Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Erroneous Errata

This list includes all of the errata in version 1.0 of Heroes Against Darkness:

Page 6: Method 1: Normal Player Characters should say 'cumulative total of 63'.
Pages 19-21: 'Common' should be 'Middle-Tongue'.
Page 57: Ranged Attack Powers does not specify that they require line of sight.
Page 75: Winging Shot damage should be '+ Ranged', not '+ Melee'.
Page 84: Shocking Ray missing range component.
Page 88: Bolster refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Quake refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Seize Initiative missing 'from you' at the end of the effect area component.
Page 88: Steady refers to 'Anima' instead of 'anima'.
Page 88: Steady anima cost should be 'X Anima'.
Page 134: 'Giants' is misspelled as 'Gaints'.
Page 139: 'princes of princesses' should be 'princes or princesses'.
Page 157: Minotaur art overlaps text.

Note: God knows what happened with Page 88. I must have been watching Game of Thrones that day.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

D&D Next: Difficulty Trends in D&D...

There's already been a lot of discussion about the advantage/disadvantage mechanics in D&D Next, but here are a few more quick thoughts about this mechanic and the general trend in D&D for each edition to become easier than the last, and easier than any other version of the game (apologies in advance).

First, a quick look at the the impact of the advantage/disadvantage mechanic on the hit probabilities in the game.  At normal difficulties advantage (and disadvantage) are worth the equivalent of +4/+5, and they also double the chance of a critical. It's a very powerful feature.  It looks like anything except for +2/-2 has been replaced with advantage and disadvantage, so players don't have to remember lots of different bonuses or penalties.

One of the main aspects of difficult in RPGs is the chance of hitting your enemy (along with HP differential and number of enemies).  D&D Next continues the gradual and incremental increase in hit chance for the player.  Monster ACs in the updated Caves of Chaos module (generally) range between 13 and 15 (ACs in the 4th Edition module Keep on the Shadowfell were 15 to 18).  Most of the pregens are attacking with +6, so players only need to roll between 7 and 9, giving them 55% to 70% hit chance, 10% better that 4th Edition.

Between advantage/disadvantage, higher starting HP, more forgiving death rules (- Constitution), gameplay tuning for an entire day of adventuring (so players can bail when they're depleted), and the general hit chance rules in 5th edition, D&D Next is very 'friendly' for players and it represents the long trend of coddling players.

Heroes Against Darkness downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Monday, 28 May 2012

D&D Next: Playtest Impressions

The other day I posted my early thoughts and opinions of the playtest rules for D&D Next and tonight we finally got a chance to play the rules.

First some background.  

Those of you who are close followers of my adventures will know that a just a year ago I GMed a Basic D&D campaign starting with the Keep on the Borderlands.  In that campaign, the players' characters were hired to rescue the son of a noble who'd been captured by a group of monsters from the Caves of Chaos.  The players had reached the caves overland, passing the tower of one of their mentors, and then through the forest.  At the ravine of the Caves of Chaos, they explored the kobold lair (the first cave on the right), then the goblins' cave on the left, which I think took them through to the next set of caves where I had the noble's son held captive.  They rescued to boy and returned to the keep, then struck out for civilization rather than returning to the caves.  I mention this because our recent familiarity with some of the cave systems is a factor in how we approached the playtest.

In the year between playing Basic D&D and this D&D Next playtest, we've had a long campaign using my Heroes Against Darkness system.  We wrapped up that campaign just a couple of weeks ago to give D&D Next a go for a while.

So tonight five of us we met for our Monday night game, I played the cleric of Moradin, we had the cleric of Pelor, the wizard, and the fighter.  For this adventure we'd been sent to the Caves of Chaos to rescue a young dwarf (from my cleric's tribe) who'd been captured by orcs.  With this set up, we found ourselves standing at the yawning entranceway of the infamous Caves of Chaos.

At this point I took a timeout and we agreed that because we'd recently played the caves, we wouldn't go into the caves that we were familiar with (the goblin cave on the left and the kobold lair on the right).  This was also good because I've read about a hundred write-ups of people fighting the damned kobolds and rats (and killing 1/round), and frankly I'm sick of hearing about those little bastards.

We made our way down into the floor of the ravine, searching for tracks that would indicate which of the caves was the lair of the orcs that we were looking for.  Unfortunately, we rolled pretty poorly (and one of the players forgot to add his Nature Lore) for the tracking, and we weren't able to discern anything informative from the multitide of footprints over the ravine floor.  Without any clear direction, we picked the second cave entrance along the left side of the ravine as our first one to explore.  

As we neared the cave we saw that this one had an actual door, as opposed to the others that were simply open cave mouths.  We thought that this would make the cave more secure, so we scrambled up the shale slope (Dex check DC 11) and approached the door.  The door was heavy and wooden, reinforced with solid metal plates.  A thorough investigation (Wis check) revealed that one of these metal plates swung open to reveal a latch for the door.  After some discussion about whether the latch was trapped, we opened the door to reveal a corridor that plunged into darkness.

Now three of our four characters have low-light vision (the two dwarves and the elf), but the human would have been blind in the dark of the cave, so we elected to have the wizard cast a couple of light catrips, one on his quarterstaff (which we only later realized that he doesn't have in his inventory) and the other on the fighter's shield.  The light revealed that the corridor ran about 30 feet to a four-way intersection.  Straight ahead it continued in stairs leading up.  The corridor to the right immediately turned again backwards towards the entrance.  And the corridor to the left soon turned right.  We headed right to investigate the corridor that headed back towards the entrance, and as we rounded the corner it immediately turned again forming a dogleg.  As we continued around the last turn of the dogleg, we saw that the corridor opened into a room some distance ahead.  Unfortunately, the inhabitants of the room noticed us and three figures sprang from their room towards us.  I immediately cast Crusader's Strike (1d6 extra damage on a hit for 1 hour).  We quickly recognised them as hobgoblins, and realizing that this was not the orcs' cave, we turned and Hustled our way out of the caves.  

When we reached the entrance we scrambled up the slope around to the precarious area above the cave mouth.  We waited there for the hobgoblins to emerge and hoped that they wouldn't notice us.  Six hobgoblins emerged from the cave moments later.  Three immediately ran down the path towards the ravine floor (we bypassed this on the way up).  The other three stayed at the entrance, with us perched just above them, and looked around.  It didn't take them long to look in our direction, so our wizard opened up with a Burning Hands (with advantage for surprise) at the three immediately beneath us, hitting two with its full effect and partially catching the other.  The wizard had let go of his handhold to cast his spell and almost tumbled over the edge and down to their ledge.  Having taken them by surprise, the fighter shot one with his crossbow, killing it, and the other cleric used his searing light to kill another.  Luckly for us, the hobgoblins had emerged with crossbows, and the four remaining beasts proceeded to pepper us with shots, hitting a couple of us, including my cleric for 5 HP.  For the next turn, I could do nothing (I didn't have a ranged weapon or spell I wanted to use), the fighter was busy reloading his crossbow (taking a full turn so that he didn't have to attack with disadvantage), so the wizard and the cleric of Pelor used their Magic Missile and Searing Light to kill the last of the hobgoblins that had been damaged in the first fiery attack.  The remaining three hobgoblins had thrown down their crossbows and run back towards the cave entrance below us, so the fighter tried to shoot his crossbow but lost his footing and slid down the slope into the middle of the monsters, who promptly wailed on his ass and did some damage.  I slid down after him and positioned myself next to him to use my character's Defender theme to protect him (While you are using a shield, when a creature withing 5' of you is attacked, as a reaction you can give the attacker disadvantage on the attack).  The next round we managed to cut down two of the hobgoblins, and the third chose to flee back into the cave.  I pursued him, but soon remembered that I didn't actually have a ranged attack, so I immediately retreated back out of the cave.

We regrouped and gathered up the six heavy crossbows (50 GP each, but three of them slightly charred!), giving one to the fighter and I took his light crossbow.  We also used the opportunity to find some shelter to rest and use the other cleric's healer's kit to recover a bit (I got a 2 for my hit dice roll, boo).

The next two caves looked very different.  High up on the left slope was a small, natural-looking cave.  Further along the left slope at our current level was a large, imposing looking entrance.  We chose the small natural cave and scrambled up the slope to investigate.  We entered the cave in normal order (fighter, cleric of Moradin, wizard, cleric of Pelor).  As we shuffled along the tight cave, the cleric of Pelor identified the footprints and smells as animal-like, which we various interpreted as a bear or wolves.  While we discussed this, an arrow flew past us from deeper in the cave.  Another arrow followed in the time it took us to realize that this cave was the den of a pack of gnolls, so we quickly retreated and fled down the slope (luckily without anything in pursuit).

We decided to head for the large cave entrance, and on approaching it my dwarf cleric discerned that the entrance was carved and decorated by humans.  Sensing something interesting, we entered this large cave.  This cave had spluttering torches to provide illumination, so we switched off our light spells.  The entrance passage was carved and worked, unlike the earlier caves, and soon joined up with a 20' wide corridor that stretched off to the left and right.  We cautiously made our way to the left along the wide coridoor, trying to keep to the shadowed areas between the weak torches.  We came to an Y intersection, and took to fork to the left.  Rounding a rubble-filled corner, we soon heard the sound of moaning, so we sent our most dexterous character ahead to investigate, and he returned with word of a large throne room, with a dozen skeletons standing guard.  Relishing the opportunity to smite some undead, we decided to strike the inert skeletons, then fall back into the corridor so that we could attempt to use Turn Undead as many of them as possible.  The plan worked perfectly, with the four of us crushing one skeleton with our first blow and damaging two others before retreating to the corridor.  The skeletons followed and walked straight into the my Turn Undead, which held all of them but three.  What followed was a slaughter as other characters ganged up on the skeletons one at a time (while I kept them turned), first attacking with advantage while they were 'turned' and following up with spells if the melee attacks weren't successful (the wizard attacked last using Shocking Grasp to gain advantage from their metal armor).

After the last of the skeletons was reduced to shards and dust, we investigated the throne.  We detected nothing magical, and unsuccessfully searched it for secret compartments, so had to settle for just prising out the four garnets that were inlaid in it.

We returned to the Y intersection and followed the other path.  We heard the noise again, and this time we identified it as moaning.  After a few more steps, we found a large empty room filled with zombies.  This time the other cleric managed to 'turn' seven of the zombies, leaving only a few still mobile.  As with their skeletal cousins, we made short (but boring) work of the zombies.

We backtracked to the main 20' wide corridor and followed it past the entrance tunnel and about another 100' feet on, where it turned to the left and then headed up a slope.  The corner had two doors, one straight ahead and another in the right wall.  We heard voices and stopped to listen, eventually identifying three humans speaking common in the room behind the door straight ahead.  We did a quick stocktake and on finding that were were all in pretty good condition (I was on 14 HP, having only take 5 HP from the hobgoblins and recovered 2 HP from the rest), we decided to open the door and storm the room to surprise the humans.

The fighter approached the door and threw it open, but found that the humans (cultists in red and black robes) were sitting at a table about 20' away down a connecting corridor.  He charged down the corridor and attacked, but failed miserably (rolled a 1 and without any advantage).  I followed and attacked the closest of the humans, missing, and then stepped next to the fighter to give him the benefit of my Guardian power.  The wizard and other cleric followed, and attacked too, with some success.  The enemies then attacked, striking the wizard a strong blow for 8 HP, and sending him running back down the corridor in fear of his life.  Another human who'd been lying on one of the beds in the room joined the fight, but the wizard made short work of them with his Shocking Grasp, which gains advantage against enemies in metal armor (as it also had with the skeletons earlier).  

With the four cultists dead, we stripped their robes and set their bodies in their beds, then paused to decide what to do.  Which is where the session ended.

Quick thoughts:

•  Advantage got a large look in, but we were never attacked by baddies with advantage.  We also never had disadvantage.  We found a couple of ways to gain advantage, such as when we surprised the hobgoblins with the Burning Hands
•  I used 1 spell Crusader's Strike, and then forgot that I had it on!
•  The fights were quick, but not particularly interesting (especially the ones where we shut down the undead)
•  We managed 5 encounters in a 3-hour session
•  I like saving throws using your ability scores, because they really streamline all the different numbers
•  I'm intrigued by the flattened maths, but worry that it's always going to feel like 1st level
•  In the current implementation, the clerics and wizards seem to get a lot more escalation at higher levels than the fighter
•  We avoided the rats and the kobolds, so we didn't have any of the encounters with 15+ enemies each with 2 HP
•  The extra starting HP makes the game much more forgiving that Basic D&D (for example, that 8 HP hit from the cultist would have killed a Basic magic-user dead dead).
•  The only modularity apparent in the system (removing Backgrounds and Themes) makes your character suck more, (as I feared)

You could be playing Heroes Against Darkness instead: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Friday, 25 May 2012

D&D Next: Early Thoughts and Opinions...

I've been looking forward to the D&D Next open playtest for quite a while.  I previously blogged about some of the expectations that I had of this new edition and ways to approach making a modular edition of D&D:

•  Mechanics of Attack Bonus Progression
•  D&D 5th Edition DDXP Play Report
•  Making D&D 5th Edition Modular - Part I

Now that the open playtest is here, let's take a look at what the edition actually looks like right now.

+1 Per Level Progression

Well, the designers at WotC have been true to their promise and appear to have flattened the progression curve.  The level steps for Level 2 and Level 3 don't appear to include any increases to characters' attacks, although the fighter does get +1 to damage at Level 3.

My current assumption is that characters will gain some kind of ability score increase(s) at Level 4.  If 4th Edition is a guide, then this increase could be +1 to two different abilities.  All-in-all, this makes for a very flat progression, where characters are only gaining +1 to attacks every 8 levels!

I have nothing against flattened progression, but I do wonder whether players will missing out on some psychological reinforcement that comes from seeing their attacks growing more powerful.  The other issue with the lack of any meaningful progression is that the game then has no way of simulating the skill differential between higher and lower level characters.  The second consequence of this change is that now magic weapons are far more valuable than they have been in any other edition of D&D, which I don't think s their intention (or maybe it is their intention).

Personally, I think if they're getting rid of the ½ level bonus (as used in 4th Edition), then they should offer ability score increases for more often, such as every second level.

HP and Healing

The pre-gen characters in the playtest start with their Constitution + Class HP (6 for fighters, 4 for clerics, 3 for rogues, 2 for wizards).  As they level up, characters only gain Class HP, no Constitution bonus.

Characters also have a number of Hit Dice (d12 for fighters, d8 for clerics, d6 for rogues, d4 for wizards) equal to their level, which can be 'spent' during a Short Rest to regain HP (although in the rules they say this requires a healing kit, which has only 10 uses).  This means that characters can regain about one-third of their total HP during an adventure day without resorting to magic.  This is interesting in that it offers far more mundane healing than any other edition except for 4th Edition.

At a Long Rest characters regain all of their HP and all of their Hit Dice - very 4th Edition.

Vancian Magic

Vancian magic is back for the Wizard pre-gen (yeech).  And making an unwelcome return with this is the absolutely terrible situation where a spell's level is different from the character's level.  Seriously, would it have killed them to spread the spells out so that spell level is equal to character level?


There's no sense of the modularity in the playtest documents except that the characters display different sorts of ability types, including Vancian casting and at-will powers.  Again we can only assume that later releases will develop some modular elements.

Proficiencies and Equipment

D&D Next divides weapons and armor into nice groupings (Basic, Finesse, Martial, Heavy weapons), but they then go and ruin the simplicity by using specific language for the weapon proficiencies of wizards (daggers, slings, and quarterstaffs only) but all of the other classes use weapons based on the categories.  Weird.

Attack Bonuses

Just a few notes here.

It looks like fighters and wizards score (somehow) a total of +3 to their attacks, fighters get this for melee and ranged attacks and wizards get this for the magic attacks.  For the melee and ranged attacks, +2 of this seems to come from the character's proficiency but +1 of it is a 'mystery' bonus that I can't account for.

It also looks like monsters have a +2 attack bonus, probably from some underlying proficiency bonus.


Monsters have no level (listed), but they do get lots of HP.  Even the toughest monster (the gnoll pack lord) has only 66 HP and +6 to attack (+4 from his 18 Str and +2 proficiency).  To be fair, that gnoll has a few special actions (no, they're not 'powers', really) that make it stronger than the 66 HP would suggest.

Action Economy

So they've gutted the action economy from 4th edition, and have an ad hoc series of actions.  First, characters can perform one action each turn, they can also move during their turn (before, after or split around their action), there are also a series of 'incidental' actions that are 'free'.

The problem with this ad hoc codification is that it introduces silly situations like the Healing Word spell, which when cast allows the caster to make a melee or ranged attack or to cast another 'minor' spell.  How much ink is going to be spent so that they don't have to codify certain spells or incidental actions as Move Actions or Minor Actions?

Save of Die

Maybe it's a mistake, but there's a save or die effect on the Medusa, where you have to avert your eyes to avoid her Petrifying Gaze.  If you avert, you are disadvantaged against her (always roll two dice and take the lowest).  If you're surprised or don't avert your gaze, you just save vs petrification (Constitution vs. DC 12) or permanently turn to stone.


After all of that D&D Next does something that I consider wholly unnecessary: it introduces an Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic to the game.  Sometimes the game will specify that you have advantage or disadvantage, such as when attacking a paralyzed character or when your character is blinded.  When you have advantage, you roll two d20s and take the higher result. When you have disadvantage then you roll two d20s and take the lower score.  It does make me wonder whether they'll change the name of the system to dd20 now?

My problem with the advantage/disadvantage mechanic is that D&D already has a bunch of mechanics for bonuses and penalties to attacks and ability tests, so I don't understand why the game needs another way of representing these adjustments, especially a mechanic that only has one magnitude.  Also, don't think that this entirely replaces bonuses and penalties.  Advantages and disadvantages work alongside bonuses and penalties, so if you're prone you take -2 to attacks, but if you're blinded then you have disadvantage on your attacks (but attackers don't seem to get advantage against you, which is weird).

Summing Up

So, all in all I'm interested in this flattening of the progression curve, but the rest of it isn't really grabbing me.  It looks like they're really trying to target the OSR crowd, but the cost of accommodating those players is pretty high for the rest of us.

We're playing a session of this on Monday, so it'll be interesting to see what the other guys think!

You could be playing Heroes Against Darkness instead: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Remaking Magic: Enhance, Don't Replace

First, a quick confession.

I'm generally such an isolated throwback that I hadn't even heard of 'niche protection' until just a few weeks ago.  In spite of not having heard the damned term, the idea that each class in a RPG should have its own thing was apparent during the development of Heroes Against Darkness.

One aspect of this division of capabilities and specialties is the separation of the magic into the five main magi classes:
•  Warlocks who specialize in physical manifestations and offensive spells
•  Healers with their specialization in physiological magic that heals, enhances or weakens
•  Canonates who enforce the will of their divine god to buff allies, bless areas and attack enemies
•  Necromancers who can raise and control undead, drain health and anima from enemies
•  Mystics who are masters of control and influence, to help and hinder

During playtesting of Heroes Against Darkness, one of the players would constantly ask for utility spells, like in D&D.  I resisted his requests because the utility spells that he was asking for are the very spells that break the niches, they are the spells that allow wizards/sorcerers/clerics to become the Swiss Army knife classes who can do anything, anytime.  The main culprits in D&D are the spells that directly replace the class features of other classes, such as Knock, Invisibility, and the like.

Knock has the unfortunate privilege of making rogues/thieves just about useless.  Once you've got Knock, there's no locked door or chest that can't be opened by a night's rest and a quick spell.  If that wasn't bad enough, a sneaky rogue can be replaced with Invisibility as well.

In Heroes Against Darkness these sorts of spells don't have absolute effects, rather they offer enhancements to the target's ability tests, making these spells most effective when cast on a character that is already good at the activity, rather than allowing the spell to be cast on any character.  Even spells like Charm and Divine respectively enhance the character's Charisma and Perception, rather than having absolute effects.  The final advantage of the enhancement approach means that the spells effects are still relative to the state or difficulty of the target, so a Charisma or Perception enhancement takes into account the underlying difficulty of the activity that is being undertaken.

So, if you're after spells that allow magi to replicate the features of other classes, then these are not the rules you're looking for.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Remaking Magic: Scaling Spells

In previous posts in this series I've listed a few examples of spells with X costs in Heroes Against Darkness, but costed scaling isn't just limited to damage and bonuses or penalties, it also encompasses other areas like healing, manifestation, and animation.

Let's look at some examples that demonstrate how scaling works for healing.  Healing Flash has no scaling:

Healing Flash (1 Anima)
Casting Time Move action
Spell Effect Heal Magic bonus HP.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs. MD
Range Touch or self

Healing Touch has simple scaling, with each anima worth one dice of healing:

Healing Touch (X Anima)
Cost 1 anima per dice of healing.
Spell Effect Heal Xd6 + Magic bonus HP.
Target Single target
Range Touch or self

Finally, Healing Burst has heals all allies close to the caster, but the cost of the healing is 2 anima per dice of healing:

Healing Burst
(3 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 3 anima + 2 anima per dice of healing.
Spell Effect Heal Xd6 + Magic bonus HP.
Target All allies in effect area
Attack Magic vs. MD
Range Radius 5' per ½ Level from you

Looking at spells that cause physical manifestations, these use additional X costs in different ways.  For example, Wall of Ice requires 1 anima for each 2 pillars in the wall:

Wall of Ice
(1 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 1 anima + 1 anima per 2 pillars of ice.
Spell Effect You create a contiguous wall of ice made up of individual pillars (5' x 5', 10' tall).
Two pillars are created for each X anima spent.
Corporeal creatures cannot move through the pillars or diagonally between them.
No pillar can be created in an occupied position.
Each pillar has 10 HP + 10 HP per ½ Level.
Duration 1 rnd + 1 rnd per level
Range 10' + 10' per level

Whereas Fire Spirit uses the scaling cost to determine how powerful the summoned spirit is:

Fire Spirit
(6 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 6 anima + 1 anima per dice of damage, +5 HP and +1 to Defenses
Spell Effect Conjures a fire spirit that engages in melee combat.
Effect Details Fire spirit appears adjacent to you and occupies 5' x 5'.
You can use your move action to control the fire spirit's actions (major and move). The fire spirit will continue to attack its target without intervention.
The fire spirit's Movement Speed is your Magic bonus.
Fire spirit cannot move out of spell range.
Fire spirit melee attacks target with your Magic bonus vs. target's AD.
Fire spirit deals Xd6 + your Magic bonus damage on hit.
Fire spirit has 10 HP + 5 HP per X, Defenses of 15 + X.
Duration 1 rnd + 1 rnd per level
Range 10' + 10' per level

By way of comparison, let's take a look at the Heroes Against Darkness version of Fireball (Level 5 warlock) and the D&D version (Level 3 spell, usable by a 5th level wizard or sorcerer) of same:

(5 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 5 anima + 1 anima per dice of damage.
Target(s) All targets in effect area
Attack Magic vs. ED
Damage Xd8 + Magic bonus
Range 10' + 10' per level
Effect Area Radius 5' + 5' per ½ Level
Miss Effect Magic bonus damage

D&D Fireball
Target(s) All targets in effect area
Saving Throw Reflex save for half damage
Damage 1d6 per level (max 10d6)
Range 400' + 40' per level
Effect Area 20' radius

So there are some swings and roundabouts here, the Heroes Against Darkness version slowly scales in radius with the caster's ½ Level bonus, whereas the D&D Fireball has a much longer range.  The biggest difference is that the D&D version scales damage for free, and even when it misses it deals half damage.  This means that every time a D&D caster gains a level, this spell becomes relatively cheaper and also more powerful!

When a D&D caster first gets Fireball, it deals 5d6 damage, whereas when the Heroes warlock gets the spell they can only spend 6 anima to deal 1d8 damage to all targets in a 15' radius.  For a Level 6 warlock, it deals an average of 13.5 + Magic bonus damage on a hit and 9 damage on a miss.  If you hit 5 targets with Fireball, then it'll deal about 110 damage for your 6 anima, which is a reasonable return.  At Level 10, the warlock can put 11 anima into the spell, giving it 6d8 damage + Magic bonus (28 + 14) with a radius of 30'.  Now, that sounds like a ton of damage (and it is), but keep in mind that at this level the warlock probably has only 18 anima before they have to use their blood anima (or Rally).

And in case you're wondering, the base cost of Fireball comes from these components; it attacks ED (+1 anima), 10'+10' range (+1 anima), radius 5'+5' (+2 anima), Magic bonus miss damage (+1 anima).

The D&D Fireball at 5th level deals on average 17.5 damage on a hit and 8 on a miss.  At 10th level, the same spell deals an average of 35 damage on a hit, and 17 damage on a miss.  This is slightly less damage than a fully-powered Heroes Against Darkness Fireball, but by level 10 a D&D wizard or sorcerer will be able to cast three such fireballs, plus several level 4 spells and a level 5 spell.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Remaking Magic: No Redundant Spells

In this entry in the Remaking Magic series, we take a look at the steps taken to ensure that no spell gets left behind.

The side-effect of changing most spells to have scaling X is that they never become redundant as the character gains levels.  In the previous examples, Burning Touch and Burning Ray, the spells are just as useful at Level 10 as they are at Level 1.  As the caster's level increases, they can put more anima into the X component of the spell, and make them a lot more powerful based on the circumstances they find themselves in.

Wherever possible the spells in Heroes Against Darkness avoid fixed bonuses or penalties and instead offer the player the choice of how much anima they want to expend on each spell.  Now, nothing in the world is perfect, so here are some spells that do have fixed effects or scale without costs.

First, Befriend offers a slightly scaling bonus to Charisma tests:

Befriend (1 Anima)
Spell Effect Add Magic bonus to Charisma ability tests (Cha).
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs. MD
Duration 1 hr + 1 hr per level
Range 5'

Second, Tremble is another example. This is one of a number of spell variants that have large penalties but only over a short single-turn duration.

Tremble (2 Anima)
Spell Effect Decrease target's Ranged bonus by your Magic bonus.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs. MD
Duration End of target's next turn
Range 10' + 10' per level

Interestingly, Tremble has a sister spell called Quake, which does scale but doesn't actually make it redundant:

Quake (X Anima)
Cost 1 anima for each -1.
Spell Effect Decrease target's Ranged bonus by X.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs. MD
Duration 1 rnd + 1 rnd per level
Range 10' + 10' per level

In the case of Tremble and Quake, Tremble offers a large penalty in the short term, while Quake offers directly-costed penalties over a longer duration.

The use of X costs for a large number of the spells in Heroes Against Darkness means that players have genuine choices in how they use their anima and which spells they use in the process.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Remaking Magic: Balance

Heroes Against Darkness employs a number of techniques to keep magi relatively balanced against the martial classes.

First, the combination of the total pool of anima that magi have (5 + Magic Bonus) plus the speed with which they can spend their anima (Level + 1 anima per turn) limits the speed with which they can deal damage and their total potential amount of spell damage.

Rule:  Maximum anima points is 5 + Wisdom bonus.
Rule:  Magi spend anima points to cast spells.
Rule:  All spells have an anima points cost.
Rule:  Variable anima cost spells must have at least 1 anima spent on the variable X component.
Rule:  Magi cannot spend more than Level + 1 anima points in a single turn.

Second, not all magi are focused on dealing direct damage.  The warlock, which is the primary damage-dealing magi class, can deal 1d8 damage per anima.  Necromancers also deal 1d8 damage per anima, but they have less flexibility in the range of damage dealing spells.  Canonates' divine magic only deals 1d6 damage per anima against normal enemies, but this increases to 1d10 against undead.  Furthermore, each time that a spell has some additional component (such as range, targeting non-Armor Defenses, effect area, miss damage, duration) then these components are specifically included in the cost of the spell.  Let's take a look at some examples of magi's direct damage spells.

The Burning Touch spell allows a brave warlock to deal the highest possible damage:

Burning Touch (X Anima)
Cost 1 anima per dice of damage.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs.  AD
Damage Xd8 + Magic Bonus
Range Touch

The added range component of Burning Ray means that the warlock has to spend 1 anima to not get whacked in the head with a sword:

Burning Ray
(1 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 1 anima + 1 anima per dice of damage.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs.  AD
Damage Xd8 + Magic Bonus
Range 10'+10' per level

The electrical nature of Shocking Ray means that it is cast against the target's Evasion defense, rather than their Armor defense, with +1 anima for the non-Armor defense and another +1 anima for the ranged attack:

Shocking Ray
(2 Anima + X Anima)

Cost 2 anima + 1 anima per dice of damage.
Target Single target
Attack Magic vs.  ED
Damage Xd8 + Magic Bonus
Range 10'+10' per level

Finally, martial characters are not limited to a single weapon damage increment, rather their weapon damage increases as they gain levels.

Melee Attack
Condition Target in melee range.
Attack Melee vs.  AD
Level 4:
Level 8:
Level 12:
Weapon + Melee
2d Weapon + Melee
3d Weapon + Melee
4d Weapon + Melee

All of these factors interact in complicated ways, but the general result is that magi can deal damage faster than martial classes in the short term, but in doing so they deplete their anima and soon have to Rally or use blood anima.  Martial classes can deal a slightly lower amount of damage with each hit but over an extended duration, making them the backbone of any party in longer fights. Ultimately this means that magi can have a big impact early in a balanced encounter, but they can't win it single-handedly.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Remaking Magic

Let's get this out of the way: I strongly dislike Vancian magic.

When I started work on Heroes Against Darkness we'd just finished playing a long 4th Edition campaign followed by a shorter Basic D&D campaign.  The switch from 4th Edition to Basic was caused by a general dissatisfaction with 4th Edition (don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater) and frustration with the final module that we played (Pyramid of Shadows).  The experience of playing some Basic reminded me of why I stopped playing that edition all those years ago:

•  Class as race
•  Spell level != character level
•  Slow non-magical healing
•  Clerics get no spells at 1st level, but elves get one?!?
•  Arbitrary lists of armor and weapons for magic-users and clerics
•  Tables (to hit), tables (saving throws), tables (thieves skills), and more tables (every damned ability score has a different one)!

Now I could whine about Basic all day, but at the time it was state of the art.  Things have moved on since then, with a lot of mechanical improvements, simplification and consolidation of separate sub-systems, and better scaling for all systems.

Sadly, one of the areas where things haven't moved on in D&D-land (at least until recently) has been the magic systems.  Until 4th Edition folded martial and spell powers into the AEDU powers system (At-Will, Encounter, Daily, Utility), D&D had stuck with the same system of Vancian spell-casting, on top of which they layered various fixes to address specific and general issues (spell resistance, casting feats, spontaneous casting, various dalliances with psionics, etc).

It's a relic of the past that should have been discarded from D&D shortly after it was introduced.  It doesn't work particularly well on an intellectual, mechanical, or gameplay level.  Furthermore, it leads to the unfortunate (literal and figurative) explosion of spell-caster power as they advance in levels while the other classes are stuck with a more linear increase in power.  And if you've read some of my earlier posts, you'll know that Vancian spell systems are a terrible waste of pages in game rule systems (compared to the amount of space dedicated to non-magic classes), occupying up to half of the total pages in some editions' player's guides (AD&D 2nd Edition and Pathfinder being the notable examples of this).

So when I decided to make my own system, the major area I wanted to rework was the magic system.  I began with the simple goal of implementing a magic system based on spell points (anima), and from there my goals evolved as I implemented the system and learned more and more about it in its evolution through playtesting.  Eventually my goals were:

•  Magi classes must be balanced against other classes
•  Spells shouldn't become redundant
•  Spells shouldn't scale without additional costs (Fireball)
•  Magi enhance other classes, not replace (Knock, Invisibility)
•  No magic can break the game or the GM's narrative control (Fly, Overland Travel, Teleport, Scry)
•  No spells should have absolute effects (Finger of Death, Sleep)
•  Allow casters to deplete HP to cast spells (blood anima)
•  Just four pages of spells for each magi class

This was going to be one post, but it's turned into a monster so I'll cover each of these areas in separate posts, so stay tuned!

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

+2 Is Easy

One of the goals for the classes in Heroes Against Darkness was that each of them should be easily able to gain +2 to their Attacks, whether it's a melee attack, a ranged attack, or a spell attack.  The game's combat powers are all based on class specialties, situational bonuses, or trade-offs, so each of the classes draws from these possibilities for their specific attack power that grants +2 to hit.

Heroes Against Darkness has an assumed hit chance of around 45% (hitting on a 12), based on the standard progression and monster stats, so the extra +2 on offer immediately switches this to 55% (hitting on a 10). Each of the classes gains this +2 in different ways, so let's take a tour:


Warriors have the most straightforward method of gaining their +2. The Careful Strike power allows warriors to trade off some damage (2 damage per damage tier), for +2 to attack:

Careful Strike
Condition Target in melee range.
Attack Melee + 2 vs. AD
Level 4:
Level 8:
Level 12:
Weapon + Melee – 2
2d Weapon + Melee –4
3d Weapon + Melee –6
4d Weapon + Melee –8

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Nexus Edition

It's no secret that Heroes Against Darkness is firmly rooted in the traditions and mechanics of all editions of D&D. When describing the game, I specifically refer to it as a 'd20' system because most of the mechanics in the game (attacks and ability tests) are much the same as those that were codified in D&D 3rd Edition.

But, I have a problem. And that problem is how to define how Heroes Against Darkness relates to D&D and how to describe the game. You see, Heroes Against Darkness has similarities with each of the different editions of D&D, but it also has differences with each edition (some fundamental), and it also extends outside of the traditional D&D feature-set.

Basic D&D

As a whole, Heroes Against Darkness is probably closest to Basic D&D. However, even though the game has the same simplicity of presentation as Basic, it really doesn't share much in the way of mechanics, with just a few common elements:
• Simple character creation (no customizable feats or proficiencies).

Advanced D&D

The biggest similarity between Heroes Against Darkness and AD&D is:
• Separation of class and race.

D&D 3rd Edition

The 3rd edition of D&D was the first to unify the mechanics of the system so that the d20 was used for attacks and ability tests:
• Unified d20 mechanics for all sub-systems (combat, ability tests).
• Ascending Armor Class.
• Unified Experience Point progression for all classes.

D&D 4th Edition

D&D 4th Edition introduced a number of innovations that I also employ in Heroes Against Darkness:
• +1 per level progression of attacks is based on inherent underlying mechanics, rather than arbitrary tables.
• Defenses instead of saving throws.
• Codification of attack powers (instead of disparate feats and class features).


As you can see, Heroes Against Darkness borrows from both old and new editions of D&D. And alongside all of this commonality with D&D, the game's entire magic system is more closely related to Magic: The Gathering, rather than D&D!

When I talk about the game, I am tempted to categorize the game as a retro-clone, because of its similarity to various earlier versions of D&D. But retro-clones are more closely based on the corresponding edition that they're cloned from, and Heroes Against Darkness (happily) cannot point to a single earlier edition that it clones.

I also find it tempting to describe the game as rules-lite, because it does have comparatively few rules for such a fully-featured system. But rules-lite games, such as Dungeon World Hack, are often more abstract and have rulesets that fit in pamphlets, not in tomes.

Personally, I consider Heroes Against Darkness almost as a 'reference' system, much like Google make Nexus phones to display their OS in its purest form. Heroes Against Darkness is a nexus edition that takes elements from all of the other editions (and elsewhere) and combines these into one unified game system.

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Monday, 7 May 2012

New Alternate Downloads Link

I've had a couple of people mention that they can't download the Heroes Against Darkness rules from the Dropbox link on the downloads page, so I've updated the page with a Google Docs link as well. Hopefully this is more reliable!

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Cover Illustration Wallpaper

A few people have asked for the Heroes Against Darkness cover art for a wallpaper, so Trevor Smith has obliged and created this:

Check out Trevor's other work here:

Trevor Smith Art


Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.

Friday, 4 May 2012

D&D for Kids (Rules Included)!

I've developed the ideas here into a full RPG for kids called Hero Kids. Check it out here:
Hero Kids fantasy RPG for kids

My daughter Violet has been nagging me for ages to play D&D (referred to as 'nerd games' in our house), so when my Pathfinder Beginner Box arrived in the mail (I don't plan on playing it, but I'm an obsessive completist and I love the monster stand-ups), I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to run a game for her.

Obviously a 4-year old can't play actual D&D , so I set up a super-simple RPG for Violet. Keep in mind, this all happened in the 15 minutes before Violet had pinkie-promised to go to bed, so the game is simple and the materials were whatever I could grab quickly, which should explain the HP tokens we ended up using!


The game uses these materials:

• 1 dungeon map
• 1 hero
• 4 monsters
• 1 d10
• 1 d6
• 6 health tokens for the hero

The flipmat that comes in the Pathfinder Beginner Box is very nice, and I used the cavern side for the game:

Violet chose one of the characters from the various hero pawns in the Pathfinder Beginner Box:

I used just four goblins from the Pathfinder Beginner Box as baddies for the game:

And the d10 is for the hero's attacks:

The d6 is for the monsters' attacks:

Finally, this was the first thing that came to hand to use for the hero's HP tokens:


• Hero has 6 HP and rolls a d10 for movement and attacks.
• Monsters have 2 HP and roll a d6 for movement and attacks.
• Set up the hero at the entrance of the dungeon, and the four monsters along the route to the treasure (in this case the golden fountain in the middle of the flipmat)

• Hero rolls d10 and moves that many squares.
• If a monster can see the character, it rolls d6 and moves that many squares.

• If the hero and a monster are adjacent, they both roll their dice (d10 vs. d6) the highest roll wins and their opponent takes 1 HP damage.

Win/lose conditions:
• The hero wins the game when they reach the treasure.
• The monsters win when the hero is defeated.

Playing the Game

I started Violet's hero at the top middle of the map, and then scattered the goblins along the route to the treasure (the golden fountain in the middle of the map). The first goblin was at the top of the stairs, the second in the room at the top left, the third in the big room on the left side and then the last goblin was in the corridor near the treasure.

Each turn, she rolled her d10 and then moved her character that many squares (with some help). If a monster was nearby, I rolled a d6 for the monster and moved it towards her hero.

When the monster and the hero were adjacent, we both rolled our dice and the highest roll 'won', with the loser taking 1 HP damage. When Violet's hero took damage, I ate one of the six BBQ Shapes tokens that I had lined up for her health (bwahahaha!). When the monsters took damage, we just remembered it and then killed them the next time they took another hit.

The combination of the 2 HP for the monsters, 6 HP for the hero, and the d6 and d10 all worked pretty well, because Violet's hero reached the treasure with just 2 HP left!

What Did We Learn

• Counting (for movement)
• Comparing (for the opposed attack rolls)
• Remembering (for the monsters having 2 HP)

Possible Advanced Rules

• There's no difference if the hero reaches the monster first or the monster reaches the hero first, so maybe whoever moves adjacent gets either a free opposed attack or a bonus to their first opposed attack.
• This is balanced for only a small number of 'encounters', so there could be healing potions in side rooms, or the hero could regain 1 HP after each combat.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Overview of Heroes Against Darkness

Imagine an ancient world torn apart by primal powers. A place where magic runs through all living things and erupts from the minds of powerful magi, where humans, elves, dwarves and orcs walk the same earth, where ancient gods fight side-by-side with mortals in an endless battle between order and chaos.

Adventure is everywhere. This is the world of Heroes Against Darkness.

Heroes Against Darkness is a free, fast, flexible, and fully-featured fantasy d20 RPG system. The game is quick to learn and play, while offering progressively greater options and flexibility as players develop their characters and explore the breadth and depth of the system.

For Players:
• A game that’s fast, fun and deep
• Streamlined rules system using unified mechanics
• Eleven character classes for all play-styles
• Three martial classes: Warrior, barbarian, berserker
• Two specialist classes: Rogue, hunter
• One hybrid class that combines magic and martial: Hospiter
• Five magi classes: Warlock, healer, canonate, necromancer, mystic
• Extensive character background and skill options
• Fast character building with plenty of depth
• Martial and specialist classes get meaningful combat choices through class-specific techniques that are based on trade-offs and the unique capabilities of each class
• Anima points-based magic system with five main schools focusing on each of the following; physical, healing, protection, necrotic and controlling

For GMs:
• A system that’s easy for the GM to set up and run
• Intuitive and clear rules
• Set up unique combat encounters in minutes
• A simple ability test system for non-combat challenges
• Support for long-term campaign play
• Extensive GM’s Guide to help run the game
• Huge bestiary with over 80 monsters
• A framework for quickly making custom monsters
• A comprehensive world-building guide
• Appendix of key tables for GMs

Check out Heroes Against Darkness over at the downloads page: Heroes Against Darkness - Game Rules.