[DnD House Rules] Four Ability Scores

In my “ideal’ Dungeons & Dragons house rules, there are four ability scores. The value of each is generated randomly by rolling 3d6 (in order), and the player is given the option of “swapping” one score with another, once. If the average of the scores is 9 or less, the player can generate another list from scratch. The ability scores are:

  • Strength
  • Dexterity
  • Mind
  • Charisma

When converting from the standard D&D six ability scores/attributes, I take the highest of Strength or Constitution and the highest of Intelligence or Wisdom. I suppose you could take the average instead.

This has come about by influence of Into the Odd, which reduces the number to three — Strength, Dexterity, and Willpower. ItO’s minimalistic approach very much appeals to me, though I do cause to split that last entry — I believe in the newer version of the rules being playtested it’s changed to Charisma, and I don’t know that either Willpower or Charisma on its own is sufficient. It’s also influenced by a game of Crypts & Things that I ran a while back, and gauging new players’ confusion about the standard six attributes. Throughout the game, we kept adjusting the character sheet. We changed the names of some of the stats to make it easier for people to read and understand at a glance — Armor Class quickly became Defense, for example — and outright ditched some of the other bits (C&T’s sanity stat, for example, just didn’t fit the game we were playing and wasn’t being used). New players were often confused by the difference between Intelligence and Wisdom, and although I originally gave them the old “tomato” line about it, eventually I just quietly folded the two stats together into  Mind. This made even more sense considering that Clerics are not a core player-character class in the C&T rules. Thus emboldened, putting Constitution and Strength together was an easy next choice, since Constitution is famously used for Hit Points and not much else. The term of the remaining stat itself — Strength — I’m not as certain about. “Body” would seem to overlap with Dexterity, which I want to keep distinct, and while “Brawn” would perhaps be more to the point it isn’t as catchy for me. So, Strength it has remained for the time being.

The character sheet at the start of the campaign
The final version of the character sheet

I think that having the four ability scores makes sense because it retains the Mind/Body symmetry one sees in the original game, while simplifying things that could be potentially confusing or needlessly complex. 

This isn’t exactly a revolutionary change, of course: it’s just what makes the most sense to me for my game. 

(I should also note that I have not used this as a house rule for 5e, which I have not been able to run or play yet. The above is what I’ve done for more generic “D&D” games and OSR games. I’ll probably be playing some 5e after my current run of The One Ring, and will start out playing rules as written.)

On Social Safety Features in RPGs

Social safety features in tabletop RPGs (such as the X-card) prevent exploration of controversial, sensitive, or extreme subject matter in exactly the same way that safe words in BDSM prevent exploration of kinky sex. That is, they don’t prevent it at all. In both cases the exploration is facilitated by setting parameters inside of which exploration can occur responsibly in a trusting and mutually enjoyable manner.  This does not seem all that difficult to grok for me.  

Not all tables need the x-card, and there are other ways to implement social safety at your table, but where needed the X-card is a simple and useful tool. Maybe the standing culture at your table is simply not to dive into any subject matter that could be considered sensitive. That’s fine: just recognize that you may not always know or agree with the folks at your table as to what constitutes a sensitive subject. YMMV. Obviously, social safety features should be used in conjunction with and not as a replacement for communicating with the people at your game table.

(Cross-posted from Tumblr.)

The DM Bible

A few months ago someone by the username of 1dmmagic posted a series of photos to an imgur gallery showing a “DM Pocket Guide” or “DM Bible” that they’d made to streamline running their local game.  Take a look:

Dungeon Master Guide by 1dmmagic
So pretty!

Unfortunately, the author was unwilling to share or sell their file or work, as “It contains text from numerous copyrighted works, not to mention hundreds of dollars worth of Mike Schley’s amazing cartography.” Alas — understandable. But looking through the images was very inspiring — something like this would be extremely helpful, especially when playing D&D. It goes hand in hand with my first impressions of 5e, shared over on Google Plus:

Michael Harrel: Reading my new used copies of D&D5e, I do find that there is a pretty good version of D&D in here, and that I like most of the directions it has taken. That said, the good stuff is buried in unnecessarily wordy prose. 

I can forgive it somewhat because it has to be a gateway RPG, and so what I think may be overexplanation may for others be a fresh introduction to something, but the important information just never gets distilled to easily manageable chunks or summaries.

Like, I want to play it, but I want to have an printed SRD instead of the PHB around when I do.

This jumped back into my brain a couple days ago, reading a post on Questing Beast about “control panel layout” used by OSR publications, which “puts all of the relevant information from a single topic on a single page (or two page spread)…Visuals often take priority, with flowcharts and diagrams replacing traditional text, in order to facilitate faster absorption of the information.” 

1dm’s pocket guide seems to fit this description very well; or at least its purpose would certainly go hand in hand with that design goal. Let’s examine a little closer to see what exactly 1dm has done.

The Tabs

So we have:

1.Red Section: Rules (mostly from the PHB and DMG)

  • Adventuring
  • Combat
  • Conditions
  • Afflictions
  • Obstacles
  • Chases (taken from here.)
  • Toolbox 

2. Green Section: NPCs

  • Names
  • Races
  • Characteristics
  • Professions (taken from here.)
  • Insults (taken from movies, books, &c, with an emphasis on Shakespeare)

3. Blue Section: Treasures

  • Currency (taken from here.)
  • Rewards (taken from the DMG.)
  • Relics (taken from here.)
  • Basic Trinkets (taken from the PHB.)
  • Story Trinkets (taken from here.)
  • Elemental Trinkets (taken from here.)
  • Lair Trinkets (taken from here.)
  • Giant’s Bag (taken from Storm King’s Thunder.)
  • Gemstones (taken from the DMG.)
  • Art Objects (taken from here.)

4. Purple Section: Adventures

  • Adventures (taken from the DMG.)
  • Villains (taken from the DMG.)
  • Mysteries
  • Quests (taken from here.)
  • Rumors (taken from here.)
  • Locations (taken from here.)
  • Settlements
  • Population 
  • Taverns (taken from Dragon Magazine #418)

5. Yellow Section: Organizations (all taken from here.)

  • Noble Houses
  • Guilds
  • Secret Societies
  • Cults
  • Outlaw Bands
  • Marketplace Vendors 

6. Dungeons

  • Chambers (taken from the DMG.)
  • Dressing (taken from the DMG.)
  • Hindrances (taken from the DMG.)
  • Books (taken from here.)
  • Riddles (taken from here.)

6. Maps (all purchased from https://prints.mikeschley.com)

  • Environs (Regional maps)
  • Communities (Town maps)
  • Buildings (Building maps)
  • Dungeons (Dungeon maps)
  • Weather 

1dm mentions that the cost of producing his guide was “about $128.” I’d estimate the following to break this down somewhat:

Were it me, I would likely cut costs on the map section: Mike’s digital maps are really not too expensive at $2, and he’s a very talented cartographer, but with tools available to easily create one’s own gorgeous maps (e.g. HexKit and Wonderdraft for larger-scale regional maps), not to mention the various tutorials for making your own maps in GIMP or Photoshop, I think that’s a cost that could easily be lowered. 

In Our Own Image

The BIG question, of course, is what would we do differently if we made our own DM Bible?

The main thing I can see that definitely seems to be missing is: Monsters. I would like to see a few spreads on monsters; perhaps a whole color section. Random encounter tables would be a good bet; I suppose you could slip in stat blocks for some of the more common monsters native to various environment types. Or you could use tables for random creature generation like the ones in The Perilous Wilds or The Random Esoteric Creature Generator

 One of the advantages of using a ring’d binder and making all the pages removable is that you can easily swap them in and out if the party moves to a new location or region. Your names list isn’t appropriate anymore because the PCs are traveling extensively in the Underdark or another Plane? Have your Planar names sheet ready and you can just swap it in until they return. Same with your encounter tables, or maps. 

And of course, there’s no reason this needs to be Dungeons and Dragons 5e. Swap out with your favorite edition, swap in13th Age or Shadow of the Demon Lord; swap in your favorite OSR ruleset, swap out for your own D&D house rules! Swap in Apocalypse World or (name your favorite RPG here). What would it look like?

Another bit to ponder: What would a player-facing version of this look like? One can envision a product that includes something like the above as the DMG, and then a PHB-version for each of the players. The aforementioned Apocalypse World does something like this, with its playbooks for the PCs being tri-fold pamphlets and the main rulebook being officially the MC Playbook.(Though it’s not exactly presented in the Control Panel Layout style.) 

Some Gratitude

Roleplaying games have been a source of a lot of joy and fun throughout my life. For the past 25 years, I’ve been able to get together with friends (whether in real life or Through the Magic of the Internet) and collaboratively create and explore worlds and narratives that could not have come to pass any other way. I’ve met many new friends through the hobby, both online and IRL, who I wouldn’t have gotten to know without a shared love of pretending to be other people. In short, I have a lot for which to be grateful about RPGs and the RPG community. Many thanks to you all! 

Dungeon World: Into the Fire Session #1 Recap

Dungeon World
We played a session of Dungeon World via Google Hangouts this past wednesday. It’s a mini-campaign I’m calling Into the Fire, loosely inspired by the concepts from Hell Dorado/Claustrophobia.  Here’s how it went:
The world is dying. Pieces of the world are vanishing, ceasing to exist. There isn’t much time left. So, the Council of Wizards has created bridge to elsewhere — a portal to another world. One team of explorers has already been sent through the portal — but they didn’t come back.Now the Paladin Targus Fairhand is sent through the portal, along with two hirelings (Daron, a human burglar, and Ramak, a dwarf), along with two conscripted prisoners, Alti (a Shaman) and Nora (a Ranger). Targus is forthright about their mission: they are to explore the area around the portal entrance, and attempt to discover what
has delayed the first team of explorers.
Exiting the portal on the other side, they find themselves in a dark, sweltering hot environment. They can hear something moving in the dark. The dwarf, who can see in such environments, reports that they are in a cave, likely forged from volcanic activity, and that there is some sort of animal to moving behind some rocks to the north-west. While Targus lights a torch, Alti makes contact with one of her ancestor-spirits, Riga. (Riga is not summoned, but communicates telepathically).  Riga merely shouts that Alti  should “go back! leave this place!” and begins screaming, seemingly in agony.
Targus, having lit the torch, reveals a cavern with three passages leading north, west, and east. The rocks that form the floor, walls, and ceiling are smooth, as though they had been melted and then hardened again. There are some larger boulders, pieces of the ceiling which have fallen, and behind some of these is the beast. Targus steps around the rocks and finds a creature like a maggot the size of a St. Bernard, with a face like a human skull and the horns of a bull, and a scorpion’s stinger at its tail. It gives a piercing shriek as it sees him; he attacks it with his mallet, but the blow merely bounces off

the creature’s rolls of fat, and the thing’s tail whips forward to strike him on the neck. Nora, bow drawn, tries to sink an arrow into into the beasts’ hide, but cannot see it past the rocks and the Paladin.

Alti tries to calm Riga, but only agitates her more. The screams of anguish fill Alti’s head, leaving her unable to act or sense anything around her — and thus she fails to see (or alert the rest of the party to) the second maggot-thing that creeps out of the eastern
passageway.

Meantime the poison now in his veins weakens Targus, but he holds fast against it. Nora gets her shot and pins an arrow in the beast’s hide, but fails to see the second maggot-thing crawling up behind her. Targus and the two hirelings attack the first beast again, and as the dwarf and burglar stab at it, Targus cracks its skull open with his mallet — sending a spray of black gore into the dwarf’s face.

Nora is surprised by the maggot’s sudden sting in her arm; she cries out and drops her bow so as to attack it with her spear, but before she can do anything the maggot wrap itself around her and begins to crush her. The others, hearing her cry, rush to her aid; save for Alti, who is still overwhelmed by the cries of her ancestor. She manages to sever the telepathic link to Riga, but, seeing the situation at hand, decides that the others can take care of it without her.

Targus strikes at the maggot, but in the confusion as it writhes he hits Daron instead. Nora uses her spear for leverage to break out of the maggot’s grasp, but has to leave it behind as she slips loose.