Monday, March 25, 2019

OSRenstein: Curses

Curses are meant to be horrible, twisted magical effects that imperil a character and steer them toward removing the curse. I don't know how many cartoons I watched and books I read when I was younger where a character was cursed and they did everything in their power to release themselves from the spell. In AD&D, curses have always been lame in comparison. Usually a Curse spell bestows a -1 to hit, not good but pretty minimal in the grand scheme of things. If I'm playing a wizard, I might not even care that I am cursed.

Of course, the problem with curses in literature is that they're always unique and they always affect characters in such a way that their life cannot move forward unless they remove the curse. This is difficult to pull off with a gaming group, you would always need to tailor a curse for individual characters, or maybe even players. The other type of literary curse is the one where the cursed character is going to die from the curse. The two stories that come to mind when I hear the word curse involve dying characters: Thinner by Stephen King, and How Spoilers Bleed by Clive Barker. This is easier to pull off.

Curses should be debilitating and should hang over the player's head, making them fear the death of their character, and the easiest way to do this is restrict their character's Hit Points. Thus, a Curse reduces a character's maximum Hit Point total to half (round up) and while affected by the Curse the character cannot regain Hit Points from non-magical healing methods. A major Curse might slowly reduce the character's maximum Hit Point total as well!

This part of the rules isn't written yet. I just wanted to share this idea before I write it definitively.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

OSRenstein: the XP formula!

At the end of the session, multiply the number of players by the number of successful encounters. This is your base Experience Point award total for the session.
A successful encounter is one in which you challenge the players' characters. Taking opportunities that you can't possibly foresee doesn't necessarily count as an encounter. For example, spontaneously deciding to assassinate an important NPC isn't a successful encounter but escaping alive from any guards or militia protecting the NPC could count as one.
During a game session, keep a tally of all the times a player does something you enjoyed or does something inventive you didn't account for. At the end of the session add this tally to the formula.
In this way all characters increase in level at the same pace. The only way a character might go up in level slower than someone else playing in the same group is if they miss a session, or their character joined the group at a lower level.
A session with four players and three successful encounters that had two things you liked would be worth 14 XP for everyone playing, or (3 x 4) + 2 = 14.
Always be honest with your players about the XP Formula and how you are applying it. If an encounter would only be successful if the characters avoid combat, tell them before you even introduce the encounter otherwise they'll feel cheated in the aftermath.

Leveling up
When a character rests, if they have enough XP to reach the next level then they receive all the benefits of the new level.
Before 10th level, characters increase their Hit Dice each time they level up. The player rolls their new Hit Dice to determine their new Hit Point total. Their CON is applied for each level of the character. Thus, a 4th level wizard with a +1 CON who has just attained 5th level rolls 5d4+5 to determine their new Hit Point total. If the new total is less than the old, the character can add their CON once to their old HP total. This way a character’s Hit Points always rise when they go up in level.
After 9th level, Hit Dice doesn't increase and Hit Points don't always go up - but they still never go down. When the player rolls their Hit Dice they begin adding a bonus number of Hit Points to their final total. For example, 10th-level wizards receive +2 to their Hit Dice. The same wizard above would roll 9d4+11 (+9 for CON and +2 for 10th level).

New characters
When a character dies, the player can make a new character with half of the XP total of the previous character, round up.

The XP Formula is something I created to incentivize moving the plot forward. This is derived from the number of players because large groups sometimes don't allow every player to have equal time - I played a game with 7 other PCs for years and some weeks felt like I accomplished nothing because my character didn't have "screen time" - and on top of this, the formula also allows the GM to track how fast they're progressing their own game. With only 2 or 3 players, if you're not progressing through encounters fast enough than it allows you to self-correct and push the players to act more. Additionally, a GM might decide they've bloated their game with too many incidental encounters and now they can look at the formula and decide to cut the fat from their role-playing banquet.

Leveling up when resting comes directly from Dungeon World and rolling Hit Dice to determine your new Hit Point total is another mechanic from Stars Without Number.

Monday, March 18, 2019

the combat of Dark Souls

Something a friend told me years ago was that he hated Armor Class because it doesn't make sense in a realistic manner. Thick heavy armor wouldn't make you more difficult to hit, in fact the opposite, and it would be worn to lessen the damage when you do get hit. Something that Dark Souls doesn't always do very well, but it does follow the idea that heavy armor slows you down. Armor is only a marginally good thing to have, especially if your character is kitted out for speed. This is why you see so many people play Dark Souls wearing little to no armor whatsoever. A lot of armors give different benefits however. Some provide bonuses against magic damage or poisons, while doing next to nothing for physical damage. By comparison, armor in Dungeon & Dragons just gives a static bonus to your Armor Class.

Combat in Dark Souls is pretty straightforward, but still has a lot of depth. When confronted with an enemy's attack you can choose to block, dodge, or parry. Blocking is pretty easy, and is the default method of handling most attacks. You get hit and your shield or weapon takes some of the damage off. Dodging requires a little player skill because you have to dodge away from the attack, and that's not always in the direction you might expect it to be. A successful dodge avoids all damage, but failure means you get hit and more often than not your armor only takes off a little amount of damage. Parrying negates the attack completely, but can only be performed on certain attacks and is difficult to pull off until you "git gud."

To Parry a Boss

If basic combat in D&D is a question of blocking, dodging, or parrying then I think traditional Armor Class would have to go away. Armor would continue to be rated as light, medium, or heavy in order to see if/how movement is affected but would do nothing to evade being hit. In fact, the heaviest armors would make it quite easy to be hit. But armor would negate some amount of damage based on its weight.

Here's my game theory ramblings now.

By reducing the die type of damage dice you effectively hobble the damage coming in and still keep it relatively random. Light armor would reduce damage by one point, medium armor would reduce the damage dice by one size dice (i.e. a d8 becomes a d6), and heavy armor would reduce the size of damage dice twice. An attack inflicting 1d10 damage normally would do 1d10-1 against an opponent wearing light armor, 1d8 against medium armor, and 1d6 against heavy armor. If an attack does multiple dice of damage then it could lose dice once being reduce to d4s but no damage could be reduced below 1d4. Shields would act like medium armor, but actively blocking with one would require a save or else you can't do anything else this round like attacking or drinking a potion or casting a spell. In other words, the force of the attack staggered you momentarily and you have to wait until next round to recover.

Dodging would be a Dexterity-based roll against the opponent's attack roll, and maybe the size of the weapon would act as a modifier. Small weapons are easy to dodge, large weapons are harder to dodge. A successful dodge would negate damage and set you up to act first in the next round.

I don't think I've ever seen good rules for parrying, and in Dark Souls a successful parry riposte can be a devastating attack. Parrying would have to be an attack roll against the opponent's attack roll, and of course could only be performed against a traditional weapon like a sword, ineffective against claws or bites or anything weird or unusual. A successful parry would give you an opportunity to attack and your opponent gets no ability to react, which means some opponents could do it to you too.

I'll have to think some more about this.

Friday, March 15, 2019

OSRenstein: skills and saves

Saving Throws are used to evade some immediate danger or avoid some perilous hazard. If you need to know whether or not the scorpion’s poison overwhelms you, or if you can dive away from a Fireball spell, you make a saving throw. The GM will tell you when you should be making one.
In general, Saving Throws apply as reactions to events that are happening, and are not used to overcome obstacles that need patience or applied knowledge.

In order to succeed at a Saving Throw, the player rolls 1d20 and adds their character's relevant Ability.
Strength for muscle or power saves.
Dexterity for speed, reflexive, or agility saves.
Constitution for resistance or endurance saves.
Intelligence for thinking fast saves.
Wisdom for willpower or concentration saves.
Charisma for personality or charm saves.
Rolling 20 or above indicates success and that the danger is avoided or the action goes as planned.

When failure happens, the GM will narrate the outcome of the failed Saving Throw describing how the characters are affected.
A GM never rolls dice to resolve NPC or monster actions, or negative elements of the environment such as traps - if they involve a PC, the player rolls. Otherwise the GM will make a swift and fair judgement call that moves the story forward and abides by the logic of the unfolding fiction.

Skill checks determine whether your character succeeds at a field of expertise. Failure at the roll means that your character either botched it outright, succeeded in a way that was unhelpful, or was foiled by some unexpected outside influence. The GM will describe the results of failure.
To make a skill check, the player rolls 2d6 and adds his character’s relevant Skill level and Ability modifier. If the total equals or exceeds 10, the check is a success.
Awkward circumstances or bad tools might apply penalties, though usually not more than -1 or -2. By the same token, exceptionally good equipment or a favorable situation might grant bonuses of up to +2 to the roll, or even more if the stars align perfectly. If you lack even level 0 in the relevant skill, you suffer a -2 penalty to your roll.
The relevant skill and attribute modifier will usually be obvious in the situation; attempting to bluff a lone bandit would involve Deception and Charisma, while trying to roll underneath the falling bars of a portcullis would rely on Acrobatics and Dexterity. When in doubt, the GM will tell you what to apply.

If a character needs to overcome an obstacle that isn't covered by a Skill check or a Saving Throw, then the GM will ask for an Ability Check. This works exactly like a Skill check, but the character only adds a relevant Ability modifier, decided by the GM based on circumstances.

There is a gradual level of difficulty associated with each of these checks.

Saving Throws are easy to make, most players are going to succeed at these more than 50% of the time. Saving Throws are always reactions, and failure always leads to injury or harm.

Skill checks are a little more difficult, they require the character to be a little specialized in an area before they can be attempted and most skill checks start with less than 50% chance of success. However, a truly specialized character with a +3 ability modifier and a maximized skill level will succeed at a skill check 99% of the time. Skill checks are always actions.

Ability checks are the most difficult as they almost always only succeed with less than 50% chance of success. Ability checks can be either reactions or actions, but as a rule of thumb failure does not injure or harm the character.

The Saving Throw mechanic is taken from the Black Hack, and skill checks and skill levels were inspired by Stars Without Number.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

OSRenstein: languages & literacy

Starting characters can speak their native language, and they receive additional Languages based on their INT score.
When characters start learning a Language, they add points to it as if it were an ability score modifier.
Every time a Language you don't know is spoken and you wish to interact with the speaker, roll 2d6 and add your WIS plus the Language number.
On a 12+ you understand what was said and can communicate successfully. On a 10-11, you can choose to understand essentially what was said but are unable to communicate, or you can't understand them but your point is made successfully. On a 9 or less, you misinterpret what was said and you sound like an idiot.
Whenever you roll a 12 or higher, you add 1 point to the Language - you cannot add more than one point per day. After the Language has received 5 points, you've learned the Language and no longer need to roll in order to be understood.
Having at least one point in a Language means you can understand basic and simple ideas like "where is food?" and "can I sleep here?" but complex ideas like "can you help me scout this mountain?" or "let me show you how we should ambush those bastards in the valley!" or "don't kill him, we need to interogate him!" will require a roll.

Almost every Language has a Literacy, and every Literacy is different with some being more complex than others. Some starting characters receive Literacy in their native language, and some classes begin with multiple Literacies.
To learn a Literacy your character must invest a considerable period of time, and you must track the time spent doing so. Most Literacies take 3000 hours to learn, assuming you're learning from books. Having a tutor can cut this time in half to 1500 hours, and having a skilled tutor can cut this time in half twice, or 750 hours. A character can't spend more than 8 hours a day learning a Literacy, any time tracked beyond that is wasted.
A skilled tutor is any character who knows the Literacy and has a combined INT, WIS, and CHA modifier equal to +3 or higher. Additionally, a character with a combined INT and WIS of +3 or higher will cut the time required to learn in half again!
When you try to translate written text without any training, make an Investigation+INT skill check. With a successful roll, you will understand the basic message of the script though nuances may be lost. A failure could mean that you miss something crucial in the translation, your translation is time-consuming and delays something important, or you can pick up a word or two but simply have no clue what it really says, GM's choice.

I strive for simplification in most of my rules. I'm not sure if I always achieve it. In this case, I think learning a language should be difficult and have a barrier, it shouldn't just be something you add to the character because you leveled up. At the same time, I want to make it easy to communicate in simple terms because nobody likes funneling conversations through a translator, or relying upon magic all of the time. A player who spends time having their character try to learn a language should be rewarded for their effort.

Anyone who has played Apocalypse World will recognize the success-fail states of the dice roll above as originating from there.

Monday, March 11, 2019

OSRenstein: combat!

This is an excerpt from the combat rules page of my rulebook. One of my 'things' is that the GM keeps a deck of playing cards in front of them, this gets used for all sorts of things.

When combat starts, the PCs act before NPCs. If two PCs are fighting each other, then the one with fewer Hit Points acts first - if they're tied then their actions are simultaneous.
In some combat scenarios, the GM may want to give the PCs a challenging foe who acts before them, or a large group of enemies whose actions happen throughout the round. For these, use a shuffled deck of cards.
Each NPC combatant gets a single card draw, and each PC draws a number of cards equal to 1 plus their DEX, minimum of 1 card. Once everyone has their cards, the GM counts down using the card values starting with Ace then King, Queen, Jack, 10, and so on. For tied cards, PC actions happen before NPC actions. Players still only act once, but high-DEX characters get more chances to act earlier in the round.

Combat is measured in rounds, each round being roughly 6 seconds long. During a round, each character takes a turn fulfilling some sort of action. When all characters involved have attempted an action, the round ends, and if the conflict needs to continue then a new round begins.

During their turn, a character may move and commit to an action. Actions can include making an attack, pulling gear from a pocket and using it, casting a spell, activating a magic item, or some other activity that requires attention and care.
Some actions are called Free Actions, and these can be performed at any time, usually in reaction to something else that is happening.
A player can also choose to Hold their action to act later in a round. A player may hold their action until the end of the round, effectively acting last, or they can use it to interrupt an NPC's action, or to act in tandem with another player. A player cannot interrupt another PC's action, they happen simultaneously or based on who has fewer Hit Points.

To attack, the player rolls 1d20 and adds their Attack score and the attribute bonus associated with the weapon being used, either STR or DEX unless the weapon is magical. If the total is equal or greater than the target's Armor, the attack hits. Circumstances can apply other penalties or bonuses to the Attack roll.
If an attack hits, the player then rolls the damage dice associated with the weapon and adds the appropriate attribute bonus. This damage is then subtracted from the victim's Hit Points. NPCs reduced to zero Hit Points are either dead or mortally wounded.
Hit Point damage represents the wearing down of a target’s stamina and energy. Only the last handful of hit points represents an injury that does serious physical damage.

Being attacked is similar to making an attack. The player rolls 1d20 and adds their Armor score. Opponents always have their own Attack score and the player needs to roll equal to or higher than their opponent's Attack score to evade, dodge, or block the attack. A player may also choose to Defend as their action. If they do this, their Armor score is +4 until the next round.
When a PC gets hit, they take damage just like when they make an attack. When a PC is reduced to zero Hit Points they fall unconscious and must make a Constitution saving throw or die. Similarly, if a PC suffers more than half their total Hit Points in a single blow they must make a Constitution saving throw or die.

The PCs have the potential to make a Critical hit when they attack. This happens in one of two ways: when a player rolls a result 10 points higher than what they needed to hit with their Attack roll, and when a player rolls a 20 on their Attack roll - the only exception being that when a player needs to roll a 20 to hit, no Critical is possible.

Friday, March 8, 2019

OSRenstein: wizard abilities

Detect Magic: Wizards can detect the presence of magic simply by concentrating and looking at an object. In game terms, this costs an action and the wizard can move no faster than a slow walk while doing it, but it costs no MP. If a wizard touches an object that is magical or a person under the effect of a spell, the wizard automatically and instantly detects the magic without needing to concentrate or look for it. This detection only allows the wizard to sense the presence of magic, the wizard learns nothing about the effects or spells used unless they spend time trying to identify the magic.

Identify Magic: A wizard can discern the properties of a magical item by spending six hours in careful meditation with the object. This process allows the wizard to determine all of the magical properties of a single magic item, including how to activate those functions (if appropriate), how many uses of magic remain, and what sorts of spells were used in the item's construction. The wizard does not need to spend MP, nor do they need to be secluded; as long as the wizard is allowed to handle the item without interruption or distraction, it only takes time. A wizard can also identify magic on a creature that is under a spell, but most living things will not sit still to be examined for six hours without some form of restraint.

I like the idea of having a wizard that could specialize in a school of magic and not be required to lose access to certain divination spells which seem like general utility wizard abilities. Also, giving wizards special magic-related abilities that they can perform 'at will' means that I could potentially run a game where wizards start with no spells.

The reference to MP? I'm using Magic Points to cast arcane spells, which is an idea taken from the psionics system in Stars Without Number.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

OSRenstein: clerics' Turning ability

Clerics can Turn wild beasts and unholy creatures by holding their deity's holy symbol aloft and commanding the creatures back. At any time the cleric may use an action to make a Turning attempt. Clerics can attempt to Turn any creature with the Animal, Un-Dead, or Demon trait. This Turning check uses 1d20 and adds the cleric's Hit Dice and WIS modifier - unlike a Spell check, this roll doesn't suffer penalties for wearing armor.
The base roll needed is 8 or higher to turn animals, 10 or higher to turn un-dead, and a 12 or higher to turn demons. The Hit Dice of the target is added to the number needed to successfully Turn them. For example, a Demon with 3 Hit Dice will only be Turned on a roll of 15 or higher.
Animals and un-dead that are successfully Turned will try to flee from the cleric until the cleric is out of sight. If cornered or trapped, the Turning ends and the creature will likely attack the nearest opponent. Demons that are successfully Turned are not compelled to flee, but cannot willingly approach the cleric. If forced to approach the cleric, or cornered by the cleric, the Turning ends and the Demon may act as it pleases.
An attempt to Turn a creature that has already broken free from being Turned will automatically fail. Failing a Turning attempt doesn't count as breaking free from being Turned, and the cleric may attempt to Turn a creature (or creatures) as many times as they wish.

My take on simplifying a cleric's Turning ability. Also, I would point out that being able to turn animals is influenced by Dungeon Crawl Classics, but seems like something priestly characters should have always been able to do.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

OSRenstein: the Feat die

Warriors don't have an Attack score, instead Warriors have a Feat die. The Feat die is an extra dice that is rolled when a warrior attacks, the result of the Feat die is added to the Warrior's attack roll, in this way the Feat die is a rollable Attack score. The number of sides on the Feat die increases as the warrior levels up.
Prior to any attack roll, a warrior can declare a Feat. This Feat is a dramatic combat maneuver within the scope of the current fight. The Feat does not increase damage but can have some narrative or strategic effect. For example, a warrior may try to disarm an enemy with his next attack, trip an opponent, slide down a bannister and crash his shield into three opponents at the bottom, temporarily blind an opponent, and so on.
The warrior’s Feat die determines the success of such a maneuver. If the Feat die is a 3 or higher, and the attack hits, the Feat succeeds. If the Feat die is a 2 or less, or the overall attack fails, the Feat fails as well. It is possible for an attack to hit but the Feat fails, in this case the warrior still inflicts damage for a successful attack.
The Feat die does not increase in size beyond 10th level, and never receives Advantage or Disadvantage.

Dwarves have a d3 Feat die they use when fighting. This acts exactly like a Warrior's Feat die but is different and separate from a Warrior's Feat die, a Dwarven Warrior would roll both and use the better result of the two. Unlike the Warrior Feat die, the Dwarven Feat die never increases in size.

This mechanic originated as the Mighty Deed Die from Dungeon Crawl Classics. I really love the simplicity of giving fighters the ability to use special combat maneuvers without having to fiddle with a list of feats. I always despised that characters might have to specialize to disarm somebody, and then might never get the opportunity to disarm someone. Being able to execute a maneuver in the heat of the moment is so much more heroic. And fun!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

OSRenstein: how to make a character

1) Roll 3d6 and record the sum result for each Ability in order: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and finally Charisma.
If none of your rolls is 13 or higher, then raise your lowest roll to 13.
You may swap two Ability scores.
Notate your Ability score modifiers under STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, and CHA.
Then generate your Luck score (2 + your highest Ability score modifier) and your Load stat (5 + STR / 10 + STR).

2) Select a race and write down any special abilities your character possesses.

3) Select a background and notate any abilities and learned skills from your chosen background (skills start at "0").
Generate your starting silver.

4) Select a class and write down any abilities inherent to the class.

5) Select a class kit. Notate the special kit ability amongst your class abilities, any equipment your kit comes with, and add skill levels where appropriate (skills start at "0" and receiving two of the same skill during character creation increases it to 1).

6) Generate your starting Hit Points (HP) by rolling your class Hit Dice and adding your CON modifier (do not decrease your HP rolled if the CON modifier is a negative).

7) Purchase additional equipment using your starting silver, if desired.

I want the chapter structure of my book to mirror the Holmes Basic Rules, despite the fact that I'm deviating from many of the B/X concepts. Still, starting my book with a good old character creation checklist seems like the best way to dip players' toes into the rules. This is how the checklist currently reads in the pdf.

Friday, March 1, 2019

March 2019

I thought I was going to start writing in this blog more but it turns out I've been writing some other things instead. What are they? Well...

  • OSRenstein is my homebrewed set of rules for fantasy role-playing. As of right now I have 39 pages written. This is what I'm pouring most of my energy into. I want my players to have the rules I'm using and have them all in a single reference document as well. The influences on these rules are varied, but most of them originate within the OSR and it's a frankensteined set of rules and house rules so...
    OSR + frankenstein = OSRenstein

  • Kosranon is my setting book. That's not the title but it's what I've labeled it as on my hard drive. I may be putting all of my energy into OSRenstein right now but I want to publish this book. It's going through a lot of revisions as I build it, right now I only have 8 pages written and a large hex map which I think I should scale down. However, there's lots of notes on my blog here, but I consider those 'rough draft' ideas and a lot of it has been revised or will be altered in the final book.

  • Hexvouna is my megadungeon. This thing will likely never be finished! I have no idea how much I have written as I have multiple notebooks, several emails I sent to myself (and emails between Arnold K and myself), and a few posts here and there about the thing. It's been in my brain ever since I was GMing the Dwimmermount megadungeon at the time and kept thinking it didn't make sense that Dwimmermount didn't have a central staircase that connected most of the levels. Then I saw this post by Dyson's Logos. My next step for Hexvouna is likely to track everything that I've written down and start organizing it into a cohesive collection of information, then editing and fleshing it out.
  • I would like to commission a few artists, and I definitely need someone who's good at layout and design to help me out once I bring Kosranon to completion, but at the moment I'm just writing. I don't want to start spending money on art and publishing resources until I have a nearly complete book.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2019

    Infinite Dungeon Generator with a deck of cards

    Suit: Clubs have enemies of fewer HD than PCs, then Hearts (enemies of same HD as PCs), then Diamonds (enemies are 1 or higher HD than PCs), and Spades is highest (enemies are up to double the HD of PCs)

    Value: is the number of things in room, roll 1d12 and this is how many monsters there are (up to the value of the card), the rest are objects or treasure, face cards should have more treasure than monsters; Ace cards should just be treasure! Ace of Spades is just a room with a very valuable treasure, Queen of Spades potentially has 12 monsters with double the HD of the PCs

    Passages: the card value also determines how many more rooms split off, divisible by 3 have three rooms splitting off (3,6,9,Queen), divisible by 4 have two rooms splitting off (4,8,Queen), this means the Queen rooms always have a secret passage leading out, the rest of the cards have one more room

    Tuesday, February 12, 2019

    re-introducing the Damned

    The apocalypse came and went, now its leftover terrors lie across the land like a plague of fear. The weak cower in their hovels, content to eke out a meager life, praying that demons in the guise of men will pass them over. For those demons have no fears, they refuse to kneel, they want your crowns. And how will you threaten them from atop your thrones? How can you reason with a fiend when all it knows is hunger?

    Johnstone Metzger once granted me permission to convert his Heralds of Hell playbooks into a legal-size format, and he granted me permission again to revise those same playbooks to the second edition rules for Apocalypse World.

    After a delay of my own devising, I can finally reveal this, the fourth of five, the Damned, with all new artwork provided by Marie Ann Mallah!

    letter size
    legal size

    Saturday, February 9, 2019

    Dark Souls is easy

    I decided to pick up Dark Souls again. "I own it," I thought, "I should probably try playing it again." But I kept putting it off, some other game was always ready to be played. Recently, somebody told me that Dark Souls was easy, and when I asked him to explain he said "The secret to winning Dark Souls is knowing where to dodge, not when."

    I remember struggling to beat the first boss, the Asylum Demon, and getting killed repeatedly, losing souls, frustratedly running through the same monsters trying to get to a boss fight I felt was barely winnable. Then I popped the disc into my Playstation, made a new character, coasted through every corridor with barely a scratch and defeated the Asylum Demon on my second attempt. Suddenly, armed with this newfound wisdom, I was charging through Dark Souls like a superhero dropped into a room full of mooks.

    I still make mistakes, I still get killed a lot, and I still don't really understand what all the numbers and words mean on my "character sheet"
    clicken to embiggen
    but I'm no longer finding the game tedious or boring. It's a genuine joy to play!

    I still haven't gotten very far, I think. The Chosen Undead is tasked with ringing the two Bells of Awakening during the first act, and I've only rung one. But yesterday, I defeated the Gaping Dragon on my second encounter with it, and I wasn't even using the best weapon I had against him.

    not my video!
    this guy has better equipment than me

    Sunday, February 3, 2019

    OSRenstein: how I'm rewriting the spells of D&D

    I'm not sure what day I started writing on, but I've got about 15 pages of rules written with 9 more pages drafted out with little details and bullet points of what I want to write. I've been sending my gaming friends copies of the pdf as I update it and I promised them that I would have the 1st-level wizard spells done with the next version.

    This is how I'm writing the spells, I'll use the Shield spell as an example.

    The first thing I do is write down the important details of each version of the spell as it has appeared throughout the various versions of the official D&D rules (except 4th edition because fuck that edition):
    basic - affects caster, lasts 20 minutes
    magical barrier between the caster and his or her enemies.
    It moves with the spell caster.
    gives AC 2 vs missiles and AC 4 vs other attacks

    1e - lasts 5 rds/level
    invisible barrier before the front of the caster
    negates magic missile attacks
    gives AC 2 vs hand hurled missiles (axes, darts, javelins, spears, etc.)
    gives AC 3 vs small device-propelled missiles (arrows, bolts, bullets, manticore spikes, slingstones, etc.)
    gives AC 4 against all other forms of attack
    also adds +1 to the magic-user’s saving throw vs. attacks which are frontal
    all benefits of the spell accrue only to attacks originating from the front

    2e - lasts 5 rds/level
    invisible barrier in front of the wizard
    negates magic missile attacks
    gives AC 2 against hand-hurled missiles (darts, javelins, spears, etc.),
    gives AC 3 against smalldevice-propelled missiles (arrows, bolts,bullets, manticore spikes, slingstones, etc.)
    gives AC 4 against all other form of attack
    also adds a +1bonus to wizards saving throws against attacks that are frontal
    benefits apply only if the attacks originate from in front of the wizard

    3e - lasts 1 minute/level
    creates an invisible, tower shield mobile disk of force that hovers in front of caster
    negates magic missile attacks
    gives +4 shield bonus to AC. applies against incorporeal touch attacks, since it is a force effect.
    shield has no armor check penalty or arcane spell failure chance
    unlike a normal tower shield, you can’t use the shield spell for cover

    5e - lasts 1 round
    invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you
    Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 to AC, including against the triggering attack
    you take no damage from magic missiles
    This tells us a lot about the Shield spell, and it also shows us how D&D has changed over the years. Imagine that!

    I want to strip the spell of its complexity, much like 5th edition has, but I want to retain a long duration, similar to the Basic version. Notice also how the Basic version of the spell gives a much bigger AC bonus than all the other versions of the spell. I like that most versions of the spell completely negate Magic Missile attacks.
    Shield (abjuration)
    Creates a magical barrier in front of the wizard that negates all missile attacks and provides +4 Armor against anything attacking the wizard from in front.
    Casting: 1st level, 1 MP.
    Looking at every version, that's the Shield spell as I want it to be played in my rules. This is what I've written before I've considered any of the specific modifications my custom rules might apply to it yet. I'm already using Magic Points instead of a Vancian system, and that's baked into the Casting descriptor.

    I've included the ability to cast a spell as a reaction in my rules, and I think Shield fits perfectly as a spell that a wizard may want to cast in the heat of the moment. The only real decision I have to make is whether I want this to be a spell that the wizard casts and then it just exists for the duration of the spell, or if I want to change it into a spell that must be concentrated on to maintain.

    I'm going to choose the latter, but I also want wizards to have the option to cast it as a spell they don't need to concentrate on, something with a long duration. My Magic Point system already gives me the perfect way to make this a potentially powerful spell at higher levels simply by adding a scalable duration.

    Adding all of this means the final version of the spell looks like this:
    Shield (abjuration)
    Creates a magical barrier in front of the wizard that negates all missile attacks and provides +4 Armor against anything attacking the wizard from in front. Can be cast as a free action, but the wizard must concentrate to keep the spell active.
    Casting: 1st level, 1 MP. Each level added to the MP cost allows Shield to last for 10 minutes without being concentrated upon.
    I might need to fix the wording of "Each level added to the MP cost" but for now it works, and this is only the fourth spell I've worked on so far.

    The list of 1st-level spells I'm working on is
    Alarm (abjuration)
    Cantrip (all)
    Charm Person (enchantment)

    Chill Touch (necromancy)
    Find Familiar (ritual)
    Floating Disc (invocation)
    Grease (summoning)
    Hold Portal (transmutation)
    Light (transmutation)
    Magic Missile (invocation)
    Phantasm (illusion)
    Read Languages (divination)
    Read Magic (divination)
    Shield (abjuration)
    Sleep (enchantment)
    Spook (necromancy)
    Steed (summoning)
    Ventriloquism (illusion)

    Wednesday, January 30, 2019

    I'm writing a rulebook

    My players and I want to go back to playing D&D, and I had the idea of trying to convert Stars Without Number's skill system into something I could use for a fantasy setting. My recent forays in dissecting how magic could work in a non-Vancian way got me thinking about Kevin Crawford's two different systems for psionics in Stars Without Number. Now, I also like ideas that are presented in the Black Hack and Dungeon Crawl Classics and I grew up playing 2nd edition ... I have all of these ideas rattling around in my head, and in the past I have photocopied pages from different rulebooks to use for my weird Frankensteined rule sets, but this time I'm putting together a pdf that I can send my players and say "This is the rulebook!"

    I have an urge to make it generically fantasy and release it for free publicly, calling it OSRenstein! But right now I'm working on it as a private rulebook for my own table, nobody else's eyes on it, and I'm working in a lot of setting-specific rules, like including the oukek as a playable race.

    Things I've included so far:
    28 skills
    races get their own background choices, which includes some skills, starting gear, and silver
    classes are customized with kits, which give a special ability and some skills
    warriors get a Feat die - which is the same thing as DCC's mighty deed die
    arcane magic uses a point system
    Luck stat

    My shopping list of things to include:
    Ability checks are saving throws
    Reaction rolls + morale
    random encounters
    Ascending AC
    Learning spells = Intelligence check
    usage dice?
    kits with implied social standing are restricted by backgrounds
    system shock = Constitution checks = save vs death

    Tuesday, January 29, 2019

    the problem with Clerics

    I’ve talked about this before but I started thinking about it again in relation to my recent thoughts about Vancian magic.

    Too much of D&D has been lifted from a monotheistic (Christian) cultural template. Clerics who worship a pantheon of deities might dedicate themselves to one deity, but they would still be worshiping and actin on behalf of the entire pantheon. Real-world pantheonistic deities had temples (or shrines) that served specific purposes, so shouldn’t their temples also serve societal functions? Calling on one deity would be like using a particular sphere of magic, but you'd have access to all of the pantheons' granted abilities. Highly specialized pantheonistic clerics fit within the 3rd edition rule structure, but it makes more sense that most clerics wouldn't be highly specialized.

    Singular deities, or monotheistic religions, would be rogue and suspect. At the very least, weaker.

    Another idea: Where are the commandments?
    Clerics of a pantheon would have rules they need to follow. This is usually where alignment comes in, but I often find alignment to be nebulous, intangible, and easily argued into submission. I've always felt that clerics need a philosophy to live by if they don't have commandments, guidelines for their behavior that are separate from alignment. But what about a deity that says, explicitly, "Thou shalt not kill, under no circumstances?" That cleric would be a pacifist, and the society they came from wouldn't have capital punishment. Let's take it a step further and have a deity that commands "Thou shalt not kill humans, under no circumstances?" That cleric would have no problem killing dwarves and elves and orcs and so on, but the culture they were raised in is most assuredly racist.

    Here's what I think:
    All clerics should be able to bless and consecrate and heal, and able to purify food and drink. A single cleric would make a community prosperous. Clerics should either be incredibly rare people, or else all of society would revolve around them being the most important citizens - when the gods are REAL then you basically would live in a theocracy! Each community might not have a very powerful cleric, but visiting bishops would tour towns and cities where worshipers reside and they would visit to heal limbs, cure diseases, and ensure the prosperity of their followers. Being a cleric in such a world would be like civil service.

    Saturday, January 19, 2019

    kickstarter krazy

    For the last two years I've been kickstarting board games with the rational that they're coming with a ton of miniatures and if the game is bad then it's still worth it. Except I funded too many of them, plus I went Frogdog on the latest Kingdom Death and that helped to kill my wallet once and for all. I spent a decent grand kickstarting board games and game books just in 2018, and that's not something I'm proud of. I don't have time to play anything anymore either. I started this year with the idea that I was no longer going to help fund anything on kickstarter, and yet I've already broken that resolution by funding Silent Titans, Into the Wyrd and Wild, and now Cha'alt.

    Cha'alt is the latest supplement by Venger Satanis, a native to my part of the country - his house is only 10 minutes away from mine - and it looks just as crazy and over the top as anything else he's written. He's had sixteen previous kickstarter projects and they all hit their goals, and were all delivered on time (I think the old school map was delayed but only due to a printing error). Cha'alt still has two weeks left and hasn't hit its funding goal yet, but I think this is the first time I've seen one of his projects with such a high goal set. It's also the first time he's tried to make a hardcover print run.

    And now, I can't fund anything else for the rest of the year... unless Jacob Hurst creates a campaign to fund his next swordfish island book, but then that's it!

    Sunday, January 13, 2019

    escape from Vancian magic

    here is a continuation of my ramblings about Vancian magic

    What do I dislike about Vancian magic?
    What do my players dislike about Vancian magic?

    Solution: get rid of memorization.

    What do I like about magic?
    When a wizard, in DCC, rolls a 20 and gets an uber-result or a bonus effect.
    What do my players like about magic?
    When the spell does what they want it to do.

    Solution: make the spells simple affairs that have the potential to make uber-results.

    The idea I have now is to give wizards Magic Points that they use to cast spells.
    Earning Magic Points by leveling up (this is a rough draft):
    Level 1 = +1mp
    Level 2 = +1mp
    Level 3 = +1mp
    Level 4 = +2mp
    Level 5 = +2mp
    Level 6 = +3mp
    Level 7 = +3mp
    Level 8 = +4mp
    Level 9 = +4mp
    Level 10 = +5mp

    Wizards add their best bonus between Intelligence and Constitution to their Magic Point total at each level. A Magic-User with +1 to int and +2 to con gets +2 Magic Points (total of 3mp at 1st level, 6mp at 2nd level, 9mp at 3rd level, 13mp at 4th level, etc.) That might be too fiddly, but it's my starting point.

    Spells also cost an equal amount to cast so a Level 1 spell costs 1 Magic Point to cast. There is no roll and no memorization, if the Magic-User knows the spell then they cast it. Magic Points recover completely after resting/sleeping for 8 hours. Magic Points can probably be recovered through meditation, magic items, or just having reduced costs for specific conditions. Some sort of crystal or plant, maybe both, can help a wizard recover MP faster. Some things, like monsters or cursed items, would drain MP!

    Spellburn: if a wizard "burns" their Constitution they can create an uber-effect with a spell. Burned Con points recover at 1 per week, magical healing doesn't increase the amount healed or reduce the time needed to heal. Maybe a purple lotus flower could recover burnt Con.

    Map spell progression to leveling, a 3rd-level wizard can cast 3rd-level spells, but do they know the spell?!

    Specialists get reduced casting costs or can create bonus effects easier with their specialized school.

    This all assumes a 10-level character progression.
    Having written this all out and looking at it side by side, I'm leaning toward comparing the different versions of the same spells across multiple systems (AD&D, Labyrinth Lord, LotFP, DCC, plus anything else I own) and seeing if I can distill the spell down to a simple action with little need for adjudicating effects.

    Saturday, January 12, 2019


    I've been thinking a lot about how magic works in D&D and how it could be simpler. My players tend to be casual and don't read the rulebooks backward and forwards. Only one person I play with owns a Player's Handbook, and the rest of them are at the table for the ride I'm giving them. As a result, none of them have ever played a wizard or cleric.
    "Too busy."
    "Seems like a lot of work."
    Just what I've heard from them. Meanwhile, I read blog after blog of OSR enthusiasts inventing rules for streamlining combat or generating random encounters, but nothing for just giving players a simplified wizard character with little to no work on their part.

    Enter Stars Without Number. The original rules have a very streamlined and elegantly simple way for psychic characters to progress through their power. The revised edition expands on this system, adding common abilities attached to the psychic's skill level with the area of psychic discipline.

    This last week I've been thinking about how you could apply this simple elegance to wizards, and there are a lot of pitfalls. How do you give them the ability to detect magic and identify magic items? How do you give them the same arc of power present in earlier versions of D&D? How do you allow them to specialize in one type of magic? I stopped trying to solve all of the problems and decided to just make my own wizards. I've never liked the Vancian system of magic, and I always felt the 2nd edition AD&D method of specializing in a school was hobbled with bad bonuses. I like the idea though so I want there to be two types of Magic-Users: specialists and wizards. Specialists would be characters who receive less power overall but get automatic bonuses from their school/affinity and Wizards would receive greater powers but would not be able to specialize in any way. So far, this is what I've come up with:

    Assuming a 10-level character progression...
    Magic is divided up into affinities, or paths, and a magic-user studies an affinity in order to cast spells from it.

    Magic-Users have Magic Points equal to their Constitution score plus their Intelligence modifier.
    1st-level Spells cost 9 Magic Points to cast at 1st-level. At each successive level, they cost 1 less Magic Point to cast. All spell levels act like this, thus a 2nd-level Magic-User casts 2nd-level spells with 9 Magic Points and 1st-level spells with 8 Magic Points. Specialists always reduce the cost to cast their spells by 1 Magic Point. Sleeping for 8 hours restores all Magic Points.

    All Magic-Users can Detect Magic. They need to concentrate to see magical auras, which means moving slowly and taking no other actions. When a Magic-User touches an object, they instantly know whether it is magical or not, regardless of whether they're concentrating or not.

    An example of an Affinity might be:

    Level 1 = Speak with Corpse (spirit of dead body speaks to necromancer)
    Level 2 = Scare (frightens opponent into fleeing/cowering)
    Level 3 = Drain Life (touch creature and drain 1d4hp to gain 1mp per caster level each round)
    Level 4 = Contagion (produces/spreads disease)
    Level 5 = Enervation (fatigues living creatures)
    Level 6 = Create Undead (raises corpses as zombie soldiers, or assembles bones into skeletal servants)
    Level 7 = Magic Jar (necromancer's spirit is able to live on past the destruction of their body)
    Level 8 = Clone (makes a perfect copy of one creature)
    Level 9 = Death Spell (instantly slays one creature)

    I'm not sure if this really works, I'm going to keep thinking about this though.