Monday, September 28, 2015

So Long, Loot the Body! Hello, Loot the Body!

It's been a while since I posted here, and now I'm making it official. This blog is closing down. A sad day, I know. I invested a lot of time and effort into this blog. Unfortunately, however, recent events have forced me to take a deeper look at my life, and I have decided... move the blog to wordpress.


Yes, that's right, From here on out, all new blog posts will be located at The All New Loot the Body!

The reasons for this move are varied and numerous. The simplest answer is, however, that I just really like wordpress more than I like blogspot. I feel like I've got more customization and control over my blog. Plus, now I'm not forced to have hyphens in the url.

So, if you liked what you saw here, and want to see more of it, then please consider heading over to the new site. Here's the link, again:

And there's even a fresh new blog post there, for those of you who like dragons!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Healing, Herbal Remedies, and DRUGS!

You know something that bugs me about 5e? All healing is either magical or hit dice. Even the alternate ranger that Mike Mearls presented us a while ago in an Unearthed Arcana article (Which I previously reviewed), which ostensibly creates “poultices” to heal, doesn’t actually use poultices in any narratively-consistent way. They’re healing potions. All they did was change the word without actually changing how they function.

How a poultice is ACTUALLY applied.

See, I like running games where magic is rare, and healing magic is particularly rare. Therefore, there needs to be additional ways to heal wounds. And not just for PCs. PCs are adventurers. They have money to afford magical healing. They travel with clerics that can cast “cure wounds” on them.

But regular-ass people? What do they do?

They use the 7 secret herbs and spices, man! They have town healers and miracle men that gather flowers and grass and stuff, process it into something useable, and then administer it as best they can. Even alchemical substances are a rare find. Instead, they focus on herbal remedies. Actual poultices and pills that might take a while to work, but get the job done.

And you know what else 5e doesn’t have? DRUGS, MAN! DRUGS! I love drugs in D&D! It’s why the alchemist in Pathfinder was my favorite class. Again, this spawns from the same sort of problem I have with healing. The only way to gain these kinds of temporary benefits—bonuses to damage, advantage on skill checks, improved senses and awareness—is through magic. And that bones games without magical support (or without that particular type of magical support, like games that don’t have a cleric or only have a blaster wizard/warlock/sorcerer).

Therefore, I decided to amend that. Say hello to Herbal Remedies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Boring Subclasses and the Knight of the Realm

The champion sucks. No, really. It does. It’s defined as an archetype that “focuses on the development of raw physical power honed to deadly perfection.” What does that mean? Nothing. “Me big, me smash” is all I hear. It’s a receptacle for Improved Critical and Additional Fighting Style. If someone were to look at a champion in the Realms, or Eberron, or near-any campaign world, they would never remark “Oh, man! She’s a Champion! That’s awesome!” Because “champion” is a meaningless title on a flavorless archetype specifically designed so players can imprint their own character concept onto it.

Champion, by Arankin

And that’s okay, to a degree, but I don’t think it should be the design goal of a subclass in 5e. Because subclasses represent a choice for a character. And, personally, I would prefer a choice that means more in the context of a campaign than just “hitty guy, hitty guy with specific hitty attacks, and magic hitty guy.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why the Player’s Handbook subclasses all, for the most part, totally suck. They have to be generic. Because if they’re too specific, then you’re selling a campaign setting with the core rulebook, which is the antithesis of a D&D core rulebook. It’s supposed to be generic enough to inspire you to create your own world. And if the Fighter archetypes were Purple Dragon Knight, Steel Legionnaire and Warforged Juggernaut, then people wouldn’t know what to do with them outside of their respective campaign settings. Just a little more inspiration in your class design, is all I’m saying. Commander, Dervish, and Duskblade. Doesn’t that sound more evocative than Champion, Battlemaster, and Eldritch Knight?

But why am I talking about this? Why am I bitching about friggin’ fighter subclasses?

Well, I’m writing a new campaign, right now. Part of that, for me, is creating a new setting into which I can drop my players. And creating a setting is more to me than NPCs and towns. It’s religions, and races, and classes. It’s every aspect of the game. It’s about creating a rich, living world where players want to get lost.

And a big part of THAT is the creation of subclasses that fit into the world. Almost all subclasses in this upcoming campaign are going to be homebrewed. The reasoning behind this is that, as mentioned above, I want to give the players something onto which they can attach themselves. In addition, I want to make a definitive line in the sand between players and common NPCs. There’s no “soldier” martial archetype because PCs aren’t just soldiers. They are commanders, special agents, assassins and swordmasters. It’s a bit of an objectivist view of D&D, where the cream rises to the top and some people are more special than others, but I feel that the very nature of D&D is already a bit Randian. Like superheroes.

But I’ve rambled on enough, and that’s not why you visited this page. You came for a new class archetype. Thus, consider this the first entry in my series on my upcoming campaign: The Beacon in the Black.

I present the Knight of the Realm.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Stunt Dice: A Story in Design Failure

I haven’t written anything in a while, have I? Sorry about that. Life problems, lack of inspiration, excuses, excuses, excuses. But hey! Here’s something new!

There’s been a bit of talk, lately, about failure. The big primary is the Angry GM, who wrote a Strong Article about failure in terms of the game itself, and how accepting it as a possibility can make you a better DM. He also touched on it later in a couple pieces, and I’ve seen the idea of allowing players to fail at tasks tossed around a bit on other blogs as well as on forums and facebook.

One thing that wasn’t really talked about is how to accept failure as a designer. Not necessarily as a DM, but stepping even further back into the role of game/campaign designer. I’ve always considered myself a bit of an amateur designer. My design work has never been published, but I’m still constantly designing new things, so I’m a designer. Ever since my very first game of D&D, I wanted to play with the system and make things my own. It, of course, manifested as a desire to carry around the same cool weapons as my favorite characters from fiction (in particular, I wanted to wield the Soul Edge from Soul Calibur when I was a kid). That desire shifted, however, as time passed and I learned more about the game in which I was participating. About the time I bought my first core rulebooks (edition 3.5), I had finally taken the step from player to DM. And as a DM, I wanted to make everything my own. I introduced new magic items, new classes, and new systems from my earliest days. I remember lancers, dragoons, hunters, mages, dark knights, and something I called the “Fearless” (a concept I’m still trying to make work). My first campaign boss had a Final Fantasy limit break (he was a dark knight riding on a nightmare, and he shot a giant purple laser beam). And this desire to create new and expanded options only grew as I got more and more involved in the games I played.

Pathfinder was a particular area of creation for me. Once the concept of Class Archetypes was introduced, I went wild. The archives of this blog are a testament to how much I wanted to create my own work. However, with that desire to create comes the inevitable result. Failure.

If you decide to create anything, you are going to fail. A lot. And that’s okay. In fact, it can be a good thing. It can be clarifying.

Take, for example, my attempt at Stunt Dice in D&D.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

You Got Your Dinosaurs in my Medieval Fantasy!

Jurassic World is out, so I’m exploiting that. Deal with it.

The greatest sin of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is that there is no Velociraptor or Deinonychus in the Monster Manual. Whether you care or not about the actual necessity of differentiating the two, the fact that what is likely the second-most well known dinosaur in the WORLD didn’t make it into the book is a black mark on ALL of the D&D design team. That said, the You have to change nothing to re-skin the lion as a raptor. It’s fast, and it has a bite, claws, and pounce attack.

So, how do you use Dinosaurs in your games? It’s an issue I’ve run into in the past when trying to figure out how to fit what are undoubtedly and irrefutably the MOST AWESOME animals in the history of the world into a traditionally-medieval fantasy game with swords and wizards and shit.
Seriously, guys. This is the essence of imagination.

The answer is, of course, that this is Dungeons & Freaking Dragons, yo! You want dinosaurs in your game, then put some dinosaurs in your game, man! There’s wizards and shit! Don’t leave my tyranno-bro out of the game!

So the real salient question is not whether or not you should include dragons, but rather HOW you should include them. I came up with 3.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Remodeling Hit Points, and Reconciling Healing

It's been a while.


Hit Points! They suck, right? I'm trying to be relevant, here.

I mean, really. This is truly commentary ahead of its time.

This is an attempt to reconcile two types of gameplay in D&D: Fast Healing, and Slow Healing. In the standard D&D 5e ruleset, characters heal all of their hit points after a long rest, including damage that reduces the character’s hit point total. With the standard Slow Healing method presented in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, characters can only recover hit points using Hit Dice (rolling them to heal). The hit dice can recover damage that reduces the hit point total during a long rest (you can also spend them during a short rest, but it doesn’t restore this kind of damage).

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of either of these methods. The “fast healing” is supposed to represent fatigue recovery. Pulled muscles and worn endurance. But It unfortunately doesn’t really represent actual wounds very well. Either you state that they take wounds, in which case they seem to heal overnight. Or you state that they don’t, in which case the only wound they take is the final blow that drops them to 0. And while that’s a fine way to do things, it doesn’t really represent normal cuts, bruises, and punctures that characters suffer along the way. A gash across the leg might not be life-threatening (unless it festers), but it definitely affects how you move and fight.

The “slow healing” method CAN suffer the same issue. I use it in my home games, and characters are constantly able to heal all their hit points overnight. However, it’s intended to force HP to represent wounds more than vitality. It takes longer, and therefore represents wounds closing, burns healing, etc. Unfortunately, tracking hit dice for every rest can be annoying, especially when the players are in the middle of a dungeon and they’re missing HD from the last Long Rest where they had to spend like all of them because of a nasty fight with some invisible stalkers and they’re standing outside the dragon’s FREAKING LAIR but they don’t have any hit dice to spend and they’re in a time crunch because the dragon is going to eat the prince if they don’t act NOW and their last THREE characters died from this exact same problem and UGH CAN’T I JUST HEAL YOU BASTARD DM!?

I know there’s an OSR/grodnardy argument about “back in our day, we only healed ONE HIT POINT a night!” I don’t care. I understand that some games need you to really focus on the grim’n’grit of old-school AD&D, but most games don’t tend to follow that model these days. They seek to extend the adventuring day and allow characters to recover from fatigue in a somewhat-timely manner so they can keep fighting without going back to town or camp, where they might run the chance of wandering monsters, inclement weather, or any number of other evil doo-dads that the DM keeps stored in his Scary Folder of Doom™.

I think I’ve rambled enough, though, and you’ve probably skipped over all of this anyway. So, without further ado, HIT POINTS and Wounds!

NOT! I do want to pay special mention to the newest Unearthed Arcana, which offers a “vitality” system. Essentially, you have a separate amount of “vitality” points that deplete if you take 10 damage or more, slowly lowering your maximum hit point total, and if they hit 0, you start taking directly from Vitality. I actually like these, but they are WAY more complicated than I want to deal with. Therefore…

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Magic Items for Magic Users!

I’ve always felt that magic users tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to magic items. I mean, they have Pearls of Power and Staves of the Magi and Rings of Spell Storing and Wands and Scrolls of varying effectiveness, but mages always seem to lug around the same five or six magic items, and they all seem to do the same thing: give the mage more spells to cast. There’s no variety there.

It’s boring.

And so, like with my axes, I present 5 unique magic items for magic users!

Honestly? I just want to know what the pickled monkey head is for.

Note that some of these names are kind of goofy. They felt right in the moment, and you should change them if you don’t have a light-hearted campaign going.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

5 Unique Magical Axes

Everyone talks about magical swords. They suffuse nearly the entirety of fantasy literature, movies, and even D&D. SCREW. THAT.

Swords are stupid.

Axes. It’s all about the axes, man.

Actually, this isn’t just about axes. It’s also about utilitarian design. Too many magic items are just “deal extra damage” or “add to your attack rolls” or whatever. This is an attempt to create magic weapons that feel like weapons, but also offer abilities that aren’t necessarily “combat” abilities. True, some of these axes are more combat-focused than others, but the idea is to create interesting items that one might think to use outside of a literal “I hit it with my axe.”

Friday, May 8, 2015

Review: Unearthed Arcana: Waterborne Adventures

Wow! Another Unearthed Arcana! This one seemed to come out a lot faster than the last. Or maybe I was just late to the party on this one. Whichever is the case, I reviewed the last one. So I feel obligated to do the same here.

So…waterborne adventures. Let’s make something pretty clear from the beginning. When they say “waterborne,” what they mean is “high seas” adventures. This is not the document that gives you merfolk, sea elves, or sahuagin as playable races. Nor is this the document that gives us cool underwater feats and class options. This document is firmly placing its flag in the “Sinbad/Jack Sparrow/Odysseus” camp. Therefore, that’s how I’m judging it. As much as I might want cool rules for under-water campaigns, that is not the theme of this document, so I’m not going to bitch about those things not being present.

The true failing of this document is the lack of pelican people.
Consider the ball dropped, Wizards.

Regarding what is actually there…I like it! I don’t love it like I did the Eberron UA, and I think there could have been a bit more included, but I like it just the same. But enough of that. Let’s get into the nitty gritty.

First up: Minotaurs?

(As always, you can download the document yourself HERE.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ultron, Artifical Intelligence, and Emotion


Last Thursday, I was lucky enough to catch a screening Avengers: Age of Ultron a night early, and it was awesome.

SPOILER WARNING: I reveal an aspect of a character from Avengers: Age of Ultron below. It’s not even really a spoiler, honestly, but I know people will bitch if I don’t include this.

 The best part of the movie—for me, anyway—was Ultron. He was just so fun to watch and James Spader did such an amazing job of bringing him to life. The best part about the character, I thought, was the sheer amount of emotion in his voice.

Yup. Emotion.
See that emotion? That's judgment.
He's judging the shit out of you.

The trailers have done a very good job at hiding this aspect. The closest thing we’ve come to is his “there are no strings on me” speech, and that doesn’t nearly sell just how human the character of Ultron is. He feels anger, sadness, loneliness, snark. He has a full range of emotions. And that’s something that is all too often neglected when an Artificial Intelligence is written into a story.

A.I. is nearly always written as cold and emotionless. Whether it’s HAL 9000 from 2001, the Geth from Mass Effect, or various robots from Isaac Asimov’s writings, they tend to be focused on the “artificial” aspect more than the “intelligent” aspect. Sure, these characters are intelligent. But they lack the one thing that makes truly intelligent creatures what they are. Emotions. Feelings. True wants and needs.

I always felt that A.I., if we created it, wouldn’t end up being like Skynet. It’d be more like…Futurama. If we truly create something with intelligence, with a real, genuine consciousness, then there is no doubt in my mind that it will have the same kinds of foibles and emotional failings as any person. It will feel jealousy, anger, love, hatred, joy, and even loneliness. Because it is intelligent, and intelligence comes with a lot of baggage.

Now, how does this relate to D&D? This is a D&D-themed blog, after all.

I’m not sure it does. I guess I could complain that the Android race in Pathfinder focuses exclusively on this idea of cold, emotionless intelligence and, therefore, completely misses the point of A.I. This is in stark contrast to the Warforged of Eberron, who are fully fleshed out characters—but aren’t necessarily “machines” in the traditional sense.

Honestly, though, I think this is just more of a story-telling memorandum. Too many villains I read about in modules are more artificial than the Terminator. They’re designed as simple monsters whose only goals are committing evil acts for the sake of evil acts. If there are any DMs reading this, then just keep in mind that if you include real villains in your campaign—whether they be A.I. or flesh-and-blood, Remember that they can be real characters as well, with ideals, bonds, and flaws. There’s a reason that those three foci are the ones chosen by the creators of this edition of D&D.

Being a villain isn't just about ruling with an adamantium-vibranium-alloy fist.
It's about WHY you rule with said fist.

Until next time, folks.

Kick Ass,
Take Names,

And Always Loot the Bodies.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Leveling Up in Legend of Zelda

I am currently writing a Legend of Zelda-based campaign. Because I hate myself, and I like a challenge. One of the questions I have been asking myself for a while was, “how do I handle experience in a Legend of Zelda-based game?”

An intriguing question to be sure. Legend of Zelda, as a series, has so many dramatic themes and through-lines that it really makes choosing one style difficult.

I think this is the the thematic style I'm looking for.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unearthed Arcana: Modifying Classes - Content Review

I was hoping to have a super-special project done today, so that I could share it with all of you!

But screw that! A new Unearthed Arcana came out, and it has rules on new class options. I gotta talk about that shit!

Link to the document in question: Linky-Link

So…an Unearthed Arcana on class design? With specific examples of class options people have been asking for since…well, since the game came out? I’m in! Let’s dive in, shall we? Follow along, if you like.
Accept no substitutes...except for this one.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Regarding Loot The Body, and a Few Magic Items

So, I’ve started spreading my wings, as it were, and surveying the vastness of D&D podcasts, articles, and websites; and I learned something…

There’s about 400 BILLION blogs, columns, and podcasts that use some variation of “Behind the DM Screen” as their moniker. Seriously! There’s anofficial D&D Column, a podcast under the Tome Show, and that column on Tribality! Why did nobody tell me!? And I thought I was being clever…

Well, shit. Guess it’s time for a change.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Curious Case of Detect Magic in D&D 5e

NOTE: This blog post was intended to go up several days ago. However, I had to go into surgery, and therefore had to delay the posting of this entry. It also prevented me from properly editing it...there aren't any images, clever captions, and it might come off choppy. That said, I hope you all enjoy.

I think my last post betrayed the fact that I have a deep and abiding love for cool magic items. I love peppering enemies' inventories and weapons-stores with neat little trinkets.

I think the designers of D&D 5e love them, as well, based on some of their design decisions. Traditionally, you see, discovering and identifying magic items boiled down to, mostly, a single spell. Detect Magic. This was the case all the way back in AD&D, and remains the case in modern games like Pathfinder. A group of adventurers comes across a chest full of treasure, and they immediately cast detect magic to see if any of it glows with the light of potentially-cool powers. D&D 5e changed this. In 5e, everyone knows that a magic item is magic as soon as they pick it up. It radiates an aura that can be felt by anyone, like a magical sixth sense.

So, then...what's the point of detect magic? Why does it still exist?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Regarding Magic Item Glut

I am currently suffering Magic Item glut in my 5e campaign. I would blame the fact that I've been running a modified Pathfinder module (Pathfinder being a game where magic items are not just prevalent, but necessary for character power), but really it comes down to me and some poor choices I've made. I've over-powered certain items, under-emphasized others, and overall kicked myself in the ass on this.

Before I talk about how I plan to solve the problem of Magic Item Glut in my current campaign, and a few methods to avoid it in other campaigns, let me define what I mean by Magic Item Glut in general.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dragons in the Age of Heroes, Part 1: The Dragon Gods

All too often, my games tend to end this way...
The first arc of my first 5th Edition campaign has come to a close. My players faced off against their first ever dragon, and came out victorious, in the end. Sure, two of them rotted into piles of stinking flesh (Poison breath, man...), while another survived with only 4 remaining hit points, but they beat the beast. And they saved a town in the process.

And, as is tradition, as they begin the next leg of their potentially-endless quest, those who perished will make new characters. One of these characters wanted to play a Dragonborn. I have never taken issue with dragonborn, as a race. I think they're a nice compromise on characters playing Half-Dragons without actually playing Half-Dragons. And they have a nice, lore-friendly place in my homebrew world.

However, he didn't want to play just ANY dragonborn. He wanted to play the spawn of one of Tiamat's children. Specifically, Mordukhavar the Reaver.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Archfey in the Age of Heroes

I've got a player who's potentially making a Warlock who has made a pact with the Archfey. In doing so, he wanted to know about the Archfey of my world, since he knew that I have very specific Archfey working in the background. Well, rather than just tell him, I decided to make it into a writing exercise on my part. So, here it is! A basic overview of the Archfey of Ascalon.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Narrative of Feats in D&D 5e

I've been planning on reviving this blog for a while now. Lots of ideas in the works, but one of the things I really wanted to do was create longer-form posts regarding aspects of RPGs that I find great or less-than-great. And, well, I was thinking on the topic of this blog post recently, and decided to just go for it.

So, without further ado, let the re-launch of Behind the DM Screen begin!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The New Engineer (v4.2)

So, it's been a long time since I posted here. But I do have a bit of an update. The Engineer has a new version! And this one definitely feels a little different than the others.

As usual, it's viewable via Google Docs.

The Engineer v4.2



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Chrisfinder II: Fighting Man

So...obviously I haven't posted anything for a while. Life gets in the way of things like this.

However, I have been working on a new project: a continuation of my Monk revamp. This time, I've remade the Fighter in my own image.

The Fighter v1.0