Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travellered By The Apocalypse

I make no secret of my love for the Apocalypse World engine. Sure, I have trouble with some of the "future hipster speak" to be found in AW, but the incredibly simple-yet-robust core mechanic just blow me out of the water. For the most part, this has played out in an infatuation with Dungeon World (!!!) and the very excellent "What If?" version of DW known as World of Dungeons, but I keep looking for new ways that I can use the super-simple AW mechanics to make the tabletop experience more interesting and blah blah blah, I dig it, you get it, we can move on.

As some folks out there may know, I'm gearing up to run Traveller for the first time. I was really impressed by how quickly folks who bothered to talk to me about the game (a) would ask what version of the game I was planning on running and (b) how much they respect folks for playing different versions of the game even if it's not their preferred version if you've got good reasons for wanting to run that version. Wow. Very different. Haven't these people ever heard of edition wars? Of course they have, they've just said "to hell with it" and don't even hack on folks for playing Traveller 5e. Wow. That's some serious "live and let game" there. (Yes G+ Traveller community, I'm talking about you; you're some classy folks and I applaud you.)

So, now it's time for me to get to the part that gets me burned at the stake. While I was pouring over MGT (that's Mongoose Traveller if you were wondering), I noticed that the potential bonuses and penalties really aren't that big. Skills add some, attributes add some, but we're relaly not talking about huge dice modifiers here (until we start factoring in DMs proper). For a reasonably competent character, a modifier of +2 is a pretty solid total dice modifier that in the RAW gives you a 72.22% chance of success. Sure, min maxers can stack the hell out of some mods, but MGT RAW really doesn't make stuff like that very likely. Further, the core mechanism is to roll 2d6, add your mods, and you succeed if you get an 8 or better (that's one better than the median score of the 2d6 probability distribution, meaning you have a less than 50% chance of success without mods), which hovers nicely around the point of strong central tendency.

Now, the AW engine also uses a 2d6 dice roll, also has relatively low dice mods, also has a fixed (and easy to understand) success rubric and also gravitates some degree of success toward the central tendency rather than away from it. Why the hell shouldn't I use the AW success mechanism in Traveller?

Here's how it would break down:

Roll a 6 or less, and you fail.

Roll a 7 - 9 and you succeed, but there's a catch.

Roll a 10 or better and there's no catch.

Example catches:

  • Deplete ammo
  • Expose yourself to enemy attack
  • Give up information that you meant to keep secret
  • Give an enemy an advantage
  • Give an ally a disadvantage
  • The psionic power costs additional Psionic Strength to use
  • And so on
Perhaps different skills would have different sets of catches or other interesting choices to make, I'm not that far in the process. This scheme moves success in Traveller away from a binary, "success or failure" mechanism and toward a system where there are degrees of success and consequences for narrow successes. What do you think, folks? Is this worth pursuing further? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Death Dice! - A Cumulative Model for Death & Dismemberment

For my Quasquetherion/Hyperbarbaria game, I gave myself the problem of introducing my "new to old school" gamers to the aforementioned old school games. This first introduction carries with it an introduction to the lethality of such games, something that is really lacking from more modern games. Rather than just throw the kids to the proverbial wolves, I opted in to using the ACKS Mortal Wounds table and rules when PCs hit (or supercede) 0 hp. For the uninitiated, how that system works is that, once your character has been treated by another character, you roll a d20 and add some situational modifiers, and the result tells you how close to death you are according to the Mortal Wounds table. Then you roll a d6 to determine exactly what shape your injury takes, etc.

We've been using that system to pretty good effect for quite some time, but it's come to me to feel like it's awkward for use with Delving Deeper and... these kids are really racking up injuries. Many players are on their 2nd character by now (Tim is on #3), but many others have players missing eyes, legs and other appendages. Our thief, notably, is missing her knees (maybe not missing, just "missing them working correctly"). I'm not sure that what I want is a "kinder, gentler system," but more of a "faster, easier system." For an idea of how to move forward, I stole an idea, yet again, from +Claytonian JP.

In his Wizardarium of Calabraxis, Clay has this really cool idea for handling random encounters. Instead of ye olde "1 or 2 on a d6 means random encounter," Clay's idea is "roll 2d6, matches mean an encounter." He gets a little more in-depth than that, but it was enough to inspire my idea for how to do this whole Death & Dismemberment thing that folks have been tussling with for ages. So, thanks, man. I appreciate the leg up here.

Also huge props go out the +Donn Stroud for helping me sort out some of the details here and providing me with feedback on this. Sometimes I just can't get an idea straight until I've tried to convey it to someone else.

Death Dice!

Every time a PC hits or drops below 0 hp, he's out for the rest of the comat unless someone heals him (which is handled normally for the system). After combat, the PC adds one die to his "death dice pool" and then rolls that pool of dice. For each die that shows the same result, note the number and compare it to the ability scores on the character sheet. For example, most D&D rule sets have Strength as the first ability score; if you rolled 2 1's, you'd be looking at Strength. For every die that showed that number, roll 1d6 as damage against that ability score. If the result takes the ability score to or below 0, the character dies. If not, the character lives, but has taken that amount of ability score damage. For every 5 points of damage to any one ability score, the PC also suffers a permanent injury (which may be healed through magic or super doctor stuff later on). If the character has not died as a result of the death dice roll, he regains consciousness with a number of hit points equal to the lowest die in the death dice pool that is not a multiple. 

Everybody Gets One

Please note that a new PC will have no dice in his death dice pool. Thus, the first time he gets "dropped," he is not going to die. He still rolls his death dice, however, if only to determine how many hp he gets back at the end of the fight.

Ability Score Damage

Not all versions of D&D and derivatives use ability score damage. Some DMs hate it, some (like me) love it. If you hate it, then this system is not for you and you should probably think about using a different death and dismemberment system. Awhile ago, I started handling ability score damage in the same manner in all the D&D-style games I run. Here's the poop: Upon taking ability score damage, all ability modifiers and their derivatives related to that score must be recalculated. Ability score damage is healed at a rate of 1 point per day of normal activity, 1 point per ability score per day for full rest (no strenuous activity; thus, if you've taken both Strength and Dexterity damage, and your PC acts normally during a day, he may regain one point of Strength or Dexterity, whereas if he takes it easy, he can regain one point of both scores).

Multiple Multiples

Once you get to a 4d6 death dice pool, it becomes possible to roll different numbers multiple times. On 4d6, for example, you could roll "2, 2, 5, 5," or 2 2's and 2 5's. This would result in 2d6 points of damage against ability score #2 and 2d6 points of damage against ability score #5. This possibility, along with the possibility of adding on multiples of the same number with higher death dice pools is why tempting fate is a bad idea to be avoided. Once or twice, sure... but too many times and the death dice pool adds up quickly.

Permanent Injuries

For every five points of ability score damage taken by a PC from any one roll of the death dice pool, the PC will incur one permanent injury. A permanent injury permanently reduces the ability score by 1 (remember that ability score damage will heal) until it is removed, probably through magical means. In addition, each injury has a mechanical effect above and beyond this permanent damage. The ability score damaged determines what sort of injury has been sustained:

  • Strength
    • Severed Arm! - The PC loses the use of one arm and cannot do anything that takes two arms, obviously. The character's ability to lift dead weight is halved (doesn't affect carrying capacity, just lifting). 
    • Severed Leg! - The PC loses a leg. Maybe it was cleaved off or maybe he lost it to gangreene, but it's gone. Movement rate and carrying capacity are halved. 
  • Constitution
    • Internal Injury - Something's not healing right and it causes the PC a lot of pain. Until healed, the PC can't run. 
    • Something's Loose - The PC develops a chronic, hacking cough which is often inappropriate and uncontrollable. The PC takes a -2 penalty to all saving throws vs. poison and disease that is air borne. 
  • Dexterity
    • Muscle or Joint Damage - The PC's joints or joint muscles are stiff and probably painful; he is at a -2 penalty to all dice rolls associated with mobility until healed.
    • Severed Hand! - The PC loses one of his hands. You can't perform any two-handed tasks. 
  • Intelligence 
    • Closed Head Injury - The character is often unable to recall knowledge or relevant skills. The PC is at a -2 penalty to all dice rolls associated with memory and learned abilities. 
    • Language Center Damage - The PC loses either the ability to speak or to read and write until this damage is healed. This is really bad for wizards. 
  • Wisdom
    • Sensory Damage - One of the PC's senses is harmed. The PC is at a -2 penalty to all dice rolls associated with that sense until healed.
    • Impulse Control - The character becomes impulsive and rash; he may need to make saving throws to avoid bad ideas, which he'll make at a -2 penalty. 
  • Charisma
    • Bad Scarring - The character's scarring is so severe that people are often frightened by his visage. He is at -2 to all reaction rolls, even to intimidate. ("Seriously, Bill, don't talk to it! Kill it!" NPCs can be so insensitive...)
    • Speech Impairment - Maybe his larynx is crushed, maybe he bit off part of his tongue, but the PC is having a hard time speaking. -2 penalty to all dice rolls involving verbal communication. 

An Example

Haraldrus is not a lucky cleric. He's faced down death a number of times and has more than a few scars to tell the tale. As a result, his death dice pool is up to 4d6. While trying to escape from Stankwelter Prison, he yet again drops to 0 hp. This brings his death dice pool to 5d6, which he rolls getting 2, 3, 3, 4 & 5. Since he rolled two 3's and his character sheet lists Wisdom as his 3rd stat (woe, poor cleric!). He rolled 3 twice, so he takes 2d6 points of Wisdom damage, which comes out to 6. 6 is enough to score Haraldrus 1 injury; previously, his Wisdom was 14, but it is now (temporarily) 8, with a new maximum of 13. Since Haraldrus is already has fairly poor impulse control the DM rules that one of his senses has been damaged (but graciously allows Haraldrus's player to decide which one; he opts for hearing).

Final Word

This system is not intended for use with DCC, which already has enough systems to take care of this sort of thing. Instead, this system is designed for use with classic editions (up to about 2e, including BX, BECMI, etc.) and their retroclones. Specifically, as mentioned above, I wrote it with Delving Deeper in mind, but I can see how it would work with any classic rule set that doesn't already have rules for stuff like this. While I think that this system will lend itself well to 0e & its clones especially well (particularly when the only dice needed are d20s and d6s like in whitebox D&D or Holmes), I'd love to give it a whirl with the BX or LL rule set.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Metal Gods #2 Cover Art & Info!

In this issue:

  • Secrets of the Serpent Moon! - An adventure toolkit that takes your PCs to a secret Serpent Man moonbase. 
  • Meet the Elder Races: Who ruled Ore before Man? Edgar Johnson learns you about the Elder Races.
  • Heirloom Items for Lowbie PCs: Grandpa Hurg always claimed the family sword was enchanted. Turns out, it might be. An article by Donn Stroud.
  • Looking for some magical items with some decidedly Ur-Hadadly feel to them? Jason Hobbs has you covered.
  • Bounty Hunters of Ur-Hadad!
  • And more!
The price will be going up slightly on this issue because (a) $4 is easier to sort out at cons, (b) we realized that our shipping weight could support a few more pages and (c) postage rates increased right after we announced pricing for issue #1, so we didn't have as much of a buffer in our prices as we thought. So, the in-print prices will be $4 within the US, $4.50 to Canada and $5.50 for the rest of the world and, as always, the pdf copy will be Pay-What-You-Want at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. As before, the zine will probably be available on Gumroad for a week or so before being released for purchase through OBS and PayPal, but that's largely a personal thing. I've got a few more nuts & bolts things to research but, to be fair, I'll wait to handle those until I'm waiting for Joseph Goodman's approval for #2 (which usually takes a few days to a week or so). 

This one is looking great and we're all getting very excited over here at the Kickassistan Ministry of Tourism!

Cradle of Sin: Classes and Hulaszi PCs

My previous post on Hulasz-Arat was meant to give the players in my Tuesday night DCC game a general sense of what I was envisioning for the backdrop of the world. Before we got to the point where folks were making traditional medieval assumptions about how the world worked, I thought I'd nip any of that boring stuff in the bud. Leave your tree-huggin', elf-clogged prancetasy at home, friends, it's time to journey into the Cradle of Sin. 

So the mini-setting has a name: The Cradle of Sin. I wanted something that got close to "Cradle of Civilization," didn't get too close to "Cradle of Filth" and still got across the concept that the area is an old one for the human species, rife with corruption and vice. After lots of attempts at plays on words that tried to sound like "Cradle of Civilzation," I decided to stick to what my gut told me and call it the Cradle of Sin.

As the party draws close to first level (some have hit it already), I thought I'd talk a little bit about how each class fits into Hulaszi society.


As each year of the Hazzakhi occupation of Hulasz-Arat continues, fewer and fewer youths practice the martial arts traditional to the Hulaszi people, favoring instead the fast mounted tactics of the conquering horsemen. Traditional Hulaszi warriors, called tserstezi, are masters of the bronze spear and khopesh, each weapon having specific symbolism: the bronze spear signifies a willingness to fight for the city-state, whereas the khopesh, a close-quarters weapon, signifies a devotion strong enough to die for it. Recently, a band of such tsersezi have made the wine hall known as the Brazen Saint their de facto headquarters, and though they have yet to take any action against the Hazzakhi establishment, the warriors -- who have come to be called "the Brazen Saints" themselves -- have taken it upon themselves to support their kinsmen and defend them from real or imagined oppression and slights from the Hazzakhi. So far, any outbreaks of actual violence haven't strayed beyond fisticuffs and property damage, but these proud sons and daughters of Hulasz-Arat enjoy a waxing popularity that has Sheikh Vassad and his advisors paying close attention.


Thieves are commonly found at the interstices between classes within a society and where that society meets up with others. In Hulasz-Arat, this interstice can be found squarely within the domain of ostlers, animal handlers, drovers, breeders, stable hands, shepherds and other keepers of animals, particularly horses and camels. Horses are especially prized by the Hazzakhi conquerors, and while they offer great prestige to the mightiest of their cavalrymen, they spare little contempt for those who keep their animals, saving the ignominy of this nearly "untouchable" class for conquered peoples and slaves. In Hulasz-Arat, this status, along with the corresponding middle-class status for the same tasks amongst the Hulaszi, means that the ranks of animal handlers has swelled with thieves, smugglers, fences, forgers and other ne'erdowells, most of whom offer at least lip service and some small amount of their income to the Drovers' Filial Society. The Drovers' is ostensibly an occupational guild, but its network of corruption, vice and graft masquerading as essential services makes it easily the largest organized criminal endeavor to be found in Hulasz-Arat.


The Hulaszi still follow the old ways, worship the gods who came before the Hazzakhi. Though there are shrines to any number of gods throughout the streets of Hulasz-Arat and would-be prophets harrangue marketgoers with freshly-imagined dooms and terrors of the afterlife, one institution remains at the heart of Hulaszi spiritual life: the Temple of Owls. In ages past, the ancestors of today's Hulaszi sought the wisdom of the Greatfather of Owls, a primordial spirit that was ancient when the serpent men built their first temples to science and sorcery. The Greatfather asks for few favors nor does he assure the health of crops or other mundane affairs. In exchange for routine sacrifices of livestock and devotional verses (he seems to cherish poetry, particularly clever rhymes or philosophical subject matter), the Greatfather of Owl provides his priests and supplicants with visions, snippets of prophecy and surprisingly specific scraps of knowledge at remarkably opportune times.

[Clerics who venerate the Greatfather of Owls may choose to forego one 1st-level known spell and receive Second sight instead.]


Wizards, from a certain point of view, have little place in Hulaszi society. Sorcery is frowned upon, though not outright banned, and common folk live in fear of any wizards and warlocks in their midst. Few would risk the ire of a true wizard, but hedge wizards and petty seers are regarded with contempt and derision when discovered. Seeing little reason to fuss about with lesser minds, most sorcerers worth their salt retire from Hulasz-Arat proper, maintaining some estate elsewhere. One such sorcerer is the infamous Haudusz Iduit who makes his home somewhere in the wilds beyond the proper reach of civilization. Iduit maintains some ties with Hulasz-Arat, however, and has been known to trade favors with the Drovers' Filial Society and Temple of Owls in the furtherance of some unknowable wizardly agenda. Recently, disturbances in the ether have caused him to take up the hunt for a particular pair of successful adventurers, to whom he offered some small assistance. How this serves Iduit's long-term goals remains to be seen...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Weary Traveler, Hulasz-Arat Welcomes You!

This is a bit of background information for players in my new(ish) Tuesday night DCC game. As usual, I'm not referencing traditional pseudo-medievalist, European material in favor of Howard-style sword & sandal sword & sorcery stuff. Once again, we visit the world of Ore, though a far (ish) corner of it, weeks if not months from Shining Ur-Hadad, this time journeying to a place as old as time, a land that has gone by many names since the Fall of the Elder Races, but that today is home to the Bearers of the Tablets of Fate. 

The walled village of Hulasz-Arat, Jewel of the Lastrides, depends from a curve in that august river like a brilliant pendant. Here, the granite halls and ramparts, bound with bronze, have seen generation after generation of men die in defense of this holy site, their blood and bodies despoiling the fields and waters of the River Lastrides. The cycle of death and conquest ended just over twenty years ago, when Sheikh Vassad bar Hemali of the Hazzakh tribe took Hulasz-Arat at the behest of Emir Sulgo bar Wazi, commander of the forces of Melekh Lemesh the Inviolate. Today, peace has found its way to Hulasz-Arat, though her people know not what to make of it.

The Hazzakhi, like so many conquerors before them, have taken the top rung of Hulaszi society for themselves, and work constantly to acculturate the Hulaszi to their ways, encouraging intermarriage and the veneration of their strange, foreign gods, even going so far as to suggest that the old gods of Hulasz-Arat were not gods at all, but demons sent to lead the Hulaszi astray from the true path of the Hazzakhi gods. The Hulaszi, however, are used to conquerer; they have seen centuries of them come, rule awhile, then fall to the next conqueror and treated like Hulaszi themselves. This is how the Hulaszi culture has survived: through a collective myth that their culture will survive all storms, all hardships, absorbing the fallen once-mighty and outlasting all others. Which is precisely why the longevity of the Hazzaki "occupation" of Hulasz-Arat sticks in the craw of Hulaszi purists: they have had no new conquerors in a generation, and now their children are becoming as much Hazzakh as Hulaszi.

The Hulaszi may not have to wait long for a liberating conqueror, however, and dreams of a Hazzakh state in Hulasz-Arat may indeed be doomed. Abroad, Melekh Lemesh the Inviolate maintains an uneasy peace with his two chief rivals, Sultan Gyusef Skezzet of Thego and Ur-Shah Belnerub VI of Erszan, that shows signs of fracturing. Lately, the Ur-Shah accused Melekh Lemesh of supplying weapons to the pirates plaguing the Erszan coast, a charge which the Melekh vehemently denies. All the while Sultan Gyusef (who would like to be remembered as "Gyusef the Great") masses troops on both the Melekh and Ur-Shah's borders, citing the current dispute as "indicative of continued instability in [his] neighbor nations." War seems likely, if not unavoidable.

People & Land

Hulasz-Arat is encircled, on both sides of the River Lastrides, by steadily-improving fields, the growing fecudnity of which the Hazzakhi conquerers see as vindication of their rule (as if it were ordained by their gods), while it sticks in the craw of Hulaszi nationalists. A wide variety of grains are grown here, as are fruits such as dates, olives and grapes slightly too sweet for wine appreciable to most non-Hulaszi. Some few shepherds and cattlemen call Hulasz-Arat home, but most livestock found in the city is goats and poultry, kept as much for milk and eggs (and perhaps even as pets) as for meat. Most flocks and herds in the area are tended by the nomadic halflings of the region, the Paszsimmir, who cleave close to the mountain passes, known to have odd habits and customs. Many dwarves have come to Halasz-Arat over the ages, oft as not to curate or mererly appreciate the vast endeavor that is the granite work and bronzework the town is famous for. Dwarves are universally respected, widely seen as Man's truest ally in the wars that freed him from the Elder Races a millenium ago.

A few years ago, a bizarre storm washed a ruin of gold-limned wood down the Lastrides to the banks near Hulasz-Arat, bearing with it a collection of refugees from an unknown land. It turned out that these cast-away wretches hailed from the Dreaming Dimension, and the very real storm that had rocked the town had also been felt in the land of sleep, where the nightmarish hurricane tore an elven noble's barge to shreds. Without a home, the Sheikh offered the refugees respite in Hulasz-Arat so long as they swore to keep his law. Since then, the brief refugee solidarity has fled before the calcification of the elves' strict caste system; those of noble birth have little to nothing to do with the underclasses.

The Hazzakh are in truth not too different from the Hulaszi. Both descend from the same stock of southern men who entered these lands in victory after the defeat of the Elder Races. After two decades, the two cultures have grown closer, with even some Hazzakhi foregoing their traditional shaved heads to wear long, bronze-banded braids down the backs in the Hulaszi manner. Some Hulaszi youths have even adopted the Hazzakh fashion of wearing brightly-woven shawls weighted with copper rings. Stark divisions remain, such as the Hazzakhi refusal to invoke the old Hulaszi deities in affairs of state and the Hulaszi insistance that it is the Father of Owls, their own deity, not Gussadagol the Devourer who ushers in both the fall of night and the visions of seers and prognosticators. The merit of the different cultures' musical traditions is a source of bitterness between them, though outsiders rarely can tell the difference.

Again, I've probably written way more than I should have on a few niche topics rather than give a solid overview of the setting. Next time, we'll get into the folklore and geography of the area around Hulasz-Arat, along with the threats that loom nearby.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Up Or Down" Initiative, My Solution To Complex Init Order

Before I be accused of creating a solution in need of a problem, let me explain what my particular issue with individual initiative is: it's freaking complex! It can be really tough to keep track of the wealth of initiative results a normal DCC session can bring up, especially if players are rolling for each of their characters (such as in a 0-level funnel) individually. Even in one of the larger Metal Gods sessions, I've had to keep track of seven or eight PC inits, a few different monster inits, and it just gets out of hand. That's why I developed what I call "up or down" initiative.

I'd like to thank +Claytonian JP for the basis of this system. I read this post of his from G+ ages ago, but couldn't find it again until today and didn't want to write a bunch of crap without proper credit where it's due.

And so, here's how I've been handling initiative in games where individual initiative is used:

Step One: Judge/DM Rolls Init

I'll roll initiative for all of the creatures and NPCs that are in play for the given scenario. Duh. Easy part. I try to keep as few different init rolls as possible on my side of the table, so I'll often roll with the worst initiative bonus out of the NPCS/monsters I've got then sort them out by who's faster or slower later on. I'll announce my init number to the players and it's time for them to roll.

Step Two: Player Rolls

Each player rolls once for initiative, no matter how many PCs he controls. If he does control multiple PCs, he'll use the worst init roll out of the ones available to him. I'll also have players tell me if their characters are casting spells at this time or taking any sort of defensive actions (detecting a theme between this and my previous post?).

Step Three: "Up" Initiative

Starting at my left and progressing clockwise around the table, I'll ask each player in turn whether they're "up" or not, where "up" means "did you beat my initiative roll?" If the player is "up," they get to act. If they've tied, they're "even" and get to go at the same time I do. If not, they're "down" and get to go after the "evens" have gone.

Step Four: "Even" Initiative & My Turn

Typically, there aren't too many "evens," and they know who they are. The evens and I will sort out who's doing what when and to whom, dice are rolled, results are interpreted, the round progresses.

Step Five: "Down" Initiative

Again starting with the player at my left and rotating clockwise, anyone who hasn't had the chance to act yet may do so. Once everyone has taken an action, we go back to Step One and re-roll initiative.

In theory, just as many dice are rolled in this system as in any other system employing individual initiative. However, rather than writing everything down in a big, ordinally-correct list, this system is fast, easy and keeps track of only three variables: are you up, even or down? I added in re-rolling initiative every round when I realized how easy it is to keep track of "Up or Down" init, which lends a bit of unpredictability and switches things up so every round of combat runs a little bit different from each other. Moving clockwise around the table makes it easy for me to keep track of who's next, who's already gone, etc. +Edgar Johnson and I have been toying with different initiative methods for the past two years, and this is the one that I've found works best for me.

This system would work pretty well for 5e, I think, with its normal post-3e individual initiative. Especially when paired with my suggestions for Old Schooling Up 5e, I think "Up or Down" initiative could go a long way to streamline a potentially complex process.

This model does not make anything easier for group initiative-based games, which already have a pretty simple "I go, you go" character to them.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Old Schooling Up 5e

It's been a few days since the free 5e Basic rules hit the proverbial streets and, while we've not had a full-blown edition war yet, it's been really tough to dodge the "we want to have something to argue about so we'll argue about anything we can find" crowd, which is largely why I've been lying low around here. I don't have a horse in that race, but I'd like to add that, particularly in this day of the internet echochamber, inclusion needs to mean including people you don't agree with. Period.

So, let's take a step away from controversy because that's not why any of us are here. I'm sure that some folks are somewhere because of controversy, but it ain't here. Let's move on, shall we?

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend an "unboxing" event hosting by +R.J. Thompson of Gamers & Grognards. This was originally going to be just a Ryan jam, but I ended up jumping in (repeatedly) with my (opinionated) observations. I'm not going to list them all here (I want you to have as many reasons as you can have to watch Ryan's video), but I do want to talk about some ways that I've been working through to old school-up your 5e game. 

These ideas largely build on the concept that old school is less a rule set and more an approach to gaming and, as such, can be just at home in 5e as in 1e. Or BX. Or whatever. Rulings, as Mr. +Matt Finch always likes to say, not rules

Skill Monkeying vs. Player Skill

Every few months, someone trots out the "self-justifying thief" argument as if it's something new that no one's ever thought about before. You know, the one that goes "if thieves didn't exist, then thief skills wouldn't exist, and any character could do those things without needing a thief to do it." This is not a bad argument. It's just old. People aren't going to stop introducing skill systems into games just because the White Box neither had nor needed either. These days, modern gaming is more of the "roll you skill, see what happens" variety rather than the "I narrate exactly what I do" school. 

Old schoolers will naturally go in for narrating how their characters do a thing. I don't want to say that this method is objectively better, but it's definitely more old school and what I prefer. I often have my players tell me how their characters do a thing. Usually this nets them an automatic success (or failure) depending on what they do. In more modern systems, it seems to be common practice to just roll some dice, and let the dice tell you what's happening. If I tell the DM "I look under the bed" and he tells me to "make a Spot check" and I miss the thing hanging out under the bed despite the fact that I explicitly said that I was looking there, that's utter bullshit. There's no reason why the narrated action can't lead to automatic success as much in 5e as it did in 0e, just like it can lead to automatic failure. At very least, action narration can create advantage or disadvantage. The median path of dis/advantage should be a good incentive to get folks who are used to just rolling rather than role playing enough encouragement to get playing in a more old school fashion. 


This one is technically monkeying with the rules, significantly more so than the last since it's a little more than just a ruling. In-dungeon, out-of-combat time in the RAW is kept in minutes. I'm not sure why. Yes, it's slightly more accurate than measuring things in ten minute turns, but there's no real reason to stick with it. The text suggests that it "takes... about a minute to creep down a long hallway..." and "...another minute to check for traps...", but that seems a bit too fast for my sensibilities. Instead of one minute turns, there's no reason a DM shouldn't house rule back in ten minute turns. Of course, you could just rule that all of these tasks just take ten minutes, which I guess doesn't make it much different. 

Initiative, Turn Order & Spell Disruption

There's all of one sentence that I can find in the Basic rules that discusses what happens if you're hit while casting a spell (and it's on page 79 under "Longer Casting Times"), where it's said that "[i]f your concentration is broken, the spell fails, but you don't expend a spell slot." Yet, this doesn't seem to be quite possible in the RAW because of one key missing component of old school gaming: declaration of actions. 

Systems like ACKS require that in order to cast a spell, a caster must announce before initiative has been rolled that they are doing so (this is also applied to defensive actions like withdrawing).  I'd add this extra step of "declaration of intent" to the turn order, accounting for stuff like this, particularly stuff the success of which depends on when other things happen. If a wizard can fail at casting Sleep because he got hit by a stray arrow or a goblin's shiv, then the rest of the group will probably cover him a little bit better, fight together and use something resembling tactics. The oft-overlooked corollary of this rule is that if the players get to go before the evil sorcerer busy casting Golharrad's hoary doom on them, they might be able to save their asses with just one well-placed attack or spell, what's good for the goose being, as it is, good as well for the gander. 

I'm sure there are tons more ways that a DM can old school-ify 5e, and that's the stuff off the top of my head. What about you? How would you tweak 5e Basic to make it play in more of an old school fashion?