Heretical Countdown – what’s left to do

I’m starting to really see the end of this.

What I’m trying to get done this week:

  1. Backgrounds. Want to get them done, at least to first draft status. (finished 6/15)
  2. Shields. Want to make these decisions, revise the rules, publish them in advance of next month’s games. (conceptually finished 6/15, will ripple changes later Wed)
  3. Character subclasses and multi-class options. Decide what they will be, and start with populating them. (starting Wed night)
How am I doing?

There’s a lot below the break – this is pretty major status report.

Based on the dominating behavior of the shields in last Friday’s game, I knew I needed to revise the rules. As it turned out, I’d confused myself a bit in play, and was running them a tetch wrong. The way I should have been running them made them still good. but much less special than the “U Can’t Touch This” dance that my orc bandit was doing against poor +Tim Shorts. My first revision was fun, and good, but ran into a few problems with application when it seemed that what was good about arrows also applied to true warhammers – what 5e would call a ‘military pick.’ That wasn’t really where I wanted to go.

So naturally I started with special cases, and “this doesn’t apply to X” type exceptions. Well, great. Now you need to break out a freakin’ flowchart or something. And was it really that realistic? This is an SRD5.1 game . . . why is the word “realistic” even in my damn lexicon?

So this morning I just said “forget it. This particular special ability – two of them, actually – makes shields cool enough to be going on with, they’re easy to remember, and everything else just works like the core rules.”

That felt better, the “default” way of playing will then be “it works like everything else,” and you can get on to rolling dice, eating pizza, drinking beer (or the beverage of your choice – for me, it’s Apothic Red), and killing monsters and taking their stuff.

So I think one more editing pass and the shield rules are done.


I’ve got, um . . . 18 of them, which are each wide enough to accommodate tons of things. The Artisan can be a mason, smith, woodworker, or anything like it. The Combatant has a background in organized violence, like a mercenary company, praetorian guard, or grunt soldier. The Ruffian is more personal, less organized. She might have been a gladiator, town guard, bouncer, or thug. Broad enough to allow creativity, defined enough to make it clear that they’re different from each other.

Each of them is pick from the following list of skills . . . with the top choices in bold, but with a few more to round out in case you will already get one of those with your race/class choice.

As noted earlier, I refined my “point allocation” method and inserted that into the text, and have usefully used that to balance, more or less, these backgrounds. That the Acolyte, the one background in the SRD, works out exactly right using this method was not a coincidence.

I have populated Ideals for all of them, as well as the “stat block,” which are the skills, languages, tools, and class feature. Now I have but four more to finish Personality Traits, Bonds, and Flaws. Then I’ll tell my playtest team “Make ’em better” and hopefully get some suggestions of “swap this out with that,” with the notion that once I’ve done the job of actually putting stuff on paper, “change this to X” is a hell of a lot more fair request to make of a playtest team than “invent X for me.”

Subclasses and Multiclasses

The SRD5.1 has the main classes already defined. One of those, though, has been the subject of huge amounts of discussion on the net, and taking that to heart, I found an alternate version that I really like. That meant that an ability usually associated with that class was orphaned, so it migrated over to another class and that defined the second subclass for that one, killing two birds with one stone.

My rogue class picked up a “this is the way people play this anyway” subclass, and since some of the other subclasses feel more like job descriptions to me, I don’t miss their loss. 

I’ll be using what I will call “explicit multclassing” to demonstrate how to get the feel of some of the missing material. I think the half-dozen examples that I’ll put in the book will work out well.

I think this will be a challenging section to write for me. Finding original or at least not-too-badly stolen class abilities, and then balancing them so that they’re appropriately cool for the level, is a new skill for me (“What? I get BASKET WEAVING as my 17th level Druid ability?”)

What’s Next?

Well, if I can get all that done, it’ll be a fantastic week.

What else?


If you’ve been on this blog at all, you know I like to write grappling rules. Given the amount of crap various systems get for them, at worst I’ll be indistinguishably bad, at best they’ll stand out. I’ve already seen in playtest that they work, and since you’ve seen them before if you’ve been paying attention, I know that they should be closer to “stands out” than “lost in the piles of suck.” 

That doesn’t mean people won’t hate them. There hasn’t been a rule published that someone doesn’t hate. But since I try and constantly refer to my rules for grappling rules while revising them, hopefully I won’t go too far astray.

But I did do a fairly substantial pass, based on playtester feedback, on these rules this week, as a parallel effort to the shield and background work. I think I’ve got one or two things left to resolve, mostly in scaling. Two pixies, for example, who are STR 2 and DEX 20, had a hard time resolving their little pixie wrestling match (“In this corner, we have Tinkerbell . . . in that corner, her nemesis Vidia. Let’s get ready to rumble in the sands of Neverland!”) in a way that wasn’t stupid. I think I have a line on fixing this, and that should solidify those rules.

Plus a new Feat that I really should call the Georges St-Pierre, which is actually called Weapon Grappler, that gives people a bit more ability to use their weapons while grappling, as well as enabling certain “sword-taking” moves by making it easier to get in close to an armed foe. That’s such a cinematic classic that I wanted to enable it explicitly. Optionally (because Feats are optional), but explicitly.

Feats, Stunts,  Techniques, Maneuvers . . . 

The question of Feats, and the recent (and excellent) Unearthed Arcana on them, really brought home one thing – make sure that if you’re writing a feat, that it doesn’t carve out something anyone should be able to do and make it only available if you have a certain thing. 

Anyone should be able to Disarm, Trip, perform a takedown, or even choke someone into unconsciousness. Studying it should make you better, but anyone can play.

So I’ll be including a list, likely in the “optional rules” section, that hopefully provides advice on how to structure such things, and a list of examples. I don’t want to call them maneuvers, I like the idea of a nod to GURPS by calling them Techniques, but may wind up calling them stunts. All are accurate.

Spell List Revisions

I’m dreading this. But the changes to the rules – even though I like ’em – make me have to go through a lot of the combat spells and tweak ’em to better fit within the rules structure of the game. This is tedious, repetitive, formulaic work, but needs to be done. 

It’s one of the reasons, actually, that this is a full RPG book and not just a 20-40 page “here’s a rules hack” document or even a blog post. Stopping play to do math because the spell needs to be tweaked to the new concepts? No way. That’s my job to work it out ahead of time for players and GMs, and with the SRD publication, I can do it for my audience’s convenience. 

Setting Details

I have a great history for the setting that gives a lot to hang the games on, and makes “go forth and murderhobo in the wilderness!” not just something you wink at, but an explicit setting feature. A few other things are done that way too – take the conventional RPG tropes and make them setting-supported.

I’ve contracted with a talented cartographer, the first real money I’ve laid out for this, but it’ll be worth it. I already like where it’s headed, and as she says, she hasn’t even started with the real drawing/art yet.

I suspect that I will be pulled between “release the setting as a separate product” and “put it all in the main book” in terms of how I do it. I will likely reach out to industry pros and get their thoughts on this one.

Oh, and I’ll likely have to work out treasure tables and rewards for the setting, since some of the assumptions in that part of the book might not be straight outta the standard guides.

Monsters and Foes

Again, this could be “here’s the setting-specific monster book!” since just the foes in the SRD works out to be 60,000 words long. That’s a lot of stat blocks. 

What I’ll do is likely put in a good cross-section of foes into the main book, so that it’s stand-alone, and then integrate specific regional foes – literally ‘There Might Be Giants here in this part of the wilderness” into the setting book. That way the core book has enough to start, and if you want more detail done for you, you can get it. If you want to go all “it’s my sandbox and I’ll play like I want to,” booyah, I think that’s great.

Magic Items

One of the setting conceits has to do with magic items, and I won’t go into detail. But they’re not sitting on every shelf in every store in the land. So I need to cherry pick.

This, of course, will not be “thou shalt not,” because GMs are going to do what they want – and should – no matter what. But while you can always pull stuff from wherever, having certain things be ‘yeah, this fits’ and certain others be ‘well, that’ll be different-but-cool’ is part of what I think I need to do as a designer.

Optional Rules

There’s been a lot of “wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ” from my playtesters. Some of that I have just said “no.” Some I have included in the primary text. Many more I say “nice, but I don’t want that level of complexity required to play the game, so Optional.”

Then I go and design the primary rule to be the mid-point of where the optional rules will be.

Primary example: shields. The medium shield is the only shield in the SRD. It’s the only shield in D&D5 as well, I believe, though I’m sure somewhere there are rules for other types, because it’s an obvious reality to emulate.

But the primary rules have just the medium shield. The optional ones will include light shields (bucklers, for example) and large shields (tower shields) with rules for those. Great flavor, easy to picture in your head, but “I want a sword, I want mail armor, and I want a shield” is part of the simplicity I’d like to enable in the game, while still giving the nod to more.

It also keeps my focus on easy assimilation of the game, which is a good thing.

Finishing Touches

After that, the primary writing is done, and we’re into pre-production!

  1. I get to work hard(er) with my layout guy to get a preliminary layout with holes for artwork
  2. I have to provide draft art direction for each hole. I’ve been engaging in some conversations with artists, and have generally been pleased. My goal is to put public domain or donated art in the pre-pro draft. I’m not wealthy enough to lay out the estimated $30,000 I’ll need to do the entire book under self-financing a priori. Alas.
  3. Again, post preliminary layout I will also conduct a recruitment drive for phase 2 playtesting, where I ask probably 50 people to play the game as written in the PDF, and come back to me with comments. 
  4. With a prelim layout and more feedback in place, I can engage an editor and an indexer to do professional jobs with this. I can guarantee, though, that my index will be: “Equipment, p. 99; (see also Gear, Crap, and Treasure)” rather than “Equipment: see Gear.” If you can anticipate enough how someone will want to look for something to have an index line for it, you can include a freakin’ page number. 

At some point I will crowdfund with Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. But my goal is to only do this step when I have a PDF that could be sold as is, though perhaps not with the full production values I’d like. Then the crowdfunding effort is “Make it pretty” rather than “finish it, hopefully, one day.” 

I’d hate to incur the Wrath of +Erik Tenkar, after all. 

And I have a title for the game, but have been coy about sharing it. I wonder when the right time is?

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