Posts Tagged With: AD&D

Mystic, Psionics, and 5E vs AD&D Balance

So, the playtest of the full, 20-level, Mystic came out via Unearthed Arcana last week and it looks pretty decent. I’m not sure I like all of it, but I like most of it and I find the whole package quite workable even if I have some qualms about specific Disciplines and don’t think there are enough Talents.

I also don’t like that there is no “psionic vs. psionic” combat – all psionic attacks work against anyone, and there is seemingly no benefit in being psionic when it comes to resisting psionic attacks or damage.

Part of this is because I want to keep some of the flavor of AD&D psionics, and there are a handful of things which don’t translate well or haven’t been translated at all – and there are some things which I like a great deal and because I never played 3E or 4E or even any 2E Psionics, I never had any exposure to them. I played with a “Psionics as the random extra” straight out of the Player’s Handbook and the Psionicist class out of the Dragon Magazine. I also used the Deryni from the same issue and adapted various races do include an innately psionic component.

Now, you could certainly adapt Feats as a way to grant some access to psionics without having to go full-Mystic or even have to adopt a psionic subclass (which I am sure will appear sooner or later, I’m pretty sure that’s what the Soul Knife is going to end up as). There are the Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster Feats and some analogy would be easy enough to develop.

But I’m also a fan of the “psionics as a rare and random extra” for characters. So my current thought experiment is that there is a percentage chance equal to the total of the character’s modifiers for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma that the character is psionic. This might be too high, I haven’t checked against the old chances in 1E.

And then a table both for total number and for random Disciplines and Talents – similar to the old 1E method of handling things. I’d probably make Psionic Strength Points a multiplier of level rather than the completely random method used in 1E, perhaps 2x or 3x level, so that it is always lower than an actual Mystic.

5E has attempted (and failed, as usual) to keep characters tightly balanced. The action economy, the mostly nonsense of bounded accuracy, the general increase of hit points, and the overall nerfing of spell-casting (fewer slots, concentration, etc). The problem is that even with spell-casters being nerfed, they still outclass other classes in Tier 3 & 4 play. Some are positively sickening such as the Eldritch Blast Warlock, and the non-caster melee types simply pale in comparison.

As broken as Exalted was (is), this is where it was amazing with it’s Charms, you could play a melee character and it was as bad-ass as a spell-caster (possibly more so in some ways, but that was the nature of the wuxia-inspired system).

So, as an old 1E AD&D DM, I’m much more comfortable with characters of unequal power, and in fact with characters that are fundamentally more powerful than they are in 5E. Heck, I have a campaign world somewhat predicated on it, there’s some wriggle-room, but I really wouldn’t want to depend on a 5E Tier 4 character for the fate of the multiverse…

Pretty much all my house rules continue in the vein of making 5E characters more powerful, especially the spell-casters. We are miles away from the quadratic casters of earlier editions, but I simply have no problems with the idea of high-level casters being significantly more powerful than melee-types.

When I think of high-level spell-casters I’m thinking Gandalf fighting 1v1 with the Balarog (yes, yes, I know that they’re both really angels, but you know what I mean) or Ged fighting multiple dragons by himself, or Elric, or Pug, or even Doctor Strange. These are characters you really can’t replicate any more given the power restrictions of 5E.


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Death and the Player Character (5E DnD)

So, as I study for the EPPP, part of my brain recovery (or cushioning more likely) has been watching Matthew Colville’s Running the Game series and the odd video or three from Web DM. I strongly recommend both sets of videos, for a variety of reasons – you can decide on your own. Now, that said, this has more to do with the recent release of Matt Mercer’s Resurrection rules from Critical Whatever. I don’t watch it, but the rules came across my feed.

It force me to think about this in my game, as well as reflecting on some of the differences between 1E and 5E. In the old 1E games, things were much more lethal, and characters were a bit more careful as result. In 5E, healing is much more available, dying is much harder (mechanically), and there are none of the limitations or costs on Raising that previously existed (System Shocks, Con loss, racial limitations). We are finally at the level where Raise Dead is available (or will be soon) and while I like the idea of Matt Mercer’s rules they are just way to fiddly in some ways. 5E DnD has done a lot to get rid of fiddly in some ways and his rules actually seem more fiddly than 1E AD&D was.

I’ve also been thinking about simply how easy it is to bring back people from death or it’s brink in 5E. I like this flavor to tell the truth, but the Gentle Repose and Revivify combo is a, um, “killer” on top of the normal magical curing, healing kits, and Spare the Dying cantrip. It is really pretty darn hard to die and they’ve made it pretty darn easy to come back from it…

Perhaps too easy for my evolved campaign setting.

Now, one suggestion is to make diamonds (the material component for Revivify, Raise Dead, Resurrection, and True Resurrection) much less common and very difficult to find. Truthfully, I already know exactly had rare they are and they already aren’t that common. But I also don’t exactly mind Revivify given the time limitations involved. I do miss the System Shock rolls of the old Raise Dead spells, as well as the racial limitations – these are huge social and cultural limiting factors in my campaign.

Note, this is also all in my search to re-humanize my world a bit. It is intended to be humanocentric world, and there is no mechanical reason for this in 5E unlike the reasons why this would be in 1E.

So, normal rules of dealing with near death still apply. Dropping to 0HP is just like the rules. Healing from that works as normal and Revivify works as normal. A Saving Throw on the part of the character being brought back from death is required for Gentle Repose + Revivify, Raise Dead, and Resurrection. There is no Saving Throw needed for True Resurrection or Reincarnate. For purposes of effects, any time you are Revivified outside of the base timing of the spell because of some other spell or magic item in the mix, you need to make the Ability Check.

The ability that the Ability Check is rolled on is chosen by the player of the character being brought back as long as they can justify it. The Ability Check is Medium (15), using Bywater-grade diamonds (basically industrial quality) incurs Disadvantage, while 1st Water diamonds grant Advantage. For what it is worth, Bywater is pretty much all that is available in Towns (and probably only enough for one casting of Revivify) while 2nd and 3rd Water are available Cities, and 1st Water diamonds are generally only available (at normal price) in Great Cities.

Things that normally affect Ability Checks will also affect this one – meaning that a group of companions pleading with their deities, cleansing the area spiritually, calling out psychically to help the spirit find it’s way to the body, whatever, can potentially help this roll (see p175 “Working Together” in the Player’s Handbook).

Jewelry with an appropriately-sized diamond in it is very “fashionable” for many adventurers and usually able to be found in most cities.

In the realm of verisimilitude and Gygaxian Naturalism, these sorts of spells also incurs a significant bit of interest in a divine caster’s deity, even if unconscious. So bringing character back from death that do not worship the same deity, are of significant different alignments, etc., etc., etc. can have significant repercussions for everyone involved. Geasa, religious conversion, spell refusal/failure, and the like are all possible and should be expected. This is beyond how some cultures and races view and deal with death. For example, Dwarves can be Raised, but culturally are loath to come back and see it as a curse rather than a blessing. There is also, invariably, some other cost to coming back from the dead – ability score penalty, insanity, whatever. It really depends upon the situation and context – hacked to death by swords is a bit more traumatic than a quiet backstab that killed someone instantly, but assume that dying is troubling to the emotional well-being of a character and even their spiritual health.

I’m slowly updating the write-ups of the character races with their relationship with death.



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Experience, CR, and the whole unholy mess…

I just want to say that I hate the whole CR and Monster Creation process in 5e again.

So I’ve been thinking about alternates.

On the one hand I could probably come up with some sort of analogy for the 1E system. The biggest issue is that there is not a linear progression either from CR0 to CR30 creatures, or even from CR0 to CR24 creatures (which is where the ancient red and gold dragons sit). That has the ubiquity of being something I’m familiar with and I just need to work so the XP for a monster is roughly the same in either game.

The problem with that is that I’ve already been burned by the 1e system before. I do still like the utter and complete simplicity of Alexis’ XP system, but then I run into the problem that 1e also grants XP for treasure and in 5e XP only comes from defeating monsters. His game runs roughly 40% XP for creatures and 60% XP for treasure, so I’d need to double the gains for it to balance out (assuming I wanted to balance things per his campaign style). Plus, XP in general is inflated from 1e numbers and the XP needed to level is greatly reduced. I haven’t done any number crunching yet in 5e terms, but I suspect that the balance would be off even if I did something like tie ??xp per HP of the creature (so that the party got bonus XP for the monster in the same way ).

Alternately, I would just accept that the XP system gets inverted a bit – just as Alexis was trying to address. I think the real place to address things is to grant some sort of XP reward for inflicting Conditions being that they are essentially “quasi-damage” in many respects. This would also solve the problem of “combat effective but not damage producing spells” – how do we reward that?

Now, yes, this system would speed up the already ramped up advancement of the lower levels in 5e and have slowed down advancement at higher levels – maybe… Those humanoid minions are actually “worth something” now in the greater XP picture – a lot of something.

It is so gosh darn simple…





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A quick though regarding character creation in the 5E SRD

Upon reading the D&D 5E Basic rules I can’t help but feel (sans any further information in the Player’s Handbook or the Dungeon Master’s Guide) that D&D 5E missed the boat with an opportunity to create a very simple social class system that would have added one simple step to character generation. Part of this system is the understanding that this is merely the social class that the character has the most experience with. So you could take the Lower Class Noble for a disgraced and disposed Noble, or Upper Class Criminal for a Noble with a criminal background or enterprise. As a further example, someone from the Upper Class could be a noble, or they could be a well-regarded servant, or they could be the agent of some noble family.

Allowing the characters to designate having come from either the Lower, Middle, or Upper classes would add a fair amount of color to characters, grant them additional abilities related to each social class that wouldn’t ruin game balance. Here is my take on what this would look like.

    Lower Class:
    Starting Gold: 2d4x10 GP
    Starting Clothing: Common
    Feature: “Streetwise” – The character is experienced with the streets and the underworld. As a result they know who to speak to, where to go, and how much things are valued in such settings. They are adept at ferreting out such things in places familiar and unfamiliar.

    Middle Class:
    Starting Gold: 4d4x10 GP
    Starting Clothing: Travelers
    Feature: “Thrifty” – The character is well-skilled in trade and negotiation, as well as knowing the value of goods and services that are available on the market. As a result they have advantage when negotiating the prices for goods and services that are legal and/or non-magical in nature.
    Upper Class:
    Starting Gold: 6d4x10 GP
    Starting Clothing: Fine
    Feature: “Intrigue” – The character has lived a life surrounded and immersed in intrigue. They are knowledgeable of the factions and power structures and adepts and detecting the machinations thereof, often being able to discern the “hidden hand” that moves groups and society.

I must admit, there is a part of me that thinks that Streetwise and Intrigue should actually be proficiencies rather than features. I might actually change that when I see what the Player’s Handbook actually looks like.

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Musing about the last AD&D campaign

As I’ve been thinking about the AD&D game I was running I’ve been looking at some of the things I’m not so thrilled with. Training for levels is one thing and weapon proficiencies is another. Experience points are the last place where I am just not thrilled with the basic AD&D system.

Weapon proficiencies were ok, but I wasn’t really happy with the way that they worked. While I like the idea of the different classes being restricted in what weapons they can use (it’s somewhat artificial but I’m ok with it for game balance) I’m less convinced that there is any good reason for limiting the learning of new weapons to level advancement. It seems to me that I merely want there to be a cost in time and money (mostly time) in order to learn new weapons.

Similarly, I’m less than thrilled with the time and costs associated with level advancement. This seems to be a remnant of the particular play style that is very “Grognardian” and reflective of the artifacts of the AD&D experience system. Back in the day I had dropped any level training for fighters and rogues (save for when they wanted to learn a weapon proficiency) and retained some costs for spell casters only when they gained a new spell level (to cover initiation and ritual costs). I’m really thinking that I’m going to do the same thing again. This makes the warrior and the rogue classes a bit more popular (not a bad thing) and in turn makes the magic-using and multi-classes a bit less popular because they are actually expensive to play.

In the old days I’d left the old style AD&D system behind and moved to what was basically the Palladium XP system which was far more based on ideas and planning rather the killing and treasure for the generation of XP. The problem is that this made figuring out XP a large investment of time after I was done gaming for the session. So this time around I went with a mix of that style, plus the old AD&D style, and it was still a ton of work. I really like Alexis’ method of 10XP per point of damage done, 20XP per point of damage suffered, with a bonus for the party on total damage suffered. There would still need to be a bit of something figured out for spell-casters and rogues because I like to reward people for using their special skills, but looking at his number crunching and doing some of my own I think it is a pretty reasonable method.

In any case, I just wanted to get this down for posterity. TTFN!


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Fixing Humans II (1e)

So there is an interesting set of dilemmas when it comes to making humans more attractive as a race – but part of this has to be role-play. As much as I can create some real benefits to playing humans, I think that strongest benefit is ultimately social. That said, there can be some differentiation when looking at humankind that goes beyond merely culture, and my game world has pretty much always done this -thanks to the influence of Tolkien. So, here are the broad varieties of humankind that exist.

The Common Men – This is the vast majority of the humanity, they are common men and women, average in build and appearance. Found across the Mortal Realms, they vary in coloring and build based primarily upon location within the Mortal Realms. For example, the Northmen of Thule are tall and blond, the Kistathians are of average height and dark in complexion and hair, and tribesmen of Zul are black of skin and hair.

The High Men – The hidden scions of Ryl Shantor, the blood of the High Men that runs through all those with blessed with the Talent. Those for whom the blood runs particularly true are fair of form and strong in body. In High Men the Talent is often linked to red hair, though not exclusively, and the bloodline can run dormant with Common Men for generations before flowering again for unknown reasons.

The Beastmen – Generally considered a primitive people, the Beastmen are often considered barely human at all with their sloping foreheads, and almost brutish appearance. They have an intentionally simple society eschewing magic and power, preferring to remain a quiet people living in simple conditions as a matter of philosophical choice after a long ago history of conquest and bloodshed. Ogres are considered to be a further devolved form of the Beastmen by many sages.

The Ithians – The rulers of the great continent of Ith, the Ithians are the descendants of the slave race of the Serpent Kings. Pale of complexion, smooth of skin, and black of hair, the Ithians are a sensuous and decadent people with a dark and hidden secret. They carry the blood of the Serpent Kings within them, and while it gives they power it also carries the seeds of their corruption. An ancient and hierarchical society, their inbreeding and dark magic often brings about chaos and insanity in the end.

The Old Race – The dreaded and fallen remnants of the first men, the scions of the First City, the Old Race do not dwell in the Mortal Realms. Instead they have wander the Paths between the Realms and weather the Maelstrom, occasionally returning to plague upon their descendants. Over time, they have developed the Talent to a extreme degree, and have a complex but evil society. Angular, thin, pierced, and tattooed the Old Race barely appear human to some.

The Feyhd – When the Great Old Ones, now known as the Five Demon Emperors, attempted to corrupt Aden, most humans were cast out into what became known as the Mortal Realms. But some, those who most fierce with anger and fear in the chaos of the War Without End, ended up in the Great Waste. The Feyhd are those humans that have survived and thrived within the lethal and dangerous testing ground that is the Great Waste, creating a people and society when only the strongest and most intelligent survive.

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Fixing Humans… (1e)

So as I mentioned in the last post I’m trying to fix the balance for taking human vs. non-human characters. This was always a bit iffy in many AD&D games because there was rarely a downside for playing a demi-human. Many campaigns never reached the level caps and of those that did, they often seemed to ignore them or have rather easy ways to sidestep them.

I’m generally happy with what I’ve done with Demihumans and Darklings (Half-breeds of Goblins, Ogres, and Trolls) and Shadowkin (the creatures of the Shadowlands) so I don’t want to mess with them particularly. Yes, they are significantly more powerful than they are in standard AD&D, but they’ve been that way for years now and I don’t think the change in engine really makes this a game breaker.

What I do have to do, in a game without skills, is find a way to boost up regular humans into something that is attractive beyond simply being the most predominant race that advances the quickest via XP. My current model for this is using secondary skills/professions and linking them to additional abilities or skills and having this be a human only benefit. This could range anywhere from allowing a initial dual-class, to additional weapon proficiencies, to tracking ability, to any number of isolated special skills for various character classes.

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LOL! Yeah, there’s been another slight break here…

Apologies for that, life and work has been busy.

A sad part is that I haven’t really been gaming. There was a little bit of Dark Heresy with my son that led to the musings on the Lost Imperium project, I’m not done with that, I think it would be lots of fun to run. I’ve been talking with my spouse about running a small little Artesia game just for the two of us and at the same time revisiting the “Pulp Cthulhu” (using Call of Cthulhu) game that I was running for my son and KT.

I’ve also been doing some real pondering about what went wrong with my AD&D game. In some ways that’s not a fair statement because I know people had fun, but I think I burned out a bit faster than I was expecting. It was also more of a s=chore to pick the game up again after 15 years and start running it.

Part of that was having other old-time AD&D players in the game (KB & CB) who were used to their own house rules and who have been playing in a several edition long campaign elsewhere (now in some 3.5E version IIRC). Going back to 1E was a great blast from the past for them, but I really had some very different house rules that they weren’t used to and I was also getting used to AD&D again on top of rebuilding an old set of house rules.

Some of the new house rules don’t work as well as I’d like (and will get tweaked again), some work really well, and in some ways I’m wondering if I was/am trying to make things too neat and clean. Now part of it was trying to come up with a coherent version of some of my older tweaks to character classes (Bards, etc) and make it easier for newer players who hadn’t been playing the game for years and didn’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of old articles, character classes, spells, magic items, etc.

At the same time, my campaign world has another 15 years of non-AD&D development and that has taken it away from a straight AD&D game as even just perusing my character races would show. That said, one of the things I’ve realized is that I either need to dial down the powers of non-humans (which I’m loathe to do because I do like how they feel) or I need to figure out how to increase the appeal of humans as a player race. That’s something I’m struggling with slightly, but it may simply be a matter of increasing the XP penalties of being non-human so that humans advance significantly faster or coming up with some extra penalties that the non-humans suffer from.

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Long time no see…

Yeah, life did get pretty crazy there for a bit. I don’t think it has really gotten any less crazy, but at this point I’m starting to acclimate…

The AD&D game is on hold, after the switch to the new setting we had a great time starting the Slaver series, pretty much trouncing through A1. But due to the chaos I was basically burned out and when my spouse was ready to take over running a “Cybertraveller” (Cyberpunk 2020 and Traveller mashup) game we had an extra bit of chaos thrown into the works and we had to cancel that plus pretty much all formal group gaming.

For the last few weeks my son and I have been playing in our shared Dark Heresy game. Itself a bit of mashup because it has been combined with the rest of the FFE WH40K games. It is just my son and myself because my spouse and our friends really don’t have much of a desire to play in it’s the dark future setting.

This Friday past we (my son and I) went to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and I was struck by how much the vaguely steampunk setting would work in a low-tech Dark Heresy setting. The witches in the film are excellent examples of Chaos-taint, and the steampunk-esque weapons certainly had a WH40K feel to them.

And that had me thinking.

Why couldn’t the setting of 41st millennium be re-imagined? It doesn’t have to actually be so unrelentingly god-awful and dark, that’s a function of how the Imperium works – and there are certainly plenty of examples of how there is definite scalability to that even in the official universe. So I’ve starting think about how everything could stay the same but at the same time be massively different…

I have a couple of very interesting ideas, and much of it involves delving into the apocrypha of the WH40K setting – not hard because I was playing 40K back in the days of the original Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader rules. So I’m going to be using this space to talk about this alternative setting, which has it’s start in bright hope of the Great Crusade, before the dark days of the Horus Heresy and the slow descent of the Imperium into madness and chaos…

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Status Update


Life has been, well, really crazy for the last couple of months. Gaming-wise, I’m behind on game logs, behind on rules updates, and I’ve made some interesting and major changes in the campaign.

The short version is that the group finished up with Castle Amber – which in and of itself let me implement a couple of changes to correct things that we “out of whack” with my current campaign. I realized that I reached a point where it was impossible for the players to keep up with the DM (me) on just sort of simple “world knowlegde” because I’d been running essentially the same setting for such a long time.

So I took the wierdness of Castle Amber as an excuse to jump the group forward in time and space when things ended.

So they are roughly 1000 years in the future and in a brand-new part of my world – I have somewhat steadfastly decided to not worry about where it is in relation to where things were. Given the somewhat mallable nature of the Mortal Realms I’m not sure I ever have to determine that. I’m having a great deal of fun worldbuilding again and the entire group gets to participate in the process. I think that this is an undermentioned aspect of world-building – the role of player participation.

Sometimes this is really explicit – my spouse invented a whole culture once because she wanted something new to play – and other times it is more accidental – Gnomish culture is pretty much the result of two different players in my old game.

But currently, the characters are investigating what could be done about a group of rampaging slavers…



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