What I’d Like to See Published

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Credit to The SpellJammer Blog at WordPress.com (seems to be abandoned)

I know, I know. Many people have already created a conversion to SpellJammer in 5e. There’s Nerdarchy, the WorstDM, and the D&D wiki. What I want to see is what Mike Mearls and the crew at WOTC come up with.

As a person that likes older games, it may seem odd that I want it in 5e. I think I really want to see the art. Selfishly, I’ve also found that I can retro anything 5e back to The Black Hack fairly easily. I don’t know why.

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I own this issue of Polyhedron, but it seemed to change everything too much. The Storykeepers were cool, but the whole effort felt off somehow. I promise that it wasn’t due to the missing space hamsters. The reason was that Spelljammer was no longer the void that connected all the game worlds. It was its own setting. Each race had its own planet.( Granted, I thought it was very clever in how certain races developed their outlook on life.) There was no mention of the crystal spheres.

Maybe the reason was that I wasn’t a true d20 player that was comfortable with feats and prestige classes. Anything that said “requires x feat” would make my eyes glaze over.

Shift of Gears

James Spahn once told me that he created White Star because of his love for Spelljammer. I love White Star and had a group for several months chasing ancient aliens, strange AIs, and a ship named Beyonce. I made my own classes based on Dune, the Fifth Element and the Algebraist. A great game that is loads of fun. I even introduced a friend to RPGs through White Star.

White Star, however, is straight-up space opera. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to be anything like Spelljammer. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but I couldn’t separate the implied setting from the game. (My shortcoming, not James’). Returning to my central theme, what I want to see published is something like Calidar and Wyrmstone, with the interconnectedness of Spelljammer. Throw in a dash of Space 1889, too.

Do You Have Enough Links?

No, not yet.

Calidar uses magical oil for propulsion, but also features solar sails. Wyrmstone uses crystals formed in dragon bones to hop between worlds. Space 1889 uses liftwood and ether screws. Spelljammers, of course, used great artifact-like thrones. Thinking through these possibilities leads me to one question:

What if there were magical and non-magical ways to fly in fantasy space?

Let’s just say that there are areas of the void where magic works normally, magic doesn’t work at all, and magic works unreliably. Resources in a non-magic area would be highly prized in magical areas because their ships couldn’t reach it. Although non-magical ships can travel anywhere, magical ships have the overwhelming advantage of increasing velocity near-instantly. This keeps force in the different areas from attacking each other in their respective homeworlds.

With a variety of different ships and means of travel, our adventurers would be famous for using many of them.

Spelljammer Obviously Wasn’t Kitchen Sink Enough for You

Bear with me, I’m getting to it.

What I really want to see published is a rule light-ish system that feels like Spelljammer. Rules light means that you don’t worry about facing in ship combat. Rules light-ish means that there are player options that are just a bit fiddly.

Making a ship would be similar to the steps in this post that balance cost, mass, and thrust to make a ship. I’d have to include rules for solar sails.

Combat would be similar to White Star, which is to say similar to personal combat. If someone were to use, say the Black Hack, combat could be the same as both use damage reduction to represent the affect of using shields.

Classes would include the standard fantasy ones, plus a couple different pilot types.

The ships would not be allowed to be any form of galleon or Ship of the Line. Dragon Skeletons, sounds great. Ancient tree with a massive crystalline heart, bring it on. Small wooden diamond-shaped ship that explores the outer reaches of known worlds, awesome.

More than that, though, there would need to be the Crystalline Spheres or something similar. There would need to be settings to connect. Maybe Basic Fantasy’s Glain Campaign? Dolemwood? The world of Slumbering Ursine Dunes? (You gotta have space bears.) Anomalous Subsurface Environment?

Conclusion

Maybe I just near the potential to go to these places. After all, that is what Spelljammer really represented for me. The players never went to my Space 1889 sphere or my John Carpenter of Mars sphere or my Battletech sphere. They did make it to one of my fantasy worlds along with Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and the Forgotten Realms.

This leads me back to 5e Spelljammer. Maybe the reason it won’t work right now is that there is only the Forgotten Realms right now. Without a 5e Greyhawk, Eberron, Dragonlance, or other world, a 5e Spelljammer would be missing the most important thing.

The only way to truly escape to another place.

Skills and Classes for the Younger Set

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Two players from my old Dungeon World group are looking to play something different. They have expressed interest in either my White Star house rules (but fantasy) or 5e. They don’t know that my White Star game house rules are essentially Swords & Wizardry classes with The Black Hack mechanics. The only concern for my old school proclivities was a lack of differentiation between characters of the same class.

I know, I know. I believe the memories of a characters’ exploits make them different from other characters, not the character sheet. Yes, it took me many months to train them to stop staring at the character sheet to see what they could do. Still, I feel like it would help them if they had a system that felt more like 5e. Selfishly, I think it would also help me ease into running a 5e game, so maybe we can all win.

I am considering a skill system bolt-on that adds only two rules:

  • You can try a skill, roll per normal rules against the attribute the GM names.
  • If you have the skill, add +2 bonus to the attribute being tested, a roll of 20 is always a failure.
  • You can add a new skill every 3 levels.

The list of skills would be the standard from 5e, but wouldn’t be tied to an attribute. On the character index card, skills would be listed next to special abilities. Since I haven’t had a game go beyond 10th level yet, three skills doesn’t feel like too many. At higher levels, since their primary attribute will likely be 17 to 20, it encourages skills for weaker attributes. This fits with the goal of making characters of the same class feel very different mechanically.

The only difference mechanically between a character with a skill and a special ability is that a character with a special ability rolls with advantage. More specifically, a Conjurer with the skill can roll under Dexterity for Sleight of Hand (which could mean picking pockets, palming a coin, or something) while a Thief rolls the same task with advantage. In fact, using the 5e skills (because they are more broad than 3.5 skills) also gives me tools for building classes.

A Bard is a character that rolls with advantage (Charisma) for Persuasion and Performance tests. An Ranger rolls Perception tests with advantage. Thieves could range in abilities (roll with advantage to deceive, or to gather food while adventuring outdoors.

The benefit I see mechanically occurs at lower level, but the bonus is low enough that it might encourage diversification. I’ll have to play with this some more.

Thoughts on a Zeb Hack

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This is about a project that I'll call The Zeb Hack. It contains thoughts on adding player customization without adding a ton of new rules and subsystems. Why the Zeb Hack? Because the customization changes may appear to be similar to 2e kits.

Don't throw rotten vegetables. I don't like kits, either.

What Brought You to Do Such a Thing?

It's been a while since the Thursday night group met, but one thing that was requested session after session: more granularity in character classes and races.

Playing The Black Hack for outer space weirdness was great, converted White Star classes worked well enough. Everyone had fun running around the universe.

Still, the characters wanted one alien to be different from the other within the Brute or Mystic classes. Having creative license to just describe them differently was fun, but one player in particular enjoyed tweaking things about their character.

Now, I am definitely of the old school, simple rules mentality. I enjoy The Black Hack so much because it is streamlined while feeling like what I ran back in the day.

I think, though, that I can find a happy medium. Specifically, I want to provide mechanical variations between characters without turning it into a min/max game or adding too many fiddly bits.

You're Really Serious About This

Yes. Here are the ground rules.

First, I'm going to add skills. The list will be a pared down list of SRD5 skills. Ten skills maximum, but I hope for six or seven.

Then, I need to define possible bonuses. I decided that in The Black Hack, bonuses should be +1, +2, roll with Advantage. The maximum for any attribute is 20, so eliminating a +3 bonus prevents the rare rolling of a 21 for an attribute. You can't have advantage for an attribute, but that would come into play for class/race abilities. These would be similar to any of the Thieves' abilities in TBH. (Roll DEX with advantage when performing a delicate task like open a lock or disarming a trap.)

How Will This Work?

I want to define race by declaring minimum and maximum attributes. I guess I still could, but it feels more streamlined to add bonuses to attributes. Specifically, I want to define an alien in brief terms like this:

Uplifted Dolphin, WIS +1, Roll DEX with Advantage on all Piloting rolls. Add +1 to CHA on Persuasion rolls.

On the Fantasy side of things, it looks like:

Elf, INT +1, Roll WIS with Advantage when looking for secret doors. Add +1 to STR on Athletic rolls.

Dwarf, CON +1, Roll with Advantage on saving throws against Poison, Add +1 to INT on Stonecunning rolls.

Not everything needs to follow the Roll with Advantage and Roll +1 formula:

Gnome, INT +1 Tinker ability, Add +1 to WIS for saving throws against mind-influencing effects.

Alternate Elf, INT +1 Cast spells in metal armor, Add +1 to STR for saving throws against paralysis.

Humans from Sword's Peak, Add +2 to DEX when attempting to keep balance, Add +1 to INT for Nature rolls, Add +1 to STR for Athletic rolls, Add +1 to WIS for any attempt to control horses or bears.

This Looks Like a Lot to Track

It increases the number of things a character can do to six things. The key is to avoid a race that stacks bonuses on an attribute.

The most complicated race are the Humans from Sword's Peak. Four bonuses to various skill rolls may seem like a lot, but they do provide a picture of what these humans are. They seem to be outdoorsmen with a knack for controlling bears and being light on their feet.

Most races can be generated with an Attribute bonus, Advantage roll, and a +1 roll to greatly simplify things. Since that can feel a bit formulaic, I wanted to offer other ways to build a race, specifically including a complicated build.

Design Goals

I want to create pre-defined lists of Knacks (+1 to a roll), Traits (+2 to a roll), and Talents (Roll with Advanatage) that can be used to generate various races and/or classes. I am working on those lists to make the entire system modular.

I hope the next post can provide more details with class combinations. Any and all feedback welcomed.