D&Dish RPG: Ruminations on a Replacement for Vancian Magic (Part 1)


I hate Vancian magic.

The magic system in Dungeons & Dragons is influenced by Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series (did you know that the name of the famous D&D lich, Vecna, is an anagram of Vance). It’s the “fire and forget” system. It’s stupid:

  1. It makes wizards—I hate the old-school term magic-user— ridiculously weak at low levels. You cast magic missile, and then you are useless until you rest to re-memorize a low-level spell that you’ve probably cast several times before. Later editions attempted to address this via cantrips, but I don’t think they’re the best solution.
  2. Wizards at high levels are way too powerful, but I don’t like D&D’s typical balance-by-subtraction at low levels method.
  3. The whole concept of a spell being wiped from the wizard’s memory after casting is silly, but spell points are equally silly.
  4. Having to prepare spells in advance makes it a guessing game. The party’s thief dies, but you failed to memorize the knock spell? Too bad. Later editions’ use of spell slots is too metagamey and dissociated for my taste.
  5. Limits on casting based on spell level—how many you can memorize and how often you can cast them—seem silly have no real in-game justification.
  6. Other classes have to roll in order to do things, but wizards often don’t when they cast spells. Similarly, targets of spells often get a saving throw, but targets of melee or missile weapons don’t (as a side rant, this is a contradiction that proponents of a “unified mechanic” tend to ignore). Later editions muddy the waters with some spells requiring a roll vs. AC and some granting a saving throw to the target.

So what I want to do is to design a system that has the following characteristics:

  1. Wizards must always perform some sort of roll in order to cast. Failure would represent either the wizard failing to properly remember the spell or failing to control or focus its arcane energy. Alternatively, such effects only occur on a critical failure, and the spell caster is rolling against some sort of target value that is similar to AC.
  2. There should be some sort of mechanic for spell fizzle or miscasting.
  3. There are no explicit casting restrictions based on level.
  4. Higher level spells have a greater base chance of failure and negative consequences.
  5. Chances of spell failure (and perhaps its consequences) decrease as wizards gain levels.
  6. There are no saving throws; a different mechanic will be used.
  7. Perhaps include some model of cumulative fatigue from spell casting.
  8. Perhaps include some sort of counterspell mechanic other than a lame counterspell spell.
  9. Extremely powerful spells will be lengthy and potentially dangerous rituals.

Later posts will cover these in detail.


D&Dish RPG: Allegiances


In a previous post I discussed ditching alignments in favor of d20 Modern’s allegiances mechanic. Since I enjoy writing up home-brewed material as if it were published material, here is what I have so far:


Allegiances help define a character’s values. An allegiance may be to an individual, organization, place, or ideal.

Example allegiances:
Individual. Family member, friend, political figure, leader of professional guild, mentor, love interest, planar power
Organization. Military order, religious order or sect, secret society, cult, coven, professional guild, college, university
Place. Kingdom, city, town, village, hamlet, temple, shrine, grave site, inn, tavern
Ideal. Tradition, change, honor, glory, power, charity, knowledge, freedom, pleasure, beauty, creativity, revenge, justice

Pledging Allegiance

At level 1 a player may select up to three allegiances for his or her character, listed in order from most to least important.  A character may have no allegiances or change or discard allegiances throughout their life. If a character acts in a way that is extremely detrimental to his or her allegiance, the DM may choose to remove that character’s allegiance.

When interacting with someone with a similar allegiance—once the shared allegiance is discovered—the character receives a +1 bonus to reaction rolls, and NPCs receive a +1 to morale checks.

Allegiances as a DM Tool

The DM should use characters’ allegiances to tie the characters to the game setting. Also, the DM may use characters’ allegiances to help detail the game setting by working with players to detail organizations, places, and NPCs to which the players have allegiances. Characters’ allegiances may also be used as inspiration for plots hooks and quests.

D&Dish RPG: Ditching Alignments


I’ve been throwing around ideas in my head for a home-brewed, D&Dish roleplaying game. I don’t want to simply make a retro-clone like Swords & WizardryLabyrinth Lord, or OSRIC. I want it to be D&D as I want to play it.

That being said, I think I’m ditching alignments and going with the allegiances system in the d20 Modern SRD:

A character may have up to three allegiances, listed in order from most important to least important. These allegiances are indications of what the character values in life, and may encompass people, organizations, or ideals. A character may have no allegiances (being either a free spirit or a lone wolf) or may change allegiances as he or she goes through life. Also, just because the character fits into a certain category of people doesn’t mean the character has to have that category as an allegiance. […]

A hero’s allegiance can take the form of loyalty to a person, to an organization, to a belief system, to a nation, or to an ethical or moral philosophy. In general, a character can discard an allegiance at any time, but may only gain a new allegiance after attaining a new level.

Having an allegiance implies having sufficient intelligence and wisdom to make a moral or ethical choice. As a result, a character must have Intelligence and Wisdom scores of 3 or higher in order to select allegiances. […]

An allegiance can create an empathic bond with others of the same allegiance. With the GM’s permission, the character gains a +2 circumstance bonus on Charisma-based skill checks when dealing with someone of the same allegiance—as long as the character has had some interaction with the other character to discover the connections and bring the bonus into play.

Book Review: A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming

UntitledThere is a fantastic free book available on Lulu called Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. It succinctly details the differences between modern and old-school roleplaying.  It outlines four “Zen Moments:”

  1. Rulings, not Rules
  2. Player Skill, not Character Abilities
  3. Heroic, not Superhero
  4. Forget “Game Balance”

Numbers two and four, for me, best encapsulate what is meant by “old-school.” In modern play, players are likely to simply say, “I check the room for traps,” and the DM simply asks for a skill check of some sort. This doesn’t require any thinking or creativity. Furthermore, modern play implicitly assumes that a party has a reasonable chance of making through it any given combat encounter; the concept of retreating for fear of being overpowered or to conserve party resources, is foreign to many modern players.

Check it out; it is definitely worth the read.

Book Review: Designers & Dragons – A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry ’70-’79


Designers & Dragons – A History of the Roleplaying Game Industry ’70-’79 is a great read. It covers roleplaying’s humble beginnings—from Wesely’s Braunstein to  Gygax and Perren’s Chainmail to Gygax and Arneson’s Don’t Give Up the Ship! to Dungeons & Dragons. The book also covers the history of companies such as Games Workshop, Judges Guild, Game Designers’ Workshop, and Chaosium.

More than simply covering the history of games and companies, the book also focuses on the individuals who created them—their triumphs as well as their failures. Designers & Dragons is a comprehensive and an entertaining history sure to delight roleplayers both old and new.

AD&D Demystified: Missile Fire Into Melee

Nothgrim (2) and Thorkell (3) are in trouble! They are currently engaged in melee with a troglodyte (4), hobgoblin (5), and two bugbears (6 & 7)! It’s up to Elestren (1)!


First the DM must assign probabilities to each melee participant according to size.

  • Small: 0.5
  • Medium: 1
  • Large (those not too much much larger than man-size): 1.5

Nothgrim (2) is dwarf, so his size is small. Thorkell (3) is a human, so his size is medium. Therefore: 0.5 + 1 = 1.5 = 1 (rounded down)

Bugbears are large; hobgoblins and troglodytes are medium. Therefore:  1.5 + 1.5 + 1 + 1 = 5

The ratio is 1 :  5. This means that if 6 arrows were fired, 1 would have a chance to hit Elestren’s (1) friends (2 & 3) and 5 would have a chance to hit the monsters (4. 5. 6. & 7). However, since Elestren (1) is only firing one arrow this round, the DM must convert the ratio to percentages.

  • Chance it will hit party: 1/6 = 17%
  • Chance it will hit monsters: 5/6 = 83%

The DM then rolls 2d10 to determine which side gets hit. The DM rolls a 15! This means that either Nothgrim (2) or Thorkell (3) has a chance to get hit. The DM then randomly determines who. Suppose even on 1d10 means Nothgrim (2) and odd means Thorkell (3).

The DM rolls a 7. Now a to hit-roll must be made against Thorkell (3).