Best Spam Comment Ever

Wow, I normally wouldn't give any sort of attention to a spam comment, but this was too fantastic to pass up (posted to several of my posts as comments and removed, but good job, spammer, your post is getting immortalized here:

Vampires is not at all like in the movies or books. Sure, I understand. You are young you have the whole world open to you. You can be anything that you choose if you apply yourself and try hard to work toward that goal. But being a Vampire is not what it seems like. It’s a life full of good, and amazing things. We are as human as you are.. It’s not what you are that counts, But how you choose to be. Do you want a life full of interesting things? Do you want to have power and influence over others? To be charming and desirable? To have wealth, health, and longevity? contact the Vampires Lord on his Email: 

Removing Support from Zak Smith

[UPDATE February 14th, 2019: Zak has issued a statement responding here. I am not convinced to change my position below, but it introduces some doubt. I may have further thoughts as more information comes out, but I encourage you to read and evaluate it for yourself.
UPDATE February 16th 2019: I reworded the bit about what it would take to change my stance to include adequate evidence that the claims were false, rather than only saying evidence of growth on Zak's part would do it.]

Well, shit.

As anyone reading this has likely already seen, Zak Smith/Sabbath's longtime girlfriend Mandy Morbid has posted that Zak has done some rather awful stuff to her and others. I came across it as re-shared (with permission) over on Dungeons & Donuts by Kiel Chenier.

I then read Patrick Stuart's response to the news here on False Machine.

Here's why I have chosen to believe these claims:

  • Two folks who I have had enough online interaction with to find sane and credible are saying their claims are consistent
  • The claims are to specific instances and patterns of behavior by an individual, rather than relying on rhetorical dirty tricks, like saying an unwillingness to admit to guilt is evidence of guilt, or arguing based on group membership rather than individual action
  • I cannot discern any gain or motivation for lying about these claims, except perhaps to hurt Zak to "get back" for hurt done, but see above for why I don't think that's the case

To change my mind, I'd need to be presented with some pretty damn compelling counter-evidence that goes beyond the usual standards of internet-proof (something like a video of someone involved saying "I made that shit up" or "Let's take down Zak whatever the cost" or the findings of a court of law).

This news makes me rather sad. I have admired Zak's work and his critical judgement and explanation of works of art for a long time now. He introduced me via his blog and Google+ to most of my favorite RPG creators and helped provide the impetus for a number of awesome collaborations. I still think "DIY" is a better rallying ethic than "Old School" (but continue to use "OSR" as a more helpful, if vague, label for the sort of D&D and sort of blogs I find most interesting). I have found his assertions about the Socratic method, the importance of truth, and the need to have and enforce standards in creative communities to be helpful in shaping my own thinking, even when I have disagreed with parts. Unfortunately, now he gets to help me by providing another example of a creative person who makes great stuff but seems to be personally reprehensible, leaving all of us to figure out how to make use (or not) of their work.

Until and unless I am presented with credible evidence of major personal development and change on Zak's behalf [NEW 2/16/19: or evidence of the sort mentioned above that the claims are baseless], I will take the following actions:

  • I will not direct future attention or money to Zak, as the personality and behavioral problems described by Mandy and Patrick and others are pervasive and poisonous enough to make all of his discourse suspect, and I wish to help provide consequences for such behavior - concretely, this means I'm removing him from my blog roll, unsubscribing from his Patreon, and will not buy things in a way that will benefit him
  • As for gaming works already bought and blog posts already read, I will continue to use and enjoy them, but with perhaps a more critical eye to any implicit beliefs that may be in them
  • As I go over any elements of my own thinking and view of the world, if it comes up that it was influenced by Zak, I'll have to re-evaluate with a more critical eye - for example, at the moment I still believe in the value of a commitment to truth over "niceness", and the socratic method as a way of finding truth, but I'm re-thinking some of the more abrasive implementations of it that Zak had convinced me might be worthwhile, if painful
  • I will not be removing my past posts on Zak's material here on the blog, including reviews and the "Vornheiming Middenheim" series, but I will post a link to this post at the top of them to give anyone encountering him for the first time the chance to decide for themselves how to approach his work (or not)
  • On my old post publicly supporting him against negative claims, I have added a more explicit retraction, but I am leaving it on the site in the interest of transparency on what I have believed in the past

Fellhold Fiend Race, Class, and Magic

Eric Koch

Man, who doesn't like demons? They are awesome, and from the moment I started the Fellhold reboot, I knew they'd play a big role. Please find below Fiends as a Race, Fiends as a Class, and Fiendish Magic. But first, a quick intro on just what a Fiend is in Fellhold.

Fiends in Fellhold

As I said in this post, fiends in Fellhold were born when the gods were killed and their blood rained down on the dumb things of the earth. As such, fiends are somewhat like nature spirits or Kami, bound to plants, or animals, or inanimate objects. On the other hand, because they were born out of an act of sorcerous malice, they are twisted and malicious, so they are also somewhat like Chaos Demons. Finally, because they come from divine blood, they have an inborn need for lawfulness and keeping agreements along with a yearning for the true life denied them, and so they are also somewhat like Christian Devils. 

So, basically they're a bunch of assholes. Guess what the most popular PC race is in my home campaign so far?

Eric Koch

Fiends as a Race

Fellhold uses split race and class. If you use a race-as-class game, I would recommend smashing this together with the Fiend class below, as the class assumes the restrictions and benefits of this race.

Fiends are the warped and wicked remnants of the world’s nature spirits. They vary greatly in both power and form from minor animalistic sprites of rocks and saplings to mighty humanoid powers worshiped as gods. A player character fiend is far more powerful than many of these minor beings, but is still pretty far down the ladder. Fiends thrive on souls and worship, and most turn all of their doing towards those goals.

Every fiend must have a stead, a place or thing that it is bound to. The fiend cannot move farther away from it than its level in miles (or level in districts, if more useful). Steads can be carried with fiends of the PC’s size and power, but if a  stead is destroyed, the fiend truly dies. If otherwise killed, the fiend will reform at its stead in 1d4 urbancrawl turns (weeks). If a fiend swears an oath or signs a contract, it cannot willingly break that deal (but of course, the word of the deal, not necessarily the spirit). If the fiend involuntarily breaks a deal or oath, it takes D6xLevel damage. Fiends can also be summoned, compelled, and bound as NPC fiends. Fiends must have a Use Name, Greater Name, and True Name. 

Eric Koch

Fiends as a Class

This one was a lot of fun to design - it was one of the first ideas I had for the reboot, but getting it to work right took a long time and exposure to some cool new ideas. This class is mostly derivative, smashing together Mateo's Godling, Skerples's Sorcerer and Witch Coven, and Joseph Manola's/Skerples's Extras/Many Goblins. I will say that I'm pretty pleased with how the Soul Hoarder class feature worked out, though - that one's mine, as is the Possess feature, though that's certainly based on other stuff I've seen before. 

This class is maybe super powerful? I haven't had a chance to playtest it yet, but I suspect that the starting crappiness combined with the hefty strain dice cost will keep there from being too many shenanigans. See the Fiendish magic section below for more on the buying souls thing.

Also note that my starting equipment is extremely stingy, because I do random equipment by class here.

"Base Class" below is for those folks who don't use the GLOG. Just take that class for experience, saves, gear restrictions, and so forth, and then apply these powers at levels that seem appropriate.

Fiend Class
Fiends as a class are tiny beings that wish to grow their power by gathering souls and worshippers.

Prime Ability: Soul Hoarder
Per Template: +1 Casting Die
Starting Equipment: Stead
A Word
B Ghost Talk, Possess
C Fools
D Second Word

You cannot take templates in the Fiend Class unless your first template is “Fiend”.
You cannot take souls by force or steal them, you must buy all souls and bits thereof by coming to an agreement, and as a Fiend, you are bound to follow that deal to the letter.

You can turn insubstantial at will (can only interact with the physical world through sense and speaking).
You can disappear and reform at your Stead in 1d3 rounds at will.
You can grow or shrink to any size from that of a mouse to your maximum (1 Size up from Tiny per 6 Con, rounded down)

Soul Hoarder
You begin play Tiny (~2’ tall) and barely substantial, and your Strength, Dexterity, and constitution begin at 1 (roll other stats normally). You have disadvantage on any physical attacks or other rolls against larger foes. You can improve your stats by buying soul bits. You lose any benefits if you lose the associated soul bits. 

You have power over one random fiendish word and can cast fiendish spells using it. See Fiendish Magic in the Magic section.

Ghost Talk
You can talk to ghosts at will, but not any other kind dead that you wouldn’t normally be able to speak with. Most ghosts are somewhat faded or mad, and might not have much useful to say, but some might be willing to make deals. Note that ghosts are made up of soul bits.

You can strive to take over living beings. To do so, choose a number of casting dice to roll. Add [SUM] to your Wisdom and make an opposed Wisdom save (both sides roll, highest roll that still passes wins). Take Strain Dice as usual. You are now in control for a number of rounds equal to your level. Retest at the end of each interval. Three failed rolls in a row change the duration to “Concentrate".  When you leave the body you are possessing, you reappear at your stead. You may not take the body further from your stead than you can normally go.
You gain a gaggle of worshippers convinced that you will grant them power, wealth, fame, and so forth in exchange for their devotion. They are not skilled, clever, or hardy, but they are very loyal. You may whisper in their minds at any time. The number seems to vary from time to time and place to place, and they stay together as a group, taking up roughly 20’x20’.  If you must know the precise number, there are 1d12+6, but this will vary every time you check. They will strongly prefer to remain within 10’ of you, and their ability to follow complex instructions decreases dramatically if you are not within sight. 

When they are within 10’ of you, any ranged attacks targeting you will hit them instead. Treat all fools as one hireling, with a shared pool of HP at one HD less than you and one action per round. When they lose HP, that number of fools die in a background sort of way. Area of effect spells only affect them once. If reduced to zero HP, they lay on the ground moaning and wounded, and if reduced below zero HP, they die in a tragicomic fashion. New fools will be drawn to you in 1d3 weeks. 

Fools cannot be trusted with any gear, and so have no gear slots and will never fight with anything more than shivs and bites and scratches (1d6, Close).

If put to work, Fools count as 10 workers for the first hour, 5 for the next, and give up after that without specific threats, promises, or gifts.

Fools may perform a ritual to call on your power. It takes two full rounds (automatically act last in second round) of chanting and waving their arms about and grants 1 Casting Die toward a use of your Word. You may not invest further casting dice in this spell, but you also take no Strain Dice.

Second Word
You gain a second Word that you use just like your first, or even put them together for new effects. 

  1. Air
  2. Beasts
  3. Bone
  4. Craft
  5. Dark
  6. Death
  7. Earth
  8. Envy
  9. Fire
  10. Flesh
  11. Greed
  12. Hunger
  13. Hiding
  14. Lies
  15. Lore
  16. Luck
  17. Lust
  18. Might
  19. Pride
  20. Riches
  21. Rot
  22. Secrets
  23. Sickness
  24. Sloth
  25. Strength
  26. Strife
  27. Tinker
  28. Water
  29. Wood
  30. Wrath
1. Gain 1 Strain Die
2. Take 1d6 damage
3. Effect targets random person or thing
4. Lose 1 Casting Die
5. Insubstantial 1d6 rounds (can’t interact with physical world, except to sense and speak)
6. Lose your physical form. Reform at your stead in 1d3 hours

1. Unstable: lose your physical form. Reform at your stead in 1d3 hours.
2. Unreal: you are insubstantial for 3 days. Cannot interact with the physical world at all except to sense and speak. 
3. Rejected by the World: reality no longer allows your intrusion, your stead is a mundane item, and you are trapped in the ghost world. 

Elf. (Magic-User if Elf is not a class).

Eric Koch

Fiendish Magic

As with the rest of this stuff, this magic system is based on Arnold's GLOG stuff, but with a heavy influence from Skerples's sorcerer. I also checked out Godbound by Kevin Crawford, but other than some inspiration on which words to use, I ended up not using much of that system - it's neat, but I think it works better in a game where that's the whole point, rather than one class's powers. 

I haven't run this yet, so I'm not sure how creative players will be or how much of a pain in the ass it will be to GM. Half the reason fiends work this way is that I'm too lazy to write spell lists if I can avoid it.

Oh, and see above for Word List, Mishaps, and Dooms.

Fiendish Magic
Fiends are made of the stuff of magic, and so can wield powers over a broad range of things related to the kind of magic they’re made of. As such, they have open-ended powers related to a word (or two for higher level fiends). 

Using Words
You are a being with power over one random word from the list below, which will be clearly reflected in your nature. When you wish to shape the world through your word, describe to the GM what you wish to do, who will give you a TN. Roll a number of casting dice of your choice and compare [SUM] to the TN along with your full pool of Strain Dice (see below). The GM will describe what has actually happened. 

Setting Target Numbers and assigning Strain Dice are up to the GM, but the below guidelines might prove useful.

Easy: 3
Challenging: 7
Hard: 10
Mind-Blowing: 14

Damage: [SUM] + [DICE]
Effect Permanent: Requires 4 CD

Each Use of Power: +1 SD
More Targets: +1 SD
Area the size of a wagon: +1 SD
Area the size of an apartment: +2 SD
Area the size of a building: +3 SD
Effect lasts [DICE] minutes: +1 SD
Effect lasts [DICE] hours: +1 SD
Effect lasts [DICE] days: +1 SD
Create Something Tangible: +1 SD
Each Step of Size of Thing Created Above Tiny: +1 SD

Unlike other spellcasters, Fiends never exhaust their Casting Dice. Instead, every time they make a casting roll, they add a number of Strain Dice to their dice pool determined by the use. Use a different color of dice. Whenever the Fiend casts, they must roll all Strain dice. They do not count for [SUM] or [DICE], but do count for doubles or triples to determine mishaps and Dooms. Strain dice disappear at the witching hour or can be removed through rituals performed by the Fiend’s worshippers. 

A fiend’s Fools can perform rituals to grant the fiend more power when casting a single spell or to remove strain dice. Rituals last a number of hours equal to the total number of casting dice to be used or Strain Dice to be removed. If used to cast a spell, the ritual grants one additional casting die, to a maximum number of dice equal to the Fiend’s level (maximum of five casting dice ever). If used to remove Strain Dice, it removes a number equal to the number of hours spent, to a maximum of the Fiend’s level.

A person may sell one or more of their Soul Bits, either while living, or upon their death. Fiends may buy souls in order to gain specific effects. Anyone else buying a soul or a soul bit simply has the right to do as they please with that bit.

Soul BitEffect of SellingEffect of Buying for Fiend
BodyYour body is not yours. You have not control over it. Provision for where the rest of your soul goes is up to the deal.+1 Str, Max 18
SeemingYou are vague and hard to pin down. No one who isn’t very close to you will remember you. Advantage on Stealth Checks, but disadvantage on Reaction Rolls and any others where being a recognizable person matters+1 Dex, Max 18
BreathYour body is a lifeless husk. Feel no pain, but you cannot regain HP or heal wounds.+1 Con, Max 18. Can grow one size larger per 6 Con, rounded down 
WillLose the ability to make decisions. You must be given explicit instructions to do everything (get out of bed, eat, walk, et cetera) and you always act last in Initiative.+1 Wis, Max 18
MindYou become nearly mindless, unable to do anything but follow extremely simple commands (equivalent to what a zombie or skeleton can do)+1 Int, Max 18
WodeYou are utterly flat and dead-eyed. Fail all reaction rolls, lose the ability to have any kind of followers or hirelings. Cannot create anything new.+1 Cha, Max 18
LuckBad things just happen to you. Disadvantage on all rolls. Expand Fumble Range to 1-4. Once a day, gain advantage on a roll.
FetchLose the spirit of your kin that watches over you and allows you to act on the ghost world. Automatically fail all saves against attacks. Lose all casting dice, cannot gain more.Once per day, remove a Strain Die from your pool

Managing a Living World with Flexible Reaction Rolls

Eric Koch
The title, and indeed, most of this post, are based on John Bell's excellent post, Managing a Living World Using Rumor Tables. Below, I present an idea to combine the thoughts in that post with my recent post on Flexible Reaction Rolls to get a dynamic way to manage things offscreen that the PCs may interact with.

I hate to be a cliche, but this idea literally came to me in the shower, though only in the form of "how might I smash together Flexible Reaction Rolls and John's method of using reaction rolls to change rumors?" I then went back to current draft of how to handle jobs the PCs have been offered but passed up and saw a note to consider treating them like Usage Dice. I then had to noodle a bit on what each die would represent, and the below is what I came up with. All this might be way too fiddly, as I haven't had a chance to try it out in play yet.

Status of Unattended Jobs or Rumors

When to Check
As with all rolls, this is at the GM's discretion, but some options include:
  • Every week for especially big/important jobs or rumors, or those of PC's home district
  • Whenever a new rumor is picked up by the PCs, update the others
  • When specifically asked by the PCs ("Hey, what's up with that job the fence offered us?")
  • When you need ideas for adventure hooks or complications
What to Roll
Each rumor or job will have a "source die" and a "world die". The source die represents whatever started the rumor or the person offering the job. The world die is for how it's interacting with everyone else. In the case of a job, it will likely reflect those trying to complete it, whereas with a rumor it will most often represent the scope and fervor with which it is spread. 

The default for each die is a d6, but it may be any die along the usual die chain for reaction rolls (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12). Whichever dice are selected, note them separately next to the rumor (Such as "d4, d6" to indicate a rumor with a d4 source and a d6 world die).

Checking Status
For any rumor which you are checking, take out dice matching your source and world dice. If the same size, use two different colors and note which is which. Roll the dice and interpret using the same framework as a reaction roll, with lower pointing towards failure, falsehood, or complications, and higher pointing to success, resolution, or more truth. You can use the below table as a guide, but use your judgment based on the particular rumor or job. Change the rumor in your notes appropriately.

2 Resolved negatively Failed, unavailable
3-5 More false/negative information Setbacks on job
6-8 No change No change
9-11 More positive information Progress on job
12+ Resolved positively Completed successfully 

Die Size Changes
If either die comes up a maximum result, step it up to the next die size for future rolls. If either die comes up a "1" step it down one size for future rolls. Update the dice in your notes for the rumor.

Losing a Die
If either die comes up a "1" on a d4, that die is removed. This will require some interpretation, and you should use the total of the roll to color that interpretation, but in the case of a source die, it will likely mean that either the true thing that inspired the rumor is resolved or that the rumor has been found to be totally false. For a job, the source die disappearing likely means that the person or group offering the job is no longer able or willing to pay for it.

For the world die, in the case of rumors, a lost die might mean that no one is talking about it anymore, or that the exaggeration around the core of truth has been discovered. For jobs, it likely means something has happened to someone or some group that tried to accomplish the job, but it might also mean that the situation has changed to make the job no longer workable (a time window has passed, better guards have been put in, and so forth). 

Use your judgment on whether the rumor or job should persist in some new form or be replaced in this case - again, use the total result of the roll to get some idea.

Eric Koch


"Crabman Great House Mud, known for its great artistic sensitivity and wisdom, has slipped over the line into depravity and madness."

Source Die Represents: The intensity of the nugget of truth at the core of the rumor. In this case, one spawning has indeed come out off, but the rest of the house is trying to keep its members contained (some truth, but not as big a deal as the rumor says - d6)
World Die Represents: How much does the public care about this rumor (juicy enough to spread, not immediate enough to really grab you - d6)

2: A full spawning of insane crabmen murdered several of their family members and escaped, hiding somewhere in the city, preying on their neighbors
3-5: House Mud is buying an unusually high number of thralls, at an alarming rate. What are they doing with them?
6-8: Nothing changes
9-11: House Mud has been quietly locking up some of their members for unnatural tastes
12+: The head spawning of House Mud completely wiped out the most recent spawning and has been quietly paying weregild to local families

Biblook, a passionate crabman Sage of Soul Economics, is hilariously out of fashion on account of his insistence of affecting the look, mannerisms, and worldview of the Witch Kings of old, wants the humiliation of his mother, whom he accuses of plagiarism, and will in return grant whoever does so safe haven secured through his considerable wealth.
Source Die Represents: Biblook's wealth, power, influence, and general ability to motivate something to get done (quite a lot, he's a well paid consultant by Soul Banks and Witch Kings - d8)
World Die Represents: How much anyone else cares about his petty family/academic squabble and helping to resolve it (not much - d4)

2: Biblook's mother conclusively proves that her son's work is entirely derivative of hers, major blow to prestige and livelihood
3-5: All of Biblook's charges have brought extra scrutiny on his own materials, other sages are beginning to question their theoretical validity
6-8: Nothing changes
9-11: Biblook's mother starts a smear campaign of her own, but it's received as obviously desperate and in poor taste
12+: Biblook's mother issues a public apology for her false claims, theories discredited, retires in disgrace

Design Notes & Considerations

So, as I mentioned above, this might be far too fiddly. The good news is that I think it ought to "fail gracefully" like Apocalypse World - if you ditch the usage dice, you lose out on the dynamic of things happening to the actors involved, but you still have different chances for success or failure. If you skip the different die sizes, you miss out on differentiating between rumors/jobs chances to resolve, but you still have a way to make living modifications. And if you don't do any of it, you still have rumors to supply flavor and adventure hooks.

There are a lot of judgment calls to make here, but I hope that the rolls provide enough structure to the improvisation to keep things interesting.

GLOG Instant Character Generator

I made a character generator for Arnold's excellent GLOG. I'm pretty jazzed about it. To use, simply set the toggles at the top to any inputs you want specified (or leave them random) and it'll spit out a fully fledged character. Goes from levels 1 to 20. If you want to set Level, Class, or anything else (instead of random), you'll need to make a copy on your own Drive or download it. Check it out.

(Or open in its own tab here)

  • Races are Arnold's and come from here and here.
  • Classes are also Arnold's and come from here and here
  • Random items are also also Arnold's and comes from here.
  • Names, some of the looks, and some of the quirks are from Maze Rats by Ben Milton
  • Basic methodology from Brendan S here

How to Modify for Your Own Nefarious Purposes

First, Learn the Basics
1. Read Brendan's explanation of the underlying method here

Next, Create Your Own Copy to Work In
1. Either download the sheet as an Exel file or else Make a Copy on your own Drive so that you can edit it

If You Modify An Existing Table
Make sure you double check that the named range it's a part of covers your changed entries and no empty space. All named ranges correspond to the title at the top of the range (except with real spaces instead of underscores)

If You Want to Add an Entirely New Table
Make some space for it on the "Character" tab, then follow Brendan's instructions above

If You Want to Add a New Race
1. Create a new column
2. Use the top row to label it "[NAME] Race Template"
3. Put all racial information in cell immediately below that
4. Click on cell, then click the "Data" menu and select "Named Ranges"
5. Select "Add a Range", title it "[NAME]_Race_Template" - for example "Ratman_Race_Template"
6. Add the name of the race to the "Races" table. Make sure any spaces are underscores "_" - example: "Iron_Ghost_Men"
7. Check to make sure the "Races" named range includes your new name, modify it to include if needed
8. If the race modifies any stats (attributes, move, stealth, et cetera), you'll have to modify the appropriate stat output to look for that race name in "Race_Output" with a conditional

If You Want to Add a New Class
1. Create a new column
2. Use the top cell to label it "[Name] Class Templates"
3. In first through fourth cell, put Templates A, B, C, D for that class. I recommend you just put the names of the abilities, not a full explanation
4. In the fifth cell, put the class's Prime Ability
5. In the sixth cell, put the class's Starting Equipment
6. In the seventh cell, if the class allows for spellcasting, put "TRUE"
7. Highlight the cells you just filled and click on "Add a Range" (Data>Named Ranges) and name it "[NAME]_Class_Templates" - note the plural (for example "Fighter_Class_Templates")
8. Add the class name to the Classes table, being sure to use underscores for any spaces, then check to make sure the "Classes" named range covers it
9. Under these seven cells, create a label for "[Class Name] Skills"
10. On the three rows below, write in the three background skill options for this class to begin with
11. Name the three skill range "[Class Name]_Skills"

If You Add a Spellcaster and Want to Add Their Spells
1. Create a new column
2. Label it "[Class Name] Spells"
3. Add spells in cells 1-14
4. Select list of spells and "Add a Range" (Data>Named Ranges), naming it "[Class Name]_Spell_List"

Notes and Assumptions

  • Your "primary" class is assumed to the one you have the most templates in, and in the case of a tie, the one you had first
  • "Spells" are assumed to accumulate at one per level, and I have not been able to figure out how to prevent duplicates
  • This "effective levels" nonsense was my stop-gap way of making sure that multi-class spellcasters don't have oodles and oodles of spells - it multiplies your level times the number of templates out of 4 you have in that class, and then assumes you have that many levels worth of spells from the template
  • Duplicate spells are quite possible - feel free to either re-roll or assume duplicates are wasted
  • No matter the level, every character starts with first level gear - you might want to adjust if you're creating higher level characters
  • Characters are assumed to have the minimum experience for the level selected
  • Characters get 3 skills at level 1 and then up to their level in random skills at a random rank capped by level - if any skill comes up a "0", then no further skills are known
  • In Class Templates, rows 1-4 are what you get for each level of a class you take, Row 5 is the Prime Ability for that class, and Row 6 is the class's starting equipment, Row 7 specifies whether it's a spellcasting class
  • This does not yet calculate encumbrance or assign gear to slots, sorry
  • The other pain in the ass thing to modify will be the stats that are upgraded by different class templates (Movement, Initiative, Stealth, HP, Save) - removing classes won't hurt the calculations, but if you add new classes that modify stats, you'll have to do that manually. I could have done a stat line modification per template, but there werent enough to make it seem worthwhile, and doing the "every two templates" thing would have been challenging
  • I went ahead and made Dog a race template and removed it from the first level template for "Really Good Dog" and made "Really Good Dog" the only playable class for that race. This does currently have the effect of making Really Good Dog slightly more common than it would be if it was random among the classes (more classes than races), which I'm fine with. If you don't want to play a dog, just reroll. Also, if you specify a class but go for a random Race, you may end up with "Really Good Dog" instead of your specified class
  • Most classes don't have a prime ability because that's something Arnold came up with after putting out the Martial classes. I thought about inventing my own, but decided to go "by the book" for now
  • The different wizards can only get spells 1-6 at level 1, 1-8 at level 2, 1-10 at level 3, and 1-12 at level 4 and beyond. I arbitrarily decided that level 19 and 20 characters have a shot at the Legendary spells (13 and 14)

Creative Problem Solving Types in D&D

Basadur Problem Solving Types

[UPDATE 1/6/21: I no longer support spending money on products that benefit Zak S, or giving him positive attention and connection. The short version is that I find credible claims that he has engaged in unacceptable behavior and not made up for it. For more detail, see here for the core of the accusations. To get Zak's side of things, he maintains this separate blog from his main one to post updates on the legal status of these complaints. 
Please consider these claims and make your own decision on their validity, and the implications thereof, before either supporting or shunning Zak.]

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of the frameworks, methodologies, and concepts that come out of the business world are shallow nonsense. Anytime I hear the word "synergy", I can't help but hear in my head SYNERGY. That being said, I'd like to share one that I believe provides a useful model for identifying and thinking about how different folks approach the creative process. Below, I've gone through and applied that to RPGs for both GMs/Designers and for players. As always, questions and comments are most welcome.

Brief Overview of the Basadur Applied Creativity Framework

The Basadur Applied Creativity Framework was developed by Dr. Min Basadur and details both an eight-step creative problem solving process and four problem-solving preference types. We're going to be talking about the problem-solving types today, but if you find this interesting, I urge you to check out the website to learn more. One of the great things about this framework, and one that makes it especially relevant to RPGs, is that it focuses on group problem solving, where many "how to be creative" approaches look only at individual creativity. 

The Framework for the Profiles

First off, a caveat: these profiles are not "personality types", none of them is better than the others, and no one is confined to only one. Everyone can and does use each of the four types, but almost everybody has a strong preference for one type and finds that piece of problem-solving/creativity easier than others.

This model is built on two axes: Generate-Evaluate and Action-Knowledge. "Generate" refers to folks' preference for coming up with ideas - think "brainstorming". "Evaluate" refers to looking at ideas and judging them against criteria - think looking at the long list of things brainstormed and picking the good ones. "Action" describes a preference for doing something like writing, manipulating, experimenting, moving to learn about the challenge, where "Knowledge" refers to a preference for research, abstract thinking, and analysis. Put the two together and folks fall into one of the quadrants pictured above and described below.

Applying the Profiles to RPGs

One benefit this approach has compared to some "player types" stuff is that it's empirically backed. Another is that it profitably suggests how the types can work together to make something better together. Zak and others have already pointed out how great RPGs can be for allowing multiple levels of engagement, but this framework goes in a slightly different direction by talking not about engagement per-se, but rather what pieces of problems are rather to make certain folks sit up and take notice. Each of the profiles is listed with what they find easy/enjoyable, along with some stuff that they might find challenging. I'll note again that you can train yourself to get over these challenges.

As a note, my analysis here assumes a fairly OSR-ish "challenge-based" approach to play, where actual problem-solving will be a big part of the game. For games with a more narrative/emotional bent, your mileage may vary. 

Also, I've included some names and links to folks who I think might lean towards these styles, but this may vary for the same person when they're a player versus a GM, and they are based on nothing but my own reading blogs, play reports, and occasional shared online sessions. Pure speculation on my part. Note especially that any of the challenges given for the profiles aren't being imputed to the examples I name.

Generators are the people who looked at 1d100 tables and asked "why not 1d1000?" Having a preference for Action and Generation (surprise), these folks like to come up with any and every possible idea related to the matter at hand. Or maybe not related. Their problem is not coming up with stuff, it's stopping.

As a GM/Designer/Blogger: Astounding new material, often with a lot of variation. Stuff where you ask yourself "how did they come up with that?" Perhaps some trouble following through with getting those astounding ideas into a finished form because they found something else new and awesome that they had to get out of their head.

As a Player: A million schemes. "Oh wait, but we could also. . ." Delights in the openness and possibility of a whole imaginary world where they could try something. Deeply torn between going to Voivoidja, Yoon-Suin, or the Swordfish Isles. Once they get there, will have an endless font of ways to engage with the place. Might have some trouble settling on just one, and might respond to attempts by the rest of the group to settle on something and get on with it with "oh, wait, but what about [something totally new to consider]."

Some Folks I Suspect Might Lean This Way: Tom Fitzgerald, Ben L., Scrap Princess

Preferring to generate ideas through analytical thought and abstract thinking, conceptualizers tend to enjoy taking one hazily defined thought and then dig into it and find every nook and cranny of that idea. "What if the dungeon really did have a functioning ecology?" "What would a society look like where everyone was psychic?" These folks often have whiteboards or other ways to easily visualize/mind-map stuff always at hand.

As a GM/Designer/Blogger: Deeply interesting stuff that starts from a fairly simple premise. Finding the bizarro logic that underlies something seemingly gonzo. Picking something they know they like and figuring out what makes it tick. Scenarios that present lots of open-ended challenge just from taking the implications of something seriously.

As a Player: Once a scheme/course of action has been picked, figuring out all of the angles, every contingency that might work. Thinking about all the ways we might break into the castle to get to the archpriest. Asking the GM about the logic that must be behind the detail they were given. May have some tendency toward completionism, wanting to see every room, find every secret, learn every nuance. Might have some trouble looking at the effectiveness of potential plans.

Some Folks I Suspect Might Lean This Way: Zak S. (with strong Generator leanings?), Patrick Stuart (as a Blogger/Designer), Arnold Kemp, David McGrogan

Here we move over from the "generator" types to the "evaluator" types. Optimizers find it much easier to look at an existing set of ideas/thoughts/evidence and group them, rank them, or cut them. Editors rather than writers. Like conceptualizers, they prefer to work with research and abstract thinking, but instead of figuring out every nuance of a certain concept, they want to find the best way to do it.

As a GM/Designer/Blogger: Likely a lot of thoughtful, nuanced discussion on mechanics, as those are easy to test and tweak and make "better." Might take published content and carefully curate/hack it to fit into their conceptually-consistent world. Possibly write insightful and detailed reviews, with lots of material on how it could have been better. Might find it challenging to come up with mind-blowingly original stuff from scratch. Might get lost trying to make something perfect before putting it into their game/getting it published.

As a Player: Will lovingly plan the heist. When the Generator says we could kidnap the archpriest, rip off the brewers' guild, sail to the new world, or become famous artists, and the Conceptualizer finds 10 different ways into the archpriest's castle, the Optimizer looks at them and goes "let's do this one. And here's how. We know the guards are on this schedule, the lighting is like this. . ." Will come up with and share the best tactics against certain foes with the party. Will find the most lucrative ways to spend treasure. Might tend toward min/maxing. Might get frustrated with non-"optimal" decisions by fellow adventurers.

Some Folks I Suspect Might Lean This Way: Jason Alexander, Brendan S, Myself, Gus L(?), Anne Hunter (but maybe more conceptualizer?)

Finally, we have the people that wonder why can't we just get the damn thing done. Implementers prefer to evaluate by way of more tangible action - try it, see what happens, adjust, try it again. Doers. Often the driving force that keeps the other three types from getting lost in their particular preference.

As a GM/Designer/Blogger: Shut up and let's play! Might make heavy use of published modules or settings. Might not worry too much about the aesthetic perfection or coherency of their world and more about but does it affect play? Will build tools ruthlessly whittled down to what is needed at the table. More likely to create interesting content based on giving the players buttons to push than to flesh out the fictional world in great detail. Might find it challenging to make a rich, vivid setting. Might not give some players the chance to plan and scheme deeply that they're looking for.

(There might not be that many Implementer bloggers, as blogging is inherently kind of navel-gazey).

As a Player: "Fuck this, I stab the guy." "I pull the lever." "Great, yeah, what was the last thing you said? The tomb? Yeah, let's go rob that, it'll be awesome." This style of play can sometimes get a bad rap, but it makes the game happen. In a world of buttons to push, levers to pull, and structures to topple, the Implementer player will make the chaos that gives all the other types interesting situations to think about and chew on. Likely less concerned with succeeding the best way as with getting to the challenge so we can beat it. Might cause some heartburn to other problem-solving types by mucking up their assumptions. Might bite off more than they or the party can chew.

Some Folks I Suspect Might Lean This Way: Patrick Young, Patrick Stuart (as a player), Dunkey Halton(?), Jeff Rients (?)

Putting It All Together

The beauty of this framework is that to most effectively solve problems, you need to do all of the things that the different types find easy/enjoyable. Some folks find it easier to switch between one mode and another, but if you have a group where different people excel at different parts of the problem-solving process, and they know about it,  you can start consciously taking advantage of it: "Right then, Alice [Generator] will come up with ten possible schemes, Bob [Conceptualizer] will then flesh out the details on what we all think the top 3 are, Carolyn [Optimizer] will take the one we pick out of those and streamline it, and Daryl [Implementer] will kick our asses into gear with getting it done." There's more to the problem-solving method Applied Creativity teaches, but I can write about that another time if anybody's interested.

"The Sages Say" Monster Generator

Ching Yeh

I made a thing that makes monsters. I'm terribly pleased with it right now, but let me know what you think. If the embed below is giving you weird formatting (on a phone or tablet, say), or if you just want to mess with it, check out the sheet here.

I used Brendan's excellent methodology to build it in Google Sheets. Every time you refresh this page, you should get a new result. If you open it up as a sheet, you'll get a new result whenever you refresh the page. If you make a copy for yourself that you can edit, you'll get a new result whenever you make a change.

Aaron Horkey

How I Got Here

This all started because I was trying to think up monsters for Fellhold and I'm kind of bad at that. The Monster Forge is awesome, but still puts most of the heavy lifting on me. So I started looking through various monster manuals to get ideas. As I took notes, it struck me that I could decompose what I found cool about monsters that caught my attention into elements of some kind, then I'd be able to create a generator. So I switched my notes over to excel. I arbitrarily picked six "things" I had to write down about each monster and purposely did not create categories until after I had gone through all the monsters in my list. Then I took each line item and copy/pasted it into a column if I felt like they "went together". Once everything had a home, I smashed some columns together, removed others, and ended up labeling each of them. 

Somewhere around here I recalled David McGrogan's epic Let's Read the 2E Monstrous Manual thread and Fire on the Velvet Horizon by Patrick and Scrap. Both make much of "the sages" that tell us things in monster manuals and how it's a really weird but very effective way to write about stuff in a book that is simultaneously giving you the god-like "truth" of the world but also trying to inspire you. So I figured that I'd arrange the generator into a natural language sentence flavored as if a sage were telling you about this thing.

The great thing about this approach was that it let me hit a sweet spot between providing enough concrete detail to get your imagination going but also enough vagueness that it's psychologically easier to ignore or massage any outright contradictory or uncool stuff that happens to come up. 

I also wanted this to be fairly usable, though, so after I got the natural language bit worked out, I went back and added some stats. I had grand ideas about tying these into all of the abilities and behaviors, but a) that's not all that helpful, as thinking up stats once you have the idea isn't too hard, and b) I couldn't figure out how to do it at all cleanly. So, what we ended up with was size affecting HD and AC, and whether some kind of humanoid came up in the type putting a lower limit on intelligence and animals shouldn't get weapons as attack types, but other than that, the stats are randomly determined.

Johan Egerkrans

Design Notes

  • The core of the description is one or sometimes two monster or animal base types - I did this to maximize the imaginability, but also because I wanted something a little more naturalistic than James Raggi's (excellent, but super random) Random Esoteric Creature Generator
  • Also, it's not as comprehensive as it might be, because my input monsters were all ones that I felt would fit in Fellhold, which is pretty aesthetically restricted compared to "kitchen sink" D&D - I ended up adding a few things in that wouldn't necessarily "fit" in Fellhold, but I didn't try to capture all of D&D
  • That being said, it should be pretty easy to adapt this to your own game world by changing up which origins, animal types, abilities, behaviors, and so forth are in the random tables - feel free to contact me if any of the formulas are unclear for customizing
  • Many of the entries (size, intelligence, combat stats) have normal(ish) distributions, so you're a little less likely to get totally gonzo stuff
  • For the stats, I normalized them around a B/X Grizzly Bear, following Jack Shear's advice, so you might need to beef up a solo monster for 5E or higher levels, or reduce stats if you're going for an organized and intelligent monster
  • I totally pulled the No. Appearing numbers out of my hat
  • I used descending AC cos that's how I roll - I figure we're all used to converting back and forth by now
  • Most of the monsters that come out will be somewhat unpleasant and hostile, so this isn't a great generator for coming up with more sympathetic or neutral creatures. If you want that sort of thing, just ignore the motivations/internal state and maybe the behavior and come up with your own
  • Anything of human level intelligence or more is more likely to have weapons listed as attacks than animal-type attacks, which may give some weird results - as with everything else, ignore if necessary