Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Class Consciousness

Talifer (aka Dean, who plays in my games and DMs what he calls Ozberron, now back to 4E rules) pointed out on my last post that most players are more familiar with AD&D and up editions where race and class are separate. But there's a part of me that really wants to get my game back to the simplicity of the four basic classes, plus demi-humans.

And really, Jeff Rients pointed this out in his blog a long time ago, the four Basic human classes really can represent any type of character in an Asian inspired game (along with some demi-humans). Now I'm going for something a bit more pan-Asian inspired in my home game, but the concept is valid.

Looking at the BX/BECMI options, the demi-humans are two variant Fighters and a single multi-class combination.

If I were to remodel my house rules on the idea of four basic classes but each can choose a specialty, I could cover a lot of demi-humans that way. Being a Dwarf is basically being a Fighter but with a few special abilities, and limited to 12th level. So if I were to make a general Fighter class with options to specialize as a Barbarian, Paladin, Ranger, or just better Fighter, I could also throw in Dwarf and Halfling as options for specialization.

In an OA setting, some yokai (demi-humans/fae) options might be options for another class. Kitsune (fox-spirits) could become a specialization for Magic-Users, as one example. A few non-human options might be like the Elf, with a multiclass combination specialty class, but most could be covered under the basic 4, just with some alternate abilities (and a level cap).

Of course, the danger is going overboard on this, like 2E kits, and overloading players with specialization options. That would just re-complicate things instead of simplifying. Having a big menu of options but only allowing a subset of them to fit the campaign looks good on paper, but some players inevitably want to play the banned content.

This will probably end up being just a thought experiment in the end, since the rules I use now do seem to work pretty well (a few tweaks here and there still needed). It's still fun to think about it, though.

Sunday, August 2, 2020


Once more, I'm thinking of revising how I want classes to work in Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins (my house rules version of Classic D&D, maybe yet another fantasy heartbreaker released to the public some day).

Right now, I've got separate race and class, with races that mimic 5E (since the West Marches game started as 5E) and classes that sorta emulate the 5E classes, but are really closer to 1E.

For TSR-East, I've got human PCs only as standard, with a selection of demi-human/yokai races as an option. So far, everyone who's tried a TSR-East class in West Marches has used a yokai race...but it's actually only a sample size of two, so that's not telling. In general, humans are preferred. I give them "advantage" on hit dice when they level up, along with access to every class and no level limit. That seems to do the trick.

But there's a part of me that wants to go back to race-as-class. And part of me that wants to get rid of the 5E races, or swap them out for something more ME. (I've already made "tieflings" into Changelings, which is more fairy tale/folklore than goth whatever). And I've got two ideas for maybe how to do it.

Back in 2017, I made a half-hearted attempt to create a TSR-Basic game, that only had the classic four character classes, and no multiclassing. Race was still separate from class, though. The thing is, each class had three or four options or class paths, sort of like 2E with kits, or 5E with their archetypes. So you could play a Fighter, but you could choose to be more of a barbarian, or a bit of a ranger, or just a great all-around warrior. I stopped working on that after a year or so of tinkering because I just wasn't needing it. My regular homebrew modifications were good (enough).

More recently, in line with my idea to go back to Race-as-Class, I was thinking of the Elf class. It's a Fighter/Magic-User hybrid. And one of the things I did as I was developing my additional classes for TSR was to think of each additional class as a hybrid of two classes (Bard is Cleric/Thief, Druid is Cleric/Magic-User, Ranger is Fighter/Thief, etc.) This was a process that happened over many years, and as the years went on, each new class became more of its own thing and less of a hybrid, because there were elements of 1E, 3E, or 5E that I wanted to incorporate, or else just my own ideas (my Bard is now really different from any other Bard class I've ever seen, and my players aren't too fond of it).

So here's my thinking.

Idea 1: revamp the classes along my old Basic idea. Four classes only, but with specializations available to get closer to other classes (Cleric can stay standard, or go more nature boy Druid, or more martial Paladin). Demi-humans will be race-as-class for better compatibility with old school modules and stuff. But I plan to give them some specialization paths as well, if I go this way.

Also, it would allow for better integration between TSR-West and TSR-East, since things like Samurai or Wushi (Wu Jen) could just be new specializations for the original four classes.

Idea 2: revamp the classes so there are 4 basic classes, and each multiclass option is listed as a combined class like the Elf. Demi-humans will be limited to two basic classes plus the multiclass class.

This will look like this: Cleric. Fighter. Magic-User. Thief. Cleric/Fighter (Paladin/Dwarf Knight). Cleric/Magic-User (Druid). Cleric/Thief (Bard). Fighter/Magic-User (???/Elf). Fighter/Thief (Ranger/Halfling). Magic-User/Thief (Illusionist).

Tentatively, anyway!

Oh, and in TSR-East I have Yakuza and Ninja using x on d6 or x on d10 for special abilities (Thief skills), but if I go with Idea 1, I'll probably switch back to % skills. Just up the chances all around.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Random Encounter Table Formats

Working on TSR-East (or maybe just TSR? No need to spam everyone with yet another pseudo-European clone of Ye Olde Game with mostly cosmetic changes, is there?) and I'm at the wilderness random encounter chart page.

Yes, I could skip it and return to it later. But I kinda enjoy the tedious and repetitive work of flipping through the monster section over and over, trying to find the best creatures for each terrain type!

Anyway, I started out copying the style of Cook/Marsh-Mentzer, with a general type of creature roll followed by rolling for the exact creature on a subtable. But I noticed something I hadn't before. Several of the terrain types have the exact same assortment of creature types, just in different order. Of course, several of the subtypes (men, humanoids, animals, and partially insects) each have different subtables by terrain type.

I also used this for Chanbara, adding in a few innovations (like seasonal animal encounters, and expanding the "settled" encounters for more variety of type of settlement.

But in the DMR2 Creature Catalog, there are big d% tables for each terrain/climate type, with just one roll per encounter needed to determine what it is. This is also kind of nice, and maybe less cluttered on the page, but harder to find the specific table you're looking for, perhaps.

I also checked the 1E DMG, but big sprawling tables with all monsters, and different percentages by terrain type isn't what I'm wanting here. Mentzer's version has them all on 1.5 pages (more or less), and in Chanbara I fit it all on a single page.

While I don't necessarily need to compact things as much as humanly possible for this game, I don't want to waste space, either. My character facing document is around 32 pages, the monster/treasure doc is around 60 with a few more things to add (sample artifacts, notes, a table of contents or index to find monsters easily). If I could keep the GM book to 32 (currently the wandering monster tables will start on p.13 so very possible) I'd be happy. Yes, the old printer's need to go in packets of 16 pages is no longer a concern with POD, but I kinda like the constraint. I think Chanbara is a better game because I limited what would go in it to what I could fit in 64 pages.

I'm leaning toward the BX/BECMI method of a subtype table for each terrain type, followed by more specific tables. Since I have every monster tagged with descriptors (for weapons +1, +3 vs X or certain spells/magic items), It won't be hard to fill in most subgroup categories.

But there are a few (like Shapeshifter) that don't really have that many entries. I could could leave them off, or lump them together. Mentzer (and I assume Cook/Marsh before him) includes an "Unusual" category. But do all of them belong in certain terrain types? Doing charts like in the Creature Catalog, where all the forest creatures for example are on one table, has its advantages. It also makes it easier to have charts for subtropical, temperate, and subarctic forests, or the deciduous/evergreen split. If I want to make many more charts, that is.

So, instead of deciding on one and working on it this evening, I'm asking you instead. What do you prefer in a wilderness random encounter chart?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Alignment in TSR-East

Work continues apace on my TSR-East rules, or me once more trying to make a set of OA type rules that I want to play. The TSR-East rules are meant to compliment my Treasures, Serpents, and Ruins house rules for BX/BECMI style play.

Today I realized I hadn't put in any suggestions for alignment in my player facing rules. So I added this:


Lawful characters seek to uphold the ideals of civilization, humanity, culture, and conformity. They treat others as befits their station. Extremists actively try to exert their beliefs on others.

Neutral characters have no strong tendency towards Law or Chaos, and are primarily self-motivated. They may be swayed to one side or the other for brief periods. Extremists try to actively uphold the balance between Law and Chaos.

Chaotic characters value freedom and individuality above all else. They treat others as means to their ends. Extremists actively seek to overthrow society.

Friday, July 10, 2020

No Humanoids Campaign

Yes, I've still got WotC's changes to humanoid creatures on the mind.

And no, this is definitely not a novel concept, I even considered doing it years ago just as a way to make a game that felt more mythological and less like Tolkien or his many fantasy fiction descendants (Wheel of Time, Shanarra, etc).

I'd like to one day run a campaign with no humanoid monsters. No goblinoids, orcs, gnolls, lizard men, etc. Just get rid of all of them. No demi-humans, either. Let's get rid of the bandits, pirates, brigands, etc. while we're at it.

All the PCs would be human. All the monsters would be normal or giant animals, slimes and oozes, or non-tribal monsters. There would still be intelligent monsters, but any intelligent monsters encountered would not be organized bands larger than family units.

It would be a different feel for a campaign, and would make some classes (my homebrew Berserker [Barbarian] class, the AD&D Ranger) less than optimal. So maybe stick to the BX/BECMI classes.

Looking at Basic (Mentzer) that would leave us with:
Giant Ant, White Ape, Rock Baboon, Bats -normal, giant/vampire, Bears - black, grizzly, polar, cave, Giant Bee, Giant Beetle - fire, tiger, oil, Boar, Carrion Crawler, Great Cat - mountain lion, panther, lion, tiger, sabre-tooth tiger, Giant Centipede, Doppleganger, Dragon - white, black, green, blue, red, gold, Giant Ferret, Gargoyle, Gelatinous Cube, Ghoul, Gray Ooze, Green Slime, Harpy, Living Statue - crystal, iron, rock, Giant Lizard - gecko, draco, horned chameleon, tuatara, Giant Locust, [Lycanthropes -- keep them in or not? Hmm...], Medusa, Minotaur, Mule, Ochre Jelly, [Ogre -- again, keep or not?], Owl Bear, Rat - normal, giant, Robber Fly, Rust Monster, Shadow, Giant Shrew, Shrieker, Skeleton, Snake - spitting cobra, giant racer, pit viper, sea snake, giant rattler, rock python, Giant Spider - crab, black widow, tarantella, Stirge, Wight, Yellow Mold, Wolf - normal, dire, Zombie.

That's a fair amount. Adding in Expert, we get:
Animal Herd, Basilisk, Black Pudding, Blink Dog, Caecillia, Camel, Chimera, Cockatrice, Giant Crab, Crocodile - normal, large, giant, Cyclops, [Devil Swine if Lycanthropes are in], Displacer Beast, Djinni, Dryad, Efreeti, Elemental, Elephant - normal, prehistoric, Giant Fish - bass, rockfish, sturgeon, Giant - hill, stone, frost, fire, cloud, storm, Golem - wood, bone, amber, bronze, Gorgon, Griffon, Hellhound, Hippogriff, Horse - riding, war, draft, Hydra, Insect Swarm, Invisible Stalker, Giant Leech, Manticore, Mummy, Nixie, Pegasus, Pterodactyl - normal, pteranodon, Purple Worm, Rhagodessa, Roc - small, large, giant, Salamander - flame, frost, Giant Scorpion, Spectre, Water Termite - swamp, fresh water, salt water, Giant Toad, Treant, Triceratops, Troll, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Unicorn, Vampire, Wraith, Wyvern.

That's a good amount of monsters. And of course, there are the Companion/Masters sets, and AD&D Monster Manual to get more from. Easily possible to run a campaign this way.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Great Kobold Debate

Now that the orc alignment/racism thing seems to have blown over, time to move on to a more pressing question about D&D humanoids: Kobolds -- dog-men or mini dragon men?

Starting with Mentzer, I took the dog-like description as more telling than the hairless & scaly description (like I thought that meant they were mangy and diseased) but when later editions made them specifically little crappy dragonmen I didn't oppose it since it was an interesting twist. Anyway, here's the evolution of the kobold for the first 30 years or so. Feel free to chime in in the comments about how you view them.
In Chainmail, they're interchangeable with goblins, and no description given.

In OD&D, they're still just slightly weaker goblins.

Holmes goes with the folkloric description. Interestingly, they've got a save bonus to everything EXCEPT dragon breath.
In AD&D 1E, we get a lot of description, and for the first time they are described as hairless, scaly, and with small horns. The Sutherland illustrations have very dog-like faces, but the bodies are scaly (or wearing chain mail?)

Moldvay is the first time the kobold is described as dog-like. The Errol Otis illustration seems to support my 'diseased' assumption. Mentzer was the first set I owned, but I had seen BX before I got it. So maybe this picture colored my view?
Mentzer's text is nearly identical to Moldvay, but there is no illustration.

AD&D 2E of course gives us more information on kobolds than most people really need, although a lot of it is identical to the 1E information. The DiTerlizzi picture is definitely a hybrid dog-lizard here, which likely shaped their future development by WotC.
And in the Rules Cyclopedia, of course the text is again nearly identical to Mentzer, only adding in the note about spellcasters (from Mentzer's Masters Set).

And in 3E and forward, the kobold is finally specifically tagged as "reptilian" and given the draconic heritage. The heads are still described as dog-like, though.

The indie (and very fun) Kobolds Ate My Baby rejected the reptilian/draconic angle, and made them little furry nasties. I really appreciated that. I don't have a copy of that game to post, though.

Are they dog men? Mini dragon men? Something in-between? Or do you go to the folklore sources and make them evil little fae like redcaps? Something original?

Monday, July 6, 2020

5 Year Old DM

My son, just shy of 6, wanted to DM a game of D&D like his dad. Yesterday, he got his wish!

I tried to rally the troops, which was entertaining of itself. Jeremy in particular, asking me "What system will it be?" "What about character sheets?" as if it were going to be anything other than freeform gaming. Maybe he had my boys mixed up? My 12 year old is also hoping to DM a game soon, too, and it will likely have some more structure.

Dean and Denis were free, and of course me, too. We created characters! I was a big fat wizard (Stevie basically gave me this character), Dean was a sentient jack-o-lantern, and Denis was a kung fu dragon-man.

The session involved us stopping rampaging ass-goblins by cleaning them, interacting with bizarre NPCs, lots of "home shopping" where Stevie would tell us that there was something for sale and ask who wanted to buy it (usually for outrageously high or low prices), dealing with a monster that needed to go to court, and stopping a dragon by sending it and the court monster onto a space ship.

It was pretty much what you'd expect from a nearly 6 year old's stream of consciousness. Oh, and a lot of it was dictated by the free to use minis on Roll20, as he would find one he liked, stick it on the map, and that thing was suddenly there.

He's looking forward to DMing again, and I'm glad to have him so excited about playing D&D!