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.

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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

The rise of the normies

The rise of the normies

Have you noticed there’s a lot of people doing geek shit now?  It’s undeniably popular and dare I say cool to be nerd.

Dungeons & Dragons is in a renaissance period. The RPG market grew from $880 million to $1.2 billion in 2016 following the release of 5E D&D. 35,000 people regularly play D&D just online. A large homebrew community has sprung alongside the game and indie RPG’s are booming too. Critical Role regularly streams D&D live to 35,000 viewers, with each episode getting hundreds and thousands of views beyond the live showing. This is literally just people watching a bunch of people play D&D, albeit an incredibly talented group of professional actors, but none the less the premise is they play a straight game of D&D.

That’s just to focus in on RPG’s but nerd culture has spread to every facet of the media culture we consume. Game of Thrones, a gritty medieval fantasy epic grounded in history, is one of the most popular shows on television. Even my mum watches it. The Marvel cinematic universe are some of the most popular high grossing films ever made. Yet the video game industry now dwarfs the film industry in size. Board gaming has grown in popularity with boardgame cafes and groups popping up everywhere as people find ways to connect in person with one another in our technological age.

Geek Girl
“Geek Girl”

So what’s happened?

I fondly remember the days of sitting in maths class at lunchtime and playing Magic the Gathering. People from my class would tap on the windows and enquire why I was in detention. Then when they found out I had voluntarily decided to stay indoors to play ‘pokemon cards’ the social ostracisation began.

Inevitably there’s been a backlash against this influx of new people by a core group of people within the community. Many of which congregate around sites like 4chan. This begun when people clocked that women were actually interested in things like video games, tabletop gaming, comic books and various other nerdy pastimes. With the advent of the internet, women were able to openly express their interest in aforementioned stuff in a relatively free space. The boys club mentality still persisted however and  demands were made that they prove that they were really interested in it and not just doing it for the prized currency of ‘attention.’

In recent years this form of aggressive gatekeeping has shifted to encompass anyone newly interested in nerdy past times. In respects to Dungeons & Dragons, this new wave of players are blamed for dumbing down the game, not playing pretend properly and most egregiously only doing it because it’s popular now.  The ‘normies’ have truly arrived.

I do understand the feeling. I was bullied in part because my nerdy interests singled me out. I brought my Warhammer to school to play,  they were thrown to the floor by other kids and smashed to bits for shits and giggles. Partly because kids can be awful, but partly because I was doing something weird and out of ordinary.  This meant that I ended up forming a lot of my identity through this idea that I was part of a counter-culture. That I was into competing at Starcraft, not football, watching Magic the Gathering tournaments, not reality television and reading fantasy and science fiction novels instead of Nuts magazine. I was better than *them* and within my nerdy realm I was safe and had a semblance of agency, control and of course massive amounts of beautiful escapism.

I’ve made jokes even now about the ‘normies’ invading. The feeling of frustration is real. That these people couldn’t understand. That they didn’t suffer. They’re invading my space. How dare they. This is my game, I clearly own, they don’t deserve it.

It’s a poisonous train of thought born out of a lingering self-hatred that I’ve had to work to shed.

anders-3361950_1920

On a surface level accusations such as D&D being dumbed down in its latest iteration to cater for the ‘normies’ can be seen as true. 5E D&D is far simpler to pick up and play than any other edition, it’s use of bounded accuracy alongside the advantage/disadvantage mechanics make the game more simple. Its skill system is far more reduced and focused and the feat chains of the past have been reduced. This all makes the core part of creating a character a quicker and easier experience and allows for far more streamlined gameplay. I still shudder at the memory of a Pathfinder session with new players that took us a painful 5 hours just to get through character creation, by which time everyone was exhausted and put off to actually play.

New players can also bring their own prejudices to a game, they are often influenced far more by the likes of video games than pulp fantasy and sci-fi literature that inspired the roots of D&D. Many players are also coming to the game after watching shows like Critical Role and other gaming podcasts and with this comes a warped impression of what a game is actually like.

However new players also bring their own creativity, ingenuity and innovation to the game. More people becoming interested in a thing doesn’t degrade it, rather the opposite it means more time, money and creative energy is pumped into it.  This allows games to expand rather than stagnate.

We see this with D&D 5th edition which despite a relatively small design team and a modest release schedule has managed to outsell 4th, 3.5 and 3.0 edition D&D combined.  Mike Mearls, the lead designer on 5E, cites a design focus on the shared community of the game as the key to this success.

It’s now far easier to find a game than ever before, there are multiple groups you can find on local meetups and dotted around.  You can also just pick up the books and run a game, even if you have never been a Dungeon Master before, due to their accessibility. If you can’t find a group in person there’s a massive community online too and technology has reached the point where you can sit with people from all over the world and see and hear them almost as though they were in your living room.

Parts of our community really do need to grow up and I include myself in that as I’ve clocked onto the roots of where the reaction I get to the influx of new players into the game and reject its hateful premise. It’s truly now one of the best times to be playing tabletop RPG’s and it’s thanks to the influx of all the ‘normies.’