I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.

I’m working through my Grappling Smackdown scenario here, and setting the DCs for various tasks is a thing. I wanted to make a table to quickly inform me of roughly how hard something might be, so I figured I’d share the results. This isn’t a revelation, but it’s useful to me so it might be useful to you.

One useful tidbit from the post on The Standard Array: Joe Human PC with the standard array and who is proficient in a given task will sport a 13.5 attribute as a median, and of course have a +2 proficiency bonus. This makes the average starting boosts to the die rolls about +3.5.

I’ve picked out some example DCs. Obviously moving the DC up or down a point changes the odds of success (on the average) by 5%.

DC 6

At this level, a potted plant that isn’t proficient in the skill has a 50% chance of noticing something or accomplishing a task. I’m having to significantly question why bother rolling at all here. It’s a level that might get interesting if due to unfavorable terrain or darkness or something everyone gets disadvantage.

DC 8

A first level, proficient character with a 10 ability score will still succeed 75% of the time, or a non-proficient character with a 14, a solid but not exceptional DX, for example. This is a good level for a simple task which requires some talent or expertise to get through, but by and large will be a speed bump. Even my potted plant, above (-5 ability score, not proficient) if allowed a roll will succeed on a 13 or higher, 40% of the time.

DC 11

This is still an entry level task, where a completely non-proficient average guy can succeed 50% of the time. The median starting human PC will be succeeding on this by rolling an 8, so 65% chance of success. There’s only a 10% chance of failure for a typical proficient 10th level PC operating in the expert zone. A DC 11 means that it’s still expected most folks will do this well, but the odds of failure for the uninitiated are high.

At DC 11 and DC 12, a non-proficient character rolling against one of their lowest two ability scores (9-11 as a human) will more or less have a 50% chance of success. So it’s the dividing line for “requires some sort of atypical ability or advantage to succeed better than half the time.” Atypical for PCs, that is.

DC 14

Odds of a median first through fourth level PC who is proficient in the skill failing this roll is about 50%. At this level if you’re positing (say) a forked path for adventurers of 1st through 4th level (+2 proficiency), you’re basically saying “flip a coin.” I feel this is a pretty important DC level, as it sets the boundaries for making decisions in adventures. Want your “secret pathway” to come up about half the time? That’s about a DC 14 check . . . but you better be darn sure you have it in your mind that if everyone is allowed a roll, half the median party will fail, and half will succeed, assuming their attributes and skills are spread around a bit.

Anything harder than DC 14 will require advantage, high attributes, and high proficiency to make it a cake-walk. For example, a +4 bonus and +4 proficiency, given as a 10th level character with an 18 or 19 ability score, will still fail this check 25% of the time, although if they have expertise or can eke out advantage from somewhere, they’ll only fail if they crit.

DC 17

Now you’re into telling the GM and PCs you expect them to fail. A first level PC will need to roll 14 or higher to succeed here, and even our hypothetical +8 bonus 10th level proficient character will need to roll 9 or higher (60%). An untrained person using their “dump stat” of (say) 9 or 10 will have a 75-80% failure rate here. Only a true expert (has Expertise in the skill) at high proficiency with an outstanding ability score will be looking at this as trivial.

DC 17, though, is also the level where your low-level party expert (+2 proficiency, +4 in their chosen skill at 4th level due to an ability score improvement) has a 50% chance of success. So much as DC 11 or 12 is the dividing line for making it hard for the unskilled, DC 17 is the line above which only the truly exceptional will succeed more than they fail.

DC 21

Now you’re just being mean. You need +5 proficiency, +5 attribute score, and you have a 50% chance of making this. It’s the break-even for high-level, high-skill “this is still hard” tests. At low level, you’re saying “only a crit will get you here, and only if you have a bonus, at that.” Again, one has to ask why bother unless it’s something that you think the PCs might try but it’ll be pretty silly. Well, yes, you could leap the chasm, but it’s DC 21 . . . chances of success are low.

Parting Shot

So, hopefully this will be of use as a quick reference, if nothing else. Good ability score bonuses to keep in mind are probably +0 (dump stat), +1.5 (median starting character), +3 (expert starting character), and +5 (fully developed unless you’re breaking the 20-maximum rule, as some classes do). Proficiencies are +2 (starting), +4 (mid-level), and +6 (pinnacle). Figure out how likely you want success to be, and adjust from there. Ergo, a handy table. Well, handy for me.

Ability Score Proficiency 25% Success 50% success 75% Success
0 2 18 13 8
0 4 20 15 10
0 6 22 17 12
1.5 2 19.5 14.5 9.5
1.5 4 21.5 16.5 11.5
1.5 6 23.5 18.5 13.5
3 2 21 16 11
3 4 23 18 13
3 6 25 20 15
5 2 23 18 13
5 4 25 20 15
5 6 27 22 17

About a week until GenCon, so what’s kickin’ in the hopper at Gaming Ballistic, LLC?

Dungeon Grappling and the Grappling Smackdown

To date, other than the 300 or so Kickstarter copies of Dungeon Grappling, I’ve moved 87 more via DriveThruRPG, of which nine were physical product. I’ve also sold 20 through my website, with a much higher fraction  (50%) procuring physical copies. My participation with the Indie Game Designer’s Network has moved a few more physical books (four, I believe). I have not sold a single copy through Amazon CreateSpace, and given how much of a pain it was to re-do the layout to their specs for active text and bleed (very large pain, with no help unless you want to pay them for a consult), I may reconsider doing that again. The print quality of CS did not blow me away, though it was a lot cheaper per copy than DriveThru. Case by case basis, I guess.

The Kickstarter itself broke even by the time all was said and done. I made a great looking book with solid rules content, paid for it all, and got it all out on time. I then ordered $662 worth of inventory. My revenue has been just north of $900, I think – which means that overall, Gaming Ballistic made about $300 in profit on a project basis.

I am, of course, substantially in the red as a company, because of things like paying for InDesign, hosting, and the remarkably non-trivial money of my own that has gone into Dragon Heresy in particular.

Still: Dungeon Grappling’s all-in profitability is on the order of 5% on a project basis.

I am still of the opinion that the Dungeon Grappling rules are very good for what they do, or at least the least-bad option of any I’ve encountered (unless as with many groups, you simply ignore grappling, which is the ultimate in rules-light play, I guess).

Which brings me to the Grappling Smackdown.  Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic Update and GenCon Grappling Smackdown”

Monster Monday again. This time with a repurposed Invisible Stalker, an elemental of vengeance.

While some elementals are brought for benign reasons to the Realms of the Field, the Invisible Stalker is always brought for one purpose: to hunt and kill some quarry.

The invisible stalker is a limited form of air elemental, but has sacrificed some of its cousin’s offensive power (the whirlwind attack) for true invisibility, except for the exact moment it attacks. Even then, it is a DC 15 perception check to see the “thickening” of the air that occurs when the creature uses its melee attack.

It is the attack itself that is visible (and very audible!), however, and once it moves away from the target, it becomes invisible again.

Stalkers are not always summoned to evil intent, but they are always brought to the Realms of the Field for lethal intent. Unlike many other creatures, an Invisible Stalker will not stop attacking its target until it has reached more than double its wound maximum—it beats its target until the stalker is defeated or the foe is broken and dead on the ground.

Medium elemental, neutral

Speed 50 ft., fly 50 ft. (hover)

16 19 14 10 15 11
 +3  +4  +2 0  +2 0
Defenses   Wound Thresholds
Threat DC 14   Morale Injury KO Death
Hit DC 25 0-4 5-8 9-17 18+
DR 0 Control Thresholds
Vigor 104 Grab Grapple Restr. Incap.
Vigor Dice 16d8+32 0-5 6-10 11-20 21+


Proficiency +3

Skills. Perception +8, Stealth +10

Damage Resistances. Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities. Poison

Condition Immunities. Exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, unconscious

Senses. Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 18

Languages. Auran, understands Common but doesn’t speak it

Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)

Invisibility. The stalker is invisible.

Faultless Tracker. The stalker is given a quarry by its summoner. The stalker knows the direction and distance to its quarry as long as the two of them are on the same realm within Yggdrasil. The stalker also knows the location of its summoner.


Multiattack. The stalker makes two slam attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2d6+3 thunder damage.

I backed the Kickstarter by Goodman Games promising a collection of essays entitled “How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck” out of genuine interest and curiosity in the subject matter. 

In the first place, advice and considered thought on how to write adventure modules (which I’ll refer to as adventures or scenarios interchangeably in this review) can only help me consider how to make my own adventures should I put on my GM’s hat athwartships again.

On the other hand: I’m a game publisher now, with one in the can (Dungeon Grappling), two on the way (Venture Beyond and Dragon Heresy), and at least one or two more under consideration. All of those will need support in one way or another, and adventure support, while seemingly universally less profitable than core books on a per-unit basis, is taken as a strong sign of a vibrant well-supported game line. A good adventure showcases the rules, engages players, and generates conversation and “buzz” about the game that is way better than abstract reviews or other considerations.

So, I backed it with interest, and received the hardcopy a week or so ago.

Continue reading “Ballistic’s Report: How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck”

I’m not an artist, and I don’t play one on TV. Nonetheless, for Dungeon Grappling, and even more so for Dragon Heresy, I’ve taken it upon myself to fill the role of Art Director for my works. This is good, because it allows me to directly influence and drive how my works are presented to the public. It can also be very bad, because I’m not even close to a pen-and-paper artist, and so my art direction tends to fall into three categories.

  1. Text descriptions of what I want the scene to be. These can be quite long.
  2. Photo images that go along with (1).
  3. Stick figures

Yeah, stick figures. Continue reading “The importance of reference images (art direction)”

I want to apologize for my ridiculously sparse content production this last . . . month? I had a business trip to Thailand, which despite what seems like lots of time on planes and with downtime in the hotel, is mentally draining. For me at least. It’s basically the creative equivalent of being hit with a hammer. Not in a good way.

Then immediately after I got back, my wife had to nip off to Italy for a 10-day martial arts tournament and seminar. So I’m in charge of my 7yo and 3yo daughters, which does not give me a ton of time to dig in to anything creative during the day (well, for the weekends).

This week is going to be a bit better. The 4th of July work schedule for most folks is pretty slim, and my kids are at school/camp MWF, which should give me some creative time. Further, +David L. Pulver and I are making below-the-waterline progress[1] on Venture Beyond, and I can see a time coming soon where the game goes to playtest and final layout.

For Dragon Heresy, there is slow progress being made, but it IS very slow. We’re in the middle of a bit of a rate-limiting step, where the things I want to do right now are unwise to do until that step is done, otherwise much time is wasted.

Still, my apologies for not throwing anything down for a while. I’ll try and rectify that soon.

[1] This is a synchronized swimming reference. Above the waterline, all is graceful and still and nice. Below the waterline, churning like a piranha-great white shark smackdown. If such a thing could happen. The key reference is all the hard, frantic work happens where no one can see it.

Sorry for the extreme dearth in posting. I’ve been in Thailand since last Monday morning, and I’m still there, for work.

These trips are almost invariably two weeks long, and quite draining. Work hours are regular, but one tends to get very, very sleepy right after dinner, so it’s hard to focus on much, and certainly not focus on rules.

Still, good news: I have a draft of the Venture Beyond ruleset. I have edited and commented on all chapters but the core rules, which I’ll be getting to Real Soon Now, hopefully starting tonight.

We’re going for a fairly rules-light approach. No classes, no levels, though there’s a strong “profession” type notion running through the game. It will feel a bit like a hodge-podge of Fate, the old d6 Star Wars, LBB Traveller, plus a dose of more modern design concepts. Point-buy is primary, but we’re trying to see if there can be some random chargen and maybe even life-path options; that might need to come later.

I’m looking forward to hitting the rules section hard, because I’ve got a chance to try and avoid some of the issues or quibbles I have with other game systems, including my own Dragon Heresy, but also GURPS and others. So it should be fun, and David’s given me a solid core to work with. Once the editing and rules settle, then it’s Kickstarter time, I guess!

Dungeon Grappling is part of the DriveThruRPG OSR sale. I have also lowered the price of the print product on my own website.

From now until June 11, you can get Dungeon Grappling at a lower price:

  • The PDF has been reduced to $8.00
  • The Print Book has been reduced to $16.00
  • The Dungeon Bundle has been reduced to $21.00

Dungeon Grappling has been fairly heavily praised for making grappling, and grappling monsters, no longer suck. Show your players the real meaning of gripping terror with Dungeon Grappling.