Monthly Archives: October 2016

5th Edition Classes for an Ancient Lands Campaign

Whether the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is really suitable for a campaign in my Ancient Lands setting mostly comes down to the character classes. My approach to magic and supernatural or superhuman abilities is quite different to that of generic D&D from the recent past, but on a closer look the classes from the Player’s Handbook actually would need very little work to be perfectly suitable. By and large, simply removing some of the options was all it takes to make the classes into something that is perfectly appropriate for my setting.

These are the classes I intend to use for my new campaign next year:

Barbarian: No changes.

Druid (Shaman): Only Circle of the Land archetype. Looses Wild Shape ability, gains Bardic Inspiration, Song of Rest, and Countercharm as the Bard class.

Fighter: Only Champion and Battlemaster archetypes.

Ranger: No changes.

Rogue: Only Thief and Assassin archetypes.

Wizard (Witch): Only Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, and Transmutation archetypes. No spellbook, spells known as sorcerer.

Maximum Character Level: All PCs and NPCs can only advance to 10th level.

Multiclassing: Unrestricted.

Feats: No feats. (It’s an additional level of complexity I don’t want to bother with.)

Spellcasting: All spellcasting uses the Spell Point variant.

Spells: The spell lists for rangers, shamans, and witches will have to get some considerable changes, but that’s somehing that is going to take a bit longer and will be covered in a separate post.

So I was looking at Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

And it actually doesn’t look bad at all. I played 3rd edition and Pathfinder for 12 years or so until I started looking at other fantasy RPGs and quickly got fed up with the excessive complexity, option creep, and power curve of d20 games. I’ve been toying and playing around with various AD&D and B/X clones since then and quickly lost interest in 5th edition after about the second playtest version. I’ve not even been looking at it with my butt since then.

dungeons-and-dragons-players-handbook-5th-edition-cover_largeBut recently I notices that several people writing about RPGs, who describe a play style very similar to my own, seem to be running 5th Edition as their system of choice and I got a bit curious when seeing forum threads about how people are feeling about the game after two years of playing. And the things that were praised by people who like it sounded quite intriguing, so I finally gave the finished game a first actual look.

My first impression was that the character classes once again have way too many class features, but when I actually read through the descriptions it turned out to actually be not nearly as bad as in Pathfinder for example. Most classes get something at each level, but mostly it seems to be pretty minor things that don’t look like they’d introduce a lot of option creep. There are some things about the races that I used to find aesthetically unpleasing, like giving characters lots of ability scrore bonuses with no penalties to counter them, but since then I’ve moved away from the idea of 1st level characters being perfectly average people. Now I think even first level characters should already be heroic individuals in a completely different league than the common rabble.

A similar thing is going on with hit points. 5th Edition characters get a lot of hit points. Hit points per level have been bumped up again, but more importantly the ability to heal damage during short rests by rolling your amount of hit dice pretty much doubles the amount of damage characters can take every day. And if I got this right, all damage is healed during a long rest. Perhaps, calling it damage isn’t really that accurate anymore. Getting hit certainly doesn’t represent a significant injury if the points can return completely within an hour without any magic.

Overall, my impression is that low-level characters in 5th Edition are much more like what used to be mid-level characters in previous editions. No more zero to hero. You start as heroes right from the beginning.

What quite impressed me is the combat rules and skill system. Having played 3rd Edition for over a decade almost certainly helped a lot, but I think I got a pretty good grasp on the complete 5th Edition combat, exploration, and interaction rules within just half an hour of reading.

I am still not a fan of the spell slot system, but it’s much less annoying than it used to, with spells not disappearing after they are cast. Have not looked at all the classes yet, but they all seem to work much more like the sorcerer from 3rd Edition. And the DMG also has an option to convert them all to spell points, which looks quite decent. There also is only a single cure wounds spell whose power depends on what spell slot you use for it, similar to how most psionic powers worked in the Expanded Psionic Handbook. This is something I really like as it reduces the amount of pretty much duplicate spells and makes magic more flexible.

Also very nice are the new monster stat blocks. The main stats are almost as short as in the old TSR editions but also have all special attacks and abilities written right below them in a way that makes them very easy to look up in the middle of fights. 3.5e and Pathfinder already put all special abilities into the stat blocks, but with the game being so complex you often had huge paragraphs that can take some considerable time to read and fully grasp. 5th Edition monster stats are much neater and tidier.

The main oddity that I noticed is the distribution of monsters in the Monster Manual. So far the only Monster Manual. Not sure if the Challenge Rating system is any better or worse than it was in 3rd Edition, but a very large portion of monsters seem to have been rated down by 2 points and now the vast majority of monsters is of CR 4 or lower. There’s a few CR 5 and 6, but beyond that point there’s really pretty much only dragons, demons, giant, and golems. Which is not necessarily bad. One big annoyance of 3rd Edition is that many cool monsters are so powerful that it takes a very long time until the party is strong enough to be able to fight them, and in pretty much all the games I ran and played, the group never reached a level where fighting giants, beholders, or larger dragons could be considered. Reducing the spread is certainly welcome. However, at the same time it raises the question why it would be worthwhile to have a 20 level game at all? I would have to see the game in action for a long time, but the first very basic impression I get is that there’s not really a whole lot new to come after passing 10th level. Though this isn’t exactly new or unique to 5th Edition. The very first Dungeon & Dragons game was conceptualized as basically a 10 level game, with characters who passed 9th level no longer really improving much in power and being expected to settle down as rulers and generals. The story how 6th level and higher spells ended up in the game is somewhat murky, but I’ve seen claims that they weren’t really part of the original concept and only thrown in without much thought.

All in all, I am quite intrigued by this game and I’m seriously considering to use it for my next campaign instead of going with Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Though maybe I’ll feel different about it in a week or two. But still, I have to say that 5th Edition looks much more interesting and better than I assumed. It’s indeed pretty lightweight compared to 3rd Edition but also avoids the high fragility of low level characters in OSR games.

Kickstarter starts for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea 2nd Edition

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea is getting a second edition and the Kickstarter campaign has started last week and is going until 30. November.

wi7t00

AS&SH was my first OSR game, performing the impressive feat of presenting the rules of AD&D in a way I was actually able to understand. I eventually moved on to B/X and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but it’s still one of my favorite games and it has a lot more to offer than just game mechanics. The same but more sounds like a pretty good deal to me. But I have to say the new art alone is enough to get me sold. Just look at the new cover!

I’ve not given any money to kickstarter projects before with money being tight, but now that I am starting my first regular fulltime job next month the situation has changed. And AS&SH is the perfect first thing to throw money at. It’s a bit of a gamble to give money for a yet nonexisting thing, but the first edition was already really good and I gladly do my part in having more really good Sword & Sorcery games on the market and inspiring people to give them a try or add their own content to what’s already out. (Which I think could still be a lot more.)

The Monster in its natural habitat

The current OSR topic of the week appears to be monster books. Which is one of my favorite topics and just for once I’m not a month late to the part. Just a day earlier, a new monster from Joseph at Against the Wicked City had me motivated to put a lot more effort into my own monsters. I9 got things like tar demons, giant hypnotic butterflies, and psychic flying tentacle monsters and there’s a lot more potential in them than just a stat block with hit points, damage, and perhaps two or three spells. And I am in agreement with the other writers who think that this is basically all that common RPG monster books provide.

I think that’s a general problem with RPG material, not just monster books but also campaign settings and adventures, and it has been so for a very long time. A question that you see brought up a lot these days, and very prominently and deservedly by Bryce at tenfootpole, is “how does this help a GM to run a game”? I think I am probably speaking for every fan of monster books in saying that what we are looking for are not stats and new mechanics. What we hope to find in such books are ideas to turn into great adventures and encounters that are thrilling and fascinating to the players.

I wouldn’t go as far as noism and say that I’d be happy with a book that is nothing but pictures, but I can see where he is coming from. Monster art always has a huge impact for me, often considerably greater than the stats and the actual description text you get in most books. And I think D&D and all it’s descendants have been doing it wrong from the very start. I don’t blame the first Monster Manual, as it was a completely new thing and creators still had to learn what works and what doesn’t by trial and error. But shortly after we got the Fiend Folio, which could teach us a lesson that has still been largely ignored to this very day.

Hm, okay...

Hm, okay…

Most art in monster books is very much resembling zoological species identification guides. You get the creature from a front angle or slightly from the side, in a position that is at rest or ready to attack, with a focus on making it very easy to see its anatomy and all its distinguishing physiological features. Its a precise way to give the reader a good view at how the creature looks. But it’s also very boring and doesn’t really tell you anything about what the creature does, how it behaves, and in what situation the players might encounter it. The FF had images of this type for every creature, but it also had a lot of pictures showing some of the creatures in a fight with adventurers. And these action shots are always making the respective creatures so much more interesting than the portraits.

I assume that the intention is that the illustration of each creature is as generic as possible to allow GMs to imagine it in whatever environment and situation is appropriate for it in their respective campaigns, and this might also go for the description text. But I don’t think it works this way.

Much more interesting.

Much more interesting.

As I said above, the most useful presentation of a monster is something that inspires encounters and adventures based around the creature. That is what we pay for. Not a block of stats and abilities to be a moderate challenge for a group of four 15th level characters. Action shots are probably more expensive than portraits since the artist has to paint at least twice as much space and its much more complex work to get the full composition of creatures and environment right. But as I see it, it would be worth it. I gladly pay a bit more for monster books that inspire me by giving me ideas that I can work with. I buy the monster books that are around because there’s nothing else to get, but I almost always feel disappointed by them. Showing the creatures in action, in a context that suggests situations to steal for my own campaign, would be a good step forward. It requires much more effort from the writers, but that’s after all what I am paying for. Imagine a monster book with descriptions like those of Joseph and proper action shots for each creature. A book like that would easily blow everything else out of the water.

My thoughts on Crypts & Things

Just a couple of days ago I got very excited about finally being able to get a look at Crypts & Things, which I’ve often seen praised as a fantastic Sword & Sorcery take on OSR games.

190299

But I have to admit that very quickly after starting to read, my enthusiasm for it went down very fast. Crypts & Things is not a bad game and it’s certainly more Sword & Sorcery than other OSR games, even more than Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. But my feelings on it are that it’s not a particularly impressive game and that it follows a concept of Sword & Sorcery that is exclusively Conan and Conan-clones, which is perhaps the dominating view among OSR players.

At ita base, Crypts & Things is Swords & Wizardry with a couple of variant rules and new mechanics. I’m very unimpressed with S&W to begin with and pretty much all the shortcomings I see in it apply to C&T as well. There are however a couple of nee ideas that I quite like. In C&T, bonuses for high ability scores are the same as usual, but penalties for low scores never get greater than -1.
The effect is almost the same of rolling 2d6+6, which I wrote about last month. This makes characters that are good at many things, but not really bad at anything, which fits Sword & Sorcery very well.

C&T has its own classes, of which the Fighter,Sorcerer, and Thief are pretty much as usual. Fighters get access to various weapon skills as they advance but the bonuses are so small that it just seems to add complexity for no real benefit. What I quite like however is that the thief’s skills are not exclusive to thieves. All characters can make a skill check based on their character level, but each class gets a +3 bonus to activities that fit their archetype. The barbarian is a new fourth class that turned out not to be another berserker as you usually see in D&D, but actually a lighter warrior with better wilderness skills. Filling the very same role as my Scout class for LotFP. Of course, I consider this a goo idea as well.

There are also five special classes including an elementalist but also lizardman and serpentman characters which can be used as NPCs or might be allowed for players in some campaigns.

Next there’s 11 pages of tables to create randomly generated character backstories.I’ve never been a fan of any such things.

A big difference to S&W is the spell list for sorcerers which consists mostly of magic-user spells and a few cleric healing spell. It’s still the regular D&D spells,which I find particularly unsuited for Sword & Sorcery. These spells are in three groups and classed as white gray,or black magic. They function very much the same but casting a white magic spells alerts demons that are close by and black magic spells can increase a character’s corruption. Interesting idea for a new mechanic, but I think this is an area where C&T falls flat to me.

Corruption is a cool concept in Sword & Sorcery, but in C&T it simply accumulates unti the character gets a mutation that seems mostly cosmetic. Kt feels overly bare bones to me.

Same thing with Sanity. You get insanity points as the game progresses and once you got too many the character goes mad and is out of the game.

Then there is also Luck, which is basically a regular action point mechanic with not much else to it from what I can see from my brief reading.

These are all concepts that are implicitly present in much Sword & Sorcery (particularly the hammy Clonan type) and that could be quite interesting to have in the game, but the mechanics presented here all strike me as very bare bones, bland, and also somewhat boring. I know I am a very tough customer when it comes to variant mechanics for simple games, but neither of these three makes me want to see it in action. I applaude the intend, but the execution isn’t doing anything for me.

All in all, Crypts & Things strikes me as a game that should work well and that I would play without complaints if invited to it, but I don’t really see anything in it that would make me want to run it instead of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. You can see that it’s made for Sword & Sorcery, but doesn’t seem to be any more suited for it than any other generic OSR game.

War Cry of the Flame Princess: Hit Points and permanent injuries

Like many people, I am not a big fan of having PCs be perfectly fine with 1 hp remaining and instantly dead when they are at 0 hp.

My approach to hit points is to not regard them as wound points but as stamina points. A succesful hit means that the target suffers minor scratches and bruises that interfere with its ability to succesfully deflect or dodge attacks and avoid serious injury. When a character runs out of hit points the extortion becomes too high and he slips, suffering a serious wound. It’s an abstraction like any way you can think of hit points, but I think it’s the best approach to have the fiction of the adventure match the rules of the game.

But the bigger challenge is how to handle the situation of a PC being reduced to 0 hp. I have a big dislike of the complex dice rolling and multiple modifiers of third edition and AD&D and I certainly don’t want to go through anything like the trouble of multiple successive rolls to stabilize and recover while having negative hit points. A much simpler approach is this:

When an attack deals more damage to a character than he has hit points left, the remaining points of damage are compared to his Constitution score. If the points of damage in excess of the current hit points is greater than the Constitution score, the character is dead. If not, the character is only unconscious for 10 minutes and permanently loses 2 points of Constitution. This loss of Constitution represents a lasting injury that neither surgery nor magic will ever fully reverse. While unconscious at 0 hp, any further damage will automatically kill the character. A character who regains consciousness is unable to fight or do other tiring activities until brought to 1 hp or more through resting or magic.

There are no saving throws or Constitution checks. Death and permanent injury are always automatic. In my past campaigns characters running out of hit points was always very rare already. Adding a significant chance to negate the effects only makes it even more unlikely that something bad will happen to a character. (Though running Sword & Sorcery dungeon crawls will probably increase casualties in my next campaign a lot.) I had considered to randomly determine whether the ability loss affects Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, or Intelligence, but with hit points already representing the ability to continue fighting I don’t think it’s necessary.

I like this solution since it’s both somewhat realistic in regard to actual battle injuries, and it also matches the habit of many Sword & Sorcery heroes to be left for dead with grievous wounds. As in Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars, being almost dead is nothing that a week of rest can’t heal, even if it leaves a lasting mark. With a Constitution score of 2d6+6, this gives a character about three to seven opportunities to cheat death before being too crippled to continue, though it might be worth considering retirement much earlier than that. It’s a lot more forgiving than the standard rules for death, but it’s still something that players really will want to avoid.

Crypts & Things Remastered is out

Since yesterday the new revised edition of Crypts & Things is out as pdf. (Print version will be available next week.)

190299

I got interested in the game two years ago, but very annoyingly the revised edition had just been announced and the pdf pulled from sale, so I never got a chance to take an actual look at it.

OK ,do you like OSR Rules?
Conan?
Lovecraft?
Are you prepared for a game without Clerics?
Still with me?
Then boy Oh boy do I have the game for You!
From D101 Games, written by Newt Newport
PDF is $13 from Drive through/Hard copies available directly from D101 Games
Powered by Swords and Wizardry (OD&D Clone)
The Middle Aged One

And it’s under 12€.

i-dont-need-it-meme

I totally do need it.

War Cry of the Flame Princess: The Witch (spell point class)

My post from earlier this week about using Lamentations of the Flame Princess for a Sword & Sorcery campaign received some interest, so why not expanding it into a series? Probably the biggest change I’ve made to the rules is a complete overhaul of the magic-user class. I am not a fan of the spell slot and preparation system of D&D. Of the three big flaws I see in the game, it’s the one I don’t like the most. (Negative AC is easily fixed and Alignment can simply be ignorred.) Spell slots just don’t mesh with any kind of fantasy fiction except for the Dying Earth novels. It just doesn’t feel right to me. 3rd Editions sorcerer class was a decent first attempt to adress this, but oddly enough the best magic system I’ve ever seen in D&D is the revised 3rd edition psionics system. The edition with the biggest design flaws and the previously most clunky sub-system. The Witch class is the magic-user class from LotFP converted to spell points and with a revised spell list. In my Ancient Lands campaign it’s the only spellcasting class that covers both witches and shamans, as well as sorcerers who have access to a few unique spells.

The Witch

8a2dc4b6ef6f3158cd2e9cef5ffc73dc-d2c7w3a

Everything else is just as the magic-user class. This table assumes that 5th level is the highest level of spells that characters can possibly learn or cast. For campaigns in which higher level spells are available it can easily be expanded. This spell point conversion uses the exact same spells as usual without any modification to them. The only thing that changes is the way in which spells are learned and limited to uses per day.

Level Spells Known Spell Points Max. Level
1st 3 2 1st
2nd +2 6 1st
3rd +2 11 2nd
4th +2 17 2nd
5th +2 24 3rd
6th +2 32 3rd
7th +2 41 4th
8th +2 51 4th
9th +2 62 5th
10th+ +2/level +12/level 5th

Learning Spells

A first level witch begins the game knowing three spells of first level. Which each additional level the character learns two new spells that can be of any level that is available, as per the column “Max. Level”. At third level, a witch can learn two new spells that can either be of first or second level. At fifth level the new spells may be of first, second, or third level, and so on.

Casting Spells

Spells are not prepared. A witch can cast any spell that has been learned at any time, but has to spend spell points when doing so. How many spell points a witch has is indicated by the colum “Spell Points”. The character’s Intelligence modifier is added to this number at first level (but not at each additional level the character gains later.) The number of spell points that are used is equal to the character level at which the spell becomes available.

Spell Level Spell Point Cost
1st 1
2nd 3
3rd 5
4th 7
5th 9

Witches are highly flexible in chosing their spells and could either cast a smaller number of higher level spells or a large number of lower level spells. Learning a wide variety of lower level spells can be advantageous over always learning spells of the highest possible level as they consume a much lower number of spell points. In return for this increased flexibility in casting spells, witches don’t have the ability to switch out the spells they know between adventures. Witches can only learn new spells when gaining a new level and these spells can not be changed later.

The only way to get access to additional spells is through relics.

Relics

Relics are magic items that allow a witch to gain access to additional spells beyond those the character has learned. Relics are body parts of supernatural creatures or legendary witches and sorcerers who retain some of their former owners magical power. Each relic contains usually one spell and a witch holding or wearing the item can cast this spell just as if it were one of the spells the witch has learned. The witch has to spend spell points to cast the spell, just as with all regular spells, but gains a bonus of +1 to +3 to the spellcaster level to determine its effects, depending on the relic. Even if the witch already knowns the spell granted by the relic, the increased spellcaster level still applies.

Spriggan’s Claw

Spell: Plant Growth
Spellcaster Level: +1

Continue reading