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I have downloaded and begun examining this gaming system. Although in my own system I do retain some character class system, and have invented others, I also have a parallel system that is very similar to this one. As a matter of fact several things about this system are similar to my own, such as the Virtues.

So, overall, and initially, I have a very favorable opinion of this gaming system. It seems a little overly-complicated to me in sections but that may just be an initial presumption.

That being said, however, from what I can tell so far it is an extremely well thought out and well written gaming system and set of mechanics.

It’s in beta and free to download. I did so and recommend that you do so as well if you are interested and wish to examine the game and it’s design approach to Role Play.

You can simply follow the title link in this post or go here for the available downloads:

Valentia Downloads



By the way this sounds very much like the line of reasoning that was the basis for developing my own Role Play system of gaming. Though I also came out of a wargaming background (like Gygax, only I was younger) and had much interest in better representing combat on both the large (large group, strategic, wargaming) and small (small team, tactical, personal) scales.


Today’s entry for The Forge is based upon a correspondence between me and an old friend over the idea of exactly how much of a game can and should be programmed (pre-designed), how much should be flexible and open to ad hoc manipulation, and what the consequences of these conflicting deign principles really mean.

Of course in tabletop and role play games (non-electronic versions) the ad hoc and “open” elements are much easier to develop and fully exploit in comparison to exactly how much of a computer or electronic or video game must be pre-programmed. But in my opinion the ultimate goal even of computer and video and even virtual reality games is not just to mimic or emulate open choice, but to actually develop program parameters than allow a sort of “open interface” with the gaming world in the same way that an individual can interact with the Real World. That is to say game should not merely simulate “open choice and open exploration” they should actually provide it.

And since today’s entry is for the Forge I also briefly discuss the Design and operational Tools I call the Terra Incognito and Esoteric Distribution Principles, as well as Hard and Soft Backgrounds/Milieus.



Since all games are programmed (to some extent) I think that it is very unusual for most game designers (who think in a programmed fashion- that is they try to project onto the game the same basic methods of thought which they themselves use for the logical design of the game) to attempt to program into the game the elements you described.

When maps are drawn and given to the player they are almost invariably accurate.

Why, most all game designers think, give a player an inaccurate map as that will only anger him and look shoddy, as if it were the fault of the game designer, as if it were a bug. Most players have become conditioned to think in exactly this same fashion as regards games. They see that something does not function properly and they automatically assume it is a bug. But much of life is exactly that- Terra Incognito, you get no real map to most things in life, especially things you have never encountered before and it is ridiculous to assume that any map you ever receive will be absolutely accurate. As a matter of fact much information we receive and much education is similarly either erroneous or at the least tainted by bias, or by ignorance or by mistake, intentional or unintentional.

Then you have to consider that often times things we receive as information from any particular source may also be purposely misleading.

Therefore if a game is to mimic life in many respects it has to incorporate this “unknown and unexpected” territory and it must also incorporate intentional deceit. For instance in many games i have played when one receives informant information it is just assumed to be accurate or truthful. This is not the way real informant information works. It is partially correct, partially misleading, purposely misleading, it is second or third hand information, it is misinterpreted, or disinformation, etc… Games should reflect this. As a matter of fact this puts me to the mind to create all sorts of intentional bug parameters that reflect real life, not randomness, but actual error. Error that is reflective of living error.

So I’m gonna incorporate both aspects into my game designs. The unknown, uncharted, unmapped or incorrectly mapped territories, of whatever kind I’m gonna call the Terra Incognito principal. The other, the misleading or incomplete information principle I think I’m gonna call
the Esoteric Distribution principle.

Both principles will function as a sort of basic background of functionality, that a game, like life itself is not just about the data but the quality and nature of that data and how accurately that data reflects upon the overall gaming environment. Then the player, like a living person, will have to determine not only the gaming parameters, but the functional parameters and whether any information received is of any actual value, whether it is valid or invalid.

I suspect that current principles only exist because they are reflective of the basically mathematical mindset of software and game designers.

That is perfectly appropriate for the development of a Hard Background, or environment in a game, but it is completely superficial and childlike in naivete as regards a Soft, or Human, Background. Soft Backgrounds are full of error, deceit, and ignorance. Unlike present games, soft backgrounds fail to function properly, or one could say function in error about as often as they function successfully and accurately. Soft Backgrounds are not just mere isolated plot devices, but should be a vital and ongoing principle of making any game or skill simulation function correctly.


I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.

When Wizards of the Coast released the d20 Modern roleplaying game in 2002, I was in heaven. Gnolls in crushed velvet! Ogres decked out in London Fog overcoats! Living dumpsters that ate people!

I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.

I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.

Rules of Engagement

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.

Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

Modern Armor
Armor Armor Class (AC) Strength Stealth Properties Weight
Light Armor
Heavy coat 11 + Dex modifier Disadvantage 6 lb.
Leather jacket 11 + Dex modifier 4 lb.
Light undercover shirt 11 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 2 lb.
Kevlar-lined coat 12 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 8 lb.
Undercover vest 13 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 3 lb.
Medium Armor
Concealable vest 13 + Dex modifier (max 2) DR/3 ballistic 4 lb.
Light-duty vest 14 + Dex modifier (max 3) DR/3 ballistic 8 lb.
Tactical vest 15 + Dex modifier (max 2) Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 10 lb.
Heavy Armor
Special response vest 15 Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 15 lb.
Land Warrior armor 17 Str 13 Disadvantage DR/5 ballistic/slashing 10 lb.
Forced entry unit 18 Str 13 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic/slashing 20 lb.

As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.

(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)

Who Gets What?

Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.

When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.

Firearm Proficiencies by Class
Class Firearm Proficiency
Bard Sidearms
Barbarian Long arms
Cleric None (though possibly granted through domains such as City or War)
Druid None
Fighter Long arms and sidearms
Monk Sidearms
Paladin Long arms and sidearms
Ranger Long arms and sidearms
Rogue Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
Sorcerer None
Warlock None (though sidearms and long arms can be created through the Pact of the Blade class feature)
Wizard None (though sidearm proficiency might be granted through the School of Technomancy)

Hold up! City Domain? School of Technomancy? I’ll get into those next time!

About the Author

Daniel Helmick is a contractor attached to the Dungeons & Dragons R&D department, formerly of the D&D Insider studio at Wizards of the Coast. He has contributed numerous articles and adventures to Dungeon and Dragon magazines, as well as the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil Adventurers League programs. He’s thinking about getting a cat, but he’s torn between the names Trapspringer and Dragonbait.



For the rest of this week I will not be posting any original content to this blog or any of my blogs. Recently, due to my work schedule and other obligations, I have had very little time to work on the overall construction and the technical aspects of my blog(s). I had planned to complete those aspects of my blogs long ago but other things kept interfering.

So this week I have decided to spend the entire week finishing my originally conceived construction-plans of my blogs to make it easier for agents, fellow game designers, publishers, writers, and others to find me and to communicate and work with me.

To that end I will spend the rest of the week finishing my original plans and retooling this site.

As I said, as it stands now I plan to add no more original content this week so as to finally finish my original designs without interruption or any more delays.

However you can still find a great deal of useful content in the various Categories already present on this blog, and on the Categories of all of my other blogs. Just pick the categories that interest you and browse at will. Uncategorized will allow you to find everything.

I will also be sharing useful articles, content, and posts I find on other sites as I run across them and time allows. But most of my time this week will be spent on blog development.

Thank you for being a Reader and Follower of my blogs, I appreciate your patronage and hope you find my blogs enjoyable, entertaining, and most especially, useful.



Never heard of this before. But any game in which you can be a Microwave can’t be all bad, right?


Goat Simulator is going to be a free MMO

Cult hit Goat Simulator will receive a free expansion later this month that will transform the release into a massively multiplayer online game, developer Coffee Stain Studios revealed today.

The new expansion promises to offer faction warfare between goats and sheep, along with numerous quests. Players can additionally choose to play one of five available classes, including Warrior, Rouge, Magician, Hunter and Microwave, with a level cap of 101. A gameplay trailer is available below.

The MMO-styled release launches on Nov. 20 as free downloadable content through Steam for those who already own the original title on Windows PC. Goat MMO Simulator will also be playable on Mac and Linux with full controller support.


Essay Nine: Where Has All the History Gone?
On Heirlooms, Legacies, and Inheritances, Part One

Synopsis: Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances form a vital part of human history and culture. Yet they are often overlooked or ignored either intentionally or unintentionally in game, milieu, and character development to the detriment of the overall game design. Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances should take their natural place in-game as important and fundamental aspects of game and character development in role-play games.

This essay is part of the series’ Essays on Game Design. It is, however, like the short essay, Where Has All the Magic Gone, too broad in scope to be presented within the boundaries of that other thread. So I have instead posted it here as a separate thread.

Interactive Essay – This thread is also an Interactive Essay. See link for an explanation of what this means.

Part One: There are three aspects of human life that are common to many cultures (but most especially to most of the Western cultures and countries that were the basis of the basic idea behind the D&D fantasy game settings and milieus) throughout the world that I think are conspicuously missing in many fantasy role play games. These three aspects of human life (and it seems to me that at least one of these absent aspects would likely also be common to Western based non-human fantasy races, such as Elves and Dwarves) missing from the game are those very things so often mentioned in both real world history, and in folk and fairy tales, legend, and myth. Those three things are what we today call heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances.

Now not all three seem to be missing from every fantasy based role playing game (though most all are missing to some degree from most such games), and indeed heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances could be equally applied as important factors in Pulp games, Western games, Sci-Fi games, Mystery and Horror games, and even to some extent Detective and Military and/or Espionage based games. But in the field of fantasy, at the very least, things like heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances should be stressed as a far more important general aspect of role play gaming, not to mention general character development than is currently the case. Because in real life people often passed between different generations, not to mention among various same generation family members and friends and associates, heirloom objects, matters of personal and family legacy, and inheritances (due to premature death by war, exploration, accident, misadventure, or disease) as a common matter of course and cultural practice. (At this point I won’t even mention things like family and personal blessings and birthrights, but they too weigh as a form of inheritance or legacy. And such things as these were often of extreme importance to our ancestors. More so often than physical inheritances.)

However, in fantasy gaming these important aspects of human life and relationship are often entirely missing from personal matters of (character) interaction, or perhaps more importantly from the developmental background of how characters become created, established and are evolved. Think to your own family for just a moment, especially if you live in most Western cultures (thought that is definitely not a necessary precondition), and ask yourself, have you or another family member not directly received, benefited from, or befitted yourself from the legacy, inheritances, or heirloom objects of your family and ancestors?

It is as if, in most fantasy games, a character is considered pre-developed with no history but his individual self, as if he or she sprang like Athena from the forehead of Zeus without any prior progeneration or ancestral ties, responsibilities, or inheritance of any kind. Without a real background, or relationship to their own historical legacy. Yet even Athena inherited the Aegis. Even she drew wisdom, insight, and wealth from her father’s legacy. But for most fantasy based gaming characters it is as if the common and assumed practice of character creation is of a person completely devoid of family history, inheritance, legacy, and background. In all practical effect orphaned by and within the world they inhabit. And with nothing of real value to effectively describe and define their past.

Yes, I am aware that character creation often considers or expresses a sort of loosely sketched and generalized “background story.” At least in theory or in part. Meaning that I, the character, came from this or that town, had this or that general background, my parents may have been named so and so, and I may have an older brother or sister. But that is usually the extent of character background development (at least initially so, and in many games), aside from the usual gaming demands of establishing the attributes of Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, or whatever (other) abilities are practiced and measured in-game. But little, if any, attention is ever given to matters such as “what was passed on to me by my family or friends,” “what did I inherit of importance,” or “what was the legacy left me by my family, for good or ill, or for both?” Indeed I could find no mention at all of the terms heirloom, legacy, or inheritance in any of the First Edition, Third Edition, or Fourth Edition D&D books (I cannot speak about Second Edition having never played it, but the other editions are, I think it would be agreed the basic framework of what are usually considered the most important or at least most popular fantasy RPGs), a seemingly strange omission if one stops to think but a moment on the matter. And in only a couple of cases were concerns involving heirlooms, legacies, or inheritances even vaguely, briefly, or indirectly mentioned or implied in relationship to character, setting, or game creation and development.

(I fully understand that many individual games and settings, such as private homebrew efforts, do consider play aspects such as heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances. And that is well and good. However such factors are rarely considered systematically even in individual settings or milieus, and in this case I am not really talking about individual settings or private homebrew efforts. I am encouraging game developers and writers to include these important aspects of human, and likely demi-human, cultures and societies within the formal structure of their work. That is, as a matter of real and inherent game structure. For indeed as both Medieval and Modern societies often show considerable considerations regarding heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances of great family, clan, personal, legal, societal, and cultural importance it seems a strange oversight (or is that not truly more of an undersight) to omit them from the body and structure of role play games. So game writers and developers should pay far more attention to matters involving heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances than is often the case. This is true when developing games whose genres include horror, pulp, modern, historical, and especially fantasy elements or settings. However even gaming genres involving historical war gaming and science fiction could probably benefit either directly or indirectly by the inclusion of elements regarding heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances.)

How many oral accounts and written records in human culture, how many folk tales, fictional stories, legends, and myths are built specifically around matters dealing with these important expressions of human life? Frodo inherits the heirloom of the One Ring, Arthur inherits the heirloom of Excalibur (not to mention his family legacy, which is then passed on to others), Harry Potter inherits his family’s dark past and future hope, the Sagas and Eddas are likewise filled with tales of inherited and rich objects, and so forth and so on. I could go on practically ad infinitum and ad nauseum. Need I even mention the numerous accounts of Greek and Roman (the Iliad and Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts, the Aeneid), Scandinavian, Germanic, Celtic, Japanese, African, Indian (indeed, sources from around the world) myths and legends in which heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances play an important if not the most vital role in the development of an heroic character, clan, or culture? I could also mention numerous real world historical examples such as Attila and the Sword of War (Mars) and the White Stag, the legacy Augustus took up from Caesar, the generals who inherited the legacy of Alexander’s conquests, The Byzantine continuation of the legacies of Rome and the Orthodox church, the Muslim expansion of the legacy of ancient Greek and Roman science and engineering, the Judeo-Christian legacy and inheritance in Europe and the West, how modern societies have benefited from the inherited scientific and technological legacies and heirlooms of the past, and on and on and on I could go citing example after example. As other illustrations of my meaning in a more direct and material sense just look to the Relics and Icons of religion, the heirloom Crown Jewels of government, the civil, court, and legitimacy claims of princes and kings, and to various other physical and cultural signs of authority and asserted rights and responsibilities. Heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances abound throughout history as obvious indication of both grand and powerful physical objects, and of unresolved issues and concerns that continue to haunt men and the tribes, clans, families, societies, and cultures from which they have been generated and evolved. So, within the storied tales of myth, legend, fairy and folk tales, fiction both ancient and modern, and even within the hallowed halls of history records are replete with events in which heirlooms, legacies, and inheritances of one kind or another shape and mold the course and sweep of both the character of individual men and women, and the movement and scope of history itself.

Yet within the game it seems as if most characters spring from the air, free of, and for the most part, completely divorced from and ignorant of the responsibilities, obligations, histories, legacies, inheritances, and heirlooms that make up the treasure horde of their family, community, and/or cultural background. Character background development is usually little more than a Spartan and anemic exercise in “naming and attribute rolling.” Some in-game characters, of course, will be orphans and urchins, doomed by fate or circumstance to have become separated from their natural background and antecedents, but most will be, as in real life, the product of where, and whence, and through whom they arose. Therefore, most will carry upon their person, seen or unseen, the marks, marques, and effects of their history. They will to a large extent be who they are because of whom and what has come before them.

(I have a personal theory as to why most games approach character background development as they do, as if it is an activity quite divorced from what would actually be entirely natural among most peoples, not to mention what is divorced from historical precedent, and natural to myth, legend, and fiction. And others can discuss this somewhat separate issue among themselves in this thread if they choose to do so. However, at this point let me merely say that whatever the reason or reasons, and I suspect more than one, the important point in this thread is that with game and character creation it is not so vital a matter as to why so many RPGs tend to so often lack real substance regarding background, as it simply is that they do.)

Therefore to correct this dearth of developmental potential, this lack of character legacy and substantiality, I suggest including three (you may suggest more, I am suggesting three) new facets of character and game background and development. These three facets of background being the Heirloom, the Legacy, and the Inheritance.



Essay Fifteen: The Interactive Essay

The Interactive Essay

I intend one day to write a full paper on the Interactive Essay. It is a new form (or perhaps it is better described as a new composite form) of communications that I have invented and will later describe in full detail. However for the moment it is enough to say that the internet permits for the possibility of new forms of communications not previously allowed for by other, older, and more traditional means of writing and communications.

As I have already said I intend to return to this subject later, in far greater detail, and in the figure of a formal paper. So for the moment let me simply describe an interactive essay in this manner:

An Interactive Essay is an essay presented through some internet (or similar communications structure) vehicle that allows for instant interaction between the ideas presented and the consuming (reading, in this case) audience. This is similar to what happens on any message board, or forum, or interactive blog, in the fact that the audience can read and then comment upon the ideas presented. Similar in presentation but with a very different objective and outcome in mind.

In the case of the interactive essay the ideas are presented in the form of a formal essay which can then be interacted with, directly, through a number of different means. These methods of interaction include, but are not limited to, comments, criticisms, and critiques (as is usually the case with messages posted to the internet in some way), but it can also include more varied and wide-ranging types of responses. For instance the original post can trigger a counter-essay, a continuation essay, or even a parallel essay.

As a case in point the original essay can trigger a reader to write his own essay refuting the original essay. Or the original essay can trigger a reader to expound upon or expand upon the original essay in different or even numerous ways, further elucidating the original points and even making new points based upon implications not fully addressed in the original essay. Or it can trigger a reader to write a parallel essay that covers subject matter that the original essay activated within the mind of the reader but which the original essayist never himself considered or never addressed, either directly or indirectly. In the case of the essay on Where Has All of the History Gone it is possible, for instance, that some reader would take up the matter I mentioned in passing but intentionally failed to address,

“I have a personal theory as to why most games approach character background development as they do, as if it is an activity quite divorced from what would actually be entirely natural among most peoples, not to mention what is divorced from historical precedent, and natural to myth, legend, and fiction. And others can discuss this somewhat separate issue among themselves in this post if they choose to do so. However, at this point let me merely say that whatever the reason or reasons, and I suspect more than one, the important point in this post is that with game and character creation it is not so vital a matter as to why so many RPGs tend to so often lack real substance regarding background, as it simply is that they do.”

Or, perhaps, the essay made the reader think of some seemingly unrelated point that nevertheless within the mind of the reader is tangentially connected to the matter at hand. He or she therefore sets out to write a new essay of their own to compare and contrast their thoughts against the body of the original work.

Whatever the circumstances or methods of response however, some of the more important aspects of the interactive essay include the facts that the internet allows for more or less immediate response and interactivity with the original essay and essayist, that it allows for “branching off” in addressing the ideas originally presented, and that it allows for numerous and varied types of responses and counter-responses.

In this case however (with the interactive essay) I am looking to establish and build up a more formal and useful type of response pattern than is typically the case with the message post and brief response pattern or system, so that the ideas presented in the original essay, and the ideas that develop from that initial basis can be more fully, completely, and formally expanded, expounded upon, and explored. In this way a complex system of group communications can be created that is very likely to have a better chance at fully developing any given set of ideas than would be possible through the efforts of a single individual.

Though I suspect if history is any example and judge then it will always be single individuals who are likely to show the most acute genius on any given subject matter, but they are also unlikely, precisely because they are single individuals and thus limited to individual shortcomings of insight and capability, to be able to express the largest or greatest range of fully developed ideas. That is to say it is the individual who creates, and it is others (sometimes many others) who most fully later develop what was thus created.

My first attempt at an interactive essay was this one, What is Modern Fantasy Anyway? However it failed to work as intended for the obvious reasons that I was still not sure of exactly what it was I was attempting to develop, and had not at that point fully or even really described or defined my true intentions and objectives.


To a large extent I agree. My family’s first 5E D&D game was superb, simple, easy to play and run, and an extreme amount of fun. I’ll write up a complete briefing and recount later, but suffice it to say it was the most fun I’ve had playing D&D since Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the most fun my family has ever had playing D&D.

This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in twenty years…It’s never been more beginner-friendly.


It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons

Quintin Smith

It's The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons

You might know that the long-awaited new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is upon us. You might be playing it right now, waving an HB pencil around, informing your friends that they’re up to their nips in orcs and should roll for initiative.

Or maybe you’re the other kind of person. Maybe you’ve never played D&D, and news that the new, 5th edition returns to the roots of the game is like me telling you that scientists have discovered a new gender of swan. You’ve got some interest, though. You’re two paragraphs into an article called “It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons.” And yes, yes, yes you should. This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in twenty years, and that’s not all. It’s never been more beginner-friendly.

Half of that’s down to the beginner box they’re selling, which contains a quick-start rule booklet (forget any images you might have of stacks of hardback books), a set of dice, a load of pre-filled character sheets and an epic adventure that’ll fill a month of pizza-powered Sundays. You just add pencils and friends…


I very much like this type of Chimera (the Manticore)


Well, I guess I won’t be sleeping tonight.

The early release of the new Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual is but a week away in select stores, with general availability close on its heels on September 30th. During Gen Con, we had a spoiler of the entire table to contents, with Wizards of the Coast revealing a steady trickle of monster spoilers ever since. Without further ado, check out the new edition’s hideous Manticore:

If you’re interested in how we’ve received the new edition so far, you can see our review of the Player’s Handbook or all our coverage of Dungeons & Dragons. If you want to see the new edition in action, check out where we’ve been playing D&D 5e live on our twitch channel.

Curious about the book? Read our official Monster Manual review right here.

If you’re not up to date on Monster Manual spoilers so far, they’re right here:


Who knows how many worlds actually lie buried beneath us?

More Layered Discovery. More richness for game design.



An excellent article recommended me by an old friend. It is well worth your read and it has superb gaming applications for female characters in Medieval and fantasy games. As well as for fiction writings. You can read the entire article by following the link.

Women Scientists of the Middle Ages & 1600s

Alana Merritt Mahaffey, M.L.A. Candidate

Mentors: Drs. Marck L. Beggs, Bill Gentry, and Gary Simmons

Until the women‟s movements of the 1800s and 1900s, the limitations set by society for women

in the West hardly evolved since the Middle Ages. It is well known that most women in the

Middle Ages were restricted in their roles as citizens, limited by social status, by economic

constraints, and by a well established and unquestioned sexism prevalent in church, politics, and

family. A woman was defined, especially during the Middle Ages, by how the men with whom

she associated defined her. These men were most often her husband or her father. As Christaine

Klapisch Zuber points out in Medieval Callings, “Men of the middle ages long conceived of „the

woman‟ as a category, but only late in the period did they distinguish variations in the behavior

expected of women by applying criteria such as professional activities to their model. Before she

was seen as a peasant, the lady of a castle, or a saint, ‘the woman’ was defined by her body, her

gender, and her relations with family groups. Wife, widow, or maid, her juridical persona and

the ethic by which she lived in her daily life were portrayed in relation to a man or group of man” (285).

By this standard, the average Medieval woman had as much chance of acquiring independent

wealth, receiving a well rounded education, or making significant contributions to society as her

husband‟s cattle. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that history yields to us several

outstanding women of the Middle Ages and 1600s whose accomplishments in the fields of

science and writing are still recognized today as valid and significant.

The status of the woman living in the Middle Ages broadened only by necessity. Many men

needed the help of their wives to sustain the family, and so men began bringing their wives into

the same trade guilds of which the men were already members. Women in these guilds were

expected to learn their husbands‟ trades and, in many cases, were given “masters status” in these

trades. (Gies 180). In the event of her husband‟s death, the widow was able to take an apprentice

herself. The natural evolution of allowing wives into guilds was the emergence of all female

guilds, which usually catered to women in the tapestry and candle trades…



I thought that this was a fairly good and very well organized review of the new 5th Edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game. It focused primarily upon specific aspects of the Player’s Handbook (in relation to the overall game), and in doing so I thought it gave a very good, and a mostly fair, analysis of the specific points it actually addressed. It is a Geek analysis of the game, and that should be kept in mind when reading it.

I plan to write my own review of the game soon but it will not be similar to this review because I have other aspects of the game (and the Player’s Handbook) that I wish to address in a non-Geek and perhaps a more Nerdish way.

In any case I think you will enjoy this Geekish review of the game, and that coupled with my own more Nerdish look at the game, might give you a more rounded view of what to expect.

First Impressions Review: “Player’s Handbook” for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

August 11, 2014 by Dave

I’m going to assume that if you’re here on Critical Hits, you know D&D. As such, I’m not going to go into the history of D&D editions, the open playtesting process, anything about nostalgia, etc. I’m just going to dive into my impressions of reading the book, and try to delve into some of the guts as far as I understand them (and I’ll probably get some stuff wrong.) Here we go.


The Player’s Handbook – and the D&D 5th edition ruleset as a whole- feels very polished. In fact, I’d go as far to say they focused on taking everything they had from previous editions and worlds, ran with it, refined it again, and so on. The downside to this is that there are areas where they aren’t quite as ground-breaking as they could be and leads to a few missed opportunities. At the same time, though, there’s so much that suffuses the book that seems familiar, with a lot of “oh, I see what you did there.” Previous descriptions of this edition pre-launch as attempting to be something of a “Greatest Hits” of D&D seem pretty on the mark, though each table is expected to supply some of what you feel ARE those greatest hits.

The Look

I say it flat out: I love the art in this book. Since it’s a Player’s Handbook, most of the art focuses on characters. This ranges from character representatives for different races and classes, to a small sampling of famous characters (a certain iconic drow ranger appears, for instance), to some characters that I swear are new renderings of existing D&D minis.

Part of what I love is that the book does a much better job of representation than in previous editions. More women characters in a variety of roles, more heroes of color, etc. It’s not perfect by any means, but I appreciate that there’s a much wider range of inspirational art for showing truly what the range of characters should be.

It also relies on a number of art styles, while still mostly fitting together. You’ve got more traditional character portraits, full page battle scenes, and sketches depicting conditions. There’s a few images that have that “computer generated” look to them (my chief complaint about a lot of the early 4e art) but I think the art works here. I was actually expecting to see a wider diversity of different edition-influences throughout the art (and more reused pieces), however, I think the choices they made here in the look was a much stronger choice…

review continued via title page link



I’ve often wondered this myself. How many ancient monument/ritual sites actually lie atop, in the middle of, along the frontiers of far more ancient monument and ritual sites? Because such sites would already be the part of the nexus of such prior activity.

This is also an important point to remember when developing your own adventures and campaigns. When I create adventures and campaigns along such lines I call this type of thing “layered discovery.” This is also a very advantageous idea to consider when developing our fictional book and story plots.

Excellent article with many applications to both real life and to gaming.


(Photo by Henrik Knudsen, with thanks to English Heritage)

What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

A groundbreaking survey of the site has turned up tantalizing new clues to what really went on there

Smithsonian Magazine |

We walked the Avenue, the ancient route along which the stones were first dragged from the River Avon. For centuries, this was the formal path to the great henge, but now the only hint of its existence was an indentation or two in the tall grass. It was a fine English summer’s day, with thin, fast clouds above, and as we passed through fields dotted with buttercups and daisies, cows and sheep, we could have been hikers anywhere, were it not for the ghostly monument in the near distance.

Faint as the Avenue was, Vince Gaffney hustled along as if it were illuminated by runway lights. A short, sprightly archaeologist of 56, from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, he knows this landscape as well as anyone alive: has walked it, breathed it, studied it for uncounted hours. He has not lost his sense of wonder. Stopping to fix the monument in his eyeline, and reaching out toward the stones on the horizon, he said, “Look, it becomes cathedralesque.”

Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted….Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing…something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really…”


Hnefatafl is indeed an impressive (war) game, for many different reasons. Not least of all, to me, because as this article implies it is a game of asymmetrical warfare. But even going beyond that it forces the player to think not only of the immediate goal but of how (if he is a really good player) the pre-combat conditions (what they will face in the Real World) arose in the first place.

And if you know how the pre-combat/pre-game conditions arose then this gives you a great set of tactical clues about who to engage first (or not engage first, or maybe even not at all). The movement is simple as are the rules, but the tactical methods and implications are superb. What I like best about the game is how easily it translates from a tactical game environment to Real World applications.

In other words the game has immediate Real World applications.

Or put another way it is an early wargame version of a Game of Personal Advancement and Development with obvious, useful, and fundamental Real World applications.



Viking warriors storm into the torch-lit camp of a rival clan. Outnumbered, the ambushed Norsemen are far from their boats. Their one goal: flee to a nearby castle while keeping their king alive.

At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced “nef-ah-tah-fel”) might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older—already well-known by 400 A.D.—and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

“I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent,” emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command’s Intelligence Directorate. “Geography, force structure, force size and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can’t think like your opponent, you can’t win. I don’t know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict.”

The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered—like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.

The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking black player has 24 total pieces—known as “hunns”—to white’s meager and surrounded 12 hunns. But white has several advantages.

White has an additional unique unit, a king, which must be surrounded on four horizontal sides to be captured. Hunns require being surrounded on two sides, and that’s pretty hard by itself. White’s goal is also simple: move the king to one of four corner squares known as “castles.” Black’s goal is to stop them.

Other rules? All pieces move like chess rooks. Black makes the first move. Black cannot occupy a castle, which would end the game in short order. But black can block off several castles by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall.

“If the king goes as hard as he can as early as he can for the corner and the other side is not really on its toes, the non-king side typically loses in just a few turns,” adds Wheaton, who now teaches intelligence studies at Mercyhurst University. “Among experienced players, however, this rarely happens.”

Hnefatafl starting positions with four corner castles. Kenneth Beckhusen/War is Boring photo

If lines are solid, they have to be flanked. Thus, it’s in black’s interest to force a symmetrical battle to force a likely win. If white can avoid engaging in a battle on black’s terms, then white’s chances of winning improve…


I am really, really liking the design and feel of these Old School Dungeons and Dragons Character Classes:









This is a list of my Gaming Campaign Types.  These are the types of Campaigns I develop for my various games. It can be applied to any type of game, from RPGs to Alternative Reality to Video Game Scripts.

You might also find it a useful guide-typology for your campaigns, games, and game designs. Or even for your fictional works and writings. If you have another type of Game Campaign you’d like to list then please feel free to do in the comments section.




Historical Campaign
Alternative History Game
War or Wargame Campaign (Offensive Warfare)
Invasion Campaign (Defensive War)
Ethnic Cleansing Campaign (Genocide)
Quest Campaign
Diplomatic Campaign
Agency Campaign
Personal or Character Driven Campaign
Achievement Campaign – first one ever to do it, or one of few to ever do it
Training Campaign
Frontier’s Campaign
Psychological Campaign
Thriller Campaign
Criminal Campaign
Law and Order Campaign
Hunt Campaign
Monster Campaign
Geographic Campaign
Political Campaign
Mystery/Detection/Investigative Campaign
Academic or Scholarly or Research Campaign
Transferable Skills Campaign – relate game to real world interest of players
Mythological Campaign
Status (Kingmaker) Campaign – where one of more players seek power, status, wealth, or influence
Legacy Campaign – fulfilling a personal or family legacy
Heirloom Campaign
Religious Campaign
Ritual Campaign
Occultic Campaign – hidden or secret knowledge
Horror Campaign
Clash of Forces Campaign – clash between opposing groups, powers, interests, or parties
Nemesis Campaign – campaign against your nemeses
Illusion Campaign
Magic or Change in the Nature of Magic Campaign, also called an Arcane Campaign
Nature or Environmental Change Campaign
Fate Campaign – one or more party members has a particular Fate to fulfill
Scientific or Technological or Invention Campaign, also called a Progress Campaign – where some scientific, technological, magical (a new spell or device or artifact is created), or invented machine, device, artifact, or discovery threatens to fundamentally transform or alter the world
Geographic Campaign
Relical Campaign – involving some ancient and powerful relic, artifact, or ancient device
Disaster or Catastrophe Campaign
Discovery or Exploration Campaign – discovery of some new area of the world, or of some ancient yet unknown/little known section of the world
Heroism and/or Self-Sacrifice Campaign
Disintegration Campaign – slow disintegration of a structure or system or government or a nation
Rebirth or Renaissance Campaign
New Race or Species – discovery of a new race or species
Weird Campaign


The Development of Artefact, Relic, and Treasure Design in RPGs is, in my opinion, central and fundamental to the creation of a Great Game:


Interesting interview with Dave Arneson for Trapman Games:


Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters*

“The Blood of the monster is the doom of the unwary.”

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”

“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil…”

“… I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.”

Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.

Essay: In myth it is often the case that the blood, tissues, organs, or parts of a monster have unique, if not astounding properties of their own, quite apart from those possessed by the whole or intact, living creature itself.

Yet far too often these additional (or inherent, really) “monstrous characteristics” are overlooked (sometimes entirely) in fantasy, mythological, and magical gaming. Monsters are slain, their blood washes over the characters to no real effect, and the monstrous bodies or corpses thereafter simply discarded, as if they were the inconvenient, tiresome, or useless detritus of the true business of adventuring. No real consequences ensue from, or for, the slaying of monsters, from being in close proximity to them when they are killed, or from being washed and covered in the gore and curses and hatred and pollution and ferocity of their ultimate demise. The death of monsters becomes a mere mathematical and mechanical expression of character survival beyond beastly endurance, rather than a fascinating cosmic struggle between weird and uncanny physical, supernatural, and magical forces and the life-force of men. And the killing of monsters likewise has either no additional benefit, nor any additional consequence, other than the taking of their treasure or the removal of their objection to whatever goal(s) the hero currently or ultimately pursues. In short the monster is far less a real monster, far less a real threat, far less weird and far less dangerous, than if hunting and killing monsters implied nothing more mysterious, fantastic, and potentially lethal than a mere exercise in hit point reduction to “less than zero.” As a matter of fact killing most monsters in many role play games implies a level of danger and consequence that is exactly that, less than zero. Once slain or nearly slain a monster is then no more of a real threat than the paper-tiger number stats used to summarize his imaginary existence. But is this really a proper expression of the idea of monstrousness? In the imagination? In myth? Or even in-game?

Certainly not so in myth, where the blood of monsters and weird beings often has dramatic (and even sometimes life-long) effects upon the heroes who encounter such marvels, perhaps even upon nearby observers, other monsters, or the very landscape itself. In this respect I think myth is often far more engaging, richer in content and implication, tremendously more interesting, and far more versatile than typical fantasy (or other genres of) role play gaming. Monsters actually mean things in myth. They are not simply the enemy soldier du jour, dressed in some fantastic garb of hoary yet impotent flesh or rotting, undead sheets of nothingness. They are not merely “tactical challenges” as would be the case as if an infantry battalion in a wargame were suddenly compressed into a single fearsome body and sent forth to fight tooth and claw against armed adventurers. Instead monsters are “danger incarnate,” they are a warping of the woof of existence, their being alters and changes things around them, they bend reality, sicken or extend it, they reshape nature (physical, mental, and spiritual) into a monstrosity of devastating potential. In myth (from which spring the sources of the idea and shapes and names and forms of monsters in role play games) monsters are dangerous, deadly, uncanny, they distort the nature of the things they encounter, and they do all of this both within and well-beyond the very narrow confines of combat. It seems to me then that the monster should be returned to his more natural (or unnatural, depending upon your point of view) state(s) of being, a being that exudes, reflects and engenders corruption, weirdness, lethality, and real, unremitting and unrepentant peril. Both in life, and in death. *

In short I am advocating the idea that even the blood, tissues, and corpses of monsters might very well, and even in some cases definitely should, have effects both upon the characters encountering them, and upon the entire atmosphere and environment of the role-play milieu. That monsters become far more than mere combat automatons, far more than just tactical challenges, far more than an enemy in a rubber mask and a plastic suit of armor who can execute feats of multiple backflips or shoot acid from a naphtha gland in his mouth.

Monsters are not simply monsters because they look weird, because men find them to be distasteful, evil, ugly, frightening, gigantic, or unique adversaries. Monsters are also monsters because of their peculiarly monstrous qualities, which extend far beyond motive and appearance and down to the very marrow of their bones, as well as throughout the blood or ichor that washes unseen through their twisted veins. And that when this blood (and/or body) becomes exposed to the world at large, when it stains the flesh of the hero, and when the bones of monsters litter the landscape, other things occur of definite and noticeable effect. Things that are sometimes wondrous, things that are sometimes terrible, occasionally even more horrifying in implication or outcome than the threat of the original monster itself. (I use the term monster in this respect in a very generalized sense. Of course the same “monstrous properties” might be said to exist for supernatural beings and alien creatures, in horror/supernatural/adventure/superhero, and sci-fi gaming. And I would hardly argue against the same types of monstrous properties I am advocating for mythological and fantasy based monsters is such cases. Rather I would just expect that given the nature of the creature in question that such properties would manifest differently, but also quite obviously, in those other types of circumstances.)


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