Why you’ll always be a hack Games Master.

It is a fact widely acknowledged that all true Games Masters handcraft the entirety of their world from scratch and refuse to draw any ‘inspiration’ (a nice word for stealing) from anything other than their own grey matter. You don’t know this yet. But you can change. I’ll tell you the story of how I learned this hard truth.

When I got into D&D I really loved the unique fantasy world it built, orcs, goblins, castles, enchanted forests, dark wizards, halflings. It was wonderful. Then I did some research and it turns out D&D is actually heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings by Tolkein. Gygax and Arneson were hacks!

So I read Lord of the Rings and it was an incredible, rich piece of literature I thoroughly enjoyed. Until that is I did some research and it turns out he just stole it all from Norse mythology and of course Beowulf. Tolkein was a hack too!

So I decided to go further back and read Beowulf. At first I thought what an amazing original piece of work! What a truly unique tale. Then I did some research and it turns out the author just stole from the story of Bodvar Bjarki and interjected some recent historical events into the tale, the hack.

So I went back and read Hrólfs saga kraka but it turns out that story is just an example of the ‘Bear Son Tale’ and the hack who wrote Hrolfs saga just swapped the names around in the story.

So I went back to find the first example of the use of ‘the bear sons tale‘ and it turns out its in Book 9 of Homer’s Odyssey dating to 800 bc, in which Odysseus encounters polyphemus.

At last an original piece of work! And what a fantastic one too, danger, monsters, trickery, sailing, pathos. This had everything.

Then I did some more research and found out the Polyphemos story traces back to the Paleolithic period. Homer, much like his sneaky Odysseus character, stole it! There are over 50 recorded variants of this tale and beyond that they are lost. There’s no record of who, if anyone, actually thought of the story to begin with.

I left disillusioned. Would I ever find an original author, a unique piece of work? Was every author in history a hack?

After that I resolved never to be like one of these thieves. All the ideas I had would be purely my own and I would draw no ‘inspiration’ from anything but myself.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my true and original pieces.

I hope you learn to have similar standards.

Advertisements

B/X D&D Homebrew Fighter Class

In this series of articles I’m going to be going through each of the classes in B/X D&D, giving my thoughts on them and then presenting my updated version of the class for my games.

I’m in no way reinventing the wheel with these but simply trying to draw out what makes the archetype of the class so that ideally every class is viable for different reasons. Many of these ideas are borrowed from other B/X retroclones such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Sword & Wizadry, Basic Fantasy and B/X Essentials.

The Fighter is the most iconic class in the game and the first I’ll be taking  a look at. They’re a class that’s existed in the game since its inception and has always remained at its core relatively the same.

Below are the rules for the Fighter in its original form in B/X taken from B/X Essentials.

Fighter

Requirements: None

Prime Requisite: STR

Hit Dice: 1d8

Maximum Level: 14

Allowed Armour: Any, including shields

Allowed Weapons: Any

Languages: Alignment language, Common

Abilities

Combat: Fighters can use all forms of weapon and armour.

Stronghold: Any time a fighter wishes (and has sufficient money), he or she can build a castle or stronghold and control the surrounding lands.

Reaching 9th Level

Upon achieving 9th level, a fighter may be granted a title such as Baron or Baroness. The land under the fighter’s control is then known as a Barony.

Fighter Level Progression

* Hit point modifiers from CON no longer apply.

AC0: Modified attack roll needed to hit Armour Class 0.

Saving Throws

Level

XP

Hit Dice

AC0

Death

Wands

Paralysis

Breath

Spells

1

0

1d8

19

12

13

14

15

16

2

2,000

2d8

19

12

13

14

15

16

3

4,000

3d8

19

12

13

14

15

16

4

8,000

4d8

17

10

11

12

13

14

5

16,000

5d8

17

10

11

12

13

14

6

32,000

6d8

17

10

11

12

13

14

7

64,000

7d8

14

8

9

10

10

12

8

120,000

8d8

14

8

9

10

10

12

9

240,000

9d8

14

8

9

10

10

12

10

360,000

9d8+2*

12

6

7

8

8

10

11

480,000

9d8+4*

12

6

7

8

8

10

12

600,000

9d8+6*

12

6

7

8

8

10

13

720,000

9d8+8*

10

4

5

6

5

8

14

840,000

9d8+10*

10

4

5

6

5

8

The fighter has a few key things going for them that make them the premiere fighting class. They can wear all weapons and armour and they tie with Dwarves as having the highest hit die of all classes. They also have the best combat progression of all the classes and solid saves against death/poison. They have an average level of XP progression, slower than the Thief and Cleric but higher than the magic user and all the demihumans. This gives them a steady rate of progression. They’re a quintessential starting class able to use

Below is my updated version.

Fighter

Hit Dice: d8

Starting Gear: A Fighter starts with 4d6 x 10 gp and an outfit.

Weapons & Armour:  A Fighter can use all weapons, armour and shields.

Combat Stances: A Fighter can adopt a stance in melee combat, declare this before making a melee attack and apply its effects. It will last until the start of the fighters next round.

Offensive Stance: + 2 to hit, -4 Armour Class

Defensive Stance: +2 Armour Class, -4 to hit

Languages: Common

Fighting Fit: A Fighter always begins the game with a minimum of 6 HP.

Extra Attack: At 5th level a fighter gains an extra attack. This is annotated as +6/+1 meaning the first attack gets a +6 bonus to hit and the second a +1 bonus to hit. This attack can be used for range or melee attacks or with a combat action like a grapple or trip.  A fighter making two attacks like this will only critically fumble if both attacks roll natural 1’s and will only apply 1 critical fumble effect.

Level XP HD AB Poison/Death Device/Wand Paralysis Breath Spell
1 0 1d8 +2 12 13 14 15 16
2 2,000 2d8 +3 11 12 13 14 15
3 4,000 3d8 +4 11 12 13 14 15
4 8,000 4d8 +5 10 11 12 13 14
5 16,000 5d8 +6 / +1 10 11 12 13 14
6 32,000 6d8 +7 / + 2 10 11 12 13 14
7 64,000 7d8 +8 / +3 8 9 10 10 12
8 120,000 8d8 +9 / +4 8 9 10 10 12
9 240,000 9d8 +10 / +5 8 9 10 10 12
10 360,000 10d8 +11 / +6 6 7 8 8 10

A key change between all my class designs and the original B/X is that I’ve removed the vast majority of restrictions to weapons & armour. Magic Users still can only wear cloth and there’s some size restrictions for Halflings and Dwarfs using two handed weapons but that’s about it.  Whilst I understand the restrictions exist as a balancing tool to keep each class firmly in their archetype I’m a big believer in giving players a lot of choice which means letting them pick up and use whatever weapon and armour suits their character and play style. I find it jarring that a Magic User for example can’t just pick up a spear and use it when it’s one of the most common and simple weapons throughout history.

This did leave a problem however, Fighters largest bonus in B/X is being able to use all weapons and armour but when most classes can do that the fighter loses its fighting ability. As a result I decided to both boost the fighters attack bonus even further in relation to the other classes and to give them an extra attack when they hit 5th level. This was to firmly make them the best class at fighting. This rule certainly makes them incredibly powerful forces in combat but they are the Fighter! I’ve also made the switch to using a scaling Attack Bonus rather than thac0 because its simpler and mathematically exactly the same.

I added a rule that limits how often the Fighter can critically fumble as I run critical fumble tables in my games, I do love critical fumble rules but didn’t want to punish the Fighter for having multiple attacks. In addition I gave them the combat stance rule which provides them a bonus to hit at the expense of armour or vice versa to as a further way to show they’re a class that knows how to fight and provide some risk/reward choices in combat. Finally I wanted Fighters to be a class that would be able to fight in the front lines from the 1st level. They kept their d8 hit die and I added a rule that means they will always start the game with at least 6 hp.  I made the number 6 as I felt it was large enough to make any Fighter a solid enough combatent but left room for a player to still be able to roll higher on their initial dice roll.

Fighters are also the class that requires gear the most so I gave them 4d6 x 10 gold to start with to solidy their archetype. All other classes get the standard 3d6 x 10 gp. Since I don’t force Magic Users to buy spellbooks or Thieves to buy Thieves Tools it felt fair to give Fighters a boost so they could have a good selection of weapons and armour to start the game with. This also represents the fact the Fighter has likely had time to find and purchase good gear for their role.

I kept their XP progression the same as I felt it provides a good baseline to judge the other classes around. Their saves are broadly similar too. However for all the classes I made sure that at 2nd level they got a boost to their saves as I wanted each class achieving 2nd level to feel like they’d made progress. I also made sure every class had a final save boost at 10th level as it’s currently the highest level and I wanted it to be rewarding.

For all the classes I’ve removed Prime Requisites , I do I like the idea behind the rule that if you’re good at something you’ll naturally get better at it more quickly. It’s ‘unfair’ but fits well with the idea of Gygaxian naturalism I find in actual practice it’s largely ignored as XP is such an abstracted mechanic to begin with and a minor 5-10% bonus often doesn’t amount to much in actual play.

I’ve further left out the rules for Strongholds and Baronys from the class description, whilst I love the idea of fighters being able to do this later in the game I prefer it as something that arises from roleplay and story choices rather than a fixed class feature. I am considering adding some sort of special rule for 10th level, this may be a powerful class ability, perhaps an extra attack  of some kind or I may introduce a variation of the stronghold rules. I kept the limit at 10 as it’s large enough to be attainable. I can’t see a B/X game really going past level 10 as I feel once characters get that powerful they stop being quite as interesting to play. A level 10 cahracter represents to me someone at the top of their game but who still isn’t entirely invincible.

That’s the Fighter in all their glory. Give me your thoughts, what do you like, what don’t you like and what do you think makes the Fighter best?

In the next article I’m going to be showing my changes to the Cleric.

The 529 hex Barbarian Prince D&D sandbox

In some weird fever dream a month or so back I spent a few days crafting a massive sandbox hexcrawl using the classic barbarian prince map as a basis.

Here’s a link to my version detailing each of the 529 hex’s in the map.

Here’s a link to the HXM file for the hexographer map.

Here’s the map itself in all its glory. All Hexes are 6 miles.

Barbarian prince Map

Barbarian Prince Sandbox Hex Crawl – 6 Mile hexes

I ran this game using Lamentations of the Flame Princess. It’s a great map for OSR sandbox play. The game only lasted about 3 sessions before I realised I couldn’t commit to it, it was fun though, included a TPK via gnoll death on the trade route to the Kabir desert and a level 1 group somehow defeating 4 hill giants, granted with 2 deaths.

I used the great work in the hex hack here to begin populating the crawl.  I then added my own random generation via the table below and inserted my own dungeons and ideas into it. I made the theme near eastern/persian as it felt right for the crawl and I always want to find ways to put my classics degree to use.

D20 Roll

Result

1-5

Empty

6

Unguarded treasure

7

Trap and unguarded treasure

8-9

Trap

10-12

Monster

13-15

Monster and treasure

16-18

Dungeon

19-20

Special

Populating a hexcrawl like a dungeon actually makes the process a lot simpler. I simply rolled for each hex then filled that hex with a respective roll from a monster or treasure table. For dungeons I just picked a dungeon that would seem cool or appropriate from the one page dungeon lists ,modules such as the Tower of the Stargazer  or the Lost City and dungeons of my own creation such as the currently unreleased Flesh Mines.  Special was where I got to explore the weird stuff, this includes strange monsters from Lusus Naturae and Lovecraftian inspired oddities like a pistol weilding investigator from the 1920’s looking for his daughter. The weird generator here is gold for that.

Enjoy and please feel free to mess around with this, add details, strip things apart and have fun with it. If you have any questions or ideas please contact me @lines_panny or email me at linesp06@gmail.com

 

 

Lessons improv can teach you about playing Dungeons & Dragons

Improv acting is when two or more people improvise a scene with one another rather than following a script. You’re always going to find moments in your roleplaying games where you have to make things up on the spot as it’s impossible to plan for everything and improv gives you tools to do exactly that.

I recently finished an 8-week improv course with the folk at Monkey Toast which has been an eye-opening experience. Though the course was focused on improv comedy it has taught me a metric tonne about how to run Dungeons & Dragons games and I wanted to share that golden info with you and tell you how that can translate some improv lessons to your D&D games.

Continue reading Lessons improv can teach you about playing Dungeons & Dragons