Tag Archives: D&D


I’ve always had a soft spot for D&D 4th edition. Sure, it never felt like D&D for me, but the core engine was just so unlike anything we’d seen before in table-top RPGs.

My previous efforts to convert D&D4e into a fast-paced dungeon-crawl boardgame were documented on here some time ago, an experimental project which showed some promise but perhaps not quite enough to keep me interested.

However, a tweet from Dungeon World co-author, Adam Koebel (@skinnyghost), got me all a tingly again. Another bit of Dice Mechanic tweakery was on the cards…


Creating Xeno-Hunters

Aim: to create an X-Com or Aliens themed game, based on the D&D 4th edition rule-set.

Methodology: I wanted to prove Adam’s thesis to its fullest extent. I knew I could house-rule and tweak 4e to make a sci-fi game – however, if I was to do this, I wanted to make it as close to vanilla 4e as possible. Reskinned but not house-ruled.

Browsing the Player’s Handbook, it wasn’t too difficult to start to equate different character classes to equivalent sci-fi roles. In 4th edition, Fighters are very much the tanks and blockers of the game, taking the hits and holding up the enemy so their colleagues can deal the killing blows. To me, the immediate image that came to mind was a power-armoured Space Marine struggling to hold back a scuttling mass of insectoid aliens. Wizard’s area effect spells are just magical hand-bombs. Ranger sharp-shooters are clearly 4th edition’s Snipers. Easy.

I decided to make the characters at Sixth level: this gives them a few more powers and feats, a few magic items and allows me a wider range of opponents straight out of the Monster Manual to match them up against.

Results: I’ve created six characters, almost 100% 4th edition compliant, and absolutely sci-fi through and through. I used standard character generation rules, races, powers, feats and equipment. The four relatively minor changes were as follows:

  • Feats: I accidentally gave characters one Feat too many. I spotted this on the 4th character, but by then I was committed and couldn’t be bothered to go back 🙂
  • Weapons: I created a custom weapon for the Assault Trooper, as nothing quite fitted. But I still think it’s broadly balanced in the context of 4e weapons. Everything else is a standard 4e weapon (though there’s a Bastard Sword and a Superior Crossbow in there if you can spot them)
  • Magic Items: the game does have rules for giving magic items to characters created above 1st level. However, instead, I calculated how many items an equivalent party would have earned through play and then shared them out.
  • Sniping: the 4e Player’s Handbook clearly says that Crossbows can be used for Sneak Attacks, but looking online it seems that may have been errata’d to just “Hand Crossbows”. I figured spending a Feat to broaden to all Crossbows wasn’t unreasonable, based on the precedent of the Elf’s Treetop Sniper feat.

The only change I made from my original vision was that, on studying the abilities a bit closer, I decided to make the Close Assault Trooper the Ranger, and the Sniper is a Rogue. It was pretty interchangeable, both classes have great abilities to cover both of these roles.

The Salvageers

After all this, here are the six characters: Salvageers, private contractors making a living by clearing out alien bug infestations from abandoned space wrecks.

I’ve re-designed the character sheet to completely mask it’s origins. I decided if I was going to re-skin things, I was going to re-skin everything. I tried to give it a sci-fi feel and also bury the abilities granted by Race, Class and Magic Items into themed power-sets.

Cleric / Commander: Warlord might be the obvious example for the Leader of this gang of XenoHunters, but Warlords don’t have ranged powers and I wanted to change as little as possible. I think the Commander makes for an interesting and effective character – and probably the only character in the party that is absolutely essential to make the party work.

Fighter / Power Trooper: a Goliath with a good spread of defensive-focused magic items and here you have it, a walking juggernaut who is probably the sole melee combatant as often as not.

Ranger / Assault Trooper: makes the most of the Ranger’s Prime Shot ability and range of move-and-attack combinations to be the group’s scout. And yes, he’s a halfling, but don’t hold that against him.

Rogue / Sniper: with a number of stealthy assassin-type feats in one of the later 4e character books, I was able to create a very effective ranged character. Indeed, in comparison, I feel like the Assault Trooper is a little hard-done-by


Wizard / Grenadier: the basic powers were easy enough, but I had to exercise some creativity with the utility abilities a wizard has. I think it works pretty well, a bit fragile but a fun character to play.

Warlock / Psychic: an absolute loony-tunes of a character, with a range of very deadly attacks and a don’t-give-a-damn attitude. I decided to make the psychic abilities Encounter and Daily powers only, as I didn’t feel a constant flurry of psychic blasts fitted the sci-fi psionic aesthetic.


I’d love to hear your thoughts / comments, either on the feedback below or via Twitter.

Next up: XenoHunters: the scenario. You’ll be amazed how a simple name change and bit of colourful description can turn a D&D standard into a scuttling alien menace…


Some more D&D4th Character Sheet

My scheme for running a card-based D&D4 dungeon crawl board game has moved on apace. I’ve now updated my “simple” Character Sheet into a character generator for my funky re-tooling of the game.

Every character has two classes, each class being in fact a specialist sub-class of a number of the core D&D4e classes (based entirely on what Power Cards I could get my hands on at a sensible price!)

The sheet automatically allocates Attributes, Skills and Class powers based on the selected roles. I’ve stripped out many, many Feats, leaving only the very simplest and least mechanically intrusive. Characters will only get Feats at character creation.

The second page will be printed as the back of the character sheet. It’s currently all formatted to A4, but I’ll probably go for half that size for a nice compact character record sheet that maximises available table space for card play.

It’s a bit messy underneath, my priority here was speed rather than elegance!

Updated version here

Simple D&D 4th edition character sheet

I’ve been thinking more and more about running with my slightly silly idea for a D&D4th edition card-based dungeon crawl game. It would certainly have some challenges – managing the number of Encounter powers, for example, and how to balance simplicity with the exception-based rules of Feats – but I’ve decided to go for it.

With this in mind, I’ve created a simple Excel version of a D&D4 character sheet. It is designed to show little-to-no workings, just highlighting the important numbers that inform game play.

You can find it here: <link to character sheet>

D&D5 – Mucking about with Proficiency

One of the simplifications that lies at the heart of D&D5 is the Proficiency mechanic: one central value, derived from Character Level, added to your die roll. Whether you’re hitting stuff with a pointy stick or trying to remember the name of that ancient carbunculous statue: roll 1d20 and add Proficiency.

So obviously, that’s RIPE for complication!

So here’s a few proposals on how you can muck about with Proficiency, adding complexity and individuality without breaking the game (too badly!)


Proficiency: the five core functions

To begin with, let’s split Proficiency into its main functions:

  • Skill rolls
  • Saving throws
  • Spell-casting rolls
  • Combat (and here I’d suggest further diversifying into Melee Combat and Ranged Combat)

Every character will now have five separate values to represent their relative skill in different areas. So, as a Barbarian you may favour Melee Combat, Saves and Skills; as a Wizard you’ll want to focus as much on Spell-casting; a Bard may go with a more even spread.

Now for deriving and increasing these values. Here’s a few ideas:

Method 1: Simple Level Proficiency

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. You can’t add more than Level / 3 to any one value (rounded up to 1 for L2, with an absolute maximum of +8).

This allows a generalist character to have +6 in all five areas by L20, or a specialist to have a spread of +8/+8/+8/+3/+3.

A simple progression and easy to manage, but leads to over-powered specialists.

Method 1A: Capped Maximum

All values start at +2. You get +1 to one Proficiency value of your choice at Level 1 and every level thereafter. The highest value must be within 2 points of the lowest value.

This reduces the ability of a Specialist to run ahead, with a maximum spread of +7/+7/+7/+5/+5 at L20.  However, it does allow someone to have +4 to one ability at 2nd level. Almost certainly not game breaking, but does stretch the underlying assumptions of the mechanics a little.

Method 2: Points-buy

Each level you get a number of Proficiency Points equal to the new Level (i.e. at 3rd level, you get 3 points). Increasing Proficiency values costs as follows:

Value +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8
Cost 2 8 15 25 50 100

You can only increase 1 value per level. This allows for the following progressions:

  • Generalist:  focusing equally on all Proficiency values, you get +1 to one Proficiency value every level (except 18th). At 10th level you have +4/+4/+4/+4/+3 and end up with +6/+6/+6/+5/+5 at 20th level.
  • Ultra-specialist: focus on a single Proficiency, you hit +6/+2/+2/+2/+2 at 10th level and +8/+2 etc. at 20th level. Good luck with those Saving Throws…
  • Dual specialist: 10th level is +5/+5/+2 and 20th level is +7/+7/+2.
  • Priority 3: +5/+4/+4/+3/+2 at 10th, +7/+6/+6/+4/+2 at 20th
  • Focus 4: +4/+4/+4/+4/+2 at 10th, +6/+6/+6/+6/+4 at 20th

More granular, more choice, but complex book-keeping. And in reality, would anyone not go for something akin to Priority 3 or Focus 4? Might be better just defining some possible progressions at Level 1 and having players pick them.

Method 3: Class-based Proficiency

If you’re going to define Proficiency up front, why not just set it by class a la D&D3.x?

Firstly, change the default assumption back to 4 Proficiency types, dropping the split between Melee and Ranged combat. Set four core progressions:

  • Strong: +3 at 4th level and further +1 every 4 levels, until +7 at 20th
  • Standard: as per usual
  • Moderate: +1 at 1st level, +2 at 2nd level and +1 every 4 levels until +6 at 17th
  • Weak: +0 at 1st level, +1 at 2nd level and +1 every 5 levels until +4 at 17th

Then allocate classes one of two possible arrays:

  • Specialist class: Strong, Standard, Moderate, Weak
  • Generalist class: Standard, Standard, Moderate, Moderate

E.g. A Fighter would be Strong Attack, Standard Save, Moderate Skill, Weak Magic. A Bard could be Standard Magic, Standard Skill, Moderate Attack, Moderate Save.

Method 4: Simple Proficiency, revisited

Start with spread of +2/+2/+1/+1/+1. Maximum value of any Proficiency is 3 + Level /5 (rounded-down). Add one point to one Proficiency value as Method 1. At 5th level, a specialist could be +4/+3/+2/+1/+1. But by 20th level it’s evened out at +7/+6/+6/+6/+1.

Why put this last, rather than as Method 1B? Well, because if I were to implement one of these ideas, this is the one I’d go with. Balances customisability with simplicity. What’s not to like?!

D&D Deck Building Dungeon Bash Boardgame

When Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition was published, as a fan of game mechanics, I thought it was a work of beauty. OK, it wasn’t D&D as I knew it, but with so many fun crunchy things inside, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

I loved the way each Class had multiple unique powers. I loved the options they gave the players, the way the mechanics integrated and complemented one another, how they gave different classes a distinct role and feel. However, my first play experience soon put things into context, as my group found combat was slow and the exciting choices hinted at by the range of powers lost their sheen after the third encounter. My group plays infrequently, jumps system regularly, and it’s not unusual to never play a game twice. So we waved farewell to D&D4 and never went back.

I stand by this decision. I don’t regret it, except for one thing… all those lovely untouched powers, sitting there, waiting, calling to me… On the one hand, I’m disappointed that I only scratched the surface of the powers. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be prepared to put in the time commitment to do any more. But what if there’s another way?

Deck Building
Get your hands on the D&D4 power decks that were published. Several sets. Or make your own. Create D&D4th edition characters. Then give every character at least 2 classes. Maybe 3.

  • Give every character all of the 1st level powers of those classes. Give them as cards, in a deck.
  • Allow each player to draw a hand of 3 or 4 cards.
  • Every time you’re in combat, you can draw a card and play a card. If you don’t play a card, I guess you can probably draw 2. Dunno. Maybe.
  • If you play an At Will power, it goes into a discard pile that forms the new deck once it’s exhausted.
  • If you play an Encounter power, it goes into a different discard pile that is shuffled in once the encounter finishes.
  • If you play a Daily power, you could have a third discard pile, but I actually think it would be more fun to treat it as an encounter power, but you don’t get to draw a new card. Or maybe you have to discard another card to fuel it. Or both. Or something.

Dungeon Bash Boardgame
Nominate a DM. Create a 10 encounter dungeon. Start at 1st level. Finish with the 10th level Big Bad Boss Encounter. Create a bit of story and a few puzzles to link them together. Drop the characters in, kick down doors, kill things and take their stuff.

After each encounter, give every character a heal and level them up. Keep things moving quickly, see how far you can get in one night. Strong on dice-rolling. Weak on story. And using deck-building to mitigate some of the issues of encounter speed and analysis paralysis.

Hey presto. D&D4 as a deck-building dungeon bash pure combat board game.

For a one-off, more complex, version of a typical dungeon-bash board game, this actually sounds rather fun to me. Normally, following an idea like this, my inclination would be to get into some really detailed analysis. Check whether every class and every power would work properly with this. Plan it, write it, think about it, rewrite it. On this occasion, I think I’d rather just play it and see what happens. After all, it’s not like we’d ever do it twice.

NB: Ok, it’s not really very deck-buildy. I just like the alliteration. The rapid levelling and adding more cards as a result after each encounter does give it a sort of deck-building element. But I accept, it’s no Dominion.

The Inevitability of Omnicidal Vagabonds

All across the dangerous and desolate hinterlands of Fantasaria, small bands of hardy adventurers seek their fortunes. Armed with their wits, an impressive collection of pseudo-medieval militaria and supernatural abilities beyond the ken of ordinary folk, they explore underground labyrinths and mountain-top temples with a single-minded purpose: kick down doors, kill things, take their stuff.

Have you ever wondered how these strange bands came together? What possible reason could there be for murderous itinerants wandering the land? How could a pseudo-medieval society support such unproductive workers? And more’s the point, why would they tolerate them? Well dear friends, today I will answer your query. Today I will explain once and for all why Omnicidal Vagabonds (the correct academic term for the apocryphal ‘murder hobos’) exist.


Medieval Earth vs. Fantasaria
It all comes down to the question of demographics.

In the realm of Earth, the medieval period was one of great poverty and high mortality. As many as 1-in-3 children died before they reached 1-year old and many more died before maturity. With these levels of mortality, women needed to have 4-6 children just to maintain a relatively stable population size: a tricky feat itself when perhaps 1 in 10 women died during or as a result of childbirth. When you add in frequent wars trimming down the productive male population and the constant threat of infection and disease (regular killers like dysentery, typhoid, tetanus, measles and pox as well as the infrequent but society-shattering plague pandemics), you can see why the population of medieval society was a very unstable thing indeed.

Contrast this with Fantasaria. Although in many ways alike to Earth, this realm has two major differences.

The first is the nature and extent of untamed wilderness. Although much of medieval Earth was ripe for colonising and civilising, this was largely left to later generations. The main reasons for this were the difficulty in accessing much of this land and little or no expansionary pressure from a population constantly being trimmed by natural and man-made disasters. Fantasaria, on the other hand, is directly bordered with a breadth of barrens, badlands and bush. However, Fantasaria has its own difficulty here, in that much of these wilderness lands are infected with a wide range of powerful and unpleasant denizens who have a real penchant for killing civilised peoples. More on that later.

The second, and most significant difference, is magic: specifically, healing magic. Fantasaria has access to supernatural abilities that allow gifted individuals to heal others in ways that would amaze medieval Earth. We have documentary records from the annals of the previously mentioned Omnicidal Vagabonds that the healing of near fatal wounds was a relatively trivial magical act, with negation of toxins and curing of disease only a little more complex. In some editions of these documents, a single gifted individual could heal minor wounds indefinitely, requiring only minimal rest for sleeping and eating. Given the particular needs of this subset of society, it is a logical presumption that specific magics were also available to deal with the most pressing of medieval society needs: pregnancy and childbirth. In addition, it’s also clear from records of specific Omnicidal Vagabond troupes that infection was virtually unheard of, despite sustaining frequent injuries from dirty weapons in unhygienic circumstances. It’s therefore fair to assume that even the minor healing magics carried a powerful antiseptic effect. Add to this specific magics that could purify food and water, eliminating a major source of disease and infection, and you can see a very different society to that of medieval Earth.


Too many babies, too little disease
The consequence of this magical healing to Fantasaria is a massive boost in life expectancy. Much of this is driven by massively decreased infant and female mortality, but a non-trivial contribution is made by the virtual elimination of everyday infection. This leads to a number of societal changes.

The population starts to boom. With no adjustments in birth rate, a modest reduction in infant mortality combined with fewer adults dying of infection and food-related diseases will double the population in a couple of generations.

The magic that is prevalent across Fantasaria helps improve agricultural productivity. The primary impact of this is that the middle classes – tradesmen, merchants, entertainers and innkeepers – are much more numerous than in medieval Earth. Nonetheless, even with this magically-enhanced farming, population growth will soon lead to land pressure: more mouths to feed, more homes for shelter. The burgeoning population starts to spread into Fantasaria’s aforementioned wilderness lands. Although the taming of the wilderness and turning it into productive agricultural land is a labour-intensive task, this can be accomplished within a few seasons. More significant is the need to displace the indigenous peoples: more easily said than done when those peoples are militaristic Hobgoblins, savage Orcs and other such foul denizens of evil.

(A quick aside: it is quite clear from Fantasarian records that the native inhabitants of the wilderness were definitely, irredeemably and existentially evil, their moral choices restricted by the Gods before any individual was even born. The moral impact of this purely demographic argument would be very different if there was any evidence that these were intelligent, morally dynamic societies as were the indigenous peoples of medieval Earth)

Initially, Fantasarian society responds in a similar way to medieval Earth. Militias are formed, land-linked military service creates a ruling-class of warriors, the myriad churches sponsor their own military orders. In addition, the over-sized middle class allows for large professional armies and mercenary bands while the magically-enhanced agriculture that supports the enlarged middle class also allows for armies to be gathered in greater number and for a longer period of time than those of medieval Earth. Bloody wars are waged against these indigenous peoples. There is a huge cost to this, in terms of both casualties and resources. As well as being horrid and evil, the indigenous peoples of Fantasaria are like-to-like superior warriors to the civilised peoples and tens of thousands are slain. However, demographics are on their side and eventually Fantasarian society triumphs.


Fantasarian Tunnel Fighters
Or so they think. Rather than being utterly defeated, the wily denizens of the Fantasarian wilds simply retreat and regroup. Hiding in underground complexes, licking their wounds in jungle fortresses, planning their revenge from cave networks deep in the hills. These locations favour the denizen’s greater individual strength, whereas the open battlefields favoured the superior numbers of the Fantasarian army. Early expeditionary missions against these hold-outs result in 90%+ casualty rates. The Fantasarian army simply cannot compete.

The magically-boosted demographic explosion continues apace and it’s not long before the newly conquered lands are full to bursting with civilised people. More land is needed, more food production is required to support this burgeoning society. Once more, Fantasarian society finds itself clashing over territory with the indigenous races. Now, however, the battlefield has changed. The denizens of the wild have learned from their earlier defeats. They fight a guerrilla war from a position of strength, using their tremendous individual potency to sow fear and death throughout the frontiers.

This is an issue of scarce resources, of supply and demand of land: in other words, an economic opportunity. And where there is an economic opportunity, the burgeoning middle class created by Fantasaria’s unique demographic circumstances responds. The Workers are busy keeping society fed and watered, albeit greatly helped by the ministrations of priestly magic. The Ruling classes maintain an ordered society and protect the borders, whilst enjoying the trappings of wealth. The bourgeois middle is free from the responsibilities of the Working class and aspire to the affluence of the Ruling class. They are the ones who exercise whatever means they can to earn a living, taking their cut by providing services to those above or below as they see fit. Creative, opportunistic, driven by market forces they little understand, inevitably the first Omnicidal Vagabond troupe is formed.


First Glimpse of an Omnicidal Future
The first troupe was almost certainly made up of former members of the Fantasaria armed forces. They would need to be skilled veterans to survive any period of time in the wild. However, they would also need a very different set up to the massed ranks of the Fantasarian army: able to move quickly and, when necessary, stealthily. They would need direct access to the very healing magic that underpins the society that created them. The numerous faiths would encourage this, as taking a leading role in taming the wilds increased both their temporal and spiritual power. The first troupe may have been a specific unit within the armed forces, but high mortality rates and the sight of the potential wealth flowing straight into the officers of the Ruling class meant there was little incentive to serve. Instead, they went freelance. An entirely new subset of the middle classes arose: the Adventuring class.

The Adventuring Class was typified with higher than average skill levels, usually in specialist areas. It also had incredibly high mortality, far higher even than might be seen back in medieval Earth. However, the risks were commensurate with the rewards, the most successful few of the adventuring class able to establish themselves among the elite of the Ruling classes. Even when, after a few generations, birth rates began to level off to a new equilibrium, there was still plenty of excess capacity in the population. In turn, this ensured there was a steady flow of middle-class, displaced working class and landless ruling class to form into troupes of Omnicidal Vagabonds.

The healing magic and infection control that led to the initial population pressures had one more significant part to play. Death came to the majority of those pursuing this most high risk of occupations, but unlike medieval Earth the most puissant warriors don’t perish to infected crossbow wounds, as befell King Richard the Lionheart, or falling from a horse, as did Genghis Khan. Magic minimises deaths by accidents and misfortune and battlefield injuries, reinforcing the natural evolutionary pressure for the most fit to survive, gain more skill and in so doing further increase their ability to prosper in the wilderness. In turn, they become an example for others, a vision of what is possible for those brave enough and skilled enough.

Through an inevitable combination of demographics and economics, the omnicidal vagabonds arose.


Author’s notes: I did a little digging on the internet to find the data on medieval birth rates, mortality and such and will share the links in a later post. I have also begun to create a fairly basic (and yet still very complex!) population model in Excel (I’ll post this too once I get it to a suitable state). The lack of detailed data means many of my assumptions are guess work, but what it does show is how infant survival is probably the one most significant factor in determining the size and make up of a pseudo-medieval population. Change that and you change everything!