Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I've been wrestling with the idea of stealth for several days now. A system that does not address sneaking would be wholly inadequate. No matter what sort of game you're running--dungeoneering, wilderness, urban, noble court, etc., you're going to have someone wanting to be undetected eventually. But I can't say that I've ever seen a stealth system with which I was fully satisfied.

In AD&D, there were two forms of stealth. The first was simply to have a good surprise chance. When I DM'd the D-series, my players marched through the underdark with an advance guard of elves, rangers and thieves would were able to gain surprise 2/3 of the time. This is probably the happiest I've ever felt with a stealth system. The second stealth system in AD&D was the Thieve's Hide in Shadows/Move Silently. This system seemed simple on paper, but was quite complicated in practice. When were these rolls made? What sort of circumstances were required? etc. I think now I have better perspective than when I played AD&D (Hide in Shadows is used to avoid detection while stationary in an obscured location, and then Move Silently was used to sneak up on the unaware--adjudicating the circumstances was DM's discretion). However, a major issue with the Thief sub-system is that Thieves' stealth chances were woefully inadequate at low levels.

In modern systems, D&D 3-4, WoD, the stealth roll is made and compared to an opponents detection roll (or, in the case of 4e, an opponent's passive detection). However, this leads to many issues as stealth is relative to the observer. While perhaps this is more "realistic," it also creates a lot of headaches at times--especially with 4th editions requirements of total concealment to gain stealth and concealment to maintain stealth since such conditions are sometimes relative.

The final issue I have with all of these systems is the difficulty of group stealth. In properly played AD&D (with parties of 7-9 PCs along with their entourages), it was definitely possible in overland travel to have "team sneaky" leading the party by 90'. This is part of my ultimate satisfaction with the surprise system of AD&D--players were able to, in a relatively simple and transparent manner, game the system with reasonable results. However, in modern systems with small parties and protectionist maintenance of niches, it is nearly impossible to have a sneaky party.

In my imagining, it should be possible for a group of assorted D&D characters to move around a "dungeon" with relative sneak-ocity. How can this be accomplished without stepping on the toes of the thief-type?

Perhaps the best way to do that would be to set stealth DCs relatively low--such that a standard party of adventurers has a 2/3 chance of everyone passing and a thief-type is guaranteed success. Certain monsters (elite guards, beholders, dragons, etc.) would be sentry types (maybe even give such monsters a keyword) who would raise stealth DCs around them significantly.

This would work well with my planned Scout class, since a Scout's backstab ability allows him to fairly reliably one-shot an elite.

The party as a whole can stealth across a large shadowy courtyard to get into the Temple of Fundamental Wickedness, avoiding the detection of the mindless undead (DC 3 for level 1 characters). As they proceed, the Scout spots a skeletal sentry standing near the gate. The Scout proceeds around the edge of the courtyard, hoping to get the jump on the guard (DC 16). The Scout, with a +9 modifier, makes a modified roll of 19, which succeeds. He attacks from the darkness with a +9 modifier (+5 base +4 for backstab) and hits, dealing 40 damage. The Scout has jabbed his blade into the Skeleton's spine. The Scout catches the Sentry's skull before it crashes to the ground and silently lowers his victim to the earth before giving his party the all-clear.

Of course, the DM would adjudicate when stealth is possible. Situations like the aforementioned courtyard work great. In the case of narrow twisting catacombs, you might use stealth to sneak past the door to a room full of monsters, but not THROUGH a room full of monsters.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Crippling magic, mind control, poisoned arrows--all of these things are a staple of fantasy gaming. Different games have handled the applications of these effects differently. In AD&D, we had the saving throw--at low levels, you were unlikely to succeed, but the consequences tended to be tame (except for save or die poisons, which I'll address later), and at later levels, success was essentially guaranteed, but the stakes were quite high with frequent disintegrates, death rays, magic jars, etc.

In 4th edition, these types of effects tend to target one of three defenses. As one gets higher in levels, the effects become more crippling (including stun spam), but, as opposed to AD&D, the chances of them hitting the players actually grow. This is awful!

So, I've designed the Will defense as a general resistance to all special effects. I have tied its value to Arcana as a boon for the Mage (TBR) and to give the attribute some cross-class appeal. Rather than having different will values for different affects, there is only one Will score, preventing the risk of a particular defense falling behind.

When an attack imposes a crippling effect on a player or an opponent, instead of or in addition to damage, the attack roll is not compared to AC. Instead, it is compared to Will. A character's Will represents their ability to avoid extreme danger, the blessing of the Gods, the power of their soul, their luck, etc.

Your Will score is equal to 15 + Arcana. Each time your character levels up, your score improves by one.

The original posts for the Templar and the Warrior will be changed, but note that the Templar receives a +2 bonus to Will against Fear attacks and the Warrior receives a +2 bonus to Will against forced movement attacks.

Patch 3.1.0

Hunter Patch notes for patch 3.1.0

* Hunting Party (Tier 10) is now a 3 point talent, increasing agility by 1/2/3% and your Arcane Shot, Explosive Shot and Steady Shot critical strikes have a 33/66/100% chance to grant up to 10 party or raid members mana regeneration equal to 0.25% of the maximum mana per second. Lasts for 15 sec.
* Trap Mastery moved from Tier 9 to Tier 2 and is now a 3 point talent. Increases the duration of Frost and Freezing trap by 10/20/30%, Periodic damage of Immolation and Explosive trap by 10/20/30%, and number of snakes summoned by Snake Trap by 30%. (Previously was just 1 point)
* *New Talent* Black Arrow (Tier 9) - Fires a Black Arrow at the target, increasing all damage done by you to the target by 6% and dealing [ 10% of RAP + 785 ] Shadow damage over 15 sec. Costs 6% base mana. 5-35 yard range. Instant Cast. 30 sec cooldown.
* Sniper Training (Tier 9) has been changed to increase the critical strike chance of your Kill Shot ability by 5/10/15%, and while standing still for 6 sec., you gain Sniper Training increasing the damage done by your Steady Shot, Aimed Shot, Black Arrow and Explosive Shot by 2/4/6% Lasts 15 sec. (Previously increased damage and critical strike chance based on your range to the target)
* Wyvern Sting (Tier 7) now lasts 30 sec on the target. (Previously lasted 12 sec)
* T.N.T. (Tier 4) now increases the damage done by your Explosive Shot, Explosive Trap and Immolation Trap by 2%. (Previously increased critical strike chance of explosive shot and and gave it a chance to stun the target)
* Lock and Load (Tier 4) now has a 33/66/100% chance to proc off Freezing Shot, Freezing Trap, and Frost Trap, and a 3/7/10% chance to proc off the periodic damage of Immolation Trap and Black Arrow. (Previously worked on all traps and included serpent sting)
* Improved Wing Clip has been removed from the game.

Conclusion: We have a new rotation to learn. I have no idea if this is a buff or a nerf.

Warrior Patch notes:

Titan's Grip (Tier 11) now reduces physical damage you deal by 10%.

Conclusion: Why can't the guy who does Warrior nerfs come work on Hunters. A nerf is a nerf and it sucks, but I would appreciate it being straightforward. Hunters have been radically changed every patch this expansion. I don't mind too much, I like the challenge of modifying my play style. But, from a game design perspective, isn't it more elegant to do something more akin to what they're doing to lolfury warriors?

Dungeon Ecology

Deep in the Farshire Mine, Gethsemane wrestles with the issue of Dungeon Ecology.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Though these games we play are called role-playing games, role-playing often seems to take a back seat--especially in D&D from 3rd edition on. However, the sessions and games I've enjoyed most are the ones most focused on the role-play element ("wut iz this ar pee!?"). But how does role-play even work? Is it correct to call D&D a role-playing game, or is it a game with role-playing?

If one is playing a card game, it has rules about cards. What rules does D&D or WoD have about role-playing? In AD&D, there was the reaction roll. Percentile dice, modified by your charisma score (per a chart) determined how positively or negatively an NPC reacted to you. There were also alignments that dictated moral roleplaying, and certain mechanical penalties for violating those alignments (loss of a level if your alignment changed, loss of special status for Paladins, Clerics and Monks).

In World of Darkness, there's an even greater array of "role-playing rules." Characters had three base attributes to tell us about their social abilities (presence, manipulation and composure), which tied into an array of skills (including persuasion, empathy, socialize, etc.).

Now, recall that, above, I said some of my favorite gaming memories stem from games focused on role-playing. The shameful truth is, I usually ignored or downplayed these role-playing rules. Sometimes I'd roll them and ignore the roll, or I would simply forget to roll in the heat of the moment. Instead of allowing the dice to determine the outcome of role-playing "encounters," I allowed success to stem from role-playing skill.

Now that I say it that way, it seems like a no-brainer. Why should the inattentive clown in the corner whose character has high manipulation and a good persuasion roll be able to convince the neighboring werewolf pack to assist against a greater threat? You don't win a hand of poker by rolling a seven and you don't succeed at role-playing encounters by rolling a twenty. You succeed by role-playing well.

What does this all have to do with my homebrew fantasy game? Well, it means that the emphasis is on role-playing, and this emphasis is to be achieved not by a long list of rules, skills and sub-systems, but, instead, by their absence.

You should expect to see a sub-system that rewards archetypal behavior, but this will affect the characters behavior in broad strokes, steering them towards a destiny negotiated between the player and the DM. However, if you want the Duke to send armed guards with you as you negotiate the dangers of the Dread City, it's time to get in character.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Templar

This is a rough draft of the Templar class. The Templar is a warrior in the service of his deity. He is neither quite as durable or deadly as the Warrior, but his auras and prayers bolster his allies and strike the fear of the gods into his opponents. The Templar is similar to the Cleric in D&D, but nearly all of his bolstering abilities are passive, allowing him to focus on smiting his foes while his allies reap the benefit of his powers. Multiple allied Templar's auras would not stack, however, they would, of course, be able to maintain different auras and give their allies a greater variety of boons.

The Templar:
The Templar is a reasonably well armed character who serves as inspiration in combat, the divine inspiration in problem-solving and the moral compass in role-playing.

The Templar values Personality most highly. The Templar's auras and chants are helped dramatically by having a high Personality score. The Templar's personality allows him to encourage and lead the faithful, and convict the hearts of the wicked.

The Templar also values Health as it adds to his Hit Point pool which isn't quite as large as his Warrior friends'.

Finally, the Templar values Strength. Templar will often find themselves on the front line with the Warriors, and will be well served by an accurate attack.

A Templar may wear leather armor, chain armor and any shield and may wield any standard weapon. Templar are also able to wield rare magical holy symbols crafted by the gods and their servants in the ancient past.

Auras are divine glows that emanate from a Templar, serving as witness to the power of his faith. When you first build a Templar character, select two auras that he may use. An aura is activated by a minor action and may only be activated during the Ranged phase. Only one aura may be activated per turn.

Aura of Blessing
Radius: 1 + Personality
During each ranged phase, designate one ally in aura. He or she is +1 on to-hit rolls for that round. If the ally is an NPC, his or her morale gains a bonus equal to your Personality.

Aura of Healing
Radius: 1
You or any ally who activates their second wind in the aura regains an extra 5 hit points + your Personality score + your Healing Bonus.

Aura of Insight
Radius: 6 + Personality
Identifies as summoned or conjured any such visible creature in the aura.

Aura of Protection
Radius: 0 (Personal)
You gain a +2 bonus to AC against summoned or conjured creatures.

Aura of Courage
Radius: 1 + Personality
You and all allies in the aura gain a bonus to AC and Will equal to your personality score against Fear attacks. If your or an ally is already under the effect of a fear affect when this aura is activated or upon entering the aura, he or she may make a saving throw to eliminate the effect. Only one saving throw may be gained in this manner per character per encounter.

Aura of Cold Resistance
Radius: 6 + Personality
You and all allies in the aura gain Cold Resistance equal to your Personality Score + Healing Bonus.

Aura of Sanctuary
Radius: 0 (Personal)
Attacks against the Templar take a penalty equal to the Templar's Personality score. The Templar takes a -5 penalty on to-hit rolls.

Chants are mystical powers granted by a Templar's deity. When you first create your Templar character, choose an Encounter Chant and a Daily Chant that he may use.

Song of Healing
Encounter Chant
Close Burst 1
Action: Minor
Targets either you or an ally in the burst. Target spends a healing surge and regains HP equal to 5 + Personality + Healing Bonus

Song of Life
Encounter Chant
Close Burst 10
Action: Standard
Type: Fear
Attack: Personality vs. Will
Targets all Undead in the burst. On a hit, the target is pushed a number of squares equal to the Templar's personality, takes 5 + Personality + Healing Bonus damage and is immobilized. This effect lasts until the beginning of the Templar's next engagement phase.
Sustain: Standard, make another attack against all Undead within Close Burst 10.

Song of Command
Daily Chant
Close Burst 2
Action: Standard
Attack: Personality vs. Will
Targets an enemy in the burst. If you hit, impose one of the following effects:
Die: stunned for one round.
Surrender: drops all items held in hand, all enemies that can see the target take a -2 penalty to morale.
Flee: Target moves its speed at the next available opportunity and leaves by the safest possible route. All enemies that can see the target take a -2 penalty to morale.
Hop: Shift target one square.

Class Features:
Supplication: At the beginning of each day, a Templar may pray to his deity for new powers. At dawn each day, after a short rest spent in prayer, you may replace one of your auras or chants with another which your deity grants.

The Templar gains a bonus equal to his level when making to-hit rolls made with any standard weapon, or with his chants. The Templar gains a Healing Bonus equal to 1/2 his level. This is referred to in certain auras and chants. The Templar also gains a bonus to damage with standard weapons equal to 1/2 his level.

Hit Points:
A Templar starts with 27 Hit Points plus his Health Score. He gains 2 Hit Points every even level, and 3 Hit Points every odd level. At level 5, the Templar adds his Health score to his Hit Points again.

Will Bonus:
A Templar gains a +2 bonus to his Will when being attacked by Fear effects.


One of my buddies, whose gaming blog can be found at, linked me an interesting article about "Initiative: The Silent Killer" (I'll link it if I can find it again) talking about the difference between AD&D initiative (group initiative) and modern initiative (individual). Long story short, individual initiative leads to boredom, inattentive players and lack of party cohesion.

Another element I miss from AD&D initiative is the phasing. Obviously, realism isn't king, but I hate in 4e when a monster or player is able to move across a room and attack with impunity. If archers come across footmen, the archers should be able to shoot first!

Each character has a pool of actions that are used up during a combat round. This includes a Standard, a Move and a Minor action. Alternatively, characters can use their actions to take a lesser action. This means that a character can use a move action to take a minor action, or use a standard action to take a move or minor action.

The Combat Round:
Each round of combat proceeds in three phases: Ranged, Movement and Engagement. At the beginning of each round, the party leader rolls a d20 and the GM rolls a d20. If the GM rolls higher, the monsters go first in each phase that round. If the players roll higher, then the players go first in each phase that round. Certain players and monsters may have abilities that allow them go first in certain phases.

Ranged Phase:
During this phase, monsters and characters may take minor actions or any action that is a ranged attack.

Movement Phase:
During this phase, monsters and characters may take move or minor actions or take any action that is a ranged attack.

Engagement Phase:
During this phase, monsters and characters may take any remaining actions.

The Party Leader
During combat, the party leader is responsible for coordinating the party's actions, and, if disagreement arises, decide the order in which the party's actions will take place.

The Warrior

Philosophy: This is a rough draft of the Warrior class, the meat and potatoes melee character. The Warrior should be an attractive and effective class, but relatively simple to play.

My goal is to have each class find three attributes relatively desirable.

I will post more later on to-hit and damage by level. The to-hit roll is made on a d20, modified by appropriate attribute (Strength for the Warrior). On a hit, a flat amount of damage is dealt, equal to the weapon's value, plus an appropriate attribute (again, Strength for the Warrior). For now, let me say: what you see is what you get. There are no damage or to-hit modifiers from magic items, feats, etc. Situational bonuses and penalties will apply, but will be no greater than +/- 2.

The Warrior:
The Warrior is a heavily armored character who serves as the front line in combat, the brute force in problem-solving and the "face" in roleplaying.

The Warrior values strength most highly, as it directly affects his chance to-hit and damage. Damage is important to a warrior because he must present a threat to his enemies in order keep their focus on him and away from his more vulnerable allies. The Warrior deals the most consistent damage to his opponents.

The Warrior also values Health as it adds to his Hit Point pool. Hit Points are more valuable to a warrior than to any other class, due to his high Armor.

Finally, the Warrior values Personality. Warriors are stereotypically considered to be loyal and honorable. Your character's personality score will help you to back up this reputation in social challenges. Furthermore, the Warrior relies on Personality to intimidate his opponents.

A Warrior may wear any standard armor and wield any standard weapon.

A Warrior has four special maneuvers. A maneuver modifies an attack, and must be chosen before the attack is made. Only one maneuver may be used per round.
Shove: When a Warrior hits with an attack, he may push the target one square.
Cleave: When a Warrior hits with an attack, he may deal damage equal to his Health score to one adjacent enemy.
Rattle: The target is marked as the Warrior's opponent. Any attack that does not include the Warrior as a target suffers a penalty to the to-hit roll equal to the Warrior's Personality score.
Charge: This maneuver may only be used once per encounter. The Warrior may make his attack during the movement phase.

Class Features:
Pinning: When a warrior hits with an Opportunity Attack granted by a moving opponent, the opponent's movement is ended.

The Warrior gains a bonus equal to his level when making to-hit rolls made with any standard weapon. He gains a bonus equal to half his level, rounded-down, when making damage rolls with any standard weapon. Furthermore, the Warrior adds his Strength score as a bonus to damage when hitting with a melee weapon. The Warrior is the only character who gains this benefit.

Hit Points:
A Warrior starts with 32 Hit Points plus his Health Score. He gains 2 Hit Points every even level, and 3 Hit Points every odd level. At level 5, the Warrior adds his Health score to his Hit Points again.

Will Bonus:
A Templar gains a +2 bonus to his Will when he is the target of an attack which forces him to move against his will.


Philosophy: Attributes should be easily generated, transparent in their effect and kept to a minimum both in the size of the number and the number of attributes.

Assigning Attributes: A new character has the following attributes: 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. These attributes are assigned per the player's taste. A 0 represents the capability of the average mortal, while a 4 represents the extremes limits of mortal capacity.

A character has five attributes:

Strength: This represents a character's carrying capacity and brute force. Highly valued by Warriors.

Agility: This represents a character's ability to make careful and accurate movements. Highly valued by Scouts.

Health: This represents a character's heartiness and ability to take damage. This ability is valued by all classes of character.

Arcana: This represents your character's understanding of the deeper secrets of the Universe. Highly valued by Wizards.

Personality: This represents your character's sheer personal charisma. This attribute accounts for the intangibles, such as physical presence, bearing, eloquence, etc. and is not generally used to take the place of in-character conversation. Highly valued by Priests.

Design Principles

The following are my design principles for my homebrew fantasy game. Some may be added or subtracted as time goes on, but I hope to refer to these ideas as I plan. This should keep me grounded in reality and prevent me from wandering off into some horrific unplayable chimera of a game.

1. The math should be as easy as possible
Numbers should remain as small as possible, while still being intuitive. This means as little scaling as possible while maintaining a sense of growth and progress. It also means as few axes of growth as possible.

2. Character growth should take place in a limited space
Scaling should be more along the lines of AD&D than 4e. In AD&D, monsters were useful in one capacity or another for nearly the entire life of a campaign (in low-level modules, bugbears are powerful threat, in D1, bugbears are a relatively effective force in the Drows' armies). I do not want to have distinct tiers of play in which certain monsters are untouchable, or useless. This prevents the growth of an organic game world.

3. Character growth should be meaningful
This ties in to the point above--when characters grow too much, it becomes immediately apparent that you're playing the same game, relatively speaking, just with much bigger numbers.

4. There should be fewer mandatory awards
In 4e (and AD&D to a lesser extent), magic items are not a luxury, they are a necessity. The same is true of money. Money and magic items should be an exciting perk, not one more burden.

5. Reward the fun stuff!
In 1e, there is only one significant way to gain xp--find treasure. In 4e, you have to win in tactical combat. I find that I actually prefer the former (it encourages smart gameplay and creative solutions). XP rewards should be given for all elements of the game that the DM wants the players to partake in--roleplaying, questing, treasure and combat.

6. Customization should have a small mechanical effect
The greater of an effect customization has on a character mechanically, the easier it is to make a character who is incapable of doing his job. Further, too much customization leads to broken
"combos." Even if there are no broken combos, there are still unintended consequences and the difficulty of presenting adequate challenges to one min-maxed character, three average characters and one lousy character.

7. Customization should have a big effect on plot
There should be meaningful choices that a character makes that affect how he or she interacts in the world. When a game system is too much of a zoo, there's simply not enough time to focus on all of the issues created, so, instead, none are addressed. Since customization will not have a huge impact on mechanics, it should have a huge impact on the storytelling element.

8. There should be more storytelling
Rules should encourage an organic world that interacts with the PCs in a dynamic way. Where rules do not do so, they should step out of the way.

9. There should be more problem-solving
Good puzzles are great fun because the players can actively work together to overcome a problem which their in-game statistics do not affect.

10. There should be less combat, or at least it should be less time consuming
Ultimately, there are better mediums for tactical combat (more of you need to play WoW with me). Ultimately, combat is a mechanic for resolving whether or not the PCs are strong enough to overcome their foes. Combat needs to be long enough and meaningful enough for the players to exercise their characters' heroic capabilities. However, it should not be the primary focus of the game.

Personal History

I have about 6 years of roleplaying under my belt, including AD&D, D&D 3.0, 3.5 and 4.0, Shadowrun 3.0 and the New World of Darkness. I've experienced many phases of particular admiration for one system or another and examined various philosophies of roleplaying.

I have been playing WoW for about 5 years now, but seriously for only 2 years.

4th edition D&D has, for the most part, perfected the tactical combat element of the game. The math is precisely balanced and characters have meaningful choices nearly every round. Other than a few snafus in monster design, the DM can reliably build an encounter and know it's "safe." It is exactly what I have wanted from D&D combat all along.

But you know what they say, be careful what you wish for. The realization of my dream of balanced and engaging combat has made me realize that it's not what I enjoyed about D&D in the first place. When combats take an hour each (if you have a very disciplined table), you can't get much else done. Further, I feel that WoW serves my desire for tactical combat superbly.

So, this leads me to a conundrum in my table top roleplaying hobby--4e does not do what I want a system to do, but I (and moreso my players) are unwilling to return to the AD&D due to major issues in that system--first and foremost, the magic system, with other issues like save or die weighing heavily against it.

But I still want to be able to play games of psuedo-medieval (occasionally heroic) fantasy. The Storytelling system by WoD, as beautiful as it is, does not work well for this type of game. So I am embarking on a mission to waste countless hours lovingly crafting a homebrew system that may never be played.

In this blog, I intend to include bits of thought on this homebrew system. I intend in each article to discuss my philosophy of gaming and how it plays into a particular design element, and then propose a solution. I would love to hear people's thoughts and feedback. Ultimately, the blog will be compiled into a handbook to be used in play. I may also occasionally make random posts with funny pictures or thoughts on WoW or other gaming. Enjoy!