Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Melee Weapons

Micah Ulrich
Ultra-Bastard has no restrictions on weapon type by character class and there is no "proficiency" in this system. Class options and character advancement might grant bonuses to a particular weapon.

Usually, melee weapons add strength mod to their to-hit roll and damage. Certain light weapon add a dexterity mod to their to-hit roll but don't add an ability mod to damage. Which is which should be obvious. If in doubt ask the DM.

Scalpels,  blackjacks,  daggers
Crowbars,  rapiers, machetes, hatchets
Battleaxes, bastard swords , spears
Zweihanders, halberds, mauls etc.

"Heavy" weapons can be wielded one-handed for d8 damage or two-handed for d10.

Special Rules. These are optional but I like them.

Knives are scary: Knives roll 1d4 for damage. If the die comes up as an even number, it is re-rolled and the result added to the total. Stabbity-stabbity-stab.

Reach advantage: When two creatures first enter into melee, if either has a significantly longer weapon than the other, she attacks first, regardless of initiative.

Empty hands: It's hard to parry a sword with a knife and even harder with your bare hands. If you are armed with only a small weapon, take a -2 penalty to melee defense rolls. Disadvantage for empty hands.  Using a ranged weapon to parry, usually ruins it. Pick up a stick or a chair. Something! Anything!

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Ability Scores

Oscar Chichoni
Ultra-Bastard uses the classic six attributes except Wisdom is substituted by Alertness.
The line between the Intelligence and Wisdom stats has always felt contrived to me. Alertness feels concretely separate and useful.

I intend for every stat to be relevant (albeit not equally) for every character. Low intelligence should be a source of difficulty for fighters and low strength should pose problems for wizards.

My rules still need refinement so what I've laid out below might change.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Introduction

Erik Desmazières
Like many DM's, I have a half-baked version of D&D with rules and mechanics picked from all the editions I've played with sub-systems and house-rules borrowed from any number of other sources. It's not elegant but I like it.

I haven't played it in awhile. My current game is by-the-book 5e (which I mostly like) and that's fine. However, I do have a hankering to drag my stitched-together monster back out, and run it for a few friends this spring.

To that end, I am consolidating the rules (such as they are) into a series of posts here. I'll eventually dump them into a reference doc for my players. I'll include some notes on why I've made the choices I have as I go.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Campaign Q&A

A few days ago Alex posted a list of questions, exploring how peoples' ongoing campaigns were progressing. Here are my answers:

How many sessions have you been playing, more or less? I'd guess about 40

How long have you been running this campaign? About a year and a half. We try to play weekly, but in actuality it works out to a little more than twice a month.

Have you had long breaks? If so, how did you pick it up again? Not really, there have been gaps of about a month around holidays etc. but no longer breaks.

How many people are at the table when you play? How many characters are in the party when you play? We have a consistent group of six players (the DM makes 7). Occasionally, someone won't be able to make it and we'll play with five. A couple of times we've run with four.

How many players have you had in total over that time period, not counting guest appearances? It's been the same six, for the whole run. 

Have you had guest appearances? How did it go? Did you gain regular players that way? We've played one shots with a mix of regulars and other players a couple times but not as part of the main campaign. 

What have the character levels been over time? The party is now at level 5. I guess I'm stingy with leveling.

What classes did the players pick? Did you add new classes over time? I made a bunch of pre-gen characters at the beginning (all my players are new to D&D) and they are still playing them (with one exception). We have a paladin, a rogue, a druid, a cleric, a wizard and our ranger died and was replaced with a barbarian. 

Tell me about some adventures you ran over that time that I might enjoy hearing about? Two  arcs of our campaign stand out for me: 

The initial dungeon crawl began with the party battling skeletons before be-friending the dungeon's necromancer. Then, they proceeded by accepting a commission from said death-wizard to clear Skaven-like ratmen from the tunnel's under his lair. In the rat warrens they uncovered a casket that contained the sleeping-beauty preserved form of the keep's long lost heir. They have allied with him and now seek to return the keep to his control. 

The second memorable arc was the "Swine Dungeon" that I've posted about on this blog. I modeled it after a level from Darkest Dungeon and it was a big success. 

Have the rule changes over that time? Do you maintain a house-rules document? This campaign is by-the-book 5e D&D. 

Has the setting changed over time? Not yet, but I think I need to re-focus it. My sandbox is too big.

How much in-game distance did the party cover, how big is the area they have visited? They haven't been more than a couple days travel from their starting locale. 

Have you used proprietary setting books? Like, could you publish your campaign or would you be in trouble if you did? It's a real mish-mash of original and borrowed elements. There's parts that are original enough to stand alone but as a whole too much is a copy or pastiche of recognizable other things.

I hope that was interesting. I like to get glimpses into how other people run their games and so I'm happy to share a small window into mine. If you have any follow-up questions, fire away!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

State of Play

I've been running my 5e game for a stable group of 6 friends for more than a year now. In the years that I've been playing D&D off and on (since the 4e era), this is the longest a campaign I've DMed has held together.

I am learning a lot. I am also finding that the particular dynamic of this group of players is really different from past groups I've played with and how I personally play.

I'm used to playing with hardcore nerds. Most of my current players have never read a fantasy novel other than Harry Potter, don't like board games and after a year of playing in a weekly game don't know which die to roll when they make an attack.

The two players who are excited about D&D, have bought the books and know what the numbers on their sheet mean, are very much into normie-style, Critical Role inspired adventure paths.

I'm not complaining. I'm lucky to have fantastic friends who will play elf-games with me.

However, my attempt to open up a sandbox and let the players roam has largely fallen flat. My world is too big. There are too many options open. My players don't have character motivations per se and mostly aren't interested in forming them.

It's fine, but I need to do things differently.

My next project is to retreat to a much smaller campaign setting with clearer options and stronger default play loop.

My thoughts so far:

  • A detailed town. A small number of shops with an actual list of goods and prices, rather than my current "It's a general store, what do you want?" approach. 
  • An explicit list of adventure locations, serving as a menu of options where to go. 
  • XP based advancement (my normies will love this) rather than the more ephemeral milestone advancement I've been using. 
The goal would be to have 2-4 options (and only those options) for each session. Players can pick one and I won't depend on them to have a particular motivation.

Any advice and suggestions from other DMs would be greatly appreciated. Let me know if you have thoughts!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A New New Crobuzon

Anne (of DIY & Dragons) recently issued a challenge to build a New Crobuzon following the method   Judd posted ten years ago:

So, to make your own N.C.:
1) Take your three favorite human-ish monsters out of the Monster Manual and they are minority citizens in the city. Detail how they get along, how being in the city has culturally changed them and what niches they fill in the city. How do the powers that rule the city keep them down?
2) Take three really bizarre fucking monsters and figure out how they exist in the nooks and crannies of the city and how the powers that rule the city keep these beasts from doing unacceptable amounts of damage?

The challenge has gotten a bunch of great responses. 
  • New Twain (from Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque)
  • Thaw (from Archons March On)
  • If you try it, let me know and I'll add yours to the list.
Perdido Street station is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels, so I wanted to try my hand:

Three "human-ish" monsters: Tieflings, Golgari and Golems
Three "really bizarre fucking monsters":  Oozes, the Spider and a pool of Shub Niggurath

Thursday, October 17, 2019


Continuing from my previous post, laying out the first broad strokes of a pantheon for my 5e game.

This time we'll look at a couple saints of the Gothic Church.

Albert Lynch, 1903 engraving
The Lady is the most widely venerated saint of the Gothic Church. In the murky eons of the past she descended from the heavens and led the First Great Crusade and established the Gothic Church as the most powerful human institution on the planet.

Famed for her mercy, adherents of the Church now beseech  the Lady for healing, prosperity and protection. Her shrines feed the needy and her paladins defend the weak.

Critics complain that these charities are merely a covering for a ruthless police state bent on global dominance. These critics never live long.

Symbol: A four-pointed white star on a black field
Likes: Chivalry, monuments, but mostly power
Hates: Chaos, disrespect, mutants, dragons and demons of all sorts

Venerated by: Many clerics, paladins and the unwashed masses of the common folk.

Source: I imagine a slightly fascist mash-up of medieval conceptions of Our Lady with Joan of Arc. The Gothic Church takes a lot of cues from Warhammer 40k.