Dungeons and Dragons has shaped the way that roleplaying has developed. We can’t ignore that. It’s part of the reason that games are inherently simulationist in some fashion; we simulate a character’s abilities in a real-like world (skills, damage, ability scores, etc) rather than their effect on a story or their role in a party. That is, itself, left over from earlier war games that shaped D&D, but it’s something we can’t ignore. While this version of the game is much more about storytelling and engendering a roleplaying environment, it is still a Dungeons and Dragons game and will have a lot more to do with combat than most other things.

Which brings us to skills; how do we make a system that is both more complete than “NonWeapon Proficiencies with Difficulty Number” but isn’t needlessly complex or require tons of bookkeeping?

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On the Origin of Races

February 23, 2017

This is a…big question. Namely, what role do races play in D&D and how do we do them right? This is especially complicated by the fact that “race” doesn’t mean just heritage in D&D, it’s historically also meant cultural history. As an example, an Orc might have Darkvision in D&D thanks to being born an Orc, but an Elf isn’t genetically or magically gifted with proficiency with Longswords and Long Bows. That’s training. With the Dwarf and Halfling benefits to fighting giants, that was explicitly spelled out – children of those communities gain training in fighting giants.

Since you can’t call a product of training “racial traits”, since there’s no factor of birth there, I think we’ve got to split race in half – Heritage, the people you are born to, and Past, the culture you were raised in. Combined, these are, to borrow from Dragon Age, a character’s Origin. They tell us what kind of Hero the character can become, or at least where they’re coming from.

This also makes it easier to expand races dramatically since we’ve got two small things that combine into a huge number of potential “races”. Now, how do we balance them?

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The recently graduated student of the largest arcane university on the continent heading out to make their mark in their old school robes, staff and sling clutched tight in anticipation. The child who accidentally destroyed their house with a sudden burst of flame from their hands, outcast and seeking redemption. A price paid, an oath sworn, blood spilled, and vengeance sought; she left that home for the last time with his head above the door and her Master smiling from beyond. He never learned how, exactly, it made sense to him but just on the edge of the vision he could see the shapes and structures of sorcery…hopefully, on the road, he can learn more. She didn’t care for the books her father studied, nor for the raw power that her brother seemed to delve in, she instead loved her potions, her scrolls, her wands, her devices. They had never been very good at being clear on anything, and the fact that every time they tried to form a spell in their mind caused some part of them to change as well didn’t help matters at all.

These are all Arcanists. At this point they’re all young, they’re all unpracticed, and they’re all learning the ropes in most of the same ways. While they are diverse, and will diverge soon into their adventuring career, early on all Arcane specialists follow the same path – learning their first Engrams and forming their Arcane identity.

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Man, it’s taking me a week to get to this. Arcane is such a mess, thematically and mechanically, in D&D and I’ve been really unsure about how to go about this. What I’m looking for, though, is player agency. Player choice. This is what I’ve come up with.

We’re ditching spells for Arcane. Spells are clunky, weird, and poorly costed. There are some spells that are just obnoxiously powerful for their level, other spells that are totally worthless until you have extra caster levels to cast them with, and yet others that should never be used at all. This is exacerbated in tabletop where “creative” uses of spells have gone on to break the game. The comments here can help explain why the so-called Quadratic Wizard is a problem.¬†On top of that, many Wizard players may come away with a feeling that they’re kind of pidgenholed into a certain kind of play style – even if they’re not playing 4th Edition. The spells are poorly written, which is the biggest problem for me.

So we’ve got to replace the most archaic and traditional D&Dism ever. With something that gives players more agency, which D&D players famously hate. Yay!

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D&D’s Magic is Busted

January 2, 2017

I’m serious. It’s terrible. Vancian magic is absolutely horrible for a game. I’m not going to preserve it, at all, and there’s no reason to defend it. It makes no sense that beings who are otherwise massively powerful and able to manipulate the very matter of the universe with their will alone, essentially, are trapped in the most player and game punishing system possible.

It’s also far, far too powerful as it exists now.

We’re scrapping the whole thing and starting from scratch.

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