So I'm in the middle of writing a "sandbox setting" for Low Fantasy Gaming, and have drafted up a pantheon for one of the cultures - the "Midlanders", basically the western medieval culture in the centre of the region map.
So I had a few objectives with my pantheon:
LFG has no cleric class, so I didnt need to make up powers or choose spells to go with each god. These supernatural figures are primarily roleplaying tools; features of the Midlander culture that the GM and players can engage with.
So here it is, the Midlands Pantheon - any feedback welcome!
Art copyright 2016 Maciej Zagorski and the Forge Studios LLC, used with permission
So there's one thing I really dislike about 5e - and that's the whack-a-mole effect. I've spoken about it briefly before (in my article on injuries & setbacks, which incidentally is part of the fix for making games like 5e "grittier" and more dangerous), but for now I want to suggest a very quick and easy fix.
Whack-a-mole is the result of a few related matters: (i) bonus action, (ii) ranged healing (healing word etc), (iii) there being no penalties for being reduced to zero hp (in fact - sadly - there is an incentive to drop below zero THEN heal - because you dont track negative HP, you are sometimes better off dropping first, then healing), and (iv) healing magic is instantaneous.
You can tweak a number of these factors to discourage whack-a-mole to a greater or lesser extent. Remove ranged healing (touch only). Make it a full action. Count negative HPs. Or make dropping to zero a very serious and incapacitating condition - like the old 2e rules, once you dropped to zero, you couldn't fight or cast spells for 24 hours (or something like that, I forget exactly). This last option gives dropping to zero the dread it deserves, but is imo too severe in practice (unless you're going for a very gritty style, and dont mind your party camping for extended recovery periods).
So what's the easy fix I had in mind?
It's tweaking the "instant" part of the spell. If the target is 1 hp or more, the cure spell works instantly. But if the target is zero hp or below, it takes 1d3 minutes to heal instead. This can easily be fluffed as the dangerous wound requiring more time to fix, or just the way magic works, etc.
What you then get is a game where dropping to zero hp is highly undesirable and dangerous, but without the extra complexity of lingering injuries (albeit I personally like to use those as well ;) ) or 24 hr recovery breaks. PCs with cure spells suddenly have some hard decisions about when to heal, when to attack, and when to risk a drop to zero hp. If you want to make healing even more tactical/difficult, you might consider removing ranged and/or bonus action heals.
Similar delayed effects can be used for other kinds of traditionally instant cures - regenerating limbs might take 2d6 hours to grow back, or removing madness 1d6 days to subside, and so on. These injuries/conditions will then hang around for a fuller time, making them more dangerous/meaningful, but not so long that they bleed into the next adventure.
So there it is, Houserule #16: Tweak the Instant Cure spells. I hope it helps fix whack-a-mole in your game.
PS - Low Fantasy Gaming uses this approach (free PDF in the sidebar).
Art copyright 2016 123RF, used with permission, all rights reserved.
Illustration copyright Maciej Zagorski and The Forge Studios LLC, used under licence, all rights reserved.
So, I've decided to start a Patreon, producing mini adventures to be dropped into sandbox style campaigns.
My Low Fantasy Gaming RPG is in the wild as a free PDF, so naturally my adventures use the LFG ruleset. Of course it's easy to convert them to any d20 system (or similar).
Alas, illustrations are not free, so I'm charging $1 for each adventure.
I've called them "Adventure Frameworks", because they aren't fully fleshed out adventures - they're "adventure skeletons" - designed to be dropped into a fantasy location along with a rumour/hook, to help the GM run a sandbox style campaign with confidence. They run about 4-6 pages (excluding credits), book marked PDF only.
There's a free example at the link above: the Tomb of Horutep. Enjoy!
So one of the things I dont particularly like about most OSR games is that their weapon table is very basic and undifferentiated. In fact I'm fairly sure the earliest D&D had all weapons causing 1d6 damage, with no differentiating qualities at all.
Things have of course come a long way since then, as the 5e weapon list demonstrates. But I am not really a fan of some of the differentiation of 5e weapons. I think finesse weapons cause more problems than they solve, for instance, and the 5e division of slashing, bludgeoning or piercing damage rarely (if ever?) seems to matter in play (or at least against the MM monsters).
So, this houserule is a revised weapons table. Well, two actually, melee weapons and ranged weapons. My objectives were:
1. To make nearly every weapon a valid/useful/competitive choice.
2. To give each broad category of weapon a special effect on a natural 19 roll, or alternatively, some other useful quality (such as reach).
3. To make ranged weapons such as crossbows more deadly, but much more difficult to use in caught in melee.
So here it is. Houserule #16: OSR Alternative Weapons Table.
I’ve been thinking recently about the issue of balanced encounters, and what’s wrong with that concept, if anything.
As GMs, I guess we want to be able to throw a range of fights at the party, from easy to hard, but nothing toooo hard. No-one wants a TPK just because the monsters completely overwhelmed the PCs due to a massive power imbalance.
It’s like any other competition, we like it when things are close, and either side has a real chance of winning.
So what tends to happen is the players always face opponents in a particular power range – “balanced” encounters. Anything outside of that range must be avoided. Why? Because otherwise the fights are far too easy (waste of time?) or far too deadly (TPK ensues).
There are a few problems however that flow from sticking to balanced encounters all the time.
So how can we improve this situation?
How can we have an independent game world, a world that feels more real, more consequential and more dangerous, but prevent risking TPKs every second week? How can we be confident that random encounters based only on geographic location, and not party level, won’t overwhelm the PCs?
Fleeing and/or Retreating
In normal 5e and similar games, there is no formal retreat mechanic. Running away means double move, and that generally means you cant escape – most monsters are simply faster than the PCs.
Yes, I know there are chase rules of various kinds. And some of those are very good chase rules (naturally enough I like my own version ;) ). But before there can be a chase, there needs to be a retreat, and players need to be confident in how that retreat process works. They need to know that if they go into a very dangerous fight, or get accosted by a very high level random encounter, that they can make a run for it if they must, and probably live to fight another day.
So, in my view, a good retreat rule needs 3 things:
House Rule # 15 - The Party Retreat Rule
In my Low Fantasy Gaming book, I went with a Party Retreat rule based on the Luck attribute:
For 5e however, I suggest the following:
If the whole party wishes to flee from a battle, they must first explain to the GM how escape might be possible. If the GM agrees, a group Constitution (Athletics) check vs DC 10 is required, possibly with Str checks to carry away unconscious allies. The GM might impose modifiers depending on all the circumstances.
If successful, the whole party suffers 1 level of exhaustion, but the adventurers manage to break away from the battle with incapacitated allies over their shoulders (or otherwise in tow, as explained by the players). Depending on the circumstances, fleeing may lead to a Chase scene. If unsuccessful, the GM might permit any individually successful adventurers to flee, but the remaining PCs remain behind. The party, or any remaining PCs, may attempt to flee again next round if desired.
Continuing my theme of low fantasy, this article provides suggestions for low magic items.
In my (work in progress) "Low Fantasy Gaming" (LFG) book, I’ve split permanent magic items into two categories: Obvious and Discreet.
Obvious magic item properties tend to have flashy or clearly supernatural effects, while Discreet powers are more subtle and difficult to detect. For low magic worlds, where obvious magic would be particularly conspicuous, I recommend permanent items having a 66% chance of a discreet property as opposed to an obvious one.
A table of random Discreet magical properties appears below.
On a related note, I think low fantasy settings make great candidates for magical item "attunement", and items that unlock extra powers over time - increasing in power as their owners do. This keeps a lid on the quantity of magical objects, consistent with a low magic world, but still allows players to gain new and interesting abilities as they advance.
Whether these unlocked powers were latent properties, or new enchantments imbued through external events, can be determined by the GM. The additional properties might have an underlying theme, or they might not, depending on the story involved.
Houserule # 14: Low Magic Items (Discreet properties)
This one is pretty straight forward - a 1d100 table with about 90% mundane items (with a bit of a twist or side trek seed), and the other 10% enchanted items of an odd sort of caliber.
I recommend rolling 1d100 twice and choosing the most appropriate result. Hope it adds a touch of mystery to your next game.
Houserule #12: Trinkets and Enchanted Curios Table
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