Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Off the Shelf: Dungeon Crawl Classics

The more I played 5E, the more I appreciated the classics.

What turned me off to the 2023 version of 5E is the rampant power gaming and cheating (and a lot of official 5E content does this) of expansion books. Games like Level Up A5E do an excellent job of establishing a sane baseline, but once you bring in any legacy book, the balance gets thrown out the window.

5E is to D&D what Modern Star Wars is to Star Wars. It is a 'Homer's Car' version of the original game, with so many great ideas piled on the game that it is an unrecognizable mess. The more books you add to get it playing how you want it to, the worse it gets, and the more books you need to fix the problems introduced in the books you added.

You are soon forced to baseline by returning to the original 3 books or a new version like Level Up A5E or Tales of the Valiant. Still, even going back to these as baselines put a band-aid on the problem; once you add expansion books, you are back in the same boat. The best way this works is to throw out expansion books and start fresh.

5E isn't a game but a kitchen junk drawer of ideas people call a game.

Many of the ideas they introduced in 5E (bounded accuracy) cause more problems than they solve, and they aren't as huge of improvements as people make them out to be. Even advantage/disadvantage isn't that revolutionary a mechanic since it is only +/- 3. Rolling one die and adding or subtracting three is faster and simpler than rolling two dice; this is grade school math. The A/D system prevents you from using a -6 or lower modifier for complex challenges and ends up being a one-size-fits-all solution for problems that require nuance and judgment.

So I returned to Dungeon Crawl Classics and rediscovered that Appendix N goodness.

I needed to clean the palette, rediscover fantasy gaming, and get out of this "gimme something every level" slot-machine addiction feedback loop of modern game design. 5E is designed like a mobile game;  it gives me something at every level, and it shows. Even feedback from 5E players I see online who play other games (like DCC or C&C) get that instant dopamine withdrawal symptom when they play other games, "This game doesn't give me things at every level like they do in 5E!"

75% of the time, how you make 5E players happy when switching to other games is to implement a feat system at level one and every odd level after. They will be happy even if you "let them make the feats up" or adapt 5E or 3.5E feats. C&C has a feat system (called advantages), and DCC even mentions implementing a feat system in the game if you want to (page 447). You can buy books of 5E feats or PDFs of all the 3.5E feats that are free online - use those for inspiration for both feats and subclass abilities.

If you allow advantage/disadvantage, all that is left are subclasses. I could mod subclasses into DCC or any OSR game by starting them at 2nd level and allowing players to invent a subclass and gain a feature every even level. Make it a 15% benefit at one thing, and you are fine. I am a life order cleric; I get +1 per die of healing. If it is a 30% benefit, give it a duration or number of times a day equal to the level limitation. And subclass features can stack and double up if you don't want too many of them. DCC makes things easy by allowing a shift up the die chain for some abilities.

Most players can imagine a minor subclass benefit they would like to have and be able to balance it themselves. If it is broken, adjust it. If it is broken and can't be fixed, that character is a one-of-a-kind, and never allow it again. If it is too weak at higher levels, give it a buff.

Feats can be taken by anyone and are more general. Subclass features are limited to classes and often focus on improving the class abilities. Want to replace a feat with a "race or background ability feat?" Go ahead if your character would qualify.

This is precisely the "game design" that Gary Gygax and everyone else did around the table as they developed the game. We did this in the 1980s! Designing the game as you play to be "your game" is just as Appendix N as anything in a rulebook.

There. That is the imitation secret sauce of 5E. A feat at every odd level. Gain one subclass feature every even level. Every 4 levels, raise two ability scores by a point. People rarely play above level 12, so the number of "things to track" won't be very high.

Most importantly, everyone is a game designer.

This is my problem with 5E. I could play with five shelves of broken, low-content, consumerist game books and waste most of my time searching for the one or two options I want. Or, I could use a simple game 'built to mod' like a DCC or C&C, and play that while modding it to precisely what I want. With the 5E imitation secret sauce, any of these can play like 5E and give that dopamine hit.

Most importantly, I trust myself to balance and create options far more than the designers at Wizards or a dozen 3rd party companies interested in selling books built for power gamers.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023


AI Art by @nightcafestudio

I can tell when YouTube channels struggle; instead of providing exciting content, they start sniping at each other, white knighting, arguing, and fighting. Worse, they start making 'lists' of other YouTubers like they were in middle school and begin fighting over them.

Psst, I heard Tommy put you on his 'dorks' list. You better go over there and force him to take you off it!

If you take a Twitter fight onto your channel, I do not care. I am turning you both off.

My side! Your side!

I have no tolerance for this; I don't care who it is or how much I liked them before; I unsubscribe immediately. I am there for people who love the game and can bring people together to enjoy something we all love.

Apparently, these creators love things outside the game more than they love the game, and this is always a red flag. Then, they use the game to gatekeep. In other cases, they start fighting for no good reason and feel 'drama is content' - again, like some childish middle school idiocy.

Anger channels, too, in general, I am done with them. Sarcasm channels, your days are numbered, too; I tire of sarcasm as smug inside knowledge. Anger-content creators always end up making up reasons to be angry at something that doesn't deserve it just to keep the shtick going. But it is humor! Right. No. And they inevitably get 'angry' at other creators, and here we go again.

YouTube, your platform sucks. It forces creators to use anger, drama, smugness, and hate as content, and Google pushes and promotes that for ad money - no wonder the culture sucks, and people hate each other. The algorithms pit one against the other in dog fights. To win these fights, "user gangs" are forced to gatekeep and de-platform. Creators use the games to push outside agendas, and you recommend those channels to me constantly.

Garbage in, garbage out.

YouTube, take a long, hard look at yourself and your ethics.

Advertisers take note: you fund this.

As a viewer, I am making better choices and turning YouTube off.

I will play a game I love instead.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Mail Room: Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion (2023)


Look what I found propped against my front door (and likely sitting there all night). I joined the Kickstarter for this and got the book and a few sets of cards. I am also in both Savage Pathfinder Kickstarters (and have yet to receive the second). Thoughts?

I like Savage Pathfinder, but I get overwhelmed every time I try to play the game. The characters have too many edges, and the class edges feel too much for me to pull apart. I know this is just Savage Worlds, really? Also, the Paizo iconic characters - I love the art and style - feel too overwhelming, and this is their game, not mine. It is a strange feeling, but it is like playing a superhero game, picking a vigilante character option, and seeing Batman on the page as iconic.

Now, I am forever going to compare my hero to Batman.

Most people probably did not have a problem with this. But somehow, I did. Strangely enough, I don't feel 5E has the iconic character problem, and there feels like room for my characters to "be" the iconic character in that class. The OSR certainly doesn't have this problem; the characters there are generic 3d6 dead meat and try to survive. Savage Worlds does not have an issue with iconic characters.

At times, the Paizo flavor of fantasy leans too heavily on their IP, and the game doesn't have room for my ideas. This is even more prominent in the remaster of Pathfinder 2, where the iconic spells, monsters, and creatures are being memory-holed for non-OGL replacement content. Yes, I am harsh, but seriously, replacing drow with reptile people and saying previous dark elf content was "fake news" is peak 2023. The drow monster entry is in the Creative Commons; nobody owns them now. I will check out the new replacements, but they are not in my history, and Golarion 2.1 feels alien to me now.

D&D and Pathfinder 2 are not in the same fantasy genre as most OSR games or even old D&D. While they can be used to play something like the OSR, they are either too planar or too specific to emulate the older generic fantasy game worlds.

Paizo IP feeling dominant is not a bad problem! This signifies solid branding, theming, and tight product management. The game has a definite identity, which is excellent - but it hurts using the system elsewhere.

Still, if you are playing Golarion and love the old-style art and flavor, play Savage Pathfinder 100%, or play the original 3.5E version. You can have your red dragons and magic missiles, and it feels like 2010 again. I love my copy of Savage Pathfinder, and it stays on my most-played shelves. Despite what Paizo does in the future, my version of Golarion is the original.

Some history: I ran a short Savage Fantasy (2012) game in the Pathfinder version of Primeval Thule, a sort of "Conan plus Cthulhu plus D&D fantasy" mish-mash of a setting, and it was a fun swords & sorcery romp. The thing I love about the original fantasy companion was it was a "stuff book" for the main Savage Worlds book, and things still worked essentially the same as the main book plus this.

I tried running it with Savage Pathfinder, and it fell apart. WTF?

It felt like Pathfinder. The characters in my game were not limited by class edges and had all the options open to them. I could have a bard with rage. Whatever - you are surviving in a messed-up world, let your characters progress naturally. If your bard has a reason to pick something "disallowed," then do so. I know you can do this in Savage Pathfinder, but the game felt wrong, and I had a lot of extra information in lists of "can't pick" X, Y, and Z that I would end up ignoring.

Great if this is Pathfinder, but this wasn't. If I can return to superheroes, it is like playing a Marvel RPG with rules meant for a DC Universe. It did not feel right; the goblins were the football-headed ones, I felt the presence of the iconics, and it was like biting into a hamburger where you knew you would only take one bite.

I wanted Conan plus D&D flavor.

I was getting Paizo flavor.

The game was better with the Savage Worlds book, plus the 2012 Fantasy Companion.

Now, I have a revised 2023 Savage Fantasy Companion. The game is a generic fantasy sandbox simulator. The races are a catch-all of everything. Nothing is assumed for me. The art is excellent, and the setting is agnostic. Characters can progress organically.

Most importantly, no world flavor or theme is forced on me. Thule can be Thule. If I played in any other setting, the flavor there would be dominant. Savage Worlds plus the 2023 Fantasy Companion would fade into the background - like they should.

A great generic game fades away and lets flavor take over. Cyhper System does this well. GURPS does it. Many OSR fantasy games do this. Pathfinder 1e does it better than 2e (even with the iconic characters). Savage Pathfinder does not feel generic enough to me to run anything other than Golarion. Likely, it is heavily themed towards "fulfilling the fantasy" - which is excellent for running Pathfinder.

It doesn't do it for other fantasy settings, not as well as a generic fantasy toolbox that keeps complexity down and strips out the flavor and setting limitations meant to emulate a genre.

Savage Pathfinder is great; it is one of the best Pathfinder experiences I could ever imagine.

The new Fantasy Companion has infinite potential outside of that area.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Rules Limit Options

The Castles & Crusades CK Guide has this passage on page 329, which is critical to understanding the game, but also a concept in game design that makes the game different from the rules-heavy 5E and Pathfinder 2 games. This is also a fundamental concept in game design.

Castles & Crusades is a game designed around the SIEGE Engine, in which the participants propel the events forward, not by pre-defined skills, but by what they are willing to attempt. Conan does not hesitate to leap from the tower’s height because he is Conan, a warrior, a hero able to do what he knows he can achieve through his Crom-given attributes, his strength, dexterity, and wisdom. These attributes guide him on his leap, and he does not wait until he perfects a leaping and or falling skill. He leaps, trusting to the gods and his own powers to land safely. He doesn’t wait until he has a leaping skill. He leaps.

Roll the die.

Skill-based systems tend to restrict a player’s reactions. They define what their characters are willing to attempt. Players don’t allow their characters to leap unless they possess a leaping skill or at least a landing one. They swing with a great cleave attack not because they have gripped their double-bladed battle axe with two hands and attempt to use all their force and power, but rather if they have a feat that allows them to carry out this motion. These skills should enhance role-playing, but because they are generally built around what the character can and cannot do, they tend to drive the mechanics of the game. The more mechanics a game possesses, the more limits are placed upon imaginative role-play. These limits restrict the SIEGE Engine, but worse they restrict the free form and easy play that Castles & Crusades thrives upon. 

Skills should be additions to role-playing the character, not expansions of the archetype.

In C&C, if dexterity is a primary score, you are assumed to have all the "skills" associated with a high-ability character in that area. Want to grab onto a ledge or climb a wall? Your target number is 12, and you assume all the "skills" come with that primary ability score choice.

No skills are needed.

Then again, this is how builds in many other games typically work; if you have a high ability score, you buy the skills in that area. You focus on DEX feats if your DEX is high. People naturally stack skills and abilities in 5E and almost every other game that allows skill purchases.

So there are no skills. In fact, this design concept extends through the rules and applies to ability score checks, saves, skill-bonus feats, and every other power-creep dongle system many games rely on (often to sell you new books). In 5E and Pathfinder 2, you can't do 90% of the game. The rules lay out the 10% you can do.

C&C is the opposite; the rules cover 90% of the game you can do, but the other 10% is the classes, spells, and options you did not select. Those narrowly focused "can't do" areas constitute class identity. The rules state that if this is in another class's wheelhouse, you do not add your level to the roll. Are you a cleric and trying to pick a lock? The CK will decide to disallow or allow the roll if there are tools and a slight chance, but you will not add your level to the roll.

This is what makes C&C so fun to mod. I do not have to account for 90% of the game when making a change or addition; it follows the same framework as the rest of the rules and sits in its own place while the rest still works as expected.

My C&C Gamma World hack uses this concept and makes the mod "plugin" seamlessly to the main rules. I had to account for the higher starting hit points in Gamma World and fix a longstanding weakness in melee and ranged damage, but once I did that, everything else worked fine. Gamma World becomes a "stuff book and setting guide" while C&C provides the rules and classes. But the wonderful part is you can play Gamma World with classes and progression, and you have an option with Amazing Adventures for even more "vault survivor" classes.

In a 5E port of Gamma World, you would need to rewrite all of the classes, feats, subclasses, skills, and many other things to even approach a playable game. The effort would not be worth it, and the complexity of the port would be so high it would be easier to play the original or write an entirely new game. The 5E core rules are acceptable. Writing a game to the complexity level of a full D&D implementation is the problem - at least, what people expect.

But that 5E mentality supports the consumerist RPG model. They create a complex system you need to keep "buying into," and content creators will be "constantly fed" to make you a "prospect." But smaller games aren't attractive! Considering how much money and time you save with rules-light - or single book - games and the modding capacity, they fit my lifestyle and budget more than games you need to constantly consume.

Yes, YouTube and theory-crafting are excellent, but 10 years later, when thousands of pages need to be tossed out for a new version and thousands of more dollars sunk into an edition, you will regret buying in so deeply. Level Up A5E protects against that for my 5E books, but I am not buying in further to most 3rd party 5E books soon since I have so many.

C&C fits my needs and budget for everything OSR, and makes it more manageable since it throws out the saving throw tables.

You could hack Old School Essentials and Gamma World similarly, but questions about technology skills would arise. C&C has two optional skill systems, a roleplaying skill system and a profession-style skill system - which cover skills nicely. If you wanted one character to be a "mechanic," just make the skill and add it to the character sheet - done.

But the core concept of "add level to rolls except when it steps on another class" makes it easy to modify C&C into a Gamma World game engine. Most of the fantasy tropes and class identities port right in. The few special "tech knowledge" cases can be modded via professional skills. I don't need to write many conversion notes or write an entirely new game and cover subclasses and progression charts for dozens of new classes.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Consumerist Game Model

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

This is what a tabletop RPG looks like these days. Shelves full of low-content, high-page count books designed to keep you engaged in a content stream.

I remember a term in the 1990s used regarding venture capitalists called "vampire capitalism." This is the dominant publishing model used for tabletop RPGs these days. This is the curse of modern shopping, shipping, distribution, and environmentally damaging overseas NIMBY production methods (and often, worker exploitation) globally.

I remember when a 64-page rulebook could keep you engaged and playing for years. The original AD&D, Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Gangbusters, and Gamma World lasted us 20 years. The Aftermath game lasted 15 years, and we did not need one expansion. The original Traveller game lasted us 30 years. Basic D&D even longer. All of these only needed the core rulebooks, and most were just one book.

I could go on and on.

The largest collection of gaming material (in book count) we had for years was the Traveller books. Most of the others we were lucky to have 2-5 books, and we didn't need any more.

This is why I love the OSR, not for some years gone by, beliefs, traditionalism, or any other feeling - it is that not much more is needed than one book for a game. Most of everything else you make up yourself.

And I am sick of wasting money on consumerist games designed to hook you into a content stream.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

C&C: The Gamma World Hack

Castles & Crusades can play classic TSR settings like the amazing Gamma World. Now, why do this? Gamma World has rules, and they work like a B/X system. What do you gain?

For one, a universal task resolution mechanic in the SIEGE Engine. You can just roll under attributes for task resolution in B/X style games; that isn't enough. Still, having a universal system that handles skills, saves, and attributes is excellent.

What really lures me in are Castles & Crusades' thematic classes. Gamma World doesn't have classes, and being able to play a fighter, rogue, or monk feels right in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting. The magic you will need to decide on, do you "skin" magic as a Thundarr-style "sorcerer who wields ancient power from nanites, alien power sources, or some other source?" Or do you get rid of magic entirely? This is your choice, but I would lean towards the re-skin of this and make it a mysterious force. Even divine magic can be a sort of Mutant Crawl Classics style, "serving a higher power or sentient AI" sort of power granted, so it can be explained too.

Damages, gear, and mutations would all stay the same. Mutations are rolled and used like the mutation chart and used as-is. You select a character type when beginning, human, mutant, or mutated animal, and then pick a class. If your character type has mutations, roll for them as usual. Humans get +3 to CHR and the bonuses mentioned for interacting with robots and computers.

Hit points are a particular case since, in Gamma World, you start out with hit points equal to CON d6. For C&C Gamma World, I would start out with HALF of CON in the hit die for your class, so a fighter with a CON of 14 would start with 7d10 hit points. You then gain hit points typically as you level, 1d10 per level. The random leveling chart for Gamma World is not used. All the class benefits in C&C are used as standard.

For melee and ranged weapon damage, I would make it so every +1 of the ability modifier adds one die to melee and ranged weapon damage. In the old Gamma World, a longsword did 1d8+STR modifier, and melee weapons were always feeble compared to a laser pistol that did 5d6. With characters starting with 30 and 50 hit points, what good were d8 melee weapons? If our fighter had a +3 STR modifier, his longsword would do 4d8. For weapons without damage dice, assume a 1d6. Also this applies to energy weapons as well as primitive ranged weapons.

This is a high-damage, high-hit-point game.

Now here is where the hack gets interesting. Up until now, this is a standard conversion. Do you want more modern character types, such as bounty hunters, soldiers, private detectives, and gadgeteers? Pick up a copy of Amazing Adventures, and you have a sourcebook for classes that could come from more advanced, underground "survivor communities" like the vaults in Fallout. Since AA is more pulp/steampunk/Bock Rogers/classic B&W serial focused, the theme fits better with a retro-future Gamma World setting than a more modern interpretation of survivor classes. A gadgeteer roaming through Gamma World would be extremely fun, and playing a group of soldiers from a vault heading out to look for parts and resources would be a fun mission and clash of cultures.

Ignore the high-tech weapons in AA (and its sister game Starsiege) and use the Gamma World weapons and gear instead. C&C and AA are here to provide mechanics and classes; gear comes from Gamma World. Also, ignore the artifact chart unless you really want to use it; a simple INT save would tell you if you figure a device out with a critical fail indicating disaster.

Armor should be more like C&C, and you must convert old-style AC to C&C AC (10 - GW AC = C&C AC). High-tech armors may need to be adjusted (even doubled) or given damage reduction equal to AC (or higher) to be viable. I would be tweaking armor protection through the game as we played, and this is the more tricky part of the hack. My first guess is to keep AC values the same and give high-tech armor a damage reduction equal to 1-3X the AC, depending on the protection. When DR drops to zero, the armor could be broken (but still may provide AC protection).

So the best armor in Gamma World (AC 1 powered assault armor) would be +9 AC and give 27 points of damage reduction. Hits that equal or beat 50% of DR likely knock d4-1 points off DR each time (until repaired). Penetrating hits may be a d6. Given the higher damages, I may give all armors some form of DR; again, this is a "see how it goes" hack.

For the more low-tech communities and survivor towns, use the C&C classes. Let them be the ones who have learned to figure out "magic" while keeping the vault dwellers in the dark about the fantastic new powers the outsiders have developed. The vault dwellers will have the gadgets and technology edge.

That is all there is to this hack, and you have an interesting class-based version of Gamma World with options for vault communities and characters.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Too Much Tuning

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

One of the problems of highly tuned games is they are far too fragile for sandbox and story-based gaming. While you can run sandbox or story-based games in these systems (we did for years with 4E), they start to show their weaknesses and begin to break down when the assumptions you have about "how the game world works" runs against "how the game was designed to play."

Of course, the town guard are level one!

Why are they getting slaughtered so effortlessly by a level 4 monster?

Admittedly, 5E has less of a problem with this than Pathfinder 2 or D&D 4; it just happens later. 5E has another problem of 40 level 1 archers being able to kill high-level monsters, so there is a strange problem in another way.

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

You see tightly balanced systems like this typically in board games like Heroquest or Descent. Part of the design goals around D&D 4E was the board game explosion of the 2010s, so they said, "Let's make D&D more like a board game!" The designers at Wizards never could pull it off, and outside of Magic: The Gathering, they are still terrible at balancing and maintaining tabletop games.

Significantly few people can balance games with this level of complexity, and it often takes years of iterations and changes (impossible for printed books). The MtG card ban lists are proof of this; they can ban a card - you can't really pull back a paragraph in a printed book. We were there for the D&D 4E errata; by the time a book hit the shelf, it was obsolete, and the errata was already available to download.

So we got 5E, a sound system, but again, this system is still tightly tuned around the same +/- 4 level encounter range as 4E. Bounded accuracy reduced the math but at the cost of making everything difficult to balance and referee. Without bounded accuracy, balance is accessible and becomes more like a JRPG. That monster is a -10 to hit, and I have a +10 to hit - this is balanced. All you are doing from there is adjusting DPS and healing for both sides while keeping an eye on turn-denial mechanics. If I go in with only a +5 to hit, that will be a near-impossible encounter.

You pull in those numbers too tight, and strange stuff happens. Any JRPG designer knows this; too tight a system creates exploits and unintended consequences.

If I throw a group of four goblins at level 4 B/X characters? That is still a threat. They can focus on short-bow fire and take out a supporting character. Add slow damage or weakness poisons, a few traps, and terrain; the encounter is deadly. B/X balance and "CR ratings" are something you learn after years of play, and I feel that sort of math - while handy - pushes the game too far into tabletop video gaming.

And we have a very tightly tuned game on the market, which has come closest to the tabletop dungeon crawl dream - Pathfinder 2e. This has the same problem that D&D 4E has, you get a party of level 5 adventurers and have them fight level 1 town guards - and it is crit-fest slaughter. We had an encounter like this in D&D 4E with orcs and a party 4 levels above them; there was a point where we stopped and said, "This isn't fun; we are feeling sorry for the orcs."

This is the same MMO feeling where a level 60 adventurer walks through a level 1 starting zone and sneeze-kills groups of monsters in the blink of an eye. Your mind starts to say, "The Pathfinder 2e world isn't real; it is more like living inside an MMO."

That isn't bad since we enjoyed that part of D&D 4E for years. But it did break immersion, sandbox play, and it put a strange qualifier on roleplaying. A level 5 character could laugh at town guards, but that was their world. That isn't true in 5E anymore, but 5E has a problem with massed fire from low-level ranged fire being far too deadly - even to a level 20 character.

My issue with Pathfinder 2e is complexity. I like hard games, but complexity - for a solo player - kills my experience. The game is better with a group where each player can be a class advocate and expert. Playing a group, plus GM-ing, plus knowing classes and party synergy? Way too much for me.

If I want a challenging game, I will play Old School Essentials. All the challenge with 1% of the complexity. And if I want options, I will mod them in. This is how it used to be done. Many of the options presented in these newer games aren't options when the optimizers get to the game. They are fake choices, and for a given build (or party), there are only a few - or one - choices to make. Yes, you can play with a non-optimal build. But the players did not make the game to be a tabletop dungeon-crawling game; the designers did.

You emphasize difficulty and challenge, and you will attract players looking for that experience. And this is a competitive game, so that brings in all the optimizers. This happens in video games, so there is no saying sorry or making it easier. The game's appeal - what sells it - is that challenge and dynamic. One thing I wished for in PF2 was 'difficulty tuning' - in the characters and builds. Keep all CR and encounters in adventures the same, but modify the characters to set difficulty.

If I want a less complicated game without optimizing, I will play 5E with the Level Up A5E version. This is the best version of 5E at my table, and it combines 5E and OSR concepts very nicely. I can also play and ignore predatory 5E companies, which is a nice feeling that gives me peace of mind.

To be ethical and "on the right side of history," stop ignoring predatory corporate behavior and vote with your wallet and choices. Otherwise, you are part of the problem. This is good old-fashioned Vermont activism speaking and part of my upbringing. When I was growing up, there were boycotts of General Electric for supplying weapons to wars in Central America, to other companies doing business with an Apartheid government, to everyone other company engaged in unethical practices.

Is it really any different now?

If I want a game I can mod and play with, having 90% of the 5E experience, I will play Castles & Crusades. I am working on an amazing mod that gives you more options than 5E, all while staying easy to play and create characters with. Most of this mod uses options from the CK Guide, a 5E race guide, and a few "laser pistol" cantrips from the SRD.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Bounded Accuracy is Fragile

I picked up the monstrous Tales of Arcana 5E Race Guide, and this is a unique and fun book that gives you hundreds of 5E races to play with. Some are silly, and I would not use them as-is, but this book is unparalleled as a font of imagination and creativity. Many of them are handy and inspire me to use them as characters or NPCs. I like this book as a "default race guide" for a D&D 4E-style of a world where anything goes.

All of them are skinnable and hackable, so if you wanted a race of winged beast-men you could base them on a satyr, drop one of those abilities and give them wings (which start at gliding, can level up with feats). So the choices here are infinite, given a bit of creativity and imagination. Robotic demons? A race of intelligent mice? Cloud people? A jelly slime? Pick something close and start swapping abilities. This book is excellent for sci-fi too.

When I started to use them in 5E, I noticed they were slightly overpowered. Just barely enough to make them stand out from the default race selections. Then I noticed how just a few ability score points here or there, and a couple critical special abilities easily break 5E.

If I used this as my book for a campaign, it would be an all-or-nothing book for that game. Everyone picks from here, or no one does. Use these versions of elf, human, and dwarf, please, since they are more balanced than the default 5E versions. The default picks are more powerful than the choices with most 5E games. I see why you must make things fair when comparing them to other choices in this book.

I had to take a step back. B/X did not break this easily. Even in AD&D, the game handled that fine when I had a character who rolled three 18-ability scores. Thanks to bounded accuracy, 5E is tuned so tightly that it breaks when you give a character a few extra ability score points. Most modern tabletop games are like that, including Pathfinder 2.

Give one character a +2 STR and cold immunity because he is a yeti, and the game goes to hell. Other players get jealous. The rules break. Sick damage is being done. The Yeti WWE body slams a white dragon. It is fun for a few sessions, but the piling-on becomes apparent as you level. 5E was just not designed to handle this.

With many expansion books, you accept the broken nature and hope everything balances out. With enough broken content, everything is balanced, right? It is funny since things that would not break other games do in 5E. Giving up on balance is a game balance strategy in 5E.

And then, for fun, I used these races as-is to create Castles & Crusades characters. Most abilities can be written down and used as-is, and ability score bonuses fit right in. I had a few ground rules:

  • If a race gives proficiency in a 5E skill, it gives a flat +2 bonus to those activities in C&C. Acrobatics skill would be a flat +2 to acrobatics checks.
  • Bonus actions are not supported; those abilities must be used as an attack action.
  • If a race gave a cantrip ability, that could be used once per day per level.
  • Tool proficiencies grant a +2 at actions used with that tool.
  • Instead of granting advantage, give a +3 to that roll. A disadvantage is a -3.
  • Wings need the optional Advantage system (CK Guide) to be used to upgrade them instead of feats or just auto-upgrade them every 3-4 levels.
  • Spell damage from 5E should be halved as a general rule. If scaling is mentioned, add a die damage per 2 levels, starting at 3rd, like magic missile. Any 5E spell converts this way.
  • For "feats," use the Advantage system out of the CK. Humans start with two.

A few minor tweaks here and there, and all of these races can be used with C&C or any B/X version of the game. And the ability score modifiers do not break the game. They have a giant race that raises STR by four, and in C&C, even if I did a 4d6 and dropped the lowest, that would be a 16-18 STR on average or 20-22 (+4 or +5) at worst.

That +5 modifier is not a big deal in C&C, where a level 10 fighter gets a +10 base to hit. It is a good modifier, but it is not breaking the math. In Old School Essentials, that modifier is even better, but it likely won't break the math there, either.

The game handles it. All B/X and 3.5 games before D&D 4 handle this easily, and the character may be a little powerful, but they don't break the game at level one or twenty. Castles & Crusades eats these races up; sure, you have a host of resistances, a cantrip per day ability, and can glide with wings, but you only have 8 hit points at level one and an AC of 11-15.

Like 5E, if I were using this book for C&C, all races would come from this book, or none would.

Castles & Crusades is not hard to hack into a rules-stable, retro 2.5E version of 5E. It feels like B/X, yet it has a 5E flavor. The gameplay is high-speed without too many rules, and legacy cruft slows down a combat round. The action economy is simple, one action (attacks allow a half-move). C&C is built as a hacker's game, and you can do a lot with it, even emulate 5E pretty nicely.

Friday, August 11, 2023

5E: Old Windows

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

Even official D&D content has this problem.

5E has this problem.

It is like an old version of Windows where installing a game could wipe a part of your computer's registry and break your entire computer. Nothing is protected from anything else. If you add a piece of hardware, it could break a program. If you uninstall a program (and remove it), it could wipe out files something else uses. Once something is added to the system, it can never be removed. You are stuck with your "Bonsai web helper spyware" until you reinstall everything.

With 5E, the amount of "exploiter content" is way higher than I ever expected, and it seems design teams use certain game features to add power-gaming features in expansion books that break the game, feeling, balance, and flavor so hard my head spins.

Even official Wizards books do this.

And few want to fix this or even admit it exists since it would break their power gaming builds.

And call out books that break the game.

But it is your table! You can do what you want!

Microsoft eventually realized that the same arguments for Windows were unsustainable in support costs alone. So many unofficial add-ons plagued the system and "Windows improvements" that they needed to lock down parts of the OS just so they would have a system that worked for most people.

This isn't an argument against expansion material or 3rd parties.

I love expansion content.

It is just that 5E has built-in dongles (bonus actions) that make it way too easy to slip in extra attacks and the ability to throw the game way out of whack. I have come to expect the "natural weapons as bonus action attack" thing to pop up in expansion races, and it feels like it doubles the per-turn damage.

Races without it pale in comparison when serving as front-line fighters.

It is just D&D has gotten to be such a mess, even with a few expansion books (even Tasha's), that the game feels horribly broken internally. Multiclassing in 5E is horrible; the system is not even thought through, and I see nothing being done to address this. Unless you ban it outright, class identity is dead, and everything becomes a mess of class and power gruel.

One D&D will not fix this. It will create 2014-2023 D&D and 2024-2027 D&D camps. They are forking their game, selling both versions, and expecting consumers to figure it all out.

The D&D clones feel they will do a better job "being good stewards" to the 5E system than the company that built the game. I like Advanced 5E and Tales of the Valiant, and they are perfect "clean room" versions of the game where you can ban all the junk and find a little sanity. I can see why people leave for Shadowdark, OSE, C&C, DCC, PF2, and other games - class identity still exists.

It is strange to see Old School Essentials as a "truer version" of 5E where characters have more power and hold it longer, but that is where my thinking is headed. That d8+2 longsword attack for a fighter holds more power as you level, just because the monster hit points are linear in B/X and not exponentially scaled in anything beyond 2E.

And that d8+2 longsword is the same damage in 5E as in OSE.

An ancient red dragon has 60 hit points in OSE and over 550 hit points in 5E.

In OSE, one hit from that sword on that dragon means a lot more.

Your power is retained longer and remains potent until the end of the game.

In 5E, they need to pile on attacks, bonus actions, and modifiers to artificially raise that damage up to the scaled hit points, but martial classes will never match casters, so why bother? Post 3rd edition, D&D introduced scaling to the game and screwed up the math, and they have been trying to fix it for 23 years and have never gotten it right. They are now on their 6th edition of the game since then (3.0, 3.5, 4, 4 Essentials, 5E, and One D&D), and they still haven't fixed the problem.

OSE sits on my shelf, saying, "You can waste money on new 5E books, but my math will still be right. See you next edition!"

5E needs a rethink of the entire concept of classes, class identity, power, and accumulating power. Classes are more "what disadvantaged position do you start in" rather than something with an identity. At this point, 5E would be more internally consistent if it were a superhero game, and you point-bought your powers.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

5E: Doing the Math

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

The average goblin in 5E is as follows:

  • AC 15
  • 7 hp
  • +5 to-hit for 1d6+2
  • Bonus Action: Disengage or Hide

In A5E:

  • AC 13
  • 10 hp
  • +3 to-hit for 1d6+1
  • Bonus Action: Disengage or Hide

In Old School Essentials:

  • AC 13
  • 3 hp
  • +0 to-hit for 1d6
  • -1 to-hit in sunlight

In Castles & Crusades:

  • AC 15
  • 3 hp
  • +1 to-hit for 1d6
  • 20' move

For reference, let's use a longsword with a +2 modifier, which does 1d8+2 in all of the above systems.

Generally, 5E doubles the hit-point scale of B/X and keeps damages roughly the same. They make up for this in bonus action attacks, multi-attacks, and caster cantrips. Even among 5E versions, you see tweaks; some 5E versions feature many bonus action attacks, so they tweak the hit points and AC to even things out. Base 5E goblins are tougher to hit but can go down in a solid damage roll. A5E goblins are meant to stay around for two turns but are easier to hit (more per-roll satisfaction for more prolonged combats).

B/X and C&C? Goblins die quickly, more so in OSE. C&C does make them slower than most parties, which allows the unencumbered to out-move them (and run away).

5E = more attacks per turn for less damage.

B/X = fewer attacks per turn for more damage.

Part of the 5E "secret sauce" relies on raising the hit points of monsters, raising the AC and to-hit modifiers, and making the average turn more complicated through multiple attacks, bonus action attacks, and lots of "false choices" per turn. Your damage rolls at low-level, compared to B/X, are relatively the same, such as a d8+2 for a longsword.

I would rather be a fighter in OSE than 5E and one-shotting those goblins in a single hit on an AC 13. With a +2 damage modifier, there is no way they survive one hit. In 5E or A5E, they stick around to do damage and cause trouble.

5E "keeps you busy" with lots of turn make-work. Your damage output is lower, but you have more choices per turn. They are ultimately false choices since if your damage was greater, you would not need to do all those bonus actions and "extra turn thinking." Also, 5E raises monster hit points since there are typically fewer creatures per fight than in B/X or C&C; since everything is so much more complicated in 5E on a per-turn basis, the rules are designed for "less is more."

In B/X, since the monster hit points are low, you are more potent than in 5E.

When you level up in 5E, you feel more powerful than B/X but are still weaker since the scale of monster hit points goes up on an exponential curve. You also get overloaded with everything you must do during a turn to keep that damage output high.

As you level up, you start stacking extra attacks and damage on your turn actions, and the monster hit points start scaling to keep up. In B/X, they do not, and the hit point scale is linear; 6 HD is 6d8 hit points. So our goblins in 5E have the hit points of 2 HD creatures in B/X.

I have been playing 5E lately, and the amount of things I must do to keep a character's damage output high is about twice what I need to do in B/X. More decisions per turn, keeping track of those bonus actions, and managing more resources and choices per turn.

C&C and OSE are two very different games at higher levels. OSE sticks closer to the B/X damage scaling, whereas C&C resembles a mix of the tougher AD&D 2E and 3.5E creature hit points.

  • OSE Ancient Red Dragon = 13 HD (59 hp avg), AC 20
  • C&C Ancient Red Dragon = 34 HD (221 hp avg), AC 32
  • A5E Ancient Red Dragon = 23 HD (448 hp), AC 22
  • 5E Ancient Red Dragon = 28 HD (546 hp), AC 22

As you level in C&C, they start adding more secret sauce damage and hit bonuses, so the game is more like modern games (5E, PF1, PF2, 3.5E) than many people give it credit for. It does the whole "secret sauce" thing but keeps the hit-point scale regular at low levels. C&C is like a mix of B/X and 5E.

Also note your attack modifiers in C&C can scale to epic levels, whereas in OSE, they are kept to the B/X limits. This is important to remember when converting content.

So yes, your power level with that 1d8+2 longsword in OSE stays higher than in any other games discussed here. Before 5E's bounded accuracy, there was B/X math, which is still superior in balance. One hp of damage in B/X means 10 times more than in 5E and holds its value much longer.

Note that in C&C, casters do not have "laser pistol" cantrips where they can shoot every turn. Cantrips are minor effects and are spent when cast. There are no short rests in C&C. So the casters are more like traditional B/X casters in a lower-magic setting and must rely more on darts (1d3, 20/40/60') as their ranged weapon attack. Also note that ranged weapon damage is not modified by DEX in C&C, and only STR modifies melee damage.

In C&C, this is what wands of magic missiles are for. That "laser pistol" style attack is something you buy or find and pay to keep charged up. One of the problems with 5E's "personal power" mentality is that it makes magic items and gear builds less critical. Gold matters in C&C and old-school games, especially if magic items are for sale. A party could blow through half a million in gold easily.

Shocking, I know, especially coming from 5E, where gold gets worthless.

If I want more melee or ranged options for my mage in C&C I will multiclass (or class and a half it). The base mage is kept very focused in design for a reason. C&C is a game where you multiclass the heck out of your characters to get precisely what you want. In 5E, you are limited to subclassing, and multiclassing adds more complexity than it should (with subclassing the multiclass).

There are some character types in C&C I just can't build in 5E, and the game would never be able to handle. The old-school multiclassing in C&C is unique, so the game's base classes are streamlined.

Oh, and in C&C, the multi-class options are fantastic. If I pay the XP, I can have a character with all the powers of two classes at the maximum level. I can play a 24/24 ranger/mage to the maximum level and have both the full powers of a 24 mage and a 24 ranger. I will need around 8 million XP, but it can be done. A 24/12 class-and-a-half is a better option, and you ask if your character is more ranger or mage and go.

Epic-level C&C characters are far more epic than 5E, easily. This is that old-school AD&D story stuff where characters have flying castles and armies of Djinns riding red dragons.

I find myself busier in 5E combat turns than in OSE or even C&C. Playing solo, a lot of choices need to be made for each character for 5E, and the turns take a while to play through. I see a lot of 3rd party material in 5E abusing the bonus action for extra damage, slipping in an extra attack, and doubling your damage output.

Even when playing B/X modules with 5E, I am cutting down the size of encounters considerably. OSE and C&C can handle large fights easily.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Pool Initiative

This is what I am doing for 5E initiative rolls these days. I will have one sheet of paper with my PC's initiative modifiers to the side: +3, +2, +1, +0, etc. I will note the monsters' initiative modifiers the same way for the combat, just in a list.

Then I will roll a bunch of d20s, one blue for every PC and one red for every monster.

Then the players and I start picking dice out of the pool and going from the highest to the lowest. In this case, we have two 19 dice (one red and one blue), and I know my goblins are a +1 modifier, so the players need to pick one and have something higher than a 20 to go first. When a die in the pool is used, it is put to the side (preferably on the character sheet that just went, so it is easier to keep track of who went during a turn.

We don't assign dice to characters; we pick them out of the pool and go with the next highest. The party can decide who goes when and in what order. If they want their fighter to rush in first with that 19 and a +2 modifier, go for it. If they want to give the 3 to the cleric and have them hold back, OK. I mostly play solo, which is easier and faster for me to manage.

Yes, you can "game" this system and always have one character go first, but that feels more like a party strategy and tactical play. The party looks at the pool and picks who they want to go first. The entire party may be going last this round, or only one goes first, and the rest need to wait - those are the breaks and chaotic nature of combat. Someone goes one at the end of the turn and first the next turn for a double hit.

As a solo DM, this lets me play my monsters smarter too. The players do not know which monster left in the unused pool is going next, so they must think about defense. Let's say this order happens:

  1. 1 Player
  2. 4 Monsters
  3. 3 Players

If you rush a fighter out there, he is getting swarmed. You should hang back, position the fighter, and be ready for a charge. Next turn, things will change.

With list-based initiatives, players know who is going next. Let's say everyone knows goblin #1 is going next, and they can focus their firepower on that monster, effectively playing a turn-denial game on the enemy side. With a pool, if I had a monster in the back that could throw buffs, I could make them go first and give my front line extra protection.

This system lets players use their modifiers creatively, like that PC with a +2 could elect to use the die that rolled a 10, creating a 12 that goes before the two goblins that rolled 10 (modified to 11). The highest modifier does not need to go to the highest roll, creating some play and strategy in the middle of the initiative track.

There is a potential for a "nuh-uh" situation where a player with a +2 picks up a 10 and modifies to twelve, and a DM right after that with a monster with +4 and a roll of 9 right after that gets a 13. Thus, the DM jumps ahead of a player choosing a die and declaring an intention to go. This is not allowed. If you miss your chance, tough luck, and that is true in battle too. That DM needs to wait, the player declared first, and that is honored, and that monster with the +4 hesitated and went after.

Once fingers touch a die - the turn is taken - and a final total is declared. Give everyone a chance to think, and the DM says, "Next," and then the next die is selected and removed from the pool.

I am done with the sheets of scrap paper with the lists of names and numbers. With the old system, you roll once, set order, and are done - but I like rolling every turn and getting things mixed up. I like unexpected order changes and dealing with surges in enemy activity. I like players having to study the current state of the battlefield and manage who goes next.

The old lists of initiative feel like the "kings rules" of war, where sides line up and trade hits in some Napoleon-era recreation. Given everything we know about war today, with surges, tactical retreats, and the unpredictable ebb and flow of combat, a pool-based system seems more deadly, gritty, and realistic. It gives the party more options to strategize their turn order than a system set in a static list. Both sides will have to deal with the unpredicted shifts in battle, like the 1-4-3 order example above. Your modifiers can be gamed on the remaining pool track.

Sunday, August 6, 2023

A5E Characters vs. 5E Characters

This is almost a no-contest comparison. This isn't even fair.

I created a few 5E characters (using Hero Builder), and then I recreated those same characters in A5E. With every character I created, the original 5E characters seemed almost too simple, like B/X characters, compared to 3.5E characters. Now, I like both B/X and 3.5E, but when a game goes out of its way to give me a beefy character design system that links my character to a world's culture, gives them history, and makes them a part of the setting's factions - I take notice and listen.

My A5E characters feel connected with the world and much more capable at everything.

My 5E characters feel like character names with combat stats.

Not even Tales of the Valiant (Alpha) does this. I love this game too, but even ToV seems like an AD&D to the level of detail and customization A5E offers. My A5E characters have twice the unique features that ToV characters do - in some cases, the same combo of heritage and background ends up with 4 features in ToV, and 8 in A5E. ToV needs to double the features they give you just to compete (but I am sure it will be a tremendous 5E replacement game with Kobold Press' excellent support).

In A5E, I am getting social features, exploration features, combat features, and cool toys to play with.

My 5E characters pale in comparison to either, and they feel like "generic combat playing pieces" compared to both ToV and A5E - but A5E takes the cake on building the three old-school pillars of play into the game and supporting them with both rules and character options backed into character creation.

My ranger in 5E? Mostly a combat guy with very few "ranger things" to do. He feels like a "weak fighter" with a few boilerplate nature abilities that rarely get used.

My A5E ranger? Much more remarkable, and he gets to pick Exploration Knacks that let him pull off all sorts of cool tricks during the exploration game. My guy can build a shelter concealed from enemies and as restful as a room at an inn. He can also forage daily for 5 people (if you like eating bugs and plants). He could have picked huntsman or could travel long distances without getting fatigued. There are a lot of picks here, and my ranger is a Bear Grylls in A5E compared to the 5E ranger, which seems like a tourist with a full shopping cart at Bass Pro Shop.

And my A5E ranger at level 2 gets combat maneuvers and can pick two and have a pool of 4 exertion points (regained on short or long rests). He could get a double shot, and a point-blank shot (both use a bonus action). The incredible resource-based "fighting moves" that 4E martial characters had? They are back, baby! Even my bard has them. Why do casters have all the fun choices? Oh, and I can pick ranged or melee-focused styles; there are a bunch to choose from, which allows many types of rangers to be created.

My 5E ranger at level 2 gets a "fighting style," primarily a static bonus.

This is the difference between a Rambo and a paintball warrior.

New edition, same mistakes - are what we want to avoid regarding new 5E games and backward compatibility.

My A5E characters took a little time to build, with me making meaningful choices along the way. The bonuses and abilities here remind me a little of Palladium Fantasy characters (another fantastic game), and you get the feeling, "If the rules give me abilities, I want to play and use them." There is such a thing as a character design system that uses complexity to increase player attachment, and A5E has this in spades - even over the already excellent ToV.

Another thing, my A5E characters have built-in connections to the world. They do not feel like they were "dropped in from space" like a 5E character can be; you are making choices and building connections to the setting during character creation. You could be a "guard from a town on the map" and get called back to the town if there is trouble. You can be a loner. A member of a guild. Someone from a circus. If I were running this for friends, the campaign map is a must-have for character creation, and players can point to places and ask to be a part of that area.

This has all the fun of Pathfinder 2 character creation without the character sheet that looks like a tax form. I love you, Pathfinder 2, but please do better regarding simplification and the new player experience. And you don't have to change to a new system to get it either, so if you like the 5E rules but want better character design, both ToV and A5E have you covered, with A5E being the more in-depth option.

My set of 5E characters was simple to create.

My A5E characters are the ones I want to play with.

Hands down.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Starfinder 2 Announced

Two days after I wondered about this, they announce it. Starfinder 2 will be 100% compatible with Pathfinder 2e (remastered) next year.

This fixes many of the mixed feelings I had with the remaster of Pathfinder 2e. I can put Pathfinder 1e's world in the past and play a science-fantasy mix of Pathfinder 2R and Starfinder 2. We aren't losing anything, evolution is happening, and we can put the old content in the past and move forward.

This aligns the system more with a Dungeon Crawl Classics mix of fantasy and sci-fi, and it feels right to me. I would play all in one world, with a fantasy world existing under the stars and the space tech coming from the ruins of lost civilizations. Sort of like a Numenera-style world, but with a stronger fantasy core.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Pathfinder 2e: Utterly Alien

AI Art by @nightcafestudio

I have mixed feelings about the Pathfinder update to a "2.5" version. I am happy with the 2.0 books and do not plan on buying the remasters. I miss the classic dragons, drow, and other fantasy staples - and the replacements feel like something entirely alien.

I get it; they need to be their own masters, be able to create video games and VTTs without worrying about Wizards, and do their own thing.

And I know, your table is your table - I get it.

It is hard to discuss feelings about the whole situation since the toxicity is very high everywhere, with the remaster dividing the community. People feel the classic dragons and fantasy standards would be a part of the game - and they still are - but they are not in the new books. And the community wants to stop player loss, so they lean into calling people who feel "I am losing something" as stupid and unreasonable (to silence them and prevent the feeling from taking hold), which drives people feeling this way away for good.

Here's a hint, if people in the community have fears and concerns - don't attack them or call them dumb.

Some places that were the best and most inviting in the Pathfinder community are mocking people with these feelings instead of discussing them and working things out. If that happened to me, I would walk from the game and community and never return. The books would get sold the same day. And I see it happening, and it is the moderator's fault for letting this go out of control. The community is losing people for good with every thread that turns into a flame fest.

Nothing much is changing, and you can still have everything as it was. Everything is fine. This is one of those rare cases of the game being okay but the narrative and community spinning wildly out of control.

If I were a third party producer?

Here comes the Kickstarter for Classic Monsters and Character Options for Pathfinder 2 Remastered!

Seriously people. That is an easy win. Easy. Somebody do that and END THIS.


They are chasing people out of the Pathfinder 2 community for good - for no good reason other than them wanting to win an argument and get likes. They should be leaving, not the good people we are losing.

And the fears are justified.

More fallout from Wizards and more reasons to never go back to them. They are still hurting communities months later. I also feel Paizo is being unreasonable by memory-holing so many familiar terms and fantasy standards. The game will be more challenging to transition into, and you will find more people sticking with one or the other instead of trying both.

It is a mess.

But on a more "look and feel" level, Pathfinder no longer feels familiar. I entered that world with 1e, and I like that edition's style and mature fantasy feeling. Pathfinder 2's art feels a bit too "pop" to me, with photobombs, selfies, Pokemon pets, and other Internet meme elements entering the art and style, with way too much steampunk standing in for modern technology.

I am too used to the pseudo-3.5E the original game started as, and I feel, "That was the promise to me." So, no, Pathfinder 2e's world, and even more so, the 2.5e world, does not feel the same. It is not a fantasy one anymore; this is steampunk. The lore is changing, too, from "generic fantasy" to "Paizo fantasy." I like the lore, but this limits the game's usefulness to me, in the same way using a Star Wars RPG would play in my own sci-fi settings. I will play generic fantasy with OSR games, C&C, or non-Wizards 5E.

The language of Pathfinder is changing too. What was familiar because of 3.5 is now a step removed in terminology. This is another barrier to entry for the rest of us used to things meaning commonly accepted meanings and having a product line with redefined words all over the place. The average consumer isn't going to be able to grasp that, and I know how easy it sounds - but things have failed to resonate with consumers for less than this.

They should have just gone with Creative Commons and the 5.1 SRD. The ORC license feels like it backed them into a corner, and they have to change the game too much.

At this point, I would be more excited about the setting if they mixed Starfinder and Pathfinder into one setting (and set of rules) and did an epic science-fantasy blend of the two. Make Starfinder optional, but combine the settings and rules. This way, you could do "magi-tech" instead of steampunk, and the game's technology would work the same way.

That would feel highly compelling and give the world purpose and reason.

Starfinder should be an optional setting expansion for Pathfinder 2.5 with no main rulebook but expansion books focusing on classes, tech, and powers. Unify the magic systems and rules. Import the ancestries' and backgrounds.

And the alien aspects of the new 2.5 world would feel right for a science-fantasy universe. Dungeon Crawl Classics pulls this off nicely, and they show you can have a science-fantasy world and still have it feel like fantasy.

Give me one game with one setting in one world - and the science-fantasy part as the optional expansion content. That would feel right to me and help me get over these feelings of things changing. You could have a modernized and clean Pathfinder 2.5 and a brand-new Starfinder under one roof and system. Everything could work and play together nicely, and we would have a bigger game and sandbox.

But otherwise, this is a dark time, and it is worsening.

I hope things get better in the Pathfinder community and they can work this out. The feelings and fears are valid. How the community addresses them is a considerable challenge; from what I see, they need to rise to the occasion.