Links of the Week: October 3, 2011

Lots of articles this week, and a wide range of topics.

I take that back.  I just looked at the preview, and it’s huge.  I’d cut it down, but there was a lot of good material out there this week.

I’ve been reading so much lately it’s been cutting into my time to write, even.  It’ll get better once I’m back to taking the bus to work — set calibre to pull the blogs an hour before I get up, then read them on my way to work.  Or, perhaps more likely, stay up another hour each night and sleep on the bus.

Topic: “My Edition of D&D”

I suspect this will prove to be a popular topic.  I had a couple of links to similar articles last week.

I may be reading these posts in a superficial way, but one thing I notice — or think I do — is that Echelon addresses much of what these people are saying.  In the case of The Rhetorical Gamer’s post, I see the following:

  • Keep d20+mods vs. target number as the core mechanic (Echelon almost certainly does this, though I have toyed with the idea of 3d6+mods vs. target number in order to give the +2 Level Bonus per tier more weight)
  • Ditch ability scores and use the modifiers instead (Echelon uses the modifier+5 in order to get rid of the negative modifiers)
  • Classes… one of the options he considers is a handful of major archetypes, each with a core set of abilities, that can then be modified by replacing pieces of those archetypes with other ones.  Echelon can do that — pick talents for the core strength of an archetype, then build around that with the remaining talents.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this and it’s projection and wishful thinking.


Stat Rolling and Power Level


This was originally posted months ago and I read it at the time, but it was recently returned to my attention (HTTP referrer pointed at it).

Mike did an analysis of a slew of random ability score generation mechanisms for D&D (point buy is indeterminate because it’s entirely in the hands of the player).  For each mechanism he had a program roll 1,000,000 times, then calculated the mean score and standard deviation of cost (in point buy terms) to see how they compared.  They are grouped by approximate average cost.

I was pleased, but not surprised, to see that by this analysis 27-25-23 quite favorably.  Mike preferred a slightly different mechanism (“4d6 mirror 25” — this is “4d6 mirror 27, 25, 23” in his article) despite it having a slightly higher standard deviation in point value, because of its greater symmetry.  Fair enough, I prefer 27-25-23 because of the not-quite-symmetry.

Boccob’s Blessed Blog

Planning a Challenging Encounter


This is a very good article on things to include to make an encounter interesting.  Bullet points (without the expository text):

  • Wide open spaces
  • Impede direct movement [this isn’t a heading in the article, but I think it should be –kjd]
  • Multiple opponents [very much yes, I try to have about/at least one per PC-or-cohort –kjd]
  • Mix combat styles
  • Healing
  • Harass spell casters [leave the most dangerous PCs alone?  Are you kidding? –kjd]
  • Run a simulation

While I don’t do all of these every time, I see nothing here I can disagree with.  And he says it much more concisely, even with the expository text for each, than I would have.  I’m a long-winded bugger sometimes.

Classic RPG Realms

Making the Story Important Now: Immediacy and Immanence


Two main points to this article.  First is that as much as the backstory explains the current situation, it’s probably best to not hit the players with it unless they ask — give them what they need to know right now and don’t make them sit through the explanation of it.   The second is that time pressure is a valuable tool — give the PCs a reason to act now now now, not have as much time as they might like to make decisions.

Even in light of the recent posts on player agency, both of these points are useful to keep in mind.

Dice Monkey

Liturgy of Nerath: The Worship of Gods in WotC’s Points of Light Setting


Mark announces that he’s planning a series of articles about how various gods of D&D might be worshipped, including how services could be held and their holidays.

This sort of thing always interests me because done well it can make for much more flavorful settings, and hopefully will be carried forward into the actual cleric (or other priest-type) characters.  I like having distinctive differences between characters of the same class, especially when they are thematically appropriate to the setting.

In other words, the priest of the god of death and decay, and the priest of the god of peace and healing, really should appear markedly different, even if most of their class abilities do in fact have the same bases.

Dungeon’s Master

Improve Your Game by Removing Save Ends


I generally prefer rules that apply to both PCs and not-PCs (which is to say, NPCs and monsters) consistently.  However, David’s suggestion of changing powers from ‘save ends’ to other mechanisms (such as ‘minor action to sustain’) when the powers are used by PCs looks like it makes a lot of sense.

Admittedly, I say this having never played D&D 4e and frankly having an innate dislike of the D&D 4e ‘saving throw’ mechanism… but even though this is counter to my own preference for consistent application of rules I do like this idea.

Emergence Campaign Weblog

Thoth put three posts up this week with power structures for the “Witchcraft” system.  I have no idea what this system is, but looking over the powers and the very brief description he provides in the first post I think I’ll be looking for a copy to review.

A Feat Full of Tricks


A Feat full of Tricks, Part II — Clerics


A Feat full of Tricks, Part III — Fighters and Wizards


Exchange of Realities

Getting from Character to Plot: An Introduction


Qualities of Plot-Driving Characters


Character And…


Seven Questions to Ask When Getting Plot from Character


Continuing from the “Getting from Setting to Plot” post I linked to last week, Ravyn is exploring how to get from characters to plot, in some detail.

A worthwhile read.  I am still hung up a bit on the use of the word ‘plot’; I use the word ‘scenario’ in the same place — it describes what is happening and why, whereas ‘plot’ suggests the story to be followed.

Eye of the Beholder

It’s All in the Details


Greg Bilsland is a producer for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, and here he provides some advice about writing and what he looks for in work done for Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

I admit, I stopped reading these magazines when Paizo lost the license, but the advice is sound.  Greg’s list (without expository text) of tips is a good one (and I know I fall down on some of these points sometimes).  Without the expository text:

  • Get the details right.
  • Be succinct. [oops –kjd]
  • Be creative.
  • Be specific.
  • Be consistent.
  • Revise, revise, revise. [also oops –kjd]
  • Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. [long ago… –kjd]

Read My Lips


Greg discusses ‘box text’ and suggests how it might be better done.  Having bored players (and myself) by reading long-winded box text, his suggested approach looks pretty good to me.

Gaming Ronin

C&C (Castles and Crusades) Saving throws


Gaming Ronin suggests expanding the saving throws from three (Fortitude, Reflex, Will) to six (Might, Reflex, Fortitude, Reasoning, Perception (Wis) and Willpower (Cha)).

I considered something similar for Echelon when I realized base saves were equal to the character’s Ability Pool (Level Bonus + Ability Score) for the relevant save.  This led immediately to “why not have saves for each ability score?”

I still consider it a curious idea.  I may or may not pursue it, since it doesn’t seem to pan out very well a lot of the time.  The more defenses a defender has in a game, the move attack vectors an attacker has… and it’s usually easy to build one really good attack than it is to cover all defenses.

On the other hand, given that, because of how save bonuses are determined, Echelon might not even have specific ‘saves’, it might not be quite as much of a problem.  I need to think about it some more.

The Geek Life Project

Home Brew Hack: The Second Wind Die Revisited


Short form: each character has a “Second Wind Die” one size smaller than their normal Hit Die.  When resting after a fight, each character rolls a number of these dice equal to his level and recovers that many hit points.  This is supposed to model bandaging minor injuries, recovering from shock, patching up minor damage to gear, and so on.  Damage from poison, disease, critical hits, and so on is not affected, and anything left over after this is “actual wounds” that require magic or time to recover.

My first reaction wasn’t so favorable, but the more I think about it the more I’m okay with it.  Thanks to the healing stick (wand of cure light wounds), in D&D 3.x out of combat healing is pretty trivial anyway.

However, trivial examination of the math suggests that most of the time this rule means that characters can expect to recover all hit point damage between fights (that is, no leftover wounds as described above), except damage from effects such as poison, disease, and criticals.  I think I might just simplify and say “these kinds of damage recover only with magic or time, everything else recovers when you have a rest”.

Gothridge Manor

The Fuckits


No, these aren’t new characters on Southpark.  Tim’s introduction describes it better than I would, I think.

Writing is a struggle, sometimes.  Each one of us has a place or two where the fuckits hit.  Mine is when I get close to finishing a project.  When all I need to do is reread, polish and fill in the cracks.  This is what I’ve been fighting through in the final parts of Start Adventures.  When the fuckits hit, those voices in your head tell you who cares if it gets finished, you can put it off until tomorrow.  Does it matter if it gets done?  There are more important things to do like getting the dishes washed, mowing the lawn, folding the clothes and the wife…well, the wife is the one that tells you those things need done.

I think I have this.  I certainly recognize the symptoms in myself.

Hack & Slash

On Cultivating the Fantastic


… I’m going to add a new post category, “Link of Fame”.

It’s Monday, and I’m not waiting until next Monday to share this link — by the time you will be able to read this Links of the Week, this link will have been separately posted for almost a week.

I’d Rather Be Killing Monsters…

Monster Mash: The Devil’s Rock (2011)


While I am unlikely to watch this movie (to be fair, I’m unlikely to watch almost any movie, even the ones I’ve already paid for… I have a disgustingly large stack of DVDs waiting for my attention), the new monster presented (a female demon) intrigues me.  I especially like the little rider on the summoning, in order to make it safe for the summoner:

Pouch Of Protection – When a sorcerer summons a Demme Varou, it’s important that he transcribes – or tears out – the words to dispel the demon and keeps them on his person, usually in a pouch around his neck.

As long as he does this the Demme Varou is unable to cause him mortal harm and, only to him, will be merely as strong as a normal human female.

The pouch itself is non-magical, it is the power of the words contained within.

This immediately got me thinking about what similar specific precautions and effects might be made when summoning other creatures.


How to Make Good Bad Guys (Part 1)


A breakdown of the types of villains that may be involved in a scenario and their roles within it.  I don’t quite agree with all the examples, I might have assigned them slightly differently, but the premise as a whole seems pretty sound.  I look forward to the next article, applying the results of the breakdown.

The best moment from Nathan Fillion’s superhero-themed episode of Castle


This sort of thing is why I love Castle.  Notice that Kate was the one who got the key elements of the analysis?  She’s a comic book geek!  For Marvel, at that.

Take that, DC, with your cheap-slutty-Starfire reboot!

The Land of Nod

Shades of Black


Matt provides six more dragons, this time they’re all back.

  • Arsenic Dragon
  • Bistre Dragon
  • Charcoal Dragon
  • Liver Dragon
  • Taupe Dragon
  • Onyx Dragon

Sadly, this is the “last color dragon to be given the shade treatment”.

Happily, this is “not the last article in this series”.

Peoples of Namera (Hex Crawl Chronicles)


Matt’s been busy with the Hex Crawl Chronicles, and in this post he describes the various races and peoples that have shown up.

Lapsus Calumni


I don’t know what else Matt has here, but he’s got lots of really pretty geomorphs, and some adventures, and other map-related stuff.

Lawful Indifferent

Advanced Classes


Not quite as the concept from d20 Modern.  Instead, it appears to discuss extra-class progression in an organization, based on achievements.  The example shows a fighter joining the ‘Reavers’, a cult of the God of Massacre, and progressing to the upper ranks, and the achievements he has to meet to do so (defeat a powerful warrior in one-on-one combat and feasting on his eyes, and an ‘unparalleled feat of carnage — slaughtering a small village, in this case… I’m guessing it’s not aligned ‘Good’).

At the different grades within the organization, the character learns new abilities from the organization.  The author does posit advancements that do not require an organization, but the article is generally predicated on advancement within an organization.

The Mule Abides

uncommon tongue?


I’ve always been interested in languages, especially as they apply in an RPG setting.  Eric asks some good questions.  How you answer them could have significant impact on the nature and style of a campaign.


Eight Magical Weapons


I always like to see more magic weapons, especially when they’re more than the simple ‘enhancement bonus and maybe weapon quality(ies)’ we see in D&D 3.x.

There are some nasty ones in here, too (Gronditing — grotesque-looking hammer of a disgustingly green-tinged alloy… that inflicts a green slime attack on creature struck, as it’s good point).  I like it, and want some more.

Planet Thirteen

How to Host a Dungeon


I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds rather interesting.  Taking the description of this game from the publisher’s site:

How to Host a Dungeon is a solo game of dungeon creation where you build a dungeon through its history from the dawn of time.

In each age of How to Host a Dungeon, different forces drive how your dungeon evolves. In the Age of Civilization, Dwarves may build their first underground cities, or Dark Elves may build their slave pits deep beneath the surface. In the Age of Monsters, orcs, goblins, dragons, and beasts compete with one another for food and treasure while raiding the surface kingdoms and enduring invasions of adventurers. In the Age of Villainy, an arch villain seeks to conquer the world using the mature dungeon as its base of operations.

When you complete your game, you have a dungeon history and map suitable for a dungeon crawling role-playing game or just your own enjoyment.

It intrigues me.  The suggested structure sounds like it could produce good, organic dungeons, something I really like to see.

Also, there is a very rich links page on the site.

I have not had an opportunity to examine the site or its contents more thoroughly, but I’d like to.

Roles, Rules, and Rolls

One Page Rules


A collection of “one page rules”… which actually appear to be concrete manifestation of specific game entities such as classes.

I need to take a closer look at these, but what I’ve seen so far reminds me of the O’Reilly “Head First” series of books, combining text and images in a fashion that will encourage memory and retention.  I find this fascinating, especially since this mechanism seems to work despite (or indeed, because of) inconsistent presentation.

Sarah Darkmagic

Skills and Optimization


Sarah is doing an analysis of skills in D&D 4e, some of the consequences of how they are designed and work, and it looks like she will be getting into how they might be improved.

While she is focusing on D&D 4e, much of this article applies to D&D 3.x as well.  I certainly recognized many of the things she commented on from D&D 3.x, and I’m interested in seeing where she goes with this.

Skills without Dice


I’ll be honest, the recent Legends & Lore articles at Wizards of the Coast, regarding how skills might be changed (presumably for the better) left me cold.  I felt a lot like Antioch did in his review of that article.

Sarah’s interpretation of those articles, however, interests me strangely.  It looks like her interpretation might be a feasible approach for Echelon, which startled me a little.

Sea of Stars RPG

New Magic Item — Fever Blade


Another magic weapon to add to the shelf for later use.  Not as nasty as Gronditing, but still not to be taken lightly.

Stuffer Shack

Add this one house-rule, multiply your fun by ten!


Incorporating FATE Aspects into other RPGs.  Since this is such a great idea, I’m happy to see (and share) another article on it.

In this case the suggested implementation seems a little weak to me (only a single Aspect per character and a single FATE point, growing to two of each as the group becomes more comfortable with it).  However, the first comment (from the Quirky DM) looks like it addresses my concerns.  He’s using Aspects in a D&D 4e game — characters can have ten Aspects, and he replaced Action Points with FATE Points (sounds like a great idea).  Players start with two or three at the beginning of the session, no longer gain any at milestones (only by having their Aspects compelled — another great idea).  As the group becomes more comfortable, he suggests bringing in the other uses of FATE Points, rerolling and “causing an effect”.

This reminds me, it seems most articles regarding the use of Aspects in other RPGs

One thing I have noticed is that the articles I’ve seen so far regarding use of Aspects in other RPGs seem to focus on invoking or compelling Aspects for a bonus or penalty to a check, and possibly rerolling.  They don’t often seem to mention other uses such as invoking or compelling Aspects of other characters or of places, or of “causing an effect”.

Sycarion Diversions

The Men of Iron and Stone


More primordials.  These ones have an apparent relationship to elemental earth, but they are markedly different from the earth primordials.  Cool stuff.

The Manus and Pria


And now for some less-obvious primordials, the followers of Kehinupan and Kemashian, the most popular gods of Cerah.

The Sandmen of Padasar


More primordials, this time they are men of sand with blood of mercury.  Too cool for words.

The Tales of Kaelaross

Harielport, Mellish, and the Gang of Three


John’s got another link (so far) this week.  The situation in and around this town are not promising of a peaceful, healthy, or even a long life.

The Principle of Simple Core, Many Options


What John likes about D&D 3.x, and why he doesn’t play it.

Troll Den

Palenque — Inspiration


Some pictures (including cross-section) of an ancient Mayan palace.  I like pictures of ruins, they almost always give me some good ideas.

Troll in the Corner

GM-ing and Playing in Large Groups


Mati gives some good advice about running and playing in sessions with more than a handful of players.

Tikal — mayan ruins


More ruins — which is cool — and I’ve played the Tikal boardgame.  Explore the jungle, find the ruins, loot the treasure (sorry, “discover artifacts”).  Great fun.

Zombie Toast

You can tell your campaign is on the right track when…


I can’t disagree, I love it when things like this happen in a campaign.

Savage Adaptations

This is set of related articles.  Orion describes how various D&D settings (Athas and Eberron, at least) might be implemented using Savage Worlds.


  1. Thanks for the links!

    You’re right, plot really wasn’t the best choice of words. I’d used it partly because I’d gotten the idea for the posts from a writer friend of mine who asked me for advice on character into plot, and partly because it covers a multitude of sins, from overarching plot (the second large arc in my game began with the actions of several characters who were supposed to manage an entire plot and got foiled halfway) through subplots and B plots, to little individual things like one set of scenarios I have coming up in which the thing I actually send my group on is a diversion for something that’s going to advance a subplot that is in turn the fault of one of my characters. It makes sense in context.

  2. You’re welcome, Ravyn. I enjoy reading your blog and it’s on my daily feed pull (even apart from RPGBA, it goes on my ebook reader every morning). It’s good material.

    I agree that ‘plot’ makes sense in context, despite being ‘not the best choice of words’. It’s a nice, general-purpose word… that has some unfortunate connotations when it comes to scenario design.

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