard) being a kind of sub/prestige-class of the four Originals and, in tandem with background, goes a long way towards emulating the proliferation of classes with much simpler means.

Under the hood, they are a a 1st lvl class feature of some sort already given in the PHB/SRD + a
feat (since I have baked the variant human into each of the four classes) that adds some oomph to it.
So for Fighters, the Class Feature is still the existing Fighting Styles that now more of pack a punch to create properly hard hitting barbarians, sharpshooting rangers and tactical "warlords" (including a a new more generic one for those who just want to be heroically generic Champions).
For Rogues, it is Rogue Schemes, such as Thief, Wanderer, Acrobat, Arcane Dabbler and Charmer to create your bards, thief-acrobats, duellists, scouts and indiana jones'.
Priests will two Divine Orders choices - Cleric and Druid, built out of feat + domain. Will be interesting to see how much druid I can manage to pack into that combo.
And Magic-users three Arcane Schools - Wizard, Warlock and Sorcerer, with the difference being how to new learn spells and ritual magic + a featlike punch to back up each tradition.

When it is all said and done, I'll make a 1-page spreadsheet to make it super easy to see how a ranger=(fighter+deadeye feature+woodsman background) and scout=(rogue+wanderer feature+woodsman background) and so forth. It adds two layers of choice complexity that isn't there in B/X (feature+background) but much less than what 5e has. I think, given all the characterisation+punch you can get out of these two basic choices and the attention I am putting to make these two choices clear and simple, it's a decent tradeoff and middle ground between the two.

Any and all feedback is of course greatly appreciated.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Monsters/Humanoids as Playable races in D&D

It has been leaked that the forthcoming Volo's Guide to Monsters will have rules for playing Aasimar, Bugbears, Firbolgs, Goblins,Goliaths, hobgoblins, Kenku, Kobolds, Lizardfolk, Orcs, Tabaxi and Tritons.

Setting aside my current movement towards even finding elves a bit problematic as a playable race, I can see the case for things like Aasimar, Kenky and Goliaths.

But bugbears? Goblins? Hobgoblins? I've even seen complaints that gnolls weren't included. What? These are monsters.

I guess it comes out of an assumption that I've grown to wholesale reject - A naturalistic approach to critters. Ie, that gnolls or bugbears are just another intelligent species like any other, albeit one more violent then most.  In other words, they are not really monsters.

This approach, populised I suppose by the WoW/Eberron approach to orcs as Noble Savages, to me roundly defeats much of the Raison d'Etre for D&D adventuring - Namely that it is ok to kill these critters and take their stuff.

Gnolls are not just intelligent jackals. They are a horrible demonic hybrid of man and jackal whose existence is an explicit and intentional threat to human society. 

Hobgoblins are not just a species of a race called goblins. They are (imc), Devilmen - Tribes of former humans who turned to devil worship and were inevitably corrupted by their association with evil. They are a diabolical mirror of mankind that represents not only mankind's potential extinction but it's ultimately wilful worst transformation.

Goblins, bugbears and ogres I treat as variations of troll (in the nordic sense of the word - Paul Anderson's take on trolls are just a genetic warmachine of a former empire) - They are something mythic, with fey associations, existing in liminal zones between the mythic unknown and the known world.

The point being - None of them are natural. They are not naturalistic species in the sense of being just another biological species with different outlook and appearance. They are monstrous. Their very nature marks them as something antithetic to mankind - They are products of cosmic forces that would gladly see mankind wiped out - forces fundamentally alien to mankind.

When human adventurers go into the wilds and meet these critters it is not just a question of fighting them because they are in the way and might be dangerous. It is about encountering forces that represent an existential threat to the very world order that mankind is part of. Of course it is justified to kill them and take their stuff!

I should note, I did take a different tack with Orcs, who to me are a bloodthirsty and more ferocious image of what neanderthals might have been had they not gone extinct, but nevertheless lost the evolutionary race with homo sapiens by the time the middle ages come around. 
They are also called "Sub-men" (with all the Talislantan implications of the word) and basically a savage antediluvian cousin to men, whose long history of bloodthirsty animalistic savagery has degenerated them even further. Basically, their shot at growing as a race came and went, and they remain now only as a cancerous evolutionary dead end. Still, from this we get half-orcs as a possible player race.

Kobolds I treat as basically nasty-minded sentient rats that live on the fringes of civilization - which is more or less in keeping with the historical depiction of kobolds. I suppose if you really wanted to play as reviled chattel, you could play a kobold.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Halfling [Race-as-class] for 5e (RedNext B/-5e hack)

Halfling - Racial Class 5e (PDF)

First of all, let me start by saying - 5e may be simple and balanced, but class design is NOT. 

Class design is really where the designers put in the highest level of complexity into the system. Lots of unique sub systems (battemaster, warlock), maneuvers that break the action economy in unique ways, implied strategic build paths, etc. All stuff I want to simplify away with RedNext - take away the excess of moving parts. 

But even besides that, there is lots to consider - Every level gets a bennie of some sort (in three tiers), some hardcore class defining ones, others thematic. And impact of bennies is asymmetrical from class to class (except 5th and 11th). And all of them have frontloaded abilities that are on the surface overpowered. 

Weighing all these up and when to put the big ones is a lot to consider - Making the Halfling took time! Dwarf and elf might be easier purely because I now have a better grasp of the ideas behind class design, but they wont be up overnight.

Designer Notes on the 5e Halfling

For the Halfling, I lined up Fighter, Rogue and Ranger abilities on each level in a spreadsheet (assymetrical power curve per level makes it difficult to assess the weight of each bennie on each level), made another list of abilities (mainly feats and sub-race abilities) that would be nice to insert, filtered out the bennies that didn't fit a halfling build and started looking according to the following criteria from Menzer's basic:
  • -2 AC against large.
  • Best Saves
  • +1 missile weapons & initiative
  • Hiding (90% outdoors, 33 in dungeon).
Besides this, my own gamist analysis of what that makes the Halfling and what it ought to be:
  • A mix of fighter and rogue - In many ways a civilised, slightly less martial, ranger. But also a build that, while reminiscent in style of these two, is suitably distinct from both and Based on a different 'rules theme' (re-rolls, avoiding damage). ie, Halfling may thematically be a rangery fighter/rogue, but they should have a different 'rules feel' and benny niche to them than just smashing those two together (ie, less of the 'my rogue got a new bennie!' - 'neat. my halfling got the same'). 
  • High survivability and luck
  • less outstanding (tier 1) abilities, but more tier 2 ones to make a more rounded and bit broader class than the others. Less of the flashy 'nova' abilities (Sneak Attack, Action Surge) which is rather un-hobitty, but someone who can hold their own in most any situation. Outstanding feature is as a scout.

Douwe Dabbert
Fictional inspirations are mostly: 

  • Tolkien (of course) - Basically my imaginary lens of "how would previous hobbits Gandalf took adventuring turn out? (which comes down to the unrealised archetype of Trotter)"
  • Douwe Dabbert - Not sure if American readers will know him, but it's a classic here in Denmark. Douwe is to me the archetype of a drifter halfling who made it to old age
  • A dash of Kender (sorry grognards, but take out the silliness and they are a great adventuring spin on Halflings).
Without further ado, here is the first draft of the 5e Halfling-as-Class (note the intentional lack of build options). Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated.

Halfling - Racial Class 5e (PDF)

Halfling - Racial Class for 5th Edition

You are a Halfling – While most of your kin are content with a rural life, rarely venturing even as far as the neighboring village, that is not you. You are struck by a well known but rare impulse among the little folk – Wanderlust. You are rootless, a drifter, drawn to see what lies beyond the next hill.
Your travels take you into the world of men and dangerous lands, demanding that you make the most of the virtues of your people to survive. While the big folk may be stronger, more cunning and even wield magic, you are nimble, sturdy, brave and lucky – Other races may make bigger waves, but halflings unassumingly survive in the face of many threats larger people would not.

Class Features

As a Halfling, you gain the following class features:

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per level after 1st
Armor: All armor, shields - These must be fitted to size.
Weapons: Simple Weapons, Martial Finesse Weapons, Blowguns, Hand Crossbows, Nets.
Saving Throws: Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom
Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Constitution by 1.
Size: Halflings average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds. Your size is Small.
Speed: Your base walking speed is 25 feet.

Proficiency Bonus
Halfling Veteran
Lucky, Brave, Nimble, Stealthy,
Durable, Wanderlust
Halfling Warrior
Eye for Distance, Halfling’s Knack, Botanist
Halfling Swordmaster
Halfling Hero
Ability Score Improvement
Halfling Swashbuckler
Stalker’s Dodge
Halfling Myrmidon
Extra Attack
Halfling Champion
Escape the horde , Herbalist
Halfling Sheriff
Ability Score Improvement
Indomitable (one use)

Halfling Fortitude


Ability Score Improvement

Indomitable II


Magic Resilience, Slippery

Ability Score Improvement



Ability Score Improvement

Stroke of Luck

1st Level Abilities
Lucky: When you roll a 1 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can re-roll the die and must use the new roll.
Brave: You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened.
Nimble: You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours.
Naturally Stealthy: You can attempt to hide even when you are lightly obscured or obscured only by a creature that is at least one size larger than you.
Furthermore, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.
Wanderlust: You are a master of navigating the outdoors and react with swift and decisive action when attacked. This grants you the following benefits:
• You ignore difficult terrain.
• You have advantage on initiative rolls.
• On your first turn during combat, you have advantage on attack rolls against creatures that have not yet acted.
You gain the following benefits when traveling for an hour or more:
• Difficult terrain doesn’t slow your group’s travel.
• Your group can’t become lost except by magical means.
• Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), you remain alert to danger.
• When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.

2nd Level Abilities
Eye for Distance: You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged and thrown weapons.
Halfling’s Knack: You can take a bonus action on each of your turns in combat. This action can be used only to take the Help, Hide or Use an Object action.
Botanist: You are a master of herbs, both for their taste and medicinal value. You have mastered a variety of special recipes, allowing you to prepare special dishes with useful effects. You gain the following benefits:
• You gain proficiency with cook’s utensils. If you are already proficient with them, you add double your proficiency bonus to checks you make with them.
• During a long rest, you can spend an hour to prepare and serve an especially nutrient meal that helps you and your allies recover from the rigors of adventuring, provided you have suitable food, cook’s utensils, and special herbs and spice on hand. Such herbs can be gathered beforehand with an hour of foraging.
The meal serves up to six people, and each person who eats it regains and may spend an additional Hit Die at the end of the long rest.

3rd Level Abilities
Poultices: Your herbal mastery allows you to create especially potent poultices to combine with a healer’s kit to mend wounds and get your allies back on their feet. You gain the following benefits:
• When you use a healer's kit with your poultices to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1 hit point.
• As an action. you can spend one use of a healer's kit and poultice to tend to a creature and restore 1d6 + plus additional hit points equal to the twice the creature's maximum Hit Dice.

You may prepare a number of poultices equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1) in similar fashion to meals, as described under Botanist.

You can prepare both meal and poultice during a long rest, but recipients can benefit only from one of poultice or meal per long rest (ie, a recipient who healed from a meal during a long rest and then received a poultice would gain no benefit from either on the next long rest),
The poultices you create cannot be applied by anyone but you. After 24 hours, any poultices that you have not used lose their potency.

4th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

5th Level Abilities
Stalker’s Dodge: Whenever a creature you can see attacks you and does not have advantage, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the creature’s attack roll against you. You can use this feature before or after the attack roll is made, but it must be used before the outcome of the roll is determined.

6th Level Abilities
Extra Attack: You can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

7th Level Abilities
Escape the Horde: Opportunity attacks against you are made with disadvantage.
Herbalist: Your culinary skills extend to detecting and curing poisons.
As an action, you can inspect a drink or plate of food within 5 feet of you and determine whether it is poisoned, provided that you can see and smell it.
Moreover, You can spend an hour preparing a fresh concoction to cure one poison effect on the creature you are applying it to. It only works when consumed immediately.

8th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

9th Level Abilities
Indomitable: You can re-roll a saving throw that you fail. If you do so, you must use the new roll, and you can't use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

10th Level Abilities
Halfling Fortitude: You have Proficiency with all saves.
Furthermore, you have advantage on saves against poison, and resistance to poison damage.

11th Level Abilities
Volley: You can use your action to make a ranged attack against any number of creatures within 10 feet of a point you can see within your weapon’s range. You must have ammunition for each target, as normal, and you make a separate attack roll for each target.

12th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

13th Level Abilities
Indomitable II: You can use this feature twice between long rests.

14th Level Abilities
Cunning Stalker: You gain the following benefits:
When you are hidden from a creature and miss it with a ranged weapon attack, making the attack doesn't reveal your position.
Dim light doesn't impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on sight.

15th Level Abilities
Magic Sturdiness: You have advantage on all saves against magic.
Additionally, you may take the  Use an Object action to activate magic items.
Slippery: You gain +2 to AC against melee attacks made by Medium-sized creatures or larger.

16th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

17th Level Abilities
Indomitable III: You can use this feature thrice between long rests

18th Level Abilities
Elusive: You are so evasive that attackers rarely gain the upper hand against you. No attack roll has advantage against you while you aren't incapacitated.

19th Level Abilities
Ability Score Improvement: Increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

20th Level Abilities
Stroke of Luck: You have an uncanny knack for succeeding when you need to. If your attack misses a target within range, you can turn the miss into a hit. Alternatively, if you fail an ability check, you can treat the d20 roll as a 20. Once you use this feature, you can't use it again until you finish a short or long rest.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Skills in D&D - And in RedNext (B/X-5e hack)

Skills is a problem. Always has been. It's a problem to have them and a problem not to have them. Back in the day, I considered myself a skill-aficionado. The thought that not having skills could be a well-considered feature of a system didn't really occur to me. These days, I am between two stools of appreciating the advantages to not having skills and still liking skills for the way it helps to distinguish and characterise characters.

And this is why I don't like 5e skills - they are too generic and basic. They don't actually say anything about the character. We have skills in my 5e group, but I can't see we've used them for much other than 'guess I can add +2 to that roll'. In other words, they might as well not be there.

With that in mind, my baseline is a slight modification of the OSR standard:
Anyone can more or less try anything.
For my 5e OSR document, I edited out all skill references to take as my baseline. Sort of. Actually, skills are sorted by attribute and holds examples of when they can be used. I just removed the skill part and used them as examples of what attribute to use when attempting all of these things. So that's the baseline. More or less. I think this quote over on therpgsite by +thedungeondelver  frames the scope of adventuring capability and skills, if they have a place:
"In a very off-screen manner. I asked Gary once about skill systems, did he look back when in late AD&D at other systems that had skills and think "I wish I'd put skills in AD&D" and his response was no, that he felt in a level/class game that your character before they became an adventurer should be basically competent at foraging, swimming, climbing a rope (not the same as a thief's Climb Walls skill - that's for sheer, unassisted climbing up nearly impossible smooth surfaces, etc.), riding a horse and so on. Additionally, the "secondary professions" could blossom out into opportunities for players (for example, we have in the Fri. night game a player of a dwarf who happens to also be a lapidary, so pricing gems is easy enough for the party)."
Besides making a good point that Class itself substitutes for skill (or at least, ought to indicate skill), I think this passage also provides a good definition of what the 1st level adventurer is capable of. +Arnold K  on The Goblin Punch put it succinctly for me:
"You can think of the base adventurer as Indiana Jones minus the Archeologist."
I think, in 5e (and RedNext), a good way of representing this is: All characters of level 1 or higher have proficiency (ie, receive their proficiency bonus) in more or less everything. You are just that good. So go ahead and try it. Proficiency Bonus is a measure of your overall bad-ass ability and improves as you level up.

Indy - A 1st level Rogue with the Scholar background in D&D
One exception: 
  • Combat and similar life-threatening attempts to do stuff
So you don't get a bonus to weapons or grappling etc unless your class specifies it (fighters however, are broadly proficient in combat - Meaning Fighters are the only ones who get their proficiency bonus to "try anything" in combat. From grappling to spear-impaling nutsacks or whatever).

There are two further aspects to this:
  • Tasks your character is even better at than just proficient.
  • Highly technical ('skilled') tasks
Tasks your character is even better at than just proficient is basically just determined by Class and Background (ie, much the same as Gygax intimated in the anecdote quoted above) and you get advantage on all such checks outside of combat and similar highly threatening situations
If you are a Forester Fighter, you have your proficiency bonus+attribute bonus and advantage on all non-threatened checks for stuff like tactics and appraising weapon quality (Fighter) and tracking in the woods and setting traps for game (forester). Anyone else is competent enough to try the same with bonus+attribute bonus but not with advantage. So your 'skill' (fighter/forester) packs a punch, even though anyone can try anything (and hope to succeed).

Highly technical ('skilled') tasks like weaponsmithing, lockpicking without a pick, climbing sheer walls without tools, hiding in plain sight or deciphering an ancient language that you can't really expect to be able to unless have actually studied this skill somewhat takes you one step down the "advantage" ladder. Ie, a rogue/burglar would be able to climb a sheer wall with a regular check. Everyone else would have disadvantage.

Doing it in a pressured threatening situation (like combat) would take you one step further down. Meaning only a skilled character like a rogue/burglar would be able to do it in combat at disadvantage. No one else would be able to do it.


I am wondering if maybe the 'advantage/disadvantage' scale should be switched to altering DCs for skilled/unskilled characters and attempts instead. It has the advantage of keeping mechanics that suggest 'you can't do this' out of sight of PCs.

There are still holes here. I'd like to give more opportunities for rounding out skill choices than just this (maybe something like 'skilled(advantage) in one personality trait - poor(disadvantage) in another trait') but not at the cost of KISS. And I am not sure how this interacts with rogues acquiring new skills and such. Class/ Background/Personality Trait are basically just skill focuses so maybe I just need to sit down and think on how to delineate a skill focus...


One thing that definitely needs to be addressed with all this is "when to roll". I think it is a good rule of thumb to say: 

If the player can reasonably describe how he accomplishes a task, he accomplishes it.

If the player is lazy and doesn't do that, he has to roll. You always roll in combat.

Any rolls made then would simply be to 'degree of success' if applicable.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Further thoughts on "B/X-5e" hack: RedNext

First of all, in reply to some of the comments on my previous entry as to whether 5e hacks can be considered old-school or not and why I will continue to bill my little pocket project as OSR in my own mind - I like Greyhawk Grognard's definition:

"We play the old games, and the games that feel like the old games."

'nuff said. On to other matters: I guess I am going ahead with this.

Yesterday, I took the 5e SRD, split it into six booklet documents. Then I stripped it of all the stuff that won't fit in with my "Redbox 5e" mix. Cosmology guff, classes beyond the four basic ones, all races save dwarf,elf, halfling, feats and skills.  3 for players:
  • Book 1: Characters (45 pages)
  • Book 2: Playing the game (29 pages)
  • Book 3: Magic (112 pages)
And another 3 for the DM:
  • Book 4: Running the Game (16 pages)
  • Book 5: Treasure (63 pages)
  • Book 6: Monsters (164 pages)
Something like this if ever actually printed. Great for the actual table.
It needs further stripping as the page count, especially for magic, treasure and monsters is still too high (to be fair, these aren't much rules - Just loads of material made freely available by WotC) I will need to go through the docs and see what is superfluous or can be rewritten to simpler language, although my impression so far is that the authors did a really good job of this already.

This will be my base for hacking from which I can then add my own mods. Mostly, I will be looking at the B/X series. 

The design goal overall is "Basic Set approach with 100% 5e Compatibility" (meaning you can take anything from full 5e and drop in, or have characters designed with full 5e at the same table, or characters designed with this hack at a full 5e table, with zero adjustment or conversion needed).

Here is what I am thinking I want to add into the mix so far:

(and as an optional sidebar rule - 'race AND class'). This will mean mixing 'human' race modifiers into the four human classes for simplicity, making a gish class for the elf and determining what kind of class exactly dwarves and halflings are beyond 'racial fighter' and 'racial rogue'.
I love race as class. Classes are archetypes for plug and play. So are races.
Level titles
It belongs - It's a great way of determining what to expect from each level.

Narratives is an open content sub-system made for the Primeval Thule 5e campaign setting. It replaces backgrounds, is a bit more expansive in defining the characters and adds a few bells and whistles at higher levels. Functionally, I suppose it is somewhere between 2e kits and 5e backgrounds.

I intend to use them to replace the stripped out classes (So 'Ranger', 'Paladin', Barbarian', 'Druid', 'Bard', 'Warlock', would all be Narratives instead of independent classes) - I think this should work fine. These extra classes are essentially just thematic variations of the four basic ones, so it makes sense to handle them with a system designed to bring out thematic variation with only a few bells and whistles baked in.

New Skills System
Although 5e should get kodus for simplifying the skill system, I don't think they pulled it off really. Except for Perception and Stealth, I find that skills aren't really being used much in our 5e game and when they are, it feels clunky. Their presence don't really say anything about the character using them - they are too generic for that.
What they did right what making skills essentially just a thin layer on top of attribute checks. Meaning they are easy to discard or replace with a different system. Thumbs up for modularity, 5e!

I like the three variants in the DMG though. The attribute one is a nice way of just dropping skills.
The two others are simple and fluid and seem to encourage 'what I can do really well' in a way that says something about the character rather than a 'what I can and can't do' list. I am thinking of making a mix of them:
"Narrative Proficiency" - Basically, whatever a player can reasonably argue that a character of his background and training ought to be able to do, he is proficient in. Rangers can do outdoorsy stuff, warriors can grapple, Warlocks know stuff about outer beings, etc.
I am thinking of adding a few extra skill elements to allow for personalising characters: A narrow version of the personality trait proficiency and/or "one thing I did growing up" that falls outside the class system. Keep it loose and essentially improvisational - Hooks to play with the character that gives some mechanical benefit.
Another problem with the skill system is that they don't give much oomph. A +2 bonus is not much to distinguish between a trained locksmith and someone totally new. Gaming Ronin had a take on skills that I might take some inspiration from:
Everyone gets their proficiency bonus for everything. Adventurers are overall badass and keep getting more badass. If you attempt something that you are deemed "proficient" in, you get advantage where others get none. If what is being attempted is something that would be considered difficult to impossible for someone unskilled (smithing a sword, recalling details about a long lost empire) you roll normally where 'unskilled' ones get disadvantage.
This may all be too much though. I am not decided on this yet.

New Healing System
Nice and simple, adds a little resource management aspect to healing. Works well at our table:
Once pr day, you may EITHER:
  • Spend one (and only one) hit die to heal during a Short or Long rest
  • Regain a hit die during a long rest.
If you choose to spend a hit die during a Long Rest, you roll with "advantage" on the healing die.

I don't always forget about healing spells. But when I do, I fire into melee.

Firing into melee
Because archers are cowards who need a bit of risk added.
If you make a ranged attack directed at an enemy target engaged with allies in melee, you roll with Disadvantage on your attack.
If you miss, the higher of the two rolls is used to attack other creatures within 5' of the target (starting with the one who is the most in the "line of fire" or roll a suitable die to determine randomly).  Keep in mind that the new target could also be another enemy(!).
When determining whether misses penetrate AC or not, leave out any proficiency, attribute or other bonuses and simply use what the die shows as the attack roll.

At the end of the day, this looks totally doable.

The tricky part from here really is making the racial classes and having a 'caster' subclass for fighter and rogue that Ranger/Paladin/Bard Narratives can choose to go down at 3rd level. Since that already exists, it should be simple enough to check that it will map nicely enough.

The other tricky part will be attribute generation method(s). Not really sure about that at all just yet.

Then decide on what else goes into the DM booklets of cool and useful stuff.

I should probably also examine the long/short rest mechanic and see what uses it and if I can trim stuff out. The mechanic may work, but it is one of those invisible balance checks that are bad because they are opaque. Getting rid of all those classes should go a long way towards addressing this though.

Then TRIM TRIM TRIM to get the bloody page count down.

Then decide on a cool name. My working title is "RedNext".

Am I missing anything here? 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

5e as the OSR engine of choice

So, recently I've been pondering the right D&D system. 

Since then, I've been leaning heavily towards 5th edition as the OSR engine of choice. Now, some of you may say "5th edition isn't OSR, man. It's got feats, and warlocks and dragonborn". And sure, it probably isn't. I am calling it the OSR engine of choice, because I delved into OSR games looking for a system designed on principles that the OSR champions: Simplicity, streamlined, easy to houserule, speed of play, limited amount of moving parts.

Now, full blown 5e doesn't exactly meet those requirements, but the free version, Basic D&D 5e, does. The four classic races only, The four classic classes only, no feats. Few modifiers, easy and simple maths, few assumptions on equipment. Lovely really.

Use one of the skill variants in the DMG for simpler and better skills and houserule in a stricter healing system and I'd say you have a lean, balanced and fast engine that can stand toe to toe with any OSR system.

And I have to say at this point: I was DEAD WRONG when I claimed "[5e] is so very tight and balanced - meaning every tinkering has a consequence".
5e IS balanced, compared to older games. But tight? No. I basically just projected my assumptions of modern games on to it. Unlike 4e and 3e, 5e is designed to be tinkered with - The DMG gives many variant rules and optional sub-systems. But these are just the tip of the iceberg for houseruling really. The big difference between 5e and other newer editions is that it holds a lot less expectations about how the game is supposed to be played and doesn't have as many interrelated moving parts. The basic chassis covers most of it and hardly needs tampering and whatever else you change, it is generally clear what will happen when you change it.

Classes as Class feature

The 5e Player's Handbook of course has a slew of classes beyond the 4 classic ones. And I like the idea of classes. to personalise a character. I just don't like all the moving parts it entails. It overdoes what it needs to do, to my mind.

The Backgrounds element of 5e covers a lot of the concepts previously handed with classes, kits and prestige classes (although maybe the Narratives from Primeval Thule does it even better) - but still, I'd like a teensy bit more. 2nd edition came the closest in representating the various new classes as sub groupings of the four basic ones, but didn't go nearly far enough. I think it can be done simply enough with 5e Basic though. Off the top of my head:

Fighting Man Class
Class Feature (chosen at 1st level): Paladin, Ranger, Barbarian, Fighter

Magic User Class
Class Feature (chosen at 1st level): Wizard, Warlock, Sorcerer

Rogue Class
Class Feature (chosen at 1st level): Thief-Acrobat, Assassin, Bard

Priest Class
Class Feature (chosen at 1st level): Cleric as is. Choose a religion.

The class features wouldn't be much - Enough that a Paladin should feel thematically different from a Ranger. But not so much that they become something other than a tacked on feature of the basic class: Fighter/Magic-User/Rogue. And should be simple enough that it is easy to invent new features for Cavaliers, Witches, etc.

For Fighting Men, borrowing the most defining bits from the existing classes, maybe something added at a few defining levels. Done.
For Magic Users, even simpler. It would mostly be a matter of how you acquire your spells (wizards study, sorcerers intuit, warlocks bargain) and spelling out the procs and cons of each approach. Maybe allow for a different spellcasting attribute based on feature.
Rogue is already more or less there - Just tweak arcane trickster into something a little closer to a 2nd ed bard and you're done.

Hell, throw in some race-as-classes for dwarves, elves and halflings (maybe with a sidebar for an optional "race AND class" rule) and a small section for "changing class features" and this has the makings of a great OSR rendition of 5e. Call it "Red Hack 5e" or something. Fully compatible with 5e, with all the flavour of basic d&d.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

*Adventures in Middle-Earth Player's Guide" is in my hands.mwuahahah

Just scanning the Overview Chapter so far and I am already seeing stuff to strip mine for my own game. dis gun be good.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Meditations on the right D&D system - how to choose?

I have recently felt a yearning to settle on a proper system as a lens to express and think D&D through.

The ones that are floating through my mind are B/X, Swords & Wizardry, 5e, DCC and Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.

For pure nostalgia, B/X is the one. And also why I am not feeling it for Labyrinth Lord. I don't really see what it is supposed to offer as a new iteration of BECMI when simplicity+nostalgia is a driving force? Less nostalgia and with little better solutions to make up for it that I can tell.

5th edition is the easy choice. It is modern, streamlined, easy to run. But its strength is also its weakness. It is so very tight and balanced - meaning every tinkering has a consequence (although far less than 3.5 or 4e). This sort of system also creates an expectation of balance, 'fair progression' etc. These may be valid concerns, but I'd like a system that flips players into a world where these concerns are trivial. This concern is contradictory to my concerns about retroclones I will address below.
5th edition also has the advantage of being our current system. And my group is hard to change. Funny enough, 5e's simplicity compared to 3.5 has shown my group that stuff like feats and such aren't really that important. I think convicing them to go even simpler could be doable.

Swords & Wizardry has appeal as a simple and streamlined system. And highly modular when you want extra complexity which is a big plus. And it has a small feature I wish it had more of - modern mechanics in the name of simplicity - its save mechanic and offering an ascending AC.

This alone could be enough to make me jump in, but to be honest, I want more of it. I love the idea of whitebox - simplest chassis possible, with just a few modern mechanics to simplify further and all the room in the world for the modular extensions you need and no more.

I just wish for a system willing to go even a bit further with modern mechanics that simplify. OD&D still has quirks that create toil that comes across as unnecessary from a modern perspective. XP bonus for prime requisites, gold for xp, the Thief as a whole, etc.

DCC is high on my list as something built on the same chassis, with modern mechanics on top - the fact that these mechanics are specifically servicing a pretty awesome genre and style of play is an extra plus. But it does seem to me that it goes a bit too far and is not quite so well executed at times. DCC 2nd edition I would play without hesitation.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, despite having plenty of bloat and poor organisation, appeals to me for its unabashed D&D-how-it-should-have-been quality and attitude of "can do" whenever you want something more than the basic approach. Racial classes (as opposed to race-as-class) is brilliant and should  be standard all across the D&D-sphere. And it is unabashed in taking in modern mechanics where they are simple and make sense - multiclass, xp progression, ascending AC, unified saves, streamlined attribute modifiers.


FH&W and DCC seem like the best bets for Old School games that could also pass a litmus test of modern sensibilities for simple and balanced mechanics that don't try to reinvent the wheel.

Basically, if FH&W was organised differently, I'd run it, swear by it and disavow all else. But dumping a 425 page manual on the table does not convey "it'll be simple. don't worry." And the organisation of it is a bit of a mess as well, with classess spread throughout the book and such. I love that it wants to do so much, but it makes it a hard sell. I long for a more modular  FH&W.

My dream version of FH&W is a boxed set with booklets. One for character generation, one for spells and magic, one for rules in general, a Science-fantasy booklet, a Monsters booklet and a DMG booklet. This I could sell to my group with ease.

Alas, the next-best thing is probably DCC. Also an enormous book, but far more coherently laid out. The entry requirements are not steep - Maybe  FH&W is not either, but it does give an impression of being so (and these matter, unfortunately). I could probably sell this and we'd have loads fun. Even though secretly, I'd be wishing we were playing FH&W.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Made a logo

For the blog and whatever pdf and such I end up releasing. that is all. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Fixing the Cleric? Make Sense of the Cleric

Googling "Fixing the Cleric" in quotes give ca 17900 results. Obviously, this is a recurring theme of frustration among D&Ders. So here is take 17901 trying to do the same.

Why this keeps coming up is not hard to see - There are no clerics in fiction. It doesn't match to any sort of narrative archetype. The only archetypes it is recognised as is gamist: "the healer". As it is, it falls squarely between the two stools of religious warrior (which is the Paladin) and Mystic (which doesn't really exist in D&D).

It's not that divine classes themselves struggle with this. Paladins are an easily recognisable archetype, as are druids. Yet, somehow clerics seem to expertly evade narrative recognition after decades of being a core class in D&D.

The Cleric as Gamist Archetype

Maybe if they had made the cleric more like the monk, using simple weapons and little armor but being somewhat capable in melee anyway and then jazzed that up with clerical power, it could have fit in as a martialised monkish mystic type. Shaolin monks is a recognisable archetype. Friar Tuck with spellpower would have been a recognisable archetype too. I am frankly amazed that D&D never went this route but instead have persevered with this gamist cocktail of 'heal/turn undead and other assorted things'. Clerics are basically fixers of all the gaps in the others classes.

It is tempting to make a class like this. I might at some point. I think it'd be much easier for players to grog. Nonetheless, since one of the design goals of Erce is to be inclusive of D&D tropes, it should be able to make sense of the cleric we all know and tolerate. In other words, finding the narrative niche of the Cleric and establishing what archetype(s) the cleric could be. Finding out how a cleric would make sense in fiction the way it makes sense as a gamist 'fixer'.

Actually, though often overlooked, the Cleric is not just a mix match of a abilities a group needs that other classes don't have. It fills a clearly defined niche that most gamers tend to look elsewhere for: The Gish.

Full spellcasting power - Check. Martial Ability - Check. Assorted abilities to more than just fighter/wizard - Check. No doubt about it - Clerics are easily the most well-designed gish in the history of D&D, welcome at any gaming table.

With that in mind, we can try and ask what kind of archetypes match that. One very recognisable one comes to mind: The Jedi Knight.

Aleena if she had levelled up to become a Jedi style champion

The Cleric as Mystical [Jedi] Champion

He fearlessly strolls into combat with a melee weapon. But really, he is more about the supernatural powers he brings to combat. And out of combat, he's about the mystical powers and bend wedded to a specific philosophy that demands more of him than his fellow men. Was that a Cleric or Jedi I just described? Same niche really.

Though from science fiction, the Jedi is a mythic type of hero that can easily be put in leather armor and runes and fit into fantasy fiction. And in fact, has parallels in Sword & Sorcery fantasy too.

Don't think Friar Tuck or Archbishop Turpin when making a cleric - Think Elric of Melniborne and similar Moorcockian Champions, albeit a bit less unique.

For OD&D, where you are a cleric of Law or Chaos moreso than a god, making clerics the Jedi of D&D is a very simple fit really. This is basically how Law/Chaos clerics ought to have been envisioned from the outset - As mystical champions of a metaphysical cause.

Since Erce is already heavily embedded with Law and Chaos as a defining paradigm, this is an easy insert really. Clerics are Law Jedis. Straight up. No alterations needed.

But what about gods? Making sense of the cleric requires making sense of them as clerics of gods since really, this is what players think of for a divine class.

The Champion & The Sponsor

One way to do this whilst still retaining the clerical role of Mystical Champion is to make gods akin to sponsors on behalf of Law/Chaos moreso than the source of power itself. In Erce, it would look something like this:

All clerics have a divine patron. Or several. They receive their power not directly from the god, but through the god. When bonding with a deity to become a champion of Law or Chaos, your divine patron(s) is like a conduit - A prism through which Law is apprehended and drawn from. A cleric of course has a relationship with his god. And his views on the metaphysical cause he champions is no doubt shaped by it. But ultimately, he is beholden to their common cause and not the deity itself.

This take on the cleric also adds another crucial dimension for gaming: Agency. For me, it has always been iffy to navigate the waters between 'what I think my player should do' and serving the will of your god. Ie 'what the DM thinks my player should do' - And no one really wants to serve the DM. With this setup, which is really more collaborative (gods champion and represent Law on a cosmic scale, Clerics on an earthly scale) Clerics are left free to interpret their cause according to their own convictions, as their relationship with the god is really more of a case of mutual benefit and common conviction (although of course, the god may end up withdrawing sponsorship if it sees too little benefit and common cause).

Though of course, there is room for a range of relationships. Igor of Lugin is something of a puzzle to his clerical peers due to his frequent blasphemies and the blatant disregard he pronounces against his patron in public, yet somehow Lugin continues to sponsor him. He must be doing something right in the eyes of his god.

Conversely, Oragon of Etreos is ridiculed, even reviled, by his peers for being such a snivelling lap dog to his patron. His nickname is "the errand boy" and it is said he doesn't even relieve himself without prior approval from Etreos.

Religious disputes then, are more philosophical in nature - Which god(s) most accurately, or most efficiently, reflects and embodies the cause of Law (or other cosmic principle(s) you may have)?

How the Cleric becomes a cleric

Another question that somehow has never been been properly answered is: How does a cleric become a cleric? Answering this tells a big part of what kind of role they play in the setting. D&D seems to imply that it is really just a question of devotion and faith. A dull answer that paves the road for any local devotee to start turning undead and consequently make clerics equally dull. Where there is faith there are clerics basically. How utterly droll and not special. No. Some NPC class should fill that droll niche. Clerics are heroes. Champions. Their origin needs to reflect it.

No one becomes a cleric. You can't go to sunday cleric school and become a cleric by simply applying yourself with real devotion and faith. That's wizards, those ungodly nerds who are essentially just metaphysical mathematicians. No. Clerics are chosen.

The gods are always looking for the right candidates to sponsor. They can't just willy nilly sponsor someone, because to sponsor a cleric in the mortal realm is to give up part of its own power in the cosmic realm. Being gods, they spend a fair bit of time looking into possible futures to find the right candidates - Making sure the candidate will give them highest possible chance of a good return on their investment.

Clerics are chosen for sponsorship by their patrons before they were even born.

They are the childhood freaks who spontaneously casts sacred flame on the local bully without even knowing they could. Who worry their parents with their visionary dreams that has them waking up screaming at night. And all the downright strange portents that keep happening around him that only a skilled oracle would correctly determine as having the favour of a certain god. The patron god is an inescapable presence in the life of a cleric-to-be.

Clerics who deny the fate chosen for them seldom live happy lives. Freak accidents (which again, an Oracle could tell you the reason for), visionary nightmares and a general sense of life being somehow just off tends to be the outcome. The morale is clear: Only when you embrace your destiny and  become a champion of the cause, a cleric, will your life become meaningful.

The act of actually becoming a cleric always happens face to face - When the cleric-to-be is ready to embrace his fate, the sponsoring deity sends an avatar of some form (usually in a temple where it is easier for them to manifest) to perform an empowerment that creates a bonding between cleric and deity - the conduit through which the cleric is imbued as a champion of Law. Thus, all clerics have personally encountered their patron god in the flesh at least once in their life.

Ironically, though I talked above about how Sponsored Clerics of a Cause have more agency in interpreting their cause than mere god worshipping clerics, they had much less choice in choosing their sponsor and cause in life in the first place. Those dice were rolled before they were born.

Clerics & the Religious Establishment

For similar reason, Clerics are not especially well integrated into the religious establishments. Since neither religious training nor education is a requirement, clerics often have a proclivity for the unconventional, even blasphemous, to the eye of the uninitiated. Likewise, the religious establishment is uneasy with the direct nature of the relationship clerics have with their god. The unlearned might start to think clerics speak directly on behalf of the gods even when it contradicts orthodoxy. Nevermind the fact that some do speak for their sponsoring gods (for 9th+ level clerics, casting Commune and Divination as rituals basically constitutes your daily meditative practise).

When the religious establishments recognise a cleric they generally tend to try sponsor them. As the gods sponsors clerics in cosmic matters, so the temple sponsors them in earthly matters. Which is to say, attempt to assimilate them, train them and indoctrinate them into following their orthodoxy (or with a kinder spin: Give them opportunity to maximise their potential and make use the establishment to advance the will of the deity). For local temples, there is also some measure of prestige in having a cleric sponsored by that specific temple - That said, it is often an uneasy process, given the nature of how clerics are chosen.

Some are chosen who have natural affiliation with orthodoxy, relish the opportunity and enrich temple life with their engagement. Others are chosen exactly because they will never be orthodox and can accomplish things the temple would never consider. For others still, the tug and pull of the establishment is just one of those things in life to be endured between working on what's really important.

From the perspective of the establishment, managing clerics is often likened to herding cats. Although their merit is acknowledged, their means are a frequent source of frustration. Though rare, it is been known to happen that some clerics have been assassinated by their own temple due to the complete disalignment between the cleric and the temple's outlook.

Changing patrons

Above, I mentioned how gods invest some of their own power into a cleric when sponsoring him. This investment also gives the cleric some leeway in his actions - A god can sever their bond, basically removing all clerical powers. But in doing so, they permanently lose the portion of their power they have invested in the cleric. Such a thing is not done unless the cleric is becoming a major force for heresy in his god's name.

Such 'severed' clerics are prime candidates to be adopted by other patrons whose affiliations may lie closer to the path the cleric has now gone down, since their bodies and minds are already highly moulded to channel and shape the mystic power of Law/Chaos.

Sometimes, the cleric might of his own volition seek to have his patronage transferred to another god, whereby the cleric relinquishes the power of his patron, sending it back to the diety in question, so he can be imbued with the patronage of a new god. Depending on the sponsoring god so abandoned, this may or may not be a cordial affair.

Clerics in Erce

The Old Gods care little for piety or worship, and are more inclined to acknowledge sacrifices, gestures of respect and bargains. Clerical bonding is less holy affair and more pragmatic partnership between god and his earthly champion.

Unlike the Old Gods, The Nine Gods of the New Order have formed an orthodoxy  that encourage frequent prayer and temple worship, harnessing this to shelter humanity in the Divine Dominions. They demonstrate a conviction that each represent facets of Law, but that the Nine as a whole are a perfect representation of Law.
Essentially, clerics of the Nine take all Nine as their sponsoring patrons, though they may be closer to one or two than the others (domain choice).

Where the Nine represent aspects of Law, The Triune Goddess of the Hearthstone Church holds that true Law is a Unity - Which the White Goddess not only represents, but is. And furthermore, that Law is a principle, a light, that can be directly cognised and embodied the same way the Triune White Goddess embodies Law - Essentially, the path of the Triune Goddess transcends itself for its most accomplished champions who themselves becoming living embodiments of the Light of the Law. For patron and champion alike, their relationship culminates in selfless symbiosis and unity.

Clerics of Law in Erce then, are sets of exclusive mystical fraternities for the select few - Chosen Champions of Law. They certainly differ on how to understand Law - Wars have been fought over these disagreements.

The Old Faith is seen by clerics of the Nine and the White Goddess as hardly champions at all - more akin to warlocks who make pacts with otherworldly beings to further their own ends.

Clerics of the New Order are seen by the Old Faith as saddled by doctrines and subservience. And by Hearthstone clerics as holding to a fragmentary understanding of Law that is sadly incomplete in matters of ethics and spiritual transcendence.

Clerics of the Hearthstone Church are seen by the Old Faith and the New Order alike as almost ungodly. The notion of Unity with the Light of Law is unnerving and paradoxical to them both in the sense of seemingly bypassing your divine sponsor to channel Law directly (which, 'everyone knows', is impossible) and in the sense of becoming one with one's deity, essentially surrendering personal will.

Yet there is a kinship between clerics that sets them apart from normal society. All of them know they channel the same mystic power as Champions of Law. Though they may disagree on the form this cause takes, it is ultimately a common cause. And all of them know they are chosen by cosmic beings for this task for a reason. They are going to make a difference in the world.

As for clerics of Chaos - The less said the better. These vile creatures who give up their bodies and souls for personal power, betraying humanity to demonic princes and devil lords - No, not another word shall be spoken about these dark champions.

(Revised on 01/08)

Friday, 29 July 2016

Adventures in Middle Earth for D&D 5e pre-ordered

I just Pre-ordered Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide and Loremaster's Guide from Cubicle 7. Probably the first pre-order I've ever done as I normally like to wait for reviews. I am dead excited about this one. I bought The Heart of the Wild from them, knowing I would likely never play it, just to see their take on this type of area as a gaming setting - and loved it.

I have admired the craftmanship of ToR for a while, but also know that my gaming group dislikes spending time on learning a new system and convincing them to switch would be next to impossible.

Adventures in Middle Earth not only allows me to pitch a "Middle Earth Done Right" campaign with 5e - But from looking at their FAQ, it seems they plan on re-tooling classes and backgrounds to suit Middle Earth. Presumably making them much less overt and more setting-grounded flavourful than the 'sling fireball / epic smite'  style of D&D.

I am also eagerly anticipating what promises to be the the most qualified re-tooling of D&D for low-fantasy genre made, with a view for swiping it for my own low fantasy campaigns. Proper 5e support for this genre would be fantastic.

Now all I need is for  Flatland Games to re-tool Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures as a 5e enhancement supplement and all my subtle-power/high-flavour needs shall forever be satisfied.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Re-blog: A great article on worldbuilding

Today, I stumbled on the excellent Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog and found this article that any aspiring setting brewer should read:

World-Building: When is Enough Too Much?

It really spells out and crystalises some of my own thoughts on why 'Brevity is king'

In particular this passage:
(B) A lot of world-builders are kidding themselves about the uniqueness of the history they've written for their settings. If it fits into the familiar pattern of “In the Age of Fire, the dragons rose and gathered these followers, but were eventually beaten back by the Knights of Gorro, led by the Great King Fajadhul who founded the city of Dahan in the Year 100030” you should realize that the words and dates could be swapped out to create the back story of a million other nondescript fantasy settings. This is sub-Tolkienism.
Struck home with me. I have been brutally guilty of this in the past, and still am to a certain extent, though I am trying to condense it only to past events that still have a meaningful impact for the present (ie, in the minds of the people inhabiting the setting, not in the mind of the DM who knows all the secret history and causation of the world) or somehow define the nature of the setting itself.

And perhaps also, though I am still debating with myself if it is overkill, a few notes on ancient history that I plan to seed future scenarios and dungeon crawls with.

Epic Backstory at its best

This sort of exposition is what turned me off Troll Lord's Codex of Aihrde, which starts heavy with snowflake exposition concerning the dawn of history. The philosophy that went into the design of the setting is a virtual antithesis to the simple design of Castle & Crusades it was designed for. On the other end of the scale, though I admire Gygax's ability to build the bones of a world history in just four pages of the original World of Greyhawk boxed set, it is perhaps just a little too sparse. Good enough though.

Besides readability, the other advantage of refraining from this level of detail is flexibility and mystery - Which allows you to dump in any kind of ancient history on the spot when you need to. Maybe it turns out to be the very history you so meticulously jotted down in a flurry of enthused inspiration and if so, that's great. But it is also nice to have a setting mysterious enough to yourself as creator that you can dump in the ancient history of whatever module you may be using with little difficulty because you havent