Monday, October 26, 2015

Fendojon Part 3: Magic and Stuff

Magic is going to be the big thing that acts a bit differently in this campaign. It will diverge quite a bit from the magic stuff in the PHB. So we're going to outline a few things about magic and how it works in Fendojon and some of the changes to magic in general and the classes that will use it.

The magic of Fendojon stems from the Numen, their very presence fills the continent with their energies. Over time humans have learned to sense and control this energy with their willpower. Spellcasters learn to sense and detect this energy and latch onto it with their wills and shape it into a specific desired effect. Unlike other areas of Hekinoe, the magic of Fendojon does not cause misfires, physical mutations, or lead to exploding magic items. 

Magic can do many things, but there are several things it cannot do. Period. Regardless of caster level and ability scores. There are no planes, so it cannot be used to travel to other planes or contact creatures from other planes. Since there are no other planes, it cannot summon creatures or objects from other planes. It cannot bring back the dead or create undead. There are no gods on Hekinoe or in my campaign universe (though there are extremely powerful supernatural entities), so it cannot do anything involving holy power or contacting a deity. It also cannot create life. This last part is relevant because in the Pathfinder and GURPS versions of Hekinoe summoning type spells did not actually summon planar creatures, they used sorcerous energy to create living creatures made of magic. The magic of Fendojon cannot do this.

The magic of Fendojon is also impermanent. It doesn't wear out or run out, it just returns to the grand mass of magical energy that suffuses Fendojon. The maximum limit on how long a spell will last in Fendojon is equal to the caster's Wisdom modifier. So mage armor can still last up to eight hours, but imprisonment, even though its normal duration is until dispelled, cannot last longer than a number of days equal to its caster's Wisdom modifier. This obviously limits the usefulness of some spells. This also means that spells that can be made permanent through repeated castings, like guards and wards, cannot be made permanent. 

Because using magic is not a learned skill and relies entirely on a caster's ability to control and shape magic with their willpower, all spellcasting is done via Wisdom, not Intelligence or Charisma. So any time a Wizard would normally use his Intelligence modifier, he instead uses his Wisdom modifier. The same goes for Bards, Eldritch Knights, Arcane Tricksters, feats that grant spellcasting ability, and so on. 

One of the very very major changes to magic is that all spells, except those that do something magic cannot do (animate dead, commune, raise dead, plane shift, etc, etc, etc) are available to all casters. So Wizards can use cure wounds, Bards can use fireball, and Druids can use eldritch blast if they want to. Bards, Druids, and Wizards will all still have a variation of spells known and spellbooks, but this mechanic will represent a focus of theirs, rather than the sum of their abilities. They may actually all end up with a spellbook mechanic like the Wizards for the sake of simplicity on my end. Dunno yet. We'll see.

This spellbook/preparation/known spells mechanic is going to represent a kind of mental muscle memory. You train your body to automatically do something a certain way. This known/preparation mechanic represents magical castings that are so second nature to the caster that they require little to no effort on their part to cast properly. So what happens when a caster goes outside of their known/prepared spells? The first thing is that they lose their proficiency bonus on the DC and attack rolls of the spell (assuming the spell has such mechanics). The second thing is that the spell costs them more spell points. One step higher in cost specifically, so a first level spell a caster is unfamiliar with would cost as much as a second level spell. A first level unfamiliar spell augmented to third level would cost as many spell points as a fourth level spell, and unfamiliar cantrip would cost as much as a 1st level, etc, etc. This is somewhat limiting. Since your level limits the level of spells you cast, the increased level/cost of unknown/unprepared spells will delay your ability to cast certain spells if they are not spells you're familiar with. Don't worry. This will be explained more intuitively in documentation for this campaign. 

The mechanic I'm going to utilize instead of spellbooks and spells known/prepared is going to be Wisdom based. You'll start off "knowing" spells equal to your Wisdom modifier plus your proficiency bonus. So casters won't "know" a lot of spells, but they'll be able to use all of them on the fly, albeit at reduced efficiency. In addition to this, all spellcasters will be able to cast detect and dispel magic at will as if they were one of their "known" spells. I may institute certain specialties allowing spellcasters to add more spells to their "known" list. Like Wizard (Transmuter) adding transmutation spells or a Fighter (Eldritch Knight) adding abjuration spells. We'll see.

Fyi, I'm considering instituting something like mental fatigue for when you spend most or all of your spell points. It's actually extremely likely. Spell points do not represent a spellcaster expending his own internal magical energies to cast spells. It represents his skill in drawing and directing larger amounts of magical energy from the magic suffusing Fendojon. What he's really expending to cast spells is his mental energy and strength of will. When he runs out of spell points, it's too hard for him to focus his will, similar to how workout nuts are exhausted after they go into beast mode on leg day. 

The next relatively major change is that spells do not require verbal, somatic, or material components in Fendojon. This may seem somewhat overpowered, but it's a universal change not limited to just characters. If a spell requires you to interact with the world or your target in some way, like touching them or spitting at them or screaming at them, that is unchanged, so having your hands bound or being mute may still be relevant.

The magic of Fendojon is flavored by the thoughts, emotions, and personality of their wielder. Their spells are flavored with this as well and they develop and aura that can be sensed by other casters. So the spells of a very stoic and reserved caster of earth magic will feel like silence shrouded in wall of stone. A very disciplined, but passionate, caster of earth magic might have an aura that feels like the heat of lava at the heart of a long dormant volcano. Because all spellcasters are able to sense and direct this magical energy, they can sense these auras innately and have advantage on all Wisdom (Insight) and Wisdom (Perception) ability checks against spellcasters, the same goes for magical creatures and plants, but that would fall under Wisdom (Animal Handling) and Intelligence (Nature) instead of Wisdom (Insight). This does have the added effect of adding a signature of sorts to a spellcaster's spells, which makes it potentially easier to identify who did what to whom with magic.

Magic items will also operate a little bit differently as well due to the nature of magic on Fendojon. Due to the sheer amount of magic on Fendojon, they will be cheaper and more common. However, permanent items will be something of a pain in the butt to use. As I said, the magic of Fendojon is not permanent, so eventually the magic of enchanted items leaks back out into the world. Magical items with normally permanent effects purchased in stores will automatically have five days of charge left, those looted from fallen foes or stolen from random passersby will have 1d4+1 days of charge left, while those looted from long derelict tombs and such will be empty. An empty magical item will have an aura left on it as easily detected as that of a normal magical item, so discovering magic items won't be terribly difficult. This aura, an echo of the item's enchantment, just needs to be topped off with a Wisdom + proficiency bonus check with a DC dependent upon the item's rarity: 12 for common magical items, 14 for uncommon, 16 for rare, 18 for very rare, and 20 for legendary. The spellcaster also needs to spend spell points equal to a spell of a certain level to recharge the item: 1st level for common magical items, 3rd level for uncommon, 5th level for rare, 7th for very rare, and 9th for legendary.

Alright, so I think I've covered the majority of the issues regarding magic in Fendojon. It's still all broad strokes and rough ideas at this time, so it's not really juicy mechanics and stuff, but that will appear at a later date. Probably. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fendojon Part 2: Character Creation and Classes

So the next step is to talk a little about character creation and such.

I have a strong fondness for everyone starting out the same, so as has been typical for many of my campaigns, this one will use the point buy system for ability scores. Additionally, normally a character's ability scores cap at 20. I don't like that. If a race is innately stronger or faster than humans, which are the baseline, they should have a higher cap on that particular ability. So I'm going to rule that the cap on ability score is 22 if a race has a bonus on that ability score. So a human that puts one of his +1s towards Strength will have a max of 22 in Strength.

Because of my love of equality, everyone will use static hit point gains modified by their Constitution score as they level up.

I like the backgrounds of 5th Edition. It's a really neat way of tying RP and character story into the process of character creation. I think they're a little limited though, so I may expand on some of them a bit. We'll see. Part of me also wants to institute a flaw system similar to what I did in my Pathfinder campaign. Something along the lines of if you take a flaw, you gain proficiency in one weapon, one armor, one skill, or one tool. If you take a two flaws, you may gain a feat at first level. I'm not sure. With the main race being human, giving out extra proficiency options and feats may be overkill. I'm not sure. We'll see. If I do end up instituting a flaw system if will follow the design guidelines of previous editions: flaws impart a penalty that cannot be overcome simply by taking a feat. For instance, in 3.5 there were flaws that gave a -3 to your saving throws, or maybe it was -4. I forget. Regardless, you couldn't just solve the penalty by taking Iron Will or the other two feats to bump saving throws because they only offered a +2.

Leveling will session/story based advancement. The more goals the players have and the more of them that they achieve, the more leveling they do. The caveat to that is that there must be an element to a challenge that they overcome. If there is no element of risk and no expenditure of their resources, they don't advance as quickly. This doesn't mean they don't find loot or gain other rewards for the time they spend doing stuff, it just means they're not really learning enough from their challenges to justify the sometimes sizable power increases that come from leveling up.

Classes will need a bit of modification. Since this is primarily a faux-European setting, Monks have no real place among the classes, so they are unfortunately out unless a player can significantly reflavor them through an explanation of their background. Monks are way too magical and unique and eastern martial artist flavored to be justified by saying your character just likes punching things. If someone really likes the concept of punching dudes into submission, I can happily create a brawler type archetype for Fighters or Barbarians.

Since there are no gods in this campaign, Cleric and Paladin are obviously out. Neither can be reflavored sufficiently to divorce them from the core concept of them being enslaved to deities. Rangers will remain an option, but they'll do so without spells. I have mixed thoughts about Druids, but they are likely to remain with a bit of reflavoring and modified mechanics to make them more Wizard-like. Bards are likely to be removed. Sorcerers will be completely removed, as there are no races that are innately magical due to some magical creature being an ancestor.

The Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster archetypes will need to be reworked a bit to more resemble the Wizard class. Right now they work more like Sorcerers with limited amounts of spells known and no spellbooks and that sort of thing. If I keep the Druid and the Bard, they'll need to have similar changes made to them. If I do keep the Bard and Druid, they'll be more akin to specialty Wizards than anything else. If I could conceive of a way to condense them both down into Wizard archetypes, I would, but I'm not sure that is feasible.

Warlock is a class that at one time existed, the Sorcerer Kings were actually Warlocks. But there are currently no Warlocks on Fendojon. Characters are not banned from taking levels in such a class, but they will need to first find one of the Numen and enter into a pact with them for power before they can do so, so it will be more of a mid to late game class than a starting class. It will also have been modified to be the most powerful magic using class in the game. Hehe.

I also intend on using the spell point system outlined in the DMG for magic using classes, rather than the standard spell slot system found in the DMG.

The class that will be most significantly altered will be the Wizard. But I'll elaborate on that in the near future when I talk about magic a little bit more in depth.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fendojon Part 1: Races and Broad Strokes

Last week (was it last week?) I spoke about some rough ideas I had for a campaign with my 5th Edition group. I'd like to continue that with some more ideas. They may be a little different than some of the things I spoke of last week here on the blog. At one point I had a name I like for this campaign/continent, but then I forgot it. The new name is Fendojon (fend-oh-jon). Like many of the things in my campaign world, the name has meaning. Raise your hand if you remember why Hekinoe is called Hekinoe. Forget? Never knew? It's because the folder I was originally throwing things into on my computer as I was building this campaign world was called Heck If I Know. Moving along.

The history of this little continent gets interesting around what those of us from The Known World would call 8000 DK. At this time, Fendojon would be around late Stone Age/early Bronze Age level societies. It's a relatively small and flat continent almost cut in half by a large mountain range. There are forests and lakes and rivers and so on. The main races of this time are the Humans and the Buillon. At this time there is no magic whatsoever in Fendojon.

At this point I'm going to switch away from the 8000 DK (8000 years since the destruction of Kalesmar) time stamp and switch to the 0 CN (0 years since the coming of the Numen) time stamp. This is because at 0 SK the Sorcerer Kings come to Fendojon. Legends speak of great upheaval across the land, but centered mostly in the northeast of the continent. A decades long summer heat scorches the land into desert and wasteland, the earth cracks, lava surges up from the ground to form sharp edged mountains in the northeast. During this time tribes of Buillon and Humans flee to the southwest through the mountains in the middle of the continent.

With them they bring tales of the nine Numen kings and their iron keeps, their twenty-seven lords and ladies, and their eighteen knights. They collect and share these tales and form a tapestry of words about a mythic time of immortal creatures, mighty iron fortresses, and powers that twist and warp the landscape and elements. The Buillon and the various human tribes settle in the southwest chunk of the continent, expand, and proliferate. Eventually the nine Sorcerer Kings become known: Rakios Blackheart, Sokenvel Oakbow, Vargath Firetusk, Kelliel of the Bloody Grin, Quickhatch,Yellow Eyed Skathis, Blacktooth the Thirsty, Calien the Weeper, and Howling Strigi.

Over several hundred years everything settles the fuck down on Fendojon and the Human and Buillon tribes shape themselves into kingdoms and inch into the iron age while all the craziness settles down in the northwest. Over the next few hundred years the northwest seems to reshape itself into something similar to what it used to look like, mostly flat, forests, planes, rivers, lakes, no crazy volcanic formations, etc. The nine Numen remain remote and unapproachable but their knights, lords, and ladies make their presence known, as does their magic. The magic of the Numen seems to flow out across the landscape. It reshapes it, soaks into plants and animals and people.

It gets really really bad. It's hard to cut down a forest that is encroaching on your village if that forest is the most powerful Druid on the continent. A pack of super big wolves whose howls can shatter the earth with sonic force can't be fought. Anyway. The land ends up getting blanketed in magical energy and it looks like everything but the Buillon and Humans can use it. It gets really hard to survive in this supernaturally fecund continent. Pacts are made. Eighteen of the most powerful human tribal leaders make overtures of fealty and loyalty to the Numen and their agents. They become the Sorcerer Kings and build mighty keeps of iron and stone in the mountains bisecting he continent. With the power of the Numen infusing them, they eventually found ways to confine all this magical energy to the northeastern portion of Fendojon with artifacts called Iron Obelisks. This spikes drew the magical energy of the Numen up into the mountains, decreasing the amount that flowed into the the southwestern portion of the continent.

We fast forward to 2000 CN. The Sorcerer Kings have been long dead, their keeps abandoned and empty. The Numen still remain remote, the lords and ladies less so, and the knights less so. The northeast portion of the continent is a wild place of storms and violently magical energies and creatures.

In the southwest we have four human kingdoms, one major Buillon kingdom. In the inhospitable mountains in between we have ancient keeps full of magic and loot. We've reached Medieval Age technology and whatnot. Humans have developed the ability to interact with and command the magical energy that leaks into the southwest. Buillon have been found to be completely unable to do so. This is about races, so lets discuss races.

Humans in his campaign will all use the variant human from the PHB. They gain a feat, a skill proficiency, and +1 to two different ability scores. I may decide that one of those ability bonus will depend on the nation they are affiliated with. So like the warrior culture nation has one as a +1 Strength bonus, the educated nation has one of them as a +1 to Intelligence, etc. The broad strokes for the nations are a warrior culture nation, a rich merchant nation, a freedom loving border nation back right up against the middle mountains, and a magocracy type nation. The Buillon are going to be Goliaths, but replace their natural athlete, stone's endurance, and mountain born racial traits with advantage on all saving throws vs. magic. They are also completely unable to use magic. Like they can carry and wield magic items that don't require magical ability to use, but they can't ever cast spells or use magical abilities like a Druid's ability to shapeshift. I guess they could take levels in those classes, but it seems like it would be rather on the stupid side to do so.

So that's some rough outlines of the races and a little bit of historical set up for this campaign setting. I'll probably continue with some other stuff on the blog here to help me organize my thoughts. We'll see.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Running Campaigns

One of the things I do is game every other Saturday with some guys that I know through a guy through work. At this point I consider them friends, so I game with a group of friends every other Saturday. We currently play 5th Edition DnD. There are two DMs in this group: Kyle and Kevin. They've both run a few campaigns and one shots and such in the time I've been gaming with them, which is probably approaching a year or so now. With the crashing and burning of my Pathfinder campaign, I've been kind of wanting to show my appreciation for them by DMing something for the group. Kind of give them both a break and get myself back into the role of running games. Something relatively short, definitely not a three year long campaign, but something more than a one shot or multi-session dungeon.

I also want to run it as a sort of palette cleanser after the Pathfinder campaign. Not because it left a bad taste in my mouth. I liked that campaign and am curious how it would have all ended (which is now up to Eric to decide). What I mean is that I've been running campaigns for the same group of friends, for the most part, for 21 years and ran a campaign for three years with guys who were adjacent to that group of friends. Shawn was part of that original group and he introduced me to Lance, who introduced me to Jason, who introduced me to Cary. I've grown accustomed to these guys and their friends and their various idiosyncrasies. I feel like it would be beneficial for me as a GM to run things for a different group of people. A group of people that grew up on different games and versions of DnD than we did. Doing the same things over and over again and running games geared towards the same set of expectations and whatnot leads to stagnation. Because of the my experience as a GM and because of my experience with my core group of players, I've very rarely had to plan any alternative routes for task completion in my scenarios over the past three years. I almost instinctively know what they're going to do, how to get them to do what I want, and what is going to interest and bore them. This isn't a criticism of any of us. We're all just accustomed to each other's tastes and quirks. For the most part.

This is more about me expanding my horizons and seeing what other people have to say about me as a GM and what they have to say about Hekinoe. I dunno. These guys are cool. I think it'd be fun to plop them down in Hekinoe and see what they do with it. So I've decided to do this. The first step is figuring out what I want to do. The first step of that is determining system.

My heart always flies like an arrow to GURPS for representing Hekinoe, but that's not exactly ethical in my opinion. I don't really feel right demanding they all buy new books and stuff, especially when both of the core GURPS books are fifty bucks each. I also don't really feel right giving them all free pdfs because I like GURPS and want to support the game. Anyway, long story short: I've opted to go with 5th Edition for this campaign, but significantly modified. As I've said many a time before, various versions of DnD don't really work with Hekinoe, also DnD is stupid.

So the main point of this post is to establish how much I need to modify 5th Edition to fit it into Hekinoe. Just like other 3.X Edition versions of Hekinoe, some things will get handwaved because game. I want to tweak it to make it fit, but I don't really want to overdo it. So we need to first establish a little bit about this continent I plan on setting this campaign on and how it different from The Known World and go from there into modification of rules and mechanics.

The first difference is that it will have its own set of races, and there will only be four races. The Buillon, the Gobeneru, the Halflings, and Humans. The Gobeneru are of the Goebleen/Ethryll/Hulderfolk lineage and Humans will be the same type of stock as Uncout, so there will be some familiar/common races. The second difference is that magic is more stable and does not cause mutations and magic items don't eventually explode when used. However, magic is also weaker. Because background, this continent will have the lowest risk of misfire of any of the continents in Hekinoe. The third difference is that the tech level of this continent is more along the lines of normal DnD, rather than the Wild West era technology of The Known World or the Iron Age era technology of Orcunraytrel. Steel is a thing, but guns and steam engines are not. This continent also has no Elduman, so there are no psionics on it.

So how is this continent different from DnD? This question kind of shows what the necessary modifications to 5th Edition's rules will be. This will keep me from going hog wild and doing things like converting armor to damage reduction, making massive reductions in hit points to everything, etc, etc, etc. There will be plenty of modifications. No need to add more nonsense onto what has to be there. There's a fine line between needing to modify a system and needing to use a completely different system. If I just end up hacking apart 5th Edition to be more GURPS like, rather than to fit Hekinoe, it might be more appropriate to use GURPS in the first place.

Anyway, Hekinoe is different from the core DnD world described in the Player's Handbook. Let's talk about that.

Races. Hekinoe has no Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, etc, etc, etc. It's all my own races. You could, like Lance, be an idiot and say that the Sereth and Vyanth are just Elves because pointed ears (nevermind that they're actually an offshoot of Uncout, but whatever) or that Greenskin Abraxens are Orcs, but that's not true. Some of the races of Hekinoe resemble common DnD races, and that may be intentional on my part, but they are not those races. What this means is that I need to stat up the Buillon, Gobeneru, Halflings, and Humans. Not too difficult. It's actually be pretty easy to make them work, Buillon will be a modified Goliath race, Gobeneru will be a modified Halfling or Goblin race, Humans will be Humans. Halflings will actually be something I have to write up from scratch.

No gods. Hekinoe has a decent share of powerful supernatural entities. Primarily members of the Nel race, but there are others. However, these are not gods in the traditional sense. Gods, in DnD, are creatures powered by the faith of their followers, they have ideologies they want followed, they exist on planes that are fairly mutable to their whims, and command legions of planar entities like angels or demons. They are also to a certain extent omnipotent and omniscient, at least in areas related directly to their followers and their areas of control. The supernatural entities of Hekinoe have none of these capabilities. It may seem like they do, but they do not. This means Cleric, Druid, and Paladin are outright gone from the class options. Ranger may stay, but will lose its spellcasting abilities. Can't have divine magic without divine creatures to give the characters magic.

No planes. Hekinoe has no planar cosmology. The only plane is the real world. This means several things. Spells involving planar travel need to be modified or removed. Spells that pull things from other planes need to be altered or removed. Creatures native to other planes, such as angels and demons, do not exist in Hekinoe. There are small sort of demiplanes that I for some reason decided to call adjacent realms, places like The Shadowwlands, the Hound's midnight forest, Nel holdings, and various little sorcerous apartment complexes built by various hermit beard wearing Wizards. Mostly this amounts to some spell alteration and a little bit of outright removal.

Magic. Magic is going to be a big sticking point and will require heavy modification. In Hekinoe there are three types of magic type stuff: magic, the psionics of the Elduman, and the Gifts of the Nel. Each of them have their own unique rules. The two present in this 5th Edition campaign will be magic and Gifts. Magic in Hekinoe is an external energy source that spellcasters shape through symbolic incantations, gestures, and raw willpower. It's a large and chaotic energy source separated from, but always seeking entry into, the physical world. I've described sorcerous energy as an endless sea of power shaped like a funnel with a magic user at the bottom of the funnel. Gifts are an internal energy source, they're the lifeforce of a Nel. Both are powerful, but both have some a variety of limitations and restrictions on their use.

In DnD, magic is an internal force, otherwise the Wizard ability known as arcane replenishment could not exist. How else could you replenish arcane energy to restore spell slots if it didn't come from within you? It's also an external energy source? Or something. It's super dumb. None of the rules about magic mean anything in DnD. How do Clerics gain more spells per day if they don't do stuff that furthers their deity's goals or rise in their church hierarchy if the power comes from their god and not them? Clerics, as non divine beings, have no divine energy. It comes from elsewhere. Their level and ability scores should have no impact on their spells, as all that power comes from their god. Anyway.

Basically we have three magic classes: Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. Warlocks make pacts with Nel for power, Sorcerer's can only be the Halfling race because they use Gifts from an ancestor who was invested with Gifts by a Nel, and Wizards cast spells using the ambient magical energy from the world around them. The first problem here is casting ability scores. Warlocks use Charisma, and they get their power from a patron they persuade or make a deal with to gain it, so Charisma is fine for them. Since Sorcerer's use internal magic energy that is at least partially their lifeforce, they use Constitution instead of Charisma (which is idiotic even in normal DnD). Wizards do learn certain forms of spells and incantations, but spellcasting in Hekinoe is more about forcing the energy of magic into a certain shape with your willpower, so Wizards use Wisdom instead of Intelligence.

Because there are no Old Ones, demons, or fey in Hekinoe, Warlocks will need a different set of pacts and stuff. Since magic is much less narrowly focused in Hekinoe than in DnD, we'll need to modify spell lists to incorporate all the spells that don't directly reference divine might into the spell selections for the classes. The spells that directly reference divine might will need to go or be altered to fit the Warlock list. Because Sorcerers have bloodlines and traits related to their ancestors who were shaped by the Nel that gave them power, we'll need a different set of sorcerous origins for sorcerers. Wizards will also need some specialty options for Druid and Bard type stuff to go along with their options for specialty school. 

So that's kind of the broad strokes about what I'll need to be doing for this 5th Edition campaign. I may or may not get into the mechanical modifications to magic on the blog here. We'll see. 

Friday, October 2, 2015


For those of you that don't know, I currently play in a Shadowrun campaign run by Lance every other Monday night (usually). Shadowrun is a cyberpunk RPG set in 2070. I am a big fan of the cyberpunk genre. When I say cyberpunk, I mean the actual meaning of the word. Characters that are typically working in the shadows or outside the bounds of normal society struggling against a dystopian government or mainstream culture and featuring things like cybernetics and hacking. In the case of Shadowrun, you're shadowrunners, mercenaries with no identities doing espionage for or against the big corporations that refuse to become wageslaves. Shadowrun is special because it injects fantasy into this genre. So you have megacorps being owned by dragons and a crew of shadowrunners composed of magic wielding elves, chromed out trolls, physical adept (magic using monk types) dwarves, as well as hackers and drone users of various races, and so on. It kind of seems a little kitchen sink-like, but it works.

Shadowrun has been around for a while. The first edition came out in 1989. Lance and I and our group play the 5th Edition of the game that came out in 2013. There have been several video games as well. The current crop (Shadowrun Returns, Dragonfall, and Hong Kong are quite good. There's also Boston Lockdown, but I can't speak to its quality. So it's not DnD with a pedigree going back to the seventies, but it has been around a while. I've gotten my hands on copies of previous editions, but only for the purposes of the lore, so in this post if I refer to mechanics I am speaking only of the 5th Edition of the game.

The game is a skill based classless system similar to GURPS in that you invest far more time in character creation than you do in leveling and your increase in abilities is rather slow and it is skill based and classless and has positive and negative qualities you can add to your character for a points cost. The main mechanic is rolling d6s attempting to achieve a certain number of hits to be considered a success (opening a lock) or meeting or exceeding an opposed roll's number of hits (attacking an enemy and comparing your roll with their defense roll). Hits are a result of 5 or 6 on the d6s. The number of d6s you roll is determined by your skill level, relevant attribute, and gear or qualities you may have that augment it. Your characters and some gear (mainly weapons) also have inherent limits to them. When attacking, your number of hits can't exceed a weapon's accuracy. Certain skills and such can't exceed your physical limit (a calculation based on your physical attributes), mental limit (based on mental attributes), or your social limit (your social attributes). Your attributes are Agility, Body, Strength, Logic, Intuition, Reaction, Willpower, Charisma, Magic, Essence, Edge, and Initiative.

The first thing I want to say is that I have been enjoying playing it with Lance and his associates. Good people and Lance is a good GM. The second thing I want to say is that this system is one of the clunkiest most unnecessarily over complicated rulesets I have encountered in my primarily d20 system focused gaming history. This, coupled with the third thing I want to say, makes it a very frustrating game to play. Oh. The third thing. The rulebooks are some of the most poorly designed I have every fucking encountered in terms of layout, rules clarity, and the separation of background material and rules.

I'm not going to speak about my dislikes of the system, as they could just as easily be my personal likes and dislikes and my d20 system Stockholming coming to the fore, but I would like to talk about a few things I like about the system.

The first is the concept of Essence is it relates to social interaction and cybernetics. Essence is part of the calculation of your social limit. Did I say that already? It tends to stay at 6 or go down and it represents your metahumanity. It's also tied to your Magic attribute, if you have one. One of the primary things that decreases essence is chrome, cyberware. There are high quality versions of cyberware that reduce it less, and there is bioware as well which tends to reduce essence by a smaller amount than its cybernetic equivalent but tends to be vastly more fucking expensive. The gist of this mechanic is that when you replace your skeleton with titanium bones or implant kevlar into your skin or replace your fingernails with razors blades, you lose something of yourself, something hard to define. Something just begins to seem off and inhuman about you and others react to this offness. Thus the impact of Essence on your social limit. If it wasn't obvious, a really shitty social limit is going to prevent you from being an effective talky character. If you can only get one or two hits tops due to your social limit, it doesn't really matter how many handfuls of d6s you are tossing onto the table. 

This makes a lot of sense to me. If your bones are titanium, you're going to move and carry your weight differently. You're not going to react to physical pressures on your body in the same way. You won't be easily shoved and surfaces are going to respond differently to your weight on them than they would flesh and blood bodies. If your eyes are implants, you're not going to need to blink to keep them moist or squint in the sun. If your skin is made of kevlar, it's not going to itch or cause you to slap at mosquitoes and bugs on it. A completely cybernetic limb isn't going to twitch or shift to find a comfortable position because it's asleep and you won't crack your knuckles as a nervous tic. As you pile on the chrome, the comforting little tics and idiosyncrasies of flesh and blood that we rarely notice are going to fade away and since we rarely notice them consciously, we'll just have an indefinable sense of something being off. You might say that having kevlar skin or metal limbs is fairly obvious, but in a cyberpunk setting the chrome itself is not unnatural or weird. It's no different than wearing glasses or walking with a cane would be in our society. Maybe I'm over analyzing it or attributing more to the mechanic of Essence and social limit than the designers were, but it makes a lot of sense to me and it's kind of an elegant way of showing what replacing your flesh with chrome does to you.

The second thing I like is the damage tracks. There are two, physical and stun. Physical is lethal physical damage based on your Body attribute and stun is nonlethal and mental damage based on your Willpower attribute. Shadowrun recognizes that there is a sort of mental hit point value for your character. Both damage tracks have negative effects they inflict on your character as they decrease as well. Which is a big beef I have about DnD. There's no difference in the effectiveness of a character with 1 hit point and one with 100. Shadowrun also doesn't go for overblown hit point sacks. My character, Marius the Elf Street Samurai, only has like nine boxes on his physical damage track. Damage is figured out by the damage value of a weapon and the target making a roll of their Body + their armor's rating. That's a slight simplification, but the gist is that if your weapon's damage exceeds the target's roll, you start marking off boxes.

The third thing I like is the concept of racial minimums and maximums for attributes. This is something I liked about 2nd Edition AD&D as well. The attribute range for humans is 1 to 6. During character creation you start at the minimum for your races and use your attribute points to increase from the minimum. Elves are faster and prettier than humans so that have a range of 2 to 7 for their agility and 3 to 8 for their Charisma. Trolls and orks are big and tough so their racial minimums and maximums are higher for Strength and Body than a human's. This doesn't mean all orks and trolls are tougher and stronger than all humans. But the troll that is a street samurai using melee weapons is probably going to be stronger and tougher than the human or elf street samurai that uses melee weapons. This makes sense. Orks and trolls are big, they can physically support more muscle mass and whatnot than a human or elf can. Elves are slender and graceful, their bodies are naturally able to achieve more agility than a humans, the same way cats are naturally more agile than a cow or dog. Halfling characters in DnD could have a Strength far surpassing that of the average human, even just at character creation, even though they are skinny and half as tall as the average human.

Next up on my list is how Shadowrun does initiative. Just like DnD, initiative is a measure of turn order in combat. It's your Intuition + Reaction +1d6. There are things that can increase your bonus dice and whatnot. The first thing I like is that initiative is based on a physical attribute (your reaction speeds) and a mental attribute (your awareness of your surroundings). I find it odd that Reaction is not folded into Agility like it is in other games, but whatever. So I think it's really neat that the majority of your initiative in Shadowrun is static with only a minor amount of variation. It makes sense, people who react quickly and pay attention to their surroundings and are experienced with seeing when people are ready to kill would statistically, probably maybe, be quicker to react and be ready than people who are not those things. Anyway. So one interesting thing Shadowrun does with initiative is that everyone takes their turn, then they subtract 10 (I think) from their initiative and anyone with an initiative above 0 gets to go again. So instead of gaining additional attacks because class feature or attack bonus, you gain additional attacks and actions for being super fast and stuff. I dig it. Additionally, there are some forms of attack and defense and some special actions you can take that cost you initiative. It's kinda neat. I like it. It makes combat a little bit more fluid and interactive and that sort of thing. 

So. Last thing, the priority system. Originally I found this system incredibly confusing and clunky, but it's actually kind of neat. There are five priorities: A, B, C, D, and E. During character creation you choose your metahuman type (race), magic (which determines your magician type and spells and magic skills), skills, attributes, and resources (cash). You choose things by assigning them a priority. So if you want to have a lot of cash, you assign your resources priority 4 (400,000 nuyen). I tend to like Elf characters because I am partial to brutally quick little characters. Elves are only an option if you choose metatype priority as A, B, C, or D. Elves at priority A are noted as Elf (8), elves at priority D are Elf (0). The number after the parentheses are points you can use to increase your Edge (which is basically luck), Magic, or Resonance. So you can choose a "weaker" race, but augment it with other features. Anyway. It's an interesting system that's less complicated than completely constructing characters from scratch via points values, but is much more reasonable than just mandating all races and classes are equal in power. 

So yeah, there's some stuff I like about Shadowrun and stuff.