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


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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
The Player's Guide has been updated to version 1.7, available at the same link as before.

Updates in this version include:
  • The Degenerate's Unwholesome feature now also impacts the social skills of other party members
  • Removed Light from the Cultist spell list
  • Added Counterspell to the Cultist spell list
  • Added specific Cult Secrets for several of the cults
Enjoy! :)
 


xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Oh cool. I've been wondering what the secrets were meant to be.

Yeah, so the Cult Secrets are cult-specific, thematically appropriate special abilities gained by the Cultist at level 6, 14, and 18. I try to design these so they are distinct from just bonus spells (which the cultist gains via Cult Spells), but sometimes the cult secret duplicates a spell effect but with some added condition or duration.
 

Yeah, so the Cult Secrets are cult-specific, thematically appropriate special abilities gained by the Cultist at level 6, 14, and 18. I try to design these so they are distinct from just bonus spells (which the cultist gains via Cult Spells), but sometimes the cult secret duplicates a spell effect but with some added condition or duration.
Fantastic guide.

Any plans to flesh out the other cults? 5 down, 17 more to go (actually 16 if Aklathu doesn't have any priests)!
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Fantastic guide.

Thanks!

Any plans to flesh out the other cults? 5 down, 17 more to go (actually 16 if Aklathu doesn't have any priests)!

I do, but although none of these cults are exactly Sunday School, I guess the details and secrets of a few of the more villainous cults should go in a yet-to-be-released "Game Master's Guide to the World of Xoth" rather than the Player's Guide... !

Also note that when Mongoose Publishing did their conversion of "The Spider-God's Bride" to the Legend RPG some years ago, they added some details of the cults to one of the introductory chapters.
 

I do, but although none of these cults are exactly Sunday School, I guess the details and secrets of a few of the more villainous cults should go in a yet-to-be-released "Game Master's Guide to the World of Xoth" rather than the Player's Guide... !

Also note that when Mongoose Publishing did their conversion of "The Spider-God's Bride" to the Legend RPG some years ago, they added some details of the cults to one of the introductory chapters.

Yeah but the Legend details don't have the Thulsa seal of approval, and the villainous cults are the most fun! I'm hoping to get my group to play in Xoth so the sooner I have the details for all the cults (either in the Player's Guide or new GM's Guide) the better :).
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Do you have any plans to complement the artwork as to not have to repeat images in a relatively short book such as yours (pages 34 and 35 for example; and 47)?

Cheers
 

xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
Do you have any plans to complement the artwork as to not have to repeat images in a relatively short book such as yours (pages 34 and 35 for example; and 47)?

No, not really. The book has already severely busted its art budget:
  • Book has 66 pages
  • 33 original illustrations were especially commissioned just for this book
  • 12 original illustrations were re-used from other Xoth Publishing books
  • 6 pieces of artwork (including variations and crops) are re-used on another page
  • The book is FREE
A relevant quote from Endzeitgeist's review of the (Pathfinder) version of the book:

"The artworks deserve special mention: I have RARELY seen a book with this many amazing original b/w-pieces. Big kudos! The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment... but then again... IT’S FREE. It's the single most lavishly-illustrated free file I have seen in YEARS. I mean it."

And that guy has seen a lot of books...! :)

PS. That said, if there are any up-and-coming artists who would like to contribute some cool sword & sorcery black and white artwork to this book, I'd be happy to include it!
 

CapnZapp

Legend
There are lots of physically powerful, albeit villainous, casters in S&S, so I'm not sure about this Real Men Don't Use Magic trope.
The "albeit villainous" part here is important.

We're not arguing there's anything wrong with the D&D spellcasting rules. Not in general, and not for use in your S&S games.

We are arguing however, they are not appropriate for player characters.

D&D magic is too clean, too functional. It works like a tool. It's reliable. There are no downsides.

For a villainous caster who has already sold her soul to dark powers, that's alright. The cost is presumed to already be paid (if nothing else by the fact she's "villainous"). There's no point in keeping records of exactly how far she's fallen. She's an evil NPC and that's enough.

But for a player character, we must rewind to before the falling-into-depravity part. Back when the cost was something you want to avoid paying. For a player character in a S&S setting magic needs to be at least one of the following things:
* unreliable
And I don't just simply mean a chance of failing to cast the spell (the gun jamming). I mean a risk of the magic hitting the wrong target, or having the wrong effect altogether. I'm talking things like it starts to rain dead frogs after your spell is cast.
* feared and distrusted
And I don't mean the natural fear of getting zapped. A man might fear a sword being used against him, but swords aren't feared and distrusted by themselves.
* corrupting you mind, body and/or soul

And to be honest, preferably all of them. But D&D magic is none of them.

There is no cost to using magic in D&D. While this is essential to supporting the standard trope of "fighter, rogue, wizard, cleric" that's completely antithetical to the Sword & Sorcery genre.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Exactly. As the title of this thread indicates, this book is about using the D&D fifth edition rules to play games inspired by swords and sorcery fiction.

If you don't think 5E is a good choice for S&S, then by all means use a different gaming system
Yeah well, that's not what I'm saying.

I'm saying 5th Edition can be a good choice for S&S. In many areas it is actually the best edition for S&S! It's just that you need to sacrifice the convenience of the regular spell framework. Actually I think you need to make far less intrusive changes than you might think. You do need to go further than just "no fireballs" though.

Instead of simply telling fans of the genre "this is as good as it gets, if you want more use a different system", I would be interested to discuss how to minimally tweak the D&D spell-casting rules to (much) better support S&S tropes (for player characters).
 

The section heading is called "Combat Is Deadly" and if it makes the "heroes" less secure about themselves I believe the rules tweak has worked as intended.
I agree with this. Vanilla 5e for me just doesn’t bring that dangerous vibe to the table. The optional instant death rule in Xoth does a good job of decoupling the mechanic from hp inflation, something which is aimed for by the standard high heroic 5e. S&S needs a darker more dangerous and exciting vibe where danger lurks even for high level hero’s.

To that end I’d like to suggest a couple of rule changes.

1. On a critical hit, inspiration can be spent to allow a roll on the system shock/massive damage table in the DMG.

2. If a target is surprised, incapacitated, unconscious, or paralysed and takes damage from a critical hit, they must roll a Con save with the DC equalling the rolled damage, on a failure fall to zero hit points.
The DC could be tweaked to 10, or half damage which ever is higher. This would mean that assassins would be dangerous even to high level opponents, and the rule would still work along side the existing assassins abilities. It’s also designed to allow non-rogues to attempt, all be it without the same competencies.

At higher levels in 5e the threat and drama can often be lost in supposedly dangerous encounters. The system shock rules in the DMG have some colourful damage results and are triggered on loosing half your hit points on a one-shot. Decoupling them from the half hit-point wound threshold as I’ve suggested above makes them effective at all levels in the game, much as you have done with the instant death rule.

The One-shot take down rule is another device to create drama at all levels. 5e has the safety net of the death saves so the coupling of these two rules can help create drama but at the same time give players a chance for a comeback.


The other alternative to spending inspiration on a critical, is to allow max damage on critical hits to trigger the system shock rule. Both approaches also allow low damage weapons like knives to be deadly in the right circumstances, something the wound threshold can’t do at high levels.

Actually you could use both inspiration and max damage approaches with criticals in the game to trigger a roll on the DMG system shock table.
 
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I agree with this. Vanilla 5e for me just doesn’t bring that dangerous vibe to the table. The optional instant death rule in Xoth does a good job of decoupling the mechanic from hp inflation, something which is aimed for by the standard high heroic 5e. S&S needs a darker more dangerous and exciting vibe where danger lurks even for high level hero’s.

To that end I’d like to suggest a couple of rule changes.

1. On a critical hit, inspiration can be spent to allow a roll on the system shock/massive damage table in the DMG.

2. If a target is surprised, incapacitated, unconscious, or paralysed and takes damage from a critical hit, they must roll a Con save with the DC equalling the rolled damage, on a failure fall to zero hit points.
The DC could be tweaked to 10, or half damage which ever is higher. This would mean that assassins would be dangerous even to high level opponents, and the rule would still work along side the existing assassins abilities.

At higher levels in 5e the threat and drama can often be lost in supposedly dangerous encounters. The system shock rules in the DMG have some colourful damage results and are triggered on loosing half your hit points on a one-shot. Decoupling them from the half hit-point wound threshold as I’ve suggested above makes them effective at all levels in the game, much as you have done with the instant death rule.

The One-shot take down rule is another device to create drama at all levels. 5e has the safety net of the death saves so the coupling of these two rules can help create drama but at the same time give players a chance for a comeback.


The other alternative to spending inspiration on a critical, is to allow max damage on critical hits to trigger the system shock rule. Both approaches also allow low damage weapons like knives to be deadly in the right circumstances, something the wound threshold can’t do at high levels.

Actually you could use both inspiration and max damage approaches with criticals in the game to trigger a roll on the DMG system shock table.

If you wanted to give some heroic scaling options to a death save/Con save you could add the proficiency bonus to the save roll . It remains dangerous, but models the hero’s improved chances of surviving.

As well as inspired critical's, inspiration could also be allowed to pass a con save where there’s a chance of death through failure. Expands the uses of inspiration in the game to model the hero’s special status, all the while keeping that feeling of threat and danger in an S&S game.

Perhaps allow the possibility of inspiration stacking to 3 max?
 
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CapnZapp

Legend
The optional instant death rule in Xoth does a good job of decoupling the mechanic from hp inflation, something which is aimed for by the standard high heroic 5e. S&S needs a darker more dangerous and exciting vibe where danger lurks even for high level hero’s.
Unfortunately, no it doesn't.

What the rule does, as opposed to what you want it to do, can be illustrated by battery icons.
battery_icon_1572534797.png

This is what you'd expect from "decoupling the mechanic from hp inflation". A fairly consistent danger of instant death irrespective of level or health.
battery_icon_2.png

This is what you actually get. When you're reasonably far removed from the risk of a single hit (or quick succession of hits) bringing you down to -15 hp or thereabouts, there is zero danger of instant death. On the other hand, the last 20 hp or so are near useless, since continuing to fight when very low on health only exposes you to instant death.

PS. This is the rule from the 1.7 version:
Instant Death: Several variations on massive damage thresholds and results are possible. A possible starting point is that a character’s massive damage threshold is equal to his current Constitution score plus his character level. When damage reduces the character to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, the character dies if the remaining damage equals or exceeds the massive damage threshold.
For example, a 6th-level character with a Constitution of 13 is killed if an attack would reduce him to –19 hp or less.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
The first question to ask is: what is any instant death rule hoping to achieve?

The answer would be: to add danger to every combat - to remove the game from "routine" combats where there is practically no risk. (And the reason for this would be to have players hesitate to solve problems with combat).

But is this really appropriate for S&S?

I would argue, no, it isn't. It might be appropriate for a low fantasy game such as Warhammer. But S&S is not that genre!

I'll circle back to this later in this post. Let's now instead examine the printed motivation of the player's guide:
In sword and sorcery stories, the protagonists regularly kill their foes with a single well-placed hit. Altering the instant death rule makes it possible to simulate such scenes. But it also makes combat much more deadly for the player characters!
But the instant death rule as given adds nearly zero insta-kill chance, once characters are off the very lowest levels. All it does is add a considerable risk of not just dropping unconscious from losing all your hp, but never waking up again. While that is a worthwhile goal in itself (and indeed is strived for by many rules systems), it is arguably not appropriate for S&S games (as opposed to novels), and it is not what the stated design intent says.

I would argue the way to achieve the stated design goals would instead to feature a constant small probability of "killing blow" to every attack. For instance, make a Fortitude save after each time you've been hit by a large attack (where "large" is defined by your constitution and level). But of course that's just loads of more rolling. There already exists a suitable criteria: critical hits.

A more functional instant rule would say:
Instant Death: A character dies when the enemy scores a critical hit where the weapon die scores great damage.
For daggers and other d4 weapons: when a 4 is rolled. (25% of all crits)
For short swords and other d6 weapons: when a 5 or 6 is rolled. (33% of all crits)
For long swords and other d8 weapons: when a 6, 7 or 8 is rolled. (37.5% of all crits)
For halberds and other d10 weapons, when a 7, 8, 9 or 10 is rolled. (40% of all crits)
For greataxes and other d12 weapons, when a 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 is rolled. (41.6% of all crits)

For ease of use, write down the needed instant death damage die result on your character sheet. For example, if you wield a battleaxe in two hands (a d10 weapon in that configuration), you'd note "Instant death: 7+" on your character sheet to remind you any critical scoring a 7 or better would kill your opponent.

For example, a character is killed if an attack with a battleaxe scores a critical and rolls a 6 on the weapon die. His level doesn't matter.
This would be a rule in line with its design intent.

---

That said, the overarching question remains: is really instant death appropriate for a S&S game?

I would argue that no, it isn't. During any D&D campaign (S&S themed or no) player characters have many many combats. There really is no way to avoid them, and indeed, D&D is predicated on the assumption that combat is an exciting reward and centrepiece of any campaign, not some very risky business best avoided.

So I would suggest instant death should only apply to non-notable NPCs. Mooks.

But there already exists a sufficient mechanism to distinguish NPCs from heroes - the basic fact that (most) NPCs are simply considered dead at 0 hp and removed from play.

I would highly recommend that the thinking behind instant death ideas are instead redirected towards magic use. I would argue "constant risk of usage" is much more thematic and appropriate for the Sorcery halve of Sword & Sorcery.
 
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xoth.publishing

Swords against tentacles!
That said, the overarching question remains: is really instant death appropriate for a S&S game?
I think you have a good point, and I'm really on the fence myself about this rule. There's even a sentence in the Player's Guide (that you left out when you quoted the rest of the paragraph) that explicitly calls out that this is up for discussion:

"GMs should discuss with their players before adding this rule, to agree on the specifics."

And personally, in my own games, I don't use the Instant Death rule. (For some additional house rules that are not - yet? - in the Player's Guide, see The World of Xoth » Blog Archive » By these (5E) rules I axe! and feel free to comment on those as well...)

Looking forward to hearing any ideas you may have on making magic more dangerous/unpredictable for spellcasters... without making spellcasting PCs totally unplayable.
 

I would argue the way to achieve the stated design goals would instead to feature a constant small probability of "killing blow" to every attack.
To an extent I agree. Yes, this is what my post was largely concerning.

5e has an existing optional rule that does this already. It’s the massive damage/system shock rule in the DMG.
My feeling is though that the trigger for that rule (sustaining damage equal to half hp Max from one source), is too dangerous at early levels, and too high at later levels.

Wound thresholds are problematic in D&D if you want a rule that works equally for low level and high level opponents. If are you’re looking for that zero to super hero curve go with the DMG half-hitpoints rule. But if you want something that will work across the board then you need to decouple it from a proportion of hit-points, which is what I suggested in my previous post.

There are enough safety mechanisms in 5e, to still allow for the heroic bounce back. Death saves are a pretty strong safety net, but there isn't nearly enough feeling of danger and excitement that I’d expect from an S&S game. D&D does high heroic well but S&S should have more of an edge to it. Heroics yes, but also some unpredictability and dark threat. Without greater threat, that dark S&S atmosphere is much more difficult to achieve.

I agree that magic should also be focused on in this regard, but I’ve yet to properly digest the existing possibilities in the rules, and where and if changes need to be made.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
To an extent I agree. Yes, this is what my post was largely concerning.

5e has an existing optional rule that does this already. It’s the massive damage/system shock rule in the DMG.
Except, again, it really doesn't. :)

What I mean is that while you might characterize this rule as "it does this already"... you need to suffix that by "though pretty badly".

In fact, it does this so badly I feel it's better to just say it does not do it.

My feeling is though that the trigger for that rule (sustaining damage equal to half hp Max from one source), is too dangerous at early levels, and too high at later levels.
And this is precisely the reason.

Any instant death rule designer needs to first learn the expected damage for various levels. These values do not correspond to PC hit point totals - they follow their own curve, and this curve is the relevant one, not how many hp the character has!

But again I submit this is a smokescreen. Why focus on numbers at all?

Contrast to my suggested variant (above). It is borne out of the realization the exact numbers don't matter!
It decouples the probability from your hit points. It adds zero new die rolls. All you need to keep track of is your weapon's instant death number. When you score a critical, just look at the damage die. If it's big enough, just remove that monster and describe its death however you like.

Monsters deal little damage at low level and lots of damage at high level. So? We're trying to implement a probability of inflicting a killing blow that stays pretty much the same at all levels! The fact it's too risky at low level and not risky at all at high level is a consistent criticism against all these printed variants, so why not drop the simulationist pretense altogether?!

Sure you might want to achieve the effect that a relatively low level enemy should have a lower chance than a BBEG (higher level than you). But that level of fine-tuning might be appropriate for a complex game such as Pathfinder 2. Not 5th Edition.

Anyway I digress. I think S&S games like Xoth should have no instant death rules at all. This is more a theoretical post on how to implement it where appropriate.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I think you have a good point, and I'm really on the fence myself about this rule. There's even a sentence in the Player's Guide (that you left out when you quoted the rest of the paragraph) that explicitly calls out that this is up for discussion:

"GMs should discuss with their players before adding this rule, to agree on the specifics."
Sure.

Except you're the designer :)

I believe a game is better off with its writers making bold decisions. The argument "but I only included it with a disclaimer it's up to the GM" is a poor one, I'm afraid. (A book doesn't need to say GMs are "allowed" to include or exclude individual rules - that's a given!) Cut on-the-fence quality rules altogether, is my sincere recommendation.

If you feel the book should not simply be silent on the subject of instant death (perhaps you believe that many S&S gamers are also low fantasy gamers), I honestly feel it would be better to simply remind interested players the DMG offers an official variant. Coming up with a Xoth-specific implementation puts emphasis on the idea it doesn't deserve, imo. (As evidenced by us talking about it!)

Cheers
 

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