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.

A sample NPC/Monster writeup from the Dragon Heresy draft. This started life in the SRD5.1, but has been modified for the new game rules.
Archmage
Medium humanoid (any race), any alignment
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
10
14
12
20
15
16
0
+2
+1
+5
+2
+3
Defenses
Wound Thresholds
Threat DC
12
Morale
Injury
KO
Death
Hit DC
24
0-3
4-6
7-12
13+
DR
0*
Control Thresholds
Vigor
99
Grab
Grapple
Restr.
Incap.
Vigor Dice
18d8+18
0-3
4-6
7-12
13+
*mage armor adds DR 1 per spell slot level

Proficiency +4

Saving
Throws.
Int +9, Wis +6
Skills.
Arcana +13, History +13
Damage
Resistance.
damage from spells; nonmagical bludgeoning, piercing, and
slashing (from stoneskin)
Senses.
passive Perception 12
Languages.
any six languages.
Challenge
12
(8,400 XP)

Magic Resistance. The
archmage has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical
effects.

Spellcasting. The
archmage is an 18th-level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is Intelligence
(spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). The archmage can cast
disguise self and invisibility at will and has the following wizard spells
prepared:
•  Cantrips
(at will): fire bolt, light, mage hand, prestidigitation, shocking grasp
•  1st
level (4 slots): detect magic, identify, mage armor*, magic missile
•  2nd
level (3 slots): detect thoughts, mirror image, misty step
•  3rd
level (3 slots): counterspell, fly, lightning bolt
•  4th
level (3 slots): banishment, fire shield, stoneskin*
•  5th
level (3 slots): cone of cold, scrying, wall of force
•  6th
level (1 slot): globe of invulnerability
•  7th
level (1 slot): teleport
•  8th
level (1 slot): mind blank*
•  9th
level (1 slot): time stop
*The archmage casts these spells on itself before combat.
Actions
Dagger. Melee or
Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target.
Hit: 4 (1d4 + 2) piercing damage.
Archmages are powerful (and usually quite old) spellcasters
dedicated to the study of the arcane arts. Benevolent ones counsel kings and
queens, while evil ones rule as tyrants and pursue lichdom. Those who are
neither good nor evil sequester themselves in remote towers to practice their
magic without interruption.

An archmage typically has one or more apprentice mages, and an
archmage’s abode has numerous magical wards and guardians to discourage
interlopers.

This is a shout-out to +Emily Smirle .

I fretted about my monsters chapter for Dragon Heresy. It was 91,000 words long, and a whole lot of problems.

Well, I chatted with Em and +GodBeastX , and they noted that the best way to do this was probably a brute scrape of a text file. Turn it into an HTML table.

Well. I thought about that, and how I would do that if I knew how to write code well (I used to know FORTRAN, PASCAL, a bit of MATLAB scripting code, and dabbled in Visual Basic, but not any of the newer languages).

So I used Word’s wildcard files to look for all instances in my Monsters and Foes file that used the “Sub-Topic” style (which is how almost all monster entries are titled), and then replace the monster [Name] with MONSTER – [Name].

That gave a tagged file. I gave Em a format, some rules for conversions based on information contained in the data already (Armor Class converts to Dragon Heresy concepts like so; Hit Points become Vigor; Wounds are calculated like so; etc.).

She went to town, and converted this:

ANCIENT BLACK DRAGON
Gargantuan dragon, chaotic evilArmor Class: 22 (natural armor)
Hit Points: 367 (21d20 + 147)
Speed 40 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 40 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
27 (+8) 14 (+2) 25 (+7) 16 (+3) 15 (+2) 19 (+4)
Saving Throws Dex +9, Con +14, Wis +9, Cha +11
Skills Perception +16, Stealth +9
Damage Immunities acid
Senses blindsight 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 26
Languages Common, Draconic
Challenge 21 (33,000 XP)

Into this below, with a bit of Excel nudging from me. Ultimately, she has taken days of work and turned it into hours. 

I did a lot of writing last week, and was up until just shy of 4am on Saturday night trying to finish editing the magical items, treasure, and rewards chapters.

For those that come to these pages looking for tons of GURPS content, especially my semi-regular features such as The Reloading Press or even the Firing Squad, I can only apologize. I’ve been pretty laser-focused on Dragon Heresy since it became a real thing in Feburary, and I’ve come a long way since then.

So, where’s the game right now?


Dragon Heresy RPG

One of the things that happened last week was a major reorganization of all of the material that I’ve written to date, plus some things that I’d forgotten to include that are pretty key from SRD5.1. That’s done, and while I still think that there are some sections that could usefully be wrapped into their own chapters, the rest of the material now flows a heck of a lot better.

The Introduction got a long-ago rewrite to not mention certain game names, even as an acknowledgement, nod, homage, or a respectful comment. Alas, because while I don’t wish to claim compatibility with anything or camp out on a brand, the roots of the game are clear and SRD5.1-derived.

The Core Concepts chapter then introduces all of the things you need to know that are the same, and more importantly, the few things that are different, to play the game.

The Combat chapter comes next, with the new SRD sections smoothing out the flow, and making it more readable. Grappling is now four pages (well, MS Word pages) and it’s a lot more interesting. It’s been used quite a bit by both monsters and PCs in the test campaigns I’ve played, which has been fantastic. Damage Types have rules associated with them now, too. Getting slashed and getting burned are now different and flavorful.

Then Injury, Rest, and Healing, which details how the new rules for wounds and vigor interact with long and short rests, and the much-longer requirements to heal wounds than vigor. The emergent behavior out of this split system has been wonderful to behold, and is, I think, going to be a strong point in favor of Dragon Heresy for those that like it.

Then there are a bunch of sections on the adventuring environment that really need to be folded up into their own chapter. Probably need to create an Adventuring and Campaigning chapter that will be a natural place for all of this stuff.

Then the Characters set of chapters, which are everything you’d expect. All the classes, and sub-classes, backgrounds unique to the game, advancing beyond first level, feats, spellcasting, and the fully-adjusted spell lists, tweaked to incorporate the new Dragon Heresy concepts.

And the rewards and treasure section, which has personal and hoard loot, a new gemstone table, and the section on magical items, which again have been tweaked to fit Dragon Heresy. I do the work so you don’t have to.

What’s left to do?


I’ve got several chapters/sections left before I can confidently say “this is a complete draft.”

Monsters and Foes.

This is a big section – porting in from the SRD reveals it to be 90,000 words by itself, which could be as much as 140 pages. That’s in addition to the 215,000 words that’s already written above. 

So that’s just too long. It’s long to the point that I might just split the entire project into three books – that’s a model we’ve seen before – one for players, one for the campaign, and a bestiary. The imported monsters are fun, but some of them aren’t terribly setting-relevant, and there are others that need to be there – such as a monster based off of Grendel – that aren’t, that I know of. 

Plus, I’m going to have to go through every monster that I keep and rewrite it in terms of wounds, vigor, new attack and damage modes, damage reduction for armor . . .

It’s grunt work, but it’s 90,000 words of grunt-work.

Setting


I’m working with a pro cartographer on maps, and I’ve got a final map of my continent and starter maps of the sandbox. That’s helping define some of the setting details.

I have a brief history and some major events defined, which provides flavor.

I’ve got a reasonable start on a defining culture, and I think I can bang this out in short order. The real work is in the adventuring area, which will have sufficient defined areas to inspire, and sufficient “the GM puts whatever here” to keep it a sandbox.

There’s enough “kingdoms far away” that enterprising players and GMs can play the “outsider” if they want, because someone always wants to.

GM Advice


Some of the things that have come up in playtest – “watch out for X,” and “be aware of Y” will go here. So will suggestions on starter adventures and ways to kick the game off.

Dragon Heresy is, flat out, potentially more deadly than the SRD5.1 basis from which it derives. That’s not a bad thing. In fact it was a design goal, to take enhanced lethality and combine it with a certain amount of additional narrative cohesion.

But it makes the game play differently, and at least the GM should be aware of how. So I’ll be writing a bit on that.

Schedule

My personal goal is still to finish a complete publishable text draft this month – that is, in the next 13 days. The Monsters chapter is what really stands in the way of that, as it’s the most time-intensive and fiddle-intensive. Plus the length, which is a problem by itself.

But with a finished draft, even if I don’t have the monsters done but if I do decide to put them in their own book, I can start layout and defining holes for art. 
Then August will be “find public domain art to fill the holes.”
September would be “launch a Kickstarter to take the book to ever-higher quality levels.” Things like, and in rough order:
1. Indexing. Probably wind up needing $2,500 for this, as I’ve seen budgetary estimates for pro indexing at $10 per 1,000 words.
2. Editing. I want to work with an established professional, and that means about $6,500 in the budget so that someone can look over my work and fix it. 
There are also some expenses I’ve already incurred such as the map, and I’ll need to bring the websites for the RPG and my notional publishing company online. 
I suspect that the prior two items will define the first goal: $12,000 to fund the Kickstarter, with backers potentially having access to a laid-out PDF with public domain art that’s already written as soon as the project funds (if, after consultations, it seems wise to do that; I’m going to be chatting with lots of folks who have run both successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters before I commit to anything), so there’s no risk there. That means I’ll need 300-400 backers just to cover the basics. 
3. Black and White Art. If the book is 250,000 words long, that’s probably 130 pieces of art. Figure that’s 30-40 full pages equivalent, and I’ll need something like $4,000-5000 for B/W art to replace the public domain art.
4. Color Art. That’s about an extra $10,000 right there. Some of that might be “the same as B/W, but color,” but I won’t necessarily constrain my artists that way,

5. Stretch Goals. The separate monster book is probably best left as a stretch goal. So would be additional setting material for Torengar (the country adjacent to the setting sandbox) to allow internal adventuring rather than just external. I’d love to have enough backers and money to do a hard-cover, full-color offset print run at high quality, but that’s a massive risk to all parties and involves me having tens of thousands of dollars of backing beyond the above, in order to afford both the printing and (more importantly) the shipping, which is where a lot of Kickstarters seem to go wrong.

But that means if things don’t go wrong, October-November would be the ideal cases for getting all that art in, and having the thing on sale by Christmas. That in itself is a stretch goal, because I suspect timing will not be that kind – real life tends to interfere. So Q1 of calendar 2017 might be the best date to look for a Dragon Heresy release.
Assuming it funds at all. But I think people will be pleased with the game for what it is, and I hope that I can scare up enough interest to do this project right, all the way to the finish line.

Got questions, suggestions, comments, or helpful advice? Please leave a comment!

Just for fun, here are the subclasses that will appear in Dragon Heresy. Bold are new, original, or heavily modified subclasses. Plain text appear in SRD5.1 and have been minimally modified for the game.

  1. Barbarian – Path of the Berserker
  2. Barbarian – Path of Primal Runes
  3. Bard – College of Lore
  4. Bard – College of Craft
  5. Cleric – Death Domain (Halja)
  6. Cleric – Fate Domain (Norns)
  7. Cleric – Fluidity Domain (Loki)
  8. Cleric – Justice and War Domain (Ziu)
  9. Cleric – Knowledge and Foresight (Woden)
  10. Cleric – Magic and Transcendence (Valfreya)
  11. Cleric – Renewal (Iduna)
  12. Cleric – Storms (Donnar)
  13. Cleric – Warding (Idris)
  14. Cleric – Winter (Skadi)
  15. Druid – Circle of the Land
  16. Druid – Circle of the Beast
  17. Fighter – Champion
  18. Fighter – Commander
  19. Monk – Way of Lausatok (grappling master)
  20. Monk – Way of the Valkyries (precision striking)
  21. Monk – Way of the Open Hand (unarmed striking)
  22. Paladin – Oath of Justice
  23. Paladin – Oath of Protection
  24. Paladin – Oath of Yggdrasil
  25. Ranger – Hunter (taken and adapted with permission from +George Sutherland Howard‘s work)
  26. Ranger – Spellstrider (taken and adapted with permission from +George Sutherland Howard‘s work)
  27. Rogue – Highwayman/Corsair
  28. Rogue – Thief
  29. Sorcerer – Aesir bloodline
  30. Sorcerer – Draconic bloodline
  31. Sorcerer – Winterfey bloodline
  32. Warlock – Pact with the Aesir
  33. Warlock – Pact with a Dragonlord
  34. Warlock – Pact with a fiend
  35. Warlock – Pact with a Winterfey
  36. Wizard – School of Doors
  37. Wizard – School of Essences
  38. Wizard – School of Might
  39. Wizard – School of Mischief
The only writing I have yet to do on the subclasses is to find the right level-boosts for the Wizard schools. I’m working on the 2nd level ability being finesse, the 6th level being understanding, the 10th level being power, and the 14th being resistance or overwhelm. So that (for example) the 14th level ability corresponding to the algiz rune (abjuration) will half the protection of magical shields and barriers, allowing your thurisaz rune spells (evocation) to penetrate magical protections more easily.

+GodBeastX , +Anne Hunter , and Wright Johnson joined me for three hours to kick off the “second” playtest group (of three) for Dragon Heresy.

We did not play. Nonetheless, they stuck with me for three hours of chatting, with interruptions by my 6yo, something outside, and tea. We talked setting and character generation from the perspective of three people with varying amounts of knowledge whose first experience with the rules as I’ve written them is getting the draft in their mailbox.

Anne actually followed one of the character generation guidelines I had laid out: the Journey of Discovery.

I’ll quote it selectively:

JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

Sometimes you might not have a great idea of what class you want to play, or the GM might stipulate some of the more old-school methods of character generation. That need not limit your available choices, and some very interesting characters can result.

Assign Ability Scores. Starting with generating ability scores gives the player an idea where the character’s natural talents will lie. This option of picking attributes before anything else will tend to be best used when attributes are generated randomly, rather than assigned.

Choose a Race. The attribute scores rolled don’t necessarily dictate the choice of race. Not all dwarves or dragonborn are stronger than all humans and gnomes, but they are stronger on the average than humans or gnomes. Having rolled attribute scores, decide if your combination of scores and race makes you a particularly unusual member of your race (a very strong member of a very strong race), or if your attribute scores make you stand out in a different way (a very strong member of a race known for being nimble and gregarious). Either way can be interesting!

Background. Choosing he background next allows the player to start with the basic origin of the character, and sets the stage for future development.

Class. With so much background and characterization accomplished, picking a class at this point sets the direction for the character’s adventuring life. You probably have a good feeling for why the character is going out into the world to risk life and limb, as well.

There’s an example worked in through the text as well. But she rolled her dice (and rolled them very well; I’d estimate she was in the 80-90th percentile on 4d6 drop lowest) and wound up with a Barbarian with the Path of Primal Runes as her subclass. Excellent. 


Wright wanted a non-caster, so he picked barbarian. He chose to roll 4d6 drop lowest and then asked me, since he rolled so poorly, if he could take the standard array instead. I said yes – this is a playtest, and I want my playtesters happy with their characters.

Merlin is going with a paladin, with the Oath of Justice, with the call from Skadi, goddess of Winter, hunting, and the justice of righteous anger, of white-hot vengeance in a just cause.

We had a great discussion over whether one of the level boosts I gave at 2nd level was overpowered (it was), and found a really neat way to tone it down:

Channel DivinityWhen you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two Channel Divinity options. 

Lodestone of Justice. By performing a ritual with a piece of lodestone (magnetite, or iron ore) and praying to your god you can mystically mark a target that is thought to be guilty of a crime or other transgression against law or righteousness. You must know both the identity of the wrongdoer, and the supposed nature of the crime for the mark to take hold. Note that the mark taking hold is not evidence or proof of guilt – just that there’s enough information to allow your deity to acknowledge your request.

By placing the mark, the stone becomes attuned to the target, and can be used in further rituals to help you track down your quarry. You may make a DC 15 Charisma check to petition for guidance. If successful, you will gain knowledge roughly as specific as a compass rose (“Northeast” or “south”) that will take you to something that might help track down your target. The GM will provide a piece of information, some examples of which might be the person’s location (if your god is feeling benevolent), but might be a piece of evidence, a physical token of the target’s presence, or a person who has seen or spoken with that creature. Once you find that lead, you may petition again, but until that new information is obtained, you get a busy signal.

Yeah, I’ll be rewriting the busy signal bit. The original version was basically a perfect detection system for both guilt and location for any criminal, partially due to my design intent, but also the wording left it open to great mischief. This may not be perfect, but it’s way better.
Lots of good back and forth on setting – the backgrounds were acknowledged as thematically unified with the implied setting, and they were compelling (yay). The fluff text for character classes brought them to life usefully (yay), and it was clear, for example, that barbarians are such in the terms of “Conan the . . . ” not “not belonging to a great empire or culture.” So good there, too.
They’re making 7th level characters to give the upper ranks a workout. I’ll be getting three sheets from these guys, and still trying to recruit 1-2 more players, so a pretty mighty band will be setting out for a “real” game, which may occur as soon as next week.
The importance of getting playtesters with a fresh perspective to the work cannot be overstated. I have now learned my game is approachable even if you’re not steeped in the rules engine that is the SRD5.0/5.1. Vital tidbit!

In keeping with the Norse-ish theme of the country from which most adventurers in Dragon Heresy will originate from, I decided that the magic would be a bit more flavored. 

Here’s a look at the box for the flavors of magic. You’ll recognize some of the text as right from SRD5.1, as is appropriate. Some is new.

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a case
of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.
The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
Algiz. The rune
magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have aggressive
uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers,
or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz means
protection, or a shield, used defensively.
Ansuz. The magic
focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the form of
secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things,
the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The meaning
of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is also
the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing and deep knowledge.
Dagaz. The rune
magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others. These
spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are
there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some
illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness and blindness.
Ehwaz. The spells
of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location
to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side,
whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some Ehwazs
create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents a horse or
horses, and connotes travel and journeys.
Gebo. Spells
invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change the
properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into
a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at
the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
fair exchange – giving up one thing to gain another of equal or higher value.
Jera. The rune Jera
signifies the life cycle and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies
of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain
the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the
dead back to life. A complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is
only part of it’s meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life,
death, and life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘ressurection’ but is also
‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
Mannaz. Spells cast
with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling
their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force
creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a
puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,” and has a
particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and relationships
in general.

Thurisaz. The
primal energy of magic, the directed force of destrution and defense, is
symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells manipulate magical energy to produce a
desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel
positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has many connotations, all of which
derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom in matters that must be
resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.
One of the more challenging and enjoyable parts of writing Dragon Heresy is creating subclasses. Don’t get me wrong – the basic subclasses provided with the SRD5.1 are nice, and a good start.
But the defining of additional sub-classes isn’t just an exercise of “ooh, cool powers.” I have done more world-building in defining these than I have in trying to build the history of the setting. Who the adventurers can be needs to be a reflection of the world in which they live, and these subclasses are a gateway to that.
I teased +James Spahn the other day about a paladin ability I made with a tie in to his personal fondness for a particular animal. Here’s the completed draft, which has not yet been torn asunder by my playtesters. But I thought it would be fun to share.
Paladin Oath of Yggdrasil
The Oath of Yggdrasil places the paladin directly in the service
of the protection of the World Tree against those that would do it harm. This
includes all “outsiders” such as demons, devils, dragons, and other creatures
from beyond the universe that would seek to unmake the tree and remake the
world to their own image.
The paladin of Yggdrasil is of the world in a profound way, and
seeks both to protect and to know all that lies under its branches. They consider
themselves the personal servants and warriors of Woden, who sacrificed himself
upon the branches of Yggdrasil to gain the wisdom of runes. More aggressive
followers of the druidic gods may also be paladins of Yggdrasil.
Tenets of Yggdrasil
Though the path of the followers of Yggdrasil can be as varied as
the worlds that shelter under its branches, paladins hold generally to these
tenets.
Fight the Dragons. Wherever
chromatic dragons are encountered, they are a threat to the world tree and must
be fought and slain. This is doubly true for fiends and outsiders, whom the
tree is said to exclude from the world.
Protect the Tree. Always
act to protect the tree from harm.
Serve Woden. Regardless
of your call to other Aesir, always remember the sacrifice of Woden, who hung
speared upon Yggdrasil to bring the light and wisdom of the runes to the world.
Travel. To serve the
tree you must know the tree. Wander far, learn much, and take pleasure and joy
in the many branches of the tree.
Oath Spells
You gain oath spells at the paladin levels listed.
Oath of Yggdrasil Spells
Paladin Level
Spells
3rd
faerie fire, longstrider
5th
misty step, moonbeam
9th
call lightning, protection from energy
13th
dimension door, freedom of movement
17th
legend lore, teleportation circle
Channel Divinity
When you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two
Channel Divinity options.

Ward of Yggdrasil. As
an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring aberrations,
dragons, or fiends using your Channel Divinity. Each affected creature that can
see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the
creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes
damage.
A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away
from you as it can, and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of
you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash
action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s
nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

Branch of Yggdrasil. By
invoking your connection to the World Tree, you cause 20 contiguous square feet
(four 5’ squares, which must touch) to turn into difficult terrain. Any that
start in, or cross this area suffer 1d8 + your Charisma bonus as Control damage.
Use the paladin’s Spell Save DC as the target to overcome the difficult terrain
by attacking to break free.
Word of Ratatosk
Starting at 7th level, you gain the powers of the messenger being
Ratatosk, and the ability to use the sending spell at will. Dogs and wolves within
120’ must make a DC 15 Wisdom save or else they will stop whatever they are
doing and suddenly look towards the target of your communication, wherever it
may be, because SQUIRREL!
Woden’s Sacrifice
Beginning at 15th level, you may perform an echo of Woden’s
sacrifice of himself to gain power, knowledge, and foresight by voluntarily reducing
you vigor maximum by 15, you gain a
point of inspiration that you may use yourself, or bestow upon others, by
spending your reaction. When you take a long rest, the lost vigor is restored,
and any unused points of inspiration are lost.
Root of the World Tree

At 20th level, your connection to the World Tree increases to the
point where you never need to eat or drink, as you derive sustenance from
Yggdrasil itself. You may also invoke an Aura of Vigor that allows you, as a
bonus action, to bestow an additional 3d6 temporary vigor to another creature.
The aura lasts for one minute, while the vigor lasts for one hour. This power
will not affect aberrations, dragons or any creature with chromatic dragon
blood or bloodline, or fiends. Once you invoke the aura, you must take a long
rest before you do it again.