Yes, it’s a rare Saturday post. Why? It’s Caroline Munro’s birthday. The Queen of Hammer Horror. I think it’s odd for me to do two birthday posts in one week so I decided to do Carla from Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter as a character.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much about Carla in the movie but there’s a Captain Kronos comic where the character is much more developed. I admit that I haven’t read them but like Hollywood, I’m going to let not reading the source material stop me. The internet gives me enough.
Another thing I’m going to do here is roll the character and built her according to whatever the dice decide. I’m going to assume that she’s at a level where she’s had some training by Dr. Grost so I’m doing her as 3rd level. For a class, I decided on Rouge/Bard. Decent at combat and a flexible path to use knowledge and other tricks to win the fight and stay alive. So here we go.
Carla (3rd Level Human Rogue/Bard) Alignment: Neutral
I was sitting down, relaxing, and knocking a couple of brews when I started thinking about my overall gaming style. I don’t mean genre but rather the style and tone of a campaign regardless whether it’s in space, a dungeon, or the back alleys of some city.
I came up with “Gritty Cinematic”. Sure, now and then I like grimdark and other times over-the-top action. But what really gets me going is something in between. It’s the tone of most of my campaigns, what I enjoy playing, and it’s also the tone I’m trying to put into YARC.
So let me explain my thinking. We all know grimdark. You can’t swing a stick without hitting yet another grimdark game. The “lucky” characters die horribly. Combat and action are something that really should be avoided. And characters quickly learn that there are worse fates than death. While cinematic games usually have untouchable, superhero like characters that really don’t face grisly ends and bouncs around the battlefield with impunity.
Gritty cinematic tries to land somewhere between them. Combat is dangerous. Death is a real threat. But characters are still able to push boundaries and do some pretty outstanding and heroic stuff. Sure you just slayed the Demon Lich Dragon Pyrohalitus but after a night of drunken carousing you’re found dead in an alley after getting knifed by a starving beggar.
However, doing such a tone can difficult when it comes to game mechanics. Grimdark puts an amount of frailty and ability limitations on characters while cinematic, as I said previously, makes them superheroes. I guess there isn’t one single mechanic that does it. It’s a combination of crunchy bits, metagame currency, and understanding on the players’ parts for how the whole thing works without feeling like the DM suddenly pulled the rug out from underneath the heroes.
I know I’m not offering anything really solid in this post because it’s can be a difficult to tone to manage and define. Much of it is like food. Season to taste. Or as that old saying goes, “You’ll know it when you see it.”
Keep rolling dice. Keep imagining. And keep having fun.
Everything I’ve posted about YARC has been player facing stuff. This is where the whole tone of any game really happens in my opinion. It’s the options that are available for the player character that make things move. And that part is basically done. The players have a draft of the rules and it will be time to start rolling some dice in the near future. But now I want to start looking behind the screen and stuff to make the life of the DM easier.
One of the most useful axioms is that monsters and NPC’s don’t have to follow the same rules as player characters. Sure a DM can use that to cheat and just outright kill or outshine the PC’s but the true intent is to make the DM’s job easier. The less time that the DM has flip through rule books or try to puzzle out a page long monster stat block is time away from actually keeping the excitement up. This where so many of the old school games shine. Easy and to the point monster stat blocks.
If you remember from the early posts, another goal of YARC to make it so that the DM could grab just any old school adventure and quickly and easily convert it while running it.
If we boil monsters down to their most basic, there’s three things that become the core mechanics of monster: HD, AC, and Damage. Hit Dice are basically a monster’s level. It’s how many Hit Points they have plus how powerful they are overall. Sure you could roll for HP but I’m running a standard of 5 HP/HD. As far as Attack and Save Bonuses. That’s the HD. Armor Class can be just from what’s listed or compare it to what the AC might be for a player character and if you’re using a source that only has Descending AC the just take 19-AC to get the Ascending AC. Damage same thing. Just use it or think of it in terms of the what’s available to the player characters. Then adjust or run any special abilities as needed. No this isn’t a scientific approach. It’s a lot of instinct and what feels right. So let’s make a freaky swamp monster
It’s pretty tough for single low characters but it’s going to go against a whole party. Let’s give it HD : 3. So it’s got 15 HP and +3 to Attack and make any checks and Saves.
It’s got a tough rubbery hide. Let’s say that’s about leather armor so AC: 12.
Its got long nasty claws. Those are sort of like daggers but it’s really strong so let’s make damage: 1d6.
It’s a Freaky Swamp Monster so it needs a couple of freaky powers. It lives in a swamp so it should be aquatic. I know let’s make it a stealthy predator so give it Advantage on Stealth type checks in a swamp. And last let’s give it a Swamp Gas power. It’s a fog that blinds and disorients everybody but it.
Now, I know that for higher HD monsters the HD as bonus thing breaks. So I’m running with a max bonus of +10. So a HD 18 Demon Lord would have only a +10 and 90 HP. It’s a good max while it does make the monster powerful without being overpowered plus anything with that many HD is going to have really nasty special abilities that really won’t depend on hitting high level characters in combat.
And those special abilities are where a lot of monsters shine. Don’t even thing putting those into a paragraph or a sentence for use at the game table.
IMHO, too many monster books are just too damn wordy.
Let’s talk about NPC’s a bit. Unnamed, and unimportant NPC’s basically use a monster stat block. That city guard, random pickpocket, tavern keep, or merchant. They are all going to be 1 to 2 HD and might not ever be seen again or you might need even any combat stats for them. And that’s an important note right there. If an NPC isn’t going to get into combat then you don’t need stats for them.
Here’s a confession. Vasha of the Night Market is an NPC that I’ve used in two campaigns. At the very least, the player character know up front that she’s a powerful magic-user. With even the smallest bit of research, they learn that the city elders let her do pretty much whatever she wants. She’s the only person that the head of local Thieves Guild actually fears. It’s clear to the players that if they do something stupid then eight kinds of hell is going to come raining down on them. I’ve never made any kind of stat block for her.
But if that NPC is the big bad. Oh hell yes. Go crazy and make that cool stat block. And make one’s for NPC that are reoccurring that you just need to have them go into combat either with or against the player characters.
Then there’s that special time that you want make an NPC with a whole sheet just like a player character. Always keep one of those in reserve.In case a player doesn’t show up or even if there happens to an extra player show up.
I know this has been a rambling post. So it’s time for me to shut up. I’ve got a game to prep for this weekend.
And here’s the Freaky Swamp Monster
HD: 3 (15 HP)
Advantage on Stealth
Swamp Gas: Blocks vision further than 10 feet. Save Vs Magic or Confused.
Wow. This one creeped up on me out of nowhere. And I probably would have just passed it by. I’ve seen too often the blurb that combines old school and modern design that have left me saying that ain’t old school.
Let me first tell the little story of how stumble across this gem. I was just perusing my way around DrivethruRPG and I stumbled across The Nightmare at Castle Goldgloom. Hey, this is an old school adventure that’s compatible with Shadowdark. OK, what’s Shadowdark? Hmm. It isn’t on Drivethru so let’s do a quick Internet search which lead me to the Arcane Library and the beta Rules for Shadowdark. And this explains a lot why I hadn’t noticed it before. Kelsey at the Arcane Library has been doing primarily (and apparently successfully) creating 5E content and as most readers know, I haven’t really paid attention to that much of the 5E content especially stuff on DM’s Guild. Don’t let that stop you here. Shadowdark has some strong OSR DNA.
Let me start with basics. You’ve got the classic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Yes, Thief and not Rogue. And yes, they have a d4 Hit Die. For Races, there’s pretty much the standards: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and Half Orc plus Goblins are thrown in as a race. And yes Race is separate from Class. Task resolution and Saving Throws are handled with Attribute checks (d20+Mod) with any additional modifiers from Class. Shadowdark uses Ascending AC.
Since most readers here are interesting in the old school style of play, let me start there. For Attributes, it’s 3d6 in order. You can’t get more old school than that. There’s an option to start a campaign with 0 Level characters (ala Dungeon Crawl Classics) or 1st Level characters. It uses the old school three Alignment system (Law, Neutral, and Chaos). And Encumbrance is handled with a Strength based slot system similar to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Scattered throughout the PDF are many of the traditional bits of advice like those found in Matt Finch’s Old School Primer. You know the drill. The answer to a problem isn’t on your character sheet. Rulings not rules. Go ahead and houserule to make the game fit your group’s style. Player Skill vs Character Skill and so on. These are great bit advice for those new to the old school style.
Let me talk about the modern and new game mechanics that snuck into the Shadowdark. It does use the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic (which I think is the neatest thing to come out of 5E). There is a metagame currency in Luck Points which are a bit like Inspiration but not quite. Experience is handled a bit differently but you still can get XP for Treasure. The neat thing about Leveling is how character improvement is handled. On odd levels (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), each class gains a Talent. Here’s the catch it’s random. Each class has a random table to roll on to see what the character gets at that level.
There’s one mechanic that I thought was cool and I’m not sure if originates from another game. Torches last one of real time. Not game time. Real time. I like that because it actually puts some pressure on the players to move ahead and not mess around.
Magic (both arcane and divine) uses a roll to cast system. Fail or fumble and bad things can happen. The spells keep to the basics and take more inspiration from the old school versions rather than the newer ones. Like Power Word Kill: You utter the Word of Doom. One creature you target with 9 HD or less dies if it hears you. That’s basically it. The spells are to the point and simple to use at the game table without a bunch of useless fluff text or extraneous mechanics.
For the over mechanics feel of Shadowdark, I can see the inspiration from games such as Index Card RPG, Five Torches Deep, 5E Hardcore Mode, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. I will say that I’m (like many others) aren’t that fond of the “You get all your HP back with a Long Rest” but hey that can be worked around. And there’s a neat little mechanic to add a bit more of challenge. Have a Random Encounter during that Long Rest. Make a CON check, fail and you get no healing or anything else.
Even after all the above and you don’t think it’s your thing, it’s still worth looking at. Why? Well, there’s a bunch of handy random tables to use no matter what rules you happen to be playing. There’s a game within the game (Wizards & Thieves) for when the characters want to gamble at the tavern.
So yes, this well worth a look and a lot of it is going to end being used at my table. I’m going to be really bold here but IMHO Shadowdark is the kind game that fits into the so-called next wave of OSR games. It’s not artpunk. It takes the best of old and new school games and makes a game that feels and plays more like old school. The rules are clean, easy, and most importantly efficient.
Things are moving ahead on YARC. My players have the first draft of the rules hacks and I’m awaiting their comments. Now for this blog post. What about Death?
A few things have changed since I first mentioned Death Saves so let me start there. I decided to make Death Saves their own saving throw. For this category, I also included instant death or death-like effects like Petrification and some powers of really nasty undead.
So when I was thinking about how I was going to handle death, I looked at the original way (0 HP), a negative HP threshold, and the current 5E Death Save mechanic. Since half of my players only have experience with 5E, I decided to lean in that direction. But let’s face it. The 5E method is just too easy.
First, I made it a more normal Saving Throw with a bonus. To keep in line with the other Saving Throws, I needed to use an Attribute. But I decided since this is such an important one, I’d make a variable one. The character uses the highest of CON (You’re healthy), WIS (You’ve got a strong will to live), or CHA (You’re just a lucky bastard). Additional bonuses for Death Saves are far and few between but a character can gain some at the expense of not increasing other Saving Throws. So what’s the DC? Well, I dug back and thought, “Hey, this just might work!” Here’s where the player keeps track of Negative HP. That’s right. Your Negative HP is your Death Save DC, and not the arbitrary 10 from 5E. Sure that makes it really easy of a character is at -1 HP and damned frightening if not impossible at -20 HP. But wait there’s more.
I was inspired by Warlock from Fire Ruby Designs. If a character goes to zero or fewer HP then they may opt to tough it out. What happens? Well. they keep on going but when they do get hit again, they still accumulate Negative HP and thus making that Death Save DC higher. They also have to roll on a Grievous Injury Table (still working on a final version) but this everything from the character drops any way, to broken or severed limbs, organ damage, or the character gets killed outright. Yes. this is very much the DM saying, “Sure. Go right ahead.” Evil grin.
And finally. I wanted to make things a little quicker and interesting. 5E boils down to the best 3 out of 5. I’m reducing that to the best 2 out of 3. And there’s another option. A character may sacrifice their armor for an automatic success. Yes, even if it’s magical. Is that +1 Leather really worth your life?