Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Gamer ADD: Adventures in Middle-Earth 5e

I have long been tempted by the call of Adventures in Middle-Earth 5e. I have read good things, it uses D&D as a chassis, and I have been extremely curious as to how these guys mechanically expressed the breadth and depth of Tolkien's world. Unfortunately, I have never been a big fan of Tolkien's works. I slogged through the Lord of the Rings because I felt I needed to, but it took me years and several aborted attempts. Thus, the price tag was always too high for something that emulates books I was never in love with in the first place.

That all changed when Cubicle 7 offered up their Middle-Earth 5e library on Humble Bundle. I grabbed it and have been reading through the Players Guide. It is as good as advertised and I am very impressed. In order to explain why I love this so much (especially given my own dislike of Tolkien's books), I have to explain my relationship to baseball.

I do not like baseball. It is boring. The season is way too long and no one game seems to matter all that much, even in post season. I have tried to like it for both family and friends. Back in the day, I would try to watch Atlanta Braves games on TBS and Chicago Cubs games on WGN. I even went to a couple of live MLB games. I just couldn't bring myself to care.

Here's the thing though: I completely understand and appreciate why baseball fans love this game. I have always wished I could do the same because I love watching people who love baseball talk about baseball. Of all the 30 for 30 documentaries ESPN has produced over the years, my favorite is still the one about how the Boston Red Sox came back from three games down in the ALCS against the Yankees. It is one giant homage to Boston Red Sox fans and their love for their team. I love it because it is about everything I love about people who love baseball.

I have a similar relationship to Tolkien as I have to baseball. I don't like reading his books and I have no intention of reading them ever again, but I love to hear people talk about them and why they love them. This is why I actually slogged through the Lord of the Rings — I wanted to be part of that conversation. I wanted to love and talk about Tolkien that same way people who love the books do.

What I am trying to get at here is that what makes Adventures in Middle-Earth 5e so good isn't that it is Middle-Earth or Tolkien. What makes it great is that they get what people love about Tolkien: the themes, the ideas, the archetypes, the literary forms, the values, the world-view. Everything that I love hearing people who love Tolkien get excited about is in this game. It allows me to participate in that love in a way I could never have imagined myself doing.

Here is one of the highest praises I think I can give any game: I want to play this. Badly. Interestingly, I don't want to be the Loremaster/GM/DM/Referee whatever you want to call it like I do with most RPGs. I want to be a Player. I want to create a character and play.

To that end (and because I feel I have to whinge about something), I created this Character Sheet to replace the awful, boring, uninspired CS that comes with the game:

You can download it here.

One last thought. From a mechanical POV, I really appreciate what Adventures in Middle-Earth does with 5e. They push the concepts of Race, Class, and Background in the kind of experimental ways that I tried to with ba5ic. It has got me thinking of new ways to frame ba5ic — specifically in a Lovecraftian direction. Hopefully, these ideas will see the light of day prior to next New Years.

BTW I hope 2020 brings many blessings to us all.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men! — Luke 2:14
As a kind reminder (especially to myself) the peace offered today is not man's peace. It is not the peace we make by signing treaties or settling old feuds. The peace offered today is God's peace.

We all make war on God every day. We are the ones who opened fire. We are the ones who created the dividing wall between ourselves and God. We are the ones who chose darkness over the light.

Christ is born today in order to eradicate all of that. Sin has been forgiven. Death no longer has its sting. Only love and forgiveness remain, despite everything we are and everything we have done.

Today, Christ reminds us of everything He was willing to do in order to give us a path to His loving embrace.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Meditating on The Witcher

Let’s talk about the new Netflix show The Witcher. Note: I do not play a lot of computer games, so I have absolutely no knowledge of the game other than it exists. Therefore, I am coming at this purely as a sci-fi/fantasy fan.

Also, Spoiler Alert.

I really wanted to like this. I really did. It has all the fundamental building blocks to be a great show, but the folks who wrote/produced/edited this thing didn’t trust the material, leaned on a bunch of unnecessary crutches and ruined what could have been great TV, let alone great fantasy.

Let me start with the good stuff. From the perspective of lore, world-building, and ideas I can steal to include in my fantasy RPGs there is a lot here to like:

1) The magic system is really fascinating. Spell casters take pure Chaos and shape into into spells, but there is always a cost — a balance. For the most powerful, this involves becoming mutated and becoming sterile. Some have a choice in this transformation, others (the Witchers) do not. Regardless, this sacrifice yields a much longer life than that of a non-spell caster. This reality was a central theme of the show — the choice between the creative power of parenthood vs. the political and physical power that magic brings. Unfortunately, this theme was grossly under developed.

2) The politics of magic is really interesting, as well. There are a couple of institutions that represent magic-use in the Witcher world. One was destroyed (the source of the Witchers) and one is what amounts to a Wizard’s Guild. They find and train all the sorcerers in the world, give them access to their power, give them a family and a home, and then send them out as advisors to various political posts around the continent. Thus, they maintain their own power by influencing the politics. At the same time, they are in a position to mitigate the destructive force of war. Thus, there is a lot of room for good, evil, chaotic and lawful sorcerers to rub shoulders, be friends, allies and political adversaries without the need to kill each other. Fascinating stuff.

3) The Witcher plays with a newer fantasy trope of elves and humans being enemies because the humans learned/stole elven magic and then drove them out of their traditional lands. There is an interesting twist hidden in the lore, however. The humans, being the creative and adaptive beings that they are, learned to use magic better than the elves. This actually helps explain elven level limits in older rulesets of D&D. Humans just do this stuff better. There is also this dark undertow with magic (as represented by some interesting set designs) that all of humanity’s power is built upon the skulls of elves.

4) For those following JB’s meditations on the 1e Ranger class over at BX Blackrazor, the Witcher is a fascinating archetype for the Supernatural Ranger.

5) The Law of Surprise is a really interesting cultural quirk that becomes potentially deadly when backed up by the threat of Destiny, where Destiny is a force that one can follow or resist, but the latter comes with a cost. The Law of Surprise is a favor given to someone who does another a great favor (such as saving a life). The one who invokes the Law of Surprise is owed whatever unexpected windfall next appears in the life of the one owing a favor. This includes children (which is a major plot point).

Unfortunately, all of this fertile soil was left fallow by the creators of this show. Maybe it was fear of the computer game to TV/Movie curse, but they leaned heavily on a bunch of crutches that just ruined the show:

1) Gratuitous violence, nudity, and sex. None of this was necessary. It drove no plot. No narrative point hinged on any of these scenes. It was all done because they could. The problem is two-fold. First, we live in a post-Weinstein and #metoo world. This stuff no longer is titillating, it is down-right uncomfortable. Secondly, it undercut a lot of the themes that are present in the story. Witchers are not supposed to have emotions, so why does Geralt seek out so much sex?

Yennefer wants to be loved and not treated as an object to be sold for a mere 4 crowns. So, why does she so freely sleep around? It cheapened her character to the point of making what should have been one of the most sympathetic characters into one of the most unlikable. This was especially true when later in the show, she was seeking a way to become fertile again so she could have kids. Geralt rightly mocks her because she would make a horrible mother. If, however, all that nudity and sex had been absent and had she been rejected despite the beauty she obtained through becoming a sorcerer, then her quest to be accepted and loved by her own child would have not only been understandable, but relatable and tragic. Geralt’s words would have stung rather than just being the truth.

I daresay, that if the creators of this show had given themselves the challenge to make this G-rated, this show would have been far, far better. The necessary plot points, the violence off-screen, and the creativity required to pull all that off would have had the potential to make this show great.

2) The flashback. I DESPISE the trope of using the first 5 to 15 minutes of a show to set-up an exciting, in-your-face moment to grab an audience’s attention and then spoil everything by doing a flashback to “PICK YOUR TIME FRAME HERE earlier.” I will grant that in the right hands it can work really well, but 9 out of 10 times in just robs all dramatic tension from the rest of the show because we all already know what is going to happen, because we just saw it.

Credit where credit is due, The Witcher tries to play with this trope by neglecting to tell its audience that there is a flashback. Thus, they avoid immediately robbing the audience of dramatic tension. The problem is, telling three tales simultaneously that are 30+ years apart just ends up being confusing. There were several moments when I was completely taken out of a scene because I was trying to figure out if these were the same people I saw die several episodes ago. This feeling was only made worse by introducing a doppelgänger into the “future” timeline.

This show would have been much, much better had they trusted their material and made one of two decisions. The one more easily done with the material they shot for the show would have been to tell parallel stories of Yennefer and Geralt playing on the themes of choice and the desire/lack of desire for love and children. Yennefer wants to be loved and wants children. Geralt largely does not. Yet, it is Geralt who falls in love with Yennefer only to be rejected because Geralt is destined to Ciri because of the Law of Surprise. That would have been awesome. The harder option would have been go chronologically from the opening sequence (which, I assume is going to be the story told in Season 2 coming in 2021).

3) The Serendipity Syndrome. This is a name I have for the romantic comedy trope where two people are shown to be destined to get together, but don’t actually end up together until the last minute of the story. This is exemplified by the 2001 movie Serendipity. Rather than being satisfying and fun, this trope is excruciatingly frustrating. It is easy to keep a destined couple apart. It is much more difficult to write a relationship well. Therefore, this whole trope is more of a cop-out than trope. Geralt and Ciri do not actually meet until the last 30 seconds of 8 hour-long episodes. By the time I got half-way through the series, I was fast-forwarding through a lot of scenes because I just didn’t care and I was increasingly aware that this trope was most likely going to rear its ugly head. If this were a book, I would have thrown it in the trash to save someone the frustration of having to read the thing.

4) Anachronism. Finally, we come to the character of Jaskier the Bard whose introduction is a blues riff being played on a lute. This stuff just completely ruins the suspension of disbelief and every time he showed up on the screen I was taken out of the show. If you are going to have a bard character, take the time to place that character inside the world, instead of ours. This character was not only awful, but succeeded in getting me to hate the bard class even more than I already do.

That’s my take on the show. I can’t bring myself to recommend it, despite being a fount for a lot of good FRPG ideas and inspiration. My guess is that you would be better served just playing the computer game or spending some time looking through a Wiki.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Bugbear

I have created a title for the purpose of publishing variant rules for ba5ic and 5e. I call it The Bugbear. The first two have gone live on DriveThru. You can check them out here.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Life Update

I am acutely aware that my presence here on the blog and any activity in regards to ba5ic has been nil over the last few months. My youngest ended up in the hospital, had a major surgery, and I have been doing the back-and-forth of going to the hospital, labs, etc. that always accompany the post-op reality of pediatric surgery. Thus, blogging dropped off of my priority list.

The surgery went well, the post-op madness has gone well, and we are all adjusting to the new realities of the post-op life. Nothing we haven't done before, but it is never easy.

I haven't not been thinking and doing things in terms of gaming, when my free time allows it, I just have spent more time writing off-line than on. I want to update everyone and also to put a fire under my own self by announcing a couple of projects which are in the pipeline:

1. An urban hex-crawl ostensibly for use with ba5ic/5e but can easily be adapted to any system.
2. A series of short publications where I play with re-skinning the mechanics of 5e to hopefully give players more freedom in the way they play the game.

I pray these will see the light of day sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Ba5ic is Now Live

Ba5ic is now available as a POD on DriveThruRPG. The link is here. Enjoy.

Life is a bit crazy at the moment, but I plan to upload a .pdf of a Character Sheet as soon as I can. In the meantime, you can use this:

Monday, September 23, 2019

Alignment Languages, the Scarlet Brotherhood, and Flutes

JB of B/X Blackrazor has been meditating how to go “Advanced” from his usual B/X D&Ding. As seems always necessary in such endeavors is the long, hard struggle with Alignment.

I myself have waxed poetic about the subject many, many times.

The thing that interested me about JB’s post has almost nothing to do with JB’s near abandonment of the system. D&D has several mechanics that depend upon Alignment and therefore one must deal with those mechanics on some level if any major changes are to be made with Alignment (like getting rid of it entirely). One such mechanic in AD&D is the much maligned Alignment Languages.

Back when I got into blogging, one of the bigger blogs was James Maliszewski’s Grognardia. At the time he was trying to wrestle with OD&D as written using the axiom that the rules were always right and therefore he needed to find a way to make them work. The results were often surprising and fun. It is a principle that I enjoy applying to various editions of the game for that very reason — I often come up with ideas that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

With that in mind, here is what Gygax has to say about Alignment Languages on pg. 24 of the DMG:
Alignment language is a handy game tool which is not unjustifiable in real terms. Thieves did employ a special cant. Secret organizations and societies did and do have certain recognition signs, signals, and recognition phrases — possibly special languages (of limited extent) as well. Consider also the medieval Catholic Church which used Latin as a common recognition and communication base to cut across national boundaries. In AD&D. alignment languages are the special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words which intelligent creatures use to inform other intelligent creatures of the same alignment of their fellowship and common ethos. Alignment languages are NEVER flaunted in public. They are not used as salutations or interrogatives if the speaker is uncertain of the alignment of those addressed. Furthermore, alignment languages are of limited vocabulary and deal with the ethos of the alignment in general, so lengthy discussion of varying subjects cannot be conducted in such tongues.

This largely harkens back to the 0e version of Alignment, where it was about which side of the larger conflict are you willing to fight with rather than a code of behavior. It also introduces the idea of secret(ive) societies that use various means of communication that those outside their clique cannot understand.

Which brings me to my favorite love/hate political entity within the Greyhawk campaign world. I love the idea of a bunch of racist monks working in secret to further their political agenda, but I hated the idea of there being a country on the map called The Scarlet Brotherhood. I always wished that they were a secretive society that were the real power behind several different throwns and were always looking out for a way to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of the rich and powerful.

Here is an organization that would definitely have something akin to an Alignment Language as Gygax describes. There is even an historical template on which to build this vision of both the Scarlet Brotherhood and Alignment Languages: the Fuke monks.

As I noted in my last post, many Shoguns took advantage of the Fuke monk’s anonymity and mobility to create spy networks. One simple way to identify oneself, in an Alignment Language kinda way, would be the music a monk would play on their flute.

This also suggests why characters lose the use of an Alignment Language once their alignment changes. Secret symbols and signs are in constant flux in order to keep them secret. Think about pitching symbols in baseball or sideline play signals in football. The form is almost always the same, but their meaning is in constant flux because other teams are constantly trying to steal signals. Once a character leaves and organization, they lose the ability to update the current meaning of the signals being given or to recognize if a signal is being given at all.

The exciting thing about the idea of Alignment Languages is the world-building implications: secret societies abound in a political climate that is cutthroat and in constant flux. That sounds like a really fun atmosphere to throw a bunch of Player Characters at.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Death by Flute

I just ran across the story of the Fuke sect of Buddhism in Japan. The sect showed up during the Shogunate period. They were characterized by baskets that covered their faces and bamboo flutes called shakuhachi. The flutes were used to practice breathing meditation and to gain attention as they begged for food.

While the image of a flute-playing monk with a basket over his head is interesting enough, the story gets better. Travel in Shogunate Japan was illegal. In order to gain permission to travel from place to place, they forged a bunch of documents demonstrating a long provenance of master flute players. Despite the fiction, the forgeries were accepted as authentic and the Fuke monks had official permission to wander the entire country.

The real reason that the forgeries were accepted, however, probably had more to do with spy craft than with how authentic the tales of great flautists seemed. No one questions a monk who covers their face with a basket because it was an earnest attempt to erase the individuality of the monk — a necessary step on the way to Nirvana. No one questions a shakuhachi with a larger than normal end on it because these had, again, religious significance and use.

A covered face and a bamboo instrument that can double as a mace makes for a perfect cover for a spy. So much so, that in the repertoire of shakuhachi music are things called Test Pieces. They were extremely difficult songs that various entities used to test whether or not a Fuke monk was a spy or not. If you can’t play the piece, you are probably a spy. Additionally, both the sect and the instrument were banned by the Meiji Restoration for fear that the remnants of the Shogunate could spy their way back into power.

Not only is this fascinating stuff, but it makes me want to actually play two of my least favorite classes: the bard and the assassin just so I can have a character sketch like this:

...and the satisfaction of taking out monsters with a flute.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Towards a Supers RPG

One of the most challenging things about doing a superhero game within the mechanical structure of D&D is the radically different assumptions about combat. Where D&D grew out of a medieval war game where the consequence of combat is death, the superhero genre rarely deals out death, just incapacitation.

5e spells suggest a way to mechanically differentiate what Champions calls Killing Attacks from Normal Attacks. The 5e spell Sacred Flame auto-hits but allows the target a saving throw to avoid damage. Fire Bolt requires a to-hit roll that determines whether or not the target takes damage. Since the latter is the normal D&D mechanic for determining death of a target, that will model the Killing Attack, and the auto-hit/saving throw will emulate the normal superhero combat mechanic.

This allows for an interesting mechanical smorgasbord in terms of attack and defense. Each attack power gets to specify which attribute is used for a saving throw:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Constitution
  • Intelligence
  • Wisdom
  • Charisma

It also gets to designated what type of damage it does:

  • Acid
  • Bludgeoning
  • Cold
  • Fire
  • Force
  • Lightning
  • Necrotic
  • Piercing
  • Poison
  • Psychic
  • Radiant
  • Slashing
  • Thunder

Defense would include Resistance to the various types of damage, Damage Reduction for various types of damage, and the good ‘ol Armor Class.

This leaves a huge (maybe even too big?) amount of space for players to come up with all kinds of weird ways to explain why a Lightning attack targets Charisma.

Alternatively, the type of damage could pre-determine what kind of saving throw is required:

Strength: Cold, Fire
Dexterity: Bludgeoning, Piercing, Slashing
Constitution: Acid, Poison
Intelligence: Lightning, Thunder
Wisdom: Force, Psychic
Charisma: Necrotic, Radiant

Note how the latter limits choices on how special effects function and how arguments can be made why one type of damage also belongs with another type of saving throw...which is why I hesitate even though it would make things "easier" mechanically.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

RPG Dreamin': Re-thinking 5e Skills

Have you ever had a dream where you are in a game shop and you find a really interesting game that you want to buy but then wake up and realize that the game actually doesn’t exist? I have.

Recently, I had this very vivd dream of seeing a stack of RPG supplements in the form of cheap comic books printed on newspaper quality stock. Each supplement promised invaluable information on how to add various cheesy 80s cartoon characters and worlds to the RPG experience: He-Man, Space Ghost, Thunder the Barbarian, etc. They cost two bucks each and I was really interested. When I found the actual ruleset, it was also a comic book, also two dollars, but someone had ripped pages out of it. Then I woke up.

In my half-awake haze of coming out of a dream state, it occurred to me that what I had dreamt about was not something all that new: Basic Roleplaying, Fudge, and GURPS have gone down this path for decades now. The big difference is that while the main rule-books of these three games are tomes of hundreds of pages, my dream envisioned a comic-book sized rulebook of maybe 32-64 pages. While I don’t think this is practical or even possible, I can’t help but think someone could get close.

Then my hazy brain started to have a conversation with itself that went along these lines:

You know, I just finished up a pretty good game that is under 64 pages…

Yeah, but that’s a fantasy RPG what about modern stuff like guns? Or superhero stuff?

Yeah, a lot of those 80s cartoons were riffs off of superhero concepts.

So, if this comic-book sized game could do superheroes, it could do exactly what you wanted in your dream, right?


So let’s see if the 5e SRD could do superheroes!

Yeah! This could work!

Back when I was playing RPGs with my high school buddies, those words, “This could work” were dreaded words. It meant that our party was about to push the limits of both our characters and the DMs ability to accommodate whatever outlandish idea we had come up with. It either broke the campaign or it was awesome.

So, in order to test these dangerous waters, I decided to start with my least favorite part of any universal system: skills. I dislike them because they are rules-heavy and tend to tell players what they cannot do rather than what they can. Unfortunately, they come with the territory with RPG settings like cyber-punk, space, and even superheroes.

Since I have had the idea of stripping down the SRD to its mechanical core, I remembered something rather interesting about Champions: it has a bunch of skills that are not tied to any ability. In other words, it doesn’t matter how smart, dumb, strong or weak you are, this skill is going to work or not work because of skill. While interesting, this still informs players that they can’t do stuff unless they have that skill on their character sheet. So, what if I took the spirit of this idea — skills are not tied to a specific ability score — and went the opposite direction. What if a player could use any ability score with a skill?

Here is the basic premise: Skills should be cinematic rather than mechanical. In other words, rather than having dice rolling being the primary reason why a character succeeds or not, have the player’s creativity be the primary mover in any given situation. Let me illustrate by taking a few skills from the SRD and applying non-traditional ability scores to them:


Strength: Use the angles of the ceiling to hang from an otherwise impossible place where no one would think to look.

Constitution: Hold really still in a small place until no one is looking.

Intelligence: Analyze the position of the surveillance cameras and/or guards to determine where all the blindspots are.

Wisdom: Read the guards and determine what kind of distraction would create the most confusion.

Charisma: Walk through like I’m supposed to be there.


Strength: Intimidate the librarian until she tells you the information you need.

Constitution: Find a place where people talk and hold-out until I overhear something important.

Dexterity: Climb that tree/lamp post/building that will get me the vantage point to figure out who is in that painting.

Wisdom: Who is the most likely person to know the information I need?

Charisma: Charm the information out of the professor over a coffee.

Not every situation is going to allow for every ability score to be used. I can’t think of a way Wisdom or Charisma could help to climb a sheer wall when running away from some monsters, for example. What I love about this idea, though, is that it gives players the freedom to try. What I also love about this idea is that it frees up the Referee to simply allow the PCs to succeed when they come up with good cinematic ways to use skills, or to levy what they see as reasonable DCs for ideas that are just outside the box.

I will also grant that some of the above descriptions better fit other skills; however, that is an exercise in telling players what they can't do, and that is exactly what I don't want a skill system to do.

Proficiency then, rather than being simply a bonus to a roll, is permission to be truly heroic in the ways that that skill gets used. Think Jeff Goldblum’s character in Independence Day. There is no way anyone should be able to write a virus that crashes the alien’s computer system. Yet, he does and we go along for the ride because it is so much fun.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Gray Mouser and Ba5ic

If I were to pick a fantasy author whose work I love and have read avidly but had the least impact on the way I play D&D, that author would be Fritz Leiber. When I first discovered Appendix N in the 1e DMG, the first books I went out and got were Leiber’s stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. After reading them, I stopped looking to Appendix N for inspiration because Leiber demonstrated to me the serious limitations of D&D and I didn’t want to be further disappointed by anything else on that list.

I don’t know anybody that doesn’t have that literary hero that they want to emulate in D&D. For a lot of guys I grew up playing D&D with, that character was Drzzt Do’Urden. (Not so coincidentally, he is also the reason I don’t like using drow in any campaign I run). For me, that character has long been Leiber’s Gray Mouser. Unlike all the Drzzt fans, however, there was no easy way for me to play the Gray Mouser in D&D.

Sure, I could play an elven Magic-user Thief, or dual-class with a human or multi-class in some of the newer versions of the game…but none of those options would be the Gray Mouser from 1st level. Given the fact that most long-running campaigns I have ever taken part in end around 5-7th level, the effort to go dual- or multi-class never really appealed.

Thus, I had avoided all things Leiber in my D&Ding because it reminds me of what I can’t do. That is, until now.

In my opinion, the most important mechanical innovation that 5e has brought to the table is the Background. Not only does it offer up some interesting backstory to a character, but it expresses this story with some mechanics — a couple of proficiencies and a kind of perk that come with the territory. When I first read through the SRD to see how I would use it, my first impulse was to declare the that Rogue class is no longer mechanically necessary. All of the things a thief/rogue brings to the table can be handled through the Background mechanic.

In other words, I can finally play the Gray Mouser from 1st level on. Human Wizard/Sorcerer/Warlock with a Criminal Background. Done. Finally.

The Background Mechanic doesn’t stop there, though. As I was editing down the 5e SRD to make Ba5ic, I came to realize that 5e doesn’t really understand what it has in the Background mechanic. I can completely understand why — the game is tied to classes that have existed since the 70s and it can’t really jettison those traditions. In redacting the SRD, however, I kept finding myself asking the question: What if we did?

This is why Ba5ic only has three classes: the Adept, Expert and Warrior. These are simply generic mechanical chassis upon which to place Backgrounds that result in truly literary characters: Sorcerers that can’t cast magic, for example.

In other words, the Background mechanic is a means of making D&D into a set of mechanics that can be used to create a plethora of concepts. The reason I could never play Gray Mouser was that D&D has always been about concepts that have mechanics to justify them. While that works and has done so for decades and (hopefully) decades more, I have always chaffed at the limitations that such frameworks operate under. While the concept might be really cool, I have usually found myself wanting a different concept that the mechanics can’t always handle.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that my go-to Supers RPG is Champions. Regardless of how many excellent Super RPGs have come out over the years (and there are many — V&V will always have a place in my heart), Champions just does it better. The reason is simple: it is a game of mechanics that invites you to dream up concepts to place upon those mechanics. Thus, instead of a Firebolt (which uses the same basic mechanic as a bunch of other offensive spells in D&D), Champions has Energy Blast, which is explicitly those mechanics, without the flavor text of “You hurl a mote of fire at a creature or object within range.” I am free to think of those mechanics as anything from a Fireboat to a flying rocket-propelled fist.

Used in the right way, Backgrounds could very well be a means by which to strip D&D of its concepts and leave only mechanics and an invitation to go wild with our imagination.

While I think Ba5ic falls short in this lofty vision, I think it is a step in that direction. I feel justified in saying this because my oldest decided to start her first D&D campaign as a DM with her friends. Knowing that she probably couldn’t get away with not doing 5e, she asked if she could borrow both my Essentials Rulebook and my (now rough draft) copy of Ba5ic. She pitched both to her friends and they chose Ba5ic because they felt they could have (and I quote) “weirder” characters.

Ba5ic should be generally available in printed format soon.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Ba5ic Update

Ba5ic is going to be available as a POD through DriveThruRPG . . . after I fix some formatting problems that reared their ugly head once I got a printed copy in hand. Not something terribly surprising, actually. I worked in graphic design and typesetting for many years prior to my current vocation and I can tell you from personal experience that seeing something on a computer screen is different from seeing it in print and even that is different from seeing it in book form.

I gotta say, though, that I am really happy with the overall look and feel of the thing. I’ll soon be done with the formatting issues (and double checking that their aren’t any hidden typos or errata that I’ve missed along the way). Once I get another printed book from DriveThruRPG and I am happy with the fixes in formatting, I’ll make it available for everyone.

Thanks to everyone who gave a kind word about this. I appreciate it.

In the meantime, I am also working on adapting and updating The Caves of Cormakir as well as making a new urban hex crawl adventure for use with ba5ic. I am also going to re-release The Caves in its LL version with some much needed updates, something I should have done a long time ago.

Hopefully all the above will happen sooner rather than later.

I am posting this to help keep myself honest...

Monday, July 29, 2019

ba5ic: Corrected & Edited Draft

Thanks to everyone who commented and helped when I posted my (very) rough draft. I have gone through and re-read the entire book. I found a bunch of stuff referencing things not included in the rules, a number of missing items and the expected plethora of spelling errors. For ease of use, I have also rotated the monster section in the .pdf so that it is much easier to read and use. I also added a Character Sheet.

As I stated in my last post, this is the first project I have done that I really want POD. Any useful tips for those with experience?

Cover art by James Shields
You can find the latest draft here.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

ba5ic: A Rough Draft of a 5e Continual Light

As I noted in my last post, I am itching to sink my teeth into the D&D Essentials Kit in order to glean a simpler, cleaner version of 5e. Truth be told, this not a new desire. As can be seen here and here, I started a similar effort over a year ago.

I actually have a flawed version of these ideas that is about 64 pages long that I dubbed ba5ic; however, I was never really satisfied with it. More importantly, I found that I really didn’t want to play it. So, despite sending it off to a couple people to get their opinion, I never went back to fix the many problems that it had.

That is, until now. I realized that I could plug in the three “Sidekick” classes from the Essentials Kit into what I already put together last year. In process, not only could I trim some of the fat, but I would have to trim a lot of the fat by virtue of the simplicity of the three classes.

I now have a rough draft that sits at 43 pages. This includes 2 splash pages, a one-page Sample Wilderness and a one-page Sample Dungeon.

Cover Art by James Shields

Truth be told, I think more fat could be trimmed if I knew the system better. I just haven’t played enough 5e to be able to capably simplify some of its subsystems.

That being said, this is something I would love to see get a POD treatment. To that end, I would ask your help. Read it. Spot the multiple typos that I know exist. Spot places that fat can be easily trimmed, and suggest ways to trim even more fat. One obvious place is the equipment list. What stays, what goes? Necessarily, I kept the list of magic items short. Good list? Bad list? What shouldn’t be there and what is missing?

You can download the rough draft here.

Thanks and enjoy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

5e Continual Light: D&D Essentials Kit

I have a confession to make. When Robert Conley wrote up a blurb about the D&D Essentials Kit, I got really excited. In it I saw a version of 5e that I could really sink my teeth into and actually play with a level of enthusiasm that I usually only have for B/X, 0e, and their clones. The idea of having a version of a paired-down 5e with only 5 classes that only goes to sixth level all bundled in a 64 page rule book is right up my alley. So, I scrounged up the money, went to my local store and bought it.

I have to admit that I am really happy with it.  The rules do exactly what I want them to do: be 5e without all the extra rules and fluff that I will never use. I much prefer low-to-mid level play and have very rarely seen characters, either as a player or a referee, get beyond 6-7th level. I will grant that the rules do not include monsters or magic items, but I don't see this a an issue. There are a number of monsters included in the adventure that comes with the kit. Additionally, I have so many monster tomes from a plethora of editions that I will never be lacking in that particular department. The kit also comes with a nice selection of Magic Item Cards, which is a nice touch, literally. There is something wonderfully tactile about getting a card for a potion that one then "turns in" when used.

The thing that I really love about this box set, though, is that there is an even simpler game hidden within. I make no bones about the fact that one of my favorite versions of this game is Tenkar's Swords & Wizardry Continual Light. It strips down the rules of classic D&D to its essentials and still allows us to play the classic game. The D&D Essentials Kit introduces a new rule that paves the way for creating a "Continual Light" version of 5e.

On pages 63 and 64 of the Essentials Rulebook is Appendix A: Sidekicks. It re-introduces and re-skins the classic ideas of the henchmen and hireling with an interesting twist. It takes some of the NPC classes from 3e and converts them to 5e. There are three: the Expert, the Spellcaster, and the Warrior. These are presented in a monster stat-bloc with rules to advance them all the way to 6th level.

In other words, you have three stripped down classes: a Rogue-type, a Wizard-type,  and a Fighter-type. The spell list is simple:
0 level:
Fire Bolt
Mage Hand
Sacred Flame

1st level:
Burning Hands
Cure Wounds
Shield of Faith

2nd level:
That's it.

I suppose one could introduce Backgrounds and/or more choice with Skills, but neither is at all necessary. If one just uses the Skills available to these three Classes, this is all you need to know:
Slight of Hand
Thieves' Tools

I have to admit, I am sore tempted to typeset a "Continual Light" edition of the 5eSRD using these three NPC classes as a jumping off point. Before I go down that rabbit hole, however, I wonder how many would be interested in such a thing?

Would you?

Sunday, July 21, 2019

On Being a Referee and a Christian

In my extended absence from writing anything on my blog, I recently got this comment from David B. and it deserves its own post:
Greetings Father. I don't know exactly where to post this but I had question for you regarding the cosmological portion of your universe. I'm running a West Marches game type since last year and, I'll be honest, I stole your three main divinity when I read about them (Frumos, Arta and Tizan). I think it's great.

I'm playing with friends used to D&D and such so it's all good. But I was wondering about the long-term: my wife and I will have children, and I want to use D&D as a game and an educational tool. What would be the thing to do regarding the world and the cosmology of it ?

Pseudo-historical RPG set in Christian kingdom/mpire ? Analogical/allegorical like yours ? Or straight up remote to create a form of mythopoesis like Tolkien ?

Which one do you think has more value ? The goal is not to teach the creed through the game, that I understand very well, but mostly to make sure that the background imagination landscape, so to speak, it cohesive with the whole of education. What do you think ?

Thank you.
First of all, thank you for letting me know that you have implemented one of my various attempts at a metaphorical trinitarian cosmology. Not only do I think it’s awesome, it makes me really happy that it’s being used in actual game play by someone not me. Again, thank you!

To get to your question, let’s compare the Bible, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. All three take different approaches to infusing God and Christianity into their stories. All three tell terrific yarns. All three plant the seeds of Christian values. So the answer really isn’t about which approach works best. Rather, in context of playing an RPG, what is going to be the most fun for you and your players, because fun games get played. The longer a game gets played, the more you and your players get to wrestle with God at the gaming table.

Personally, I find that players like the approach you and I generally use at the table — we use a metaphor for the Trinity and as a stand-in for the Christian Church. This makes the fantasy world approachable. Not only is it familiar (it feels a lot like institutions we already have in the real world), but it is alien enough that we aren’t obligated to engage in a real-world kind of way. Devout Christians can explore characters that make choices they would be reluctant to if we were actually invoking the name of Christ. Secularists and atheists can explore religious characters because they don’t feel obligated to reject Christ and His Church as they do in their own life.

Once players bypass their own real world prejudices, it gives everyone the freedom to explore the moral landscape of human experience with little of the real world consequences. To make this work, you as the Referee need to consistently offer your players the freedom to do what they want, but be firm with the consequences of those choices. The only time I Refereed an actual TPK was when the first level thief decided to try out his Pick Pocket skills and got caught. Then the rest of the party decided to try and fight their way out of the situation. That group of players was a lot more cautious about following the laws while in town after that.

The other thing that makes campaigns like this interesting is offering moral dilemmas — situations that have no right answer. Introduce NPCs like the Operative from Serenitypeople who know they are monsters doing monstrous things for the greater good. Which is worse, allowing these NPCs to be monsters or allowing the greater evil they are keeping at bay to have one less obstacle to getting their tentacles into Civilization?

In this way, you allow players to embrace the image and likeness of God and to wrestle with God. Freedom and consequence, when done consistently and well, will go a long way to making your game fun and something people will want to come back to. Moral dilemmas will also not only be fun, but will be chewed on for years to come.

I hope that helps.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Economy in the Land of the Ten Clans

One of the things I find fascinating about Chinese history is that it was a copper based economy and were very early adopters of paper money. I am not going to delve into the complications that a paper money economy would bring to a fantasy world, so I am going to stick to that unappreciated and much maligned copper piece. Gold was never minted and never widely used as a currency (except for the upper echelons of society) and silver normally showed up in ingots, not coins.

While hardly accurate, here is my attempt at translating the normal D&D coinage system into something like an ancient Chinese copper-based economy:

1 cp = 1 copper coin
1 sp = 1 “ring” of 10 copper coins
1 gp = 1 “string” of 100 copper coins
1 pp = 1 silver ingot

What follows is a very basic breakdown of the primary trade goods that are present in Land of the Ten Clans, broken down by region:

Beongae (Lightning)

Livestock: Pig/Boar
Grain: Rice
Crop: Cucumbers
Raw Material: Wood
Premium Finished Good: Music Instruments/Bells
Inferior Finished Good: Textiles

Doku (Poison)

Livestock: Poltry
Grain: Green Millet
Crop: Oranges
Raw Material: Clay
Premium Finished Good: Bone China
Inferior Finished Good: Tea (Green)/Rice Wine (Green)

Huo (Fire)

Livestock: Dog
Grain: Wheat
Crop: Pomelos
Raw Material: Cotton
Premium Finished Good: Tea (Red)/Rice Wine (Red)
Inferior Finished Good: Armor & Weapons

Korudo (Cold)

Livestock: Crab
Grain: Sorghum
Crop: Chesnuts
Raw Material: Feldspar & Quartz
Premium Finished Good: Armor & Weapons
Inferior Finished Good: Musical Instruments/Bells

Suan (Acid)

Livestock: Fish
Grain: Black Millet
Crop: Dates
Raw Material: Ore
Premium Finished Good: Silk
Inferior Finished Good: Porcelain

Note: a Premium Finished Good refers to the highest quality version of that product in the land whereas Inferior Finished Good refers to the most common and affordable version of the product.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Map of The Land of the Ten Clans

Any resemblance to the Real World is purely intentional

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Races of the Land of the Ten Clans

I not only want the Land of the Ten Clans to be Asian-flavored fantasy, but I also want it to be human-centric. Therefore, there will none of the standard D&D non-human flavors of demi-humans such as elves, dwarves or halflings. I do, however, want there to be distinct differences between the various human factions. Therefore, rather than using the standard human racial traits, I propose the following:

Humans in the Land of the Ten Clans

  • +1 on two Ability Scores of your choice
  • Proficiency in one Skill of your choice
  • Subrace

Human Subraces in the Land of the Ten Clans

Beongae (Lightning)
  • +1 Str
  • Advantage on Athletic checks when swimming; auto succeed on DC10 or less
  • Double Con when determining how long you can hold your breath
  • Languages: Common and Beongaego
Doku (Poison)
  • +1 Int
  • Ability to write in a Cipher that requires magic or a DC of (your Int + Proficiency Bonus) to read. It is possible to teach allies to read your cipher without a check.
  • Languages: Common, Dokugo plus 3 additional Languages of your choice
Gweilo (Outsider)
  • Gain 3 proficiencies in any combination of skills or tools of your choice
  • Languages: Common and Gweilogo
Huo (Fire)
  • +1 Con
  • Base Move is 35 feet
  • Advantage on Con Saves vs. Exhaustion
  • Languages: Common and Huogo
Korudo (Cold)
  • +1 to an Ability of Choice
  • Gain Saving Throw Proficiency with that Ability
  • Languages: Common and Korudogo
Suan (Acid)
  • +1 Wis
  • You can read lips. As long as you can see a person's lips, you can get a good idea of what that person is saying (though not exact without actually hearing the person) 
  • +5 on passive Wisdom (Perception) and passive Int (Investigation) scores
  • Languages: Common and Suango

This set-up also allows me to change what are considered to be Standard Languages in the Land of the Ten Clans. Here is the list, where the Script from more traditional D&D languages is indicated in parenthesis:
Common (Draconic)
Beongaego (Elvish)
Dokugo (Draconic)
Hengeyokai (Elvish)
Gweilogo (Celestial)
Huogo (Draconic)
Korudogo (Dwarvish)
Oni (Infernal)
Suango (Draconic)
Note: I do plan to allow PCs to be Hengeyokai, but rather than a separate race, they will be represented by a Background.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Veil of St. Iwe

So, because I have been meditating on an asian-themed campaign world, I was obliged to draw a picture of a temple guard armed with a testubo (because that is a fundamental image for me and all things asian-fantasy). As any artist can tell you, there are times when art just demands things of the artist that the artist wasn't really planning on. This is one of those times and things went a little weird:

Temple Guard of the Order of St. Iwe

Evidently, members of the Order of St. Iwe wear a veil emblazoned with an open eye surrounded by  divine light. Given that, as temple guards, these guys need to see, I decided a new minor magic item was called for:

The Veil of St. Iwe

This simple cloth emblazoned with a open eye surrounded by divine light must be worn over the face in order for this item to work. While wearing the veil, the user gains advantage on all visual perception checks; however, any attempt to hide, disguise or otherwise conceal the use of the veil will automatically fail. Every creature encountered will treat the user as a member of the Order of St. Iwe (whether the user is an actual member or not) with all of the discrimination and persecution that comes with it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Asian Weapons in 5e

One of my favorite aspects of the 1E version of Oriental Adventures was the weapon section. More than anything else, this was the flavor that really allowed my imagination to take flight. There is something about the image of temple guards armed with tetsubos that just says asian fantasy to me. You could keep virtually everything else about the game the same, have a list of asian-inspired weapons and my imagination would transport me to whatever asian-style fantasy world you want.

Thus, a very important aspect of continuing my current thought experiment, which I am tentatively calling Jade: The Land of the Ten Clans, was to get a weapon list full of asian-style weapons. In order to do this, I really didn’t want to re-invent the wheel. As far as I can see, the weapon list in 5e is just fine. It does everything I need it to do. Thus, the key was to find asian equivalents to each of the weapons on the list. There are a couple of things, though, that I really wanted to express through the weapons list that wouldn’t be necessarily possible, given the proficiencies of the Rogue and the Ranger.

Firstly, I wanted the katana and wakizashi to be exclusively Ranger weapons. This sets up a class divide between Rangers and every other class and allows these two weapons to be the outward symbols of that class divide.

Secondly, due the ubiquitous image of the ninja armed with a blowgun, I wanted Rogues to have access to that particular weapon. I will grant, that I could have done this via a specific background, but given my desire to make the katana and wakizashi exclusive to Rangers, I found it more useful to deal with it more generally.

Thus, to solve both problems with one simple change, I swapped out the Rogue’s proficiency with the Longsword (which is the best fit for describing a katana) for a proficiency with the Blowgun.

Here is a list of the 5e weapons and what I see as decent (though not perfect) asian equivalents:
Simple Melee Weapons
Club = Jo
Dagger = Knife
Greatclub = Tetsubo
Handaxe = (same)
Javelin = Sibat
Light Hammer = Tonfa
Mace = (same)
Quarterstaff = Bo
Sickle = Kama
Spear = Chiang

Simple Ranged Weapons
Crossbow, Light = (same)
Dart = Shuriken
Shortbow = (same)
Sling = (same)

Martial Melee Weapons
Battleaxe = Naginata
Flail = Nunchuck
Glaive = Chai-Dao
Greataxe = Nine-Dragon-Trident
Greatsword = No Dachi
Halberd = Ghi
Lance = (same)
Longsword = Katana
Maul = Wolf-Teeth-Staff
Morningstar = (same)
Pike = Yari
Rapier = Jien
Scimitar = Wakizashi
Shortsword = Sai
Trident = Dang Pa
War pick = Hook Sword
Warhammer = Three-Section-Staff
Whip = Chain Whip

Martial Ranged Weapons
Blowgun = (same)
Crossbow, hand = (same)
Crossbow, heavy = (same)
Longbow = (same)
Net = (same)
Thus, the swords of the Ranger class are the Katana and Wakizashi and the sword of the Rogue-as-rank-in-file-soldier is the Jien.

Again, I realize that several of these equivalents are not exact, but in the abstract they do just fine. Given that D&D combat has always been a gross abstraction of combat, this list suits me just fine.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Wu Xing Diagram

Yesterday, I posted about using a Wu Xing diagram to map out relationships between factions in a campaign world. Here is the actual diagram that I described:

Using this, it can be fairly easy to start putting together a political plot and conflict that is the main background noise of a campaign.

It starts with the Green Clan and their hatred of the Gold Clan and the Fire Faction in general. To get at them, they have convinced members of the Red Clan to secretly break ranks. The diagram shows that the break-away members of the Red Clan harbor enmity towards their fellow member of the Fire Faction, the Brass Clan.

A simple way to explain this is that the Brass Clan has married off one of their daughters to the head of the Red Clan, who is impotent and has no heirs. The Green Clan has exploited the anxiety within the Red Clan to place blame on the Brass Clan as a whole.

Thus, members of the Red Clan are secretly working out ways to get their revenge on the Brass Clan. To do so, they are exploiting the Silver Clan’s hatred of the Blue Clan to obtain items necessary to exact their revenge. They are also misdirecting the Blue Clan’s friendliness toward the Brass Clan in order to accomplish their goals.

In the meantime, the Copper Clan has begun to suspect the Red Clan’s plans, but have so far been unable to convince the Silver Clan of the danger. They have thus resorted to working with the White Clan through their fellow Acid Faction member the Black Clan. The plan is to sow distrust between the Bronze and Blue Clans in order to disrupt the workings of the Red Clan.

See how wonderfully complex this all gets in short order?

As an aside, I plan to have the Fire Faction territory at or near the border regions of the Empire. In other words, they are the ones that are in charge of the campaign world’s version of the Great Wall. As both the Fire Clan and the Brass Clan begin to be ripped apart by the various political plotting began by the Green Clan, the defense at the Great Wall will weaken. This, of course, opens up the possibility of a major outside threat getting into the Empire and creating havoc.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

World Building Using Wu Xing

When I am building a new campaign world, I especially like to create factions in sets of five. This allows me to plug factions into a Wu Xing diagram which indicates which factions are enemies and which factions are allies. What is particularly fascinating about this model is that enmity and friendship really only go one direction. This creates a wonderfully complex set of relationships. It also is really easy to use.

To demonstrate how useful this is, take a look at how I have plugged in the Ten Clans from my last post, where I posited a campaign world based on using only four of the twelve available 5e classes:

The Poison Faction is friendly with the Lightening Faction and has enmity toward the Fire Faction:
  • The Green Clan specifically likes the Bronze Clan and hates the Gold Clan
  • The Green Clan has also convinced elements of the Red Clan to betray the Fire Faction. This traitorous element specifically likes the Blue Clan and hates the Brass Clan

The Lightening Faction is friendly with the Fire Faction and has enmity toward the Acid Faction:
  • The Bronze Clan specifically likes the Gold Clan and hates the Black Clan
  • The Blue Clan specifically likes the Brass Clan and hates the Copper Clan

The Fire Faction is friendly with the Acid Faction and has enmity toward the Cold Faction:
  • The Gold Clan specifically likes the Black Clan and hates the White Clan
  • The Brass Clan specifically likes the Copper Clan and hates the Silver Clan

The Acid Faction is friendly with the Cold Faction and has enmity toward the Poison Faction:
  • The Blue Clan specifically likes the White Clan and hates the Green Clan
  • The Copper Clan specifically likes the Silver Clan and hates the Red Clan

The Cold Faction is friendly with the Poison Faction and has enmity toward the Lightening Faction:
  • The White Clan specifically likes the Green Clan and hates the Bronze Clan
  • The Silver Clan specifically likes the Red Clan and hates the Blue Clan

By simply plugging in these factions into the Wu Xing model, all kinds of interesting relationships and conflicts arise. This becomes especially useful when planning a campaign full of political intrigue.

And because I love doing it, here is some heraldry for the Ten Clans:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

World Building using 5e Classes

One of my favorite poetic forms is the haiku. While tempting to see it as a very simple style of poetry where one need only come up with seventeen syllables and be done with it, writing a haiku is much more difficult than it seems. The goal is to capture a singular moment in time without allegory, simile or analogy. The skill and creativity to write a truly brilliant haiku is much greater than one might be led to believe.

Thus, I have always seen limitations as powerful creative tools. This explains my love of random tables. They severely limit my initial input as to what happens in an encounter, but open up a huge amount of possibilities when I am forced to rationally explain why that particular encounter happened when and where it did. This has consistently led to an enriching of my campaign worlds beyond what normally would have been possible if I had used my own input on encounters instead of a random table.

This leads me to today’s post — a thought experiment using limitations. Specifically, limiting the number of classes available to players in a 5e campaign and then building out a campaign world based on those classes available.

Since my favorite edition of D&D is B/X and B/X has four basic classes, I decided to use that as a benchmark. I then divided up the twelve available 5e classes into four groups:

  • Barbarians, Fighters, Rangers
  • Bards, Monks, Rogues
  • Clerics, Druids, Paladins
  • Sorcerers, Warlocks, Wizards

I then asked my children to pick one class from each category to come up with this list of four available classes:

  • Ranger
  • Rogue
  • Cleric
  • Sorcerer

Two interesting patterns emerge from this group of four classes:

First, the Cleric is the exception when it comes to magic. Rangers, Rogues with the Arcane Trickster Archetype and Sorcerers all use spontaneous casting from a list of known spells. Clerics, on the other hand, prepare spells from the cleric spell list and have access to ritual casting.

Second, there is no class that truly represents a standing army. Rangers are skirmish fighters. While rogues can emulate the sense of a disciplined army or coordinated fighting with their Sneak Attack, their limitations with both weapons and armor as well as their focus on dexterity and stealth suggest an army far more used to spying than to fighting toe-to-toe battles on a regular basis.

The campaign world that emerges from these patterns is one that is primarily focused inward because what outside threats exist can be kept in check by rangers and rogues. Thus, the driving force of most adventures is going to be political intrigue between factions that exist within the campaign world.

These factions are suggested by the various damage types available to sorcerers from the Draconic Bloodline:

  • Acid (with Black and Copper clans)
  • Cold (with Silver and White clans)
  • Fire (with Copper, Gold, and Red clans)
  • Lightening (with Blue and Bronze clans)
  • Poison (with the Green clan)

This nicely fits into a five point pattern similar to the Asian Elemental System of Wu Xing which creates a nicely complex but balanced system where each faction has an enemy and and ally. Given that the Poison faction has only one clan (and thus has their power base consolidated) and has a specialty so convenient to the art of assassination, it makes sense to understand this faction as the current royal clan (and gives me permission to use names like the Jade Throne).

What emerges from all this is a Far East-flavored, Middle Kingdom-esque campaign world where the aristocracy are descended from dragons, magic is seen as a sign of the elite and most martial weapons are highly regulated and only used by a special class within the ruling elites — rangers.

Clerics represent an outside (Western-esque) influence both culturally and magically. They would be rare and, given that their magic can be used by those outside the aristocracy, possibly illegal in various parts of the campaign world. Due to the fractious nature of the Fire faction, I could see the Gold and/or Copper clans being the most tolerant of these new ideas and magics.

Thus, the four classes can be understood in context of the campaign world in the following ways:

Rangers are akin to a samurai class. They are far more concerned about outside threats than an average citizen, but still suffer from a myopic view inward as evidenced by the Beast Master Archetype which is more about show and prestige of the animal companions (where more exotic and well-trained companions are more prestigious).

Rogues represent the default class of the average citizen. Thieves’ Cant is a kind of trade language and a (not so full proof way) to communicate under the noses of the aristocracy. The Thief Archetype represents your basic thug. The Assassin Archetype represents a basic soldier or city guard. The Arcane Trickster represents a low-born aristocrat, a dilettante that likes to slum it with the peasantry, or an aristocratic spy that keeps the ruling class informed about the rumblings and rebellions amongst the hoi polloi.

Sorcerers generally represent the upper echelon of the aristocracy. Those of the Dragon Bloodline are those that have the most royal blood running through their veins. Sorcerers who use Wild Magic are the exception. They are generally low-born who have enough dragon blood to manifest magic but not enough to control it and manifest it the same way as those who have the Dragon Bloodline. These sorcerers are generally looked down upon and seen as dangerous by both the ruling class and the peasantry.

Clerics and their followers are the most outward-looking citizens of the empire. Their magic and world-view is heavily influenced by foreign culture and ideas. Due to their focus on and care of the lower classes, they are seen as a threat by most of the aristocracy but are mostly tolerated in the lands controlled by certain Fire clans. Their existence hints at a greater (most likely undead) outside threat than the Empire has faced in generations.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

An AI Answers Jeff's 20 Questions

It came to my attention via Talysman over at The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms that there is a neural network web toy that will complete the text of a prompt a user types in. I immediately saw this as a kind of random table, and I love me a good random table. So, I decided to use it to make a random campaign setting by having it answer Jeff Rient's 20 Quick Questions for Your Campaign Setting.

What follows I have edited to make more intelligible and concise, but every word was generated by the AI and not me.

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

I am a Catholic and my faith has been strengthened by the life of the Church (I am one of the few who has not been a bishop, but have also been active in Catholic charity work). I now work as much as I can as a public advocate for the cause of justice.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

There are five main ways to buy your equipment – from your nearest chemist, from your nearest chemist's office, from your nearest pharmacy, or at your nearest specialist shop. Some pharmacies have a chemist service and can be a good first step in buying your first tools.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

That depends on your guild. There will be a vendor standing near the entrance to the dungeon that sells the equipment.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

Dafnaught, Lord of Storms.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Shura: I'm a warrior. No, I'm not a hero, I'm a warrior!!

Who is the richest person in the land?

Henry Clay has a net worth of $400 billion.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Let us tell you about it! We will be visiting your local Healing Centre on Saturday at 9 am (local time) to receive your prayers. We plan to talk about how spiritual healing works, how to prepare for it, and provide all you need to get started!

-The Bawthorn (B. Strange)

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

The only place to get cure spells is in scrolls. If you need something, you can just pick up a scroll at the nearest booklifter and pray.

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

You can only join a guild if it is registered. If you do not wish to continue with your current guild, you'll have to contact your guildmaster. Guilds often have a monthly membership fee. You'll need to pay for this once a month, and then pay again over time. (Note: Your current membership fee may be different than the fee you will be charged for joining a guild.)

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

There are algos who carry large inventories, but they're not your typical Alchemists or crafters.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

Your guild has a wide range of mercenaries to hire along with a large number of skilled warriors, fighters and archers.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed or any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Yes, sword and magic are banned in all of the places on the map.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

As of now, there are probably more than four monsters. It has been about three months since the start of the attack.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Not until the Empire is destroyed.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

If the president wants to put up an entertainment center for his kids, surely he should go for it.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

Scienca is a society dedicated to spreading the word about science and technology, and helping to create peace between races.

The Society of the Serpent has never publicly expressed its desire to invade other worlds.

What is there to eat around here?

Oh, just chicken wing salad.

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

One of the world's most famous antiquities, the priceless Necrotic Orb, contains the remains of an ancient lich.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

The nearest dragon is the Red Dragonborn in Whiterun. The dragons are coming to Darkshire. The Dragons are coming here. And they are coming for The Dark Lord.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Character Sheet for TFT

Steve Jackson Games was an important game company in my own formation as a gamer. I don't blog about that very often, because this blog is mostly about RPGs, not war games. Thus, when Steve Jackson won the rights to republish The Fantasy Trip, I really wanted to support him on the endeavor and managed to scrape together enough cash to get in on the Kickstarter.

I must admit that I am very pleased with the quality of this project; however, I do have one (minor) quibble. I don't like the character sheet. Admittedly, this is something I can say about the vast majority of RPGs. About the only character sheets I would readily use in a game are the sheets that came with B/X and those that came with early editions of Champions. Other than that, I usually have to comb the interwebs for someone who has created a different version or I have to make my own.

Thus, the reason for this post. I couldn't find a lot of options in terms of TFT Character Sheets, so I made my own. I thought I'd share:

Have fun!

Monday, March 4, 2019

On Vitriol: This Zak Smith Thing

Almost four years ago, Zak Smith and wundergeek had a very public fight about gender politics. At the time, I had been away from blogging due to the health of my child, but decided to use the situation as a launching point for a meditation On Vitriol in the digital age.

Ironically, at the end of this past December, right before Christmas, my youngest again had a surgery and has been in and out of the hospital since. Having walked away from blogging again to deal with this situation, Zak Smith is again at the middle of a storm within the OSR due to accusations launched at him by his girlfriend, Mandy Morbid. Again, I feel compelled to say something about this whole Zak Smith thing.

Let me be blunt. I do not like Zak. I find him to be an abrasive personality that I would not wish on anyone. I experienced this first hand when he leaped onto the comment section of my first meditation On Vitriol. While actively ignoring and dismissing the message of the post, he attacked the means in which I delivered that message and kinda proved the point I was trying to make in that post. While something I would be willing to do again, I cannot say that it was a pleasant experience.

Let me be even more blunt: I don’t even like his gaming material. I bought Vornheim way back when, didn’t find it particularly useful or inspiring and have never been much interested in anything he’s authored since. Thus, I wouldn’t miss much if he disappeared from the gaming community altogether and the world never saw another RPG-related publication by Zak.

Having said all that, I am still troubled by the reaction many have had to Mandy’s accusations. Cutting Zak completely off is not an answer I can endorse. Let me explain:

When I read the Facebook Post that started the purge of Zak Smith from all things gaming, I saw a bunch of broken people. Zak, Mandy and everybody else involved in this mess are broken. They were broken long before Zak ever did a thing to Mandy. It was this brokenness that led to Zak behaving in such a reprehensible way towards others. It was this brokenness that led to Mandy going along with the abuse as long as she did. This brokenness has also led to this community cutting Zak off. As James Raggi said in his announcement that LotFP won’t be publishing Zak’s stuff anymore:
[Everyone I talked to] was bummed out. They recognized this was a tragedy from top to bottom. Even the people who agreed with my course of action here, hell, even someone that thought I wasn't going far enough, recognized what we were losing, even while they said we needed to lose it. 
I recognize the brokenness for what it is because of my Christian world-view. We are all sinners. I also believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to repent and to allow God (who went to the Cross to give all of us a second chance) to transform the sinner into a saint. I still hold out hope for Zak that he can use this disaster as an opportunity to turn around his life and become a person we can all enjoy at the gaming table.

I say this, of course, as a Christian; however, we no longer live in a Christian society. As an openly practicing Christian who brings Christ to the gaming table I am acutely aware that I am in an extreme minority both within the OSR’s corner of the internet and gaming at large.

So, I have a serious question, not only for those who have cut off Zak, but for anyone who embraces secularism/atheism: How is it that abusive behavior (especially against women and children) is universally condemned?

As a Christian, I can answer this very easily. As the source of all good things in the world, God provides us with a standard that is eternal and universal. For secularism and atheism, answering this question is a much harder task.

Without the existence of God, there is no such thing as an eternal, universal standard, because all standards are generated by humans. Since humans are finite and mutable, any standard that we make is also finite and mutable. Considering that we have around 7 billion possible standards in the world (one for each person who lives on the planet), to expect any one of those standards to stand the test of time and continue to endure generation after generation is, well, folly.

Indeed, if we insist on the relativism of “my truth,” Zak’s opinion that breasts of a certain size have no value is perfectly valid. My truth may disagree with Zak’s truth, but since the source of these truths in both cases are human beings (the only real source of truth in a world without God), each is just as legitimate as the other.

Further, if we insist on organizing a society around one version of “my truth” over and against other versions of “my truth,” there is only one avenue for ensuring that one supersedes the others: force. As such, Zak’s abusive behavior is completely justified. He was imposing his version of “my truth” on everyone around him in hopes that his version would prevail.

Instead, we are all condemning Zak’s abusive behavior in the same way that humans have condemned abuse (especially against women and children) generation after generation after generation. Even if we refuse to acknowledge His existence, we are all using God’s eternal and universal standards to judge Zak’s behavior.

Due to the fact that this standard is actually God’s and not our own, I would invite everyone to consider the reality that this very same God knew who Zak would be when he went to the Cross. Despite all the vitriol and all the abuse, Christ still got up on that Cross for Zak.

For my part, I refuse to condone Zak’s lifestyle or to tolerate Zak’s abuse; however, if he ever needs someone that will listen in an attempt to turn his life around, he is always welcome.