Thursday, September 18, 2014

The "Older Cousin" Model

Well, this blew my mind yesterday.  It's really long.  Basically, this Angry DM guy calls WotC out for creating products that do not teach tabletop RPG noobs how to play D&D like the old Mentzer Red Box.

It rang true to me, so I created a little something right here.  Just a furious mid-morning of writing.  Now's your chance to rip it apart, suggest improvements, or comment on its potential usefulness.

Thanks for your feedback!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014


The subject of this blog post came from a Kickstarter question: "Does this support 3.5?"

"This" refers to the next adventure I'm writing, Revelry in Torth.  "3.5" refers to that late-middle period of Dungeons & Dragons which helped propel the Old School Renaissance into existence.  Indeed, 3rd and 4th editions practically forced nostalgia-fueled grognards to become a like-minded community, continually hashing out what is and what isn't OSR while enjoying the melange of overlapping and polarizing tastes it has to offer.

After a little back and forth, I gave his query two different answers.  In the way that Revelry in Torth will include Hit Dice, Hit Points, Armor Class, etc... yes.  It's "supported", meaning compatible.  However, beyond that, no.  3.5 is not just like OSR, O5R, or anything calling itself old school.

Aside from a few conversion issues, there's something else at work here, a deeper issue.  Where 3.5 tried to standardize the game.  I and the OSR go in the opposite direction - non-standardization!  My aim is to make things as unfamiliar and strange as possible, while staying within the loose confines of D&D's core principles.  NPCs and monsters will have special abilities and powers and various game mechanics; however, they will not resemble the rigid and bloated stat blocks of 3.5.

3rd edition, like 4th, is a different animal than original D&D, AD&D, 2nd edition, and now 5th. The majority already know this.  Gamers like myself don't want hardwired rules for everything and everything to be explicitly stated in the rules.  We want grey areas.  We want room to do our own thing, to explore the weird and wild game flow just as player-characters might explore a subterranean environment.  It's not just about the mechanics.  It's a totally different style of tabletop fantasy roleplaying.

The early editions focused on improvisation, collaborative storytelling, and interacting with the unknown rather than rules knowledge and character optimization in order to "win D&D".  I can only hope that 5th edition carries on that unorthodox tradition, that feeling of apprehension when facing a stairway leading down to the next level of the dungeon.

So, those looking for "a proper conversion up to 3.5" will be sorely disappointed in the vast majority of OSR, O5R, and similar products.  Yes, the extra GM prep is an issue but, more than that, they are aesthetically antagonistic.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

[Kickstarter] Revelry in Torth

Yes, I'm at it again.  Couldn't stay away.  Here is the KS page.

Thanks for backing Revelry in Torth!


p.s.  Cover art by Carlos Valenzuela.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Second Wave of Draconic Magazine

Even though there aren't "issues" per se, I think readers will see a pattern.  A flurry of activity followed by a lull week so that new content can be properly digested; crests and troughs.

That means wave #2 is crashing upon the rocks of tabletop fantasy roleplaying!  Below is a list of recent articles...

  • Q&A about noticing secret doors and skill checks.
  • A new spell called Singing Spheres of Yogsoggoth.
  • Trade-offs for investigative scenarios.
  • A video review of The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.
  • A new character class for ex-paladins who fall into a really, really bad crowd.
  • A new monster called the Verge Fungoid.
  • The 1st weekly advice column from Kodarr the barbarian!
  • An article on becoming a better GM.
  • A new magic item called the rainbow shadow cloak.
  • An article on looking back at plain old failure.
  • An amusing vignette about a chaotic halfling.
  • And a suggestion about what to do with those expired character sheets.

Whew, that's quite a bit of new stuff in the last couple weeks.  Thanks to +Shane Ward+Shawn Hartnell, Savage GM, and +Grand DM for their help.  The second wave wouldn't have been as strong without you guys.

If anyone else wants to submit an article or some artwork, please let me know.  More content coming next week!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Danger Dice

Earlier today, +Michael Prescott and I were chatting about my latest article over at Draconic Magazine.  Long story short, his description of another game's mechanic (some RPG called Ghost/Echo) collided with something I've read about but never used (the wild die from later editions of the old school Star Wars RPG) inspired a crazy idea... the danger die.

Here's the gist: whenever a character attempts to tackle a problem, there's always a chance an unrelated problem will rear its ugly head, either in that exact moment or soon after.

For example, the party's thief attempts to rig a guillotine so that it won't cut his friend's head off tomorrow at the execution.  He rolls the standard die or dice roll and... succeeds.  Yay!  However, he also rolled a danger die which came up a 1.  Little does the thief know that someone is lurking in the shadows, watching him.

So, this separate die roll is the wild card of a situation.  And I could see this idea going in a lot of different directions.  Below are a variety of ways to use the danger die concept.

  • Roll a d4 (along with the normal dice rolled) whenever a skill check or non-combat maneuver is being attempted.  If the d4 comes up a 1, then a new but extraneous problem occurs.
  • Roll a d4 after a standard d20 combat roll comes up a natural 1.  If the d4 is also a 1, then either describe a critical failure (assuming that doesn't automatically happen on a natural 1) or describe some fresh horror unconnected to that swing and a miss.
  • Roll a different die than a d4 to determine danger.  If you want it to happen less likely, then maybe a d6 or d8 is more your speed.
  • Use the d4 but a roll of 1 allows the GM to roll on a special "bad stuff" d30 table... you know, just because.
  • Benevolent GMs might want to offset the danger with something favorable.  So, if you rolled a d12 danger die, the 1 could be bad and the result of a 12 could be good.
  • Every +1 a character asks for means that another danger die is added to the pool.  Want a +3 bonus to hiding in the fireplace?  Sure, but then you'll have to roll 3d4 to see if you jump from the frying pan into the fire (lame pun intended, unfortunately).
  • Want to attempt something with a relatively low risk?  Roll a d12 danger die; average difficulty gets a d8 or d6.  Super-duper challenging maneuvers get a d4 or perhaps even a d3! 

I'm sure there are more awesome possibilities out there but for now that's sufficient.  So, what do you think?  Is this something you might try out in your next game?  Want to tweak it?  Go right ahead.  Comment away!  


p.s.  Dice image by JihCe

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

+1 for Swagger

In last week's game, a couple situations arose where I thought a bonus was warranted.  Something besides good roleplaying or detailed description of an attack.  I'm talking unorthodox, baby!

Situations crop up during our roleplaying adventures that seem to demand some kind of nudge from the gods.  After all, a plus or minus 1 on a d20 roll isn't much, just a little 5% tap (just tap it in - tap, tap, taparoo).

 I also came up with a few instances where a penalty could be levied.  The following can be offered on a session-by-session and case-by-case basis as the table deems fit.  Just don't overdo it...

+1  Swagger bonus (also known as the Han Solo bonus - when a player handles his character with the kind of comfortable-in-his-own-shoes confidence that borders on cocky)

+1  GM Forgot Something Crucial bonus (like a player's character sheet or important rule)

+1  GM Ineptitude bonus (also known as the Brain-Fart bonus)

+1  Petitioning the Gods with Prayer bonus (this requires a heartfelt, extemporaneous speech on why the character should receive assistance now)

-1  Player Trying to Weasel out of the GM's Ruling penalty (arguing that would put a lawyer to shame - is that even possible?)

-1 Excessive Whining penalty

+1  Trying Something Outlandish bonus (when a character attempts an action he has no business attempting, yet for some reason it's almost a terrific idea, ingenious not impossible - like using a chicken as catapult ammo)

+1  You've Figured out the GM's Big Secret but Don't Know it Yet bonus (sometimes a carefully concealed plan is obvious for all the wrong reasons or maybe the player took a wild stab in the dark)

-1  Fiddling with Your Phone penalty (or tablet, computer, gadget, whatever... if a player is beyond distracted for more than a couple minutes, then it's penalty time)


Have you ever awarded a not-in-the-rules bonus or penalty because of a player's action?  Did you outright state it, fudge the roll behind your screen, or something else?  I want to know.

Also, I'm sure you guys can come up with more of these.  If you suggest something cool/funny/appropriate to this list, I might include it (credit will go in the p.s. area below).

Thanks for reading,


p.s.  Thanks to +Brett Slocum  for the GM's Big Secret bonus!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Qelong hard road out of Hell

This afternoon, I ran another 5th edition D&D game for a local meetup of the geek persuasion.  You get really big groups when you forget to put a cap on attendance.  At one point there were about 12 RSVPs, then a couple backed out and one no-show.  So, it was myself and 8 players.  For someone who used to struggle getting 3 players at a table, the meetup games are a dream come true.

Anyways, I purchased Qelong weeks ago.  It's a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure written by Kenneth Hite.  The hook sounded alluring with Mythos elements galore.  The stars were right.

Reading through Qelong, I was hit over the head by its strangeness and eloquence and depth.  This was no ordinary module / campaign setting.  This was fantasy fucking Vietnam with equal parts LotFP despair and Hite's obsession with Lovecraft.  Really a small, beautiful work of art.  Shades of Carcosa...

Luckily, I budgeted 4 1/2 hours for the session because this week was incredibly busy and there was no time to make the pre-generated 3rd level characters I had promised.  Instead, I had everyone make fresh adventurers - 1st level and without much in the way of equipment, background, skills, feats, or anything besides the essentials.  It wasn't so much an attempt at old school (even let the players roll 4d6 and drop the lowest for ability scores - still made them go in order down the line, though) as it was a desperate race to the finish line so these PCs could get gaming already.

45 minutes later, we had enough.  Oh yeah, this was my very 1st session with the new Player's Handbook.  It got passed around quite a bit.  Didn't have as much time to familiarize myself with it as I would have liked.  I still don't know if racial ability bonuses are added to racial subtype bonuses or if you only get to use one.

I took the spell casters aside, their characters had been approached by an Archmage of Chaos named Ibzuul the mad.  He wanted the cylinder's seal for himself.  I gotta say, it's just so god damn awesome when something that inspires you to the nth degree trips the same trigger as other artists and visionaries and creative types.  If you've never seen the original black and white British tv serial / film Quatermass and the Pit, do yourself a favor and watch it.  Assuming you don't mind vintage Doctor Who, you'll probably love it to bits.

Anyways, the adventurers travel to Sajavedra.  Sig the human sorcerer, Four Acre the straightforward mountain dwarf barbarian, Palleous the drow ranger, Rivken the dwarven cleric, Olo Underbow the halfling rogue, Chai Too the elven monk, Thimblerod the gnome monk, and finally Azidah the gnome wizard.  I have to hand it to this group.  Lots of roleplaying, speaking in character, witty banter, etc.  After a half hour, I just gave everyone a point of inspiration in the form of a little greenish yellow stone because they all deserved it.

Qelong is saturated with a sense of place and mood.  It was easy coming up with encounters since the text provides lots of suggestions for each location.  I did my best to evoke decay and ruin and some kind of Cambodian noir with magic-users.  How often do you get a chance to run something like that?

Skipping to the end, the PCs fought their most recent employer, another dangerous wizard who also wanted the cylinder rune-plate or whatever it was.  Oh, they had a good reason for turning on him.  He was working on a spell to bring the Great Old Ones forth.  I think Mr. Hite would be pleased.

I rolled a "1" for his initiative.  By the end of the first round, the wizard had one hit point remaining.  So, obviously he was going to cast fireball.  What else?  Well, I didn't realize until after I declared his action how much a 5e fireball does.  8d6!  Without keeping in mind the fact that the party is still 1st level, I roll the dice.  The total is 22.  Everyone rolls their saving throw.  A couple used their inspiration for advantage (basically, I just let those who failed re-roll).  The only one who wasn't either dead or unconscious was the barbarian because he started out with 12.  Now, he was down to 1.

This was one of those moments where everything - the entire 4+ hour session would come down to a single roll.  He was out of inspiration and I had already told the players the wizard's armor class: 17.  Well, even with the bless and all the usual bonuses, Four Acre came up a couple points short.

I fudged it.  Yeah, even with the dice out in front of everyone and the numbers clear as day, I told them the wizard's magic force shield wavered because he had just cast fireball and the hit connected.  Wizard hacked to pieces.

Normally, I wouldn't do that.  I'm not in the habit of granting phantom bonuses, fudging dice, or letting the PCs win just because.  It was a combination of DM error (I should have remembered to scale things back because they were only 1st level and I should also have known how much a fireball does or gone with my instinct and rolled 5 or 6d6 instead) and cinematic flair.  This adventure felt like a movie - a movie where the heroes conquer the apocalyptic sorcerer because that's the kind of epic storytelling we really want.

So, I consider that last roll to have included a DM ineptitude bonus or, if I'm being kind to myself, a swagger bonus because that mountain dwarf kept it real the whole time.  He was after gold and only gold... until the price was simply too much to pay.

I was on such a DM high from that moment that I allowed the dead PCs (those who failed their save against the fireball) to be revived by the monastery's resurrection scrolls.  Even more rejoicing!

By now I was convinced this was Quatermass and the Pit meets Indiana Jones.  The monastery also included a well that led down deep into the earth, possibly to its molten core.  I also started ad-libbing a prophecy about some magical super weapon and how it would one day be destroyed by dropping it down into the well.  The adventurers obliged.

This probably goes against everything that James Raggi believes in, but I even mentioned the land being healed by the disposal of this Cthuloid licence plate of doom.  Some day, it might even become the idyllic paradise it had once been.  Nihilistic blasphemy!  Might as well bring in Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the Qelong sequel, right?

What can I say?  It felt... right.

Wondering what the Call of Cthulhu RPG was doing there?  I flipped through the book for the perfect guardian entity that might be protecting the cylinder.  They ran and ran screaming!

Oh, and the unbridled to-his-face racism endured by the dark elf was something else.  That poor ranger.  Everyone was taking shots at him (even me).  I don't know if this comes up in other groups but during the adventure I seriously felt bad for drow culture and those dark elves who are more misunderstood than evil.  Still, a lot of the ridicule made us laugh in an out-of-character way.

Good times.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Draconic Magazine launch!

I'm pleased to finally announce that Draconic Magazine is live (be sure to bookmark it or whatever those tech-savvy kids are doing these days).  It's my way of celebrating 40 years of the world's original fantasy roleplaying game.

However, just because the site's up and running doesn't mean everything is in its place.  There are plenty of gaps in content, the subscription + bonus content / paypal thing isn't finished, and you might notice a glitch or two.  Hey, it's a brand new website.  With your input (and contributions, hopefully), Draconic Magazine will keep evolving.

Even though I'm calling it a "magazine", content won't come monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or yearly, and there are no "issues".  Eventually, my goal is to have something new up on the site at least 3 times a week.  Speaking of content - Draconic is focused on tabletop fantasy RPGs, but that won't stop us from publishing articles about space opera, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and supernatural horror.  Want to see something in particular?  Tell us what you want!

Here's what we have for you at the moment (with more to come)...

  • A review of the D&D Player's Handbook.
  • A reaction table for when the party encounters humanoids.
  • The Backbreaker - a new monster.
  • A pre-campaign checklist of important questions to ask yourself and players.
  • An article about last minute world creation.
  • Weird plants of the Nether-Realms.
  • An overview of Torth - a shared campaign setting for organized play
  • And the obligatory poll about your favorite edition (go to war!).

Before I forget, I'd like to thank the following individuals who helped shape this project:  Tod Foley from As If Productions for website design, Caio Monteiro who did the main illustration for the site, Terry Pavlet for the logo and lettering, as well as, all the Draconians who've bounced ideas around, written articles, and provided valuable feedback.  Thanks, guys!


p.s.  Promotional spots advertising my own RPG products on the right-hand sidebar are just placeholders until I've worked out deals with suitable RPG publishers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My thoughts on the Neuroglyph / Mike Mearls interview (part 2)

Like the post earlier today, I'm responding to this.

Mearls:  And if you think back to the Red Box in ‘83, when we had that choose your own adventure text… that heavy reading, right, so like a person that wants to play a role-playing game, they probably read a choose-your-own-adventure book. And that’s why when we thought about the 5th [Edition] Starter Set, should have a choose your own kinda adventure thing? Where for 90% of the people this like the first time they encounter a choose-you-own-adventure style play, they’ve never seen this before. But they’ve probably played a role-playing game… they’ve played Skyrim or [World ofWarcraft or any of those game, so they probably actually know what a role-playing game is. We can probably just assume they know what a role-playing game is and they know they just need to make a character, and let’s just start explaining how this game works. So what I think, as opposed to what happened before was, we were trying to predict the future, and then trying to get a sense of the audience, ok? 

Is the Red Box like a choose your own adventure book?  I'm thinking that's more the design team's impression than a deliberate emulation circa 1983.  But is it accurate?  I'll let you guys decide for yourself.

Below, Neuroglyph answers the million dollar question.  As an aside, I can tell you that Neuroglyph's PHB review seemed to hint at OSR criticism...

Well, Mearls' answer goes both ways.  Yes, the old school renaissance was influential but not so much that the designers tried to forge 5e by using an old school philosophy alone.  Basically, Mearls considers the OSR movement reactionary.  It grew out of disdain for RPG design that went too extreme.

I'll tell you what - for as OSR compatible as 5e tries to be (at times), it fell down and fell down hard from the get-go.  Here's a quote of some actual play transcribed by the PHB on page 5...

Dungeon Master (DM):  OK, one at a time.  Phillip, you're looking at the gargoyles?
Phillip:  Yeah, Is there any hint they might be creatures and not decorations?
DM:  Make an intelligence check.
Phillip:  Does my Investigation skill apply?
DM:  Sure!
Phillip (rolling a d20):  Ugh.  Seven.
DM:  They look like decorations to you.  And Amy, Riva is checking out the drawbridge?


Anyone who's had the revelatory pleasure of reading Quick Primer for Old School Gaming knows that that kind of skill check nonsense takes you out of character, out of the story, and out of the game.  Rolling to see if you examine a statue, tapestry, or dungeon wall carefully enough - without taking the time and effort to describe the action from the character's point of view - is the worst.  It's not old school but the very opposite.

Well, my PHB review is coming in a day or two, so I won't go any further into it.  BTW, not trying to bash 5e or harsh anyone's mellow yellow.  For the most part, I love what they've done with D&D.  Just wish a few things were different.