Friday, 5 September 2014

Ix: 3d6 Foods

I did a little experiment today on my way to work: trying to write some game content on my phone during the 15 minutes which I spend on public transport. Here are the results:

Some Typical Foods of the Markets, Bazaars, and Tavernas of the Desert Cities

Poor Foods
  1. Crispy fried cobra skin
  2. Wheat grits with ground roach
  3. Flatbread with garlic
  4. Steaming fly-maggot broth
  5. Broiled lizard feet
  6. Fried Gajji sac with salt

Common Foods
  1. Chickpeas with goat bones
  2. Axolotl brain gruel
  3. Gajji steaks in olive oil
  4. Cinnamon fried asp
  5. Stag beetle stuffed with aubergine
  6. Fried rice with snake egg

Luxury Foods
  1. Live newt-spawn with mustard greens
  2. Roast leg of goat
  3. Mantis-meat kebab
  4. Vat-eel fillet
  5. Whole axolotl in apricot and mint marinade
  6. Steamed ixilot egg (fertilised)

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

D&D 5: Less Random Ability Checks

Following my post the other week about adapting D&D 5 to use a roll-under ability check system, I've been having some further thoughts on the subject.

To recap, my basic gripe with the d20 ability check / skill system built into D&D 5 is as follows:
It introduces a very large random factor into things which, to me, don't seem that random. I'm totally cool with there being a large random element in combat (d20 + modifier vs AC) and with saving throws (d20 + modifier vs DC), but for skills it seems that the random element (d20) is way too significant. For example, the difference between the strongest person in the world (STR 20, +5 modifier) and an average person (STR 11, 0 modifier) is equivalent to only 25% of the random factor.
Having considered this some more, I'm now not 100% convinced with the roll-under solution I proposed previously. I like roll-under checks a lot, especially due to the target number being written directly on the character sheet, but there are some corner cases which got me concerned about the robustness of such a system. It seems, for example, to fall apart a bit for creatures with > 20 in an ability score.

Looking at the range of numbers involved, it seems that ability check modifiers for PCs go roughly from -4 to +10 (including proficiency bonus). This means that a world-level master (+10)  is 50% (of the d20 range) better than someone completely average (+0). So, how about changing the d20 into something with less of a random range? d6, say. Now a world-level master is 166% better than the average person. That sounds a little bit more reasonable to me.

How would this work with the normal DCs? Assuming about a +10 bonus at the high end of the scale, this means that adding a d6 on top of that gives us a potential very high roll of 16. The standard DCs go up to 30 (described as "nearly impossible"), so some adjusting will need to be made. A simple halving seems appropriate, resulting in the following DCs (rounding fractions down):
  • Very easy: 2
  • Easy: 5
  • Medium: 7
  • Hard: 10
  • Very hard: 12
  • Nearly impossible: 15
This seems about right to me.

Another aspect to consider is the range of checks which very accomplished characters can now automatically succeed at. With a d20 and the standard DCs, a character with a +10 bonus could automatically perform any "easy" task, but would have to roll for others. Using a d6 instead, this very accomplished character can automatically perform any "hard" task. This also seems about right to me, considering the rarity of a +10 bonus.

Addendum: I just realised that some characters (rogues, in particular) have features which allow them to double their proficiency bonus. This would probably have to be replaced with a +1 bonus, in a d6 ability check system.

D&D 5: How I Would Use It

After reading through much of the first section, some very quick initial thoughts on this newfangled D&D game:

  • The basic cleric, fighter, thief, and wizard classes are nice. I could even imagine allowing the arcane trickster and eldritch knight, for players who wanted a multi-class type option. The 4e-style battle master is right out, though.
  • The cleric domains and wizard school specializations are cool. I like the thematic non-spell benefits each grants.
  • Backgrounds are awesome.
  • I love the equipment chapter and the section on downtime activities -- streamlined, flavourful, and inspiring.
  • I'm very happy that weird races, multi-classing, and feats are explicitly called out as optional.
  • The simplicity and flexibility of the ability check / skill / proficiency system.
Actually there really isn't much of a definitive "no" for me in the new PHB. There are things I won't personally use (see below) but those are mostly modular and easy to drop, without getting into a mess of house rules.
  • The non-core-4 classes. They all introduce add more complicated mechanics and, especially with the addition of backgrounds, I just don't find any of them necessary. Ranger? = Outlander Fighter. Paladin? = Acolyte Fighter or just a Cleric. Bard = Entertainer Rogue (Arcane Trickster). Druid? = Cleric with the Nature domain. And so on. Feels like a lot of duplication to me. They also all bring world assumptions which I don't necessarily want in my game. (I could, however, imagine running a campaign with just a small, hand-picked list of these classes: Ranger, Druid, Warlock, Monk, for example, might be interesting.)
  • The silly 4e races. Well... I'm totally bored of the standard fantasy races too, although I do like the sub-races and the way they're described. My favourite is the gnome actually.
  • I was open to liking the new feats but still find them too much of a door into fiddly mechanical character optimisation.
  • As I discussed previously, I'm not keen on some aspects of the skill system. This is an area which seems not so simple to house rule in a way which doesn't risk messing with loads of other stuff. We'll see.
What I Would Do With It
I'm sure I'll run some games of D&D 5 to get a feeling for it. There's a lot of good stuff in it which I, on first reading, prefer to my traditional go-to, Labyrinth Lord. I'm open to the idea of this becoming my standard base of rules to build from, and it feels like a very solid foundation, at that.

I could imagine two approaches. Firstly, a silly, Mos Eisley, free-for-all. Dragonborn monks meet dwarf necromancers and half-elf warlocks for a party. Not my usual style but I could see it working for a throw-away game. (There's no way I'm going to try to come up with a consistent world setting which encompasses all the race/class combo possibilities in the new PHB!)

For a game more to my usual tastes, I would most likely cut out or reskin all the fantasy races and strip down the classes to the core 4 (or, more likely, core 3 -- no cleric).

I've been having a few ideas for tweaking the wizard class:
  • Bring back strict spell memorization. I'm not totally sure how I feel about the new flexi-spellcasting. Luckily, the spells per day chart is presented in a way that makes it trivial to interpret it as "spells memorized". (I guess this was intentional and will be mentioned as an option in the DMG.)
  • Make school specialization stricter. I've always loved the idea of pure specialists, e.g. a necromancer who can only cast necromantic spells. I'm not sure if the current 5e spell list is meaty enough to make this feasible, but I'm going to check that out. The additional bonuses granted by the specializations somewhat make up for a lack of spells. I'd also consider limiting specialists to one major school and a couple of minor schools, something like that.
  • Make school specialization optional. I've thought about the idea of bringing back the "mage" wizard -- a non-specialist. Given my ideas for stricter specialization, the mage would lose the special abilities granted by a school but would have a broader range of spells to choose from.
  • If I ran a game without clerics (as I usually do), I'd look into rolling all of the spells into one über-list. Perhaps non-wizard spells would only be available to school specialists, giving them an extra boon. (I was, by the way, interested to notice that the healing spells are almost all evocations.)
  • I'm mulling over the possibility of allowing wizards to make pacts as per the warlock class. There'd have to be some downside to doing so but the basic mechanics seem like they'd work out.
I'll post further ideas and house rules as they come.

(ps. I'm on holiday for the next 2 weeks, so likely won't have much time for writing. Really hoping I'll have some more free time at the end of September. I've been so busy lately that all of my writing projects have really fallen behind!)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

D&D 5: Roll-Under Skill Checks

So, D&D 5. I have a strange fascination with it. The idea of playing the latest thing which everyone's talking about does actually seem quite appealing. And there are a lot of things I really like about the new edition (backgrounds being one of the main ones). There are, of course, also a few things I'm either suspicious of (will need to be tested out in play) or distinctly not keen on. As ever, though, house rules can come to the rescue. This post is about one aspect of the new D&D that is distasteful to me and some ideas for making it more palatable.


I don't have anything much against them in principle, especially in a system (like D&D 5) where all characters can attempt to use all skills. That's cool. I also really like the simplicity of the proficiency bonus and the lack of "skill points" or whatever. What gets me, though, is the d20 system. I've ranted about this before on various occasions here and on google+.

My basic problem with it is that it introduces a very large random factor into things which, to me, don't seem that random. I'm totally cool with there being a large random element in combat (d20 + modifier vs AC) and with saving throws (d20 + modifier vs DC), but for skills it seems that the random element (d20) is way too significant. For example, the difference between the strongest person in the world (STR 20, +5 modifier) and an average person (STR 11, 0 modifier) is equivalent to only 25% of the random factor. I've always (since D&D 3) thought this seems weird, and WotC seem to disagree. Looks like it's time for a house rule then.

When I think about ability checks, what I really like is the semi-canonical, trad, "roll under your ability score on d20" system. Nice and simple. Rolling against a number on the character sheet. (Yeah, rolling low is better, how inconsistent... but whatever.) A couple of options:

Super Simple Roll-Under Skills
To make an ability check, simply roll d20 and compare it to the relevant ability score (as determined by the DM). Equal or under = success. A natural 1 always succeeds and a natural 20 always fails.

When making a check for a skill you're proficient with, add your proficiency bonus to your ability score.

Slightly More Complicated Roll-Under Skills
Sometimes you might want to give some kind of difficulty rating to an ability or skill check. You know... some chasms are wider than others, some walls slipperier than others, some locks more tricksy than others, etc. D&D 5 play material will no doubt be full of talk of "a DC 25 INT (History) check" and what-not. So it'd be nice to be able to use those difficulty ratings with a roll-under system. Here goes, DC to modifier:
  • Very easy (DC 5): +2
  • Easy (DC 10): +0
  • Medium (DC 15): -1
  • Hard (DC 20): -2
  • Very hard (DC 25): -4
  • Nearly impossible (DC 30): -8
That seems about in line with the kind of modifiers I'm used to in old-school D&D.

I know that this completely changes the probabilities of success and failure. My argument is this: who cares? (Well, I gather that some people do indeed care about such mathematical aspects of the game, but I and no one I play with fall into that category.)

Roll-Under Saving Throws?
This approach could, of course, be applied directly to saving throws too, for the full old-school "roll against the number on your sheet" approach. Personally, I'm happy with luck (i.e. the d20 roll) being more of a deciding factor than raw ability when it comes to saving throws, so I probably wouldn't go down this route. Something to consider though.

Opposed Checks
They don't come up that often, in my experience, but I suppose I should also come up with a less random solution for opposed checks. That's easy: ability score + d6 (+ proficiency bonus, of applicable). Highest score wins.


Any thoughts?

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

From the Vats: Monster Design Contest Winner!

The oracles have been consulted!

The winner of the vivimantic monster design contest is thus decreed:

The Sage Anders Lager

guilty of constructing the genetic Horror known as

the Body Stealer

Thanks to everyone who submitted something for the contest. We have a nice compilation of nasties which will be compiled into the From the Vats PDF.

(Apologies that it took me so long to announce the winner! Real-life busyness has abounded of late.)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Underworld Lore #4

Get it here:

Featuring three obscure deities undergoing near-death experiences, written by myself.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Wizardzine #1: Table of Contents

The contents of Wizardzine #1 are now coalescing a bit. I still have writing to do in some sections, but the overall structure is pretty much fixed now.

Everything in this issue focuses around the topic of aquatic and oceanic magic.

Wizards of Renown
Each discussed with details of their research, marks of magic, domains, and servants.
  • Ephenedrine the Sirene
  • Naxamh, Master of Spirits
  • Master Harlwn of the Luminous Docks
Tomes of Magic
  • 12 tomes containing a set of spells, with details of the construction, author, and history
Magic Items
  • 20 new magic items
  • 10 new monsters
  • 30 new spells
  • Aquatic Monster Summoning Tables
  • Sea Wizard Spell List
  • Aquatic Familiars
  • Tables for Random Selection

(ps. regarding From the Vats, I plan to compile and read the entries to the monster contest today. An announcement of the winner should be coming soon!)