This one’s unusual, because I didn’t do it. My Aesir-level playtester +Luke Campbell loves fae and sidhe and all things funky, and he ran a playtest on his desk, taking a notionally high-challenge sidhe – not the rulers, but still powerful – of the Fey and pitting them against four 8th level characters with a typical party makeup. I’ll just post his words and you can see how this turns out.

Pre-fight Commentary by Luke

I volunteered to help write up some of the monsters.  Oh whatever did I get myself into?  But it has been a real blast, even if a lot of work.

I’ve tried to get a set of antagonists and actors in the world that are evocative of real-world beliefs about mythical and legendary creatures with a Norse focus (although with influence from all around Europe).

Recently, I’ve been working on the upper level fae, what the Norse would have called alfar.  These were powerful beings, almost divine in some ways, hidden spirits of nature that were set apart from and (in some ways) above men.

One question during the design process is figuring out how much of a challenge an encounter with one of these beings would be.  So I took a typical alfar (or fairie, or sidhe, or whatever one might call it) and set it against the archetypal party of a fighter, cleric, thief, and wizard. Then I tweaked the fae’s design parameters, and ran it again.  And again.  And again.  Our poor party was caught in a Groundhog day-like cycle.  Sometimes it was a cakewalk.  Sometimes they got curb stomped.

I finally got dialed in on a design I liked, of about the desired challenge rating, which I could use as a base for ever more powerful variants as the fairie nobles and ladies acquired power and mystical connections to their archetype.  I reported back on some of my findings to the playtest group, and Douglas asked me to do another test with some minor rule tweaks.  So I did, and kept careful note of what happened.  In the process, my generic party acquired names, and perhaps a bit of personality, as did their wily foe.

Then I sent my notes to our playtest group – and here they are. A blow-by-blow breakdown of the fight, in all its gory detail.


Prelude

Our setting: my computer desk … err, a windswept ledge crawling along the sheer cliff-sides of the Frostharrows.  The path has just passed under an overhang (that looks oddly like a computer monitor), widens out to a ledge of relatively flat ground with good footing about 40 feet across with a sheer cliff plunging down to the right and jumbled scree and boulders to the left (difficult terrain, odd that they are in the shape of keyboards)), before turning 90 degrees and continuing along the front of the desk, err, mountain for about 100 feet before turning again.  A clever person with sharp eyes might notice a narrow path between the keyboards – um, scree and boulders.  Just before the path turns, sits a large boulder (mouse), and beyond there are large rocky outcrops (books and piles of paper) around which the path winds, with broken ground and difficult footing.  The boulder is where Fairlane will be sitting when first encountered.  The characters will be represented by lego minifigs, and distances measured with a ruler, using 1 inch = 5 feet.

The wind blows chill, bringing with it a light dusting of snow and making eerie howling sounds in the canyons.  The sun has risen, with the crisp light of late morning that you get in the mountains.  Since our heroes are on the east face, they have had daylight for several hours, and got an early morning start.  Although chilly, once started the hiking has invigorated and warmed them although they are likely to stop soon for refreshments.

Fairlane has spied the party approaching – trespassing in his hold! But they might make fine tools with which to harass his neighbor-enemy.  As the party rounds the bend, they see an old man, possibly a goat herd (but we know him as Fairlane in disguise) sitting on the bounder, scratching designs in the dirt with a stick.

… and that’s enough for now, until I get down to actually gaming things out.  I may run several tests – previously some were very short when the entire party got charmed and were sent off on a wild goose chase.

Dramatis Personae


Frode the Fighter, Human Fighter (champion) level 8
Str 20 (+5); Dex 13 (+1); Con 17 (+3); Int 9 (-1); Wis 12 (+1); Cha 11 (0)

Vigor 74 (8d10+24); Threat DC 16, Hit DC 27 (+4 from shield); DR 8 (plate armor)

Wounds 20; Control 21

Proficiency +3; Saves: Str +8, Con +5
Skills: Athletics +8, Intimidation +3, Insight +4, Perception +4
Defense fighting style
Second Wind (1/rest): As bonus action, +1d10+8 vigor
Action surge (1/rest): +1 action
Extra attack
Improved critical 1
Remarkable Athlete: +2 to Str, Dex, Con if proficiency doesn’t already apply

Longsword: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d8+5 damage (crit 19-20)
Handaxe x 4: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d6+5 damage (crit 19-20)

Welch the Wizard, Human Wizard (school of might) level 8

Str 13 (+1); Dex 16 (+3); Con 20 (+5); Int 20 (+5); Wis 14 (+2); Cha 13 (+1)

Vigor 74 (8d6+40); Threat DC 13, Hit DC 24 (+4 with shield spell)

Wounds 21; Control 16

Proficiency +3; Saves: Int +8, Wis +5; Skills: Arcana +8, Investigation +8, History +8, Insight +5

Spell Save 16, Spell Attack +8; Cantrips; Acid Splash (2d10), Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Magic Missile (2x2d4), Shield, Sleep (5d8 vigor), Mage Armor; 2nd (3 slots): Continual Flame, Invisibility, Web (2d8+8), Scorching Ray (3x3d6); 3rd (3 slots): Counterspell, Fireball (4d6), Lightning Bolt (4d6), Fly; 4th (2 slots): Black Tentacles (3d6/4d6), Polymorph

Sculpt Spells; Arcane Ward: absorbs 13 damage

Quarterstaff: +4 to hit, 5 ft., 1d8+1 damage; Dagger: +6 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+3 damage

Ragnar the Rogue, Human Rogue (thief) level 8

Str 15 (+2); Dex 20 (+5); Con 12 (+1); Int 14 (+2); Wis 16 (+3); Cha 9 (-1)

Vigor 51 (8d8+8); Threat DC 15, Hit DC 26; DR 2 (studded leather armor)

Wounds 14; Control 20

Proficiency +3; Saves: Dex +8, Int +5; Skills: Acrobatics +8, Athletics +5, Investigation +5, Perception +6, Stealth +11, Insight +5, Sleight of Hand +8; Tool Proficiencies: Theive’s tools

Sneak Attack +2d6; Cunning Action: Hide, Dash, or Disengage as bonus action; Uncanny Dodge: Use reaction to halve damage from attack; Evasion: 0 damage if Dex save succeeds, half damage otherwise; Fast Hands: bonus action to disarm a trap, open a lock, sleight of hand, use object; Second Story Work: climb at full speed, +5 feet to running jump distance

Rapier: +8 to hit,5 ft., 1d8+5 damage; Dagger: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+5 damage; Shortbow: +8 to hit, range 80/320, 1d6 damage (crit 18-20)

Carr the Cleric, Human Cleric of Justice and War level 8

Str 20 (+5); Dex 11 (0); Con 18 (+4); Int 12 (+1); Wis 20 (+5); Cha 14 (+2)

Vigor 75 (8d8+24); Threat DC 14, Hit DC 25 (+4 from shield)

Wounds 21; Control 18

Proficiency +3; Saves: Wis +8, Cha +5; Skills: Insight +8, Religion +4, Medicine +8, Persuasion +5

Spell Save 16, Spell attack +8; Cantrips: Light, Guidance, Resistance, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Divine Favor, Heroism, Bless, Cure Wounds (1d12+8), Detect Evil, Guiding Bolt (4d6), Protection from Evil; 2nd (3 slots): Magic Weapon, Zone of Truth, Enhance Ability, Lesser Restoration, Prayer of Healing (6 x (1d8+8)), Protection from Poison; 3rd (3 slots): Righteous Fury, Remove Curse, Dispel Magic, Protection from Energy, Magic Circle; 4th (2 slots): Banishment, Locate Creature, Freedom of Movement

Channel Divinity (2/rest); Destroy Undead (challenge <= 1); Judge of Character: advantage to determine falsehood; Righteous Arms: Use channel divinity for maximum damage for 5 turns; Improved Heroism: add +11 to vigor when using heroism spell; Divine Strike: extra attack as bonus action

Mace: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d6+5 damage; Shield: 3 hits

Fairlane the Fairie Freeholder


Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
13
20
15
16
16
20
+1
+5
+2
+3
+3
+5
Defenses
Wound Thresholds
Threat DC
15
Morale
Injury
KO
Death
Hit DC
26
0-4
5-8
9-17
18+
DR
0
Control Thresholds
Vigor
112
Grab
Grapple
Restr.
Incap.
Vigor Dice
15d10+30
0-4
5-9
10-18
19+
* DR +1 to +5 with mage armor.
Proficiency +3
Saving Throws. Con +5, Cha +8
Skills. Acrobatics +8, Deception +8, Insight +6, Perception +6, Persuasion +8
Damage Resistances. Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from non-magical and non-ferrous weapons
Condition Immunities. Charmed, sleep
Languages. Sylvan, Common
Challenge 8 (3900 XP)
Innate Spellcasting. The fairie’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 16, spell attack modifier +8). The fairie can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components, as a 10th level sorcerer:
  • cantrips: dancing lights, mage hand, mending, message, minor illusion, prestidigitation
  • 1st level (4 slots): detect magic, mage armor, sleep, shield
  • 2nd level (3 slots): hold person, suggestion
  • 3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, major image
  • 4th level (3 slots): arcane eye, polymorph
  • 5th level (2 slots): creation
The fairie has 10 sorcery points, and the Heightened Spell, Quickened Spell, and Extended Spell metamagic abilities.
Magic Resistance. The fairie has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. This power does not work if the sidhe is in contact with iron or steel.
Trackless. A fairie leaves no tracks. Although it has a normal scent, it leaves no scent trail. Difficult terrain is treated as normal terrain.
Fleet Footed. The fairie can take a dash or disengage action as a bonus action. Climbing does not cost the fairie extra movement.
Elf-Stroke. Any physical attack by the fairie, unarmed, melee, or ranged, deals an extra 10 (3d6) necrotic damage as vigor. This can be delivered as a touch attack, if no weapon damage is to be caused. DR subtracts from weapon damage first, and then necrotic damage.
Actions
Multiattack. The fairie makes two attacks.
Fey Charm. The fairie targets one creature that it can see within 30 feet. If the target can see the fairie, it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be magically charmed. The charmed creature regards the sidhe as a trusted friend to be heeded and protected. Although the target isn’t under the fairie’s control, it takes the fairie’s requests or actions in the most favorable way it can.
Each time the fairie or its allies do anything harmful to the target, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success. Otherwise, the effect lasts 24 hours or until the fairie dies, is on a different plane of existence from the target, or ends the effect as a bonus action. If the target’s saving throw is successful, it is immune to the fairie’s Fey Charm for the next 24 hours.
Fey Veil. As long as it maintains concentration, or until it attacks or casts a spell, the fairie is hard to notice. It can make Dexterity (Stealth) rolls in plain sight, at a bonus of +8. There is no need to roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check for creatures with a passive perception score of 21 or less, they will not notice the fairie without actively looking.
Shortbow, Magical. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus Elf-Shot ability (critical on 18-20).
Shortsword, Magical. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) slashing damage plus Elf-Stroke ability.
Change Shape. The fairie magically polymorphs into Medium or smaller beast, humanoid, or fey of its challenge rating or less; or back into its true form. It retains its Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, its Vigor, its traits and actions (except for armed melee attacks, if the form lacks hands for holding weapons). Otherwise, it takes on the physical (but not mental or magical) traits of the creature it changes into. The fairie’s equipment can polymorph with it, remain carried or worn, or fall to the ground, at the fae’s option. A fairiecannot polymorph if in contact with iron.

Fairlane is scheming against some of his neighbors, and plans to use guile to get at them.



Play of the Fight

The kids are in bed, the chores done, and the pythons fed.  Lets do this.

The fairie casts Mage Armor on himself well before the heroes reach him, expecting there may be trouble, and using a level 5 spell slot to gain DR 5.  The wizard has long ago cast mage armor on himself using a 4th level slot, and then took a short rest before setting out for the day to recover that slot.

Our heroes approach the old man sitting on the boulder, cleric and fighter in the front, rogue and wizard in the second row. The old man, actually the fairie, attempts to charm the fighter, figuring him to be the weakest-willed among the group (turns out he’s right).  The fighter rolls a 12+1=13 for his save, and fails to meet the DC of 16.  Frode the fighter doesn’t know why, but he feels he can trust this man.  The party reaches the fairie.

“Greetings, good sir,” says the cleric.

“And a good day to you, my lords,” replies the fairie.  “What brings you to these lands?”  The fairy now tries to charm Ragnar the rogue.  Ragnar rolls a 15+3 = 18, easily beating the DC.  He feels a cloud pass over his mind before he shakes it off.

“What trickery is this!” shouts Ragnar.  “He is not what he seems, he is trying to befuddle me!”

“Nae,” says Frode.  “You must be mistaken.  We can trust this man.”

“Fool!  He has already taken you.”  Ragnar retorts.

During this exchange, the fairie tries to charm the wizard.  Welch the wizard rolls 10+5 = 15, and succumbs to the fairies charms.  “Ragnar,” Welch calmly explains, “there is no need to get paranoid about this old, harmless man.  Likely, he needs our help.”

“Not you, too!’  cries Ragnar.

And now it is Carr the cleric’s turn. The save is 5+8 = 13, not good enough.  “Ragnar, be reasonable” says Carr.

Ragnar looks at his companions wildly.  There is only one thing to do – kill the vile sorcerer trying to enchant his friends.  Quick as an ermine, he slips around past the front of the line, draws his rapier, and tries to impale the fae.  His attack roll is 12+8 = 20, threatening the fairie.  Fairlaine ducks just in time as the blade whistles over his head, taking 3+5 = 8 vigor, with 104 remaining.

“Help!” pleads Fairlaine.  “He’s mad!  Won’t someone help a poor old man?”

Time to roll initiative.  In order of initiative Fairlaine (25), Carr (15), Ragnar (14), Welch (10), and Frode (9).

Fairlane waits, preferring to let the party fight each other rather than risking his charm by attacking.

Carr will not let that scoundrel Ragnar hurt this poor defenseless old man, but neither does he wish to hurt is friend.  Grappling it is!  Carr steps around behind Fairlaine and tries to tackle Ragnar.  He rolls 9+8 = 17, threatening him and causing 8+5 = 13 vigor as Ragnar avoids Carr’s lunge.

Ragnar disengages and slips into the rock fields, then uses his bonus action to hide.  He rolls 3+11 = 14.

Welch tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 13+2 = 15.  Good enough, but he just spent his action peering around.

Frode tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 1+4=5.  No good.  Frode steps out between Fairlaine and the scree jumble to try to protect his new friend from attacks coming from that direction, if needful.

Fairlaine rolls 2+6 = 8.  Not good enough to see Ragnar.

Carr doesn’t have to roll, his passive perception is 15.  Fearing his friend is under the influence of some malign magic (ha!) he tries Protection from Evil, which would give Ragnar an extra save (at advantage, no less) if that were the case. “Ziu, protect this man!”  Of course, Ragnar is the only one not affected by fell magic, so nothing happens other than Carr expending a 1st level spell slot.

Ragnar pops up and looses an arrow at Fairlaine.  He rolls 7+8 = 15 and 2+8 = 10, and takes the 15.  This just barely threatens the fae, but it’s enough.  Damage roll 3+2+3 = 8.  Fairlaine dives aside at the last moment, losing 16 vigor and leaving him with 88.  Ragnar takes his bonus action to hide again: 13+11 = 24.  He vanishes like smoke in the wind (well, better than smoke in the wind.  Smoke tends to hang around and be visible for a while).

Welch drops a web spell on Ragnar’s last known location.  Since Ragnar didn’t move much, he may be caught.  The spell rolls its attack: 9+8=17, and Ragnar takes 5+6+8=19 vigor as he avoids the sticky strands.  Ragnar now has 19 vigor left.

Frode looks for Ragnar.  20+4 = 24.  Just barely, he sees Ragnar, crouching behind a rock, with webs all about him.  “I’m sorry, my friend, but this is for your own good.”  He strides forward, navigates the unstable talus, and tries to grab the rogue.  Welch sculpts his web spell so that Frode can pass through.  Frode rolls 19+8=27 for his attack.  That’s a solid hit.  The damage roll is 6+5=11 – Ragnar backpedals furiously, spending 18 of his remaining 19 vigor in vigorous defense to reduce the control to 2.  Frode has a tenuous grip on Ragnar’s boot.

Fairlaine feigns concern, but does nothing else other than laugh inwardly.

Carr turns to Fairlaine.  “Let me help you, good man.”  He uses a cure wounds spell to allow Fairlaine to recover 3+8=11 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 99 vigor.

Ragnar starts his turn in the web, so he takes 4+5+8=17 control.  He is now well and truly restrained (19 control, control maximum 20).  Ragnar tries to escape.  His roll is at disadvantage for being restrained.  He rolls 5+8=13 and 3+8=11, so he gets the roll of 11.  Okay, what do you need to roll to threaten a web spell?  It doesn’t say?  I’ll say he needs to meet the spell save DC, which is 16.  Ragnar goes nowhere.

Welch concentrates on his spell.

Frode tries to get a better grip.  He has advantage because Ragnar is restrained.  6+8 and 20+8, for a critical hit with 28.  He causes 12 control.  Ragnar is now incapacitated.

Fairlaine says to Carr “Thank you lord.  But my nerves are still shaking.  Can you spare another?”

Of course, replies Carr, giving Fairlaine another cure wounds spell.  Fairlaine heals another 5+8=13 vigor.  He is now at 102 vigor.

Ragnar can’t do anything.  Technically, he takes more control from the web, but at this point, who’s counting?

Welch concentrates on his spell.  “Do you have him yet?” he asks Frode.

“Not yet” Frode replies, and tries to get Ragnar in a come-along.  Since Ragnar is restrained, I’ll just give Frode an auto-crit.  3+3+5=11 control, for a total of 25 control from Frode alone.  “Now I’ve got him!” exclaims Frode.

“I’m still not quite back to normal” says Fairlaine to Carr.

“Ziu heal you” prays Carr, and Fairlaine recovers 11+8=19 vigor.  He’s now back at his original 112 vigor, and Carr is out of 1st level spells.

“Many thanks,” replies Fairlaine, and then (since he was waiting) activates his fae veil.  He rolls a 13+8=21 on his hide check.

Ragnar does nothing.

Welch drops the web spell.  It is no longer needed.  But where did his new-found friend go?

Frode drags Ragnar out of the rocks and into plain sight.  Then looks around in confusion for the old man he was helping.

Fairlaine realizes he will get no good out of these fools any more.  Might as well dispose of them.  The wizard is most dangerous, so Fairlaine stabs Welch in the back.  17+8=25, 5+8=13.  Fairlaine takes the 25.  This is a solid hit.  Damage is 3+5=8 for the shortsword, and 4+1+4=9 for his elf stroke, for a total of 17.  Welch takes a frantic defense, and suffers a loss of 34 vigor.  He has 40 left.  Since Welch was attacked, he can make a new save against the charm – 13+5=18, and Welch is free!  “What?  Who?  YOU!  FIEND!”

Carr suddenly notices Fairlaine as he tries to stab Welch with his sword.  An attack on his ally, enough to allow another save against the charm.  17+8 = 25.  Carr’s mind unfogs.  Ragnar was right all along!  Carr casts protection from evil on Frode using a second-level slot.  Frode rolls 15+1=16 and 8+1=9, taking the 16.  Frode can see freely now!  He releases Ragnar.

Ragnar hides as a bonus action, rolls a 10+11=21, and disappears behind the boulder Fairlaine was first sitting on.

Welch turns on the fae that just attacked him.  “You worm!  Be a WORM!”  He casts polymorph on Fairlane.  Fairlaine’s Wis save is 16+3=19 and 18+3=21 (remember, he gets advantage on saves vs. all magic).  Both succeed, so he could take either one.  No matter, Fairlaine is not destined to spend the next hour eating dirt.

Frode turns on Fairlaine, his blade flashing.  His first attack is 7+8=15, his second 8+8=16.  Both threaten the fae.  Damage is 3+5 and 4+5, for a total of 17 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 95 vigor.

Laughing, Fairlaine turns on his veil again.  12+8=20.  Where did he go?

Carr casts Detect Evil using a second level slot.  He now knows where Fairlaine is.  Then he uses his Divine Strike to attack with a bonus action.  14+8=22 to hit, 4+5=9 for damage.  Fairlaine is now at 86 vigor.

Ragnar tries to spot Fairlaine.  19+6=25, That’s more than enough.  Unfortunately, he just used his action trying to find the fae, so he has to wait until next turn to do something.

Welch doesn’t want to waste time trying to look around.  He drops a fireball on his own location (offset a bit to avoid anyone hiding behind the boulder, like Ragnar).  He uses Sculpt Spell to exclude Carr and Frode from the blast.  Fairlane was still right behind Welch, so he is caught in the detonation.  His dex saves are 1+5=6 and 15+5=20.  He takes the 20, and only loses 2+4+6+1=13 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 73 vigor.

Frode tries to see Fairlaine.  1+1=2.  No dice.  Still, he moves to where he thinks Fairlaine might be.

Fairlaine stabs the wizard again.  14+8=22 and 4+8=12, taking the 22.  Damage is 4+5 and 6+6+4, for 25 total.  Welch has 15 vigor left.  Everyone can see Fairlaine now.

Carr uses a 3nd level slot to cast cure wounds on Welch.  9+10=19 points are cured, and vigor recovery is doubled.  Welch now has 53 vigor.

Fairlain’s back is to Ragnar.  Ragnar darts from behind the boulder and strikes with his rapier.  14+8=22 and 15+8=23 – good enough to hit, and the 23 is a crit.  Damage is 7+7+5 for the rapier, and 4+4+6+6 for sneak attack.  So 39 base damage.  Fairlaine spends 72 of his remaining 73 vigor in frantic defense to cut down the wounds to 3, which are soaked up by the mage armor.

Welch blasts Fairlaine with magic missile.  Does casting a spell within reach of an enemy give the enemy an attack of opportunity?  I’m not going to bother looking it up at this point, and say no.  Fairlaine uses his shield spell as reaction to negate the magic missile.

Frode steps around opposite of Ragnar, Fairlaine is now flanked.  Frode attacks twice, both times at advantage.  18+8=26 and 8+8=16 for the first attack, 2+8=10 and 3+8=11 for the second.  One solid hit, doing 5+5=10 damage.  Fairlaine loses his last vigor point, his mage armor absorbs 5, and he takes 4 wounds.  He rolls an 11+5=16 to avoid demoralization, and succeeds.

Fairlaine doesn’t like his position right now, and uses his bonus action to disengage, strikes at Welch as he leaves, and moves 30 feet away.  His attack roll is 12+8=20, a threat.  Damage is 5+5+6+4+5=25.  Welch has 28 vigor left.

Carr chases Fairlaine down and strikes him twice with his mace (once for his normal action, once for his bonus action).  First strike 4+8=12, second 7+8=15.  The second connects.  Damage is 6+5=11, minus 5 for the mage armor, for 6 wounds.  Fairlaine is critically wounded but rolls a 20+2 on his con save to avoid unconsciousness,  He succeeds, and is only injured.

Ragnar takes a bonus action to dash after Fairlaine, then shanks him in the back with his rapier.  Fairlaine is not flanked or surprised, so Ragnar doesn’t get a sneak attack.  He rolls 14+8=22, good enough.  Damage is 6+5=11, reduced by 5 for mage armor, for 6 wounds.  fairlaine is now at 16 wounds out of 17 wound maximum.  He rolls 18+2=20 to avoid unconsciousness, again succeeding.

Welch lets lose a lightning bolt.  It doesn’t matter whether Fairlaine succeeds or fails his dex save, he’s going to take wounds.  I’ll roll anyway … 16+5 and 4+5, for a save.  But with no vigor left … 4+4+5+2 = 15 wounds.  Reduced by 3 for the mage armor to 12.  Fairlaine is now at 28 wounds, and automatically falls unconscious.  He rolls a 6 to avoid death, and fails.

Post-fight Commentary by Luke

The fight is over.  Fairlaine lost, and lost his life.  But our heroes are pretty banged up.  Ragnar’s vigor is almost entirely depleted, and Welch is at about 1/3 of his normal vigor.  Both Welch and Carr have used up a lot of their spells.

Since it is getting late, I won’t tally up the damage inflicted by each individual right now, but we see that Ragnar’s one sneak attack was the decisive blow that changed the fight around.  The discussion of removing the critical threat range bonus would have meant that it would have been far less devastating.  It would still have been a good, solid blow that would have cost a lot of vigor, but it wouldn’t have been the one attack that mattered the most.

There are probably some rule errors here – misinterpretations, and math mistakes, and so forth.  A number of character choices were probably sub-optimal.  They would have been made in actual game play, too, so I’m not too worried.

D&D is a fun game.  I have many fond memories of playing AD&D in grade school, engaging in epic quests to save the world in Junior High, and sitting around the table with a handful of good friends from the university, laughing, eating pizza, and wrecking carefully imagined worlds with our character’s antics.

Still, when I sit down and think about old AD&D and the newer SRD that more modern versions are based on, there are a number of weird bits that bother me.  They don’t get in the way of a good game, but the model builder and simulationist in me makes me want to fix them, tweak the game until I get a beautiful, consistent framework of rules that is not only fun to play but scales well and does a fair job representing real world antics (albeit with a heroic bias).  What I’m looking for is probably impossible, but can be approached, even if at a distance, to get something less able to break suspension of disbelief.

Dragon Heresy goes some way toward this goal.  By conceptually separating vigor and wounds from hit points, you get rid of a number of bizarre results that come from the traditional conceit of the ever-increasing spiral of hit points at higher levels.  Now your 16th level barbarian doesn’t causally shrug off a sword through his guts, he nimbly sidesteps the blow … for a while, until he gets too tired out.

A neat idea, but does it work in practice?

Yes.  Playing the game is as easy as the traditional SRD, with more dramatic results.  The grappling system, in particular, is a work of genius.  Douglas has done an impressive job putting together this rule set, and his dedication to seeing it published and available to the table-top gaming community is simply inspiring.  It has been my privilege to help in this process, in my own small way.

It is enjoyable seeing the setting develop.  From a nebulous initial concept into a fully fleshed out world.  It is enjoyable to be involved with the creation, working toward a realized world with strong motifs and influences from Nordic culture.  It is enjoyable to be a part of getting the rules and descriptions to evoke a sense of northern pagan Europe in the early middle ages.

And I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.  A world with fae spirits hidden in rocks and hollows, where great and terrible gods occasionally walk the world of men, where brave adventurers set forth in their longships to go raiding and pillaging and exploring in exotic lands.

Douglas did specifically ask me to mention what I don’t like about Dragon Heresy as well as what I do.  They’re minor points, and will not get in the way of having fun, but here are a few additional niggling details that scratch at the back of my brain when I spend too long thinking about things rather than just getting out the dice and gaming:

  • The way ranged combat versus melee combat works is a bit odd, in that an arrow is assumed to cause wounds unless you take a frantic defense, while a sword causes vigor.  I understand the rational behind it – you can’t parry an arrow very easily, but two sets of rules for different kinds of attacks breaks my desire for simplicity.  Is there a way around this?  Maybe, maybe not.  Having been through many rules revisions over the course of the game’s development had me starting out these playtests with a misconception that got fixed when I actually read the more recent set of rules – treat an arrow (or other ranged) attack like a normal vigor-causing attack, but don’t include your proficiency bonus to your hit DC.  This has the advantage of a more consistent conceptual way of handling things, and the disadvantages of requiring keeping track of two different hit DCs for your character depending on circumstances, and of needing to go back an re-write the rules again, and making sure you catch all the places in the text where things need to be changed.  
  • A wimpy goblin with Str 6 and Dex 20 will do massive damage with a shortword since he gets to add his Dex bonus to damage instead of strength.  Weird.  He should do wimpy damage as well, because even though he’s squirly and sneaky he’s still a wimpy goblin of wimpiness.  A gargantuan Str 30 lindorm gets +15 to hit with his massive venom-dripping jaws lined with rows of serrated steak-knife teeth, in addition to any proficieny bonus.  What ever happened to Sinbad gracefully evading the blows of an immense and powerful yet clumsy monster?  I understand there will be an optional rule somewhere about using Dex for all hit bonuses and Str for all damage bonuses, but I don’t know what shape it will take, how it will interact with finesse weapons, or any other details.  Still, it would get around issues I run into when finding a tiny orm gets to add lots of damage to its attack because it has a high Dex and similar confounding events I find as a monster designer.
  • Making monsters big and small leaves me wanting some basic guidance on how attributes and damage scale with size.  Unfortunately, the SRD is inconsistent on this.  Dragon Heresy has done some great things on getting critters to scale better across a vast size range, but its still not perfect.  Of course, getting a truly consistent set of rules would take you so far from the SRD that you probably wouldn’t be playing a D&D-like game any more.
  • I’m not sure armor or shields should impose penalties on Dex bonuses or as much disadvantage as they do on some skill checks.  This is a bit of a case of getting hoisted by my own petard – Douglas asked for ways to keep sheilds from being overwhelming, and I made a bunch of suggestions, and they actually got used.  Perhaps if you have proficiency you can ignore the Dex penalties and disadvantage on ability checks?  I don’t know.  But as it stands you can have a very high Dex character actually get easier to hit if he uses a shield.  You certainly do want to preserve character niches, allowing your viking warrior to have his mail byrnie and shield while the outlaw rogue puts on a more modest apparel and your wizard wise in the ways of seidr to merely be wearing a robe, cloak, and floppy-brimmed hat.

As I said, minor points.

Overall, it’s a good game, fun to play, fun to be involved in the design process.  I look forward to seeing it turned into an actual product, one I can hold in my hand and see displayed on the shelves of game stores, one where I can feel a sense of accomplishment at being involved, in however small a way, in giving back to the community of like-minded gamers that has given me such joy over the years.

Post-fight Commentary by Doug


First, I have to thank Luke for being a ridiculously awesome playtester. He’s written a ton of monsters, is tireless at stress-testing the game, and knows a lot about fey and Nordic mythology, which has been very valuable during the test.

Discussion, then!

Sneak Attack

The discussion over how much damage a sneak attack ought to do, and on what frequency, has been an active one. The relative ease by which a rogue can gain advantage means that they will frequently outdo fighters as damage-dealers. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have groused about that in the past in certain games – I want to say even Swords and Wizardry, but I might be wrong there – but the two of us have noted that it feels odd and aggravating when it’s way scarier to stand at the line of battle with a rogue than with a fighter. I have zero problem with a rogue on a sneak attack getting a very high burst or effectiveness capability – the ability to halve DR or go straight to wounds or something. He sneaks up on you and sticks a knife in your neck or armpit. 

But toe-to-toe, and on a sustained basis, one should be scared to stand next to a fighter, and not just because he’s got more hit points than you. The switch to vigor and wounds helps this a bit, but only from the defensive end. The fighter can whittle away your vigor and then deal wounds and he has more of his own to lose in the process. But that’s not terribly satisfying; the fighter should be dishing out some hard stuff.

Anyway, we toned it down a bit for Dragon Heresy, but doing some math revealed that some of the benefits I’d given really tipped the scale back to the rogue in a huge way. A few modifications later, and I’ve got an answer I’m satisfied with that does the least violence to the expectations of playing an SRD-based rogue when sliding over to DH, but still caps out the one-turn damage of a rogue to just under that of a fighter at mid-level. Early on, rogues are just better from the sneak; at high levels, fighters can dominate. I’m comfortable with this.

Playtest Artifact


This battle was over before it started, because the Alfar/Sidhe/Fey’s greatest ability is the charm ability, and that was quite successful. Only when Luke clearly and obviously decided to have Fairlane throw down and start a real fight at four-to-one odds did it turn against him. That was a playtest artifact, to be sure, but a deliberate one. A “real” GM and circumstance should have the faerie continue to plague the party, acting as friend while trying to set them up to get horribly killed. For fun.

Under the Hood


I hope this extensive example gives some insight into where Dragon Heresy is going. You can see the new monster stat-block, the interaction of wounds and vigor, and some of the other mechanical differences – shields, Threat DC and Hit DC, and other things.

Ranged vs Melee Combat


I think the latest rules resolve this. You roll hits the same way vs the same numbers – you have the same Threat DC for ranged and melee in nearly every case. You only get your increased Hit DC against arrows, though, if you have a shield or something else you can interpose (a Monk can do it with the right ability, for example). But you don’t get to parry them, and sidestepping and dexterity-based avoidance is rolled into your Threat DC. If you do have a shield, it enables your Hit DC, much like sword-on-sword, and with the same rules and targets.

The lower damage for arrows that you see on the weapon chart is a direct outgrowth of this – vs no-shield foes, the easier hits mean higher damage output, and I wanted to keep it balanced. You do get an expanded crit range for arrows over other attacks, though.

DEX and STR based damage


I’m with Luke on distinguishing between attack (DEX) and damage (STR). But that’s not the official SRD way to do things. I’ll write it last, because it’s an optional rule, I’ll offer up a way to just have DEX be the to-hit modifier, and STR be the damage one. That will also get into an optional rule for higher STR bows doing more damage – the draw weight effect. 

Optional! But it’s a nudge towards plausible verisimilitude for those that care.

Armor and Shields and DEX, Oh my


By now, if you haven’t seen the videos of people exercising and doing all sorts of things in full plate and other heavy armor then you might not care about this. But really, instead of armor being classed as having DEX penalties just for it’s type (light/medium/heavy), there should probably be a factor that says “this armor is heavy, and you take a DEX penalty for every N points of STR your Strength is below Y value.” You might split proficiency into armors that require extensive fitting and buckling to assemble (splint, plate, half-plate, and maybe scale) vs armor you just wear like clothing. But to be good as armor, it needs to move. Armors that don’t move well are a real drag, and would be a good point of differentiation.

I like this concept, even played with a bit (and every armor in DH has a Strength value now) to put the hooks in place to do something like this. Ultimately, I settled for minor tweaks to the SRD way. 

But I do like the concept that if you want a full DEX bonus for full plate, you need STR 18, and each 2 points below that removes -1 from a prospective DEX bonus (just making numbers up here). So your typical STR 16, DEX 14, CON 15 starting fighter type that found a suit of full plate would have a natural DEX bonus of +2, which would be cut down to +1 by his Strength. This would grow to +2 when he got stronger, but no higher unless he also improves his DEX.

A STR 12, DEX 20 archer that found the same armor would start with a natural DEX bonus of +5, but being 6 points under the STR rating would cut that down to +2 as well.

Make the STR requirement 5 + Weight/5, for example, for armor.

I do still like limiting DEX bonuses for shields, though. It’s a 7-8 square foot chunk of wood (more or less) strapped or gripped in one hand, both encumbering the hand and taking it out of play for fine work. It’s somewhat awkward and harder to move around object with it than without it, impacting Stealth.

But Luke and I are in agreement in principle on this – I do not like the extreme reduction in DEX and mobility caused by the type/class of armor being worn. I left it as-is, though, because of the reach of the concept. It impacts class balance, feat choices, and bounded accuracy for the classes. Giving full bonuses would make various armors insanely good – if you can get +5 DEX bonus with DR 8 plate, you’re nigh-unstoppable. 

Maybe that’s OK. It’s certainly hard to damage a guy in properly made full plate.

Parting Shot

Once again, thanks to Luke for such a huge playtest and full-detail report. 

I hope that this provides a good view into what Dragon Heresy will feel like to play, and hope it gives a reason to back my Kickstarter when it shows up.

Cheers!

We finished up the clearing of the village from last game. I’m not going to do a full session report, because I’m a bit burned out at the moment. Not in a bad way, but if you’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been up to, you’ll see that the game last night came at the end of a frantic week.

An awesome week, true. But frantic.

So, what happened in the game?

The Village is Secure

The group picked up at least one PC stronger than we left off last game. We had all 1st level characters, or maybe 1 second level, but mostly 1st level. We had

  1. Sunshine, a Monk. Low DR from Unarmored Defense, uses an axe and martial asskicking
  2. Adaemis the Servitor, Cleric of the Light. He was created before I had full domains so he used the SRD5.1 straight out of the book, and that’s fine too. Any domain that can be associated with a Norse god or goddess can probably be shoehorned into the setting. Chain mail (DR 6), spear, shield, and the usual compliment of healing and damaging spells.
  3. Graves Battleborne, a fighter. Chain mail (DR 6) and a glaive. He uses the reach to very good effect, usually. 
  4. Jack Redwald, Ranger. Leather Armor (DR 1), rapier, longbow. Very good tracker, good stealth, perception, Insight, and Animal handling. He and Adaemis made most of the key spotting rolls this game.
  5. Yuri is our Warlock. Quarterstaff, dagger, and studded leather, but who cares when you have Eldritch Blast. More on that later.
  6. Tomas (Tom Rakewell). Rogue/Thief. Rapier, dagger, shortbow. Stealthiest of the group.
So the party started out looting the bodies of the dead Lizardfolk shaman, and they found a key on him. Almost immediately thereafter, they found a locked chest, and the key fit it. There was also a bunch of blacksmithing raw materials. Total loot about 473 gp. 
There was discussion about making hide armor from the lizardfolk skin, since they have DR 3. The group correctly identified the likely reaction of any and all lizardfolk that see such armor, but then, lizardfolk eat people, so I’m not sure there’s going to be much “Coexist” going on here. I think they did eventually decide to skin the guy.
There was also some sort of discussion and die roll about what happened when they killed the shaman, and Tom (I think; it might have been Jack) rolled a 1 on History, which is the skill used to get information on humanoid and civilized groups. We decided that he was absolutely certain that all of the lizardfolk and kobolds were spiritually bound to the shaman, and when they killed him, any remaining would just up and die. 
Certain. He must have read it at a scribe-site on EteraNet or something, and EteraNet is thoroughly fact-checked (WodenFact certified) and never wrong. So to quote Lieutenant Gorman from Aliens: “The village is secure!”

The only houses they hadn’t dealt with were the four village houses to the northeast on the map. The one labeled 10 was unusual in that it did not seem to have an adjoining field, but was set away from the main square. The PCs didn’t know this, but it was the ranger/scout of the village, who liked to live away from things, but wasn’t a farmer. 

Adaemis and Jack, I think, both noticed that the house was sealed to be light-tight, and the right kind of rolls provided that it seemed quite similar to the treatment the Inn/Tavern had been given to keep light out when Kobolds were home.

Adaemis passes along this warming. But no, no. The village is secure. Tom just opens the door and walks in. Two kobolds rush him, the other wakes up groggily. He backs out frantically, and we’re treated to the lovely spectacle of a STR 9 rogue trying to hold the door against two ST 7 kobolds.

His fellow team-mates stand back and ask him if he really needs help. After all, the village is secure. Perhaps he’s dealing with ghosts? Should the Cleric try and turn undead?

Guys! Guys! A little help? Please!

From what? The village is secure, after all.

Empty Featureless Plain

Anyway, at this point, one of our eagle eyed characters – I seem to recall Adaemis rolled a 20 on damn near every perception check that game – noted that a fully-armed lizard man had stuck his head out of House 11, some 135 yards (about 400 feet) away. Within longbow range. Jack fires an arrow at it, and the lizard-warrior uses his reaction to simply brush the arrow out of the air with his shield.

He and one other lizard man emerge, form up two abreast, and start dashing into combat.

We decide that three PCs would make mincemeat out of the kobolds, as they let the door open, the kobolds rush out into the sun, gain disadvantage, and are very nearly slaughtered on the spot. At least one injury, one injured with broken morale, and one groggy. We rule that there’s no point playing that out round by round.

The lizard-man fight is the first “close from long range” fight we’ve had. The PCs rapidly developed tactics to deal with shield-wielding foes. Well, for one, once they closed to within 240′, Eldritch Blast kicked in.

It’s a cantrip, so it does vigor rather than wounds as a basis. But it also does force damage, like magic missile, which means armor doesn’t protect and you cant take it on your shield, because force damage. This more or less makes it better in every respect than a longbow. No ammunition. higher damage roll, the damage type bypasses armor, and a gigantic range. I know I have to tone this down or provide countermeasures.

Anyway, the archers (short bow and longbow) and the Warlock keep up a steady stream of pain headed downrange, and by the time the lizards close to 100′, one of the lizardfolk is hit and his morale breaks. He flees, breaking the two-lizard shield wall and allowing the team to concentrate fire on the lizards. They have decent DR and high Threat DC from their shields, but dude, it’s six-on-one. But the second guy does manage to throw a javelin through Sunshine, who gets mad and delivers two crushing blows that either fell the lizard or damn near. At 22 vigor and with a shield, he’s a tough defensive nut to crack, but crack him they do.

After that, a few arrows and an eldritch blast at the fleeing opponent ends the combat.

Lessons Learned

  • Playing once a month and handing out experience like a bean-counter is no fair to the players. They all happened to level up this game, but three months per level is not fun.
  • Game hasn’t broken yet. Some rules questions came up, and my on-the-fly ruling (I have not memorized 367,000 words of rules and setting) tended to match the rules.
  • I actually had a laid-out and printed copy of The Book of Heroes, and that matters.
  • As +Peter V. Dell’Orto mentioned in his own report, shield are good, but they’re not perfect
  • Eldritch Blast is way too strong
  • To no one’s surprise, charging across an open field for 400′ was stupid. 
  • That said, the second lizard was able to close to 30′ and put a javelin through Sunshine (doing some serious wounds, actually) before being slain.
  • Players like to take trophies. Gross ones. I think a few sessions ago they collected the scrotum and d20s of an ogre or something; this time, they killed and skinned lizard-folk to get the raw materials to make hide armor.

So, I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I’m convinced Dragon Heresy is a solid foundation. There’s enough similarity with the parent system for easy entry. There’s enough differences that it’s its own thing. Those differences impact play choices, which is exactly how it should be.

This is not GURPS DnD. This is Dragon Heresy, an SRD5.1-based game that has some mechanical differences and distinctions that are holding up well in play. Honestly, while there are a few things that need tweaking (my team and I are having a serious discussion over the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, and the power of Eldritch Blast, a cantrip, makes us think about force damage, the Shield spell, and how strong a cantrip should really be), these things are tractable and relatively minor.
What’s Next

Well, of course Group 2 plays this coming Saturday. They’re a 7th level party going through a module written for 5e that I’m deliberately converting somewhat on the fly just to see if I can. These are, after all, playtest games. That group needs to head around to the front entrance, where they’ll be met by a new player. Yay, and yay for more women in the game. 
As you probably read, I had a busy week last week. I’m well on my way to forming Gaming Ballistic, LLC. I have identified an editor, an indexer, a layout consultant, and +Rob Muadib, who has done an excellent job thus far in bringing The Book of Heroes as far as it has gone, will still be with me to finish the project, though at a reduced frequency of contribution because real life. I also got a bunch of quotes on printing books, and wow, if you do your homework that full-color, smyth-sewn hardback is damn affordable. Very reasonable stretch goal.
I also got the first color version of my map for the game (one of three), and HOLY CRAP it’s good. I may see how the cartographer feels about leaking a glimpse. But it’s good enough that I will be featuring it prominently in my Kickstarter video. Which I have to write and produce. But I have some friends, like +Jay Meyer of Great Northern Games, who have done this before. And I’m sure I can ping +Erik Tenkar about what he likes to see in a video, as well as others in The Industry for advice. I feel like I’ve not been an ass-hat to folks, and that is returning to me with tons of help and advice. +Amanda Valentine has been world class, as has +Ryan Macklin, in helping me out. +Alexander Macris is a gentleman and very generous to give me the nod to pillage ACKS for a few things.
This industry is filled with a sufficient quantity of awesome folks that no one will lack for advice, help, and guidance should they want to walk this path. Because as we all know, the best, surest way to make a small fortune in Independent Publishing is to start with a much larger fortune.
But that’s OK, because the availability of The Editor isn’t until late in the year, and so I get to slow down a bit (or really, just multitask more reasonably) anyway. I still have writing to do, but it’s mostly creative, not mechanical, so can be banged out with a minimum of fuss.
As the poets and historical figures Martin L and William S once said: “This shit just got real.”
(Martin Lawrence, not Martin Luther. And William Smith, not Will Shakespeare. Geez.)

I got the first laid-out copy of Dragon Heresy: The Book of Heroes from +Rob Muadib this week. We’re still working on it, though work will slow down a bit as he goes back to school. That’s not actually a big deal – technically, the layout comes last, after writing and editing and lots of other things.

But I’ll tell you what – I’ve come to the conclusion that having a preliminary layout is all good, no bad. And I’ll tell you why. Actually, I’ll tell you why in another post. 

This one? This is about printing.

Dragon Heresy is not just going to be a big book, it’s likely going to be two big books. While there’s editing and tightening that will and must be done, I’ve got rules, character generation (that’s over 100 pages), spell lists (that’s another 100 pages in SRD5.1 books), a full setting  with “what’s it like to live there, and recent history” for each nation/realm, a sizeable list of magic items, and 100,000 words of monsters – likely 160 pages right there.

SRD-based book that are complete are going to be big. Limited ways around that, because that engine rewards giant lists of things rather than the build-your-own metasystem approach of a HERO or a GURPS or Fate.

But I digress. The layout plunked down on my desk at 370 pages. That will almost certainly compress, and Rob and I are working hard to make that so. 

But 370 pages means that a typical “perfect-bound” hardback is going to be fraught with peril, because the glue won’t necessarily keep the pages where they need to be. GURPS books had this problem early on – and SJG being SJG, they replaced every book that had that issue free of charge. I doubt I can afford to do that.

But looking at Dracula Dossier and the Delta Green Agent’s Handbook that plunked down on my desk over the last year or so, I don’t have to – both have sewn bindings. That means when you open it up, there’s a flexible bit in the spine that allows it to remain intact and open fully. 

For a big book, this is both more customer-delighting and will probably save the publisher/RPG company money. If you have a going concern with plenty of cash flow from other products, you have more to think about. If, like me, you don’t – at least not yet – you probably can’t afford to play the odds that it all goes to plan.


Putting me in a bind

The jargon of the printing and binding industry is dense and technical. I won’t try and get it all correct, but documenting what I’ve learned might help someone.

Perfect-bound books are glued into the cover. Many RPG books are made this way, as are many trade softback books. Grabbing the manual for Matlab and Simulink that is on my shelf, it’s a perfect-bound book. It will not lie flat when opened. 

You can also get lay-flat perfect-bound books, which still glue the pages in, but there are design elements present that allow the glued spine to fold more sharply.

There  seems to be some level of innovation (expected!) in the lay-flat technology in the form of adhesive selection. Polyurethanes (PUR-binding) are advertised to lay flat, stay flexible, and be up to 40% cheaper than smythe-binding, which I talk about below.

Another option is the Otabind. This seems to be the technology described to the right as well. It uses selective glue application to allow the flexible glue-strip to lay flat, while the cover floats.

One thing about glued technology is that I strongly suspect it’s page-count independent. If you want to have a 161-page book, you can. 

The next pieces of jargon revolve around sewn bindings. This is classic bookbinding technique, and involved printing pages on both sides of large sheet, folding them together into “signatures,” which are the folded sheets, which seem to be required to be 8- or even 16-page increments, due to folding. If you’re going this route, plan your layout ahead of time to meet this requirement for lowest cost.

But there’s no question – it gets the job done, and is very attractive and durable.

I believe that case-wrap and sewn binding are synonymous, but I’m not 100% on that.

I would print 1,000 copies, and I would print 1,000 more


I won’t make you wait for it. 1,000 is the magic number, it would seem, for an offset print run. Fewer than that and the prices tend to go up, More and they can go down. Way down, in some cases.

Many of these companies have online quote generators. But I’ll throw down what I’ve found. Let’s take a look at a 352-page book – a hefty one – with a standard hardcover with matte laminated print and matte (dull) pages, in 100% full color. The interior page weight will be between 70# and 85# paper – I’ve seen stated preference for both.

Check out the 5e Monster Manual. 352 pages. Glossy cover. Perfect bound (not sewn). I think glossy pages, but could be wrong. So this notional book is “how to make the monster manual with sewn binding and slightly difference aesthetic choices.”

One thing to find out first, and ask specifically: not all binders are printers, and not all printers are binders. What you want as a small-fry publisher like me is to send a company two files: a PDF of the cover, and a PDF of the interior pages. If you get a quote and it seems low, make sure you’ve asked this question! I got a call back from a vendor today that was asking me from where I was going to ship them hundreds or thousands of pounds of pre-printed spreads!

OK, to arms, then:

Victoria Bindery/First Choice Books: Hardcover/Smyth Sewn. 370 pages printed full color, 50# text stock. Hardback, matte laminate cover. About $55 per book.

Victoria Bindery/First Choice: Sent me soft cover perfect bound too. $37 per book.

Lulu: US Letter hardcover casewrap. Full color, 352 pages, 1200 quantity. $61.42 per book.

Drive Thru RPG: Hardcover, Standard Color Heavyweight, Large Size, 352 page. I think these are perfect-bound. $14.50 per book if you order 250 or more. 

Colorwise has a wonderful and comprehensive online quotation page. They quote up to three quantities. 352-page, case bound, 70# uncoated paper. $49.65 for 500 books, $33.14 for 1,000 (!), and $22.08 for 2,000 books. 

Star Print Brokers goes for printing in Asia. They quoted me about $12.50 per book with my general specs, delivery of 1,000 books to my door in Minnesota. I didn’t give them enough detail for a precise quote, but I asked for: hard case, 370-ish pages, 1 color ink, printed cover. So this might be basically a monochome book, which will be less than color. Still – lowest price yet.

Thomson-Shore thus far is my “wow, these guys are good” winner. They referred me to someone that had done RPG work before, guy named Bill Wearne. He said he’d just printed 1,000 copies of 400-page 8.5×11 full-color for $12.50 per book. Explicitly states that using color throughout the book is the highest cost; separating color into 16-page sections can get you big discounts. He then noted (based on my mail) that he’d used incfile to set up an LLC – so he went above and beyond to help me with my project. He noted explicitly that it’s a “email print-ready PDF, four weeks later get books.” He also sent me a ridiculously attractive “sell sheet” on how they support crowdfunding, including domestic and international shipping.  New winner. Seriously.

Bind Tech is a bindery, but the contact sent me names for local printers in Nashville. 

PixArt Printing seems to offer 1,000 copies of sewn-binding hardcover books at 352 sides (the first time I encountered this term) with 70# matte paper, full color for $6.72 per book. Seriously. Looks like 10-day delivery too. For these guys, an equivalent perfect-bound book is $17.62 per book, which seems to invert conventional wisdom. 

PrintNinja gets it done as requested for $15.46, but that includes about $3.25 per book for shipping -they recommend saving money here by making a deal with a freight-fowarder, which may be beyond the skill set desired for a person in their house. Still, the raw book cost is about $12 per book.

Parting Shot

I was dismayed at the cost of Lulu, and though perfect-bound books are how WotC delivers their product, I love the quality of Dracula Dossier and the new Agent’s Handbook both have sewn bindings, and it’s just a good feel.

I don’t know what to make of PixArt. If their price for sewn binding is for real, it’s ridiculously good. 

For the rest, you’re looking, for a seriously good-quality book like what I’ve specified, at about $10-15 per book, which still leaves you out $10,000 or $15,000. But there’s a lot of room to offer a great book at a good price. The Dracula Dossier, a 368-page book at least as good as what I got quoted for quality, sells for $50 (includes PDF) while the PDF sells for $25. With a $50 cover price and a $15 print-and-ship cost, you’ve got a lot of room to actually make a few bucks on your product.

A note on profit

I’ve done a bit of “break it down” on what that means. Let’s say I do a super-limited Kickstarter, with one reward level ($50, for a  hardback book). People sign up, and pledge enough to sell out a 2000-copy run for a full-color hardback. 

Woo-hoo, $100,000 is mine, right?

No. Kickstarter fees are 8% + 0.20 per pledge – for me, notionally, that’s $8400.

MN sales tax and local taxes will ding me for $7125.

Federal taxes depend on what other income you have, but plan for the maximum, and all your surprises may be positive – 25% is 25,000. [See the end for a correction here – 25% of top-line revenue is a gross over-payment, but it saves you from WTF! moments where you owe money you may not have. This is usually not a money-wise strategy, but it is a risk-averse one and not-awful for budgetary and goal-setting purposes. If you have a good idea of your net income and can plan ahead for what the actual rate on that will be . . . do so!]

So, of that 100,000, I now have $59, 475.

I have had to pay for maps, indexing, editing, and layout. Call that $10,000. Indexing is budgeted at $10 per 1,000 words. Editing can be 2.5-8 cents per word, and for reasons I figure on the low end. Call it $6000 for a 200,000-word book. Layout is maybe $1,000 per book, but that varies all over the place.

Oh, and now art. Full-color art at one piece of art per three pages, and 1/3 page per piece, at $250 per full page of art? Another $10,000.

Don’t forget – print the book is $30,000 at $15 per copy. Let’s presume that includes shipping to US customers. International? WAY more. I’ve seen rates as high as $30 per book.


But even with domestic, your costs to edit, put art in, index, and print the thing are $50,000.

Cash left to you? $9.475 (about 5 cents per word), out of which you still haven’t dealt with international shipping, setting up a website, marketing, legal fees or fees for making an LLC (and you DID do that, right? To protect your house from legal liability in case someone with a bone to pick sues you?).

You need that kind of margin if you’re dealing with physical media like books. If you’re PDF only, well, the Pelgrane example suggests the price for the PDF goes down to half. Call it raising $50,000 instead of the full $100K.

You still have to pay the $20,000 for what goes into the book. Taxes are halved to about $16K, and Kickstarter fees to about $4,000. So you still keep $10,000, and your per-word rate is about constant. 

So hardback and print aren’t that different using this model, and a lot of money goes away very, very quickly. Do your math.

A note on taxes (edit)

+Eden Brandeis made a fair point on taxes that bears repeating – you pay taxes on the profits, not the revenue, in the end. That was my line about “all surprises being pleasant ones.”

 The thing for me there is that I would rather send the taxes in early and get a refund later as risk management. No accountant would agree with me – and they’re right – but by planning it my way “all your surprises will be pleasant ones.” I have followed this strategy with selling investments that are part of my work income (always paying 25% taxes right away) and it has provided an important cushion in the past.

It’s a good point, though – if you assume a net 15% rate on the 35K profits, you’re out $5-6K in taxes, leaving $30K in profits. That’s an authorial pay rate of .15 per word, which is more in tune with being both a writer, early editor, project manager, art director, and Chief Everything officer. But your actual tax rate will depend on your other income. If you have a day job that is well compensated, you may wind up paying the top rate on all of your profits – maybe $10K total. If the publishing industry income is your only income, firstly I might question your sanity, but secondly, your next taxes will be lower.

Also – this math is for one book at the $50 price point. Dragon Heresy will be two, at roughly the same point, so things will scale accordingly. It will also vary by what your reward levels are.

But you can see where the cost of obtaining and shipping physical stuff plays merry hell with things – which is why offering free dice, free T-shirts, free tote bags, etc is a huge risk for the creator. I will definitely not be doing so – certainly not for my first time out!

I continue to get layout in on The Book of Heroes. It continues to look good. There’s four small and one giant chapter (the spell lists) yet to do. I’m very happy with the layout of the book, and I will likely be taking the time to make art notes for the first ten chapters over the next few days.

I’m also making progress trolling for editors. Two of my top choices can’t do it, but a surprising opportunity may exist that I will likely snatch up if he becomes available. And one of my choices is going to refer me to a few men and women who would be well suited to editing this game.

Down side is that it’s a big project. So expensive. I wonder if I should try alternate funding rather than kickstarter just to get this part done. Not having to kickstart for editing (and maybe indexing) would greatly enhance the project, but I will also probably need $15,000 for the two tasks. I will ponder (and take advice). 

For writing, the Book of Deeds is at 171,000 words or so, and I have relatively few things left, though one of them is a bit of a monster.

  • Write Wilderness, Dungeons, Settlements and Ruins, Unusual Environment sections. This may or may not be required, but I think a short section talking about these parts of the sandbox would be useful guidance. It won’t be anything profound, though. 
  • Write and Expand Between Adventures section. This got some good work today, but needs a bit more polish. I think a few hours will finish this off. Maybe less.
  • Populate the section on the Aesir, Winterfey, and Elder Dragons. This will probably be treated like the Races Chapter, and in about as much detail. I’ve got the Aesir section done in draft form, and the Winterfey and Elder Dragon section will be shorter.
  • Finish the monster fluff-text for all 300-400 gorram critters. Sigh. This is, both literally and figuratively, the “monster” task. The SRD does not include fluff text, so I have to write my own, and there are a lot of critters. 

But once these things are done, the entire draft is done. So we’re close. Very close.

Earlier today I noted on G+ that I was slogging through some worldbuilding. I’m fleshing out the realms and areas that appear on the map of the continent on which Dragon Heresy takes place (I’d post an image, but the maps aren’t done yet, and so technically I don’t own them).

Morevel is a realm in the bottom-left-hand corner of the map. It really doesn’t play much of a part in the conception and execution of the game’s main area, which is a pseudo-sandbox north of the Norse/Viking-inspired country of Torengar. 

Still, it was on the map, and so I need to at least give prospective GMs something.

I decided to base the culture and history after that of Macedonean Greece, right after Alexander brought the region under his control, but before he launched his ridiculously successful campaign that ended deep into India.

This provided me with all sorts of goodness. A rich, prosperous country, but until recently, not a player due to internal strife. A 4,000-year history, with plenty of time to develop a local cultural identity, but also time for the political geography to change massively, several times. 

As I got writing, it got more interesting. I definitely will keep this in mind in case the project is successful enough to spawn follow-on works as either “wouldn’t it be fun” or stretch goals as part of a crowd-funding effort. Morevel’s neighbor to the immediate west, Inthriki, will be based on Kamakura-era Japan. Two rival lines to the throne, a not-so-stable military dictatorship, samurai, feudal systems, something like twelve different buddhist sects, and of course, there have to be ninja. There are always ninja. But that’s the rest of the night.

For now, I give you Morevel, in draft form. I suspect I may edit the hell out of this, since at this point in the draft, it’s mostly about getting thoughts on paper, rather than “yes, yes, publish this now.”

For the record: yes, Alidrus is Sparta.


MOREVEL

Land Area: 217,000 square miles.

Morevel lies directly to the west of Brousha and continental Barakthel, separated by 150-200 miles of the Neveri grasslands. It is a principally human-occupied realm, and is comprised of a significant continental land mass, as well as a vast archipelago sheltered inside a vast bay.

BRIEF HISTORY

The realm of Morevel is old, and came into existence around 1945 AS, in the last third of the three-millenium long dragon wars. It does not, however, owe its existence to the wars and their aftermath, as do the coastal cities bordering the Reithur Sea. 

The peoples which now comprise the lands of Morevel formed city-states and small kingdoms and domains, a pattern that exists to this day. The large archipelago that forms the heart of Morevel gave rise to a substantial naval expertise, which has also been developed and maintained as the realm matured.

After 500 years of exsiting as hundreds, if not thousands, of micro-domains, Soryuchis of Morevel began a period of expansion and conquest that would last for perhaps 200-300 years, expanding the small domain of Morevel into a country roughly the size of Brousha – about 60,000 square miles. Other areas formed similiarly-sized realms, either following Soryuchis’ example of conquest, or as a defensive alliance. Eventually, six large domains would form: Morevel, Dodeusis, Eretanes, and Cythmna were the largest, each of 30,000 to 60,000 square miles. Kepeira was the smallest at 12,000 square miles, and Alidrus was the final kingdom, at roughy 25,000. These six kingdoms existed as sometime allies, sometime enemies until the time of the Great Alliance. 

The daughter and the widow-king of Morevel had chance to meet with the son and the Queen of Alidrus. In was was surely a sordid affair, Orinon, Queen of Alidrus and Gunsus, widow-King of Morevel, and their children – Tytor of Alidrus and Iaira of Morevel both met, fell for each other, and plotted and executed the murder of the former prince-consort of Alidrus (who was apparently so beloved history does not record hs name). These countries were not geographical neighbors, nor had there been a long history of friendly relations between them. The death of the prince-consort was expected by those not involved to plunge the two nations into war. Instead, upon returning back to their respective countries, they mounted a dual-invasion of the next-largest and most powerful realm, Dodeusis. When the armies of Morevel and Alidrus met in the middle of Dodeusis, having subdued the country in a shockingly violent and successful campaign, the two couples married right there on the battlefield. 

They turned their eyes to the rest of the realms. Cythmna simply surrendered, having seen the violence of the recent campaign first hand. Kepeira and Eritanes did not give in, and did not fall immediately, but fall they did, with the last battle that unified the six realms under one ruler ocuring in 3006 AS, under the strategic command of Iaira, Queen of Morevel.
Since then, the realm grew unified, fractured into dozens to hundreds of component states around 4200 AS, was re-unified as the Republic of Dodeusis, broke apart again in 4440 AS, was reunified for the third time as the Autocracy of Alidrus in 4751, only to immediately break apart again upon the death of the Autarch in 4802, this time back to the six original realms that had been unified into Morevel in the first place.

Modern Morevel

In 5558, the King of Morevel watched the Neveri clans gather. Fearing the worst, he tried to rally his countrymen to mount a defense, only to find that the massed clans were directed at Torengar rather than the city-states. Vowing that they would never be that vulnerable, he and his heirs made plans to once again re-unify the realms under the banner of Morevel. Through a combination of hard fighting and hard negotiations, the country was consolidated again under Arcestus and Hypalia of Morevel, in 5772 AS – five years before Krail II made his proclaimation opening Tanalor to conquest.

PEOPLE AND SOCIETY

The realm of Morevel has been a single nation and comprised of a multitude of domains and city states over the roughly 4,000 years of its history. Nonetheless, mostly the peoples surrounding the Gulf of Otheoi (the body of water around which Morevel lies). It is realm that values education, literature, valor, and skill.

The population of Morevel is estimated to be between 7-8 million people, who are distributed relatively evenly throughout the six provinces of Morevel. Cities can be much larger than those found in the coastal realms, with the capitol of Morevel estimated to contain over 100,000 citizens, and several other cities being home to 50,000 people or more. 

Growing up in Morevel

A newborn in Morevel will be unnamed for the first ten days of life. If the child is sickly or weak, in most provinces clerical or magical aid will be brought in to assist. In Alidrus, it was – thousands of years ago – traditional to leave a sickly or deformed child to die of exposure; some from that provice will still follow that tradition. Others will give the child to the clergy to be adopted by others. Some, of course, will simply bring the mages, doctors, or clerical assistance that is common in every other province.

If the child survives that time, will be welcomed into the world with as glorious a feast and party as the parents and their family can afford to put on. A special dance is performed, with the mother, father, and the new child passed between them as they move through the four points of the compass, symbolizing the life-journey the newborn will take.

The child is educated at home until roughly age six, at which point they will be educated in mathematics, literature, debate, military skills, and generally be given as complete a physical, mental, and magical eduction as can be afforded, and as the talents of the child allow.

Again, Alidrus is a bit different – the child goes away to what is effectively a military academy until age 16, drilled under harsher conditions of discipline and physicality, but trained in substantially the same skills.

At 16, the child comes of age as an adult, and may marry, own property, and serve in a line of battle – in fact every year, each polity will send 1/40 of its adults to serve in the military for a two-year minimum term (service past two years is voluntary). This practice, called eikostos, keeps roughly 5% of the adult population of Morevel under arms at any given time.
At the age of 30, the citizen of Morevel is allowed to be appointed or engage in politics and serve as a government official should they wish to do so, and they are of the land-owner class.

Hierarchy in Morevel

Power in Morevel is mostly driven by wealth, and the noble familes are those with the largest resources. The nobles by definition are the landowners, but the lands and power is not hereditary, and it can be won and lost, bought and sold, as the fortunes of the land change.

Slaves. The lowest level of Morevelian is the slave. While those captured in warfare might become slaves if they’re foreigners or if the victorious commander has a personal grudge against his foe, that is not usual. The most common reason to become a slave is debt slavery. Where a citizen can no longer afford to pay land-rent on property, he can enter into a period of indentured slavery in exchange for funds. It is always possible to buy a slave’s contract, and the prices/terms are well established.

Citizens. The next level up are those who work or craft or serve in the military, but do not own their own lands. They are wage-makers, artisans, and soldiers, but as they do not control their own fortunes through land ownership, they are lower on the social pyramid.

Land-owners. Those who own real estate are at the highest level of Morevelian society. There are, of course, huge variations in how much land might be owned, and large estate holders could be almost comically wealthy. But to own land is to largely have the potential to be debt-free, or to receive revenues from others who work the land. One must also own land to hold political office or military command.

Military elite. A curious twist on the Morevelian culture was instituted by Arcestus and Hypalia – land owners who were also domain rulers must serve as heavy cavalry in the Morevelian army, or alternately provide and crew a ship in the navy. They must serve personally, not by proxy, for at least six months of the year when not on campaign, and if on campaign, until the campaign is over. Regents, spouses, and stewards rule in their stead while away. In this way, Arcestus and Hypalia keep the nobility busy, far from their homes and power base, and in constant mortal peril.

GOVERNMENT

Ultimately, the government is a military dictatorship under Arcestus and Hypalia, at least for the moment. They wield total power.

There is a senate of 500 advisors comprised of wealthy landowners and influential philosophers (who are also wealthy landowners), each of whom represents roughly a medium-sized city (15,000 people) and it’s surrounds. The provide advice, policy options, and intelligence from networks that they are encouraged to develop as part of the position in order to run the realm.

They are also responsible for the collection of taxes, with each senator responsible for the collection of roughly 20,000 gp per month of taxation revenue – or more – that flow to the treasury of Morevel.

ECONOMY

The economy of Morevel is based on the blessing of the land, whose average productivity rivals the best of that of Torengar, and the best of which produce an amazing bounty. Of highest value are crops that cannot be easily grown well in the more-northern climate of Torengar, such as olives, nuts, figs, and truly wonderful wines. They also have access to what amounts to a 125,000 square mile sheltered fishery on the continental shelf: the Gulf of Otheoi. 

The Morevelians also possess large access to limestone rocks, from which they have developed a remarkable variety of products, up to and including a pumice-reinforced lime cement, which is used both as a construction material and trade goods.

The natural metals of the area tend strongly to copper and alloys – iron is available but less plentiful, and so one finds bronze and brass in heavy use throughout the realm.

COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSPORTATION

There have been many different styles of communication in the 4,000-year history of morevel, but the predominant ones have been through physical and mystical messengers. The recently-ended period of chaos and internal war that have led to the re-unification of the country under the banner of Morevel led to the breaking up of some of the established communication networks as strategic goals in the war. Arcestus and Hypalia have made the re-esablishment of these networks under trusted operations a high priority.

MILITARY

Though in recent history it has been used mostly against other Morevelians, the military of Morevel is large, sophisticated, and extremely well trained. 

Morevel maintains a standing army of professional fighters, and maintains discipline in the country through a two-layered system which is in effect a military dictatorship. The high-ranking nobles of nearly every domain must either command or ride as heavy cavalry with the King’s army. The peasantry is required to provide a continual portion of the population in service to the military, a personal levy called the eikostos (the “twentieth”). As such, it is estimated that there may be as many as a third of a million people under arms in Morevel.
Nobles and peasants alike are never stationed close to the lands where they were born.

Land Forces

Morevel maintains a powerful combined arms force and employs them in well-drilled maneuver. Such troops include:

  • Units of heavy cavalry, armed with bronze or steel breastplates and greaves, and each with a shortsword as a backup weapon. Their primary armament is a 12’ double-ended lance (treat as a pike).
  • Light cavalry in the form of horse archers armed with hide or scale armor and a shortbow, or with several javelins and a shortsword. These troops make darting hit-and-run attacks against opposing forces.
  • A phalanx of heavy infantry, each with a long pike usually used in two hands, a shield (used by those at the forefront of a formation), breastplate and greaves, and a shortsword.
  • Shock infantry with breastplate and greaves, a short spear, shortsword, and shield.
  • Light infantry, usually unarmored, carrying a light shield, several javelins, and a shortsword.

One notable feature of the armies of Morevel is that Hypalia has forbidden the use of wheeled transport when the armies are on the march, and limited servants amongs the troops to no more than one in ten. This significantly increases the speed of march and nimbleness of the armies of Morevel in recent times; several battles in recent history were won just because Arcestus’ army showed up days earlier than his foes’ thought they might.

Naval Forces

With well over 1,000 islands scattered through a central bay, and over 1,000 miles of coastline mostly enclosing a relatively narrow gulf, maintaining military power in Morevel has also meant maintaining a strong naval force as well.

The principal – and nearly omnipresent – vessel of the Morevelian military is the trireme. These large ships are built to a pattern, and tend to be about 120’ long, 20’ wide, and weigh about 40 tons. It has three banks of oars, 170 oars at one man per oar, and a total compliment of 200 souls. It had one large mast, and another small one in the front of the ship. Best continuous speed is about 10’ normal speed with half the oarsmen rowing, and sprinting under full power at 40’ per turn.

RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER NATIONS

Up until recently, the only nation that has been in regular contact with Morevel from the coastal realms has been Brousha, who trade across the Neveri steppes.

Morevel does have limited contact with Inthriki, though less than the map of Etera might suggest. Significant topographical barriers separate what would otherwise appear to be neighboring countries. Fennu and Shenho lakes are large and be quite turbulent, though there are two cities neighboring each other and trade and commerce occurs there. To the south of Shenho is a significant mountain range that extends south to the ocean, making the limited border along the lakes the primary point of contact.

Here we are. August 1st. I’d posted a hopeful schedule two weeks ago on what I had to do and the timing it was supposed to do down on.

Yeah. I’m behind. But maybe not by that much. And the last two weeks have seen me get a yuuge amount done.

What’s the Status?


Two weeks ago, I noted what I had left to complete, and here it is in brief:

Monsters and Foes.

I had what I thought was 90,000 words of grunt-work. I was really thinking this was going to be a slog. And it was, but thanks to Emily Smirle and her coding skills and Luke Campbell and his tireless approach to reading my stuff, I got the grunt-work done.

It’s not completely finished, because the SRD has bupkiss, mostly, for monster descriptions and information.

But every monster has a Dragon-Heresy specific stat block that makes it very easy to just look at the entry and fight with the monster. 

We also did a lot of re-jiggering names and monster types so that they go better with the setting. Trolls are now fey, because they are described that way in the setting. Monsters that are notoriously non-Norse have been eliminated, while those that are mostly non-Norse but too cool to leave out have been retained but renamed, often with helpful parenthetical reminders.

Example? Pegasus is a unique flying horse to the Greek mythological set. Not only is he Greek, but there’s only one of him. That was expanded to a type of creature rather than just the one horse Bellerephon rode. But again: Greek.

And yet flying horses were very much a Norse thing, even if not Pegasus. So a quick rename to Hofvarpnir (flying horse) and boom, done.

Oni is a magical Japanese Ogre. But the power set is much (!) closer to the Norse troll legends than the actual 5e Troll is. What did we do? We called the Ogre, the Oni, and the Troll all trolls, and renamed them something like the brute troll, the magical troll, and the tough troll (that one has the regeneration). 

And the Norse legends are full of serpents and dragons, with little to distinguish them. So a lot of things like giant lizards and worms got slid over to the dragon subtype. Plus, the winged flying dragon of Beowulf is not the only dragon in Norse mythology, and thanks to Luke again, I have 15,000 words of additional nasty dragons to compliment the chromatic and metallic dragons of the classic SRD. 

Total wordcount of the Bestiary is currently maybe 95,000 if you include Luke’s portion. So mission accomplished there – mostly – and the book is better for it.

Setting

The main map of the “starting kingdom” has been finalized, and I got some great help from the folks on the Iceland reddit on making sure that my cool ethnic names weren’t stupid. Most were OK, but my name for “High Lord” suffered from a grammar error and would have been “Hair Lord,” which really needs to be an 80s Cover Band.

The map of Etera, the continent on which everything takes place, is also done.

The map of the sandbox is proving troublesome, because I don’t want to define too much, because each GM should have freedom to do what they want, but I also don’t want to do too little, or else why bother with a setting at all.

I think I have a compromise in mind.

Also, I realized that the Races chapter of the characters book (which now has a name) just said things like “DWARF” and then right into the stat block.

Well, that wouldn’t do.

I am expanding the entries there to talk culture, appearance, size and weight, and important traditions. Plus how each race deals with magic and religion. That obviously crosses over with my setting information, so every word spent on Races is also a word spent on setting and worldbuilding. So good progress there, and I hope to finish that up in the coming week.

Once that’s done, then I need to get my CIA Factbook done for each country/kingdom/political entry, plus the different factions and regions in Tanalor, my game-play sandbox.

Oh, and I got permission to include a well-known set of domain building and management rules into my own game. It was OGL to begin with, but I thought it would be polite to ask, and he said “sure.” This was a major coup, in my opinion, and it enabled me to write more into the next section on GM advice.

So setting isn’t done. But it’s been much advanced, and if I can put nose to typewriter this week, I should be able to polish that off. Finishing the Races chapter will truly put the bow on the player’s book.

GM Advice

I have three sections left to do here, and they’re all C-HEAD/Topic level, meaning they can be pretty short. These sections are Combat and Tactics, Lethality and Challenge, and Converting from Other Source Material.

Then that’s done.

Environments and Hazards


I have some free-form sections on Dungeons, Wilderness, Settlements and Ruins, and Unusual Environments to write. Again, those are Topic level, so they can be as short or long as things require.

The Setting


Back to the setting. Here’s the outline:

THE CONQUEST OF TANALOR
KINGDOMS AND TERRITORIES

  • Settlements
  • Languages
  • Foes, Factions, and Organizations

THE AESIR, WINTERFEY, AND ELDER DRAGONS
YGGDRASIL AND OTHER PLANES AND WORLDS
MAGIC

  • Basic magic
  • Ley lines and leyferths
  • Enchantment and permanent items
Once that’s complete . . . the book is done.
Also on Deck

This is the month I get the Kickstarter prepped, and form an LLC to host the sales and keep it separate from my regular life.
The players’ book has also entered layout, with +Rob Muadib working to start putting things into a good format, chapter by chapter. I feel this will go slowly at first and then he will get on a roll. 
That will let me start writing art notes based on the spaces he’ll need for layout.
Parting Shot

I can’t say if I honestly expected to come this far. The project will likely be released as two 250-275 page volumes, and I think people will like the mix of rules and setting. 

As you can see from my various playtest reports, the game seems to play well, and has some very interesting outcomes that make sense to me.

Story: I have been reading Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword for the first time. In it, the protagonist and an ally do battle with a mighty venomous serpent (an ormr; we’ve got 15,000 words of those in the book now). Despite many close calls, the two emerge victorious and mostly unscathed, and the ormr retreats.

This outcome is very, very possible in Dragon Heresy through emergent mechanics. This was somewhere between designed in and a happy accident, but I’ve seen it more than once, and most recently with the 3-on-1 battle with the Hill Giant in the last playtest session.

So I’m very much looking forward to finishing the draft, and then getting it in front of folks. I think you’ll like it.

Schedule

I’m behind on finishing the draft, but mid-August seems reasonable.  The book has been split in two, with a Character book and a Campaign book, and I think people will get a lot of use out of both.

Layout has started, and I hope will get major effort over the next three weeks. After that, my layout guy has life thing starting up, so progress would either stop or slow down a lot. We’ll see.

That means art holes and direction is the last half of August.

September, then, is “fill in the art holes and prepare for Kickstarter,” which would push to October.

The length of the overall manuscript means the KS will need more money for indexing, editing, black-and-white, and color artwork – in that order. November and December would be taking delivery of the art as it’s done – but that’s hard to predict, because I’m going to need a LOT of art. 

Still thinking Q117 release.

We mostly got our quorum for today’s game. The players and I had decided that this game would start at level 7 instead of level 1, to test out the mid-power game.

So whom did we have?

+Anne Hunter was Gudrun, a level 7 human runic barbarian. She carried a greatsword and a shortbow, and has DR 2 thanks to Unarmored Defense.
+Wright Johnson was Dakar,  a level 7 human berserker barbarian, who brought a greataxe and a longbow to the fray, with DR 3 from Unarmored Defense.
+Nathan Joy was Ka’Shyx, a level 7 dragonborn cleric of the Justice and War domain. He sported DR 6 from chain mail armor, carried a shield and a warhammer.

This was a test on several levels, and I explained to the players that I was deliberately trying to convert a bog-standard 5e adventure to Dragon Heresy somewhat on the fly. They were OK with this, so it was good. 

I purchased the module – Palace of the Crowned Skull – from the DM’s Guild. It’s Pay What You Want, and I threw in $5. I took screenshots of the map and put them in Roll20, using Dynamic Lighting for the first time. I came up with a good way of quickly putting in the blockers, and honestly the hardest part is rescaling the maps.

I have a suggestion for the +Roll20 crowd for this, for what it’s worth. you should be able to define two squares, likely of about 20×20′ or even more, and say “the native image that’s being imported has 20×20 squares that are this big.” The squares will usually be (say) at the upper left and lower right of the map. Since both squares are 20×20 (four 5×5 squares), that gives a centerpoint for each, as well as four parallel lines in X and Y, as well as four 20′ lines in X and Y. The map can be centered, aligned, and rescaled accordingly to the grid on the blank Roll20 map. Poof, instant alignment and rescale, making a very tedious portion of the import process trivial.

Anyway, the vision-blocks worked well, once I figured out a few things.

Playing through the module worked well. I dropped the references to the Forgotten Realms, and relocated the keep to a very convenient ruin on my own setting map. It fits so well that I really should contact Bill Volk about repurposing it for Dragon Heresy, but it’s DM’s Guild, so I probably can’t. But that makes for a pretty good test  run.

Anyway, the conversation with the representative from the noble family went easily, the players asked some of the right questions, and were satisfied with the offer of 800gp each for their efforts.

One thing we quickly realized is that we need a table of expected wealth by level. Not just because we were starting at level 7 so we needed to know what stuff they might be able to afford (can the cleric afford plate armor by Level 7? My Level 6 paladin was tromping around with +2 plate by then, but the GM was very, very generous with magic items and threw bounded accuracy right out the window). Armor is a huge deal in DH, as are magical weapons, so knowing what’s possible is key. I think I know how to resolve this! Roll once on the Hoard Table with a challenge equal to level – for a level 7 character in DH, at the low end it might only be 800gp. At the high end, it’s 4,200gp and two powerful magical items (rare or very rare). 

They didn’t find any wild encounters, and traveled the roughly 60 miles to the keep in two days. It was easier to find with the provided map, and they made good time and did enough preparation to not draw any monster encounters.

They elected to come up the back way, and immediately encountered a Hill Giant on a large lower area of the castle.

They detected the Hill Giant first, and he was on patrol, walking predictably in circles on the platform, which was roughly 90×140′. They got a first-shot at the (Challenge 5) giant, but he wasn’t surprise (he had a good Perception roll).

The players immediately twigged to the right tactics – the two barbarians started peppering him with arrows, draining his vigor. Now, the hill giant had DR 6, so mostly could ignore the shortbow, but with two attacks (one of which could be used for aiming), the archers could vastly increase the odds of a critical hit, which made even the shortbow a threat. 

Initially, the giant pinned the players at the top of a narrow staircase, but then a good/lucky shot got through and caused a few wounds. This caused the giant to lose his nerve, backing off with the Demoralized condition.This allowed our players to flank him and spread out on the platform, while continuing to pepper him with arrows and the cleric used Sacred Flame a lot.

The giant retreated until his morale re-solidified, whereupon he attacked again.

It should be noted that he (and Dakar, for that matter) more or less didn’t roll higher than an 8, almost ever. The one time the giant did roll well, he was Demoralized, with disadvantage on attack rolls and skill checks, and so what would have been two shattering hits on Gudrun turned into “the mighty Casey had struck out.”

So they beat down his vigor and then went to town on wounds in hand-to-hand combat, mostly using flanking and good tactics to render the giant unconscious. They emerged unscathed, with 1 gp and 170 sp, and 965 XP each as spoils.

They did a bit more exploring, found a bit of treasure, including a potion of healing, and we called it a night. We played a bit less-long than we’d planned due to some confusion on timing.

Parting Shot

Was it an easy fight?

Yes and no. It went about as I expected it to go.

The hill giant was bad news, with 49 wounds required to kill him (but fewer required to demoralize, injure, and knock out), and 105 vigor with which to soak defenses. However, my experience here is that many-on-one, with the defender lacking a shield and the attackers well endowed with spells and ranged weapons? 

Always, always bad for the one. The giant had to make use of frantic defense to turn wounds to vigor on nearly every ranged attack, though he probably should have just taken more shots, trusting his high DR to spare him from all but lucky shortbow attacks. Still, the three players really made with the pincushion syndrome, and there’s not much the hill giant could do about it. He’s too stupid to come up with clever tactics (INT 5).

He hit Ka’Shyx with a thrown rock, but he used his reaction to take it on his shield, damaging the shield (it was a fairly poor roll) with one “hit,” and three hits and it’s broken. Unless he has the mending cantrip to repair it, he can only pull that trick 1-2 times more, and then he’ll need a new shield.

On the other hand, he rolled really badly. Throwing rocks, he was looking at 2-20 wounds per rock. With his greatclub, two attacks for 8-15 vigor each. Even with 60-70 vigor, our barbarians (who elected not to rage, because of the exhaustion effects). So only a few hits, not even counting criticals, and our heroes would have been the ones on the short end of the stick. A few hits and the PCs would have been severely short on vigor, and one greatclub crit and you’re looking at 11-65 vigor loss, and if that also exceeded the Hit DC, that could double to “you’re at zero vigor and taking plenty of wounds through only DR 2 or DR 3.”

So again: it went as I expected. A couple of hits and it was bad news for the PCs. But they did not take those hits, and kept up a steady stream of vigor-reducing attacks. Had there been a few minions or lower-level guys to take up the slack, it may well have been very different. Heck, I bet two or three goblins would have occupied enough mindshare that the hill giant would have been a magnified problem.

Lessons Learned


The massive amount of work writing up stat blocks for all the critters paid enormous dividends. I was able to just look up “Hill Giant” and adjudicate the fight with a couple of glances at the table. 

The adventure ports over easily and well.

The game still rewards sensible tactics that are intuitively obvious to players. Flank your foes. If your foes do not have shields and you’re many on one, hang back and pelt ’em with arrows. 

Taking a blow on a shield is a good thing. Having a shield is a good thing.

High DR matters, and GMs and players alike should be encouraged to think about this. Take the time to aim when dealing with armored foes, as it allows you to increase your chance of a crit by quite a bit.

The emergent behavior of our giant becoming demoralized and then in a few rounds snapping out of it and pressing back to the attack works freakin’ great. That has been a real pleasure to see.

I still need to write up a quickie combat flow algorithm for maximum clarity. It’s clear enough, but you can never be too clear about this sort of thing.

Good session. The game still plays well, and I don’t think I need to adjust challenge ratings much. Fights may well end up “gee, we’re all OK” or “tomato paste” more frequently than the SRD5.1’s base assumption of everyone down a bunch of Hit Points.

Tomorrow will be a big writing day, and then pushing hard for the rest of the week to finish the complete draft of both books. I’m guessing 350,000 words total. Maybe two books of 250-280 pages each. Solid but not with their own gravity well.

More later! 

I’m into serious worldbuilding for the Dragon Heresy RPG now, so this will be a short post. 

I’ve settled on an organizational structure for detailing the Races that come out of the SRD5.1 with nothing but the stat-block and abilities, and also the Kingdoms that make up the political entities in the setting.

So, what am I including with each?

Races

Each race of course has it’s game-mechanical abilities. But there’s also the other bits that define a bit of the culture and background for each one.

The SRD5.1 races are Dwarf, Elf, Half-Elf, Gnome, Human, Halfling, Tiefling, Dragonborn, and Half-Orc. Half-orcs might be a problem from a setting point of view, as they’re not really the common cannon-fodder monster – that honor belongs to lizardfolk and kobolds. 


However, fey are a big part of the setting, and legends of fey mingling their blood with humans – usually through charms and shapeshifting – are pretty common. I may keep the stats as they are and just rebrand them half-trolls. But really they’re not real trolls, but half-hobgoblins, because goblins are fey in Dragon Heresy. (I needed more fey. I made a bunch of critters fey that weren’t before, mostly with some nudges from mythology. I might yet do more – Will-o-the-Wisps in Finnish mythology guard faerie treasure, so rebranding them as fey instead of undead makes a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, here’s the outline of information to be provided fo reach race:

[This Race] in Etera

  • Do they have a home kingdom?
  • What Kingdoms do they live in?

[This Race’s] Stereotypes

  • Demeanor with each other
  • Demeanor with other races

[This Race’s]Appearance

  • Size, Weight, and Body type
  • Distinguishing Features

Culture

  • Social Organization
  • Customs and Traditions of Note
  • Religion
  • Language
  • Arts and Literature
  • Forms of Government
  • Economic Systems

Priorities

  • Power/Influence
  • Violence/Command
  • Wealth/Resources
  • Desire/Fellowship

Names

  • Male Names
  • Female Names
Kingdoms
Here, I nipped over to the CIA World Factbook, and totally stole the outline of what is covered for each country. Too useful not to.

  • INTRODUCTION
  • BRIEF HISTORY
  • PEOPLE AND SOCIETY
  • GOVERNMENT
  • ECONOMY
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND TRANSPORTATION
  • MILITARY
  • RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER NATIONS
Parting Shot

The overall work is about 306,000 words as last night. I was hoping to have the entire first draft complete by Sunday night, but I very much doubt this will happen – too much yet to write. I might be able to cover it all in a week.
I have, however, sent a chapter-by-chapter draft of the player’s book (175,000 words) to +Rob Muadib, my layout guy, and while the Races chapter is obviously expanding, the rest of them are basically done. The act of putting them into layout by chapter will also allow my three-dozen playtesters to say “hey, what happened to X?”
It will also allow me to start writing art direction. I posted a call for artists a while ago, but then things changed and evolved, and so I put that on hold. But I’m getting to the point where I can start writing a “what I would like to have” primer for prospective artists, and I’ve got some strong interest from more than one already. Paying them is the province of Kickstarter, of course!
Back to the grindstone. But things are getting closer. Much closer.

Edit: I also want to give a shout-out to both the +Norse Mythology G+ community as well as the Iceland reddit. While my forays into DnD-inspired reddits have largely been met with . . . hmm. Smug hostility? Maybe too strong. Still, it’s not been welcoming – and the SJG Forums are pretty special with regard to how eagerly people will embrace and comment on a well-written question – but these two communities have been very, very helpful to me in these later stages of development. The Iceland guys in particular have gone above and beyond the call to help me turn really bad Icelandic/Old Norse into far-less-bad Icelandic and Old Norse. The errors that will appear on the maps are mine, and mostly there purposefully.

Example? Rivers. The ending/word for river is just á. Toss in an -in ending, áin and you get a definite article or some such. I’m using it wrong deliberately – rivers in the primary Kingdom of my world end in áin in the area north of the river on which the capital city lies. It’s deliberately ungrammatical, to show that it’s a bit rough and tumble and archaic up there. Below the twin rivers that terminate at the capital city – the Freysáin and the Blítháin, all the rivers end in á. 

They’re probably pretty smug about it, too.

The Dragon Heresy RPG player-centric book is finished, at least in complete first draft form. 
Based off of an extensively edited and modified SRD5.1, the player’s book consists of roughly 172,000 words, or between 235-275 laid-out pages depending on how that goes.
You can see the raw dump of the Table of Contents below. This represent Chapter and Section Titles (what I’d call A-HEAD and B-HEAD in a GURPS manuscript).
Next step for this one is for +Rob Muadib to pour it into our black-and-white layout format, and then make holes for art. In the meantime, my squad of nearly three dozen playtesters and readers will hopefully be looking at this with a “tweak and fix” rather than “suggest sections to write” eye.
I have also created an outline for the GM’s book, and ported the major already-written sections into it, whch means it’s over 120,000 words on day one. This is good. Not all of my effort is going into the GM’s book, but most of it will be over the next week.
So: a good bit of progress, but more yet to do. I’m still hoping to have a complete draft in a week, but that’s a lot of writing in a short time. We shall see.

Introduction………………………………………………………… 5
Core Concepts……………………………………………………….. 9
Using Ability Scores………………………………………………… 11
Saving Throws………………………………………………………. 22
Combat…………………………………………………………….. 23
The Order of Combat…………………………………………………. 23
Actions in Combat…………………………………………………… 25
Defensive Target Numbers…………………………………………….. 27
Making an Attack……………………………………………………. 30
Grappling………………………………………………………….. 36
Movement and Position……………………………………………….. 41
Mounted Combat……………………………………………………… 42
Underwater Combat…………………………………………………… 43
Injury, Rest, and Healing……………………………………………. 44
Inspiration………………………………………………………… 49
Generating Characters……………………………………………….. 52
Character Description……………………………………………….. 52
Generating Ability Scores……………………………………………. 54
Character Races…………………………………………………….. 57
Racial Traits………………………………………………………. 57
Dwarf……………………………………………………………… 57
Elf……………………………………………………………….. 58
Halfling…………………………………………………………… 59
Human……………………………………………………………… 60
Dragonborn…………………………………………………………. 60
Gnome……………………………………………………………… 61
Half-elf…………………………………………………………… 62
Half-orc…………………………………………………………… 63
Tiefling…………………………………………………………… 63
Character Classes…………………………………………………… 65
Barbarian………………………………………………………….. 65
Bard………………………………………………………………. 70
Cleric…………………………………………………………….. 76
Druid……………………………………………………………… 93
Fighter…………………………………………………………… 101
Monk……………………………………………………………… 106
Ranger……………………………………………………………. 122
Rogue…………………………………………………………….. 131
Sorcerer………………………………………………………….. 137
Warlock…………………………………………………………… 144
Wizard……………………………………………………………. 156
Character Background……………………………………………….. 165
Backgrounds……………………………………………………….. 166
Motivation, Cohesion, and Goal………………………………………. 190
Beyond 1st Level…………………………………………………… 192
Explicit Multiclass Options…………………………………………. 196
Equipment…………………………………………………………. 204
Coinage…………………………………………………………… 204
Selling Treasure…………………………………………………… 204
Armor and Shields………………………………………………….. 205
Weapons…………………………………………………………… 208
Magical Attacks vs Armor……………………………………………. 211
Adventuring Gear…………………………………………………… 212
Tools…………………………………………………………….. 218
Mounts and Vehicles………………………………………………… 220
Trade Goods……………………………………………………….. 221
Expenses………………………………………………………….. 222
Feats…………………………………………………………….. 226
List of Feats……………………………………………………… 226
Spellcasting………………………………………………………. 235
What Is a Spell?…………………………………………………… 235
Casting a Spell……………………………………………………. 238
Spell Lists……………………………………………………….. 245
Spells by Class……………………………………………………. 245
Cantrips………………………………………………………….. 262
1st Level Spells…………………………………………………… 268
2nd Level Spells…………………………………………………… 281
3rd Level Spells…………………………………………………… 300
4th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 315
5th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 327
6th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 345
7th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 358
8th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 369
9th Level Spells…………………………………………………… 376
Conditions………………………………………………………… 386
Open Game License Version 1.0A………………………………………. 389

We had another playtest of the Dragon Heresy RPG. It was a surprisingly challenging session in terms of personal interaction. The productive way to look at this is in terms of how the rules and text of the game can attempt to deal with what is usually one of the only real problems in RPG play, which in my opinion is expectations management.


That is, players conflict with each other, and the GM, when their view of what the game world, rules, or (for lack of a better word) mission or purpose of the game is differs from others.

Some of this, in the case of a game that is still being written, with a setting that is being defined, is clearly because the ground rules are not yet fixed. Some of this was not.

Gods and Men, Men and Men

For Dragon Heresy, and specifically the pseudo-Norse setting that is being worked up, I very much need to say something about certain things. These include the Aesir – the Norse gods – and their relationship with humans and dwarves in the setting, and also the relationships that their clerics have with the Aesir, their “flock,” as well as other Clerics. 

The Aesir, the Norse pantheon, is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that there are people walking the world that have personally had relations with these deities. Some of those relations are of a very intimate nature – when someone says “I got to know Odin personally,” or especially Loki, one might be implying a certain amount of superposition.

So there’s really no “whose God is real” sort of thing. They all are, at least within the Norse pantheon. My setting is silent on whether other pantheons even exist, much less influence this world – that’s a GM decision and could go either way.


But at least the default assumption in my world is that people will feel a calling, or kinship, or affinity for one or some of the Aesir, and will tend to associate with them, pray to them, and try and bolster the strengths that that particular deity embodies. Using the more-common names, if you believe in Fate and Destiny as paramount, even over the gods, you probably follow the Norns. If you will be bound by no man or contract, but uphold dignity, honor, and delight in righteous conflict and equally-righteous hangovers, Thor’s your man. If you believe in a form of righteous vengeance that is both ice-cold and white-hot, but still justified, you are in the province of Skadi, who is basically Elsa when she’s pissed off.

But none of that means that you are going to, as a Cleric, be converting people. You don’t proselytize from one god to another, though certainly if a person is uncertain about where their affinities lie, a cleric or druid or paladin or strong follower from another class, might encourage a deliberate choice, especially if the interlocutor discovers traits in the undecided person that might be amenable to the way their deity approaches things. 

That’s how I see it, at least. And you certainly don’t say “Believe in Thor, abandon Odin, because Odin doesn’t exist.” Because that’s a great way to get on the bad side of lots of people. The Aesir are a family show, so to speak. And they do have their strife, of course:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him. 

Thor: Have a care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard and he is my brother! 

Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.

Thor: He’s adopted?

Now, my setting doesn’t have the Marvel version of Thor (Donnar in my setting) in it – though I do think that it’s marvelous (see what I, oh, nevermind) and Hemsworth does a great job. But even when dealing with Loki, it’s love-hate. Well, unless you’re Freya (Valfreya in my setting).  Then it’s just hate-hate. So there’s not exactly competition for believers in a way that makes people stand on street corners asking “Have you bathed in the presence of Odin today? You really should convert to serving his Glory!”

But I didn’t make that terribly clear, and it caused an issue. So: lesson one learned about the importance of setting for establishing expectations.

Lesson two, and I really, really should have known this from before. Medieval, or even faux-medieval, social structure is ridiculously structured. When dealing with your social betters, you are mostly considered somewhere between clearly inferior but allowed to speak, to worthless slime that is lucky to not be decapitated on sight. 

OK, that’s extreme. And the right to kill and depart was mostly a Japanese thing. But after our group of 1st-level characters dealt rather effectively with a bandit problem, I had the town Constable approach them through an intermediary about helping to solve a problem that the jarl of Midgard (one of the big towns along the north of Audreyn’s Wall) had with a relative’s son. They challenged the right or even the fact that the Constable was actually representing the jarl’s interests. 

That got a bit testy, as the relative social standing of first-level characters is not always clear in SRD5.1 games. During the discussion, I likened it to a new college grad demanding to go over the head of their Senior Manager and speak directly to an Executive VP. At worst, it’s a grave breach of protocol. I would guess that this guy – the constable – was something like an 8th to 12th level Fighter or Barbarian, possibly a Ranger, now that I think of it. He was the local captain of the guard and ran the jarl’s messenger service – very important posts. Anyway, I didn’t make it clear enough where this guy was in both the hierarchy of power, and the relative social standing of characters of a given level. Players will tend to think that the world is more egalitarian than it is, and that the nobles and administrative functionaries are lower level and weaker than they are. This was almost my party’s undoing in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands campaign, where we got somewhat lucky and managed to not get killed and burned by the 15th level Fighter we challenged the authority of. 

What I learned


I was viewing the roleplaying exchange from three points of view, all of which were negative from my perspective.

  1. The cleric involved was taking a very tough tone with the Constable, in terms of trying to convert him from Tyr (Ziu, in my setting) to Sol (brother sun, the lord of light). When the Constable noted he had his own beliefs, the conversation persisted, which violated my view of how the setting’s clerical domains worked. That is basically hidden from the players, for whom the only words of guidance are in a reasonably recent version of the manuscript – fluff text that post-dates when these guys made characters:

    “The pantheon of the Aesir is broad, and to follow one patron does not, cannot, preclude the others. A cleric that hews to the path of the Storm Domain will not deny the actions or validity of the followers of Skadi (Winter) or Ziu (justice and war), but prefers or favors a certain way of looking at, and solving, problems. When any Aesir speaks, the clerics of Torengar are wise to listen, though it is far more likely that such a message from Donnar will be delivered to a cleric of Donnar, of course.”

    I should have made this more clear. If I did make it clear, I would look to the players to respect that distinction – or be prepared to suffer the consequences, up to and including the Constable delivering a mighty beat-down.

  2. The party was engaging in spectacular disrespect of the Constable’s position, behaving as if he was a mere flunky for a low-ranking noble, and they wanted to deal directly with the jarl.

    That’s on me, in that the relative power level and social strata are not established. So the vast impropriety of the suggested direction was not apparent to everyone. This is what happens when rules come before setting in the writing process, and also when modern sense of egalitarianism and the expectation that noblesse oblige is expected because the parties are equal, rather than the expectation that the much-superior noble will condescend to have congress and treat with honor those of lower station.

    There will definitely be a social interactions mechanism – or suggested mechanism – that will be invoked here. I’m thinking of both mechanical help – setting the DC of a particular die roll, such as Persuasion or Deception – based in part on the difference in level of the two parties. Not the difference in proficiency – social strata differences are wider than that.

    But also, just a general level of how the society works and the adventurer’s place in it, as they will frequently be outsiders to a given town, and maybe outside most other societal boundaries. They might belong to no guild, have no association with the locals, and basically be tolerated because the King has this writ thing going on where he’s encouraging people to go North and conquer the lands.

    None of this was made explicit, and there needs to be some level of “careful here” in the text. The “good” news is that the Norse structures were fairly, as they say in corporate speak, “flat.” So there were basically three (broad – very broad) classes. Slaves, freemen, and jarls. The king basically being first among equal jarls. But of course, there were myriad informal strata, and not all jarls were of equal power, respect, and influence. And my world is not Scandinavia, but influenced by those cultures. So I’ve got some writing to do, and soon, on this topic.

  3. Lastly, game expectations. This is a playtest campaign. So while it’s not a series of unconnected fights or conflicts designed to test one or another parts of the rules, it’s designed to put the rules through their paces, and I’ve been so busy writing these last few weeks that I really didn’t have a ton of “choose A, B, or C” options prepared. I’d toyed with dropping these guys into a dungeon from the OSR, but looking through my options, I saw that would actually be a bit of work to convert, so I was out of time. So I whipped up a depopulated village, re-populated it with four encounters worth of bad guys, and tried to drop a job in the PCs lap. That was of mixed success, as one may have gathered.
The Play of the Game

The job itself? 5gp per adventurer to bring back simple word of what happened. An extra 20gp per person if they solved whatever problem caused the issue, and they managed to negotiate for a bit more if they brought back proof of the jarl’s cousin’s son’s fate. Plus, the implicit “plus whatever loot you can find” that always exists in these things. 
They were given three days worth of food, and were given the use of a riding horse each – worth 75gp (about $5,000 USD!) each, but to be returned. 
What if we steal them? Well, then you’re outlaws and not welcome south of the wall. Ever. Oh, just checking.
So north they ride, and the Ranger kept them fed and watered. They approached the village from the south, at mid-morning. 
Long story short, they checked out the buildings, found signs of blood and death but no bodies, and eventually checked out the tavern (2).
(The map was generated using the Inkwell Random Village Generator, which is entirely awesome).
The tavern had bodies in it, plus four kobolds – two regular and two winged. They don’t like sunlight and so were inclined to stay inside, and the players pulled off a sweet, sweet surprise attack, killing all four quickly. Bodies inside were stacked like cordwood, being rendered down as food for the bad guys. Eww. But they did quickly locate the jarl’s (deceased) relative. So, evidence obtained.
They then realized that when they scouted the smithy (9), they never did clear it, only looking inside for a threat but not finding any. So (wisely) they decided to clear the building. Inside was a lizardfolk magic-user, who rolled a 20+ on the Perception check vs the rogue’s relatively modest stealth check the first time around, and was ready for them – when the rogue came to the door, entangling vines sprouted in front of it, but I made a mistake in placement and left a clear space in front of the door. So the grappling attack on the rogue failed, and he was able to roll a natural 20 on an acrobatic dive into the room, which was entirely awesome.
The fight was hard, but the shaman rolled fairly poorly, saving throws were made, and many-on-one always works out poorly for the one, especially in Dragon Heresy, which indulges in GURPS-like death spiral behavior at times, by design. So the shaman was overcome. 

It should be noted that I missed something important – the lizardfolk have natural DR 3, which takes 3 points of damage off any potential injury that gets by his defenses. I really need to print out my new monster section, or get +Rob Muadib to lay it out so it compresses into a smaller book, so I can look at natively Dragon Heresy stat blocks. Fewer mistakes would be made with this expedient.

By that point, it was nearly midnight, so we called it. The silent village was beset by at least one lizardfolk shaman, plus some kobolds. They still have not yet explored the houses to the northeast. That will be next time.

Parting Shot

The point of these playtest campaigns is for me to see what a group of players might do with the setting. Well, like it or not – and at the time, I did not – I found out. Some of this is expectation management, and some is that I need to write down the soft rules of the setting in an absolutely clear way. 

If I can’t express the expectations for social strata and interaction in five or fewer guidelines that could appear on a 3×5 card as guidance, I will have failed my readership in terms of providing simple, digestible guidance for how such things work. So there’s an important part of the setting that is basically “how to live in it.” Good learning there.

Another is way more explicit guidance on how holy men are expected to act. 

The combat system also needs a flowchart or a series of steps, laid out explicitly. This is present in one form already, but needs to be expanded by a few steps because even I, as GM, tend to forget a few things – but that’s because the rules have changed from the first iteration to the final one.

Explicitly: Armor Class is now two quantities. Threat DC and Hit DC. If you exceed Threat DC, something happens. If you exceed Hit DC, you are assumed to bypass all footwork, parries, and normal defenses such as shields and strike the target. From there, you have to punch through armor DR to cause injury.

Very early incarnations of the rules had an attack that meets Hit DC just inflict wounds. Then I introduced Frantic Defense, a way of turning wounds into vigor loss as an option, and then that turned into the default way of doing things. But sometimes I revert to the olde ways.

Anyway: combat flowchart. Which again will be short, few special cases, and easily internalized. It will fit on a 3×5 card or smaller in easily-readable font.

I need to write a GM advice/Running the Game section/chapter, which will have some guidance on when the PCs will be powerful enough to expect to strike out on their own and make a play for establishing a land-hold of their own. Before that, the players will be taking odd jobs and basing themselves out of a city, or even perhaps joining a more-powerful adventurer as retainers. I have a few ideas on how to make that viable.

Finally, I had a dialog with a well-known name in the OSR community about some rules he wrote that I wanted to borrow, and he agreed to let me take and modify them. This was fantastic news to me, but more on that later, perhaps.

So a lot learned this time, but very little of it had to do with combat mechanics or the hard-style rules material. Even negative experiences – or even especially negative experiences – can drive learning, and last night’s game was a case in point. I got a lot of soft-style setting learning, which is timely, since my remaining tasks are:

  • Finish the fluff text and editing of the monsters section. This is non-trivial, since there are 250-300 monster entries and there will be both fewer (as we decide that, say, an ancient Egyptian monster or ancient Mayan monstrosity or Celestial has no place in the setting) and more, since there are scarce-few good fey in the SRD, and my setting needs to be lousy with them. Plus a lot of re-skinning. Sure, crocodiles would not be found in the northern parts of my setting . . . but swamp ormr? Sure. What are they? Ahem. Crocodiles with the name changed, and the lineage/monster type set to “dragon” instead of “beast.”
  • Write the setting information. My notes have been growing on this, and my own mental understanding of the setting and world. But I have to put them into the manuscript. I know how I’m going to do it, too, for the main.
  • Write the outline for the GM book, which will include sections on the setting, general adventuring guidance, rewards and treasure, magic items, and specific guidance on expectations management and running the game for GMs.

Stuff like:

  • A foe with no armor and no shield is going to be easy meat for PCs, almost regardless of wound/vigor capacity. 
  • Conversely, foes with a shield or DR X or higher armor are going to be tough nuts to crack. In my playtest games, archers simply stopped shooting at guys with shields. There are ways to beat this, but they require a line of disciplines archers acting in concert. This has not yet occurred.
  • How to use the morale rules so that every encounter does not end in a TPK for one side or another. 
  • When to insist on using passive scores for certain tasks. I already have a “no fishing” boxtext and thought of a simple alternative for GMs and players that like to roll dice that works equally well.
  • Other tidbits that came up during the playtest campaigns that can be turned into general guidance. 
But here we come to the crux of it all. The game’s quite nearly done, quite playable, and offers some benefits to lots of different groups of gamers. I was hoping to be able to publish one book instead of two, but I’m not going to make a tome that’s a single 550-page volume. I may, however, go the GURPS route of having (for example) the book mostly concerned with characters and basic game play be page 1-275, and the campaign and setting book start at p. 276 and go to p. 525. We’ll see what my playtesters think of that.