Monday, October 31, 2022

Mixed Genres: Renaissance & Middle Ages

The more I read ACKS and realize how much this game is like an "OSR Runequest," and the more I learn about the Middle Ages, and the more I contrast this with the Renaissance and the game Lamentations of the Flame Princess, the more I realize what a freaking mess D&D made of the fantasy genre.

Granted, Runequest is "Bronze Age," and ACKS is "Middle Ages," but the parallels are there. What are we used to? Renaissance fantasy. What are we getting? The age before, without as many world-changing technologies, without the modern tropes, and with a lower, more primal technology level and set of survival-oriented concepts and kingdom-building stories. So much of B/X thrusts you into already divided-up and settled Europe-like worlds, and you feel nothing is left to explore - with only politics and "threats to civilization" as your driving campaign forces.

In the Middle Ages, you are in the ruins of empires, discovering and settling the land.

The D&D fantasy genre isn't in the fantasy genre anymore; it is "science fantasy," with magic replacing science. This is as bad as people thinking all science fiction is Star Wars or every space adventure should be Guardians of the Galaxy. By default, the D&D genre is Renaissance-flavored with "magic Star Wars technology" thrown on top. Everyone is a Jedi Knight/caster class.

100% Recycled Fantasy Content

And we could be in a better place. Fantasy feels stuck in D&D, and while this started with Tolkien and the Appendix N greats, the genre now is just recycled tropes and stereotypes done over and over. We have always stayed in the typical D&D fantasy style, and we can always escape its generic gravitational pull. Today's D&D fantasy style is like when people complained about "corporate rock" in the 1980s; it sounds like it was made for radio play, please, no guitar solos, and keep it ear-friendly and non-controversial. And corporate rock really had no artistic or musical merit.

It sold well, and it sounded good, but what was it?

And these days, we are stuck in this horrible generic "corporate fantasy," and you know it when you see it. It whitewashes any injustice or conflict inherent in the genre, ignores history, and the world is essentially a modern world dressed up in Renfaire clothing full of cosplayers and cartoonish tropes.

It does not even feel like fantasy; it feels like a "dress-up action battle game" where you are meant to win, and the same generic tropes enable these almost "Power Rangers" style fights where violence as conflict resolution is encouraged. The consequences of using violence are ignored. Using magic to kill enemies and blades to hack living things apart is "okay" and "fun."

And these tropes and almost ignorant simplification of the world become a part of the modern-fantasy genre, and you see this recycled again and again. To escape it, we either need to do new and different things or go back to the past and rebuild the genre entirely.

The Renaissance

You look at the actual Renaissance, and you have the origins of:

  • Colonialism
  • Slavery
  • The Killing of Native Populations
  • The Modern Banking System
  • The Wealth Gap
  • The Founding of Nations
  • The Rise of Science and Modern Knowledge
  • International Trade
  • Modern Religion
  • Climate Change
  • Environmental Destruction
  • Wars as Commerce
  • Gunpowder, Coal, and Oil and the Printing Press
  • And the beginning of the Industrial Revolution

Yes, there is a reason I prefer Lamentations as my Renaissance game and not D&D because a horror game better fits the era and all the destruction and damage that we are still living with to this day. Renaissance societies were lavish and wealthy because they went around the world killing native populations, enslaving them, and stealing their resources. The characters in a Lamentations game are as guilty as characters in a horror movie and meet the same ends due to their sins and greed.

But my D&D world is a fantasy world, not that! In the real world, the empires used gunpowder and science to subjugate native populations; in D&D, it would just be magic. Look at the magic in a D&D game and figure out how today's corporations and governments would use it. Yeah. It isn't good. it almost is a Robocop-level of corporate greed bad.

D&D characters with their ultimate powers thematically feel like the "have it all" western society.

They have that "savior complex" built in. Granted, the hero has the same thematic arc - but a hero typically has to fight against the odds, going from zero to hero. D&D characters start as entitled and get more entitled. And they reach the ultimate epic levels of entitlement, where they are too entitled to even face death. D&D characters feel too invulnerable, especially at higher levels, and that is a problem for basic storytelling.

They are all Superman.

The Middle Ages

And a setting change to the Middle Ages would not help since that would not fix broken rules. Also, the Middle Ages were not so squeaky clean either, and you have:

  • The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Nation Building
  • The Crusades
  • The Silk Road
  • Vikings and Marauders
  • Mongol Invasions
  • The Dominance of Religion over Society
  • Religious Wars
  • Inquisitions and Religious Persecution
  • The Rise of the World's Major Religions
  • Peasantry and Serfdom
  • Religion's Persecution of Science
  • The Destruction of the Old Faiths and Gods
  • And, of course, let's end it all with the Black Death

If the Renaissance is Star Wars, the Middle Ages is "hard sci-fi" Traveller. And there is a clear difference between the genres and times. My lists are a bit loose and have a lot of overlap, but in gaming, there are some things more Renaissance than Middle Ages, and I see the concepts and themes mixed all the time. And it drives me crazy.

I like the Middle Ages as a fantasy setting. It strips away a lot of the more-modern themes in a Renaissance game, and brings the entire Conan-like "ancient culture" decline into sharp focus, and pits that "old ways of magic" against the "new religion" and of course, the seeds of state power. It gives us the typical "destroyed empire" to explore and rebuild in, and many lost cities and places of ancient power. The fight between the old ways and the new is happening now, and by the Renaissance, that battle has been already won and the fleets of empires are out sailing the world and killing off native populations. The Middle Ages does have a very 4X "survival horror" feeling.

The modern D&D genre is this strange recycled reality built off Tolkien. Then it goes through a series of game world transformations - Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, the D&D 4 and 5 planar cosmology, and pop culture rebranding. It gets mixed with the MCU and anime, and it just is this own reused and regurgitated set of assumptions and standards that feels "D&D" to us. It is very much like recycled cardboard, endlessly derivative of itself and repetitive. Even the art style feels "D&D" after a while, and you can tell immediately.

The easiest way to resolve it is by saying D&D is not in the fantasy genre anymore.

D&D is its own genre, like Star Wars is its own genre (and not sci-fi).

While D&D is Renaissance-flavored, it isn't really that time. This is science-fantasy. They play on the Renaissance tropes, though, sometimes to their detriment (Spelljammer's art comes to mind). Instead of hiring and cultivating visionaries, they rely on the past 50 years of fantasy gaming as their genre. They endlessly recycle, borrow, appropriate, and copy, and I feel they suffer for it.

Just like Hollywood.

Not Real, Recycled

I have a bit of D&D fatigue, like Star Wars fatigue. I go back to my real history books, and I read, and I get this feeling the recycled modern D&D genre is just too corporate and clean. It feels sterile. It feels overly safe. There does not feel like there is any conflict built into the setting, nor is there much danger. Play a high-level campaign, and you realize that all the danger is manufactured, death is impossible, and failure is infrequent. The entire game feels like a video game in "easy mode," you are meant to win, and you get the option to skip challenging sections. And you can jet off to other planes and live in utopias if you want.

I crave the real these days.

I crave enlightenment, not entertainment that repeats ideas from the last 50 years only, like some sort of Hollywood nostalgia time loop. I feel stuck in the D&D genre, and I can't break free. Even now, the way I think about fantasy feels stuck wearing the D&D rose-colored glasses. To get away from this, I need to play OSR games.

I need my history.

I need lower fantasy and OSR games that give me that "real" feeling. I don't want magic to be the answer to every problem (another D&D trope) and for every class to have magic. If most of the classes are casters, magic isn't special anymore. One D&D is making more classes full casters - thinking magic will fix a broken class design. It won't. You will have D&D 4 all over again. Everyone is a caster, and nothing feels special.

Magic is Not Technology

We also have the pitfall of "magic is technology" in the modern fantasy genre, and you end up giving it to every class thinking technology solves all your problems. It can create more problems than it fixes.

And thematically, magic in history was never technology. It was always heritage and culture, peoples' beliefs, and that faith created temples, great cities, and pyramids. To say magic is a metaphor for technology is to colonize magic with the Western ideal. It is not that, nor was it ever. Magic as technology was never a thing, and I bet it was made up by 1950s advertisers trying to sell toasters.

But most of all, the nature of magic created the universal set of myths we all live with - and we are born with. Magic is metaphorically myth, and myth is rooted in culture and heritage.

Why does that ship sail through the stars, and the city float on an island in space? Is it because you need a cheap science-fantasy excuse to make that happen? Or are those concepts part of a culture and part of their beliefs and ancestry? If you say it is the former, you take away the latter.

If magic is an essential part of a culture, you give power to the people of the world and cultures.

If magic is technology, you worship and cede power to the corporation.

Magic has no resource cost! You can regain spells and cast them as much as you want! Magic is progress! And you replace magic with the climate-destructive consumer culture, and you begin to see why modern fantasy is so "corporate-friendly" with these concepts. You make people ignore the costs of progress and power, and you can continue to siphon money from them by playing on that belief that all progress comes without a cost.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Savage Pathfinder: Meatier Enemies

I was doing some test plays with Savage Pathfinder, and wow, the enemies are "meatier" than your typical B/X enemies. They display quite a degree of toughness and resilience, and even though most foes are "extras" in SW and get incapacitated on just one wound, getting them to that point is a lot tougher in a one-on-one fight.

It comes down to getting an extra into the shaken condition, winning initiative on the next turn, and shaking them again (with damage, not a condition). It is far easier with a 2-on-1 situation, but I had this test fight between my barbarian character and a gnoll, and there was a long back and forth where the gnoll would get shaken and throw the condition off on the next turn.

And the toughness values ensure you need an excellent damage roll to inflict a shaken condition, which is more challenging than it first seems. And the game adds the "resilient" and "very resilient" monster special abilities that allow you to throw one or two extra wounds onto an extra (not wild cards) onto extra to simulate higher hit point monsters.

The Savage Pathfinder Bestiary was created by some really talented monster designers who know the Savage Worlds rules inside and out, and the designs are a masterclass in taking a 3.5E style monster and translating the difficulty and challenge of that creature into a new rules system and keeping the experience intact while working within the rules of the new game.

But meatier monsters mean you need less of them, and you get a lot of B/X adventures and classic D&D and AD&D monsters that equate challenge with quantity. Many classic D&D modules will think nothing of throwing 6-10 goblins in a room as the "guard post." If you are trying to convert this into a Savage Pathfinder adventure, you would probably reduce the numbers in the encounter and always remember to group them up into groups of at least three, so they can get the +2 "gang up" bonus to their fighting rolls when they attack (and also remember, this can be canceled out by a similar number of defenders on the other side).

Also, Savage Worlds has the option of "one roll per group" for skill rolls - but in combat, the rules assume "one roll per group member." Savage Pathfinder, page 133, emphasis mine:

If three goblins attack a single hero, for example, each of the three goblins add +2 to their Fighting rolls.

B/X and C&C can handle large combats pretty well, with a single d20 vs. AC roll plus hp damage, and the AD&D game has its origins in a wargame, so there is that "mass battle lineage" in the rules. Savage Worlds is a much more cinematic game, and it does better with those "one on one" battles and fights with a fewer number of more formidable enemies and the tense back-and-forth swings of combat. You can do mass battles with Savage Worlds, but to avoid each combat from turning into a night-long slog, I would reduce the number of enemies, give the flavor of the challenge, and keep the story going faster.

If you halve the number of goblins in a room, you can always throw those extra ones in or have them run in as reinforcements if the encounter is a complete blowout in favor of the players. Or have them as a hall encounter if you feel things are moving too quickly.

Again, Savage Worlds is a game that simulates a "movie reality" instead of a "reality simulator" like a GURPS or a Champions. Focus on the pace and beats of the story instead of worrying about the encounter challenges, and adjust on the fly as you referee the group of players and gauge their combat power. Forcing the players to "burn resources" in non-story encounters is the goal since that heightens the tension and raises the stakes of end-boss fights.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

5E: Precalculated

I did more YouTube D&D watching, and I found a few having an issue with how everything in D&D is precalculated and complaining about the minimal choice in building characters or selecting weapons and armor.

Single-handed weapons? Pick one that does a d8, and go for martial weapons if you can.

Two-handed weapons? Ignore damage, and always go for reach.

Dual wielding? Go for the d6, and your damage output will equal a two-hander.

Armor? There is really one best pick, and that depends on your DEX.

And as you level, all the choices you make feel like they were run through a computer thousands of times, and the damage outputs and effects really don't matter much beyond "the best choice you should make." Either that or the statistics majors have gotten to them and found the absolute best choice.

And the martial-caster damage gap gets worse at every level, so no choice you can make as a martial character matters. Even defenses get better for casters.

So, just play a caster.

Wizards have always made overpowered casters in D&D; every version they made of the game was superheroic-magic and, frankly, overpowered the casters to an insane degree. And they can't maintain a version and keep the game stable for more than 5 years before the overpowered options creep in, and we need a new edition again. Yes, the game is insanely popular, but design-wise they have not done the best job.

The game they were given with AD&D 2nd edition worked fine. The OSR proves that easily.

Every edition of D&D since Wizards has taken over has been another significant change.

Part of me feels they change things to sell books, as this is the Magic the Gathering sales method. And I get the feeling for the last 20 years, the game hasn't really been in the best of hands. They refuse to support their world settings. The lore past 3.5 feels dead and unsupported. They embraced the World of Warcraft-style default setting, and the fiction and excitement around their "worlds of adventure" feel long gone.

Given D&D 4's mess of a design, the damage gap between martial and caster characters was not that high. D&D 5 went back to the "glass cannon" caster design philosophy, and then, later on, they just went and added equivalent defenses for casters anyways. Because I suppose casters complain the loudest. And there are designers at Wizards who have no clue what some of these changes do to the game.

I am still reading Level Up Advanced 5E and seeing what they did to address this problem. Part of me feels like the obvious answer for 5E is "more rules," but the game is already heavy enough with rules, so why would I need more to patch issues? Fighters and martial characters are very cool in Level Up - I give them a lot of credit for making them enjoyable again.

I honestly get the feeling trying to patch 5E's flaws is like taping together a shelf, so it keeps standing up. At some point, just get a better shelf.

Low Fantasy Gaming does many cool things, too - primarily by throwing out 5E rules and replacing them with "fun play" systems like exploits. Exploits in LFG solve many of 5E's problems and add that "Savage Worlds" flair to the game. Out of all my 5E clones, LFG is hands-down the best and one I would play to get my investment out of the 5E third-party books on my shelf.

But it does this not by writing more rules but by throwing them out and replacing them with thematic systems. The exploit system, the resting system, arcane dark & dangerous magic, the faith & favor system, the escape & evasion system, the supply system, the skill system - seriously, read this book and check out all the fun "minigames" they added to 5E and realize all the heavy rules they replaced. They didn't patch and tape; they did some fascinating game design to enhance OSR-style play but abstract a lot of the bookkeeping away.

LFG is honestly a genius design.

But it also has a lot of baggage in the base system to deal with, including Wizards' habit of overwriting and over-connecting every rule to each other and introducing complexity where there should be clarity and simplicity.

Friday, October 28, 2022

The 50% (or more) Price Increase

This is how the world works.

And Hasbro wants to increase profits by 50%  - or more - over the next 5 years. I expect the prices of books, and the number of them to buy, to go up dramatically for One D&D. And it will probably be the only game you can afford to play since companies these days have this way of making you feel left out if you don't give them your entire gaming budget.

This is the world you live in with "influencer brands" and the revolving money wheel between Wall Street companies, advertisers, and YouTube influencers who honestly give more than they get (and very few there earn a living wage).

So here comes One D&D and more ways for you - the customer - to spend money.

And there goes D&D YouTube; if they want a part of the sweet ad money, they will start creating buzz. Remember that most YouTube performers work for free and give billion-dollar companies free labor.

And yes, you will be expected to pay more and buy more to "be on the hype train!"

And here comes the nostalgia to help lubricate the sales push! It would not surprise me if they started to roll out One D&D Campaign setting updates for every TSR property and mostly cut and paste while inserting a few controversies here and there to create B&O - buzz and outrage.

What did they do to Elminster!!!? This makes me so mad!

I never used that character, and I have the power to say he doesn't exist, but the controversy!!!

And most people will be suckered in by B&O because it works so well.

This is also why those who play the influencer brand game dislike the OSR. I can buy (or get the game for free) and be completely free from having my entertainment budget drained by influencers and the corporations who support and create those parasitic brands and experiences. Some games I play are decades old. Others have stayed the same and only done printings to keep things fresh.

I am not being pressured to spend money with the OSR. I can play many games for free. And I do not have to create a budget for my fun and feel "left out" if I can't afford a book or online service.

I love 5E, but I feel the marketing and sales of the game feel predatory. It does not feel like the game I started with nor the one the original creators worked on. I push OSR alternatives, even for 5E, because some still love the framework and feeling.

I can love and support the game without loving and supporting the business practices behind it, and some of the social media influencers feel like levels in a pyramid scheme of marketing and buzz.

You know, if you don't buy the thing I am talking about today, you will feel left out!

You wouldn't want that, would you?

We spend so much time together!


Wednesday, October 26, 2022

One D&D Needs Simplicity

When I first got into Magic the Gathering with my brother, I bought a starter set, and the one thing I learned is rulebooks - the size of a playing card - that are hundreds of pages long - for a card game - in 6-point type so small you can't read - are one of the dumbest things the company ever did. You would think that for a card game, you could figure things out with the information on the card.

But no.

And this "writing too many rules" bloat and waste have stayed with the company ever since.

Even the D&D 5 Basic set is around 180 pages of rules.

Many TSR games in the 1980s were under 64 pages for a complete game.

Stars Without Number has one page of rules summary that covers 95% of the game.

I think Wizards needs to learn how to write fewer rules, be concise, brief, and to the point, and simplify a set of rules. They write way too much, and worse, they have little self-control when making one-off rule changes and modifications because a designer wants a power or feat to work a certain way. They write too much, toss in exceptional cases whenever they feel like it, and keep piling on extra books, overpowered options, and complexity when they need to meet their monthly sales numbers.

One D&D should exist as a core set of rules in under 8 pages of text, and that is very generous since many other games can do a complete system in less. A description for a class should be under two pages per class. Everything should be pared down and simplified to the least information possible.

Old School Essentials does an incredible job of simplifying and presenting the information. What I want out of One D&D is this book, but for 5E, and just as tight and organized. No fluff, overwriting, no going on and on, and no making exceptions everywhere. And this game proves you don't need to overdo it, just do it very well, and you will become the de-facto market leader in a genre of gaming.

5E is an excellent set of rules, but it needs an OSE level of simplification and rewriting. I can only imagine how great the game would be if someone turned 5E into a "New School Essentials" book.

And I feel Wizards is incapable of creating a set of simple rules because that level of organization, self-control, and discipline is not in their company DNA. Is this part of why I like them? Yes. It is a huge problem? That can also be a yes.

And keeping backward compatibility may make writing a book like this impossible. They may run into the "Win32" problem that Microsoft and Windows suffer with, in that the company can never get rid of an outdated and insecure API. Backward compatibility with 5E may drag down the entire company and prevent them from revolutionizing the game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

5E Third Party Products

So I recently wanted to go and shop for 5E books to support my Low Fantasy Gaming book and...

While 5E is enormous, I am not seeing all that much stuff I can use.

Monster books are fantastic and give me options, and there is a handful of generic adventures. Then several companies are putting out previous OSR modules for the system (the OSR versions are better values), and there are a few setting books here and there. The market is dominated mainly by Wizards and these hybrid adventure plus rules expansion books.

There are the 5E adventures reincarnated books, and that is a solid series, but I am a little tired of nostalgia. Several OSR mega-dungeons have been converted to 5E, but the OSR versions will work with several games and stand the test of time. Once the cross-over OSR-5E books are out of consideration, my options are minimal.

Planar Vacations

Many 5E books are also not very useful because they assume the plane-hopping campaign that Wizards has been fond of since the D&D 4 days. I want adventures in one world, locations, and fun epic places. I do not want to diminish my campaign world by popping in and out of reality and heading off on planar vacations. This is a strange feeling that D&D 5E is not really suited well for realistic, generic, or simulation games - and the entire D&D genre has moved into the science-fantasy realm (with magic as science).

Everything feels thematically similar to Starfinder, with hundreds of "talking shape" lineages, planar/star travel is everyday and commonplace, clockwork, androids, and even the classes are more fantastical out-there than grounded in realism. Magical/robotic companions are everywhere. Technology has advanced (steampunk or magic-punk) to the point where every modern convenience has been simulated by proxy. It is beginning to feel like D&D 5E, Starfinder, and Pathfinder 2E are all the same game - not in rules, but in the setting and genre.

It is all science fantasy now.

Don't Stay Here Too Long...

I do not like the default D&D cosmology these days; I feel it has been massively overdone and turned into a garish theme park meant to sell you books. It used to be strange, dangerous, and mysterious - with sub-planes where nothing worked as you expected and insane infinite realities of monsters and strange architecture and environments. Nobody lived there because they couldn't, and it was never safe. Entire regions could disappear overnight or be lost forever, and gates would never return there.

These days? Fantastic and it feels mostly safe. People live out here! The planes used to be strange, impossible to travel to, and mysterious. These days they are overdeveloped and sprawl-filled suburbs full of 'lazy writer ideas' that would have worked better in a real campaign world, but, you know, it's the planes! Anything goes! Plane of clowns? Sure! Plane of bored typist stenographers? Sure! Plane of stand up comedy clubs? Why not?

The outer planes feel like a dollar store filled with disconnected junk.

My original ideas were more of a Lovecraftian interpretation, but it worked incredibly well. We had one plane, which was a mirror realm, and there were broken mirrors everywhere, and the PCs saw reflections of themselves everywhere. Then those reflections started to do different things than they were currently doing. Some of the reflections were being killed by traps or monsters. Others were stabbing their fellow party members in the back and going evil. Then they started to meet other versions of themselves who may say a few things, act strangely, and then disappear when they turned around. Then more strange things happened...

They never went back there.

And whenever they saw a mirror again back home, strange things could happen. Yes, the plane's magic was sticky (and they never knew this), and since this was "creation magic," it could never be detected, wished away, or dispelled.

If you stayed in the Beastlands too long, you started developing animal features, eventually turned into an animal, and then scampered off to play with your animal friends forever.

There was nowhere safe, and the planes changed you, killed you, or slowly drove you insane. The only escape was going home to the Prime Material Plane.

Steampunk is Industrialization

Even the over-use of Steampunk, a trope invented during the Industrial Revolution and presenting all industrialization and technology as good and never showing the dark sides, is another Westernization of the genre. Massive industry in low-tech worlds is wasteful, kills the environment, puts massive coal-burning factories and smokestacks in your cities, sets up these colonialist resource grabs and industrialized wars, creates extreme wealth stratification, and takes an innocent fantasy world and smears coal dust, blood, and oil all over the society. 

Not to mention the entire mess of "automation rights" - are robots seen as property or citizens?

Yeah, it gets messy.

And none of this technology is "green."

Yeah, real messy.

There are parts of this current genre I feel dip into extreme Westernization and turn D&D 5E and Pathfinder 2e into "Bad American Tourists: The Roleplaying Game."

Where is the Cool Stuff?

I am likely looking in the wrong places, or great generic "traditional fantasy" 5E content is tough to find. Perhaps those who write books want their books to "fit in" with the 5E cosmology, and at this point, with all of the enshrined character options and builds for a late-version game, I can see why. Back in the early days of 5E, the game did not really have an identity yet, and people could take it in exciting directions. 

These days, it feels all the same.

It is a strange feeling since many of the newer 5E books have leaned hard into the superpowered magic, Harry Potter, science fantasy, anything goes, steampunk, and anything goes genres. This zany world of magic has become the "default 5E setting" in a way, and many third-party books follow along to fit in.

I know, the cool stuff is all in the OSR, don't tell me the obvious. The OSR has a lot of niches and historical settings and lots of grounded, amazing thematic stuff. The default 5E and Pathfinder 2e (let's be fair) worlds constantly have to top and outdo each other with each new release, and they feel more and more outrageous and zany - just to get attention.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Mail Room: Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion

I finally got my Kickstarter Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion in the mail, and it is a good set. Granted, you can do superheroes with the core Savage Worlds game book, but this is more of a "more" book, and it gives you a lot of tools and pregens to make running a superheroes game a little easier.

The Horror Companion is next, and I await word of the two other projects I backed: the Fantasy Companion and the second Savage Pathfinder set for Curse of the Crimson Throne. I am really looking forward to the Fantasy set since I was running a generic fantasy game with the old Fantasy Companion, and it worked very well.

The Horror Companion Kickstarter is live and in the sidebar.

If you want rules-moderate and pulp-feeling superhero action, this is the system to run. I say rules moderate since you have to put your brain into "Savage Worlds mode" when you play any of these games. Once you do, everything clicks and makes a lot of sense. Savage Worlds is the only game I have experienced this with since it has its own "reality model" of how the world and system work.

I like the Savage Pathfinder set, and that is also a good set of rules for anything Pathfinder 1e - back when the game was in its edgy and cool alternative phase. I have fallen off the Pathfinder 2e wagon again and boxed that game up - there are too many rules, too much steampunk, and the art feels reserved and unexciting. My Pathfinder 1e days will be what the world and the game mean to me forever since the game was still a fantasy game, and it wasn't afraid to appeal to its mature fantasy reader target audience.

My only issue with Savage Pathfinder is converting. I feel Castles & Crusades delivers a better overall fantasy experience with fewer rules, fewer conversions, better compatibility, and more classic flavor. For "fantasy superheroes" - where the whole post-4E fantasy roleplaying genre is these days, Savage Worlds nails the feeling and tone without the complexity.

Yes, the fantasy genre is split these days. You either play classic fantasy (AD&D and B/X), or you play fantasy superheroes (5E or Pathfinder 2e). People call them all the same genre, and disagreements start. Know what you like, and play what you love.

The Savage Worlds team is firing on all cylinders and making great games and sets. Hats off to this incredible team that gets things done.

Be Anything You Want to Be

I watched a few more YouTube videos on One D&D, and the hype on this is a little out of control. You have these hype channels that make videos on the same thing daily in that "chase for subs," and every day, they need to outdo themselves and others. One of the newest lines is, "One D&D allows you to create any character you can imagine!"

Maybe in that limited sandbox of being forced to pick "race + class" that 5E has, opening up ability score allocation frees you up to create any A+B combination within that limited 5E sandbox, but you are not creating any character you can imagine. And a background system that lets you pick skills and ability score bonuses is not a "create anything you want" system.

Because I can imagine a lot, and much more than a tightly-constrained fantasy game that forces me to pick a class and stick with the railroaded power picks they give me. My imagination is not limited to a dozen races plus a dozen classes.

I can imagine a flying gargoyle with warlock magic and a giant sword.

I can imagine a unicorn that shoots lasers from its horn.

I can imagine an intelligent 5-foot gelatinous cube that uses pseudopods as fighting fists.

I can imagine an intelligent floating sea sponge that absorbs magic and uses the mana to cast spells back at enemies.

I can imagine a lot.

Can I play those characters in 5E? I am sure there is a 3rd party book somewhere that would get me close to some of them, but 5E is not a universal system that lets me design and play as any of these character types. For that, I would need to play a superhero game with a character design system. And for that, my options are GURPS, Savage Worlds Superheroes (a good system), and the classic Hero System.

Granted, Hero System is not D&D. This is, at its heart, a superhero game that gives you a pile of wood, nails, glue, paint, and tools and lets you build anything your mind can dream up. But there is nothing more satisfying than putting on a "game designer's hat," diving in with your tools and building a unique, one-of-a-kind character that works mechanically within the rules, and having the system "work the same way" with every choice you make. And when I realized a Hero System character sheet is not all that more complicated than a 5E character sheet, my thinking changed.

It is a strange thing to watch these YouTube channels and see them make these claims of "anything you can imagine" and realize their imaginations are limited to just combining a small handful of choices. A few ability score modifiers and skills is not a race, and you are WAY underselling your creativity. Where is my night vision powers, hearing, armored skin, claws, flight powers, emotion sense, jumping, gliding, +5 STR, enhanced sense of smell, fur, speed, running, extra endurance, swimming, vibration sense, water breathing, and thousands of other incredible powers you can design and choose for your creations?

If you think being given a couple ability score points and a few standardized abilities are complete character biology, you have never used the "power tools" of character design that other games provide.

If 5E is best as a superhero game - just play a superhero game.

And ultimately, the paths of those choices are predetermined and not really a choice at all. There are twelve tracks to roll a marble down, you can't change the track layouts, and all they let you do is pick the color of the marble and what track to drop it onto.

That is not freedom of determination, and that is not a diversity of choice.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Shelf Life

I suppose playing 5E for extended campaigns isn't a thing. As I heard, most games start at level 5 and end at level 14, and only last 6 weeks - according to the studies by Wizards.

Contrast this with a game I ran with my brother that used the same system and characters for 20 years.

5E games and even campaigns seem disposable in comparison. Yes, you can tell epic, sweeping, long-lasting stories with 5E, and many do - but the average experience of 5E feels more like a Fortnite match. Something you do many times in rapid succession, starting with nothing and building up to the match end.

This also explains why 5E is so "hot," as the cycle time and churn are probably ten to a hundred times higher than the OSR. You get ten groups playing OSR games, and those ten games could last 5 years. Ten groups playing 5E could play eighty games in the same time, and the noise and interest on social media will be much higher just because the same things are happening again and again in a shorter cycle. Wizards should open-source 5E and let the OSR run the classic experiences.

Because the classic experiences are not where the next billion-dollar gaming company is coming from.

I am betting One D&D - if Wizards is wise - will push that six-week cycle time down tighter. They need to get the 5-14 level run down to one week of game time. That may seem insane to us old-school gamers, but this aligns with that "fast engagement and satisfaction" goal that their billion-dollar tech-company-wannabe parent company wants.

Look at Magic the Gathering; the cycle time of that game is about an hour to play and finish one game. Even a week seems like forever. The more like Magic the Gathering D&D becomes, the more successful it will be to Wall Street. For us old-school gamers, these ideas are horrifying, but the MtG model is superior and brings in 10 times the profits.

For One D&D, I would start characters at level 5 - the average starting level most games use - and give players a level a day. The levels come with a choice of magic items and powers based on class. Maybe even make "level up packs" randomized boosters with limited rarity. Maybe only have three levels of play, and as you progress, the number of cards or each rank your character can possess increases.

Oh yes, I am going hardcore, "but this will ruin the game" evil tech executive here, but this is the sort of thinking that gets rewarded heavily in billion-dollar companies.

Don't believe me?

Open your eyes.

Why One D&D will "fail" will have nothing to do with players or how many people will love the game. It will be in the hands of a group of designers who felt they had to hold onto backward compatibility and legacy design concepts and did not innovate to make the most profits. These words are pure evil, and I hate saying them, but that does not make them any less accurate.

Someone will come along and design the game I described and create the next Magic the Gathering, but it will be more like D&D, and it will become the market leader. The data is there, how people play the game currently; it is just waiting for someone to come along and build a game that fits that playstyle better than what they are giving us in 5E or even what they are trying to do in One D&D.

Honestly, 5E, at this point, should be left alone, given to the OSR, and this new game should be their priority. The old way of playing will hold them back. Controlling PDFs and digital distribution of books is nothing, even compared to the scale of selling Fortnite skins or Madden card packs. Leave that PDF model to the OSR.

Magic the Gathering killed AD&D 2e and TSR with it, just because it was "an easier way to play D&D." Back when I saw the collapse, this is what all the Magic players said, even though honestly it isn't true - but they felt that way, and that was all that mattered when they made gaming purchases.

One D&D trying to rebuild a 10-year-old experience is a huge mistake.

They should be building the next generation of games.

And they will be playing catch-up for the next 10 years by tying their hands with this edition. Even the 3d virtual tabletop is a waste of time and resources since that entire model is outdated and supports the old way of playing. Do you know the time and money it will take to get a VTT off of a declining PC platform and onto phones and tablets - which is where 90% of the gaming money is made? If One D&D can't be played on a phone as the primary platform, I would say cancel the project if I were at Hasbro.

Or someone else will come along and make "the D&D that can be played on a phone," and you will be playing catch up to them too. And since you have your hands tied with a VTT platform that works best on PCs, your market will just switch to their phones and forget your game. This is the world of tech and gaming; you don't have that long before someone comes along and replaces you with a better mousetrap.

And that company will be the one buying yours and making the next D&D.

Seriously. Your priorities are way different at that level. I know this is "evil speech," but once you step foot in 500-foot-tall towers of Manhattan glass and steel, you will begin to understand the forces at work here. I feel One D&D feels like a catastrophic failure of leadership and allowing a group of nostalgic designers to run one of the hottest brands in the world.

The lure of nostalgia is for customers only.

Gaming companies, in an age of cell phones and big tech, need to be forward-looking.


I almost did not put this one out.

I hated everything I said here.

But it is the truth, and sometimes that hurts.

I love D&D and the old ways. I love my books, even my 5E books. I don't want any of this to happen.

But I have wisdom, and sometimes having that means you need to say things that aren't popular or people like hearing.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Low Fantasy Gaming: Rolling Back Rules

Looking at Low Fantasy Gaming (LFG), a lot of what I see spends time rolling back well-intended but thematically incorrect 5E rules meant to speed up play but ended up making the game way too easy. You can see the whiteboard in the Wizards' office with the words "problems with D&D!"

  • Characters die too quickly!
  • Encounters are hard to balance!
  • Constant searching and interaction skill rolls slow down play!
  • Long downtimes will slow down play!

And we get the well-intentioned rules like the long and short rest system allowing the party to quickly reset resources to "level set" before an encounter. We get passive skills to eliminate constant "search rolls" and "sense motive" checks. We bring healing skills and healer kits that can act as instant CPR devices in combat to revive party members. A long rest will heal any wound.

5E only models a videogame or MMO-style reality these days, such as a World of Warcraft. This is the hidden legacy of 4E in the game. You stand still for a moment, and you regain all health and mana. And I feel this will get even easier to do in One D&D.

At times I feel D&D 5E has moved out of the roleplaying game realm and more into the board or video game realm. The systems are heavily abstracted, and compared to the OSR, the game is very different. The streamlining and optimizations removed a lot of what the OSR enshrines as the core of the game.

The OSR has a deep interpersonal interaction, the act of one person describing a room and the players describing how they search it - all without rules. Exploration, interaction, and parts of combat are all this interpersonal storytelling game that does not require rules. The only thing which requires combat rules is hit points and AC, along with spells and a few other things.

Where D&D 4 went wrong is they tried to optimize out too much, to the point D&D became a wargame. They rolled back a lot with D&D 5E, but still, they left many of these optimizations in or changed them slightly to fit this new concept of play.

And many of the rules that a 5E implementation uses run counter to the OSR.


From an OSR perspective, the 5E resting rules are overly generous. Being able to take a short rest, 1 hour, and heal hit points equal to hit dice (plus CON modifier) up to your level in hit dice is letting the party have too much innate healing. And this is often done "in dungeons" in the middle of adventures, and this is also one thing you see a lot of published adventures try to roll back to increase tension and challenge.

With long rests, you heal all hit points and regain half of the spent hit dice.

Low Fantasy Gaming rolls back short rests to only three times per day (a few minutes each), where one to three WIL rolls (you get a one, two, and three roll rest each day) are made to recover:

  • Half of the character's lost hit points
  • One class ability use
  • One reroll pool die

Long rests in LFG take 1d6 days (1d4 in a restful location, such as an inn), which restores most all lost pools and abilities, half +1d4 + CON bonus hit points, and the long rest restores 1 point of luck. A character who loses almost all their hit points will be out a week on average. Luck, which is used as a direct-use luck ability and as all of the character's saving throws, comes back even slower. A total of 10 points of luck lost will take about a month to recover, and luck is incredibly easy to spend.

Old School Resting

Old School Essentials sets healing at 1d3 hit points a day. The Castles & Crusades game sets the healing rate at 1 hit point a day for the first week, 1 + CON bonus for the second week, double that on the third, and 3X that on the fourth - and can be adjusted by the referee. If you do not have magical healing, you are out for a while in any OSR game. Any disruption discards healing for the day.

Resting as a Game

Part of me feels the LFG rules are "gamey" because they need to replace the generous 5E resting rules and create a "rests" resource to track. They introduce a roll to recover a resource, so while resting is short, it is not guaranteed. LFG resting is still very generous compared to the OSR and ties in with the pool recovery mechanics.

In the OSR, you need magical healing, healing potions, or some other resource to heal. Or you need a lot of downtime and a safe place. Time and resource management is a massive part of the OSR and an excellent skill to learn in real life.

I know why the 5E designers did this; no one likes "interrupting the adventure" and having to go back to town and rest a week on behalf of one character taking a lot of damage. 5E is heavily borrowing on board game mechanics here, and this is a lot like what they did in 4E to "keep players on the board" - just that in this case, there could be no board, but there is no reason to interrupt the adventure because someone needs to heal.

What We Lose

But on the downside, we lose a lot. We lose a lot of the simulation and interpersonal aspects we love. The storytelling. The poking and prodding of strange frescos and statues in alcoves. Character death. The feeling of danger and the tension of ever-decreasing time, health, and resources. The fear of touching a trap or stepping into the abyss.

I like the OSR because it leans into danger and embraces it as the genre. Some 5E players said when they tried the OSR, it felt like a horror game - that is cool. Your eyes are opened. You feel alive. Choices matter. Exploration matters. Thinking and experimenting are essential.

LFG walks a line between the genres, keeping modern mechanics but game-ifying many OSR concepts and presenting them in a more modern-rules format and style.

Board Game Mechanics

As a result, 5E feels more like a board game than a roleplaying game. You get nearly free "resets" between encounters, which keeps players around the table engaged, makes encounters easier to balance, and quickens the pace of play. The game became more popular because of these "soft factors" that made the game more accessible. I think the direction that D&D is going in (if they are smart) is to keep this accessibility moving forward and enhance the experience.

I like that LFG leans into the game aspects of 5E and extends them. The OSR is one thing, a game that simulates the OSR concepts is another. This is a sort of "OSR the Game" presented in 5E-like rules, and while yes, that is not really OSR, the concepts are being introduced in a game-like format, and that is both a great thing to players new to the OSR, and 5E players looking for a more rules-framework-like version of OSR gaming.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

5E: Too Much

Back in the late 4E days, when there were so many books to read, the game died on us under its own weight. This is where I am at with 5E and also a few entertainment properties, such as the MCU. They are too big; we are expected to consume them all. To "play" or talk about the world, you have to be up on everything, and you have to take everything they give you and make sense of it in their model world and setting.

The game becomes less about your stories and creations - and more about theirs.

The game feels bloated, like a buffet plate overloaded with pounds of low to average-quality food that will likely never be eaten and thrown away. Even with core books (the two gift sets), D&D 5E is a 6-book set with a lot to mix into the default "plane hopper" campaign multiverse. I really dislike multiverse writing, and I feel it is lazy where you can constantly retcon mistakes, come up with a new world, and constantly pull the rug out from under players with a new "thing" or another way for the same old villain to get away with something or reappear next time.

After a while, nothing means anything in an infinite universe.

You can't even be heroes because nothing matters on such a colossal scale.

Multiverses are where good writing goes to die.

I mean this because when you look at the medium of writing, there is a limit - the number of words in a paragraph, page, and ultimately - a book. We have a set limit to work with to tell a story. A campaign world should mirror this model; you have a set place - with a size and scope - and a setting to tell a story. The best thing you can do for any game is to define a limited sandbox and close the doors on it from the story-killing multiverse.

State right out, planar travel is not possible in this setting. There is no contact, no gates, and travelers from other worlds do not come here. If there are associated parallel planes, such as a heaven or a hell, those are in this bubble as well. Then pare down your core book options to a tight subset of choices for heritages, classes, and options. Maybe your world is just orcs and dwarves. Even in a base book 5E game, that sounds cool.

I cut off the multiverse with my Pathfinder 1E game, and this was an excellent, exciting setting for my players. Multiverses are typically horrible settings and very difficult to run, especially for new game masters. And I could never run them right. They are fun for the first few months, and then multiverse games get confused and die.

Get Away to Get Away

This is also why I prefer the reimagined 5E games, such as Level Up Advanced Fantasy. This has a great core set of 5E classes and backgrounds but does not come with forced choices in the expansion books or an assumed multiverse. I can set creative limits and craft a world without starships flying in or gates opening to the next floating planar paradise. I can have them if I want them, but they are not a part of the core rules, so they need to be converted and are entirely optional content.

My game has a built-in firewall, and that is nice.

Still, some of the things 5E does - the game spends a lot of time and effort to do simple things. There are subsystems the game does not even need, and it layers rules on top of those to justify them. The skill list takes over the game. GURPS is a more straightforward system with a unified mechanic, and it still manages to make base attributes essential while keeping the skill system under control. While there are many skills in GURPS, they don't take over the game and limit player choice.

I wish One D&D emphasized this modular design and allowed us to limit everything - even down to rules options and modules such as the skill system. It is like getting a new computer and having 500 pre-installed programs you will never use. If One D&D can simulate a base system such as B/X or the OSR and make the rest of the system optional, that would be a wonderful thing.

Low Fantasy = Fun Fantasy

Even better yet are curated versions of 5E, such as Low Fantasy Gaming. This is a complete stand-alone game, written in a 5E-style, but pared down to tell a specific story for a unique setting. This is almost like a "Fantasy Novel: The Game" written for 5E, and it does one thing incredibly well.

It also tosses out tons of 5E rules and replaces them with fun resource games or "make it up yourself" class additions and exploits. Low Fantasy Gaming is the opposite of Level Up 5E; instead of trying to fix a pile of broken rules and make them fun, this game tosses out the tedium and junk rules and replaces them with fun - in an OSR style of game. This really is remarkable, and it is becoming my 5E game of choice.

I love these "setting-specific" curated stand-alone 5E games since they are a lot like a book that invites you to join the cast and have your own adventures. You get a very focused and immersive experience, and you are not in that generic or planar fantasy setting where anything goes. They do not do everything like a base 5E game, but wow, they provide a fun and unique experience in the sandbox they create and define.

Or the OSR...

The one thing about the OSR is you can find games limited in scope and setting quickly. They play about the same, and there is much less to worry about integrating and putting pieces together. And OSR games are typically about 10% of the complexity of 5E, especially as you level and the interrupt and interlocking mechanics kick in (which are impossible to balance). Then you toss in the tacked-on rules of the expansions, and you have yourself a game that is popular and cool - but playing "rules as written" feels like a chore, and there feels like too much of everything.

It is funny; with core 5E, I feel like I am going to a buffet and getting a little of everything - a lot of low-quality food that just feels like filler. With many OSR games and curated 5E experiences, I am getting a focused meal where I do not have as many options - but everything is of higher quality.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Peanut Butter & Chocolate

My two absolute best games right now, and they work together incredibly well, are Castles & Crusades (C&C) and Swords & Wizardry (S&W). They go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Peanut Butter

As a 100% throwback OSR game, Swords & Wizardry is my game. It has the AD&D magic resistance mechanic, plays precisely like AD&D light, and while it does not have as much "stuff" as a game like Old School Essentials (OSE), what it does have is that every piece is well thought out and works together very well. The ability score modifiers are less critical in this game, so you rely more on player creativity than 4d6 and drop the lowest. Fighters are awesome. Casters are tough to play. And the one save number is genius.

While I still love C&C better, S&W is my second game of choice since it gets so much right in balance, mechanics, and flavor. OSE may be easier to use, but S&W leaves so much more up to the group and frees you from even needing the clarification and simplification that OSE does (and in an incredible way). If a rule does not exist, you make it up - and when in doubt, make a save or ability score roll. No cleaned-up reference books are needed because, in the OSR, they were never intended to be needed.

You made the game your own.

What really stands out is the collection of adventures for Swords & Wizardry, along with compatibility with every OSR mega-dungeon and adventure ever made - you get them all. The excellent Greyhawk-replacement Lost Lands world is fantastic. The hundreds of adventures here beat the old TSR classics in variety and freshness. I am done with Tomb of Horrors! I did an inventory of my primary shelf of modules, and I estimate I have 20,000 hours of adventures I am waiting to play just from the mega-dungeons plus Lost Lands adventures I collected.

That is 25 years of gaming if I play two hours a night.

All of this is OSR, so I can play these with any game I choose, from OSE to Labyrinth Lord. Whatever OSR game comes out in the future (the next community favorite) will work 100% with my adventure collection. Not a bad investment, and since I never played any of these, they are all experiences waiting to be discovered.

5E, the Times are Changing...

I can't say this about 5E adventures since every 10 years, the game changes. Yes, they announced no new editions, but you look historically at the employee turnover at Wizards, and I doubt any of them that made that promise will be working there in 10 years. Plus, I would never want a new group of creators with great ideas to have their hands tied by the promises of a team in the past and to not deliver a great game - if it stays a tabletop game.

And in 10 years, I expect D&D to be a 100% online live-services game. There simply is no stopping the want of the potential billions of dollars of yearly profits if they turn D&D into a Madden. The big tech people are already moving into Wizards. At this point I do not think there is any stopping this, and in 10 years, I feel the OSR will be the home of traditional role-playing over tabletops or VTTs. Likely with a cloned OGL version of 5E.


A modern AD&D does not bet any better than Castles & Crusades. Gary Gygax played this game, likely had input into the rules, and AFAIK this was the last RPG he chose to play. The modern framework throws out 90% of the cruft and stat-tracking of OSR games, saving throw charts, skill lists, ability percentage charts, and class abilities all work under one unified system based on ability scores. The game is 100% compatible with OSR numbers: AC, hit point, damage, and adventures.

The character sheets are beautifully simple. I play other games, and their systems just seem clunky with the number of minutiae I am recording; even D&D 5E's massive skill list feels like a massive dongle hanging off the game, unneeded and just serving as this long list of numbers the scan through every time a character enters a room. There is a secondary "tool proficiency" system that acts as another skill list.

And some of the skills are "ability score replacement" skills; why do I need athletics and acrobatics when I should make a DEX check? Perception and insight are skills you roll with when you want to use WIS. Intimidation, deception, and persuasion are used instead of CHR. Some of the tool proficiencies replace STR checks. If my character is trained in acrobatics, make it a feat or class ability where you write down acrobatics and modify the distances and special moves a standard DEX check can perform.

I far prefer enhancement feats to ability score rolls to skill lists. And skill systems and saving throw lists are what you put in a game when your ability scores are not working hard enough.

Maximum Mayhem Reprints (excellent adventures BTW), level one 5E pre-gen

I have seen a few 5E pre-gen characters, and the character sheets are long, almost Palladium Fantasy RPG long. There are as many numbers on a 5E character sheet as on a Hero System character sheet. With C&C, the ability scores and Siege Engine system work together as the skill and save system. I do not need a list of saves or a list of skills. The design is elegant and genius-level in simplifying and tosses out the tacked-on and heavy design elements of 5E.

My C&C character sheet on a 4x6 card

C&C is a marvel of design, and once you understand everything the game throws out, it is hard to go back to anything else. It is almost an iPhone-level user interface simplification compared to old flip-phones and complicated Blackberry devices.

While C&C has more rules than S&W, the game is the best interpretation of a modern fantasy game framework. Even compared to S&W, the character sheets are more straightforward. C&C supports a balanced high-level play, and there is very little "opening the book" during play. Really, only when characters level up, or I want a monster statistic, do I have to open a book.

And all of the excellent Swords & Wizardry bestiaries are compatible with the game.

C&C is not changing; the game has been the same for nearly 20 years. All the old books are compatible with the new ones. And the game is hackable and modifiable to an incredible extent. There are so many classes, and you can combine and hack them all that I do not need expansion material.

These games are like my special treat; they give me everything I want and work great together. I can shop S&W, OSR, or C&C and be 100% sure my purchases will last and be compatible.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Hero System: Vehicle Combat

Still, these are the best vehicle rules for Champions ever - at least for movement and combat. And the vehicle rules, even in the 6th Edition, seem copied and pasted from the 4th Edition, and they have not changed, nor do they have an excellent example of how they work. The Autoduel Champions system was written for the 2nd Edition Hero System, and it uses a very early version of the Car Wars design rules as well.

One of the most considerable problems for the Hero System is movement is tied to the character's speed characteristic. A character has a 12-phase turn, with one-second phases. A character with a speed of 2 (average) will move and attack twice in that 12-second turn.

A vehicle or person in motion should move every second, and Autoduel Champions handles this structure. There is a clear difference between the games, and Hero System is more a "superhero sim" than Car Wars, which is a "reality sim."

5 miles per hour of speed or acceleration is roughly 2 meters per second. A car at 50 mph will move (roughly) 20 meters per second. One of the problems comes up with using Hero System combat with the SPD 2 character driving into a wall because they can only act every 6 phases.

Car Wars characters and vehicles can maneuver and turn multiple times during a one-second turn, increasing difficulty per maneuver.

How Do You Fix This?

You have to flip the "simulation switch" on in Hero System and allow everyone to move and maneuver their movement every phase. Make a combat vehicle operations roll for the maneuver based on difficulty.

Remember, vehicles can accelerate and decelerate every phase too. A car with 5 mph acceleration at a dead stop will move 2 meters in the first phase, 4 the next, 6 the next, and all the way up to 24 meters per phase (roughly 55 mph) on phase 12 of the same turn. Deceleration is also per phase, with 5-15 mph deceleration being average and higher levels being control rolls.

See Car Wars for the exact deceleration values, but above 15 mph, deceleration in a phase is very risky.

Making attacks? Keep that to the turn chart on the specified phases in Hero System. Higher SPD characters can make more attacks per turn while trying to avoid death while driving like maniacs. You will miss attack chances, so if there are exceptional cases where someone needs to make an attack before driving behind a building, that will be up to the referee to decide if it is possible and if an ability check is needed to time it correctly for the out of phase action. These out-of-phase actions will be the exception, not the rule, and will still consume the character's following attack action.

Roughly Autoduel Champions

This system is roughly similar to Autoduel Champions but more 6th Edition in spirit. It does require a "simulation mode" toggle, which breaks Hero System's movement system and puts it in a "per phase based on velocity" system of movement. High SPD characters will not move at faster velocities, but they will get to act more during a turn. If you are trying to create a speedster, focus on raw velocity rather than a high SPD.

Also, note Car Wars characters are assumed to be SPD 12 by the wargame rules since they can attack every phase. The Hero System pulls this pretty far back but puts everything on a more realistic level. In the ordinary world, while driving a car, you will be fortunate to get an attack off every 6 seconds with everything going on and trying to control a speeding car.

Also, note movement will be much higher than the base Hero System with "simulation mode" toggled on. An SPD 2 character will be moving "at speed" and six times faster than he would with simulation mode off. For melee, superhero fights, and dungeons, leave simulation mode off. For vehicles - turn it on.

So my jury-rigged system is a compromise between the "on the metal" Car Wars system and preserving the action economy of Hero System 6th Edition. I would play with 2-meter hexes, even if that meant some cars would be 2 hexes long (move and turn with the front part of the counter).

Convert or Play As-Is?

This is tough since the Autoduel Champions system has excellent Car Wars-style vehicle design rules. The design system is dated by Car Wars standards (turrets take zero space in the vehicle), so I would likely use the Autoduel Champions damages and component damage system while using stock Car Wars for vehicle designs - and convert the armor values via the system provided in Autoduel Champions. I would use the latest up to date Car Wars design rules too.

Would I like an updated Autoduel Champions? Yes. Do I really need it? No.

Does Hero System need updated vehicle rules?

Oh, yes.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Western Hero

Hero System is the BSD Unix of role-playing games.

Insanely complicated to wrap your head around, arcane, full of configuration, build-it-yourself, and full of homebrew and hacking to create a working system. Lots of math. A lot of understanding of what this does versus that.

But once you understand it, the system can run for decades and still work well after other games have come and gone. It is rock solid. The character sheets are full of numbers, but the numbers logically work in four ways:

  • They modify a 3d6 roll (OCV, DCV).
  • They are a 1d6 per 5 points stat, like STR.
  • They are a damage-based (pool or reduction) stat, like physical defense.
  • This is SPD, which determines attacks per turn and attack order.

Once you know the numbers, you can play off the character sheet.

Hero System is a universal system, like GURPS, but it works on a much lower level. This system is best suited for superheroes, but you can play all sorts of genres with the game once you know how it works. The beauty of Hero System is that the entire game is built as a "game creation toolbox," and it invites you to dig in and build your own creations. 

The game is honestly a Home Depot of parts, and while you need to know a lot to use them all - once you do, you are not just "playing someone else's game," but you are building your own. It is the difference between putting together a shelf from Ikea in a rented apartment (5E character creation) and building a house and owning it (Hero System).

Once you own that house, no one is knocking on your door, telling you the rules are changing (One D&D). Or that they are raising the rent and who can live in your apartment (D&D Beyond). Or every so often, you get notices on your door that maintenance is coming in, and you have to clean your place up (One D&D Playtest materials).

Is a specific power not working right? You are the game designer; get your tools out and fix the power yourself. The cost to get started is higher, but you are the plumber, electrician, carpenter, painter, window installer, roof expert, appliance installer, and repair person.

I get it; like home ownership, Hero System is not for everyone. Some people like the curated experience that a D&D provides, sort of like a JRPG on rails. Hero System feels like Tunnels & Trolls, with lots of d6 flying and totaling damage and effect rolls. Only where T&T is highly simplified and abstract, Hero System is particular and calculated. There is also this phased particularity in the game, which reminds me of the classic Aftermath RPG (and Hero System could do a fantastic Aftermath-style game).

Some of us are sick of being forced to buy new game editions and being fed constant errata. We love using our hands and being game designers. We like to design the powers. We don't need "character classes" or "premade ancestries." And we certainly don't need privileged (and mostly anonymous) game designers telling us what we can or can't do with our storytelling and fantasy gaming.

I don't want others breaking my favorite character builds, nerfing things, and making a mess of the rules.

Just give me the tools, and I can do it better.

If I break it, I will fix it.

Western Hero?

I picked this up on a whim, and since I have boxed up and unboxed my Hero System 6th Edition books about 5 times now, I thought it would make a fantastic addition to the repeated storage attempts.

And a western game is just about as far as you can get from "what Hero System is all about" as you can get. On its face, it seemed this would be a terrible use of the Hero System and be complete overkill for a genre better done by an OSR and B/X style of game. There are no superpowers here; you have no use for a robust design system, and 90% of the rules would not be used.

Who needs rules for force walls, entanglement powers, energy blasts, tunneling, flight, de-solidification, and mental attacks in a game about cowboys in the Old West? Granted, the powers are not in the Western Hero book, and you need to get some of the other Hero System books to add them in, but the rules were designed to factor in mental and energy defenses, so the framework is still here. You could have them, though, if you wanted.

What the book does focus on is the nuts and bolts of the game system and all the options appropriate to the Western genre, which nicely focuses the game on the setting. But the book is enormous, and the rules are dense; we are talking about a 276-page game that uses all of the Hero System combat features.

Again, my mind wants to go running and screaming back into the B/X as the cave allegory, and I tell myself, "Why do I need all of this for a simple attack bonus versus AC roll?"

Because this is cool, that is why.

And surprisingly, it works well.

The game only uses the d6 and is a 3d6 and "roll equal or under the target number" type of system. It is like GURPS, but it works on a lower level and is more "on the metal" than that game. Where GURPS is a curated RPG experience, Hero System is a numerical model of a superheroic reality that also works as a roleplaying game.

I can have a completely realistic game that goes by the base rules, or I can bend reality as much as I want and allow characters to buy resistance defenses - and have bullets bouncing off the skin of the characters like they were some sort of superhero. I can flip open the power design rules of the superhero game and build gadgets, like a Gatling gun that shoots cannonballs. I can let the characters design and buy superpowers and limit the power level of the game if I want - or let it go wild. I can give a snake monster "laser eyes" if I want. I can have characters with psychic powers. An owl can have a sonic attack in a 10-meter-long cone that does stun damage.

And then you get this...

  • No! The monsters need to be in monster manuals!
  • You can't introduce new power systems unless you pay money to a game designer!
  • You can't break the rules or bend the genre! This isn't balanced!
  • Expansions must be paid books!
  • We were told, "The people that play the game can't be game designers!"

Um, this is Hero System; it is all in the book. Even the "every player is a game designer" part. Seriously, people play this game together, and it all works fine. We balance it ourselves. The game gives us the power to cheese, and we just don't do it. If something is insanely overpowered, it will be insanely expensive and the only thing you can do. We are all adults here.

But the game defaults to this gritty, old-school, Aftermath reality style that I love. The game plays like a survival-horror game at its basic level. The research is well done and very complete, down to horse traits and markings. Parts of the genre that could be problematic are highlighted, and they are there for you to choose to use or ignore - the game doesn't ignore them, but since a lot of the source material was produced in different eras, it is nice to be given a warning about these elements and have readers informed.

And I sit here with a game I bought as a joke, to see how this possibly could work, and it may be the one that just gets me back into the Hero System.