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.





Tuesday, August 23, 2022

5.5 is 5 Finding Itself

 Having flipped through the first playtest doc for D&D 5.5 (as I’m growing more certain everyone is going to end up calling the new edition), and having actually created a character with them, I think what we’re seeing is 5e finding its focus.  I’m not going to shock anyone when I say that 5e was a bit of a flailing hot mess of a game, which is perfect if you want to make it your own, including what you want and leaving out what you don’t.  But the “all things to all people” language of D&D Next is missing from One D&D.  5.5 knows what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is a story-telling machine.


Now, first off, I absolutely do not mean a story-telling engine like those that came out of the Forge, obsessed with replicating the structure of stories through the game mechanics.  Quite the opposite.  The models for 5.5e are the streaming games like Acquisitions, Inc. and Critical Role.  They want to give you that beloved anime series feel of friends banding together and going on a crazy journey that mixes soul-rending drama with wacky hijinks, interspersed with a seemingly random fan-service session where they all go to the beach or dress up to attend a high ball. 


Keeping in mind that the plural of anecdote isn't data, my experience has reinforced this.  The "kids these days" seem quite happy to toss the settings and rules and use D&D to run Narnia or Hogwarts or this really cool thing they came up with themselves that combines the Mandalorian with the Inheritance Games set in a distant corner of Tal'Dorei.  (Exactly like we played rangers with the double-barreled crossbow from Lady Hawke teamed up with a thief wielding the glaive from Krull and the psychic winged-
snake Pip, hunting color-coded ninja through the post-apocalyptic world of Thundarr the Barbarian.) 


The playtest doc they've released kneecaps the Rules Masters by basically banishing any sort of best-combos of race and class from 5e.  It's all about letting you play that runt orc who ran away from home to become a wizard, the tiefling rock star, the human kid abandoned as an infant and raised by fairies. 


I'm almost willing to bet real money that milestones become the de facto default advancement mechanic.  I'm not at all being sarcastic or mocking when I say that I'll bet they wish they could remove death from the game almost entirely, since nothing is more disruptive to a long-term storyline than PC death. 5.5 is gonna be weird, but I think most of the fans of 5e are going to love it.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Playing with B/X, OSR, 2e...

So where has this troll been?  The reason I’ve not been blogging about RPGs is mostly because I’ve been playing them.  For the past year, I’ve been regularly running a weekly 5e game face-to-face, taking part as a player in weekly 5e game on Roll20, and irregularly running a mad mashup of TSR-era and OSR games.  

The spine of the game is B/X, so that means race-as-class, wonky leveling mechanics based on gathering treasure, etc.  I’m using a more modern combat turn system (as much as I love the B/X one, asking everyone to decide what they’re doing before their turn was just a bridge too far), the 2e Monster Manual (which I still consider the best ever made for the game if you ignore the art), and the equipment list from 2e’s Al-Qadim setting.  I’ve created a new character sheet that incorporates LotFP’s encumbrance system.  I’m also using Shields Shall be Splintered, my minor magical effects and spell-leakage rules, a variation on DCC’s Might Feats of Arms, and yet another variant Table of Death & Dismemberment.

The resulting games have been a hoot.  I’ll be sharing more on this soon. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Return of Gleemax!

So if you watched the trailer for the next “edition” of D&D, now called One D&D, you’ll have noticed that half of it was devoted to their upcoming virtual tabletop.  (For those of you playing developer-speak bingo, it was described as “robust” but they did not actually use the word “scalable.”)  With DRAGON emagazine vanishing once again, you’d be forgiven for thinking this feels awfully familiar…

I, for one, welcome our new digital overlords!  One of the big disconnects in the RPG hobby has been that the publishers are called publishers for a reason; they make their money selling books, not necessarily by getting people to play the games.  Appealing to the collector/completist has been a financially superior strategy over people actually playing the game.  

That this is a horribly bass-ackwards way to run an industry should be obvious.  If WotC can pull off the VTT this time, it might not revolutionize the industry, but it ought to revolutionize the publishing plans for D&D.  We might even see the books become loss-leaders, funneling people towards the monthly subscription of Gleemax 2, where the real money will be made.  

In addition, while One D&D might smack of the same sort of marketing BS as D&D Next, Ben Milton thinks they may mean it this time.  The more they integrate the rules of D&D into their VTT, the more expensive it will be to change those rules.  They’ll also avoid bifurcating their audience (which, according to Ryan Dancey, was what happened every time they released a new edition during the TSR era).  And, as Milton points out, if Curse of Strahd is still a viable adventure in 30 years, they can release a big, deluxe anniversary edition for the nostalgia sales with little effort or expense.  

However, just launching a successful VTT won’t be enough.  Lots of groups have already invested the time and effort to learn how to play via Roll20TaleSpire already has the 3D virtual minis thing going strong and has alliances with virtual market heavyweights like Heroforge.  I am absolutely certain WotC can lean into D&D’s domination of the TTRPG market to overtake those competitors who’ve already stolen a lap from them, but I suspect it won’t happen overnight.  

I just feel really sorry for One More Multiverse, who just announced full integration of the 5e rules into their VTT the literal day before this all dropped.  The timing on this has got to smart.  

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Vox Machina: Good for a Few Laughs


TL;DR: it’s ok.


How’s that for brief?


Ok, seriously, it’s got some fun moments, but isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.  Better?


Digging in a bit more, it looks in many ways like a D&D campaign.  The world (read DM) is largely the straight man who gets to be the butt of the players’ jokes.  (A palace guard who bears an uncanny resemblance to Matt Mercer in episode three kinda rubs our noses in it.)  While the world mostly plays it straight, the PCs engage in all manner of shenanigans that range from the anachronistic to the post-modern to the disturbingly bloody.  There’s a running gag with a severed hand in the first episode that almost doesn’t work because it skirts to the edge of being too graphic, and probably crosses it for some folks.


The thing is, all of this stuff is exactly what happens at our D&D tables: jokes about the bard out seducing people, the “innocent” character barfing after having half a drink, the character who steals unattended drinks in the middle of a bar fight, the endless scatological humor, the jumping-to-conclusions, the joke about the giant pile that results when the PCs are told to leave their weapons behind.


And then there are the things that don’t feel like D&D at all.  There’s a gunslinger character who appears to have the only firearm in the entire world, and that’s all he can do: shoot things.  When his gun works.  The druid’s only spell is summoning giant thorny vines.  The ranger doesn’t appear to have any spells at all.  The cleric’s magic looks about right, and runs the range from healing to enchanting the weapons of others, but is unreliable, failing even to work sometimes. 


Plotwise, this is very paint-by-numbers.  You’ll see the big surprise twist in Episode Two probably in Episode One.  You’ve seen this all before so many times that even the “shocking, OMG where did that come from” moments are anything but.  Most of the characters are tormented by past tragedies or self-doubts that quickly get shed when they need to be heroic.


That all said, it is entertaining.  Willingham’s barbarian Grog Strongjaw is a one-note joke, but its utter lack of tragic backstory or self-doubt stands out and is refreshing.  The action involves a lot of swooping, spinning camera that moves smoothly and draws you in. 


The real stand-out performance comes from Riegel’s Scanlan.  He provides the biggest laughs, the bawdiest moments (mostly in the first episode), and the most uplifting stand-up-and-cheer moments during the action scenes.  And his songs are a real hoot, especially the one in the third episode.


About the only thing you’ll likely steal for your own campaign is a blue dragon using the conductivity of the gold in its hoard to zap characters hiding behind cover.  The most interesting magic item in the first three episodes has been a blood-drinking sword, but we’ve all done that before.  The look is so generic gamer-fantasy that it won’t even occur to you to screen-cap anything to use as a visual prop in your games.  Even the villains are straight out of central casting.


So yeah: good for a few laughs, a fine way to pass a lazy afternoon or to kill time after dental surgery (ask me how I know), but probably not something you’ll be returning to unless the later episodes really hit it out of the park. 



Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A Most Dangerous Library


This... actually kinda exists in one of my campaigns.

One of the new cool things in the 5e MM is that green dragons don't just hoard art, they hoard *artists.*  So I had a green dragon obsessed with books.  His name was Namzugingal, but most called him Vermillion.  His library was rumored to be the largest in the world, and his slave-librarians could find the answer to nearly any question... if you were brave enough to dare Vermillion's lair to ask them.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Quick Thoughts on Thirsty Sword Lesbians

 It mechanizes things I don’t normally want mechanized but doesn’t get stupid about it.  The rules are simple and not overbearing.  They mostly focus on individual personal relationships, and while they’re lacking a bit in nuance (there’s basically friendship and being “smitten” and nothing else) this also means you don’t feel railroaded by them.  

In spite of the art and the examples, there’s really nothing here insisting that the PCs be thirsty or lesbian.  Heck, there’s even a section on replacing the swords with anything else that inspires personal, one-on-one combat, like wrestling or mecha (Achilles Shieldmaidens, anyone?)  That said, characters who are not “thirsty” for romance and messy interpersonal entanglements will be missing a lot of the fun.

It would be dreadfully easy to run this as Lesbian Stripper Ninjas: the RPG.  Even one of the example settings involves holy stripper warriors who use their polearms as dance poles.  You’re going to want the right group to play this with.

The mechanics work best in a “hothouse” environment, where they’re forced to encounter the same individuals over and over again.  Which kinda works contrary to the free-wheeling, swashbuckling mood the game is aiming for.  The result is probably like a French novel, where no matter how far the characters travel, they just keep encountering each other again and again.  But I can’t help thinking it would work best in a constrained setting like a generation starship, a prison, or a harem.  

The game really wants you to acquire insights about your foes and then use those insights to either seduce them towards goodness, or help them find true love (and, it’s assumed, they’ll start being good after that).  It’s got a lot to recommend it as a gameplay loop but leans very, very heavily on the GM to bring novelty to each iteration and doesn’t provide much help in doing that.  

What does mitigate this somewhat is that the “classes” of the game (playbooks since this is a PBtA game) are all based on a personal conflict, mostly revolving around the individual’s relationship to society.  A player who’s getting bored can resolve their character’s conflict and either retire them to a happily-ever-after, or transform their conflict into another (and thus start playing with a new playbook).  There are rules for how that would work mechanically as well as suggestions for making it feel organic in the fiction.  

What’s really interesting is what’s not here: no equipment lists, no vehicles, no skills or weapons or treasures (other than, of course, the friends we make along the way), which does kinda run counter to the whole swashbuckling adventure thing.  This game is extremely Old School in its reliance on rulings, and I wouldn’t recommend it as the first game you GM.  I’d want a lot more detail about the PCs backgrounds than the game demands, and would likely include a handful of questions to give me some idea of what the PCs are about beyond their trauma.  This game really doesn’t want to get hung up over how fast your starship can go or how many cannon are on your pirate ship, which means the GM is going to be winging it pretty heavily while trying to steer things towards emotional moments that will have the PCs going through emotional wringers and then turning to each other for support.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Three Swords and a Mask

Here are some magic items that have made an appearance in some of my gaming recently.  They're designed for D&D 5e (because that's the game we were playing at the time), but can be used in TSR-era D&D with little tweaking.


Swish is a +1 swept-hilt rapier with a blade fashioned from gleaming mithril and tower engraved on the pommel.  For every opponent personally attacking the wielder of Swish beyond the first, Swish grants its wielder a +1 to AC up to a max of +5.

The Lady

The Lady, so the joke goes, is disarming.  Swish is a +1 rapier with a silvered blade, orichalcum swept hilt and pommel, and an ivory grip.  Whenever the wielder of the Lady makes a successful attack with her, the wielder can choose to forgo doing any damage and instead attempt to disarm the person they attacked.  The target must roll a Strength save with a DC of the wielder of Lady’s spell save DC (or their Dexterity bonus + 8 + their proficiency bonus if they don’t have a spell save DC) in order to keep their grip on the weapon.  Otherwise, it is tossed 5d4 feet away from the wielder in a random direction.



Polydipsia is a +1 longsword that thirsts for blood.  In addition to its usual +1 to attack and damage rolls, when used against a living creature with internal fluids (blood, ichor, etc.), the blade does an additional 1d4 necrotic damage as it sucks these fluids into itself.  Against constructs, most undead, and other creatures that lack internal fluids, it simply works as a normal longsword +1

If Polydipsia is ever sheathed without drinking blood, it will bite whoever sheathed it for 1d4 necrotic damage.  

If Polydipsia ever deals the finishing blow on a creature it can drink from, it gorges itself on the creature’s fluids.  Until the wielder’s next long rest, it acquires an additional +1 to attack and damage rolls.  The DM may decide that gorging this way on particular creatures (angels, demons, mindflayers, etc.) might grant the wielder additional, one-use powers.

If the wielder of Polydipsia gets into a heated confrontation, the blade will murmur and whine thirstily.  If Polydipsia’s wielder gets into a fight but doesn’t draw Polydipsia, the wielder must pass a CR 12 Charisma saving throw or use the blade to deadly effect.  Some of Polydipsia’s wielders have taken to chaining the sword in her sheath.  While chained, while Polydipsia can’t force her user to wield her, she will rattle and hiss.  (Chaining the sword in its sheath requires a full action to get Polydipsia free.)

Polydipsia cannot be used to deal non-lethal damage.  Wielding Polydipsia while she is still chained in her sheath will allow for non-lethal damage, but she’s treated as a club and her magical powers are negated until she is free of the sheath.


Polydipsia looks like an elegant longsword with graceful cross guards that curve gently towards the sword’s point and set with small, smokey garnets between the grip and the blade.  The octagonal pommel is decorated with obsidian plates and the grip is wrapped in shark skin.  

The ricasso has two thorn-like projections in line with the edge of the blade.  The ricasso also bears a maker’s mark, identifying it as the work of a particularly skilled but mad swordsmith.  The blade itself is delicately engraved with a roses-and-thorns pattern.

The Mask of Falier


While carried, the Mask of Falier allows the bearer to cast the Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation, and Thaumaturgy cantrips.

While worn, in addition to the above powers, the mask confers the following benefits on the wearer:

Targets of Vicious Mockery had disadvantage on their saving throws against it.

The wearer can cast Alter Self on themselves once per hour.

The wearer can cast Blur once per day, the power recharging at dawn.

The wearer has advantage on Deception, Intimidation, and Sleight-of-hand skill checks.

The wearer has advantage when resisting any sort of gaze attack or magic, such as the gaze of a vampire or medusa.


The mask has the ability to transform itself into any shape the wearer desires, but it must remain a mask.  It always looks like a mask, so while it can form itself into a caricature of a known person, it cannot imitate their exact look.  The mask is immune to mundane damage.

Exactly who Falier is has bedeviled generations of historians.  Some say Falier was one of the nomes de guerre of the half-elven illusion most commonly known as Kmikle.  Others claim Falier is the true name of a demon who is bound inside the mask.