Archive for January 2014

Wandering Monsters: Level Advancement

How many goblins/encounters/sessions does a character have to defeat/overcome/endure to reach 2nd-level? This week's Wandering Monsters does a pretty good job of breaking it down across the editions, including 4th Edition (which it praises alongside 3rd Edition for having clear encounter-building guidelines).

5th Edition continues the tradition of having you carving the majority of your XP from monster-corpses, though as of the latest public playtest packet there are at least passable recommendations on doling out XP for non-combat encounters. Really the major difference seems to be that instead of each level taking a uniform number of encounters, lower levels go by more quickly.

My question is why? Why...everything.

Why does most of the XP by default have to come from killing stuff? 4th Edition provided nice, solid rules for skill challenges and quests, meaning that it was possible to go on a lengthy journey and level up by the rules. Yeah, 5th Edition has something like this, but it is only a couple paragraphs tucked away at the end of the section on Experience Points; it should be more prominent, and have stronger guidelines and examples. Another non-combat option is treasure. I think AD&D's 1 gp per XP was a pretty silly ratio, but I could at least see a case being made for meaningful loot.

Why do you need so many points to level up? Why not go with something like Dungeon World, where instead of having to rack up 250 points for 2nd-level you only need 8, but you only get something like 3-5 per session depending on what happens and what you do (and most can only be "marked" once per session); fulfilling your alignment, resolving a character bond, learn something new and important, overcome a notable monster, and looting memorable treasure.

I think this approach would make it easier to write adventures (especially adventure paths), because you would not need to worry about stocking a dungeon with a level or two worth of monsters to make sure that they rake in enough XP (and players would not have to worry about killing them all). Actually, I would also love to see guidelines on just throwing XP out the window and leveling up characters whenever the plot calls for it (encounter guidelines would still be necessary so you can gauge how difficult you are making things).

Another thing that would be cool is to have incremental leveling, where instead of leveling up and getting the whole package—hit points, a new class feature, proficiency bonus, etc—you spend points to buy parts of a complete level up over time. Once you get all the stuff, then you hit the next level and do it all again. Simple, more interesting for players because they get to choose what to get next, and you can avoid the issue of a player "only needing like, 50 more XP, man".

What do you think? Should XP be completely overhauled? What other actions and goals should offer XP rewards? Do we even need XP at all?

Legends & Lore: Updates

This week we get several rules updates, or more accurately the summary of what those rules updates will probably entail.

It looks like they are going to bring back Passive Perception (no mention of how it works with advantage though). I was not even aware that it was gone, but both this and an actual credit to 4th Edition (in name and everything) are steps in the right direction.

I think combining Passive Perception with marching order might be a bit too granular, but then the article does not provide any mechanics so who knows?

Not a fan of everyone making their own Stealth check. In my experience the people in heavy armor tend to ruin it for everyone else, but I can still see the reason for it. One thing that might speed up play is giving everyone a Passive Stealth to use while exploring, modified by how fast the party is going and light sources. That would also prevent the Dungeon Master from having to call for Stealth checks, potentially cluing in the players that something is nearby. The only downside is, like with Passive Perception, how it would work with characters that have advantage.

Matching the time it takes to pick a lock/disarm a trap to an exploration round both makes sense and is reasonable, something that I cannot often say about 5th Edition. The only potential issue is where the article specifically states that "disarming a trap or picking a lock takes 1 minute"; I could easily see complex traps and locks that need multiple checks to disarm, which would take multiple exploration rounds. But, maybe I am reading too much into it and that will be a thing in the final version.

I am pretty sure we converted Epiro over to 4th Edition before multiclassing hit, but given that it seems to operate very similar to 3rd Edition I have no idea why they are surprised that players have been able to cobble together broken combinations. You think they would have learned, especially when players cannot even choose most of the things they can do.

I think a simple, elegant solution to the extra action issue is to just go back to 4th Edition's action economy, at least in part, and make a bonus attack require a minor action, or even a move action if you felt that 4th Edition's minor action was a problem (I guess players tried to find ways to use them, even when they had nothing to use them on). Another option would be to go with 3rd Edition's swift action, where you do not automatically have an action to burn, but you can pick up features that use a specific, limited kind of action.

Tags and keywords could also be used to help highlight them as well as avoid repeated text, which it kind of sounds like they are doing by labeling them as bonus actions. It sounds a lot better and simpler than, say, repeating in each power that you cannot use it with something else that gives you extra attacks, like the initial "totally not a minor action" swift spells.

Speed penalties do differentiate races in an interesting and sometimes crucial way. If you use minis then there is the obvious difference in how far you can move; that extra space or two can make a huge difference. Even without minis there is still the equally obvious fact that dwarves and gnomes cannot keep up with the rest of the race-roster. By Mearls's own logic why give anyone low-light vision? It is not particularly interesting and comes up way less often in the game than movement.

I think there is a problem with the speed penalty imposed by heavy armor being negated with a sufficiently high Strength score, namely that if a Strength of 13 lets you waive it then I do not think it is going to come up at all. The characters that really want to get into heavy armor are most certainly going to have a Strength of at least 13, and if they do not it is not exactly hard to get it there.

Moving slower in exchange for the higher Armor Class gives it one of its only meaningful trade offs (the other being penalties to skills that the character probably never uses or will succeed at, anyway). I guess if you want to get rid of it, then just get rid of it; treat it like any other piece of gear and tie speed/skill penalties to overall encumbrance instead.
January 27, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Magic Items

"How many magic items should characters wield as they make their way through their adventuring careers?"

Ignoring quality over quantity, that answer to that depends entirely on the campaign, which is at least likely informed by the campaign setting. For example, in Eberron I would not only expect characters to have more, but to also be able to shop for and even commission them from a local artificer. In Dark Sun, where magic is environmentally destructive...not so much.

I has been mentioned before that the game math is designed so that characters without magic items could still function just fine (man it would also be nice to see this mission statement extend to magical healing). I like this in concept because it allows me to place magic items when and where I want to, instead of having to shoehorn them in just to make sure the characters can keep pace with the math. 4th Edition made this easy with its inherent bonus mechanic, but it would be even better to not have to worry about it at all.

Though the article says there is still no assumed "particular rate of treasure or magic item acquisition", there is a default of sorts to the tune of "about 23 items over the course of 20 levels", which means that in a typical party of four everyone should get about six permanent items. Now one thing that sucks about Dungeons & Dragons and magic items (besides that many are incredibly boring) is that, in 3rd and 4th Edition at least, it was assumed that as you got higher level you will find items with higher plusses.

So, do these guidelines assume finding replacement items, or will 5th Edition have some kind of Weapons of Legacy mechanic where the items can "level up" with you? Will spellcasters—or better yet, anyone in the right circumstances—be able to upgrade them? Will it even matter much thanks to "flattened math"?

Something that piques my interest is the line about the default also being that characters cannot just buy magic items; I like this—again, in concept—but I wonder what characters will spend their cash on. I have heard legends about characters buying castles and such in 2nd Edition, and in 3rd Edition we used Stronghold Builder's Guide to pool our funds together to repair and spruce up a two-story manor. Very early on I heard mention of using a silver standard, so maybe they will also tone down characters accumulating hundreds of gold pieces over the weekend?

Too many, too few, I think that rather than give a default, it would be better to just make it one of several questions that a Dungeon Master asks herself when writing up a campaign: How commonplace are they? How powerful? Can the characters buy them? Can they even make them? Also provide some potential ramifications for these decisions. Like, in a low- or no-magic campaign monsters with damage resistance against non-magical weapons are more dangerous. It sounds more inclusive than giving an arbitrary default.

I do not even think it is necessary for the purposes of publishing adventures. They had sidebars for advice on how to run the adventure with a party that was below or above the recommended size/level range. Just put in a treasure sidebar with some examples as to what and where it could go.
January 23, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Campaign Claptrap

In last week's Legends & Lore Mearls tried to justify inflexible class features with two key points: it speeds up character creation and ultimately does not really matter, because the first two levels go by really quickly—being tutorial levels, I guess—and you can always start at 3rd level if you want to get to that one major decision point.

Of course both of these points are bullshit—you can have fast character creation and still choose stuff, and the rest of the class is almost as inflexible—but he continues his spiel on low-level play, this time trying to pitch the "benefits" from the Dungeon Master's side of the screen.

He describes the first two levels as a chance for the Dungeon Master to set the tone of the game; as the players try to memorize a couple of preset mechanics, the Dungeon Master can not only use this part of the campaign to start slow and build towards bigger things, but also experiment with the rules, including the experimental ones...except that those levels are only supposed to take about a session each. Fast, slow, which is it? Is it a good idea to shift the rules around on players as they are trying to learn the game?

Also, are the first two levels really a sufficient time frame and mechanically robust enough for determining how well certain rules are working out? Characters start out pitifully anemic, so should I really be judging how well, say, a variant hit point module is operating then, or wait until they can actually do stuff like reasonably survive more than a handful of encounters in the day? Are a couple sessions even enough time to get a handle on how the default game works, without throwing optional rules into the mix?

I am not sure why he describes backgrounds as "key tools" in campaign creation; all they do is create more work for everyone and still maybe pointlessly limit things. Take the commoner background for example: it gives you proficiency in Animal Handling, Athletics, Survival, artisan's tools, gaming sets, and mounts (land). What if I settle on a former blacksmith, and do not think that my character would have had anything to do with horses or survival?

Well thankfully there is a sidebar on creating your own custom backgrounds (ie, pick the skills that you think actually make sense for your character), and the default is even that if your class gives you proficiency in an identical skill you can choose anything else you want, which is nice because all fighters are apparently proficient in mounts (land) for...some reason.

So, wait, why do we need backgrounds again? What is gained by even encouraging the Dungeon Master to prefab skill lists that the players are probably just going to tweak or ignore? Why not just make the default that you can pick whatever skills you want, like so many other games? Would it help if I pointed out that not even the dreaded 4th Edition offered that freedom?

If I were planning a game I would not make a background for organizations, guilds, or whatever. I would let my players pick whatever proficiencies they feel is appropriate for their character, allowing an organization or guild to at best guide their choices because A) not everyone in an organization has the same skillset, and B) the player might think of an interesting way for a skill to apply that I did not.

I would much rather have the player actually think about her character than restrict their imagination, even if it adds all of a few minutes to character generation.

Is the traits/flaws/bond trinity still a thing? Huh. It would have been nice to see these in some capacity in the playtest, but given how badly classes are designed, backgrounds are implemented, and his oh-so brief example I do not have much excitement or hope for them. Like the rest of the game it is not exactly innovative or new, except for Dungeons & Dragons I guess. It sounds nice in theory, but I do not believe that they are going to look at games that utilize something like that well for inspiration.

Many groups use the first session to create characters? I thought the goal for character generation was to clock in at 30 minutes or less. The first session should focus on the overall tone of the campaign and the Dungeon Master's approach? I thought the first few levels were supposed to be enough time for the Dungeon Master to figure out the tone, and somehow decide how well the rules are working out.

Like the first two levels is character generation intended to be fast, slow, or whatever the group wants? If we want to take a long time (or even make characters before the game), is there going to be a rules module that lets players actually make decisions?

I ask this because, similar to what I said at the end of last week's Legends & Lore, the rules for 5th Edition are a constraint: characters are incredibly fragile, have severely limited resources, spellcasters are reliant on an utterly nonsense magic system, and the classes have very little variety. Feats and "customized backgrounds" are both not enough to really differentiate characters and frankly nothing new or innovative.

I am surprised that it took the game this long to allow characters to pick whatever skills they want (if the Dungeon Master permits, at least); if only the rest of the game could get back with the times.

The article closes with another little snipe at 4th Edition, where he talks about how a Dungeon Master not using the guidelines for building encounters informs the players to expect an "exciting campaign fraught with danger". Because as we all know you cannot use well-designed encounter guidelines to make an encounter at anything but the normal difficulty level. Maybe he is getting edition-war trolls to proofread his articles? It would certainly help explain his previous statement about warlords shouting wounds closed.
January 21, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Eldritch World: The Chosen of Ayash

Ayash, the Glorious Life-Giver, the Shining Healer, the Radiant Shield. 

First, she gave birth to the world; then, to everything that lives. She crafted the first race to be guardians over her creation. Finally, exhausted from her labors, she slept. As she slumbered, ancient and malicious creatures happened upon her works, and in their envy fought each other for them.

Those that gazed upon the creatures were driven mad or died, and entire buildings were crushed underfoot with each great stride. The first race cried out to Ayash for salvation, but when she did not answer many turned to their destroyers for mercy, praying and offering up their own as grisly sacrifices.

Ayash awoke to horror and bloodshed. Chaos scarred the landscape; everywhere she turned her precious children were dead or dying. Enraged, she fought the ancient ones, hoping to save the last of the faithful. In the conflict she was greatly wounded, and in a desperate act was forced to consume her world and all that she could not save in unchecked, purifying fire.

Her enemy being vanquished, she wiped the ashes clean and scattered them to the heavens. She blew on the embers of the world, and her breath did create new life. The second race was not as carefully or skillfully wrought as the first, but it would have to do. Wounded and weakened, she again rested.

Ayash is one of the key gods in Eldritch World. Though she used to be a great, golden beacon she has exerted herself greatly; her size is much reduced, and her light dimmer and crimson. Her priests wear red and gold robes, representing both her current form and her lost glory. While Ayash rests they bring her light to the darker regions of the world, healing the sick and wounded, and remaining ever vigilant for evil undead, demons, and cults dedicated to the ancient ones.

You can check out the current version of the sun priest playbook here. I wanted something that operated differently than the cleric, something less pseudo-Vancian and more tightly themed. As usual please take a look and let me know what you like, dislike, what you would add or change (you can leave comments directly in the Google doc). I plan on making more cleric-ish playbooks for this setting and A Sundered World, so it would be helpful to know if the mechanics properly convey the fiction.

Wandering Monsters: What's So Great About The Wheel?

Aside from the reminder about the whole "all the worlds in a single multiverse" bit, Wyatt starts things out on a pretty positive note.

He opens with 3rd Edition's Manual of the Planes. Yeah, it mapped out the Great Wheel, but also had entire chapters dedicated to helping you design your own cosmology and explaining each plane individually, so if you felt the need to adhere to various Dungeons & Dragons quirks--such as spells that require access to one of the transitive planes--you knew what you were getting into. Finally, it gave you five examples to work with.

He then moves on to 3rd Edition's Deities and Demigods, which included cosmologies for the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies, the World Tree cosmology from 3rd Edition's Forgotten Realms, whatever you would call Eberron's cosmology (I guess the Orrery-riff), and the "default 4th Edition cosmology" formerly known as the World Axis.

Really the first half of the article speaks to the strengths of 3rd Edition's approach: you give Dungeon Masters the tools and knowledge to construct exactly the cosmology they want. Though I found the World Axis much more engaging and useful as a default, and the lack of strange rules interactions made it easier to build your own without having to worry too much, it still kind of sucks that 4th Edition never saw the same treatment. It seems like 5th Edition will not either--or, at least not as much--because apparently there are "pitfalls".

The greatest of these pitfalls, according to Wyatt, is "eroding" the intellectual property of Dungeons & Dragons that "everyone knows about", like where demons come from and the Blood War.

Frankly I doubt that most gamers are aware that demons come from the Abyss. They are probably at best aware that they come from a generally "bad other world", and if you gave them a list of planes they might ironically pick the Nine Hells, because demons coming from hell sounds logical. I would wager that even less are aware of anything pertaining to the Blood War besides its name.

On that note, is the Blood War "an important element" of Dungeons & Dragons? Even though I played a lot of Planescape I never used it, and I do not recall it being relevant in any other setting or the focus of an adventure. So besides it being an older bit of esoteric lore, why is it so important? Or is that the only criteria that matters?

As for how you would shoehorn the Blood War into Eberron or the 4th Edition cosmology that shall not be named (which would be incredibly easy), the obvious answer is that you would not, just like you did not in, say, Dark Sun. Honestly it is not important or necessary that demons come from the Abyss (or even another plane), or that the Blood War is a thing that exists despite most groups never interacting with it in any way. These so-called pitfalls are in actuality non-issues.

The best approach would be to just present the elements as setting-neutral, and then put any relevant changes to the defaults in a setting book, kind of how they did it with 2nd Edition's Dark Sun. The default game does not need a Great Wheel or Blood War: both can be reserved for Planescape, or possibly another setting that actually uses them. Demons in Eberron can come from another plane, possibly two, and in yet another setting that might be native to the mortal realm. That sounds a lot more conducive to creativity and flexibility than kind-of-sort-of maybe homogenizing everything for the sake of tradition.

So unsurprisingly they are going with the Great Wheel as a default (tradition and all). 3rd Edition clearly proved that you can give Dungeon Masters the pieces and let them figure it out without "eroding" the game or whatever. Wyatt will apparently talk about other options, so maybe he will elaborate on how well 5th Edition will support different cosmologies, namely Eberron's and [4th Edition cosmology].
January 15, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Faux Flexibility

I know Mearls has played other games (or has at least heard of them), so why is he still insisting that one of his reasons for eliminating most meaningful decisions is for the sake of making character generation quick?

First, what about all the other levels? In most cases you get to make one choice at 3rd-level that locks in the rest of your decisions down the road. Second, there are games where you get to choose something at every level (or whatever amounts to a character milestone), and character generation is not only quick, but actually quicker than 5th Edition.

In other words it is not like allowing players to make decisions throughout the course of the game slows it down in a noticeable way. 4th Edition allowed you to make several meaningful decisions at 1st-level, and it was incredibly easy to come in under his arbitrary 30 minute benchmark (yes, even without Character Builder). I would also argue that it does not dilute the "feel" of Dungeons & Dragons, unless that feel for you is writing down what the game tells you most of the time.

He further tries to justify this decision because the first two levels will normally take about a session each, and that if you want more stuff that you can always start at 3rd-level. The problem is not that players like me want more options at the start, but that we want to make more decisions. Not necessarily as many as what 4th Edition provided, but there is a decently-sized middle ground between choosing a suite of four or more powers, and just writing down whatever the designers believe defines an archetype.

But maybe for some reason you actually want to extend the play time of those first two levels. I have no idea why you would want to...I guess some people might have a hard time committing that one class feature that every other player with the same class is also using to memory. The good news is that there will be an optional experience progression to help pad it out.

Okaaay, but why not do something actually interesting with experience points like, say, provide a more modernized system, even as an option? So instead of killing monsters to accrue ultimately pointless heaps of points, players have the opportunity to collect a handful each session, and only need a few to level up. You could also spend them on incremental advancements. I get that big numbers is what was done before, and having tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of experience points looks impressive insofar as large numbers can, but it is still unnecessary.

He claims that by "allowing" players to choose what level to start at (which you always could), and an experience point system that allows you to drag out various parts of the game will somehow allow you to run a campaign the way you want. It will not. Sure, it lets me control the speed at which the players can make their cookie-cutter characters kind of dissimilar (well, assuming no one else picks the same subclass), but there are a number of other factors like fragile characters, a reliance on magical healing, and pseudo-Vancian magic that not only prevent me from running the game the way I want to, but also do not have much precedence in fiction.

He wraps things up with the statement that "flexibility has always been a hallmark of D&D". No, no it has not. If anything prior to 4th Edition one of the "hallmarks" of Dungeons & Dragons was needlessly monolithic classes: you pick a class, check the level, and write down what it says you can do. 4th Edition broke from that tradition by not only having you decide most of what your character can do at the start, but allowing you to make another choice at every level. 5th Edition undoes almost all of that, stripping out most of the choices and doing most of the work for you. That is opposite of flexibility.

The only upside is that, for now anyway, you will be able to choose your own skill and tool proficiencies. Given all the confusing mechanical rollbacks I find it a refreshing-yet-strange deviation from 5th Edition's charted course, I just kind of assumed that they would go back to 2nd Edition's model.

Speaking of model, I am not sure what "old model of limiting skills by class" Mearls is referring to. 4th Edition kind of limited you, except that anyone could take a background to have access to a skill or spend one of numerous feats to become reasonably competent in any skill (or even go with a Multiclass feat to get a skill and something extra), and even 3rd Edition let you spend skill points on almost any skill you wanted (though cross-classing usually sucked).
January 13, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Mansions of Madness Review

Three years late to the scene, I finally picked up Mansions of Madness over the weekend, played it five times (as of this blog post, anyway), and went back to Rainy Day Games to get all of the delicious, terrible expansions. Partially it is because of the minis (I do love me some minis), but mostly it is that, to me, it better captures the feel and tone of a Lovecraftian story than Arkham Horror.

Do not get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Arkham Horror. I have owned it for years, played it quite a bit, and find it very fun, but it does not always hit the right spot. Yeah, there are iconic monsters and items, horror checks, spells that drive you insane, etc, but you always know exactly what you have to do, what the monsters and ancient ones are capable of, going through alternate dimensions is commonplace (and pretty harmless), I have experienced more than one occasion where a player runs up and down the streets butchering eldritch horrors, and have even punched out Cthulhu (as well as numerous other ancient ones).

Mansions of Madness does not roll like that. The game has a lot of unknown factors (for the investigators, anyway, muwahahaha) and is more story driven: the core game comes with five scenarios, each of which has varying degrees of customization that can change the direction of the story, location of items and clues, the results of certain events, and--most importantly--the goals of both the investigators and keeper.

Without multiple playthroughs of a scenario the investigators start out having no idea what it is they need to do in order to succeed; you have to explore the mansion, monastery, estate, or wherever you are in order to search rooms, solve puzzles, fight monsters, and discover clues that eventually reveal your goal, the entire time inhibited by the keeper. The keeper is an antagonistic player who represents a malevolent force working behind the scenes to fulfill an agenda, such as spawning a monster and having it escape, completing a dark ritual, or simply gobbling up the investigators. Unlike the investigators the keeper is also fully aware of what they need to do in order to succeed, and so can actively work to stop them while trying to complete its own task.

To do this the keeper uses a kind of currency called threat. The keeper gains threat at the start of each turn based on the number of players, which is then spent to activate keeper actions and mythos cards. Keeper actions are a set of cards that are determined by the scenario that let you do stuff like spawn monsters, move them, manipulate the investigators or take "samples" from them (always for a nefarious purpose), and draw more mythos and trauma cards. Along with the pool of threat tokens they are always visible, so players will have an idea of what you are capable of doing on a given turn. Well, kind of, because the keeper has...

Mythos cards, which unlike keeper actions are hidden from the players until used. These let the keeper cause investigators to run screaming from a location, automatically take a hit to sanity, refuse to go through doors for a turn, spawn monsters, and more; in a recent game a player went to gun down a shoggoth...until I played a card that caused him to drop his gun and his axe to rot away, leaving him completely weaponless. Often they cost some amount of threat, but some can be used for free, which adds to the uncertainty because even if you have no threat you might have a mythos card that will let you hammer them with a penalty. You can also add further injury to injury thanks to...

Trauma cards, which are extra penalties that you can slap on investigators when they take damage or lose sanity. These represent broken arms, loss of vision, growing paranoia or despair, and more. Some are fire and forget, causing a character to lose all of their skill points or to even commit suicide. Fortunately, kind of, the more potent ones require that an investigator be reduced to a set amount of health or sanity first (the suicide ones require that they have no sanity at all). Like mythos cards they add another unknown factor because you might lose more than a few points of health if you try to barge your way past a group of zombies.

Even the unpredictability of  combat goes above and beyond a roll of the dice, and not just because of mythos cards or the fact that even the same type of monster can have different stats and special attacks. Each monster is associated with a specific combat deck, which you draw from until you find an appropriate weapon. The card then tells you what attribute or skill you have to roll against. Often you get expected results, like Dexterity or Marksmanship for guns, but sometimes it has you roll against Intellect because you "remember reading in a tome something about the monster's weak spot", and other times your weapon can get destroyed in the process.

So, yeah, the game can be quite difficult for the investigators to succeed; our investigator success ratio is 2 to 5. Personally given that it is trying to evoke a Lovecraftian story and all I expect that, but others might consider that a design flaw (including one of my players). Really though if you like Arkham Horror or horror games in general, then you will probably enjoy this game a lot: the scenarios are diverse, there is a lot of mystery, the monsters can be really brutal, you never know what to expect, things can start to seem hopeless pretty quickly, and the production value is really high.

I would say the only real drawback is that there are only so many ways you can play each scenario before the players will know what to do, but there are currently two big expansions and plenty of extra scenarios available, so that should keep you busy for quite some time.

A Sundered World: Race Moves

Dungeon World was originally intended to evoke the feel of earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons, which is why when you pick a class you choose a move from one of a few races (and by default paladins can only be human). While I like the simplicity I dislike that by default you only get one choice, both in terms what you can choose from and how many such choices you get to make.

Rather than try to complicate things, like having race add more at the start and/or down the line, our current approach with A Sundered World is to treat races in a similar fashion to compendium classes: when you create a character you choose a race and a move associated with that race, and when you level up you can continue to choose more moves.

This way you have the same number of things that you can do, but you also have more control over what you can do and how much your race impacts your character. Some moves will have move and/or level requirements like, for example, a dwarf move that makes you deal more damage with a hammer and add the Forceful tag to your attacks, a cthon move that lets you shoot lightning bolts, or a tiefling move that lets you animate chains and strangle people.

With that said, here is an initial peek at four races: the dwarf, elf, bladeling, and deva (names subject to change).

Dwarves are one of the few races to exist prior to the Sundering, crafted by a dwarf god during the Dawn War. Though most perished, a handful have managed to survive for untold millenia. As they age they gradually turn to stone, and eventually start to go dormant for longer and longer periods of time.

[   ] Cast-Iron Stomach: When you try to resist the effects of poison take +1 forward, and a miss counts as a 7-9.
[   ] Dwarven Soldier: When you attack with a hammer or axe and roll a 12+, deal +1d6 damage.
[   ] Stoneskin: Your skin is hard like stone. Gain +1 Armor.

Like dwarves, elves existed before the Sundering, though each claims that they came first. As the world was torn apart they evacuated to the moon, which now drifts through the Astral Sea. The Summer and Winter courts maintain an uneasy alliance against the formorians, whom also managed to escape and dwell within the moon's bowels.

[   ] Camouflage: When you try to hide in natural terrain, a miss counts as a 7-9.
[   ] Elven Soldier: When you attack with a sword or bow and roll a 12+, deal +1d6 damage.
[   ] Fleet-Footed: You move a good deal faster than a human, and are not slowed down by natural terrain.

Similar to cthon, bladelings were crafted by the primordial Khaltokles. The original bladelings were resplendent beings wrought of an incredibly durable golden material; now they look much cruder, forged from numerous plates of imperfectly-assembled, beaten iron.

[   ] Hedgehog: You have numerous sharp protrusions. When an enemy grabs you, or attacks you with an attack that has a range of Hand or Close and you defy danger with a 10+, deal your damage to it.
[   ] Iron Claws: Your hands are lethal weapons. You can deal damage even when unarmed, and when you hack and slash with at least one free hand you deal +1 damage.
[   ] Living Weapon: When you tear a shard of metal from your body, take 1d4 damage and gain a dagger.

Even though they are the weakest—and most human-like—of angels, devas still embody a divine aspect of the god they once served. Choose the domain that you represent:

[   ] War: When you start a fight, take +1 forward.
[   ] Death: When someone takes their Last Breath near you, they take +1 forward.
[   ] Knowledge: When you spout lore, take +1 forward.
[   ] Protection: When you defend someone from harm, take +1 forward and +1 Armor.
[   ] Sun: When you heal someone, they regain 1d4 hit points.

Depending on how many moves a race has, it could be pretty simple to attach hit points, starting gear, and bonds to just play that race as a class. What do you think? Is this a good idea? Do you like them? Are they too good/bad?
January 06, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

At the Mines of Madness: The Black Goat of the Woods

Back in early December of last year I mentioned taking an old 4th Edition campaign I ran, and turning it into a hefty set of locations and fronts for a very Lovecraftian Dungeon World. Currently it is at 40 pages, and nowhere near completion. What started out as essentially an adventure conversion has gone way off the rails; I have retained only the essence of the plot, changing the setting, cast, threats, and direction.

The new setting is more Bronze Age and Conan-esque in style, which I might just end up calling Eldritch World if it continues to spiral out of control and rack up a sufficiently large enough page count.

It both draws from and builds upon the concepts that I mentioned awhile back: there are walled city-states, and they need walls due to the crystalline eldritch prisons of the outer gods that orbit the world, raining down shards that allow aberrant horrors to enter reality. Their cults try to free them from these prisons, which are opposed by religious and/or psionic orders. Psionics are viewed as an acceptable and kind of necessary form of magic, as "normal" magic requires interacting with the dreaming outer gods or (more commonly) one of their servants.

Speaking of magic, I have never been satisfied with how magic works in Dungeons & Dragons, and while I appreciate that wizards in Dungeon World do not always lose their spells when cast it still cleaves too close to its original source--which itself does not cleave close enough to its inspiration--for comfort. So, one of the playbooks I am working on is based on another playbook I am working on (feel free to pitch in your own two cents), except that when you cast spells you can take damage, debilities, and/or gain madness.

The current mechanic allows the GM to spend accrued madness whenever she wants to cause a variety of effects based on what is fictionally appropriate/inconvenient for the characters, ranging from seeing things, rambling incoherently, attacking an ally, or even having an eldritch horror appear (or burst forth from your body). Hopefully it properly conveys an element of risk and unpredictability.

Anyway, back to writing ship-building rules for A Sundered World, city-states for whatever I end up calling this thing, and wrapping up the Vancomancer for digital publishing. Here are a few tidbits that pertain to one of the possible fronts, Shub-Niggurath:

Dark Young Large, Solitary, Terrifying
Tentacles and teeth (b[2d8] + 3 damage, 1 piercing) 18 HP 3 Armor
Close, Reach, Forceful
Special Qualities Blood draining bites
Great masses of writhing tentacles, drooling mouths, and hooves. Despite their great size, the shape of their silhouette allows them to blend in easily with trees, which is unfortunate as that is where they are usually found. They are sometimes worshiped in Shub-Niggurath's stead, readily accepting sacrifices on her behalf. Instinct: To blend in with the trees
  • Grab someone with its tentacles
  • Drain a creature's blood
  • Crush someone undearneath its hooves
NOTE: This is not the entire compendium class, just a kind of preview.

Compendium Class: Child of the Goat

When you study the Black Book (goatbook?), you can gain this move when you level up.

Contact the Black Goat Slow
You have learned a ritual that allows you to try and make contact with Shub-Niggurath, the Black Goat in the Woods. When the time is right and you prepare a proper sacrifice for her, gain 1 madness and roll+INT. *On a 10+, the Black Goat is pleased with your offering: you can ask her any 3 questions you like. *On a 7-9, you can ask her any one 1 question.

If you have the move Contact the Black Goat, these count as class moves for you; you can choose from them when you level up:

Each time you gain a new move from this class, choose a mutation from the following list that you do not already have (or create your own):
[  ] Your feet turn into hooves.
[  ] Several mouths full of jagged teeth appear on your body.
[  ] Parts of your body become covered in coarse, black fur.
[  ] Your abdomen grows, and something seems to writhe within.
[  ] You grow a tentacle.
[  ] You grow a pair of goat horns.

Cloudy Form 1 Madness
Your body and everything you carry transforms into greasy black smoke for a few minutes. While you cannot affect anything, you also cannot be hurt and can squeeze through tiny openings.

Crushing Hooves
Requires: Hooves mutation
Your powerful hooves are capable of punching through armor, shattering shields, and even smashing down doors. When you kick with your hooves, deal your damage and the attack gains the Forceful tag.

Summon Dark Young Slow, 2 Madness
When you attempt to summon one of the Black Goat's dark young and bind it into service, roll+INT. *On a 10+, the dark young agrees to perform one service for you, and choose two. *On a 7-9, choose one:
  • It does not engage in wanton destruction.
  • It does not twist the wording of your instructions.
  • It will not seek to do you harm when the task is complete.


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