Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Old-school roots of D&D 5E



Apparently its no coincidence people report their play experience of 5E D&D being very reminiscent of the 1981 B/X experience. According to a series of recent posts on lead designer Mike Mearl's Facebook page, the new edition saw its genesis in Moldvay's succinct (and my favorite) iteration of the game.

According to Mearls, "The Basic D&D mods answered the question in 2012 for me - what would I add to a very simple D&D ruleset to make myself happy?"

He goes on to give us a look at what his additions were, many of which will look familiar to those who participated in the earliest playtest versions of the new edition, "Here are the house rules I applied to the 1981 Basic D&D rules. Ran game, modded to get what I wanted."

He shares those initial rules with us here:

1981 House Rules


Ability Mods: We use the 3e/4e convention (+1 or -1 per 2 above/below 10)


Saving Throws: These are ability checks, DC determined by DM


Attacks: Ability check, plus a class based bonus
Fighter: +1 every odd level
Cleric/Thief: +1 at level 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18
Magic-User: No bonus


Thief Abilities: These work a bit differently.
Open Locks, Find or Remove Traps, Pick Pockets, Hide in Shadows are all things only thieves can do. Hide in shadows is literally that - hide in situations where other people can’t. The thief makes a check with a bonus equal to the % listed on page B8 divided by 5.
Move Silently, Climb Sheer Surfaces, Hear Noise are all things that anyone can try. The rogue has advantage when he tries any of them.


Advantage: Roll an extra d20, take the highest result. If you get advantage more than once, take an extra die.


Disadvantage: Roll an extra die, but take the lowest. If you have advantage, disadvantage zaps one die per instance of disadvantage.


Hit Points: Upgrade everyone by one die type, you get maximum hit points at level 1 + half your Constitution score.


Hit Dice: You can use your hit dice to heal. You get hit dice equal to your total HD, spend them when resting, each die gets a bonus equal to your Con modifier.


Dwarves: Increase class’s hit die by one size. Infravision 60 feet. Can use Find or Remove Traps in underground locations.


Elves: Can alternate between magic-user and any other class, have infravision 60 feet.


Halflings: Can Hide in Shadows as a thief, get a +2 bonus to AC, but use an HD one step smaller and can’t use two-handed weapons.


Humans: Gain a +1 bonus to any two stats, or +2 to one stat (maximum 18).


Weapons: d4, d6, d8, or d12, class access based on die size
Fighter: All
Cleric: d6, bludgeoning d8
Thief: d6

Magic-User: d4


It was funny to see the weapon damage by class house rule there at the bottom, as that's something that's been floating around the OSR for a while now (was that B/X Blackrazor's initially, I can't remember). I'll repeat my hope that some fan out there releases a home-made version of the D&D 5E Basic ruleset with all-Otus art. Good on Mearls for this insight, I can't think of a better heritage for a new edition!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hey, look!

A new Star Wars trailer has appeared, featuring some familiar faces...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lazy Blog Post - Erol Otus!






















I can think of worse things to dedicate a blog post to than the Master of Green & Purple! Erol Otus, being the primary artist behind my first RPG ever, Moldvay's Basic set, literally imprinted on my mind for all time what D&D is "supposed to look like".

Otus never even dabbled in stereotypes - his fantasy creations are like something from the mind of a Derleth or a Lovecraft, fever dreams made real in lurid shades of green, purple, orange, and yellow. And yet each horned helm, oozing monster, and writhing-robed priestess felt so right, so completely at home for their milieu.

Here's hoping some dedicated fan puts together a scratch version of the new 5E basic rules with exclusively Otus art.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Creating a campaign world pt3 - Religion and Magic



Now that I have Atheon's pantheon sorted out, I want to take a look at how religion plays a part in the structure of the campaign setting. I want religion to really be the driving force in the setting, and since this is a fantasy setting, I can expand this from the spiritual realm into the magical one. With this in mind, as far as the majority of Atheon's populace is concerned (or indoctrinated), magic is a divine gift, and magic that comes from any other source (such as sorcery) must be Blasphemy.

Magic is Blasphemy!
This idea of magic being "legal" for only clerics can become a cornerstone of the setting. For Atheon, I decided there was a great uprising against Wizards a century ago, during which wizards, sorcerers, and druids were hunted down and either killed or exiled. The great wizard schools were torn down and burned. To this day, wizards exist in Atheon only by keeping a low profile, or by serving a powerful patron such as a local Prince or High Priest. Low-level PC wizards will need to be cautious about when and where they display their powers, lest they be dragged to the town square and have their limbs tied to camels driven in opposite directions.

The Great Old One
I mentioned in the last post there is a Ninth God. This is Goru Dara, Master of the Impenetrable Void. The god appears as a male or female body with a head composed of a blank space or star-filled void. The god holds a black staff which is said to unravel the material fabric of any object or creature with the slightest touch. Goru Dara is the source of Warlock magic in Atheon, and the religion's rising popularity and power is what precipitated the massacre of magic-users a century ago. Today, it is rumored the religion still exists, albeit in hiding, and its practitioners even now plot their return to power...



The Last Archmage
Depending upon whom you speak with, there is one rumored/known powerful survivor of the great massacre a century ago. This is Amhuuriad, the Last Archmage. Among those who practice magic in secret today, he is known as "the Betrayed", for it is said that he aided the Eight High Priests of Atheon in the destruction of the foul temples of Goru Dara, only to have the Eight turn on him and his fellow wizards. Amhuuriad alone nearly defeated the combined might of the Eight, but in the end he was forced to flee into the trackless wastelands out beyond the river valleys. It is said the immortal Archmage lurks the fringes of Atheon to this day, working quietly to restore his art to favor, and offering wisdom to heroes in times of need.

Alignment in Atheon
You may have noticed that while each deity received a description of his or her clergy, temples, and even material form, there was no discussion of alignment. It has long been a conceit of D&D that gods have alignments, and clerics of those gods adhere to those alignments strictly, or face consequences. Instead of this, I want the priests of Atheon to choose their own alignment just like anyone else - I'm hoping this will lead to a lot more story opportunities. Perhaps there are conflicts within the church as to how refugees from a neighboring kingdom should be treated, or intrigue as high-ranking priests of a temple try to outmaneuver or even murder their more virtuous counterparts. Clerics in this setting will need to focus on their god's domain rather than alignment in order to receive their god's favor.

Next time, we'll take a look at Atheon's Megadungeon, Azag Mozu. Because you knew there would be a Megadungeon, right?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Designing a campaign world - pt. 2: the Gods of Atheon



Religion, for me, can go either way in a campaign setting. In more Sword & Sorcery - flavored campaigns, I typically don't put a lot of emphasis on the gods, there are hundreds if not thousands of them in many such settings, but the trade-off of such profligate deities is a drastic lessening of their overall influence. For Atheon, I want them to play a much bigger role, part of the warp and weave of my setting's fabric.

Since I'm making the setting specifically for a (potential) future 5E campaign, I'm basing the gods on the eight domains D&D currently offers: Knowledge, Light, Life, Tempest, Nature, Trickery, War, and Death. There is a ninth god as well, but we'll discuss him later. So here's Atheon's pantheon of deities:

Izkalal (Knowledge) - Also known as the Master of Tomes and the Old Ibis, Izkalal appears as an old, bearded man clutching an Ibis-headed staff in one hand, and a bronze-covered tome in the other. He is the patron of learning, of libraries, and of the sciences. His priests practice fanatic austerity, and dress in simple white robes hemmed in runes of brass thread. There are no true formal temples to Izkalal, per se, though all the great libraries of Atheon possess a chapel in his honor.

Nabara (Life) - Also known as the All-Mother, or Mother of Mothers. She appears as a curvaceous woman of fertile age with angelic wings and bearing her holy golden sickle in one hand. She is the patron of Fertility, Food, and the flood and fall of Atheon's rivers. Her clergy is predominantly female, and wear diaphanous robes of white and silver gossamer. There is a militant wing of the clergy known as the "Arak-Nar" (or colloquially as Spear-Maidens). It is considered a great crime to harm or otherwise molest a priestess of Nabara, as the withdrawal of their favor can result in blights and starvation for entire regions. Her temples are great domes, built over natural springs when possible.

Sinma (Light) - Also known as Lord of the Sun, Nightslayer, and the Shining Man. He appears as a young golden-skinned man with golden wings. He holds a rod of pure light in one hand, and a golden circle in the other. Occasionally, he may appear as a golden eagle, or as a male sphinx. He is considered by some to be the brother of Nabara. His temples feature great amphitheaters open to the sky and ringed with monoliths that mark the movements of the sunrise and sunset year-round. His priests typically wear bronze scale and robes of blue and bronze, and each bears a branded symbol of the sun on his forehead.

Myli (Tempest) - Also known as Stormrider and Lady of Deep Waters. She appears as a green-skinned female with the lower body of a sea-serpent and holds a long-bladed spear. She is the patron of sea travel and succor from storms. Her temples are typically galleries of green or blue stone featuring a statue of Myli at one end in the center of a ceremonial pool or fountain. Her clergy wear scale mail chased in silver, and robes of pastel green and blues. They are typically shaved completely hairless, and many paint a series of runes on symbols on their flesh. Worship of Myli is, understandably, much more prevalent in the coastal regions of Atheon.

Saba (Nature) - Also known as the Summer King. He appears as a strong, bearded man wearing the hide of a bear. He carries a bow and a sheaf of arrows, which are said to give life or death at his whim, and he is flanked by a pair of great lions. He is said to take Nabara as his consort in Spring and Summer, and Myli in Autumn and Winter. Vines and blooms spring from the earth where he treads. His clergy has no real standard dress code, but all carry his symbol, a man's face surrounded by vines. He has no formal temples; his faithful gather a natural landmarks such as small forests, oddly shaped rock formations, and oases.

Eretu (Trickery) - Also known as the Laughing Prince, or Prince of Mysteries, Oathbreaker, Dreamwalker, and Lord of Grapes. He is the patron of dreams, wine and song, of revelry, of luck and of bravery. He appears as a lithe young man just out of boyhood, wearing only a loincloth and wreathed in grape vines. He carries a bag in one hand, and whatever tool he needs for his mischief may be conjured from the bag at whim. It is said all birds serve him and act as his messengers. His symbol is a crook-tipped rod of silver entwined with gold, and clergy bearing this rod are entitled to free room and board wherever they travel in Atheon. His temples are round galleries of stone, and these host an annual "Night of Masks", a popular festival in Atheon.

Ephus (War) - Also known as Prince of Blades, War-Crow, and Herald of Mozu. He is the patron of war, warriors, and victory in battle. His temples are marble galleries with red floors and black ceilings adorned in the bones of the faithful. Ephus appears as a powerfully built man in armor with a red cloak. He carries a spear in one hand and an axe in the other, and his face is always obscured by a full helm. His clergy celebrate battle as holy, and often serve as mercenary forces when the temple is need of funds.

Mozu (Death) - Also known as the Lady of Graves, Soultaker, and Mistress of Night. She appears as a beautiful woman with pitch-dark skin and white eyes, wrapped in a white shawl. She holds knife and one hand, and a scroll in the other, where it is said the fates of all men have been scribed. Her temples are typically underground galleries kept in near-complete darkness, and her clergy wear robes of black and ring their eyes and mouths in kohl.

Next time, we'll learn about the Ninth God, and the place of religion in the setting, as well as its relation to the nature and practice of magic.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cool new RPG!



Its not exactly news that Inclusiveness has been a big deal in the gaming world recently, as recent events involving Monte Cook Games, Green Ronin's "Blue Rose" setting, and Gen Con have shown.

Hot on the heels of those headline grabbers, PajamaGuy Games has announced the eminent release of Gay Eskimo RPG, a role playing game set in the wilds of the arctic north. In this game a player can take up the role of a brave eskimo hunter, warrior, or shaman, and fend off such hazards as polar bears, packs of bloodthirsty arctic wolves, ice elementals, and even marauding orcas. More interestingly, the game features a randomized generation tool to give the players nearly endless icy underground labyrinths to explore.



We asked Gay Eskimo's designer, Terry D. of Berkeley, CA, what inspired him to create his latest masterpiece. "You, know," he said, "Being a Canadian transplant, I always thought about those great white spaces up north and wondered, 'what's all that about?', you know? Like, 'who's up there anyway?'. Imagine my surprise to find out the whole place was filled with Eskimos, and there is just no RPG on the shelves to emulate that whole experience, from a fantasy perspective."

When asked if recent events had influenced Gay Eskimo RPG at all, Terry said not really, but "I was impressed by the whole Gen Con thing. When Gen Con bravely stood up and announced it would be leaving Indianapolis if a certain law was passed, and then, when it was passed anyway, they said, you know what guys? We're not going anywhere. We're staying right here, so take that. That just struck me as being so brave, you know?"

We pressed Terry a little bit about the fact that, while his RPG certainly contains a lot about Eskimos, there was nothing in the game, that we could find, that had anything whatsoever to do with being gay. Why not, we asked, just call the game "Eskimo", instead of "Gay Eskimo"?

Terry shuffled his feet a little, looked us in the eye, and said, "well that wouldn't be very inclusive, now would it?"

Monday, March 30, 2015

Designing a campaign world - part 1



One of the most rewarding parts of TTRPGing is Worldbuilding. Designing a campaign world is truly one of the most unique things about the hobby. Its a chemistry not unlike love - when you meet that perfect person for you and the sparks fly... well you don't need me to tell you that the sum is often more than the whole of its parts.

The same thing is very true with original worlds. When allowed to grow and expand through the interaction of 2 or more like-minded individuals, you can get something with a life of its own. So how do you plant that first seed, so it can flourish and grow?

Back in the dawn of the hobby (for me at least, talking about the late 70's here), those seed/ideas came from the books I hungrily devoured. Often DAW "Yellow Spine" books which were so cheap and fascinating at my local used bookstore.

Nowadays, however, my continued voracious appetite for cheap, plentiful pulp fantasy is enabled by my Kindle and the "evil empire" of Amazon, and additional inspiration is available a click of a button away on the now-everpresent internet.

Having read a few desert themed pulps recently, and having binge watched a series of documentaries about ancient Assyria, the Hittites, and Babylon, I thought it would be fun to make my first 5E campaign setting, I named it "Atheon", with an ancient Eastern Mediterranean flavor, blended with magic and perhaps some Dying Earth-style Sci-fantasy. Flying ships hovering over ziggurats while assassins battle tech-warlocks on the steps? Yes please!

Here's some google images I saved for inspiration:















Characters are important too, of course:







Coming up in part 2, I'll discuss one of my favorite parts of campaign settings - Religion!

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