Thursday, 14 April 2016

Thoughts on a 5e Sandbox

So, over the past few months, I've been running 5e. And, much to my surprise, I've come to really enjoy the system.

When I first tried the playtest packet (way back when it was D&D Next) I wasn't a massive fan. Some of the mechanics were a little too clunky, and WotC couldn't seem to agree on which bits to keep at each change of the playtest rules, jumping from one good idea to a bunch of really terrible ones.

During development, they constantly claimed they were building a "modular" game, sort of like GURPS, which would please everyone - you could use the basic rules for a simple dungeon crawl game, then add the precise rules expansions you wanted to make the game exactly to your liking.

While that never panned out exactly, they did manage to make a system that seems to act as a nice common ground for many people - 3rd Edition fans like the simplified character building minigame, as well as the tactical opportunities presented by the game, while old-school fans like the reduced power level and simplified mechanics. Combined with the few "optional rules" in the DMG, and one gets the sense that this is an edition designed not so much as "modular", but simply very robust when it comes to house rules - one could easily use the bits and bobs they enjoyed from previous editions, combined with parts from others, without the whole thing toppling down in a horrific Franken-Heap.

And to me, that's pretty cool. Is it a perfect system? No, of course not. There's no such thing. But it's a good baseline to start on.

So, the game I've been running has been pretty awesome - most of the playtime has come from the consequences of running a 5e-ified (i.e. less randomly deadly and more tied-together) Death Frost Doom, along with hints of Vornheim and a few other sources.

However, the group is currently struggling to get together as regularly as they once managed, meaning most weeks anywhere between one and three players can't make it. This makes it pretty hard to keep any sort of long-term plot running smoothly.

So, once the last of the DFD game is done (a few more sessions should do it), I need a new plan.

Enter The West Marches.

For those of you who don't know, the West Marches game was set up in such a way as to be easy for players to drop in and out - every session was a self-contained adventure, with the group/groups varying in number, composition, even level depending on who can attend that day. Each game was arranged beforehand, with the players in attendance deciding beforehand where they will go, what their objective was for that session, etc. An entirely player-driven experience, with the DM acting solely as a neutral referee for the setting - the "plot" derives solely from the player's actions and decisions.

This means that the fact that some players are only able to make a handful of sessions isn't a huge deal - everyone who can make a session plans it out beforehand, and the players decide exactly what they are going to do, instead of having to catch up and figure out exactly where in the story they are.

As a DM, that means I will be preparing a whole bunch of dungeons, hexes with interesting contents, and fun things to do. I'll be posting things up as I go, looking at how 5e handles a player-driven hexcrawl, and the various synergies and pitfalls that come along with it.

Should be fun.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Back Again

Another bout of health issues, depression and personal shake ups, another absence from the blog.

Hopefully, this should be the last one for a while.

I've been working on various projects which I can share on here, as well as some plans for future games and thoughts on the one I'm currently running.

But this is me dipping my toe back into the waters - let's see if it's as cold as I remember...

Friday, 13 March 2015

I Got My Name In A Thing!

I just wanted to share the joys of Expanded Petty Gods, a crowd sourced project of at Save vs Dragon, which takes the original Petty Gods book and adds divine servants, new spells and other stuff to help you run any of these lesser deities in a campaign.

I submitted a few spells, and it looks like they all got published!

Go check it out!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Rainbow Wyvern - A Monster For Narcosa

For those of you who don't know, Narcosa is a Google+ crowd sourced supplement to add a drug-fuelled tinge to your standard fantasy campaign, with rules for substances, new locations, NPCs, monsters and spells all under the general theme of getting fucked up.

Rafael Chandler mentions the Powder Born, a sect of psychos who snort the powdered bones of Rainbow Wyverns, making them freaky meth-head killers who try to erase their previous lives (up to killing their families and trying to burn down anywhere they had been before they took their first hit).

Crazy shit, and an excellent version of the 1d20 Bandits on the Wilderness table, but there's one thing missing - there's no stats for the Rainbow Wyverns!

To keep a cult of druggies going, either you get a lot of bones out of one big wyvern, or there's tons of them around. I decided to do both, cause they're both pretty cool ideas.

Stats for LL (check this handy guide to convert to you system of choice)

Rainbow Wyvern
No. Enc: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Move: 120' (40')
AC: 8
HD: 2*
Attacks: 1
Damage: 1d3
Save: L1
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: None
XP: 80

The Rainbow Wyvern is a strange creature indeed. While it resembles a common wyvern in size and shape, its scales scintillate lazily when relaxed, but when threatened they burst into iridescent fury, causing onlookers to suffer a variety of effects.

If exposed to the wyvern's scales, make a Save vs. Spells. If you fail, roll on the table below.

1. The patterns are pretty pleasing - lose your actions for this round.

2. Images swell and disappear - any attacks you make against the wyvern are made as if it was under the effect of a blur spell.

3. Momentarily, the patterns match their surroundings - you consider the Wyvern invisible this round.

4. The patterns become spiked, all claws and primal fury - the Wyvern is considered to have Frightful Presence as a dragon.

If you succeed the save, you realise the truth of the Rainbow Wyvern - its scale produce the illusion of a wyvern, but underneath that, there's a dog-sized lizard. Think like a Magic Eye picture, where the Wyvern slides out of view to reveal the true wyvern.

Once the real wyvern is spotted, use the stats for a dog, or something small and relatively useless.

Each of these wyverns can be ground up to produce 1d4 doses of Powder.

Big-Ass Rainbow Wyvern

Use the stats for a Wyvern, and add the ability to cast Illusion spells as a MU of its HD. Its smart enough to use its illusions to set up ambushes and hide its lair. This Wyvern is a total bastard to catch, but each corpse can make 2d6 doses of Powder per HD.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

P6 Dark Fantasy - Magic Is Limited

Gary Goldman as Combustion Man!

So, to make a Dark Fantasy game, magic can't be the be-all-end-all that it becomes in other games. It comes with costs, extra mechanics, and the chance that it could go tits up at any moment. There's a host of ways I could do it, but I'm going to utilise mechanics from other D20-ish products to ease the amount of work involved - after all, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then outright theft should be, like, way better, right?

I want to strike a balance between making magic a rare, difficult thing, and making it a somewhat viable choice for a PC to specialise in. Its a challenge, sure, but I'm willing to give it a bash.

WFRP is the archetypal "don't fuck with magic" system - its hard to attain, difficult to use, and if you don't use it correctly, you might get anything from a runny nose to exploding into a shower of gore and demons. However, the system relies on a series of die rolls that would be... awkward to transfer to Pathfinder. Some have tried, but it would be a little too weird. Plus, its rather intimately tied to the setting, so unless I want to adventure in the Old World, its a no.

Call of Cthulhu has an interesting variant, inversely tying Magic
Pictured: Average CoC Wizard
to Sanity - the more you know, the less functional you become. While this suits a darker game, I'd prefer the players to find such a system optional, rather than required - similar to Dark Sun's Defiling magic, which is way better and easier, but kills the planet slowly as you use it. The choice to sacrifice sanity of power should be a choice, not hard baked into the system. Makes things a little too grimdark. It does, however, give a starting point for a system... And ties the Insanity system into the game more than just as a penalty to adventuring.

The Black Company RPG has a very unusual system, based off of other Green Ronin products (True Sorcery, for example) which allows for a massive amount of flexibility - it's skill based, you can construct every spell from the ground up, even combine spells, and do just about anything. The problem is, it takes a huge amount of system mastery to get anything apporaching a reasonable useful spell, and recreating classic spells (even ones of limited utility) means bumping the DCs required to cast the spell to some pretty ridiculous levels. Its a really awesome system, but as I'm looking to make things a little easier, its just too much for me.

The Thieves World setting book does have a different, more limited magic system that's compatible with the greater D20 system, and it looks like a pretty good bet for me. It relies on extended spellcasting checks, the local magic levels, and a few other factors. There are ways around the limited nature of the system, but they require preperation, resources and time - all the factors that allow clever players to feel useful, and allow everyone to contribute. Just the way magic should be, in my opinion - a tool for the party, not just one player.

Hopefully, I can tie this into a Sanity/Madness system, or perhaps a Corruption mechanic (Hell, maybe both!), to make magic useful, but dangerous in large amounts. I'll post up the tweaks and hacks for it over the next few weeks, as I get more time to do so.

Next up - Magic Items!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Pathfinder E6: Fitting The World To The System Pt2

So, I'm on a dark fantasy kick - from The Chronicles of The Black Company, through to Dragon's Dogma and The Song of Ice and Fire, I'm really digging the more gritty, down to earth fantasy deconstructions that are floating about.

One thing I will say - it's not about realism, as many claim. There's still magic, weird creatures, and other such things. Its a sense of versimilitude - that, while the normal rules don't apply, they make sense within the fiction of the game world.

As an example, much of the Forgotten Realms is saturated with magic, to the point where just about anyone can learn it, or even use a few spells - yet, few people have used it to advance past being shit-covered medieval peasants.

In the Black Company, wizards are feared as sorcerers and killers - because its the best way to survive being a wizard. Sure, you can become ridiculously powerful... But it generally involves doing terrible things, performing acts taboo across most nations, and then you catch the eye of other wizards, who are just as terrible as you are. Don't use magic - it only ends badly for everyone.

So, after my tangent, I want to make sure that my setting is accurate to the game mechanics I'm using, and vice-versa. So, there are many thing to consider when using E6 as a baseline...

  • Magic is Limited - seems like a no-brainer, but with limited magic, comes much less in the way of inter-planar travel and knowledge of cosmology. To me, this means that myth and legend will play a larger part than in many settings, as there's next to no one who has seen the past, the outer spheres, or the basic planes. Even the classic "A Wizard Did It" things like magically-crafted dungeons, flying cities etc. can't be done (at least, easily). To me, this means that magic users will be rare, scholarly types, with Warlocks and other less-savoury types driven by the idea of bypassing magics usual limitations. It also means that I might want a Ritual Magic system, for the bigger, campaign changing spells.
  • Magic Items Are Scarce - another thing to consider, most magic items cannot be crafted easily. A +3 sword is beyond the reach of mortal crafting under the usual system, and even a simple +1 sword requires knowledge of magic that most people simply don't have. To help remedy this somewhat, and to allow for some equipment advancement in lieu of usual advancement, I plan on porting over the Crafting system from the Black Company D20 RPG, wich allows regular craftsmanship to add minor bonuses to mundane items (instead of the usual Masterwork = +1). I'll post a little more about this later.
  • The Demographics Change Drastically - in terms of NPCs, at least. One does not become a king by virtue of being the highest level dude around - most people stay as 1st-level NPC classes, with PC classes representing the few, more experienced men and women, rather than just bumping them up levels. With such a limited span of advancement, a 6th level character is the peak of mankind, and should be treated as such - not guarding the King's vaults. Once PCs reach 6th level, they're the top dogs - in terms of skill amongst men, at least...
  • Monsters Are A Big Fucking Deal - imagine your standard setting. "Hey, random murderhobos, a gang of Ogres has taken up residence on the outskirts of the farmlands. Go rough them up a bit, eh?" A CR 3 creature is a pest, waiting to be exterminated. But, when everyone is a first-level warrior, it would take at least, what, ten men to one Ogre? A band of them might require a serious investment of military strength, and a horde of Orcs becomes a serious threat. Monsters become more than just part of the scenery - they become forces that shape and adapt civilisations. Don't expect to see too many humanoids up in Giant Country, and expect dragon attacks to take a serious toll.
  • Combat is Deadly - linked to the above, somewhat, characters don't have a lot in the way of hit points, magical defenses, even healing. Each engagement should be planned in advance, tactically sound, and the very idea of a fair fight should send shiver a down a man's spine. I had considered adding the reduced Massive Damage Threshold rules from the Conan/Thieves World/Black Company RPGs, but really - shit's deadly enough as is.
  • Resurrection Is Hard - barring powerful (and expensive) Ritual Magic, or perhaps divine intervention (yeah right), there's no way to bring the dead back. This makes assassination a useful political tool, rather than a nuisance (because what important person doesn't have a high-level cleric in their pocket?). For Clerics, there might be a chance to beseech your God for a miracle, but expect the cost to be rather... dramatic.
I hope to make a post about each of these over the next few days, focusing on each and discussing the implications and how I plan to implement each one. Stay tuned!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Pathfinder Minions - The Microlite Approach

I've been wanting to run something a little darker than the usual D&D fare recently, and I feel like Pathfinder might scratch my itch with a few modifications.

But if there's one thing I dislike about the D20 system and its progeny, its the idea that all monsters should be built like PCs. Skill points, feats, oodles of magical equipment to make sure they scale with the party... Its pretty nonsensical. I mean, with all its bells and whistles, a Pathfinder PC can be a little overwhelming at the best of times - now imagine having to run, say, six in an encounter, all with different classes and abilities.

Its fucking ludicrous.

So, I tried trimming the fat from a few of the PFSRD Beastiary entries, and here's an example of what I came up with:

Veteran CR 1/2
XP 200
Init +2; Senses Perception +2
AC 20 (+6 armor, +2 Dex, +2shield)
HP 14
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +3
Speed 30 ft.
Melee longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or warhammer +4 (1d8+3/x3)
Ranged heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness
Skills Heal +2, Perception +2, Survival +5
Gear alchemist's fire, holy water, oil (2), healer's kit (2 uses remaining) breastplate, heavy wooden shield, weapon, 20 bolts, bedroll, tindertwigs (2), whetstone, wooden holy symbol

And that's just the bare-bones combat stats.

Now, compare that with the original:

Superstitious Mercenary CR 1/2
XP 200
Human Fighter 1
Medium humanoid (human)
Init +2; Senses Perception +2


AC 20, touch 12, flat-footed 18 (+6 armor, +2 Dex, +2shield)
hp 14 (1d10+4)
Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +3


Speed 30 ft.
Melee longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or cold irondagger +4 (1d4+3/19–20)
Ranged heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)


During Combat The fighter fires his crossbow, then readies his sword and shield. He saves his alchemist's fire for foes he can't harm or can't hit with his sword.


Str 17, Dex 14, Con 12, Int 8, Wis 13, Cha 10
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 16
Feats Iron Will, Power Attack, Toughness
Skills Heal +2, Perception +2, Survival +5
Languages Common

Combat Gear potion of cure light wounds, alchemist's fire, holy water, oil (2), healer's kit (2 uses remaining); Other Gear breastplate, heavy wooden shield, cold iron dagger, heavy crossbow with 20 bolts, longsword, bedroll, tindertwigs (2), whetstone, wooden holy symbol, 3 gp

... I'll be honest, a lot of that comes down to formatting, and cutting bits out that don't suit the setting (I hate that every human-ish NPC carries healing potions). But for a 1st level NPC (not even a real threat to a 1st level party on his own), that's a shitton of space. Writing that out would practically take a character sheet of its own. And this guy is, what, some random thug? The higher level NPCs are atrocious. And don't get me started on casters, with spell lists, domain/bloodline/school powers... Total shitemare.

So I'm going to take a leaf out of an old favourite of mine: Microlite20.

Being a stripped down version of the D20 SRD, its almost totally compatible with PF, with but a few small tweaks. Here's a quicker version of said Mercenary/Veteran...

Veteran CR 1/2 XP 200
HD 1d10+4 (14hp)
AC 20 CMB +4 CMD 16 Saves +2
Longsword +4 (1d8+3/19–20) or heavy crossbow +3 (1d10/19–20)
Skills Phys +4, Subt +2, Know +2, Comm +0

... And that's it. Even then, I could simplify it further, bringing it closer to the old B/X statline, but for a single enemy goon, that's more than enough info for me. I don't need to know detailed combat tactic breakdowns, or what feats he has to give him +1 to this and that, or how many ranks he has in Underwater Basket Weaving - just enough to put numbers to a face.

For proper baddies, I'll be using the previous stripped down stat blocks, and maybe the BBEG will get a full stat block, but only if they're gonna hang around in multiple situations (like where their skill sets and feats might actually come up).

I'll be posting a few more rules hacks and beastiary entries over the next few days, so stay posted!

EDIT: Apologies for the formatting issues, turns out copy-pasting from the PFSRD turns everything into shit (there's a surprise...)