Thursday, November 3, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Magic

I have a lot of thoughts on the magic system in Shadow of the Demon Lord so this might ramble. Short version: I love the flavor and new twists, but I'm afraid it might seem too limiting for some players.

Spellcasters learn spells based on their paths, but other than a few extra ones at the first and second levels of Priest or Magician, they'll only be learning one new spell per level. Your Power score is the D&D equivalent of your spellcaster level, and it determines how many times between rests you can cast each spell you know, along with the spell level. Basically you're more like a Sorcerer than a Wizard. You know a few spells, and can cast them several times.

On top of that, there are 30 Traditions of spells and you have to learn a Tradition before you can learn any spells from it. You have to spend a spell choice to learn a Tradition, and you learn one 0-level spell (or two if you're a Magician). So you can't just decide to take Fireball when you reach 5th level if you weren't already learning spells from the Fire Tradition.

My greatest worry with this is it will seem like magic doesn't have nearly the versatility that Wizards enjoy in D&D. Players used to being able to find the right spell for any situation will instead be limited to a few spells that are all thematically linked.

There are a few points against the "Wizards can do anything" school of thinking, though. First, it wasn't always that way. Earlier editions had shorter spell lists, fewer spells per day, and encouraged DMs to be very stingy with handing out new spells for a Wizard's spellbook. Also, in every edition there are certain spells which become obvious choices (and personally I hate that). In 3E you were foolish if you didn't have Haste and Dispel Magic prepared for every combat encounter, and the combination of Scry and Teleport at higher levels was a common way to ambush enemies. In 5E, certain spells have routinely caused problems at organized play events. So while Wizards seem to have lots of options, if they all take the same spells there's no real variety.

The magic system does a lot to differentiate between different spellcasters and give them more of a theme. I've gone through lots of builds in my head while reading over magic, and for a character who starts as Magician and takes all spellcasting paths it seems that learning 3 Traditions is the best or most likely option. You could do 2 Traditions but honestly a lot of the lower level attack spells are kind of redundant--do you really need 3 different ways to set someone on fire? If you do 4 Traditions you might be a little under powered at lower levels, but I would only do this if you really want more variety. You'll probably be agonizing over choices between all four every time you can learn a new spell.

Priests might be a little put off by their lack of choices--in D&D Clerics and Druids get access to a large spell list and choose what they want every day. However, a lot of those are false choices also. There are different healing spells for every different affliction. After all of those, you'll probably be picking similar spells every day. Priests have to choose their Traditions from a choice of three, depending on their religion. All religions have Life (healing) as one of the options, but Priests can also heal some with their path abilities if they don't want to spend a spell choice on that.

I'd also be a little forgiving with Tradition choices if the player can come up with a good story reason their character should learn it. Maybe you're the Church's sword of vengeance, so you learn the Battle Tradition, or maybe your Druid worships a thunder god and learns Storm magic. Maybe you're a monk who specializes in elemental Traditions--Avatar: The Last Airbender, anyone?

So while spellcasters in Shadow of the Demon Lord don't have the versatility of most D&D casters, they make up for it with more flavor and more thematically-related spells.

A few other interesting bits about the magic system:

  • Some Traditions give you Corruption points for learning them. This includes Necromancy, Curse spells (which Witches are good at), and the Forbidden Tradition, which has awful spells like Hateful Defecation and Ravenous Maggots.
  • Any spell can be on a one-time use Incantation (like a scroll), which anybody can attempt to cast. This is a way to add a lot of variety to a campaign.
  • There is a Master Path for every Tradition in the core rulebook.
  • Spells are split between Attack spells and Utility spells, so every Tradition gives at least some offensive capabilities. I'd also encourage players to be inventive with their Attack spells in non-combat situations, and make ad hoc rulings.
  • Traditions are a great way to add flavor to a group in the world--maybe mages of the Ice Tower specialize in Water and Enchantment magic, to freeze their opponents and enslave them, while the goblins of the Lost Woods use Illusion and Teleportation magic to confuse and waylay travelers. 
  • The Primal Tradition lets you take on bestial traits and summon animals, while the Transformation Tradition lets you take the form of animals, among other things. Primal is better for those who want to boost their combat abilities, Transformation is better for someone who want to stop casting spells and rampage for a bit. Neither aligns with what D&D Druids can do with Wild Shape, so be prepared.
  • A Magician with the Battle Tradition can match a Warrior in offense, but is still fragile.
  • It still bothers me that none of the religions have Divination as an option for Tradition, given the etymology of the word.
  • I don't like to house rule much with a new system, but one thing I'll probably do--give all casters unlimited uses of their 0-level spells. That way they can fire off attacks without resorting to mundane weapons. I'll see how this goes, and adjust as necessary.
  • There is one way spellcasters can get more versatility--the Wizard expert path allows three spells in a grimoire that can be cast using spell slots for other spells. I would allow the player to swap out at least one spell per level as they advanced as well.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Expert Paths

The Path system is one of my favorite things about Shadow of the Demon Lord. It reminds me of old computer RPGs where you got access to different subclasses at a certain level. Its actually more flexible, because any character can take any path.

Granted, if you aren't a spellcaster and try dipping into that in your Expert or Master path you'll be way behind another character who started as a Priest or Magician, but you have the same problem in D&D. I'll try to discuss magic more in another post.

When a character chooses an Expert path at 3rd level, they are encouraged to choose an objective for their character as well. At this point they should start shaping the world around them. Again, there are suggestions for story development, reasons your character got their new abilities. I'd like to make heavy use of long downtime in a campaign, make sure there are breaks in the action to allow the characters the chance to grow off-screen. I find it jarring when characters grow amazingly powerful in weeks of game time because a campaign is moving quickly. 

Here's my thoughts on several of the Expert paths, both from my understanding of the game and how they might fit into my pseudo-European folklore setting.

Artificer:  Right away there's something anachronistic to my usual tastes. I like running Dark Ages type settings, where there are few or no nations or kingdoms, war is common, and steel swords and chain mail are the height of military advancement. Shadow of the Demon Lord has lots of steampunk inspired elements--Clockworks, guns, and a Technomancy Tradition of magic. 

Honestly though, I'm not going to worry about it too much. Sometimes bits of anachronistic tech appear in fantasy--the hookshot in Legend of Zelda, elaborate gear traps in God of War, a mechanical hand in Army of Darkness. Its not really science, just bits of Technomancy-based magic. 

The Artificer path is a spellcaster who can make random equipment from spare parts they carry around. At higher levels they can store spells in items and create mechanical servants. Pretty basic.

Assassin:  If the Assassin attacks from hiding, their target has to make a Strength challenge roll or take damage equal to their Health. Basically, they're dead. This seems incredibly powerful, but also the target number for the challenge roll is 10 like all other rolls. Even a peasant has a 55% chance of surviving. Still, there's always the possibility that your big bad monster could fail their roll and bite it easily. Two things I'll be doing anyway with big bad monsters--using more than one at a time, or giving them some ability to survive attacks like this. Like how Elite and Solo monsters in D&D 4E had ways around Save vs Suck effects. 

Berserker:  When a character goes berserk, they get a bonus to Health, resistance to mental effects, and trade a bane on attack rolls for extra damage. With that attack penalty, its doubtful anyone besides a Warrior would want to take this Path, though possibly a Magician with the Battle Tradition.

I really like berserkers because they're so prominent in Celtic and Norse myth. In both cases, the fury is seen as a gift from the gods that warps the body and gives supernatural might. The Irish warrior Cu Chulainn would go into a "warp-spasm" that would make him twist in his skin, spurt blood from his head, and make his hair stand in spikes. The 2000 AD comic Slaine depicts this for its hero as well.

Cleric:  This path is for Priests who want to use their spells in combat more effectively. Its primarily good for the Theurgy Tradition of the Cult of the New God. I say Priests, but its worth noting that if a character wants to be a "priest" with more spells, they can play a Magician. 

Druid:  Tailored for Priests of the Old Faith. Its pretty tame at 3rd level--identifying animals, trackless step, etc, but at higher levels you can jump between trees while moving and get resistance to elemental damage. Since the Old Faith is more common on the borders of civilization, Druids will be more influential than Clerics in my game. Historical druids weren't Captain Planet hippy types, they were lawgivers and advisors to kings, feared and untouched by all. 

Fighter: A Warrior with more training. A character gets one Talent at 3rd level, and while there are a few options "Fight With Anything" seems clearly superior. Weapon attacks do a minimum of 1d6 damage regardless of type, and get an extra boon on attack rolls. A Warrior who takes the Fighter path now gets two boons on attack rolls. Non-warriors who want to hit better can take this Expert path as well and get on par with Warriors. 

Oracle: The Priest version of a Berserker. Go into a Divine Ectasy which gives a Health bonus, resistance to mental effects, and get a boon on mental attacks and challenges. Its great for spell-casters who want to go aggro. 

Paladin: Good for a Priest who wants to be tougher in melee, or anyone who wants some religious magic. Characters can convert spells into extra melee damage with Divine Smite. For a Warrior or Rogue who wants to dabble in magic, that flexibility means you're not giving up combat effectiveness for one or two low-level spells.

Ranger:  This path gives a double Health boost at 3rd level as an homage to the 1st-ed D&D Ranger that gave two Hit Dice when you gained the class. You also get to target an enemy and gain a boon to attack or track it, and you can't be surprised. Definitely has more flavor and skills than just taking Fighter, and you're still effective in combat.

Scout:  A sneakier version of the Ranger. Still can't be surprised, and is good at stealth. At higher levels you can Reveal Weakness and give everyone a boon to attack a target. Good for the Rogue that likes to go off on their own. 

Sorcerer:  Spellcasters who channel more power but can overload. They can increase the effectiveness of their spells but get Strain points, which at some point will explode around you. Not bad unless allies are nearby.  

Spellbinder:  This path allows you to have an enchanted weapon and cast spells at the same time. Its the best option for trying to make a "fighter/mage", whether your Novice class is a Warrior or a Magician or Priest.  A spellcaster with the Battle Tradition could be especially deadly, but won't have the Health of a Warrior. 

Thief:  This path lets you be extra slippery and gives Talents that cover most expected Thief abilities. Not much else to say.

Warlock:  Spellcaster who can mimic others' spells. Good for Magicians who want to get sneakier or Rogues who dabble in magic. I think this one would be really fun to have in a game. Spellcasters are fairly specialized, so mimicking the spells of enemies would give a player the chance to cast more of a variety of spells.

Witch:  This is awesome. I love witches and don't understand why they're not more prominent in fantasy games. They start off with a unique spell, Witch Fire, which kind of turns the caster into a will-o-wisp temporarily. At higher levels they get a flying broom and a familiar. Witchcraft is actually a religion, so Witches could be Priests or Magicians depending on how they want to play, and of course any Novice path can go into any Expert path if they want.

Wizard:  I'll go into more detail in another post, but even Magicians don't get that many total spells. Its comparable to Sorcerers in D&D or a 1st-ed Magic-User who has a stingy DM and only has the basic number of spells. I think it will work fine in play, but they don't have as much versatility as D&D players are used to. The Wizard path tries to correct that, but I think I would tweak it a little more. They get a grimoire with three spells that they can swap for spells they know when cast. The problem is its difficult to replace the spells as you level up, and I would make that easier. 

There's lots of cool options with the path system. Its easy to build on a Novice path with an appropriate Expert path, like Warrior into Fighter, but there are some other interesting possibilities. Especially if you have a DM (like me) who is flexible with the rules. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Novice Paths

The class system in Shadow of the Demon Lord is based on three different Paths a character chooses during their adventuring career. You select one of four Novice Paths at 1st level, one of 16 Expert Paths at 3rd level, and at 7th level choose from 64 different Master Paths (or choose a second Expert Path instead, so actually 80 options).

I've seen the comparison, and it fits, that Novice Paths are like Basic D&D classic options, Expert Paths expand to sub-options available in AD&D and later, and Master Paths are like Prestige Classes. You get an ability from your Paths at every level (except 4th level, where you get either a new spell or an Ancestry ability).

Your Novice Path gives you abilities at 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 8th level, and the abilities at 1st and 2nd level are particularly defining for your character. This makes the Novice Path you select the biggest factor in who your character will be. Its more like a specialization than multi-classing.

If you want to dominate in combat, go with Warrior. You get lots of Health and a Boon to all weapon attacks right away. At second level you get an extra 1d6 to all weapon damage rolls. At higher levels you get the option to do extra damage to a single target or make attacks on multiple opponents. Every Path gives the ability to heal yourself one quarter of your Health total once between rests, along with an extra benefit. The Warrior gets to use this as a Triggered Action, so they can do it immediately after taking damage, leaving them free to still fight on their regular Action.

Rogue is good if you want to get away with a lot in and out of combat. You get a Boon to one attack or Challenge roll a round. Since Challenge rolls are used for "skill checks" and "saving throws", it makes you good at everything and hard to pin down. And if your attack Boon isn't negated by a circumstantial Bane, you do extra damage. At second level, they get a bonus turn if they roll 20+ on an attack roll. In the one session I ran where a player had this ability they loved it. It fits the fiction of a tricksy character while also being very "game-y", for players who like to min/max at the table. Rogues also get Talents that allow them to specialize in combat or skill styles, or dabble in magic.

Priest allows you to fight while still supporting your party, and gives you a few spells. When a Priest heals themselves one quarter Health they allow another character to do the same thing, and they can give a Prayer boost to attacks and later damage starting at second level. Prayer can be used on yourself, so its possible to hold your own in combat. Religions include the Cult of the New God and the Old Faith (I love the new church vs paganism dynamic), as well as Witchcraft and Dwarven Ancestors. Spells are more limited than the Magician, you'll likely be picking from just two Traditions for your character, so if you want to cast more go with the other class.

Magician is all about spells. Spells are divided into Traditions and you have to spend a "new spell" to learn a Tradition (Magicians learn both cantrips associated with a Tradition, unlike other classes that only learn one). Your total spells known will seem limited if you're thinking of later D&D options--if you focus on spellcasting paths you'll still only get a total of 13 new spells by 10th level. On the upside, you get to specialize your spellcaster into a Storm Mage or a Fire Mage, instead of having a berth of options but only a few optimal choices.

If the first session where you only have an Ancestry is a prologue, your Novice adventures are about coming together as a party and getting comfortable with your basic abilities. There are suggested options for training for each class, so I'll let some campaign time pass between the first session and the second to allow for the characters to grow and become their class. The first few adventures will be about responding to dangers presented, setting the stage for the characters to become movers and shakers in the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Ancestries

Campaigns in Shadow of the Demon Lord are designed to be short and fast moving. Characters start off with an Ancestry and no class, and level up after every short adventure. So you can run a character all the way through level 10 in just 11 sessions.

The first adventure of a group can be a prologue of sorts, showing how they came together as a group and introducing threats and themes that will be in the game.

Ancestries are like race in D&D. You get your starting stats and a few abilities from your Ancestry, and later at 4th level you have the option to get another ability based on it. I'll go through the Ancestries and talk about how I'll use them in my upcoming game, which will be heavily based on folklore.

Humans get some flexibility but nothing outstanding. They're good for any class. In my game they will be the dominant group, but that doesn't mean I'm favoring them as a PC race. Like in legends or even Lord of the Rings, humans are all over and run the kingdoms, but adventures frequently involve the more supernatural elements of the world.

Changelings are fey beings created by elves and swapped with human babies. They can change their appearance like D&D changelings, but their origin is more in line with the folklore that inspired them. Its notable that elves are NOT a playable race in the core book, and I like them being aloof and potentially dangerous fey creatures. I'm going to use lots of fey-oriented stuff in my game so changelings are already a good fit. They make good Rogues and Magicians.

Clockworks are mechanical beings. There are elements of steampunk in SotDL, including guns. Part of me thinks this clashes with the Dark Ages/medieval tone I like, but then if Final Fantasy and Link can include steampunk and mechanical things then why not my game. Clockworks would still be rare in the world, but that just makes a character more special. The dark twist of Clockworks is that they are "powered" by a soul called up from the Underworld. This could supply latent memories or such, and would be fun to play with. They make good Warriors or Magicians, depending on their build.

Dwarves are pretty typical--tough, greedy, and insular. Its implied that adventurers are often survivors of underground cities overrun by monsters because dwarves are too paranoid to ask other people for help--which is pretty much the background of The Hobbit. I'll add that there was only one great dwarven kingdom in the area of my game, and it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. And the elders are hiding something about it. They make good Warriors or Priests.

Goblins are fey outcast by the Summer Queen, doomed to live in the mortal world. They are small and each has unique appearance and odd habits. Again, I love using more fey folklore stuff for my game. Goblins will be aware that the Summer Queen has gone missing after an assassination attempt by giants, and the Raven King has led an army of goblins and dark fey against the Summer Court in the confusion. Goblins make good Rogues and Magicians.

Orcs are big brutes used by the Empire as soldiers until civil war broke out and the Orc King Drudge strangled the Emperor on his throne. Created by dark magic, I'm adding a Celtic element to their origin. A legendary king quested to find the Cauldron of Resurrection from the Underworld but was pursued into the mortal realm by its guardians. After the battle the Cauldron was missing, recovered by agents of the Empire. Unable to use it properly, they warped its purpose and used it to animate captured prisoners into Orc slave-warriors. Supposedly an orc witch is in possession of the Blood Cauldron now, building an army somewhere.

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Overview

I'm really excited to be running Robert Schwalb's Shadow of the Demon Lord soon and thought I'd share some thoughts I've had about it recently.  This will be an overview of things I like about the system first, and some in depth thoughts about the classes, magic, and subsystems later.

First of all, its similar enough to D&D that it plays well to gamers familiar with that system (or even new gamers familiar with fantasy tropes). The main mechanic is d20 based. There are orcs, dwarves, and goblins as Ancestries. What sets it apart is a darker tone with lots of horror influence, more adult themes, and the impending doom of the world that lurks over every campaign.

Orcs are a barbarian tribe warped with dark magic to become warrior-slaves for the Empire, until they rose up and overthrew the Emperor. Forbidden magic has horrifying splatterpunk effects--exploding eyeballs, literally shitting yourself to death--and taints the soul of the spellcaster who uses it. The potential for apocalypse, the "shadow of the demon lord", can manifest as plagues, hordes of beastmen, or awakening elder gods. These are just examples, and while the game has a setting provided, the themes and ideas are easily adaptable to a variety of homebrew settings, which I will be doing.

The system is simple but flexible. Robert Schwalb has worked on a lot of different rpg games and one of his design goals was to create a system that could be learned easily and didn't require mastery to play (*side-eye at you, 3.5 D&D and Pathfinder*). The bare bones mechanic is: roll a d20, get a 10 or better to succeed. That's it. Your only numerical bonuses will be from your attributes--Strength, Agility, Intellect, and Will. These bonuses will vary from -2 to +5 for typical player characters. Situational or class bonuses are called Boons or Banes. For every Boon you roll a d6, taking the highest one and adding it to your roll. Banes work the opposite and the two cancel each other out one-for-one. The DM is free to adjust difficulty of an action by applying Boons or Banes to a roll, and the roll-all-take-the-highest rule means less math and prevents a task from ever being too easy or too difficult.

Next I'll dig into the class system, which I love.

Monday, April 4, 2016

World Wide Wrestling!

I got to run World Wide Wrestling recently, it was a lot of fun. Its a "powered

by the Apocalypse" games, uses the same bones as Apocalypse World and Dungeon

My wife's character sheet 
Wide Wrestling website.

In addition to your Stats (Look, Power, Real, and Work), you have an Audience

rating, Heat with every other character, and you get Momentum and spend it

through a session to improve rolls. It looks like a lot of moving pieces but it

flows pretty naturally once you start playing.

In our gaming group everybody has at least some experience with professional

wrestling so they had some great ideas. The best and scariest part of * World

games is depending on the players to bring everything to life. The DM (or

Creative in this case) has guidelines for running everything but you need lots

of input from your players for it to work. I'm a control freak sometimes, so its

always scary going into a game like this but my group did great.

I won't go over too much rules stuff, you can find lots of info on the World 

I started off the session by saying that this was a league with lots of money

behind it, so they did lots of big international shows. Also the head of the

company was dodging extradition to the USA. I passed around the gimmicks and

gave everyone a few minutes to flesh out characters while I went over some of

the rules.

Here was the roster we came up with:

The Horseman--A 7' tall guy in black riding gear and a pumpkin mask. Completely

silent. Entrance is the lights go out for a few seconds while a bell tolls, then

he appears in stage when they come back on. Finisher is a clothesline called

"The Head Chopper". (Gimmick--The Monster, role--Heel)

Pinot Noir--A woman in full length gown and masquerade mask. Gown can be ripped

down to a matching swimsuit. Drinks wine during her entrance (while Muse plays),

and during matches when she's bored. Finisher is the double bubble--a flip off

the top rope landing sitting on the opponent's face. (Gimmick--The High Flyer,


El Borracho--Drunkard in striped pants and mask. Chugs beer before and after

matches. Entrance music is Pasame La Botella, an upbeat reggaetón song. Two

signature moves--Swallow the Worm is a sharpshooter submission, and Under the

Table is a double underhook DDT finisher. (Gimmick--The Wasted,


The Fabulous Boy Williams--An up and comer with attitude, comes out to Pantera's

"Walk". Wears black shorts and boots. Signature moves are the Run and Stun RKO

and a Stone Cold Stunner as finisher. (Gimmick--The Golden Boy, role--Babyface)

Heinous Dave Haney--Per the player's notes: "Flashy, ego, tough, tan, glittery."

Walks out to Born This Way with color-coordinated shorts and sunglasses. He throws

the shades into the crowd (whether they want them or not). Finisher is the

Nutjob, a low blow while the ref is distracted. (Gimmick--The Technician, role--Heel)

We then asked questions to establish Heat, which works similar to Bonds in

Dungeon World, creates connections between the characters. Heinous Dave and

Fabulous Boy Williams were in a tag team before Williams got a solo push. El

Borracho gets into fights when his beer disappears backstage. The Horseman has

been a mentor off-stage to some wrestlers, but terrifies Heinous Dave. Pinot

Noir helps out Williams but feuds with El Borracho.

We took a break so I could book the matches. I decided to do single matches with

the Heels set to win, then do a surprise tag team match at the end so the

Babyfaces could get revenge. Like any good role playing game sessions, things did

not go exactly as planned.

Pinot Noir and El Borracho started off after each got a chance to cut a promo.

Pinot Noir didn't roll well on the Cut a Promo move so I upped the stakes and

made it a mask match. Her reputation and mystery was on the line. El Borracho

tried to humiliate her at the beginning of the match by ripping off her gown,

but ended up tripping over it and leaving himself open. The hook of the Wasted

gimmick is that they get high/drunk and screw things up, but the audience eats

it up. Pinot Noir was booked to lose, but El Borracho was so drunk and off-

script that she pinned him just to end the match.

Heinous Dave cut a promo in between matches and got dragged behind curtains by

The Horseman. Players can spend Momentum to interrupt others even outside of the


Next match was The Horseman against an NPC, so I mostly let him narrate how the

match went. He was good at taking blows and choke slamming, like other giants.

He put on a good show against the MEGAmerican, a patriotic masked wrestler (lots

of masks), then finished him off.

Fabulous Boy Williams talked a lot of smack towards his former tag team partner

before the match, and Heinous Dave Haney returned it. The players were getting

used to how the rules worked with the narrative and were interrupting each

other's moves more by this point. Heinous Dave was booked to win the match, but

outside interference caused them both to get disqualified.

At this point I announced a 3-person Tag Team match between the Heels and

Babyfaces (including MEGAmerican). It was a chaotic mess, which felt perfect.

People interrupting constantly, even double interrupting, struggling to reach a

teammate to make a tag, personal feuds making people break the was


I think I was able to keep the spotlight moving around and give everyone fair

time and creative input during the matches, which is the real challenge of

running any * World game. Hopefully we will be playing again soon, continuing

the feuds and developing a story.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Dungeon Crawl Classics House Rules

Here's a dump of a bunch of DCC house rules I'd like to use, with some bits of flavor thrown in to imply a vaguely Arthurian setting with bits of Celtic and Norse influence.

Clerics must pick an alignment. Law is the One True Church, which supports the High King. Neutral is one or more pagan gods, nature spirits, or ancestors, still common among common people. Chaos is a forbidden cult or demon worship. 
Healing someone with no alignment works the same as healing someone one alignment step away. Simplifying spells. Critical successes and failures will still be special but I want to reduce charts. 

Luck bonus applies to Defense rolls instead of a weapon. Lots of house rules for combat.

Instead of picking an alignment, pick a Path and get bonuses accordingly. 

Simplifying spells. Critical successes and failures will still be special but I want to reduce charts. 

Flavor: "Halfling" is a mortal term for any number of small, unassuming fae. Could even be a goblin.

Flavor: If dwarves were ever fae, they left those realms ages ago. 

Simplifying spells. Flavor-wise, elves are fae creatures with unique supernatural traits. 
  1. Horns-antlers or spiral, and small tail
  2. Always wears an elaborate hat, must have it to cast spells
  3. Plants grow from hair and beard, and from blood spilled on ground
  4. Skin is covered in markings like tattoos
  5. Eyes are starry fields with no pupils
  6. Wild red hair, glowing eyes
  7. Rough, dark skin, heavy footsteps
  8. Flowing hair, doesn't touch ground when running
  9. Hair always wet, excellent swimmer
  10. Dresses very old-fashioned, constantly lost in deja-vu
  11. Shines brightly in sunlight, gets morose in darkness
  12. Gets more lively and slightly taller closer to full moon
  13. Forked tongue and slit pupils
  14. Animal ears, similar animals are never afraid of the elf
  15. Looks like a child, but has adult voice
  16. Clothes, eyes, hair, and anything they pick up has the same color hue
  17. Voice is a whisper that can be heard within shouting range
  18. Art the elf makes seems to move from the corner of the eye
  19. Anyone looking at the elf thinks they look kind of like a relative
  20. Roll twice

Alignment is an optional choice, because its not just an outline for behavior. In a land where the reign of a king determines the vitality of their kingdom, conviction has real implications. 

Law supports the divine right of the Good King to rule the land, supported by the One True Church. Law says that an oath cannot be broken, fealty cannot be ignored, and order brings peace and safety.
(Knights, Lords, loyalists, Clergy)

Neutral respects their ancestors, the spirits of nature, and the fickle pagan gods. Neutral can believe in a lot of things but overall believes mortals are but a small part of a bigger world.
(Druids, berserkers, witches, wildmen)

Chaos just wants to watch the world burn. Chaos flouts the rightful rulers, spits on just laws, and take what they want from those that need it.
(Reavers, cultists, demon-worshippers)

Ability Scores: roll 2d10, Roll 6 times and arrange.
2-12 No bonus
13-15 +1 bonus
16-17 +2 bonus
18-20 +3 bonus

Defense:  d20 plus Reflex bonus (from class and Agility bonus), plus any shield and helmet bonus.
Armor:  Fortitude bonus + any armor bonus, and subtracts from damage you take on every hit.

Power Weapons 
One-handed 1d8 damage
Two-handed 1d12 damage
Uses Strength bonus for attack and damage
Finesse Weapons
One-handed 1d6 damage
Two-handed 1d10 damage
Uses Agility bonus for attack and damage
Swords count as Power and Finesse weapons, whichever is most beneficial to the user. They do damage as Power weapons.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Underdark Rules

Here's how rules for Underdark D&D, from the players' perspective. I'll post more from the DM's perspective soon.

You have three choices, which can be made in any order.
1) Pick an attribute that you excel in.
2) Pick a class.
3) Pick a race.
Then figure out your To-Hit Rolls, Hit Points, Armour Class, weapon damage, and spells.


Your character has one High attribute, two if you're human. You get a bonus to some rolls depending on your High Attribute.

Strength (Str) +1 on Melee To-Hit Rolls and Damage Rolls
Intelligence (Int) +1 to Search Rolls and Wizard Spells
Wisdom (Wis) +1 to Saving Throws and Cleric Spells
Dexterity (Dex) +1 to Missile To-Hit Rolls and Armour Class
Constitution (Con) +1 to Hit Points per level
Charisma (Chr) +1 to Parley Rolls


"Beware the man who loves battle"
Hit Points: 1d10 per level
Best To-Hit rolls
Can use Small, Medium, or Large Weapons, Chainmail and Shield
Cleave: if you kill an enemy with a melee weapon attack, you may immediately make another attack against an enemy within reach

"Hell Awaits"
Hit Points: 1d8 per level
Average To-Hit Rolls
Can use Small Weapons, Chainmail and a Shield
Turn Undead: Roll 4+ on D6 (+1 for Wis) to make an Undead enemy cower or flee.
Divine Spells: Cast a limited number of spells. Roll 4+ on D6 if necessary (+1 for Wis). Check spell chart for spells per level.

Hit Points: 1d4 per level
Poor To-Hit Rolls
You can use Small weapons but no armor.
Arcane Spells: Cast a limited number of spells. Roll 4+ on D6 if necessary (+1 for Int). Check spell chart for spells per level.

"Without the ties of kin, folk turn to banditry and murder"
Hit Points: 1d6 per level
Average To-Hit Rolls
You can use Small weapons and leather armor.
Burglary skills: Roll 4+ on D6 (+1 for Dex) to pick locks, find traps, and disarm traps.
Use Scroll: Roll 4+ on D6 (+1 for Int/Wis) to use an Arcane or Divine spell scroll.
Backstab: +2 to hit and x4 damage if you attack an unsuspecting enemy
Poison Use: safely handle and apply poisons


Human: two high attributes
Dwarf: resistant to poison, stonecunning talent
Elf: resistant to enchantment, detect secret doors and magic talent
Halfling: resistant to fear spells, once per adventure reroll a failed defensive roll
Drow: see in normal or magical darkness, once per adventure you can blanket a room in shadows (other drow can see through this)
Orc: once per adventure when you hit do double damage

To-Hit Rolls

Roll 1d20, beat the number for your class/level on the chart. High Strength gives +1 on Melee (hand to hand weapons). High Dexterity gives +1 to Missile (ranged seapons).
This roll assumes a creature with moderate armor on. Attacking a low armor creature gives you a +2 bonus, attacking a high armor creature gives you a -2 penalty.


Small Weapons do 1d6 damage. Ex. dagger, shortsword, mace, handaxe. Clerics, Wizards, and Thieves.
Medium Weapons do 1d8 damage. Ex. longsword, battleaxe, flail. Fighters.
Large Weapons do 1d10 damage and negates the reach advantage of large creatures like giants, but you cannot use a shield while wielding the weapon. Ex. spear, great axe, claymore. Fighters.

Hit Points

Roll one die per level (varies by class). Add +1 per level for High Con.

Armour Class

Base is 11.
+1 for High Dex
+2 for Leather Armour (Thieves)
+4 for Chainmail (Clerics and Fighters)
+2 for Shield (Clerics and Fighters, cannot be used with Large Weapons)

Saving Throws

Roll 4+ on D6 to avoid danger. +1 bonus for High Wis. Other High Attributes may give bonuses for specific types of dangers.


I used the spell list from Microlite74 Basic, one of several D&D retroclones. Use your own spell list from any edition of D&D and adapt on the fly, or make your own.

That's it! There are lots of holes that require heavy DM adjudication, but honestly that's in the spirit of Basic D&D.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Underdark Release Adventure 2016

For the third year in a row I ran some D&D at the Underdark release party. Underdark is a barrel-aged stout from a local brewery. They have different D&D-themed art every year and do a big block party for the release. I posted briefly the first year I did it here.

The character sheet is a stripped down basic D&D character at 7th level. I took the idea from Dungeon Robber to just have one ability score good enough to give you a small bonus, and skills, saves, and spells are all handled by a d6 roll. Four classes and 6 races, everything fits on one sheet. I used Microlite 74 for a spell list (  . Its great for a pick up game with lots of drinking.

I had been planning on running this since they announced the event, but I was stumped for what the adventure would actually be. The week of the event, I saw this tweet:
I fired off two ideas right away, and decided that for Underdark I would be running The Abandoned Brewery of the Goblin King.

The event went well. Several people from my casual gaming group showed up, including one friend who had moved away but came back just for this event, and another acquaintance who I didn’t even know played D&D before. I had the three stalagmite towers outlined on posterboard and cardboard on solo cups for the higher levels to make a 3D playmat (and since we were outside, tape to hold it all down).

One of the challenges of these events is to improv a lot and keep it moving for as long as possible before the chaos of the surroundings and increasing inebriation of myself and the players pulls everything apart. We made good progress until it started raining and had to pack up in a hurry. Characters had funny names like Porter McStein and Bud Lightning, or the orcs Blarthok and Gronk.

I’ll post up the whole dungeon soon, but I’m hoping to finish the adventure at another get another so no spoilers yet. Here’s how the party went through the dungeon:

Ground level: the party has traveled for days through caves to the 3 stalagmite towers that house the abandoned brewery. I asked the players for rumors they had heard about the legendary last batch of goblin ale still in the dungeon.

Middle Stalagmite: Piles of moldy barley and wererats. Anyone getting near the mold got hit with berserk spores, causing some inter-party fighting. An otyugh was hiding as well, and the party had trouble attacking it in unison.

Level 2: Giant glass tank with a sea serpent and Lolth’s Crown. Bud Lightning the cleric dove into the tank to retrieve the crown, only getting a scratch from the serpent. A walkway went to one of the adjacent towers.

East Stalagmite, level 2: A furnace for heating water, still operated by two coal golems. The wizard Kraken held them in place with Web.

Level 3: Every character had to name a horrible drink to enter this chamber (lots of inventive ideas from players). An obsidian dome littered with diamonds and a pedestal with the Mind Flayer’s Goblet were inside. When someone tried to grab the goblet, the two-headed Dragon Witch that had been hiding invisible used his breath attack. Two players had to leave right before combat, so somebody else took over, rolled their saving throws, and both PCs died. Everybody fled but they had the goblet.

Level 1:  A huge tank with cracks was full of skeletons, but the PCs didn’t mess with it.

They were about to storm the last stalagmite when it started raining. One thing this adventure reminded me of is not to spend too much time on crunch during prep, because half of the fights were bypassed in some way. Looking back through my notes I also forgot a few things, and honestly it was early in the adventure so I can’t blame the beer. Oh well.