Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Return to Mork Borg

The dregs of the Shadow King's prisons made another venture into the warrens under his castle in our Mork Borg Redux. This time exploring a dungeon I created myself. Map, recap and further thoughts on Mork Borg as a system below the fold.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Delving into the Dark Fort: A Visit to MORK BORG

UPDATE: We're playing again Tuesday, March 24 @ 7:30 Eastern. Let me know if you want in.

A few weeks ago, I bought the much discussed Mork Borg. I read it cover to cover and enjoyed drinking in all of its grotty art.

There's lots of reviews online with a variety of viewpoints. I watched Adam Koebel's First Look and I feel like he does a good job of showing what the game is all about. That is to say, over-the-top, ultra-stylized graphically grotesque. Everything in the book reinforces the feeling.

I've seen criticisms of the book pointing out the "inefficiency" of it's layout. I totally disagree.

The book is very efficient with it's words. If all the formatting was stripped away and the book was converted into a text file, it could be printed on a couple sheets of paper. In fact, they have a one page rules reference that has almost everything you need to run it.

Instead of filling the pages with words, the creators filled the pages with evocative art and creative layouts. They prioritize the transmission of tone and attitude, and since they've been careful and concise they have lots of space.

The book is great. If it appeals to you at all, get it.

Last night, I played it for the first time. With everyone in the NYC area locked-down and flattening the curve, I hosted an online game and ran Rotblack Sludge, the short adventure included with the game. Play report below, spoiler filled.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Combat and Initiative

Michael Foreman
When combat begins, roll initiative to determine the order in which combatants act. Ultra-Bastard supports two options for resolving turn-order in combat.

On their turn, each combatant can cast a spell or attack, and move. Other significant actions like climbing a ladder or lighting a lamp could replace the attack. Minor actions like dropping an item do not prevent the combatant from attacking.

Attacks: When a player attacks, they make an ability check, rolling a d20 and adding any applicable modifiers. If the result is equal to or higher than their opponents armor class they hit and roll for damage as indicated by their weapon type, adding any applicable damage modifiers.

Some optional rules like bows and thrown weapons may allow an extra attack.

Casting Spells: Each spell description will detail how to cast it and the resulting effects. For detailed rules on casting spells consult the spell casting rules (in a future post).

Blogger scrambled my formatting. My apologies for the rough reading.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Social Moves

The DM will use moves like the ones below to determine the outcome of important interactions. To use a move, describe what you do. Don't just say "I want to Bargain or Manipulate this Margrave."
The moves happen when certain conditions are met and it should be easy for the DM to see what you are trying to do.

These are not the only moves that exist. Some will be revealed in play. Some are only available in particular environments. Some might only happen once.

Bargain or Manipulate: When you have leverage over someone tell them what you want and roll +Charisma.
 On a 10+
They'll do it for a fair price or reasonable promise, it's up to you whether you pay up.
On a 7 - 9
They'll do it but demand a high price and some concrete assurance right now.
The DM will tell you what it will take to make them do what you want. Do it and they will.

The existence of this move should NOT be interpreted as an invitation to try talking your way into discount supplies or gear. Your DM did not create a fantasy world for you so they could haggle over the price of torches. Don't be a bad person.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Basic Mechanics

Santiago Caruso

When you attempt a challenging action the DM might require a roll to determine if you succeed. There are two main types of rolls: Ability Checks and Moves.

Ability Checks: Roll d20 + relevant ability modifier vs. a target number set by the DM. If your roll is equal to or higher than the number you succeed.
  • If you are playing with the optional Skills rule, you might add a modifier for a relevant skill.
  • An attack roll is an ability check made to hit an enemy in combat. These are often made with additional modifiers. Typically, the target number is your opponents armor class.
Moves Roll 2d6 + relevant modifier (specified in the Move's description). On a roll of 10+ you succeed fully, on 7-9 you succeed but incur a complication, and on a 6 or less you fail and the situation gets worse.
  • These are especially common in social situations and when gathering information.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

A Few Favorites

Definitely watch this.
Cross-linking has always been how I've found D&D stuff, so I wanted to pause for a moment to highlight some rad things made by other people.

  • Frothsof is doing a more thorough blog roundup weekly.
  • Anne over at DIY & Dragons has also done a great best-of post recently.  

I'll continue posting my Ultra-Bastard house-rules soon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Hit Points

Mike Mignola, of course.
In Ultra-Bastard, character hit-points are an abstract measure of one's ability to absorb damage before taking a serious injury.

Characters have a d6 + constitution mod hit points per level. This is often modified by class options, character advancements and adventuring consequences.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Ranged Weapons

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.
Ranged weapons typically add dexterity mod to their to-hit roll. Thrown weapons add the better of strength mod or dexterity mod. 

Light crossbow
Cannot load if you move on your turn
Heavy crossbow
Takes a full turn to load.
Optional: Minimum strength 13. Fires twice per round.
Optional: Minimum strength 15. Fires twice per round.

You cannot load or fire a ranged weapon while engaged in melee. 

Thrown weapons roll the same die for damage as if they were used in melee (but without adding an ability modifier to damage). I.e. a knife does d4, a tomahawk does d6 and a spear does d8.

I don't use strictly defined range limits/modifiers because in practice they almost never come up. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Ultra-Bastard D&D: Armor

Armor Class (AC) is the number that must be hit to successfully land a weapon attack on an enemy. Monster armor class is a target number for ability checks and player AC is a saving throw. When attacking a monster, a player must roll above the enemies AC to hit. When being attacked, a player must roll under their own AC to avoid being hit.

The unarmored default is AC 8.

I do not associate a particular armor class with a particular type of armor. You can have leather or chain armor from +1 though +6.

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!