Friday, December 31, 2021

Analyzing Prince Pt 1

Today, I'm wrapping up 2021 by starting my series of posts discussing the points Prince of Nothing brought up on his blog regarding the value/benefit of old school D&D play compared to both newer forms of play and the artpunk movement. And of course, we need to start with his initial statement of why all this even matters:

0. The resurgence and longevity of the oldschool playstyle is no mere happenstance but an indication that there is something fundamental to its merits which modern TTRPGs largely fail to capture.

On its surface, there seems nothing to argue or quibble over. It's an opinion. But, it's worded as a fact, so let's take a deeper look at it and what it means. Or at least my interpretation of it. Feel free to disagree!

Have people continued to play older versions of D&D all the past nearly 50 years? Yes. That's a fact. It can't be denied. And I'm talking about people who started with the old woodgrain box sets of OD&D and still prefer that edition. Sure, they have probably tried other editions of D&D. Probably other RPGs. But they keep returning to OD&D. The same with 1E AD&D and the various box sets of Classic D&D. 

I'm one of the people who tried lots of stuff, still plays other games/versions, but prefers older D&D to newer. And IMO, yes, there's just something to the older editions that resonates with me more than the newer ones. The first question is, what is it?

Personally, I think it's something I've actually seen quite a few people mentioning lately. Old school D&D is focused on treasure. Gold = XP. It's not classes and levels. Not Vancian magi. Not the tropes. For sure not alignment. Gold = XP. That's it.

Gold = XP provides the impetus for GAME PLAY. I was just talking to my son last night about various RPGs. One member of our group wants to run another Black Hack family game this weekend. But in those games, we get leveled up after every X game sessions. Doesn't matter if we're sitting around town chatting with NPCs for 3 hours, or risking our lives in some gods-forsaken hellhole fighting monsters. We'll level up after X number of sessions. So why are we mucking around risking death? We should be sitting around playing cards with Dieter the Town Gambler all session, or hitting on the barmaids/stable boys, or wandering around town just seeing what's there. Do that for enough sessions to level up. THEN maybe go fight some monsters. And just why are we fighting the monsters anyway? Because like Mt. Everest, they're there? There isn't even XP for killing them like there is in 5E! 

XP for treasure gives us a reason to go adventuring. It's a goal everyone shares. And it drives play. THAT is the "something fundamental to its merits" that Prince of Nothing is talking about. Game play always has a default motive for when nothing else is motivating play.

But there's a second question we need to ask. If that quality is so fundamental to old school play, and other games/editions fail to include it, why have the vast majority of gamers moved on to newer editions of D&D and/or other RPGs entirely? 

Well, the answer to that is quite simple. Gold = XP is definitely a merit of old school play. Having a default motive to fall back on is nice. But it's not the only motive of play, and isn't a universal motivator. And for some people, the motive to play is to EXPERIENCE. They want to get into the head of their PC (especially if that PC is very different from themselves). They want to explore strange landscapes and social situations. They want to be taken out of the everyday. That is what the artpunk movement is targeting. I think it's also a big draw of a lot of the indie/storygames crowd. And also a big appeal of games like 5E and Pathfinder, where the number of fantasy races allowed keeps growing and growing and human PCs become the oddity rather than the norm. 

And I'm not saying these are the only two motives of play. I'm sure there are many more. But since Prince posted his list of axioms as a response to the popularity (or at least high sales volume and critical acclaim) of artpunk products in the OSR, that's the only other one I think we need to discuss right now. 

So on this statement of intent, I agree with the opinion being shared, but don't think it is quite as concrete as Prince's wording makes it seem. At least as I read it, there is an unstated "And this is why old school D&D is better."

I'm happier with my boiled down version: 

0. Older D&D has merit as a game.

It's stating the opinion in a way that people can, and will, still disagree with, but it's not implying something lesser about other games or newer editions that don't share the same merits. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

It's been a week since I saw the movie. I wanted some time to think about it, but also figured it would be hard to talk about it without spoilers. So I delayed writing this. 

Is there cursing in the movie? Yes. Similar to previous Matrix movies. Aside from that, the end battle scene has some disturbing elements to it, so I'm glad I went to see it with only my teenage son, not my 1st grader. Parents, you might want to see this before taking young kids to see it, and decide for yourself.

OK, on to the review. Did I like it? Yes. Did I love it? Not quite. It was definitely entertaining. It wasn't as philosophical/preachy/talky as the previous Matrix sequels, and the plot was much more direct and easy to follow. That was both good, and bad in some ways. Overall, I was entertained. It was a fitting sequel, and either serves as a fun post-script to the original trilogy, or as a potentially interesting jumping off point for non-Neo-centric Matrix productions in the future. 

The acting was good overall. Keanu and Carrie-Anne were great. They really slipped back into the roles well. Most of the rest of the cast were also well done, especially as some of the actors were constrained by how previous actors had portrayed certain characters in the original trilogy. The action was exciting and usually easy to follow along with. Some cool bullet-time special effects and what not. It's the Matrix. It was what you expect in that regard. CGI and special effects also were well done. The plot was clever in some areas, a bit lame in others, and there are a few plot holes. 

Worth seeing? If you're a fan of the original trilogy, or even just of the first movie? Yes. Fan of cyberpunk or PKD style psychological sci-fi? Yes. Tired of media properties that are just relying on nostalgia to get you to spend money on their new movies? Go ahead and skip this one until it's on a streaming service. They are clever at winking and nodding to the audience about this, but that's not worth the ticket price just for that.

----------------SPOILERS BELOW------------------------

OK, gonna give everyone some space to avoid spoilers on the screen, then discuss some specifics of the film that I liked and disliked. 


Alright then. Here we go. 

The Setup: I kinda liked how they had us return to The Matrix. The new Matrix contains all the events from the trilogy as an in-universe video game designed by Thomas Anderson. Neat idea, and it allowed the cheeky scenes where they make fun of the fact that they're making another sequel that doesn't need to be made just because they know it will make money (and WB will eventually do it without them anyway if they don't do it). Also, the "history" of the Machine Civil War was a great take to move the plot forward. If The Architect's faction had remained in control of the machines, this wouldn't have happened.

Characters: Like I said above, Neo and Trinity felt right. Not exactly the same, but that should be expected. Niobe's heel turn shouldn't have been unexpected, really, but I was surprised by it. Of course she comes around in the end, much like her arc in the trilogy. New Morpheus was OK, but kinda got lost in the second half of the film. Once Neo was made aware of the new Matrix that he was in, New Morpheus's role was pretty tangential. Bugs was cool, but I wish I'd gotten to know her crew a bit better. I can't even remember the name of her Operator. Business Partner/Agent Smith worked well, especially his face turn. The Analyst made for a very good opponent. Much more interesting and clever than the Architect. Not as interesting as Smith was in the trilogy, though. The Merovingian and his renegade programs being a bunch of homeless drifters made me smile. Nice reversal.

Plot: It was a rehash, but they made the rehash make sense (more or less) within the bounds of the end of the trilogy. Still not sure how they could have resurrected Neo and Trinity 60 years previous but yet they're still only 20 years older both in the new Matrix and in the real world (of the film). How was Smith's code recycled when it seemed the point of Neo connecting with the Source was to destroy/delete Smith's code? There were a few other things that also didn't quite make sense, but the overall plot arc and character arcs made sense. Having Trinity and Neo be two halves of The One in this new Matrix was a great touch. I loved that. Overall, though, the plot seemed a bit rushed and some subplot elements seem to have been lost to the cutting room floor.

Themes: I think they made a good attempt to reexamine themes from the original trilogy (Can we trust our senses? Is there free will?) but also worked in new themes (How do we deal with feelings of being trapped in the wrong body? How do we rebuild our lives after disaster? How do we cope with media addiction? Are we drugging ourselves into oblivion?) fairly well. 

The Matrix Resurrections is a solid movie. It's definitely not a must-see, but similar to Bill & Ted Face the Music, we get to see Keanu take up an old role that we loved and it's fun. But honestly, the film likely wouldn't work if it weren't for the nostalgia factor. While it does cover some old ground and break some new ground thematically, it's just not as tight or as gripping as the original Matrix.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Well, this is interesting

 Prince of Nothing apparently wrote a scathing post trying to destroy the Art-Punk movement, which has been deleted and I missed it. In its place, he sets out 10 (plus a few more) axioms that define non-Art-Punk OSR to him. It's worth taking a look at them and seeing how they can be deconstructed, criticized, modified, or accepted. 

0. The resurgence and longevity of the oldschool playstyle is no mere happenstance but an indication that there is something fundamental to its merits which modern TTRPGs largely fail to capture.
1. The greatest DnD is neither a slavish imitation of the past nor a wholesale rejection thereof (conscious or unconscious), but a continuation of that old craft, with syncretic improvements from other areas.
2. DnD is at its core about the emulation of fantastical adventures and expeditions in the spirit of the Appendix N. Deviation from that spirit is possible but if one strays too far something essential is lost.
3. DnD is, at its core, an Activity. This does not preclude a host of other things (e.g. subject of theoretical discussion, vehicle for creative endaevour, personal hellscape, lucrative side-hustle) but as in all things, Actually Playing the game is its purest expression.
4. Playing good (that is to say, entertaining, challenging, rewarding, fascinating) DnD and making good adventures is primarily a craft, which relies on knowledge and experience, and secondarily a factor of innate ability.
5. DnD is primarily a game to challenge the players. However, great DnD is also about exploration, and so incorporates elements of wonder, horror or whimsy against a versimilitudinous (?) backdrop. It is rooted in the real but contains the fantastic.
6. A good adventure is neither about pure system mastery nor abstract challenge resolution, but incorporates a variety of challenges (lateral, tactical, logistical, social, strategic) which tend to allow a variety of approaches. The answer is not always on your character sheet.
7. DnD play-skill grows as characters gain in levels and good adventure takes that growth into consideration. A level 20 wizard played by a new player is not the same as one that has incorporated every spell and magic item into his routine and knows how to use them.
8. DnD is at its finest when it is open-ended and allows for player decision-making; Maps, Sandboxes, Strategic options, side-quests, factions to ally with etc. etc.
9. DnD is more about mastering your environment then character building. You take what is given and put it to use. This does not preclude logistical challenges.
10. Standard practice is standard for a reason. It is possible to break with procedure, but consider the change in terms of trade-offs, not as the fruits of your brilliant auteur imparting his wisdom on DnD.
11. Art, Layout and Aesthethic Shall Be in Service to the craft of adventure writing, not an end unto itself.
12. DnD is a pasttime and place of solace from the evils of the world. Woe unto him who brings politics unto the gaming table, or by gaming seeks to further his political end.

If I were to try to boil these down to their essences (as I interpret them, of course, YMMV), I'd restate them thusly: 

0. Older D&D has merit as a game.

1. Some parts of D&D can (and sometimes should) be changed, but a core essence of "D&D" must remain.

2.  D&D works best for pulpy style adventure. It can do other genres but it is at its best pulpy.

3. Talk all you want about the game, but it's only relevant when we PLAY.

4. Good play requires players and DMs to develop skill over time.

5. Without challenge, there is no game.

6. A well-run game has a variety of challenges, some within the game system, others independent of it.

7. The game's challenges needs to to evolve with increasing player skill.

8. Without freedom of choice and consequences for those choices, there is no game.

9. Your character is a tool for interaction with the game world.

10. With great power to change the game comes great responsibility to keep to Axiom #1.

11. Providing good content is more important than surface presentation of that content.

12. Keep your politics out of my game.

Hmm, lots to think about. I definitely agree with some of these points, disagree with others, and have caveats about some as well. Looks like good fodder for a series of posts!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Flying Fists & Funhouse Dungeons

Sometimes, we get hung up on a certain paradigm or method, and it can be hard to break out of that way of thinking. For me, it's having D&D with classes and then subclasses or kits (2E style) for customization. Why have a Fighter, a Barbarian, Paladin and a Ranger all be pretty much the same class, but separate classes, when you could just have a Fighter with subclasses? 

Flying Swordsmen is this way, because I was cloning Dragon Fist. Dragon Fist was based on 2E, so went this route. If Chris Pramas were designing the game today, he might still go this route, since that's also what 5E does. 

When I made Chanbara, I did the same thing again. 

Working on Treasures, Serpents & Ruins, I've gone back and forth in my design. Completely separate classes. Core classes with subclasses. 

When I created my new Martial Artist class earlier this year, I made it with four subclasses, one that corresponds to each of the four basic D&D classes: the cleric-martial artist, the fighter-martial artist, the magic user-martial artist, and the thief-martial artist. This was to allow emulation of the basic classes of Flying Swordsmen within TSR. 

Two days ago, I started reworking that. Instead of one class with four subclasses, I rewrote it as two classes with martial arts. One, the Martial Artist, has more mundane powers, the other, the Xia, has more mystical powers and spellcasting. (Xia had been a spellcasting martial artist class in a previous version). This seems a bit better to balance, I think, because the Xia class should obviously take more XP to level up. It's a monk/magic-user hybrid (or monk/cleric hybrid?). I think I like this better than the previous four subclasses version. Also better than a previous version where I had martial arts subclasses for each of the four core classes, with very dissimilar powers/abilities to the core classes but very similar ones to each other.

Now I've got to decide if the Xia should use standard spell lists, or use a custom one from my previous version of the game. The custom list was small, and focused on spells that would more closely simulate powers you might find in a wuxia movie. 

Anyway, with this class setup, I can have weird martial artists wandering around in megadungeons and the wilderness looking for loot. 

As it stands right now, TSR-East Marches will have the following classes:

Cleric (Exorcist/Onmyoji, Shaman/Mudang, Warrior-Monk/Sohei)

Fighter (Knight/Hwarang, Vagabond/Ronin, Weapon Master/Kensei)

Magic-User (Geomancer/Shugenja, Scholar/Wushi, Soothsayer/SuanMin)

Thief (Gangster/Yakuza, Infiltrator/Ninja, Outlaw/Pantu)

Martial Artist


Dokkaebi (demi-human)

Koropokuru (demi-human)

Shenseng (demi-human, 4 varieties/subclasses)

Vanara (demi-human)

I think this setup will work OK. 10 classes (21 types of characters with subclasses). But now that I've broken out of the need to have subclasses for each base class, I've got a desire to simplify even more. 

For example, the Knight and Vagabond have fairly cosmetic differences. Maybe I just need a Fighter and a Kensei as 2 separate classes. The same could be said about the Onmyoji and Mudang, or the Geomancer and Wushi. For the Thief subclasses, they all have some distinctions, but the Ninja and Outlaw are more similar. Maybe I should get rid of those distinctions and let players just make the distinction by role play, as players have been doing for decades? 

And maybe I'm just way to fixated on creating cool classes for my games to tailor-make certain archetypes of the source material with game mechanics. I could go way overboard on individual classes, but I don't want to turn my house rules into something that looks like it was made by Siembieda (seriously, how does anyone choose a class in Ninjas & Superspies? So many of them have such small, fiddly differences!)

Well, enough navel gazing for this Christmas Eve. I'll likely move to simplify things even more over the next month or two. And then sometime next year, start tinkering to expand again. Maybe I should change the name of my houserules to Sisyphus. I keep rolling this rock up the hill over and over, and it probably doesn't matter in the end.

PS - My son and I saw the new Matrix movie yesterday. Expect a review of it soon.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Movie Reflection: Spider-Man: No Way Home (spoiler free)

Titling this post a reflection rather than a review, because I think I need to see the film one more time before I can give it a proper review. Because it's a movie packed full of stuff, and it keeps flipping the situation around in ways such that I think I need to watch it once more, with all the surprises and reveals known ahead of time, before I can properly review it. 

Is there cursing in this movie? A little. Very little. I can recall only 3 or 4 instances, and none are f-bombs or relate to reproductive anatomy. 

So, a reflection. It was definitely a roller coaster ride. There were some things I expected, some things I didn't. Things didn't happen exactly the way I assumed they would from the trailers, which is good. It was nice to see some of the actors from previous Spider-Man movies reprise their roles, and you wouldn't think 10 or 20 years had passed since they played those parts previously. 

I was entertained, but I've got a few qualms. A couple of characters from previous films in THIS series/MCU films seemed a bit off. Maybe it was just the different writers/director. Maybe it was the actors moving in new directions with the characters. Maybe it was foreshadowing for something to come later (Secret Invasion is coming, after all, so some characters we know will surely have been replaced with Skrulls by now). 

Part of my unsure reaction to the film might also be that in comparison to the Tobey McGuire (which I loved) and Andrew Garfield (not so much) takes on the character, Tom Holland has such a different take on Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the MCU connections especially to Iron Man really make this Spidey different. 

Anyway, I came away entertained, but as I said wanting to watch it once more to really get my thoughts straight. My older boy loved it (but he'd looked up all the spoilers online before we saw it). My younger was entertained, but the long run time got to him (he got hungry around the start of the third act and wanted it to be over). My wife wasn't so impressed by it. And I think that may be what got me thinking that there was something a little off about it. 

Anyway, there are some nice surprises that will entertain fans. Is the movie more than just 2.5 hours of fan service though? I'll watch it again when I have a chance and decide then. [Matrix 4 is out next week, though, so might not get to rewatch this until some time in January.]

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Playing Black Hack? Need monsters?

Jeremy (been talking about him a lot lately) has been regularly putting out monster books for 5E, OSE, and Black Hack type games. He's currently running a kickstarter for Black Hack conversions of some of his previous monsters. If you're running a BH powered game, and want monster stats, printable paper minis, and VTT tokens, give it a look.

Check it out here.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Kensei Compromise

A couple days ago, I presented my modified Fighter class and the Kensei subclass. Neither I nor Jeremy, who is playtesting the class in my West Marches game, were 100% satisfied with the class, but for different reasons. 

Well, we may have come to a mutually agreeable compromise, thanks to a bit of input from JB. 

Aside, I would have just replied to JB's comment, instead of making a new post, but for some reason Blogger isn't letting me comment on my own blog. Whacha gonna do? Google, am I right? :/ 

So, the proposal I made involves two things Jeremy asked for (but not exactly as he asked for them), one thing I suggested, and something JB suggested. 

All Fighters, regardless of subclass, get a Parry ability (sorta like Shields Shall Be Splintered, but without the loss of gear, 1/day). AD&D style multiple attacks per level vs low HD opponents. At 4th level, a Combat Style (like a feat in 3E+ editions). At 8th and 12th levels, one additional attack per round against higher HD opponents. At 9th level, the Smash attack (-5 to hit, add Str score to damage). 

Kensei now get proficiency with all weapons, but +1 to hit and +2 damage with their signature weapon, and -2 to hit with any other weapons they might use. They can select unarmed strikes for the signature weapon if they want. Finally, the signature weapon does a minimum 1d6 damage (so daggers, shuriken, clubs, etc get a small boost if you go that route).

They don't get any armor or shields, but get a set AC score by level, plus Dex bonus if any. It starts at 14 (6 descending) and goes up +1 every odd level. 

I got rid of whirlwind attack, and instead at 9th level they get Smash as all other Fighters do, plus their signature weapon bonuses go to +3/+3, as with AD&D double specialization. They also get to select a second Fighting Style (something none of the other subclasses get). 

I think that's good enough. Jeremy seems to approve as well. We'll try it and see how it goes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Kensei Conundrum

In my West Marches game, I've currently got a rule set (BECMI based, but with bits and pieces from other editions that I like) that includes both "western" and "eastern" character class options. One of those is the Fighter subclass Kensei. 

Now, anyone who has downloaded Flying Swordsmen or purchased Chanbara will know that this is an archetype in both. It's a warrior dedicated to the mastery of a single weapon (most often the sword, but not necessarily). The class first appeared in Oriental Adventures 1E, and I'm pretty sure it was a kit in 2E (don't have the Complete Fighter Handbook handy at the moment), was in the 3E OA, and even has had versions in 4E and 5E (where it's a Monk subclass instead of an alternate Fighter). 

I like the kensei concept a lot. A dedicated warrior trying to master just one form of combat. A duelist. A student of that one weapon. But the version (called Kensai) in 1E OA is full of fiddly mechanics and restrictions so it's hard to play. I know, I'm playing one in one of the AD&D PbP games I participate in. 

Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyuzo in Seven Samurai, Kensei

Jeremy has been playing my version of the Kensei in my West Marches game, and we've been discussing it. I want the mechanics to be simple and streamlined. Not too many bonuses, and also not too many restrictions. The problem Jeremy has is that this means it's not all that distinct from a regular Fighter. 

My Fighter looks like this: 

Level 1: Parry (1/day, any one attack that hits does 0 damage; taken from Stars Without Number)

Level 2: Sweep (Against creatures with 1HD or less, get 1 attack per level; taken from OD&D/AD&D)

Level 4: Combat Style (choose from a list of 7 feats, some subclasses have limited selections; various inspirations)

Level 8: 2 Attacks (Against creatures with 2HD or more; from BECMI Companion but simplified)

Level 9: Smash (-5 to hit but add Strength score to damage, but this is the only attack for the round; from BECMI Companion)

Level 12: 3 Attacks (Against creatures with 2HD or more; from BECMI Companion but simplified)

My optional subclasses are Cavalier, Kensei, Martial Artist, Ranger. 

The Kensei, in this version, has a limit on weapons and armor. They are only proficient with 3 weapons of their choice, at least 1 melee and 1 ranged. They are not proficient with armor, but may give up a weapon choice to take shields. I don't want to punish a kensei who ends up in a situation where they must use a weapon besides their specialized weapon (such as a battle of ranged weapons across a ravine) with either sitting it out or getting 1/2 XP the way AD&D does. 

Instead of armor, the Kensei uses their Dex score as base AC, and adds their BAB (I use ascending AC) to that. Since they have a prerequisite of Dex 13 to take the subclass, they start with at least AC 14 (6 descending), AC 19 (1 descending) if they get lucky and roll an 18 Dex. I'm working on an alternate version for TSR-East that can't pick shields, and instead of Dex as base, gets a flat AC by level plus Dex adjustment based on the Martial Artist class I created.

One of the three weapons the kensei chooses gains weapon specialization (+1 to hit, +2 damage) from 1E Unearthed Arcana. No other Fighter type in my game gets this. This is what makes them "the best" with their chosen weapon in my version.

At 4th level, they can choose from Archery (Dex bonus to ranged damage), Cleave (free attack if an opponent drops, not during a sweep), Iaijutsu (+4 to hit, double damage on the first round of combat), or Pole Arm Master (if you have initiative for the round and hit, the opponent cannot attack you this round). Jeremy has chosen Iaijutsu, as has Don for his Lark (Fighter/Magic-User), and it hasn't seemed overpowered. There have been lots of fights where they can't use it because things start out ranged, and even with +4 to hit they don't always. Also, my TSR-East Marches is shifting things around again, so Cleave may be going away, but Dual Wield may be joining the list, after my discussions with Jeremy.

Finally, at 9th level, instead of Smash, the kensei gets Whirlwind Attack (from 1E OA). In melee, they can make one attack against each opponent within range. Jeremy and I have been discussing this, too. As I wrote it this way, it is probably too powerful in melee, but screws over ranged kensei. I suggested a few alternate ways to reword this, and a -5 penalty to hit as with smash attacks, on a single roll compared to the AC of each opponent. Also a variant of sweep for ranged attacks, up to 1 shot per level. But I may just scrap it and let them smash like other fighters, because as written it seems like something to use all the time which is not good game balance. 

In addition to suggesting allowing dual wielders (Miyamoto Musashi is of course the real world archetype most often associated with kensei and he used katana & wakizashi simultaneously), Jeremy has also suggested things like increased damage die, or a version of AD&D's Assassination Table instead of iaijutsu, or a 3E+ Monk style Flurry of Blows ability. 

I'm not too fond of any of these options. 

Increased damage die may sound good for his concept (Jeremy's PC specialized in hand axe, and he has an idea for a dagger kensei as well). But a pole arm guy getting a die bump on a 1d10 or 1d12 weapon (yes, I have one)? That might be a bit much for Classic D&D. I don't want to start down the hit point inflation path of WotC. 

Assassination in AD&D, at least the way I read it, is intended for solo play, and requires time and patience to set up that % chance of an instant kill. It isn't the sort of thing you do in the dungeon 5 seconds after finding out that there's a minotaur in the next chamber. Jeremy countered that it would be less powerful than a sleep spell, and a saving throw would make it harder to use on high HD monsters. True, but I don't necessarily equate the weapon master concept with a "one hit, one kill" Rokugan Crane Samurai vibe. Plus, that table is big and clunky. I'd rather have an easy mechanic that we can just remember without a chart lookup.

I'm not fond of Flurry of Blows, because I'm actually trying to limit the number of extra attacks floating around in my rules (one reason the Cleave special ability is going away). The more times a PC gets to attack normally, the less special the Sweep ability becomes. And again, without hit point inflation to worry about, characters don't NEED lots of extra attacks, except when facing lots of low level monsters. 

Maybe I just need to give them a small bonus to damage with their specialized weapon every few levels the way 1E OA does. Get rid of Whirlwind Attack. Maybe at high level they can Sweep against higher HD monsters (2HD, maybe 3HD?) instead of the scaling bonus? Maybe UA style double specialization (+3 to hit, +3 damage) at higher level? I'm not sure what would be the best way to balance them here.