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D&D 5E Free 60+ page Guide to Sword & Sorcery for 5E D&D

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
There is a new update of the Player's Guide available (version 1.13).

The changes in this version include:

  • Replaced Al-Tawir in the Cults of Xoth chapter with Ahyada. (Al-Tawir is more suited for NPC cultists and will return, along with the other "evil" cults, in a future Game Master's Guide to the World of Xoth.)
  • Added a special rule, "Invoke Aklathu", that allows anyone to attempt to gain the favor of the God of Twisted Fate.
Enjoy! :)
 

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CapnZapp

Legend
Feedback on the Aklathu invocation:

I assume that when you roll 1-5 you suffer Bane as if you failed your Charisma save?

Even if the answer is "correct" and you don't make the Charisma save, I'm afraid it's an awful lot of steps to take for a very small effect:
1) roll 20
2) look up what Bless or Bane does
3) roll d4

...and it takes your bonus action and only lasts until the start of your next turn. And you need to remember you've "spent" your "ability" for that day.

Even if you ignore the math (it's plainly a losing proposition) it's awfully hard to justify spending your bonus action for what amounts to a +12.5% modifier. It's like I always say, any store discount less than 20% off is no discount at all.

Suggestions:

First, simplify the paragraph to skip the spell references:

As a bonus action, up to once per long rest, roll 1d20. If the roll is 17 or higher, you get to roll a d4 and add the number rolled to every attack roll and saving throw you make until the start of your next turn. If the roll is 5 or below, you must roll a d4 and subtract the number rolled to every attack roll and saving throw you make until the start of your next turn. On a roll of 6-16, the invocation has no effect.

This also prevents any D&D grognard from trying to detect or dispell the Bless or Bane as if Aklatu cast a spell on you (which I assume is not the intention). It avoids the wonkiness of the favor not stacking with Bless.

Then, I'm thinking any number of the following...:
  • cut down on the rolling? There gotta be a way to not roll both a d20 and a d4 (and, the horror, a Charisma save!)
  • cut down on the whiffing? As written the rule mostly means spend a bonus action and likely (55%) get a whole lotta nothin' in return.
  • make it have an actual impact (when Aklatu actually favors you, that is). A +2 or +3 bonus has an impact through the law of averages. But it does very little to change the outcome of this action. And once a long rest means it's just a drop in the water.
  • make it less blatantly unfavorable. If it has a cost, the net average needs to be positive. And your bonus action is a large cost. Alternatively, the favor needs to last longer, so you don't have to pay this round's bonus action (=making it significantly less costly).

Her's an alternative Invoke Aklathu's Favor system.

You invoke Aklathu using your bonus action as described.

Then, if the action you take immediately after invoking Aklathu succeeds, you obviously have Aklathu's favor, and so you get a +5 chit, that you can spend at any time to get a +5 bonus to any single attack or saving throw. Spend it before rolling. If you take a long rest without using the chit, you lose it.

But if the action fails, you obviously have his disfavor, and the GM takes the chit for herself instead, to be used at the most inopportune time (or whenever Aklathu gets impatient or bored).

Notes:
1) you don't get any bonus to the action you're about to take when invoking Aklathu. Aklathu favors those who shows they're independently capable.
2) Aklathu (=the GM) can decide to keep the chit for herself at any time. Balancewise, this serves two purposes. First, it's the munchkin protection system (if the GM detects you're "farming" Aklathu's favor by invoking him when you perform safe or sure actions, you will see Aklathu hoarding all the chits). Second, it makes the feature bullet-proof, since the GM can handle every curve-ball thrown at it.

Note how +5 is neither a small and likely unimpactful number, nor a variable number that requires you to waste time rolling dice to determine.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Feedback on the Aklathu invocation:

Thanks for your detailed feedback.

I like the suggestion of moving the effect descriptions inline, instead of referring to the spells.

As for the rest... I see you are coming at this from a very specific "everything must be balanced" viewpoint: "If it has a cost, the net average needs to be positive", etc. This is intended to be more of a gamble, as befits a god of twisted fate. And like in a game of roulette (or any other game in a casino), the odds are slightly in your disfavor. You invoke Aklathu because you feel lucky, or because you are desperate. It's definitely not intended as something that every PC tries at least once per long rest, "because why not?".
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
Thanks for your detailed feedback.

I like the suggestion of moving the effect descriptions inline, instead of referring to the spells.

As for the rest... I see you are coming at this from a very specific "everything must be balanced" viewpoint: "If it has a cost, the net average needs to be positive", etc. This is intended to be more of a gamble, as befits a god of twisted fate. And like in a game of roulette (or any other game in a casino), the odds are slightly in your disfavor. You invoke Aklathu because you feel lucky, or because you are desperate. It's definitely not intended as something that every PC tries at least once per long rest, "because why not?".
Yes, except when you say "slightly in disfavor" your thinking about the 4 vs 5 imbalance.

But know what? You spent your bonus action! Even if it was, I dunno, 8 to 5 in your favor, it would STILL be very unfavorable!

There's an opportunity cost vs doing something else with your bonus action. When you take this into account the disfavor is no longer "slight".

Spending your bonus action to effectively get a 3 in 10 shot at bless (given the 8 vs 5 example) is dodgy: less than a +1 bonus on average. Spending it on effectively a 1 in 12 shot at getting baned (once you consider how the 4 blessed cancel 4 of the banes) is really bad.

Let's also not forget that any casino game where most of the time* nothing at all happens - despite you having paid your coin to play - would likely be considered boring...

*) a full 55% of the time you might think but no it's much more common than that. Any time you would have succeeded or failed without the modifier the invocation is without effect. I would guesstimate that to be in 80% of cases.

So an honest description is: a rule that only once a day gives you a chance of Aklatu interfering (good or bad), but this chance is only 1 in 10.

A persistent player might invoke Aklatu daily and never see any benefit or maybe once failing when he shouldn't. Which I have to say is practically equal to "nothing". And it cost him all those bonus actions. Even if he only spent one bonus action on something worthwhile it would likely be better than "chasing" Aklatu!

So again I urge you to come up with something that takes into account how seldom you can use it (once a day means perhaps five times per scenario) to give it some real oomph.

If you really like it as a kind of low key background noise please make it involve fewer steps. Remember, asking a player to EVERY turn choose whether to invoke Aklatu now or later is a real mental load on some players.

I just feel it's far too much of a decision point plus rolling for something with so little practical impact. Perhaps switch it around so "when you roll a 13 (say) you get to choose whether to invoke Aklatu". That way it's not something that needs to be considered every single round of the day...

Cheers
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
A persistent player might invoke Aklatu daily and never see any benefit or maybe once failing when he shouldn't. Which I have to say is practically equal to "nothing". And it cost him all those bonus actions. Even if he only spent one bonus action on something worthwhile it would likely be better than "chasing" Aklatu!

So again I urge you to come up with something that takes into account how seldom you can use it (once a day means perhaps five times per scenario) to give it some real oomph.

If you really like it as a kind of low key background noise please make it involve fewer steps. Remember, asking a player to EVERY turn choose whether to invoke Aklatu now or later is a real mental load on some players.

I just feel it's far too much of a decision point plus rolling for something with so little practical impact. Perhaps switch it around so "when you roll a 13 (say) you get to choose whether to invoke Aklatu". That way it's not something that needs to be considered every single round of the day...

So on one hand you claim the benefit is hardly worth the trouble, and on the other hand you're asking me to simplify the rule because players will consider using it every round?

If your players are min-maxers who would spend a few extra seconds "every single round of the day" considering whether to use this rule (despite your claim that it's always a suboptimal choice), just do yourself a favor and drop the rule. But I suspect in that case there are bigger fish to fry in D&D 5E than this little rule.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Well no, minmaxers won't touch this rule at all. But you already knew that and didn't design it for them.

I'm talking about players more into character than math. For them it's a whole lot of rule for very little payoff.

I guess my basic message, with this rule as with previous feedback, is: please reconsider adding clutter that practically does nothing except add to the rules load.

This is a rule that mostly has you roll dice for no narrative benefit. The "bigger fish to fry" I can only interpret as you settling for a quality of rule just beating D&D's worst rules, which I consider too unambitious.

Then again, plenty of people play Moephidus Conan game, with i find horribly cluttery and laden down with rules minutae, so what do I know? I certainly know many gamers LIKE rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice, almost as if the dice rolling in itself is part of the narrative experience.

I'm providing feedback from a keep it simple ethos that I find suits 5th Edition. Not Pathfinder or any other system you have brought your world to. Only 5th Edition.

Regards,
Zapp
 
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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
I'm talking about players more into character than math.
And yet you seem to suggest that these players will consider "EVERY turn choose whether to invoke Aklathu now or later"...? That sounds more like something the math-heads would do?

For them it's a whole lot of rule for very little payoff.
We're talking about quite rarely tossing a 20-sided die to see if you get a high or a low number. Not exactly what I would label as "a whole lot of rule"...

please reconsider adding clutter that practically does nothing except add to the rules load.
You may see it as "clutter"; it is only intended as a small bit of campaign flavor. Let's not kill all variety in the name of simplicity and streamlining.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Having mulled what I think of an Aklatu's Favor type incantation, and trying to convey this as constructively as possible, here's how I might have done it:

At any time you can spend your bonus action to call upon Aklatu to give you favor. If your very next d20 roll misses by exactly 2, Aklatu intervenes and you score a success instead of a failure. However, if you roll a 13, that always counts as a failure, full stop.

That's all.

I have attempted to roughly replicate the intended probabilities of the original mechanism, but with much less dice rolling, as I personally think befits a Sword & Sorcery version of 5th Edition D&D. Basically, the idea is that you are already generating enough randomness, so why not use that instead of asking you to roll even more dice?

You have a 1-in-20 risk of getting a failure, which is 5% much like the original idea, except it actually is a failure (no further steps needed) and not just a Bane-like effect (that carries a significant risk of having no effect = you still succeed).

You have a 1-in-20 except 1-in-20 chance at getting a success, which is 4.75% much like the original idea, except it actually is a real success and not just a Bless-like effect (that carries a significant risk of having no effect = you still fail)

I haven't done any deeper mathematical analysis, but I am prepared to argue this accomplishes much the same effect as the original playtest proposal in practice, yet with a minimum of fuss. Should anyone crunch the actual numbers and find out I am wrong I would welcome you sharing your results. I am well aware that hunches and guesstimates often mix badly with actual probability analysis! :)

Note how I personally think the mathematical average of spending your bonus action should be greater, but that I haven't let that influence the above proposal.

Cheers

PS. I don't think I need to say this, but just to bring it out in the open: anyone should feel entirely free to reuse or steal this idea without feeling a need to credit me. DS.
PPS. And of course, should Aklatu be associated with different numbers, you should tweak those. For instance "missing by 4" and "rolling a 17" just to pick one example. As long as the first number is in the single-digits and the second in the double-digits I think the math would stay recognizable.
 
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Fafnir_

Villager
[Page 35] Triumphant Sacrifice. The spells healing word and mass healing word can only be cast whenever you have slain a creature in combat and you triumphantly shout out the word (as a bonus action). This does not expend the spell slot.
It isn't 100% clear to me if the cultist would still need to prepare these spells or if they do not count against the number of prepared spells and can be cast anytime when the above condition is met.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
It isn't 100% clear to me if the cultist would still need to prepare these spells or if they do not count against the number of prepared spells and can be cast anytime when the above condition is met.
Healing Word and Mass Healing Word can be cast anytime the above condition is met (in fact, the cultist cannot cast them in any other way). The spells do not need to be prepared and do not count against the number of prepared spells.
 


Blue Orange

Adventurer
Then again, plenty of people play Moephidus Conan game, with i find horribly cluttery and laden down with rules minutae, so what do I know? I certainly know many gamers LIKE rolling dice for the sake of rolling dice, almost as if the dice rolling in itself is part of the narrative experience.
I think the tactile and auditory aspects of dice rolling probably are part of the experience. There's a reason gambling games have used them for millennia. There was an old OSR blog that suggested that the disconnect between the seriousness of the story and the jocular attitude many players had to it was, itself, part of the experience. A lot of the baggage attached to RPGs is probably carried along for a reason--it works and people enjoy it. They've tried using cards instead of dice (Everway), not using dice (Amber), and while everyone thinks they're neat ideas they don't seem to catch on.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I think the tactile and auditory aspects of dice rolling probably are part of the experience. There's a reason gambling games have used them for millennia. There was an old OSR blog that suggested that the disconnect between the seriousness of the story and the jocular attitude many players had to it was, itself, part of the experience. A lot of the baggage attached to RPGs is probably carried along for a reason--it works and people enjoy it. They've tried using cards instead of dice (Everway), not using dice (Amber), and while everyone thinks they're neat ideas they don't seem to catch on.
Sure... just to clarify though - "not rolling dice" has not been on the table. All we're discussing is how many dice to be rolled...
 

Really good discussion on the Sword & Sorcery genre in the Good Friends Of Jackson Elias podcast. It’s in two parts. Recommended:


Also really good to see the new development in the Xoth players guide. Playing into the inspiration mechanic and motivations is very good.
 

Reading through this for the first time. Impressive effort! I'm only in the cultures section, but I like how you've defined those.

Question: how does the disadvantage against Aberrations/Undead/Fiends work out in practice? Seems like it could be kind of severe. What if it were instead disadvantage on the Frightful Presence checks against those types? That would also fit better with my own interpretation of the trope you are describing, in which Conan (for example...) feels superstitious dread, but then he overcomes it.

Also (and maybe this in there...I've only just started reading) I love what you are doing with Inspiration, both how it is earned and that it stacks three times, but may I suggest you allow it to be spent after the roll? Sort of like the Lucky feat. Makes it way more useful.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Reading through this for the first time. Impressive effort! I'm only in the cultures section, but I like how you've defined those.
Thanks, glad you like it!

Question: how does the disadvantage against Aberrations/Undead/Fiends work out in practice? Seems like it could be kind of severe. What if it were instead disadvantage on the Frightful Presence checks against those types? That would also fit better with my own interpretation of the trope you are describing, in which Conan (for example...) feels superstitious dread, but then he overcomes it.
Yeah, it's quite a severe (but situational) hindrance. On the other hand, having a +1 permanent bonus to AC, and always having advantage on Perception, are pretty sweet benefits, so I'd say it evens out. (And the other cultures have pretty severe drawbacks as well.)

Also (and maybe this in there...I've only just started reading) I love what you are doing with Inspiration, both how it is earned and that it stacks three times, but may I suggest you allow it to be spent after the roll? Sort of like the Lucky feat. Makes it way more useful.
The Lucky feat is considered by many to be overpowered, and is banned at many tables (including mine). So that would make inspiration a bit too good, although I guess it depends on how generous the GM is with giving out inspiration. With the Lucky feat usage resets after every long rest; I wouldn't typically hand out inspiration so frequently (in any case it is very situational, of course).

Note that “by the book”, you can only have/keep 1 point of inspiration from traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, while the Cultures in the Xoth Player's Guide says you can have up to 3 points of inspiration from roleplaying your culture. It's left up to the GM if he wants to track these two “inspiration pools” separately. For ease of use, personally I'd allow up to 3 points of inspiration whether it was from traits/ideals/bonds/flaws or from culture, ie just combine the two pools into one.
 

The Lucky feat is considered by many to be overpowered, and is banned at many tables (including mine). So that would make inspiration a bit too good, although I guess it depends on how generous the GM is with giving out inspiration. With the Lucky feat usage resets after every long rest; I wouldn't typically hand out inspiration so frequently (in any case it is very situational, of course).

Well bear in mind that if everybody is using the same mechanic, then it levels the playing field. I've found that with Inspiration as written everybody keeps saving it for something more important, and then they eventually forget them have it. But when you switch it to after-the-roll they suddenly remember they have it in important moments.

I've long thought about what I'd want in a sword-and-sorcery system, and two things I was hoping to find (and disappointed to not find) in the Modipheus system are:

An elegant sub-system for weapon quality
Two goals that seem contradictory but I think can co-exist are:
1) The standard RPG excitement/incentive around discovering higher quality weapons
2) The genre trope (at least, in Conan) of constantly using new weapons

The solution, I think, is for a system in which weapons suffer damage through use, and if you don't get them repaired eventually they become useless. Higher quality weapons would be more resistant to damage (and maybe more expensive/difficult to repair). Thus it's still desirable (and thus exciting) to find really well made weapons, but the main benefit they confer is just that they are more reliable. Even the best ones will break eventually, and knowing that means that if you lose them (for all the myriad reasons that might occur during an adventure) it's not the end of the world.

"Scene Transitions"
This is another "two birds with one stone" thing:
1) My ideal sword-and-sorcery campaign would consist of self-contained adventures all over the world, without my having to necessarily do all the travel and other "filler" in between. You know, like Conan
2) There's the problem (in all RPGs) of what to do with your loot.

My idea here is a kind of down-time minigame where you roll on tables and a narrative unfolds of what happens in between your adventures. How do you lose all that gold? What happened to your weapon? What allies/enemies did you make? How did you go from carousing in a seaport to becoming a pirate captain 1,000 miles away?

I think it would be a blast for the dice to basically generate those scene transitions we read in the Howard stories, so that I can start off the next adventure in the right place, probably once again penniless. The more gold you ended the last session with, the more starting benefits you are likely to have in this one, perhaps in the form of a quality weapon or particularly good horse, or maybe some specific story "cards" that you get to play once. E.g., "Ally in an unexpected place" or whatever.

Anyway, throwing those ideas out there in the hope that somebody bakes them into a good sword-and-sorcery game.
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Well bear in mind that if everybody is using the same mechanic, then it levels the playing field. I've found that with Inspiration as written everybody keeps saving it for something more important, and then they eventually forget them have it. But when you switch it to after-the-roll they suddenly remember they have it in important moments.
With inspiration as written, you can only have 1 point of inspiration so you keep saving it for "something important". If you have more points to spend, it's easier to spend one (and thus it becomes easier to remember that you have them).

Two goals that seem contradictory but I think can co-exist are:
1) The standard RPG excitement/incentive around discovering higher quality weapons
2) The genre trope (at least, in Conan) of constantly using new weapons

The solution, I think, is for a system in which weapons suffer damage through use, and if you don't get them repaired eventually they become useless. Higher quality weapons would be more resistant to damage (and maybe more expensive/difficult to repair). Thus it's still desirable (and thus exciting) to find really well made weapons, but the main benefit they confer is just that they are more reliable. Even the best ones will break eventually, and knowing that means that if you lose them (for all the myriad reasons that might occur during an adventure) it's not the end of the world.
Check out the rule in the Player's Guide that lets you sacrifice a weapon (or shield) to block a critical hit. If you want to introduce different qualities of weapons, you could say that these don't auto-break when blocking a crit. A "good quality" weapon could avoid breakage on a roll of 19-20, a "superior quality" could avoid breaking on a roll of 17-20, and so on (magical weapons could avoid breakage on, say, a roll of 11-20). That's easier than tracking damage to weapons (which sounds very fiddly).

This is another "two birds with one stone" thing:
1) My ideal sword-and-sorcery campaign would consist of self-contained adventures all over the world, without my having to necessarily do all the travel and other "filler" in between. You know, like Conan
2) There's the problem (in all RPGs) of what to do with your loot.

My idea here is a kind of down-time minigame where you roll on tables and a narrative unfolds of what happens in between your adventures. How do you lose all that gold? What happened to your weapon? What allies/enemies did you make? How did you go from carousing in a seaport to becoming a pirate captain 1,000 miles away?
This sounds cool and I wouldn't mind this (rolling on tables to see what happens between adventures) if I was a player, but I guess some players would dislike the "loss of control" over their characters. If the group is OK with it, it could lead to many fun and interesting stories!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Implementing weapon quality and damage as a X in 20 risk is a much more appropriately simple and easy solution for Sword & Sorcery than, well, tracking "item hit points", in my mind!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
One solution to the "rolling on between-story tables is great except when you don't like the result" problem is to add a mechanism where you can spend gold to influence the result (by rerolling or simply modifying the outcome).

Anything that makes players actively want their characters to risk life and limb for cash - despite the genre trope pre venting you from hoarding it - is a good thing!
 

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