Monthly Archives: July 2014

Advantage, Disadvantage, and Fate

I’ve been talking a lot about how much I like 5e’s advantage and disadvantage (adv/dis) rules[1] for how smoothly they flow from the fiction. It seems like a state that you can describe verbally or in text, and they simply have it reflected in the mechanics. It does not hurt that the die mechanic is nicely elegant, but it could just as easily be a +/–2 (the default modifier for winging it in past editions of D&D) or +/–1d6 or some other mechanic. That is, in fact, the point – the concept is clear but broad, so there is no mechanically correct answer, so the concept can be applied across multiple mechanics.

Thus, for example, the idea is easily translated to Dungeon World, replacing the +1/–1 forward rule. To echo the 5e mechanic, add an extra die to the roll if you’re at an advantage, and drop the lowest. If you’re at a disadvantage, do the same, but drop the highest. The math is a little bit different than +1/–1 (more like +/–1.5) but it feels pretty good.

The idea is a little bit tricker when you move to systems that produce less linear results. Consider, for example, the storyteller/storytelling system from White Wolf, or any similar. There’s no real idea of a “negative” success, so adding dice to the roll for extra effects would just be weird, and adding them for a bonus would be pretty normal. You could just say that adv/dis is +/–3 dice, and that would probably work ok, but you also might look elsewhere in the system. For example, since success is on a 7+ on a d10, perhaps adv/dis changes that to a 6 or 8 respectively[2]. That’s pretty potent, but it has the advantage of still producing results within the original curve, which is a heretofor unstated design goal.

Cortex solved this problem (under a different name) by effectively making adv/dis d4/d8. If you add a d8 to a roll, it’s pretty likely to bring up your total. if you roll a d4, it’s unlikely to improve the roll at all, and it’s likely to roll a 1 (a bad thing).

It’s interesting to me to be able to carry this concept across systems (for reasons which may merit their own post) so, of course, I wonder how this may be applied to Fate.

There’s an instinct to head straight to the Aspects system, since it seems spiritually similar, but that sits wrong with me. The least interesting part of aspects, to my mind, is their bonus or penalty, and the fact that it stacks is already a complicating enough factor to my mind. However, if one really wanted, they could stop right here and just say that the situation causing advantage or disadvantage is reflected as an aspect, and that would work just fine.

But I like the adv/dis terminology, and I’m happy messing with the guts of Fate, so I think I’ll mess with this a little.

Now, back in the day (pre-SOTC), the aspect bonus worked a little bit differently than it does today. Rather than a flat +2, it was “reroll or flip one die to a +”, and that had a number of interesting implications. The first time you used an aspect it was probably going to change a – to a + (thus the +2) but after that, you were going to hit diminishing returns very quickly as you ran out of -’s and had to flip blanks (for a +1) and you’d cap out at ++++, no matter how many aspects you had.

I confess, I like this mechanic better in general – it rewards aspect use without rewarding huge aspect stacks. However, our SOTC playtesting largely determined that die flipping was a little bit too fiddly for most players. This made me sad – I like dice flipping – but sometimes you need to toss out a mechanic you like based on feedback.

I don’t mention this because I’m looking to revive that mechanic, but because it’s the general space my head is in, trying to get a bump within the curve of the dice rather than outside it. With that in mind, the first options that occour to me are:

  1. Add a die, only count it if it’s + or –
  2. Add an extra die, remove one (high or low)
  3. Remove a die (high or low)

I instinctively want to discard #1, since it introduces the possibility of a +5 or –5, and it also required keeping track of which die is the extra die. I might be willing to track die colors if there was a specific mechanic to hang off it, but for this, it seems frivolous.

2 and 3 both appeal. Adding in an extra die is a little bit weird in a Fate context, since it violates the usual “4 dice per player” rule, so that’s a strike against. However, the action of adding a die is a bit of fun physical engagement, and allows it to be tossed in after the fact. Those might be a wash. In contrast. #3 is super easy to implement because you can just read it from the dice, but that’s also not terribly engaging (especially when it doesn’t actually impact the roll). So, when in doubt, let’s do some math.

# Default Bonus Die Drop Worst
–4 1.24% 0.40% 0.00%
–3 4.94% 2.04% 1.23%
–3 12.35% 6.19% 4.94%
–1 19.75% 12.27% 12.33%
0 23.44% 18.96% 20.95%
1 19.76% 22.64% 27.18%
2 12.34% 20.59% 22.25%
3 4.95% 12.36% 9.86%
4 1.24% 4.54% 1.25%


Looking at those numbers, I admit I’m leaning towards “drop worst”. The fact that +4 is no more likely (really, identically likely, but I suspect there’s a rounding error at work) is a plus, though in all honestly, that is a fine point that gets steamrolled by aspect invocation (a fact I will give some consideration to later). Given the impact of aspects, the somewhat smoother curve of “add a die, drop worst” might make more sense.

For the moment, I break the tie in favor of “drop worst” because it requires no extra dice, but I’ll be chewing on it for a little bit.

  1. : if you’re unfamiliar. in 5e you usually roll a d20 to do things. If you’re at an advantage, you roll 2d20, and read the better one. if you’re at a disadvantage, you roll 2d20 and read the lesser one.  ↩
  2. This same trick won’t work as well for success counting with smaller dice. In a well tuned game like Burning Wheel, that shift may simply be too big.  ↩

On the Topic of Dwarves

I was talking about halflings and concrete and it lead to this rattling around in my head.

The locations of dwarven cities rarely make sense on human maps, but on dwarven maps their positions tell the same story as human cities growing up around harbors and river forks. A dwarven city is carved out from stone, underground, in a location which is stable and strong, but also rich in the minerals and magics that Dwarves use to sustain themselves. Dwarven cities are vast, ordered metrolpolises where every space has been meticulously carved out an accounted for, and has its uses planned and detailed for the next hundred years. This precise balance allows for them to be virtually self-sustaining, requiring negligible contact with the surface. And that’s how they like it. Mostly.

The rub is that when most other folks think of dwarven cities, they have a very different image, one of a more traditional city, with magnificent stonework ruled by gruff, orderly folk. What most outsiders do not realize is that the city they see is, to the dwarves, the slums of the city below. It is where the outcasts and placeless are sent, to scratch out an existence, building their hovels (by deep dwarven standards) from the stone pulled out during the construction of the real city[1]. The upper city will often take on the trappings of nobility of its surroundings, establishing a king and a court, but these are not dwarven titles, and they carry carry authority, but little respect. Even in the slums, order is an aspirational value for most Dwarves, so they buy into this model of rulership as an improvement over the alternative.

Despite this division, nothing truly exists in a vacuum. While there is usually only a single connection between the deep city and the upper city[2], some trade goes through it. The trade is solely between dwarves, and wrapped in ritual and rules, and it is all under the auspices that only “true” dwarven goods may change hands this way. In reality, it often turns out that the the upper dwarves provide a patina of legitimacy to goods from other nations by reworking them to be suitably “dwarfish”. As such, the most powerful of the lower dwarves enjoy luxuries forbidden to their citizens under the auspices of legitimate exchange, and the leaders of the Upper city keep a hold on the wealth that comes up from the lower city.

While it is a rare thing, a dwarf of great talent or virtue may earn a place in the Lower City, rejoining the “true” dwarves. This is a great honor, the golden ticket, and almost every dwarf (especially those who remember the Lower City fondly) dreams that someday they will make the cut, if only in death.[3]

It a dream that inspires a lot of compliance among the populace, because a family’s status is part of the calculation, so the young dwarf who stains the family name is a real problem. The fact that this golden ticket is in the hands of the same folks propping up their power through their channel to the Lower City only helps reinforce this need to support the Status Quo, which has a lot to do with the dwarven reputation for being dour sticklers for the rules. A dwarf who isn’t a stickler will be socially punished by friends and family for fear of harming their chances, so most comply, though there are always a handful who leave.

These arrangements are sometimes problematic, and there have been schisms and disasters, these cities are largely very stable, lasting centuries at a time. However, every Dwarven city has an expiration date – at some point the lower city will simply be done. Resources will be tapped out, the reason for its existence with be gone. The currents of the earth may change. Assuming the expiration is not a violent one, the dwarves set out to find new steadings, places that may become cities someday. Much of this work is done underground, but upper dwarves may be called upon to scout the land above the steading to judge its readiness. In time, a steading will grow, and the populace of the lower city will migrate, abandoning the old city, and sealing off its connection to the upper world (often collapsing large parts of the city behind them).

This creates an interesting situation for the occupants of the old upper city. Losing the connection to the lower city is a blow to the dwarves living there. Practically, the loss of the support of the lower city weakens the leadership of the dwarves. Spiritually, it is a blow to the morale of most of the dwarves in the city, as there is no longer that lower city to aspire to. Politically, it means that a lot of the leverage that the leadership held has just slipped away.

At this point, things can go a couple different ways.

The first is civil war. This is exceedingly rare. Of the three documented occaisions of this, two ended in mutual destruction and the third resulted in the founding of the “wild” dwarven nation to the northeast.

The second and slightly more common is reclamation. Sometimes the dwarves of the upper city seek to claim the lower city for themselves. When this happens, it often takes on the characteristics of a crusade. To date, this has never been confirmed to go well. Usually it ends badly for the reclaimers – sometimes dramatically, but usually simply due to logistics. The Lower City was evacuated for a reason, and it simply can no longer support a populace. Of course, some reclamations have never been heard from again, so it’s possible they turned out well.

The last and most common outcome is the fading. The Dwarves remains, but their numbers dwindle with each generation. Usually, they go from being the dominant group in a city to being one among many, to being hardly there at all. Some of the empire’s greatest cities started out as Dwarven cities, though there is no record of those origins today (at least among humans). These are the dwarves most often encountered by other folk, and they are much of the basis for the idea that Dwarves are a race in decline.

Dwarven heroes come in many types, but they often have a strong relationship to their origin city, though the nature of that relationship may vary. Some have left the stifling order of it, others have been kicked out, still others seek to make a name for themselves in hopes of earning a place in the lower city.

  1. the lower city is usually the source of water for the upper city as well (directly or indirectly), usually via wells or other plumbing. The lower dwarves view most exiles as unfortunate necessities, not a death sentence, so they have no reason to be cruel.  ↩
  2. Many upper cities have substantial undergrounds, but they stop well before the lower city begins. That said, there is no real reason for outsiders to be aware of this distinction, and dwarves do not make it in languages other than their own. it is not truly a secret, but the nature of the division is not widely known.  ↩
  3. Burial in the Lower City is also a great honor in the upper city, though it might be less so if they were aware of the fact that the Lower City simply views it as “recycling”  ↩

Dungeon World: The Tale of Old Dogan

I forgot to pack my story cubes or plot twist deck for Friday’s game, so I was doing things entirely by ear. We had an interesting crew: Dogan the fighter, Sanguinus the Pirate Paladin, Tetra the dashing hero and Urv the wizard.

Things started in medias res with me asking Sanguinus why he was in a knife fight, naked. Turned out that the assassin chasing him had threatened nearby innocents, forcing him to strip, but he’d grabbed a knife when they were distracted, and they’d taken the fight outside. Meanwhile, Tetra spotted an assassin at a party, a bunch of guys had jumped Dogan and Urv was chasing someone who had stolen his spellbook.

Tetra’s assassin, I should note, was up in the trapeze under a big top tent, which lead to some immediately climbing, rope cutting, and fighting up in the air. Urv’s thief ducked into the same tent and ended up using one of the falling assailants to take down his thief. His sleep spell also managed to stop the assassin, but caught Tetra as well, leading to an awkward knife fight in the net under the trapeze, which we described as a knife fight in a giant hammock. Urv stabbed a guy from underneath, Tetra got free from her attackers, but that’s when Urv’s thief hit them both with a color spray, grabbed the book and took off again. Urv and Tetra pursued, with Tetra staying to the rooftops to keep the guy in sight as he made his way to the laughing gate.

Meanwhile, Sanguinus had managed to drive off his attacker (who proved entertaining enough to merit a face card) but came back to the tavern to discover his pants (and other gear) had been stolen. He procured an apron from the barkeep and headed towards the Laughing Market, the nearest place one might fence those kinds of goods at this hour of the night.

Dogan had finished off his attackers, and took off in pursuit of the figure who had seemed to be directing them. Fearing he could not catch up with the guy on foot, he tried for a shortcut through Umulon, but he blew the roll badly enough for an “I’ll get back to you.”

Now, the timing of this worked out interestingly, because Dogan’s player was pulled away from the table for a while, long enough that this ended up going from an inconvenience to a central point.

The pursuit of the thief passed through the Laughing Gate in time for them to pass a bare-ass Sangunius, who joined in the chase, allowing them all to catch the crook. Interrogation followed where curiosity was peaked by the young man (who was having difficulty speaking) revealed that he had stolen the book to save “the bellringer”.

Meanwhile, Dogan found himself someplace dark and dank, and ended up rescuing some human slaves from fungal-infected overseers (with an assist from a stone throwing 10 year old boy), but in doing so raised an alarm, and found himself facing a fungusaur.

Urv’s conversation with the kid revealed that he had been a slave to the “big hats” in another place, and that about 10 years ago, the Bellringer had arrived, taught them how to fight and had cast out their overlords, but was still trapped there with the people. It also revealed the young man was a tremendous natural talent with magic, having more or less taught himself what he knew.

While this was going on, Sanguinus and Tetra tried to recover Sangunius’s gear. and were largely successful, recovering his pants, weapon, armor and magical compass. However, they did not recover his holy symbol, so that’s now floating around out there somewhere.

Meticulous study of the Boy’s notes allowed them to make contact with “Old Dogan”, who had clearly tapped some additional power in Bellringer. Communication was difficulty, but he shared a map that looked like gibberish to Urv, but was clearly a battle plan to Sanguinus. It seemed that was Old Dogan was proposing was to take this plan to current-Dogan and win his war early.

The kid and Old Dogan had an enigmatic exchange, ending with the kid saluting and agreeing to something. He helped Urv re-open the way to the Black Crypt, but revealed that his blood was a key – he cut his hand deeply, set it on the marks, and urged them to hurry, since it would only last as long as he was bleeding.

The group entered this new way just in time to find Dogan defeating the Fungusaur. They shared the battle plan with him, and went into action.

Much fighting followed. Basically, the whole underground was a giant fungal growth, but Old Dogan’s plan called out exactly where the center of it was and what its weak spots were. In charging it, they saw many half-grown Fungusaur and not-yet-active mushroom soldiers, and they managed to burn down the central tower (at some cost of self-inflicted injury) before these things could be fully activated. Explosions happened, and the various human slave camps were hurried out the one known exit as the fire spread. Urv lead them out, while Dogan, Tetra and Sanguinus followed them out. The stone throwing kid came with Dogan at the very end, and as he did, the spellbook thief simply vanished (to no ones surprise – they’d done that math).

Urv permanently sealed the way (opting to do so safely rather than harvest its power) and the characters took the refugees up to the Antesian hillfolk (since they were near that gate) to get them somewhere safe and to give a chance to heal some unpleasant wounds and lay low while there were assassins (who tried one more time at then end) looking for them. Some ended up as crew on the Ice Witch, and the boy is now somewhere between the new cabin boy and Urv’s apprentice.


  • Advantage/Disadvantage has fully replaced +1/-1 to excellent effect. In this session, we had a number of debilities in play (the fungal attacks inflicted them like mad) and the disadvantage rule made them feel really toothy.
  • I’ve pretty much concluded that the Dashing Hero isn’t quite all there. Almost all of the class’s cool is front loaded, which has made advancement an ongoing pain for the player, since the only really fun options have been multiclassing. Combined with occasional weirdness in interpreting her key moves, it’s a source of frustration. We’ll stick with it, but I flag it for my own future reference.
  • Speaking of multiclassing, we may switch the multiclass spell casting rules from “current level -1” to “Half your current level”. The current model makes spellcasting an overwhelmingly potent multiclass move (if you take it early) and greatly disincentivizes waiting to pick it up. It also kind of flips the bird to those actual classes, since spellcasting is such an essential move.
  • More broadly, there’s a temptation to entirely return multiclassing by just giving each class a “multiclass move” which is what the multiclass moves learn. The best argument against it has been the coolness of Dogan picking up the Druid’s “Balance” move, so I’m still undecided.
  • I want to write up a set of moves, one per player, that can be used once per session to represent the influence of absent characters. So “Jack knows a guy” may allow the current game to hook up with a useful NPC when Jack isn’t at the table. I doubt this is something that many games need, but for my rotating cast, I think it’ll be a nice way to keep it feeling like everyone is in circulation.
  • We’ve only got one level 6 character so far, but we have several at level 5, so we’re solidly moving into second tier play. As we get closer to 10, I think we’re going to need more Compendium Class options to handle “higher level” play (since the current level 10 rules don’t appeal to the group much). It may not be too much of a big deal, since it may also be a sign that it’s time to go into endgame.
  • One advantage of throwing a lot of things and seeing what sticks is that unresolved threads (like the assassins) provide excellent fodder for future sessions.
  • There remain plenty of moments where I regret the inability to offer players’ Fate Points for particular twists and opportunities.  It’s not a huge problem, but I definitely feel the absence of that tool from time to time.

I Want Enough 5e to Hack

Here is the sign that I’m digging 5e. I am so hungry for the actual rules that I am pondering hacks for no other reason than I desire to play with the toys.

For example, i was pondering injury rule. Something simple like:

  • When you take damage, you can reduce that damage by 1 hit die (2 hit die if you’re level 11 or above) by taking an injury.
  • Each time you take an injury, mark a failed death save. It remains filled in until the injury is healed. A character may fill all three boxes in this fashion, but if they are reduced to 0hp while injured, they immediately suffer the consequences. As such, if all 3 boxes are filled and the character drops to 0 HP, death is instantaneous.
  • While injured, the character is at a disadvantage in all physical activities.
  • Injuries can be treated by the Medicine skill (dc 5 +5 per number of boxes filled). This does not cure the injury, but removes the dsiadvantage so long as the character takes it easy (taking twice as long to do things and does not dash or otherwise engage in heavy exertion).
  • If a character is at full HP and takes a long rest under medical supervision (Wisdom (medicine)DC 15) and has only one box checked, that box can be unchecked and the injury cleared.
  • A second box extends that time to a week, A third extends it to a month. All boxes clear at once.
  • 10 points of magic overhealing (healing beyond maximum HP) clears all boxes and removes the injury.

That seems maybe a little too fiddly, but if I was going for a certain kind of bloody feel, it’d be a pretty good match.

I’m also pondering the language of time. A short rest is now about an hour long, but there’s still a conceptual space that’s about 10 minutes long which is the time it takes to cast a ritual spell. In my mind, I’m calling that a “pause” and considering it the amount of time it takes to “take your time” with something (enough to get an advantage on an action which could be done in a round). Not sure if there are other ideas to hang off this, but I’m keeping in my back pocket.

There’s more. But the point is, seriously, I want to get my hands dirty!

D&D 5e Post Mortem

We only had 3 players this weekend, so rather than the usual Dungeon World session, we decided to try 5e. We rolled up our own characters (limited to the 4 core classes, since we were using the released rules) and went with a Cleric, Rogue and Warrior. There had been some initial discussion regarding whether a cleric was necessary, and the conclusion by the end of the session was OH SWEET GOD YES.

To jump to the end, we had a really good time.  It feels like a somewhat less fiddly version of 3e in play, but I recognize that it’s hard to judge overall fiddliness at first level.  We’re enthusiastic to play again and find out.

Non-spoiler stuff first

  • 3 characters cuts it pretty close for this adventure. If things had gone even a little differently, we would have had a TPK. The extra firepower of a wizard probably would have been just about right.
  • Tellingly it makes a big difference to have more than 8 hit points (our rogue did not) because if you’re at 8 or less, then every single thing you encounter can potentially one-shot you.
  • We used the random tables on the backgrounds, purely on a lark. Mixed results. The players pulled some fun stuff out of them, but they were a bit toothless in play. I wanted to give out inspiration much more frequently than I got to.
  • That said, man do I love the backgrounds. They are as awesome as I’d hoped they would be.
  • It was 100% worth the cleric spending his 10 GP on a shield. He had the best AC in the party, and didn’t take a hit through the entire game.
  • The Life domain is really potent. Makes me super curious to see others.
  • Also very interesting to see the modular bits in the classes (like domains) at a chunky level of granularity. This is one of the things that keeps raising the specter of 2e for me, with it’s NWPs and kits.
  • I need to check the math and see if the great weapon fighting style (reroll 1s and 2s) works better for 1d12 or 2d6.
  • That said, it does warm my heart to see support for bow fighters in a way that doesn’t seem like a complete hose. All in all, the fighting styles seem to carry a lot of conceptual weight.
  • Weird rule thing. You recover half your level in hit dice during a long rest, which means level 1 characters never recover hit dice.
  • We became intimately familiar with the rules surrounding zero HP because the rogue went down three times and the fighter once. The “a stable creature that isn’t healed regains 1 hit point after 1d4 hours” rule (p. 76 of the basic rules) is worth making a note of, because it’s nowhere in the “rest” section, and unless you find it, it largely seems like a character will never get back up from zero HP without magical healing.
  • I had missed the section of the rules regarding stat bonuses adding to missile damage. Would have simplified one encounter if I’d done it right, but our range luck was not great.
  • The medicine skill seems like a rip off. Doubly so once you see how Healing Kits work.
  • If you play a rogue, strongly consider playing a race with darkvision. The whole “scouting ahead” thing is well supported, but works poorly if you’re carrying a torch.
  • Sacred Flame (the Cleric attack cantrip) saw heavy use for us. It’s a weird one, since it calls for a save rather than being a spell attack. Messed up the cadence of things every time it came up.
  • Which lead to my looking – at 6th level, a wizard evoker starts doing half damage on a save when using a cantrip. That would rock for a cleric, but the wizard cantrips are all spell attacks, so that’s not actually useful.
  • Thank God level 2 comes quickly. And feels nicely rewarding, without overwhelming choices.
  • Oh, yeah, advantage/disadvantage held up just as well in play as they looked on paper. Super happy with them.
  • Mountain Dwarf Fighters? Scary.







Spoiler Stuff

  • The initial fight was much harder than I expected, largely because it took a round for the players to be able to engage the goblins, and every hit in that fight feels huge. This was the fight where the rogue got dropped, healed, and dropped again.
  • I like the way the dungeon writeups include common details at the outset. I wish they included the monster list, just for ease of reference. There are only 3 monsters in the first dungeon, so I put them on a cheat sheet, but it would have been nice to have the reference.
  • The group went through the wolves and up the chimney. The fight in the bugbear’s room started while the third character was still climbing up, which was not a good thing for them. It’s not a surprising route, but it definitely alters the cadence of the rest of the dungeon.
  • The rogue also snuck in and backstabbed the goblin leader in the other room, so that whole negotiation bit got snipped in the bud.
  • The bugbear is terrifying to a 1st level party. 2d8 + 2 damage can one shot anyone. We got super lucky, and he blew the damage roll against our fighter (after one-shotting our rogue) which bought them the round they needed. The cleric to burned a damage spell and a the fighter landed a fairly lucky attack roll, taking the bugbear down in a single round.
  • That said, they had to shotgun the Potions of Healing in the bugbear’s treasure.
  • if you are wondering why the golden frog is in the treasure, it’s so your thief can palm it.

EDIT: a note on the one shots.  If I’d used the fixed damage outcome rules, the Goblins would have been doing 5, the wolves 7 and the Bugbear 11.   I suspect that would have favored the players a little, since the real problems came when the goblins were rolling 7s and 8s.  The Bugbear would have been a guaranteed one shot on anyone but the fighter.  On balance, I suspect I would have benefitted from going that way, though I did not out of habit.

Deep Dive into DW GMing

Really fantastic Dungeon World session last night. 3 players (Dogan the Fighter, Sanguinus the Pirate Paladin and Lily the Bard) ended up as a pretty good number. The session went in pretty unexpected directions more than once, in very fruitful ways, and the final shape of the game was completely different than expectations going in.

We did not have the wizard, so I did not get a chance to try any magic hacks, so the jury is still out on that. What we did do is replace +1/–1 forward with a variant on the Advantage/Disadvantage rule from 5e. +1 forward became an advantage, and with advantage, the player rolled 3 dice rather than 2, and counted the two higher ones. –1 forward became a disadvantage, where the player rolls 3 dice and keeps the two lowest.

So, for example, when Sanguinus charged, it gave Dogan a +1 forward on his subsequent Hack and Slash roll (because of a Paladin ability). Normally that would mean he’d roll 2d6 + 4 (he has an 18 Strength), but in this case he rolled 3d6 and got a 2, 4 and 5. Taking the best 2 (4 and 5) he rolled a 9, plus 3 for a 12, a most palpable hit.

For the curious, the math is that an advantage or disadvantage equates to approximately +/- 1.5, so it’s a little more robust, but still in bounds. Importantly, it still keeps the result within the curve, so you get some interesting results. If you haven’t used bonus or penalty dice before this may seem weird, but for us, the experience felt really smooth. More, it made the +/–1’s simply feel a little more engaging. I’d be hard pressed to say exactly why (perhaps just the tactile component, perhaps the die making the bonus or penalty feel a little more concrete). Also, “advantage” is just nicer language than “+1 forward).We’ll absolutely be using it in the future.

I’m going to do a recap of the session, but not in the normal fashion. The plot was fine, but I’m going to use this as an opportunity to run through the details of my GM process, since I’ve been experimenting with using props to drive my play. This is going to be some serious inside baseball, so be warned.

I had no plan when we started. This is common, and is one of the reasons I chose Dungeon World. I lack the time and energy for more serious prep, so I chose DW because of how easily I can wing it. What I did know was the following:

  • Dogan and Lily had just had an adventure together where they found hints of interesting things about their weapons. I could probably spin out that thread.
  • The last couple adventures had all been in the city, it was time to go back out to sea. The presence of Sanguinus reinforced that.
  • Lily had leveled up, and took the fighter move to make the Songblade she’d found into a signature weapon. One of the options she took was “Glows in the presence of…” . She went with “invisible enemies” but the amused observation around the table is that the real purpose of that choice is to guarantee that they show up in the game, so I had that now.
  • This trio has the easiest alignment moves to engage, since they are basically fight, fight, don’t fight. That’s great once we get going, but not terribly informative for planning. And, unfortunately, the bonds between these three are similarly applicable, so they did not provide much inspiration.
  • Lily’s bardic specialty is ancient heroes, so that’s an easy place to put a hook.
  • The most active front at the moment is the Alchemists. And, unfortunately, most of the other fronts have been focused on the city, which is a mistake on my part. The only two naval fronts I have on hand are the Elven Fleet (who are more of a proto-front – they’ve been mentioned, but not seen) and The Citadel (Those guys are jerks). I had no obvious ins for any of those, so they’re just back of mind.
    • I have my map of the Sea of Mists as a random reference.

So, at that point I turn to the randomizers. I bust out the Rory’s Story Cubes voyages set[1]. I have my son roll a spread (he wanted to help) and also draw three cards from my Paizo Plot Twist Deck and I get the spread below:


The plots twists I set aside for now. Those are more likely to come up in play, so I focus on the dice.

Right off the bat, this looks promising. The TREASURE MAP seems like an absolute gimme for something piratical. The GEAR has previously shown up with the alchemists (who have some brasspunk stuff), so that’s good. The CAVE, DESCENDING STAIRS and MOUNTAINS could all be locations. Not sure what yet. Not yet sure what to do with the AXE or the SUNRISE/SET – generally they could mean weapon and time sensitivity, but I don’t have a hook for that yet. The CAMERA means observation to me. Someone is watching them. Probably the alchemists, but we’ll see.

The clincher is that collection of TOWERS. In the last game, that ended up being the fingers neighborhood in Umulon, but in this one, it reminds me on something on the map, the Isle of Spires (aka The Isle of Spiders). This seems like an excellent place to go adventuring for some treasure, and that in turn is enough for me to turn to the players.

To Lily I ask “How have your studies of the Stormsinger pointed you to the Isle of Spires?” (It’s where he found the songblade)

To Sanguinus, I ask “Why did you need to get out of Rzae so quickly?” (Alchemists were sniffing around after him. Mentally, I flag that GEARS.)

To Dogan, I ask “How did you get swept up in this?” (Because he can get free meals on the Ice Witch, and he was belowdeck raiding the larder when the set sail. Food is very important to Dogan.)

Ok, easy enough. We have a direction and an interest. Easiest thing to do would be to skip right to the Isle of Spires, but that feels a little bit too blithe. It feels like there should be some sort of barrier to overcome. The TREASURE MAP seems the obvious hook there – they need to get some information on where the heck one goes to safely get onto the Isle. It’s a dangerous place that doesn’t see a lot of traffic, so but it does get the occasional explorer. academic or treasure hunter, so the best place to check is the pirate port of Nouveau Rochefort. Sanguinus blew a defy danger with Wisdom on the way over and did not spot the other ship, but I made no immediate move on that, instead considering it a use of the HAVE A NICE TRIP card.

This was the first time we’d been to Nouveau Rochefort, so excepting the few things we’d established (pirate haven, many of the buildings are wrecked ships) this was largely spun from whole cloth, spouted lore, and Lily’s “What’s changed?” ability. Things we established:

  • There are two pseudo governments that run things. The first is an informal hierarchy of ship captains. Nominally, every captain in port has a vote when a matter comes up, but in reality, it’s the 7 great captains whose voices really matter, and who must be present to vote on anything really important. Sanguinus is one of these, having killed one (possibly two) previous officeholders, so he’s a big deal.
  • The second is a constant roil of gangs. Rather than names, they simple have colors, corresponding to their sports team. So when Lily checked, the Blues and the Greens seemed most dominant, with the Reds having fallen behind. The Blues are usually in power (they have a lock on prostitution, but don’t reach far beyond it) and the Greens had obviously ascended on the backs of the Reds.
  • The Reds were largely dwarven and specialized in legbreaking and accounting. Their leader was a dwarf named Rockgut[2] We didn’t get into what the Greens do, but their leader is a woman named Anabeth who has a reputation for face-stabbing.
  • The Driftwood Arms is an inn in the looses sense of the word. Composed largely of dead ships, it’s the largest singe lodging in the city, spanning several city blocks. Sanguinus got one of the nice rooms.
  • “The Game”, which is the major sport of the island, is a bit of a mess. Start with Quidditch, but remove the brooms and add a hard wooden ball. Then add in two guys on each teams (“Brawlers”) whose job is to largely beat the crap out of the other team and you have the general sense of it.

The players decided to approach the Reds, figuring they’d be most inclined to make a deal. Lily and Dogan met with Rockgut at a Red/Green Game, while Sanguinus watched from the better seats with one of the other 7 captains, Natalya[3]. Rockgut seemed open to negotiations, but the real centerpiece was the game, and the simple reality was that everyone at that table wanted to see Dogan enter the fray.

Who am I to say no? An injury called for a substitution, and Dogan was offered the chance to brawl, which he leapt at, leaving weapons and armor with Lily and enthusiastically entering the fray.

And this, right here, is where it went off the rails. Because I’m watching this and thinking “Lily is now alone holding a priceless dwarven artifact, surrounded by Pirate Dwarves.” In retrospect, I might have also taken a cue from the AXE, but really, I just flagged it as the BAD DECISION.. The Reds plied Lily with drugged wine and, when she passed out, scurried off with Bellringer while Dogan was alternately eliciting cheers and getting dogpiled.

Sanguinus spotted this, leapt from his seat in pursuit, thoroughly intimidated those foolish enough to get in his way and…totally lost the fleeing dwarves as the dice profoundly betrayed him. Really, it should not have been hard – they were not very fast and not very stealthy. But sometimes the dice just have strong opinions.

I admit, I had expected Sanguinus to catch them, so it was time to think fast. Thankfully, I had a little time to do so. Sanguinus had to come back and wake up Lily and get Dogan out of the game (which went poorly for the Red Team). Lily knew where the Red headquarters were, but those did not seem like the likeliest destination.

So they approached Anabeth, the head of the Greens, who was happy to talk to Sanguinus. There was a bit of oblique discussion before they got to the proposal – Anabeth would tell them where Rockgut’s private lab was located, and in return, the Ice Witch would run a blockade for her. Sanguinus did check to make sure that the cargo was not outside of the bounds of his ethics, and was reassured that it was merely dangerous. That wouldn’t be a problem, would it?

All parties agreed, her assistant, Remy (Who does not yet have a face card, but is on the cusp of earning one) lead them into the Red neighborhood and Rockgut’s lab. Four dwarves were watching the door. A very well done discern realities roll ushed me to add somethign else to the scene, so in a nod to the CAMERA, it revealed a human watching from a nearby bar. Lily arranged a distraction, allowing Dogan to cold cock the human, and Sanguinus to take out the two semi hidden dwarves. The two remaining guards were no real challenge.

Dogan and Sanguinus entered the lab, while Lily searched the human (who had a few pointers to being an alchemist, including a bronze whistle), then hid and waited for him to wake up, so she could follow him. Dogan and Sanguinus’s entrance should have been dramatic and scary as hell, but a blow help roll resulted in them stepping on each other’s cues and in each others way. In the lab were Rockgut and a human (who the previous game would recognize as the alchemist who lost his pistol), but the entrance bought the human enough time to drop some smoke and go out Rockgut’s secret escape route (much to Rockgut’s chagrin). Bellringer was on the table, along with the alchemist’s tools (including another whistle).

Rockgut pretty much crumpled at this point. He claimed he hadn’t known Dogan was in Sanguinus’s crew, that it was all the other guy’s plan, that he had been a patsy and so on. No doubt, substantial parts of it were fiction, but it put a name on the Alchemist (Niko) and since they had Rockgut over a barrel, they got some cash out of him, and everything he knew about the Isle of Spires.

Lily followed her target to the docks, where he went up the gangplank of a ship from Rzae (one that she recognized as likely hired). He was met on the gangplank by Niko. There was an angry exchange that culminated in Niko doing a total villain thing – grabbing the dude by the jaw, pouring something small down his throat, then shoving him away back onto the docks.

Niko went back up the gangplank and his ship cast off. Meanwhile, the other guy started staggering around and giving off smoke. Lily did some math and shoved him into the water before he exploded on the dock, but she was not fast enough to be completely clear. Dogan and Sanguinus (as is their wont) headed towards the explosion, and Sanguinus had to wake the unconscious Lily(again).

Back at the Ice Witch, Remy was waiting with the Greens’ cargo and instructions. The guys were faced with a dilemma – they could pursue Niko’s ship, but it would be a tail chase, so even though the Witch was almost certainly faster, it would take time. However, the Green’s destination was in the other direction. Ultimately, the deciding factor was that Sanguinus had given his word, so they set out to run the blockade, after using the money they’d gotten off Red to put up a bounty for Nico and the ship he’s on.

This was, structurally, a pretty clear break point, but I was hesitant to take it. We’d started a little late, and this would be a short session if it stopped here. Also, it was a rough break point for continuity – if I don’t tie off a session, then it can make for a little bit of weirdness when I pick up the next one. So I took a breath and considered that I need to answer:

  • Where they were going
  • What blockade they were running
  • How the hell to adjudicate a blockade run
  • What they were carrying
  • For who

I’d considered the Citadel(those guys are jerks) previously, and they seemed like exactly the kind of guys to have a blockade in need of running. The AXE suggested that maybe the cargo was weapons. I still had an unused SANITY CHECK plot twist card, so it seemed time to introduce an eldritch horror. That suggested a fishing village. So it was an arms smuggle to a village within the Citadel’s sphere. I still wasn’t sure WHY they needed the weapons yet, but I figured that would reveal itself.

The actual blockade run itself was pretty straightforward. Some discussion of Citadel naval procedures, a slightly longer route and a defy danger roll in the night were all enough to get them into dock in the wee hours of the night, and get their illicit cargo handed off to the Harbormaster.

That created the opportunity for Lily to bust out the “What has changed since the last time I was here?” move. Note, it would have been totally reasonable to say “no, this is a little fishing town, of course you’ve never been here” but what would be the fun in that. The answer was the construction of a watchtower on the edge of town, protecting the route from further inland. I visually modeled it after a tower in Colonial Williamsburg, because I’ve seen it a few times. I actually was originally thinking of the MOUNTAIN and CAVE dice result, thinking of the tower as a hint that there were dangers inland.

However, a little thought realized that was kind of flat. Short of doing a handoff quest(or something similarly ham-fisted), the characters had no interest in going inland and no investment in what was going on. So I realized that whatever was up needed to be in town, and the tower seemed like a good focus. Weapons would be useful for storming the tower, so why would the villagers want to do that?

The obvious reason would be that the soldiers were Citadel, and the Citadel are, as has been noted, a bunch of jerks. So I could run with that, but it was a bit smooth – it needed something, especially since that’s not really enough of a motive for armed rebellion. So I went for an inversion – what if the villagers were the bad guys?

Paired with the SANITY CHECK card, this kind of wrote itself (and was influenced by, of all things, the direct-to-dvd sequel to Disney’s Rise of Atlantis, which I had just watched). The village elder was actually something monstrous, and the Citadel Soldiers had captured it, and were holding it, waiting for reinforcements to help them deal with it. The villagers intended to bust him out. But so far as they were concerned, they were just going to bust out “Grandfather”, so it was not overtly creepy, and they weren’t going out of their way to draw attention to it. Basically, the Ice Witch had arrived in the night, and it would leave on the next tide (the next day) and everyone was happy with that arrangement.

But the party did pick up on the oddities, most notably the lack of street patrols (all remaining soldiers were holed up in the tower) and Lily got some information by being open and honest with the Barkeep, but in the process, let slip that Dogan had been in a Citadel prison[4]. Lily and Sanguinus also investigated a bit and discovered that there were weapons in the crates being distributed to villagers with the intent of attacking the tower.

The clincher came in the morning when the barkeep approached Dogan as someone who may have a grudge against the Citadel, and who might have the kind of military experience that a group of armed villagers might need. Dogan was entirely in favor of this.

At this point, the players had a sense that something was wrong, but had nothing explicit to hang it off of. So I threw them a bone in the form of some information about the last time the tower had sent out a patrol. When they investigated, they found the soldier’s bodies laid out on a clearly ritualistic pattern, something the villagers clearly did not think was any kind of real issue.

Knowing the attack would come after SUNSET, they approached the tower early, with Dogan entirely ready to smash down the door, but held off when a soldier opened the view slot, very clearly very tired and probably hungry, but keeping it together enough to tell them to piss off. They made some attempts to get him to let them in (including Dogan trying to “turn himself in”, which he refused, but in doing so revealed that there was a monstrosity in here with them, they were holding out for reinforcements, and they would burn down the whole tower rather than let it get out.

Sanguinus switched tactics and congratulated the man on proving he was not corrupted, and attempted to present himself as an inquisitor. He rolled really well, and given that the guy was sleep deprived, terrified and desperately wanted this to be someone else’s problem, they bought it. The guys were hurried inside.[5]

The soldiers very quick to start calling Sanguinus “Sir” and were clearly relieved at his presence. The tower had lots of oil barrels around, and it’s clear the soldiers were serious about the threat to burn the place. Expecting the villagers to attack at any moment, they asked to be shown to the captive. They were lead to the basement (because DESCENDING STAIRCASE) and the storeroom with the door blocked in every possible way, with something that looked like a pool of oil in it.

After some discussion, Sanguinus charged in in the name of the Inquisition, which got him covered when the oil slick sort of foamed much larger, but rather than bubbles, the foam was made of tiny eyes that bit. For all that his other rolls were crap, Sanguinus’ streak of defying danger with CON when the moment called for it kept up. He got bit and hurt, but not dissolved or anything, allowing Dogan and Lily to engage the rest of it’s “body”.

Now, obviously, I had not had a lot of time to stat this thing up, so it was a little fast and loose. the basics were that it had 20 hit points, ignored mundane damage, took half damage from interesting sources (notably fire and elderglass weapons), did Max damage at range or Mid+Max[6] damage when enveloping, and call for some defying danger with con to not be rendered helpless. After a successful envelop, it would try to force its way down the victims throat to possess the body. If reduced to 0 HP, it was vulnerable to exorcism or similar, and needed a host to function, so it would focus on that. Seemed about nasty enough.

Sanguinus used the I Am The Law move as he felt it pushing towards his nose and mouth, and basically blasted it off himself, opening it up to Dogan and Lily. Dogan wanted to hurt it, but also wanted to keep it pushed into the room. Fiction-wise, that was reasonable for Bellringer, but it seemed to demand a price, so I docked him a damage die (he was rolling d10 + 2d4 initially), which worked out ok. We’ve considered a fighter CC based around that idea of giving up damage dice for effects, so Dogan’s player pretty much just rolled with it.

The actual fight that followed was pretty stand up. Lily took advantage of her ability to fight at Reach, and occasionally switched over to Bardic songs for healing and boosting. and while Sanguinus took a pretty serious beating, they got it down to 0 and, in a nicely timed synergy, Lily laid down some Bardic magic right before the exorcism attempt, and I let her give the +1d4 damage the the effect of Sanguinus’s next I am the Law move (“Begone!”).

Bearing in mind that Sanguinus’s god is the Voice, we had another round of harmonic magic, with the command resonating with Bellringer and Songblade, creating a sound that drove away the creature.

Wrap up had two major points. First, the villagers had started attacking during the fight, but had fallen into confusion when the thing had died. However, they had lit the fuse on the explosives that had come in the crate. Lily smelt it, Dogan got the door open quickly, and she managed to grab it and throw it, knocking herself unconscious in the process. Again.

The players also pretty much could decide how things were going to play out from there. The soldiers were fried and trigger happy, and the villagers were confused but worked up. It could have come to blows (or, if left alone, could end badly later when the reinforcements did arrive), but with two Charisma monsters in the party, I pretty much let them decide how it went. There was a temptation to kill all the Citadel witnesses, but the fact that these guys had actually been doing the right, arguably heroic, thing made it difficulty to dispatch them, so the result was peace.

We wrapped there. I hadn’t used all the dice (including some I’d been sure I would) but they had definitely helped. I had a few outstanding questions, like whether this “Grandfather” was a one off, or if it’s a part of something bigger. If the latter, did the Greens know what they were getting into, or was this just a job? I’m genuinely not sure yet – it’s not enough to craft a new front yet, but it floats in my notes as a proto-front. I’ve also added Eldmere (the town) to the Map of the Sea of Mists, just in case it ever comes up again. I had a few more faces added to the pile, and the final spread of used stuff looked like:


Clockwise from the left, that Niko, Rockgut, Anabeth and Nat.

For the curious, that’s basically my methodology – 1 sheet of paper, where I capture notes, and the dice and cards on hand, set aside as they’re uses.

  1. I’ve tried to use other Rory’s sets for RPGs, and they’ve never really worked for me. The Voyagers set is the first one general enough that I don’t feel like I’m fighting it.  ↩
  2. He got a face card, as did most of the NPCs named from this point forward.  ↩
  3. We saw less of her than I’d have liked, but the name and face are now secured for future use.  ↩
  4. I directed the open and honest move a little bit more than the text suggests, explicitly asking “Tell me something about X” rather than leaving it totally open. This helps me by keeping things relevant and interesting and keeps the players from decision paralysis.  ↩
  5. I dropped the ball a little here. I had described that a crowd of villagers had gathered, just outside the green that surrounded the tower, and were watching the group approach the door with confusion which was slowly turning into upset. When they went in, Dogan declared that he turned and did a bellringer sonic wave to disperse the crowd to keep them from rushing in. I told him the crowd was too far away for that to be any real danger. That was true, so far as the fiction I’d presented, but in retrospect, I should have just given him the moment.  ↩
  6. max== roll 3d6,count highest. mid + max== roll 3d6,drop lowest. more details here  ↩

Dungeon World Double Dose

Ok, after the sidetrack into 5e, time to catch up on Dungeon World before the next session. Actually have two sessions to catch up on.

In the first, Lily and Dogan tried to sell some silks and got tangled up in some Antesian[1] internal politics of succession which turned into fights with shadow demons, a trip into an ancient crypt, the burial of a chieftan and the discovery of an ancient songblade.


  • Because of Dogan, I made the shadow demons pretty badass, and he still tore them up. Fighters are scary.
  • Lily finally got to really take Bardic Magic for a spin, and damn, it’s awesome.
  • Got to use Lily’s bardic focus on ancient heroes to tie into the crypt where things finally went down, and used it as the hook for her receiving the songblade of an ancient warrior-bard (“Stormsinger”, in the vernacular of the Antesians)
  • Best failure of the night was Dogan charging into the crypt and falling down the stairs. With Bellringer. It was musical.
  • Music actually permeated the session, and the final fight ended up being a sonic crescendo of Lily helping Bellringer and the dead king’s Songblade to all sing in harmony, producing one great note of Ass kicking.
  • Lily now has a songblade. it’s physical characteristics are similar to Bellringer, and it has the harmonic keyword, which means she uses +CHA instead of +STR to hack and slash. Because that’s how I roll.

Next session ended up being simultaneous with Dogan and Lily’s trip out of town. Jack was hired by the king of beggars to provide security for a clandestine meeting. He brought in Urv and Tetra, and because Dogan was out of town, he also brought in Ajax, a former gladiator driven underground when the Plague Doctors closed the arena.

Things took an interesting turn when it turned out the meeting was in a knot (an overlapping space, like the Muddy Yak) which Urv and Jack could perceive, but Ajax and Tetra could not. This made for some fun because there were exits that Ajax and Tetra couldn’t see (and thus couldn’t watch).

Things took a deeper turn as the atendees started arriving, 6 in all. 2 came from Rzae, which was fine. 3 of them were very puzzling to Ajax and Tetra who could not see them enter (though Urv and Jack saw them enter from Umulon). Most disturbing was the 6th guest, who never opened his eyes, and who no one saw enter.

Naturally, he cellar came under attack by the same alchemical forces that have been plaguing the PCs. Much violnce followed, including poison gas, acid puddled, alchemical pistols and brass razorballs modeled after Phantasm. The group managed to fend them off and, when things got too hairy, managed to get everyone out through the Umulon side (in the process, opening Ajax and Tetra’s eyes to the other world). They found out a little bit more about the attackers, and we wrapped up there so we could get in a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse.[2]


  • We had a guest from out of town playing Ajax, and it was interesting to see what a different fighter than Dogan looked like. The answer? Still terrifying.
  • I made use of some tools in this session. I used the most recent set of Rory’s Story Cubes (Journeys) and the Paizo Plot Twist Deck to prime the pump. basically, I just cast a handful of the dice and drew three of the cards and just kept them in front of me. When it came time to make a move (or just come up with something) I looked them over to see if there was anything I could pull out. It worked out pretty well.
  • What worked even better was the Paizo Face Cards. I had cards for the King of Beggars, the unnamed meeting attendees as well as the two known alchemists. Super handy for reference when the characters don’t know names – I can just hold up the card for reference rather than re-describe.
  • A lot of damage got dished out, especially by the phantasm balls, but Ajax hit like a truck, which kind of balanced that.
  • Tetra finally got to use parry and disarm!
  • Jack may now have the nickname “boots”, but it’s up to her to tell you why. It involves a pool of acid and two blown defy danger rolls.

  1. The Antesians are the hillfolk who might be indigenous to the area where Rzae was built. They don’t come into the city much, and largely trade through The Laughing Market , the market outside the city walls where a lot of the poor and disenfranchised trade.  ↩
  2. The Sentinels, Tempest, Argent Adept, The Naturalist and Setback versus Apostate in the Ruins of Atlantis. We owned him.  ↩

5e Initial Review

So, if you missed it, here’s the story. I skipped the entire D&D 5e playtest so that when the Starter Set was released, I had pretty fresh eyes. Starting from that, I opted to read through the D&D starter set and then the Basic Rules, and share my impressions as I went (mistakes and all). They’re all collected here.

Starter Set

Basic Rules

Final Impression

I liked it a lot, enough so that I’m looking forward to running or playing it, and I will absolutely be buying the core books. It was full of clever and elegant bits, and I can’t wait to play with these toys (so much so that if the license is overly restrictive, I will be greatly disappointed). It’s not all perfect, but the good far outweighs the less good.

Compared to previous editions, I would describe this as a “Good Parts” version of 3e – it carries forward a little bit more of the spirit of 2e while incorporating the best practices from 3e and 4e.

I am also delighted that there is no sign that it will require an online component. After the pain brought about by the 4e character creation tool, that was a real fear (at least for me) and it looks like we won’t see a repeat of that. Thank goodness.

D&D Basic Rules: Part 2

Ok, finishing off the Basic Rules with more annotations.

  • Unrelated to the text, this kind of font density is a luxury. I’ve got a pretty good screen, and I can read a full page at a time, but only just. It’s going to make for gorgeous physical books, but crowded PDFs.
  • Yay, starting with ability scores! Someone may finally tell me what a Strength save means!
  • The full table of difficulties! Notably, it’s flat. Easy is always 10. Very Hard is always 25. This seems consistent with the relatively slow advance of bonus (given that a top tier character is going to have a +5 stat bonus and a +6 proficiency bonus, which is only +5 or +6 more than a starting character (a fact that makes the +3.x from advantage feel all the more weighty).
  • Group checks are interesting, since the rules as written (does half the group succeed?) are at odds with two examples in the adventure (one where only one member needs to succeed, one where everyone needs to succeed). All three versions actually have a place, and it’s a shame there’s not a little more language to articulate that.
  • Slightly more nuance about failure here. “Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.” Wish it had a little more emphasis, but nice to see it.
  • Variant encumbrance rules. AKA Fan service.
  • Disguise falls under Intelligence?
  • Travel rules are perfectly nice, but I still wish they were a little bit more robustly engaging.
  • The descriptive vs active roleplaying section is interesting. Basically, it talks about how to handle dialog (though it never actually says so), and that you can either describe what you say (descriptive) or actually say it (Active). It’s awkwardly framed, though.
  • Really, the whole social interaction section feels awkward. The intent is perfectly solid, but it probably needs to either be more technical or more practical. The guidelines on using dice for social interactions don’t seem helpful. Practically, it seems like something as straightforward as “fun, clever or compelling roleplay could give an advantage to an ability check” should be in the text.
  • Downtime activities! I’ve loved those since Birthright. Research looks fun, but I wish it was fleshed out more.
  • The ability to pick up a proficiency for time and cash is really compelling, and I expect it to be taken advantage of quite vigorously. I admit, my first thought was “heavy armor” for the wizards. I don’t see any reason why you can’t technically do that, but I know I’d say that proficiency requires the lighter armors.
  • You can sustain a better lifestyle with performance skills than any other skill. That is somewhat hilarious.
  • Ok, it looks like size only affect mobility. None of the “bonus to hit larger creatures” stuff that got insane. Thank goodness.
  • Ah, and grid play is a sidebar option. That seems right.
  • Combat stuff is otherwise largely what we’ve already seen, with the addition of mounted and underwater combat.
  • Magic section is also largely repeated.
  • Y’know, I wonder if this spell model would solve the problem we’ve been having with Dungeon World spells.
  • Oh, ugh. “The Weave” is now called out as the explicit explanation for magic (as opposed to a setting-specific explanation). That seems unnecessary any annoying.
    • Unless there’s a secret plan to create a meta-level game. One with, I dunno, different planes. Maybe with people who walk between them. Ones who gather some sort of magic.[1]
  • Ooh, more spells!
    • Y’know, one other benefit of this model of spell prep is that is really supports cards much more elegantly than past models, because you don’t end up with quite so many cards in your “hand”, which was the real problem with past attempts. Also, the fact that effects are not as variable means the card text is actually useful. And the fact that spells are not typed means card decks can be generic and mixed.
      • I am sure this is a coincidence
    • So, my thought had been that the payout for leveling up damage spells was a little bit low, but it’s not quite as egregious as I thought. Fireball starts at 8d6, at 3rd level, and is +1d6 per additional level. So it’s 10d6 at level 5 (average 35) vs Cone of cold (8d8, average 36). At level 7 it’s 12d6 (same damage as delayed blast fireball) and it only really diverges at 9th level, where it’s 14d6 is abruptly overshadowed by the 20d6 + 20d6 of Meteor Swarm. Which is a bit of a jump.
    • It is always nice to know that illusions will never again be the horrible mess they were in 1e.
    • That said, I had thought that maybe intelligence saves would be helpful against illusions. Nope. Investigation skill.
    • As with Sleep keying spells like Power Word Kill off hit points is pretty sweet. As Justin Jacobson pointed out, because they use current hit points, this also allows these spells to be used judiciously as part of a strategy (like, waiting until the big bad has been hit for a while) rather than just making them saving throw coinflips.
    • Spare the Dying (Clerical cantrip that stabilizes someone at zero HP) is a nice touch.
    • Checked the Greater Restoration description to see if there’s any sign of energy drain, but it looks like not (beyond the hit point thing we saw with the wraith)
    • Haste grants +speed, an extra action, +2 AC and an advantage on Dex saves. So, basically, it remains a supremely awesome buff, limited only by the fact that the spell has a 1 minute duration and requires concentration. Thankfully, the extra action can’t be used to cast spells.
    • Greater invisibility is pretty badass – nothing breaks it. But the duration caps at a minute (with concentration) so I’m good with that.
    • Like many nerds, I am happy to see Mordenkainen, Otto et al on the spells. despite the assumption of the Forgotten Realms.
    • Worth noting that Regenerate is a pretty badass buff, largely because it explicitly does not demand concentration.
    • I am slightly sad that Teleport is not a Ritual Spell (even if the ritual component is limited to using teleport circles). But it’s probably not a big deal – because it’s back to being a very high level (7th) spell rather than a ritual in the 4e sense, then the expectation is probably that it should be rare.
    • Only one wall spell (stone). That’s strangely disappointing.
  • Then we have conditions, and What Comes Next

Taking a moment to step out of the bullet format to address something. The “What Comes Next” page is basically a pointer at the Starter Set and the D&D page . This is fine, but for the moment, it’s a bit disappointing. The starter set and the basic rules are both profoundly lacking in examples, and that’s a real problem (less so for the Basic Rules, which is a reference doc, but still worth noting). This is something that can be addressed with robust online support, including things like How to Play videos, exactly the sort of things you’d expect to find on the D&D site under, say, “Learn to Play”.

Sadly, that is not what you’ll find. Instead, you’ll get directed back to the basic rules or, if you’ve got kids, directed to the Dungeon boardgame. Not helpful.

Now, in fairness, 5e has not officially released yet. The street date for the Starter Set is still a few days away, and the release of the Players Handbook might be considered to be the “real” launch, and that’s a ways out yet. So there is time to pad out this content a bit, and create the kind of support that people need, and I’m really hopeful that they will. But WOTC’s track record with web stuff is uneven, so I’m also a little wary.

  1. The thing I’m joking about will never happen. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a cosmic metagame.  ↩

D&D Basic Rules: Creating A Character

Cracked open the D&D Basic Rules PDF. I don’t feel like a full review is appropriate for something which is freely available and still in flux. So I fear you’ll get the slightly abbreviated experience of the bullet points that come up as I read.

  • Lots of copy that’s also in the Starter Set. Not going to dwell on that.
  • The three pillars are Exploration, Social Interaction, andCombat , in that order. Fair enough.
  • Magic is…rare but common? Not 100% clear what they’re saying.
  • Oh, god, they kept sub-races. Valley Elf, he’s a Valley Elf
  • First Level – “You totally suck, but you can totally have a backstory about not sucking!”
  • Order of operations for chargen is race, class, stats. Is that changed? Seem to recall stats being first.
  • Curious little line: “Occasionally your proficiency bonus might be modified (doubled or halved, for example) before you apply it”. That’s a fascinating little mechanical hook that I could absolutely see using for character differentiation.
  • 4d6 is the first stat generation method mentioned, followed by the fixed array. There’s a point buy option which is most-optional, but also gets the most inches.
  • 4 tiers of play (at 1, 5, 11 and 17, which are the same levels the cantrip damage tiers suggested). It sounds like the theory is that multiple attacks are the primary offset for the raw damage dealing of spellcasting, but I guess we’ll have to see.
  • Hee hee hee. The races have little “What they think of other races” boxes. One one hand, this is actually a fun role playing thing, but on the other hand it’s always been such a signature White Wolf thing that it’s jarring to see.
  • Hill Dwarf gets +1 wisdom and +1HP per level. Mountain Dwarf gets +2 Strength and proficiency in light and medium armor. Interesting balance. And I now kind of expect to see a lot of people trying out Mountain Dwarf Wizards (since armor doesn’t impede spellcasting, so long as you’re proficient)
  • Drizzt gets his own callout box. I wince a little.
  • High Elves and Wood Elves. No Eladrin Need Apply.
  • There is clearly a strong sense that there must be subraces, because they even have two halfling subraces. But at least one of them is the Stout, so that’s something.
  • Lightfoot Halflings are apparently characters in Assassin’s creed, as they can use human sized creatures to hide.
  • No subraces or special abilities for humans (though there are apparently some optional feats), instead, just +1 to all stats.
  • Oh, man, these class summaries look like third edition.
  • Cleric
    • Your cleric has the option of not being proficient in Religion. That’s…kind of lame. I mean, I can see the edge case where a cleric might choose not to do it, but by not giving it to the cleric for free, it forces the player to sacrifice a different skill for something he should already have.
    • Clerics get bonuses to Charisma saves. That shores up my “Charisma is now willpower” theory, but no one has actually explained that yet.
    • No martial weapons for you, mister Cleric! Hope you’re playing a dwarf!
    • Ok, I kind of dig how domain spells work. They are always considered to be prepared, but don’t count against your total. That’s elegant.
    • Back to the idea of getting Deivine Channellign which can be used (by default) to turn undead, but can do other things based on your deity.
    • When you get potent enough to destroy undead, the efficacy is based on the CR of the creatures. This is interesting, but makes sense, because it doesn’t really seem like monster hit dice are a thing any more.
    • Little comment in the Channel Divinity power for clerics of life (“5 times your cleric level”) suggests to me that we’re going to see multi-classing, probably in the style of 3e.
    • Ok, holy crap, if the Life Domain is any indication, Clerical Domains are going to be badass
  • Fighter
    • You get a strength save! Whatever that means!
    • The fighter who does not take athletics puzzles me.
    • Ok, the Fighting styles are actually decent. I wish the heavy weapons one was “roll 2 dice and keep the higher one ”rather than “reroll 1s and 2s” just because rerolls are awkward, but they largely feel cool enough, if only barely. That’s actually impressive because things like this often feel liek token nods rather than real character signatures.
    • ACTION SURGE! It’s a great name! Get one extra action over and above the usual action threshold rules. Very cool, but worrisome, since it’s suggests that neat limiter that the “Only one bonus action, only one reaction” rule put in place is more of a gate than a door.
    • Interesting. The Fighter’s ability score improvements seem to come more frequently than the Cleric’s.
    • Yep, extra attacks. Yep, gate.
    • Based on the Champion, the Martial Archetypes look a lot less interesting than the Clerical Domains.
  • Rogue
    • Intelligence Save! Perhaps every class gets a save whose utility is a mystery to me!
    • Again, the lack of any freebie proficiencies hurts a little. Again, I guess you might choose to not take Stealth, but that feels like self-injury
    • Whoah, Expertise! Double proficiency bonus for 2 skills (or thieves tools). That’s awesome!
    • Similar whoah for cunning action! Get an extra action every round that you can use to Dash, Disengage or Hide. KINGS OF MOBILITY!
    • Definitely seeing a list of the greatest hits of the 3e Rogue here. And I’m good with that. 3e Rogues were pretty great.
    • The Roguish Archetype (as presented) is less badass than the cleric, but more badass than the Fighter.
  • Wizard
    • Wizard abilities seem a bit thin. A little bit of spell recovery then BAM at level 18, you’re a machine gun, merry Christmas.
    • The Arcane tradition offsets this a bit, but it’s about as cool as the Rogue.
    • The theory is, I suppose that the spells themselves provide enough awesomeness. And I’m actually OK with that, since the basic spellcasting does actually seem kind of awesome.
  • Still pretty happy with the Sex paragraphs.
  • Alignment section refers to paladins and druids, which I take as an indicator that they will be full fledged classes.
  • I am struck by the definition of lawful in lawful good (expectations of society) vs Lawful neutral (law, tradition and personal codes) vs Lawful Evil (code of tradition, Loyalty or order). I would just like to say, that particular definition of Lawful Good can kind of kiss my ass. It sounds like Paladins are champions of peer pressure, not justice.
  • Oh, man. I LIKE the backgrounds. I want a bazillion of them.
  • Though, MAN, they screw your out of starting cash. Which is awesome.
    • Because broke adventurers are the best adventurers
    • And because I’m a terrible human being
  • Specifically, it seems like you’re better off taking the starting gear for your class than the starting cash, leaving you with the small amount you get from your background.
    • Which is generally enough to keep a roof over your head for a week or two. A little more if you live cheap. Thus, IMPETUS!
  • Definitely a more robust armor list than the starter set. Plate costs and arm and a leg, but with a base 18 AC, that seems decently worth it. I do not think it’s a coincidence that Plate Mail and Shield provide a nice, round AC 20.
  • Weapon list is longer, with some additions. Blowgun, fist, a few polearms. Two “special” weapons, the lance and the net. Lance is what you’d expect – disadvantage use’d close up. requires 2 hands off horseback. The Net is sort of it’s own mini-grappling rules, leaning on the “restrained” condition.
  • In the gear section, the various tools, kits and packs are a handy addition. Packs are basically pre-buyable bundles of goods that speed up the process of equipping your characters, while kits and tools basically correspond to proficiencies (which is why, I imagine, the healer’s kit is not with the other kits)
  • The inclusion of a “trade goods” table is actually a really nice touch. I can use that as a baseline in all sorts of situations.
  • And, oh, excellent, they explicitly lay out lifestyle expenses (and modest lined up with my guess of about 1gp per day).
  • I am a little sad that mead is not on the food and drink list. I learned about mead from Keep on the Borderlands, so I always look.
  • The starting trinket table? Fun. And as soon as there’s a license, expect one with 1000 entries. Probably more than one.
  • Ah, ok, 3e style multiclassing. And backdoor feats? Forgo a stat bump to take a feat instead? That’s intriguing! It keeps them nice and genuinely optional. It also demands that feats be a little it cooler than we’ve been used to in past editions to merit the investment, and I’m totally on board with that. The worst thing about feats was that they felt like too-small pieces of a bigger idea. Hopefully this changes it.

That’s the end of section one, creating characters. Let’s look at the wordcount and…DAMMIT, I’m over 1500 words!

Ok, apparently there is more of this to come.