Sunday, 21 August 2016

Board game recommendations

Here's a few board games that I love, and think are great for kids:
  • Settlers of Catan (3-4, or 5-6 with the extension box): reasonably straight-forward, very replayable (randomised board), minimal language dependency (just numbers & icons), lots of player interaction (negotiation and trade). [infobuyiOSAndroid]
  • Ticket to Ride (2-5): as long as they can figure out where cities are on the map, it's just colours. Strategic thinking helps, but it's not required. Player interaction is mostly in figuring out where other people might go, and going there first. [infobuy]
  • Carcassonne (2-4): tile- and pawn-placement game. Try to build the best landscape and score points. Fairly strategic, but a lot of it comes down to what tile you draw. [infobuyiOSAndroid]
  • King of Tokyo (2-6): like Yahtzee, but you're playing as giant monsters trying to destroy Tokyo city. Very fun, plays fairly fast, but does involve player elimination. [infobuy]
  • Kingdom Builder (2-4): a favourite of mine. Randomised board and goals each game. Try to place settlements on the board to get the most points. [infobuyiOSAndroid]
  • Love Letter (2-4): fast-playing bluffing/guessing game, with all the rules on the cards. [infobuy]
  • Sushi Go! (2-5): pick a card, pass your hand on, and repeat, then score. Adorable art, with reminders on the cards. It was designed with kid-friendliness in mind. [infobuy]

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

An Ongoing List of Useful Resources

From Blog of Holding:

A Casting Mechanic, and a Stamina System

Based on The Black Hack's usage die concept:


Every caster has a spellcasting die (based on their level - d4 at 1st, d20 at 20th). Casting a spell means the caster rolls their spellcasting die after the spell takes effect. If the number rolled is equal to or lower than the level of the spell, the usage die drops one step (and if it was a d4, magic is gone). Sleeping for the night resets the die back to maximum (or only one step, if you wanna slow things down for casters).

As an aftertought, this is probably only good for players if you've got DCC dice with wacky numbers of sides, due to the lack of granularity between levels. But I reckon it'll be great for NPCs – I reckon you'll want a 50/50 chance of the die dropping after they cast their highest-level spell.


Everyone has a stamina die based on their Constitution (or Strength). Whenever they do something potentially exhausting (combat, chasing, climbing, etc.), they roll their stamina die. If it rolls equal or under their encumbrance limit, the die drops one step. If it goes from a d4 to nothing, the character needs to rest NOW. Sleeping for the night resets the die back to maximum (or only one step, if you wanna slow things down for everyone).
  • CON 8 or less: d4
  • CON 9-12: d6
  • CON 13-15: d8
  • CON 16-17: d10
  • CON 18: d12
Encumbrance (in stones):
  • weight under half STR: 1
  • weight under STR: 2
  • weight under STR x 1.5: 3
  • weight under STR x2: 4
Anything over STR x2 is just too much. Make them roll their stamina die for walking a few steps.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

D&D Hack: Monsters

Or rather, monster stat blocks. Always something of a contentious issue. "Pathfinder is too complex" "AD&D is too simple"

Personally, I feel like 5e did pretty well with monsters. Their stat blocks aren't as dense as Pathfinder/3.x, and they capture the essence of the monster. It's a pity the Monster Manual has terrible lay-out. Why are Blink Dogs in the appendix? What's a quipper? And why the F*&% are all the "Giant" creatures together, but Succubus/Incubus aren't with the demons or devils? Doesn't matter, I'm ranting.

Justin Alexander, of thealexandrian.net, presents a very simple method for monster creation here, which relies on a table of default statistics.  The idea is that you have a few basic stats, and specify whatever other abilities or stats are crucial for the monster's flavour or identity.

This is, largely, what 5e does (though with less simplicity). Every monster in 5e has at least one interesting feature: wolves have Pack Tactics, goblins have Nimble Escape, orcs have Aggressive, and so on. These abilities tell you a lot about the creatures in question: wolves are better if they gang up, or at least work in pairs. Goblins are great ambushers (ironically, moreso than Bugbears). Orcs are fast on the battlefield, as long as they can see their foes.

The aim is for monsters to be more than bags of hit points. I've found that, as soon as monsters have a specific thing - be it a combat trick, a tactic, even a distinctive look - they're easier to run and more fun for the players.

I'll probably end up using Alexander's table often myself, but it's not very PocketMod-able. So, how can we define the defaults for monsters on one-eighth of a piece of A4 or letter paper?

First, in old-school tradition, monsters add their HD to attack rolls - unless they are "Martial" (add x2, for low-HD town guards and such), or "Clumsy" (add half, in the case of high-HD ogres who can't hit for shit).

AC and HD obviously need to be defined, as does attack damage. HD are probably going to be d8s, but in a 3.x game, it's probably better to use d10s, to compensate for the lack of CON bonuses.

Saving throws? In Labyrinth Lord, monsters mostly had saves identical to a Fighter of their level. Which meant that I needed the Save table on my screen. That's not PocketMod-able, but it did keep the stat block slim. So, we use the Fort/Ref/Will trinity that I think is the best set of saves ever (it's minimalist and intuitive). All monsters add half their HD to all saves, unless specified (Good = add HD, Poor = no bonus).

Speed is 30' walking, unless specified.

Skills... Most of the time, monsters won't need skills. But this is a great place to use the 4 M20 skills: monsters and NPCs don't need the fiddly detail that PCs need. So, if a monster needs a skill, pick Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge and/or Communication, and give the monster a bonus equal to 1/2 or 1x HD. Easy to improv at the table, easy to note down.

Alternatively, you can just use the Save bonus for the skill. Monsters with good Reflex saves are generally going to be sneaky, and monsters with good Fort saves are going to be good at STRONG things.

Here's a couple of examples:

HD 2, AC 15, Attk 1d6+2.
Nimble Escape (Hide or Disengage as bonus action).
Reflex Good:, Fort: Poor.

HD 8, AC 11, Attk 2d6 (Clumsy)
Fort & Physical: Good, Will: Poor
Ogres are stupid, and tend to hit the closest enemy, or the enemy that hits them the most.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

D&D Hack: skills

Moving on from my last post: skills.

Pathfinder has a broad selection of skills, but I find the skill point allocation far too fiddly.
5e also has a good selection of skills, which is more concise. But most of my players find the skill proficiency mechanic too limiting.
M20 has far too few skills (4!!!), but I like the idea of overlapping skills that, by default, allow easy picking of the related attribute at the time of skill rolling intriguing.

If I base my skill list off 5e, then I can (for instance) collapse Acrobatics & Athletics into the one skill, and just call for STR or DEX as appropriate. Or CON, in the case of endurance feats.

So, what do I consider the minimum? I'll use the M20 skills as a base, and build up from there.

Physical: Athletics, Ride/Handle Animal (one skill)
Subterfuge: Stealth, Disable Device, Sleight of Hand. These, I feel, are the core trinity of rogue skills.
Knowledge: this is a tricky one, because some of the skills under this are Knowledge X skills, but there's also Healing, and perhaps Survival. Crafting? Maybe that can take a leaf out of 5e's book...
Communication: Persuasion, Deceit, Intimidation. Again, core trinity. But I miss the Gather Information of old, which is just a CHA check in 5e. I'm gonna borrow the Streetwise skill from Savage Worlds: it can cover Gather Information, but also a rogue's ability to find contacts, or a fighter's knowledge of his home town's back alleys. It's versatile, and that's what I want.

Here's my list so far:
-Animal Handling (as in 5e, this covers riding as well as training, etc)
-Crafting (specialties: Poison, Smithing, Carpentry, Masonry, etc)
-Deceit (Ye olde Bluff, but with a more generic name)
-Disable Device
-Intimidation (this doesn't just have to be CHA based - INT and STR are also options, based on the situation)
-Knowledge (specialties: Arcana, History, Nature, Religion. Streetwise covers K.Local, which I always felt was missing from 5e, and you can take others if you really want to)
-Perception (WIS based for Spot checks, INT based for investigation rolls. This way the rogue doesn't get shafted by needing another whole new skill)
-Persuasion (like Intimidation, this can be INT based for logical arguments or CHA based for passionate pleas)
-Sleight of Hand (I was just gonna fold this into Stealth, but there's way more applications than just picking pockets)
-Stealth (ye olde Hide in Shadows and Move Silently)
-Survival (for tracking, foraging, navigating, etc)

I wonder if there's anything crucial that I've missed?

Now, for skill mechanics.

At character creation, you can pick a number of skills (by class: Fighters 2, Casters 4, Rogues 6) to be proficient in. Proficiency bonus is equal to 1/2 level, rounded up (so that 1st-level characters get some bonus). In addition, all characters can (when levelling) choose to gain a skill point to allocate to any skill. Rogues can get 2 skill points instead.

DCs will probably be on the 5e scale, as I don't really want +20s on any kind of roll.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Thoughts on D&D design

So, I've been thinking a lot lately about RPG design. My goal is mostly towards minimalism. While I appreciate the mechanical elegance in Pathfinder, I found running it to be wearisome (especially with players telling me I was doing things wrong).

We played Labyrinth Lord (with Tomb of Horrors), and it played fast, but it has no mechanical elegance. A lot of people have tried to mesh the simplicity of design with elegance of design. 5e looks really good, but it has a lot of stuff. Certainly nothing close to Pathfinder and its ilk, but sometimes you just want something that's easy, where all of your character's stuff fits in your head, etc. 

Microlite has both, and I think it's great to introduce newbies to the genre (my wife's uncle took to the game like the proverbial duck last Christmas), but it has too little crunch. I like the mix'n'match feel of the skills, and I plan to use that philosophy -- but 4 skills? I don't think you can create meaningfully diverse PCs at that level. It's worse than LL.

When I was looking up M20, I rediscovered PocketMod booklets. I have 4 of these, and together they summarise: character creation and gameplay, spells (9th levels for 2 classes), monsters, and a GM's guide. On 4 pocket-friendly pieces of paper. How great is that?

So, what am I aiming for? Rules that...
--are short enough to fit on a few PocketMods (like, char.gen, combat, spells, GM stuff).
--allow for players to make meaningful choices when designing characters.
--allow players to make solid characters without system mastery or min maxing.
--simple enough that I have basic structure for anything, but room to rule everything if need be.
--can be played without any reference to the rules (with spells as the only possible exception).

Is this possible? I believe so.

Character creation is going to be modelled off Zak S's post "Since Nobody Asked Me...Here's My Type V", and simple combat with structural room for meaningful combat choices will be based on Sly Flourish's "Guide to Narrative Combat in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition".

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


The clouds that boiled and raged overhead were red, like the blood of mortal men. Bolts of acid-green lightning struck the barren, wasted plain that lay spread out beneath the rocky ledge where the young man knelt.
His golden robes were torn and stained, and his face bruised. But still he was proud as he looked up at his saviour. This person, who called itself the Kesh, was as unearthly as this plane. Where its head should have been floated a diamond of some strange material, like grey porcelain.  When the Kesh spoke, the words rang clear and alien in the young man’s ear.
“Whaat do you askk of usssss?”
“I seek vengeance,” the young man said. He picked a spot where the Kesh’s eyes might have been, and fixed that spot unwaveringly with his own golden eyes.
“Thiis has no meaning to usssss…” The voice was the same, but now there was another figure, dressed in the same shapeless black cloak, and with a head that was the same but quite different. Where the first’s was smooth and unbroken, this was twisted and bent in impossible, indescribable ways.
“I seek blood.”
“Yyou have sufficient for liiiiiife,” spoke a third. Neat fragments of that strange material orbited around the figure’s shoulders in a perfect dance.
“I seek conquest.”
Silence, but for the thunder.
“Thiis we alllso desire.” The young man got the impression that all three of them had spoken. “Contemplation we requirre. Waiit now. We shall send for you. Go noow.”
The three Kesh raised their hands, and an eerie green light washed over the young man. When it cleared, he found himself lying on cold stone, in a dark cavern. He shrugged, and began counting his coins.

Dragons are nothing if not patient.