Monday, June 17, 2024

Autoduel GURPS/Champions 2024

I am working on converting Classic Car Wars to a 3d6-or-less system, such as GURPS or Hero System. The ideal goal is to use the 3d6 system for the to-hits, while everything else—damage, handling, combat, and vehicle designs—still use the Car Wars system and keeps the "metal underneath" the same.

Damage is going to scale. Car Wars to Champions is a 3-to-1 scale, so 1d6 Car Wars is 3d6 Champions. Car Wars to GURPS is more like 18-to-1, based on the 0.50 cal. M2HB (7dx2) and the 66mm LAW (6dx6). So if a LAW in Car Wars does 2d6, that is 36d6 in GURPS, and the 0.50 MG in GURPS does 14d6, which is close enough to 18d6, so 1d6 in Car Wars, which matches the MG damage.

To-hit modifiers in both games are doubled. So, if firing at the front of a car is a -1 in Car Wars, that is a -2 in Champions or GURPS. Use Car Wars for all to-hit modifiers, with the only exception being the OCV and DCV modifiers in Champions - the driver's OCV and target driver's DCV do apply to the to-hit roll (if they have Combat Driver skill otherwise it is zero), as they do in Champions. This was a cool rule in the Autoduel Champions days, where a driver's abilities could make the vehicle harder to hit.

Do not do size and range modifiers with either system! Stick with Car Wars' range and to-hit to calculate the final CW to-hit modifier, then multiply by two.

To-hit modifiers for weapons are based on a Car Wars 7+ to-hit number. Every point above or below is a +/-2 modifier to hit when using the gun. Targeting computers factor in as usual, so a hi-res target will give a -4 to-hit modifier (lower is better).

For handling, use the Car Wars Control Table. If you get a 'safe" result, do not make a driving skill check. If you get a number 2 through 6, that is your negative modifier to your driving skill check to avoid a roll on the Crash Table. So if your vehicle is at 60 mph, and you have a current -2 HC, the number on the chart is 2, so you need to make a driving skill roll at a -2 to avoid a Crash Table roll. HC resets as it does in Car Wars.

With GURPS, the combat turn is one second, and you usually get one attack, so this is a very clean conversion. The Hero System rules use a Speed system from 1 to 12 and a 12-second turn. This does not work that well in Classic Car Wars, and the old Audoduel Champions' way of handling it is allowing characters to make a vehicular weapon (not hand weapon) attacks every second (like SPD 12) but zero out OCV and skill bonuses on non-acting phases.

This means an SPD 4 character in the Hero System who acts on phases 3, 6, 9, and 12 and gets their full skill and OCV bonuses on those phases only. They can attack in phases 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, and 11, but at an OCV or zero.

Hero System DCV always applies; this helps balance the "firing every phase" issue below!

Stick to the Hero System phases when making hand weapon attacks or using superpowers. So that SPD 4 characters can make a hand weapon or superpower attack every 3 seconds. This is a change from Car Wars, but given the games, it makes sense. This also puts people on foot at a more significant disadvantage than vehicles since they can get fired at every phase.

This has stayed the same since Autoduel Champions, and letting characters keep their full DCV (even in non-acting phases) helps balance this out and keeps superheroes from being sitting targets by a stream of per-phase machinegun fire. Haying for a DCV of 6 is going to be a huge benefit when the attacking vehicle is acting off-phase, and the attacker can't use their OCV and skill bonuses.

Movement should be done in Car Wars, with everything in mph, including foot movement. I know this will mess up Hero System movement rates, where characters only move during their phase, but we are entering "simulation land," where all foot movement is done per phase.

Hero System uses meters, so do a rough conversion and multiply by 3 for feet. For simplicity, assume Hero System "meters per turn" equals "miles per hour." Most characters in Hero System move 12m, which is about 12.5 mph in Car Wars, which is running speed foot movement (Car Wars Compendium). If a character has a running superpower of 40m per turn, he runs at 40 mph, and all movement is done according to Car Wars (every second).

Speaking of Autoduel Champions, we were sort of inspired by this project since we played it a lot in the 1980s. We had our own Traveller-like system for our game, but having Champions' superpowers convert easily was a huge plus. It allowed us to do the mixed superheroes and Car Wars campaign we loved.

And you can tell we played many of these games since these conversions are very natural for me to bust out as I think through how the games are played.

If I were to do our game today, our Traveller-inspired 2d6 system, I would skip all the newer versions of Cepheus and go straight for the digest-sized Cepheus Light. The skills are 99% compatible with Car Wars and are all 2d6 and N+ compatible. The personal combat rules can be used instead of the ones in Car Wars. The only rules I would add are the optional Traits system (30 XP to buy a new one) and the Cepheus Enhanced Edition rule for raising an ability score (3x new level in XP).

Why Cepheus Light and not one of the newer versions? I don't need anything in the newer versions. It is digest-sized and feels like a Car Wars book. The game even has a "cargo" system that works directly with Car Wars to haul loads between cities (Grav Vehicles would be Auto Parts or the cars themselves).

Those three are really all you need. Another benefit? If you need a simplified RPG for Battletech, that works just as nicely. For Battletech, you may want to use a more complete and modern edition since you will get a lot of extra "sci-fi stuff" you will use, but for Car Wars, Light is all you need.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Goodbye, Pathfinder 1e

My Pathfinder 1e books are in storage now.

I tried running a GURPS campaign, but meh. I was fighting the world more than I was having fun. With this much work, I would create an original world and have fun there instead. Dungeon Fantasy needs its own world and setting, which I have and will talk about soon.

Theme park worlds were excellent in the 2010s. Today, it is a cultural appropriation city. I would rather have a dedicated Egypt setting and Fantasy Africa than this. Everywhere you go, a Fantasyland, Adventureland, or other Disney-like little theme park area sits there and says, "Not Ravenloft, not Egypt, not Vikings, not science-fantasy, but close enough!"

Dedicated settings where it is one world, all Norse, with races and cultures that fit in that world, are far more immersive than this messy mix of everything, every culture, every race, and every culture. They end up being buffets of low-quality food but with great choices. At the end of the meal, you end up feeling sick.

Theme park worlds are also a source of the rot within the hobby, inviting in endless expansion books, grift opportunities, and encouraging every player to pick an "alien" background and nothing fits together; no one has to be a part of the culture of the world, and everyone is a special something or another. Pathfinder 1e was going there with the Advanced Race Guide, and there were far too many player races in the game by the end of the edition.

I would rather play in a Norse-themed world, where I have to read about the cultures, understand the diverse peoples, and make some hard choices on who my character is in this world. You play D&D or Pathfinder 2, and you will get the person at the table wanting to be a talking plant or Muppet and be the goofball when everyone else is trying to play seriously.

Theme park worlds invite everyone to be "the outsider," and they just feel touristy. Once you get the tourist, the planar crowd is not far behind, and then everyone is a particular "someone from somewhere else," at that point, I don't care about their characters since the players are not showing any effort to care about the world I am running.

One of the most toxic trends in modern gaming is escapist identity marketing; the game has to support being an anything tourist, and everyone that plays wanders through a theme park.

At this point, most locals look at the PCs like the locals look at tourists who wander through, destroy things, and take all the parking places.

Runequest's Glorantha killed the Pathfinder Golarion theme park for me. There are "elder races" here, but most of the backgrounds are a variety of diverse humans and mixes in between. There is much diversity here; you must read and care about the world to unlock it.

The world has a few themed areas that aren't blatantly "theme parky" like other worlds. These cultures may mirror some on Earth, but they are ultimately their own, with history and plenty of detail and flavor. And there is a ton of history to read. Runequest describes the world in one book, and there is a unique two-volume set if you want to dive deeper.

The Great Wheel and Pathfinder's Golarion have become far too cartoony and childish for my taste. I outgrew them. They are turning into this mass market; look at the cute things, smug heroes with attitudes, and mass market experiences that any 3D Hollywood animated movie for kids is these days. Both feel like Pixar or Dreamworks animated movie games; the worlds are bland, too much steampunk, and uninteresting. Some of the worlds rely too much on the old guard remembering them, and they are currently unsupported and left to decay.

Pathfinder 1e was visually appealing because of the "rule of cool" art. All of that has been erased and feels like a hangover in the setting today, a party the company wants to forget happened. The art can't carry a campaign setting alone, though. It is also dated and a little silly, and I prefer stylistic realism with a more serious tone. Even the remastered art tries too hard, feeling strangely surreal and unrealistic. Final Fantasy swords larger than a body belong in video games for kids. This is fantasy, but I outgrew that style when I gave up my PlayStation 1.

Give me a serious-toned world with history and a defined set of cultures and backgrounds, and let me enjoy digging in deep and being rewarded for my research.

And I was a super fan of Pathfinder 1e, and it all fell apart. I realized I had outgrown it, and there were better things to spend time with. The whole theme park thing made me cringe. I don't want to play in a rip-off of ancient Egypt, and Castles & Crusades has a Fantasy Egypt campaign guide where you can play in the actual setting in a fantasy context. There is far better out there, and a dedicated setting will make players invest in the setting with their background choices rather than play "another Dragonborn."

I am not selling the PF 1e books, but they are stored away and out of my mind.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

14mm d6 Dice

I like the 14mm d6 dice.

Standard dice are 16mm; either the boxy board-game style or the rounded Chessex-style ones (12 to a case) are familiar.

Then there are the tiny 12mm dice, typically sold in blocks of 36. These are small for gaming but great for games that require you to roll handfuls of six-sided dice, like Tunnels & Trolls.

Then, there are these mid-sized 14mm d6 dice. These highly playable, perfectly sized, light, but still readable dice make me want to play 2d6 games. The giant dice are so heavy they can disturb cardstock counters or cardboard pawns, while the lighter dice don't feel like they are large enough to feel like a meaningful 2d6 roll.

The 14mm dice, with their unique appeal, make me want to play. I am still determining what this is and where this feeling comes from, but the mid-sized dice have a special place in my gaming experience.

I don't get this with the 12mm dice; they are a bit on the small side and can be easily misplaced. On the other hand, the 16 mm is a bit large and can be cumbersome to handle.

But these have the right feeling and size to make me want to roll them.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

HARP: Spells are Skills

HARP has a unique spell mechanic, where each spell is a skill. This reduces the number of spells a character can learn, which is generally a good thing. The spells magic-using professions know there will be fewer, and characters will focus on a few to rise to higher levels of skill ranks.

In games like Against the Darkmaster (AtD) and Rolemaster, the focus is on each 'spell skill,' a list of spells that grants you more and different related powers as you level up. Among them, Rolemaster takes the crown for its intense spell system. Each spell skill reaches its pinnacle at level 50 of power, unleashing insanely powerful, world-changing effects that top the list.

HARP has spell scaling, where you can add effects from a list in the spell to add abilities, damage, functions, or targets to the spell being cast. Each of those costs extra power points, which raises the skill level needed, and also armor will add to the power necessary to cast a spell. Against the Darkmaster has these spell scaling effects, which they call warping. Rolemaster does not (AFAIK).

Against the Darkmaster's magic system is the most straightforward, offering a sense of simplicity and ease. With the least amount of bookkeeping required, players can focus more on the game and less on managing their spells.

Rolemaster is the most in-depth, with the most potent magic systems that scale insanely. Rolemaster is the "power caster" sort of game, while HARP is a close second when you factor in unlimited levels in both games. I feel HARP can scale power higher once spell scaling is appropriately abused. I say abused because that is the fun of the spell game with those scaling effects.

HARP is in the middle, with more bookkeeping since each spell is a skill. But this reduces the number of spells overall, with a suggestion of half-casters having 15 spells maximum while casters have 30. That is still a significant number of spell skills to track at higher levels, and I can see needing a supplemental spell sheet once a caster gets up past level 6.

HARP and Rolemaster have no maximum level, while AtD has a maximum of 10.

Other games that use individual spells as skills are GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy, though the level to cast and power point costs aren't usually changing as a casting factor, nor are they used to power up - though some you can cast with more power points to increase the effects.

I like spells as a skill and being able to level them up. If I play a wizard who specializes in fireball, raising the level of that high while mostly maintaining other spells at practical levels, that is my choice, and it makes my wizard unique.

In HARP, I can specialize in the arcane bolt spell, which costs 3 PP to cast for its 1d10 and 50' range, which takes a minimum skill level of 3 (matching the power points needed). For +3 PP, I can increase the damage by +1d10 (5d10 max). I can spend +4 PP to hit an additional target. Adding +1 PP will get me an extra 50' of range. So, at a skill level of 20, I could cast one mana bolt out to 500' doing 5d10. Or, I could do 1d10 damage to 5 targets out to 100'.

I paid the development points to make my arcane missile awesome; why can't I enjoy the benefit of specialization? A higher skill level will increase your chances of getting spell results that double or triple your spell's damage or effect, especially when modifiers are added to your roll for situational modifiers. That level 20 spell is a +70 modifier on the table, plus your stat bonuses and doubled effects start at a roll of 151+.

In HARP, becoming a gunslinger with arcane bolts and dishing out 10d10 or even 15d10 crits is not hard.

That is cool.

That makes me want to play a caster.

And unlike a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics, those high-end results do not need specialized random charts to create. These are built into the task resolution system.

Friday, June 7, 2024

But, the Most Technology is the Most Fun!

Do I really want to play in a Bronze Age setting?

But I will need more technology than that to play fantasy!

There were no colossal sailing ships, crossbows, plate armor, lances, saddles, catapults, windmills, gears, water wheels, compasses, universities, banks, blown glass, printing presses, gunpowder, playing cards, or even iron smelting.

Even though Runequest has more magic than D&D, many people get hung up on the lack of iconic fantasy equipment when trying to play in a setting like this. It is a challenge, and if you put yourself in a "Conan" mindset, things start to make a little more sense, giving you a frame of reference that people can watch movies about and get an idea of what is going on.

It isn't Conan directly, but when you tell them Conan, people don't think of Arthurian Knights and catapults, so it is a good starting point. Another good starting point is Greek culture, movies like Hercules, and films set during the time of Greek gods. Again, this isn't Ancient Greece, but that level of technology and civilization gives people something else to think about and keeps Merlin and Gandalf out of their minds.

Too much fantasy these days is this sloppy stew of Renaissance concepts, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Harry Potter, Ren Faire, Final Fantasy, and even Lord of the Rings. You get fantasy art with people with modern haircuts and hair dye and that smug movie-poster look on their faces doing something impossible in that rule-of-cool style art, holding a sword outsizing their body, which means nothing. I am not against fun and expressing yourself, but most of today's fantasy art is this commercialized, childish, comic-book-style, Instagram-influenced, AI-art-looking tripe.

It is meant to sell you collector's market books.

A Bronze Age setting lets you strip that all away. Even in Runequest, the setting is primarily human but has a wide variety of actual diversity. Many games say "diversity" but hide it with anthrophonic animals, planar races, puppet races, intelligent plants, cat-headed fur-covered humans, or dragon people. Do you want to be diverse in Runequest? Pick a culture, race, and skin tone; there you go—you are diverse. There is no hiding under a sports mascot costume or foam rubber alien mask.

This game is not about your gear, funny shape, planar origin, or silly animal voices. Sometimes, I feel 5E has become "the cosplay amateur theater game" more than it is about stories, quests, dungeons, monsters, treasures, exploration, or even the world. The selfish notion of "identity" is the only thing that matters, followed by hamming it up with a funny voice. I like creating unique characters and acting in character, but many streaming shows take this too far to the point of clownery.

And when the game becomes all about "you," the people of the world, world, story, and even death take a back seat.

Similarly, people get wrapped up in gear. The typical "dungeon outfitting" of sorting through gear lists and adjusting encumbrance takes over the game, where you get into this puzzle-game-inspired gameplay. Hammer and spikes solve the "jam the door shut" puzzle. A ten-foot pole solves the "pit trap problem." The rope solves the "climb down the shaft" puzzle. Runequest has some of that, but in most situations, you will use skills, roleplay, cast magic, and avoid fights. The OSR "puzzle shopping" isn't as important here.

The list of Runequest equipment includes only a dozen tools and pieces of exploration gear, plus a few pages of prices for other common (non-adventure) goods and services. Even in the equipment book, adventure gear goes a page and a half, and it isn't the sort of "stock your pack" lists that many OSR games get into where you need to start buying dozens of ordinary items just to be able to have an adventuring pack.

But what is there to do if the game is about something other than the gear or technology? If I had to be human, I would be bored! I need to travel the world, to go to the outer planes, to have fun!

D&D teaches you many bad habits. The D&D 4E "planes at level 10" has to be one of the dumbest ideas Wizards has ever foisted on the hobby, which is still being pushed today. Everyone has to be a special something. Campaign settings are boring. Plane-hopping is the only fun. Magic is like superpowers.

The truth is, you will have more fun with less.

Your family, your kin, your home, your tribe, or your town are the heart of who you are. Who is your blood? Who are your people? You can play a loner and wanderer type, but establishing a connection somewhere becomes a goal. Are your people building a settlement in a new land? Do you look different from others in the tribe? Are you an outsider? How do you win their trust and become accepted? Are you being chased by people you escaped? What is happening today that threatens your home?

With the distractions of magic superpowers, gear shopping, steampunk technology, unique backgrounds, and planar travel out of the way, you can focus on the story.

Your story.

The story of your people.

The story of events in the world.

You can care so much about options and choices they bury you.

There are times I find players who need all those colorful ornaments, rules, plate armor, classes, and backgrounds to hide behind, so they have to come out and get into their character more. I had a player who only played Dragonborn forced to play a human, and he discovered he enjoyed being forced to make something he thought was uninteresting into something he loved. The same thing happened with a player who only played plate-wearing paladins. Who are you without the armor and holy powers?

What is your story?

Strip it all away and tell me who you are.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024


Westlands is an interesting 2d6 game. It does traditional fantasy fantastic, but it has a few issues.

The Unskilled penalty, a significant minus 3, can be challenging to locate as it's only mentioned in the sorcery chapter in an example. This needed to be mentioned early on when skills were discussed.

The character creation lays out a Stamina and Lifeblood statistic (Stamina taking damage first and healing the fastest, then Lifeblood), and the damage system talks about subtracting damage from END first, then STR and DEX. Then, the monsters have no Stamina or Lifeblood values. The game started with this new life pool resource (STA + LB); it sort of wasn't edited cleanly in the damage chapter (and both systems were included), and by the end of the book, it was forgotten, and things fell back to the three-stat damage tracking system.

To avoid confusion, ignore Stamina and Lifeblood and use the three statistic damage tracks laid out more clearly in Sword of Cepheus.

This is a bizarre game. It seems like a game created to patch issues in Sword of Cepheus since it is very similar, but it does its own thing in some places. It is not a waste of money since many areas, such as new talents and races, are expanded. So, if you play Sword of Cepheus and want house-rule expansion material, this is a solid book.

The game works well with Sword of Cepheus, and SoC seems better proofread and tested. At times, Westlands feels like the author's notes on how their group played SoC, and at other times, it doesn't. A second edition of SoC is coming out very soon (July-August 2024), and here is the Kickstarter to track progress:

Westlands has more traits and better monster statistics, which SoC 2 is also implementing. The original SoC rules do monster stats in a very hard-to-use UPP, such as C7G456, where Westlands lists the easier-to-use statistics.

Westlands does more straightforward sorcery (skill checks), whereas SoC relies on Talismans (casting bonus) and Foci (spell charges). If you don't like either system, mod it to something you like, such as having magic drain a mana statistic you calculate (INT + Sorcery skill level) at 1 point per circle level. Then, it damages the character after that pool is drained.

In comments on the DTRPG page, the Westlands author says he is demoralized by the OGL disaster. It is tough when games like this, which people poured their hearts into, are destroyed because of Wizards and their greed - for games far removed from any d20 ruleset! This is a 2d6 system and has nothing to do with Wizards or the SRD, yet it used the OGL and here we are. SoC 2 looks like the way forward once the Kickstarter is done, but WL is still an excellent game that needs a lot of love and fixing. I don't know if it will ever get it.

The OGL issue caused actual harm to many people and communities. It was far worse than any "words cause hurt" issue and wrecked the dreams of thousands of creators and even more people in those communities.

D&D died the day they pulled the OGL.

I have moved on to better things.

Wizards can put anything into the Creative Commons, and I thank them for being so generous. It will be a long road back, but the hurt is still here. What needs to happen is an OGL 1b license that adds two words - perpetual and un-revokable, and grandfather in everything published under 1.0a.

This needs to be fixed to heal that hurt. Even if Wizards abandoned the OGL forever, they should set it free, along with every work of art that used it. This one thing would end the OGL hurt forever and make it right. And they have no reason to hold onto the OGL anymore, they are moving on with what they do best.

And this would unlock the door for me to look at books from Wizards again.

The world of 2d6 gaming is like Linux, you have dozens of great games, all with the same base, and they keep revising and coming up with new ones all the time.

Foci are strange in the Sword of Cepheus game. Still, if you remember the old AD&D "spell components," this could just be said: "foci are components" and then allow for the rechargeable foci that SoC has added to the game, while the one-use ones are traditional components. A fireball spell in AD&D needs sulfur and saltpeter as spell components, so in SoC, you could say that one-use foci for fire spells are the same.

Westlands is like a "reaction game" to the original Sword of Cepheus, trying to expand and patch the first version into a more traditional fantasy game. Sword of Cepheus 2 is the next game coming down the road, and it looks to one-up them both with the lessons learned. I still like Westlands, flaws, missing rules, inconsistencies, and blemishes regardless.

Both work together well and are great inspiration and source material for 2d6 fantasy gaming.

Again, like Linux, 2D6 gaming is what it is: all compatible with minor differences here and there. Pick a distro and play.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Kickstarter: Voidrunner's Codex

The Voidrunner's Codex has launched a Level Up A5E version of science fiction, and I backed this since I like 5E sci-fi games and am still looking for a solid one. If they have the A5E improvements to social and exploration, that will be perfect, and they will support hex-crawl sci-fi games. If not (and I don't see why they wouldn't), those are easy enough to port in.

A solid CR+0 5E sci-fi game is something of a rarity. What I like about this is equal attention is being paid to starships, and many 5E sci-fi games ignore that part of the game or just do a few pre-built ships and say, "Meh, it is not really important."

One whole book is starships and rules. That is serious support.

Level Up Advanced 5E is one of my pair of Community 5E games, and I am currently supporting in my campaigns. This is not a high-power CR+1 5E like ToV and "all books" D&D. This is the 2014 balance level, and it feels good. To have a sci-fi game like that is my Starfinder replacement.

Monday, June 3, 2024

We're Not Playing the Same Game

The Battlezoo ancestries products are not just another set of 'alt ancestry' products for 5E. They offer a unique experience, allowing players to step into the roles of dragons, monsters, mimics, and even dungeons, a concept that sets them apart.

However, these products highlight the rift between most of 5E and the rest of roleplaying.

5E is becoming a heavily identity-based, non-human, and almost cartoonish game solely interested in escapism. It is practically an opiate-level of escapism in some social circles, where players get addicted to this "complete break" from reality, and these heavily antihomophobic ancestries only seek to highlight the disconnect between reality and fantasy.

This explains much of 5E's divergence from the role-playing I grew up with, which is mainly reflected in the OSR. In my time, we would all play humans or human-like backgrounds and "sim the character" through a heroic life. 5E is moving towards an almost story-game-like level of disconnect and escapism from reality. This also explains why characters can't die, the over-emphasis on safety tools, and the "you can't do that to my character" feeling that is going on.

While 5E can do "traditional roleplaying," where players play mostly human-like characters and "sim" a heroic story, that is not the direction of the game and what is popular.

When people talk about tabletop roleplaying and 5E, it pays to figure out what you are talking about before you get involved, and this is true with communities, too. You will join a primarily "identity roleplaying" group and expect to be talking about traditional heroic simulator gaming. You will be blindsided by people wanting to take on the identities of talking flowers and plush toys.

I also like this "identity-based" roleplaying genre, so I am not downing it.

I don't mix the styles since they are focused on very different things. I can, at times, but the mood in each deserves to be the game's sole focus.

But I do see a clear difference here.

There is a lot of friction between these two play styles, which causes issues. I grew up with the more "heroic life simulator" - like The Sims game, where mostly human-like heroes struggle to save the world, better themselves, and fight the demons within. Star Wars is a good example. This is your typical OSR-style play.

Then you have those who want to "live another life" in a humanized anthropomorphic form, who play not for the "heroic sim" but more to escape reality, put on a cosplay costume, and assume a role far removed from their human body in this world. This is where 5E (and Pathfinder 2 is like this) is going and is heavily anime-influenced.

It may be time for 5E to abandon the old-style "hero sim" entirely and adopt the more identity-based play genre. Make it so you buy your form, abilities, and a few special powers with a point pool and have no "preset ancestries" the game ships with. Like you buy a dragon form, wings, claws, breath weapon, and armored scales with your ancestry points - and just "say what you are." If you want to be a talking flower plant person, buy that form and powers, and just "say what you are." You could create a human, too, if you wanted, but the game, by default, should allow you to build any "talking form" you want and play that.

Identity 5E is a game different from Traditional 5E.

While the rules are the same in both, players can cross over between games, and the expectations of what a character or adventure is differ so wildly that the two groups might as well be living on two different planets.

Classic Fantasy Imperative

Classic Fantasy Imperative (CFI), a one-book game with readable print, makes all the difference in the world. To play the original, you needed to sift through an original Mythras book (with small print) and a Classic Fantasy (CF) book to work out the differences between the games and constantly flip back and forth between them to learn the game.

The third printing of the original Mythras book has made significant strides in addressing the print issue. While it may not be flawless, it's a marked improvement over the original version and worth considering for a more comfortable reading experience.

But playing the original Classic Fantasy Mythras-based game was a massive pain, as you had to learn the core system and the add-on game. The new Classic Fantasy Imperative book puts everything in one, so you don't need other books to play.


Since the Imperative book is mostly core rules, you will likely want the original CF book since it contains many more spells, classes, magic, treasure, and monsters - all compatible with the new game, but this will become your sourcebook. Until they develop an updated Classic Fantasy sourcebook, Imperative will be your rulebook, while the older Classic Fantasy book will be your expansion.

Nothing else is needed to play and have the entire experience.

Note that Imperative introduces Hit Point and Action Point bonuses for rank-ups! Since these are the same for every Imperative class, you must let them use these rank bonuses if you want to use an original book class (Bard, Cavalier, Paladin, Ranger, etc.). The CFI book only has the base four classes (fighter, mage, cleric, and rogue). Still, the original CF classes add many more (bard, berserker, cavalier, druid, monk, paladin, ranger, and multi-class characters).

The nice part about this setup is that you do not need to touch the original Mythras book or learn that game to play it. Though Mythras is a great game, it has a similar setup with the updated core of the Mythras Imperative and the original book used as the expansion. The MI book is more of a BRP-style generic game book with too many genres jammed in the short page count. Still, it establishes the new ORC-based baseline and lets 3rd party publishers continue to support the game under a much better license.

Also, Classic Fantasy tends to be more pulp and over-the-top than the core Mythras rules. Specifically, those Action Point, Luck Point, and Hit Point bonuses as you rank up are substantial game changers since action points are used as "actions during a combat turn," and Pathfinder 2E copied this mechanic for its action economy. Moving is an action while attacking is also an action, and you can spend all actions on attacks. So a character that begins with 3 Action Points can get two more in rank-ups and potentially have 5 at the highest rank.

Classic Fantasy characters are amped and heroic to the level of a Gray Mouser or Conan, compared to their more grounded Mythras counterparts. Imagine 5 actions a turn in Pathfinder 2! Also, they are far more potent than Runequest, Basic Roleplaying, or Open Quest characters.

CFI and the original CF book make for a solid, heroic, high fantasy d100 game with a realistic feel and solid core system.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Mail Room: Classic Fantasy Imperative (Mythras)

Mythras is in a strange place right now. Many people love this fork of the Mongoose-flavored BRP system, which initially powered Runequest 6. Right now, they are converting everything over to the ORC license, and they started with two core books, Classic Fantasy Imperative and Mythras Imperative.

Mythras Imperative, The Design Mechanism's multi-genre response to Basic Roleplaying, is set to redefine the Mythras setting. This versatile core book will serve as the foundation for a new, dynamic version of the game. The Classic Fantasy Imperative, on the other hand, powers the traditional fantasy aspect of the system, offering a diverse gaming experience.

Both books cover the basics, but you need the older OGL license core books for Classic Fantasy and Mythras if you want the entire game. So they are stuck in the middle of their license conversion but need core books with a license so third parties can continue to support the system. Players must use the older books to fill in the missing parts.

New players can start with the latest books and have the basics while pulling in older content as needed. I wish I had the expanded content, but this is an excellent workaround to support 3rd parties and give players something to work with.

At my table, Classic Fantasy Imperative is in a contest with Open Quest since they cover the same ground, and Open Quest is currently a complete game in one book. The Mythras rules interpretation has many fans, and the combat is excellent with skill and tactics, but you need to use two books, one new and one old.

I will give CFI plus the older book a look, there is a lot to like here.

The Mythras forks of the BRP rules are excellent and have many fans. Many exciting games, including sci-fi games, have been built with them. The BRP side of the hobby has a surprising number of choices, especially when most 5E players just see Call of Cthulhu and think that is the best the system offers.

Friday, May 31, 2024

CiaraQ DND Polyhedral Dice Sets

The CiaraQ dice (on Amazon) are excellent deals; you get 14 dice for 10 dollars. They are sold under a few brands; I found a set labeled Civaner (but some of those have traditional d4s pictured).

You do NOT get a d14, which is required for a Dungeon Crawl Classics dice chain.

These have the cut-end d4 dice! I like the cut-end d4 dice, with the tips cut off and the number printed on the top of the pyramid. I do not like picking up a standard d4; it takes too much time. If I am going to play a game with the d4 dice, I will use cut-end dice every time or those Roman-numeral d12 four-sided dice.

I do not like standard d4 dice, and most of my caltrop-style ones are stored away.

You also get these hilariously giant "golf ball" d100 dice that never stop rolling. I do not use those, but I did not find it hard to read the results once they stopped moving. The number on top is easy to pick out, and the numbers around it form a circle highlighting the result. Use a tray, or that thing will end up on the floor.

You get d16, d24, d30, d60, and many other dice in the under ten-sided range (d3, d5, d7). All the standard polyhedral dice are here (d4, d6, d8, d10, d00, d12, and d20).

But what stands out the most to me are the designs of the d12 and d8 (pictured above, d12 top, d8 bottom). These are not what I am used to; the diamond d12s and the trapezoid d8 dice are very strange. At first, I could not find a d8 or a d12 until I got used to the shapes.

They roll fine, especially the d8s, which roll slightly more than a standard triangle d8. The d8 is almost regular; it is just that this is a normal d8 with the points cut off.

The d12 dice are very strange; they are not the standard shape. They look like a diamond yield sign. Usually, I can pick out a d12 from a d8; this is slightly harder, but I get used to them the more I use them.

I don't know why they chose these shapes. Do they use less plastic? They are very readable, roll well, and are balanced but strange. They cross that line of being "strange enough to make you want to play with them, " which is good. In a game like Call of Cthulhu, you want something to unnerve you and make you feel "Things are not right." Also, in Runequest, the slightly different dice shapes tell me, "This is not D&D."

The shapes of dice slightly throwing me off balance for a new game is not bad. I instantly fall out of my "D&D mode" and begin to see the game in a different light. I use these with Runequest, Basic Roleplaying, and Call of Cthulhu. The d12 is rarely used in those games, though the d8 is used regularly.

It's a good deal if you do not have a d14 requirement, like all the different shapes, and want dice slightly different from the normal D&D ones that change the visual look of your dice a little.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I'm Switching to Linux

For the few creative apps I can't use elsewhere, I have a Mac, and this is where I will use them.

But I've had it with Microsoft like I have had it with a few companies. The entire operating system is turning into an advertisement, and I can't get any peace and quiet on this thing to think, write, and create. They shove another ad in every corner and every bit of blank space.

I get on a computer, and I am not allowed to think for myself.

Every blip, bleep, popup, reminder, notification, alarm, sales offer, and push notification stresses me more. After a while, it feels like being addicted to cable news. Every 5 minutes, the news breaks, and you rush to the television. I have to turn on music to distract me from all the other crap happening on this thing.

I am out of this hell.

I want my mind back.

I want my creative space.

I want my quiet.

It feels like trying to write a novel in a subway station on this thing. I get 10 minutes of quiet before a subway train rolls in, a loud crowd pushes by, and my flow is gone.

Sorry, I have to go. Another notification just popped up.

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 20

Play what you want to play.

ToV's PDFs dropping saved 5E from my sell boxes, but I am still removing the Wizard's version of the game from my library. The 2014 books are old and broken, and I am not interested in the 2024 revision. I also don't like the Wizards business model, which presents a minimal number of character options in a ton of filler I will never use.

I am supporting Community 5E from now on.

Tales of the Valiant is a fresh start, and it is fun to play as the game launches. I like this version of 5E, and my only fault with it now is that not as many options are included for character builds. This will improve as time goes on. ToV is heroic with fixed base monsters and a fresh experience.

Today, we are fortunate to have community-curated and fixed versions of 5E that invite us to participate and have fun. Level Up A5E is a testament to this, exceeding all expectations with its wealth of options and support. It's a nostalgic nod to 5E, incorporating the best of 4E and offering a plethora of character options (with third-party and official add-on books). Level Up is a 2014-like, tightly balanced version of 5E that caters to all play styles.

Why not just play D&D?

My choice to explore other game systems, such as OSR games, is driven by a sense of disillusionment with Wizards as a company. I believe they have veered off course, and this sentiment resonates with many in the gaming community.

There are communities of players enjoying these games, too. Groups of creators are excited about what they are building. Why shouldn't I take part in that? Why not? I love seeing new ideas and people being creative; this is good.

If people reject playing new games and "won't touch other games," they are probably players I don't want to play with. I like people who try new things and experiment and can look at things in new ways. People stuck in their ways should branch out and try new things. I am an old-school player; this is how it was when we grew up. We had so many games to try and play; it was like the videogame market is today, and we had so many choices and options.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 19

I like my Level Up books for maintaining and improving that tight, 2014-era, bounded accuracy matters, pre-2021, CR+0 compatibility for 5E.

My Tales of the Valiant books are perfect for 2021-2024 D&D since the playing field has shifted post-Tasha's. Wizard's shipping of power-gaming books raised the power level of the entire game to CR+1, and the general community followed along. Everyone tried to make a buck from pandemic-era D&D, and the game's balance changed.

Kobold Press monsters, now at CR+1, reflect where D&D 2024 stands. Rolling back the clock on current-book compatibility would undermine the game's strength. Instead, the best KP can do is elevate the 2014 monsters to the new power level they have successfully accomplished. The perception of ToV being 'too powerful because it is CR+1' is unfounded compared to current-day D&D.

Late-stage pandemic D&D? Clearly CR+1. Wizards broke bounded accuracy, and they handed out roll advantages like popcorn. Part of me loves Luck in ToV because Inspiration was getting to be overused. At least LU ties Inspiration to the Destiny system, pulling it back towards character motivations.

The math of the Level Up game is tight. I respect this. 5E is a game notorious for its loosely-goosey math screwing up an entire adventure. If I spend good money on a game, I expect the math and balance to be correct. I don't want designers coming in later and selling books by breaking the numbers.

I want the math to be challenging.

Missing matters. It is not an inconvenience. One of the core problems with 5E is they got rid of every modifier and used the "use a hammer for every problem" advantage and disadvantage system. There is no nuance in the modifiers anymore. Players have very little "English" they can put on a roll to improve their odds. Back in the day, if a player was clever and did some excellent RP during a fight, I would throw a +1 or a +2 for their ingenuity and creativity. 5E takes that tool away and turns the d20 into a dictator.

So in 5E, you game the advantage system hard to get it.

I like modifiers since they give me nuance and allow for more player input. Dim light? -2. The PC jumps on a table to fight goblins? Throw a +2 on there and another +1 if they shout, "But Anakin, I have the high ground!"

Seriously. Players love this stuff.

The people who designed 5E went way too hard getting rid of modifiers. The Pathfinder 2 team embraced them. 5E made combat brain-dead, tedious, and boring - you surrender to the d20. "It sucks missing" is felt because there is nothing players can do to try to influence their odds. This is why people play OSR games. Most of the fun in combat is roleplaying and getting creative for combat modifiers, along with trying to minimize the referee throwing them at you. I use them in my 5E games.

ToV brings them back with the Luck mechanic.

Because your math is tight, the game can handle a few modifiers occasionally.

The real story is that Level Up is compatible with the 2014-era 5E. The monsters are more like the 2014 versions, and if I were playing pre-Tasha's (2014-2021) books, I would use Level Up. When you convert in subclasses, you must redesign the subclass ToV slightly less than Level Up since LU has more new subsystems for exploration and social mechanics. Still, they work, and we do tweaking when we play 5E.

Seriously, while I love my electronic character creation tools - they suck and take most of the fun out of the game. I can't use any third-party books. Where is the fun in that? I like to see other people's creativity as a part of my game.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Level Up 5E: Dark Sun

The first thing you do when doing a Dark Sun conversion is ignore the second edition (revised) of the setting. The one after the books that every reboot of this setting ignores, since it takes Dark Sun, puts giant forests and oceans in the setting, goes science-fantasy, kills all the major villains of the setting, doesn't replace them, and makes peace and democracy break out everywhere.

TSR ruined Dark Sun in the 2nd revised edition, dropped support, and then went bankrupt. Stick to the core book and the first five modules (for information and inspiration; the plots of these wreck the world), and ignore everything else. You can get the first two books in PoD hardcovers, and I recommend doing so. Also, ignore the 4E update since the lore has been changed, the Dragonborn has been added, and we are trying to stick to the OG material without later revisionism.

The Dark Sun Rule Book will be the core reference work we will use for flavor and to guide us.

Of course, you will need the core Level Up Advanced 5E game. This is a given, all three core books.

The MOAR Complete expansion hardcover is highly recommended, as it features crucial elements such as half-giants and the elemental priest archetype, integral to the Dark Sun setting. There are no gods in Dark Sun, so the only cleric classes available are elemental clerics. So, as a result, do not use aasimars or tieflings in Dark Sun games. There are no gods so the elemental lords are the only source of divine magic.

Eliminate all fae and mechanical heritages, too. Beast kin is up to you, though I can see gnolls, stone forged, or desert cats as valid options. You can play an OG campaign or a more expanded game with more backgrounds; it won't matter. Everyone is under the dragon kings' claws.

Paranormal Power is another excellent A5E book if your Dark Sun game uses psionics.

You will have most of the heritages for Dark Sun, and if you want your game to be more 4E, you can include the Dragonborn. Gnomes are not in the original setting, nor are Orcs - include these if you want since your "view" of Dark Sun will be 100% canon only, or go wild. Me? I can see a place for Orcs in the setting, so they are in. Dragonborn may be seen as servants of the Dragon Kings, so they may have an "evil" Heritage as soldiers and enforcers of the scaled lords. Of course, outcasts and betrayals are always possible.

The Thri-Kreen will be your only missing heritage. You can always use the A5E Homebrew and Hacking Guide to create a new heritage for them or replace the Tabaxi from MOAR with this insect race instead of cats. Dense fur becomes an exoskeleton; you get a fury, a roar, a run power, and claws - it works.

Arcane classes are either defilers or preservers, and defilers use the Defiler Magical Destruction Table on page 60 of the Dark Sun rulebook (note this also causes a pain condition to all living things in the radius, even allies, save needed to avoid and throw off, use the poisoned condition in LU).

The preservers in AD&D 2E advanced slower but did not defile the land when they used arcane magic. Preserver classes should level half as slow as defilers, so double all XP awards to defilers (the things you ash and kill give you XP). Be evil, destroy nature, and advance faster; this is the world. I could halve XP for preservers, but that would create a situation where the arcane caster preservers would lag behind the non-casters.

All arcane caster classes must pick a defiler or preserver role, even bards. The two sides hate each other, so watch out. They do not "get along," and you can't have them in the same party. This insistence on "all ancestry and class options must get along" in today's games is beyond dumb, and it eliminates any source of conflict in the world. Can you imagine a modern "Game of Thrones" RPG where the designers insist that every house faction and background must get along?

Defilers are literally killing the world for power.

I always thought preservers were a weak option that kept the game in the "status quo" and "keep players happy" land; preservers should require sacrifice to have power, and you don't get something for nothing. Preserver power is this sort of TSR symmetry BS they put in their games, and it needs to have a personal cost instead of being the "default-free" option.

I would be happy to eliminate preservers and have all arcane classes be defilers. This is how we played Dark Sun back in the day. If you want power, be a defiler or a priest of an elemental force. Or use psionics.

Without preservers, it is a much easier choice, and it heightens the need for scouts, material classes, and clerics. Psionics replaces the "good mage" and forces players into that unfamiliar power system.

But TSR says, "Don't stigmatize players who want to play Gandalf in Dark Sun!"

And we are stuck with free-magic preservers.

If the entire concept of your world is "arcane magic is destroying the world," stick to your guns and make it that way. Don't give players an easy out, or it invalidates the entire world.

There is very little metal, so iron and bronze items are rare and not seen in most places. Use the LU materials chart (page 322), especially bone, stone/obsidian, and wood weapons. Your weapons and armor will be breaking and need repair constantly.

I would stick with Level-Up spells, powers, classes, and everything else. The rules for survival and terrain encounters will be fundamental. Heritages are as you see them; they say many of the orc-type races were wiped out, but I could see them surviving. I would add a Naga heritage, desert lizardfolk, and others.

Steer clear of the metaplot! Do not kill the dragon kings early, like in the modules, books, and official timeline. You likely want "no place to run" and the characters living under an iron fist in the few spots of civilization left in the world. If they want to change that, they must take land, clear it, settle it, and avoid being crushed by the dragon kings. Either that or level up to a point where they can try to kill an immortal dragon. This is not a thing to do by level 5, but a campaign goal that changes the world, and you play in that changed world with the next set of characters.

Other than those notes, you should be good to go.

Oh, and never let up on the players. This isn't a "happy adventure town" where an adventurer class is allowed to do whatever they want. There are guards, and all of them are greedy and sadistic; they will confiscate your gear, make up charges, and lock you away to be thrown in the next gladiatorial arena. Corruption and grift are at an all-time high, people lie, promises are made and broken, and people fear the dragon king and the elite ruling class (and their sycophant wannabe friends). The parts of the city the rich live in are walled off, and everyone else, plus the characters, live in squalor. Thieves will steal from the characters constantly. Thugs will beat them up just for having a bad day. You will be stopped and questioned and likely taxed for spurious reasons every other street. Thugs will pretend to be guards and try to tax you. Sandstorms will sweep in and turn the roads into choking, orange, hot, sandblasting winds.

Your first goal may be to escape this hell.

And you will find out the wilds are no better.

You may have to establish a safehouse (that will likely not last long, or be a constant source of headaches), a secret camp out in the wilds (same), or join a criminal group for protection. You may sign on to caravans as guards, and that is a profession few survive long in. You will need survival and social skills, or you will end up stripped of your belongings and thrown in the gladiatorial fights again.

Dark Sun is very close to Cyberpunk in terms of dystopia and hopelessness. But there is no place to hide or social safety net.

To survive you will need to be worse than those trying to kill, steal, or use your life for cheap , bloody entertainment. You need to be harder than them all.

And when you are, you will begin to attract the attention of the true players. The rich, the servants of the dragon kings, and the high0level cartels. They have an endless need for enforcers and problem solvers, or problem creators. Getting more power is not a guarantee of safety, since notoriety can mean death, enslavement, or worse.

You may leave it all behind.

You may join them and stab them all in the back.

But there will be no where safe to go, ever, not in this dying world.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 18

The Orc in both Tales of the Valiant, the SRD, and Level Up Advanced 5E tells you where the designer's heads were. Level-Up Orcs have 10 hit points, so whoever made them felt the SRD Orcs were too strong. Also, Orc is a PC heritage, so it should be on par with dwarves, elves, and others as the "basic option" and not be artificially strong.

Orcs in Tales of the Valiant possess a captivating ability and unique hibernation mode. This feature sets them apart and sparks curiosity. It allows them to be buried alive and frozen, entering a state of suspended animation. They can survive in this state until they are dug up and thawed out, lending them a fantastical, somewhat planar, and timeless quality reminiscent of the Githyanki from D&D.

Orcs in LU are more like those in games like World of Warcraft. They can be acclimated to harsh environments, touched by divine magic, or come from more magically adept tribes.

In Level Up, the gameplay experience with Orcs is distinct. Unlike in Tales of the Valiant, the game does not emphasize granting incredible powers to characters. The power level is balanced, with the math based on the OG 5E core books, and tightened considerably for gameplay. Each class still offers unique abilities, but the game's feel is more akin to an old-school simulation than a 1980s action movie.

Orcs, if you use them as monsters and cast some as evil-worshipping, will be easier to take down than their SRD or ToV versions. This is clearly old-school inspired. Level Up retains alignment, but only as traits gained by destinies - and only the four extremes: law, chaos, evil, and good.

You can't compare ToV and Level Up. They are different games entirely.

You will sit there, look at one point, like how many hit points Orcs have, and say one game sucks or the other is better. Both these games have a design goal; ToV is the crowd-pleasing, bam-pow high-powered superhero game - a crowd-pleaser. LU is the old-school simulation with the original 5E math. I love the old-school "sim" aspect of LU.

LU still has many cool things to do, as fighters here are miles better than D&D fighters. Martial classes in LU rock, with access to different fighting styles, almost like fighting orders taught at military academies, thieves guilds, and monasteries. Level Up has some fantastic options, and with the expansions, it gives you a depth and level of customization that even D&D can't match.

LU does a lot that ToV doesn't do.

It is still worth investing in and playing, especially if you like lower-powered, simulation-style, old-school play. The death mechanics in LU are better than those in ToV. Exploration and social options are far better in LU as well. Everything matters, and even where you rest matters in terms of resources and health recovery. A lot of it can be mitigated by party composition and character design, but you must take along the right people on a long expedition to survive.

LU's terrain hand hazardous encounter game is fantastic and worth checking out. The world can be fantastical and dangerous. A sea of sand can swallow caravans and characters, and they may fall victim to places explorers should never go. The party may circumvent the hungry sands and stick to more dangerous rocky crags to avoid those dangers. The overland game and the world's dangers will open your eyes to exploration-based adventures and how amazing they can be.

You can discover unique and rare spells that improve the regular spell selection, giving casters things to search for, steal, and find.

Level Up has rules for bone weapons and armor, dangerous terrains, and that brutal level of realism a survival game needs - making a fantastic engine that opens your eyes to the true Dark Sun for 5E. Since LU is excellent, this would be the only way I play Dark Sun for 5E. Low Fantasy Gaming comes a distant second (lacking many genre support rules), but LU is how to experience this setting in 5E.

A ToV Dark Sun would be a fun game, but it would be missing a lot of the rules needed to make Dark Sun come alive. This would be more of an action-heavy game without the simulation aspects.

Level Up has them all, plus more. Level Up is the "Skyrim realism, survival, magic improvement, and combat options mod" applied to a 5E framework.

Level Up: Voidrunner's Codex & Captain's Manual, Part 2

The more I hear about the Voidrunner Codex for Level Up Advanced 5E, the more I like it. I have a soft spot for well-done sci-fi 5E, which seems perfect in tone and delivery. I like today's preview where sci-fi gobbledy-gook is an engineering power. Instead of trying to explain everything, they embrace the fun parts of the genre.

I will check this out when it is on Kickstarter next month.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 17

Tales of the Valiant has the 4E secret sauce. I remember interviews with the 4E design team, and they went through movies to create the "powers" for the game, like in a Batman film, they would see something cool, and the designers would make that move in the film a power for the class.

Let's delve into the fighter class in ToV, which features a truly exhilarating power known as Last Stand. Picture this: when you're on the brink of defeat, a blow that would reduce your hit points to less than half, you can unleash a reaction. This allows you to spend hit dice, typically used for healing during rests, up to the character's PB. The result? An instant heal, of dice plus CON modifier, that could potentially turn the tide of the battle in your favor.

What an incredible power. I could see using that on a stream and getting this amazing "second wind" moment in a fight, like something out of professional wrestling. My next thought was that the Kobold Press team gets what makes for incredible moments at the gaming table and specifically designed powers to make those moments happen. And this is through every class, every spell, every power, and every choice you can make on a combat turn.

ToV was designed to stream exciting games and make those moments happen.

This team has played enough 5E to know where the rusty spots are, and they know the unfun powers and abilities. They know the parts that suck, and they focused in like a laser to un-suck the broken parts of D&D and 5E.

If I play that fighter, that fighter will be all I want to play. I want to wait for the time I can activate Last Stand, and then yeet my favorite wrestling quote as my fighter wipes the blood from his lip, stands up, and proceeds to kick butt.

I can't go back to D&D after that.

This is why ToV raised the power level. To give you those movie moments and extraordinary powers. This is also why the monsters are more formidable, hit harder, and have more hit points. You use fewer of them; they are larger-than-life bad guys to take down. Those 25-hit-point orcs? I need less of them, but taking each down is a movie moment.

You get D&D with weak 15-hit-point orcs, and you need to put a six in a room to have a challenge. In ToV, I would put four. This is six initiative rolls and combat turns versus four, plus the party. The combat will go faster even though the monsters are more brutal and down slower.

Even the luck mechanic plays into that "built for streaming" design. You know what sucks when you watch a streaming show? Watching someone roll two under the number they need to do something extraordinary. The Kobold team fixed that, provided the player has luck to spend.

Instead of "not happening," that moment "is happening."

The old Inspiration mechanic sucks compared to this.

And your luck ticks up a point each time you miss or fail a roll. You will make that roll sooner rather than later. The game forces you to spend luck: use it, or lose it.

Combine that mechanic with an arsenal of "cool moment" powers, and put the characters against the odds with toughened-up monsters?

You have a game designed for fun.

Friday, May 24, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 16

I live in a world where the 2024 D&D books are not a part of my discussion or thoughts about the system.

It is also a fun place, free from the AAA gaming monetization schemes that Wall Street pushes on the community. I can buy physical books, have the PDFs to own, and not have to pay someone a monthly fee to play a game (I choose to support Hero Lab, but I have been using that for 10+ years for more games than just this).

I'm thrilled that Level Up Advanced 5E is an exceptional game offering a unique and engaging gaming experience. Tales of the Valiant is the next one.

Having both to choose from or playing both is amazing. All my expansion books and adventures work with either, for the most part. Some work better than others; some feel like one system supports them better, while others feel like the other. I am free to mod them both.

Better death saves and fatigue rules? Those are part of Level Up, and I can add them to ToV.

Both have their own design goals and design teams. They are well-supported, and communities are forming around them. Part of me worries so many have walked away from 5E that ToV will have an uphill battle to find fans. Level Up was established very early, years ago, by people who were unsatisfied with D&D, and the group of fans there is a solid one with some excellent support for a game many have never heard about or considered an option.

The 2024 books I am not getting, nor do I engage with clickbait on them daily. The cover reveal was an exception since that was such horrible cover art that did not have a message.

But I do worry about the entrenched communities. We have also had the best players for my play style (old-school fans) leave the game in mass. Is there anyone left in this game that likes the things I do? Despite a few bright spots, the community buzz on ToV is very low, given what I expect. I am not seeing a lot of activity on Facebook. YouTube is mostly silent. The algorithms are working against the game, or the advertisers don't want the game to succeed.

I enjoy both ToV and Level Up.

For me, they are guilt-free 5E.

One feels like 4E.

The other feels old-school.

But so many have walked away from 5E, and I wonder if players like me are the exception. Castles & Crusades is going strong, many OSR games are getting a post-OGL bump, and many are still loving Pathfinder 2. A lot left in the 5E community are the hardcore Wizards supporters, with years of buy-in on D&D Beyond. They are not going; any game that threatens their digital content (which they don't own, will be invalidated, and need to be repurchased someday) is the enemy.

Just "losing players to ToV" threatens their "investments."

For me, the only way to win in a scenario like that is not to play. I support Hero Lab since it supports many games, and my investments are leveraged across a few games and companies. It does not support Wizards D&D (officially), and ToV allows me to use my 5E books.

And I am still doing Level Up sheets by hand. That is the most freedom.

But we have lost so much in the 5E world. While it is still the largest, it is not what it used to be, and people are becoming entrenched in their game choices.

And many of the best players have moved on.

There are communities out here around alternate 5E that are unique and fun places.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

ToV PDF Thoughts, Part 15

D&D 4E was like crack to those who played with dungeon tiles and figures. We did not see it as "D&D"—to us, it was an enjoyable dungeon tile and figure battle chess game.

Pathfinder 2 is a testament to the influence of D&D 4, a game that gamers have embraced. I still have my original PF2 books and may get back to them someday.

MCDM is relying on the D&D 4E feeling. I got my survey, and it is supposed to ship in December.

Level Up Advanced 5E includes a lot of the 4E secret sauce.

And those who know what made the game unique: We keep seeing these things come up repeatedly in the new 5E (and other game) implementations, and we smile because we know it is us they are speaking to. They are tapping into the feelings of the 2010s battle tabletop crowd.

The tough monsters, the warlord class, tactical movement, ritual spells, and the larger-than-life attitude with rule-of-cool art and panache.

4E was it.

Pathfinder 1e was D&D 3.5 and honored that legacy, so we played both.

We have Tales of the Valiant, and it feels very close to the 4E DNA, especially when I look at some of the creatures and how over-the-top and deadly they are. The ToV Orc has 25 hit points. In no world is that a thing unless you are talking about 4E.

Orcs in 4E were the monsters you stepped up to from levels 3 to 5. They were not level 1 monsters. Orcs were monsters you fought after you survived the lower levels, starting around level 5. You reached a point where you knew you could take on Orcs, and it was a good feeling.

While Level Up A5E is a good game, the orcs are more of the traditional old-school type with 10 hit points and feel like low-level enemies. The one thing 4E did right was try to "scale" enemy types up, the MMO influence, and this made Orcs cool mid-level bad guys and Goblins the starter enemies.

This is why Level Up Advanced 5E is still fun. This branch of 5E is more inspired by old-school ideas, while ToV is more modern and inspired by 4E, and maintains subclass and lineage compatibility the best. I have room for both, and they do things a little differently. LU is the more mod-heavy version with extra systems, while ToV is more mainstream with tweaks. Both are like "Skyrim mod total conversions," they share the same gameplay loop, so it is not that hard getting used to both of them.

ToV is the clean, streamlined, focused total conversion, LU is the 400+ mod install of 5E based on the "old school" mod. Once you buy the gazetteers and option books for Level Up, it is an excellent, huge, and expansive experience with many character options and ways those interact with the game's systems. While its compatibility is less than ToV's, it is still a fantastic game. Once you are bought in, you don't need too much else. You can convert in, but it takes more thought and work.

Both are excellent alternatives.