Showing posts with label game design. Show all posts
Showing posts with label game design. Show all posts

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Detailing a "Universal" Stat-block

It is a Monstrous Monday, but since I am going to be spending all of April dedicated to monsters I wanted to take this one to discuss something I am working on and working out for April.   That is what form should my stat block take?

If you have followed my Monstrous Mondays over the years you may have seen the evolution of my monster stat blocks.  There have been variances depending on which system I am favoring at that time, but I had not settled on one until the last year or so.  After working with it for a while I am now looking to make some minor tweaks to it. 

But before I do that I want to do some baselines and see what has been used in the past and by other OSR designers.  Keep in mind that each stat block represented below was designed with that system in mind, I am not making any claims for cross-system use in these blocks, but I do hope to find something like that for my own.

Since I am going to be comparing several versions of the D&D game and various clones, I am going to need to pick a monster that is present in each one.   

I can think of no better creature than the humble orc.

Actually, I have other reasons for that as well.  Among the reasons, they are the archetypical D&D/Fantasy monster.  Goblins would have worked too.

Hang on, this is going to be a long one.

Basic Stat Blocks

Let's look at the various stat blocks among what I call Basic Era Compatible games.  I am not going to put up images of the entire entry.

Original Edition

Like much of OD&D it is simple enough IF you know where to go digging for all the data.  But this one leaves some details to be desired.  The emphasis on what sort of things orcs do in a wargame are nice.

Holmes Basic 

Here we get to what can be considered the first of the true stat blocks. We can get the basic information we need at a glance. Movement, HD, AC, Treasure, Alignment, Attacks, and damage.  There is more, but for now, let's consider this the absolute minimum. 

Moldvay Basic B/X

Here the stat block expands to take on features from the new Basic game. Largely they are the same. A slight change in AC and Move is different.  We now also have a No. Appearing category and Morale. Also, there is more description here. Moldvay is not assuming that readers already know what an orc is. 

Mentzer Basic / BECMI

As expected this one is very much like Moldvay.  We do have variance in Morale now based on leaders and Treasure Type is divided into individuals and hordes. The most useful though, and this is the influence from later in AD&D, we get a line for XP value.  It's a straight number as opposed to a variable one based on hp (like in AD&D's later books).

Rules Cyclopedia/ RC

The Rules Cyclopedia follows the same evolution from Holmes as we see in Moldvay to Mentzer.  For the number appearing, we get the actual dice mechanic, not the range, and there is an added line of Monster Type.  Now all of these are largely compatible with the others and you can see how each one is describing the same creature.  Also, all the blocks are very much the same.

Let's make things a little more Advanced.

Advanced Stat Blocks

Essentially this includes AD&D 1st Ed and AD&D 2nd, but I am going to include Editions 3 to 5 for completeness sake. I want to map some of the later editions' additions.

First Edition AD&D

Now here are few more changes.  To get the right feel for the evolution here we need to go back to Holmes Basic.  What is new?  Well we get Frequency, Move is now map-based, Treasure Types lair and individuals, special attacks and defenses (even when they are nil), Magic Resistance (in a percentage), Intelligence (not a score, but a nominal rank), Size, and Psionic ability.  

A few notes.  Orcs switch over from Holmes Chaotic Evil to Lawful Evil. The art makes their pig-like features more prominent.  These are largely the same creatures from Holmes and even other Basic games, but differences are beginning to creep in.   Everything from the Basic stat block is here except for Morale (not used) and Save As (there is a chart).

Second Edition AD&D

OK.  AD&D 2nd Ed was the king of robust monster write-ups.  I loved the one full page per monster format even though I admit there was often a lot of fluff added.  This stat block adds a lot more information.  We are still talking about the same creature and the Holmes stat block is still visible here.  Morale is back, though based on a d20 rather than d12/2d6. Still Lawful Evil.  This block includes the Orog or half-orc/half-ogre creature.  Do we know more about the orc than before? A little.  A lot more in the descriptions.

While later AD&D 1 blocks included calculations, AD&D 2 made them standard from the start.

I want to take the next editions of D&D largely as a whole even though the compatibility between the newer editions (of the last 20 years) is less than the editions that came before them.

Post-2000 D&D: 3rd, 4th, and 5th Editions

Third Edition D&D

Third edition had a noble goal. Monsters should be built just like characters. It was good. Yes, it made creating high-level monsters more difficult but it all held together mechanically.  3e also introduced some new ideas in a stat block that I believe are worth looking into.

Things are grouped together well. Something that Pathfinder would later improve on.  On our orc here we see a few things. AC is broken down into what is worn, what is natural, and what is due to dexterity.  What is the orc's dex?  Well that, and all their average abilities are listed here. Nice touch. Same with the saves.  Alignment gets a shift. Not just that the orc here is back to Chaotic Evil (ala Holmes) but also there is the qualifier Often.  Orcs by the way shifted to Chaotic because Barbarians can't be of Lawful alignment and that was their "Prefered" class.  Though by looking at the level and advancement an orc can start out in any class and move up.  So again this one harkens back to Holmes in terms of monsters as characters.  

As we move through the editions the more verbose the stat block gets.  In some ways this good and expected as the complexity of the game increased and more rules to cover more of the things DMs run into are needed.  The downside is how much of that information is needed in combat?  3e added skills and feats, so we need to know those.  Knowing the typical strength of an Orc is 17 is nice.  But we are a long way from the seven lines in Holmes.

The biggest addition here though is the notion of CR or Challenge Rating. This gave DMs an idea of how tough the monster was when setting them against an average party.  A CR 1/2 is easy for a party of 1st level characters.  It was also how XP is calculated. A CR 1/2 orc is worth 150 xp by itself to a party of 1st level characters. But to a party of 8th level characters it is only worth 100xp. To 9th level characters it is worth 0 XP unless there are a lot of them.  I liked this sliding scale and it made sense given the combat abilities of higher-level D&D 3 characters.

Fourth Edition D&D

Building monsters like characters is a great idea on paper, but in practice, we get some very, very complicated monsters at a high level.  Quick. How many feats does an Adult Gold Dragon have?  4e attempted to fix that issue some. 

Where previous editions (2nd is the best example here) gave us additional lines for different types of orcs or gave us the tools to advance them (3rd edition), 4th edition gave us different stat blocks that could get more detailed as needed. 

Monsters are built less like characters, but still use some of the same principles.  The stat blocks are tighter than 1st through 3rd, but you need a lot more of them.  For example, in the 4e Monster Manual, there are seven orc stat blocks to cover the different sorts of orcs.  

Like 2nd Ed, the stat blocks and monster descriptions are "modular."  That is that the entry for most monsters are limited to one full page.  In fact all of D&D 4 is like that. One could conceivably make D&D 4 so modular it is an à la carte D&D.  I could assemble my own monster book with entries from the three monster manuals plus any adventure or other source book.  As a game designer, it is appealing.

What is new here though?  Well, 4e introduces the idea of "unaligned" alignment.  It's like "True Neutral" but more of a "you do you and I'll do me and we will be fine" and less of "the balance must be preserved."  There is also a line for languages known which is a good addition in my mind.  Though I notice that orcs no longer speak "orc."  Well. Actually, they do, "orc" is just a corrupt form of "Giant" here, which in turn is a debased form of Primordial.

Fifth Edition D&D

In its goal to be all things to everyone 5th edition tries to strike a balance.  The stat blocks are robust enough to give you all the information you need, but significantly different versions of the monsters are separated off.

I can't help but think that D&D5 was looking over the shoulder of Pathfinder when organizing their blocks.  Basic combat "Defense" is at the top. What do I need to hit and how often do I need to hit it? Size and type appear right under the name as they have since 3e and a little bit of the Rules Cyclopedia. We get their typical abilities.  We get skill listings that are not just +0. Senses, Languages (oh look! "Orc" is back!) AND a combo CR and XP.  While not listed above, 5e retains the "unaligned" alignment.

Hitpoints are more important than HD here.  All their attacks and saves are already calculated and listed.  They do follow the same rules as do characters, but not slavishly so like 3e.  The war chief has a Gruumsh's Fury ability that you won't find in a character write-up.  I mean yeah they are similar to barbarians, but not exactly. 

Like 1st ed and 3rd ed these monster entries span pages.  While this messes with my sense of design, it does mean that we don't 300 pages where 250 pages will suffice. The unneeded padding and white space is gone.   

Judging solely by this it looks like Orcs are back to being a threat to 1st levels.  The 4e orc could mow through first-level characters.

That is the evolution of the D&D monster stat block over the first 40 years of D&D.  They say hindsight is 20/20 so what have the retro-clone designers done?

Retro Clones of the OSR

Here are a couple of stat blocks.

Starting with OSRIC it does exactly as we would expect.  It lays material out much like AD&D 1st ed with the knowledge that Level/XP will be useful in the block.  Orcs come out to an average of 15 XP this way; same as 1st and 2nd ed.  Movement is now done in terms relative to the creature, not map movement.  For various reasons, there is no treasure type listed.  Treasure is spelled out in the description. This does give the DM more flexibility.  

Labyrinth Lord comes very, close to OSRIC, but is more Basic in its presentation. The same information is given.  LL gets past the Treasure Type and goes with Horde Class, but there are translations out there.  Again when talking about hindsight; the XP value is included. Morale is back.

Basic Fantasy covers similar ground, but its 3rd Ed DNA shows through in AC. The block also leaves room for expansion as see here with N. Appearing.

I am posting more of the Old-School Essentials block to make a point here about design.  Gavin Norman at Necrotic Gnome took the idea of modularity and really went with it.  I can't say for certain he played D&D 4, but there are some ideas here that really call back to it.  OSE gives us the most compact basic stat block so far.  Like 5e all the defense and attack information is upfront.  Brief description.  Saves are detailed, morale is back and detailed. There are even XP values.  The text of the monster is bullet-pointed.  It is a model of efficiency really. We know nothing about languages or climate these creatures favor, but that is fine. It is mimicking the detail of the source game; Moldvay Basic.

Dark Dungeons, a Rules Cyclopedia clone, uses long columns for their monster entries, usually three to a page and filling a page.  So similar modularity as 4e and OSE.  In fact the stat blocks could be used with OSE with no issues. No surprise given the relationship of their spiritual ancestors; RC to Dark Dungeons and Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert to OSE.   Morale is presented a bit differently, but average hp is included along with the XP values.  Saves are listed out.  There is a habitat now included along with Type. 

Moving out to other games that don't specifically try to emulate any game in particular but the "D&D experience in general.

Adventurer, Conquerer, King System (ACKS) is largely based on Basic-era D&D and Moldvay Basic in particular, though it has some house rules.  Move is back to Basic (as was LL and OSE).  Percent in lair is lifted from AD&D style games.  The text descriptions match the world ACKS works in.  Notably these orcs seem to be a little harder to hit.

If ACKS is Basic moving towards Advanced, then Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperboria (AS&SH) is Advanced presented like Basic.   Again we see similar entries.  Saves are a single number (more on that in a bit), morale is present (like Basic) and XP (still 10) are listed.  Like ACKS, the orcs of AS&SH fit their world a little differently than a generic D&D world.   Here they are offspring of humans and dæmons. This also uses the 1st and 2nd ed (and really Basic) means of displaying variants; via a table.  3e leaves you to recalculate everything and 4e and 5e have separate sub-entries.

Moving out to even more different games.

Swords & Wizardry shares DNA with OSRIC but has become its own thing. While many will claim it emulates OD&D it is a really slimed-down version of AD&D to Basic-era levels. The stat block is more basic in its organization and content.  Alignment is a simple three-axis (like Basic), the move is "map relative" like AD&D and Challenge Level is from AD&D.  XP values are also AD&D derived.

The big thing that you should notice here is the advent of the single saving throw number.  AS&SH does this too, but S&W did it first.  It does simplify things to a large degree.  It does have a very simple layout.  The massive monster books for S&W; Monstrosities (544 pages) and Tomes of Horrors Complete (688 pages) are huge books. Both books expand the monster entries to fill a complete page in the same manner as 2nd Ed or 4th Ed.

There are a few more. Castles & Crusades and Adventures Dark & Deep are two more that also take our Orc to different places, but are still close enough to be familiar. 

Looking at all of these, knowing that each is needed for their own specific game, I need to figure out what is necessary for my own stat block, or even what is needed for a good "universal" stat block.  One that can be read and used for any "old school" version of *D&D or clone.  I also want to learn from what has come after that as well.

What seems to be central are HD, hp, AC, attacks.   Saves, XP, Treasure can all be derived.  Alignment can be figured out.  I am hoping to figure that all out during April.   In the meantime, lets use my obsessive-compulsive nature to have some fun with monsters!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Remembering Len Lakofka

Just got word a bit ago that Lenard "Leomund" Lakofka passed away this morning. 

Len and I got along well even when we had a difference of opinion.  I likely talked about him more than any other old-school designer, save for Gary, Tom Moldvay, and Eric Holmes.

I had just picked up a copy of L3 and had mentioned to him I wanted to get it signed if he ever came to Gary Con or Gen Con.

I have a stack of his notes for the Town of Ulek he wanted me to go over and scan.  Now I am not sure what to do with them.

I'm going to miss the guy. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 25 Lever

Archimedes, the polymath of classical antiquity, is quoted with "Give me a lever and firm place to stand and I will move the world."

A lever is one of the six simple machines described by Renaissance writers. The lever is usually the first, though I think the inclined plane or ramp may have historically been the first.  

How does this apply to my games? does in a couple of ways, but the underlying theme is "keep it simple."


Like a lot of people, I have been working from home since March.  It has worked out well for me since I can work anywhere I have a solid internet connection.  My wife has been home as well and I will admit I have enjoyed being home with her and my kids quite a bit.  I often get to listen in on her meetings when I go upstairs (my office is in my basement next to the game room) to get coffee. She has been talking about Optimization Levers all week.  In her case it has to do with software development.  But it is something I think about a lot in my day job and in my own RPG design work.

One of the reasons I feel I will never fully be part of the Old-School movement (whatever the stripe) is that I prefer simple solutions over complicated ones.  Don't give me 10 different ways of doing something in a game when one will suffice. I don't need tables when a simple algorithm and a number will work just as well or even better.

This is one of the reasons I feel that modern D&D is superior, design-wise, to older D&D.  I don't need pages of attack matrices for different classes and monsters when 3.x BAB and AC as DC works so much better.  I don't need percentile dive for thieves skills and d6s for ranger skills when both can be done with a d20.

The more you can simplify the rules the more then fade into the background and people can just play.

This is the central design philosophy behind Cinematic Unisystem. Everything is d10 based. Successes are based on any adjusted roll over a 9.  Simple. 

But simple mechanics do mean the game as been "simplified" or "dumbed down." It means the esoterica has been removed.  For D&D and Unisystem the lever is the d20 and d10 respectively.

I see a lot of people online complaining that such and such game is "dumbed down" or "made simple," often accompanied by a confession of never actually have played the game in question. 

Don't confuse simple with simplistic. 

Tools of Design

Likewise, I like to keep my process of design simple.  I feel it puts me into the right headspace for design.  So my levers here are the basic sort.  Paper and pencil.

Don't get me wrong. I am a technophile.  My wife and I love to be on the cutting edge of technology. I can even remember a time in the early 90s where I was looking for 50Ω terminators for the in house network we had built when such things were not only not common, but there was no good place to buy all the parts we needed for the multiple types of computers we had at the time.  

I will still run stats to determine spell levels and figure out which levels are needed.  While I can, and do, run those on my computer, I taught stats for long enough to also do the calculations with a pencil. 

Research still involves me, some books, and a folded up sheet of paper that serves as a bookmark and a place to keep notes. 

Coffee and pencils. Still my most reliable tools.

I mean yes. I will still transcribe those notes onto my PC/Laptop/Phone with some more details. but it has worked well for me for years.

So my advice is to be like Archimedes.  No, I don't mean run through the streets of Syracuse naked yelling "Eureka!" But rather use the simple tools and find a good place to stand.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Introducing Night Shift

I had something planned for today, but it will have to wait till later.  Busy day at work.  So here is something I have been working on.

So folks, to coincide with Halloween, I will be Kickstarting the newest core RPG from Elf Lair Games this October! I'm still working out the exact details (getting quotes for printing costs in particular) so I know what to set my goal, but it's planned as a hardcover B&W release. Please spread the word and keep your eyes out! Here's some more about the game:

NIGHT SHIFT: VETERANS OF THE SUPERNATURAL WARS Debuting the new Elf Lair Games house system, O.G.R.E.S., Night Shift is an urban fantasy, horror, and dark modern supernatural game that uses a brand new system of old-school mechanics inspired by and derived from the original, basic, expert, and advanced versions of the World's Most Famous Role Playing Game. It allows you to mimic all the tropes of just about any film, TV series, or novels you like.

All of the following are possible with Night Shift:

  • Cheerleaders that are chosen to slay vampires
  • Sisters imbued with the power of chosen witches
  • Worlds where Fae of all manner battle in the politics of light and dark
  • The great-grandniece of a famous gunslinger inherits the legacy of the demon hunter.
  • A world where two brothers armed with knowledge and weapons hunt the supernatural in their father's name

And more!
Jason and I have been working together for years.  We worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG together.  I playtested Jason's AFMBE games and his Amazing Adventures books, he playtested my Ghosts of Albion.  He published my first OSR Witch book.  We have over 80 years of game playing and nearly 50 years of professional game design combined.

This game is going to be so much fun.  And perfectly suited to the cinematic style games I love.

Hoping to get you all some previews and character write-ups throughout October.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sick Days, New Year's Resolutions and Upcoming Books

Not feeling so hot today.  Some viral thing has been running through my home and at work, so I guess it was only a matter of time before it got me too.

This got me thinking about my New Year's Resolution.

Each year I try to resolve to do something new, or better, in the upcoming year.  I am happy to say I am usually pretty successful at keeping these.  This year was no different.

For 2017 I resolved to clear out a lot of the half-finished "Works in Progress" I have on my list.  Having five half-finished documents are not as good as having one finished one.  So you can see the fruits of my efforts this year with a new witch book out every six weeks so far. I also finished up a project for the DMsGuild and the Classic Modules Today group.

Now I don't want to burn out my audience so I am debating on whether or not my Summer Solstice book should be a "witch" book.  Oh if you think I don't have another witch book up my sleeves you haven't been paying attention here for long. ;)

Which gets me to today.
Since I am feeling kind of crappy I was digging around in my projects drive and found some docs I had written about the Healer Class. Actually, I have two; a Clerical healer and a Psychic healer.

The other projects I have are:

The Faerie Witch / Green Witch.  This is planned for the Summer Solstice.  It covers the Faerie Witch traditions as well as the Fey Pact Warlock.  I also will talk about "Grand Covens" and have more faerie creatures.  For Swords & Wizardry complete with conversion notes for Basic Era.

The White Witch. This is a simple book for playing good-aligned witches in Swords & Wizardry Whitebox.  Due out in August.

The Complete Necromancer. This is a much larger project. In addition to the Mara Tradition Witches and Death Pact Warlocks, I am going to comb through many OGC sources to provide a "complete" Necromancer class, an Undead Slayer class and a Death Priest. Some of the material in this book goes back to the beginning of my witch class.  This book will feature hundreds of spells and dozens, if not scores, of undead monsters.  It is a huge book.  I want to get it out for Halloween (natch) but not sure if I will get it all done.  Swords & Wizardry Complete / Basic Era.

The Healer.  Again this is a class that shares a genesis with the witch and necromancer. The Clerical Healer will have plenty of new spells and things to do. Plus rules on how to play a passivist character in a world of murder-hobos. The Psychic Healer will be similar but rely on psionic powers and manipulating chakras. Basic Era, no set date yet.

Space Truckers.  Ah. This one has been running around in my mind for years.  No witches. No magic. Think back to 1977, this is "Star Wars" meets "Smokey and the Bandit" meets "CHiPs".
An Ode to roadtrips and the strange alchemy that was the late 70s.  New classes, new races, new rules for short and long haul spacetrucks. For White Star.  No date yet, but this year is the 40th Anniversary of both "Star Wars" and "Smokey and the Bandit", so I should do it this year.

Below is a quick poll.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Let me know what you think. I am on a ton of allergy drugs right now; who knows what you can convince me to do!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

All Star RPG Q&A #2

Tonight I am participating in Dan Davenport's All Star RPG Q&A #2.
Check his blog for a list of who is participating,

It will be tonight 7pm to 10pm Central time.
If you want to come by to ask me or anyone else questions then I would love to see you there.

If you come by I am sure to say something about old school gaming, but I am also going to talk about horror games, Ghosts of Albion and Victorian games in general.

The last one I did was supposed to go for an hour and the questions kept me on for 3 instead!

So come on by!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Moving Day Finds

At my day job we are all moving up a floor in my department.  No I am not getting a bigger office, but I am also not getting a smaller one.  But I did find a notebook of things I had started working on during Gen Con 2010 and then when I was at the repair shop after we got hit.

Not sure what is in it, I saw some 4e material, what looks like some notes on The Witch, and some Savage Worlds stuff.  Looking forward to seeing what I have.

ETA: Seems to have some Cortex and Pathfinder stuff as well.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Star Trek RPGs

I was chatting a little bit with my buddy Greg on Star Trek RPGs.  He had mentioned while he love Trek he has yet to find an RPG that really captures that proper Trek feel.

I give Greg the benefit of the doubt on this one, he has played all the Trek RPGs out there and playtested a few more.  He has also played more SciFi games than I have.

Now I will admit that so far Starships & Spacemen 2e seems to fit the bill rather nicely, it's not perfect. In fact in my mind it even has a couple of potential problems, but I am not talking about that one today.

So let me ask you all.
What does a game need to have or do to be a "Star Trek" game? 
Any series is fine.  Any game is fine.  Just let me know why it works.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Modular D&D? Tell me more Mr. Cook.

Monte Cook has posted a little bit about the latest incarnation of D&D on WotC's site.

It seems, so far, that they are going to take a modular approach to the game system.  As a game designer and former computer programmer I find this a very interesting take and I am looking forward to more.

Extrapolating on this I can see the following set up:
D&D5 Basic - A basic box with all the rules you need to play. Basic classes, races and magic.
D&D5 Expert/Advanced - an addition to these rules that take the game into all sorts of directions. Added races, classes, prestige classes and the like.  Think of all the cool things from D&D Expert and the AD&D 1st ed DMG.
D&D5 Tactics - a miniature focused set of rules for players/DMs that want more definition in their combats.  Sure it makes the combats take longer, but that is the trade off.

Then splats similar to the current Heroes of the Feywild or Heroes of Shadow that expand certain "campaign free" areas of the world.

While reading the "lists of demands" in the 5e boards left feeling nothing but despair for the next edition, the official word from the actual designers is leaving me with more optimism.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

The worst kept secret in the RPG biz is now out.

Players Roll the Dice for Dungeons & Dragons Remake

I'll have some thoughts on this in a bit.  But I am interested in how they are going to get the player input.

Here is the press release from WotC.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Witches Three: 4e v. Pathfinder v. OSR

We are at an an interesting time in the history of D&D.  Today we have two games, but fun and great to play, that are the heir's of the legacy that is D&D.  The first is a direct descendant of the previous version with some of that version's best and brightest minds; Pathfinder.  The other bares the name, but is very different in structure and play, but no less fun and no less of an adventure: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Ed.  BUT that is not all, like buying two and getting the third for free we also have the large and chaotic mass that is called the OSR.  In it are many games that also claim rights to the throne.

I am not going to delve into the relative merits of one game or the other. Or even talk about play style or anything else.  Play the game you enjoy, the way you enjoy it.  Personally I like to play all of the above.

No today I want to drill down my attention on one thing in particular.  How the witch class is presented in the rules in these games.  For the first time we have what can amount to an "Official D&D Witch Class".

The 4e witch was just introduced in Heroes of the Feywild and the Pathfinder witch was introduced in the Advanced Players Guide.
For the moment I want to recuse myself from commenting too much on the OSR witches.  Both "The Witch" and "Eldritch Witchery" are off to editors, but still I don't think it would be the most proper thing to do.  That all being said I don't have issues commenting on these witches since a.) they have already been written and published and b.) all my ideas are already on "paper" and sent off, so I am not likely to change anything at this point.

So what do we have here?
Both the 4e and Pathfinder witches use Intelligence as their prime ability and the one tied to their spellcasting.
Both require the use of familiars to learn their spells.
Both can form covens for an added benefit or coven related benefits.  The 4e witch handles covens a bit like builds.  The Pathfinder witch can only join a coven with a hag.  I don't like that at all really.
Neither offer much right away in terms of higher level class options; ie no Paragon Paths (outside of the Legendary Witch) and no Prestige Classes.

The 4e witch, as mentioned previously, is a "type" of Wizard. This bugged me at first, but I got over it once I saw the advantages.
The Pathfinder witch is a base or core class.

The 4e powers are very much in line with charming, controlling and turning enemies into animals.  There are some "striker" like powers, but not many really.  The authors took care to make the distinction between Witch, Wizard and Warlock a lot clearer.

The Pathfinder Spells are similar, but lot are pulled from both the Arcane and Divine lists.  The Pathfinder witch with Hexes and a familiar gets an absolute ton of spells.  I'll need to go into detail on the Pathfinder witch on a later date.

I am using my checklist from Tom Moldvay as a means to identify how witchy these classes are, at least for a start.

Ability 4e Witch Pathfinder Witch Basic Witch
1. Ability to use Herbs skills skills ability check
2. The Power of Fascination powers spells spells
3. Clerical and Magic-User magic Yes Yes Yes
4. Sympathetic Magic limited to powers limited to spells new spell mechanic
5. Worshipers of forbiden religions yes yes yes
6. Powers based on natural cycles "Moon" builds no spells
7. Covens Yes only with hags Yes
8. Ritual Magic In PHB I only limited Yes

Based on that, the Pathfinder witch is a little short, but nothing that can't be fixed with role-playing and some supplements.  I do notice that Moldvay's list does not include the ability to use familiars.  I think that is rather important too.

I am getting a chance here in a bit to play some more of the 4e Witch so I'll know better how she plays out.  I am still looking for a chance to play the Pathfinder witch some more.

Here is what I don't like about the classes.

4e Witch: There is still some confusion over the roles between a Witch and a Fey Pact Warlock.  Maybe this is on purpose.  Warlocks and Witches should have animosity towards each other and this could be where it comes from.
While it is nice that the Witch has some of the same options as does the Wizard, it also means the witch can take "Fireball" or "Lighting bolt" as spells.  Two very iconic wizard powers.

Pathfinder: I hate what they have done with covens for the Pathfinder Witch. It robs the witch of one of her key elements to be honest.  The hexes are cool, but some of them are too focused on curses and less on the other aspects of witches.
Where are the Prestige classes?

Both/Either:  Intelligence as a prime stat?  I can see why, but really it should be Wisdom or maybe Charisma. They supposed to be members of the craft of the wise.

In any case it is an embarrassment of riches. I am not sure if I'll ever have enough time to play the games I have now, let alone anything released in the future.  I like both of these classes and would love to see more for both of them.

It's a good time to be me! ;)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Modern Systems, Part 2


I am burned out on Unisystem.  There are a few very good reasons that I just don't want to get into now, but the bottom line is the same.  I am burned out on it and what to try something else.

Not just play or run, but write about. Maybe even publish somethings for it.

I have had in my mind now for a while the idea that I want a game that would simulate modern supernatural/urban horror, and there are a lot of systems that can do this well, Unisystem at the top of the list really.  But I want to be able to do more with it and have something that I could if I choose, publish stuff for it.  So that rules out many of the systems that would otherwise be fine.
Also I want the focus of the game to change from "killing things and taking their stuff" or even "we are saving the world again, it must be Tuesday".

I am looking for something where people can play supernaturals or normal humans side by side with out too much of an issue.  A goal would be to have it be able to emulate any modern supernatural TV show or book you can think of.  Well, not Harry Potter, that is a different animal completely.

Here are my choices so far.

True20 - I am inordinately fond of this system.  It is easy. It is simple and it gets out of the way while playing.  I am not thrilled with levels, but I have an idea about that.  I have already done a lot of work with True20, both here and in some unpublished material that I can now use.  While it's support is also next to nothing and the fan base is thin, the rules are solid and I can use them thanks to the OGL.  Though one of the issues with True20 is that humans basically start at 1st level and a vampire or werewolf is much higher.  Plus there is no system of Drawback or Complications in True20 (though I have written one).

Fate/Fudge - Another open system with a lot of support.  I am just not overwhelmed with it.  I suppose I could go the route Icons did and use numbers.

ORCS - Jason Vey's system in Spellcraft & Swordplay. Flexible and has many advantages.  I would though end up making it look more like True20 in the end, which is why I put True20 on the list.

Mutants & Masterminds - Now this is an interesting choice.  Nearly everything I need is here.  The system is open and with Superlink I can even do more.  I would need to redo the magic systems a bit to be honest.  4Color/superhero magic and urban fantasy are not really the same.  It has the things I like in True20 and Orcs, plus it has a ton of support.

Savage Worlds - Not a fan of this system, even though it is good and has a ton of support as well.  Again, I'd need to redo the magic system to get it to my liking.

"Power of Three" - you have not heard of this one.  It is a system that I have been poking around with for a couple of years.  The name comes from the three basic abilities all the characters have, Body, Mind and Spirit.   Yeah similar to Tri-Stat, but the mechanics are different.  It is also based on the Charmed game I'd like to write one day.  Of course the system is perfect for what I want to do except for the little problem that it is not done.  It's not even in a playtestable shape yet. So much for that.

The one thing all these games have though is the means to support a lot of mini-campaigns or min-campaign worlds.
Here is what I have in mind. This is not all of them, nor are these even set in stone.

Generation HEX - the most developed of the three mini-worlds. Lower powered, kids in a magic high-school

Ordinary World - Supernatural creatures trying to live in modern suburbia and trying to blend in.  That doesn't always work so well.

Power of Three - My "Charmed/Witches of Eastwick/Rachel Morgan" homage.  Witches saving the world.

Daughters of Death - The children of the old gods are walking the earth again and not all of them have humanities interests in mind.  This includes the stats for the eponymous daughters.

Each world then would have additional rules to support their respective views.  So Gen HEX would need to scaled for magic school high jinks (Jinx High?), Ordinary World would need rules for hiding powers and suggestions for stories to tell.

One thing though, I am going to avoid using Lovecraft/Cthulhu type stories or monsters.  The exact thing that he was trying to do the werewolves, vampires and ghosts of a past age have now been done to his creations.

I'll keep thinking about this.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Heartbreaker your time has come, can't take your evil way

I have talked before about the Fantasy Heartbreaker.
Fantasy games that attempt to "improve on" D&D but in the end break your heart.

Here is the Ron Edwards/The Forge standard definition. (circa 2002-3)
characterized by (1) the basic, imaginative content is "fantasy" using gaming, specifically D&D, as the inspirational text; (2) independently published as a labor of love, essentially competing directly with D&D in the marketplace; (3) the rules are similar to the majority of pre-1990s RPGs.
And some links:
Fantasy Heartbreakers
More Fantasy Heartbreakers

reviewed a couple in the past and made a number of posts about one of my favorite ones, Quests of the Ancients.

I was going through my stacks of books (and PDFs) to figure what I had and what I should look to buy at the most recent Gen Con and came on a bunch of what could be called Fantasy Heartbreakers.

I have no idea why these games fascinate me so much.
I *could* claim it is an academic interest that the design of these game reflects either the personal psychic of the designer or the inherent zeitgeist of the times.  But in truth, I don't care enough about the first and the later can be better observed in better more popular games. (Thesis topic: Is the change from oWoD to nWod a direct reflection of the post 9/11 world or merely an attempt to make more money? Another post perhaps.)

I *could* claim that each one is a fascinating game evolutionary cul-de-sac, but that is often giving them too much credit.

I think I like them because each one is insight to someone else's process of writing a game.  A flawed process from a flawed premise.  The flawed premise is "I can make a better D&D than D&D" rather than "I can make a better FPRG than D&D".  I say it is flawed because D&D is the best D&D there is.  There are great FRPGs that are not D&D and they do a wonderful job.But the FHB does not try to be a fantasy game, it tries to be D&D.

There is one thing I always find interesting in FHB's, their "Appendix N" or list of books to read.
Sometimes, rare times, there are good tidbits here.  Most of the time it is a bunch of pretentious posturing of "ooo look what I have read! You read it now to or you are stupid!"
I get putting in Lovecraft (if you have actually read his stuff and not just the bits with Cthulhu), Howard and Poe.  But "Walden", really???  How is transcendental thought going to help me in my game of mass murder and theft (killing things and taking their stuff).  I am going to put list John Dewey (a major figure in my academic life) in one of my books one day JUST so someone will call me on my shit.
Seriously.  The one-up-manship in these is crazy sometimes. In others I am convinced they never actually read the books they mention since the bulk of their game so antithetical to the writings of the author they listed.

But I digress...

Before I go on too much more let's get to today's post.

What are your favorite (or least favorite) Fantasy Heartbreakers?


What is the state or role of the FHB in this post OGL, retro-cloned world?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Once upon there was Irish ways and Irish laws.

One of my WIPs that is very close to my heart is a game of playing mythic Ireland.

Éire (also sometimes called Ériu in my notes) has been in my notes for many, many years and the system has changed based on what I have felt best suited it.  Presently, and likely to be the final version, uses the ORCS system seen in Jason Vey's Spellcraft and Swordplay game.  I chose that over say straight OD&D or some other clone because I like the feel of the game and it has some DNA in it that I really like.

Well the game has languished in the hell of my hard drive since the dawn of the d20 system.  But last night I got inspiration from an unexpected source.

I was working with my son last night on his research paper on Ireland.  We talked about the the Blight, the Troubles and even went back a bit to talk about St. Patrick and my personal favorite Finn MacCool.  After telling him the story of the Salmon of Knowledge my son (whose name is Liam by the way) looked at me and said "this would make an awesome D&D game."

So I am rereading all my notes.  Marveling at some, and wondering what the hell I was thinking with others.
No idea when I'll have it done.  But I feel I should get it done soon.  If for nothing else for my boys Liam and Connor, so they can learn a bit of their own heritage too.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Horror is a matter of tone

Quick question.  Which movie is scarier, The Shining or Mary Poppins?
Have an answer?
Are you sure?

Watch these movie trailers then and come back.  You may already seen these.

Mary Poppins

Horror games are like that.

There is a theory out there on the net (I think I first read it at Krell Laboratories)  that if you take the final girl of horror films and turn her into an ass kicking male then you have an action film. The converse is also true.  Take an ass kicking hero and depower him, or put him is a situation he can't control then you have the start of horror.

The recent trend in books has been the Modern/Urban Fantasy.  You take the tropes of horror and make them into a fantasy story.  Vampires are not hideous monsters, they are different now. Same with witches, werewolves and all sorts of beings that just a few of decades ago were creatures of horror.  We can't blame the Twilight crowd for this, this dates back to even long before Anne Rice and Lestat.  Dracula, was still a monster, but a sexualized one.  Movie Dracula even more so.

What does this mean for games?

Nearly any game can be horror.

D&D has always had a strong undercurrent of horror. Fantasy and Horror have always shared a link.    So often times you can turn a fantasy game into a horror game with something as subtle as the presentation.

The Ravenloft setting had a great example of this.  In D&D you if you go up against a kobold it is described as a sort of reptilian humanoid.  In a horror game it is some foul combination of human, reptile and dog the size of a child, but with murder in it's eyes and blood on it's lips.

I think it is this tone that attracts me most to horror.  I like the tropes, but take the same tropes and given the hero a lot of guns and well there is the action flick again.  "Underworld" is action adventure, "Silence of the Lambs" is horror.

I try to do this in my games as much as possible, but I try not to over do it.  Even the scariest horrors become yawn worthy after to many repeated occurrences.

Some of my favorite books that helped me the most as a GM and author are Nightmares of Mine, Chill, Vampire the Masquerade (oWoD, for personal horror), and Call of Cthulhu.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Houri for Basic D&D

A few posts back I mentioned the Houri class as a follow-up to the posts at Dangerous Brian

The class is an update of the Houri class from White Dwarf #13 by Brian Asbury back in June of 1979.
In my discussion I felt that the class had certain qualities to it that would work as a race as well as a class. Well since I have been experimenting with Basic D&D of late I thought I would give this a try. 

Since this based on the work of others it is NOT released as part of the OGL. 
The Houri Class

The Houri is the offspring of a human or elf and a nymph. Nymphs are known for their unearthly beauty and lascivious natures so the offspring of a chance liaison with an attractive human or elven male is not only expected, but often the way of things. Most of these children are nymphs themselves and continue their lives with their mothers. Every so often though, a child is born that is not wholly nymph. She is not wholly mortal either, but finds a way to live in the world of mortals. Such a creature is known as a Houri.

The typical houri appears as a very attractive female human with elven features, or as an elf with something human about her. Many will claim to be "half-elfs" to avoid any confusion about their racial make up. The houri knows a bit of magic, not as much as a full magic-user or elf and she knows a bit of thief skills, but the main power of the houri comes from her powers of seduction. The Houri has a natural Charm Person like ability that is modified by her own preternatural Charisma.

(*Whitewitch by Tommie Lejis,

Minimum Ability Scores: Cha 15, Dex 10, Int 10

Hit Dice Type: d4 (maximum level 11)

Alignment: Any

Experience Bonus: Dex and Cha both 15+

Armour/Shield Permitted: Leather Armour and Small shield (which often features in certain erotic dances) only.

Weapons Permitted: Dagger, Concealed Pin, Flaming Oil, Scimitar (again, all used in certain performances)

XP Required
Hit dice (d4)Special123456
2Thief 12-----
4Thief 232----
6Thief 3532---
8Thief 46532--
10Thief 566532-


Death Ray or Poison
Magic Wands
Paralysis or Turn to Stone
Dragon Breath
Rods, Staffs and Spells


Target's Armor Class

Special Abilities

Seduction: the Houri may attempt to seduce a single humanoid of the opposite sex or aligned sexual orientation as per the Charm Person spell. The seduction may only focus on one person and their saving throw is penalized by -1 for every level of the Houri. So for example a 6th level houri would impose a -6 to the target's saving throw vs Spells. The seduction is not a spell, but rather a natural spell like ability of the houri.

Thief: At 2nd level and every other level after the houri can use thieves' skills as a thief half her level. The skills are mundane and still require the proper tools.

Spells: The houri may cast spells as per a Magic-user or Elf. Her spells though are more limited in nature and are listed here. Houri record their spells in a spell-book as do magic-users. Note: A houri may also use cantrips if the Game Master allows them. Houri gain bonus cantrips based on her Charisma score rather than intelligence.

As a Monster

Armor Class: 9
Hit dice: 1*
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 Weapon
Damage: By Weapon (typically 1d4)
No. Appearing: 1 / 1-2
Save As: Elf 1
Morale: 10
Treasure: Same as Nymph
Intelligence: 10
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 10

Monster Type: Demihuman (race)
The Houri are the offspring of a nymph and a human or elf.  There are fey creatures, but the more mortal ones choose to join the worlds of humans and elves.
A Houri can cast Charm Person any number of times a day, but can only have one charmed "thrall" at a time.

Houri that are closer to their elven parent are sometime indistinguishable from other elves.  Houri's are often found with Gypsy Elves whether their lineage includes elf or not.