I got a Steam chat from someone with whom I regular interact over that channel. He was wondering out loud if Dungeon Grappling includes rules for kicking.

My first response was “that’s just an unarmed strike; DnD doesn’t do that level of specificity.” Fine, if unsatisfying.

Then he noted that what he really wanted to get a feel for, having been playing through Storm King’s Thunder, is why not have rules for a Storm Giant knocking a halfling across the battlefield like a ping-pong ball?

Ah! Well, yes. Dungeon Grappling does have rules for Flinging and Shoving, where you grapple someone and then you can use the rules to shove or fling them a certain distance.

Incidental Projectile

That got me thinking, though. There are of course rules for this in DnD, but not for incidental contact. You have to deliberately decide to shove your foe, which Dungeon Grappling extends to flinging.

But hrm and hrrrm, this is where game design rears its head. For whatever reason, the designers decided to make shoving a different mechanic than striking. One is a contest of Strength, the other a damage roll. There are reasons for this, of course, and those reasons are at the very least defensible.

But there’s a cost to this. An Ancient Red Dragon’s tail swipe does 2d8+10 damage from a Gargantuan creature. So 12-26 points. for a creature that might be the size and mass of a house. I’ve seen some pretty large imaginings of these guys, but even without, the basic size for a Gargantuan creature is 20′ x 20′ (or larger). So the size of a small two-car garage or so.

It would be interesting to relate size and damage to knockback power, though, so it’d be possible to have the Cave Troll knocking hobbits about.

This would mean finding a scale of damage that maps well to knockback, and a sensible mapping of such. Continue reading “The Kick is GOOD! (Casual knockback in DnD games)”

I was contemplating a rules tweak for Dungeon Grappling, and a backer made a comment that seemed worthy of further consideration, and so I had cause to wonder what reactions could be used for in Fifth Edition.

Ian Borchardt had some time on his hands, so he says, and compiled this list. I asked for permission to repost, and he gave it. Since then, Axel Castilla compiled the list into a downloadable document.


If you perform the Ready action you can prepare any action as a reaction. However you must specify a specific trigger for your reaction and can only take one reaction in a round. When the trigger event happens you can act immediately (or you can ignore the trigger). If casting a spell as a reaction, then the spell must have a casting time of 1 action and you must maintain Concentration until you react.

Remember only 1 reaction a round.


  • Everyone has a trigger of “if foe physically moves out of reach” for an opportunity attack.
  • A mounted combatant has the trigger “if mount falls prone” to dismount and land on their feat automatically. [Which is very unrealistic if you ask me… -IB]


Continue reading “Uses for a Reaction in Fifth Edition”

Today is thanksgiving in the USA, so naturally someone asked about a Dire Turkey.

Peter Dell’Orto and I had ridiculous fun writing “Dire and Terrible Creatures” for GURPS, and it occurred to me that I could apply the same kind of thing to SRD5.1 pretty easily. So here’s a “switch” to apply to any kind of Dire Creature you want.

Dire Modifications

To make a conventional animal into a Dire one, up-gun them as follows:

  • Size class increases by one (this will increase the HD type by one as well)
  • Add +10′ to speed for all motive types listed for the base animal
  • Add 3HD
  • If there are any AC bonuses from armor, double them[1].
  • Increase the creature’s stats:
    • +5 to STR, or enough STR to double the STR bonus, whichever is higher[2]
    • +3 to CON, or enough CON to double the CON bnus, whichever is higher
    • +1 to WIS or CHA, GM’s discretion

That should provide a fun challenge.


[1] Take the AC of the creature and subtract the DEX bonus. Anything left? That’s going to be the bonus from armor or tough hide. Double that. Going from Wolf (DEX +2, AC 13) to Dire Wolf (DEX +2) would double the +1 natural armor to +2, making the final AC 14.

[2] If the creature is DEX-based, which you will be able to tell because the attack bonus and damage types use the (usually higher) DEX bonus instead, don’t increase STR, boost DEX.

I know my blog has been filled with Kickstarter reports these days. It is, of course, rather important to me to make the best book I can, and in order to do that, I would need to bring in about $4,800, which means I’m roughly halfway there (though the project has funded and will be made regardless – each extra chunk of money just makes it more attractive).

In any case, a fun article that can be read tongue-in-cheek but really isn’t showed up on the Cirsova blog.

Called Parrying: I get it now, it goes over a point of potential misunderstanding in OSR rules – namely that once engaged in melee combat, two foes are “locked” there. Therefore, having a defensive option such as “parry,” which makes one harder to hit, is a synergistic move, because it allows your fellow combatants – archers, spellcasters, and backstabbers – to destroy the foe safely and quickly, while the low Armor Class, high Hit Point fighter keeps him occupied.

The only problem with these “parry” type options in D&D style games tends to be the very, very mild benefit that one gets. Fifth Edition does it perhaps the best by granting disadvantage if an option like this is taken – this option is Dodge, and unless the odds are already really good for your foe, or really bad, this decreases your chance to be hit by about 25%. That’s much better than a shield (10%) in this system, and in most systems that shield is only worth 5% (+1).

Note: I reflexively use ascending Armor Class in my writing, since I’ve been writing based on SRD5.1 for almost a year, and even when we played S&W, we used ascending AC.

But it got me thinking. How many defensive options exist in Dragon Heresy?  Continue reading “Defensive Options in Dragon Heresy”

Setting the Stage

Today Jeffro Johnson linked to a post by The Frisky Pagan where the author analyzes in some depth that Hit Points aren’t really wound points, and why. I pointed out what I call “The Quote,” which is found on p. 82 of the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide:

“It is quite unreasonable to assume that as a character gains levels of ability in his or her class that a corresponding gain in actual ability to sustain physical damage takes place. It is preposterous to state such an assumption, for if we are to assume that a man is killed by a sword thrust which does 4 hit points of damage, we must similarly assume that a hero could, on the average, withstand five such thrusts before being slain! Why then the increase in hit points? Because these reflect both the actual physical ability of the character to withstand damage – as indicated by constitution bonuses- and a commensurate increase in such areas as skill in combat and similar life-or-death situations, the “sixth sense” which warns the individual of some otherwise unforeseen events, sheer luck, and the fantastic provisions of magical protections and/or divine protection.”

Frisky acknowledged gracefully that reading the original source material is good – in his defense, I think Jeffro has articulated before that no one really knows or can suss out completely all of the gems buried in the barely-edited, scarcely-organized AD&D books.

But that’s not why I’m posting – even though The Frisky Pagan’s post is basically a giant endorsement of the tack I’m taking in Dragon Heresy.

No, the cool bits happened in the comments for Jeffro’s post. Continue reading “Save or Die revisited”

My kids went to bed hard and woke up before 6am feeling like their skill in Charisma (Orneriness) was at least +8. Maybe higher. So Alina and I are both exhausted. She saw this diagram on my computer screen and just got the giggles. So I figured I’d share.

Edited to Add: I should note that this is specific to both a map and if you are using optional facing rules, where an attack from the flank or rear is considered “flanked” regardless of the number of attackers, and attacks from the front simply are not.
Using map, but no facing, the results are different With theater of the mind, different again. It was just the diagram labels, which I was using for a playtest discussion, that were (notionally) funny.

This is a draft, not a final version, but here’s how the iconic Fireball spell from the SRD5.1 shakes out in Dragon Heresy:

3rd-level thurisaz rune

1 action
150 feet
V, S, M (a tiny ball of bat guano and sulfur)
A bright streak flashes from your pointing finger to a point you
choose within range and then blossoms with a low roar into an explosion of flame.
Each creature in a 20-foot-radius sphere centered on that point must make a
Dexterity saving throw. A target takes 4d6 wounds as fire damage on a failed
save, or as vigor on a successful one.
The fire spreads around corners. It ignites flammable objects in
the area that aren’t being worn or carried.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 6th level or higher, the damage increases to 5d6, and again to 6d6 using a 9th-level slot. The vigor taken on a successful save increases to 6d6 using a 5th level slot, 8d6 with a 6th level slot, 10d6 for 7th level, 12d6 for 8th level, and 15d6 for 9th level.

Over at Stoddard throws down a post called Playing with a Stranger’s Toys. Notionally it’s about the challenges of using other settings and adventures. He brings up a few examples, and a contrived scenario (not his own) where the players are put in the situation where they are being approached, on a ship, by another ship full of minotaurs, nominally peaceably.

He notes that nearly any player who has played a game, watched  TV, or seen a movie will basically screech “HARD A’STARBOARD!” at that moment, and prepare to engage in life-or-death combat.
Better to start with the PCs just being captured – why present the illusion of choice when there’s really no choice there at all – or to give the PCs a reason to be captured.
That got me thinking. I’ve posted a bit before about the motivations and methods of bad guy organiations – most recently in Sensible Master Plans Redux, and another that was the origin of that post called Bad Guy Chararacterization 2: General McChrystal does RPGing. They talk about keeping villains both villainous and not-stupid by working out the answers to just a few questions beforehand.
But Brandes’ post turns this on its head. What about the PCs? More importantly, and in context, how does one write an adventure or set up a setting or introduce a plot hook that has bite?
I think the key is to treat the players like criminals. Well, or at least spies.


The acronym MICE is short for Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego, though C can also be Coercion, and E Extortion in some models. Still, it’s a mnemonic for why someone will betray an allegiance. 
Why not use this as a shorthand to see how to get the PCs involved in your adventure? 
The simplest answer, and when you get XP for gold, as in some versions of old-school DnD, is that the players will get involved because the money was good enough. It’s not always enough, though – especially when the adventure calls to do something  against the character’s basic motivation. And while in a game like Shadowrun where a basic conceit is “I do the job, and then I get paid,” not all games – and more importantly, not all characters – are built around money.
As an example, in the Aeon Campaign, one of the PCs, goes by the name of Arc Light when he’s wrapped in his battlesuit, is apparently a multi-billionaire. To the point that in the last game, he plunked down two hundred million dollars in an auction account just to make sure that we had reserve funds to win it. Which we did. You’re quite simply not going to interest this guy in getting paid for something, unless he also has Greed on his character sheet, or if getting paid is shorthand for another motivation.


There are many facets to this, and they need not all be envisioned as a bunch of poor people waving a red flag while crooning “Do you hear the people sing.” 
Though that’s always good. Les Mis is it’s own reward.
But while revolution is its own ideology, so is “For Queen and Country,” and especially in Fantasy RPGs, if not the real world “Because God Says So.” 

I mean, in many Fantasy RPGs, the gods pay people personal visits and occasionally engage in heavy petting with their worshippers, so when God says so, the odds of it being delusional behavior are rather low. I mean, dude, not only did Aphrodite tell me she needed me to head north and get something for her, not only did she give me this suit of armor that her husband made for me, but wow, Nothing Compares 2 Divine Lovin’!

Perhaps I digress – but the point that anything from “it’s the right thing to do,” “because I’m loyal to my feudal lady,” or “because the manifestation of my deity showed up and told me to” are all Ideological motivations to get a PC off his duff and into the wild world of adventuring, without having to pay them. Or perhaps in addition to paying them.

Compromise or Coersion

Yeah, that “liaison” you just had with Aphrodite? You were kinda loud. So . . . if you don’t head East and get the Staff of MagGuffin for me, I’m going to tell the guy with the Hammer and Forge about it. 

And he’s not going to be happy with you.

So, compromise. The way most PCs are, a GM won’t even have to play the fiat card – the players will give plenty of hooks on their own.

But still, threatening a PC with consequences if they don’t get involved in the adventure is a real way to get them involved, but risks loss of agency if it’s just dumped on them. “Oh, you were caught in a compromising situation” is way more legit if the character does it to herself. A quick search of the Disadvantages section of the sheet on a GURPS PC will usually reveal whether or not they can be had this way by internal motivation.

But the time-honored “framed for a crime they didn’t committ” trick is always available as well. Heck, having a powerful noble whose word is as good as law simply make an accusation is good – and in many areas of the world today, that power exists simply through dictatorial fiat. And even in the “First World,” things like doxxing and ransomware are clear and present dangers, so across times and cultures, people can put others in compromising positions that will make them get with a program.

There’s no question that this can be high-handed on the part of the GM, and in writing the equivalent of gravity wells for plots, it’s always best if the victim (the player) puts her foot in the trap willingly. And by the way, “you have lecherous, greedy, compulsive gambling, or Dependents on your character sheet” – or the equivalent in any other game – means that the player has already voluntarily put her foot in the trap, by virtue of paying for good abilities with the promise of plot hooks.

Ego (or Experience)

This can be arrogance and pride. But in RPG terms, “I want to level up’ is a form of ego built right into the game, though from that perspective, experience point rewards are probably more closely a form of payment.

But challenging a character’s bravery, or allowing them to establish a reputation are key motivators here, with plenty of support in the literature. And by “the literature,” I’m talking Sir Conan of Schwartzenegger. From “I will have my own kingdom, by my own hand” to “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!” the drive to be Just Damn Better Than You looms large in the motivating factors for heroes of all sorts.

Denethor seemed to appeal to Boromir’s ego in the cuts from Return of the King that only Gondor should have the ring. “A chance for Faramir, captain of Gondor, to show his quality” is right over the center of the plate for Ego, and was in many ways the true operating motivation of the One Ring itself, tempting Sauruman, Faramir, Boromir, and even Gandalf and Galadriel.

Ego, the desire to be not only better than others, but seen that way? Powerful. Anakin Skywalker was driven by it – in fact, it can be said that the fall of the Jedi order was brought about by Palpatine using his own Ego and Ideology to corrupt the Ego and Ideology of his target – they largely brought about their own destruction, at least up to the point of General Order 66.

Combined Arms Adventure Writing

The key, of course is never throw one motivation to get on board when four or five will do. If you really, really want to engage a team of players and their characters, you will need a very broad funnel for them to enter into, choosing which of the hooks they’ll accept for themselves.

So provide them. In fact, provide several, acknowledging that being forced onto a train and riding the rails is kidnapping, but stepping onto a train and riding those same rails while enjoying wine and food is a journey, experience, and vacation.

But recognize this – the players want to be engaged. But they want to be engaged their own way. Give each one of the four reasons above, and ideally two or three, and the carefully-planned adventure can occur as per schedule. But “that just doesn’t interest me” isn’t the player’s fault – it’s a foreseeable occurrence that they will interact with the world with a “why should I care?” lens. So think about it, using the framework above.

Let’s get real here. Tomorrow night +Peter V. Dell’Orto+Patrick Kelly +Brian Renninger at the minimum, perhaps joined by +gregory blair, will find themselves in Northpoint having successfully engaged and defeated an ogre with fairly minimal fuss last game. They will learn that a caravan from the Keep at Northwatch to Midgard had been lost, and a small team of scouts sent to find it . . . that team never returned. 

They will also learn that the pattern of predation that they attributed to bandits (they’d found evidence of both medium and large humanoids on their own scouting) has continued, or even accelerated. The towns along Audreyn’s Wall are concerned, but they don’t really have the manpower to engage in recon and destruction missions.

So, I can count on these guys to head out and try and take on a force that already destroyed one group of PCs? Right?

No. Not without the right hooks. All of these guys are interested in adventuring North of the wall. That’s why they’re there. But if they are to choose to go after the bandits, or do whatever, I’m going to have to provide a set of motivations that they will choose from.

They’re 1st level characters in a game based off of the SRD5.1, the engine that powers DnD5e. So they need money, gear, and experience to level up. I recall Peter is a Monk, we had at least one Warlock and a Ranger. Maybe a fighter is the fourth? 

So paying them in cash or gear is obviously a possibility. Ideology probably doesn’t work real well, though the Monk might be engaged that way. Coercion is possible, but seems rather heavy-handed – though being press-ganged into a recon force is a possibility, the adventure would quickly turn into “kill the captors and escape to the north.” That has real possibilities, actually. Which leaves Ego, and gaining the reputation of being the ones that stopped the loss of supplies and caravans would bring them additional opportunities to improve their status, power, and wealth – all of which will be needed to secure lands north of the wall and claim right of conquest as peers of the realm.

But look at that. I now know how to involve at least several of them in one potential plot direction. And if they don’t have any Ideological hooks now, I’ll have to encourage the campaign to grow some (clerics, druids, and paladins, some monks, have this built in to the character class) or work harder to find them (“your fighter’s old unit went out for recon, and is missing!”).

This brings us back to Brandes’ ship of minotaurs. No sane group of PCs is going to make nice-nice with violent bull-men just so they can be captures. That’s not MICE, it’s S for Stupid. Which is a good motivation for a criminal, but not so good for a spy that intends to remain alive and out of prison.

So how to engage them? They can be paid. Join the minotaurs on their island, and there’s money in it for you. This could easily be “there’s a valuable artifact at the minotaur home village/island/town/whatever that you can pillage, and in return, you have also done me a service.” Ideology would be invoked if getting captured served a larger goal, in which case the PCs would simply surrender as part of the plan. That puts agency right back in the hands of the PCs, where fun games live. Coercion is the operative force already in play (the PCs will be captured), but inflicting that coercion requires active stupidity on the part of the PCs. Better to have a minotaur or an ally sneak on board and take a valuable captive, or heck, just cut the rudder chain/cable, so that the ship is effectively dead at sea. Now going along with the minotaurs is the only thing to do. But again, the GM must be careful here to pretend PC agency when none, in fact, exists. Finally, Ego – there’s a challenge that the characters will gain renown for meeting, that others have tried. 

Tried and failed? No. Tried and died.

Oh? Really? Tried and died? I’m in. Let’s do this..

Thanks for Brandes for penning something to inspire thoughts today!

A quick note, and perhaps a question.

Last game three PCs charged into combat (well, snuck into combat) and went head to head at 1st level into the face of 4:1 odds. The results were predictable.

One commenter on Twitter noted “they should have run away.”

Now, there are two ways to take this. One is that they never should have entered combat to begin with. +Tim Shorts noted that yes, this was the right call, but he’d never had a combat in the game and so wanted to see what it was like. In short, he provoked a losing battle to see what would happen.

Well, he found out. 

Edit: They found out and got dismantled with grace and graciousness. They rolled poorly, and did not complain when the orc horde came screaming down on them. So this “well, he found out” sounds way, way more pejorative than it is meant. He wanted to find out what combat was like, did find out, and we all learned about tactics and emergent behavior in the process. Even me. Or perhaps especially me.

The other way to take it was that once things started to go poorly, they should have withdrawn. I’m wondering how viable that is. I think that as long as each PC decides to run the heck away while their foes are about two moves (usually about 60′, but not always) away this might have worked. But I see no way, really, for a bunch of fighters to extract themselves from melee in the face of a determined foe, unless they have a speed advantage.

I’m not saying this is wrong. In fact, I believe that the typical battlefield archaeology reports will tell you that yeah, the majority of the casualties were taken when one side turned tail and ran. 

But it seems to me that’s darn hard to actually run away in D&D-style games unless you really plan on it beforehand. Once things are already going badly, you’re basically in it unless the foe lets you out.

Does this match your experience? Who’s been chased, killed, and eaten?