Friday, September 4, 2020

Low DnD - Class Changes

 So, we have some general rules in place. I need to finalize armor and the death table, but the rest is ok. 

That brings us to the classes. Remember that we're only going to 6th level, so anything beyond 6th is assumed deleted. The main thrust of these changes is to put magic in a less powerful place in terms of raw damage output and to limit the overly simple and boring problem-solving ability of certain spells or the overabundance of spells available to certain classes all the time.

That may sound overly harsh, or that I'm picking on magic users. Maybe I am, but I don't think so. Here's why. Almost every class has access to spells of some sort. Even fighters can gain spells if they like. If your game includes multiclassing, then any PC can have spells. That reminds me, no multiclassing in LowDnD (TM). Because of the ubiquity of magic across classes, every class is receiving some new limitations and it should balance out.

The second reason why limiting magic is ok is that the style of game I plan to run from the GM side when using LowDnD rules is an OSR style gold for xp, orthogonal problem solving based game. Magic becomes extremely useful in such a game and creative uses for niche spells become the main use for magic. When an entire encouter/room can be completed by pulling a lever on the far side of a spike pit, mage hand can't just be a cantrip, but it also feels really cool and empowering and useful when you have mage hand prepared. In base DnD, magic is only useful for shooting fireballs. One could convincingly make the case that having access to magic in an old-school style problem solving based game is a much greater benefit than having access to magic in base DnD where damage is the primary purpose. That's why I'm nerfing it into the abyss.

A final point while I'm thinking about it, magic in base DnD just comes out of nowhere. You survive long enough to level? Gain some spells. You swear an oath? Gain some spells. blah blah blah. Gain some spells. They are learned out of nowhere. This is a huge missed opportunity. I want spells to be tied into the world somehow. They come from a being which grants power, or are the result of some effort like appeasing a patron or taking a journey to a confluence of lay lines, etc. That said, there is utility in just getting a little magic on leveling up as you learn from your experiences, so I won't totally take it away.

Get on with it:

Barbarian: Fine as is. How interesting.


  • Requires good standing with church to cast. This tangles them up with all worts of people which is great DM material. Likely this is a local representative of the deity which has their own aims and can bring them into conflict. Can be a faithful representative or corrupt. Both are interesting. I'd lean toward the opposite of the cleric. If they are murdohobos, then the representative if faithful, etc.
  • Start with domain spells and 1 additional spell chosen from cleric spell list
  • Only learn domain spells upon leveling
  • Return relics to church to roll for more cleric spells
  • Complete quest to be granted specific spell from church leaders/god
  • Gain 1 spell per level for which you have slots
  • Learn more spells by appeasing spirits in new lands. This similarly tangles the druid up with the spirits of the wilderness which may make demands and bring their troubles to the druid at any time. They might take magic back if provoked as well.
  • Circle of Land doesn't exist
  • Can attune to the landscape you are in to gain the circle spells for that location which you have the level to acquire. Retain these spells until you attune to a new land. This lets the druid fly off to the nearby mountains to commune with the wind to gain specific spells which they need to overcome specific challenges they are facing now in the desert, etc. 
  • Plate is crazy expensive. Probably shouldn't get till 5th or 6th level. This obviously affects other classes as well.
  • At lvl2 gain one spell from paladin spell list, afterward gain oath spells only
  • Can take aura of warding at 7th level instead of feat.
  • Option 1 is no arcane trickster
  • Option 2 is arcane trickster learns Mage Hand and 2 cantrips at level 3 and Mage Hand is a level 1 spell.
  • Non-magic version from Unearthed Arcana is pretty ok
  • No Devil's Sight, or maybe 1/rest for 10 minutes
  • Learning a new spell requires fulfilling wish from patron or other otherworldly being. If you are a warlock, these entities will make themselves known to you similar to nature spirits for druids. Maybe an exorcism or... reverse exorcism(?) grants you a favor from the spirit which manifests in the form of a warlock ability or spell.
  • Only learn spells from specialty school when leveling
  • Any spell can be added to book if found in written form.
  • No
  • No
  • Nope
That'll do it! Remove the lame classes and nerf the rest. Ah. Satisfied at last. It goes without saying that the above is the objectively best way to play DnD and all other opinions will be dismissed out of hand. Having fun playing correctly from now on.

Low DnD

So I've been on a journey the last few years. Prior to this period, I played in a DnD campaign that lasted something like a year or hear and a half. Not a record by any stretch, but my first real long term game. I learned a lot. Mostly, that I'm a problem player and that I prefer to DM, except when I want someone to DM the game I would've DM'ed. Maybe more on that later.

The game was fairly by the book DnD. That is it was high magic, high power, save the universe stuff. Really a good game, but at the same time I would read about these gritty, realistic games that were about player skill and problem-solving where your PC could lose an eye and there was no cleric around to instantly zap it back into place. These games reminded me of what I thought Warhammer was when I was younger and touched a nostalgic spot.

So in the last few years I've tried to get a more gritty OSR-y game a couple times. They all fell apart after a few sessions, mostly due to my own lack of consistency. The last attempt may have had legs, but it caught the covid and all of a sudden my players couldn't meet without potentially killing each other.

But in each of those games, it seemed like I had to make a jump for my players from DnD to something else. Like "Hey, come play DnD, but it'll be a little different." or let's play "old DnD" or something. This was a little odd since my players were mostly new and hadn't had the year + of playing DnD to get used to it and learn what they liked and didn't. They would almost always be on board for DnD and then I'd present something off DnD and just seemed like I was being a bit selfish about it.

So I'm going to continue being selfish, but maybe a little less so, ha! GMs are players too, right?

So the question is, how can I play 5e DnD and make it less about superheroes saving the world and more about resources, OSR puzzles, treasure hunting, and horrible/inevitable death? If you know much about 5e DnD, a few things are going to need to be fiddled with. I've identified the following:

  1. final power level
  2. "the answer is on your character sheet"
  3. magic for all
  4. easy healing

Well, here are some rules for Low DnD that supposedly address the things that make DnD about superheroes.

General Power Level Changes:
  • lvl 6 is the max level you can attain. This is basically straight elite 6. Looking at the abilities each class gets by here, it's really a good place to stop. Fireballs for spell casters and multiple attacks for fighters. These are truly powerful beings.
  • For levels beyond 6, you may get a feat. These don't change power too dramatically and can allow you to learn a few interesting tricks befitting a seasoned adventurer.
  • Along those lines, no feats prior to lvl 7. This makes getting to lvl 7 more rewarding for some players who focus on their character's abilities and "build" them a certain way. It also keeps low level power down.
  • Stats are rolled 3d6 in order. Swap one. Redo if you don't have at least a 14 somewhere.
  • High level monsters are unique. The dragon lives under that mountain.
  • I might limit races. Humans only and also gnomes. Gnomes are belligerent. This is mostly to avoid the abundance of special rules and abilities those other races have that can easily circumvent OSR challenges. I'm looking mostly at dark vision. Actually, if the races don't have a big mechanical effect, then you can be a yeti for all I care.

Healing and Rests:
  • Lunch: Requires food and drink, can spend one hit dice per lunch per day
  • Short rest: Requires food and drink and sleep, Can spend hit dice with uses of healing kit
  • Long Rest: Require 1 week in "town", regain all hit dice. slow healing occurs and can save against some long-lasting conditions
  • Zero hp = roll on death and dismemberment table

This version is mostly taken from Skerples at Coinsandscrolls.blogspot) or just use armor from previous posts
  • Light
    • +2 AC +DEX
    • 2 equipment slots
  • Medium
    • +4 AC
    • 4 slots
    • expensive
  • Heavy
    • +6 AC
    • 6 slots
    • extremely expensive
  • Shield
    • must be held in 1 hand
    • reduce slashing, bludgeoning, piercing by 2
    • Can sunder to reduce one blow by d12
  • No AC when prone
For "Magic for all" and "the answer is on your character sheet" some specific things need to change. There are a few abilities that just solve problems endlessly. First, consider tracking magic components. this puts a bit of work on spellcasters for their endless shenanigans. After that:
  • Goodberry doesn't exist
  • Light doesn't exist or is level 3
  • Mage hand is level 1
Next we'll get into some class-specific stuff and dig deeper into the magic problem.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Interesting Choices and Mundane Armor

So we've established that mundane armor is the pits and that choosing armor involves zero actual choice. Simply choose the one which gives you the highest number allowed and you're set. That's boring. What to do about it?

Design Goals:
  • choosing which armor to wear is hard
  • reward wearing the best armor for the situation
  • ruthlessly simple
  • leverage the systems I already got
So the systems I have in place are armor class (how hard am I to hit), damage absorption (how hard do I get hit), and inventory (how hard is it to carry). I think we can make some hard choices for our PCs with these. I discussed Death saves in my last post, but fiddling with those feels as though it should fall into the realm of magic. Although... thinking about it maybe a helmet should be a separate thing which gives you a small bonus to your death saves? Always wear a helmet!

So here's a table with basic armor types. Now lighter armor makes you harder to hit since you are more maneuverable! huzzah! groundbreaking hacks here, folks. And heavy armor makes hitting you easier, but you get hit less hard.


This looks like it would work well in a game with flat hp and damage. If you are getting hit for d6 damage at a time, then heavy armor is better since there is still a chance to dodge and quite a significant chance that even if you are hit you take no damage. Go up against an ax-wielding giant and the measly 4 hp of damage reduction is going to make you rue the day you found your heavy plate and wish you could properly dodge!

Image result for leather armor
yep, nothing there to hinder your movement

So this effort has all been to capture the distinct feel of different armors. Next is weapons.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Mundane armor sucks!

Rewarding players in-game is something I routinely screw up. In my misguided early years of DMing (like 2 years ago) I wanted my 5e game to be hardcore and so I dolled out treasure at a slow drip. The irony that my PCs could fly well before they had a magic sword was completely lost on me. See every game implies a rate of treasure acquisition by the players, but effing none of them spells it out.

Jimmy has a push-over for a GM

Us poor GMs are stuck here doing maths to figure out how much gold/xp to give players to allow them to level up at a satisfying rate. And I'm not talking about planning out their story arc from level 1-20 and fine-tuning the rewards to match satisfying beats. I'm talking about figuring out a ball-park general range of treasure to put in a given encounter/dungeon.

Once you figure that out, you also should split that value between cash, interesting items, and useful items. The last category is probably navigational items (keys, a grappling hook, a canoe), magical items (+1 sword, boots of climbing, circlet of fire), or both (potion of walk on water). In a low magic setting, or low-level play I have a terrible time coming up with magic items that don't seem lame. Mundane items are often things you buy with your starting copper pieces and never revisit again.

Skip to here
So let's look at armor in RPGs. I'm going to be considering armor from the point of view of the GLOG system I'm currently playing (now that I think of it, I don't use the GLOG's AC values...Anyway, high AC is harder to hit!), but we'll start big enough for any system. Armor is there to keep you from dying. This fictional purpose is typically tied to one of two mechanical effects; reduce your chance to get hit or reduce damage taken. Usually, it does one or the other, but any mechanical system that comes into effect when PCs might die is an opportunity for armor to do its job. I use this nice Death and Dismemberment system.  When one of my PCs reaches 0hp they compare their negative damage to the table to see if they die. This system can be affected by armor just as the earlier rolls and armor will still be right in line doing its "keep you alive" thing. Why not?

Let's define the typical armor types. The AC numbers are obviously different based on your game. I Use roll under attack stat, which is around 10-15 depending on your level, minus AC.

Armor AC Absorption Death Inventory
cloth 0 0 0 0
leather 1 0 0 1
chain 3 0 0 3
plate 5 0 0 5

So that's about the most boring table I can imagine. But that's just what armor is in most games. 5e, it's a don't-get-hit number and they even have damage absorption, resistances, and death saves already in that game!

Anyway, if you're a working DM, then this is probably where you start. You can start to introduce new pieces with absorption and death save effects to make armor more interesting and treasure something other than +1 swords and gold pieces.

So I have three mechanisms armor can impact, four if you include inventory. Let's make some interesting pieces for your low-level game.

Consecrated Curiass
armor class: as plate, damage adsorption: 0, death save +2, inventory: as plate
rusted breastplate pulled from a holy font. angelic chimes ring when armor is struck.

There, pretty basic. Not an interesting choice though. Better plate is a no brainer. What if you already have plate?

Fool's Padded Harness
armor class: as cloth, damage adsorption: 4 from blunt weapons, 0 from others, death save +0, inventory: as plate
a fool in the court of a mad king needs all the padding he can get.

Nighting Gale's Cloak
armor class: as leather, damage adsorption: 2,  death save +0, inventory: 1
the dead of night is hardly the place to be caught unawares.

armor class: chain, damage adsorption: 0,  death save +4, inventory: 1
It's better to be lucky than good, they say. Poor chap I pulled this off must've been neither.

Cast Iron
armor class: plate, damage adsorption: 0,  death save 0, inventory: 7
The slave gladiators of Kust train night and day to heft their heavy plates of iron into the arena. A herniated disk is a small price to pay for protection.

Hmm. Some of those I like! Anyway, that took about 2 minutes to come up with. Once all the playing pieces are pulled out in front of you, it's pretty simple.

What's interesting is that there are situations where some pieces are better than others. That is what leads to interesting choices and hopefully leads your PCs to think about where they're headed and gear appropriately.

We'll see if it works out.

Also, writing this has sparked a few ideas. I'll come back to this soon. What if plate didn't make you harder to hit at all? What if it was just protection against damage? Now my fighter has a tough choice. What if leather didn't provide armor, but allowed you to use your dex as armor? My high dex PCs might have an easy choice, but how about my wizard? Hmmm.

Image result for onion knight

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Magic items by AI

Turns out that we don't need a full idea to make up a thing anymore. We don't even have to search around and piece together half ideas. We only need a few weird words and an AI.

I spoke with Transformer to do the legwork of making interesting magic items. It took like  3 minutes.

Shrouded Eye: A rare item that allows a user to see ghosts. These glowing mirrors are as old as the world itself and can reveal other items like books and scrolls that the user has retrieved through time or magic. All types of ghosts are revealed or destroyed when this mirror is used, allowing the user to recover lost items.
Damn! That's better than I could do!

Shadow Mirror: An item created by the spirits of monsters that help the wearer avoid being harmed. This mirror lets the user cast spells and abilities, as well as gain a sense of security and peace. When a ghost is attacked by one of the shadows, the mirror casts a protection spell to aid the attacker, causing them to be shunned and driven away while the shadow remains.
Does the mirror help the person attacking you? probably. stupid cursed mirrors.

Ascended Deathwatch: A white helmet with several gold rings set on its head. They cannot walk for a short time. Like a guardian spirit, they may appear for a brief moment and then disappear.
Teleportation helm. basic.

Bastille: The glass glows golden orange under a light of 100 lux in the moonlight.
A dim desk light is ~100 lux. hmm.

Borzoi Eyewear: A silver eyeglass with gold eyeshadow.
More of a fashion statement than a magic item.

Brilliant Bamboo Scissors: These sharp and light swords are made of bamboo and shaped like one with sharp edges.
Now we're talkin!

Brick Glasses: Made of durable glass, these lenses allow them to easily move around.

Bryling's Cauldron: The glassware within this glasshouse is composed of a crystal of a crystal. The crystal is shaped with an upside down V-shape and comes in different lengths. The crystal glass can be used to reforge equipment, as well as to create an invisible spell that is invisible to sight.

Frozen Heart Mask: A black hood tied around his neck, the mask provides the user immunity to the ice and frost elements.
Pretty basic, but very usable!

Spirilicious Ring: A ring shaped like a red star that allows the user to teleport to nearby stars. Once used they cannot be removed once the energy from the star dissipates.
Damned cursed items showing up again!

Lustrous Follower: These gold earrings are fashioned from the luster of the fuchsia. They are very popular among both male and female magic users. They are crafted from silver and decorated with flowers.
Fashion souls, anyone?

Amber Lantern: An unusual item created using the spirit of the amber tree, this item allows the wielder to emit sound waves by touching their hands.
This one allows the user to clap!

Shadows to the Past: Black colored glasses that offer excellent visibility around the eyes.
Just, like, some nice glasses.

Invisibility Shades: These dark glasses provide an excellent sense of invisibility. If one is wearing this form, they can see through other people's thoughts even though they are not themselves. The shades are not as bright as before.
Opaque thoughts bothersome no more!

Aura of Absorption and Recall: The form can use this to recall spells that the user cast and that had been cast when the user first stepped through the form.
Nice, MUs always trying to cheat the system.

Mental Retrieval Form: This form allows the user to take over another person's mind with ease. The user is a form that is able to assume control of the thoughts of another person.
Cursed Paperwork needs muuuch more representation in the rpg community.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Mordheim 03: The Proud

"A man without peer. Few are as prodigious with a sword in Reikland as he, and fewer still are more despised. Marius the Proud they call him; a contemptuous title. How many men have you seen wield two swords? Most others would be a joke in battle. But don't let this one catch you laughing."⁣

This model was inspired largely by Jaime Lannister from GOT. I loved the idea of a great swordsman but a flawed man. The chaos cultists kit is great to add some variety to your warband. More to come.


Mordheim 02: The Rat

"A rat, nothing more. Make sure to keep an eye on him. Mordheim beckons the virtueless of all kinds."

Low DnD - Class Changes

 So, we have some general rules in place. I need to finalize armor and the death table, but the rest is ok.  That brings us to the classes. ...