Saturday, December 26, 2020

Elves Part 1: Reconstructing a Fantasy Archetype

Picture by Yuliya Litvinova
I've now written three articles about some of the main races in my homebrew setting without ever having intentionally set out to make a series like that. One day I just wanted to compile a bunch of my weird notes on dwarves in one place and share them. Then with gnomes. Then with halflings. And even when it had occurred to me that I have a series on my hands, I still think I was never intending to write a post on elves, because...

Well, because elves don't need a lore post.

Like, gnomes and halflings both need work done if you want them to be interesting. Even sticking to the vanilla versions is still lesser than what you get with off-the-shelf elves. Dwarves have lots of lore but it's infamous for being clich√©, so revisiting it and doing something fresh justifies itself. But elves? Elves get nothing but attention. They often have too much lore. Wasting more ink on them is an injustice and disservice to the other fantasy races. To other fantasy ideas. Elves are the most thoroughly fleshed-out and experimented with idea in nearly all fantasy fiction. Just look at the TV Tropes article. How the fuck do you get this much mileage out of one idea? How does D&D manage to always, inevitably have a million elven sub races in each edition even as they avoid that mistake with other races?

The thing is, we could try to have the conversation of "what is the elf, at its core?" Analyzing fantasy ideas often means reducing them to their most vital components, the thing that makes an elf an elf no matter what else you change. And when people have that conversation, they usually arrive at something like, "fancy, graceful humans with pointy ears and whatever other traits we culturally idealize (beauty, longevity, skill, knowledge, pale skin, starlight eyes, etc.)." If that doesn't do it for you, here's a way to avoid a debate: not everyone exactly agrees on what an elf is, but most people agree that David Bowie seemed to be more elf than human, which I would say is a solid rule of thumb to operate on.

But there is inevitably a conversation after that one. Because while most elves check off most items in that definition, they all have more going on. Even the original Norse elves or Tolkien's elves. So the next question is, "having now understood what elves fundamentally are, how do you expand on that to make them your own?" This is where the interesting conversations take place. Where you get cool and novel elves from.

Me? I want to have the next conversation. And I specifically want to ask, "what should we take away from Tolkien and early D&D's answers to the previous question? What did we take for granted as classic elf tropes that really do have some potency?" Hence, reconstructing the classic elf. Not exactly as it was before, but at least giving those classic tropes another look. Kiel Chenier has really creative and cool homebrew elves that are a perfect example of not the kind of thing I'm talking about today. No one would question that Warcraft's Night Elves are a fucking rad take on elves, as with the Elder Scrolls's bizarre elves and metal Dark Sun elves and so on. But none of those are classic elves, and most fantasy creators don't really consider just going with classic elves. But as long as we're trying our own hand at writing our own elves, I want to take a moment to explore this direction.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Outline of Brave's Magic System

God I fucking hate magic systems.

Seriously, is there anything that epitomizes pure nerdiness more than designing magic systems? Part of me feels like I seriously wouldn't mind playing fantasy dungeoncrawl RPGs with absolutely no magic for eternity.

But I also love wizards, dammit.

Okay, I assure that what follows will not be lame and cliched. No "elemental spheres of magic + soul + positive + negative + whatever other stupid word" diagrams. I don't want to pick on anyone specifically because worldbuilding is very personal to people and it can be difficult to open up and share. But just go on and search "magic system" and you'll see plenty of examples of the kind of diagram I'm talking about. I will not abide such rampant nerdiness.

The logic of my system that follows is mostly a response to issues with the conventional D&D magic system and inspiration from Necropraxis's Wonders & Wickedness and Marvels & Malisons. The basic goal is to open up possibilities and begin allowing for far more, zanier ideas about what can constitute a "school" of magic.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Campaign-Level Play Part 4: Setting Up The Campaign

I spent a lot of time trying to define two separate styles of gameplay, for the purpose of elucidating one of them to you. But I want to stress that I like to mix the two styles. I have created many tools for campaign-level play, but there are locations on my world map that are big plot-heavy adventures. I warn the players ahead of time. They see “Castle Ravenloft” on the map and they know that if they choose to go there, they’re initiating an adventure module that they’ll be kind of locked into for a decent number of sessions. That’s okay. A lot of players really like being taken on the rollercoaster ride of an awesome story you've prepared, so don't be afraid to trade places for who's driving the campaign at different times. The extent to which you do player-driven action versus DM-driven action is up to you, and it's important to figure out your preference because it determines the prep workload you create for yourself as the DM. All those tools I talked about last time are probably things you'd need to make before the campaign, and it'll be a waste of your time if you don't then tell the players "take advantage of this stuff and base your decisions off of it."

Let's say you decide you want to include all the moving pieces, but you might not be sure how to start. So the question is, if you want to use these structures of campaign-level play, then how and when do you incorporate them?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Campaign-Level Play Part 3: Tools for Campaign Systems

So I've described a level of gameplay where the PCs are in a position to do all kinds of ambitious activities that can be resolved without needing to spend time walking through each step, moment-by-moment on a small scale. That you can safely assume the player can accomplish these tasks without needing to throw them into a dungeoncrawl first. There can definitely be obstacles, for sure. You don't have to just say, "yes, that works exactly as you wanted it to" for everything they ask to do. But recognizing a level of decision-making that tends to happen on the scale of days, weeks, or months is something that players can greatly enjoy taking advantage of.

Many groups dabble with this in some forms. For example, here are some subjects of gameplay that lend themselves well to this: economics, politics, war, and maybe espionage. Notice that these are the types of things you do in board games a lot. But you could totally have something like construction, conservation projects, running a business but focusing on the non-financial parts (e.g. running an opera house and managing the actors, the playwright, the stage production, etc.), going through religious rituals and sacraments, forming relationships, and so on.

While plenty of people have made downtime mechanics, and plenty of others recognize the fun of this sort of thing, it’s very rare that I find games that actually equip the DM to run this. There have been resources and websites like Obsidian Portal or World Anvil that cover a lot of what I'm about to describe, but most groups don't realize how to take advantage of the potential. All too often, these are treated as resources for the DM rather than the party. So I'm sorry 5th Edition, it's not enough to create an inflexible minigame for every specific "downtime activity" that occurs to you. The only way you'll ever achieve a true player-driven sandbox campaign is by letting their imaginations drive the car and merely providing the fuel and tools to guide that. 

So lets talk about the fuel and tools.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Campaign-Level Play Part 2: Model United Nations (and Other Competitive Simulations)

The story behind this painting is hysterical, btw

Last time, I introduced the idea of "campaign-level play," where activity is conducted on a larger scale than the moment-to-moment action of high-intensity scenes, but also as a space for players to drive the story themselves rather than respond to a story offered by the DM. I began explaining some of the ways that RPG products and DMs will toy with this playstyle, but concluded by introducing (through Matt Colville) a pretty unintuitive approach that I think has a lot of potential. To build on that, I'm dedicated an entire article to an adjacent form of play that I think we have a lot to learn from.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Campaign-Level Play Part 1: Maybe the Best Thing that D&D Has to Offer

How often does your character
choose to write a letter?
This is one of the trickier-to-describe qualities of running the game I know of, because it has to do (once again) with presentation and flow. I hope it makes sense.

I perceive a distinction between a common and, seemingly, modern way of running the game and an older way of running the game that has to do with the structure of the activity itself. And it seems obscure enough to me that I don't believe that even most OSR gamers play in this "old style" because they don't know about it. Like, adventures and RPGs from OSR designers that are clearly built with old-school sensibilities in mind are often nonetheless ignorant to this quality. I'm gunna call this old structure "campaign-level play" because of the following reasoning:

"Campaign" is a residual term brought over from the wargaming hobby. But it wasn't just a meaningless word used for its familiarity, like some other terminology relics. See, something like "Armor Class" is called that because the AC rules were borrowed from an old naval wargame, where every ship had an "Armor Class" rating like "first-class armor" (the best quality) or "fourth-class armor" or whatever. That's why we use a weird name for something that refers to a character's ability to not get hit or damaged. But "campaign?" As in, "me and the bois are gunna start up a new campaign of 5th Edition"? That comes from a time when the hobby was about a series of grand Napoleonic battles strung together by the same strategic and political forces that define a real military campaign. While, yes, a single session does just look like some homies getting together to have an isolated battle on a pre-crafted terrain map with their respective armies... they were playing what modern gamers would call a "legacy game." Today's battle is determined by the outcome of our last session, where the army general has a macro-scale plan for the direction of the army's campaign to conquer the enemy. You suffer losses in one battle and it carries over to the next. You write a treaty forming an alliance today and that matters tomorrow. You make a crucial victory and you take advantage of the opportunity by carving up the map of the countryside into chunks that will be allotted to each of your allies and yourself, which then shapes the next campaign when another war inevitably breaks out. These could be thought of as "meta elements" that shape the campaign itself, rather than elements you play out during the session (the battle).

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Changes I'd like to see in new RPG Products

If you are making RPG products and want my two cents, read on for the changes I'd like to see:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Decent Rules to Make Languages Fun

First, here's some supplemental reading you may find insightful. All of it is from other RPG bloggers tackling the same subject as me:

  4. (he covers language as a specific part of the post and I think his take is neat)
The RPG Mausritter, about playing as tiny mice in a fantasy world, has some really cool language rules that I don't think can easily work for most other settings:
As a general rule of thumb, the more closely related two creatures are, the more likely they are able to be able to understand each other. Use the creature’s taxonomy to make a ruling. Magical or highly intelligent creatures may break these rules. • Same species (mouse): Can easily communicate. • Same family (rodent): Can speak and communicate, with some difficulty and difference of custom. • Same class (mammal): Make a WIL save to see if communication is possible. • Otherwise: Can’t directly communicate.
So yeah, all those thoughts are very neat. I'll throw in my two cents.

Monday, October 5, 2020

A Revised Dungeoncrawl Procedure

I recently drafted this page on dungeoncrawl procedure I may add to Brave. It needs playtesting. Some of it's weird, so I felt like it would be worth explaining the design choices I made. My intention is that this page would comprise 100% of the dungeon-related advice and rules in the game. But for context, earlier in the rules I've established a timescale called the "active turn" that lasts 10 minutes, which should be familiar. The main reason I even felt this was worth making and putting into the game was because, the more I thought about it, the more I believed that 1) having a committed dungeoncrawling procedure has great value, especially baking one into the system itself, and 2) I have issues with the standard options.

For those who want context on the old-school tradition of dungeon procedure, I'd point you to threads like this one, this one, and this one. But of course, the main point of contrast is going to be the codified procedure from B/X D&D, as re-packaged by Old School Essentials (courtesy of Necrotic Gnome), which is far and away the most popular option these days. Here is the 2-page spread included in OSE:

Let's talk about what they have in common before talking about the differences. 1) There is a play sequence up front, which is there for both the referee and the player to see and understand. 2) They both cover movement, traps, random encounters, and at least a little bit about miscellaneous common activities. So what's my problem with the original?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dragons of the Great Game

This is one of my all-time favorite pieces of fluff in D&D history, but is, unfortunately, almost completely lost to history. Maybe someone reading this will give it another look.

In the days of 3rd Edition D&D, there was a lot of content bloat. In just eight years they came out with five monster manuals, each filled with several hundred new baddies for you to use. They were mostly garbage, aiming for quantity over quality every step of the way. By Monster Manual III, nearly every page had a goofy, ridiculous concept someone pulled from their ass in desperation to sell more books. But all of them contained nuggets of gold, if you scoured through them. The Monster Manual V was the most ignored of all, coming out near the end of the 3rd edition life cycle. Right when everyone was looking forward to 4th edition or, at the very least, already had plenty of monsters to use. But this monster I want to talk about wasn’t really something that you needed the stat block for. This was an idea.

The gist: dragons have a favorite board game they play, and it can make for the coolest campaign ever.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Medieval Halflings: Pechs, Not Hobbits

Of the core D&D races, halflings are the ones I think the least about. That’s probably true for many people. I think they’re delightful, don’t get me wrong. I think the 5th Edition art for them, where they have giant bloated heads, is hysterical and great. I think anyone defending the freak alien 3rd Edition ones is pretentious and ridiculous. But… I would like for these to be something that can be taken seriously. That is, after all, why I revisited gnomes. So I want halflings that I’m happy with and manage to be fairly vanilla while also different than what we’re normally given. I originally envisioned this looking similar to the gnome or dwarf posts I made, but as you can see, I had some complicated thought processes I think may be of value to share. But the list of halfling traits I made is in the second half.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The lost art of the "Stable-of-Characters"

The infamous "Enigma of Greyhawk" is, I think, a metaphor
for all of OD&D. Because this game is batshit.
Look, I really love OD&D. It's so fascinating to me. I could gush constantly about all the weird shit I've found in it and the stuff I've learned about early D&D from it. But the Alexandrian already did that pretty dang well, so I won't cover that ground myself. If you want even more goodies, here is a good link-o'-links to get started (Philotomy's Musings are especially valuable). I do want to share this one thing, though. It's something that I slowly figured out from noticing weird stuff in the rules, and then I dug up some primary source evidence for. But even just the tale of its discovery, I think, demonstrates well the wonder of old RPG archaeology. And why I think it's one of the most important abandoned old-school avenues that needs to be explored further.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

BRAVE Character Sheets

Finally got around to this part, since I always treat it as an afterthought. So here's the deal. In Brave, there are two character sheets. The first (link to it here) is for new characters up to level 3. As you can see, it's small enough that you can fit two on one sheet of paper. Anything that doesn't have a designated place on this sheet but that you need to write down, go ahead and jot it on the back.

Then, once you reach level 4, you've proven yourself a cut above the rest and have probably outgrown that old sheet. You have a decent chance of maybe not dying young, so it's worth it to actually have a full sheet. That's where this second (link to it here) sheet comes in.  I figured that, even though I'm adding a lot onto Knave, the majority of characters are still gunna be pretty disposable and won't need a full sheet.

I'll need to playtest these as well but they look promising. And anything on there that you might not yet recognize (the speeds, languages, whatever) are gunna be in the next draft of Brave so don't worry.


Friday, July 31, 2020

Fifth Edition Downtime

I'm running a new 5E campaign in quarantine, and I'm trying not to get ahead of myself. But I'm also finally reading Matt Colville's Strongholds and Followers and I'm pleasantly surprised. It's very tempting to go all in and use. Demesne/domain level play is something I've always really wanted to try but I've never had the chance. I've never played more than a session or two of the oldest D&D editions (back when demesne play was just an assumption of the game) and even then, only as a low-level murderhobo. I've read some of the rules for getting castles and whatnot from BECMI and I'm not crazy about the old system. But the idea is really cool to me.

Actually, just doing a lot more downtime play is something I want a good experience trying. I think in my mind, it is one of the biggest elements that makes me really think of a game as a "campaign" rather than a bunch of one-shots strung together. I do, after all, basically just play a bunch of mostly-unrelated miniseries of dungeoncrawls and mysteries. I've never fleshed out a sandbox world that my players have the freedom to invest in easily. One of the things that makes downtime play really sing is a well-realized world full of potential. I tend to design isolated scenarios, but for a player to feel inspired to delve into the world and start moving mountains and making their impact feel real, they need a place that's got some jen-yu-wiiine verisimilitude.

This has been one of my design goals for Brave, and so far it's going fantastic. But I even want to try it for 5E as well. Like, I might even be able to trick my players into liking the Forgotten Realms if they get really invested. So read on for some bizarre ideas about how I might achieve this.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Bugbears that Go Bump in the Night

I never liked Bugbears much. Always loved Goblins and I long ago fleshed out Hobgoblins into something I was so happy with they became one of my favorite races. But Bugbears didn't do it for me.

One visual re-skin later and now I love them. This does not fundamentally change much about them or their lore, but I think it "clicks" with me better now. Here are some images of Bugbears as they appear in my setting:

...more below...

Monday, July 13, 2020

Potent Potables

Here's a small one you can steal. It's going in the next draft of Brave but works great as a standalone homebrew. This is inspired by something Patrick Stuart once spitballed in (I believe) an interview I saw/read at some point. I've worked out the kinks and then fleshed it out further.

Potent Potables 

Characters can get intoxicated to temporarily adjust their stats. A character drinking alcohol loses an amount of WIS and gains HP equal to Xd6 - CON, where X is the number of drinks they have. If they reach 0 WIS, they become poisoned and have disadvantage on all checks. Every point of negative WIS incurred also gains one level of exhaustion. Characters sober up at a rate of 1 hour per WIS point regained/bonus HP lost. If sobering up reduces your HP below 0, you pass out and gain exhaustion.

Example: You drink 3 bottles of ale and have a +2 CON bonus. You roll 3d6 and get 1, 5, and 6. 1+5+6-2 = 10. You gain 10 HP and subtract 10 from your WIS.
These mechanics can apply to other potables as well! While “pure” potions and poisons exist, many consumable items instead have a tradeoff. Different items that affect the same stats will stack. Potables with this tradeoff are usually listed with the notation of “stat gained/stat lost” with their ratio.

Example: Alcohol is listed as: HP+1/WIS-1. This means that for every temporary hit point gained, a point of Wisdom is lost.

But wait! There's more!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Medieval City Sizes

Paris in the year 1300. At 150,000 people, it was the largest city
on the continent, rivaled only by Constantinople. It was also about
1.5 miles across. Compare to Paris in 2020, closer to 6 or 7 miles
across. But a typical "city" in 1300 would really have had a
 population closer to 10,000. Think just how small that must be.
Medieval cities were very small. Like, even the really big ones were small. Something that makes it tricky to research is that "size" of urban areas is almost universally measured in population (which for the vast majority of anyone's purposes is a lot more useful) but I am deeply interested in "size" as measured by actual physical area. I think it's important to making maps, and I like using maps when running adventures in urban areas. Not for most activities. It doesn't matter for shopping or carousing or even investigating, for the most part. Or it doesn't have to. But what if you have a battle happening in the city? It's being attacked, raided, besieged, whatever. Mapping out the specific parts that have been taken is useful. And even those other activities can be enhanced by map elements. I like using tables of random encounters and locations the PCs would run into, but being able to divide them by district or neighborhood or whatever would break it up some and give the city as a whole a better sense of identity.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Talking Statues: The Ultimate Quest Dealer

Statue of Saint Tarscel. Click the pic for details.
This is one of the best ideas I've ever had and you should all steal it immediately.

Have you ever heard of the talking statues of Rome? I'd known about them for awhile, thought they were neat, maybe some potential worth exploring for worldbuilding purposes. Tucked it away in the back of my mind. Now, I've finally found a use for them.

Rumors are a classic thing to include in D&D. More so in the old school, but it's an ever-popular tradition. Lots of adventure modules come with them. But I've always found them tricky to integrate, myself. That's not the sort of things my players usually go for, and I'd hate to force-feed them stuff like that. But I'm working on a cool sandbox campaign, and suddenly having a system for "quest hooks up for grabs!" is really convenient.

And especially because we're all playing online now and I'd like the PCs to have an idea of their next adventure during the week between sessions ("downtime" in a sense), having a passive way to distribute this info, and consumed at their own pace, is the ideal.

So my city has a bunch of talking statues that my players can always look at. They update regularly, and the player characters can even post stuff themselves. There are 6 statues, each with a different theme, so there's a ton of variety. They have fantastic potential for worldbuilding, as the statues themselves and their theme embody a specific deity in my setting. In addition, not every post is tied to a quest. Lots of it's just flavor. A decent amount of it came about as a consequence of something the PCs did. That top-right post on my boi Tarscel up there? About vacated farms? Yeah, that all happened during our last session, and the PCs' next planned move was to start looting.

Want to know how to set this up in your game? I'll give instructions on how I did it, below. Adapt it however you need to fit your table's setup. I'll also show off my own statues a bit more if you want some inspiration.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

BRAVE 1.5 Playtest Recap

For our last session, I got to playtest my current draft of Brave. It was pretty successful. I don't normally care for "game tales" myself but I'll share some of the experience here since this was an incredibly valuable learning experience for me.

Firstly, here's a link to the playtest doc the PCs used. I modified a handful of things specifically for this session because certain features might not be "ready" for testing yet, but this is the first time I've had a chance to play with the actual classes.

Here's a map that the PCs used for the session. This is an area called the Wyvern Marches, with modest Marion at the center of all the chaos. Each location is 3 miles (1 hour, generally) apart. Here's the quick-and-dirty 3-step travel procedure I used:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Infatuation as a Condition

No, this is not the same as the Charmed condition. I'll explain, just hear me out.

Love usually doesn't find its way into TTRPGs, for obvious reasons. Some people try to tackle it, usually they fail. The systems most open to it are ones that already impose mechanics on lots of personality and communication related things anyway, like a lot of story games. It's pretty common in Pendragon to make a flirting check or to roll on a cuckoldry table or have to make a saving throw to not be too heartbroken or whatever.

But people like agency over their character's brain and are less inclined to allow "character skill, not player skill" into that part of your stats. That is more true in OSR games than probably anywhere else and lots of people in that scene will shriek at the mere suggestion that you mechanically enforce a specific mental state on a PC. It is a common paradigm that you cannot tell a player how their character feels about something, and I've frequently heard people bring this up as a reason you can't roleplay a true Arthurian story with all the romance bits. BUT...

Monday, April 13, 2020

Oh God There Are So Many RPGs (A Guide)

No TL;DR but I'll just tell you that the good shit is the misc. list at the end
Something you hear a lot in RPG spaces is the recurring lamentation of, "no one wants to try this system with me because everyone just wants to play D&D 5E!" DIY and OSR folks are obsessed with having different systems, making different systems, trying out different systems, etc. On the positive end, I once recall Questing Beast telling his 5th graders that "everyone who plays RPGs should try making their own system at least once" and I can definitely see the value in that as a creative exercise. On the negative end, I recently saw a guy say he's "thankful" for 5E catching 90% of people new to the hobby because it, "keeps the scum out." I love 5th Edition D&D, I'm glad that it's popular, and I'm glad that it's made the size of this hobby fucking explode over the last 6 years. But other games are cool too and I surround myself with people who never shut up about them so I needed to just sit down and make a guide. These are loosely categorized and described briefly. If I found something short that could give you a good handle on the system, I also put it in as a link (usually a page-by-page review of it, or in the case of smaller ones, a direct link to the RPG itself). Most things on this list either don't have a unified task resolution system or they use the basic d20 model, so I really only noted exceptions (and usually only when that exception is one of the most notable things about the system). This is, obviously, nowhere even close to an exhaustive list.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Flatter Me, Mortals

I've noticed a trend in fantasy art in this hobby, especially in "fan art" (i.e. not really something I've ever actually seen printed in an RPG book but still prevalent around the hobby). Sometimes people like drawing themselves and their friends in their D&D world. They want art of their group. But they don't want to leave anyone out, so they try to find a way to include their DM in the picture. And of the many examples of this I have seen over the years, I am at once both intrigued and modestly offended at the approach they consistently employ in this task. Here are some examples:

Sunday, March 22, 2020

BRAVE Class Hack Beta

Picture is also a link to content
EDIT: If you've been directed here from somewhere online, there's a newer draft of this material. Click here for the updated post!

This is a beta-test sample of my ruleset for adding Character Classes into Ben Milton's RPG Knave. Here is a link to it. This is building off of my original Knave hack, which you don't need to be familiar with. But if you're interested, here is a link to the post I made about that.

I put a fair amount of designer notes in the first page, but I'd be happy to explain anything more in detail. I would love some feedback, and even better, to hear if anyone actually tries using this for a one-shot or something.


Thursday, March 5, 2020

Magic Metals and Stuff

You know what's a cool fantasy trope that everyone likes? Magic metals. Made-up metals. Those things. It's true. Tolkien gave us Mithril and it was cool and people kept it going. There's Vibranium. They make a big deal out of it in those Marvel movies. Game of Thrones has Valyrian Steel, and every time it comes up the dialogue always sounds really forced and fake. Like they're trying really hard to make it a cool thing but it will never be as effortlessly cool as adamantium. But whatever, it's cool. Meteorite swords are also really cool. They give you just a taste of sci-fi but they aren't out of place in a medieval setting.

But like D&D just has +1 magic weapons most of the time. Sure, the DM can hand out a silver sword or something. But just a general +X to attacks and damage and being vaguely "magical" (to overcome resistances/immunities) is what players hunt for. Not that there isn't a strong history of lore behind that. Gygax had some very weird ideas about +X swords*. But I kind of like the flavor behind the magic metals and how specific they can each be.

Anyway this is a perfect trope to emphasize in a system like Knave because it's an RPG all about equipment. Thus, magic relating to equipment and its special properties has a much greater impact in this ruleset. It's good tying together of themes and mechanics. So here are the metals in my Knave game and what each of them does and stuff. Borrow/steal/be inspired by or whatever else.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Alright Let Me School You on Gnomes

Let’s do a follow-up on that dwarf article I wrote a few months back. Gnomes are controversial, notorious for being hard to define and oftentimes rejected entirely by DMs who just can’t sink their teeth in.

One way races are sometimes justified in D&D is by a mechanical function, a role they play in the game as a whole. Dwarves make great fighters and halflings make great rogues. So the gnome was meant to be a good race for playing wizards and illusionists. Kind of stepping on elven toes a bit but sure. The result in lore ended up looking like a weird hybrid of details from elves, dwarves, and halflings. Fey but earth-y. Big beards and big into mining. Intrinsically magical. Borrowed a lot of the same inspiration that Tolkien used for Hobbits. Really just lacking in a unique identity. Most of the early attempts to give them something of their own was just “zany” stuff, which leaves a bad taste for many people. As time has gone on, they’ve been given a bit more to do with alchemy and steampunk engineering and stuff like that. I dig it, but for some people that still isn’t enough.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Fumbles Can Be Great if you Just Make the Perfect Rule

I have done this. I have made the perfect fumble houserule.

And no, fumbles are not "inherently bad" and unfix-able by nature. I did it. I made them good.

We need to stick to our design principles. You know how much I like a well-thought-out houserule. So, if people have come up with houserules for fumbling attack rolls, there must be a reason they did it. What drew them to it? The first question when you are modifying the existing rules is...

What's the Problem?

The usual logic goes: if critical successes are a thing, why not critical failures? If you can have a 5% chance to whoop some ass, why not an equal chance to fail? Doesn't that kind of chaos add a little bit of crazy fun? Simple enough, right?

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Violence as Magic

Disclaimer: although this is an RPG blog, I might occasionally write on something off-topic. It will probably always be RPG-adjacent, though. In this case, I’m writing about a concept in fantasy storytelling of all kinds.


Firstly, I want to get on the same page about how we use an important word: MAGIC. I think we’ve gotten into a habit of treating it as synonymous with “fantasy.” Like, “fantastic” = “magical,” e.g. something like a unicorn that we could call a “fantastic creature” could also be called a “magical creature.” This isn’t a wrong way to use the word, but it’s distinguishable from another way that I feel used to be more common. An older definition that was more limited and yet nuanced.

Fantasy is anything impossible in reality but possible through the imagination. So all magic is fantastic. BUT...

Magic itself is an activity. It’s something that people learn and do. Magic is performed. Not all fantasy is magic. A floating continent in the sky isn’t magic. Unless it’s floating because someone cast a spell to make it do that.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Case for Character Specialization

This is a bit weird coming from me because my favorite D&D class is the Bard, the archetypal Jack-of-All-Trades option. Then again, I’m almost never actually a player, so that may speak for itself. Yes, I think there’s something quite valuable to be found when characters are each pretty darn specialized to certain tasks and abilities. Instead of versatile characters or versatile mechanics, having player characters grow into each their own mold does more to foster teamwork than anything else you can implement at the table.