Escalation Dice

I’m currently reading through the 13th Age RPG (I hope to do a review for my Youtube channel when i’ve finished reading it) which is written by some of the people who worked on both 3rd and 4th edition D&D; although I doubt that i’d ever run the game completely (since, although being described as “medium-crunch”, the game is still a little rulesy for me) but it does contain some very interesting ideas that i’m planning to take and use in my future games.
One of the most interesting to me at the moment is the escalation dice; this is a mechanic where the players (not monsters and NPCs) receive a bonus that starts at +1 on the 2nd round of a combat and increases by +1 each round ( to a maximum of +6) as the combat progresses. This represents the character increasingly finding ways to take advantage of a combat as it progresses, although the GM can reset the escalation bonus to +0 if the characters are avoiding combat or there is a sufficient.
I love this idea and can see how it would help prevent prolonged combats where the enemies and PCs are just slugging it out; this may be something I look at using in Fate in the future.

Preparing rules for Fate Accelerate Fantasy Game

A while ago I proposed the idea in my blog that perhaps D&D professions could be used as Approaches in a Fate Accelerated game (the original blog post is here for anyone interested); since then i’ve been reading a large number of D&D clone games (some better than others), have played an online G+ game using Fate and am currently reading my way through both 13th Age and Legends of Anglerre.
One of the benefits of Fate Accelerated when we used it in my first online G+ game was that it was extremely simple to grasp compared to most RPG rules and meant we didn’t have to spend hours messing around with character genning, fiddling with points or halting play to flip through rules. This simplicity was a great aid when dealing with people playing the game remotely and I wondered if it could be taken further.
I began thinking about whether it would be possible to abstract out the Approaches altogether and use one of the other elements, perhaps Aspects or Stunts, in their place; since Fate has such a thriving online community my first step was to search online and wouldn’t you know it, someone else has already thought of something similar 🙂
The RPG net forum thread I found on my search is here and the file that it lead me to is here; TheMouse has created a tri-fold pamphlet which suggests using just Aspects in Fate, when making a role the player adds up the number of Aspects that apply to the action in question and uses this as a modifier to the role, invoking and compelling works exactly the same as normal.
The pamphlet created by TheMouse doesn’t include provision for Stunts (as outlined) in the Fate Accelerated core book, but I think that the use of Aspects pretty much replaces them (although I may allow players to take a single Stunt that allows them a signature move).
Summary

Okay, so if I use these rules i’ll be looking at the following makeup for the characters.
  • Starting refresh/fate points: 5
  • Attributes
    • High concept: 1 (a summarisation of the character)
    • Trouble: 1 (the main complication in the characters life)
    • Nation: 1 (where the character comes from and what it’s like)
    • Motivation: 2 (things a character wants)
    • Attributes: 3 (describe intrinsic traits of the character)
    • Other: 3 (other things about the character, membership in a group, supernatural powers, etc)
  • Stunt: 1 (a signature move than can be used to do something cool once per session, as detailed in the Fate Accelerated book- costs 1 FP)
  • Stress: 3 boxes
  • Consequences: 3 consequence boxes

Did 4th Edition D&D kill roleplaying?

To save you worrying, i’ll answer the title question first of all; no of course 4th edition didn’t kill roleplaying.
This blog post is a response to Diane Morrison’s blog post:
Diane requested some input and responses on the G+ Roleplaying Games community, these are my own thoughts on the topic.
Now, before I get into my response, just to give you a bit of background, I started playing D&D with second edition, played 3.0, 3.5, 4th edition and also Pathfinder; i’m not the worlds largest fan of 4th edition (as anyone who will know me will attest) however I do have a fair few books from that edition. I have also signed on to view the playtest materials for the 5th edition of the game (D&D Next). I also find myself in the odd position of being one of the (seemingly few) people who, whilst not an ardent fan of 4th edition, does not find the game extremely objectionable. Whilst I think that the influence of MMORPGs and other computer roleplaying games is clear to see in D&D 4th edition it is only natural that the people designing it have looked around for an element to pull newer people into the hobby and grow their customer base, since Wizards of the Coast is a business at the end of the day; however, the game does feel very divorced from previous editions of D&D, a brave move that didn’t (in my opinion) work completely and that may have alienated many fans of the previous edition.
I was slightly disappointed when I realised that the 3.0/3.5 edition of D&D would be wrapped up (given that I have shelves groaning with core as well as OGL products) and so was extremely happy when Paizo picked up the ball and created Pathfinder (a game I very much enjoy despite the somewhat increased default power levels of standard player characters); however I like to think that i’ve given 4th edition a fair crack of the whip and I have a number of books from that line.
It does seem as though 4th edition was not the runaway success that WotC were hoping it would be as, scant few years after it was released (four years if my Google-fu serves me correctly) a new edition (D&D Next) of the game has been announced and playtests are well underway for that, this is compared to the eight or so years that 3.0/3.5 had. However, I don’t think that D&D 4th Edition came anywhere near to ‘kill[ing] the company’ given that D&D is only a small part (comparatively) of the WotC product line and that they have fair more lucrative and profitable products on the market than Dungeons & Dragons. 
So back to the main question of this blog post, did 4th edition kill roleplaying? Well no, it really didn’t, D&D is far from the only RPG in the market, it’s not even the only fantasy game in the market and, if I had found 4th edition so terribly objectionable (which to be honest I didn’t) then it would have been easy to get my fantasy fix elsewhere. I also think a rules system would have to go a long way in order to completely be devoid of roleplay; yes 4th edition did introduce a more tactical/miniatures battle element of the game and utilised phraseology based on computer RPGs such as the idea of people having different roles within a party, but I don’t think any of these things (or others elements introduced in the edition) quashed roleplay.
Although not a massive fan of 4th edition personally, since i’m not really a great lover of tactical combat and miniatures based stuff, I can see how people who were into that could enjoy it and more power to them; I do not think that the rules intrinsically support roleplay but then nor do the rules for any of the previous editions IMO, rules have always existed as a framework underneath the roleplay in my games, they’re there when required and are ignored when not and, in this regard, D&D 4th edition is no worse than any other RPG game.
One thing that was obvious with 4th Edition was that the featured campaign worlds were tweaking and bent into new shapes to fit the cosmology and races available in the new edition, I can’t say that this unduly concerned me since i’m not really a massive fan of published campaign worlds and generally use home-brewed campaign worlds when I run D&D, although I can see how it might have annoyed die-hard fans of certain settings, but then, if I had been in that position, I would have just taken the elements that I liked out of the new setting version and just discarded the rest.
In short I think that D&D 4th edition was an attempt to do something new and different to prevent the product line from stagnating (and obviously to make WotC more money, they are a company after all) and, in this case, it didn’t really work as well as they’d hoped, although there are a lot of fans of the edition out there; I myself have enjoyed a few D&D 4th edition games and have taken several elements that I liked from 4th edition to use in other games, even though i’m not keen on the tactical/miniatures edge of the rules themselves. D&D Next seems to be an attempt to create a recognisable hybrid of a more traditionally D&D-esque game (presumably to lure back the fans who jumped ship with 4th edition), incorporating some of the lessons learnt from the release of 4th edition and the more prevalent storytelling/narrative based games that seem to be more prominent at the moment.
For anyone interesting in viewing more about the different editions of D&D the wiki page is here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Editions_of_Dungeons_%26_Dragons

So what characters did we have in our recent Dungeon World game?

Recently I ran an impromptu tester game for Dungeon World for six of my local player, you can see my review of how it played here:
For this initial game we decided to just go with the basic options as presented on the Dungeon World character sheets, after genning characters we talked out the player characters bonds to each other and some elements of their backgrounds as directed by the rulebook; we ended up with the following characters:
  • Rundrig – Dwarf fighter – Come from a loud and proud family of warriors who have helped guard their dwarven mountain hold since memory began, his ancient axe has been handed down from father to son for many, many years. A few years before the game began, Rundrig freed Sistranalle from orcish slavers, allowing the elven bard to advise the barbarian Priscilla (saving her life); Rundrig considers that she owes him a life-debt although the barbarian woman does not agree, however the dwarf has sworn to protect the human wizard Xenos and worries about the abilities of Durga and Sistranalle to survive in the harsh environments where warriors such as himself tread.
  • Xeno – Human wizard – A sharp eye, wild haired human who comes from a mysterious land rules by powerful mages that lies somewhere across the western sea, knowledge of it having faded into myth and legend; not satisfied with the religious zealotry that his people head as a central tenant of their magics and outcast for his belief in magic as a science, Xeno fled eastwards to the known world. His arcane powers lead him to Priscilla, a vision of a shadow dragon and the girl telling him that she would play some pivotal role in the future of the world.
  • Jack – Human thief – A mysterious figure shrouded in mystery, the shifty thief tells contradicting stories of his background and wears the talismans of many gods hanging around his neck; working for Xeno he has stolen many things and arcane baubles for the wizard, including what seemed to be a roughly hewn jewel from the barbarian woman Priscilla, but that the human wizard Xeno knew to be a fossilised dragon egg.
  • Durga – Dwarf cleric – The older dwarf cleric has a sadness in his eyes and seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders; a follower of the Dwarf Father, god of honourable combat and conquest through strength of arms he places less value on upbringing or race and more on actions and deeds. Distrustful of Xeno and anyone who doesn’t believe in the power of the deities he none-the-less admires Priscilla’s strength and sees his attempts to convert her as a test worthy of his skills.
  • Sistranalle – Elf bard – One of the rare elves enamoured of the lives of the younger races, who chose to stay behind when his people sailed westwards across the sea to the mythic lands beyond human knowledge, Sistranalle finds beauty in the chaotically short lives of the younger races and, after being freed from orcish slavers by Rundrig and helped Priscilla escape from a desert basilisk he has set himself the task of chronicling her (mis)adventures. Delighted to have met the famous fighter Rudrig (who he had sung many ballads about), the elf has a friendly rivalry with the dwarf cleric Durga who, he thinks, takes life far too seriously; he accompanies the band playing ballads and histories on the mandalin that his father left behind as a memory of him. 
  • Priscilla the Triumphant – Human barbarian – A warrior from the icy northern wastes who travelled south, forsaking her tribe, when a new chief took over and outlawed women fighting alongside their men-folk; this did not sit well with Priscilla and she travelled south, reasoning that she could make a legend of herself in the soft southern lands beyond the deserts. She finds many of her new companions ways bewildering, especially Durga and his (amusing) attempts to convert her, she has appointed herself protector of Jack, knowing that the thief will eventually slip up and get himself in trouble; although unwilling to admit it she is flattered by Sistranalle’s attentions and sees in him someone who shares her thirst for glory.


All of these characters were created using the basic rules (including the names and epithets chosen) and by spending a bit of time chatting about the world elements connected with them; it probably took about half an hour in all, if that, to get ready to play.

FATE musings: Merged FATE and D&D next

As people watching my youtube channel may be aware I recently reviewed the playtest D&D Next material that has been released:
Whilst looking at the D&D material it seemed obvious to me that the creators of D&D Next had realised that the crunchier rules systems were slightly falling out of favour currently and that a new crop of more storytelling orientated games were proving increasingly popular with the RPG market.
I was idly doodling away at some ideas after filming the video and thinking about how one of my Rogue Trader players isn’t a particularly massive fan of the FATE system, when it occurred to me that D&D Next would be eminently adaptable to work with FATE, perhaps more so than any earlier edition of the game.
I’ll admit that i’m mainly coming at this from a Fate Accelerate Edition (FAE) point of view since that’s my FATE system of choice at the moment; lets have a look at the D&D Next character sheet:
Ability Scores
The standard six abilities familiar to any D&D player, STR, DEX, CON, WIS, INT and CHA – these could easily be used as your approaches in a FAE hybrid.
Skills
D&D Next doesn’t appear to have a skill system in the same way that previous versions of D&D games do, however there are class and racial abilities (plus feats although these are an optional subsystem in Next) that give you bonuses to certain rolls. Most of these work in such a similar way to Stunts that any conversion would be very simple.
Weapon & Spell Attacks
Although FATE (and particularly FAE) don’t by default offer a lot of granularity to weapon damage, there are a couple of systems suggested in the FATE core book that would work fine and numerous variants available; assuming of course that the FATE GM wants this level of complexity for weapons.
The same pretty much goes for armour.
Class Features & Racial Traits
Racial traits are a small group of bonuses acquired for being a dwarf or an elf for example; these could easily be wrapped up in a single racial Aspect.
Class features might be a little more difficult since generally FATE characters start off more competent than the standard first level D&D character but they don’t advance or change as much; by representing class abilities as Stunts this can be simulated in a couple of possible ways:
  • Allow the PCs to start with a few more Stunts before their refresh rate starts to drop.
  • Increase the frequency of milestones within the game.

Lore
This is a new mechanic for D&D Next where you receive a bonus on intelligence rolls if you have that particular area of Lore ticked on your character sheet, again this is easily accomplished with Stunts or Aspects.
The Advantage

One of the main new mechanics that I like is called Advantage/Disadvantage, basically if you have the advantage then you roll 2D20 instead of one for a test and take the highest result, if you have the disadvantage then you take the lower result.
I can think of a couple of ways this could be done in FAE:
  • Keep it the same, a players rolls his 4DF twice and picks the higher or lower result.
  • If the PC has the advantage give them a free re-roll without them spending a fate point and the player chooses which result to use; if they are at a disadvantage then the opponent may force them to re-roll and the opponent chooses which result for them to use.
Spells

Spells and magic would be a trickier conversion and it’s one that has been covered extensively elsewhere; to keep things short I would suggest an Aspect that allows you to use magic and then having either a Stunt or an Aspect for each spell.

Iron heroes review

Iron Heroes is by no means a new book, it was written by Mike Mearls, published by Fiery Dragon and was in written in a similar vein to Monte Cooks Arcana Unearthed and later Arcana Evolved alternate players handbook; recently (as detailed in my last blog post) i’ve been considering creating a nordic, survivalist setting that, as it slowly evolves in my mind, has become a low magic, humanocentric fantasy setting with a bit of a swords & sorcery flavour to it. I’ve had a copy of Iron Heroes sat around on my bookshelf for some time and, whilst I remember enjoying reading the book when I first got it, i’ve never really used it to run a game or had a setting that it suited; part of the point of this review is that i’ll be looking at the suitability of it for my proposed campaign idea in addition to all the normal review-style stuff in this entry.

What is Iron Heroes?
Iron Heroes describes itself as “action fantasy” and claims that the rules inside are designed to promote that style of play rather than the standard D&D rules; the introduction explains that the one of the main design ideas of Iron Heroes are that “options and choices make a fun game”, this is something that I very much agree with and i’m very in favour of giving the players a degree of narrative control and power within the game, making an RPG a more collaborative experience all round IMO.
Chapter One : Abilities
This is pretty much the standard chapter on ability scores that most D&D and Pathfinder players will be familiar with, the opening peragraph is interesting that it discusses the normal range of abilities for your everyday average person and quite clearly places the heroes of an Iron Heroes game in the ‘above average’ bracket. The rest of the chapter is pretty much standard fare with a list of the standard abilities (STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHA), how scores translate into modifiers and what sort of things the abilities can be used for; the end of the chapter covers numerous methods of generating these scores for players (and everyday people), it is noticable that Iron Heroes default assumption is that players will use a points-buy method of determining their scores, all abilities start at 10 and it costs 1 point to buy a point of an ability up to 15, 2 points to buy up an ability between 16-17 and 4 points beyond that, players can also designate a score as a weakness, the score drops to 8 (and may not be bought up further at character gen) and the player gains 2 bonus points to spend on other abilities. Player characters start with 24 points by default and may not buy higher than 18 in any ability at character gen (although the GM can alter the amount of points if he prefers a grittier or lower powered campaign), important NPCs also receive 24 attribute pointsd whereas average people start with 8 in each of their ability scores and have 16 points to improve them.
Whilst I didn’t find this chapter particularly interesting to read this isn’t really a criticism of it, generally I don’t find such chapters particularly rivetting in any D20 book, but they’re a necessity; this chapter does what it sets out to do with a couple of interesting tweaks and largely solid writing.
Chapter Two : Traits
This is a chapter that I found extremely interesting; the core Iron Heroes book largely assumes a humanocentric setting where most of your PCs will be human (ala Conan, etc), in the absence of any different races or racial abilities Iron Heroes has introduced the concept of Traits, small elements that either relate to your background, your mental and emotional makeup or your physical prowess. At character generation each PC selects two of the Traits from the large list provided in the book (including such gems as Arctic Born, Child of Faith, City Rat, Bewitching, Bloodthirsty and numeroud other); players are only allowed to select a maximum of one background Trait but may select any combination of the others (up to their limit of 2).
The Traits grant bonuses in certain situations or additional abilities for the player characters, within each Trait there are a couple of different options that can be taken.
For example: The Arctic Born Trait gives a +4 against cold effects, a +2 survival check and can trait heavy snow as normal, rather than difficult, terrain; also the player can select Bears Toughness (allowing them to heal/recover from nonlethal damage more quickly), Ice Water Veins (bonus to resist mind effects) or Wanderer at the Edge of Creation (bonus to balance, climb and survival).
I really love this idea of distinguishing characters via Traits, I know that Iron Heroes probably wasn’t the first to do it and lots of books have done it since under a variety of guises; but I like the idea of tying the various background traits into different parts of a campaign world or different cultures, the variety of different Traits available in this chapter is great.
Chapter Three : Character Classes
Arguably the main difference between Iron Heroes and the core D20 books (D&D3.5/Pathfinder) is that the classes listed in the game focus less around professions or life-paths taken on by the players and more around their preferred methods of combat; this definitely slants the game more towards a hack and slash or swords and sorcery style of gaming (which is no bad thing if that’s the campaign flavour you’re going for and is one of the stated aims of the book). Instead of using Armour Class (or AC) to make players harder to hit, Iron Heroes provides players with a defense bonus and has armour provide damage reduction, absorbing the harm of a blow rather than making the blow less likely to land in the first place; this is a largely a matter of personal preference and I don’t see it making a massive difference to the game, although I do think the idea of battered armour constantly ringing with the blows of enemy weapons fits the swords and sorcery feel quite well.
This chapter also covers gaining skill points, feats and ability adjustments as characters go up in level, with a brief mention of multi-classing and how that work, again all pretty standard for a D20 game; although Iron Heroes does introduce the concept of Feat Mastery where you can gain progression in different categories to gain access to more powerful Feats.
Most of the classes within the game also allow you to build up tokens for undertaking certain actions, these tokens are then spent on triggering class abilities; I found this a very compelling idea and certainly a lot more interesting than the standard “you may use this ability x times a day” ruling from a lot of D20 games, effectively the lure of token gain should encourage players to act in ways appropriate to their class and by doing so they gain the power to activate their abilities more often, I think this is a great idea. Players are limited to a number of tokens equal to 10 + their class level.
The book contains the following classes:

  • Archer: Master of long ranged combat who gains tokens for aiming at opponents and then unleashing them in a deadly storm of projectiles.
  • Armiger: Heavily armoured warriors who wear down their foes, they gain a token for every 10hp of damage their armour soaks.
  • Berserker: Violent, furious warriors who gain tokens when either they of their friends are injured, allowing them to unleash their rage.
  • Executioner: Silent assassins who call on their abilities to strike at an opponents weak points.
  • Harrier: Scouts and rangers who rely on speed and striking from surprise to take down their foes.
  • Hunter: Tough, independent tacticians who use their knowledge of terrain to help them overcome their enemies.
  • Man-at-Arms: Master of many weapons who can tailor their abilities each day to confront the challenges that they face.
  • Thief: Golden tongued tricksters who strike from the shadows and then fade away to be lost in the crowd.
  • Weapon Master: Individuals who hone their abilities with a single weapon to almost supernatural levels, they gain tokens from attacking the same opponent with their signature weapon.
  • Arcanist: Users of strange and arcane powers who channel mana through themselves to create otherworldly effects.

Most of the classes are quite interesting, some have token pools and others don’t and, since they are based on a particular style of combat, I can see how those classes not suitable for a particular campaign could be tweaked or removed without it having such a noticable effect on party makeup as say, removing clerics from a D&D3.5 campaign; that said the inclusion of the Arcanist class seems a little strange and more a concession to the fact that players of D&D3.5 and the like expect to be able to have a magic wielding class, however, the class itself is relatively well written and provides an interesting alternate spell point system that could be used instead of the standard D20 Vancian magic system (not sure if i’ll allow it for PCs in my own game but it’s nice to have the option). One thing I particularly like about this chapter is that each class write-up has a few suggestions at the end for how that class might fit in to various campaign models.
Chapter Four : Skills and Ability Checks
Iron heroes does away with the idea of cross-class skills by allowing anyone to buy ranks in different skills, however, your class gives you access to a group of skills, and each point spent on a skill group buys you a level in all the skills covered by that group, making it far more cost effective to purchase skills related to your class; this is a slightly different way to the manner in which Pathfinder would later handle this (in Pathfinder you buy levels in any skill but receive an additional bonus on your check when using class skills) but seems no less valid.
I do like the way this chapter provides details on what specific difficulty rolls can accomplish, it also provides details on how players can impose penalties on their own rolls or voluntarily increase the DC of a challenge in order to gain specific additional benefits should they pass/succeed at the roll; there follows a fairly exhaustive list of modifiers, synergy bonuses and sample task difficulties which is fairly comprehensive although I feel it may lead to a little more page turning than I generally like in game, and I think that i’d probably create some sort of quick reference sheet when and if I was to use Iron Heroes. The section on skill challenges is well written and provides clear guidelines as to what benefits you can gain by voluntarily accepting a penalty or increasing the DC of a skill roll; these include a +2 bonus to attacks in the round, a +2 bonus to damage in the round, a bonus to a future skill check equal to the penalty and others.
Chapter Five : Feats
Again this is fairly well-trod ground for anyone familiar with D20 games, although Iron Heroes splits Feats into two types, General (those that have few pre-requisites or that can be mastered by anyone) and Mastery Feats (ones that require advanced training); basically Mastery Feats allow you to select a Feat multiple times as you progress in levels to unlock higher abilities that are all loosely thematically related, some mastery Feats also characters to accumulate token pools (in the same way as certain classes) in order to power their abilities.
Chapter Six : Roleplaying Iron Heroes
Given how much detail the system gives to combat I was a little worried that the actual RPing elements of the game were going to be overlooked, however this chapter contains some very useful advice and suggestions for ensuring that the RP isn’t lost amongst all of the combat options provided by the system; I particularly like how the segments stresses players should think about how the characteristics of their characters would be shown or acted on in-game, this is something i’ve often seen, where characters have great and detailed backgrounds but not much of it actually gets shown in play (and i’m sure i’ve been guilty of this too), so it’s nice to see this addressed in the book.
This chapter also does a fairly good job of painting in the default assumptions for an Iron Heroes campaign and it was memories of reading this chapter that have prompted me to re-examine it for possible use in my (as yet unnamed) nordic post-Ragnarok style campaign; the default assumption is that there are no spell-casting clerics and that the gods never directly intercede in human affairs (with most religious leaders maintaining their position via political power), civilisation is small and scattered with a lot of the world being unknown or given over to wilderness and barbarism, humankind is the only player race available in the default setting (non-humans are distrusted and alien) and magic is rare. A capsule sample setting called ‘The Swordlands’ is also provided that could, with some effort, be worked up into a full setting.
Chapter Seven : Equipment
A pretty standard list of equipment with stats for the game, the only real deviation from the norm that jumped out was that Iron Heroes adds additional descriptors to certain equipment that links in with certain feats and powers possessed by characters in the game.
Chapter Eight : Combat
This follows the standard D20 game mould with a few exceptions, characters do not die automatically at -10 hit points but make a roll each round to see if they stabilise or die, characters also possess a number of reserve points that can be used at appropriate moments to speed the healing of damage; without any clerical healing in the game this is no doubt a necessity to prevent player parties having to stop and rest after every other combat. Unfortunately the chapter also seems to get caught up in examining grid-style combat in almost excrutiating detail, this may be useful for people who use miniatures or find the tactical minis element of comabt interesting, however, I generally prefer to rely on description and dramatic pacing in combat rather than minis and so a large part of this section wouldn’t be of particular use to me.
Chapter Nine : Adventuring
This chapter includes the rules for the game which aren’t covered by Feats, Skills or Combat, such as breaking objects, movement and encumberance; the material is well written and clearly laid out.
Chapter Ten : Magic
Covers the magic system of the game, it proposes that casters draw on a form of energy called mana that they attempt to bend to cause certain effects; in order to cast a spell an arcanist gathers mana shapes it into an effect based on what schools of magic they have mastery over (abjuration, divination, necromancy, etc) and then channels the spell (making the roll to cast it); each school of magic contains numerous methods (spells) that will look familiar to anyone who has played a D20 game before, however certain aspects of the method are based on how much mana a spellcaster puts into it, a spellcaster can spend over their maximum mana pool but they must make saving throws or suffer unpleasant side-effects.
I think this idea is very interesting (although i’m not sure if it fits in with the low-magic feel of the rest of the rules) but I can see how with an indecisive player or a GM it may cause the game to bog down due a debate about how much mana to spend optimising a spell; given this i’m not entirely sure whether it is any great improvement over the standard Vancian magic, I think that anyone desiring a spell point style system may be better off just adapting the various psionic rules available for D&D3.5/Pathfinder.
Appendix
The appendix contains some useful information about importing material from other D20 games into Iron Heroes campaigns and vice-versa.
Conclusion
Overall Iron Heroes is a bit of a mixed bag, there are a number of things that I like and dislike about the game; i’m a big fan of token based systems that allow players to marshal their resources and decide how important passing a certain test is to them, I know they aren’t to everyone’s tastes but I personally quite like such systems and think that the classes in Iron Kingdoms do them well, i’m not sure about the idea of keeping seperate pools for each type of ability and think I would probably just have PCs put their gained tokens in a single pool.
The book is extremely well laid out with a nice uncluttered background (meaning that PDF versions are quick to load, unlike some more recent RP PDFs that seem to take an absolute age to load and are riddled with unnecessary graphics), the art in the book is nice and all feels appropriate to the style of setting and in general the writing style in concise and to the point. I do feel that in some sections of the book it goes into fair too much detail, devoting countless pages to skill examples and such like, but this is not a major downside for me. As discussed above i’m not sure about the magic system, I believe that it could slow down a game.
I think for my campaign that i’d probably take the classes (although NOT the arcanist), traits, skills, feats and such like from Iron Kingdoms but (assuming I decide to allow player character magic classes) would probably take the psionic classes from Psionics Unleashed by Dreamscarred Press and come up with a background of Vancian magic having existing when the gods were alive but that their downfall bought the end of both traditionally arcane and divine magic, leading to psionic style magic being discovered by the survivors of the god-pocalypse.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Races and Skills

Following on from my last blog post about a D&D style hack for the FAE system (http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/d-style-fate-hack-could-classes-be-used.html) where I pondered the idea of using class style descriptors as Approaches for a D&D-esque FAE game this post addresses my thoughts on character races (although species would be a more accurate term) and skills in the game.
This post builds on the idea that the six Approaches would be something along the lines of:
  1. Warrior – rolled for attacking or defending from attack using physical means, taking care of armour, working out battle-tactics, recognising ambushes and initiative order in combat.
  2. Rogue – sleight of hand, stealing things, breaking and entering, deception and also shmoozing and general social actions.
  3. Spellcaster – casting spells (obviously), working out what spells other people were casting, crafting magic items, examining magic items, feats of prestigitation, etc.
  4. Priest – interacting with church/holy order members, researching/recalling information about gods and their followers, making blessings, etc.
  5. Ranger – covers wilderness survival and skills.

Race

The term ‘race’ in D&D tends to actually refer to a different species (ie. orcs, dwarves, elves) all that generally seem not to share a common ancestry, but never-the-less the term race has been widely used in RPGs since the early days. In this hack I would make the characters race a specific Aspect that can be invoked or compelled under specific circumstances.
Some examples using the most common D&D races are listed below:
  • Dwarves – hardy and skill craftsmen with a very traditional outlook.
    • May be invoked when: Calling upon the wisdom of ancient traditions, craft rolls related to stone or metal work, fighting with a hammer, finding your way underground, perception rolls in darkness, appraising gems, stone or metal work.
    • May be compelled when: New innovations or technology are at odds with traditions, faced by their ancient greenskin enemies, when the distrust between dwarves and elves bubbles to the surface, when a dwarves appreciation for precious stones may turn into greed.
  • Elves – graceful and beautiful creatures at peace with the natural world and with magic singing in their blood.
    • May be invoked when: Using magic, moving unseen or finding sustenance/tracking in the wilderness, social interactions with people awed by the elves beauty, using a bow, perception rolls in dimly lit conditions.
    • May be compelled when: Vanity causes them to dismiss the opinions and thoughts of ‘lesser’ races, when the distrust between elves and dwarves threatens to bubble to the surface.
  • Orcs – strong and stubborn creatures raised in a brutal martial tradition.
    • May be invoked when: Assessing the strength/value of armour and weapons, facing down another in a one-on-one combat, perception tests in the dark, tests of raw strength.
    • May be compelled when: An orcs bloodlust overcomes their reason, they are shunned by ‘civilised’ races.
  • Halflings – Clever and capable opportunists with a mischievous streak.
    • May be invoked when: Small size allows them to slip from an opponents grasps, looking harmless allows them to evade notice, tests of manual dexterity.
    • May be compelled when: A halfling cannot resist the urge to cause mischief, a halflings small stature and lower strength causes them problems.
At the moment I would having the following Aspects on the D&D-style hack character sheet.

  • High Concept
  • Trouble
  • Race
  • +additional general Aspects
I think the beauty of having the race as an Aspect (and one of my favourite parts of the FAE/FATE system) is that it is tremendously simple (requiring no real modification of stats), uses the existing mechanics of the game and all the players and GM have to remember is what compels and invokes can be used against racial Aspects; the Aspect Race also encourages the constant using and flowing of FATE points that is at the heart of the system.
Skills

This is something I hashed out in my Cthulhu-FAE hack, instead of bringing in a big list of appropriate skills (which is essentially trying to turn FAE into FATE core, something i’m keen to avoid since I love FAE’s simplicity) skill groups can be represented by suggesting Stunts that provide bonuses in applicable situations.
Looking at the AD&D 2nd edition Weapon and Non-weapon Proficiency model, a few suggestions are made below:
Weapon proficiencies
  • Master of the [insert name of weapon]: The player receives a +2 bonus to rolls made using the [weapon] (for example: A ‘Master of the Sword’ attacking with a short sword would gain the +2).
  • Shield Mastery: The player receives a +2 to their defence rolls when using a shield.
Non-weapon proficiencies
  • Escape Artist: +2 when escaping bonds.
  • Herbalist: +2 to rolls to analyse/use herbs.
  • Professional Lock-pick: +2 to pick locks.

As you can see i’ve not yet put up any rules concerning weapons or armour, my current thought is to leave them nebulous so that they don’t needlessly complicate the system; anyone may have appropriate equipment but only gain a benefit if they have an appropriate Stunt or Aspect.
Likewise with Non-weapon Proficiency Stunts, pretty much any skill from D&D3.5 could be turned into a Stunt just by it granting a +2 in the appropriate field of study or endeavour.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Could Classes be used as Approaches to minimise D&D hack skill list?

A few comments (from Jonathan Dietrich, Christopher Stilson and a couple of others) on my initial post regarding thoughts about a D&D/fack hack (available here http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/d-style-fate-hack-abilities-and-skills.html) got me thinking about the complexity and the size of the skill list; initially my thoughts has been just to port over the Abilities and Skills from D&D, but Jonathans comment about not “understand[ing] why one would want to add [that] much to a Fate game” made me consider whether I was infact just keeping the Abilities and Skills because they would make the hack more obviously D&D inspired rather than because it would result in a better gaming experience. My main goal (and i’d hope the goal of gamesmasters everywhere) in RP has always been to create a game where both players and the GM are enjoying themselves and becoming immersed in the events occurring in-game; I have always thought that one of the main obstacles to this IMO is the ‘crunchiness’ of some rules systems (although I am sure there are people who love the crunch and would disagree with me), the more book-flipping and table referencing I have to do then the less I find myself drawn into and enthusiastic about the game. This one of the main reasons why FATE and particularly FAE are two of my favourite systems at the moment, the rules are easy to understand, play with a minimum of rulebook flipping (I generally just have a copy of the fate ladder, skill list and cheatsheet on the table during a game) and focus more on creating an interesting narrative than being an accurate simulation of what is occurring in-game.
Christopher Stilson made a comment regarding classes in the game; i’ve never been a fan of classes personally and had always favoured the D20 variants that eliminated or minimised the impacts of classes (often house-ruling them away in games i’ve run), however, they are an iconic part of D&D and one that instantly allows the players to get some sort of handle on their character’s place in the party. Flipping some of the toolkit material I have, there is a section that talks about altering or expanding the default Skill list used in FATE core, one suggestion is to replace them altogether with a number of ‘professions’ that players have a rating in; this strikes me as very much like the Approaches in FAE (and indeed it can’t be a coincidence that in the same chapter it discusses Approaches next) and made me wonder whether or not it would be possible to approach characters in a FAE-like fashion but using profession/approaches rather than a list of skills?
The classes listed in the Pathfinder SRD are:
  • Barbarian: The barbarian is a brutal berserker from beyond the edge of civilized lands.
  • Bard: The bard uses skill and spell alike to bolster his allies, confound his enemies, and build upon his fame.
  • Cleric: A devout follower of a deity, the cleric can heal wounds, raise the dead, and call down the wrath of the gods.
  • Druid: The druid is a worshiper of all things natural—a spellcaster, a friend to animals, and a skilled shapechanger.
  • Fighter: Brave and stalwart, the fighter is a master of all manner of arms and armor.
  • Monk: A student of martial arts, the monk trains his body to be his greatest weapon and defense.
  • Paladin: The paladin is the knight in shining armor, a devoted follower of law and good.
  • Ranger: A tracker and hunter, the ranger is a creature of the wild and of tracking down his favored foes.
  • Rogue: The rogue is a thief and a scout, an opportunist capable of delivering brutal strikes against unwary foes.
  • Sorcerer: The spellcasting sorcerer is born with an innate knack for magic and has strange, eldritch powers.
  • Wizard: The wizard masters magic through constant study that gives him incredible magical power.

FAE features 6 Approaches (Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky) so I decided to see whether I could boil down the PF SRD Classes into approximately half a dozen Approaches that could be used in a FATE D&D-style game.

  1. Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin and Ranger  all have martial abilities (whether in hand to hand or ranged combat) as part of their Class makeup, so I decided to create an Approach called WARRIOR to cover this.
  2. Bards, Rogues and Thieves all rely (to a certain extent) on misdirection and cunning to carry out their crafts so I would create an Aspect called THIEF.
  3. Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Sorcerors and Wizards all make use of magic and so I made a SPELLCASTER Aspect to cover this.
  4. Clerics, Druids, Monks and Paladins all have a religious or faith aspect to them and so I created a PRIEST Aspect.
  5. Barbarians, Druids and Rangers all spend a lot of their time out in the wilderness and so possibly some sort of BARBARIAN Aspect may be necessary.

Looking at the Aspects created I would have them used as follows (selecting one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1) and one at Mediocre (+0) as per the FAE rulebook):

  1. WARRIOR – rolled for attacking or defending from attack using physical means, taking care of armour, working out battle-tactics, recognising ambushes and initiative order in combat.
  2. THIEF – sleight of hand, stealing things, breaking and entering, deception.
  3. SPELLCASTER – casting spells (obviously), working out what spells other people were casting, crafting magic items, examining magic items, feats of prestigitation, etc
  4. PRIEST – interacting with church/holy order members, researching/recalling information about gods and their followers, making blessings, etc
  5. BARBARIAN – interacting with savage societies, wilderness survival checks, moving about unseen in the undergrowth.
  6. CIVILISED – interacting with civilised people, blending in with the city crowd, attending society functions, etc (I would probably make some rule that at character gen your civilised and barbarian Aspects have to be at least two levels apart (ie. if you had Civilised +3 then the highest you could have for Barbarian at character gen would be +1))
This is just one possible avenue of thought and will probably be tweak and refined before it sees any use.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Abilities and Skills

I’m currently playing in a Pathfinder game run by a friend of mine, Pathfinder, for those of you who don’t know, is a spiritual successor to D&D 3.5 released in 2009 by Paizo Publishing using the D20; whereas D&D was completely re-written as D&D 4th edition (an entirely seperate game, my thoughts on which could take up a series of blog posts on their own) Pathfinder expanded and continued to use the 3.5 rules-set (albeit no longer under the D&D moniker). If you want to know more about Pathfinder there is a wikipedia article here. The Pathfinder game I am playing in is very enjoyable, we are from a world where magic has previously been hard to work and unreliable, the discovery of a portal opening to another world has lead to an increase in magical energy, and our player characters are the advanced scouting party sent through to explore this new world; I play an academic wizards apprentice who is fascinated by almost everything since it his first time out in the wider-world, I may get round to blogging some more specifics about the game in future.
Playing in the game has given me a nostalgic longing to run some sort of fantasy D&D-esque game in the future, i’ve run a number of them in the past though and have never really been sold on the D20 rules system, it’s quite versatile and there is a lot of source material available for it, however i’m just not as much a fan of the crunch as some people I know (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Given my complete love of the FATE system (even my wife has commented on how much I like the system, referring to me jokingly as “Mr Fate” on one occasion) and the relative success of my Rogue Trade FATE hack I fancied the challenge of making a D&D-style hack. I’m sure there are probably a number of D&D hacks already around, however, since I wasn’t going to be running this as a long-term game anytime soon I thought that I would take my time coming up with the rules, perhaps testing them by running one-off games during our one-shot Wednesday sessions when it rolls round to my turn behind the GM-ing screen.
Abilities & Skills

I decided to start with abilities and skills, Pathfinder and D&D has the following main character attributes:
  • STR – Strength
  • DEX – Dexterity
  • CON – Constitution
  • INT – Intelligence
  • WIS – Wisdom
  • CHA – Charisma
These attributes determine the basic modifiers that you will roll when it comes to your skills points; basically you work out your final modifer like this:

  • Total modifier = ability modifer + ranks in skill + any other misc modifiers
This system works perfectly fine for D&D/Pathfinder however you don’t really use the abilities on their own very much, only as a source of modifiers; I decided that, in my hack, you would create an ability pyramid (in the same way as skills in FATE core) and this would determine how many ranks you had to spend in associated skills.
During character creation you would rate your abilities as follows:
  • One ability at great (+4)
  • Two abilities at good (+3)
  • Three abilities at fair (+2)
When your abilities were rated this would determine how many skills of a particular type you could have, the highest level skill you would be able to have related to that ability would the same level as that ability, then two on the level below, and so on.
An example of the idea in pictorial form is shown below:
The D&D/Pathfinder skill list looks like this:
  • Acrobatics
  • Appraise
  • Bluff
  • Climb
  • Craft
  • Diplomacy
  • Disable Device
  • Disguise
  • Escape Artist
  • Fly
  • Handle Animal
  • Heal
  • Intimidate
  • Knowledge (arcana)
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering)
  • Knowledge (engineering)
  • Knowledge (geography)
  • Knowledge (history)
  • Knowledge (local)
  • Knowledge (nature)
  • Knowledge (nobility)
  • Knowledge (planes)
  • Knowledge (religion)
  • Linguistics
  • Perception
  • Perform
  • Profession
  • Ride
  • Sense Motive
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Spellcraft
  • Stealth
  • Survival
  • Swim
  • Use Magic Device
and they are all linked with one of the ability scores listed, the layout proposed about would allow 30+ skills at some level possessed by each PC. I’m sure there are probably better/different ways to do this but it’s something i’ll be tinkering around with over the coming months.