Friday, February 9, 2018

Setting: His Dark Materials

I just finished reading The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman this afternoon and was pleasantly reminded by how, in another world, it couldve been snuggly ensconced in the middle of Appendix N. In it, you have a little girl with device that tells the truth by use of nested metaphors, talking polar bears that wore massive suits of armor, a Texan (as in the country) aeronaut that makes his living gunslinging in a hot air balloon, angels, witches who can make themselves invisible, tiny poison-spurred people that ride giant dragonflies, a trepanned british explorer-cum-shaman who can control the weather, a knife that can cut into parallels worlds, and most importantly, people's conciousness' being visible and in the form of wild animals. Even by ignoring the (ir)religious bits of the books (and toward the end it gets a bit hard to do), the whole series is a wealth of weirdness that i can only describe as C.S.Lewis-ian.

Lewisian isnt the greatest word for it, of course, but it covers a broad base that a lot of settings pull from; its the genre of the fairy tale, where the dangers are familiar to the listenener, but made slightly magical to keep them new. Honestly, folkloric may be the better descriptor of it, though it doesnt fully describe the much more serialized nature of something like The Golden Compass and stories like it, where each scene/chapter is more akin to those bedtime stories your grandparent may have told you, where each night some new monster or ally would be introduced instead of having previous characters and their abilities being used in new and interesting ways (another connection could be made to Beorn in the Hobbit and many of the small 'sideplots' of many myths and sagas from around the world). Novelty is king here, especially of the kind where few of the elements interrelate in any major way.

Take, for example, the panserbjorne: polar bears with opposable thumbs who wear armor and live on Svalbard. They cant be fooled by humans, always keep their word, and are known to be the worlds best metalsmiths. When taken in its fullness, it sounds like something straight out of the Mahabharata or the Saga of Beowulf; in that same vein, it come straight out of the mouth of anyone telling a campfire tale and adding bits of flavour to an invention as they go. In a word, 'folkloric settings', like His Dark Materials, are the ones that have the most in common with creative (in the strictest definition of the word) GMing.

Core D&D: Part 7

I still havent quite figured out how leveling will work, but a bunch of minor ideas have floated around that could at least help in that regard, and from a surprising corner: money.

A bunch of ink has been spilled on coin standards, price lists, etc already, but i do think the idea of simplifying how money is handled is a worthy goal. That said, theres a lot of room to expand the concept, especially into spaces that D&D usually handles with oddly set up, specific, and independent sub-systems.

Now, im no economist (not by a longshot haha), but ive always seen money as transferable value, with its strength being that multiple people with their myriad desires being able to use it to purchase/sell a number of products as long as each side sees the currency as legit and they bot agree on its value (im sure theres a bunch of little things wrong with that statement, but work with me a bit). In rpgs, money is usually the only way in which value is transferable, making money one of the things that most people desire/look for, sometimes to the detriments of common sense or expediency.
Likewise, oftentimes things like information, art, alliances, or training is forgotten in the shuffle of things because its a lot harder to put realistic value to them, let alone them then needing to be noted down somewhere (which tends to leave them forgotten altogether).

My solution, though im sure it isnt too novel of an idea, is to replace money/gold with value points (VP). VP would handle anything and everything that PCs would run into while still allowing them to increase their grubby little murderhobo hoards to their hearts content. Originally, the idea was a a tiered system that placed everything into on of about 6 'value levels', but it felt arbitrary and made grafting the system onto most versions of D&D a hassle; this one just replaces whatever word people have for money with VP and calls it a day.

A PCs VP is found by adding together the values of any and all equipment that they have on them, useful information they have (and depending on how far you want to go with this, where that info is useful), the amount (and cost) of training they have, and the amount and type of currency they have on them (if your campaign has multiple currencies for multiple locations; you can skip this if theres a universal standard). At first glance, this seems like a LOT of bookkeeping, and it is, but it can also be seen as the major engine around which the game runs.

On thinking on it for a second, VP is the perfect way to handle advancement, since the way you can gain it isnt directly material; a monk meditating on a mountaintop may be gaining the same amount of 'value' as a pirate captain trawling the high seas. Further thought would need to go into to figure out all the corner cases, but im thinking this is the solution to at least some of the earlier problem.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Core D&D: part 6

With one of the central tenants of d&d being resource management, it makes sense that spellcasters would have a limited number of usages a day so as to balance their inhere utility. That said, there are superior alternatives to Vancian magic, even if flavor-wise you can get a lot of mileage out of the idea.
To start, we need to define what magic needs to be in order to be internally balanced within in the system as a whole: it needs to be resource intensive, if only indirectly, and it needs to be flexible, so any spells, etc, can be used out of context to deliver a creative result. Other considerations are for it to be supplemental to the other mechanics, so that it isnt seen as necessary to use to advance in power, but an interesting choice to make when you come to that crossroads.
An easy way to handle that is to eliminate all damage from spells, only keeping their effects. This doesnt need to be a hard and fast rule, of course; if you were to cast the hypothetical Fireball on someone, they could take burn damage incidentally, but the spirit of the change should be one of magic = utility.
To handle the resource aspect, we can supplement the loss of ability bonus/hitpoints on leveling when choosing a spell (an element? A shape? Im unsure how much to change from the old spell lists) with requiring a payment of hp to cast spells, with increasing hp costs dependent on power, duration, and size of effect. This makes magic a very costly, but flexible, resource, as well as creating the possibility that a mage can cast themself unconcious with too strenuous an effort.
If you wanted to give magic a much sharper edge, you could use reaction rolls when casting to see if any positive or negative quirks occur (critical pass/fail) or if your target gains some form of mutation (supercritical pass/fail); of course, those would make magic MUCH more of a crap shoot, as those effects, depending on which numbers you use they can happen a lot more often then you may be comfortable with.
Another use of the dismembership tables from earlier could come from casting yourself into unconciousness; if your hp falls below 0 from spell casting, you roll to see if you gain some form of injury or mutation to the ability that the spell affects.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as magic systems expanded to fill the space allowed. Down the line ill do some more thinking about alternatives or expansions to the idea here, but for now i think this works as a solid enough foundation.

Core D&D: part 5

Combat in d&d, as has been discussed before, is abstract almost to an extreme: in early versions, often there was group initiative, with all weapons dealing 1d6 damage, modified only with magic swords that would give a bonus to attack only, and often only a bonus of +1.
This simplicity isnt bad (in fact, i see it as an advantage in the great scheme of things), but it isnt conducive to many that think in terms of actions (i swing my sword) instead of results (i beat the monster).
An easy solution to this is to keep damage seperate from the weapon being wielded (as hit points arent measures of health but of the ability to continue fighting) and give each weapon or class of weapon bonuses to certain combat maneuvers or advantages vs other equipment based on things like weight, length, and quality.
Im quite liking the idea that your combat roll is a hybrid ability/skill check and reaction check since it gives us the ability to score critical hits (good reaction) as well as SUPERcritical hits (very good reaction). Now, critical hits as an increase in damage i think is bland, as well as unnecessary bookkeeping, so my solution is simple: critical hits give combat manuevers, supercriticals ability damage. A way to handle that is to roll on some kind of dismemberment table to see which ability gets injured (as well as their corresponding specific organs), but a simple -1 to Con works just as well (with 0 Con here being death).
Combat manuevers themselves are harder to reckon, as there are multiple implementations that could work that deal with different mechanics as well as have varying levels of crunchiness. The crux seems to be whether one describes combat in terms of locations, with different combatants inhabiting different spaces, like when using a grid system. I can see the appeal, but i cant think of a good enough system to put into place where the added complexity pays for itself (that can be another post). One possibility is having a combat manuever just add a +1 or +2 bonus to an ability check based on what you want to try to do (it could even be a contested check between you and your opponent).
Weapon differentiation is a bit simpler to handle: longer weapons gain +x damage when fighting a shorter weapon (where x is related to how much hp is the norm, something to be decided). Certain weapons, like spears, may give a bonus when fighting against opponents on horseback, or will give maneuver bonuses tied to one of the abilities (certain polearms may give increased strength maneuver bonuses, a staff or whip dexterity, and possibly even an Aegis-type charisma maneuver bonus applied to certain shields).
A weapon may have bonuses and maluses based on wieldiness and quality, with heavy weapons decreasing your effective manuever bonus and masterwork weapons increasing that and maybe damage too. Enchanted weapons would raise up to two of your ability modifiers (still have a max of +3) depending on quality, with some possibly having spell effects related to them (the ever-present fire swords come to mind)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Core D&D part 4

One of the most beautiful mechanics in d&d is also one that has been deprecated the most as the editions stack up, that of the reaction roll.

The reaction roll in its standard form is rolling 2d6 and comparing the result to a table, usually to test the loyalty of your followers or to see how an enemy views you when you first meet. If taken out of the social context, its a very simple degrees-of-success mechanic, WAY before those got super popular.

To stay with our simplicity theme, we are going to change it to be 3d6 (just for ease of remembrance, as all the other checks so far had been the same) and apply it to all of the ability scores in the same way that our roll-under mechanic worked.

The question, then, is to figure out where a reaction roll us warranted instead of the simoler skill test. If the skill test is a measure of a PCs prowess at completing a task, then it seems like the reaction roll is the way that PCs (and other characters) interact with concepts that are out of their control; things like prices, friendliness, and quest rewards come to mind, but it could also cover things like exp gain, item degradation, spellcasting/spell effects, amd even weather.

You could even combine skill rolls and reaction rolls into a single check for combat, with whether you roll under your ability score designating what amount of ho damage you did, and the reaction expressing what damage you took in return (negative reaction) or if you are allowed to use any combat maneuvers on top of the extra damage you deal (very positive).

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Core D&D part 3

With the elimination of the handful of common mechanics in most editions, we need to figure out some way to replace them using what is left over, namely HP and the ability scores. Ability scores have always been one of the more underutilized mechanics of dnd, so we can look there when trying to recreate attack rolls and saves. A simple roll 3d6 under ability score handles the save mechanic, but it still leaves us with a hole when trying to recreate the boons classes received when leveling up; for that, we are going to have to modify the ability score to be a lot less static than usual.

The name of the game here is advancement, so that any class features and mechanics outside of the saves/ability scores and hitpoints are gained on level up. At 1st level (or level 0, depending on how you play things), your PC will have 3d6 in order ability scores, modifiers as od&d, and some number of HP (the amount here is predicated on what kind of game you want to play, with the higher the HP the more heroic your characters start as). At each gained level, a character may gain x hitpoints (my gut says 1-2, but it could easily be 1d6), gain a spell, or add +1 to any ability modifier they wish, capped at +3.

The modifier is useful in certain situations like bonus damage dealt, languages known, or amount of retainers that can be had, but its main advantage is it is added to your dice when making a saving throw.


Your strength modifier is added to your damage rolls if using melee weapons, as well as if you are fighting someone unarmed. It is also the measure of how many heavy items you can carry on you at any one time, where your Str score itself is a measure of how many items in total you can have. Rolling under Str whenever attempting athletic endeavors like swimming, lifting, shoving or throwing things.


Adds damage to ranged attacks. Roll under Dex whenever attempting acrobatics (balancing, flips, jumps) as well as any combat maneuvers like trips, parries, disarms, etc.


I think ive had a change of heart when it comes to hit dice, if only in the sense it allows for a bit more needed randomization when it comes to hit points and also allows Con to be a bit more important than just being the domain of endurance and resistance to poisons, etc. Your modifier is the number of times you can re-roll your hit dice each level, keeping highest rolled. Roll under Con when holding your breath, or resisting poisons, falls, or massive physical attacks. Your modifier is also subtracted from HP damage that derives from wilderness and dungeon exploration and travel.


Int is harder to peg, as its different things to a lot of people. I feel like it can do a lot more than languages (maybe has something to do with spell levels?), but for the time being lets keep it at that and expand past that in later posts. You roll under Int when reading books for comprehension, studying new spells, and casting magic.


Wisdom is common sense, but i also think its primed for being perceptiveness and actual awareness a la eyesight and hearing. Your Wis modifier is how many enemies you can fight simultaneously and still use your str/dex modifiers for bonus damage, as well as is added as a bonus to weather related reaction rolls. Roll under Wis when resisting magic, sound/sight checks, and when your PC has to struggle to restrain themselves from acting (basically a willpower check)


All about the followers; your Cha modifier is how many retainers you can have that will stay Loyal. Additionally, add your modifier as a bonus when rolling social reaction rolls. Roll under Cha when attempting to persuade 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Core D&D part 2

The core loop of dnd, in my eyes, is one of struggle that brings advancement, or at least change. You go into the dungeon, you connive your way into treasure, and then you turn that treasure into experience, levels, ability, equipment, and possibly even property. If hp is the resource you spend when you fail (or, more abstractly, when you have any situation where failure or conflict is an option), then experience is the resource that you gain in success. The simplest expansion of that loop is tying differentiation between characters to gains in experience (if you wanted, you could probably go further and have advancement happen at loss of hit points as well; we can even go whole hog and gain experience equal to loss of hitpoints), where every level one would be allowed to make themselves tougher, faster, stronger, or more skillful, which seems to take the place of the classic class system as we know it.

Still, there are other things that the classes bring with them, so we should suss out if those features are important enough to warrant the added complexity.


Easily the most schizophrenic of the classes, I've always had a hard time getting past a lot of the baggage clerics bring to the table. I've never liked the distinctly christian nature of them, and turning undead didn't make sense to me until someone told me that it had something to Van Helsing being able to turn Dracula. They're a thematic and mechanical jumble, but that doesn't mean they cant be fixed or they shouldn't be there; of course, our question isn't whether they should be present, but rather if there is a way to handle their features in a different way.

Firstly, the religious bent can easily be taken over by wizards, if only in the sense that the cleric spells could easily just be regular spells. Their ability to wear heavy armor was really a problem disguised as a class feature, as it left thieves and fighters alike as second-class citizens, so that can be thrown out. They usually have pretty strong saves, but saves could easily be generalized to ability checks, so thats not an issue.

When all is said and done, the cleric doesn't really seem to have a leg to stand on, so we cut them out and be done with it.


Wizards make sense, sort of: the idea that only a certain kind of person is able to use magic is a common one to point of tired trope. Thieves (or specialists, as LotFP calls them) never really passed that test, as most things a thief does are things that normal people have the capacity to do, be that move quietly, fiddle with contraptions, look for traps, etc. All of the skills that thieves/rogues have gotten, to me eye, can be handled as ability checks, especially if those ability checks handle saves as well. Outside of thief skills, the thief is just a lesser fighter, so lets get rid of them as well.


The wizard is where the rubber really hits the road, since this is the place where we have to decide how to handle magic, spells, and spell like abilities. Really, its a taste thing; i find the idea that people cant choose to be wizards a bit daft when viewing dnd as a game, though i will admit that born-wizards can be and have been handled in incredibly interesting ways. Moving past that, most of the discrete wizard rules focus on how many spells they are able to cast per day, how spells they can memorize, and where and how they can research new spells (depending on your edition, they even have the capacity of making or finding scrolls). None of these need be attached to wizards per se, since most of them are just procedures of handling magic itself. With those removed, as well as thieves and clerics gone, that leaves wizards with nothing special related to their magical natures, so they are gone too.


Not much to say here as fighters have always been the simplest class to play; all of their 'complexity' had been in their superior saves, bonuses, and equipment. With no special features, and no other classes left, it seems to be that the class system is out the window.

With no classes, there doesnt need to be such an emphasis on to-hit, saves, and armor class as those were really just hybrids of HP and class features, we can probably replace all 3 with ability checks with bonuses that have something to do with the ability modifier or level; I guess I'll talk about that in the next post.