Gaming Ballistic was one of the hosts of the RPG Breakfast Club this past Sunday. It’s a live podcast also rebroadcast on Anchor.

Topics covered in the ‘cast were: Introducing Kids to RPGs/Marketing, and Introducing children to RPGs,Expanding the audience in general, and possibly pricing books and pdfs in the industry.

My voice is very quiet, for some reason.

https://anchor.fm/…/episodes/RPG-Breakfast-Club-Ep–1-e2urf1

Look for more episodes each week!

Juan’s been busy with life, but we reconnected, and his comment was “Well, I hated the composition of my first cover, so I’m doing it over.” So he sent me a Lost Hall of Tyr 2nd Edition new cover WIP!

Here’s the new composition as it stands.

We should be seeing a final full-color version on Friday!

If it strikes your fancy, pre-order it on Backerkit! You’ll have it before June . . . maybe sooner.

 

Daniel over at Mailanka’s Musings has a nice post on Map-Making in Theory and Practice. In short: a million times yes. I have to echo his throughts on Maps and Inspiration: a good map is really, really inspiring.

Started with a Map

It works both ways, too. In my Torengar/Nordlond setting for Dragon Heresy and Hall of Judgment and Lost Hall of Tyr, the map came first. I set up a history using Microscope and another “game to play a game” kit that I can’t remember anymore that helped set up the long prelude to the current state of the main realm. I drew up some key terrain features that appeared to be important, and then commissioned Cornelia Yoder to make me some maps.

I have since been leveraging those maps heavily in making the details of my setting sing. This is particularly true of the mini-setting I’m working on for what will hopefully be my first-quarter Kickstarter: The Citadel at Nordvorn.

Featuring the titular town of Nordvorn with its adjoining citadel, there are also three other important towns and villages of note, one of them destroyed.

The town of Ainferill (Riverbend) sits about 40 miles south of Nordvorn on the Jotunnain (a river; áin means river; I think properly conjugated it should be Jotunná, but I have it as “fun” that the northern areas use áin and the southern areas use á, as sort of a regional accent thing). It’s a town of about 1,000 souls, or about 200 families, give or take. It’s the seat of a Jarl, the second tier of noble, but they still have to get the king something like $10M per year in GURPS moneys, or about 200,000 gp in D&D moneys, as a Duty to keep the title.

Just north of Ainferill is the slightly smaller (750 people) town of Vegghofn (Sallyport), which marks the last easily-accessible break in Audreyn’s Wall (think in between Hadrian’s wall and the Great Wall of China) until the other side of a mountain range that the wall jogs around for Reasons.

Anyway, point is: I am detailing these three settlements. What are the important guilds? Why have guilds at all? What industries or products make each town unique? Why should there be a town here at all?

Greater Torengar/Nordlond

This is my realm map. What can I say about it? Well, it’s got heavy forest, plains, and lightly wooded or intermediate areas. These divide out nicely into “logging and forestry,” “grazing lands,” and “farming” when it comes to surplus products for more than just surviving. It’s a high-level thing, but it’s informative.

The cities cluster densely in the farming area (blue). More food, better climate, more trade, higher population density. The capital is also there.

A Slice of Nordlond

Hey, what do we have here? A slice of Nordlond/Torengar, with Isfjall from Hall of Judgment in the west, and stretching to Midgard in the East.

From Isfjall to Midgard and beyond. Still copyright Cornelia and licensed to me.

Northwatch is Nordvorn – one means the other. But it’s maybe 250 miles east of Isfjall, so it’s a hike if you walk it. But why would you? Take a boat and sail down the Wodenain to Nethanfoss, then it’s maybe 50 miles along the “Palisade Road,” which isn’t shown on the map. That should be an exciting trip, since the area to the Northwest of the Palisade is called The Hunted Lands, home to marauding faerie and more than its fair share of monstrosities, undead, constructs, and other things that wish to eat you.

But the map informs this. How long will it take to get there? Well, big rivers tend to move at a few miles per hour, 1-5 mph not being unusual. So the 200 mile trip on the river could be as fast as 40 hours, or two days, or as long as a week. Plenty of time in either case for a few encounters with river raiders or river-dwelling monsters, but not so long that the game will drag.

That last 50 miles to Northwatch from Nethanfoss is probably a few days hike as well, and while the path/road is guarded, it’s still dangerous lands.

That makes Nethanfoss a very interesting market. It has access to both grazing lands, water, and abuts the Einmanna forest. And it’s a crossroads, being the natural departure point for goods to come east from the settlements along the Wodenain.

All this from the map.

Ainferill

Now we venture south from Nordvorn, because there’s been a rumor that the Jarl is hiring adventurers. Or maybe killing them. It’s Nordlond: perhaps it’s both.

In any event, what’s going on at the Riverbend? Well, it’s got woods. It’s adjacent to a metal-rich mountain/range. It’s got grazing land. And it’s at a convenient stopping place for ships coming upriver to rest and get ready for a hard pull into the faster-flowing stretch of the river from Ainferill to Nordvorn.

If you do a bit of line work, you can see that the Jarl probably controls about 265 square miles of land, and about half of that is grazing land – ideal for sheep – that is mostly plains. The other half, to the north and west, is lightly wooded, leading to thicker woods in the Einmanna Forest.

OK. So we have wood, metal, wool, and cattle and goats. This is a shipbuilding town. It’s also one of the towns (the two south of Ainferill and west of Jarngardr are two more) from which a whole lot of sheep are raised and turned into wool, cloth, clothing, and other products.

This is a jarl whose income depends on wool, cattle, ships, and trade. That’s what he’s going to care about, and that’s where threats to his power – or extensions of it – will come from. Does he mine in the hills just across the river? Does the hajarl of Midgard resent this? Ainferill could sit in the demesne of either Northwatch or Midgard – are the jarl’s loyalties solid, or being tested?

What about bandits? Or monsters? If you do the work, something that between some expert help and the Adventurer Conqueror King books domain rules make easy, you can see that monsters or monstrous people killing or taking livestock will really honk off our jarl, as as much as 25% of his Duty – maybe more – can come out of the income stream from wool and cloth.

But . . . karls (freeholders) own their own lands. How does that work? Well, that’s where the guilds come in. That worked out nicely too.

Parting Shot

I spent a lot of time last night working with the map, agricultural data, and conversing with some experts to turn this slice of Nordlond into a living world. Not only is it living and hopefully provides some immersive detail, but it becomes something from which you can really see how folks might wish to bring an adventuring party on board to deal with problems.

Suffice to say that the tie of personality, economics and trade are all made more obvious with a good map. A map, a knowledge of what can be grown and made with certain natural resources, a feel for the personalities of the leaders and citizens and what they care about . . . and the adventures flow easily. Especially when the area in question has recently undergone some . . . rather dramatic calamities.

Stay tuned. Hopefully you’ll see this one pop up in the first quarter of this year!

I got to play Dragon Heresy in a game run by a young lady my own system on Friday. She’d either never or rarely GM’d before. She decided to run in my book, as her dad was a supporter of both the original Lost Hall as well as Dragon Heresy. My take-aways?

The Good

  • The world is compelling and immersive. She grabbed on to the details and hooks provided by the map of Torengar every bit as much as I’d hoped.
  • Northwatch really is a compelling spot on that map, and I’m glad my upcoming release will detail the heck out of it
  • The grappling system, also available as a stand-alone in Dungeon Grappling, really is that good. Everyone got it, everyone used it, no complaints. Seamless.
  • It was amenable to fast play in a two hour session by a new GM. So very accessible.
  • The final confrontation was not combat; she ran a nifty scenario where we had to play against Loki himself. I showed her the flyting rules after the fact, and she really liked them.

To be Improved

  • The real area that stuck out as a stumbling point was a stumbling point on remembering that a swift attack (like an arrow from a bow) is quite nasty: it only has to meet the lower Threat DC unless the target has a shield.
  • It didn’t come up much, but the decision to employ a Frantic Defense to avoid taking wounds if a target is attacked and its Hit DC is exceeded happens before armor is subtracted.
  • The ranged combat tweaks in general are more extensive than melee.

There’s an obvious fix for this: a short flowchart. Ideally something that fits on a 3×5 or playing card. Once you get the system, it’s very smooth. But a quick reference for ranged and melee combat that would fit on the back of a playing card is now on my radar.

All in all, she designed and executed a two-hour scenario that finished in two hours, which is amazing for a new GM, so well done to her on that.

As for my part, I kept my promise. I answered questions where prompted, she ran the game, and I shut up and played my character.

Good game.

I’ll be one of the hosts of the RPG Breakfast Club on the Tenkar’s Tavern Discord.

Topics for tomorrow include “Pricing of RPG Projects” and “How to reach out to new folks,” I believe. It’s a good lineup – should be fun.

How do I get to The Tavern Discord? Follow these Steps:

  • Step 1.) Go here https://discordapp.com/download
  • Step 2.) Click which is best for you Windows, Mac, Android, IOS, or Linux and download it.
  • Step 3.) Once it has finished downloading click the + button surrounded by a dotted circle on the left hand side
  • Step 4.) Click the Join a Server button and copy and paste this into it https://discord.gg/GaXW2TX

Thursday is GURPSDay, and marks the first full week of 2019. It’s been a bit of a crazy week for me, as schedules are only now returning to normal after break (the kids are back in school) and trying to work out a good balance of writing and doing other things.

There are, however, things to do. I am busily writing The Citadel at Nordvorn, a mini-setting with far too much going on for its own good, for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. This is the first of three works that will be published for that game in 2019. As noted in my brief post today: I’m having ridiculous fun writing it.

In personal Gaming Ballistic News:

  1. If you liked Hall of Judgment, and either also play or have friends that play Fifth Edition or Dragon Heresy, the Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition) campaign closed having raised roughly the same amount of money as the 1st edition. That left us short of the offset print run stretch goal at $6,000 . . . but the Backerkit Phase is going very well, especially thanks to a few folks who ordered Viking-style shields! If you can show your D&D-playing friends the link, pitch it to your FLGS, it would go a long way. We’re something like $100-400 from that stretch goal, with two weeks left in the Backerkit phase. The more I can get product out there, the better stuff I can do for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, as rising sales lift all boats.
  2. There’s been a lot happening “under the waterline” over at GB, and more will be revealed soon. I will say that several varieties of product, not written by me, are all simmering on the mid-stove. Some of these will really excite SJG fans!

GURPSDay is in its fifth year – GURPSDay started in February 2013,  a year after I started Gaming Ballistic. Things have slowed down a bit, and I’ll be considering how to revitalize this weekly activity. I’d like to see an average of 100 posts here per week – one per blog, ish – so we’ll see what we can do to get creative juiced flowing.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPSIf you just started a GURPS blog – and I know that some of you have – email me and get on the list! With the advent of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS, there’s even more reason to write.

How? Two action items: post more, recruit more. It’s really that simple. More posters is more posts, and more interest in GURPS.

Below you can find the blog activity for the last week. There’s a whole lotta awesome GURPS going on. Read all the posts.

Not every blog posts about GURPS every week, but some are ridiculously prolific! The list is randomized, so different bloggers will be highlighted at the top of the post each week.

As always, if you’re interested in having your blog consolidated here, navigate over to The Instructions Page and drop me a line. Take special note of the RSS Settings Fix if you’re on WordPress.

Continue reading “GURPSDay Summary January 4, 2019 – January 10, 2019”

Convenient Aircraft Carrier for Scale.

I’m busily writing The Citadel at Nordvorn, Gaming Ballistic’s next return to the world of Nordlond (known as Torengar in Dragon Heresy). This one’s a mini-setting, focusing on the events and interactions between important players (including the characters!) in the lands surrounding this vital town. I am having ridiculous fun putting these towns together.

I just finished the description and detailing of Nordvorn itself. I am moving on to the other two important towns in the book, Ainferill (Riverbend) and Vegghofn (Sallyport).

The compact nature of the towns – Ainferill and it’s roughly 1,000 inhabitants sits on a chunk of land and water about 25 acres in size. That’s a circle about 350m in diameter, which is basically the size of The O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) in England. That is, the entire village would fit inside it.

Even the much larger keep and town of Nordvorn is only 7,500 residents and its longest dimension is only three times that of Ainferill.

These are little places, relatively speaking, which means they can truly come alive with detail.

I certainly hope that you enjoy visiting them as much as I am writing them.

Excerpts

Some fun bits from the draft. Subject to change, of course. Presented entirely lacking context or structure.

Lyfta Road

The “lift road” is named for its terminus at the great lifts coming from the docks and the lower market and shipyard. After one leaves the market proper, one can find all sorts of ironmongery and shipfitting crafts: Sailmakers, blacksmiths, armorers, brassworkers, and weaponsmiths. The armorers and weapon-makers are closest to the Ring Road, mostly to reduce the noise. Any goods coming upstream, or going downstream, by ship must pass through the lift. As such, some call Lyfta Road “Skattgötu,” or “tax street.”

Eternal Bridge

A name like that invites hubris, but the Eilífur Brú has the chops to merit the name. The walls are over 20 feet thick, the columns, supports, and span magically melded with the strong rock of the river gorge. It has stood up to wind, weather, and thrown boulders from trolls and hill giants, as well as projectiles from siege engines.

The bridge begins with a massive structure known as The Terrace Gate, which as its name implies houses a series of massive doors each on a different level of the structure. The Terrace Gate actually enters a hundred feet or so below the top of the eastern gorge wall, and the winding staircase with interlocking gates, murder-holes, and other defensive emplacements is called The Spiral.

The town side of the Eternal Bridge ends in a large walled enclosure as well. There are barracks, training grounds, and defensive emplacements, and the entire structure would rank as one of the notable fortifications in Nordlond if it weren’t immediately adjacent to the Citadel itself.

The Hunting Gate

The closest tower and sallyport to Little Rock. Even more than the other city gates, the Hunting Gate is constructed to be used, and frequently, for war. It is staged to allow sorties from within the Lower Town when needed, as well as the point of departure for those thegns, huskarls, and Wardens who attempt to keep the people and goods coming out of the Hunted Lands safe. Or at least safer.

Sigurtákn

Thievery is forbidden. Sneaking around and taking someone else’s property is punishable by outlawry and thralldom. However, challenging someone to combat over a coveted possession, or facing them in some sort of fight, real or provoked, allows the victor vast leeway in claiming spoils of battle (in some cases this can include property and in older times, even family). Property obtained in this manner is called sigurtakn, (“victory token,” or “trophy”) and is considered honorable. Well, at least valorous. Dangerous, perhaps? A man bedecked head to toe in armor and weapons that are all sigurtakn is a man to be kept at arm’s length. Such people are called dýrð-óðir, or “glory-mad,” (behind their backs) and given the same sort of respect you give a scorpion, venomous snake, or feral dog – admiration for their deadliness, but not someone you turn your back on. Ever.

 

Survey Status

The Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition) Kickstarter campaign is in the Backerkit phase. You guys have done great for the surveys . . . and have been generous with the add-ons, which I appreciate. We’re over 4/5 – 82% to be precise – complete. There are 24 people who have not filled out their surveys, but of those, 17 have hard-copy material for which I need an address, so if you have already ordered, or would like to order, physical goods . . . I need a shipping address. We are also only 20 new orders from achieving the offset print run stretch goal . . . so we’re very, very close.

Funding Status

Those of you that have backed my projects before know I’m transparent in terms of where the money’s going. You backed me, you get the straight dope on funding flow. In this case, after Kickstarter fees, we brought in $3,675 from that part of the campaign. Backerkit has brought in about $940 in not-shipping fees, for a total of $4615 to date that can be applied towards the dual goals of the project: the maps, and the print run.

The offset print run and maps together require $5,275, so we’re about $660 shy of the goal.

Even as-is, the digital short-run printing with CPI in the UK will produce up to 400 books if I choose. In distribution, these won’t be self-sustaining at the cost-to-produce as they would with the offset run: That’s OK (It’s not ideal, but it’s OK). No matter what, there’s Dragon Heresy support out there, and more on the way.

The key to victory here is simple: 20 pre-orders of PDF and Print.

Schedule

Glynn has already finished five of seven maps. I gave a preview of what they’ll look like a few days ago, but I like seeing it so here it is again:

He’s done something fun with the entrance to the Hall itself, which is to draw the outside and inside lower hall as a single map, split into two halves. This will allow a notional battle to rage between the two seamlessly, which was in the original adventure but not really reflected on the maps.

That means barring Real Life, the maps should be done and ready by week’s end. That will let me start finalizing the PDF. I’ve got a few conversion notes to put in, some stats and conversion notes for Swords & Wizardry to add, and an error check to do. Hopefully that will all be complete within the month of January; then we’ll get a preliminary PDF out so folks can look for errors and typos that always slip in.

Basically, I’m on schedule. The same schedule I posted originally in the Kickstarter campaign. This isn’t an accident: it’ll be the fifth Kickstarter that I’ve run that will be on time or ahead of schedule (that is, all of them). If we hit the offset run, expect your print copies in June (or before). If we don’t, you should get them 4-6 weeks earlier.

Don’t forget those surveys if you’re doing physical product! And as always, a little word of mouth (of Facebook? Of Twitter?) goes a long way. We’re about two dozen print pre-orders, or 10 “Starter Kit” with a copy of Dragon Heresy included, from the stretch goal that will both improve the book (thicker, heavier paper, lay-flat sewn binding) and get it out there in retail stores next to the core book.

If you have questions, you know Where to find Gaming Ballistic on the Internet!

There’s a lot going on here at Gaming Ballistic, and eight days into the New Year I find myself multitasking furiously. This is good. One of the things I’m working on is setting up international print-on-demand for Hall of Judgment.

One of the eternal frustrations of working as a US publisher is the difficulty – largely due to shipping – of serving cross-border customers. For whatever reason (and I’ve read several), it’s darn near prohibitively expensive to get books made in the USA out. This is especially irksome given that if for some reason I am able to afford an offset print run, which brings the cost per book down to levels that can survive a distribution channel profitably . . . I can’t effectively get the books OUT again.

Anyway, short version here. I really liked the production values of Hall of Judgment. It wasn’t sewn or lay-flat, but it was a nice perfect-bound book on 93# paper (140gsm).

I just approved the new cover for Hall of Judgment via Print-on-Demand from the same vendor (CPI Anthony Rowe). It’s going to be about 1mm thinner, but still printed on nice thick silk-coated paper stock. It’s also going to be print-on-demand out of the UK, and sent by Royal Mail. This is the best shipping arrangement I’ve found.

So if you order a book from me and you’re not in the USA, it’ll probably come from them, and we can avoid the extra $20-40 in shipping that comes when I send out of the USA.

Once it’s all finalized, I just received word that the title is now ready to print! As soon as I get an update on prices, I’ll change the shipping prices on my website for that product. But it’s a good step to getting product worldwide for less.

Wounds, Vigor, and Fragility

Dragon Heresy made a few changes to things – notably in the implementation of Wounds and Vigor to make explicit what Hit Points leave abstract (you’ll have to grant me a bit of dispensation for utility here; I like it, and it helps with certain narrative-mechanical consistency issues). Wounds for Joe Average start at 10; a 20th-level Berserker (barbarian) with STR and CON 24 can have 31 wounds. Creatures that are very large (like dragons and giants) multiply calculated wounds; small creatures divide wounds. It’s easier to smush a pixie than a dragon. On my Discord channel for Gaming Ballistic, someone asked me about Sneak Attack. Since I’m about to release some direct support for the Dragon Heresy system via an upgrade to Lost Hall of Tyr, it’s very topical.

The formula for wounds is CON + the STR bonus. So with starting Strength and Con scores ranging from about 8 to a high of 16 for starting characters; characters with the standard array could start with CON 16 and STR 15 for 18 wounds; a 9 CON and 11 STR would be about 10 wounds. There might be ways to have lower, but starting characters will range from 10-18 wounds, with 14 being about in the middle for PCs.

If you exceed your wound maximum, you die. Over half your wound maximum and you risk unconsciousness. So even a few dagger thrusts or a single arrow can do you in, doubly so with a critical hit.

Wherefore art thou, Rogue?

That’s an inappropriate use of “wherefore,” I know, since in context is means “why” and not “where.” But much like the appropriate meaning for the phrase, Rogues are absent from Dragon Heresy. I had to cut somewhere – a lot of somewheres – as getting from my three-volume, 420,000 word initial draft to something I could afford to publish (a single, 288-page volume) required basically cutting two words in three from the draft.

So rogues, whose primary mission of sneaking around and stealing stuff is dishonorable in Viking culture, and which did not appear in some of the original source material, got the axe.

No, really. What about Rogues and Sneak Attack?

Without the Rogue class, the Sneak Attack debate could be shelved. That being said, during the game’s design phase we worked through multiple versions of Sneak Attack. This is the one that we chose. Some of the changes to the published rules might not be reflected in the version below, but this is what the starting point for revision would be. My design effort have been trending towards “simpler!” for a while, so at the end, I’ll go through and make some notes – but the changes, if any, are indicated in strike-through.

Sneak Attack

Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon. Advantage can come from any source, but the most common are striking from hiding and striking when the foe is flanked.

The amount of the extra damage increases as you gain levels in this class, as shown in the Sneak Attack column of the Rogue table (basically 1d6 every five levels, capping at 4d6 at the top tier).

Sneak attacks also have the following two benefits:

  • A sneak attack is considered a Swift Attack Surprise Attack, and scores a hit so long as the attack exceeds the Threat DC of the foe.
  • The DR of the foe is halved due to the ability to precisely target the weaker points in the armor. This does not stack with magical potency or damage type—armor DR can only ever be halved once.

If the rogue also wants to make a called shot to gain +5 to the critical threshold, she must give up advantage to do so. Giving up advantage for this purpose does not disqualify the attack from being a Sneak Attack.

Example: Eydis, an 11th level rogue with a dagger, has lain in wait for a guard that is barring the way to the treasure room of a dungeon chamber. At the right moment, she eases out from her hiding place, striking her target, who has Threat DC 12, 50 vigor, and a wound maximum of 18. The humanoid is wearing heavy armor with DR 6. As the blow is a Sneak Attack, any Threat will count as a hit to armor and wounds, with only frantic defense able to convert wounds to vigor.

Eydis chooses to give up advantage to also increase her critical threat range from 20 to 15-20 on her attack roll. She will normally do 1d4+4 piercing with her dagger based on her Dexterity 19 (+4).

If she rolls lower than 12 she will simply miss. If she rolls between 12 and 22, she will hit, and her damage roll of 1d4+4+3d6 will face DR 3 (absorbing this attack via frantic defense will take 16-52 vigor!). If she rolls 23 or higher she scores a critical hit and inflicts 2d4+4+6d6 damage (requiring 24-96 vigor to absorb!) against DR 3.

If the GM rules that the target is a “mook,” and is caught unaware, then if Eydis hits, she will deliver from 5-23 damage through the DR 3 armor, averaging 14, enough to render her target unconscious. If she critically hits, she will average 27 wounds, and the foe will start making death checks.

If the target is not a mook, and can avail himself of Frantic Defense, an average hit will drain 34 vigor, while a critical hit will result in a total vigor loss and 5 damage remaining—the armor will absorb 3, and the target will suffer 2 wounds and must make a morale check. Sneak attacks against “worthy” opponents are not auto-kills, but they drain vigor from the foe very quickly.

(Image stolen from We Are Rogue)

Looking at it a bit More

The core rules have changed a bit since this was written. Not a ton, but let’s break down the draft and see.

More Dice, Upon Advantage. This is the same rules basis for the SRD, and it hasn’t changed. If you can rack up advantage from any source, you can use this sneaky attack to add dice. This aids penetration of DR by virtue of extra damage, and your odds of a critical are higher, because advantage.

Surprise Attack. You lose reactions with a surprise attack, but the rules call out being able to use Frantic Defense, and you can’t use reactions (which Frantic Defense is) when surprised. The change for Frantic Defense to consume your reaction came late in the design phase. Rephrasing this as a Swift Attack, like bows, fixes this.

Halves DR. This is cool because it lets a rogue or someone else with this ability target foes in heavy armor, but doesn’t make them inherently more deadly by virtue of large piles of damage dice. That’s one of the benefits of the Aim/Evaluate action, so it’s basically getting that for free. You never quarter DR in the game, though; not yet. That’s for simplicity, just like “you can’t stack advantage.

Can Increase Crit Threshold. You’ll have to trust me on this one: +5 to the crit threshold is about balanced with other things of similar ability. It’s not as overpowering as you’d think, even if you roll double dice on a 14-20 instead of just a 20.

Mook Rules. The example clearly has a “mook rule” where only heroes and important folks can avail themselves of frantic defense. The fact that the example is also a true surprise attack means that mook or no, in the current published version of the rules, they can’t avail themselves of Frantic Defense. To folks familiar with regular Fifth Edition, what this means is that facing a CON 16, STR 20 fighter with 85 vigor (read that as hit points) means if you hit, you’re attacking vs 21 wounds (so risking KO at 11 or more, death at 22 or more), and who cares how many HP they have?

In the End

So a thrust with a rapier from a Dexterity 18 rogue will do 1d8+4+Sneak Attack damage. At 10th level (since the fighter above might be 10th level) you’re looking at +2d6 extra and DR is halved. That’s 7-24 (16-17 average) on a normal blow, and 14-48 (average 31). That’s a strong possibility for a one-shot KO with a regular success, and on the average, dying with a crit (and possible instant death at more than 42 wounds, no saving throw, no death checks, just dead).

Even with “only” 1d6 and a +3 bonus at 1st level, that’s 5-17 points, 11 on the average; 10-34 on a crit (average 22). Still enough to lay low even a 20th level barbarian, with the maximum wounds available to a human in the game: 31.

So sneak attack is plenty dangerous when done from surprise, and a ridiculous drainer of vigor (because frantic defense absorbs damage as vigor as 2 vigor to 1 damage), and makes armor half as effective.