Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2020

Real-World Transplants (RWTs) in Fantasy Role-Playing Settings

As a boy I enjoyed a lot of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories, both Howard's originals and the Marvel comic books. One thing that consistently bothered me about his Hyborian age setting, though, was that it used recent historical real-world geographical and ethnic proper names for his prehistoric "age undreamed of." Conan was a Cimmerian. The Cimmerians were real, historical people best known today for attacking ancient Middle Eastern countries like Urartu in the eighth century BC. Conan's adventures take him to places like Khitai , " Afgulistan ," Iranistan , Hyrcania , Kambuja , and many others that are basically real-world earth names changed slightly or not at all. The Vilayet Sea especially bugs me, as that is a Persian word (derived from Arabic) simply meaning "province." Then you have Shem , the land of the fantasy Semites. The list goes on. The intended effect of using real-world, often modern, names for a pseudo-prehistoric fan

"Player skill" should mean dropping INT and WIS

My home rules have no intellectual stats. It's really about player choices and player ingenuity. You don't get to roll to be smart. There are traits for character features like education and professional abilities--if you don't have them, you don't write them down--but there is neither intelligence nor wisdom. Also, every trait does something in the game. I like it that way. Ever since I read Finch's "Quick Primer for Old School Roleplaying" for the first time, about December last year, I have wondered why early "old-school" players bothered with Intelligence and Wisdom scores at all. The answer was probably that it's the pure, original D&D, so don't mess with it. But these stats have little place in a game run by the ethos of "rulings not rules" and "player skill, not character abilities." If players are supposed to figure everything out on their own, I'm fine with that. That's how I do it. Let the pla

Why I don't use monster reaction rolls

Monster reaction rolls have been praised as an especially good “old-school” mechanic. It is supposed to make your fantasy adventure game less into a series of combats and to give opportunities to get around monsters without murder. Sometimes monsters will be your friend, accept bribes, or negotiate. It is not just fighting and killing. I gave wandering monsters a shot, with fun results, but I just can’t bring myself to use this kind of reaction roll. I prefer to rely on my sense of the monsters’ motivations and role-play them. It’s not just that a lot of the foes in my current Barrowmaze campaign are undead and constructs and other entities with “programmed’ reactions. My principle is that player choices and circumstances are the most important conditions to monster reactions. These are not randomly determined. I expect my players to characterize how they act when they are encountering monsters. If they barge through a door into a subterranean monster lair, holding torches and w

Combat as a Contest in Table-Top Role-Playing Games

One thing that I’ve been thinking about since returning to role-playing games is “abstraction” in combat. How do combat mechanics simulate a real fight? What do the rules select for your attention amidst all the factors that could be emphasized? Most role-playing games have combat rules that show their wargame roots clearly. You roll for initiative. The fast fighter takes a shot at the slower one. Then the other side gets a shot. Bing, bang. One shot, another shot. This is the model of D&D, and it’s the one that predominates in role-playing games, regardless of genre. Fighters hit each other back and forth alternately. This method of play has never satisfied me. It doesn’t feel like a fight. It feels like two cavemen slugging it out with clubs. It does make some sense for miniatures in Napoleonic miniatures battles, where attacks are mostly ranged attacks, to have one side fire and then the other. It doesn’t make sense for a duel between swordsmen or a warrior versus a dragon.