Refurbish Old Loot

July 19, 2015

My gaming groups tend to handle old loot thusly: the Fighter might get the first magic armor, and then when he gets an upgrade his hand-me-down goes to the Cleric or whoever, or possibly straight to a henchman. They rarely sell something purely because it’s surplus for which they can find no use – but it’s possible they’d rather have the cash than a beefier (and happier) hireling.

Also, some types of loot are uncommon. Where do you find magic ballista bolts or magic horse barding?

I just thought about solving both problems by letting players hammer out their old swords, rip up the stitching in their old leather armor, and have an armorer fix up something new. With the same magic as the old item.

A magic sword might be put into service as the head of a ballista bolt. If you get 3 suits of Chainmail +1 you could get someone to make Chainmail Barding +1. Yeah, I know you probably need a lot more chainmail than that, but I’m concerned more about the value of the starting item(s) and the value of the end item being reasonable.

The germ of this idea was in a game I ran where all magic arms and armor were typically 1 or 2 points weaker for the magic portion, but were frequently made of Mithril (+1 higher and low weight) or Adamantine (+2 higher but normal weight). That meant two things: (1) I could drop a magic weapon in a loot pile that wasn’t as powerful (like a steel Frostbrand +1), and (2) non-magical equipment made of Mithril or Adamantine was possible (which let me have boring +1 and +2 gear without special weird magical stuff, which I had determined that every single magic item would have).

One outcome of (2) was that players would be able to melt and reforge Mithril and Adamantine gear into whatever they wanted, allowing them to trade several Mithril (+1) daggers for a Mithril Chainmail (+1), or in one case melting down some Admantine shields they found to armor-plate their wagon with +2 sheet metal.

There was also a nice choice for the players who had enough metal to make it, between light equipment that was +1 or normal weight equipment that was +2. Because I was tracking encumbrance pretty regularly with Delta’s stone-weight system, I had a few players choose to wear the weaker but lighter Mithril armor because it meant being able to haul around a couple extra sacks of treasure or gear.

Layers of Placing Magic Items

July 17, 2015

I’ve said before that I prefer to place a magic item instead of money. Because I don’t like magic shops, opportunities to buy magic items are limited, so players can always choose to trade out a magic item for money but can’t really do the reverse to get whatever item they want (typically they’ll have a couple purchase options every game session but not necessarily the exact item they were hoping for).

But how to place those items? I go about it in several passes.

Layer 1: Total value. I want enough value worth of magic items so the players get enough treasure to level up. This is more important in games where you get XP for GP. In the game I’m running, for example, you get 1 XP per GP, and 1 XP per GP value of magic items you decide to sell without using, but generally about 10% of the XP value for the magic item if you decide to keep it. If the players sell the magic items they get more XP and are higher level, but if they keep them all they are lower level but more powerful because they have the items. It tends to work out regardless of what they choose.

Layer 2: Theme. If they’re exploring a dwarven temple, I want some appropriate magic items. If a monster hoards items the loot can be anything someone might have carried into its lair or that it found nearby. I like each treasure cache to be a little story. One time I had a secret room that connected two hallways, and far in the past some annoyed adventurer had hurled his pile of cursed items in there.

Layer 3: Usefulness. I don’t want a cache to be just a bunch of Fighter items because everyone else at the table is bummed. Items anyone can use are cool. At the same time, I want a balance of usefulness. Not everything has to be combat-related. Especially at low level an item that weighs nothing but replaces a bulky piece of equipment can be worthwhile (like a magical dome that works as well as a 10-man pavilion). This frequently runs counter to Layer 2 because at that point I might have a wizard tower and think that it needs a lot of wizard items in it. But maybe the wizard has a bodyguard, or a magical trap has a thief imprisoned and starved to death, he has some unidentified items, or he just has some goodies he can’t use and might trade away.

It’s tough to predict, like trying to make a viral video, but it’s great when a player really latches onto the idea of a magic item and it begins to make the character really stand out. Imagine if Thor’s player finds a kickass magic hammer at level 2, it becomes a thing with him, and he goes for the whole fur coat and horned helmet ensemble. Later he gloms on additional magic items like gauntlets, belt, and a better hammer. If not for the fortuitous attachment the player had to that first magic hammer, Thor might become just another Fighter. This can happen through the magic of a player being really in the groove and pleased to find a +1 thing behind a secret panel. It can also happen because the magic item isn’t just a bonus and instead gives him a different option to choose from.

Layer 4: Interactions with the other adventure elements. At this point it’s usually just a switch from one item to another so the players can use it in specific areas. Magic items as problem-solving tools. Sometimes I’ll start the process with Layer 4, with an item and a problem that it can solve, and then build the theme (Layer 2) and adventure difficulty (Layer 1) around that. Maybe it means I shelf this adventure idea for later. But when I come around at the end to do Layer 4 it’s typically stuff like “change the Potion of Heroism to Plant Control instead so they can part the razorvine if they found the potion and they think of it”.

You can do just fine without going through all this trouble. You really can say it’s a 5th level dungeon so you should put in a few +1 items, a few scrolls and potions, a +2 item, and a low-end ring or low-charge wand. I think in the published classic modules that’s what you see. But you also sometimes see a strange connection that shows some extra effort has been made to put extra depth in the treasure placement. It’s like the difference between one layer of glaze on a pot and multiple transparent layers of glaze: both pots hold the water.

Everyone is a Cleric

July 8, 2015

The thought I had the other day was also partly a reaction to DMs eliminating Clerics from their games. Is there another way to do it that’s interesting and just as extreme? Sure – everyone is a Cleric.

Earthdawn gave everyone magic because the setting is magic-rich (in a way) so there’s no such thing as “just a Fighter” for a PC. There are always going to be non-magical scrubs out there.

You’d say that the typical healer-Cleric worships a god of peace or health, so those are the abilities he gets. If your character worships a god of burglary he’d have Climb Walls, Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, etc. A Cleric of the wilderness might be more like a Druid or more like a Ranger depending on which god it is. M-U and Cleric spell lists would need to get chopped up like the 2E Cleric spheres. Actually, you could probably get by without doing any work by just forcing everyone to play a Specialist Priest out of the Faiths & Avatars and similar books (I recall at least two others).

Even Conan swore to Crom. Fighters get their supernatural toughness and slaying prowess from a god of war, not just because they’re “experienced” mortals. A demigod like Hercules would benefit directly from his immortal bloodline but would also be able to gain levels. No more complaining that a 10th level Fighter has more HP than a dragon.

A 0-level human could start earning XP if he proved himself worthy through great deeds – like how Philotomy’s play report of the module I4 (which is down at the moment) had a caravan guard who rolled nice in combat for a while got promoted to Level 1 Fighter. Which brings up a great starting question for a 1st level PC’s player: what did you do that was so cool you were able to hit 1st level?

Not everyone has to get spells – but why not? Give Thieves some low-level illusions, Invisibility, Silence 15′ radius, etc. But give it to them at higher level like Rangers and Paladins do, and lower caster level and spell capacity. That way he defaults to his skills but he can bust out something special for the really difficult parts.

Why would an adventuring party of holy men and women of different faiths band together?

1: The gods aren’t so shitty to each other as we might expect, and gods of similar alignment are fine hanging out, havin’ a brew, watchin’ the game.
2: Clerics don’t antagonize each other trying to get conversions (a negative method) but try to outdo each other in great works and achievements (a positive method).
3: All the human/demihuman gods, even if their alignments differ, are still opposed by alien and especially nasty gods like those of the humanoids. Moradin might want the best of everything for his Dwarven people, but he’s going to be happy to work with an Elf god to fight against Orc gods – and especially against a god worshipped by Underdark slimes, Githyanki, Mind Flayers, etc. There’s a greater threat out there, so it makes sense for the PCs to work together.

Carousing can be handled as usual or maybe just for donations.

Motivation to adventure is a little easier.

Given enough deities, you could get a mix of abilities without alignment problems. For example, a 1st edition Monk is able to do a lot of what a Thief can, so a party could do without the Cleric of Burglary. If you want a scout, you could get a Cleric of Woodcraft (Ranger abilities) or a Cleric of Secrets (divination, invisibility), or of Illusions, or Psionics.

Not sure whether this changes much besides giving a justification for superhuman abilities in high-level characters. It is nice to have secular character options. But you know how this works; it might be cool for someone’s game.

Select All the Images With Ice Cream

June 18, 2015

I just found a captcha that wanted me to click all of the images that contained ice cream. Out of nine, one was clearly ice cream, but another was yogurt parfait. I figured the yogurt didn’t count – but I was wrong! All these years and I could have been eating ice cream for breakfast.

Module Playlist as Campaign

May 7, 2015

I talked yesterday about the inputs the DM and players add to the game experience when running a module. I’m writing an adventure now, as we’re playing it, and my players’ antics are going to affect the module. I also come up with weird ideas and make connections I didn’t see before during gameplay. It’s a richer adventure than it would be if I were writing it alone. Is this what it feels like to be part of a writers’ salon? I should find a forum for gaming authors.

This process is exciting because once the module is printed and sent out, other people are going to experience it differently, but they aren’t going to have much impact on how other groups experience it.

That got me thinking about collaborative video games. People playing on a small server are like players in a single gaming group. Individuals might filter out into other groups part-time, some come and go, and others are reliable anchors. But in, for example, a Minecraft server, there is little going on in one server that affects other servers. There is some spread of culture throughout the community, but I believe most of the impact comes from mods. Some mods are minor, but others affect gameplay so much they become the identity of the server.

If you start a new campaign with a module, how much will that module’s themes, events, NPCs, loot, etc. impact the rest of the campaign? Are there really great “module playlists” that result in latter modules being experienced in a very different way than expected?

What if you could get the module author to run the adventure for you?

May 5, 2015

I always felt that book readings by the author are totally not worth it. I’ll read a book with margin notes, but what can the author add by reading his own words? What about watching a movie sitting next to the director? I’m probably wrong and missing out on some serene joy.

It feels like games are different, possibly because they’re so interactive. I could see how it could be fun to play a multiplayer game against or cooperating with the people who made it.

And it feels like D&D is absolutely the opposite. Maybe because I’m looking at things from inside the creative process, and I’m just not experienced in those other media and can’t see it.

But if I write an adventure and run it for my gaming group, and we have a great time, a huge part of that is found nowhere in the written text of the adventure. Let’s say there are some broad categories:

1: Things happen that are directly from the module, and go about how the author expected.
2: Things happen from the module but are dramatically different because of the players and the DM running it. Common in mysteries, most noticeably because the players solve it quickly or miss/ignore clues and get stuck.
3: Things are interjected by the DM that weren’t in the module. Running gags, favorite NPCs, the holy relic is now of the PC Cleric’s god instead of the setting-specific one in the module.
4: Things are interjected by the players. A player may become interested in starting a counterfeiting or cattle business, or build a home in town.
5: Random events mean every playthrough is different. Random table results, encounter outcomes, whether secrets are discovered.

Part of why tabletop gaming is so entertaining is its malleability and the ease of development. That’s why it’s really for the best that outcomes 2-5 are super common. The module author’s task is to write a framework for the adventure, giving enough structure so the DM isn’t constantly scrambling to create things during play, and giving enough interesting things that players can interact with to generate plenty of 2-5. D&D is a jam session.

I love this adventure I’m running. I’m writing it up in a way that’s most useful to me at the table, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t will hopefully make it useful for someone else. We’re essentially playtesting and enriching it as we go.

But what do people want from a module?

Do you want something that’s very complete with strongly interconnected ideas? For example, changing the dwarf temple from the deity I wrote it for wouldn’t work well because there’s history, motivation, treasure, puzzles, and loot all affected by that specific deity’s tenets.

Or do you want a very loose framework, a bland dish to which you will apply your favorite sauces?

Because the latter can be generated readily by computers, I think there’s more human-added value to the former. And maybe people enjoy a module with a strong, consistent identity followed by a few palette-cleansing randos and something written by the “home DM”. I’m certainly not making any judgments! I read a B/X game that was generally just random dungeons and it sounded like it was a lot of fun.

I am inside this. I have pierced my heart and what flows will stain my page, to be sent to the printers. I deeply feel that for me to create something worthwhile I have to create what I want – not what some audience wants. Hopefully there is an audience for whatever I make. I have to make it, regardless. And I think what I’m making is going to be the former of the two extreme types I suggested above.

Multiple Paths and Encounter Balance

May 4, 2015

I’m working on a sandbox adventure: lots of things in it, ways to deal with those things, and paths to travel between them. You could spend a lot of time ignoring the main dungeon or you could go straight to it.

How do you make the game interesting for players whether they encounter the Troll Bridge at level 1 or level 5? Another way someone might phrase that is, how do you balance the encounter and the loot? Here’s my take on this.

1: Not everything will be a combat encounter. If the creature is too tough or weak compared to the PCs it may turn into a chase or parley instead.

2a: If there is a fight: If the PCs are underleveled for the encounter, they will have a hard time with it. It might feel like a boss fight. They may turn away from the area, considering it too difficult right now, or may press ahead and use consumable, nonrenewable resources to overcome the encounter. When they eventually deal with it, they’ll get good XP and loot, perhaps beyond their normal expectations, and that will help boost them up to the level they should be in that area.

2b: If the PCs are overleveled for the fight, they’ll blow through the monsters quickly, get bad XP and loot which won’t change their power level much, and move on through to a higher-level area.

What if the higher level party doesn’t experience the area the same way because it’s too easy? But what if the underleveled party experiences a high level area as more harrowing and exciting than it would be at-level? I think the potential for the latter is worth the risk of the former.

Multiple paths.

Let’s say there’s a main dungeon, and to reach it you can go through a big nasty front door leading to Level 3, or go through an unguarded air vent to Level 1, or a very deadly pit leading all the way down to Level 6. Novice PCs will want to head in through the air vent because Level 3 is too tough for them. But once they’re higher level, even if they haven’t cleared out levels 1 and 2, they might just take the shortcut at the front door to save time and wandering monster rolls.

Now let’s say instead of just a different entrance, you have a pre-dungeon that leads into Level 3 and another that leads into Level 6. The PCs may not realize they lead to the main dungeon yet. When you enter the first pre-dungeon you find Level 1 difficulty, ramping up to Level 3 difficulty by the time you reach the main dungeon and pop into it at Level 3. Seamless! Same with the other pre-dungeon, where you enter at Level 2 difficulty and it ramps up to Level 6 difficulty just before it spills into the main dungeon. A faster increase, and more dangerous because player won’t as easily spot the higher level stuff in the pre-dungeon.

I love this method, and have used it in two adventures now.

In one, I had four 3-level pre-dungeons with a portal in the bottom of each, leading to the main dungeon, which started at difficulty Level 4 and didn’t have any direct connection to the surface. The idea was you could go through any of the four and get to the bottom, and then if you wanted to explore the other three, you could go in from the exterior top entrance as usual, or head across the portal room and enter another dungeon’s Level 3 portal room to get to the hardest part of it immediately. Each pre-dungeon was ruled by a high-level villain, and to protect himself from other villains each would fortify his portal room, making the fight very entertaining for the PCs. The players in my game explored two of the pre-dungeons but never took advantage of the portals to skip the upper levels of the second one, and never set foot into pre-dungeons 3 and 4. They just decided eventually to follow the clues back to the overworld where they gathered things they needed to banish and/or control the boss and reached the end of the adventure.

It worked well, but a party at level 7 or 8 entering a new dungeon and working their way down would have been tedious. Much quicker than a Level 3 party doing it, but it still takes time.

My second adventure using this method is the one I’m working on now. In it, there is a super dangerous and obvious entrance, a secret side entrance that’s actually pretty dangerous too, a pair of side entrances leading to a lower level that nobody will likely find except from the inside (meaning you probably have to reach the level and leave by the side exit to find the entrance), and – this is the important part – two pre-dungeon paths that don’t seem connected to the main dungeon.

I decided it might be cool to have the local awful human racist bandit/adventurer band discover the other pre-dungeon that the PCs don’t find, and explore it at roughly the same rate the players explore theirs. This gives me a reason to have these antagonists present themselves in the main dungeon rather than just being a camp in the woods and an entry on the random wilderness encounter lists.

Will the PCs fight them, considering them claimjumpers and unwilling to share loot that might be found in the dungeon? Will the PCs (some non-human in this case) overcome their revusion at the bandits’ attitudes and work together? Will they partition the dungeon somehow and try to avoid each other? And regardless of their political decision, what happens when they encounter each other in the dark, desperate corridors when one party of another may be injured or loaded with loot?

But you all may have an opinion on whether this is just annoying. Does it feel like having the NPCs explore the dungeon too is just taking away adventure opportunities from the players? Nobody wants to feel like someone else is eating his sandwich. But maybe this is a good spur to get them excited to get into the dungeon?

What do you think?

You don’t have time to build up to something great

May 1, 2015

Let’s get down to our roots.

“You’ve got your equipment, worked out your marching order. Your party traveled through the swamps following the ancient crumbling road. You’ve made your way to the ruined moathouse. Its open gates yawn open before you, great planks shattered by some forgotten siege, now covered in moss.”

The next thing that happens needs to be the best thing you can think of. Don’t hold that idea back for use later in the dungeon, or in some other campaign. Trust me, you’ll have other ideas. Maybe better ones. What you can not afford is to have a mostly empty ground floor with some bandits who don’t know about the snake living in the corner.

Let’s say you game every Saturday for a few hours, every single week of the year. You could play through the old school modules in a couple years. Mix in the One Page Dungeon contest winners and you’ve got at least another couple years. By then you probably have a bunch of adventure ideas of your own, maybe a big campaign idea. Assuming no gaps in gaming, and that you’re one of those lifelong gamers, and you don’t play other games, I could hand you enough free resources to run games for a decade. The stuff I write, I’ll probably never get a chance to use all of it. Not to say it’s all good, but I sure like it.

This embarrassment of riches demands discretion. You have only so much life to live, only so many rolls of that d20, so every lame battle with some kobolds in a field means one less fight with a fire-eating Kool-Aid Man who took over a dual-phase wizard’s mansion.

Next game session, use up the best idea you have right away. I think you’ll find it refreshing.

New Campaign – First Time Doing A City Campaign

September 3, 2014

Trying to get a new campaign up and running. I’ve got a gonzo sci-fantasy jungle / desert setting where a baroque and decadent empress rules a decayed land studded with bits of ancient and fabulous magical technology, and her emperor is exiled to a sunless dungeonland of weird fungi and toad-cults under the capitol. This Crescent of Civilization setting is in the works, but its flavor is becoming bitter from having tasted it too much over the past few months. It rocks but I am disillusioned at the moment.

What I want is a more tightly focused game, maybe straight Undermountain or something. I want crazy stuff to happen in town: random encounters with street weirdos or stumbling upon a battle between two funeral processions, a beer-cart robbery turning into a fight with a mimic, a bad harlot subtable roll resulting in being bitten by a poet (which turns you into a poet). I also want crazy stuff in the dungeon: factions that can be played off each other, puzzle rooms hiding excellent treasure, cutting a thankful explorer out of the belly of a giant snake. I really want the city to be dungeon-adjacent both to reduce travel and enhance interconnections between the areas. Phlan would work too. Or a region I had run for a campaign called Dweller in the Pool.

As for rules, I’m seriously considering d20 E6, which is a pretty simple rules hack for 3rd edition: leveling stops at 6th and after that you get a feat every 5000 XP. But of course you have to qualify for the feat, and feats won’t give you access to 4th level spells, and while the “build” premise doesn’t entirely evaporate it’s much easier to stomach. Or I could do 1st edition, which I’m comfortable with. Or 5E – although the art style still leaves me cold and the rules are no better than the homebrew stuff floating around. There’s a point where you’re just done with “all the dwarves are a little different now so spend $150 on new books, we swear we aren’t selling you a shit sandwich this time guys”. When I write a rule set, I have the booklets printed up at Kinkos for $3 each and just hand them out – then again, I’m not running a business here. So maybe I’ll dig up Ruins & Ruffians, do an errata pass, and use that. Or the 0E translation I just did.

I’m happy as long as people are running out of torches, your sword breaks over the orc king’s collarbone and the wizard has to throw you a spare dagger, and the bodyguards rush in only to clog up those bear traps you thoughtfully laid out ahead of time. His secret stash in his lavish boudoir. The sun shines at a hole far above, you climb out on creaking ropes, and spend your treasure on carousing and equipping the next expedition. But that’s what I’m comfortable with – I don’t have a whole lot of politics and intrigue in my campaigns. But if I have rules for that stuff that turns it into a game and not a loosey-goosey talkfest, maybe I’ll be more likely to use it. SO in addition to a boatload of event and encounter tables that define the setting, and dungeon and city maps and keys, and lots of stuff that can turn into plot depending on whatever the players do with it, I need some kind of social rules framework and social events and encounters.

I wants players to consider it worthwhile to set up housekeeping in a fortified dwelling in or near town. Inns have to be unsatisfactory for security reasons and a lack of legit banks means you have to hide any treasure you don’t carry. What other benefits of having a residence? Maybe Fighters get buff because they have a gym to work out in, M-Us and Clerics can study spells and magic items sporadically during their off time or produce potions and scrolls, Thieves fence hot loot and gather adventure hooks and treasure maps. So I need some simple guidelines for what you get with a dwelling. Everyone’s established by Name Level so followers naturally appear hoping to march under the PC’s banner.

I work on the plot between sessions: I look over what happened and consider whether there are any ramifications in the future. I find that this stuff generates threads that naturally result in interesting background and can be pulled together for something that looks an awful lot like I planned a story arc all along.

I also want to use the classes and races to create social structures in the city. If there are Barbarians, they’re from somewhere and when you encounter an NPC Barbarian he might be from your tribe or a rival tribe. Because there are Clerics there will be temples and weird little deities. Because there are Thieves there will be gangs of thugs and burglary rings and extortioners and cutpurses. Dwarves are rumored to be rich in gold and gems – I love that! But I want to shy away from monolithic guilds, for the same reasons I don’t want one deity and one temple.

More thought and work is required.

Initiative: Declared, Phases, Speed and Length

January 3, 2014

Here’s an alternate D&D initiative system.

1: It involves declaring your actions before you do them. And then during the round you can’t change your mind.
2: Action goes in phases: Ranged, Movement, Hand-to-Hand, Items, Spells.
3: Within a phase the order is determined by features of what you’re using.

First, you roll initiative. Whoever loses must declare first, and the winner declares last, giving him the chance to see what’s coming and decide his plan for the round. Roll d6 for each side (usually PCs and Monsters but you could have multiple forces).

The declaration is “I’m moving to X” and also “I’m doing Y”. You can declare some or no movement AND you can declare one or no action phase.

Phase 1 is Ranged combat. This includes fired missiles like sling stones and arrows, and also thrown weapons, but not activated spells or magic items. All ranged combat occurs simultaneously and before any other phases. This means when two parties meet, they can always exchange missile fire before closing to melee (unless surprise was involved). If you declared a shot and for some reason no enemy is available, you still shoot (probably at the place where the enemy used to be before it vanished). This won’t come up often because there’s no time between declaration and Phase 1.

Phase 2 is Movement. All movement happens in order of the slowest to fastest. So a Move 6 character gets to do his entire movement before a Move 9 character can go. This order works unless there’s some effect related to proximity, such as an aura of fire, for which you should move piece-by-piece; for example, the Move 9 will move 3 spaces for every 2 spaces the Move 6 gets. Because melee occurs after all movement is finished, this should come up rarely. For longer-term movement where terrain knowledge, vision, size, and dexterity are factors, use a set of Pursuit rules such as in OD&D.

Phase 3 is Hand-to-Hand. Within this phase, melee weapons can strike if (A) there is an enemy you can reach after Move is finished, AND (B) you had declared HTH previously. If you did not declare HTH, you can’t attack. Similarly, if you held a bow and declared Ranged, you can’t also attack HTH if someone moves up to you. You can strike HTH at any of the targets available – but if you declared a HTH and there’s an enemy to attack, you must do it. Of course you don’t have to strike friends if they’re the only ones available. If there is no enemy and you don’t get to strike HTH you’ve still used up your declared action and cannot act later.

The order of attacks in Phase 3 is determined by weapon length if movement occurred, or by weapon speed (reverse order weapon length) if no movement occurred. If a spearman fighting an axeman wants to keep winning HTH order, the spearman needs to keep advancing or retreating. If he gets stuck in a corner or his allies behind him don’t want to retreat, he’s stuck standing still and fighting the axeman which means the axeman goes before him in HTH order.

All melee weapons are ranked as Short (Dagger, Hand Axe), Medium (Sword, Mace), Long (Spear, Staff). If two Short weapons fight, the result is simultaneous (and may result in a double-kill as with Ranged attacks). If you throw a melee weapon it goes during the Ranged phase instead and weapon length / speed doesn’t matter.

Phase 4 is Items. This includes opening a door, using a key on a door to lock or unlock it, pulling a lever. It also includes activated magic items like rings and wands. The order of resolution here is that smaller items go before larger items – so a magic ring is very fast while slamming a door shut is probably one of the last items to get used.

Phase 5 is Spells. Spells go off in order of lowest-level first, meaning when you cast you need to decide whether to cast a fast weak spell or a strong slow one. Another caster might attack you with his spell before you fire yours. If you’re hit for damage or severely jostled you lose the spell and it doesn’t go off. Since all spells go off last, and you are actually casting throughout the round, you are in danger of being attacked throughout the round by missiles and then by melee and magic items.


Held actions (for example, a melee attack or slamming a door if you see someone coming) can interrupt another phase. But you can’t hold up more than one action and you can’t take other actions in the interim. You could, for example, declare a held missile action. The next time an enemy comes within view you fire automatically – on its movement phase and before it can finish that movement. You could declare a held Spell and on the next round when an enemy Teleports in you would complete the casting and fry him.

Even though you can’t make actions while holding an action, you can still move normally.


Magic can improve your initiative in various ways. It can make you more aware, giving a bonus to the initiative roll and letting you declare second more frequently. It can affect which phase your action occurs in – for example, you might be able to make a second missile shot in the Spell phase. Or it can affect the resolution order within the phase – for example, a Sword of Speed that has length Medium but speed Short.


Yes this is finicky, but it’s also more chewy and offers more opportunities for magic to affect things. Because it’s also less based on die roll, it allows for better planning. It also lets us take advantage of weapon speed and length in a way that isn’t irritating and cumbersome, and more weapon features make the decision of which weapon to use a more interesting one. It makes Movement matter within a combat even if the distances moved are relatively short. Finally it makes the Initiative roll completely good instead of a mixed bag: if you roll d10 and act in order, the people who lost initiative have to wait, but they also have more information to use when their turn comes around.