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

- William Blake

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Book of the Month I - The Witcher (plus LeGuin, Foundation)

A brief list of books that I've read recently and might interest the readers of this blog.


"The Last Wish", Andrzej Sapkowski

First book of the Witcher series (famous for the videogames I haven't played), telling the stories of the mercenary monster-hunter Geralt of Rivia.

This book will certainly be useful as inspiration for D&D adventures. In fact, each chapter reads like a separated adventure (very much in the picaresque fashion), with plenty of combat, intrigue, diplomacy and cool monsters. The Witcher universe is very rich and D&D-like, with bards, half-elves, druids and dwarves walking around, people fighting for coin, and plenty of monsters terrifying the villagers. 

People seem to mention "eastern European mythology" a lot when talking about the Witcher, but in this book most stories seem to be based in familiar fairy tales like Snow White, Beauty and the Beast or Alladin - with a few interesting twists, of course.

The book itself starts in the most cliched (an D&D-ish) way I could think of, with a tavern brawl where our hero can show his amazing prowess against village bigots. But the book gets better as it goes, and soon I found myself glued to the pages (ate least until the "The Last Wish" cahpter, that is a bit longer and felt a bit slower).

Geralt is a larger-than-life character, in the "pulp" tradition. Like REH's Conan, he is powerful enough that you begin to doubt if he can be defeated, but he occasionally fails and suffers from bouts of melancholy.

The book's language is very straightforward, with plenty of profanity, humor, and sexuality, which makes for an easy, fast read. Andrzej is good at coming up with clever twists, decent action scenes and slick one-liners but, at least in this book, not much depth (for the lack of a better word).

In this way. the book suffers a bit from a "Poughkeepsie syndrome" of sorts (see below): the world seems small, service is traded for coin, people's attitudes are modern instead of medieval or alien, and so on.

Overall, a fun book. I would expect the rest of the series to be equal or better than the first one. If that is the case, I'd be interested in reading them.

Ursula K. Le Guin - “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” and others.

“From Elfland to Poughkeepsie” is an article written in 1973 by LeGuin, who recently passed away. I've read it a while ago, but I'd thought it is relevant enough to mention it here. The gist of the article is that fantasy should feel, well, fantastical - not "journalistic" and populated with modern characters with fantasy suits. She spends a great part of the article talking about modern prose (as opposed to the works of Dunsany, Tolkien and Eddison), but what I've taken from it is that fantasy characters needn't have modern attitudes.

A "fantastic" journey should, then, be a journey into the unknown, not a familiar travel with different stage props. If your first thought when you see someone being murdered in Elfland is to call the elf-police, you're back in Poughkeepsie.

While LeGuin's seems to be defending, at times, one type of fantasy as it were the only type of fantasy, the essay is well worth the read.

Ursula wrote at least one of my favorite fantasy books, A Wizard of Earthsea, which felt deeper and more fantastical than most fantasy books I've read. It pushed the limits of what I thought magic and fantasy could be. The Tombs of Atuan was also a great read.

If you haven't read her superb work, I would recommend you read immediately - it certainly has a place among fantasy's greatest (and it is also mentioned in Moldvay's version of the Appendix N). 

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov

As a fan of Asimov, I guess I should have read the Foundation trilogy (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation) a lot earlier. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with it - maybe because the hype was so great. These are very good books, especially the second one - but I enjoyed I, Robot (and other short stories) and The End of Eternity more.

The Foundation trilogy feels like a connection with short stories, with great plots and epic ideas, but few interesting characters and not a strong overall arc (the series is a lot bigger than these three books after all). But it is an enjoyable read and at times it becomes obvious why this book is so influential.

I would still recommend it, but don't go into the book expecting to be better than "Lord of the Rings" as advertised in my copy.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dark Fantasy Basic - FAQ

Here is the FAQ for my Dark Fantasy Basic - Player's Guide.

This is basically a copy of the first two pages (minus a few things that would be redundant here), with some images from the book. These images are in the public domain, sometimes slightly modified by me.

What is the book about?

This is an old school, dark fantasy roleplaying game (or adventure game).
Dark Fantasy Basic pays homage to a classic roleplaying game from the early eighties, which is still, for many fans, one of the most concise, clear and well-written RPGs ever published.
This book uses the same system as the world’s most popular RPGs – six abilities, classes, levels, etc. – and it is meant to be compatible with games from that era. Or any OSR game, really. It also has some modern influences, including all of the OSR and the most recent version of this game.
Like many retroclones and neoclones, this game begun as a collection of house rules, with one difference: my main goal was to make a set of one page rules that you can combine freely. The idea is to get multiple OSR authors to write their own pages that can be assembled by the reader into a full book. Check this out: http://methodsetmadness.blogspot.com/2016/03/one-page-rules-or-taking-page-from.html.
Eventually, all my pages grew into one complete book. It is meant to be straightforward, not minimalist. You won’t find the definition of “sword” or “human” in this book, but you’ll find all you need to play (from the player’s side). Even if you don’t use the book as a whole, I hope you will find at least one different idea in each page that you can adapt to your games.
Or, even better, write a page yourself. This game is what you make of it.

Credits

Written by Eric Diaz.
 Book cover, design and layout by Rick Troula
All art except for the cover is from the public domain.

FAQ


How is it different from the original games?
Besides embracing some dark fantasy tropes, this game offers a degree of character customization you don’t often find in retroclones and neoclones - although this idea is almost as old as our hobby. The system itself is not original, but each page has something that differs from the original games.


How dark is it?
Not that much darker than the original game, if you think about it. The Player’s Guide has a few hints of dark fantasy (in alignment, spells, classes, etc.), but most of the flavor will come from monsters, adventures, setting, etc.



Why is it so concise?
To save you time, entice your imagination and encourage house-ruling. It is still a complete game. Use it as written, or make it your own.


Where are the optional rules?
I eventually decided not to mark (most of) the optional rules, since all rules are optional in a way or another. These are only guidelines. Use them at your own peril.


But where is the…
This game has no different XP charts or HD for different classes, no demi-humans, no prerequisites, no prime abilities. There are also no monsters and no GM stuff in this book. It is a Player’s Guide. But if you really like, well, we might have something like that in the future.


Can my PC…
YES. You can wield a sword regardless of class, use any armor, hide in the shadows without having the skill, and so on. You can also use sorcery without studying it first, if you find a lost grimoire somewhere. Good luck with that.



But why did you…
If you want to understand why I chose a mechanic over another, I often explain this is my blog.
I didn’t include designer’s notes here, since it would take valuable space.


What do I need to play?
COMMON SENSE. Also, some dice and paper. But mostly common sense.


What do characters do in this game?
Try to get richer and tougher while fighting the terrible things that lurk in the shadows. Go through ruins and unknown lands in hope of treasures. Sometimes they get killed.


What if my PC dies?
Create another one.


Why start at level 3?
First level characters are desperate victims. Traditionally, they can die fighting house cats or falling from a tree. This game is about tragic heroes, so they start at level 3.
Also, you might use the extra HP.
However, if you prefer to start at the bottom and climb your way up, you have my approval and respect.


Why stop at level 10?
To keep it gritty, dark, and focused on low level challenges. High level characters might use a similar system, but they deal with different issues: building castles, ruling lands, facing demigods, etc. You can extrapolate higher levels from this book, or find alternate rules for expert or immortal characters elsewhere.



Why would I play a Hopeless character?
Maybe you wouldn’t. Leave that to players looking for a challenge or just a change of pace.


What about that tone?
I’ve added some dark humor and hubris to make reading this book more pleasant. Don’t take it too seriously.

Just kidding. I’m dead serious.

---

That is it for now!

You can find the book on DTRPG by clicking here.

If you have any other questions, let me know in the comments and I'll answer it here!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The ILLUSTRATED War of Earth and Sky

I've written a few ideas about "The War of Earth and Sky", a setting a came up with recently. I'm not 100% satisfied with the results. It seems a lot cooler inside my head! So let me try to illustrate the concepts in order to (hopefully) make it more interesting. Not my illustrations, of course - I wish!

The text may sounds repetitive if you've read that post.

Anyway.

These are the Storm Giants:

Source.
They like to mess with lighting:

Source.
Have you ever noticed how D&D giants culture and religion  ("The ordning") is basically a caste system based on ideas of racial superiority?

Giants are obsessed with this stuff.

And giants hate dragons. Giants may live in mountain and throw lighting, but they can never reach the sky.

Dragons are also individualistic, brutal, chaotic, with no respect for caste or hierarchy - the opposite of giants.

In fact, giants hate magic, and elves, and fey, and anything that flies (unless they created it themselves).

But they love science. And golems, and machines, an constructs.

Giants also believe they can mess with DNA to create superior life-forms. All other creatures - and other giants - are inferior and made to serve.

They created behirs, BTW.

Here is how:

Source.
Just get a blue dragon, cut its wings, alter its DNA, torture it into it goes crazy, and you have the perfect anti-dragon pet for storm giants: lighting-breathing lizards that cannot fly and remind the dragons of what will happen if they get caught.

But the giants are not opposed to experimenting on themselves...

When they waged war against the fey, some giants failed. The other giants didn't kill the loser... they only warped them a little bit.

Source.
Messing with DNA and creating new creatures is a noble vocation among storm giants.

But hey, they aren't the only ones that do that, right?

Source.
In fact, all these creatures - the underground-dwellers, cultists - psionics, warped abominations, dragons without wings - worship the same power, albeit under different names.

Their ultimate god is the everlasting Worm that dwells in the center of the Earth.

The one who gave birth to slugs, vermin, purple worms... And most things that live underground, hate magic, or turn people to stone.

The one who fed all before there was a sky - before there were magic, and birds, and dragons. Before those traitorous flying lizards left the Abyss and traded the endless fog for night and day. Before they chose red, blue, and green over the ubiquitous grey. Before they choose fire and air over water and stone.

The one who can protect you from these flying predators and shield you from the scorching sun.

The one that can make you better.

The one you should never have left.

Source.
Surface-dwellers?

I guess they are caught in the middle of a war between Earth and Sky.

Good luck!

Friday, January 19, 2018

The ability flower of D&D

I've been thinking of this image lately. It's something I came up with when considering D&D abilities. I remember there was an RPG with a similar concept, but I cannot remember its name (let me know if you do). I think it was an original system, not D&D based. But here is what I'd do for D&D:


We all know the six abilities in the inner hexes; I call the other six "secondary abilities". They are (for the lack of better names): Fortitude, Glamour, Will, Knowledge, Reflex and Athleticism (I assume you're familiar with Reflex/Fortitude/Will as saves).

And here is what they do:

Fortitude: in addition to being a save, it defines your HP. Strong characters are automatically tougher. You could probably get rid of the concept of different hit dice: fighters and barbarians would automatically have more HP. This is the most obvious one, since we can hardly think of an archetypal character that manages to be both incredibly strong AND frail, or incredibly though but weak at the same time.

Glamour: being healthy and charismatic might mean that you are attractive. "Glamour" is a nice word for elves and fairies, I think. But this is the hardest ability to work with, because Constitution and Charisma can be seem as opposites in D&D, and I do'nt think there are many monters in D&D you can fight with beauty. It is curious that "Comeliness" was, IIRC, the first ability to be added after the original six.

Will: in addition to being a save, it measures your courage and force of personality. People might follow you because you're wise, or because you're charismatic... or maybe both.

Knowledge: the ability to know stuff and put it to practice. Book learning combined with common sense. It might be obvious that real life "wisdom" is a combination of intelligence and knowledge.

Reflex: in addition to being a save, it can be used for initiative. It means that you think fast, and probably can act faster than other characters - or even predict their actions.

Athleticism: most real-life sports - and ESPECIALLY combat sports - rely on Strength AND Dexterity. You certainly need BOTH to use a longbow, rapier, or two-handed sword. More about that here.

In 4e, Reflex/Fortitude/Will were tied to THE BEST of two abilities. 5e does the same with Strength, Dexterity and combat: you use your best one to attack and defend.

This is not a great idea. In practice, it means that you can "dump" one of the abilities in favor of the other. So, in 4e, a strong character has more reasons to have low Constitution - which is counter-intuitive - and in 5e fighters are encouraged to have low Strength OR Dexterity, but not both.

So, my alternative would be making secondary abilities an average of two primary abilities. They could be raised separately through feats. But here is the twist: it would be very easy (through a feat, class feature, etc.) to use a secondary ability instead of a primary one - specially for skills - as long as it makes sense.

So, the primary ability would ALWAYS be important - but not necessarily mandatory.

Example: a wizard with Intelligence 18 (+4) and Dexterity 14 (+2) would have Reflex +3, and would be able to use it for initiative - and maybe even firearms!

As you may realize, this might have lots of interesting effects in D&D (and specially 5e)

- Combat and Dexterity being both important for combat, and specially grappling, at the same time.
- More muscles means more HP.
- Intelligence becomes more useful for non-casters because of initiative.
- Both the cleric and the wizard (Wisdom and Intelligence) could be proficient healers and scholars.
- Clerics are automatically good at the Religion skill.
- Leaders could rely on Wisdom, or even Constitution, instead of Charisma.
- You can be brave and unwise at the same time (not uncommon in the real world!).
- The wizard might be bad at dodging a sword, but smart enough to avoid the worst part of a fireball.
- All abilities become equally important to saves.

In short, it allows a number of interesting archetypes that are discouraged in 5e:

- The paladin that is not charismatic, but tough.
- The strong rogue.
- The fighter who is both strong and agile - or maybe just a strong archer.
- The scholarly cleric.

... and so on.

Well, this is all just a thought exercise. In reality, adding six abilities to the game might make things more complicated than necessary.

But I like the concept of using alternate ability scores. Well, this is ALREADY an optional rule in 5e - but, if used freely, will encourage MORE dump stats. So, off the top of my head, I would make this as an alternative to muti-classing if you have an ability score equal or greater than 13. Create a feat if you have to.

For example:

* If you have Charisma 13+, you can use your Constitution for Intimidation or Persuasion (when leading your men in battle).
* If you have Dexterity 13+, you can add your Intelligence to initiative instead of your Dexterity.
* If you have Dexterity 13+, you can use all ranged weapons with Strength.
* If you have Strength 13+, you can use all melee weapons with Dexterity.
* If you have Wisdom 13+, you can use Intelligence for Medicine, Animal Handling and Survival.

...etc.

Alternatively, you can use these concepts simply as inspiration when deciding if an alternate combination of ability and skill is viable... or if your PC looks good.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"Random point buy" abilities for D&D 5e

Each edition of D&D has its own rules for generating abilities - from the original 3d6 in order to the 10 different methods contained in AD&D 2e + Skills and powers.

I have my own: the yin-yang method

5e D&D has two basic methods of generating abilities (source - the text is modified from the PHB but the results are the same): 

Standard: Roll 4d6, discard the lowest die result, and add the three remaining results together. Record this total and repeat the process until six numbers are generated. Assign these totals to your ability scores as you see fit. This method is less random than Classic and tends to create characters with above-average ability scores.
Purchase: Each character receives 15 points to spend on increasing his basic attributes. In this method, all attributes start at a base of 10. A character can increase an individual score by spending some of his points. Likewise, he can gain more points to spend on other scores by decreasing one or more of his ability scores. No score can be reduced below 8 or raised above 15 using this method. See Table: Ability Score Costs for the costs of each score. After all the points are spent, apply any racial modifiers the character might have.
Table: Ability Score Costs
ScorePoints
8–2
9–1
100
111
122
133
145
157

The first method generates slightly higher ability scores, but the second method is balanced and fair - it guarantees nobody ends up with a "hopeless" character (well, if you WANT a hopeless character, try Dark Fantasy Basic).

If you PCs that are both random/surprising AND balanced at the same time, you must mix the two methods.

(bear in mind that ALL the numbers below can be modified by your race. Half-elves could start with 17 charisma, for example).

Take this example from the (very useful) Unearthed Arcana: Quick Characters. Just roll a d6 and check the table below.
Six options are good enough to give you some variation. Choose randomly, or let players pick their choices. Fast and easy.

Or you can use some different method. Here is what I used for Dark Fantasy Basic, adapted for 5e:

1. Generate your six ability scores using the yin-yang
method: roll 3d6 for your Strength and subtract that
value from 21 to find out your Intelligence (for example,
if your Strength is 15, your Intelligence is 6). Do the same
for Wisdom and Dexterity, and then Constitution and
Charisma.
2. Raise all your abilities that are lower than 6 to 6.
3. Change your highest ability score to 16 (if lower than 16)
OR one ability score of your choice to 10. Then swap abilities
around if you wish, provided no more than half your abilities
are changed.

But what if you wanted one single roll with more than sixty balanced possibilites instead?

Fortunately, someone compiled all possible point buy results (the work is credited to "the forum user overpromises on the wotc community forums"). I just added a table and a few ideas of my own.

Roll 1d100, OR a d8 and a d10. You choice. The d100 will give you slightly higher results.

You can ignore the blue area (number higher than 66) or use it as written below - but the "blue" results don't stack.

d100
d8
d10
Ability scores
1
1
1
15, 15, 15, 8, 8, 8
2
1
2
15, 15, 14, 10, 8, 8
3
1
3
15, 15, 14, 9, 9, 8
4
1
4
15, 15, 13, 12, 8, 8
5
1
5
15, 15, 13, 11, 9, 8
6
1
6
15, 15, 13, 10, 10, 8
7
1
7
15, 15, 13, 10, 9, 9
8
1
8
15, 15, 12, 12, 9, 8
9
1
9
15, 15, 12, 11, 10, 8
10
1
10
15, 15, 12, 11, 9, 9
11
2
1
15, 15, 12, 10, 10, 9
12
2
2
15, 15, 11, 11, 11, 8
13
2
3
15, 15, 11, 11, 10, 9
14
2
4
15, 15, 11, 10, 10, 10
15
2
5
15, 14, 14, 12, 8, 8
16
2
6
15, 14, 14, 11, 9, 8
17
2
7
15, 14, 14, 10, 10, 8
18
2
8
15, 14, 14, 10, 9, 9
19
2
9
15, 14, 13, 13, 9, 8
20
2
10
15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8
21
3
1
15, 14, 13, 12, 9, 9
22
3
2
15, 14, 13, 11, 11, 8
23
3
3
15, 14, 13, 11, 10, 9
24
3
4
15, 14, 13, 10, 10, 10
25
3
5
15, 14, 12, 12, 11, 8
26
3
6
15, 14, 12, 12, 10, 9
27
3
7
15, 14, 12, 11, 11, 9
28
3
8
15, 14, 12, 11, 10, 10
29
3
9
15, 14, 11, 11, 11, 10
30
3
10
15, 13, 13, 13, 11, 8
31
4
1
15, 13, 13, 13, 10, 9
32
4
2
15, 13, 13, 12, 12, 8
33
4
3
15, 13, 13, 12, 11, 9
34
4
4
15, 13, 13, 12, 10, 10
35
4
5
15, 13, 13, 11, 11, 10
36
4
6
15, 13, 12, 12, 12, 9
37
4
7
15, 13, 12, 12, 11, 10
38
4
8
15, 13, 12, 11, 11, 11
39
4
9
15, 12, 12, 12, 12, 10
40
4
10
15, 12, 12, 12, 11, 11
41
5
1
14, 14, 14, 13, 9, 8
42
5
2
14, 14, 14, 12, 10, 8
43
5
3
14, 14, 14, 12, 9, 9
44
5
4
14, 14, 14, 11, 11, 8
45
5
5
14, 14, 14, 11, 10, 9
46
5
6
14, 14, 14, 10, 10, 10
47
5
7
14, 14, 13, 13, 11, 8
48
5
8
14, 14, 13, 13, 10, 9
49
5
9
14, 14, 13, 12, 12, 8
50
5
10
14, 14, 13, 12, 11, 9
51
6
1
14, 14, 13, 12, 10, 10
52
6
2
14, 14, 13, 11, 11, 10
53
6
3
14, 14, 12, 12, 12, 9
54
6
4
14, 14, 12, 12, 11, 10
55
6
5
14, 14, 12, 11, 11, 11
56
6
6
14, 13, 13, 13, 13, 8
57
6
7
14, 13, 13, 13, 12, 9
58
6
8
14, 13, 13, 13, 11, 10
59
6
9
14, 13, 13, 12, 12, 10
60
6
10
14, 13, 13, 12, 11, 11
61
7
1
14, 13, 12, 12, 12, 11
62
7
2
14, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12
63
7
3
13, 13, 13, 13, 13, 10
64
7
4
13, 13, 13, 13, 12, 11
65
7
5
13, 13, 13, 12, 12, 12
66
7
6
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
67
7
7
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
68
7
8
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
69
7
9
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
70
7
10
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
71
8
1
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
72
8
2
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
73
8
3
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
74
8
4
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
75
8
5
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.
76
8
6
Roll again and add +2, -1 and -1 to three abilities.
77
8
7
Roll again and add +2, -1 and -1 to three abilities.
78
8
8
Roll again and add +2, -1 and -1 to three abilities.
79
8
9
Roll again and add +2, -1 and -1 to three abilities.
80
8
10
Roll again and add +2, -1 and -1 to three abilities.
81+
-
-
Roll again and add +1 to one ability of your choice.

Now, as I've said before, rolling 4d6 will give you higher abilities - so letting players roll a number up to 65 AND let them add +1 to one ability (or +2 to one and -1 to two, etc.) is also a good idea. This way, they can start with a 16, 17 or more if they want to.

But consider that starting with a "balanced" PC has some advantages too, since increasing your abilities during the game has a fixed cost. You might end up with a strong, well-rounded character at level 12 or more, even though you're going to suffer in the first few levels, since your main stat will be comparatively low. It is also worth considering that odd scores are usually a bad idea unless you want to pick feats that will improve them, or want to multi-class, etc.

Some people seem to have the opposite problem - they would prefer starting with a 17 even if they have a few 7s, 8s, or 9s... Which makes things balanced, I guess.

In this case, you might just let them pick from the table above.

Is this useful? Do you have a different method? Let me know in the comments!

By the way, I've been looking for a similar table for my "3d6 in order" OSR games. What I want is to get a "balanced" set of six abilities with a single d100 roll (or two...). If you know anything like that, please let me know.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...