Archive for July, 2014


July 31, 2014

herculesSo, saw the Hercules movie today.  I went in expecting an enjoyable, if not great, action film.  What I got was actually better than I thought.

On one level Hercules clocks in as a fairly predictable, formulaic Hollywood action film.  However, I really liked the film’s take on the “legend” of Hercules, and in my view this helps the movie step up a bit.  The film is essentially about how heroes are made and legends are born.

It struck me that, in some respects, this movie’s version of Hercules is very much like a typical D&D adventurer:  down-and-out murder-hobo who one day becomes a great hero by dint of luck and skill (and some good PR).  I don’t want to say too much more than that because it might ruin some of the fun for you.

In my opinion Hercules is at least worth the price of a matinee ticket, but if you have your doubts then be sure to catch it on Netflix, Redbox or your discount movie source of choice.

Now I feel like trying some Mazes & Minotaurs.  Cheers.

Mad Max: Fury Road

July 28, 2014

Needles at the Swords & Stitchery Blog brought this to my attention:  the first trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road.

1) It’s nice to see the last of the V-8 Interceptors again, even if only for a few minutes.

2) It’s weird not seeing Mel Gibson as Mad Max.

3) There’s some criticism that it looks “Michael Bay-ish,” and it sort of does.  None-the-less, I’m excited about the new Mad Max movie.  I’m looking forward to this one.


ABC’s of Scavenging, Pt. 2

July 23, 2014

You can read Part 1 here.

Something I forgot to mention in Part 1, ideally bits and pieces of salvage would be represented by cards, which can then be mixed and matched by the players with (hopefully) minimal fuss.  Also, the idea is to cycle through salvage cards at a steady pace.  The PC’s items should break down, and either be repaired with new salvage or replaced with completely new items using a steady supply of cards.

Also, the system is designed with something like Swords & Wizardry Whitebox in mind, where all weapons do 1d6 damage.


Weapon’s are classified by a stat called Weapon Class (WC – term I’m borrowing from old school Gamma World).  Each point of Weapon Class adds +1 to hit and damage (think magic weapon bonus).  So, just a base (B) weapon has a WC of 1.  Each additional piece of salvage added (A, C, D and/or E) increases WC by 1, to a max of +5.

However, when attacking, a result on the d20 roll equal to or less than the weapon’s WC means the weapon is damaged.  The player chooses one of the enhancements that breaks, fails, runs out of ammo, etc.  Obviously, the player will pick an A, C, D or E salvage over a base (B) salvage (otherwise, if the B item breaks, the whole weapon falls apart).

Example:  A character has an M-4 Carbine (B salvage).  Right now it’s essentially a club.  But they have some ammo (Consumable) for it as well, and a scope (Attachment).  The PC also welds on an improvised bayonet (Extra), and adds a touch of bling for style (Detail).  Now the weapon is WC 5, adding +5 to attack and damage rolls.  Should the player roll a 1 – 5 on a d20 when attacking, one of the pieces of salvage breaks (player’s choice).  If the player chooses the Base item, then the whole weapon breaks (because you always need a B item), so the player would probably choose to loose the A, C, D or E salvage instead.


As you’d probably guess, each piece of salvage increases Armor by 1.  At this point I’m undecided whether each +1 increases Armor Class (in the traditional D&D sense), or acts more as damage reduction.  I think it’d work well enough either way.

When attacked, if the attacker gets a Natural 20, one piece of salvage breaks off the armor, reducing its effectiveness.  Again, the owning player gets to choose which piece, and probably should pick A, C, D or E salvage over a Base item.


Tools could work in one of two ways, depending on your system:  1) each piece of salvage added to an item grants +1 on a relevant d20 skill roll over a target DC (the D20 mechanic); 2) each piece grants an X-in-6 chance of success at a relevant task (OD&D style).  Again, tools could break down on a bad roll, as weapons and armor above.


Compounds work a little differently.  They are made by combining only Consumable salvage, effectively representing one-use “potions.”

A minimum of three Consumables have to be combined to create a compound.  When any three Consumables or combined, roll to determine the result on the Lesser Compounds table.  Record the result, as this now becomes a permanent recipe in the campaign and can be replicated any time the PCs combine the same Consumables.

Combining four Consumables permits a roll on the Greater Compounds table, and 5 Consumables allows a roll on the Forbidden Compounds table.

Compound results include things like healing effects, toxins and anti-toxins, mutagens, various explosive compounds and the like.

At the GM’s discretion, the initial roll for a new recipe can be kept secret until the PCs have a chance to experiment with the new compound to see what it does; death and hilarity ensues. 🙂




Action Initiative

July 20, 2014

So, this is just  a musing I’ve had for an alternative initiative system.  This system would probably work best using OD&D or Swords & Wizardry:

Roll 1d6 for initiative, without DEX modifiers.  Players roll separately for their characters; the GM rolls for monsters/NPCs in groups.

High result goes first.  Ties default to the PCs; ties amongst the PCs are resolved as desired between players.  Note that a character’s actions are never resolved simultaneously with another character’s actions.

The result of the initiative roll is also the number of Action Points a character has to spend for the round.  Action Points must be spent the round they’re generated; they cannot be carried over to the next combat round.  Also, a character must use all their AP when it is their turn to act in the initiative sequence; they cannot, for example, spend an AP, wait for another PC to spend an AP, and then spend another AP.

Under certain circumstances, the GM may apply a -1 penalty to the initiative roll, typically when a group is caught unawares (such as the first round of an ambush, though could also be applied to characters who are stunned or dazed).  If this results in an initiative score of 0, the character is too surprised or dazed to act that round.  This is the only modifier that should ever be applied to an initiative roll.

Every action costs 1 Action Point:

  • Move – Fast characters move 10′ (2 spaces), slow characters (heavily armored) move 5′ (1 space) per move action
  • Attack – A quick, unmodified attack; character does not apply their Attack or Ability bonuses to the roll (though penalties may still apply); I’m inclined to not place a limit on attack actions each round
  • Aim – Each sequential Aim action grants a cumulative +1 bonus to one attack roll; aim bonus is lost if the character takes another action before taking an attack action; not yet decided if there should be an aim bonus cap or not
  • Defense – Each sequential Defense action grants a cumulative +1 bonus to AC until you act again on the following combat round
  • Draw – Draw a weapon or item from inventory
  • Use – Using a device or item drawn from inventory; pushing a button, pulling a level, quaffing a potion
  • Cast – Casting a spell requires a number of sequential casting actions equal to the spell’s level (i.e. Magic Missile only requires 1 casting action; Fireball requires 3 casting actions)
  • Hold – Hold an action until a specified trigger event occurs; holding effectively ends a character’s actions for the round

The idea is that most actions should only require 1 AP, so as to avoid creating a long laundry list of actions and associated AP costs.  Also, avoid adding lots of initiative modifiers, to keep the numbers of AP per round manageable.

So, this system provides greater granularity, and allows players to do some interesting things.  For example, they could opt to make several swift, unmodified attacks, or opt to aim for a few seconds and make one well-timed attack.  They can also opt to go full defensive for a round, granting a nice bonus to their AC until the next time they act.

I haven’t quite figured out how to handle a few details yet.  For example, is attacking with a bow 1 attack action, or would drawing an arrow to fire the bow again also count as an action?  In which case, how long should it take to reload a crossbow in this system?

Also, how do each class’ inherent Attack Bonus tie in?  Maybe change Attack Bonus to an Aim Bonus:  All classes start with a +1 Aim Bonus for each aim action, but maybe as Fighter’s progress their Aim Bonus improves to +2, then +3, and so on?

Finally, this system roughly doubles the average number of actions monsters can take each round.  Even the lowliest goblin could potentially get 6 basic, unmodified attack rolls per combat round; that would be absolutely devastating to a poorly defended low-level character (such as a magic-user).  A couple of options:  the GM can cheese things a bit and just assume monsters use the bulk of their AP on aim or defense actions; alternatively, the GM can halve the number of monsters encountered to account for each monster taking, on average, twice as many actions.

Thoughts, ideas and suggestions are appreciated.  Cheers.

The ABCs of Scavenging

July 18, 2014

Nearly two years ago I blogged about an idea for combining pieces of salvage to make items for a post-apoc RPG.  I have yet to actually put the system into practice, but I’ve been toying with the idea off-and-on.

I like the idea of using cards to represent salvage (or pieces of salvage) which the players then combine to make useful items, such as weapons and armor.  For one, my players seem to enjoy using props like cards, and allowing them to combine into items lets them flex their imagination and makes for a neat little mini-game.

However, one thing I wasn’t happy about was a certain lack of structure to the system.  Technically, you could combine anything to make anything, even if it didn’t necessarily make sense, or was redundant.

So, I’ve been tinkering a bit and think I’ve hit upon an idea that adds a bit of structure to the system and yet is still fairly easy to implement and use:  The ABCs of Scavenging.

The basic idea is that you can combine up to 5 pieces of salvage to create an item, but you can only use 1 each of 5 different categories of salvage (labeled A, B, C, D and E):

A items are Attachments, purpose built by the Ancients to attach to a Base item; for example, attaching a scope to a rifle.

B items are Base items, things that are already inherently useful; examples include guns, baseball bats, helmets, chainsaws, computers, medkits and the like.

C items are Consumables, typically used with Base items; for example, bullets for guns, batteries for electrical devices, gas for chainsaws…even bandages for a medkit.

D items are Details, basically bling added to an item for personalization, or a psychological boost if you prefer; things like hood ornaments, lucky rabbit’s paw, a favorite sticker and the like.

E items are Extras, basically non-standard customizations to make Base items better; an example would be adding nails to a baseball bat.

An item requires, at a minimum, a B card to start.  After that, other categories of salvage can be added in any order provided there’s just one of each type A, B, C, D and E.  You could, for example, have A, B and E, but you couldn’t have A, D and E (missing B card) or B, D, D, E (only one D card allowed).  Note that it’s possible for some pieces of salvage to fall into more than one category as well, and can be used to fill in for one of the category slots.

It would be up to individual GMs to decide how strict, or realistic, they want to keep things.  For example, if you’re not concerned about the details, you could allow any combination of A, B, C, D and/or E; use anything to make anything you need.  But if you want a bit more structure and “realism,” you might, for example, insist that scopes can only be attached to ranged weapons (and not melee weapons, or armor for that matter).

So, one nice thing about this system is you can play around with it a bit.  For example, you could have a Vault Dweller class that can attach an extra A card to an item, so they could have an A, A, B, C, D, E item (max of 6 cards), or a Wastelander neo-savage class that substitutes bling (D items) for A, C and E items, allowing an B, D, D, D, D item for example.

Anyways, more details in a few days.  Cheers.


And here is Part 2.

Outdoor Survival Map

July 16, 2014

I’ve (re)created a version of the old school Outdoor Survival map using Hexographer.  Here’s a .png version:


And here’s the Hexographer file, for those who have the program and want to play around with the map: outdoorsurvivalmap (not sure if this file works with the free version of Hexographer).

The crossed swords can represent special encounters, monster lairs or mini-dungeons.

My intention is to modify the basic Outdoor Survival map for different settings/genres, but I wanted to have a ‘pure’ version of the map to work off of.

Also, please note the map is not perfect.  My counting was off and the last column of hexes is missing on the eastern-most edge of the map.  From what I can tell, Hexographer doesn’t have a way to add rows or columns to an existing map, and I didn’t feel like starting over from scratch for a single column.  I can live with it; I hope you can, too.


Bounded Accuracy

July 15, 2014

You can read about the concept of Bounded Accuracy here, straight from the Wizard’s mouth (so to speak).

That article was written a couple of years ago, but I’ve only just recently heard the term “Bounded Accuracy.”  It’s fair to say, I think, that Bounded Accuracy is the foundational design philosophy behind the core of 5 Edition D&D.  In short, the idea is to flatten the power curve, with advancement in character level (including monsters) being reflected by increased hit points, damage output and additional abilities, rather than ever increasing “to-hit” numbers and skill ranks.  The result being a more consistent power gradient in the game, allowing low-level/low-skill characters to still have a decent shot of doing “stuff,” without artificially increasing difficulty to keep up with the steadily increasing power curve.  Likewise, low-level monsters remain a threat to high-level PCs (though you’d need throw more monsters at them).

Having read the Wizard’s article, I have a new found respect for the underlying design philosophy behind 5e, even if I disagree with some of the individual outcomes of that design.  It’s a design principle I can really get behind, as I’m all for reduced power curves, which generally promotes the type of lighter, faster gameplay that I enjoy.

It also explains why hit points and damage output have been increased so much in 5e, which is one of my major “dislikes” about the game.  The OSR versions of this concept that I’ve read about managed to flatten the power curve without significantly inflating hit points or damage, so I wonder if it could be achieved with 5e.  Could a fix be as easy as just using d6 for all damage and hit point rolls, ala 0e?  Or would it entail far more work?  I’m not sure, but it could make for an interesting experiment.

As an aside,  this isn’t an entirely new concept.  Some OSR designers have been using the idea of a significantly flattened power curve for years now, though they didn’t call it “Bounded Accuracy.”

Brain Jars

July 14, 2014

braininajarWithin these jars of glass, metal and nourishing cranial fluid resides the disembodied brain of a powerful sorcerer, arch-mage or necromancer.  Now liberated of the constraints and distractions of corporeality, and severed from artificial bounds of morality, the brain may focus all its energies solely upon the greater Externalities.

Such jars may be found scattered across time and space, examining every facet of existence.  If found, the brain within the jar may be persuaded to grant one small service to a subject displaying adequate intellectual rigor, or who is at least not boring: 1) accurately answer one question about a person, place, or thing; 2) provide a cryptic, prescient insight; 3) divulge an interesting location containing treasures, 4) grant one spell to a wizard, sorcerer or other arcane spellcaster.  Immediately upon completing the bequest, the jar slowly fades away, as it transcends the 68th Parallel of Xuln (or some other equally nonsensical temporality).

If attacked, or acted upon with any form of malice, the brain will immediately translocate to one of its many inter-dimensional sanctuaries.

Edit:  Optionally, the GM may decide that the brain is willing to trade for information, though it should be noted that the brains are quite knowledgeable on virtually all imaginable, and unimaginable, subjects.  Tell the brain something it doesn’t already know, and it will grant one of the four pieces of information indicated above.  Then it translocates.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 11, 2014

dawnoftheplanetoftheapesSaw this today and enjoyed it much more than the prequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  It’s a tale of how fear, mistrust, hatred and, above all, stupidity lead to misunderstanding and inevitable conflict.

The story gets moving pretty quick, so you don’t feel like you’re waiting for a couple of hours for the movie to get to the interesting part (unlike Rise).  Decent story, decent acting, the story makes sense (for the most part) and a nice big battle towards the end.  They also set it up nicely for the sequel, which I’m guessing will be Battle for the Planet of the Apes (you’ll see what I mean if you go see it).

I was close to chucking this one into the Netflix queue but I’m glad I went to see it.  At the very least it’s worth the price of a matinee ticket.  Cheers.

A Few Things I Don’t Like About 5th Edition

July 9, 2014

All right, I’ve given 5e some love, but it’s hardly perfect, particularly considering my preference for lighter rules sets.  So here are a few things I don’t like about 5e:

The biggest issue for me, I think, is that the monster stat blocks still haven’t really shrunk all that much.  I know it’s too much to expect them to go back to the days when a stat block could be represented by a single line (AC 5, HD 2, HP 7, MV 12, Morale 7, etc, etc.).  However, despite dropping two forms of Armor Class, and not incorporating anything like CMB/CMD, 5e stat blocks still clock in close to the size of Pathfinder stat blocks.  And Wizards hasn’t even added monster fluff information yet, so you can bet the actual Monster Manual entries will probably average about 1 page per monster, which is just about where 4e and Pathfinder are at now.

This may seem like a petty complaint, but devoting so much print space to a monster that will, in all likelihood, be dead in a few minutes seems to me to be a waste of time and money.  Extended stat blocks make improvised game play all the harder with crunchier rules sets.  I can’t count the number of times our Pathfinder game has ground to a halt while the GM consulted the Bestiary to read up on a monster he just rolled up, or built out a quick encounter budget for a random monster.  Of course, I realize that extended stat blocks are a way for game companies to pad their profit margins on rule books, making us pay for background material we probably don’t really need, especially when a couple of sentences would suffice for most monsters.  I just would have preferred if the monster blocks could have been trimmed down a bit more.

Related to this is the trend towards Hit Point inflation for both monsters and PCs, which in turn drives overall stat inflation in D&D.  While stat inflation adds unnecessary overhead to a game, I suppose it is the inevitable consequence of D&D’s slow drift away from a game of exploration to a game focused primarily on combat.  In an exploration based game, you want combat to be swift (and lethal, so as to make players think twice about diving head long into battle) so you can get back to dungeon exploration and treasure hunting, whereas in a combat-centric game you want long drawn out fights.  To its credit, basic 5e attempts to shift the focus back somewhat to exploration rather than just combat, though not as far as I might have liked.  Still, the stat inflation is there, leading to longer fights, suggesting that later rule books will probably provide an abundance of options shifting the focus back to crunchy, detailed tactical combat.

Now, you could just reduce the overall Hit Points of monsters and PCs to reduce that drag on the game.  But then you also have to contend with the third item I don’t like about 5e, again related to stat inflation, which is damage inflation.  On the surface, it doesn’t look too bad.  Just an extra point here or there, at 1st level at least.  But then you look at something like the Wizard’s cantrip Firebolt (which can be cast over-and-over again, without limit), which inflicts 1d10 damage and can be cast at will.  It requires an attack roll, to be sure, but that’s still quite a bit of damage, and at 5th level it goes up to 2d10 damage, then 3d10 at 11th and 4d10 at 17th level.  Which shows that you can’t just adjust Hit Point levels, but have to rebalance damage as well, which is a lot of friggin’ work.

And a fourth thing I’m not too excited about, the addition of backgrounds.  In my view, backgrounds add another step to what should be just a simple character generation process.  The handful of backgrounds provided for basic 5e is manageable, but you just know that entire forests will be sacrificed printing new options, and countless hours wasted as players pour over the splat books, looking for the perfect min/max combination to create the ultimate killing machine.  And while backgrounds can be omitted, with much less fuss than adjusting HP and damage levels, it still seems a not insignificant number of a character’s starting proficiencies and equipment derive from them, so some compensation may be in order.

Which leads to a final revelation for me:  by the time I’m done adjusting 5e to be the kind of old school rules-light game I’d like to run, all I’ve done is spent a lot of time re-writing OD&D, or Swords & Wizardry, or PFBB, with just a few house rules like Advantage/Disadvantage thrown in.  Much easier to simply stick with a system I already know and like, and just incorporate the worthwhile bits from 5e.  So, upon reflection, I probably wouldn’t run 5e after all, though I’d definitely be willing to play it (the basic flavor, at least), and most likely prefer it vastly over Pathfinder Core.


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