19 November 2022

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough.

What if I look back five or seven years?

It's funny to see that some ideas are still rattling around in my head. And it's funny to see what has changed. I've gotten more into Zen and less into roleplaying games, for example. More into Tiktok and less into blogging. I've come to terms with 4e and GURPS, but mostly because nobody plays either of them anymore.

I've published (and sold!) games on itch- something I never would have dared to do in my 20s. There's a whole scene now, on the possibly soon to be doomed Twitter that makes just exactly the kind of games I used to love playing...

This thought inspired by finding a blogspot app still installed on my phone. Hello out there, old friends and followers! How have these long years treated you? Do you have kids now? Own a house? What do you think about all this? <gestures wildly>

08 November 2019

D&D is a game about resources

Sometimes it pretends to be a game about stories, or adventures, but it isn’t. It’s a game about what you have- hit points, weapons, armor, spells, gold, and experience points. (It’s also about how good you are at getting those things.)

It mostly trades in two currencies- hit points, and spell points. (spell slots, metamagic points, whatever). There are others, but these are the most important. D&D asks you to risk those currencies in a dice game, with the stakes set in the fiction, modified by however good your character is at whatever you’re doing.

The rewards are always things you can write on your character sheet- experience points, gold, items. You don’t have to track anything else.

You can trade experience points for additional power and utility, allowing you to earn more experience points, which you always want.

You can trade gold for additional power and utility, but only to a point. It’s usually easy to buy all of the best items in the game, with additional gold being useless. The game doesn’t model economics, or any mercantile activity, or construction.

And that’s it. 95% of the game is either about getting resources or spending resources ( to try to get more resources). Everything else is window dressing or freeform roleplaying.

(From my other blog)

07 July 2019

Can't Stop Thinking About Weapons

Predictably enough, when I set down to whittle the 5e rules down to something that I'm interested in running, one of the first things that I take a look at are the rules for weapons.

Have I actually laid out what my issues with the weapons list in 5e is? It's both boring and long, with obvious traps in damage and functionality, and somehow also lacking in anything resembling interest. If you want to do a big long list of weaponry, you can do better by looking at one of the Warhammer 40k weapon lists, with all of its modifiers and finnicky bonii, or you can look directly at FantasyCraft, which takes great pains to make each weapon type distinct through the liberal use of feats and class features.

5e doesn't do either, which is why I always want to get rid of it. 5e isn't really a game about whether you should bring a sword or an axe or a spear, and I kind of want it to be.

 So here's a little something inspired by much-maligned weapon speed rules in 1E.

03 February 2019

Gervan, Sorcerer



Level 3 Sorcerer

Hit Points: 9
Willpower: 5
AC: 15
Attack: 1

    Seeks power at all costs

    Literate- Gervan can both read and write.
    Familiar- Kronk the raven. Kronk can speak common and knows Shadow Lore. Can fly. Loyal to Gervan, they are magically bonded and always know where the other one is.
    Sorcery- 6 Sorcery Points. Gervan can spend Sorcery points to cast spells.
        Study- Must Study during Rest Phase to recover Sorcery points.
        Rituals- Can use Ritual magic during the Rest Phase.
        Witchsight- Can detect magic at will. Magic has a distinct shimmering color, indescribable to non-sorcerers.
    Red Lore II- Gervan knows Red Lore, and can cast the following spells:
        Power Bolt- 1+.  Can throw a bolt of glowing mystical energy at enemies. Ranged attack. Deals 1d8 per Sorcery Point spent.
        Catsight- 0. At will, can gain Darkvision and Light Sensitivity.
        Barrier- 1+. A field of glowing force surrounds Gervan or a touched ally. It can absorb 1d4 points of damage per Sorcery Point spent before it dissipates.
    Necromancy I-
        Speak with the Dead- Ritual. Can speak to the recently deceased, asking them one question per Sorcery point spent before the magic fades. The dead are under no compulsion to speak the truth.
        Hide from Undead: 0. For one minute, Gervan cannot be seen or smelled or otherwise detected by the undead. Effect ends if Gervan makes an attack.
    Grandfather's Skull- Gervan's grandfather taught Gervan magic from beyond the grave. When he died, his skull was attuned to his bloodline through a dark ritual and so the skull itself talks to Gervan in a hollow, reedy voice. It was louder when he was younger. These days, the skull is very quiet, and Gervan must meditate to get any information whatsoever out of it. Gervan doesn't quite know why.
    Dead Rat- Gervan's discarded this rat multiple times, but it always ends up in his backpack or under his feet, or wherever, just as soon as he thought he'd gotten rid of it. Gervan assumes it's part of some curse he's accumulated, or something.
    Bound Grimoire- This book wants to be opened and read. Unfortunately, it's full of vulgar nonsense.
    Ritual Knife- Doubles as a weapon in a pinch. 1d4 damage, melee. Light. Throwable.
    The Duke's Permission- Gervan is a licensed sorcerer, with permission to practice from the Duke.
    Quill and Ink- Kronk is a good messenger and will carry small belongings to and from Gervan's contacts.
    Bag of Bone Dust- An important ingredient in Necromancy rituals.

28 January 2019

willpower, sins, and flaws

one of the things I liked best about when I was playing the world of darkness games was the way that willpower worked. the basic idea was that your character had a virtue and a vice (based off the seven deadly sins, naturally), and if you wanted to resist your sin you had to spend willpower, usually, and if you acted according to your 'better nature' you'd get some willpower back. you also got willpower back for indulging in your sin, I believe. interestingly, you could also spend willpower to get like, better dice rolls.

ok so, world of darkness games. vampire, werewolf, ghosts, mages, they all have willpower. a character's player can choose to spend willpower to get a boost on dice rolls, or fuel magic, or whatever.

also on a character's sheet are one of the seven deadly sins- sloth, lust, greed, whatever. the character can gain willpower for leaning into their sin, for playing into their darker nature, for showing weakness. the character also has to either spend willpower or take a chance of slipping into bad habits when the target of their weakness comes up. the lustful vampire has a hard time not spending the arms in his or her lover, even when they really should be safe in their stronghold hiding from their hunters... the envious mage has a hard time resisting the opportunity to show off even when they really shouldn't, and etc.

this does a couple of things- it hooks the character and the player together in a really strong way, by making the player care about what the character cares about. if you take care of your in-game avatar, that avatar is more competent, more resilient, and more able to effectively carry out the player's interests in the game. and it also points the GM towards a conflict that the player probably finds interesting, or at least a conflict that the player has already greenlit. a lot of players don't care to have their characters' father or sister as hostages or whatever, but they've definitely given the GM permission to tempt their character with lots of gold, or give them opportunities to showboat and brag, right? and it also lets the player look for these opportunities to let the somewhat more negative side of their character show through if they've had a rough couple of episodes. and that's interesting! there are always lots of opportunities for player characters to be noble and competent, for them to be clean and respectable. [1]

now that I think about it, though, the world of darkness games are necessarily rooted in a very specific sort of western ethos, that subconsciously christian worldview where pleasures are to be enjoyed in moderation, where you are supposed to congratulate yourself for, essentially, being sober and productive at work and whatever else. that doesn't really apply to the sorts of fantasy worlds I want to emulate. I mean, you can do whatever you want in your world- you can just decide that the seven deadly sins are perfectly acceptable to you. but I don't know- a dwarf is not going to understand that she should limit her gold hoard's size, and elves are notoriously indifferent to the human concept of 'vanity,' let alone pride. halflings don't hold with all that running about nonsense and if you call them 'slothful' you're really missing out on a good understanding of their culture and personality.

but here's kind of more of what I was thinking- make it more personal. I'd have my players consider and detail a particular failing of their character, something that they really struggle with. and they can just be the sins, too! something along the lines of 'my barbarian has a weakness for violence, the more indiscriminate the better,' or maybe a more subtle issue, something like 'my cleric looks down upon those without divine powers and has to remind herself not to treat other as beneath her just because they haven't been chosen by the gods.'

personally, I'd take this opportunity to do some world-building too, and give examples of a couple of cultural folk heroes, demigods, and local celebrities, as well as what makes them such exceptional people. maybe a given dwarf king is legendary due to his wisdom, dispensal of justice, and (naturally) his unbeatable wealth, whereas a dwarf wretch is irrational and poverty-stricken and physically weak, unable to defend his stronghold and despised by his family. maybe this particular band of humans idolizes a cleric-beggar-wanderer who used her powers to tend to the sick and downtrodden and gave the ultimate sacrifice and died to save the world from a very particular evil. and then maybe those same humans look down upon a harsh-tongued, impious ruler who frequents the red light district.

and so if I were going to put something on the character sheet for a dwarf character, I'd go to the part where I describe my character's personality I'd write FLAW in big letters and then write a quick sentence about how my dwarf is arbitrary and occasionally downright cruel, and he struggles with his sharp tongue. and then I'd write some ways in which he's pretty alright, actually. and then by codifying it and making it a big part of my character, by getting an actual bonus for when my character acts up, I make it more than an interesting facet I'm going to ignore in favor of doing what I wanted to do anyways. it goes from an interesting quirk of my character to something that I'm going to invoke at the table, something that I want to have come up. something I'll bring up, if the GM doesn't, because I want to restore my willpower and that's that.

as far as actual willpower mechanics go, I'd do something like the following:


assuming you're playing some sort of dnd adjacent game, you can spend a willpower point at any time to add the results of a rolled d6 to any d20 roll. you can't use willpower to increase your damage or healing or anything else that you'd use any sort of smaller dice for.

willpower is measured from 1-10. characters start with 5 willpower.

if an opportunity to indulge in your flaw comes up and you take it and make things more complicated for yourself and your party, the GM will give you some willpower.

if you decide you do not want to indulge in this opportunity, you'll need to roll for it. roll 1d20. the DC is equal to twice your missing willpower. you don't get a willpower point for this.

you can also decide not to chance it on a roll, and spend a willpower point to automatically succeed at the willpower roll.

if you're using my rest mechanics from earlier [2], any time the characters have a rest worth at least 110% experience bonus, I'd give them a point of willpower as well. a good nights' sleep does wonders for the human (or dwarvish, or elvish, etc) mind.

if a character ever runs out of willpower entirely, then they immediately start acting out their flaw, gaining a willpower point. this can make for some pretty erratic behavior, but that's the point!

an example: a mighty Barbarian has 3 willpower and her flaw is classic for barbarians: lust. so she's in town and she sees a particularly handsome guardsman with really striking eyes- her weakness. she really doesn't have time to introduce herself... the GM decides to force the issue. the Barbarian's player decides that she meant it when she said she didn't have time. since her willpower is sitting at 3, she's missing 7 points, and the DC is 14. not great odds, but she tries it anyways. if she rolls below, then her character's going to go introduce herself to the guardsman, with the intent of a quick liason somewhere discreet. if she rolls higher, then she's on track (ish) and she can maybe keep the man in mind for another time. if the player had chosen to spend willpower, then she would have automatically resisted the temptation.

it's that simple, really. I'm personally looking forwards to hacking my favorite edition of dnd to include this sort of thing, given that it's relatively self-contained and easy to 'borrow.'

[1] I know that some people will choose to 'chew the scenery,' so to speak, even when there's no real benefit to doing so. They just enjoy playing a coward who's making bad choices in-game to be more true to their conception of the character. but honestly, it doesn't really work in your stereotypical dungeon fantasy game. there's no reason to be cowardly when you have a full stack of hit points, no reason at all to seduce bartenders or guardspeople or whatever, you know? it can be fun for its own sake but fun is fleeting and when you're done, you basically have a silly anecdote that stands by itself.

[2] if you're not, I'd give them a point of willpower every other extended rest, or if they pay for good lodgings in a city or something. the whole point of willpower being presented like this is that it is, by design, flexible to the style of play that you and your players are actually participating in. if you have a player who hardly uses the willpower mechanic, that's fine. they're weaker but their experience in the game is going to be a lot smoother. they'll probably get topped up pretty quick and then, since their willpower is high, they won't have a hard time getting

21 January 2019

i want to give bonus experience for camping

so how about this: when you earn experience points, you don't get them right away. the DM will write down the experience that you've earned, and you get to wite them down when you get a good rest. how much you get to keep depends on how good of a rest it is. 

because I'm not an asshole, the default is '100% of your experience.' you get to keep what you earned. those goblins are dead and you killed them and you learned how to be better at inflicting violence. keep up the good work. it doesn't matter if you spent your time sleeping in a monsoon under that flimsy tent you wrote on your character sheet when you made the character and that you've apparently been carrying with you while you were being beaten up by ogres and catching arrows with your torso. it still counts. one of the functions of sleep is to help encode your memories and I guarantee you will remember a good chunk of what it is to be scourged by some nightmare acid in two weeks's time.

but treating sleep and rest like it literally doesn't matter is kind of... odd, isn't it? in real life, you spend like, a third of your day sleeping. you have a whole room in your house dedicated to the art of the snooze. probably. if you ask a hundred real life American human beings if they wouldn't mind trading their warm bed with air conditioning for a night on the streets with just the clothes on their backs, I bet you wouldn't get a single one without offering them something in return. but in fantasy games, I've had my players weigh whether they want to pay the innkeeper a handful of their hard-earned loot or if they'd rather just sleep outside of the city in their tents because, who cares? what difference does it make anyways? we'll set a watch.

in this world, a soft feather quilt is exactly as good as a threadbare woolen blanket. a king's bed is just as good as a quick snooze on an ooze-slick dungeon floor, or sleeping in a barn. a campfire is where they'll cook food, assuming that they've bothered to bring anything that isn't abstracted to 'rations,' and even then, it's not necessary that they care in the least. rations are rations, you have to eat one because the dungeon master says it's time to mark one off your character sheet, and that's it. let's get back to the parts where it matters, eh?

13 January 2019

hook em

one of the things that stock-standard dnd is not very good at is giving guidelines for creating characters that are really a part of the world as it exists

now, I personally like to sort of create the world with my group of players, when we're first starting the campaign, which means it's usually pretty easy to get players interested in the people and places of the world when they had a hand in it.

but sometimes, somebody joins later into the game, or they need a replacement character for one that dies, or maybe they just don't like helping to build the world. it's all good, honestly. in those cases, you still need them to hook into the world somehow.

something I'm thinking of doing for player characters going forwards is asking them to write, like, two things that their character wants that they can't have, and why they can't have it. write it on the front of the character sheet, maybe taking up space where they were supposed to write their gear or whatever. someplace front and center.

Looking Back

They say that if you don't look back at who who were from a year ago and cringe that you haven't grown enough. What if I look back f...