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Splatbook Cancer

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In the never-ending quest for power they forged an idea: the splatbook (expansion book). Revenue, alternatives, exotic-ness, all for the price of admission. Unfortunately designers desired for their exotic class to be the one ruling class and power creep spread like a shadow. More splatbooks furthered it like mutating cells and the cancer took root in the industry.

The flowery language is to describe something I’ve observed over decades. Splatbooks have power creep. More splatbooks make more power creep. More power creep makes cancerous character builds. Cancer characters castrate core characters.

For d20 system games the power creep can be extreme. It is not limited to them. Some games have power creep that destroys its internal narrative: Exalted, for example, where Solars become the least capable of the celestial reincarnations once splatbook cancer sets in yet the narratives says they are the world-savers. The main focus of expansions ought to be world building and campaign. Character classes are where the splatbook cancer creeps and requires the most vigilance to prevent class destabilization. What I recommend is buying world/source books over character class expansion books.

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Gaming Again

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Pathfinder “Rise of the Runelords”. So far PF is about the same as DnD 3.x. The campaign is, to date, a little reminiscent of “Power Behind the Throne” with a bit less conspiracy – but the fleshed out townsfolk is refreshing. Sandpoint really comes across as a breathing settlement. We are only level-2 and barely into the game.

Vargus “Gus” Icepelt – Warpriest, Human
Odol Ironjaw – Barbarian, Dwarf
Mo of Riddleport – Bard, Halfling
Silk of Korvosa – Rogue, Human

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D20 Rune Paths at RPGNOW

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Another product released; this time d20 RUNE PATHS hits the virtual shelves at


Rune Paths are quasi-dimensional trails through forests that are slightly outside of space and time. Rangers are best at accessing them but Druids can, too. Using a Rune Path can greatly speed the travel of any group and lead to a very fast traversal of the forest. The risk is losing the trail which puts the lost person in the ‘primordial’ forest which sits slightly outside of time and space. The only way back out is on a Rune Path.

It’s only $5.00 so check it out.

Rune Paths d20 cover 2b logo

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Passing the Rift Weave

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Around Stonecrest is a rift in the weave of time and space. This makes Stonecrest a place that is slightly out of time and space of the island of Kiltayre, and perhaps other places.

Traversing the Rift Weave requires intent and power. Stonecrest is therefore the home of various wizards, sorcerors, geomancers, clerics, priests and archmages.

The mechanic for traversing the Rift Weave is a pretty simple Will save. Base DC is 20 to get through to within sight (0-5 miles) of the location (Kiltayre of Stonecrest). Failure means you’re a random distance in a random direction from the target location area and you take subdual damage equal to the failure margin – which is also the distance in miles.

Example: Base DC 20, Will save total is 14. Displaced 6 miles in random direction and take 6 subdual damage.

However, you can alter the time of arrival by 30 minutes forward or back if you pour power into the travel. This raises the DC by 5 per 30 minutes. Each SL of power added to the group’s travel, if they are tied together, adds to the Will save. A guide, or guides, can add power but not go through the rift.

Minimum power required is 1 SL per person. If time alteration is intended the minimum is 3 SL per person. There is no discount or surcharge for large or small creatures.

Example: a party is going through Rift Weave with a guide. The total SL added to the travel is 16. Each party member who is tied together can add 16 to the Will save. The guide stays behind.

If the DC is 50 or higher, then the power requirements double. This restricts time traversed to 3 hours.

Using the Rift Weave to traverse time more than your level in hours per week has some nasty side-effects– like long-term spell-energy drain (lose PP, or SL, available per day), negative levels, ability drain and in rare cases internal anti-magic matrices that prevent the recovery of any magical energy whatsoever (even Supernatural Abilities).

The last effect of traversing the Rift Weave is the energies can dispel existing enchantments. Roll 2d20 as a caster level check against each effect.

It is a potentially dangerous things and it keeps most hostile spellcasters out of Stonecrest; since they rarely want to arrive depleted.

In light of all this the Rift Weave still has secrets. The time-travel component is not widely known and there are entities within, some attracted to negative energy, others attracted to positive energy. In all it is a risky move and each trip is different.

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Four against One equals a fair fight

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It suddenly dawned on slow-old me that the meta-game premise for d20 in general is that four CRx vs. 1 CRx is a fair fight (for the four). Why? They will almost certainly win, barring terrible luck synchronising with the one’s bad luck, and lose very little resources. As soon as  you look at it the other way, say the PCs are the monsters and the NPCs the heroes, it becomes quite bizarre and truly gamist.


The assumption that many d20 players make is that all their encounters will be within the CR guidelines as presented in the DMG. This automatically prevents sandbox play if the GM adheres to that formula. If party of 4 level 1 characters goes deliberately hunting the great-dragon-sitting-on-treasure-mountain then the CR of the dragon has to be CR5 or less. What that does to the internal-causality of the world is nothing less than defenestrating.


Sure it’s preference and all that but basic logic shows it to be nothing more than an insurance policy against player death. If that’s the meta-game you want when you play why bother with rules of conflict at all, since ultimately the player has to win?

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How to easily make d20 “gritty”?

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d20 is designed, in a meta-game sense, for the PCs to end up as deific beings with manga-comic super abilities. That is great fun except when you don’t want those beings to be possible. One might say that d20 is the wrong system however I say it’s an okay system that is like learning blues on guitar. It lets you jam with anyone.


Gritty is just code-word for “dangerous”, or the possibility that you can die quickly in combat: kind of like real life. So here’s some options:

1) Hit points max out as Str + Con + Base Fort Save

2) Critical strikes automatically inflict maximum damage

3) Death starts at –1 HP.

4) Heal spells aren’t instantaneous – they’re overnight; thereby forcing them to be combined with rest.

5) Any critical strike (regardless of if you use 2 above) requires a Fort save of DC 10 + damage inflicted, or the target is stunned for 1 round.


And one can go on.

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Shields and d20: revisited

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This is an optional rule for increasing the usefulness of shields in d20.

When using a shield against an opponent who does not have a shield (bucklers do not count for this), add the shield AC modifier to your attack rolls against that opponent.

Modeling the versatility of the shield in this case it is about stressing its usefulness when one is fighting another who has no shield. The shield can take & deflect blows, and because of this allow effective counter-striking; since one has much better protection against sneaky things like sliding over the ricasso.

Try it out in your next d20 game and tell me what you think. Suddenly that 2 or 3 points of shield AC becomes very useful against all those beasts with stupidly high “Natural AC” bonuses.

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Eclipse: Character Builds

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A friend and gaming-buddy was linked to by the author of Eclipse, whose net-handle is Thoth. It’s a good thing to get some recognition from someone who has such a solid grasp of gaming and has produced such a great product such as Eclipse: the Codex Persona, and others.


Check out the commentary on Chris’ articles here and the articles on his blog.


Compare them to Thoth’s own builds, and the builds of a few others, on this long page.



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Shields in d20: alternative mechanics

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Shields are great – particularly when your opponent doesn’t have one. There’s a few ways to better model this in d20-based systems (like DnD, OGL, SRD, etc).


1. Instead of the shield’s AC bonus you can use the shield to “soak” damage. Convert the shield’s AC bonus to Damage Reduction. You become easier to hit but harder to damage. This is the willingness to take a hit on the shield.


2. Forfeit the AC bonus of the shield. Instead make a roll to “soak” the damage with the shield if you are struck. In v3.x roll vs. a DC of 10 + Opponent’s BAB + weapon specialization (and the like). The shield-wielder adds their BAB + shield specializations (and the like). Each point of success reduces the damage by an extra point.

Eg. DC is 19. Roll a total of 21. Reduce damage by 3 (19, 20, 21).


2a. Shields can be given a maximum damage they soak before they “splinter”.

Eg. a buckler might be able to soak 15 damage before it splinters (is made useless).


3. When one has a shield and the opponent does not double the AC mod.


The point here is that with a little bit of thought shield function can be better reflected in any system.

(Image from: )

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