11 December 2016

Running 5e

Fifth Edition D&D is a giant pain in the ass.

It's just a thousand different things that I don't like. I could list them all (and I very nearly did), but you all know what I'm talking about. It's really not much of a game, and that's a big part of the reason why it works so well. There's enough of a combat minigame that you can break out the minis, even though it's not a very good minigame. Or a very deep one. But it doesn't last very long, so it's ok. And it turns out that your character's background is the last time you'll ever get the option to have any sort of link with the wider world, but that's ok because at least the bonus is pretty useful all the time.

And so on and so on. The monsters are overly complex but in actual play you mostly just use the two stats. And you can refluff them anyways, since they're just a bundle of stats with a power or two. If you describe the power differently, nobody will notice, and if you don't use it, then nobody will know it was ever there.

And it's like, that's all cool. I like a system that knows how to get out of the way- I'd been running D&D like that for years.

But there's so much to 5e, and there are some really significant parts that it doesn't want you to throw away.

Classes and races, obviously. Races change your attributes and sometimes give you powers. Classes give you health and attack bonii and combat powers, and sometimes even out of combat things you can do. At least, indirectly. Martial-type characters are mostly only good at fighting, for whatever reason. Unless you're the ranger, and then you're good at exploring.

The whole thing makes me just want to play Shadow of the Demon Lord instead. I wish that the name weren't so incredibly stupid- I think if it got somebody with an ounce of sense to redesign the branding and the interior layout it'd have a great shot of really being a common name in tabletop circles. I'd love to be able to find a bunch of SotDL players and run that instead of 5e, but alas.

12 November 2016


These guys are birdmen from a cold climate. Although the climate is barren, the birdmen have learned a lot of magic to manage the place. They have developed the use of magical ice equipment, which unfortunately weakens in warmer climates. This magical ice weakens in warmer climates. They will lance the heck out of things, and also like archery. Their culture highly prizes literacy and religiosity. They're sort of elitists, and they believe that their god is the best but that only birdmen are good enough to follow him, because he demands the best and challenges you all the time.

These Aarakocra form a proud and arrogant society based on literacy and, somewhat bizarrely, snow. Your typical Aarakocra is a member of a temple, the organization that dominates his life. Temple life is harsh and difficult. The only materials available are stone and snow, and so they build simple spires on which to roost. The temple, on the other hand, is dedicated to a local god, who can grow in strength as the Aarakocra help the god's multitude of needs. Gods have their own powers, as immortal and immutable beings, but require sustenance in this world. A god is sustained by a good, clean temple and supported by righteous acts. They are often off doing their own thing somewhere else, and only rarely return home. But the Aarakocra sacrifice their own food for the hope that even the smell might help in its own way, as little as it might be.

The Aarakocra are hopelessly devoted to their gods and to the ultimate goal: to cover the world in its sacred frost. The world was once cold and delightful. Food was plentiful then, and the skies chattered with life. The Aaracokra built high spires then, and lived in harmony with the world. There was then a singular god that was obviously the best but his people failed him in a critical moment and he was slain by invading gods. The gods of heat came and started wrecking the place, turning tundras into cancerous forests and lakes into fetid and pestilent swamps.

Their strength, magical ability, and daring is what got the Aaracokra this far, and they know it. As a result, they are nearly impossible to dissuade, and are willing to use betrayal and deception at any time.

Desert Aaracokra
The Aaracokra have decided to set up a desert outpost. They're extremely uncomfortable but suprisingly pleasant. They don't need much from the locals that they happen to live by, and are amenable to most agreements as long as the Aaracokra are given enough space. They first attempt to peacefully keep a respectful boundary between the two races and then defend their territory with spear and claw. They are led by a singular mage-priest commander.

Rogue Aaracokra
Some Aaracokra have abandoned the religion of their ancestors and have resigned themselves to surviving in the fetid filth of the rest of the world. They are still strongly attached to their insular culture, and continue to define themselves in terms of the main culture which they are avoiding.

These Rogue Aaracokra have no more loyalty for those around them than they have proven to have to their gods, and often take roles as mercenaries, messengers, and smugglers for the benefit of the terrestrial creatures they associate with.

27 September 2016


For posterity purposes, I have recorded this stage of the production.

I started this idea today, and it's coming along rather nicely. Or, at least, the formatting is. The game itself? We'll see. It's been a lot of fun to take this from zero to half-finished PDF in a single day, and I'm hoping that the framework is robust enough that I can get some real meaningful games out of it. Wish me luck!

25 September 2016

Fantasy Race Brainstorm

There's a very tiny sliver of people who like sociology-flavored fantasy races for their tabletop games, but by god we like to write things too! So this is how I spent part of my morning.

Each race is internally consistent and has unique but recognizable cultural aspects. What do I mean by that? I mean that my dwarves only ever drink beer and it makes sense. Elves are all distant arrogant philosophers and their written culture reflects that.

Here, check out what I mean:


Highlights, if you're on the fence:

"because they spend so much time looking at long-term patterns, they've become quite the masters at older techniques. a dwarf never abandons an idea, they just modify it and keep re-using it. as it turns out, that applies beautifully to plants and agriculture in general. dwarves have managed to produce a certain kind of barley that provides nearly all the nutrients that a dwarf-shaped omnivore might require. "


goblins will co-exist with other races and can be found making a sprawling society even in the harshest lands. this means that in particularly barren places with excellent resources, goblins will sort of naturally collect and fill the available space. this means that other races, when expanding, often need to expel the local goblins to gain acccess to, for example, mines and groves. goblins also especially make their homes in abandoned places, and any place not kept closed and used actively quickly finds itself home to a goblin's ever-expanding brood."

24 September 2016


Warning: this is only half-finished.

Ogre Dust 9-23.pdf

I haven't had the motivation or the time to work on this like it probably deserves to be. It's sort of mostly finished, but there are a couple of things holding me back.

1) There really should be more monsters, at least more iconic monsters. I expect for GMs to create their own monsters as they see fit, but getting people in the right "spirit" should make things a little better for everybody.

2) Some of the classes are half-finished. I constantly rethink and revise the classes based on how I'd like overall combat flow to go with them. The social aspect of the game is underwhelming and the dungeoneering is basic. But it (hopefully) all flows in a satisfying way to create a combat that's engaging not just for its own sake, but for the sake of the story. My point is that as systems shift, sometimes classes' existing abilities no longer fit, so I have to rework what it is that a druid does, for example.

3) Formatting, art: I'm slow at both of these things. I don't make my own art, so that means scavenging google images and hoping the creator doesn't mind.

4) Magic items: Very important, and almost completely absent.

5) Dungoneering refocus: Right now, the game is combat heavy. There's a functional dungoneering section but it's scattered across a dozen pages and plus the exciting stuff on your character sheet doesn't interact with it.

But here it is, in its most finished state. So far.

19 September 2016


I don't actually act like this when I DM, but I could. I do openly attempt to manipulate people by giving and removing horse points. They don't do anything, and it's no secret. But I've seen people trading horse points to win minor arguments, or bragging that they have more horse points.

They're a sort of ethereal wisp of a currency, but they're still a currency inside of my group, and I think that's wonderful.

(I may or may not actually own a cloak that looks like that)

31 August 2016

Ogre Dust: Elementalists

Ogre Dust has 11 archetypes, which are basically classes. Each archetype has a theme and does a specific sort of set of things. Druids, for example, like to control terrain. Ninjas? They're opportunistic murderers. Elementalists, though, are evasive blasters. In Air form, they can zip around the battlefield. In Fire form, they are ranged damage dealers with a healthy attack. In Water form, they provide cover. In Earth form, they're (relatively) durable and can push people around. 
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see different ways that an elementalist can be useful with just those abilities- if they need to, they can re-position using Air, and then settle down into Fire and deal some damage. If somebody needs space, they can Air into Earth and try to generate some. Water is a useful affinity for traveling while avoiding ranged damage (1), although it's not great (because Elementalists aren't great at affecting the battlefield in quite that way.)

Advanced moves for Elementalists make them better in one affinity or the other. Razor Shards gives the Elementalist a unique niche as durable artillery, and Water Jets lets the Elementalist get places a little more safely. Hurricane Gusts (not shown) lets the Elementalist take risks with spacing, by allowing a whirlwind-attack style action. If I didn't mention it before, there's no reason an Elementalist can't strike with a weapon- they don't get great weapon selections and they're not especially durable, but an Elementalist is no slouch in non-magical combat either.

The only Mastery ability I've written so far is "Ride the Lightning," which allows a charging Elementalist in Air affinity to get +10 to strike and 20M bonus damage, which is a good bit. Of course, the Elementalist will end their action next to an opponent who's probably very upset, so it's a risky maneuver that might need a little work to come out. But that's intentional! 

The Elementalist is a risky, glass-cannon class that needs a solid frontline and maybe a little support to truly shine. But in the right opportunity, they're the star of the battle, dealing solid damage and escaping without a scratch. 

(1) Water "feels" weak because it just gives a sort of pseudo-evasion, but not a huge amount. That'll need a bit of adjustment at some point.

27 August 2016

Violence 3: Guardians

Guardians are honestly one of my favorite monster types. They represent a mixed possibility of social or physical interaction- you know, depending on the creature.

Different guardians can be approached different ways. Every guardian-type monster should have something that they want to hear, something they want to see, or some sort of bribe they'll accept. If you can give them that, or convince them to accept something else, you're set. Of course, sneaking in might work. Or a group could try a persona...

Regardless, here's a basic guardian-type monster.

An undead servant that slays any living creature that attempts to pass. Usually well hidden, as the presence of guardians indicates the presence of treasure to watching eyes. Skeletons want to intimidate enemies into surrendering so the skeletons can kill them, because the only thing skeletons hate more than guarding places for all eternity is life itself.
Level: 1
0M, 100B, 100S, 10R
Strike Bonus: +2
Protection: +0
Rusty Junk- melee, 10M damage, 5B damage.
Eternal Approach: A skeleton takes no damage from falling, and can stack vertically with other skeletons, forming a ladder of skeletons.
Skeletons deal some damage directly to Bone, making them dangerous to fight for long.

These skeletons are the hollow-voiced nightmare guardians that one could find in fantasy media in the 80s. They are armed with some sort of weaponry, but their main threat is the Bone damage. It's not much, but it can be enough to make further progress into the site they're guarding unwise. They can also stack on top of one another and be climbed, so terrain matters less to skeletons than other creatures.

Here's another guardian, a classic:

Sphinxes guard tombs and treasure-houses. They are not actually living- rather they are a magical construct that does not need to eat, sleep, breathe, or see. They demand a countersign as the price for entrance, and violently slay any who attempt to enter without giving one. Common countersigns include the answers to riddles, a nonsense phrase, or possession of a singular object.
Level: 8
200M, 200B, 200S, 200R
Sphinx Claw- melee, +7SB, 40 M damage
Command- ranged, +9SB, 30S damage.
Sphinxes can fly and can see every location in the encounter at all times. A sphinx can speak all languages. A sphinx's sole desire is to prevent visitors. A Sphinx can use ranged powers even when a hostile creature is adjacent to it.

The classic sphinx demanded the answer to a riddle, or it would eat you. This Sphinx provides the same. You can't sneak past it, and it doesn't have any particular desire to leave at any point. Since they are impossible to dislodge and don't age, they are often very old, and may have been set to task centuries ago. Intruders who cannot answer correctly are commanded to leave, and intruders who cannot speak are simply torn to bits.

There are a couple more guardians I have in mind: The basilisk, the gorgon, hydras, minotaurs, sirens. The focal point is that characters have a hard time getting past them, and, of course, they are in the way somehow. In a GM's toolbox, Guardians are a known threat that asks players to think a little outside of the box. Encountering them head-on is often foolhardy and they absolutely won't get out of the way, so they require a bit of lateral thinking or else the expenditure of resources. I like to use guardian type encounters in most games as a sort of final check, so that players can do what they like once they gain access to the location, but getting what they want requires some hard decisions. Hard decisions are the best part of roleplaying games, so put some thought into what guardian to use and where to put it, and always consider that the players will come up with a better answer than you anticipated.

24 August 2016

Violence 2: The Hungry

I want to talk more about creatures. 

I like to organize my creatures in a sort of nested category of beings. Each category says something about what these creatures are trying to do, and how they like to do it.

Since the game is still essentially a response to Dungeons and Dragons, monsters are very antagonistic. Since I haven't developed much of the social side of things, monsters tend to be a little bloodthirsty. I plan on having that change when I've got a little bit more done with social interaction.

Regardless, monsters come in one of several categories. At the moment, I've got:

The Hungry: Monsters that exist merely to feed.
The Inscrutable: Mysterious monsters that have sort of oblique aims.
The Guardian: Leave alive, or stay and die to their hands.
The Brutal: Classic expansionist races that seek to exterminate rivals.

These encompass your classic monster types, with a little room for different "flavors" of being. I prefer my trolls hungry and my dragons greedy, so that's how I've written them.

Speaking of Trolls, here's how I've got them written up right now:

Trolls just want to eat. If there's something else to eat, they'll stop and do that, using their Troll Jaw to attack until they're sated, then leaving. Trolls do not speak.
Level: 4
100M, 100B, 40S, 70R
Troll Claw- melee, +4SB, 20M damage, bleed 3.
Troll Jaw- melee, +2SB, 40M damage, 20B damage.
Trolls gain five times the healing from Regeneration, and gain Regeneration 1 every time they take damage.
Trolls apply fire damage directly to Bone and Resolve. Trolls have a Stomach. A Stomach can hold 120 Meat and 60 Bone. Every time a Troll deals damage with its natural attacks, it gains that many points in its Stomach. Every time a Troll recovers health from its Regeneration, it loses that many points from its Stomach. When a Troll's Stomach is full, it has -2d SB and +2d Protection. A troll can empty a full Stomach if it dedicates a full turn to doing so.
So trolls are dangerous opponents, but they just want to eat. Every time they attack, they're shoving the shredded meat and organs into their gullets. When their stomachs are full, they're slow but even harder to kill. A troll with a full stomach that thinks it can still win might expel its stomach and continue fighting. It has to stand around to do so, though, so it will probably retreat somewhere safe, and then get itself back into fighting shape. A fight with a Troll thus has a certain sort of cadence to it, and it might not bother to return to a battle after its stomach is full. A starving troll is desperate and dangerous.

Here's another sort of Hungry monster that's even more dangerous: The Hag.

Hags want to eat you, but they're not stupid. They will use their shapeshifting powers to get your guard down, and then kill you when you're not looking. They are always ravenously hungry, and thus impatient.
Level: 6
100M, 50B, 70S, 100R
Evil Eye- ranged, +7SB, 15S damage
Sharp Claws- melee, +5SB, 20S damage, bleed 3. 
Hags pretend to be friendly and, using their high spirit, often convince passers-by to let their guard down. Common attempts include wounded traveler, convenient resting spot, traveling salesperson, or brigand slaver. A Hag that has a single target on its own will drop its disguise and use Evil Eye until the target submits to the will of the Hag, which usually means being eaten one way or the other. Hags speak whatever language is most common in the area, but typically know an additional language or two. 

I haven't decided how a Hag's shapeshifting works, but the idea is that it pretends to be a normal friendly sentient being (of whatever stripe makes sense to your campaign) until it can drain your Spirit. Without Spirit, a being can't fight. The Hag would much rather have an opponent stand there and die than resist. This also means that it's formidable as a leader, since it can use its Evil Eye from across a battlefield if it wants to, and with its high Strike Bonus it means that its opponents will be trying to hide from the Hag whenever possible.

You can see, if you've read the other post, how monsters interact with one another. Two Hags work in tandem to wear down their enemies, for example, or a Hag and a Troll might get along as long as the Troll is hungry. Orc Braves would love to work alongside a Troll (whose heavy damage and durability allows the Orcs to use their bows from relative safety).

So, as written, Hungry creatures are great wilderness encounters, since they're dangerous on their own sake. They don't really need a reason to be somewhere- they're obviously looking for food. They are likely to ambush a party during travel or resting periods, making them even more dangerous. In a GM's toolbox, they represent a hidden danger and a very direct threat. Hungry creatures make for exciting moments where the players have to survive the onslaught.

Guardians, on the other hand, will rarely surprise players. They're the next topic I'd like to discuss.

20 August 2016

OGRE DUST: Violence

I've got a calender over my computer desk, and every day, I mark it off with a slash. It's never a set time, it's always when I think about it. Since I like being on my computer when I'm home, it's usually about an hour into my free time that I mark it off.

I haven't marked off a single day in two weeks. That's how it's been around here.


Anyways, I wrote a sort of skirmish minigame that functions as the core of a bigger roleplaying system I'm working out in my very limited free time. (1)

It's pretty simple. Each player has a single character they've made beforehand. Player and GM roles are basically standard D&D stuff. Your characters have four attributes- Meat, Bone, Spirit, and Resolve. Meat plays the role of hit points- you lose them in fairly standard D&D ways, and gain them back after a night's rest. Bone points are long-term health- you only take bone damage when you're out of meat points (usually) and they recover at a rate of one/week. When you're out of Meat points you're on your last legs, and when you're out of Bone points, you're dead.

Spirit and Resolve function similarly, except they're for mental health. You lose Spirit by taking physical damage, plus by some special spirit-only attacks. Fear is modeled with Spirit, and so is exhaustion. When you're out of Spirit, you can start to lose Resolve. When you're out of Resolve, you can die very easily. You can skirt along on low (or negative) Resolve for as long as you want, but you're very vulnerable.

22 May 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: The Flagellant Penitent

I know this isn't the right one but listen, I like this demon lord
I'm currently gathering players for Shadow of the Demon Lord. If there's any chance you haven't heard of it, it's what you'd get if you took 20+ years of D&D experience, a heavy Warhammer Fantasy influence, and then made a game out of it. If I sound impressed, that's because I am. Only time will tell, but reading it makes me wonder how somebody got inside of my skull and wrote down exactly what I wanted.

Anyways, the best way to learn a system is to generate a character and then look at how you're supposed to build adventures, so here we go.

Creating a Character

Choosing a Race

Since I'm a boring kind of person, I'm going to pick Human. There are pretty good race options, and each is distinct. Humans, as usual, are sort of generic. At level 4 get either a spell or the ability to be lucky once in a while. Changelings are vulnerable to iron, can see in the dark and can steal identities. At level 4 they can steal identities and freak people out in combat.Clockwork are golems, sort of, and occasionally break and turn back into objects (so they need somebody to hang around and restart them periodically). Dwarves are short, can see in the dark, hate a certain type of creature, and are resistant to poison. Goblins are folklore forest fairies and are super sneaky and vulnerable to iron. Orcs are a tough, recently emancipated slave race.

Everybody knows Humans are the best, so I write down my stats. I don't know what I want my human attribute bonus to be, so I save it for later.

Random Tables

I roll a couple times on the handful of tables (each race has one) and determine that my human once foiled a plot to kill someone important or brought a killer to justice. I don't know what to do with that yet so I keep rolling:

My human puts the interests of himself and his friends above all else. A typical roll gets a typical human result. He belongs to the Cult of the New God, whatever that is. I don't know if this is a powered by the apocalypse style prompt (where I fill in a new cult and add details later as they come up) or if this is part of the built-in setting. Either way, tells me little.

The human is a young adult, 18-35. Ok, fine. He's also a bit overweight, which is kind of interesting, I guess. He's also perfectly average in appearance, which is fine.

Rolling for Professions

Since I'm a human I either get one more profession or can speak one more language. I'm going with professions, because that sounds useful. So I get three! Professions can grant you a boon (xd6, keep the highest, cancel banes) or they can grant you an automatic success, depending on the situation. It's pretty flexible, and I like seeing these sorts of systems in game.

My human spent time in a Religious profession- a flagellant! So he's got a masochistic streak, as well as something to feel sorry about. Next, he was a miner? And then a historian? That's a pretty long life for a young man, but rearranging it, I can think of a couple ways to spin this.

Path one is very grim- He grew up in a hard, sparse town as a miner. One day he uncovered something in the deep dark earth that ought not have been released. Through his actions, he managed to save the life of the unearthed evil- and being a common miner, it's not like he has the means to stop it. Ashamed and afraid, he gave up his earthly life to try and find solace in religion. He punished himself for years. His back is still crossed with self-inflicted whip scars and in difficult moments he still craves punishment. But eventually being around a center of mystery and lore (the cult's temple) got to him, and he realized he had a fairly sharp memory for events long passed. He was illiterate, true, but soon found himself spending hours talking to the literate temple chroniclers in between his long punishment sessions.

Path two goes in reverse- as a chronicler in the cult, he had various sacred duties including the recording of important dates and calculating the appropriate times for memorial celebrations. He spent his childhood as an apprentice, learning how to make parchments, appropriate uses of ink, and the like. Unfortunately for his life, living in a destitute and mostly irrelevant backwater means raids. He was captured before he could master letters and forced into slavery. Life as an enslaved miner isn't so bad- you have to do a lot of work, but the night hours are filled with pleasure of a certain sort. And if you're smart, you can help start a riot that turns into an uprising. With freedom back in his bones he heads to the only home he's ever known- the temple. Unfortunately, as it turns out, his father was a known diabolist unknown to his son, and his teachings were tainted with demonic corruption. He ratted his own father out in fear for his eternal soul, and his father (a murderer who readily confessed to his crimes under the irons) was executed. At the temple, he was taught the purifying rituals of fire and lash, designed to focus his mind and stave back the temptation. It worked, after a fashion- he still slipped up, but his enthusiasm and emphasis on decorum served him well. When (IMPORTANT EVENT) tore him away from the temple, his presence was almost a relief, and his former compatriots ensured his departure's permance by a token collection and some spare equipment they had lying around.

Not bad, right?

I rolled "Getting By," so I get to choose between a dagger, a staff, or a sling with 20 stones. A staff seems appropriate for a pilgrim / wanderer who's not super militant. The staff has finesse, so I can use my Agility instead of my Strength, but my Strength is 11 (I used that +1 attribute on it) so I don't really care about that.

That's it for the level zero version of my character. According to the rules, you have to survive an adventure to get your first level, which is kind of cool. I like 0th level adventures in general, especially given that my stats are all average and despite my background very strongly pointing me towards picking up a level of Priest, I could still easily go Warrior and not violate my character's core concept, such as it is on this early state.

Now, I've got a couple of ways to play solo, including the Mythic GM emulator and the solo game play Oracle in Scarlet Heroes (which both seem kind of similar to me, not that there's anything wrong with that), but I think I'll save that for another day. This is enough work already, and it gives me a couple of footholds with which to start working on some background information that I want to include.

If you've ever played with me, you know that I don't like to plan a whole lot of specific detail up front- I prefer to generate broad brushstroke settings where various organizations and actors are in dynamic tension, each wanting something they can't have but being within one lucky stroke of gaining it. This lets the players burst onto the scene, disrupt the status quo, and then watch the domino effect carry the game away with it. I tell you what, if you prime it just right, the game literally unfolds in front of you and it's an absolute blast to GM.


21 May 2016

Wew Buddy

It has been a minute, hasn't it?

A little more than half a year, anyways, right?

The thing about trying to run games is that people will inevitably disappear, move out of town, gradually fade away, or otherwise help dissolve a group that used to show up on time and eager as heck. It's just one of those things! I'm only a little mad at it.

The important thing here is that, because I plan on starting to run a game soon, I might have something to write about here.

I also might start writing video game opinions here because hey, it's my blog and I can write what I like. I've been playing a bit of Stellaris, back into my old guilty pleasures with Heroes of the Storm, and been spending quite a lot of time working on my journeyman electrician's license.

Anyways, this is short but I plan on getting back into the swing of things. Somehow I find that I have more to write about when I'm in the process of running a game ;)

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...