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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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Kiltayre – a new adventure


The group has come together to try a new adventure. This time with preparatory talks about how the players have come to trust each other enough to adventure together. The framework will be to drive party continuity; that is, there are game-mechanics in play to prevent PC death. We’ll be using Fate Points (qv. WHFRP) and in-game phylacteries to allow a soul to return to a body that is “repaired” within a time frame and a resuscitation check is succeeded (qv. Rolemaster soul departure).

I pitched to play in Kiltayre. A land that I’ve not visited in-game for many years. Partly, in hindsight, because I’ve set it up as more politically complicated than I knew I was ready to GM for. And partly because it’s not as well fleshed-out as it could be. This is a double-win for me because I, one) get to flesh it out more by GM’ing, and two) get to have a more mature attempt at GM’ing in this politically complicated setting.

Ostensibly it will be a straight-forward quest. The GM style I’ve pitched to the players is far softer than I’d normally run, in terms of combats, but I will be using the environment as a dangerous thing. Kiltayre’s harsh winters will be an enemy that they will be constantly at war with. With that element of survival-gaming introduced I hope to steer the players to a position where they can better appreciate my gaming-preferences, and even just experience the way I like to game a little better, and see if we can get even more firmly concordant in how we prefer to game in the future.

This is the pitch I put to the group:

The lands of Kiltayre are in a pall of hunger and despair. Winters have been coming early and harsh for four years and famine threatens the people. Some say if it weren’t for the Church of Saint Fergus and their charity many more would have starved. And so the villages are emptying as the people leave their frost fields to be nearer the large churches and cathedrals so that their children may be fed.

Autumn this year is already cold and the first frost has just fallen this night past. The seer-woman, grandmother of the headman of your hometown, has claimed a vision of why the winter is coming earlier and earlier. There is an evil afoot in Kiltayre and it must be stopped before it turns the whole island into an icy waste.
Five fingers of stone
Five swords of bone
Many yards of silk
Many of strange ilk
Two bears and three deer
Two trees and a titan’s tear

Her cryptic rhyme’s have not been forthcoming in over twenty years. Not since almost forgotten heroes of your hometown left on their epic quest that led to the discovery of the six swords of Kiltayre. Now you and all the other young unmarried folk stand before her and the town’s elders. They look on to you as the hope for the future of everyone’s children. Will you step forward?

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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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The End of an Arc; the End of Hastus Rimechaille

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It’s been a long time coming; the end of this campaign. The mighty evil was defeated.

My character, Hastus Rimechaille, was a diplomat and tax-investigator He was very well-suited to the game  because of the influence of nobility on the plot. In combat-style he was somewhere between a duellist and a traditional rogue, but he was quick to talk in most situations.

Hastus was also my first character built with Eclipse that I gamed with at the table. He was not very optimised but did have a lot of presence when I gamed with him. I think the other players quite enjoyed Hastus or at the least found him an identifiable character. Hastus survived the battle with an ancient evill dragon god and finished the campaign at level-12. He is one of my most favourite PCs of all time.



imageWhat comes next though it that toughest of things: deciding what kind of game we all want to take part in.

Hastus Rimechaille, tax-investigator to the Duke of Karrakis and secret-agent of the King of Kubuldar

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Hathane – Burned out mage (character background)

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Somtimes failure happens to the most promising. The one they say has all the talent and gifts, even divine favour. Failure is what gutted Hathane of his passion; magic. Of all the students at the Arcane College he was considered the best, the most brave, the smartest, and the most potent.

It was in summoning that Hathane met his failure. Combining the binding with the actual summoning was difficult at least and he approached it with all due care. It was a mistake. As honest as a small child taking a cake from a vendor’s stand because they don’t realise it is not theirs. The thread of power Hathane seized was not his – it was the overlord of the creature he was summoning – and it burned his soul scouring it of magical aptitude leaving a scar where he once had a beautiful growing talent.

Quick action by the collegiate masters saw little other harm come to Hathane. He was not even scarred – visibly – except with the bitterness of loss.

Unable to turn his hand to any profession he continued trying to study. "With enough work I can regain the magic!" It was an ardent wish and about as successful. As it became more and more obvious that he would never regain his talent Hathan became more and more bitter. Turning to alcohol, then drugs, then witchcraft; stealing others’ soul-energy so that he might feel like a magician again. It was short-lived and he was tried for his crimes. If he didn’t have a small reserve of power in a crystal he had swallowed just as he was arrested he would never have escaped the flames (re; psion power). The next morning, in the fine mist of dawn, he fled naked from the city.

Hathane has become a wanderer. Selling his knowledge, and his sword, as well as others’ purloined goods. He is a vagabond struggling with his past and how it can never be undone. Running from his bitter failure and wishing for a solution – because the only thing left is normalcy, and that is not Hathane; he is the special one, the most gifted, the smartest, and most potent. He is a mage.image

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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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Shields: how to get them right


The shield; oft whined about, oft under-rated, and mostly ignored as something that is uncool. In DnD/d20 the shield can reduce your chance of being struck by 5% for a buckler to 20% for what that game dubs a tower shield. Unfortunately that’s not a the only thing a shield does. It might just be the most obvious one to an external observer.

Those of us who took our asses to the real side of life and found out what the weapons were, read history, and checked our facts in martial sciences realised a shield is a weapon. It’s not a lethal weapon, per se, but it is a damned fine complimentary weapon. In short the shield aids a character’s ability to melee.

Many systems separate the skill of attacking from the ability to defend; or even make defense something that is based on pure natural ability and hardware with nothing to do with skill at all. This is not the way it works. The two, attack and defense, are inextricably tied together.

Modelling this in an easy way was elegantly done in Simple 2d6. The skill for Melee covers attack and defense simultaneously (see this post). From there it was very easy to model shields as aiding the fighter’s combat ability with a bonus to Melee. With larger more robust shields the wielder also gets a bonus to their armour value. So simple it’s beautiful.


Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

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How to make a real Archmage

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One of the constraints of general d20 is the lack of a cross-realm caster like Rolemaster’s archmage. By cross-realm I mean conversant in the use and knowledge of all types of magic. In d20 this is arcane, divine and psionics. In Rolemaster (RM) it was Essence, Channelling and Mentalism.

It might be easy to say that a character could multi-class their way to approximate the RM archmage.  But what if you want to start from level-1 and take the various hits to your powers so that you can stay true to your concept?

Eclipse: the Codex Persona, to the rescue.

Sejanus, Archmage

Sejanus is an archmage. A caster of any types of magic. He is a member of the esoteric order of Ogham Divina. Part of order membership is various duties. They members are respected and privileged as scholars and lawyers. They are often expected to adjudicate legal matters. Members also must contribute 20% of their monies to the order or to certain charities is the order is not present in that area. To even join the order one must have the aptitude to learn magic (Fast Learner: Magic) and to absorb knowledge quickly (Fast Learner: Skills). Most of his time is spent tracking down obscure parts of old books, rumours of magic, and testing formulae or potential members.

Sejanus is in late middle-age (tends to overlook simple things like catching a carriage instead of walking to the next town), blocked from learning martial feats, and a terrible liar (bluff –5, incompetent).

The cross-realm magical abilities have restricted the way Sejanus can learn spells. He must make a Spellcraft check to recognise the spell he wants to learn. If he fails, he misses out on learning that spell/ability. However, he can use Spellcraft as Psicraft and vice versa. At low-levels this is not a big risk of missing a known spell. At higher levels it becomes more likely that powers will not be learnt (DC=[Spell Level + 1] times 5)

Sejanus’ main magical usefulness is in preparing powers and having them available to Triggering. He can “programme” a string of spells if need be and they can be activated based on his wherewithal in the preparation.

Here’s the gritty bits.

Sejannus: Archmage, level-4

Human: racial bonus feat, fast learner (skills), fast learner (magic), bonus feats (L-1/3/6/9 etc.), bonus attributes (+1 L-4/8, etc.)

BAB/Warcraft: +2

Saves: Fort +1, Ref +1, Will +3

Hit Points: 17 (4d4 + Con)

Proficiencies: all simple weapons


Appraise +2

Concentration +5

Decipher Script +3

Gather Info. +3

Heal +1

Know: Arcane +2

Know: history +2

Know: religion +2

Move Silently +2

Prof: Lawyer +4

Sense Motive +3

Spellcraft +5

Magic Abilities

+4 Base Caster Levels: for all magic types

L-4 Psion: specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers

L-4 Wizard: specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers

L-4 Cleric (no package): specialised, spellcraft check to learn new powers


MAGIC Save DCs Slots/Known Effects Learn DC
SPELL LVL Psi/Arc Div Psions Arcane Divine Spellcraft
0 14 14 PP/25 5/10 6/7 5
1 15 15 4/9 4/4 10
2 16 16 9 pwrs 3/4 3/3 15

This means Sejanus has a lot of powers (if he made his Spellcraft checks). The odds are that he’ll know most of those powers listed. Still, he is only one person and has quite a few limitations that are permanent. Ie. they can’t be overcome later with “feats that create exceptions”. I can see for some GM’s they’ll balk at this but I’d be happy to run such a PC because there’s so much control over it via the Duties.

Metamagical Theorems





Magic Efficiency

SR/PR Improved, 10 + Level, 14

Lore: loremaster

Privilege: loremaster, lawyer, minor legal powers, receive hospitality


Aged (does silly things, like walk instead of ride unless reminded), Blocked (martial feats), Incompetent (bluff –5)

Advancement Ideas

Metamagic: Amplify (once have SL4 slots), Mana, BCL Increase, Magic Progressions increase, SR/PR Improved, Conversion (evasion/location spells), Spell Pool (wiz/clr), Skill Emphasis (sense motive), Persistent (metamagic)

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