Archive for 2014

5 Problems With "Magic" In Dungeons & Dragons

In D&D gods don't intervene on your behalf,
you tell them what you want, when you
want, and x times per day they'll always listen.
When you think about wizards, what pops into your head?

Is it an old guy with a robe and wizard hat? A teenager that waves a wand about while spouting faux-Latin? I'm a Dresden Files fan myself, so wands and words are there, along with exhaustion and limitations that come from not being a dragon or anthropomorphic manifestation of summer or winter.

If your first  answer was “a person who casts one spell, then has to sleep before re-memorizing it out of a book no matter how many times he's previously cast it”, then you're almost certainly someone that plays Dungeons & Dragons, and for one reason or another never bothered to question why magic works the way it does.

Which given the "discussions" I've had, or rather tried to have with people in my genuine search for even a halfway decent explanation, wouldn't be terribly surprising.

Magic in Dungeons & Dragons has puttered along, advancing in small increments with each edition. I'm not sure if it was on the verge of possibly making some goddamn sense before 5th Edition—like so many other parts of the game—hauled it kicking and screaming back, and at this point I seriously doubt it's ever going to change.

So, here are five not-necessarily-comprehensive problems with "magic" in Dungeons & Dragons, that if addressed could make it at least halfway decent:

1. Only Some Spells Have An Arbitrary Daily Limit
Early editions of D&D put a hard limit on the number of spells you could cast in a given day. In 2nd Edition your 1st-level wizard could cast one 1st-level spell, which could range in efficacy from a tiny bolt of force that inflicted a pitiful amount of damage, to putting a bunch of creatures to sleep so as to allow for easier murdering.

3rd Edition increased the amount of spells you could cast in a day: you started with a number of 0-level spell slots, in addition to a 1st-level one, and having a high ability score could give you bonus spells (something that was for some reason formerly only afforded to the cleric). So now instead of one tiny bolt of force per day, you could throw out like, two!

Why the daily limit that imposes no penalties or drawbacks? No fucking clue. A commonly misused term for D&D magic is "Vancian magic", because it is purportedly based off of magic from Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, but if you actually read his books that's not at all how it worked: there're no spell levels or spell slots by the level, there's no daily limit, and spell preparation times were a lot quicker (plus, spells could also be cast right out of the book).

Others are content to sacrifice any kind of fictional explanation and logic for an easily circumvented "resource management system". Like, you have to be careful how you use your magic, otherwise you'll have to take a nap, which in nearly 30 years of gaming has virtually never been an issue (no, not even in "official" adventures).

Anyway, 4th Edition introduced spells that could be used whenever you wanted, spells that could be recharged with a bit of rest, and spells that could be cast whenever you wanted, it just took some time and usually had a cost. While it adds some much needed flexibility to spellcasters, it's somehow more unintelligible: why can some spells be cast all day long; why can some be recharged with rest; why can some be cast whenever, it just takes more time?

5th Edition further muddied the waters by keeping spells that could be cast whenever (either on a whim or with some preparation), and re-introducing spell slots, limiting other spells to x times per day. Of course it wouldn't be D&D if they weren't arbitrarily sorted: wizards can use fire bolt to shoot fire all damn day, no problem, but burning hands requires a spell slot. Detect magic can go either way: you can burn a spell slot to cast it right away, or spend time and cast it for free.

It's all so blatantly fucking arbitrary. Why isn't there an at-will version of shield that lets you, say, use a reaction to add even +1 to AC? How come you can't burn a 9th-level spell slot to even make it a +6 bonus? And what about rituals: why can I use comprehend languages whenever I want (given enough time), but not lightning bolt? I can't gradually gather up magical energy to unleash one, even over a 10 minute span?

I'm guessing either "tradition" and/or splatbook-moolah: WotC has an extensive history of shoving out books brimming with spells (because only spellcasters need nice things), which will work out nicely given that like Paizo they're more than happy to sell you content you already purchased back in 2000 and/or 2008.

Over five or so editions I have to ask: why (kind of) keep the daily limit at all? If all you're looking for is an easily circumvented resource management system, why not give the wizard something like spell points that she can spend on spells, spend more to beef them up, or spend to "fast cast" rituals? Yeah, I know, other games use points, but I'd rather use a system that is at least somewhat explainable "in-game", as opposed to something that only exists because of tradition.

Honestly that's the only conclusion I can make for it's continued existence: Gary Gygax for some reason took Jack Vance's magic system and discarded everything about it that gave it fictional coherence, and some people just don't like change. Or, at least very much of it/are totally fine if it's part of the "right" edition. It certainly explains how 5th Edition happened.

2. Everything To Do With Spell Slots
In most editions wizards have a number of spell slots, each with their own level. It used to be that when you memorized/prepared a spell, it filled up a slot that corresponded with its level. For example, magic missile is a (terrible) 1st-level spell, so when you memorize/prep it, it goes into a 1st-level slot. Once you cast it, you forget/complete the spell and have to memorize/prepare it again the next day.

Simple and straightforward. Granted it's not the simplest or most elegant way to go about it, but it's still pretty simple. The drawback is that there's no narrative logic behind it, which makes the designers come across as spectacularly lazy and uninspired, as there are systems that are simple, possess narrative logic, and still deliver the whole "resource management" feelz.

But, instead of going with any of them, they of course decided to just jumble the whole nonsense model about with 5th Edition.

Your spellcaster level now determines partially how many spells you can ready, as well as the number of slots you have available for a given level: at 1st-level you have two 1st-level slots, at 2nd-level you have three 1st-level slots, at 3rd-level you have four 1st-level slots and two 2nd-level slots, etc). When you cast a spell, you burn a slot of the corresponding level or higher: magic missile is a 1st-level spell, so requires a 1st-level slot.

Like 3rd Edition it's simple. Also, like 3rd Edition, it makes no goddamn sense.

See, some spells can still be cast whenever you want on a whim. There's no penalty, no drawback. In fact no matter what you start with at-will spells, and for some reason gain them automatically as you level up (though why you can only ever have five is anyone's guess). Others can be cast as rituals, which is still at will, it just takes a while. Finally, some spells get boosted when you use a higher level slot to cast them.

So what the fuck is a "spell slot"? What does it represent in the game's fiction, flavor, fluff, narrative, or whatever the hell you want to call it? I'd initially looked at it like a packet of energy, but then how are you powering your at-wills? How come no matter what you can't use lower level slots to cast a higher level spell, and if you use a higher level slot to cast a lower level spell you retain nothing?

For example I can't use all four of my 1st-level slots to cast a 2nd-level spell, and if I use a 9th-level slot to cast a 1st-level spell, it's completely gone, just as if I'd used it for a 9th-level spell. And this is before you get into rigidly acquired class features like Arcane Recovery, Spell Mastery, and Signature Spells, which let you do stuff like turn a 1st- and 2nd-level spell into an at-will spell, and cast a few 3rd-level spells for free.

And that's just for the wizards: clerics can "channel divinity" x times per encount—, er, I mean "short rest". There's no limit, so long as they take a break in between. How does channeling divine energy into this differ from channeling it into other spells? No idea. As a sidenote, why are all clerics capable of turning undead regardless of what their god is about? Also no idea, but that's okay because tradition.

Again, a spell point system would deliver the exact same "feels". The only "drawback" is that whole narrative coherence thing.

3. Different Flavor, Same Mechanics
Whether you are spouting indecipherable words and waving your hands around, petitioning a god for intervention, or trying to convince spirits to do you a solid, you always get to prep the spells you want, use them when you want, and they always works as advertised.

For wizards this makes as much sense as it can, what with the whole arbitrary limits and spell slots, but what about clerics? They get their powers from the gods, but operate using the exact same spellcasting mechanic, which means that they prep the spells they want, and cast them when they want. There's no impression of your god saving you, or having the backing of a higher power when you really need it: everything happens on your terms.

Even the Divine Intervention class feature is bullshit: every cleric gets it at 10th-level, you still have to decide to use it, at 20th-level it jumps from working less than a fifth of the time to every time, can only be used every seven days (but you can try every day in the likelihood you fail), and it's actual effect is very ambiguous (it states that any cleric spell is appropriate, so for all you know you're getting one more spell every seven or so days).

Druids "draw upon the essence of nature itself", which to me sounds like they should also use the exact same magic system, right? Oh, and in keeping with the theme, they also have the ability to magically change their shape into animals, but it's not at all tied to their spells per day. Make sense? Of course not, but that's okay because, you guessed it, tradition!

4. Contrary to What the Book Says, it's Safe, Orderly, And Explicit
A common trope with magic is that it is dangerous, mysterious, and/or unpredictable. Magic in D&D? None of that. This isn't inherently a bad thing, but it's misleading that the 5th Edition's Player's Handbook tries to claim that magic is "wild and enigmatic", that "manipulating the fabric of magic and channeling its energy into even a simple spell is physically and mentally taxing", when it's obviously none of those things.

In fact it's very tame and reliable: your spells will never backfire (unless you specifically choose Wild Magic as a sorcerer), and perfectly functional magic items can be found in abundance (despite spellcasters kind of sort of maybe not being commonplace).

Each time you level you get a new sepll, and despite no practice or experimentation it will work just as well as the rest in your repertoire. You can even burn through all of your spell slots in a day, every day, and suffer no consequences: no exhaustion, premature aging, nausea, back pain, insomnia, magical cancer, nothing.

The sorcerer is likewise misleading: unexplained powers? Draconic Bloodline is at the least pretty damn explicit that it comes from draconic magic in your blood. Also, what's with this part:

"A sorcerer's magic wants to be wielded, and it has a tendency to spill out in unpredictable ways if it isn't called on."

I know D&D has a poor track record for stating something in the game's fiction/flavor content, and then constructing mechanics that actually back it up, The only part of the sorcerer that is in any way unpredictable is the Wild Magic origin due to rolling on the Wild Magic table, which isn't all that bad, but does require you to first either cast an arbitrarily slot-eating spell or use a specific class feature.

In other words you have to actually choose this one specific class feature, and even then you'll know what parameters might force you to make a roll, to see if you have to make another roll on a table that features both good and bad results (like coming back to life if you die within a minute).

Wish is really the only spell that comes to mind that has a drawback, to the tune of 5,000 XP in 2nd and 3rd Edition. That's...kind of heavy, but not anything you couldn't recoup with some adventuring (which had the added bonus of netting you more loot). In 5th Edition you instead take damage after using it when you cast spells until you take a nap, and your Strength gets knocked down to 3 for a week or so (but if it's already 3 or lower nothing happens...I guess the spell just knocks everyone to an arbitrary minimum).

The only real risk is that if you use it for anything aside from duplicating a spell, you have a 1 in 3 chance of never being able to cast wish ever again. No in-game reason; I guess when wizards got together to write the spell out they decided to put that in there to fuck with people. But, again, you'll know exactly what will require you to make the roll, so if you play it safe everything's fine.

5. It Is Everywhere And Assumed
The default assumption is not only that magic is in the game, but that there will be one or more people in your party capable of using it. Check out page 8, under The Wonders of Magic:

"Few D&D adventures end without something magical happening."


"For adventurers, though, magic is key to their survival. Without the healing magic of clerics and paladins, adventurers would quickly succumb to their wounds. Without the uplifting magical support of bards and clerics, warriors might be overwhelmed by powerful foes. Without the sheer magical power and versatility of wizards and druids, every threat would be magnified tenfold."

In other words we're back to 3rd Edition, where the muggles can only hope to get by thanks to the mandatory, predictable, reliable, frequent use of what D&D considers to be magic (something like, a game effect in which someone else makes a roll to see if they avoid it).

Just to be clear, I don't have anything against magic being a major part of the game or setting. I really dug Eberron, especially after yet another stack of uninspired Forgotten Realms drivel. What I have a problem with is it being essentially required just to get by.

4th Edition made it so that if you wanted to strip out magical healing—you know, like all the non-D&D specific fiction that doesn't feature priests spamming cure x wounds spells to keep the fighters on their feet—you could, without having to change any other part of the game.

But I guess that's too much for traditionalists. Gotta have complex wizards, with their massive lists of spells, and magical healing, because that's how it worked before, back when it was "done right".

Christmas Sale & Complimentary Classes

Just a quick announcement post, over on Drivethrurpg we're running yet another sale what with it being Christmas and all: until some time on the 26th (depends on when I wake up and remember to change it back) all of our pdfs are 25% off!

In addition, the first five people that comment on this post or tag me on a private G+ post will get a free playbook. Just lemme know which one you want in the comment.

Whelp, even given the holidays that didn't last long. If you missed out, the good news is most of the stuff can still be had for around or under two bucks.
December 25, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Super Dungeon Explore Christmas Eve Hangout


Spawning Points & Monsters
  • 2 Shallow Graves
    • 1 Dust Coven Necromancer
    • 2 Dread Knights
    • 2 Dust Mages
    • 6 Boneheads
    • 4 Rattle-Bones
  • 1 Pumpkin Patch
    • 1 Crypt Spider
    • 2 Curse Coven Witches
    • 4 Skullbats
  • Captain R (mini boss)
  • Von Drakk / Nocturne (boss)

Since everyone's understandably busy today we won't be playing Expedition to Castle Ravenloft w/ Dungeon World, which is why Melissa, Chris and I decided to do a board game Hangout last night.

The heroes eventually won, though I did pull some punches now and then by having some monsters just shuffle about (especially skullbats, which I fucking hate because they rarely do anything useful), spend most of Captain R's initial turns slapping more loot on (as well as activating him first so that they could try and kill the others before they could go), and using the dust mages and dust coven necromancer to raise bone piles.

To be fair I also forgot to activate monsters now and then, because the board was overwhelmed with enemies most of the time and it got pretty confusing: there was one round where I was only able to spawn two or three out of eleven skulls worth of monsters. Same goes for the Von Drakk spawning points effects (rotate the board after destroying one), but that's more because we were going to do a Dungeon Delve and then a third person got added.

Anywho, next board game hangout is most likely going to be Descent, either one of the co-op adventures (there's apparently a new one available!) or Labyrinth of Ruin.

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Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: Castle Crashers

  • Felicia (level 4 human thief)
  • Gamamyr (level 5 elf wizard)
  • Kyr (level 5 living star)
  • Locum (level 5 slayer)
  • Mim (level 5 witch w/ familiar)

The last time they had visited the village, the townsfolk were still mostly gathered near the town square, so they weren't too surprised to find the edge dark and silent. They made their way to the center, but found it just as disquieting: had Urik betrayed them, or had they already left while they were away?

Locum tried the door to the inn. It was not only locked, but barred as well. He loudly knocked, and when there was no answer they began devising methods to gain access, most of which included Mim transforming into various animals and either scuttling under the door or flying through the chimney.

Before they could convince her the shutters from one of the windows above them creaked open, and a voice angrily hissed at them to be quiet. It was after all midnight, and the townsfolk had had a pretty rough week or so, what with them slaughtering their own loves ones as they struggled for survival, and then torching the remains out of fear that they'd rise again.

Given their persistence the man was forced to stagger downstairs, unbar the door, and inform the party that the inn was currently at capacity. Though to be fair, given that even the tables and floor space were also occupied it would have been more accurate to say that they were well beyond it's expected capacity.

After a heated exchange—mostly from Locum—and ultimately unfulfilled promises of food and comfort, the party decided to give the church a try. Unfortunately given that the townsfolk had not yet gotten around to disposing of the dead that were still littered about, it was also, well, "at capacity".

Gamamyr tried using his magic to burn it down, determining that even the building was beyond redemption. Someone else must have disagreed with him, as not only did his magic have no affect but his arm burst into flame. While the rest of the party helped put him out Locum gave a tried and true torch a try. Though it likewise failed to catch, he took some comfort in the fact that he also did not.

If they couldn't find sanctuary in the church, then they'd hopefully find luxury in the mayor's house. Or, rather, they might have if any of them actually knew where it was, and after a brush with a merchant's house in which Felicia briefly entertained the idea of her particular definition of "re-supplying", they eventually settled for a cozy, more importantly well-barricaded dwelling with only one way in.

The next day while Gamamyr and Felicia recovered the rest of the party made themselves useful: Kyr helped the blacksmith, Mim offered her services pro-bono as a healer and fortune teller, and Locum gathered both information about Strahd and materials that would be useful against him.

His tour took him by the mayor's house, which caught his attention for two reasons. The first was the look of it: not only did it easily dwarf every other building in the village, including the church, but it's demeanor contrasted greatly from the more rustic houses. The second was the door, which had been cleanly torn from the hinges and discarded nearby. He knew that this was not the work of zombies. Yes, they were strong, but they would have battered their way through it, leaving it in pieces.

Curious, he drew his kurki and slipped inside. Despite the mayor's obvious wealth nothing seemed to have been disturbed, and he couldn't find any signs of a conflict or struggle. He checked all the rooms on the ground floor before heading up stairs. Only one of the doors was locked, probably for a good reason, and figuring that the previous owner was dead or otherwise gone kicked it in.

The room was dark and thick with the stench of death, and when he lit a candle quickly discovered the source: a recently deceased corpse of a man was lying on the bed. He could have been mistaken for sleeping if it weren't for the fact that his throat was torn out. Given that the blankets still covered him and were relatively unstained by blood, he reasoned that whatever had done this had been swift and silent.

Locum checked the rest of the room and found that the window had been nailed shut, and given that the door was locked he concluded that the murderer was probably a vampire, or possibly a werewolf. Even if the door had been sealed after his death, a zombie wouldn't have been so precise (and wouldn't have possessed the mental faculties to lock the door), and a ghoul would have at least eaten part of the corpse.

He severed the head and bagged it: couldn't be too careful, especially when it came to the possibility of having another vampire lurking about. He continued exploring the house and discovered a basement level. There were numerous shelves, trunks, barrels, and even an impressively stocked wine rack. As with the rest of the house nothing seemed out of place, so he snagged four bottles of wine and headed back to their temporary residence.

When Kyr and Mim returned he told everyone what he had done and found. Gamamyr said that while he was out, he had overheard some of the townsfolk murmuring about the mayor's missing daughter. Locum surmised that she might have been part of the attack, and the next day they all decided to stop by and further investigate.

Mim consulted her bones and determined that while there were no hidden passages, there was something hidden on the premises. They again checked the basement, but when they found nothing consoled themselves by loading up Gamamyr's ghost bag with the rest of the wine.

Locum searched the grounds and came across a small tombstone, almost completely concealed by grass. It was plain, bearing only the name Galena. Mim had said that there was something hidden, and since their search inside the house had been fruitless grabbed a shovel and began digging. The casket was small, just large enough to hold a child, but when he opened it was somewhat relieved to find that it contained the skeletal remains of a cat.

A gem-encrusted collar was still wrapped around it's neck, and something was glinting inside it's skull: a silvery disk bearing a raven, with it's wings spread wide. He at the least knew that it was a holy symbol of the Silver Raven, the patron deity of the villagers. He showed it to Gamamyr who, with the help of his magic, was able to learn that it was a potent relic, capable of keeping undead at bay and grant healing powers to whoever wore it.

Convinced that they were still missing something, Locum staked out the house with Mim, but as far as they could tell the night passed uneventfully. Since they still for some reason had the mayor's head on tap, Gamamyr called forth his spirit and asked who had murdered him. Unsurprisingly he replied that Strahd was responsible, and since all of the other signs pointed to his castle they spent the last day preparing for the trek.

After the third day, with Felicia and Gamamyr fully recovered, they loaded up their newly bought wagon, hitched to their newly bought horses, and again left the village. The journey took them past the bases of squat mountains and around the edge of foreboding forests, and after a surprisingly and ominously uneventful hour they arrived at Castle Ravenloft. The drawbridge was lowered, and the doors of the gate were wide open.

It was almost as if they were both expected and invited.

Behind the Scenes
This was kind of a slow session. I honestly didn't think that the players would spend a lot of time exploring the mansion, but at least it wasn't all for naught. As with other parts of the adventure I've changed what the holy symbol does. Or maybe it's the icon? At any rate I wasn't sure they'd actually find the damned thing, not that it's pivotal to the adventure.

Icon of the Silver Raven worn, 0 weight
Anyone of a good alignment that wears the icon can use the cleric's Turn Undead move. They can also use the Cast a Spell move to cast cure light wounds.

There's also another ability, but you have to be a devout worshiper of the Silver Raven for it to kick in. I'm going to keep it a secret in case one of the players decides to actually convert. Currently Mim is using it since she is good and has a decent Wisdom, but given Adam's roleplaying I've allowed him to take paladin moves whenever he wants, so he'll probably end up with it at some point.

The highlight of the session was probably the part where Locum dug up the grave. I tried to play it up like he was digging up a child just to add to the tension, only to have him open it and find a cat's skeleton.

Something Felicia is doing is working with Locum to concoct some kind of substance that would perform a similar function as poison, but work on undead. I'm fine with this as poison can be a big deal for thieves, but most of the things they've fought in this campaign are undead. She just needs to hit 6th-level and snag Alchemist and they'll be good to go.

Finally, tomorrow's the big day: they'll actually be going into the castle. What awaits them, I'm not sure. I know where some things are (like Strahd, muwahahaha), but who knows where they'll go or what they'll do.
December 17, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Playtesting A Really Simple Dungeon Crawl

My oldest loves playing board games, from Super Dungeon Explore to Forbidden Desert to Carcassonne, and my youngest has taken a very keen interest in my minis, dice, and other gaming bits, and even occasionally fires up Chronicles of Mystara despite not having a grasp of the controls (or even the controller).

I figure it's only a matter of time before they want to try out a role-playing game proper, so I've been working on a kind of "really simple dungeon crawl" as sort of a transition game. Something that doesn't have a lot of "math", fiddly bits like feats, or lists of weapons or armor to choose from.

I've been looking to board games like Super Dungeon Explore and Descent, as well as more mechanically simplistic role-playing games like Gamma World and Fright Night for inspiration, and after a several nights of designing and writing we took it for a few playtesting spins.

Before I get into the mechanics I want to go over what the characters look like, as it'll clarify what I'm talking about in terms of gameplay.

For starters you've got four stats (currently): Might, Agility, Intellect, and Willpower. I want to change Willpower to something more "cleric-y" (maybe Discipline?), since right now each stat is keyed to a "classic" archetype: fighters rely on Might, rogues Agility, and wizards use Intellect for their magic. They start at d4, d6, or d8, though maybe at some point I'll make a really focused class that starts with a d10.

Then you've got skills. I'm (also currently) mostly pulling from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons for this, so you've got stuff like Arcana, Perception, Religion, and Thievery, but there's also Weapon (though I might break it up into Melee and Ranged). Like stats they're also represented by dice, starting at d4 (if you're untrained) or d6 (for default proficiency).

Finally at 1st-level, aside from your default stats and skills, you have one main thing that separates you from everyone else. For example fighters can choose to be way better at shrugging off blows or hacking monsters apart, clerics can choose from a variety of ways to buff others (though there is no healing), rogues are more mobile and have more skills, and wizards can do various things with their magic depending on which school(s) they have access to.

Initially I wanted the character sheet to take up at most a notecard's worth of space, but now I'm thinking of whipping up a kind of digest-sized, trifold layout. Something to give ample space to draw their character, as well as fit graphics of the dice and all of the talents. If there is multiclassing, it would also be nice to have blank space to write in other talents.

The core mechanic of the game is similar to d20 games in that you roll against a target number to see if you succeed or fail. One way it differs is that you don't roll a d20, but two or more dice, add them up, and see if you meet or beat the number. Another difference is that the players roll the dice regardless as to whether they are attacking or defending themselves, and typically are the only ones rolling the dice (though some monsters have random modifiers to their stats).

When you wanna do something you build a dice pool using the relevant stat and skill, so attacking a monster would be Might + Weapon or Agility + Weapon, forcing your way through a door would be Might + Athletics, and hiding would be Agility + Stealth. When it comes to defending your armor determines what die you add to your Might or Agility: no armor is a d4, light armor like leather is a d6, scale armor is a d8, and plate is a d10. Shields just add +1 to your roll.

Some race abilities and talents add more dice, but you always just take the two highest dice (well, I suppose you don't have to if you really don't want to).

Playtest Notes
During the first playtest I gave each monster an Attack and Defense pool of their own, so that you rolled against each other. Unfortunately this caused the first encounter, which only featured two lizardfolk, to drag on for a while. So in the second encounter I reduced their pool a bit, but while this made things go somewhat faster it still dragged for longer than we would have liked.

For the second playtest I gave each monster a static Attack and Defense value, which you rolled against when defending yourself and attacking it respectively. This sped up things quite a bit, and also allowed their party of three (Melissa was handling two characters at once with ease) to tackle nearly twice as many enemies in a much quicker time frame.

Right now monsters look like this:

Lizardfolk Warrior
Attack: 7
Defense: 5
Wounds: 2
Special: Lizardfolk attempting to hide in water add +1d4 to their Difficulty.

So, if you wanna hit him you gotta get a 5 or higher, and if you want to avoid getting hit you're going to need a 7 or higher. He's got two wounds, so it'll take two hits to take him out. The special line is a place to note any noteworthy abilities that the monster has. In this case when the GM determines how hard it is to spot the lizardfolk, it gets an extra tacked on to the 1d4 to the Difficulty.

Other stuff could include:
  • Gains +2 Defense against slashing and piercing weapons (for stuff like skeletons).
  • Takes -4 Defense against silver weapons (therianthropes).
  • Cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons.
  • An ally gains +1d6 to it's Attack.
  • Can make an attack against two adjacent characters.
  • If a character fails it's Defense roll by 2 or more, that character is grabbed until it escapes (Difficulty 9). Until the character escapes, each time the monster takes an action the character automatically suffers a wound.
  • Regains 1 Wound on it's turn.
  • When it inflicts a Wound, the target takes -1d6 to it's next Defense roll.

Just some basic things like that. Mostly I'd want to keep the rank-and-file monsters simple, while leaving more complex stuff to the champions/elites and "boss monsters", like dragons, warlords, sorcerers and the like.

Take the lizardfolk champion for example:

Lizardfolk Champion
Attack: 7
Defense: 7
Wounds: 3
Special: Lizardfolk attempting to hide in water add +1d4 to their Difficulty. When the champion attacks it adds +1d4 to it's Attack.

Better than the typical lizardfolk warrior, but still pretty simple and a bit unpredictable to boot.

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December 16, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

Dungeon World: Playbooks of the Dead in Print!

You can finally get Playbooks of the Dead in print!

(For those of your that already purchased the pdf and can be contacted via Drivethrurpg, check your email for a discount coupon.)

This is a compilation of the undead playbooks we've written over the course of this year: The Ghoul, The Mummy, The Skeleton, and The Vampire, all assembled and organized into one softcover book (which you still get in pdf format, along with all of the custom letter-sized character sheets).

To be clear, aside from a few pieces of art there's nothing in here that you won't find in the individual playbooks. I just know that many gamers prefer having the book in your hand, and while our playbooks are consistently large enough to qualify for printing we wanted to avoid charging people something like five bucks (plus shipping and handling) just to get one.

If there's enough interest in this, then I could see bundling up more playbooks into one book for printing purposes (so let us know if that's something you'd like to see). Anywho, here are some product images to tantalize you:

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: Werewolves of Barovia

  • Felicia (level 4 human thief)
  • Gamamyr (level 4 elf wizard)
  • Kyr (level 4 living star)
  • Locum (level 4 slayer)
  • Mim (level 4 witch w/ familiar)

One fane down, two to go.

Since they were close to a forest they decided to tackle that one next. Mind you they weren't sure just how much forest covered Barovia (a lot), but they did pass by a bunch of trees on their way to the village, so they figured that they'd just head east and have Mim consult her bones until they gradually narrowed down it's location.

They slogged their way out of the swamp and into the forest, and after about an hour of meandering between the trees and hacking through through dense foliage they found something, or rather someone: it looked at least humanoid in shape, though it's features were concealed by a heavy fur cloak and wooden mask. It didn't speak or move, but when Gamamyr tried to cast a spell an arrow flew from somewhere within the woods and struck his arm, causing the magic to dissipate.

Kyr shifted his sight, and when he looked around saw that they were surrounded by about a dozen others. He couldn't tell what they were exactly, but they radiated heat so he at least knew they were alive, which thankfully ruled out zombies, ghouls, and vampires. When he relayed this information to everyone else Locum stepped forward. He explained their business, that they meant no one any harm, and asked them to stand aside.

The cloaked figure's only response was to draw a pair of swords.

Locum shook his head, shrugged, and rushed forward, dodging a hail of arrows as he went. He swiped at the masked warrior with his silver kukri, and to his surprise rather than parry his strike the warrior instead stumbled back several steps to avoid it. This told Locum that whatever he was, he was very much afraid of the kukri.

So, probably a werewolf.

Moments later wolves sprang out from the trees from every direction. Kyr began glowing, drawing most of them towards him and giving Gamamyr a convenient target for a fireball: he finished his spell as Kyr was pulled to the ground by them, and in the ensuring explosion of fire blackened, humanoid bones soared past him and clattered against the trees.

So, definitely werewolves.

Apparently they weren't expected this kind of resistance; the warrior froze long enough for Locum to lodge the kukri deep in his chest, killing him, and Gamamyr destroyed the rest of the werewolves as they tried to flee. While Mim helped Gamamyr patch up his arm, Locum claimed the stranger's fur cloak and handed them a black, velvet pouch filled with small rubies: maybe they'd be able to use their magic to make something out of them.

They continued on, and shortly afterwards exited the forest onto the road. Mim took a few minutes to confirm that they were heading in the right direction, and after several more hours of walking and Gamamyr listening for magical energies they came across a clearing. The mist prevented them from determining just how wide it was, but as the sun began to set they could see the silhouette of a great tree growing from a mound.

Felicia decided to scout ahead, but she only made it about halfway across when she spotted two packs of wolves: one was heading directly for the rest of the party, and the other was circling around, presumably to catch them in a pincer attack. Unable to see the party she wouldn't be able to signal them, so she followed the second pack in the hopes that she could get the drop on them, or at least prevent them from getting the drop on everyone else.

The first pack stopped before the party, and the wolf leading the rest told them to leave. Gamamyr explained that they sought an item of power, which they intended to destroy and free them. Alpha Wolf replied that there was no such item, that Strahd drew his power from the land itself. He said that they had felt their work in the swamp, but that their actions had accomplished nothing aside from making Strahd aware of their presence.

Kyr interjected that Strahd was aware of them before that, having sent someone named Urik to try and claim a book they had found in the village. At his mention Alpha Wolf spat on the ground, before grimly stating that they were wasting their time. Locum sarcastically declared that maybe they should just give up to the darkness, but Alpha Wolf cut him off and clarified that they were wasting their time wandering about the wilderness, dabbling in things that they did not understand.

Gamamyr asked them what they should be doing, and if they could help. Alpha Wolf's head hung a bit lower, and after a short pause replied that they could not. Mim explained that it was possible the wolves were magically prevented from even speaking about certain things. She considered hexing them so that they could only speak the truth, but decided against it, as it was also possible that Strahd's curse was much more powerful, and that it would simply kill them.

It was then that they recalled Madam Eva's words: Strahd's book would instruct them not only how to deny him the land's strength, but possibly how to claim it for themselves.

Gamamyr thanked them for what help they were able to provide, and as they turned to leave dozens of wolves came rushing out of the trees and raced towards the mound. Alpha Wolf nodded to them, and watched them as they left.

Night fell well before they reached the edge of the forest. Despite ominous noises, strange sightings, and a lack of suitable ground they were considering making camp when they heard an all too familiar voice. It seemed to echo all about them, and chided them for not leaving back when they had the chance.


Kyr looked about and saw that they were surrounded by what Urik quickly clarified were werewolves, werewolves ready to strike at his command. Confused, Mim said that the werewolves had allowed them to leave unharmed, to which Urik replied that he had taken care of "that one", and punctuated his statement by dropping the head of a grey-haired man into their midst. Presumably it was the head of the one they had spoken to.

Urik then offered them a deal: the book that Gamamyr was carrying in exchange for their lives. This sparked a heated debate as to whether they should give it to him, destroy it, or flee with it. Kyr, Mim, and Gamamyr didn't want any more harm to befall anyone else, and Mim reasoned that they could always retrieve the book later. Locum and Felicia didn't trust him to keep his word, and figured that Strahd would just unleash another undead horde anyway.

Eventually Kyr angrily launched himself into the sky, glowing brightly as he went. He assumed Urik was above them, and intended to fight him while providing illumination for the rest of the party so that they would have a better chance of defending themselves. But, while everyone else watched him take off, Felicia took the opportunity to snatch up the book and flee, using Kyr's light to navigate as best she could between the trees, with the wolves close behind.

Locum pulled out a specially prepared "silver grenade", but as he threw it Gamamyr tackled him, not wanting to cause any undue harm to the werewolves. They both tumbled down a small hill until they collided with a large rock, unsure just how much damage the grenade caused, if any. Mim transformed into a bear and lumbered after the werewolves, but they were both much faster and used to their animal forms, and she was unable to even impede any of them.

Kyr searched the sky for Urik, challenging him to show himself and fight. Urik did appear, albeit behind him, and the force of his strike knocked Kyr back below the treeline. As he recovered he saw Felicia fleeing, but not nearly fast enough to escape the werewolves. Weaving between the trees he flew after her, picking her up and carrying her above the trees away from the werewolves and hopefully putting some distance between them and Urik.

They didn't.

Felicia climbed up and perched on his back, and as she looked about came eye-to-eye with Urik, who was effortlessly matching Kyr's speed while upside down. With some effort she managed to resist his mental commands to hand him the book and tear her gaze away. She shouted a warning to Kyr, but when she tried to pass the book to him Urik lunged at her, throwing her from Kyr's back into the forest far below.

Book in hand, Kyr was igniting his hands to burn it when Urik stopped him. He told him that if he did not relinquish the book, that he would not merely slaughter every man, woman, and child in the region. Instead he would grant them immortality and torture them for all eternity. But, if he did hand it over then no one aside from the party would be harmed.

Kyr contemplated tearing the pages out and scattering them about, if for no other reason than to spite him, but as soon as he started with the first page the book began to scream and bleed. Exhausted and more than a bit shaken he handed it to Urik, who thanked him earnestly and flew away.

The werewolves loped away wordlessly, and the party eventually regrouped. Nothing attacked them as they left the forest and began following the road back to the village, uncertain as to what, if anything, would await them there.

Behind the Scenes
I fucked up where the forest fane is. I was checking the map and saw a location in the woods, and figured that, whelp, that must be the forest fane. Apparently in the original adventure it's the lair of, and I'm not kidding, a "tainted raver nymph". I'm pretty sure tainted and raver are templates from Book of Vile Darkness, but it's been years since I played 3rd Edition so I have no idea anymore.

Side note: fuck 3rd Edition.

Anywho, it's now the spot of the forest fane, as opposed to right next to the vistani camp. Eh, makes more sense since it's out of the way, but I'll keep it in the "usual" spot in the Dungeon World conversion doc.

The Wolf-Mound scene was great: the players really didn't want to fight the werewolves (or even try magically forcing them to help). Luckily they kept talking and—once they realized that they needed Strahd's book in order to properly unchain the land from him—decided to leave and come back later.

It was also fucking awesome to see the very much party divided on what they wanted to do with the book they picked up at the start of the campaign: Locum and Felicia wanted to destroy it (or at least leave with it), while Kyr, Gamamyr, and Mim wanted to hand it over so that Urik would spare Barovia's inhabitants. I'm pretty sure it sparked a few new bonds.

Oh, and it bleeds now. And screams. I dunno why I thought of it, probably something to do with being made from human flesh and all that, but there ya go. I'm hoping to have it play a bigger part in this campaign than it does in the original adventure (which aside from the zombies is nothing, from what I recall).

In the end they did hand it over, but the question remains as to whether Urik will remain true to his word. This is why I called the session where I did, so they wouldn't know if Urik wiped out the village for an entire week. Muwahahahaha...

We're thinking of adding a bit of errata to the living star by reducing it's Radiance pool to 10 (it's normally equal to your Constitution). I'm not sure if Adam has just been playing it safe or they've been making camp too often, but tonight was the first time he actually ran out of Radiance, and he had to spend 6 points for that to happen. So, he wants to run it with a smaller amount to see if he actually has to cannibalize his body for more energy.

Dungeon World: When You Want to Make a Move...

Melissa and I have written quite a few playbookswe still have more in the works, there are six in A Sundered World, I've also written a few adventures, Melissa and I are currently both in the process of writing another one, and we've played a shitload of Dungeon World.

In other words we've written a bunch of moves over the past year or so.

The intention of this post is to give you our move-making process (which overlaps somewhat with creating new classes). This way instead of having to, say, reference a big book of pre-fabbed (and sometimes duplicated) moves in the hopes that it has what you want, or settling for one that's "close enough", you can spend some time thinking and make a move that does precisely what you want.

In addition to essentially getting the move you want every time, the more time you spend actually doing this the faster and better you'll get: case in point The Vampire took a couple weeks from start to finish, and I cranked out a nearly polished psion build over night (so, expect that pretty soon it's done).

Before we get started there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Not every move requires a roll. A lot do, or modify another move, but some just let you do something new without any dice involved.
  • Adding +1 is perfectly fine. No matter what some people will try to shout this down and tell you to do something else, but they're fucking idiots: sometimes just being plain better at doing something than everyone else makes the most sense.
  • Having a defined miss result is also perfectly fine. This is another one I've seen people complain about, but as with a +1 sometimes it just makes sense to have a preset miss result. If it makes you feel better, append "in addition to whatever else the GM says" to your miss result. Even if you don't want to include one, some possible examples for GMs to use can't hurt.
  • Opening up a 12+ option is also perfectly fine. Yet another thing I've seen a couple people whine about. This isn't Apocalypse World, but--for better or worse--a Dungeons & Dragons hack, so creating a few "crit" options is okay in my book (and the book creates a precedence).

Types of Moves
Here's a rundown of the various types of moves:

These moves have no roll, they just constantly do/enable something, or have an effect that takes place whenever the fictional criteria is met. Their "mechanical" effect or impact depends on how easy they are to trigger, if they even require a trigger at all; the fighter's Armored just lets you ignore the clumsy tag when wearing armor; the thief's Halfling move lets you deal +2 damage, but only with ranged weapons; and the paladin's Setup Strike grants a +1d4 damage bonus to an ally, but only after you hack and slash.

Other examples include Make Camp, almost every race move, the bard's A Port in the Storm, the paladin's Quest and Smite, the ranger's Wild Empathy, the thief's Flexible Morals, and the wizard's Ritual.

These modify an existing move, whether it's a Basic, Special, a Starting Move from their class, or an Advanced Move from their class. Generally they fictionally represent that you're more reliable or outright better at that sort of thing. There are several ways to represent this.

The first is to grant some kind of bonus when you do something specific or in certain situations: you could tack on a +1, have a miss count as a 7-9, a 7-9 count as a 10+, or even just make it so that you always get a 10+.

The fighter's Hafling move lets you take +1 when defying danger, but only when your size matters; the cleric's The Scales of Life and Death lets everyone near you take +1 when taking their last breath; and the ranger's Elf has you automatically succeed with a 10+ whenever you undertake a perilous journey through the wilderness.

The important thing is that the trigger is more specific, requires some sort of preceding event, or could affect something afterwards. Like, a move that gives you a +1 forward to hack and slash (Press the Attack), but only when you miss, or a move that lets your hack and slash be an automatic 10+ (Heedless Assault), but the next time you take damage you take +1d6.

Another way to handle it is to change what a 10+, 7-9, and miss means. For example, the paladin's Staunch Defender lets you hold +1 when you use defend, and on a miss you still get 1 (normally you get jack and shit). Similarly the thief's Extremely Cautious, among other things, lets you hold +1 when you use Trap Expert, even on a miss.

Finally, you can open up a 12+ option. These aren't too common, but again many of the classes have at least one so there's a precedent.

The cleric's Greater Empower let's you choose an empowering effect for free (normally it needs a 10+, and bumps it down to a 7-9), fighter's Superior Warrior lets you impress, dismay, or frighten an enemy when you hack and slash, the paladin's Impervious Defender makes it so that the nearest attacker gives you a clear advantage, the ranger's Hunter's Prey lets you ask a question about a monster, the thief's Evasion lets you transcend danger, and the wizard's Highly Logical lets you ask any three questions you want.

Something I've done, but that I don't see in Dungeon World, is opening up new options like allowing you to ask different questions with Discern Realities, spend hold from Defend to do something else, or add more effects to the bard's Arcane Art.

Probably for simplicity reasons these moves are more common than roll-and-hold, but less so than move-modifiers. Given that they are self-contained blocks of rules, they tend to be some of the most complex moves to design and deal with: you make a roll, usually add a stat (or at least some circumstantial modifiers), with a 10+, 7-9, and (sometimes) a miss giving you different results.

This can mean absolute effects, like dealing damage and having your opponent attack you (Hack and Slash), or have you make one or more choices from a list (Volley, the wizard's Cast a Spell, the thief's Backstab). Note that if a move does have you make choices, they can include both good and bad options (and often will), potentially forcing the player to choose what they have to deal with.

There are plenty of examples of this in the book: just crack open the Basic Moves, Special Moves, or flip to any class. If you want an example of a move that uses circumstantial modifiers, check out Recruit.

You make a roll, and hold a variable amount of points depending on how well you roll. Like a roll-and-result move these are self-contained blocks of rules, but where they fictionally differ from roll-and-hold is that the results don't just happen immediately: you instead gain a kind of currency that you can spend on various effects or abilities over a period of time.

From a fictional perspective imagine someone gathering strength or energy (the druid's Shapeshifter), preparing for something (the Bolster basic move), or doing/sustaining something over a period of time (Defend or the thief's Trap Expert).

From a mechanics perspective, roll-and-results do one thing per roll: you hit a monster and deal damage, you avoid an attack, you cast a spell and it does it's thing, or make a deal with someone and they give you or do what you want.

With a roll-and-hold you might be able to do several things per roll: conjure blades of force that you can use to stick someone that gets to close, notice folds in reality that allow you to instantly dart about to evade danger, gradually expel magical energy to create several effects, or wriggle your way into someone's mind, forcing them to obey you for a short period of time.

Make Your Move
So now that you know the types of moves and generally what they're for, it's time to think about your move without considering mechanics at all. Instead, start by imagining how it works from a purely fictional perspective, envisioning as many outcomes—the good and the bad—as you can.

Example: In Melissa's upcoming, as of yet unnamed adventure, she wants a move for when the characters travel through a forest filled with strange animals and fey creatures. The wood seems to twist and change as you walk, with the rare paths never winding the same way twice. Sibilant whispers and songs can be heard, and scintillating lights and dancing shadows can be seen between distant trees and at the edge of your vision.

Usually people eventually make it through the forest, though they don't seem to recall the entire journey, and the amount of time it takes always seems to change. Often fey creatures will play pranks on travelers, and while most are relatively harmless (physically, anyway), there are more malicious denizens that don't seem to understand—or care—about their victims.

There's already a move that tackles traveling through dangerous regions: Undertake a Perilous Journey. The trigger is when you travel through hostile territory, which seems to fit the forest perfectly. The problem is that this isn't just any forest: people rarely exit the same place twice, and the amount of time it can take is anyone's guess.

So right now we're looking at a move-modifier. A blanket -1 would reduce the overall chance of success across the board, which works, but the thing is that no one makes it out when or where they think they should. Plus, there's no shortage of creatures willing to disorient, harm, and hinder their progress. A simple way to emphasize that is to cap results at a 7-9, and with those two tweaks here's the final move:

When you undertake a perilous journey through the forest, take -1 and a 10+ counts as a 7-9.

Potential miss effects include having the characters lose their belongings (whether stolen, vandalized, or traded), have their food spoil, suffer from some kind of curse, owe someone a favor for guiding them out, have their hair shaved off, be addicted to strange mushrooms that they had to eat to survive, and so on.

For another example let's take a look at my Expedition to Castle Ravenloft conversion. Early on when you arrive in the village of Barovia (not sure if that's the name of the village, or if it's just "the village" in Barovia), you run into zombies. But these aren't just any zombies; no, they're plague zombies. Think typical zombie movies, where you get bit, eventually die, and later rise as another zombie.

Now I don't want the characters to slowly die because they get bit once, especially with my group, where miss XP accounts for like half of everything they get. I also don't want the characters to have to roll twice for certain attacks. Think about it: you roll to defy danger, get bit, and then have to make another roll to resist plague. Or you roll to hack and slash, get bit, then have to roll to resist. That's just gonna bog the game down.

Ideally I want something that doesn't need a roll, something that emphasizes that these guys are more dangerous than your average zombie, but without making them too lethal. This is what I came up with:

When you are bitten by a plague zombie, hold 1 plague. Reduce your maximum hit points by the amount of plague you hold.

I could have gone with gaining 1d4 plague, but since plague cannot be recovered by typical items I think that's just way too goddamn much, especially for the 1st-level crowd; 1 plague still adds something, and the more bites you rack up the lower your hit point ceiling gets. This is simple, easy to track, and better emphasizes the danger of these zombies. But, how do you get rid of plague? Whelp, that's where this move comes in:

When you make camp and have plague, roll+CON. ✴On a 10+, reduce your plague by 1d4. ✴On a 7-9, reduce your plague by 1. ✴On a miss, increase your plague by 1.

I kind of cribbed this from the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons disease mechanic, where you make an Endurance check after every long rest to see if you recover or get worse when you're sick. I've used it for fungus zombies in Something Stirs in the Blackscale Brakes, and suffering statues from If These Stones Could Scream to great effect.

Finally, something from There Was a Method to Her Madness. For a variety of reasons I wanted a move for when you encounter a lone prisoner and try to get them to help you out.

At a glance Parley seems like a good start, as leverage could mean simply not killing them, trying to get their sentence reduced later by speaking on their behalf, letting them go free, and/or just staying out of their way. The problem for me is that results just feel too "safe" for my taste: on a 10+ they'll do what you ask if you merely promise to do what they want you to, and on a 7-9 they'll do what you want if they get some concrete assurance.

I think Parley would work if you just want the prisoner to stand down or leave, but if you want them to help you out—or they just can't go anywhere else—then I think the player should be wondering if/when/how this guy is going to betray them. He is after all a criminal: Will he shank you and leave you to die, especially to save his own skin; If you run into other criminals will they be able to convince him that he should be on "their" side; Will he just abandon you when the going gets tough or you let your guard down?

Here's the roll-and-result I have so far:

When you try to convince a prisoner to listen to reason, roll+CHA. ✴On a 10+, choose 3. ✴On a 7-9, choose 2. ✴On a miss, choose 1 in addition to whatever else the GM tells you.
  • The prisoner helps you to the best of his ability.
  • The prisoner won't harm you when an opportunity presents itself.
  • The prisoner won't be swayed by his fellow inmates to abandon or betray you.
  • The prisoner won't flee.

I haven't had anyone take a look at this before, so maybe it could use a tweak or two (or three), or maybe someone has something that would work even better. This is why I also show my stuff to other people (which is always a good idea): to get other opinions and perspectives.

So, if you've got any suggestions or criticisms lemme know in the comments here, or hit me up on G+, Facebook, whatever works for you (they're all in the upper right-hand corner).
December 05, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Into Halba's Bowels

  • Cheveyo (male scion storm shaman)
  • Devona (female deva infernal pact warlock)
  • Pan Votu (female deva invoker-by-birth)
  • Kresh (male scion dragon-tongue wizard)

We keep meaning to post podcasts of our games, but for some reason the mic only picks up Melissa and myself; everyone else, despite being clearly heard through the speakers, sounds mostly like faint static.

So we decided to try Hangouts on Air, but it didn't record (Melissa and I both checked our Youtube channels and got nothing). Unfortunately this means that you're only going to get...

A Very Abridged Summary
The party traveled to the remains of the ice primordial Halba in search of its heart (or, given its size, a piece of it). Using Devona's ship—which was made of bone and propelled with a hellfire engine, yet another thing I have to add to the book now—they surveyed the corpse for an easy way inside.

They settled on the mouth.

While exploring the interior they fought off a pack of frost wolves (not wolves that breathed ice: these were icy skeletons "clothed" in snow, and could fly about as a torrent of snow and bones), then a kind of Scylla-like amalgamation of great wolf heads and tentacles before having to abandon ship in order to travel deeper inside.

After spending the night near part of the tine of a bident that had impaled Halba (presumably killing it), they fought a piece of the heart (apparently whoever had slain Halba had really good aim), but when Kresh tried to obtain a piece it released a massive chimeric beast...that Cheveyo almost killed with one spirit-charged strike.

After failing to meaningfully harm anyone Kresh—I think, one of the players might correct me though) finished it off with a blast of magical fire, they picked up the heart fragment, and left.

Behind the Scenes
We tried running with the rules as-is again, just to make sure that any issues we previously encountered weren't merely flukes.

Melissa took the invoker for a spin, and while I think it is working as-written it could stand to have the mantra-pool tweaked (namely, have all mantra replenish after you make camp).

I haven't heard anyone complain about the The Skeleton's Bones and Living Star's Radiance mechanic yet (and both have stood the test of several game sessions), so at this point it really just needs to have it's advanced moves refined and it's done.

We want to add in a kind of personality flaw for the spirit ("Trigger" has been suggested), so that when the shaman gets a 7-9 or misses the GM can use it to inform stakes or consequences.

The other big question as to whether the Spirit Magic move should remain roll-and-hold boon, or get shifted to a kind of point pool. Similar to the wizard's Cast a Spell move, you roll+WIS, with 10+ granting you 3 hold, 7-9 granting you 2, and a miss only granting you 1 (in addition to whatever else the GM says). You spend these to gain various benefits, but then have to roll-and-hold again once you run out.

Chris has suggested that when you make camp (or right before, or right after), you perform a ceremony for your spirit that gives it a number of points. Could be a flat value (like 10), could be based on a stat (equal to your Constitution or Wisdom), or could be a combination of both (5+CON). You would still roll and hold, but your limit is based on this pool. So, if you have 10 points, and roll a 10+, you hold 3, reducing your Spirit to 7 until you perform the ceremony again.

Finally, the third option is to just make it a pool of points like the Invoker's Mantra, and have you spend points to do various things (possibly even rolling+points spent).

I like the first two options more, because I don't imagine spirits necessarily always getting along with their shaman, though I suppose a miss could still have it conflict even with the third option.

I haven't posted a preview of the warlock yet, so here we go...

The warlock starts with three moves: Eldritch Blast, What Is They Bidding, and Pact Magic.

Eldritch Blast allows you to unleash unshaped magical energy. It's basically a CHA-based ranged magic attack. Various warlock moves like Empowered Blast and Explosive Blast ups the damage and adds other tags like forceful.

What Is They Bidding lets you communicate with your patron in order to figure out what it wants from you, and while you are acting on it's behalf you gain various benefits (which can include a ship). It's similar to the paladin's Quest, but instead of you deciding, your patron makes you do something, and if you stop doing what it wants then you get penalized.

This works with the debt mechanic, which comes into play with Pact Magic.

Pact Magic currently is a roll-and-hold move, but you also gain a random amount of debt with each use: 1 for a 10+, 1d4 for a 7-9, and 1d6 for a miss. Once your debt equals your Charisma (the entire score, not just the mod), you reset your debt to 0, write a bond reflecting something your patron wants you to do, and take -1 ongoing to use Pact Magic until you resolve it (you also get XP).

It is otherwise similar to the wizard's Cast a Spell move: you spend hold to create a variety of effects like conjuring a minor magical effect (similar in potency to the wizard's cantrip spells), giving you or an ally +1 forward, conjuring magical barriers, or impeding someone.

As last time I'm leaning towards changing it so that you gain debt first, make a roll, and have one of the 7-9 results be that you can gain more debt. Maybe even having the move be a roll+CHA, with the option to gain debt in order to choose an effect from a list, or gaining debt and then rolling+debt gained.

Kresh passed out once, and that was after quite a few spells since fatigue goes away after a short period of time, so I think this could remain as a random number (which would help differentiate it from the warlock). Shane (the player of Kresh) is going to talk with me on Thursday before our Expedition to Castle Ravenloft game, so we'll see what he thought then.
December 02, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

When SJWs & RPGs Collide

Someone in my circles made a post yesterday asking whether anyone felt that what he had said in another post was "wrong". When he mentioned Dungeon World I had a pretty good idea where things were going, but as soon as he mentioned Tim and Tracy I not only knew exactly what was coming next, but also exactly who he was talking about.

Now unless you're on G+ and play Dungeon World you probably have no idea who the hell Tim is. Basically, he's a social justice warrior who has said some astoundingly stupid shit like "every gaming group needs at least one woman", and if you can't find a woman then someone has to play a female character.

Why? Because, and I'm paraphrasing here a bit, "you need to have a woman's perspective in order for the game/world feel truly alive and fun".

Tracy is...somewhat more infamous, but in case you don't know who she is, like Tim she's also a social justice warrior that gets outraged over bizarre shit like Aleena's attire, trying to stop an online woman's convention because they actually wanted to play games, and calling a pornstar a "fucksack".

The original post is made by Tim, which I've archived here. I did this partially because I wanted everyone to be able to easily see it, and partially because both Tracy and Fred Hicks both have me blocked (the SJW MO), so it was the only way to actually see their comments.

Basically, someone asks Tim's character why she's "not in the kitchen and caring for children", he overreacts, and amid all the pity and armchair-support Andrea drops in and, erroneously believing that when a SJW posts a bunch of whiny shit in a public space that it's an invitation to actually talk about it, says that if the character said that then why not run with it?

Mind you Andrea also said that if the player says something like that and actually believes it, that they're "100 years behind the world we are living in". He also admits to not knowing about the session and people, but that if the player's character makes a "misogynist" comment, that his character could take that as a challenge to prove him wrong.

How does Tim respond? He's part of the Manufactured Outrage Brigade, so of course he responds with a wall of text, all caps, so you know he's upset, and that's all that matters: if someone says something that upsets you, then they're in the wrong. Always. What they said, how they said it, context, and other factors? Fuck it: go whine on the internet instead of being an adult and either talking about it or simply shrugging it off.

The entire thread can be summed up as Tim (and most of the rest) wanting people to only act/play the way he wants, Andrea very calmly and politely trying to clarify that he is fine with a variety of playstyles, but thinks that groups should establish up front the general tone and style is ahead of time, Fred Hicks stating that Andrea is "repulsive, simply repulsive" (I know who I'm not supporting anymore), and Tracy Hurley both accusing Andrea of "mansplainin'", as well as things he never even said ("never leave the room").

Really, what Tim needs to do is just make it clear before joining a group is that he has incredibly thin skin, and that anything he perceives as sexist and misogynistic (which can be hard to predict since SJWs like to change up definitions) will make him run to G+ and bitch to the rest of the pseudo activists, eager for fuel to make them feel better about themselves without actually having to do anything.

Honestly? I'm curious what the group thought of him. Tim can be very...abrasive when he thinks you aren't playing the game "right" (i.e., the way he wants). I recall a post in the Dungeon World Tavern where someone was talking about a last breath 7-9 result that Tim didn't agree with: that went on for a while before Adam or Sage came in and said that the other guy wasn't doing anything wrong.

Anywho, Tim says this at some point in the thread:

"Okay people. It is already after 12pm here and as our playstyles don't seem to mix I think I will go now" 

then I was kicked out of the skype call. 
I was going to say "I hope you all have fun and raid the dungeon and stuff." but didn't get to. 

Well yeah...

Hrmm...maybe they were just tired of your shit? When someone says they need to leave and gets immediately booted, that sounds like the actions of someone that's just had enough of you. I know that you've got your little yes-person echo-chamber hug-box going on, eager to show you pictures of kittens and make you feel better after your oh-so traumatic experience, but that's still just one side of the story.

Maybe he expects everyone to just listen and believe?
November 30, 2014
Posted by David Guyll

SJWs & Meaningless Awards (And Games, And Titles)

Maybe it's just the people in my circles, maybe it's the people they have circled—probably a combination of both—but whining about "social justice" without actually doing anything seems to be a pretty popular trend on Google+ well, not nowadays, but for at least the past few months or so.

I've heard that it's even worse on Tumblr, but when I go to Twitter things drastically shift: contrary to the armchair-activist narrative of every single woman ever being oppressed by evil white men, there's no shortage of women, feminists, minorities, and sexualities that don't feel like they're victims in need of special privileges, play games, work on games, and/or support GamerGate.

Ironically, and perhaps hypocritically, I find that it's a handful of men—and sometimes women—telling everyone else what's globally best for women, minorities, and people of other sexualities and gender identities, while at the same time labeling any combination of the above that disagrees with them as deluded, misogynistic (internalized or otherwise), sexist, racist, idiotic, or whatever it takes to dismiss their argument because they have no way of refuting it.

Oh yeah: if you describe yourself as a feminist they'll just say that you aren't really a feminist (by their definition, anyway, which isn't surprising since they like to redefine words like sexism and misogyny as needed), and in some cases might go so far as to state that you don't even exist at all.

If there's anything positive about the pseudo-activist crowd it's that they're occasionally a source of hilarity, like when some of them were desperately trying to prove that half of all viking warriors were women despite the initial report not actually saying that.

These are the kind of "issues" that social justice whiners concoct in order to get their fingers riled up for a frenzy of clicking +1, Like, and Share, sometimes preceded by empty quotes like "This is important": apparently, regardless of the kind of professions and even games that men and women tend to enjoy, there must be an equal number across the board. Well, for the "good" jobs anyway: let the men get shot up over seas, and work in fast food and coal mines.

Less amusing is that this ideology is also infesting tabletop games. Case in point a while back I'd seen a blog post where a woman painted broad strokes about the alleged "barriers" that women face when trying to make it into the game industry, lamenting issues that ranged from having to deal with kids and not having money—because of course those are only problems for women—but also experience and confidence.

The article could be distilled down to a bunch of whining (along with a reference to the gender wage-gap myth and even "the movement that shall not be named"), with no proposed solution other than to pander to her so that she can get her name in a book with as little work as possible.

Unsurprisingly a few white knights jumped at the opportunity to help out this poor, oppressed, and most relevantly lazy woman: I'm sure there aren't other people out there that are much more passionate, qualified, and willing to work, but even if there are they're probably just men, and as we know all men always have it easier and better.

More recently saw a post on Google+, also by a woman, that won an award I've never heard of—and if you think most gamers have no clue what an ENnie is just imagine the fraction of a fraction that might have both heard and care about this one—for designing what I suppose amounts to a game that I'd also never heard of (I did eventually find it, and holy shit it's fucking horrible).

She starts out by gushing about her meaningless, participatory-grade award before going on to state that the reason she used to never think she could be a game designer, was because she didn't know any female game designers. I mean they obviously exist, and she even admits both near the beginning and end of her post that she is aware of that, but because she couldn't name any off the top of her head this somehow makes it is a problem to her.

The real problem is her claim, that representation matters, that if someone with matching genitals—and if not that, then skin color, sexual orientation, physical competence, finances, time, and so on would presumably be the next set of goalposts—hasn't already done what you want to do (or more accurately, if you can't name them off the top of your head), then what hope do you have? Frankly if that's the yardstick you use to determine whether you can do something, or should even try, then the real problems are merely your self-esteem and work ethic.

Unless all you care about is having your name in a book so you can feel good about yourself, the solution isn't to bitch and moan until some misguided individual that is marginally more successful than you throws you a bone, but rather actually put in some work and make something. Yes, it might suck, and it probably will the first few times, but so long as you can accept criticism, refine what you've created, and keep working then that's fine.

There likely are people like her that "write games", though they probably aren't well known because the games they make just aren't fun, or at least aren't as fun as other games out there that are about things like killing monsters and taking their shit. That's not a problem, but the business, which of course means that for her and the rest of the manufactured outrage brigade it is a problem: people outside of their ideological bubble don't like the things they want them to like.

Honestly no one is going to look at a game and write it off because a woman made it. Well, SJWs will if it doesn't match up with their criteria, which is essentially "being made by people they like".

Anywho, she eventually wraps things up by declaring herself a game designer by virtue of designing what I suppose technically counts as a game. Honestly, if this is how you have to appease your ego, to feel like you're pioneering something, then knock yourself out, but the reality is that the title is still meaningless, just like your game and award.

Not just for the majority of gamers, but even for you, as you yourself have fabricated just about the smallest possible hurdle to overcome in order to qualify for a title that you only care about because you consider it to be prestigious. It's like calling yourself a vet because you can identify why your pet is sick and you know how to treat it, or a Python programmer because you know how to write some basic code, or a mechanic because you can fix some issues with your car.
November 29, 2014
Posted by David Guyll


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