Sunday, December 4, 2022

A Fantasy Sandbox in Detail Part XXIII

 Part XXII  Index Page

This is the twenty-third post in a series detailing the 34 steps I recommended for making a Fantasy Sandbox Campaign. 

Today's post will cover steps 29 to 32. 

  1. Pick the 12 most important NPC or Monsters 
  2. Write a paragraph describing each and fully stat them. 
  3. Pick the most six common encounter type. (City Guard, Border Warders, Bloody Hand, Orcs) Write a paragraph and fully stat them.
  4. Scan your description for any regional organization and write a paragraph on them. Fully stat the most common encounters involved with them.

My choice of using a small example like the Isle of Piall constrains my choices of what to pick for important NPCs, Monsters, encounters, and organizations. It does illustrate an important point about making a sandbox, its scope. 

The details increase geometrically with the area covered by the setting. Piall is five hex columns by five hex rows and has about 27 entries. Blackmarsh has 27 hex columns and 19 hex rows and has 94 entries. Finally my upcoming "Into the Majestic Fantasy Realms" has four maps each with 31 hex columns 41 hex rows along with 200+ entries each. The amount of detail grows geometrically as the size of the map grows. Make the map twice the size in terms of hex rows and columns, and you will have to put in four times the work. 

If you pick a smaller number of locales to flesh out on a larger map this will mean more to make up as the campaign progresses. For your first sandbox make it a size that you feel comfortable with. The time estimate that accompanied the first posts of this series was based on an area the size of Blackmarsh, a map the size of a regular piece of paper, with about 100 entries total.

What to Detail?

The most important NPCs or monsters on the Isle of Piall should be the ones that the players are likely to interact with. Once you determined this list then describe their capabilities and/or plans in detail. Given the limited scope of the Isle of Piall I opted to describe 14 individuals and their associated organizations.

The NPCs of Piall

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Now for the news about Space the Final Frontier

Updating everybody on the pressing irrelevant question of the day. What uniforms will the US Space Force pick?

A bit of background. So among world's aerospace units, the triangular delta symbol is somewhat popular. So when the US Space Force was formed they went with this. Whose popularity probably is no small part influenced by a certain beloved late 60s series

So the question now is where their uniform will come from? From which navy of American sci-fi they will draw inspiration from?  Well, we now have our answer.

Another beloved sci-fi tv series but not the original but the reboot version


Monday, September 12, 2022

Keeping Strict Time Records in Lord of the Rings

 So apparently J.R.R. Tolkien kept strict time records.

Chronology of the Lord of the Ring ($20)

Rob's Note: This is a link to a PDF purchase of an academic article. You can read the synopsis for free.

Rob's Note: I realize the sample image is hard to read. It was the best avaliable.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

1D&D: The 5E Skill System Is not broken, but it may not work out for you.

 On the Alexandrian, Justin Alexander writes a 2,500-word review that tears apart the DnD 5e skill system. This appears to have been prompted by the fact that the One DnD playtest added a rule that 1 is a failure on ALL d20 rolls and a 20 is a auto success (and grants a point of inspiration) on ALL d20 rolls. In the current rules natural 1's and 20's only matter on the to-hit roll. Although myself and others I know apply it to ability checks, saves, and skill checks. 

The review is quite detailed in goes into some of the math behind the DnD 5e skill system. 

And it misses the entire point of the skill system. 

First off for those interested, here is a link from back in the day explaining what bounded accuracy is about and includes a link to the original article from Wizards explaining it.

Are peoples' competencies really as flat in D&D 5e as its math suggests?

What it boils down to is what is the author's view of the fantasy genre? (since DnD 5e is meant to handle various fantasy settings). In DnD case the specific question, is what is a 1st level character is like? What is a 6th level character like? A 12th level character? And so on up to the maximum level the author wants to write about. In 5e's case that is 20th level.

It is not apparent from Justin's review what he views what characters should be doing in non-combat situations at various levels. He references low-level 3.X a lot but doesn't say why. I am left with the impression that he feels somehow the 5e target numbers should match those of low-level 3.5?

For me the 5e authors take is apparent. You start out so-so: 55% success for easy (DC 10), 30% for moderate (DC 15), and 5% for Hard (DC 20). With a +4 attribute bonus and a +2 proficiency, you can get those up to 85% success for easy, 60% for moderate, and 35% for hard. This is at 1st level. 

To me, this means the authors feel when it comes to non-combat tasks that 5e 1st level characters have some measure of competence. If your view of the capabilities of first-level characters is not the same then the above isn't going to work for your campaigns.

At 20th level for most characters, the odds shift. Now characters often have a +5 attribute bonus, and a +6 proficiency bonus.   You going to automatically succeed at DC 10 (Easy) task. 85% success for DC 15 (Moderate) tasks, and 60% success for DC 20 (Hard) tasks.

If these odds don't reflect what you think 20th-level characters are capable of then 5e isn't going to work out. 

Bards and Rogues along with two feats in the later books give expertise. Rogues also have Reliable Talent at 11th level. Expertise doubles the proficiency bonus for some skills. This shifts the odds of success in skill and ability checks considerably. 

At 1st level, we are talking about a +10% improvement with any skills that have expertise. At 20th level Rogue and Bards with expertise will automatically succeed on DC 10 (Easy), and DC 15 (Moderate) tasks, and have a 90% chance of success on DC 20 (Hard) tasks. 

With Rogues, when they get Reliable Talent at 11th level, the player can declare that they roll a 10 with a skill check. This means they will succeed with everything up to a Hard task? 

Justin fail to mention that there are two more task levels DC 25 (Very Hard), and DC 30 (Almost Impossible). A 20th-level Rogue with reliable talent will always succeed at DC 25 task (10 + 17 = 27).

Is this bad? Is this poor math on the designer's part? No, it fits with their view of what Rogues (and Bards) are capable of at 1st, 11th, and 20th level. This is why I put a reference to something that I and others have written back in 2014. To show why 5e authors wrote up the classes and mechanics the way they did.

As for the change in the One DnD playtest, it is more about making the system reflect how hobbyists like you and me actually play 5e rather than trying to fix a non-existent math issue.

If that is not how you view the capabilities of a Rogue or a Bard then 5e isn't going to work for you. 

And certainly not for Justin Alexander.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Stuff in the Attic updated with Faeries and Demons!

 I shared these PDFs on other forums but forgot to update my Stuff in the Attic page.

Demons and Divine Servants

This booklet contains how I handle demons using my Majestic Fantasy rules along with a first pass on what Divine Servants are like. It also has a short essay on the nature of evil and demons. Note that when it comes to my take on fantasy settings I am not a fan of Milton's approach where Lucifer is a anti-hero. Although I did thoroughly enjoy the Lucifier series. 

Demons and Divine Servants

Sometimes I like to do things because I find them fun like making a in-game religious document. This is the Scroll of the Beginning which is a version of the Bible's Book of Genesis for some religions of the Majestic Fantasy Realms. This also relevant to the origins of the demons. 

Scroll of the Beginning


For a long time, I struggled to come up with a "hook" that allowed me to roleplay Faeries. Faeries in the Majestic Fantasy are born from magic coalescing around strong emotions both positive and negative. In order to grow and thrive, they seek to recreate these emotions. The more emotions they master, the stronger they become. This booklet contains a short essay about their nature.


Wrapping it up
Hope you find both of these useful for your campaign. As for Into the Majestic Fantasy Realms, I am in the midst of southern mountains and deserts describing what I find. Currently, I am about 75% of the way through all four maps.

Friday, August 19, 2022

One D&D, Character Origins

 As part of their announcement yesterday, Wizards of the Coast released the first playtest document for One DnD, Character Origins.

One Dnd Playtest

The bulk of the document is about how they are going to handle Character Races and Backgrounds in the next version of DnD. Interestingly they include snippets of other sections of the rules to give some context for the other mechanics they mentioned in the section about Origins.

Rob's Notes: So folks understand where I am coming from I care far more that the mechanics reflect the nuances of a setting or genre than "game balance. I am a strong proponent that having a consistent view of the genre or setting is more important. As opposed to making Option A, B, and C have equal weight in the campaign. 

Character Origins

It looks like they want to bind Character Race and Background more tightly in One DnD. Emphasize roleplaying more by giving background equal weight to character weight. In core 5e, background is almost an afterthought. Later Adventures in Middle Earth ditched the idea that the two are separate and combined them into cultures. For example, a dwarf of the Lonely Mountain has some things in common with a Dwarf of the Blue Mountain and some things are different. Each has its own section in the AiME books.

Controversially they shifted some of the benefits around race and background. A character race still grants distinct special abilities but now the attribute bonuses are determined by the background the player chooses. For example, picking the Guard background will get you +2 strength and +1 wisdom in addition to a set of skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies, an additional language, and what they calling a 1st level Feat. 

I think this was a poor creative choice. In DnD fantasy it is well established that elves are more dexterous, dwarves are hardier, and so on. This change doesn't feel very DnDish to me. But my choice would have been to split the bonuses between race and background. Just like in AiME a dwarven guard would have of some the same bonuses as a Dwarven Pilgrim and some that were different.

My final analysis is that in comparison to 5e core, characters are going to get a tad bit more with Character Origins. Like AiME there is more emphasis on the roleplaying details. That the difference between the 5e Core and One DnD is small and incremental in this area of the rules.

Starting Languages

One DnD Character will know common, a language from their background, and a language from the list of Standard Langauge: Common, Common Sign Language, Dwarvish, Elvish, Giant, Gnomish, Goblin, Halfling, and Orc.

I find the addition of Sign Language interesting and plan to do some research into the historical use of sign language and incorporate that as an option for my Majestic Fantasy RPG. I also watched the movie Prey and the protagonists of the film, Comanches, also used a type of sign language.

Feat Description.

In my 5e campaigns, I didn't often use feats having a negative experience with the mechanic as a result of 3.X. But 5e's take on feat is far more laid back overall so sometimes when a player makes a good case that a particular feat fit his character background, I will allow the pick.

However when it came to AiME, they recast the feat mechanic as virtues. And it worked rather well and really enhances the feel of the system as a Middle Earth RPG.

This section includes feats like Alert, Crafter, Lucky, Magic Initiate, Musician, Savage Attacker, Skilled, Tavern Brawler and Tough. I find it to be a varied mix of combat and non-combat options that are somewhat laid back overall like the core 5e feats. Some like skilled may have to be tested in actual play to see if they are too generous or not. Skilled give three proficiencies in skills. 

Given the limited of 5e skills that could be overkill or maybe it is just right. I would judge this on the basis of "Does this make sense for the DnD fantasy genre that a character starting out to be proficient in this many skills?" compared to the overall skill list.

Feats also have a level requirement baked in as part of the standard description. Will have to see the full description of feats before making a call on whether this works out or not. 

Rules Glossary

The author explains some of the mechanics they referenced in the preceding sections.

Types of Magic

There are not three instead of two types of magic. Primal joins Arcane and Divine. Could be a good roleplaying flavor.

Tool Proficiency

They list Artisan's Tools, Gaming Set, Musical Instrument, and notes on Tool Proficiencies in general. Some observations.  

  • If you have proficiency in a relevant tool and skill you gain an advantage on the d20 roll
  • It appears One DnD is simplifying the price list and acquisition of equipment. 
  • Their attempt at terminology to avoid naming editions is to say "see 2014, Player's Handbook".

Creature Types

Like the 2014 rule books, there are creature types and certain ability may work differently for a specific type of creature.

D20 Test

One DnD will introduce D20 Test as a term to describe any use of the 1d20 high mechanics. Ability Checks,  Saving Throws, To-Hit Rolls, etc. It appears to be a way of consolidating the die rolling mechanics under a single header.


  • Rolling a 1 on anything a D20 Test is a failure
  • Rolling a 20 on anything grants inspiration.
  • Critical Hits rolling a 20 on a weapon or unarmed attack will double the damage dice. 
There is currently a lot of controversy over whether the last this applies to monsters or not. Ever since I have been involved with later editions of DnD starting with 3.0 in 2000. There have been two broad camps regarding the system. One side believes that X can happen only if it is explicitly allowed. The other side believes that unless it is specifically not allowed  X can happen. I happened to be part of the latter camp. 

The text in question says

As you can have NPCs with class and level taking this literally will lead to logical inconsistencies as to how the genre and setting are depicted. 

Grappled Condition
I think it is written up better in One DnD than in the 2014 rules. Speed is zero, attacks on anybody but the grappler are at a disadvantage, you can be moved except the grappler is considered slowed, and the escape conditions are expanded and explained better.

Incapacitated Condition
The original 2014 rule is intact and the following has been added; concentration is automatically broken, can't speak, and if you have to roll initiative while incapacitated then you roll at a disadvantage. 

Mentioning concentration is probably wise, while it stated in concentration that you lose it if you are incapacitated it makes the rulebook more user-friendly to mention it in the condition as well.

The can't speak part is stating the obvious in my opinion. 

I can see a point in mentioning the last. Combat can ensue when the character is already incapacitated and the 2014 rules taken literally would mean that the character makes a normal init roll.

Many aspects of Inspiration are the same as the 2014 rules. Spending it grants advantage on what is now called a D20 Test. It still can be awarded as a result of good roleplaying. You can only have one. There are now additional opportunities to gain Inspiration like the crit roll.  However, now you lose any Inspiration when you take a long rest.

Inspiration was a controversial part of 5e from the start. My view of this take it is that more akin to luck mechanics or system that give you some type of ongoing benefit as a result of a critical.

I used Inspiration occasionally as part of my 5e campaign. I don't see any particular issue incorporating this as an additional crit result. 

Long Rest
The same with a new addition that if you are interrupted over an hour in, you get the benefits of a short rest.

Slowed Condition
One DnD adds a new condition Slowed. 
  • spend 1 extra foot of movement for every foot you move using your Speed.
  • Attackers have advantage on you
  • Disadvantage on Dex Saves
A new sense has been added. Basically you can locate (but not see) anybody in a radius around you as long as they are in contact with the same surface as you are on.

Unarmed Strike
They combined the 2014 version of Unarmed strike, grappling, and Shove into a single ability with three choices for when you make a successful attack. Also to escape a Grapple is DC 8 + strength mod + proficiency bonus. Not the opposed skill check of the 2014 rules.

New Spell Lists
Take the cantrips and 1st level spells from the 2014 rules and divides them into the three categories of Arcane, Divine, and Primal.

Wrapping it Up
So far it looks like pretty much still 5e. If I had to guess I bet for most of you reading this it reads like somebody's list of house rules or even your own house rules. A bunch of tweaks and reformatted sections to suit the author's sensibilities. Still seems like 5e to me and more importantly doesn't alter how easy it is to hack or tweak 5e into the system you want to use. Plus some of it makes sense and would be useful like the Slowed Condition and the grappling changes. 

Next are some thoughts on DnD Digital.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

One D&D, The Announcement

So One D&D?

Today Wizards announced some details about what happening to DnD. 

The one thing they hammer on in the initial press release is that Wizard does not what you to think of it as the next edition. In the press release, they are stressing that One DnD is 100% compatible with 5e. Using Curse of Strahd as an example of something that can work equally well with the current 5e rules now and the One DnD core rules later.

I believe them. If the authors make that their goal it is totally doable given my experience dragging the Majestic Wilderlands through multiple systems. And we have actual examples of how this would work with Adventures in Middle Earth versus DnD 5e Core rulebooks. 

But there is a catch. 

A catch?
The feel of a campaign is determined by the referee's personal style, along with how the systaffand stuff work together. Using AiME as an example again, it uses the 5e system but with radically different stuff (classes, monster, abilities, etc.) that turns it into a Middle Earth RPG. 

An AiME campaign doesn't feel like a core book 5e campaign. Even if you were to use the same adventures for both. Which happened to me when I ran an adaptation of Scourge of the Demon Wolf for AiME at Con on the Cob a few years ago.

One DnD likely is 100% compatible by continuing to use the 5e system. It may have a completely different feel because of the stuff the authors choose to use for the RPG. If it is different enough my guess is that most hobbyists will consider it a new edition despite the marketing.

Another observation the closest analogy we have is the transition from 3.0 to 3.5. And that didn't go over well for 3.0 products and put the final nailing into bursting the d20 boom. But the Wizards as a company deliberately decided to design 3.5 so it is not quite compatible with 3.0.

Here the design team wants the system to remain 100% compatible limiting changes to the stuff (classes, skills, spells, etc.).

Wrapping it up

We will see how they do as they are having a somewhat open playtest on DnD Beyond.

I will have further comments later on DnD Digital and the initial playtest on Character Origins.

Next: Thoughts on the One DnD: Character Options.