Oaths of the Sidhe

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This is worldbuilding for my Beyond the Wall game, but since it was most of the way to compatible with D&D 5e anyway, I went ahead and made the tweaks. My players have gotten really into hanging out with the fae at the regular seasonal markets, and are drifting pretty close to just signing up. This was a way to systematize that process.

Also, check out Brandes’ recent post about fae contracts for some largely compatible ideas.

The Bane of Iron

Most fae are weak to iron, the punishment of the Sun for interlopers from the shadow planes. This is not an inherent weakness of Sidhe, except insofar as most are fae. It is said that sometimes mortals that become full Sidhe essentially become adopted by a shadow plane, effectively becoming fae.

Oaths of the Sidhe

Each rank of the court allows another oath to be taken, and each oath taken cements that rank in the court. Most serious Sidhe courtiers have taken all of the oaths: it is the requirement to be considered full Sidhe and to truly engage in Sidhe politics. However, those who have taken any oaths are part of the hierarchy, and have enforced respect over those that bow to Sidhe sovereignty, particularly in Sidhe lands.

Oaths broken tend to result in grievous wounds, commensurate with the wrong committed.

Oathkeeping (Wisdom)

The most common oath is for the keeping of oaths themselves. This is the oath responsible for the famous Sidhe inability to lie.

My words will be my oath. What I say is true. What I commit to, I will perform.

Drawback: You cannot tell an outright falsehood (but can mislead through technically true statements). Your promises always count as an Oath.

Benefit: Gain Advantage on Wisdom checks to determine if someone is deceiving you. Make a Charisma (Intimidation) check when calling a promise due to force even a non-Sidhe to keep an oath to you (or accept commensurate consequences), DC equal to the target’s own Charisma score.

Hospitality (Constitution)

Another common oath, this is the one that protects others from the Sidhe as a guest. It is the only reason Sidhe politics can continue at the most cutthroat times.

While I share bread and drink with my hosts, I am their guest and they are mine. I shall respect their homes, and expect the same. Should they withhold their threat from me, so I shall withhold mine from them, until the guesting is through.

Drawback: You may not directly harm or even work strongly against guests and hosts after accepting/granting hospitality (but can politic towards eventual harm after guesting is over).

Benefit: Gain resistance to all damage dealt by someone who is part of a pact of hospitality to you (and this waives your need to avoid harming the aggressor). Gain Advantage on Constitution saves and checks made when you have guest right (e.g., against toxins or other poor conditions). Roll Charisma (Intimidation) against the target’s Charisma score when you are a host to force violators or those who will not swear from your home.

Demesne (Strength)

This is the oath that allows the Sidhe to build nations and employ diplomats. It is usually sworn after Hospitality, for it is that oath writ to a grander scale. It is the reason Sidhe can be driven off of even mortal lands, due to the respect of authority.

I shall respect territory, as I expect my own to be respected. Should I remain in land where I am unwanted, then this shall be war.

Drawback: You must leave an area when ordered by a rightful authority unless on a mission of declared hostility (and, unfortunately, church bells usually count unless you are expressly welcome, due to the general hostility of the church and their authority over mortal lands).

Benefit: Gain Advantage on Strength checks or similar rolls to erect fortifications or bar portals in your own lands. You, your mount, and your immediate retinue move 50% faster when moving in your lands to intercept invaders. You may automatically sense the strength and potential flaws of fortifications and other defensive measures nearby.

Gifts (Intelligence)

All fae have picked up the gift-giving system from the Sidhe, mostly because an upper class with very specific views on exchange of property quickly creates a culture of it. This oath ultimately serves to formalize ownership and prevent corruption through bribes.

I shall accept nothing that I am not owed. I shall give nothing without an expectation of a return in kind. My value comes from my deeds, not from the whims of others.

Drawback: You cannot accept a gift of item or service without providing something of similar value (owing a favor if you cannot immediately reciprocate); if you have provided services without a formalized gifting/quest structure, you can accept a gift as a way to settle this debt.

Benefit: You gain Advantage on Intelligence checks to appraise the value of items or services, and automatically succeed when they are offered to you as gift or for trade, allowing you to flawlessly detect counterfeits or other items with inflated values. Gain double XP for conspicuous consumption*. Spend Inspiration to have fate help track items that were stolen from you or to see that fortune returns them to your hands.

* In my campaign, the PCs earn XP based on spending cash on goods and services that make their characters happy but have no significant rules effect.

Craft (Dexterity)

Sidhe also have a propensity for games, riddles, and art competitions, as a way to establish dominance without bloodshed. This oath speaks to the cleverness required for true nobility, and is often one of the last oaths sworn by those fae that do not trust in their own intelligence.

I am wit, poise, and guile given form. Should one seek to test me in the domains I have claimed talent, and be it no true hardship, I shall prove my skills or acknowledge my superior.

Drawback: You cannot refuse a challenge to a competition over one of your proficient Skills or Tools unless it is obviously, actively dangerous to you (e.g., a distraction from a fight) or you admit that the challenger is better (you cede the advantage for winning to them).

Benefit: If you win a competition where you were challenged, you are owed by the loser similar to them promising you a favor (with the strength of the favor based on how much effort was required for the competition; a quick riddle game is not the same as a challenge to see who can topple an empire). You owe this in turn if you cede a competition to the challenger without competing, but not if you simply lose after giving it your try (in this case, the favor is minor because the stakes were small). You may learn to work dross and other ephemeral qualities into your crafts (essentially, crafting magic items).

Identity (Charisma)

Not all fae are vulnerable to use of their true names, but this is the oath that ensures it. It is often the final oath, as it is the ultimate claim of identity that allows full nobility.

My name is my own, though I may keep it safe. By my sigil, my will. By my name, my pledge. By my existence, my guarantee. There is none other like me.

Drawback: Statement of your True Name by an antagonist weakens* any of your mystical protections, as well as your mystical attacks against the target (and “statement” may be broad enough to include working your name into bindings or other magics). It also unmasks you of any magical or physical disguise.

* GM’s discretion, usually advantage/disadvantage or the equivalent for effects that don’t involve a roll.

Benefit: Attempts to impersonate you, even with strong magic, automatically fail against anyone that has met you. You automatically succeed on saves to resist being transformed without your consent, unless the aggressor has some kind of authority or broken oath to hold against you. Similarly, you stand strong athwart time and reality, and can ignore changes to the flow of time, causality, and local reality if you so desire (e.g., immune to magic like Slow, Time Stop, and other plot-related weirdness).

Glitch: The Excrucian League

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The Glitch RPG is on Kickstarter for another day or two at the time of this posting. It’s the third game in the Nobilis-verse (the second being Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine), focusing on the Excrucians, which were the big threat in the previous games. They’re the dark riders from outside of reality that have come to destroy the universe, one essential concept at a time, until the whole thing unravels back into nonexistence.

Well, specifically, Glitch focuses on the small handful of Excrucians that have decided to stop trying to destroy the world for various reasons. So the primary mode of play seems to be very existentialist dark comedy: entities of godly power sitting around in a world they’re conflicted about allowing to continue to exist, pissing off the Nobles that they bump into who may not know they’ve taken a pledge to stop all that dark riding, and occasionally poking at a mystery like a sore tooth where they can’t help themselves from figuring out why reality is wrong.

The eponymous Glitch of the game’s title is the central conceit of how the characters came to get their powers. When reality was created out of the nothing that originally existed, it was kind of a rush job and many of the core elements that make up time, space, physics, and concepts have some bugs. Most people don’t notice them (because the perceptual tools you’d use to notice them are part of the whole hacked together reality), but sometimes someone will accidentally comprehend that a core aspect of the world they rely on every day is broken, and that person becomes glitched. For the most part, these poor souls gradually get torn apart and broken, but some are able to tap deep into their beings and find a seed of unreality and bloom themselves into full on outer-darkness godlings.

But they’re still dying of the core glitch in reality, the dissonance eating away at them the longer they live in the world, periodically becoming overwhelmed and having to retreat back into unreality to reform themselves. Even as gods, the flaw in reality remains essential to them, and drives a lot of their capabilities and behaviors. It’s the itch they can’t scratch.

Check out the Kickstarter if any of that sounds interesting (or if you’ve liked Jenna Moran’s other stuff).

But, anyway, while reading through the backer drafts, a lot of the description of character stuff started sounding like the backgrounds of a certain trio of superheroes, and it’s interesting to think of them from that point of view, so…

Clark, dying of Radiation

There are many worlds on the world tree, though Earth is a central battleground of the the Valde Bellum and, thus, gets all the press. When that war for reality hit a couple of load-bearing concepts on Krypton, the world managed to blow itself to bits, but at least one survivor found his way to Earth as a baby. Most of the legends of the dust-bowl-era farmers raising the boy are more-or-less accurate, and he did go to the big city to be a hero for a time, but that was until the Glitch set in.

If he was just essentially a mythic creature, naturally stronger, more durable, and able to fly, Clark wouldn’t have been any different than any of the other strangely-powered entities that sneak into prosaic Earth from various chancels and other worlds. But the longer he worked, the more clear it became that his powers were deeply tied to radiation. Why would the light of Earth’s sun power him when Krypton’s wouldn’t? Why should the shards of his home planet weaken and kill him? The disconnect finally caused him to Glitch and become an Excrucian.

He never really lost his Kansas values, however, and ultimately couldn’t bring himself to destroy the world he’d spent so much time trying to protect.

Technique: Strongman, Reporter
Eide 3 (Defined)
Flore 0 (Outsider)
Lore 0 (Lostling)
Wyrd 3 (Armiger)
Ability 3 (Basic)
Gifts/Bonds/Geasa: Durant, Flight, Immutable, Bond (I fight for those that can’t fight for themselves)

Clark’s Eide is sufficient to allow him to do basic physical stunts for free, as well as instantly change his costume. With a small expenditure, he can act with tremendous talent within his techniques, as well as pulling off greater stunts. His Wyrd allows him to easily retreat to his Fortress of Solitude, a soothing elysium of unreality where he can rest and recover, and with a small expenditure, he can unleash destruction in the form of his heat vision, inflicting Radiation on those before him. His Ability allows him to get by in the skills of the mortal world.

Diana, dying of Chauvinism

Themyscira is a chancel created by a True God centuries ago, breaking off a significant portion of ancient Greece and preserving it to the present day, its denizens reflecting many of the virtues of the ancient seat of democracy and culture. Most cherished of them all was a young woman created from clay and given great might and wisdom, then sent out into the Earth that is not a pocket reality as an envoy of the Amazons.

It didn’t take long for her to begin to understand the fundamental flaws of humanity regarding their neighbors and gender. Everything was organized wrong, and all her attempts to convince people that there was no need for war between the nations or the sexes failed. Eventually, she realized that something was wrong with the coding of mortal behavior, and it began to eat at her until she finally birthed into a true goddess of unreality, like Athena bursting from their fathers’ head.

Yet the mind that would not accept the necessity of war between mortals could not accept war between what is and what is not, and she quickly exited the Valde Bellum

Technique: Warrior
Eide 2 (Envoy)
Flore 4 (Awakener)
Lore 0 (Lostling)
Wyrd 0 (World-Bound)
Ability 4 (Professional)
Gifts/Bonds/Geasa: Durant

Diana’s Eide is sufficient to allow her to do basic stunts for free (though the irony of being such a skilled warrior while eschewing war is something she’s well aware of), with display of talents and greater stunts within her reach with an expenditure). Her Flore provides her five treasures (the bracers, the lariat, etc.) and the ability to freely activate the glory of their powers, as well as to cheaply ignite these abilities to a nigh-unbelievable edge. Her Ability allows her to thrive in the mortal world.

Bruce, dying of Crime

Bruce was the favored son of old New York City, over a century ago when it stretched all the way up the state’s coast and was inarguably the biggest city on Earth. So many opportunities brought just as much crime, which claimed his parents as it claimed the lives of so many others. At first, he tried to use his family’s wealth to establish social programs and fund elections to clean up the city. None of it worked. But as soon as he became a vigilante, stalking the night and punching criminals, he began to see a marked improvement.

The insanity of what he was doing had already begun to eat at him when the hundred nights of murder began. An imperator creating a chancel requires the life’s blood of 100 citizens, and the formation of the Gotham chancel from a significant portion of New York involved a deadly crime spree like none had ever seen before. As the pocket realm formed and nobles were chosen, Bruce fully succumbed to his Glitch and became something more than a man, and even more than a symbol: he became an Excrucian.

However, his war was never fully with reality itself, and when not worrying at the edifice that is Gotham, he’s quite happy to let existence go undestroyed. For their part, the other members of the Excrucian League try not to get involved in his ongoing war with the city and its Nobles, including the powers of Comedy, Cryogenics, Cryptography, and Cats.

Technique: Detective, Ninja
Eide 0 (Ingenue)
Flore 0 (Outsider)
Lore 4 (Outrider)
Wyrd 0 (World-Bound)
Ability 5 (Driven)
Gifts/Bonds/Geasa: Bond (I’m vengeance. I’m the night. I’m Batman.), Talented

Bruce’s Talented gift allows him to use the Talent miracle of Eide for a range of uses to establish his martial arts superiority even on a mythic level, though he is not skilled with Eide in general. Rather than the treasures that Diana wields, Bruce’s belt of tricks and car full of gadgets are truly Arcana of unreality, which his Lore allows him to accumulate and deploy. His rating in Lore also allows him to freely tap deep into the secrets of the universe and perform a Greater Investigation into nearly any subject. His Ability marks him as omni-competent in just about any mortal discipline.

The Imperfect Anti-Metagaming Mental Firewall

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To a large extent, I’m convinced by the Angry GM’s argument about metagaming: that, for the most part, it’s a non-issue that gamers shouldn’t get so worked up about.

He specifies two types of tabletop metagaming that I think of as genre knowledge and spectator knowledge. The former is stuff you know because you’ve read the rules or played the game before (or are just genre-savvy to this type of story), but your character hasn’t justified knowing. The latter is stuff you observed by spectating at the table, but your character wasn’t actually there when it happened.

Genre knowledge is pretty easy to solve. You can assume something patently obvious like standard monster weaknesses is common enough knowledge in the world for players to exploit: if these monsters exist in the world, folk tales will have prepared virtually everyone for how to deal with them, even if they’ve never had to fight them. Or, you can do the work to change things up enough that things work differently (but consistently) in your world. As long as the change-up is actually something that makes sense in world (and, ideally, something they could have figured out by paying more attention to the lore you were dropping) and not something you changed on the fly to avoid standard player knowledge, your players are likely to be pretty accepting.

Spectator knowledge is harder to universally handle. As Angry points out, oftentimes the problem is that someone is violating the social contract that other people at the table thought they were signing up for. If the rest of the party was spectating out of game while the rogue was sneaking off to donate her cut of the loot to orphans, but not telling her friends to maintain her hard-as-nails reputation, it wouldn’t be an issue. It’s when the rogue is stealing from the party that it becomes a problem.

But even when it’s not just one of the players being a jerk (almost always the rogue), this kind of thing tends to happen because GMs love their semi-PvP secrets. Being tempted by evil is a relevant genre trope, after all, and it’s hard to really build it up if the rest of the target’s friends are like, “Yo, dude, don’t betray us,” from the start. Part of the issue might be solved by just getting buy-in up front that this is a semi-PvP game, where betrayals might happen, and generating a reason for the party to stay together even if they’re suspicious of one another. Another solution is to just fully embrace the cloak-and-dagger nature of it and pass notes, converse between games, or pull one player out of the room for a discussion. When it’s totally information from the GM that the other players shouldn’t know, it’s generally easier to actually prevent players or characters from learning it rather than letting them spectate and hoping they firewall the knowledge.

Because nobody is a good enough player to totally firewall out-of-game knowledge.

I’ve been thinking about this because, as big a problem as it can be in certain tabletop games, it’s a much bigger problem in LARPs. Even LARPs that are primarily story-based games where the player base is cooperating against NPC threats tend to feature two major areas of spectator creep: NPC shifts and player OOC bleed.

NPC shifts are a problem due to limited staffing. Most boffer LARPs I’ve played have a pretty low ratio of staff to players. In the current game I’m playing, it’s often 4:1 or worse, depending on how many people can be convinced to show up for the weekend just to play NPCs. In order to do big fights where the NPCs aren’t significantly outnumbered by PCs, or just to give staff a break throughout the day, players are expected to have an NPC shift where they stop playing their PCs for a while and report to monster town to just act as an NPC for a couple hours. Often, you get sent out as “crunchies:” simple monsters for the players to fight. Others, you actually get tagged in to play a roleplay NPC, and may need to see parts of the plot and/or other PCs’ backstories to portray the NPC correctly. In either case you can learn things your PC has no way to know, due to hearing exact monster traits, learning stuff you need to portray the NPC, or just being around monster town and overhearing/seeing other things staff is sending out.

OOC bleed is a problem because players talk to each other between games, or because sometimes you have to use your imagination. Is the player doing some kind of PvP activity, getting up to something that the other players wouldn’t approve of that’s been handled secretly in game so nobody outside of staff has seen it? What happens when a drunken goobing about the game causes the player to accidentally drop the secret? Is the PC using some kind of impenetrable magical disguise? How do you handle the fact that you’re really just looking at obviously the same person, but they’re telling you to imagine that they look totally different? (This last is also a problem with any game that allows invisibility and you have to pretend someone isn’t standing there with arms crossed over their chest.)

This is a problem not just because your firewall is imperfect. If you know something that you shouldn’t know in game, suddenly you have a huge piece of the puzzle to use as an incentive to figure out the information “in-play,” laundering your out-of-game knowledge into character knowledge.

The bigger problem, to my mind, is that player investigative ability is like butterfly wings: as soon as it’s tainted by out-of-game knowledge, it makes it impossible to fly. When I learn a secret from someone who was drunk and shouldn’t have told me or from an NPC briefing, I can now never know if I would have figured it out totally in-play because that person was acting suspiciously or I otherwise put clues together. If someone is under an illusion and I’m having to pretend to be affected by it, I have no idea if I’d have figured out what was going on through context clues if what I’m imagining I’m seeing was what I was actually seeing.

I actually think people laundering out-of-play knowledge in-play is a smaller problem compared to any out-of-play knowledge suddenly making all your in-play deductions suspect. Maybe it’s because figuring out mysteries in games is one of my particular biggest pleasures from roleplaying. It feels like someone is saying, “Here is the answer. Because I have told you out-of-play, you can never figure it out in-play. That would be cheating.”

In tabletop, where the GM controls nearly all the flow of perception and information, this is a solvable problem. In LARP, it’s much harder, and I’m not sure there’s a viable solution. Never using PCs to do a monster shift is a huge burden on the staff. Trusting players to never slip with their secrets out-of-play is virtually impossible for years-long games.

And no one ever really has the same secret conversation they were going to have when they get walked up on by someone they have to pretend they don’t know is there.

Games with No Perception Skills

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“Make a Perception check,” is the GM’s fallback.

I’ve played in games (particularly combat-light modern games where social skills weren’t rolled but were just roleplayed) where perception-based rolls might be the only rolls made for entire sessions. Even in D&D, where there are standards to encourage a wide range of skill checks in a session, most build guides I see encourage players to always be proficient in Perception if possible (which indicates that lots of such checks is common across all tables). The Gumshoe system basically exists to add variety and certainty to investigation genres where little is rolled besides perception skills.

We’re probably overdoing it.

I’d been thinking for years that, at the very least, perception checks needed to be more intentional, as a GM. Was I requiring rolls when I should just be giving the information? Was failing a perception check interesting? Was succeeding? Could skills that didn’t get used enough (like science and academics) be used instead of perception when investigating things? So when I decided to run Scion and realized that the game didn’t come with any attributes or skills that were used for raw perception, I was interested to finally get a chance to try out my theories.

It was very awkward.

The first thing I realized, not having a generic perception roll to call for, was that often gating information behind a skill does have a purpose.

  • In the most basic sense, there are often things in a scene that are obvious and things that are subtle, and calling for a generic perception check is a marker of the divide between the two: it lets you break up a scene description rather than just narrating for an extended period (and, due to players feeling like they earned the extra description by rolling well, they’re more likely to pay attention).
  • In a more extended sense, sometimes it’s clear that there are parts of the scene description that are optional but valuable. You’re not going to break your plot by not revealing them, but giving them out may grant an advantage.
  • And in the most active sense, sometimes there are enemies that are hiding or items that have been actively hidden. Perception is a way to engage in conflict.

Now, most of this, I’m convinced, is GM training. After years of running games, the call for a perception check is a reflex. It’s instinctual. The cognitive dissonance would probably lessen after further years of not having that particular tool, requiring the development of new GMing muscles. Here are some tips for building those muscles (which might be good things to try even if you do have a perception skill to use in your game).

  • Embrace the old school mindset. Describe only the obvious in a scene. Rather than using a roll to break up information, encourage your players to ask for more details. Some information may be rewarded simply for asking (“What kinds of books are on the bookshelves?”) while others may require some kind of directed interaction (“Is one of the books a switch for a hidden door?”). None of these things even need a roll, just the players describing their characters focusing on and/or interacting with part of the environment.
  • Break narration into immediate and delayed impressions. Even without the players deliberately asking for more information, there are parts of a scene that would naturally resolve over time spent in the area. Think of your scene like downloading images on slow modem connections back in the day: first you get blobs of color like an over-stretched thumbnail, then you start getting finer details. Particularly in scenes with tension or combat, you can start with the very broad and mention more after the characters have been there for a bit. For example: “The baron’s office is done in dark woods and reds. There’s a desk, chair, a cabinet, and a couple of bookshelves, with a window onto the lawn.” “You’re starting to notice a weird smell of death in the room as you look over the cluttered top of the desk. The books are haphazardly shoved onto the shelves.” “You’re getting the impression that someone rifled through the room already, and shoved things back quickly to tidy up. The bad smell is worse by the cabinet, and some of the red on the carpet that you initially assumed was a pattern might be dried blood.”
  • Consider which skills you would use to hide the information that’s secret, and let the players roll the same skill to investigate. It takes a thief to catch a thief. Roll stealth to consider where the best places in the scene would be to hide a person/object. Roll deception to figure out the techniques you’d use to distract someone from the secret you’re trying to ferret out.
  • Allow bonus information as a reward for doing well on unrelated rolls that otherwise don’t benefit from it, or flat-out gate it behind player narrative currency. “You slide into the bedroom so silently the guards don’t notice you, and you happen to pick an approach that’s so good you notice…” “You have a sense that something else might be interesting here. Anyone want to spend a fate point to find it?”
  • Make stealth/deception the only active roll in a conflict. It’s already a problem for sneaky characters that multiple guards means an almost guaranteed chance of detection if they all get a separate roll (because the more people rolling, the more likely someone is to get an unusually high result). Set a reasonable difficulty for the check based on the situation (light/cover/number of guards for stealth or believability and stress level for deception), and if you succeed, you’re good until the situation changes. Players already have a hard time not metagaming when they know they failed an unprompted perception check. “I rolled a stealth check for the NPCs at a difficulty based on the information available to you” is just as reasonable as “I rolled your perception checks in secret.”

D&D 5e: Saving-Throw-Based Firearms

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Oh, hi, welcome back to programming. Do I have enough in the queue to maintain regular posting again for a while? Let’s find out together.

This is a short, untested idea for a conversion I was looking at from Scion to a modernized D&D 5e (I eventually went with Savage Worlds, instead, which will get some explanation in the next few weeks).

Basics of Saving-Throw-Based Firearms

Proficiency in different firearms is handled the same way as other weapon types. However, instead of making an attack roll when using a firearm, the target of the attack makes a Dexterity saving throw as if avoiding a spell. The difficulty of the saving throw is equal to 8 + [Attacker’s Dexterity Modifier] + [Attacker’s Proficiency Bonus (if proficient)]. In most cases, a successful save avoids all damage. At the weapon’s long range increment, the target gets Advantage on the save.

Cover works normally to add to saving throws (as it would against spells that require a Dexterity save). Shooting into a melee, with cover granted by the shooter’s allies, if the target successfully saves, the GM may require allies on the line of attack to save as well or take the damage.

Firearms do not add the attacker’s ability score bonus, and cannot critically hit. Modern firearms do a base of 3d4 damage for a small-caliber handgun, and increase by a die size for additional caliber and weapon size (up to two steps for each). A high-caliber modern rifle does 3d12 damage. Special effects (such as a spread) may also exchange damage for the effect.

Modern firearms damages are a little bit better than bow damage (see design notes), so keep how useful you want firearms to be in a medieval/Renaissance-level game in mind when adjusting the damage ranges.

Armor that is specifically bulletproof may add Resistance to damage from firearms.

Firearms Actions

Aiming: Use your action to aim at a target that you can see that is within your firearm’s range. If the target does not leave your range, does not leave your line of sight for more than a round, and you do not move more than five feet per round or aim at a different target, you can maintain your aim upon the target. You can use subsequent rounds’ actions to improve your aim up to three total times. Each instance of Aiming adds one more die of weapon damage (to a maximum of +3 dice of damage for aiming for three rounds; e.g., a weapon that does 3d8 does 6d8 after three rounds of aiming).

Burst: Use three times as much ammunition for the attack with a weapon that can fire automatically to add one die to the damage total.

Full Auto: Empty the clip for the attack with a weapon that can fire automatically to double the weapon’s damage total and impose disadvantage on the target’s save.

Spray: You target a cone up to the weapon’s range. All targets within the cone must save against the attack’s difficulty. Successful saves take half damage (rather than no damage), unless the target has an evasion-style ability.

Spread: Treat firearms with spread (like a shotgun) as a narrow cone or line attack. For each target hit, targets further away that are also hit take a die less damage (i.e., the pellets don’t keep going after hitting a target).

Suppression: With a gun that can fire multiple times per round (i.e., not a single shot with long reload period), spend three times as much ammunition as would normally be required for an attack in order to ready an attack against enemy targets that become available in a general direction of attack. When a target becomes available while the attack is readied, that target has Disadvantage on the save. Targets know that they will provoke an attack and will have Disadvantage (because there are bullets flying wildly in their direction).

Example Firearms

  • Small Pistol (3d4)
  • Police Pistol (3d6)
  • Heavy Pistol (3d8)
  • Slug Shotgun (3d10)
  • Shot Shotgun (3d8 , Spread)
  • Light Rifle (3d8)
  • Hunting Rifle (3d10)
  • Sniper Rifle (3d12)
  • Machine Pistol (3d4, Auto abilities)
  • Submachine Gun (3d6, Auto abilities)
  • Machine Gun (3d8, Auto abilities)
  • Heavy Machine Gun (3d10, Auto abilities)
  • Belt-Fed Stationary Machine Gun (3d12, Auto abilities)

Design Notes

This whole idea mostly comes down to the lack of a touch AC in 5e. Rather than invent an armor-piercing feature for an attack-roll-based gun that requires calculation of how much of a target’s AC is from armor, this essentially targets Dex-only. That it makes spray-based attacks use exactly the same mechanic (instead of an attack roll for single targets but a save for multiple) is a bonus.

Damage is deliberately high for the weapons because of the lack of ability bonus to damage and capacity to critically hit. Most longbow users are doing something on the order of 8-10 damage per hit, on overall average, depending on how high their ability add is (and before considering magic, feats, or other damage-increasing abilities). So a gun that did 2d8 would be more or less similar under this system (thus kicking it up a bit for modern firearms to be clearly better than bows).

Crafting in RPGs

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Stick with me, folks, this is going to be meandering, but I’ll hopefully reach some kind of point by the end!

I think about crafting in games a lot. Part of that was designing a crafting system for an MMO that was seemingly well-loved by the small playerbase (which owed a lot to Brandes’ work on Fallen Earth and the crafting systems in Elder Scrolls and Star Wars Galaxies). Part of it is that I’m an avid hobbyist crafter myself (all available surfaces in my house are presently largely covered with miscellaneous resin and woodworking experiments as I try to get to the point I feel like I can make a resin river table without wasting hundreds of dollars of supplies). Part of it is that I just love to tinker on customization in games when I’m a player. This week, though, it’s because the Angry GM wrote a big article about crafting.

Angry’s system is a pretty big advance on the common, afterthought D&D crafting system. After all, it’s very similar to my system for Pathfinder Online, and likely draws inspiration from the same sources (such as Elder Scrolls). But even if it’s interesting, I’m not sure it feels like crafting.

Crafting systems (like those used in virtually every MMO) where you put one or more components into a recipe and get out a predefined item are basically just optional quests. If an NPC in town offered you a mission to collect five iron ingots and turn them in to him for a basic iron sword, that would have no difference other than fiction to “crafting” that same sword using a recipe that requires five iron ingots.

The last MMO crafting system I remember feeling like it wasn’t just a quest was in Star Wars Galaxies (which was why it was an inspiration for PFO). But that worked by virtue of having lots of extremely granular and important stats such that minor variations in materials and skill could produce items with meaningful differences in use. That’s a hard enough sell in a video game (where your programmers don’t want each item in the game to be a complicated special case record and the other designers don’t want to make an extremely complex system just so items can have a bunch of things to adjust) and it’s an even harder sell in tabletop (where you don’t have a computer to run all these complex calculations for you).

Angry is right that what a lot of players seem to want out of a crafting system is a way to customize their characters. I have some reservations about that, particularly in D&D, revolving around making found treasure seem less interesting because everyone just wants to have nothing but flavorless, specialized items. But I also don’t know that you need a crafting system to achieve it: players seem just as happy to turn over custom treasure coupons to the village blacksmith or guild quartermaster and get their items, independent of the fiction that they, themselves, are crafters.

In my personal experience, particularly as a hobbyist, crafting is never like putting in a few items and getting a standardized result. While to a certain extent it is probably like that if you make the same thing repeatedly as a profession, my experience with people on reality shows and skilled crafters in real life is that even full-time creators are interested in opportunities to make something special and unpredictable. When you’re working at the edge of your skill, it’s a long fight with your materials to get them to make what’s in your head: sometimes it’s not as good as you hoped, and sometimes happy accidents make it even cooler.

This means that, despite Angry’s reasoned points about it, some kind of randomness is probably essential to coming close to being “crafting” as opposed to quest (though Ars Magica makes a good argument that you can do something interesting as a between game system… by virtue of, like Star Wars Galaxies, having a lot of complexity). And I did a one-off crafting system in my Beyond the Wall game where a PC had one shot at making a cool magic weapon and made a lot of rolls, testing multiple traits, to find out just how cool, so I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that one PC making gear has to be boring and time-consuming at the table.

But randomness isn’t enough. The randomness, like most randomness in RPGs, is largely about capturing the variations in skill, circumstances, and focus that can’t be measured at the level of granularity most games sit at. When one of my resin projects doesn’t go the way I want, it’s not really random so much as my lack of complete understanding of the chemistry and problems with the environmental conditions (turns out there’s a reason serious resin-crafters invest in a vacuum chamber…). What really makes things feel like crafting is watching as raw materials become finished product one step at a time.

I… may have spent a lot of time this weekend making this and have boxes on the brain.

Let’s just look at a simple wooden box (of the kind that MMOs would say involves throwing a bunch of one raw material type together):

  • You have to measure out all the boards carefully, and cut them to size. Minor variations in measuring, starting board standardization, and tool precision can make things not line up, having you sanding furiously just to keep there from being obvious gaps when you’re done.
  • You have to fasten and/or glue everything together. Even if you cut the pieces exactly right, it can be challenging to get corners at exact angles and joints pushed closely together. There is a lot of clamping and waiting involved. And if you get glue that leaks into the inside of a corner, it can be really annoying to sand out later.
  • You have to sand down the whole thing and do any detailing you want to make it look interesting, and getting impatient can result in accidentally adding flaws that you then have to sand even harder to get out. If you’re going to add paint, stain, varnish, or other protective finish, you have to figure out how to apply it evenly and keep it from pooling up due to gravity.
  • You have to apply hinges and fasteners. At this point, any imperfections in the alignment of your pieces becomes really obvious when it’s hard to get the hinges to bend straight. And if you made a small box, trying to add fasteners can wind up splitting the wood and ruining everything at the last second.

And that’s one of the simplest things you can make. Once you’ve made a few, at each stage you start to get a sense of how it’s going. Early successes can lead to later despair as you make an error at the last second and ruin what was shaping up to be a really good piece. Early failures might be something you power through, something that causes you to adjust your final plan/expectations, or something that causes you to cut your losses and scrap the project entirely.

Does every crafting system in an RPG need to be multiple stages heavily informed by simulation? Not necessarily, but there is probably some juice in breaking it up into increments to increase anticipation. Each stage could carry over a modifier to the next stage based on how well it went, or grant a fraction of the final score that will be used to judge how good the final result is. Either way, it means multiple rolls, which is often a good way to bend dice luck towards the average (whereas one-roll systems make extreme results happen a lot of the time). It will vary from game system to game system and crafting type to crafting type how you capture the thrill of a stage turning out better than you hoped or the pain of deciding to make due with a mistake and continue forward. You might even save this for the really big projects (like how Fallen Earth had vehicle crafting happen in stages).

Ultimately, as Angry points out, if what your players want is a system to customize their gear loadout and you want something that’s not a distraction at the table, a recipe-based “quest” system is a fine solution. But if you want to capture the feel of actually doing crafting, I believe you have to capture the variability and sensation of chasing a masterpiece.

Only cooking and baking really use recipes anyway, and there’s a reason (other than not being able to taste it at home) why cooking shows spend hardly any time on “mixing together the recipe” and so much on all the parts that aren’t the recipe. There’s so much there there, when it comes to crafting, it seems a shame to relegate it to mixing A, B, and C to get an item off the gear list.

D&D 5e: Treasure to XP Awards

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I hadn’t gotten deep enough into running 5e until recently to really look that hard into the treasure system and was surprised to find that it’s extremely loose. For many that’s a feature, but if you’re like me and run games suffering under a constant anxiety that you’re giving out way more or less treasure than the system actually expects, this may help.

I pulled my figuring from the following sources:

The Overall Math

Xanathar’s suggests that PCs acquire around 75 gp per level at tier 1, 150 gp per level at tier 2, 550 gp per level at tier 3, and 5,500 gp per level at tier 4. This means that a PC has acquired around 26,000 gp in cash upon reaching 20th level. Meanwhile, the magic item accrual with arbitrary values from within the correct range suggests around 135,000 gp worth of magic items by 20th level. The total value of a 20th level character could be around 160,000 gp.

That is conveniently really close to half of the earned XP by that point.

If you really wanted to stick to the exact breakdowns per level, it varies up and down over time: for most of the mid-levels, wealth awarded is closer to 10% of XP earned, with a huge catchup towards 50% in tier 4. But, for a very quick and dirty rule of thumb:

Place about 1 gp worth of treasure for every 2 xp you place.

I’d suggest doing this as broadly as possible, rather than per encounter. Total up all the XP possible in a dungeon, or even a whole scenario, divide by 2, and then use that as your budget for placing treasure. Individual encounters may have pocket change, while most of the loot is in hoards in places that make sense, just like the DMG suggests. Importantly, this gives you more budget for buying rolls on the treasure tables.

(Or you can just use the DMG system and use this to sanity check what the tables are giving out to see if you need to give out more or slow down a little on hoards.)

Treasure Tables and Cash

Some of your treasure should be in the form of cash (or gems, art, and other resources which are easily converted to cash). Per each tier:

  1. Around 33%
  2. Around 40%
  3. Around 25%
  4. Around 15%

Whatever’s left over goes into items. You can spend this directly to buy items and place them as appropriate. But if you want to roll randomly using the treasure tables, you can use the following breakdown.

Table Value (gp)
Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
A 100 50% 30% 13% 0%
B 700 22% 26% 18% 0%
C 1,200 7% 15% 28% 17%
D 2,000 0% 3% 15% 35%
E 4,500 0% 0% 3% 24%
F 6,000 18% 19% 3% 0%
G 12,000 2% 5% 8% 3%
H 40,000 0% 1% 9% 6%
I 60,000 0% 0% 3% 15%

For example, a roll on table C uses up 1,200 gp of your budget (which is the approximate average value of results on the table) and should make up around 15% of the treasure tables you give out at tier 2.

Table H and I are pretty spendy, due to having extremely valuable items on them. One roll on them could make up a substantial amount of the treasure awarded, even at high level. This is part of why the overall level ramps backload a lot of the treasure value toward very high level. I’d suggest just giving out a bit more treasure at high level, and a lot more if you go past 20 (but, then, if you’re planning to run a campaign that will be 20th level for more than a minute, I assume all balance concerns go out the window at that point anyway).

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