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[BLOG] The Scoundrel’s Progress (Helvéczia Character Generation)

Beyond Fomalhaut - Sat, 05/08/2021 - 19:52

First, news on Helvéczia’s progress! Production is well underway, and boxes on our checklist are ticked off one by one. It is a complicated list, but there is a point with a large “ENDE” sign, and that sign is approaching. Here is where we are:

  • The book interiors, covers and endpapers have been printed, and are at the binder for assembly.
  • The Ammertal and the Oberammsbund supplement (a 72-page A4 book with hex-level world description and a handful of adventures) is printing.
  • The boxes are being manufactured (these are hand-made by one of the last boxmaker ladies active in town).
  • The maps have been finalised, test prints have been examined, and adjustments have been made. They will begin printing soon.
  • This leaves the reference folder with the “other stuff”. This still needs to be finalised, but will be done in the next days – it is not complicated stuff.

With all things considered, it looks like the first boxes may be assembled in the second half of May. They will not go on sale immediately. The box would be available NOW if it was in my hands, but this kind of work does take time – the increase of product complexity is not linear, but geometric. As the plan goes, I will take a short holiday in late May and early June (during which time the store will be closed), after which Helvéczia will be available. If everything comes together, a small initial batch will be sent to NTRPGCon, and the game will make its international debut there – check the Black Blade Publishing stand!

For this post, let’s delve into the game’s character creation rules – I shall make a random character to demonstrate how the rules work, and how they are balanced between the familiar and the unknown.

Boxed set prototype with a hand of cards

Unless otherwise specified by some special circumstance, all Helvéczia player characters are randomly generated, and at the second level of experience. Since the game encompasses six experience levels, power differences are rarely bad enough to merit starting above second level. Enterprising NPCs can be promoted to adventurers during play (Little Juan, whose adventures we have recounted before, started his career as a servant, and rose to fame and fortune after his master, Don José Emilio de Gálvez y Rivera, had to depart with speed from the inquisitors who had wanted to burn him for practicing black magic).

For our character, we shall generate ability scores with the 4d6, drop lowest method. The scores are always in order, but the player can select between two sets – this results in generally competent characters, but often with a few interesting flaws. We roll the dice, and get...

  • Str 16, Dex 10, Con 15, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 9
  • Str 15, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 15, Cha 8

Neither of these mostly similar sets make for flattering cads, but both are essentially qualified for any class in the game: there is no overwhelming reason not to run a strong Vagabond, or even Student (who are not as frail as D&D’s magic-users), and Father Taddeo Previti, the renowned inquisitor, had a Dexterity of 18, with an almost supernatural ability to silently appear behind someone’s back (“Nobody expects the Italian Inquisition… in Catalonia!”). For now, we will pick the second set, note down the ability score bonuses on the character sheet (more on this later), and create a fighting-oriented character.

Our character, Pascual de Perales (name generated with this very useful random generator) shall be a Spaniard – somewhere midway between safe bets like Frenchmen and Germans, and wildcards with like Poles and Hungarians (who come with higher benefits, but severe drawbacks). The Catalonia campaign introduced several varieties of smaller groups on the Iberian Peninsula, from Andalusians to Basques and Gallegos, but for now, we shall stick with the rulebook. Accordingly, we can note down the following special abilities:

  • They receive +2 to their Bravery and Temptation saving throws.
  • In all circumstances, they must spend a quarter of their money on elegant clothing and expensive jewellery befitting Hispanic fashion.

Helvéczia’s Fighter class is divided into six sub-classes, and – in keeping with the swashbuckling theme – we shall make Pascual, who seems like a bravo or troublemaker with his high abilities but below-average Charisma, a Duellist. This means the following:

  • They can transfer part or whole of their base attack bonus to AC to protect either themselves or others. This AC bonus can be granted to one person for every odd level. [Here, it is +2, and one person – either the character, or someone he is defending]
  • If it is higher than their Strength bonus, they can use their Dexterity bonus for melee attacks. [Not applicable here]
  • Finally, they receive a +2 to all combat checks. [Combat checks, or CCs, are a general action type for all kinds of “special moves” like disarming, tackling, forcing back an opponent, seizing a hostage, etc. They are played with contested attack rolls.]

We note down this information on the character sheet as well. Pascual currently has 2000 experience points (for 2nd level), and needs to hit 6000 for 3rd level.


As one of its points where it departs the furthest from common “OSR” systems, Helvéczia has a simple skill system. Pascual de Perales has three skills by default, and plus two for his Intelligence bonus. Since Fighters are more versatile than other classes, he will receive one more each on 3rdand 5th level. We pick the following skills, beneficial to a troublemaker:

  • Climb (Str)
  • Gambling (Dex)
  • Jump (Str)
  • Ride (Dex)
  • Science (Int)

All of these skills are rated at a value equal to the sum of the character’s level [2] and the relevant ability bonus [-3 to +3]. In his youth, Pascual must have had some formal education, as he has a science skill... which, for added fun, we shall roll randomly from a table with a d6 and d12 (there is a similar one for crafts): a 2and 1, making Pascual trained in the useful art of Aesthetics! Note that Pascual shall not be restricted to the use of the selected skills: he can use any skill available to his class (which is “most of them”), he just does not get to add his level to those rolls. Helvéczia characters are jacks of all trades… granted, on low levels, they are also masters of none! Difficulty Classes (DCs) for most rolls are 12 (for Normal tasks) or 18 (for Hard ones).

After these steps, we can determine Pascual’s secondary values, various stats derived from class, ability scores, and a few other factors.

  • First things first, Pascual’s hit points shall be 10 (maximum on first level – this benefit is solely for player characters), plus 1d10, plus his Constitution modifier on each level. We get: 10+2+2=14. Pascual can talk the talk and get into trouble, but he has a glass jaw. (Like all other PCs, he will fall unconscious at 0 Hp, and die at -5 Hp. There is no bleeding rule in Helvéczia.)
  • His initiative shall be equal to his Dexterity bonus, a +1.
  • His Armour Class shall be left for after picking equipment.
  • His attack bonus as a Duellist is Level*1 (other classes are Level*2/3), to which he can add his Strength bonus (for mêlée) or Dexterity bonus (for ranged attacks). Thus, we get 2+2=4 and 2+1=3.
  • Helvéczia has three saving throw categories: Bravery, Deftness, and Temptation. As a Duellist, Pascual is good at Bravery, with a value of Level/2+2, and the others at Level/2. To these, he adds his relevant bonus values (Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom, respectively), as well as his special bonus as a Spaniard. Therefore, we get 1+2+1+2=+6 (this is a very good value in the system!), 1+0+1=+2, and 1+0+2+2=+5. We note down the scores.
  • There is one more thing to be done here: it comes later in the book, but we shall roll Pascual’s Virtue! Virtue functions as Helvéczia’s equivalent of an alignment system. The beginning score is rolled with a flat 3d6 roll, and positions the character on a 21-point scale that goes from 1 to 21. This score describes where the character stands in the struggle between Heaven and Hell, who both have a standing interest in the affairs of mortals. Pascual rolls 12, which is right in the middle, and comes with no remarkable effects – but every virtuous or sinful deed shall be recorded in the Catalogue of Sins, moving him towards one extreme or the other, with various consequences! (See the scale in the upper right for the simplest ones.)

We’ve got Pascual, now it is time to give him equipment. At the beginning, he has a set of inexpensive clothes, and 2d6 golden Thalers or equipment to the same value. As a Duellist, he is also entitled to one weapon of his choice. We roll 3+4=7! There are options to take out a starting loan at a sympathetic banking house like the Fuggers, Die Gebrüder Lehmann, Rotschild & Söhne, or Goldmann-Sachs, for those who enjoy paying compound interest on relatively short notice, but this will be enough to get by. We will convert our Thalers to 70 Pfennigs for ease of use, and start shopping.

  • For his free starting weapon, Pascual picks a spadroon, a good fencing weapon: it only causes 1d6 damage (plus the Strength bonus), but it has a good critical hit range (18–20/*2), and it grants +2 to Combat Checks, which will be Pascual’s forte!
  • From the 70 Pfennigs, Pascual also equips himself with a cloak and a main-gauche(parrying dagger): both of these function as armour, granting him +2 AC each. We can now count Pascual’s Armour Class: 10 plus Dex bonus plus armour type, making for 10+1+2+2=15. Later in his career, Pascuall shall try to get his hands on a cuirass, but so far, so good… These two items only cost 11 Pfg, while the cuirass would set him back 15 Th!
  • A gun would come in handy! Pascual can still afford one pistol (40 Pfg), with two pouches of powder and shot (20*, 6 Pfg). Firearms are “first-strike” weapons, requiring precious combat time to reload, but that initial shot can be decisive. Pistols do an impressive 1d10+ damage (meaning the 10 will add an extra damage dice), and have a critical of (20/*3). They take one round to reload.
  • Pascual only has 11 Pfg left. He passes on a handful of grenades (“Some day!”), thinks about taking that loan, then settles for minor personal effects: a feathered hat (5 Pfg) to look like a semblance of a gentleman, a deck of cards(2 Pfg, but they pay for themselves!), a haversack (1 Pfg), and a wineskin filled with wine (1 Pfg). Having only 2 Pfg left in this world, sufficient for four days of poor room and board at some low-class inn, Pascual now has sufficient motivation for embarking on his adventures, and getting more money... at gunpoint if n-eeded be!

The reader might note an “X” in the second column. This is for encumbrance values: characters can carry one object (or a logical combination of small ones) in one slot, and depending on Strength, some may be crossed off – Pascual can carry 15 items on his person, but Szymon Czarniecki, a much weaker Student with a Strength of 7 (-1) would only be able to carry 12.



All that remains are background details. In Helvéczia, it is recommended to give your character a brief and to the point backstory – perhaps a paragraph to establish the hero or heroine – and let the rest emerge over play. It never hurts to have that persona (Pascual is a violent and charmless bravo, but more smart than one might assume), along with a sampler of past sins or good deeds. Since Pascual’s Virtue is average, he might not have done anything bad, or he could have just been a person of extremes – which is what we will go with:

Would you buy a used
glaive-guisarme from this guy?Character notes:

"There is no greater teacher than Life; and this was the wisdom Pascual de Perales followed when ending his studies and embarking on a life of swordfighting, highway robbery, and daring escapes from places where the previous two had proved unsuccessful. After a misadventure with the stagecoach of a great hidalgo named Don Alejandro Luís de Santillan, he thought it better to leave his native land, and head for the lands of Helvéczia, where the Law shall rarely follow."

The Catalogue of Sins: 

–1 point: Plundering the Inn of the Barbican
–2 points: attack on the stagecoach, and killing the bodyguard
+2 point: defending the peddler from the guards
–1 point: robbery at gunpoint

Pascual is now ready for his first adventure!

In my experience, explaining character generation for Helvéczia takes longer than actually doing it, especially after the first PC or two (initial character turnover can be rapid). Of course, the process above only applies to player characters. If he was a throwaway NPC, here is how the Gamemaster would stat him:

Pascual de Perales: Duellist 2+2; AC 15 (Dex, cloak, main-guache); Atk +4 spadroon 1d6+2 (18–20/*2, +2 CC) or +4 pistol 1d10+ (*3) [1 r]; Spec attack to AC [2], +2 CC; +5/+3/+5; V 12; 2 Pfg, powder&shot*20, wineskin, cards.

Hp       14

You will note that the translation is not entirely accurate – some things are simplified or omitted – but the Gamemaster, who has to move several characters in the game, shall surely appreciate the simplicity!

Pascual de Perales -- character sheet (0.1 MB PDF) 

Hex map test prints (GM/player)

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Law, Chaos, & the Weird An OSR Commentary With Castles and Crusades Of Gods & Monsters By James Ward

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/03/2021 - 18:04
" Mythic epics are the driving force behind fantasy role playing games! Castles & Crusades is no exception. Here for the first time C&C branches out into the ether and brings you OF Gods & Monsters a book we guarantee you ll want and use. Written by James M. Ward this book stands along side the Monsters & Treasure as a tremendous resource for adventure and fun. James M. Ward returns to a subject Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Sentinels Comics RPG Session 3: "Demons from Never"

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 05/03/2021 - 11:00

Roll Call:
Blur: Amnesiac Speedster!Fibbit: Manic Pixie Extradimensional Dream Girl!Infranaut: IR-Powered Celebrity Hero!Il Masso: The Rock-Solid Hero of Little Italy!

Supporting Characters: Moonshadow

Villains: demons from Never (first appearance); Dark Duplicates (cameo)

Synopsis: Fearing another attack on Zauber, Action Jack accompanies him to the hospital while his companions stay behind to try to sort out why this happened. Fibit appears with a speedster in tow, confident she's found their missing teammate. The others don't remember a missing teammate clearly, but don't think that teammate was Blur if there was one. Blur doesn't know why she's here or where here is, but she goes with it.

Fibit tries to read the mysterious book and discovers it isn't really a book at all. It's a multidimensional object whose 4D cross section looks like a book. In any case, she senses it won't help them at this time. They decide to investigate the air gallery/museum further only to see an apparition of a woman.

It turns out this is a thought-projection of Moonshadow who was looking for Zauber. She asks for the team's help in protecting a family in suburban Ravenwood who is beset by demonic entities from a place called the Never--a realm outside of time of conceptions never realized. She uses her power to transport them.

In the house, they find reality warped in the master bedroom. A couple and their young daughter are sleeping, obviously to the demonic creatures that attack the mental shields Moonshadow has erected. Moonshadow explains the girl is her younger self and that she is from a parallel world.

The group destroys the demons, but Moonshadow tells them more will return. There is something malignant in the Never, and it appears drawn to the psychic potential of her younger duplicate. She believes it may be related to Anachronus somehow.

The team agrees to enter the portal and find the source of the malevolence. This find a strange maelstrom of floating shapes, and half-real ideas.

Suddenly, I blast strikes near them from a floating asteroid overhead. They look out to see five sinister looking superhumans.

"Anachronus sends his regards, " one of them sneers.

Riding on the High Cha'alterral - Saving Cha'alt Session Report One & Review

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 05/03/2021 - 03:10
 So let's dive right in on this from the beginning, DM Ricky had grabbed my copy of Saving Cha'alt a day or so ago. I had bought the pdf two days ago & had it printed out. DM Steve & Ricky brought another player over Charlie to meet up. And the rest of gang filled in after six or so tonight. I have no idea who but someone started saying we ought to be riding the high Cha'alterral. An obvious takeNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Session Report Zero - High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure - Nightshift Veterans of the Supernatural Wars By Jason Vey & Ben Laurence's Through Ultan's Door

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 05/02/2021 - 19:33
 So today we've  gotten the chance to put into practice some of the things we've been talking about here for sometime. And this goes back into a whole cloth other direction in today's game session or one shot. Or should I say the Connecticut one shot. In 1919's Connecticut in the little town of  Bingham tucked in the  Northwestern hills the residents  are stumped by the disappearance of twenty Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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DC, June 1980 (part 1)

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 05/02/2021 - 14:30
I'm reading DC Comics' output from January 1980 (cover date) to Crisis! This week, I'm looking at the comics at newsstands on the week of my 7th birthday in February 1980.

Batman #323: Cat-Man puts Batman and Catwoman in an almost 60s TV show death trap, which they escape. Cat-Man's potentially magical cloak seems to heal Catwoman's fatal-at-any-moment illness no one ever seemed to name. Weak sauce, Wein and Novick! Nice Aparo cover, though.
DC Comics Presents #21: In a story by Barr and Dillin, we get an appearance by Captain Comet, comics' first identified mutant superhero (as far as I know). Another mutant tries to steal Captain Comet's powers out of jealousy in an elaborate plot.
Flash #283: This issue is like a Silver Age throwback complete with a title page and a silly villain like the Rainbow Raider. The Flash triumphs by using his power creatively, though, which is kind of cool.
Ghosts #86: Three sort of novel ghostly stories of revenge. These stories drive home how much the ghost story (at least as DC does it) often involves the murderer dying in the same way as their victim. The Kashdan/Yeates story "The Phantom's Last Act" has the twist of the killer acknowledging the ghost's existence, but not being afraid of it due to its incorporeality, then panicking when it threatens to reveal his secret in a halogram display, and getting himself killed.

G.I. Combat #220: One thing I've noticed about these Haunted Tank stories: the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart shows up less than you might think from the name of the strip. In these 3 stories written by Kanigher and grittily rendered by Glanzman, the crew play host to a no-nonsense Soviet Major who happens to be a woman, they are forced to haul a big gun for the Germans to keep Belgian hostages safe, and they run into Rock and Easy Company on the way to Bastogne. There are a lot of cameos in these war books. In other tales, Kanigher puts a plug in for the indigenous people of a Pacific Island (if with a cringeworthy portrayal) as a warrior gets the better of both the Japanese and American invaders, and Haney and Caliva tell the life story of a G.I. canteen.
Jonah Hex #34: Fleisher gives us another story of Hex's Civil war past, this one revealing how he was the one that killed Stonewall Jackson in a friendly fire incident at Chancellorsville. The only problem is Fleisher told us a couple of issues ago that Hex left the Confederate Army right after the Emancipation Proclamation, and so shouldn't have even been there.
Justice League of America #179: Conway's creation, Firestorm, gets to join the JLA. He immediately gets into trouble crossing a disco super-model vampire, the Satin Satan!

Secrets of Haunted House #25: A criminal and a vampire (who apparently doesn't know how her powers work in some crucial ways) try to make it across some really hostile wilderness in a weird story by Catherine Barrett Andrews, Stuart Hopen, and artist June Lofamia. The second story was written by famous letterer Todd Klein and has art by von Eeden. It's one of those typical "trying to escape Destiny only leads you to do the exact thing you were supposed to do" yarns.
Superman #348: Conway and Swan deliver a pretty nonsensical tale of an old Native American who summons an extradimensional storm monsters with some sort of alien artifact. Neither the monster or the artifact are ever explained, but hey, Superman tosses them both into another dimension where they're somebody else's problem, I guess, and gives the old guy a regular rock as a replacement. Problem solved!
Weird War Tales #88: Fleisher and Ocampo deliver a problematic story about the Seminole Wars where the U.S. can't defeat the tribe because they have the fountain of youth to keep their people young and healthy. It all ends in tears though as a would-be white savior you turned on his unit gets killed by his commander who then destroys the sacred waters, dooming the Seminole. Alligators get him in the end, though.
Wonder Woman #268: Animal Man is still guest staring, but now they're in France fighting some ridiculous assassins. 

High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure - Nightshift Veterans of the Supernatural Wars By Jason Vey & Law vs Chaos with the Weird

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 05/02/2021 - 05:44
" The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.Part Two, Ch. 4"On the Road (1957) Jack Kerouac Now we've talked frequently about the modular nature of the various OSR clones on Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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The Legacy of Lum The Mad & Leuk-O In Greyhawk & The Wilderlands of High Fantasy

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/01/2021 - 15:36
There are ton of thoughts roaring through my head today after speaking with DM Steve & DM Ricky. One of those was looking over notes from 2019 concerning our Godbound/Cha'alt game campaign. Some of this goes all of the way back to our 2019 Victorious rpg campaign. That morphed into Godzilla 1889 & then bled into Amazing Adventures. The real question was, in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy was Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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It! The Terror from Beyond Space 1958 film adapted for The Cepheus Engine's Hostile Rpg Setting

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 05/01/2021 - 06:03
 The Martian Reptilian is a horror from some unknown star system that crash landed on Mars or perhas a mutated survivor of some lost Martian civilization. The xeno reptilian as it has become known is a strange abomination like exotic hybrid of the Reticulan Xenomorphic & some unknown alien life form. The creature shares many of the xenomorphic biological & ecological traits. This includes an Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure - Nightshift Veterans of the Supernatural Wars By Jason Vey & Original Dungeons & Dragon's The Underground & Wilderness Adventures

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 04/30/2021 - 15:53
 We should be wondering tonight, "Is there a world?" But I could go and talk on 5, 10, 20 minutes about is there a world, because there is really no world, cause sometimes I'm walkin' on the ground and I see right through the ground. And there is no world. And you'll find out."Is There A Beat Generation?" forum at Hunter College, New York, New York (8 November 1958)Jack KerouacSomeplace along theNeedleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Rifts: Crazy PC class adapted for Cepheus Atom & Barbaric!

Swords & Stitchery - Thu, 04/29/2021 - 05:56
 The crazy receives a nano cybernetic enhancement that completely rewires the human mind down to the neuralogical level. They gain several abilites right off the bat, the crazy can or may the character  take two Significant Actions and two Minor Actions (or five Minor Actions) in each combat round, though this does not allow a character to move further than 12 meters in a single round. They also Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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High Tech Mysticism & High Caliber Adventure - Nightshift Veterans of the Supernatural Wars By Jason Vey & Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 04/28/2021 - 17:45
 "I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Wednesday Comics: Who's Who Omnibus

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 04/28/2021 - 12:13


I was sick all last weekend, so my reading on June 1980 cover date DC got slowed down. So while you wait on that, you should check out the gorgeous tome that is the DC Who's Who Omnibus vol 1. It's got all of the pre-loose leaf Who's Who entry in it (well, except Atari Force characters they no longer had the rights to) and it looks great.

Here's an image on an interior spread:



Spectral Samurai Warrior For Sword of Cepheus, Barbaric!, & Cepheus Atom

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 04/28/2021 - 06:59
 An ancient clan of nameless samurai warriors have been cursed by the elder Oni to forevermore be at the beckoned call of black wizards from across space & time. This clan's name has been struck from history but the summoning ritual has been passed from black wizard to cult for eons. The spectral samurai are incredibly dangerous husks of their former selves with absolutely no souls left within Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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The Twisting Tale of Skills in D&D

DM David - Tue, 04/27/2021 - 11:28

Modern Dungeons & Dragons includes both skills and character classes, but in the early days of the roleplaying hobby, gamers often saw skills and classes as incompatible. Some gamers touted skills as the innovation that freed roleplaying games from character classes. Three years after D&D reached hobby shops, new games like Traveller and RuneQuest eliminated classes in favor of skill systems. Advertisements for RuneQuest in The Dragon trumpeted, “No Artificial Character Classes!!” Such games eliminated the unrealistic class restrictions that prevented, say, a fighter from learning to climb walls or from mastering a spell. “Mages can wear armor and use blades.” The ad credits RuneQuest to designer “Steve Perrin and friends.” Remember that name, because Perrin returns to this tale later.

1978 Chaosium ad featuring RuneQuest

D&D co-creator Gary Gygax favored classes because they resonated with the fantasy archetypes everyone knew. He warned, “If characters are not kept distinct, they will soon merge into one super-character.” He had a point. Skill-based games gave every character the ability to improve the same common adventuring skills, leading to a certain sameness among adventurers.

Classes let characters make distinct contributions to a group’s success. In a 1984 interview in DRACHE magazine, Gygax said, “The D&D game is based on the theory that there is so much to know and to do that nobody can do everything on his own. The team aspect is important. Each player has to use his strengths at the right place. Otherwise, the group won´t be able to survive.”

As long as Gygax controlled D&D’s development, he kept skills out of the game. His Unearthed Arcana (1985) added weapon proficiencies as a sort of weapon skill, but their narrow scope kept the sharp lines between classes.

Still, TSR designer Dave “Zeb” Cook saw a need for character development beyond class. “One of the things dreadfully lacking from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was any sense that your character had a real life beyond class skills.” When Cook wrote Oriental Adventures (1985), he brought a taste of skills to D&D in non-weapon proficiencies—skills without the name. These new proficiencies never overlapped with class abilities. Characters gained skills such as calligraphy, etiquette, animal handling, and bowyer. Non-weapon proficiencies “gave players a way to create a more culturally-informed background for their character.”

Checks finally reached AD&D in the Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide (1986). Although this book’s title suggests a focus on player strategy, this guide brought key rules innovations to AD&D. Here, the non-weapon proficiencies from Oriental Adventures became options in the primary game. When players used non-weapon proficiencies, they made proficiency checks to determine the outcome. These checks filled the place of ability checks. The new system of featured all the ingredients of a modern skill system, although class features still covered most of the actions characters attempted during an adventure, so thieves still rolled on their private tables to climb walls and move silently.

In a convention appearance, Dave “Zeb” Cook and fellow designer Steve Winter talked about how these first-edition books led to a second edition. “Oriental Adventures was the big tipping point because Zeb Cook put a lot of really cool stuff in OA,” Winter said. “We felt like, wow it would be great if this was actually part of the core game, but it’s not.”

“Because of the way we had to treat those books, you couldn’t actually consider them canon when you were writing product or doing modules,” Cook explained. “You always had to assume that players only had the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Player’s Handbook.”

Even after Gygax left TSR in 1985, designers like Cook and Winter lacked the clout to make sweeping changes to the company’s flagship game. TSR management insisted that second edition AD&D remain broadly compatible with the original. The Player’s Handbook (1989) included non-weapon proficiencies as an optional rule. Ability checks entered the core game, but languished in the glossary. Nonetheless, these additions inched AD&D closer to matching the ability checks and skills in other role-playing games.

But TSR sold two D&D games, an advanced version that got more scrutiny from management, and a basic version that offered more freedom to designers. By 1988, RuneQuest designer and freelancer Steve Perrin was gaining assignments writing D&D supplements. His GAZ5 The Elves of Alfheim (1988) for the D&D campaign setting of the Known World introduced skills by name to the game. “Due to their background, elves have a variety of skills that are neither shown in the rule books, nor related directly to combat, thieving, or magic. These are optional additions to your D&D campaign.” RuneQuest’s designer put more cracks in the wall between skills and D&D’s classes.

A year later, GAZ11 The Republic of Darokin (1989) by Scott Haring expanded this skill system beyond elves.

“Each skill is based on one of the character’s Abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma). When a circumstance arises in which the DM feels the use of a character’s skill is needed, he asks the player to roll a d20 against his current score with the Ability. If the result of the d20 roll is less than or equal to the Ability, the skill use succeeds. A roll of 20 always fails, no matter how high the chance for success.”

The gazetteer listed skills from advocacy and animal training to woodworking, but the options still kept away from the class specialties of combat, thieving, and magic.

In 1991, the Dungeon & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia gathered all the rules from the basic line into a single hardcover that included the skill system. Meanwhile, AD&D would spend another decade forcing players to say “non-weapon proficiency” in place of “skill.”

For D&D’s third edition in 2000, the designers finally gained permission to correct old drawbacks. “We knew we wanted to make a more robust set of skills,” designer Monte Cook said in an interview. “You had thieves‘ skills, which were different and they worked completely differently, because they were percentage based. So we wanted to marry all of that together.” Like RuneQuest and virtually every other contemporary roleplaying game, the new edition would adopt a single, core mechanic to resolve actions. Players made checks by rolling a d20, adding modifiers, and comparing the result against a difficulty class number. Skills now offered bonuses to these checks.

The older D&D skill system and AD&D proficiency checks had created in impression that the third-edition designers worked to avoid. In both systems, skills seemed like a requirement to attempt many tasks, so characters needed gemcutting skill to even attempt a radiant cut. That adds up. On the other hand, surely anyone could attempt bargaining and gambling, yet D&D’s original skill checks only applied to characters with a skill.

D&D’s new d20 core mechanic meant that skills expanded to include actions characters actually did in the game. For instance, rogues got skills rather than a private table listing their chance of hiding and picking pockets. “D&D was still a class based game, but the idea that you were not a thief, so you can’t climb and you can never climb, didn’t really hold a lot of water.” The system allowed any character to attempt to hide and climb. Unskilled characters just suffered worse odds of success. Good luck with the gemcutting.

By fourth edition the games designers worked hard to reach Gary Gygax’s ideal of teamwork—but only during combat. On the battlefield, each character class served a distinct role like striker and defender. For tasks outside combat, the designers contrived a skill challenge system aimed at ensuring that every character gained an equal chance to contribute.

During fifth edition’s design, the D&D designers planned to sideline skills in favor of simple ability checks. “We’re making skills completely optional,” lead designer Mike Mearls wrote. “They are a rules module that combines the 3E and 4E systems that DMs can integrate into their game if they so desire.”

But playtesters liked the depth that skills gave characters. Also finessing the game’s math so it played equally well with or without skill bonuses doubtless proved troublesome. So skills stayed part of the D&D core. The designers still chose to rename skill checks as ability checks. This further avoids from the implication that characters need a skill to attempt certain tasks. Without formal skill challenges, fifth edition allows characters with particular skills to shine more as individuals who bring special talents to contribute to the team.

And in the end, no one had to say or type “non-weapon proficiency” ever again (unless they tell this story).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Order of the Alligator Knights For Sword of Cepheus, Barbaric! & Cepheus Atom

Swords & Stitchery - Tue, 04/27/2021 - 03:04
 The Order of the Alligator was founded on a backwater swamp plane that had come into contact with an Arthurian order of knights who were slain saving a group of young Alligator lizardmen mothers &  hatchlings. A survivor of the maccacre of the knights stayed behind to educate the younglings in the precepts,beliefs, & traditions of his knightly order.  The order continued to train even when the Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Frozen Blood & Focused Ambitions - Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars 's 'Shining ones' & Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer mythologies

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 04/26/2021 - 15:02
 This blog entry picks right up where yesterday's left off & we dive into another Martian ecology with an OSR twist or two. Leigh Brackett's Black Amazon of Mars wraps up the Stark triliogy of stories. Black Amazon of Mars by Leigh Brackett originally appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read online here at Archive.org. And yes it has some incredibly interesting Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Warm Wet Ragged Tendrils - C.L. Moore's Shambleau & Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer mythologies

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 04/26/2021 - 01:59
 "Somewhere beyond the Egyptians, in that dimness out of which come echoes of half-mythical name - Atlantis, Mu - somewhere back of history's first beginnings there must have been an age when mankind, like us today, built cities of steel to house its star-roving ships and knew the names of the planets in their native tongues..." "Man has conquered space before, .... and faint echoes still run Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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The Murder Carnivals - a Post Apocalpytic Encounter For Cepheus Atom & Sword of Cepheus

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 04/25/2021 - 06:54
 In the shadow years of Nineteen Eighty One when the limited nuclear war broke the back of reality weird radiations flooded into the world. And strange mutations began to roam the countryside. Some of these mutations found niches in road side attractions & touring carnivals. Travelling from city to city these elaborate rides, attractions, & touring carnivals hide their mutations in plan sight Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, & Karl Edgar Wagner - Age of Conan & Nightshift Veterans of the Supernatural Wars By Jason Vey

Swords & Stitchery - Sat, 04/24/2021 - 15:38
  Yesterday was one of those days where you find yourself stuck in a waiting room of a garage. This happened to be in my home town which meant 2 hours or so of garage back & forth for car parts. So grabbing the first printed out pdf from the stack. And in this case it was a print out of two classic OD&D resources Grey Elf' (Jason Vey)'s Age of Conan II: Secrets of Acheron,a sourcebook for Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
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