Author Archives: carnifex

D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 3

So I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the various versions of Dungeons and Dragons, from the Holmes boxed set, to AD&D 1E, 2E, right through 3E and I even reviewed 4th edition. I love those old editions of the game. Simplicity is really what shines in OD&D and AD&D1E, nothing was terribly over thought and players were given broad power within the framework to do what they wanted. The problem was the rules often did not make sense and had multiple dice mechanics to remember and sometimes those dice mechanics did not make sense even in the framework of the rules. AD&D 2E cleaned a lot of this up, organized the rules better and added a credible skill system, but it still retained the wonky dice mechanics. 3E and 4E went the other direction, while they built a unified dice mechanic, they added way too much crunch to the game. Even at the beginning there was a ton of crunch that would complicate the game and clever rules lawyers would bully their way into ridiculously over powered characters.

Having looked at all these games, I have come to the conclusion that D&D 5E is in fact the best edition of the game so far. The unified dice mechanic makes rolling the dice and judging the results quick and easy, you know you are rolling a d20 and you know you will have just a couple of easy to remember modifiers to that roll. If you like a simple game with very little crunch, where the players add the depth to their characters via back story and life experiences, You can play the game basically for free by downloading the basic game PDF from Wizard of the Coast. It has a very simple broad set of skills that define what a character can do well and what he is not so good at. At the basic level there are no feats, but in the intermediate level, feats are a good way to allow interesting abilities to be added without breaking the game. At the basic level the game is not to different from playing the Holmes basic set. However, when the scope of the game is expanded, there are lots of interesting options to build a wide variety of characters while at the same time limiting the ability of rules lawyers to produce characters with ridiculously high armor classes and hit bonus’s.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I love the old versions of the game and I would certainly play them again and I will most likely run games in the future using AD&D 1E. Again, there is no arguing with the simplicity of those games, the innocent wild eyes wonder of playing the game. Unfortunately it is not 1980 anymore and we have a higher expectations of our games. I am also not 17 anymore, I don’t have enough time these days to build my own campaigns from scratch. I depend heavily on published material and even with the OSR in full swing, there is not enough quality published material out there to keep things fun and interesting, this is why dead games are dead. When I go to Dragonsfoot, THE bastion of old school gaming, most of those people do not actually play the games they are talking about. For the most part, they are re-living their glory days, some are running campaigns, most are not, most are playing D&D 5E or Pathfinder. When WotC reprinted all the books from earlier editions, the sales were not all that good and if you go to, the best sellers are from the current edition. So I think most people, even the ones like me, who love the old games have pretty much come to the same conclusion, Dungeons and Dragons 5E is the best version of the game so far.

Homemade Gaming Books

Okay so here it is, I used my laser printer to print out a couple of (legally purchased PDF’s) game books. Since my current obsession is with the 1977 Holmes edition of D&D, I went with that and B1 In Search of the Unknown. Both are fairly small page counts, a nice test run before I go on to bigger books. I considered buying a book binder, Amazon sell them for around $50, but I am just not planning on doing that many projects. PezWitch suggested Slide binders, available on Amazon for $10 for 10, which include plastic sleeves. Overall I am happy with the results, these would make fine table copies. The plastic covers, along with the heavy stock paper I used for the first and last pages, should make these resilient to wear and tear of normal use. Of course the downside is they are pretty ugly and I think even if I had a color printer I would not be particularly happy with how they look. Again though these are not meant to be collector copies, these are meant o be brought to the table and used week in and week out and making them needs to be cheap. Laser printer generally cost around 10 cents per page to print in black and white, the rule book is 50 pages, so including the slide binder, this means the rule book cost roughly $6 for me to make myself. The module cost around $4 to make, so $10 in total, considerably cheaper than buying on Ebay.

5th Edition Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser

In pure ability in their area specialty, Fafrd and The Grey Mouser are probably in the high tier 2 power level, but because both have spread outside their niches, both have become “Jack of all Trades” of sorts and are very capable of facing off with tier 3 opponents. I would like to say as well, these are very basic builds designed to give a feel for the characters, I did not invest any time in figuring out Archetypes or anything of that nature.

I was thinking about replacing the 1 level of Bard for Fafhrd with the Actor feat, this would probably be more faithful to the books because even a 1st level Bard can cast spells and Fafrhrd never did that in the books. I also considered replacing Grey Mousers 3 levels of Wizard for and replace it with Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster feats which would account for the bulk of the magic ability he demonstrated in the books. I opted for levels in different classes for the flexibility they provided to the characters.If you decide the feats are better options, remove the 1 level of Bard from Fafhrd and trade the 3 levels of Wizard for 2 levels of Fighter, so the Grey Mouser is Rogue 10/Fighter 3. You will also have to fiddle with their hit points a bit.

Str 19 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 19 (+4)
Int 15 (+2), Wis 10 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Barbarian 10 / Rogue 3 / Bard 1

Hit Points 208 (10d12+3d8+1d8)
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 3 (Dex) + 4 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+3), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+2), Athletics (+9), Deception (+3), History (+2), Insight (+0), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+7), Medicine (+0), Nature (+7), Perception (+5), Performance (+8), Persuasion (+8), Religion (+0), Sleight of Hand (+8), Stealth (+8), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

Fafrd is not terribly different from Conan as a barbarian/thief. Fafhrd favored weapon is a Great sword, which refers to as Greywand and a dagger which he calls Heartseeker. He has also been known to use handaxes and Long bows as well.

The Grey Mouser:
Str 15 (+2), Dex 19 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 16 (+3), Wis 11 (+0), Cha 17 (+3)

Rogue 10 / Wizard 3 / Fighter 1

Hit Points 150 (10d8+3d6+1d10)
Armor Class: 16 (11 (Leather Armor) +4 (Dex) +1 (Dual Wielder))

Skills: Acrobatics (+9), Animal Handling (+0), Arcana (+8), Athletics (+7), Deception (+3), History (+3), Insight (+5), Intimidation (+3), Investigation (+8), Medicine (+5), Nature (+3), Perception (+5), Performance (+3), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+8), Sleight of Hand (+9), Stealth (+9), Survival (+0)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Dual Wielder, Keen Mind, Lucky, Observant, Skulker

Grey Mouser is a Dual weapon finese fighter, he uses a rapier and dagger combination to great effect. Grey Mouser rarely uses magic and tends toward utility magic rather than splashy fire or effect style magic.

Millennial bashing

To the Baby Boomer Generation, I know it is fun to mock Millennial’s, but please remember you are the generation that could not figure out how to set the clocks on your VCR’s.

OMG I am an Intelligencist

Pezwitch and I were having a discussion about some people we know. One of the woman she has been hanging out with has a new boyfriend, whom PezWitch just met tonight. Apparently this boyfriend was relieved to meet her, because all of his girlfriends friends appeared to be stupid and PezWitch was the first smart one he had met. As we were having this conversation, I was thinking, “Yeah, you always did like to befriend dumb people and take them under your wing, I just find them boring and try to ignore them.”. I realized at that moment I am an Intelligencist, I am prejudiced against people who are willfully ignorant. If someone has no intellectual curiosity, I am entirely uninterested in them and have very little patience with them. I am kind of embarrassed about this.

The World in VR

Next year Facebook is putting out a new Oculus Rift product, a $199 headset that does not require it to be attached to a computer or a smartphone, the product is called Oculus Connect. Thier stated goal is to get a billion people in the virtual reality. This will probably be the strike price point where VR headsets become cheap enough that nearly everyone can afford a set. My guess is this will be a loss leader for Facebook and they will make their money sell eyeballs to AD companies and sell software through their own software store.

While I am not terribly excited about this product, I suspect it will not be very good and the software will suck, at least in the beginning. My own experience with the Oculus Rift has been less than rewarding. Initially I was very excited and awed by the experience. But as time went on I realized there is very little quality products available for the Rift. Certainly I have watched some really great documentaries and Google Earth is fun, but all of the games seem to have limited re-play options, meaning once you have played through it once, there is no particular reason to do so again, because you now know where everything is at and you know what you need to do, there is no variations to make re-play interesting. The one bright spot here is of course porn, VR porn is really cool.

What I am hoping for, is this new low end entry to the market will drive developers to finally start building interesting virtual worlds that we can explore together with friends. I am waiting for the first VR World of Warcraft to come out, where its not just a single adventure, but a whole world filled with 8 million other people. Killing monsters and stealing their stuff is cool and all, but I also want to be able to visit different cities and have experiences in different cultures. Finally, maybe, just maybe, someone will develop a VR operating system.

I hate Facebook

I quit Instagram because it was basically stupid and shallow. I quit Twitter because it was just a steady stream of people vomiting whatever came to mind and most of it is stupid and shallow. I quit Google + not because it was stupid and shallow, but rather because it was a ghost town, almost no one was on it and the communities were all dead, so it was just a waste of time. This left me with Facebook.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with Facebook. I have never particularly liked it, I don’t like their privacy policy, I don’t like the interface, and I dislike how easy it is to pretend you are doing something important on Facebook when in reality all you are doing is screwing around. Everything about Facebook is designed to be a time sink. The real problem is I cannot give it up, this seems to be the primary communication method of just about everyone I know. There are exceptions of course, but not many. If I want to stay in touch with my family back in Montana, I pretty much need to be on Facebook.

I have kind of come to the point where I really no longer post anything there. I do respond to other peoples posts, but I don’t contribute. If I am going to express myself in some meaningful way on the internet, I do it here. I don’t want people to read my posts because I was in between two other peoples posts as they scanned the news feed. I want people to read what I have to say because they want to find out what I am thinking and went out of their way to do so, otherwise I am just another time sink for Facebook.

Code 4 ?

So I went to Office Max Hobby Lobby today. I am looking for a cheap way to bind PDF’s that I print out. I don’t do it often and I don’t really like binder notebooks where I have to insert the pages into plastic sheets and such. They have binding machines available on Amazon for under $50, but I wanted to see if there was something available locally. I was surprised that I did not find what I was looking for at Office Max, I assumed this was the sort of thing they would have on hand, but I was wrong.

I did not expect to find a binding machine at Hobby Lobby, but I figured they might have a clever alternative for me. So I walked in and went over to the scrap booking section. After looking around for a bit, I hear a calm voice over the intercom, “Code four in Isle 12”. I thought nothing of it, I figured it was a feisty child making a mess. Within a minute or so I had 4 employees surrounding me asking me if there was anything They could help me find. They started asking me questions about the project I was working on and what types of material and tools I was using. I thought this was very odd, normally in stores like this you have to chase employees down and handcuff them to the shelving to get any help. After explaining what I was doing, there seemed to be an air of relief and most everyone wandered away. Curious, I found one of those employees and asked I was the “Code 4”, and she said yes I was. Confused, I asked what a “Code 4” is, and she sheepishly told me it was an unattended male in the store. Apparently scrap booking with power tools is both a thing and is frowned upon by the scrap booking community.

5th Edition Conan the Barbarian

Str 20 (+5), Dex 18 (+4), Con 17 (+3)
Int 14 (+2), Wis 15 (+2), Cha 16 (+3)

Barbarian 12 / Rogue 5 / Fighter 3

Hit Points 274
Armor Class: 17 (10 + 4 (Dex) + 3 (Unarmored defense))

Skills: Acrobatics (+10), Animal Handling (+8), Arcana (+0), Athletics (+11), Deception (+8), History (+0), Insight (+8), Intimidation (+9), Investigation (+2), Medicine (+2), Nature (+8), Perception (+8), Performance (+0), Persuasion (+3), Religion (+2), Sleight of Hand (+4), Stealth (+10), Survival (+8)

Feats: Alert, Athlete, Durable, Great Weapon Master, Inspiring Leader, Keen Mind, Savage Attacker, Tough, Weapon Master

This is Conan at the height of his abilities, but prior to becoming King Conan. He is among the greatest warriors in the world. Conan does wear armor occasionally, but even without it he is incredibly difficult to kill and often defeats his enemies with stamina alone. His equipment varies heavily, especially early in his career where he is basically equipped with whatever he has taken off the dead bodies of his opponents. His preference for weapons is Great Sword, but can use anything within arms reach to deadly effect.


5th Edition Elric of Melnibone

Str: 5 (-3) Dex: 20 (+5) Con: 5 (-3)
Int: 20 (+5) Wis 20 (+5) Cha 12 (+1)
Wizard 20 / Fighter 8

Hit Points 30
Armor Class: 25 (Plate Armor 18, Shield +2, Dex +5)

Skills: Acrobatics (+5), Animal Handling (+5), Arcana (+11), Athletics (-3), Deception (+1), History (+11), Insight (+11), Intimidation (+1), Investigation (+5), Medicine (+11), Nature (+5), Perception (+11), Performance (+1), Persuasion (+11), Religion (+11), Sleight of Hand (+5), Stealth (+5), Survival (+5)

Feats: Alert, Great Weapon Master, Keen Mind

Spells: At this level, Elric can cast pretty much any spell at will, however Elric rarely has anything other than Summon and Conjure spells memorized and ready.

Elric of Melnibone is the greatest mage in the known world. His specialty is Conjuration and he is adept at summoning all manner of entities to aid him to include gods. Normally when encountered Elric will have recent access to his potions and his Strength and Constitution will be 15. When fighting, Elric will invariably use Stormbringer rather than cast spells, preferring to use magic only to solve great problems. Elric’s high Dex, Int and Wis are directly connected to his being an aspect of the Eternal Champion.

Potion of Invigoration: +10 Strength, +10 Constitution. While Elric is using his potions, his Strength and Constitution are 15 (+2), and has 170 Hit Points.

Ring of Kings: Allows Elric to summon Elemental-Lords, Beast-Lords and Plant-Lords as a Bonus Action. Upon summoning the entity, it must make a DC 20 save, if the save fails, the elemental must obey Elric, if the save succeeds, the summoned entity may decide for themselves if they wish to help Elric or not.

Stormbringer (Great Sword): +3 to Hit, damage 5d6+3. Upon a successful hit, Stormbringer reduces the target’s Constitution by 1d6 points. For each 2 points of Constitution drained in this manner, increase either Elric’s Strength or Constitution by 1, up to a maximum of 20. Stormbringer also transfers half of the damage inflicted on the target to Elric. Elric’s hit points max out at 340. Stormbringer will continue to regenerate Elric until it becomes satiated after transferring 1000 hit points to Elric, at which point it looses interest in fighting and will no longer provide any benefits to Elric and will act as a normal weapon. Undead and constructs which have no life energy are unaffected by the Strength and Constitution drain. Any creature killed by Stormbringer can not be resurrected even by the most powerful of magic.

The digital age is here

I was reading a forum thread about how disappointed people are that local game stores no longer cater to the role playing game community. Back in the 80’s there were stores dedicated to nothing but role playing games and today game shops tend to be more about Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon card games. The complaint seems to be that game shops are chasing the easy money instead of doing the hard work needed to attract serious RPG customers. This made me laugh.

First off, of course game shops are going to chase the easy money. These guys need to pay the rent, they need to pay their employee’s and hopefully have enough left over at the end of the month to pay themselves something. Collectible card games have regular release cycles, if a game shop stocks the top 4 games, they will likely have a new set on the stand every month that keep the customers coming in. RPG’s are just not like that, the big guy, Wizards of the Coast only releases new product 2-3 times a year, usually an adventure module that only 25% of the potential market (GM’s) is going to buy. The number two guy Paizo, is a bit better, but not by much and all the rest are hit and miss, more often missing.

Second, RPG players simply do not need that much product. I can buy the core book and play for decades without ever investing another penny in the game. I like having adventure modules, but I don’t need them, I like supplemental expansions to the game, but I don’t need them. I could pull out my copies of the Moldvay D&D basic set published in 1981 and I could run a 3 year campaign. Just because an RPG is old, does not mean it is unplayable. Lets face it, we are a notoriously cheap bunch anyway.

Third and finally, the digital age is upon us. We no longer need game stores to be the center of our community. Thanks to the internet we can look at products and read reviews prior to buying. We can discuss our hobby with people all over the world in dozens of different forums covering all aspects of gaming. We can even play online now, we don’t even have to put on pants and go over to someones house or the game store to play anymore. On top of that, DrivethruRPG have more games on their site than any game store could ever hope stock, I have 3,000+ RPG PDF files totaling 24GB, and you know what, I store all of them on my tablet and I can carry them with me everywhere I go. Even on the off chance that I want a printed copy, I can always buy from Amazon and get a 30% discount on it, which totally makes it worth the 2 day wait to get it. Alternately, for under $200 I can buy a laser printer and a binding machine to make my own. Okay, I don’t get a full color glossy paged hard bound book, but honestly, do I really need that for a table copy that is going to be exposed to Mountain Dew and Cheetos? At today’s prices, that setup would pay for itself after 4 or 5 printouts.

As far as I am concerned, this breakup was inevitable. Back in the 80’s games stores needed RPG gamers and vice versa, today, not so much. You know, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

Review: BlueHolme

Product Summery:
Name: BlueHolme Journeymanne
Author: Michael Thomas
Line: OSR/Basic D&D
Cost: $9.99 for PDF
Pages: 118

Someone may have finally come up with a retro clone of Basic D&D that does not piss me off. In the past, these things have stuck very close to the original rules, even to the point of including stupid and outdated rules, like the race as class nonsense I have complained about in the past. The author of BlueHolme seems to have come to his senses and left that shit out and that is why I shelled out the $10 to get the expanded version of the rules, even though I can get other retro clones that are 90% identical to these rules for free.

Like all retro clones, BlueHolmes set out to re-imagine a specific game from a bygone era. In this case it was the Blue Box D&D Basic Set from 1977 written by J. Eric Holmes, thus the name BlueHolme. The writer originally put out the BlueHolme Prentice rules, which like the game it is based on, only went to third level.In that book he used public domain art from various sources, which gave the book an interesting vibe. Recently he decided to expand the rules to 20th level and get some original art done for the expanded book. He ran a kickstarter and raise a nice chunk of change to commission this art and the end product was the Journeymanne rule book.

What did I liked; the book does a very good job of re-imaging the game it was based on. Quick easy to build characters with very little crunch to get in the way. Classes are limited to the 4 base classes, Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Here is the interesting part, there is no limitation. on races the player may choose from.

Page 5: Just about any being detailed in Part 6: Creatures is suitable for use as a player character with a little work by the referee,

So yes, the player can play a small dragon or a giant beetle if they so desire. I felt this was an interesting twist on the game, something not really done in the past that sets this game apart.

Things I did not like; I think my problem with this game are really problems with the Original D&D, so I would like to be clear about it. This is not a modern game and falls into many of the same traps that old school games fall into. Unbalanced classes, wonky rules, too much hand waving of rules and terrible scaling at high levels. Of course there will those who say, this is what makes these games so much fun to play. But I think there are some areas with these OSR games that are ripe for improvement.

For instance the “All weapons to 1d6 damage” rule, okay I get it, its simple and straight forward. The problem is there is no reason to ever use anything other than a dagger, it does 1d6 damage just like a long sword, my character can carry 25 of them and I can throw them as well as use them in melee. This is something I would house rule, small weapons do 1d4 damage (dagger, dart, short sword, hand axe), medium weapons do 1d6 (long sword, mace, battle axe), large weapons do 1d8 damage (two handed sword, great axe, pole arms). Or even if you wanted to stick with the 1d6, you could do, 1d6-2 for small, 1d6 for medium and 1d6+2 for large. This gives fighters a reason to use a two handed sword other than “Its cool” or “I am a barbarian so…”.

Over all, I liked the game, I think it is well written and accomplishes what it set out to do. I doubt I will ever play it, I think if I were inclined to play this sort of game, I would simply run the Original D&D in some form. However if you are not interested in scouring ebay for copies of the original, but want to play a game approximating it, then this is definitely the game for you.

Saturday Night Game

Tonight we had what I consider a really great game. I think this is one of those games we will look back on and say, “Remember that time when….?”. So after last games TPK and the activation of everyone’s proteges, the party was hired to clear out the dwelling of an old mage who had passed away. Simple right, well except for all the mad mages pets and weird experiments, so you know, nothing is ever easy. In the very first room, they just kind of glance into, because they get distracted by an animated suit of armor. While the other players were horsing around trying to figure out how to use the animated suit of armor to their advantage, the party thief went noising around that first room looking for money in the sofa cushion. The thief of course gets knocked out and replaced by a Doppelganger. David, the player, played along with it. He waited in the back of the party until the group got into t fight with something else and then attacked the character who was in front of him. He grabbed the character and covered his mouth so he could not raise the alarm. I told him he could only suffer and take damage until he either made a Strength roll or died. He missed 4 consecutive Strength rolls and was down to just a couple hit points when the party finally turned around, saw what was happening and saved the poor bastard. This was just part of the whole game, there was a little bit of everything. Puzzle solving, roleplaying and good old hack-n-slash, interspersed with plenty of “Holy Shit” moments. It was a well rounded and fun game.

Attribute point buy for early edition D&D

I have written before about my preferences for standard array or point buy system rather than rolling the dice for attributes. I prefer this because it starts everyone out on more less a level playing field. The problem with rolling dice, while fun and often challenging, often produces an unbalanced party. There is always someone who rolls an 18 and there is always someone whose highest stat is 13. Back in the day we use to use a 90 point system, which was way to much for a starting characters, later I trimmed that down to 80, but that was still too much.

Today, I have come to the conclusion that 70 is about right, however, there should be some limitations on this, because players being players, they will bugger it up. My solution to this is a D&D 5E like Standard array each player may assign as they please and then apply racial modifiers. The array I have settled on is, 15, 14, 13, 10, 10, and 8.

For players who want a bit more flexibility and want the chance to have an 18, there is the point buy system; All attributes start at 8 and you have 22 points to divide between the 6 attributes as you see fit, no attribute may exceed 18. This would allow for two 18’s, but that would leave only 2 points for the other 4 attributes.

I think either of these systems would produce fairly equitable characters that most players would be okay with playing. I think this would work well for all edition from the original through AD&D 2E. Beyond that, the later editions have their own systems for dealing with this.

Star Trek: Discovery

As many of you know, I am a life long Trekkie, yes, I said Trekkie, not Trekker. I consider Trekker to be pretentious, I don’t care if people don’t take me seriously or not, so my preference is Trekkie. I have seen every episode of every Star Trek series multiple times. Even the much panned Enterprise and Voyager shows were better than 90% of everything that has ever been on TV. I have also seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan more times than i can count. It should come to no surprise that I took time out of my vacation to watch the first two episodes of the new series.

So what did i think, well I liked it, I thought it was very Trek. The opening scene on the desert planet, was very Trek, Burnham’s space walk is very reminiscent of Spock’s in The Motion Picture, the plot, “A Federation ship finds a Klingon sacred burial ground in Federation space.” has a very Trek like moral dilemma to it. Setting aside the new look for the Klingon’s, I like the new added depth, we now get to see their spiritual side, the Torchbearer standing guard on the outside of the ship with a pike was just awesome.

What I did not like was the acting was a bit wooden, which I can live with, after all the first half of season one of The Next Generation was pretty awful. I was also not a big fan of this being an origin story for Burnham, I would have preferred we get straight to it. I was also not a big fan of Burnham being Spock’s foster sister, they could have done the whole “Raised by Vulcans” without ever involving Sarek.

Things I got over and so should you; This is more of a sequel to Star Trek: Enterprise then it is a prequel to The Original Series. So there are no 60’s style turtleneck shirts and the sets have a more modern style to them. The Original Series was its core was cheap 60’s Sci-Fi television, building sets based on those designs would be very silly and very bad. Yes, the Klingon make up is different, but the make up is pretty good and helps set this show apart from those that went before it.

So far, so good, I plan to watch the rest of the season, as with everything in my life, my hopes are high and my standards are low.

D&D 5E Play Analysis Part 2

Last time, I discussed scope, in this post I am going to talk about power level. This is a generalized list of the power levels in D&D 5th Edition.

Tier 1 (levels 1-4): Characters are effectively apprentice adventurers. They are learning the features that define them as members of particular classes, including the major choices that flavor their class features as they advance (such as a wizard’s Arcane Tradition or a fighter’s Martial Archetype). The threats they face are relatively minor, usually posing a danger to local farmsteads or villages.

Tier 2 (levels 5-10): Characters come into their own. Many spellcasters gain access to 3rd-level spells at the start of this tier, crossing a new threshold of magical power with spells such as fireball and lightning bolt. At this tier, many weapon-using classes gain the ability to make multiple attacks in one round. These characters have become important, facing dangers that threaten cities and kingdoms.

Tier 3 (levels 11-16): Characters have reached a level of power that sets them high above the ordinary populace and makes them special even among adventurers. At 11th level, many spellcasters gain access to 6th-level spells, some of which create effects previously impossible for player characters to achieve. Other characters gain features that allow them to make more attacks or do more impressive things with those attacks. These mighty adventurers often confront threats to whole regions and continents.

Tier 4 (levels 17-20): Characters achieve the pinnacle of their class features, becoming heroic (or villainous) archetypes in their own right. The fate of the world or even the fundamental order of the multiverse might hang in the balance during their adventures.

Tier 5 (levels 21+): Characters at this level can and do challenge the gods themselves.

In my game I tend towards the first two tiers. My campaigns tend to last roughly a year, which is about enough time to obtain 8th-10th level. Occasionally we peek up to tier 3, I think the highest anyone has gotten is around 16th level. In our last HackMaster campaign, the Doombringers of Cotedela, everyone was above 12th level. The big problem with this was the PC’s were for all intense and purpose the most powerful people in the realm and were among the most powerful in the world, even demi-gods thought twice about screwing with these guys and anyone who did, brought an army with them.

As a DM, I like the first two tiers, while the later two become too difficult to deal with. As a player, I would dearly love to play a Conan or Elric like character, who are just ridiculously powered for their environments. I am going to do write ups of both Elric and Conan in the near future. Elric is definitely in the epic 5th tier, he is easily a 20th level Wizard, and perhaps an 8th level Fighter, he fought gods and won. Conan fits nicely into the high end of tier 4, at 15th level fighter and 5 level Rogue. If I get really ambitious, I may do Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser as well, I think these two are excellent examples of tier 3 characters.

It is important to note, that even at the bottom of tier 2, the characters are among the elite of the world. Even veterans soldiers will generally be 0-Level Men-at-Arms, Sergeants and Captains will rarely be higher than 3rd level and even a Sergeant Major or General will be perhaps 4th level and the Captain of the Kings Royal Guard, might be 5th level. In a world were 90% of the population has 3 hit points, a 5th level anything will be a power to reckon with.

D&D 5E Play Ananlysis

One of the things I like about 5th Edition D&D is how well the rules scale both in power level and in scope of play. Power level is easy to talk about. All the classes are well balanced, none of them out shine any other particularly and this is true at virtually all levels. Scope on the other hand is is a bit more complex to talk about. When we talk about scope, I am talking about complexity of and depth of play.

Basic: At its most basic level, 5th edition is a fairly simple game, the only allowed rules are those presented in the free downloadable basic PDF. Only 4 classes and 4 races are allowed along with a very narrow field of additional background crunch. Characters are easy to roll up and virtually all of depth is provided by the players.

Intermediary: This type of game uses only the core three hardbound books. There are 9 races and 12 classes available, along with several customization options for each class. Character generation is more difficult and the different niches can be filled in interesting ways by a couple of different classes.

High: This game includes, in addition to the core books, the Players Companion, the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Basically everything published by Wizards of the Coast as a D&D supplement is fair game, including Unearthed Arcana articles. The options available to players and DM’s is mind boggling. The first two levels are static and never change, at this level, something new is available every couple of months. The only things not allowed are rules produced by 3rd parties.

Very High: This is where things go nuclear. This type of game can include virtually anything available from the DM’s Guild. All manner of classes and races are available and I doubt any group could or would even want to allow all of it, but it is in the realm of possibility. Niches are almost non existent at this level as virtually any class can fill any niche with just a little customization. DM’s have to be very careful at this level as to not allow anything unbalancing or disruptive to play. Of course at this level, it probably does not matter if something is unbalancing or disruptive, because everyone will have access to things that are unbalancing or disruptive. The problem with this level of play is, it is difficult to move characters from one campaign to another.

My game falls pretty squarely in the Intermediary level, although we do poke into High here and there. I can also see the utility in running a Basic game, in fact I think at least one of my players, Bruce, sticks to the basic form of the game, for all I know, he may not even own a Players Handbook. I think most published adventure modules are designed for the Basic level of play, but the best ones scale to Very High. At the Basic level all the work to make an interesting character is on the player, a fighter is pretty much a fighter when you look at him on paper. It is the other things that define the character; Who he is, is defined by what he did, where he came from, how he got here and why it all matters to him.

Did I say D&D 5E scales well? What I meant is, it scales well upwards. A character made for a campaign at the Basic or Intermediary level can easily play in the other two categories, the reverse is not true, especially at the Very High level. Some of the variant Ranger Classes I have seen are ridiculous in their power, even at the lowest levels and don’t get me started on the various near godlike spell casters that abound. So if anyone wants to play a Werelion Witch Hunter in your game, be very wary, even if he is only 1st level.

Another big ebay score

I got this for $30, I am mostly interested in the box, since I pretty much had everything else. It was surprising though that it was actually in really good condition. Both the rule book and the module still has the glossy sheen on them. Of course the dice are not original, the seller just threw in what he had laying around, which is fine, he was not claiming otherwise. I think whoever owned this, opened it, rolled up a character, lost the dice and then put it on the shelf never to be opened again. The character sheets are still in the box, I am totally going to make Bruce play Zoltar the Dwarf Fighter with an intelligence of 7 and a dexterity of 6, AND there are some giant centipedes in the Tower of the Mad Wizard Zenopus with his name on them.

There and back again

One of the things I have been thinking about for the last couple of months is the complexity of modern roleplaying games. Bruce and I were talking about it not too long ago and he commented, if you need a computer program to make a character, your game is too complex. This of course got us to talking about the “Good Old Days” when it literally took 10 minutes to build a character. Since then I have been thinking about, what is the simplest RPG I could possibly run. I think the answer to that is probably the old Holmes Blue Basic Set published in 1977. Obviously 3rd level would be too big of a limitation, however there are a couple of expansion PDF’s out there that expand the game to 14th level and building on top of that would not be terribly difficult. I rolled this character up a few days ago. I used 4d6, take the best 3 and re-roll the lowest score.

Str: 13 Int: 13 Wis: 8 Dex: 16 Con: 11 Cha: 10
Class-Fighter Race-Human Level-1 Hit Points- 6

Chain Mail and Shield (AC 4)
Battle Axe
Iron Ration x5
Flask of Oil x2

He probably would make a better thief than fighter, but I figure if you do what is not expected you probably get a better character. We use to play for months with characters that looked just like this. No special abilities, no feats, no skills, we pretty much just made shit up as we went along. Of course the real problem would be talking some of our younger players into such a crude game.

Total Party Kill

Total Party Kill (TPK), the bane of every D&D group. A situation where the characters get into a situation they cannot get out of or they make a bad choice and the entire party dies a horrible screaming death.Tonight that is just what happened in my game. This is only the second TPK to occur in this group in the last 15 years. I know it is a bummer when you loose a character, I have lost more than my fair share over the years and a TPK is magnified by the fact that everyone in game is bummed. There is almost always some passive aggressive “I blame the DM!” stuff going on and I totally understand that, because at the end of the day, I could have let them win, although I always point out, I never present PC’s with unwinnable fights, in fact just the opposite, I generally rig fights in their favor.

In this case they made an error in judgement, they assumed that destroying a Dracolich’s phylactery would destroy the Dracolich, when in fact it does not, doing so just keeps it from coming back later. They also assumed the phylactery would be unprotected, all the signs were there, but they charged in anyway. Between the blasting wards and the Dracolich recovering his breath weapon, the already wounded party was overwhelmed.

Fortunately for my players, we had adopted the Protege system from HackMaster, where the players could have a secondary character who is related to the primary PC in someway. The Mentor PC can transfer up to 25% of their experience points to the Protege PC. They can also provide the Proteges with gold, equipment and even magic items. The purpose of this is so if the players character dies, and they do not have access to Raise Dead, the player does not have to start over from 1st level, they have an established Protege who can step in with ease. They all decided to activate their Protege’s, I suspect it will be interesting later down the road when they come back to seek revenge on the Dracolich for the deaths of their Mentors.

Nibiru is now headed safely away from earth

My plan to save the world from Nibiru was successful. Planet X has officially missed Earth by several million kilometers. Which I suppose on a galactic scale is a near miss. However my deflection of the planet was so successful, all it did was cause a couple extra hurricanes and of course the destruction of that farmers barn. The good news is though, Millie his cow seems to have returned to normal after the near miss with the re-entry of the Cadillac. Of course the county building commission still wants to fine me or unregistered construction in my back yard, but it was all worth it. I think this apocalypse diverting gig could become an interesting hobby.

Variant Magic Items in D&D

After playing D&D for 40 years, the stock Acme magic items have become boring. Even a very useful item like a Ring of Spell Storing is almost “Meh!” now. So I was thinking, how to make a nice variant on the Ring of Spell Storing to make it more interesting and fun magic item.

Skull of the Wizards Assistant: Although this skull appears to be some sort of undead wizard, it is actually a golem like construct. The older the construct, the more personality it will have and the very ancient ones will be eccentric and may even appear to be insane, while the very youngest ones may not even talk. However even the very oldest of these constructs will unleash the spells the owner wishes. These skulls can memorize spells from a spellbook or from a scroll, they can hold the equivalent spell slots of their designated Level. For example a skull that was built to act as a 5th level wizard will be able to hold 4 Cantrips, 4 first level, 3 second level and 2 third level spells. Once the level of the skull is set, it will never change. Each of these spells can only be used once and can only be used at the baseline level (no using a higher level slot). Once each spell is used it must be stored again, including Cantrips. Storing spells in the skulls require a long rest.

First and second level skulls are fairly common and easy to make. 10th level and above are considered artifact level magic items and many of these have become homes to Lich’s and Demon’s, or have become sentient in their own right.

Skull of the Wizards Assistant Level 10

Level 1 Skull of the Wizards Assistant


2001 heralded in not just the 21st century, but also my return to gaming. At this point, I had not played in 5 or 6 years. I was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, and I decided to check out what was happening in gaming, when I saw HackMaster, the cover caused a huge rush of nostalgia, I sat down and started reading it on the spot, I think I was there for 20 or 30 minutes before PezWitch found me on the floor wide eyed with glee. In mid 2002, I discovered a program called OpenRPG which allowed people to play RPG’s over the internet, it used chat to communicate, it had a die roller and it had a shared map. It was then that I put together the longest running game group of my life. In the last couple of years we have tried to get away from HackMaster and start playing other more modern and supported games. We have tried the latest version of GURPS and we have been playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for the last several months. While I think we will continue to play D&D 5E for awhile, I definitely see us eventually going back to HM, or perhaps AD&D 1E, with some HM rules added in. One of the big reasons I like the game is it does not take itself seriously, the writers really just wanted everyone to have a good time and oddly, this is a rare thing in modern RPG’s.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

The 90’s were not good for me in the realm of gaming. I did do a bit of it, but not much. I played briefly in 1991 at Ft Gordon, when I lived in the barracks, but the game was very short lived, we did not play more than 4 or 5 times. I also ran a campaign in Germany around 1995, which lasted 6 or 7 months. We would have went longer but our unit ended up deploying to some god forsaken eastern European shit hole. This was really the only time I played AD&D 2E. I wish I had some excellent memories of the game, but I really don’t. Half the players in the game were not really into it, the other half I don’t think really cared for my DM’ing style and I think we did not particularly click as a group. I suspect everyone was just looking for something to kill the boredom. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a terrible game, it was just not a very good one either.


In the spring of 1984, with $500 in my pocket, I packed my 1968 Dodge pickup with all of my worldly possessions and moved to Bozeman Montana. PezWitch had moved there a month earlier and where PezWitch goes, my heart follows. The first year I was there, I did not game much. In 1985 I was introduced to Steve Jackson Games (SJG) GURPS system. That year they released Man To Man, sort of GURPS Lite of its time, and two adventures Orcslayer and Harkwood. Very late in 1985 was when I was finally able to assemble a game group. The next year SJG released the full version of GURPS along with several supplements. While we still played Dungeons & Dragons, for me, the rest of the 80’s was pretty much dominated by GURPS and we played nearly everything they put out; GURPS Fantasy, Autoduel, Horror, Supers, Swashbucklers, Cyberpunk and yes even Ice Age. When we went to GenCon in 1988, I ran a hilarious GURPS game based on the Myth Adventures books. In Bozeman I was primarily the GM of the group, the group lasted 4 years before breaking up. Real life got in the way, people graduated from college, got jobs, got married. It was a great group that had a good run.