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Review & Commentary On Castles & Crusades Expanding Classes By Mark Sandy

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 20:11
"Most everyone wants an edge, an angle that allows them to take that extra step, achieve that extra goal, to surprise the enemy. This angle, in hard fought battles with certain loss, can turn and snatch victory from the jaws of disaster. Expanding Classes is just that angle. Herein we delve into the 13 standard C&C classes, and the Rune Mark, and unleash the power of multiclassing, enhanced Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Sinbad's Seventh Voyage Mapped

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 11:00

"Unfathomable" Jason Sholtis clued me in to this cool map from the Dell Comics' adaptation of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It seems perfect for an adventure or island crawl.

1d10 Random Magical Caskets of the Damned & Unclaimed For Your Old School Sword & Sorcery Campaigns

Swords & Stitchery - Fri, 04/24/2020 - 02:47
The Three Caskets, Plate 2, Stories from Old English Poetry In ancient temples, ruins long forgotten, & dungeons undreamt of by man there are objects of occult power & supernatural violence that exist in forgotten corners. They hold the bones of the damned & saints of the unholy whose voices have been forgotten by history itself. The oceans have drank the continents & the seas have eroded Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Play Test Report Part B

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 21:06
Got to play test the warden and the bard, and learned some cool things...

The warden is actually overpowered. He had nearly as much firepower as the magic user, but also gets some healing, some defense, better armor, a fair weapon attack. He has got it all. The warden is definitely my answer to the B/X elf. I like the difference between them, though - it's a totally different set of magic you have as a warden than as a magic user, even though there are comparable effects. I had originally built the warden magic as 1 die back from comparable magic user stuff - if a tier 4 area of effect is dealing level d10 damage for a magic user, I had it as level d8 for the warden. I have pulled that back another die, so now those effects are level d6. You are still a viable offensive caster, but you are not packing the punch of a magic user.

The bard was AWESOME. Loved it. Simply fantastic. He doesn't get the high damage spells, because they don't kick in until tier 3+ (fireball), but that is no good against a fire giant, so I skipped it, and went with utility: hastes, slows, levitates, shield... this battle was about using magic to support a levitating bard raining arrows down on frustrated (and slowed) fire giant.

One other thing was that the timing of spells, with a turn being only a minute, and consisting of ten rounds, was perfect. I had to consider strategy with spell rotations - had to stop firing the bow a round before I wanted to because the levitate was wearing off and had to re-cast it, and once haste dropped, it was more effective to start throwing arcane darts (a guaranteed hit) than to keep up with the bow. 3 bow attacks with a 50% chance of hitting and 7 average damage were better than a guaranteed average of 10 at first... but not after haste dropped and it was 2 attacks. I felt a little bit like I was racing the clock - I did NOT want slow wearing off on that giant and for him to start throwing a boulder every round. I expected the bard to get owned; he was actually pretty awesome.

Niche Characters

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 15:01
I do my best thinking while doing dishes and mowing the lawn. Truly.

And I just washed a big ol' sinkful of dishes.

In thinking about the warden and bard, and how to distinguish them a little, I had a few revelations that I'm excited to test.

For the warden, I realized that I had left the classic ranger idea of the hated enemy out of the game. I'm not sure how that happened - it has been part of most fantasy game engines I've toyed with over the last several decades, yet somehow it eluded inclusion in this version. It makes sense for a warden to have a hated enemy, and it makes sense for the warden's ability to ramp up considerably. A bonus of + level to all rolls against that enemy makes sense to me, and is VERY powerful, but also very niche. I'm going to play test with it vs. giants. Yeah. He should be excellent against giants. But I would think he'd be pretty mediocre against the giant without it. I'll probably simulate both just to see. I like this a lot - it allows the warden to really shine and dominate in certain encounters, but to be a support character the rest of the time. (I would think 'humanoids would be an enemy against any humanoid of small or medium size, while giants and their kin would be against large or bigger humanoids... thinking on this further).

For the bard, I realized that he doesn't shine during combat. He shines before and after it. It's in those quiet moments when nothing is really happening, but we're either recovering from or preparing for adventure. I am thinking of these sorts of things:

- Your song allows all allies within 30' to add your CHA modifier to their resting healing rolls.
- Your song protects the fellowship from any chance of a random encounter while you are singing.
- Your song allows all casters (yourself included) to recover a certain number of slots of spells. You may have used up your daily spell limit, but the bard can sing you into a few extra spells today. It would be small - maybe CHA modifier slots total. Hey, one extra tier 2 spell today is a help.
- Your song protects those within 30' from scrying, crystal balls, and arcane eyes.
- Your song reveals the presence of all traps within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all magic within 30'.
- Your song reveals the presence of all enemies within 30'. (this one could be REALLY powerful if used in the middle of a packed inn). As you string your lyre and prepare to sing, that shifty dude in the corner makes sure to get at least 31' feet away from you... I'd call that a tell.

You would get to use your song your level times per day, and each time you use it you could stack in a number of effects equal to your CHA modifier (minimum of 1). So, a bard 3 could sing 3x per day. If he has CHA 14 (+3) he would be able to stack 3 of these effects together at once. In combat, the bard is okay, and can basically back up any caster in a pinch. Outside of combat, he makes your fellowship much more durable and resilient. You wouldn't be able to sing twice in a row; I'm thinking there has to be an hour cool down between uses or something.

I REALLY like this. It's much more of a roleplaying thing, and makes those quiet moments between combat important, too. It FEELS more bard to me, which is nice.

And THAT... is why we playtest

The Splintered Realm - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 12:51
Yesterday, I threw together a set of level 5 characters with solid gear and good abilities, to represent what a level 5 character of each class might look like. I made them all human, and gave them the same attribute distribution (albeit in different attributes). I gave them max hit points. A tried to balance abilities and magic for efficiency.
And then I had each of them fight a fire giant. I got through the first four, and I'll play out the other two today.
It was... interesting.
The fighter was the most straight-up battle. He just kept hitting the giant hard, and the giant would hit him back harder. It was a straight-up slugfust. The fighter won in 8 rounds. It was a 2-hand fighter; I might try a sword and shield fighter as well, just to see the difference. I'm starting to think that 2-hand might be underpowered, or that sword and shield is overpowered. We'll find out. As it is, the fighter's higher AC and excellent damage output meant the fight was never really in doubt. He missed an unusual number of times as well, so the fight should have probably been even quicker than it was.
The magic user was a rout. He dropped ice storm, then hold monster, then a few more ice storms. He used up all of his tier 4 spells, and finished with an arcane dart to seal the deal, but once the giant failed the hold monster resist Feat, it didn't matter. Six rounds total. If the giant had made the Feat to resist hold monster, it MIGHT have been a different situation... but the magic user still had a few big guns to pull out if needed. There was a whole layer of potential strategy to prolong the fight if he had to. But it was never needed.
The thief was where I learned a lot. As written, the thief is pretty weak. Only one attack per round with a dagger and a pretty meh sneak attack. The sneak attack was successful, but only dealt an extra 11 points of damage. Against a foe with 100 hp? Not gonna matter. And it didn't. There was the possibility of an instant kill with assassination, but it's a small chance that didn't happen. The thief kept hitting, but he just could not match the damage output. Not that he SHOULD, but he should at least be competitive. I went back and added options for two weapon fighting and archery to the thief, making him a viable backup fighter (but still not nearly as effective as a true fighter), and upped the damage die on the sneak attacks from d4 to d6. It also made me revisit poison damage, which had all been level d4s. A wyvern sting deals an extra 6 points? Nope. Not a real threat. I have changed poison throughout to D6s, which are still not automatic kills, but at least they feel a little worse. I might end up going to D8s, since you get a Feat to resist. I mean, if a wyvern is going to sting you, you should have a risk of dying from it. 3d8 means you could sustain up to 24 points of damage, and that makes more sense than the 12 point cap that is currently in place.
The friar was, far and away, the most fun. He was able to deal consistent damage. He had a lot of options during the fight. He dropped sanctuary twice, allowing him to rest, cast healing spells, activate spiritual hammers, put up some vigor, and jump back into the fight. It went 17 rounds, with the friar almost dying twice, and he managed to whittle away the giant over time. He had to use a blade barrier strategically coming out of his second sanctuary to hem the giant in (and deal some quick damage) and ultimately took home a victory. I love everything about this class.
Today I will test the warden and the bard. I have a few predictions:
The warden will feel midway between the magic user and friar. His melee is weaker than the friar, but his spells are able to take bigger chunks of damage. He doesn't have the "I win" button that the magic user does, but he can still do more offensively than the friar regarding magic.
The bard is kind of a mess. I LOVE the idea of chants, but I can already see that they are going to be relatively innocuous in actual play. I mean, the idea of regenerating 1 point of damage per round all the time feels good, except when faced with a foe who can deal an average of 20 points per round. The idea that you could compel him to listen to you during combat is nice, but what are you going to do once he's compelled? It's not like you have any way to really deal significant damage. The bard is the ultimate support character and jack of all trades - that is both his strength and his weakness. I've already revised so that he takes a tier of magic every level, and will always end up with 2 tiers each of arcane, faith, and nature. I might change this so that you can take any tier you want, but you are limited to tier 3 - the thing is that I don't want a bard keeping pace with another caster. If I set a limit that you cannot learn the same spell type two levels in a row, that solves it. You can alternate between arcane and faith, for instance, and ignore nature altogether (if that's the kind of bard you want), but you still will never be as good as a magic user or friar in their arena. The bard is also going to default to the bow as the go to weapon. He's going to get archery, giving him two attacks per round when he's not casting, which will be helpful. Again, he's the ultimate support character. He's going to get owned by the giant. I just want him to be able to do a few things before he dies.  
I've spent twenty years trying to get chants into the core of the system. I may have to wait another twenty before I really figure out how to do it well.



Hero Forge in Color

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 04/23/2020 - 11:00
The beta of the color version of Hero Forge is available to those of us that backed the Kickstarter, and I have been having fun playing with it. It really has a lot of options. Here are some of things I've done so far:


This is a Demonlander (Tiefling) Sorcerer from my Land of Azurth campaign.


Here's another character from that campaign. He has a shield with a hole to a void between dimension affixed to it. Maybe once the decals are added, I'll have a better way to represent that.


This is a recreation of an 80s Remco action figure, The Jewel Thief (part of there Conan line). The toy was made of translucent plastic, so I gave his body a red jewel color/texture, which turned out pretty well but may not come through so well in the picture.

I'm interested to see what the color will look like printed for the characters from my game.

Troll Lords Castles & Crusades Unboxing & OSR Commentary

Swords & Stitchery - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 19:57
A week or so ago there were several issues in my personal neck of the OSR. I went to look around for some books that I've been missing in my personal Castles & Crusades collection Expanding Classes, Classic Monsters & Treasure 2nd Printing, & Castles & Crusades Character Classes.  These  books were holes in the C&C collection especially the two PC books for expanding the player's options. Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Classes and Flavor

The Splintered Realm - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:38
The core rules have six classes available, and I wanted to find a balance between presenting the classic tropes, and reflecting this world. Classes are where you kind of put your stamp on the game, since it's the most visible flavor piece from a player's perspective.

So, there are three classic tropes: the fighter, the magic user, and the thief. These hew as close as possible to the source material, while still being the best fit for this game. They, and their abilities, are directly inspired by B/X.

But, the three others are unique to my world, drawing from multiple sources.

The warden is inspired by the druid, but it's not really a druid. It's more of a cleric of the wilderness, if that makes sense.

The bard is more aligned with role playing. Bards get chants, which work different from the other three kinds of magic. I have wanted to put chants in the core rules for a long time, and I found a simple way to layer them in. They are nifty and different. You don't lose anything by not using bards (and ignoring the class altogether if you really want to), but they add a different layer to the game that I like.

The friar is the last one I solved. Originally, it was just a re-skinned cleric, but I have shifted it subtly to be a bit more monkish. The friar has light armor and weapons, but gets to carry a quarterstaff. The friar attacks twice each round with the quarterstaff, damage increases every level, and it is always considered an enchanted weapon - so a friar at level 1 can hit anything with it.

The friar and warden reflect the religious realities of this world. The true goddess has died, and other things have stepped up to fill the void. There has been a return to worshiping nature, and the warden has emerged as an important religious leader that is trying to fill that gap. Friars hold on to the past, looking to restore the goddess. It's sort of a reversal of a classic paradigm. The contemporary worship is in the past, while more pagan beliefs are coming to the fore. The idea of a temple in town where a bunch of priests are sitting around isn't really a thing. The temples are old, many relegated to the role of museum of the distant past, with a few lonely caretakers.

The Ghoul Prince

Ten Foot Pole - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 11:06
By Zzarchov Kowolski DIY RPG Productions DCC Level 3

Behold the gripping terror of the GHOUL PRINCE, bargain your very skeleton to the unsettling BONE LADY, and claim the powers of the mysterious DEMON IDOL.

This 22 page adventure is a stunt dungeon that uses four pages to describe the same dungeon in five different ways. Decent map for its size, nicely evocative interior, interesting monsters (as all DCC creatures should be) and good magic items combine with some pretty good interactivity. An interesting project that proves the point it trying to make.

Sometimes designers have interesting ideas and want to explore them, and this is one such case. Can you take a standard dungeon and write it in such a way that you can retheme it easily/ Can it be written so that it can be a desert tomb, or an alpine mausoleum, or an iron-age bog tomb? Can you seperate the theme from the specifics and/or do it in such a way that it can serve several purposes? That’s what Zz is trying to do here, and what he succeeds at … at least in a dungeon of this size.

So, twenty rooms and four pages in a 22 page adventure … something is up, right? Eight or so pages are concerned with the specific theming. For each of three environments, plus your own, two pages are spent on what the various elements are themed as. What do magic symbols look like in a desert tomb as opposed to a bog tomb as opposed to an alpine mausoleum. What is does the trap on the chest consist of? What type of sword is the magic sword, and so on. There are a few more pages explaining the stunt concept and then a few giving some background on the guy whos tomb you’re about to rob, and his relationship to a new patron. The end of the book as new magic items, new monsters, a patron, etc. 

The idea here is that you are going to take the two pages specific to the theme you’ve chosen and have then ready as a reference as you run the four pages of the actual dungeon. Here’s an example of how this works with the dungeon rooms. The entrance, body, wards are all described in the theming page, with the bodies being described as “Leathery bog mummies.” 

A: Entryway

A sloping set of stairs lead down from the [Entrance]. A [Body] is curled into a foetal position at the bottom, surrounded by crudely made [Wards].

Monsters and magic are good, exactly as one would expect from a game with no monster manual or magic item list. Everything is nicely unique, with their own non-standard abilities. The lack of standard monsters and magic items is one of the things that makes DCC great, and Zz does a good job creating some new monsters and items to fill in nicely. Terrifying, unique powers, and objects of desire.Keeping the players on their toes, never knowing what the monsters abilities are, no monster manual to memorize and therefore remove the fear from a terrifying new encounter. No mundanity and victorian-era lists to catalog and remove the wonder of discovery from new items. 

The map is a small dyson one, with twenty rooms, but one of the better ones. There are a couple of places where one section crosses over another, or same-level stairs, details are nicely placed on the ma and it looks suitably rough for an old tomb. I’ve been down on Dyson maps in the map. Too often a designer will take a small uninteresting one and try to build something around it. He does do good ones as well, even at this small size. I wish people would gravitate towards those instead.

So, put it together and you’ve got a pretty decently themed dungeon, with good interactivity. It’s got a nice villain to chase you around, Jason-style, things to use in the dungeon against him, mysteries to unlock and lots and lots of ways to die. All in a package that is four packages in one. You could take any one of themes and have a pretty good dungeon exploration with it. I DO think, though, that the format is going to wear a little thing in larger dungeons. There’s only so many ways you can say “magic wards” and have it come out inspiring and well. T some point the two page reference sheet will grow longer and at that point the utility will break down. For these smaller style dungeons, though, sure. Three dungeon themes to fit your specific campaign world, plus a couple of blank sheets to fit in to your.This is $7 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages. You get to see the intro, background, and part of a theming page spread. Ok, but a room encounter would have been nice as well.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/238775/The-Ghoul-Prince?1892600

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Harnmaster Kickstarter

Bat in the Attic - Wed, 04/22/2020 - 00:09
Columbia Games decided it was time to spruce up their Harnmaster boxed set and order a new printing. You can get on the action on kickstarter.

Harnmaster has long been one of my favorite RPGs. You can read a detailed account of a session in my 911 call from the Attic post.

It a skill based system that uses a d100. It oriented heavily towards the medieval side of fantasy compared to other fantasy RPGs. It combat system is without comparison for how realistic it feels yet remaining playable. The key is a set of well laid out charts that make resolution a snap and bloody.

It also a combat system without hit points. Characters suffer injuries which reduce skills levels as well as a force a saving throw. The saves are where the bad things happen like shock, stumble, fumble, and of course the dreaded kill result.





Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Kobold Den

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 22:07
In play testing, my character found a map (it was a random treasure) in the lair of a giant bat. I decided this would be an area beyond the secret door in the starter dungeon for the core rules. This will ultimately be the first expansion for the game (because I'm already working on THAT). The idea is that I'm going to build a mega-dungeon over time. This is part of level 1, where it connects to the sewers under Stalwart Keep. I have learned to appreciate the value of secret doors - you can have a whole lot of things happening right next to each other if one side is not aware of the door.

In this case, a pack of kobolds set up shop in what was an abandoned start to a mine. They sneak into the sewers to hunt rats and spiders. It's fun. But then the gibbering mouther that lives in the muck pit (former start of a mine) in the middle drove their clan chief mad. And he started to sacrifice bigger and bigger things to it. And they tried to give it a rot creeper as a special treat. But the creeper wasn't as dead as they thought it was. And it ended up killing their chief. So now, they are holed up in the northwest corner, the creeper patrols the south hall, and a few guards have been forced to stand watch in the east, behind a barricade of garbage, to keep the creeper at bay. And there's a living statue that knows not to attack the kobolds. And that mouther just keeps screeching all the time, and everyone is a little on edge about it. And nobody knows that there has been a well-hidden secret door in the southwest that leads to dungeon level 2 there the whole time.

[REVIEW] The Mines of Wexcham

Beyond Fomalhaut - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 17:56
How Do You Intend to Proceed?
The Mines of Wexcham (2012)by Gerald D. Seypura, PhDPublished by Southerwood PublishingLow- to mid-level characters
Published for the OD&D-inspired Champions of ZED system, this module (also referred to as The Mines of Wexham) is a fairly odd combination of a short wilderness trek, a dungeon crawl at an abandoned mine site, and questionable attempts at writing fantasy fiction. It has a certain charm, if you care to look deeper into it. In the functional sense, it is a modular “orcs in a mine” scenario that makes more sense on its own than as a tournament exercise. This is a lot, so let us unpack the details.
It is generally a bad sign if an adventure module (a play aid meant for use in an interactive game) begins with an introduction written in the form of a piece of fiction. It is even less promising if a 19-page adventure module goes into a full-page treatment of the history of a fallen empire who can be summed up as “they were Romans”. (They are called… the Reman Empire.) It becomes positively ominous if it then starts to lovingly detail a home base which will, actually, have no role whatsoever in the actual adventure, then presents a list of pregen characters with backstories and all. The Mines of Wexcham does all of this and then some, lovingly detailing pieces of political and personal intrigue of barely any relevance; pseudo-historical trivia without a bearing on what goes on, and PCs/NPCs (more on this below) of no interest. Hitting all the wrong notes in story-centric adventure design and taking up a good 1/3 of the adventure while doing so is certainly an accomplishment of sorts. If I had not already printed my PDF, this is where I would stop – but it does get better.
There is something slightly off about the adventure that has a non-standard touch, similar to the occasional 1970s tournament weirdness Judges Guild would sometimes publish – pre-standardisation D&D, and a pre-standardisation way of presenting a packaged scenario. “How do you intend to proceed?” This enigmatic question is repeated dozens of times in the text. What is this cue for? It is hard to determine if it is a reminder for the GM to tell that much to the player, or something else that only made sense to the writer.
In The Mines of Wexcham, the characters are after the rumours of a lost mine with rich ore deposits. The ore is of strategic and political importance, and multiple interested parties have taken note. One of these parties are the player characters – as an innovative touch, if the PCs do not play them, the GM is instructed to make them the rivals, and the pregens as a party they must beat to the score. The rivalry is handed in a fairly ad hoc way, without turning it into a mini-game or player-vs-GM contest. There is, however, a wilderness trek with three main options, played as a mixture of random encounters, until at last the charactrs reach their target. There is not much to it, but it has a decent sense of discovery – finding an old, abandoned road in what now counts as untamed wilderness is a classic touch.
The main adventure site is the heart of the publication, taking 8.5 pages with three full-page maps: a ruined mining village, a small set of troll tunnels, and the mines proper. Unlike the introduction, it is simple, to the point, and iconic. There is nothing especially strange here (most keyed locations are flavour or monster encounters), but the mining village captures the feeling of an eerie, abandoned Roman-style mine site quite well, and this continues down in the mines. Here, we have a conflict between two sides, either of which pose mortal danger to a low-level party (including a 70-orc lair), but which can be evaded or leveraged against each other. There are signs of former habitation, and a few fantastic encounters that spice things up. There is also a sense of discovery that’s classic. It feels a bit like the first orc mine you cleared.
Altogether, this is a weird one – burdened by poor design decisions, and ultimately fairly lightweight, but offering an interesting location you could drop in a corner of your word and use without a second thought. It is also a sort of look into early OD&D, and how it might have felt back then, when it was all new. How do you intend to proceed?
No playtesters are credited in this publication.
Rating: ** / *****
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

The Torchbearer Second Edition Kickstarter Is Live!

Torchbearer RPG - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 15:00
Cave Serpent by Arik Roper

Hello friends!

Just posting to let you know that the Torchbearer 2nd Edition Kickstarter is now live!

We’re splashing out on this like never before. The new edition is based on 7 years of playtesting and feedback on the first edition. We started off with the intention of making a few tweaks like fixing the bow and wound up revising the entire game.

Don’t worry! It hasn’t changed so much that your existing supplements will be useless, but we’ve clarified, revised, refined and expanded the rules. If you back at a tier that includes the Lore Master’s Manual, you’ll get tons of new material, some of which I know many of you have been clamoring for. It includes:

  • New class: the thief, go from a knife-wielding cutthroat to the shadowy power that rules this town
  • New class:  the shaman, fueled by the Immortals of Beasts, channeling their wild power
  • New stock: the Troll Changeling; they’re part troll, part human and all trouble
  • New conflicts: Banish, Abjure, Bind and Battle
  • New settlements like Borderland Fortress, Shire and Walled Town
  • Lots and lots of gear in a comprehensive list
  • Rules for making base camps—good for tackling those megadungeons. 
  • Economic rules so you can crash the economy of your town
  • Travel rules
  • Simple guidance on town adventures
  • More spells and invocations
  • More monsters!
  • Wild new rules for spiritual quests 
  • And more!   

Join us in this adventure and you’ll score some fabulous loot!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A few meditations

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 13:28
I had time to sleep on some concepts in play testing, and here are some things I've mulled over:

Money and XP
I have to take money out of the XP progression. The XP chart is lean - it has to be. There are only 6 levels in the game. The default progression has to be slow. The difference between level 2 and level 3 is huge - it's comparable to two levels in B/X. It's comparable from moving from level 3 to level 5. The treasure charts are, by design (and necessity) relatively random. You can find a lot of gold in one lair, and nothing in the next three. That's by design. The problem is the opposite; if you get lucky for two or three lairs in a row, suddenly you are ramping up XP like crazy, and you can pick up a level very fast. Now, you've moved from level 3 (B/X numbers) to level 7 in a handful of encounters. It's a potential campaign killer. If you can kill three dragons, you deserve that XP. But if you just happen to get really lucky when rolling their treasures, it shouldn't automatically end the game because you top out your character.

CON checks vs. Feats for Poison
I toyed with making poison saves a CON check vs. a Feat. I really like this, because it makes CON a little more important, and it feels more reasonable. But, then I realized why I made it Feats in the first place:
- All creatures have a Feat rating, but only player characters have attributes. What about when a goblin gets poisoned? You have to hand wave it. Hate that.
- This opens Pandora's box. Then, shouldn't avoiding a trap be a DEX check? And shouldn't some spells be WIS checks? Shouldn't some manipulation require an INT check? Ugh. Breaks the simplicity of the engine.
- The source material says no. Feats are a synthesis of the entire saving throw system from B/X. Poison was resolved as a saving throw, not as a CON check. Old school, yo.

Attributes Revisited (Again)
Thought a little bit more about attribute scores and modifiers. My original system has the progression at +1 modifier for every 2 attribute points, and the system I was tinkering with moved it to every 4 - what if we meet in the middle at every 3? It looks like this:

Rating (Modifier) - Descriptor

2-4 (-1) Poor
5-7 (-) Average
8-10 (+1) Above Average
11-13 (+2) Exceptional
14-16 (+3) Heroic
17-19 (+4) Epic
20-22 (+5) Titanic
23-25 (+6) Godly

There is a a lot to like here. It still keeps the numbers in check, but gives a little more gradation. It also moves 'average' down slightly, which I like. A 'typical' PC has 7s across the board - he or she is nearly above average in all things. You are likely to get a handful of +1 modifiers, and getting an 11 once in a while is not unlikely. Min/Max rules have to go, however. That's old school. You get what you get.

I like the crossover for monsters. An ogre has STR 16. Giants are 17 (hill), 18 (fire and frost), or 19 (storm). A titan starts at 20.

It keeps an important break point at 14 (that's the threshold for being able to attempt epic checks). You feel almost as good about your 8 as you would 13, so a fighter with STR 8 is not feeling like a total loser next to that Fighter with STR 13. He's still capable, and viable as a character. I also like that magical devices can have a +3 attribute modifier as their default - that guarantees you will bump to the same location in the next tier up. I like that it breaks the tiers into 3 parts (low epic, medium epic, high epic). And, this ultimately ports over to the supers game a little better. I like that the Hulk gets +6 to attack and damage, and not 'just' +4. The raw scores don't change in that game, just the modifiers. Captain America (STR 13) is getting +2 to hit and damage, Spider Man (STR 15) is getting +3, Iron Man (STR 18) is getting +4, the Thing (STR 20) is getting +5, and Hulk is at his +6. This keeps a progression in place that distinguishes the characters mechanically enough to feel different, but keeps it relatively old school as well.

The Obvious Innovation in Fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons That No Designer Saw Before

DM David - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 12:47

Stirrups. Zero. Shipping containers. Luggage with wheels. All these innovations seem obvious in hindsight. But they went undiscovered for millennia, until someone’s bright idea changed the world—or at least put airport porters out of work. Even those hotel shower rods that curve made someone rich.

Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons includes one obvious-in-hindsight innovation that the game’s past designers failed to spot. Alas, it won’t make anyone rich.

Up until fourth edition, D&D fighters gained extra attacks, but fourth edition avoided them. The designers shunned extra attacks partly to speed play by reducing the number of attack and damage rolls. Sure, spells attacked lots of targets, but at least spells only required one damage roll.

Also fourth edition, like all earlier editions of D&D, aimed to parcel out benefits smoothly as characters leveled up. In theory, this made the difference in power between, a 4th- and 5th-level character about the same as the difference between levels 5 and 6. Characters at similar levels could adventure together without someone routinely dealing twice as much damage. But a second attack on every turn brings a fighter a big jump in power.

The designers of past editions worked to smooth these jumps in power by granting fighters something less than a full extra attack. AD&D gave fighters extra half attacks, and a need to remember half attacks. Third edition traded half attacks and the memory issue for weaker attacks and fiddly attack penalties. These solutions complicated the game with awkward memory demands and calculations.

So playtest versions of fifth edition did not grant fighters and other martial characters an Extra Attack feature. Rather than gaining more attacks, these classes earned features that enabled attacks to deal more damage. But this approach put fighters at a disadvantage against weaker foes easily dropped by a single blow.

When a fighter confronts a goblin horde and only makes one attack per turn, no amount of extra damage matters because one strike can only fell one goblin per turn. To help martial types against weak foes, the playtest included cleaving-attack powers that swept through groups. But such features failed to remedy another trouble: To-hit bonuses in fifth-edition increase at a slower rate and never grow as big as in earlier editions. The designers call this bounded accuracy, because they do not come from marketing. Bounded accuracy means that fighters hit weaker foes less easily than in past editions.

Fighter types should hew through the rabble like grass until, bloodied and battle worn, they stand triumphant. But in the playtest, even the mightiest spent turns muffing their one attack against some mook. With an extra attack, misses matter less because there’s more where that came from.

During the playtest, I wrote, “If D&D Next’s designers can find a good way to allow fighters to gain multiple attacks against weaker opponents, then a key piece of the Next design puzzle falls into place.”

Late in fifth edition’s creation, the designers compared the benefits each class gained as they leveled and noticed that wizards leap in power at 5th and at 11th levels. These jumps come from quirks of a spell list that date to the beginning of the game. At 5th level, wizards gain potent attack spells like Fireball, plus unbalancing buffs like Haste. At 11th level, wizards gain 6th-level spells, which bring save-or-die effects like Disintegrate. At the 9th spell level, Gary Gygax felt comfortable stashing world-altering spells like Wish and Time Stop, because his players never reached 17th level and never gained easy access to them.

Earlier editions of D&D aimed to parcel out benefits smoothly as characters leveled up. Those editions’ designers ignored the leaps in power certain spells brought; the fifth-edition designers embraced the leaps.

This brought the obvious-in-hindsight innovation: Rather than offering fighters half attacks or fiddly attack penalties, fifth edition matches the leaps in power brought by additional attacks to the leaps brought by 3rd, 6th, and 9th-level spells. Fighters gain extra attacks as wizards gain these spells. At the same levels, other classes gain potent powers and spells of their own. For instance, the bard’s Hypnotic Pattern spell got a fifth-edition redesign that moves it to 3rd level and dramatically increases the spell’s power. 

Third and fourth editions arbitrarily aligned the game’s tiers with 10th and 20th levels, because of round numbers. The fifth-edition tiers match to the levels where characters gain the best new powers and spells. These leaps in ability mean 4th- and 5th-level characters cannot adventure together without displaying big power differences, but characters in the same tier can join a party and contribute.

It all seems obvious now. Designer Mike Mearls says that a lot of innovations in game design work that way.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Play Test Reporting

The Splintered Realm - Tue, 04/21/2020 - 02:34
I've spent the evening exploring part of the starter dungeon for the core rules with a fighter I rolled up and have been playing with my revised rules, including the mods to character attributes. Oh my goodness does this feel old school. He's running from monsters, hiding behind doors, getting jumped by random encounters, climbing into little alcoves, making INT checks to map correctly... he just needs a 10' pole and he'd be the most old school dungeon crawler ever.

I LOVE the changes to attributes. Now, I am playing a viable fighter who doesn't have over the top attributes. It doesn't really matter that much. He failed a STR check to force a door (by 1 point), so that higher STR would have helped there, but that's been it. I LOVE the rules for fighting with sword and shield. Fights feel messy and dirty, as he's swinging (and repeatedly dropping) his sword and trying to shield bash skeletons to dust. I got very lucky (literally rolled 15 twice on a D30 potion chart) to get 2 greater potions of healing, which he had to drink both of just to survive. The XP are coming slow, and the treasure is small (but appropriate). Treasure no longer gives XP, so I have to keep killing monsters if I want to get XP. And I do. I really do.

The temptation to pick up a level of thief once I hit 2 is going to overwhelming (it will be SO helpful for solo dungeon crawling), and I might need lore at some point just to keep up with all the magic items I'm finding, but this has been fun.

If I was to tie XP to treasure (1 gold = 1 XP), I'd have picked up another 12 XP in addition to the 14 XP from monsters. That seems reasonable. I house rule that back in, which means that it is literally back in the rules - so it goes from house rule to official rule instantly.

The next thing is going to be to pick up a retainer of some kind. It would be cool to have a goblin or kobold who follows him around... hmm...

Attribute Scores

The Splintered Realm - Mon, 04/20/2020 - 21:13
Rut Roh.

I keep going back and tinkering with foundation concepts that underpin everything. I figure, this is my chance to do that, so I may as well at least investigate options as they come to mind.

One of the things that occurred to me last night while rolling up a fighter was attribute scores - if you are a fighter at level 1 who doesn't have STR 12, you are at a disadvantage. You are losing +1 to hit and damage every round just by dropping to 11, and +2 to hit and damage every round if you let STR slip to 9. And a fighter with STR 7? Fugeddaboutit. You are looking at a loss of +3 to both hit and damage every single time you attack.

The other issue arises at the top end. One of the intentional things in magical item design is trying to keep attribute creep under control. If you pick up an item that gives you giant strength, you have both STR 18, and +6 to attack and damage rolls in combat, which is HUGE. You are dealing tremendous damage with every swing.

What if we cut the scale down considerably, and put our break points every 4, rather than every 2, attribute points. Here's an example of how that might look:

Rating 2-5 (-1 modifier). Below average range.
Rating 6-9 (no modifier). Average range.
Rating 10-13 (+1 modifier). Exceptional range.
Rating 14-17 (+2 modifier). Heroic range.
Rating 18-21 (+3 modifier). Epic range.
Rating 22+ (+4 modifier). Beyond mortal ability.

Now, your level 1 fighter can have STR 10, 11, 12, or 13 and get +1 to attacks and damage. Or, he can have a 'lowly' STR of 6, and only be +1 back from a much stronger fighter.

It's not that your high STR doesn't matter. The game relies on a large number of checks, so your high strength score still makes a difference. Just not in combat.

Now, you can pick up a gauntlet of storm giant strength (STR 18) and rock the checks - you can rip doors off their hinges and lift huge weights. But, you are still only getting +3 to attack and damage, so it's not breaking the game in terms of bonuses. Your level still matters a lot, and your magical weapon is just as important. This keeps attributes in line with other, comparable scales.

Let's look at other implications:

For INT, this means that the formula for arcane spells would be different; your number of spells would be your tier + your INT modifier. As a tier 3 caster with INT 10, you get 4 spells of tier 1, 3 spells of tier 2, and 2 spells of tier 3 each day. If you can get that INT to 14, you get 1 more spell of each tier. It's not a game breaker, but it's a nice perk for having that exceptional intelligence. You can still be a magic user with INT 6... it's just going to be a little bit harder for you. The difference between 6 and 14 matters, but it's not an impossible difference. However, those lore checks are going to be far, far easier for the smarter magic user.

WIS and CON work the same way with their spells.

DEX modifiers to armor class would be mitigated, which keeps AC scaled a bit lower - which aligns with how AC scales for monsters a little better. I am ALMOST tempted to allow you to add your level to AC (as happens with my other games), and to make the armor you wear less important. Now we're DEEP into tinkering with the rules. However, your ability to get out of the way of damage should in large measure be a facet of experience. A magic user 1 and magic user 6 with the exact same gear should not be just as easy to hit; that second magic user has been in hundreds of battles, and has learned how to avoid being hit.

Since the game only goes to 6 levels, this is easy to mitigate. At the top end:

That magic user 6 has a ring of protection +3, and has DEX 14 (+2) from magical items. He has AC 21. In the current system, he has AC 15.
A fighter 6 has a suit of plate mail (+3) with a +3 enchantment, carries a shield (+2) with a +3 enchantment, but gets no DEX bonus because of the heavy armor. He has AC 27. In the current system, he would have AC 23.

Don't love how this is scaling. It works to add level for the supers and army ants games, because there are so few add-ons in game that contribute to AC, but here (where there is a lot of magic), that's not so much.

We could always scale back magic, too, so that there are only 2 levels of enchantment - enchanted and mystical. This would cut our magic user down to a 20 AC at level 6, and our fighter down to 25... and if we pull the AC bonus from a shield back to +1 (which makes more sense here), he's now down to AC 24. Again, your level matters more than your gear.

I'm going to let this simmer for a day or two...







Free Appendix N Sword & Sorcery Classic Downloads - Robert Howard's King Kull Stories

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 04/20/2020 - 17:03
You can download em right over here.  Conan always seems to get more attention then Kull in my humble opinion but Kull has a charm all his own in the annals of Sword and Sorcery. There is lots to use including the best depictions of the serpent men outside of their mention in Lovecraft. Then there is the entire depiction of Kull's Atlantis and all of its environs. According to wiki :  Needleshttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11243274667834930867noreply@blogger.com0
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Quest: The Underworld of Tekumel boardgame

Zenopus Archives - Mon, 04/20/2020 - 15:17
Image Source: Paul Stormberg and Bill Hoyt via The OSR Grimoire blog
For a time in the 1970s, TSR considered publishing a boardgame that was a sequel their popular DUNGEON! boardgame but based on the setting (Tekumel) of Empire of the Petal Throne, their second RPG. Publicly this went as far as a mention in the fifth Strategic Review (the magazine that later became The Dragon) in late 1975, where Tim Kask wrote:
"Also a little in the future is an EPT-based game on the order of DUNGEON!. However, the similarity is merely superficial. It is a really promising game in its own right, played on a beautiful board" (h/t to the OSR Grimoire).
Kask doesn't name the game or its designer, but Jon Peterson reported in 2015 that it was created by Bill Hoyt, a member of both Dave Arneson's and M.A.R. Barker's game groups and a publisher of game products under the "WAW Productions" imprint. Hoyt played in Tekumel and facilitated the publication of the Empire of the Petal Throne by TSR, who gave him a finder's fee and a "Presented in Association" credit for WAW. TSR also reprinted several WAW titles (see Jon's post for details), and then considered publishing the Tekumel boardgame, which Hoyt proposed calling "Quest", whereas Gygax favored "Catacombs". More recently Jon wrote on ODD74 that:
"TSR held on to Quest for like three years, from 1975 to 1978, and then opted not to publish it. Doing board games was expensive, and in 1978 anyway, Dungeon! sales weren't growing anything like core D&D sales, so from a strategic investment perspective, TSR wanted to put their money elsewhere. Gygax did offer to try to radically simplify the game, to make it something even less complicated than Dungeon!, but Hoyt didn't seem amenable to that. Gygax assumed Hoyt would take it to the Tekumel people after they rejected it; I don't know what if anything came of that. I just think it's neat that Bill was able to get it published in the form shown at the top of this [post]..."
Chirine Ba Kal, another member of Barker's group, provides more context in a Q&A thread:
"[That is] Bill Hoyt's wonderful game, "Quest", that he created with [creator of Dungeon] Dave Megarry's help; it's a Tekumel version of "Dungeon", and it's a lot of fun to play. Bill made six prototype copies of the game, and was kind enough to give me one for my archives. Bill goes way back; he's the "William Hoyt of W.A.W." mentioned in the TSR editions of EPT, and was one of the people - along with Gronan [Mike Mornard] - who persuaded Phil [aka MAR Barker] to publish in the first place."
While the game has never been published for general release, for the past few years Bill Hoyt has been running the game using his prototypes at Gary Con as part of Paul Stormberg's Legends of Wargaming series; here is the description from the Gary Con XII listing:
"Legends of Wargaming event! This is your chance to play Quest! the unpublished Empire of the Petal Throne board game designed by original Blackmoor player, Bill Hoyt! A variant of the Dungeon! board game, players will instead face the mysteries, magic, and monsters of Tekumel! After a brief introduction on the history of the game’s design, Bill will lead up to 12 players into the Tekumel Underworld! Empire of the Petal Throne by Professor MAR Barker is one of the most lavishly conceived fantasy worlds of all time! When TSR published Empire of the Petal Throne in 1975 and it was a natural success. TSR followed this up with a line of miniatures and a set of wargame rules, Legions of the Petal Throne by Dave Sutherland III. At the same time, Dave Megarry's Dungeon! was TSR's most popular board game. Indeed it was one of Gary's favorites. Bill Hoyt sought to capitalize on these popular products by creating a game that tapped into both: Quest! Designed in the mid-1970s, this game was one of the many games considered for publication by TSR. Fortunately for us Bill still has a few demo copies on which participants can play."
At these games, Hoyt shows off the fantastic cover of the game, which is the image that appears at the top of this post, and can also be seen in this Facebook post. The same OSR Grimoire post linked above also has a photo of Hoyt running the game for several players, and others can be spotted on Facebook

The cover depicts a battle in the Underworld between two groups. The warriors to the right presumably represent the players of the game, including two humans - one an archer - and (I think) a "slender, stick-like" six-limbed Pe Choi, "often found in human armies". On the ground is a fallen Shen, "dragon-like" and with "gleaming black scales", presumably a member of the same group based on the color of its armor. The opponents to the left include two reptilian Sro, having "long, dragon-like heads" with "jagged-toothed beaks and six-limbs including "a pair of small arms" that "can wield a broadsword in each hand". They are led by a sinister figure that is likely a "Skull-Priest of Sarku", a deity known also as "the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, Master of the Undead, the Demon of Decay", and whose "minions paint their faces to resemble skulls". (All quotes in this paragraph are from TSR's Empire of the Petal Throne, 1975).

I'm not sure who the cover artist is; there appears to a signature in the lower left corner but is not readable at the current resolution. I will update this post if I learn more.
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