Thursday, November 03, 2022

Playing with Adventure Frameworks

The bulk of my adventures fall into this formula:

Step 1: research.  The PCs are introduced to a problem but the cause is unknown.  They must find out what's causing it before they can solve it.

Step 2: complication.  Usually this is due to the baddies not being thrilled that the PCs are meddling, but sometimes it's just weather, local politics, etc.

Step 3: mini-quest.  The PCs know how to learn what they need to solve the problem (identity of cause or how to neutralize the cause).  A short, mini-quest is necessary to acquire what's needed.  This is usually a small dungeon (dozen rooms max), a heist, or a kidnapping.

Step 4: climax.  With the knowledge of who the villain is or the item needed to neutralize the problem, the PCs act directly to solve the issue.  This usually involves infiltrating a larger complex (24-36 rooms with multiple levels/zones).

This sort of set-up leans heavily and from the start into my favorite parts of RPGs: NPC interactions and exploration.  It makes understanding the fantasy world we're playing in important and useful.  It allows me to fine-tune how much combat is involved on the fly.  

It's also incredibly easy to reskin.  It doesn't care how the PCs are motivated; if they want to do good or earn coin, it's very easy to get them involved, and if they have other motivations, I can drop those into this framework as well.  

You can daisy-chain these pretty easily; the climax to to Problem 1 might due double-duty as the "mini-quest" for Problem 2.  Or a single mini-quest might relate to multiple problems.  

It's easy to modify.  You can change things up by having multiple mini-quests, varying the source of the complication, or creating multiple entry points.

It works great for pro-active players who have a goal they want to accomplish, as you can scatter these in their way.

Finally, and most importantly, it's great when the players zig where you expected them to zag.  You can draw out the research aspect or create a quick mini-dungeon on the fly, buying you time to craft a suitable climax for the next session.  

Illustrations crafted with Stable Diffusion and GIMP.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Three Magic Rings

Ring of Reading: a simple gold band.  When you take the ring off and look through the band at any writing, you can read it, even if you're illiterate.  Does work on languages you don't know, but doesn't break codes or cyphers.

Ring of Epic Fumbles: an orichalcum ring shaped like a bunch of coyotes running in a circle, biting the tail of the coyote in front of them.  When the character wearing it rolls a fumble, any fumbles still happen, and they still fail, but something cool also happens that's positive for the rolling character.

Ring of Sweet Sleep: a star sapphire mounted on a band of gently undulating silver.  Wearing this ring makes you immune to any magical influences on your sleep and dreams; you are immune to the Sleep spell, a night hag's dream-riding, an inccubi's dream manipulation, or any other sort of communication-by-dreams.  

Image created with Stable Diffusion and GIMP.  

Friday, September 30, 2022

Mad Mashup: Barbarians

I'll be honest, I have no idea what the idea is behind WotC-era barbarians.  Some sort of mystic nature warrior who isn't the ranger mystic-nature-warrior?  

My idea for a barbarian is based on Howard's Conan: physically and mentally tough, able to endure what would break a softer, more civilized man.  So here's my concept of the barbarian for my TSR-era, mostly B/X mashup:


The Barbarian hails from a distant and uncivilized land.  They are ignorant of the ways of magic and the manners of the glittering courts of civilized nations.  However, their rough and rude upbringing grants them exceptional hardiness and endurance.  


  • Barbarians roll d8 for their hit points.  However, they start at 1st level with 16 hit points.

  • They may use any armor, shields, and weapons.

  • Barbarians save as Dwarves.

  • A Barbarian must have a STR of at least 9 and a CON of at least 13.  If a Barbarian has at least 15 in both, they enjoy a 5% bonus to all earned EXP.  If they also have a DEX of at least 13, that bonus goes up to 10%.


  • A group that includes at least one Barbarian is surprised only on a roll of 1 on a 1d8.  

  • Barbarians enjoy Advantage on saving throws against illusions and only suffer a -1 when attacking foes who are invisible or otherwise can’t be seen.

  • When resting, a Barbarian adds half their level to the hit points they regain (minimum of 1).

  • When a Barbarian deals a foe a killing blow, they may immediately make another attack on a target that is within 5’.

  • When a Barbarian’s melee attack roll totals 20 or more, they may perform a Feat of Arms.  This can be things like moving an enemy 5’, disarming their foe, hurling their target into another foe, etc.  Be creative!

  • Barbarians are expert climbers and hunters.  For every 4 hours they spend foraging or hunting, they produce 1d4 rations.  Environment can heavily influence this, however.

Brian’s Notes

Conan was my model here.  You’re hard to take down, so if you want to be a living brick wall, this is the class for you.  You probably won’t be performing Feats of Arms quite as often as a Fighter, but you’ll still enjoy this class more if you enjoy coming up with cool things on the spur of the moment.

Illustration made with Stable Diffusion and GIMP.

Thursday, September 08, 2022

Mad Mashup: Rangers

Here's the Ranger class I'm using for my B/X-with-other-stuff-tossed in campaign. The idea here was something more Aragorn and Robin Hood than whatever the heck the WotC-era rangers are supposed to be. Right now I'm using the same advancement chart as Fighters, but that's because I've changed the Fighter as well. Good synergies with what I've done to Elves here.

Rangers do their work in the wild places of the world.  This often leads to them being outnumbered and needing to punch above their weight class.  They most often spend their time being stealthy, keeping an eye on monster populations and hunting down threats to crops and livestock.  


  • Rangers roll their hit points with a d8.

  • They may use any weapons and shields, and wear any armour except plate.

  • They use the Fighter’s saving throws.

  • A Ranger must have a DEX of at least 13 and a WIS of at least 9.  If either of those is 15+, the Ranger enjoys a 5% bonus to earned EXP.  If both are 15+, the bonus is 10%.


  • Any attack roll made by a Ranger that totals 18+ allows the Ranger to perform a Feat of Arms.  This includes ranged weapon attacks!

  • A Ranger may fight with a melee weapon in each hand.

    • At 1st level, this allows the Ranger to roll a second attack which does 1d4 damage, or add +1 to their AC.

    • At 5th level, this allows the ranger to roll a second attack that does 1d6 on a successful roll, or double their DEX bonus on their AC.

  • Rangers are experts at surviving in the wilderness.  In addition to being expert survivalists and trackers:

    • A Ranger can gather 1d4 + the Ranger’s level in rations for every 8 hours spent foraging or hunting.

    • Any character convalescing under a Ranger’s care adds 1d2 additional hit points to their natural healing.

  • If a group with a Ranger rolls a Friendly reaction with a monster of bestial intelligence whose Hit Dice are equal to or less than the Ranger’s level, the Ranger may befriend the creature and add it to the Ranger’s retainers.  This takes up a retainer slot as normal.  If the animal dies in the Ranger’s service, the Ranger permanently loses that retainer slot.  

Art made with Stable Diffusion.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Memories of B/Xia

Noisms has waxed nostalgic for an interdimensional realm he calls TSRan.  I had little exposure to that wider world; by the time 2e launched, I was deeply into my own worldbuilding, and while my worlds shared much in common with TSRan, when I wax nostalgic, my heart goes to a tiny corner of that realm known as B/Xia (pronounced “bee-EKS-ia” of course). 


My memories of it will vary from yours, of course, but the realm I remember was best illustrated by Bill Willingham, Jeff Dee, Trampier, LaForce, Roslof, and, in its more bizarre locations, Erol Otus.  It also was a world of great danger, where travel through the mountains risked being spotted by a soaring dragon and every forest hid tribes of orcs on the move.  Magic-wielding elves feuded with magic-resistant dwarves.  The borders of halfling communities were patrolled by sheriffs who used stealth and ambush as their chief means of discouraging those wandering tribes of orcs from lingering close to their bucolic homes. 

It was a world where the corpses of thieves could be found in every dungeon (and the occasional doorstep).  It was a world that was wild, where pockets of civilization, the bastions of Law, were surrounded by vast, trackless wilds teaming with the scions of Chaos.  Colorful bands of mercenaries, human and humanoid, tramped the dusty roads, never too far from their next job.  Knights in gleaming armour fought alongside elven archers and goblin wolf-riders.  Sprawling castles and cramped towers dotted the grey zone where Chaos and Law interlaced and clashed.  Every patch of dirt hid millenniums of history teaming with strange magics, enchanted treasures, and bizarre monsters long lost to the light of the sun.  The seas were dangerous, full of monsters, but most were relatively shallow, excellent for traversing in triremes and similar galleys. 


I’ll admit, this is more based on the rules of the game than the art.  While the art inspires, it’s the wonderfully simple world full of interesting details that always brings me back to B/Xia.  

Friday, August 26, 2022

Mad Mashup: Weapons

I’ve decided to start my dive into my mad mashup of various D&D and OSR sources with weapons because they may give the broadest range of examples of rules I’m pulling from.  The goal was to keep the math simple but also give reasons for picking one weapon over another.  The inspiration was the fact that weapons are, in fact, tools for getting various jobs done.


Every weapon is designed to allow you to kill that guy over there, when that guy over there has done things to keep from getting killed.  Maybe they’ve got their own weapons, or they’re mounted on a horse, or they’ve wrapped themselves in protective metal.  Western Europe during the Middle Ages saw an amazing flowering in the design of weapons and armour.  And every single one of them was designed to solve the problem of doing unto the others before they had a chance to do unto you.


(If you want a deeper look into what I’m talking about here, check out this guy’s videos.  He does a great job discussing the historical uses of weapons and spends a lot of time talking about the context that lead to the individual designs.)


With that in mind, let’s take a look at what I did for my B/X mashup game. 


(This just didn't want to upload properly. If it's as unreadable for you as it is for me, go here for a Google Docs version.)

In original B/X, all weapons did 1d6 damage.  That keeps things simple, but utterly flies in the face of my “a tool for every job” philosophy on weapons.  Still, I like that simplicity, and just giving weapons different ranges in damage doesn’t really get where I want to go either.  So I compromised.


If you’re wielding a weapon in one hand, it does 1d6 damage.  If you’re using two hands, it does 2d4 damage.  Some weapons can be used either way.


The next column is Oversized.  This is for the LotFP encumbrance system, where a single oversized item gives you a point of Encumbrance straight off the bat.


The prices I’m pretty sure were taken from 2e D&D.  I love 2e’s equipment lists as they’re just huge across the board.


Notes is where the magic happens.  I gave most weapons a special ability.  Under “arrows,” for instance, bodkin arrowheads (narrow, stiletto-like heads designed for armour penetration) give you a +1 to hit if the target is wearing armour or has a thick hide.  Broadhead arrows, conversely, add +1 damage per arrow shot.


And that brings up a thing with arrows.  In traditional D&D, a round of combat can range in length from 6 seconds to a full minute.  And in all of that time, an archer can only get off one or two shots.  This is supported by assuming that the targets are moving around defensively, so the archer has to take their time lining up their shots.  I’ve always been meh on this.  So instead, I allow the archer to fire up to four arrows in my 6 second rounds.  All arrows are fired at the same target, and every arrow after the first increases the likelihood of landing a telling shot.  So instead of doing more damage, every arrow after the first gives the archer an unmagical +1 on the attack roll (for a total of +3 from the arrows). 


You still only roll one d20 for all for arrows to see if the target loses hit points, and you still roll a single d6 or d8 to see how many hit points are lost.


And so we can go down the list to see how weapons differ.  The bill, for instance, is good at unhorsing opponents.  Flails ignore shields, hammers and maces give you a +1 on your attack roll if your foe is wearing armour, shuriken only do a single point of damage but the target suffers Disadvantage on whatever their next attack roll (because shuriken are traditionally more about distracting people than killing them).


Advantage/Disadvantage is what I ported over from 5e, and it works the same here: you roll an extra d20 and you take the higher if you have Advantage and the lower if you have Disadvantage.  You can’t stack multiple Advantages or Disadvantages on top of each other, and if you have one of each they cancel out.


The special abilities of the two-handed sword are based on the montante bodyguard techniques.


And that’s all there is to say there.  None of these are terribly complex and each has its role.  Also, since they are individual to weapons, I can leave it up to the players to remind me of what special thing their weapon of choice does during the fight.



Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Answering JB

 JB, author of the awesome B/X Blackrazor blog, calls me to task for making unsupported arguments yesterday.  So here are my attempts to answer him:


Okay, understanding is that 5E has a LOT of fans, including a large proportion that played some prior version of D&D (including many folks who, at one time, might have been classified as "old school" or "old edition" gamers). When you say you think MOST 5E fans are going to LOVE 5.5 you have to be a bit more explicit: what specifically is it you think is going to appeal to "most" 5E fans? What's the draw? The anime/storytelling thing? I don't get the sense that that's the reason "most" folks play 5E.

Gotta' give me more as an explanation for your conclusion.


First of all, let me say that there is a lot of guesswork going on here.  However, it’s not completely groundless.  My first source comes from WotC.  That said, WotC isn’t exactly an uninterested observer and has all sorts of (mainly financial) reasons to shade this data.  And I’m fairly certain some of it has come from very unscientific public surveys. 


With those caveats aside, let’s look at the data we do have.  We’ll start with this infographic published by WotC back in ’21. 


Ok, assuming most of us started playing around age 10 (4th or 5th grade in the US), that means people who started playing with TSR-era D&D at most make up 27% of their current players.  Even if we say only half of those played before 3rd edition, that gives us better than 1-in-10 grognards amongst 5e’s fans.  That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it also means at least 70% (and it’s more likely closer to 80%) of people playing D&D missed the TSR era simply by being born too late.


Of course, just because they missed it doesn’t mean they’ve never experienced it.  Thanks to the OSR, it’s not impossible that they have had a taste of OSR play.  So, how are people playing D&D?


And here, I’m really gasping: a Reddit poll.  In this particular poll, Wild Beyond the Witchlight came in first, an adventure notorious for being so light on combat you can actually finish it without spilling a drop of blood.  Also in the top 10 are the investigation-heavy Dragonheist and the atmosphere-heavy Curse of Strahd.


Of course, you can also counter that the “hard core” (kinda-sorta but not really) hex crawl Tomb of Annihilation came in 2nd and the chock-full-of-TSR-goodness Ghosts of Saltmarsh came in 4th.  I can counter that WotC doubled down with Strixhaven, but then you can counter that WotC has published a lot more Stormgiants and Frostmaidens than Strixhavens. 


My final datapoint is the popularity of CriticalRole.  People keep linking D&D’s success to Critical Role’s.  I have no idea how correct they are; after the collapse of what had been the “conventional wisdom” of over the past 20 years, I’m hesitant to lean too heavily on the new conventional wisdom.  That said, having seen the lines (and the money-generating power) of Critical Role and Acquisitions, Inc., I’m not going to believe that these streaming games haven’t had an effect on how people play the game.


None of these are silver bullets, just a collection of data points that nudge me towards believing that the build-your-own-furry combined with a build-your-own-background-based-on-your-eight-page-backstory is something that will please most D&D players these days. 


But just because it’s a scientific wild-ass guess doesn’t stop it from still being a wild-assed guess.