Thursday, September 17, 2009


The World Of Prime game materials are now available on DriveThruRPG. In their first day there they've gotten between 40 and 60 downloads each, which is a really good number. I'm hoping the weekend will be even better; but after that, they won't be new, so it should start to tail off.

Best of all, I've actually gotten some reviews. Two five-stars of Ye Olde Shoppe, and one three-star of Hives of Formia. The low rating seems to be because my adventure settings aren't very scripted; it's more of a resource for a DM to generate encounters than a series of pre-programmed encounters. I've been thinking about making some actual modules, in the old style, but I want to get all of the Kingdom and the surrounding areas down first.

The high ratings are because Ye Olde Shoppe is what every DM wants. If all I did was put every price from the PHB and the DMG in one book, with an index, it would have been worth 4 stars. At least. The Bard of Valiant compared it to Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog, which is high praise.

I can't say enough good things about DriveThruRPG. Their tool interfaces are better than Lulu's, and their staff is incredibly quick to help. I've put SotBL up at their sister site DriveThruFantasy as an e-book. Too bad they don't do POD...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A productive weekend

Thanks to the holiday I actually got a lot done. Two Adventure supplements and the shopping guide.

Now I just need to do the Kingsrock guide, and then I'll stop writing game guides for a while and get back to writing novels.

Hopefully these booklets will be useful to people in their own games. The Worldbook, while a labor of love, isn't exactly something you can just drop into your own campaign. But giant ants and techno-magic goblins - who doesn't need more of those?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ye Olde Shoppe

Well, the shopping guide is finally done. Going to let it sit for a day and do some final edits, maybe see if SC can add any pictures.

Then I just need to revamp the materials I already have to match it, finish up the Kingdom of the Rock, the Goblins, and the Trogodolytes, and I guess I could take a breather then. And finish GtiS.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Contacting Other Planes for Dummies!

Only a wizard without a friend in the cleric business would ever bother with this spell. The risk of being reduced to a village idiot for a few weeks is simply too great, even when it's only a 5% chance.

But occasionally you need to ask a question without involving a cleric (especially if it's about a cleric). For those times you can sequester yourself in a nice safe spot, get a friendready to cast Break Enchantment (as if wizards had friends) , and expose yourself to the outer planes in a quest for knowledge. I can imagine times when doing so makes sense.

But I can't imagine any reason to ever contact the Astral plane. You have a 44% chance of getting a correct answer and a 32% chance of getting a lie or a random answer. How does that help?

Think about it this way. If I tell you a fact that is 50% likely to be true and 50% likely to be false, how much information have I given you? The answer is not 50% of a fact, or 25%: it is none. You have no more information than you did before you asked the question. An answer that is just as likely to be false as to be true is not an answer that is half-likely to be true: it is a random answer. And if I wanted random answers, I could just roll some dice.

Now, if you could ask the question over and over again, until you had a statistical distribution, then you could extract some information. But the spell pretty explicitly says you can't do that.

Contacting greater deities reduces the chance of misinformation to 10%, which is almost low enough to tempt a player into acting on the information. Notice I said a player; an actual wizard, with an INT of 20 and a career successful enough to get him to the point where he can even cast this spell, would never take such an ill-considered risk. Any question that can only be answered by gods is going to have supreme consequences for getting it right - but that invariably means there are dire consequences for getting it wrong.

The problem here is that the game designers simply didn't understand basic probability (or risk vs reward). The spell should have a 10% chance of failure at the lowest levels, and at worst a 1% chance at the highest levels. This might actually tempt a wizard to take a risk. As it stands, the only people who would act on information that is just as likely to be false as it is to be true don't need to fail the save; they're already drooling idiots.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I'm writing the Wizard's Shop section of Ye Olde Shoppe, and it's reminding me of how annoying D&D is.

The alleged "puporse" of cantrips in the first place (or 2nd place, since they were introduced in 2E) was to provide "flavor." Wizards ought to be able to do minor magic spells that don't go boom; after all,what did they study all of those years as an apprentice?

However, it quickly became apparent that Prestidigitation was the most game-changing spell avaialbale to a 1st level wizard.

In 3E they layered nn the disclaimers: it can't duplicate any spell, it can't create anything useful, it can't distract or fool anybody, and its effects only last an hour. They might as well said, "it can't be used outside of a dungeon." Apparently wizards learn these petty tricks, and then stop studying or improving them so they can learn useful stuff like Magic Missle.

There's a book called Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World. Its about how a new color, and a new dying process, literally changed the world. Yet we're to believe that wizards, who all have huge INT scores, actually decided that duplicating a crossbow bolt once a day was amore profitable use of their time than revolutionizing the world of fashion.

Nonetheless, even in its crippled form, it still changes everything. There's no point in spending hundreds of gold to import rare spices when a 1st level wizard can duplicate them by the pound with a wave of his hand. True, they only last for an hour, but he can use metamagic to make that two hours, and how long does a meal take to eat, anyway?

Grand balls would be forever changed; ladies would retire briefly every hour or two, to return with fresh makeup and an outfit in a completely different color scheme. Dental hygiene would be greatly improved; polished teeth signify your status as a noble just like jewlery and fine clothes

The medieval world hadn't quite figured out the distillation process. Prestidigitation gives it to them for free. "Here, clean this lb of liquid of all the water in it." Never mind what effect this would have on chemistry.

And yet not a single published module describes these amazing changes to the world. Well, except for Eberron, but that's just silly.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9

Just saw District 9 at the theater. It was refreshingly un-Hollywood, despite hitting every single Hollywood trope, cliche, and formula.

So how long till there's an RPG game out for it? Or a console shooter...

Friday, July 31, 2009


I'm not the only one writing muskets-and-sorcery. Here's a little tale of responsible grave-robbing:

I wonder if we can make this a whole genre on its own.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jack Vance

Thanks to Grognardia, here's a great link:

Jack Vance is one of my favorite authors. I think I have everything he's published (except the mysteries), although sadly I missed out on the Vance Integral Edition - I only heard about it long after it had gone out of print).

In Gold Throne in Shadow, there's a brief homage to Vance's style in an encounter with a doorman. I wish I could do more, but I just can't sustain the moral dissolution of his characters. Or the language.

Attack of the clones...

Well, cloned drug-sniffing dogs.

But really, can super-soldiers be far behind?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I for one welcome our new ant overlords

It's official - the ants win:

E. O. Wilson must be proud. And worried. If those little suckers get nukes, we're all doomed.

And if you think I'm crazy to be worried about ants getting nukes, just take a look at the crazies that already have them!

Maybe I should write a special supplement to my Formian adventure setting - "The End of the World as We Know it," where the Great Mother gets a nuclear arsenal...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Tycho has a great point here This is something that creeps into every game, and must - at least once per campaign - be expunged with brutal ruthlessness.

Disintegrate one of the PC's favorite NPCs; Disjunction all their magic gear; or at least connive with one of your players to "take a fall" and have his character permanently killed and then replaced by a new PC. The player will be happy (because you let him make a great new character) and the rest of the group will be stricken with fear. Just make sure the player knows the cool new power you bribed him with stops working if the rest of the group ever finds out about the conspiracy.

Friday, June 5, 2009

On Levels

A little something I posted over at GitP:

Levels are, in fact, tangible entities in the World of Prime. When you defeat an enemy, you consume his soul. Every discrete number of souls grants a distinct suite of powers.

Thus, the leveling up process is a perfectly concrete experience. It takes a day to manifest, and at the end of it you have the added vitality of another life (hit points), plus supernatural bonuses to combat reflexes (BAB) and possibly spells.

Some classes, like Ranger, require you to actually study skills or stuff, but only to become 1st level. After that you get supernatural bonuses to your skills.

What we role-play is the increasing of attributes. My players started out with all 10's, as they were originally peasants. Over time they escaped the dulling oppression and bad diet, and their stats began to rise. When they got their third level or so, they rolled (using the 4d6 method) their attributes, indicating that they had enough experience to have fully developed as Heroes. (I wanted them to keep role-playing stat increases, but they preferred to gamble on good rolls).

The difference between a professional warrior and an amateur in D&D is the difference between a STR of 14 and a STR of 10. The difference between the toughest guy you know (or know of) and a wimpy geek is the difference between a CON of 18 and a CON of 8. Training and experience can make you stronger, tougher, faster - and even increase your willpower, observation and thinking skills, or force of personality.

But casting a 1st level spell - that's not something you can learn by doing. That's a supernatural ability, full stop. Jumping out of an airplane and walking away from it? Supernatural. Raising the dead? A supernatural ability gained only by enslaving the souls of thousands of the dead.

It has to be this way. Otherwise everybody worth a peanut would be a 9th level cleric. It's all fine and good to say, "some people are doctors, and some people are ditch-diggers," but the only difference between those two classes are how much money you make. There are plenty of very intelligent, capable people who settle for ditch-digging because they like it.

But no one would settle for not raising the dead, if it were possible. Plenty of people would do whatever work it took to gain such a powerful, desired ability. So the existence of levels has to be governed by something other than personal desire - otherwise you're saying that your world is comprised mostly of losers who deserve to get eaten by gnolls because they didn't try hard enough.

My world is full of realistic people who do everything they can to survive and thrive. Sadly for them, the rules of the world mean that many must die for one to be promoted. But the existence of monsters means that heroes must be promoted, or all of humanity will become gnoll-food. The World of Prime revolves between the twin horns of this terrible dilemma.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


UPDATE: This is old, old news. The book is now published by Pyr, with significant revisions.

My book is now for sale on Amazon, under Lulu's marketplace (just search for Sword of the Bright Lady). They've decided to list their entire catalog there - at a 30% markup. (which, of course, I don't get any of). This is either a genius of marketing or a crass cash-in, depending on how you view it. I think it's OK; I get more exposure, and I guess Amazon deserves to be paid for that.

Oddly, you can't buy the download version on Amazon despite the fact they are pushing their Kindle super-hard, and my book doesn't have an ISBN, despite the fact that everybody seems to think you can't sell through retailers without one. And here's the oddest part: Lulu charges so much for shipping that buying the book through Amazon is about the same price - and it gets there in days instead of weeks. I've heard of people with less expensive books where the %30 increase + lower postage actually makes it cheaper.

Now just think - if GM put this kind of economic absurdity in his game, his players would never buy it. Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Whoops... I've decided I need a little correction to the medieval coinage to Prime currency chart found in the WorldBook.

Medieval England Prime
Farthing 2.5 coppers
Pence (d) 10 copper
Shilling (s) 10 silver
Crown 50 silver
Mark 132.5 silver
Pound Sterling (£) 20 gold

This is much more reasonable. I think. At least it matches up better with the famous Medieval Price List by Kenneth Hodges (here's one link to it: Medieval Price List).

This explains where they got the price of a cow at 10 gp. But if they used this list for the cow, then why not use this list for the price of beef (1 sp a lb.)? It doesn't matter - the cow just has to sell for more to make sense. Also, .75 d (or 7.5 coppers) for a lb. of wheat is unimaginable, when a pound of beef allegedly sells for 1 d. I'll have to ignore the wheat price in favor of D&D's 1 cp per pound.

Interestingly, these numbers are 10x what I originally used. Just after I'd talked about how much less valuable precious metals were on Prime.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Verisimilitude (part 2)

(This is the second part in a discussion of why a game world must be realistic. )

Once players know what their actions are likely to create, they need to care about those results.

Engagement (caring about the quest)

In a world where NPCs exist to a) advance the plot and b) be killed, it's hard to make your players actually emotionally connect to your NPCs.

NPCs need to have lives outside of their interactions with the PCs. This doesn't mean you sit around and roll dice when your players aren't there, but it does mean you need a realistic world. That NPC needs to have a reason why he is the level he is and why he is doing the job he is doing. Your players need to believe this, and you need to be able to create it on the fly when they start asking questoins. To that end, you need a set of rules that produce results logical enough for you to interpolate from.

I've gone through great lengths to explain why laborers make 1 sp a day while adventurers make 1 gp a day. I've worked out the economics of farming, including what happens to the tax base when some smartass starts casting Plant Growth everywhere. Fortunately you don't have to; you can just download my campaign materials. But WotC really should have done that in the first place.

Once your players realize those laborers are working as hard as they can, and their low wage is a result of socioeconomic factors beyond their control, then those laborers become more like people and less like scenery. When the guards are as tough and effective as time, money, and a burning desire to live can make them, but are stuck at 1st level because of iron-clad rules of physics (rather than being genetically "incapable of progressing upwards"), then your players will respect them more. When the King uses his levels to defend his people against monsters, then your players will think of a throne as more than an excuse to make the rules and collect the taxes.

And when they ask why they can't get rich casting Remove Disease for 150 gp a day, you'll have an answer for them. One that makes them try harder to invent something new, rather than giving up and accepting DM fiat. This will spark creativity, rather than sessions of "guessing what the DM will allow". It also means they won't consider the fate of the NPCs at the hands of the monsters to be DM fiat either.

Responsibility is the heart of engagement, and your players need to feel responsible for the world they play in. This means the NPCs need to live up to their responsibilities, too; otherwise your players figure out the game is rigged, and they stop caring as much.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Why does realism matter in a game? It's just a game, and it has magic; so who cares if it is realistic?

I've come up with two main reasons: your players must be able to predict the consequences of their actions, and they must feel responsible for those consequences. Both of these are necessary to make a fun game (as opposed to a narrative, where the players are merely passively listening to a story).

Decisions (picking your own battles)
Games are about making choices. But it's only a choice if you understand the consequences. If you want to play a character that bullies the little people and knuckles under to the big shots, you have to be able to tell which are the little people and which are the big shots. If taverns are run by retired 9th level fighters, while kingdoms are run by 3rd level aristocrats, guess what: you can't tell.

D&D is a game about power; and therefore, you must pay particular attention to the power distribution in your world. City guards can't be 1st level here and 5th level in the next kingdom, nor can they auto-level as your players go up in level. The wizard with a shop in town must not be more powerful than the Duke and his entire army, and yet pay taxes to the Duke. People must act like people, and that means the powerful must be at the top.

Unfortunately, the introduction of the NPC classes convinced DMs everywhere to use them for NPCs. These classes are deliberately gimped so as to be the same level as a real class, and yet never an actual threat to a real class. That, in and of itself, is stupid: why would anyone level in Warrior when they could be a Fighter? Now, you might say they just don't train as hard or have as much native talent as the PCs - but then, why not simply make them a lower level Fighter?

So now we have entire kingdoms run by NPCs armies and nobles, threatened by both goblins and demons, and utterly unable to defend themselves. They have to depend on the low-level PCs to kill the goblin tribe, and conveniently, the demons will wait until the PCs are high level before attacking the town.

This makes no sense. And because of that, it diminishes the choices the characters make. The contract that WotC enforced on DMs is called "level-appropriate challenges," and what it means is that nothing the PCs do ever matters, because the next encounter will still be level-appropriate. They can't get in over their heads, which might be a good thing, until you realize they can't knock one out of the park, either. You can't have reward without risk. The risk in a realistic game world is that your players might do something terribly clever, and defeat the demons at 1st level (like my party once defeated a dragon at 1st level with borrowed equipment and a really good plan). This could upset your campaign plans. On the other hand, your players will love it.

The other risk is that your players could make a mess of it and die. If the first thing they do is threaten the king, then they are going to be hung, drawn, quartered, and burned beyond all hope of a Raise Dead. This could also upset your campaign plans, and not incidentally, your players.

But here's the secret: if they know the King is a bad-ass - if they know the guy is the King specifically because of his bad-assery - then they will blame themselves when the King chops them down for insolence.

And your players will love it.

(Tomorrow: part 2!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


One of the most amusing absurdities of D&D is the shopping list.

Other people have pointed out how gold in the D&D world is hardly a precious metal. Coins are huge, fifty to the pound, which is an improvement over the old days when they were ten to a pound. (In real life gold coins are 250 or so to the pound).

And of course there's the fact that a 10 ft pole sells for more than a 10 ft ladder...

But what bugs me the most is the price of a cow. Apparently there's only 16 lbs of edible meat on a cow, because a 1/2 lb chunk of meat sells for 3 sp, and a cow sells for 10 gp. What this shows is that when they sat down to make up the prices for trade goods, they didn't even try. No doubt someone will exclaim "This isn't Dungeons and Cowherds!" but that's no excuse. Why even list a price for a cow unless it's going to fit into the game somewhere? Notice I'm not complaining about the cost of pane of glass. Not because I don't have panes of glass in my game, but because they didn't list a stupid value for it.

So now I'm working on a price list that a) stays as close to D&D canon as possible, and b) makes some kind of coherent sense. I couldn't save cows (they have to cost at least 125 gp), but I only doubled the price of a goat, and I managed to keep wheat at 1 cp a lb.

Which, by the way, explains how laborers make 1 sp a day. Because a subsistence diet is two lbs. of grain a day; assuming an average family of 5 people, that laborer can feed his wife and kids just enough to stay alive. (The kids will probably eat a little less, leaving a few pennies left over for clothes.)

Adventurers, of course, make and spend lots of gold. This is reflected in the price of things they buy that no one else does - like spells. What cleric charges his own faithful 150 gp for a Remove Disease spell? Most of his flock can't afford to pay for that, not even once in a lifetime. Would a Lawful Good cleric really sit there and not cast his free 3rd level spell that renews every day just because nobody had a 150 gps to give him? The price for spell-casting services is for adventurers; random armed weirdos who wander into town and want stuff. The people who live there get it for free, if the cleric likes them. This is the sort of thing the DMG should be making clear. And what if your character is from that town, and worships that religion? Is it really game-breaking that he gets a healing spell for free once in a while?

Since 1st Ed, D&D has been avoiding any sense of community action. The players were always supposed to be laws unto themselves, free agents who were responsible to no one and could look to no one for aid. Which begs another question: when the monsters threaten the town, why is it the 1st level players are apparently the only swords around? But that's a topic for another post...

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Over to the left you can find a link to Frank & K's Dungeonomicon, one of the cleverest (and brilliantly witty) attempts to make sense out of the D&D world that I've ever seen.

I took a different route. I started playing with 1st Ed, and so when I wanted to fix the glaring weirdness in 3rd Ed, I went backwards instead of forwards (not to imply there wasn't plenty of weirdness there, too). The most important thing I took from the old edition was the rareness of levels. In the good old days, only one out of ten thousand was fit to be an adventurer. Everybody else was a peasant, largely indistinguishable from a piece of furniture, or at best a low-level hack "incapable of progressing upwards." Seriously, you could hire those guys to be your soldiers. It said so, right in the book.

I never figured out how those guys knew they could never get more levels, or for that matter, how they got their levels in the first place. But I always felt sorry for them. How much would it suck to be that guy? And of course, the peasants, the ordinary people, who existed solely so the heroes could save them from being eaten by monsters. You could hire an army - in fact, as a Cleric or Fighter, you got one for free - but it was useless. All those zero level dudes could do was die when the monsters looked at them.

Then, being me, I started wondering what effect that would have on society. How could you have a feudal, medieval world with teleporting magic and flaming swords? How would people actually live in a world where the King could walk away from an airplane crash..twice? Just think what that does to the time-honored tradition of regicide.

I was never content to just kill the dragon. I wanted to know why the dragon was there, and what possible good it could get out of a pile of gold, and why adventurers who could magically summon food, clothing, and everything else they needed would even care that there was a dragon eating people. As you can imagine, this was a trial and a tribulation to my game-masters, but they suffered nobly.

Now I have an answer... tael. D&D always implicitly assumed that XP = Gold, anyway, and once I decided to go ahead and make it explicit, lots of things just fell into place. Why do Kings defend peasants? Why do mages sell magic items? Why do Gods empower priests, and pay attention to what mortals do? Why are some people super-heroes, and others mere peons? Why is technology still stuck in the middle ages even though elves are thousands of years old?

Check out the World of Prime worldbook for the answers. Or join my hero, Christopher Sinclair, as he finds out the answers the hard way in my novel "Sword of the Bright Lady."