Archive for April, 2011


April 29, 2011

I think the 1E/2E Paladin and Ranger are failures as classes. You can approximate the Paladin with Fighter/Cleric, and you can approximate the Ranger with Fighter/Sneaky/Wilderness. You’d use the same Wilderness class to approximate a Druid, as Cleric/Magic-User/Wilderness. Note that by breaking them out, you get the ability to multiclass other combinations. You could have a straight Sneaky/Wilderness to make a Bandit character that had less fighting ability than a Ranger type.

I’d suggest the following list of classes:


So? I realize there are more than 7 +/- 2 classes to choose from. Kind of a bummer, it’s just outside the range. Also note that you could multiclass with more than three, though I’d suggest a normal limit of 3 unless the player can come up with some description of what the character’s role is like. Also I intended each to start with a different letter so you can abbreviate more easily. If that doesn’t matter to you, “Intellectual” should probably be called “Scholar” or “Sage” or “Academic.”

This should be good: pick any of them and try to come up with an archetype that fits pretty well. Some examples:

Nautical Craftsman: Boatswain
Social Rogue Magician: 2E D&D Bard
Social Rogue Fighter Wilderness Priest: 1E D&D Bard
Rogue Fighter Priest Intellectual: 1E D&D Monk
Nautical Laborer: Sailor
Wilderness Laborer: Peasant
Social Aristocrat: Courtier
Wilderness Magician Priest: Druid
Social Fighter Rogue: Assassin
Nautical Fighter Rogue: Viking
Intellectual Fighter Rogue: Indiana Jones

Are there any basic classes that I’m missing?

Archetypes and How to Invent Them

April 28, 2011

Early D&D character archetypes were “fighter”, “non-healer spellcaster”, “healer spellcaster”, and “sneaky dude”. Yes I know the Thief wasn’t in at the start, but thereafter we saw new classes that fulfilled the same roles. Later we split up into “battlefield control/modification”, “buff/debuff”, “aggro gatherer/tank”, “healer”, “striker/sniper/glass cannon”, etc. It seems like the 4E archetypal roles pretty well cover things, right? What could you possibly add?


An archetype is a way for a character to interact with some feature of the world. There are other people in the world, so there is opportunity for someone to smack those people, convince them, sneak around them. There are locked doors and containers in the world, so there is an opportunity for someone to be good at disabling locks and traps. There are spells, so someone can be good at casting spells. That’s just about where it seems to stop. What else is there to interact with? When you approach the question like that, it becomes clear what you need to do to add archetypes: add world features.

If there are computers and networks, there is an opportunity for a hacker character. If there are psionics, you can have a psionic character. If you add demons and their infernal contracts, you can have a character who interacts with them. If sailing is really important to the game setting / rules, then a sailor character may be appropriate. If little gizmo inventions are available, then a tinker / artificer could work.

The point is, adding a new class should represent a huge new swath of skills, not just a new blending of the old archetypes with a single cool power at the middle to anchor it. If you want blending, multiclass. If you want a new class, create a new world feature. Here are some world feature ideas:

1: One pantheon has six gods, all of whom are jealous and must be worshipped equally. If the character goes about slaying monsters, he gains favor with Defender of the Six, but doesn’t gain favor with the other five. If his favor with any one god goes too far below the others, he loses the special abilities he gains from that god. If it gets really bad, he may suffer hardships. It doesn’t matter so much how much favor you have with any one, just that they’re all fairly even.
Defender of the Six: Concerned with fighting monsters that threaten communities, especially temples of the Six.
Builder of the Six: Concerned with building and maintaining temples and other services.
Explorer of the Six: Concerned with exploration, opening and maintaining trade routes, and securing natural resources for civilization.
Teacher of the Six: Concerned with raising youths, teaching inexperienced adventurers and militia, and nurturing henchmen acolytes.
Speaker of the Six: Concerned with spreading knowledge and the reputation of the Six.
Keeper of the Six: Concerned with guarding and acquiring magic items that might help the church and also any religious artifacts related to the Six.
Adventuring groups want these Priests of the Six because they have strange and useful powers, and are willing to put up with the various demands their faith puts upon them.

2: Every thing in the world contains some spirit. These are usually pretty weak, and are what you speak with when you use Speak with Plants or Stone Tell. This is why speaking with a Rabbit using Speak With Animals results in some useful information instead of gibberish – you’re talking with its spirit. But there are bigger spirits, such as for a whole river or forest. There are town spirits too, and cave spirits. Spirits may be tainted by the foul vapors of the Mythic Underworld. Your character is able to see these spirits and interact with them, at first only by speaking with the weakest of them but eventually summoning the greater ones or negotiating for boons (such as “can you please open a tunnel from this passage to the next one”). Incidentally, ESP spells affect the spirit of the person, which is why they can’t refuse to think about something, and a ghost is just a spirit that became dislodged from a person. Corporeal undead have trapped, tainted spirits. Adventuring groups want a Spirit-Speaker because it’s a great source of information and can occasionally find extra treasure or an easier path, especially long distances overland through tough terrain or in a dungeon, to deal with Undead, and to appease a dungeon spirit who may otherwise cause them trouble in small malicious ways.

3: The world is built on the ruins of an ancient civilization. Their magic items use strange crystalline bars, glowing blue and faceted, to hold “charges”. An ancient Wand of Lightning for example has a charge bar in its handle, and when you use the wand it consumes these charges. When the bar is empty you can replace it with a new charge bar, if you have one. When you break an ancient artifact it’s a mess of tiny fibers and squirrely little pieces, etched with fine lines, impossible to reproduce or repair. Some people are experts at recovering, identifying, and using these artifacts. Some few high level among them know the secrets of recharging a crystalline charge bar! Adventuring groups want to have these experts along because they would otherwise not know which artifacts are worth taking, which can be salvaged, and how to use them.

I hope this brings archetypes into perspective. You need a new class to be important and different. It is NOT OKAY to make up a new Fighter class that approaches combat in a slightly different way, or a new Magic-User that has a slightly different mix of spells. That takes up page count in the book, and it takes up mental space in the players’ minds, and represents a wasted opportunity.

Erfworld Dwagons

April 27, 2011

The webcomic Erfworld used to be attached to the Order of the Stick, but broke off to their own website at the end of Book 1. I tend to read a webcomic up to the newest update, then leave it for some time to “grow back” before the next harvest. I just read from the end of Book 1 to the present, and suddenly realized some things about their dwagons – I mean, dragons. Everything has a cutesy name.

In the comic, each creature has a unit type. Stabber, pike, heavy, archer, caster, siege, etc. They also have attached modifiers like flying or digging. The interesting thing about dwagons is that their breath effect is not necessarily just an attack that causes damage. They also might have an attack type. Purple dwagons, for example, have a siege breath despite being a Heavy unit. This correlates to D&D Lightning Bolt blasting holes in walls and generally Fireball and Lightning Bolt having some siege effect. The list of dwagon types can be found here.

I see some interesting things that I would consider for D&D. Dwagons have some similar breath types to D&D dragons – Red = Fire, Blue = Lightning, Green = Gas. We diverge with Brown / Black = Smoke, Pink = Bubblegum, Purple = Sonic, and Yellow = Acidic Crap. The pink dwagon’s gum attack seems effective as a very different type of breath effect, sort of like silver dragons who can breathe paralyzing gas (right? Some dragon can. I’m not looking it up). We still have acidic damage from the yellow dwagon instead of the black dragon, and the attack direction is refreshingly downward instead of unidirectional. Sonic damage is underutilized, so I like the purple dwagon for that.

I think I would break out Brown and Black dragons so they have different breath types. I’d also take smoke away from the brown / black dragons and give it as a secondary to red dragons. So it might look something like this:

Red: Fire Breath, Smoke Breath, Blood ignites so you take damage when you hit it
Blue: Lightning Breath and Shocking Headbutt (Arc between horns)
Green: Poison Gas, Venomous Bite, Flesh is poisonous so anything biting it takes a weak poison hit
Yellow: Acidic Crap, Sickening Bile, Flesh is disgusting so animals won’t bite it more than once
Purple: Sonic Breath (damage, stun, and knockdown), Best flyer
Black: Acid Spit, Disease Bite, Water Breathing, Slick so you can’t grapple it, swim
Brown: Flesh-Eating Gas Breath, Digging, Squeeze through narrow openings
White: Frost breath (damage, slow, ice accretion), full traction on ice, swim
Pink: Goop Breath (sticky like a Web spell), … uh, little pony summoning? ;P

I also like the idea of gemstone dragons, and I’d have to figure something out for metallic dragons. There are certain dragons missing, such as a mountain dragon with stone-related powers or a coral dragon that’s oceanic and has a shockwave breath to stun creatures underwater.

I definitely think this is the way to go. Dragons need to be different from each other in ways that go beyond the damage type of what they spit at you.

Alignment – Tradition vs. Change

April 25, 2011

I got the basic idea for this from Haven and Hearth, a free Java-based MMORPG. That stewed in my mind for some time, eventually becoming a philosophical piece that I’m not going to write up here. Instead you get the way I think it applies to D&D.

The typical alignment axis is Lawful to Chaotic, and Good to Evil. Early D&D had just Law-Neutrality-Chaos. The concept was the same as in many scifi fantasy books where the forces of humanity were Lawful and those of the Fairy “otherworld” were Chaotic. See “The Broken Sword” and “Three Hearts and Three Lions” by Poul Anderson and “Lud-In-The-Mist” by Hope Mirlees.

Furthermore, the alignment system has been not a continuum but a series of hard lines, so for example you cannot be 80% Good (though the Dragonlance Adventures hardback had a good solution to slow progression of alignment change by introducing steps in between, those steps weren’t named so you were Good until you became Neutral with no change in actual status in between). I’ll leave that for another post sometime.

What I want to talk about is how we think about Law and Chaos. If Law is Humanity, then it is also Good, as we see it. Likewise those Chaotic creatures see Chaos as Good. Law-Chaos seems to be objectively ethical, while Good-Evil is subjective. Law controls and makes life safe, Chaos frees and makes life unpredictable.

What if we talked about Law as Tradition, and Chaos as Change?

There are times in any civilization where Tradition works better and times when Change works better. Generally a healthy society would go with what works better, right? Let’s say you have a society where people use three-legged cauldrons (example taken from Tales of Neveryon). They’re easy to make, and they automatically balance properly, but they can get knocked over easily. What if someone came up with a four-legged pot design that was as easy to make and balance as a three-legged pot? Here we have a technological Change vs. technological Tradition. It would be better for that society to make four-legged pots. They’re just better. But what if the shift were not beneficial? It’s possible that the society would benefit from staying with what is Traditional instead.

Now think about societies as typically Tradition or Change. Societies that have strong Tradition will have fewer ups and downs, but will remain sturdy. Societies with strong Change will shift around a lot, plenty of ups and downs, may have boom times, but may also have busts.

Now take a D&D society. What if the strongest nearby agents of Change want to do bad shifts? Offensive war is Change. The opposing society might also be Change oriented, but it could be a defensive one, where Tradition is prominent. We now have a motivational reason why Law is different from Chaos. The Human Lawful kingdom has done things its way for so long, and it has worked well. Times have been fine as long as anyone can remember. Now a Chaotic kingdom either hits hard times and attacks, or else hits a boom time and becomes an economic threat, or in its boom time it flexes its muscles and tries to take over its neighbors.

Humans, and especially Dwarves and Halflings, all value safety and security. They are Tradition oriented (Lawful). Elves value new ideas, methods, arguments, etc. so they look upon the staid, static Lawfuls as boring and backward. Elves are Chaotic. Goblins’ motivations may be similar, but maybe they have baser needs such as feeding a burgeoning population, getting rid of a troublesome young male majority, expanding territory, or finding new places to live once they devastate a local ecology (lumberjacking, hunting, pasturage, etc). Dragons are interesting, because you could argue that they are strongly Tradition or Change depending on how you see them. The fact that Dragons are willing to sit still for long hibernations on piles of coins suggests that once they see a good thing they stick with it regardless.

If you agree that D&D is post-apocalyptic, then the safe Human societies will probably be the ones that found something that works and did it over and over to survive. The malleable bandits and monsters in the wasteland / wilderness fly by the seat of their pants. They don’t farm, they don’t mine, they don’t dig for treasure. They just roam around and steal from whoever else does those things.

And now my Joesky Tax.

Random Arrowhead Designs
1. Long, narrow, single point
2. Broad, double hook-back
3. Crescent with two points facing forward
4. Four angled spikes facing generally forward
5. Single point and single barbed hook-back
6. Cone-shaped
7. Long, tightly-spiraling screw
8. Triangular view looking at the point
9. Whistling (roll 1d8 for type)
10. Detaches in wound (roll 1d8 for type)
11. Flaming (+1 HP damage, light & shoot in 1 round if you have nearby flames, but always go last) (roll 1d8 for type)
12. Weak poison (save to negate 1d3 HP damage) (roll 1d8 for arrow type)

Sessions 52 and 53

April 18, 2011

No idea how many sessions we’ve actually had in this campaign. I didn’t keep track. We haven’t had many lost weekends, and no Great Summer Blackout, so I’ll just guess.

I guess with 52 weeks per year, so 52 sessions, that in the first year (Jan ’10 to Jan ’11) we had 45. Then another 3 per month until now, which is Feb, Mar, and halfway through Apr ’11. That brings us to 53, so the last two sessions were 52 and 53. Close enough for horseshoes.

(For some reason I’m now thinking about how the bank will generally let you start with Check No. 1001 or so. I didn’t want to cheat, but I caved and let them start me at 101.)

Session 52: Robbing and Dragon
The player who lost all her goodies to the Deck of Many Things realized she also lost her spellbooks. The PCs had just traded copies of all their spells to the wise woman of a troll village in exchange for some potions and a few of her spells. They returned, asked for copies of her copies, and she said if they killed the dragon who lived in the Fogspire Peaks to the west she would do it. She gave the unfortunate PC 6 spells of her choice to put in her books before she left. The wise woman wanted the dragon dead because he kept her from picking the special flowers from the mountain valley below his home, and she needed the flowers from that patch for her Love Potions.

The PCs scouted the dragon cave, found him not at home, and ran in to loot. They stole a lot of magic items and left the coins, gems, jewelry, art, and nonmagical equipment. There was a lot left! As they fled, force-marching down the mountain, they saw fire and smoke as the angry dragon searched around for the thieves.

One PC returned (!) using Meld Into Stone to creep in safely. She spoke with the dragon, who was sulking on his nest, and he seemed affable and welcoming. He asked his guest to follow him into the next cave for tea, and she did, and tea was had. She spilled a few more beans than she meant to. The dragon mentioned that he had just lost some heirlooms that had “sentimental value” and said if she found any that had washed down the mountain in the recent storms he’d gladly pay full value for them. He claimed the contents of his nest were really only a portion of his vast hoard, which included a library he would share with them.

Session 53: Getting Robbed Back
Here the PCs did an Augury as to the dragon’s intentions, which results were inauspicious. The dwarf of the group was adamant that the dragon was no good, but the two main spellcasters (one of whom had only 6 spells from the troll shaman!) wanted to trade the lesser items from their haul back to the dragon in exchange for spells and money.

The two went back to the cave and met the dragon. He gladly accepted their magic items and thin lies about how they got them, leading them into the deeper parts of the cave to the library. Along the way, he used a jeweled staff from the returned loot to “disable some magical wards” but he was actually trying to use it to charm them. Some of their saves came close, but because they were both elves they avoided all of them. Eventually he came to a place where he had to fly across, and he asked if they could fly. When they replied not, he offered to ferry them across and they agreed. He later lured them into a side passage and breathed, confident that they didn’t have any way back. One died immediately, the other taken to almost no health, and the survivor fled with the charred arm of her fellow.

This survivor navigated the cave river in the back of the dragon’s lair to a side cave with mushrooms and a tribe of vegepygmies, who honored her as “the tallest,” to some consternation by the slightly shorter vegepygmy warriors. They nursed her back to health and she found a way back to the dragon’s nest, but he was brooding there.

The other PCs outside and down the valley, close to the troll village, sent a mental message to the two wizards and found one dead and the other trapped. They then sent a mental message to the dragon, saying his treasure (in particular a valuable magic sword) were in the troll village. They fled north away from the village and dragon cave, back home. The trapped wizard fled when the dragon left his cave and met up with them later. They raised the dead wizard at the Fountain of Life in the Monastery thereof (using her one “get out of jail free card”) and returned to find the troll village a smoking ruin. Not one stone lay upon another stone. They found a troll shepherd later and told him of the devastation, and he said he would find other kin to live with.


Both outcomes were fine with me. They just got snagged by a combination of greed and naivete. In the end I think they came out ahead, but they would have been MUCH better off knowing when to fold ’em. This was not a capricious DM decision, it was just a tough monster and they got pretty lucky the first time. I rolled for whether the dragon spotted them in his aerial search and he didn’t. I rolled a simple percentile check to see how poorly the village of trolls fared and got a “95” which to me meant they were destroyed and maybe one or two fled, with the dragon surviving.

There was much more dungeon to explore, and they didn’t even touch half the hoard. The troll village held some surprises they missed out on by selling them out to the dragon. But in the end they walked away with one of the most powerful magic swords in the game and a few other miscellaneous magic items. I think in the future they’ll be a bit more cautious about trusting people and monsters – but so far there hasn’t been such a sharp distinction. Just because something is non-human doesn’t mean it’s out to get you. Just because something is human (or dwarf, or elf) doesn’t mean it’s a friendly resource.

Session Update and Other Associated Updates

April 6, 2011

Gaming Group
The group now meets at my dad’s house, where I played with his group years ago. My group still meets on Sundays. It now includes only one original member (Mark) and four other regulars (Kristy, John, Callie, and Zack). We have two who play now and then (Jeanette and Lexi).

Campaign Synopsis
The adventurers explored around the peninsula with the frontier town Earthstrike, establishing themselves in an ancient keep some 20 miles away. They tangled with the denizens of the peninsula forest of Brackenwood, including giant black squirrels, dryads, and angry forest spirits that beseiged their “Chateau D’ Awesome” with an army of pumpkin-men. Earthstrike was menaced by a fort of goblins across the inlet to the south.

After they were chased out of there they explored more widely, venturing down into dungeons as it pleased them, realizing early on that the game’s primary reward was treasure, and the best treasure was down in dungeons. During this period they explored a haunted asylum monastery, the City of the Ghosts which comes to “life” again every night, the dungeons under a collapsed village. They were spirited away by a ghost ship that took them to a skull-shaped island where the stars were wrong and a great underground harbor seethed with piratic culture. They worked their way out of the trap-filled caves to escape, only to find on their return that the island was in some other dimension and several years had passed.

Earthstrike was a cold ruin: the goblins had won and left with many captives. The adventurers tracked the goblins to the pass leading into their lands, and shied away at the brink. They got new six-legged troll-horses from a troll village in that green mountain valley and went back to exploring elsewhere. They felt themselves unready for the rescue attempt.

In the dungeons under a wizard’s laboratory near the City of the Ghosts they noticed but did not disturb a dragon – the first they have seen. Later they found a village of dwarves who traded with them, and plainsmen nearby, but no other civilization. One player fell afoul of a Deck of Many Things, losing “all property.” She handled it really well.

Game Design
I’m almost done with the player’s guide rewrite. I’m also having second thoughts on one basic design premise, which was replacing classes with a list of 3E style feats that characters could learn as they gained levels. It’s different from a class-based game, but I’m not sure it’s objectively better. I am sure it’s not better on all counts. I need to solicit last-minute feedback from my players.

The magic item book is done. It’s hot. This magic item book is the pimp snizzle. So palpable.

Next up: the monster book, then finalizing my referee notes into a referee guide.

Of course I’ll put it all up on the blog for free (as in free beer).