Sunday, June 21, 2015

Alignment Language

I've been reading B/X these last couple of weeks. It came out when I was out of the gaming loop for a year, so I had never played or read it when it was new. In all likelihood, I wouldn't have read it had I known about its release. I was "advanced" by that time.

I've been reading a "Let's Read" thread from 2013 in conjunction with my own reading. I have noticed several really cool points in my own reading, and had others brought to my attention in the LR thread. Today in my reading of the thread, they've reached the topic of alignment languages.

I like them. Period. They aren't conversational languages, though. They exist to portray concepts central to the tenets of their respective alignments. These concepts may very well be translated into Common or any other language, but the full weight of the underpinnings of the concept only come through when spoken in the proper tongue.

Thus, without further ado, I give you my interpretation of an alignment tongue in action:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Quick Thoughts About Primes

This will be brief. It is just my thoughts on the main knocks I see about Primes and the SIEGE engine.


There are quite a few comments about Primes being a base target of 12, and non-Primes being base 18. It seems that many folks are more comfortable setting the base difficulty flat and then modifying it if a Prime comes into play. Some players seem to dislike saying, "The lock is heavily rusted and difficult to open. Its difficulty is +4, so if your DEX is Prime, you need a 16." They are more comfortable with saying, "The lock is heavily rusted and difficult to open. Target number is 15 + 4, for 19. Add +5 to your roll if DEX is Prime."

I may not be saying that exactly right, but that's the spirit of the thing. I can see both sides, but I don't really think either way is a ball-breaker. I can see the second way being a bit more intuitive, but it's a near thing and I think the first way (which is RAW) has certain situational advantages.

SIEGE Engine

I was basically ambivalent about the first point. I mentioned it because it is something I've seen a good bit and I wouldn't want it to seem like a big deal. This second point, though, it riles me up.

Some forum posts and reviewers like to whine about the following:

"Your cleric rolled a 19 Dexterity check to sneak by a guard, but the rogue's stealth roll of 15 is somehow better because… well, he's a rogue."

This is patently absurd, and is carefully worded to support the "point" that Primes don't work. What this example fails to effectively communicate is that the author is referring to the roll itself. Of course, a 19 is a better roll than a 15. Things don't stop with the raw roll of the die, though. The thief had a base difficulty of 12, since DEX is Prime for rogues, plus he adds his level to the roll. So, he beat his target by 3, not counting level bonus. The cleric, on the other hand, had a base difficulty of 18 (non-prime, presumably), with no level bonus. So, yes, the thief achieved a better Sneak check result than the cleric. Which should be expected.

I don't mind well-reasoned, constructive criticism. I don't like it when someone picks something apart, then presents the pieces in a certain light, just to support their dislike of something. If you don't like it, then don't like it. Move along. But, don't ruin for the next guy with such carefully crafted "criticism".

Breaking My Own Convention

There is a game, a game I've never talked about. I absolutely love this game. The reason I've never talked about it is that it violates one of my principle desires in a rules system: it isn't freely available. Even D&D is free now, so this is a bit of a sticking point. It is OGL, though, so maybe that's worth something. Anyway, the game is . . .

I have admired this game from afar for some time. Quite some time. I really dig the art, and just the "feel" of the game. Something about it just feels so much like AD&D to me. No matter how many times I flirted with it over the years, I never really reached critical mass with it. Ascending armor class and base attack bonuses give me 3.x flashbacks right out of the gate. So, I would flip through it wistfully, but never sank my teeth into it.

Well, it isn't 3.x. It is built on the OGL, but apparently not the SRD. It has no interest in touting compatibility with 3.x. In fact, in some ways, it sits somewhere between OD&D and AD&D, power level wise, as near as I can tell. I'm currently perusing a couple of modules (praise to the powers that be, they refer to them as "modules"!) and so far the most significant stat I've seen in an NPC is a 16. One time. The baseline for character generation is 3d6 arrange to suit.

Something I have always liked about the system are the character classes. There are a slew of them, which admittedly is a love/hate thing for me, but you can't have an AD&D experience without them. I feel the fighter is underpowered (of course), but easily fixed. Plus, and a BIG plus, the ranger is non-casting. He's just a badass in the woods. As he should be.

There are no feats or skills. Skills are covered by the SIEGE engine mechanic. I am quite certain that if you read passed the logo above, you already have an interest in C&C and thus are familiar with the SIEGE engine. Having not played the game, I can't comment on either the rapture of such a flexible and elegant system, nor on the supposed burden it promises to some readers. Apparently one loves it or one hates it. I remain undecided in fact, but love it in theory.

One thing I have seen talked about is the math. It seems the game is based on the underlying math of 3.x and there is a concern that it breaks down at higher levels. I am interested in this, in an academic sense. It is doubtful I will ever have a group to explore the system with, let alone get to high enough level that the system begins to unravel. I am curious, though.

So, there it is. My secret revealed. I love a game that isn't free. I almost forgot to mention another selling point for me. This is a little silly to some perhaps, but meaningful to me. Troll Lord Games is based in Little Rock, AR. I am a Southern boy, born and bred, and I like the fact that a game I like comes from the south. I'm not sure if the Chenault boys are from the south, but their game is, which gets it marks from me.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Little Spitballing

So, I've been thinking. I like to stick as much with free RPGs as possible. It's not even a monetary thing because I usually print them or have them printed. It's just a preference. As we all know, the basic rules for 5E are freely available. I printed the player and DM pdfs this weekend and did some home binding. I've been thinking about using just these as the basis for a hypothetical campaign. Stick with the classic classes and races, as presented. Clean and simple, and in only one book (not including house rules and such, see below).

Even though the core books aren't free, I would cull from them certain things, kind of like incorporating articles from Dragon. I would include Feats. I think that between Backgrounds and Feats, it really is possible to take the "Core Four" and create most, if not all, the additional classes, to some degree. I would likely include Colleges for wizards and Domains for clerics, as much for campaign flavor as anything else.

Over at the City of Iron there is an excellent series of posts on race-as-class. Mr Norman takes the dwarf, elf, and halfing from 5E and gives them a very nice B/X twist.

A short post, I know, but it is a brief idea in the description. I may while away some time this afternoon knocking together some class/background/feat combos to represent some of the other classes. If I'm happy with how it is working, I'll post them.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


In this thread on the Delving Deeper google+ page, Simon Bull talks about alternative level titles for clerics. I'm not a fan of the cleric, as I've indicated before. I like the idea of a crusader/holy warrior/demon hunter, etc, but the implementation of the class doesn't work for me. I have some ideas on that point. They definitely make some implications about setting, so may not be everyone's cup of tea. At any rate, new level titles were in order to better reflect what I'm thinking for clerics.

Level Titles

1    Novice (of the Order of . . .)
2    Chaplain
3    Brother-Sergeant
4    Knight-Errant
5    Brother-Knight
6    Justiciar
7    Knight-Commander
8    Knight-Marshall
9    Prior

A Novice is one who is newly initiated into an Order. They are given martial instruction, and are trained in the doctrine of the Order. They are not schooled in the Rites of the Order at this time, however. Novices are only one step above the laity, and are a level between rank-and-file troops and non-comms. Most initiates never rise above this level in the hierarchy.

Chaplain is an arduous rank within the Order. It is something of a crucible. Chaplains are expected to demonstrate leadership, knowledge of the doctrines of the Order, as well as the dogma and canon of the faith. They lead the laity in prayer and perform many common functions, such as marriage, baptisms, and presiding over funerals. They are also indoctrinated into the mysteries of the Rites, and are expected to learn how to apply them to further the goals of the Order. Chaplains rarely venture out of their priory, and many clerics remain Chaplains for their entire lives, content to tend the needs of the laity.

Brother-Sergeants lead units of Novices and lay-troops in battle. They are expected to function as part of the greater whole and must exhibit deep understanding of battlefield tactics. They also typically lead the Novices under their command in prayer and minister to their religious needs.

In order for a cleric to advance through the ranks of a militant order, he must prove himself worthy. Up to this point in his advancement he has shown that he possesses the ability to follow orders as a Novice, compassion, humility, and perseverance as a Chaplain, and the ability to lead and minister his soldiers as a Brother-Sergeant. Now comes the time when he must venture into the wider world as a Knight-Errant. He sallies forth, spreading the virtues of his order by his example. Sometimes a Knight-Errant sets out upon a specific charge, such as locating a holy relic or defeating an enemy of the Order. Many simply wander, spreading their faith, drawing potential Novices to the Order. This "time in the wilderness" is crucial to their development in the Order. Clerics who lack self-direction and the strength of their convictions rarely progress beyond this point.

Once having proven himself as a Knight-Errant, the cleric advances to Brother-Knight. He returns to the Priory and gains his spurs. Brother-Knights are the heavy cavalry of the Order. They are also dispatched individually or in small units for specific objectives.

As Novices and Chaplains clerics are steeped in the doctrine and canon of the faith. The bulk of their experience and training from there is predominantly martial. Having proven himself a peerless champion of the faith on the battlefield, now the cleric must show himself a champion of the Order's justice. As a Justiciar, the cleric travels a circuit of the towns and villages under his Priory's charge, dispensing justice. Secular courts hear cases involving everyday matters, but in cases that somehow intersect with the purview of the faith, it is the Justiciar that sits in judgement. With his time as a Justiciar, the cleric has proven his worth in all aspects of Priory life and prudence in his conduct in the faith.

The next step is Knight-Commander. The Knight-Commander leads squadrons of Brother-Knights on the field of battle. This is the first step to becoming Prior.

A Knight-Marshall commands all the military forces of a Priory. Obviously, there is only one Knight-Marshall in a Priory. They are responsible for the well-being of the Novices, Brother-Sergeants, Brother-Knights, and Knight-Commanders under their command. They are expected to plan and prosecute large scale military actions.

Finally, there is the Prior. The entire Priory and all its inhabitants are his charge. Additionally, he is responsible for the religious needs of all the laity within the demesne of his Priory. He is also the final arbiter of canon justice within the demesne.

It was Simon's thoughts on this matter that started me thinking, so a big Thank You to the estimable Mr. Bull.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tinkering with NWPs

I was thinking about Non-Weapon Proficiencies this week. I'm not a fan, as written. We used the shit out of them, but I never really liked them. They are too restrictive/narrow, especially when leveraged against the slots you have available for them. Plus, I was never happy with the idea that there were no clear guidelines on trying something covered by the NWP when your character didn't have the NWP. Finally, there was an odd side-effect of that: your character went from being virtually unable to perform a certain task (NWP), to performing it very reliably (if the relevant stat was high enough), with a single NWP slot expenditure.

So, I had this idea. Not strictly original, but still . . .

  • Keep the lists divided by class, as they are.
  • There are no additional costs for "cross-class" NWPs.
  • Redefine the NWPs to make them broader in application.
  • Each additional slot devoted to an NWP beyond the first, grants a +1 to the roll.
  • If a task seems reasonable for someone with training, then no roll should normally be required.

The Mechanic

Roll d20+stat mod (from NWP table)+class level (if NWP is from your class list) +/- situational mods

If the modified roll is 20+, the check succeeds. So, it's basically a Target20 type thing.

Here's what I like about it:

  1. Your character gets better at NWPs that are important to his class as he levels. He doesn't start out great at it and only improve slightly.
  2. If it isn't on your class list you won't be as good at it as a character who should be better at it. I don't like the idea that your fighter can spend slots on Magecraft (even if it is at double cost) and automatically be comparable in that skill to my magic user (assuming your fighter has a high INT).

Untrained Use

There should be certain of the NWPs that aren't usable untrained. The remainder of the NWPs can be used untrained. In this case, if the NWP is on the character's class list, add the relevant stat mod, otherwise, the only mods are situational.

There it is, my big idea.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

[S]ine [N]omine: Scarlet Heroes

My friend, Rick, had his own campaign world. It was one of those things that was in development before he found D&D. Needless to say, it was deep and rich some 25 years later. It was its own thing. Rick bent D&D to his world, rather than his world to D&D. One thing I learned from many adventures in Rick's world: never, and I mean NEVER, fuck with anybody that was travelling alone. I called it the Rule of One, and much to my honor, it became a permanent part of the lore of his world.

The thing is, it can be hard to run games with 1 DM and 1 player. Far too often, they end up being one PC and a retinue of NPCs that the DM determines vital to success. The flip-side is a game that really is one character, but it means running from a lot of encounters. Neither is very satisfying.

Enter . . .

From the brilliant and prolific mind of Kevin Crawford, aka Sine Nomine, Scarlet Heroes offers a method for invoking the Rule of One in your games.

Scarlet Heroes starts with a chassis of B/X D&D. Sort of. It feels an awful lot like B/X, but when you get into the nuts and bolts it bears more of a philosophical resemblance than an actual one. It has the traditional six stats we all know and love. It has the B/X bonus scheme. It has the "core four" classes. The main four races are represented, as well as the Shou from the included setting. So far very B/X.

Now, here's where we start shifting our perceptions, because that is all that is really going on here. We still have hit dice, hit points, and weapons doing variable damage. You can take any D&D weapon not already on the equipment list and drop it right in. The difference is in how the numbers are used in Scarlet Heroes. For foes, monsters and mook-types, hit dice are hit points. So, a bandit can take one hit. A garden variety zombie, 2 points of damage. PCs have normal hit points and important/legendary foes may have hit points, as well.

Damage is determined differently, too. Weapons are still listed with their traditional damage ranges, 1d8 for a long sword, for example. However, rather than simply rolling and deducting that number from an opponent's hit points/hit dice, the roll is checked on a damage table. Thus:

This little table, and the damage dynamic that it applies to, is at the heart of what makes Scarlet Heroes sing. The other thing that really makes it work is the Fray Die. I love the Fray Die. It is a free damage roll PCs make every round, just because it is dangerous to stand too close to them. How awesome is that?

So, that small shift in the perception of hit dice/points and damage is pretty much the foundation that all the rest sits upon. There are other changes that essentially amount to making PC's better able to function alone. Traits add a skill-like element that can be used to mimic certain class-like abilities. There is a Defy Death roll which players can make when they reach an impasse that their character isn't able to handle. It becomes more difficult and dangerous every time the player relies on it to get the character out of a jam, though.

Scarlet Heroes is a complete game in and of itself. It includes everything you need to play, including monsters, magic items, and a taste of the Red Tide setting. There is also an extensive chapter on creating adventures, which includes a good-sized list of adventure tags, which are used in the construction of adventures. There is also a nice section on truly solo gaming, no GM needed.

I want to say one other thing about this before I wrap this up. This doesn't get mentioned much in any of the things I've read about Scarlet Heroes. The spell lists are totally awesome. They are loaded with new spells and new twists on old spells. He provides great, very evocative new names for all the spells. Some of them are really unique and could make a separate supplement of their own.

PS I forgot to mention, the system is suitable as is for one or two PCs. More than that and it gets too easy. However, it is a fine system in its own right, and by simply using hit dice/points and damage in the traditional manner, it could serve as a wonderful vehicle for a group of PCs.