Where 5E of the World’s Most Famous RPG Loses Me. Part 3.

I’m not doing anything to try to get hired by WotC. Not sure I’d take that job if it were offered. Yes, they need input from one of us “Old Grogs” as we’re called online these days. Someone needs to provide WotC with feedback that’s not focused on the younger, new player demographic. They don’t seem too interested.

This article is not part of an open letter to Wizards of the Coast, but for my own peace of mind.

WARNING: Long rant ahead. Sorry. Big topic to cover.

I honestly hope someone at Wizards of the Coast at least noticed the previous two articles. While I’m not 100% sure they did, I honestly did intend to give some feedback. I guess we’ll see what happens.

I know I’ve said a lot about D&D 5E and One D&D. The game has gravitated away from some of its roots and pillars. I’ve seen a lot of cases as a Dungeon Master where the game is not longer oriented toward exploring the wilds; searching out vast underground complexes; battling monsters; and bringing home big piles of loot.

Instead, what we seem to be getting (officially) is a lot of really deep; overly dramatic; intense emotional; statistically advantaged characters. It’s like going to acting class with dice. There’s so little DM crunch and challenging involvement that it’s like going to a movie with my DM screen in front of me. It’s not quite the game that it used to be.

I wanted to make it clear to WotC that I’m not doing this for my own personal gain.

I’ve been running D&D and other RolePlaying Games for 40+ years. I was born in 1972. Coincidentally, so was D&D. I wish I could have gotten involved sooner, but <confused elementary school kid noises.> Still, I’ve seen a lot of gameplay. I’ve spent a long time behind the DM Screen. I’ve also been forehead deep in other RPGs that wouldn’t even exist were it not for original D&D.

I’m not doing anything to try to get hired by WotC. Not sure I’d take that job if it were offered. Yes, they need input from one of us “Old Grogs” as we’re called online these days. Someone needs to provide WotC with feedback that’s not focused on the younger, new player demographic. They don’t seem too interested.

Furthermore, I don’t think you could pay me enough to hang with all of the “big corporate teams” in all of their meetings. The feedback they’re supposedly getting from fans right now? To me it looks like they’re just seeking a bunch of head nods and hand waves on their new ideas. If I had to bet, the thing is already in the can, ready to go.

We know I don’t do corporate anything. I probably wouldn’t touch Paizo, Wizkids, Fantasy Flight, Catalyst, or any number of other fairly large RPG/Wargaming producers either. I just don’t like the mentality. I get that all businesses want to make money. Their growth is good, but it’s not in my value set the way it is in corporate <gag!> culture.

My last job was at a Fortune 500 company. Unfortunately, not as a writer. But the mentality of the people in charge made me physically and mentally ill. Still to this day I absolutely refuse to put myself in that type of situation ever again. I’m not joking when I say I have PTSD over that sh*te.

Disclaimer: Statements expressed in this article are strictly my opinion. If you disagree or have a different opinion, that’s okay. I’m not an expert on everything. I’m not always right. I’m just writing from my experience as I know it. Your mileage may vary.

Their (WotC’s) new One D&D approach is to supposedly integrate all editions, emphasis on 5E.

Let’s be clear about race, age, etc. I don’t honestly care who they get to provide feedback from a more Old School Renaissance approach. OSR is based on original D&D whether WotC likes it or not. Some of us (Old Gamers) really love those fast and loose older rules sets.

5E just doesn’t have the same feel to it that older editions had. Death does not lurk around every corner for the characters. Everyone seems to want to be all Critical Role Actual Play podcast. That’s great if that’s what you’re into. (Again, MY opinion.)

5E/Critical Role has been wonderful for introducing new players to the hobby. That’s really wonderful. (No sarcasm intended.) I think the innovations in the hobby over the last 10 years or so have been amazing. Virtual TableTop games, video conferencing, and cell phone apps are great. 2020, the year best left unnamed, gave us a greater sense of internet gameplay. Cool.

Here is where one of my biggest concerns about One D&D comes in.

IF/F (If and only iF) everything D&D goes virtual and all distribution of physical product goes strictly through their website, as has been suggested numerous times by WotC, Friendly Local Game Stores are going to evaporate. IF/F VTT D&D using the Unreal Engine becomes the preferred method of gameplay because the books, character avatars, dice, and everything else goes virtual- in-person gameplay is going to dry up. Conventions are going to dry up. WotC does not care.

Hooray for profits. Remember all of those little game shops that ran events and put you (WotC) on the map? No? It shows. I wish Hasbro cared more. All they’re seeing is the bottom line and not the people or the game. Someone is sitting in their office right now thinking, “Yeah. But think of all those profits.”

I think it’s pretty sad, but what do I know? I’m just a guy with a blog. I’m just a guy who liked D&D up until August 2022.

I have one last article in this series that I want to discuss. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you!

Game World Creation Journal Revised

And I have a TON of ideas. Heck, I’ve got ideas for getting more ideas. Creativity fountain for days. I have that in spades, hexagons, even. Heh heh… makin up my own card suits. See?

I won’t lie. I start a lot of projects. I don’t necessarily finish them. I get sidetracked rather easily. Okay, more like derailed. No promises on this one, but it’s a set of ideas that’s been brewing for ages now.

And I have a TON of ideas. Heck, I’ve got ideas for getting more ideas. Creativity fountain for days. I have that in spades, hexagons, even. Heh heh… makin up my own card suits. See?

My latest venture, among others, is creating my own Dungeon Crawl Classics Campaign world. I have some challenges to overcome. I also have a ton of cool stuff I want to do, probably more than I can fit into one book or even one world. I get really excited because they’re all things I’ve wanted to do for years and years.

I have all these cool plans for kingdoms. Challenge: Mapping. I’m building it as open sandbox for now. I’m having my own little group of characters explore random hexes as we go. The cities, settlements, and kingdoms will be there when they’re discovered.

I have all these neat ideas for various race/culture combos. Challenge: Fitting everything on a map and still having characters discover them. Races have been controversial as of late. Do we even call them races any more? This is mostly an OSR issue. Maybe it’s time to borrow a page from Pathfinder 2e and D&D 5E?

I want to add a bunch of game mechanics including new classes, spells, deities. Challenge: Players are going to freak out. Possibly in a good way, but still. Am I literally trying to reinvent the wheel here? Maybe. It’s like Advanced Dungeon Crawl Classics or something.

Classes are one of my favorite things to tinker with. Challenge: How will players and Judges react to certain traditional classes and items being tossed out? I want to bring some old school D&D rules in. How’s that going to go over? Moreover what’s already been done before. DCC has a long and rich history.

I think world design and campaign design should break certain rules and go outside the guidelines. Creativity isn’t about stressing over who’s getting offended today. Maybe coming up with new ways of NOT stressing the audience out, sure.

So my plan here is to simply start the damn thing and see it all the way through. It may take me 20 years and be published after my death, but hey- we’ll get there. More to come as I develop it. Prepare to be freaked out, possibly.

Originally, I was going to do this with D&D 5E, but… where’s that edition going to be one year from now? I think I’m backing off of 5E until the dust settles a bit. Let’s be honest, that particular market is getting oversaturated anyway.

Thanks for stopping by. There’s a lot more coming. I appreciate you!

5E Artifact

**WARNING** DMs hand this out at your own risk. While it has been tested, it is quite powerful and may unbalance a lower level game. My players obtained one at great peril to their characters.

Arcanum Oculus Mons

Monocle cap of identification.

This leather skullcap covers the left eye of the wearer with a ruby eyepiece. While it looks somewhat awkward, this device serves several useful functions to those wishing to identify magic items.

Read Magic- At will.
Comprehend Languages- (Written Only) at will.
Darkvision 30’- At will.
Detect Evil- At Will.
Identify- 3x/day as per 10th level Wizard

In addition to the above abilities, the cap grants the following magical equipment bonuses:
+4 Arcana.
+4 Investigation
+4 Perception

Link to the OGL

Compatible with other fantasy roleplaying games with some adaptation.

Retainers: The Forgotten.

Now, what we tend to forget mid-dungeon is that Lil Jimmy (thusly named because of his small stature, not age) probably has a family that would miss him and his 3 copper per week income. The family goat just died recently and they sent Jim out to try to earn enough to buy seed for next year’s bean crop. But, on paper he’s listed as Torchbearer Jim: AC 11, +0 Init, 3hp, +0 Saves, Club: 1d6 dmg.

Sounds like it could almost be an RPG in and of itself.

Game Masters/Dungeon Master tend to hate them because they’re one more name to come up with and one more stat block to keep track-of. Players tend to use and abuse them for all sorts of things. While I try to make them as entertaining and endearing as possible, let’s just say most adventuring parties tend to either forget them, or use them as fodder.

Some players forget they’re even available, preferring to haul their lucre home on their own backs. But more often than not, a wagonload of loot and everyday comfort items can bog down. It’s a little hard to fight in a dungeon while dragging a chest full of loot, carrying a torch in one hand and firing a crossbow with the other two…oops. Not many three and four armed characters out there. (*Thri-Kreen not withstanding.) At some point, the group must realize they’re going to have to hire some help.

Personality: a guide to NPC retainer survival.

Sure, Lil Jimmy the torchbearer only has one tiny line of stats. He’s armed with, uh, the torch. He’s had little to no training as a fighter and tends to trip over his own boots in the dark. He hasn’t found any deathtraps yet because he’s still with the group. Super useful for carrying the torch. That’s about it.

Now, what we tend to forget mid-dungeon is that Lil Jimmy (thusly named because of his small stature, not age) probably has a family that would miss him and his 3 copper per week income. The family goat just died recently and they sent Jim out to try to earn enough to buy seed for next year’s bean crop. But, on paper he’s listed as Torchbearer Jim: AC 11, +0 Init, 3hp, +0 Saves, Club: 1d6 dmg.

Maybe Lil Jimmy the torchbearer is a really nice guy. Kinda meager. Missing a few teeth so he talks with a lisp. He’s mostly human, but grandma always said there was a gnome far up the family tree. All of Jim’s extended family lives under one roof. Great grandma’s lumbago keeps her bedridden, so Jim’s 3 coppers often go for apothecary expenses. Sharecropping hasn’t paid so well lately, so the family is pretty far in debt to the landlords.

My aim here was to illustrate the more the characters get to know their trusted, loyal retainers, the less likely they are to have one walk into a room full of traps to act as a damage sponge. Every job, including adventuring, has its set of employer-employee relationships. Most worthy employers at least try to know a little bit about their employees.

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What? They ran off with the loot in the middle of the night again?

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Another thing that might keep an adventurer-retainer relationship healthy is that the retainers know when the group sleeps. There is very little to keep a number of disgruntled retainers from just wandering off in the middle of the night, possibly with the party’s gold and magic items. Those are just the scrupulous retainers. 3cp/week to haul around a veritable mountain of gold, magic, and misc objects d’art? You don’t have to be a noble to see that’s a really screwed up deal.

Yes, the adventurers might think they’re paying a fair wage. They have to do all the scary, heroic things to get the loot. Then again, porters and torchbearers might be risking all down in the dungeon right alongside the “brave heroes.” A bit of wage negotiation might be in order at that point.

Some games might include 0-level retainers/hirelings/henchmen as backup characters.

Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR games might allow for 0-level characters to be retainers in the event one or more party members happens to die mid-dungeon. The player may then treat the retainer as a character that freshly passed onto Level 1 and keep the action going.

Ed the cart driver suddenly becomes Ed the Wizard. Billy the torchbearer suddenly takes up the thiefly arts. Bob the dwarf cook suddenly becomes Bob the Dwarf Adventurer. Seems a bit unlikely in places, but perfectly logical in others.

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Retainers were automatic in some fantasy RPGs.

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We used to laugh in Warhammer FRPG when a new class automatically retained followers. The same was true of D&D back in the day. The question was always, “Who are these guys, and why should we care?” Sometimes characters would become landowners and need someone to watch the place while they were off dungeoneering. Enter the NPCs.

Well, obviously, Alfred the famous Warrior was worthy of a retinue of like-minded knights who want to travel with him. Fredo the Cleric had people who flocked to hear him speak, and Sunny the Thief had an entire guild of street urchins. Made total sense except for where did these people come from and why were they stalking our characters? The DM always had fun coming up with ways for these characters to obtain followers and why.

Some unscrupulous PCs would get their retainers killed and fake sympathy. One of my Warhammer players actually had his character start killing his off one by one. It was pretty grim, but it did settle the problem of people wanting to work for him ever again. That was a pretty, um…. murder hobo campaign, though.

Later editions of various rulesets made retainers optional or just not a thing, thankfully. It saved the GM/DM time in coming up with names, descriptions, etc. It was a lot less paperwork all around. Nowadays, if characters want to attract followers/retainers, cool. It can be a good roleplaying device and characters in some fantasy games these days don’t explore or crawl about in dungeons as much.

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All things said, I think it can be a good lesson, especially for younger players.

Treat people nicely (in game) and they’ll want to work for you. Please treat people with kindness and understanding, regardless. In a game, it’s just nice to reinforce positive values. That, and it’s better than having Bob the Former Dwarf Cook having to be triple encumbered carrying a mountain of loot home on his back.

Thanks for stopping by. You’re awesome. I appreciate you!

I’m grateful for you!

AD&D But the “A” is Not What You Think Part 3.

Strangely enough, my favorite edition for monsters thus far has actually been 3E/3.5 Officially there were almost a dozen dedicated monster books plus endless third party sourcebooks. There were three Tome of Horrors variants from Necromancer Games (Now part of Frog God Games.) There was also a revival of Grimtooth’s Traps, but that’s another discussion.

Now, onto Monsters:

Strangely enough, my favorite edition for monsters thus far has actually been 3E/3.5 Officially there were almost a dozen dedicated monster books plus endless third party sourcebooks. There were three Tome of Horrors variants from Necromancer Games (Now part of Frog God Games.) There was also a revival of Grimtooth’s Traps, but that’s another discussion.

The other thing that made 3.5E amazing in terms of monsters is Templates. They kinda did it for 5E, but it never caught on the way it did in Third. I used templates on top of each other and on all of the freaky variant monsters from third party sourcebooks. It was wonderful throwing things out that literally no one had any idea what it was.

Disclaimer: No one edition of D&D is better or worse than any other. Suggestions for the Amalgam Edition are MY opinions! Please feel free to disagree. It’s all hypothetical anyway.

A little bit about Stat Blocks.
From the D&D Rules Cyclopedia c/0 Wizards of the Coast.

I created a LOT of monsters for AD&D2E. I enjoy coming up with new monsters in general. 2E gave us blank monster pages! Back in the pen and paper era, this was fantastic! It might sound dumb now, but back then it was like T$R gave us license to populate our own world.

The binders for 2E were kind of the devil, btw. Also, waiting for new binder pages to come out was kinda the pits. I still have most of mine, but I did the dance of joy when the MM came out in hardcover format.

I also like the Basic, B/X, or BECMI stat blocks. They were short, concise, and super useful. If all I ever need is AC, attacks, damage, special abilities, size and movement, I can look up all the other stuff as needed. I don’t really need their full stats including Cha if it’s probably never going to come up anyway.

I know some of the younger folx reading this are thinking, "He's at it again.-Old guy stuff." But here's the kicker: Every edition has something to offer! I feel simpler is better in many cases! 
Even 4E has something to offer the Amalgam Stat Blocks.
My 4E MM falls open to Oni. That’s probably because it was my favorite creature back then.

I miss the way 4E spelled out a creature’s attacks. In some ways, it added complexity. In many ways, it simplified the game. The D6 recharge ability on a lot of the special attacks was especially nice. I know 5E lists it on some creatures, but I think they could have gone further with it.

Again, I know this seems counter intuitive. It does add to the Stat Block, but it simplifies the DM’s life somewhat. The fewer books I have to have open at the table, the better. My books are full of bookmarks on a given day, anyway. If the creature has spellcasting, I’d rather just have the one or two things it’s likely going to cast in combat handy with a recharge score than have to dig into the PHB and look for all of the nuances of Charm Person, for example.

Also, to mix things even further on the Stat Blocks, I liked the presentation offered in prior editions of how the creature’s attacks should play out. 4E gives us the type, damage, etc but the details of how many and in what order got lost down below. I would rather see it up front. Small thing, I know. But telling me, the DM that the creature will either use claw/claw/bite OR Breath Weapon OR Spell helps a lot.

Some day down the road, I may have to draw up a creature the way I’m describing it so everyone can see what I’m talking about. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds. I like being able to write (pencil and paper) down the creature stats before combat so I can more easily track what they’re doing on the map and in my head so I don’t have to have ALL of my various books open. Trust me, when you make a Feral, Venomous, Sabretooth Wyvern it starts getting a little freaky.

Art sells game books.

AD&D 2E. I want to hug it.

Again, every edition of D&D has things it does well and maybe not so well. Pretty much EVERY edition has some artwork that’s worth keeping. For example- Ogres. The 5E Ogre is almost perfect for the creature, IMO. The 4E Oni were more menacing and intelligent looking. 3E/3.5 had the nice notebook style lines in the background. 2E had a lot of nice color art, especially the 2.5 books. 1E AD&D had the uncensored art that was NSFW in places which was daring and edgy at the time. Basic had a lot of art that just plain got the point across. I like the black and white pen drawings.

The opposite is also true. Take the Displacer Beast as an example. It went from looking almost cartoony (1E AD&D) to pretty much cute and cuddly, to scary, and now terrifying (as it should be.) Regardless, endearing art that brings us closer to the game and enhances the fantasy experience sells books.

I’d rather do this before a game than during.

Thanks for stopping by today. More on the way. I appreciate you!

Non Player Characters: Everyone’s Best Friends.

Otherwise, their NPC druid becomes disposable. Sanji the loveable pack bearer runs off in the night with a bag of magic items and is never seen again. They let poor Jamir walk down the hallway and find all the traps for them. (Grim, I know.)

One of my favorite keys to a good adventure for many, many years has been memorable Non Player Characters that stick with the party.

Some of my favorite NPCs were introduced sometime around the first few sessions. I try to make them endearing enough (or healers) that the group will want them to stick around. Some rely on cuteness. (Cute goes a long way around here.) Others rely on a shtick like roguish charm or comedy relief.

I often go out of my way to obtain or read copies of various GM guides and how-to-GM literature. I watch Roll 4 Initiative as well as How To Be A Great GM on YouTube when I can. Back in my day before we had the World Wide Interwebs, we read a lot of books on the subject. Johnn Four’s NPC Essentials. (Available on Johnn’s website or DriveThruRPG.) There also used to be this neat thing in print called “Dragon Magazine” that many of us read for articles on good DM skills, including NPC development.

Having a solid stable of NPCs can be a real game changer.

Sometimes you just have to try.

If you’re a new DM/GM, please don’t panic! I can rely on a massive heap of characters, lists of NPCs, and a long history of running games. You don’t have to! It’s okay. There are so many tools at your disposal for creating NPC names, generating random personality traits, and even background generators out there. They’re easy to find and sometimes built into the various VTT platforms if you’re using one.

You don’t have to have a heap of combat statistics and skills listed for every character. If they’re going to get in a fight pick one or two things they might be good at and have them do it. Sometimes that might be hiding under the nearest tree or rock until the end of the fight.

Contrary to what some actual play podcasts would have you believe, you don’t have to be a trained voice actor or a master of improv. You’re fine as long as the group knows which character is speaking. It won’t hurt to try different tones of voice and rates of speech. A little experimentation won’t hurt. But if your group is cool, you don’t have to. As long as everyone is comfortable with it, you can do a lot of things at the gaming table or not, depending on your preference.

NPCs are an incredible role-playing tool on so many levels.

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Sometimes interactions with NPCs can make or break a campaign. NPCs are so useful for sparking conversations, getting the group back on track, lightening up the mood, or dropping subtle yet valuable clues or hints. Sometimes NPCs remain a topic of discussion long after the session has ended. (I’m enough of a method actor that I’ve had to drop into an NPC from something I ran and then go through all kinds of crazy stuff in character. It’s a hoot.)

NPCs are also helpful if the group is arguing amongst themselves and have come to a stalemate on a decision they have to make. A well-respected, stable NPC can sometimes settle the argument by making a neutral third suggestion the group didn’t consider, suggest a compromise, or tip the balance and get the group moving again. Other NPCs traveling with the group might be a source of quests. Or sometimes they put themselves in harm’s way and need to be rescued.

It all hinges on how much the NPC has endeared themselves to the players. Otherwise, their NPC druid becomes disposable. Sanji the loveable pack bearer runs off in the night with a bag of magic items and is never seen again. They let poor Jamir walk down the hallway and find all the traps for them. (Grim, I know.) The barmaid that is secretly a princess fails to convince the group to go to the next town to confront the bandit king.

All the advice books and articles aside, sometimes you just have to play through these things.

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I’m taking one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard and turning it into a good practice. You can write down all kinds of information, history and stats on your NPCs. You can have all kind of plot hooks and diabolical plans made for the Warlock NPC to introduce. But if you can’t earn the party’s trust after the first encounter or two, does it do you any good?

Likewise, you can have a completely innocuous goblin randomly sitting in the corner of the tavern with nothing much more than a description and that’s the one the group latches onto and tries to get acquainted with. My point with this is: you have to know your group.

Quick fix for the above examples? Switch the plot hooks, some of the history, etc from the Warlock over to the seemingly harmless goblin “farmer.” OR have the goblin be the Warlock’s henchman. The group will never know what went on behind the scenes. OR have the goblin farmer be completely harmless, give her a name, and have the group meet her every time she comes to town.

If the group sees the plot wagon coming, some players will go out of their way to derail it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times when it was obvious the NPC was going to be with the party for a while. The sad part was both times the hapless, helpless NPC really was as innocent and cute as she seemed. The group just took their vanquished foes’ disdain as her being some kind of threat.

Once you build up a series of personality traits in your mind, it’s easier to drop a random NPC into any situation. I keep a list of names handy and then cross them off or make a note of who I used them for. It also makes for good roleplaying to know what kinds of characters are likely to build report with the PCs and who/what they’ll likely avoid if possible.

Sometimes it’s also fun to give the group something they need in an NPC package they don’t necessarily want.

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Opposites sometimes attract and other times annoy. But what if the group really needs something like gold to rez a friend or the unending favor of the Lord of Waterdeep? Suddenly that pain in the butt might be the group’s favorite character they love to hate.

Likewise, the really loving, caring, devoted cleric of the group might look a lot less friendly when they find out her father is known as the Butcher Baron of Barlow (not for his meat cutting skills.) NPC entanglements are so much fun to play out. They can be a wonderful diversion from the main plot for a session or two.

Good things can come to an end.

The amount of effort you put into an NPC can sometimes be exceptionally rewarding. However, one piece of advice I’ve always thought highly of stated, “don’t be afraid to kill a beloved NPC.” That “NPC” stamp on their forehead might mean a lot of things, but unkillable sure isn’t one of them.

Sometimes people leave from our lives in the real world, too. Not because of death necessarily. Sometimes an NPC outlives their usefulness. NPC’s are people too, so to speak. They fall in love and get married. They decide to pursue other career options. Sometimes they get tired of hauling loot around for the party and run off in the middle of the night with everything.

The heel turn.

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Poor Sir Allen.

Which brings me to another point. Many of us have had an experience at some point where an NPC turned out to be the diametric opposite in alignment and abilities. That innocent, sweet young elven lady that always followed the party’s druid around turns out to be a disguised succubus. Jamir the porter who was rescued from a dungeon several adventures back is actually a doppelganger. Oh, and that kindly old merchant on the corner is the head of the local assassin’s guild. Sorry.

The players have mixed reactions all over the table. Usually it’s raucous laughter. Some get a little miffed at the GM/DM. Some are a bit sad that their favorite NPC just can’t possibly be so evil. Sometimes there’s even hideous regret depending on the relationship between the character and the turncoat NPC.

Much like pro wrestling, where the term comes from, a heel turn can be a lot of fun. But please don’t overuse it! The first one is a hoot. But then the players are going to trust the NPCs a lot less for a while going forward. And every time someone starts getting interested in an NPC, there’s going to be the inevitable retelling of, “Remember the time Sanji ran off with all of our magical loot in the middle of the night?” Or, “Remember when Sir Allen’s girlfriend turned out to be a succubus?”

Be ready to write!

One last tip I like to give to any writer, especially GMs/DMs, is be ready to write down inspiration when it strikes. Carry a notebook, pad of paper, and a pen or pencil pretty much everywhere you go. That way when you meet someone who inspires you or if sudden inspiration hits during a movie, you can write it down. I once wrote down an NPC idea on a restaurant napkin with the waitress’ pen. (Luckily it wasn’t about her.)

As I mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be a full stat block, background, and everything else. Don’t write about a character’s lightning shaped birthmark if no one is ever going to see it. A first name, maybe gender, 3-6 personality traits and the reason the character is significant is all you really need. You can usually fill in the rest later.

Another NPC generation method I’ve employed in the past is to let the group create 1-3 characters for use as NPCs. Sometimes you get real gold. Other times you get real, uh what’s the opposite of gold? BUT if life gives you turds, plant flowers in them. (Okay, that was gross but better than making turd-ade.) You can always rework and reword the worst of a bad batch of NPCs into something useful.

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Wow! we covered a lot of ground today. Would you believe there may be a Part 2 to this article? I had so much fun discussing this topic.

Thanks for stopping by. Please give yourself a pat on the back if you made it this far. Thank you! See you tomorrow.



AD&D, But the “A” is Not What You Think, Part 2

I love D&D 5E. I love all of the editions for different reasons. There are even mechanics in the much maligned 4E that I thought would be interesting to bring back. It begs the question, though- if 5E is so awesome then why is there such a push for OSR? (*Old School Revival.)

Say what you wish about 5E, but its days are coming to an official close in the coming years.

I love D&D 5E. I love all of the editions for different reasons. There are even mechanics in the much maligned 4E that I thought would be interesting to bring back. It begs the question, though- if 5E is so awesome then why is there such a push for OSR? (*Old School Revival.)

I think the easy answer is that the more the game evolves into new editions, the more some of us OGs miss simpler times and familiar record keeping. I know a lot of people in all walks of D&D fandom think it’s all or nothing when it comes to a favorite edition. I’ll talk more about this sometime down the road. My purpose here is not to engage in the infamous Edition Wars, but to see what a mash-up of editions might look like.

When last we left our heroes…

We talked about character creation. Every edition has something to contribute. 4E had a really interesting book that many probably overlooked. The 4E Player’s Strategy Guide was underrated. I forgot to mention it in the previous article, but it really was a good way to bring people into the game.

I thought the 3E/3.5 Dragon Compendium (Paizo) offered up a lot of interesting class options, especially the Savant. This class offered an opportunity to sample all of the main core classes (Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard.)

Equipment:
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The most extensive equipment guide for any edition was probably 3E. I don’t necessarily think every single lantern and wagon wheel needs an entry, but there were some neat pieces of gear and mounts for players to explore.

Armor:
Again, my first choice is 3E/3.5E. There were a lot of variations and piecemeal armor sets. I think with a few minor tweaks, the armor table for amalgam would be complete as a revision of 3.5E.

Weapons:
No surprise here, I’m going with 3.5’s weapons list. No lie, I miss having the exotic weapons in the game, quirky though they were. I also miss all of the Monk and Samurai weapons in the game. Oddly, I would fix the Bastard Sword and Katana back to their 2E glory days. Also, the amalgam weapon list would have to be adjusted to include Weapon Speeds to go with the hybrid initiative system.

Spells:
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Okay, I’m sure the pitchforks and torches are coming out for this. I actually liked the 2nd Ed AD&D spells. Specifically the Priest’s Spell Compendiums and Wizard’s Spell Compendiums. I also enjoyed creating spells in 2nd Ed.

For a bit of added excitement, (and I may have to move to an undisclosed address after this,) I think the 4E casting options work a little better than the old, tired, fire-and-forget spell system. Don’t get me wrong, healing surges can stay dead. I don’t think every spell should be re-castable every round. But wouldn’t it be great to recast spells like, Magic Missile and maybe Fireball more than once per combat without burning slots for Utility Spells? How about Cure Light Wounds?

Certain spells that take more than a turn or two would continue to take some kind of spell slot. Obviously V, S, M components would have to stay in the game unless negated by Feats. I know some of these concepts might be daunting to new players, but I think with time and a little game time experience, it could work. Playtesting might indicate otherwise.

I think some special treatment needs to be given to Clerics’ Turning Undead and Healing. (Again, healing surges are still dead.) While turning should stay a separate ability from spellcasting, what if Clerics or Paladins could burn a spell slot to recover or enhance a turn attempt? Or maybe treat healing like a turning attempt and have some (not ALL) healing be recoverable per round/rest period/day? OR even burn turning to heal more?

Feats are a nice multitool for casters to gain a little advantage with spells. IF/F we altered casting to make some spells re-castable, how to cover things such as casting a low level spell at a higher level? Do we follow the 4E model of every single spell has a table with damage bumps? Burn a higher level slot and scale the damage?

How about changing the die type for damaging spells? So instead of 2d4 Magic Missile damage, we cast it as a 5th level spell and now it does 2d10? But it still recharges… Hmmm.

More dice? Bigger dice? OR both?

More to come. Combat is on my list of things to cover next time. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you.

AD&D, But the “A” is Not What You Think. (Part 1.)

I realize that not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye regarding the “best” elements of each edition. I certainly don’t want to start another round of Edition Wars. Trust me. Nobody wants that. I’m going to put out my opinion and if you have a better take on it, great.

How about “Amalgam” Dungeons & Dragons?

I was recently listening to Table Top Taproom you YouTube. Tom wasn’t engaging in Edition Wars, but he was talking about the various editions of the game over the years and his experiences with them. It got me thinking. What if we merged the best parts of all editions?

Now, I realize that not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye regarding the “best” elements of each edition. I certainly don’t want to start another round of Edition Wars. Trust me. Nobody wants that. I’m going to put out my opinion and if you have a better take on it, great.

I’m going to list various key elements from the game and which edition they would best come from (in my opinion)

Attribute Generation: AD&D 1E. So many diverse options! You almost always had stats that were super happy. Unearthed Arcana- love that book so much. We could even relabel the methods to make them sound more exciting and modern. I.E. 3d6 in order is now Hardcore, 4d6 drop the lowest is now Standard. Reroll 1’s is now Gentle and so on.

Races: I feel like they’re all the right answer here. 5E had the most amazingly diverse selection of any game. Oddly enough, the races resembling those in World of Warcraft is kind of a fun idea. [Actually a 3.5E Setting Sourcebook from Sword & Sorcery/Arthaus/(White Wolf.)] The only things I think should be avoided are attribute penalties and races as classes (As in Basic or B/X.)

I know races have become a touchy subject in the community and I don’t want to specifically point out any keepers or omissions. I think there needs to be a lot of leeway for the DM and the setting writers to include or exclude whatever they see fit. Personally, I have about a dozen I would recommend and I’ll work with just about anything after that. I believe WotC has some other ideas they’re going to implement down the road.

Classes: Okay, this is actually a tough call. Honestly, my favorite version is the Player’s Option: Skills & Powers in AD&D 2E. However, point buy doesn’t work for everyone- especially new players. So in to remedy this, I would recommend a return to AD&D 2E with Kits. New to the game? Here’s your basic class.

I know there are D&D fans who would probably pillory me for suggesting that insanity, but there’s a method to my madness. The beauty of Kits was the ability to plug-n-play character options. Samurai? Make a Warrior, add Samurai. Benefits are always an upward gain on top of the class. Very few penalties/adjustments to the base class. Good times.

I would also go so far as to roll in the Sage, the Shaman, and the Warlock as either base classes or sample builds in the PHB. For pretty much everything else there are kits. Of course, sourcebooks and 3rd party supplements would expand the base class list. Artificer, Blood Hunter and Gunslinger are floating around out there, too. Psionics are always a hot topic in any edition. (I still have nightmares from 1E AD&D psionics…)

I think it would also be fun to really dig into classes such as Monk. Let them create their own martial arts options/maneuvers from a menu as they progress. Give them weapon katas outside of the usual martial arts d6 damage salad.

The things to be avoided here would be any return to Prestige Classes, Epic Tier Classes, etc. I’m also not a big fan of Subclasses, although it’s pretty much what Kits are. The only noticeable difference between Kits and 5E subclasses are that Kits only modify the base class. Subclasses are a branch choice that alters everything about the character thereafter.

Advancement: I’ve always been an Experience Point guy. Milestones work, too. Honestly it’s not a big deal to me. Do what works for you and your group.

The main reason I mention advancement is because we have the issue of attribute gains and/or Feats. Feats are a sticky wicket. I like the 5E choice of attribute gain OR a Feat. I feel like Feats overwhelmed the game in 3rd/3.5E. They’re a great game mechanic in moderation.

I also think +1/+1 Attribute bonuses or +1/Feat every other level would be pretty okay. I like it when the players have something to look forward to at pretty much each level. Otherwise TTRPGs suffer the same fate as MMOs where some levels feel very grindy. Like, why bother? Maybe it’s time to spread the level bonuses a bit more evenly?

Skills: Here’s where we turn the entire thing sideways. I like 5E for skills. The only exception to class building is Rogue/Thief skills. Everyone gets access to Stealth. Overall skill advancement would work the same as 5E. Less record keeping is better.

Weapon Skills: My craziness continues. Any character may pick ONE weapon of choice and earn a +1 To Hit with said weapon. However, Fighters/Warriors get Mastery. This would track with Proficiency bonus. +1/+1 at first level. The rest of this mirrors the weapon mastery from Basic D&D including additional attacks. Now fighters are a really awesome character choice.

I also think allowing fighters to choose a fighting style early on would be of great benefit to the class. Sort of similar to the way 5E has it. You can be a sword and board tanky type, a great 2H weapon fighter, dual wield dps like a champ, a polearm warrior, or possibly a generalist soldier/commander.

Rangers would probably get to keep their free dual wield, but it wouldn’t be as amazing as the Fighter version. Feats would modify the varying degrees/forms of weapon mastery.

Feats: Okay, I picture rabid players showing up at my door with torches and pitchforks. I would actually espouse the idea of allowing an extensively edited version of 3.5E feats. There are some pretty worthwhile feats that have been since removed that I’m sure many of us would like to see again.

Again, not trying to restart the Edition Wars. Your mileage may vary with this homebrew. I’ll continue the rest of the conceptualizing in the next article. It’s a lot to wrap my head around. I’ve also realized while reading back through this that much of what I’m talking about sounds similar to Pathfinder. We may be exploring that further down the road, too.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day! I appreciate you.

Does the Number of Books Matter?

I strongly considered Basic D&D, literally just Basic as opposed to OSR or all of the variations on OSR. I considered Pathfinder 2E, but the rulebook is pretty hefty and there are so many character options. And last, there was good old 5E. So many options, but what would work best for me?

I submit to you 4 systems, one dungeon.

I’ve wrestled around with what system I want to write in as my primary game system for fantasy dungeon crawls. I mean, technically I could pull out more than four. Open Legends, Mythras, ICRPG, Bare Bones, FATE, and more all got pulled up as possibilities. But I was determined to go with what I know best.

My latest dungeon effort, one room at a time on my blog here, The Catacomb of the Wolf Lord, is done with Dungeon Crawl Classics. I strongly considered Basic D&D, literally just Basic as opposed to OSR or all of the variations on OSR. I considered Pathfinder 2E, but the rulebook is pretty hefty and there are so many character options. And last, there was good old 5E. So many options, but what would work best for me?

So much source material to choose from.

My meager Pathfinder Second Edition collection. But is it good for dungeon crawls?

One thing I love about D&D 5E is that it is probably the single most expanded upon RPG in the history of games. I thought I had a lot of 3E monster books from various publishers. Some folks in the community call it “bloat.” Regardless of what it’s called, there are hundreds of variations on classes, monsters, spells, etc. Given the amount of options, I decided to go for something a little simpler.

Let’s be clear, though. The amount of options isn’t as negative as the Old Grognards Society might have you believe. The massive amount of options is less daunting as long as the DM and the group agree on what can be used or not used. At some point, there just comes a point when the group agrees this far and no farther. The same applies to homebrew.

Too much material sort of my issue with PF2E, but not the only one. Paizo has printed some seriously impressive books, especially monsters, for Pathfinder 1E. PF2E has three bestiaries to date. Their conversion of 1E source material has been fantastic so far.

Recently Paizo announced a new title that would be 5E compatible. PF2E sales are not as stellar as maybe they could be according to some. If I were going to try to make some cash on DriveThruRPG from this dungeon, maybe PF2E isn’t the way to go? I’ve also never been a fan of the Pathfinder’s campaign world. It’s okay, just not my jam, maybe.

DCC has a whopping two books of official content, not counting modules, zines, and Lankhmar. Basic D&D has surprisingly few monster books as well. T$R was pretty good about not flooding the market back then. Of course, back then it was presumed DMs were creating their own homebrew monsters. Third party companies weren’t going bonkers with anything but modules as far as I remember. DCC is pretty much built for modules.

It’s not so much quality over quantity.

DCC Annual Vol 1.
So far the only major DCC sourcebook of note.

There are other factors at play. Sure DCC is extremely homebrew friendly and pretty easy to publish modules for it. Sure it’s familiar from the 3E D&D days. (Yes, I’m enamored with it as of late.) It’s got a lot going for it!

What D&D and Pathfinder both need (IN MY OPINION) is a narrowing. At its very core of any game is a basic set of stats, abilities, weapons, spells. The wheel can only be reinvented so many times over, right?

DCC offers that exact notion that rules can be narrowed. I’m not spending endless hours as the GM trying to dig through classes, subclasses, feats, skills, and so on. DCC is pretty basic Fighter, Thief, Cleric, and Wizard. The races are classes unto themselves. Nothing complicated.

I can go nuts (re)creating monsters, spells, items and even demigods all I want. Goodman seems cool about everything. But DCC isn’t bloated, either. The field is wide open like back in the Basic D&D days. Which is not to say the Internet isn’t absolutely thick with expansion material. But the DCC Core and Annual are all I’m using, plus whatever I can borrow, steal or create on my own.

D&D Basic is inspirational for DCC because of its classes, spells and weapons. Races were still considered classes in DCC and the monsters translate from Basic to DCC freakiness pretty well.

The best part is I can look at all the other books for PF2E and D&D 5E for inspiration. Outright plagiarism is not cool. NEVER EVER directly copy something and claim it as your own. It’s not fair to other creators.

The only two Basic D&D books I will ever use. These are reprints because my original Rules Cyclopedia fell apart after years of service. You can still get these titles from DMsGuild.

Borrowing concepts and abilities from other games is legit. Out-and-out plagiarism is not.

However- you can re-skin, change abilities, reorganize and rename creatures any time the situation dictates as long as you’re doing most of the above at the same time. An Orc by any other name is a Klurg, hailing from the far desert, with orange skin and wielding a khopesh made of solid obsidian. (Steal at will, I don’t mind.) Orcs in my campaigns typically behave like Star Trek Klingons, anyway. You can be original without doing all of the legwork over and over. (Remember that whole thing about reinventing the wheel?)

I see DCC has a Werewolf Lord, so why not a Wolf Lord? They compete with one another. One represents nature in three different aspects. The other represents the horrible abomination of man and nature. This will be fun! Clerics and Wizards will both benefit.

Thanks for stopping by!

The homebrew potential in DCC is immense. Plus it can always convert to other games quite easily. ICRPG is an easy conversion. D&D 5E and PF2E are also possible with a little time. I think the in-depth systems are awesome for more serious role-playing where DCC is great for beer-n-pretzels dungeon crawls.

Game on, family! See you soon. Hope you’re having a fabulous week.

Big Day Yesterday

I love that some of the older playable races are once again featured and revised. We see the presence of the Aasimar, Eladrin, Genasi, Goliaths, and Shifters. Yay!
We also get to play around with several anthropomorphic races such as the Tabaxi (Cat people,) Harengon, (Bunny folk,) and Tortles (Turtle folk.)

Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse dropped finally.

Unless you picked it up as part of the holiday gift set or acquired it digitally from D&D Beyond, the book finally made an appearance on the 17th. I’m excited to do more of a detailed review later. Right now I’m excited by what I’ve seen at first glance.

Big changes to the way we create characters on the horizon from what I can see here.

Gone are the days of ability score bonuses or penalties for different races. You may either increase a single attribute by +2 and another by +1 OR do +1, +1, +1 across three different attributes. There are still no penalties. Long gone are the days of the frail elf or puny halfling. Why shouldn’t a fairy have an 18 STR? Seems really logical.

I really like the included racial traits. It’s a grab and go as opposed to an ala carte situation as was originally rumored. (*People who’ve had the book since January are mocking me right now.) I’m happy for that because it takes some of the confusion out of character creation.

Bunnies and turtles and Gith, oh my!

I know most of the races presented are from other books, but I wanted to call attention to a couple of things. I am absolutely thrilled to see certain races which I’ll get into in just a moment. Not to sound racist irl, but I think there are also some very questionable choices in their selection of in-game PC races.

I love that some of the older playable races are once again featured and revised. We see the presence of the Aasimar, Eladrin, Genasi, Goliaths, and Shifters. Yay!

We also get to play around with several anthropomorphic races such as the Tabaxi (Cat people,) Harengon, (Bunny folk,) and Tortles (Turtle folk.) Of course everyone’s favorite bird races are represented as well with the Aaracokra and the Kenku. That’s all well and good. I love cat girls and bunnies. (I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bit of a furry sometimes. Lol!)

That’s where my love affair with the various races pretty much ends. Minotaurs are in Dragonlance and are kind of a tip of the hat to WoW’s Tauren. Okay. We get Orcs and Goblins in other games, sure. Why not?

But then we get into territory that I think is going to be omitted or at least discussed heavily in my campaign. Bugbears? Hobgoblins? Lizard Folk are known in my campaign for being involved in a lot of very bad stuff. Yuan-Ti are likewise considered bad news if encountered.

And the Gith?!? Even if they weren’t overpowered, are considered “monsters” in the classic sense of the word in my world. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe every monster race in the books should be welcome in every civilized fantasy society. Not every inn in the game has to look like the famous Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars.

I don’t know about other DMs and what they allow necessarily. I’ve been in games where certain races are pretty much TOS (Terminate On Sight. Thanks G-Unit.) Duergar, Kobolds, Bugbears, Hobgoblins and anything reptilian would be shot on sight or chased away from human, elf, or halfling settlements. No, it doesn’t have to be that way in every campaign and there certainly could be a rare outcast from Gith or Bugbear society, but in most games I’ve been in, it would be hella rare.

*DISCLAIMER* Please note! It is NOT okay to treat people like crap in the real world for any reason. Please be kind and understanding when it comes to race, gender, sexual preference, age, and any other form of diversity in the real world! It’s okay to explore some concepts in fantasy, but keep it on the table. The real world is tough enough without us making life harder on ourselves.

Please do whatever you want in your campaign. My opinion is just that- an opinion. What I do in my games may vary dramatically from what others allow/disallow. Whatever is most fun for you and your group? Do THAT!

The rest of the book, the monsters- are phenomenal!

What makes Mordenkainen’s Monsters of the Multiverse stand out are the particularly nasty creatures contained therein. I’m not going to list off all the monsters here. I’m sure there’s a Table of Contents posted online somewhere.

What I will say is that I’m stoked to see some of the things from older supplements find their way into 5E. We get a huge spread of demons, devils and fiends to torment the PCs with. A lot of the undead types are throwbacks to other editions. Elementals play a huge role in the Multiverse.

I’m most impressed with the interplanar monsters from the Fiend Folio making a comeback. I used to use some of these creatures back when and I’m excited they’re officially back. Bodak, Draegloth, Froghemoth, Howlers, Leucrotta, Quicklings, and Rutterkin are statted out and ready to go again. I couldn’t be happier about it.

It’s also nice having some of the quick reference blocks like Bard and Warlord as examples. Being able to insert an Archdruid or any other premade NPC stat block at a glance is a nice touch. We can always go back and alter specifics later. I like having things like this handy when players put me on the spot.

I’m hoping Planescape or something similar is on the horizon.

I would really like to see WotC do more with the various planes and planar travel now that this book is in hand. I’m happy to see many of my old favorites such as the Astral Dreadnought and the Giff back again. IIRC the Giff were actually first featured in Spelljammer, but I might be wrong? I don’t normally do a lot of plane-hopping in my games, but this really does bring back that Manual of the Planes feel.

This also makes me question whether Spelljammer may actually be worth a look now. Originally I said, “No” when I saw Spelljammer. If the delivery on the Spelljammer books are this excellent in quality, I might reconsider at least enough to pick up the monster book.

So much going on here and elsewhere. So much goodness!

Thank you for stopping by. I had more I wanted to discuss, but the new Mordenkainen book really stood out today. Heck, I’m probably not getting back to 5E until summer, but now I’m excited to DM again. Have a great week!

I appreciate you!

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