Heroes Against Darkness: Alpha rules updated to v0.200

I’ve updated the downloadable Heroes Against Darkness Alpha rules to v0.200.

The major changes are:
• Switched page format to US Letter (reluctantly)
• Removed the damage section from monsters (was redundant and didn’t reflect their different attacks)
• Fixed some minor issues in the example character creation maths
• Clarified that the relevant Attack Bonus is added to damage rolls, subject to the details of the power (Melee Bonus for melee attacks, Ranged Bonus for ranged attacks and Magic Bonus for Magic attacks)
• Added Dragons to the Beasts and Bastards section as examples of Boss monsters
• Added grid image to clarify movement rules in combat (when using a grid)
• Added guidelines for creating viable boss monsters
• Reduced HP gain from healing powers from 10, 20, 30, 40 to 10, 15, 20, 25, but also changed these to add Constitution Bonus instead of Modifier
• Split cover and invisibility in the combat rules
• Clarified difficulty of dying Stabilization ability tests
• Clarified use of Healing Powers between encounters
• Allowed Bastard Swords to be used one or two-handed, dealing either d10 or d12 damage (dedicated two-handed weapons deal 2d6 damage)
• Adjusted encumberance to only affect characters at their weight limit or one item from their weight limit (used to be two items from the limit)
• Expanded power glossary
• Consolidated higher level martial powers into their base power, with details of changes to the power at higher levels
• Moved some spells so that none are higher than Level 10
• Adjusted some spell costs to reflect rule that the caster can spend no more than the Level + 1 Anima on a single spell
• Added Reflex Strike, Takedown, Reflex Trip and Quick Strike powers which are similar to Attacks of Opportunity
• Expanded martial power list for Warriors and Barbarians (these are now complete up to Level 10)
• Clarified how to adjust Party Level for combat encounters when there is a discrepancy between the player character levels and the monster levels at high levels
• Started section on Pre-Built Encounters
• Expanded Tuning and Modding section with more tweaks to give the game an ‘old-school’ feel
• Added an appendix of useful tables that can be printed to be used as a DM screen

Head over to the game rules download page to grab yourself a copy of this bad-boy: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

D&D 5th Edition: Another DDXP report with MECHANICS! UPDATED

The previous reports from DDXP have been big on the generalities but the players have been barred from talking about specific mechanics, until now:

Considering the D&D Next Playtest in Light of the WotC Seminars.

“Stat wise, my character sheet featured the big six ability scores, as well as HP and AC. Saving throws and other defenses were gone. As Monte explained in the Skills and Abilities seminar, saves are now rolled based on your ability scores.”

Okay, here’s the big one. Saving Throws and Defenses (apart from AC) look to be gone.

“Skills provided situational bonuses to checks that were also based on ability scores. As Bruce Cordell and Monte discussed in the same seminar, the D&D Next skill system is currently open-ended. Rolling to use any skill is always resolved as an ability check. The skill itself simply provides a bonus to that particular ability check in a specific situation.”

The free-form skill system is pretty much like what I’ve got in Heroes Against Darkness, where they depend on the sorts of things a character would be good at and the DM has the discretion to apply bonuses as appropriate.

The big takeaway here is that if the DC of the ability check is lower than your Ability Score, it’s an automatic success.

“I felt the mechanic of the attacker (our wizard) setting the DC for the defender added tension to the fight, and differentiated her attacks nicely from standard melee or ranged attacks.”


Another interesting aspect here. Basically, a magical attacker must add their appropriate number to a base, which then becomes the DC that the target needs to beat with their ability test (remember that defenses and saves are gone).

Speculating here, but my first guess is that it goes like this:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

Then the target must beat 14 (10 + 4) on an Ability Test.

However, this means that a caster targeting a caster of the same level will always fail (because the target’s ability score is always going to be higher than the caster’s DC).

So, maybe the DC calculation is higher:

• DC = 15 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

This resolves the problem with casters attacking casters, but it makes the saving throw/ability test much too hard for non-casters (DC 19 or so).

So, maybe saving throws/ability tests in combat are resolved differently to skill checks. Maybe you don’t automatically succeed if your ability score is high enough. This would allow the first formula to work:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

Again the DC is 14, so a caster who has a +4 modifier in the appropriate ability score would have a 50% chance of saving against the spell. A normal monster or player character would probably only have a 25% chance of saving. Alternatively, if the game wanted to skew more towards avoiding the spells, the base for the DCs could be even:

• DC = 5 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

This could give a DC of 5-10 (depending on the ability score of the caster), giving similar casters a 75% chance of ‘saving’ and normal monsters and player characters about a 50% chance.

This is based on the assumption that the modifier range is -4 to +4 for starting characters. There’s also talk of a much flatter progression curve, which means that +1 per level is GONE too.

In various discussions it looks like the magic attacks may actually involve two rolls, one for the caster to determine the DC and then another ‘saving throw’ roll for the target. Ultimately, there are three viable options (four if no one rolls a dice):

• Caster rolls d20 + mods for DC, Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC
• Caster calculates DC (e.g. 10 + mods), Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC
• Caster rolls d20 + mods, compares to Target’s ability score

Personally, this seems somewhat redundant to have both the caster and the target roll.

[UPDATED AGAIN: 30th May, 2012]
Now that we’ve seen the first open playtest rules, it turns out that I was right the first time. The DC for spells is automatically set by the Caster’s magic ability score mod + 10:

• DC = 10 + Caster’s Ability Modifier (Int or Wis depending on the class)

And the automatic pass mechanic has been adjusted so that your ability score has to beat the DC by 5 before it’s an auto success.

Here’s the mechanic:

• Caster calculates DC (e.g. 10 + mods), Target rolls d20 + mods to beat Caster’s DC

Solo Adventure Character Pregen Preview

I’ve just finished putting together one of the pregen characters for the Heroes Against Darkness Solo Adventure, so I thought I’d post it here for you guys to check out ahead of time.

The pregen contains a simplified version of the full character sheet (without all of the Ability Mod + ½ Level sections), a quick description of each of the sections of the sheet, and then a list of the character’s relevant Level 1 Powers and Spells.

I think I’ll base all of the pregens on the example character builds that are included in the Player’s Guide.

The current stable version of the rules can always be found here: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

More D&D 5th Edition reports from DDXP

Another two reports from the guys over at Critical Hits of their experiences playing D&D 5th Edition:

DDXP 2012 Recap: Running the New D&D and Playing Games.
Initial Impressions of the New D&D.

This comment has me slightly worried, because I don’t like slow healing:
“That same Paladin had previously charged a room full of stirges, and become close to death by blood loss, necessitating a several week recovery time back at the Keep.”

Of course, this might be a DM choice in the game, so let’s wait and see.

“As discussed in the skills and abilities seminar, ability scores now act as a sort-of passive skill check. If you want to open a barred door and that door’s DC is 13. If you have a strength ability score of 15, you don’t even have to roll.”

This concept might be worth a whole blog post on its own:
“In earlier editions of D&D, and particularly in D&D 4e, character power progression scaled linearly. In 4e, between feats, magic items, and level bonuses, you gained roughly +1 to attacks, defenses, and skills. Since this bonus modifies a d20, you can say that every level you gain roughly equates to a 5% greater chance to succeed at something. In 4e, when you’re fighting a creature five levels higher than you, it becomes 25% harder to hit and hits you 25% more often.

As described in the charting the course seminar, D&D’s new math is flatter. This means that these 5% bonuses might be farther and fewer across levels. Now lower level monsters can still hit you and you might miss them. It means that skill checks no longer seem impossible at lower levels and stupid easy at higher levels.”

Every edition has followed the +1/Level progression dynamic for fighters, so reducing this (and removing magic items from the progression) will mean a fundamental change to the system. Here’s a quick blog post where I break down how the progression works across all the editions of D&D:

Mechanics of Attack Bonus progression in D&D and Heroes Against Darkness.

Here’s a Quick Summary of how the progression is achieved in each edition:

– Basic: Character To Hit table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– AD&D: Character To Hit table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– 2nd Edition: THAC0 table progression (magic weapons outside of progression)
– 3rd Edition: BAB progression (Magic items and Feats outside of progression)
– 4th Edition: 1/2 Level + Ability Score Increases + Feats + Magic Items

The advantage of 4th Edition’s method is that it works for spellcasters, melee fighters and ranged fighters.

So, coming from 4th to 5th edition, if they’re implementing slower attack bonus progression then one way to do it is to remove the 1/2 Level bonus and compensate by offering more frequent Ability Score increases, such as +1 to two ability scores every two levels), which would increase the character’s attack bonus by +1 every 4th level. The problem with this is that it doesn’t also scale your armor class, but that could be achieved through the game’s underlying economy (e.g. you can only afford types of armor at certain levels).

Removing magic weapons from the expected progression can lead to over-powered characters, but that could possibly be balanced by the DM by bumping monster levels to compensate (and/or reducing XP rewards).

RPG Monster Art Kickstarter drive

Just a quick heads-up to all you guys out there who are working on your own fantasy role-playing systems.

There’s a kickstarter funding drive up right now to create a set of 100 (or so) monster portraits that are ideal for people with their own systems who need art for the Bestiaries:

Monster Stock Art Kickstarter Drive

I am in no way affiliated with the drive, but I have pledged to it.

Heroes Against Darkness: Development Update

Now that the alpha rules of Heroes Against Darkness have been publically released for a few weeks, it’s a good time to let you guys know what I’m working on at the moment and what I’m thinking about working on.

Stuff I’m Working On:

Filling Out the Martial Powers

As I mentioned in this blog post, I’ve collapsed all of higher level variants of the martial powers into the single base power and added details of the changes at higher levels, like this:

Careful Strike (Warrior Level 1)

Condition Target in melee range
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus + 2
Against Armor Defense

Level 4:

Level 8:

Level 12:

Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 2
2d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 4
3d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 6
4d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 8

This has had the desirable effect of reducing the length of the power list for the martial characters (yay for the trees!), but it’s also thinned out the powers at higher levels. Previously, martial characters had a couple of powers listed each level for every level up to 10 and higher. Now, the new powers gradulally fall off between level 6 and 7. I’d really like the martial characters to have unique powers all the way to level 10, so I’ve been working on filling out those higher levels with appropriate powers.

For example, at level 10 Barbarians have a unique interrupt power:

Hard to Kill (Barbarian Level 10)

Action Time Interrupt
Interrupt Condition When the character is hit with an attack that would reduce his or her HP to 0 or less.
Power Effect Character immediately reduces the damage by Constitution Bonus. The power cannot be used again until the start of the character’s next turn.

One of the things I think I’ll try to do for each of the classes is give them an appropriate interrupt power at higher level, like the Barbarian’s Hard to Kill example. I think that these are interesting powers to play, and players of high level characters should have had enough experience with the game to be able to handle the intricacies of Interupt martial powers.

The goal is ultimately to have all of the martial classes have five powers at level 1 (including Melee Attack and Ranged Attack), 2 powers each at levels 2-5, and 1 new power each level from 6-10. This will give each martial class a total of 17 powers once they reach level 10.

HAD SOLO 01: A Solo Adventure

So another thing I’ve been working on is a short solo adventure, along the lines of the Ghost Tower of Witchling Fens adventure by Robert J. Schwalb from Dungeon Magazine issue 182.

The idea of this solo adventure is to allow people who are thinking about running Heroes Against Darkness with their play groups to try out a short adventure on their own to familiarize themselves with the underlying principles of the rules. The adventure will come with a few pre-generated level 1 characters, presented like those in the Pathfinder Beginner Box. The Pathfinder characters are printed on a landscape sheet, with the character sheet itself in the middle, and then the left and right margins include relevant rules information and powers for the character.

I’ve just finished the flow-chart of the adventure (using Twine, which is an awesome gamebook authoring tool), and I need to add in the encounters, create the pre-gen characters, playtest it and then package it all up.

Drop me an email if you’d like to playtest the solo adventure.

Stuff I’m Thinking About:

High Level Spells

With the move to have unique martial powers effectively top out at level 10, I’m thinking about bringing the higher level spell powers back to a maximum of level 10.

One of my goals with the spell powers in Heroes Against Darkness is to make sure that they never become useless at higher levels (via scaling power spells with X anima costs, etc), so clamping the most powerful spells to level 10 shouldn’t have a huge mechanical effect. Right now, the most powerful spells are the variantions on ressurection that each magi class has:

• Warlock: L13 Reincarnate (Transfers character’s soul into new body)
• Healer: L10 Restore Life (Returns dead character to 1HP)
• Canonate: L11 Ressurect (Returns dead character to 1HP, but with Ability Scores temporarily lowered)
• Necromancer: L12 Reanimate (Returns dead character to 1HP, but with Ability Scores permanently reduced by 1)
• Mystic: L13 Recall Soul (Returns dead character to 1HP, Wisdom permanently reduced by 2)

So all of these spells will have to come back to level 10 at the highest, which means that Restore Life might need to drop down to level 8 and the Reincarnate and Recall Soul will top our at level 10.

Opportunity Attacks

Everyone hates opportunity attacks, right?

Maybe not necessarily everyone, but lots of people hate them and lots of other people love them. So, right now I’m thinking about introducing opportunity attacks (or something like them) to each class.

The problem with opportunity attacks in 3rd Edition and 4th Edition is that they are very powerful, and those games added lots of associated powers that made them even more powerful (such as feats and attacks that trigger off opportunity attacks). So what I want to do is to introduce something like opportunity attacks (such as a Reflex Strike, for example) with a few differences:
• They’re only available to martial classes
• They’re not available until the character is capable of dealing 2d melee damage (level 3, 4, 5 or 6)
• Each class’s variation of the attack might be different, for example a Rogue might trip an opponent instead of hitting him
• The attack will deal less damage than usual
• The attack will have a trade-off cost, which is the condition Hindered (character only has Major, Minor and Free Action – no Move Action)

Here’s an example of the power for a Reflex Strike:

Reflex Strike (Level 4 Warrior)

Action Time Interrupt
Interrupt Condition Target moves out of melee range and moves more than 10′ in a single move.
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus
Against Armor Defense
Level 8:

Level 12:

Level 16:

Melee Bonus
Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
2d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
Power Effect Character is Hampered until end of character’s next turn

Spell Anima Costs

Another area that’s been taking a lot of hind-brain bandwidth is the underlying principles that are used to determine the Anima costs of spells. Originally I just eyeballed the spells and their levels to determine their costs, but a couple of spells crept in that were way too powerful (for their cost), such as one of the early versions of the Plasma Bolts spell. When that happened I set about creating a set of guidelines for the cost of spells, which now appear in the On Magic section of the Game Master’s Guide.

Basically, I’m trying to nail down the relationship between the each of the aspects of a spell:
• Magnitude of the effect (such as number of dice of healing or damage, or the amount of a bonus or penalty that it applies)
• Number of targets
• Ongoing duration
• Defense it targets
• Range
• Effect range (such as a radius)
• Persistence of effects in the environment

Ultimately, I’d like to create a set of guidelines so that any GM can work out the Anima cost of (almost) any spell.

This process is proving tricky, especially when factoring in spells with multiple targets or that deal multiple dice of damage (or healing). The first step I’ve taken along this path was to (reluctantly) create an additional rule:
• Rule: Magi cannot spend more Anima than 1 + Level on a single spell.

This rule prevents casters from simply discharging all of their Anima at once into a single target or in some other fashion.

I hate papering over cracks with rules, but I think that this one is core to the power of a spellcaster.

HAD ADVENTURE 01: An Adventure Module

I’ve been running my play group using Heroes Against Darkness now since last May (when the rules were about 30 pages long). I plan to turn some of these materials into a module that will be ready for the 1.0 release of Heroes Against Darkness.

The current stable version of the rules can always be found here: Heroes Against Darkness – Game Rules.

RPG Round-Up: How Many Pages of Spells!?

Just for laughs, here’s a list of the number of pages of each edition of various RPGs that are dedicated to spells compared to the total number of pages in each system’s Player’s Guide.


D&D Systems

System Pages of Spells Player’s Guide Pages Notes
Basic D&D 4 64 Combined Player’s and DM’s Guide
Expert D&D 8 64 Combined Player’s and DM’s Guide
AD&D 60 128
AD&D 2nd Edition 118 256
D&D 3rd Edition 115 286
D&D 4th Edition 39 316 Cleric, Paladin, Warlock, Wizard

Non-D&D Systems

System Pages of Spells Player’s Guide Pages Notes
Castles & Crusades 53 128
Dragon Warriors 35 106
Dragon Age 4 64 Level 1-5 only
Dungeon Crawl Classic 44 147
Heroes Against Darkness 23 102
Pathfinder 150 396
Savage Worlds
(Explorer’s Edition)
10 159
Savage Worlds:
Fantasy Companion
21 158 Includes spells in the Explorer’s Edition
Savage Worlds
(Deluxe Edition)
11 159
Swords & Wizardry 24 70
Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing
(2nd Edition)
23 189

Anyone got any more examples to add?

Mechanics of Attack Bonus progression in D&D and Heroes Against Darkness

One of the areas of D&D that has changed in most editions is the way that the game deals with the gradual improvements to a character’s abilities over time. Each of the editions has some mechanism to reflect each character’s skill improvement as they gain levels. In the earliest editions, this is achieved through predefined tables, whereas 4th edition (and Heroes Against Darkness), the improvement is calculated by summing inherent character properties (½ Level Bonus, Ability Score modifiers, weapon or magic modifiers).

+1 Per Level Through the Ages

Let’s take a tour through the editions to see how each of them achieved the +1 per level progression:

• Character Hit Roll tables that progressively adjust the predefined number that must be rolled to hit a specific Armor Class

2nd Edition:
• Calculated THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0) tables, only defining the roll needed to hit a 0 Armor Class, with the player left to work out the actual target number for the dice roll for the monster’s AC

3rd Edition:
• Base Attack Bonus (BAB), which increases (for fighters) at +1 per level, progressively slower for other classes
• Ability score increases (to a single score) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th Level (etc.)

4th Edition:
• Calculated Attack Bonus, which is the sum of Ability Score Modifier + ½ Level + Modifiers.
• Ability score increases (to a single score) at 4th, 8th, 12th, 16th Level (etc.)

Heroes Against Darkness:
• Calculated Melee Bonus and Ranged bonus, which is the sum of ½ Level + Ability Score Modifier + Modifiers.
• Ability score increases to two different scores at 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th Level (etc.)

Components of +1 Per Level

In my previous post about the mechanics of 5th Edition, I fully broke down the attack bonus progression for 4th Edition and Heroes Against Darkness:

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition has the following underlying ingredients to achieve the +1 per level progression:
• ½ Level Bonus
• Weapon or magic enhancement every 5th level (assumed +1 weapon at level 5, +2 at level 10, etc)
• Ability score modifier increase every 7th or 8th level (via +1 to two ability scores every 4th level and then semi-randomly after that)
• Various feats and proficiencies that are available to the player, but are sometimes not chosen

If you add up the first three of these, you end up with a progression of about +0.85 per level, with the remainder (+0.15) coming from various feats. The 4th Edition feats that are used to plug these gaps include:
• Weapon Focus
• Weapon Talent
• Weapon/Implement Expertise

Heroes Against Darkness has the following components in its progression:
• ½ Level Bonus
• Improved weapon or magic enhancement every 4th level (assumed +1 weapon at level 4, +2 at level 8, etc)
• Ability score modifier increase every 4th level (via +1 to two ability scores every 2nd level starting at level 3)

Analysis of +1 Per Level Progression

The major difference between the earliest editions of D&D and ‘modern’ editions like 4th and Heroes Against Darkness is that the modern editions take into account more factors when calculating the +1 per level progression, such as magic weapons or other sundry equipment.

From Basic to the 3rd Edition of D&D, the progression does not factor in any magic weapons that the characters have. 4th edition and Heroes Against Darkness offer DMs guidance for when players are expected to earn better weapons and enhancements (with the obvious ability for GMs to accelerate or slow the distribution of these items).

From a mechanical point of view, the major difference between the two options is that in the early editions, there’s no expected progression, so characters of the same level in different games may have vastly different attack bonuses, depending on the generosity or stinginess of their respective GMs.

For the modern game (4th Edition and Heroes Against Darkness) there are similarities and differences. Both systems employ the ½ Level bonus, but Heroes Against Darkness offers more frequent ability score modifier increases (every 4th level) and improved weapon or magic enhancement bonuses (also every 4th level, but staggered) to compensate for not having feats with mechanical bonuses.

In combination, Heroes Against Darkness’ three elements add up to +1 per level, like this:

Level 2: ½ Level Bonus increases (+1)
Level 3: Characters find improved weapon or magic enhancement (+1)
Level 4: ½ Level Bonus increases (+1)
Level 5: Player increases primary Ability Score to an even number (+1)
…and so on…

The difference here underscores the characteristics and emphasis of each of the games. 4th Edition, like 3rd before it, is a game which offers players lots of character build choices of feats and powers. Heroes Against Darkness doesn’t offer character build choices for feats and powers, instead predefining the powers for each class to keep the game simple and streamlined.

Advantages of Calculated +1 Per Level Progression

As I see it, the advantage of a modern calculated +1 per level progression is that it can apply to more than just melee attacks.

For example, in Heroes Against Darkness, I use calculated bonuses for each of the types of attacks in the game:
Melee Bonus: Strength Bonus + ½ Level Bonus + Modifiers
Ranged Bonus: Dexterity Bonus + ½ Level Bonus + Modifiers
Magic Bonus: Wisdom Bonus + ½ Level Bonus + Modifiers

The progression of these is inherent in the rules and reward systems.

For Hunters, their Ranged Bonus will increase at +1 per level because the player will likely increase his character’s Dexterity Score by +1 every second level and the GM will likely grant that player an improved ranged weapon as treasure at appropriate points in the campaign (approximately every 4th level). This same progression applies to each of the classes, where the player will increase their character’s most important Ability Score every 2nd level, and the GM will reward the players with improved weapons or magic enhancements approximately every 4th level.

Furthermore, because there are no feats or power choices, there are no bad decisions that the players can make, such as not choosing the right feats (such as the essential feat taxes) or the ideal powers for their class (or race).

Grab the Alpha version from the downloads page to see for yourself whether it’s succeeded: Heroes Against Darkness.

Omit Needless Powers*

* With apologies to Strunk & White…

The current Alpha version (v0.189) of Heroes Against Darkness represents each of the improved attack powers as their own separate power. Generally, these improved versions of the powers then slot into the class’s power list every 4th level (or so).

For example, the Warrior’s Melee Attack is superceded by Superior Melee Attack at Level 4:

Melee Attack (Level 1)

Condition Target in melee range
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus
Against Armor Defense
Damage Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus

Superior Melee Attack (Level 4)

Condition Target in melee range
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus
Against Armor Defense
Damage 2d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus

In order to reduce redundancy, I’m going to change the format of the individual combat powers so that each base power incorporates the higher level scaling:

Melee Attack (Level 1)

Condition Target in melee range
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus
Against Armor Defense

Level 4

Level 8

Level 12

Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
2d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
3d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus
4d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus

Another example:

Careful Strike (Level 1)

Condition Target in melee range
Attack d20 + Melee Bonus + 2
Against Armor Defense

Level 4

Level 8

Level 12

Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 2
2d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 4
3d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 6
4d Weapon Damage + Melee Bonus – 8

This should reduce the long list of class powers and allow me to introduce more unique powers at higher levels. It also means that players can be sure that each of the powers on their list has a unique effect.

The downside is that players will have a bit more reading to do when looking for a power to use as they review even their earliest powers to check when they scale.