Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Berserker (DCC RPG Class)

Howdy folks!

A few years ago I did a Barbarian class for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day - you can check it here. The design behind that class is that a Barbarian could be something other than the traditional "lots of hit points + rage + wilderness warrior". I wanted something more open so I came up with the concept of the "Barbarian" as a class that could react rather than act, besides resisting stuff that would drop other heroes (which is not necessarily more hit points). From that S&W original idea and DCC RPG's lovely tendecy to use random tables I made this Berserker, a class for players who don't like do make plans and who appreciate discovering new abilities every round (if you play 13th Age, this is the same principle behind the Bard's and Fighter's Flexible Attacks).

In fact, others had the idea of a different Barbarian before. If you like to dig for desing ideas, here are some suggestions. I first remember seing a new take on the Barbarian at Kolja Raven Liquette's site Waking Land (for D&D 3rd, you can still check his Berserker class and Savage template here). Basically, Kolja proposed that the Barbarian class for D&D was just an example of a Savage Berseker. You could create Savage Fighters, Clerics or even Wizards. It's a great idea and a better design for a class system IMHO. Other influences are D101's awesome Crypts & Things and Tales From The Fallen Empire.

One last commentary: I like classes that play (mechanically) different at the table. So, if you just want to play a slightly different Warrior or Rogue, I always suggest "reskinning" some abilities or just swapping one or two abilities (I hope to post soon how my DCC RPG's Scout and "Dwarven Tarzan" are). Finally, it's important to mention that lately I've been playing lots of 13th Age and The One Ring, but unfortunately no DCC RPG, so this Berserker isn't playtested yet (and I'm afraid it's a bit overpowered).

Here's the Berserker.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A review for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells – Addendum

One the best aspects of the OSR movement is the DIY attitude. In the last years, this principle gave us not only excellent retroclones but also original games; some of those are of particular interest to me because they’re clearly “built” from pieces of other RPGs, but in a very interesting way. Examples are Aspects of Fantasy, Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book and, of course, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells.

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (or SS&SS) came to my interest originally because the author is a fellow brazilian – and the one responsible for translating to portuguese DCC RPG (one of my all-time favorites RPGs). However, after reading SS&SS I became instantly a fan of this little gem. You can see my review here, but the elevator pitch (in my opinion) is that SS&SS is a variant of Black Hack that incorporates a lot of cool rules in order to create a light Sword & Sorcery game. Its classes take the best of others games that I appreciate and its spellcasting system seems to me almost like a lite version of the DCC RPG casting system.

OK, enough for introductions. What Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum is about? First, it is a B&W PDF with 90 pages (the original SS&SS is just 50 pages). Like the core, the Addendum is available as PWYW product at DriveThruRPG.

The Addendum opens with guidelines for using Vocations (the hero’s open concept, like “Barbarian from the Iron Horde”) almost like FATE’s Aspects. This is something that I already did, but it’s great to see the author defining it with more concrete (but simple) rules. For those that don’t like Aspects, there’s no problem: the rules just show you how to use Vocations in a positive or negative way (with Advantage/Disadvantage), also allowing the hero to recharge his Luck.

Next topic is Multiclass. Here SS&SS takes my favorite approach: instead of pre-build kits, it provides simple rules for mixing and matching all Archetypes (Warrior, Specialist and Magic User). Actually, it goes further and lets you built different heroes, like nonhumans. I loved it. My only worry is the balance factor. Multiclass heroes usually requires more XP (game sessions) to advance. I’m not sure that’s the best approach and I’m tempted use in my tables something involving a few “free” Negative Die/Setbacks/Complications per session (or maybe something making Luck harder to recharge, I’m still not sure).

The next topics are a few guidelines for Languages and rules for Zero-level PCs (this last one clearly inspired by DCC RPG). Also inspired by DCC are the Learning New Abilities section, which show us how heroes may gain specific new abilities (like fighting techniques, mystic powers, etc.) and even list a few examples. It’s my favorite approach to PC development and I’m glad to see another RPG embracing it.

Next we get the Blood rule. This basically matches a PC’s Physique ability score as his hit points, which is nice because the game (like many D&D-derived RPGs) is very lethal at lower levels.

The SS&SS Addendum also provides a Sanity & Madness section. I missed more concrete rules here. I believe Madness could be faithful recreated in SS&SS by giving the poor hero a “Madness Vocation”.

Resources & Treasures gives you abstract rules for money and rewards and is another awesome example of the versatility of the Usage Die (I hope to write a review of Dungeons & Delvers - Black Book, which is a game that really shows you how far you can push the Usage Die). Of course, Resources & Treasures is followed by a now classic “Where did my gold go?” table, in perfect Sword & Sorcery fashion (although I missed a gamble aspect to table, like Jeff Rients’ carousing rules).

Next topic is Quick Equipment. It may seem silly, but ready-to-use equipment kits are in my opinion one of the most important rules for any game. Most of my tables hate to buy equipment and when you’re introducing the game to new players (or just want to get direct into action), things like skill/feat/equipment lists are true let downs.

Drunken Luck is our next academic topic, and it’s an awesome variant rule for heroes that bet in their liquor to keep kickass-ing (which reminded me of the equally great rule from the D&D 5E playtest).

Adventuring Companions is a rule to form bonds between the PCs.

Journeys and Travels is a good cut-scene rule, for when you the party must get to the next spot, but the referee also wants to keep verisimilitude – so the PCs make a Luck check to avoid hazards.

After travel hazards we get rules for ‘Strange Effects of Ancient Spellbooks’, 20 new spells, True Names and True Sorcery. This last one is where you get those earth-shattering spells and dooms usually employed by the Evil Wizard of many S&S sources. Here are the guidelines for spells that target armies and affect entire fortifications. While the SS&SS Addendum does provides concrete rules for using True Spells (including the caster sacrificing ability score points permanently), I prefer the old Swords & Wizardry approach, where you basically threat high-level (or epic) spells as unique magic items.

Still talking about the arcane, we get a lite but very flavorful rule for Arcane Corruption, where the more spells a Magic User knows the more inhuman he gets. The next wizardly topics are Rare Ingredients and Drugs & Other Preparations (yes, lotus dust is here).

All those variants and additional rules don’t encumbrance the game and rarely occupy more than a page or two. In fact, it’s amazing how broad the SS&SS Addendum is, because we just reached the middle of the PDF.

Next part is a Monster Generator. This is the supplement’s biggest section and is mostly covered by system-neutral tables with basic ideas and descriptions for monster (aberrations, animals, beings from the future, undeads etc), although at the end we get a list of 100 special abilities (with rules), besides suggestions for monsters’ Weaknesses and a rule for Mooks.

After the monsters we get an excellent rule for creating Rumors, in which the entire table participates. This is a brilliant way of engaging the players, besides helping the referee. I’m extremely tempted to use it in all my tables right now.

SS&SS Addendum isn’t done with us yet. So we get tables and rules for Forgotten Artifacts, Random Life Events, “What Has Changed Since We Left?” (a table used when the PCs return to a town or outpost they’ve visited before) and an Adventure Title Generator.

The SS&SS Addendum is a perfect example of a supplement that highlights its’ Core Book without changing the game’s strong points. There’s so much stuff you can use here that I can’t recommend it high enough – be it for SS&SS, Black Hack or other similar fantasy games.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stealing from the 13th Age - The Icon Relationship Rolls

OK, time to steal the Icon Relationship Rolls from 13th Age (the Archmage Engine) to DCC RPG. In case you’re wandering what I’m talking about, check my 1st post here

Icons are basically 13th Age’s way of dealing with factions. In that game’s standard campaign setting (The Dragon Empire), the Icons are the highest-level NPCs of the world, its movers and shakers. All PCs in 13th Age are linked through their backgrounds to 1-3 Icons, already at 1st level. Usually this relation is through proxies, groups and followers of an Icon, but because 13th Age is all about high fantasy, it isn’t that rare for a 1st level PC to actually have met and interacted with a powerful Icon (it’s already a cliché in 13th Age community the idea of PCs that are bastard children of Icons – especially the Emperor, the Diabolist or the Archmage).

Icons are an excellent way to “ground” the PCs in the intrigues, plots and events of the setting. Instead of placing those NPCs as distant characters, forever busy with ineffable agendas, 13th Age links the PCs directly to them. And the PCs are not random wanderers and tomb raiders, but character linked with the most powerful and influential forces in the world.

The Icons are thus used as building blocs for the setting and also as a great tool to build adventures/campaigns. Each PC starts with 1-3 points of Icon Relationships. These relations can Positive (the PC is an ally of the Icon), Negative (the PC is an enemy of the Icon) or Conflicted (it’s complicated; for example: the PC is a hero, but from a bloodline known to serve an evil Icon). Because the PCs pick Icons at the beginning of the game, the GM knows which NPCs the players want to see in their games. At my table, for example, there is a lot of points invested in The Three – the villainous blue, black and red great wyrms of the Dragon Empire – so I knew that the party would be interacting and facing lots of draconic foes and themes.

OK, how does an Icon Relationship works? At certain times – usually at the beginning or end of a session/adventure – the PCs roll 1d6 for each Iron Relationship in their character sheets. Each ‘6’ means that the PC gets a special advantage due to his/her relationship with the Icon. Each ‘5’ means an advantage, plus with a complication (to make it clear, the PC must still get good stuff).

What is an advantage exactly? In 13th Age that usually means a one-use magic item (potions, runes, oils etc.) or maybe a true magic item if you PC is running low on them. An advantage could also mean some NPC help in a scene or maybe an extra clue/information, or even a bonus to a specific challenge. However, the 13th Age Core recommends that Icon advantages should be narrative in nature (a good place to pick ideas for Icon advantages is by reading D&D 5E’s Backgrounds, especially their special features… things like military rank, access to temples, secret hideouts, alternative identities… all are great examples of benefits derived from Icon rolls).

Big Emp, so metal!
 So, an example: you have 2 Dice of Positive Relationship with the Archmage (the uber-spellcaster of the Dragon Empire) and 1 Negative Relationship with the Emperor (the awesome and probably dragon-rider Melnibonean ruler of the aforementioned Empire). First, that basically means that you have connections and are in good standing the Archmage; at the same time you’re on wrong side of the fence with Greatest Human Nation of the world. Why? I don’t know, that for your PC background. At the beginning of the session you’re lucky and roll a ‘6’ for the Archmage and a ‘5’ for the Emperor. That means your PC has 1 advantage with the most powerful mage in the world and 1 advantage with complications regarding the fact that the Dragon Empire doesn’t like you. What could that mean? Well, it depends on the PC’s level, background and the adventure itself. If you’re our usual low-level dungeon-crawler adventurer, that ‘6’ with the Archmage could mean you found a chest warded by agents of the Great Wizard that only you can unlock – by opening it you find some valuable healing potions. That ‘5’ with the Emperor could mean you found an unlikely ally in the dungeon – an evil humanoid that also deeply hates the Empire! Because this is a ‘5’, you only get his help if the party can help him face a rival tribe of humanoids.

Elminster here is your drink buddy.
If you like improvisation, then you’ll roll Icon Relationships at the start of the game session or adventure; if you prefer to plan the results ahead, then it’s best to use Icon rolls at the end of the session (then you’ll have the time to write all those benefits in the next session). There’s a lot more to the Icon subsystem, especially if you hunt for material created by the 13th Age community, but those are the basics.

As you can see, it’s ridiculously easy to change Icons to Organizations, Churches, Nations, Cults, Clans etc. (I would dearly love to use them in Planescape, to represent the Planar Factions of Sigil) Because the Icon Subsystems is so modular, it can be imported to other RPGs without any modifications (And I’d would run Planescape for AD&D 2nd, of course)


Icon Relationships are a great way of giving more flavor and versality to the Patron Bond spell, especially for non-spellcasters. Allow those bonded to a Supernatural Patron to gain Relationship Dice with their otherworldly masters. Here’s a suggestion for the spellcasting table:

Spellcasting Check
When Cast on Self
When Cast on Other*
As written.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. Instead of that, you gain 1 Relationship Die roll/week with your Patron.
Besides the usual benefits, you gain 1 Relationship Die roll/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 2 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron.
Besides the usual benefits, your Patron grant to you a total of 2 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 3 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
If any of your Relationship Dice comes up with a ‘1’, the enemies of your Patron take note of you (you lose Luck, suffer a mishap, an extra encounter etc.). Yes, that’s a bad thing, spellcasters already have a lot of mojo with invoke patron.
As above (3 Dice and ignore the part about Luck) and you can choose to reroll 1 of your Relationship Dice. However, if the reroll is a ‘1’, the enemies of your Patron take note of you (you lose Luck, suffer a mishap, an extra encounter etc.).
Besides the usual benefits, you have 3 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 4 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
As written.
As above (4 Dice and ignore the part about Luck), but you gain 1d3 extra points of Luck each time a Relationship Die shows a ‘6’ (besides the usual effects of the Die).
Besides the usual benefits, you have 4 Relationship Dice rolls/week.
As above, but you can reroll any of your Relationship Dice. If any ‘1’ shows up you’re screwed.
Besides the usual benefits, after rolling, chose 1 of your Relationship Die. You gain the result as extra Spellburn points.
Ignore the part about the Luck check. You now have 5 Relationship Dice rolls/week with your Patron!
*I usually interpret this as “casting this spell on a non-spellcaster”, that’s why I granted him/her more Relationship Dice. If that isn’t the case with your group, use the “When Cast on Self” part of the table, but always a step worse (if the Spellcheck Result was 28-29, use the 24-27 entry).

On the table above, where you read “per week”, you can instead use “per adventure/module”.

The basic premises are the same: if you roll a ‘6’, your Patron will help you in a small way. For example: you gain 1d3 Luck Points, you find a potion/scroll/one-use magic item, a helpful bit of information regarding the adventure (maybe about a trap, a monster or a secret passage), a friendly contact, a temporary hireling etc.

If you roll a ‘5’, you get the same thing, but your Patron is more demanding or there’re strings attached to the “gift”. For example, you find a lesser magic item, but it’s cursed/stolen; your party is healed but your Patron will revoke the effect if you don’t find that special artifact until midnight etc.

If you want a more universal approach to Relationship Rolls consider linking the Dice to major factions of your DCC RPG campaign. What factions? Well, if you don’t have any, try those implicit in the Core Rulebook. For example:

At the Cleric Class…
- The Churches of Law (the gods Shul, Klazath, Ulesh, Choranus, Daenthar, Gorhan, Justicia and Aristemis);
- The Old Gods (Ildavir and Pellagia);
- The Mysteries of Balance (Amun Tor and other philosophies);
- The Dead Gods (Cthulhu and his ilk from the Void);
- The Cults of Chaos (Ahriman, Azi Dahaka, Bobugbubilz, Cadixtat, Nimlurun and Malotoch).

At the Thief Class…
- The Mob (time to work for the Godfather of Thieves);
- The Beggar King (the disposed, the pariah and all their all-seeing spies);
- The Warren (leaders of the poorer wardens/districts and underworld of cities);
- The Twelve Spider-Assassins (a clue: there’re more than 12).

At the Warrior Class…
- The Order of the Dragon (high-born monster-slayers);
- The Order of Saint Stephen (protectors of pilgrims and the realms of Man);
- The Fraternal Company of the Black Swan (guardians of the borders, used to fight against savage humanoids and demihumans);
- The Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady (a romantic and chivalrous order);
- The Order of the Golden Spur (templars!).

At the Wizard Class…
- C’mon! Look at all those cool and dark Patrons!

The Dwarf, Halfling and Elf Classes are factions into themselves in my opinion.

I'm sure I'm not the only one reading those wonderful boxes after each class!

Note that theoretically there’s nothing forbidding a Warrior from having 2 Relationship Dice with the roguish Mob, for example. Especially if you consider that option of Positive/Negative/Conflicted Relationships.

Each PC that survives the Funnel starts with 1 Positive Relationship Die and 1 Negative/Conflicted Relationship Die (to make things interesting). The PCs gain a new Relationship Die at 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th level.

You might be wandering how to use Negative Relationships? Well, there’s that old proverb: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If you roll a ‘6’ with a Negative Relationship, that could mean that you get help from a monster to defeat another monster. A ‘5’ could mean that your new “friend” wants something in return.

If you use Relationship Rolls during the sessions and run out of ideas, remember that DCC RPG already has a generic reward to use: Luck Points! When in doubt, if a PC rolled a ‘6’, grant him anything from 1d3 to 1d6 Luck Points, explaining it through his Relationships. For example, a Warrior with 1 Relationship Die with the Elves/Positive (either he’s a half-elf or was raised by them) rolls a ‘6’, but the Judge is out of ideas. Well, the Judge could describe a Tuk-Man or Sprite showing up to guide the Warrior through the next encounters. The Tuk-Man/Sprite’s effect is represented by the extra Luck Points.

If you want a third option for Icon Relationship Rolls, here it is: use them to map factions in an Adventure/Module. It’s the same thing but on a smaller scale. For example, let’s imagine a dungeon populated by an evil druid cult, goblins and kobolds (yup, I’m talking about the Sunless Citadel). The entire PC party can gain 1 Relationship Dice at the end of a session for every faction they meet. So, after meeting a few kobolds and helping them, the party gains 1 Relationship Die (Kobolds/Positive). Later, they face the goblins and, at the end of the session, gain another Relationship Die – this time it’s 1 Relationship Die (Goblin/Negative). I suggest capping this at 3-4 Relationship Dice. The result of the rolls can represent hirelings from a faction, supplies, sidequests etc.

For Pathfinder RPG

Most of the ideas above (except the Patron spell) can be used directly in either Pathfinder or D&D 5E.

In Pathfinder you already have a lot of subystems for organizations, contacts and reputations, so the GM will have to think if the Icon Relationship Rolls are necessary. They can be a good alternative as a “lighter” take on factions for Pathfinder. Maybe you can link the Relationship Die effects to Hero Points, or to bring extra NPCs from the Gamemastery Guide or the various Codices.

For D&D 5E

For D&D 5E things are simpler. You can grant each PC 1 Relationship Die, linked to their Backgrounds at 1st level, and grant a new Die every time their Proficiency bonus goes up

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lycanthropy-afflicted PCs for 13th Age (One-Page Version)

One of the PCs in my current Concord game (of our 13th Age campaign) was recently bitten by a werewolf.

Because I'm such a nice GM I’m using the werebeasts stats from 13 True Ways and the Cursed Bite ability. Basically, that means that the party's PC (a human wizard) will become a new werebeast in the next full moon.

Of course, there's an artifact in my campaign that just happens to summon the moon closer to the Dragon Empire. So, while the wizard was very happy with all that Overworld mojo increasing his spells (due the moon’s proximity to the mortal realm), he was considerably distressed about his new "condition". 

I wanted the lycanthropy rules for afflicted PCs to follow the 13th Age's ethos: they must be fun, simple and "gameable". However, I was also in a very short time to tinker something more robust, so I stole the rules.

Instead of just saying that the wizard morphed into a full werewolf on the spot when the full moon was up, I created a table, based on the Wendigo's Hunger effect (from page 211 of the 13th Age Bestiary). 

Here it is:

Lycanthropy: those affected by a Cursed Bite attack are susceptible to a series of special triggers and must save (usually at 16+) or roll on the following table (1d6) once per turn.

Common triggers are things like seeing the full moon, smelling raw meat or witnessing a bloodshed battle. It's safe to assume at least 1 trigger per lethal combat. Personally, I like to trigger an afflicted a PC, during combat, at Escalation Die 3 or 4 (when the combat is well underway and there're probably a few fresh corpses scattered around the scene).

1–2: The afflicted PC takes 10 damage as the lycanthropy distorts his body and inflicts pain. If the afflicted PC falls to 0 or less hit points, he/she shapechanges into a full werebeast (controlled by the GM) and probably attacks everyone around him.
3–4: The afflicted PC makes a basic unarmed melee attack* against the nearest or most vulnerable ally (moving if necessary). If there's no target nearby, the afflicted PC howls, rages, destroy something or executes a similar classic and cinematic lycanthropic action.
5–6: The afflicted PC makes a basic unarmed melee attack* against another werebeast, an animal, monster or equivalent savage creature in near range, which he/she seems as a rival (yes, the afflicted PC can choose target). If If there's no target nearby, afflicted PC howls, rages, destroy something or executes a similar classic and cinematic lycanthropic action.

*If the GM is feeling generous (or devilish), the afflicted PC’s basic unarmed melee attacks now do at least 1d8 or 1d10 per level (either because of a lycanthropic bite or claw).

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A (mini) Setting Hack inspired by The Witcher

No, I'm not talking about the videogame, although I got to know Witcher because of them. However, what really hooked me up was the literature (original) version of the character and setting. More precisely:

- Witcher is a series of novels by polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the first one released in 1992!

- They're heavily influenced by slavic and eastern european myths, which is a plus for me;

- Witcher also plays with a lot of fairy tales’ clichés, often in new and insightful ways (when the novels draws from the Beauty and the Beast it is hilarious; and the part about Snow White is one of the greatest and saddest moments of the first book).

- The novels also go deep in D&D legendarium! A few examples: the 1st book mentions Daos as "earth genies", and you have to remember that Daos aren't mythologic at all (the “original” genies, as far as I know, are djinn, efreeti, jann and marid). Daos were created for D&D, to fill the “earth” niche in the monster entry. The Witcher's description of gold dragons also is based on D&D. There're a lot of others excellent examples (dwarves, elves, clerics, mages etc);

- Not only does Witcher is influenced by D&D and its tropes, but it manages to use monsters in a clever, original and very entertaining way. You have to see how doppelgangers are used… it’s funny (and scary if you think about the consequences);

- Finally, the entire Wichter series is amazingly well written. The books are engaging, the characters are deliciously profane and endearing. The political and intrigue aspects are top-notch (in 1992, way before “fantasy + intrigue” became a gold standard). The series also addresses mature content, like racism, in a very thoughtful way.

So, why am I talking about the Witcher? Because reading those books gave me an idea for a simple "Witcher Hack" that can be added to any D&D campaign setting. 

Basically, if you want a "Witcher Hacked" setting, just choose your favorite D&D world and remove all its humanoid races - except the ones from the Core Books.

Yup. Just that. Nothing radical, I know, but when the play starts... gone are the kobolds, goblins and other generic cannon fodder. They're replaced by bandits, barbarians, foreigners, invaders etc. The first dungeons are probably dwarven mines, elven holdouts, human enclaves etc. When the party start killing and looting enemies, they'll be looting fellow humans (and demihumans) and dealing with the consequences.

It's really something that has already been proposed in a number of places (the old critique against D&D's numerous humanoids races and their use), but the Witcher series implement the idea in a vibrant and refreshing way. The entire series can give great ideas for your campaigns.

Of course, this isn’t for everyone’s tastes. I don’t see anything wrong when you just want to seat down, forget the world and do some good old fashioned dungeon-crawl and ass-kicking. However, if you also like hard choices and dramatic challenges, playing in a Forgotten Realms only with human and demihuman adversaries can be a good change of pace (some D&D settings already go in that direction, by removing the “cannon fodder” label of humanoid races, like – if I remember right – Eberron or Birthright).

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Stealing from the 13th Age - The Escalation Die

Howdy folks! We’re back (sort of). Lately I’ve been considerably consumed by work, work, family, a little more of work, and the fact that both my children inherited my Innate Racial Traits of Asthma (Ex) and Allergies (Ex). So, with little time and the imperative need to sustain my (remaining) sanity, I’ve left this Tower for a while and focused on my biweekly tabletop group.

After awesome 13 sessions of DCC RPG, we ended our “First Season” (at 2nd level yet!) witnessing and surviving (somehow) a titanic deathmatch between Bobugbubilz, Amun Thor, Y'golonac and Daoloth – the latest being the one responsible for our (considerable apocalyptic and Cthulhian-flavored) version of The One Who Watches From Below module. It was a blast and we all had great fun. That was back at February.

Since then I pitched to my table that we should try something different, before returning to DCC-style glorious crawling. At first, we were going to play the new 7th Sea 2nd Edition (the Quickstart), but the hype ended before we could start it, so I was determined to run the RPG that have been my bedside book for a while – 13th Age.

13th Age is a wonderful mix of d20 goodness with a little bit of narrative mechanics (just enough to get a very cool faction-based and improv-heavy game going). 13th Age is written with an experience DM/player in mind and the entire line is probably one of the most enjoyable readings of my life regarding RPGs – light, funny, insightful. You just want to run the game after reading it.

13th Age uses a high octane, high fantasy campaign setting called the Dragon Empire as its base standard world. The 13th Age sourcebooks, organized play and adventures encourage a lot of player input and improvisation. Those features, mixed with game minimalist mechanics (monster have just 4 stats, besides HPs and attacks), create a unique experience at the table. People have said the 13th Age takes the best of both 3rd and 4th edition (like, for example, the fact that it has a 4th edition-like power structure, but is gridless), and sometimes I guess that the game is indeed a spiritual heir do those other games (at my table, 13th Age is called “What D&D 4E Should Have Been”).

Another good thing about 13th Age is that its mechanics are very modular and can be used easily in other (d20 mostly) games. For example: the Escalation Die.

The Escalation Die is a special d6 that measures the rising tension of combat. It starts at 0, at the 1st round of combat, rising by 1 every round (until 6 at the 7th round). The 13th Age player characters are not your usual DCC/Warhammer Fantasy scum. They’re big f*cking heroes! So, they add the Escalation Die to their attack rolls. Now, the cool thing about that is that the game is cleverly designed to reflect that. Most monsters have AC a bit higher than usual (your base goblin has AC 16!), so its normal that at the first rounds of combat, most PC have a harder time hitting… but as you reach Escalation Die 3+ thing start to change. Combat gets fast and exciting, and the Escalation Die really reinforce 13th Age high-action, high-fantasy vibe. In fact, some the PCs’ powers and racial/class stuff only work (or work better) at a higher Escalation Die. This reflects perfectly those media where the hero only use his stronger attack/move in middle/end of battle (from memory I can think only of one other RPG that also use this trick – the Weapons of Gods/Legend of the Wulin). Another cool bit is that certain powers (like the cleric’s Domain of War) and some (scary, scary) monsters also play with Escalation Die (rakshasas, for example, can “steal” the Escalation Die, robbing the PCs of an important bonus).

But don’t let all this 13th Age talk dissuade you of my first and true love – DCC RPG. And because this is a weird Pathfinder/Old School blog, let’s find some uses for the Escalation Die!


Using an Escalation Die in DCC RPG is a no-brainer. DCC already have a smaller modifier scale than Pathfinder/D&D 3rd, so it’s easy just to add the Escalation Die as in 13th Age (i.e. start combat at ED 0, and increase by 1 per round). You add the ED to all attack rolls.

The Escalation Die (or ED) is a good rule to increase the party’s power and get a stronger Sword & Sorcery feel to your “standard” DCC RPG, marking the PCs as heroes (at least as S&S heroes, not as do-gooders) instead of scum for the Funnel.

Of course, we can create new stuff too. How about this one: once per round, one player character can substitute any of his rolls for the ED. How useful is that? Not much at ED 1, but a ED 2 is already a “free jailbreak” against a Fumble. And how about a Warrior using a ED 3+ to automatically do a Mighty Deed of Arms? As you can see, the ED gives a considerable boost to the party, which can fit nicely with a more cinematographic/heroic take on DCC RPG.

And don’t forget to create nasty stuff for your NPCs – some of them could also can use the ED! You could create, for example, a demon with a kharmic strike-ability. Every time a PC uses a ED to substitute one of his rolls, your demon’s next hit gains a bonus damage of ED x d4 (so, if your Warrior wants an automatically Mighty Deed of Arms at ED 3, our kharmic demon’s next strike will inflict +3d4 of damage!).


Let’s start with the basics: PCs add the ED to attack rolls as by the 13th Age rules (you check their SRD here – the Archmage Engine).

What more? Unlikely DCC RPG, Pathfinder (and D&D 3rd) has a higher modifier range, so I don’t think substituting a result for the ED would be useful. If your idea is to increase drama, you could instead rule that the ED is added to all the PC’s threats during attacks rolls. This means that at ED 1, the PCs can score a threat (and thus roll for a critical hit) at natural 19 or 20 result (or just increase a weapon’s threat range by +1). This will result in a LOT of critical hits and can boost a lot your party, but maybe you want a high-powered (and gorier) game, so go for it.

Another option is that the ED generates a pool of communal d6s to be spent during battle. So, at ED 1, the entire party gains 1d6 that can be rolled and added to any one dice roll by the PCs (for example the Fighter uses the d6 and add it to a damage roll, or the Wizard adds it to a Concentration check). To guarantee maximum chaos, I’d make those d6 rolls open-ended (Savage Worlds call them ‘explosive’ I guess) – so, if you roll a ‘6’ at the ED, roll it again and add it. Yup, this increases the PCs’ power considerably, but we’re trying here to simulate 13th Age high-octane heroics. Besides, with more power you don’t gain more responsibility… but your DM have the perfect excuse to add lots of tougher monsters and challenged, which I really love. If you use this option, maybe can use ED as a variant Hero Points rule.

Note that I didn’t say anything about the ED progression. Instead of automatically going by 1 every round (starting at 0), you could rule that to go up the ED needs a special trigger – maybe something simple like hitting an enemy and dealing damage. You could create specific triggers for each adventure. Just remember that the ED was created to avoid long and boring combats, so even if you come up with a “negative ED” (i.e. if the party doesn’t deal damage the ED go down) that benefit monsters, use it rarely for the most unique or climatic encounters.


I haven’t still refereed D&D 5E since the Open Playtests, in part because games like DCC RPG and 13th Age are a lot funnier for me (and more attuned to my designs tastes). I guess that D&D 5E is indeed my eternal “second best option” for d20 fantasy gaming. Anyway, there’re a few adventures for 5E that I either really want to run (Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle) or try (possible Out of the Abyss or Storm King’s Thunder).

Using the ED in D&D 5E seems easy, but I maybe be missing something, as I’m not that familiar with the system. For starts, I’d use it as in 13th Age – PCs get to add the ED to their attack rolls. Because 5E has a limited range of modifiers, the ED really boost a party’s power and makes a great difference.

I could stop there, but then we got Inspirations which (together with Hit Dice) are some of the most missed opportunities of 5E in my opinion (I also love the variant rule where your Proficiency Bonus is replaced by dice).

In this take, once per round, one of the PCs can use the ED (starting at 1) to gain an Inspiration. Simple. If you do this, maybe you should consider removing the automatic bonus to attack rolls.

Another option: instead of using Inspiration, you could rule that – again, 1 PC, once per round –could add a bonus die to any one roll. This bonus dice would start at ED 1 at d4, then go up (ED 2 = d6, ED 3 = d8) until a bonus d20 at ED 6. Again, this is just a suggestion as I didn’t think this through. If you go for this option, remove the automatic bonus to attack rolls.

A weird third option: use the Advantage rule. Here the goal is to increase tension. Basically, the ED grants a number of “free” Advantages (ED 1 = 1 Advantage, ED 3 = 3 Advantages). What’s the catch? The other side also gains a free Advantage each time a PC uses one. For example, at ED 4 the party would have 4 Advantages (to use only on that round, they don’t carry over), but each time a PC used one of those Advantages, their enemies would gain a free use (Personally, I would let enemies accumulate Advantages during combat).

And that’s wall. I believe I could go on (and the people who have been playing 13th probably have tons of house rules for ED already). I’m of a mind to mix ED with Momentum (from the awesome 2d20 system), or maybe granting tactical benefits through the ED (in Pathfinder, for example, you would get a pool of tactic points equal to the ED and use these points on a roundly basis to do things like negate attacks of opportunity or maybe even importing the great Reaction rules from Trailblazer).

See ya!