Design Motives behind Dice & Glory

This is somewhat of a ramble about the design decisions that I made with Dice & Glory, both the Hands of Designsystem and the books themselves. And how choice and circumstance shaped and continue to shape them.

Initial Design Motives

I first wanted to write a ttRPG sometime in 1998. I decided on a generic system design early on. Preferably, I wanted a system where I could build a world through improvisation. The early drafts of what would become Dice & Glory are not worth mentioning other than the first two drafts both exceeded 1,000 pages in length.

My mistake with those first drafts: I included the core rule-set with chapters containing the concrete components for the game. These components that were built with those rules. Components being such things as monsters, spells, skills etc. To correct this, I split the unnecessary game crunch from the core rules and those of character creation.

It took a few years to refine the rules and switch out certain systems. Especially those that were either too rules-heavy or clunky. All through what was essentially, play testing. The names of many of the character attributes in the game were somewhat different from the current. Due to the confusion of players at the time, I decided to use names that would be more recognizable. At about this time I also realized many other RPG systems used identical attributes but all had their own names for them. I thought it best to use the most popular and recognizable of these for the equivalent attributes in my system.

This eliminated the potential for confusion. Any players with a moderate amount of experience could recognize the base attributes for what they were.

Characters & Crunch

When it came to the player characters, I decided on Character Classes. It was the ease of identifying a character’s in-game role by their class. However, I decided to strip them to the bone to create the general classes. This design would allow maximum malleability and customization potential. Stripping the classes generated the bare-bones classes of Adventurer, Brick, Clergy, Fighter, Mage, Psychic, and Mage. Upon these skeletons, all the Specialist classes are fleshed. I strove for a fully customizable system so I included rules on how to build any such Specialist Class. These being the classic form of character classes found across ttRPGs.

This led to chapters that included rules on how to generate all sorts of bits found in a roleplaying game. These being things such as equipment (particularly weapons and armor), monsters, other races, and spells. This in turn led to the writing of other components such as psionics, which I wanted to discern from magic. I also created a basic outline for how the universe as a whole functioned. I also included ideas for building in-game technology.

It took until 2006 to release the first edition and a cut-down free edition. There was a preliminary release of a pre-first edition. Fortunately, not many people noticed or purchased these. The problem with the first edition aside from several editing snafus was that certain abilities repeated throughout having duplicates in most of the subsystems. Not to mention the amount of crunch was a level above overdose.

Versions & Aesthetics

I’ve re-edited the game multiple times, refined it in a revised edition, and then a second edition since then. I have no plans for a third edition but I will continue to write the resource manuals. These manuals consist of the bits that I couldn’t fit into the Core Rulebook. The bits and crunch not core to the game but necessary to populate it. These accessory manuals arose from the initial need to split the crunch from the core in the first place.

Essentially, I wanted a rule-set that I could use for any genre of game. And have it fully customizable for both players and the Game-master. I wanted rules that could easily generate any crazy thing that I could imagine and throw it at my players. The aesthetics of the books however are born mostly out of budgetary constraints and lack of personal talent. However that said, I don’t much care for the highly polished, artificial, and impractical look of most contemporary fantasy art.

I like the more individualistic art and too much polish tends to deter me. Don’t get me wrong I like a lot of professionally produced art. However, it’s never attracted me to RPG material as more identifiable and amateurish work has. Of course, due to budgetary constraints the responsibility to complete most of the illustrative work falls on my shoulders on many of the books.

World Settings & Dragons

The game has remained world-less for the simple reason that its designed as a generic/universal system. In addition, I’ve needed the time, always at a premium, to create a cohesive fantasy world. I wrote the titular world setting Arvan as a sword & sorcery & sandal in mind. Some of it inspired by the fiction that I read. Note that I tend to read in manic insatiable bursts consuming several books in a row then suddenly slowing down (or stopping altogether) until the next spree. I’ve tried my best to get away from overused tropes of the genre. Especially its well-known trappings like dwarves and elves.  I’ve also striven to include uncommon races and creatures, aside from the dragons.

The dragons of Arvan take after very specific literary references with a lot of my own creativity going into them to give them depth in nature and character. Their design was to give them a place in nature as well as in super-nature. The kernel of my Draco-lore built and outlined in a splat-book, a monster manual, called the Monster Magnus Vol. I.

In collecting certain types of game information in several books, I intended that the core rules be modular. All one needs to play and to create whatever else necessary for a game being the core rules. In other words, just the Core Rulebook is required.

Explore Imagination

Budgetary and time constraints have shaped and colored the core rule design, all of the published material, as well as the tons of stuff yet to see the light of day. The real trouble is in collating, structuring, and editing the masses of info and ideas I can generate. The only part of Dice & Glory that a GM and Player group would require is the Core Rulebook. The crunch books for Dice & Glory are different, I hope, from the typical disposable splat-book in that; they contain the pregenerated concrete components needed to populate games. Allowing groups to mix and match to their hearts’ desires when they have the blocks to build with as well as the ability to shape and carve blocks of their own. Hopefully striving for the outer limits of their imaginations with increased ease. At least I hope so.


Announcements & Arvan

Blog entries and new articles will be slowing down to a crawl for the remainder of the year due to simply life getting in the way and due to work on Arvan.

Blog Entries

The gaming blogs will be slowing down due to a redoubled effort on Arvan and members moving and work. I have been mastering a game which is barely past its ninth session since June. So I won’t be posting what I have any time soon. I typically don’t start posting till after around session 12. The campaign is in the city of Ezmer concerning a player group of mages.

The Arvan Setting

The Arvan setting has shifted into high gear with the last pass of editing and me struggling to finish the illustrations. For budgetary reasons I am unable to hire on any illustrators for the remainder of this project. The maps have reached their rough draft stage and the larger frontispieces have been completed but as it stands today only the intro, TOC, and Chapters 1 & 2 have been fully illustrated. Unfortunately, this makes a November release date highly unlikely. We have not given up on a December release however.

Future Plans

We have been planning and continue to amass material for 3 projects for next year concerning dwarves, monsters, and more magic! If all goes to plan these 3 projects will follow by some months the release of the Arvan setting. Hopefully in rapid succession.

Necromancing Xuun Pt.12: Funny Little Death Games Pt.3

That evening half-hill-giant Skull-Smash whom the odds favored would be the opponent to Skull BashBludbaer as finale to the Pit Games. The official gladiatorial games would kick off with a fair the next day. Then the crowds and their money would flock to the bigger venues.

Jíen the necromancer greeted the morning sun with little enthusiasm. He stared out over the walled courtyard from the second story bedroom window. There were throngs of people trailing brightly colored streamers and waving flags everywhere. It made no difference to the dark mage. Through his eyes all was insubstantial. The sun drenched sky was a dull grey and an ethereal cloud obscured the distance even on the clearest day. The throngs of the living were as transparent as an army of colorful ghosts.

There were also bands of paladins and guardsmen on patrol among them. The young Deadlander thought it best if he stayed inside until he was to take his fighter to the match. He occupied himself by brewing potion (Aura of the Dead) using the adobe villa’s kitchen and a few secret ingredients. Later he stored it in one of the empty potion bottles he had been carrying on his person. The potion was of the highest quality.

The rest of the day he spent repairing, mostly stitching and channeling negative energy, the massive damage Bludbaer the mindless Dread Guard had sustained the previous day. It was nearly sundown when Jíen had finished his work almost restoring the creature to full capacity.

Evening came and the young necromancer brought his fighter/creature to the arena with no incidents on the way. There were a few prize matches beforehand then came the main event, Bludbaer versus Skull-Smash. All proceeded as before and soon the large heavily muscled opponents were facing off against each other in the ring. Bludbaer though huge was dwarfed by the half-giant who was wielding a heavy wooden great club.

The bell for the first round rang and Skull-Smash came out swinging landing two massive bone-crunching blows on Bludbaer one after the other dropping him. Immediately Jíen played it up doing the pantomime of a bereaved and ruined manager imploring the crowd to cheer for the miraculous rise of the fallen gladiator. It actually worked, the crowd roared for Bludbaer. So, the necromancer had the fallen fighter rise again. (Out-of-Game I did it to steal away Skull-Smash’s crowd bonus against my guy which Gladiators can get when being cheered on.)

It wasn’t long before Bludbaer was again smashed down without landing a single blow. However, Jíen playing his part as flamboyant fight manager worked his crowd-magic again and once again Bludbaer slowly, and what appeared to all, painfully rose to his feet. The look of disbelief on the half-giant’s face was priceless (unfortunately he didn’t suffer any morale penalties). Jíen however knew that if his creation dropped once more it would be the last.

Skull-Smash landed another horrid blow onto the battered corpse of Bludbaer but on the backswing the Dread Guard parried with his great sword catching the half-giant in a clinch. The crowd went wild. Suddenly, Bludbaer broke free and chopped into the giant, the crowd began to flip completely over to Bludbaer. Skull-Smash nearly silenced the crowd with a mighty roar and put all of his power behind a horrifyingly powerful finishing blow.

The crowd gasped and was silent for the instant before they let loose a deafening roaring cheer. The boneless mess of a corpse in the dirt of the arena that used to be Bludbaer lay at the feet of the triumphant Skull-Smash. Jíen stood wide-eyed and stunned. He was out of a lot of money. Then horror struck him and he rushed into the ring to salvage the corpse before the Disguise Undead rune branded on its forehead faded in its power.

All would see that Bludbaer was really a mass of rotted meat pilfered from the grave if that should happen. In fact, that’s what the potion of Aura of the Dead was for. He would shout that it was a vial of poison to his accusers, drink it, and then feign death. Fortunately a cloaked and hooded stranger helped him with his frantic work of hauling the broken but still very heavy body away on a cart that the stranger had conveniently helped the necromancer procure.

The Stranger: “It’s me.”

Jíen (Played by Me): “What?”

The Stranger lifted up his hood revealing himself to be Trantox the assassin.

Trantox (Played by Jenn): “It’s me. You tried to get me killed!”

Jíen: “What me? No! No I did not!”

Trantox (with a Yeah-Right scowl on his face): “I was there about 5 ft. away when you talked to that Naga. Hiding.”

Jíen: “Oh. Um. I thought I’d get paid more. He ripped me off.”

Trantox: “You know I should totally kill you right now.”

Jíen: “Um, uh. Hmmm. Don’t you have bigger problems right now? Like the Shakai.”

Trantox: “That’s why I found you. Um, huh what?”

The necromancer looked at the assassin like he was crazy before realizing his attentions had diverted to talking to the intelligent dagger. Jíen shuddered.

Trantox: “Naw we won’t kill him yet. We won’t kill you yet but the dagger wants bloooood, so don’t cross us again.”

Jenn was wagging her finger at me. Sheesh.

The necromancer and the assassin delivered the mutilated, rotten pile of meat and shattered bone to the charnel house. The pair decided to walk back to the Troll and wait for whatever would come besides Jíen had a debt to pay off. On their way out of the charnel house a street rat stopped them and passed them a message that Dravor (played by Gil) had skipped town with the dark priest Exvorum (Gil couldn’t continue the campaign as his work schedule had changed). The pair shrugged and continued on.

The dark duo made it to the Whiskey Troll Tavern later that night very near the middle of the night. The place was mostly empty save for those huddled at a table in the corner. These were the Half-giant Skull-Smash, his manager the faun, a human fighter in chainmail (probably a bodyguard), and a saloon bum. All were fairly drunk and the table was packed with mostly empty vessels and half-eaten food.

Jíen settled his debts with the faun and while doing so had noticed the bulging sack of gold at the faunic manager’s side. Skull-Smash’s winnings were substantial. The necromancer returned to his coconspirator’s side and together they hatched a plan. They ordered drinks for the whole place and before the waitress took the pitcher to Skull-Smash’s table the assassin dropped some paralysis toxin into it. Then the villains sat back and waited.

After an hour it was apparent that the poison had only affected the faunic manager and the fighter. The giant, though extremely drunk, showed absolutely no sign of the toxic effect. The saloon bum on the other hand seemed a bit stiff in the joints but otherwise he was okay as well. Trantox began mumbling to his dagger again and was preparing for a fight by oiling its blade with poison. Jíen was getting nervous.

Suddenly, a naga in a black-dragon hide cloak wearing a golden snake mask with emerald & onyx scales appeared right in front of the dark duo’s table. The creature pointed at Trantox and then his dagger shouting, “Thief! Return what you have stolen now!”

Another naga slithered from behind a pillar equipped with a naginata, there were undoubtedly more slithering about in the shadows of the musty tavern. Trantox stood and seemed to want to give up the dagger but simply could not bring himself to do it.

Cris (the GM): “Its not gonna let you do that. It’s want blood.”

Jenn (after failing the dagger’s ego check): “Awe man. I guess I’ll attack the cloaked guy then.”

Trantox (gnashing his teeth and sneering at the Cloaked Naga): “You’re gonna have to pry it from my cold dead hands!”

The assassin lunged at the cloaked naga but the one with the polearm leapt in front of the blow taking the point and the poison. The cloaked naga, recognizable as a mage, cast a spell that Jíen recognized as Bone Blast. The assassin’s left arm went limp as the bone shattered. The necromancer, while no one was paying him any mind, calmly but quickly moved over to the half-giant’s table.

Skull-Smash was completely embroiled in the fight before him. The necromancer eased over to the side of his unconscious manager and drew out a black pearl from his robe. The naga mage cast another spell and Trantox froze in place as another naga fighter slid from the shadows over to him.

Jíen noticed on closer inspection that the body guard was actually dead ( rolled a Natural 1 on his save) so the necromancer cast Animate the Dead and shoved the black gem into the corpse’s gaping mouth with orders to attack the drugged and sleeping manager. It immediately rose and coup de graced Skull-Smash’s manager. But the giant hadn’t noticed as at that same moment another naga fighter used his curved sword to decapitate Trantox.

So harnessing his experience as a gladiator manager, Jíen shot up and shouted, “Look! That evil wizard has cursed your companion and he’s killed your manager!”

The howl of anguish that escaped the mighty lungs of Skull-Smash rattled the bones of everyone in the place and froze the naga mage in his place his hand inches from plucking the prized dagger from the assassin’s headless corpse. The table splintered and flew as the half-giant kicked it away and charged the naga assassins wielding his great club. Jíen absconded with the sack of gold just before the carnage began.

Later, safe back at the villa, Jíen found that the sack held 20 gold talons stamped with unfamiliar hill-lander brands, 600 platinum pieces, and 1,000 gold pieces. Combined with his stash he was pretty well off. However, his companions were either dead or fled away. There were paladins patrolling the street and the city was probably going to carry out a no tolerance policy for the 7-day while the games were taking place.

Jíen the Deadlands necromancer thought hard about the direction his life had taken and quickly decided on what he would do with the rest of it. After all, managing fighters was very profitable and he knew where to get a real champ in need of a manager. Even if the champ didn’t survive the fight with the nagas Jíen could always fix that.

The End

Campaign Played between February and May 2016

Afterword: Skull-Smash did survive that fight by the way and Jíen was able to talk his way into becoming his manager. Go figure.

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