Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gamer ADD: Toward and Old School version of 5e Part 2

One of the things that drives me batty about 5e has nothing to do with either the system or the mechanics. I really despise the presentation and layout. Awhile ago, I did an experiment to see if I could to a “Player’s Guide” for my Lost Colonies campaign world for 5e. It was a nightmare. Trying to figure out what a class can do at any given level is a chore that can result in looking up several different references in different parts of the rulebook. The process was so headache-inducing that I gave up trying.

When my Gamer ADD-addled brain started thinking about treading down the 5e road again, I did not want the published core books (or any other books) involved. Dealing with just the SRD (while still too complicated in its presentation) makes things easier to deal with.

Thus, when thinking about an Old School Hack of 5e, I want the presentation to be simple and easy to digest. One easy editorial decision that will make that process easier is to limit the number of levels covered in the game. 0e covers Fighters and Clerics up to 10th level and Magic-users to 16th. I have been playing this game since 1979 and I have only seen two characters make it to 9th level. I played one (a bard in 3.5 that retired at 9th level) and the other was a PC in my Lost Colonies Campaign (LL). Thus, from a practice experience POV, having a game only cover levels 1-10 seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Of course, my experience is almost exclusively with xp being awarded according to older rule-sets where xp is not only harder to come by, but 1xp=1gp is the primary means of gaining xp (and in some cases it’s Arneson’s 1xp=1gp spent). Thus, in order to make levels 1-10 feel like a complete game, the xp needed for each level is going to need a slight overhaul.

In 0e an 11th level Magic-user needs 300,000xp. Conveniently, if one were to use that number for the xp needed to get to 10th level, halving that for each level (effectively doubling the xp needed for each level) the xp needed to get to 2nd ends up being 1000. This number is half as much as what is needed in older editions of the game (thus, making leveling faster/easier for the modern gamer context) but is much higher than the 300 needed in 5e as written (which helps placate my own old school proclivities).

Given this info, here is a rough draft of the kind of layout I have in mind for this project:

Yes. That is ONE page for everything needed to play a fighter from 1st-10th level.

Note that there are a couple of changes from the SRD for the fighter:

  • The Proficiency Bonus progresses slightly faster. I did this to make Fighters better at fighting in the long-term than Clerics and Magic-users.
  • I replaced the 7th level Martial Archetype power “Remarkable Athlete” with the mechanics of the 7th level Barbarian ability “Feral Instinct” — advantage on initiative. I did this to keep the fighter class more focused on fighting prowess.
  • I replaced the Martial Archetype power at 10th level with an Extra Attack (which would be granted normally at 11th level). Again, I did this to keep the focus of the class on fighting prowess.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Gamer ADD: Toward an Old-School version of 5e

As I mentioned in my last Saintly Saturday post, my Gamer ADD-addled brain is busy editing the 5e SRD to reflect my own old-school proclivities. At the end of the day, though, I am not all that interested in editing it beyond the bounds of what could be called 5e D&D or to tie it so closely to a game world as to effectively create a new D&D-esque game with a little 5e sprinkled on top.

An (excellent) example would be Mithgarthr. For all intents and purposes it is 5e D&D; however, there are enough world-specific races and classes and unique mechanics that it deserves to be its own game. As much as I admire the folks at Mithgarthr Entertainment for producing a version of 5e that I’ve been sore tempted to buy in hardcover (something WotC has never even come close to doing), my goal is to produce something both far more generic and compatible.

In other words, what I want is a version of 5e that can be easily used regardless of what campaign world the end user wants for the their game table and that can be used (with very little effort) in conjunction with the 5e rules as written. I use the caveat “with very little effort” because, in order to scratch my curmudgeonly old-school itch, there will necessarily be some alterations to classes that will deviate slightly from the rules as written.

Speaking of classes, I will pick up on an idea I first posited here — there will be only three classes:

  1. Clerics (using the rules for Paladins)
  2. Fighters
  3. Magic-users (using the rules for Warlocks)

Additionally, I will only use ideas/spells/powers from the SRD to describe these three classes. Thus, there is no need for detailing different oaths, archetypes or patrons. This will simplify the typesetting and presentation of each class immensely.

For those who are wondering why only three classes, there are two main thrusts to my thinking:

Firstly, 0e only had these three classes. By sticking to that pattern, it gives this modern version of D&D an old-school feel.

Secondly (and possibly even more importantly), all of the other classes are redundant:

  • Barbarians and Rangers are fighters with specific backgrounds and tactical proclivities that don’t really need any mechanics to express.
  • Bards are entertainers and there is an entertainer background. Thus, one could be a bard in any class and thus a specific class with specific mechanics aren’t all that necessary.
  • Druids, Clerics and Paladins are really all the same class with slightly different foci. Using a bit of background and role-playing choices, one can easily emulate all three with one set of mechanics (the Paladin Class being my choice because it is the one that most closely resembles the cleric of older editions of the game)
  • Sorcerers, Warlocks and Wizards are also really the same class that primarily differ on where magic comes from. That can easily be explained through special effects and world-building concepts. Especially since Cantrips in 5e can be cast at will, there is very little mechanically difference between these classes.
  • Rogues have always been the skill-heavy class. 5e gives access to all kinds of interesting skills and proficiencies through backgrounds. One can choose an appropriate background with any class and function as a thief-like character.
  • Monks have always felt a bit out of place in D&D because they have a definitive Wuxia feel to them that is a bit alien to the average high-fantasy D&D campaign world. At the same time, they don’t really do Wuxia justice. If one really wanted to do a Wuxia-style game using a 5e D&D chassis, backgrounds would be a much better way to build that world than relying on the Monk class.

Thus, the original three classes married to a robust background system can easily emulate all the other classes found in 5e.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Cornelius the Abbot of Komel

Today is the Feast of St. Cornelius the Abbot of Komel, Vologda. Born into a boyar family in the 15th century, his brother Lukian served at the court of the Great Prince of Moscow. Both brothers decided to enter into monasticism at the monastery of St. Cyril of White Lake (how cool is that name!?).

Desiring for a more solitary life, St. Cornelius left White Lake to enter other monasteries, but eventually chose to live in the inhospitable environs of the Komel forest. Other monks began to gather around him and in 1501 he built a wooden church dedicated to the Entrance of the Theotokos. By 1512, the brethren had grown so numerous that he built a stone church and compiled a Monastic Rule based on those written by Sts. Joseph of Volokolamsk and Nilus of Sora.

St. Cornelius died at the age of 82 on May 19, 1537.

As I explained in this seven-year-old (!?) post, there are two basic forms of monasticism: cenobitic (communal) and eremitic (hermit-like). The monastic rules found in Russia tend to be of a third type: the skete. It takes elements of both eremitic practices, allowing for the isolation of individual monks, and cenobitic practices, allowing for a community of monks to live in close proximity.

In other words, there really is no single “right way” to be a monastic. Depending upon the individual and the relationships that individual forms, one can be called to be a part of several different styles of monasticism. Indeed, many monastic saints, St. Cornelius included, practice several different types over the course of their lifetime.

In the comment section of my last Saintly Saturday post, there was a joke about edition wars in D&D. Admittedly, when I first started to blog about RPGs, I wrote several serious criticisms of “new-school” D&D and I will openly admit that the idea of playing 3e, 3.5e, Pathfinder or 4e sounds about as much fun as doing some major dental work. Today, however, I won’t begrudge (too much) someone else’s fun. Sure, I believe they would have more fun at my table and the way I like to play, but I also know from experience that isn’t a universal rule I can depend upon.

I have argued that we live in a Golden Age for RPGs. One of the reasons for that is that we, as players, have at our finger tips 0e-5e D&D and all the various clones of those editions out there to choose from and hack ourselves for our particular proclivities and our particular needs. In the same way monks have a plethora of opportunities to pursue the ascetic life, we gamers have a plethora of choices as to which rules we want to bring to the table to have fun with.

Recently Eric of Tenkar’s Tavern reported that WotC estimates that there are 12 to 15 million D&D players in North America and that there was a 44% growth for the D&D brand in 2016. Note that this is just the brand, not a specific edition. While I will openly admit that most of the growth can probably be attributed to 5e (and that is not a bad thing), I am guessing that no small percentage of that comes from older editions. Else, why does WotC keep on churning out publications for older editions in both PDF and POD forms? There was a time when I thought such a move by WotC would never happen and I cannot tell you how happy I am that they continue to open up that library.

In other words: play the version of D&D that you want to play and have fun! If that version doesn’t exist, make it! Today, we have so many tools at our disposal to do just that, we barely have an excuse not to.

To that end, one of my episodes of Gamer ADD which I have been subject to of late, was due to the WotC news Eric reported. I like the concept of 5e, but I don’t like its presentation, its editing or the relative complexity of the rules as they exist today. Erik took what were really simple rules (S&W White Box) and stripped them down as much as possible to still have a game we would recognize as D&D and S&W: SWL and SWCL. My Gamer ADD-addled brain thought why can’t I do that for 5e?

Thus, one of my wayward projects is editing the 5e SRD down to a rules-lite version of the game which I would gladly play and even Referee. Hopefully, I’ll have some presentable stuff done sooner rather than later to share.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Gamer ADD: Black Pudding Cleric Hack

My life has been extremely busy of late and on top of that, my overtaxed brain has been busy screaming, "squirrel!" Thus, I have several ideas half-formed in the last several weeks that I am trying my best to at least roughly shape out so that I or others can use them.

To that end, if you haven't checked out Black Pudding #4 by J.V. West under the Random Order Creations moniker, do yourself a favor and do so. Every issue of this fanzine irreverently enhances the goodness that is B/X with a loving 1970s-esque kitschy wonder that has me both giggling and itching to play. Black Pudding #4 has a hack of B/X using elements of 5e, LL, S&W with just the right amount of cool. It is a hack I would play in a heartbeat; however, there is one glaring hole, at least for my particular proclivities. Clerics don't get the Black Pudding treatment.

Therefore, I endeavored to make my own so that when the day comes and I find myself at a table willing to embrace that wacky coolness that is the Black Pudding OSR Playbook, I'll be ready to add my own bit of the ridiculous (in a very good way).

For those interested, I created a single page that can be printed off and added to the Black Pudding OSR Playbook:

The file can be found here. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Dionysius the Archimandrite of St. Sergius Monastery

Today is the Feast of St. Dionysius the Archimandrite of St. Sergius Monastery. Born in 1570, St. Dionysius was the head of the Staritsky Dormition monastery (northwest of Moscow) and then, beginning in 1611, St. Sergius Monastery (northeast of Moscow). He died in 1633. Thus, he lived through the entirety of the Time of Troubles, an era plagued by succession wars, foreign invasions and famine. He was foremost aid to St. Hermogenes, Patriarch of Moscow who himself was imprisoned by Polish-Lithuanian invaders who sought to impose Catholicism on the Russians. St. Dionysius also set up a house and hospice for the injured, sick and homeless. He also ordered that his own monks distribute the best food they had to the poor while surviving on the left-overs.

Dionysius himself was jailed. Ironically, it was by his fellow Orthodox and not the Catholics. During the chaos of the Times of Trouble, discrepancies began showing up in service books. Therefore, Dionysius got involved in trying to remedy the situation by comparing current editions with both ancient Slavic texts and Greek texts. Without understanding what he was doing, the local officials accused him of heresy at Council in 1618. At the intervention of Patriarchs of both Moscow and Jerusalem, he was released and reinstated in 1619.

He is buried at St. Sergius Monastery.

For those who like to put a bunch of politics in their campaigns to create adventure ideas, interesting background noise and opportunities for players to have a huge impact on the campaign world, the Time of Troubles is excellent source material. The Time of Troubles refers to the years in-between the death of the last Tsar of the Rurik Dynasty in 1598 and the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613. There are several events that could provide center-pieces for major campaign events:
  • The last Rurik Tsar, Feodor, is described as being “mentally-challenged” and the realm was actually being run by his brother-in-law, the boyar Boris Godunov.
  • Prior to Feodor’s death, his younger brother Dmitri was assassinated in mysterious circumstances (some suspect at the order of Godunov).
  • Upon the death of Feodor, Godunov was elected Tsar; however, his reign is plagued by problems.
  • From 1601-1603 summer temperatures at night in Russia fell below freezing, killing crops. One third of the population starved to death.
  • Brigands freely roamed the countryside.
  • Tartars began raiding the southern borders.
  • The princes balked at the idea of taking orders from a mere boyar (akin to a Duke or Earl taking orders from a Baron). Conspiracies against the new Tsar abounded.
  • Godunov was painted as an usurper and rumors that Feodor’s younger brother Dmitri was still alive and in hiding.
  • False Dmitris started to declare themselves and were supported by both the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Catholic) and the Kingdom of Sweden (Protestant) to justify getting involved in a series of succession wars and political assassinations.
In the end, all of this foreign meddling (especially the attempts to impose Catholicism) united the Russians as a people across classes and out of the ashes rose what became the Russian Empire.

This sounds like the perfect place to drop a bunch of creative players to see what kind of mischief could be done…